Sunday, September 26, 2021

L’Ecole No. 41 2019 Frenchtown Red Wine, Columbia Valley

L'Ecole 2019 FrenchtownSeptember is harvest month in Washington State and this wine gives a first glimpse into the release of 2019 wines.

Harvest Time Has Come

This entry-level red wine from L’Ecole is named for Frenchtown, Walla Walla’s first settlement, founded by French Canadians in the early 1800s. It’s notable because it is the first red wine bottled and released by the winery each year.

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Not only is it the first wine of the vintage year released, but it also provides of cross section of the entire L’Ecole red wine program. There are six different grapes included in Frenchtown and they include both Bordeaux and Rhone varieties – something not usually seen.

Cooking And Pairing

FL'Ecole 2019 Frenchtown with Spice & Salt Beefor this harvest-themed wine, I decided on a Spice and Salt Rubbed Beef with smashed red potatoes and a nice salad topped with cherries. The dish was topped with cremini mushrooms and cream sauce. We put a slight chill on the wine and allowed it to open up.

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The wine is primarily Merlot (45%), with 18% Cabernet Sauvignon, 17% Syrah, 10% Malbec, 6% Petit Verdot, and 4% Grenache. This is a winemaker blend that varies each year depending on the wine remaining from the other production runs.

We found this to be a fun wine, bursting with fruit-forward flavor. This is a fresh wine, with a hint of herbal and savory notes. It’s a medium to medium plus body and beautiful notes of black cherry and berries soon emerge.

It is high in alcohol (14.5%), but that doesn’t rattle the cage and the overall impression is a smooth, flavorful wine with a juicy finish.

The wine is aged nine months in neutral oak barrels, meaning laid-back tannins. It gets an additional six months of bottle aging before release. The SRP is $22, which is a great value from this third-generation family winery.

Tuesday, September 21, 2021

Clos Pissarra 2015 “Arrels” Garnacha, Montsant

Arrels 2015 GarnachaAn arresting red from Spain.

A Montsant Gem

Montsant is a Spanish wine region adjacent to the highly-acclaimed Priorat wine region. It’s also an ideal location to grab high-quality wines at value prices.

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Case in point: the Clos Pissarra 2015 “Arrels” Garnacha. Clos Pissarra is owned and operated by a group of wine and restaurant industry veterans. The winery takes it’s name from the slate-rich soil of Priorat.

The vineyard itself straddles both Montsant and Priorat and so neither region is listed on the bottle. It’s wines are produced with proprietary names.

Arrels is derived from the Catalan word meaning to put down roots. Indeed, this region is part of Catalan, with it’s own language that’s distinct from Spanish. According to the bottle, the composition is “garnatxa.” That’s the same as Garnacha or Grenache.

Limited Production

I’ve purchased two bottles from Clos Pissarra, and each has been delightful. This bottle is loaded with character that grabs you from the onset.

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On the nose, there is a healthy dollop of earth and cedar. In the glass it is dark garnet in color.

Spice and plum flow freely along with some nice jammy notes. As we sipped there were nice nuances of leather and tea. The body is medium and the texture is nice and velvety. This is a great choice when you are in the mood for a red and seek something intriguing, but don’t want a heavy Cabernet Sauvignon.

This is a limited production of 459 cases and I paid $20 for it, although I failed to indicate where I picked it up. For some reason I was wondering about the condition of the wine, but my fears were unfounded. It tasted great (and for a couple nights after), although the bottom of the bottle had a large amount of sediment.

This is a perfect bottle to enjoy some Spanish flair! It’s a bold red in an approachable style.

Thursday, September 16, 2021

Battenfeld Spanier 2016 Grüner Sylvaner Trocken

Battenfeld Spanier 2016 Gruner Sylvaner TrockenIt’s time to revisit Sylvaner – Once Germany’s most widely planted grape.

A Second Grüner?

This bottle began with a puzzle. We’re fans of the Austrian wine Grüner Veltliner – but the name Grüner Sylvaner on a German wine was a head scratcher.

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We’ve had Sylvaner before and it’s a pleasant, soft white wine capable of great aromatics. In Germany it’s spelled Silvaner and at one time its vines dominated the wine lands – until it was surpassed by the more productive Muller-Thurgau grape.

The correct name for the grape is Grüner Sylvaner, to differentiate it from another Sylvaner grape that is rarely grown. Grüner, by the way, means “greener.” That seems to fit with a wine that emphasizes fresh flavors.

A Higher Organic

Battenfeld Spanier is a winery in Germany’s Rheinhessen region, the largest of the country’s winegrowing areas. The winery, with 100 acres of vines, was a pioneer in the biodynamic movement in Rheinhessen.

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Sylvaner is a subtle wine, with a mild acidity. Pale yellow in the glass, it’s a great food partner (fish, vegetable casseroles, mild cheese). It’s also a nice casual sipping wine, as we discovered at the patio fire pit.

The wine is low in alcohol (12% ABV) and is finished in stainless steel to preserve the clean, precise flavors. The aromas are floral notes mixed with grass and herbs. The flavors are bright and clear pear and apple with mineral notes and a velvety texture.

It retails for about $24.

Friday, September 10, 2021

2012 1847 Pappy’s Cabernet Sauvignon, Barossa

PXL_20210906_231152249This Australian Cabernet Sauvignon is a flavorful surprise.

The Most Famous Aussie Region

When we visited Australia in 2019, one of our “must-see” destinations was Barossa Valley, the most famous of all Aussie wine regions. Our first stop was Chateau Yaldara.

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Chateau Yaldara operates from an impressive chateau building with a bubbling fountain and a grand staircase to the front entrance. Before the first sip, we felt special.

The winery was founded by Hermann Thumm, who arrived from Europe in 1941. The term “Yaldara” is the local First People’s term for “sparkling.” The winery is on the banks of the North Para River at the site of a flax mill dating back to 1867.

Uncorking Memories

To revive the beautiful memories, we opened a bottle earlier this week that we had purchased there: the 2012 1847 Pappy’s Cabernet Sauvignon. The 1847 range is reserved for the winery's finest wines.

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We fired up the grill with a couple of nice filet mignon and opened our bottle of 2012 Pappy's Cabernet Sauvignon. At the tasting room we were impressed with blueberry notes and smooth profile. Now with the steak there were initial notes of cedar followed by mint and herbal flavors, eucalyptus too.

As a more mature wine, the tannins have fallen away. For some reason I was expecting a big bomber of a wine, but this was all about finesse and nuanced flavors. It’s a great contrast to Napa and Washington Cabs, which we have more frequently. We paid A$55 our about $40 US – an incredible value.

Saturday, September 4, 2021

Vina Robles 2019 The Arborist, Paso Robles

PXL_20210904_024656940A red blend of a different sort.

I’ve always enjoyed the wines of Vina Robles. I visited the winery a few years ago and even before then, was impressed by the expressive wines that were creative and not-too-pricey.

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Last night was just a casual family evening that began with a board game and the call went up for some wine.

I had purchased this bottle from a little wine shop in Cary and thought this would be just perfect. Not glancing closely at the bottle, I thought this would be a typical Bordeaux-style blend, but one sip set me straight.

This is a unique blend of Syrah (45%), Petite Sirah (40%), Grenache and Tannat. This has bold ripples of dark fruit and mocha. Once it has you in its grip, you can also enjoy the chocolate and black cherry undertones.

To add to the complexity, it is aged in French, Hungarian and American oak. That’s fitting since the name is an homage to the caretaker of the iconic oaks in the Paso Robles wine region.

Retail price is a tasty $18.

Sunday, August 15, 2021

Korbin Kameron 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon, Sonoma Valley

PXL_20210626_000525822.PORTRAITFrom time to time I’ve mentioned Underground Cellars in this blog. I’ve done it for good reason, it’s a fun way to score bargains on wine.

The way Underground Cellar works is pretty unique. They create  offers, which you can purchase per bottle at a minimum price. For example, mine was called something like Unique Reds and the bottles that could possibly be included are listed on the site.

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Here’s what’s different than most wine retail sites, you can buy as many bottles at the minimum price, but most every other bottle is an upgrade. The minimum bottle price of wine deal was $28. The other bottles I received were priced at: $30, $33, $36, $60, $69, and $86. That’s quite a score.

The Korbin Kameron 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon from Sonoma Valley featured here was $60. The other wines in the shipment were two other Cabs, two Pinot Noir, one Grenache, and a Cab Franc.

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The system isn’t perfect. One 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon that was part of the shipment never arrived. After waiting for several weeks I contacted them and they agreed to send a 2008 bottle from a winery I really like. However, the bottle has “jumped the shark,” and was completely ruined.

The Korbin Kameron is a delightful Cabernet.  On the nose there is earth and oak. For us the beautiful part of the wine was a caramel tone to the midpalate. There are layers of sour cherry and leather. The tannins are smooth with a long finish.

The grapes are from Moonridge Vineyard and it has a not-overblown ABV of 13.8. This is a producer I will keep my eyes open for – and for Undergrounds Cellars deals as well!

Wednesday, August 4, 2021

Gris Rosé Turns My World Upside Down

Rosé made from Pinot Gris may prompt you to ask the question, “What Is rosé after all?”

The Nature Of Rosé

PXL_20210630_011713224.PORTRAITOn certain things I know it all, or as my wife reminds me, I think I know it all. Take rosé, for example. Any buffoon knows that rosé is made from red grapes left in short contact with the skins. Or so I thought.

I picked up a bottle of rosé for a recent Zoom session to celebrate International Rosé Day (not to be confused with National Rosé day). I’m not John D. Rockefeller, so I didn’t want to blow a lot of money on a 40-minute Zoom session. After all, I had already invested in a bottle for National Rosé Day.

The bottle I selected was Band of Roses Rosé 2019, Washington State, by Charles Smith, a Washington State winemaker known for producing some rocking wines for very reasonable prices. In this case, it was $11.99.

As the online session began, each participant was asked to share a bit about their wine, including the grape used. As I checked the back of the bottle, I was a bit flummoxed. It said Pinot Gris, a white grape. The moderator of the session, the executive director of a distinguished international wine group, said, “That’s sounds like a nice wine, David, but I don’t know that I would consider it rosé.”

I reflected back to our recent visit to Smithfield Cellars in North Carolina. While there we tasted their rosé since it was blistering hot out. I looked at the bottle and it mentioned it was made with Pinot Gris. At the time I brushed it off as a typo on the label, because everyone knew that rosé is only made with red grapes…

It turns out that Pinot Gris grapes are actually a reddish, copper color. With most rosé, the winemaker lets the red grapes sit in contact with the juice for only minutes to hours. With the Pinot Gris, the grapes are allowed to be in contact with the juice for three days or so.

In the case of the Band of Roses, the color is a beautiful copper, a contrast to the pink salmon colors of Provence rosé. The flavors were delicious, with tropical fruits, silky peach, and apricot. To me, it was a perfectly delightful rosé. In fact, it appears that Pinot Gris rosé is a trend. We recently tried a bottle of Gris Blanc Rosé by Gerard Bertrand, the well-known French winemaker.

Rosé, it’s not just for red grapes anymore!

Thursday, July 29, 2021

Exploring Spanish Wines: Rioja and Beyond

While Rioja rules Spanish imports, be sure to include these other great regions.

Marques de Caceres VerdejoHistoric Roots and Modern Grace

Spain is Europe’s second oldest wine-producing country, but is producing some of the most modern wine on the continent. Tradition dates back 3,000 years, but Spanish wine comes in a wide gamut of styles designed to please today’s palate. We recently tasted three bottles from three different regions of Spain.

Marqués de Cáceres Verdejo 2020

This vintner is best known for wines from Rioja, but in 2014,
Marqués de Cáceres purchased 300 acres of vineyards in the heart of the D.O. Rueda.

A little over 100 miles northwest of Madrid, Rueda is a
flat high plain with a continental climate and some
Atlantic maritime influences. The region is best known
for Verdejo, which challenges Albariño for the title as Spain’s best white wine.

This Verdejo has an elegant and subtle nose of white fruit. In the mouth, it is lively with flavors or citrus and grapefruit. It was more flavorful than we expected and was a good match with our charcuterie.

Showcase of Spanish WinesMarqués de Cáceres Rioja Crianza 2017

This wine is 85% Tempranillo with the rest being Graciano and Garnacha Tinta varieties. The wine is aged in small barrels of French oak for 12 months and in the bottle for 14 or more months. Rioja is traditionally known for aging in American oak, but this is 60% French and 40% American. There is also a mixed on the age of the barrels themselves, with 25% being new and the others seeing up to three wines.

I expected a heavy vanilla flavor (from American oak) but was impressed by the spicy and full-bodied nature of the wine. There is ripe fruit and elegant tannins. The finish is long and rewarding.

Finca La Capilla Ribera del Duero Crianza 2016

La Capilla Ribero del Duero CrianzaWhen I visited Spain a number of years ago, Ribera del Duero was one region that made a surprising impact on me. The wines were downright majestic and were previously unknown to me.

Located in northern Spain on a plateau with an average altitude of 2,600 feet, growing conditions are challenging. The winters are extremely cold and hard and summers are hot and dry. The grapes used are primarily red, with Tempranillo (or Tinta del Pais as it’s known locally) being most popular.

This is intense wine, with a blast of toasted oak mingling with fresh fruit. We enjoyed this with a pork chop, but probably would have fared better with a big slab of grilled steak. It is an elegant and enjoyable wine.

La Capilla is a boutique winery, recently purchased by Marqués de Cáceres, on 160 acres particularly suited to Tempranillo. The resulting grapes are rich in powerful tannins, full of color, and with good structure. This was a limited-production wine with only 180 barrels produced.

Full disclosure: These wines were received as a marketing sample.

Wednesday, July 21, 2021

L’Ecole 2020 Luminesce A Perfect Summer White for Your Picnic

L'Ecole 2020 LuminesceFor us, this is the ideal summer wine, whether you’re packing a picnic lunch or planning a casual meal in the backyard. 

A Rarity In Walla Walla Valley

The 2020 Luminesce by L‘Ecole No. 41 is a special wine for several reasons. First, a white wine in the Walla Walla Valley AVA, where 95% of grapes grown are red, is a rarity. This limited-production wine is also the only white wine offered by L’Ecole that is produced with Walla Walla fruit.

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The wine is 62% Semillon and 38% Sauvignon Blanc, coming from the acclaimed Seven Hills Vineyard, in which L’Ecole is a partner. The vineyard was named one of the Ten Great Vineyards of the World by Wine & Spirits Magazine. 

When you think of Bordeaux blends, we normally envision the classic red grapes, including Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc. Not so fast! Bordeaux produces some beautiful white wines and Luminesce is a classic Bordeaux-style white blend.

L'Ecole Luminesce and floral background

A White Bordeaux Blend

In many white Bordeaux blends, the Sauvignon Blanc plays the lead role, but for L’Ecole, there is no doubt that Semillon has to be the leading grape. Semillon is the most important white variety for L’Ecole. The winery has been producing  the Semillon-driven Luminesce since 2007.

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Semillon has the body and viscosity that results in a wonderful texture in the wine. Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc is a classic pairing as the less-acidic Semillon reins in the zesty Sauvignon Blanc

The wine is whole-cluster-pressed to capture the depth of flavors. Malolactic fermentation adds to the full body and the wine is aged sur lie for four months in tight-grained French oak barrels. During aging, the wine had battonage every two weeks before heading to stainless steel for finishing.

We paired the Luminesce with a backyard picnic that included falafel balls, cheese and Gruyere tarts, pasta salad, and hummus and naan. The wine has a nice one-two punch. The Semillon brings a rounded fruit profile that perfectly balances with the crispness of the Sauvignon Blanc. On the palate, there is citrus and peach with nice savory notes. It ends with a hint of white pepper.

There were 1,350 cases produced and the SRP is $22. It’s a tasty bargain for those beautiful summer days.

Full disclosure: This wine was received as a marketing sample.

Saturday, July 17, 2021

Bordeaux and Germany Surprise With Bottles Of Bubbly

The best tool in your entertaining toolkit is sparkling wine. Here are four that delight without busting the budget.

Sparkling Wine From Bordeaux and GermanySparkling Wine Beyond Boundaries

I’ll let you in on a wine secret. If you want fantastic French sparkling wine without the large price tag, try Crémant. Sparkling wine is made all over France, but only bubbly made in the Champagne region can be called by that name. Crémant is made with the same traditional method, just without the price.

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This next fact might be even more surprising. Germany makes good sparkling wine.

During a recent online tasting event, sponsored by Bordeaux Wines and Wines of Germany, we had a chance to explore sparklers from these two regions.

Celene NC Cuvée Amethyste, AOC Crémant de Bordeaux

We’re most familiar with Crémant from Burgundy, but this bottle shows that Bordeaux knows its stuff with sparkling wine. Although sparkling wine has been made in Bordeaux for more than 200 years, the AOC Crémant Bordeaux wasn’t established until 1990.Celene Amethyste

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The Cuvée Amethyste, like all Crémant Bordeaux, is made in the traditional method. It is a Blanc de Noir, made with 60% Merlot, and 40% Cabernet Franc from three Right Bank vineyards. It has clean minerality, a hit of red fruit, with refreshing notes of honeysuckle and a pervasive stream of bubbles. It offers surprising finesse for a mere $12.

Markus Molitor NV Riesling Sekt, AOC Mosel

We were a little late jumping on the Sekt bandwagon, having tasted our first bottle just a few months ago. Now we are firmly onboard. This Sekt is 100% Riesling that opens with peach and nectarine flavors. Markus Molitor is a pioneer of bubbly in Mosel, having produced sparkling wines since 1982. The grapes for this wine come from vineyards on steep slopes overlooking the Mosel River. The slate soil imparts minerality and focus to the finished wine.

This Sekt is 12.5% ABV, so it is light and playful in the glass. The wine is tank fermented (as opposed to the traditional method which has the second fermentation in the bottle). The bubble are tiny and the high acidity makes this a nice pick for meats like prosciutto or dishes with cream sauces. SRP is $19.

Charcuterie and bubblesCalvert 2018 Brut Rosé, AOC Crémant de Bordeaux

The production of rosé sparklers in Crémant de Bordeaux has exploded in the last 20 years, growing by 413%. The rosé there is produced using the famed red grapes of Bordeaux.

The Calvert Brut Rosé is a good reason why this segment is skyrocketing. It is made with 100% Cabernet Franc grapes that are hand harvested and pressed.

It is pale in color with a delicious perfumed nose. On the palate it has notes of raspberry and dried earth with very fine bubbles. For a unique pairing, try it with milk chocolate. We think sparkling rosé is an ideal wine for entertaining. The bubbles set the festive atmosphere and rosé is an ideal food wine. This is an astounding bargain at $18 for traditional method bubbles.

Raumland Cuvee Marie-Luise BrutRaumland 2013 Cuvée Marie Luise, AOC Rheinhessen

Surprise! This wine is a beautiful sparkling Blanc de Noir using Pinot Noir from Germany’s Rheinhessen region. Pinot Noir is Germany’s most popular red grape and is known there as Spätburgunder. Raumland is Germany’s benchmark sparkling wine producer and this is a classy, elegant wine.

The wine is made in the traditional method, using only the best juice from the whole cluster process. This wine spends 27 months on the lees.

Grown in chalky soil, it has minerality mingling with red apple and citrus notes. Bakery flavors are apparent in the approach. The texture is soft and creamy held together with a solid acidity. This is the highest priced bottle of the quartet at $46, but represents an amazing value compared with a Champagne of similar quality.