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Wine: Reviews, Thoughts & Culture

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Chardonnay

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.                 

Buty Winery 2014 Conner Lee Vineyard Chardonnay

Buty Winery 2014 Conner Lee Vineyard Chardonnay

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.

Two New Releases from Sonoma County's Anaba Wines

Two New Releases from Sonoma County's Anaba Wines

Anaba Wines is a small Sonoma County producer that you should get to know if you don’t already. Their portfolio includes a host of really cool wines...

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...

Lost Canyon 2012 Russian River Valley Chardonnay / 2012 Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

Lost Canyon 2012 Russian River Valley Chardonnay / 2012 Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

Lost Canyon Winery is a project of Dry Creek Valley’s Fritz Underground Winery. They have long had Russian River Valley offerings in their portfolio in addition to wines from their Dry Creek Valley home. The Lost Canyon Project is specifically aimed at highlighting single vineyards. Pinot Noir and Chardonnay are two grapes that can often be interesting as vineyard designates. Here’s a look at two current releases. Lost Canyon 2012 Russian River Valley Chardonnay ($35)

All of the fruit for this offering was sourced at the Ruxton Vineyard; the vines have 35 years of age on them. It’s entirely Chardonnay and after native yeast fermentation it was aged for 10 months in French oak (90% new). Just fewer than 700 cases were produced. Stone fruit aromas such as yellow peach and apricot dominate the nose here; bits of spice join in as well. The juicy palate is studded with orchard fruits such as Anjou Pear and Golden Delicious Apple. Minerals and lemon ice characteristics light up the long, crisp finish. This is a delicious and refreshing example of Chardonnay.

Lost Canyon 2012 Russian River Valley Pinot Noir ($45)

This single vineyard effort was produced from fruit grown at the Morelli Lane Vineyard. Fermentation took place in open top tanks using native yeast. Punch downs occurred 2-3 times a day over 10 days. Barrel aging was accomplished over 10 months in 40% new oak. 300 cases were produced. Spice characteristics lead the nose here along with cherry, raspberry and strawberry aromas. Black cherry and bits of raspberry are present on the palate along with continued spice and a dollop of earthiness. Pomegranate and cranberry emerge on the finish along with cinnamon and clove. Firm mouthwatering acid keeps everything in check here.

Both of these wines are loaded with good varietal typicity as well as being somewhat classic examples of Russian River Chardonnay and Pinot respectively. The Lost Canyon offerings are reasonably priced for relatively small production wines from single vineyards. They are well worth your time and money.

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

Pinot in the City Showcases Willamette Valley's Delicious Wares

pinotVintners from a broad array of Willamette Valley wineries showcased their wines at New York’s City Winery recently. It has been 50 years since the first pinot noir vines were planted there, so the gathering had a festive quality. There’s an extraordinary amount of good pinot noir in Oregon — it’s what the state’s wine producers are known for. However, as the tasting clearly exhibited, it isn’t the only thing they do well. Over several hours, I sampled pinot noir in a host of styles as well as chardonnay, pinot gris, and more. It’s been a few years since I’ve made it out to the Willamette Valley, so I was glad to have this opportunity to taste through a cross section of the area’s offerings right here in New York. The bottom line is that Oregon, and the Willamette Valley in particular, has a lot of delicious wine coming out of it. Thoughts on a handful of my favorites follow. Head over to The Daily Meal to read all about them.

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.

Gabe's 2014 Holiday Gift Guide

GiftGuideCover_AmandaJeanBlackIf you’re not sure what to get someone as a gift this year, consider a good bottle of wine or spirits —‚ always in season. Anyone who drinks alcohol will certainly appreciate a well-chosen bottle to enjoy, be it alone or with friends (my hope is that it’s with you). Throughout the year, I’ve tasted a number of the best bottles in both the wine and spirit categories and compiled a list of my 24 favorites — any of which would make excellent gifts for a variety of budgets. A few of the bottles are particularly great values, while others are luxury beverages that will really impress the lucky person who receives them; no matter the price, every selection in this guide is delicious and well made. Head over to The Daily Meal to read the rest.

Olivier Leflaive - 2012 Bourgogne Blanc Les Sétilles

Olivier Leflaive started his winery 30 years ago with the help of a few family members. His extended family has been in Puligny Montarecht for almost 300 years. Franck Grux their winemaker has been leading the charge since 1988. Franck has helped them build relationships with growers and their stock in trade has been producing wines from numerous small villages in the area. Additionally they have acquired numerous parcels in the area totaling 15 hectares. The Olivier Leflaive 2012 Bourgogne Blanc Les Sétilles is composed entirely of Chardonnay. The fruit comes from two distinct villages, each representing almost exactly half of the wine. Within those two villages fruit was sourced from a number of more specific sites. 60% of the wine was aged in oak, 10% of that was new. The remaining 40% was aged in stainless steel. This offering has a suggested retail price of $25.

This wine exudes a freshness that is readily apparent from the first whiff. Asian pear aromas waft from the nose along with hints of Anjou pear and Lodi apple. Granny Smith apple leads the substantial palate which shows off a solid core of minerals and spice. Wisps of apricot and a little hint of white peach are present as well. The long and lingering finish features limestone, continued apple characteristics and subtle but consistent spices. As soon as you down a sip, your're going to want to go back for another.

This well priced Burgundy really over delivers in it's price category. The freshness and pure Chardonnay character are what stand out most to me. Add in the elegant mouth feel and substantial finish, and you have a real winner that should satisfy most any Burgundy lover. This would be an excellent wine to gift to a California Chardonnay lover for a change of pace.

Eleven Wines You Should Be Drinking Now

Wine shelves all over the country are jammed with countless selections and choices are so varied it can be dizzying. With that in mind, I’m here to help you work your way through the haze of bottles. I tasted through more than three dozen wines across all price ranges and stylistic tiers, and here are my 11 favorites from the bunch. Hugel et Fils 2012 Gentil ($15)

This vintage of “Gentil” blends together pinot gris (23 percent), pinot blanc (21 percent), riesling (20 percent), sylvaner (20 percent), gewurztraminer (14 percent), and muscat (2 percent). Fermentation took place in temperature-controlled vats. It was gently fined and filtered prior to bottling. Lychee fruit aromas dominate the inviting nose of this French blend. “Gentil” has a palate stuffed with white and yellow melon, peach, and apricot flavors. Head over to The Daily Meal to read the rest.

A Delightfully Diverse Six-Pack from San Luis Obispo

San Luis Obispo is almost exactly halfway between San Francisco and Los Angeles. It’s close to the ocean and near another Central Coast region, Paso Robles. I recently sat down and tasted through a diverse package of wines that hail from there, and in addition to the excellent quality, what really stood out was the diversity. Not only are they making some terrific wines in San Luis Obispo, they’re also utilizing varietals that you don’t see very much of in California that fit in perfectly alongside excellent bottles of California’s usual suspects. To read the rest, head over to The Daily Meal.

Trione Vineyards & Winery produces great Sonoma County Wines

For more than 30 years the Trione Family has been growing and selling grapes in Sonoma County from their own property, as well as vineyards they manage. Almost a decade ago they launched Trione Vineyards & Winery to bottle their own wines. Scot Covington, their founding winemaker, brought winemaking experience in Sonoma County and elsewhere to the table as well as winery building and design knowledge. Over the last few years, I’ve been impressed with the quality and value their releases represent. They make Estate wines that represent two distinct appellations within Sonoma County: Russian River Valley and Alexander Valley. Here’s a look at the most recent releases from their 115-acre property located in the heart of the Russian River Valley. All three wines are 100 percent varietal. Head over to Bullz-Eye.com to read the rest.

Rodney Strong Vineyards Delivers Quality and Value

tasting-room-01-300dpiIf you’re a regular wine drinker and, like most of us, operating on some sort of budget, Rodney Strong Vineyards is a name you should know. They are one of Sonoma County’s most important wineries, if you ask me; perhaps that seems like a bold statement, but the evidence backs it up. Year after year they provide consistent quality and often over-deliver on value for the price in question for a specific bottle of wine. Add the fact that they do this in numerous price tiers from the $10 range all the way up to wines in the $75 range. And as importantly as any of that, they dependably turn out wines that are emblematic of their home in Sonoma County. Here’s a look at a number of their current releases from several tiers in their portfolio. Head over to The Daily Meal to read the rest.

As Summer Winds Down, Four Vines Provides Some Tasty Sipping

Four Vines Truant ZinfandelSummer is coming to a close way too fast. The end of summer is a bit like a freight train coming down the tracks; it seems to pick up speed the closer it gets. Instead of decrying the arrival of fall, focus on enjoying the rest of the warm weather we have left. One way to do that is to hang out with good friends, good food, and delicious wine. I tasted through some wines from Four Vines that I found to be quite tasty as well as budget-friendly. Head over to The Daily Meal to read the rest.

Visiting Clif Family Winery in the Heart of Napa Valley

Clif Family Winery RifugioMost every moment I spend in wine regions I’m on the hunt. Of course I’m looking for excellent wine, but when I’m on the ground somewhere I’m searching for brilliant tasting experiences too. They come in every shape and size, offering everything from just wine, to light pairings, all the way to full on meals accompanying wines. I just spent 10 days split between Napa Valley and Sonoma County; and on this trip alone had a huge variety of experiences. Many of them were quite good and well worth mentioning. One, however, stood above the pack. To say my tasting at Clif Family Winery was a homerun would be to sell the experience short. The tasting at Clif Family Winery is a Hall-of-Fame-caliber tasting, easily in the top five tasting experiences available in Napa Valley. Head over to The Daily Meal to read the rest.

Chile’s Concha y Toro Makes Food & Budget-Friendly Wines

My Latest Story for:

Concha y Toro is the largest winery in Chile. The depth and variety of their portfolio spans many styles, price-points, and varietals. They employ several winemakers; each focuses on a different tier of wines. I recently had lunch with Marcelo Papa at Haven’t Kitchen. He’s the Concha y Toro winemaker responsible, among others, for the Marqués de Casa Concha line. These offerings are single vineyard, site-specific wines. Over lunch we tasted a number of the selections in this range, each paired with a food that showcased a different global influence. The goal was to highlight the ability of their wines to pair with cuisine of various styles from all over the world. If wine pairing is performance, this was a tour de force showing. The foods prepared by Concha y Toro executive chef Ruth Van Waerebeek worked fabulously with Marcelo’s wines. Prior to sitting down to lunch we tasted a few newly launched wines outside the Marques line. Here are the six wines from this afternoon that really struck a chord with me. Read the rest over at The Daily Meal

Ironstone Vineyards - A Wine for Every Taste Bud

My Latest Story for Bullz-eye.com:

The Kautz family has been farming grapes in California for more than 65 years. With more than 5,000 acres under vine, they’re one of the largest growers in the state. In addition to selling fruit, for more than 25 of those years they have also been making their own wine. Ironstone Vineyards is located in the Sierra Foothills. They farm their property sustainably as shepherds of the land they inhabit. Their portfolio features a wide range of wines, many available nationally, as well as a few limited releases found in their tasting room. Here’s a look at four of my favorites among their current offerings.

Ironstone Vineyards 2012 Ironstone Reserve Chardonnay – The fruit for this wine came from Sierra Foothills vineyards that have been in the family for four generations. This offering is 100 percent Chardonnay. The fruit was hand-selected and gently pressed. Barrel aging occurred entirely in French oak; bottle aging followed prior to release. About 1,000 cases of this wine were produced, and it has a suggested retail price of  of $19.99. Bright apple, white fig and gentle crème brulee aromas are all part of the nose of this Chardonnay. The palate is studded with Asian pear and... read the rest over at Bullz-eye.com

Concha y Toro - 2012 Serie Ribera Gran Reserva Chardonnay

Earth Day is a good time to celebrate some of the innovations in the wine industry. In this particular case I’m thinking of Chile’s Concha y Toro. They’re the largest producer in Chile with a vast portfolio of wines in varied styles and price tiers. They also continue to push the envelope when it comes to earth friendliness. They do this in a variety of ways including lighter glass bottles to lower their carbon footprint as well as being the first winery to measure their water usage footprint. And that’s just a couple of examples. Here’s a delicious wine that comes from a vineyard in a cooler area that naturally withstands the effects of climate change. Concha y Toro 2012 Serie Ribera Gran Reserva Chardonnay – This offering is from a series of wines Concha y Toro has released that focuses on grapes grown near one of Chile’s major rivers. This selection is 100% Chardonnay and all the fruit came from the Ucuquer Vineyard in Chile’s Colchagua Valley. It has a suggested retail price of $16.99. An inviting nose is lead by lemon curd, apple, and vanilla bean aromas. The palate shows off a pure and unadulterated burst of yellow delicious apple and Anjou pear flavors. Supporting bits of spice are present as well, Mineral notes, tart granny smith apple and wisps of lemon ice which marks the long, crisp, clean and pleasing finish.

Sauvignon Blanc from Chile gets a lot of attention, and rightly so as it’s one of the great countries for that grape. However it seems to overshadow the Chardonnays, which is a shame because Chile produces quite a few excellent ones. This particular example from Concha y Toro is not only delicious it’s also a terrific value and represents their dedication to earth friendliness. That is certainly something to tip a glass back to any day of the year but particularly on Earth Day!