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Wines of the Week

They're Scary Good

Prisoner Eternally Silenced Pinot Noir California 2017 ($55)--  The first Pinot from The Prisoner company offers aromas of dark cherry, cranberry and cloves.  Richly textured and round on the palate with a hint of pine.  The distinctive bottle makes for a excellent gift idea.  WW 92

Brumont Petit Torus Madiran 2015 ($13) -- The Madiran area lies in the Gascony region of southwest France, and their signature red grape is Tannat.  This blend also includes a bit of Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc, for added dimension and complexity.  The nose of warm earth and black plum is followed by sensations of subtle blackberry that’s very light on the palate with a subtle finish.  WW 86-87

L’enclos des Braves Gaillac 2016 ($12) -- Located in southwest France not far from Toulouse, Gaillac may be one of France’s oldest viticultural areas.  We’re way off the beaten track here, with this rich red blend being composed of 70% Duras and 30% Braucol, also known as Fer.  Very straightforward notes of red cherry and smoke.  Not very complex but a pleasant alternative to heavier reds.  WW 86

Ferraton Per & Fils Crozes-Hermitage “La Matiniere” 2015 ($26) – It means “early bird,” which is apparently a private joke in the Ferraton family.  Composed of 100% Syrah, it delivers a fully charged palate of red berries and currants, along with smoke, cedar and spice…and maybe a bit of raspberry.  WW 91


Tasting Like a Pro

As a wine journalist, and as someone who evaluates wines I believe many people would enjoy, it’s my solemn duty to sample widely, tasting and evaluating as many wines as possible.  It is, as you might imagine, a pleasant responsibility.  I’m required to swirl and sip the bottles sent to me by wineries and their public relations firms, and I’m also forced (forced, I say) to attend wine events where dozens, even hundreds, of wines are poured for appreciative and critical members of the trade, as well as everyday aficionados.

Over the weekend of March 7-8, my wife Debi and I made our way to Miami to attend a major event staged by well-known wine critic James Suckling.  It was held in the Design District, and offered two floors of tables offering a vast array of Italian wines from every region in the country as well as the outlying islands.

Then, the very next night, we journeyed to the Boca Bacchanal, an annual wine and food blast that benefits the area’s historical society and museum.  The difference was that this event offered not only generous pours of wines from all over, but small bites provided by the area’s restaurants, so there was an opportunity for a bit of wine and food pairing practice.

There’s a certain…well, protocol…to sampling through events of this type.  First of all, the individual tables have small buckets on them. These are for dumping any sample you don’t finish, and also for spitting.  The spitting part is important, because even though you may receive only an ounce or two of each sample, they add up fast.  If you don’t spit, you might wind up going home in an Uber or an ambulance.  And by the way, this spitting thing is a subtle, reserved, decorous action.  It’s not polite to go for distance.

There are many chances for wine lovers to attend events like these, since most are open to the public (for a fee).  The Italian tasting sponsored by James Suckling was held in three cities.  Wine Spectator magazine also does “Grand Tour” events offering tastings of hundreds of wines in several cities every year.  And then there’s the Wine Experience, a three-day program of grand tastings and seminars held in New York every October.  We never miss it.

So watch for these events because they’ll give you an excellent opportunity to do what every wine lover should do:  sample widely.  Like these new recommendations.

Prisoner Eternally Silenced Pinot Noir California 2017 ($55)--  The first Pinot from The Prisoner company offers aromas of dark cherry, cranberry and cloves.  Richly textured and round on the palate with a hint of pine.  The distinctive bottle makes for a excellent gift idea.  WW 92

Brumont Petit Torus Madiran 2015 ($13) -- The Madiran area lies in the Gascony region of southwest France, and their signature red grape is Tannat.  This blend also includes a bit of Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc, for added dimension and complexity.  The nose of warm earth and black plum is followed by sensations of subtle blackberry that’s very light on the palate with a subtle finish.  WW 86-87

L’enclos des Braves Gaillac 2016 ($12) -- Located in southwest France not far from Toulouse, Gaillac may be one of France’s oldest viticultural areas.  We’re way off the beaten track here, with this rich red blend being composed of 70% Duras and 30% Braucol, also known as Fer.  Very straightforward notes of red cherry and smoke.  Not very complex but a pleasant alternative to heavier reds.  WW 86

Ferraton Per & Fils Crozes-Hermitage “La Matiniere” 2015 ($26) – It means “early bird,” which is apparently a private joke in the Ferraton family.  Composed of 100% Syrah, it delivers a fully charged palate of red berries and currants, along with smoke, cedar and spice…and maybe a bit of raspberry.  WW 91


Bright Wines for the Season

May Your Holidays Be Sparkling and Bright

As you know, wine journalists constantly receive sample bottles from wineries and their public relations firms, hoping for a favorable writeup.  And every year, just as the holiday season starts, we are deluged with extra-heavy boxes containing extra-heavy bottles of sparkling wine.  That’s because, aside from their traditional role in all our celebrations, they’re excellent choices to accompany holiday cuisine.  The wide range of flavors and textures in Thanksgiving and Christmas feasts pose quite a food pairing challenge, and sparklers can usually solve the puzzle in the most delightful way.  I truly believe that sparkling whites and rosés can complement just about any kind of dish.

The range of choices in sparkling wine can be a bit bewildering.  First, of course, is Champagne, which must come from the legally-designated Champagne region of France.  It’s made by blending up to three varietals (Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Pinot Meuniere) from dozens of vineyards and vintages, adding sugar and yeast to induce secondary fermentation in the bottle so the released carbon dioxide goes into the liquid and makes the bubbles, , disgorging the dead yeast cells, cellaring for years sometimes…it just goes on and on.

Other sparkling wines can be made this way, but must be called something else.  And sparklers can also be made with the charmat method, where the grapes are fermented in airtight tanks.  The CO2 can’t escape, so it goes into the liquid and bubbles happen.  There are several other methods, as well.

Then we have to deal with the levels of sweetness that the labels indicate…and also the composition of the blend.  For example, “brut” is a dry wine made from blending the three grapes mentioned above.  “Blanc de blancs” is made from 100% Chardonnay, “Blanc de noirs” from all Pinot Noir, and rosé from a blend of the white and red wines.

If it says “brut” on the label, it is the driest wine, with the least sugar.  Then in order of increasing sugar content, comes “extra sec,” “sec,” “demi-sec,” and “doux,” which is the sweetest.  I’d recommend the brut to accompany most holiday meals.

Next, consider where the wines are made.  “Cava” is a sparkling wine from Spain.  Prosecco, mainly made in northern Italy, is enjoying tremendous popularity these days.  And if the label says “crémant,” you’re looking at a French wine that’s made only in certain regions of that country.  A bit less effervescent than Champagne, they are an excellent (more budget-priced) alternative. 

But don’t overlook American sparklers.  Fine examples are made in California, some by wineries under French ownership.  Wineries in Oregon and even Vermont and New Mexico are producing first-rate versions that will enhance your holiday repasts. 

So get ready to pop your cork with some of our favorite selections.  Here’s to you!

Moet & Chandon Champagne Grand Vintage 2012 ($75) – My go-to wine for Thanksgiving has always been Champagne.  It goes with every type of food, including the amazing mix of flavors on your holiday dinner plate.  White flowers on the nose, with walnut, peach and pear.  The palate treats you to tangy acidity, bright citrus and grapefruit.  WW 95

Lucien Albrecht Cremant d’Alsace NV ($16) –This attractive sparkling rosé, made in the traditional Champagne method, is 100% Pinot Noir and delivers rich strawberry and cherry flavors with a vein of snappy acidity and a moderately creamy texture.  WW 88

Adami “Garbel” Prosecco Brut Treviso NV  ($16) – A good entry-level introduction to this increasingly popular type of wine made in Northern Italy from the Glera grape.  Very crisp in texture, brimming with flavors of yellow apple, melon, and a bit of pear.  Nicely balanced.  WW 87

Bruno Paillard Champagne Premiere CuveéFrance ($50) – Made from the three traditional Champagne grapes, this cuveéis blended from 25 past vintages and aged on the lees for three years.  This results in a nose of heady citrus from the Chardonnay, and a palate of red fruits like currant and raspberry from the 45% Pinot Noir, plus characteristic notes of toast and almonds.  Very lively.  WW 92

Ask the Wine Whisperer
About those sparklers.  I’ve heard a lot about “’pet-nat” wines lately.  What does that mean? – Rory R., Charlottesville VA

“Pétillant naturel” wines finish in the bottle, just like traditional Champagnes, but without the addition of sugar and yeast for the secondary fermentation.  It’s much more cost-efficient, and produces some excellent wines at more sensible prices.

 

 


Light and Bright for Warm Weather Sipping

SUMMER SIPPERS

Well, it’s that time of year again…when delightfully cool mornings give way to toasty warm and wet weather all the way through October.  That means we have to shift our habits of wine enjoyment a bit, because in general, big heavy reds and mouthfilling whites aren’t all that refreshing when it’s 95 degrees out around the pool.

So this is when we start searching for lighter refreshment and lighter-bodied wines…but still with the complex flavors and aromas that make it all so much fun.  Once in a while, we can head for the bold varietals when we’re cooking up that big dinner…and we definitely grab those bottles of Zinfandel for our Saturday barbecue out on the patio.  But casual times call for bright, exhilarating flavors and textures -- wines that tickle our teeth and please our palates without being weighty or cloying.

Fortunately, we have a lot of choices.  First, of course, are the zippy whites, like Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio, dry Rieslings, and others.  Rosés are becoming more popular by the hour, especially since they can be made in an enormous range of styles from just about any red grape.  And then there are the sparklers, especially Prosecco.  Sales of this bracing white from northern Italy grew over 21% last year, and there’s no end in sight.  Industry professionals believe that the increased popularity is because Prosecco is lighter and sweeter than Champagne, which attracts many consumers.  There are so many sparklers and rosés that offer a pure, satisfying experience.  They have the complexity on the nose and palate that earn them a place on our summer sipper list. 

Masottina Prosecco Treviso Brut NV ($12)
Delicate light yellow color, with very fine sparkle, there are layers of lemon, pear, mandarin oranges, and green apple flavors.  This one goes on the summer sipper list, too.  Quite refreshing.  WW 85

Torresella Prosecco Extra Dry Veneto NV ($17)
Pronounced sleek minerality arises from the glass with a palate of sleek peach and a delightful creamy mouthfeel.  Quite fine, and a good value.  WW 87

Inman Endless Crush Rosé of Pinot Noir Sonoma 2018 ($29)
Pale blush color is a clue to a lighter-bodied rosé which is expected, since it’s made from Pinot Noir.  The nose evokes sensations of bright pink flowers, with flavors of tiny wild strawberries.  Very fresh on the palate and nicely balanced.  WW 88

Alois Lageder Haberle Pinot Bianco Alto Adige 2017 ($20)
Another wine to add to your summer sipper list.  Bright juicy flavors of pear, apple, and peach on a lively frame of acidity.  WW 86

Beckmen Vineyards Grenache Rosé Purisima Mountain Vineyard 2018 ($25)
Pleasing salmon pink in the glass with refined aromas of white strawberry and pink flowers.  A bit sweet, with bright juicy hints of strawberry, watermelon, and tropical fruit.  WW 88

District 7 Chardonnay Monterey 2017 ($18)
Lively pear, oak, and vanilla aromas are up front, followed by harmonious flavors of peach and apricot.  Excellent summer sipper.  WW 89

Dutton Goldfield Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast Redwood Ridge 2015 ($62) – This Pinot is deep and opaque in the glass, unlike most others.  A symphony of Old World aromas rises from the glass:  earth, tobacco, licorice, and leather.  The fruit flavors chime in with cherry, raspberry, and maybe even some black tea.  Not your everyday Pinot Noir.  Give it time to open.  WW 91

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Ask the Wine Whisperer
What is the difference between wines aged in French oak or American oak? – Jena W., Tallahassee

The differences can be quite pronounced, depending on how long the winemaker leaves the liquid in contact with the wood, whether the barrels are new or have been used once or twice, and the barrels’ sizes.  But in general, American oak has a looser grain and imparts richer, more intense flavors.  French oak, being tighter-grained, imparts flavors that are more subtle.  Also, winemakers often age wines in a combination of new and old, French and American oak.  It’s not unusual to see a tasting note that says, “Aged 30% in new American oak.”  The other 60% might be French or American barrels that have been used once or twice.

 

 


A new look at an old favorite

What’s Your Favorite Wine?

I’ve written in the past that people who become passionate about wine (maybe not to the point where they become wine writers and educators, but…) have had an epiphany somewhere along the way.  Someone pours you a glass of something, you taste it, and say, “Holy moley, I never knew anything could taste like that.”  For wife Debi and me, it was a glass of Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough, New Zealand.  I did write an article about this (favorite) varietal about two years ago, but something just happened that gave me a new perspective, and drove me (and you, I hope) back to this delicious wine.

I was introduced to Laura Díaz Muñoz, who just completed her first vintage as winemaker at Ehlers Estate in Napa.  She developed her unique perspective on this varietal during her experience over the last decade, and since just about every winemaker has their own personal signature wine, this one is hers.

 

Laura’s winemaking philosophy is very much Old World, since she was born in Spain and earned a master’s degree in enology and viticulture.  She has experience working in wineries in Spain, New Zealand and eventually the Napa Valley, and brings that sensibility to the way she crafts her Sauvignon Blanc.  “After earning my degree,” she told me, “I worked with Sauvignon Blanc in Spain, then worked several harvests in New Zealand.  But I was very interested in the varietal right from the start of my career.”

 

She says, “Sauvignon Blanc is the most difficult fine wine to make. When I first started as a winemaker it gave me nightmares, because there is no room for error.  It requires perfect farming and is very sensitive to heat and lack of water.”

 

Another critical factor:  the nose.  Laura maintains “I want to get all the aromatics I can from the varietal.  We pick the grapes early to preserve the acidity, then we look for the notes of herbs and yellow flowers.”  She goes on to explain, “In the winery, it can quickly lose its aromatics or develop off flavors.  When made with care, with respect for the varietal and where it’s from, it can be beautifully expressive.”

 

So…here are some thoughts on her unique version, plus several new favorites.

Ehlers Estate Sauvignon Blanc 2017 ($32)
This is a super-dry version of a very popular varietal, with teeth-tickling acidity and rich floral aromas and flavors.  You’ll sense orange and lemon, along with the pineapple notes that are characteristic of this varietal.  The grapefruit and citrus sensations persist on the long finish.  WW 93
Saldo Zinfandel Oakville 2016 ($28)
An explosion of concentrated fruit aromas, mostly cherry and some cigar.  Deep mixed red fruit on the palate with a creamy mouthfeel and long finish.  Mostly Zinfandel, with 15% Petite Sirah and Syrah.  Definitely a solo sipping wine.  WW 88-89

The Kinker Cabernet Sauvignon Paso Robles 2016 ($20)
Hedonistic aromas of smoke and cedar from the 14 months in oak.  Flavors of black cherry and blackberry are nicely balanced by the medium tannin levels.  A touch of Petite Sirah and Grenache makes this a lot of wine for the money.  WW 92

Domaine Lafage Centenaire Grenache Blanc Côtes du Roussillon 2015 ($13)Luscious ripe pear and almond aromas waft from the glass and pay off on the palate with notes of white peach.  Smooth and round mouthfeel.  Terrific value.  WW 91

Ryder Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Central Coast 2016 ($15)
A lot of dimension here, with complex aromas of leather, dark cherry, and smoke.  Medium light tannins support mixed cherry and berry flavors.  Ideal for everyday enjoyment.  WW 86


Let's go, Teroldego

It’s no secret that Americans love Italian wines.  Since we spend so much time in Italian restaurants, and since we love the cuisine, it’s only natural that we usually reach for a bottle of Chianti or something similar to complement our meals.

And it’s also no secret that Chianti and the surrounding regions are the wine regions best known to most of us.  There, and perhaps the Piedmont area where those tasty Barolos and Barberas come from.

Okay, and maybe we’ll be surprised by a bottle of some yummy red like Corvina from the Veneto, the area west and north of Venice.  Well, it’s time to expand our Italian horizons…just a little bit.

First, as I may have mentioned in the past, Italy is the only country in the world where wine is made in every single region.  There are between 17 and 18 regions (depending how you count them) which means that places like Sicily, Apulia, and even Sardinia deserve some attention.  There are discoveries to be made.

A recent revelation is a red wine called Teroldego, which is mainly grown in the Dolomites, the mountains due north of Venice by about 150 miles.  In fact, the region is closer to Austria than to Italy.

Anyway, this is a charming medium-bodied red with soft tannins and flavors of dark berry fruits, like wild cherry, cassis, and blueberry.  In a way it’s a bit like a Shiraz that doesn’t smack you in the face.  It’s softer, rounder, and much more subtle.  One of the new standouts among Teroldego winemakers is Elisabetta Foradori, so look for that name on the label.  It’s a new favorite at our house.

Like most forms of life, grapes can become extinct.  People stop cultivating them and they just sort of go away.  One of those is a red called Piculit Neri, but it’s making a comeback thanks to one single dedicated (obsessed?) winemaker named Emilio Bulfon.  He rediscovered this ancient varietal, and I’m glad he did.  He has also revived other varietals and is actively promoting them.  The wine has flavors of wild berries, with hints of smoke and vanilla.  You might also sense some herbaceous notes.  It’s a bit tannic, which makes it an excellent match for meat dishes and some poultry.

Back to the Teroldego.  Here’s our recommendation, along with some other favorites.

Foradori Teroldego Vignetti Delle Dolomite 2014 ($24)
The deep garnet color in the glass promises richness on the palate with an unmistakably Italian nose of sweet black fruit, red flowers, and hints of earth.  The wine is very round and soft on the palate, with no clinging tannins.  There is warm dark cherry, and a persistent finish that goes on and on.  We bought a case of it.  WW 94

Chateau Montelena Zinfandel Calistoga 2015 ($39) – While this winery is best known for its Chardonnay, the Zin is definitely worth a try.  Very true to type, with smoke, bramble, chocolate and wood notes nicely balanced by bold black fruit flavors.  WW 90

Bruno Paillard Champagne NV $50 – A premiere example of what Champagne is supposed to be.  Drinks above its price point. Fine mousse, with tangy notes of minerals and lemon  We finished the whole bottle.  WW 94

Lucas & Lewellen Hidden Asset Red Blend Santa Barbara 2016 ($29) -- An interesting mélange of Malbec, Merlot, Syrah and a few other varietals, the 16 months of oak aging imparts complex flavors of red and black raspberry, spice, and currant.  Tannins are lush and rounded, for a lingering finish.  WW 92


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