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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!

Owen Roe

5 Nov

I kept putting off my post about my visits to Owen Roe Winery. Partially I must admit, a tiny part of me wanted to keep them a secret, like something precious and highly valued that only when you’re ready, you share with your closest confidant. And part of me is a little anxious to see this winery become monstrously famous… which will happen, I do not doubt.

But you, my dear friends and readers, you are my innermost circle.

So allow me to share with you my best find of 2018, Owen Roe Winery.

 

Named after the 17th century Irish Patriot, Owen Roe is a beautiful winery that is tucked into the hills in the Yakima Valley. Between Union Gap and Wapato, just east of the Yakima river on a beautiful hillside is a series of vineyards in which the winemaking facility is located.

But when I first visited, I didn’t think about the vineyards. I just went to taste the wines. It wasn’t until I had tasted the wines and had time to reflect on them that I wanted to learn more. So I did- and I went back with friends (an entire busload of friends, to be honest) and to see the winery in action during crush and harvest- and to re-taste the wines that impressed upon me previously.

 

Before I get to the wines, I have a tiny bit more to tell you. Owen Roe was founded by two couples, Angelica & David O’Reilly, and Julie & Ben Wolff, with their first vintage produced in 1999. While David O’Reilly was the winemaker for many years, their current winemaker is rising star Jackie Evans. She and cellar master François Dereeper have been with Owen Roe since 2013. They are making some serious wines.


Owen Roe Winery’s cellar master François Dereeper (left), and winemaker Jackie Evans (right)

 

Owen Roe 2016 Abbot’s Table; Columbia Valley Wa. 14.1% ABV, SRP $24/bottle.

Color is magenta with garnet edging, with cassis, green cuttings and tobacco leaf on the nose. On the palate: a complex compote of red plum, tart cherry, and raspberry with notes of green pepper, forest floor, and cigar box. An awe-inspiring blend of 47% Sangiovese, 22% Zinfandel, 19% Blaufrankish and 12% Malbec. This wine is so perfectly balanced by itself, yet cries for food. So, I bought a bottle and sated that need- with anything and everything I ate, it was made better with this new world blend of old world flavor. Brilliant now, but could easily age ten years. A home run, this should be in every American restaurant.

 

Owen Roe 2016 Sinister Hand; Columbia Valley, WA 14.1% ABV, SRP $28/bottle.

Don’t let the name fool you. This is a classic Rhône blend of GSMC (Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre, Cinsault) on steroids.
Garnet in color, rich in the dark red and black fruit on the nose with a hint of cocoa. Cassis, blackberry, with fig and plum jam. Secondary notes of strawberry and mocha, red pepper, hints of clove, vanilla, and fennel, with cedar, granite, sand, loam, mixed berries and potting soil on the long finish. This is old world blending of new world grapes, the opposite of Abbots Table- and just so nicely balanced, rich flavors, and gossamer in texture.

 

Owen Roe 2016 Malbec; Yakima Valley, WA; 14% ABV, SRP $28/bottle.

Deep ruby with magenta edging. Rose bush and red fruit on the ample nose. Stunning blackberry, blue plum, and black cherry on the palate with velvet mouthfeel, big dark chocolate notes with saddle leather, dark oak and wet leaves. If you dig Malbec, you need to get this in your cellar.

 

 

Owen Roe Rosa Mystica Cabernet Franc, $28/bottle.

Color is medium ruby with garget edging, the nose offers cherry and raspberry with mocha and a hint of rose bush. On the palate, strawberry jam, red plum and cherry are followed by notes of pepper, wet stone, fennel and lavender. Beautifully made, elegant and balanced– this is a luscious wine that offers a great value in this price range!

I took my first sip of this cab franc and had a “whoa” moment, impressed by the quality of the winemaking. Finishing my taste of Rosa Mystica, I realized how special Owen Roe’s wines really are.

A few minutes later The Pearl Block cab franc was in my glass and that upped the ante-  I simply could not imagine where this wine had been hiding, and how they managed to make a wine that stood on the shoulders of all the others.

 

Owen Roe 2015 “The Pearl Block” Union Gap Vineyard, Cabernet Franc. 14%ABV, SRP $72/bottle.

Color is deep ruby, the nose offers red plum, raspberry, wildflowers and hints of tobacco leaf. On the palate is a luxurious blend of red fruit, green pepper, and forest floor. The mouthfeel is exotic, supple and elegant; medium bodied with impressive structure in the balance of fruit, tannin and acidity. If you are remotely a fan of old world French wines, or if you love cab franc- this is your jam. Gorgeously aromatic, showing elegance and beauty in the glass, with structure, a nose and finish that goes on and on. It’s the finest effort of winemaking I’ve seen from the Northwest, period. This wine is amazing. It’s gonna rock your world and leave you wanting more, don’t tell me I didn’t warn you. It’s just that. Damn. Good!

Seriously- if you have the means to buy this wine and you love cab franc, get this. This is the finest cabernet franc I’ve had to date, and I was sad to walk away having only purchased two bottles. I haven’t decided if I’ll serve this to my family for Thanksgiving, or more selfishly keep it to share with my oenophile buddies!

 

Most importantly, tasting these wines excites me for the future of what to expect from this team at Owen Roe.

These are world-class wines that deliver far more than you’d expect, even in the over $60 mark, providing great value and QPR. Just taste the wines, and let your mouth decide.

 


 

 

 

As you can see, I liked what I tasted at Owen Roe. So much that  (as I mentioned previously) I went back with a busload of friends, to see more, taste, and explore.

 

What I found is that it’s no mistake the wines from Over Roe are as good as they are. I tasted the fruit fresh from the vineyards, and had the chance to watch some of the harvest operations. These choices are made very carefully, with excellent results from a team who is talented and working diligently to make world-class wine.

 

A hopper of freshly-picked Cabernet Sauvignon grapes heading to the press

 

 

One of the presses used at Owen Roe

 

The pomace or marc- the remnants after pressing

 

 

 


This is the cap over a container of pressed juice in the process of becoming wine

The juice is tested and the cap is punched down multiple times daily.

 

 

The cellar team’s daily notes on the side of an active bin!

 


Craig Singer, Owen Roe’s Executive Chef & Tasting Room Manager, showing off one more spectacular bottle. He is THE person to talk to about food and wine pairings, menus, recipes, and finding your personal favorite wine at Owen Roe!  

 

 

 


After wine tasting, our group lines up to buy bottles to take home! There was no mistake here- We visited several vineyards, but people lined up to buy bottle after bottle at Owen Roe. So you know- It wasn’t just me! 

 

Owen Roe is my best find of 2018, and their flagship The Pearl Block Cabernet Franc rocks my wine world. 

What is YOUR top find of 2018?

à votre santé!

#CabFrancDay 2017

11 Dec

This year’s #CabFrancDay was full of delicious and inviting #CabFranc! If you think of cabernet franc only as a blending grape and not as a delicious varietal to drink, then you should take the plunge and try some! Cabernet Franc is actually the parent of the cabernet sauvignon grape, and while cabernet franc may be often used as a blending grape, it should not be ignored as a sole varietal that is a touch lighter in color and flavor and less full-bodied than cabernet sauvignon, while still featuring complex notes of fruits, spice, herbs and minerals. Here are the wines I tasted for #CabFrancDay and my tasting notes, with super-special thanks to Lori Budd of Dracaena Wines and all the wine makers and wineries who provided these wines for our tasting pleasure!








Benmarl Winery Cabernet Franc 2015, Finger Lakes, NY. 12.5%ABV, SRP$23.

Ruby color, nose of ripe raspberry and cherry with green, herbaceous undertones . On the palate: sharp acidity, firm cherry and young red cassis fruit with gentle tannin; medium finish with cedar and wet slate, clay, and pumice. This could last all night, will really show well with food. I still sometimes (wrongly) think of Finger Lakes as a riesling area, this reminds me that they make really good red wines, too! Click for link to Benmarl Winery .

 

 

Chateau Niagara Cabernet Franc 2016, Newfane, NY. 13.2%ABV,  SRP $29.99.

Medium purple in color, semi-opaque. The nose offers gentle purple fruit and a hint of funk. On the palate: plum and red berries, notes of earth, green cuttings, and potting soil. Medium body, matching tannin and acidity. Medium-long finish with final hints of both granite and sandy loam. This wine sits squarely in the middle of major grapes- and with food pairings, this wine can either fade, or feature, depending on the flavor profile of the dish. Chateau Niagara was among the most popular favorite of last year’s taste testers, and it is easy to see why: gentle on the palate, easy to enjoy by itself or with just about any food. I enjoyed this with a melange of flavors, including spicy black bean salad, cheese tortillas and salsa, gouda, and salted chocolate.

 

Fjord Vineyards 2015 Cabernet Franc. Hudson River Region, Marlboro, NY. 12.9%ABV, SRP $25

Bright ruby color, while the nose has a complex aroma of blackberry, plum, and eucalyptus. On the palate:  plum, berries, and red currants with secondary notes of african violet and limestone. A specific opulence with this delicate mouthfeel, a little more acidity than the others in this tasting group. In short, I found this wine spellbinding! Three times I sat down to write tasting notes and just enjoyed the pour instead. I could drink this all day, and if I had room in my cellar, I would buy a case to see how this wine ages. Flagrantly delicious, this wine is flexible in its complexity of flavors to move seamlessly from meal prep through the meal to coffee and dessert! Now we need to find some NYC wine stores to carry Fjord Vineyard’s wares!

 

 

 

 

Merriam Vineyards: Jones Vineyard, Dry Creek Valley Cabernet Franc 2012; Healdsburg, CA.  14.6% ABV, SRP $45

Light purple in color. Nose of black fruit and stone, with green cuttings. On the palate, black plum, cassis, some green peppercorns, with secondary notes of of clove, cacao nibs, toasted oak, sand, clay, and slate. Medium body on top of the mouth, fuller on the side and back palates with a nice balance, moderate in all things: fruit, acid, tannin, & body. Did I mention there is NO heat on the palate- I never would have guessed it is 14.6% ABV! This wine really can pair with anything, but the reserved quality of it makes it shine with foods that are not over-the-top in flavor profile, which is probably why I keep thinking of it as a vegetarian’s delight. Cab Franc seems singularly capable of handling the spiciness of tomato sauce, the bitterness of overcooked greens, the umami of porcini mushrooms, and everything from sweet peas to eggplant.

I loved the maturity of this wine which provided an elegance that made me adore it and think about buying other cab franc just to cellar. I would buy this at a restaurant without hesitation for the elegance and beauty of this wine, plus the flexible pairing cab franc offers. A great pairing that surprised me was Indian food- Chicken Tikka Saag! The wine constantly complements, and never overpowers. You’d be foolish to ignore this beautiful Sonoma County wine with a half-century of age, and at this price, it’s still an excellent buy, just probably not your weekday pairing. It’s worth checking out Merriam Vineyards, and maybe their cab franc is the perfect Christmas gift for your favorite vegan?

Don’t you think it’s time you bought some cabernet franc to share with your family and friends? 

à votre santé!

Nutt Road Vineyard Cabernet Franc Dry Rosé

7 Oct

Nutt Road Vineyard 2014 Cabernet Franc Dry Rosé, from Red Newt Cellars; Finger Lakes, New York. 11%ABV; $16/bottle.

 

Color is tango pink, which is a touch redder than congo pink or salmon pink, for those keeping track. The nose is a bright, mineral-laden strawberry with hints of lavender, sodium, and sour cherry. On the palate: a lively and wonderfully acidic raspberry and strawberry fruit mix is dominant on the front palate while racy boysenberry spins across the top palate with a smidgen of heat; depositing sodium, slate, and granite on the back palate with a nice, medium-long finish that will make you return to the glass before you expect to.

The bottle is marked Kelby James Russel across the front, and it’s a name to remember (let’s just say a winemaking prodigy, shall we?)  If you like cab franc or are a rosé fan, then you should absolutely go out of your way to taste this wine. If you don’t love it at first sip, it will grow on you like fidget spinners in schools or kudzu across the south. Just be glad I took a picture early in the process, because by the time I finished writing this very short review, the bottle was empty.

 

This is a “hit me again”, “where’s the rest”,  and “order another bottle” kind of wine. The rosé & cab franc fanatics who track it down might not mention it in public for fear of losing their quota! It’s OK, if you don’t think it’s your thing, just log the name Kelby James Russell in your memory banks. There will be a time when you’ll say “I knew him before he became mainstream” and pretend you tasted this instead of just reading my review.

 

à votre santé!

Ehlers Estate Sylviane Rosé 2016

3 Aug

Ehlers Estate Sylviane Rosé 2016, St. Helena, Napa Valley, CA. ABV 12.8%, MSRP $36/bottle.

 

The color of this rosé of Cabernet franc is fuschia. Yes, I said fuchsia. That’s a first for me.

 

Imagine taking the innards of a sweet watermelon and mashing the dripping fruit thru a fine strainer into a sautée pan to make a reduction, cooking it down over low heat for an hour. You add a dozen plump strawberries, the juice of one lime, and one-half of a pint of raspberries. Reduce again for 30 minutes, then strain again, transfer and chill. It’s THAT color, ok? Fuschia! Getting back to the wine:

 

Color is fuchsia. The nose offers greenery of plants: raspberry bush and strawberry leaves, with watermelon vine and rind. There is a definite hint of fruit masked by lush greens; you can sense the fruit, but the plant is hiding them. On the palate, beautifully tart red berries and melon, then lemon-lime citrus. The acid appears as gorgeous lime zest, with sandy chalk on the finish. But you probably won’t spend any time thinking about the flavors, the essence, the notes on the medium-long finish. You’re going to drink this and go, “Oh, yes! Let me have some more of that, please?”

 

Trust me. Even the most verbose of astute critics can be silenced by a wine. I’ve seen it happen.

 

 

 

This rosé of cabernet franc is just delightful. Once you get some, you might turn the bottle around in your hand, pick up the phone and call the number on the back, asking to join their wine club so that you can get some of this juice delivered direct to your door. You would not be the first, nor the last, to do so.

 

When I saw the playful, unusual, and delightful color of this wine, I put it away in the cellar and put a note on it: OTBN (Open That Bottle Night). Months later, I spent days choosing a lengthy wine evening (nine+ bottles) and as I secured treasures from my cellar, I pulled this bottle out, wiped her clean, and put her squarely in the middle of the tasting: bottle #5. Part of me wanted to make this bottle #1, as with the recent steamy weather, it would be easy to start, continue, and end the evening on one wine -if only I had a case or more to play with. But with ten guests and one bottle,  everyone could get a fair pour, and that would be that. But it would be absolutely delicious!

 

 

‘Celebration’ Dinner wines. Not including the aperitif  Vinho Verde or additional after-dinner drinks, such as a 1962 Bas-Armagnac. 

 

Kevin Morrisey as a winemaker is quite similar to me as an audio engineer or production manager. In my world, the star gets what they need, everything in the production is highest quality,  done right, and the audience gets a PERFECT performance -the way show business is supposed to be. It doesn’t matter what happened on the way to the venue, during the load-in, or what technical issues might arise- anything could be in the way.  We overcome, and the audience gets the best show possible, period.
Similar to producing an event from a single idea, Kevin raises his “stars” from seedlings, grooms and cares for them with love on the vine, trimming the canopy for both protection and optimal sun exposure. He harvests them at the perfect time, uses the least intrusive measures (100% organic) to get the maximum result. He presses them with a champagne press. The wines see fermentation only in stainless steel, before bottling. No matter what happens during the growing season or after crush, he overcomes: his eye on the prize. Kevin treats this wine with both passion and scientific expertise, with love and the utmost of care- as he only wants to make sure the person who gets to drink his rosé will love the results and the message in the bottle. The best wine possible, period

There is a reason why this rosé is both priced comparatively with the finest rosé wines from Provence, France, and why it may be difficult to find months after release: This wine is just that damn good! Production size is low, and demand is high. And that’s why you should seek it and drink it. This is NOT the “drink me every day” rosé. To me, this is the engagement, anniversary, amazing dinner, or special event rosé. I call it like I see it, but you have to do the same.  Of course, if  YOU can secure a few cases, it could be the “drink me any day that ends in Y” rosé. If that’s the case… invite me over for a bottle!

à votre santé!

Get #Franc’d Up with #CabFranc

12 Dec

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Here’s the thing:

I’ve liked cabernet franc for a long time. I’ve enjoyed it primarily as a blending grape, and secondarily as a single vineyard varietal, as a wine that I sometimes offer at Thanksgiving. But as a grape, it never bowled me over, that is, until #CabFrancDay.

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For #CabFrancDay, I tasted seven bottles of cab franc in great detail. I spent copious time with each one.

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Sometimes I came away with tremendous tasting notes. Sometimes I just wanted to sit and enjoy the flavor and fragrance of the wine, much like the title character in Munro Leaf’s book, “Ferdinand the Bull”.

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Some things dawned on me while I sat and smelled cabernet franc, taking tiny sips and noting flavors.

 

And what I found out about cabernet franc wasn’t earth shattering knowledge. But it was incredibly valuable and made me think about how I pair wines and food.

The cabernet franc grape is the thin-skinned father to the bold, bodacious, massively-flavored cabernet sauvignon grape. In comparison, Cab franc is restrained, genteel, even moderate. While it features flavors of dark berries, cassis, bell peppers, leather, forest floor and licorice, these flavors are subtle and mild, and the wine’s acidity and tannins are equally muted. These are what helps make cab franc an excellent blending grape. On the other side of the equation, for a winemaker who develops the grape with intent of making a great single varietal bottle of cab franc, sometimes they are able to create a wine that has class, maturity, and depth in only three or four years, with characteristics that I often wait a decade for in Old World wines.

I want to share my tasting notes from #CabFrancDay. And I still might, but it’s more important to me to peak your interest and whet your appetite on the GRAPE. It’s a bit of a challenge to find a great cab franc, but it is also highly worthwhile.

So today, no tasting notes. Instead, I’m going to tell you what I FELT about these wines.

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I felt that these wines showed beautiful expression: they were delicate, reserved, graceful. In general, I found that the East coast cabernet francs were more subtle with slightly higher acidity. The Oregon and California Cabernet Francs were more expressive, more powerful, still reserved but passionate. While I really enjoyed the expression of the East coast cab francs,  the West Coast Cabernet Francs haunted me. I dreamed about them. I talked about them constantly. I searched my social media feeds to see if there were associated experiencing the same thing.
There were. There are.

Some of my friends preferred the East Coast wines. But we all were impressed, if not blown away. Some, however, had powerful experiences like myself.

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There is a new movement afoot. To get #FrancdUp does NOT mean to get drunk, but instead, to hedonistically enjoy a beautifully made #CabernetFranc. 

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Find your #Franc. Get Franc’dUp. Trust me. And feel free to tell me about it.

You can thank me later!

 

à votre santé!

Don’t tell Miles. We’re drinking Merlot!

15 Mar

Château Tour Peyronneau, Saint-Émilion Grand Cru, 13%ABV; MSRP $75/Street $27.

 

Color is purple with violet edging. The aromatic, perfumed nose offers plum, cassis, fresh roses, and eucalyptus. Bold black currant, blackberry, and black plum dominate the palate with an excellent balance of acidity and velvety tannins. The mid-palate garners hints of earth, forest floor, dried leaves and clay. Notes of limestone, gravel, and sand on the dry, lengthy finish. Listed and labeled as both organic and biodynamic, the 2012 blend is 95% Merlot, 5% cabernet franc, but from year to year this producer uses as much as 15% cabernet franc for this wine.

It’s worth pointing out for those who don’t know why I made the joke in the title: This isn’t the cheaply made, of questionable quality, slightly sweet California merlot that Miles rants about in the film Sideways. Instead, this is the lovingly-curated, classically balanced and agile French standard that made the merlot grape worthy of respect. And it is delicious and very well made, but designed to pair with food, not really to enjoy purely by itself.

TourPeyronneau

For most decent St.-Émilion wines, I’d expect to pay over $70/bottle. The ones I adore and have enjoyed rarely in my life (Angelus, Pavie, Cheval Blanc) are in the hundreds of dollars. This one strikes in alongside Simard but is a Grand Cru, and has been seen on both Garagiste and Wine Til Sold Out at under $20- a steal for French wine lovers like myself.

I opened this specifically to try with a decadently rich and savory beef short rib dish I was cooking and it ended up being a phenomenal pairing. It also paired nicely over several days with baked chicken, a dutch cheese, and dark salted chocolate. This wine is one more in the category of “I wish I’d bought a case” but too little, too late for me since I was being overly cautious. C’est la vie!

à votre santé!

 

 

 

 

Francophiled, or Drink What You Like

5 Oct

I recently attended a blind A/B tasting. That means we (the tasting panel) were given four pairs of wines poured from concealed bottles, were given no information on them, and we had to compare each pair of wines against one another. The common thread was that one set was presented by a famed importer of classic old world French wines from the Loire Valley, while the other set was provided by a small, youthful winery from Santa Barbara, California. What made this most interesting was that it was a pair of brothers, born five years apart, who both work in the wine industry, pitting their wines against one another. It was a fascinating evening and enlightening tasting.

Unfortunately,  this tasting came after a month of too little wine and too much work. Stupidly, I arrived fresh from taking my daughter horseback riding- parched and on an empty stomach- which somewhat threw me off my “A” game.

I took my wine notes, choosing many of the regions and grapes correctly. But I did something I’ve never done before. Our hosts asked us to tell them which wine we’d rather drink. So after tasting both wines in a pair, I quickly made a tiny heart-shaped notation indicating which of the wines I immediately preferred, knowing nothing more than my initial nose & sip. Normally I’m in critical mode, thinking about everything BUT which wine I might prefer to drink. My energy is spent deciding what the region, grape, style, and vintage might be, before possible food pairings. This time, I spent less concern on those criteria and just let my mouth decide.

So, what did I learn, you ask?

I learned that even an old dog can learn new tricks. As an outspoken Francophile (for the newbies, in the wine world that means I prefer old-world French wines) this tasting forced me to remove my size twelve boot from my mouth (Zut alors!) and replace it with a flip- flop, Duuuude!

In not one, but in EVERY single instance, I had chosen the Santa Barbara wine. The Loire Sauvignon Blanc had more grapefruit upfront while the Santa Barbara felt muted and ergo drank with greater balance. With the chenin blanc, it was the slight petrol on the French wine’s nose that made me prefer the other wine. With the pinot noir, it was that the French wine was actually a red sancerre. With the Cabernet Franc, it was the slightly deeper color and depth of palate that made me think it was aged longer in the barrel (it was) and was tastier on its own, while the French Chinon was a tiny bit sharper (more acidic) on the palate and ultimately would pair better with food, but fooled me into thinking it was Californian.

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All night long, I kept thinking there was a wine switcheroo– that the Californian wine was actually the French and so forth. I was slightly amused, and yet irritated at myself for getting it wrong, not coming to the tasting with my “A” game, drinking the wine more than just tasting it, and enjoying the process of tasting and just having fun, instead of taking it so seriously- which is, after all, really the best way to do a tasting, right?

So instead of coming away with a set of killer tasting notes, I had a blast. I really enjoyed eight wines, and based upon minutiae, I selected four that I’d rather drink – and in every single case thought I’d chosen the old world French wines of my youth. Instead, I found myself having selected the Santa Barbara competitor time and time again. That, my friends, was the switcheroo.

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Towards the end of the evening, I found myself chatting with a lovely couple across the tasting table. The wife admitted to me apologetically, “I know nothing about wine,” and I kept reminding her that the historic wine rules are no longer valid or in force. “As long as you know what you like, that’s what matters,” I preached. For this evening, I can do nothing but take my own advice. As an avowed Francophile, I am tipping my hat. For at least this one night, I am now California Dreamin’.

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Knowing what you like means I have the best of both worlds. I can drink what I like from the new world, and I can also buy, hold, and drink what I hold so dear: those old world French wines.

My thanks to James Parisi and Xavier Wines for hosting this event. And both my thanks and respect to brothers Lyle Railsback from Kermit Lynch and Eric Railsback from Lieu Dit Winery for the astounding evening of great wines that I seriously enjoyed.

Know this, gents: I’m a true fan of all of your work and will continue to enjoy all your brands, drinking both what I like at the moment, and what I have loved my whole life.

À votre santé!

The Valentino of Red Wine

7 Jun

Campo Al Mare Bolgheri 2010 IGT

Sample Provided by Wine Chateau, $21/bottle (reg $35) 14.5% ABV

A dark ruby color and nose of black plum and spice. In the mouth: tart black fruit with licorice and a hint of spice, a medium long finish that becomes more acidic as the tannins close in on the back palate. I was left with a remaining flavor of violet-laced licorice, some clay, and new oak. I was surprised at how Bordeaux-like this felt to me, as if it were a blend of several grapes (and it is, I quickly found out!) Lovers of both classic Italian and French wines will enjoy this, and those who champion “new world” reds will still appreciate this very classic winemaking blend with excellent results.

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With a blend of 60% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Cabernet Franc, no wonder it reminds me of French wine blending.  I was impressed by this wine, to be honest. I enjoyed it more than I expected to, and the wine stayed consistent over five days with no special treatment. It drinks well on its own and complements proteins and carbs nicely; it was stunning with a single-pot chicken, tomato & green bean dish my wife makes. The more I thought about this wine, the more it reminded me of the Italian film star and sex symbol of the 1920’s, Rudolph Valentino, famous for his dashing Italian looks and soft, gentle charm. To me, this wine embodies some of the best characteristics of European winemaking, and it would be an excellent gift or wine to stock in your cellar that can pair with many food options or be enjoyed on its own, providing quality and a solid value at this price.

You can access the link for the winemaker’s website if you want more information about the Folonari Family of winemakers,  and you can purchase this wine directly from Wine Chateau’s website.

à votre santé!

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