Monday, July 17, 2017

Before You Visit Your Next Winery, Check Our Online Reports

A winery visit can be spectacular – or a complete bust. What makes the difference? After visiting more than 100 different wineries, here’s our inside scoop.

Finger Lakes 2013 B 072We Have Reports On More Than 130 Wineries


I just recently glanced at our winery reports page and counted 133 entries. We’ve visited many more than that, probably closer to the 150 mark.

Some of those visits have been memorable – sipping outstanding wine in the dappled sunshine while being caressed by gentle breezes. But some have been memorable for the wrong reasons.

The bad winery visits can remind you of an episode of Kitchen Nightmares with Gordon Ramsey going ballistic after discovering an oozing mess in the walk-in cooler.

Well, what is it that makes a winery visit an experience to savor?

Based on our experience, we consider three factors. If a winery scores big in all three dimensions, you can ink in a big star on the wine trail map – marking it for repeated visits.

In our experience, you need the “three goods:” 1. Good winery grounds and tasting room, 2. Good tasting room staff, and 3. Good wine.

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Number One: Good Winery Grounds And Tasting Room

Upon arrival, nothing sets the stage like seeing an impressive, quirky or scenic winery building. It gives you good vibrations right from the start. There’s nothing worse than rumbling up to the next stop on the wine trail, looking at your companion asking, “Should we go in, or just turn around?”

Having an awesome tasting room doesn’t mean you will have world class wine, but it shows the caliber of the operation. Chances are that even average wine will taste a lot better in a tasting room with a floor to ceiling window overlooking a lake than in what appears to be a farmer’s converted garage.

One of the nicest tasting rooms we’ve visited is Heron Hill in the Finger Lakes. You are impressed from a half mile away and even more blown away once you are inside. Lamoreaux Landing and Glenora are two other stand-out Finger Lakes establishments. The winery buildings in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Stellenbosch (South Africa), and Lake Okanogan (British Columbia) are also spectacular.

There is also a lot to be said for grounds with picnic tables and scenic views of mountains, vineyards or lakes.

Number Two: Good Tasting Room Staff

La Bri, South Africa

Someone save us from uninformed, unhelpful and unpleasant tasting room staff. You’ve made the decision to stop for a tasting and enter the building. The next moment of truth is the tasting room attendant.

In some wineries, like Bully Hill in the Finger Lakes, the staff ARE the attractions – entertaining guests with humorous stories and gags while dispensing detailed knowledge of the winery’s goods. A good staff can also help guide you to the wines you will most enjoy.

On a good day, your tasting room attendant will generate warmth, be a helpful advisor and sell a lot of wine.

The other end of the spectrum includes those who are too busy to tell you about the wine, those who don’t know what is in a particular wine and those who are doing it without a true love of wine.

This factor is probably even more important than an impressive building. At this point you're already invested in making a stop and if you get a bummer of a host, you’ll feel it’s been a waste of time.

Check Out Our Winery Reports Page To Plan Your Next Visit!

Taste of Washington

Number Three: Good Wine

Excellent wine can supersede almost any other flaw in your winery visit. This is the final piece of the puzzle. If you’re sipping an especially robust Cabernet Franc in a groovy tasting room while the tasting room attendant is telling you an intriguing story about how the owner started the winery, you have hit the trifecta!

If Numbers 1 and 2 are locked in, you have a better than even chance you’ll be tasting some good wine. But there is no guarantee.

While we were up in the Niagara Peninsula, we made a stop at a winery that looked very impressive from the road. The building was of a modern design built from local stone. Inside the tasting room glittered as track lighting glinted off racks of bottles in impressive displays.

Unfortunately, the wine was just “mehh”…

Once you have achieved the “three goods,” that is the time to turn to your companions, smile and raise a toast. You are living the good life!

Monday, July 10, 2017

Wines of Germany Offer Decades Of Satisfaction

WinesofGermanyDecades ago Green Dragon and I took the first steps in our wine odyssey. It started with German wine. Years later, a pair of wines from Deutschland deliver that “lovin’ feeling” once again.

That First Sweet Sip

Many calendar pages ago, I was a crusading newspaper editor and reporter in West Virginia. I wanted to impress my beautiful date by taking her to a classy event – a wine tasting.

That young lady was the Green Dragon, my future wife. To say that we were wine newbies would be an overstatement. This one evening would be the beginning of a lifelong love affair – that includes my wife too.

We attended a wine tasting hosted by Les Amis du Vin – the friends of wine – held at the Paramount Arts Center in Ashland, Kentucky. A wine distributor was there and with a wide array of German wines. He also handed out a booklet, “A Short Guide to German Wines.” As I was going through some old boxes last week, I found the booklet after many years – like a miner finding a large gold nugget.Those wines and that booklet made us lovers of German wines to this day.

Our palate wasn’t well developed, but we knew what we liked – sweet white German wine! We started there and the little booklet, featuring a cartoonish character in lederhosen, gave us excellent information on how to enjoy the wine and the different quality levels.

Evolution Of German Wines

Germany is consistently among the top 10 wine exporters in the world. Globally, tastes change – just like our palate gravitated to drier wine. Winemaking in Germany has evolved too – today about two-thirds of the country’s wine production is dry.

Although Germany produces many wines, it’s reputation is built upon world-class Riesling. These wines are complex with the ability to age – a rarity among white wines.

I’ve gained an even greater enthusiasm for German wine (if that’s possible) with my recent discovery of VDP wines. This is the designation for the Association of German Pradikat Wine Estates (for which the German acronym is VDP). The group, founded in 1910, is an organization of Germany’s leading wine estates. In 2002 they announced the first classification system for vineyards, modeled after Burgundy. We recently tasted two VDP Rieslings: 2015 von Winning Ruppertsberger Reiterpfad Riesling Trocken, Pfalz, and 2014 St. Urbans-Hof Nik Weis Riesling Kabinett, Ockfener Bockstein, Mosel.

A Satisfying Pair

Mosel is the most famous German wine region, known for its high acid Riesling. The St. Urbans-Hof winery uses traditional methods that have been customary in the Mosel and Saar valleys since Roman times. This includes the “heart-binding” trellis system whereby the canes of the vine are tied into heart shapes.

This Kabinett is golden in the glass. On the palate the wine has a rich texture, thicker than most still wines. The flavor notes are all citrus with lemon at the forefront. This is a sweet wine. A good way to get an indication of the sweetness of Riesling is to look at the percentage of alcohol. The lower the alcohol, the sweeter it is because the winemaking process basically converts sugar to alcohol. This is a satisfying bottle that retails for $22.

The Von Winning Trocken (dry) Riesling is from Ruppertsberg, which is known for producing some of the finest Riesling in Pfalz. We were fans of this winery based on their “Winnings” Riesling, an exceptional value we tried last year.

While the Bockstein is all citrus, the Ruppertsberg Trocken is all about tropical fruit. The lower residual sugar and precisely balanced acidity makes this a standout wine. It is a rich and opulent wine with flavor threads of honeysuckle and pineapple. We enjoyed this with some bratwurst during a cookout. The Von Winning paired outrageously well with the sunny afternoon, brats, music and dancing on our patio! It retails for $35.

German Riesling is one of the world’s best wines. Grab a glass. Like us, you may find a new passion that will last decades.

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

Thursday, July 6, 2017

California Rosé Delivers Warm Weather Satisfaction

Rose collageRosé could be the most versatile wine for pairing with food. Add to that the visual delight and the refreshment value and you have a winning combination. These two rosé from California make our point.

Elevating The Art of Rosé

We previously declared this part of the year as the Summer of Rosé. Everywhere you look, pink predominates – on store shelves, at wine shop tastings and at backyard cookouts.

There are at least two reasons for this. First, the public is becoming more educated about rosé. Poorly made, overly sweet rosé is a thing of the past. That’s been true for a number of years, but now an increasing number of wine lovers are tuned in. It’s caught the public’s imagination -- like the fidget finger stress reducers. The second reason is that a wide array of quality rosé is now available at great values. As part of the Wine Studio online education program, we had recently an opportunity to enjoy rosé from Bonterra and Conn Creek.

Raising A Glass

We enjoyed the Bonterra 2016 Rosé with maple glazed cedar plank salmon. The wine is mostly Grenache (74%) blended with smaller amounts of Sangiovese and Nebbiolo. The vineyards at Bonterra have been farmed organically since 1987 and Mendocino County producer has a focus on sustainability.

This is one of the most enjoyable rosé we’ve had in recent months. As with all rosé, we suggest serving with a nice chill. In the glass this is a pale salmon color – perfect for our fish. The aroma is a swirl of tropical fruit and strawberry.

On the palate there is more strawberry with peach notes. It’s light, crisp and refreshing. We dig the blend, incorporating three of our favorite grapes. Nebbiolo is a rarity in rosé.

There’s no deep thinking involved in the Bonterra rosé – just sit back and enjoy the experience. At $16, it certainly is an affordable luxury.

Conn Creek is known for producing premium Napa wines, including Anthology, their high-end Cabernet Sauvignon blend. With their Conn Creek Rosé of Malbec 2016 Antica Vineyard, Atlas Peak, Napa Valley they show a more delicate touch.

This wine was part of a patio gourmet pizza party. Beneath the bright blue sky and wafting white clouds of Ohio, we uncorked the Conn Creek and savored.

The grapes come from the Atlas Peak appellation of Napa Valley. This is usually the domain of premium Cabernet grapes. Conn Creek is a boutique winery and so the rosé is a small lot made in the spirit of experimentation and fun. Only 67 cases were produced.

As you might expect from such a renowned winery, this is a well-crafted wine. The grapes were handpicked and were whole cluster pressed. The later gives more body to the wine and we found greater depth of flavor in the glass.

The wine veers to the redder end of the pink spectrum. In the glass there are flavors of red berries and cooling minerality. It paired nicely with the variety of pizza we enjoyed, which had toppings ranging from feta cheese to pineapple.

The Conn Creek rosé retails for $24. That’s an exceptional value for a single vineyard wine from a premier Napa Valley producer.

There’s still time to enjoy the Summer of Rosé. Grab a bottle and join the parade!

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

New Zealand’s Villa Maria Wines Blend Sustainability, Variety

Villa Maria Merlot blend and barbequeFor more than 50 years, Villa Maria has been a leader in the New Zealand wine industry. We open some bottles to discover why this winery in a tiny country is making such a big splash.

A Visit To New Zealand

New Zealand is a country about the size of Japan in the southwest Pacific. Although it is often lumped together with Australia in the minds of many, it is actually more than 2,500 miles away. New Zealand offers a dizzying array of terrain including glaciers, fiords, mountains, plains, rolling hillsides, subtropical forest, a volcanic plateau and miles of coastline. The unique combination of climate, soil and water results in conditions just right for outstanding wine.

We recently toured New Zealand. One day, maybe next year, we’ll tour it firsthand. But most recently, it was an armchair tour courtesy of Villa Maria, a leading New Zealand winery, and Snooth, the online wine site which hosted a virtual tasting.

Villa Maria was started by George Fistonich, who leased five acres of land in the early ‘60s. Today they export to 50 countries, employ 250 staff and are known for industry-changing moves such as moving to 100% screwcap closures and the emphasis on sustainable practices in every area of the family owned company

Villa Maria Sauvignon BlancSauvignon Blanc Yes, But So Much More

Green Dragon loves, loves, loves New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. It is the epitome of New World wine – bold, fruit-forward flavors that can be enjoyed with or without food. My wife could drink a river of it.

If Sauvignon Blanc is all that New Zealand contributed to the world, that would be enough. But as we discovered during our tasting, their winemaking prowess isn’t confined to Sauvignon Blanc. Spread over two nights, we sampled a sextet of Villa Maria wines accompanied by some of Green Dragon’s culinary creations. Our tasting panel consisted of Green Dragon, my brother Tom and his wife Helen plus our friend Maria. (We explained that we arranged a tasting of Villa Maria wines in her honor!)

We actually tried two Villa Maria Sauvignon Blanc. The 2016 Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc is light yellow in color with an aroma of cut grass. On the tongue there is mouthwatering acidity with notes of honeysuckle, lemon and apricot. This version is not as jarringly acidic as some New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, and so I would categorize this as a crowd pleaser that wine experts and newbies can enjoy together. At $13, this is a downright steal.

The next Sauvignon Blanc was distinctly different from the rest of the wines. It was a bubbly and in fact, is called Bubbly. The wine is made as a regular Sauvignon Blanc, but then is carbonated with the injection of carbon dioxide. It’s unfair to compare this with a true Champagne or a Cava. Those undergo a second fermentation in the bottle. This is frizzante in style – lightly effervescent, just enough to tickle your nose. It was refreshing during the hot evening on the back patio. It has a $15 SRP.

We sampled the 2016 Private Bin Rosé with Amaretto chicken. This is a Hawkes Bay wine made primarily from Merlot. This is a delightful wine that’s light rose in color with a light-medium body. It has flavors of candied rose petals – but remains crisp and dry. This is a sure winner for hot weather refreshment and is another bargain at $14.

The remaining white was the 2015 Taylors Pass Vineyard Chardonnay. The Single Vineyard series is a range above the Private Bin series. In the case of the Taylors Pass Chard, the results are evident in the glass.

The wine is whole cluster pressed and is aged on the lees for nine months. It is oaked in a combination of 25% new and 75% seasoned French oak. The wine also undergoes malolactic fermentation.

We served the Chardonnay with pierogi and passion fruit carrots. The wine has a buttery aroma and on the palate there are notes of oak, toast and butter all tied together with nice acidity. It retails for $45.

Villa Maria MontageReds New Zealand Style

There was a duo of Villa Maria reds to sample. We tasted the Cellar Selection Merlot blend with Green Dragon’s Texas barbeque. This was the first wine we opened. I’m not sure there’s any connection between Texas and New Zealand – but it was a nice evening and we had a hankering for a cookout.

The blend is 70% Merlot, 23% Cabernet Sauvignon and 7% Malbec. It hails from Hawkes Bay, where the climate is more suited to the production of high quality Cabernet and Merlot than Marlborough.

This is a deep, dark red in the glass – almost opaque. On the palate Green Dragon found Bing cherry and mulberry. There is a smidge of spice on the finish.

The wine is aged 20 months in French oak, but even so, our barbeque was a bit overpowering for it. A pork or lighter beef entree would have made a better match for this medium bodied wine.

New Zealand Pinot Noir has been getting a lot of buzz lately, and so we were glad to sample the Villa Maria 2014 Cellar Selections Pinot Noir from Marlborough. This paired nicely with the variety of small artisan pizzas rustled up by Green Dragon.

Marlborough has high heat during the daytime, but the temperatures are regulated by cooling ocean breezes. This is just the recipe for the notoriously difficult Pinot Noir grapes. The Villa Maria Pinot delivers herbal and smoky notes overlaid on red fruit flavor. The acidity keeps this a lively sip. The wine ages in French oak for 10 months and also gives time on the lees for added texture. It retails for $26.

In all, Villa Maria offers a tasty range of New Zealand wines. They are priced to overdeliver on value and present a wide range of styles. There’s surely one (or several) to appeal to any wine lover.

Full Disclosure: We received this wine as a marketing sample.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Terra Bella 2011 Proprietary Red Blend, Sonoma County

Terra Bella Red BlendFor red wine lovers, the search is always on for a unicorn – an exceedingly rare wine that delivers rich, premium taste for under twenty bucks. We may have spotted one!

Avoiding Gift-Giving Disappointment

Occasionally the Green Dragon (my wife) will buy something at the store, bring it home and tell me that this is the gift I’m giving her for her birthday or Christmas. No problem with me, although it does seem to cut down on the surprise.

Leading up to Christmas, I was perusing a massive online wine sale on one of my favorite sites, Invino. During their occasional clearance sales, you can spend hours scrolling through hundreds of bottles all being sold at significant discounts.

Recently, Green Dragon has shut down my wine purchases. She issued a mandate that we had to “drink down” the cellar in preparation for our upcoming move to North Carolina. So, I was wistfully looking at the site, wondering if the Green Dragon would start breathing fire if I ordered a bottle or six.

She pleasantly surprised me by asking me to pick out a half-case for my Christmas present. I selected two from Terra Bella Vineyards, the 2011 Proprietary Red Blend and an estate Syrah.

Pouring and aerating Terra Bella RedA Unicorn Sighting

We love Bordeaux blends and Meritage. Some of the blends from premium appellations can command high dollars. That’s why this Terra Bella blend caught my attention. It was listed as retailing for $85, but was selling for $19.99.

We opened the bottle over the weekend. Now I wish we had gotten six bottles or maybe a case.

Grapes for this wine come from 600 to 1,100 feet in the Mayacamas Mountains in Sonoma County. The volcanic soils are well drained and cooling breezes add to conditions that are almost perfect for Cabernet Sauvignon. The wine was created by acclaimed winemaker Peter Boyd. His goal was to create Sonoma County’s best Cabernet Sauvignon.

Somewhere along the line the train ran off the tracks and his company, Genius Wines, went into bankruptcy. His misfortune is our good luck. Invino purchased the remainder of his inventory and is able to offer it exclusively through their online site at an amazing price.

Although it is from the 2011 vintage, which some classify as being problematic, it is perfectly attuned. It can age for another decade, but drinks deliciously now. There is a flavor rush of cooked cherries with notes of blackberry, herbs and tobacco. The blend is complex, but the enjoyment is easily accessible. The blend isn’t disclosed, but I’m assuming Cabernet Sauvignon as the lead player followed by Merlot and Cabernet Franc with a cameo role.

The tannins provide nice structure and aren’t ponderous. The alcohol by volume is 13.5%. It finds the perfect balance point between power and finesse. The finish is one of the longest I can recall, laced with delicious flavors. 

This wine receives our highest recommendation. Furthermore, we say this “unicorn” is deserving of a multi-bottle purchase. Cheers!

Friday, June 23, 2017

Oliver Winery Camelot Mead

20170622_213354Most of the reviews here focus on the “fruit of the vine.” For a change of pace, here’s our experience with an ancient beverage that is “fruit of the hive.”

Nothing New Under The Sun

Mrs. Alba, my sixth grade teacher at Roosevelt Elementary school, was right. Her favorite saying was, “There’s nothing new under the sun.” If there was a news item capturing the nation’s attention, sorry. The Egyptians were dealing with it thousands of years ago. New inventions were simply variations of what the Greeks or Aztecs were tinkering around with during their epochs.

She’d be proud to know that mead, a trendy “new” beverage has actually been around since Biblical times. Mead, a wine made from fermented honey, was the world’s most popular beverage throughout most of recorded history. It was enjoyed by Aristotle and Pliny the Elder – but nearly died out after the Middle Ages. Honey wine remains the most popular alcoholic beverage in Ethiopia, one of the planet’s oldest cultures.

Today It is the fastest growing segment of the American alcoholic beverage industry. In 2003 there were 30 mead producers in the US. Now there are more than 300.

Not Just For Hobbits Anymore

Mead has enjoyed a resurgence and growing mainstream popularity. Ohio has at least three meaderies and they can also be spotted in the popular Finger Lakes wine region.

To our west, Oliver Winery of Indiana, has been producing mead for 40 years. We recently uncorked their Camelot Mead. We expected a thick ice-wine-like dessert wine, but were pleased to discover a medium-light body.

The aroma is a bit of a surprise. Whenever a stick my nose in a glass of white wine, I expect aromas of fruit, perhaps vanilla or toast. Camelot Meade delivers – what else – the bouquet of a dollop of honey.

Camelot is made with source-specific orange blossom honey. On the palate it is crisper than expected and offers citrus flavors with delightful honeycomb taste from start to finish. It certainly has a splash of sweetness – but this is not a syrupy or sugary drink.

I was tasting it after a tennis match that was cut short by a rainstorm. We had it well chilled and is was nicely refreshing.

Camelot Mead by Oliver Winery retails for $10 and is available in 18 different states including Ohio and Michigan. It will be easy to spot on the shelves with its whimsical label featuring Jeremiah the Frog. Sounds like a pretty sweet deal!

Full disclosure: We received this wine as a marketing sample.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Chamonix 2013 Reserve Pinot Noir, Franschhoek

Chamonix 2013 Reserve Pinot NoirPinot Noir from South Africa is not as well known as that from Oregon or France. Just one sip may make you wonder why this is so.

Out Of The Blacksmith Shop

One or our great wine adventures was our trip to South Africa, which included a visit to Franschhoek, the food and wine capital of the country. Chamonix wine farm was a memorable stop on our tour.

The Chamonix tasting room is in a blacksmith cottage. Outside there was a spectacular view of the mountains and an elevated views of the picturesque Franschhoek Valley. The area was settled by French Huguenots who brought with them their winemaking tradition.

The top-of-the-line tasting cost a mere $3.22 US due to the favorable exchange rate. We were enchanted by the Reserve Pinot Noir and picked up this bottle for $22 US.

A South African Spin On Pinot

The Reserve Pinot is naturally fermented and is made from the best blocks of Pinot Noir, which flourish in the Greywacke soil. Greywacke is a dark sandstone soil with quartz feldspar. The wine is aged for 16 months in French oak.

One of the reasons we love South African wine is that although it is considered “New World,” the techniques and focus are old world. The wines have subtle flavors and a finesse designed to accompany foods – as opposed to the bold flavors of New World wines often quaffed on their own.

The Chamonix had an earthy quality punctuated by raspberry and rhubarb flavor notes. It’s a complex wine with layers of flavors and even a dash of toffee.

This bottle was none the worse from being stuffed into our luggage for the long trip from South Africa. With some wines there is a type of “buyer’s remorse” perhaps more aptly named the “winery effect.” A bottle sampled in a scenic tasting room leaves you scratching your head asking, “What was I thinking” when you sample it at home. But with the best wines – like this one – the memories of our incredible travels came flooding back with each sip.

Three cheers for Chamonix and the superlative wines of Franschhoek!

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Rosé Overrules Summertime Heat: New Favorites From France and Spain

A selection of Paul Mas roséThis might be the Rosé Summer. Store shelves are bursting with pink concoctions. In our opinion, the quality of rosé has never been better.

It’s Rosé Weather

We really didn’t need another sign, but there it was. Record-breaking heat in Ohio pushed the thermometer to 96 degrees. If you don’t want to be confined to the indoors, there is only one proper solution: chilled rosé. Through a recent Wine Studio education program we were able to taste a quartet of rosé offerings. We added a fifth – just because it’s what we do!

Arrogant Frog and turkey tenderloinDomaine Paul Mas has about 1,500 acres in France’s Languedoc region in the south of France. Mas has agreements with other vineyards totaling about twice that amount in acreage. Languedoc, hugged by the Mediterranean to the south and mountains to the north, is known for its diverse terrain. Domaine Mas has access to 40 different grape varieties.

We sampled a rosé trio from two Domaine Mas Brands. We started our journey with the 2016 Arrogant Frog Rosé paired with turkey tenderloin and cranberry reduction, maple glazed sweet potatoes and asparagus. One of the joys of rosé is that it pairs with a vast array of entrees. An exception would be a heavy steak – that’s Cabernet territory.

Arrogant Frog delivers a lot of arrogance for only $10 SRP. It is 100% Syrah and is rich with cherry and floral flavors. Like the other Domaine Mas rosé we sampled, it has a screw closure – that’s no problem with us. This is a wine intended to be consumed while young.

Attesting to the range of Domaine Mas is the Côté Mas Crémant de Limoux Rosé Brut NV St. Hilaire. Limoux is know for sparkling wine and this crémant is a fun blend of 70% Chardonnay, 20% Chenin and 10% Pinot Noir.

Bubbly rosé is a double treat. This is elegant and playful. The price is also easy to swallow at $16. The stream of bubbles was long-lived, but not very vigorous.

Our Domaine Mas trio wrapped up with the 2016 Coté Mas Rosé Aurore, which has a Sud de France appellation. It is priced at $11, but is in a liter bottle – giving you a third more than the 750 ML standard bottle. It is made with 50% Grenache Noir, 30% Cinsault and 20% Syrah. These are typical Mediterranean varieties. The bottle aims to embody the “rural luxury” motto of Paul Mas. I found this to be more flavorful than the Arrogant Frog – but my wife favored the Frog. The packaging gives you a bit more vino but is sufficiently cool that it never feels like “jug wine.”

Cotés de Provence roséWe continued with our tour of France with a rosé from Cotés de Provence. Eighty-eight percent of the wine produced in Provence is rosé – so this region is always a good option for you. Our pick was the 2016 Sables d’Azur. It also is a blend of Cinsault, Grenache and Syrah. It is a delightful light peach color and is spritely on the palate.

Arinzano roséOur tour of rosé crossed the border into neighboring Spain, with Hacienda de Arinzano Rosé 2016 from Arinzano. We had a chance to sample some knockout reds from Arinzano. This rosé was most interesting since it is 100% Tempranillo.

From the get-go, this wine was different from the others we had sampled. This rosado (as the Spanish call it) was a deep pink-red in the glass. On the palate the flavors were elevated and more intense than the French rosé.

Arinzano has been designated a Pago, which is the highest classification in the Spanish wine system. Pago is a term reserved for the very best vineyards, and so far there are only 14 of them in all of Spain.

The Arinzano rosé delivered superb freshness, acidity and rich flavors. This would be a good pick for a red wine lover who is unsure about trying rosé. At $20, it’s another great value.

There you have it – a quintet of wines to equip your summer survival kit. One final suggestion. Your rosé should be chilled sufficiently to provide refreshment, but be warm enough to allow the flavors to shine. A good way to do this is to take your bottles out of the refrigerator to sit for about five minutes before serving.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Scotto Family Cellars Offers California Value Selections

Scotto Family CellarsScotto Family Cellars history in winemaking dates back to 1883. Today it is the “biggest California winery you’ve never heard of.”

Family Tradition – Eye On The Future

I first became acquainted with Scotto Family Cellars during last year’s Wine Bloggers Conference in Lodi, California. Scotto had collaborated on the Masthead project – a Sangiovese wine developed by a team of four wine bloggers. Well not only was the wine a winner, but we had an opportunity to visit the newly opened Scotto Cellars tasting room in downtown Lodi for a Masthead debut party. It was a great evening filled with fun and excellent wine.

Dominic Scotto’s homemade red wine filled the family glasses in Ischia, Italy, in 1883. In 1903 he immigrated to New York. In the 1940’s his sons sold jugs of their father’s wine from a pushcart in Brooklyn. Dominic and his brother Sal created Villa Armando, one of the oldest wine brands in the US, which had filled more than 250 million glasses with traditional red wine.

The company is now run by the latest generation of Scottos – five siblings – who operate state-of-the-art wineries in Lodi, Napa Valley and Amador County. While Scotto Family Cellars has deep traditional roots – with 53 harvests in California – they also have an eye on the future.

Lodi Flavor And Value

One of the revelations during my trip to Lodi was the diverse winegrowing scene. Although know for superb Zinfandel, grape varieties from Spain, Portugal, Germany, Italy and the Rhone Valley are also grown.

The agricultural abundance in Lodi, enables the region to be a leader in providing quality wine at a great price point. The wines are on target not only with rich flavors – but with outstanding value.

We sampled a pair of Scotto Family Cellars recent releases that checked both boxes. The 2016 Dry Sangiovese Rosé was opened on a warm evening. We were visiting friends and on their deck overlooking a small lake. We are fans of Sangiovese in any form and the lovely reddish-pink hue had us thirsting for the first sip.

The rosé is crisp with swirls of strawberry and sour cherry. The wine is fermented in stainless steel, so the flavors are pure and crisp. This is an ideal food wine and can pair with vegetarian dishes, appetizers or with mild or spicy entrees.

A few evenings later we were on the back patio around the fire pit. The 2013 Scotto Family Cellars Malbec was uncorked.

This is an unpretentious and satisfying wine. The body is light with ample fruit and smoky notes. Tannins are dialed back in this wine adding to the smooth finish. This was a perfect wine for unwinding around the fire.

Both wines are priced at $14.99 and are a hit at that figure. These are perfect for casual entertaining.

Portable wine from Scotto CellarsWhat Millennials Want

The wine industry has been wringing its hands for some time trying to figure out how to sell wine to Millennials. Contemporary lifestyles require some rethinking on the part of wineries.

Scotto Family Cellars has answered the call with some innovative packaging. The Heavyweight line, which has a boxing theme, is available not only in traditional glass bottles, but also in 187 ML pre-packaged plastic cups.

I sampled the 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon. The wine was a varietally correct Cab. If someone had served this to me in a glass, I wouldn’t have batted an eye. The traditional glass bottle sells for $11.99 and this tastes like what I would expect the wine from the bottle to be.

Assuming the same blend goes into the plastic cups, it includes Cabernet Sauvignon with lesser amounts of Barbera and Petit Verdot. For camping trips or on the boat, this could work very well. They would pop easily into a backpack for a hike, bike ride or picnic. Heavyweight in the convenient plastic container costs $3.99.

Anywhere Cellars is a 250 ML canned wine.  This product is also priced at $3.99, although some states require that they be sold in four-packs. Unlike the Heavyweight, this isn’t a vintage wine. I sampled the California Anywhere Red Wine. To me, the aluminum can was hard to ignore and didn’t enable the typical sipping experience. Unlike the Heavyweight, the wine itself wasn’t very good. I’m not sure if the can contributed to the somewhat bitter taste, or if it was strictly my brain manifesting its objection.

My verdict? If portable wine is a must, Heavyweight is your best option. These two products are in the process of rolling out nationwide.

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

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Arínzano: Crafting Wines From The Zenith Of Spain

Arínzano 2008 La CasonaI travelled thousands of miles to Spain and traversed five different wine regions. Yet in my travels, one prize eluded me – until now – a taste from Spain’s highest wine classification.

Climbing The Spanish Wine Pyramid

When I was studying for the Certified Specialist of Wine designation, each country’s wine laws were presented as a pyramid. Basic table wine was the broad base and as you moved up the pyramid became more narrow and the quality improved. At the top, the geographic area and often the type of grapes and production method are tightly controlled.

Studying the section on Spain, I was surprised to hear about Vino de pago. What the heck was this? I crisscrossed the country and never saw a bottle of pago.

Thanks to a recent Wine Studio education program, I was able to sample the elusive pago wine. My search had a delicious and satisfying ending!

Pago Perfection

Vino de pago, or “estate wine” is a category established to recognize specific single vineyards of distinction that produce excellent wine. It is awarded only to estates that exhaustively demonstrate not only an outstanding and unique climate and terroir, but also winemaking that turns these inherent qualities into extraordinary wines.
Arínzano is the first estate in the north of Spain to receive this honor.

Arínzano is located in the northeast of Spain, between Rioja and Bordeaux (not shabby neighbors!). The Señorío de Arínzano estate has been recognized for the excellence of its vineyards since the 11th century, when the noble Sancho Fortuñones de Arínzano first produced wines on the property. Alas, over time the estate fell into disuse.

The estate was rediscovered in 1988 and analysis confirmed that the climate and soils were perfect for producing exceptional wines. At the turn of the 21st centuries, the King and Queen of Spain rededicated the Arínzano winery, reinstating a tradition more than a thousand years old.

 ArinzanoVerdict Of The Glass

In pursuit of our wine education, we sampled two Arínzano bottles. We started with the 2012 Hacienda de Arínzano Tinto and then the 2008 Arínzano La Casona.

The Hacienda is 80% Tempranillo, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon and 10% Merlot. We paired this with a Spanish style pork entree with an olive, caper and lemon sauce.

Smooth and elegant, this wine is aged 14 months in French oak. There are no harsh tannins, which you may encounter in Rioja, which favors heavy oaking in American barrels. The Hacienda also offers savory flavors which I dubbed “herbalicious.”

Very surprising to me was the price point. At $19.99, it delivers satisfaction of a wine two or three times the price.

A week later Green Dragon was cooking again, this time serving up braciole with black bean quinoa with the 2008 La Casona.

In the glass it is garnet in color with a clear edge. La Casona is 75% Tempranillo with 25% Merlot. The medium-bodied blend exudes elegance and harmony.

On first approach, there is a bit of heat that rapidly shifts to a silky body. On the palate there is tart cherry, with wafts of mocha and a touch of vanilla. The fruit stands front and center in a way that testifies to the skill of the winemaker.

A wine like this makes dinner an a memorable experience. At about $35, it is an excellent value for one of Spain’s top tier wines.

At last count, there were only 14 pago estates in Spain. This is a very small circle of “grand cru” vineyards. Arínzano delivers the quality that shows why this designation is so exclusive.