Wine of the Day, No. 589


This post is by Fredric Koeppel from Bigger Than Your Head


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Le Volte dell’Ornellaia is the cadet version of the legendary Ornellaia red wine originating from the Bolgheri region of southwestern Tuscany, near the Tyrrhenian Sea. The estate was founded by Marchese Lodovico Antinori in 1981. The joke in Italy — or perhaps not a joke — was that Lodovico Antinori launched his “Super Tuscan” brand to compete with his older brother, Piero Antinori, and his cousin Nicolò Incisa della Rocchetta, whose own “Super Tuscan” wines, Solaia and Sassicaia, respectively, were well-established internationally. The term Super Tuscan, now seldom seen, was invented to describe these Italian red wines, fashioned from Bordeaux grape varieties and aged in small French oak barrels, that did not conform to the official DOC regulations for the region. Ornellaia and its companion 100 percent merlot Masseto are rare and expensive; the price for a bottle of Ornellaia is generally $230 to $250, while the revered Masseto can …

Wine of the Day, No. 588


This post is by Fredric Koeppel from Bigger Than Your Head


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From organic and sustainable vineyards in Abruzzo comes what is perhaps the best wine made from pecorino grapes in the American market, La Valentina Pecorino Colline Pescaresi 2019 — the designation means “from the hills of Pescare.” Made all in stainless steel, the wine ages three or four months on the lees, contributing density and layering to the texture and mouth-feel. The color is pale straw-gold with faint green highlights; seductive aromas of roasted lemon and spiced pear, acacia flower and lemongrass, green tea and lime peel burst from the glass; the wine is lithe and supple, dynamic with bright acidity, almost tannic in its presence on the palate; the finish is a seamless amalgam of grapefruit and almond skin (with that slight sensation of bitterness), dried thyme, damp limestone and sea-breeze salinity. 13.6 percent alcohol. Winemaker was Luca D. Attorna. We drank this last night with a …

How Good Does Rosé Have to Be? With a Few Examples.


This post is by Fredric Koeppel from Bigger Than Your Head


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There was a time, children, and not too long ago, when you couldn’t give away rosé wines in America. Travelers would return from the South of France, buoyant on their memories of the pale, delicate dry wines they sipped at lunches on shady terraces overlooking the blue-green Mediterranean, and when they returned to these shores would be greeted by indifference and ignorance. “Rosé?” the grizzled clerk at the neighborhood package store might reply to their polite inquiries. “Yeah, I think we got one of those. Look over in the corner by the back door.” In that dim place of exile, beside a battered carton of Mateus, they would find one lonely, dusty bottle of Tavel, 10 years beyond its vintage.

Most Americans in that primordial era regarded rosé with suspicion. It was, they thought, sweet, girly, weak, fruity (in every sense), unsophisticated, a cousin to …

Wine of the Day, No. 587


This post is by Fredric Koeppel from Bigger Than Your Head


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Today marks the Fifth Anniversary of the “Wine of the Day” feature on this blog. My Readers may remember that this series started, on May 25, 2015, after an accident with a ladder resulted in a right arm broken in two places and sprained tendons in my wrist and hand. Since I am right-handed, I was prevented from long writing sessions, so I launched a review feature that focused on short bursts of writing with my left hand. The series proved so popular — thanks for those cards and letters! — that I decided to keep it going, and here we are, five years later, at Wine of the Day No. 587. I had hoped to make it to 600, but even with my super powers of determination, perseverance and unflagging energy that goal was unattainable. Still, we dream impossible dreams. Onward to 1,000!

The Wine of the Day for …

Wine of the Day, No. 586


This post is by Fredric Koeppel from Bigger Than Your Head


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Here’s a chardonnay for lovers of the wines that sing, as Keats wrote of the nightingale, “in full-throated ease,” yet retain perfect balance among all elements. The FEL Wines Savoy Vineyard Chardonnay 2017, from Mendocino County’s Anderson Valley AVA, is rich and alluring but tempered by bright acidity and a keenly-wrought quality of limestone and damp gravel. The color is medium straw-gold; classic aromas of ripe pineapple and grapefruit are heightened by notes of quince and preserved lemon, jasmine and cloves and an airy touch of mountain pine; lithe and vibrant, with tremendous presence on the palate, this single-vineyard chardonnay delivers a meadowy version of stone-fruit flavors that bloom with baking spices, every aspect culminating in a finish awash with chalk and limestone. 13.9 percent alcohol. Winemaker Ryan Hodgins produced 218 cases of this gratifying chardonnay. Now through 2023 or ’24. Excellent. About $48.

A sample for review.

Wine of the Day, No. 584


This post is by Fredric Koeppel from Bigger Than Your Head


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The Robert Mondavi Fumé Blanc 2018, Napa Valley, is so compact of nuances and subtleties that it’s almost surprising how much tensile strength holds it all together. This is the winery’s entry level sauvignon blanc — the blend this vintage is 87 percent sauvignon blanc, 13 percent semillon — yet it feels complete and authoritative in itself. Grapes derive from the Wappo Hill Vineyard in Stag’s Leap District and from To Kalon in Oakville, one of the most highly regarded vineyards in central Napa Valley. The wine spent six months in French oak barriques before release. The color is very pale straw-gold; aromas of lime peel, spiced pear, green tea and tangerine gradually unfurl notes of jasmine and honeysuckle, quince and damp flint, all delicately and elegantly enfolded; on the palate, this sauvignon blanc feels lithe and suave, animated by bright, pinpoint acidity that leads to a finish awash in …

Wine of the Day, No. 583


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When I travel, I try to buy local. I was in Ojai in February, over the Valentine’s weekend, visiting my granddaughter at school. (Before everything bad happened.) She had the role of Jack’s Mother in “Into the Woods,” which I saw twice and she was terrific, thanks for asking. I visited a store in town and bought a bottle of the Ojai Vineyard Rosé 2019, a blend of about 50 percent syrah, about 25 percent each grenache and carignan, with a dollop of dry riesling. The wine has a brief moment in neutral French oak barrels. This is a purpose-built rosé, that is, the grapes were grown and harvested specifically to be rosé, not to have juice drawn-off to the side during crush. The color is a lovely, classic onion skin hue; it’s a clean, spare and elegant rosé, displaying delicate shadings of raspberries and dried red currants, notes …

Wine of the Day, No. 582


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If you believe that wine should be a joy to drink, then search for a bottle of the Martha Stoumen Wines Post Flirtation 2018, carrying a California designation because the grapes derive from two counties. (The 2019 has just been released.) Stoumen’s philosophy is gloriously simple: Keep yields low; nurture the vines using organic principles; allow native yeasts to slowly do their work in the winery; avoid additives and supplements; let the wines speak for themselves rather than being shaped by the winemaker’s ego. Post Flirtation 2018 is a 50/50 blend of zinfandel and carignan. The zinfandel derives from the Del Barba Vineyard, planted in 1960, in Contra Costa County; the carignan comes from the Ricetti Vineyard, planted in 1948, in Mendocino. Both vineyards are dry-farmed. The color is a riveting, transparent violet-magenta hue; what a bouquet — rose hips and hibiscus, red cherries and currants with a hint …

Bonny Doon: Whites and Rosé, the ’19s


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When Randall Grahm sold Bonny Doon Vineyards, in January this year, to the ominously named War Room Ventures LLC, the first move was to trim the winery’s extensive and intricate roster to four wines: The red Le Cigare Volant; the white Le Cigare Blanc and Picpoul; and Vin Gris de Cigare, the rosé The two whites and the rosé are under review today. Le Cigare wines are blends of Rhône Valley grape varieties.

Does this sale mean that Grahm, who admits that he is no businessman, has been stripped of his notable individuality, his curiosity, his willingness to riff along the extreme edges of vinous experimentation? Of course not! He remains as winemaker and partner at Bonny Doon and owns the 280-acre Popelouchum vineyard, near the village of San Juan Bautista — pop. 1,900 — in San Benito County where he is experimenting with growing a variety of wine grapes …

Wine of the Day, No. 581


This post is by Fredric Koeppel from Bigger Than Your Head


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Perhaps you’re whiling away the lonely hours honing your skills in regards to your outdoor grill. Perhaps you have focused on perfecting smoking techniques for pork shoulder or slabs of ribs. Perhaps you lean toward thick-cut pork chops, rubbed with cumin, paprika, lime juice and chili powder. Or perhaps you just want to cook some bratwurst over hot coals. Whatever the direction you’re taking in your encounters with meat and flame, here’s your wine. The Cline Cellars Ancient Vines Zinfandel 2017, Contra Costa County, derives from old vineyards in the county that lies across the bay from San Francisco, hence its name, “opposite coast.” Though we are not told the specific age of the vines, Contra Costa County, along with Amador County, holds some of the oldest zinfandel plantings in the state. The wine contains 3 percent carignane, which I would say contributes to the brilliance of its transparent …

Wine of the Day, No. 580


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If the extraordinary bouquet of the Enrico Serafino Grifo del Quartaro Gavi di Gavi 2018 were not enough to entice you, wait until you see the price. This is a Piedmontese white wine, made in the province of Alessandria, about 40 miles from the Ligurian border. Eleven towns are allowed to make Gavi wine — the grape is cortese — but only producers in the commune of Gavi itself are entitled to the designation Gavi di Gavi. So, this example is 100 percent cortese, fermented and aged in stainless steel, with stirring of the lees to add depth and detail. Winemaker was Paolo Giacosa. The color is a pale straw hue that seems to shimmer in the glass; notes of roasted lemons, almond blossom and dried thyme are spare and precisely delineated, opening to hints of mimosa, green tea and lemongrass, all culminating in a sense of Mediterranean sea breeze …

Weekend Wine Notes: Bubbles for Mothers


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Sunday is Mother’s Day. Plenty of time to hie thyself to a retail wine store — or, better, call ahead for pick-up or delivery — to share a bottle of Champagne or sparkling wine with your Mom on her day. After all, think of all the sacrifices she made for you. Prices for these six examples range from an affordable bargain at $15 to a luxurious $75. Three are from Champagne itself, that hallowed region; the other three are sparkling wines from Spain, the Alsace region of France and California’s Carneros AVA. Each one offers exemplary qualities that I think will appeal to every taste and credit card. Enjoy! (In moderation, of course.)

Two of these wines were samples for review; two were encountered at a trade event; two were local purchases.

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Vilarnau Brut Cava nv, Penedes, Spain. 11.5% alc. A traditional blend of 50% macabao, 35% …

Wine of the Day, No. 579


This post is by Fredric Koeppel from Bigger Than Your Head


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Friendly to the palate yet filled with structure and varietal character, the Morgan Winery G17 Syrah 2018, Santa Lucia Highlands, is named for a highway in Monterey County that connects several of the region’s AVAs. A blend of 94 percent syrah with 3 percent each grenache and tempranillo, the wine aged 10 months in French oak, 25 percent new barrels. Winemaker was Sam Smith. The color is opaque ruby-purple with a glowing magenta rim; ripe and fleshy blackberry, currant and plum scents and flavors are intensified by notes of white pepper and sage, with a touch of bell pepper and green olive; hints of sandalwood and lavender add a slightly exotic air to the bouquet; the wine is sleek and lithe, with spare, dusty tannins, and driven by bright acidity; the finish is all chiseled flint and graphite. 14.5 percent alcohol. Ideal for any kind of braised or grilled …

Wine of the Day, No. 578


This post is by Fredric Koeppel from Bigger Than Your Head


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Governors and mayors are easing coronavirus shut-down regulations or suggestions for many businesses, including restaurants, encouraging the “opening” of their states and cities using sensible guidelines. I think it’s too early for such a move — beauty salons? tattoo parlors? — even in the restaurant business. Better you allow the virus to decline decisively before attempting to dine out. This weekend, I would say that’s it’s time to stay at home on the patio, fire up the grill and throw a steak, a rack of lamb, burgers or a slab of ribs on the gridiron. Here’s the wine you need. The Frank Family Vineyards Zinfandel 2017, Napa Valley, doesn’t come on too strong or too ripe or over-alcoholic; it’s powerful but deftly balanced. The oak regimen: 16 months in French oak, 33 percent new barrels, 67 percent one-year and two-years old. The color is dark ruby-magenta with a transparent violet …

Wine of the Day, No. 577


This post is by Fredric Koeppel from Bigger Than Your Head


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A member of the Sarrazin family has tended vineyards on the remote hillsides of the Côte Chalonnaise since the 17th Century. The present estate is operated by brothers Guy and Jean-Yves Sarrazin, who took over from their father, Michel, in the mid-1990s. The family owns 35 hectares (about 87.5 acres) in the regional Bourgogne AOC and Bourgogne Aligoté and in the communes of Maranges, Givry and Mercurey. The Côte Chalonnaise lies south of and abuts what we can call Burgundy proper, at the southern contour of the Côte de Beaune.

Our wine of the Day No. 577 is the Michel Sarrazin et Fils Les Vieilles Vignes Pinot Noir 2018, Bourgogne, made from vines fifty and more years old, fermented using native yeasts and spending 12 months in 80 percent old oak barrels and 20 percent tanks. The color is vivid, transparent purple-magenta; pertinent aromas of iodine and mint, crushed …

A Little Sweetness and Light from Yamhill Valley Vineyards


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By “sweetness and light” I don’t mean that these three wines are sweet and ephemeral but that they convey a gratifying sense of clarity, elevation, charm and, well, just plain niceness. Founded in 1983 by Denis Burger, Elaine McCall and David Hinrichs, Yamhill Valley Vineyards was the first winery located in what is now Oregon’s McMinnville AVA that lies in the foothills to the west of the town. Granted official status in 2005, it’s one of the few American Viticultural Areas defined not only by soil and geology but by elevation. To employ the McMinnville AVA designation, vineyards are required to occupy elevation between 200 and 1,500 feet above sea level.

Today, we look at the winery’s Rosé of Pinot Noir 2019, Chardonnay 2018 and Pinot Blanc 2017. Winemaker was Ariel Eberle. These wines were samples for review.

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We are not supposed to be distracted by the veil of …

Wine of the Day, No. 576


This post is by Fredric Koeppel from Bigger Than Your Head


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The Lucy Rosé of Pinot Noir 2019, Santa Lucia Highlands, derives from the Pisoni Family Vineyards, one of the prime sites for pinot noir grapes not only in its appellation but in all of California. The entrancing hue is medium copper-salmon with a tarnished gold overlay; notes of strawberry and peach unfurl touches of watermelon and red currants with overtones of heather and meadow flowers; crisp acidity keeps the wine taut on the palate, where red berry flavors carry a thread of talc and lilac through to a finish that’s vibrant with lacy limestone and flint minerality. 13.9 percent alcohol. Thoroughly delightful. Winemaker Jeff Pisoni crafted 1,250 cases. Excellent. About $19, with $1 from each bottle sold going to breast cancer research.

A sample for review.

Six More Whites You’ll Like …


This post is by Fredric Koeppel from Bigger Than Your Head


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… and I’m not talking about 2/3s of the Supreme Court. Hardy har har. A little levity. So sue me.

The subject is six white wines you’ll like, and truly I cannot imagine a palate that would not be pleased with one or all of these examples. Six grapes, six regions, three countries. One rated Very Good+, four rated Excellent, one rated Exceptional. Each one representing authentic quality/price ration. What more could you ask for in a roster such as this? Not a thing, I’m guessing.

These wines were samples for review.

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Made all in stainless steel, the Aia Vecchia Vermentino 2019, Toscana, offers a pale straw-yellow hue and captivating aromas of peaches and pears, acacia and gardenia, bolstered by notes of green tea, sage and green olives; it’s a sunny, Summery white wine, animated by brisk acidity and a sleek quality of honed flint; the citrus elements come …

La Crema Chardonnay — the 2017s


This post is by Fredric Koeppel from Bigger Than Your Head


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Now by “the 2017s” I don’t mean that these three examples of La Crema’s chardonnays represent the roster. The winery specializes in regional appellations and single-vineyard production of (mainly) chardonnay and pinot noir, not only from many areas in California but Oregon’s Willamette Valley. The winery was founded in 1979 as La Crema Vinera — the cream of the crop, the best of the vine — but went through several owners and a multitude of problems until it was acquired in 1993 by Jess Jackson and his wife Barbara Banke; the winery remains in the portfolio of Jackson Family Wines. Winemaker is Jen Walsh; head winemaker is Craig McAlister.

These wines were samples for review.

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La Crema Chardonnay 2017, Monterey. The color is medium straw-gold; aromas of ripe pineapple and grapefruit reveal a touch of baked apple and quince, with a bit of cloves in the background; bright acidity …

Wine of the Day, No. 575


This post is by Fredric Koeppel from Bigger Than Your Head


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Bob and Sue Brakesman bought land on Howell Mountain in 1971 and released their first Summit Lake wines in 1986, making them pioneers in that appellation. (The Howell Mountain AVA was Napa Valley’s first sub-appellation, approved in 1983. Most vineyards there are planted at between 1,400 and 2,200-feet elevations.) As befits higher elevation vineyards in Napa Valley, Summit Lake focuses on cabernet sauvignon and zinfandel. Today we look at the Summit Lake Zinfandel 2015, Howell Mountain. One hundred percent varietal, the wine was made 75 percent from pre-Prohibition vines; it aged 18 months in a combination of 40 percent new French oak, 30 percent once-used barrels and 30 percent neutral barrels, followed by one year resting in bottles. The color — no surprise! — is opaque black-purple, with a bright magenta rim; aromas of ripe blackberries, blueberries and plums unfurl beguiling notes of violets and lavender, licorice and bittersweet …