Posted by Gabe on March 21, 2013
A couple of years ago I had the opportunity to taste the inaugural release of Pinot Noir from Mendocino’s Masút Vineyard and Winery. They were founded by third generation vintners Ben and Jacob Fetzer. Pinot Noir is one of the varietals that can shine in Mendocino County when treated properly. The Fetzer brothers do just that and I was impressed with the inaugural release as well as the follow-up. Now a couple of years later, they’ve added some block specific Pinot’s to their lineup. Here’s a look at those current releases.
First up is the Masút Vineyard & Winery 2011 Estate Pinot Noir. Sorting and destemming of the fruit was done by hand into stainless steel fermenters. Both native and select yeasts were utilized for fermentation which took place over 15 days. Oak aging was accomplished over 11 months in French oak; 35% of the barrels were new. This wine was bottled unfined and unfiltered. Just more than 1,000 cases were produced and it has a suggested retail price of $40. The nose of this wine brings to mind a bowl of fresh, juicy cherries. The palate here is dominated by red fruit characteristics, cherry and strawberry mostly, with bits of black fruit poking through. Minerals, spice, and bits of earth are all part of the finish which has excellent length and persistence. This is a well rounded, tremendously delicious Pinot Noir that lines up nicely with the previous two vintages. Just three vintages in the Masút Estate Pinot Noir is becoming a reference point for top shelf Mendocino County Pinot Noir.
This year they also released some block specific selections. I tasted them side by side and here are some thoughts on them:
Masút Vineyard & Winery 2011 Pinot Noir “Block 1.” Produced exclusively from fruit sourced in Block 1 of their Estate Pinot vineyard this wine was aged over 11 months in entirely new French oak. 115 cases were produced and it sells for $55. The nose is fresh with red fruits starring. Sweet, wild strawberries and red cherries carry the palate along with bits of spice. Rhubarb, black pepper and clove emerge on the finish along with a hint of minerals and continued spice.
Masút Vineyard & Winery 2011 Pinot Noir “Block 7.” Produced exclusively from fruit sourced in Block 7 of their Estate Pinot vineyard this wine was aged over 11 months in entirely new French oak. 115 cases were produced and it sells for $55. A bit of green herb emerges from the nose along with wisps of red apple. Gingerbread spices and red fruits interspersed with hints of black are present through the palate. A light earthiness and tons of mineral characteristics are in evidence on the finish. Amongst a distinct lineup of four Block selections, this one stands apart from the rest as perhaps the most impressive and unique.
Masút Vineyard & Winery 2011 Pinot Noir “Block 11.” Produced exclusively from fruit sourced in Block 11 of their Estate Pinot vineyard this wine was aged over 11 months in entirely new French oak. 115 cases were produced and it sells for $55. Hints of violet and red fruits give way to an avalanche of spices on the nose of this Pinot. Rhubarb, cherries (red and black) as well as strawberries are all in strong evidence throughout the palate of Block 11. The finish shows warming red fruits and spices galore. Gala Apple, cinnamon and a bit of cardamom are of note. This is a fresh and lovely Pinot Noir. It was the tightest of the whole bunch upon opening and more so than the rest was helped by an hour in the decanter.
Masút Vineyard & Winery 2011 Pinot Noir “Block 13.” Produced exclusively from fruit sourced in Block 13 of their Estate Pinot vineyard this wine was aged over 11 months in entirely new French oak. 115 cases were produced and it sells for $55. Mushroom, Bay Leaf and bits of earth mark the nose of the Block 13. Dark cherry and black pepper are dominant through the palate. Hints of Kirsch Liqueur emerge on the finish along with continued black pepper and other spices. Zippy acidity marks the structure of this wine.
If you’re a fan of well made, site specific Pinot Noir these offerings from Masút Vineyard should be on your short list of wines to acquire and taste. They’re each tasty, well made and interesting on their own. But if you want to have a really fascinating afternoon or evening, line them up and taste them side by side. You’ll be in for an eye opening and delicious time. As a Pinot Noir lover I’m excited about what these folks have already accomplished and look forward to what future vintages will bring.
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Posted by Gabe on February 15, 2013
On my recent trip to Napa Valley I made a point of visiting quite a few producers whose wine I was somewhat familiar with but who I had never stopped in to see. One of those was Domaine Chandon. Sparkling Wine has an air of fun and celebration automatically surrounding it that adds to the enjoyment.
A friend and I arrived at Domaine Chandon and proceeded to take the tour which went through much of their production facility. For those who have toured wineries but not sparkling wine houses it’s definitely something you should do. Domaine Chandon does a nice job of taking consumers through the process by walking through and having visuals along the way to point to. The tour guide was informative and hit the right level for a consumer tour. He was loaded with knowledge about Domaine Chandon specifically and the sparkling wine making process in general. Based on the interest of our group of about 8 people and the questions asked he tailored the information along the way. The facility is an attractive one and while it’s right off of Highway 29 in Yountville it’s hidden from the road.
After touring we sat down in a semi-private area with a handful of tables and tasted through the current portfolio. Here are my thoughts on several of the wines I found the most desirable.
The Domaine Chandon Brut Classic is the entry level wine in the portfolio. This offering blends together Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier. It was produced in the traditional method and secondary fermentation took place in bottle. This widely available release has a suggested retail price of $22. Lemon zest and toasted hazelnut aromas fill the nose of this wine. Crisp apple flavors and copious spice notes inform the pleasing palate. Bits of creaminess an yeast emerge on the finish which has good length.
The Domaine Chandon Rosé achieves it’s lovely color with the addition of a small amount of still Pinot Noir at tirage. That said the bulk of this offering is composed of Chardonnay. It sits on the yeast for a minimum of 12 months. This widely available wine has a suggested retail price of $22. The beautiful dark salmon hue of this wine is immediately striking. Cherry and strawberry aromas fill the nose along with a bit of vanilla bean. Cherries continue on the palate along with wisps of cinnamon and white pepper. Sour red fruits and bits of brioche mark the finish which is clean, crisp and begs you to take another sip.
The Domaine Chandon Etoile Brut is a blend of Chardonnay (55%), Pinot Noir (25%), and Pinot Meunier (20%) from both Napa and Sonoma. This wine is the Chandon selection that aims to make the best Sparkling Wine possible without feeling compelled to traditional methodology or other restrictions. It ages sur lees for a minimum of 5 years. This wine has a suggested retail price of $40. The depth of palate, complexity and noteworthy persistence of the finish are what strike me most about this wine. There are orchard fruit, spice and toasted note characteristics galore here. This is an incredibly enjoyable Sparkling wine that is at times classic in how dry it is as well as unique is some others.
Domaine Chandon is located on a beautiful property in the heart of NapaValley. Their tour and tasting option is educational, well paced and consumer friendly. They make some very tasty sparkling wines and a handful of well considered still offerings to boot. This is a stop to keep in mind for your next trip to Napa.
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Posted by Gabe on September 5, 2012
Benessere Vineyards is a boutique sized winery in Napa Valley that’s also a treasure to those lucky enough to discover it. They produce varietally correct wines sourced from their estate vineyards. The fact that they lean towards Italian varietals such as Sangiovese and Pinot Grigio makes them somewhat unique in the valley. Their property is beautiful and the wines are by and large delicious and fairly priced. Today I’ll look at the current release of Phenomenon, their red Super Tuscan inspired blend.
The Benessere Vineyards 2007 Phenomenon is a proprietary blend. This Napa Valley wine was made entirely from fruit sourced at their Estate Vineyard in St. Helena. Cabernet Sauvignon (49%), Sangiovese (38%), Merlot (11%), and Syrah (2%) were fermented and barrel aged separately. They were then assembled and barrel aged for two additional years prior to release. Just fewer than 500 cases of this offering were produced and it has a suggested retail price of $50.
The nose of this 2007 blend is loaded with dark fruit aromas and spice. Plum and blueberry characteristics lead the way and they’re accompanied by cardamom, clove, cinnamon, and a hint of eucalyptus. The plate of this wine is impressively loaded with a terrific array of expressive flavors that are lead by deep, dark fruit flavors such as black cherry, and plum. Earth, chicory, black tea and continued waves of spice reverberate on the finish which has terrific length. The 2007 Phenomenon is a great example of what a blend should be; each of the varietals comes together seamlessly to form a cohesive unit. This wine is delicious on its own, but really shines when paired with food. Roasted meats and dishes with red sauce will work well as will medium strength cheeses and charcuterie.
Benessere Vineyards did well to release to release this wine when they did. It’s inviting, engaging and ready to drink now. While it’ll certainly continue to improve for a few years and drink well over the next 6-8, it’s delicious and hard to resist right now. So I vote to pop that cork sooner rather than later. And when your travels take you to Napa Valley, be sure to visit this terrific winery.
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Posted by Gabe on April 2, 2012
It seems that Merlot is still recovering from a couple of things, One is the boatload of insipid examples that clogged wine shop shelves for years; finding the good ones was akin to a treasure hunt. As a sort of response to that the film Sideways did a number on this excellent grape. Thankfully these days more of the Merlot’s you’ll find on your shelf are worth spending your time, not to mention money on. Today I’ll look at a fine example of Merlot from Napa Valley.
The Waterstone 2008 Merlot was produced from Napa Valley fruit. The majority of the fruit used to make this wine is from the Truchard Vineyard in Carneros. The balance came from Chiles Valley. This wine is 100% Merlot. All of the fruit was hand harvested. Gentle crushing and fermentation followed. Barrel aging was accomplished over 21 months in French oak; 35% of the barrels were new. Just fewer than 1,000 cases of this wine were produced and it has a suggested retail price of $18.
This Merlot’s gorgeous nose includes raspberry, cherry eucalyptus and subtle candied fruit characteristics. The palate leans towards dark fruits with blackberries, plum, black raspberries and cherries all in abundance. Zingy black peppercorn notes are present as well. Chicory, tobacco leaf, lingering berry fruits and lots of spice notes makeup the above average finish. This wine has good structure that shows off firm but yielding tannins that give with some air. While it’s ready to go now, this Merlot will drink nicely for the next ½ dozen years. This represents a nice value in Napa Valley Merlot.
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Posted by Gabe on July 1, 2011
Fourth of July weekend is one of the times each year when it’s definitely important to have wine on hand that will please a large crowd. Whether you’re grilling at home, celebrating with friends and family, or dining out, there are sure to be a wide array of taste buds in most gatherings. Quenching those taste buds at a reasonable cost is what I look to do on these occasions. The folks at Big House have been making widely available wines with crowd appeal that won’t bust your budget for years. Today I’ll look at one of their Zins to see if it fits the bill for this holiday weekend.
The Big House 2009 Cardinal Zin Beastly Old Vines Zinfandel was produced using fruit sourced from a number of appellations throughout California. In addition to Zinfandel (80%), this wine also contains Mourvedre (10%), Carignane (8%), and Petite Sirah (2%). 35,000 cases of this offering were produced. It’s available in traditional 750 ml bottles as well as 3 Liter boxes or casks as they call them. The respective suggested retail prices are $9.99 and $22.
Red raspberry and cherry aromas burst forcefully from the nose of this 2009 Zinfandel. Loads of sweet red fruit flavors appear throughout the palate; they’re interspersed with hints of dark fruit such as blackberry and black cherry. Candied fruit flavors emerge on the finish along with black and white pepper spice, pie crust and rhubarb.
This is a very appealing wine that will delight its core audience, large groups of people having a BBQ or party. It’s an easy drinking Zinfandel that will pair very well with just about anything that comes off of your grill. In the 3 Liter format it works out to just over $5 a bottle. That’s hard to beat especially when you take into account that housed in this Eco-Friendly format this offering will drink well for about a month after it was first opened.
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Posted by Gabe on March 15, 2011
The two red grape varietals that dominate the landscape both figuratively and somewhat literally in Spain are Tempranillo and Garnacha. Often times one or the other dominates either a blend or is bottled as a single variety with small percentages of other grapes. Today I’ll look at a blend where the two key red varietals from Spain play equal roles.
The Palacios Remondo 2009 La Vendimia D.O.C. Rioja was produced using fruit sourced at estate vineyards. These vines which sit at 1,800 feet above sea level have been organically farmed since 2003. This wine is a 50/50 blend of Garnacha and Tempranillo. The fruit was hand-picked and sorted. Fermentation took place in stainless steel tanks. Barrel aging took place over 5 months in a combination of used French (80%) and American (20%) oak. This offering has a suggested retail price of $14.99.
Aromas of violet and dark berry fruit are joined by hints of vanilla crème in the nose of this 2009 blend from Rioja. Black and red cherry lead the way through the palate. Ultimately though, those cherry flavors are supplanted by black currant and a host of purple fruit flavors. The finish shows off earth, hints of cola, rhubarb and a couple of wisps of cranberry. This wine has soft tannins and solid acidity.
This Rioja blend is a terrific value. It’s drinks beautifully on its own and will also be a great match for a particularly wide array of foods. Things like Serrano Ham, Manchego cheese and Paella will all pair fabulously with this wine.
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Posted by Gabe on January 18, 2011
Certain appellation names resonate loudly when it comes to California Pinot Noir; Russian River Valley is certainly amongst their number. Russian River Valley has a relatively long history within California for producing Pinot Noir that is true to its varietal as well as site specific. Davis Bynum is one of the producers that have been a long term part of that history. They’ve been making Pinot there for decades and in 1973 they were the first in the region to make a single vineyard effort. Today I’ll look at one of their current release Pinot Noirs.
The Davis Bynum 2008 Russian River Valley Pinot Noir was produced using fruit sourced from several vineyard sites exclusively in their home appellation. This wine is 100% Pinot Noir. After cool fermentation this wine was barrel aged for 9 months, entirely in French oak. 3,700 cases of this wine were produced and it has a suggested retail price of $35.
Strawberry and red plum aromas are underscored by spice notes and a hint of earth and tobacco leaf in the full and expressive nose of this 2008 Pinot Noir. Black cherry dominates the palate along with hints of rhubarb and a subtle wisp of anise. Earth, black pepper, clove, nutmeg and sour cherry fruit flavors are all part of an even keeled but fairly lengthy and memorable finish.
This 2008 Pinot from Davis Bynum is a terrific wine all on its own, it also happens to be an excellent example of the kind of Pinot Noir that can be produced in the Russian River Valley. Within the last couple of years this winery was purchased by the folks who own Rodney Strong Vineyards. They produce their own excellent line of wines and it’s gratifying to see them shepherd Davis Bynum into the future as well.
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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.
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Posted by Gabe on May 18, 2010
Recently I had the chance to taste some wines from Albino Armani. This Italian producer based in the Adige Valley has a rich history that dates back to 1607. Impressively the same family has owned the property all that time. Over the years they have acquired property in the Veneto, Trentino Alto Adige and Friuli Venezia Giulia; however the Adige Valley of Verona is at the center of their operations.
In the 80’s winemaker Albino Armani discovered some Foja Tonda (also known as Casetta) vines on the property. This grape varietal was nearly extinct. Over time they have been replanting it. At present there are 12 hectares of it, still a pretty tiny amount. As of 2002 it was readmitted for cultivation. Over the last several years they have been making wine with it and as of the 2007 vintage Foja Tonda is recognized as D.O.C. Teradeiforti. This is quite a journey for the grape itself and a sign of the family’s perseverance and passion. In addition to tasting three vintages of Foja Tonda I was also able to sample their current release Pinot Grigio. My impressions were as follows.
Albino Armani 2009 Pinot Grigio – The fruit for this wine was sourced from vines aged between 15 and 40 years old. This offering is 100% varietal. 10% of the frit went the through the passito method typically employed when making Amarone. Aging was accomplished in stainless steel. 7,000 cases of this wine were produced and the suggested retail price is $19.99. Hazelnut and kiwi notes appear on the nose of this Pinot Grigio. Melon and spice characteristics are present through the balanced palate, leading to a clean, crisp finish with fine acidity. Lovely on its own this wine will shine brighter when paired with soft cheeses, roasted chicken or light foods in general.
Albino Armani 2005 Foja Tonda - Casetta - I.G.T – Rosso Vallagarina – All of the fruit for this wine was sourced at estate vineyards in Vallagarina. This offering is 100% Foja Tonda (Casetta). After fermentation the wine was aged in oak for 12 months. 2,400 cases were produced and the suggested retail price is $19.99. Mulled berry and hints of candied cherry mark the nose of this 2005 wine. There is a solid core of upfront fruit through the palate; these flavors continue to the finish which shows off cinnamon, cardamom and a host of mineral notes. Good acidity keeps things in check.
Albino Armani 2006 Foja Tonda - Casetta - I.G.T – Rosso Vallagarina – Fruit was sourced at estate vineyards in the Southern Adige Valley. This wine is 100% varietal. Aging was accomplished over 12 months in 45,000 liter Slovenian oak followed by 6 months in bottle prior to release. 2,400 cases of this wine were produced and the suggested retail price is $19.99. The extroverted nose of this 2006 wine is loaded with bright fruit. While the flavors on the palate are a bit brighter than the other two vintages, the fruit is ultimately both darker and drier than the aromas would indicate. Black pepper leads the way on a spice laden finish. Good acidity keeps this wine in balance.
Albino Armani 2007 Foja Tonda - Casetta – DOC Terradeiforti – The fruit for this wine was sourced at estate vineyards within Terradeiforti. As with the others this vintage is 100% varietal. Barrel aging was accomplished over 12 months in Slovenian oak; 6 months of bottle aging followed. 2,400 cases were produced and the suggested retail price is $19.99. Dried berry fruit notes are accompanied by hints of thyme on the nose of this 2007 wine. Black cherry, pomegranate and cranberry notes are all apparent throughout the palate of this wine. These lead to spice notes on the finish along with hints of earth and continued soft, sour fruit notes. Good acidity keeps this wine in check.
There are a host of connective tissues that tie these vintages of Foja Tonda together. That said, there is plenty of vintage variation which made tasting them together a fascinating exercise. I hadn’t had Foja Tonda previous to sitting down for this tasting. It will be a natural partner for food, particularly Italian cuisine of course. Anything with a red sauce on it will work well. Over the time we had the wines open to taste they evolved nicely and drank quite well by themselves too. For me the story of this grape which the Armani family has made their personal reclamation project is fascinating. I’m constantly on a quest to find something new and interesting. In this case here’s something old that has been made new again. It’s most definitely quite interesting and well worth your time to explore. The relatively modest price point will also save damage to your wallet. So if you’re thinking of cracking open another bottle of Chianti or perhaps Dolcetto tonight, try something different. Foja Tonda will hit some of the notes each of those other two wines often do but in its own distinct way, as well as bringing other characteristics to the party as well.
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Posted by Gabe on April 3, 2010
With wine varietals that I drink regularly I tend to have some selections that have become go to choices. Left to my own devices my priority is usually to try something I haven’t had before. But if I’m going to a friend’s house for an event or I’m simply in the mood for something comfortable, I might reach for a wine I’ve had countless times. When it comes to Malbec I have a number of standby choices in a variety of price points. I’m going to take a look at the current vintage of one of them today.
The Bodega Septima 2008 Malbec was produced using fruit sourced in the Luján de Cuyo section of Mendoza Argentina. This offering is 100% Malbec. Barrel aging was accomplished over 6 months in American oak. This wine is finished with cork. This selection most often sells for approximately $10.
Blackberry, plum and blueberry aromas, underscored by a touch of vanilla make up the nose of this 2008 Malbec. Dark fruit in droves accompanied by hints of cedar and a nice spice component make up the fleshy palate of this wine. Sweet and exuberant berry fruit continues through the finish where it’s joined by chocolate and espresso notes. The finish lingers sufficiently and provides a pleasing close. It beckons you back to the glass for another sip or two. This Malbec has soft yielding tannins and balanced acidity. This would be a great match for grilled tri-tip.
As I mentioned above this is a wine that I’ve tasted many times over the last few years. In that time it’s proven to be a more than solid offering in its price category. There are many Malbecs available for around $10, here’s one delivers good value time and again, and vintage after vintage.
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