Sunday, April 22, 2012

Earth Day 2012 And Green Wines

Today is Earth Day, a global celebration of this wonderful planet we inhabit. Equally important is the need for awareness and action regarding our effects on the Earth. To that extent, the folks at have prepared an infographic that discusses what makes a green wine, or a wine green. I urge you to take a moment and consider your own consumption of wines and how where that fits into the theme of environmental awareness.

what are green wines infographic
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Happy Earth Day 2012!

Beau Carufel

Friday, April 13, 2012

Tasting Chilean Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc With @DrinkChile

I was invited to taste again with the Wines of Chile trade group, with whom I had tasted a variety of Chilean wines last year. The format, using Master Sommelier Fred Dexheimer as the moderator of a tasting session with winemakers and bloggers, was unchanged. At the studio in New York, he had a chef preparing some delicious looking seafood recipes to showcase these white wines. We bloggers were sent these recipes, I chose to simply taste the wines though, in order not to fill my apartment with distracting aromas.

Our theme this time was Coast to Toast, featuring white wines from the coastal areas of Chile.

1. Casa Silva Cool Coast Sauvignon Blanc 2011 Colchagua Valley: At first I said this wine was trying to be a New Zealand sauvignon blanc, with its green grass, gooseberry, and lemon zest bouquet. I still think it is, but also has taken on a Chilean twist. There's a note of briny ocean air to go with the aforementioned bouquet. On the palate, lemon zest and more asparagus. A clean mineral profile adds depth and complexity but isn't enough to overcome the lack of interesting flavors. 13.0% abv. $25

2. Los Vascos Sauvignon Blanc 2011 Casablanca Valley: A wine that for me started out dull and insipid, but grew into something vastly more interesting. While this wine isn't an extraordinary experience, I respect the fact that it is unpretentious and very quaffable. The nose is mildly astringent with notes of grass, grapefruit, and stem. On the palate the Los Vascos is dry, clean, and simple. More of the citrus with hints of asparagus and a nice bit of minerality. The very definition of crowd-pleaser. 13.5% abv. $14

3. Cono Sur Visión Single Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2011 Casablanca Valley: Way more lime juice than initially detected, some three hours in. Hints of minerality and a strange, not unpleasant lettuce aroma. Barely-there tropical fruits too. On the palate, bursts Meyer lemon, pineapple, and light grassy flavors dominate. The finish is really evaporative though, which disappointed me. 13.0% abv. $15

4. Viña Casablanca Nimbus Single Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2011: Earlier during the tasting I said this wine started to gently veer towards a Sancerre, and it still does three hours later. That stated, there are more cut-grass aromas now, pushing out some of the stone fruit and limestone I picked up before. This isn't a bad thing though because it gives the bouquet nice complexity. The mouthfeel is great, acidic and cleansing. Nice citrus - lemon zest to me - along with a kick of pear help this wine achieve lofty status as the best QPR of the night. 13.8% abv. $13

5. Veramonte Ritual Sauvignon Blanc 2011 Casablanca Valley: I kind of dogged all these wines when I first opened them. There was a stunning amount of homogeneity, but then I re-tasted and this Veramonte is making me smile. The bouquet is still sauvignon blanc, redolent of limestone overlaid with grass that someone squeezed a ton of limes over. On the palate, there's a smoothness here, a depth from the subtle oak treatment. Anthropomorphically speaking, it's like a girl who's grown up from a saucy teenager to a classy, Ivy League educated 20something. 13.5% abv. $18

6. Santa Rita Medalla Real Chardonnay 2010 Leyda Valley: Aromatically pleasing, think wet rocks and buttered popcorn co-existing with a bowl of sliced pears and apples. On the palate, light and kind of sultry, somewhat unexpected. Pears really show through, that and some grassy notes, even a bit of granitic mineral quality. My only knock on this wine is that it fades away awfully quickly. 14.0% abv$18

7. De Martino Legado Reserva Chardonnay 2010 Limarí Valley: This wine was very interesting, but not necessarily in a good way. I tasted it right after opening, when it had some acidity and flavors of tropical fruit. About two hours later, when I smelled it, I thought of rotting grass. Decidedly unpleasant, and this sharp, pepper-like note also showed up. On the palate it's relatively simple, peach and golden apple notes, acidity, but more of the strange rotting grass type flavor. Could very well be a bad bottle. 13.5% abv. $16

8. Concha y Toro Marques de Casa Concha Chardonnay 2009 Limarí Valley: I like the bouquet here, green apples mixed with cinnamon-spiced wood. There's a pleasantness this chardonnay has that keeps drawing me in. On the palate it's creamy but also balanced, the acidity shows up as a lemon and apple flavor. There's also noticeable oak here but it isn't in a bad way. In between the oak and citrus, a hint of tropical fruit - think papaya - shines through. A sweet, mineral-laden finish continues the intrigue. This chardonnay begs for king crab legs dipped in garlic butter. 14% abv. $19

What can we take from this tasting? First off, the wines we tasted were all interesting and while none were world class, all but one were very drinkable. Out of the lineup I did enjoy the Veramonte and Vina Casablanca bottles, and two of three chardonnays exhibited some pleasant characteristics too. If you are out and about, looking for an inexpensive bottle of wine that will pair with seafood or appetizers, buy any of these with confidence. The quality levels are high (save for the De Martino) and the wines are easy drinking.

From an educational standpoint, each wine showcased an area of Chile that can clearly produce high quality wines. As the winemakers in Chile gain experience with their diverse micro-climates, the onus will shift to the consumer to educate himself or herself and seek out specific regions. Personally, I enjoy syrah and sauvignon blanc from the Colchauga and Casablanca valleys, respectively. Others might love Maipo cabernet sauvignon or Maule Valley carmenere. It's so important to keep exploring countries like Chile because they're constantly discovering new areas that are conducive to grape growing.

Visit the Wines of Chile website to find out more information about the wines we tasted tonight, including some helpful links for where to purchase each one. Follow @DrinkChile on Twitter to learn more about Chilean wine and tastings in your area.

These wines were media samples for review purposes.

Beau Carufel

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

The Occasional Hiccup In My Wine Journey

I love rosé. Where else can you find the flavors of a red wine with the light body and textural components of a white wine. Actually, you sometimes can in orange wine, but that's a topic for a different blog post. Tonight I decided to open up two bottles of rosé, in celebration of the warming weather and advent of spring.

The first bottle I opened was from Sokol Blosser here in Oregon and the (to me) wonderful 2010 vintage. That year was marked by cool conditions, leading to higher acid and tannin levels in the grapes. In other words, conditions favorable to great rosé. The second bottle, from Don Sebastiani & Sons, hails from a single vineyard in Clarksburg, California. It too is from a cooler year, 2011, one where the conditions were conducive to making great rosé. Of course, that's contingent on the site being cool enough too.

Both bottles were highly disappointing, for two very different reasons. 

2010 Sokol Blosser Rosé of Pinot Noir Dundee Hills:
The wine has a gorgeous color, a vibrant pinkish-red that sparkles in the glass. Aromatically it's full of ripe strawberry and melon, summer flowers, and a hint of something I describe as pine-sol. While not necessarily a game-changer, the aroma was curious. On the palate, it's got perceptible sweetness that manifests as sweet green melon and strawberries. There's also a richness that comes from aging on the lees, or at least I think that's what caused it. This wine is lacking in minerality and crispness, unfortunately. The finish has some strange taste, like what I imagine industrial floor cleaner would taste like. In short, not a wine I would want to drink. We dumped it out. SRP: $16. 13.0% abv.

2011 The Crusher Rosé of Pinot Noir Merwin Vineyard Clarksburg:
A sample sent to me back in February, I had high hopes for this latest release from The Crusher. I've tasted and enjoyed wines from Don & Sons before, but oh boy was this a shock. When I poured a glass, the smell that assaulted my nose was that of rubbing alcohol and mashed up strawberry. Unpleasant to say the least. I don't think the problem is with alcohol, The Crusher comes in at a listed 13.6% abv. I'd venture to guess a volatile acidity problem exists here. On the palate, it's harsh and green, with more of that rubbing alcohol. The finish is evaporative, almost mocking your palate as it scurries away. A disaster. SRP: $18.

Keep calm and carry on.

My issues with the Sokol Blosser rosé are twofold; more of a stylistic difference of opinion, but also me letting my expectations get in the way of my evaluation. There's nothing I could find technically wrong with their rosé, but I also don't feel it represents the 2010 vintage that well. Out of all the rosé from that year that I've tried (around 30), none have had either the level of sweetness or the strange quality on the finish.

The Don & Sons is much worse though, and I rarely write so strongly about a wine but based on the sample I received, I would not recommend purchasing it. When a wine reeks of rubbing alcohol it usually means something went horribly wrong during the wine making process OR the juice was low quality to begin with. Garbage in, garbage out, so to speak.

Despite my disappointment this evening, I'll keep buying and drinking rosé and continue to recommend it to everyone who'll listen to me. There is rarely a more perfect summer beverage.

Beau Carufel

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Italian Wine from is a relative newcomer to the internet-wine-sales-scene. That hasn't stopped them from assembling a good selection of wine from Italy, Chile, California, and Argentina. Right now the focus appears to be Italy, with a range of wines from all across the "boot", and I think that's a good thing. Pricing is another nice part of the site, with the wines ranging from about $8 all the way up to $46. They recently reached out to me with the offer to try a couple of their wines.

Aglianico is one of those obscure grapes that has a lot of history but not many wine drinkers in the U.S. drinking it. Sure, there are the ever-growing cadre of wine geeks who do seek it out, but the general public doesn't seek it out with any regularity. Perhaps that should change, just the way riesling went from relatively obscure to the darling of sommeliers (hint: it makes their jobs easier) all over this country.

When the chance to sample an aglianico came up, I was eager to get my hands on it. This one, a 2010 by Pandiani, is from the island of Sicily. It saw no oak, instead spending six months in steel tanks before being released. Aromas of dusty soil, currants, and plums waft up from the glass. The palate is nice, with well-integrated tannin, spices, ripe fruit, and enough acidity to keep the "flab" factor from coming into play. I paired it with some pulled pork sandwiches and that worked out beautifully. This aglianico is on special for only $12 right now, if you're interested click here to buy. (I make no money from any sales made, just FYI)

As Jay-Z says, "on to the next one..." and so it goes. I was also sent a $46 bottle of wine from La Sala. It's a Super Tuscan, which tells us that this wine contains grapes other than sangiovese, and is from Tuscany. In the case of the 2007 La Sala Campo All'Albero, 85% cabernet sauvignon and 15% sangiovese. After 12 months in small French oak barrels, the Campo All'Albero underwent an additional six months aging in bottle before being released.

"So what?", you might say. And rightfully so. Often that kind of aging information is meaningless without some context. Consider this then: we know cabernet sauvignon, when young, is a brute and needs oak to mellow out it's tannin and acid levels. Sangiovese can be the same way, therefore it's wise to age Super Tuscan style wines in oak barrels for some time before you release them.

We can therefore conclude that this wine, while from tannic grapes, will have the benefit of almost five years of age and some of that time in oak. Accordingly, I found the La Sala to have aromas of roasted nuts, oak, pepper, red currant, and cherry. On the palate it's still youthful, with tannin that firmly keeps the ripe fruit flavors in place. Nicely balanced and with a pleasantly drying finish, I kept wanting veal or other red meat.

$46 isn't cheap, and as you can see, this wine didn't blow me away, but it's damn good stuff and compares favorably to Super Tuscans that cost twice as much. If you're interested, click here to purchase. (Again, I make nothing from any sales)

In time, I hope the team expands their selection, with the caveat that it continues to focus on smaller brands not always available here. They can fill a great niche, given a bigger list from. Oh and they do a neat thing where every four bottles equals free shipping. It's a great way to spend under $50 and get four bottles of delicious wine, like the 2010 Pandiani Aglianico.

These two wines were media samples from the website.

Beau Carufel

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Von Holt Wines Should Be On Your Radar

When a former Secret Service agent, having served for over 20 years, retires and starts making wine, people are going to notice. Having a unique story helps creates authenticity, which in turn helps garner respect. Of course it goes without saying that the wine (in this case) must also be good. Von Holt Wines, started by Chris Von Holt and Pamela Miller, is garnering respect, due in part to their authentic wines.

Von Holt Wines is a new player in San Francisco's urban winery scene. Chris sources grapes from the coolest regions of the Russian River Valley and Sonoma Coast with the goal of creating wines that are textured, compelling, and authentic. Sure, that sounds like old hat, every producer makes those claims, but not nearly as many follow through. I got the chance to see if the Von Holt lineup was truly living up to it's claims, and after the fold I'll explain my findings.

I was sent three bottles of the current Von Holt releases, a couple of 2008 syrahs from Hoppe-Kelly Vineyard and Old Lakeville Vineyards, respectively, as well as the 2009 Suacci Vineyard Pinot Noir. Hoppe-Kelly is located in the Russian River Valley and Old Lakeville is in the enormous Sonoma Coast appellations. Suacci Vineyard is also in the Sonoma Coast AVA. I should also note that those are the first ever releases from the Von Holt label.

To emphasize how small Von Holt Wines' production is, here are the numbers; in 2008, the Hoppe-Kelly syrah was at 75 cases, as was the 2008 Old Lakeville. The Suacci pinot noir was producer in greater numbers, all of 225 cases. Not a lot of wine, to say the least.

2009 Von Holt Suacci Vineyard Pinot Noir: From the much-heralded 2009 vintage, this pours a beautiful ruby color that lightens towards the edges of the glass. It's got a mouthwatering bouquet of strawberry Jolly Rancher, earth, baking spice, and black tea. I noticed that the more this pinot sat in my glass, the better it smelled. On the palate, the Von Holt impresses with it's balanced flavors of red fruit and earth. There is ample acidity, creating a beautiful structure that should support the wine over the next ten years. Perhaps one of the most enjoyable pinot noirs you can buy right now. 13.3% abv. Price: $42.

2008 Von Holt Hoppe-Kelly Vineyard Syrah: This vintage is often cited as a great one for thicker skinned grapes like syrah, cabernet sauvignon, and zinfandel. I couldn't agree more. This 2008 pours a ruby-garnet, paling towards the edges of the glass. The bouquet is typical cool-climate syrah, with lots of peppery spice and black fruit, tar, and oak that threatens to dominate. That said, the oak will recede with time in the glass and/or more bottle age. On the palate, a well balanced mix of ripe blackberry and blueberry flavors bounce off earth and pepper notes. There's acidity in abundance, helping restrain all that ripe fruit. This is really good California syrah, especially considering the price. 14.2% abv. Price: $20.

2008 Von Holt Old Lakewood Vineyard Syrah: Pours a more consistent dark-garnet in the glass compared to the Hoppe-Kelly Vineyard bottling. Aromas of fresh baked pie, oak, and black peppercorn. The palate is bursting with cherry and blackberries that only get pulled back by that effective cool-climate acidity. A fine-grained tannin is present but never becomes bothersome, rather, it integrates well with the finish, creating a nice tapering effect that I love. When people rag on California syrah, this is what I wish they'd drink. It's a mind-changer, with the balance needed to pair beautifully with food. 14.3% abv. Price: $30

After tasting through the Von Holt wines I was struck by how delicious they were, for one. Also, I noticed that the wines exhibited a sense of balance and completeness. To explain, that means that while the ripe fruit flavors are present, each bottling possess enough acidity to prevent them from developing into fruit bombs. This is especially appreciated in the syrahs, which too often are overripe, sweet concoctions. Each wine had it's own personality, lending further credibility to our question of authenticity.

By sourcing good fruit combined with the skills of winemaker John Fones and adviser Ed Kurtzman, Chris Von Holt and Pamela Miller have created some outstanding examples of cool climate California red wines. Each wine I reviewed gets my highest recommendation, and I urge you to act fast. When last talked to, Chris said that all three of these bottlings were running out quickly. That's not surprising though, given the level of quality.

Oh, and check out those alcohol levels. That, folks, is how you make wine that's both full flavored AND balanced.

Von Holt wines is on Twitter: @VonHoltWines and Facebook:

These wines were received as media samples.

Happy Easter!

Beau Carufel

Friday, April 6, 2012

Tempranillo Makes It Right

Wine geeks love to explore new regions or new styles, it's the definition of a wine geek, after all. We actively seek out the unique or esoteric, the rare, aged, and even the expensive in pursuit of an experience.

Paradoxically, sometimes the most humble of wines can be exactly what we need to re-energize our vinous pursuits. These wines forcefully remind us of an angle often forgotten, that of fun. 

Take for example, the picture of a Spanish tempranillo above. I bought it for a tasting, intrigued that the back label said it was un-oaked. Young too, what the Spaniards would call a "tempranillo joven". We pitted this wine against five others, from the United States, Oregon, Washington, and Spain.

Out of all the wines, it tasted the freshest, and friendliest. Plums, cherries, and black peppercorns mingled with sun-dried tomatoes. Acidity made this wine into a light, food-friendly drink. Flavors, clearly defined, of red fruit, dusty earth, and peppery spice. High-toned indeed. Perfect for sipping while you munch on some jamon iberico and patatas bravas, or other pintxos.

Thanks, tempranillo.

Beau Carufel

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Finger Lakes Red Wine, A Long Way To Go

Last month I was offered the chance to take part in a live, virtual tasting featuring the red wines of the Finger Lakes region in New York. I've done virtual tastings in the past and they've always been a great learning experience. Usually I get to explore a new (to me) region as well as further train my palate in wine evaluation. I jumped at the chance to participate in the Fingers Lakes Red Wines virtual tasting because I am intrigued by what is coming out of New York right now. The region is well known for its rieslings but less so for the reds.

There were eight of us from the media participating, along with a representative (usually the winemaker) from each winery also on hand to take questions. For an hour we media types were able to ask questions and learn about each wine while we tasted them one by one.

The wines we tasted are listed here:
2009 Lakewood Vineyards Lemberger
2009 Fox Run Vineyards Lemberger
2010 Anthony Road Wine Company Cabernet Franc/Lemberger
2010 Inspire Moore Winery Wisdom Cabernet Franc Reserve
2010 Damiani Wine Cellars Pinot Noir
2010 Three Brothers Wineries Barbera
2010 Billsboro Winery Syrah
2006 Shaw Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon

We tasted in two flights, four wines a piece, with the first four listed above being in the first flight and the next four in the subsequent flight. I can see the reasoning behind this, since Lemberger is lighter than say syrah or cabernet sauvignon. Breaking up the eight wines also worked out for logistical reasons, but that's not really important to this blog.

At first I intended to post the tasting notes for each wine, but that was before the virtual tasting. Afterwards, I didn't really want to even write a post but feel obligated to do so.

Here's the problem: Out of those eight wines, one was enjoyable. The 2010 Billsboro Winery Syrah was pretty nice, and more importantly it was fault-free. Every other wine in the tasting had problems; volatile acidity, brettanomyces, baterial contamination, over-use of oak, and under-ripe flavors being chief among them. My impressions were echoed by other well known wine bloggers. Of course, there was the obligatory sample-whore praising every single wine, but those kinds of wine bloggers are in every tasting. Still, the fact that almost every wine was staggeringly difficult to drink really put a damper on the excitement.

Since I don't know much about New York wines, let alone the reds, I made some inquiries about why we got this lineup. One person I spoke to said: "The wines in this tasting don't necessarily represent the region's best reds. Not by a long shot.". Ouch. That's a strong indictment of the wines, said politely.

I tasted each wine over the course of three days and the Three Brothers Barbera improved a little bit. Therefore, along with the Billsboro Syrah, I found two (one and a half, really) in my first tasting experience of red wines from the Finger Lakes. To say that's an inauspicious start is an understatement.

There are many other producers in the Finger Lakes region and I am not drawing any conclusions as to the overall quality, because that would be unfair. Stylistically, I think I understand what the producers are going for, and in my opinion the flaws cover up what could be some very interesting flavor profiles. I also realize this article isn't going to win me any fans, but I feel compelled to write about my experience.

Beau Carufel