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Top Wines of 2019 – Second Dozen

December 28, 2019 6 comments

Ahh, the end of the year. Quiet time (I wish). Time to reflect on the year which is about to become history. Particularly, it is the time for the Top Wines of the year 2019 to be re-lived, re-enjoyed, and shared.

This is the 10th annual Talk-a-Vino Top Wines list, and I have to say that the selection process is not getting any easier – if anything, it is getting more and more difficult to decide on the top wine (hence I had two #1 wines last year).

I never attempt to count how many wines I taste throughout the year. My rough estimate is between 500 and 700 wines, considering all the wines I drink at home, all the samples, and all the tastings I manage to attend during the year. The top list represents the wines which are easily come to mind with the help of notes, label journals or just stuck in the memory as an unforgettable experience. Yes, I’m sure amazing wines will be left outside of this list, but I really have no way of helping it.

For most of the Top lists, I’m not even trying to stick with just a dozen wines – that would be mission impossible. This is the reason behind the second dozen and top dozen posts. Also, while I always say that the order of the top wines is not important, it is not exactly true, for sure in the top wines selection. I’m always happy to include a variety of wines in the Top list, in terms of countries, wine types, prices, styles and so on, but all of these come secondary to the main criteria – the wine must be memorable. And maybe even bring a smile to my face as I get to re-live the happy moment.

Okay, I’m done with all the explanations. Without further ado, let’s get to it. The second dozen of Top Wines 2019:

24. 2018 Field Recordings Cabernet Sauvignon Special Release Santa Ynez ($12, 375 ml can) – yes, you are correct – it is the wine in the can. Feel free to stop reading and pledge not to open any of my posts in the future. No, this wine is not included here to be fashionable and appeal to the can-boasting Millenials. This is simply a good wine. What makes it memorable? This wine is made using beer stout starter yeast, and as Field Recordings’ winemaker Andrew Jones explains, the wine shows “crazy good chocolate character wrapped around dark cherries and blackberries” – and I have to agree. Delicious.

23. 2011 Michel Chapoutier Tournon Mathilda Shiraz Victoria, Australia ($14.99) – the pepper is back! I fell in love with this wine after tasting beautifully clean black pepper and spices, back in 2014 (it was wine #4 on my 2014 Top Dozen list). Then pepper mysteriously disappeared, and the wine became blah. It was a joyous moment finding that pepper returned on my last bottle. I share my frustration in the post which is available via the link, but in any case – this was a perfect sip.

22. 2015 Leone de Castris 50° Vendemmia Salice Salentino Riserva DOC ($12) – Generocity of this $12 wine is beyond categories – layers and layers of silky, velvety fruit, weaved on the structure of power. While Californian wine would have a different flavor profile, the wine of the same richness and power will set you back probably ten-fold if not more. Incredible value.

21. 2015 Alfredo Dried Grape Shiraz Nugan Estate South Australia (€20) – Bring on the dried grapes! First I saw the description of this Amarone-like Shiraz, and as I love Amarone as well as any other appassimento-style wines, I had to try it – and the wine didn’t disappoint. Elegant, concentrated Syrah flavor with an additional hint of dried fruit – what’s not to like?

20. Salem Oak Vineyards Brandon Jae New Jersey ($20, Cabernet Franc) – This wine was a star of a delicious, albeit spontaneous tasting at the Salem Oak winery in New Jersey. I was looking for a simple checkmark that I visited a winery in yet another one of 50 winemaking states int he USA. What I found was humble and delicious, world-class, personable wines – at Salem Oak, every wine label tells a story. This Cabernet Franc was a pure, varietally-correct, stand out – the wine to remember.

19. 2015 Mosmieri Saperavi Kakheti Georgia ($16) – Georgian Saperavi is one of my pet peeves and all-time favorites. However, Mosmieri pushed the bar a notch above – with Rhone-like, spicy, earthy and dense rendition. Are you seeking Georgian wines yet?

18. 2017 Le Cadeau Diversité Estate Pinot Noir Willamette Valley ($50) – Pinot Noir supreme. Oregon Pinot Noir is in the class of its own, and Le Cadeau is clearly in front of this class. A beautiful rendition of the grape which Oregon made its star.

17. 2017 Oceano Chardonnay Spanish Springs Vineyard San Luis Obispo County ($38) – in a word, perfect. I smile just at a thought of this Chardonnay. Even the bottle itself is a pleasure to hold. An elegant and powerful rendition of the Chardonnay which doesn’t want to be shy – yes, I’m Chardonnay, I’m beautiful, and I know it. Vanilla, butter, acidity – a full, delicious package.

16. 1990 Dom Ruinart Ruinart Blanc de Blancs Champagne (~$300) – age is just a number. Don’t take my word for it – well, I can’t suggest that you should find a bottle of this Champagne, that would be rather cruel – so unless you have one in your cellar, my word would be it. But, in a word, this was superb vintage Champagne – still fresh, elegant, beautifully balanced, fine fizz. Age is just a number, when the wine is made well.

15. 1995 Estancia Meritage Alexander Valley ($35) – another perfect example of age just being a number – a supremely delicious Bordeaux blend, showing literally no age. Sadly, this wine no longer produced (Estancia still makes Meritage, but from Paso Robles and not from Sonoma)  so you need to check the sites such as Benchmark Wine Company if you would like to experience the beauty of this California made Bordeaux-style blend.

14. 2011/2015 Smith-Madrone Riesling Spring Mountain District Napa Valley ($32) – unlike wine number 16, these wines are freely available (at least the current vintage, 2016), so if you want to try the best Riesling made in the USA, go get it. Does this sound like a bold claim? Maybe it does, but if your hallmark of Riesling excellence is Grosset Polish Hill Clare Valley in Australia, then you will easily understand me. If you like Riesling, this is the wine you need to ask for by name. Yes, now.

13. 2011 L’Ecole no 41 Estate Ferguson Vineyard Walla Walla Valley ($65, 57% Cabernet Sauvignon, 32% Merlot, 11% Cabernet Franc) – Ferguson is the newest region in the Walla Walla, producing powerful and concentrated wines, and I was unable to understand the appeal of this region until I tried this 2011 Bordeaux blend – it was layered, it was structured, and it was ready to drink. A stunning example of the power of terroir.

This now concludes the presentation of the second dozen of the Talk-a-Vino Top Wines of 2019. The first dozen post will follow shortly. Cheers!

 

American Pleasures – Part 2, Peju Napa Valley

December 9, 2019 2 comments

A few weeks ago I shared with you my view on [strictly wine] American pleasures – some of the wine samples which I had a pleasure to taste recently. Yes, it is the pure hedonistic pleasure we are talking about here – the wines which have a magical power of making you want another glass even before the first one is empty. Today I want to continue that conversation and talk about Peju Province Winery in Napa Valley.

The story of Peju Province Winery is simple and similar to many others – it started from a dream. Tony Peju had a drawing of the winery with the tower two years prior to the first Peju grape been harvested. Tony found early success in Los Angeles as a horticulturist, using his landscaping skills in the real estate, improving and reselling the houses. But his dream was to own the farm.

After his search for the farm land led him up north to the Napa Valley, he was able to find the location of his dreams – a 30 acres Stephanie vineyard in Rutherford, located next to Robert Mondavi, Inglenook and Beaulieu vineyards, growing Cabernet Sauvignon and Colombard vines, some 60 years old or maybe even older. Tony and his wife, Herta, purchased Stephanie vineyard in 1983. At first, Tony and Herta were only selling the grapes, however taking advantage of Tony’s green thumb, improving the vineyard and learning what it is capable of. They identified the section of the vineyard, about 5 acres in size, which produced the best Cabernet Sauvignon fruit. The vineyard, which was renamed into HB in honor of Tony’s wife, Herta Behensky, was replanted using cuttings from that best section grafted on the phylloxera-resistant rootstock. The time has come to start making Peju’s own wine.

Peju Province Winery Grounds. Source: Peju Province Winery

Tony went on to get a degree in enology from UC Davis, and the rest was history. Well, there is one interesting hurdle worth mentioning. If you remember, Tony had a full drawing of the winery done in 1981, two years before HB vineyard was even found and purchased. Once they had the land and were ready to convert dreams into reality, in order to fund the project, Tony and Herta started selling wine out of their garage converted into the wine tasting room. This, however, was against Napa County’s rules, which required all the wine sales to be made from the legitimate winery building. However, California law allowed winegrowers to sell the wines in the place where the grapes were grown, so the issue ended up in the court. The judge sided with Peju, agreeing that if Tony is growing the grapes, he should be allowed to sell the wine. This became a pivotal case that significantly changed the landscape of the Napa Valley.

Peju went on to build the impressive 50-foot tall tower in the French Provencal style, using Brazilian cherry wood, beams from old Midwestern farm buildings and 1906 antique stained glass window. Way before that new winery building was complete, Peju acquired 350 acres of land at the 2000 feet elevation in the nearby Pope Valley section of Napa, which they named Persephone Vineyard, after the goddess of Greek mythology. In 1997, 120 acres of that land was planted to Cabernet Sauvignon (using HB Vineyard clone), as well as Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Syrah, Petit Verdot, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, and Zinfandel. In 2007, Rutherford HB vineyard became certified organic, and today all three of Peju vineyards are using sustainable viticultural methods. In 2009, Peju Province Winery was certified as a Napa County Green Winery and Bay Area Green Business. Also in 2006, Peju started installing solar panels on 10,000 square feet of winery roof and generating 35% of all electricity consumed at a winery.

Okay, so now you learned a lot about the winery, so let’s talk about the wines, as a proof is always in the glass. I had an opportunity to try 6 wines from Peju, and I was literally blown away by what I tasted. To be entirely honest, these wines were one of the most inspirational coming up with the title for this series – American Pleasures. 6 out of 6 delicious wines, one better than another – I taste enough wines during the year to tell you that this is not given. Below are my notes:

2018 Peju Province Winery Sauvignon Blanc Napa Valley (13.8% ABV, $25)
Straw pale, practically clear
A touch of freshly cut grass, white flowers, maybe a distant hint of cat pee – only because I want to find it there?
Layers of flavors. Crisp lemony acidity first, then a hint of plums and slightly underripe melon, unusual plumpness for the Sauvignon Blanc, the wine rolls off your tongue like a nice Marsanne.
8, excellent, a unique and different Sauvignon Blanc.

2015 Peju Province WineryCabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley (14.8% ABV, $60, 85% Cabernet Sauvignon, 8% Petit Verdot, 7% Merlot, 18 months in French and American oak, 45% new)
Dark garnet
Black currant, cherries, eucalyptus, sweet oak
A beautiful mix of black currant and cherries on the palate, a touch of herbal notes, good minerality, firm texture, vibrant acidity, medium+ finish
8/8+, the first sip says “I’m a Napa Cab”. Delicious.

The next wine is one of the few in “Nostalgia Series”, where every label depicts a moment in Peju’s history.

2015 Peju Province Winery Nostalgia Series The Farm Napa Valley (15.2% ABV, $80, 80% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Sangiovese, 18 months in oak)
Dark garnet, practically black
Dark fruit, eucalyptus, restrained, mineral undertones
Perfectly balanced fresh fruit, soft, luscious, black currant, tar pencil shavings, perfect balance, delicious.
8, delicious wine

2016 Peju Province Winery Merlot Napa Valley (14.8% ABV, $48, 95% Merlot, 4% Cabernet Sauvignon, 1% Petit Verdot, 18 months in oak)
Garnet
Sweet licorice, eucalyptus, underbrush
Coffee, tart cherries, cherry pit, minerality
8-, probably need more time. The finish is a bit astringent, however, it plays well with savory food (cheese and crackers)

Cabernet Franc is one of my favorite grapes – this wine was truly a Cabernet Franc experience.

2013 Peju Province Winery Petit Trois Cabernet Franc Napa Valley (14.8% ABV, $75, 100% Cabernet Franc, 18 months in oak, 333 cases produced)
Deep Garnet
Cassis, licorice, mocha, a hint of sweet tobacco
Cassis, mint, gently present tannins (after a few hours), firm structure, sweet oak, unmistakably California
9-, wow, tons of pleasure in every sip. Needs decanting. Outstanding on the second day.

This wine has its own story. It is the result of the barrel experiments run by Peju winemaker, Sara Fowler. For the 2017 vintage, she worked with 37 different barrel tasting styles and 22 coopers, then discussed the effects of the oak regimen with the group of the fellow Napa Valley winemakers. To have all new-oak, effectively a young wine, to be ready to drink from the get-go is something really incredible in my opinion.

2017 Peju Province Winery The Experiment Napa Valley (14.5% ABV, $100, 100% Cabernet Sauvignon, 18 months in French, American, and Hungarian oak, 100% new, 1075 cases produced)
Dark garnet
An “Oh my god!” nose – Black currant, eucalyptus, pure, intense
Wow, supple black currant, mint, eucalyptus, silky smooth tannins, good minerality, all delivered in layers. Clean acidity, impeccable balance, and immense pleasure.
9/9+, wow. An exemplary Napa Cab

There you have it, my friends – some incredible wines. Of course, these are not inexpensive wines, but in my opinion, the $100 bottle which gives you lots of pleasure is worth splurging for the right moment. Cheers!

 

American Pleasures

November 7, 2019 2 comments

Yes, you read it right – we will be talking about American pleasures.

But don’t worry – this is still a wine blog. Yes, we will be talking about wine. And as the title suggests, we will be talking about wines made in the USA. As for the pleasures – this is what the wine is for. The wine should give you pleasure. If it does not, I don’t know what is the point of drinking it. For sure I don’t see it for myself – if I’m not enjoying the glass of wine, I’m not drinking it. It is the pleasure we, wine lovers, are after.

Lately, I had a number of samples of American wines sent to me. Mostly California wines, to be precise. And to my big surprise, I enjoyed all of them. I’m not implying that the wines I tasted were better than I expected, hence the surprise. While I pride myself with the willingness to try any and every wine, it doesn’t mean that I equally like any and every wine – I’m rather a picky (read: snobby?) wine taster. At a typical trade tasting, my “likeness” factor is about 1 out of 10 or so. And here, wine after wine, I kept telling myself “this is good!”, and then “wow, this is good too!”. Is my palate getting cursed or just old and tired? Maybe. But, as I still trust it and as I derived pleasure from every sip of these wines, I would like to share my excitement with you, hence this post, or rather, a series of posts. Let’s go.

First, let’s talk about the old. “Old” is a very respectful word here, as we will be talking about the winery which had been around for more than 40 years in Napa Valley. Back in 1976, Ron and Diane Miller purchased 105 acres vines on in Yountville, which is now known as Miller Ranch. Two years later, they acquired 226 acres in Stags Leap District, which was the vineyard called Silverado. Initially, the grapes were sold to the other wineries, until in 1981 the winery was built and the first harvest was crushed – the was the beginning of Silverado Vineyards as we know it. Today, Silverado Vineyards comprise 6 vineyards throughout Napa Valley, all Napa Green certified, which is an established standard for sustainable farming. Silverado Vineyards wines are exported to 25 countries and have won numerous accolades at a variety of competitions – and Silverado Vineyards garnered quite a few “winery of the year” titles along the years.

Two wines I tasted from Silverado Vineyards were Sauvignon Blanc and Rosé. I like California Sauvignon Blanc with a little restraint, not overly fruity, and with a good amount of grass and acidity – Honig Sauvignon Blanc and Mara White Grass would be two of my favorite examples. California Rosé is somewhat of a new category, still scarcely available in the stores on the East Coast – this is mostly wine club or winery tasting room category at the moment. Again, for the Rosé, restraint is a key – nobody needs to replicate Provençal Rosé in California, but the wine still should be light and balanced.

Silverado Vineyards perfectly delivered on both – here are my notes:

2018 Silverado Miller Ranch Sauvignon Blanc Yountville Napa Valley (13.9% ABV, $25)
Straw pale
Beautiful, classic CA Sauvignon Blanc – freshly cut grass, a touch of lemon, all nicely restrained. Nice minerality.
An interesting note of salinity, lemon, lemon zest, a touch of pink grapefruit, just an undertone with some bitterness. This is a multidimensional wine, with a good amount of complexity.
8-/8, a thought-provoking wine. Great with manchego cheese and Hungarian salami.

2018 Silverado Vineyards Sangiovese Rosato Napa Valley (14.5% ABV, $25, 100% Sangiovese)
Light Pink
A touch of strawberries, light and elegant
Strawberries and lemon on the palate, elegant, balanced, good textural presence, very refreshing.
8, and excellent Rosé overall, with its own character. And I have to tell you – I’m duly impressed with Californian Sangiovese, for sure when it is made into a Rosé – seems to be a complete winner here.

Another wine I want to talk about here, is definitely from the “new” camp – only 5 years ago, Oceano winery was not even an idea. The winery has a great story, which you better read on the winery website. The story has everything – the love at first sight, the encounter with the seahorse, a wine label drawn on the napkin.

Oceano wines are made from the fruit coming from Spanish Springs Vineyard in San Luis Obispo – the vineyard which is closest to the Pacific Ocean not only in the Central Coast appellation but in entire California. Cool climate helps Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes to mature slowly and to accumulate great flavor. Not only Spanish Springs Vineyard provides ideal conditions for the grapes, but it is also SIP (Sustainable in Practice) Certified vineyard, which is considered a higher status than Organic due to the stringent requirements throughout the whole process of winemaking up to the point of bottling of the wine.

I had an opportunity to taste the second release of Oceano Chardonnay, and was simply blown away:

2017 Oceano Chardonnay Spanish Springs Vineyard San Luis Obispo County (13.6% ABV, $38)
Light golden
Vanilla, a hint of honey
Vanilla, a touch of butter, hint of almonds, nice golden apple and brioche, let’s not forget the delicious, freshly baked brioche – with tons of acidity on the long finish, tons and tons of acidity.
9-, outstanding rendition of the Chardonnay, worked perfectly well with a variety of foods – beef roast from Trader Joe’s, Brie, Spanish Cheeses (Manchego and San Simone) – this was totally an unexpected surprise. If you are looking for a delicious and versatile Chardonnay, this might be the wine you are looking for. It might easily be a star of your Thanksgiving wine program.

Here you are, my friends. These wines delivered lots and lots of pleasure, and these are the wines worth seeking. We are done for today, but we are very far from done seeking more wine pleasures. To be continued…

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