Wednesday, June 29, 2011

2009 Parducci Chardonnay Continues Parducci's Excellence

I like to promote Parducci wines on this blog, they keep sending me samples and those samples keep turning out to be delicious and incredibly affordable. This year I've tasted the 2009 Parducci pinot noir and 2009 Parducci sauvignon blanc. Last year one of the standout QPR-winners that I got to try was the 2007 Parducci petite sirah.

Last week I tasted the 2009 Parducci chardonnay, of which 7,000 cases were made. Not exactly a giant amount, and considering the winery's suggested retail of $10.99, a rare case of a small production winery not charging a lot for their (damn tasty) wine.

The 2009 Parducci spent eight months aging, in 95% stainless steel tank and 5% American oak barrels. Eight separate properties contributed to this vintage's wine, and I was pleased to note that all were certified Fish Friendly Farming, meaning that the vineyards took rigorous steps to ensure that wetlands, creeks, streams, rivers, and aquifiers weren't harmed by the growing operations. Check out the Fish Friendly Farming website for more information, this is something a lot more Napa and Sonoma growers need to get in on.

(img src http://www.parducci.com/product/2009-Parducci-Chardonnay)
Onward to the wine!

The color, as it pouerd into the glass, reminded me of pale straw. This isn't a typical California golden-colored chardonnay. I was reminded of a 2008 Burgundy, in the best of ways. Simply put, the color was lovely to behold.

I never know how to begin the paragraphs where I describe a wine's aroma and palate presence, but I suspect using the simplest, most direct approach will help you out.

The 2009 Parducci chardonnay smelled a lot like ripe red apples and Bartlett pears, along with some very pleasant aromas of lemon zest. The more I swirled, the more I picked up an buttercream note too, something rich, thick, and delicious. I did keep getting subtle flavors of tropical fruit, like fresh cut pineapples in a mango smoothie, but they were fleeting. No oak and no buttered-popcorn flavors that I associate with malolactic fermentation. Score!

My first few sips brought great acidity, lemon juice and pineapple notes. I liked how the acid transitioned into a creamy mouthfeel, the Parducci chardonnay turned smooth and velvety with a hint of fresh flowers. Both the crisp and creamy textures were balanced pretty well, so the wine was one of those I'd describe as "easy drinking". Nothing to fight with, the flavors were all working together in harmony. Winemaker Bob Swain crafted a very good chardonnay here, with a finish that gently fades away.

All in all, I liked the 2009 Parducci chardonnay, from the nice aromatics to the pleasing mouthfeel. I would like to see more depth of flavor, the wine did seem fairly linear but that's a minor gripe considering this costs $11 (less if you search around). I can give this a B and a STRONG BUY recommendation, especially since it's that type of chardonnay so conducive to summertime drinking. No heavy handed oak or malolactic treatment, just a balanced, delicious bottle of wine at a ridiculously good price.

Once again Parducci brings it with great quality at the price point. Let me know if you happen to try this, I always enjoy hearing reader feedback.

This wine was a media sample for review purposes.


Beau Carufel

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Planet Bordeaux and USA Rugby? A Surprisingly Good Match..

It seems that the Bordelaise (people from Bordeaux) happen to lvoe rugby. We Americans have a rugby team, the Eagles. As part of Planet Bordeaux's continuing efforts to educate us Yanks on the great variety of wine from  Bordeaux, they're teaming up with USA Rugby. This press release came into my inbox this morning, I think it's pretty cool and if it gets more people drinking Bordeaux AND watching/following rugby, it'll be a huge success.


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USA RUGBY, PLANET BORDEAUX PARTNER TO BOOST EAGLES’ PATH TO WORLD CUP
BOULDER, Colo. -- It is the shared values of hard work, discipline, team spirit, commitment and conviviality that have propelled Planet Bordeaux and USA Rugby to set out together on a fundraising campaign supporting the Eagles through September 2011. As the Official French Wine Sponsor of the Eagles’ Road to the World Cup, Planet Bordeaux will facilitate various events such as wine tastings and winemaker dinners. Planet Bordeaux will also a have presence at a number of USA Rugby matches, including the 2011 USA v. Canada test match on August 13, 2011.

While supporting USA Rugby, participants will discover the wide variety of high-quality, hand-made, yet affordable white (dry, sweet and sparkling), rosé, and red wines from the regional appellations of Bordeaux, the world’s wine capital.

“Planet Bordeaux and the Eagles are both dedicated to excellence and contributing to the game of rugby beyond the field. The partnership will help to prepare the Eagles for their build up to the world’s largest rugby stage in September,” said USA Rugby CEO and President of Rugby Operations, Nigel Melville.

Sponsorship of the Eagles is a symbol of the international reach of rugby and the wines of Planet Bordeaux. The patronage is a natural extension of the Bordeaux and Bordeaux Supérieur Winemakers’ Association’s ongoing support of the French Federation of Rugby through the “Oscars of Rugby” awards dinners, in partnership with the French rugby magazine, Midi Olympique.

Another Franco-American rugby link is the electric American winger, Takudzwa Ngwenya, who plays professionally for Biarritz Olympique when not assembled with the Eagles. Biarritz is located just south of Bordeaux.

There is also a vibrant rugby community in Bordeaux itself with the extremely popular and highly ranked local team, Union Bordeaux Bègles. In addition, Bordeaux will host an international test match on
August 13, 2011 as 4th ranked Ireland take on hosts France, who are currently ranked 6th in the world.
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All in all, pretty cool. Have you ever been to a rugby match? Would the presence of a trade group like Planet Bordeaux influence you to visit?

Beau Carufel

Monday, June 27, 2011

Tasting Wine From Navarra, Spain.

I recently tasted through ten wines from the Kingdom of Navarra, in Spain. This was another "Live Tasting" using the TasteLive website and hosted by Mike Wangbickler of Balzac and the Wines of Navarra trade group. Frequent readers (all five of you) may recall I've done a few tastings previously with Mike. I think they like me or something, and I ain't complaining!

(img src http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Navarre
Over the past year I've been fortunate enough to taste a nice selection of wines from Navarra, encompassing reds, whites, and rosé's. This coming September I hope to visit Navarra as part of a blogger trip organized  by the Wines of Navarra trade organization. There is a big push right now to introduce these wines to American palates, specifically through wine and food bloggers. While I may be a bit biased (being a wine blogger and all), I think this is a good idea.

Below is the lineup, ten different wines from Navarra encompassing traditional varietals and some slightly more esoteric ones. Here's the list for the Wines of Navarra Twitter Taste Live:

1. 2010 Castillo de Monjardin Fince el Cerezo Chardonnay
2. 2009 Otazu Chardonnay
3. 2010 Gran Feudo Rosado (Garnacha)
4. 2010 Senorio de Sarria Vinedo no. 5 (Rosado)
5. 2010 Senorio de UNX Garnacha
6. 2008 Malon de Echaide Tinto Roble (Garnacha)
7. 2006 Maro Real Crianza (Tempranillo, Cabernet Sauvignon)
8. 2008 Inurrieta SUR (Garnacha, Graciano)
9. 2007 Albret French Oak (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Tempranillo)
10. 2010 Ocoha Moscatel

Out of the above list, I've actually had previous vintages of a couple of wines, notably the 2008 Ochoa Moscatel and 2009 Senorio de Sarria Vinedo no. 5. That Moscatel was sublime while the Senorio de Sarria did leave me wanting more.


Below are the highlights of the tasting for me. I don't think you'll be interested in reading through ten different tasting notes and frankly, some wines were far more worthy than others in this lineup. Seeing the range of quality was interesting to me, as a Californian I get used to the "standard" or baseline quality I get out of even the cheapest (except Charles Shaw) wines from here. That isn't the case in Spain, or even across Europe, as quality can vary and not really correlated to price. So here it is, my top several wines from the Wines of Navarra Twitter Taste Live:

1. 2010 Castillo de Monjardin Finca el Cerezo Chardonnay - Bright straw hued, a nose bursting with granny smith apples and pears, hints of tropical fruit and lemon zest. Off and on during the tasting, I smelled hints of coconut as well. The mouthfeel began as something soft and rich without being too heavy. There was ample pear and apple flavors held back by a nicely framed acid profile which kept the wine clean. I particularly liked the finish, almost Chablis-like in it's mineral driven finesse. Overall, at $12, a very nice bottle of wine. B, BUY recommendation. 13.5% abv.


2. 2010 Gran Feudo Rosado - Made from 100% Garnacha (grenache) grapes from a winery founded way back in 1647, the Gran Feudo rosado is electric pink with a hint of orange. I smelled ripe strawberries and a great mineral note. After letting the wine warm up a bit, I could detect some pleasant herbal aromas as well. When I tasted this rosado I was impressed with the way the acidity and minerality combined to create a bone dry wine with just a fleeting hit of ripe strawberries and raspberries. I think the group tasting was mixed in their reactions, some didn't like the strong acid and mineral profile, but I sure did. B, STRONG BUY recommendation. 13% abv.



3. 2010 Senorio de Sarria Vinedo no. 5 - Also made from 100% Garnacha (grenache) with an average age of 50 years, this was a stylistically different rosé than the Gran Feudo. The color is similar, vibrant pink with hints of orange. The differences were apparent right away, with the Senorio de Sarria smelling of wild roses, strawberries, and melon. A seam of orange zest wound its way through the aroma, adding a delightful facet. This was a heartier, richer smelling wine. If I had to draw one similarity with the Gran Feudo, the Vinedo no. 5 did have a bit of minerality present, but it was much riper and more fruit driven, balancing that ripeness with a touch of acid that kept this rosé in the "dry" category. At $16 it is a good deal and a quality wine. B-, BUY recommendation. 14% abv.

4. 2010 Senorio de UNX - Another grenache here, but a red one versus a rosé. Very red in my glass, this was perhaps the brightest wine of the tasting.For those of you who enjoy fruit-forward red wines, this will make you happy! The nose is all raspberry reduction and blackberry preserves over a hint of green herbs. The UNX makes no bones about it's ripeness, on the palate though there is some refreshing gravelly minerals and more of that green stem to restrain the big fruits. The finish got a bit hot for me, despite the wine being only 13.5% abv, but other than that it's a solid wine for only $8. B-, STRONG BUY recommendation.

5. 2006 Marco Real Crianza - A blend of 60% tempranillo and 40% cabernet sauvignon, this is some purple juice! My first whiffs brought back memories of cutting Christmas trees in a muddy field, the pine and wet earth mingling together. I also got some great herbal notes, black olives, and very dark fruit. Think blackberry and black cherry melded together in one of those industrial presses like they used to kill the first Terminator. The mouthfeel was thick, chewy and massive. I could taste the Marco Real all over my mouth. Loads of tannin, bittersweet chocolate, cassis, and leather all came to the wet-earth-sandbox. I liked this wine a lot but boy does it need some time in a decanter, or another five years in the bottle. B+, STRONG BUY recommendation, especially at $15 a bottle. 14.5% abv.

6. 2010 Ochoa Moscatel - The final wine of the evening, a delicious dessert wine. After tasting the 2008 Ochoa Moscatel, I had high hopes for this one. When I poured it into my glass I noted a gorgeous light honey color, almost romantic in it's lightness. Right away I could smell the aromas of peaches and pears in syrup, this got my mouth watering! I could also get a bit of apricots dancing their way through the peach and pear. Ochoa has been around since 1845, it's modern incarnation since 1985 when Javier Ochoa took it over. These days his daughter Adriana crafts the wines and is doing a marvelous job. I tasted more of the peaches and pears, mango, and enough acidity to prevent things from getting cloying and gross. I think the only knock was the finish which seemed to fall apart too quickly. That being said, the 2010 Ochoa Moscatel will only get better with a few more years in the bottle. It's $20 for a 375ml, about right for a dessert wine. B+, STRONG BUY recommendation.

I had a great time (again) tasting through this lineup of wines from Navarra, as a wine geek chances like this are of immense value because they help me get to know that area's wines better. I think Navarra is definitely an up and coming wine region, the wines are fairly priced and well made with an eye towards drinkability. I'm not too sure if there are higher end bottlings from these producers but it would be interesting to taste them and compare to high end Napa cabernet, Bordeaux, and Rioja wines. Granted, that's a bit out of my pocketbook's range.

Big thanks to Catherine Seda and Mike Wangbickler at Balzac Communications for putting this together. Catherine is the go-to for your Wines of Navarra questions, as well as being an all around great gal. Check out the Wines of Navarra links I've scattered through this blog to learn more as well as find some of these delicious wines.

These wines were media samples for review purposes.


Beau Carufel

Friday, June 24, 2011

Sauvignon Blanc Day with 2010 Stoneleigh Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc

Apparently today is "Sauvignon Blanc Day", though if it is, the buzz hasn't been nearly as potent as last September's Cabernet Day or the Chardonnay Day of a few months ago. Hell, it hasn't been as talked about as "Merlot Day", when I got to taste and tweet about an awesome merlot from Cana's Feast. The premise behind these "_____ Day" events is to taste and talk about the featured varietal by using social media. On Twitter, users will add the "#SauvBlanc" or "SauvignonBlanc" hashtag to their tweets. This makes it easy to search for the tweeps (Twitter users) who are participating.

That didn't stop me from trying to participate, though my tasting notes and general writing style might be a bit lacking. The past two nights have seen me do overnight shifts at work, where I go in at 8pm and leave sometime between 4am and 5am. Maybe I need to start looking for other jobs! Anyone?

I opened a bottle of 2010 Stoneleigh Marlborough sauvignon blanc this afternoon while in the midst of a sleep deprived daze. This was a sample and I have been meaning to taste it for a few weeks now, "Sauvignon Blanc Day" gave me a perfect excuse. But really, do I ever need an excuse to open wine? Of course not!


The Stoneleigh comes in at 13.0% alcohol, a normal amount for New Zealand and other New World sauvignon blancs but higher than Bordeaux or Loire sauvignon blancs.

Right away the 2010 Stoneleigh smells a lot like other examples from New Zealand. The strongest scent was a grassy, herbal note. Underneath that were hints of stone fruit and a tropical aroma reminiscent of freshly sliced passion fruit. While the herbs dominate, those sweeter fruit flavors help buttress the bouquet, preventing it from descending into the hell that is overly acidic sauvignon blanc aromas.

Remember in the previous paragraph when I likened overly acidic sauvigon blanch to hell? If you like riper, more fruit oriented sauvignon blancs like St. Supery, or the JAQK "Charmed" bottling, stop reading. The 2010 Stoneleigh sauvignon blanc is an acid monster, bone dry in a there-goes-my-tooth-enamel-wait-what's-that-pain kind of way. If you successfully navigate past the acidity you're rewarded with beautifully balanced herb and tropical fruit notes with even a touch of minerality. Actually quite good, but the acidity kicks around so much that my palate, at least, felt like it needed to take a break and have some Gatorade.

I actually enjoyed this wine a lot, it's more acidic than something like a Parducci sauvignon blanc but that's what I expect out of New Zealand. Whenever I taste an acid monster, I'm reminded that sauvignon blanc does love to be paired with food, and this is a great sushi wine, or something with pasta. That acidity cuts right through rich sauces and cheese. My pairing was macaroni and cheese, one of my favorite comfort foods ever, and the wine's acidity cut through the rich cheesy goodness, keeping the meal harmoniously balanced.

For about $17 (found on wine.com), you get a top-notch New Zealand sauvignon blanc, kudos go to Stoneleigh for making a tasty wine in a tough year. B+. BUY recommendation.

This wine was a media sample for review purposes.

Beau Carufel

Thursday, June 23, 2011

A New Series of Wines From Don Sebastiani & Sons: Project Paso

Raise your hand if you know of Sebastiani winery and wines? Good, now raise your hand if you know that the winery and vineyards are no longer owned by Don Sebastiani...While he no longer makes wines under his own family name, you just can't keep Don Sebastiani from the wine business. He and his sons, Donny and August, are now running Don Sebastiani & Sons, based in Sonoma. Among their many projects as négociants are "The Crusher" and this blog's subject, Project Paso. As you probably guessed, the Project Paso wines are all made with Paso Robles grapes.

The following wines are designed to appeal to people who want inexpensive, high quality reds and whites from Paso Robles. Specifically, Project Paso aims to get Millennials drinking wine from that region by showcasing something beyond just fermented grape juice. While the Sebastiani's role is that of négociant, for Project Paso they partnered with Sam Balakian, a famous winemaker in the area who has extensive experience blending wines for the Sebastianis, especially their California series wines back when they owned Sebastiani winery. These wines highlight the 30+ year relationship between Sam and the Sebastianis.

(img src http://www.donandsons.com/ourwine)

Project Paso 2009 Red Blend: A blend of seemingly a gazillion varietals..but in reality there are eight. 37% Grenache, 16% zinfandel, 14% petite sirah, 11% mourvedre, 9% barbera, 8% lagrein, 3% tempranillo, and 2% sangiovese. It's pouring as a nice dark garnet color, almost zinfandel-like. That should come as no surprise though because there is 16 % zinfandel in here. The bouquet is nice, loaded with a variety of ripe fruit elements. Some of the more prominent were cherry and strawberry. I also got some cola and a hint of earth. While not particularly exciting, the Project Paso does smell quite tasty.

When tasting a blend like this, with so many grapes in it, I often anticipate a highly complex wine as each varietal vies for attention. In the '09 Project Paso, you don't get a hugely complex wine as much as you get a well balanced red. Nice ripe fruit elements, good acidity and tannins keeping them in check, and a hint of oak. Solid at the $14 suggested retail price, one I'd gladly share with my buddies during a round of burgers or pizza. The fact that it can be found for less than $14 (closer to $10) makes it a huge step up from the "Menage a Trois" type wines that can be so unimpressive. B-, BUY recommendation.

(img src http://www.donandsons.com/ourwine)

Project Paso 2009 Chardonnay: To me this is a chardonnay for those of you who love the "traditional" California style. Winemaker Greg Kitchens aged this sur lee for eight months on a mix of American and French oak. I could smell some ripe apple notes with a hint of apricot. The telltale sign of oak, a warm vanilla aroma, was present also. I think this wine sees at least partial malolactic fermentation too, I picked up the scent of buttery movie theater popcorn.

Right away I tasted more of the buttery oak that I'd smelled. Beyond that was some bitter acidity that didn't seem too pleasant to my palate. I did get notes of apple and a lemon juice component on the mid palate. As I searched, some tropical fruit like pineapple mixed with passion fruit, reminiscent of a can of Kern's Nectar showed up. The alcohol spiked on the back end yet it's "only" 13.9%. Definitely goes against my tastes and isn't my style, but at $14 SRP, you might like the lusher, richer California-style chardonnay. B-.

(img src http://www.donandsons.com/ourwine/)

Project Paso 2009 Zinfandel: Blended from three zinfandel vineyards around Paso Robles, this was almost exactly what I expected it to be. When you see the "Old Vine" designator on a bottle of wine, remember that it's generally accepted that the vines are 30+ years old. Old grapevines produce slightly different flavors than a young (10 year old) vine and a lot of people love this style especially in zinfandel and grenache. I loved the color, and elegant light-hued purple. There's 93% zinfandel and 7% lagrein in the 2009 Old Vine zinfandel, and I don't know why the winemaker chose or needed to add it in. My best guess is to add color and/or tannin to the wine.

An aromatic beast with red berry fruit, crushed white pepper, bubblegum and dark chocolate all coming out of the glass at me. The alcohol is 14.4%, not at all unreasonable in a zinfandel but it does show itself as a heaviness on the bouquet. That ripeness carries through to the taste too, lots of cherry preserves and white pepper with some very light tannins providing structure. Yes, the wine is rustic but that is part of the intent here, and it does work. I did get a bit of alcoholic burn on the finish, somewhat distracting but it would be covered up had I paired the wine with a buffalo burger or peppercorn steak. At $14 it's tough to justify buying a bottle because other wines like the Bogle Old Vine ($12) and Dry Creek Vineyards ($13) deliver beyond this one, but I've heard rumors of the Project Paso Old Vine zinfandel being on the shelf for as little as $10. B, at $10 it's a good bottle of wine.

(img src http://www.donandsons.com/ourwine)
 2009 Project Paso Cabernet Sauvignon: The last of the Project Paso wines I tasted, this is a bit of a "frankenwine" because it's got the following grapes in it: 89% cabernet sauvignon, 5% petite sirah, 2% alicante bouchet, 2% grenache, 2% merlot. Yikes! The alcohol is only 13.6% so I suppose I can forgive Greg Kitchens for using the kitchen sink in this red wine. Despite the legality of saying this is cabernet sauvignon, I have a hard time considering it as that.

Right away I smell the 2% grenache, something I didn't think possible. Ripe raspberry and blackberry rushes up at me. I also got leather, sawdust, red currant, and a smokey campfire-esque aroma. Very, very interesting and I attributed this complexity to all the varietals in play.

My friend Dan was with me and said he really hit on the raspberry and oak flavors. I liked the leather, plum, blackberry and dusty flavors, a real melange of stuff. There was some nice firm tannins, giving the wine a really good weight on my palate. Both Dan and I liked the finish, it lingered nicely without overreaching and tapered off with surprising elegance. My ideal pairing: A Philly cheesesteak sandwich with potato salad. B. BUY recommendation. Sure it's got a lot of grapes making up for perhaps less-than-ideal cabernet, but it's fun and at $14 suggested retail, won't break the bank.

Instead of corks, the Project Paso line uses a closure called a "Zork", which has been available for years yet still isn't widely used compared to cork or screwcap. For some, the Zork closure is a nice middle ground, being more convenient and reliable than a cork yet classier than a screwcap. I like it, and I hope more wineries use Zork closures. It's neat and does really balance the line between traditional cork and new-age screwcap.

This is my second blog post about Don Sebastiani & Sons wine brands, and while both of the brands I've tasted are good,I have to go with The Crusher as being better wine. There's nothing wrong with any of the Project Paso wines, they're quite easy to drink and deliver at their price points. Unfortunately, they're a tad generic too, where the wines of The Crusher are great expressions of place. Still, the quality is consistent through all the Don and Sons wines, no doubt about it. I predict both lineups I tasted will be very successful.

The Project Paso wines were media samples for review purposes.


Beau Carufel

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

2010 Santa Carolina Reserva Pinot Noir

Continuing through my exploration of the Santa Carolina wines I was sent, this post explores their 2010 pinot noir from the Maule Valley. Previously I've sampled the Reserva bottling of their carmenere and the Reserva de Familia cabernet sauvignon.

img src http://microliquor.com/

I love the color of the 2010 pinot, it's this lovely shade of purple that you can see right through. To me the color conveys a sense of balanced intensity with a delicate nature. Very, very appealing to at least one of my senses, so naturally I couldn't want to see how this Santa Carolina did with the others.

The aromas coming out of the glass are beautiful, loads of ripe red berries with a streak of green herbs running through them. Some noticeable earthy notes that surprised me, not what I expect from Chile. Dried violet petals and a hint of warm oak round out a complex but restrained nose. If the wine tastes half as good as it smells, I'll consider it a winner.

After tasting through the 2010 Santa Carolina, I think it's a riper style than say something from France. I tasted some good, linear flavors of earth and bramble. Mixing in with that was a nice black fruit flavor, like black raspberries and plums. I thought I could even pick up the oak too, but it wasn't distracting at all. There's definitely some weight on the palate from the 14.5% alcohol level, I figured it could be about 1% less and the wine would still be delicious, just going in a slightly different direction. While some Chilean wines I've tasted can go the distance with age, the 2010 pinot is ready to go now and for the next year or two.

Robert Parker gave this one an 88 points and I'm inclined to agree, it's a B+ and a BUY recommendation. You can find it distributed in almost every state, I'd contact Carolina Wine Brands and ask them who sells it in your area. For a suggested retail of about $10, it beats many California pinots but doesn't quite stand up to something like the 2009 Parducci pinot noir. However, if you do prefer your pinot noir in a riper, rounder style, this is for you. Give it a shot.

This wine was received as a media sample for review purposes.

Beau Carufel

Saturday, June 18, 2011

New York Riesling From the Finger Lakes, Wow!

Have you ever had wine from New York state? My experience is very limited (unfortunately), occasionally tasting a wine here or there through my near-decade in the wine business. With the advent of Twitter I've been able to connect with proponents of New York wine, which has helped my education on the area grow. Last month there was a live virtual-tasting of New York state rieslings, where bloggers around the country were sent samples to taste and tweet about. I wasn't able to participate because I was in Oregon but the Finger Lakes organizers of that tasting graciously sent me samples to taste through on my own time.

There are two well known regions within New York that produce wine, the Finger Lakes and Long Island AVA's. Of course there are other areas all throughout the state producing some truly excellent wines, but for now let's start small and work our way through the Finger Lakes rieslings I was sent.

img src http://www.newyorkvisitorsnetwork.com/winecountry/
These would be the Finger Lakes, shaped like hot dogs or rustic sausages, if you're a New Yorker, fingers. To get there you can fly, take the train, or even drive. If you have the time I highly recommend the drive or train ride because you get to travel through some truly spectacular parts

Why the Finger Lakes? In short, Dr. Konstanin Frank discovered that they had the right mix of temperature, soil, rainfall and geography to produce world class wines. That is, if the area was planted with the right grape varieties. As the saying goes: "Location, location, location!". This was back in the 1950's and 60's, since then the area has flourished with new plantings and now hosts over 100 wineries. It is notable that Dr. Frank needed years to convince people in the region that he had a point. Thank goodness he was persistent!




The kind people in Finger Lakes Wine Country sent me four different rieslings to try, the same four in the virtual tasting. I'll also note the Finger Lakes Wine Alliance, another group doing a lot to promote and educate. In the realm of social media, I like what the Finger Lakes trade groups are doing to get their message out there. By engaging on Twitter and Facebook and actively hosting the "Taste Live" events, they're directly reaching out to bloggers who otherwise might not get the chance to experience wines from the state.

2009 Lakewood Vineyards Seneca Lake Riesling - First up during my flight of rieslings, I loved the way this had a light golden color with just a hint of green hue in my glass. The nose was wonderful, with pear, a hint of mineras (think freshly washed granite) and an alluring perfume note. Just the way I expect a young riesling to smell, and in a way reassuring, given my lack of experience with Finger Lakes examples. The mouthfeel was great, lots of bright acidity up front and a sweet peach note right after that. Something like wet river stones mixed with petrol was present too, enhancing the complexity. Balancing sweet and dry flavors can be tricky but the Lakewood riesling pulled if off very well. At all of $12.99 a bottle, this wine is simply wonderful and I wish it was distributed nationally. B, or 86 points.

2009 Red Newt "Circle" Riesling Medium Sweet - I wrote "Smells like peaches and pears in syrup" and that's what sticks with me as I type out these notes. There was a hint of a summer flower bouquet too, sweet nectar I'd call that it. Out of the four rieslings, I think the Red Newt had the lowest acidity and thereby perhaps the sweetest, creamiest mouthfeel. I loved the stone fruit and tangerine blossom right through the mid palate as well as a gorgeous wash of golden apple on the long, lingering finish. This is wonderful wine, incredibly easy to drink and only 11.7% alcohol. Easily a B, 85 points and a steal at only $11.99. Wine Spectator rated the 2009 Red Newt an 86 points in December 2010.

2009 Dr. Konstantin Frank Dry Riesling Finger Lakes - What a beautiful golden-straw hue! Out of the four, this had the nicest color in my glass. The aromatics were interesting, a mix of petrol and river rock with a dollop of citrus, like lemon zest. A couple of whiffs also brought aromas of flowers again, similar to the Lakewood riesling. The '09 Dr. Frank was also the most nuanced wine of the tasting, each flavor felt as if it were teased out of the wine with a deft touch. Hints of candied fruit, a streak of minerality and soft, elegant acid created a wonderful mouthfeel. I was particularly impressed with the balance between the crisp acid and residual sugar. Well executed! B+, 88 points. Also at 11.7% alcohol by volume. $14.99.

2009 Glenora Wine Cellars Seneca Lake Riesling - The lightest color of the night, a truly pale straw, reminiscent of some pinot grigios I've had. The nose was a different story though, with beautiful notes of nectarine, peach, and flowers. Another scent I found attractive was the gravelly aromas that came out after vigorous swirling. Though I looked like a wine uber-geek, swirling does allow us to find more aromas we might otherwise miss. Well balanced wine makes me smile, the '09 Glenora Cellars riesling is no exception. There's a bright, happy acid structure that fleshes out with some residual sugar that comes across as ripe tangerine and white peach. I thought this was the sweetest wine of the bunch but also so very pleasant and quaffable. Another B+, 87 points from me. I later found out that Wine Spectator gave this an 86 and "Pick of the Day" on September 14 of last year. 11.0% alcohol and only $15.99.


Each wine was very, very good and if this is what New York's Finger Lakes region is producing, we all need to drink more wine from there! Each wine was of impeccable quality and showed a wide range of flavor profiles all originating from a single grape. They were expressive of both terroir and their respective winemaker's philosophies. I could envision multiple pairings with each wine, ranging from citrus and white fish to a cheese platter, or fresh fruit salad. Even heavier foods like spicy Thai or Indian cuisine would be great with these rieslings. A true testament to the versatility of the grape and why it's so popular with sommeliers.

I know from experience that a lot of people still think of rieslings as sweet, overly sugary, headache inducing wine that's best avoided. I implore you to accept that riesling isn't always sweet and often retains a lot of natural acidity, keeping it light and non-headache-inducing! That same balance of sweet and dry helps riesling pair well with many different foods, and a smart wine drinker will always have a couple of bottles in their cellar.

Here are some links to learn more about New York wines and specifically, Finger Lakes riesling:
1. Finger Lakes Wine Country
2. Finger Lakes Wine Alliance
3. New YOrk Cork Report

Friday, June 17, 2011

The Wine Shield, Does it Work?

Wine bloggers are generally suckers for wine gadgets. My wine blogger friends and I enjoy testing out new aerators, decanters, preservers and whatever else is thrown our way. I have written about a gas preservation system, the WineSave, and found it to be a very effective if somewhat expensive method to keep your wines fresh for a while.

Last month I was offered a chance to try the Wine Shield wine preservation system. Unlike gas or vacuum pumps, the Wine Shield  slides inside the bottle and creates a layer between the air and the wine, thereby preserving the wine. On the Wine Shield website it's claimed that system can preserve the wine for up to five days. For reference, most of the time a red wine will run out of flavor and turn into crap after as little as three days.



Thanks to the magic of Twitter I was put in touch with Ben Rodrigues, who handles Wine Shield in the United States. He sent me a little sampler pack consisting of the inserter, three BPA-free plastic discs (the actual Wine Shield), and the instruction manual. On the Wine Shield website, there is a video tutorial to show how to use the system. While the guy on camera makes it look easy, I had trouble with the first disc detaching from the gray plastic tongs and falling on top of the wine. I chalked it up more to my inability than any flaw with the actual product.

Luckily it's easy to use the Wine Shield so the second and third discs were relatively easy to insert into their respective bottles. You're probably asking "Beau, did it work or not?". The answer is yes, the Wine Shield does preserve your wine for longer than a few days. I tested it with a couple of wines, one white and one red and randomly taste-tested each wine over the course of five days. By the fifth day the wines were noticeably tired yet compared to my control bottle, they were just fine to drink. Now the kicker here is that during the five day trial, I also was using my can of WineSave to preserve other bottles, and that did a better job in my opinion. Then again, the WineSave is $40 a can (yes it lasts 50+ uses), and the Wine Shield costs about $10 for a 10-pack of shields and the applicator.

It's a toss up, honestly. I really liked the gadgetry of the Wine Shield and it works very well at continuing to preserve the wine as you drink through a bottle. Contrast that to a gas system where you must reapply the gas after each pour and it's obvious which one is more convenient. In conclusion, I recommend the Wine Shield. At about $1 a bottle (the cost of each disc is about $1), you can preserve about 40 glasses of wine that otherwise might start to go south. Buy the Wine Shield here, and you can even get free shipping.

This product was a media sample for review and evaluation purposes.

Beau Carufel

Raise A Glass To Robert Mondavi!

Today would have been (and still is) the late, great Robert Mondavi's birthday. He's the most famous California wine personality around and his eponymous winery (including his still-awesome wife Margrit) will be raising a toast to the man at 2:00pm today.

I never met the him personally, but I've driven by the iconic winery many times during my trips up to Napa Valley, and devoured a biography of him a couple of years ago. My dad actually met Mr. Mondavi in the late 80's when he was working at Sherry-Lehman in New York. From what I understand, "Bob" came to town to do a trade tasting and was pouring his wines. What an experience that must have been!

Anyways, it's been a while since I tasted any Mondavi wines but they're certainly continuing to garner attention from wine critics and fans around the country. Perhaps more importantly, the man's legacy continues to define and shape Napa Valley, and indeed California, if not the world's wine culture. It is only fitting that we raise a glass to him today and honor someone who did so much for all of us wine drinkers, wine geeks, wine aficianodos, and wine lovers.

img via http://www.facebook.com/robertmondavi
 
Below is the press release I received:

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GLOBAL TOAST TO ROBERT MONDAVI’S BIRTHDAY SLATED FOR JUNE 17
AT ROBERT MONDAVI WINERY IN NAPA VALLEY
Winery event and global toast to be attended by well-wishers world-wide via the Internet

WHAT:  Together with the entire staff of the Robert Mondavi Winery, Margrit Mondavi and Genevieve Janssens, director of winemaking, will celebrate Robert Mondavi’s birthday on Friday, June 17, 2011, with a special open house and global toast at the winery in Napa Valley, which is open to the public. The occasion honors the vast contribution the late vintner made to the California wine industry. At 2 pm, the winery will join together for a global toast to Mr. Mondavi, streamed world-wide on the winery’s Facebook page via livestreamAll visitors to the winery on June 17 will receive a complimentary glass of Robert Mondavi Winery 2009 Napa Valley Fumé Blanc. There will be live music from 12:00-5:00pm.
WHO: Margrit Mondavi and Director of Winemaking Genevieve Janssens, with winery staff, friends, and colleagues.
WHERE: Robert Mondavi Winery, located on the west side of Highway 29, just north of Oakville Cross Road in the heart of Napa Valley. And worldwide via the internet on their Facebook fan page.
WHEN:            June 17, 2011 at 2:00pm.
WHY:              Robert Mondavi’s pioneering vision placed California wines among the finest in the world and made them an integral part of a gracious lifestyle. On June 17 friends and fans from around the globe will gather to celebrate his passion and vision by raising a glass and sharing the stories that created his legacy.  (Although the toast and celebration is on June 17, Robert Mondavi’s birthday is on June 18.) In honor of Robert Mondavi, with every new “LIKE” received on The Robert Mondavi Winery Facebook page during June 13th -17th, Robert Mondavi Winery will donate $1 (up to $10,000) to Days of Taste, a non-profit organization dedicated to educating children about the food we eat. Days of Taste is the community action group of the American Institute of Wine & Food, which was founded by Julia Child and Robert Mondavi.
VISUALS:       At 2 p.m. Margrit Mondavi, winery staff and friends will gather together to toast Mr. Mondavi, honoring his enduring and inspiring legacy. Margit Mondavi and Genevieve Janssens will each share some personal reflections of Robert Mondavi during the toast. The toast will be streamed live worldwide on the winery’s Facebook page via livestream. 
                        WEBSITE: http://www.facebook.com/robertmondavi

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Cheers!

Beau Carufel

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Don Sebastiani's Latest Project: The Crusher!

After selling the Sebastiani winery, Don Sebastiani couldn't stay out of the wine business so he started a négociant firm with his sons Donny and August. In 2001 they decided to start a company that produces inexpensive but accessible red and white wines from areas all over California. The company likes to highlight relationships it has with growers and winemakers, in an effort to personalize the respective lines they produce. From a marketing standpoint this is a great idea for a brand aimed at Millennials, who have shown a desire to be more connected with the wines they're drinking.

What, you might ask, is a négociant? Their role is huge in France, specifically places like Burgundy and the Rhone, where they take the grapes and/or wines from numerous smaller growers and winemakers, then bottle and sell it under their own label. The négociant model isn't seen much here in the United States but perhaps our most famous person would be Cameron Hughes. If you've ever had Louis Jadot, Joseph Drouhin, or Jaboulet wines from France, you've had négociant wine.

Don Sebastiani started Don Sebastiani & Sons to produce négociant wines here in California, among their projects are The Crusher and Project Paso. You may already know the Smoking Loon and Pepperwood Grove brands, also produced by the Sebastiani company. I recently participated in a Twitter Taste Live event for The Crusher wines and am tasting my way through his Project Paso selections too. Each brand is slotted at a different price point, The Crusher being priced at a suggested retail of $18. I'm not sure how firm that price is though, because often a "suggested retail" is not what you pay at your local supermarket or wine store.


With that in mind, here are The Crusher wines from Don Sebastiani and Sons:


2009 The Crusher Chardonnay - If you like California chardonnay, this one is for you. Think Sonoma-Cutrer, Gary Farrell, and Robert Mondavi examples. Creamy, buttery oak with hints of tropical fruit and red apple lending a touch of acidity. The 2009 Crusher sees 65% malolactic fermentation and 80% new French oak barrels, lending that rich, almost voluptuous mouthfeel so many people love. At 13.5% alcohol, I only felt the increased weight on my palate and didn't detect any burn on the finish. The consensus in the tasting was that this is a very accessible, crowd pleasing style. My only concern is the $18 suggested retail, which is too high for what you get. That being said, this chardonnay is more readily available for around $14, placing it squarely in the right category. B-.


2010 The Crusher Pinot Noir Rosé - Made with 97.5% pinot noir and 2.5% viognier, this was a highlight of the tasting for me. In addition to the gorgeous pink color, the viognier added wonderful white flower and peach aromas to the lip-smacking summer berry notes I picked up. All the fruit here is from the Clarksburg area, soon to be it's own AVA. I liked the balance between acidity and the residual sugar, so this isn't a "fully dry" rosé, rather it's got a touch of fruity sweetness that adds a bit of body. I think almost everyone in the tasting liked the ruby grapefruit, melon, strawberry, and swish of cranberry we tasted. At $18, it bests many rosé's in that category, but the real-world price of closer to $13 makes this an incredible deal. B+ and STRONG BUY.


2009 The Crusher Pinot Noir - A true, single varietal pinot noir for a change, with all fruit sourced from the Wilson Vineyard in Clarksburg. Although a touch high on the alcohol at 13.9%, it's almost undetecable. I smelled baking spice, black cherry and a hitn of toasted oak. What struck me as most interesting wast he way the spice and oak aromas framed the cherry, I may have swirled and smelled this wine longer than anyone else during the tasting. Really good acidity lightened the wine's mouthfeel, spice and sweet cherry lent interesting textural components and the dusty earth mixed with campfire reminded me that this is pinot noir, after all. Winemaker Greg Kitchens did a nice job balancing ripe fruit with the restraining acidity. Just wish that alcohol was closer to 13.3-13.5%. B, BUY recommendation. At around $20, this is solid wine and an honest purchase but when you shop around and find it for $13, it becomes a great bottle to crack open with your friends.


2009 The Crusher Petite Sirah - The best wine of the night for me, and the recent winner of a Double Gold/Best in Class award from the California State Fair Wine Competition. For once those giant competitions get something right! There's 97% petite sirah and 3% alicante bouchet in here, but what that alicante does is lost on me. My palate just isn't sensitive enough I suppose. What the '09 The Crusher petite sirah does though is to wow my palate. It's big, dark chocolate notes, earth and berries and smoke on the nose. I even got some fascinating aromas of candied orange peel and mixed berry pie, this was the most complex nose of the entire lineup. I think everyone or almost everyone absolutely loved this petite sirah for it's silky smooth tannin, ripe berry flavors and the awesome hit of savory beef jerky that carried through to the finish. Across the country this is between $10 and $14 a bottle. What are you waiting for? A-, STRONG BUY recommendation from yours truly.


2009 The Crusher Cabernet Sauvignon - Surprisingly, a 100% cabernet sauvignon, cabernet sauvignon. It seems like most cabernets these days have small bits of merlot, cabernet franc, even syrah or zinfandel in them. I think that in this 2009 The Crusher cabernet, Greg Kitchens was going for a more restrained style, to showcase the Clarksburg AVA. The result is a cabernet with earth and herb notes framing black currants on the nose, what I termed "very nice, straightforward bouquet" in my notes. I enjoyed the initial mouthfeel with ripe black fruit but then things went a bit awry. The tannins haven't integrated yet and create a chunky, somewhat disjointed mouthfeel which carries over into an uninspiring finish. I prefer terroir-driven cabernets but with that comes the expectation of an elegant, integrated structure. I did however enjoy the earthy flavors that carried through, they kept the finish from being a complete disaster. Since this is an '09, I have a hunch that in the next few years it'll get a lot better and is just going through a "dumb" phase right now. At it's suggested retail, a definite PASS right now because you can buy a bottle of 2007 Franciscan cabernet for $17 that blows most sub-$20 cabernets out of the water. At $12 like I've seen the Crusher go for on wine-searcher.com, it's something to buy and hold because it's got potential. C+, at this point.

Don Sebastiani & Sons is making some good wines, that much is clear. They're leveraging contacts within the industry to source high quality grapes and using talented winemakers while keeping the prices low. I've been tasting through another series, their Project Paso lineup and hope to have that up for you next week. It'll come in at a lower suggested retail, $14, and so far has been fairly good. With two more wines to taste, I'm hoping they really knock the proverbial ball out of the park.

Another fun tasting hosted by Mike Wangbickler of Balzac, I love how they're reaching out to bloggers all over the country to spread the word about these wines. Coming up soon is a tasting of wines from Navarra, Spain, also hosted by Balzac. I can't wait for that one so stay tuned!

The wines listed here were media samples for review purposes.

Beau Carufel

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Parducci's 2009 Sauvignon Blanc from Mendocino County

I've had mixed luck with Parducci wines in the past, from a very disappointing 2007 cabernet sauvignon to the stunningly affordable and incredibly good 2009 pinot noir I tasted earlier this year. Since the weather has been steadily warming up here in San Diego, I've been opening more white wines to taste and share with you. In this blog entry I'm checking out their 2009 Mendocino County sauvignon blanc.

Priced at $11, it's made entirely with grapes grown in Mendocino by the Hildreth family. They've been doing this for five generations so they know what the Ukiah Valley is capable of. While Parducci wines are widely available at supermarkets and places like Beverages & More, there are only 2,000 cases of this sauv. blanc to go around.



Lovely aromas of fresh cut flowers and lemongrass with a burst of ripe pineapple create a very pleasing bouquet. Sweetness comes from a summer melon aroma, comparable to a freshly sliced honeydew. Comparing the 2009 Parducci Sauvignon Blanc to others, it's actually a bit darker in my glass despite being fermented entirely in stainless steel tanks.

The mouthfeel is pure California with the wine being at once rich yet balanced with nice crisp acidity. I loved the way I could taste a progression of flavors ranging from lemon pith to that great pineapple flavor that I smelled before. There's a nice yin/yang of ripeness and zesty acid to make this a great pairing for chicken salad, summer veggies, or just as a great sipper on your deck during a warm summer day.

While not as light or dry as a New Zealand sauvignon blanc, the Parducci shows that California does produce affordable, delicious, and most importantly, balanced versions from the varietal. I'm really digging this wine, and I'd like to try it sometime with a seared ahi tuna salad. B and a STRONG BUY recommendation from me. At around $11 a bottle, it's one of the better sauvignon blancs I've tasted in this price category. If you're looking for a reliable summertime deck wine or are having people over that like dry whites, try the 2009 Parducci Mendocino County sauvignon blanc.

This wine was sent as a media sample for review purposes by Boss Dog Marketing.


Beau Carufel

Sunday, June 12, 2011

A Beautiful Riesling: 2009 Mt. Beautiful Riesling Cheviot Hills

As I blogged about previously in the 2009 Mt. Beautiful sauvignon blanc review, New Zealand is well known (and justifiably so) as a producer of that varietal. 20 years ago, the first wines from the land of the Kiwi (and Flight of the Conchords) to make it to our shores were sauvignon blancs, offering a diametrically opposing flavor profile to California's examples.

The New Zealand rieslings are beginning to garner attention though, and I tried the 2009 Mt. Beautiful Cheviot Hills riesling on Memorial Day while I ate chips and hummus at my brother's place. We did barbecue later, but that wine probably won't be written up because it wasn't very good.



While not exactly cheap at $19 suggested retail, the Mt. Beautiful does deliver in spades. Aromatically, a beautiful mix of flowers and citrus wafted up out of the glass. I also detected a hint of rubber and tart green apple. Finding aromas like those always brings a smile to my face. My tasting impressions took place after I chilled the wine for about 15 minutes in the fridge, then after taking notes I stuck it back in for about an hour.

To date, my experience with New Zealand riesling is somewhat limited but if they taste like the 2009 Mt. Beautiful, sign me up for a lot more. I loved the crisp citrus elements that intertwined with just a hint of apricot and pear, creating a savory/sweet/crisp experience that had everyone raving. I poured this for my Mom, younger brother, and his girlfriend. Each of them loved it and I think a lot of that had to do with the dash of sweetness on the finish. The winemaker aged this riesling on light lees for about six months which contributes to the complexity and rounder, less angular mouthfeel. Another fact that you know will make me happy is the 12.5% abv present. Hooray for low alcohol wines!

For that $19 suggested retail (think closer to $15 on the shelf) you get a slam dunk riesling. A- and STRONG BUY recommendation. This is the real deal, riesling lovers. Buy it. To find where to buy it locally, contact Mr. Robert Watkins here or Ms. Catherine Seda here.

This wine was sent as a media sample for review purposes.

Beau Carufel

Friday, June 10, 2011

Vinho Verde in Rosé Form, Superb!

I love vinho verde! Let's get that out of the way. If you're looking for a lightly bubbly, refreshing, crisp white/rosé wine for a sweltering hot day, choose vinho verde. The low alcohol (11% in this one!) lets you have more than a glass or two and it's versatile enough to pair with all manner of foods including Thai, Latin, and sushi. Getting Thai takeout this summer? Try a vinho verde out and experience how the bubbles and acidity cleanse your palate after each bite of food. That fish burrito from the taco shop? Vinho verde will pair beautifully!

The majority of vinho verde that I have tasted has been white or more appropriately, green. When I got the chance to sample the 2010 Muralhas de Moncao Rosé, I happily said yes! Another gem sent by my friend Luis at Vinos Unico. Much like the Urbanite Cellars Caliberico I wrote up, this is a reasonably priced, food-friendly wine that takes you in a different direction than you might normally drink.

Produced by a regional cooperative called Adega de Moncao. There about 1,700 member-growers farming about 1,200 hectares of vineyards without any irrigation. Around two acres of vines for each grower mean that they can devote their time to maximizing the grape quality. This particular cooperative is the single largest producer of the alvarinho grape (albarino across the river in Spain) within the Moncao sub-region.


So what's in the Muralhas de Moncao? It's a blend of alvarelhãopedral, and vinhao resulting in a gorgeous rosé-colored bottle of awesomeness. The wine sees no oak at all, fermentation takes place in large stainless steel tanks and there's also no malolactic fermentation either. The result is a purely fruit-driven wine retaining a beautifully accessible acid profile. I found some red berry notes; think sun warmed strawberries and raspberries, watermelon, and a hint of minerality on the finish. While this vinho verde does have bubbles, they're a lot smaller and milder than what you might find in a Champagne or Cava, lending to a softer mouthfeel compared to those sparkling wines.

I made vegetarian fajitas with the Muralhas de Moncao and the pairing was awesome. Bell peppers and onions sauteed in garlic, spices, and white wine. All of that inside a warm tortilla filled with cheese, then crisped in a pan. Home made guacamole on top (mine has some extra kick to it) and the meal worked out perfectly. Plus there wasn't a lot of cleanup afterwards, always a plus. Why is it that making a mess is great fun, yet cleaning up the mess seems like the most tedious task ever?

Luis told me that this wine currently isn't distributed in San Diego, and like the Caliberico, it's clear we are missing the boat on some superb, affordable summer wines. If you're looking for the 2010 Muralhas de Moncao Rosé, the best thing to do is contact Vinos Unico and ask them who carries it in your neighborhood. For us San Diegans, we must go to our local wine shops and ask for these wines! That is the only way the merchants will get them in stock especially if they haven't sampled or don't know about them. For those of you in Los Angeles and Orange County, you're in luck. Currently the retail is between $10 and $14, which nails the QPR.

There are so many reasons to try the 2010 Muralhas de Moncao Rosé and none to avoid it. Pick up a bottle or two and experiement with summer foods. I have a feeling you'll be surprised and happy.

This wine was a media sample for review purposes from Vinos Unico.

Beau Carufel

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Caliberico: A Wine Geek's White Blend...That Rocks.

Last month my friend Luis Moya sent me some wines to sample. You might not know Luis but if you are on Twitter and follow wine people, you really should follow him. In addition to having an awesome first name (that I share, in the French version), Luis owns an import and distribution company called Vinos Unico that brings in some of the most interesting and unique wines from Argentina, Spain, Portugal, Arizona!!, and California. He's passionate and a genuine good guy in this business.


Out of the samples he sent, the 2010 Caliberico White from Urbanite Cellars was the first one I sampled. The occasion: none at all. I wanted a light, thirst quenching white wine and reached for the Caliberico right away. A blend of 47% verdelho, 35% albarino, and 18% torrontes, you could say that this wine brings together Spain, Portugal, and Argentina's more well known white varietals in the Lodi AVA.

My first impressions for the nose went like this: "Smells light, fruity but focused. Nice grapefruit and kiwi aromas with some white flower and wet rock balancing things out. Interesting and aromatic, hard to keep my nose out of the glass. I can't wait to sip this wine!"

At first sip, I marveled at the bright acidity and how it immediately made the Caliberico feel so friendly and fun. The wine was practically weightless on my palate at first, but then developed a beautiful texture of citrus and tropical fruit flavors along with some ripe apricot. Before any of those could overwhelm the mouthfeel and turn the wine into a gloppy mess, a streak of minerality powered through each fruit flavor to wrap this wine up in a tight little package.

I asked Luis what the price was, figuring for all this deliciousness he wouldn't charge much. I was right, and at a suggested retail of $15 a bottle, it's a steal. While the 2010 Caliberico hasn't made it to retail shops here in San Diego (for shame!), it's readily available in Northern California as well as the East Coast. If you have any questions, contact Urbanite Cellars and they'll get you a quick answer. I do hope you check out this wine and show some love to a guy from Cuba who came to the USA for a better life, then went out and made that better life happen.

This wine was sent as a media sample for review purposes.

Beau Carufel

Monday, June 6, 2011

2009 Mt. Beautiful New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc

On the other side of the world lies a country, one that has given us many things to be happy about. For one, they graciously exported Flight of the Conchords. We should be eternally grateful for that. Another thing New Zealand exports to these shores: copious amounts of sauvignon blanc. For a while, it seemed that sauv. blanc was the only varietal grown down (or up) there. Before delving into the meat of this most recent review, I'll just take a moment to profess additional thanks that we're now seeing pinot noir, riesling, and viognier emerge from the titanic shadow of the sauvignon blanc engine.

img src: http://flight-of-the-conchords.edogo.com

Journey with me then, to a land down under. No, not the Australian "down under" where they grill all sorts of shit and talk funny. Rather, to a smaller place with lots of sheep, picturesque hills, and cold winds blowing through the vineyards. Yes, New Zealand. Where the men are men and the sheep are afraid. I've never been to New Zealand before but I suspect if I can write well enough, someone will ask me to go on a press junket down there to explore the incredible wines the Kiwis are producing.

A month ago the always-awesome Stacey at Balzac sent some white wines down for me to go through this summer and post up. I already did the Shannon Ridge sauvignon blanc from Lake County a few weeks ago. After my pinot-fueled jaunt through Portland and the Willamette Valley last week, this week has been devoted to reminding my palate that there's more to life than (awesome) pinot noir.


img src: http://www.mtbeautiful.co.nz/home/

Mt. Beautiful's vines were first planted in 2004 on vineyards situated above a river called the Waiau. This area is south of the very famous region of Marlborough, home of wineries like Kim Crawford. Somewhat confusingly, Mt. Beautiful is tucked into the Cheviot Hills of North Canterbury, again a region south of Marlborough.

I chilled this bottle a little, mainly because today was a warm day and I needed something cold to sip. After I tasted the Mt. Beautiful sauvignon blanc, it went back into the fridge to chill down more and be enjoyed with a delicious Santa Fe chicken sub sandwich from Leucadia Pizza. That sandwich is awesome by the way, so I recommend it if you ever hit up Leucadia Pizza.

Yes, I emptied the bottle. No, not alone.

The wine was great too! It poured a nice green-tinted straw color into my glass. I smelled a bunch of interesting things like fresh cut grass, tropical fruit, river rock, and citrus aromas right on the finish. I did detect a little alcohol burn and when I checked the bottle, found that this sauvignon blanc is coming in at 14.0% abv. That's too high for sauvignon blanc, in my opinion, but it didn't show too strongly here.

Upon my first taste, I knew I'd like the '09 Mt. Beautiful because it was so clean and crisp yet had some complexity. Sometimes when a wine is clean, it sacrifices complexity and texture, I believe a balance must be struck. With this sauvignon blanc, I tasted grapefruit and hints of guava mixed with a great streak of minerality. The finish lasted longer than I expected, further pleasing the palate. That high alcohol did lend some weight and heat to the mouthfeel too, which is unfortunate but in the end, the wine tasted very, very good.

If you're looking to try a style of New Zealand sauvignon blanc that's different than the Kim Crawford and Nobilo's of the Kiwi wine world, check out the 2009 Mt. Beautiful sauvignon blanc. At a suggested retail of $18 and a real-world retail closer to $14, it's delicious! I give it a B++ and a STRONG BUY recommendation. This wine is such a lovely summertime white, I think you'll love it on those hot days where you want a light meal and nice glass of white wine. Here in San Diego, The WineSellar & Brasserie has it in stock. Outside San Diego, contact Mr. Robert Watkins here, and ask where you can buy it.

This wine was a media sample sent for review purposes.


Beau Carufel

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Pinot Grigio and Pinot Gris, The Real Story!

Today at work we had a small wine tasting, four bottles ranging from a white blend by Columbia Crest, two domestic pinot grigios, and the 2010 Nobilo sauvignon blanc from New Zealand. The pinot grigios come from the Central Coast and the Willamette Valley and are under our own label. I won't name names right now for fear of getting fired, but if you know me and/or connect the dots, it should be easy to figure out where I work.

The tasting was interesting in that it showed multiple differences between the two pinot gris (grigio) versions, as would be expected. Those differences were caused (in part) by terroir and by the respective winemakers. During the tasting discussion, I pointed out that pinot grigio and pinot gris were the same grape variety, and the difference in name stemmed from regional preferences. I compared the names to the shiraz/syrah in order to help my crew use a familiar reference to understand the concept. Unfortunately a lot of them are still very intimidated by wine and think it's far too complex to ever comprehend.

img src http://wine-flair.com/

After making my comparison, my boss, who considers himself/herself knowledgeable about wine, said I was wrong about pinot gris/grigio and that they were cousins. He claimed to have read it in a book and held up his fingers an inch apart to imply it was somehow an authoritative tome about wine. Now this went contrary to everything I've learned about wine, but I was interested in what he had to say because I've been wrong many times before. He said that in his authoritative tome, the author wrote that pinot grigio and pinot gris were cousins, akin to the zinfandel-primititivo relationship, or at least what we used to think of the zinfandel-primitivo relationship.

I texted my friend Becky at Kramer Vineyards with the question, who confirmed what I originally believed and also pointed out that years ago, pinot grigio was the name used for cheaper versions of the wine whereas pinot gris was an attempt to take it up-market. After relaying this back to my boss, I was now informed that the Italians grow a clone of pinot grigio and he cited Wikipedia as his source. Again this seemed a bit off, something I hadn't heard much if anything about, but I didn't want to challenge him in front of any coworkers.

Back to Becky I went, with the new factoid, then she said she'd ask her sister Kim, the winemaker at Kramer Vineyards. Kim and I went back and forth on Facebook and I'll post that below.

Kim: "Becky tells me you're looking for comments on the difference between Pinot Gris and Pinot Grigio?"

Beau: "Yea I was wondering, we had a question about it at work, whether they're the same grape with a different name or are genetic cousins the way Zin and Primitivo are."

Kim: "Pinot Gris and Pinot Grigio are the same grape. Although, I believe Pinot Grigio implies a lighter, crisper, and often drier style (Italian grigios are more austere) than most of the Pinot Gris made here.

I believe the US producers who use grigio rather than gris are doing so primarily because of marketing. However, I would expect a wine that is labeled 'Grigio' to be light and crisp as opposed to the textural, fruity Alsatian Pinot Gris."

Beau: "So genetically they're the same, are there any clonal differences like pinot noir has? Reason I ask is that my boss claims to have read a wine book saying that they're cousins, I think he's wrong. I've never heard that before and have always been told it's a regional name difference and an implied stylistic difference."

Kim: "I think he's wrong too. There are different clones of Pinot Gris, but I am unsure as to what they are or where they are grown. I don't know what clones we grow here. I've never heard a single winemaker discuss clonal selection of Pinot Gris, so perhaps they aren't particularly important. My experience with Pinot Noir is that terroir and winemaking style often trump clonal differences in the finished wines anyway. My suspicion is that the Italian grigios are so austere because the Italians prefer them that way, like most of their whites. So, unless there has been some groundbreaking genetic research in the last few years that I'm completely ignorant of, your boss is mistaken."

Kim gave me permission to quote her in this blog post, so I thank her for taking the time to answer my questions. After emailing with Kim I also posted the question to my Twitter followers and got a couple of responses, they are below:

ReturnToTerroir: Transalpine brotha. Same grape.

KramerWine5 (Trudy Kramer): Pinot Gris is the same thing as Pinot Grigio. French vs. Italian wording. PG is a mutation of Pinot Noir.

KramerWine5 (Trudy Kramer): Pinot Gris has many other names throughout Europe.

Grooner: Pinot Grigio is the Italian name for "Grey Pinot"; Pinot Gris is the French. In Austria, it is Grauburgunder.

Again this basically confirmed that pinot grigio and pinot gris are the same grape, not cousins like my boss thinks.

My point isn't to say that I'm right and he's wrong, it's that there is a lot of false information out there even in wine books. For example, out of the wine books I own, one slightly older version says that primitivo and zinfandel are cousins, whereas a newer book says that they're genetically the same, and I've been told that primitivo is the grandfather of zinfandel by a Master of Wine before. Just goes to show you, there is information out there but you should take it all with a grain of salt.

Beau Carufel