Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Recycle Bin, Week of Dec. 15

It's a treasure trove of value-priced wines (and a couple of other, less enthusiastic/higher priced bottles) this week.  The Rhone continues to deliver in spades, as does a repeat success from Columbia Crest.

2013 Stoller Pinot Noir Dundee Hills $30
Fresh, focused, and fuller than you'd expect from Oregonian Pinot, yet still faithful to the region's profile. Distinctive for its subtle, delicate, funky, and appealing edge. 

2011 Columbia Crest Red Blend Columbia Valley $10
I picked this up after guessing that the Columbia Crest marketing folks rebranded the unfortunately packaged (but insanely delicious) Amitage to this slightly less unfortunate packaging. Is it the same wine?  Who knows?  Who cares? It's a different vintage and almost certainly a different blend from different vineyards, but definitely made with the same outcome in mind.  Anyway, who cares about all that?  It's a $10 wine! Whether it measures up to its predecessor or not is the yard stick in my mind. And it does (asterisk). While lighter and less umph-ing than the Amitage, it remains a well made, balanced, and eminently drinkable blend. It has traded intensity for, believe it or not at $10, a dose of polish. Add it up: balanced, drinkable, polished, and ten bucks. Let's just hope this packaging results in the same $8 blow out pricing the Amitage saw.

2013 Truchard Chardonnay Napa Valley (Sample) $20
Lighter in color than you expect for such a full-tilt wine. Archetypal California Chardonnay with a voluptuous, forward approach that maintains through the mid-palate and long into the finish. Round, well endowed, and gregarious.  A caricature of Chard on steroids.

2010 Jean-Luc Colombo Cotes du Rhone 'Les Abeilles' $12
While not a universally appealing wine, it's commendable for its unwavering focus, dark sinewy character, and deep-running rusticity.  Oh, yeah, and it's ten bucks.  And peaking in terms of its age.

2011 La Maialina IGT 'Gertrude' $12
Think fuller-bodied Chianti minus complexity plus authenticity and you end up with this. Terrifically drinkable and complementary to Italian fare.  At this price it's one to buy by the six pack. 
2012 Steelhead Vineyards Pinot Noir Sonoma County $13
What it lacks in depth it makes up for in precision. Overdelivers for its modest price point. Look for some nice medium spice and enough acidity to give it a little bit of grip. At this $$ I will be picking more up soon.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Gifts For Good Boys & Girls

Stumped for what to get your favorite wine blogger that special someone who's been really good this year?  Following are some recently reviewed special occasion wines, as well as some memorable wines reviewed earlier in the year.  Any of these would make terrific stocking stuffers for the wino in your life.  Cheers!

2012 Emeritus Vineyards Pinot Noir Russian River Valley Hallberg Ranch $45 (Sample) 
The in-depth piece on the 2011 wines from this winery explains their unorthodox, ballsy (dry farming Pinot in California?!), and Burgundian approach to winemaking on the Sonoma Coast. It also expressed my excitement to revisit this vineyard in 2012. I am thrilled to report that, while the wine has remained faithful from vintage to vintage in terms of reflection of approach, the contrast between the lackluster 2011 and promising 2012 vintages is also reflected in this brilliant bottle. Exciting, refined, elegant, and multi-dimensional. Certainly more of a mouthful than the 2011, yet still restrained by comparison to California Pinot Noir and not a trace of cloying fruit - a tightrope act achieved with grace. A fantastic experience worth the spend.

2010 Don Melchor Cabernet Puente Alto Vineyard Chile $125 (Sample)
Starting with the obvious, the price tag puts this bottle of wine in some rarified company. That it is Chilean makes it even more of a surprise. With that acknowledged, what is under the cork? Plenty of merit, as it turns out. While not characteristically Chilean, it is quite characteristically high-end. From the regal color that bejewels as it's being poured into a glass, to the aromatics that beckon with temptation on approach, to the lingering, flirtatious finish, and everything in between, there is nary a drop out of place.  What else?  It evolves generously with decantation time. Students of perfection in proportion and balance will find much to obsess over in this wine. By almost every yard stick, this one measures up to outstanding.

2012 Stoller Chardonnay Dundee Hills Reserve $35 (Sample)
Sublime. Luxurious scents waft from the glass like a siren's call. The palate is complex and multi dimensional, with such a broad array of flavors that this requires some time to process and digest. There's everything from subtle vanilla and cream to flinty acidity to delicate minerality happening here. Though perhaps a smidge too generous to be a Montrachet, the resemblance is otherwise striking (but at half the price!)
2012 Faust Cabernet Napa Valley $50 (Sample)
Bordering on overwhelming when first opened: rich, powerful, and tense with strong oak. Transformation ensues as air works its magic with dazzling aromatics taking the limelight first, and racy tannins singing chorus. The fruit needs time to ease, but this particular brand of pent-up energy channels both near term vigor and long term vibrancy.  Mamma! As eve becomes night, the excitement builds, density and power remains undiminished, and the bottle is (sadly) empty. Bravo. 

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!

2011 Louis Martini Cabernet Alexander Valley $30 (Sample)
A shocker of a wine, especially considering that it's from the difficult 2011 vintage.  Rich, dense, and coarsely textured, this full-bodied Cab is remarkably delicious.  Not at all subtle, nor for the faint of heart.  This big boy has dusty tannins that are nicely integrated into its broad frame. You almost need a knife and a fork for this one.  YUM.

Finally, for the saint on your Christmas shopping list...the Lodi Native six pack:

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Beer vs Wine: Value, Risk, and Experience

The debate over the relative value of wine versus beer at a local wine bar recently was fun, even if my perspective is at odds with others'.  The loaded concept of value is intriguing because it sits at the intersection of so many disparate and subjective factors: preference, worth, priorities, perception, circumstance, and so on.

The grenade I threw onto the bar was deceivingly benign: do you get the same quality of experience for $20 when spent on a bottle of wine versus a bottle of beer?  No contest.  Beer wins.  Which, as it turns out, is a generally unpopular thing to say at a wine bar.

Having spent an awful lot of time in various corners of the wine trade, I've become increasingly demanding of wine, particularly along the upslope of the pricing scale.  No doubt this is thanks to exposure to pockets of value across different regions this gig provides.  The breadth of this sampling serves to shine a light on outliers - good and not - in the universe of options available to consumers today.  But my leanings in favor of beer come from a free market economist philosophical point of view more than any exposure to wine.

At the center of this philosophy is the concept of competition reference.  Much of the wine world believes that a wine's competition is other, similar wines.  To wit, vintners have told me that they price their wines by comparing them to that of their neighbors...winegrowers' associations have told me they compare their region to other, similar (and usually proximate) regions.  This inherently flawed logic presumes consumers have limited choice, when the absolute opposite is true.  Not only do consumers enjoy choice unencumbered by provinciality, but their attention is increasingly drawn to products that can provide experiences of equal or greater value than the last product they enjoyed. 

In other words, Napa's competition isn't just Sonoma, it's Spain and Italy and Argentina and the rest of the universe.  And wine's competition isn't other wine, it's beer, cocktails, cider, and a hundred other emerging product categories. Looking for evidence of this?  Just check out how much shelf space has been retasked from wine to craft beer at your local retailer/supermarket.

So, back to that question of what $20 gets you.  If you were to randomly select a $20 bottle of wine, how likely are you to enjoy a superlative experience?  Sure, you could say that it depends on what you pick.  An Andrew Jackson goes pretty far in Australian Shiraz, Chilean Merlot, and Cotes du Rhones for the highly informed consumer.  But broadly speaking, twenty bucks doesn't do much to inoculate you from risk.  Hell, it doesn't even get you in on the ground floor in a lot of categories: Barolos, Burgundies, Brunellos, almost anything from Napa, Oregonian Pinot, Chateauneuf-du-Pape...and that list is long. 

By contrast, if you were to randomly select a $20 bottle of beer, how likely are you to enjoy a superlative experience?  Extremely high.  The fact that you'll be hard pressed to even find such an expensive beer is, in and of itself, informative.  So rare is a $20 beer that this ambitious price point is reserved only for the most exceptional of bottlings.  Perfect case in point in Brooklyn Brewery's Black Ops, a limited release barrel-aged Imperial Stout bottle-fermented with Champagne yeast and secured under cork in a 750ml bottle.  This beer is insanely fantastic and inescapably memorable. 

It's awfully difficult to compare the experience of a beer to that of a wine, but the appeal of these experiences is the joy they bring us, so some normalization can be brought to the comparison.  So, can you recall some wines which you'd describe in similar terms; insanely fantastic and inescapably memorable?  Now, what were the price tags on those wines?  And what percentage of wines you drink provide such an experience?  If it's over 2%, then you're doing extremely well.

Does this mean we should all be drinking more beer?  Not necessarily.  But we definitely can and should be more demanding of what we get in exchange for our hard earned dollars.  The more I learn about wine marketing, the less inclined I am to wander up the price slope in search of immunity from risk - repeated experiences suggest it's not to be had.  At least not in today's wine world. That leaves us with turning over a lot of rocks in search of gems.  Thankfully, these rocks are fun to turn over.


Monday, December 1, 2014

Recycle Bin, Week of Dec. 1

The $12 gauntlet continues!  It's been a rewarding challenge finding enjoyable wines while sticking to the price cap, not to mention a little easier on the wallet.  So, on we go.  Interestingly, I've found that this ceiling is helping shift purchasing behavior.  When wines like the Les Ameriniers Cotes du Rhone Villages come across your radar for a measly $9.99, hell, you stock up on it.  But it also sets the bar for all other wines, engendering more price discrimination and expectation of quality.  If you kiss one frog and it turns into a prince, why not kiss more?

This week we've got two reasonably-priced samples and two recommended wines under the gauntlet's ceiling.  Any are worth putting in your basket.

2012 Mercer Canyons Columbia Valley Red Wine $15 (Sample)
Before even opening this wine, it had one strike for it and one strike against it. In the pro column is the fact that this label has delivered incredible value at the price point for its Horse Heaven Hills Cabernet and Estate label Merlot. In the con column is the "red wine" designation, which I have lamented in these pages before. The final analysis on this wine puts it more towards the win than the loss. Certainly not the flabby, overextracted jam monster many "red wines" have become. Instead, a solid Bordeaux-ish blend with real backbone, structure, and density. It also has a slightly green edge that has begun to emerge as a Columbia Valley characteristic. Overall, very enjoyable, food friendly, and a good value.

2012 Old Zin Vines Zinfandel Lodi $15 (Sample)
Big, boozy, brawny, comforting, and irresistible. Rounder than Aunt Betty's booty and more forward than a bridesmaid sitting in your lap. It's not going to win any awards for sophistication, but that matters not one bit as the experience is a bargain at this price. I will buy this wine next time I see it.

2013 Lander-Jenkins Chardonnay California $12
A moped wine through and through.

2012 Bogle Pinot Noir California $11
Serviceable and pleasant, even.  Is it going to score any trophies?  Actually, yes.  When's the last time you poured yourself a second glass of $11 Pinot Noir?

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Everything: What I'm Drinking On Thanksgiving

There is a lot of advice out there about what wines to drink with your Thanksgiving meal.  Most of it is overly prescriptive, but some of it is quite helpful.  Eric Asimov at the New York Times always seems to have a grounded perspective, this year making the case for versatile and energetic wines.  And this week Alder Yarrow's advice over at Vinography echoes what I've said for years: it doesn't really matter what wine you serve.

But, man, do people love to agonize over what bottles to pair with the meal.  I am no exception.

Like many, I've begun to think about what bottles to put on the table.  Will I go young and vibrant or dust off some older Cabernets?  If history is any indication, both - and then some.

You see, the pattern this week follows is always the same, no matter the intent.  It begins with the aforementioned ponderings, which begin to give way to some kind of a loose plan based more on the guest list than the predictable, neutral menu.  Several trips to local retailers and long, silent spells in the basement cellar later, the loose plan becomes a group of thoughtfully assembled bottles.  Then, finally, on the day of, it all goes out the window.

Tradition dictates that my brothers and I go to pick up the meal in the midday hour (lovingly outsourced to a local smokehouse/brewery), where we get the day started with a pint. That is usually followed by another when we get home, catch up, tell stories, and play rules-flexible board games.  Unsolicited parental advice/criticism/Catholic guilt springboards either another pint or forces a shift towards something more fortifiying.  With this as the warm-up, you can see how the wine plan is left behind like yesterday's takeout cartons.  It's not forgotten, but evolves. Sort of.

The excitement of a full house, working buzz, and reuniting with family and friends make it easy to be distracted by euphoria.  So, when it comes time to retrieve those carefully-selected bottles, a simple, brilliant thought comes to mind:  I've got an even better idea!!!  And so, with spastic (and misguided) enthusiasm, thematic consistency to what ends up on the table becomes the first victim.  (Second, if you count good judgement.) Chardonnay next to French Colombard?  Sure!  Sangiovese and Petite Sirah to get things rolling?  Hell yeah.  Lambrusco after 15 year old Cabernet?  Why not?  And somewhere later in this lineup, brown liquor will materialize to help fuel the fireworks.

Such different tastes in rapid fire mount an incredible assault on palates.  So, it's completely forgivable, if not expected, that half way through the meal, no one can tell the Cotes du Rhone from the Brunello (in what was supposed to have been an all American lineup anyhow).  Later, someone will be caught pouring a Vintage Port over ice or chasing a shot of bourbon with a flute of Champagne while manhandling a turkey, stuffing, and hot sauce burrito.  And in the aftermath of the night, recycle bins will be overflowing, special bottles will remain unopened and have to wait until next Thanksgiving, and no one will be able to recall what wine they enjoyed the most.  None of it will matter.  Because we will have succeeded in enjoying one anothers' company, given thanks for lives full of love in abundance, and kicked some serious ass in heated late night rounds of Monopoly.

This is the Thanksgiving I have come to know and love.  Though wine is always served, it also just a foot note in the final analysis.  Knowing all of this doesn't change a thing, so I'm off to peruse the shelves in search of the perfect bottle.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.  Please make it a safe and peaceful one.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

A Word on Oak

Oak was probably originally used in winemaking for practical purposes.  They had to put the wine someplace and oak had some terrific advantages over holes in the ground and burlap sacks.  It was abundantly available (no doubt the tradition started in France), less breakable than amphoras, and, at least back then, was inexpensive.  It's also relatively easy to work with, very re-suable, and imparts some pretty desirable characteristics.

Oak's influence began to edge in to the center stage of wine styles in recent decades, sharing the limelight with fruit and terrior, with the trend hitting different regions at different times and with mixed results. The vogue, contagious as vogues inherently are, appears to persist in its most aggressive form in some winemaking corners like lingering colds.  One thing is for sure, with all the currently available and more cost-effective alternatives, the continued use of oak - especially new oak - is less about necessity than intention. And whatever the intention, the manifestation can be disastrous - and on a massive scale.

Like cologne, a little goes a long way.

Just as it is with people, oak's greatest strength in its extreme is also its greatest weakness.  And, so, its application - American and Slovenian just as much as French - has become for some a blunt instrument rather than a whisper, complement, or structural bolster. 

To wit, a string of recent tastings has left something of an astringent stripping agent on my teeth - sort of a semi-permanent paneled library in my mouth.  Tasting through a handful of expensive Napa Valley reds (Napa loves French oak), Riojas, and Ribera del Dueros (Spain loves American oak), the wines categorically suffered from such over-application, it's as though they were being punished for grave misdeeds.  Wines treated with this kind of clumsy heavy-handedness are bludgeoned into an unflattering version of themselves.  Worse still, obscured by this masking, it's hard for the drinker to sense what actually came off the vine - which is often beautiful.  And, besides, oak as a prominent flavor just doesn't taste good.

At the other end of the spectrum, traditionalists are rubbing elbows with contemporary stylistic winemaking hipsters who eschew the use of non-neutral anything in the vinification process.  For the old guard, this is just maintenance of the status quo.  Their old and long-neutral oak barrels don't leak, so why should they replace them?  And neutrality allows wine to channel its place and variety without noise or other complications.  The vast majority of the old world operates under this MO, as do a few US producers (Tablas Creek comes to mind).

For the new guard who embrace a minimalist, less-is-more philosophy, expensive oak barrels are as uncool as wearing a suit to work. All sorts of alternative vessels are being played with, from ceramic egg-shaped things to amphora to concrete.  And there's the now well-under-way and popular "naked" movement.

To bring this diatribe into balance, it's worth being plain about my own preferences: oak is not the enemy.  When used in appropriate doses it can springboard a good wine into something greater and longer-lived.  Its tannic properties can offer a structural framework for fruit that might otherwise be flabby or unfocused.  Its toast influence can induce a becoming creamy vanilla streak that offsets and flatters concentrated flavors and lend some exciting grip, too.  In those cases, I'm a huge fan.

But one is left scratching one's head at the hammer-happy carpentry approach to wines which would otherwise breathe and be themselves - for the better.  That is both a tragedy and a learning opportunity for winemaker and consumer alike.

Happy exploring - and keep that toothbrush close by!

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Recycle Bin, Week of Nov. 17

A smattering of leftover (pre-$12 gauntlet) this week, including a trio of Ribera del Dueros.  Stay tuned as there are a couple of extra installments to come in the next few days.  Enjoy!

2012 Beringer Red Wine Paso Robles 'The Waymaker' $20
Dark, mysterious, and inviting. Given that this is from Paso (and labeled as a 'Red Wine'), one might expect an overly extracted or overblown or hot or all of the above. Instead, this full-bodied red has grip and tension - always a good forbearer of things to come. (And look at those bubbles!) So, how does it play and hour or two decanted? Pretty much the same as on opening. A big wine delivering on full-throttle doses of pretty much everything.  Lacks the finesse of Beringer's Knights Valley wines, but also lacks their now-lofty price tag.

2011 Ribon Ribera del Duero Crianza $32 (Sample)
More invigorating and energetic than a crisp fall morning. Taut and coiled, full of anticipation and ready to pounce with its abundant vigor. Dense and intense. Probably would benefit from another year in bottle to unwind a little, but that would require patience. And having had this now, my reserves are low.
2013 Altos de Tamaron Ribera del Duero $11 (Sample)
Straightforward and well made.  Medium-bodied with blunt edges characteristic of Riberas.  A lot of like here.

2011 Bodegas A Fernandez Tinto Pesquera Ribera del Duero $40
Powerful, massive, inky, and classy.  Its size is framed by spicy oak that leads into a mouth-coating, tannic-tinged finish that's a mile long .  Better put on your big boy britches before saddling this one.  Whoa!

2013 Ecco Domani Pinto Grigio Venezie $9 (Sample)
This might not win any awards, but I like it for its simplicity and fresh brightness. Akin to California Sauvignon Blancs from the 90s with a refreshing greeness that doesn't tip towards tart. An easy drinker that explains why this variety had so much mass appeal.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Recycle Bin, Week of Nov. 10

Values abound this week from Argentina, Italy and, of noteworthy mention is the Rhone Valley.  Cotes du Rhones (CDR's) in particular have been overdelivering this year and are derserving of your attention and exploration.  Historically, my chief complaint of CDR's has been their consonant genericness.  Typically blunt and obtuse, these wines have tended to channel a message of red wine - no more, no less.  You'd stick your nose in the glass, take a sip, and think to yourself, yup, that's red wine - a forgettable experience.  Not so today.  Perhaps due in part to a string of terrific vintages starting with 2009 and in part improved winemaking.  Whatever the reasons, almost categorically, the CDR's I've sampled at various price levels ($9-$29) this year have failed to disappoint.  What's even better news is that the $10-$12 price point seems to be the sweetest spot.  This bodes well for experimentation as the high win rate makes this a low risk region.

To test this, I recently grabbed a handful of $10 CDRs to see if any were winners.  Turns out they all have been.  Full of energy and grip and personality, these authentic wines are fancy enough to be suitable with a nice Saturday night dinner and affordable enough to enjoy on a Tuesday night with take out.  Keep an eye our for the recommended bottlingse, but don't be afraid to be adventuresome - especially if you can find a Cotes du Rhone Villages in your price range.  Cheers!

2011 Rutini Malbec Mendoza 'Encuentro' (Sample) $16
A very accessible Malbec with decidedly French influences.  Fresh, medium-full bodied, and in full command of a potpourri of herbal and earth high-toned, aromatic flavors. Enough guts here to stand up to charred meat with aplomb. As pleasant a Malbec as I've had in many months.

2012 Rutini Malbec Mendoza 'Trumpeter' (Sample) $11
Insence-like aromatics come off this approachable and affordable Malbec's nose. Medium-bodied and lacking in the hard edges typical of inexpensive Malbec. Fresh, juicy flavors make this a go to for autumnal roast poultry dishes. As French as it's elder sibling (above).
2013 Gran Passione Rosso Veneto $10
Made according to the same methodology as a Ripasso, but since it's not from Valpolicella, they can't label it as such (or charge as much).  If you like your reds dense and extracted with a good dose of Italian acidity, this head-turner is a screaming bargain, if a little clumsy in its structure.  A terrific crowd pleaser worth having on hand.

2012 Les Ameriniers Cotes du Rhone Villages 'Signargues' $10
Just as advertised above - this is a winner of a wine that provides unavoidable drinking pleasure, especially at this price point.  Hot damn!

Thursday, November 6, 2014

The Twelve Dollar Gauntlet

The ground beef package reads $7.29 per pound.  "All natural", not grass-fed.  Store brand.  $7.29 bloody dollars per pound.  Yeah, they have grass-fed, too: $12.99 a pound.  Ground beef!  Not prime rib or tenderloin or strip steaks; ground beef.  The pork section isn't much relief, either.  Nor the poultry case with its eight buck boneless breast and twenty dollar duck.  For crying out loud.

Food is expensive nowadays.  Know what else?  Wine.

Call it curmudgeonly frugality. Call it the onset of winter blues. Call it whatever you want, but this wine lover is throwing down the gauntlet. The $12 gauntlet.

Part experiment, part resolution, for the next month I will only be purchasing wines with a price point at or below $12. Inspired by some recently sampled (and exceptional) $10 Cotes du Rhones and disgusted by some recently sampled overpriced plonk, I look forward to the challenge (and the savings) this experience shall no doubt provide.

The reviews you will see here will all abide by this rule with the exception of press samples received for review. There's a pretty good chance that will translate to fewer reviews, but a higher percentage of terrific bang-for-the-buck finds. And with that as the gauntlet having been thrown down, I humbly solicit your help and advice on where to look for these hidden gems.


Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Recycle Bin, Week of Oct. 27

Sorry, no kitschy Halloween wines this week, just scary-good, blood red bargains.  The theme for this week's installment is screaming VALUE.  We've really been swimming in outstanding buys - all red for the changing weather, and all wines which you should run out and scoop up by the truck load.  This is as exciting a four pack as we've had in a while, so if you've been looking for an excuse to stock up for fall - get to it!

2010 Villadoria Nebiolo Langhe 'Bricco Magno' $15
A Nebbiolo that drinks like a Barolo-Barbaresco hybrid for $16?  Yup.  An unavoidable, attention-commanding experience. I can't figure out whether this is an expertly manipulated wine made to seem like an extraordinary example of Nebbiolo or if it is just incredibly well sourced and made at a the fifth of the price it ought to be. Regardless, this here is quite a joy to drink. And by joy, I mean terrific.

2013 Angeline Pinot Noir California $11
For $11 this capable  Pinot more than delivers. Typical of Californian Pinot Noir these days - full frontal fruit and a nice thrum of saliva duct-inducing acidity. And when was the last time you saw palatable Pinot for $11?  I'll belly up for more of this soon. 

2012 Chateau D'Aigueville Cotes du Rhone Villages $10
Yes, this is a repeat review, but worth the redundancy.  Whoa.  This wine exudes authenticity and quality.  Benefiting from an hour or two of air, it's a medium-full bodied CDR that hits on multiple pleasure points.  If you think Cotes du Rhones means rustic, hard-edged wine, you must try this.  Drinks more like a Hard to believe it's just $10!

2012 Le Trois Couronnes Cotes du Rhone $10
Bam!  Big and almost boozy with boisterous fruit and racy acids.  Bordering on clumsy, but appealing for its obviousness and easy-going demeanor.

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 CariƱena 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.