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.

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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

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 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 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 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 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

This wine was a media sample for review purposes.

Beau Carufel