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Rodney Strong Vineyards 2015 Upshot Red Blend

Rodney Strong Vineyards 2015 Upshot Red Blend

Sonoma County’s Rodney Strong Vineyards is well known for a strong portfolio of wines that check a lot of important boxes. The wines they offer have a strong sense of their Sonoma County origins; sometimes as wide as the county, others as specific as a small parcel. If your budget is $10 of $75 they have something of quality for you. More often than not these wines deliver more in quality than the price tag would suggest. Every once in a while; seemingly more often in the last few years, they add something new to their lineup. I’m always eager to taste anything they’ve produced because the wines in their lineup tend to be not just good, but also a boon for wine consumers. So when their latest entry, Upshot, showed up on my doorstep I was excited to twist the cap off and get it into my glass. Considering that Symmetry, their Red Bordeaux inspired blend, is one of the best wines (and values) in their portfolio, one vintage after another, I was immediately intrigued to learn that they added another red blend.

Rodney Strong Vineyards 2015 Upshot Sonoma County Red Blend ($28)

This new offering from producer Rodney Strong is an unconventional blend of Zinfandel, Merlot, Malbec, Petit Verdot, and Riesling.  Looking at the blend and the modern packaging it’s clear that Upshot is a completely different wine, with a likely different audience than the venerable Symmetry. Things open up here with a lifted nose showing off dark berries and a hint of white flowers. The flavors are equally dark with blackberry, plum, and raspberry joining oodles of spice, and bits of cocoa. Savory herbs, black olive, chicory and dried black fruits are all evident on the solid finish.

There are so many red blends from California on shelves these days. The vast majority of them though are in the more casual supermarket wine category. They're also often sourced from all over the state, not just Sonoma County. Don’t let the screw-cap, contemporary label and name fool you, Upshot is several classes above those. It’s both a serious and very drinkable wine that combines a bit of curb appeal with substantial structure. Whether you’re pouring it for casual wine drinkers or more discerning winos, they’ll all find something to like here. The suggested retail price is $28 but you’re likely to find it on the shelf for right around $20. At that price you might want to grab a case and up your house wine game. The real Upshot is that Rodney Strong Vineyards have added yet another terrific wine to their portfolio.

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.

Australia’s First Families of Wine Deliver a Powerful Message

IMG_20150715_001052A few weeks back I attended an Australian wine event in Manhattan. This particular tasting was an interesting one indeed. Some of the country’s leading family-owned and multi-generational producers selected wines from their libraries to showcase to American trade and media. The main portion of the tasting was a sit-down seminar led by Mark Davidson, Australia’s worldwide wine educator. Alongside him, family members from each winery whose offerings were being poured that day were on hand to speak about their wine and Australia in general. There are a couple of general misconceptions floating around about Australian wine. One is that the country’s producers make big, blustery wines that are long on upfront fruit and flash and short on finish and substance. The other is that that Australian wines don’t age. The problem is neither point is really valid; certainly not as wholesale statements. Every wine-producing country has great, good, and bad producers. Certainly, Australia still has some who make boatloads of overripe shiraz. However, there are many more making proportionate shiraz as well as a very wide range of other offerings. It’s time to realize that there are as many diverse styles coming out of Australia as any other wine-making country. Not to mention much, much more than just shiraz, no matter how tasty it can be. 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.

Visiting Trefethen Family Vineyards in Napa Valley

Trefethen Family Vineyards is a classic Napa valley spot. As you drive north on Route 29 their sign is amongst the very first you’ll see; long before the highway gets crowed with one tasting room after another. If you hang a right turn onto Oak Knoll Avenue you’ll come upon their entryway before long. Ambling up their driveway it’s interesting to note how neatly tucked into the property they are. Eventually you’ll come upon a historic building that dates back to the 1800’s. Once inside the tasting room the atmosphere has a lovely rustic feel. They offer several tasting options as well as tour which is available daily at 10:30 AM by prior appointment. Their Estate tasting which is $15 offers a choice of four wines from their current releases. Their Reserve tasting is $25 and focuses on their more limited offerings. Trefethen also has some special events and after-hours tastings, check their website for specific details. The wines at Trefethen are by and large well balanced offerings that showcase terrific varietal qualities. There wasn’t a wine in their lineup that I wouldn’t be happy to drink on any given day but three of them really stood out to me and here are some details on them.

The Trefethen Family Vineyards 2011 Dry Riesling was produced entirely from fruit sourced at their home ranch on Oak Knoll Road. This offering is 100% Riesling. This is one of their selections which are available nationally and it has a suggested retail price of $22. This is a spicy, dry wine with a hugely aromatic nose, lovely mid-palate loaded with gentle fruit flavors, crisp minerality and continued spice on the finish. Whether enjoyed on its own or paired with lighter foods this is an impressive Riesling sure to leave a lasting memory.

The Trefethen Family Vineyards 2010 Viognier is a small production wine produced from fruit sourced at their home estate. This wine was crafted entirely from Viognier. It’s for sale through the winery at a price of $30. Tropical fruit aromas and hints of vanilla bean lead the nose followed by a palate loaded with unctuous fruit flavors that go on and on. A hint of crème fraiche accompanies spice notes on the finish. This is a beautiful wine all by itself but will pair wonderfully with soft ripe cheeses and roast chicken dishes to name a few.

The Trefethen Family Vineyards 2008 Cabernet Franc was produced largely from fruit sourced at their home ranch (92%), along with a small amount (8%) from their Hillspring Vineyard. This small lot wine is available from the winery for $38. The Franc opens with a huge nose loaded with leather and cherry aromas. The palate has depth and complexity to spare as gently layered flavors just wash over your taste buds. Cherry characteristics continue and give way to graphite, earth and bits of espresso on the impressive finish. This is a perfect wine to pair with a Sunday roast.

If you’re travelling to Napa Valley I highly recommend that you add Trefethen Family Vineyards to your itinerary. They have a long history in Napa that grows with each passing year. Their wines are classically styled offerings that don’t bend to the whims of the day; solid, impressive wines you can buy with confidence to enjoy today or in several cases lay down for later enjoyment as well. It’s always fun to visit the new kids on the block and see what they’re up to. But it can be equally rewarding and delicious to visit with folks who have been getting it done, with class, for decades. The folks at Trefethen are welcoming and knowledgeable people who are happy to pour some wine for you and tell you the history of the property, winery itself or the wine you're tasting. In short you can't go wrong with an hour or two whiled away at Trefethen.

Tasting the Wines of Villa Huesgen with Winemaker Adolph Huesgen

Wines originating from some countries have filled our shelves for years, and in the case of other countries we are just starting to see a representative sampling of offerings. Wines from Germany are sort of in a third category; we’ve had wines from there available for many years but often many of the options weren’t as appealing as they could be. For the range of styles and wines that are made there, the majority of releases we saw were a bit limited in diversity. Thankfully that has been changing quite a bit the last few years. We are seeing more well made German wines. Case in point; A couple of days ago I had the opportunity to have lunch with and taste three releases made by Adolph Huesgen. He is the 9th generation owner and winemaker for his family’s Villa Huesgen. The focus at Villa Huesgen is laser like and aimed squarely at Riesling. As Adolph explained their vineyards and microclimate are perfectly suited for Riesling more than any other grape, therefore their aim is to make the best Rieslings they can. In the last few months their wines have entered the US market for the very first time. They are a boutique winery making relatively small quantities of authentic Riesling; in short precisely the sort of producer lovers of German wines will want to embrace. What follows are some details and impressions of the three releases. First up is the Villa Huesgen 2010 Nine Generations Riesling. The fruit is from their home region in the Mosel.  The vines sourced have between 5 and 10 years of age on them. After undergoing soft air pressing the juice is moved to stainless steel where it sits for about 12 hours before moving to tank, 9,000 cases of this release were produced and it has a suggested retail price of $19.99. White and yellow stone fruit aromas fill the nose of this wine. Peach and apricot are of particular note. Those characteristics continue on the palate where they’re joined by mineral notes, racy spices and lemon zest. This wine has a crisp finish that leaves a lasting impression with tingly white pepper providing the final note. Of the trio this is the wine that I enjoyed best as a standalone offering. It will pair with lighter foods as well but it doesn’t need them.

Next up is the Villa Huesgen 2010 Schiefer Riesling. The grapes for this wine are from the Mosel; the vines sourced have 3o to 35 years of age on them. Fruit was soft air pressed and transferred into stainless steel tanks for 12 hours before being moved to tank for the fermentation process. 4,000 cases of this release were produced and it has a suggested retail price of $34.99. Apricot, Lychee fruit and yellow cling peach aromas burst forth from the glass of the Schiefer Riesling. The palate is rich and concentrated with powerful (relatively speaking as these are wines of finesse) Riesling character. Peaches and apricot are joined by a subtle hint of hazelnut and a touch of lemon crème. The finish of this wine is above average in length and the layered, complex and concentrated flavors continue. Lingering apricot notes tinged with spice provide a lasting impression. This wine paired wonderfully with both a rice-flour battered chicken dish and an artichoke risotto. It would work equally well with pungent cheeses and other dishes of some substance. The Schiefer Riesling wine was enjoyable  on it’s own and it also worked phenomenally paired with food.

Finally we come to the Villa Huesgen 2010 Kabinett Riesling. Fruit for this wine was sourced in theMosel. The vines utilized have an average of 30 to 35 years of age on them. The soft air pressing, fermentation, and aging process is the same as the two prior wines. 2,000 cases of this offering were produced and it has a suggested retail price of $39.99. From the first whiff of this wine its semi-dry nature is apparent. The aromas of apricot, mango, nectarine and lemon zest come together and form a lovely nose that immediately inspires you to take a sip. The palate is quite a bit more mellifluous in nature than the other two wines with there being both more actual sweetness as well as a greater impression of sweetness simultaneously. Each of the fruits apparent in the nose has corresponding flavor components in evidence here as well. The finish has good length and leaves a lasting kiss of sweetness on the tongue and back of the throat. This wine will pair fabulously with spicy Indian cuisine as well as well selected desserts. That said it will work just as well all by itself.

This is an impressive trio of Rieslings from Villa Huesgen. Alcohol content for all 3 is well under 12% making them wines which you can easily enjoy several glasses of without your palate tiring. Tasting them side by side is a nice window into several sides of one grape. Each of these wines is distinct, well made and quite importantly worth your money. My personal favorite is the Schiefer, however I’d gladly enjoy any of these on a given day. These are proportionate wines which are delicious today but they will each drink well for a number of years. I highly recommend heading to your local wine shop and welcoming Villa Huesgen to the states by purchasing and enjoying one of their very fine Rieslings.

Cupcake Vineyards - 2011 Riesling

Cupcake Vineyards makes an interesting array of wines from fruit sourced the world over. They look to key appellations for what each area grows best and then partner with winemakers in specific areas to produce wines to the specifications of their chief winemaker Adam Richardson. From Argentina they get Malbec and from New Zealand, Sauvignon Blanc to name a couple. Now they also have Riesling from Germany. I’ll take a look at that release today. The Cupcake Vineyards 2011 Riesling was produced from fruit sourced in Germany’s Mosel Valley. All of the fruit for this selection was picked by hand. It was then hand sorted and de-stemmed prior to a gentle crushing and fermentation in a cool temperature controlled environment using select yeast. Just over 13,000 cases of this widely available release were produced and it has a suggested retail price of $13.99.

Aromas of lemon ice and Lychee fruit fill the fresh and welcoming nose of this 2011 Riesling. White peach and continued citrus characteristics are in strong evidence throughout the palate which has hints of crème Brule and apricot as well. Minerals, white pepper and sour orange notes all emerge on the well proportioned finish. This wine is light and refreshing with racy acidity. It’s quite delicious all by itself but works very well with a broad array of foods. I paired it with Jerk Chicken and a side of Caribbean Rice, a match that worked tremendously. This is a fine example of Riesling that is well priced for everyday consumption. It fits well in the Cupcake Vineyards portfolio of budget priced, well made, accessible wines that are widely available.

Frisk - 2011 Prickly Riesling

Admittedly Australia isn’t the first or even the third wine growing country I think when Riesling comes to mind. However over the last few years I’ve seen more and more evidence that this might just be the next varietal from Australia that makes a large impact on US shelves. Many of the examples are well priced, tasty and aimed at everyday consumption. That rings a similar bell to the manner in which Aussie Shiraz made its mark. I’m not saying Riesling is going to have the same overall effect, just that some of the hallmarks are similar. Today I’ll look at an example from Frisk. The Frisk 2011 Prickly Riesling was produced using fruit sourced in the Victoria section of Australia. In addition to Riesling (89%) this wine also has Muscat Gordo (11%) blended in. This wine was fermented in stainless steel using select yeasts. The modest alcohol checks in at 9.8%. This Riesling has a suggested retail price of $11.

Ginger and white flower aromas fill the nose of this 2011 Riesling. The palate is filled with lemon, peaches, papaya and lychee fruit as well as bits of white pepper. This finish has more than reasonable length; it’s crisp and refreshing, inviting you back to the glass for sip after sip. This wine is light and shows off bits of sweetness and tingly spice throughout. It’s a perfect aperitif or welcome wine at the beginning of a dinner or other event.

R. Müller - 2010 “Rabbit” Riesling by Octavin Home Wine Bar

Most of the quality boxed wines I’ve tasted to date have come from a couple of regions; South America and the Central Coast in California. That said this is a growing segment in the wine world and offerings from many other regions are popping up on US shelves. This is good news for wine drinkers looking for value driven options for a party or a daily drinker that'll hold up for about a month. Today I’ll look at one from the Landwein Rhein section of Germany. The R. Müller 2010 “Rabbit” Riesling (aka Bunny Wine) was produced from fruit grown in the Landwein Rhein region in Germany. After the grapes were harvested during the relative cool of night they were pressed prior to temperature controlled fermentation in stainless steel tanks utilizing select yeasts. As is typical for the area this wine has modest alcohol content of 9.5%. This offering is available in the 3 liter bag in the box format. Octavin Home Wine Bar which is behind this release refers to it as a premium wine cask. It’s available all over the country for a suggested retail price of $24.

This Riesling has a bold nose that’s loaded with strong aromas of white peach, white pepper and vanilla. Stone fruits are accompanied by both green and golden delicious apple throughout a fruity and pleasing palate. Orchard fruits are also apparent in the finish which features Bartlett pear as well as continued spice. This wine has firm acidity which lends to its crisp, refreshing close.

I’m looking for several things in a boxed wine. Of course it should be true to varietal and offer value in its price point. Additionally I’m looking for something that’s going to please a wide array of different palates. This Riesling meets all of those criteria and strikes a perfect balance of sweetness. It’s neither cloying nor dry; in fact it’s precisely in the middle. This wine will be a great match for spicy Asian Cuisine, Indian dishes or entrée salads to name a couple of examples. It’s also terrifically suited as a something to sip with friends as you while away the hours. As with other premium boxed wines I’ve sampled this one is easy to open and operate. The bag in the box technology allows you to enjoy this over 4 or more weeks with fear of flavor degradation. In short this wine achieves its intent. Well worth expolring if you're looking for a quality white in the super value category.

Hugel et Fils - 2007 Pinot Gris / 2009 Riesling Classic / 2008 Gewürztraminer

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.

Examining the Age Worthiness of White Wines from Alto Adige

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.

Johann Donabaum - 2008 Rielsling / 2007 Reserve Grüner Veltliner

I recently attended a tasting of Austrian wines. The focus was on Blaufränkisch, which is Austria’s big red gift to the wine world in my opinion. However there were other varietals there. The cross sections of wines and styles were inspiring and I plan on tasting more and more wines from Austria going forward. If the tasting I attended was any indication there will be plenty of selections worth reporting on. Today I’m going to look at two white wines from winemaker Johann Donabaum. This relatively young producer makes a bit less than 6,000 cases of wine. Of these, 60% are Austria’s great white wine Grüner Veltliner. The first wine I’m looking at is the Johann Donabaum 2008 Smaragd Setzberg Riesling. This wine was produced using fruit from a single vineyard. This wine sells for approximately $40

The nose of this 2008 Riesling is lead by a combination of floral and stone fruit aromas. Honeysuckle, apricot and ginger play supporting roles. The apricot theme continues and in fact builds throughout the palate where it’s joined by yellow peach and subtle mango notes. Lemon zest kicks in around mid palate and shows the way to the finish which is zesty, spicy and lingers memorably. This wine is balanced by crisp acidity.

The finish of this wine goes on and on, quite impressively. That along with the overall balance are the two most impressive hallmarks of this wine. This is a world class Riesling that will stand up to cellaring over the next 7-10 years.

The second wine is the Johann Donabaum 2007 Loibner Reserve Grüner Veltliner.  The fruit for this offering was sourced from select vines in Loiben village vineyards. Their use of the term reserve designates particularly ripe grapes that are left to rest on the lees for an extended period of time. The suggested retail price for this Grüner Veltliner is approximately $40.

Moderate kiwi, citrus and green melon aromas waft from the somewhat reserved nose of this wine. Lemon/Lime zest is apparent throughout the palate along with a cornucopia of spice notes. Minerals and hints of chalk mark the seriously lengthy finish of this wine along with ginger, vanilla bean, and small doses of white pepper. This wine clings to the back of the throat for a nice long while.

As with the Riesling the finish is the single most impressive aspect of this Grüner Veltliner. Hints of sweetness are balanced by excellent acidity keeping everything in check. This is a very well made Grüner Veltliner and a terrific selection to pair with food. This wine will also age gracefully over the next 7-10 years.

Both of these wines from Johann Donabaum are excellent expressions of the respective varietal and fine examples of the serious and well crafted Austrian offerings that are hitting our shores these days. Both of these wines are worth making a special effort to seek out.

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Flying Fish - 2008 Riesling

Washington State is probably best known for Syrah. Many of those come from Walla Walla. Columbia Valley however emerged on the national scene first and there are quite a few varietals that thrive there. Merlot, Riesling and Cabernet Sauvignon are the first that come to mind. Today I'll look at a Riesling from the Wahluke Wine Company. The 2oo8 Flying Fish Riesling was produced using fruit from three regions within Columbia Valley. This offering is 100% Riesling. It was Cold fermented for 28 days. The alcohol content for this wine is a modest 12%. Flying Fish Riesling was finished in screw cap. It most often sells for right around $12.

Stone and citrus fruit aromas burt forth from the nose of this wine. They're unerscored by hints of vanilla and emerging spice notes. Peach, mango, apricot, nectarine, and guava characteristics are all apparent throughout the full-flavored palate. Spice such as white pepper and nutmeg emerge more prominently on the finish which also features copious mineral notes. This wine has crisp acidity. It'll be a natural for lighter foods and spicy Asian and Indian cuisines.

I like the balance of this wine quite a bit. It has hints of sweetness and lots of fruit character, meanwhile it's held in check by good acidity. The crisp, clean finish is also noteworthy, welcome and appealing. When you finish a sip, you're immediately going to want another. A very tasty selection and a fair value.

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Helfrich - 2007 Riesling / 2007 Pinot Gris

Some areas of the wine world bring certain varietals to mind immediately. When it comes to Alsace there is more than one that springs to mind instantly. Riesling, Gewürztraminer and Pinot Gris are the first three I think of. Thankfully, it seems that more quality examples of these varietals from several regions of the world, Alsace included, are landing on US shelves every year. Six generations of the Helfrich family have been making wines in Alsace. Today I’ll take a look at a couple of current releases from Helfrich, Riesling and Pinot Gris. First up is the Helfrich 2007 Riesling. This offering is made entirely from Alsatian fruit and is composed of 100% Riesling. Fermentation took place in stainless steel. This selection was finished in screw cap and the suggested retail price is $14.99.

The lovely aromatics of this wine are led by lemon zest and orchard fruit notes. White cling peach is particularly prominent and provides a very appealing quality. Throughout the full and lush palate a rich mouth feel takes hold and shows off hints of ginger as well as apple, pear and continued peach notes. A lovely mineral component leads the finish which is above average in length. Spice notes emerge as well. Everything comes together in a crisp, dry and clean fashion, leaving you wanting another sip

The highlights of this wine for me are the strong aromatics out of the gate and the mineral notes on the finish. Combined with an ever so tiny hint of sweetness, both elements help form a tasty offering that is a good example of Riesling and a nice value to boot.

The second wine is the Helfrich 2007 Pinot Gris. This selection is also made from 100% Alsatian fruit. This wine is composed entirely of Pinot Gris. Fermentation occurred in stainless steel. This Pinot Gris was finished in screw cap and the suggested retail price is $14.99.

Aromas of honey, hazelnut, lychee, Anjou pear and golden delicious apple are all present in the bright, forward nose of this 2007 Pinot Gris. The palate of this offering is rich and full flavored. Sweet, ripe fruit flavors abound; apple nectar is particularly striking. Spice notes really kick in around mid-palate and continue through the finish with nutmeg, white pepper and hints of smoke standing as the most forward of these. As with the Riesling the finish is also above average in length. Solid acidity balances the inherent sweetness of this wine and keeps things in check.

I love this Pinot Gris for its versatility. Whether served as a welcome wine, with appetizers or accompanying your main meal this 2006 Pinot Gris will work nicely. Roast pork tender loin with apple compote would be a perfect match.

Both of these releases from Helfrich represent good examples of their respective varietals at fair prices. These are well worth tasting.

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Loimer - 2007 Riesling Langenlois Terrassen / 2007 Grüner Veltliner Terrassen

Over the last decade Austrian wines have begun to find their place on US shelves. As is usually the case it starts with those who are really intoloimer wine and then eventually starts to seep into the conciousness of the everyday wine consumer. Riesling would seem like the most obvious choice to make a foothold first; and there are some tremendous Austrian examples. But in my experience it's often something different, something that a country or region does that stands apart from other areas that helps them establish themselves. In the case of Austria that grape is Grüner Veltliner. This varietal is poised to do for Austria what Malbec has done for Argentina. Sure, it can be grown elsewhere but nobody makes Grüner Veltliner the way Austria does, ditto for Argentine Malbec. Today I'll look at an example of Grüner Veltliner and Riesling from Loimer. This Austrian producer with a history dating to 1998 produces approximately 16,000 cases of wine per year. Well over 90% of their production is dedicated to white varietals; red varietals and sweet wines make up the remainder of their portfolio. The 2007 Loimer Riesling Langenlois Terrassen has modest alcohol of 13.5%. This selection is most often available for approximately $25.

Lychee fruit and granny smith apple present in the nose of this 2007 Riesling. Lemon zest, grapefruit, hazelnut, Bartlett pear and subtle hints of ginger are part of a full flavored palate that delivers waves of flavor in spades. Emerging tart apple notes and a huge influx of mineral notes emerge on the lengthy and persistent finish. This wine is tangy, zest and incredibly refreshing, helped in part by fine acidity and excellent overall structure.

This is a lovely Riesling with tons of character and many layers of complexity. My advice is to drink it over the next 2-3 years and to be careful not to over chill it. A couple of degrees warmer and you will be rewarded with a lot of additional flavor.

The 2007 Loimer Grüner Veltliner Terrassen comes in with an alcohol content of 13%. This wine is also most often available for approximately $25.

Do you like apricots? If you do the tremendous apricot notes that open the nose of this Grüner Veltliner will certainly please you as they do me. These are underscored by gentle hints of vanilla. Persistent, unyielding mineral characteristics are present throughout the palate. Lovely flourishes of lemon ice and stone fruit echo onward and lead to the finish which is unrelenting in length. Honey emerges and accompanies the mineral notes that just keep on coming. This wine is incredibly crisp and refreshing with a racy acidity.

This wine will pair well with lighter foods. It would go quite nicely with brunch selections. However, I personally prefer to sip this Grüner Veltliner on its own and contemplate its beauty, elegance, complexity and my happiness that this fantastic varietal is soon to have its day on US shelves. Not to mention the prominent place in the collective conciousness of wine drinkers that it so richly deserves.

Both selections from Loimer are tasty, well made and reasonably priced for the complexity and quality they offer. The Grüner Veltliner though is a slight cut above for me for all the reasons I listed above.

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Clean Slate - 2008 Riesling

cleanslateI really enjoy Riesling, but over the years I've had a hard time finding well priced examples that impress on any level. Too often the offerings on US shelves at an everyday drinking price-point are one dimensional and uninteresting at best. In many casing that single dimension is sweetness. While I enjoy this in a dessert wine, it's not something I generally look for in table wines. The 2008 Clean Slate Riesling is from Mosel Germany. The fruit was sourced from a number of vineyards throughout different sections of the Mosel. This wine most often sells for right around $10.

Stone fruit and citrus highlight the aromatic nose of this wine. Throughout the palate white peach notes are prominent and accompanied by underlying touches of lemon zest, tangerine and spice. Terrific acidity, mineral, flint and continued spice are all part of a nice finish. This wine is tasty on its own but it's really tailor made to pair with food. While Thai cuisine might be the obvious choice, I found it to be an excellent match with a range of Indian dishes I was sampling along with it.

What stands out most to me in this wine is the acidity. It provides a great backbone and gives it the structure to stand up to a variety of foods. This is also a refreshing wine that will keep you coming back to the glass for additional sips. A far cry from the host of cloying and borderline syrupy selections that have often clogged up store shelves over the years. As an everyday selection this provides nice varietal character and represents a solid value.

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