Review: Louis Jadot 2014 Macon-Villages and Beaujolais-Villages

 

louis jadot

I can’t remember the last time I had Louis Jadot’s iconic French wines — clearly I’m long overdue to take a quick trip through the Maconnais and Beaujolais regions with good old Louis. Here’s a look at two new low-cost releases, both easy summer sippers.

2014 Louis Jadot Macon-Villages Chardonnay – This is classic, unoaked French Chardonnay, lush with fruit and unfiltered through the lens of woody vanilla notes. Gently floral, the wine offers solid notes of fresh apple, lemon, and honeysuckle on the back end. Fine on its own, but it shines more brightly when those floral notes can find a companion with food. B+ / $13

2014 Louis Jadot Beaujolais-Villages – Beaujolais Nouveau gives this region a bad name, but bottlings like this prove there’s plenty of nuance in the gamay grape. This wine offers lots of young fruit, but tempers that with notes of fresh rosemary and hints of black pepper. The finish has some earthiness to it, along with clear vanilla notes, but the conclusion ends on straight-up fresh red berries that any Beaujolais drinker will instantly find familiar. Drink slightly chilled. B / $14

kobrandwineandspirits.com

Review: 2013 Resonance Pinot Noir Resonance Vineyard

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Resonance Vineyard is a sleepy property in the Yamhill-Carlton AVA in Oregon’s Willamette Valley, where it’s been selling fruit to various local vintners for decades. That changed in 2013, when the property was sold to famed French wine operation Maison Louis Jadot with the intent of making an estate pinot out of it — the company’s first project outside of France. And now it’s here: the first Oregon pinot noir produced by French winemaker Jacques Lardière, appropriately named Resonance.

The results are quite good, if a bit short of what one would expect from a wine of this pedigree and price. The nose is initially a bit closed off, but time and air help the wine’s aromas evolve. There’s ample herbaceousness here, notes of fresh herbs mingling with fresh licorice and a significant amount of oak, particularly heavy for a pinot.

On the palate, notes of spearmint come immediately to the fore, backed up by gentle cherry and mixed red berry fruits, some orange peel, and more herbal notes, particularly thyme. The finish is tart, heavy with raspberry notes but also fresh, a little sweet, and, again, minty. The modest body and curious structure are both a departure from the typical profile of Oregon pinot noir, and that’s both a good and a bad thing. Good in the sense that it showcases what Oregon fruit can do; bad in the sense that it ultimately doesn’t fit in well with the regional style.

That said, this is clearly a wine that will evolve with time in bottle — I’d like to see where it goes in the next 3 to 4 years.

B+ / $65 / kobrandwineandspirits.com

Review: Garzon Sauvignon Blanc and Albarino Uruguay, 2015 Vintage

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Uruguay? Uruguay. The country you probably can’t even find on a map turns out to make some surprisingly good wine.

But first, a little info from the company:

Officially opened to the public in March 2016, Bodega Garzón is an emergent family estate in the idyllic country of Uruguay, pioneered by Alejandro P. Bulgheroni, an Argentinian and Uruguayan-based international vintner. Unique to the region, Bodega Garzón is leading the charge in winemaking innovation, varietal experimentation, and sustainability.

Thoughts on the first releases available in the U.S. follow.

2015 Garzon Sauvignon Blanc Uruguay – A crisp yet fruity wine, Garzon’s sauvignon blanc takes its apple core and laces it with pineapple and a very light touch of ammonia — enough to ensure you know this is sauvignon blanc right from the start. The finish is fruit-forward and lightly lemony, bright with acidity. It’s a simple wine, but quite a delightful sipper on a hot summer day. A- / $17

2015 Garzon Albarino Uruguay – Unoaked and 100% albarino, this wine exudes peaches and apricots at the start, with secondary notes of white flowers. There’s lots of acidity here, which is good, because it needs it to balance the mountain of fruit that it’s packing, but ultimately the finish veers a touch heavily on the sweet side. B / $17

bodegagarzon.com

Tasting Sicilian Grillo: 2014 Tasca and 2013 Firriato

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Grillo is a Sicilian grape variety (thought to be a cross between moscato and catarratto) known best as one of the varietals used for the production of Marsala — but it can also be used to produce a lively table wine that echoes pinot grigio, but with a bolder and rounder body.

Recently we sampled two grillo bottlings, both from the Sicilia DOC. Thoughts follow.

2014 Tasca Tenuta Regaleali Grillo Cavallo delle Fate Sicilia DOC – Bold in body and chewy at times, but loaded with notes of fresh lemon, sweetened grapefruit, and mild apricot. At the back of the palate, the wine offers brightness and acidity — slightly floral. Some lightly meaty notes, touched with sweet marshmallow fluff, come along on a gently woody finish with recalls a gentler expression of American chardonnay. (While this is 100% grillo, grillo-chardonnay blends (and other grillo blends) are common.) B+ / $18

2013 Firriato Altavilla della Corte Grillo Sicilia DOC – Also 100% grillo. A somewhat similar wine, though here we find a stronger fresh fruit component — with more distinct tropical notes — plus a touch of vanilla-scented wood influence. This wine would be easier to confuse with a pinot grigio than the Tasca, but on the whole I find it just a touch more enjoyable thanks to a higher level of acidity. A- / $17

Exploring Port Wine: Touring Porto and the Douro Valley

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Port is unlike any other wine you’ve tasted, and as such it’s only fitting that the place the make it — Porto and the adjacent Douro Valley — is unlike any wine region you’ve visited, either.

For those unfamiliar with Port wine, a brief primer is in order. All Port is made here in northern Portugal, and though over 100 varieties of grapes are certified for use in Port production, only five of these are common: tinta barroca, tinta cão, tempranillo, touriga francesa, and touriga nacional. Few Port makers keep tabs on what grapes go into any given bottle of Port. Most Douro vineyards harvest and vinify field blends.

099Enter the Douro

The grapes for Port are exclusively grown in the Douro — an unending series of breathtaking, beautifully-stepped mountainside vineyards that wind along the path of the Douro River. The factory farm era has yet to reach the Douro, and it probably never will. Nearly 40,000 farmers work this land, some with parcels as small as an acre or less. Anyone making Port must work with a patchwork of dozens or hundreds of growers in order to obtain fruit, after which the grapes move from the vineyards to various wineries in the region, which are here called quintas. This is where the wine is actually made.

Our friends at Taylor Fladgate graciously spent a day driving us around the Douro, where we visited the company’s three properties at the namesake Taylor Fladgate, Croft, and Fonseca. Each quinta has its own DNA and sense of style, from the crowd-pleasing scene at Croft to the brutally hot and quaint Fonseca. You can taste the stylistic differences in the wines, too, but more on that in a bit.

113Port Styles 101

The process of making Port is wildly different than that of table wine. While the juice for dry table wine can ferment for a month, Port grapes ferment for only two or three days, after which time the fermentation, still low in alcohol and high in sugar, is arrested by the introduction of fresh grape brandy (about 77% alcohol) or another very high-alcohol spirit, roughly 4 parts wine to 1 part spirit. The alcohol kills the yeast and preserves the sugar remaining in the wine, bringing the abv down to about 20%. This is all done with surprisingly old-school production, and in the Port world, tradition reigns supreme to this day: Most quintas actually still foot-tread their grapes instead of relying on machinery to crush grapes into juice (those are empty lagares above; here’s a video of the crushing in practice). Treading is done in silence and takes hours and hours to complete.

From here, the winemaking process diverges quickly depending on what type of Port you’re making. Once a relatively simple drink, Port innovators (led by Taylor Fladgate) have expanded the varieties and styles of Port on the market considerably. Ruby Port is the most basic: Fresh wine is put into enormous vats (often made of chestnut) that hold thousands of gallons of juice. It slumbers here for about two years until bottling, bright red and alive with sugar.

Tawny Port is the other primary variety. Tawnies are stored in smaller casks called pipes, each about 550 to 620 liters in size. Tawnies take on some wood influence but, critically, oxidize much more quickly in the smaller barrels. These are then blended and bottled as 10, 20, 30, or 40 year old wines — though this, paradoxically, does not refer to the actual age of the wine but of the general “style” of what’s inside. Drink a 30 year old Tawny and you are assured of getting “30 year old quality” — not necessarily any wine that is really 30 years old.

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White Port is a relatively recent addition to the lineup; it’s made with white grapes (namely malvasia) instead of red and can work wonderfully as a cocktail mixer. The most recent addition to the industry is Rose Port, which is a fresh, “pink” style that has a lot in common with rose table wine.

Vintage Port is simply Ruby Port that comes from a single vintage. It’s only made in the best years, 2 or 3 times per decade. Vintage Ports command the highest prices of all Port wines, and they can be aged in bottle for many, many decades. Late Bottled Vintage Port is a bit confusing, because it has a vintage date on it, but it is not Vintage Port. LBV Ports come from quintas other than those used for Vintage Port, and are aged in cask much longer than the typical Ruby (5 to 6 years is common), which often gives it a deeper and more raisiny, almost Zinfandel-like character. It’s not as ageworthy as Vintage Port (LBV can usually be consumed right away), but can be considerably less expensive than Vintage Port.

Single Quinta Vintage Port also adds to the confusion because it is Vintage Port released from single wineries, as the name suggests, usually in years that a Vintage Port is not declared. They age in bottle just like Vintage Ports but can be purchased for much less. Lastly there are Colheita Ports, which are vintage-dated Tawny Ports. While regular Tawnies are blends of a wide range of vintages, Colheitas come from a single one.

 

065From the Douro to Porto

All of this aging takes place not in the Douro Valley quintas but rather in the city of Porto — or rather, in the Villa Nova de Gaia, which is the part of Porto that is on the east side of the Douro River. Nothing involving Port wine happens on the western Porto side (which features the old city center and most of the town’s industry). In Gaia, it is seemingly nothing but Port houses, which are called lodges in the local parlance. Why “lodge?” Simply because it sounds better than “warehouse,” of which there are dozens in Gaia, each of which is often emblazoned with a huge sign bearing the name of the owner in monstrous letters, making for a truly unique skyline. Wine is aged here instead of in the Douro exclusively because of the heat. In Porto it can easily be 20 degrees cooler than in the Douro — though modern air conditioning is starting to change this for a few producers.

Visitors to Porto can walk along the waterfront and visit any number of these Port producers, most of which have tasting rooms and visitors’ centers, just like you’d see in any highly touristed wine region. Some, like Taylor Fladgate, are incredibly modern, including such up-to-the-minute touches as a “selfie station” next to a giant barrel of Ruby Port. Some, like Niepoort, are exactly the opposite. Niepoort isn’t open to the public and doesn’t even have a sign on the door — in fact, the building doesn’t even have a proper floor. At Niepoort’s lodge, the ground is simply made of packed earth that can be hosed down to cool things off on hot days. Spiders are encouraged to roost in the windows; their webs help block out the sunlight. (Many thanks to Niepoort for giving us access and a private tour of the facility.)

045Most visitors to this area never leave Porto, and that’s fine. You can taste dozens of Port wines here and get the full scoop on understanding how Port is made if you never leave Gaia, but visiting the Douro itself is a day trip that’s really worth it — not just for the wine but for the unforgettable scenery, too. (Taylor Fladgate operates luxury hotels in both Porto (The Yeatman) and the Douro (The Vintage House), so you can easily spend a day in both locations if you’re game.)

Before we move on to some Port wine reviews, here’s one pro tip for drinking Port. Everywhere in Portugal, Port — no matter what the variety — is served at least slightly chilled. (White Port and Rose Port are typically served well-chilled.) Having Ruby and Tawny Ports about 10 degrees colder really makes a difference. In America, we tend to see these wines poured at room temperature, which puts a heavy focus on the brandy rather than the fruit, making Port taste “hot” with alcohol. By chilling things down, you’ll often find that the wine showcases a whole new dimension of character.

Many thanks to Taylor Fladgate for taking the time to give Team Drinkhacker a tour of the Douro and the Taylor Fladgate lodge in Porto. Taylor’s tasting center in Gaia is absolutely not to be missed if you visit.

Port Wine Reviews, 2016

And now, a catalog of the many Port wines we encountered during our time in the Porto and the Douro.

Niepoort Ruby Port – Fresh, mint notes, strong cherry and raspberry, vanilla and licorice. A big crowd-pleaser. A-

Niepoort Tawny Port – A sweeter style of tawny than usual. Dark tea, brown sugar, cloves, and ginger notes. A bit tarry on the finish. B+

Niepoort 10 Years Old Tawny Port – Intriguing strawberry notes, vanilla frosting; quite sweet for a tawny. B

2012 Niepoort Late Bottled Vintage Port – Chocolatey and dense, almost whiskey-like at times, showing dark cherries, tea leaf, fresh herbs, and some elderflower notes. A-

2005 Niepoort Tawny Colheita – Strawberry and mint start things off on a wine that showcases lots of depth. The finish evokes figs and dates. Very rich and lovely. A

2005 Niepoort Vintage Port – Very dense, with intense chocolate, dark raisin and prune character, and some honey on the finish. Still needs years of time to mature. A-

Caves Vasconcellos 10 Years Old White Port – Unusual to see a white port with an age attached; this one offers a sherry nose, orange peels, flowers, and golden raisins. A-

Caves Vasconcellos 10 Years Old Tawny Port – A little thin and rather plain. Leathery with subtle coffee notes and touches of figs. B

Caves Vasconcellos 20 Years Old Tawny Port – Quite smoky, with strong wood influence. I’m reminded a lot of Amontillado sherry. B-

Taylor Fladgate Chip Dry White Port – Extra dry style, spends three years in wood. Fragrant and lightly nutty. Not sold in the U.S., it was the first White Port ever marketed. B+

2011 Taylor Fladgate Late Bottled Vintage – Very dark and brooding, with blackcurrants, leather, and tobacco notes. The finish offers chocolate galore. A-

Taylor Fladgate 10 Years Old Tawny Port – Red berries and some chocolate notes, lightly oxidized with gentle balsamic character. Pretty but mild. B

Taylor Fladgate 20 Years Old Tawny Port – Heavily oxidized on the nose, with notes of orange peel, nuts, and a touch of coffee. B+

0941966 Taylor Fladgate Very Old Single Harvest Port – This is essentially a Colheita style port, a Tawny that is 50 years old. A knockout, with mint, intense nuttiness, coffee, and quiet raisin and baking spice character. Despite the age, it has a sunny finish. Opulent yet easily drinkable. Best Port I tried on the entire trip. A+

Croft Pink – The original rose Port, made from 100% red grapes that spend 6 hours on the skins; it never sees wood. Notes of strawberries and some tea leaf lead to a simple and fruity wine. We reviewed this years ago; it was more recently reformulated to reduce the total sugar level.) B+

Croft 10 Years Old Tawny Port – A nose of mocha and baking spice lead to a significantly more fruit-focused body, with notes of fruit tea and a jammy finish. B+

Fonseca Siroco White Port – Quite dry and herbal, with some astringency and floral notes. B-

Fonseca Terra Prima – Sold as Terra Bella in the U.S. Fonseca’s organic Ruby Port is fresh with fruit, mint, and offers a long, sweet finish. Quite luscious. B+

Fonseca 20 Years Old Tawny Port – Butterscotch heavy, with lots of acidity. Some herbs meld well with marzipan notes and a burnt sugar finish. A-

2012 Fonseca Guimaraens Vintage Port – Fonseca releases vintage-dated Port in non-vintage declared years under the Guimaraens sub-label. A big, dark chocolate nose leads to an explosive body, heavy with fruit and tannins. Long finish. A-

Ramos Pinto White Port Reserva – Fresh, lightly sweet, with some lemon notes. A little vegetal on the finish. B

Ramos Pinto 10 Years Old Tawny Port – Classic tawny, with lots of nuts, leather, and some Madeirized fruit. Coffee and tea on the finish. B+

2005 Ramos Pinto Vintage Port – Dense with dark chocolate and heavy cassis. Long finish with considerable life left in it. B+

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Review: 2015 Love & Hope Rose

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Here’s a fresh rose from Hope Family Wines production (hence the name) made from grenache, mourvedre, and syrah grapes grown in Paso Robles, California.

Immediately a curious note takes hold — orange blossoms in lieu of the usual red berries, along with notes of Meyer lemon and some papaya character. The body could be more acidic and offer a bit more balance among its melange of flavors, but as a departure from the usual berries-and-flowers approach of the typical rose, it merits a look.

B / $20 / loveandhopewines.com

The Experts Speak: My Wine Is a Winner

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Some eight years ago I received the craziest gadget I’ve yet to review: The WinePod, a giant urn that helps home winemakers craft their own vino. I ended up spending six months fermenting grapes, aging the wine in oak, and bottling it, and chronicled the process in a six-part series for Wired.

For years the wine (four cases were produced) has sat in my cellar, occasionally cracked open for kicks or given away as a gift. This year I finally got the idea to see what the pros thought about it, and I entered the wine into my local Marin County Fair.

The results: A blue ribbon, first place for winemaking in the “Cabernet Sauvignon, 2010 or older” category. The big ribbon came complete with tasting notes: “Great balance of fruit, acid and tannin. Very well made. I really like it. Commercial quality.” Another critic said: “Very nice. Smooth, balanced, nice fruit to tannin ratio. Slight eucalyptus.”

Eucalyptus, folks!

Anyway, that’s a long way around of patting myself on the back, and giving serious praise to the WinePod. The WinePod never became a massive success, but it is still being sold — I’d love to see more folks experiment with it. Here’s a toast to the WinePod and a strong vote for its revival!

Tasting the Pinots of Emeritus Vineyards, 2013 Vintage

Emeritus HR

Emeritus began in 1999 when the irascible Brice Cutrer Jones, founder of Sonoma-Cutrer, bought a coveted 115-acre apple orchard in Sonoma’s Russian River Valley. Apples went out. Pinot noir grapes went in. The goal: Craft an all-estate-grown Burgundy-style wine “from scratch,” its grapes carefully dry-farmed for maximum flavor extraction — and to actually showcase the terroir of California. (This vineyard is said to be the largest dry-farmed vineyard in California.)

Today Emeritus spans three small vineyards (two in the Sonoma Coast), with each responsible for producing a single-vineyard pinot noir. Today a small group of writers sat down (via a web chat) with Jones and his daughter and partner Mari Jones to step through the three latest bottlings of Emeritus pinot, all 2013 vintage releases, and listen to Jones extol the benefits of dry farming… and rail against the commercial winemaking practices of the Napa Valley.

Thoughts on each of these wines follow.

2013 Emeritus Vineyards Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast Pinot Hill Vineyard – The newest vineyard, about 30 acres on the northern end of the Wind Gap, planted in 2008 (before that it was a llama farm). Distinctly Burgundy style, with notes of bacon and pepper on the nose. The body is loaded with fruit, gentle raspberry and cherry notes, plus notes of tea leaf. The conclusion is gentle and easy, with light wood notes. A quiet nod to the Cote de Nuits. B+ / $55

2013 Emeritus Vineyards Pinot Noir Russian River Valley Hallberg Ranch Vineyard – Sourced from the original 115-acre vineyard discussed above. Brighter, more acidic, and with a clearer, though not overblown, fruit character. It’s a departure from the ultra-jammy style that’s typical of the Russian River, with a smattering of savory spices, and a finish that evokes crisp red apple notes. Really gorgeous, elegant, and fresh, it’s easy-drinking and light on its fight… but loaded with a depth of flavor that merits considerable thought. Definitively not your daddy’s RRV pinot. A / $42

2013 Emeritus Vineyards Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast William Wesley Vineyard – Sourced from a high-elevation vineyard, a 30-acre plot that was originally a partnership with Aubert de Villaine, the proprietor of Domaine Romanée-Conti. De Villaine eventually backed out of the project, but the finished product nonetheless has some of his DNA. It’s heavily Burgundian in style, brooding on the nose with wet earth and some, big meaty notes, and tempered with touches of spearmint. There’s a density on the palate, loaded with notes of licorice, blackberry bramble, and some tar, which combines to make for a quite heavy pinot that might even be mistaken for syrah at times. That’s not a slight. Brice thinks of this as his winery’s “grand cru” bottling… and he’s not wrong in that descriptor. A- / $67

emeritusvineyards.com

Review: 2014 Treana Blanc

 

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Treana, from Hope Family Wines, is an iconic California red blend. Now comes Treana Blanc, a white blend to follow in its footsteps. Made from 45% viognier, 45% marsanne, and 10% roussanne, it carries a Central Coast appellation. This is the second vintage for the wine, which offers a slightly different blend than the original 2013 (which had no roussanne).

Very much Rhone-like in composition, the wine shows an aromatic nose of white flowers, buttered popcorn, and plenty of peaches. Those viognier-driven notes are more muted on the palate, letting more buttery-oaky notes come through, something like a traditional chardonnay. That body is a bit at odds with the racier and more fragrant nose, but somehow the overall construction seems to work fairly well — with the aromatics making a brief reprise on the finish. Worth tasting.

B+ / $24 / hopefamilywines.com

Review: Rose Wines of Chateau Saint-Maur, 2015 Vintage

 

Ch St. Maur Clos de CapeluneAs summer begins to fade, we take yet another look at rose from France’s Provence region, this time including a trio of wines all from the same producer, Chateau Saint-Maur, which produces rose at the higher-end of the typical price band for this style.

Below we look at three wines from St.-Maur, all cru classe bottlings from the 2015 vintage.

2015 Chateau Saint-Maur Cotes de Provence Cru Classe – Grenache-heavy, with cinsault and carignan making up most of the rest of the blend (a half-dozen other grapes fill out the remaining few percentage points). This is the only “standard bottle” in this bunch compared to the oversized monsters below, this is a quite dry expression of rose, with light orange overtones and a simple, pleasant structure. Some grapefruit and quiet floral notes find a nice footing in the gentle finish. B+ / $25

2015 Chateau Saint-Maur L’Excellence Cotes de Provence Cru Classe – Grenache, cinsault, and syrah, in that order. Bottled (as is the Clos de Capelune) in a bottle with an ultra-fat base that will challenge any racking system you have. That aside, this is a pretty rose with more fruit to it than the other wines in this lineup, with peach and apricot notes leading the way to a modestly floral finish. Lively from start to finish with an enduring acidity. A- / $45

2015 Chateau Saint-Maur Clos de Capelune Cru Classe – Sourced from newly-acquired vineyards (hence the double name on the bottle), this blend spins things around, featuring cinsault first, then syrah, then a bit of grenache. Fragrant and floral on the nose, again with white flower petals and a touch of apricot notes. On the palate, it’s quite dry and even tannic at times, though the fruity finish, with its notes of peaches and a dollop of red raspberry, is often inspiring. A- / $65

chateausaintmaur.com

Review: 2015 Chateau Sainte Marguerite “Symphony” Rose

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More Provence rose as summer hits its peak months, this one a blend of 40% grenache, 40% cinsault, and 20% syrah. Restrained with light apricot, browned apple, and apricot notes, the wine unfolds to reveal some white floral elements, a bit of honeysuckle, and more herbs and baking spice on the finish. Showing lovely balance — and with not a hint of “strawberry” to be found — it’s an unusual rose that plays best for the white wine enthusiast.

Aka Symphonie.

A- / $34 / dreyfusashby.com

Review: 2014 Avignonesi Rosso di Montipulciano DOC

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Avignonesi’s 2014 Rosso di Montipulciano is in line with its prior efforts, which kicks off with a healthy cherry character with a slightly sweet, vanilla-dusted finish. Some modest tannins, a touch of licorice, and a bit of chocolate. Light balsamic notes add complexity to the finish, but otherwise the wine is a simple but enveloping expression of Italy.

B+ / $19 / avignonesi.it