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Wine: Reviews, Thoughts & Culture

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Cupcake Vineyards - Prosecco D.O.C. (NV) / 2010 Angel Food

Cupcake Vineyards is based in California but sources fruit all over the world. Whether it’s Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand or Malbec from Argentina they look to key spots for particular grapes when acquiring fruit. Over the last couple of years I’ve had their wines on numerous occasions and have found that they’re delivering consistent quality in wines that retail for under $15. Today I’ll look at two whites that would both be perfectly suited to serve on Valentines Day. And with the prices so reasonable, there’s no reason not to grab both, it is a holiday after all. The Cupcake Vineyards Prosecco D.O.C. (NV) was produced using 100% Glera grapes. This wine was made utilizing the Charmat method. 20,000 cases of this sparkling wine were produced and it has a suggested retail price of $13.99. White melon and citrus aromas emerge from the nose of this Prosecco. This wine has a lovely mouth-feel and a fresh lively palate that shows off honeydew, stone fruits and citrus plentifully. The finish is crisp and refreshing with a pleasing final lemony note that begs you back for additional sips. This is a light and delightful Prosecco that drinks beautifully all by itself but will also work nicely with appetizers, a cheese course or certain desserts. The Cupcake Prosecco would be a nice choice to either begin or end the Valentine’s Day celebration with.

The Cupcake Vineyards 2010 Angel Food was produced using fruit sourced throughout California. This wine is a proprietary blend of white varietals with the largest contribution coming from Chardonnay. Each varietal was crushed and fermented separately after which the final blend was assembled. The blended wine was then barrel aged. 10,000 cases of this offering were produced and it has a suggested retail price of $13.99. Yellow Delicious and Granny Smith Apple aromas are omnipresent on the nose of this 2010 blend where they’re joined by a bevy of baker’s spices.Bartlett pear, vanilla bean, continued apple characteristics, clove and nutmeg are each in evidence throughout the palate of the 2010 Angel Food. The finish is lush and creamy with a pleasing conclusion that made me want to keep on drinking. This wine is fruity and gently layered. While it’s a completely different wine of course, Angel Food is as good of a value as the Cupcake Sauvignon Blanc which has impressed me for several years now. For right around $10 if you shop around this wine is a party in a bottle. There are countless wines in the “white blend” category coming out of California. Angel Food is going to be hard to beat on QPR. It’s a super appealing wine that will work equally well on its own or paired with food. Angel Food knocks out long standing blends, like “Conundrum” that sell for twice as much, on value. Angel Food is a great choice to serve on Valentine’s Day with your main meal.

Both of these wines continue the growing trend of Cupcake Vineyards providing value driven wines that are both appealing and well made in their respective categories. By sourcing fruit all over the world they’re building a portfolio of diverse wines affordable for everyday drinking that consumers can count on. So whether it is for Valentine's Day or it's next tuesday with some takeout, I highly reccomend considering these releases from Cupcake Vineyards as everyday selections or house wines. Your tastebuds will thank you.

Michael David Winery - 2010 Icognito White / 2009 Earthquake Cabernet Sauvignon

Michael David Winery makes a wide array of offerings from fruit sourced in their native region of Lodi California. Their focus is the production of engaging, fruit forward wines loaded with flavor and curb appeal. The offerings the make are widely available across the country at a cross section of budget friendly prices. Today I’ll look at two of their current release offerings. The Michael David Winery 2010 Incognito White was produced using fruit sourced in the Lodi California Appellation. This wine is a blend of Viognier (63%), Chardonnay (21%),Muscat (7%), Sauvignon Blanc (5%) and Roussanne (4%). Incognito White was fermented and aged in stainless steel; this offering had no oak contact. The suggested retail price for this widely available wine is $18.

This white blend is intensely aromatic with Lychee fruit, apricot and white peach aromas all bursting from the glass in a delightful mélange. The palate is studded with honeydew melon, stone fruits and ripe Bartlett as well as Anjou pear flavors. White pepper and zesty lemon cream flavors emerge on the finish which has nice length. This wine has terrific acidity and nice balance. It works equally well as a stand alone beverage or paired with appetizers and cheeses. This wine is loaded with compelling and engaging upfront fruit flavors as well as fine layers of complexity. Incognito White which is my favorite amongst the Michael David Winery whites is a standout value.

The Michael David Winery 2009 Earthquake Cabernet Sauvignon was produced utilizing Lodi fruit. In addition to Cabernet Sauvignon this wine has some Petite Sirah blended in. After fermentation this wine was aged over 19 months in French oak. Earthquake Cabernet Sauvignon is sold nationally and has a suggested retail price of $26.

This Cabernet has a big and heady nose loaded with blackberry, plum and anise aromas. The plum theme continues through the palate where both black and red make their presence known along with blackberry and lots of cherry. Dark chocolate, roasted espresso and bits of earth emerge on the finish which has above average length for the category. The Petite Sirah blended in really provides some heft and structure to the bottom end. They didn’t name this tier of wines “Earthquake” without cause. By and large the offerings in this category are big and beefy. This Cabernet Sauvignon is no exception; it’s a bold and full flavored wine ready to be paired with a substantial meal.

The Michael David Wines do a terrific job of filling their niche. These are accessible wines both stylistically and by retail availability. They’re big and upfront wines studded with bold fruit flavors. However unlike some of their competitors the Michael David Wines continue to show good depth and complexity for the category. These are excellent party wines.

Gnarly Head - 2010 Authentic Red

Their Old Vine Zin remains the best known selection from Gnarly Head. But every now and again they expand their portfolio. The latest addition is Authentic Red and eventually it may well become the most popular of the Gnarly Head wines. Each of their selections is crafted with crowd appeal in mind. These are wines that are widely available throughout the country and well priced. Today I’ll see how Authentic Red stacks up. The Gnarly Head 2010 Authentic Red was produced using fruit sourced in Lodi California. This offering is a blend of Zinfandel (50%), Merlot (20%), Cabernet Sauvignon (17%), Petite Sirah (10%) and Syrah (3%). The fruit was hand picked and de-stemmed prior to being pressed. Fermentation took place over a nine day period. 25,000 cases of this wine were produced in 2010 and it has a suggested retail price of $11.99.

This blend leads with a big jam-laden nose that’s studded with dark and brooding fruit aromas as well as bits of eucalyptus and vanilla. Cherry and blackberry flavors are prominent throughout the palate as well as plenty of baker’s spices and black pepper. Sour Cherry and wisps of dark chocolate emerge on the finish which has good length for its category. Fine acidity keeps things in check.

What I like most about this wine is its balance. While it features bold, upfront fruits it maintains it’s heartiness through the palate and a more than reasonable finish. This wine is fruity and fun and just dying to be paired with food. It’ll work best when matched with something substantial and bold. The deep, rich stews of winter and slow cooked BBQ dishes immediately come to mind. There are a lot of options in the category of Red California Blends around $10. Authentic Red is one of the better ones out there. Some of the others can be over the top and sickly sweet. While this is a bold wine, it’s never goes too far and it’s a selection you won’t have trouble finishing a bottle of. It continues the Gnarly Head tradition of fun wines that are solid values which are also easy to find. If you're looking for an everyday or house red to purchase by the case, Authentic Red is a solid choice.

Luce della Vite - 2007 Luce

The 2007 vintage of Luce from Luce della Vite was produced using fruit grown in Montalcino. This offering is a blend of Sangiovese (45%) and Merlot (55%). Fermentation took place in temperature controlled stainless steel over 12 days. Barrel aging was accomplished over 24 months in a combination of new (90%) and once used (10%) barriques. 4,000 cases of this wine were produced and it has a suggested retail price of $93. The deeply perfumed nose of this 2007 Tuscan blend is loaded with Aromas of dried red fruits and rose petals. Dried fruits continue on the palate where cherries, strawberries and intense spices join black tea, rhubarb and pepper to fill out layer after layer of flavor. Earth, minerals and a veritable truckload of red cherry emerges on the finish which has tremendous length and persistence. This selection is a food wine that’s balanced by even structure and terrific acidity. Pair Luce with an Italian feast.

If you’re going to drink the 2007 Luce now, decant it for a couple of hours to achieve best results. However if you’re patient lay it down for 10-15 years and you’ll be rewarded with an even lovelier and more impressive wine. These two grapes work well together to form a wine that has excellent aromatics, structure and intensity. What most distinguishes the 2007 vintage of Luce is its absolutely remarkable depth of palate which is loaded with complex favors both overt and subtle; additionally the incredible length of the finish which goes on well after the last sip is swallowed is quite notable and exciting.

Primus by Veramonte - 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon / 2009 The Blend

Veramonte has been a consistent source of quality wines from Chile for over 10 years. The two wines in particular that have stood out to me over and over again for quite awhile are the Veramonte Sauvignon Blanc and the Primus Blend. Of late more selections have been added under the Primus umbrella. Today I’ll take a look at the brand new release Cabernet Sauvignon and the latest vintage of The Blend. The Primus 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon was produced using fruit grown in the Marchigue Vineyards in Colchagua Valley. In addition to Cabernet Sauvignon (92%) this wine also contains a small amount of Syrah (8%). After the fruit was picked the grapes under went two manual sorts to ensure careful bunch selection. Aging was accomplished over 15 months in French oak; 25% of the barrels were new. This wine has a suggested retail price of $19.99.

Aromas of plums, violets and black raspberries fill the nose of this 2009 Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon. A host of dark, brooding fruit flavors fills the palate of this wine. Blackberry, black currant and blueberry are of note. Hints of pencil lead creep in as well. The finish of this Cabernet, which has good length for the price point, shows off kirsch liqueur, sweet dark chocolate, black tea, and espresso notes. This wine has soft, supple tannins and firm acidity. This Cabernet is delicious both by itself and paired with things like roasted meats or hard cheeses.

The Primus 2008 “The Blend” was produced using fruit grown and sourced in Chile’s Colchagua Valley. This offering combines Cabernet Sauvignon (44%), Syrah (21%), Carmenère (19%) and Merlot (15%). Barrel aging was accomplished over 14 months in French oak; 25% of them were new. This wine has a suggested retail price of $19.99.

Red raspberry, bramble, green herb and hints of licorice are all part of the inviting nose on this 2008 blend. Strawberry and rhubarb characteristics along with a core of spices form the backbone of the tasty and multi-layered palate of this wine. Sour black fruit and continued herbs emerge on the finish. This wine has a lengthy close that’s smooth and lush with a bit of racy acidity punctuating it. This is an excellent food wine that would be particularly suited for southern Italian cuisine.

This was the first time I tried the Primus Cabernet Sauvignon and I was glad to see that it’s another well made wine in the Veramonte line that provides good varietal character and excellent value. The Primus Blend continues to impress. It’s been a consistent value year after year, offering lots of bang for the buck. The 2008 continues that trend. Check these wines out, you’ll be glad you did.

Frescobaldi - 2008 Tenuta Di Castiglioni

The Frescobaldi 2008 Tenuta Di Castiglioni was produced using fruit sourced at estate vineyards in the Montesportoli section of Tuscany. This estate which sits on 321 acres is between 656 and 820 feet above sea level and the vines have an average of 12 years of age on them. This wine is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon (50%), Merlot (30%), Cabernet Franc (10%), and Sangiovese (10%). Fermentation took place over 10 days followed by oak aging over twelve months in barriques. The wine is then aged in bottle for two additional months prior to release. This offering has a suggested retail price of $22.99. Aromas of dry bramble and earth are joined by violets, plums, and cherries in the inviting nose of this 2008 Tuscan blend from Marchesi de’ Frescobaldi. Dried fruit characteristics are in strong evidence throughout the palate; cherries, raspberries and blackberries are of particular note and they’re accompanied by bits of dried herbs. Dark crushed cherry flavors emerge on the finish along with toasty oak, cinnamon and baker’s spices in general. This wine has firm, gripping tannins and terrific acidity. I recommend about an hour in the decanter to really let this wine open up and express its charms.

This wine is a nice example of what can be done when utilizing both indigenous and international varieties in Tuscany. For just over $20 it’s a really nice value to boot and it’s widely available as well. Tenuta Di Castiglioni will pair well with roasted meats, hard cheeses, dark chocolate and of course a dish of pasta in red sauce. Drink this wine over the next 5 years.

Cinnabar Winery - 2008 Mercury Rising

The Cinnabar Winery 2008 Mercury Rising was produced from fruit sourced in four California appellations; Paso Robles, Lodi, Lake County, and Monterey County. This wine is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, and Malbec. All of the fruit for this selection was hand harvested during cool morning hours. Fermentation took place in open top bins and stainless steel tanks. Barrel aging occurred over 25 months in a combination of French, American and Hungarian oak; 40% of the barrels were new. A light filtering took place just prior to bottling. This wine has a suggested retail price of $21. Vanilla, cherry, pepper and cigar box aromas are all prominent on the nose of this 2008 blend. The palate is loaded with additional cherry as well as blueberry flavors. A solid core of spices plays a significant role here as well; nutmeg, clove and a hint of cinnamon are of particular note. Sour cherry, pomegranate and rhubarb characteristics are all part of a smooth finish that has a velvety feel. This wine has soft, approachable tannins and solid acidity.

There’s a lot to like about this 2008 Blend from Cinnabar. First and foremost it’s delicious and perfectly suited for a wide array of cuisine. Whether you pair it with a dish of pasta or something off of your grill the results will be a terrific pairing. In addition to that this wine also represents a nice value. If you shop around you’ll find it for around $18, at that price it’ll be a good everyday choice for a lot of folks.

Eberle - 2008 Cotes-Du-Robles Blanc

The Paso Robles region in California has been exploding over the last decade. Both it’s reputation and number of wineries have grown by leaps and bounds. It’s a fascinating region where a wide swath of varietals can thrive. However one of the biggest marks they have been making is with Rhone varietals. Bottled both as stand alone wines and in blends, many grapes known best for theirRhone origins thrive spectacularly in Paso Robles. Today I’ll look at a white blend from Eberle Winery. The Eberle 2008 Cotes-Du-Robles Blanc is a blend of Roussanne (49%), Grenache Blanc (33%), and Viognier (18%). The fruit for this selection was sourced from two vineyard sites; Steinbeck Vineyard and Robert Hall Vineyard. Each varietal was hand harvested separately and inoculated with yeast in stainless steel tanks. Fermentation and aging then took place in French oak (20% new) over a period of 9 months. The components were brought together to form the final blend right before bottling. This offering is currently available at for $22.89

Aromas of Lychee, white peach and apricot are all present on the nose of this wine. Both stone and orchard fruit present themselves on the palate. Pear, apricot and white peach are all prominent and abundant in flavor throughout the palate of this wine which has substantial depth and layer after layer of flavor. An unctuous quality emerges on the finish which also shows off copious spices and bits of clover honey. This wine drinks beautifully on it’s own but will be a tremendous partner for soft cheeses, or pastas with cream based sauces.

Eberle has been a solid name in Paso Robles for quite awhile now. Their take on a white Rhones tyle blend is another feather in their cap. With warm weather here, this wine is a great choice to have on hand for outdoor gatherings.

Elements by Artesa - 2006 Red Wine / 2007 Merlot / 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon

One of the things about larger wineries that have lots of acreage under vine is that are often more grapes to work with. This can of course be an advantage on several levels. Primarily it allows the winemaker a wider selection from which to pick fruit for their most important wines. It can sometimes also allow the winemakers to take on projects outside the core releases. Such is the case with Carneros producer Artesa Vineyards & Winery. Those familiar with them know that Pinot Noir and Chardonnay stand at the heart of their operation. These are the core wines they focus on. But with hundreds of acres under vine they have many other grapes to work with. One of their current projects is the Elements by Artesa sub-label which they use to release some different varieties at a consumer friendly price-point. I recently tasted through the Elements releases and today I’ll look at three of my favorites. First up is the Elements by Artesa 2006 Red Wine. This wine blends together fruit from Sonoma County (65%) and Napa Valley (35%). The fruit is made up of Cabernet Sauvignon (23%), Tempranillo (22%), Merlot (20%), Malbec (18%), Garnacha (11%), Petite Sirah (2%), Petit Verdot (2%), Graciano (1%), and Cabernet Franc (1%). Barrel aging was accomplished over 24 months in French oak. 4,400 cases of this wine were produced and it has a suggested retail price of $19.99.

Wild strawberry fills the welcoming nose of this 2006 red blend. Recurring wisps of candied cherry provide a nice aromatic counterbalance. The lithe, medium bodied palate shows off red and black fruits such as currant, blackberry and cherry. Vanilla and cherry cola flavors are both in evidence on the finish. This wine has some bright fruit elements but those are balanced by good acidity, structure and nice length. Ultimately this is a perfectly dry wine built to pair with food. Whether that means Sunday dinner or Tuesday night with a slice of pizza is your call, either way lots of flavor for the price point.

Next up is the Elements by Artesa 2007 Merlot. This wine was produced using fruit sourced in both Sonoma (64%) and Napa (36%). In addition to Merlot (75%), Cabernet Franc (12%), Cabernet Sauvignon (10%), Petite Sirah (1%), Petit Verdot (1%) and Syrah (1%) are also blended in. Each lot was fermented and barrel aged separately, the final blend was assembled prior to bottling. 3,000 cases of this release were produced and it has a suggested retail price of $19.99.

Red raspberry and rose petal aromas are both prominent in the nose of this 2007 Merlot.  This Merlot shows a juicy, yet balanced mid-palate which is also slightly austere in some ways. Lots of red and black cherry are on display throughout, along with bits of rhubarb. The finish shows off leather, sour cherry and copious spice elements in the form of clove, nutmeg and pepper. This wine has excellent structure and good acidity. Sad as this is to say there’s not a lot of Merlot in the $20 price range that actually tastes like Merlot, this one does and that alone is an accomplishment. Overall this is a nice value.

Finally today is the Elements by Artesa 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon. Just like the other releases, this wine is made from a combination of fruit sourced in Sonoma (62%), and Napa (38%). In addition to Cabernet Sauvignon (86%), Merlot (7%), Cabernet Franc (4%), Petite Verdot (2%), and Malbec (1%) are also blended in. Barrel aging was accomplished over 24 months in French oak; 25% of the barrels were new. 8,000 cases of this wine were produced and it has a suggested retail price of $19.99.

A compote of red fruit aromas fills the nose of this Cabernet. Cherry, raspberry and strawberry are at the forefront with wisps of vanilla providing some nice secondary aromas. The palate is loaded with continued elements of red fruits. Juicy cherry and strawberry star along with lots of spice characteristics. Both black and white pepper emerge on the finish along with earth and dust characteristics as well as tobacco and espresso flavors. This wine has supple, yielding tannins and sufficient acidity. For around $20 you’re going to get a very tasty Cabernet Sauvignon that is best suited for short term drinking.

This trio of wines from Elements by Artesa provides plenty of pleasurable drinking for the price point. Equally important, the Merlot and Cabernet are true to their varietals. The blend, as it should, combines attributes from a diverse array of fruits to create something unique.

Quinta do Vallado - 2007 Douro Red Reserva

For the last few years table wines from Portugal have been gaining momentum on our shelves and our collective consciousness. Of course there’s still a ton of excellent Port coming from there too, but everyone knows that, right? Hopefully 2011 will be the year that these dry wines turn the corner and gain even greater acceptance here. The more we learn to appreciate them as a wine drinking country, the more and more we’ll see great ones on our shelves. Today I look at a Reserve release from Quinta do Vallado. The Quinta do Vallado 2007 Douro Red Reserva was produced using fruit from the Vallado Estate in the Douro region of Portugal. The vines vary in age but some of the fruit is from vines with over 70 years of age on them. Each lot was fermented, vinified and barrel aged separately. In all more than 20 indigenous Portuguese varieties are included in this wine. Oak aging occurred in 225 liter new French Barriques. 3,333 six bottle cases were produced and it has a suggested retail price of $64.99.

Aromas of plum, mushroom and cedar lead the alluring nose of this 2007 blend from the Douro. The palate is simply loaded with oodles of dry, dark fruit notes. Cherries, blackberries, and cranberries lead the charge. An undercurrent of spice is present as well. These flavors come together and layer this wine with wave after wave of massively pleasing flavor and complexity. The finish is velvety with earth and continued spice at the forefront and dark chocolate and mineral notes at the very end. There is a persistence and length to this finish that makes it impressive and practically decadent.

This wine from Quinta do Vallado is particularly impressive for both it’s depth of flavor and it’s length. While it’s delicious the moment you pop the cork a couple of hours of aeration really allow it to open up and express itself. It also has the structure to age gracefully for a number of years. There isn’t a thing about this wine that is not both exceptional and impressive.

Tamás Estates - 2009 Pinot Grigio / 2008 Zinfandel / 2008 Double Decker Red

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.

Oveja Negra - 2008 Lost Barrel

While I’ve been drinking Chilean wine for many years I feel reinvigorated to taste more and more of them lately. For several decades now we’ve been able to find lots of value in Chilean Wine on US shelves. But now we’re also seeing greater and greater numbers of wines in all price categories. Prices, styles and quality vary; but the bang for the buck is pretty constant across all tiers. Of course not every wine is great, but there are a lot out there to love. Today I’ll look at a Chilean blend from the Maule Valley. The Oveja Negra 2008 Lost Barrel was produced using fruit sourced in the Maule Valley of Chile; more specifically from the winery’s San Rafael Vineyard. This blend is a combination of Syrah (40%), Carignan (40%), Carménère (18%), and Petit Verdot (2%). The Carignan vines have 40 years of age on them. The wine was aged in French oak barrels for 12 months. It has a suggested retail price of $25.

Aromas of dark plum are joined by hints of eucalyptus and a touch of thyme to form a lovely nose. Cherry flavors with a just a touch of kirsch liqueur to them emerge in the palate. Additional characteristics take the form of dried fruits which show up in spades. Black tea also plays a role and leads towards the finish which shows off hints of smoked meat, dark chocolate and a touch of earth. This wine has yielding tannins and firm acidity.

What I love most about this red blend is how well it pairs with food. Quite frankly it’s a food lovers dream. The dried fruit characteristics and firm acidity, which form the backbone of its pairing ability, also put me slightly in the mind of good Chianti stylistically. The finish which is above average is another noteworthy aspect of this wine. Bottom line for me is that for $25 or a bit less if you shop around you’re getting an excellent value.

Rodney Strong - 2007 Symmetry Red Meritage

Whether it’s a $10 bottle or a $75 bottle I’ve found that the wines Rodney Strong puts their name on represent solid or better values in just about every case. If you enjoy wines from Sonoma County they’re a producer you should be familiar with as they offer many go to options, for everyday drinking, as well as plenty of wines appropriate for special occasions or cellaring. Today I’ll look at their latest Meritage. The Rodney Strong 2007 Symmetry is a red Meritage wine. Fruit for this wine was sourced in Alexander Valley. This offering is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon (85%), Malbec (10%), Merlot (3%), Cabernet Franc (1%) and Petit Verdot (1%). Aging occurred over 26 months in exclusively French oak barrels. This wine has a suggested retail price of $55.

Aromas of blackberry, black raspberry, toasty oak and a hint of pine are all present in the nose of this 2007 Meritage. Cassis and continued blackberry characteristics are apparent through the palate. The story these flavors tell is quite dark and brooding with impressive depth and layer after layer of juicy flavor. Plum pudding spice notes are in evidence midway through and carry to the finish which also shows off lots of dark sweet chocolate, espresso and hints of emerging earth. This wine has firm tannins and fine acidity. I tasted this wine over 3 consecutive days. Each time I went back to the open bottle it had undergone a continuing positive evolution. If you’re drinking it now, pair it with something substantial for best results.

Symmetry is delicious today, particularly if you decant it for a couple of hours, but time will only help this wine. I would recommend this 2007 release from Rodney Strong as something you might like to tuck a couple of bottles of away in your cellar. Then come back to them down the road apiece, perhaps 5 or 10 years and you’ll find you have an even more harmonious wine on your hands. In either case Symmetry is an excellent example of what can be achieved in Alexander Valley with Bordeaux varietals.

Palacios Remondo - 2007 La Montesa

When I first started drinking Spanish wine, most of what I explored was from Rioja. Many of them, Tempranillo based wines. As time has gone on of course I’ve looked to numerous other Spanish wine regions; not to mention a host of other grape varieties. Rioja however retains a special significance for me. Today I’ll look at a new release from Palacios Remondo that blends three classic varieties. The Palacios Remondo 2007 La Montesa was produced using fruit sourced at estate vineyards which sit at an altitude of 1,800 feet. The vines have an average age of 22 years. This offering is a blend of Garnacha (60%), Tempranillo, (35%), and Mazuelo (5%). All of the fruit for this wine was handpicked and clusters were hand selected twice. After fermentation barrel aging occurred over 12 months in a combination of new and used French (85%) and American (15%) oak. This wine has a suggested retail price of $19.99.

Blackberry, plum and vanilla characteristics are present in the nose and accompany bold and enticing crushed cherry aromas which appear in spades. Throughout the palate berry fruit and spice flavors are underscored by flourishes of orange syrup and wisps of apricot, Rhubarb, white pepper and dusty, dark baker’s chocolate notes emerge with conviction in the above average finish. Lush tannins and firm acidity provide excellent structure.

I sampled this wine on its own and then later on with food. It worked quite well in both cases. However, these grapes, made in this style really excel at a different level with food. It’s as if the pairing allows the flavors to fire on all cylinders. However you drink this wine, you’ll enjoy it if you like well balanced Spanish wines that show off varietal character and sense of place. This is a very solid value.

Chilean Blends Offer Diversity and Value

Wines of Chile hosted an online tasting of red blends the other night. I jumped at the opportunity to participate for several reasons. First of all, schedule permitting; I rarely turn down the opportunity to try some new wines. Secondly I’ve been a long term fan of the quality, diversity and value at varying price points that’s coming out of Chile. And last, but certainly not least, it’s fun. The format for this tasting was very similar to one I took part in a few months back, and it’s a system that works. Master Sommelier Fred Dexheimer hosted the proceedings from New York City, The winemakers for each of the eight wines we tasted were gathered in a room in Santiago Chile and the rest of us looked on via the web and submitted questions through a chat function as well as commented back and forth. Additionally most folks Tweeted during the proceedings. Tasting the wines and making notes that night was great. Many of the offerings certainly seemed like they had the structure for at least medium term aging. With that in mind I went back to the wines after 24 hours to see how they evolved. Here are my thoughts on these eight wines, presented in the order we tasted them. Valdivieso 2005 Eclat – Fruit for this wine was sourced in the Melozal area of Maule Valley. This offering is a blend of Carignan (56%), Mourvedre (24%), and Syrah (20%). The Carignan vines have over 60 years of age on them. This wine was aged for 12 months in French oak. It has a suggested retail price of $27. This wine, the oldest of the bunch, has a deep garnet hue. Aromas of spice and cocoa are both prominent on the nose. Zingy raspberry flavors are underscored by rhubarb throughout the palate. Minerals and earth notes are both in abundance in the above average finish. This wine is a food lovers dream. The firm acidity makes it a natural partner for a very wide array of matches. I liked this wine so much I wanted to climb inside the bottle and get closer to it. I’d settle for a long weekend with a couple of cases and some delicious food to munch on. Bottom line, this is just an excellent wine that you’re going to want to keep reaching for more of. When I went back to this wine after 24 hours it had held steady and was drinking as well as it had the evening before.

De Martino 2006 “Las Cruces” Single Vineyard Old Bush Vines – Fruit for this wine is from a single vineyard in Cachapoal Valley. This offering is a blend of Malbec (66%) and Carmenère (34%); there are also very low amounts of some other varieties. This wine was aged in French oak for 14 months. It has a suggested retail price of $45. A hint of mint emerges in the nose of this wine. The palate is layered and remarkably restrained for a blend of predominately Malbec and Carmenère. That said when re-tasting it after 24 hours it was significantly more expressive. The red fruits, tinged by hints of darker black fruits were more apparent on day two. The finish which has very good length shows off some sour red fruit elements and continued spice. This wine is remarkably smooth, refined and elegant. In short it’s Grace in a bottle. Delicious now, particularly with food, it should age well for 8 or more years. Pair this with hearty foods for memorable results.

Estampa 2008 Gold Assemblage Carmenère – The fruit for this offering was sourced primarily at their Marchigue estate near the Pacific Ocean. This wine is a blend of Carmenère (57%), Cabernet Sauvignon (23%), Cabernet Franc (12%) and Petit Verdot (8%). This selection has a suggested retail price of $22. The first impression of this wine is the fresh fruit aromas that waft from the nose with conviction. They’re underscored by spice and a touch of herb. Throughout the palate loads of berry fruit flavors emerge and play key roles in what is a very expressive, multi-layered wine. Both earth and espresso notes come out to play in force on the lengthy and persistent finish. Re-tasting this the second day showcased how this wine can really open up with some air and its flavors become even more animated than before. This blend from Estampa has the structure and stuffing to age gracefully for a dozen years at minimum; in short it’s a baby today. More impressive, at $22 this wine is an outright steal. This would be an excellent choice to put away a case of to watch evolve over time. This is a real knockout. If you drink it now decant it for 3 hours to get the most out of it.

Montes 2008 Limited Selection Cabernet Sauvignon Carmenère – Fruit for this blend was sourced at the Montes La Finca Estate in Apalta Valley. This offering is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon (70%), and Carmenère (30%). This wine spent six months in American oak. It has a suggested retail price of $15. The dark hue of this wine struck me as it was decidedly more intense in color than the previous three. The nose is filled with heady black cherry and copious quantities of intoxicating plum pudding spice. Those characteristics continue through the palate where red and black cherry flavors play a significant role. The palate is quite layered and while everything is in proportion the flavors are intense, just short of explosive. Minerals such as graphite in addition to other elements like earth and continued black fruits dominate the solid finish. This wine surprised me; I didn’t expect it to be better the next day. In fact I thought this was a candidate to taste a little sluggish on day 2, boy was I wrong. The openness of the flavors really ratcheted up several notches after 24 hours. For $15 this wine offers tons of drinking pleasure. Enjoy it over the next 3-4 years to get the most of its exuberant youth.

Maquis 2006 Lien – The fruit for this wine was sourced at the Maquis vineyards which are between two rivers. This vintage is a blend of Syrah (42%), Carmenère (30%), Cabernet Franc (12%), Petit Verdot (9%), and Malbec (7%). This wine was aged in all French oak. It has a suggested retail price of $19. Black fruits and spice are the dominant characteristics of the nose. The palate is loaded with juicy, red and black fruit flavors. Chocolate notes emerge as well along with spice elements. While the fruit is fresh and intense it never comes close to nudging over the top. In fact all of the elements come together lending themselves towards a wine that has both new and old world flourishes. I find that Lien has lots of wow factor. It’s going to have smart crowd appeal. It has the openness to appeal to the masses and the structure and complexity to keep more seasoned wine lovers happy. For $19 this wine is a very solid value. On the second day I found that it held its own quite nicely. Not built for long term aging, but it’ll drink well for five years. Having had this wine several times over the last few vintages, I can say that the quality and value have remained consistent.

Hacienda Araucano 2008 Clos de Lolol – Fruit for this effort was sourced in the Lolol Valley. This offering is a blend of Syrah (31%), Cabernet Franc (29%), Cabernet Sauvignon (23%), and Carmenère (17%). The Cabernet Sauvignon and Carmenère vines are some of the last vines in the world not to have known Phylloxera. This wine has a suggested retail price of $23. Aromas of fleshy plum and chocolate sauce are both part of the nose. Cherry comes out in droves on the palate as well as loads of spice, black pepper in particular. Kirsch liqueur emerges on the finish along with flourishes of sour berry. This wine is layered and polished. It has firm but yielding tannins and solid acidity. It drinks well on its own but will be a terrific partner to full flavored foods. On the second day this wine had opened up just a touch more. Mostly it had held steady and showed again a day later that buying this wine for $23 is petty larceny. It stands as one of the two or three best values of these 8 in a tasting loaded with wines that over deliver.

Emiliana 2007 Coyam – Fruit for this wine was sourced in Colchagua Valley. This offering is a blend of Syrah (38%), Cabernet Sauvignon (21%), Carmenère (21%), Merlot 17%), Petit Verdot (2%) and Mourvedre (1%). It was aged for 13 months in a combination of French (80%) and American (20%) oak. This wine has a suggested retail price of $29. A touch of eucalyptus emerges from the nose of this 2007 blend. It’s joined by prominent chocolate covered cherry aromas. Cherry and blackberry flavors along with toasty oak notes are all out with varying degrees of intensity through the palate. An absolute avalanche of dusty dark chocolate emerges on the finish along with earth and chicory notes. Firm tannins yield with some air. This wine is well structured for the long haul. Of the 8 wine in this Chilean Blends tasting Coyam was the most dramatically different the 2nd day. It was quite delicious on day one, but in retrospect akin to a shy child who needs some time to open up and get comfortable. On the second day the flavors just exploded on the palate and lingered on the back of the throat in a persistent finish that left an impression long after the last sip. Coyam is a very impressive wine that I’d love to re-taste 5-10 years down the road to see its evolution.

Casas del Bosque 2007 Gran Estate Selection Private Reserve – Fruit for this release was sourced in Casablanca Valley. This offering is a blend of Syrah (61%), Merlot (26%), and Pinot Noir (13%). This wine spent 22 months in 100% new French oak. It has a suggested retail price of $50. This wine has the deepest, darkest hue of the bunch. Aromas of dark fruit such as blueberry and huckleberry fill the nose. The Pinot Noir in this blend really makes its presence known in the palate; there’s a lighter bodied feel it adds, which belies the weight and heft this overall wine really has. Licorice and baker’s spice flavors join the compote of dark fruit flavors that make up this wines intense, brooding middle. Chewy tannins, and lots of juicy, sumptuous fruit flavors are part of a lengthy finish that has layer after layer of flavor. This wine was a little closed out of the chute and really needed air to open up. On day 2 it had opened up significantly; but quite frankly it tasted like it still had plenty to give. It’s an impressive wine that should definitely be decanted if you drink it over the next few years. I expect this wine to improve in the bottle over the next decade or so and to drink well for several years after that.

Several factors should become obvious to anyone tasting these wines side by side. There are a host of delicious blended wines being produced in Chile from a diverse and ever expanding array of grapes. Some of these grapes are associated with Chile in people’s minds, but many are not, and provide a real sense of discovery. The quality across the board, regardless of price point can be quite staggering. This is particularly obvious when you take into account what the same money buys you in wine from numerous other regions. And while I’m mentioning value let me make it clear I don’t mean Entry level $6 bottles. Value is important regardless of what you spend on a wine. I’m a firm believer that a $100 bottle of wine can be every bit as significant of a value as a $10 bottle. To me, it’s always relative to what else you can buy for that $100, or that $20 for that matter. This tasting of Chilean blends was a microcosm of that idea. The suggested retail prices of these 8 wines ranged from $15 to $50 which is a decent sized gulf for many folks. Perhaps most impressive, that while it certainly varied, each of the 8 wines delivers quality well over normal expectation for the price-point. If you haven't considered Chilean Wines recently, now is a good time to jump in. There are many delicious offerings to try, regardless of your budget.

Hecht & Bannier - 2009 Vin de Pays Rosé

The Hecht & Bannier 2009 Vin de Pays Rosé was produced from fruit sourced in the Languedoc-Roussillon region of France. The vineyard sites in question have soils rich in limestone and clay. This wine is a blend of equal parts Syrah, Grenache and Cinsault. Grapes were picked mechanically. Fermentation took place over two weeks with select yeasts introduced. Aging was accomplished in a combination of concrete vats (30%) and large 600 liter barrels (70%). This wine has a suggested retail price of $12. Red fruit aromas really pop out of the nose of this fresh and vibrant 2009 Rosé. That red fruit parade continues through the palate as cherry, strawberry, watermelon, raspberry and plum flavors all march by. These are buoyed by an undercurrent of citrus as well as tropical fruit flavors. These all come together to form a lovely and appealing mélange of flavors. White pepper, vanilla bean and light nutmeg flavors provide a trio of spices flavors that all ring out through the crisp and cool finish. Solid acidity keeps things in check and moderate alcohol makes it easy to enjoy a second or third glass.

No two ways about it, for $12 (less if you shop around) this Rosé is a steal. It offers all the elements I look for in Rosé. It’s light, and refreshing, but it has complexity. It drinks beautifully on its own, yet it will complement classic light summer fare (and more) very well. Whether you drink it now or consider it for your Thanksgiving Day table, this is a heck of a Rosé deal.

Wesley Ashley Wines - 2009 Cuvée Blanc / 2007 Intelligent Design Cuvée

Over time I have come to value the food friendliness of wines more and more. I can appreciate wines that stand better on their own, but my need for them has dissipated greatly over time. More often than not when I’m drinking wine, I’m also eating. Well made blends can be some of the best wines to pair with food. Today I’ll look at two Rhone inspired blends from Wesley Ashley Wines. The Wesley Ashley Wines 2009 Cuvée Blanc was produced using fruit sourced in Santa Barbara County. This wine is a blend of Viognier (50%), Roussanne (30%), and Grenache Blanc (20%). Fermentation took place in temperature controlled stainless steel tanks. 60% of the wine underwent malolactic fermentation. Barrel aging took place over 10 months. 250 cases of this wine were produced and it has a suggested retail price of $34.

Fresh, ripe stone fruit aromas are joined by hints of hibiscus, vanilla bean and white pepper in the effusive and engaging nose of this 2008 blend. White peach, apricot in droves and nectarine flavors are all part of the multi-layered palate that also shows off plenty of spice. Oodles of unctuous fruit flavors lead to hints of clover honey and continuing spice on the finish. Lovely acidity keeps everything in check.

I found the Cuvée Blanc to be delicious ice cold, but if you chill it a bit less or just let it warm in your glass a bit it really explodes with complexity. This seductive and delightful wine is a brilliant take on white Rhone style blends.

The Wesley Ashley 2007 Intelligent Design Cuvée was produced from fruit sourced on California’s Central Coast. Specifically the grapes were picked from the vineyards of Clos La Chance. This offering is a blend of Carignan (51.5%), Grenache (15%), Cinsault (14%), Petite Sirah (11%), Mourvèdre (4.5%) and Pinot Noir (4%). Each varietal was picked and fermented separately. Barrel aging (also separate) occurred over 18 months in French oak; 36% of the barrels were new. The final blend was assembled prior to bottling. 500 cases of this wine were produced and the suggested retail price is $38.

Mushroom, strawberry, black cherry, and hints of forest floor emerge from the nose of this red Cuvée. Both red and black fruits alternate throughout the palate; raspberry, pomegranate, plum and strawberry all playing key roles. Sour cherry, pomegranate, rhubarb, pepper, clove, nutmeg and emerging earth are all part of the lengthy even keeled finish. Solid acidity keeps things in check.

The moderate alcohol content this red blend has (13.8%) helps make it the sort of bottle you can savor over a long meal. If you’re sharing with a friend, you may want to have a second bottle on hand to open when the first is gone. I love how the flavors on this wine are simultaneously gentle and deep. This wine is easy to drink, but incredibly complex and fun to analyze, should you be so inclined.

Each of these offerings is delicious and distinct. Both of them are also perfectly suited to pair with a wide array of foods. These wines are well worth any extra effort needed to locate them.

Apothic Red - 2008 California Winemaker’s Blend

When I’m headed to a party, or planning to entertain masses in my home I look for crowd pleasing wines to serve. Left to my own devices I gravitate towards the esoteric; most though want something tasty to drink alongside their sandwich. So in these cases I often seek out blends. They can offer a range of flavors to keep savvier folks interested, and plenty of out front satisfaction for those who just want something that goes down easy. Often times these blends are ones that includes Zinfandel or Syrah. Today I’ll look at one from California that is widely available. Apothic Red 2008 California Winemaker’s Blend was produced using fruit from vineyards throughout California. This offering is a blend of Syrah, Zinfandel, and Merlot. The alcohol content is a modest 13.1% and this wine is available all over the country for a suggested retail price of $14.

Red and black fruit aromas are plentiful on the nose of this 2008 California wine. Once you take the first sip you’re hit with a solid wallop of sweet berry fruit that continues through the fruit driven, bright palate. Towards the back end of the palate dried fruit notes emerge and they lead to the finish which shows off cinnamon and nutmeg spice notes as well as white pepper and a nice assortment of sour fruit flavors. Sufficient acidity keeps things in check.

Apothic Red is a appealing, up front wine that will play well large groups of people. Whether you pair it with a burger or a slice of pizza this wine will work well. It has everyman, everyday appeal. This the sort of release everyone should have a few bottles of on hand, to serve to surprise guests, or to pair with leftovers.

Big House - 2009 Big House White / 2009 Big House Red

Who wouldn’t want to drink single vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon everyday, or perhaps first growth Burgundy, or even small production Petite Sirah? I for one can raise my hand affirmatively. Most likely I’d go for the Petite Sirah, a weak spot if ever I had one. However most days many folks are looking for something that is both tasty and affordable. With a little bit of research and luck it could, and quite frankly should, be interesting too. That doesn’t sound like a lot to ask, but how does one discern one bottle from another when there are aisles and aisles of wine out there? There are two ways I go in these circumstances; one is the esoteric route, the other is the tried and true. Left to my own devices, I most often lean towards the slightly arcane or obscure, that’s just my nature. I’ll take a chance on something in the value price range and if it doesn’t pan out at least it was an adventure. If others are involved I tend to rein myself in a little bit. I look for something I’m familiar with that I feel has mass appeal. Today I’ll look at two such releases from Big House. The Big House wines used to reside under Randall Graham’s Bonny Doon label. A number of years ago they were sold off and now Big House is its own label with a portfolio unto itself.

The 2009 Big House White was produced from fruit sourced at different vineyard sites throughout California. This wine is a blend of Malvasia Bianca (56%), Muscat Canelli (22%), Viognier (18%) and Rousanne (4%). This wine underwent temperature controlled fermentation prior to bottling. This offering has a suggested retail price of $9.99.

Lychee fruit, papaya and orange blossom aromas are all present in the nose of this wine. Lemon zest, pineapple, mango and a solid core of spice characteristics are all on display throughout the palate. A bit of vanilla bean emerges on the finish of this wine which also has a hint of honey in an overall crisp and zingy close. This wine will be an excellent match for Asian or Indian cuisine. It has lots of crowd pleasing potential and will also work well as a welcome wine.

The 2009 Big House Red was also produced from fruit sourced throughout California. This offering is a blend of Petite Sirah (27%), Syrah (14.5%), Montepulciano (8.6%), Barbera (8.2%), Nero d’Avola (6.4%), Tempranillo (6.1%) and a host of others in smaller and smaller quantities. This wine underwent temperature controlled fermentation. Some lots underwent malolactic fermentation and barrel aging in primarily neutral oak. This wine has a suggested retail price of $9.99.

Plum aromas abound in the nose of Big House Red. Throughout the palate dark fruit flavors in general are prominent. Raspberry, sour black cherry and blackberry join continued plum characteristics. The finish is spicy with black and white pepper leading the charge. A good amount of earth emerges as well and adds to the old world charm on display. This wine is tasty on it’s own but is a great match for casual foods; burgers, hot dogs, sandwiches and the like are all appropriate pairing partners.

These wines from Big House have been solid values for many years. What separates them from a lot of wines in the same price category is that they’re far more interesting. Part of that is the diversity of the blends, the rest is the winemaking. These offerings are made to be food friendly and have wide appeal, but they aren’t dumbed down like so many in this price range. They're are solid everyday vales the average wine drinker will enjoy.

Masi Agricola - 2009 Masianco / 2006 Campofiorin

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.