5.13.2015

Anaba’s Winning 2012 Sonoma Coast Chardonnay

California chardonnay is often a difficult proposition for me. So much oak, so much alcohol, so little balance. That is, of course, a big generalization, but after so much criticism of the style, it’s remarkable how many California chardonnays are still made in that clumsy, overbearing style.

One that is not is Anaba’s 2012 Sonoma Coast Chardonnay, a subtle and beautifully balanced wine that is also an excellent value at $28. There is opulent fruit here, to be sure, evoking apple with an orange punctuation mark. There are floral and vanilla notes as well along with subtle touches of caramel and butterschotch from judicious oak treatment.

This is medium-bodied chardonnay with alcohol listed at 13.9 percent. And that medium-ness, so to speak, is part of what makes it stand out. It’s “easy” to drink in the sense that it invites you back to sip and savor it it again. Enticiing and complex, a wine that other California producers  might do well to taste -- and contemplate. Received as a press sample.

4.29.2015

For fresh white wine bargains, head to France's Gascony

The Gascony region in France’s southwest is most famous for Armagnac, but the grapes used in the brandy are also used in some excellent fresh white wines that offer real value.

One of my favorites is Domaine du Tariquet’s Cotes de Gascogne “Classic,” and the newly released 2014 vintage is one of the best I’ve tasted. This $8 blend of ugni blanc, colombard, sauvignon blanc and gros manseng is light and fruity with tastes of white peach, exotic fruit and citrus, mainly orange, with honey and a touch of minerality along the edges. There is good complexity here at a bargain price, and the wine is easy to drink with alcohol at just 12 percent. It’s great on its own and will match well with simple fish and shellfish.

Equally impressive is Domaine du Tariquet’s 2014 Chenin Blanc-Chardonnay, a winning $11 blend that’s 75 percent chenin and 25 percent chardonnay. Again, there’s good minerality here, and the chardonnay gives it a little richness. Apple, lemon, orange and tropical fruit notes are followed by a touch of cream on the finish. Alcohol in this one is also 12 percent and the wine is made without oak. It’s a satisfying alternative to much more expensive wines from the Loire Valley and Burgundy. For chicken, fish and everyday quaffing.

While these are quintessentially summer wines, they’re the kind of refreshing whites I like to start off with just about every day of the year. Imported by Robert Kacher Selections, New York. Received as press samples.

2.25.2015

In an endless winter, wines that will transport you to summer


As I write this, it’s about to drop down to two degrees again here in New York, hardly the kind of weather that brings on thoughts of refreshing summer wines. But as part of my own strategy for coping with this brutal blast of winter we’ve been enduring for weeks, that’s exactly what I’ve been tasting. They're not a substitute for a warm beach, but they've taken some of the chill out of my mind, at least, and given me a jump on some exciting new releases to be enjoyed in the months ahead.

From New Zealand, Mud House’s 2014 Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc ($12) immediately got me in the spirit of spring. This is classic Kiwi sauvignon with delicious grapefruit and gooseberry notes, vibrant acidity and a touch of cream on the long finish. It’s notable as well for its roundness -- there’s nothing strident, as New Zealand sauvignons can sometimes be. Alcohol is 13 percent. Imported by Accolade Wines North America, Napa, California.
I have often said that rosés can and should be drunk through the year, a point reinforced by the first two rosés I’ve tasted this year. They represent two very different styles and both are memorable.

From France’s Loire Valley, Saget La Perrière’s 2014 La Petite Perrière Rosé ($14) is as refreshing a rosé as you’ll find, It is made from 100 percent pinot noir, an under-appreciated Loire variety. I was struck immediately by a liveliness produced by its bright acidity, just the right quality to counteract a deep-winter funk. With its light salmon color its tastes evoke ripe cherry and strawberry with some lemon, orange and a touch of cream on the finish. Alcohol is 12 percent.

In a slightly fuller style, the 2014 Los Vascos Cabernet Sauvignon Rosé ($14) is notable for its minerality that punctuates concentrated strawberry and raspberry notes. There’s a refreshing citrusy finish on this one as well. Alcohol is 13.5 percent. Los Vascos is produced in Chile’s Colchagua Valley and is owned by Domaines Barons de Rothschild (Lafite). Both rosés will be available this spring and are imported by Pasternak Wine Imports, Harrison, New York. All three wines were received as samples for review.

11.06.2014

Sips: A nice crisp pinot noir from New Zealand




Let’s face it: good under-$20 pinot noir with real varietal character, complexity and balance is hard to find. From New Zealand, Nobilo’s 2013 Icon Pinot Noir from Marlborough solves the problem. This widely available wine has an average price of $19 on Wine Searcher, with many retailers listing it for a good deal less. It has notes of black cherry, plum, blueberry and a typical and pleasing New Zealand pinot earthiness. Nicely integrated oak and refreshing acidity complete the picture.  It matched well with sliced London broil and will pair with lots of other dishes, from salmon to pork chops to roast turkey. An excellent choice for the Thanksgiving table. Try serving it slightly chilled.

7.25.2014

A wine made when Nixon was President reminds us how sexy 'old' can be


As a critic, I get to taste many hundreds of wines each year and sometimes get invited to events, many of them involving wine regions, wineries or importers presenting their latest releases. Sometimes the wines are memorable and I write about them; sometimes not.

One of the more unusual experiences of this kind came not long ago when I was invited to stop by Morrell & Co., the well-known New York retailer and wine bar just across the street from my  office in Rockefeller Center. The occasion was an updating of the store and bar and a chance to taste a few wines. There was a rosé from Provence, a red Bordeaux and a California chardonnay. Good wines, but hardly the stuff of which memories are made.


Fortunately, there were more wines to taste. There, on the counter, sat three very large bottles that towered over the others around them. Each was a Barolo, the famous wine from the region of the same name in Piedmont in northern Italy. Not only that, they were from the 1970s -- a ‘79, a ‘76 and a ‘70 to be precise. They represented an unusual chance to go back in time.
 
Wine is all about connections -- to those with whom we enjoy it and, for me, connections to wines themselves and their histories. The most interesting and vital of these old Barolos was the 1970, which was clearly a very good vintage for Barolo.

To put the year it in context, Richard Nixon was president, the Beatles broke up and the computer floppy disk was introduced, all of them relegated to history long ago. In Barolo, on the other hand, Giacomo Borgogno would make a wine that would remain vibrant for decades to come, the 1970 Barolo Riserva “Antichi Vigneti Propri.’
The nebbiolo grape attains its greatest expression in Barolo and the wine is made for aging, gradually losing the strongly tannic character of its youth and evolving, in the best vintages, into a transcendent experience in which fruit and wood and sense of place become one.
As I stood at the counter, David Johnson, Yung Leung and Jura Almeida carefully poured small quantities of wine from the big bottle, which held 3.78 liters and would cost more than $500 today, into a decanter for aeration. Then they poured a half an inch or so into our glasses. The color was light brick red; the aromas conveyed red fruit, roses and cedar.

This is the kind of wine that makes you want to talk about it with anyone around you, and I found myself doing just that – describing how it was still very much alive after all these years, with vibrant acidity, still-firm tannins and beautiful fruit.

With each small glass I found myself focusing on something different: in one glass an emphasis on the secondary tastes of leather, meat and beef bouillon cube; in another hints of raspberry, blueberry and a long, mineral-driven finish.

We all had the sense on this evening that we were tasting something unique, something that could not be replicated. I found myself transported back to another era, thinking of the images and the history of the time, and in my glass, enjoying something old that was still very much alive.

7.11.2014

In the under-$10 wine crapshoot, an impressive Spanish white


In the middle of summer, I crave fresh, lighter white wines, preferably with little or no oak but with good complexity and a price that will permit me to buy plenty of them to have on hand to sip with weekend lunches, before dinner or with the fresh fish and shellfish. 

With those requirements, I tend to gravitate to the wines of the lesser-known appellations of France, Spain, Portugal and Italy, which can still offer excellent values. One of them is  Avelino Vegas’s 2013 “Abadía Real” verdejo-viura blend, a $9 Vino de la Tierra from the large Castilla y León region of northwest Spain.

In the classification hierarchy of Spanish wines, Vinos de la Tierra are a step below  Denominación de Origen wines, but as this one shows, they can over-deliver on quality for the price, which is exactly what I’m looking for. With modest alcohol of 12 percent, the wine is both easy to drink and interesting, with pear, white peach, tropical fruit and subtle vanilla notes. An impressive summer value. Imported by Spain Wine Collection, Congers, N.Y.


12.05.2013

Prohibition ended 80 years ago today

It was on this day back in 1933 that President Franklin D. Roosevelt ended Prohibition after roughly 14 years. Take a look at this old newsreel on the announcement that includes some classic images showing how authorities tried to enforce the ban on alcohol.


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1.11.2013

Sips: From California, Donelan's Kobler Vineyard Syrah

I've been thinking a lot in recent weeks about a growing trend in California winemaking -- a return to more modest and elegant wines that still have great fruit concentration but with lower levels of alcohol. Some of this has to do with weather conditions, some with vineyard location and some with a winemaker's decision on when to harvest grapes (the longer they hang the higher the sugar and resulting alcohol levels).

You may have read about an excellent Dry Creek Valley zinfandel from Dashe Cellars that I reviewed in my column on NBCNews.com. Its alcohol is a modest 13.7 percent. Another superb wine in this more modest style comes from Donelan Family Wines in Sonoma, which produces a line of vineyard designated wines, mostly syrahs, but also a pinot noir, a chardonnay and a rousanne-viognier blend.

One of Donelan's syrahs, the 2010 Kobler Family Vineyard Syrah from the Green Valley of the Russian River Valley, is among the  most beautiful California syrahs I have tasted, a wine of retrained elegance, wonderful balance and gorgeous fruit. And here's the kicker: the alcohol level is a mere 12.8 percent, a function, to some extent, of the cool 2010 vintage.

What does this mean in terms of what you'll experience in the glass? This is a wine that is at once complex and effortless to drink, a wine that easily invites you to take another sip, to pour the next small glass. Sip again and repeat. Aged for two years in French oak, none of it new, the wine is plummy with raspberry and blackberry notes. There's some spice here as well, along with cinnamon and touches of licorice and white pepper.

The wine reminds me more of the northern Rhone than California, but is, hopefully, another sign of a broadening return to leaner times in California winemaking. The suggested price is $45. Recieved as a press sample.