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. 

Monday, August 18, 2014

Roccafiore Fiorfiore, The Most Intriguing White Yet?

Could this be the best white wine I've reviewed all year? Possibly. Most interesting? Intriguing? Swoon-inducing?  Yes...yes, indeed.  No, it's not a pricey Bordeaux Blanc or a Margaret River Chardonnay or even one of those mind-bendingly complex Portuguese whites made from grapes you've never heard of. It's Italian. 

The Umbrian countryside around Orvieto is a rolling patchwork of vineyards, olive groves, and hardscrabble brush growing from tufa outcroppings- a landscape that is echoed in the region's coarse, strong reds, but juxtaposed to its radiant, amiable whites.  While Umbria enjoys a well-deserved reputation for full-throttle Sangratinos and Merlot-based monsters, this corner of the world also produces mesmerizing, complex whites which rarely hit the $20 mark here in the US making these wines a hot pocket of underrated value for the adventuresome consumer. 

While "Grechetto" (greh-KEHT-oh) doesn't exactly roll off the American tongue like "Pinot Grigio", once you've experienced even an average example, you'll want it rolling on your tongue - with frequency.  When made well, it's a wine with proud, sun-kissed fruit, and a not-so-subtle minerality that manages to weave itself delicately into a seamless bathwater texture.  If you're looking for a comparable, more popular white, there isn't one.  Grechetto is its own beautiful animal.
A lasting impression from a visit to the area a couple of years ago was the brilliance of the white wines.  An Orvierto Classico Superiore I paid a mere 11 for was "Radiant vitality in a glass.  Easily the most exciting white of the trip and perhaps of the summer.  A million tiny rays of sunshine channeled by purity." Two years later, that wine still haunts me. Which brings us to the wine that landed on my doorstep courtesy of Roccafiore's Italian PR firm:

2012 Roccafiore Grechetto Superiore Todi Umbria "Fiorefiore" (Sample) $17  
Transportive. Subtly honeyed magic.  Deep gold in the glass and delicate, racy aromatics.  The palate is all intricacy and pleasure.  In possession of all the classic characteristics from the region:  proud fruit, minerality, and an alluring texture all delivered in a pure, polished, perfectly integrated wine.  And, while the fruit is complex and prominent, it isn't the least bit cloying. But the texture - the texture - it's like a baby's smooth skin.  Finishes long and beckons for an encore.  Outstanding.

To be sure, this is a bit of a wine geek's wine (and extra geek points for being a biodynamic wine), though its broader appeal is inescapable.  Consumers biased towards domestic whites will barely recognize this as white wine at all - so different is this than what we are accustomed to - which only adds to its mystery and allure.  Though this wine is absolutely worth the search, don't be afraid to look for wines at your favorite retailer labeled Grechetto or Orvietto Classico for a similar taste.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Recycle Bin, Week of Aug. 4th

Italy takes center stage (with side orders of Argentina and Spain) this week with some gangbuster wines, two of which are terrific values and another which will play head games with you if you're lucky enough to find some.  Next week we'll delve into some seriously grill-worthy beverages, so stay tuned.  Cheers!

2011 Tenuta Le Calcinale Chianti Colli Senesi $12.99
Bright, super fresh, and full of exuberant enthusasm. With all of its cheeriness, it is still a real Chianti replete with a griping acidity that manages to be lacy and gregarious at the same time. While far from a serious wine, it is a terrific experience and value. 

2010 Lenotti Le Crosare Ripasso $30
Though priced closer to an Amarone than a typical Ripasso, it's in a leauge of its own.  An absolute delight of a wine. Charming, gregarious, and outwardly delicious. Universal appeal. Hot damn!

2012 Lenotti Valpolicella Classico $16
Inspired after the experience of it's bigger brother, I picked this one up to see if it could hold a candle to its sibling. It does. While not quite as voluptuous and rich as the Ripasso, this is a terrific Valpolicella with ample richness and smooth, round, friendly fruit. Delish. Dollar for dollar, it's more wine for the buck than the Ripasso.  But if I were spending someone else's money...

2013 Laxas Albariño $18 (Sample)
Bright, mouth-puckering tartness dominates this light-bodied Albariño, and its focused acidity demands food.  As it happens, it totally delivers along side shellfish with pasta. 

2012 Allamand Cabernet Sauvignon Valle de Uco Argentina $12.99
Well, hear's something a little special. Neither textbook Cabernet as we know it here in United States, nor textbook Argentinian Cabernet. However, it is well made and has a story to tell. Full of interesting nuance and not-so-subtle nooks-and-crannies of spice and flavor, it also has a subtle tarry undertone going on. A lot happening here for the money.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Paso Getting Its Due

Paso Robles is on a tear lately.  Seems like the cat is officially out of the bag.  The latest praise, from from Forbes Travel Guide, is hot on the heels of flattering pieces in the San Francisco Chronicle, Zagat, and Passport Magazine.  We've known that Paso belongs at the top of your wine country hit list for years.  So, if you've been procrastinating, better get there quick before it's overrun!

For more Winethropology coverage of the area, check out the recaps from a visit last October.

Tip of the hat (and congrats on the nice coverage) to the crew at Tablas Creek for shining some light on this.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Recycle Bin, Week of July 28

Bit of an eclectic lineup this week with some old world gems and a pair of Italian reds that were recommended to go with grilled meats. Success in matching? You'd better believe it.  We revisit an offer from Cameron Hughes, compare a couple of reasonably priced Russian River Valley Pinot Noirs from the 2012 vintage, and delve into some esoteric Super Tuscan white.  God, I love this job.

2009 Chateau Le Grande Moulin Bordeaux $12
Initial impressions were that this was bordering on unpleasant. Simple, flat, and remarkable only in that a local retailer had so highly recommended it. Day two, however, was a different story. Very pleasant, soft, open, and desirable. Go figure.

2011 Cantina Zaccagnini Montepulciano d'Abruzzo $15
One of the Italian reds recommended to go with grill fare.  More agreeable than a warm pool on a chilly morning. 

2011 Vietti Barbera d'Asti "Tre Vigne" $15
The other of the Italian reds recommended to go with grill fare.  Old world versus New World? It's a tie in this case. Balanced bridging of both, and bringing the best of each approach to a single bottle. Bold and lovely. Like Aunt Betty's hugs. 

2012 Enrico Santini Bolgheri White "Campo Alla Casa" $20
Twenty bucks is pushing the limit of my white wine purchases, but I'd never seen a white from this storied coastal strip of Tuscany which is home to the original (and exorbitantly expensive) super Tuscans like Sassicaia and Ornellaia.  It's substantive and pleasing, but has more wine geek interest that mass appeal.  Minerally in both texture and flavor, this one's lean on fruit, but thought-provoking and enjoyable.

2010 Cameron Hughes Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley Lot 363 $28
Ever walked into a sawmill while they're milling cedar?  Well, this Cab's so toasty-oaky, you're almost expecting to have to floss sawdust from between your teeth.  Distracting and overwhelming.

2012 Cameron Hughes Pinot Noir Russian River Valley Lot 428 $19 
2012 Mac Murray Ranch Pinot Noir Russian River Valley $20
In a head-to-head comparison, the Mac Murray outdid the Cameron Hughes in terms of overall impact and enjoyment.  But the question resulting from this exercise is whether it's worth it to spend $20 on a RRV Pinot when there are so many more life-affirming wines out there for less money.