Alto Adige in Northern Italy is a diverse place in a number of ways. Valley floors and mountains provide a variety of influences on vines as do elevations that range from a few hundred feet to several thousand. The region which sits at the intersection of Italy, Switzerland, Austria, and Germany feels the influence of all those countries on
Sometimes grandiose words are thrown around a bit too freely. However in the case of David Ramey it's entirely appropriate to mention that he's both a legend and icon of the California Wine Industry.
2018 marks 50 years of winemaking for The Malan Family. They’ve been making wine outside Stellenbosch under the Simonsig Family Vineyards label since 1968. Just two years later, in 1970 they introduced their first red. They’ve continued to push the quality envelope over time and widen their portfolio with complementary offerings when and where they fit in well. Their flagship wine remains Chenin Blanc but that is in a sense the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the breadth their portfolio offers.
Over the years I’ve had the opportunity to taste their wines alongside members of the Malan family and winemaking team on a number of occasions. Recently however I sampled some of their wines in an entirely different manner. To mark the occasion of their 50th one of the events they hosted was a virtual wine tasting. Members of the family and winemaking team sat in a room in South Africa and a number of participating journalists tuned in over YouTube and tasted along from our homes or offices.
There’s a richness and diversity to their portfolio that becomes apparent when tasting a number of their wines side by side. They have several Sparkling wines in their lineup and these are a bit of a secret weapon as they’re not the most famous wines they make, but they’re uniformly well made, delicious and solid, or better values. Tasting two distinct expressions of Pinotage side by side is a good way to see the range of this grape. And the Chenin Blanc stands as one of the outstanding white wine values in the world. During the chat I paired the wines below with Indian Cuisine which was a terrific match.
Simonsig Kaape Vonkel Brute Rosé ($25)
This Brute is composed of Pinot Noir (64%), Pinotage (34%), and Pinot Meunier (2%). From the lovely pink hue through the above average finish everything about this offering is impressive. Fresh red fruit and bits of spice dot the nose. The palate is fruity and delicate. Bits of biscuit appear on the finish.
Simonsig 2017 Chenin Blanc ($14)
This is composed entirely of Chenin Blanc. One vintage after another this wine is a steal. It’s delicious, food friendly, refreshing, and a great example of Chenin Blanc. It leads with a massive nose loaded with tropical, citrus and fleshy yellow fruit aromas. All of those elements translate to the palate along with bits of spice. The mellifluous finish features a continuing burst of fruit. Racy acid keeps everything in check.
Simonsig 2015 Pinotage ($18)
This cross of Pinot Noir and Cinsault was created in South Africa in the 1920’s. Simonsig released their first in 1970. Red and black fruits are joined by hints of tar on the nose. The palate is stuffed with black cherry, raspberry and baker’s spices. Sour red and black fruits round out the finish. This offering is a great match for nearly anything you pull from your grill.
Simonsig 2015 Redhill Pinotage ($38)
This offering, made up of 100% Pinotage, is a barrel selection of wines aged in entirely new oak. Black plum and spice are at the core of the aromatics. Black fig, cherry and bits of Raspberry drive the palate. The finish is long and somewhat lusty with black fruits, tinged by red continuing in droves. This wine is a perfect accompaniment to hearty dishes and will work phenomenally with smoked meats of any sort.
Simonsig 2015 Frans Malan ($38)
This blend is named after their founder. It’s brings together Pinotage (67%), Cabernet Sauvignon (29%), and Merlot (4%). They’ve been making this wine since 1991. Aromas of red cherry, raspberry and plum are evident along with a solid core of spices. Sour red and black fruits underpin the mélange of sweeter red fruits on display through the palate. The palate shows off hints of baker’s chocolate and earth.
There’s a purity, freshness and vigor in well shepherded mountain fruit that’s simply different from fruit grown elsewhere…I know that when exceptional Mountain Cab passes my lips it’s pretty obvious; this is one of those cases.
One of the best days of the wine year is when the first Rosé from the recent vintage shows up. Along with pitchers and catchers reporting to camp for their respective teams it’s a sign that Spring is coming.
Sonoma County’s Rodney Strong Vineyards is well known for a strong portfolio of wines that check a lot of important boxes. The wines they offer have a strong sense of their Sonoma County origins; sometimes as wide as the county, others as specific as a small parcel. If your budget is $10 of $75 they have something of quality for you. More often than not these wines deliver more in quality than the price tag would suggest. Every once in a while; seemingly more often in the last few years, they add something new to their lineup. I’m always eager to taste anything they’ve produced because the wines in their lineup tend to be not just good, but also a boon for wine consumers. So when their latest entry, Upshot, showed up on my doorstep I was excited to twist the cap off and get it into my glass. Considering that Symmetry, their Red Bordeaux inspired blend, is one of the best wines (and values) in their portfolio, one vintage after another, I was immediately intrigued to learn that they added another red blend.
Rodney Strong Vineyards 2015 Upshot Sonoma County Red Blend ($28)
This new offering from producer Rodney Strong is an unconventional blend of Zinfandel, Merlot, Malbec, Petit Verdot, and Riesling. Looking at the blend and the modern packaging it’s clear that Upshot is a completely different wine, with a likely different audience than the venerable Symmetry. Things open up here with a lifted nose showing off dark berries and a hint of white flowers. The flavors are equally dark with blackberry, plum, and raspberry joining oodles of spice, and bits of cocoa. Savory herbs, black olive, chicory and dried black fruits are all evident on the solid finish.
There are so many red blends from California on shelves these days. The vast majority of them though are in the more casual supermarket wine category. They're also often sourced from all over the state, not just Sonoma County. Don’t let the screw-cap, contemporary label and name fool you, Upshot is several classes above those. It’s both a serious and very drinkable wine that combines a bit of curb appeal with substantial structure. Whether you’re pouring it for casual wine drinkers or more discerning winos, they’ll all find something to like here. The suggested retail price is $28 but you’re likely to find it on the shelf for right around $20. At that price you might want to grab a case and up your house wine game. The real Upshot is that Rodney Strong Vineyards have added yet another terrific wine to their portfolio.
One of the things I'm always on the hunt for are wines suitable for everyday drinking that over deliver quality and drink ability based on their price point. While there are certainly quite a few American standbys in this category but there are simply more wines at $20 and under made outside the U.S. that fit the bill. It's also not as often that a new offering of substance in that category with U.S. origins is released. But Nine Hats from Columbia Valley in Washington has crafted such a wine. The brand was started in 2007 and the name refers to the fact that nine internationally regarded winemakers are involved with producing the Nine Hats wines.
Nine Hats 2015 Columbia Valley Red Wine ($20)
This offering is a blend of Syrah (50%), Cabernet Sauvignon (41%), Merlot (7%), and Malbec (2%). The fruit was sourced from 4 sub AVA’s within greater Columbia Valley. A bit more than 5,000 cases were produced. From the first whiff to the last sip it’s obvious this is a wine of substance and structure. Red fruit, spices and gentle wisps of toast emerge from the nose. Cherry and red raspberry flavors dominate the palate along with hints of cinnamon and allspice. Earth, chicory and dark chocolate nibs are evident on the above average finish. Firm acid and gripping tannins provide structure. There’s sophistication to this wine that belies its modest price point. Most important is the fact that it’s delicious, food friendly and well-priced for everyday consumption.
The myriad of wines hitting store shelves on a daily basis can be dizzying. Among them are wines at nearly every possible level of quality and intent. Most important of course is whether the wine is any good. Assuming it is good, does it fit your budget and needs. I just tasted through just more than 4 dozen wines looking for a few good bottles to stand out.
The Village Idiot Lexington Kentucky
307 W Short St, Lexington, KY 40507 (859) 252-0099
Located just a block of West Main Street and in the heart of downtown Lexington, The Village Idiot is a Gastropub that spirits lovers will want to make an effort to visit. In particular The Village Idiot is a great spot for those on the hunt for an exceptional Bourbon experience.
On a recent visit I enjoyed an excellent meal from their menu of elevated Pub food paired with a succession of different Borurbons. The food is prepared from locally sourced ingredients. Everything is fresh, inventive and flawlessly executed. The selection of Bourbons on hand is varied in style and price point. They carry well-known names and lesser known selections, often having multiple choices from most producers; including limited releases. More important than simply having a fine selection, the staff is loaded with knowledge about what they offer. Everyone I encountered during my visit was friendly and knowledgeable, but one server Jack was particularly proficient in Bourbon knowledge. After he and I spoke about my preferences he made several informed recommendations. We worked off of my first choice to veer in different directions for the remainder of my visit. When you tell a knowledgeable person what one or two of your favorite Bourbons are they should be able to recommend others you will likely enjoy. That was precisely the case at The Village Idiot.
While Bourbon is clearly the Spirit of choice at The Village Idiot, other Whiskey styles and additional spirits are more than reasonably represented. Some of those are used for their well curated and appealing cocktail selections. Their beer list, on Tap, in Bottle as well as Cans is nearly as deep and varied as their Bourbon list. Those preferring wine will find some solid offerings to choose from as well. No matter your alcohol of choice, they’ve got you covered.
The Village Idiot should be on your must visit list. From the décor and ambiance to the service staff the vibe is warm, welcoming and convivial. The server’s knowledge base is deep and they love to share it. The food is creative, local and delicious. In short if you’re anywhere near Lexington, or you’re in the mood for a tasty road trip, hit the Village Idiot, you’ll be thrilled you did.
One of the key factors that distinguish New Zealand as a major player in the wine world is diversity. If you travel through the numerous regions, as I did earlier this year, you’ll find myriad examples of unique soil types, elevations, and climactic conditions. Thus each of these regions helps a different collection of grapes thrive. And in the cases where there is overlap in grape types the distinct conditions still lead to diverse results. Villa Maria is a microcosm of that; by growing and sourcing fruit throughout New Zealand, their portfolio showcases the assortment of grapes and wine styles that New Zealand is absolutely nailing, often at bargain prices too. I recently participated in a virtual tasting with Villa Maria and Snooth; here are my thoughts on the handful of wines we sampled.
Villa Maria 2016 Private Bin Sauvignon Blanc ($13)
Sauvignon Blanc is New Zealand’s most famous export, and for good reason, several regions are perfect for growing it. This offering from Villa Maria is a classic example of Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc. It has a big nose, good fruit, racy acid, and lots of mineral notes on the finish. At the price it’s a steal of a deal.
Villa Maria 2016 Private Bin Bay Rosé ($14)
The Villa Maria Rosé has a darker hue than average. It’s filled with cheery red fruit, bits of orange rind, white pepper and hints of vanilla. This Rosé is juicy, tasty and it’ll pair with an astounding array of foods. In short it’s an excellent warm weather wine.
Villa Maria 2016 Private Bin Bubbly Sauvignon Blanc ($15)
The Villa Maria Bubbly Sauvignon Blanc is light, refreshing and a perfect summer welcome wine. It’s a wine you don’t have to think much about, yet it has reasonable depth. For the price you could even use it as a cocktail or Sangria base. This is a fun and tasty wine that will make crowds of people happy.
Villa Maria 2014 Cellar Selection Merlot-Cabernet ($20)
This cohesive blend is a case of the whole being greater than the sum of the parts. Each variety (Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec) come together to form a well woven wine. Red berry fruit and bits of thyme are evident on the nose. Black raspberry and cherry dominate the palate along with spice notes. The long finish shows off dried blackberry and bits of chicory.
Villa Maria 2015 Cellar Selection Pinot Noir ($26)
Pinot Noir is Mew Zealand’s second most famous export. While it grows in other regions, the two most famous are Central Otago and Marlborough. Cellar Selection Pinot has a proportionate richness with black cherry, plum and tons of spice.
Villa Maria 2015 Taylor’s Pass Chardonnay ($45)
This Chardonnay is a real knockout from the first whiff to the last sip. Apricot, peach, and golden delicious apple aromas burst from the nose. Green apple, roasted nuts and a drove of minerals are evident on the palate. The long finish shows off crème fraiche and bits of toasty oak. This Chardonnay will benefit from a couple of years of bottle age.
Have you been drinking your allotment of Shiraz lately? If not summer is a great time to get back to it. The typical flavors of Shiraz pair well with just about anything you pull off your grill. Not that many years ago most of the Aussie wines on our shelves were largely of the in your face, super fruity, high alcohol, critter label, no finish to speak of variety. However the tide has turned and U.S. shelves now feature a wider breadth of Australian wines than before. And while some of the aforementioned wines still exist, we’re also seeing diverse examples of Shiraz, not to mention cooler climate region expressions of things like Pinot Noir, Semillon and more. So if you haven’t dipped your toe in the Aussie wine pool in a while, come on in the water’s fine. Here’s a terrific Shiraz from Two Hands to welcome you back to the fold.
Two Hands 2016 Gnarly Dudes Shiraz Barossa Valley ($35)
This offering is entirely Shiraz, all from the Barossa Valley. After fermentation it was aged in French oak over a period of 12 months. 15% of the barrels utilized were new, the remainder between once and six times used. Alcohol is a modest 13.5%. Violet and plum aromas emerge with conviction. Hints of earth are in play as well. The palate is strewn with black fruit flavors such as blackberry, dark plum, and black raspberry. Hints of bacon fat, toast and oodles of spice are evident as well. Black pepper, a dusting of cocoa and wisps of savory herbs mark the lengthy finish. This is an excellent example of a full flavored Shiraz that’s loaded with typicity. It’s also fresh, balanced and incredibly food friendly. Bring it to a summer BBQ and win the day.
Nearly every wine region in the world has its own Rosé tradition. Often it’s produced from the dominant local grape. And in some cases where that’s multiple grapes it might be a blend. Those facts alone keep Rosé pretty interesting.
Raymond Vineyards in Napa Valley has undergone a renaissance since being purchased by Jean-Charles Boisset in 2009. The winery was founded in 1970; but the Raymond Family has a history in the valley that goes back much further than that. 2014 marked the 40th anniversary of the family’s first harvest. So this year they’ve released a special Reserve 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon adorned with a red velvet label to commemorate that anniversary.
Raymond Vineyards 2014 Reserve Selection 40th Anniversary Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon ($40)
In addition to Cabernet Sauvignon (92%), small amounts of Petit Verdot (4%), Petite Sirah (2%), and Malbec (2%) were blended in. Most of the fruit was chosen from estate vineyards in St. Helena and Rutherford; additional grapes came from a handful of local growers. Barrel aging was accomplished over 19 months in entirely French oak; 30% were new. Red raspberry and violet aromas are laced with bits of vanilla bean on the nose. The palate is stuffed with an explosion of black and red cherry flavors. Earth, baker’s chocolate, and crushed cherries are all layered on the long, velvety finish along with intermingling bits of spice. Firm tannins and acid provide excellent structure. This Cabernet Sauvignon is certainly enjoyable now but it’ll improve with some bottle age. I’d lay it down for 5-6 years and drink it in the 6-7 years after that.
Obviously there’s a ton of Cabernet Sauvignon being produced in Napa Valley. Styles, price points and more vary wildly, to say the least. For $40 this offering from Raymond Vineyards provides lots of drinking pleasure and a more than reasonable level of complexity. You can even lay it down for a while if you want.
It seems that nearly every grape of any note has its own day. That being the case, Chardonnay, the most widely planted grape on earth likely deserves an entire week. But as of this writing it gets today, the Thursday before Memorial Day as its very own, well sort of. Today also happens to be National Wine Day, which confuses me; isn’t that every day? But I digress aren’t we’re gathered here to talk about Chardonnay? Indeed we are. The sheer number of Chardonnays that cross my line of sight regularly is pretty dizzying. They come in all shapes and sizes, as well as from nearly every region that grows grapes. When in doubt, someone will plant some more Chardonnay. There’s mostly good reason for it, Chardonnay can be awesome. But then sometimes (too often) it’s really terrible. If you need examples I could list a bunch, many of them in the famed (really infamous actually) style known as California Chardonnay. They’re easy to identify when you drink them and then you'll need to spit sawdust out after swallowing the wine. However California has a lot of great Chardonnay too and for the most part people are talking about it. Less people though are talking about the terrific Chardonnays coming out of the Pacific Northwest. Both Washington and Oregon are producing some fantastic examples. So here in celebration of both Chardonnay Day and National Wine Day are some thoughts on a lovely Washington State wine.
Buty Winery 2014 Conner Lee Vineyard Chardonnay ($42)
The fruit for this wine came from two blocks located within the Conner Lee Vineyard. Each is planted to different clones of Chardonnay. The vineyard itself is located in Eastern Central Washington. Citrus rind, spice and a hint of vanilla provide complex and welcoming aromatics. The palate is stuffed with Bartlett pear, Granny Smith Apple and wisps of spice. The long finish is loaded with white pepper, papaya and an abundance of wet limestone notes. What stands out the most about this Chardonnay is the mouth-feel. There’s a wonderful texture and weight here that’s both impressive and quite appealing. Ditto for the racy acid that lends to the moutwatering nature of this offering. Once you sip it, you’re not going to want to put it down.
You could celebrate Chardonnay Day with a Burgundy, California Chardonnay or one from, literally, countless other regions. Don’t do that this year; reach for some Washington State Chardonnay. You’ll be glad you did; this offering from Buty Winery is delicious and noteworthy in its complexity and purity.
This coming July Pedroncelli Winery, one of Dry Creek Valley’s most storied and dependable producers will turn 90 years old. In honor of reaching that significant marker the Pedroncelli family is celebrating all year
California’s Anderson Valley is particularly well suited for growing Pinot Noir. This small region in Mendocino County has a number of different microclimates within it which allows site specific wine-making to flourish.
Over time grape varieties get varying amounts of attention in the wine world at large. Of course the same occurs in my own life as well. There are many reasons for the shifts in interest and consideration. Lately, I’ve been thinking about Malbec more than usual. I’ve also tasted quite a few recently, both on my own and alongside winemakers. In this case the reason is obvious; World Malbec day is around the corner.
There are many faces to Malbec and it can be interpreted in many styles. I’m happy to say that more and more of the examples I taste are made in a style that highlights freshness of fruit, acidity and balance. That’s a far cry from a few years ago when a lot of the Malbec on US shelves was up front flash with barely any body and certainly no finish to speak of. Over the years I’ve found that Trivento does a nice job at various tiers. Here’s a look at the current release of their Amado Sur.
Trivento Estate 2014 Amado Sur Malbec ($15)
This offering is a blend of Malbec (79%), Bonarda (11%), and Syrah (10%). All of the fruit is from the Mendoza region. Each variety is fermented and barrel aged separately. After blending the cuvee is aged in stainless and bottle for an additional 11 months prior to release. Red fruit aromas such as cherry and raspberry fill the nose. Wisps of vanilla and pepper are present as well. Ripe, wild strawberry, red cherry and baking spices fill the juicy palate. Earth, dried cherry and bits of savory herbs are evident on the long finish. Supple tannins and firm acid provide nice structure. This Malbec is well priced for everyday drinking and it’s freshness assure it’ll pair nicely with a wide array of foods.
J. Lohr has long been one of the standard bearer wineries of Paso Robles. Their portfolio includes wines that are readily available and priced for everyday consumption, more premium selections such as reserves as well as some single vineyard bottles. In short a it's diverse set of offerings that gives consumers a multitude of options.
On New Year’s Day, founder Jerry Lohr turned 80 years old. To celebrate this milestone they released their most ambitious expression of Cabernet Sauvignon yet, “Signature.” Paso Robles most aspiring producers have been edging the quality level forward for a number of years now and what wouldn’t have been possible there some years back is achievable today. Their stated goal with this wine is not only to mark Jerry’s 80th, but also to release a Cabernet Sauvignon that can compete with the best in the world. To do so they harnessed every bit of knowledge they’ve gleaned since the Winery’s inception.
J. Lohr 2013 Paso Robles Signature Cabernet Sauvignon ($100)
In addition to Cabernet Sauvignon (79%), “Signature” contains small amounts of Merlot (18%), and Petit Verdot (3%). The Cabernet came from Beck vineyard which sits at an elevation of 1,800 feet. Barrel aging took place over 19 months in new French oak. 966 six-bottle cases were produced. Black raspberry and wisps of toast are evident on the nose. The palate is dominated by a veritable avalanche of intense, but wholly proportionate, dark fruit flavors. Black cherry, raspberry, and blackberry are of particular note. A host of spices such as black pepper, cinnamon and nutmeg are evident as well. Roasted espresso, chicory and bits of sweet dark chocolate are evident on the prodigiously long and intensely layered finish. Firm tannins and racy acid provide great framework. This Cabernet is delicious today, particularly with full flavored foods. Patience will be rewarded however. It’ll evolve nicely over the next decade and drink well for 8-10 years beyond that.
This super luxury wine from J. Lohr meets all of its goals. “Signature” is a perfect way to commemorate Jerry Lohr’s 80th Birthday. The level of excellence in this bottle really drops the gauntlet of quality and shows what can be accomplished in Paso Robles with Cabernet Sauvignon. It compares favorably to some of the very best Cabernet based wines that California has to offer. That said it’s a distinctly Paso Robles wine. What I personally like most about “signature” is the combination of power and elegance that’s evident from the first whiff to the very last sips. If you love great California Cabernet Sauvignon, put "Signature" on your short list as a must try.
It’s quite possible that right this moment you’re thinking, "Malbec from California, really?" However it shouldn’t be that big of a surprise as many vintners grow it and blend small amounts into stand-alone Cabernet, Merlot or Bordeaux inspired blends to name a few. At Rodney Strong, Malbec has long been an important component in Symmetry their Meritage. One vintage after another, Symmetry is a well-made and approachable Bordeaux inspired blend. In a category where prices can easily reach triple digits, Symmetry remains a terrific value ($55 SRP) too. I find it deliciously reliable year after year. Considering this Malbec sits in the same tier as Symmetry and includes different proportions of some of the same grapes they’re basically kissing cousins. So it’s fair to say I was pretty excited to sample it.
Rodney Strong 2013 Sonoma County Reserve Malbec ($40)
In addition to Malbec (92%), small amounts of Cabernet Sauvignon (4%), and Petit Verdot (4%) were blended in. Aging took place over 22 months in largely French oak, 25% of the barrels new. A dark, brooding nose leads things off here with black cherry and plum aromas in evidence. Hints of vanilla and spice pop out too. The palate is simultaneously layered, intense and refined. Oodles of black raspberry along with red and black cherry dominate. Blackberry chicory, baker’s chocolate and black pepper are each evident on the persistent finish. Firm acid and meaty tannins provide excellent structure.
If you’re looking for a fruit bomb, this isn’t that Malbec. This is a complex, well-structured wine that while delicious now, will taste even better in two or three years when it’s evolved a little bit. It’s going to pair well with roasted meats to be sure. But I had it alongside Pappardelle with Pesto that was dusted with Pecorino and it worked quite nicely.
It’s good to see Rodney Strong showcasing a grape that has been a behind the scene workhorse for them. They’ve expanded their plantings of Malbec in recent years. I expect that as the vines age the wines will likely be even better. That said this is a terrific inaugural vintage. World Malbec Day is coming up on April 17th, this new offering is a great way to celebrate.
Is there a more perfect pairing than Red Wine and Pizza? When you have a great pie and match it with a wine that works well alongside it, the possibilities are, well, simply delicious.