Sunday, August 16, 2015

Vanguard Trade Tasting

Trade tastings are a funny thing. An opportunity for wholesalers to showcase the large number of wines to a combined audience of their customers all at once, it's sort of like speed dating with wines, and with the same frantic, intense pace.  For this reasons I think it's wise to wait a few weeks before reflecting on any impressions.  That way the novelty of the event itself will have subsided and, if you're still thinking about a wine you tasted in a busy, cluttered crowd a few weeks later, chances are it's a good match.

A few weeks ago Vanguard Distribution hosted their annual trade tasting for retailers and restaurateurs.  Wholesalers typically buy from larger suppliers and importers, but Vanguard has cut out the middleman and buys direct from producers.  This means that most of the tables at the tasting are manned by the winery owner or winemaker themselves, rather than a proxy representative.

Despite the romantic notion of getting closer to the source, a tasting of this size with dozens of producer tables (70+) and hundreds of attendees, feels more machine than any sort of dignified sampling.  Overall impressions? Vanguard has a well-rounded book, with good representation from California and Europe alike, as well as a few South American producers, too. Without question the entire portfolio skews towards the higher end, which means there are very few value priced wines in the mix.  (Deep sigh.)  Other quick thoughts before getting to specifics:
  • Wine isn't getting any cheaper.
  • Relative value is decreasing in California.
  • More and more domestic wines taste alike.
  • Italy remains a strong benchmark for quality and excitement.
Note: I did not take any notes at the tasting, So what follows are wines which stood out for one reason or another well enough to be memorable for at least a few weeks. 

CALIFORNIA
Failla Wines, Sonoma Coast

Highly forward, very refined, and expensive pinot noir and chardonnay.  In your face extravagance. Parker probably loves these wines.

Whitehall Lane Winery, Napa Valley
At some point when all of your reference points are in the highfalutin price range, money starts getting funny. That's how price points like the ones at Whitehall Lane begin to seem quite reasonable. Such is the curse of what Napa Valley has become. That said, from an absolute perspective,these are quite enjoyable wines.
2012 Tre Leoni $27 Super friendly and easy drinking, this full-bodied and lush blend is very approachable, warm, and refined without being arrogant.
2013 Merlot $33 Very elegant and structured. everything it should be and more.my favorite of the wines in this lineup.
2012 Cabernet $44 Textbook Napa Valley Cabernet rounded out by a dollop of spice rack grapes. Toasty oak frames the large, broad sided structure of this anything but shy cab. 

The antithesis to snooty wine culture, winemaker hipster Brandon Allen is as affable and casual as you will find in winemaking. Taking a much more relaxed direction to both sourcing and winemaking, the results are affordable and approachable.  If you have a few minutes and want a good laugh, check out his website.
2013 Broken Dreams Chardonnay $19 Real, unadulterated chardonnay fruit with ample evidence of its fidelity without being encumbered by manipulation, oak, or malolactic fermentation. Easily my favorite Chardonnay from California at this tasting.
2012 Standout Red Blend $23 Solid and structured without being over-the-top in any particular direction. Easy drinking without being flabby. Very likable.

ARGENTINA
Allamand, Mendoza
Known for its Valle de Uco malbec and cabernet, the real surprise here was the single vineyard
Altamira malbec and the H malbec-cabernet blend. The newer value-priced Luminis line is sourced from lower altitude vineyards in the Lujan de Cuyo - and it shows.  Those wines didn't resonate as much.  These winemakers are super friendly characters.
2013 Altamira Malbec $23 Probably the best malbec I've ever had.  It's high-altitude origin help the reign in what often comes across as harsh tannins.  Refined, poised, and enticing, a good one to buy by the case for you to return again and again like a moth to the flame. 
2012 H $37 Very, very big, but still poised.  Marvelous and massive.

FRANCE
Domaine de Pajot, Gascony
Pouring just one wine - a $10 white - this table seemed like the red-headed step child of the tasting.  One taste, though, made it clear that one wine is all they needed. 
2014 Quatre Cepages Cotes de Gascogne $10 Racy. Tension builds quickly thanks to the acidity and vigor of sauvignon blanc and culminates in a crackling delivery of a fruity bullet where colombard and ugni blanc take center stage.  I'll bet more orders were placed for this wine than at any other table.

Jean-Marc Brocard, Burgundy
At the other end of the budget spectrum is the venerable Chablis producer showcasing an enviable lineup of six different Chablis from as far back as 2000, including Grand Cur and 1er Crus.  Each wine spoke with distinction of its respective vineyard and vintage.  Quality stuff, but expensive.  As cool as it is to try a 15 year old chardonnay from magnum (2000 Vielles Vignes Chablis $80), it was the second to least expensive 2013 Vau de Vey ($36) that stood out most for its promise.


ITALY
Sodevo/Zuani, Collio
Located as far northeast as you can get in Italy, this vineyard on the Slovenian border offered just
three whites to sample, but was the most exciting single stop of the tasting.  Electric freshness is pervasive through these bottlings.
2013 Sodevo Ribolla Gialla $18 Yay for ribolla!
2013 Zuani Collio Bianco $24 Energetic and fresh with acidity as crisp as a freshly ironed bespoke shirt.
2011 Zuani Riserva Biano $35 Captivating with unfolding dimensions of flavors that echo a pulse-quickening glimpse into the hillsides of northeastern Italy.  Haunting and worth every penny.



Tenuta di Tinoro, Tuscany
This winery came on the scene like a freight train about 8 years ago with a super Tuscan Bordeaux blend called Le Cupole.  I think I paid $15 for my first bottle, but the price grew with its acclaim and will now set you back close to $40.  This kind of meteoric price climb is a turn off, which is only further aggravated two other reds offered at this table: one at $120 and another at $260.

Gianfranco Alessandria, Piedmont
This stalwart producer hails from the bucolic hamlet of Monforte d'Alba where it turns out reliable wines in the standard Piedmontese quiver (dolcetto, barbera, nebbiolo, Barolo) year after year.  The regular (not single vineyard) Barolo is what got my attention at this table, particularly considering it was half the price of the Barolos at the next table over.
2011 Barolo DOCG $50 Inviting, approachable, extroverted, elegant, vibrant, and rewarding.  Terrific stuff.

Elio Altare, Piedmont
Barolo is where it's at with Altare.  As exciting as these wines are (and they most definitely are), the swooning does really kick into gear until you hit the single vineyard Arboina and Cerretta bottlings.  Regrettably, you'll be shelling out $95-120 a bottle for these wines at retail.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Recycle Bin, Week of Aug 3


2014 Butter Chardonnay California $20
Straw gold in the glass with a pretty nose that sits (in stark contrast) atop a palate that is not for the meek. Large, plump, and decidedly lopsided to feature its rotund profile, the composition of this wine is more a function of echoing malolactic fermentation than the Chardonnay grape. While certainly not for everyone, this exaggerated wine will find plenty of fans who deliberately seek out its overt characteristics, my wife inclusive. 

2013 Truchard Pinot Noir Carmeros $25
The measure of a Pinot Noir is how well it straddles the domains of fruit and terroir. Too much of one or the other, and it is either to lean or two bloated. The Truchard (the third consecutive vintage I've tasted with  similar impressions) does in fact walk that fine line. Beautiful garnet in the light and an inviting nose that speaks of mystery and intrigue, one hardly needs further encouragement to dive in head first. People not fruit awaits in high fidelity, framed by complex acids and arrange of the spice rack flavors too broad to enumerate. Delicious and tough to put down, if slightly on the hot side.

2012 Wente Cabernet Livermore Balley Southern Hills $15
The textbook straightforward California cabernet. True fruit, medium-sized oak framing, and some decent structure. The kind of wine that, when it cost $10, was a terrific bargain. But even at $15, it is an easy one to enjoy.


Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Embrace The Twist Off?

And then there was this comment from a reader in response to the recent recap on the highjacking of pinot noir:
"I've been known to enjoy a bottle of Meiomi, and I think that it is nice for the price point. My problem, is that I hate the twist off cap, and feel that I am always selling/defending it to my friends for that reason. Convince me that I should embrace the twist off, or otherwise. It certainly loses the romantic quality of the cork popping!"

Thanks for the comment.  Have a seat on the couch. Get comfortable.  Lie down, even.  There you go.  Now, where shall we start?

First, glad you've found a wine that combines an appealing experience at a digestible price point.  Too bad that it comes with so much baggage.  We can come back to why you feel the need to justify your favored wine's closure to your friends in a bit. 

Meanwhile, to the task at hand:  You're in good company.  A lot of people have a hang up with twist-off closures (aka Stelvins).  I'm not sure I can (or should) convince you to embrace Stelvins so much as encourage you to place less value on a wine's closure.  Here's my personal perspective:

I don't care how my wine is secured in bottle, so long as it's tasty when I pour it into a glass.

We drink wine for many reasons, but they all boil down to wine being a romantic elixir and social lubricant...something to accompany meals, celebrations, or simply conversations.  Cork is nowhere in the top 10 reasons we enjoy wine.  Taste? Sensation?  Effect?  Sure.  But when was the last time you heard someone go on and on about the pleasures of pulling a cork  Never.  What matters most is what's in the bottle and who's holding the glasses.

But yours is a concern that can't be ignored: romance, ritual.  Cutting and peeling the foil, working a corkscrew's worm into pliable cork, slowly rotating the key further and further down, convincing the cork upwards as you see-saw the leverage...this, this is all foreplay.  And you just don't get foreplay when you crack off a Stelvin cap.

While the sound of a cork being pulled at the end of a long day elicits a positive response in my household, it is no substitute for the substance of real romance.  Your wife can probably explain that to you better than I can.

So, how can you still get ritual with your screw cap wine?  Easy.  Buy yourself a sexy decanter.  Create your own ritual around the slow pour down the sides of the decanter into a swirling, bubbly puddle of inviting grape nectar.  Decanters are beautiful creatures and way more elegant than a bottle, no matter how pretty the label.  Besides, that Meiomi is going to be a lot better after breathing for a bit anyway.

So, back to defending your wine choices to your friends.  Don't.  They don't care.  Honestly.  And if you do get remarks on screw caps, simply explain that you're turning over a new, environmentally-conscious leaf, saving the cork forests of the world one bottle of wine at a time.

Cheers

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

The Tale of Two Pinots (Or The Highjacking of a Grape)

I'm going to sound like a sommelier for a minute here, so my apologies in advance for the rant. But something has occurred right under our noses over the last five or so years: the hijacking of the pinot noir grape. If you've been drinking wine long enough, you may recall that pinot noir is that finicky, delicate, and most vulnerable of vinifera. The challenges it presents in the vineyard persist in the cellar where for centuries winemakers have been stymied to extract it's unique greatness. In its rare moments of brilliance, it is truly magnificent. But the vast majority of the time, pinot noir's lack of resilience results in thin, insipid plonk. Well, that used to be the case anyway. 

Modern winemaking styles, in California in particular, lean heavily towards richness, extraction, and, too often, high residual sugar.  The result is that much of today's pinot noir is no longer thin nor insipid, but high-toned and syrupy (but still plonk).

As an example of how pervasive this has become, I opened two very popular current release pinots: the ubiquitous Meiomi from California and Willamette Valley Vineyards Whole Cluster.  Both wines cost $20.  I expected cough syrup from the Meiomi, and restraint and bright acidity from the Orgenian contender.  Both surprised.  The Meiomi was large and extracted and dense in ways more commonly attributed to syrah, but it wasn't at all clumsy or flabby, and it actually had some structure.  WVV's bottling, the 2012 vintage of which I appreciated last year (review here), was big, broadcasting Bing cherries through a megaphone with little in the way of acidity or, frankly, prettiness - a complete about face from the 2012.  Both wines, though from vastly different regions, seem to have been designed by the same focus group.

What these wines represent well, though, is a homogenization that seems to know no boundaries.  Our Super Size Me appetites and palates raised on high fructose corn syrup help explain this popular trend.  And pinot noir is not alone in being subjected to this treatment, nor is it isolated to US wines at all.  The "international style" (which is sometimes referred to as the Parkerization of wine, but which could just as aptly be called the Texasization of wine) values largess, density, and swagger over all other qualities.  The result is that fewer and fewer wines speak to us, so much as they yell at us. 

Am I reversing course and taking sides with Rajat Parr's outspoken stance that pinots should be quieter, gentler wines of nuance? No.  Brash wines of substance and weight (even high alcohol) are appealing, so long as those components are delivered in balance. But you can't drink wines like that every day - they're just too much.  Even the heartiest of us needs occasional refuge.

Unfortunately, the popularity of this sub-woofer-driven wine trend is so pervasive that little domestic options remain - at least at the mere mortal end of the price spectrum.  Thankfully, options abound in the Old World.  For reds, look to Italy for schiava, cannonau, even some leaner Chiantis.
For whites, France shines, especially in the Macconaise where the chardonnays will whisper to you if you let them.

Happy drinking!

Monday, July 13, 2015

Recycle Bin, Week of July 13

We've had some magnificent discoveries as well as some terrific disappointments over the last couple of weeks. Savvy shoppers will seek out the dwindling supply of the reds in particular and avoid the overhyped wines. The French red reviewed below serves as a reminder to trust your own palate over that of the experts.  Easiest favorites from this bunch are the Broad-side and the Amancaya.  We'll start with the bad news and move to the good...

2013 Chateau Saint Roch Maury Sec $18
A retailer, whom I like quite a bit, referred to this as a "spectacular wine" and which Parker gave 95 points to. I give it a shoulder shrug. Honestly, how someone can see their way to refer to this ordinary syrah-grenache blend as anything other than slightly above average is beyond me.

NV Chateau de Campuget Costieres de Nimes Blanc $10
Acidic, sharp, and harsh. Almost no fruit to speak of and very little in the way of redeeming qualities.  At least I've got some cooking wine back in stock.

2011 Quinta do Crasto Duoro Branco $16
I should've paid closer attention to the vintage before pulling this off the shelf. Most whites, Portuguese in particular, are meant to be drunk young. At four years old, this one is over the hill. Any vibrance it once had is long gone.  What's left is flat and one dimensional. That won't stop me from trying a newer release of this one, but beware that wholesalers and retailers are peddling old inventory as fast as they can.

2010 Bleasdale The Broad-side (Shiraz/Can/Malbec) Langhorne Creek $15
Speaking of peddling older inventory, here's an example of when that can benefit you.  This intense, brooding, savory red blend packs a lot of interest and drinking enjoyment for the money.  At five years old, I would've expected much of the fruit's vigor to have faded, but this Aussie is holding up beautifully.  Structured and fine-boned, it's got layers upon layers of attention-commanding flavors and acidity.
2012 Domaine Ehrhart Pinot Auxerrois Val St Gregoire Alsace $15
Brimming with fresh, bright fruit, this lovely Alsatian white packs an unexpected level of body and gorgeous sunshine into the bottle.  Auxerrois is rarely bottled on its own, but has consistently rewarded.  This is no exception.
2014 Rutherford Ranches Chardonnay Napa Valley $14
Something of an anomaly. Certainly the first 2014 I've tasted, you can tell it's from California, but it is a restrained version of typical chardonnay. There's actually some minerality and acidity here, gently overlaid overtop the fruit.  Easily enjoyable.

2012 Amancaya Malbec/Cabernet Gran Reserva Mendoza $20
A collaboration between Domain Baron de Rothschild and Nicolas Catena, this elegant and powerful red gives many Napa cabernets a run for their money.   Terrific balance, despite its potency, this wine has plenty of grip and mouth-coating tannins to make it versatile and exceedingly enjoyable. 



Wednesday, July 1, 2015

American Winners For the 4th

In preparation for our nation's celebration of independence, I offer two home-grown terroirists guaranteed to disrupt your palate and have you surrendering to the greatness of the US of A. Here's wishing you all a safe and enjoyable Fourth of July.  Cheers!

2012 Chateau St Jean Chardonnay Belle Terrell $15 (on sale from $27)
Good Chardonnay from a great year. At once both more restrained and still as extroverted as the archetypal California Chardonnay. Not only does this one have the reins on its ripeness, but manages to deliver a framework of acidity uncommon except in the stratosphere of pricing for this genre. With one foot in each camp, this delivers on many pleasure points.

2011 Adobe Roadhouse Red Paso Robles $14
There are two things that I generally disdain in red wines: overblown and patronizing fruit, and deliberately green vegetal characteristics. This one possesses both, but somehow manages to come off as extremely appealing. Perhaps for it's unexpected balance and "throw it all in the tank" devil may care blending approach, it comes across as authentic and irresistible.


Monday, June 22, 2015

Best of 2015 (So Far)

"Best of" lists usually start appearing after Thanksgiving, but since we just marked the summer solstice, why not offer a halfway point list?  This isn't just recycling content, it provides a reminder of what to keep an eye out for while shopping, because if this year's buying experiences have taught me anything, it's that that you've got to scoop up what you like before it's gone.  So, these are all wines I have recently - or soon will - purchase more of.  Even the casual observer will note that the majority of these wines - three whites and eleven reds - are European...

Cheers!

WHITES
2013 Famille Perrin Cotes du Rhone Blanc $10
Destined to be a house white all summer long. Bright, lively, and energetic, this refreshing blend puts a smile on your face. Plenty of fruit and a nice touch of grip round out this sensational bargain.
 
2013 La Crema Chardonnay Sonoma Coast $19
Whereas a lot of large production Chardonnays have decreased in quality (but not in price) with the 2013 vintage, La Crema actually steps up.  There are no surprises in this characteristic California Chard, except that it's well-made, clean, supremely enjoyable, and drinks like a lot of $30 Chards.
2013 Domaine de Velanges Macon-Prisse Les Clos $15
A chardonnay of staggering clarity and brilliance, especially at this price.  Acidity and minerality are delivered in the same focused voice, making for a balanced, sophisticated wine most pleasingly on the modest side of the fruit spectrum. 


REDS
2010 Monte Antico Tuscan Red $10
Almost 5 years old and drinking incredibly well.  There is something for everyone to love in this blend of Sangiovese, Merlot, and Cabernet. Balanced and as Italian as it is international in style.  An astonishing value for a beverage that delivers such enjoyment. Highly recommended.

2008 Bonacchi Rosso di Montalcino $13
This week there's only one wine you need to know about. From the same producer that brought us an incredible value in Chianti Classico last year comes this Rosso di Montalcino. Aside from costing about $7 less than most decent wines of the same designation, this one comes with some age on it. A good bit of age, actually. But the years haven't diminished the clarity or structure this quintessentially Tuscan red exudes. A lot to like here beyond the $13 price tag.

2012 Concha y Toro Cabernet Casillero del Diablo Chile $10
Full, varietally correct, and clean. Very well made and drinks like a $20+ wine. An experience I look forward to repeating very soon. 

2009 Sella y Mosca Cannonau di Sardegna $15
Said to have the highest levels of polyphenols of any wine grape, this Cannonau delivers a heady dose of swirling aromatics and acidity that keep you coming back for more.  Light-bodied, but packed with flavor.  Consummately Italian.  Lively, bright, and versatile.  Why don't I buy this by the case?

2012 Alexander Valley Vineyards Cabernet Alexander Valley $18
Must.  Get.  More.  Soon.  Very accessible and exuding everything that's great about Alexander Valley: rich, ripe Cabernet flavors framed by toasty (but unobtrusive) oak and tannins.  A terrific deal from one of California's most consistent family-owned wineries.  Bravo.
 
2012 Bogle Pinot Noir California $11
If other Pinot producers asked themselves if their offerings beat the dollar-for-dollar punch of this wine before they priced their own, Pinot Noir would be half the cost.  This is real Pinot Noir that triggers many pleasure points and drinks even better on day two.  Whatever it may lack in nuance and sophistication it more than makes up for in its blockbuster value.

2010 Gabbiano Chianti Classico Riserva $25
Chianti finesse and acidity meets broad-shouldered structure and a firm-handed delivery of unapologetic flavor.  Incredibly versatile - as companionable with a grilled ribeye as it is with a past and fish dish.  Easily the best Chianti I've had in years.
 
2004 Barreri e Rovati Barolo Riserva $20
It's a tease to put this on the list because I don't believe there's any more of it out there.  Powerful, tight, electric Cashmere tannins with positively soaring phenolics give way to a building shape that commands basso profundo attention without obesity. The lingering, sexy finish seduces again and again. A complete Barolo with 10+ years on it for a quarter the going price for a similar experience.
 
2012 Columbia Crest Merlot $8  
As consistent and bulletproof a wine as you could ask for.  Fruit, structure, and heft for a bargain basement price.

2013 Fattoria del Cerro Chianti Colli Senesi $12
Harmonious, gentle, pleasing, and life-affirming. Love it and love drinking this bright wine.  Case buy that I can no longer keep to myself.  I've reached for this wine to go with everything from Bolognese to grilled salmon.
 
2011 Schild Estate GMS Barossa $15
Without a doubt the most exciting, unusual, and surprising wine I've had in months. It's jammed with big Pinot Noir-like qualities: smoke, delicate fruit framed by intricate acidity, and a tarryness typically found only in coastal, higher altitude vineyards. Were I to taste of this blind, I would guess at a $60 or more Pinot Noir from Sonoma Coast.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Lodi Native, Circa 2013



Regular readers of this site may recall last year's Lodi Native missive and it's gushing accolades for both the concept and its execution.  It is without rival in terms of its innovation and efficacy.  If wine a lover strives for the next big thing and/or pockets of unappreciated value, then this is a find that deserves pursuit.

The concept, Lodi Native, is beautiful in its simplicity: a collaborative project by winegrowers and winemakers in the Mokelumne River sub-AVA of Lodi, each producing a one-off bottling of Zinfandel using minimalist winemaking protocols.  The result: six bottles that focus on the taste of vineyards rather than varietal character or brand. 

That simplicity means no gimmicks, just wine - and truth - something that carries a certain amount of risk, as giving up control means, well, giving up control.  Packaging these bottles in identically delivers the message clearly: the wines speak for themselves.  Equally more impressive are the winemaking standards:
  • 100% single vineyard Zinfandelor vineyard
  • Native yeast (non-inoculated) fermentations only, and no inoculation for malolactic fermentation.
  • No use of new oak (though I'm not sure this was strictly adhered to)
  • No acidification or de-acidification, no water addition or de-alcoholizing measures, and no tannin additions.
  • No filtering, fining, or use of Mega-Purple, must concentration, etc.
This long list of No's creates a level playing field, so to speak, and provides a baseline for Zin in this corner of Lodi - a terrifically unique sampling.  If you want to understand what Zin from Lodi really is - and can be - this is as close as you can can get without sticking your nose into a ton of barrels. 

As for the wines...

As experienced last year, members of the same band might all sing the same songs, but their voices are not the same.  There's always a flamboyant, good-looking lead singer, and there's always a drummer.  This crew is no different. Collectively, they sound great, though 2013 is trying hard to impress by comparison to 2012.  But make no mistake, there is not just the potential in Lodi, but an energy to drive this region to higher heights. Let's hope that the commitment remains as popularity swells.

Stampede Vineyard (made by Fields Family Wines)
And inviting and complex knows channels more than just fruit. It delivers high-pitched vegetables and dust, making for an interesting, if nearly piercing approach. The palate comes fast and hot on opening, speeding past home plate like a slider. Eases into a bathwater-like texture with still-excited spices dancing across the long finish, but never gets beyond lean in body or flavor. 

Schmiedt Ranch (made by Macchia Wines)
Come-hither aromatics give way to an initially jumpy attack that zigzags spice across the tongue. Texture is soft and plush, and the finish, like others in this lineup, lingers languorously the way a Sunday afternoon nap ought to. The briefest of time passed before it really opened up and filled out into a swan of wine. Lush and pleasurable. 

Wegat Vineyard (made by Maley Brothers Vineyards)
Zinfandel at a more basso profundo pitch than its siblings. Deep, blackstrap flavors coat the mouth with the potency of tar, but the lightness of fireflies. Soaring post-palate aromatics create expansive space for the fruit to sing. It's medium bodied frame is in curious contrast to the largess of experience. A little unbridled heat comes through towards the finish, but burns off with some air.  In fact, breathing does wonders for this. The midsection fills in nicely with soft, round body without losing any of its high notes. The texture unwinds and becomes something comforting. Very nice indeed.  
Trulux Vineyard (made by McCay Cellars)
There's something more exciting than the attendant Zinfandel fruit and pepper combo happening on the nose here. Neither herbaceous nor vegetal, it is a clean, appealing, and inviting aroma that channels polish. Elegance, even. Indeed, this is a bellwether of great things to come as the palate quickly reveals. This is a wine of serious substance, structure, and finesse. I had frankly not expected to find this in a lineup of zinfandels, but here it is in all of its sophisticated poise. 

Marian's Vineyard (made by St Amant Winery)
Fresh, concentrated berry aromatics lead into a similar profile on the palate. The fruit is juicy and gregarious with lightweight framing in terms of acidity and structure. Very soft mouth feel accompanied by spicy high notes on the finish.

Soucie Vineyard (made by m2 Wines)
Marvelous. Zinfandel fidelity in full surround sound. Seamless, supple texture, fine structured acidity, and a finish that goes and goes and goes. Soaring high notes and beckoning tannins make this irresistible. No decanted required - as it eases it turns into a boozy adult nectar. Fantastic experience.


Saturday, June 6, 2015

Recycle Bin, Week of June 1

We have a treasure trove of un-missable values this week, including a Chilean Cabernet that drinks far above its price and a totally kick ass Italian blend bargain. In contrast sit two Chadonnays that echo the cautionary tale I've already broadcasted about the 2013 vintage in California.  All in all, these reds represent such a terrific concentration of fantastic values that I consider this week to be among the best of the year.

2013 Bogle Petite Sirah $11
A lot of mouth-full of flavor for the buck. Tastes more like Petite Sirah than in previous years, with characteristic blockbuster tannins that are quite refined as it opens up, but the wine is also in keeping with the round chocolatiness that has become synonymous with this bottling.  

2010 Monte Antico Tuscan Red $10
Almost 5 years old and drinking incredibly well.  There is something for everyone to love in this blend of Sangiovese, Merlot, and Cabernet. Balanced and as Italian as it is international in style.  An astonishing value for a beverage that delivers such enjoyment. Highly recommended.

2012 Concha y Toro Cabernet Casillero del Diablo Chile $10
Full, varietally correct, and clean. Very well made and drinks like a $20+ wine. An experience I look forward to repeating very soon. 

2009 Sella y Mosca Cannonau di Sardegna $15
Said to have the highest levels of polyphenols of any wine grape, this Cannonau delivers a heady dose of swirling aromatics and acidity that keep you coming back for more.  Consummately Italian.  Lively, bright, and versatile.

2013 Sterling Chardonnay Central Coast $11
Dull, flabby, and with a rough edge on the flat finish.  Boo.

2013 Bogle Chardonnay California $10
Almost a carbon copy of the Sterling.  Are these wineries buying juice from the same bulk supplier?


Wednesday, June 3, 2015

The Wrath of Grapes: An Embarrassing Peek Behind The Curtain

Bruce Schoenfeld is a the author of the recent New York Times Magazine article titled, The Wrath of Grapes.  A seasoned reporter and an enthusiastic wine lover, Bruce's knowledge runs as deep as his curiosity, and his professionalism is evident in his lack of bias.  He's also a friend, so I felt really good for him when my wife told me the article hit #1 on NYTimes.com most emailed list this past weekend.  I hope you'll read it, too.

Op-eds, politics, and human interest stories typically occupy the top popularity slots.  So, why this piece?  Because dirty laundry and drama make for entertaining reading.  Threaded throughout the themes of the article is a palpable acrimony fueled by contrasting ideologies and a righteousness that seems out of proportion in a debate over what amounts to preferences in beverage styles.

Which makes me cringe.

In one corner is Rajat Parr, the famously outspoken sommelier, wine producer, and co-founder of In Pursuit of Balance (aka IPOB), an organization of anti-establishment California pinot noir and chardonnay producers.  In the other is Robert Parker, the influential wine critic and the opposition's punching bag.  Overly generalized, Parker favors hedonistic wines, whereas IPOB champions wines of nuance and subtlety that reflect the place they came from.  As you read Bruce's article, you may be struck, as I was, by how, if properly harnessed, the abundance of hot air expended by these opposing sides could significantly contribute to the planet's renewable energy sources.

As one who loves wine without preconditions, I find merit in both perspectives and, so, have no need or desire to take a side.  Hell, that there are sides to take at all is beyond silly.  The way the debate is being conducted - and the fervor it appears to incite among the cognoscenti - is embarrassing.  Moreover, when one ideologue attacks the approach of another, the collateral damage besmirches even those keeping a safe distance.  If a rising tide lifts all boats, then the opposite is also true: those fueling this debate are accomplishing little more than emptying buckets into everyones' hulls - not just their own.

Yes, diverging approaches to the production of almost anything expands the supply of options available to consumers.  Nothing wrong with that at all.  Nor is there any harm in debating the merits of each philosophy.  Some of us drive Hondas, some drive BMWs, and others Fords, yet none of us gets too wrapped up in nay-saying over what our neighbors drive.  Why here? 

At an academic level, one of the interesting things this debate illustrates is how fortunate the rarefied corners of the wine business have become.  That position of luxury affords an obliviousness to the consequences of how this debate is conducted.  If Parker and Parr shared in the pains and challenges experienced by many in this industry still struggling to attract new wine drinkers from the domains of beer and margaritas, they would see how ridiculously self-important they are being.

Bruce's article offers a peek behind the curtain of a small subculture where the players are struggling for relevance.  Not surprisingly - and not unlike the mockumentary Best In Show - it's not the prettiest picture.  Would any casual or non-wine drinker read this piece is this and think to themselves, "Boy, that's an experience I want to immerse myself in!"?

At the risk of sounding all kumbaya, can't we all just get along?

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Recycle Bin, Week of May 25

This week, a couple of stunning wines from the M√Ęconnais district in the south of Burgundy and the Duoro Valley upriver from Porto, along with a couple of well-marketed flops from Oregon and Vinho Verde.

2013 Elouan Pinot Noir Oregon $23
From the Wagner family (Caymus, Meiomi, Belle Glos) comes this Oregonian Pinot Noir sold as a wine from Oregon made in the California style. Tastes just like Meiomi, minus the cough syrup. Which is to say, extracted, hot, a little clumsy, and very extroverted.

2010 La Rosa Reserva Duoro $35
Profound and intense, but ultimately soaring in its reach and range.  A wine that disappeared too quickly and which, regrettably, is in short supply here in the US.

2013 Domaine de Velanges Macon-Prisse Les Clos $15
A Chardonnay of staggering clarity and brilliance, especially at this price.  Acidity and minerality are delivered in the same focused voice, making for a balanced, sophisticated wine most pleasingly on the modest side of the fruit spectrum.

NV Broadbent Vinho Verde $10
Clocking in at a lightweight 9%, this sprightly breakfast wine flaunts its simple fruit with a bit if effervescence that advertises its whimsy.  Ten bucks is hardly expensive, but given that this is a non-vintage, mass-produced wine, it really should be selling for closer to $6 or $7.

2012 Sergio Mottura Orvieto $13
Classic Orvieto style with understated fruit and a strong, stony edge.  If the fruit were just a bit more prominent, this would be a stunner.  That said, it'd be a wonderful companion for a light shellfish pasta dish on a warm summer afternoon.




Monday, May 11, 2015

Just One Wine

 2008 Bonacchi Rosso di Montalcino $13
This week there's only one wine you need to know about. From the same producer that brought us an incredible value in Chianti Classico last year comes this Rosso di Montalcino. Aside from costing about $7 less than most decent wines of the same designation, this one comes with some age on it. A good bit of age, actually. But the years haven't diminished the clarity or structure this quintessentially Tuscan red exudes. A lot to like here beyond the $13 price tag.