Sunday, October 19, 2014

Recycle Bin, Week of Oct. 20

It's been a bonanza of reasonably priced wines lately.  Is it surprising that none are domestic?  Perhaps not.  Spain, Italy, and France are all well represented in this all red mix.  Values abound, ranging from a Trader Joe's Spanish red to a still-young (but 5 year old) Rioja Reserva - all of which deserve your attention as we head into cooler weather.  Enjoy!

2009 Cune Rioja Reserva $28 (Sample)
It took three days open for this wine to relax and shed its strong raw oak sheen, which is a tell of its longevity.  How wines like this - at once so young and yet already five years old - come on to the market at accessible prices is a gift to consumers.  Once this tightly wound beast had enough time to breathe, well, it delivered layers of medium-weight, full-throttle goodness in gently lapping waves.  The fruit, previously disguised by tension, emerges in lackadaisical ease across the tongue.  Ah, there are some benefits to growing older - and up.
2012 Tikal Malbec/Bonarda Mendoza 'Patriota' $20 Still as dependable a steak wine as ever, but now with an overt and proud herbal/vegetal streak. Happy to see that its price hasn't crept up the way most popular wines' have.
2012 Collazzi Toscana IGT 'Liberta' $20 (Sample)
Soft, accessible, and with round, pleasant flavors. And easy wine to drink without being challenged by intellectual or academic demands. 

2010 Monte Ducay Cariñena Riserva $9
Well. This is a stumper. A sub-ten dollar wine from Trader Joe's that tastes exactly as it should - except that it doesn't taste like it's an $8-9 wine. Classic gentle Spanish spice on soft, friendly fruit and a (thankfully) subdued oak frame. Nothing mind blowing, but very pleasant indeed. Which maybe is mind blowing all by itself. 

2012 Chateau D'Aigueville Cotes du Rhone Villages $10

An absolute pleasure to drink. It's a true CDR and it's got a purity of fruit that anyone can appreciate.  But it's its oozing authenticity that keeps you coming back for more - and smiling.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Cinsault: A Master Class

You've really got to hand it to the smarties at LoCa.  Earlier this year they put together what has to be the most compelling projection of an AVA's terroir ever to land on our doorstep.  The gist of it was this: one sub-appellation, one variety, specific winemaking standards/constraints, from six different vineyards.  It was a master class in Lodi Zin and just what a difference vineyard site makes.

In their most recent installation - an equally intriguing master class - they switched it up a bit: a single (obscure) variety from a single vineyard made by four different winemakers.  The grape?  Cinsault.  The vineyard?  The oldest contiguous Cinsault vineyard in the world: the Bechtold vineyard in Lodi.  Planted in 1885, these vines were producing viable wine grapes long before Edison demonstrated his first viable bulb.


So, before we get to the meat of these wines, what is Cinsault?  It's a vinifera primarily used in blending in french wines and is occasionally bottled on its own - also in France.  Weight-wise, it's pretty close to Pinot, but with less insanity-inducing fringe flavors and more grip and tenacity. It would stand up to a hearty chicken dish and wouldn't overwhelm salmon.  If you're familiar with better Beaujolais, you'd be on the right track. 

Despite the obscurity of the grape, here are four bottlings all from the same vineyard - not in France, but in Lodi, California.  Often times when winemakers produce small batches of any single variety, the wines end up being caricatures of themselves. It seems almost unavoidable that when bottling 100% of any grape, whether intended as a blending grape or not, the winemaker runs the risk of lopsided distortion. And, so, with these, I was prepared for exactly that.

There was no need for worry.

Each of these wines is a complete package. And even though they'll all came from the same vineyard, each has its own personality. Certainly I have my favorites from this lot, but collectively they bat 1000 - there is not a single loser in the mix - an impressive feat for any collection of spice rack bottlings and yet another reason to look to Lodi for both quality and value. I returned to these wines again and again over the course of a day and found them to be collectively compelling.

2011 Onesta $29
Beautiful clarity in the garnet color which shimmers in the glass. The nose has bright red fruit and a touch of graphite on it, Which lens in air of mystery and seriousness. Midweight and with ample tension, acidity plays a starring role in this energetic wine. 

2013 Michael David $25
Liquid rubies shimmering in the light. A soft, round, and inviting nose beckons you into the glass. The nose carries through faithfully to the palate where well integrated toasted oak makes for a broadly appealing and complete wine. Finishes minutes long. Popular, if ultimately simple.

2013 Turley $17
Fresh crushed flowers and berries on the aromatics give way to a decidedly continental style. Fresh and very stylistically French. If this were tasted blind, I wouldn't pick it as a Californian in a million years.

2012 Estate Crush $26
Leaner and sharper on the nose than any of the others, and that's not where the differences and. The broad frequency of flavors come fast and from all directions, creating an intriguing, if dizzying drinking experience. The serious, multifaceted wine made well.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Suditrol: Alto Adige Revisited

Last fall a batch of sample bottlings from this northern Italian region arrived for review.  They impressed well enough, but in retrospect were merely a warm up for this year's array. 

The diversity of wines coming from this foothill area is impressive.  Reds and whites alike are striking for their clarity and freshness, with al dente acidity a common thread across all varieties.  What's even more attractive about these wines is that they represent a categorical value.  As we head into autumn, the smart wine shopper will dispense with preconceptions and explore the vast drinking pleasures of Sudtirol.

Editorial preference leans toward the Schiava and Pinot Grigio.  Yes, really.

2013 Kellerei Kaltern Campaner Vernatsch Schiava $12
Gorgeous and luminous in the glass with a light red color that refracts like a precious stone.  Similarly fleet-footed in the mouth, but packing multiple (pleasurable) dimensions of flavor and acidity. An attention-getting experience made all the more repeatable with its modest (12.5%) alcohol.  Must. Find. More.  Soon. Outstanding value!

2009 Elena Walch Lagrein Riserva 'Castel Ringberg' $36
So, this is why people swoon when talking about this grape. Occupying a panoramic range of flavors and aromatics, this wine delivers a dizzying kaleidoscope in full-blown Technicolor. While light on its feet, it has the acidity and profundity of a much bolder wine.

2012 St Michael-Eppan Sauvignon Blanc 'Lahn' $18
Energetic and nearly vibrating with fresh grass cut flavors. Lean and with a strong acidic thread to keep it clean and sharp. Brilliant wine.

2012 Tiefenbrunner Turmhauf Pinot Blanc 'Anna' $15
More sharp and crisp. Focused, lean, and reflective of higher altitude provenance. That said, it is not without varietally correct fruit character. Definitely one to accompany a meal to offset its edges, rather than a front porch quaffer.  One would think this wine had even more vigor when slightly younger.  Another smoking value. 

2013 Castel Sallegg Pinot Grigio Pulvernal' $15
Want to know what Pinot Grigio is really capable of? You've got to go to mountainside vineyards lined with gravely stone.  Though the nose on this is initially off-putting, the palate more than makes up for it. Lacy acids lead the attack, then ease into the background while a welcoming, round fruit core takes center stage.  The lingering floral aromatic after taste makes this wine a complete package.  Equally at home as an aperitif or seafood pasta accompaniment.  Definitely not the Ladies' Book Club PG.  I really like drinking this wine.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Recycle Bin, Week of Oct. 6

This week we have a tale of three value Pinots.  As we hit the peak of wild salmon season - Coho, Sockeye, and Chinook swimming into grocery stores everywhere - having a solid Pinot or two in reserve is key to make the most of these pink-centric meals.  If you can save a few bucks in the process, then all the better.  So, this week we've got a triad of "affordable" Pinots, which these days means south of the $20 mark. 

2012 Cline Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast 'Cool Climate' $15
Not sure I buy how much of an influence cool climate had on this particular Pinot Noir, but it's still quite drinkable and enjoyable. Especially for the money. I'd buy this again, for sure.
2013 Underwood Pinot Noir Oregon $14
Leaner, cleaner, and generally lighter than its California counterparts - but no less endowed in the good stuff department. An easy drinking Pinot that scored high on the wallet factor and low on the hit-you-over-the-head scale. This will be coming home again soon.

2010 Mark West Pinot Noir Carneros $17
Not sure why there's any of this left on the shelves (I recommended the 2011 for Thanksgiving last year), but it's wearing its age more than quite nicely.  Thanks to another year in the bottle, this terrific value traded its bombastic, fruit grenade profile in for subtleties typically found in Pinots thrice the price: delicate smoke, hints of tar, and traces of burnt orange.  Yowza.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Ladies, This Port's For You

The first chilly nights of the season have fallen here in the Midwest and much of the rest of the country. When temperatures dip into the forties at night and don't outreach the sixties during the day, it's safe to put away the seersucker suit and white jeans.  The crisp morning air is the harbinger of the coming equinox and the solstice to follow.  For the time being, though, we give ourselves permission to enjoy the relief from summer's extremes without dusting off the shovels or trading sandals in for flannels.

We also see the changes reflected in the produce section.  Acorn, butternut, pumpkin...squashes everywhere you look.  Our palates begin to crave comfort food that doesn't depend on the grill: meatloaf, stewed poultry, and raviolis.  And with these changes come the attendant shifting of accompanying wines.  The jagged-edged Sauvignon Blancs that enticed during August no longer fit right, nor do the light-hearted red blends that did the trick with charred fare.  No, in this shoulder season we flirt with heavier whites and more serious, acid-threaded reds.  But even as we try not to get ahead of ourselves, every Port lover begins to squirm with the anticipation of the first frost.

All the signs are present: we are now entering Port season.  Let us rejoice.  

And with that as a lengthy preamble, a plea for the ladies...

The archetypal Port drinker persona clings to wine culture like dust on century-old bottles: fat, old white guy, brows arched and head tilted slightly so as to maximize nose-glass occupancy.  How this has survived the ages is beyond comprehension.  Forget about the sexual revolution, egalitarianism, and the softening of wine culture elitism - Port, perhaps more than any other wine, fits a feminine bias better than a pair of Jimmy Choos.  This is true both on its surface and at its core.

For starters, Port is sweet, evocative, profound, mercurial, intoxicating, and more complicated than a passionate Italian.  If that isn't a list of descriptors expensive perfume makers aspire to invoke in their target market, then, crap, it certainly is for lingerie designers.  Port is also delicate even in its most heavy-handed iterations, a juxtaposition not unlike Mars vs Venus and one which the fairer sex is born understanding.  Port also comes in so broad a range of colors and styles, Bobbi Brown's chief cosmetologist is probably envious of its infinite hues. The comparisons go on and on and as they do the mystery continues as to why Port hasn't caught on as a cool, hip, go-to beverage for sophisticated women ages 21-101.

This year's annual plea for readers to reinvigorate their curiosity of this nectar is directed more specifically to the ladies.  Do not let Senatorial types keep the corner on the market for enjoying this exceedingly underappreciated elixir.  It's just too good - and too perfectly suited to your unique perspectives - to go unloved.


Monday, September 22, 2014

Recycle Bin, Week of Sept. 22

Another mixed bag this week with one exceptional wine worth seeking out: the Chilean Syrah, which overdelivers on multiple fronts.  A lesson drinking wine at the right time comes with the Orvieto, too.  Cheers.

2012 Bastide Miraflors Cotes Catalanes $15 
I'll say this about this one: it's well-made, has nice clean edges, and plenty of flavor. Reminds me of an exuberant Beaujolais, except it has some cool licorice undertones going on that emerge after plenty of air. When I get this again? Sure. 

2012 Falesco Est! Est!! Est!!! $10
From the producer of the venerable Vitiano comes this lighthearted, whimsical white. While this palate prefers a similar blend of grapes from Orvieto, this (Montefiascone) will do just fine particularly given the sawbuck price point.

2009 Santa Rita Syrah Maipo Valley $14
Who knew they made Syrah in Chile? Fully legit, this deep, dark, sinewy Syrah is boggling. On par with some of the more intriguing examples from up-and-down California's coast line. This blockbuster value is one to buy buy the six pack and store for future enjoyment. If you can get past the silly sticker broadcasting 92 points, this wine should grace many an autumn dinner table. Terrific.

2011 Salviano Orvieto Classico Superiore $15
Still holding up well enough to be enjoyable, but I'm guessing this isn't anywhere close to the vibrant wine it likely was on release. A lesson on paying attention to buying wines within the right drinking window. For a white blend like Orvieto, what makes it so appealing is the tension between round, supple fruit and taut acidity. By the time it's in bottle for a few years, chances are the acids begin to take over. I'll still look for this in younger vintages. And Salviano's reds are worth picking up, too. 

Monday, September 15, 2014

Recycle Bin, Week of Sept. 15

Wow, some bombastic, memorable wines this week including a trip down memory lane with a certain Cabernet, some terrific Italian values, a stunning Chardonnay, and a complete (but lovable) oddball white.  Enjoy!

2007 Beringer Cabernet Knights Valley $15.49 (on release)
This bottle didn't stand a chance at lasting the evening. Though it's been in the cellar for five years since purchase, on opening it tasted exactly as I had remembered it: young, full of vigor, and framed by rough-hewn tannins.  (Original review here.) A couple of hours, though, and the bravado facade slipped away like an expensive negligee. What's left was a silken, impossibly irresistible, and composed wine. Strength and poise are in balance in this moment, which must be its peak. Cannot fathom having scored this for under $16 in a Jersey strip mall. (Or that the current release retails for $30!)
2012 Americano Chardonnay California $18
A caricature of itself. Lopsided toward a decidedly lush and generous malolactic component. Sitting somewhere between caramel and marzipan, what's interesting about the most prominent characteristic in this wine is that it manages to sit atop a pillowy, cloud-like texture. It's an irresistible combination despite its nearly freakish imbalance. 

2011 Cantina Zaccagnini Montepulciano d'Abruzzo $15
I've reviewed this before, but this is still one worth returning to. Especially as the barbecue season winds down, full, accessible, and round reds are easy go-to wines. Montepulciano makes for all of those in spades without breaking the bank. And this one does nicely. 

2012 Sampietrana Tacco Barocco Negroamaro $12
Abundant fruit, gripping acidity, and course tannins round out this versatile value. Pair with anything from pizza to pork to a bad day.

2012 Annabelle Chardonnay Napa Valley $12
Ridiculed in previous vintages for having been ridiculously overblown and flabby, this one leans back towards the more streamlined version of Chardonnay, but fails to inspire beyond Wednesday night gulp.

2009 Adelaida Pavanne Paso Robles White Blend $10 (On closeout)
Plenty of flaws and will present as odd to most. Still, this Rhone white blend from the Central Coast is a wine geek's infatuation. Funky and round, this ugly duckling is a walk on the wild side I'd like to take again soon.  Seriously, Grenache Blanc, Roussanne, and Viognier?  Awesomeness.

2010 Basilica Cafaggio Chianti Classico $17

Sunday, September 14, 2014

As Predicted...

As much as I love/hate to say I told you so,  I did.

A couple of weeks ago I (unsympathetically) forecasted one effect of the earthquake in Napa: "...a predictable flood of cutesie "Shaken, not stirred" one-off labels coming to market soon to commemorate the occasion."

To wit: Matthiasson's Quake Cuvee.  A $48/bottle wine made from purchased juice. 

To be fair, it's not all hard hat parties and self-congratulatory fund raising. There's harvest happening.  Right now.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Recycle Bin, Week of Sept. 8

It's a brief recycle bin this week focusing solely on Rioja.  Why?  As we enter the autumnal season, our dinner menus will change, incorporating richer, fuller-flavored foods.  And as our ingredients evolve with the weather, so to will our wine selections.  Another reason to focus on Riojas is because it's one of the few wines still aged before release without being punitively priced.  Note that the Gran Reserva below is almost seven years old and still priced around $20.

Generally speaking, Rioja comes in four levels: plain old (actually young) Rioja, Ciranza, Reserva, and Gran Reserva.  Rioja is young, energetic, and typically simple, and spends less than a year in barrel.  Crianza is aged for two years, at least one of which is in oak.  Reserva is aged for three years, at least one of which is in oak.  And Gran Reserva is aged for at least five years: two in oak, three in bottle.

All of these wines are dominated by, if not made exclusively from, the Tempranillo grape, though other indigenous varieties are blended in, particularly in the younger bottlings.

2011 Palacios Remondo La Montesa Rioja (Sample) $11
A wine that's going through an impetuous adolescent phase. Indifferent on opening, promising after an introductory gulp of air, and finally full of oak-override hubris. Needs a bit to settle down, but I'm looking forward to revisiting soon.
2008 Marques de Murrietta Rioja Reserva (Sample) $22
Having mellowed considerably since first tasting this vintage in Barcelona a couple of years ago, and like its Rioja brethren, the Murrietta is still jumpy thanks to an abundance of American oak. Despite that minor distraction, this wine still has the trademark soul of sun-kissed earth and hard-working hands that is the hallmark of Rioja. 

2007 Montecillo Rioja Gran Reserva (Sample) $21
This is old school aged Rioja, replete with a thinning body, yet still-youthful tannins.  American oak shows prominently, but a fatty lamb dish would put this graceful wine into very favorable light. Fun to revisit Gran Reserva. Montecillo has been a stalwart staple of the Rioja experience for decades - and for good reason. Their wines - from Crianza to Reserva to Gran Reserva never fail to transport the imbiber.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Recycle Bin, Week of Sept. 1

September?  Really?  What happened to the summer?   Wow.  Well, at least the weather still feels like summer, so we can still enjoy some tasty BBQ and porch-hanging wines, a few of which we've got for you this week.

But before we get to the wine reviews, for those of you who raised a brow at last week's unsympathetic piece on the earthquake in Napa, check out this article by Rom McMillan at Silicon Valley Bank on the importance of authenticity in the wake of a natural disaster.  Interesting reading.  It turns out I'm not alone in seeing opportunism and self-promotion in the industry.  But there's also an interesting statistic buried in the article - apparently I was wayyyy off in suggesting that it was mostly insured, undesirable product that had suffered damage.  It looks like only 6% of property owners had earthquake coverage.  It also looks like the average loss will end up being quite low.

On the the wine!  Pay close attention to the rosé and the Argentinian cab.  Yummers.

2012 Ravenswood Zinfandel Napa Valley Old Vines $14
It's been years since I've had a wine from this producer, mostly because when they went mainstream, all varietal characteristics bled out of their wines. Here, however, is a true Zin. It's full of black and white pepper spice, structure, and backbone. Not the jaw-dropper that some high end Zins can be (at triple the price), but a very respectable and enjoyable accompaniment to backyard barbecue fare.

2012 Willamette Valley Vineyards Pinot Noir 'Whole Cluster' $20
I recently noticed that fruit flies were gathering around the decanter every time I opened a Pinot Noir. If that isn't indicative of a problem, I'm not sure what it is. As much as I love a full frontal wine, Pinot Noir from California has, as the critics say, become something else entirely. This had me reaching for something with a little less bombast and a little more acidic crunch. And I'm happy to report that this wine fills the bill quite nicely without being austere or over-the-top with astringency. I will reach for this again.

2012 Robert Mondavi Chardonnay Napa Valley $14
Not the big, flashy, typical California Chardonnay you might expect. Medium bodied, rather than over extracted, and more pronounced acidity than can be accidental. Clearly, someone went to some trouble to make this a more food friendly Chardonnay than your typical fare. 

2013 Mirabeau Rosé Cotes de Provence $18 (Sample)
A perfect warm weather quaffer with the added bonus of real finesse. Mid weight wrapped in lacy acidity and refined dry fruit. A complete package wrapped quite nicely. Highly recommended. 

2013 Achaval Ferrer Cabernet Sauvignon Mendoza $25 (Sample)
Lots of clean edges on this polished, mountain vineyard wine.  If a wine can be complimented by what it's missing, this one benefits from a lack of green vegetable bite and an absence of over-extracted fig.  What's left is honesty and quality - an appealing combo. 

Friday, August 29, 2014

(A Cynic's Guide To) What Napa's Earthquake Means For Wine

Last Sunday's 6.0 magnitude earthquake in Napa Valley has provided media outlets with some terrific material: images of teenagers skateboarding on large asphalt heaves and cellar workers bouldering over fallen barrels.  This kind of stuff makes terrific cover stories.  But what does this really mean for wine?

Not much.

While there certainly is plenty of real damage - over 200 buildings have been deemed uninhabitable and schools have been closed - there were, thankfully, no deaths. My guess is that, in the final analysis, the actual percentage of unrecoverable inventory will end up being negligible, though that won't stop a PR effort from prognosticating a dramatic shortage and consequent justification of even higher prices. 

As we look ahead to the fast-approaching 2014 harvest, the logistics of this once a year rush to the vines requires an infrastructure that, at least according to this LA Times piece, was spared the worst of the damage.  What does a winery really need to get through harvest?  People more than anything.  Then tractors, trucks, and roads.  And a place with the right equipment to get fermentation under way - either a cellar or custom crush facility.  All of these appear to remain intact for the approximately 500 wineries in Napa Valley.

But what about all those pictures of broken bottles? 

Look, earthquakes are real.  And scary.  And dangerous.  They wobble the earth and everything on it.  Babies cry, adults wet their pants.  Shelves topple and spill their contents.  Bottles are bound to break.  No surprise.  But this quake was also a unspoken blessing to some wineries.  Many are still sitting on high-priced bottles from the terrible 2011 vintage.  If I found myself in that situation, I would have gotten over the shock of seeing inventory spilled all over the floor in a big hurry - and be awfully tempted to add significantly to the heap.  As painful as filing a large insurance claim is (and unlawful if you're deliberately damaging insured items), it's a much faster way to be compensated than actually having to market and sell it the old fashioned way.

Forgive the unsympathetic posture, but as it relates specifically to wine and the damage the earthquake inflicted, we're talking about mostly insured product (and is some cases also less than desirable product) in one of the wealthiest corners of the world. 

For the surviving bottles (of which there are plenty), there will be a predictable flood of cutesie "Shaken, not stirred" one-off labels coming to market soon to commemorate the occasion.  In the meantime, calls for donations to help "the effort" are being shot around the internet from all players in the industry.  It's just a matter of time before there's an ice bucket challenge to raise earthquake awareness.  Napa is nothing if not adept at exploiting opportunity for self promotion.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Recycle Bin, Week of Aug. 24

Sorry for the absence of Recycle Bins lately, people.  It's been crazy in wine land.  We'll make up for lost ground here over the next couple of weeks with some terrific finds.  But to get back on the horse, we're going to return to Portugal for an all Porto round up of some truly remarkable wines.  Some of these will be difficult to find (but worth the search) and one (the single vineyard Vintage Port) is as AMAZING steal.  Cheers!

2013 Soalheiro Albariño Vinho Verde $18
None of the whites that came home from Portugal with us have lived up to expectations. Until this one. Captivating from the first whiff, this exciting, crackling Albarino is the bomb-diggity. Light in body, deep on flavor, and more faceted than the Hope diamond. A beautiful, gorgeous wine that does not suffer from self-consciousness or seriousness. An absolute pleasure to drink. Outstanding experience.

2011 Alento Tinto Alentejo $15
While it's no powerhouse, it does begin to reveal some very interesting, nuanced undertone flavors after being open a few hours. Everything from anise to cigar ash and wet leaves, the interest factor is high even if the pure pleasure factor doesn't measure up. The perfect wine to have with a heavy, savory meat dish. 

2010 Passagem Tinto Duoro Red Reserve $?
Here is our heavyweight prizefighter. Absolutely jumping from the glass with bright, powerful aromatics, this inky red exudes proud character and boldness.  Despite its brawn and spotlight on new oak, the tannins are so well integrated, you're willing to overlook it's youthful bull-in-a-China-shop gait thanks to its bristling promise and flat out appeal. Whoa. Terrific, memorable wine.

2008 Taylor Fladgate Vintage Porto Quinta de Vargellas $13 (375ml)
Mellowest profile and structure. Not the black strap, tarry Vintage Port you're probably accustomed to. Rather, this supply-textured single vineyard example leans toward the tawny side of heft. Supremely accessible and an overlooked value, too. Will be stocking up on this.