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Wine: Reviews, Thoughts & Culture

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Sauvignon Blanc

Trione Vineyards & Winery - 2012 Russian River Valley Sauvignon Blanc

Trione Vineyards & Winery is located on 115 acres in the midst of Russian River Valley one of Sonoma County’s great and storied appellations. From that property they make a handful of small lot wines. Several of them are available nationally. Here’s a look at their new release Sauvignon Blanc. The Trione 2012 Russian River Valley Sauvignon Blanc was produced using fruit sourced exclusively at their River Road Ranch site. The Sauvignon Blanc vines had 12 years of age on them at the time of harvest. The fruit was hand picked and pressed into stainless steel. A wild yeast strain from South Africa was utilized for fermentation. This offering is 100% varietal. After fermentation aging took place over 4 months in a combination of new (10%) and neutral (90%) oak barrels. Just fewer than 1,500 cases of this Sauvignon Blanc were produced and it has a suggested retail price of $23.

This Sauvignon Blanc leads with an ostentatious and somewhat extravagant nose that has undeniable appeal. Citrus aromas are the most prominent and a bit of grass and some mineral elements are in play as well. The palate is layered with tropical fruits such as guava, papaya and mango. Citrus zest flavors are in play alongside these, as well as loads of spice and a hint of crème fraiche. White pepper, star anise and continued citrus notes fill out the long and somewhat lusty finish. This wine is zippy, crispy and refreshing. The first thing you’ll want to do after you finish a glass of the Trione Sauvignon Blanc is pour yourself another one. At under $25 this wine represents a terrific value.

Franciscan Estate - 2012 Equilibrium

I've been enjoying wines from Franciscan Estate since my earliest familiarity with Napa Valley. In that time they've featured a consistently appealing portfolio of wines. Franciscan has also been steady in terms of what they release; their core has remained reliable as well. However every now and then they add something new. This summer it’s a new white blend, focused mostly on two varietals they have worked with for years. Here’s a look at it. The Franciscan Estate 2012 Equilibrium is the inaugural release of this wine. This white blend combines Sauvignon Blanc (72%), Chardonnay (17%), and Muscat (11%). All of the fruit for this wine was sourced in Napa Valley. 83% of the fruit was fermented in stainless steel and the remaining 17% in barrel. Just fewer than 6,000 cases of Equilibrium were produced and it has a suggested retail price of $22.99. This wine leads with a killer nose; tropical and stone fruit aromas simply burst out of the glass invitingly. Equilibrium’s palate is studded with an array of engaging bright fruit flavors; white peach, guava and mango are of particular note here. Lemon curd, white pepper and continued tropical fruit flavors abound on the finish which has nice length. This wine is soft, round, lush and mouth-filling.

The bottom line is that Franciscan Estate’s 2012 Equilibrium is a delightful and refreshing white blend that has arrived on store shelves just in time for the warmest weather of the year. There are many appealing, easy to drink white blends out there. The difference here is this one is 3 dimensional and has depth, length and persistence. It will appeal to those who lean towards porch sippers and keep the more discerning interested as well. Buy a bottle or more of this wine and have a party in your mouth!

Dinner With Vina Koyle Winemaker Cristobal Undurraga

Chile is a country whose wines have been of interest to me for a long time. It’s an interest that has grown over time as the wines have increased in quality and diversity. Exciting things are happening in Chile and some of them are with long standing producers and others with newer ones. Vina Koyle is one of the younger wineries that has stood out too me time and again in their early history. It’s been a pleasure to taste their wines on numerous occasions alongside their winemaker Cristobal Undurraga. Cristobal’s family has been in the wine business in Chile since 1885. They owned and eventually sold the massive Undurraga Winery. At that time he and his immediate family purchased property and created a new winery to focus on premium wines; thus was born Koyle, named after a flower. One of the many things that becomes apparent from speaking to Cristobal for any length of time is the passion with which he approaches everything in life. To hear him speak about his property, winemaking techniques and the like is both a revelation and an inspiration. One example of his limitless reservoir of enthusiasm for technique is the Sauvignon Blanc he has made for two vintages now which gets fermented in a trio of different vessels, In particular the concrete eggs he uses have really excited him with their possibilities. Cristobal is also constantly planting new varietals to see what works on their property. This is a piece of land that they have revived from being practically barren to having a thriving eco-system that is farmed sustainably and bio-dynamically. Here’s a look at a couple of my favorites amongst the current releases of Koyle wines. The Koyle 2012 Costa Sauvignon Blanc was produced using fruit sourced just 9 kilometers from the Pacific Ocean in Paredones Colchagua Costa. This offering is 100% Sauvignon Blanc. Three different lots were sourced from a trio of exposures in this vineyard. Each was vinified separately and uniquely. The methods utilized were Burgundy barrels, stainless steel, and concrete eggs. This wine spent 10 months on the lees. 3,000 6 bottle cases were produced and it has a suggested retail price of $24.99. White flower aromas, citrus and spice are all part of the nose here. The palate is rich and mineral laden with depth and complexity to spare. Tropical and citrus fruit flavors abound. The mouth feel is lush and rich and the finish is long and lusty. There is a lot of solid Sauvignon Blanc coming out of Chile these days, however here’s one that sets itself apart from the pack. This is a remarkable wine only in its second vintage; it’s likely to get even better over the upcoming vintages as they hone their block selection and other methodology even more finely.

The Koyle 2010 Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon was produced from fruit sourced at the winery’s Los Lingues Estate in Colchagua. This offering blends together Cabernet Sauvignon (85%), Syrah (8%), and Malbec (7%). Fermentation took place over 2 weeks in a temperature controlled environment. Barrel aging took place over 12 months in French oak. 8,300 cases were produced and this Cabernet has a suggested retail price of $16.99. Plum and violet aromas dominate the nose of this 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon. The Koyle Reserva Cabernet has a rich and mouth-filling palate loaded with deep black fruit flavors. Cinnamon and cloves are part of a treasure trove of spices that add depth and complexity. Earth, tobacco and dark, dusty chocolate notes are part of the above average finish. This wine is a real winner in its price category.

The Koyle 2007 Royale Syrah was produced from grapes sourced at the Estate Vineyard. In addition to Syrah (93%), a small amount of Malbec (7%) was also blended in. The fruit was hand harvested and select clusters were used. Vinification too place in stainless steel; 18 months of aging in French oak followed. 2,200 cases of this wine were produced and it has a suggested retail price of $25.99. Dark cherry and red raspberry fills the nose of this 2007 Syrah. Berry flavors lead the way on a palate that is loaded with depth and remarkable minerality. Bits of smoked meat and earth are part of the finish whose length is terrifically long and persistent in both complexity and proportionate richness. This is a knockout example of Syrah from Chile. At its price point it’s a steal too. Grab it up while it’s still on shelves.

While this trio of wines represents my favorites from the recent dinner with Koyle winemaker Cristobal Undurraga it’s important for me to note I feel strongly about their portfolio in general. While their family has been in the business a long time, the Koyle brand is still a new one. The strides they have made in a few short years are impressive; their future is bright and sure to be full of delicious wines.

Happy 100th to Robert Mondavi: A Look at Robert Mondavi Winery 2011 Oakville District Fumé Blanc / 2010 Oakville District Cabernet Sauvignon

fumeFew things in life are totally indisputable. One of them is that there is no single person more important to the history of the California wine industry than Robert Mondavi. It was Bob who championed Napa Valley more vociferously than anyone before or perhaps since. He believed before anyone else that wines equal to any in the world could be produced in Napa. Without his irrepressible passion for the wines of Napa and the forward movement of the Valley as an important wine making region it’s impossible to say how long it would have taken for it to achieve the heights it has. Mr. Mondavi would have been 100 years old today. On this occasion it’s important to reflect on what he still means to the wine world. Innovation, advancement and quality were things he held dear. I’ll take a look at two wines today, both from the To Kalon vineyard in Oakville. Appropriately one of them is an inaugural release of a new wine from that vineyard. What better way to honor a man who kept moving forward than with a new offering from a world renowned vineyard in Oakville that he championed. First up is the Robert Mondavi Winery 2011 Oakville District Fumé Blanc. The fruit for this wine was sourced at the To Kalon vineyard in Oakville adjacent to the winery itself. In addition to Sauvignon Blanc (91%), a small amount of Sémillon (9%) was blended in. The fruit was hand picked and whole cluster pressed. 90% of the wine was barrel fermented in 60 gallon French oak; the balance in stainless steel tanks. The entire lot was aged in barrel with 12% new oak utilized. This wine has a suggested retail price of $32. Aromas of fresh cut grass and lemon zest inform the welcoming nose of this 2011 Sauvignon Blanc based wine. The palate here is dense and layerd; loaded with honeydew melon as well as copious quantities of citrus and tropical fruit characteristics. Essence of orange shows up on the prodigiously persistent finish along with white pepper. What impresses most about this offering is a deep level of refinement and complexity. There is depth, fruit, spices and all sorts of flavors to spare, but all in proportion. This is a gorgeous example of Sauvignon Blanc that is well worth its asking price.

Today’s second wine is the Robert Mondavi Winery 2010 Oakville District Cabernet Sauvignon. All of the fruit for this wine was sourced in Oakville and 99% at the To Kalon Vineyard where the Winery sits. In addition to Cabernet Sauvignon (88%), Cabernet Franc (7%), Merlot (4%) and Malbec (1%) were also blended in. After hand harvesting fermentation took place in French oak tanks. Barrel aging took place over 18 months in French oak; 75% of them were new. Just fewer than 8,500 cases of this wine were produced and it has a suggested retail price of $45. Dark fruit aromas permeate the nose of this 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon; Blackberry and plum are of particular note. These characteristics continue on the densely layered palate where raspberry and blueberry flavors emerge alongside a copious core of spices. Earth, chicory and dusty chocolate notes are all part of the finish. Well integrated tannins and firm acidity are both in play here. This wine is refreshing and engaging, begging you back to the glass for additional sips. It needs an hour in the decanter right now to really showcase its charms. However if you’re patient, lay it down for a few years and it’ll be even lovelier.

These are two terrific wines from Robert Mondavi Winery; offerings which speak quite well to his vision and dream for Napa Valley in general and his own winery in particular. Specifically at the middle to higher end of the portfolio, Robert Mondavi Winery continues to turn out well made, vineyard driven wines that honor their founder. Close to 50 years in they’re still pushing the envelope and making a mark in Napa Valley. Happy 100th Birthday to Robert Mondavi who is no doubt smiling and kicking back some Napa Valley wine wherever he is.

The Beachhouse 2012 Sauvignon Blanc

Warm weather lends itself to a higher consumption of white wines and Rosé. Summer is also a time for a lot of BBQ’s and casual gatherings with family and friends. These events often call for some tasty wines that please the palate and the budget. Today I’ll look at a Sauvignon Blanc that fits the bill for me. The Beachhouse 2012 Sauvignon Blanc is a South African wine. In addition to Sauvignon Blanc (80%), a bit of Semillon (20%) was also blended in. This wine is widely available and has a suggested retail price of $11.99; if you shop around you can find it for a few dollars less. A Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio and Red Blend are also available under this label.

Aromas of lemon, lime and pears fill the fresh and vibrant nose of this Sauvignon Blanc. The palate is soft and appealing with white melon, citrus and spice notes in heavy supply. The finish is crisp with racy acidity and zingy mineral and spice notes. The generous dollop of Semillon adds to the structure and complexity of this wine. This is a fairly straightforward offering that presents lots of appealing flavors. It’ll work perfectly as a welcome wine or a porch sipper all summer long. At around $10 this is solid value.

Queulat - 2012 Gran Reserva Sauvignon Blanc / 2011 Gran Reserva Pinot Noir

QUEULAT SBOne of the things I enjoy about the way Chilean winery’s are often setup is the tier system. Many times a single winery has numerous designations of wines in a variety of price tiers. Most importantly the intent of the wines in each tier tends to be distinct from others. Viña Ventisquero is such a winery. Under the Queulat tier they make Single vineyard wines. The name of this tier comes from a hanging glacier in Southern Chile. Today I’ll look at 2 of the wines in this tier which also features Carmenère, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Chardonnay, and Syrah. The Queulat 2012 Gran Reserva Sauvignon Blanc was made from fruit sourced in the Ledya Valley. This is a single vineyard offering made entirely of Sauvignon Blanc. The fruit was hand harvested, and sorted once back at the winery. After a cold soak of roughly 13 hours the wine underwent a slow, fermentation at controlled, low temperatures. Four months on the lees followed prior to bottling. This wine has a suggested retail price of $17.99. Aromas of hibiscus and a boatload of citrusy notes fill the nose of this Sauvignon Blanc. The palate is deeply complex with tart green apples, continued citrus as well as bits of mineral and spice. Lemon ice emerges on the finish along with subtle notes of green herb and continued mineral characteristics. This wine which is gloriously delicious on its own will also work well with many of the lighter foods of summer. What I love most about the Queulat Sauvignon Blanc is the precise intensity from the first whiff to the last sip. It’s got depth and grace to spare.

The Queulat 2011 Gran Reserva Pinot Noir was produced using fruit sourced in Casablanca Valley. Like the Sauvignon Blanc this is both a single vineyard effort and comprised entirely of the namesake varietal. The fruit underwent a cold maceration for 7 days prior to temperature controlled fermentation which took place over roughly 8 days. This Pinot was aged entirely in French oak with 10% in new barrels, 20% in once used and the balance in 3 or 4 times used. The Gran Reserva Pinot has a suggested retail price of $17.99. Cherry, toast, mushroom and bay aromas are all present on the gentle nose of this 2011 Pinot Noir. Red fruits dominate the palate with spice and savory herbs playing a role as well. Sour cherries, spices and wisps of earth are all present on the finish which has solid length. This is a nicely structured wine with firm acidity that will work well with a wide array of foods. Grilled pork chops topped with berry compote would be a particularly fine match.

These are both terrific wines for the money. However the Sauvignon Blanc is a particularly good value; Exhibit A if you will of how Chile often over delivers on price. Most wines of this quality from well known Sauvignon Blanc growing regions would easily command $30 a bottle. Pinot Noir is a quickly emerging varietal in Chile, I’m not sure there’s a more exciting region for this great grape. The strides that have been made in a short period of time are impressive to say the least. This is a solid example that represents a good value. It’ll drink well over the next 4 or 5 years so don’t hesitate to drink one today and lay a few others down for a bit.

Geyser Peak Winery - 2012 Pinot Grigio / 2012 Sauvignon Blanc

Warm weather has thankfully arrived, and with that white wine consumption rises dramatically. BBQ’s, parties and festive gatherings of all types also call for some everyday drinking wines that taste good but don’t break the bank. Here are two examples from Geyser Peak Winery, based in Alexander Valley that fit the bill for summer sipping. The Geyser Peak Winery 2012 Pinot Grigio was produced from fruit sourced in Sonoma & Solano Counties. In addition to Pinot Grigio a small amount of Gewürztraminer was blended in as well. It was fermented entirely in stainless steel. 17,000 cases were produced and it has a suggested retail price of $11. Orange blossom and white stone fruit aromas abound on the nose of this Pinot Grigio. The palate is soft and appealing with lemon ice, white peach, mango, and papaya characteristics all in evidence. Bits of clover honey, lemon zest and white pepper are all part of the finish. This wine is fresh, fruity, juicy and overall loaded with curb appeal. I found that this wine was tastier a couple of degrees warmer than the average white, so avoid the tendency to over chill for best results.

The Geyser Peak Winery 2012 Sauvignon Blanc was produced from fruit sourced in a number of distinct appellations around California. This wine is 100% varietal. Fermentation took place entirely in stainless steel. 125,000 cases of this wine were produced and it has a suggested retail price of $11. Zesty lime aromas are joined by wisps of grass on the nose of this Sauvignon Blanc. The palate tends towards citrus flavors with lemon, lime and hints of orange all playing a role. White melon flavors round things out a bit and lead right into the crisp and zesty finish which shows off minerals, spice and continued echoes of citrus. This is a solid entry level Sauvignon Blanc with good varietal character.

The bottom line is that these are two straightforward, tasty wines that are also well priced. You can serve either of them by themselves or with light foods. If you shop around, you’ll be able to find them for less than $10 a bottle; at that price you don’t need any excuse to pop these open all summer and quench your thirst.

Trione Vineyards and Winery - 2011 Russian River Valley Sauvignon Blanc / 2008 Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon

For more than 30 years the Trione Family has been growing and selling grapes in Sonoma County from their own property as well as vineyards they manage. In 2005 they launched Trione Vineyards & Winery to bottle their own wines. They hired Scot Covington as winemaker. He brings both winemaking experience in Sonoma County and elsewhere to the table as well as winery building and design knowledge. A couple of months ago I was really impressed with some of their then current releases. Here’s a look at a couple of more recent ones. The Trione Vineyards and Winery 2011 Russian River Valley Sauvignon Blanc was produced from fruit sourced at River Road Ranch. This vineyard is 115 acres in size. The vines have between 2 and 12 years of age on them. Fermentation took place in temperature controlled stainless steel tanks using select South African yeast. 4 months of aging in neutral French oak followed. 600 cases of this vintage were produced and it has a suggested retail price of $23. Lemon, minerals and a touch of grass imbue the nose of this Sauvignon Blanc. The palate has good weight and is loaded with lemon-lime, spices such as white pepper and continued mineral elements. The finish here is crisp and clean with a nice bite of acid. Mineral characteristics continue here along with ginger, pepper and touch of vanilla. The end of each sip inspires another one as this wine beckons you back to the glass for more. This is a gorgeous Sauvignon Blanc built to pair with light foods.

Trione Vineyards and Winery 2008 Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon was produced utilizing fruit sourced at a single vineyard. The Cloverdale Ranch sits in the northern part of Alexander Valley amongst the Mayacamas Mountains. In addition to Cabernet Sauvignon (85%), small amounts of Merlot (9%), Cabernet Franc (2%), Petit Verdot (2%), and Malbec (2%) were blended in. Each lot was vinified and aged in barrel separately over 12 months. After blending an additional 12 months in French oak followed. Just fewer than 1,200 6 bottle cases of this wine were produced and it has a suggested retail price of $64. Violets, vanilla bean and dark fruit aromas fill the nose of this Cabernet Sauvignon.  Dark fruit characteristics continue through the palate where black cherry, currant and bits of blackberry are all present along with pepper and cardamom. Wisps of blueberry and plum emerge on the lengthy finish along with earth and mineral elements. Firm tannins yield with some air and are part of the wines fine structure. This Cabernet is well suited to pair with rich, bold foods. If you’re drinking it over the next couple of years I recommend decanting it for 90 minutes or so. Otherwise lay it down for 5 or more years and you’ll be richly rewarded for your patience.

Trione Vineyards and Winery is making some lovely wines. These are two more examples. If you enjoy vineyard driven wines made in relatively small lots with care and precision that speak of their origins, give them a shot.

Visiting Frog's Leap Winery in Napa Valley

Frog’s Leap has been around since 1981 and their focus has remained resolute to this day. They grow their grapes organically utilizing dry farmed vineyards. Their wine making techniques are classic and old school in intent and execution. Neither their vineyards nor their wines are over manipulated. They are also stewards of the land they inhabit and strive to be community members that make a difference. Towards that end they have been a solar powered facility since 2005. The folks at Frog's Leap take their work, their wine and their place in the neighborhood quite seriously, but they do so while having fun, giving a wink and a smile so to speak. A couple of days ago I made a visit to Frog’s Leap in Napa Valley. Though I’ve enjoyed a number of their wines over the years it was my first time visiting. Along with a couple of friends I made my way into their reception area and we were quickly seated even though we arrived quite a bit earlier than our scheduled appointment. They have an open porch with tables to host tastings, from that vantage point we could look at some of their vines as well as one group of visitors playing a game on the lawn while they enjoyed a taste of wine.

It was a beautiful day and Frog’s Leap is an excellent atmosphere in which to taste wine. After being seated we had someone dedicated to pouring us wine and telling us anything we might want to know about the facility and the wines. Their standard flight features 4 selections and the tastings are priced at $20. In addition to the four we were lucky enough to sample a few other releases.  On weekdays they also offer tours by prior appointment. What follows are my thoughts on a few of my favorite selections I tasted on my visit.

Frog’s Leap 2011 Rutherford Sauvignon Blanc: This 100% varietal wine is what got things off the ground for Frog’s Leap more than 30 years ago. All of the fruit for this offering comes from Rutherford. It was fermented and aged in stainless steel. This wine has a suggested retail price of $20. Citrus and mineral aromas pop out of this wine’s nose. The palate is gently layered with tropical and citrus fruit characteristics. Zippy acidity, spices and minerals galore are at play here as well and they continue through the finish which is clean, crisp and refreshing. My overriding desire after taking a sip was simply to take another. This is a lovely Sauvignon Blanc whose flavors are not forceful or over the top but rather persistent in their complexity and depth.

Frog’s Leap 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon: In addition to Cabernet Sauvignon, small amounts of Merlot and Cabernet Franc are blended into this wine. It was aged for 21 months in French oak and it has a suggested retail price of $42. The small dollop of Cabernet Franc in this blend really helps the nose pop. As a result cherry and leather aromas are in striking abundance. The palate here is smooth and approachable with deep berry flavors; Blackberry and plum are of particular note along with continued cherry. Earth and a bit of mocha emerge on the finish which has impressive length for the price. This wine will drink well for a number of years but it’s incredibly engaging and exuberant right now, there’s simply no reason to wait on this one.

Frog’s Leap 2010 Zinfandel: This wine is made in classic Field Blend style. This wine is composed of Zinfandel (77.5%), Petite Sirah (22%) and Carignane (0.5%). All 3 varietals were picked, fermented and aged together. Barrel aging took place over 12 months in French oak. This wine has a suggested retail price of $27. This Zinfandel really emerged after it was sitting in the glass for 15 or 20 minutes. Cherry aromas came out in droves along with a dollop of vanilla bean. Both red and black berry flavors dominate the palate along with a nice complement of spices such as clove, cinnamon and pepper. The finish is lengthy with sour cherry, bits of chocolate sauce and a final bit of biting spice. This is a proportionate Zinfandel made in a classic style. It’s spicy, fun, delicious and easy drinking without being over the top or simplistic. It’s a wine that will pair as beautifully with a pizza as it will a burger or soft polenta topped with sautéed mushrooms. Whatever you pair it with, you’re likely to love this terrifically well made Zinfandel.

Frog’s Leap 2010 Petite Sirah: This selection is 100% varietal and all of the fruit came from Rutherford. Aging took place over 11 months in French oak. The Frog’s Leap Petite Sirah has a suggested retail price of $37. In the glass this wine is as black as night. The aromas that emerge are dark and brooding to match. The first sip reveals Blackberries, blueberries and plum pudding spices. The finish has good length with hints of earth and a bit of chicory. This Petite Sirah is young and a bit tight right now with firm tannins. Time in the bottle will soften this wine and really help show off its charms. I’m fond of aging well made, balanced Petite Sirah that has good structure and acid. The Frog’s Leap Petite hits all those marks and I can’t wait to see where this wine is in about a decade. Of course you could decant it for a few hours and speed up the process. In any case this is a promising example of one of my favorite varietals.

It took me way too long to make it to Frog’s Leap for the first time, suffice it to say my second visit won’t take nearly as long. This is a great winery to visit in the heart of Napa Valley. The wines are terrific and well made. Each of them was balanced and proportionate with reasonable alcohol content, bucking current trends. The Zinfandel in particular stood out for being under 14%, something worth noting in an environment where some folks are making Zins that tip the scales over 16%. The wines are also clean and fresh with pure fruit flavors bursting through. Additionally the atmosphere is welcoming and charming with lovely understated décor that is soothing to the eye. The folks working at Frog’s Leap are incredibly friendly, accommodating and quite knowledgeable about the wines and Frog’s Leap in general. Next time you’re in Napa Valley, I strongly urge you to make a beeline to Frog’s Leap.

Dinner with Winemaker Bernard Portet

Last week I was lucky enough to sit and taste wine over dinner with Bernard Portet at Union Square Cafe. He was one of the founders of Napa Valley stalwart Clos du Val. Bernard was with them in a variety of capacities until just a couple of years ago, when he retired. That retirement didn’t last very long and now he’s involved with a smaller, personal project called Heritance. It’s been my good fortune over the years to sit across numerous tables, tasting counters and barrels from a wide array of winemakers. These opportunities are always a pleasure and it is also quite educational to learn about and taste wines with the person responsible for their existence. The experience is all the better when what the winemaker describes and what I taste in the glass true up; somewhat remarkably this isn’t always the case. I’m happy to report that the wines that I tasted with Bernard were exactly what he was describing, well balanced, food friendly offerings that will age appropriately for their intended styles. What follows are my thoughts on a few of my favorites from the evening. Heritance 2010 Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc. This offering is made utilizing mostly Sauvignon Blanc (91%), with a small amount of Semillon (9%) blended in. Aging of this wine took place in stainless steel. 2,000 cases were produced and it has a suggested retail price of $24. This is a fresh and lively Sauvignon Blanc with a mid-weight palate. The Semillon adds to that weight as well as to the complexity and roundness. The acidity here is firm but not aggressive. Citrus and orchard fruit characteristics are in evidence throughout and they’re buoyed by subtle wisps of grass. This is an absolutely awesome Sauvignon Blanc that can be described as pure elegance. If the only wine I tasted that evening was this Sauvignon Blanc I would have been happy to drink it all night. We also sampled the 2011 vintage and instead of Semillon it has a dollop of Roussanne blended in. It’s a nice wine as well that needs a few months before it really comes into its own.

Heritance 2011 Stanly Ranch Pinot Noir. All of the fruit for this wine was sourced in Carneros. Fermentation took place in open top, stainless steel tanks with twice daily punch downs. Barrel aging took place in previously used French oak 300 cases of this release were produced and it has a suggested retail price of $45. This wine opens with an enormously fragrant nose loaded with Bing cherry, spices and bits of leather. Cherry, strawberry and spice are in abundance through the palate which is even keeled and loaded with depth. Pomegranate and sour cherry are in evidence on the finish along with black pepper and mineral elements. This wine is loaded with varietal character and does a great job of showcasing what excellent Pinot Noir from Carneros is all about.

Heritance 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon. This wine is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon (94%), Merlot (4%) and Petit Verdot (2%). The fruit for this wine was hand harvested and fermentation took place over 10 days at high temperatures. Barrel aging occurred over 20 months in a combination of new and previously used French oak. 5,796 cases of this wine were produced and it has a suggested retail price of $36. Black fruit aromas lead the nose of this Cabernet Sauvignon. The palate is rich and velvety with plum and black raspberry flavors leading the charge. Chocolate and espresso notes are in evidence on the finish which has good length. Firm tannins yield with some air. This is a nicely structured Cabernet that works well today with richly flavored foods. Over time it will soften and become more elegant. The 2008 which I also had the opportunity to sample is a delicious, ready to drink now Cabernet. Its style and graceful elegance speak volumes to where the 2010 is likely to be in a year or so. $36 for Napa Cabernet of this quality is, to say the least, a terrific value.

In addition to these wines we tasted several others; one particular standout was a 1979 Cabernet Sauvignon that Bernard made at Clos du Val. It was delicious and loaded with lively fruit and excellent character. It still has several years, perhaps a decade of life ahead of it. I asked Bernard why he picked the 1979 in particular and he indicated that while the 1978 had been hailed critically, he had personally always been a bigger fan of the 1979 which he felt even back then showed great promise. Bernard has a long track record of producing well made, approachable, food friendly wines that will age gracefully. The bottom line is that all the wines I sampled at dinner, which fall under his new label, continue that tradition. In addition to being well crafted and taking advantage of his 40 + years of experience they are also excellent values in their respective categories.

Viña Ventisquero - 2012 Reserva Sauvignon Blanc / 2011 Reserva Pinot Noir / 2010 Grey Carmenère / 2009 Grey Cabernet Sauvignon

When I was in Chile last month I participated in a virtual Blogger tasting. I’d taken part in previous tastings of that kind from home before. But on this occasion I was onsite in an adjacent room while the winemakers discussed their varied offerings a few feet away. Getting to mingle with a roomful of winemakers before and after the tasting was one of many highlights that dotted a wonderful week in Chile. There were several standouts for me that day; one of them came from producer Viña Ventisquero. The Cabernet Sauvignon from their Grey tier of wines really made an impression, so once I was back home I decided to take a closer look at a few of their current releases. Here are my thoughts on four of them including the Cabernet Sauvignon I tasted while in Chile and had the opportunity to revisit for this story. The Ventisquero 2012 Reserva Sauvignon Blanc was produced using fruit sourced in Chile’s Casablanca Valley. This wine is 100% varietal. After fermentation the wine was aged on the lees for a period of four months. This offering has a suggested retail price of $12.99. The nose here is fresh and lively with citrus and orchard fruits in abundance; hints of spice play a supporting role. A grassy undercurrent underlies the palate which is framed by lemon zest, orange and grapefruit characteristics. Limestone, white pepper, and a touch of vanilla bean lead the finish which is light, fruity, zesty and crisp. This Sauvignon Blanc will pair wonderfully with entrée salads, soft cheeses and roasted veggies to name a few choices. It’s also quite delicious all by itself. There are quite a few excellent Sauvignon Blanc’s coming out f Chile at a host of different price points with a variety of intents. In the roughly $10 range this selection from Ventisquero is a terrific value that is indicative of the great things being accomplished with this grape in Chile. Drink this wine over the next year or so when it’s young, vibrant flavors are at their most exuberant.

The Ventisquero 2011 Reserva Pinot Noir was made utilizing fruit sourced in Casablanca Valley. This offering is 100% Pinot. Fermentation took place in temperature controlled open tanks. The wine was aged in a combination of French oak (70%) and stainless steel (30%) over a period of 10 months. This Pinot has a suggested retail price of $12.99. Bing cherry, wild strawberry and vanilla bean characteristics are in full evidence on the nose of this wine. Hints of mushroom and gentle red fruit flavors make up the even keeled palate. Cranberry, pomegranate leather and spices are part of the finish which has solid length and persistence. This is a perfectly dry wine with tons of varietal character, two things often not in evidence in Pinot Noir at this price level. The bottom line is this wine is an extraordinary Pinot Noir for the price. This would be an excellent wine to buy a case or more of. If you’re searching for a wine to have around the house to give out as stocking stuffers or last minute gifts look no further. Your Pinot loving friends and family will thank you for turning them on to this tremendous little value.

The Ventisquero 2010 Grey Carmenère was produced from fruit sourced at Trinidad Vineyard in Chile’s Maipo Valley. This is a 100% varietal offering. Fermentation took place in stainless steel tanks followed by aging in French oak over 18 months. 33% of the barrels utilized were new. An additional 8 months of bottle aging occurred prior to release. This wine has a suggested retail price of $23.99. Boysenberry, vanilla and violet aromas burst out from the nose of this Carmenère. The palate is juicy and pleasing with plums, blackberry and berry fruit flavors galore. Green herb notes underscore things here and play a supporting role. Black tea, plum pudding spices, minerals and black pepper all emerge on the finish. There is a lovely balance in this wine with loads of eager fruit buoyed by lots of spice and a lovely collection of herbaceous characteristics. The Ventisquero Carmenère works equally well paired with full flavored foods as it does on its own.

The Ventisquero 2009 Grey Cabernet Sauvignon was made using fruit sourced from within Block 38 which is a hillside section of the Trinidad Vineyard in Maipo Valley. In addition to Cabernet Sauvignon (94%), this wine also has some Petit Verdot (6%) blended in. This wine was entirely aged in French oak over 18 months; 33% of the barrels were new. No less than 8 months of bottle aging followed prior to release. The Ventisquero Grey Cabernet Sauvignon has a suggested retail price of $23.99. Cherry and raspberry aromas dominate the nose of this 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon. White pepper and hints of anise support the plate which is loaded with red fruits in the form of wild strawberry and cherry. Hints of black fruits are present as well and they dart through from time to time. Clove, cinnamon and a bit of nutmeg emerge on the finish along with cocoa, minerals and continued cherry and other warming red fruit flavors. This is an elegant, well structured and beautifully proportioned wine for the money. A Cabernet at this level of quality from some other regions would easily retail for $35-$40. This wine is delicious now and will drink well over the next 8 or so years. However it’ll be at its best over the next 5.

It’s fair to say I was highly impressed with this quartet of wines. The Reserva line offerings are excellent buys in their price range. If you drink wines for around $10 you’re going to be really happy with what you get for your money here. The Pinot Noir in particular is brilliant. There are very, very few Pinot Noirs under $15 that are worth spending much time talking about. This example from Ventisquero is amongst their tiny number. The Grey tier wines are quite lovely as well. It was nice to see that the Cabernet Sauvignon was equally notable when I re-tasted it at home roughly a month after sampling it in Chile. Their portfolio, like that of many Chilean producers is vast, with the quality of these 4 selections I look forward to exploring it further and reporting on my findings; I suspect their will be some other gems to be had.

Rodney Strong Vineyards - 2011 Charlotte’s Home Sauvignon Blanc / 2009 Symmetry Red Meritage

Rodney Strong Vineyards has a large portfolio of wines that crosses many price tiers. Whether you’re looking for an everyday value in the $10 range or site specific wines for a lot more than that, they have them and many in between as well. I continue to be impressed with their reliability across those layers and consider them a go to producer for a variety of wine needs. Here’s a look at two vastly different current releases from them. The Rodney Strong Vineyards 2011 Charlotte’s Home Sauvignon Blanc was produced from fruit sourced in Alexander Valley and Russian River Valley. 90% was fermented in temperature controlled stainless steel at low temperatures; the balance in French oak. This widely available wine has a suggested retail price of $15 but can most often be found selling for closer to $11. Lemon ice, white pepper and mineral aromas fill the excitable nose of this 2011 Sauvignon Blanc. Citrus characteristics dominate the palate along with bits of orchard fruit and a gentle hint of pineapple as well. The finish is clean and crisp with mineral and spice notes reverberating well after the last sip has been swallowed. Year after year this wine delivers awesome flavor for a very small price. This is a terrific Sauvignon Blanc for the money and one you can bank on one vintage after another.

Rodney Strong Vineyards 2009 Symmetry is a Red Meritage. This selection is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon (79%), Malbec (14%), Merlot (6%), and Cabernet Franc 1%). Most of the fruit for this wine was sourced in the same Alexander Valley Vineyards that they use for their Single Vineyard Cabernet’s. Barrel aging occurred over 22 months in all French oak. This wine which has been part of the Rodney Strong Portfolio for over 15 years has a suggested retail price of $55. It can often be located for about $45. Red and black raspberry as well as black cherry aromas roar out of the nose of this 2009 Meritage. The palate is loaded with a stunning array of fresh and dry red and black berry fruit flavors that are buoyed by complementary spice notes. The cherry characteristics steal the show here and appear in droves from the first sip to the very last. Earth, chicory, black pepper and sweet dark chocolate notes are all part of the lengthy and harmonious finish. This wine will drink well over the next 8 or so years. However it’s so willing, juicy and ready to give of itself now that there’s simply no reason to wait. This delicious wine is a real pleasure to drink both on its own and paired with hearty foods.

I’m a big fan of Rodney Strong Vineyards and the dependability their wines represent. You can plunk your money down for their offerings with the confidence that you’re going to get value back. Charlotte’s Home Sauvignon Blanc is on my short list of a small handful of California Sauvignon Blanc’s that deliver eminent drinkability, quality and consistency vintage after vintage for a nominal price. Symmetry is precisely what I believe a Meritage wine should be; it seamlessly blends the varietals together to form a whole greater than the sum of its parts. In its price category it also represents a terrific value.

Visiting Viña Santa Rita and Tasting Their Generous Portfolio

My recent trip to Chile was impressive on a number of different levels. One thing that stood out to me in particular was the diversity of the winery properties we got to visit. They ranged in size, scope and style. One of the more beautiful and historic was Santa Rita. The property there is simply gorgeous. Beautiful gardens within large expanses of property, a chapel, historic hotel and an authentic restaurant and more come together to form a wonderful destination for wine lovers as well as anyone who enjoys a beautiful slice of the earth. They offer a diversity of touring and tasting options that should appeal to visitors of all sots. Check their website for specific details. While at Santa Rita we toured the property and facility, had lunch at Doña Paula their onsite Restaurant; most importantly however we tasted through the portfolio. As is common in Chile Santa Rita has several tiers of wines. Their entry level wines start at around $9 dollars and their top shelf selection runs around $75; in between are a host of selections in various prices with varying styles, intents and palates in mind. In total we tasted through 15 selections during our formal sit down tasting, what follows are my impressions of a handful of my personal favorites from that day.

Santa Rita 2011 Reserva Sauvignon Blanc D.O Casablanca Valley: This is a 100% varietal wine made from estate fruit. The cool climate of Casablanca is one of several areas in Chile that are particularly well suited for this grape. The Reserva tier of wines has a suggested retail price of $12.99. Pineapple aromas and flavors are apparent throughout this wine which has a lovely nose and medium weight palate. Pear and citrus flavors play a role as well. This wine has a crisp finish and zippy acidity. All three Sauvignon Blanc’s we sampled were well made and appealing. However I found this one to be the knockout value of the trio.

Santa Rita 2009 Reserva Malbec D.O. Colchagua Valley: This release is a blend of primarily Malbec (85%) with a healthy dollop of Merlot (15%) blended in. This wine was aged in American and French oak barrels for approximately 8 months. It has a suggested retail price of $12.99. This is a classically styled Malbec where black fruit aromas and flavors dominate. The palate is layered and persistent with plum and raspberry flavors. Hints of espresso emerge on the finish along with copious spices. The tannins are chewy and substantial but yield with some air. This is an excellent Malbec that has plenty of willing fruit flavors but also isn’t overwrought in any way. For the money this is an outright steal that may just completely change your view of the quality of under $15 Malbec forever.

Santa Rita 2009 Medalla Real Cabernet Sauvignon D.O. Maipo Valley: This wine is predominately Cabernet Sauvignon (95%) with a touch of Cabernet Franc (5%) blended in. The vines utilized have 15 years of age on them. Barrel aging occurred over 14 months in a combination of 1st, 2nd and 3rd use oak. The Medalla Real range of wines has a suggested retail price of $19.99. This wine has a classic Cabernet Sauvignon nose of red and black berries laced with hints of toast and wisps of vanilla bean. Boatloads of cherry flavors dominate the palate and lead to pomegranate characteristics on the finish along with earth and black pepper. This is a remarkable Cabernet Sauvignon for under $20. A Cabernet of this quality, depth and persistence from Napa Valley to use one point of comparison would easily fetch $35-$40.

Santa Rita 2007 Triple C, D.O. Maipo Valley: This offering is a blend of Cabernet Franc (65%), Cabernet Sauvignon (30%), and Carménère (5%). The Carménère vines utilized have more than 70 years of age on them. Barrel aging took place over 20 months in new French oak. This wine has a suggested retail price of $35. Triple C is lead by an explosive nose loaded with cherries, leather and violets. Throughout the complex palate cherry flavors continue to dominate the show, Pencil lead, earth and spices reverberate throughout the lengthy finish. Firm but yielding tannins mark this wines impressive structure. This blend is a bit on the young side now, but oh so delicious and impressive. For it to really shine it needs a couple of years in the cellar or 2-3 hours in the decanter. In any case it’s a lovely blend that it sure to impress. This is one of a number of wines I tasted on my trip to Chile that indicate with confidence that Blends will be the key to Chile’s rise in the wine world over the next few years.

This tasty quartet of wines represents the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the Santa Rita portfolio. What I had the opportunity to taste was a well made array of wines whose tiers are well defined. Sometimes tasting 3 or 4 examples of one varietal from a single winery leaves me shaking my head. That’s because they are often far too similar because a house style has prevailed over letting the fruit speak. This was most definitely not the case at Santa Rita. Tasting these wines side by side the distinction between vineyards, range and stylistic choices guided by the winemakers was clear. I urge you to try a wine from Santa Rita in a price range you’re comfortable with and them dabble in various directions after you discover what I did: how well made, delicious and value driven their wines are regardless of price-point. And if you're in Chile, make Santa Rita one of your destinations.

A Visit to Veramonte in Chile's Casablanca Valley

Years ago when I first started drinking Chilean wines I tasted some juice from a host of producers, many of them blurry to the memory at this late date. However a select few of the names still resonate for me; one of those is Veramonte. I recall drinking and enjoying several of their varietal wines, which make up the Reserva tier, consistently, the Sauvignon Blanc in particular has long been a favorite value wine of mine. My interest shifted to a higher gear for me when they first released Primus, a Red Blend. That was an impressive wine for the money when it was first released. As time went on I drank more and more Chilean wines but kept returning to the Veramonte releases. In the last few years that’s included the Ritual line of wines as well as the expanded lineup under the Primus name. So when I found out Veramonte was on the itinerary of Winery visits for my Chile trip I was thrilled. There is something particularly interesting and exciting to me about visiting a winery for the first time whose wines I’ve enjoyed for close to two decades. I wondered what I’d learn, that the contents of all those empty Veramonte bottles hadn’t taught me.

Most of our visit was spent with Winemaker Rodrigo Soto as our guide. He’s the Director of Winemaking for Veramonte and prior to his current gig he most recently spent six years working at Benzinger Family Winery in Sonoma County. Benzinger is well known for their Sustainable and Biodynamic winemaking practices. In speaking to Rodrigo it was fascinating to learn what he has planned for Veramonte. This is a successful winery that already makes delicious wines, but he and owner Agustin Huneeus aren’t satisfied with that. Their drive is to completely change the farming practices, eschewing herbicides and the like for sustainable and natural methods. The goal is Sheppard these vineyards for future generations, as well as of course making even more delicious wines. Rodrigo made the point that Chilean wine in general stands today where California did a couple of decades ago. As such, the perspective and knowledge Rodrigo gained working in Sonoma will serve Veramonte well on their move to the next level. After a tour of the winery and a look at some vineyards we sat down and tasted some highlights of the current portfolio. What follows are some brief impressions of a couple of my favorites.

Veramonte – 2011 Ritual Sauvignon Blanc – This wine is richer and riper than the entry level Sauvignon Blanc. The palate has a bit more heft than the average Chilean Sauvignon Blanc. It’s a spicy and round wine with a mineral laden finish. Most of the fruit was sourced from two high performing blocks. Their goal of proactive farming as opposed to winery manipulation shines through in this release.

Veramonte – 2011 Ritual Pinot Noir - This wine has a fresh nose with cherry, strawberry and bits of herbs. Fruit leads the palate with savory/spice playing a lesser but present role. Black cherry and a touch of plum are present. The 2011 has a solid finish. This continues to be an excellent value.

The Ritual wines have been noteworthy to me since their release a handful of vintages back. The current editions do nothing to dissuade me, if anything the style has come fully into view with several consistent vintages under their belts. If you enjoy the Veramonte Reserva tier of wines, the releases in the Ritual range are an obvious place to go next. The Ritual wines are generally available under for $20.

In addition to the Veramonte wines we had the opportunity to taste Neyen This is a partnership between Raul Rojas who founded it in Apalta in 2002, and Agustin Huneeus. The wine is sourced from Old Vines in Apalta planted to Carménère and Cabernet Sauvignon. Neyen is their take on a single spectacular wine made from old vines in an area already regarded for some highly respected Chilean releases. This wine sells in the US for around $45 and the current vintage is the 2008. If you like big mouth-filling reds with depth and character it’s one to consider. As delicious as it is today, my sense is that it will improve in the bottle over the next 5 years and be quite lovely for another 5 or 6 after that.

Veramonte was a place I was really looking forward to visiting. Not only did it meet my expectations it exceeded them on many levels. I’m excited by the plans they have to take things to a new level going forward. These wines are already well made, delicious and more than reasonably priced. More natural farming practices in the vineyards and around the winery in general stand to enhance what they’re doing. I’m excited to continue drinking these wines for years to come, you should be too!

Gary Farrell Vineyards & Winery - 2010 Sauvignon Blanc / 2009 Pinot Noir

Gary Farrell Vineyards & Winery has a distinguished history in Sonoma County as a producer. They’re best known for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay made with Burgundian intent. Their portfolio offers several other varietals as well. Today I’ll look at two of their current releases. The Gary Farrell 2010 Sauvignon Blanc was produced from fruit sourced at Redwood Ranch in Sonoma County. This vineyard sits at the very southern end of Alexander Valley. The vines sourced for this offering were planted in 1997. The Gary Farrell 2010 Sauvignon Blanc is a 100% varietal wine. This wine was bottled n January 2011 after a short time in oak. Just over 1,500 cases of this offering were produced and it has a suggested retail price of $25. Pear and citrus aromas fill the nose of this 2010 Sauvignon Blanc. Copious quantities of citrus and topical fruit flavors such as yellow plum, mango and lemon zest are layered throughout a welcoming and weighty mid-palate. Spice and continued fruit flavors fill the impressively lengthy finish of this Sauvignon Blanc. If you prefer Sauvignon Blanc that leans towards the tropical and fruity side, this beauty is for you.

The Gary Farrell 2009 Russian River Valley Pinot Noir was produced from fruit sourced at a small handful of Vineyards. These well known growers within Russian River Valley are regarded specifically for Pinot Noir. The fruit was hand picked over a period of roughly 30 days as each source came to maturity. Barrel aging took place over roughly 8 months. 3,230 cases of this widely available offering were produced and it has a suggested retail price of $42. Wild Strawberry, clove, cardamom, and tobacco aromas are all in evidence on the engaging nose of this 2009 Pinot Noir. Black cherry and leather emerge from the palate along with continued strawberry and spice. Black pepper, graphite and bits of cola along with sour cherry, pomegranate and a touch of toast are present on the finish which has above average length. Firm acidity marks the fine structure of this wine which is delicious now but will improve over the next handful of years and drink well for a decade.

Gary Farrell Vineyards & Winery has long been associated with quality wines from Sonoma County that exhibit a wonderful sense of place. Both of these wines continue that story and each of them is well worth seeking out.

Kelly Fleming Wines - 2010 Sauvignon Blanc / 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon

Kelly Fleming Wines is a fairly new boutique producer in Napa Valley. More specifically they’re located in the corner of Calistoga up at the northern end of the valley. It’s always fascinating to see what new producers are up to and today I’ll look at their two brand new releases. The Kelly Fleming Wines 2010 Sauvignon Blanc was produced using fruit from both Oakville and Pope Valley. This offering is made up of 100% Sauvignon Blanc. Several hours of skin contact followed crushing. Fermentation occurred in a combination of new French oak (20%) and stainless steel. Aging took place over three months prior to bottling. 530 cases of this wine were produced and it has a suggested retail price of $30. White peach and nectarine aromas jump from the nose of this Sauvignon Blanc. Citrus and continued stone fruit characteristics dominate the palate which has complexity to spare. The finish of this wine is clean and crisp with spices galore and a final impression that begs you back to the glass for additional sips. This is an impeccably balanced Sauvignon Blanc that is in a word, beautiful.

The Kelly Fleming Wines 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon was produced using exclusively estate grown fruit. Specifically the vines are from 12 acres contained within their overall 300 acre parcel. This vineyard is planted to 3 clones of Cabernet Sauvignon on 4 distinct rootstocks. This wine is 100% Cabernet Sauvignon. Each block of fruit was hand picked. Fermentation on the skins occurred over 3 weeks prior to pressing. Barrel aging took place over 20 months in entirely French oak; 85% of the barrels were new. 700 cases of this Cabernet Sauvignon were produced and it has a suggested retail price of $90. The nose of this Cabernet Sauvignon is loaded with deep and dark fruit aromas that are dense and brooding. Blackberry and blueberry aromas are joined by plum pudding spice notes. The palate is a virtual who’s who of dark fruits with plum, black raspberry, blueberry and blackberry all in evidence along with interspersed wisps of red and black cherry. There is a depth and profundity to this wine that is absolutely awesome. The finish shows off bits of earth and dark chocolate as well as pepper spice and a dollop of nutmeg. This wine is remarkably eager and ready to go for a young Cabernet of this complexity. However it will improve with time in the bottle.

Each of these offerings from Kelly Fleming Wines are delicious, fine examples of their varietal as well as distinct. In a veritable sea of Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Sauvignon, these wines stand out. Seek them out if you can, you’ll be justly rewarded

Michael David Winery - 2010 Sauvignon Blanc / 2009 Petite Petit

Michael David Winery has been turning out appealing, budget friendly wines for a number of years. Their 7 Deadly Zins is the first one that hit my radar. In subsequent years I’ve tasted many of their offerings and there has been a consistency of overall style and value to be found with their wines. Today I’ll look at a current release white and red in their portfolio. The Michael David Winery 2010 Sauvignon Blanc was produced from fruit sourced in Lake County. In addition to Sauvignon Blanc, small amounts of Semillon and Muscat Canelli were blended in. This wine saw no time in oak. Just over 1,000 cases were produced and it has a suggested retail price of $14.

Aromas of grapefruit, lemon zest and vanilla bean are prominent on the nose of this 2010 Lake County Sauvignon Blanc. Melon, tropical fruit and a continuing parade of citrus notes emerge on the palate; lemon ice and hints of tangerine are of particular note. White peach, apricot, pepper and a touch of nutmeg are part of the finish which has reasonable length. This wine is light crisp and very refreshing. Increasingly Lake County has become a haven for very tasty Sauvignon Blanc at extremely reasonable price points. This example from Michael David Winery certainly falls into that category.

The Michael David Winery 2009 Petite Petit was produced from fruit sourced in the Lodi Appelation. This offering blends Petite Sirah (85%) with Petit Verdot (15%). After fermentation, Petite Petit was barrel aged for 18 months in French oak. This wine has a suggested retail price of $18.

Violets, toast, dark berries and vanilla punctuate the nose which features intense aromas of brooding dark fruits. Plums, blueberries, blackberries and a host of plum pudding and fruitcake spices fill the palate whish is dense, layered and fairly intense. Dark chocolate and hints of earth mark the velvety finish of this wine. Petite Petit has firm tannins that yield with some air. This is a big, bold wine that will work best paired with similar styled foods. At 85% Petite Sirah this wine could legally be labeled as such; however the Petit Verdot plays a pivotal role here at 15% adding such depth and dimension that the Petite Petit name is wholly appropriate and actually quite perfect.

Both of these wines from Michael David Winery offer lots of pleasurable drinking for their price-points. As is their overall house style these wines offer lots of friendly upfront fruit that will appeal to large groups with varying palates. Unlike a lot of wines in these categories the Michael David wines also offer depth and length of palate that belie their price points. If you like bold California wines, the Michael David Portfolio is one you should explore.

Parducci Wine Cellars - 2009 Sauvignon Blanc

Sauvignon Blanc is a varietal that adapts well to a large number of regions the world over. This grape is made in a host of enjoyable styles. Mendocino County is one of the regions that can under the right circumstances produce distinct Sauvignon Blanc. Today I’ll look at a value priced offering from Parducci Wine Cellars. The Parducci 2009 Sauvignon Blanc was produced from fruit sourced at the Hildreth Family’s vineyards. They’ve tended their land in Ukiah for five generations. This Sauvignon Blanc was fermented in stainless steel and saw no oak treatment of any sort. 2,000 cases of this wine were produced and it has a suggested retail price of $11. It’s available all over the United States.

Lemon ice and vanilla bean aromas burst forth from the very engaging nose of this Sauvignon Blanc. An array of flavors emerges once you take a sip; apricot, white peach and citrus characteristics take center stage. White melon, continued stone fruits and a cavalcade of spices emerge on the mellifluous finish which also shows off hints of papaya. Drink this wine by itself or pair it with light summer fare for excellent results.

I absolutely love this 2009 Sauvignon Blanc from Parducci. For $11 (less if you shop around) this wine is an exceptional value. The folks at Parducci are turning out wine release after wine release that belie their price points by offering tons of bang for the buck; this is just one of the most current examples. Buy their wines with confidence.

Paul Dolan Vineyards - 2009 Sauvignon Blanc

You always remember your first time. For me the first time I visited Mendocino County I had the pleasure of not only visiting Paul Dolan’s vineyards but spending some time with Paul as well. His reputation as a leader in Organic and Biodynamic practices precedes him and well it should. He’s done as much to champion these movements in California as anyone. The results speak for themselves with his wines. Today I’ll be looking at the current release of Sauvignon Blanc. The Paul Dolan Vineyards 2009 Sauvignon Blanc was produced exclusively using certified organically grown grapes. All of the fruit for this wine was sourced in Mendocino County. Both fermentation and aging of this wine took place in stainless steel. Just over 4,000 cases of this Sauvignon Blanc were bottled in the 2009 vintage. It has a suggested retail price of $17.99.

Aromas of lemon zest and grapefruit lead the nose. Hints of vanilla bean and green grass chip in to lesser but still significant degrees. All of those characteristics reverberate on the palate which is particularly loaded with both citrus and tropical fruit flavors. A hint of orange water emerges at the back of the palate and leads to the finish which shows off nice spice characteristics; white pepper and vanilla bean in particular. This wine is clean and crisp with bright, refreshing acidity playing a vital role.

Taken as a whole the Paul Dolan Vineyards wines express a purity of fruit that’s likely to knock your socks off with freshness and vitality, particularly if you haven’t had them yet. This Sauvignon Blanc, for my money, is the best one coming out of Mendocino County. It expresses its sense of place beautifully, tastes as it should like Sauvignon Blanc, and it’s a very good value. With 4,000 cases in the marketplace you shouldn’t have any trouble finding it. I suggest you get some and experience the promise of Organic Mendocino fruit for yourself.

Examining the Age Worthiness of White Wines from Alto Adige

Last week I attended a tasting in Manhattan featuring the wines of Alto Adige. This region sits in the Italian Alps. Both red and white varieties are grown with white taking the lead at 55% of planted acreage. This two-part tasting included a walk around portion that featured tons of exciting new releases from a host of producers. Both red and white wines were showcased. That was the second part of the day; I’m going to focus on the first part. That initial piece was a 90 minute, sit-down seminar during which eight white wines were presented. The mission statement of the seminar was to illustrate the overall age-ability of white wines from Alto Adige. There are few regions in the world that produce white wines with the ability or intent of aging. The ones that have that capability however can often be transcendent. I was pretty curious to see how these wines would taste and if they really did have the as advertised potential for above average longevity. What follows are some brief thoughts about each of the eight wines we tasted. Nals Margreid 2007 Pinot Grigio Punggl DOC Alto Adige. This single vineyard wine is 100% Pinot Grigio. Half of the grapes for this wine were fermented and aged in large oak barrels, the other half in stainless steel tanks. At release this wine had a suggested retail price of $24. The 2009 is the current vintage of this particular wine. The 2007 features lots of yellow fruit flavors throughout a round and sweet but well balanced palate. It shows off the juicy flavors that are prevalent with relatively small production Pinot Grigio treated with care; as opposed to the vast array of anonymous Pinot Grigio that hits US shelves by the boatload.

Franz Haas 2004 Cuvee Manna. This wine is a blend of Riesling, Chardonnay, Traminer Aromatico and Sauvignon Blanc. The fruit was sourced from four vineyards at altitudes of 350 to 850 meters. Each lot was picked and fermented separately. The Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc saw time in Barrique while the Riesling and Traminer Aromatico were fermented in steel. The blend was assembled at final fermentation and spent 10 months on yeasts prior to bottling. 50,000 bottles of this wine were made and at release it had a retail price of $40. The stated goal of this wine is the ability to pair with as wide an array of foods as possible. Apricots, and white cling peach characteristics are dominant on this wine which is driven by intense, fresh fruit flavors. There is a bit of honey on the finish. Ultimately this offering is layered with loads of complexity. For me this was one of the most interesting wines of the day.

San Michele Appiano 2006 Pinot Grigio Sanct Valentin DOC Alto Adige. This wine was sourced from vines with 25-40 years of age on them. The vineyards selected sit approximately 450 meters above sea level. This wine was aged in a combination of new (40%) and used (60%) barriques. This offering spent 11 months on yeast. At release this wine had a suggested retail price of $35.99. Lilac, peach and a hint of petrol are all present in the nose of this wine. Apricots are prominent on the palate along with spices that carry through the finish along with minerals. This wine has terrific concentration of fruit and persistent, lingering and rather impressive length.

Caldro Castell Giovanelli 2007 Sauvignon DOC Alto Adige. The vines the fruit for this selection were sourced from average 5-10 years of age. This offering is 100% Sauvignon Blanc. Fermentation and aging took place in oak casks. At release this wine had a suggested retail price of $48. This wine is incredibly aromatic with citrus and melon fruit just exploding from the nose. The palate shows continued citrus in droves. Minerals are the story on the crisp, clean finish. This wine has racy, slightly zingy acidity.

Terlan Nova Domus 2005 Terlaner Riserva DOC Alto Adige. This wine is a blend of Pinot Blanc (60%), Chardonnay (30%), and Sauvignon Blanc (10%). The fruit was sourced from vineyards sitting between 350 and 500 meters above sea level. Fermentation took place in large oak casks (50%) and 500 Liter Tonneaux. The wine spent a year on the yeast. At release this offering had a suggested retail price of $55. Citrus and spice notes are both prominent on the finish of this wine. Stone fruits dominate the palate. The finish of this selection just goes on and on. For a 5 + year old white blend the fruit on this wine is incredibly fresh and vital. It just keeps beckoning you back for more.

Alois Lageder 2002 Chardonnay Lowengang DOC Alto Adige. The fruit for this wine was selected from vines with 40 to 60 years of age on them grown at vineyard sites sitting 260-450 meters above sea level. This was fermented using native yeasts. It was aged in a combination of new (50%) and used (50%) barriques. At release this wine had a suggested retail price of $40. Apple, limestone and minerals are all present on this wine. Its overall style in many ways brings to mind aged Burgundy. The purity of fruit and length of finish are both impressive. 

Peter Zemmer 2006 Gewürztraminer Reserve DOC Alto Adige. This wine is 100% Gewürztraminer, Fermentation took place with pure strains of yeast in temperature controlled tanks. At release this wine had a suggested retail price of $29. This wine is gloriously aromatic with spice and dried fruit and flower aromas emerging from the glass in droves. The palate of this wine is rich and layered with flavor; it's also impeccably balanced and incredibly in focus. The finish has prodigious length that features a particularly impressive spice component.

Tramin 2004 Gewürztraminer Nussbaumer DOC Alto Adige.  The Nussbaumer Estate Vineyards sit between 350 and 500 meters above sea level. This wine is 100% Gewürztraminer. Fruit for this wine was hand picked. Fermentation took place in temperature controlled stainless steel tanks. At release this wine had a suggested retail price of $35. Nectarine, lychee and hazelnuts fill the nose of this wine. Through the palate apricot and both white and yellow peach flavors are present in droves. This wine has a rich, layered and honeyed finish that lingers persistently. This wine has incredibly appealing flavors and you’ll be hard pressed to stop drinking this once you start.

The bottom line is that each of these selections was impressive in its own right. Taken as a group they were an impressive lineup that achieved the mission statement of showcasing the eminent age worthiness of well made white wines from the Alto Adige region of Italy. Each of them was drinking well and featured fresh flavors that belied their ages. As a group they also had more life ahead of them. Given the complexity, drinkability and obvious longevity these particular wines as well as the current vintages are well worth your time, effort and money.