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
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Pinot Grigio/Pinot Gris
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.
Australia’s Jacob’s Creek has just launched a new line of wines that represents a collaboration with California winemaker Ehren Jordan. For 18 years, Ehren made the wines at Turley, and he has a Napa-based label (Failla) where he produces his own portfolio. He’s worked with numerous others over the years as well. The team at Jacob’s Creek, including chief winemaker Bernard Hickin, reached out and recruited Ehren to work with them on a range of wines made from Australian fruit but with a California sensibility. I recently sat down with both winemakers over lunch in New York City at Michael Jordan’s Steakhouse to taste these new releases. All four wines below have a few things in common. The fruit for all of them came from vineyards in South Australia. Every one of them is a single varietal wine. They’re available widely throughout the United States. Head over to Bullz-Eye.com to read the rest.
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
Pinot Grigio is a grape that might confuse some people. On the one hand it’s very popular. On the other hand most of the wines spiking Pinot Grigio sales in the United States are at best anonymous and at worst just horrible. The thing is, Pinot Grigio can and does produce lovely wines of distinction. This can be true in various parts of the world, but nowhere more prominently than certain parts of Northern Italy. Here’s a look at one that comes from a small family producer in Friuli. The Azienda Agricola Ascevi Luwa 2012 Pinot Grigio D.O.C. Collio was produced entirely from fruit sourced in the namesake region. This is a hilly area of Friuli which sits near the border of Slovenia. This offering is 100% Pinot Grigio and the fruit was harvested by hand. Fermentation took place over 20 days in a temperature controlled environment. Both fermentation and aging took place in stainless steel tanks. Bottling took place after approximately 6 months. 1,500 cases of this wine were produced and it has a suggested retail price of $18.99. White flower aromas are joined by bits of Lychee fruit on the expressive nose of this 2012 Pinot Grigio. The palate is loaded with ripe, yellow delicious apple flavors. Hints of lemon zest are present as well along with a nice roundup of spices such as white pepper and a hint of vanilla bean. Tart, green apple flavors emerge on the finish along with limestone, graphite and wisps of tangerine zest. Firm acidity lends to the refreshing and crisp nature of this wine.
Pair this Pinot Grigio with entrée salads, roast chicken, pork loin, or soft cheeses to name a few options. This wine boasts excellent varietal character and plenty of charm. It stands out from the pack because it is quite clearly Pinot Grigio. If you’re tired of spending $20 plus dollars on “Pinot Grigio” that is barely identifiable as wine let alone the named grape (regardless of how famous the name of the Winery is) drink the Ascevi Luwa 2012 Pinot Grigio instead. You’ll spend less and be rewarded with a far greater wine. It’s hard to imagine they’re made using the same grape. This small production wine from a family winery is exactly what I'm looking for in Pinot Grigio. Pass up the over-priced grape juice labeled Pinot Grigio and drink Ascevi Luwa 2012 Pinot Grigio, you can thank me later.
I recently had the opportunity to enjoy dinner with Helfrich Winemaker Nicolas Haeffelin and taste current releases of his wines. Helfrich is a family owned winery that was founded in 1934; it sits in the northern part of Alsace. They farm the Steinklotz vineyard which is one of only 51 in all of Alsace that has Grand Cru status. Additionally they source some of their fruit under long term arrangements with trusted neighbors. Amazingly Nicolas’ family has had a winemaker in every generation dating back to 1560. Prior to his time back home in Alsace Nicolas studied and worked in Burgundy and then spent a six months in New Zealand. It was a pleasure tasting wine with Nicolas and witnessing his passion for his work. Helfrich’s portfolio includes a carefully considered array of wines that share commonalities of quality while they are also each distinct. What follows are my thoughts on a trio of my personal favorites from the evening. The Helfrich 2012 Gewurztraminer was produced entirely from fruit sourced in Alsace. This wine is composed entirely of Gewurztraminer. After harvesting the fruit was destemmed and placed in a horizontal press. The juice was then passed into stainless steel tanks for fermentation. It was settled and racked on the lees to help round it out. This wine is finished in screw cap and has a suggested retail price of $14.99. This wine opens with a gloriously big nose that shows off tropical fruit aromas in abundance. The palate has apricot and Lychee fruit was well as white cling peach flavors. The finish is long and lusty with bits of mesquite honey and spice closing things out. The Helfrich Gewurztraminer is a gorgeous wine that I simply wanted to keep drinking.
The Helfrich 2012 Pinot Blanc was produced using fruit sourced within Alsace. This offering is 100% varietal. After harvesting the fruit was fermented at cold temperatures for about a week and a half. It was then racked on the lees. It’s bottled and closed with a screw cap. This Pinot Blanc has a suggested retail price of $14.99. Subtle hints of petrol emerge first on the nose of this Pinot Blanc. Fruit characteristics emerge next and dominate. Peach, wisps of nectarine and papaya are all part of the palate. Copious spice notes and a continued mélange of fruits make up the finish which has nice length. This wine is crisp and refreshing, perfect for warm weather sipping.
The Helfrich 2011 Pinot Gris Grand Cru was produced from fruit sourced at their own Steinklotz Vineyard. This offering is 100% Pinot Gris. The fruit was hand harvested and then destemmed. Whole grape membrane pressing followed. Fermentation was accomplished at cold temperatures in stainless steel tanks. This Grand Cru offering has a suggested retail price of $19.99. Bright stone fruit aromas burst from the gorgeous nose of this Grand Cru Pinot Blanc. The palate here is dense and layered with delicious, rich fruit flavors speckled with spice characteristics. Wave after wave of fresh and unctuous fruit flavors keep coming as this wine envelops your senses. The finish is substantial and lingering with spices, bits of honey and fruit flavors reverberating impressively. This Pinot Blanc was a sublime match with Pork Confit and side of sautéed Brussels sprouts.
What I love most about this trio of wines and the Helfrich portfolio in general is the great bang for the buck they represent. Alsatian wines, at this level of this quality, that we typically find on our shelves in the US often sell for much more. These are delicious wines that work wonderfully on their own and paired with food. In some cases they work well with cuisine more substantial than you might anticipate. These are well made wines that are affordable for everyday drinking and substantial and interesting enough for special occasion drinking as well, particularly in the Grand Cru tier. If you enjoy complex, aromatic whites with substance, do yourself a favor and look for one of the offerings from Helfrich.
Warm weather has thankfully arrived, and with that white wine consumption rises dramatically. BBQ’s, parties and festive gatherings of all types also call for some everyday drinking wines that taste good but don’t break the bank. Here are two examples from Geyser Peak Winery, based in Alexander Valley that fit the bill for summer sipping. The Geyser Peak Winery 2012 Pinot Grigio was produced from fruit sourced in Sonoma & Solano Counties. In addition to Pinot Grigio a small amount of Gewürztraminer was blended in as well. It was fermented entirely in stainless steel. 17,000 cases were produced and it has a suggested retail price of $11. Orange blossom and white stone fruit aromas abound on the nose of this Pinot Grigio. The palate is soft and appealing with lemon ice, white peach, mango, and papaya characteristics all in evidence. Bits of clover honey, lemon zest and white pepper are all part of the finish. This wine is fresh, fruity, juicy and overall loaded with curb appeal. I found that this wine was tastier a couple of degrees warmer than the average white, so avoid the tendency to over chill for best results.
The Geyser Peak Winery 2012 Sauvignon Blanc was produced from fruit sourced in a number of distinct appellations around California. This wine is 100% varietal. Fermentation took place entirely in stainless steel. 125,000 cases of this wine were produced and it has a suggested retail price of $11. Zesty lime aromas are joined by wisps of grass on the nose of this Sauvignon Blanc. The palate tends towards citrus flavors with lemon, lime and hints of orange all playing a role. White melon flavors round things out a bit and lead right into the crisp and zesty finish which shows off minerals, spice and continued echoes of citrus. This is a solid entry level Sauvignon Blanc with good varietal character.
The bottom line is that these are two straightforward, tasty wines that are also well priced. You can serve either of them by themselves or with light foods. If you shop around, you’ll be able to find them for less than $10 a bottle; at that price you don’t need any excuse to pop these open all summer and quench your thirst.
It’s a good thing I keep lists. In this case it’s a list of Wineries in Sonoma County I keep meaning to get to but haven’t yet. Thankfully I can now scratch Balletto Vineyards & Winery off of that list. A couple of years back someone had poured one of their wines for me and It had left an impression. Subsequently a few people whose opinions I trust had mentioned them to me as well. But I kept running out of time on previous trips and never made it there, until last week. I’m quite glad that I did. Balletto Vineyards sits at 5700 Occidental Road, Santa Rosa, CA and their phone number is 707-568-2455. Balletto is open every day from 10 AM to 5 PM. Balletto started out as growers and farmers and they still are, selling off roughly 90% of their fruit in most years. The tasting room has a country charm which instantly brings to mind classic Sonoma County. The day I visited they had roughly ten wines they were pouring. Overall, both whites and reds left a very good impression as did the welcoming nature of their tasting room and operation as a whole. Here’s a look at a few of the wines that stood out the most on my visit.
Balletto Vineyards & Winery 2010 Russian River Valley Estate Pinot Gris is the 9th vintage they have made of this particular release. All of the fruit came from their own vineyards. This wine is 100% Pinot Gris. Just fewer than 2,500 cases of this wine were produced and it has a suggested retail price of $18. A welcoming nose shows of bits of Lychee as well as vanilla bean. The palate shows an impression of sweetness in the droves of stone fruit such as Apricot and White Peach. Lemon Zest rounds things out and leads to the finish which is clean and crisp with zippy acidity. This is perfectly suited to pair with spicy food and light meals; it’ll also work perfectly as a welcome wine.
The Balletto Vineyards & Winery 2009 Russian River Valley Estate Gewürztraminer is the 5th vintage they have produced this wine. This is a single vineyard effort with all of the fruit coming from their Piner Road vineyard. It’s 100% Gewüurztraminer. Just over 500 cases of this wine were produced and it has a suggested retail price of $18 but when I visited they were selling it for a bit less. White rose petal aromas emerge from the nose of this wine along with loads of fruit and hints of spice. Stone fruits, pear and bits of white pepper and vanilla are present on the palate which is gentle and layered with plenty of complexity. The finish here is lengthy as well as spice and mineral laden. This is a really beautiful example of Gewüurztraminer, something a bit too rare in California. Whether you drink it on it’s own or pair it with light foods, this wine is a sure fire winner.
The Balletto Vineyards & Winery 2011 Russian River Valley Estate Pinot Noir was produced from fruit sourced at 5 different vineyards within the winery’s Estate holdings. It’s all Estate fruit and this is the 11th year that they have produced this offering. It’s 100% Pinot Noir. Just fewer than 3.900 cases of this brand new release were produced and it has a suggested retail price of $29. Bits of tea and strawberry emerge on the slightly reticent nose of this 2011 Pinot Noir. This is a new release a bit on the young side and some additional time in the bottle will be a benefit. Cherry and cranberry lead the palate which has good depth as well as being gentle and proportionate. Nutmeg and clove as well as white pepper emerge on the finish along with bits of mineral characteristics. This is a really nice Cuvee style Pinot Noir that you should decant for an hour or two if you’re going to drink it soon. Otherwise hold it for another year or so and it’ll be immediately approachable.
The Balletto Vineyards & Winery 2009 Russian River Valley Estate Syrah is a Single site effort with all of the fruit coming from their Estate BCD Vineyard. This is the 5th vintage they have produced this wine. A mere 210 cases were made and it has a suggested retail price of $24. Aromas of smoked meats and black fruits fill the deep, dark nose of this Syrah. Dark, brooding fruits continue on the palate along with spices that include both white and black pepper. The smoked meat characteristics continue on the lengthy finish along with bits of dark, dusty chocolate. This wine, which is a killer example of how well Syrah can be made in CA when it’s grown and treated right, will pair well with a host of bold meat dishes.
I highly recommend Balletto Vineyards & Winery as a stop to anyone visiting Sonoma County. The wines are well made, delicious and quite reasonably priced. The folks manning the tasting room are friendly, welcoming and informative. In short it’s a great place to while away some time, tasting excellent wine. The day I visited they had several wines on sale which made those particular wines nothing short of a steal. It took me awhile to get there, but I’ll be back, on my very next trip.
I’m regularly on the hunt for everyday wines. Certainly tasting and writing about wines in other categories is of interest as well. But when I taste something that’s bargain priced, which I can recommend, it hits a particular sweet spot for me. For a long time now our shelves have been loaded with low priced wines from Australia; some of them hit the spot, but a large number of them are indistinguishable from one another. Today I’ll look at two well priced Australian offerings that set themselves apart in a positive way. First up is the Fisheye Winery 2011 Pinot Grigio. The fruit for this offering was sourced in South Eastern Australia. 360,000 cases of this wine were produced. It’s available in 750 ml and 1.5 L bottles as well as 3 liter boxed wine Casks. They’re priced respectively at $7, $12 and $18. Ginger and peach aromas jump from the glass with conviction. Lychee fruit, apricots and continued peach characteristics are prominent throughout the palate. Lemon zest, white pepper and coriander emerge on the finish which has fair length. This Pinot Grigio is fresh, vibrant and loaded with flavorful bright fruits. This is a great choice as a party wine. It pairs well with light appetizers and also works nicely as a welcome wine or aperitif. The 3 Liter Box works out to about $4 a bottle. If for some reason your party guests don’t finish it these modern versions of boxed wine will drink well for 30 days after opening.
The Fisheye Winery 2011 Shiraz was also produced from fruit sourced in South Eastern Australia. 115,000 cases of this Shiraz were produced and it’s available nationally. It’s also available in 750ml ($7), 1.5L ($12) bottles and 3L ($18) bag in a box style casks. Black raspberry and blueberry aromas are joined by vanilla bean on the nose of this Shiraz. Black cherry, blackberry, clove and cinnamon flavors are all present throughout the palate. Copious amounts of juicy black and red plum appear on the finish which has a hint of Kirsch liqueur. This is a straight forward, fruity Shiraz that’s also proportionate and very food friendly. As with the Pinot Grigio I believe the 3L Box is a particularly good value for a party, or everyday drinking that won’t bust your budget.
When I taste wines made in large quantities, that are widely available and well priced I’m looking for particular attributes. First and foremost of course they should be enjoyable wines to quaff. They should also have a taste profile that promises wide appeal. These selections from Fisheye hit the mark in those areas. If you haven’t tried any of the newer versions of quality and eco-friendly boxed wines that have become readily available the last few years, the Fisheye wines are a fine place to start.
Hugel et Fils is a name that should be very familiar to US wine lovers. Their offerings have been on our shelves for many years. At a time when there were less Alsatian wines on ours shelves then there are today they were a friendly face that provided consistent quality. Even today, when our options have increased dramatically, they’re still providing solid wines vintage after vintage at competitive prices. Today I’ll look at a trio of their current releases. The Hugel et Fils 2007 Pinot Gris was produced using fruit sourced in Estate vineyards in Alsace. This offering is 100% Pinot Gris. Fermentation took place in a temperature controlled environment. This offering has a suggested retail price of $14.99. Aromas of dried white flowers fill the nose of this Pinot Gris along with hints of tangerine and orchard fruits. Golden Delicious apples are prominent on the palate and accompanied by lemon ice. Nutmeg, tart green apple, white pepper and a hint of cream are all part of the finish which shows off good length. This wine has an elegance that belies its price-point and that’s particularly evidenced by the balance and proportion it shows off. The juicy fruit flavors that fill your mouth when you taste this are balanced by solid acid and a crisp finish.
The Hugel et Fils 2009 Riesling Classic was produced from fruit sourced at Estate vineyards and parcels of land under long term contracts. All of the fruit is from vines surrounding the village of Riquewihr in Alsace. This selection is 100% Riesling. Fermentation took place in temperature controlled vats. This wine has a suggested retail price of $24.99. Apple and grapefruit aromas emerge from the nose of this Riesling. The palate shows off Asian pear, peach and continued citrus notes. Granny Smith apple emerges on the finish along with minerals and a solid spice component. Overall this wine is lean and slightly austere. It’s a lovely wine that most importantly shows off good varietal character. Personally I would most often serve this a welcome wine when guests arrive.
The Hugel et Fils 2008 Gewürztraminer was made from fruit sourced at Estate vineyards in Alsace. The fruit is hand picked and transported to the winery in small vats. This selection is 100% Gewürztraminer. Fermentation took place in temperature controlled barrels. Filtering occured just prior to bottling. This wine has a suggested retail price of $24. Lychee Fruit, apricot and hazelnut aromas each emerge prominently from the engaging nose of this 2008 Gewürztraminer. White cling peach, apricot, and nectarine are part of an explosion of stone fruits that dominate the palate of this offering. All of those rich, beguiling fruit flavors give the impression of sweetness, but this is a perfectly dry wine. Hints of tropical fruit and spices kick in as well. They lead to the finish which shows off fleshy white plum, citrus and continued wallops of spice. This wine has a long, lingering finish whose flavors persist on your tongue well after the last sip is gone. This is a really terrific example of Gewürztraminer. It’ll pair well with a wide array of foods, but is incredibly engaging and delicious all by itself.
This trio of wines represents a look at three distinct varietals that flourish in Alsace. Their flavor profiles vary greatly as do the situations they will each perform best in. While each of them represents a well made wine and a solid value the Gewürztraminer is my favorite from this trio. It’s the one I couldn’t stop drinking. Hugel et Fils continues to turn out classically styled wines from Alsace at reasonable prices. They’re also widely available across the country. These are all reasons to look to them as one of your go to producers for Alsatian wines.
Last week I attended a tasting in Manhattan featuring the wines of Alto Adige. This region sits in the Italian Alps. Both red and white varieties are grown with white taking the lead at 55% of planted acreage. This two-part tasting included a walk around portion that featured tons of exciting new releases from a host of producers. Both red and white wines were showcased. That was the second part of the day; I’m going to focus on the first part. That initial piece was a 90 minute, sit-down seminar during which eight white wines were presented. The mission statement of the seminar was to illustrate the overall age-ability of white wines from Alto Adige. There are few regions in the world that produce white wines with the ability or intent of aging. The ones that have that capability however can often be transcendent. I was pretty curious to see how these wines would taste and if they really did have the as advertised potential for above average longevity. What follows are some brief thoughts about each of the eight wines we tasted. Nals Margreid 2007 Pinot Grigio Punggl DOC Alto Adige. This single vineyard wine is 100% Pinot Grigio. Half of the grapes for this wine were fermented and aged in large oak barrels, the other half in stainless steel tanks. At release this wine had a suggested retail price of $24. The 2009 is the current vintage of this particular wine. The 2007 features lots of yellow fruit flavors throughout a round and sweet but well balanced palate. It shows off the juicy flavors that are prevalent with relatively small production Pinot Grigio treated with care; as opposed to the vast array of anonymous Pinot Grigio that hits US shelves by the boatload.
Franz Haas 2004 Cuvee Manna. This wine is a blend of Riesling, Chardonnay, Traminer Aromatico and Sauvignon Blanc. The fruit was sourced from four vineyards at altitudes of 350 to 850 meters. Each lot was picked and fermented separately. The Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc saw time in Barrique while the Riesling and Traminer Aromatico were fermented in steel. The blend was assembled at final fermentation and spent 10 months on yeasts prior to bottling. 50,000 bottles of this wine were made and at release it had a retail price of $40. The stated goal of this wine is the ability to pair with as wide an array of foods as possible. Apricots, and white cling peach characteristics are dominant on this wine which is driven by intense, fresh fruit flavors. There is a bit of honey on the finish. Ultimately this offering is layered with loads of complexity. For me this was one of the most interesting wines of the day.
San Michele Appiano 2006 Pinot Grigio Sanct Valentin DOC Alto Adige. This wine was sourced from vines with 25-40 years of age on them. The vineyards selected sit approximately 450 meters above sea level. This wine was aged in a combination of new (40%) and used (60%) barriques. This offering spent 11 months on yeast. At release this wine had a suggested retail price of $35.99. Lilac, peach and a hint of petrol are all present in the nose of this wine. Apricots are prominent on the palate along with spices that carry through the finish along with minerals. This wine has terrific concentration of fruit and persistent, lingering and rather impressive length.
Caldro Castell Giovanelli 2007 Sauvignon DOC Alto Adige. The vines the fruit for this selection were sourced from average 5-10 years of age. This offering is 100% Sauvignon Blanc. Fermentation and aging took place in oak casks. At release this wine had a suggested retail price of $48. This wine is incredibly aromatic with citrus and melon fruit just exploding from the nose. The palate shows continued citrus in droves. Minerals are the story on the crisp, clean finish. This wine has racy, slightly zingy acidity.
Terlan Nova Domus 2005 Terlaner Riserva DOC Alto Adige. This wine is a blend of Pinot Blanc (60%), Chardonnay (30%), and Sauvignon Blanc (10%). The fruit was sourced from vineyards sitting between 350 and 500 meters above sea level. Fermentation took place in large oak casks (50%) and 500 Liter Tonneaux. The wine spent a year on the yeast. At release this offering had a suggested retail price of $55. Citrus and spice notes are both prominent on the finish of this wine. Stone fruits dominate the palate. The finish of this selection just goes on and on. For a 5 + year old white blend the fruit on this wine is incredibly fresh and vital. It just keeps beckoning you back for more.
Alois Lageder 2002 Chardonnay Lowengang DOC Alto Adige. The fruit for this wine was selected from vines with 40 to 60 years of age on them grown at vineyard sites sitting 260-450 meters above sea level. This was fermented using native yeasts. It was aged in a combination of new (50%) and used (50%) barriques. At release this wine had a suggested retail price of $40. Apple, limestone and minerals are all present on this wine. Its overall style in many ways brings to mind aged Burgundy. The purity of fruit and length of finish are both impressive.
Peter Zemmer 2006 Gewürztraminer Reserve DOC Alto Adige. This wine is 100% Gewürztraminer, Fermentation took place with pure strains of yeast in temperature controlled tanks. At release this wine had a suggested retail price of $29. This wine is gloriously aromatic with spice and dried fruit and flower aromas emerging from the glass in droves. The palate of this wine is rich and layered with flavor; it's also impeccably balanced and incredibly in focus. The finish has prodigious length that features a particularly impressive spice component.
Tramin 2004 Gewürztraminer Nussbaumer DOC Alto Adige. The Nussbaumer Estate Vineyards sit between 350 and 500 meters above sea level. This wine is 100% Gewürztraminer. Fruit for this wine was hand picked. Fermentation took place in temperature controlled stainless steel tanks. At release this wine had a suggested retail price of $35. Nectarine, lychee and hazelnuts fill the nose of this wine. Through the palate apricot and both white and yellow peach flavors are present in droves. This wine has a rich, layered and honeyed finish that lingers persistently. This wine has incredibly appealing flavors and you’ll be hard pressed to stop drinking this once you start.
The bottom line is that each of these selections was impressive in its own right. Taken as a group they were an impressive lineup that achieved the mission statement of showcasing the eminent age worthiness of well made white wines from the Alto Adige region of Italy. Each of them was drinking well and featured fresh flavors that belied their ages. As a group they also had more life ahead of them. Given the complexity, drinkability and obvious longevity these particular wines as well as the current vintages are well worth your time, effort and money.
Pinot Gris is one of those varieties that, for my money, doesn’t get nearly the acclaim it deserves. Sure like any other varietal there are some forgettable examples out there. But when the fruit is grown in the right spot and the winemaker treats it with respect, the results can be dazzling. For Pinot Gris this mostly means a handful of spots in Germany, Oregon, Italy and Austria in my opinion. Today I’ll look at a release from Austria. The Kracher 2007 Trocken Pinot Gris was produced using fruit sourced in their home region of Burgenland Austria. This wine is 100% Pinot Gris. After fermentation it was aged in large oak barrels for six months. 8,000 cases of this Pinot Gris were produced and it normally sells for right around $17.
White flower and golden delicious apple aromas fill the nose of this 2007 Pinot Gris from Austria. Peach and apricots lead the palate with is even keeled and loaded with engaging flavors. Hints of spice emerge as well and lead to the finish which shows off hazelnuts, white pepper, vanilla bean and touches of honeycomb. This wine has a crisp, clean finish and firm acidity.
This Austrian Pinot Gris is a really nice example of the varietal. It’s easy drinking, but layered with subtle nuances that kept me intrigued and engaged as I tasted it. This wine is absolutely lovely and delicious on its own but will also pair well with lighter foods. If you have friends who claim they don’t like Pinot Gris, here’s one that will change their minds.
Swanson Vineyards has been in Napa Valley since 1985. In that time they’ve built a stellar reputation for a number of things. They’re perhaps best known for their Merlot which has been a consistent winner on restaurant wine lists and store shelves. Their Salon in Oakville is home to quite simply the very best tasting experience in Napa Valley, bar none. They have an impressive and eclectic lineup of dessert wines that rivals anything offered in the state of California. Quite frankly that only begins the list of attributes that makes Swanson a must for any California wine lover. Today I’ll take a look at three of their current releases. These offerings represent their widest distribution wines which are available across the country. First up is the Swanson 2009 Pinot Grigio. Fruit for this release was sourced at the home estate on the Oakville Crossroad and in Santa Barbara. This wine was cold fermented and aged in stainless steel. 6,250 cases of this wine were produced and it has a suggested retail price of $21. The nose of this wine shows of hints of honey which lead to scores of lychee and passion fruit. The palate of this wine is impressively layered and complex for its category. Stone fruits dominate along with hints of orchard fruit and an underlying citrus component. These all lead into the unctuous finish which has hints of orange, vanilla bean, and spice. The finish is crisp and refreshing, inviting you back for more. There is a lot of unimpressive Pinot Grigio both in California and all over the world quite frankly. The Swanson Pinot Grigio however is cut from a different cloth. Year after year, vintage after vintage, it impresses and blows away its price point. Is it the best Pinot Grigio in California? Taste it and decide for yourself. No question though, it’s in the running.
Next up is the Swanson 2007 Oakville Merlot. This wine was produced using fruit from two vineyards; Oakville Cross Road Estate and Schmidt Ranch. Barrel aging was accomplished over 20 months in French and American oak. 40% of the barrels were new. 9,200 cases of this wine were produced and it has a suggested retail price of $36. Aromas of violet, leather and black cherry are all prominent in the nose of this 2007 Merlot. Cherry flavors dominate the palate along with raspberry and a touch of blackberry. Espresso, earth, dark dusty baker’s chocolate and a wallop of minerals fill the long and persistent finish. This wine has solid acidity and impressive structure. If you drink this Merlot over the next couple of years I’d recommend decanting it for about 90 minutes. However if you have some patience I’ve found that the Swanson Merlots really develop quite nicely in the bottle. To my own taste I think they really hit another level about 6 years from the vintage date. In any case this release underscores the fact that Swanson makes one of the very best Merlots in Napa Valley regardless of price point. You can call it a Cabernet lover’s Merlot if you like or point out its Bordeaux influence; I choose to simply call it my favorite Merlot.
Finally we come to the Swanson 2007 Alexis Cabernet Sauvignon. This wine was produced from fruit entirely sourced at the Schmidt Ranch in Napa Valley. In addition to Cabernet Sauvignon (81%), some Merlot (19%) is also blended in. Barrel aging took place over 22 months in all French oak; 60% of them were new. 500 cases of this wine were produced and it has a suggested retail price of $75. Alexis started life as a proprietary blend of mostly Cabernet with a generous dollop of Syrah and Merlot blended in. A few vintages back it shifted gears a bit and became a varietal Cabernet Sauvignon. Black cherry aromas are prominent in the nose of this wine. A hint of vanilla bean and a touch of eucalyptus are present as well. The palate is loaded with deep, dark berry fruit flavors. Cherry is prominent here as well, along with blackberry and black raspberry. Dark chocolate and hints of kirsch liqueur emerge in the finish along with oodles of earth that keeps coming and coming. The finish on this Cabernet Sauvignon is impressive to say the least. It has length and structure to spare. This wine is delicious now, but it’s really just a baby. If you’re patient and have proper storage conditions I would recommend laying it down for about 10 years and drinking it in the 5 or so years that follow. There’s a lot of very good Cabernet Sauvignon in Napa Valley. Alexis from Swanson is one of the very best in it’s price category. And while $75 may not be an everyday bottle for most, this is an excellent choice to tuck away for special occasions.
If you’ve waited until the last-minute, these wines from Swanson make for elegant and delicious gifts. However they’re far more than that. This is a dependable and impressive trio of wines that is consistent in quality year after year. They’re available all over the country and will offer lots of drinking pleasure. They’re also quite likely to impress your dinner quests or the lucky recipient if you buy them as gifts. I’ve been drinking the Swanson wines for over a decade and I’m always excited to revisit them whenever the opportunity arises. That’s something I can only say about a handful of producers.
With Holiday time upon us a lot of folks are looking for wines to drink at gatherings of all sorts. Sometimes the occasion calls for a special bottle of some kind. Perhaps in those cases you either pull out something you have tucked away or you might step outside of the normal spending budget to get something different, unique or limited. Conversely the Holiday Season also inspires a lot of more casual get-togethers with friends and family too. People in general seem more prone to call and say they’re going to pop by. It’s a times like these it’s really handy to have some everyday wines on hand to share. You want something that isn’t going to break the bank, but you’ll want it to be tasty too. Riding that line between budget and quality can be tricky. I believe the selections I’m looking at today from Tamás Estates make it a little easier. First up is the Tamás Estates 2009 Pinot Grigio. This wine was produced using fruit sourced in California’s Central Coast. Fermentation occurred in stainless steel tanks. It has a suggested retail price of $9.99. Green apple and hints of citrus fill the nose of this Pinot Grigio. Zesty lemon-lime ice is apparent through the palate. Crisp sour fruits, hints of cream and spice make of the finish. This wine is refreshing and showcases firm acidity.
Next up is the Tamás Estates 2008 Zinfandel. This wine was also sourced from Central Coast fruit. Fermentation took place in stainless steel followed by aging in a combination of French, American and Eastern European oak; both new and neutral barrels were used. This wine has a suggested retail price of $9.99. Jam laden red fruits and touches of vanilla are present in the nose of this Zinfandel. Black raspberry and huckleberry are present in droves through the palate. Those berry fruit flavors continue through the finish along with black cherry, earth, graham cracker crust, plum pudding spice and toasty oak. This is Zinfandel built to pair with food.
Finally today is the Tamás Estates 2008 Double Decker Red. This blend was produced from Central Coast fruit. It combines Cabernet Sauvignon, Petite Sirah and Barbera. After fermentation in stainless steel, aging occurred in both neutral oak and stainless steel. This wine has a suggested retail price of $9.99. Plum and blueberry aromas fill the nose of this blend. Cherry and continued blueberry and plum are prominent through the palate. Sour cherry emerges on the finish along with rhubarb and both black and white pepper. This is a very appealing red that will pair with a host of medium to full flavored foods.
This trio of wines from Tamás Estates is great for the purpose I described above; they’ll give you something tasty to open for a casual get together without breaking the bank. Wines like this are also handy to keep around the house when a friend or neighbor shows up and gives you an unexpected gift. A bottle of wine in a gift bag paired with a dark chocolate bar or a small bag of nuts is a convenient gift to have lying around for those occasions. And worst case if the holidays end and you didn’t use them for that purpose, open them on a random Tuesday with a slice of pizza.
Pinot Grigio is the most ubiquitous Italian white grape varietal on US shelves. Unfortunately many of the bottles clogging up the Pinot Grigio section are pretty sub standard. More than anything they’re often, bland and anonymous, barely recognizable as wine, let alone discernible for varietal character. The sad thing is when it’s grown right and produced properly Pinot Grigio can be an excellent and highly distinguished wine. On the occasions I’ve had the one from La Tunella in past vintages it has been an excellent representative, of the varietal, and Italian whites in general. So today I’ll look at the current vintage and see how it stacks up. The La Tunella 2009 Pinot Grigio was produced using fruit from the Colli Orientali Del Friuli region of Italy. This offering is 100% Pinot Grigio. Fermentation took place in temperature controlled stainless steel over 30 to 40 days. The wine was then aged sur-lie with bottling following in March of this year. 10,000 cases of this selection were produced and it has a suggested retail price of $21.
This 2009 Pinot Grigio has a striking, pale straw hue. Gentle hints of clove and nutmeg spice emerge from the nose along with a trio of fruit aromas; pineapple, papaya, and lemon. Throughout the palate, the citrus echoes with lemon crème standing at the forefront. Melon flavors join in along with continuing tropical undertones. Minerals, spice, citrus peel and a touch of sour fruit all play a role in the lovely and above average finish. The overriding impressions are of a fresh, clean, crisp wine with a solid level of gentle and nuanced complexity.
The Pinot Grigio from La Tunella has been a consistent winner vintage after vintage, the 2009 is no exception. If you want to know what Pinot Grigio really tastes like, this is as good a place as any to start. One note of caution though, don’t over-chill this wine. It needs a light chill to be sure, but much more masks its gorgeous, subtle layers.
Today I’ll look at a couple of wines from Italian producer Masi Agricola. If the name sounds familiar that’s no surprise as they’ve been around quite awhile. It’s likely you’ll recognize their labels too. With some wineries or brands their ubiquity on shelves isn’t necessarily a good sign. Not so with Masi Agricola, they have been a quality producer of Venetian Wines for several hundred years. Like many people I first became aware of them as a producer of Amarone. I’ll be looking at one of those in the next few weeks. Today the focus is on two other wines in their portfolio. First up is the Masi 2009 Masianco. Fruit for this offering was sourced in at the Stra Del Milione at Castions di Strada in Friuli. This wine is primarily Pinot Grigio (25%), with Verduzzo (25%) also blended in. Each varietal is picked, fermented and aged separately. It’s blended together prior to bottling. The suggested retail price for this wins is $18.
Lemon ice with an undercurrent of vanilla both emerge in the fresh, vibrant nose of this 2009 wine. The lemon theme continues through the palate where it’s accompanied by other citrus elements as well as tropical fruit such as pineapple and a gentle wisp of mango. Minerals and spice emerge on the finish which is impressively lengthy, layered and marked by crisp and savory fruit. Those flavors come together to form a thirst quenching and mouth watering wine. This selection is quite lovely on it’s own, but truly shines when paired with lighter bodied foods.
The next wine is the Masi 2006 Campofiorin. The fruit for this offering comes from vineyards in the hills of Verona. This selection is a blend of Corvina (70%), Rondinella (25%), and Molinara (5%). 25% of the grapes are dried for 6 weeks and then fermented with the fresh grapes that have already undergone their own fermentation. This wine sees 18 months in oak. 2006 represents the 36th vintage of this particular bottling. The suggested retail price for this wine is $20.
The nose of this 2006 red blend shows off dried red fruits, violet and lavender aromas. The dried fruit characteristics continue on the palate where they become plush and velvety. Cherry plays a lead role and some darker notes creep in as well along with a range of spices such as pepper, vanilla and hints of clove. Earth and dark, dusty baker’s chocolate flavors all emerge in the finish. Fine acidity keeps this wine perfectly balanced. This offering really works best when paired with food. Hard cheeses, pasta with red sauce and a charcuterie plate would each work perfectly.
Both of these wines from Masi Agricola represent excellent values in their categories. In each case they over deliver quality and complexity at a price many wine lovers can afford on a regular basis. Their long history and wide availability means you should have no trouble finding these wines.
Today I’m going to take a look at three more wines that are perfectly suited for warm weather drinking. These selections are all from Robert Oatley Vineyards. This producer is located in the Mudgee section of Australia, one of the highest elevation winegrowing regions in the country. Robert Oatley has been making wine in Australia for over 40 years. Over time he began to procure land in the Mudgee region and when the time came to start his namesake winery he did so there. First up is the Robert Oatley 2009 Rosé of Sangiovese. This wine was made from fruit sourced at the family vineyards 1,500 feet plus above sea level in Mudgee, This offering is 100% varietal and saw no oak treatment. This wine has a suggested retail price of $15. The nose of this Rosé is marked by aromas of cherry and fresh wild strawberry. Throughout the palate watermelon flavors lead the charge accompanied by cherry and red raspberry as well. A hint of orange peel kicks in at the back of the palate and leads to the finish which has a host of spice notes and lingering fruit flavors. This wine shows crisp acidity and good balance
Next up is the Robert Oatley 2009 Pinot Grigio. Fruit for this wine was sourced from a vineyard in the Adelaide Hills of South Australia. This wine is 100% Pinot Grigio. Alcohol content is a modest 13% for this offering. This wine has a suggested retail price of $16. Bartlett pear and lychee fruit aromas are the most prominent components of this wine’s nose. Orchard fruit is the key element in the palate with both apple and pear playing a big role. Hints of vanilla and pie crust underlie the fruit. Ginger and white peach flavors emerge in the finish which also shows off hints of savory fruit. This Pinot Grigio has more in common with old word examples than it does with most new world versions. It’s crisp, dry and a natural partner for food.
Last up this time out is the Robert Oatley 2009 Sauvignon Blanc. Fruit for this selection was sourced in Pemberton on the Western side of Australia, almost 2,000 miles from Mudgee. This selection is 100% Sauvignon Blanc. As with the other two selections alcohol content is modest, in this case 12.2%. This wine, like the others, is finished in screw cap and has a suggested retail price of $16. Gooseberry, lemon zest and wisps of grass are all present in the nose of this Sauvignon Blanc. An array of citrus flavors is on display throughout the palate; grapefruit, lime and lemon are the strongest trio. All the citrus notes are accompanied by copious amounts of spice. These come together to form a zippy, zesty flavor profile. Hints of white peach and honey emerge on the finish along with continuing spice, particularly white pepper. This wine has excellent acidity.
These three wines from Robert Oatley have much in common despite being very different wines in most ways. Balance and food friendliness are the key elements they share. While each wine is full favored and loaded with varietal character none of them are over the top, or quite frankly anywhere in that ballpark. These are wines you can enjoy every day that will pair well with warm weather and food. Their modest alcohol content and even keeled nature also means they won’t exhaust your palate. With a suggested retail price of around $15 apiece these wines are good values.
Over the last few years the image of non-traditionally packaged wine has started to shift. It’s no longer a given that wine coming in something other than a 750 ml bottle is of lesser quality. One delivery method that’s made a big turn is the box. What was once the bastion of cheap bulk wine has in some cases come to represent solid value and environmental friendliness. Today I’ll look at a selection from Bota Box that falls into that category. Bota Box 2009 Pinot Grigio comes in a 3 liter package. This box is the equivalent of 4 bottles of wine. The package is 100% recyclable. In addition to that aspect the lower weight and smaller size has a smaller carbon footprint that the same wine in glass would. Its compact size fits easily in a refrigerator or cooler. This selection was produced from Pinot Grigio sourced from throughout California. Alcohol content is a modest 13%. The suggested retail price for this 3 liter package is $18.99.
Orchard fruit aromas fill the nose of this Pinot Grigio. Apple and pear dominate along with wisps of vanilla. Throughout the palate grapefruit plays a starring role along with continued orchard fruit. Spice notes kick in around mid-palate and continue to the finish which is clean and crisp. A hint of sweetness creeps in at the close and provides a lovely final note.
I served this wine at a BBQ over the weekend and thought it was flavorful and a good value. But I was quite curious to see what others had to say. A couple of common threads emerged amongst those who tasted. In general folks were surprised with the quality level for a boxed wine. They were further stunned when I revealed the price point. In general most of those I polled also used the words, fresh, refreshing and zesty or some combination of those. What I really found is that this wine had broad appeal across a large group. And let’s face it if you’re going to pull out 3 liters of a single wine, broad appeal is what you’re shooting for. The unofficial beginning of summer is here, with it BBQs and grilling galore. This Bota Box Pinot Grigio is a wine to consider for value and wide satisfaction.
Recently I had the chance to taste some wines from Albino Armani. This Italian producer based in the Adige Valley has a rich history that dates back to 1607. Impressively the same family has owned the property all that time. Over the years they have acquired property in the Veneto, Trentino Alto Adige and Friuli Venezia Giulia; however the Adige Valley of Verona is at the center of their operations. In the 80’s winemaker Albino Armani discovered some Foja Tonda (also known as Casetta) vines on the property. This grape varietal was nearly extinct. Over time they have been replanting it. At present there are 12 hectares of it, still a pretty tiny amount. As of 2002 it was readmitted for cultivation. Over the last several years they have been making wine with it and as of the 2007 vintage Foja Tonda is recognized as D.O.C. Teradeiforti. This is quite a journey for the grape itself and a sign of the family’s perseverance and passion. In addition to tasting three vintages of Foja Tonda I was also able to sample their current release Pinot Grigio. My impressions were as follows.
Albino Armani 2009 Pinot Grigio – The fruit for this wine was sourced from vines aged between 15 and 40 years old. This offering is 100% varietal. 10% of the frit went the through the passito method typically employed when making Amarone. Aging was accomplished in stainless steel. 7,000 cases of this wine were produced and the suggested retail price is $19.99. Hazelnut and kiwi notes appear on the nose of this Pinot Grigio. Melon and spice characteristics are present through the balanced palate, leading to a clean, crisp finish with fine acidity. Lovely on its own this wine will shine brighter when paired with soft cheeses, roasted chicken or light foods in general.
Albino Armani 2005 Foja Tonda - Casetta - I.G.T – Rosso Vallagarina – All of the fruit for this wine was sourced at estate vineyards in Vallagarina. This offering is 100% Foja Tonda (Casetta). After fermentation the wine was aged in oak for 12 months. 2,400 cases were produced and the suggested retail price is $19.99. Mulled berry and hints of candied cherry mark the nose of this 2005 wine. There is a solid core of upfront fruit through the palate; these flavors continue to the finish which shows off cinnamon, cardamom and a host of mineral notes. Good acidity keeps things in check.
Albino Armani 2006 Foja Tonda - Casetta - I.G.T – Rosso Vallagarina – Fruit was sourced at estate vineyards in the Southern Adige Valley. This wine is 100% varietal. Aging was accomplished over 12 months in 45,000 liter Slovenian oak followed by 6 months in bottle prior to release. 2,400 cases of this wine were produced and the suggested retail price is $19.99. The extroverted nose of this 2006 wine is loaded with bright fruit. While the flavors on the palate are a bit brighter than the other two vintages, the fruit is ultimately both darker and drier than the aromas would indicate. Black pepper leads the way on a spice laden finish. Good acidity keeps this wine in balance.
Albino Armani 2007 Foja Tonda - Casetta – DOC Terradeiforti – The fruit for this wine was sourced at estate vineyards within Terradeiforti. As with the others this vintage is 100% varietal. Barrel aging was accomplished over 12 months in Slovenian oak; 6 months of bottle aging followed. 2,400 cases were produced and the suggested retail price is $19.99. Dried berry fruit notes are accompanied by hints of thyme on the nose of this 2007 wine. Black cherry, pomegranate and cranberry notes are all apparent throughout the palate of this wine. These lead to spice notes on the finish along with hints of earth and continued soft, sour fruit notes. Good acidity keeps this wine in check.
There are a host of connective tissues that tie these vintages of Foja Tonda together. That said, there is plenty of vintage variation which made tasting them together a fascinating exercise. I hadn’t had Foja Tonda previous to sitting down for this tasting. It will be a natural partner for food, particularly Italian cuisine of course. Anything with a red sauce on it will work well. Over the time we had the wines open to taste they evolved nicely and drank quite well by themselves too. For me the story of this grape which the Armani family has made their personal reclamation project is fascinating. I’m constantly on a quest to find something new and interesting. In this case here’s something old that has been made new again. It’s most definitely quite interesting and well worth your time to explore. The relatively modest price point will also save damage to your wallet. So if you’re thinking of cracking open another bottle of Chianti or perhaps Dolcetto tonight, try something different. Foja Tonda will hit some of the notes each of those other two wines often do but in its own distinct way, as well as bringing other characteristics to the party as well.
Valentine’s Day is here and to help celebrate the day in style some delicious wine is in order. When organizing a special occasion or Holiday meal I like to plan for several wines for each stage of the day. Certainly if you’re going to spend Valentine’s Day with someone important in your life each part of that celebration should have a wine to go with it. So today I’m presenting a trio of wines that will make for delicious drinking on Valentine’s Day or any other time. It also doesn’t hurt that each of the wines I’m recommending are modestly priced compared to the value they offer. To start off with you’ll want a wine that’s appropriate to settle in to the day. Something light, yet substantial in flavor, which also pairs as easily with conversation as it does appetizers. My selection is the Graffigna Centenario 2009 Pinot Grigio. This Argentine wine was produced using fruit sourced in the Tulum Valley of San Juan. It’s composed of 100% Pinot Grigio and was fermented in stainless steel. The suggested retail price for this wine is $13.
Mango, citrus and vanilla aromas fill the nose of this Pinot Grigio along with underlying elements of spice. These themes continue through the palate along with apricot and tropical fruit characteristics. Spices kick into full gear with white pepper, nutmeg and vanilla bean amongst the most prominent. Around mid-palate sour tangerine notes emerge and continue through the finish which includes additional wisps of vanilla and peach flavors that linger. Excellent acidity keeps everything in check.
This is a very fresh and lively Pinot Grigio. I’ve found this wine to be consistently delicious over the last several vintages. For $13 (less if you shop around), this wine is an excellent value. It’s going to be a great way to get your Valentine’s Day celebration started.
The second wine you’re going to need is something to pair with the main part of your meal. On these occasions I look for something that will complement a wide array of foods. My tendency is also to look for something with a lush mouth-feel that lends itself to easy drinkability while also providing complexity. My selection this time out is the Campo Viejo 2005 Reserva. This wine is made from fruit sourced in the Rioja region of Spain. As is typical in Rioja this wine was produced primarily from Tempranillo (85%). The balance is made up of indigenous varietals Graciano (10%), and Mazuelo (5%). Barrel aging was accomplished over 18 months in a combination of French and American oak. This wine spent an additional 18 months in bottle prior to release. The suggested retail price for this wine is $14.
Cedar, cherry and wild strawberry lead the nose of this 2005 Reserva from Spain. Cherry continues through the palate along with vanilla, blackberry and hints of smoke. Black pepper notes emerge prominently and lead to the finish which is marked by copious amounts of sour cherry, tobacco, leather, spice box and emerging earth reference points. This wine has medium tannins and very well balanced acidity.
This Rioja is another excellent value and it hits the marks I’m looking for. It has sufficient complexity and will pair with many foods while going down smoothly. It’s wide availability also makes it an easy selection to reach for in a pinch.
The third wine I plan for on a special day is a closer of sorts. It can be a dessert wine but doesn’t have to be. Sparkling Wine could work as well. But it should be something that can pair with your dessert and that you’ll want to continue drinking when dessert is over. The dessert wine that I recently tasted and was inspired to report on is the Jaboulet Muscat de Beaumes de Venise “Le Chant des Groilles” 2007. This offering is from the Rhone Valley and was produced using only Muscat grapes. Aging was accomplished in cask followed by time in bottle. The suggested retail price for this wine in 375 ml splits is $24.99.
White peach, lychee and mango lead the effusive nose of this wine. Apricots are the star of the palate which has a sweet, honeyed characteristic to it. This is joined by lots of tropical fruit that’s also got a layer of vanilla bean. It all leads to a lengthy finish marked by excellent spice. This wine is very well balanced and shows off good acidity.
The problem with many dessert wines is that they’re too sweet to drink very much of. This Muscat doesn’t have that issue. It’s quite sweet to be sure but the acidity provides excellent balance. Here is a wine you will be glad to drink quite a bit more than a few sips of. Pair it with a fruit tart topped with crème fraiche or a platter of fruits, nuts and soft cheeses. Either way you’ll be in for a treat.
This trio of wines is sure to make for a very satisfying day. Whether it’s Valentine’s Day or any other time.