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Samples Galore: From Ohio to Washington with a Stop in Argentina

June 21, 2019 5 comments

Have wine, will travel – who is coming with me?

How about staring our wine journey in Ohio? There is a very, very good chance you never had a wine from Ohio – am I right? So was I – until the beginning of this year.

All 50 states in the USA produce wine – not sure as of what date, but this was already true at least 15 years ago. While this is true, it doesn’t mean that you can go into the store and pick up a bottle of wine from South Dakota as this is something you want to drink tonight. There is a slew of issues (economic, legal, etc.) which make it impossible. Never mind South Dakota – while Texas is one of the largest wine producers in the USA, I stand no chance of finding Texas wines in the local liquor store in Connecticut. And as I love collecting the experiences, when I was offered to participate in the Twitter Chat about Ohio wines, I quickly agreed.

The wines had been made in Ohio for a while – on par with most of the traditional wine regions in the USA. The wine cellar which is now a part of Firelands Winery in Sandusky, Ohio, was built in 1880. Obviously the wines are still unknown outside of the local towns and maybe some visitors, but still, Ohio has the winemaking history.

When I opened the box with the wines for the tasting, my first reaction was “ohh, this might not end well”. First one was Firelands Gewurztraminer – and I consider Gewurztraminer a very difficult grape – it is really difficult to create a balanced Gewurztraminer wine – I had lots (did I say lots?) of undrinkable editions, so yes, that bottle made me concerned. The second wine was equally concerning – Vidal Blanc Ice Wine from Ferrante winery. Again – an experience with many plonk-level Ice wines was definitely getting in the way.

So how the wines fared, you ask? Much (much!) better than I expected (sorry, the inner snob was talking) – really, here are the notes:

2017 Firelands Winery Gewurztraminer Isle St. George, Ohio (12.5% ABV)
Light golden
Beautiful fresh tropical fruit – leeches, guava, white peach, intense
Dry palate, clean acidity, spicy bite, Whitestone fruit, good minerality, good balance
8, very enjoyable wine, will work well with food, excellent with cheese (manchego)

2016 Ferrante Vidal Blanc Ice Wine Grand River Valley (11% ABV)
Golden color
Honey, candied peaches, fig jam, medium plus intensity.
Perfectly clean palate, a touch of honey, apples, ripe pear. Honey notes linger on the finish, but it is not overwhelming and supported by good acidity.
8+, very impressive, this is the wine I want to have a second glass of. Outstanding.

As you can see, very impressive wines. I would gladly drink both at any time – and I would love to visit the wineries if I ever make it into the area. Ahh, and one more check mark for my collection of attempts to try the wines made in all 50 states – a personal challenge which I’m tracking right here.

After having a great experience in Ohio, let’s continue our trip. Next stop? California.

First, let’s go to Santa Barbara County. Lucas and Lewellen Estate Vineyards were born in 1996 out of the friendship between Louis Lucas, a third-generation grape grower, and Superior Court Judge Royce Lewellen who first met back in 1975. They started making wine under their own label in 1998, and from there, the business expanded to include vineyards in 3 principal winegrowing areas in the Santa Barbara County – the Santa Maria Valley, the Los Alamos Valley, and the Santa Ynez Valley. They also opened a tasting room in Solvang, one of the best “wine towns” in the country. The wine we are talking about today is a classic Bordeaux blend coming from the Valley View Vineyard in Santa Ynez Valley:

2016 Lucas and Lewellen Cabernet Sauvignon Valley View Vineyard Santa Ynez Valley (14.5% ABV, $25, 75% Cabernet Sauvignon, 7.5% Petit Verdot, 7.5% Malbec, 5% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Franc, 21 months in French oak, 40% new)
Dark garnet
Mint, underbrush, blackberries, cherries, medium intensity
Cherry-forward, tart, a touch of mint, tight, well-integrated tannins, full body, good acidity, good balance, spicy finish in the back of the mouth
8-, probably will further improve with time

Let’s move up north in California, to the famed Napa Valley.

The first vineyard on the Mt. Veeder site which is now home to the Hess Family Wine Estates, was planted in 1876. Donald Hess acquired his first vineyard on the Mt. Veeder in 1978, and through the chain of events which are described in details here, all the history connected together. In 1986, the Hess Collection winery was established, and from the early days Hess Collection became a pioneer of sustainable viticulture, hosting the first Natural Farming Symposium in 1992, and then helping to develop the California Wine Institute’s “Code of Sustainable Winegrowing Practices” in 2002.

You can see a symbol of the lion on most of the Hess Collection wines – “live each day with the heart and courage of the lion” had been a guiding principle of the Hess family for 9 generations. Two years ago, Hess Family Wine Estates introduced a new portfolio of wine with the release of Lion Tamer red blend. Last year, the Lion Tamer was joined by Panthera Chardonnay in its inaugural release. I had an opportunity to taste the new release of these wines, and here are my notes:

2016 Hess Collection Lion Tamer Red Blend Napa Valley (14.8% ABV, $45, 40% Malbec, 27% Zinfandel, 21% Petite Sirah, 8% Cabernet Sauvignon, 2% Mourvedre, 1% Petit Verdot, 1% Merlot, 22 months in French oak, 40% new)
Dark garnet
Coffee, dark fruit, sandalwood, cherries, a touch of sapidity
Palate on the first day was massive, with espresso, tar, pencil shavings, and cherries.
On the second day, the wine appeared a lot more balanced, with clean acidity underscoring fresh blueberries and blackberries with a touch of coffee on the finish.
V: 8, definitely needs time. Decant for 2-3 hours if you want to drink now, or put it aside for the 4-5 years. Make sure to serve it at room temperature at around 68F.

2016 Hess Collection Panthera Chardonnay Russian River Valley Sonoma County (14.3% ABV, $45, 15 months in French oak barrels, 35% new)
Golden color with a greenish hue
Distant touch of a gunflint, minerality, underripe white plums
Vanilla, butter, a classic California Chardonnay profile, big, present, Granny Smith apples, good acidity.
8-, I prefer Chardonnay with a bit more subtle expression, but this is definitely drinkable on its own and should be good with food ( nicely complimented manchego cheese)

Knudsen Vineyards Chardonnay with Glass

Our next stop is in Pacific Northwest – in Oregon, to be more precise. Knudsen Family had been growing grapes in Dundee Hills AVA in Willamette Valley since 1971, one of the pioneers of the viticulture in Oregon. For a long time, the grapes from the Knudsen Vineyards were only bought by the other wineries. Relatively recently Knudsen Vineyards started producing Pinot Noir and Chardonnay under its own name. Previously, I tasted Knudsen Vineyards Chardonnay from 2015 and 2016 vintages, which were both excellent. This year I had an opportunity to try 2017 Knudsen Vineyards Chardonnay (13.5% ABV, $45), and was able to see a clear progression, from 2015 to 2016 to 2017. My analogy for 2017 is Burgundian, but I don’t even know if this is a fair comparison. Knudsen Chardonnay is not a white Burgundy – it is an Oregon Chardonnay first and foremost, and it is a simply beautiful wine.

Citing myself sounds strange, but here is what I wrote about 2017 Knudsen Chardonnay in the Instagram post: “I would describe this wine as an Elegance of Precision – from the get-go, it had just a perfect amount of everything Chardonnay is famous for – a touch of vanilla, a touch of butter, a touch of golden delicious apples, vibrant acidity – and it was getting even better over the few days it was stored in the fridge, more precise, more integrated, more Burgundian. If you like Chardonnay, this is a “case buy” wine – not because it is inexpensive, but because you want to keep a few bottles in the cellar for the next 5-10 years, to see it magically evolve”. Drinkability: 9-

While we are in the Pacific Northwest, let’s try a few more wines. Kin and Cascadia wines are the result of the partnership between multi-generational families, Sagers and Masters, with these multiple generations involved in the wine business (hence the “Kin” part). This new line of wines comes from the Cascade Mountains region – which brings in Cascadia part. I had an opportunity to try Kin and Cascadia Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir – here are the notes.

2017 Kin and Cascadia Cabernet Sauvignon Columbia Valley Washington (13.5% ABV, $16)
Dark garnet color
Intense berry flavor, blackberries, eucalyptus, sweet cherries
Fruit forward but has enough supporting acidity to make it pleasant. Medium body, light, simple, fresh, fresh berries (cherries and blackberries), good acidity.
7+/8-, not my idea of Cabernet Sauvignon, but it is definitely easy to drink wine. Plus, it is young, so it might evolve.

2017 Kin and Cascadia Pinot Noir Willamette Valley (13.5% ABV, $14)
Ruby color
Muted nose, a touch of earthy notes, underbrush
Not very expressive palate either – Light, medium body, good acidity lingering on the finish
7/7+, I personally would like more fruit and more energy. This is drinkable, but not thought-provoking.

Santa Julia wine cans

And we finally arrived at our last stop in Argentina.

In 1950, Alberto Zuccardi started working on the new irrigation systems for the vineyards in Mendoza. In 1963, he founded the vineyard of his own, which over the years became one of the most renowned in Argentina. In 1982, Bodega Santa Julia was born, named in honor of Julia (yes, she is a real person), the granddaughter of Albero Zuccardi – and Julia Zuccardi is managing her namesake winery today.

Bodega Santa Julia focuses on organic and sustainable viticulture, which sprawls from the vineyards to the people. Santa Julia was the first winery in Mendoza to achieve Fair for Life certification.

The winery joined the popular canned wines movement in the USA and introduced the line of beautifully packaged wines, which I had an opportunity to try. The wines are not amazing, but sufficient for the day on the beach or a pool party. Here are my brief notes:

NV Santa Julia Organic Malbec Rosé (375 ml can, SRP $6) – simple, quaffable, but too sweet for my taste.
NV Santa Julia Organic Chardonnay (375 ml can, SRP $6) – a bit tart, restrained fruit expression.
NV Santa Julia Tintillo Red Blend (375 ml can, SRP $6, 50% Malbec, 50% Bonarda) – good fruit expression, good acidity, medium body, good balance. My favorite of the three. And despite the recommendation, I liked it more at the room temperature than cold.

Here you are, my friends. As I said before, have wine – will travel. Until the next trip – cheers!

Samples Galore – Holiday Edition

December 28, 2016 4 comments

Côté Mas Chardonnay Blanc de BlancsOver the last few months, I had an opportunity to try a number of wines. What I didn’t do in timely fashion, however, is to share the tasting notes with you – and this needs to be corrected, which I’m doing with this post.

While I call this post a “holiday edition”, this is strictly due to the fact that this post is coming out during the most festive time of the year. It might be too late to use any of these wines for the gift giving, but you know what – these wines will be perfect for any day, whether it is cold or warm outside, and whether you need a gift or just want to reward yourself (yep, you always deserve an award for just being you).

Let’s start with the sparkling wine – I have one to bring to your attention today. This wine comes from the master of “affordable luxury” Paul Mas (I wrote about his wines a few times in the past – you can find those posts here). This Blanc de Blancs from Languedoc is made out of Chardonnay using the traditional method, and it perfectly on par with Paul Mas sparklers I tasted before:

NV Côté Mas Chardonnay Blanc de Blancs Méthode Traditionelle Vin de France (12% ABV, $15.99, 100% Chardonnay)
N: Pleasant nose with touch of yeast and fresh apples
P: Restrained palate, good acidity, clean, touch Of yeast, hint of Granny Smith apples.
V: 7+

Let’s continue with a few of the white wines. First, one of my perennial favorites – Hanna Sauvignon Blanc. I tasted prior vintages of Hanna Sauvignon Blanc, and this is one of my most favorite styles of California Sauvignon Blanc – grassy, fresh and clean:

2015 Hanna Sauvignon Blanc Russian River Valley Sonoma County (13.2% ABV, $20)
C: straw pale
N: intense, fresh-cut grass, touch of lemon, fresh meadows, you can smell this wine forever.
P: nicely restrained, same grassy notes, touch of black currant (distant hint), perfect balance, refreshing
V: 8+

The next white wine comes from the very creative producer in Oregon – Left Coast Cellars, which also not a stranger to this blog – I had a pleasure of speaking (virtually) with Luke McCollom, winemaker for Left Coast Cellars and taste some of the previous vintages of their wines (here are the links to the two-part interview  – Part 1 and Part 2). You can’t go wrong with Oregon Pinot Gris – today this is literally a “classic”:

2015 Left Coast Cellars The Orchards Pinot Gris Willamette Valley (13.7% ABV, $18)
C: Straw pale color
Touch of honeysuckle on the nose once warmed up, White stone fruit initially
Closed up while cold, white ripe fruit once warmed up, good balance, medium body, medium-long finish.
V: 7+

Last but not least is Les Dauphins Côté du Rhône. Rhone whites are fun wines, often very dry in the early years, and “ripening up” as they age. This was unquestionably a young wine which most likely would improve with age:

2013 Les Dauphins Côtes du Rhône Réserve Blanc (12.5% ABV, $11, 65% Grenache, 15% Marsanne, 10% Clairette, 10% Viognier)
C: Light golden
N: touch of honey, white stone fruit
P: white stone fruit, herbs, good acidity, quite astringent
V: 7+, will hold well with and without food

Now, time for the reds. The reds today represent a diverse group, from Australia to Italy to the USA. At the beginning of November, I participated in the #winechat with Michael Twelftree, winemaker for Tow Hands Wines out of Australia. We had an opportunity to taste and discuss three wines from Two Hands – two classic Shiraz wines from Barossa and McLaren Vale regions, and a Cabernet Sauvignon:

Two Hands Wines2014 Two Hands Gnarly Dudes Shiraz Barossa Valley (13.5% ABV, $36)
C: Dark garnet, almost black
N: espresso, roasted meat, licorice, blackberries
P: spice, plums, big concentration, touch of salinity, smooth texture, velvety and dusty
V: 8-, good rendition of Shiraz. The wine completely reversed on the Day 2, closed up.

2014 Two Hands Angel’s Share Shiraz McLaren Vale ($14.5% ABV, $36)
C: Dark garnet, almost black
N: intense, powdery, eucalyptus, mocca, licorice, tobacco
P: peppery finish, round, restrained, excellent acidity, bright and crispy red fruit
V: 7+, probably needs time

2015 Two Hands Sexy Beast Cabernet Sauvignon Mclaren Vale (13.8% ABV, $36)
C: Dark garnet, almost black
N: touch of cassis, closed
P: smooth, round, nice cassis backbone, mint, restrained
V: 7/7+, too young, needs time to rest and evolve

Two Italian wines were probably my favorite in this group – Cecchi Chianti and Alta Mora from Sicily:

2014 Cecchi Chianti Classico DOCG (13% ABV, $22, 90% Sangiovese, 10% other grapes)
C: Garnet
N: dark red fruit, dark chocolate, touch of smoke, roasted notes
P: fresh, vibrant, good acidity, touch of pepper, hint of tobacco, crashed raspberries, firm structure
V 8-/8, very enjoyable from get go, will evolve

2014 Cusumano Alta Mora Etna Rosso DOC (14% ABV, $24, 100% Nerello Mascalese)
C: dark garnet
N: playful, open, cherries, mocca,
P: bright, mouthwatering acidity, tart cherries without too much astringency, pronounced minerality, medium body, dry finish
V: 8-

And to finish off, here are two classic grapes – Merlot and Pinot Noir:

2014 Markham Merlot Napa Valley (14.2% ABV, $26, 86% Merlot, 12% Cabernet Sauvignon, 2% Petite Sirah)
C: garnet
N: touch of cassis, mint, alcohol presence is noticeable, dark chocolate
P: round, soft, clean acidity, touch of cassis, underripe raspberries, alcohol and tannins show a bit on their own, peppery finish
V: 7/7+, needs more time? second day definitely showed to wine as more coherent (7+), but it would benefit from more time

2014 Left Coast Cellars Cali’s Cuvée Pinot Noir Willamette Valley (13.5% ABV, $24)
C: Dark garnet
N: Mocca, sage, roasted notes, touch of mushrooms, savory undertones
P: Fresh raspberries, mint, herbs, touch of roasted meat, fresh acidity, mouthwatering finish, medium body, easy to drink
V: 8-, easy to drink, pleasant

We are done here. Have you had any of these wines? What do you think of them? Cheers!

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