30 August 2014

Lavau Wines of the Southern Rhône

Early in my wine journey, I was a little terrified of French wines. I didn't know a lot about them, they seemed expensive, and unlike Italian and German, I've never been fully comfortable speaking en français. To this day, I am bound to mispronounce something like Monbazillac to sound like "ball sack".

However, at a couple of tastings I was introduced to wines from the south of France, particularly the Rhône and Provence areas, and I fell in love. These were inexpensive, tasty, food-friendly wines that were not super complex but approachable. For years afterwards I'd recommend them to friends and family as a fun alternative to $10 Australian and Californian bottles. I think at that price point you get better quality from the casual regions of France, Spain, and Italy.

The region does not simply produce table wines, and I was excited to share this quartet of bottles from Lavau with my friends Angela and Jinju, with whom I attended high school [REDACTED] years ago.

2013 Lavau Tavel Rosé
Tavel AOC
50% Grenache, 45% Cinsault, 5% Syrah.
$17, 13% abv.

I am a rosé fanatic, and nobody does it quite like France. Light cherry, very gentle nose, dry but fruity, mild acidity and a slow, gentle finish. Excellent with a turkey, pesto, and Gruyère sandwich on a warm Saturday afternoon.

2012 Lavau Rasteau
Rasteau AOC
50% Grenache, 50% Syrah
$19, 13.5% abv.

Of the reds, this was the most restrained. It shows as thin and mild, with light aromas of spice and dried fruit. Actually quite refreshing in hot weather, and one that I'd recommend for serving with appetizers where it is often difficult to serve a heartier red.

2011 Lavau Vacqueyras
Vacqueyras AOC
50% Grenache, 40% Syrah, 10% Mourvèdre
$24, 13% abv.

The boldest red of the group opened up with a nose of plum and leather, with firm tannins and an aftertaste of tea. A chewy, big mouthfeel, and one that really cries out for grilled flank steak with chimichurri sauce.

2012 Lavau Gigondas
Gigondas AOC
50% Grenache, 40% Syrah, 10% Mourvèdre
$28, 14% abv.

The Gigondas achieved the best balance of all four, with a middle range of tannins and a light red cherry profile tinged with hints of earth. This is one that I see improving with a few years of storage, and would pair well with rare rack of lamb.

Note: These wines were provided as samples for review.

28 August 2014

2012 Matchbook The Arsonist

I love this label design, though it pains me that it might be misunderstood. The winery does not endorse arson, but rather their concept is an homage to the Titan Prometheus who stole fire from Mount Olympus and gave it to humanity, allowing them to begin forging metal and, more importantly, enjoying a weekend barbecue.

If I had a wine label with a guy missing one hand and I only sold that wine on a Tuesday, most people would think me to be insane but a select few would know that the Norse god Týr lost his hand to the Fenris wolf, and the English name for Tuesday is named in his honor. The Latin days of the week are all named after the celestial bodies (and their related gods and goddesses), while the Germanic-Scandinavian convention preserves a few of the stars and planets while adding Teutonic Gods. So everybody is cool with Sunday being the sun day and Monday being the moon day, but Wednesday is Odin's day up north and Mercury's day down south. Thursday is Thor's day or Jupiter's day. Friday belongs to Freya or Venus. Saturday is complicated (mostly focused on Saturn, adapted from Cronus), and rolling back to Tuesday, in southern Europe the name comes from Mars.

Back to the label, I really appreciate the neat linework and clever design. It continues on the back, where the top of the UPC barcode has little flames. You should never buy a wine based on the label alone, but you should always celebrate a decent wine that happens to display an appreciation of design theory.

2012 Matchbook The Arsonist
98% Matchbook Vineyards, Dunnigan Hills; 2% Aquarius Vineyard, Russian River Valley
100% Chardonnay
$22, 14.3% abv.

Ripe and peachy with a bold body and a round mouthfeel. Balanced acidity and a gentle finish. As it warms, you get light touches of vanilla and oak on the nose. Yes, it's summer here in Memphis and I proudly enjoyed this wine with fried chicken, which was delicious. As the season winds down, consider this for your picnics and other informal gatherings where you want a crowd pleaser that will go great with casual fare.

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

25 August 2014

Trio of August Rieslings

Recently I joined an online Twitter tasting focused on Riesling from three different countries: Germany, France, and Austria. During the tasting I pointed out that it was nice to be living in a time when people from all three countries could sit down and enjoy wine together in peace. Lots of people applauded and talked about Riesling being the wine that brings everyone together, but the historian in me notes that these regions were still drinking the same wine while fighting with each other over the past thousand years.

This has a lot to do with my curious fascination with the Thirty Years' War, a Catholic vs. Protestant conflict that ripped apart Europe for three decades in the 17th century and resulted in the deaths of 8 million people. It doesn't get talked about a lot here in the United States because it is not well understood and doesn't have a direct influence on the founding of our country. In Germany alone, a third of the population died. It throws a lot of modern conflicts into perspective. For anyone keeping score, France and the regions now known as Germany were on the Protestant side while Austria was on the Catholic side. Obviously allegiances changed over the centuries, but I am glad that now they merely argue about EU regulations that define bent and straight bananas.

2011 Weingut Brandl Riesling Heiligenstein Erste Waches
Kamptal, Austria
100% Riesling
$20, 14% abv.

Light pear and quince aromas. Just a touch of sweetness. Highly mineral. Austria is best known for Grüner Veltliner but some amazing Rieslings are made there as well, and this is a great bargain. Highly recommended.

2011 Erbach Marcobrunn Schloss Schönborn Riesling Kabinett
Rheingau, Germany
100% Riesling
$24, 9.5% abv.

This one opens up with a scent of green apples and a touch of lemon. It is the sweetest of the three and while an excellent example of the kind of sweet, low-alcohol German Riesling, I just happened to not be in the mood for it that evening. Later in the year with some Thai food, this would be a perfect pairing.

2010 Domaine Paul Blanck Schlossburg Riesling
Alsace, France
100% Riesling
$34, 13% abv.

Enchanting nose of golden delicious apple and ginger with a hint of flowers in the background. Light and balanced with just the right amount of acidity, and my favorite of the group. Serve with cheese and crackers on a hot summer day while watching a movie and avoiding the sweltering humidity of Memphis. As I type these words, it is 38ºC/100ºF here in the River City and I, like many of my fellow citizens, am ready for fall to arrive.

Note: These wines were provided as samples for review.

20 August 2014

Montes Angels of California

Aurelio Montes is well-known in Chile, where his self-named winery has been a regional powerhouse. Over time he expanded to Argentina, and also to North America with the Angel line.

Operating in both hemispheres provides an interesting challenge and a contrast to the regular operation of a winery that ticks along according to the seasons. When you're running both north and south of the equator, you're always working. February is pretty quiet north of the equator but south of the equator, that's when harvest begins.

2008 Star Angel Red Wine
Paso Robles, California
100% Syrah
$20, 15% abv.

Plum and spice notes with medium tannins, tasty and great for a pizza in the middle of the week. This wine has an interesting marketing line--though it is pure Syrah, they choose to market it as "red wine" in order to attract the market looking for just a red for the evening.

2011 Star Angel Pinot Noir
Santa Rita Hills, California
100% Pinot Noir
$34, 14.5% abv.

The wine shows bright ripe wild strawberry aromas and flavors with a tart edge and a bold body. Quite young, should be milder in a few years.

2008 Napa Angel Cabernet Sauvignon
Napa Valley, California
$34, 14.9% abv.

I don't know the exact grape makeup, but this likely Bordeaux blend opens up with a rich nose of cassis and a touch of chocolate. Well-aged with medium tannins and a gentle finish. Highly recommended and one that is expected to improve over the next 3-5 years.

Note: These wines were provided as samples for review.

18 August 2014

Spanish Verdejo

Ampelography is the branch of botany that deals with the identification of grape varieties. Traditionally this was done through identifying leaf shape and color of the fruit, but now we do it through DNA testing. You might think that the scientific approach would make everyone sit down and rationally agree as to which grapes originated where, but I'm guessing you haven't watched many daytime TV shows hosted by Maury Povich.

Verdejo is a white wine grape of North African origin grown in the Rueda region of Spain since the 11th century. It is not related to the Verdelho grape that is famous on the Portuguese island of Madeira. It is also not the same as the Italian grape Verdello, which, coincidentally, is one of the Spanish nicknames for a fourth unrelated grape better known as Pedro Ximénez. Complicating matters are outdated wine books that group all of these as the same grape. There is a tendency by some to believe that the older a book is, the more authoritative it is. However, we're talking about biology. You (hopefully) wouldn't look to the middle ages for medical advice when modern treatments can cure you.

2013 Protos Verdejo
Rueda, Spain
100% Verdejo
$10, 13% abv.

The wine opens up early with a bright and fruity nose of peach and pineapple. On the tongue it has mild acidity and a delicate, floral finish.

2012 Yllera Verdejo
Rueda, Spain
100% Verdejo
$10, 12.5% abv.

This one is softer and milder with a rounder body, and a far more restrained style. Very faint mandarin orange flavor and a light finish.

Both are perfect for summer, and the great bargains make them ideal for picnic purposes. Throw one in the cooler and enjoy with cheese, fruit, and salumi under the sun. Salud!

Note: These wines were provided as samples for review.

15 August 2014

Ventisquero Grey

The driving force behind the Ventisquero Grey line is not a tie-in to the upcoming Fifty Shades of Grey film, but rather a commitment to single block wines that show distinctive terroir.

Most of the wine drinking world subsists on table wine, which is how the beverage has been enjoyed for thousands of years. Grapes of varying backgrounds and fields are mixed, blended, fermented, and a final palatable product is released. And that is awesome. In the modern era, it means consistency from year to year, so that your bottle of 2010 Benito House Wine tastes pretty much the same as 2012 Benito House Wine. Coca-Cola didn't become a powerhouse because their product could suffer in a single year because of bad weather or leaf mites, or that the product wouldn't be ready to drink until it had rested for twenty years. Such wines fuel the wine industry and keep wine shops in business, and without them, we wouldn't be able to sit around and argue about our favorite expertly crafted, small batch wines from obscure regions.

I think this line strikes a nice balance, because you get the benefit of a unique single vineyard expression without high prices, and distribution is broad enough that you should be able to find these two red wines, as well as the other five bottles under this marque.

2012 Ventisquero Grey Single Block Pinot Noir
La Terrazas Vineyard, Leyda Valley
100% Pinot Noir
$24, 13.7% abv.

Chilean Pinot Noir continues to improve over time, though I'd like to see how this one develops over the next few years. Right now it is bright and tart with a dominant red cherry profile. Still quite young with medium tannins, but I expect it to mellow out in another two years.

2011 Ventisquero Grey Cabernet Sauvignon
Trinidad Vineyard, Maipo Valley
96% Cabernet Sauvignon, 4% Petit Verdot
$24, 14% abv.

The Cabernet Sauvignon, on the other hand, is ready to drink now in the presence of a great steak. It displays dark plum and a touch of chocolate, with gentle aromas of tobacco and green tomato leaf. Certainly a young Bordeaux style and one that, after an hour of decanting, is ready to be enjoyed with red meat.

Note: These wines were provided as samples for review.

11 August 2014

Brinley Gold Shipwreck Rum

The Brinley Gold Shipwreck Rum distillery was founded in 1986 on the island of St. Kitts in the Caribbean just south of Anguilla, and got a distribution deal from Opici in 2005. While I haven't written about rum in a long time, I am still a fan of the spirit when made in the proper fashion. And over the years, I have tended to stay away from the flavored versions. However, the Brinley family has a commitment to all-natural ingredients and a focus on producing a smooth product, so I was eager to try these two bottles.

Brinley Gold Shipwreck Spiced Rum
$26/750mL bottle, 36% abv.

Blended with vanilla, cloves, orange, nutmeg, and other spices. I get a little pepper and allspice on the finish, and there's just a touch of sweetness. Far more reserved than most spiced rums on the market, and one that will work out well on the rocks. You can certainly mix it with Coke, but that has so many other spices involved that you're basically combining a string quartet with an orchestra and hoping that the end result sounds good.

Brinley Gold Shipwreck Vanilla Rum
$26/750mL bottle, 36% abv.

This is an interesting product. Most vanilla rums are very sweet and also as clear as water. This one, on the other hand is black as night. It has a dominant profile of blackstrap molasses (which I love), and in the glass it is thick, creamy, and hangs for a bit. It's really not until you let it breathe for a while that the molasses aroma fades back to reveal the Madagascar vanilla scent and flavor. The sweetness means that you'll definitely want to enjoy this as an after dinner dessert liqueur, though I can definitely see incorporating it into various recipes like pecan pie, cheesecake, or even chocolate chip cookies.

Note: These rums were provided as samples for review.

09 August 2014

Villa Maria Wines of New Zealand

With a name like Villa Maria, it's got to be... New Zealand?

Yes indeed... And on top of that, the winery does not have a Spanish or Italian background. It was founded by Sir George Fistonich, the son of Croatian immigrants who got tired of being a carpenter and decided to start growing wine grapes in 1961.

New Zealand is often associated with only Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir, but Villa Maria has a pretty wide range including rosé and sparkling wines.

2014 Villa Maria Private Bin Sauvignon Blanc
100% Sauvignon Blanc
$15, 12.5% abv.

The wine opens up with a bold gooseberry profile with an herbal edge. On the palate it is tart with firm acidity. I enjoyed it with a nice tuna salad sandwich, where the bright citrus style made a nice contrast with the creamy food.

2013 Villa Maria Cellar Selection Sauvignon Blanc
100% Sauvignon Blanc
$20, 13% abv.

These two wines are an outstanding example of how different two wines can be from the same grape. The Cellar Selection is far more restrained nose with a hint of orange blossom, not the powerful grapefruit you might be expecting from New Zealand. It is more light and delicate with just enough acidity to achieve proper balance. Highly recommended for serving with good scallops and a simple summer salad.

Note: These wines were provided as samples for review.

04 August 2014

2012 Martín Códax Albariño

The wines of Martín Códax take their name from a Galician troubadour, which I've written about in a previous review. While the Albariño has been a consistent and enjoyable performer over the years, I was impressed by the label on this vintage.

The company uses a lute as their logo, but rather than go for a photorealistic version, the designer stripped down the concept into seven simple lines, with the five strings in cyan foil. I've always loved this stuff and as I find myself being pulled back into the world of graphic arts, I appreciate the clean and simple approach as opposed to just throwing everything at a logo and hoping that the viewer will be able to figure it out.

Our brains are quite capable of filling in the details from minimalist designs, which is why we can all understand the concept of a happy Homo sapiens with just two dots and a curved line. :) How long does it take you to figure out if someone is in a good mood from mere social signals and language?

2012 Martín Códax Albariño
Rías Baixas
100% Albariño
$15, 12.5% abv.

I get a message on Facebook from a reader. "I'm grilling some chicken tonight. What should I serve?" Without knowing this person in real life or knowing the details of the dish, I recommended this wine. Spanish Albariño is affordable, ridiculously easy to find, and pleasing to a wide range of palates. This vintage opened up with melon and floral aromas. On the palate, it shows mild white fruit flavors with bright, medium acidity and a slightly tart finish. In short, everything that you want from a cool summer sipper.

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