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.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

A Trio of Winners From Truchard

Though prices continue to inch up across the board, Truchard is one of the few remaining Napa Valley wineries whose wines are within reach for those of us without the budget for fractional jet ownership.  Shrugging off the 2011 vintage, wineries are happy that the vineyard-friendly 2012 and 2013 vintages are now in bottle.  The turning of tides in these vintages is evident in Truchard's bottlings, three samples of which recently arrived for review.  Made entirely of estate-grown fruit from Truchard's property in Carneros (at the southern-most end of Napa Valley), there's a cohesion to these wines that demonstrates coordination and capability in both the vineyards and the cellar - a rarity anymore.  Keep an eye out for these wines!

2012 Truchard Pinot Noir Carneros $35
Even after an hour decanted, it's still too coiled up to put a finger on. High-toned flavors across the full frequency come at you fast, with light smoke and brine in show. Needs a little time. Hour two makes an enormous difference with an explosive expansion of fruit, spice (and space), and highfalutin aromatics that make the uninitiated dizzy. Tremendous value at this price. 

2012 Truchard Cabernet Sauvignon Carneros $40
Starts up tight, clean, savory, and reserved. Opens up quickly enough into a broad leafed archetypal Napa Valley Cabernet. All of the hallmarks are there: neat tenants, deep fruit, and racy vanilla notes percolating from the fine oak treatment. In the final analysis, pleasing and affirming.

2013 Truchard Roussanne Carneros $25
I'll confess to being a little giddy at seeing this in the shipper.  Roussanne is vastly underrated and, as a consequence, rarely bottled on its own and, when it is, more than reasonably priced.  Appealing for its steely finesse and bright fruit, one should not mistake this description for a light-hearted white. Rather, it's one that's capable of achieving the same levels of complexity as fine red wines. And the Truchard has complexity in spades, unfolding along the mile-long, beckoning finish.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Recycle Bin, Week of May 4

If we're speaking in terms of do's and don'ts, there are more don'ts than do's this week.  Honestly, there were some not-even-mediocre wines in the mix this week, two of which were poured into the kitchen sink.  On balance, however, there were some redeeming wines, too.  Enjoy.

2013 Stoller Family Estate Pinot Noir Dundee Hills $30 (Sample)
On initial decanting, a lighter bodied wine just begins to emerge on the approach, but is quickly followed by fast-moving, lacey acids. Given some time to breathe, which it absolutely needs at this young age, it begins to unfold with pretty, delicate spices forming the outlines, but the body never seems to materialize.

2013 Rutini Wines Trumpeter Syrah-Malbec Mendoza $9
Twenty five cents doesn't buy you much anymore these days, but what about nine dollars? That'll get you five cups of coffee at Starbucks, a movie ticket, enough groceries to make a pasta dinner for four, or this complete disappointment of a wine. Prominent flavors of fresh molded plastic and band aids pervade.  Brought the first bottle back convinced that it had brett, but the replacement was no different.

2013 Reserve de la Saurine $8
Terrific value in Grenache Blanc. Lots of freshness and minerality here. Summer?  Bring it!

2013 Ca Momi Chardonnay Napa Valley $11
Bordering on sweet and made in a style intended to extract voluptuousness and volume. Caramel, toast, and cream all in overabundance in this loud, brash, sloppy wine. 

2012 Roccafiore Grechetto Todi (Umbria) 'Fiorfiore' $18
Reviewed last year and found to be one of the most exciting whites of the time, revisiting it at the first sign of warm weather is a reminder of what treasures can be found in Italian white wine. While an additional year of age has sapped some of it's energetic vigor, this remains a brilliant wine that captures the imagination.

2012 Zanon Zinfandel Dry Creek Valley $19 (Sample)
Broad range of spices and high tones of acidity frame this lithe Zin. Missing the characteristic linebacker backbone of Dry Creek, but making up for it in its liveliness. Very, very easy to drink. Fairly priced, too.  From an Ohio native, no less.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

So, You Want To Make (Real) Wine?

Scott Zanon has done what many of us occasionally fantasize about: he's gotten himself into the winemaking business.  In fact, he's got two vintages under his belt, with another on the way.  And he's managed to do this while living and holding down a day job in Columbus, Ohio.  Not only that, but the wines - which bear his name - are available for purchase at dozens of fine wine retailers.  He only makes one wine, a Dry Creek Zinfandel, and it's no basement project wine - it's legit.  The current vintage, his second, is from the celebrated 2012 vintage.

So, how did he do it?  We chatted over a beer yesterday and that was my first question.  First, some context.

Like the production of almost anything today, the wine industry's supply chain can be as fragmented or consolidated as you want it to be.  At one end of the spectrum is the soup-to-nuts approach: you buy a piece of land, plant it to your exacting specifications, farm it according to viticultural practices in harmony with your own beliefs/philosophy, and harvest at the moment of ripeness that coincides with your own stylistic desires.  You also build a facility to turn those grapes into wine, replete with massive capital equipment: destemmers, fermenters, pumps, barrels, warehouse space, a bottling line, maybe a tasting room, and so on.  Finally, you need a sales and marketing team to secure distribution channels and prime the demand pump.

While this approach allows you complete control (or at least as much as mother nature will allow), it requires enormous, long-term investment and carries with it tremendous risk.  Generally speaking, anymore this approach is considered only by the extremely wealthy with more ego than business sense.

At the other end of the spectrum is the fully outsourced/contract option.  You can pretty much pick up the phone and have some outfit make a private label wine for you in short order.  The price is predictable and the investment is minimal.  On the other hand, you have little, if any control over any of the factors impacting quality: vineyard location, farming practices, vinification methods, oak regimens, etc.

In between these two contrasting scenarios are many hybrid options: many wineries source from farmers, but make their own wine.  Others outsource production to custom crush facilities.  Others buy shiners (already bottled wine), stick their name on it, and sell it as his or her own.

So back to Scott Zanon.  His approach sits somewhere in the middle of the continuum.  He knew he wanted to make Zin and, if it was going to be Zin, it had to be from Dry Creek.  So, leveraging relationships forged over many years as a salesman for wine distributors, he struck a handshake deal with a winery whose owners he's known for a long time.  Once a year he goes out and barrel-samples what they haven't earmarked for their own product.  By the time it's in the barrel, the grapes have been grown and the wine's been made, so what's left is to assemble a final blend.  Scott then does a bunch of tasting and blending to figure what combination of Zin and spice rack wines (Petite Sirah, Merlot, etc.) he likes and that will frame out what goes into the bottle.  With that decision made, the winery blends and bottles his wine, slaps his label on it, and stores it in their warehouse until shipping orders arrive.  But that's the romantic, easy part.

Even before he commits to the next tank of juice, he's got to find buyers.  A distribution deal is essential to get the product to retailers and restaurants, which he was also able to strike thanks to his many industry relationships.  But having a distributor doesn't mean they'll buy it all - his distributor buys in smaller increments as they sell through their own inventory.  Nor does the distributor do all the selling - most distributors who have good reach into a lot of outlets also represent hundreds of brands.  Zanon is just another in the mix, so there's still a lot that Scott's got to do.  He makes the rounds, pitching his wine to wine shops and bars, he speaks at tastings and dinners, and pretty much constantly spreads the gospel of his Zin, often fighting to navigate bureaucratic organizations to get to decision makers.

It's a lot of not-so-sexy work.

Scott readily discloses that he's not making a living at this.  At 500-ish cases a year, he's doing better than breaking even, which speaks to the conservatism of his approach and where it sits on that continuum of control versus risk.  For him, it's more for the love and fun of it than any chance at cashing in for an early retirement.  When asked if he's tempted to scale up to a level where he could make a living out of it (around 5,000 cases/year), he replies quickly: "No.  I like to sleep at night.  And I just don't want to lie awake thinking about how to sell that much wine."  Important lessons for those of us with a winery career fantasy.

You can find Zanon Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel for around $19 at almost all the better wine retailers in Ohio.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Recycle Bin, Week of April 27

It's been a redeeming week of wine sampling, with a couple of actionable discoveries.  The GMS might require a search, but will reward your inner wine geek.  On the other hand, the affable Cotes du Rhone Blanc should be pretty widely available - get ready to fall in love with that smoking bargain.  Also, don't miss the cautionary notes regarding the Bogle's new Pinot Noir and La Crema's Monterey bottling.  Some wineries are changing their recipes and delivering half the wines while maintaining pricing.  An educated buyer is a happy drinker...

2011 Schild Estate GMS Barossa $15
Without a doubt the most exciting wine I've had in months. Also the most surprising. From the same Australian winery that got itself into hot water after bottling more Shiraz under the same label the Spectator gave lots of points to, this off the beaten path blend is light in body and density, but extremely expansive in flavor. What makes it special is its 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.

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 Bogle Pinot Noir California $12
What a difference a year makes. The prior vintage of this wine over delivers by a multiple factor. On the other hand, the 2013 is a simple, one dimensional fruit brick that promises a morning after headache. Grab the 2012 if you see it!

2009 Clarendelle Bordeaux $20
Nice bang for the buck in this shapely, full-bodied red. Already approaching six years old, it has both the structure and the stuffing to go some distance.

2013 La Crema Chardonnay Monterey County $17
While it's can't hold a candle to the recently reviewed Sonoma Coast bottling, this tropically infused Chard is well made, if overpriced by a few dollars. 

Monday, April 20, 2015

Recycle Bin, Week of April 20

It's a mixed bag this week - mostly a batch of lackluster and ho-hum wines the mainstream wine press would have you believe are wonderful.  But there's a winner here that serves as a reminder that wine - great wine - is still being made in Australia at a significant discount to much of the remainder of the globe.  Cheers!

2013 Hess Select Chardonnay Monterey County $11
Perfectly serviceable, if lacking in any particularly noteworthy qualities besides its ultimately cloying finish. Safe to drink (one glass) if it's offered to you, but nothing you want to serve to dinner guests you'd like a reciprocal invite from. 

2011 Roth Sauvignon Blanc Alexander Valley $13
A few years of age could be to blame for a harsh bite that starts in the mid-palate it intensifies on the finish. 2011 is a couple of years older than what ought to be on the shelves right now - for Sauv Blanc, anyway.

2012 Rubus Shiraz Barossa $19
Australian wines haven't gotten a bad rap lately as much as they've gotten no rap at all. The Yellow Tail backlash (the effect of the ubiquity of that brand on the general public's perception that all Australian wines should cost eight dollars or less) has cast a long shadow over much of what there is to celebrate about Australian wine. This here is an example of what gets overlooked as a result. Powerful, intense, and with layers of complexity that over deliver at the price point, reaching for this when grilling lamb is a guaranteed success.  If it's been a while since you've had a gob-smacking Syrah, why deny yourself any longer?

2013 Cosentino Winery Cabernet Franc Lodi $13
Hot, brash, and a bit clumsy for a Cabernet Franc. In fact, it bears a striking resemblance to Zinfandel from this area and has little, if anything, in common with Cab Franc. Aside from that, it's obviousness and heavy-handed oak treatment will appeal to many who go for that sort of thing.

2012 Vignobles d'Altitude Tessellae Cotes Catalanes $10
Pretty, dense, and fresh in a generic southern France kind of way. All fruit, no structure. Nothing terribly distinctive here other than the price tag.  The Wine Advocate gave this 92 points.  I give it a shoulder shrug.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Recyle Bin, Week of April 13

A recent trip to Florida turned up some pleasant encounters with a handful of wines that are widely available.  Thanks to Florida's wide open market (mildly regulated), these wines were all available at substantial discounts from what are listed below.  That said, savvy shoppers will be smart to buy even at these prices.  Enjoy!

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.

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 Rodney Strong Cabernet Alexander Valley $22
This was drunk next to the Cab above and, while it brought more intensity to the table, it wasn't quite as open as the AVV.  Still, this powerful wine is one I'd like to revisit in another year or so.

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.

Monday, April 6, 2015

The Doldrums of Wine

Now that we're into the second quarter, there's no doubt that 2015 is under way in earnest.  Already we've seen some interesting things in the wine market.  Earlier in the year prices were up, then down again as next vintages in the pipeline want for warehouse and shelf space.  We'll continue to see the wine business' cycles unwind throughout the year, just as we do every year.  And we'll see some quirks as the business as a whole evolves.  

One difference from prior years that is most particularly evident in the domestic sub-$15 segment is a sudden drop in quality in a context of level prices and much-improved source quality. 

You'd think - or like to think, anyway - that what $12 bought you last year would be similar to what it would buy you this year.  But wine is primarily an agricultural product and therefore subject to the whims of weather and the vagaries of handling.  When a poor vintage comes to market, production and marketing costs don't go down simply because the weather didn't cooperate.  So, it's rational to expect that you'll still have to spend what you did prior year to get a lesser product.  (Or look to other regions for your wine.)

Shouldn't then the inverse be true?  As 2012s and 2013s - both good years on the west coast - have come to market, why aren't consumers able to reap the benefits?  It's certainly not for lack of trying, but domestic wines from 2013 in particular are far less interesting and enjoyable than in previous vintages.  What's more is that there are many second bottlings showing up under pricier brand names than ever before.  To wit, William Hill used to bottle estate fruit only from its Napa Valley vineyards.  Solid wines.  Now they have a new line with strikingly similar label, but the fruit is sourced from the Central Coast.  The experience of the latter is in stark contrast to the legacy labels.  Another example is Chateau Souverain, long a mainstay of quality and value in the Alexander Valley, which has added a North Coast line at a price point close to where their outstanding appellation series used to be.  It's a similar let down.

Capitalizing on a combination of brand equity and branding confusion, the quasi bait-and-switch approach doesn't sit well with me at all.  But where is all the good juice going?  Beats me.

What does all of this mean to the savvy consumer?  Though there are exceptions like the one pictured below, you'll have to look beyond your formerly dependable brands and experiment much more in the year ahead.  As evidenced by the lack of frequent updates on these pages of late, my experimentation is in need to broader reach.  As that continues, the postings will continue to be sparse until there's something worth writing home about.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Serious Barolo Bargain!

2004 Barreri e Rovati Barolo Riserva $20
This is an incredible wine. From the lauded 2004 vintage in Piedmont, it's a Barolo - a Riserva, no less. Poised, but aloof in introduction, it's elegance is more than arm's reach alway. As it eases, which it does in a couple of hours, all that's worth celebrating about Barolo is on full display: 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. So, incredible, yes. And one you should strongly consider picking up. But if you do, you'll have to visit a Trader Joe's. Because that's the only place you'll find it. Load up! Cheers. 

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Exciting Wines From Chile

When you think of Chilean wines, chances are that words like "inexpensive" and "Carmenere" come to mind.  But Burgundian varieties in Chile?  Probably not.  Until now.  Leyda Valley, a cool coastal area with granite soils, could be ideally suited for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.  And if these two exciting wines are any indication, experimentation in this area will reward the adventuresome.  Both are highly recommended.    

2013 Kalfu Sumpai Pinot Noir Leyda Valley Chile $24 (Sample)
There is a lot to be excited about in this energetic and well-made Pinot. For starters, it is unlike any Pinot your continental palate has become accustomed to.  That said, it is a faithful rendition of the grape from its place. Leyda Valley has demonstrated its versatility in producing a number of different varieties, but seems to stand out in producing quality Pinot Noir at affordable prices. There is a lot happening in this bottle: a steely cleanliness frames a spice rack that is nearly dizzying in its dimensions. Fruit is ample without being overt or overly extracted. Drinking a Pinot Noir as balanced as this is a sincere pleasure and a welcome change of pace from the jammy examples coming from California at similar price points. 

2013 Kalfu Kuda Chardonnay (Unoaked) Leyda Valley Chile $19 (Sample)
If the Pinot Noir was energetic, this is positively electric and gripping. Soft pear and bright citrus greet you in the attack, followed by a full mid-palate, and a long, firm handshake finish.  This clean, direct laser beam drinks as much like a Sauvignon Blanc as a Chardonnay. Brilliant.  Worth the search for an experience you will want to repeat.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

$10 And Under: The Search For Value

In keeping with the value-priced wine theme, this installment probes different corners for high drinkability at low prices.  Last week's free shipping deal (which is actually still good through midnight Sunday, March 15) from the fantastic Marketview Liquor gave ample opportunity for just such exploration.

The batch of wines that arrived this week are pretty plain vanilla - nothing exotic at all - because before ordering wine online, particularly in quantity, I want to know what I'm getting into.  Rarely is the sight-unseen deal good enough to outweigh the risks of taking possession of a bunch of bottles you won't enjoy (which is what better than half of my purchases have been from Garagiste.)

So, to avoid that risk, I made a list of the screaming bargains available, them ran out and bought the few bottles I hadn't had.  Good thing, too. 

The 2013 Bodegas Atalaya "Laya" red from Almansa (Spain) was being offered for a paltry $6.33.  Dense and inky, it tasted cheap, grapey, and like it might have come out of a make-your-own-wine kit.  Parker gave the 2012 of this wine 90 points, reminding once again how important it is to make your own mind up about a wine.

Better luck was to be had with the other two: the 2012 Columbia Crest Merlot $8 and the 2013 McManis Cabernet Sauvignon $8.  Though the McManis has sufficient residual acidity to make it borderline hangover juice, perhaps a year in the bottle will help it shed its adolescence.  The Merlot, though, is as consistent and bulletproof a wine as you could ask for. 

The balance of the wines have either been reviewed here before or can be collectively blessed by simply applying the label "easy drinking". Considering that the average price per bottle here is a hair over $8.50, what else could you ask for?

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Free Shipping Deal Alert!

Marketview Liquor, one of my favorite online wine retailers, is running an unbelievable special.  Free shipping on all wine and  no minimum order required and all other discounts still apply.

Free Shipping on All Wine Orders

How much could this save you?  A LOT.

If you're not in New York state, consider that you don't pay tax, either.  Check out these savings at two different price levels:

Inexpensive wine (2012 Columbia Crest Merlot)
Typical retail price: $10.99
With typical sales tax: $11.81
Marketview Liquor price: $7.99
Savings per bottle: $3.82 (or 32%)
Savings per case: $45.84

Moderate wine (2012 Andrew Murray Vineyards Watch Hill Syrah)
Typical retail price: $39.99
With typical sales tax: $42.99
Marketview Liquor price: $20.99
Savings per bottle: $22.00 (or 51%)
Savings per case: $263.88
Higher priced wine (2012 Faust Cabernet Napa Valley)
Typical retail price: $49.99
With typical sales tax: $53.74
Marketview Liquor price: $38.99
Savings per bottle: $14.75 (or 27%)
Savings per case: $177.00

Obviously, the free shipping, no tax, and bargain prices all combine to make for serious savings depending on what specific wines you're shopping for.  Happy hunting!