Monday, June 11, 2018

The 3 Toros of Matsu

Three wines arrived as samples last month, each with a cool, modern label baring an up-close photo of a farm-hardened man.  Though the men on the bottles are different (perhaps three generations from the same lineage?), I was expecting the wines to taste more or less the same.  After all, all are made from the same vintage, by the same winemaker, and of 100% Tinta de Toro (as tempranillo is known in the part of north-central Spain where these are from.)  There's also the issue of homogenization, or the miserable trend towards sameness that is lamentably not isolated to wines made the US - too many Spanish wines are suffering under the international, over-oaked influence.

But I was in for a surprise. Though they certainly share a common heritage and flavor thumbprint, each of these presents with its own unique qualities. I tasted them in completely random order, and ended up saving the best for last. (No exaggeration on that note: find some of that!)  Categorically, you can expect to find strength and poise in all of these wines.  There's a tightness to them that suggests patience and cellaring will be rewarded, but there's also enough spatiality in them to let the aromatic luminescence shine through.

2015 Matsu Tinta de Toro 'Picaro' $14
Still quite closed and coy, but showing the necessary ingredients for finesse after it has a chance to mature and open: mid-weight with a tight, dense core framed by aromatic, bright flowers and herbs, and finishing with chalky tannins. Much more nuanced and quite different from the often blunt wines from this region. Excellent food wine.

2015 Matsu Tinta de Toro 'Viejo' $47
Inky as it flows from the bottle and intense, dusty black fruit on the nose. Big tannins coat the hidden, but strong fruit core. Wow. Something of a tightly wound powerhouse when first opened, yet very approachable. Despite its brawn, it’s polished and well-made. Think ropa vieja or grilled meat with fried olives. 

2015 Matsu Tinta de Toro 'Vecio' $22
Beautiful ultraviolet nose with just a whiff of savory on the fringes. But just wait until you taste this. Wow. Such poise, elegance, balance, and craft. Each of the components of this wine speak of individual character that combined make up a wonderful, layered, complex beauty. Seamlessly stitched without a drop out of place. Very refined and extremely well done. Wow!  Finishes long, with enough fine tannins to suggest improvement with mid-term cellaring. Did I say wow? I’ll say it again.

Sunday, June 3, 2018

A Whole Lot Of Goodies

Forgive for the time between installment here, but there's just been so much great wine to examine, assess, and consume with glutenous abandon that I've neglected to return to chronicle the debauchery.  With that an an apology, there are some terrific and unusual discoveries in store for you today.  From a palomino-dominated domestic blend (no, not the horse!) to an amazingly honest bragain French grenach, there's something for everyone in this batch.  But we'll start with a remembrance and celebration of life.  Enjoy!

2017 Rombauer Sauvignon Blanc Napa Valley $24
Koerner Rombauer, who founded this winery in the pioneering days of Napa Valley, passed away earlier this month.  A pilot with a love of wine, his was a full, adventurous life.  What better way to honor his legacy than cracking open a bottle of this joyful, fresh wine on the porch this summer?  Energy bursts from the glass in abundance, signalling a permission for spontaneity and serendipity that tends to thrive in warmer weather.  Very high-quality while remaining true to the Northern California sauvignon blanc style - fresh cut grass, salivary-gland-inducing Granny Smith, and bracing acidity. This wine makes me so happy!

2013 Lopez de Haro Rioja Reserva $17
Old school honesty meets new world racy. Everything you want in a Rioja - clean, round tempranillo fruit shining through bright, food-friendly acids, and a juicy squirt of vibrancy to plumb it all out. Best part? Mercifully lacking in the oak-bludgeoning regimen and high alcohol now typical in this region. Most enjoyable Rioja I’ve had in a long, long time.  Amazing value, too!

2016 Le Paradou Grenache France $9
I know nothing about the background of this wine - where in France it's from, its lineage, how it was farmed or harvested, etc.  Yet that doesn't interfere one iota with my enjoyment of it. Here's a simple wine that  actually tastes like grenache, over-delivering at this price point by a country mile. Straightforward, but with a nice acidic crunch that finishes clean and beckons you back for more. Available from Marketview Liquor online.

2016 Farmhouse Red California $11
I saw a big stack of these wines at a local grocery store recently and was pleased to find them in such prominent distribution, no doubt due to this venture being propelled by well established Cline Cellars. The concept of this particular brand is natural wind me again. The back label suggests that biodynamics are at the forefront of their vineyard practices - an admirable endeavor that absolutely has an impact in the bottled result   The red is rich and inky as it splashes into the glass, settling into a deep garnet. Initial aromatics suggest fresh, young black and red fruits. The palate offers more of the same, plus a generous dose of sweet vanilla oak and even a dollop of tannic structure. Good for summer holiday barbecue fare and pleasing a crowd of neighbors

2017 Farmhouse White California $11
Almost watery in appearance, but don't be fooled. Generous on the nose with sweet, ripe white flowers that continue into the mid palate where a surprisingly taut acidity awaits. Drier than the nose channels with notes of (riesling?) subtle petrol characteristics. Cerebral, but accessible. Tastes a bit like a kitchen sink blend you might find in Alsace. A little something for everyone here - especially the price. Turns out it's the 44% palomino that's channeling that interest (just 1% reisling.) Bravo.

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Spanish Refreshers In Time For Porch Season

As we head (finally!) into porch season, having some fresh new whites to beat the heat with is never a bad idea, and this foursome of samples from Spain arrived just in time.  A couple are the usual suspects, but the rose and (especially) sherry were unexpected.  Of these wines, the sherry was the one I found myself returning to again and again.  It's an acquired taste, but one that really gets its hooks into you.  Enjoy!

2017 Beronia Rueda $13
Brilliant. Exuberant aromatics are positively electric and carry through to the palate where lovers of bright sauvignon blanc will rejoice. It’s all here: citrusy/floral fruit, appealing acidic bite, and thirst quenching refreshment. Can you say porch season??? 

Pazo de Lusco Albariño Rias Baixas $25
Textbook. Honeysuckle aromas on the nose followed by green apple and citrus on the palate. Perhaps a bit more weighty than the average albariño, despite the slightly effervescent texture.

2017 Beronia Rioja Rose $13
Clean, flinty nose hints at what’s to come: dry, dry, dry, crisp, and with a snap of acidity on the finish. Not at all fruit forward or sweet, rather linear and precise. Great companion for summer fare.  Unique.

NV Tio Pepe Palomino Fino Sherry $20
For the unindoctrinated (like me) one should not expect Sherry to resemble, or be a benchmark for, wine. I have much to learn about fine Sherry and Palomino Fino is as good place to start as any. The nose is decidedly nutty and clean with elements of almost metallic hard minerals. The palate is light, clean, and bone, bone dry conveying essentially zero fruit. Instead, it’s charms come from its palate-cleansing qualities that border on savory and whet the appetite. Once you abandon the idea that this is a white wine gone horribly wrong, lingering with it becomes a companionable pleasure. Is it any coincidence that I’m hankering for a few slivers of Serrano and a block of Manchego? This could be the new house pre-dinner porch refresher. 

Monday, April 23, 2018

(NOT) Coming To A Doorstep Near You

In the wrap up of 2017, internet consumers were listed among the losers in the year ahead.  In an age when diet-specific meals can be delivered to your door same day and laundry detergent can be re-ordered by pressing a button on the dispenser, state legislatures are taking a giant step backwards by outlawing wine ordered on the internet.

In fairness, while the spirit of that statement is true, it's not technically accurate.  Laws affecting wine are state-specific, so there are a number of different flavors or frameworks out there.  And laws affecting wine commerce are also often different from those governing beer and liquor.  Then there's the issue of where or who the wine is coming from as shipments from wineries (known as DTC or direct to consumer) are often treated differently from wine shipped by a retailer.  It can get complicated quickly.

Most alcohol laws have been on the books for decades, some even for centuries.  But laws are one thing, enforcement is another - and this is what's really changing, and changing right now.  Traditionally, the enforcement wings of states' alcohol bureaus have been undermanned, underfunded, and focused solely on the issues likely to get a bureaucrat in hot water, like underage drinking.  Well, thanks primarily to the efforts of the Wine and Beer Wholesalers Association, states are issuing cease-and-desists to major wine e-commerce retailers and requiring carriers like UPS and FedEx to report shipments from wineries and retailers.  This has been a long time coming, but (at least in Ohio), it's here.

This morning I attempted to order wine from a retailer in another state that I have done a lot of business with in years past.  They have a terrific portfolio of wines that are not available in my state, their prices are darn good, and their customer service is relentlessly affable.  My attempt to order was rebuffed with a simple message: "Please change your shipping address to a state we may ship to."  I emailed to inquire.  An excerpt of the reply follows.
Due to recent regulation changes, we are not be able to ship to your state at this time.  We encourage you to write your state legislatures and inform them you want free, open, access to the wine market.  We’ve made this very easy here:     

Please know this change is not specific to us.  Very soon, you will see this restriction across all of your favorite wine retailers around the country.  You may read more here:

Whether this is an extension of the age of protectionism or the symptoms of an industry trying desperately to resist innovation, the effects will no doubt result in a fresh wave of legal challenges.  Stay tuned for that.  In the meantime, I suppose we should all shop local?

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Rico Soave Batting 1000

The wine world is full of elusive unicorns: drinkable pinot noir for under $20...California chardonnay that doesn't clobber you with oak and alcohol...domestic reds that go well with food...

Another unicorn is a sure thing.  Whether a producer, grape, region, method, style, there are very few corners in the market that you can experiment in without feeling like your hard-earned money is at risk of being wasted, or at least under-utilized.  The search for these sure things is what makes loving wine - and writing about it - fun.  The companion experiences of hunt and discovery can be at times disappointing, but such luxurious pursuits surely beat a day at the office.

People who want a shortcut to a sure thing often ask what my "go-to" wine is.  The truth is that it changes, not just because of vintage variation, but because tastes change from season to season, and as we age.  But from time to time I have a ready answer to that question.  Today, it's Soave Classico.

The Soave of my adolescence was insipid plonk my parents only occasionally had the courtesy of refrigerating.  So rancid, it could only be choked down when mixed with Sprite.  But Italian winemaking (and availability of product) has come a long way in the decades since.  A couple of years ago I rediscovered Soave (Soave Classico specifically) at a simple lunch in Florence.  Since that day, I haven't had a bad bottle - and it hasn't been for lack of exploration.  Nor have I spent more than $16.

The term Soave is given to dry white wine from the Veneto region of Italy made primarily (if not entirely, of the garganega grape. Classico is a subzone of the broader Soave region characterized by hillside vineyards surrounding Verona. (Similarly, Chianti also had a Classico subzone, or DOC - Italy's counterpart to the US' AVA.)

What does it taste like? White flowers over ripe pear, apple, and lemon, framed by minerality and luminescence.  Not enough to get your off the couch?  What really sets it apart is the texture: supple and beckoning, its simplicity has an irresistible allure; a come-hitherness.  This I have found in just about every Soave Classico I've had.  Very few wine styles, grapes, regions, or producers bat anywhere north of .500, especially at reasonable prices.  The 2016 Suavia Soave Classico pictured below will set you back a mere $13.

So, as we lurch into porch season, this discovery is worth sharing - and seeking out.  Enjoy!

Monday, March 19, 2018

Recycle Bin, Week of March 19

It's been a blissful season of wine drinking, having made some terrific discoveries at the intersection of high enjoyment and low price.  Experiences like these don't come along too often, so when they do, I make it a point to stock up.  Not surprisingly, these are

Also included in this lineup is one more from Markus Niggli, whose new line of Markus red wines were reviewed recently.

2015 Tenuta Regaleali Tasca Bianco Sicily $10
Magnificent! Minerals and a luxurious texture characterize this elegant white that gives and gives.  Not too rich, but not too shy, either.  This is my new favorite wine.  It makes me happy.  Kitchen sink blend of inzolia (47%), grecanico (22%), catarratto (25%), chardonnay (6%)

2015 Podere Scopetone Sangiovese Montalcino $15
Talk about purity! Unblemished by oak or any other interference, the brilliance of this gorgeous red shines through with honesty.  Made of 100% sangiovese grosso (same variety that goes into Brunello) and fermented in stainless steel, the expressive acidity make for an exciting wine.  Hard to go back to drinking Chianti after trying this bargain.

2015 Tenuta Santa Maria Soave Lepia $14
Bordering on opulent, this full-bodied Soave oozes elegance and charm.  Made of the garganega grape, this white offers up white flower blossom aromatics and a lovely, full mouth feel.  An eye-opener for those whose reference points for Soave are watered-down, insipid wines.
2015 Markus Carignane Domo Lodi $39
While at the higher end of the price spectrum, this is a most unusual specimen. Lovely and with a backbone, its luminous garnet shimmer is with perfumed aromatics wafting beyond the rim. Kaleidoscope of flickering flavors wrapped in high frequency spices play across a solid structure that sits in the foreground. Bright and beaming and complex. Wow.


Monday, March 12, 2018

2015 Stony Hill Chardonnay

Lamentations regarding California chardonnay's steady decline into homogeneity have been well-documented on this site.  Uniformity, however, is a secondary compliant to what is more troubling: most of them are too rich, have too much residual sugar, are too cloying, and have been subjected to way too much oak.  This too-much-of-everything character has often given the impression of being yelled at. 

In what feels like a cosmic attempt to prove that there are exceptions to the rule, three impressive samples of northern California chardonnay arrived all close together.  FEL's complex chard from Anderson Valley and  Smith-Madrone's majestic chardonnay from up on Spring Mountain were very solid without betraying the archetypal identity that California chardonnay has become synonymous with.  But Stony Hill's throwback bottling - also from Spring Mountain - is a haunting wine that won me over, even if it took a few days for the infatuation to set in. 

2015 Stony Hill Chardonnay Spring Mountain $48
Pale, straw like color leads into a rich, concentrated, almost animalistic nose.  Very round and plump, showing deep, clean fruit framed by glycerine, vanilla, a velvety texture, and even a shimmer of acidity to round it out. Delivers all of this with a mercifully moderate alcohol level. After a few days open, it really relaxed and developed its harmonious side; a sign that this would be a fun wine to revisit in years to come. A languid wine unafraid to be what it is but without being showy. Unique and memorable, if pricey.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Smith-Madrone, King and Queen

If cabernet is king in Napa, certainly chardonnay is the queen.  A sample bottle of each from Spring Mountain stalwart Smith-Madrone arrived recently for review.  I've very much enjoyed past vintages and other bottlings from this family-run operation. Though many wineries in Napa Valley remain small and family-owned, few can claim what Smith-Madrone does: 100% dry farmed estate wines.  This is no small feat and absolutely impacts what comes into the cellar.  For those who can pull it off - and pull it off well - the resulting wines ooze authenticity.

A year ago I had the pleasure of reviewing the 13 and 14 cab and chard respectively.  These two below are from the 14 and 15 vintages.  The 2014 and 15 chardonnays are very similar stylistically, while the the 2013 and 14 cabernets exhibit clear vintage contrasts.  Regardless, these remain wines faithful to a certain place, a place worth making a visit to next time you're in the neighborhood.

2015 Smith-Madrone Chardonnay Spring Mountain Napa Valley $34
Majestic. High quality chardonnay in the classic California style. Intense tropical flavors with glycerine, heavy cream, and solid oak framing. Unapologetically statuesque, bold, and lingering, yet cleanly pressed and bearing all the hallmarks of quality winemaking; nary a stitch out of place. Can be (and best) enjoyed at cellar temperature to appreciate its full profundity.

2014 Smith-Madrone Cabernet Sauvignon Spring Mountain Napa Valley $52
Oh, lord, the luxurious aromatics coming off this alone are enough to incite instant infatuation. Deep, beckoning black fruit invites more sniffing for those with the patience to not just dive in. The attack, however, sits juxtaposed with its blue-green fruit/vegetable profile and a restraint that is in contrast to the nose. Prominent acidity, combined with its old school cabernet fruit elements suggest longevity. Even after seven hours decanted, drinking this feels like infanticide. Would love to revisit this one in a decade. And then again in another.

Friday, March 2, 2018


Underdogs enjoy a soft spot in my heart.  In the wine world, overlooked varieties and regions are often overlooked because they were once considered and didn't measure up.  But it's in these nooks and crannies where hidden treasure is discovered. The aptly named Aridus Wine Company falls into this category.

Located in Wilcox, Arizona, Aridus is sourcing grapes locally, as well as from growers in new Mexico and California.  These samples were my first introduction to Arizona wines and serve as a welcome reminder that good wine is found everywhere if you are willing explore and keep and open mind.

Tasting notes of four of these wines follow, but a few quick, general remarks. These all share the same thumbprint - a beguiling texture and refreshing restraint in intensity.  They are all also very competently executed.  Whomever is at the helm in the cellar knows what's what.  Finally, they are quite attractively packaged. Any of these wines can hold their own proudly among others from California.  Definitely worth keeping an eye out for.

2016 Aridus Malvasia Bianca $36
Truth be told, malvasia isn’t my thing, but I know a well-made wine, whether it's in my wheelhouse or not. Riesling sophisticates will swoon over the petrol-dimensioned layers and cracking acidity, but all will marvel over the insane floral aspects and supple texture that dresses the round body.
2016 Aridus Rose of Mourvedre and Grenache Arizona $29
Very unusual. Iridescent color that belies it’s profile. Don’t let the delicate, translucent nose fool you. Vigorous energy awaits on the palate, which bursts with bright, full fruit that channels rich watermelon more than vinifera. And there’s that texture again, somehow creamy and supple. 

2015 Aridus Tempranillo Arizona $40
Beautiful translucent ruby color leads into a slender figure singing in baritone. Clean and direct with its polished fruit, but snugly-framed by a gently smoke-wrapped cedar cola pashmina and sweet Saharan spice. Very easy drinking and amazingly under 13% abv. Bravo.

2015 Aridus Malbec Arizona $36
What a pleasant surprise! Mercifully lacking the brutish and clumsy density of many South American renditions of this grape, this malbec is soft and supple, and much lighter in weight. It positively oozes friendliness with a long, long finish covered in toasty flavors that kiss but don’t cloy. Arizona? Really?  Fantastic.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Oh, Val...You Are Wonderful

Val.  Valpo.  Valpolicella.  Whatever you want to call her, she doesn't care.  Just call her.  Light and breezy, but not at all lacking in substance and personality, Valpolicella lives life in the shadows of her more popular (and expensive) siblings: ripasso and amarone.  But being overlooked means Val is more available, more affordable, and, frankly, more fun.  At 12.5%, this 2016 Mazzi Valpolicella Classico ($12) is light enough to gulp, but packs enough acidity and delicious goodness to bring a smile to the end of even the roughest of days.  Like its northern cousin schiava, Valpolicella is fleet-footed, often liltingly aromatic, and just damned easy to get along with.

As we look ahead to spring and the change of seasonal cuisines, consider experimenting with Val.

Monday, February 12, 2018

FEL Chardonnay: Masculine Brawn, Feminine Poise

2016 FEL Chardonnay Anderson Valley $32
From the founder of namesake winery Cliff Lede comes this second label homage to his grandmother, Florence Elsie Lede (hence, FEL.)  In a nutshell: elegant packaging, voluptuous nose, and a palate full of contrasts. The nose is classic, statuesque California Chardonnay; big and broad shouldered, with warm hi-toned notes that leads into a mouth that is decidedly different- refined and expressive of leaner fruit character without being timid or losing an ounce of its ambition and elegance. Striking acidity shines through unencumbered by oak or malo.  An easy wine for committed Cali chard lovers, but also one with enough bridging to entice Burgundy fans to come in for a closer look at what’s possible in the Anderson Valley.

Monday, February 5, 2018

Markus Wines: Lodi Like You've Never Had

Lodi, is an AVA in California sitting east of San Francisco bay and southeast of Sacramento.  LoCa, as it's sometimes known, has been earning itself a reputation for growing ballsy zin at affordable (by west coast standards) prices.  It has increasingly become sourcing grounds for such value players as Bogle, Cline, Michael David, and others, but value is not the whole play there, as the Lodi Native project proved.

Still, it's a curious effort indeed that Markus Niggli, native of Switzerland and the man behind Borra Vineyards, has released a line of reds only one of which is zin-based.  What's he doing?  Taking a whack at the LoCa mold is my guess.  Unencumbered by a stifling regional rule book, Markus uses a free hand in blending to create age-worthy wines featuring acidity.  That's right, longevity and food-friendliness as priorities is a rare thing indeed - especially in these parts.  Such a different approach accompanied by deft winemaking skills is refreshing.

Though one of sample bottles received was corked (review forthcoming), others proved the importance of suspending judgement.  Though on the pricey side for this area, these are unique, well-made wines worth seeking out.

2015 Markus Syrah 'Zeitlos' Lodi $39 
Beautiful translucent in the glass. The nose points toward deeply-flavored fruit framed by mystery and intrigue. But the mouth provides tension in juxtaposition. The syrah is savory and succulent, made even more alluring thanks to the accompanying viognier, carignan, and petite. Wines that manage to straddle the sweet/savory make it hard to resist coming back for sip after sip after sip, and this is one of them. Bravo!  (76% Syrah, 12% Carignane, 8% Petite Sirah, 4% Viognier)
2015 Markus 'Sol' Red Wine Lodi $39 
Stridently defined by sturdy oak framing and filled in with polished black fruit. Big and angular thanks to the dominant petite sirah, it’s also gushing with finely textured gritty tannins that will appeal broadly. Hard to conceive that this is from Lodi, that’s how well-structured it is. (42% Petite Sirah, 37% Syrah, 21% Mourvèdre)
2015 Markus Zinfandel 'Blue' Lodi $39 
Bright zinfandel fruit pops with energy in this deeply-scented and high-toned, swashbuckling beast. Lots of heft and octane delivered in a surprisingly lithe body. Polished and well made. Oh, and the finish? Like a country mile: dust, languid, and enjoyable - as long as you’re not behind the wheel. Whoa!  16.5% ABV (90% Zinfandel, 5% Petit Verdot, 5% Petite Sirah)