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Wine: Reviews, Thoughts & Culture

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Cabernet Sauvignon

Ladera 2014 Howell Mountain Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon

Ladera 2014 Howell Mountain Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon

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.

Nine Hats 2015 Columbia Valley Red Wine

Nine Hats 2015 Columbia Valley Red Wine

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.

Villa Maria Winery Exemplifies the Diversity of New Zealand

Villa Maria Winery Exemplifies the Diversity of New Zealand

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.                 

Raymond Vineyards 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon - Reserve Selection 40th Anniversary

Raymond Vineyards 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon - Reserve Selection 40th Anniversary

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.

J. Lohr 2013 Paso Robles Signature Cabernet Sauvignon

J. Lohr 2013 Paso Robles Signature Cabernet Sauvignon

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.

Last Minute Wine Gift Ideas

Last Minute Wine Gift Ideas

The Holidays aren’t almost here, they’re here, NOW! And if you’re like most people there are a handful of loved ones that you still need to buy a gift for. The good news is there’s still time to get them a nice bottle of wine. Just because it’s last minute, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t put thought into it.

In South Africa Female Winemakers Help Lead the Charge

In South Africa Female Winemakers Help Lead the Charge

It’s been roughly 20 years’ time since South Africa became part of the Global Wine Community once again. In those two decades the quality of wines has increased and there have been great strides in the South African Wine Industry. Among the many other things that have changed, the number of Women winemakers has increased. And while the increase in diversity alone is cause for celebration that’s just a sliver of what’s happening.

Holiday Gift Guide for 2015

Holiday Gift Guide for 2015

It’s the time of year when we’re all shopping for Holiday Gifts. I’m a big believer that for most people Wine makes a great gift. If you have someone on your list that’s really into one category or another get them something slightly outside their normal drinking zone and help them expand their palate. Here are a dozen delicious ideas. If you need spirits, head over to my gift Guide for The Daily Meal to read about my spirits suggestions.

The Bird is Thirsty! 9 Wines for Thanksgiving That Provide Value

The Bird is Thirsty! 9 Wines for Thanksgiving That Provide Value

Thanksgiving, with its myriad of flavors and overload of food is mere days away. And while some look at wine pairing for so many flavors and textures as a challenge, I think it’s a whole lot of fun. Drink what you like and see what it works with and what it doesn’t work with.  The bottom line is that you should have fun and enjoy the holiday. 

A Visit to Palmaz Vineyards in Napa Valley

A Visit to Palmaz Vineyards in Napa Valley

Several years ago I was out in Napa Valley with only a few hours left on the last day of my trip. Someone strongly recommended Palmaz Vineyards as a must. I wasn’t familiar with them and since it was appointment only...

A Visit to Kelly Fleming Wines in Napa Valley

A Visit to Kelly Fleming Wines in Napa Valley

I’m always determined to find producers I’ve never visited. In fact I strive to spend the bulk of my time in wine regions experiencing new things and places. I have my favorites and I circle back when time permits, but I realize the next spot I hit for the first time might be my new favorite. So it was with that philosophy in mind that I set about to visit to Kelly Fleming Wines, a producer I knew by name but not much else.

Kelly Fleming Wines sits on 300 gorgeous acres in Calistoga. Of those a mere 12 acres are under vine. They farm those acres sustainably; just this year they were awarded Napa County’s Fish Friendly Farming certification. Among the animals and such on the property are beehives, turkeys, mountain lions and four rescue donkeys. When the property was purchased it was unimproved land and they have done everything in their power to be shepherds of this property, improving it with a very light footprint.

While at their Estate property I toured the grounds and tasted through the current releases with Kelly Fleming herself. Apparent after spending the first minute with her is the unbridled passion she has for the property, for remaining a small boutique producer (2,700 cases currently), and for making excellent wine from her Estate and beyond. My thoughts on the wines follow

Kelly Fleming Wines 2013 Sauvignon Blanc ($36)

The fruit for this wine came from three Napa Valley vineyards. Fermentation and aging took place in a combination of new French oak (10%), used French oak (30%), and stainless steel (60%). Grass and citrus aromas emerge from the nose. The palate is filled with apricot and peach flavors. Minerals, bits of papaya and orange peel are all in play on the long finish that has a bit or a creamy edge.

Kelly Fleming Wines 2014 Rosé ($36)

The Rosé is produced from estate Cabernet (88%), as well as Malbec (6%), and Syrah (6%) from neighbors. Fermentation took place in stainless steel and once used French oak barrels. Oodles of watermelon characteristics leap from the nose. Strawberry, bright Bing cherry and a bit of vanilla fill out the palate. Continued red berry elements and a touch of crème fraiche are present on the crisp, refreshing finish.

Kelly Fleming Wines 2012 Big Pour Napa Red ($75)

Big Pour is a blend of Estate Cabernet Sauvignon (85%), Syrah (5%), Malbec (5%), and Petit Verdot (5%) and from Napa Valley. Red and black fruit aromas fill the nose. From the first sip the mouth-feel is velvety in nature with black raspberry and cherry flavors in play. Bits of cocoa lead the finish which showcases a continuing cavalcade of sweet red fruit tinged with black. A dollop of cinnamon appears as well. This is a very accessible Cabernet based wine that is ready to drink today but will age well over the next 8 or so years.

Kelly Fleming Wines 2012 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon ($110)

Their signature wine is composed of entirely Cabernet Sauvignon from the estate. It spent 20 months in 82% new French oak. 920 cases were produced. Wisps of toast and vanilla are present on the nose along with a cornucopia of berry aromas. There is an almost stunning amount of depth to the palate here with an avalanche of sweet red and black cherry flavors. These are underpinned by copious spice characteristics. Cinnamon, bits of dusty clay, minerals and chicory are all apparent throughout the prodigiously long finish. Firm, yielding tannins and solid acid provide an excellent backbone for aging. This estate wine is delicious now but will improve steadily over the next decade and drink well for a minimum of 5 years after that, perhaps longer.

The tasting room and an attached alcove are quite warm and inviting, as is Kelly herself. This is a beautiful little winery making terrific Napa Valley wines. Tastings are by appointment only, but don’t let that hold you back. They’re happy to have visitors so they can show off the beautiful estate and wines. Kelly Fleming Wines is precisely the type of place it’s worth making extra time and an extra effort to visit. If you’re like me, you’ll leave enchanted, with the magic that comes from the very best of what Napa has to offer. And really, how can you beat that? So reach out to them, next time you're headed to Napa Valley, you'll be glad you did.

Château La Lauzette 2010 La Lauzette Declercq

Château La Lauzette 2010 La Lauzette Declercq

Château La Lauzette is one of a growing number of wineries in the Cru Bourgeois du Médoc that is owned or run by women. This in a region who the average wine lover tends to believe the Château’s are passed down from Father to son from one generation to the next. This particular winery is run by Liz Roskam and her husband Franz. She’s originally from Illinois and relocated to Bordeaux in 2002. They took over the vineyard in 2005.

Château La Lauzette 2010 La Lauzette Declercq, Haut- Médoc, Cru Bourgeois ($30)

This Bordeaux blend combines Cabernet Sauvignon (70%), Merlot (28%), and Cabernet Franc (2%). Aging took place over 12 months in French oak; 33% of the barrels utilized were new. 3,500 cases of this offering were produced. Bits of toast and black raspberry aromas are present on the welcoming nose. The palate is stuffed with a bevy of fruit flavors including cherry, black currant, and dried black fruits. In addition savory herbs such as sage and thyme are also in play. Bits of red fruit, black tea, earth, minerals and chicory are all present on the above average finish. Approachable tannins and firm acid help provide fine structure upon which all of that fruit is built. This is a restrained, elegant and lovely wine that is counterbalanced by plenty of eager fruit flavors. In short it should satisfy wine lovers with a variety of different palates. While this offering was great sipped alone it really stood out with food. I paired it with a burger topped with Smoked Gouda, caramelized onions and a side of rosemary roasted potatoes, which was a fantastic match.

Australia’s First Families of Wine Deliver a Powerful Message

IMG_20150715_001052A few weeks back I attended an Australian wine event in Manhattan. This particular tasting was an interesting one indeed. Some of the country’s leading family-owned and multi-generational producers selected wines from their libraries to showcase to American trade and media. The main portion of the tasting was a sit-down seminar led by Mark Davidson, Australia’s worldwide wine educator. Alongside him, family members from each winery whose offerings were being poured that day were on hand to speak about their wine and Australia in general. There are a couple of general misconceptions floating around about Australian wine. One is that the country’s producers make big, blustery wines that are long on upfront fruit and flash and short on finish and substance. The other is that that Australian wines don’t age. The problem is neither point is really valid; certainly not as wholesale statements. Every wine-producing country has great, good, and bad producers. Certainly, Australia still has some who make boatloads of overripe shiraz. However, there are many more making proportionate shiraz as well as a very wide range of other offerings. It’s time to realize that there are as many diverse styles coming out of Australia as any other wine-making country. Not to mention much, much more than just shiraz, no matter how tasty it can be. Head Over to The Daily Meal to read the rest.

Well-Priced, Tasty Wines From Washington State’s Maryhill Winery

11525-1_Red_Wine_12Founded in 1999, Maryhill Winery produces more than 80,000 cases of wine annually. To produce those wines, they source fruit from eight different growing regions and work closely with a dozen growers. That allows them to have a portfolio of offerings that are diverse both in style, intent, and price point. Craig and Vicki Leuthold founded and still own this family business. Their wines are available throughout the country. Maryhill Winery itself is located on the Columbia River in Goldendale and has become a go-to destination, drawing more than 75,000 visitors per year. I just sat down and tasted through a handful of their wines and found a lot to like. Maryhill Winery 2012 Winemaker’s Red ($15)

This offering is a blend of cabernet sauvignon, merlot, syrah, and cabernet franc. Fruit was sourced across numerous Washington state regions. Aging took place in tank, using oak staves over a period of 11 months. Booming cherry aromas burst from the nose of this red; a bit of leather provides a lovely aromatic counterpoint. The extremely appealing palate is loaded with a plethora of sweet but proportionate red and...Head over to The Daily Meal to read the rest. 

Big Reds and Whiskey for Dad

KaikenMai10Father’s Day is around the corner, so it’s time to get Dad a gift. I suppose you could get him a tie, but it’ll probably end up at the back of his closet with so many other unnecessary artifacts. Instead, give him something delicious to drink. Here are 11 well-made wines and whiskeys that will quench his thirst and leave him smiling. Who knows — if you’re lucky, he may share. Harney Lane 2012 Old Vine Zinfandel ($35)

All of the fruit for this truly old vine zinfandel was sourced at a single vineyard site. Lizzy James Vineyard was planted in Lodi, California, back in 1904. It was aged in French oak for 21 months. Black raspberry and plum aromas lead the charge on the deep, dark, and heady nose. Blueberry and blackberry flavors fill the...Head over to The Daily Meal to read The Rest.

Give Mom Something Delicious For Mother's Day!

With Mother’s Day just days away, many of us are scrambling for the right gift. If your mom is like most, she likes a glass of wine every now and then. I just tasted through a lot of different offerings and found a diverse group that, depending on your mom’s tastes, will each hit the right spot. Whether she likes aromatic whites, reds (gentle or bold), or delicious bubbles, here are some great options. Head over to The Daily Meal to read the rest

Robert Mondavi Winery: An American Icon Approaches 50

Robert Mondavi Winery: An American Icon Approaches 50

IMG_20150428_091953In 2016, the Robert Mondavi Winery will celebrate its 50thanniversary. Having just spent a couple of days in Napa Valley as their guest, I’ve been thinking a lot about the impact that the man and his namesake winery have had on U.S. wine history. Back in 1966, when Robert made the bold move of leaving the family business (Charles Krug Winery), he had audacious ideas. He believed that Napa Valley was capable of producing world-class wines on par with those from any region of the world. In particular, his standard was French wine. Back then, Napa Valley had only a small number of wineries. In fact, the Robert Mondavi Winery was the first large winery built there since prohibition. Today, Napa is home to more than 800 different wine brands of all shapes and sizes. Most of this wouldn’t have been possible without the vision, dedication, and relentless passion of one man: Robert Mondavi. Striving to make the best wine possible..Head Over to The Daily Meal to read the rest

Marc Mondavi and Family Present Aloft

aloftMany members of the Mondavi Family have been involved in the California wine industry for generations. Their two largest and best-known wineries are Charles Krug, part of the Peter Mondavi family, and the Robert Mondavi Winery, which was started by Peter’s brother Robert. While these are tentpoles in Napa Valley, various Mondavi family members have started and maintained all sorts of other projects of varying scope One of those projects is Aloft,. created by Marc Mondavi and his family. Marc, one of Peter’s sons, conceived this wine with the help of his wife and daughters. All of the fruit comes from their own Cold Springs Vineyard, which sits on Howell Mountain in Napa Valley. I recently sat down with Marc’s daughter Alycia and tasted the 2009 vintage of Aloft. Head over to The Daily Meal to read the rest.

Visiting Napa's Round Pond Estate

2012RutherfordCab750ml_FrontThere are literally hundreds of ways to taste wine in Napa Valley. The classic tried and true way is to bump up to the bar and enjoy a range of current offerings. Napa started doing that way back when and allowed Vintners to showcase their wares. The idea was and still is that if you liked one or more of their wines you’d take some home to enjoy later. At most wineries you can still do this. Many tasting rooms, all over now, also offer additional ways to enjoy wine. This can be as simple as a wine and cheese pairing or as involved as a helicopter flight to a mountain top tasting. Round Pond Estate has chosen to allow guests to enjoy the bounty of their property and all that encompasses in a number of ways. Depending on how much time you want to commit and what parts of Round Pond you’d like to see you can spend as little as half an hour there, or as much as a day. For my recent visit I cut it right down the middle and spent more than 2 hours there. My guest and I took part in Round Pond’s Il Pranzo Lunch ($120). Head over to The Daily Meal to read the rest.

Australia and California meet with Jacob’s Creek new Two Lands line

Jacob's Creek Two Lands logoAustralia’s Jacob’s Creek has just launched a new line of wines that represents a collaboration with California winemaker Ehren Jordan. For 18 years, Ehren made the wines at Turley, and he has a Napa-based label (Failla) where he produces his own portfolio. He’s worked with numerous others over the years as well. The team at Jacob’s Creek, including chief winemaker Bernard Hickin, reached out and recruited Ehren to work with them on a range of wines made from Australian fruit but with a California sensibility. I recently sat down with both winemakers over lunch in New York City at Michael Jordan’s Steakhouse to taste these new releases. All four wines below have a few things in common. The fruit for all of them came from vineyards in South Australia. Every one of them is a single varietal wine. They’re available widely throughout the United States. Head over to Bullz-Eye.com to read the rest.