Friday, September 1, 2017

Just In Time For Labor Day

Looking for a wine that will give you something to smile about?  This robust syrah will not only pair nicely with grilled foods, but is a terrific transition red as the weather cools down a little. That it's just $12 makes it worth seeking out.

Cheers and make it a safe Labor Day weekend.

2014 Powers Syrah Columbia Valley $12
Wow, this is pretty good.  Very enjoyable, in fact.  Does it taste like syrah? Not really, but it sure is tasty.  Must have some cab and merlot in it.  Very pleasant concentrated core with a solid oak framing that doesn't hit you over the head with a 2x4.  Will definitely be buying this bargain again in multiples.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Tale Of A False Positive

A few months ago I was swooning over a wine.  Gushing wouldn't be an overstatement, as I suggested (not yet halfway through the year) that this wine could be the wine of the year.  Imagine my regret when, not once, but twice now I've had a hard time drinking any more of that wine.

Talk about remorse.  For starters, I stocked up on it and have several bottles left of a $20 wine I can't bring myself to drink. Then there's the fact that such a strong recommendation no doubt resulted in others making a similar buy.  (Sorry!)

What happened?

Did the wine change?  Possible, but unlikely - it's a young chardonnay, so I doubt it.  Did I change?  Nah - that infatuation was too recent for me to have suddenly fallen down a curmudgeon hole.  So, what gives?

One of the first wine retailers I ever knew had a saying: you can't separate sensation from experience.  Around the time I recommended that wine so highly, was also in the midst of an ongoing personal rant against wine styles that favor caricature-like distortions over balance or form.  In other words, a lot of wines have the volume turned all the way up (as lamented in this piece titled, Why Is My Wine Yelling At Me?).  So, my state of mind around that time was one of frustration and disappointment at what has seemingly become of the norm in mainstream wine.  What's more is the target of a lot of that sentiment has been domestic chardonnay.

Along comes the Limestone Hill chardonnay from De Wetshof.  It tastes nothing like California and, more importantly, tastes nothing like chardonnay from the west coast.  It's new, it's different, and it's dazzling because it's new and different.  But now, with some time and distance from that initial wow, its merits in non-comparative reference, well, pale.  It is neither balanced nor restrained, nor really palatable.

I've learned this lesson before and still can't seem to get it right.  By way of this cautionary tale, let me offer to you the same advice I'm now reminding myself of: make sure you've had a wine at least twice before you go off half cocked and buy a bunch of it.  And don't take some wine blogger's word for it, either!

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Kunde: Changes In Motion & Current Releases

Back in the mid-nineties i made my first pilgrimage to northern California wine country.  It was a whirlwind trip covering hundreds of miles and dozens of wineries in a long weekend.  Kunde Estate was a blur as I sped my way to Kenwood and points beyond.  And, though I knew they had a good reputation for making solid zin and chard, that first blur was sort of the way I continued to experience their brand for many years - from a distance.
Old school Kunde label

Fast forward several years and Kunde has undergone more than just a facelift.  Refocusing on quality over quantify, the family-run winery has replanted, retooled, and rehabilitated everything from vines to trellis systems to winemaking process.  The samples that arrived for review offered a terrific chance to revisit this stalwart Sonoma Valley label and see how the changes they've made are paying off.

Before we look at each of the wines, a few general observations.  First, they've done a great job on packaging - these bottles/labels are quite attractive.  Second, there's not a drop out of place in these wines.  They are categorically true to both place and variety, resulting in wines that value honest expression over showboating.  So, when you read below that the cabernet is "textbook Sonoma Valley cabernet...", that's what that means.  Finally, a word on pricing.  The wines below come from  a mix of their Estate Series (lower priced), Destination Series (mid tier), and Reserve level.  I found plenty to like at the more moderate price levels.

I look forward to revisiting this winery's lineup soon.

2016 Kunde Sauvignon Blanc Sonoma Valley Magnolia Lane $17
Clean, clean, clean. Fresh and fast with classic Northern California sauvignon blanc flavors coming at you in rapidfire sequence, and backed by an invigorating energy that doesn't come across as aggressive. Freshly mowed grass, unripe Granny Smith apple, and a tart citrus kick make for a lively, up-beat companion for porch conversation or even midweight summer fare. A lot to like here.

2015 Kunde Chardonnay Reserve Sonoma Valley $45
With raised gold lettering on a black label and honeyed hue in the glass, this makes a strong first impression. Aromatics are anything but subtle, offering full, round, custard wafts. But in the mouth it is as much about what's absent as present. It certainly has prominent archetypal California chardonnay characteristics on the fruit side of the balance sheet, as well as evidence of competence in the cellar, but it is (mercifully) lacking overbearing oak, high-octane alcohol, and overhandling which, in the case of this sourcing, would be a crime. Call it success through provenance and restraint - something you don't see too often in these parts.  Finishes with a bright, lip smack of acidity that keeps you coming back. Tastes expensive and luxurious.

2015 Kunde Malbec Sonoma Valley $35
Midnight magenta looming in the glass just threatening that white shirt you're wearing. The clean nose hints at freshness and honesty. Beguiling approachability thanks to bathwater-like supple texture and none of the garrish, often off-putting hard edges that many malbecs punch with. There's a super subtle suggestion of distant smoke that adds attractive mystery on the way to becoming that favorite old sweater that just feels so right. While the varietal characteristics don't run deep in this wine, there's zero turbulence from introduction to infatuation, and it's a trip that passes quickly.  Probably my favorite in this quiver.

2013 Kunde Cabernet Sauvignon Conoma Valley Drummond $50
A wine of solid, substantial structure. Beginning to show the earliest signs of having a few years of age on it, but clearly still very early in its arc toward peaking. Lots of high-toned, oak-trimmed fruit, lofty frequency and profound depth of classic cabernet. Made in a textbook Sonoma valley cabernet style. Serious stuff.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Believe The Hype: 2015 Rhones

Hyping vintages is a perennial passtime in the wine media.  The Bourdoulais are especially good at it, but the rest of the marketing world is in on the game, too.  Just Google "vintage of the century" and you'll be flooded with results. 

You'd think crying wolf would catch up with them as consumers get wise to the tiresome, repetitive nonsense.  I mean, if 2015 was the best vintage ever, and so were 2010 and 2005 and so on, why should we believe them when they chant it again next year?  Because we have short attention spans, that's why.  Adding insult to injury is how vintages get rated for vintage charts. Counterintuitively, most vintage ratings are a factor of quality of top producers in a given region rather than the overall quality. If you're in the top 1%of 1%ers, then that might be useful information.  For the rest of us, trial and error is required.

Perhaps I can save you some trouble. There's been a fair bit of hype around the 2015 vintage in the Rhone valley.  Now that the more affordable (less serious) of these wines have begun to hit shelves, I've done some sampling.  Right out of the gate and without exception, the first handful of wines I've had in past vintages impressed.  So, I started picking wines at random, even straying beyond the confines of the Rhone AOC and into neighboring areas.

The result?  Not a single disappointing wine.  Bottle after bottle have been more than just good.  What's more is that I have yet to spend more than $16 on a single bottle - and some have been real knock out, memorable wines to stock up on. 

If there's a commonality among the many different wines it's that there's real vibrance and honesty.
Flavors are pure and unadulterated, magnified by a sunshine-like quality that juices their energy and expressiveness.  It's a rare occasion that I'm able to make such a broad-sweeping recommendation, but there's plenty of these wines to go around and you should partake in the pleasure.  A few of these follow, but don't limit yourself to these.

(Quick note: I have relied heavily on as a source for wines as the local retail market goes through a period of consolidation.  Their prices and delivery are reasonable, and their selection is pretty darn good.  Just be sure to give your wines a couple of weeks to rest after shipping - it really does make a difference.)

2015 Ferraton Pere & Fils Cotes du Rhone 'Samorens' $10
Rich, dark, full, and well made, this fruit-forward red is a crowd pleaser. Terrific way to introduce California wine drinkers to the allure of the Rhone. Nice, versatile wine at a value price.  The mroe I have this, the more I like it.

2015 Domaine Cabirau Cotes du Roussillon $15
Bright and exuberant, this savory, intense red is complex, and cerebral while still being accessible. Laser focused and energetic, the deep core yields to a grippy, tannic finish. The whole package has an allure that'll make you squeeze the bottle for every last drop.  Absolutely brilliant.

2015 Domaine Les Grands Bois  Cotes du Rhone 'Les 3 Soeurs' $13
Mamma, mia.  Very approachable and easy to cozy up to, but full of fresh, crushed flowers and deep fruit that combine for a sophisticated package.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Inaugural Releases From Addendum Wines

From the good people at Fess Parker Winery, one of the pioneers of Santa Barbara county winemaking, comes a new endeavor - this time a little further up the coast.  OK, a lot further up the coast.  Addendum is a brand new project with aspirations to leverage Fess Parker's bedrock of experience as a springboard into the domain of Bordeaux varieties.  Cabernet, more specifically.  And where else do you go if you want to make high-end cabernet in California?  Yes, Napa.

Does the world really need more $100-ish Napa cabernets? And what are they thinking wading into such a saturated market?  The first question can be debated until the cows come home.  But the second might not seem as foolhardy as at first glance.  They already have a facility in Los Olivos, a seasoned winemaker (Blair Fox, who has been at the helm since 2005), and plenty of experience making and marketing wines.  So, refrigerated trucks just bring the contract-grown grapes from pedigreed vineyards down and, voila.  Okay, perhaps that's a gross oversimplification, but this project stands in stark contrast to the well worn path of rich guy builds a monument to his ego winery in Napa only to find his $200 cab sucks.

Still, when a sample pack of three cabernets and a cab-syrah blend arrived, I was curious indeed. 

Overall impressions?  Let's get the obvious out of the way: these wines are massive by every measure.  Where some Napa winemakers have recently begun (attempting) to make more restrained cabernets reminiscent of decades past, there is no moderation here.  Phrases that comes to mind include full tilt, luxurious, balsy, velvet hammer...the volume is turned all the way up on these bad boys.  Just look at some of these numbers:
  • 14.9% ABV across the board
  • 100% French oak use
  • $80-95/bottle
  • 722 case production (4 wines combined)
  • 2 lbs empty bottle weight (3.5lbs full)
What else? These wines will stir a carnal corner of your soul.

All that said, another observation is how surprisingly accessible all these wines are right out of the gate, particularly given their heft.  Most wines of this caliber, substance, and youth require several hours (or days) decanted before they're approachable.  Not so with this lot.  What's more is that when tasted on day two these wines haven't lost an ounce of their bombast, though have loosened enough for their sweeter fruit flavors to take center stage.  All wines are appealing for the same reasons, but if forced to choose favorites, the Rutherford bottling would win for its elegance and masterful presentation, while the cab/syrah blend takes first prize for managing to deliver so much with such effortless ease.

These wines were made available as press previews and, while not yet available to the public, they should be starting at some point in September 2017.  And it's never too early to start Christmas shopping for you favorite wino (hint hint).

2014 Addendum Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon $90
Deep vampire red with hints of sepia in the edges. The clean, powerful nose gives way to a palate that is anything but subtle. Big, and unapologetic, it attacks with a kaleidoscope of flavors: deeply extracted cabernet fruit, sweet toasted oak, and high tones of crushed herbs. The texture is luxurious with fine tannins persisting through the long finish. Very much in line with the classic Napa Valley cabernet profile. Tastes expensive.
2014 Addendum 'Stagecoach Vineyard' Cabernet Sauvignon (Atlas Peak) $95
Everything the Napa Valley Cabernet is times two. Darker, deeper, more concentrated. The nose suggests some green vegetal character, but the palate is wall-to-wall black and red nectar. This is a generous wine delivered in a crushed velvet package. If it were music coming from a stereo, the equalizer settings would all be maxed out, but it oozes a come-hitherness that will win over the most skeptical of Europhiles. So intense, on day two my wife asked it was a dessert wine. 

2014 Addendum 'Skellenger Lane' Cabernet Sauvignon (Rutherford) $95
Slam dunk Rutherford.  It's all here: rich black fruit, stout oak framing, fine Rutherford dust, and gorgeous acidity all in abundance, yet in balance. This wine either borrows from or lends all that is great in the other wines in this line up.  Full throttle.  Among the best wines I've had out of this appellation.  Sweet Jesus, this is good!

2014 Addendum 'Stagecoach Vineyard' Cabernet Sauvignon/Syrah (Atlas Peak) $80
Oh, lordy.  A cashmere sweater in a glass.  Sharing its siblings' lineage, this blend stands out for its relaxed, but confident posture.  Luxuriously rich and textured, the stuffing is packed into the solid framing loosely, making the package at once casual and richly appointed.  Taunting vanilla aromas float above the oak and well proportioned acid detail, while cedar and spice coddle the soul. It's a close call, but this wine wins for its raw sex appeal.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Recycle Bin, Week of June 26

We've got bonafide international lineup this week and, fitting as we head into the Independence Day weekend, our reviews lead with an all star cabernet that is certain to make you feel proud to be an American.  Here's wishing you a safe and relaxing weekend!    

2014 Wines of Substance Cabernet Columbia Valley $18
A serious wine that drinks at three times its price.  Concentrated and taut, this massive, but elegant cabernet is going to be absolutely amazing in 5 years (and beyond) for those who can keep themselves from raiding the stash in the short term.  Wow. I stocked up.  You should, too.

2015 Ferraton Pere & Fils Cotes du Rhone 'Samorens' $10
Rich, full, and well made, this fruit-forward red is a crowd pleaser.  Terrific way to introduce California wine drinkers to the allure of the Rhone.  Nice versatile wine at a value price. 

2016 Kurtatsch Kellerei Gewürztraminer Alto Adige $18
Flavors of white flowers, lychee, and, most prominently - get this - saison yeast might sound like strange bedfellows. But they are all working together to result in a thought-provoking, nerdy trip of a wine.  Impossible to put my finger on why, but this is irresistible and thrilling.

2011 Corona de Aragon Cariñena/Garnacha Special Selection Cariñena $12 
Perfumed, dense, and powerfully bright thanks to its overt new oak regimen.  This meaty red packs a punch that demands food. Closed but hinting at a rewarding future for those who have the patience.  But what keeps you going back for more right now is the quintessentially Spanish lacy acids that linger as long as the fruit.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Wines of Vintae

Vintae is a maker and marketer of wines from across Spain, including the masterfully presented Projecto Garnachas (Grenache Project) wines.  A four pack of samples from their portfolio - two reds, two whites - landed in the tasting lab here for consideration recently, and which came with some consternation.

For readers who haven't seen my lamentation of The Spanish Bludgeoning, the overwhelming majority of Spanish reds I've tasted in the last five years have suffered from harsh oak over-treatment.  This has left me skeptical of Spanish wines, which, absent this unnecessary interference, can reach extraordinary heights of quality and experience at reasonable prices.  Nevertheless, remaining open-minded is the key to discovery, as these wines demonstrate.

The two garnachas, whose labels are as emotionally evocative as their names, hail from different regions; Moncayo and Aragon. Similarly, the whites - both a merciful 12.5% ABV - are from distant of northern Spain; Rioja (yes, white wine is made there) and Rias Baixas.  All are reasonably priced and bring a fresh take to well-established traditions.  Keep your eyes open for these wines, especially the whites.

2015 Projecto Garnachas de España Salvaje de Moncayo $12
My (limited) experience with grenache from Moncayo had me expecting an inky, concentrated  fruit
bomb. And then there's the name: Salvaje, which is Spanish for savage. To my surprise, this sample is neither intense or ferocious. Just look at the luminescence in the photo. Blessed by an indelible suppleness, this medium weight red exudes honesty. There's nothing encumbering the fruit at all and, though on the simple end of the spectrum, it is all the easier to appreciate for it. And at this price, you'd be silly not to stock up.   

2015 Projecto Garnachas de España La Garnacha Olvidada de Aragon $17  Like it's sibling, this is a restrained example. But that's not to say it's without personality. Though the density is medium weight, and the color similarly in step, the texture is decidedly dustier, grittier, even. This lends the wine a mystery that is only echoed by its name. Olvidada is Spanish for forgotten. The lingering finish is strung along by tannic energy that is more subtle than gregarious.  

2016 Bodgea Classica Hacienda Lopez de Haro Rioja $10
Steely and clean, the modest alcohol (12.5%) helps make for a reserved delivery of fruit character. The mid palate is also moderate weight and framed by clearly defined acidity. The profile makes it a perfect counterpart to summertime fare.   

2016 Atlantis Rias Baixas Albariño $16
Bright with aromas of white flowers and morning coastal breeze. Textbook Albariño: fresh, zippy, and full of come-back-for-more acidity. The slight bite on the finish blows off after a few minutes leaving a well rounded briney, mineral-infused linger. Should play well on either the porch or dinner table.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Why Is My Wine Yelling At Me?

This Chateau Ste. Michelle chardonnay is yelling at me. And it's not alone. Lately a lot of wines have been screaming from the glass like a drunken frat boy belting out hip hop at 3:00AM. Okay, so the analogy might be flawed, but the sensation of drinking certain wines - almost exclusively domestic - has elicited more wincing than pleasure. Whether the result of a warming planet or a deliberate catering to American, Twinkie-loving palates, wines' alcohol levels, flavor intensities, and manipulation have increased to a roar.

It's not a relaxing-glass-of-wine experience. 

But is that completely fair?  It could be that these wines are no different than they've ever been.  Maybe I'm the one changing.  Perhaps I'm growing cranky and frail as I age, or my palate is just exhausted after years of drinking. Best guess is that, like most root causes in life, the answer likely lies in a confluence of these contributors.  But, still.  It can't just be me. 

Bolstering this theory, a retailer recently made an interesting remark to me about oak.  She said that alcohol levels and oak treatment tend to rise in unison because winemakers use oak to mask the alcohol, resulting in these dizzying, powerful sugar/alcohol/oak bombs.  Here's how that works: 

As grapes grow and gain exposure to higher temperatures, the sugar levels increase.  But that doesn't necessarily mean that they are ripening faster.  Phenolic ripening in particular, happens as the fruit matures somewhat independent of sugars.  So, by the time harvest rolls around (which is dictated by phenolic ripeness) sugar levels can be through the roof.  More sugar = more alcohol.  And, guess what, alcohol does not taste good, which forces winemakers to compensate - or obfuscate - layering vanillin flavors of oak to distract from ethanol's heat.  And all that layering makes for a yeller. 

There are some alternative techniques some growers and vintners use to avoid this loudness, but at the end of the day, you can't change the weather.  But you can change what you drink.  Which is what I've been doing.

Regular readers may recall the various virtues I've extolled of Sudtirolean wines made in the highlands of northeastern Italy.  Vineyards at higher altitudes enjoy more sunshine (great for phenols) while high temperatures tend to remain more moderate.  As a bonus, these locales also enjoy greater diurnal swings, or temperature variations between daytime highs and nighttime lows.  This boosts those delicious complex acids I've grown so fond of.  Many of the wines coming from this and other similar regions boast terrific flavor and complexity while remaining lower in girth, sugars, and alcohol. 

My current favorite example of this is pretty much any schaiva vernatsch from Alto Adige.  Usually clocking in at 12.5%, these wines are several shades paler than your typical pinot noir, but pack an exciting array of flavors and high-toned sensations thanks to those gorgeous, delicate acids.  And so undersung are these wines that they remain a relative bargain (<$15).  Schiavas are not alone, either.  Reds from Val d'Aosta, Alsatian wines, and even some Spanish whites are easygoing in this regard. 

But the West Coast? It's where look to for power, intensity, and hit-you-over-the-head obviousness.  Which is fine on occasion, but this aging body can't handle being yelled at every day.  Thank goodness the world is a big place.  Wine comes from everywhere.  And, occasionally, it's still fun to walk down the street singing Run DMC.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Wine Of The Week

With warm temperatures stretching across the country this week, it's only appropriate to take on some porch quaffers.  And what a great way to start the season:

2016 Rombauer Sauvignon Blanc Napa Valley $24 (Sample)
A new offering from one of Napa's stalwarts, this brilliantine white bursts from the glass with energy and vigor. Bottled in clear glass, it is a visual invitation to drinks on the porch. Made in a classic Northern California style (fresh cut grass, Granny Smith apple), it's fresh, clean as a whistle, and well-executed. Yum! Recommended.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Recycle Bin, Week of May 22

It has been a great week for nerdy wine drinking pleasure thanks to a lineup of European values. Dominated by Italy, but punctuated by a French all star, these highly recommended wines signal a strong preference toward the Old World these days. The underlying reasons why will have to wait for another, more comprehensive article, but in the meantime suffice it to say that Europe continues to bring its A game.

Working from left to right in the above photo:  

2014 Mazzi Valpolicella Classico Superiore 'Sanperetto' $19  
Valpolicellas range from simple drink-with-pizza bottlings to mind blowing ripassos that deliver amarone-like substance at a fraction of the price. But they all tend to fall within a fairly predictable flavor spectrum. This example, however, is an oddity of sorts. Funky in the way that natural wines are strange, this one is an exercise in juxtapositions. Very well made and unlike anything else I've had. Slender but flavorful, fruity but savory, sweet but alkaline, acidic but smooth. Above all it's aromatic and herbal. A bit of a sensory whirlwind.

2015 Domaine Cabirau Cotes du Roussillon $15  
The terrific example of why the 2015 vintage in France is not overhyped. Bright and exuberant, this savory, intense red is complex, and cerebral while still being accessible. Laser focused and energetic, the deep core yields to a grippy tannic finish.  The whole package has an allure that'll make you squeeze the bottle for every last drop.   

2013 Tenuta Regaleali Leone Bianco Sicily $10  
On a closeout discount down from $20, this saline-lined, medium bodied white is a reflection more of place than fruit. Works just fine on it's own, but is thought-provoking enough to make you wish for a plate of fresh sardines in olives and capers.  

2010 Domus Vitae Unus Solus IGT $15 
Without a doubt the strongest quality for the dollar I have had in a long time, this resolute and stately red is made in an international style that will turn heads. Thank Napa Valley Cabernet slightly throttled back, with a complement of uniquely Italian acidity, and at 75% off list price. After tasting this at a local restaurant, I found it at a wine shop and promptly cleared the shelf. 50% sangiovese, 25% cabernet, 25% merlot.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Parducci- Current Releases

At 85 years old, Parducci is Mendocino's longest running winery.  And, though ownership has changed hands from the Parducci family, the current owners seem intent on maintaining a tradition of producing reliable, middle-of-the-road wines at value prices.  In fact, you'll be hard-pressed to find many drinkable California wines at these prices anymore.  These samples showcase a region that doesn't get enough exposure, but is deserving of your exploration.

2014 Parducci Pinot Noir Small Lot Mendocino County $15
By far my favorite in this lineup, the pinot noir is blissfully absent the overextracted, cloying cola that typifies much of California's pinot these days. Bright and pleasant with a solid, but not overly-intrusive backbone, this is as good a pinot as you'll find for under $15.  Best of all it actually tastes like pinot noir! 

2014 Parducci Cabernet Sauvignon Small Lot Mendocino County $13
Lighter-bodied than expected, but that works to its benefit as this is much more of a European
style. Supple texture and mild density are framed by grippy acidity, leading to a dry, dry finish. Sound like Bordeaux? Yeah, it sort of tastes that way. Nothing terribly profound, but a respectable facsimile.  

2015 Parducci Chardonnay Small Lot Mendocino County $13
Full-bodied and full-flavored with plenty of warming toasted oak and relaxed, plump fruit. Enough structure to hold it together with nary a sharp edge in sight.   

Monday, May 1, 2017

Wine Of The Week = Wine Of The Year?

What makes this wine so impossibly entrancing isn't its atypical profile or its impeccably precise delivery.  Practically crackling in the glass, its energy is what makes it undeniably compelling.  Executed in a style similar to top quality Burgundies but at a fraction of the price, this South African gem was completely unexpected.  Available from several online retailers.

2016 Domaine De Westhoff Chardonnay Limestone Hill South Africa $15
Fresh, young, exuberant, lively, fresh, energetic, brilliant, and vigorous.  Magnificent.