Category Archives: Wine

Review: NV La Marca Prosecco

La Marca Prosecco 750ml 88x300 Review: NV La Marca ProseccoA standby of big box stores and mega liquor retailers, La Marca is unmistakable with its Tiffany-blue label and its frequently sub-$10 price tag. Fresh nose, with a touch of green bean edge. The body is toasty and a bit bready, backed with apple cinnamon character and a touch of grapefruit. It’s nothing special, but it’s an easy enough wine to sip on.

B+ / $12 /

Review: Sandeman 2011 Vintage Port and 40 Year Old Tawny Port

Sandeman 40YO Tawny 211x300 Review: Sandeman 2011 Vintage Port and 40 Year Old Tawny PortWe’ve covered the Port-makers at Sandeman fairly regularly through the years. Today we get the honor to look at two of its most treasured bottlings: the latest vintage port release (2011), and the 40 year old tawny expression. Thoughts follow.

2011 Sandeman Vintage Port - Classic currant and some coffee notes on the nose. The body is fresh and less brooding than many of its contemporaries, with ripe blackberry and currant notes that lead to a tight finish. I’d give this at least a decade to mature and mellow before sampling again. Rating today: B / $75

Sandeman Tawny Port 40 Years Old – Tea brown in color. Surprisingly familiar, it drinks like a younger tawny, with steady notes of cola, raisins, black tea, and that familiar “old wine” character. Finishes with raspberry notes on the back of the palate. Lots of depth here. Try it with a rich dessert. 20% abv. B+ / $110

Review: 2011 Chateau Montelena Chardonnay Napa Valley

chateau montelena chardonnay 196x300 Review: 2011 Chateau Montelena Chardonnay Napa ValleyIt’s a crisp and bright Chardonnay from Montelena for this year’s release. The nose hints at both fruit and minerals, but not much oak, a hallmark for the Napa version of this varietal. Both melon and tropical notes are present, atop a core that offers peaches and lemon notes. Lots going on, but all kept in near-perfect balance. It’s probably tough to ask anyone to pay 50 bucks for Chardonnay at retail (think $100 on a wine list!), but if you’re going to do it, do it with this bottling.

A / $50 /

Review: 2012 Clean Slate Riesling Mosel

Clean Slate Riesling Image 60x300 Review: 2012 Clean Slate Riesling MoselSomewhat sweeter than most dry Rieslings, but still crisp and clean, offering ample citrus, tropical notes, honey, and a finish of lightly roasted nuts. With a little more acidity you’d think you were drinking an Australian Sauvignon Blanc. Fresh and lively, this one’s an easy summer sipper (sorry, January!) but also works well with spicy food and lighter fare. Great price for an “uberfresh” wine.

B+ / $10 /

Tasting Red Sancerre Wines: La Croix du Roy and Jerome Gueneau

La Croix Du Roy Sancerre Tasting Red Sancerre Wines: La Croix du Roy and Jerome GueneauSancerre is a lovely wine made in the Loire Valley, a crisp white made primarily from Sauvignon Blanc… except when it’s not. They also make red wine in Sancerre, from Pinot Noir grapes, in total comprising about 20% of the region’s production.

Red Sancerre, or “Sancerre Rouge,” is virtually unheard-of in the U.S. due to being overshadowed by the big boys in Burgundy. Though it’s stylistically quite a bit different, Sancerre’s Pinots still hang onto some of that sense of terroir, with occasionally bright fruit showing through.

We tried two currently available bottlings to see what the fuss (or lack of it) was all about. Thoughts follow.

2008 La Croix du Roy Sancerre Rouge – Light color, a somewhat dainty-looking wine. Somewhat herbacious, slight mushroomy nose. The body, though, offers bright, tart cherry and raspberry character, punctuated with notes of tea and licorice root. The finish is quite acidic, washing away some of the big fruit notes. B / $30

2010 Jerome Gueneau Le Clos Chartier Sancerre Rouge – Less well-crafted than the La Croix du Roy, this Sancerre features more pruny, raisin-driven notes, with intense herbal qualities. The wine opens up after a while to reveal more sultry, berry-driven fruit, but the initial texture is thin and the finish somewhat saccharine. B- / $20

Review: 2011 Ventisquero “Grey” Carmenere

ventisquero grey carmenere 102x300 Review: 2011 Ventisquero Grey CarmenereTying a Chilean Carmenere into the 50 Shades of Grey phenomenon is a bit of a stretch, but damn the torpedoes, we’re charging ahead anyway. Grey is a newish label from mega-producer Ventisquero, with a number of varietals under its belt. One of the latest is this Maipo Valley-originated Carmenere — Chile’s unofficial official grape — a 100% varietal bottling.

The nose offers earth and some raisin notes, with deep currant underpinnings. The body offers more of the same, with some tart apple character, and ample raspberry character. Opens up over time, with the initially heavy earth tones fading a bit, revealing a more cohesive, balanced whole.

B+ / $24 /

Review: Spicy Vines Spiced Wine

spiced wine 99x300 Review: Spicy Vines Spiced WineWhether you call it mulled wine or gluhwein or glogg, spiced wine is a holiday tradition. Spicy Vines wants to bottle the experience — sort of — and bring it to you in a familiar package, without having to resort to kitchen alchemy.

Spiced Wine, by California-based Spicy Vines, starts with nonvintage, non-specified grape wine and adds traditional flavorings to the mix. Spicy Vines doesn’t specify what’s in here, but I doubt they would be surprising. The nose offers cinnamon and almonds, the body cloves, orange peel, and vanilla. The base wine is harmless and unremarkable, but it’s arguably better than the plonk most home glogg-brewers use as the base for their own mulled wine creations. The overall impact, at just 13.2% alcohol, isn’t as throat-burning as many mulled wine recipes. It’s got just enough Christmasy flair to add interest, but it’s ultimately innocuous enough for even those who are normally put off by mulled wine to enjoy. Those looking for a deeply “spicy” experience — as the bottle’s huge label seems to promise — may be a bit disappointed.

Spiced Wine can be served at room temperature or heated. If you warm it up, do so carefully and only a few seconds in the microwave at a time. This is a beverage that is best just slightly warmed. Too hot and it starts to get a little acrid.

B / $23 /

Review: 2010 Donelan Syrah Knights Valley Obsidian Vineyard

donelan obsidian 95x300 Review: 2010 Donelan Syrah Knights Valley Obsidian VineyardAnother classically structured California Syrah from Donelan, this Knights Valley offering a thickly smoky, mushroomy, and pine forest-focused nose — with undergrowth terroir reminiscent of old Burgundy. On the palate, the wine offers more of this savoriness, bringing grilled meats and wet forest floor to the forefront. What’s lacking here is much fruit — just hints of blackcurrants and blackberries that are quickly overpowered by those tougher, more burly elements.

B / $90 /

Review: 2012 Assembly Old Vine Zinfandel Lodi

assembly zin bottle shot high res 200x300 Review: 2012 Assembly Old Vine Zinfandel LodiAssembly makes a handful of wine in the Lodi AVA of Northern California. Here’s a quick look at the company’s latest zinfandel release.

This is a tough wine, with a tobacco nose and echoes of beef jerky. The body is dense and chewy, with blackberries at the core alongside menthol, leather, and hickory smoke notes — decent fruit, but a bit muddied with distractions. The finish remains surprisingly tannic, somewhat walled off, and a little difficult to approach.

C+ / $17 /

Review: Wolfgang Puck Wines, 2013 Releases

Wolfgang Puck Cabernet Bottleshot 116x300 Review: Wolfgang Puck Wines, 2013 ReleasesCelebrity chefs are plowing their way into the wine world (makes sense), and Wolfgang Puck is the latest with his own house wine that you can serve at your house. Made by DFV Wines (better known as Delicato), the two Puck wines we tried are easygoing and pleasant, but far from challenging or complex. Thoughts follow.

2010 Wolfgang Puck Red Blend Master Lot Reserve California – A bright and fresh red, thick with strawberry and raspberry, but with sweetness kept in check. The nose offers hints of tobacco smoke and leather, but the body pushes the fruit through to the finish. It’s a nice combination, but a simple one. B+ / $10

2011 Wolfgang Puck Cabernet Sauvignon Master Lot Reserve California - Dense with plum and currant, the fruit is countered by just a touch of earthiness, and some chocolate character. Pleasant, but again, simple as can be. B / $12

Review: Wines of Mossback, 2013 Releases

Mossback2012ChardHiRes 93x300 Review: Wines of Mossback, 2013 ReleasesThe latest label from the Crew Wine Company, Mossback arrives with four California-focused varietals and price points around the $20 range. We tried two bottlings. Thoughts follow.

2012 Mossback Chardonnay Russian River Valley – Muted nose, some melon, some lemon oil notes, and a little buttery wood to smooth it all out. On the body, the buttery notes dominate, but they aren’t overly aggressive. In time, a mellow apple and lemon character slowly rises to the surface. Not overwhelmingly “Chard-like” nor ambitious in its fruit level, but a solid, food-friendly experience. B+ / $18

2010 Mossback Cabernet Sauvignon Chalk Hill - Simple yet pretty Cabernet, with a lightly herbal nose that’s backed by a body with a bit more vegetation on it. The fruit is more black currant than blackberry, with a finish that hints at cedar and rosemary. As with the Chardonnay, it’s a solid choice with a meal. B+ / $25

Tasting the Wines of Hardy’s Australia, 2013 Releases

Nottage Hill Pinot Noir Non Vintage 82x300 Tasting the Wines of Hardys Australia, 2013 ReleasesAustralia’s Hardy’s may be a big producer that competes with the “critter wines” of the world, but considering its wines are this affordable, it keeps quality surprisingly high. Here’s a look at five recently released Hardy’s vintages — bottled under both the William Hardy and Nottage Hill label. Thoughts follow.

2011 William Hardy Chardonnay South Australia – On the nose it’s simplistic, with a rather rough, wood-driven nose and some alcoholic vapor character. The body offers some very sweet honey notes, with apricots, lemon-lime, and some mango character on the finish. As it aerates, the sweetness — which is initially almost sickly — mellows out, taking any wood character with it. What’s left is a basic, quite tropical Chardonnay that wears its fruit on its sleeve. B / $20

2011 William Hardy Shiraz South Australia - Surprisingly drinkable, this fresh and fruity wine keeps the sugar dialed back enough to make for an easily sippable potion either solo or at mealtime. The nose is lightly brooding and a touchy meaty, while the body is pure strawberry and raspberry. An approachable midweek sipper. B+ / $15

2012 Hardy’s Nottage Hill Chardonnay South Eastern Australia - Again, alcoholic vapors up front, with a buttery character that veers on movie theater popcorn, but the body offers fresh peaches and pineapple. Quite sweet, it’s got a creamy character to it that complements the tropical notes, almost like a sherbet. This becomes a bit much over time, making this fine for a glass, but somewhat overwhelming for a refill. B / $8

2012 Hardy’s Nottage Hill Pinot Noir South Eastern Australia - A harmless red, somewhat sweet and not immediately characteristic of the grape. Tart raspberries up front, with a kind of coffee and cocoa bean character underneath. Easy, silky finish. B+ / $14

2012 Hardy’s Nottage Hill Shiraz South Eastern Australia - A slight pepper character on the nose is the only thing that tips you off that this is Shiraz, but the overall craftsmanship of this wine shows off a modestly structured wine, ripe with berry fruit and dense with sweetness. The finish brings along some cedar box character, a surprising touch in an otherwise straightforward bottling. B+ / $13

Review: Wines of Alto Adige, 2013 Releases

Nals Margreid Galea Schiava 106x300 Review: Wines of Alto Adige, 2013 ReleasesThe Alto Adige region in the far north of Italy (how far north? two-thirds of its inhabitants speak German) is best known for its most famous son: Santa Margherita Pinot Grigio. But there’s a huge diversity of grape varietals grown in this mountainous area — over 20 of them, despite the fact that its size is a third that of Napa Valley.

Thoughts on three newly released Alto Adige wines — stylistically all over the map — follow.

2011 St. Paul’s Lagrein Alto Adige – A grape that’s vinified virtually nowhere but in Alto Adige, Lagrein can be very complex but is often a somewhat mushroomy, skunky wine  that is quickly forgotten. That’s largely the case here: St. Paul’s 2011 Lagrein has ample green pepper on the nose, with a muddy, tar-laden, and slightly prune-driven body. Gamy finish. C- / $25

2011 Nals Margreid Galea Schiava Alto Adige - Another odd grape, Schiava is indiginous to Italy and Germany. Very light and clear in color, this wine is simple but full of strawberry notes. The wine develops some mushroom notes on the nose as it aerates, but the body remains brisk and tart. The overall effect is unusual, but the wine remains fresh and easy to enjoy. B+ / $20

2012 Tiefenbrunner Gewurztraminer Alto Adige – A slightly tough number, this perfumy wine offers a bit of astringency on the nose, and some rubbing alcohol character as you sip on it. Fortunately, some Viognier-like fruit — peaches and apricots — balance things out, but the fruit character fades over time as its left to its own devices in the glass. B- / $17

Review: Maurin Dry, White, and Red Vermouth

Maurin White Bottle shot 115x300 Review: Maurin Dry, White, and Red VermouthVermouth is a beverage on the return, and Anchor Distilling has joined forces with old Maurin (you’ve seen the iconic green devil posters at better French cafes in your neighborhood) to recreate the vermouths once made by Auguste Maurin, back in 1884.

The two companies adapted Maurin’s traditional recipe for these new vermouths, which are available in three styles. Per the company’s press release, “The Maurin Dry, White and Red Vermouths are fortified wines blended from various regions across France, then infused with coriander, cinnamon, nutmeg, clove, Maurin’s absinthe and other traditional herbs and spices.” We tasted the trio, and thoughts follow.

Each is bottled at 17% abv.

Maurin Dry Vermouth – Fragrant with notes of incense, coriander, and cloves. Ample spice on the palate, with a light astrignency and a drying finish. Over time the wine develops a holiday character, as the cinnamon and nutmeg warm up, giving it a mulled wine sensibility. But the bittersweet finish leaves no doubt that you’re drinking vermouth, not glogg. Pairs better with gin over vodka. A-

Maurin White Vermouth - Much like the Dry, but with a richer body and sweeter from start to finish. The bitter conclusion is absent here, as the vermouth takes on a more peachy/mango character as it fades from view. (This has the side effect of dulling some of the spice character, but that’s really just a different approach.) Overall, as a mixer I find I have a preference for the dry — and I’m not alone, which is why sweet white vermouths are relatively rare in comparison to the other two varieties — but if I was drinking vermouth straight (people do this), I’d easily pick the White. Better with vodka; gin demolishes what spice it has left. B+

Maurin Red Vermouth - Aka “sweet vermouth.” Indeed it’s quite red in color, and the spice is thick on the nose, very much offering a mulled wine character, with cloves easily the strongest component. On the palate, there’s gingerbread, anise, and brandied raisins bobbing in and out. Classic gluhwein flavors, but with refinement (and lower alcohol levels), it’s sweet but not overly so, offering a bit of fruit punch without quite making you think about that cartoon guy in the Hawaiian outfit. Acquits itself well in a Manhattan. A-

each $19 /

Review: Le Grand Courtage Sparkling Wine, Brut and Rose

LGC Bottle Fam Portrait 231x300 Review: Le Grand Courtage Sparkling Wine, Brut and RoseLook closer: Le Grand Courtage (“the great courtship”) is sparkling wine made in Burgundy, not Champagne, which means it’s made from different grapes… and priced at about $20 a bottle. Thoughts follow.

NV Le Grand Courtage Grande Cuvee Blanc de Blancs Brut - A blend of Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc, Colombard, and Ugni Blanc. Lots of tart, green apple character here, with lemon peel also evident on the nose. The body is heavy on the aforementioned fruit, but it also has an interesting bakery character to it akin to cream puffs, with touches of yeast. The mellow conclusion takes things to a simple and easy finish. Altogether a solid choice for a nice, restrained aperitif. B+ / $20 (also available as a 187ml mini)

NV Le Grand Courtage Grande Cuvee Brut Rose - A pink blend of Chardonnay, Ugni Blanc, and Gamay. Fresh and fruity, with clear strawberry notes on the nose. A bracing and lasting acidity comes along quickly on the palate, offering some floral elements — almost green and grassy at times. The finish is clean and inviting, that strawberry element lingering, along with some rose petal notes. Lovely and difficult to put down; even works well with spicy meals. A- / $22

Review: 2013 Georges Duboeuf Beaujolais Nouveau

GD Beaujolais Nouveau 2013 08 13 Review: 2013 Georges Duboeuf Beaujolais NouveauHey guys, it’s turkey day! But the end of November also means one thing for wine fans: The release of Beaujolais Nouveau, the first wines to come from the just-finished 2013 harvest. As usual, Duboeuf is first out of the gate, and these bottlings should be on store shelves right now if you need a last-minute holiday tipple.

2013′s Nouveau is surprisingly better than the usual simplistic and rustic fare that is the hallmark of this style of wine. That’s not to say 2013′s release isn’t simplistic or rustic — it’s both — but it does have some nuance and refinement that is often lacking in Beaujolais Nouveau.

The nose is full of the usual strawberry candy notes, but there’s also an herbal edge to it that adds intrigue. The body is less aggressively sweet than usual, too, offering some balance and tart acid on the finish. The flavor profile is simple, with a basic fruit compote character, but notes of orange peel on the finish give this something to at least talk about while the turkey is still roasting.

B+ / $8 /

Review: 3 Banfi Chiantis, 2013 Releases

BT Chianti Classico 112x300 Review: 3 Banfi Chiantis, 2013 ReleasesThree new wines from Chianti under the Banfi banner (though only one has the Banfi name on the label), all recent releases. Thoughts follow.

2011 Placido Chianti DOCG – A very pretty, lightly floral Chianti, with bright fruit and hints of leather on the nose. The palate is all cherries, all the way, lightly tart on the finish with just a touch of chocolate. An easy winner, easy drinking solo or with a meal. An absolute steal at 7 bucks. A- / $7

2008 Cecchi Riserva di Famiglia Chianti Classico – Initially quite earthy, with dried herb notes. Notes of licorice and fennel on the nose, with dried raisin and cherry making its way in on the leathery tongue. Some oxidation evident, as the wine is already well into maturity. Drink with food. B / $26

2011 Banfi Chianti Classico DOCG (pictured) – A more dense example of Chianti, this raisin-inflected wine offers pepper and bay leaf on the nose, with chewy prune and tart currant on the body. Surprisingly sweet for Chianti, the traditional cherry notes are understated here. B / $12

Tasting the Wines of Emiliana’s Coyam

Chile’s Emiliana produces wines under a number of labels, but few are as popular as Coyam, an organic and biodynamic wine that’s blended from up to six indigenous grapes.

The neat thing about Coyam is that the blend varies — sometimes wildly — from year to year, and resident winemaker Noelia Orts recently traveled to San Francisco to explain how the wine was made and, intriguingly, to showcase the six component varietal wines in their primitive, barrel-sample form. The idea: Taste how these very different wines, when sampled separately, combine to form a unique whole.

Tasting the 2013 barrel samples was eye-opening. The syrah was far from finished, dense and undercooked, while the carmenere offered good acidity. I was most taken by the mourvedre, which had impressive balance and fruit already. While we didn’t get to start blending the wines directly — what a mess that would have been at a restaurant — the experience did aid in the understanding of how complicated blends are made.

Over lunch at San Francisco’s Hakkasan, we turned to tasting the finished wines, a range of vintages dating back to 2001. (Also sampled in brief was Emiliana’s Ge, one of the most prized “cult” wines of Chile.) Thoughts on those finished wines follow.

2001 Coyam – 36% merlot, 21% carmenere, 21% cabernet sauvignon, 18% syrah, 4% mourvedre. Aging but still lively, lots of wood, quite tannic on the finish. B+ / $NA

2007 Coyam – 38% syrah, 21% cabernet sauvignon, 21% carmenere, 17% merlot, 2% petit verdot, 1% mourvedre. A big Chilean vintage, some floral elements, with a bit of licorice on the back end. Complex, somewhat Burgundian in style, with a nutty finish. B+ / $45

2009 Coyam - 41% syrah, 29% carmenere, 20% merlot, 7% cabernet sauvignon, 2% mourvedre, 1% petit verdot. Fresh, some mint, with big berry notes and a rush of wood. Slightly huskier than the 2010. A- / $30

2010 Coyam - 38% syrah, 27% carmenere, 21% merlot, 12% cabernet sauvignon, 1% mourvedre, 1% petit verdot. Some jam, growing in balance as it evolves. Fresh fruit, with blackberry and spice. A- / $30

2012 Coyam (barrel sample) – 46% syrah, 21% carmenere, 16% cabernet sauvignon, 5% mourvedre, 2% mablec. Quite a different recipe, with no merlot. A bit muddy as it develops, somewhat pruny, with leather notes. B- / $TBD

2010 Ge - 48% carmenere, 38% syrah, 14% cabernet sauvignon. Revelatory. Chocolate, licorice, and incredible depth, featuring touches of almonds and cinnamon. I could drink this all day. A+ / $75

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Review: Frank Family Vineyards Zinfandel and Chardonnay, 2013 Releases

Frank Family Napa Valley Zinfandel 200x300 Review: Frank Family Vineyards Zinfandel and Chardonnay, 2013 ReleasesNapa-based Frank Family Vineyards has just released two new bottlings, a Zinfandel and a Chardonnay. We spent time with both. Thoughts follow.

2011 Frank Family Vineyards Zinfandel Napa Valley – Earthy and smoky on the nose, at first blush this feels like it will be a bruiser. The body however reveals a far fruitier core, tempered however by some mushroom, leather, and balsamic character. Atypical of Zinfandel, it does reveal more of its varietal character at the back end with some blackberry jam-on-burnt toast notes. 89% Zin, 11% Petite Sirah. B / $37

2012 Frank Family Vineyards Chardonnay Carneros – Bright gold, with a modest, tropical nose. More classic California character on the palate, where the lightly buttery body exhibits toasty oak notes, with plenty of pineapple and mango coming up behind. Traditional, but with less wood and more fruit than your typical Carneros Chardonnay. B+ / $35

Review: 2012 Wines of Portugal’s Monte Velho

MV Red 2012 173x300 Review: 2012 Wines of Portugals Monte VelhoThis brand, from Portugal’s Esporao is now 40 years old. With a focus on ultra-cheap blends both red and white, Monte Velho’s packaging has been redesigned with a focus on environmentalism (the bottles are amazingly lightweight, at least when empty), while keeping costs to a bare minimum.

That said, quality remains uninspiring. Thoughts on the 2012 bottlings follow.

2012 Esporao Monte Velho Alentejano White – A white blend of 40% antao vaz, 40% roupeiro, and 20% perrum grapes. Exotic, honey-laden nose. The first notes on the palate are tropical, but things are less enticing later, followed by notes of cedar wood, canned peaches, and twine fiber. Somewhat astringent on the finish. C- / $10

2012 Esporao Monte Velho Alentejano Red –  A red blend of 40% aragonez, 35% trincadeira, 20% touriga nacional, and 5% syrah. A little dusty, surprisingly dry. The nose has a bit of barnyard on it, and some prunes. The body is more of the mushroom/leather variety, with a finish that offers modest currant character. B- / $10