Archive | California Red Blend RSS feed for this section

Smith Madrone: Blurring the Lines Between Old and New World Wines.

27 Jun

I recently had the opportunity to join in a live tasting of four wines I’d highly enjoyed a year ago. The winery, Smith-Madrone, is one of the best under-the-radar labels you can find. I’m still surprised their prices have not sky-rocketed, but their wines are selling out faster every year and their value is among the highest found in Napa Valley. Here are my thoughts, to share with you- in finding the best wines for you to enjoy daily, or for special occasions. Cheers! –JvB

2016 Smith Madrone Riesling 12.8% ABV, SRP $34/bottle

It is more Alsatian than German in style: superbly dry; with a honeyed nose but dry palate and body. On the palate are green apple, bosc pear, and a solid key lime base layer. Capable of pairing with rich and savory food, this is ideal for Thai, Burmese, sushi and a Spanish gazpacho, but can handle everything from a salad to steak tartare, from carpaccio to mussels, from meringues to chocolate lava cake.

If you ask me for the best rieslings from the USA, it is a very short list. I will offer you Dr. Konstantin Frank from Finger Lakes,  Teutonic from  Willamette Valley, The Columbia Valley collaboration “Eroica” from Chateau Ste. Michelle & Dr. Loosen, and Smith Madrone’s Riesling. That short list is incredibly high praise.

2016 Chardonnay, Napa Spring Mountain District, St Helena, CA. 14.4%ABV, SRP $40/bottle

Pale gold with green tinge, the nose offers apple, lemon pith, and vanilla. On the palate, a beautiful lemon-lime with solid acidity. An excellent mid-palate surpasses the normal California chardonnay default. Designed to be great by itself, and amazing with food. This is brilliant with blue cheese on a whole wheat cracker; I paired it the following night with baked chicken, greens and baked potato, and again the third evening with sashimi. In every instance, the wine excelled and left my palate desiring another glass, another bottle. Bravo. Smith-Madrone Chardonnay is among my top choices in the under $50 chardonnay from Napa.




2015 Smith Madrone Estate Bottled Cabernet Sauvignon, 14.3%$ ABV, $52/bottle

A blend of 84% cabernet sauvignon with 16% cabernet franc. The wine shows a ruby color with purple edging, and offers a luxurious nose, expansive with floral and fruit notes, menthol, with a hint of young leather. The palate features black currant, blackberry, forest floor, and fresh herbs. With a fruity, Old World mid-palate, heat lingers gently across the mid and back palate, with a lengthy and complex finish. My next reaction is: “this can pair with almost anything.” Absolutely, unlike some cabs which are really large (some too big in my opinion), this is a medium-sized cabernet that is delicious by itself as well as able to complement food well. As a result, you can drink this start-to-finish with salad to grilled meat to dessert, knowing it can also pair nicely with salmon, soup, and fresh fruit, a task that many cabernets are unable to accomplish. Kudos to the 16% cab franc, a secret popular in France and often ignored in California cabernet.

This wine has a nod to the historic Napa cabernet style, with Old World approach.  Far from the modern California Cab, Smith-Madrone is a rare winery that bridges multiple styles, crafting wines of wide appeal from a singular location and focus.

2016 Smith Madrone Cook’s Flat Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, 14.1%$ ABV, $225/bottle

Having tasted the 2009 and the 2013, the 2016 is poised to be quite popular. The 2016 blend is comprised of 54% cabernet sauvignon and 46% cabernet franc; it is aged 19 months in new French oak barrels.

Featuring an expansive and glamorous nose, the palate experiences intense full fruit: red plum, blackberry, and black plum with a touch of cassis. Secondary and rich savory notes of tobacco, potting soil, aged leather, forest floor and vanilla tantalize the side and top palates, as the luxurious mouthfeel expands and bathes the tongue, offering greater enjoyment. An extended finish on this blend is more than satisfactory- I immediately began formulating food pairing and a wine dinner based around this bottle.

When I contemplate Cook’s Flat Reserve (which one does, with such a lovely glass of wine) this wine is about a winemaker crafting top quality wine for an impassioned enjoyment. What is fascinating about this wine is how delicious, enjoyable, and intense it is in its youth, for a world-class red blend that has Old World styling. For similar styles from Bordeaux, a wine would have to age considerably longer than four years to have any similar balance- but Cook’s Flat Reserve demonstrates great balance and structure along with the ability to age and still retain quality fruit, acidity and tannin. With a decade of age, that intensity evolves into refined structure with even greater complexity- so either youthful or fully aged, you maximize enjoyment with this bottle.

Should you be looking for a top-flight California red blend that speaks of the best of both the Old World and new world in great winemaking, this is the bottle you will want to seek out. Like me, once you’ve had it, you’ll want to have several from each year in your cellar, to age and enjoy, while knowing you can still drink them young for an exceptional experience without having to wait 10-20 years. However, those with patience will reap the benefits.

à votre santé!

Old World Flavors From a New World Vineyard: Lucas & Lewellen Toccata Classico 2015

30 Jan

Lucas & Lewellen Toccata 2015 Classico Red Wine, Santa Barbara County, California, USA. 14.7%ABV, SRP is $29/bottle. Sample Provided.

 

Winemaker Megan McGrath Gates blended 50% sangiovese, 30% cabernet sauvignon, and 5% each of merlot, cab franc, petite verdot, and freisa , from Santa Barbara County’s Los Alamos and Valley View vineyards. Color is a medium purple, with a rich nose of black and blue fruit, floral cuttings, and eucalyptus. On the palate are blue plum, cassis, and blackberry compote with rich acidity from the strong backbone. Secondary notes include toasted oak, violet flower, earth, leather, and a hint of smoke on the lengthy finish.

 

 

This was such a pleasant surprise to open. To be more specific, it was in my tasting queue and I didn’t look closely at the bottle. So, upon the first taste, I thought I’d opened a bottle of wine from Italy: a Super Tuscan, to be specific. Well, I was wrong, especially when I mistook the cab & petite verdot for the syrah one normally finds along with sangiovese in a Super Tuscan. And so would you be, as your guests, if you suspected this in a blind tasting. But DO serve this wine, with Italian fare or anything that needs a delightful red blend. I paired this with chicken fajitas and the next day with baked salmon and spaghetti squash to assess: the wine simply sings with food. I did not even note the high alcohol content until I spent a few moment taking down my notes after the first pairing when it hit my palate and I realized it was powerful, yet in check. Toccata behaves like an Italian film star… you’ll be so enamored by the first impression, won’t notice how smitten you are with them until you’re taken hook, line, and sinker.

Lucas and Lewellen’s wines have been consistent in delivering high quality and great value.  Toccata is aptly named- a wine that shows off McGrath Gates’ skill, expertise, and delicate touch in delivering a crowd and palate-pleasing delight.

 

Speaking of delights, here’s a toccata for you to enjoy! Click and hear guitar master Edson Lopes perform J.S. Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D minor, BWV 565. It’s a stunning piece of work, and an ideal aural joy to match the sip of L&L’s Toccata Classico 2015 Red Blend!

 

#WIYG?

 

 

à votre santé!

Home Field Red Blend 2016

13 Aug

Home Field 2016 Red Blend by Sbragia Vineyards, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County, CA. 14.6% ABV;  SRP $25/bottle

 

Color is deep garnet with ruby edging. The nose offers a melange of red and black fruit, violet flower and wet stone. On the palate is a mouthful of back plum and cassis. This is a delicious, full-bodied wine that I did not want to put down. It did not last long; I paired it first with a steak, and finished the bottle an hour later with a soft borgonzola cheese. It is incredibly easy to drink and very food friendly.

The fourth generation winemaker Adam Sbragia is responsible for the Home Field brand. This wine is made of five grape varieties, grown in six different vineyards: a blend of 51% Zinfandel, 25% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Merlot, 8% Carignane, and 4% Petite Syrah. And wine drinkers will land on one of two sides: they either really appreciate knowing that, or they don’t care at all. Either way, they are going to enjoy drinking this wine!

This is a fun wine to drink and enjoy with friends, if the bottle lasts you that long. Had I purchased this in a restaurant, I’d have bought two or three bottles. That alone speaks volumes to the QPR and enjoyability of Home Field Red Blend, Sbragia winemaking, and the Sonoma Country fruit.

 

WIYG?

à votre santé!

 

 

Ranch 32’s 2016 Vintage

8 Jul




Ranch 32 Chardonnay 2016, Arroyo Seco AVA, Monterey, California. 13.5% ABV; SRP $20/bottle.

Color is pale yellow, with a nose of pear, pineapple, vanilla extract and toasted oak. On the palate, apple and pear dominate with a buttery and rich mouthfeel, wrapped up by hints of brown butter sugar cookies and lime zest. This is a great wine to sip on the porch in the afternoon; perhaps the ideal food pairing is baked chicken with fresh vegetables. This is the classic, savory, buttery chardonnay made with ten months of aging in French oak, a touch high in alcohol for me but the mouthfeel did not give that away. For my readers who love classic California chardonnay in the under $25 mark, this is a bottle you need to find!

 

 

Ranch 32 Cabernet Sauvignon 2016, Hames Valley and San Lucas AVAs, Monterey, California. 13.5% ABV; SRP $20/bottle.

A blend of two fruits from two Monterey estates, aged for 12 month in French and American oak. Color is deep garnet with maroon edging. The nose offers cassis and blackberry, then green vegetation with notes of eucalyptus, basalt, and cedar. On the palate: moderate dark fruit starts and finishes. Black plum and black currants cross the front palate, potting soil with loam and sodium on the back palate with a spice mix and heat from the alcohol across the top palate. Medium-long finish with strong fruit is retained thoughout. I tasted this over the course of a week and the fruit profile expanded to full maturity after a couple of days. It was delightfully young upon opening and evolved with air to a nice maturity, so I’d suggest decanting or using an aerator for maximum enjoyment. Ideal pairings with grilled meats and game, my preferred pairing was grilled steak and grilled vegetables (also endorsed by a vegetarian guest who did the pairing solely with grilled vegetables). I found this wine to be a solid value, especially at the street price you will find in the $15-20 range.

 

 

Ranch 32 Pinot Noir 2016, Arroyo Seco AVA, Monterey, California. 13.5% ABV; SRP $20/bottle.

 

Color is dusty rose, while the perfumed nose offers rose bush, raspberries, fresh cuttings and sand. On the palate, fully mature cherry and raspberry, notes of sea salt, moss, sandy loam, and white pepper. Considerable heat on the medium-long finish, notes of burnt coffee beans and tasted oak wrap up this little gem. I adored this wine with hot artichoke dip, both cured and baked salmon, and dried meats. I could see this wine easily pairing through an entire meal, tantalizing your mouth from the appetizer to after-dinner bites of strawberries, chocolates, or cheesecake. There is a sense of old-world glamour in this wine, perhaps an early California essence that permeates?  Regardless, this is solid value that compares well against wines in the $25+ range.

 

 

#WIYG?

à votre santé!

Blind Tasting Markus Wine Co’s 2015 “Domo” Lodi Red Blend

1 Jun

Markus Wine Company 2015 “Domo” Lodi Red Blend; Borra Vineyards, Lodi, California. 13.8% ABV; SRP $39/bottle.

 

A dry red blend of 75% carignane, 15% petite sirah, and 10% sirah.  Aged 17 months in 25% once-filled French oak casks. 71 cases made, bottled March 10, 2017.

 

 

Color is deep and lustrous garnet with ruby center. The nose is of red roses, stewed plums, and wildflowers. On the palate is massive red fruit- plum, cherry, and raspberry dominates while softer notes of spices and tobacco leaf follow, with a hint of loam on the tart, satisfying finish. The massive fruit is matched with beautiful acidity and a solid tannic backbone.

I was so excited when I tasted this wine that I re-corked it with argon and then took the bottle to a party that night, where I poured blind tastes for friends along with two other top shelf new and old world red blends. After tasting all the wines, and without prompting or provocation, people unanimously came back to Markus Domo- against red blends costing two and three times more, respectively- as the wine they wanted to drink. After a few minutes, I asked people to suggest where they thought the wine was from. “You love French wines, is it Bordeaux?” said one guest. “This is Italy for sure.” said another. “Napa Valley?” inquired a third. When I explained it was from Lodi, folks were surprised.

“JvB, cut to the chase! Wherever it is, from, it’s just really good. Could you pour me some more please?” said the man on my right.

I laughed, and brought back the bottle, thinking, “It’s true. Doesn’t that sum up all we need to know?”

à votre santé!

Markus Wine Co. “Blue”, 2015 Lodi Red Wine

20 Feb

Markus Wine Company “Blue” 2015 Vintage Red Wine Blend, Lodi, California, USA. 90% Zin, 5% Petite Verdot, and 5% Petite Syrah. 16.5%ABV, $39/bottle SRP.

 

Color is deep maroon. Nose is a complex mixture of plum, cassis, and notes of dried herbs, iris and lavander.

In the mouth,  strong black cherry and deep red raspberry zing across the palate with an underlying bolt of heat from the alcohol. Secondary notes are of allspice, cumin, cut leafy greens, and clay. On the long and zesty finish: blueberry, black plum, vanilla, and silica. Not a fruit bomb, this is an Iron Man/SEAL team wine: seriously agile, ropy & muscular. This wine can do any task you ask of it, but it will go in with guns blazing and leave you wondering what just happened.

I first opened this wine a month ago, and came back to it again and again (thank you, ArT Wine Preserver!)  Each time, my mouth told me to stop thinking about the wine and just enjoy it. Down went the wine, and up went my smile.

 

 

When I initially opened this bottle, my reaction was that the wine was just a touch hot, perhaps a bit of a mouthful. But as soon as I paired it with food? Oh yes! My initial choices included chicken fajitas, baked cheese, and grilled steak, and each time Markus’ “Blue” sang, complementing gorgeously. Pro tip: save yourself a sip to pair with a piece of chocolate after dinner, and you will know the meaning of heaven.

While I’m not normally a fan of high ABV wines, after my first couple of tastings, I began to want the wine’s flavor profile all by itself, in the same way I sometimes just want to hit the bike and feel the wind against my face, my heart pound in my chest, the music loud in my head. This wine is as well made as a custom motorcycle: every part is there for a reason, and the sum of the parts is stunning and impressive.

I’m not one to stand back lightly, so here goes: this is a $39 kick-ass red wine that will beat Dave Phinney’s The Prisoner in a blind taste test. For steak houses, they should get orders in early, and for steak or Zinfandel lovers, you heard it from me first: Buy it while you can get it! I’m a huge fan of Phinney, but Markus is the up-and-coming winemaker who is looking to stand with the giants of the game. And his product is limited, for now. I can’t wait to see what Markus Niggli does next-  he has extreme talent and seems to want to make the best wines that California can offer in a myriad of styles!

 

Look out, and stand back… and please let me be there when it happens.

 

 

 

Am I BLUE? Only that the wine bottle is empty. 

 

 

à votre santé!

Part 2 #WBC17 Live Wine Blogging! RED WINES at Table 5!

26 Nov

We can’t do a Speed-Dating, er, Speed-Tasting, without doing red wine!

Here’s part 2 of my #WBC17 Live Wine Blogging, RED WINES!

A reminder, the basic setup is kind of like  speed dating for wine: a table of wine writers get 5 minutes with the winemaker/representative in which we must: say hello, get a quick introduction to the wine, have a quick pour and taste, take a picture of the bottle, and crank out a 140-ish character-sized review ALL WITHIN A FIVE-MINUTE WINDOW! You think your job is crazy? This is a wild wine tasting!  Check these out for what you think you’d enjoy- and if you don’t see them locally, find them online!

READY, TABLE FIVE?

GO!!!

 

2013 Mountainside Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley from .  14.1%abv, SRP $60.
Deep purple, powerful black fruit, high acid, 2nd notes of forest floor, mocha, vanilla  and citrus notes on the long finish. Big fruit in this bottle, saying, “Go Big or Go Home!”  

Upshot from . Purple color, perfumed cassis nose. Big blackberry fruit with pepper, clove, and baking spices. Great food wine, new release and super tasty! SRP only $28/bottle, w/ 14.5% ABV.   Sonoma blend of 44% Zin with 29% Merlot, 15% Malbec, 7% Petite Verdot, & 5% Riesling. Love the label that shows the schedule after finding the right #brix to pick! The next Sonoma Classic?

2015 Small Batch Bourbon Barrel Aged Zinfandel from  . Red wine aged in bourbon casks? Some seriously powerful nose and mouth, and big on alcohol. Deep purple color, flavors of big red fruit! An Ass-kicking, motorcycle riding brute of a red!  Mendocino fruit is the backbone, $19/bottle, 15.6%ABV.

Byck Family Estate’s 2015 Pinot Noir; Walter’s Vineyard Russian River Valley from . Maroon color,delicate nose, and gentle fruit, so easy going down you’ll lull the whole bottle in a flash- easy like Sunday morning pinot. Styled as French as a California wine can be, fruit from Pommard and Dijon 777 clones, all matured in French oak. 13.8%abv SRP $54/bottle.  

Gracianna’s Russian River Valley 2015 Reserve Pinot Noir. Garnet in color, raspberry nose, very green with a red rush of cassis and cherry; tons of heat on the top palate. French oak, classic pinot with smoky finish. Decant for an hour to really enjoy the supple fruit. 14.8%ABV, SRP $72/bottle.   

Ready for something new? Try the rare  grape and a Missouri wine! Only $25/bottle for this deep purple, almost black, full-bodied wine. BlackBerry, spice, bramble, high acidity and MONSTER tannins: pair with game, or kill the chef and eat him! #FlavorMonster 

2015 Zinfandel  : a big, bold, badass of a wine! Tons of red and black berries covered in spice, with notes of sandy loam, coriander and nutmeg on the finish. SRP $19, 14.9%ABV from 

Not to be outdone, the big brother from  arrives, 2015 Bushnell Single Vineyard Zinfandel tasting lusty! Deep purple, singular, focused, and so nice! 16 months in American oak lends vanilla, cinnamon, and a touch of elegance to overcome the bold cowboy and this badass fruit! SRP$30, 15.2%ABV   

2014 Pinot noir from lovely garnet color, floral and berry nose, mixed red fruit, delicate and nice, high acidity. You might think cherry cola and cherry pie, with a hint of oaky earth- and you’d be right! Let me drink this in the afternoon shade and watch the sun go down!  $58 SRP, 13.8% ABV 

Sangiovese from Reserve from Columbia Valley, WA. 18months in oak, big cherry & strawberry and long finish. SRP$70; 14.4%ABV. She will knock you out cold and you’ll wake up naked, but probably quite happy!

red blend. Berries and plums dominate the palate in this French merlot/cab/syrah blend. Secondary notes of slate and granite, cocoa and aged oak. This killer food wine sells for a cheap $12/bottle, make it your house red and don’t tell the neighbors! 13%ABV

 As soon as the last tweet was sent and the timer buzzed, I kept looking for the next wine.
Table 5 (You know who you are! ) is a great group of folks who, while frenzied, can crank out great notes without killing each other! To be accurate, the task is both complicated and quite challenging to get a good (i.e. accurate & with unique perspective) tasting note out AND tweet it out in such short time.
Cheers to you all- everyone who enjoys wine should try speed dating, er, TASTING – and see how it changes the way you talk about wine!
What’s the most unusual way you’ve had to taste and review wines?  
Drop a comment and let me know! 

à votre santé!

Locations Wines: Comparing California And France

24 Jan

The scene: a midweek, extended family dinner in the suburbs of Manhattan.

I uncork and pour a wine for my brother-in law, and casually mention that this is a new selection by a winemaker I have followed for years, but have yet to try.

We let the wine breathe until dinner service starts. He tries a taste, and then another as his eyes widen.

He is having a “whoa” moment.

He swallows, takes a breath, then asks a barrage of questions: Who is the winemaker? Where is he from?  Where can he buy this bottle? How much does it cost? Are all this winemaker’s wines so good?

Almost immediately, he has become a fan.

My response to his “whoa” moment? “No real surprise there.”

mwwc-logo

Locations Wines CA4 California Blend by Dave Phinney. 15.5% ABV, $20/bottle MSRP.

A blend of petite syrah, barbera, tempranillo, syrah, and grenache grapes from California’s Napa, Sonoma, Mendocino, and Sierra Foothills wine regions. Before visiting Lodi, I might have wondered at the varied grape selection, but not now. Thanks to my 2016 trip to Lodi and Napa, I now know that California has the myriad climates, soil, and geology to grow almost any grape to perfection. But I digress, how about my tasting notes?

Deep purple in color. Nose of black plum, cassis, rose bush, and young tobacco leaf. On the palate,  tremendous red fruit: raspberry, red plum, sour cherry. Secondary notes of green vegetation, forest floor, pepper and spice. The acidity and tannin are good matches for the  powerful flavors, and the heat spreads late across the top palate, leaving behind hints of cedar, granite, limestone, clay, sand and sodium. On the finish, the distinct flavor of mixed berry pie remains on the top palate as my mouth begs for the next sip.    

This California blend pairs beautifully with the red meat, potatoes and green salad we’ve prepared, but is also delightful to taste solo, or with raspberry-infused dark chocolate, or with goat cheese on fig and olive crisps. Best after a touch of air, the wine held up beautifully for four days until I could no longer control myself and finished the remainders.

img_3143

 

Back to my brother-in-law at dinner! Mid-meal, I am explaining Phinney’s work and his Locations, making wines in a region to represent that region well, at an affordable price. In a sense, these blends are obscure when compared to iconic wines from the same AVAs, but these present classic, beautiful, and delicious representations of their regions at a fraction of the price. His eye drifts across the room to a row of carefully ordered, yet-unopened bottles: my short-term tasting queue. Spying a similar label, he asks if we might open another bottle. “That one from France, if it’s by the same winemaker?

It makes me wonder if Dave Phinney like to fish. Because it’s one more winelover: hook, line, and sinker!

 

Locations Wines F4 French Red Wine Blend by Dave Phinney. 15% ABV, $18/bottle MSRP.

Ruby red in color with a gentle nose of green vegetation, red fruit, and a hint of lavender. On the palate, bright red fruit, nice acidity. Dried cranberry, strawberry, fresh raspberries, with the tannins as a soft underbelly. Southern France shines here, memories of Roussillon and Rhone flood back when the wine hits my tongue.

Because these wines are complex blends, it can be difficult to describe them well. But I’ll give it my best shot: Undeniably French, this wine demonstrates a sense of classic history, utilizing grapes both refined, yet comfortably rustic, much like a ’59 Renault Caravelle Cabriolet, whose soft lines and plush design is perfect for cruising in the Mediterranean sun. Compared to the bronzed and showy  Californian CA4 which offers sleek, sculpted perfection: think Steve McQueen as Bullitt in his ’68 GT Fastback.

Even tasting the wines back to back, I could not choose a favorite. Both were excellent pairing choices for the meal; both were excellent ambassadors to their home terroir. And both are utterly delicious.

My brother-in-law came to a simple conclusion. “A lot of the wines you serve are hard to find. But these… well, the wine blends might be obscure or hard to describe, but their labels are straightforward, simple, and easy to describe. So, I’ll just look for the label design, and buy them all.”

“No real surprise there.”

 

#MWWC30

à votre santé!

img_0440

Locations Wine Samples Provided by Balzac Communications.

 

%d bloggers like this: