Tasting Report: Wines of Alpha Omega

I’ve been a fan of Alpha Omega — especially its white wines — for years (the entire operation isn’t quite 10 years old), and have always wondered why I never see these wines at stores or on wine lists. Mystery resolved: During a recent visit to this hot winery, our host informed us that 90 percent of the winery’s production goes direct to consumers, either through the tasting room or the wine club.

During our visit, we tasted through a range of Alpha Omega’s current releases. Thoughts follow.

2013 Alpha Omega Sauvignon Blanc – Beautiful tropical notes here, lemon and figs. Lots of aromatics alongside a stony slate character. Great balance. A- / $40

2014 Alpha Omega Chardonnay Unoaked 2013 – Unoaked, gentle and elegant. Fresh apples and a touch of citrus make this easy to drink. A- / $44

2013 Alpha Omega Chardonnay – The oaked version of the above (30% new oak, with light/medium toast), born from the Newton pedigree of AO’s winemaker. A touch of mint works nicely with the vanilla here, but the overall impact is one of restraint, with surprising acidity on the finish. A- / $72

2014 Alpha Omega Pinot Noir Russian River Hop Kiln – Dense pinot, with dark cherry and red fruit notes. Fairly closed off at this point. B / $86

2012 Alpha Omega Proprietary Red – 61% cabernet sauvignon, 32% merlot, 7% cabernet franc. Big chocolate and salted caramel notes here, with touches of licorice. Some sweetness and cinnamon on the finish. B+ / $96

2012 Alpha Omega Cabernet Sauvignon – Blended with 5% petit verdot. Major density here, with tobacco, red fruits, and blackberry. Chocolate hits on the lengthy finish. A- / $96

2013 Alpha Omega Cabernet Sauvignon Beckstoffer Missouri Hopper Oakville – A single vineyard, 100% cabernet bottling, one of the components of AO’s top-shelf Era bottling. Big meaty notes of bacon and beef jerky, dense as hell, showcasing mixed herbs and tight tannins. Give this one lots of time. A- / $NA

2013 Alpha Omega Petit Verdot & Cab Franc – Curious name but see if you can guess what’s in this one? (52% petit verdot, 48% cabernet franc.) Starts off a bit shut down, but it slowly opens to reveal gentle strawberry and black tea notes. Exotic but enchanting. A- / $98

aowinery.com

Review: NV Leer Vineyards Heroic Red

heroic winesLeer Vineyards is an operation based in Contra Costa County, California, and among their hefty production is this bottling — Heroic Red — a nonvintage blend the proceeds of which partly go to supporting combat-wounded veterans by funding home purchases. (Leer also makes other wines with charitable goals.)

The blend is 58% Syrah, 29% Merlot, and 13% Cabernet Sauvignon. The wine offers thick, almost jammy, fruit notes, with strong blackberry and blueberry elements plus a dollop of smoke driven by the syrah. Tea leaf, coffee, and milk chocolate are all secondary notes, alongside a finish of currants. Altogether it’s a standard midgrade blend that you’d expect from this region, but it’s all kept in reasonable balance and offers a fairly brisk, tart finish.

B- / $24 / leervineyards.com

Review: 2014 Hahn GSM Central Coast

Hahn_GSM_2014Chocolate-covered blueberries explode in this rich grenache-syrah-mourvedre blend (65%, 31%, 4% — in that order). That burst of flavor — backed by some cinnamon and notes of currants — is an initial rush, but an overwhelming sweetness arrives soon after, quickly giving the body a raisiny/pruny quality that works against it as a table wine. The finish is dense and lengthy but on the saccharine side.

C+ / $12 / hahnwines.com

Review: Virginia Dare 2014 Chardonnay and Pinot Noir

virginia dareThe latest addition to Francis Ford Coppola’s growing wine empire, Virginia Dare Winery is a Sonoma-based operation with an old-timey feel. “American Wines Since 1835” is a bit of an odd thing to say for a winery that was founded in 2015, but it turns out the name has been around for quite a bit longer than that.

The story of the Virginia Dare Winery began with North Carolina’s first commercial winery, Medoc Vineyard, which opened in 1835. Two businessmen, known as the Garrett brothers, purchased the property in 1865 calling it Garrett & Company. They began producing the Virginia Dare label which quickly became one of the nation’s top selling wines. With the start of Prohibition in 1919, Garrett & Company was forced to move, first to Brooklyn, New York, and then to Cucamonga, California, where the business transformed into the Virginia Dare Winery. It was one of the first wineries to sell wine after the repeal of Prohibition in 1933 and was considered a booming business for much of the late 40s and 50s, but eventually saw turmoil and nearly faded into history.

So who is Virginia Dare? Born in 1587, she was the first English child born in the British colonies, and she was named after the land in which she was birthed. There’s a lot of mythology around Dare — none of it wine-related — but digging into all that is left as an exercise for the reader.

Thoughts on the two inaugural wines follow.

2014 Virginia Dare Chardonnay Russian River Valley – This is a chardonnay with restraint. It shows the usual oak and brown butter notes, but aromas of lime zest and herbs add some nuance to the typical character. The overall impression is surprisingly restrained and fruit-forward — an easy, everyday white that still has some class. B+ / $25

2014 Virginia Dare Pinot Noir Russian River Valley – A perfectly pleasant pinot, like the chardonnay it showcases restraint while engaging with notes of blackberry, ground black pepper, and a slug of black olives. That sounds awfully black, I now realize, but everything is dialed back and kept in harmony — perhaps it’s dialed back a little too far. Again, it’s a simple wine, but it has lots of charm, particularly at this price point. B+ / $25

virginiadarewinery.com

Review: NV Faire la Fete Brut Cremant de Limoux

CSrDIbkVAAEV7FoA sparkler from France’s Languedoc region (the Limoux AOC dates back only to 2005), Faire la Fete is a blend of chardonnay, pinot noir, and chenin blanc grapes.

It’s an intriguing wine — very fruit-forward, with a moderate level of fizz. The palate includes notes of fresh apple, tangerine, banana, and light floral touches. The finish is clean and quick, making this almost perfect for a pre-dinner sipper. It may be a wholly unserious wine, but it’s the perfect bottle to crack open at the beginning of a celebration.

A- / $20 / fairelafetewines.com

Review: 2013 Carmel Road Pinot Noir Monterey Drew’s Blend

Carmel Road 2013 Drew's Blend PNWho is Drew, you ask? Drew Barrymore, that’s who.

America’s favorite ’80s star is the name brand behind this wine, produced with winemaker Kris Kato, which is a delightful little pinot from the little-known label Carmel Road.

Drew’s Blend is a precious wine, gentle on the palate but studded with notes of cherry, tea leaf, eucalyptus, and a squeeze of citrus. Very light on its feet, it is quaffable on its own and pairs well with food, too. It worked delightfully well with a butter-sauteed shrimp and spiced tomato rice dish. Notes of black pepper mingle with mint tea on the finish.

A- / $28 / carmelroad.com

Tasting: Tempranillo Wines of California, 2016 Releases

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When one thinks of California wine grapes, tempranillo doesn’t exactly spring to mind. Turns out though, that tempranillo — which is most notable for its viticulture in Spain — is grown all over the state. To prove it, we tested six tempranillo wines, each from a different region of California, with some interesting results.

Thoughts follow.

2013 Castoro Cellars Tempranillo Whale Rock Vineyard Reserve – Grown in western Paso Robles. Chocolatey, with notes of cloves. Ample plum notes add a fruity character, while the herbal character on the finish gives it a bittersweet conclusion. B+ / $17

2013 Lee Family Farm Tempranillo Arroyo Seco – Arroyo Seco is part of Monterey County. Menthol meets notes of fresh thyme, sage, and — strangely — lime zest take this in some oddball (though not entirely unlikable) directions. The finish reminds me of a creme de cassis more than a table wine. B- / $18

2012 Quinta Cruz Tempranillo San Antonio Valley Pierce Ranch – From the Santa Cruz region. The plum and berry fruit is restrained here, the wine already showing some age with balsamic and oxidized notes. Some mild spice notes lead to a body that is slightly bitter, with a short finish. B / $18

2013 St. Amant Tempranillo Amador County “The Road Less Traveled” – A dense wine from the Sierra foothills, atypical in this roundup but a fantastic reminder of what solid tempranillo can be — featuring dark plums, blackberries, and black tea leaf character all bound up in an unctuous and juicy body. The long, spot-on finish recalls some lightly herbal and tea-driven character. A- / $23

2011 Terroir Coquerel Tempranillo Calistoga Napa Valley – Dusty and dry up front, here we see tempranillo showing as more austere and Old World in style. Raspberry, tea leaf, and some bramble notes mingle in a moderately acidic and tart package. It’s the only wine in this package that makes me think of Rioja, where tempranillo is basically a religion. A- / $42

2012 Matchbook Tempranillo Dunnigan Hills – From Yolo County in the Sacramento Valley. A tad watery, but with heavy, extracted fruit notes. Some coffee notes add a little complexity, but the somewhat off, herbal finish doesn’t overly engage. B- / $15