Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Tasting Dry Creek Valley Red Blends

It's that time again, where I recap another fun virtual tasting. This time it was with McCue Communications presenting the wines of the Dry Creek Valley. Once again it was a small group of bloggers participating, along with the winemakers from each of the three wineries. The wineries were a veritable who's who of Dry Creek producers, with histories stretching back through the decades.

The Dry Creek Valley AVA in Sonoma County, established in 1983, grows a wide variety of grapes. Grapes have been grown there since the late 1800's though, so the region is no stranger to high quality wines.

Chief among them are zinfandel and cabernet sauvignon. That said, a lot of wine geeks these days are interested in the Rhone varietals grown throughout the Valley. Syrah, cinsault, grenache, and mourvedre dominate the Rhone grapes, supported by carignan, petit sirah, marsanne, roussanne, and viognier.

Luckily, with over 50 wineries throughout the AVA, finding great wine is very easy. The three producers represented here all have rich histories and represent the authenticity that is so often lacking in other parts of California.

2006 Teldeschi Estate Reserve Terraluna Dry Creek Valley: Dark and smoky at first, lots of black plum, blackberry, oak and peppery spices. As it opens up, more tart red berry fruit comes out to balance that riper dark fruited element. I love the density on the palate, it's at once concentrated with red fruit and pepper yet retains a sense of lightness and excellent acidity. There's just a "pretty" quality to the wine that I absolutely loved. Carignane 40%, Valdigue 36%, Petite Sirah 24% 13.9% abv. Recommended.

2012 Amista "Tres" Dry Creek Valley: Opens with mild reduction that needs a few moments to blow off. That gives way to smoky/savory notes of jerky, red cherry, garrigue, and a fennel note on the end. Cool and grippy on the palate, this continues with the smoky/savory theme, buttressed by tart cherry and raspberry, oak, and hints of orange rind. With air, menthol and some barnyard starts to show up, but they're still subtle compared to the exuberant fruit. On the finish there's a dusty soil-plus mocha element that serves to clean up the palate. 34% Grenache, 33% Syrah, 33% Mourvèdre. 14.9% abv. Recommended.

2010 Frick Cotes du Dry Creek Dry Creek Valley: A dead ringer for Southern Rhone on the nose, with the grenache component going full speed ahead. It's all about bright cherries and strawberries, wild herbs, subtle oak, and dusty minerality. Cherry licorice comes through with some swirling. The aromas are so compelling that I actually held off tasting for a bit. Once I did, the firm tannins were a welcome foil to the bright, concentrated fruit. Again it echoes the southern Rhone Valley to me, because it's so fresh and pure. A tannic, drying finish cleans everything up, readying you for the next sip or bite. Syrah 40%, Grenache 40%, Cinsault 20%. 15.3% abv. Highly recommended.

At the end of this tasting I was struck by the high quality of each wine tasted. They expressed a very nice sense of place as well as their respective vintages. Each vintner was passionate about what they grow and produce, which left me feeling a connection to the wines as I tasted through them.

To buy any of these, visit the winery websites or better yet, the wineries themselves!

Teldeschi Winery Website
Amista Winery Website
Frick Winery Website

Thanks to McCue Communications for inviting me along and thanks to the winemakers for taking time to sit down and answer our questions.

These wines were samples received for this tasting.

Beau Carufel

Sunday, October 26, 2014

What I've Been Up To

You may (or may not) have noticed that this blog has become very, very quiet over the past year. No, I didn't stop drinking wine or talking about wine. What happened is that I started making wine, and also begun trying to sell that very same wine. The demands on my time have grown while the desire to write about wine samples has diminished. Sure, there are other topics to write about, but several of my fellow bloggers do a great job already and I don't feel like I have much to add.

Anyways, in October 2012 I bought some wine grapes from a grower in the Horse Heaven Hills AVA. .83 tons of petit verdot and 1.3 tons of tempranillo. Enough for about 125 cases of wine, or, 5 barrels. Last year I bought enough wine for about 250 cases of wine, working with gamay noir, pinot noir, syrah, viognier, and cabernet franc. This year I went with syrah, viognier, and cabernet franc again while also working with marsanne, grenache blanc, and cinsault. Production will be roughly 350 cases.

Under the supervision of the Kramers, I've managed to turn those grapes into some delicious wines. As I continue to learn more about the processes of wine making, grape growing, and of course, wine sales, the demands on my time will continue to grow. My eventual goal is to turn Random Wine Company, my little winery, into something almost self sustaining. I'd love to quit my day job and work full time selling my wines across the country, but first I need to increase sales here in Oregon and the Pacific Northwest.

I'm not shutting Beau's Barrel Room down, far from it, and I intend to update much more frequently going forward. You'll still get my honest thoughts about the wines featured here, the good, great, bad, and ugly. I'll recommend wines to buy, I'll recommend avoiding others. I've been at this since 2009 and it's still fulfilling to publish blog entries. More importantly, it's fun being a part of the blogger community. There are some really talented folks writing wine blogs these days, maybe I'll write a list for you all to check out.

Thank you for reading my words over the past five years, thanks for the interactions, and thank you for your time. If you're interested in purchasing my wines, you're welcome to head over to RandomWineCompany.com to check out the current releases.

Beau Carufel

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Tasting Hyland Estates Current Releases

Once again I was invited to do a live Twitter tasting (shall we just call them LTt's?) but for a change, the winery featured is local to me. As many of you know, every Wednesday on Twitter, from 6-7pm PST you can use the hashtag #Winechat and see a passionate group of wine lovers chatting, usually with a fairly specific topic. It's a great way to learn about wine while connecting with people from around the world.

Hyland Estates, located in the McMinnville AVA, has vineyards dating back to 1971. There are several highly regarded wineries using the fruit too, and Hyland Estates is almost always comes up in discussion for premier grapes here in the Willamette Valley. My friend and Hyland Estates' Director of Marketing, April, invited me to participate along with fellow bloggers from around the USA.

From the press materials I received: "The initial planting is all self-rooted in volcanic Jory soil and has the largest planting of self-rooted Coury Clone Pinot Noir which was smuggled into the US presumably from Alsace by Charles Coury during the 1960’s. Hyland Estates is centered on old-vine, terroir-driven wines from the historic Hyland Vineyard located in the foothills of the Oregon Coastal Range near McMinnville. Originally planted in 1971, the 200 acres Hyland Vineyard showcases some of the best preserved self-rooted 40-plus year old plantings of Coury, Wädenswil, and Pommard clones in Oregon as well as some of the first Gewurztraminer, Riesling, and Chardonnay vines planted in the state. Since the purchase in 2007, Laurent Montalieu, Danielle Andrus Montalieu, and John Niemeyer have devoted their work to honoring its past through gentle stewardship of the land and terroir-driven grape production."

Pretty cool, right? Needless to say, I was looking forward to this tasting.

2012 Hyland Estates Riesling: Lots of ripe apple and spices on the nose, along with a hint of summer melon and citrus. Plenty of acidity kissed by just a touch (.8%) residual sugar. That helps show some more apple and spice tones along with a little bit of leesy richness. Overall this a clean, simple, easy to drink riesling that I really want to pair with some spicy Thai food. $25 srp. 13.0% abv.

2013 Hyland Estates Gewurztraminer: The nose is all lychee and peaches, how lovely! On the palate it's got a lot acidity, a good thing, as well as an interesting oiliness which makes it taste a little bit richer. Pear and peach work with the lychee on the palate to balance out the wine nicely. Another one that does need to be paired with food, and be sure not to taste it too cold! The aromatics are lovely as it warms up. $28 srp. 12.2% abv.

2011 Hyland Estates Pinot Noir McMinnville: I opened this about 2 hours prior to tasting. On nose it veers into darker territory, with more focused black cherry and cola notes. Some lovely summer strawberry aromas come through with air, along with a touch of balsamic and a kiss of oak. This is definitely bigger on the palate too, with broad-shouldered black fruit and cola. The acidity is quite compelling, and there are firm tannins. It's got a bit of heat on the finish, but that isn't too distracting from the overall quality of the wine. Bring on the cheeseburgers! 13.3% abv. srp $38.

2012 Hyland Estates Pinot Noir "Coury": Spicy black pepper, forest floor, black cherries. A bit reticent on the palate, despite a 2 hour decant, this is young but strangely not as exuberant as almost every other 2012 I've had. On the other hand, excellent mouthfeel, it's rich and full-bodied (for a pinot) but retains good acidity and finely integrated tannins. More oak comes through with swirling, which helps rather than hinders. There's black tea and cola on the rich, smooth finish. All in a all, a wine to drink now but also to have the luxury of cellaring for several years. 13.5% abv. srp $60.

Thanks again to April for inviting me to participate. I think the tasting notes tell the story and if you're interested in the wines, check out the Hyland Estates website or Hyland Estates on Facebook.

These wines were samples for tasting purposes.

Beau Carufel

Monday, August 4, 2014

Tasting Emeritus Pinot Noir Releases

A month ago I was scheduled to do a live tasting (I sure do a lot of them!) with Charles Communications and Brice Jones of Emeritus Vineyards. Unfortunately, life got kind of crazy for a time and I wasn't able to join in the small crew of bloggers invited to this exclusive tasting. Fortunately for me, the wines had arrived and the folks at Charles Comminucations were understanding of my absence.

Fast forward several weeks and things had calmed down, somewhat, so I was able to open and taste the wines, taking some notes along the way. We were sent two single vineyard pinot noirs, from Sonoma Coast and Russian River Valley AVA's, respectively. Also, a rosé made from 100% pinot noir, in the saignée method.

I'll spare you from an attempt at explaining the Emeritus Vineyards story and get straight to the wines, but you can scroll down to see a little bit of it and then click the link to find out more.

2013 Emeritus "Ruby Ruby" Saignée Rosé Russian River Valley:
Pours a candied red, gently paling towards the rim of the glass. On the nose I get some herbs and tart red berry, oak barrel, and alcoholic heat. At 14.0% abv (listed), this is about 2.5% higher than I usually go for with a rosé. On the palate there's that same nice mix of herbaceous and red fruit, like fresh red cherries. It's a touch sweet (perhaps from the alcohol) and tastes like it's seem some oak too, but I can't find any mention in the tech notes. I like the acidity because it helps restrain the exuberance of the fruit in this, whilst setting the wine up for pairing with summer foods. For those of you who enjoy more full-bodied rosé wines, this is right up your alley. $25 SRP.

2011 Emeritus William Wesley Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast:
Nice garnet in the glass, good depth, lightly pale at the edge. With some air, aromas of raspberry, strawberry, pie crust, and baking spice rush out. The mouthfeel is quite lovely, with great acidity and very fine tannins. I like how the flavors don't overload my palate, rather, they gently usher themselves in. Lots of tart strawberry and a touch of oak, spicy peppercorn, and licorice. There is a touch of heat on the finish but it's certainly not a big deal. I have to say I was impressed with this pinot, it's got all the elements in play and maybe just needs a touch more bottle age. $68 SRP. 14.0% abv. Recommended.

2011 Emeritus Hallberg Ranch Pinot Noir Russian River Valley:
Light purple going towards garnet at the edges of the glass. On the nose I get baked cherry pie, forest floor, mushrooms, and black peppercorns. With more swirling, these elements find an impressive balance. This is riper than the Sonoma Coast bottling, but still maintains nice acidity and balance. There is more sweet cherry pie going flavors here, which indicates ripe fruit and perhaps new French oak, along with a softer baking spice flavor that meanders across the palate. I think this is a bit young, it hasn't had time to develop any secondary flavors. The finish is excellent, a gentle tapering of flavor that cleanly disappears after a solid 15 seconds. $42 SRP. 14.0% abv. Highly Recommended.

I suggest surfing over to the Emeritus Vineyards website and checking out their story. Brice Jones has had a very cool life, from flying in the Air Force to starting Sonoma–Cutrer, then selling it and buying a large vineyard and devoting himself to producing premium Pinot Noir. He now has two sites, the two bottlings I tasted.

California Pinot Noir is not in abundance in my cellar but these two wines would certainly be welcome, that Russian River Valley bottling was excellent. It's priced fairly too, at $42. I preferred it to the Sonoma Coast, which is rare but always fun, because there seemed to be better acidity and a more interesting set of flavors. That said, either bottle will make pinot lovers happy and both will pair with food. I'd recommend salmon, duck, even marinated, grilled pork chops.

Visit Emeritus on the internet.
Emeritus Vineyards on Facebook

These wines were samples for review purposes.

Beau Carufel

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Childress Vineyards: Chardonnay from North Carolina!

Have you ever had Chardonnay from North Carolina? I have not, nor have I tasted any wine from that state, ever. Not a state known for wine growing or production, North Carolina is home to over 100 wineries and is actually ninth overall in the United States as far as production. Quite a surprise, no? Here's a link to some interesting facts on North Carolina wine.

Whenever I think of North Carolina, I think of Nascar and the Appalachian Mountains. Coincidentally, Childress Vineyards is owned by Nascar legend Richard Childress! The grapes for this are in the Yadkin Valley AVA, and the winery is located in Lexington. My friend Alina attended the 2011 Wine Bloggers Conference in Charlottesville, Virginia, where she came into possession of this bottle. She was kind enough to gift it to us earlier this year and it's lain in my cellar since then. Given the hot, muggy weather we're having, a cold glass of wine seemed in order.

2010 Childress Vineyards Chardonnay North Carolina:
Pours a beautiful straw-yellow color. On the nose I immediately get ripe tropical fruit, lees, and a touch of oak. With some swirling and time out of the fridge, a bit of buttercream and something like bacon fat become apparent. The first sips bring out a smooth, soft apple and pear thing along with more creamy notes. I like that there is still some acidity present, as it helps lighten the ripeness and richer flavors. Tropical notes come later, along with some barrel spices on the finish. My only gripe on this wine is that the finish is a bit bitter, reflecting perhaps too much pressure in the grape press. It spent nine months in French Oak barrels and that shows in a good way, with just a bit of woodsy flavor throughout. 12.8% abv. $14.99 SRP.

On the Childress Vineyards website, this is listed at $14.99, though that's for the 2011 vintage. This 2010 was similarly priced and represents a fantastic QPR. I wish more similarly priced Chilean and Californian chardonnays were this easy to drink.

Suggested food pairings include fettuccine alfredo, shellfish, roasted chicken, and cheese plates.

Childress Vineyards on Facebook

Thank to Alina for generously gifting us the bottle!

Beau Carufel

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

The Summer of Riesling is here!

Finally, after a long winter and wet spring, summer has arrived. Around this time of year I receive many pitches for "summer wines", "summer cocktails", etc, etc. Most of them are utterly stupid wines, recipes, or events.

(img src: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Riesling)
There are, however, events that I can fully get behind and use my blog to help popularize. The Summer of Riesling is one of them. What, you may ask, is the Summer of Riesling? Well, it's a way to beat the heat, drink wine, and connect with other wine lovers. Specifically, it's a celebration of all things riesling. Riesling is one of the coolest grapes in the world, period.

Grown all over the world, it can be dry, sweet, in between, or even have bubbles. Some of the major riesling production nations are Germany, France, Austria, the United States, and Australia. You'll also find riesling in New Zealand, Italy, South Africa, and Canada. Perhaps the most famous region in the world lies in Germany, in the Mosel River Valley.

Last week I received some cool information from the Wines of Germany trade group, regarding their plans for this years Summer of Riesling. Copied below is the press release, which will be of interest to riesling fans across this country.


Celebrate Germany’s Most Famous Wine Varietal this July with the “31 Days of German Riesling” 

Over 100 leading restaurants and wine shops nationwide plan to promote German Riesling in July and consumers will have a chance to win a trip to Germany 

June 23, 2014 (New York, NY) – Wines of Germany has once again proclaimed July as the “31 Days of German Riesling” with by-the-glass specials and tastings at restaurants and wine shops across the country. 

For the fourth year in a row, Wines of Germany has partnered with Paul Grieco and his Summer of Riesling team at Terroir wine bars and Hearth restaurant in New York City for this promotion. Over 100 restaurants and wine shops will participate in the seventh “Summer of Riesling” program, and each will dedicate July to all things German Riesling. 

Participating restaurants will offer at least two German Rieslings by the glass throughout the summer, with special offers such as wine flights and food and wine pairings during the month of July. Wine shops will offer in-store tastings and discounts on bottles of the beloved beverage for the entire month of July as well. 

Leading participants include restaurants such as Gramercy Tavern and Restaurant Daniel in New York City; Prospect in San Francisco; Lukshon in Los Angeles; and Empire State South in Atlanta. A full tasting schedule and program details can be found at www.31DaysGermanRiesling.com.

To add to the celebration, Wines of Germany is hosting an online sweepstakes for a chance to win a trip for two to Germany. To enter, consumers should post to Twitter, Instagram or Vine from a 31 Days of German Riesling tasting or participating restaurant and geo-tag their location with the hashtag #31DaysGermanRiesling.

In addition, consumers can enter to win one of 200 $25 Wine.com gift cards just by using the hashtag #31DaysGermanRiesling on social media. Consumers can also enter to win both prizes via Facebook by uploading posts and photos directly to the Wines of Germany Facebook page

To keep the celebration going, German Wine Queen Nadine Poss will visit New York from July 7-10. Originally from the Nahe region, Nadine was chosen from amongst the 13 regional wine queens of Germany for her wine knowledge, sparkling wit and overall demeanor. During her visit to the U.S., she will host the Summer of Riesling Concert Cruise on July 8 in New York Harbor and visit local New York restaurants and retailers. 

So raise a glass to the "31 Days of German Riesling" — a new habit you'll never want to break!

There you have it, the Germans are really making a push for you to drink German riesling this summer. I can't blame them, as some of the best rieslings I've ever tasted have been German. Keep your eyes open and check out the 31 Days of German Riesling website for information on tastings that could be in your area.

Beau Carufel

Monday, June 16, 2014

Tasting Caymus Vineyards 40th Anniversary Napa Valley Cabernet

This past Saturday I was invited to take part in a virtual tasting of Caymus' 40th Anniversary Cabernet Sauvignon. Proprietor Chuck Wagner hosted a webcast with his sons and daughter, who are also involved in the family business, making other labels like Belle Glos, Mer Soleil, and Emmolo. Total Wine stores around the country held special tastings too, where their customers could sample Caymus portfolio and ask questions to the Wagners. Since there is no Total Wine around me, I was sent a bottle of cabernet and some background information along with an invite to participate in a brief live tasting.

Caymus was of interest to me because I had sold this wine in retail since the 1997 vintage, up through 2007, and always knew it had a popular customer base. I even recall having a 1999 Caymus one year at Christmas - a gift from my then-boss - and absolutely loving it. Priced at around $55-60, it isn't a wine I purchase for my own consumption so when the chance to re-visit this iconic producer came up, I was looking forward  to seeing how consistent their style has stayed over the past 15 years.

Chuck Wagner gave a brief introduction to his cabernet and how they produce it, along with giving us some of his views on winemaking, vine age, and stylistic choice. It was interesting to hear him say he doesn't believe that older vines make better cabernet, replanting every 15 years, or that great Napa cabernet doesn't have a lot of acidity. He also discussed tannin management and how he likes very, very soft tannins in his wines. This too struck me as odd but obviously for the Caymus wines, it works. Just check their sales numbers!

2012 Caymus 40th Anniversary Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley:
The nose is massively ripe, with notes of blackberry and cassis jam. This holds true to what I remember about Caymus cabernets. Additional notes of cocoa dust, alcohol, and pipe tobacco come out with air. On the palate it's pure sweet, rich, black fruit. A true hedonists cabernet sauvignon. Notes of tobacco and anise come through with some swirling, as well as a sweetness that I suspect comes from a bit of residual sugar. This is like a smooth-riding Cadillac across your palate. It glides through, so cushioned and soft, till the finish. I kept re-tasting the wine to figure out what was going on, but the finish has some sort of burnt quality to it, like burnt wood or burnt sugar. I suspect this comes from American Oak barrels but am not quite sure. Given a few more months, I suspect that burnt quality will settle out. 14.6 abv. $55 SRP.

So there you have it, I re-visited this massive, hedonistic wine. It's a wine I could see Robert Parker giving a high score to, and it's easy to understand why this is so popular with steakhouses. For me, a bone-in New York Strip, medium rare, and a glass of this cabernet would certainly be a fun pairing. I think the meat would help add structure to the wine, whereas the wine's ripe fruit would act as a foil to charred, meaty flavors. That said, after one glass my palate would be screaming at me for something with acidity and structure.

Buy this wine if you love hugely ripe, opulent cabernets. It'll wow you with the ripe fruit and soft, smooth structure.

If you're like me and love high acidity, tart fruit, and loads of minerality, stay away. This is not the wine for you.

Visit the Caymus website here and the Wagner Family of Wine website here.

This was a sample for tasting purposes.

Beau Carufel

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Trione Winery Selections

Yet more wines I was sent a long time ago and am finally now getting around to reviewing. This review will be interesting though, because the Trione Vineyards wines I was sent all came in 50ml bottles. The company tastingroom.com bottled them way back in September 2012 and I am just now getting to taste each one. In total, I was sent six 50ml bottles, each of which is barely good enough for two pours.

Trione is another California winery with an excellent reputation. Their wines were a familiar sight in San Diego and I liked selling them because you always knew that they'd deliver at their price points. It's been nearly a decade though, so I was anxious to taste through the lineup and see if the wines were as I recalled.

As you read through the notes, please bear in mind that these are probably (hopefully) not the current releases from Trione, it's my fault for not getting to them sooner.

2010 Trione Sauvignon Blanc Russian River Valley
The nose shows tart gooseberry and green grass right away, very fresh. Behind that lurk some lime juice and herbaceous qualities. As it opened in my glass, I picked up a flinty minerality that was quite cool. On the palate I can tell that this is softened a little bit by age but it's still got ripping acidity and a linear minerality that I thoroughly enjoy. The fruit seems to be mostly in the background, with touches of grapefruit and papaya showing through. More bracing acidity cleans up the finish beautifully, readying your palate for the next bite. Surprisingly fresh and vibrant, this stuff is almost Muscadet-like. Color me impressed. 14.0% abv. Recommended.

2008 Trione Chardonnay Russian River Valley
It's rare that I get to taste California chardonnay with this much age on it. This one stays traditional, with lots of butter and oak rushing out of the glass. They aren't necessarily overpowering as much as dominating. With some air, I picked up aromas of golden apple, quince, and baking spices. A sip brought plenty of buttercream but a nice hit of acid too. There's enough apple and pear playing around with the vanilla oak and butter to make a really, really nice chardonnay. Acidity dries out the finish in a good way, making me think this needs some grilled sea bass or chicken kabobs. 14.3% abv.

2008 Trione Pinot Noir Russian River Valley
Again, it's rare to taste a RRV pinot with 6+ years of age, so I was looking forward to this one. Initially it's showing age, with notes of dried leather, furniture varnish, red cherry, and old wood. Still, it doesn't smell bad! There's still some acidity on the palate, barely holding together cherries, apple skin, baking spice and white pepper. Still-alive tannin is nicely integrated and I think this would pair well with more delicate meat, salmon and pork. It's not quite my cup of tea but still a really fun wine to taste. 14.2% abv.

2007 Trione Red Wine Alexander Valley
Shows a touch advanced, like it's just settling into some tertiary flavors. Similar to the pinot noir, this has a dusty, leathery element that is pretty interesting. Green herb, cassis, and cocoa powder come through with some swirling. Plenty of barrel spices too, maybe more than necessary. Sipping brings ample black fruit, good acid, and good tannin integration. Mostly cabernet, with merlot, petit verdot, and malbec thrown in. This looks, smells, and acts like a Bordeaux blend that's impeccably crafted. The balance between those advanced aromas and flavors versus the fresher blueberry, boysenberry, and red currant is excellent. If you see a 750ml of this, grab it. 14.5% abv. Highly Recommended.

2007 Trione Cabernet Sauvignon Alexander Valley
Fresher than the red blend, this is still showing plenty of primary fruit. Loads of sweet black cherry and blackcurrant framed by what smells like both French and American oak. That freshness carries over onto the palate too, with more cherries, firm tannin, and plenty of oak. Unfortunately it also gets really hot and sloppy, with perceptible alcohol through the mid-palate and finish. I don't think this is nearly as good as the above red blend. 14.5% abv.

2008 Trione Syrah Russian River Valley
This remained tight despite being open for almost two hours and getting vigorously swirled in my glass. I did manage to tease out notes of black tea, plum, and blackberry preserve. There's a bit of VA present too, which I found distracting. Also, like the cabernet, some alcoholic heat on the nose. On the palate this tastes young-ish, like a wine that is nearly in middle age. That and like it has a bit of brettanomyces. I picked up a distinct medicinal component on the mid-palate and the finish was hollow on the tongue, a big time indicator for brett. Behind the bretty, medicinal note lurked some firm tannins, dusty minerality, and muted fruit. Kind of a bummer because I was really looking forward to tasting this wine. 14.8% abv.

With these wines we batted .500, the sauvignon blanc, chardonnay, and red blend all being worthy of consideration. The other three, pinot noir, cabernet sauvignon, and syrah, had issues which I just can't overlook. Still, Trione clearly makes some very, very good wines and you should feel confident in purchasing (full size!) bottles of the wines I liked. Each promises to be good with food and have the ability to put on a bit of age to boot. I was pleased to find that I still enjoyed Trione after almost a decade of not tasting any of their releases.

The kit from tastingroom.com is really, really cool and gave me just enough wine to do a reasonably proper evaluation. They even include helpful information on how soon to drink the wines and how long they'll (most likely) remain fresh. I think more wineries that send out samples to bloggers might want to look into either this or bottle 375ml's for us, since it wastes far less wine.

These wines were samples for review purposes.

Beau Carufel

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Spelletich Family Wine Co. Releases

File these under the "samples I discovered while unpacking at our new house" label. I was sent three wines from Spelletich Family Wine Company last year and meant to write them up at that time but with the job, harvest, and moving to a new house all the samples were shuffled into boxes that went into the cellar. I've been slowly unpacking all those boxes and categorizing the wines since the move.

If you drink wine and live in California, chances are you know of the Spelletich Cellars label. I sold the wines with great success back in my retail days, they were always of high quality and priced competitively. In particular, I used to enjoy their cabernet sauvignon. Now, it would appear that the Spelletich family has expanded product lines with one called 3 Spells and one called Spellwine. As explained by the website "SPELLwine, created by Kristen Spelletich, characterized as “A Next Generation” brand produces around 2,000 cases annually, priced from $15-$20. The newest brand, 3 SPELLS, is our“3rd generation” wines, priced from $22-$30 range."

I was approached by the PR rep to try the Spelletich wines and ended up being sent three bottles. The 2009 3 Spells Cabernet Sauvignon from Sonoma Valley and 2011 3 Spells Chardonnay from Lodi, plus the 2009 Spellwine Chardonnay from Mendocino County. Unfortunately, none of the actual Spelletich Cellars wines were included.

2009 Spellwine Chardonnay Mendocino County ($25 retail)
Shows some reduction at first, as well as notes of lemon, struck match, and gun flint. As I swirled, a vegetal aroma came out. Swirling some more to get the reduction in check, I picked up a touch of cream and red apple. On the palate this is soft and smooth, with lemon and pear dominating. A subtle herb and melon thing kicks in, but it's barely there. Very simple and compact, without any layering or nuance. The finish wasn't that great for me, with a chemically aftertaste. 14.2% abv.

2011 3 Spells Chardonnay Lodi ($22 retail)
Smells much, much better than the Spellwine bottle. Ripe lemon, melon, and pears galore. Very fruity and expressive on the nose. The attack is quite soft and easy, like a wine made for sipping on the patio. It tastes low acid (it's Lodi, after all) but has tons of flavor. I found lots of apple and lemon plus a satisfyingly grapey thing. The finish a touch hot from the 14.2% abv, but that would easily be covered up if you served this with a white pizza or grilled shrimp.

2009 3 Spells Cabernet Sauvignon Sonoma Valley ($30 retail)
The bouquet takes me back to working retail in the early 2000's in California. Tons of oak in the form of spicy wood, vanilla, and cocoa. Beyond that likes plenty of black fruit - think cherries and blueberries - surrounded by some black pepper. At first I was worried that this might lack structure, but it doesn't. Firm, grippy tannins reign in the ripeness and even help temper the alcohol. It's a bit hot, just like so many 2000's era California cabs. That said, I think this could be enjoyed on the back deck with grilled burgers or ribs. The tannic finish really begs to pair with something smokey and charred. 14.5% abv.

After tasting these three wines, I gotta say that can't recommend that Spellwine chardonnay. However, I will suggest that if you enjoy bigger, lusher cabernet and chardonnay and spot the 3 Spells wines on the shelf, you give them a shot. Both 3 Spells wines I tasted will stand up to food and are well made, but are also a bit pricey at their wine-searcher.com retail listings. Knock $5-7 off the price of each and then we'll talk about QPR.

To learn more about the Spelletich Family Winery lineup, visit their website.

These wines were media samples for review purposes.

Beau Carufel

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Arteis & Co. Champagne, 2002 Extra Brut

Champagne samples are a rarity for me, and I suspect for most bloggers, save for the "elite". A few weeks ago I was contacted by the PR agency representing Arteis & Co. reached out to me to see if I wanted to try one of their Champagnes. Anyone that knows me know I drink a lot of Champagne, usually at least two bottles a week. And I mean Champagne from the region of Champagne, not method traditionelle sparkling wine or cremant from other places in France. Remember, if it says Champagne on the label, make sure it's actually from there and not a poseur from someplace else.

Arteis & Co. debuted their wines last year in New York restaurants, and for a time were only available there. Now, the company is releasing more additional wines and expanding distribution to Los Angeles and San Francisco. As of this writing, the Champagnes are not available at retailers, just high end restaurants in those three cities.

After a few back and forth emails between the PR firm and myself, a sample bottle of the 2002 Blanc de Blancs Extra Brut made its way out to Oregon for me to taste. I wasn't sure what to expect, as this is a brand I have no knowledge of. I was worried that what I'd be tasting was a gimmicky, poorly made Champagne that was created by some huge winery and marketed as "true luxury" or some such thing.

Luckily, I was wrong.

I chilled the 2002 Arteis Blanc de Blancs (100% chardonnay) for a few hours before serving it, but also made sure to pull it from the fridge about 20 minutes before we popped the cork. It poured a beautiful pale gold with green flecks throughout. On the nose, correct mature notes of brioche and red apple helped show more vibrant aromas of lime, wet chalk, and subtle peach blossom. As we all tasted it, eyes widened and lips curled skyward in big smiles. I think this is flat-out delicious Champagne. It's showing a beautiful aged quality that acts as a lovely foil to the freshness. Apples and pears galore on the palate, with supporting flavors of lime and chalk dust, as well as a subtle yeasty component that we all loved. The finish is crisp and clean, with a nice taper that lasts a solid 10 seconds, once again showing wonderful vitality despite the 10+ years of age.

I'm confident in say that this is the real deal. If I ordered a bottle off of a wine list and it tasted like the sample bottle I received, I'd be thrilled. According to the PR firm, the pricing (at restaurants) is $300-350, but that'll vary by location. I have inquired about the availability at retail locations, where the SRP is $129, but as of now the wine is not available outside restaurants. Hopefully that changes soon, as I believe that those of us who love vintage Champagne would enjoy adding this to our cellars. I give it a Highly Recommended and urge you to keep your eyes open for Arteis Champagnes.

Artéis & Co. is imported by Riahi Selection
in New York, H. Mercer Imports in California
, and Wine Collection in Florida. For more information, please visit www.arteis.co.

This wine was a media sample for review purposes.

Beau Carufel

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Charles Krug Winery New Releases

The lovely folks at Charles Communications invited me once again to a live virtual tasting of wine, this time featuring four wines from Charles Krug Winery in Napa Valley. I'd recently participated in one featuring the Hourglass Vineyards wines and thought that the opportunity to taste more current release Napa Valley wines was too good to pass up. Also, I hadn't tasted Charles Krug wines since my days working in wine retail in San Diego.

The tasting format was similar to before, with me logging onto a website where a live stream was played for all of us bloggers. Peter Mondavi Jr. and winemaker Stacy Clark tasted along with us, answering questions and giving some great background on the history of both the winery and the Mondavi family's ownership. I highly recommend visiting the Charles Krug website for more detailed information.

Below are the four wines we all tasted:

2013 Charles Krug Limited Release Estate Sauvignon Blanc ($35 srp)
A very pretty opening with plenty of ripe tropical fruit, grass, and hints of jalapeno. Broad and expansie across the palate, showing sweet ripe tropical flavors mixed with spicy jalapeno, cut grass, and a leesy richness. The finish is all citrus, a mix of ruby grapefruit and lemon pith. I'm impressed, this is pretty serious sauvignon blanc but has a playful side too. I suggest pairing it with grilled scallops, pesto pizza, and fish tacos. 13.6% abv.

2011 Charles Krug Napa Valley Merlot ($25 srp)
Opens with bright, spicy red fruit before a rich vein of chocolate and blackberries come into play. Further swirling brings out a persistent but welcome note of green pepper, which acts as a foil to the ripe fruit. Smooth and rich on the palate, this brings a light touch that does a good job expressing merlot's feminine side. Plenty of ripe, red fruit and notes of coconut showcase the smart picking decision and American oak while a fine-grained tannin helps build character. Very, very drinkable merlot that begs for red meat or something hot off the grill. 13.7% abv.

2011 Charles Krug Family Reserve ‘Generations’ ($50 srp)
All sorts of subtlety going on here for me. Lots of green pepper initially, but as you get past that there's beautiful cassis and blackberry mixed with oak and baking chocolate. A hint of herb and fennel comes along too, followed by anise. Firm, with plenty of acidity and tannin, this has all the hallmarks of classic Napa cabernet. Blackberry, cherry, and cassis for the fruit. Herbs and bell pepper on the nose, all bound together with firm tannin and plenty of acidity. This wine toes the line between the old school, low alcohol Napa Valley and the newer, riper style that we've seen since the 90's. Impressive. 13.9% abv.

2011 Charles Krug Family Reserve ‘Howell Mountain’ Cabernet Sauvignon ($75 srp)
On the nose, I believe this could be served to people with the explanation that it is the typical high-end Napa cab aroma profile. Cassis, oak, blackberry, cocoa. They rush out of the glass, followed by black pepper and dried herb. The first word I thought of upon tasting this was "serious". As in, I think this is still a baby and needs several more years to show itself fully. Still, there's a depth and concentration on the palate that left me smiling. 13.7% abv.

Overall the wines were more to my palate than the Hourglass Vineyards selections, though some bloggers did have trouble with the green pepper notes. I welcomed them though, as a foil to the ripeness. Each wine was very well made, showing both balance and accessibility. They just had a rightness to them, a delicious, fulfilling component that I thoroughly enjoyed. Though these wines carry hefty price tags, I believe you do get what you pay for.

Charles Krug Facebook Page
Charles Krug Twitter Account

These wines were media samples.

Beau Carufel

Monday, May 26, 2014

Hourglass Vineyards Blueline Estate New Releases

I recently had the pleasure of tasting through the Hourglass wines, specifically from their Blueline estate vineyard, in a virtual tasting along with a handful of other bloggers. Charles Communications organized the tasting, sending us four 375ml bottles from Hourglass Vineyards. We were joined by Proprieter Jeff Smith and Winemaker Tony Biagi. Tony took over in 2012, so we tasted the 2012 reds and 2013 sauvignon blanc. They discussed the wines, their philosophy, and some Napa Valley history.

The wines we tasted were:

2013 Hourglass Estate Sauvignon Blanc (SRP $40)
Big, rich on the palate, plenty of acid too. Feels like a big wine, but one that is balanced. Tropical and citrus with a touch of pear. Maybe a touch of wood too, showing up as some vanilla notes. Several tastes had me smacking my lips in anticipation of a bite of food. There is a touch of heat on the finish but honestly I was expecting more booziness based on the 14.2% abv so it was a very pleasant surprise. Suggested pairings would be fish tacos, grilled halibut, bbq chicken salad.

2012 Hourglass Blueline Estate Merlot (SRP $75)
Showing tart red fruit, balsamic vinegar, oak, and plums. The VA is a bit distracting at this point, though I think there is enough fruit behind it to help. On the palate it shows very traditional Napa-merlot flavors, think blackberry, plum, buttressed by oak and nicely integrated tannin. I like the finish most of all, perhaps, because there's a dusty, spicy element that finishes very cleanly. 91% Merlot, 7% Cabernet Sauvignon, 2% Petit Verdot. 14.8% abv. Suggested pairings include hamburgers, ribs, and beef or lamb stew.

2012 Hourglass Blueline Estate Malbec (SRP $75)
Think smokey, meaty, blackberry and blueberries. That's this wine on the nose. I like the odd note of grapefruit pith too. It's plenty ripe, showing black fruit, dusty soil, and grippy tannins along with chocolate and a burst of red fruit on the finish. This wine makes me want a fancy bacon cheeseburger, it's also something like 25% petit verdot, so you know it tugs at my heartstrings! 75% Malbec, 25% Petit Verdot. 14.2% abv. Suggested pairings include bone-in steak, lamb, pork ribs.

2012 Hourglass Blueline Estate Cabernet Franc (SRP $135)
I thought of the word "big" right away. I like the richness on the nose, with aromas of violet, chocolate, coffee, blueberry, and cherry. Plenty of oak on the palate, which works with very ripe blue fruit, chocolate, black pepper, and firm tannins. Heat on the finish comes not as a surprise, and I think would be mitigated by food. This is lush, elegant, downright fancy wine. I would age this for years or serve it now after a long decant. If the malbec demands a fancy burger, this cabernet franc demands you serve it filet mignon. 83% Cabernet Franc, 11% Cabernet Sauvignon, 6% Petit Verdot. 14.8% abv.

Overall I liked tasting these wines because it gave me a bit of a glimpse into what is going on in Napa Valley right now. Each wine is unabashedly "Napa", meaning big flavor, structure, and ample concentration. That is not at all a knock though, because in the case of the malbec and cabernet franc, it works. I enjoyed the sauvignon blanc much more than I expected to, but just can't plop down $40 a bottle. Again, no knock on quality, rather, I seek out different examples for my own cellar.

I want to address one thing, as sort of a disclaimer. I don't drink a lot of Napa Valley wines and can probably count on one hand how many producers I actively buy. For this tasting, I tried my very best to taste with context. That is to say that I tasted each wine with the understanding of where it was from, the style which Napa Valley tends to produce, and the vintage. For my friends who love high acid, low alcohol wines with less fruit and more tertiary flavors, these are not for you. For my friends who love rich, concentrated, bigger wines that still have good acid (and plenty of alcohol), I recommend the Hourglass Vineyards spring releases.

These wines were media samples for review purposes.

Beau Carufel

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Summer Fun Equals Vinho Verde

(img via: http://www.winesofvinhoverde.com/maps/vinho-verde-sub-regions-2/)

With summer very nearly upon us, I will once again renew my call for you to drink vinho verde wines. These are wines, from Portugal, that epitomize that refreshing glass of wine on a warm day. I drink my fair share of vinho verde, alongside riesling and sparkling wines because when it's hot out and I don't want something to weigh me down (or get me too tipsy!), low alcohol plus high acid equals awesome.

Smart public relations firms doing what they do, this week a campaign called Passport to Vinho Verde came out. In addition to hosting tastings and events where you can taste Vinho Verde wines, there's also a chance to win a trip to Portugal's Vinho Verde region. Scroll to the bottom of this post for more details. It's super easy to sign up for, took me about a minute.

To refresh your memory, here are some quick facts I found here: http://www.winesofvinhoverde.com/about-vinho-verde/vinho-verde-101/
  • Vinho Verde is pronounced veeng-yo vaird.
  • Vinho Verde does not mean ‘green’ wine. ‘Verde’ refers to it being a young wine; the wines are released 3-6 months after harvest.
  • The Vinho Verde region has produced wine for over 2,000 years, making it one of the oldest wine regions in Portugal.
  • Vinho Verde wines are made from the combination of carefully selected varietals. Recommended white varietals include Alvarinho, Avesso, Azal, Arinto, Loureiro, and Trajadura.
  • The wines of Vinho Verde have long been known for their vibrant fruit, low alcohol and refreshing qualities -a combination that makes them one of the most versatile partners with food.
  • Vinho Verde is an ideal wine pairing for salads, seafood and Asian cuisine, and can be served alone or as an aperitif.
This week I was sent a list of cities in the U.S. that are hosting "Passport to Vinho Verde" events, where wine lovers can visit selected retail shops and taste the different styles that are making their way to our shores. So far, New York, Chicago, and Washington D.C. are getting all the love, click on the link above to select your city and find a retailer. Needless to say, I highly encourage the people running this PR campaign to add more cities to the list!

(img via: http://www.winesofvinhoverde.com/region-estate-photos/arcos-valdevez-giela-house/)
And finally, I found out that you could actually win a trip for two to Vinho Verde (Portugal!!) just by going Facebook page and entering. It's free and the amount of personal information they request is the bare minimum. If you've ever wanted to visit Portugal, this could be your chance.
over to their

More news can be found at the Vinho Verde Twitter Account, should be a tweeter like I am.

Beau Carufel

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Rosé Me Away

Oregon has been having unseasonably warm weather, in the 70's and 80's this week. The day are bright, the skies clear, and the heat begs for a refreshing glass (or three) of wine. Rosé, sauvignon blanc, pinot gris, auxerrois, and plenty of other varieties are just the thing to help manage the heat. Light, acid-driven whites and pinks won't weigh you down like a hearty syrah or zinfandel might. Save those big reds for the barbecues and drink the rosé while you wait!

I'll focus on two rosé wines in this blog, from Teutonic Wine Company and Arnot-Roberts. Both are fantastic, small production, refreshing wines that are worth your time to seek out. Both are from producers who are passionate about making the best wines possible using the least amount of intervention. Non-intervention is a risky prospect in winemaking, the results can be exceptional or the wines can turn into stinky garbage. With Teutonic and Arnot-Roberts, we have two producers that consistently excel at turning their winemaking philosophies into great wine.

Starting first with the Teutonic Wine Company and then with the Arnot-Roberts I'll showcase two exceptional wines that match the weather and fare that warm springs call for.

2012 Teutonic Wine Company Laurel Vineyard Rosé: Made from 100% pinot noir and aged in neutral oak barrels, this $18 wine hits it out of the park with bright aromas of orange rind, sour cherry, fresh-cut grass, and green apple. On the palate the acidity screams out for food. Flavors of dusty orange, strawberry, limes, and a savory, salty finish keep me coming back for glass after glass. Rosé of this quality at only $18 is hard to find sometimes, the fact that a passionate small producer can deliver this much bang for the buck is a testament to just how great the winemaking climate is here in Oregon. 11.3% abv. $18 srp. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

*Note* The 2013 Teutonic Rosé was just released to some markets but the 2012 is still available in distribution

2012 Arnot Roberts Touriga Luchsinger Vineyard Rosé: This is made from 80% Touriga Nacional and 20% Tinta Cao, and is the harder of these two wines to find. The easiest way to get them is to visit the Arnot-Roberts website and sign up for their mailing list. I am on that mailing list and take almost every single bottle of their wines that I'm allocated with each release. Paler than the Teutonic wine, this wine opens with loads of sour strawberry, lemons, green herb, and sea-spray. I love it. On the palate there's a huge dollop of acidity that supports a melange of lemon, strawberry, cherry, and raspberry. As the wine warmed up I also tasted herbs and cut grass. The balance is terrific and I kept wanting to pair this with chips and dip or some carnitas street tacos. 12.5% abv. $22 retail. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Both of these wines are worth your time to find and drink, though I must admit that the 2013 vintage is out for both too. I sometimes like to have rosé with an extra year of age on it because if the wine has enough acidity, you don't really lose any freshness and the flavors have more time to integrate, forming a beautiful tapestry of pure deliciousness. How's that for flowery bloggerspeak?

Buy both wines, I did. As someone who (now) has a small label of his own, the importance of supporting small producers takes on new meaning. While it may be easy to buy a rosé or any wine made by some big, corporate owned winery, it's more satisfying and fun to seek out new producers. You'll be glad you did, I promise.

Beau Carufel

Monday, February 17, 2014

Joseph Drouhin's La Foret Wines

A long time ago a nice, courteous PR professional pitched a blogger on some wines. These wines, French wines, were from a well known producer that many of us wine lovers hold in high esteem. What was particularly interesting about said wines was the pricing, much lower than this producers other offerings.

Maison Joseph Drouhin makes wines that cost $12 all the way to over $500. Here in Oregon, their Domaine Drouhin property is considered one of the states finest sites for great pinot noir and chardonnay. Winemaker Veronique Drouhin has redesigned the La Forets brand, more on that below.

As I read further into the pitch, I noted that these wines are designed for restaurants to pour by the glass. Perhaps the hottest category in on-premise wine programs, btg lists are fast becoming places not just to dump off cheap wines, but to also find unique, exciting, and delicious wines. American btg culture is changin, albeit slowly, into something far better than it was.

To taste these wines in approximately real world conditions, I took them to my fiancee's shop, Urban Decanter, and ate a meal with a glass of each wine. In between bites and sips, I took notes on what the wines were like. The food pairing was a meat and cheese plate to start, then one of Urban Decanter's famous paninis.

2012 Joseph Drouhin "La Foret" Bourgogne Chardonnay: Grass, butter, green apple, and fun! This just has a whimsical, happy element to it. When tasting, the word of the day is clean, clean, clean! It's so crisp and pure on the palate, with wonderful texture and a finish that's beautifully light and airy. For such an inexpensive chardonnay, this is firing on all cylinders. Recommended! $12.00 SRP.

2011 Joseph Drouhin "La Foret" Bourgogne Pinot Noir: Reminds me of macerated cherries, baking spice, wood, and tart strawberry. In other words, a perfectly normal set of aromas one finds in pinot noir from around the world. Soft and fruity on the palate, with a bit of acidity and tannin thrown in. Clean, easy-drinking, red Burgundy. Recommended! $12.00 SRP.

Wines like this on restaurant btg lists make a lot more sense than what is currently there. This goes doubly true for big chains like Landry's. If you're a wine lover and have ever looked at lists for places like McCormick's, El Gaucho, etc, you know that the list of high quality, unique wines is limited. It's mostly a bunch of boring stuff supplied by one of the mega distributors operating in the United States.

Ok, rant over.

These two wines are good and priced extremely well. If you see them on restaurant lists you can be assured they'll be food-friendly and of high quality. Should you see them on store shelves, I recommend considering each for that casual, Tuesday night bottle.

To find out more, visit the Drouhin La Forets website or the Maison Joseph Drouhin website.

These wines were samples for review purposes.

Beau Carufel