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Wine: Reviews, Thoughts & Culture

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Pinot Noir

Two Delicious Wines from Alto Adige

Two Delicious Wines from Alto Adige

Alto Adige in Northern Italy is a diverse place in a number of ways. Valley floors and mountains provide a variety of influences on vines as do elevations that range from a few hundred feet to several thousand.  The region which sits at the intersection of Italy, Switzerland, Austria, and Germany feels the influence of all those countries on

Toad Hollow Vineyards 2017 Dry Rosé of Pinot Noir

Toad Hollow Vineyards 2017 Dry Rosé of Pinot Noir

One of the best days of the wine year is when the first Rosé from the recent vintage shows up. Along with pitchers and catchers reporting to camp for their respective teams it’s a sign that Spring is coming.

10 Outstanding Current Release Wines

10 Outstanding Current Release Wines

The myriad of wines hitting store shelves on a daily basis can be dizzying. Among them are wines at nearly every possible level of quality and intent. Most important of course is whether the wine is any good. Assuming it is good, does it fit your budget and needs.  I just tasted through just more than 4 dozen wines looking for a few good bottles to stand out.

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.                 

A Look at 2014 Goldeneye Pinot Noirs

A Look at 2014 Goldeneye Pinot Noirs

California’s Anderson Valley is particularly well suited for growing Pinot Noir. This small region in Mendocino County has a number of different microclimates within it which allows site specific wine-making to flourish. 

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.

Willamette Valleys First Pinot Auction Makes a Splash

Willamette Valleys First Pinot Auction Makes a Splash

Pinot Noir the signature grape of Willamette Valley has been grown there for just over 50 years. Last week they held their first auction and it was a major success. Savvy wine lovers have been aware for some time that The Willamette Valley is the US Headquarters of Great Pinot Noir. This auction which was attended by people from all over the Untied States and France serves notice of that to the few who hadn't noticed yet. The close to half a million dollars raised will be used to market their region going forward. The official release follows:

Willamette Valley Inaugural Pinot Noir Auction Raises $476,000

-Wine Region’s First Auction Success Reinforces the Pivotal Moment- 

Portland, Ore. (April 4, 2016) On April 2, 2016, the Willamette Valley hosted the region’s first-ever trade auction at the Allison Inn and Spa, Willamette: The Pinot noir Barrel Auction, drawing over 400 attendees and raising $476,000.  Sixty-six of the top Pinot noir producers from the Willamette Valley showcased their one-of-a-kind lots of handcrafted wines for an elite, trade-only audience from around the country. 

“We are thrilled at the success of this event. It was an amazing opportunity for retailers, restaurateurs and distributors from all over the world to not only obtain rare bottlings from our best cellars but to further delve into the complex and world class story of Oregon’s Wine community, said Josh Bergström, the Chairman of the auction.  “It was time for an event of this caliber in the Willamette Valley.  The Oregon wine community sits in a unique moment of time where pioneers and young visionaries are standing together at the same table raising the quality of Pinot noir for the world.”

Bidding on the first lot, five cases from Bergström Winery, quickly soared to $10,000 in a room of eager paddle holders bidding with enthusiasm and beaming to be part of this historic moment. Exceeding expectations, in less than 90 minutes, the auction raised close to a half a million dollars, averaging over $1,000 per case and further signifying the region’s presence on the world wine stage.  

Notable highlights include the five case lot of never before bottled estate grown Pinot noir planted at Bethel Heights in 1994. Winemaker Ben Casteel’s custom bottling for Bethel Heights Vineyard sold for $10,500 to an active group of bidders from Frederick Wildman & Sons in New York City. A single barrel wine made exclusively from the Antica Terra vineyard by Maggie Harrison for Antica Terra Winery sold for $13,000 to the Sea Island Resort in Georgia. Ten cases of Pinot noir crafted from the Yamhill-Carlton and Dundee Hills AVAs by renowned Oregon winemaker Lynn Penner-Ash for Penner Ash Wine Cellars sold for $16,000 to Houston restaurant, Plonk Bistro.

In addition to the recognizable brand names, the inaugural auction premiered wines from notable newcomers to the Oregon wine industry.  Nicolas-Jay, the partnership between Jean-Nicholas Méo and Jay Boberg, auctioned their first wine ever released for sale to the public. Industry veteran, Greg Ralston and acclaimed winemaker, Isabelle Meunier, auctioned their first ever cuvee under the brand Lavinea.

Both of these lots were purchased by Ellen Spicknall from Wine Cellars of Annapolis, who commented after the event: "To have an opportunity to get in on the very first vintage of Lavinea was something we couldn't pass up... The entire event was marvelous, and the people I met are as world-class as their wines. That's why we love to introduce Willamette Valley wines to our customers at the Wine Cellars of Annapolis. We will be back next year."

All proceeds from the auction will support the marketing and branding efforts of the Willamette Valley Wineries Association. The event was facilitated by the nation’s foremost auctioneer, Fritz Hatton. The second annual auction has already been scheduled for April 1, 2017.

For more information about Willamette: The Pinot Noir Barrel Auction and for a complete list of participating wineries please visit www.willamettewines.auction.

About the Willamette Valley Wineries Association: The WVWA is a non-profit industry association dedicated to achieving recognition for Oregon’s acclaimed Willamette Valley as a premier Pinot noir-producing region. Currently, the WVWA has more than 210 members representing wineries and tasting rooms throughout the Willamette Valley region from Portland to Eugene. Memorial Weekend in the Wine Country and Wine Country Thanksgiving are the two oldest WVWA-sponsored touring events in Oregon. The WVWA also publishes an annual guide to wineries with a touring map. For more information or to request a touring map, please visit www.willamettewines.com, call 503-646- 2985, or follow on Twitter @wvwines and on Facebook.

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***Above Auction Image by Aubrie LeGault Photography***

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. 

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.

Steelhead Vineyards - 2013 Sauvignon Blanc / 2013 Pinot Noir

Steelhead_Pinot.PR_Steelhead Vineyards is owned by Katy and Dan Leese who also founded the V2 Wine Group which owns a number of properties. Steelhead Vineyards itself is committed to charity. A percentage of all their sales are donated to Trout Unlimited. This group does outreach with Northern California Wineries to help them move towards improved water practices. This includes restoration of Salmon and Steelhead habitats on their properties and more. More information can be found on their website. Hugh Chapelle, from Quivira Vineyards, is the consulting winemaker. Here’s a look at two of their current releases. Steelhead 2013 North Coast Sauvignon Blanc ($13)

The fruit for this wine (100% Sauvignon Blanc) came from Lake County (80%), and Dry Creek Valley (20%). It was fermented in stainless steel at cold temperatures with a small amount sitting on the lees.  Just fewer than 6,000 cases were produced. Pineapple, yellow melon, mango, and lemon zest aromas are all present on the inviting nose. Apricot, white peach and a bit of spice show up on the agreeable palate which is easy going with more than sufficient depth. Minerals, hints of grass, white pepper and a hint of papaya all show up on the finish. This clean, crisp and fresh tasting Sauvignon Blanc is delicious all by itself and will pair well with creamy cheeses, light foods and the like.

Steelhead 2013 Sonoma County Pinot Noir ($15)

The fruit for this wine, all Pinot, was sourced in Sonoma County. Fermentation took place in open tanks with punch downs as well as some closed tanks with pump overs.  Aging took place in a combination of tank and barrel over 10 months. Just fewer than 12,000 cases were produced. Bing cherry, wild strawberry and hints of spice appear on the welcoming nose. A core of red fruits tinged lightly with black fruit characteristics are joined by lots of spice and mineral elements on the layered palate. Cinnamon, cloves, sweet cocoa, red cherry and bits of cranberry are all present on the above average finish. Firm acid lends structure and adds to the mouth-watering nature of this wine. Balanced Pinot Noir with good varietal typicity is hard to come by in this price range. That makes this wine a bit of a steal at $15.

These are very solid everyday wines. They’re both express their varietal quite well and provide a very impressive amount of delicious drinking pleasure for their price points. If you’re looking for a house white or red to purchase by the case, you’ll do well with these offerings from Steelhead. And you’ll also help make a difference. Sounds like a good deal for all involved.

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

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.

Visiting MacPhail Family Wines Tasting Lounge at the Barlow

Macphail bottle 002Over in Sonoma County in the town of Sebastopol sits The Barlow. It’s a series of former warehouses that has found new life as an open-air mall of sorts. More than a mall, though, it’s a destination for shopping, eating, drinking ,and plain-old hanging out. There are many reasons to go there, but my favorite is the MacPhail Family Wines Tasting Lounge. The focus at MacPhail is largely on pinot noir. They source fruit from distinct vineyards and use it to produce a wide range of wines. Most of them are single vineyard offerings, a few are region specific. There are several tasting options available at MacPhail, some of them require reservations; most of them do not. In my opinion, it’s always a good idea to make an appointment anywhere you go for best results. The atmosphere fostered by general manager and long-time Sonoma Wine Guy Jim Morris at MacPhail is welcoming, laid-back, and informative. Head over to The Daily Meal to read the rest.

Mud House is Producing Distinct New Zealand Wines

MHSauvignon blanc is what New Zealand is best known for, though pinot noir is has fast become a close second. Numerous brands in all price tiers have made their mark around the world, particularly in the U.S., and both grapes thrive there, in different regions, and there are a host of excellent examples from the value category all the way on up to the luxury tier. I recently sat down to discuss this over dinner in New York City with the brand ambassador of Mud House, Jack Glover, and tasted through some current releases. The three below made a particularly strong impression. Head over to The Daily Meal to read The rest.

Chile’s Viña Koyle: Wines of Irrepressible Passion

It’s a lot of fun to discover a musician or band at the very beginning of their career, before they’re a household name. If you do that, when they achieve success it’s likely you’ll feel a stronger connection than in the case when you stumble across an already well known artist because you heard all their hits. In essence, that’s how I feel about the wines of Viña Koyle. I’ve had the pleasure of drinking them since their first vintage. That has given me the opportunity to watch them grow. The vines have aged and already good wines have gotten better one vintage after another. Winemaker Cristóbal Undurraga is constantly tinkering and refining his winemaking approach, adding varietals to blends, using new techniques, and launching new wines. I’ve had the opportunity to taste his wines with him on numerous occasions and each encounter has been a treat. In part that’s because the wines are really, really good, yet still improving all the time. However, it’s also because the raw passion Cristóbal has for winemaking is palpable the moment you encounter him. Whether he’s speaking about sustainable and biodynamic farming practices, aging wine.... Head over to The Daily Meal to read the rest.

Andegavia - 2012 Merrill Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

Wine in containers other than traditional glass bottles has, in some cases, come a long way. It used to be a bit of a joke, but more and more there are wines of various higher levels of quality coming in alternative closures. One fairly new entry into the marketplace is Andegavia. They use the “cask” concept. At the end of the day it’s a bag in a box. The Andegavia releases come in a box that has a nicer shape and is overall better looking than lower priced competitors. As with most within the wide, box category, it containers 3 liters which is the equivalent of 4 standard bottles. The suggested retail price is $70 or $17.50 per bottle. Once you open it the wine is supposed to stay fresh for 30 days. I didn’t test this one over 30 days but I have done experiments with similar style packaging and the wine held up, virtually unchanged, until about the 28th day. The Andegavia is made from Russian River Valley fruit, one of the great areas for growing Pinot Noir. This vintage is now sold out, but the 2013 will be along any minute. They’re available at select retailers and you can place orders through their website. Several options are available when purchasing direct such as bulk discounts as well as a subscription service. The packaging recommended decanting this wine and I gave that a shot. In fact what I did was pour some in a decanter and let it sit for about 45 minutes and then I poured myself a glass from there as well as from the cask. The decanting made a real difference in this offering. It was good right out of the cask but a bit tight. The fully expressive, decanted wine offered wild strawberry and red cherry aromas that are underscored by wisps of thyme and sage. The backbone of the palate is loaded with red and black cherry flavors as well as cinnamon and cardamom spice. Sour black cherry and rhubarb flavors emerge on the finish along with dollops of mineral and black tea.

Quality Pinot Noir under $20 a bottle is a tricky proposition at best. This example belies that. Money saved on glass and shipping costs help. An added benefit is that the packaging is completely recyclable. I poured this for people at a party and it was a huge hit with a large crowd. Whether you’re entertaining many people or simply just want to have a glass of wine with your dinner each night this Pinot Noir is an affordable option and a delicious wine. I look forward to trying other selections in their portfolio to see how they stack up to this Pinot. My first impression is a very positive one.

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.