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Wine: Reviews, Thoughts & Culture

Archive for June, 2010

Cline Cellars – 2008 Ancient Vines Carignane

Posted by Gabe on June 29, 2010

When was the last time you had a glass of Carignane? If the answer is that you never have, I’m not surprised. More often than not, this varietal ends up blended with other grapes. Sometimes it’s a serious player in an overall blend, other times it plays a supporting role in a varietal wine of another type. On occasion it’s bottled by its lonesome and the results do vary, but when the conditions and the winemaking are right a lovely wine can result. Today I’ll look at Cline Cellars varietal bottling of Carignane.

The Cline Cellars 2008 Ancient Vines Carignane was sourced from vines in Contra Costa County. Many of the vineyard sites used feature vines with over 100 years of age on them. Fermentation occurred in stainless steel. Barrel aging occurred over 6 months in French oak; 35% of the barrels were new. The suggested retail price for this wine is $16.

Aromas of bramble, thyme and vanilla lead the charge in the nose of this 2008 Carignane.  Crushed cherry and blackberry flavors are prominent in the flavorfully fruity and somewhat brooding palate of this wine. Towards the back of the palate plum pudding spices emerge. They lead to a memorable finish that includes dark, sweet chocolate, earth and black pepper notes in copious quantities. Rock solid acidity keeps everything in check here. This wine is perfectly suited to pair with a dish of pasta, a platter of ribs or a smoked meat sandwich, to name but a few. It’s tasty on its own but it excels when paired with food.

If you drink Zinfandel or Syrah based wines a lot, give this Carignane a shot to try something different. You’ll find some of the characters each of those varietals typically exhibit as well as a host of others. For $16 this wine offers a lot of flavor and quality. The Cline Cellars 2008 Ancient Vines Carignane represents a solid value.

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A Look At Chilean Sauvignon Blanc

Posted by Gabe on June 28, 2010

I recently took part in a virtual tasting and had the opportunity to sample a number of Sauvignon Blanc’s from Chile. It was an interesting concept, eight winemakers in one room in Santiago Chile, a sommelier hosting from New York City and wine writers at home, all connected via web conference and tasting the same wines. I’d had tons of Chilean Sauvignon Blanc prior to this tasting, but sampling them side by side was illuminating. It showed off not only the variety of climates and terroir but also a host of winemaking styles. Each Sauvignon Blanc we tasted was pretty distinct. What follows are my impressions of the four that stood out to me.

First up is the Ventisquero 2009 Queulat Sauvignon Blanc. The fruit for this selection is from vineyards located in Casablanca Valley. Following slow fermentation at a constant temperature the lees were stirred. The suggested retail price for this wine is $17.

Citrus aromas and a hint of vanilla bean are present in the nose. White peach and mango fruit emerge in the palate. As those fresh fruit flavors head towards the finish they take on a savory edge. Minerals kick in as well as lemon zest and a hint of creaminess. Solid acidity keeps things in check. This is an excellent warm weather wine that will work nicely when paired with light foods

The second wine that stood out was the Undurraga 2009 T.H. Sauvignon Blanc. Fruit for this selection was sourced in the Leyda Valley. The vineyards sourced are planted to three different clones of Sauvignon Blanc. Fermentation occurred over 22 days in stainless steel tanks at low temperatures. The suggested retail price for this offering is $16.

Characteristics of citrus and grass appear in tandem on the nose of this Sauvignon Blanc. The flavors on the palate are very well integrated with lime, minerals and additional citrus fruits playing key roles. The fruit notes turn savory on the finish and they’re joined by increasing mineral as well as spice notes. I found this wine most enjoyable on it’s own where its subtle charms shine brightest.

The third wine I really enjoyed was the Valdivieso 2009 Single Vineyard Wild Fermented Sauvignon Blanc. Fruit for this wine was sourced at a single vineyard in the Ledya Valley. This wine was allowed to ferment with it’s natural yeast and as such none was added. Aging occurred in 500 liter French oak barrels over a six month period. The suggested retail price for this wine is $21.99.

A hint of almond leaps out of the nose first followed by a strong contingent of mineral aromas. Graprefuit is underscored by a hint of barley on the even keeled, well intregrated palate. Ginger, lemon and chamomile are all part of the finish which closes with a burst of creaminess. Fine acidity keeps things in check. This wine will stand up to dishes a notch or two more substantial than the average Sauvignon Blanc. I found this offering to be unique, intense and just lovely.

The fourth wine that stood out was the Cono Sur 2009 Sauvignon Blanc. This offering was made from fruit sourced in San Antonio Valley. All the grapes for this wine were organically grown. The suggested retail price for this offering is $13.

Orange cream sickle and wisps of grass fill the nose of this wine. The palate on this Sauvignon Blanc is full flavored and loaded with fruit; citrus in particular and stone fruit to a smaller degree. The mouth feel is creamy and all these flavors lead to a persistent and layered finish that shows off spice, mineral and green chili notes. Solid acidity keeps this wine nicely balanced. For $13 this Sauvignon Blanc is a steal. It works well on its own and with food. This is a good bet if you want to pour a crowd pleaser for a bunch of people this summer.

What the wines above do is show off a little bit of the wide range of Sauvignon Blanc styles and flavors coming out of Chile. The entry point is relatively inexpensive so it’s a good country and varietal combination to experiment with.

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Paul Dolan Vineyards – 2007 Pinot Noir

Posted by Gabe on June 23, 2010

Pinot Noir has notoriety for many reasons. Not the least of these is that it’s one of the most difficult, if not the most difficult, grapes to grow.  Part of that is due to the fact that it’s not always planted in the right spot. For years California suffered from Pinot planted in locations that were not suited to it. Of course that still goes on, to a degree, but I think the knowledge base on where to plant and grow excellent Pinot Noir has increased significantly in the last 20 years or so. One less discussed area of California that has been turning out some good Pinot Noir is Mendocino. Today I’ll look at an example from Paul Dolan Vineyards.

The Paul Dolan Vineyards 2007 Pinot Noir was made using all Mendocino County Fruit. It was sourced in the southwestern outskirts of Mendocino National Forest. All the grapes in this selection were organically farmed. Barrel aging was accomplished over 18 months in a combination of new (14%), one year old (24%), and neutral (62%) French oak. 4,730 cases of this offering were produced and the suggested retail price is $30.

Wild strawberry aromas are supported by hints of crème fraiche and mushroom in the nose of this 2007 Pinot Noir. Throughout the palate black cherry flavors play a prominent role, carrying the day in large part. Spice notes in the form of vanilla bean and subtle white pepper emerge and lead to the finish which shows off earth, black tea and a nice wallop of sour cherry and blackberry to close things out. This wine has soft tannins and solid acidity.

There is a lot to like in this 2007 Mendocino Pinot Noir. First and foremost is the fact that this is a well balanced wine. This Pinot is loaded with flavor and quite true to its varietal. There are layers of elegant complexity that make this a nice wine to savor and contemplate over a long meal. This is a serious Pinot Noir. For around $30 this wine over delivers on its price point. Enjoy it over the next 3-4 years.

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Cornerstone Cellars – 2009 Sauvignon Blanc

Posted by Gabe on June 22, 2010

Cornerstone Cellars specializes in Cabernet Sauvignon. Their releases featuring fruit from Napa Valley in general and Howell Mountain specifically have both been excellent over quite a few vintages. Lately they have been expanding in other areas. This includes Cabernet Franc and Grenache under their Second label, Stepping Stone. These wines as well as an upcoming Pinot Noir release are made from fruit sourced outside of their Napa home. Most recently they have added a Sauvignon Blanc under their Cornerstone name. Sauvignon Blanc is one of the varietals that seems to be planted in ever major wine region and flourishes, in different ways, in many of them. I’ll look at that Napa Valley release today.

The Cornerstone Cellars 2009 Sauvignon Blanc was produced using Napa Valley fruit. This wine is 100% varietal and it was fermented in stainless steel over a month. Sur-lie aging in older barrels followed. This wine was then bottled in February. The suggested retail price for this Sauvignon Blanc is $25.

Citrus and hibiscus aromas mark the fresh and vibrant nose of this 2009 Sauvignon Blanc. The palate is layered with Citrus and melon fruit flavors that are buttressed by a hint of creaminess. Underlying those are pineapple, mango and other tropical flavors. Additional spice characteristics are joined by a wallop of minerals on the lengthy finish. This Sauvignon Blanc shows off solid acidity.

Each wine I’ve had from Cornerstone Cellars has been fruit driven, balanced and elegant. This new release Sauvignon Blanc is no exception to that track record.

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Robert Mondavi Winery – 2007 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon

Posted by Gabe on June 18, 2010

Napa Valley takes its place amongst the great sources in the world for Cabernet Sauvignon. In all the great Cabernet regions there is excellent wine to be had; these are made in many styles with varying intents. Today I’m going to look at the current release of a Napa Valley standby from Robert Mondavi Winery.

The Robert Mondavi 2007 Napa Valley Cabernet was produced using fruit sourced primarily in a couple of locations; 38% from To Kalon Vineyard, 29% from Stags Leap and the rest from other Napa Valley Vineyards with the exception of 2% from Sonoma Valley. In addition to Cabernet Sauvignon (86%), Merlot (8%), Cabernet Franc (4%), Petit Verdot (1%) and Malbec (1%) were also blended in. Barrel aging was accomplished over 16 months in French oak; 15% of the barrels were new. The suggested retail price for this wine is $28.

Ripe berry fruit, plum, vanilla, cherry, a whiff of chocolate sauce and a wisp of thyme are all present in the boisterous nose of this 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon. There is a ton of brambly fruit right in the heart of this wine’s palate. All of the ripe fruit flavors are joined by black pepper spice. Emerging earth, chicory, and dark dusty bakers chocolate are all significant parts of the above average finish. This wine shows off nice firm tannins and good acidity.

This wine is approachable from the word go, but it’s even better after about an hour of air. This offering is a standard bearer amongst Napa Valley wines. I’m happy to report that the 2007 version is a classic example of Napa Cabernet. For its price range it offers good value. Drink this release over the next 5-6 years for maximum pleasure.

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El Coto de Rioja – 2009 Blanco

Posted by Gabe on June 15, 2010

When I think of white offerings from Spain the first thing that comes to mind is Albariño. Even though it doesn’t get nearly as much attention, Viura is a close second for me. This is due to the number of well priced, crisp refreshing whites produced from it. El Coto de Rioja has been making wine in Spain since 1970. Their first release was five years later. Their wines are produced using both estate vineyards and fruit sourced from their neighbors in Rioja. Today I’ll look at their current release of Blanco.

The El Coto de Rioja 2009 Blanco was produced using grapes from Rioja Alavesa, a sub-region of Rioja. This selection is 100% Viura, a native varietal. Fermentation occurred over 15 days in stainless steel tanks. Aging then took place in neutral oak casks. The suggested retail price for this wine is $9.99.

Lemon zest and other citrus aromas are on display in the nose of this young Spanish white. Pineapple, mango and continued citrus is all part of a fairly rich, full and quite juicy palate. Lemon ice notes kick in at the back end of the palate and continue through the finish where it takes on a creamy edge. It’s joined by nutmeg and white pepper spice. This selection has solid but not over the top acidity.

For around $8 if you shop judiciously I think this offering from Rioja is a solid bargain for summertime drinking. Whether you pair it with lighter foods or drink it as an aperitif or cocktail there is plenty of pleasure to be had for the cost.

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Luce della Vite – 2007 Lucente

Posted by Gabe on June 14, 2010

When it comes to red wine from Tuscany the first thing that springs to mind is Sangiovese. That Italian grape is responsible for some of the world’s very best wines. For a number of years now international varietals have of course also made a foothold there. Today I’ll look at a blend that combines the local and the international; most often these are referred to as Super Tuscans.

The Luce della Vite 2007 Lucente was produced using grapes sourced in the Montalcino section of Tuscany. This blend is made up of Merlot (50%), Sangiovese (35%), and Cabernet Sauvignon (15%). Fermentation took place in stainless steel. Barrel aging was accomplished over 12 months in a combination of French and American oak; 60% of the barrels were new. 213,000 cases of this wine were produced and the suggested retail price is $29.99.

Violets, dark cherry and thyme scents all emerge in the nose of this wine. Those aromas are a bit reticent at first but really come into their own as the wine opens up. So too with the palate, and about an hour in the decanter is heartily recommended to get the most from this offering. There is an absolute avalanche of dried fruit flavors present throughout the palate; both red and black reference point are included. Black pepper spice plays a role here as well and leads to the finish which shows off a terrific amount of prominent earth as well as lesser forceful espresso characteristics. Dusty cocoa notes close things out with a final flourish. This wine has excellent acidity and firm but yielding tannins.

This is a case of the Super Tuscan model working very well. The international varieties play a vital role, but never overshadow the Sangiovese, which is at the core of this wine even though it’s only 35% of the blend. At the end of the day this is a interesting wine that is both stylish and elegant in approach and overall mouth-feel. Pair this with any number of classic Italian dishes for a terrific match. Available in the mid $20’s if you shop around, this is a solid value.

Posted in Blends, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Sangiovese, Wine | Leave a Comment »

Valentin Bianchi – 2009 Elsa Malbec

Posted by Gabe on June 10, 2010

I’ve gone back to the wines of Valentin Bianchi relatively often. There’s a simple reason for that, I find they tend to over deliver on price and quality. There are certainly other producers who do this as well. But what impresses me with Bianchi is that they do it within each tier of their offerings. Today I’ll look at a release from the entry level Elsa tier.

The Valentin Bianchi 2009 Elsa Malbec is a single vineyard offering made from fruit sourced at their Doña Elsa Estate vineyard. This selection is 100% Malbec. The Elsa Malbec was fermented in stainless steel and then saw a minimal amount of oak aging; one month of bottle aging followed prior to release. 15,000 cases of the 2009 vintage were produced and it has a suggested retail price of $8.99.

Dark berry, plum, vanilla and thyme aromas come together to form an appealing nose for this 2009 Malbec. The dark fruit theme continues in the palate where black plum flavors take center stage. Other dark fruit flavors chip in as well to a lesser degree, along with white pepper and a bit of cardamom. This Malbec has soft tannins, solid acidity and a medium length finish.

For $9, or a bit less if you shop around, the Elsa Malbec provides plenty of drinking pleasure. Year after year this is wine is a more than solid choice in entry level priced Malbec. When you’re looking for some tasty wine and a good deal to boot, keep Valentin Bianchi in mind, I do.

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Cameron Hughes – Lot 145 2008 Santa Barbara Chardonnay

Posted by Gabe on June 7, 2010

It’s been awhile since I looked at any wines from Cameron Hughes. This California based négociant has been knocking out solid values; particularly in his lot series. With wine sourced from the world over, the portfolio is pretty vast. Today I’ll look at a current release of Chardonnay. It’s worth noting that previous Chardonnay lots I’ve sampled have been impressive. I’m not sure if the folks over at Cameron Hughes have a particular penchant for this grape, but the ones I’ve tasted would indicate they very well might be the case.

The Cameron Hughes Lot 145 2008 Santa Barbara County Chardonnay was made for them by a custom crush facility. This wine sees oak treatment in two different types of French barrels. Just over 5,000 cases of this wine were produced and the suggested retail price is $12.

Orange peel, apple and vanilla are all apparent in the nose of this Chardonnay. Peach and apple are a significant part of the palate but those flavors take a slight back seat to a host of lush tropical fruit notes such as mango. Apple pie flavors, fruit, spice and crust are all part of the finish along with white pepper and lingering peach notes. This wine has terrific acidity and is very well balanced. The oak treatment is obvious but not overdone.

The bottom line is that this is another terrific Chardonnay from Cameron Hughes. For $12 it’s a genuine bargain. Grab this one by the case, before it’s gone, and drink it all summer long.

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Rodney Strong Vineyards – 2007 Alexander Valley Estate Cabernet Sauvignon

Posted by Gabe on June 6, 2010

I’ve written about wines from Rodney Strong Vineyards in Sonoma Valley fairly often. For those unfamiliar they’re a sizeable winery that produces numerous tiers of wine across a range of price points and designations. Whether you’re looking for an entry level priced Sauvignon Blanc or a single vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon they probably have a selection for you. Too often wineries of their size lose control of quality and rely on their name to sell wine. Not so with Rodney Strong Vineyards. They bring a well made, fairly priced product to the table with incredible consistency. Because of their size, many of their offerings are quite readily available. Don’t let the ubiquity of their footprint on store shelves daunt you. I for one know that when wine from Rodney Strong arrives on my doorstep to sample I’m always intrigued. More than anything I’m curious to see if they can keep on keeping on with quality, price and consistency. Today I’ll look at a current release of Cabernet Sauvignon.

The Rodney Strong Vineyards 2007 Alexander Valley Estate Cabernet Sauvignon was produced using fruit from their vast Sonoma Vineyards. Rodney Strong has over 200 of their acres under vine, planted to Cabernet Sauvignon. In addition to Cabernet Sauvignon (93%), small amounts of Merlot (4%), Malbec (2%), and Syrah (1%) were blended in. Barrel aging was accomplished over 18 ½ months in a combination of French and American oak. The suggested retail price for this wine is $22.

Cinnamon and Cardamom lead the cavalcade of spice notes that form a wonderful nose which also features dry, dark berry fruit aromas. Throughout the palate the berry fruit theme continues, earth characteristics join in along the way. Plum notes kick in about midway through and lead to the finish which continues the spice parade; black pepper and additional vanilla are of note. This Cabernet Sauvignon has relatively mellow tannins and nice structure. Pair this wine with medium intensity foods or enjoy it on its own.

This wine from Rodney Strong is a good example of Cabernet from Alexander Valley at a reasonable price. I’ve found this offering to provide consistent quality year after year. This is a solid choice for Sonoma County Cabernet and it won’t break the bank.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment »


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