Review: Amici Cabernet Sauvignon & Chardonnay and Olema Pinot Noir, 2016 Releases


I hadn’t heard of St. Helena-based Amici before (or its second label, Olema), and as such I didn’t have any real expectations for these three wines. Consider me both surprised and a new fan: These wines are uniformly excellent — and pretty good values, to boot.

Thoughts follow.

2014 Amici Chardonnay Sonoma Coast – Lots of fruit on the nose — lemons, apricots, and peaches. The body deftly balances this fruit with its more sultry elements — nicely browned butter and a slug of vanilla — leading to a very well-rounded and supple finish. Highly worthwhile. A / $25

2013 Amici Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley – Notes of sweet licorice on the nose add complexity to an otherwise straightforward but well-made Napa cab. The body ups the ante with modest tannins and folds in light raisin notes, vanilla, some tea leaf, and a simple, slightly sweet, chocolate-scented finish. An easy winner. A- / $45

2014 Olema Pinot Noir Sonoma County – A second label from Amici, here we find tart cherries, lush strawberry, and a gentle lacing of vanilla all whipped into a frothy, zippy, and easy-drinking lather. Just a touch of dark chocolate and some well-integrated but mild tannins. A perfect little everyday pinot at a very compelling price. A / $20

Tasting Report: Wines of New Zealand 2016

nz wine

It’s been four years since we’ve checked in on the wines of New Zealand in earnest. At this year’s San Francisco installment of the New Zealand Wine Fair, I made it a point to focus particularly on white wines. Were they still tropical blowouts in the classic “New Zealand style” to which we’ve become accustomed? I’m happy to report that restraint is on the rise in NZ, with both whites and reds showcasing better balance, more floral notes, and a general pullback (for the most part) from that pineapple juice legacy.

A special mention for a winery that was new to me — Prophet’s Rock, from Central Otago, which had both the best Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris wines of the event. Its sub-labels, Rocky Point and Box o’ Birds, were’t too shabby, either.

Notes on everything tasted follow.

Tasting Report: 2016 New Zealand Wine Fair

2015 Astrolabe Province Pinot Gris Marlborough / $22 / A- / fruit and floral in balance, slightly tropical
2014 Astrolabe Wrekin Vineyard Chenin Blanc Southern Valleys / $24 / B+ / drier, with heavy minerality
2015 Craggy Range Te Muna Road Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc Martinborough / $21 / A- / heavy pineapple and big tropical notes up front
2012 Craggy Range Te Muna Pinot Noir Martinborough / $45 / B+ / lively with cherry and black pepper notes, light body
2013 Craggy Range “Sophia” Gimblett Gravels Vineyard Merlot Blend / $70 / B / 62% merlot blend; lots of sweet cherry, heavy chicory, coffee
2014 Folium Pinot Noir Marlborough / $25 / B / restrained, rustic, a touch herbal; tight right now
2013 Folium Reserve Pinot Noir Marlborough / $35 / B+ / a bit brighter; slightly bolder fruit structure
2014 Folium Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough / $20 / A- / dry, with ample acid and zippiness
2014 Folium Reserve Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough / $25 / A- / a bit bigger mouthfeel, longer finish; still seems tight
2015 Gibbston Valley Collection Pinot Gris Central Otago / $25 / B / more floral, chewy with some caramel
2014 Gibbston Valley China Terrace Chardonnay Central Otago / $35 / B+ / herbal with grassy notes; buttery on the finish, not overblown
2014 Gibbston Valley Le Maitre Pinot Noir Central Otago / $55 / A- / very dense for NZ wines, cherry cola notes
2014 Gibbston Valley Glenlee Pinot Noir Central Otago / $55 / A- / Burgundy-like; earthy with barnyard notes, bold and unique for this area
2014 Gibbston Valley School House Pinot Noir Central Otago / $55 / B / rhubarb up front; less punchy with gentle fruit
2014 Gibbston Valley Reserve Pinot Noir Central Otago / $80 / A- / quite bold with notes of tea, some leather
2015 Greystone Pinot Gris Waipara Valley / $25 / B- / herbal, quite astringent
2015 Huia Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough / $20 / B+ / fresh, with modest tropical notes; bright and brisk
2015 Loveblock Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough / $22 / B / pineapple and peaches, heavy on the palate, dessert-like
2014 Mt. Beautiful Chardonnay Canterbury / $22 / B- / herbal and grassy, some meaty notes
2014 Mt. Difficulty Bannockburn Pinot Gris Central Otago / $25 / B / some butter and butterscotch notes; herbal
2013 Nautilus Estate Pinot Noir Marlborough / $33 / B+ / earthy on the nose, licorice and black cherry
2013 Prophet’s Rock Pinot Noir Central Otago / $55 / A / big tea notes; some raspberry, cherry, and pepper – a real highlight
2014 Prophet’s Rock Pinot Gris Central Otago / $39 / A / lively, with tons of aromatics, beautifully fresh body; touches of coconut
2014 Rocky Point Pinot Noir Central Otago / $34 / A- / lightly bitter, sold fruit beneath; one to lay down
2014 Box o’ Birds Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough / $17 / B+ / very grassy, high acidity; bright and peppy
2014 Saint Clair Family Estate Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough / $18 / B+ / simple, modestly structured
2014 Saint Clair Family Estate Pioneer Block 20 Cash Block Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough / $28 / A- / some salt spray, perfect for oysters; nice structure, balanced with a touch of bitterness on the finish
2012 Wooing Tree Pinot Noir Cromwell / $45 / A- / bolder fruit, some herbs and spice; racy finish
2011 Wooing Tree Sandstorm Reserve Pinot Noir Cromwell / $80 / A / some smoke with dark fruit; heavy body, long and bittersweet finish
2014 Wooing Tree Beetle Juice Pinot Noir Cromwell / $25 / B+ / some licorice, tobacco; restrained
2015 Wooing Tree Blondie Central Otago / $25 / B+ / a light pinot noir rose; loaded with tropical pineapple and mango notes; bold
2013 Greywacke Wild Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough / $29 / B- / indeed a bit wild; some meaty notes, roasted pork

Review: Jordan 2014 Chardonnay and 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon


Iconic Sonoma winery Jordan has two new releases on tap. Let’s listen in…

2014 Jordan Chardonnay Russian River Valley – A crisp and citrusy chardonnay, aromatic and fresh, with notes of peaches and apricots, with lemon juice on the finish. The butter and oak notes add body but only to a degree — on the whole this is a rare Russian River chardonnay that still keeps the focus on the fruit. A- / $32

2012 Jordan Cabernet Sauvignon Alexander Valley – Surprisingly restrained, there’s a nice core of currants, tobacco, leather oil, and oregano — but none of these really tends to rise to the top. The wine on the whole is dialed back and tamped down, but not difficult to enjoy, at least today, with its smattering of milk chocolate on the finish. Drink now; cellar time probably won’t do this wine much justice. B / $55

Review: Virginia Dare/American Pioneer “American Myth” Releases – Two Arrowheads, The White Doe, The Lost Colony, Manteo

ManteoRecently we covered the inaugural wines from Virginia Dare, a new offshoot of the Francis Ford Coppola empire. Turns out that some wines hit the market before those namesake wines, all bottled on the sly under the new American Pioneer label — at least in fine print.

These four wines, all named after places and events in American history or folklore, are all blends. Each was designed as a “teaser” wine that had something to do with the Virginia Dare legend. Never mind the history. Let’s check out the wines.

2014 Two Arrowheads – 71% viognier, 29% roussanne from Paso Robles. Doesn’t taste like a viognier at all (I guessed it might be chenin blanc), with floral notes of honeysuckle backed by almond character. Somewhat vegetal and chalky late in the game, the finish pulls it back together with some cleansing acidity. B / $20

2013 The White Doe – 80% chenin blanc, 20% viognier, a “California” bottling. This is a straightforward but surprisingly drinkable blend, with citrus and peach notes, all in solid balance. Brisk but complex with aromatics and a touch of nutmeg, there’s plenty going on here without being overpowering. Fresh and lovely, great price. A- / $13

2014 The Lost Colony – A red blend of syrah, malbec, and cabernet franc sourced from Dry Creek Valley in Sonoma County. Tart, with hefty sour cherry notes, rhubarb, and a little tobacco. That lightly sour tartness endures for the long haul, adding an herbal component to the cherries on the finish. The balance feels a bit off unless you’re pairing with an appropriately acidic dish. B / $19

2014 Manteo Sonoma County – A blend of 8 different grapes, the largest proportion being syrah, petit verdot, and cabernet sauvignon. Tastes a bit like a mutt, though its notes of violets and unripe blackberry come through the clearest. The finish is exceptionally tart and echoes notes of balsamic vinegar and sour cherry. B- / $17

Review: 2014 Robert Mondavi Private Selection Cabernet Sauvignon Aged in Bourbon Barrels

RMPS Bourbon Barrel Cabernet Sauvignon  750ml Bottle ShotWhiskey goes into wine barrels, that’s the way it’s always been. Wine into whiskey barrels? Not something that you see. Ever, I mean.

Well, this Private Selection bottling from Robert Mondavi just does that, taking cabernet sauvignon and aging it not in new oak but in used Kentucky bourbon casks. Nutty idea, eh? Let’s see how well this works.

The results here are, well, exactly what you would expect. The nose blends the traditional cabernet-currant notes with vanilla, caramel, and cinnamon, plus some scorched wood tidbits. The body is a cacophonous experience to say the least: cherry cola, intense vanilla, chocolate syrup, smashed raisins. There’s a hugely sweet rush (as you would expect) that is immediately off-putting, the chocolate-cherry note becoming almost overpowering until a brown sugar sweetness overpowers everything else.

The finish is saccharine and quite a bit overbearing. This lightens up as the wine opens up in the glass, but not nearly enough. Even after an hour of trying to figure out the impetus behind this wine, I wasn’t much further along from where I started. Is this a wine specifically built for whiskey fans? I can understand it conceptually, but by palate says no.

C+ / $14 /

Review: 2012 Cheval des Andes Mendoza

cheval de andes

Sunday is World Malbec Day, so why not celebrate with one of the most refined expressions you’ll find — from its spiritual home in Argentina?

Cheval des Andes is a joint venture between Chateau Cheval Blanc in Bordeaux and Terrazas de los Andes in Argentina. For 2012, the wine is 66% malbec, 26% cabernet sauvignon, and 8% petit verdot — kind of a red Bordeaux turned inside out.

Supple and restrained, the nose of the wine balances ripe fruit with gentle earth and spice. The body is rich — on the sweet side but balanced well enough — showcasing blueberries, some cherry, and elements of tobacco and leather showing on the moderate finish. This is a wine with depth, but its tannins are restrained and supple, making for some remarkably easy enjoyment.

A- / $95 /

Review: Lillet Rose

lilletThere’s a third (and while it’s not new, it’s the newest) member of the Lillet aromatic wine family: Lillet Rose, which rides the line between the crisp Lillet Blanc and the dark red Lillet Rouge.

Lillet Rose is a moderate pink in hue, and it fits right in between these two classic apertif wines.

Made primarily from semillon grapes (the same base as Lillet Blanc) with the addition of liqueurs made from berries and sweet and bitter oranges, the wine could pass as a hearty rose if you didn’t know better. The deep-down herbal notes give it away as Lillet, but here the addition of the liqueurs add both sweetness and nuance. Lots of orange notes give this a bittersweet bite, with a finish that recalls pink lemonade, fresh rosemary, and even a little bitter cocoa powder.

Is it heresy to say this might be my favorite expression of the three for straight sipping? Bring on the summer.

34 proof.

A- / $16 /