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Rodney Strong Vineyards 2015 Upshot Red Blend

Rodney Strong Vineyards 2015 Upshot Red Blend

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.

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.

Trivento Estate 2014 Amado Sur Malbec

Trivento Estate 2014 Amado Sur Malbec

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.

Rodney Strong 2013 Sonoma County Reserve Malbec

Rodney Strong 2013 Sonoma County Reserve Malbec

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.

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.

6 Budget Friendly Wines for Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is less than a week away! That means we all need some wine to serve our guests or ourselves, preferably both. Spending top dollar to get good wines is fairly simple. Finding value driven offerings that get the job done is a bit more challenging. Here are some delicious selections that will work well for your Thanksgiving meal. With one exception they all clock in under $25. Even at lower price points it’s nice to have one splurge wine to consider. Espirit du Rhone 2013 Cotes du Rhone AOC ($11.99)

This wine blends together Grenache (60%), Syrah 30%), Carignan (5%), and Cinsault (5%). 1,000 cases of this wine have been imported to the US. Hints of anise and rhubarb aromas present on the nose here. The palate is studded with purple fruits, dry currants and Montmorency cherry. Bits of finely ground espresso join nutmeg and cinnamon on the finish. Medium tannins soften with a little bit of air. This acid rich, food friendly wine will pair with everything on your Thanksgiving table.

Decopas 2013 Malbec ($12)

All of the fruit for this wine comes from the Mendoza region of Argentina. It’s comprised entirely of estate bottled Malbec. This deeply colored hue of this wine is striking in the glass. Plum, violet, and a little hint of vanilla bean wafts from the appealing nose. The palate is loaded with sumptuous and juicy black fruit flavors such as blackberry and raspberry. Bay leaf characteristics, sour black cherry and a hint of dark chocolate mark the lip smacking finish. Decopas Malbec will pair well hard cheeses, meat based stuffing, ham and the bird itself. Decant this one for an hour and it’ll really pop.

Esporão Verdelho ($12.99)

The fruit for this wine was sourced from vines with an average age of 10 years on them. It’s composed entirely of Verdelho. It was fermented in a temperature controlled environment, stabilized, filtered and bottled without any oak influence. Hints of lemon and lots of fleshy yellow melon jump from the nose here. The palate has loads of green apple flavors, more citrus and lemon characteristics, as well as a dollop of white pepper. Grapefruit and lemon zest light up the crisp and refreshing finish. Hand your guests a glass of this when they walk through the door on Thanksgiving, they may drink it all day and never switch to red.

Georges Dubeouf Chateau les Capitans Julienas 2011 ($18.99)

All of the fruit for this wine was picked by hand. It’s composed entirely of Gamay. It was fermented in a temperature controlled environment using native yeast. Red cherry and cranberry fill the nose along with hints of toast. A cornucopia of dried red fruits and savory spices fill the flavorful, medium bodied palate. The finish lingers with continued red fruits, black tea, minerals and warming spices. This wine is tasty on it’s own but really shines with food.

Esporão Reserva Red ($24.99)

This offering blends together Aragonês, Trincaeira, Cabernet Sauvignon and Alicante Bouschet. Each grape was harvested and vinified separately. Barrel aging occurred over 12 months in American (70%), and French (30%) oak; 12 months of bottle aging followed prior to release. This red blend has a beautiful deep, dark purple color. Red and black fruits mix with copious spices on the welcoming and heady nose. There’s an inherent earthiness that leads the palate. Red and black fruits join in along with lots of spices. Cherry, strawberry, and black pepper are all joined by bits of roasted coffee bean on the above average finish. This wine has medium tannins and terrific acidity. Esporão Reserva Red is just begging to be paired with food. It’ll excel with just about anything you throw at it, making it a natural for the day of the bird.

Flora Springs 2012 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon ($40)

All of the fruit for this wine came from Napa Valley. In addition to Cabernet Sauvignon (95%), small amounts of Malbec (3%), and Petit Verdot (2%) were also blended in. It was aged over 22 months in a combination of French (71%), and American oak (29%). Black Currant, cherry and Mexican Vanilla bean aromas are omnipresent on the nose. Black cherry with a splash of a liqueur dominates the palate which is plush and lush in its easy drinking, smooth nature. Crushed velvet, continued black and red cherry, earth, espresso and chicory are all present on the finish along with a hint of bitter chocolate. This is a fine example of Napa Valley Cabernet that drinks impeccably right out of the bottle. It does down easy and also has good depth and complexity.

Achaval–Ferrer is Producing Reference Quality Argentine Malbec and More

A couple of weeks back I sat down with Santiago Ferrer, the founder and winemaker for Achaval–Ferrer. We tasted through his current single-vineyard malbecs as well as older vintages of Finca Altamira, his signature malbec. Separate from that, I also recently sampled a couple of his more widely available wines. Santiago is doing some terrific things with malbec specifically and also other varieties as well. Here’s a look at some of my favorites from the Achaval–Ferrer portfolio. Head over to The Daily Meal to read the rest.

Trione Vineyards & Winery - 2009 Russian River Valley Syrah / 2009 Alexander Valley Red Wine / 2009 Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon “Block 21”

One of my favorite things about covering wine is the opportunity to hang out with winemakers. It’s a lot of fun and also a relief when there’s someone in the room who’s more of a geek about fermented grape juice than I am. The last few years I’ve been really impressed with the offerings being put out by Trione Vineyards & Winery. And while I’ve loved the wines, it was only recently that I visited their tasting room and met their winemaker Scot Covington. I spent most of an afternoon with him and we tasted wines in barrel, tank and of course out of bottle. Trione has vineyards in Alexander Valley and the Russian River; hundreds of acres in fact. Most of the grapes are sold; Scot gets to make wine with the best of the best that their property offers. It’s clear that he loves what he does and the opportunity to select fruit from such a large playground is an inspiration to him.  I tasted lots of wine with Scot and I eagerly anticipate re-tasting some of the offerings that aren’t even in bottle yes once they’re released, there’s a ton of promise and upside there. For the moment though here’s a look at three current Trione Wines you can get your hands on. Trione 2009 Russian River Valley Syrah – The fruit for this wine came from a single block in Russian River Valley that’s planted to clone 470 and 877. The methodology Scot used to make this Syrah is similar to the one he employs with Pinot Noir. 809 cases were produced and it has a suggested retail price of $32. Black and red plum aromas fill the heady nose of this Syrah. Dried black fruit flavors are in strong evidence throughout the palate; blackberry and blueberry characteristics are joined by plum pudding spices.  Bits of espresso and smoked meat emerge on the lengthy finish. Firm gripping tannins yield with some air. This Syrah is two-faced in nature, the fruit says new world, the style and methodology say old world. Bottom line, it makes for a delicious and food friendly wine.

Trione 2009 Alexander Valley Red Wine - This wine is a blend of all 5 classic Bordeaux grapes. The majority is Cabernet Sauvignon (69%), with Merlot (12%), Petit Verdot 7%), Cabernet Franc (6%), and Malbec (6%) making contributions too. The wine was aged in French oak for 18 months; 45% of the barrels utilized were new. 2,292 6 bottle cases were produced and it has a suggested retail price of $48. Sweet, dark berry fruit aromas fill the nose of this Red blend. Plum and blueberry flavors dominate the palate which brings to mind a bowl of fresh berry fruits. Black fruit flavors lead the charge, but bits of red slip in and out making their presence known. Tobacco, leather and chocolate notes are all in evidence on the finish which has solid length. Tannins are firm and gripping, they yield with some air. Along those lines, if you’re going to drink this now, decant it for an hour or so, otherwise lay it down for 5 or 6 years and enjoy it in the 5 or so years after that.

Trione 2009 Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon “Block 21” – The single block this Cabernet was sourced from is planted to clone 337. In addition to Cabernet Sauvignon (85%), bits of merlot (9%), Cabernet Franc (2%), Malbec (2%), and Petit Verdot (2%) were also blended in. Each lot was barrel aged separately for 12 months and then blended, an additional 12 months in barrel followed blending. French oak barrels were uses, 45% of them were new. 981 6 packs were bottled and this wine has a suggested retail price of $64. A potpourri of spice leads the nose of this Cabernet. They’re joined by violets and blueberry aromas. Plum, black raspberry and blackberry flavors are present on the full-bodied but easy-going palate. The finish shows off chocolate covered blueberry and a wisp of chicory. This is an exceptionally smooth and engaging Cabernet Sauvignon that’s as easy to drink all by itself as it is to pair with a wide array of food. Alexander Valley is one of the best areas in California for growing excellent Cabernet Sauvignon. This offering from Trione proves how good Cabernet from Alexander Valley can be. It’s wonderful now, but don’t hesitate to lay it down for 8-12 years.

Trione Vineyards & Winery is releasing some terrific wines that speak to their origins in two distinct Sonoma County Appellations. Winemaker Scot Covington is pushing the envelope one vintage after another. He does this not only by enhancing the portfolio with occasional new releases but more importantly by constantly tinkering and striving to make the best wines he can with the bounty that Trione’s Vineyards offer. If you’re in Alexander Valley, stop off at their tasting room and sample the wonderful Sonoma County Wines they’re offering. And if you’re not going to be in Sonoma County soon, go to your favorite local wine shop and look for some Trione wines; I guarantee a delicious experience.

Domaines Paul Mas - 2011 Estate Pinot Noir / 2011 Estate Malbec / Chateau Paul Mas 2011 Clos de Savignac

European wine can be intimidating to wine drinkers for a variety of reasons. Those with an interest in wine but who aren't total geeks about it don’t necessarily know the nuances of labeling and what might be in a particular bottle due to it generally listing region as opposed to varietal content. Stylistically many old world wines are often subtler than their new world counterparts and it can take time for palates to come around to the layered charms of those often elegant offerings. In contrast to all of that Domaines Paul Mas from the Languedoc region of France has some releases that are labeled in such a way that even the budding wine lover can easily discern contents. Additionally they are making wines that bridge the gap in style between the old and new worlds. Here’s a look at three of their current releases. The Paul Mas 2011 Estate Pinot Noir is a single vineyard effort. All of the fruit for this wine came from their St. Hilaire Vineyard located in the Languedoc Region. This offering is 100% Pinot Noir. After maceration the fruit was fermented in a temperature controlled environment for approximately 9 days. Aging took place over 6 months in stainless steel, followed by 2 months in bottle prior to release. This wine has a suggested retail price of $14. Aromas of Strawberry and red cherry fill the nose of this Pinot Noir along with secondary characteristics such as mushroom. Those red fruit characteristics carry through the palate which is towards the more substantial side for Pinot Noir. Minerals, spice and earth are all in strong evidence on the finish which has good length. Medium tannins and zippy acidity lend to a nice backbone and structure here. This is a Pinot from the old world that shows off new world flavors while still being proportionate.

The Paul Mas 2011 Estate Malbec is a single vineyard wine. All of the fruit for this selection was sourced at the Gardemiel Vineyard. This is a 100% varietal offering. This wine is available throughout the country and has a suggested retail price of $14. This Malbec has a really lifted nose with super expressive aromatics. Floral characteristics and deep, dark plum are both part of the equation. The palate is fruit driven but elegant and quite proportionate. Dark fruit flavors abound and are joined by a copious amount of spice. The finish is generous and velvety in nature with continued lush fruits and bits of earth as well. Firm acidity keeps things in check here. Soft tannins help this go down easy. This is a very expressive example of Malbec loaded with layers of fruit. This wine will pair well with roasted meats and hard cheeses to name a few good partners.

The Chateau Paul Mas 2011 Clos de Savignac was produced from fruit sourced at a single vineyard within Languedoc. This offering blends together Mourvèdre (50%), Syrah (30%), and Grenache (20%). This selection has a suggested retail price of $27. Aromas of violets and white pepper lead the nose of this blend. Blackberry and blueberry play key roles on the palate with black raspberry present as well. Black cherry and rhubarb characteristics emerge on the finish along with leather, espresso and baker’s chocolate. Firm, chewy tannins and acidity are present here. This blend of three classic varieties has substantial depth of palate and generous length and overall complexity for its price point. In its youth this wine will pair best with substantial foods.

This is a distinct trio of wines from a couple of different tiers in the Domaines Paul Mas line that shares some similarities. Each of the wines is balanced and proportionate. These are grapes that have thrived in France for years but the style here tilts towards the new world while not quite tipping all the way over. They’re eminently drinkable, food friendly and well priced for the quality they represent. Both the Pinot Noir and the Malbec are delicious now and will drink well for the next several years. The Clos de Savignac is a touch on the young side right now. Decanting it for an hour or so is recommended for immediate consumption. However patience will be rewarded. Lay it down for 5 or so years and it will be even more expressive and lovely. These wines are well worth seeking out. In particular if you’re drinking a lot of new world wines and are looking for a bridge back to the old world, these will get you there rather deliciously.

Luigi Bosca Finca La Linda 2012 Rosé / Castello Monaci Kreos 2012 Rosato

With summer weather in full swing for weeks now, I’ve been going through more Rosé than ever. That’s partly because my thirst for them increases year after year; in addition to that we see more and more Rosé’s on our shelves from all corners of the globe as time marches on. Here’s a look at two I just tried and really enjoyed. The Luigi Bosca Finca La Linda 2012 Rosé was produced from fruit sourced in the Mendoza region of Argentina. This offering is 100% Malbec. Fruit for this Rosé was hand picked, sorted and destemmed. Fermentation took place in a temperature controlled stainless steel tanks at cool temperatures. This widely available wine has a suggested retail price of $13. This Rosé has a darker, more vibrant hue than the average. Aromas of wild strawberry jam leap from the nose of this wine. Bright raspberry, cherry and bits of orange characteristics light up the palate with a ton of scrumptious flavors. Vanilla bean, sweet cherry and white pepper notes are all in evidence on the finish which has good length and shows off firm, crispy acidity. This wine will go well with a variety of foods; I found it to be particularly excellent with spicy chicken tacos.

The Castello Monaci Kreos 2012 Rosato was produced from fruit sourced in Italy’s Puglia region. This Rosé is a blend of Negroamaro (90%) and Malvasia Nera di Lecce (10%). The wine was produced using the saignée method. 3,750 cases were produced ans it has a suggested retail price of $16. The color of this wine brings fresh strawberries to mind. Bright cherry aromas spill from the nose of this Rosé with conviction. A bevy of red fruit flavors such as watermelon, raspberry, cherry and strawberry explode on the palate. This is a refreshing and engaging Rosé loaded with curb appeal. Zingy spices and acidity dot the finish. There’s a touch more heft here than the average Rosé which will allow it to marry with slightly bolder foods.

There’s a bit more prime Rosé drinking weather left this summer. Here are two terrific, delicious, and distinct wines that you should consider. Hopefully you’ve already enjoyed a bevy of different Rosé’s this season, if for some reason you haven’t here are a couple of excellent places to start.

Achaval-Ferrer - 2010 Quimera

Many wine making regions produce Bordeaux inspired blends and the results vary greatly. In my mind the downfall often comes when trying to mimic the great wines of Bordeaux to the point of not focusing on what does best in the region in question. Argentina of course is best known for Malbec which thrives there in a variety of styles. The latest release from Bodega Achaval-Ferrer is a Bordeaux inspired blend and it’s also a wine with a relatively large percentage of Malbec in it. So here’s a release where Bordeaux inspiration and local rock-star grape meet. Here are my thoughts on the results. The Achaval-Ferrer 2010 Quimera was produced from fruit sourced in three appellations: Lujan de Cuyo, Medrano, and Tupungato. This offering is a blend of Malbec (31%), Merlot (20%), Cabernet Sauvignon (27%), Cabernet Franc (18%) and Petit Verdot (4%). Each varietal underwent primary fermentation separately in small tanks; Malolactic fermentation followed after the wine was blended. Barrel aging took place over 12 months in entirely French oak; 40% of the barrels utilized were new and the balance had been used once prior. Just more than 3,000 cases of this wine were produced and it has a suggested retail price of $56.

Ripe, red and black fruit aromas fill the heady nose of this 2010 blend from Argentina. The palate is studded with tons of fresh and exuberant fruit flavors; plum, blueberry and blackberry are of particular note. There is depth to spare here, all of the ripe and ready fruit flavors are joined by a notable spice component. The finish is velvety and lingering with pepper, bits of chicory and a dusting of sweet dark chocolate to close things out. The tannins are smooth and lush, pulling you in for sip after mouthwatering sip. There is a load of engaging and eager fruit here that is ready to please now, but there is also structure in place that will allow the 2010 Quimera to age well for a dozen years or more under proper storage conditions.

The goal of great blended wine is to create something that is greater than the sum of its parts. The 2010 Quimera is a seamless mélange of varietals that comes together deliciously to achieve that very goal. And yes while this wine draws some inspiration from Bordeaux it gains as much from the fact that it focuses on what does well in Argentina both in terms of specific grapes and stylistically. This is a wonderful wine that should be on the short list of anyone who loves excellent red blends.

Celebrate World Malbec Day with Trivento 2011 Amando Sur Malbec & Graffigna 2011 Centenario Reserve Malbec

Today is Malbec World Day so I thought tasting through some Malbecs and finding a couple to recommend was the thing to do. Malbec is planted in a number of different regions in the world but the examples coming from Argentina are the best known to most wine lovers. In many other countries it’s more often used as a blending component with Bordeaux style blends. That said varietal Malbecs in small quantities come from other areas like Chile as well. The Trivento 2011 Amando Sur Malbec was produced from a blend of Malbec (78%), Bonarda (12%) and Syrah (10%). All of the fruit was sourced in the Mendoza region of Argentina in the foothills of the Andes Mountains. This widely available wine has a suggested retail price of $15. Wild strawberry, violets, and red raspberry aromas fill the nose of this Malbec. Red plums, raspberries and cherry are all in stromng evidence along with white pepper, cardamom and a hint of vanilla through the palate. The is a well-balanced Malbec that offer plenty of up front fruit but also backs it up with an even keeled palate of substance and a nice finish that shows off sour cherry and hints of blueberry as well as black tea, pepper notes and good persistence. This Malbec works on its own but really excels with food. Grilled meats and strong cheeses are particularly reccomended.

The Graffigna 2011 Centenario Reserve Malbec was produced from estate fruit. The fruit came from two areas within San Juan Argentina. This is a 100% varietal wine. Barrel aging occurred over 12 months in a combination of French (85%) and American (15%) oak. This wine is available all over the country and has a suggested retail price of $14.99. This wine from Graffigna is a Malbec I’ve been enjoying regularly for the last several years. One vintage after another one of the hallmarks has been its balance and proportion while still providing a nice punch of full flavored fruit flavors. It follows that up with depth and balance. The 2011 vintage is no exception, dark fruit flavors such as plum and blackberry lead the nose. Black cherries and a bit of plum star on the palate along with raspberry and copious spices. The flavors are fruity but never over the top and above all refreshing in nature with crisp acidity. The finish has medium length and reverberates with spices, chicory, and wisps of sour cherry. Graffigna continues to make food friendly wines that are well priced for everyday drinking; they’re well worth your time and money. They have also worked with Riedel to develop a special Malbec Glass, I'll be taking a look at that in an upcoming post.

Happy World Malbec Day everyone! I hope you all get a chance to pick up one of these wines to celebrate this delicious day. Too many examples of Malbec in this general price range are a lot of flash and little substance, here are two well-heeled examples that will be delicious any night of the week with a myriad of foods.

Ravenswood Winery - 2008 Pickberry Red

ravenswood_logoRavenswood Winery under the direction of Joel Peterson became known for Zinfandel. Whether it’s cuvee style offerings from different appellations or single vineyard wines, to this day Ravenswood has a Zinfandel for just about every budget and palate. And in addition to Zinfandel they make some other wines of note too. Most of these are small production offerings that are found in better wine shops and some restaurant wine lists. One of these is Pickberry Red; I’ll look at the current release today. The Ravenswood 2008 Pickberry Red is a single vineyard effort. All of the fruit was sourced at the namesake vineyard which is located on Sonoma Mountain. This offering is a blend of Merlot (59%), Cabernet Sauvignon (39%), Malbec (1%) and Petit Verdot (1%). This wine was aged over 22 months in entirely French oak; 22% of the barrels utilized were new. 600 cases were produced and it has a suggested retail price of $50.

Dark fruits such as black cherry and plum fill the nose of Pickberry Red. The palate is also loaded with deep, inky fruit flavors which are simultaneously intense, layered and proportionate. Black cherry characteristics lead the way along with black raspberry and blueberry playing roles as well. Minerals and spice offer a nice counterpoint. Earth, violets and black pepper are all part of the finish which has terrific persistence. This wine has chewy tannins that soften with some air and firm acidity at its backbone. While the 2008 Pickberry Red is delicious today it’s built for the long haul. If you have the patience to lay this down for 8-12 years you’ll be justly rewarded. This is a new world wine that brings to mind old world flavors and style. Pair it with a delicious meal for best results.

California Meritage and Franciscan's Magnificat Turn Twenty Five

Last week Franciscan Estate threw what amounted to a birthday party, for Magnificat their flagship wine, in Manhattan at Calliope Restaurant. I was glad to be in attendance at this event which showcased the Franciscan Bordeaux blend. Bordeaux blends have been made all over the world for many years, including in Napa. However, it has now been 25 years since the term Meritage was introduced and along with it Franciscan’s first vintage of Magnificat. As such it was a noteworthy milestone to mark, and an excellent reason to take a look at Magnificat alongside some of its peers. Franciscan Winemaker Jay Turnipseed was on hand to speak about his wines as well as to offer some insight in a general sense about all of the Bordeaux inspired wines. Those peers helped make the event particularly interesting. They were part of a blind tasting of six wines composed of Bordeaux varietals from around the world; Magnificat was of course amongst their number. Tasting them blind was a fine exercise in testing each of our abilities to nail regional characteristics and styles. The sense I got was that most of us gathered had about 2/3 of the regions picked out correctly. All of the blends tasted were from the 2009 vintage. The regions in play were New Zealend, Bordeaux (Left and Right Banks), Walla Walla Washington, South Africa and of course Napa Valley. I was pretty happy getting 4 out of 6 regions correct. The Magnificat stood out to me immediately probably for a few reasons, not the least of which being I’ve been drinking it consistently since the 90’s.

After the blind tasting we sat down to dinner where we were poured several Franciscan wines. This included the current vintage of Magnificat again, side by side with the 2003. The older vintage was actually darker in color that the 2009. Often at about 10 years old the color starts to morph a bit, but this wine was vibrant in color and flavors. While it certainly has a number of years of enjoyable drinking to come, The 2003 Magnificat is in a really lovely place right now. Secondary characteristics have started to kick in and the fruit flavors are ever so slightly tamed. Earth and espresso bean were prominent on the finish.

The current release is the Franciscan Estate 2009 Magnificat. This vintage is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignn (64%), Merlot (26%), Petit Verdot (5%), Cabernet Franc (3%), and Malbec (2%).It was fermented and macerated over a 22 day period. Barrel aging followed over 20 months in French oak; 70% of the barrels were new. Just over 6,000 cases of this wine were produced and it has a suggested retail price of $50. Booming, black fruit aromas emerge from the nose of this wine. The flavors are ripe and eager. Blackberry, raspberry and cherry flavors are all in evidence. There’s dark chocolate and chicory on the lengthy finish along with black pepper and a hint of nutmeg and vanilla bean. The 2009 Magnificat does an excellent job of threading the needle. It’s powerful and elegant at the same time. The flavors are big but never over the top and the tannins firm but not overpowering. In short this is an excellent vintage of Magnificat a wine that is one of the standard bearers of Meritage. It’s delicious today but there’s no need to rush, it will certainly drink well for the next 15 years if stored properly.

Tasting the current vintage of Magnificat alongside counterpart wines from around the world, another vintage of Magnificat and several other Franciscan wines throughout the night really helped showcase its beauty. Happy Birthday Magnificat!

Franciscan Estate Winery - 2011 Chardonnay / 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon / 2008 Magnificat

I’ve personally been drinking wines from Napa Valley’s Franciscan Estate Winery since the early 1990’s. In that time they’ve remained a solid player that offers appealing wines sold at consumer friendly prices. Their portfolio has occasionally expanded a bit but they have mostly remained focused on their core offerings. Here’s a look at three current releases that make up a large portion of the backbone of their operation. The Franciscan Estate 2011 Napa Valley Chardonnay is a 100% varietal wine. All of the fruit comes from the winery’s home appellation of Napa Valley. Barrel aging occurred over 7 months in a combination of French and American oak; 20% of the barrels utilized were new. 74,000 cases of this widely available offering were produced and it has a suggested retail price of $18. Golden Delicious apple and vanilla bean aromas emerge from the nose of this Chardonnay Orchard fruit and apple pie spice are in abundance throughout the even keeled palate. A bit of crème fraiche leads the crisp finish along with cloves, white pepper and an undercurrent of lemon zest. This is an easy to find Chardonnay that is well made vintage after vintage. If you’re looking for a New World Chardonnay that showcases its appealing fruit flavors this is one to consider.

The Franciscan Estate 2010 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon was produced from Napa Valley Fruit. In addition to Cabernet Sauvignon (85%), small amounts of Merlot (11%), Syrah (3%), and Malbec (1%) were also blended in. Barrel aging took place over a period of 20 months; 25% of the barrels utilized were new. 117,000 cases of this wine were produced and it has a suggested retail price of $28. Blackberry and blueberry aromas star on the nose of this 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon. Loads of dark berry flavors dominate the palate, interspersed with bits of red fruit throughout. Copious spices are present as well and add to the depth and complexity of this eager and appealing Cabernet. Minerals and earth are prominent components of the finish which shows good length for its category. Medium tannins yield with some air. This is a textbook example of a Napa Valley Cabernet that is meant for relatively short term consumption. It’ll hold up over the next 5 or 6 years, but it’s appealing, well priced and perfect to drink now, no reason to wait.

The Franciscan Estate 2008 Magnificat is a Napa Valley Meritage wine. This Bordeaux inspired blend has been produced since the 1985 vintage. The 2008 version blends together Cabernet Sauvignon (69%), Merlot (23%), Petit Verdot (6%), and Malbec (2%). This wine spent 20 months aging in oak; 70% of the barrels utilized were new. Just over 7,000 cases of the 2008 Magnificat were produced and it has a suggested retail price of $50. Bramble, red and black raspberry, as well as bits of vanilla bean are present on the nose of this 2008 Meritage. The palate here is studded with sumptuous black fruit flavors, lead by blackberry as well plum and accompanied by a vigorous spice component. Dark chocolate, espresso, earth and black pepper are all in strong evidence on the lengthy and persistent finish of the 2008 Magnificat. This is one of the longest standing and also most consistently excellent Meritage wines coming out of Napa Valley. At $50 a bottle it offers a combination of quality level and relative bang for the buck that is hard to beat. There are similar style blends selling for more than twice the price that can’t touch Magnificat. Whether you purchase it to drink today, or you want to lay it down for a special occasion a decade or so from now, you’re going to get a terrific bottle of wine at a very good price.

The Franciscan wines are standard bearers in Napa Valley. This is producer that makes fairly large quantities of wine that are easy to find all over the country. Their wines also represent a consistent level of quality and offerings that are fairly priced. These wines are well worth your time and money.

Rodney Strong Vineyards - 2011 Charlotte’s Home Sauvignon Blanc / 2009 Symmetry Red Meritage

Rodney Strong Vineyards has a large portfolio of wines that crosses many price tiers. Whether you’re looking for an everyday value in the $10 range or site specific wines for a lot more than that, they have them and many in between as well. I continue to be impressed with their reliability across those layers and consider them a go to producer for a variety of wine needs. Here’s a look at two vastly different current releases from them. The Rodney Strong Vineyards 2011 Charlotte’s Home Sauvignon Blanc was produced from fruit sourced in Alexander Valley and Russian River Valley. 90% was fermented in temperature controlled stainless steel at low temperatures; the balance in French oak. This widely available wine has a suggested retail price of $15 but can most often be found selling for closer to $11. Lemon ice, white pepper and mineral aromas fill the excitable nose of this 2011 Sauvignon Blanc. Citrus characteristics dominate the palate along with bits of orchard fruit and a gentle hint of pineapple as well. The finish is clean and crisp with mineral and spice notes reverberating well after the last sip has been swallowed. Year after year this wine delivers awesome flavor for a very small price. This is a terrific Sauvignon Blanc for the money and one you can bank on one vintage after another.

Rodney Strong Vineyards 2009 Symmetry is a Red Meritage. This selection is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon (79%), Malbec (14%), Merlot (6%), and Cabernet Franc 1%). Most of the fruit for this wine was sourced in the same Alexander Valley Vineyards that they use for their Single Vineyard Cabernet’s. Barrel aging occurred over 22 months in all French oak. This wine which has been part of the Rodney Strong Portfolio for over 15 years has a suggested retail price of $55. It can often be located for about $45. Red and black raspberry as well as black cherry aromas roar out of the nose of this 2009 Meritage. The palate is loaded with a stunning array of fresh and dry red and black berry fruit flavors that are buoyed by complementary spice notes. The cherry characteristics steal the show here and appear in droves from the first sip to the very last. Earth, chicory, black pepper and sweet dark chocolate notes are all part of the lengthy and harmonious finish. This wine will drink well over the next 8 or so years. However it’s so willing, juicy and ready to give of itself now that there’s simply no reason to wait. This delicious wine is a real pleasure to drink both on its own and paired with hearty foods.

I’m a big fan of Rodney Strong Vineyards and the dependability their wines represent. You can plunk your money down for their offerings with the confidence that you’re going to get value back. Charlotte’s Home Sauvignon Blanc is on my short list of a small handful of California Sauvignon Blanc’s that deliver eminent drinkability, quality and consistency vintage after vintage for a nominal price. Symmetry is precisely what I believe a Meritage wine should be; it seamlessly blends the varietals together to form a whole greater than the sum of its parts. In its price category it also represents a terrific value.

Visiting Viña Santa Rita and Tasting Their Generous Portfolio

My recent trip to Chile was impressive on a number of different levels. One thing that stood out to me in particular was the diversity of the winery properties we got to visit. They ranged in size, scope and style. One of the more beautiful and historic was Santa Rita. The property there is simply gorgeous. Beautiful gardens within large expanses of property, a chapel, historic hotel and an authentic restaurant and more come together to form a wonderful destination for wine lovers as well as anyone who enjoys a beautiful slice of the earth. They offer a diversity of touring and tasting options that should appeal to visitors of all sots. Check their website for specific details. While at Santa Rita we toured the property and facility, had lunch at Doña Paula their onsite Restaurant; most importantly however we tasted through the portfolio. As is common in Chile Santa Rita has several tiers of wines. Their entry level wines start at around $9 dollars and their top shelf selection runs around $75; in between are a host of selections in various prices with varying styles, intents and palates in mind. In total we tasted through 15 selections during our formal sit down tasting, what follows are my impressions of a handful of my personal favorites from that day.

Santa Rita 2011 Reserva Sauvignon Blanc D.O Casablanca Valley: This is a 100% varietal wine made from estate fruit. The cool climate of Casablanca is one of several areas in Chile that are particularly well suited for this grape. The Reserva tier of wines has a suggested retail price of $12.99. Pineapple aromas and flavors are apparent throughout this wine which has a lovely nose and medium weight palate. Pear and citrus flavors play a role as well. This wine has a crisp finish and zippy acidity. All three Sauvignon Blanc’s we sampled were well made and appealing. However I found this one to be the knockout value of the trio.

Santa Rita 2009 Reserva Malbec D.O. Colchagua Valley: This release is a blend of primarily Malbec (85%) with a healthy dollop of Merlot (15%) blended in. This wine was aged in American and French oak barrels for approximately 8 months. It has a suggested retail price of $12.99. This is a classically styled Malbec where black fruit aromas and flavors dominate. The palate is layered and persistent with plum and raspberry flavors. Hints of espresso emerge on the finish along with copious spices. The tannins are chewy and substantial but yield with some air. This is an excellent Malbec that has plenty of willing fruit flavors but also isn’t overwrought in any way. For the money this is an outright steal that may just completely change your view of the quality of under $15 Malbec forever.

Santa Rita 2009 Medalla Real Cabernet Sauvignon D.O. Maipo Valley: This wine is predominately Cabernet Sauvignon (95%) with a touch of Cabernet Franc (5%) blended in. The vines utilized have 15 years of age on them. Barrel aging occurred over 14 months in a combination of 1st, 2nd and 3rd use oak. The Medalla Real range of wines has a suggested retail price of $19.99. This wine has a classic Cabernet Sauvignon nose of red and black berries laced with hints of toast and wisps of vanilla bean. Boatloads of cherry flavors dominate the palate and lead to pomegranate characteristics on the finish along with earth and black pepper. This is a remarkable Cabernet Sauvignon for under $20. A Cabernet of this quality, depth and persistence from Napa Valley to use one point of comparison would easily fetch $35-$40.

Santa Rita 2007 Triple C, D.O. Maipo Valley: This offering is a blend of Cabernet Franc (65%), Cabernet Sauvignon (30%), and Carménère (5%). The Carménère vines utilized have more than 70 years of age on them. Barrel aging took place over 20 months in new French oak. This wine has a suggested retail price of $35. Triple C is lead by an explosive nose loaded with cherries, leather and violets. Throughout the complex palate cherry flavors continue to dominate the show, Pencil lead, earth and spices reverberate throughout the lengthy finish. Firm but yielding tannins mark this wines impressive structure. This blend is a bit on the young side now, but oh so delicious and impressive. For it to really shine it needs a couple of years in the cellar or 2-3 hours in the decanter. In any case it’s a lovely blend that it sure to impress. This is one of a number of wines I tasted on my trip to Chile that indicate with confidence that Blends will be the key to Chile’s rise in the wine world over the next few years.

This tasty quartet of wines represents the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the Santa Rita portfolio. What I had the opportunity to taste was a well made array of wines whose tiers are well defined. Sometimes tasting 3 or 4 examples of one varietal from a single winery leaves me shaking my head. That’s because they are often far too similar because a house style has prevailed over letting the fruit speak. This was most definitely not the case at Santa Rita. Tasting these wines side by side the distinction between vineyards, range and stylistic choices guided by the winemakers was clear. I urge you to try a wine from Santa Rita in a price range you’re comfortable with and them dabble in various directions after you discover what I did: how well made, delicious and value driven their wines are regardless of price-point. And if you're in Chile, make Santa Rita one of your destinations.

The State of Chilean Wines Today: Quality, Value, and Diversity

The State of Chilean Wines Today: Quality, Value, and Diversity

Cabernet Sauvignon was king when I first started drinking Chilean wines some 20 years ago. And not just Cabernet in general, but specifically bargain priced Cabernet. Most wine drinking folks I know rifled through bottles of $6 or so Cabernet Sauvignon looking for gems; we found quite a few. And for many people that’s the lingering impression of Chilean Wine. The trouble is it’s no longer a valid image. Sure you can still find a bargain and some of them are Cabernet Sauvignon, but there is so much more Chilean wine on U.S. shelves deserving your attention and your dollars that it would be a real shame to limit yourself. I knew this before I went to Chile last week. So one of my goals in visiting was to verify it and see what they had going on that might be less obvious from 5,000 miles away. So I’ve compiled a handful of strong impressions of Chilean Wines gleamed from the trenches.

Argentina gets the attention but Chile makes some ass kicking Malbec: It’s Argentina’s signature grape so they should be at the forefront. In some ways they are, the general public thinks about Argentina first for Malbec. Some of them are terrific, but unfortunately way too many examples are made in an overtly fruit forward style with a lackluster body and no finish to speak of. I was a little surprised with the number of Malbecs I got to taste in Chile. While I knew it was there, its presence is larger than I would have guessed. More importantly the ones I tasted where almost all uniformly well made. By and large they were elegant, balanced and well proportioned. Often times they were made from old vine fruit. I hope we start seeing Chilean Malbec on our shelves in reasonable numbers soon.

Tiers baby: I’ve often written about wineries like Rodney Strong in Sonoma County whose tiered approach to their portfolio is consumer friendly. This is true in a very large percentage of Chilean Wineries. They often have 3 or 4 tiers of wine. Often the entry-level wines retail for around $10 on our shelves and they have a top-level that might reach into the $30’s and $40’s, as well as occasionally higher. In between are wines in the teens and $20’s. What’s remarkable is that there is more often than not quality, value, and diversity to be had at each tier. In Chile wineries that produce what we view as very large quantities of wine often do so at a high level. One of the main reasons for this is simple: estate fruit. By owning the vineyards outright or having fruit under long-term contract they have a say in precisely how the vineyards are maintained. This can (and often does) lead to high quality in the bottle at each price point. The intent of a producer’s $8 Sauvignon Blanc and their $20 one are often quite different as are their appeals and projected end user. But what's important is getting value regardless of price; in Chile that is often the case.

There are some delicious small production wines being made: Sure there are lots and lots of excellent Sauvignon Blancs coming from Chile and some tasty Pinot Noirs now too, but that’s not all. I had the opportunity to taste a delicious and marvelously dry Gewürztraminer made by Nimbus (part of the Santa Carolina Family of wines), as well as a lovely sparkling wine from Cono Sur to name a couple.  Viognier is making some ripples in Chile too and hopefully before long we’ll see a greater number of them available in the US as well. I've mentioned a few whites but the same can be said for reds. More than one example of varietal Petit Verdot I had was lovely as were a couple of tastes of Carignan. In some cases these wines aren't on our shelves in the US yet, but they’re important to mention for the coming diversity and quality they represent.

Blends will set Chile apart: Almost every winemaking culture has some blends. In places like Bordeaux they’re everything. In a lot of other places, well quite frankly they’re doing their best to mimic Bordeaux. Certainly Chile works to make great wine and learning lessons from places like Bordeaux or Napa to name two examples is part of the equation. But I also got the very strong sense that Chile is happy to be writing their own rule book when it comes to blends. Sure some of them contain the usual suspects of Bordeaux varietals. However grapes like Carménère that have been marginalized or fallen by the wayside in Bordeaux often steal the show in Chile. Additionally with red blends Syrah often makes a mark too as well as some others. Some of the most impressive wines from Chile I’ve tasted over the last 5 years have been blends. This remained constant on my trip last week where I tasted lots of delicious blends. It’s important to note that with blends like with varietal wines there are values at many price levels.

Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon can still be a great value: While there are no longer boatloads of awesome deals on $6 Cabernet Sauvignon there are still many deals to be had. Cabernet Sauvignon from Chile when it’s grown in the right spot and treated properly in the winery can blow away a lot of countries on QPR. What I found on this trip is that the Cabernets in the $15-$25 range were particularly noteworthy in terms of value. These are balanced wines that are often perfect for everyday enjoyment as well as drinking over the next few years. At a higher cost there are some truly age-worthy wines. One example was the Casa Real Cabernet Sauvignon from Santa Rita. We tasted both the current release (2009) and a 15 year old bottle (1997). Jameson Fink, a fellow writer who was on the same trip wrote about this particular experience and it’s well worth a read.

Diversity is King of Chile now: Everywhere we went there was something unique to taste. In some cases it was a Sparkling Rosé made from an almost lost grape. Sometimes it was a Moscato that stunned us all by how lovely and dry it was. On one occasion it was an Old Vine Sauvignon Gris. These are just a couple of examples. Chilean winemakers are experimenting in the vineyards with new farming techniques as well as plantings of new varietals or the reclamation of abandoned old vineyards. In the Winery they’re also experimenting with how they utilize oak, what they blend together and frankly just about every decision they make. What that means to us is we’re going to get to taste a wide swath of different wines from Chile.

In short I was pretty knocked out by what they have going on in Chile. I’ve really enjoyed drinking the wines from there for a long time now. But in 2012 instead of thinking of them for one thing, I think of Chile for an ever widening variety of different varietals, blends and more. Grab some Chilean wines and taste the quality, value and diversity I was lucky enough to witness firsthand.

Franciscan Estate - 2007 Magnificat

Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot are the wines I first became familiar with in the Franciscan Estate portfolio back in the 90’s. Soon after enjoying those I looked towards their other releases to see what else they were up to. Eventually that led me to their red blend Magnificat, which is their flagship offering. When I’ve gone back to it from time to time over the years I’ve found it to be a consistently well made wine that represents the best of what the folks at Franciscan are up to. Today I’ll look at the 2007 vintage of this wine. The Franciscan Estate 2007 Magnificat is a Bordeaux inspired blend. This wine was produced exclusively from fruit sourced in Napa Valley. The blend consists of Cabernet Sauvignon (71%), Merlot (26%), Petit Verdot (2%) and Malbec (1%). Fermentation and maceration took place over 22 days. Magnificat was aged over 20 months in oak; 89% of the barrels utilized were new and 82% were French. Just fewer than 22,000 cases of this wine were produced in the 2007 vintage. It has a suggested retail price of $50.

Cherry, and Black Raspberry aromas are the most prominent components on the nose of this 2007 Blend. Hints of Eucalyptus chip in as well. Black cherry characteristics carry through the palate along with bits of blackberry, dusty cocoa and copious quantities of spice as well as a gentle kiss of anise. Dark, dusty chocolate notes emerge on the finish along with minerals and continued spice. This is a well structured wine marked by firm acidity and chewy tannins. It’s a bit on the younger side now so I recommend decanting for drinking over the next couple of years. Otherwise hold it for the next decade or so and be prepared to be rewarded for your patience. The bottom line for me is that the 2007 Magnificat is a particularly fine vintage of a wine that is almost always a winner to begin with. It’s well priced for its category and a very solid choice for a special occasion meal.

Newton Vineyard - 2008 Unfiltered Chardonnay / 2008 The Puzzle

Recently, I had the opportunity to taste a number of Newton Vineyard’s current releases alongside Chris Millard their winemaker. It was one of the more interesting tastings in recent memory; in addition to the wines themselves there was a special focus on filtration. Newton makes both filtered and unfiltered wines. All of the releases we sampled are well made and eminently drinkable. I for one however leaned towards the unfiltered wines as my preference. There is an inherent weightiness to their palate and a deeper concentration of flavors and aromas that stood out to me as particularly special. To conclude the tasting we also sampled filtered coffee versus unfiltered French Press. This was also a revelation and it’s a somewhat simple experiment that anyone with a French Press as well as a filtered coffee maker can replicate at home. I encourage you to do just that as I believe you might well be amazed. I decided to revisit a couple of my favorites from the Newton Vineyard portfolio and here’s a look at them. First up is the Newton Vineyard 2008 Unfiltered Chardonnay. This wine was produced utilizing fruit sourced from several locations within Napa County including Newton’s 30 year old Carneros vineyard. Newton’s unfiltered Chardonnay is a 100% varietal wine. Fermentation took place with wild yeasts. Barrel aging occurred over 16 months in French oak; 30% of the barrels utilized were new. This offering has a suggested retail price of $60.

This Chardonnay has a deeply perfumed nose loaded with appealing aromatics. Apple, guava and subtle hints of vanilla bean each play a role. Pineapples, oodles of apple, hints of apricot and spices galore are all prominent throughout the palate. An undercurrent of tropical fruit flavors is present as well. There is an amazing depth of palate here and it is simply loaded with controlled intensity and complexity. The finish on the Unfiltered Newton Chardonnay is long, lusty, fruity and engaging. It goes on and on persistently with fruit and spice notes reverberating. A touch of creaminess provides the final, pleasing note. The bottom line for me is that this is one of the small handful of very best and most honest Chardonnays coming out of Napa Valley at any price point.

The second wine is Newton Vineyard’s 2008 The Puzzle. This is a Bordeaux inspired blend that was made from fruit sourced at their home vineyard on Spring Mountain. Their property is broken up into small blocks and each vintage the finest lots are selected to assemble The Puzzle. As such the varietal composition can vary greatly from one year to the next. The current release is a blend of Merlot (42%), Cabernet Sauvignon (36%), Cabernet Franc (14%), Petit Verdot (6%) and Malbec (2%). Aging occurred over 20 months in entirely French oak. This wine has a suggested retail price of $80.

Cabernet Franc lovers will recognize it’s presence in this wine from the first whiff they take. It lifts the nose and provides a lovely gateway with black cherry, dark chocolate and hints of leather leading the way. Plums and blackberry flavors show up on the palate along with continued cherry (both red and black) characteristics. Nutmeg, black pepper and clove spices are present as well. Earth, hints of smoked meats, cardamom and minerals all emerge on the finish which is persistent and impressive in its length. Impeccable structure and acidity are also present, helping to make this an absolutely phenomenal blend. This is classic Napa Valley mountain fruit in all it’s glory with finesse, depth and a rugged backbone. I sampled The Puzzle after it had been open for a full 24 hours and it was drinking even more beautifully.

There’s no two ways about it, these are both stunningly terrific wines. I’m particularly finicky about California Chardonnays in the premium price range. I find way too many of them are over priced wood and butter bombs that taste like almost anything but Chardonnay. The Newton Vineyard Chardonnay flies in the face of that and is loaded with pure Chardonnay fruit that is enhanced by the oak treatment it received. At $60 it’s not a wine aimed at everyday consumption, but it is an impeccable example of how well Chardonnay can do in California when treated appropriately through the entire process. If you love Chardonnay you owe it to yourself to try this wine when you can. The Puzzle is an excellent blended wine that you’ll have fun drinking with a great meal or sitting with some friends and picking apart all the varietal components that shine in their own way as they come together to make a most excellent and well balanced blend. Both of these wines will drink well for a number of years, The Puzzle in particular while delicious now will improve over the next 10-15 years. If you haven’t tried the wines from Newton Vineyard, they are well worth both your time and your money. Their more readily available and lower priced, filtered offerings are also wines you should consider.