Weekend Wine Notes: Nine Wines at $13 and Under

The title of today’s Weekend Wine Notes requires no explanation. I offer nine wines priced at $13 and under, each in a group of three, divided into Washington State, California and Italy’s Veneto region. Sorry to say that a couple of them are not recommended, but it happens, n’est-ce pas? As usual in this series, I omit detailed historical, technical and geographical data for the sake of brief reviews ripped, as it were, from the ages of my notebooks. Enjoy, in moderation, of course. These wines were samples for review.
The Washington State wines of Charles Smith stand out on any shelf they occupy, distinguished by their stark black and white labels heavy on the graphic elements, a collaboration with Danish designer Rikki Korff. They also distinguish themselves by their solid QPR — quality/price ratio.

Band of Roses Rose 2017, Washington State. 12.5% alc. 100% pinot ...

Pinot Noir Day: California, Part I — 2014, ’15, ’16

Twelve examples of pinot noir today, as I catch up on wines that I tasted throughout the last six months. This post is just the beginning. There will be at least one more in this particular series, a post devoted to pinot noir from Willamette Valley, and a series about individual wineries and producers. We range from Sta. Rita Hills in the south, in Santa Barbara County, to Anderson Valley in the north, in Mendocino. Ten of these wines rate Excellent, one Very Good+ and one Exceptional. The arrangement is alphabetical, not hierarchical. Enjoy! In moderation, of course. These wines were samples for review.
The Dierberg “Dierberg Vineyard” Pinot Noir 2014, Santa Maria Valley, is a really pretty pinot noir that exhibits a serious depth of sinew and underbrush. The wine aged 14 months in French oak, 20 percent new barrels. The color is a limpid, transparent medium ruby ...

Upward with Onward

Current releases from Onward Wines confirm my belief that Faith Armstrong Foster is one of California’s best winemakers, notable for her deft touch, her thoughtfulness and care; she’s also the owner. She produces lamentably small quantities of wines — from impeccably maintained vineyards — that are low in alcohol, see minimal new oak and that are allowed to speak for themselves and the vineyards from which they derive rather than exist as proponents of the winemaker’s ego. I urge My Readers to seek out the Onward Wines and the second label Farmstrong as brilliant examples of honesty, authenticity and integrity. These wines were samples for review. Every accompanying label image is one vintage retrograde; the winery website has not caught up to the current releases.
When we tried these petillant naturel sparkling products from Onward Wines, my wife said, “Can we get a case of these?” Yes, they’re ...

Wine of the Day, No. 423

Here’s a rosé whose fairly robust presence sets it apart from the usual crowded field. The Copain Tous Ensemble Rosé of Pinot Noir 2017, Mendocino, made all in stainless steel, offers a pale smoky topaz hue and notes of strawberry and raspberry, watermelon and rose petals, with a hint of Rainier cherry in the background; coming to the fore are elements of damp, dusty flint and limestone that bolster crisp acidity and a lovely texture that caresses the palate with silky drape and flow. This beguiling rosé is quite dry but shapely in structure and almost juicy with raspberry, peach and red currant flavors. 13 percent alcohol. Take it on a picnic and enjoy with cold fried chicken, deviled eggs, watercress and cucumber finger sandwiches, rabbit and duck terrine on chunks of crusty bread. Winemaker was Wells Guthrie. Jackson Family Wines purchased Copain, a highly regarded boutique winery, in May ...

The Tallman Hotel in Lake County Reopens After Wildfires


Tallman Hotel in Lake County reopens after fire.

The historic Tallman Hotel in Upper Lake,  CA has reopened after closing due to the recent devastating wildfires in California. This is fortunate for travelers  to Lake County who are interested in discovering the numerous wineries in the local area. According to an email from the Tallman Hotel, “We’re so happy to announce that the worst of the Mendocino Complex fires has past us by…..” However, the email noted that all staff had to evacuate their homes due to the raging wildfire. One of their frequent entertainers at the adjacent Blue Wing Saloon lost her home and the hotel has set  up a GoFundMe site to help her.

One of several rooms at the Tallman Hotel

The Tallman Hotel website suggests several wineries to visit while staying at the hotel including: Chacewater Wines and Olive Mill, Gregory Graham, ...

Wine of the Day, No. 419

Bonny Doon’s Réserve Vin Gris de Cigare 2016 derives from 11 vineyards up and down the long Central Coast region. This rosé wine is a blend of 50 percent grenache grapes, 24 percent each cinsault and mourvèdre and 8 percent carignane (red grapes) and 15 percent grenache blanc and 3 percent roussanne (white grapes). All these varieties are typical of France’s southern Rhône Valley. The difference between this rosé and the “regular” bottling — or normale, as Randall Grahm terms it — is that the Réserve Vin Gris de Cigare was matured in 5-gallon glass demijohns or carboys; it is released a year later. The color of this rosé is an entrancing light smoky topaz hue; it’s a savory, silken rosé, fresh as sun and rain and marked by scents and flavors of orange rind, tangerine and mango, warm dusty stones and damp flint; it’s slightly earthy, with brambly-briery ...

Wine of the Day, No. 418

You’ll have to go online to find a bottle of the Greggarious Vineyard Pinot Gris 2016, but you’re probably sitting at your keyboard anyway, checking your Facebook profile, so no harm done. The winery on the Sonoma side of Carneros is owned by Kristina and Steve Gregg — get it? — and winemaker is Jacqueline Yoakum. It’s a tiny operation, producing about 300 cases total of two wines, the other a chardonnay, which I haven’t tried yet but have in the queue. The hue of this pinot gris is very pale copper-onion skin, the result of soaking the grapes overnight on the skins to extract a hint of color. That overnight soak also lends very interesting tropical and earthy undertones to the wine. Aromas of tangerine, orange bitters, melon and almond blossom open to notes of pink grapefruit and cloves, with a riesling-like touch of petrol; a sleek, lithe, dry ...

Visiting California this Summer? Discover these Wine Regions

Vineyards at Yorkville Cellars

In my last blog, I wrote about California’s Temecula wine region; however, California has many wine regions where wine enthusiasts can discover quality wines, view prolific vineyards and enjoy the ambiance of a variety of California winery tasting rooms. When planning your next visit to California, I suggest using a search engine to discover what wineries are available in your California destination. Also check out the California wineries we have visited and written articles about for Wine Trail Traveler. The wine regions list for California include these that we have visited:
  • Cucamonga Valley/Temecula/SanDiego
  • Lake County
  • Mendocino County
  • Napa
  • North Central VAlley
  • San Luis Obispo County
  • Santa Barbara County
  • Sonoma
  • Suisun Valley
Numerous wineries throughout the state are using sustainable farming methods in their vineyards. Sustainable programs in California include: California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance (CSWA), Certified California Sustainable Wine Growing, Fish Friendly Farming, Green Business Program, Lodi ...

Tasting With The Winemaker: Robbie Meyer Of Murrieta’s Well

Tasting wine with the winemaker — there may be no better way to experience a glass than this collaborative moment. Thanks to Snooth, I recently had the opportunity to experience a virtual tasting with Robbie Meyer, the winemaker at Murrieta’s Well. He was at home in California’s Livermore Valley and I was at home in Illinois.
Photo Courtesy: Murrieta’s Well
This interstate leap is a capture of how Murrieta’s Well does things. They are comfortable at home but have a global perspective and wide reach. Growing grapes since the 1800s — on cuttings from Château d’Yquem and Château Margaux — they honor small plot, terroir-driven philosophies to produce wines with California style and French roots. In the 1930’s, the winery became part of the Wente Estate, a name deeply synonymous with California wine history.
Livermore Valley
The Livermore Valley AVA is located about 30 miles east of San Fransico. ...
Cabernet Sauvignon, California Cab
B0011P 0287
Livermore Valley, California Wine

Happy 30th Anniversary, Le Cigare Volant!

Bonny Doon Vineyards, Randall Grahm and Le Cigare Volant have been through many changes in the 30 years since the seminal Rhone-blend red wine debuted. Concepts and priorities shifted, whole brands were sold off and winemaking techniques were adopted and abandoned as their effects on the wine were measured in the outcome. Endlessly experimental, with an imagination that seems to out-pace the seasons, Grahm consistently works to refine his top wines in his attempt to achieve an ideal. A brochure written by Grahm to accompany the release of Bonny Doon Le Cigare Volant 2013 — in his typical whimsical-serio manner — describes the evolution of the wine, its style and its making; the vineyards whereof the grapes derived over three decades, and the mysterious sine qua non that gives each vintage and wine vitality and individual character. A chart also traces the fascinating transformations in the cepage of Le Cigare ...

Wine of the Day, No. 414

Save your bottle of Cline Cellars Ancient Vines Zinfandel 2016, Contra Costa County, for that leg of lamb, studded with garlic and rosemary, grilled over hickory coals. Or pork chops rubbed with cumin and chili powder, doused with lime juice, and seared in the good ol’ smokin’-hot cast-iron skillet. You get the idea. And despite an alcohol level of 15 percent, the wine is surprisingly mellow, balanced and harmonious. Jazzed with two percent carignane grapes, the wine aged seven months in American oak barrels, 35 percent new. The color is dark to medium ruby shading to a transparent magenta rim; the bouquet reveals the immediate clean, fresh, spicy appeal of macerated blueberries and boysenberries with a touch of pomegranate and notes of cloves and nutmeg, lavender and sandalwood. On the palate, this zinfandel flows with lithe, supple energy that brings out elements of graphite with hints of iodine and white ...

Wine of the Day, No. 413

The Wonderland Project was conceived by former sommelier Matt Ahern. He makes a White Queen Chardonnay, which I have not tried, and this Two Kings Pinot Noir 2016, grapes derived from two vineyards on the Sonoma side of Carneros; the designation is Sonoma County. If the idea is to offer great tasting and authentic wine at reasonable prices, the Two Kings fills that proposition exactly. Aged a brief seven months in French oak, only 20 percent new barrels, the wine evinces a delectable purity of varietal character. The color is a totally transparent light ruby hue; aromas of red and black cherries are permeated by notes of sassafras, rhubarb and cranberry, with highlights of cloves, lavender and sandalwood. This is lovely, spare and elegant on the palate, with a satiny, lithe and supple texture through which acidity cuts a swath; cherry and plum flavors culminate in a slightly woodsy, floral ...

Wine of the Day, No. 408

I would bet dollars to doughnuts, as my late mother used to say, that something like 98 percent of American citizens will be grilling meat and vegetables outdoors on Wednesday, in celebration of July Fourth, Independence Day. Whether you’re cooking at an elaborate “outdoor kitchen” on a suburban terrace, a dome-topped Weber on a leafy patio or a hibachi high on a balcony overlooking the urban sprawl — or maybe you and your mates dug a hole and lined it with bricks in preparation for a goat or pig — whatever the case, you’ll need a wine to accompany the finished product. What I recommend today is the Steele Wines Pacini Vineyard Zinfandel 2015, Mendocino County, not because zinfandel is “the all-American grape,” as marketing types are pleased to announce — zinfandel is no more the “all-American grape” than chardonnay or pinot noir — but because in structure, texture, animation ...

Caliza Winery, Where the Rhône Flows in Paso Robles

Caliza Winery — the word is Spanish for “limestone” — was founded in Paso Robles by Pam and Carl Bowker in 2008; at least that’s when the doors of the tasting room opened, a convenient point from which to count. The couple purchased their first property in 2003, more land, now the home of the vineyard and tasting room, in 2004, and planted that vineyard in 2006. That’s how quickly things can happen when a couple of crazy kids have a dream. Carl Bowker is winemaker, and his focus is primarily on Rhône grapes and the blends that can be made from them. Bowker is not afraid of power in his wines nor of alcohol; the two reds reviewed here sport 15.5 and 15.7 percent alcohol yet manage to keep a steady hand at the helm. These reds derive from the Paso Robles Willow Creek District AVA, one ...