Gabe's View

Wine: Reviews, Thoughts & Culture

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Winemaker Dinner

Dinner with Piedmont Winemaker Gianpaolo Manzone

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

Dinner with Cuvaison Winemaker Steve Rogstad

Cuvaison Winery has a history in Napa Valley that dates back to 1969. However they were reset in 1979 when the Schmidheiny family from Switzerland purchased the property. A decade ago they built a new facility in Carneros under the stewardship of winery president Jay Schuppert and winemaker Steve Rogstad, who both joined on in 2002 and are still onboard. Previous to that the wines were made in Calistoga where they still own a facility and a satellite tasting room. Last week I had the opportunity to have dinner with Steve Rogstad at Tocqueville. We tasted through the core releases as well as a couple of wines made from the Brandlin Estate on Mount Veeder. My thoughts on my favorite wines from the evening follow. The Cuvaison 2011 Estate Chardonnay Carneros is their flagship offering. It makes up roughly 75% of their total production which varies between 40 and 50,000 cases from one vintage to the next. The fruit for this wine came from 44 distinct blocks within their Estate. Each lot was picked and vinified separately. This Chardonnay was barrel fermented and aged in French oak for 8 months; 20% of the barrels utilized were new. This widely available wine has a suggested retail price of $25. This is a gorgeous Chardonnay with clean and crisp flavors. Apple aromas lead the nose and carry on to the palate. Tropical fruit flavors join in as well with pineapple and guava of particular note. Spice, minerals and a little kiss of crème fraiche emerge on the finish which has nice length. It is classic example of well made Carneros Chardonnay that allows the fruit to shine brilliantly through. This wine is a very solid value at its price point.

The Cuvaison 2011 Kite Tail Chardonnay is produced each year from a single block. This block is planted to the Wente clone. The fruit was hand harvested and whole cluster pressed. It was fermented and aged in barrel over 15 months in French oak; 50% of the barrels utilized were new. This wine has a suggested price of $42. Hints of smoke and toast light up the nose of this Chardonnay along with bits of orchard fruit. The flavors here are more concentrated and have a greater intensity. Apple and pear are in strong evidence along with a bit of mango. Bits of toasted almond, and copious spices such as nutmeg and white pepper emerge on the finish which has substantial length. Tasting these two Chardonnays side by side is a tiny little window into how diverse this grape is. In this case multiple factors play in to the distinction. Both wines are delicious and interesting in their own right.

The Cuvaison 2011 Estate Pinot Noir Carneros was produced with fruit sourced from 20 distinct blocks within the Winery Estate. Each block was vinified separately. Barrel aging took place over 11 months in small oak barrels; 30% of them were new. This wine has a suggested retail price of $38. Fresh red fruit aromas fill the nose of this Pinot Noir. Bing cherry and strawberry characteristics are at play on the palate along with a bit of cinnamon and black pepper spice. Raspberry emerges on the finish along with wisps of rhubarb and earth. As a counterpoint to the Estate Chardonnay this is an equally engaging and well made example of Carneros Pinot.

The Brandlin Estate Mt Veeder Cabernet Sauvignon is largely varietal (94%), with small amounts of Petit Verdot (4%), Malbec (1%) and Cabernet Franc (1%) blended in. This wine was aged over 22 months in French oak; 50% of the barrels utilized were new. This wine has a suggested retail price of $55. Cuvaison purchased this property, which has been farmed by the Brandlin family since the 1870’s in the late 90’s. This is a historic Napa vineyard whose history they honor by name and in practice. Less than 40 of the 170 acres have been planted to vine. There’s a ton of excellent Cabernet Sauvignon in NapaValley. Personally I think some of the most compelling examples are made from mountain fruit. This selection from Brandlin is no exception. Black fruit aromas dominate the nose along with hints of toast. This is a young Cabernet and it’s a bit tight out of the bottle right now. It opens up nicely with some air and shows off blackberry and raspberry fruit flavors as well as hints of cocoa. Earth and black pepper emerge on the finish which has good length. This wine has firm, gripping tannins and solid structure. It’s tasty now but will be even better a few years from now. This is a nice example of Mt. Veeder Cabernet.

The connective tissue with the wines Steve Rogstad is making for Cuvaison and their Mount Veeder Property Brandlin is proportion. These are lovely, vineyard-driven wines that pair well with a wide array of foods and quite frankly life in general. Each wine is distinct yet it’s clear the guiding hand and winery principles employed at Cuvaison have led to the creation and maintaining of an impressive portfolio that leads with their property in Carneros and the beautiful grapes that are grown there. Add to that the rugged Cabernet and other Bordeaux varietals of Mt. Veeder and the picture of a producer that lets their properties speak through the bottle emerges. It’s always a pleasure to taste wines alongside the person who shepherded them into existence. When the winemaker is one like Steve Rogstad with his wealth of experience in the business in general and at his length of tenure at his current Winery, its all the more interesting and informative.

Henry's Drive - 2010 Morse Code Chardonnay

A number of years ago I first ran across a bottle of Pillar Box Red. This Australian blend was well priced and tasty. Since that time I’ve gone back to it on numerous occasions, recommended to people and had the opportunity to taste it alongside its winemaker. Most compelling for a wine in its price-point is how consistent its quality and general flavor profile has been from year to year. This isn’t often the case with wines around the $10 mark. Last week I had dinner with Henry’s Drive winemaker Renae Hirsch and Winery owner Kim Longbottom. We tasted through much of their current portfolio, including classics like Dead Letter Office and Parson’s Flat as well as The Scarlett Letter a Sparkling Shiraz that’s new for them. Across the board the Henry’s Drive wines are well made and appropriately priced for the quality they offer at each level. In many cases their wines over deliver. One of the wines that really outperforms its price-point is The Morse Code Chardonnay. This is one of the few wines we tasted that night which I had not sampled previously. The Henry’s Drive 2010 Morse Code Chardonnay was produced using fruit sourced in the Padthaway region of Australia. This offering is 100% Chardonnay. A small amount of oak was used in the production of this wine. 5,600 cases of the 2010 vintage were produced and it has a suggested retail price of $8.99.

Ripe orchard fruit aromas leap from the glass of this Chardonnay. A host of both tropical and continued orchard fruit flavors are present on the incredibly pleasing palate of this wine. Pear, pineapple, apple and a hint of papaya are all in evidence along with a core of spices such as nutmeg, clove and vanilla bean. The finish is crisp and refreshing with terrific acidity and good length. This wine is delicious on it’s own but will pair well with lighter foods.

The bottom line for me on the Morse Code Chardonnay is that it’s a steal. This wine is loaded with Chardonnay character. The subtle amount of oak used, adds some complexity as it should, but never detracts. You’re going to be hard pressed to find a Chardonnay for less than $10 that provides as much varietal character, purity of fruit and just sheer delicious drinkability as this wine. If you need a house white wine for the summer a case of Morse Code Chardonnay is a great bet.

The Henry’s Drive Wines provide quality, distinction and value at every price point. Whether you’re spending $8.99 on the Morse Code Chardonnay, or $49.99 on the Reserve Shiraz you’re going to get value for your money. And with them continuing to push the envelope adding new and exciting releases like “The Scarlett Letter,” a delicious Sparking Shiraz, the folks at Henry’s Drive always have something compelling for wine lovers to sample. Buy their wines with the confidence that they are one of Australia’s best and most consumer friendly producers. If you’re a fan of Australian Wine, there’s no doubt in my mind their portfolio has something you’ll be interested in.

Reconsiderng a Napa Valley Legend; Robert Mondavi Winery

As we’ve grown precipitously as a wine drinking nation over the last couple of decades our choices have also increased. The number of outlets selling wine is way up and the options we have once we go there are in sharp contrast to what was available a number of years ago. The temptation in our culture is also to chase the new hot thing. Sometimes that leaves little room to reconsider or reconnect with something we already love. In this case that something is the Robert Mondavi Winery. There was no greater ambassador for both California wines and the importance of wine on our tables in this country than Robert Mondavi. Napa Valley and perhaps the entire US wine industry would look radically different today if not for the chances he took and the advances, in quality and more, that he championed. In the sea of wine that’s out there it’s easy to forget that. Recently I had the opportunity to taste through some current and older releases with winemaker Genevieve Janssens.

Tasting both new offerings and an older Cabernet Sauvignon really showed off the quality of winemaking that is still going on at this venerable Napa Valley house. A particular standout was the 2007 I Block Fume Blanc. This wine is made in tiny quantities (207 cases) and sourced from a specific block of the To Kalon vineyard. It was one of the more impressive Sauvignon Blancs I’ve tasted in quite awhile. At three plus years old it’s fresh and vibrant and still has plenty of life ahead of it. It’s only available through the winery (SRP $75) and well worth the extra effort to get it.

The event took place at Hearth Restaurant in New York and this allowed us to taste these wines as they are meant to be consumed; side by side with food. I sampled the 2008 Napa Valley Chardonnay with a rotating cast of different appetizers. This wine was produced with fruit sourced in Carneros (58%), East Napa foothills (29%), Sonoma County (10%), other Napa vineyards (3%). 69% of the juice was fermented in barrel; 13% of them were new. The balance was fermented in stainless steel. This Chardonnay which is widely available has a suggested retail price of $20. Orchard fruit aromas fill the nose of this wine along with a hint of spice. Golden delicious apple, pear, pineapple and guava all make their presence know through the palate. Minerals, apple pie crust and baker’s spice are each part of the finish which has impressive length for a Chardonnay in this price category. The use of oak here was judicious and it adds to the complexity, as opposed to some Chardonnays where it becomes a distraction. The bottom line is that this wine pairs well with a wide array of different foods and also drinks beautifully on its own. It’s one of the work horses in the Mondavi portfolio and it’s well worth trying if you haven’t had it in awhile.

Two vintages of the Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon were impressive for different reasons. The 1996 Robert Mondavi Winery Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve is an excellent example of the age worthiness of good Oakville Cabernet Sauvignon. Most (79%) of the fruit for it came from Oakville; much of it from To Kalon. When Robert Mondavi spoke of comparing Napa wines to his French counterparts it was wines like the reserve Cabernet that I bet he had in mind. This wine still has plenty of fruit on it, but it’s also become earthier and softer. It’s a pleasure to drink both with food and without.

The Robert Mondavi Winery 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon was made entirely with fruit from Oakville and 93% of it from To Kalon. This wine is bigger, bolder and a bit brasher today. It has firm tannins that need some time in the bottle or some aeration to soften a bit. The elements which make the 1996 so drinkable today are also there in the 2007. It’s simply loaded with fruit and spice flavors that are accented by the time spent in barrel. Just less than 10,000 cases were produced and it has a suggested retail price of $135. Ultimately, the 2007 has the hallmarks of a wine that promises to be an even more impressive effort than the 1996. The question after purchasing it is if you have patience. It’s very enjoyable now, particularly with full flavored foods. However if you give it 5 or 10 years of proper storage you’ll be rewarded with a slightly mellower, more resolved wine that will just knock your socks off. You really can’t go wrong either way, it depends which experience you prefer.

Tasting these wines and several others with food, over a leisurely evening made a couple of facts crystal clear. Most importantly if you haven’t had wines from the flagship Robert Mondavi Winery in Napa Valley for a while, it’s high time to revisit them. Their releases still showcase some of the best that Napa Valley has to offer. This was apparent both in widely available wines like the Chardonnay and Cabernet as well as small production items like the I Block Fume Blanc. The other point is that as much attention as the To Kalon Vineyard gets, it should probably get more. The wines that were sourced there show off a tremendous sense of place and are simply impressive efforts. Genevieve Janssens who has been making the wines at Robert Mondavi Winery since 1997 (she worked at Opus One previously) is doing an impressive job shepherding the philosophy of Mr. Mondavi into the future. The best way to thank her for that effort is to taste these wines.

Tasting Shirvington Cabernet Sauvignon & Shiraz

I recently had the chance to taste wine, over dinner, with the Shirvingtons. The namesakes of this Australian Winery were in the United States for the first time in many years showing off their wines. Lucky for me they brought quite a treasure trove of goodies to share. Lynne and Paul Shirvington started down the wine road in 1995. Their aim was for a simpler existence as farmers, and thus they decided that growing grapes would provide the life they were looking for and the challenges they craved. Between 1996 and 2001 they purchases 3 parcels of land. Their vineyard manager Peter Bolte has been with them since 1997 and their winemaker Kim Jackson since 2004. Starting with the 2001 vintage they have made wines that have garnered significant attention and acclaim. I was quite curious to sample their wines as I had not previously done so. It’s generally instructive to do so with the folks responsible and the Shirvingtons were no exception. In addition to founders Peter and Lynne their son Mark was in attendance as well. Their pride in their wines was clear as was their hospitality and charm.

In total we tasted five vintages of Shiraz and four of Cabernet Sauvignon. The fruit was sourced from their own vineyards. So the first step in consistency is controlling their source. Of course there is plenty of vintage variation between them. Tasting the wines side by side was an eye opener into their winemaking style and their track record as a producer. So while there was plenty to differentiate the wines I was struck by the positive attributes they have in common. There is a trio of things that most impressed me about the Shirvington wines as a whole.

The first is the balance and restraint both the Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz showed across each of the vintages. While these are by no means small wines, their heft is quite reasonable. The flavors are mouth-filling, even a bit relentless in their attack at times, but never over the top. Despite alcohol levels well over 15% on almost every offering, not a single one belied any discernable heat. Considering all the disproportionate wine from the world over, that is certainly no small feat.

The second thing that made me really take notice in these wines is their persistence and duration of palate. From the first whiff of the expressive nose through what is an above average finish on each of them, they’re profiles are notably lengthy

Age ability is another other quality about the Shirvington wines that stands out above most others. These wine have the legs to last quite awhile. The oldest wines we tasted were from their second vintage, 2002 and the youngest from 2008. The oldest wines were amazing; particularly in how much fresh fruit they still showed. It would have been very difficult to pick up that the Shiraz was an 8 year old wine. It speaks really well to the small lot, terroir driven approach they employ to make their wines. The older Cabernet was also very good, but showed more of the hallmark signs of an offering with some age on it. It’s hard to say precisely how long these wines will go but at 8 years old now they surely have a couple years more left to go, at the very least. The younger wines which benefited from additional aeration over the course of the evening have the same overall structure and characteristics to indicate that they will have a similar shelf life; perhaps even more as the vines gain age and they learn more and more about them over time.

It’s important to note, as I referenced above, that while there are many qualitative similarities between these wines, the vintage rules they day. The Shirvingtons are keen about making wines that speak very specifically about their place of origin in McLaren Vale. And even that very specific spot has different things to say each year. Weather is of course a huge factor and there have been some vintages affected to different degrees by drought. The Shirvingtons are extremely committed to overall quality; in fact if the fruit isn’t up to their standard they simply won’t make the particular wine that year.

The proof is in the bottle. For me the bottom line is the wine, and it’s clear when it comes to that they’re making all the right decisions. These are world class examples of Australian Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon respectively. Current vintages have a suggested retail price of $66.99 (Shiraz) and $59.99 (Cabernet Sauvignon). Whether you pick some up to knock your friends out today or you want to lay down some wine for the next decade, the Shirvington offerings are selections you should strongly consider.

The Current Release Wines of Tinto Figuero

The other night I had the chance to taste through the wines of  Tinto Figuero with two of the winery principals. The setting was Solera in Manhattan. Spanish wine and food are enough to get any reasonable person excited; I know I certainly was. Part of the excitement was that I’d never before had the Tinto Figuero wines. As I was explaining to someone at this very dinner, given the choice between a wine I know I love and one I’ve never tasted I’m going to go for the wine I never tasted at least nine out of ten times. Tinto Figuero is a family operation run by three brothers, their brother in law and their father who keeps his hand involved in the winery he started with his wife. Originally grape growers dating back some generations, they eventually turned their attention to starting a winery and producing their own wines. The goals at Tinto Figuero are to make premium wines that are consistent from vintage to vintage, express the sense of place imparted by their spot in the Ribera del Duero, and to make wines that the people who have had them before will know is a Figuero the moment it hits their lips. Those goals are simple, straightforward and lofty all at the same time.

At dinner we tasted through four of their wines. These offerings make up the bulk of their portfolio and are their most widely distributed releases. Each of the wines is 100% Tempranillo, and sourced from their own vineyards in the Ribera del Duero. Grape selection and oak treatment are the major differences in how each wine is produced. My impressions were as follows:

Tinto Figuero – 2007 Roble Four Month In Barrel. Just fewer than 6,000 cases of this selection were produced. As the name indicates, this wine spent 4 months in oak. The suggested retail price is $19.99. Fresh, crushed raspberry aromas mark the nose of this wine. The fresh berry theme continues through the palate and onto the finish which features mineral notes and subtle hints of earth. This is Figuero’s everyday wine. It provides lots of bright, vibrant flavors and will be a good match for casual finger foods such as an assortment of tapas.

Tinto Figuero – 2005 Crianza Twelve Months In Barrel. Just over 20,000 cases of this offering were bottled. Fruit was sourced from vines with 20-20 years (80%) of age and the remainder (20%) over 50 years. Oak aging occurred over 12 months in a combination American (90%) and French (10%) oak. The suggested retail price for this wine is $28.99. Red raspberry aromas billow from the nose of this wine. Wisps of vanilla follow; the palate is a couple of steps up in intensity and complexity from the Four Month, Sour blackberry jam notes emerge on the finish which has good length and excellent acidity. A grilled steak would be an excellent match for this wine.

Tinto Figuero – 2004 Reserva Fifteen Months In Barrel. 8,333 six bottle cases of this wine were produced. Fruit was sourced from vines with more than 50 years of age. Barrel aging was achieved over 15 months in a combination of American (95%) and French (5%) oak. The suggested retail price for this wine is $53.99. This 2004 Tempranillo opens with a nose so intense, so inviting, and so appealing that it’s almost absurd to try and describe it. More than one person at the table would have likely jumped into the glass to get closer to this wine if that was possible. Kirsch Liqueur is one of the more prominent components of the nose, but that only begins to describe an aroma that is the very embodiment of the term intoxicating. It took me quite awhile to taste this wine as I couldn’t get past the nose to actually focus on tasting it. Once I did sip it, the wine greeted me with wave after wave of intense berry fruit flavor. And if the flavors weren’t quite as intense as the nose, they were certainly well more than adequate. Hints of vanilla and oak emerged at mid-palate to complement the fruit and lead to the finish which was as impressive as the nose. This wine lingers for a good long while. Everything about this selection is delicious. While it’s excellent now it will certainly improve over time in the bottle.

Tinto Figuero – 2004 Noble. 1,166 six bottle cases of this offering were produced. Fruit for this selection was sourced from vines with more than 70 years of age. Oak aging occurred over a period of 21 months. The first 15 months was spent in American oak followed by 6 months in French oak. An additional 15 months of bottle age was allowed before release. The suggested retail price for this wine is $130.99. First and foremost this wine is still a baby. It was decanted for 3 hours before we started to taste it. While it was certainly opening up this wine was still tight. Fresh cherries, leather and cigar box aromas mark the nose. Raspberry, blackberry and huckleberry flavors are all present in the layered palate. Dusty dark chocolate emerges around mid-palate and continues through the prodigious finish which is also marked by hints of chicory and cedar. This offering features chewy tannins, balanced by fine acidity. This is the epitome of a special occasion wine. Tinto Figuero 2004 Noble is the sort of selection you want to grab a couple of to lay down in your cellar and forget about for 5-10 years. If you have that sort of patience, you will undoubtedly be rewarded. If however you plan to drink this in the short term, decant it for 4-5 hours at minimum. Either way this is a terrific wine.

While this was my first experience tasting the wines of Tinto Figuero it certainly won’t be my last. Each of these releases is impressive in its own right and perhaps more importantly achieves the goal it sets out for. There are both substantial differences in these wines as well as a commonality of both house style and a common thread that ties them all together. In speaking to them and tasting their wines the commitment to sustained quality is evident. It’s going to be interesting to follow them over the years and see it play out.

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Tasting Trapiche With Winemaker Daniel Pi

DP I recently wrote about some of the Trapiche Wines. The Extra Brut and Torrontes here at Gabe's View and the varietal Malbec in a recent column for Bullz-eye. I had a second look at those wines and several others recently when I had occasion to taste them with Winemaker Daniel Pi.

Trapiche hosted a luncheon at BLT Burger in Manhattan and a number of their wines were served. The NV Extra Brut served as an excellent welcome wine. In addition to setting a celebratory mood, tasting it again underscored what a terrific value in sparkling wine it is. Next up was the Torrontes and it was paired alongside a spicy appetizer that featured potato, cheese and jalapeno among other ingredients. The counterbalance of these flavors is the sort of sweet spot folks dream of when they think up wine pairings. And again as I detailed in my earlier review, this wine is an excellent value.

Daniel Pi has been the winemaker for Trapiche since 2002. As we tasted through the wines, his exuberance and passion screamed through. Trapiche being an Argentine producer, Malbec is of course a major focus. The first was the 2008 varietal Malbec. With the amount of flavor it provides at its price point this offering should be a contender for anyone looking for a house wine to open without guilt any day of the week. The Trapiche 2007 Broquel Malbec is a a few steps up in complexity from the varietal Malbec. For several dollars more you're getting a more intense experience. This wine is made in a cuvee style by sourcing fruit from all over Argentina. The Broquel served as a great comparison to my favorite wine of the day, the Trapiche Single Vineyard Malbec Viña Federico Villafañe 2006. This offering was delicuous, complex and yes singular. More importantly than that it showcased the fact that site specific Malbec can be as compelling and important as other varietals such as Cabernet Sauvignon which often get much more attention for single vineyard efforts. This is no small thing. Vineyard specific wines are often the selections that compete so to speak on the grand stage as the best in the world. Malbec deserves a place on that stage and efforts like this pave the way for Malbec to not only be a hot varietal (it is) but to also get more and more serious and deserved critical acclaim.

BLT Burger was an excellent choice to show off the Trapiche wines. The starters, side dishes and procession of 6 different burgers with a variety of preparations and toppings suited these wines well. The diversity of the burgers demonstrated how versatile these wines are and how they pair with the sorts of foods many Americans eat on a day in and day out basis. Burgers were the order of the day, but the red wines would just as easily paired with a slice of pizza, dish of pasta or Thanksgiving Dinner for that matter. Trapiche makes a wide range of wines at different price points. The commonalities are quality and value. Whichever of their wines you choose to try, you'll be getting a good deal with Trapiche.

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Dinner With Winemaker Cristobal Undurraga

Terrapura_Sauvignon_Blanc_Label_mainDating back to the 1880’s the Undurraga family has played a significant role in the Chilean wine industry. As it relates to Chilean wine in the US they were the first to export here. And when Chilean wine started to find a significant home on US shelves they led the charge in brand recognition. In 2006 they sold their namesake winery, brand name and vineyard. But instead of retreating from the wine business they approached it anew. Alfonso Undurraga Mackenna great nephew of Undurraga founder Francisco started a new brand with his sons. Thus Koyle Winery was founded. I recently had the chance to sit down with winemaker Cristobal Undurraga and taste the wines he’s making with and for his family winery. The goal at Koyle Winery is two-fold. They want to show off the fact that Chile can produce small lot premium wines. And within that focus their goal is to over deliver on each release. Throughout dinner, Cristobal who is a charming speaker told us very passionately about their goals for the Koyle brand. Before tasting the Koyle wines though we tasted through the family’s value brand Terrapura.

The wines in the Terrapura range are varietal selections. With 25,000 cases of each made they’re going to be widely available on US shelves. Each of them has a suggested retail price of $9.99.

Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Merlot, and Carmenere are the Terrapura wines we sampled. There is also a Cabernet Sauvignon in this line. While I felt they were each well made and more than fairly priced, two stood out as favorites for me:

Terrapura – 2009 Sauvignon Blanc. This first wine of the night also turned out to be one of the favorites for both myself and others at the table. It’s loaded with lots of very fresh fruit flavors. Citrus abounds. It has tremendous acidity and a touch of creaminess on the finish. For $10 this wine is a steal.

Terrapura – 2008 Merlot. This offering has a big an alluring nose filled with rose petals and cherry aromas. Throughout the palate it features continued cherry, as well as chocolate and plum notes. The finish is beautifully dry with earth, chicory and spice. This Merlot is well balanced with good acidity. It’s tough to find a Merlot in this price category with this type of varietal character. That’s going to make this selection hard to beat.

Cristobal spoke knowledgeably about the Terrapura wines though he doesn’t make them. One of the decisions the family made when they started anew in 2006 was to operate their value and premium lines as separate wineries as opposed to different lines in the same winery. I can’t speak to what they would have tasted like if they didn’t make that decision. But I can tell you that what they decided worked very well. There are style differences in addition to qualitative differences in these wines that make them distinct.

Koyle Winery was named after a purple plant that can be found in their mountain vineyards. The wines are produced from both estate fruit and sourced grapes. The fruit they source comes from long term growers who have relationships with the Undurraga family that date back many years, assuring they get the quality they are looking for. Currently Koyle has four releases. The total case production for them stands at around 12,000. This encompasses two Cabernet Sauvignons and two Syrahs.  Each wine has a standard release ($16.99) and a “Royale” ($25.99) which is their version of a reserve offering. The 2007 vintage that we tasted is the first for the Royale wines. My impressions of these offerings follow:

Koyle_Syrah_2007_BottleKoyle - 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon. This selection also has 12% Carmenere blended in.  This Cabernet has a really big and expressive nose showing lots of dark, brooding berry fruit. Berry flavors continue through the palate joined by spice and earth notes which lead to a nice finish. This wine has firm tannins. If you’re drinking it now decanting is heartily recommended.

Koyle – 2007 Syrah. 13% Carmenere is also blended in. Blueberry, plum and blackberry are all prominent in the nose of this wine. The palate has an appealing jammy feel to it. It seems to find a sweet spot that nestles itself between the very ripe offerings that often come from Australia and the more reserved old world selections. This would pair beautifully with barbecue foods.

Koyle – 2007 Royale Cabernet Sauvignon. Malbec (9%) and Carmenere (6%) are blended into this selection. I found this Cabernet to have even darker fruit than its counterpart.  It also has bigger, firmer, chewy tannins and a notably lengthy finish. This wine is nice now, but I don’t think it’s close to being at its best yet; 5 years of proper storage should help this one really evolve. It should drink well for several years after that.

Koyle – 2007 Royale Syrah. 11% Malbec and 4% Carmenere are blended into this wine. The nose of this Syrah is loaded with floral notes. Cassis, blackberry pie and copious baker’s spice emerges throughout the full bodied and rich palate. Dry fruit and espresso notes kick in on the lengthy finish. As with the Cabernet this wine will easily get better in the upcoming years under proper storage conditions.

Speaking with Cristobal throughout the evening and tasting the wines his family is producing was a noteworthy experience. His passion for wine in general and the promise of Chile in particular shines through with every word he utters. The Undurraga family has played a key role in the history of Chilean wine. It stands to reason that they will be one of the producers that causes the world to realize, on a larger scale than they currently do, that Chile stands not only for value but for premium quality as well.

Most impressive to me is that each of these wines does meet their stated goal of over-delivering on their price-points. That’s no small feat. If you drink Chilean wines, keep your eyes open for the Koyle and Terrapura wines, they’re well worth giving a shot. If you currently don’t drink much wine from Chile, this wouldn’t be a bad place to start.

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Dinner With Kim Longbottom & Renae Hirsch of Henry's Drive

Last week I had the opportunity to have dinner with Kim Longbottom and Renae Hirsch of Henry's Drive. This Padthaway Australia producer has a vast repertoire of wines; some appropriate for everyday drinking and others for special occasions, gift giving or cellaring. I'd met Renae last year (read that report here) and at the time she had only been on the job a short while. WithParsons_Flat_Bottle_big this followup meeting I was looking forward to learning how things had progressed for her at Henry's Drive. And of course I was also happy to be meeting proprietor Kim Longbottom. The first two wines we tasted were both Chardonnay based. First up was The Postmistress Blanc de Blanc. This sparkling wine is 100% Chardonnay and when it makes it to the US sometime in 2010 it will retail for $19.99. I found this to be a tasty lighter style of sparkling wine, one I'd consume with Brunch foods perhaps. The second wine was Morse Code Chardonnay. This is one of two varietal entries that will be part of the under $10 tier for Henry's Drive. It's fair to think of it and the Morse Code Shiraz as single varietal counterparts to the two Pillar Box wines. I really enjoyed the clean, fresh, fruit forward style of this 2009 Chardonnay. For a suggested retail of $8.99, this will make a solid choice for everyday drinking when it's released here in the next month or so.

Pillar Box Red is the first wine from Henry's Drive I became aware of several years back. I find that it's been a consistent offering in the value category and also a popular one. In speaking to Renae she indicated that a wine like Pillar Box Red which many people drink and are aware of is one of the selections she feels a bit more pressure in producing since it's had a longstanding reputation that preceded her becoming winemaker. No question to me that she's achieved her goal as the overall quality of this wine and its flavor profile have remained true to the course.

Two wines stood out as overall favorites for me. The Trial of John Montford was one. This blend of Cabernet Sauvignon (90%) and Cabernet Franc (10%), leads with a big nose of leather, berry and vanilla. Cherry and earth are amongst the dominat notes through the palate and they lead to a lengthy and layered finish. This 2007 selection has a suggested retail price of $29.99. While I think it's quite tasty now, a few years in the cellar will really help it come together into an even nicer package.

The 2007 Dead Letter Office Shiraz was my other favorite of the evening. This selection blends Shiraz from McLaren Vale (67%) in with the Padthaway (33%) fruit. Of the higher end reds in the Henry's Drive portfolio this is the wine that evolved the most dramatically in the glass throughout the evening. The combination of fruit from two sources lends itself to creating a very balanced Shiraz with a multitude of layers. The suggested retail price on this wine is $26.99

In all we went through 10 selections. Beside the wines already mentioned we tasted Pillar Box Reserve, Henry's Drive Shiraz, Henry's Drive Reserve Shiraz, and the Parson's Flat Shiraz/Cabernet Sauvignon. In speaking with Kim throughout the evening it was clear that the goal is to create full flavored wines with balance. This is a goal that in my opinion they're reaching. Certainly I have my favorites as I indicated above, but the house style in general is one that I have an overall fondness for. This is an Australian producer I gladly recommend; regardless of your wine budget there are Henry's Drive offerings you can find room for.

One of the other pleasures of meeting Kim was getting to hear details I wasn't familiar with about their use of Postal Service terms, names and legends for their wines. Having a story is one thing, but when it's backed by historical fact and reality it adds something to the intrigue of a bottle of wine.

By all means if you have the unique opportunity to spend some time, and taste wine, with these charming ladies I highly recommend it. Some even say they're a couple of Saucy Aussies.

Imported by Quintessential Wines.

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Winemaker Dinner; Renae Hirsch of Henry's Drive

Last week I had the opportunity to taste through the Henry's Drive wines at dinner in New York City with their winemaker Renae Hirsch. Within the last year she's become the head Winemaker there. Throughout dinner Renae told us about Henry's Drive vineyards, their wine-making philosophy and a good deal about making wine in Australia in general. Most people are likely familiar with the Pillar Box series of wines. Pillar Box Red has been around quite a few years longer than its counterparts. What the Pillar Box wines have in common are the quality and value they represent at a very low price point. With 500 acres in their estate, Henry's Drive has control over quite a bit of fruit.

The wines of the evening were:

Pillar Box White- This blend of Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Verdelho can often be found on shelves for under $10. The 2007 was being tasted. I found it to be crisp and fresh with some tangy and mineral notes on the finish. A nice wine to sip on it's own, especially while it's still nice out.

Pillar Box Red- This blend of Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon & Merlot was my first exposure to the Henry's Drive wines a few years back. As with the white the 2007 was being poured. I found it to be jammy up front with gamey red notes on the mid-palate through the finish. White pepper notes stood out as one of the hallmarks of a nice tingly finish. In comparison to other vintages of this release I've had the 2007 struck me as smoother and a bit more layered. For around $10, this has been an excellent value for several years now and that continues with the current vintage

Pillar Box Reserve - Unlike the other two wines in the Pillar Box line, the reserve is 100% Shiraz. The fruit characteristics on this 2007 wine were very dark, much more so than the Pillar Box Red. It ‘s also less jammy, even smoother and featuring quite a bit of black pepper. Suggested retail price is $19.99

The Trial of John Montford- The 2006 release is 100% Cabernet Sauvignon. Wild blackberry and brambly earth notes fill the nose. Typically jammy as much Australian Cabernet can be. Not overly jammy though as it features excellent acidity which provides very nice balance. Smooth and fairly silky, this is an impressive effort for the $29.99 Suggested Retail price.

Dead Letter Office- This 2006 Shiraz has fruit from both Padthaway (33%) and Mclaren Vale (67%). Of the wines I tasted at this dinner this one struck me as the least immediately accessible. It needed more time to really open up than the rest. Decanting this for an hour ore more would be recommended. Otherwise another 6 months to a year of age should really help it come into its own. Once it did open up, lots of fresh red raspberry and bing cherry was accompanied by subtle spice and light vanilla notes. $26.99 Suggested retail price on this one.

Henry's Drive Shiraz - This 2006 Shiraz was sourced from older estate vineyards than the Pillar Box Reserve. It features a lot of dark berry fruit and an undercurrent of mocha on the finish accompanied by a clingy tart note that rides out on the back of the throat for awhile. $34.99 SRP.

Parson's Flat- 65% Shiraz 35% Cabernet Sauvignon make up this 2005 estate blend. Cab & Shiraz are natural partners in Australia, Perhaps as much as Cabernet & Merlot are in France. They work well in this blend. Berry, mocha and spice fill the nose and palate of this wine. It's was a bit reticent at first but opened up nicely as the evening progressed. Significant, velvety tannins are this offerings hallmark. It should be able to improve for several years and drink nicely for 4 or 5 after that. Nice effort. $39.99 SRP.

Henry's Drive Reserve Shiraz - This single vineyard wine from 2006 is filled with chocolate covered blackberry notes in the nose and early to mid-palate. The finish brings out significant spice and lingering notes of dried berry fruit. $49.99 SRP.

Tasting these wines with Persian food at Shalizar worked well. The potpourri of flavors on the table were well matched by what was being poured. The Henry's Drive wines are well made and fairly priced at their different tiers. What I like best about this portfolio of wines is that they manage to have a connective tissue or house style that ties them to each other, but they manage to be distinct in their own right. To my taste that house style is of wines filled with ripe, full flavored fruit that fill your senses but never overburden the palate or feel too "in your face." They are by and large balanced by good acidity and all work well with food. Most of their fruit is from their own Estate Vineyards which allows them to control quality year in and year out. That difference is especially felt in a wine like Pillar Box Red. Often wines in that price category vary wildly from year to year as many vintners are making them from whatever fruit they find on the market that year. By controlling almost all of their own fruit and buying the rest from friends they are assured of a quality level each year.

Speaking with Renae throughout the evening it's clear she's looking to continue the style in place at the winery and make the best wines the fruit allows her to each vintage. Whether you're looking to head out to a Barbecue and bring a fun wine such as one of the Pillar Box selections, explore Australian Shiraz a cut above or tuck something away to see how it ages, Henry's Drive has some fine, interesting and most importantly well made selections to offer.

Imported by: Quintessential Wines.

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