Tag Archives: Commentary

Murrieta’s Well Estate Vineyards Part 2: The Spur and Zarzuela

8 Jul
(If you missed part 1, you can find it here.)

The Spur 2014 by Murrieta’s Well, Livermore, CA. 13.5%, ABV, MSRP $30/bottle.

 

Color is a dark purple that is barely translucent, with violet edging. The nose is rich and robust with ripe blue fruit, spices, oak, scorched earth and a touch of lingering compost. Boysenberry, black plum, sour cherries, and damp green herbs cross and hold the front and side palates, while heat from the alcohol crosses the top and lands at the back along with notes of cedar, clay, forest floor, and saddle leather. The mouthfeel is powerful, youthful, and explosive, while the finish is long and slow in comparison: the lingering smoke from the cannon’s barrage, with final notes of dark blackberries and cassis suddenly in the very front of my mouth, making my tongue search with inquisitiveness and amusement, wondering “When did those arrive?”

An unusual, fun, unique red blend. Curious and expressive, this is an oral Cirque Du Soleil, a strange circus of unexpected feats and new delights in the mouth. Winemaker Robbie Meyer must have a great sense of humor. When he develops this wine, he takes gorgeous barrels of varietals he could sell so simply and easily, and makes a wild, distinctive blend that just screams to be paired with food for maximum enjoyment- and it delivers! The Spur was tremendous with asian spices from a stir-fry, and stood up to serious heat and kick from a powerful mexican salad and ghost pepper tamales! With red meat, you might want to call friends over first, or sit alone and cry, this wine pairing is so good. This type of winemaking reminds me of only one other person: David Phinney of Orin Swift, whose zin-heavy blends took the world by storm years ago. But Meyer makes a more robust and sometimes elegant bouquet of darker flavors, huge strokes of color crossing the palate and making your mouth wonder “just what is going on here?” What, indeed.

Brilliance.

 

Don’t take my word for it. Get yourself a bottle or six, before you see this in every Del Frisco’s and Ruth’s Chris steak house by the glass to encourage bottle sales. Because my friends, that day will be here soon.

You’re going to ask, and I almost forgot because the wine is that damn good:
The Spur’s blend is made up of 45% cabernet, 22% petite syrah, 14% petite verdot, 10% merlot, and 9% cabernet franc=holy smokes just give me more of The Spur. 207 barrels were made, which makes a little over 5,000 cases, all of it certified sustainable, like everything else from Murrieta’s Well. So you should be able to find just enough to tide you over until next year, if you order soon.

 

 

No, that isn’t all. It could be, I almost thought it would be. 

But I have one more bottle to tell you about. 

 

2015 Zarzuela by Murrieta’s Well, Livermore, CA. 14.1%, ABV, MSRP $60/bottle.

Color is dark maroon with purple edging, opaque at the center, converging to translucent near the sides. The elegant nose offers dark black and blue fruit, cedar and a hint of evergreen, with sandy clay. On the palate: blueberry, blackberry and black plum resolve into a luscious compote on the front of the tongue while the rest of the mouth sense a dark berry tart. The medium-long finish has secondary notes of cinnamon, mocha, and allspice, rounding up with more sandy loam, another bite of blueberry on the back palate, and a final hit of raspberry on the top palate, with my tongue aching for more. My glass is empty of the one-ounce tasting pour… when did that happen? My mind knows this wine is perfect for food pairing, but my mouth doesn’t want anything to do with that, just give me more of this intoxicating elixir.

My first pairing with asian cuisine had too many big flavors in the dish to match well yesterday, but today both medium and heavy cheeses are perfect companions, even the delicate comte is a great foil, so I move to dolce gorgonzola and have another great bite to match Zarzuela. So charcoal grilled meats and vegetables are going to be perfect with this wine, as is chocolate, which makes the mocha and red fruit notes incredibly prominent. This wine feels so elegant in the mouth, it’s definitely old-world-European, but the grapes feel more Spanish, so I look: 40% Tempranillo, 40% Touriga, 20% Souza. It’s classic Iberian Peninsula. So no wonder it’s named “Zarzuela”, the Spanish word for operetta, and was first created by one of the founders and the first winemaker at Murrieta’s Well, Sergio Traverse. My thanks, señor!  Made at Murrieta’s Well since 2003, Robbie Meyer is staying true to the original intent with gorgeous vintages since then, a club favorite, it seems.

 

This is the wine I’d choose to invite my buddy Robert over so we could catch up, cook a large steak and vegetables over the grill, share stories of work and family, and appreciate the beauty of life with food & drink while watching the sunset and know that life is wonderful.

 

 

Only 24 barrels were produced of the 2015 Zarzuela, which is aged 16 months in French oak. It exudes elegance, class, and old-world, European style. If you hadn’t found a reason to join their wine club before this, the Zarzuela is reason enough.

Just remember…when you celebrate these wines with your friends & family… save a sip for me. You know I’d pour you a glass. But I can’t because this bottle is already dry. Now how did THAT happen?

I’ll leave you with some Placido, singing Zarzuela. It is, after all, a perfect pairing with the wine. Cheers!

à votre santé!

 

Wine Fraud/WineRant: When Drinking What You Like Is Impossible

15 May

Usually, I like receiving money.  Today just isn’t one of those days.

Allow me to explain…

 

I’m looking at a cheque that sits in front of me, untouched on my table, and it makes me seethe. Yes, the mere existence of this piece of paper angers me. For if I deposit the check, it means I legally accept that a debt owed to me has been paid, albeit horridly underpaid. And this paltry cheque is nothing compared to what I purchased and the seller confirmed, then failed to deliver. I can not emotionally absolve the seller for not only failing to complete the transaction, but actually cheating me, because this was done with intent. And wine is more to me than a commodity. It represents so much: happiness, community, decadence, serenity, -and certain special wines mean even more. You know what I mean, if you’ve had one of those rare, gorgeous, transcendent wines, and you ache to find more. And eventually you find some, and you pay for it and believe that it’s yours, until it’s taken away.

Just looking at this cheque reminds me of an awful thing. It reminds me that I am a member of a horrid club, the group of more than 2,300 customers who purchased wines from Premiere Cru in California and didn’t receive their wines.

just kidding

I was smart in that my first purchase was for only two bottles, which I received in a timely manner. The second purchase, for six bottles, took longer to receive, but the wines were well-packed, exactly what I ordered, and were a delight to drink. It was more than a year later, at a time I was flush from completing a huge project when I was searching to order a few more bottles of a specific white burgundy that is very special to me, in essence my personal equivalent of crack cocaine- I saw the name on a list and all I could do was say “yes, please!”  I picked up the phone, confirmed they were available, gave my payment information, and waited. And waited. And the rest, as they say, is history.

 

This is not the first time I have lost on a deal in the wine world. Oh yes, I’ve failed before. I trusted sellers to hold up their end of business, and was shocked when they didn’t.    
-I went through a period in which I followed and participated in a number of wine auctions with (mostly) pleasant experiences, until I purchased a lot at auction in which _all_ the bottles had cooked. I specifically use the word “purchased” where the auction house would use “won”. I don’t say “won” because it is insulting, to say the least. Of a dozen successful auctions, this is the purchase that essentially killed auctions for me, and now makes my blood boil when I see an advertisement from this house. I can recall blogging about how much I was enjoying auctions five years ago…exactly six months before I opened my cooked bottles from auction.

The fact that the entire lot had cooked demonstrates improper storage, which is much harder to accept as a buyer than one corked bottle from a lot, when the auction is from a top house and the wines are touted as being “removed from professional storage”.

 

-I purchased a case of a gorgeous burgundy wine from a respected retailer at a great price and waited patiently for the wines to arrive. On the phone I was promised a few days to three weeks, max before I received the wine. Ultimately I waited a half a year for resolution, for the wines still had not arrived, teaching me the importance of the word: “pre-arrival” in advertising. As opposed to en primeur, aka purchasing wine futures (pre-bottling), this vendor said the wines would arrive within days, not weeks…and after call after call, I found out so much of the story it made me livid: “The shipping container was filled by another order, so your wine had to wait for the next one, which is scheduled in three weeks. Oh, that might be three months. The negociant bumped our order, but we’re next…” This charade went on and on. I had purchased the wines in early August, intending to drink them in September, since they’d be available “almost immediately”, I was told over the phone when ordering. By March, I was incensed. After writing a letter to the company and detailing the issues, I was finally offered a refund or an exchange. I accepted the exchange to a similar Burgundy, (a slightly lower quality at a higher price I had to ‘buy up’ for, of course) but I was furious because they had advertised something they could not accurately provide- and so I didn’t do business with this company for several years. After being personally invited to a complimentary tasting at their shop, however, I started buying from them again,  -but only wines that are in stock, in small quantities- with satisfaction.

 

What lessons have I learned? 

 

Build personal relationships with your vendors. You might be big or small in their eyes, but people will think twice about losing you and often work hard to help you and retain your business relationship if there is a personal connection.

Confirm you are purchasing wines that a vendor has in-stock.  Respect the word “pre-arrival” and know exactly what risk that entails (that you are paying for something the seller does not have either in inventory, or under their control).

-To take smaller risks with a vendor, buy in small amounts. This is simple, but can be hard to do sometimes.

-To take delivery in person when possible. This helps with each of the above lessons and practices.

If it looks too good to be true, it probably is. Premiere Cru was selling wines far below their competition…because it was a ponzi scheme.

If you buy at auction, be aware of everything that means. Read the fine print, and accept that you might be bidding on something you won’t or can’t drink.

 

The good news, dear reader, is that I learned, and have grown, from experience.

I stopped doing business with companies I could not trust, and I found vendors who are reputable and who work harder to maintain customer satisfaction. The more I learn about wines and the more winemakers I meet, the more “desert island” wines I find, and the more relationships I build both with winemakers and vendors. This constantly provides me far more quality wines to taste and enjoy- and more great, afforable wines to share with you! Where in the past I went crazy for a specific chateau and vintage, these days I am more a fan of winemakers and their philosophy. If I were to qualify that by comparing it with a food analogy, then instead of wanting to re-create a great meal, I want to go re-visit that chef and taste what they are doing currently. If I can manage to score another bottle of a great vintage, then that’s a lovely treat, but these days I’m so very happy when I can get a few bottles of recent releases  from a winemaker whose work I really enjoy.

Thanks for letting me share,

and maybe you’ll learn from my mistakes,

or share your own mistakes with me. 

Lastly…

I’d really like your opinion:

What should I do with that cheque?

 

à votre santé!

Kosher for Passover Wines, 2017

6 Apr

This year’s Kosher Food & Wine Experience had some tremendous offerings. For this segment, I focused on wines that I thought would be heartily appreciated by any who tasted them, as this holiday brings together extended family, friends, and strangers at our tables. Here are wines I can heartily suggest for Passover 2016 from the Kosher Food & Wine Experience:

The Kosher Food & Wine Experience, 2017. 

2012 Chateau de Valmer Vouvray Moelleux

Pale yellow in color, light nose of floral and fruit blend. Medium bodied white wine, rounded white stone fruit, quince and fig with a hint of almond; a mature, elegant, creamy and savory overall impression. This Loire Valley Vouvray is consistently a solid performer. I should point out the same winemaker makes a younger-vintage, demi-sec Vouvray that is also popular with non-wine drinkers, it’s more direct, less complex, just a hint of sweetness. Either is a solid choice! Around $22/bottle for the aged Moelleux, @ $13/bottle for the currant vintage demi-sec.

Baron Edmund de Rothschild Les Lauriers Rosé 2015

As a fan of Baron Rothschild’s traditional red wines, I’m raving about this rosé. Pale pink in color with a fruity nose, this non-mevushal rosé is incredibly dry on the palate, showing strawberry and cherry with balanced acidity and tannins. Well made, this is a perfect all-meal wine that sings for baked chicken but can handle the whole meal from bitter herbs to red meat to dessert! @ $19/bottle, 13.5%ABV.

 

Château Soutard, 2014

A grand Cru Classé red blend from Saint Emilion, consistently capturing 90+ points from the major reviewers, in the low $40 range. If you can find the 2015, I prefer it (more expressive and longer finish), but both vintages offer beautiful dark red fruit, black plum, plus dark forest, bramble, and leather notes. A full-bodied red, perfect for the Passover Seder and the traditional brisket or roast.

 

Château Giscours, Margaux  2014

You want elegance and luxury? You found it here: a Margaux that is Kosher for Passover, in the $40-$50 range.  Maroon in color with an exotic floral nose with eucalyptus and forest floor, the palate shows medium body of dark red berries, burnt caramel, notes of spice, earth, and stone. Excellent balance, finishes with solid tannins and leaves you wanting more. 13.5%ABV. Pour me another!

 

Grand Puy Ducasse Pauillac 2013

If you love Pauillac, this is your wine: a classic & historic Grand Cru Classé. Color is pale ruby into magenta. A full, expressive nose of black and red fruit with cut greens. On the palate, black plum and cassis are first on arrival, along with green pepper, clove and spice box in quick succession, followed by notes of saddle leather, gun oil, clay, and gravel. Ducasse’s blend is usually 60/40 Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot, this is consistent with previous experience. Known for tremendous aromatics and intense flavors, the balance is just off-center with more fruit and acidity than tannin at this young age. I promise, you won’t care, unless you purchase by the case and compare it to a vintage that is ten years old. With SRP in the low $70’s, I found this online in the low $30 per bottle with 13%ABV.

 

Château Fourcas-Dupré Listrac-Medoc 2012

Color is bright red with white edging. Delightfully bright cherries on the nose; on the palate this is a medium-bodied red blend.  Dark berries, cassis, black plum, bramble, with pepper and clove. This wine shows well for this young age. Body is rich and this tastes more expensive than its street price @ $28/bottle. 13%ABV. A tremendous value in a classic Bordeaux blend.

 

Château Leoville Poyferre Saint Julien,  2014

A classic St Julien, Léoville-Poyferre is a wine I love any time of year. I simply had no idea it was available in Kosher for Passover! Non-mevushal, it features a deep garnet color, and nose of eucalyptus & leather. On the palate: cassis, black fruit, dry, full bodied. So approachable at this young age, I promise, you will have no regrets. Predominantly cab with merlot in this blend, it is a glorious, full-bodied red with massive tannins and is a total pleasure to drink. Priced in the mid-$60/bottle but found online as low as $50 and worth every penny. 12.5%ABV

 

From Spain: Elvi Clos Mesorah 2014

What, a Spanish Kosher for Passover wine? Yes, and great one! This blend of 40% Carinena, 30% Garnacha, and 30% Syrah is a deep purple in color, with a nose of black plum and forest floor. On the palate, bright fruit is delightful: cherry, plum, and blackberry jam on the front palate while delightful acidity and tannin support excellent balance on this slightly chewy, very intense wine that made me want to buy a bottle immediately.  If you make lamb for Passover, this is the wine you want, found online in the high $60/bottle range.  13.5% ABV on this non-Mevushal wine. If you want to change things up, this might be the way to go- it’s a stunning wine that won’t disappoint.

 

After-dinner/Dessert Wine:
Rayne-Vigneau 2014 Sauternes

Deep yellow in color, the nose is full of sweet fruit, honey and wildflowers. On the palate, apricot, mandarin orange, and honey attack the tongue while racy acidity crosses the top palate. Zesty and alive, a lovely expression and a perfect dessert wine after you’ve enjoyed your four cups. @$25/bottle, 14%ABV.

 

Last but not least:

In 2016 I reviewed a bevy of tremendous wines by Israeli winemaker Lenny Recanati, all of which were Kosher for Passover. Recanati is a winemaker who blew my mind with blind tastings that can compare with some of the finest kosher wines I’ve listed here. Below are three links to three separate posts where I wrote and reviewed Recanti wines, which should be on your wine shopping list whether you are looking for wines in the $11 or $50 range. Recanati wines are simply stunning, and should not be missed, be it Passover or any day, his wines compare beautifully to old and new world wines from around the world. 

Recanati Worlds Collide Part 1:

Recanati Worlds Collide Part 2:

My Kosher for Passover wines of 2016:

à votre santé

Blair Fox Cellars 2011 Syrah

10 Mar

Blair Fox Cellars 2011 Syrah, Fox Family Vineyard, Santa Barbara County, CA. 14.6%ABV; $42/bottle.

Color is deep purple, while the nose offers lush, rich black fruit, pepper, clove, and a hint of smoke. On the palate, dark blackberry, cassis, and boysenberry fruit dominate the front palate, followed by oak, then notes of forest floor, spice, white truffle, clay, and marle: A mouthful of decadence.

 

I have been holding this wine in the cellar since 2014, and am almost sorry to have opened it without other oenophiles to share. This bottle is drinking perfectly now- a wine that three years ago received high marks is now showing ideal maturity. While still a touch hot, the powerful perfume and heady mouthfeel of this wine are luxurious, wanton impacts that smash your senses. Every sip is thoughtful, beautiful, and sensual.

 

I recall a #WBC14 dinner with a table of fellow bloggers, seated next to this North Carolinian (who is now my dear friend) Elizabeth Smith, aka The Traveling Wine Chick!  Blair was showing his beautiful syrah, amongst Santa Barbara pinot noir wines, and I recall that like wildfire, quickly but quietly around our table, it was suggested to “go get some of the vintage Blair Fox Syrah before it’s gone!” We each quickly shuttled over to get tiny pours to taste from the last few ounces of a ten year-old syrah from Blair Fox, and I was entirely impressed by that experience.

After getting home, I purchased a few bottles of Blair Fox. I enjoyed his work, but didn’t have the religious experience I’d had with the vintage syrah.

So here I am now, years later: I would love to try this wine with a decade of age, but no chance. It’s too good to wait any more, and it’s burning up my glass with sip after sip at the moment.

I didn’t intend to review this wine, I just wanted to enjoy something tonight, after a 16 hour work day mixing an incredible event. But I opened this bottle, I tasted this, and I had to share this delight with you, my friends.

You know the way we all respond to a delicious wine that just BEGS for you to imbibe. There won’t be much left, if more than a drop. But I will enjoy it in your honor. And we’ll leave the Mission Haut Brion and Margaux wines until the next time.

 

À votre santé!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Locations Wines: Comparing California And France

24 Jan

The scene: a midweek, extended family dinner in the suburbs of Manhattan.

I uncork and pour a wine for my brother-in law, and casually mention that this is a new selection by a winemaker I have followed for years, but have yet to try.

We let the wine breathe until dinner service starts. He tries a taste, and then another as his eyes widen.

He is having a “whoa” moment.

He swallows, takes a breath, then asks a barrage of questions: Who is the winemaker? Where is he from?  Where can he buy this bottle? How much does it cost? Are all this winemaker’s wines so good?

Almost immediately, he has become a fan.

My response to his “whoa” moment? “No real surprise there.”

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Locations Wines CA4 California Blend by Dave Phinney. 15.5% ABV, $20/bottle MSRP.

A blend of petite syrah, barbera, tempranillo, syrah, and grenache grapes from California’s Napa, Sonoma, Mendocino, and Sierra Foothills wine regions. Before visiting Lodi, I might have wondered at the varied grape selection, but not now. Thanks to my 2016 trip to Lodi and Napa, I now know that California has the myriad climates, soil, and geology to grow almost any grape to perfection. But I digress, how about my tasting notes?

Deep purple in color. Nose of black plum, cassis, rose bush, and young tobacco leaf. On the palate,  tremendous red fruit: raspberry, red plum, sour cherry. Secondary notes of green vegetation, forest floor, pepper and spice. The acidity and tannin are good matches for the  powerful flavors, and the heat spreads late across the top palate, leaving behind hints of cedar, granite, limestone, clay, sand and sodium. On the finish, the distinct flavor of mixed berry pie remains on the top palate as my mouth begs for the next sip.    

This California blend pairs beautifully with the red meat, potatoes and green salad we’ve prepared, but is also delightful to taste solo, or with raspberry-infused dark chocolate, or with goat cheese on fig and olive crisps. Best after a touch of air, the wine held up beautifully for four days until I could no longer control myself and finished the remainders.

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Back to my brother-in-law at dinner! Mid-meal, I am explaining Phinney’s work and his Locations, making wines in a region to represent that region well, at an affordable price. In a sense, these blends are obscure when compared to iconic wines from the same AVAs, but these present classic, beautiful, and delicious representations of their regions at a fraction of the price. His eye drifts across the room to a row of carefully ordered, yet-unopened bottles: my short-term tasting queue. Spying a similar label, he asks if we might open another bottle. “That one from France, if it’s by the same winemaker?

It makes me wonder if Dave Phinney like to fish. Because it’s one more winelover: hook, line, and sinker!

 

Locations Wines F4 French Red Wine Blend by Dave Phinney. 15% ABV, $18/bottle MSRP.

Ruby red in color with a gentle nose of green vegetation, red fruit, and a hint of lavender. On the palate, bright red fruit, nice acidity. Dried cranberry, strawberry, fresh raspberries, with the tannins as a soft underbelly. Southern France shines here, memories of Roussillon and Rhone flood back when the wine hits my tongue.

Because these wines are complex blends, it can be difficult to describe them well. But I’ll give it my best shot: Undeniably French, this wine demonstrates a sense of classic history, utilizing grapes both refined, yet comfortably rustic, much like a ’59 Renault Caravelle Cabriolet, whose soft lines and plush design is perfect for cruising in the Mediterranean sun. Compared to the bronzed and showy  Californian CA4 which offers sleek, sculpted perfection: think Steve McQueen as Bullitt in his ’68 GT Fastback.

Even tasting the wines back to back, I could not choose a favorite. Both were excellent pairing choices for the meal; both were excellent ambassadors to their home terroir. And both are utterly delicious.

My brother-in-law came to a simple conclusion. “A lot of the wines you serve are hard to find. But these… well, the wine blends might be obscure or hard to describe, but their labels are straightforward, simple, and easy to describe. So, I’ll just look for the label design, and buy them all.”

“No real surprise there.”

 

#MWWC30

à votre santé!

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Locations Wine Samples Provided by Balzac Communications.

 

Get #Franc’d Up with #CabFranc

12 Dec

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Here’s the thing:

I’ve liked cabernet franc for a long time. I’ve enjoyed it primarily as a blending grape, and secondarily as a single vineyard varietal, as a wine that I sometimes offer at Thanksgiving. But as a grape, it never bowled me over, that is, until #CabFrancDay.

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For #CabFrancDay, I tasted seven bottles of cab franc in great detail. I spent copious time with each one.

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Sometimes I came away with tremendous tasting notes. Sometimes I just wanted to sit and enjoy the flavor and fragrance of the wine, much like the title character in Munro Leaf’s book, “Ferdinand the Bull”.

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Some things dawned on me while I sat and smelled cabernet franc, taking tiny sips and noting flavors.

 

And what I found out about cabernet franc wasn’t earth shattering knowledge. But it was incredibly valuable and made me think about how I pair wines and food.

The cabernet franc grape is the thin-skinned father to the bold, bodacious, massively-flavored cabernet sauvignon grape. In comparison, Cab franc is restrained, genteel, even moderate. While it features flavors of dark berries, cassis, bell peppers, leather, forest floor and licorice, these flavors are subtle and mild, and the wine’s acidity and tannins are equally muted. These are what helps make cab franc an excellent blending grape. On the other side of the equation, for a winemaker who develops the grape with intent of making a great single varietal bottle of cab franc, sometimes they are able to create a wine that has class, maturity, and depth in only three or four years, with characteristics that I often wait a decade for in Old World wines.

I want to share my tasting notes from #CabFrancDay. And I still might, but it’s more important to me to peak your interest and whet your appetite on the GRAPE. It’s a bit of a challenge to find a great cab franc, but it is also highly worthwhile.

So today, no tasting notes. Instead, I’m going to tell you what I FELT about these wines.

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I felt that these wines showed beautiful expression: they were delicate, reserved, graceful. In general, I found that the East coast cabernet francs were more subtle with slightly higher acidity. The Oregon and California Cabernet Francs were more expressive, more powerful, still reserved but passionate. While I really enjoyed the expression of the East coast cab francs,  the West Coast Cabernet Francs haunted me. I dreamed about them. I talked about them constantly. I searched my social media feeds to see if there were associated experiencing the same thing.
There were. There are.

Some of my friends preferred the East Coast wines. But we all were impressed, if not blown away. Some, however, had powerful experiences like myself.

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There is a new movement afoot. To get #FrancdUp does NOT mean to get drunk, but instead, to hedonistically enjoy a beautifully made #CabernetFranc. 

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Find your #Franc. Get Franc’dUp. Trust me. And feel free to tell me about it.

You can thank me later!

 

à votre santé!

2015 Nativo by Markus Wine Co, Lodi CA

22 Oct

2015 Nativo Lodi White Wine, Markus Wine Company, Borra Vineyards. Lodi California. 13.2% ABV. MSRP$18.99/bottle.

 

Pale straw in color; featuring a delicate nose with hints of lychee, gardenia and honeysuckle. On the palate, restrained white peach, lemon-lime zest, starfruit and gorgeous acidity with rigid chalk and stone on the finish. Such a subtle balance of flavors and responses without any of the oppressive heat I’ve found in great kerner wines from Europe, Markus Niggli’s white wine blend will smack you over the head with beauty, convince your mouth it is enjoying a brilliant expression of a $50+ Austrian wine, and make you open your wallet to order a case of this to enjoy whenever you simply want a really well made wine that goes with almost anything. I like this wine even more now that I first did when tasting in the vineyard in Lodi, both times I approached with low expectations and had an eye-opening experience. You will, too. Thank me later- I’m finishing this glass first. Fermented in stainless steel, using only native yeast and no malolactic fermentation, it is a blend of 52% Kerner, 29% Riesling, 15% Bacchus, 4% Gewürztraminer all grown in Lodi’s Mokelumne Glen Vineyards.

 

 

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nativo-back

 

 

à votre santé!

 

 

Book Review: “A Perfect Score” by Craig & Kathryn Hall

18 Sep

A PERFECT SCORE: The Art, Soul, and Business of a 21st Century Winery by Craig and Kathryn Hall. 224 pages w/16 page photo insert. Published Sept 13, 2016 by Center Street Books. Hardcover MSRP $26, ISBN 978-1-4555-3576-7; eBook $13.99, ISBN 978-1-4555-3678-1. http://www.HachetteBookGroup.com

I usually fall madly in love with a bottle of wine before I want to find out about the winery owner, winemaker, and vineyards. But sometimes a great story will propel you to take a look from another perspective.

This was my case in agreeing to review “A Perfect Score: The Art, Soul, and Business of a 21st Century Winery”. I did not know Hall or Walt wines, and I had a blank slate (or palate) to experience this story.

Whether or not  you are a fan of the Hall Wines and Walt Wines brands respectively is immaterial to this text. I found myself carried away on a journey of two adults (and a few co-conspirators and day players) with a mutual passion for wine and life. A Perfect Score looks back and traces the twenty years of the authors’ journey together, starting with their separate, successful, adult business lives in Dallas and their meeting in 1991.

Girl meets boy and introduces him to the beauty of California, and along the way we observe Kathryn’s career as a U.S. Ambassador to Austria to their first joint venture in wine making, to their more recent and current lives owning and overseeing two wineries with multiple vineyards in the Napa Valley. Many trials and tribulations are involved, from losing two entire seasons of their winemaking to a warehouse fire, to the fiscal damage of 2008’s recession. Today, both wineries are successful and highly praised in RP wine scores, and the culmination of the book resounds in accomplishing a lifelong goal and career-making 100 point award for Hall’s2010  Exzellenz Cabernet Sauvignon.

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As I enjoyed this book over several weeks and an accompaniment of wine (while reading, you also will stop mid-chapter to pour a glass. It’s inevitable!) I found this “Dynasty-meets Bottle Shock” story great fun. Would I expect that a re-telling of business challenges, personal struggles, and the conundrums of operations and tough decisions in farming and winemaking to be a compelling story? It is. The stories move along with flashforwards and flashbacks, delving into specific of winemaking and their business evolution, finally giving way to a relatively quick finish of the “holy smokes, all this hard work paid off” ending with their perfect Robert Parker wine score.

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Craig Hall and Kathryn Hall

As with daily life and storytelling, you will sometimes find a bump or two in the road. The prologue is insightful and endearing but fails to re-connect back with the reader later in the story, while the first chapter suffers from rapidly shifting perspective. The lengthy third-person narratives are interspersed with first person accounts by Craig and Kathryn, sometimes switching again over to a third person point of view or even to a “joint” but ambiguous couple’s perspective. These inconsistencies, however, are a small price to pay for sections of the book I enjoyed the most: the struggles the authors face in their personal lives and winemaking. The first-person accounts of the challenges they surmounted down to the tiniest details, and the real effort that goes into farming, tending, harvesting, pressing, and the intricate choices made in the winemaking, operational, branding, and distribution processes kept my interest piqued.

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The Hall Wine Cellar

From the title, the reader already knows that A Perfect Score finishes up with a win, but the struggles in the story are both dramatic and real. As I mentioned at the start of this review, I usually fall madly in love with a bottle of wine before I want to find out about the winery owner, winemaker, and vineyards. But my favorite chapters, as an oenophile, are the exacting details of winemaking, harvest fears, the 7am barrel notes sessions, the dedication spent on the Sacrashe vineyards, and their expansion into pinot noir. I love the stories about re-designing their facilities and incorporating LEED certification, and their passion for art and beauty: building a gorgeous barrel cave, designing architecture and art for the Napa public to enjoy. Devouring this book made me want to visit Hall Wines, to see their vineyards and the Hall art collection, and taste their fruit and wine. It made for a lovely read, and a great trek to the property’s St Helena vineyard off Highway 29 in the Napa Valley. While the photos above came from Hall with approval, the photos below are my own from my visit to their Napa property & tasting room.

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Carefully tended vines in the St. Helena Vineyard

 

Bunny Foo Foo Sculpture, St. Helena Vineyard, Napa

img_2590Tasting ripe fruit from the St. Helena Vineyard


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Beautiful fruit, almost ready for harvest!

 

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Perfect pairing: a Napa Cab and A Perfect Score! 

 

I expect A Perfect Score will inspire wine lovers, vintners, and those who dream of opening their own wineries for decades to come, in tasting their wines and visiting Napa Valley, to falling in love with a piece of land and tending young vines in hopes and dreams of another great accomplishment.

 

à vôtre santé!

 

 

Q&A with Followers, Sept 2016: Spain, Lodi, Lodi, & BottleShock!

8 Sep

With the Labor Day holiday, it was a very busy week on social media. Here are a couple of recent interactions from three different followers who were kind enough to let me share our conversations on this forum for JvBUnCorked: 

Q: I’m on a serious wine budget. What wines should I be buying, under $15, max $20 for a bottle?

A: That really depends on what you like to drink! You can find great value wines from all over the world- but if you aren’t drinking wines from Spain, you’re missing out on great values of delicious wines. You should be drinking Cava, Spain’s sparkling wine, and checking out wines from the regions of Rioja, Priorat, Rias Baixas, Ribera del Duero- those are just off the top of my head- and there are many more! With a couple of clicks, I quickly hit Wine.com and found 125 wines from their 90+ rated Spanish wines under $20. Many are in the $8-15 range, and I bet your local wine store carries some of them.

Pere Mata Cava

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Q: What wines are you excited about right now?

A: I just got back from the 2016 Wine Blogger’s Conference in Lodi, CA where I was blown away by the viticulture and winemaking in that region. Get on the internet, go to Lodi Wine.com,  and check out the wineries- all the resources you need (including buying) will be at your fingertips. And for the person who asked Q#1 (above), there are some real steals in the $8-$18 range in Lodi wines!

Ok…Long Story Short: I tasted over one hundred wines at the conference and was really impressed- it’s NOT just zinfandel being grown in Lodi. They have ever 100 grape varietals being grown in Lodi, and the wines being made are simply STUNNING. Just to name a few winemakers, I was really impressed by the wines of Acquiesce Winery (all Rhône varietals), Bokisch Vineyards (Spanish Varietals), Fields Family Wines, Harney Lane Winery, Markus Wine Co (German varietals), McCay Cellars, Michael David Winery, and so many more! I hope you are finding these wines locally in your wine market, because you should be enjoying them! You can get them easily online, but ask your local wine store for them, too!

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Spend five minutes on Lodigrowers.com  and you’ll gain sincere appreciation for the AVA’s own self-imposed set of laws for sustainable certification- and you can be even more impressed when you put two and two together, of the amazing flavors and quality of the wines grown and made with sustainable, certified green winegrowing. It’s arduous and endearing work that is conscious of the local environment, the earth and atmosphere, and our children. And the resulting fruit of this hard labor tastes delicious and should be in your glass. Check out my “speed tasting” notes here (white & rosé wines) and here (red wines).

 

Q: What are you drinking these days?

A: I’m fortunate to have been able to have guests over for wine and food several times lately. I taste more than I drink, so I have a slew of assorted open bottles right now. So last week, for example, we tasted wines from France, Italy, Germany, Spain, New Zealand, and from the USA, wines from Napa, Sonoma, and Santa Barbara. I have received a shipment from Lodi that I’m very excited about opening from Markus Wine Company and Borra Vineyards, whose wines are sourced from Mokelumne Glen in Lodi- I tasted tremendous fruit in these vineyards, and Markus (below in the blue shirt) makes delicious wines.

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I had to check them out before putting them in the wine cooler, right? 

 

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Last weekend with the neighbors. Tasty! 

(Follow-Up Q): Why do you say “you’re excited about opening” the wine? Why aren’t you drinking it already?

A: Bottle shock. (Yes, like the movie with Alan Rickman, but I refer to the phenomenon, NOT the film.) Wine is a living, breathing, evolving mixture that sometimes undergoes a phenomenon called wine sickness, aka “bottle shock” when it ships. (More details in this .pdf from the North Texas Winemaker’s Organization.)

Much like the way we humans might need time to catch up and get acclimated to a new environment from travel or jet lag. Likewise, wine needs time in a dark, cold place to rest after a trip to show its proper (hopefully best possible) flavor profile and nuances. Not all wines are affected, and those that are may be affected in different ways, but past experiences have proven this and made me a firm believer. So I make sure to give wine that travels the time it may need to recuperate and be the best it can be. I store wines either in my climate-controlled cellar or in a wine cooler and allow them to rest before jumping in with the corkscrew- sometimes as long as a few months, but an absolute minimum of a couple of weeks in extreme circumstances. I always a have a queue of wines I’m tasting and reviewing, so it works out pretty well. So look for those reviews on JvBUnCorked, they’ll be coming soon.

And since I mentioned the film Bottle Shock, I have to include the trailer. Alan Rickman was tremendous in this and I was lucky to meet him. Sigh… Anyway, Enjoy, and please expand your palate- make sure you try something new when you’re looking for a bottle of wine tonight!

Did you like this post? Do you want to talk wine with JvB?

Contact me at JvBUncorked@gmail.com, or @jvbuncorked on Twitter!

à votre santé!

#WBC16 Lodi Live Wine Blogging: Red, Red Wines!

20 Aug

Q: NOW, What do you know about Lodi wine?
A1: Holy smokes, EXPECT THE UNEXPECTED!
A2: It’s NOT all about Zinfandel! (But there is some amazing Zin here!)

Day 2 of #WBC16. Day 1 was so much fun! When we finished Live (White & Rose) Wine Blogging on Thursday, our table concurred: “Let’s sit together again tomorrow!”
Well, when I arrived, not a single soul from Table 11 was back at Table 11. But over a little ways I saw friends waving wildly, holding a seat for me at Table 17! All the gingers in the entire conference sat at ONE table together. (I can say ginger, because I am one. You can’t, unless you are too. Really. Don’t believe me? Ask Tim Minchin- video at the bottom of this post.) Not that everyone else at the table wasn’t absolutely fabulous- they WERE! They ARE! I adore you all! Especially Loie, Anatoli, Jennifer, Jeff, Kirsten, and Bri-  But gingers have a special power… sometimes used for good, sometimes for… evil. Because… well… GINGERS!

So… here’s my side of the table: IMG_0037

That’s me (left), with Michelle (Rockin’ Red Blog), Cathrine (DameWine) and Lori (Dracaena Wines).

With this much red & ginger power, what chance do those ten red wines have?

Here we go, my RED wine speed tasting notes!

 

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The Federalist Lodi Zin 2014 Lovely blend, (a hint of Syrah) nice cinnamon spice, tannins and body. Very well priced at $17.76 street!

 

 

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Windburn’s 2013 Pinot Noir Sta Rita Hills Ken Brown, winemaker. Red and Blackberry with nice mineralogy, smooth memories of Burgundy! 

IMG_0040Corner 103’s 2013 Zinfandel: A beautifully feminine Zin, great fruit, manageable acid, tannin & spice. Nice!  

 

 

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Brie Vineyards’ 2012 Old Vine Zin Terrific spice and fruit with chewy mid-palate & great, smooth, sensuous finish. 

 

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2012 Henry’s Blend, a Bordeaux-styled blend, aged in neutral oak. A serious wine that gives France something to worry about!

 

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Peirano Winery’s 2013 Old Vine Zin “The Immortal Zin” Red currants & cherry. Supple without the huge spice some Zins offer. Delicate and pretty, long lasting. Tertiary notes of clay, sand, a smidge of oak,  and… eerily vampiric. Yeah, I went there. Will you offer your throat to the wolf with the red roses? You know you want to!  

 

 

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2013  Farrah Syrah- Floral nose. Deep purple w/supple fruit. Spicy anise, some forest floor & lovely mouthfeel. Oh, nice minerality on the long finish-$20

 

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Abundance Wine’s 2013 Lodi Carignane. A great example of dichotomy:  Strawberry fruit that presents in a soft and feminine but rich, savory mouthfeel. Damn. Tasting both the cut and the rose, like the goddess Athena just kicked your ass but you loved it!  

 

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2014 OVZ Zin Big, perfumed, jammy fruit. This wine is #1 in CA Zin sales  at the low price of $11/bottle. Rich, bright, just right! Get some- 

and last, but not least:

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Harney Lane’s 2013 Lizzy James Old Vine Zin Dark cherries, lush flavor w/ rich, supple beauty. Magnificent!

Check out the historic, gnarled trunks and vines that demand hand harvesting, the killer fruit, the loamy sand terroir.

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Ok. I’m not done talking about Harney Lane’s Lizzy James Vineyard Zinfandel. I know Twitter capped my tweet, but that won’t stop me here. This wine is so good, it’s frightening. But I’m not really a fan of Zin. Here’s the deal: I won’t drink a decent zinfandel -there are so many great other choices than any ‘meh’ wine- But I love to drink a terrific zinfandel, and this one is mesmerizing. I’ve had amazing wines from Lodi before- Michael David’s Earthquake comes to mind first, but this wine rocked my world again and again, and I kept going back to it at the end of each day to ask “Was (Lizzie James) really among the best wines I tasted all day?” And the answer was always Yes. This wine is beyond special. Lizzy James is EPIC. Don’t know the flavor of Bramble? Wanted a wine that reminds you of fruit cobbler on the finish? Want something to have your entire dinner table ask you WHAT IS THIS DELICIOUS WINE? Seriously: pick this up, savor it for three days, and you can email me a thank you later. <Mic Drop>

Now, about these tasting notes…you might think I moved these wines around in order, but the order I shared them is actually the order they were presented to our table. While the Lizzy James Zinfandel was the last in our red wine speed tasting, I actually tasted this wine on four separate days at WBC16. It was one of several shining stars of the trip, but not the only great wine from this winery, nor the only great zinfandel from Lodi. But most importantly, over the course of the trip, this wine came to represent all of Lodi for me. Because until you spend some time in Lodi with their wines and winemakers, you might write them off as “zin producers”, just like if you don’t really know wine, you might think that Santa Barbara is “just a pinot producer”, or Napa is “just a cabernet” producer. No, no, no! They are SO much more!

Lodi is a unique AVA in the USA, with mediterranean weather and wind patterns, about 60 miles from the Pacific ocean and with sand-rich, desert soil. The winemakers are as unique as the AVAs, and their passion to grow brilliant and tasty fruit results in stunning wines: Spanish grape clones, Rhône grape clones, French grape clones,  German grape clones, Austrian grape clones! You name it, they are growing it in Lodi.

With as many grapes as they are growing, (over 100 varietals) I tasted many, so very many wines that showed intense flavor, terrific winemaking and amazing quality. Because it all starts with tremendous fruit, and intense passion to make the best wine you can make from the finest fruit you can grow.

And they are doing it here, every day, all over Lodi. So get on it, or miss out and feel like a fool.

à votre santé!

Oh, you thought I forgot about calling me ginger, didn’t you? Well I didn’t.

Check out Tim Minchin’s ode to the word ginger in his opus, “Prejudice”. Enjoy!

 

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