Tasting the Wines of Vin de France, 2017 Releases

Back in 2009, France created a new categorization to cover wines sourced from all over the country. The so-called Vin de France wines are a mixed bag of grapes and styles (as the restrictions are few), but the overall goal with the category is to create single-varietal wines or blends, sourced from anywhere in the country — either all one region or multiple ones, mixed together — at a very affordable price.

Today, Vin de France wines comprise 15 percent of total wine exports from the country.

We checked out two Vin de France wines (a third was corked) from recent vintages. Thoughts follow.

2014 Marc Barriot Le P’tit Barriot Vin de France – 100% syrah. Do you like terroir? This wine wears it on its sleeve — a big and funky wine that reeks of earth, balsamic notes, and green vegetables, and carries that through to an equally semi-sour palate. The finish seems some wild, citrus-like notes emerging. Rough and rustic, this is the wine to drink before you embark on a running with the bulls. Vaya con dios! Or whatever they say in France. C / $18

2013 Maison Ropiteau Pinot Noir Vin de France – A simple and jammy pinot noir, this wine loads up on fresh berries and vanilla, with gentle balsamic notes underpinning the experience. The finish is short, quite fruity, with just a touch of rose petal to it. There’s nothing incredibly deep here, but as far as summery picnic wines go, you could do a lot worse. B / $10

Review: Wines of Frank Family Vineyards, 2017 Releases

It’s never a bad day when Frank Family Vineyards’ annual releases show up for review. Today we look at a field of four wines from this delightful Napa producer.

2015 Frank Family Vineyards Chardonnay Carneros – A solid expression of Sonoma chardonnay, bold and buttery with strong vanilla notes, but not overblown at all. Light apple and some fig offer nuance as the palate evolves, with lemon-scented butter dominating the lengthy finish. A- / $24

2015 Frank Family Vineyards Pinot Noir Carneros – A brisk pinot, this is loaded with notes of black currants, black cherries, and black tea. As a pinot goes, it may seem like it’s none more black, though there’s lingering sweetness to cut through some of the more dusky characteristics, finishing on a nice little blackberry note. To be honest, it’s less black than you’d think. A / $30

2014 Frank Family Vineyards Zinfandel Napa Valley – A beautiful zin from Frank Family, though creamy and clearly loaded with alcohol (at 14.6% abv), it remains expressive (though indulgent) with notes of dense cassis, brambly blackberry, molten chocolate, and ample vanilla. Big and bold zin, to be sure, but an exemplar of the style. A- / $37

2014 Frank Family Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley – A misfired vintage? A little weird and surprisingly thin, this cab is overloaded with fruit but lacks the structure and tannin one comes to expect from Napa cabernet. The jammy strawberry notes give way to some rhubarb, orange peel, and a few savory herbs, but they’re hard fought given the surfeit of fruit. B- / $40

frankfamilyvineyards.com

Review: Wines of Lake Sonoma Winery, 2017 Releases

My hunch is that you can figure out where Lake Sonoma Winery is based — but you might not know that this under-the-radar operation makes wine from all over the county, not just near the lake.

We tried six new releases from the winery, with almost unanimously impressive results. Thoughts follow.

2014 Lake Sonoma Winery Tributaries Blend Russian River Valley – A blend of 88% pinot blanc, 7% chardonnay, and 5% sauvignon blanc. A huge, summer crowd pleaser, this fragrant blend features white flowers, melon, some lemon, and a nougat character that creeps in late in the game. The finish seems some forest floor elements that sully an otherwise impressive blend, but otherwise it’s a big hit. A- / $19

2014 Lake Sonoma Winery Chardonnay Russian River Valley – A surprisingly beautiful chardonnay, not overblown with vanilla and oak, which lets some of the inherent fruit in the grape shine through: Lemon, with a dollop of marshmallow creaminess on top. A great food wine. A- / $18

2014 Lake Sonoma Winery Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast – This pinot offers a classic Sonoma Coast structure, melding gentle earth and cola notes with a moderately fruity core. Some black tea leaf emerges late in the game, with the finish seeing some meaty character adding a somewhat beefy note. B+ / $21

2014 Lake Sonoma Winery Malbec Sonoma Valley – Initially I found this wine to be a little gummy, but after giving it a slight chill, this malbec really opened up and showcased its lush fruit: blackberry, dense plum notes, currants, and lingering chocolate and cola notes on the finish. Worked perfectly with steaks with a chili-spiced butter. A- / $35

2013 Lake Sonoma Winery Zinfandel Dry Creek Valley – Lots of acidity gives this zin a more approachable density and mouthfeel, with hints of orange and tart cherry mingling with the more traditional, plump red berries at the core of the wine. There’s a little dark chocolate on the back end to give it some length. B+ / $20

2015 Lake Sonoma Winery Cabernet Sauvignon Alexander Valley – My least favorite wine in this group, this is a somewhat dimwitted cab, over-fruited and showing some green underbelly that lingers well after the simple red berry fruit has faded. A touch of tannin and a hint of dried mushroom are welcome on the back end, but it’s not enough to elevate this beyond a mere B- / $25

lakesonomawinery.com

Review: Proyecto Garnachas de Espana – Salvaje and Olvidada, 2017 Releases

Proyecto Garnachas de Espana — or the Spanish Grenache Project, if you will — is a curious series of wine releases meant to celebrate the grenache wines of the Ebro Valley. A project of Spanish wine company Vintae, the idea is to showcase different vineyards in the Aragon region, to show how terroir and microclimates can expressions of 100% garnacha.

While a number of these wines are on the market, we received two to check out. (Note they are from different vintages.) Thoughts follow.

2015 Proyecto Garnachas de Espana La Garnacha Salvaje – A surprisingly thin wine for grenache, particularly given the aromas of tobacco and spice that lead to a rather watery and limpid body. Here flavors of fresh cherries and blonde wood notes lead to a somewhat off-putting finish that showcases beef jerky and boiled vegetables. A bit of a blown opportunity. C / $12

2013 Proyecto Garnachas de Espana La Garnacha Olvidada – A strikingly different (and much better) wine than the above, much bolder on the palate with notes of cassis, tea leaf, cola, and some lingering mint. The body is rich and the finish is lasting, offering a tribute to the earth in the form of lingering hints of cassis, mushroom, and dusky tree bark. Well balanced between sweet and savory, with a lightly drying conclusion. A / $12

garnachasdeespana.com

Review: NV Haute Couture French Bubbles Blanc and Rose

Our friends at Boisset are out with two new sparkling wines from France… but don’t call them Champagne. These are denoted as “French sparkling wine” and both are bottled dry and nonvintage. A blanc and a rose version are both available.

Haute Couture French Bubbles, the newest sparkling wine from the Boisset Collection unites the two quintessentially French worlds of fine wine and high fashion. Haute Couture is the ultimate expression of style, with grapes sourced from the finest terroirs throughout France. It is a sophisticated expression of time-honored French sparkling winemaking expertise in a bottle with a refreshingly modern, textured design that evokes the iconic world of the most unique fashion houses.

“Our newest wine embodies how style influences our winemaking vision,” said Jean-Charles Boisset, proprietor of Boisset Collection. “Haute Couture is a composition of the best of France has to offer, tailor made into a beautiful elixir with a taste that is voluptuous, decadent and provocative!”

The sparkler comes in both Blanc and Rosé versions and in standard 750 ml-sized bottles as well as in 187 ml bottles (two-pack pictured above) — a petite Haute Couture moment ideal for inviting celebration and ensuring indulgence on any occasion.

NV Haute Couture French Bubbles Blanc – It may say “dry” on the label, but this wine has more sweetness than you’d expect, its creamy palate carrying loads of citrus, banana, quince, and hints of vanilla. Lots of lime on the finish. The body is moderately fizzy — nothing anywhere close to Champagne’s yeasty, overbearing character — and quite crowd-pleasing on the whole. That said, it manages to avoid pushing the sugar too far and remains refreshing and fun — a lot like a Prosecco. B+

NV Haute Couture French Bubbles Rose – Very similar to the Blanc, this pink expression is perhaps slightly sweeter, with a slight bent toward strawberries and cream over citrus. The finish, however, offers a clear marzipan/almond note. The berry-laden fruitiness might just be suggested by the pinkish hue, but either way, the wine is a straightforward experience, just as crowd-pleasing as the blanc. B+

each $30 ($25 for two-pack of 187ml bottles) / boissetcollection.com

Review: 2016 Hacienda Lopez de Haro Rioja Blanco

White Rioja isn’t terribly common in the States, but Lopez de Haro’s Blanco is reasonably available. This blend of Viura and other grapes is decidedly innocuous, a chewy wine with notes of lemon and figs, with a slightly buttery character thanks to the wine’s three months spent in French oak. The finish adds a touch of astringency, with a finish echoing lemon and lime peel, with just the slightest hint of milk chocolate.

B / $10 / bodegaclassica.com

Review: Wines of Lula Cellars, 2017 Releases

We’ve been fans of Mendocino’s Lula Cellars since discovering their pinots and zin last year. Now the winery is out with two new single-vineyard pinot noirs from the 2014 vintage. Thoughts follow.

2014 Lula Cellars Pinot Noir Costa Vineyard Mendocino – Like the 2013 bottling, this single vineyard pinot is a knockout, pretty and restrained on the nose, but bold with notes of cherry, tea leaf, baking spice, and some currants on the body. Lingering notes of gunpowder and graphite hit as the finish evolves, while sweeter blueberry emerges on the finish, if you give the wine some time. Another standout. A / $45

2014 Lula Cellars Pinot Noir Docker Hill Vineyard Mendocino – This is a softer expression of pinot from Lula, more fruit forward, but with fewer secondary notes of interest — sweeter than you might think, with light marshmallow notes and a lacing of strawberry jam. As the finish emerges it offers some cola notes, a clearer cherry character, and some brambly blueberry hints. It’s less complex and less elegant than the Costa, but still a highly worthwhile wine on the whole. B+ / $50

lulacellars.com

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