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
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.


Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Recycle Bin, Week of July 21

It's another mixed bag of goodies this week with some real winners.  

2010 Novelty Hill Merlot Columbia Valley $20
About a year ago I picked up a case of the stuff for a party. A lot was left over and little by little I began sampling through it. I have always thought it was fine - good, but not noteworthy. But now it has come into its own. This wine is drinking like a serious heavyweight contender; broad-shouldered, with the structure of a top class Cabernet, but still true, dense, solid-core Merlot fruit. An attention commanding wine. Very enjoyable. Alas, it was my last bottle. Keep your eyes peeled for more on the shelves out there.

2013 Macphail Rosé of Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast $22 (Sample)
Two things immediately stand out about this wine from the first taste: first, you know this is made from Pinot Noir. Second, you've never had a rosé like this before. Soft and round on the approach, it eases into a long mid-palate with comforting flavors of slightly smoked Pinot Noir fruit before developing into a pleasing, long finish. Unusual and alluring. To be clear, this is not your garden variety, dainty luncheon rose - no, no.  This is a hairy balls, drink while camping with your buddies rosé. Yeah, you read that right. The winemaker's passion for this bottling shines through with clarity. 

2010 Garafoli Piancarda Rosso Conero Marche $18
This wine has been reviewed here before, but it deserves another mention because if there is a more seductive Italian red for the money, I am unaware of it.

2013 William Hill Sauvignon Blanc Central Coast $14 (Sample)
This is what California Sauvignon Blanc used to be known for: bright, refreshing, and bursting with fresh-cut grass and Granny Smith apple flavors. This one also has a slight tartness to round out the acidic thread,  which pleasantly balances for the whole package. A real gulper.

2012 William Hill Merlot Central Coast $14 (Sample)
Benefiting from a little time decanted, this is as advertised: Merlot from the Central Coast. Textbook Merlot fruit, simple framing. On its own it fizzles, but give it some grilled chicken and it'll pop for you. 

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Maybe It's Time To Rethink Points (A Little)

Earlier this week, the Recycle Bin reviewed two so-called 94 point wines.  Yeah, from time to time I get sucked in by the numbers just like you do.  Each of those wines presented as well-made, if pedestrian and undifferentiated.  Neither was particularly reflective of its origin, and neither was noteworthy for its complexity.  More importantly, neither provided a terribly compelling drinking experience - something which I found to be at odds with a score reserved for outstanding, exceptional wines.

In fairness, tarring their legitimacy by calling them "so-called" is inaccurate.  They are 94 point wines.  At least according to Robert Parker and the Wine Advocate.  There's no taking that away from their producers and marketers.  This is not the first or last time I'll disagree with Mr. Parker's indefatigable palate, but he is no less entitled to his professional perspective than anyone else.

Questioning the relevance of the 100 point scoring system has for years provided cyberspace with almost limitless material for productivity-killing debate recycling.  Whenever writers get bored and lazy, they dust this one off and fire it into the blogosphere.  Its close cousin is the more philosophical and less vitriolic "wine tasting can never be objective" thread.  It's tempting to pluck such low hanging thematic fruit, but you already know how those stories conclude (if at all): point systems are flawed, every critic's taste is different on different days, publications dependent on advertising for revenue are prone to conflicts of interest, and so on.

All of these conclusions are sound, but none do more than wave a caution flag for consumers.  And that is not especially helpful.

For all the flaws scoring metrics possess (100 points, Tre Bicchieri, Davis 20 point scale, etc.) it's also worth acknowledging that there is tremendous utility in them, too.  Paradoxically, these metrics serve as much as sign posts as they do protective blinders.  Any non-savant drinker simply cannot digest the merits of each of the thousands of labels competing for attention and hard-earned shekels.  So, wines sporting a quantification of their quality helpfully narrow the overwhelming into something more manageable.  Forgetting for a moment how many precious gems are overlooked when looking at shelves through 90-points-or-better glasses, a smaller field dotted with signposts helps consumers navigate what is an increasingly confusing and hype-fueled marketplace.

"Ah...", the wine cognoscenti say, "...but what good is a number if it's so biased, so distorted by personal preference, so riddled with business influence?"  Hell, I'm still shaking my head at how those two wines deserve such high scores, so I get it.  But this tit-for-tat has been played out ad nauseum.  Average consumers have no time or appetite for the vinous subculture's dysfunction - nor do they have patience (quite rightly so) for the suggestion that they need to become more educated to properly enjoy wine.

With so much my-way-or-the-highway rhetoric seemingly intent on annihilating the opposing perspective, is there any chance of finding a peaceful coexistence?  Better yet, is there any hope of quieting this noise that only adds to wine's elitism?

Maybe.  And maybe it's a simple as a collective reshaping of what wine scoring means.  The entire industry could benefit, too.  What would this cool-ade taste like?

"Here's a wine I gave 94 points to because I think it's terrific.  It's not the only wine from this producer and it certainly isn't the only wine from this little corner of the world.  You might like this wine as much as I did.  Whether you did or not, both the winemaker and his/her neighbors are deserving of your attention and exploration.  You will not be disappointed."

Determining what wines we like or don't like, and what wines to buy or avoid, can only be instructed through experience.  Threaded together, these experiences comprise legs of a journey not unlike hiking through a park.  If you can humor the analogy, the idea is that, aside from the occasional "Beware of bears" signs, you're pretty much free to go wherever you please (exploration is encouraged).  The park rangers (critics) provide sign posts along the way to guide you to what are the most popular destinations (high scoring wines).  As you hike along towards one vista or the other, you stumble upon unmarked paths the guidebooks (wine scoring publications) don't tell you about.  As remarkable as your original destination might be, this detour leads to discovery of something previously unknown to you (a wine with no pedigree, score, or San Francisco-based PR firm).  Discovery is exciting - and with wine, how hurt can you really get in the process?

Marketers in every tier rely heavily on points.  Points substitute for time-consuming back stories and  education and tastings.  Despite the efficiency and simplicity of this, a 90+ points-only world would be a more homogeneous, boring world.  If critics and marketers all shifted their mantra to include a simple message, horizons would be broadened while helping shrug-off elitism, reducing confusion and boosting enthusiasm. 

Naive?  Hopelessly.  If I've learned anything about the wine business in the last few years it's that reluctance doesn't begin to describe this industry's approach to change.  But when critics begin to champion wines by association, the balance of the business will parlay that into broader, more diverse promotion - something three tier players are already equipped to do and would readily engage in.