Sunday, July 31, 2011

Tasting Australian Pinot Noir and Shiraz From Wyndham Estate

Australia..Home of wine with kangaroos on it, and Penfolds Grange. To some people, a country that produces ridiculously over-ripe syrah (shiraz, mate!) and nothing else. There's far more to Australian wines than kangaroos and Penfolds though, from some wonderful white wines like semillion and riesling to an increasing focus on terroir-driven red wines. After suffering through a time when demand dropped almost off the table, we're seeing Australia's wine market make some effort to reset itself and better position it's products among the pantheon of wine producing countries.

I was sent some samples of wine from Wyndham Estate, their Bin 333 pinot noir and Bin 555 shiraz. Both can be found for under $10, so this was an exercise in evaluating the quality of admittedly cheap Australian wine that isn't called Yellowtail. Still, cheap doesn't always equate with horrifically bad wine, so I was intrigued to see if these wines showcased anything interesting (at their price points) that would make them potentially great values.

Wyndham has been around for a long time, George Wyndham planted the first syrah cuttings in 1830. His estate, located in the Hunter Valley of Australia's New South Wales territory, is considered to be the birthplace of Aussie shiraz.

2009 Wyndham Estate Bin 333 Pinot Noir
Very pretty color, pale ruby-red and clear all the way through. Looks like a young Burgundy or Dundee Hills pinot. Not a bad start, this is the first or second Aussie pinot that I have tasted this year.

Good aromas of wild strawberry, red cherry, and baking spice. There's a touch of green, stemmy scents too and I certainly don't mind the added dimension it brings. Plenty of acidity comes out on the nose too, making my mouth water and giving me the impression that this will be a highly acidic pinot noir.

That impression was confirmed with my first sip, lots of acidity but unfortunately not much else initially. There were a whole host of secondary flavors, cola, rhubarb, sour cherry, and spices but nothing ever came out as the primary. Also, despite the 13% alcohol, I felt it as a flabby, boozy weight across my palate, a clear indication of lack of balance. One positive was the impressively long finish, the sour cherry and spice notes tapered off quite nicely. That didn't make up for the boozy weight and hollow front-palate though. C+, PASS recommendation. There are better $10 pinot noirs out there, especially from Chile and California.

2008 Wyndham Estate Bin 555 Shiraz
I wish I had more to report on the color, the Wyndham Bin 555 is very much a shiraz, dark and opaque. Beautiful purple hue, but on the other hand we've seen this color before.

What I did enjoy was the nose, brimming with menthol, blueberry, dark earth, and black pepper. I  enjoyed how the menthol or eucalyptus aromas kept the ripe blueberry from dominating everything. Dark earth and black pepper were secondary but help up very well, enhancing the overall sense of this wine. Very, very pretty bouquet.

On the palate, strong flavors of eucalyptus and toffee show up first, followed by blueberry preserve and rounded out with a peppery spice. Wyndham's Bin 555 is lush, smooth, and very rich, a testament to the ripeness of the fruit and time spent in oak barrels. I would classify this is a "drink now" type wine, the tannins were silky and not out in force. Sweet ripe fruits made the finish nice and fun, without veering into the stewed-fruit part of the flavor spectrum.

A very solid effort and at around $10, worthy of a B and a BUY recommendation. The Wyndham Estate Bin 555 is a wine I'd happily open while sitting around and grilling up some steaks or burgers. Better yet, add bacon to the mix and explore the possibilities.

(img src:

The Australians are still making cheap wine, both of the Wyndham Estate wines are under $10 at most stores. They're imported by Pernod-Ricard, ensuring distribution across the United States. While neither are stunning deals, the Bin 555 shiraz offers a wonderfully budget-friendly summer red wine. The pinot noir needs work though, or may be just some time in the bottle. I hope to taste through the higher-end Wyndham Estate wines in the future, to see how good they can be.

These wines were media samples for review purposes.

Beau Carufel

Thursday, July 28, 2011

2009 Bodega Tamari Torrontes

I rarely sample torrontes, but during the hot summer months it remains high up on my list of wines that pair well with the weather. Tonight, I decided to cook up some chicken, rice, and broccoli, in part due to the hot weather we've had here in San Diego. Needing and wanting a dry, clean white wine led me to the 2009 Bodgea Tamari torrontes, a sample that I received several weeks ago.

If chardonnay is California's white grape, sauvignon blanc is New Zealand's, then torrontes is by far what Argentinian white wines are known for. While there are test vineyards of everything from riesling to pinot blanc in the country, the overwhelming amount of white grape acreage is devoted to torrontes. It's frequently referred to as one of the more aromatic white varietals and I can't help but agree.

With that in mind, a simple dinner of marinated chicken, rice, and veggies figures to pair very well with the '09 Tamari. Since I didn't have any light marinades at home, I had to make my own using olive oil, garlic, lemon zest, Provencal herbs, and champagne muscat vinegar. Add a touch of smoked salt and the marinade smelled heavenly. My organic chicken breasts needed about an hour or so to macerate and absorb as much flavor as possible, leaving me time to uncork and sample the wine.

Pouring a beautiful yellowish-green into my glass, I recalled one of my favorite things about looking at torrontes: it's always beautifully colored while sitting in a wine glass.

Aromatics are a big part of tasting wines, and if that's all I went on for this torrontes, it would be a dynamite wine. Bright, rich tropical fruit notes came at me almost immediately, followed closely by rose petal,  grapefruit, and tangerine. There is a brief hint of jasmine too, offering a nice foil to the ripe citrus and tropical aromas that are so strong here. At a few degrees below room temperature, smelling the Tamari is like smelling a cornucopia of your favorite summertime scents. Well, almost. Some of my favorite summertime scents also include bacon, grilled meat, and the ocean. None of which were present here but that's ok.

Tasting the 2009 Tamari torrontes further reinforced why I like this varietal so much. It offers clean acidity, a lush mid-palate of passion fruit and white peach, barest hints of white pepper, and a zingy serving of lemon pith to finish things off. Utterly delightful and in balance. There's no sense of sweetness because the acid restrains everything, creating a harmonious blend of flavors.

At a suggested retail of $15 (real world retail is close to $10), this is a solid white for the entire summer. If you like sipping riesling, vinho verde, and sauvignon blanc during the hot months, give torrontes a try and seek out the 2009 Bodega Tamari torrontes. This wine makes clear why torrontes is such a popular grape in Argentina. 13.3% abv. 7,000 cases produced.  Highly Recommended!

This was a sample for review purposes.

Beau Carufel

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Cornerstone's 2010 Stepping Stone Riesling, Impressive.

Continuing with the wine samples sent to me by Cornerstone Cellars, I recently tasted their 2010 Stepping Stone Riesling, also from Napa Valley fruit. Riesling and Napa Valley don't exactly go together in a lot of people's minds, I admit to a bit of bias myself when I saw this. Interestingly enough, riesling used to be planted all over Napa Valley, but has long since been ripped up for cabernet and chardonnay predominantly.

I think though, that I also know the skill level of winemaker Jeff Keene, so upon a bit of reflection I thought to myself "This could be some very good wine, why not make riesling in Napa?"

The Stepping Stone label has been around for three vintages, this is the first time they've released a riesling and I think wine lovers everywhere are in for a real treat.

(img src:

The 2010 Stepping Stone Napa Valley Riesling
pours a beautiful pale yellow, bright and clear all the way through. Aromatically, this riesling smells amazing. Citrus blossom, lychee, stone fruit and a touch of melon. At once classy, yet exciting and racy, I couldn't pull my nose out of the glass. Just like with the 2010 Stepping Stone Cuvee Musque, Jeff Keene brings out enticing aromas that evolve beautifully the longer your wine sits in the glass.

I love how dry this riesling is too, lots of acid right away sets the tone for a structured, linear wine. I immediately picked up clean flavors of summer stone fruit, tangerine, and great minerality. The finish was memorable because it was so tight and quick, in a good way. Sometimes a wine's finish can be too abrupt, leaving the drinker wondering what just happened. Not so with the 2010 Stepping Stone Riesling, while the finish is quick, it packs enough acid to get your palate ready for the next bite of food. After each sip I put my glass down and had a big grin on my face, a testament to the sheer enjoyment this wine brings.

Speaking of food, this is begging for spicy Thai, sushi, or grilled herb-rubbed chicken. It's one of the more versatile white wines I've had lately, which makes sense because riesling is a darling of sommeliers everywhere, it pairs with a wide variety of foods.

For about $18, the 2010 Stepping Stone riesling is superb, a great example of making wine with a varietal not common to a particular region, and doing it quite well. Easy B+ and STRONG BUY recommendation. I would love to pour this blind for some riesling loving buddies and see if they could pick out where it came from. Buy a lot, if you want something to open on a hot summer day as you're cooking up a new dish, you're in luck. You should hurry though, only 435 cases were made.

This was a sample for review purposes.

Beau Carufel

Friday, July 22, 2011

A Mouthful of an Italian Wine..That You Should Buy!

I once again bring you a review of a wine from the guys at, they send me a bottle every few months to share with you, this time it's the 2008 Feudo di Santa Croce Malnera Negro Amaro Salento. Wow that is in fact a mouthful but we can break down that bevy of words to make it more understandable. The first few words "Feudo di Santa Croce" indicate the winery, "Malnera" is this wine, the word "Negro Amaro" refers to (one of the) the grapes in this wine, and "Salento" is the region in southern Italy where Feudo di Santa Croce is located.

The Feudo di Santa Croce Malnera Negro Amaro Salento (sticking with that long name for just a few more sentences, bear with me) is a blend comprising 80% Negro Amaro and 20% Malvasia Nera, two obscure (to us in the USA) varietals that go back thousands of years. Indeed, Italian wine-making goes back more than two thousand years and within that peninsula are over one thousand different varietals. If you ever want to become a memeber of the Wine Century Club and taste over 100 different grapes, Italy is a great place to start.

Next, a little bit about, an online retailer located in New Jersey. If you buy wine online, you gotta check out their site and browse the listings, not only is the pricing good, but the selection of cool stuff is wonderful as well. For a wine geek, it's a place to spend a nice chunk of your afternoon checking out small, boutique producers. My point of contact is Al, a nice guy with a passion for wine, contact him via the site with any questions you might have.

I like this label. It's elegant and ever-so Italian.

Some of the nitty-gritty: 14.0% alchol, $14.97 per bottle on, cork closure.

The 2008 Malnera pours a beautiful dark semi-opaque purple, reminding me a little bit of some of the petite sirahs I've tasted this year. Whenever I see color this deep and dark, I immediately start to get the idea that the wine will be young and full of flavor. Part of wine training though is remembering to evaluate the color without making gross assumptions about taste and texture.

Aromatically the Feudo di Santa Croce Malnera Negro Amaro Salento is all about dust, cherry, balsamic and black olive. Magnificent! There's some oak meandering through the bouquet, along with a touch of brettanomyces (the good kind). When I smell the 2008 Malnera, it's got an "Old World" thing going, distinctly different than California or Australia, like a sense of history about it. These lands were being farmed for grapes before there was ever even an Italy, I think that shows through.

Finally after an hour of open time, I got to taste the 2008 Feudo di Santa Croce, and I was grinning from ear to ear afterwards. It starts wonderfully smooth, building some spice that turns into ripe black fruit like plums and black cherry. A good dose of acidity cleans up the flavor profile, creating this linear progression of tastes over my palate while acting as a foil to the bit of funk and earth I was also picking up. Medium weight over the entire profile and balanced very nicely. I wrote in my notes that this wine is "incredibly food-friendly, Italy manages to nail it once again, loving the dry earth through the mid-palate".  A supple finish contiues the theme of an accessible, fun Italian red wine.

2008 was good to Feudo di Santa Croce and their Malnera, this stuff, at $15 is a no-brainer and a B (STRONG BUY) from me. If you're looking for a wine that is at once somewhat obscure yet incredibly fun to drink and versatile to pair with food, this is it. What a gem! Buy six bottles at, buy twelve, share it with all your friends from wine-geek to causal-sipper and watch their faces light up!

This was a media sample for review purposes.

Beau Carufel

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Joe Roberts Nails It! 1WineDude For Official Millennial Spokesman!

I have a list of wine blogs I read frequently, is one of them, even if he uses way too much italicized and bolding in his posts. Maybe it has to do with SEO, whatever. He's a good writer, a popular one, and an all around good dude. His posts are insightful and show a level of thought a few degrees deeper than almost every other blogger. We met last year at the Wine Blogger's Conference in Walla Walla, Washington and I can say with a good degree of certainty that he knows his shit. Plus he's got a great palate, one that I respect.

Love-fest over, I read a post of his the other day called "Wake Up, Wine People: Boomers Won’t Be Buying Your Wine Forever" and it really resonated with me. As a Millennial, I often feel like I am not taken seriously (as a knowledgeable wine drinker/etc) by basically anyone older than about 35. Strong words, I know. Please take note that I did leave an exception in my statement. For the purposes of this exercise, let's assume that I should in fact be taken seriously by people older than 35.

Joe discusses a couple of key points in his blog, the first one being that many Millennials get age-profiled the moment they walk into a winery, tasting room, retail store, or any other wine event. How are we profiled? We're not taken seriously as wine drinkers, wine lovers, wine fans, etc. Why does this happen? My generation doesn't (yet) have the money and time to travel around frequently, or the knowledge to discuss the finer points of wine with the 64 year old wine geek pouring your wines as a volunteer. Often, our visit to the tasting room is our first to that winery, and often it's our first ever taste of the wines being poured. Therefore, we are often brushed off and ignored or given sub-par service, on the hospitality side. Swinging around to the digital side, most wineries have no coherent strategy for marketing themselves to us by reaching out, creating conversation and relationships, and encouraging us Millennials to be brand ambassadors.

If there's blame to assign, it does fall to both sides of the argument because Millennials aren't known (always) for their adherence to tasting room decorum. Unfortunately there are many instances of stupid Millennials coming in drunk, acting idiotic, and even verbally abusing employees. Behavior like that is unacceptable, period. No matter the age group. A lot of it stems from immaturity, which (we hope) will leave with time, turning those drunken idiots into customers. Still, we Millennials should be aware of how to act in public.

Joe reasons that while marketing towards baby-boomers and Gen-X'ers is smart today, too many wineries are ignoring the need to start laying the foundations for relationships with the millennial generation. I think he nails it. He makes a great point when he says: "But I’m really stumped as to why the the attitude in the wine biz that what worked in the past will continue to work forever is still so prevalent.  The “it’s just a fad” argument is totally bogus.  You can bet on the tools (twitter, facebook, etc.) changing and losing/gaining relevance, but you can’t bet on the conversations themselves losing relevance, and you certainly can’t bet on wine not being impacted by those conversations..."

Sure, the "currently-hot-social-media-platform" will change over the years, but the fact that Millennials will embrace each one is not going to change. Neither is the fact that collectively, that pantheon of social media platforms will always be in use (and therefore relevant) because we grew up with them the same way we did watching Britney Spears self-destruct. It's going to be a part of our collective consciousness and will always be a way for wineries to reach out to their potential new customers. Obviously, a good winery marketing team will respond with agilitiy and forward-thinking strategies. That is, if wineries actually read what Joe has to say and realize the fundamental need to shift at least some of their thinking to that of a millennial wine drinker.

It looks as if, between those two points, any winery reading his blog could realize the need to shift some of their marketing strategies a bit, and they didn't even have to shell out the big bucks for a consultant. Before everyone gets worked up into a lather, I will say that there are wineries out there doing a good job of shifting a percentage of marketing efforts towards millennials, invariably they're the younger wineries though, not the monolithic old-guard of Napa and Sonoma. Even giant conglomerates like Constellation are working their own strategies, though I fear that by dumbing-down and casualizing man's relationship with wine, they're going to have trouble once millennial palates mature and start to seek out something more than sweet riesling, sweet red blends, sweet moscato..Get the picture?

Reiterating what I believe to be the truth, now is the time for wineries to start laying the foundations for a relationship with Millennials: by reaching out to them through familiar channels, de-mystifying wine, emphasizing wine's place at the dinner table and with food, showing Millennials how to act in tasting rooms and at events, making them feel welcome and valued, and showing them a good time!

Pretty soon, I'll be as old as Gen-X'ers are right now, and will have their wealth levels. What do you want my relationship with wine to be like? Are you willing to help me build and sustain one, and especially, a relationship with your brand?

Beau Carufel

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Cornerstone's Stepping Stone Sauvignon Blanc, With a Twist!

I know I've fallen behind on posting reviews, but it's summer time so perhaps you'll cut me some slack. Between planning a trip to Spain, researching jobs in Portland, Oregon, Becky visiting me, and my paying job (not wine blogging, sheesh!), I just haven't had time or energy to write a lot of blogs. That does not mean I haven't been busily tasting and evaluating wines though, far from it! I'm reaching the end of a notebook I started in March of this year, and we're only in July. So there you go, not much blogging of late, still lots of tasting and note-taking.

Rewind a few weeks ago and I got a case of samples from the wonderful folks at Cornerstone Cellars in Napa Valley. Who is Cornerstone, you ask? A premium producer of Napa Valley and Oregon wines, I answer. In Napa Valley they make two bottlings of cabernet sauvignon and one of sauvignon blanc. In the Willamette Valley, Cornerstone produces a pinot noir. In the case was selection from their Stepping Stone line, which is priced as a daily-drinker versus the higher price points on the Cornerstone wines.

Their head honcho, a delightful chap named Craig Camp, is big into social media and supports bloggers. I suspect he's probably one of the most active tweeters when it comes to wine and social media fusion. He also makes some stunningly awesome wines, I've had the privilege of tasting Cornerstone cabernet sauvignon multiple times and am always left with a huge, silly grin on my face and an empty glass. Since my introduction to them (and to Craig) at last year's Wine Blogger's Conference, the Cornerstone wines have shot to the upper echelons of "Kick-Ass California Cab Producers" in my blogger brain.

Since not many of us drink $60+ cabernet on a daily basis (but I say congrats if you do!), Cornerstone makes a second line, priced around $20 and called Stepping Stone. Within the Stepping Stone line are bottlings of: cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, syrah, sauvignon blanc, riesling, a white blend, a red blend, and a rosé. Quite a lineup, one I suspect is meant to offer something to nearly every palate out there. In the following blogs I'll explore each wine and try to get a sense of what Craig and winemaker Jeff Keene are trying to do.

This will be my first blog about the Stepping Stone wines, with the 2010 Stepping Stone Sauvignon Blanc Cuveé Musque leading off.

Sauvignon blanc has it's share of clones, the same way pinot noir, cabernet sauvignon, and basically all the other popular varietals do. Over the past ten years, one clone, a particularly aromatic one, has become very popular in Napa Valley. This is called the "sauvignon musque" clone. The "musque" part referring to the aromatic qualities, in this case, greater than those of the original grape. Call it an oddball mutation that had a great result.

Cornerstone released their 2010 Stepping Stone Sauvignon Blanc Cuvee Musque just a few short months ago, after a September harvest and March bottling. I am happy to sample it and share my impressions with you. The tasting procedure is by now a familiar one, the Stepping Stone bottle being pulled from the refrigerator an hour before and opened about 20 minutes prior to tasting.

This sauvignon blanc (or sauvignon musque for our purposes) poured a pale yellow-green into my glass. As I held it to the light, the colors alternately went towards one side or the other, yellow or green. The aromatics were beautiful, fresh sliced pear, a touch of cut grass, mandarin orange, and pineapple. I kept shoving my nose into the glass as deep as I could, to get as much of the amazing bouquet as possible. Since so much of what I glean from a wine comes from how it smells, I was excited to start tasting the Stepping Stone sauvignon blanc.

When I tasted it, I wrote the following, unedited notes: "Little bit boozy..grapefruit, lush through the mid-palate..didn't seem to have a lot of dimension on the finish..tastes a bit manipulated..really enjoyed the initial burst of acid, faded away too quickly though.. NEEDS FOOD"

There you have it. I think the 13.5% alcohol showed a bit, lending some weight and flabby tones to the wine, but that bright burst of acidity right away was so compelling! I honestly felt like this was two different wines, not really sure which one was going to come out on top. However, if this was paired with a meal, that added weight would undoubtedly help the Stepping Stone stand up to some heartier fare, grilled fish or chicken perhaps.

Did I like this wine? No, not really, to be honest. Is there anything wrong with it? Besides what I consider a bit too much alcohol, no there isn't. If I could go back in time, I'd taste this wine after it had been in an ice bucket for about 40 minutes, to see how the chill would help out with that boozy weight.

So who then would like the 2010 Stepping Stone sauvignon blanc? If you do like your sauvignon blanc's dry, yet with some weight, a lushness, then this is definitely for you. It's at the more luxurious, softer side of the sauvignon blanc spectrum, which isn't to say it's a soft, buttery wine, just that compared to a lot of California sauvignon blancs I've had, it's got more heft and softness.

 At $18, it's right in line with other California, or  specifically Napa Valley examples of the varietal. B- from me. Just not my thing, but in no way does it cause me to lose faith in one of my favorite producers.

Follow Cornerstone Napa on Twitter and Facebook, and seek out their wines wherever you live! If you're having trouble, tweet or email Craig and his team and they'll do their best to help you out.

This wine was a media sample for review purposes.

Beau Carufel

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Whole Foods Market's Top Ten Summer Wines

(img src:
Whole Foods Market is aiming to help us all with summer wine selections by highlighting wines with great quality and price throughout this summer. Called the "Top Ten Wines", there's actually a list of 12 wines split between six red and five white, with one sparkler in there for good measure. In June Whole Foods held a live, virtual tasting with some bloggers from around the country, unfortunately I wasn't able to participate that night but the awesome people at Whole Foods were kind enough to get me some samples anyways, so that I could check each wine out and feature them in this blog.

One of the things Whole Foods has done right is to feature wine from all over the world, the list contains bottles from France, Argentina, California, Greece, Italy, New Zealand, and Spain. Price wise, these run from between $6 and $20, offering a variety to choose from at prices that will play nice with your budget.

The Whole Foods wine people were kind enough to set me up with six selections off of their Summer Selections to taste through and comment on. Over the course of the past few weeks I've been opening and tasting each wine, jotting down impressions as I pair them with food or simply enjoy a glass on a warm (or cool) evening.

2010 Elios Mediterranean White
Ready for this? A white blend: 50% moschofilero, 30% chardonnay, 10% roditis, 10% savatiano. A Greek kitchen sink wine. Color-wise, not much there. It's almost like looking into a glass of Fresca, without the carbonation. I loved the nose of ripe melons, salt air, summer flowers and hints of lemon zest. While not overly complex, the Elios smelled delicious and appropriate for the 82 degree day on which I opened the bottle. The mouthfeel was light, helped by the acidity and citrus flavors of grapefruit and lime. Though the chardonnay lent weight through the mid-palate, it did muddle some of the stone fruit and grassy flavors, leaving me a trifle disappointed. For a food-friendly, inexpensive summer white wine though, this is damn good stuff. B-. BUY recommendation.

2010 Santa Julia Innovac!on Torrontes/Pinot Grigio Argentina
Palest of straw hues and 13% alcohol, a wine that combines two of my favorite white varietals from a region exploding onto the scene in the last decade. The Innovac!on smelled like a summer bouquet of orange blossom and Bartlett pear. Peach nectar mixed with a mango smoothie, perhaps?. On my palate, a very light wine, clean and nicely acidic, yet not at all what the bouquet promised. I struggled a little bit to find lemon peel and a bit of tropical fruit but that is about all there is to this wine. Not too interesting, nothing wrong with it though. C+. Pass.

2010 Presto Moscato Dolce
I like how Moscato is really exploding right now, one of the highest-growing categories of wine in the United States. It's the perfect gateway wine, getting people into wine and allowing them to have a solid base to jump into other grapes and styles. The Presto is a "dolce", meaning it's definitely got some sweetness to it. I opened this on a hot evening after chilling it for a few hours in the fridge and it hit the spot. At once sweet yet refreshing, it's no Cava or Champagne but at around $10 it isn't designed to be. The bubbles in the Presto Moscato seemed smaller and softer than in either of the aforementioned sparklers.  Soft notes of apple and sea breeze, a hint of sweet peach, and smiles all around. Very nice and a great change of pace. B. Buy recommendation.

2009 Perrin Nature Cotes du Rhone France
Perrin is a big, big producer in France's Rhone valley, hundreds of thousands of cases big. This is their "Nature" wine, made from organically grown grapes predominantly from the Southern Rhone river valley. It's another $10 value from a critically acclaimed vintage. The Perrin pours a dark purple with a bit of violet towards the edges, it looks very much alive and full of personality. I liked the whiffs of leather and crushed red fruit along with a good hit of bittersweet chocolate. I enjoyed the balanced ripeness, crushed white pepper, earth, and firm tannin. The word of the day for the 2009 Perrin Nature: "rustic".  Some rough edges yet a deliciously different $10 bottle of wine. B, BUY recommendation.

2009 Vitiano Cabernet Sauvignon/Sangiovese Italy
This is a Leonardo Locascio selection, Mr. Locascio being a guy who brings in a lot of good quality Italian wine. Clocking in at 13% abv, it's what I would term a "Super Tuscan" red wine. The color is dark, vibrant red that's nearly opaque, perhaps a tribute to the cabernet sauvignon in this blend. I smelled ripe cherries, almost overripe to the point of being like cough syrup. Cedar and spice, red licorice and a bit of brettanomyces to round out this rustic red. Very smooth initially with firm tannins carrying heavy red fruit through the entire taste. Barest hint of a snappy red currant too, but very easy drinking wine if somewhat simplistic. This is rustic Italian red wine, best enjoyed with grilled eggplant or a meat lovers pizza. Thin crust please. B-. Pass recommendation.

2009 Altovinum Evodia Old Vine Garnacha Spain
From 100 year old grenache vines comes a ripe, rich, big, fruit bomb of a wine. That is just what is needed on a summer day with your buddies, standing around a hot grill of awesomely charred meat. Evodia does age the wine in oak for a bit, tempering some of the acidity and tannin from the grenache, and enhancing the mouthfeel. I was assaulted (in a good way) by ripe plum, blackberry, and red currants, hints of cooking spice, a touch of green herbs and some warm oak. Perhaps my favorite of the Whole Foods Top Ten Wines lineup, the 2009 Altovinum Evodia is begging to be paired with a chunk of mancego cheese, or better yet, a thick burger with bacon and a chunk of mancego cheese! See where I'm going with this?! B, STRONG BUY recommendation.

During my exhaustive research, I tasted through each wine at least twice, over a minimum of two days, this helped me gain impressions that might not have been there on the first day. The exception to this was the NV Moscato, which had lost all it's bubbles after the first night and was rendered into sweet, gross, fermented grape juice rather quickly. As such, the notes on that wine are from the first day only.

For the red wines, I opened each one about two hours before I tasted them, then poured each red wine through a Vinturi. When I tasted the white wines, I removed them from the refrigerator about one hour before tasting, to allow each bottle a chance to warm up a few degrees and therefore allow the taster (me) a better idea of the wine's acid and sugar levels.

Before this blog gets longer, I will post my final thoughts and impressions. To be honest, I'd never considered Whole Foods Market as a place to buy wine before, but with this tasting, my opinion is beginning to change. The wines I tried were all interesting in their own right, while there were a couple of clunkers, none were actually bad wines. At Whole Foods, the wine buyers are doing a good job finding unique selections at varying price points, I admire them for that. As we continue through the summer months, I urge you to go check out your local Whole Foods Market and take a peek at their Top Ten Wines selections.. Chances are, you'll walk out of there with a few bottles of yummy wines.

Follow Whole Foods on Twitter, and send them a tweet asking for the account of your local store!

These wines were media samples for review purposes.

Beau Carufel

Sunday, July 10, 2011

CalNaturale And Their Tetra Paks of Cabernet and Chardonnay

Over the past few years, alternatives to glass wine bottles have become more common. Once the domain of gag inducing wines like Franzia, today's wine in boxes and cartons are huge leaps in quality while still offering great price points. At least year's Wine Bloggers Conference I tasted some wines from Octavin Home Wine Bar, they were fairly good and at low prices. Also last year I tasted the Don and Sons "Big Green Box" wines, which did surprise me with good quality. Neither the Octavin or Don & Sons wines were mind-blowing but for a cost of around $10-15 per 750 ml, the quality was just fine.

Fast forward to a few weeks ago with I was approached with a query about my interest in trying the CalNaturale wines. I was sent a TetraPak of Cabernet Sauvignon from Paso Robles and another of Chardonnay from Mendocino County. Both are in 500 ml cartons, which is 2/3 of a standard bottle of wine. It's roughly two full glasses of wine for you and I. The CalNaturale Cabernet is a 2008, the Chardonnay a 2009 vintage. Both are also available in 1 liter sizes, for those of you who have parties planned or are lushes.

(img src:

2009 CalNaturale Chardonnay Mendocino County
This is made with organically grown grapes and comes in at a low-for-these-days 13.0% alcohol. Nice pale yellow color, not at all like the almost buttery yellow that some chardonnays look like.  I couldn't find any information about how much time in oak this spent, though I suspect it was more likely a steel tank/oak chip combination than any time in barrels.

I like the light citrus and apple aromas I pick up right away, along with just the barest hint of oak, not at all distracting. Perhaps a credit to the TetraPak, the CalNaturale chardonnay smells fresh and vibrant, like a wine that would be fun to sit around and sip on a warm summer afternoon.

Well balanced with some sharp acidity up front immediately followed by a soft, creamy mid-palate, I suspect this sees at least partial malolactic fermentation. Ripe stone fruit, hints of grass and pear all wrapped up in a tight package. While not a very complex wine, the 2009 CalNaturale chardonnay is approachable, friendly, and lively. Hard to argue with a wine that costs $7 for a 500 ml package. B-, BUY recommendation.

(img src:

2008 CalNaturale Cabernet Sauvignon Paso Robles
This wine has a very nice dark garnet color, lightening towards the edges of my glass just ever so slightly. Again I have no information about the treatment of the cabernet, but I suspect it's similarly a steel tank/oak chip type of wine. This is a great way to impart oak characteristics while keeping the cost down by avoiding the high cost of new barrels every few years.

I liked the nose, it smelled like a freshly made BLT. I could pick up savory meat notes along with a touch of green vegetal aromas, some oak, and a few hits of ripe red berry fruits. There was also a bit of a plastic-y smell too, something like one of those hospital oxygen masks, if you've ever worn one. All in all, pleasant smelling especially for a $7 cabernet sauvignon.

The wine's approach is a bit rough on the palate, sort of disjointed but perhaps something that could solved with some more open time. I'm unsure as to how the TetraPak helps the wine get some air after you open the tiny spout. CalNaturale's 2008 cabernet brings the acid and rough tannin but backs it up with some good earthy and smoky flavors, plum, and black cherry. I could even taste the wine softening up as I wrote this review. Easy B and a BUY recommendation.

What I liked most about the CalNaturale wines were their high levels of quality at a low price. The cabernet would pair beautifully with a location where glass is prohibited and some charcuteries, or maybe a round of burgers off the grill. The chardonnay I can see going with a grilled chicken cesar salad sprinkled with bacon bits, or some chips and carmelized onion dip. Keep the food simple, keep the wine simple, and just enjoy the moment.

Another awesome fact to help you enjoy the moment is the knowledge that the CalNaturale wines have carbon footprints that are far below that of a regular 750 ml bottle of vino. So you not only get to drink tasty wine, you get to help reduce carbon emissions to boot!

CalNaturale wines are available all across the country and the CalNaturale Location List is a great place to start your search.

These wines were media samples for review purposes.

Beau Carufel

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

A Wine Experience

I had this on Saturday night at 3rd Corner in Ocean Beach. 2008 A Tribute to Grace from Santa Barbara. 100% grenache. Made by a Kiwi, Angela Osborne, who came to this country in 2006 with the desire to make grenache. She says the name comes from two things, her grandmother Grace and her best attribute.

Really, really, really fucking good wine. It looked like cloudy strawberry juice. Maybe it was the lowered lighting, the laughter among friends, or the anticipation of tasting a wine I had heard so much about. I looked into my wine glass and contemplated a Santa Barbara Highlands Vineyard grenache.

I smelled summertime, and rocks. Sandy soil, love, ambition, determination, all with a sense of grace. Miss Osborne is onto something with the name, isn't she? Strawberry, spice, hot orange peel, and wet stone smell like heaven.

Tasting the 2008 A Tribute to Grace connected me to a vineyard in a remote place. I've never been to the Santa Barbara Highlands Vineyard, it's 33 miles east of Santa Barbara itself, why would I ever visit such a place? Yet with each sip, I felt like I was there strolling among the rows of grenache as they ripened in the stifling heat of summer's passion.

At once smooth and spicy, fruit and acid, not diametrically opposing concepts, but numerous pathways for this wine to travel along my palate. Subtle warmth from the oak caressed little bits of sour cherry and grape stems, another sip brought a rush of tiny wild strawberries and soaking wet gravel. What have I gotten myself into, I thought?

Really, really, really fucking good wine.

Beau Carufel

Monday, July 4, 2011

2009 Paul Dolan Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandel

Way back in March I tasted the Paul Dolan Vineyards 2009 chardonnay and 2009 sauvignon blanc, both were outstanding wines for the money, and honestly, outstanding wines overall. Last year I got to sample previous vintages of Paul's wines during a TasteLive event featuring Paul Dolan Vineyards. That tasting was a blast and I learned a lot while getting to taste some splendid examples of wines made with organic grapes. This blog highlights the two new red releases I was sent, Paul Dolan Vineyards 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon and 2009 Zinfandel.

Both the cabernet sauvignon and zinfandel wines are made with organically grown grapes. That is not the same as an organic wine. Important distinction that many people might not know about, so here's the deal: organic grapes are farmed in accordance with USDA (or other appropriate agency) regulations specifying the types of pesticides and chemicals that can and cannot be added. Organic wine is made much like conventional wine, but must contain no added sulfites. What are sulfites? A naturally occurring chemical (sulfur dioxide) that stabilizes wine so that it will last for long periods of time. That's the quick and dirty definition. Winemakers may use organic grapes to make non-organic wine, and can still label the wine as "Made With Organically Grown Grapes".

First up, the 2009 Mendocino County Cabernet Sauvignon. 2,800 cases were made and the blend is 97.5% cabernet sauvignon, 2.5% petite verdot. The primary grape sources are Parducci's Upper Home vineyard and Paul's own Dark Horse Ranch. The '09 cabernet spent 15 months in 50% new American oak barrels.

It pours a beautiful dark purple in the glass, and has a nice shimmer effect too. The color is bright, vibrant and tells me right away that this is indeed young. As much as I love the brick-red hues of aged cabernet, looking at a glass of fresh, young cab definitely gets my wine-geek side going.

After my usual wait time of one hour, I poured a glass and immediately noticed the wide spectrum of aromas. Lots of blackberry, cassis and bramble were first, then a beautifully expressive red earth and herb melange. As those aromas faded, a woodsy, campfire-esque smell wafted up out of my wine glass. At various points during my tasting of this wine, I could also detect a green, grape-stem aroma that had me fascinated. Rather than detract from the wine, it added an extra dimension.

That complexity I smelled carried over to the taste and texture. The Paul Dolan cabernet makes no bones about being a young wine, it's bright and full of acid and tannin. Luckily they're balanced by some dark berry and plum notes, dark chocolate, earth and a bit of oak. I like how the tannin created a bookend to the ripe fruits, keeping them from getting out of control while allowing the earth and dark chocolate to shine through. To me, this is a wine that's very expressive of terroir and not at all overly manipulated. If I had to find one flaw, it's that the finish is too quick. This cab wraps things up too fast, leaving the drinker wondering "what the hell just happened?".

Beyond that little gripe, this is some delicious cabernet sauvignon. At a suggested retail price of $25, it's a no-brainer. I think that with a few months to a few years of bottle age, that finish might develop. Even a few hours in a decanter will allow more flavors to come out and play. Easy B++ (89 points) and STRONG BUY recommendation. You can find the Paul Dolan 2009 Mendocino Cabernet Sauvignon in good wine shops all over the country.

Next I tasted and took notes on the 2009 Mendocino County Zinfandel. This is almost all zin, 99%, with 1% syrah added. Only 2,727 cases were produced, so it's clearly a very small production wine, just like the Paul Dolan Cabernet. Most of the grapes were sourced from the Parducci Upper Home vineyard, right outside Ukiah, California. After fermentation was complete, the 2009 zinfandel spent 15 months in neutral oak barrels, redwood tanks, and 10% new American oak.

I had high hopes for this wine, having loved the 2007 Mendocino County zinfandel I tasted last year. In my glass, it had a surprisingly light color, like a garnet in the sunlight. It was clear all the way through and reminded me of some California pinot noirs, the ones that are bastardized with syrah.

After waiting an hour for the wine to open up, I swirled and sniffed the 2009 zinfandel, finding ripe black cherry and blackberry aromas, spices, crushed pepper and even a hint of something delicate, like dried flowers. Needless to say this is somewhat atypical of most zinfandels out there but speaks to another of Paul Dolan's wines expressing it's sense of place, or where the grapes are grown.  I loved the bouquet, loved the complexity and the fact that it wasn't the same old, stewed blueberry/blackberry oak monster that is so often made here in California.

Tasting the wine was another great experience, with a lot of grippy tannin framing blackberry and baking chocolate, white pepper, red currants and that same green, stemmy note from the cabernet. There was a good layering of acid throughout, maintaining balance between dark, ripe fruit and the wood/bittersweet chocolate. Very, very impressive to me. The complexity shows what is capable with zinfandel, and this is one I would happily age for a few more years to see what other flavors came out to play. I love how mouth-filling it was, with the acidity hitting the roof of my mouth, the tannin and pepper the sides of my tongue, and the core of fruit plopping down smack in the middle of my tongue. That's not to say it was overripe though, again I go back to how balanced and interesting this wine is.

After pondering the 2009 Paul Dolan zinfandel, I looked at the price, $25 suggested retail. You can probably find it a lot cheaper and if you do, buy a bottle. This is an easy A- (90 points) and another STRONG BUY recommendation. You can find it in good wine shops around the country at retail prices closer to $20. It's a great wine to pair with barbecue during the summer, and something that'll accompany a rib roast during the winter. Paul Dolan did it again, another outstanding wine.

These wines were media samples for review purposes.

Beau Carufel

Saturday, July 2, 2011

2007 True and Daring Riesling, Another Gem From the Kiwis

True & Daring is brand new to the American market, debuting here just this past May. I was sent a sample of the only wine they make, riesling, to taste and share with you. This 2007 riesling took a gold medal at the International Wine Challenge in 2010 and a trophy for Best New Zealand Riesling from the same event.

The wine is made by the Dobsons who also own Sandihurst Winery, which itself is relatively new to the New Zealand wine scene, at least in it's current iteration. I read through the website and really like the owner's story. Celia and Hennie Bosman bought the old Sandihurst property in 2005, apparently it was a dilapidated old wreck of a winery. They've set about rebuilding and renewing the entire property. Before moving to New Zealand, the couple and their children had been living in South Africa, which Hennie is a native of. His wife, Celia, is English born and the couple met in Portugal while she was a ballet dancer and he was in the Foreign Service.

I found it remarkable that after only two years, the Dobsons were producing such great wine. This is clear evidence of the meeting point between exceptional terroir and skilled, dedicated people. To make award winning wine in 2007 makes the True & Daring story that much more remarkable. Cold and wet conditions severely affected fruit-set. As a result, the harvest was smaller thank average. Luckily, a period of heat and low rainfall during the midst of the growing season did ensure the grape themselves reached optimum ripeness.

After the 2007 vintage was harvested, the grapes were divided into seven stainless steel tanks to begin fermentation. In each tank, a different strain of yeast was inoculated, with the objective being a final-assembly from each vat of a more complex wine. Fermentation temperatures were kept cool and stopped when the residual sugar levels reached a point so that the final wine would be off-dry, but only just. Since riesling does have a lot of natural acidity, this balance point is critical to a producing a complex, layered wine.

With fermentation complete, winemaker Kirk Bray combined the tanks into one lot, then blended them together on light lees, stirring the wine occasionally over about six months. True & Daring was fine but unfiltered and bottle-aged for 24 months before being released. In all, only 5,450 six packs were produced.

Sourced entirely from the Annabrook Vineyard in Nelson, New Zealand, the 2007 True & Daring comes in at 12.2% abv. The name comes from the philosophy that that the winery would stay true to one grape and be daring enough to take on only Riesling, as the wine they produce.

I poured the 2007 True & Daring into my glass with a high level of excitement. Of late, a lot of riesling has been gracing these pages. I wrote up the stellar 2009 Mt. Beautiful Cheviot Hills riesling last month, and also was able to taste through a superb lineup of Finger Lakes rieslings just a few weeks ago. I for one hope that this trend continues, bring on the Austrian and German rieslings next! Oh and more from New York and New Zealand too please!

The aromatics of the True & Daring were awesome, lots of ripe peach mixed with hints of petrol and a stony, hard burst of minerality. Citrus notes, like a diced up grapefruit also showed themselves, next to a bouquet of white flowers. The complexity of this wine is something to be marveled at, I kept sniffing my glass, putting off taking a sip. If you know me, you know that's a sure sign I am happy with what I'm drinking.

As young riesling goes, this True & Daring also ranks highly for it's complexity on the palate. Maybe those four years in the bottle really did a lot to enhance the wine, I believe that to be the case. An absolute joy to taste with ripe mandarin orange, white peach, and a laser beam of minerality through the mid palate. The acidity contributed the structure, I could feel it all over my palate. This wine is very sure of itself, is comfortable in it's own skin. I got the sense that the winemaker basically lets the fruit do the talking, with only minimal guidance. My favorite part might have been the finish, which had a crisp, dry quality that lent itself to pairing with food.

Next time I go out to sushi, I am going to have riesling and if a sushi place happens to have New Zealand riesling, I'll be incredibly happy. All in all, this is kick-ass wine. It's got great quality, complexity, and a cool story behind it. Since the 2007 True & Daring was just released, finding it is going to be a bit of a challenge but I would recommend contacting Gordon Palmateer and seeing where you can find it in your area. At a suggested retail price of $35, the price is spot on for what you get. Will a $35 New Zealand riesling sell in the United States? I wish I knew. Would I buy a bottle or two if I saw it for sale at my local wine store? Yes. Easily an A- and STRONG BUY recommendation. Cheers to awesome juice from the Kiwis.

This wine was a media sample for review purposes.

Beau Carufel