Wine of the Day, No. 496


This post is by Fredric Koeppel from Bigger Than Your Head


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All rosé wines are not made equal, but then nothing is, right? A Swatch is not a Philippe Patek. A Ford Fiesta is not a Porsche Panamera. While you’re enjoying this moment of philosophical meditation, let’s broach the subject of a superior rosé. This would be the Gamble Family Vineyards Rosé Wine 2018, Napa Valley, a blend of 66 percent cabernet sauvignon (from Oakville grapes), 21 percent cabernet franc, 8 percent merlot and 5 percent petit verdot, which could, of course, be the blend of a regular table wine. These grapes, however, were purpose-grown for rosé; the wine sees only stainless steel, no oak. (Yes, we occasionally encounter a rosé that aged in neutral oak barrels.) The color here is the classic Provencal pale onion skin hue; aromas of pure strawberry and raspberry are infused with notes of cranberry and pomegranate, blood orange and spiced pear, with damp flint …

A Little Effervescence for Mom


This post is by Fredric Koeppel from Bigger Than Your Head


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My parents were teetotalers, my father because his father was a drunken lout, my mother because she believed that the merest drop of alcohol meant one was fated to a life in the gutter among cigarette butts and dead pigeons. No wonder I took to drink! But seriously, folks, even though my late mother would not have enjoyed a sip of Champagne or other sparkling wine on her day, in this post I’ll mention several products in those genres that will bring delight to your Mom’s celebration. We have a cava brut rosé from Spain, a pinot noir-dominated sparkler from Alta Langa in Italy, and a majority pinot noir rosé Champagne. In fact, pinot noir could be the sub-theme of this post. In any case, Happy Mother’s Day to all the Moms out there; I hope your enjoy your day, imbibing in moderation, of course.

These sparkling products were samples …

Wine of the Day, No. 495


This post is by Fredric Koeppel from Bigger Than Your Head


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I’m not generally a fan of so-called “orange wines,” that is, wines made from white grapes fermented on the skins, as if they were red. Most of them smell and taste like sherry, and if you want something that smells and tastes like sherry, why not just tap your Cask of Amontillado? Here’s an example, however, that made a convert of me, at least in this singular case. The Wrath Wines Ex Dolio Falanghina 2016, Monterey, was made from the white grape indigenous to Italy’s Campania region, that gathers like a protective glove around the city of Naples. Falanghina has been cultivated since the early Roman empire. These grapes were fermented in dolium contemporary versions of ancient clay vessels, and the wine aged six months in those same containers, then was bottled unfined and unfiltered. (Don’t be surprised at a bit of sediment in the bottle.) The color is …

Alternative Reds: Not Cab., Mer., or P.N.


This post is by Fredric Koeppel from Bigger Than Your Head


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No, friends, there’s not a darned thing wrong with cabernet sauvignon, merlot or pinot noir wines — unless they’re made in an overwrought, obtrusive manner — but they tend to dominate the discussion of the world’s red wines and so-called “noble” grapes. If you’re just a tad weary of those wines, I offer alternatives in today’s post, with grapes that include alicante bouschet, carignan, malbec, petite sirah, sangiovese, tempranillo, syrah/shiraz and tannat. Our Seven League Boots touch down in Mendoza, Tuscany, Paso Robles, Alentejo (Portugal), Chile’s Maule Valley, Apulia, Arroyo Seco, Oregon’s Umpqua Valley and Monterey County. Oh the things you’ll see! And the wines you’ll taste! Enjoy, in moderation, of course.

These wines were samples for review.

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Malbec is not exactly an unknown grape in the United States. One cannot go into a liquor store or big box venue without encountering shelves and boxes of malbec wines from …

Wine of the Day, No. 494


This post is by Fredric Koeppel from Bigger Than Your Head


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The factors that elevate a rosé wine from enjoyable — and there’s nothing wrong with that! — to superior status include qualities of the inevitable and the essential, a vital allure and pent energy that entice us back to the glass repeatedly. Such a one is the Etude Wines Rosé 2018, derived from the North Canyon Vineyard in Santa Maria Valley, the northernmost AVA in Santa Barbara County. The composition is “principally pinot noir,” according to the technical sheet I was sent, and I would give a lot to know what dollops of other grapes fit in there. The grapes were specifically grown for this rosé; this is not a product of free-run juice assembled as an after-thought. The wine is made entirely in stainless steel. The color is a medium copper-salmon hue; aromas of raspberries and strawberries unfold notes of candied melon, lime peel and a hint of blood …

Wine of the Day, No. 493


This post is by Fredric Koeppel from Bigger Than Your Head


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One of the best nontraditional white wines made in California — I mean not chardonnay, riesling or sauvignon blanc — is the example of the kerner grape made by David Ramey for his Sidebar Cellars. The grape is a crossing, from 1929, of the red trollinger — schiava in northeastern Italy — with riesling. The Sidebar Kerner 2018 derives from grapes grown in the Mokelumne River AVA in Lodi, the only planting in the United States. The wine sees only native yeast and aged two and a half months on the lees in small stainless steel drums. The color is very very pale straw; the bouquet is a layered melange of pear and quince, lemongrass and guava, lemon drop and lilac; a few moments in the glass bring in notes of flint and limestone. The texture is a remarkably dense and sprightly structure animated by brisk, bright acidity and a …

Wine of the Day, No. 492


This post is by Fredric Koeppel from Bigger Than Your Head


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Seldom is a grape associated with a single nation the way that grüner veltliner is with Austria. It’s true that this white grape is grown elsewhere in Eastern Europe — Hungary, Slovakia, Czech Republic — and to a small extent in Germany and northeastern Italy, but at about 43,000 acres in Austria, it’s the most prolifically planted grape in the country, accounting for about 30 percent of vineyard acreage. And why not? Grüner veltliner produces a delightful, eminently drinkable white wine with a characteristic hay-white pepper-spiced pear-celery leaf aura that’s highly individual and well-nigh irresistible. More wineries in America are experimenting with grüner veltliner, from Long Island to the West Coast. A well-made example to look for is the Reustle-Prayer Rock Estate Selection Grüner Veltliner 2017, from the winery in Oregon’s Umpqua Valley. This region, established as an American Viticultural Area in 2004, lies within the greater Southern Oregon AVA. …

Wine of the Day, No. 491


This post is by Fredric Koeppel from Bigger Than Your Head


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Here’s a rosé that radiates charm and character. The Portillo Rosé 2018 hails from the high-elevation Uco Valley in Argentina’s well-known Mendoza region. Made from 100 percent malbec grapes and seeing only stainless steel in its making, this rosé offers a very pale copper-salmon hue and pert aromas of pomegranate, candied melon, strawberry and meadow flowers; it’s bright and brisk on the palate, delivering subtle flavors of raspberry and cranberry with a hint of something exotic, mango, perhaps, or green tea. The finish brings in a slight graphite or flint-like tinge and a definite neap of salinity. 12.5 percent alcohol. A highly individual performance in a rosé that’s perfect for picnics and quaffing on the porch or patio; bring on the cold fried chicken and deviled eggs, the cucumber sandwiches and shrimp salad. Very Good+. About $11, marking Amazing Value.

Imported by Palm Bay International, Boca Raton, Fla. A …

Wine of the Day, No. 490


This post is by Fredric Koeppel from Bigger Than Your Head


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To read the material I get from marketers and PR folks, you’d think that a red wine blended from several grapes was a completely new phenomenon. They forget that many well-known European wines traditionally are blends — Bordeaux, Chateauneuf-du-Pape, Chianti — and that New World producers often follow the lead of their Old World models. The problem with many of the red wine blends created recently, however, is that they taste exactly like that: red wine. Nothing distinctive appeals to nose or palate, and there’s little sense that the individual grape varieties contribute anything of character. Here, however, is an exception. Primus The Blend 2015, from the Apalta area of Chile’s Colchagua region, feels like an embodiment of its constituent elements — 40 percent cabernet sauvignon, 25 percent merlot, 24 carmenere, 8 petit verdot and 3 cabernet franc — that meld in expressive yet pointed harmony. The wine aged 12 …

Six Savory Whites


This post is by Fredric Koeppel from Bigger Than Your Head


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Yes, we’re well into Spring and heading toward Summer. Here’s a roster of savory, spicy, saline white wines to ease the transition through the vagaries of changeable weather and shifting winds. In truth, of course, these six diverse wines might be consumed throughout the year. Call them eminently versatile. Also mostly excellent value. Of the six wines presented here, four offer terrific PQR — Price/Quality Ratio. All are from vintage 2017.

These wines were samples for review.

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The 15.2 percent alcohol on the Ricardo Santo Semillon 2018, Mendoza, may give one pause, but somehow this absolutely lovely wine comes across as inherently delicate and elegant. It sees no oak. The grapes grow on 75-year-old vines at about 2,950 feet above sea level. The color is pale straw-gold; the nose offers spiced pear inflected by apricot and figs, with notes of lanolin and bee’s-wax and a sunny-leafy element that …

Wine of the Day, No. 489


This post is by Fredric Koeppel from Bigger Than Your Head


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It’s rare to find a pinot noir for the price that exhibits the integrity and authenticity of the District 7 Pinot Noir 2017, Monterey County. District 7 is a brand of Scheid Family Wines, which, under the family name, produces limited edition, often single-vineyard wines of outstanding character. Grapes for the District 7 Pinot Noir ’17 derive from estate vineyards that occupy the cool, windy northern bench of the Salinas Valley. The wine aged 10 months in French oak, 30 percent new barrels. The color is a stunning totally transparent light ruby hue; it’s a lovely expression of the grape that features red cherries and currants infused with notes of raspberry leaf and graphite, smoke, cola and rhubarb; vibrant on the palate, the wine is sleek and supple, deepening into elements of forest floor and flint for a slight darkening effect but remaining an object of elegant poise. A comfortable …

Pick Your Picpoul


This post is by Fredric Koeppel from Bigger Than Your Head


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The white picpoul grape is native to France’s Languedoc region, where its high acidity — the name means “lip-stinger” — is an asset in that Mediterranean climate. It is mostly a blending grape, though it has its own AOC in Picpoul de Pinet, a roughly shaped triangle of about 3,000 acres that touches the lagoon of Thau, where the coast swings southwest toward Spain. There is an almost played out picpoul noir, which is why many examples in the United States are denominated picpoul blanc, but that device seems hardly necessary. Picpoul blanc and noir are among the roster of grape varieties allowed in Chateauneuf-du-Pape, but are seldom employed, the acreage for the grape in the appellation being under one percent. I offer today two excellent versions of picpoul, one from the Adelaida District of Paso Robles, the other from Arroyo Seco in Monterey County. These wines were samples for …

Extended Pinot Noir Month, Part 8: Siduri Vineyards


This post is by Fredric Koeppel from Bigger Than Your Head


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The Pinot Noir Month of March extended farther into April than I predicted, but this post marks the end of the series. I devote today to eight examples of the grape from Siduri Wines, launched by Adam Lee and his wife Dianna Novy Lee in 1994. Owning no vineyard acreage, the couple specialized in single-vineyard designated pinot noir from a variety of California’s well-known (and not so well-known) growers in Russian River Valley, Sonoma Coast, Santa Lucia Highlands and Sta. Rita Hills, as well as Oregon’s Willamette Valley. Siduri earned a reputation for big-hearted, finely-detailed pinots, both for the single-vineyard bottlings (as many as 20) and regional AVA bottlings. The Lees sold Siduri to Jackson Family Wines early in 2015, with Adam Lee staying on as winemaker for three years. Today, we look at four examples each from vintage 2015 and 2016, including six single-vineyard offerings and two regional AVA …

Wine of the Day, No. 488


This post is by Fredric Koeppel from Bigger Than Your Head


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As we creep closer to outdoor grilling season — or perhaps you’re already deep into it — consider the Beckmen Vineyards Cuvee Le Bec 2017, from Santa Barbara County’s Santa Ynez Valley. This Southern Rhone Valley-style blend of 47 percent syrah, 35 percent grenache, 11 mourvèdre and 7 counoise — fermented with native yeast and aged in French oak, 15 percent new barrels, 85 percent neutral — would be a natural with such items as grilled pork chops, leg of lamb or sausages. Nothing is heavily extracted here but presented with good balance and poise. The color is medium ruby, shading to a vivid magenta rim; aromas of black currants and plums, infused with briers and brambles, open to notes of red cherry and cranberry with burgeoning hints of loam and ground cumin and allspice, with a touch of the latter’s fragrant asperity. The wine is lively and alluring on …

Wine of the Day, No. 487


This post is by Fredric Koeppel from Bigger Than Your Head


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Serving seafood tonight? Oysters, shrimp, mussels? How about a fillet of Arctic char, marinated with lime juice, soy sauce and sesame oil, seared in the good old cast-iron skillet? Open, then, a bottle of the Claiborne & Churchill Dry Riesling 2017, Edna Valley, made from a two-acre vineyard certified by SIP: Sustainability in Practice. Fashioned all in stainless steel tanks — winemaker is Coby Parker-Garcia — this is a riesling of scintillating limestone minerality and achingly bright acidity that feels essential and elemental on the palate. The color is pale straw-gold; aromas of lychee, spiced pear and jasmine unfurl notes of quince and ginger, with a hint of cloves in the background. Savory and saline stone-fruit flavors emerge, bolstered by a touch of loam and animated by an edge of honed flint and damp, dusty roof-tiles; the whole enterprise feels fleet, lacy and transparent, an object that balances tensile strength …

Wine of the Day, No. 486


This post is by Fredric Koeppel from Bigger Than Your Head


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How old are the vines in the Sidebar Cellars Old Vine Zinfandel 2016, Russian River Valley? The vineyard was originally planted in 1890 and partially replanted in 1950, so the youngest vines were 66 years old and the eldest were 126 years old. Is that old enough for you? The wine is a blend of 78 percent zinfandel grapes, 10 percent each alicante bouschet and petite sirah, and 2 percent 12 other grape varieties*. The grapes fermented by native yeast, and the wine aged 12 months in neutral French oak barrels. The color is dark ruby-magenta shading to a vivid violet rim; aromas of ripe blueberries and boysenberries are infused with notes of cloves, raspberry and raspberry leaf and stem, all encompassed by an aura of graphite and iodine, smoke and loam. There’s lots of personality here, lots of persuasive presence on the palate, expressed in a dense chewy texture …

Wine of the Day, No. 485


This post is by Fredric Koeppel from Bigger Than Your Head


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Our selection today is the wine I mentioned on Facebook a few days ago, the rosé being marketed for its radiant, dark color. Yes, this one is instantly Instagrammable, putting all those wimpy pale rosés in the shade. The wine is the Villa Gemma Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo 2018, from the Masciarella estate in Abruzzo. The Cerasuolo area produces only rosé (or rosato) wines. The Villa Gemma 2018 was made solely from montepulciano d’Abruzzo grapes, fermented and briefly aged in stainless steel. The color is indeed gorgeous, a totally transparent medium to light cerise hue that seems to glow in the glass. Striking aromas of pure cherry and raspberry are infused with notes of cloves and cinnamon and a wild bell-tone of cranberry; a few minutes in the glass unfurl touches of pomegranate, rose petal and lavender. The wine is quite dry but juicy and flavorful, lithe and sinewy, animated by …

Wine of the Day, No. 484


This post is by Fredric Koeppel from Bigger Than Your Head


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The Red Hills AVA in Lake County was established in 2004. The soil is volcanic; Mt. Konocti, considered an active volcano, is nearby. Vineyards lie at elevations between 1,400 and 3,000 feet. Jed Steele, owner and winemaker at Steele Wines, has been making cabernet sauvignon from the area since 2002. The Steele Wines Red Hills Cabernet Sauvignon 2016, Lake County — it’s the county just north of Napa County — aged 18 months in a combination of French and French/American hybrid oak, 30 percent new barrels. The color is a riveting opaque black-purple shading to a transparent magenta rim; the bouquet is drenched with iodine and graphite, ripe black currants and cherries, permeated by notes of cedar and tobacco, violets, flint and loam. The wine impresses with its scintillating purity and intensity, its whiplash acidity and lip-smacking dusty tannins; yes, there’s a lot of personality here. A few minutes in …

Pinot Noir Month Extends into April, No Kidding! Part 7


This post is by Fredric Koeppel from Bigger Than Your Head


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This post began as a Weekend Wine Notes that I was not able to finish for the weekend. So, here it is, pushing the March Pinot Noir Month into April. So be it. I offer eight pinot noir wines from various regions of California, one rates Exceptional, six rate Excellent, and one Very Good+. All are well-made and worthy of purchase. I eschew technical, historical and geographical data in favor of quick, incisive reviews, ripped, as it were, from the pages of my notebooks. Enjoy! In moderation, of course.

These wines were samples for review.

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Davis Bynum Jane’s Vineyard Pinot Noir 2016, Russian River Valley. 14.5% alc. Dark ruby-magenta shading to a totally transparent, ethereal rim; opens slowly, unfurling notes of black and red currants and plums, hints of cloves, sandalwood and sassafras; a bit of the feral quality of wild cranberry and blueberry; supremely satiny-like texture flows …

Pinot Noir Month, Part 6: Four Pairs


This post is by Fredric Koeppel from Bigger Than Your Head


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This roster of pairs of pinot noir is entirely coincidental, having occurred simply in the sending of them as samples to my threshold. Other than the fact that they derive from the same grape, there’s no connection. It is interesting, however, that geographically, these models extend through the range of California’s pinot noir viability; from Mendocino’s Anderson Valley in the north through Sonoma Coast and Napa Valley, Monterey County and down to Santa Barbara County. Blessed be the versatility of the grape.

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La Crema started in 1979 in Petaluma as La Crema Vinera, making chardonnay and pinot noir. Quality fluctuated, and new owners in 1984 dumped much of the inventory and shortened the name. The winery was acquired by what is now Jackson Family Wines in 1993. Head winemaker is Craig McAllister; winemaker is Jen Walsh. The winery in Windsor, Sonoma County, produces pinot gris, chardonnay and a range …