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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.                 

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.

Clayhouse Vineyard: Home to Distinct Paso Robles Wines

ClayhouselogoOver the last decade the Paso Robles region in California has really emerged as a resource for excellent wines. Paso contains a number of distinct sub-regions and very wide arrays of different grapes thrive there. Producers of all sizes are making interesting wines. Clayhouse Vineyard is a producer I’ve been familiar with for a number of years now. As a whole they make wines that are well priced, full of character and available around the country. Here’s a look at 5 current releases that I heartily recommend. Head over to The Daily Meal to read the rest.

10 Storytelling Wines for Valentine's Day

snoothThere are countless delicious wines you could enjoy with your Valentine this year, but this special holiday calls for more than just outstanding. You need a wine that tells a tale; one preferably told over a candle-lit dinner. With this in mind, here are ten terrific Valentine’s Day bottles that provide intrinsically romantic stories -- in addition to a good drink. Vallformosa Origen Brut Rosada ($20) The color red is everywhere on Valentine’s Day, including this Cava. And everywhere you look these days, you’re seeing Cava. Exports are surging largely thanks to the Millennial generation’s affinity for the beverage. Red flowers, strawberry and a bit of crème fraiche light up the nose. Red cherry and strawberry lead a cavalcade of ... Head over to Snooth to read the rest

Acorn Winery: A Russian River Valley Treasure

Acorn_2011_Medley_300dpi_BtlAcorn Winery is a labor of love for owners Betsy and Bill Nachbaur. They’ve been farming their property, Alegría Vineyards, sustainably since 1990. On their 32 acres in Russian River Valley, they grow 60 grape varieties. From that they bottle approximately 3,000 cases of wine each year; every one of them field blends. Their commitment to environmentally sound practices even includes doing away with foil capsules on the bottle. I’ve been a fan of what they do for years now and try to visit them whenever I can. I was out in Sonoma County recently and I spent some time with them, chatting and of course tasting through their latest releases. Head over to The Daily Meal 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.

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.

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.

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.

Quinta Do Vallado Has Your Thanksgiving Needs Covered

Quinta Do Vallado Tawny 20 Year - with corkPortugal’s Quinta Do Vallado has a history that dates back to the 18th century. It’s now in its sixth and seventh generations of stewardship by the Ferreira Family. Their portfolio focuses on dry wines, but as they sit in the Douro, naturally they also make several ports. I recently tasted through much of their current portfolio, as well as some older vintages. I was struck by the quality, drinkability and age-worthiness of their wines as a whole. In addition, I also found that it would be easy to select all the wines for my Thanksgiving table from their offerings. So with Thanksgiving just about a month away, here’s a look at four wines that offer perfect holiday sipping from the moment your guests arrive through the final bite of dessert. Head over to Bullz-Eye.com to read the rest.

Agricole Vallone: Knockout Example of Negroamaro

Vallone_Graticciaia_BottleAgricole Vallone, which is comprised of 420 acres, was founded almost 80 years ago. It sits in Brindisi, which is part of the Salento Peninsula. The estate is comprised of three distinct vineyards, within which are both newly planted vines and blocks of plantings that date back as far as the winery’s beginnings in the 1930s. Here’s a peek at the current vintage of their most prized and sought-after wine. The Agricole Vallone 2009 Graticciaia was produced from fruit sourced in Brindisi on the Salento Peninsula (IGP). This wine was made entirely from negroamaro. The fruit came from a 10-hectare parcel that features vines 70 to 80 years old. After being hand-harvested and selected, the grapes are dried on racks. Once they have... Head over to The Daily Meal 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.

Hungarian Wine: Ripe For Exploration

Hungary2.jpgAt a recent tasting in New York City, a wide array of Hungarian wines were on display. Most wine lovers who have any familiarity with Hungarian wines probably think of dessert wines first, and for good reason; they make some of the best examples in the world. However there are plenty of dry wines, both white and red, being produced in Hungary that are more than worth diving into. The assortment includes both selections made from indigenous varieties and international grapes. I sampled 35 or so wines that day, which really ran the gamut of diversity. As interesting and good as some of those produced from international varieties were, my favorites were from grapes that are either native to Hungary or thrive there in particular. Five wines stood out to me above the rest: Head over to The Daily Meal to read The Rest.

The Lodi Native Project Makes a Strong Impression

Lodi Native BottlesIf you love wine, you’ll notice that more and more often specific sub-regions are being listed on the label. And well beyond that, single vineyards are often highlighted. In some cases these vineyards become famous and take on a life of their own with numerous producers sourcing fruit from them.  Single vineyard designated wines are quite common in the world of zinfandel, and a lot of zinfandel comes from the Lodi region of California. Six winemakers from that area have set out to show how distinct wines from Lodi can be. Furthermore their goal is to highlight the specific vineyards. They have done this by choosing heritage plantings that often date back to the late 1800s. Each winemaker used exactly the same methodology to produce the wines. 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

MarquesConcha 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. Head over to The Daily Meal to read the rest.

Imagery Estate Winery - 2013 Viognier / 2013 Albariño

Imagery Estate Winery is located in the town of Glen Ellen in Sonoma County. This family owned producer is best known for a couple of things. One is their focus on producing wines from lesser known grapes. Sometimes from varietals that don’t get much attention from US Winemakers. Albariño which is the single most popular white grape in Spain for instance does not have much representation in US acreage. Another thing they're known for is the gorgeous labels that adorn their bottles. Each release of a wine features art commissioned by Imagery from contemporary artists. They’re a small winery and their releases are largely available at their tasting room of through their website. Here’s a look at two that are certainly worth the extra effort to obtain. Imagery Estate Winery 2013 Viognier – The fruit for this wine was sourced in Sonoma County’s Russian River Valley. This offering is 100% varietal. It was whole berry pressed and only the free run juice was utilized. Fermentation took place in temperature controlled stainless steel tanks. 802 cases of this wine were produced and it sells for $29. White peach and toasted almond aromas are prominent on the gorgeous nose of this Viognier. The palate is loaded with appealing stone fruits such as apricot and peach; bits of tropical fruits duck in and out as well. Lychee and bits of honey emerge on the finish which has length, depth and precision to spare. Zippy acidity makes this a wonderful food wine, perfect with a host of lighter fare.

Imagery Estate Winery 2013 Albariño – The fruit for this wine was sourced in Sonoma Valley. It’s 100% Albariño. After whole berry pressing the juice was fermented in temperature controlled stainless steel tanks. 313 cases of this selection were produced and it sells for $29. Honeydew and Cantaloupe melon aromas dominate the nose along with hints of grapefruit zest. The lush palate is studded with pineapple, Anjou pear, yellow peach, and a bit of white peppercorn. Lemon curd emerges on the finish which is clean, crisp and refreshing. If you want to pour summer into a glass, a bottle of this Albariño will do the trick.

Both of these wines are perfect for summer sipping and pairing with lighter foods. They’re delicious, well-crafted offerings that will quench your thirst as well as offer lots of depth and complexity. Sure you could pop open another bottle of Chardonnay, but it’ll be there when these wines are gone. So grab something different and delight your sense this summer!

A Tiny Peek at Australia’s Wine Diversity

Australia is a huge wine producing country whose depth is apparent in both the assortment of varietals they can grow well as well as the styles they’re made in. For years our shores were inundated with mostly lower end Australian wines, often in the form of overripe Shiraz. As a result, the bounty from Australia is significantly broader than a lot of wine lovers realize. All across the Unites States a larger and larger swath of terrific Australian wines are filling our shelves. It’s a great time to try some interesting Australian wines; here are six recent releases that I recommend. To read all about them, head over to The Daily Meal.

Vino Dei Fratelli offers a Broad Array of Tasty Italian Values

Lately, I’ve tasted quite a bit of Italian wine. The wines I’ve tasted recently represent a real cross section of what’s available from Italy — they’re all over the spectrum in terms of price points, grapes used and style. And at the end of the day that’s really a microcosm of what Italy produces, which is great variety. The Vino Dei Fratelli line features wines made all over Italy, and made by several families that vary by area. Basically each family specializes in making wines from varietals that are indigenous to their area. By sourcing from a host of family producers throughout Italy, Fratelli is able to offer genuine regional wines at reasonable price-points under one umbrella. Here’s a look at a handful of their newest releases that I feel represent very good values. Read the rest over at Bullz-eye.com

Dinner with Piedmont Winemaker Gianpaolo Manzone

Gianpaolo Manzone represents the sixth generation of his family involved in the wine business in one aspect or another. His family has two plots of land that add up to 24 acres under vine. In addition to being the winemaker, Gianpaolo is also the vineyard manager for this property which sits is in two different town’s right in the midst of the Piedmont Region. I recently had dinner with Gianpaolo at Ristorante Morini in New York. The evening was fascinating for a multitude of reasons, but two in particular stood out for me. He was remarkably passionate about what he does; that love and intensity for his vocation comes rushing out of him in loud and descriptive bursts. Here’s a man who not only loves tending his vines and crafting wine, he loves sharing it with people and explaining what he does. The other captivating item was how differently he treats each wine he makes. An example would be the grape Nebbiolo. He uses it to make both a varietal wine and several Barolos. However, he has different production and barrel regimens for each. By treating each one differently he’s allowing the grapes in question to shine more prominently than they might otherwise. Over the course of the night we tasted nine wines including a couple of slightly older Barolos which helped form a mini-vertical. Read the rest of the story over at The Daily Meal