Tag Archives: cabernet sauvignon

The Old-World Consistency of Napa’s Chateau Montelena

15 Sep

Chateau Montelena Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 and 2014 vintages. Calistoga, Napa Valley, CA; USA. 14% ABV, MSRP $58/bottle.

 

When an opportunity presented itself to compare back to back vintages of cabernet sauvignon from Napa’s famous Chateau Montelena, I simply could not wait! For those who don’t track annual harvest reports, 2013 was reported as a perfect growing year in Napa. To follow, 2014 started out badly with drought, but eventually this vintage was touted as a “dream” season for the Napa Valley, in spite of providing less tannin and structure than the previous year. Both years are ideal for collectors, and highly suggested for oenophiles.

 

 

In my tasting sessions, I found the vintages had significant similarities and minor differences, as you might expect from the vines, vineyard, and winemaker.  After much deliberation, I decided to use one set of tasting notes, and I’ll discuss the subtle differences in the vintages afterwards.

Color is deep purple; the nose full of blackberry, spice box, hints of fresh violets, and notes of earth. The palate is massive blackberry with allspice, cocoa, some green cuttings, and a hint of ripe raspberry, with a beautiful blend of complex minerals which demonstrate the Calistoga AVA’s flexible, alluvial soils.

 

 

 

 

I tasted these vintages with several neighbors over a mix of grilled meats, savory salads, fresh roasted vegetables, and highly spiced mediterranean chicken. Any red wine lover who tasted either wine was in heaven, but there were some differences. The 2014 was fruitier and more direct, while the 2013 more tannic, with more structure. Had I not known the vintages, I might have expected it was the same wine blend with 5 years of age. Overall, the 2013 appeared drier with the fruit more condensed, whilst the 2014 still demonstrated youthful fruit and an edge towards jam or compote with less tannin and a hint of mocha. By carefully rationing small portions, I was able to taste these bottles for four more days in which I expected the differences to become more apparent. Instead the opposite happened! I found that with more exposure to air, the wines showed stronger similarities as the fruit muted and the tannins melded, harmoniously, like some of the world’s finest old-world chateaux.

 

 

Both of these vintages drink beautifully now, but will show improved finesse and expression in another 5-10 years and beyond, if you can wait that long. The fact that they are an excellent value (and drink like an $85 Napa cab) should not be lost on the wine lover or collector: if you drink these now, you’re a smart drinker; and if you hold them and drink them later, you’re a brilliant collector!

 

Needless to say, I was impressed by both of these vintages of Chateau Montelena. They are proof to me that the winery continues to have tremendous consistency from year to year, and maintains their historic drive for excellence that shocked the wine industry at the famed 1976 Judgement of Paris. It is wonderful to be able to access these wines at a moderate price point. For the serious drinker, the quality of winemaking will make you yearn to taste their upper echelon “estate” series.

 

 

If you are a serious Napa cab lover, you won’t want to wait to take advantage of these two vintages. Now is the time to collect, if you have not already. Or if you are like me, now is the time to invite friends over and open a few bottles to enjoy!

à votre santé!

 

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Charles Smith Wines: Eve, Boom Boom!, and The Velvet Devil to Tempt Your Tongue!

16 Jun

Charles Smith. If you’re like me, hearing that name is enough to scroll down to the reviews. If not, please continue:

Few names in recent years have acquired such rock star gravitas in the wine industry. Wait, You don’t know him? Taste his wines. Don’t have one available? Ok, so in 2016, Constellation Wines bought five of his brands for $120 million. Are you impressed yet? You should be. And I say this, being a superman of the CS Cabernet Sauvignon, because that wine has been one of the top, under-$20 Cabernet Sauvignon wines you can find in the USA, PERIOD.

So when offered a chance to taste a few, I jumped. YES, I want to taste them. I tasted two of these wines for five days. and the other… well, it lasted an hour before it was gone. (Not sorry.) The labels look like a tattoo chosen by a millennial based on their favorite song. So? It’s not about the label, it’s about the juice.

The motto reads loud and clear on the back of the bottle: “Land to hand, vineyard to bottle.” Charles Smith is irreverent and fanciful, yet an incredibly serious winemaker: these wines are seeing at least some portion whole cluster pressed, with fermenting on the lees. Straightforward, the best fruit he can give you from sustainable farming, ideal fermentation, a carefully controlled pH and moderate ABV. So? Ok, fine: TASTING NOTES!

 

Eve Chardonnay 2014 by Charles Smith Wines, Mattawa, Washington. 13.5% ABV, MSRP $13/Bottle.

Color is pale gold, while the nose offers tangerine peel, wildflower cutting, and gravel. On the palate, pure green apple- no wonder the name. It is like taking a bite of a chardonnay apple from the Garden of Eden. Straightforward, fruit forward, less acidity than I expected with a hint of marzipan. On the finish, notes of silt, clay and yeast. At this price point, what chardonnay lover would say no? An easy purchase, at double the price! At street prices, I’d easily put three bottles in my cart. You should do the same.

 

 

 

Boom Boom Syrah 2015 by Charles Smith Wines, Columbia Valley, Washington. 13.%5ABV, MSRP $18/bottle.

Color is a gorgeous, opaque dark orchid/byzantium. The nose shows blueberry, black plum, and crushed  violet while the palate offers up blackberries, plum jam, cassis and black cherry. Secondary notes of pepper, potting soil, wet slate, sandy loam and old wood. I love a good syrah but shy away from the fruit bombs- Boom Boom does a tremendous job of maintaining balance in the wine from opening until day five of tasting, never being overly fruity and only showing a hint of bitterness on day 5. With this gorgeous color, balance of flavor, and gentle alcohol content, how is this still on the shelves? When word gets out, you’ll have a hard time finding this for under $20.

 

 

Are you ready to be severely tempted? You better be…

The Velvet Devil Merlot 2014 by Charles Smith Wines. Columbia Valley, Washington.  ABV 13.6%, MSRP $13/bottle.

Color is a garnet center with purple edging. The nose offers boysenberry, cherry pie and a hint of tobacco leaf.  On the palate, bright, acidic flavor of dark cherries, maturing blackberries, and blueberry. Secondary notes remind me of damp Northwest: wet earth, and young, freshly hewn wood. On the medium-long finish: plum wine, crushed leaves, sand, and the distinct mineral flavors of volcanic rock. And pour me another taste… (just watch, you will do the same.)

OK: I was hoping for the velvety mouthfeel I get from Chateau Margaux, but let’s be honest: should I expect the same mouthfeel from a $13 wine that I do from a $600-$900 bottle? No, but for the cost of this wine, the mouthfeel IS quite velvety. Why? Because Smith is giving us 94% Merlot and adding a few tremendous blending grape (cab sauvignon, malbec, and our beloved friend cabernet franc) and aging in new French Oak to take this wine from the ordinary to the extraordinary. Put this wine in front of ten people, and (incorrectly) they will probably not call it Merlot. It just has a totally different vibe! But they will call it delicious, and they will ask for a second glass, then a third. So will you- and the bottle will be dry, as mine is from tasting pour after pour. Trust me, this Velvet Devil is going to stick a pitchfork in your plans and you will love it.

 

Boom.

 

Now go rock your weekend with a Charles Smith Wine, you can thank me later by sending me a bottle.

For more information on these wines, check out: www.charlessmithwines.com/

 

à votre santé!

 

Sbragia Family Vineyards- Wines that Sing in the Glass

22 Aug

Sbragia Family Vineyards is a Sonoma winemaking family I did not know before..

And now it is one I will never forget.

Sbragia Family Vineyards 2012 Gino’s Zinfandel, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County, CA.  15.1%ABV. MSRP $44/bottle. Sample provided by Bacchus Capital Management.

Color is garnet with violet edging. The nose shows red and black fruit, eucalyptus, anise and green pepper. In the mouth, plenty of black and red berries meet spice, black pepper, chewy tannin and nice acidity. Big in flavor, hot on the back palate when the alcohol crosses the threshold. Tasty by itself and with food, this matched up beautifully with pizza, chili, and by itself in the afternoon sunshine on the back porch. Refrigerated after opening the bottle, it lasted nicely for over a week while maintaining freshness and proper balance. Some great value found in the street prices of this wine. #HeyNow!

Sbrag ZIN

 

 

Sbragia Family Vineyards 2014 Home Ranch Chardonnay, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County, CA.  14.5%ABV. MSRP $30/bottle. Sample provided by Bacchus Capital Management.

Color is deep straw verging on golden sunlight. On the nose, baked apple pie, pineapple, a hint of baked bread  while toasted cashews tantalize the senses with a strong sense of alcohol. On the palate, white stone fruit, kiwi, lemon zest, marzipan, and vanilla, with granite on the long finish that leaves a zesty heat across the top palate. #SoNice!

Sbrag Chard

 

 

 

Sbragia Family Vineyards 2012 Monte Rosso Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, Moon Valley District. Sonoma County, CA.  14.8%ABV. MSRP $65/bottle. Sample provided by Bacchus Capital Management.

What a gorgeous & classic California cab: deep ruby in color. Eucalyptus, menthol, earth, wet leaves and green pepper with cedar on the nose.  Massive cassis and blackberry fruit up front. Some mid-palate spice, some heat, forest floor, saddle leather, and a soil-rich minerality on the finish with lasting heat, lovely oak and a lingering body. Lovely to drink now but what perfection might this be in 5-10 years with the alcohol muted and the fruit sliding back? This wine drank beautifully for a week of evenings when stored in the fridge… rationing a half-glass of heaven each night. This drinks so well right now but I can’t wait to see what it is like in 2022. #BOOM!

 

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Ed Sbragia of Sbragia Family Vineyards provides a classic California edge with a long-term family history and pedigree you can taste in the glass. Get a few bottles, pop them with friends, and listen got everyone tell you how good they are. They are just that crowd pleasing.

 

à votre santé!

 

If Chile Had a Margaux, This Might Be It!

18 Dec

François Lurton’s Gran Araucano Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Lolol Valley, Chile. 14.5% ABV, $35 list, currently $35-45 street.

I would never have tried this wine but it was suggested to me over and over from various vendors who know what I like, and that I prefer to buy wines in the under $20 for my readers but my personal preferences run higher. After the third time someone suggested this to me, one vendor finally put the bottle in my hands and said, “If you don’t like it, bring it back and I’ll exchange it.” For a perishable item like wine, that’s a sales pitch from someone who trusts his product!

The color is deep ruby, and the nose is surpassingly complex and aromatic w/ black plum, spice, forest floor, a little funk and menthol. A nose like a champion, almost worth the price of admission for the nose alone.

On the palate, tart cassis is the powerful first impression. Swirled around the mouth, the upper palate gets the heat plus red plum,  pepper, oak, some clay. The tongue continues with cassis and now adds plum and blackberry, while the back palate senses silt, darker notes like forest and potting soil, and now tannins creeping in, first slowly, then with full force. Acidity and tannin take a second place to the fruit and nose in this wine, but are in no way diminished. This is a well-made wine, worthy of the price tag. Great for roast meats, strong flavors- even though I enjoyed it with mediterranean fare.

It was crafted with care by masters of French classic wines, no doubt, because I have a hard time putting down the glass, or it keeps refilling itself.

If Chile had a Margaux, this might be it. I would love to taste this wine again in five and ten years. If you take the time to google this wine, you might find the series of awards it has won. Or you might just find what matters: a place to buy a bottle or two so you can enjoy. If only I had cellar space for a full case!

gran araucano

 

à votre santé!

 

Castillo de Molina

15 Oct

San Pedro Reserva Castillo de Molina Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Central Valley, Chile. $11 at Mayfair Wine & Liquor. %14 ABV.

Color in the glass is deep garnet with rose edging. The nose shows cassis, young black plum, forest floor, young oak and a hint of menthol. In the mouth, a mix of fully ripe black cherry, blackberry and black plum, dried flowers, clay and some barnyard funk on the finish. A full-bodied wine with a very South American attitude. Pairs best with strong flavors, retains balance on the second and third day after opening. A solid value at this price point, best demonstrated with gamey meats, spicy fare or savory cheeses.

Castillo De Molina

à votre santé!

‘Drinking Local’ at Total Wine: A Big ‘ol Wine Store in Atlanta

8 Oct

On a recent trip to Atlanta I had the fortune to mix business with pleasure. The pleasure was seeing friends from high school at a get-together that was essentially BYOB. For me, that meant wine shopping. I had to hunt locally in Atlanta, but I’m no longer a local. I  haven’t lived there since the 1980’s, and had no clue where to go. So I opened my phone, tapped, found, & then shopped in the closest wine store that popped up on Google Maps: a store called Total Wine (Atlanta), near Perimeter Mall.

It’s a huge store by NYC standards. For the rest of the country, it’s about the size of a small CostCo, Kmart, or Home Depot. They have a LOT of wine here. There’s copious beer, too, though the sign says “Total Wine” it doesn’t say “Totally Wine”.

I wandered the aisles briefly. Towards the front of the store was a cooler than caught my eye, with lots of tasty delights to tempt the oenophile. First growths, some big name firsts and seconds, the range in the first minute was from $50-$1500/bottle. Color me initially impressed, and I saw a magnum of Far Niente that might be a great party favor.

While I was peering at options, I got the challenge. “Can I help you with something, Sir?” from my six. It was all I could do to say “I’m a sucker for a first growth, load me up and charge it”  but I managed to keep my NY attitude in check, smile, and ask for a suggestion for a white burgundy and a dry riesling, a little test for both the seller and the store. Show me your hand, buddy. Let’s see what you have.

The kid (ok, the employee…I’m showing my age. HEY! YOU KIDS GET OFF MY LAWN!)   was passable, he could walk the walk, and knew enough to be dangerous AND help my New York attitude. Ten minutes later I accepted his third suggestion, after two chablis I passed up. Domaine Patrick Javillier’s  “Les Tillets” Meursault  2012, @$50, 12.5%ABV with delightful subtlety, restraint, snobbery and balance. Oh yes, this will suit my needs, and my friends will reap the benefits!

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I then chose  his second riesling suggestion, Dr.Heidemanns-Bergweiler 2013 Bernkasteler Badstube Riesling Kabinett. @$17, 8.5% ABV (That’s a mouthful, let me tell you!) Semi-dry with apricot and orange peel, it’s a delightful if dense wine and the perfect opener for a party or closer for the “I don’t really drink” crowd.

Heidemanns

I strolled through the aisles of chardonnay and spotted a weakness of mine- DuMOL Chardonnay Need I say more? It shot into my arms. My friends are luckier than they think, this is a wine I can’t even find locally in NYC! Walking through the aisle of pinot, I was sad to see none of the wines I’d fallen in love with over the recent year. No Santa Barbara Pinot? No New Zealand Central Otago Aromatic whites OR pinot noirs? Sad clown face. What I did see was a ton of major producers whose names I knew well. If it was a big winery with wines scoring 85-95 points they had it. If they didn’t sell 10,000 cases it wasn’t in this store.

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Before I left another seller closer to my age saw the bottles tucked in my arms and said “I like your taste in wine”, then offered me a taste of something they had on sale: Courtney Benham Napa Valley Cab 2012. I think it listed for $20, but was on sale for $10. Tasting the dark fruit and wood, it’s a good red party wine I immediately knew would be gone through quickly. I picked up a bottle and headed to the party, where the BYOB became “drink JvB’s” from the serious wine folks. The red wine drinkers, as expected, finished the Benham in record time, while the chardonnay drinkers were able to argue whether they like the old world Les Tillets meursault or the new world (with classic old world approach) DuMOL. Yes, I spoiled them with really good & great wines, and told everyone where I got them- here, at the local wine store.

 

Benham

 

So I had a pretty good experience at Total Wine, and feel that anyone could find something they’d really enjoy in the store.  I was sad that I wasn’t seeing any of the highest quality, small-volume producers that I was specifically seeking from Napa, Alto Adige, Tuscany, Bordeaux, Northern Cali, The Finger Lakes, Washington State, and New Zealand. These are wines that you find when you’re visiting an area, they can blow your mind with their small production, huge quality, made-with-love-for-the-wines-sake bottles. This is what you learn when you drink locally in wine country. And this is why you become a fanatic, a regular wine club member, a champion of the small producer.

But, (and it’s a BIG but)  Atlanta is NOT wine country. So how do you drink “local” in the ATL? “Local wine” in Atlanta means something totally different: not bad, just Different!  I DID find a ton of options, so many of the high-volume wines you see listed in Wine Spectator, it was awesome on that level. I saw more names I recognized from print & region studies than I did from personal tasting experience. And what is in stock is delivered at a fair price, so it’s win-win… or maybe wine-win.

Did I mention that I kept the kabinett, to enjoy privately? Oops. Maybe I didn’t share everything. Hey, they can find it on the shelf  at Total Wine, where “drink local” means something totally different, but might be equally as satisfying.

 

à votre santé!

#MWWC12 

Monthly Wine Writing Challenge #12
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Dinner With Friends- #MWWC11

10 Aug
Note: This post is 1) different that what I normally write, 2) about a recent wine dinner, as well as 3) a response to my friend Jeff ‘s request for submissions to the Monthly Wine Writing Challenge, #MWWC11 which if you really want to (if you blog & want to write about wine)  you can see here.  Or if you ride or like comic writing, you should check out my favorite  section of  Jeff’s blog, which I really enjoy. I hope you enjoy this post! Feel free to comment and let me know -JvB
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A friend I’ve not seen for 28 years was in town for a family wedding- his! So I invited Joe & Kaz to come to our home for dinner while they were in NYC, visiting from Osaka Japan. Joe has lived in Japan for almost two decades and I knew we’d have a lot to discuss. I was a little nervous about making dinner since our Western meals are quite different than those in the East, so I enlisted my (much) better half to help create a solid dinner plan, while I, as in classic form, worried and worried about what wines to serve.

I stared into my cellar, pondering choice after choice, changing my mind several times. Finally I settled on a small- production petite sirah I’ve been holding for a special occasion to pair with beef, and a vinho verde I love on hot summer evenings. I grabbed a bottle of Chateau de L’Aulée AOC Méthode Tradtionelle brut sparkling wine from Touraine, France so we could toast the wedding. And just for fun, I selected two half bottles of dessert wine, a port and a sauternes. I felt prepared. No, really I felt terrified, but at least I had wine!

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Since both my wife and I are freelancers in the arts and work a lot of (ok, almost all) evenings and weekends, we rarely get to entertain. We also didn’t know how busy we would be prior to our dinner. As my schedule got increasingly hectic, she agreed to shop while I was working. Our menu plan included several cold salads that I could help prep and she could execute while I was grilling the entrée. The butcher didn’t have the cut of meat I wanted available, so she purchased several shoulder steaks and we agreed to make kabobs to allow us to serve efficiently.

As she sliced a butternut squash and put that into the oven, I cubed the beef and dumped it into a bowl for the marinade- then diced fresh garlic, onion powder, cracked 4-color pepper mix, and ground some Himalayan salt on top. I added two heaping tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil, a splash of balsamic vinegar, then raced to the cellar to get a bottle of my ‘everyday’ red table wine– a bottle of 2011 Los Vascos from Colchagua, Chile which is managed by none other than Baron Eric de Rothschild.

los vascos

This wine is one of the best values I keep in my cellar at about $10 a bottle, and is great to drink but doesn’t break my heart if I need a lot of it to make a meal taste wonderful. I poured it on the beef and mixed my marinade happily, putting the bottle aside as a backup to the Petite Syrah, then covering the marinade bowl and sliding it into the fridge to continue the prep.

Annette and I chopped Israeli cucumbers and diced roma tomatoes, parsley and scallions for a cucumber/tomato salad that could be dressed quickly with oil and balsamic vinegar. As I washed vegetables for the kabobs, she cut yellow and red peppers for me, moved to prep an avocado salad that had to be made at the last minute, then put sweet peas and water into a pan to cook while I scraped & preheated the grill.

Thirty minutes had passed and we were moments away from our guests arriving, so we enlisted a daughter to set the table while I aerated and decanted the petite sirah, using a True Fabrications Aerating Pour Spout to pour into the decanter. The petite sirah was a gorgeous, near-black purple in color, delightfully aromatic with the scent of african violets, and exciting even to pour. I was happy that the spout had caught some sediment as well as aerating. I rinsed it and set it aside, then pulled the meat out and built the kabobs for grilling, using mushrooms, onion, cherry tomato, yellow and red pepper, and of course the marinated steak cubes.

true

 

Joe and Kaz arrived and we greeted them, opened the bubbly and toasted their wedding, and I took them with me to the backyard to grill the kabobs while Annette completed the salads and vegetable courses.

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The grill ran about 550 degrees and while kabobs require about five minutes a side for medium well (turning over once), I prefer to turn them every three minutes as neither the vegetables nor the meat always turns as one wants. After a quick sear, I moved several kabobs to a higher level to grill them to medium rare over the same duration. We chatted about their trip, enjoying the sparkling wine until it was time to take the kabobs off the flame.

Following our guests into the dining room with a plate of burning hot skewers, I noticed that Annette had made a couscous (when did she find time to do that?) and also managed to plate the butternut squash rings so that they enclosed the steaming hot green peas, a neat little visual I didn’t know was in her repertoire! I refreshed flutes with sparkling wine and poured the petite sirah, as Joe gave a quick Japanese blessing, “Itadakimasu” or いただきます.  A few bites in, Joe exclaimed his joy at the wine, which made me beam proudly and take time to explain my choice, ignoring the earlier requests from my 13-year old daughter who had begged me not to wax poetic about wine tonight…sorry, sweetheart!

Modus Operandi is the Napa, CA home of winemaker Jason Moore. I was introduced to his wines by a fellow oenophile who INSISTED I try Jason’s cabernet sauvignon- I loved it, noting the depth and complexities of flavors, with an unusual bonus: chocolate covered strawberry notes on the finish. I quickly joined the Modus wine club and have been a fan ever since. Jason may not be the first of the independent winemakers that I decided to champion and support, but he is highly accomplished and we share an affinity for passion in the things we do. His work is exemplary.

Back to the dinner table: Joe noted the sirah was more black in color than red, more floral than fruity on the nose, and deeply complex. I agreed, and explained that it was made in very limited quantity (only two barrels produced) and that I chose it specifically to complement both the meat and array of vegetables due to its flexibility to pair so well with grilled foods. I have a full review of the ’09 sirah here.

 

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The meal I had been so worried about had been a success, and we talked late into the night. After a small intermission we cleared dinner, I made coffee while Annette served berries and some small pastries I’d picked up at Financier for dessert, and I brought out the dessert beverages to our guests. These included the 2006 Chateau Doisy Vedrines which is showing beautifully right now, a tawny port from Kalyra Winery, from Santa Barbara, CA that I just tasted recently on my Wine Blogging trip, and a calvados: Christian Drouin Coer de Lion “Selection”, a delightful digestive that offers apples, spice, and cinnamon-all the best parts of apple pie- in the glass.

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We sampled sips of all three, and a little XO courvoisier that was a gift from a client.

My fears of failure seemed to have been conquered by paying great attention to detail. Fresh, flavorful, and colorful food well-paired with tasty wines and made for a lovely, memorable evening with old friends and our spouses. While I don’t know when I’ll see my friend Joe again, I hope that Annette and I will work harder to entertain more guests at our home sooner, rather than later.

à votre santé!

 

 

 

Bodan Roan Cab Sauv ‘2011

3 Aug

Bodan Roan Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Napa Valley. 13.6% ABV, $9/bottle from Astor Wine & Spirits.

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The first thing you’ll notice with Bodan Roan 2011 Cab Sauv is that the color looks like a pinot, not a cab. The light color belies the grapes. The nose, too shows bright red fruit, some vegetation and touch of wood. On the palate, the red fruit is quite bright and matched by powerful acidity, showing a quicker finish as loose tannins creep in gently. A hint of stone is the final note after the tannins subside. This is a wine made for food, flexible and capable of pairing with just about anything, leaving a clean and fresh palate quickly without imparting a new color of its own. A great table/house red for warm seasons or climates that can stand up to any food, easygoing & providing solid value.

Just beware if you taste on its own, you might say ‘bleh’ but if you taste with food, you’ll likely say ‘yeah!’.

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à votre santé

Wine Upgrades from Underground Cellar

19 Mar

The modern marketplace is full of places where you can buy wine, and pitfalls that accompany them. When something interesting and trustworthy comes along, I want to share it with you!

I ordered from a wine website recently called Underground Cellar. They are not a wine club, but sell specific wines with a unique angle: any and every bottle you buy at one price from a producer enables you to get an upgrade to a significantly more expensive bottle. There’s a little bit of gamble to it, and a little bit of fun. I was intrigued by their site, and like everyone, I like a good bargain. So I took a chance!

I went online, signed up and reviewed the options. I saw an offer for a 90+ point $20 red& white blend with a possible $50 upgrade.  It sounded too good to be true, but the optimist in me won over the New Yorker, so  I signed up and purchased six bottles, selecting ground shipping. Within a week, the wines arrived at my door. I opened the box and found four bottles of Tess Winery’s Red & White Blend and two bottles of Napa Valley 2001 Peju Province, Estate Bottles Cab Sauvignon.

From a price perspective, I did a quick search and saw that one of my local wine merchants sells the Tess for $19.99 (cool) and I saw the Peju online for $66/bottle. Score one for value.  Now, would I like them?

The Tess Proprietary Red Blend 2011 was a new one for me: a red and white grape mix. This  blend actually features Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Zinfandel, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. I was curious and a tiny bit worried for just a moment, until I poured and tasted. Bright vivid red in the glass, with a nose of fresh cut flowers, berries and herbs. On the palate, a burst of raspberry, strawberry, and a hint of melon. This could be an ideal summer red, with far more body than a rosé wine yet with the whimsy of a great pinot or sauv blanc. After tasting the wine, I tried it with fish (great pairing) chicken (great pairing) red meat (good pairing) and veggies (great pairing) and was surprised that I haven’t seen this kind of wine before. Well, I expect we’ll be hearing a lot more from the winemaker Sarah Fowler and proprietors Ariana and Lisa Peju. With good depth for a younger wine, lots of notes with more than a dash of whimsy, you’ll drink this with friends and enjoy it time after time. Tess Winery joins the ranks of small California winemakers (organic certified, to note) to keep an eye on!

Tess

I waited until I had a red meat pairing on the menu at home to open the Peju Province 2001 Estate Cabernet. The color is a deep maroon with fading edges, while the nose showed cassis, dried rose petals, leather, earth, and oak. The age on this is apparent, and the first taste was an inspiration of classic Bordeaux. This teenager is mature, established, and a force to be reckoned with. Decanting half the bottle and letting it breathe for 30 minutes was a smart move. Another taste confirmed the first but time had allowed a huge amount of growth that might have required hours in the glass:  excellent depth, complexity, showing relaxed floral notes, older fruit (cassis, red currants, cranberry) and mellowed tannins. Very nice winemaking, a pleasure to taste, and a huge bargain at $20 for the bottle. I furiously made cellar notes for the remaining bottles and plan to open them with friends at a beach party this summer.

Peju

I was happy to have met Tess and Peju wines for the first time, and tried the Underground Cellar. It was an exciting gamble, and one that paid off nicely. With a little research, you can get both stunning bargains, high quality, and good service. You know I’ll be going back for more.

As a parting note, I haven’t even mentioned Underground Cellar’s Influence Points, Referral Program, or free wine storage- until now. More reasons to check them out, just in case you needed them.

à votre santé!

Hoopes, Hoopla and Liparita: No Quiet Tuesday Night

19 Jun

For some unknown reason, my introduction to several great modern-day American winemakers have all been either coincidences or pure accident. My Buddhist friends might explain this more as karma, but in the end, it matters little. “It was simply meant to be.”

I sat down on a quiet Tuesday night with winemaker Jason Fisher to talk about wine and taste his work. Jason was running on fumes, yet still jovial after a day dashing around the concrete jungle instead of plying his trade amongst his beloved vines, tools, and truck. An observer might think we were two old buddies meeting to discuss business and family- and would be halfway right- but we’d never met previously. Next time, we surely will be old friends with more great stories to tell.

Jason is the artisan winemaker, and one-third of the Hoopes, Hoopla, and Liparita wine team, along with Spencer Hoopes (proprietor and namesake), and John Healy who handles sales. This trio manages to churn out seven thousand cases of wine between the two labels annually, and unless we East Coast wine junkies start working for it, most of those cases may stay in California, where the bulk currently goes.

You might think that spending an evening drinking wine with a biochemist is a dull, systematically boring idea- unless like me, your grandfather was a chemist and your sister was a forensic biochemist. Jason’s biochemist/oenologist background was amazing to me, and offered an opportunity to discuss the exact process and choices he considers on a daily basis when making his product. I think every wine lover/drinker would relish an opportunity to spend time with the person who makes the choices in crafting a boutique, ultra-premium wine. I certainly did!

But far beyond Jason’s intellect, oenological prowess, and advanced degrees is a passionate winemaker and lover of quality. And even if you don’t care for details and chemistry, you will still be wowed by his charisma and impressed by his obvious love of his work- creating delicious wines. Speaking of which I will now bring up the topic you’ve all been waiting for: WHAT WE TASTED!

Hoopla Wines Chardonnay, 2011; 13.5%ABV, List $18.99

It took me a day to characterize what I love about this: it’s the un-chardonnay, since it never touches the oak that so many other winemakers use to mask problems. Hoopla exemplifies everything that is good naturally in chardonnay: It tastes as though you plucked the grapes right off the sun-washed vine. Citrus, grapefruit and honeysuckle dominate while notes of flint, gravel, and granite speak of the Yountville terroir. You realize as the wine expands and changes in the mouth, that it ferments and ages in stainless, never seeing wood- keeping the true characteristics of the grape intact, showcasing the terroir, grape, fruit selection, its time on the lees, and time spent in steel before bottling. It’s all out in the open, and it shows wonderfully. At under $20/bottle, it is no wonder the Californians won’t let this out of their sight!

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Hoopla Wines ‘Mutt’ 2010 Red Blend; 14.3%ABV, List $29.99

Mutt is a blend that includes 80% cabernet, 10% old vine petite syrah, and 10% merlot. It has a deliciously musty nose, and on the mouth hits you with big spicy mulberry, boysenberry, and pepper with cedar on the lengthy finish. Not too big for its britches, this is a wine you can enjoy with your friends in the backyard, at a black tie dinner, or as a lovely gift idea. Flexible, capable, and athletic come to mind when thinking about this wine. And the label is great, I hope to meet this dog (Dante) one day, and his owner, Spencer Hoopes.

Hoopla-Mutt

Hoopes Vineyard Oakville Cabernet Sauvignon 2009; 14.9%ABV, List $65.99

A ‘classic’ cabernet with a nose similar to the Mutt (delicious mustiness, reminder of wonderful old world reds). Old World melds with Classic Napa. Big, black fruit bursts in your mouth initially with clove, graphite, earth, loam and tight tannins following. This wants to be opened and see air, so decant or open hours before drinking. A delightful wine, fits well in the competition of Napa “establishment” reds like at a lower price range and to me, this is a killer value as it drinks like a $150/bottle. Very good now, I expect it will mature beautifully.

Hoopes-Cab

Liparita  Oakville Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, 14.9%ABV, List $61.99

This cab tastes of all red fruit: red plum, bing cherry, raspberry are forward with wildflowers on the nose and notes of spice, oak, shale, gravel, and vanilla on the back palate, good tannins throughout the long finish. A delicious Napa that immediately compares to Plumpjack, Conundrum, Stags Leap, and Highland Estates. Lush and sophisticated, it was only a small surprise to me when Jason proudly stated these grapes are the Old Wente Bordeaux 337 clone, aged 33 months in all French oak.

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Liparita Yountville “V-Block” Cabernet Sauvignon 2009,  14.7%ABV,  List $61.99

This may be the Screaming Eagle for the rest of us, as it accomplishes the massive quality with first red, then black, then blue fruits in succession, the intense structure throughout the midpalate with a huge finish, yet the soft and feminine aspects are very present, most notably with the very gentle tannins.  I so very much wanted to bring a bottle of this back home and deconstruct it in small sips, as I was perplexed by the number of sensations I experienced on the tongue, midpalate, backpalate, and finish. Again, this is a wine that is an excellent value and would be appreciated dearly by the new world wine lovers.

Lip Young

My only problem with Jason Fisher’s wines? I wanted more. Really, drinking these made me want a mixed case to drink over a couple of weeks so I could try several pairings and carefully note changes over time with air. But like many great things in life, a long night passed too quickly and left me with a nostalgic feeling and desire to find these wines again, and share them with friends. This, my friends, is a good thing.

The best news? Beyond letting you know that another little-known group of high-value wines deserves your attention and patronage, I get the honor of sharing with you the information on where you might access these bottles locally. In the metro NY area, you can find Hoopes, Hoopla, and Liparita wines in end-sale establishments like Astor Wines,  Colonial, Main Street Cellars, Premier Wine & Spirits, Ridge Fine Wines, Vinomania, and Wine Library, as well as fine dining establishments like the 21 Club and London Lenny’s.

At the beginning of this too-long post, I mentioned that my introduction to several great modern-day American winemakers have all been either coincidences or pure accident. One day when I’m telling people about sitting down and meeting Jason Fisher for a night of one-on-one wine discussion, I expect people will respond as if I told them I was hanging out with Baron Eric de Rothschild downtown on a quiet Tuesday night. For now and then, it’s just karma on a not-so-quiet-Tuesday-night. Evidently, it’s really good karma. Because Jason expressed that knows that quality matters more than price, more than image. If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing right. If it’s all about making good wine to start with, you’re going to end up with some really good options. And these options happen to be really wonderful in your glass.

à votre santé!

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