30 May 2014

Charles Krug Wine Tasting

Charles Krug is the oldest winery in Napa, dating back to 1861 when a Prussian immigrant got into the wine business. It didn't really achieve greatness until after Prohibition when Cesare Mondavi purchased the company, and the rest is history. Earlier this week I got to join an online tasting of these four wines with Peter Mondavi, Jr.

2013 Charles Krug Limited Release Estate Sauvignon Blanc
Napa Valley
100% Sauvignon Blanc
$35, 13.6% abv.

The lone white wine of the tasting has remarkable funky tones, and I say that as a good thing. Grass, gooseberry, a little earth and a powerful body make this a really fascinating Sauvignon Blanc. Keep this one around for that savory duck in mole sauce dish that you've always been wanting to try.

2011 Charles Krug Napa Valley Merlot
Napa Valley
84% Merlot, 8% Cabernet Sauvignon, 4% Petite Sirah, 3% Malbec, 1% Petit Verdot
$25, 14% abv.

Smooth cherry aromas and flavors with a hint of coffee on the edge. Mild, round body with a gentle finish. Excellent Old World balance at work here.

2011 Charles Krug Family Reserve Generations
Napa Valley
87% Cabernet Sauvignon, 6% Petit Verdot, 4% Malbec, 3% Merlot
$50, 13.9% abv.

My favorite of the tasting, this bottle showed complex aromas of plum and stewed fruit but with low tannins and a delicate mouthfeel. Well-aged at this point but with great potential over the next few years. Highly recommended, and serve with rare lamb.

2011 Charles Krug Family Reserve Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon
Napa Valley
95% Cabernet Sauvignon, 3% Petit Verdot, 2% Malbec
$75, 13.7% abv.

The most Bordeaux-like of the the three Bordeaux-style blends, this Cab Sav showed up early with hints of pyrazine, tobacco, leather, and cassis. Firmer tannins than the Generations, and one that benefits from longer breathing now and longer aging in the future. But otherwise a phenomenal steak wine, and a great choice for those that want a stronger red on the table.

Note: These wines were provided as samples for review.

28 May 2014

Four Vines Wines

Four Vines Winery celebrates California Zinfandel with an array of rebellious wine names like Maverick and Biker, though they've added a "naked" Chardonnay. As is typically the case, they're not making 100% pure Zinfandel, but rather using creative blends that may surprise you. In the hands of a talented winemaker, adding that 5% Petite Sirah or 8% Tempranillo or some other grape might be just the right thing that brings balance to the strong, sunbaked California Zinfandel grapes.

2012 Four Vines Naked Unoaked Chardonnay
Santa Barbara County
100% Chardonnay
$11, 13.9% abv.

Big ripe peach flavors, firm acidity, big mouthfeel. Another affordable unoaked Chardonnay that I would recommend for a nice weekend lunch here in this mild spring we're having.

2011 Four Vines Truant Old Vine Zinfandel
90% Zinfandel, 7% Barbera, 3% Other Red Grapes
$11, 14.4% abv.

Deep black cherry and blueberry. Medium tannins and a tart acidity with a long finish. The notes mention that some of the fruit was sourced from Lodi, which means that I may have walked through the gnarled old vines that contributed to this particular bottling.

Note: These wines were provided as samples for review.

26 May 2014

2012 Josh Cellars Legacy

Winemaker Joseph Carr named Josh Cellars in honor of his father, an Army veteran and volunteer firefighter in upstate New York, and with that came a desire to celebrate and support heroes both military and civilian. I reviewed their Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay back in October.

The winery continues to be an official sponsor of the Gary Sinise Foundation, a charitable organization founded by the Forrest Gump and CSI: NY actor that provides support for wounded veterans, first responders, and their families. Sinise has a Memorial Day post up today on his foundation's website, and he tours military bases around the world performing benefit concerts with The Lt. Dan Band in support of US military personnel.

This weekend, while the barbecue grill smokes and I hear neighbors laughing, it's worth taking a moment to remember why we're celebrating this holiday, and to honor those who have fallen in service to the United States.

2012 Josh Cellars Legacy Red Wine
Proprietary blend of Merlot, Zinfandel, Syrah, and Petite Sirah
$15, 13.9% abv.

The wine is dark and jammy with lots of black plum and black cherry. Round fruit flavors with mild tannins and a long finish. It's a young and bold wine, and one that benefits heavily from a good bit of breathing. I enjoyed it not with a complex Caribbean-Indonesian fusion dish, but rather with a simple cheeseburger grilled with onions. And for a Sunday lunch, it was a perfect pairing.

Note: This wine was provided as a sample for review.

23 May 2014

2012 Toad Hollow Unoaked Chardonnay "Francine's Selection"

It's always fun to taste another wine from Toad Hollow Vineyards. The names and labels are whimsical, but underneath the corks lie serious wines. The winery was founded in 1993 by Todd Williams and Rod Strong, and their first product was an unoaked Chardonnay. This bottling represents their 20th anniversary, and with a wink to the concept that "no trees were harmed in the production of this wine", the company is making a donation to the Arbor Day Foundation in the form of one tree planted for every case that is sold. Lots of people talk about saving trees by not printing out e-mails or using old envelopes to take notes, but now you can also join in by drinking unoaked Chardonnay.

I'm not against oak in Chardonnay, and indeed it is integral to proper aging of some of the best white wines in the world. But there are also other occasions where you don't need such a huge presence on the table, but rather want something lighter and easier drinking to match with more delicate food or dinner companions who have been burned on rough wines in the past. This particular grape can be expressed so many ways, in so many different places, that I cringe whenever someone tells me that they hate Chardonnay. You don't hate all Chardonnay, just that one that left a bad taste in your mouth. I've seen more than one person be surprised at a blind tasting with a good unoaked Chard.

2012 Toad Hollow Unoaked Chardonnay "Francine's Selection"
Mendocino County
100% Chardonnay
$15, 13.9% abv.

The wine starts off with light apricot and peach aromas. Great ripe white fruit flavors and a big round body. On the palate it has low acidity and a brief finish, making it perfect for enjoying with that spring salad incorporating fresh fruit, grilled chicken, and nuts.

Note: This wine was provided as a sample for review.

21 May 2014

2011 Kris Heart Rosso

Kris Wine is an Italian winery based in Alto Adige, the northern region that borders Austria and Switzerland. As I've written before, the area is heavily influenced by Germanic culture and language, and thus is often associated with the kind of lighter white wines you'll find in those countries, as well as similar border regions like Alsace.

While this wine was made in Alto Adige, the grapes were sourced from throughout the entire length of the country, and the varieties involved are not what you normally think of when you're thinking about when you're looking at the Dolomite Mountains.

The distinctive labels were created by the polymath Riccardo Schweizer (1925–2004, painter, sculptor, designer, architect, etc.), who studied under Pablo Picasso and Joan Miró. Sometimes a wine label is just a one off design that came out of a cubicle somewhere (like when I worked in graphic design), and other times there is a deeper story there. It's amazing how much great art we pass by every day without stopping to take a look and appreciate it.

2011 Kris Heart Rosso
60% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Montepulciano
$14, 13.5% abv.

I would suggest letting this one breathe a little bit to soften before serving. It starts out with tart raspberry and cherry aromas, firm tannins, and a long cherry skin finish. However, with a little air and time, it balances out and serves as a great casual, mid-week, pizza and burger kind of wine. I had it with a plate of St. Louis-style toasted ravioli and marinara sauce, a childhood favorite that I still revisit once in a while.

Note: This wine was provided as a sample for review.

19 May 2014

Votre Santé Wines from Coppola

A lot of the wines from Coppola have some connection to family, whether the bottle is named after a relative or there's a story going back generations. The Votre Santé marque is named in honor of his French grandmother who would toast in her native tongue at every meal.

In the spirit of family, I brought these wines (along with many others) to the baby shower for The Former Roommate. She was there with her husband and her mother, but my parents hosted, my brother and sister-in-law were there, Julia, Sally and Terry, Grace, and my cousin and her husband. This was the Memphis baby shower, occurring after her own family shower in her small West Tennessee town, but having lived with her for fifteen years, she's family as far as we're all concerned, and I'm looking forward to being an honorary uncle soon.

Here I take a look at the Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, and you can also read about the red blend in a previous post.

2011 Votre Santé Chardonnay
100% Chardonnay
$14, 13.5% abv.

Creamy and oaky with some of that classic California buttered popcorn aroma. Good acidity with a full mouthfeel. I haven't had a wine in this style in a while, and it was fun to enjoy with appetizers while catching up with friends and family.

2011 Votre Santé Pinot Noir
100% Pinot Noir
$14, 13.5% abv.

Bright and tart with a dominant aroma of strawberries. Just a little touch of brambles underneath it all, though certainly a bold New World Pinot Noir. Excellent with the smoked chicken wings that Dad was pulling off of his Big Green Egg smoker.

Note: These wines were provided as samples for review.

16 May 2014

Lodi Rules

Out in California, you'll see a lot of wine certifications outside of the USDA Organic or Demeter Biodynamic system. While in Lodi, many of the wines we tried (but not all) carried the symbol of The Lodi Rules for Sustainable Winegrowing. We had a bit of fun with the term in the spirit of "San Dimas High School Football Rules!" as can be seen in the above photo that I put together while walking past the Kirschenmann Vineyard operated by Turley. The term was also used in an affectionate way as referring to the casual, fun spirit of Lodi. But there is a great concept behind the certification.

The Rules are fairly simple but are followed faithfully with auditing by a third party organization. Why not go with the official organic or biodynamic certification? Well, that's not always what is best for the land, and the growers in Lodi are attempting to conserve the land in the smartest way possible for the next generation and beyond. Bear in mind most of these folks are working the same patch of land that their families have been farming for five or six generations, and there is a strong desire to keep it going.

An example that was commonly offered was how to deal with leaf mites. You can use traditional pesticides and kill off everything except for the vines. Or you can go for the organic alternative, but that also kills off everything--the good and the bad bugs in your little farm ecosystem, and after the spray washes off, you're headed back out there several times before harvest. However, there's a modern chemical alternative that just kills the leaf mites and doesn't bother the ladybugs who kill the aphids, the birds that eat the gophers, or anything else that lets nature take its course while still having productive agriculture. Even better, you only have to spray once, so not only does it save time, but you end up having a more natural life cycle for the vines.

We got to see this kind of agriculture in operation out in the fields of Mohr-Fry Ranches, where grapes are grown for St. Amant Winery among others. In the foreground you can see an owl box, a small birdhouse that Lodi Rules growers build to encourage the habitat for small owls. But in the background is a gigantic palm tree that has been home to generations of gigantic hawks who take care of the rabbits and other small prey that come out in the daytime. By encouraging an environment that is welcoming to natural predators while at the same time making judicious use of modern technology, they are able to supply many well-known wineries as well as producing a line of heirloom beans that is gaining in popularity.

I was a little disappointed that we didn't get to spend more time talking about heirloom beans (seriously, I rarely meet someone who appreciates a good Christmas Lima much less grows them), but Mohr-Fry also grows cherries and other fruits on their beautiful family property that goes back over 150 years.

I'll also note that Lodi Rules is not an entirely either-or proposition. We saw many vineyards where one patch was conventional, another patch was certified Lodi Rules, and a third patch was certified organic, depending on what the various customers wanted from the growers. All got equal attention, but presented their own challenges and rewards. Still, I think that such local sustainable certifications are a great option for farmers who want to work their land in the way that works best for their particular patch of the earth as well as what will ensure fertile ground for decades to come.

Note: This trip was sponsored by Lodi Wine and Snooth.

14 May 2014

2013 Elena Walch 20/26 Rosé

After a recent review of the Elena Walch Gewürztraminer made in Italy, I was contacted by a publicist and offered the chance to try anything from the product lineup. Whenever I'm presented with this opportunity, I don't head for the most expensive or prestigious option, but rather the one that I find the most interesting.

People often ask me what I like in a wine, and I generally say that I'd love to try something I've never had before. I'm always far more excited to try a grape or region that is new to me versus going back to the same bottle over and over again. There is nothing wrong with finding your sweet spot and sticking to it, but I've got a curious palate that is constantly wanting to experience new things.

I'm a long time fan of dry-rosé, and I couldn't pass up the chance to try something made from Lagrein, Pinot Nero, and Merlot. Except for the Pinot, you don't see these grapes often in the pink format, and it's also unusual to see these grapes combined anywhere in the world.

2013 Elena Walch 20/26 Rosé
IGT Vigneti delle Dolomiti
33% Lagrein, 33% Pinot Nero, 33% Merlot
$18, 13% abv.

Bright red berry flavors but with a round mouthfeel. Gentle raspberry aromas with a light and refreshing finish. Perfect spring rosé. Serve this one cold and preferably with a nice picnic lunch of cold fried chicken, fresh slices of watermelon, and cubes of feta cheese. If it weren't raining outside right now I'd be tempted to put a blanket out in the backyard and have this meal myself.

Note: This wine was provided as a sample for review.

12 May 2014

Acquiesce Winery & Vineyards

In honor of Mother's Day, how about a look at a winemaker who is also a mom? During my recent trip to Lodi, we had a stop almost in the exact middle of the week at Acquiesce Winery & Vineyards.

I got some messages from friends and colleagues while I was out there along the lines of, "Hope you can make it through all that old vine Zinfandel." Lodi is certainly famous for those old vines, deep reds, and of course the powerhouse standard grapes that go into California table wines bottled elsewhere. But there is a lot more to the story of this region, and Acquiesce is a great example. Susan Tipton had a transformative experience with a white Châteauneuf-du-Pape over a decade ago and was determined to make great Rhône-style white wines in Lodi. On top of that, she's continuing to swap out patches of Zinfandel and other grapes that are currently making money in order to graft on more white vines that won't show a profit for years to come. It's a story that I heard over and over again in the region, and one that speaks to the passion that these folks have about making quality wine.

We tried five wines with Tipton, and she presented little appetizers to go along with each one. My favorite was the Dubliner cheese topped with jasmine confit, perhaps the fanciest jelly you'll ever consume. All were served on their own individual amuse-bouche bowls or spoons, and the craftiness and attention to style can be seen throughout the tasting room with wind chimes made from wine bottles and homemade candle holders. (Speaking of the bottles, the unique shape is imported from France. That style is perhaps best known for the Sofia Coppola wines, but that glass comes from China these days.)

These wines can be purchased through the winery website.

2013 Acquiesce Picpoul Blanc

There are only about 10 acres of Picpoul Blanc planted in the United States, and Tipton farms 100 vines of them. It's a fascinating grape with hints of lime curd and floral notes. A light, delicate body with a crisp and quick finish. The current vintage is, unfortunately, sold out, but keep an eye out for this one in the future.

2013 Acquiesce Grenache Blanc

A little firmer body with hints of musk and honeysuckle accompanied by a tart acidity. Excellent with the goat cheese and Meyer lemon zest, and a great roast chicken wine.

2013 Acquiesce Belle Blanc

A combination of Grenache Blanc, Roussanne, and Viognier. Outstanding in the balance of the various elements. The nose is floral and herbal while the acidity is just perfect. It is bright and delightful and manages to capture summer in a glass. Highly recommended.

2013 Acquiesce Viognier

I love a good Viognier, and this one did not disappoint. Aromas of grass and lemon, with a tart and refreshing flavor. I've always thought that this grape is a nice introduction to the earthier elements in white grapes before getting down into the funky, barnyard characteristics. Would be delicious with a cold pasta salad.

2013 Acquiesce Grenache Rosé

The one non-white offering at Acquiesce is still true to the style of Southern France, and we had some amazing dry rosés while we were out there. This Grenache version shows bright notes of strawberry and watermelon with a nicely tart finish. Throw this in a bucket of ice and enjoy it beside the pool with a good book.

Note: This trip was sponsored by Lodi Wine and Snooth.

09 May 2014

Jamieson Ranch Vineyards

Jamieson Ranch is the southernmost winery in Napa, and was formerly known as Reata (Spanish for "lariat"). I've covered their wines in the past, and even with the new name, several of the bottles will continue to carry the Reata marque. These three wines provide you with a great tour of classic Napa wines at reasonable prices.

2012 Reata Carneros Chardonnay
Carneros, California
100% Chardonnay
$20, 14.3% abv.
11,000 cases made

Bright apricot with a touch of vanilla, little touches of cream on the mild, round, and low acid body. Gentle mouthfeel, and one that would be great with a nice lobster roll.

2012 Reata Three County Pinot Noir
Monterey, Sonoma, San Benito, California
100% Pinot Noir
$30, 14.3% abv.
13,000 cases made

Chocolate covered strawberry aroma, with with deep berry flavors on the palate, firm tannins and a rich, deep finish. I recently had a duck molé dish and think that this would be the perfect match for it.

2011 Jamieson Ranch "Double Lariat" Cabernet Sauvignon
Napa Valley, California
100% Cabernet Sauvignon
$45, 14.7% abv.
3,000 cases made

This wine opened up early with rich cassis and blackberry aromas, accompanied by full fruit flavors and medium tannins. While excellent with a steak right now, this one is sure to improve and develop over the next few years.

Note: These wines were provided as samples for review.

06 May 2014

Lodi Farewell Dinner

On my last night in town, we had a dinner at Jeremy Wine Co., with a few winemakers, and they broke us up so that the wine writers didn't cluster together in our instinctive fashion. I was seated with a husband and wife team from Peltier Station, and when I introduced myself, the husband mentioned that they had flown into Mississippi to promote their wines. It sounded a little odd, so I said, "Did you fly into Jackson?"


The casino business has made Tunica a little busy, so I asked if they'd flown in there. "No, we're not into gambling, it was somewhere else..."

I said, "Did you fly into Olive Branch?" "YES! That's it!" So of course that led into a conversation about general aviation, their Cessna, and how I had not only flown out of that strip on more than one occasion but was privileged to take the yoke while Dad was logging flight hours. Turns out that he and his wife barnstorm all over the country on promotional trips. The jaunt to Memphis went Lodi, CA - Denver, CO - Fayetteville, AR - Olive Branch, MS. He thought it was a great trip, the wife seemed to indicate that it was a little long in some of the stretches.

I thought about my great-grandfather E.J. a lot while I was out there, particularly because two of my fellow writers were from San Diego and because so many of the winemakers that I met were fifth or sixth generation farmers in the same patch of land. I got to place my hands on old vines that were planted during the Civil War, and also to walk through some patches that were considered "new" seeing as how they were planted before WWI. Due to the Volstead Act during Prohibition, people were able to make batches of wine at home for personal use, and since Lodi had easy access to railroads, tons of grapes made their way east to fuel the home wineries of German and Italian immigrants in the big cities. Lodi is also the home of the first A&W root beer stand in the country, and while we drove past it, we did not get a chance to have a float while in town.

I have many more stories to share, but I'll leave you with this: while staying in the luxury resort Wine & Roses for four days, I'd notice that in the morning I'd smell cookies or toast or something similar wafting over the breeze, and it never corresponded to what we had for breakfast. Less than two miles away was a General Mills factory, so I was smelling Cheerios, Lucky Charms, or Kix depending on the schedule that day.

Note: This trip was sponsored by Lodi Wine and Snooth.

03 May 2014

Wine Dogs of Lodi

It's been a long week, and while I haven't posted a lot of content here at BWR, I've been busy posting notes and pictures on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram along with my fellow wine writers on the trip. We couldn't have had a better time, and I'm sitting on a mountain of material that I can't wait to share.

Since I'm back home with Bella resting at my feet, I thought I'd kick off the first of many posts with a quick look at some of the wine dogs we encountered in Lodi. These were some of the friendliest and most relaxed dogs I've ever met, and everyone loved having them around.

This little black mutt at d'Art Wines grabbed a piece of dried grapevine and brought it to me in the tasting room. Perfect timing, though he didn't have a lot of interest in the chunky rabbit that kept hopping around the flower beds.

Ranger works the tasting room at Harney Lane Winery and greets customers. His other jobs include taking naps on the cool stone floors and searching for dropped food in the outdoor dining areas. One visitor asked if the winery was hiring, and stated that he wanted Ranger's job.

We encountered this old Weimaraner at the historic Bechthold Vineyard, home to what may be the oldest Cinsault vines in the world, planted in 1886. While one of the growers was talking about the care and tending of the gnarled old vines, this dog roamed around and chewed pieces of wood out of the trunks.

Roscoe joined us for a tour of Mohr-Fry Ranches, a farm that also produces a wide range of heirloom beans. According to Nannette, all dogs are named Roscoe.

This rescue mutt got a head scratch from Greg during a morning rosé tasting at the LangeTwins Family Winery original property. I'll have a lot more to say in the future about tailgate wine tastings and how I think they should spread across the nation.