Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Wine Club Review: California Wine Club Sends Tobin James Selections

I was sent the second in a series of three shipments from the California Wine Club recently. The first shipment was wines from Fess Parker, a very well known and respected winery in Central California. This time, another well known (and respected) producer called Tobin James Cellars was selected for us.

2010 Tobin James “Radiance” Monterey County Chardonnay: This chardonnay pours a pale gold in the glass, and you're immediately struck by a mish-mash of buttered popcorn, lemon, and tropical fruit aromas. Sourced from Lockwood Vineyard in Monterey County, only 4,000 cases were produced in 2010. On the palate it's got a lot of acid and no real trace of oak. Indeed, only 8% of the harvest was barrel-fermented. Lots of zesty citrus on the palate combines with some buttery texture to create a bit of an awkward mouthfeel though. The finish is medium-length and gently evaporates from the palate. Overall, a solid if unremarkable chardonnay that will probably please the masses. 13.8% abv. SRP: $18, CA Wine Club: $10.99

2008 Tobin James Titan Hills Vineyards “Fiasco”: This is something interesting, a wine made from grapes harvested over a 1.5 month period, from 20 vineyards. When I read the info sheet I scratched my head, but figured what's the worst that could happen? Mostly syrah (55%), with 25% zinfandel and 20% barbera thrown in to complete the blend. Alcohol is a rather large 14.9%, according to the label. I wouldn't be surprised if it was closer to 16% though. Loads of peppery spice, jammy black fruit, and wood smoke rush up out of the glass. Oh and alcohol too. The palate shows big, jammy black fruit, more wood smoke flavors, earth, and black pepper. Bring this one out during your barbecues and watch your non-wine-geek buddies lose their shit. SRP $21, CA Wine Club: $11.99.

As with the previous California Wine Club wines, this shipment was 1 for 2. The chardonnay wasn't that great, and to me it tasted like it cost $10 at a grocery store. On the other hand, I know a bunch of people who I'd love to have over to share the bottle of "Fiasco" with, while we grill up some thick steaks and burgers. If I paid $21 at a retail store I'd be ok with that, but I love the California Wine Club price of $11.99.

One final thought before I wrap this up; as I browsed the literature, I noticed both wines were released a while ago. In the case of the Radiance chardonnay, a year ago. The "Fiasco" was released way back in the summer of 2010. I would imagine that the 2011 Radiance chardonnay is about ready to be released, and the Fiasco too - if they've made another batch. That might explain why these are available at such a discount, the California Wine Club could have gotten them on a closeout, at lower prices.

You can find the California Wine Club on Twitter as @cawineclub and The Boring Wine Guy as @boringwineguy. Bruce Boring is one half of the founding team behind this club, the other being his wife Pam. The California Wine Club Facebook Page is also full of activity and a good place to talk about your experiences. The Boring Wine Guy is also on Facebook. If you use the code "beau12" at checkout, you will get four bottles instead of two. That might be the best deal of the whole club!

These wines were provided as media samples in collaboration with Mom Spark Media.

Beau Carufel

Monday, June 25, 2012

Cupcake Riesling, Mosel Valley, A Nice Surprise

This bottle showed up unannounced a few months ago, and I was immediately suspicious...After all, it has been something like a year and a half since I last reviewed a Cupcake Vineyards wine.

Cupcake Vineyards has a decidedly lighthearted, whimsical label and image, but the brand is one of the most popular on the market. However, could they turn out a good riesling, one that retains bright acidity with a touch of residual sugar? Cheap riesling is easy to find, just go to any Trader Joe's and you'll find some truly awful stuff priced around $5 per bottle.

On the other hand, the wines Cupcake makes are inexpensive and well-crafted, delivering value around the $10 price-point. I've previously reviewed their 2009 Central Coast chardonnay and 2010 New Zealand sauvignon blanc, both of which delivered good quality to price ratios.

Back to this riesling, I was happy to note that it's from the Mosel River wine region in Germany, home to perhaps the greatest rieslings on the planet. The bouquet is wonderful, brimming with notes of green apple, stone fruit, honeysuckle, and a chalky minerality. On the palate it's clean and crisp - a testament to the racy acid - with flavors of granny smith apple, apricot, and citrus-infused minerality. There's a subtle sweetness present too, doing just enough to balance out the acidity. I was particularly impressed with the finish, it lasts impressively long before gently tapering off.

I tasted this over the course of two days, with consistent notes. My fiancee and her sister tried it too, and we all agreed that for around $10, it's a really good bottle of wine. It appears that Cupcake Vineyards has once again delivered a high quality white wine at a great price.

This wine was a sample for review purposes.

Beau Carufel

Friday, June 8, 2012

"Derthona" Timorasso From Vigneti Massa

What is "timorasso"? Native to Piedmonte in northern Italy, this is a very rare grape. Most of the timorasso has been torn up and replanted with cortese, a less-troublesome variety. Walter Massa is one of the few people still making wines with it, and protecting the sites.

My friend Randy, owner of The Friendly Vine in Forest Grove, was going nuts for this the other night. He called it his new "house white". I was in his shop sampling him on some wines for my other day-job (Sales rep for Oregon Wine Sales) when he showed me the bottle and poured me a splash to try.

Fireworks went off in my organoleptic receptors. It was as if someone threw golden apples, pears, unripe kiwi fruit, mandarin oranges, lemon zest, and spearmint into a bowl then spritzed seawater on it! What the hell is this stuff?

To think, that was just the bouquet.

My eyes lit up, Randy saw that, nodded knowingly, and watched as I brought the glass to my lips. A sip, then a pause to ponder what was happening, and a swallow. Such a simple, by-now-instinctive act, and yet also full of meaning...

"Randy, what is this stuff?!" I exclaimed. Again that knowing smile, when a wine geek knows he's hooked another wine geek.

The taste was something incredible, like millions of tiny bubbles filled with apple, pear, mandarin, lemon pith, saltwater, and olive oil all exploded on my tongue at once. I couldn't stop smiling. This is the most interesting white wine I've had all year, and perhaps one of the greatest white wines I've ever had the pleasure of tasting. Nice to make your acquaintance, timorasso.

Thanks Randy.

*Note* The only place in Oregon to buy this stuff is at Randy's shop, so surf over to the Friendly Vine website and ask him about it.

Beau Carufel

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Bruliam Pinot Noir, A Labor of Love

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A couple of years ago, back when I still lived in San Diego, I met Kerith and Brian Overstreet. They are childhood friends of my buddy and fellow wine blogger Keith, over at One day at a San Diego Wine Mafia meeting, the Overstreets were there and we got to chatting. I had no idea Kerith was a winemaker, and you know how I get when I meet winemakers (hint: I bug them with questions).

Kerith and her husband are the founders and owners of Bruliam Wines.

As we tasted some wines with the rest of the Mafia, I learned about the origin of their label, Bruliam Wines, and their focus on pinot noir and zinfandel. I think the story is much better told on the website, so I urge you to visit it and watch the cool video about how Bruliam came to be.

I always like to mention this as well; Bruliam wines gives back all their profits to charity. It gets better, because they donate to the charities that you, the wine lover, chooses. Pretty amazing, I agree!

Fast forward a few years and Brian emails me one day asking if I'd like to sample the 2010 pinot noirs they had recently released. Like he had to ask! In the fall of 2010 I tasted the 2009 Bruliam pinot noirs and wrote a feature on the wines, with each of them rating excellent to outstanding on my now-retired scale.

For 2010, Kerith and Brian sourced fruit from three different vineyards in Northern California. Each wine was nudged along in it's journey, emphasizing the place it was grown instead of the winemaker's hands. Since they don't own any vineyards, the fruit sources can change from year to year, making it all the more important to get your hands on these wines ASAP! Also I'll give a sneak peek here: For 2011, Bruliam has added the famous Gap's Crown Vineyard to their list of fruit sources. I can't wait to try that one..In 2014 of course.

Let's get on with my impressions of the wines then. These were all tasted at room temperature, about 30 minutes after being opened.

2010 Bruliam Deer Meadows Vineyard Anderson Valley Pinot Noir: I immediately noticed ripe black fruit, cherries and blackberries, warm baking spice, and cola on the nose.This pinot is big and smooth, at once lively yet with some peppery acidity. Good dark fruit flavor along with a subtle, herbaceous note. Some oak flavors, woodsy with a hint of dark chocolate. There is nicely integrated tannin, but it stops somewhat short on the finish. The acidity is firm, but this is a baby, and will better integrate with more time in bottle. If you're going to drink this now, decant for a few hours. $46 SRP.

2010 Bruliam Soberanes Vineyard Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir: The bouquet has loads of baked cherry and rhubarb, black pepper, black tea, and spice. I loved the balance between the fruit and other aromas. I think this is very young, showing  restrained flavors of grape stem, black tea, wild raspberries, and black cherry. What flavors are showing right now are delicious and well integrated with a nice streak of acidity. I found a slightly perceptible alcoholic heat on the bouquet that carried over into the palate, but it should go away with age. The finish is a burst of spice and white pepper, something I love about great quality pinot noirs. $46 SRP.

2010 Bruliam Wildcat Mountain Vineyard Sonoma Coast: Aromas of bright, fresh strawberry and rhubarb, along with cola and cherry blossom. Pine sap provides a welcome element to contrast the fruit. On the palate I felt this was showing traditional Sonoma Coast flavors; it expressed ripe strawberry and baking spice along with a subtle earthiness. Also noted were touches of oak, black pepper, and grape stem. The strawberry persists through the finish, very impressive. Not much tannin noted, compared to the other Bruliam wines. This is the wine I'd drink now, while cellaring the other bottles for 5-10 years. $46 SRP.

After I wrote these reviews, I learned that Wine Enthusiast had shown some love to the Bruliam pinot noirs, giving the Wildcat Mountain an 89 points, the Deer Meadows 90 points, and the Soberanes Vineyard 93 points! That's convincing proof that the Overstreet's are doing something right, and should encourage you to buy up these wines before they're all gone.

To purchase the Bruliam wines, visit their website.

Tasting the Bruliam pinot noirs was great fun, I opened 10 pinot's from around the state that day and these three were the clear winners. If Kerith and Brian can maintain this level of quality, Bruliam Wines will continue it's upward trajectory into the rarefied ranks of California pinot noir producers showing restraint while creating texturally interesting, nuanced wines.

You can follow Bruliam on Twitter or visit the Bruliam Wines facebook page.

These wines were media samples.

Beau Carufel