Thu 29 Sep 2016
Posted by Fredric Koeppel under Abruzzo
, Trebbiano No Comments
Here’s a white wine that breathes the evocative briny atmosphere of the Adriatic. The Villa Gemma Bianco 2015, Colline Teatine IGT, a blend of 80 percent trebbiano grapes with 15 percent cococcolia and 5 percent chardonnay, hails from the hills around the city of Chiete, one of the most ancient sites in Abruzzo, as well as of all Italy. Founded by the Greeks some 2,500 to 3,000 years ago — legend says by none other than Achilles who named the place after his mother Thetis — the town survived the numerous trials and tribulations and shifts of population and allegiances any urban area its age would, though it was designated an open city during World War II, so it wasn’t bombed. Resting on a crest above the Pescara River, a few kilometers from the sea, Chiete is the capital of the province that bears its name.
The wine, a pale gold-yellow hue, offers delicate notes of sea-grass and salt-marsh, of jasmine and camellia, in a seamless menage with roasted lemon, tangerine and pear, almond skin and apple peel. These elements segue smoothly onto the palate, maintaining apt balance among its savory-saline quality, a slight tinge of bitterness and tasty stone-fruit flavors, all animated by brisk acidity. The finish is lively, a bit herbal and etched with limestone-seashell minerality. 13 percent alcohol. The Villa Gemma Bianco 2015 makes a lovely aperitif as well as accompaniment to roasted fish, shrimp risotto and mild cheeses. Excellent. About $18, representing Good Value.
Imported by Masciarelli Wine Co., Weymouth, Mass. A sample for review.
Wed 28 Sep 2016
The red wines of Montefalco are becoming better known on these shores, a move that I heartily endorse. Ever since visiting the charming and minuscule hill-town in eastern Umbria in 1996, I have loved the wines of the surrounding region. This area used to be pretty monocultural, that is the wines were made from one dominant grape, the sagrantino, hence the wines were officially designated Sagrantino di Montefalco. Sagrantino produces a fairly tough and tannic wine that needs years to come around, but a Montefalco Rosso is also made, the motivation being to offer a more immediately drinkable (and less expensive) version of the region’s wine. The interesting aspect is that Montefalco Rosso consists primarily of sangiovese grapes. Hmmm, you think, so Umbria becomes an outpost of Tuscany? Not only that, but there’s the international touch of merlot, making Montefalco Rosso more of a hybrid but one that’s unique. One of the best examples is the Arnaldo-Caprai Montefalco Rosso 2013, a dark savory red wine perfectly appropriate for the full-flavored foods of Autumn. The blend is 70 percent sangiovese and 15 percent each sagrantino and merlot; the wine aged one year in 70 percent Slavonian oak barrels and 30 percent French barriques. The color is deep ruby, opaque at the center and shading to a slightly lighter rim; aromas of black cherries and raspberries are permeated by notes of sour cherry and cherry pit, bolstered by bass-tones of graphite, sage and heather; a few moments in the glass add hints of leather and tar, violets and lavender. The wine possesses acidity in spades for buoyancy and layers of dusty, fairly rigorous, briery-brambly tannins for structure, but on the whole it offers an appreciably softer, more fruit-forward experience for the consumer, that fruit consisting of spicy black and red cherries and plums feeling a bit macerated and stewed. The finish remains austere at this point, so open the wine an hour before serving and drink with braised short ribs and veal shanks, roasted venison and boar or robust pasta dishes. Now through 2020 or ’23. Excellent. Prices range from about $19 to $24.
Imported by Wilson Daniels, St. Helena, Calif. A sample for review.
Tue 27 Sep 2016
Posted by Fredric Koeppel under Argentina
, Torrontes No Comments
Argentina’s torrontés grape seems to be somewhat like cilantro; people love it or hate it. Granted that the white wine made from this grape can be overwhelmingly floral, even cloying in its tropical, slightly decayed flowery aromas, but if kept under control and delivered with more subtlety — I mean a tiny bit more subtlety — the wine can be seductively attractive and delicious, though rather simple in a good-hearted way. In the pale-gold Alamos Torrontés 2015, from the country’s mile-high Salta region, the winery manages to toe the line. Oh yes, it’s floral, all right. Aromas of jasmine and gardenia segue to lilac and chamomile, but folded in are notes of roasted lemons and spiced pears, lemongrass and green tea. Pert acidity keeps the wine lively and engaging, yielding hints of sun-drenched leafy figs and greengage and just enough limestone and flint minerality to maintain an even keel. 13 percent alcohol. Nothing to worry your pretty little heads about, My Readers, but a wine to enjoy sipping while you’re in the kitchen prepping for dinner or with ceviche or seafood risottos. Drink up. Very Good+. About $13 and often discounted as low as $9.
A sample for review.
Sat 24 Sep 2016
Here’s the wine you want with your red sauce pasta or pizza, roasted pork loin, braised short ribs, even a burger. The Badia a Coltibuono Chianti Classico 2014 is a fairly traditional interpretation of the style, composed of 90 percent sangiovese grapes and 10 percent canaiolo, ciliegiolo and colorino, old-fashioned grapes nowadays somewhat neglected in Tuscany in favor of “international” varieties. The wine aged one year in French and Austrian oak barrels of various sizes, meaning that the emphasis was not on the lordly and ubiquitous small French barrique. (Producers, please, putting your wine in French barriques does not automatically make it a better wine! Or “better” wine.) The Badia a Coltibuono Chianti Classico 2014 offers a lovely medium ruby hue and pungent aromas and flavors of red and black cherries with some cherry pit astringency, cloves and orange rind, oolong tea and loam. It’s as dry and spare as Chianti Classico ought to be, its elegance supported by dusty, brushy tannins and vivid acidity that cuts a swath on the palate. Hints of violets and white pepper emerge after a few minutes in the glass. The whole package is lithe, well-integrated and tasty. 13.5 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2019 or ’20. Excellent. About $20.
Imported by Dalla Terra Winery Direct, Napa, Calif. A sample for review.
Fri 23 Sep 2016
Posted by Fredric Koeppel under Anderson Valley
, Mendocino County
, Monterey County
, Pinot noir
, Russian River Valley
, Santa Barbara County
, Santa Lucia Highlands
, Santa Maria Valley
, Sonoma Coast
, Sonoma County
, Sonoma Valley No Comments
For the 18th entry in this series about chardonnay and pinot noir wines, mainly from California but occasionally from elsewhere, I offer 15 reviews that mention wines whose geographical origins range from Anderson Valley and Mendocino Ridge in the north, in Mendocino County, to Santa Maria Valley in the south, in Santa Barbara County. Some threads of the grapes’ innate characters run through the wines — certain central and peripheral fruit scents and flavors, certain spice notions, some earthy, minerally qualities — with differences among the wines derived from radical and inevitable variations in climate, elevation, exposure and soil type, the elements that comprise terroir. The issue of oak is involved, of course, with winemakers making decisions about how long to age their wines in wood and what percentage of new oak barrels to use. I prefer wines with a light oak (or no oak) thumbprint, so I’m pleased to say that none of these wines — 13 pinots, 2 chardonnays — is swamped by an overbearing oak influence. The wines considered today are all pretty terrific, a few more terrificker than the others, but I promise you would not turn any of them down. The order is alphabetical.
These wines were samples for review, as I am required to inform you by ruling of the Federal Trade Commission.
The first vintage from this celebrated vineyard for the winery, the Black Kite Cellars Gap’s Crown Pinot Noir 2013, Sonoma Coast, displays a dark ruby-magenta hue and riveting scents of cranberry and pomegranate, black cherries and raspberries, sassafras and sandalwood, all strung on a line of rooty, loamy elements and graphite minerality. This is a remarkably clean, fresh and bright pinot noir yet also dusty, musky and bosky — three of the Seven Dwarves — and burgeoning with deeply spiced black and red berry flavors. It’s sleek and smooth, animated by brisk acidity and founded on layers of moderate tannins flecked with notes of iodine and iron. 14.5 percent alcohol. Production was 273 cases. Drink now through 2020 to 2023. Excellent. About $55.
The pale gold Black Kite Cellars Soberanes Vineyard Chardonnay 2014, Santa Lucia Highlands, aged 10 months in French oak, 40 percent new barrels, and I would say that regimen was just right, because this is a chardonnay of righteous and star-like purity and intensity. Notes of ripe pineapple and grapefruit are infused with hints of cloves, almond skin and toasted hazelnuts; a few minutes in the glass bring out elements of lilac and jasmine and lustrous limestone minerality. On the palate, this chardonnay adds a bit of peach to the citrus flavors, all enclosed by a talc-like texture riven by bright acidity and lacy, etched layers of flint and damp stones; the whole package feels impeccable, beguiling and authoritative in tone, presence and character. 14.3 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2020 to 2024. Production was 212 cases. Exceptional. About $48.
The Donum Estate Pinot Noir 2013, Carneros, aged 14 months in French oak, 60 percent new barrels. The color is dense, dark ruby; aromas of black and red currants, cherries and plums are deeply imbued with notes of cloves, nutmeg, allspice and sandalwood, together exuding hints of the exotic astringency of woody Asian spices. In the nose and on the palate, the fruit feels slightly brandied, as in a macedoine, and also a bit ripe, fleshy and roasted. The complexity of the nuances and layers is heady and seductive. Super satiny in texture, suave and supple, this pinot noir partakes of leather and loam, pomegranate and beetroot, buoyed by lively acidity yet rather brooding through the finish. 14.7 percent alcohol. Production was 650 cases. Drink through 2020 through 2023. Winemaker was Dan Fishman. Excellent. About $72.
The Donum Estate Pinot Noir 2013, Russian River Valley, aged in French oak, 70 percent new barrels, number of months undetermined. The color is a transparent medium ruby-magenta hue; the wine is reticent and slow to yield its character, though it opens to reserves of intense and concentrated black cherries, raspberries and plums infused by cloves and bittersweet chocolate, brambles and underbrush, iodine and loam. A few moments in the glass reveal notes of lavender and violets. This pinot noir is dense, almost chewy and feels pretty damned rigorous in its tannic-mineral nature. Try from 2018 through 2024 or ’25. Production was 890 cases. Excellent (potential). About $72.
Mendocino Ridge is one of the rare vineyard regions in the world in which the geographical components are not contiguous, the only such AVA in the United States. Instead, this AVA runs along a series of mountain peaks above 1,200 feet elevation. While the total area encompasses about 262,000 acres, actual vines amount to 237 acres, divided among 17 vineyards. The Ferrari-Carano Sky High Ranch Pinot Noir 2014, Mendocino Ridge, offers a dark ruby hue shading to a lighter magenta rim; aromas and flavors tend toward the more shadowed, exotic and spicy side of the grape, replete with sassafras, cloves, sandalwood and lavender in a foundation of ripe, dusky black cherries and currants and a dash of pomegranate. The texture is satiny with a sensuous drape on the palate, though enlivened by buoyant acidity. The wine aged 10 months in French oak, 42 percent new barrels. 14.5 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2020. Excellent. About $52.
Another example from this vineyard in Sonoma County’s Petaluma Gap, the Gary Farrell Gap’s Crown Vineyard Pinot Noir 2013, Sonoma Coast, aged 14 months in French oak, 40 percent new barrels. Offering a transparent medium ruby hue shading to mulberry, the wine delivers intense aromas of black cherries and raspberries coated with talc and loam and opening after a few moments in the glass to notes of melon and sour cherry, cloves and pomegranate, sassafras and sandalwood; the wine is dense and supple on the palate, lively and engaging in its acidity and finely balanced between ripe succulent black fruit flavors, brooding tannins and graphite minerality. 14.2 percent alcohol. Winemaker was Theresa Heredia. Drink now through 2020 to ’23. Production was 495 cases. Excellent. About $70.
The J Vineyards and Winery Pinot Noir 2014, Russian River Valley, is the best bottling of the winery’s “regular” pinot noir that I have tasted in years. Winemaker is Nicole Hitchcock. The wine aged nine months in French oak, 30 percent new barrels. The color is an entrancing medium ruby flushed with magenta; aromas of red and black cherries and currants, with infusions of sour cherry and cherry pit, are imbued with briery-brambly elements and exotic notes of smoke, sassafras and sandalwood; a few moments in the glass bring out hints of leather and tobacco. This is a bright and feral pinot noir, deep, savory and super-satiny in texture; it’s quite dry but packed with the sweet ripeness of red and black fruit married to the rigor of dusty, graphite-slicked tannins and undertones of loam, roots and branches. 14.3 percent alcohol. A terrific balance of the ethereal and the earthy. Drink now through 2020 to ’22. E & J Gallo purchased J Vineyards and Winery in March 2015. Excellent. About $40.
The Kendall-Jackson Jackson Estate Pinot Noir 2014, Anderson Valley, aged 11 months in French oak, 29 percent new barrels. The color is dark ruby fading to a transparent magenta rim; this is a deep, spicy, minerally and powerful expression of the pinot noir grape, loaded with elements of black plums and cherries, pomegranate and cranberry, white pepper, cloves and sassafras. It’s dense, sleek, supple and satiny on the palate, brimming with dark ripe fruit and burgeoning with briery-brambly qualities marked by leather and forest floor, cedar and tobacco and a touch of dried sage and thyme. While the wine could, from my lights, use more grace and finesse, it’s a good example of pinot noir in its more muscular guise. 14.5 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2021 to ’24. Excellent. About $32.
Lazy Creek Vineyards in Anderson Valley, Mendocino County, is owned by Don and Rhonda Carano, owners of the better-known and much larger Farrari-Carano winery in Sonoma County. Winemaker for Lazy Creek is Christy Ackerman. The Middleridge Ranch vineyard lies at 1,200 to 1,400 elevation. The Lazy Creek Middleridge Ranch Pinot Noir 2014, Anderson Valley, aged 10 months in a mixture of new and used French oak barrels. The color is dark ruby shading to a transparent magenta rim; intense and concentrated aromas of black cherries and plums are infused with notes of cloves and sassafras, rhubarb and sandalwood, rose petals and violets, altogether forming an exotic and seductive aura. Exquisite balance between succulence and a velvety texture, on the one hand, and a spare effect based on vital, lively acidity and a bracing brambly-branchy element on the other, lends the wine an exciting sense of tension and resolution. The finish brings up dry leathery tannins and hints of black cherries cloaked in bittersweet chocolate. 14.5 percent alcohol. Production was 418 cases. Drink now through 2021 to ’24. Excellent. About $50.
The AVA is one of those intricate ones, a small “valley,” characterized primarily by cool climate and fog, nestled at the southwestern border of a larger “valley” that lies within the broad Sonoma County AVA (American Viticultural Area). The MacPhail Sundawg Ridge Vineyard Pinot Noir 2013, Green Valley of Russian River Valley, aged 16 months in French oak, 35 percent new barrels. The beguiling color is transparent medium ruby shading to an ethereal mulberry rim; this is a dark, spicy smoky pinot noir — I immediately thought of it served with seared duck breast, braised fennel and turnips — that features ripe and slightly macerated, roasted black and red cherries and plums permeated by notes of sassafras and rhubarb. The wine flows like satin drapery over the palate, where it feels animated by bright acidity and shadowed by elements of briers, brambles and forest floor, lending an autumnal cast to the proceedings, and lightly sanded and dusted tannins. 14.7 percent alcohol. Production was 650 cases. Drink now through 2019 through ’22. Excellent. About $49.
The Three Sticks Bien Nacido Vineyard Pinot Noir 2014, Santa Maria Valley, aged 10 months in French oak, 40 percent new barrels. The color is transparent medium ruby from center to slightly faded rim; the bouquet is intensely floral, opening to notes of red and black cherries, pomegranate and cranberry and displaying discreet tones of loam, cloves and rhubarb, with earthy briers and brambles in the background. The texture is quite sleek and satiny but not voluptuous, and despite juicy black and red fruit flavors, the wine is dry and a little foresty. A few minutes in the glass bring in hints of rose petals and sandalwood, mocha, leather and graphite, lending a slightly exotic air to the whole delicious enterprise. 13.9 percent alcohol. Lovely allure and complexity. Production was 243 cases. Drink now through 2020 to ’22. Excellent. About $60.
The Three Sticks “The James” Pinot Noir 2014, Sta. Rita Hills, aged 10 months in French oak, 35 percent new barrels. It begins with an enchanting transparent medium ruby-magenta hue that fades to an invisible rim; at first it feels like all spices, with notes of cloves and sassafras, but it quickly unfurls black cherries and raspberries permeated by rose petals and lilac, smoke and graphite. This is a supremely satiny and mouth-filling pinot noir of sweetly succulent black fruit flavors nestled in a lip-smacking texture and dusty velvety tannins. Sounds too opulent? Fortunately, the whole package is propelled by penetrating acidity that keeps it honest and on an even keel. 14.2 percent alcohol. Production was 547 cases. Drink now through 2022 to ’25. Excellent. About $60.
The Three Sticks Durell Vineyard Origin Chardonnay 2014, Sonoma Valley, fermented in concrete eggs and aged 10 months in stainless steel tanks; yes, there is great wine without oak! The color is a mild gold hue; classic aromas of ripe pineapple and grapefruit are infused with notes of lilac and fennel, quince and ginger, all animated by a snap of gunflint. This chardonnay is vibrant and resonant on the palate, enlivened by bright acidity that cuts a swath through an appealing dusty, talc-like texture; citrus flavors open to a touch of peach and green tea. 14.5 percent alcohol. Production was 398 cases, and I wish I had a few of them. Now through 2020 to ’24. Excellent. About $48.
Bob Cabral, now at Three Sticks, made these wines. Don’t look for them or any of the — let’s say it — legendary Williams Selyem single-vineyard chardonnays and pinot noirs in stores; they’re sold only by allocation through the winery’s mailing list.
The Williams Selyems Pinot Noir 2014, Russian River Valley, derived from two of the winery’s estate vineyards plus the well-known Bacigalupe Vineyard. It aged 11 months in French oak, 45 percent new barrels. The color is a transparent medium ruby hue shading to a delicate magenta rim; macerated black and red cherries, currants and plums are sifted with extravagant notes of cloves, sassafras and sandalwood, pomegranate and leather, lavender and violets; I defy anyone not to be mesmerized by these seductive aromas. Fortunately, on the palate, this pinot noir reveals more rigor in the form of bright acidity that plows a furrow through a dusty, satiny texture and sleek tannins imbued with graphite and shale. A few minutes in the glass bring out touches of lilac, red licorice and mint and more earth and loam. 13.9 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2021 to ’24. Excellent. About $55.
The Williams Selyem Westside Road Neighbors Pinot Noir 2014, Russian River Valley, is an autumnal, feral, foresty pinot noir that follows an amazing evolution in the glass. The wine aged 16 months in French oak, 62 percent new barrels, and while that may seem like — as it does to me — a lot of oak influence for pinot noir, these grapes soaked up that wood and turned it into remarkable shapeliness, suppleness and subtlety. The color is a not quite transparent medium ruby-mulberry hue; the wine takes a little time to open from its initial state of earthy, loamy layers that feel a bit funky to woody spices like cloves, allspice and sandalwood, unfurling then its bounty of macerated and lightly stewed red and black cherries and raspberries imbued with notes of sour cherry and melon, briers and brambles. The sense of presence and heft is impressive, as is the sleek, suave texture, the lively acidity and the slightly dusty, graphite-ridden tannins. Give this wine an hour or more to allow its mint-eucalyptus-iodine character to emerge, its notes of resiny rosemary and pine, its layers of damp flint. I would call this pinot noir a monument except that it delivers its ultimate qualities with elegance and finesse. 13.8 percent alcohol. Drink through 2025 to 2030. Exceptional.
Fri 16 Sep 2016
Posted by Fredric Koeppel under Spirits No Comments
I returned from a five-day trip, and LL said, “Get some more of that stuff.”
“Um, what stuff?” I said, barely in the door.
“That Jardesca stuff. It’s delicious.”
Now, my wine-writing/-blogging colleagues and I endure tides of emails from marketers promoting new cocktail recipes and possibilities, most of which sound awful. (“You’ll love our rose hip bitters with rye!”) The message I received from the Olive and Poppy company, however, was polite and informative, not pushy or gushy. The product was Jardesca, an aperitif beverage made in Sonoma County, a combination of three white wines and an eau de vie flavored with 10 botanicals. So, I said, Sure, send me a bottle.
Typically, the manufacturer is reticent about revealing what the wines and botanicals are, though I believe that among the latter are pink peppercorns, pink grapefruit rind and bay laurel.
What I know is that the stuff is intriguing, tasty and highly individual. When I was safely back in the kitchen, LL poured some Jardesca over ice and handed it to me, and indeed that’s a perfectly appropriate way to drink it. However, I added a squeeze of lime, a few basil leaves and a splash of sparkling water. This was a truly attractive and slightly mysterious cocktail.
Jardesca’s color is pale yellow-gold with green highlights; the tantalizing bouquet segues from cucumber, verbena and green olive to lemongrass, ginger and green tea. A few moments of contemplation bring out notes of gardenia and lilac, wood smoke and almond skin. A fleeting hint of sweetness characterizes the entry, but this is mainly dry, even sliding to bone-dry on the finish. The entire package is animated by bright acidity for crispness and a lively nature.
As a fortified wine, Jardesca hits 18 percent alcohol. It strikes me as more of a Spring and Summer thing than Fall and Winter, but it could probably be accoutered to accompany the days that dwindle down to a precious few. Price is $30 for a standard 750 milliliter bottle. Available only in California and Florida, but the company will be happy to fill online orders at jardesca.com.
Mon 12 Sep 2016
Say that it’s a beautiful day, with mild temperature, bright sun and a lightly wafting breeze. You made a piece of cheese toast for lunch, intending to sit on the back porch, catching up on the newspapers while dogs snore around your feet. What to drink? Readers, I opened a bottle of the Morgan Winery Cotes du Crow’s 2014, a blend of 53 percent grenache grapes and 47 percent syrah from Monterey County, and, by golly, it made me happy. The wine is given gentle treatment in the winery, aging for 10 months in French oak, only 12 percent new barrels. Nothing heavy or ponderous here; all is fluid, fluent and expressive. The color is a moderate ruby-purple with a magenta tinge at the rim; a burst of ripe and intense raspberries, black currants and plums is followed by notes of violets and rose petals, cranberry and tapenade, with hints of wild fennel and celery seed, and I mean that in the best sense, as lending a touch of herbal intrigue to the wine. On the palate, this blend is juicy and smoky, tasting of slightly roasted black and blue fruit that gives it a distinct savory, autumnal quality; the wine gains depth as the moments pass, and the subtle, supple tannins gain a measure of rigor that builds to a finish packed with leather and loam, iodine and iron. Still, this wine, lively and invigorating, feels light-hearted, blithe and balletic. 14.2 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2018 or ’19 with braised meat dishes, hearty pizzas and pasta preparations, burgers and, of course, my World-Famous Cheese Toast. Excellent. About — ready for this? — $18, representing Great Value.
A sample for review.
Fri 2 Sep 2016
Today is September 2, but that’s no reason to stop drinking rosé wines. I mean, you’re not going to stop living, right? Plus, it’s the Friday before Labor Day, which means that you’ll need plenty of tasty wine to sip for the long weekend as you relax at the beach or picnic in a bosky dell or just chill out on the patio. Here’s a terrific candidate. The Martin Ray Vineyards and Winery Rosé of Pinot Noir 2015, Russian River Valley, is made from 100 percent pinot noir grapes treated in stainless steel tanks. The entrancing color is bright salmon-pink with copper highlights; notes of pure strawberry and raspberry are lent emphasis by touches of orange rind, dried thyme and an element of damp rocks. On the palate, lip-smacking acidity keeps this rosé crisp and lively, while the soft red berry flavors feel slightly fleshy and macerated, notched up a bit by hints of flint and white pepper. 13.8 percent alcohol. Truly charming and zesty and beautifully balanced. Excellent. About $20.
A sample for review.