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Archive for November, 2009

Helfrich – 2007 Riesling / 2007 Pinot Gris

Posted by Gabe on November 30, 2009

Some areas of the wine world bring certain varietals to mind immediately. When it comes to Alsace there is more than one that springs to mind instantly. Riesling, Gewürztraminer and Pinot Gris are the first three I think of. Thankfully, it seems that more quality examples of these varietals from several regions of the world, Alsace included, are landing on US shelves every year. Six generations of the Helfrich family have been making wines in Alsace. Today I’ll take a look at a couple of current releases from Helfrich, Riesling and Pinot Gris.

First up is the Helfrich 2007 Riesling. This offering is made entirely from Alsatian fruit and is composed of 100% Riesling. Fermentation took place in stainless steel. This selection was finished in screw cap and the suggested retail price is $14.99.

The lovely aromatics of this wine are led by lemon zest and orchard fruit notes. White cling peach is particularly prominent and provides a very appealing quality. Throughout the full and lush palate a rich mouth feel takes hold and shows off hints of ginger as well as apple, pear and continued peach notes. A lovely mineral component leads the finish which is above average in length. Spice notes emerge as well. Everything comes together in a crisp, dry and clean fashion, leaving you wanting another sip

The highlights of this wine for me are the strong aromatics out of the gate and the mineral notes on the finish. Combined with an ever so tiny hint of sweetness, both elements help form a tasty offering that is a good example of Riesling and a nice value to boot.

The second wine is the Helfrich 2007 Pinot Gris. This selection is also made from 100% Alsatian fruit. This wine is composed entirely of Pinot Gris. Fermentation occurred in stainless steel. This Pinot Gris was finished in screw cap and the suggested retail price is $14.99.

Aromas of honey, hazelnut, lychee, Anjou pear and golden delicious apple are all present in the bright, forward nose of this 2007 Pinot Gris. The palate of this offering is rich and full flavored. Sweet, ripe fruit flavors abound; apple nectar is particularly striking. Spice notes really kick in around mid-palate and continue through the finish with nutmeg, white pepper and hints of smoke standing as the most forward of these. As with the Riesling the finish is also above average in length. Solid acidity balances the inherent sweetness of this wine and keeps things in check.

I love this Pinot Gris for its versatility. Whether served as a welcome wine, with appetizers or accompanying your main meal this 2006 Pinot Gris will work nicely. Roast pork tender loin with apple compote would be a perfect match.

Both of these releases from Helfrich represent good examples of their respective varietals at fair prices. These are well worth tasting.

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Posted in Pinot Grigio/Pinot Gris, Riesling, Wine | Leave a Comment »

Lucas & Lewellen Vineyards – 2007 Santa Barbara County Chardonnay

Posted by Gabe on November 25, 2009

While discovering new wineries is terrific, I like to balance that with a look at releases from producers that I have found to be reliable over a period of time. Lucas & Lewellen is one such Winery. I became aware of them a few years ago when some selections from their sister label Mandolina were featured over at woot.com. I’ve come to like not only their wines but also the value they represent. Today I’ll look at one of their current releases of Chardonnay.

This fruit for the 2007 Lucas & Lewellen Chardonnay is sourced from their Goodchild and Los Alamos Vineyards. Both of these are located within the Santa Barbara County AVA. This selection is 100% Chardonnay. Fermentation was accomplished in stainless steel. 1,002 cases of this wine were produced and the suggested retail price is $16.

A combination of orchard and stone fruit aromas waft from the nose of this Chardonnay. Both pear and apple intermingle throughout the palate, with the pear notes leading the way. Hints of lemon pudding kick in about midway through and carry through the finish which is lengthy and also features baker’s spice and a hint of white pepper. This wine has excellent acidity and will pair well with a variety of foods. A cheese and fruit plate would be a particularly excellent match.

If you’ve read this site for any length of time you’ve probably gotten the drift that over-oaked Chardonnay is something I have particular disdain for. I don’t mind some oak, but I’m always wary when approaching a Chardonnay. No need for concern here as this offering is made in Stainless Steel. The fruit here is so fresh, so gloriously sumptuous that I’m glad there was nothing in the way to detract from those wonderful flavors. This is another excellent value from Lucas & Lewellen, once again they over deliver on price point.

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Posted in Chardonnay, Wine | Leave a Comment »

Thanksgiving On A Budget With The Robert Mondavi Family of Wines

Posted by Gabe on November 23, 2009

With Thanksgiving a couple of days away it’s time to think about what wines to serve with your holiday meal. This year, as much if not more than any other, many are faced with the need to make the holiday not only joyful but affordable as well. With that in mind I’ve picked out a trio of tasty selections that come in at a budget price. All three come from labels that were started by Robert Mondavi. Over the years in addition to his namesake Napa winery he started a number of other labels in all parts of the world with numerous focuses. Today I’ll look at three from California facilities that hit the spot taste wise and won’t break the budget either.

First up is the Robert Mondavi Private Selection 2008 Sauvignon Blanc. The fruit for this wine comes predominately from Monterey County (92%) with San Benito County (5%) and Paso Robles (3%) making up the rest. In addition to Sauvignon Blanc (94%), Riesling (3%) and Gewürztraminer (3%) are blended in. This selection was aged and fermented in stainless steel. The suggested retail price for this offering is $11.

Lemon Zest notes dominate the fresh nose of this Sauvignon Blanc Throughout the palate stone and citrus fruit characteristics are prominent. Lemon ice in particular is a standout flavor. A hint of grass comes in during the mid-palate and continues through the finish along with mineral notes and a touch of flint. The finish is crisp and clean featuring good length in its category and excellent acidity.

Especially at holiday time it’s nice to have several wines throughout the day. This Sauvignon Blanc will serve equally well as a welcome wine or paired with appetizers. It’s tasty on it’s own but the terrific acidity it showcases will help make it a match with a host of lighter foods.

The second wine is the Woodbridge by Robert Mondavi 2007 Zinfandel. Fruit for this wine is sourced mostly in Lodi (94%) with the balance coming from several other California regions. In addition to Zinfandel (91%), Merlot (3%), Petite Sirah (2%), Malbec (2%) Cabernet Sauvignon and other varieties (2%) are blended in. The suggested retail price for this wine is $8.

This 2007 wine leads with a jam-laden nose, so typically associated with Zinfandel. It’s loaded with berry, cherry and hint of cedar. The palate is very juicy with red and black fruit flavors intermingling and fighting your tongue for attention, Black cherry is particularly prominent. The finish features sweet cocoa, sour berry, white pepper and vanilla that echoes persistently. This is a well balanced and food friendly Zinfandel.

Thanksgiving is perhaps the most American of holidays. Zinfandel is the closest we have to a heritage grape in this country. The two go together philosophically as well as they do pairing wise. This wine is a good fit for the abundant cornucopia of foods on the average American Thanksgiving table. For $8 a bottle you can have a lot of it on hand to quench everyone’s thirst.

The final wine for a tasty and budget priced Thanksgiving is the Woodbridge by Robert Mondavi 2008 Moscato. Grapes for this wine were sourced from throughout California. This 100% Muscat is a blend of Muscat Canelli (60%), Orange Muscat (30%) and Muscat of Alexandria (10%). Alcohol content is a modest 10% for this selection. The suggested retail price for this wine is $8.

Lychee fruit and honey clove make up the inviting nose of this wine. Orange blossom, tangerine and apricot notes are all prominent throughout the palate of this Moscato. Subtle white pepper notes kick in around mid-palate and continue through the finish along with additional honey and citrus notes. This wine is light, fragrant and sweet but not overly so.

This 2008 Moscato will be a good choice to pair with dessert. Fruit tart or Italian Cheesecake both come to mind as excellent matches. Alternatively this wine could be dessert on its own.

Each of these wines is true to its varietal and is a solid value. Shop around and you’ll find them for less than the suggested retail price. Savvy shoppers will be able to round all three of them up for less than $25 combined. Now that’s some Holiday drinking on a budget. These wines are also widely available so you should easily be able to find them throughout the US and beyond.

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Posted in Moscato, Sauvignon Blanc, Wine, Zinfandel | Leave a Comment »

Bodegas Navarro Lopez – 2007 Rojo Tempranillo / Cabernet Sauvignon

Posted by Gabe on November 22, 2009

Spain’s Bodegas Navarro Lopez  has a history that dates back over 100 years. Current owners Don Doroteo and Navarro Donado purchased the property in the 1980’s. Between that original property and two others acquired in the 1990’s they have over 150 hectares of vineyard land. A majority of their holdings are planted to Tempranillo, Garancha and Macabeo. Today I’ll look at one of their blends under the Granrojo designation.

The Rojo 2007 Tempranillo/Cabernet Sauvignon is produced using fruit from the Valdepenas region of Spain. The vineyard site is 700 meters above sea level. This offering blends 90% Tempranillo and 10% Cabernet Sauvignon. 3,000 cases of this vintage were imported and the suggested retail price is $10.99.

Violet and rose petal aromas are joined by both red and black fruit characteristics in the nose of this Spanish blend. The palate of this wine is beautifully dry with cranberry, cherry and hints of strawberry all playing a role. Spice notes really kick in about halfway through with white pepper leading the charge along with a bit of nutmeg. The story of the finish is told primarily by what can be best described as an avalanche of mineral notes. These are joined by some earth and together they help provide good length. Firm acidity frames this offering. This wine will be a great match for grilled sausages or cured meats.

Finding wines that are worth drinking in this price range is fun and can be rewarding. they’re out there to be sure. However this selection kicks things up a few pegs. The mineral component on the finish is both generous and compelling. When you factor that in it sets this wine apart. A lovely little wine and an even better value for the money.

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Posted in Blends, Cabernet Sauvignon, Tempranillo | Leave a Comment »

Stepping Stone – 2007 Grenache / 2007 Cabernet Franc

Posted by Gabe on November 18, 2009

Earlier this year I had the opportunity to taste and write about what were then the current Cabernet Sauvignon releases for Cornerstone Cellars in Napa. Both wines were truly exceptional; the Howell Mountain Cabernet was a particularly special bottle. A few months later I had the chance, while I was out in Napa Valley, to taste some of their older vintages as well as what were then upcoming releases. Once again the wines were very impressive. So I was quite pleased to find wines from their second label Stepping Stone on my desk to sample. Today I’ll look at their current releases of Grenache and Cabernet Franc. Stay tuned for a close look at the current releases from their main label soon too.

First up is the Stepping Stone 2007 Grenache. The fruit for this wine was sourced in Lake County. In addition to Grenache (96%), a bit of Zinfandel (4%) is blended in as well. 500 cases of this wine were produced and the suggested retail price is $20.

Personally I’ve been drinking more and more Grenache of late. As time has gone on I’ve found it to be amongst the food friendliest of red varietals. This Stepping Stone selection opens with deep, dark berry aromas. Strawberry, rhubarb, blackberry pie and a host of spice notes are all part of the full flavored palate. The dark fruit continues through the finish where it’s joined by black pepper and a final savory note that clings persistently to the back of the throat. Ultimately it draws you in for another sip. This Grenache is framed by good acidity.

The second selection is the Stepping Stone 2007 Cabernet Franc. The fruit for this offering was sourced in Carneros. In addition to Cabernet Franc (90%), Merlot (10%) has been blended in. 500 cases of this selection were produced and the suggested retail price is $30.

When I’m out tasting wine, there are certain varietals whose mere presence on a tasting sheet build up anticipation. Even before getting to them on the list I find myself thinking about them and hoping that they live up to my expectation for that varietal. Cabernet Franc is most definitely one of those grapes. So as you could imagine, I’m glad that the second selection from Stepping Stone is a Cabernet Franc.

This 2007 Cabernet Franc from Carneros leads with leather, plum, blueberry and a hint of eucalyptus in the nose. Continued plum and blueberry combine in a gentle, layered and diverse palate. Cigar box emerges on the finish along with mineral and gentle hints of earth and little waves of spice. This wine has absolutely terrific acidity. Much like the Grenache this Cabernet Franc is a food lover’s delight.

First off these two releases under Cornerstone Cellars Stepping Stone label are delicious wines in their own right. Secondly, each is an excellent examples of Grenache and Cabernet Franc respectively. They also do a fine job representing the regions where the fruit was sourced. While not intended for long term aging like the Cornerstone Cabernet’s these Stepping Stone wines will be delicious for the next 3-5 years. They’re reasonably priced for the quality they offer and both would be solid bets with a wide array of food.

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Posted in Cabernet Franc, Grenache, Wine | Leave a Comment »

Campo Viejo – 2006 Crianza

Posted by Gabe on November 16, 2009

vino_crianzaWines from the Rioja region of Spain were the first from that county to hit my radar. Over the last few years wines from other Spanish regions are rightfully getting a lot of acclaim. That doesn’t mean we should forget about Rioja which still represents some of the great values of the world. Today I’ll look at a Crianza from Campo Viejo. According to Wine law in Spain to be labeled as Crianza a red wine must be aged for at least 2 years with a minimum of 6 months in oak before release.

The Campo Viejo 2006 Crianza is composed primarily of Tempranillo with Garnacha and Mazuela blended in. Barrel aging occurred over 12 months. This was followed by bottle aging prior to release. The suggested retail price for this wine is $10.

Cherry and cedar aromas are prominent on the nose of this 2006 wine from Rioja. A persistent core of fruit presents itself throughout the palate; sour cherry, and raspberry are preeminent with subtler blackberry fruit as well as spice notes that include nutmeg and white pepper. Cherry pie crust characteristics lead the finish. They’re joined by continued red berry fruit and hints of dust. This wine has soft tannins and excellent acidity. This Crianza will pair well with a casual spread of hard cheeses, olives, bread and cured meats.

For $10 this wine is a very good deal. Whether you’re unfamiliar with offerings from Rioja and want to experiment or are looking for an everyday wine to keep on hand this selection is an attractive choice that features lots of appealing fruit and an easy going style.

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Posted in Tempranillo, Wine | Leave a Comment »

Cameron Hughes – 2005 Lot 112 Napa County Merlot

Posted by Gabe on November 12, 2009

btl_lot_112There’s no question in my mind that the Merlot grape can make some of the best wines in the world. On the other hand there are also some wines out there labeled Merlot that taste like anything but. Additionally, I’ve become pretty confident that the wines négociant Cameron Hughes is sourcing and releasing are going to be solid values. So it was with all those thoughts swirling in my head that I prepared to taste one of their current release Merlots.

The Cameron Hughes 2005 Lot 112 Merlot is made from fruit sourced in two Napa County regions; Coombsville and Jamieson Canyon. While neither is officially considered a distinct appellation I know there has been plenty of thought that Coombsville will be soon. This wine is 100% Merlot. 4,700 cases of this offering were released and the suggested retail price is $12.

Blueberry, plum, and violet notes highlight the nose of this 2005 Merlot. Hints of vanilla bean are also present. The fruit on the palate leans towards red flavors with wild strawberry, cherry and raspberry in the forefront along with black pepper. Chocolate and earth emerge on the finish along with hints of dried cherry and plum. This wine has yielding tannins and good acidity.

The Lot 112 Merlot is another strong argument that price-point shouldn’t play a role in the decision to decant or not. A solid hour in the decanter really helped this selection open up. Once it did this Merlot showed itself to be both true to its varietal and also very tasty overall. For $12 this is another very nice value in the Cameron Hughes Lot Series.

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Grooner – 2008 Grüner Veltliner

Posted by Gabe on November 11, 2009

grooner_06Are you drinking Grüner Veltliner? If not I highly recommend you start. For the last few years this benchmark Austrian varietal has made great inroads in the US marketplace. Examples of this wine vary from simple quaffable wines, to highly complex, age-worthy selections that beg contemplation, and everything in between. And while savvy wine lovers have been in the know on Grüner Veltliner for a while now word is also starting to reach those that like wine but don’t necessarily spend all their free time geeking out about it. That’s where Grooner comes in to bridge the gap. Importer Monika Caha found that when she poured examples of this wine for consumers they reacted positively but the name caused confusion. So she approached highly regarded winemaker Meinhard Forstreiter to create a selection specifically for the US market. The result is Grooner, which leads with the phonetic spelling for ease. Today I’ll look at their current release.

The Grooner 2008 Grüner Veltliner is produced using fruit from the Niederoesterreich appellation located on the southern bank of the Danube. This selection is 100% Grüner Veltliner. The suggested retail price for this wine is $14.99.

Lemon ice, mango and vanilla notes waft gently from the nose of this 2008 Grüner Veltliner. Flavors of orange, continued mango, lemon zest and an undercurrent of green apple make up the mouth-filling palate. Pineapple characteristics kick in about ½ way through and continue through the finish along with hints of honey and a gentle touch of petrol. That final note adds a nice savory edge as well as some extra complexity that lends itself to a very memorable ending.

I’m always interested in intent when it comes to wine. Grooner achieves it’s intent swimmingly. It provides good Grüner Veltliner character at a reasonable price and it’s an appealing, easy to drink version of the varietal that serves as an excellent introduction for those unfamiliar with it. This wine will pair well with a host of foods which is one of the great hallmarks of Grüner Veltliner. That said it drinks nicely on its own and would be an excellent wine to serve with appetizers or before a meal.

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Posted in Grüner Veltliner, Wine | 1 Comment »

Purple Cowboy – 2007 Night Rider Merlot

Posted by Gabe on November 9, 2009

purple_cowboy_merlotI find wine offerings in the everyday drinking range of interest. It’s easy (relatively speaking) to walk into a wine shop and spend a premium to get a slam dunk bottle of wine. Occasions and moods sometimes call for just that. But most of the time it’s interesting to experiment and see what’s out there that can be had for a song. The wines from Purple Cowboy hit my radar and I was curious to see what they tasted like.  Paso Robles fruit tends to pique my curiosity and the packaging matches the sort of “fun” one looks for at this price point. On top of all that there’s a charitable angle. Terry Wheatley the founder of this label is a breast cancer survivor. She comes from a family of ranchers and rodeo riders/cowboys. She also co-founded Tough Enough To Wear Pink. $1 from every case of the Purple Cowboy wines purchased (up to $100,000 in 2009-2010) goes directly to this organization. Their goal is helping rodeo organizations raise awareness of breast cancer. They urge Rodeo riders to compete wearing pink which helps focus attention and raise money. Today I’ll look at their Merlot.

The 2007 Purple Cowboy Night Rider Merlot is made from all Paso Robles fruit. This offering is a blend of Merlot (95%), Cabernet Sauvignon (3%) and mixed reds (2%). Fermentation occurred in stainless steel followed by barrel aging for part of the blend. The suggested retail price for this wine is $12.

Blueberry fills the nose of this wine, and vanilla bean underscores it. The palate is a deep, dark quagmire of plums, blueberry and dark cherry. These flavors all come together to form a bruising collection of flavors that lead to a finish that features more sweet fruit and dark luscious chocolate notes. This wine has yielding tannins and good acidity. Pair this with anything that comes off of your grill or a bucket of chicken you pick up from Colonel Sanders.

In the $12 price range I want a wine that tastes like what it’s supposed to. As simple as that sounds many wines in the budget range (huge category of course) taste like anything but what the varietal label says. Purple Cowboy is very obviously Merlot. In addition to that varietal correctness it’s also got a fair level of complexity. This wine also has a flavor profile that’s going to appeal to the masses. Its clear ability to pair with a wide range of casual foods won’t hurt either. So if you’re looking for something to open on a random Tuesday night or to bring to a friends home for a BBQ or other laid back function, Purple Cowboy is a good bet. You can also feel good knowing you’ll help raise some money for a good cause.

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Urraca – 2008 Malbec / 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon

Posted by Gabe on November 7, 2009

marca_urraca_altaA few months back I took a look at several wines in the Urraca portfolio. A Chardonnay and two blends were the current releases at the time. All three were impressive expressions of what can be achieved in Argentina at a super-premium level. Now Urraca has also released a couple of varietal wines that come in at a lower price point. I’ll look at their current Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon today.

First up is the Urraca 2008 Malbec. The fruit for this offering, 100% Malbec, was sourced at the Urraca vineyard in Agrelo. Barrel aging was accomplished over 12 months in a combination of new French and American oak. The suggested retail price for this wine is $24.50.

Plum, black cherry and hints of vanilla bean express themselves prominently in the nose of this Malbec. Throughout the persistent palate there is a lot of intense, dark and brooding fruit. In addition to being dark though the flavors are also fresh, young, brash and deep. Blackberry and raspberry are among the standout notes. Around mid-palate sweet dark chocolate notes kick in and continue through the lovely finish where they’re joined by black pepper, espresso, smoked meat and a hint of tar. The length of the finish is above average.

For me this Malbec compares favorably to well made and jammy Zinfandels from California. The commonalities include bold and expressive fruit and a wide range of flavors. In many ways I think these varietals have a lot in common as the entry point for both can be very reasonable in price with excellent quality for the money. And that is one of the many reasons I feel Malbec is making such an impact in the US. And to continue the comparison, both Malbec and Zinfandel can achieve greater and more complex things when the fruit, and the way it’s treated come together. This Malbec is one example of that.  For a bit over $20 this wine offers a very nice value and just as importantly an excellent expression of Argentina’s signature red varietal.

The second selection today is the Urraca 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon. As with the Malbec, fruit was also sourced at the Estate vineyard in Agrelo. This selection is 100% Cabernet Sauvignon and it spent 12 months in a combination of new French and American oak. The suggested retail price for this wine is $24.50.

Bing Cherry aromas are prominent in the nose of this Cabernet Sauvignon along with some vanilla and an ever so subtle hint of tar. The palate is loaded with a solid core of fruit. Plum, blueberry and continued cherry are the stars of the show. Red fruit flavors lead, but darker fruit echoes it to provide a nice contrast on the tongue. Earth and black pepper emerge in the finish which has good length and remarkable smoothness. The tannins on this wine are fine and soft and it has very solid acidity. This is an excellent food wine and found myself craving a dish of pasta with red sauce.

When I first started drinking wines from Argentina about 15 years ago Cabernet Sauvignon is what drew me in. I was amazed by the number of remarkably solid Cabs coming out of Argentina at prices other parts of the world couldn’t touch. Today there are even more wines in that category on US shelves which serve as a good introduction to Argentine wines. However there is a growing segment of wines coming from Argentina that steps things up in quality and complexity. This Cabernet Sauvignon is simply better, with more going on than many others on the shelf. Yes it’s a bit more than the selections that are pure value products. They say you get what you pay for; in this case you get more. If you normally spend around $20 on Cabernet, from California for instance, you’ll be impressed with what this one delivers for the price. My recommendation would be to drink this 2008 Cabernet from Urraca over the next few years when its young fruit flavors can best shine.

While I’m a big fan of blends and always curious to see how the diverse varietals converge to create a unique wine, straight varietal offerings are equally fascinating to me. When they represent a particular spot in a specific year as these do they tell the story of a vineyard at a moment in time. Both of these wines from Urraca do that quite well. Considered alongside their super-premium offerings the Urraca portfolio has grown in breadth and impressiveness. I’m awed by the Urraca wines as a whole and equally excited by what they represent for Argentine wine in the US.

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Posted in Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Wine | Leave a Comment »

 
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