14 October, 2013

California does Barbera.

We're all in love with Italian wines.

From Nebbiolo & Vermentino in Piedmont to Nero D'Avola in Sicily & Fiano in Campania, Italy makes some of the most diverse wines and have been doing so for THOUSANDS of years, but it wasn't until the Greek colonization (800BC) that vinification was widely introduced to Italy.

Things stayed steady until the Romans defeated the Carthaginians in the 2nd century BC and winemaking flourished throughout Italy. Interestingly, the Romans outlawed winemaking outside of Italy during this time to increase it's scarcity and, in fact, used wine to trade for goods and slaves.

Onward a couple of thousand years to about 1852 and both an exodus to the West by Italians as well as founding winemakers seeking out further varieties of wine grapes and the Italian diversity makes it's
way to Sonoma County.

Lucky for us, there's been much in the way of both progress in vinification as well as an expansion of Italian native grapes. More than just Zinfandel (Primitivo) more than 20 varieties are grown in California and more specifically, Sonoma County.

Nico Wines is a recent (2006) addition to the Sonoma County winery list, but one that's gone deep with their focus on Italian varieties.

Their just released 2012 Barbera is the newest addition to their cellar and it's quite a stunner! In Italy, Barbera was typically harvested a couple of weeks earlier than the more prized Nebbiolo and it was usually what you drank while waiting for the Barolos to age.

No longer playing 2nd fiddle, this Barbera is a delicately crafted of 100% Barbera fruit and comes it at 13.9% abv, allowing it to play nice with meats like duck, boar, chicken as well as salmon. It's extremely well balanced front to back on the palate and presents quite unassumingly with lovely subdued notes of raspberries, currents as well as nice umami textures & tastes like delicate crimini mushrooms.

We enjoyed this with pumpkin ravioli, troffi al pesto as well a grass-fed steak at Riviera Restaurant in Sonoma County keeping it all local.

This, and all of Nico Wines are available at their online store.

2012 Nico Wines Barbera
Retail: $22
Grade: A

(note: this sample was provided to us at no cost)

10 October, 2013

The Man from Manchuela

Deep in the Castilla - La Mancha region lies the D.O. of Manchuela. It's not the most well known D.O. in Spain, let alone for Tempranillo, but from Virgen de las Nieves Bodegas comes a 100% Tempranillo that keeps up just fine with crianzas from Rioja.  (although, I'm not certain of the aging of this bottling)

This Temp is well oaked and with a good bit of tanin, will suit your palate just fine with grilled meats as to be expected.

It's dark blue and blackberry fruit profile is well pronounced, but not over done when decanted for 15 minutes.

I suggest pairing this with grilled fowl, perhaps a guinea hen, some Cabrales cheese, jamon and figs or a pintxo of garbonzo beans and chorizo.

2011 Artezones de Cenziate Tempranillo
Retail: under $25
Grade: B

(note: this bottle was provided at no cost as a sample)

Pinot That Fits the Bill...and the Budget

We're always on the lookout for value and while we're all for diversity in grape varieties, Pinot Noir is not uncommon, but is always a favorite. Problem is, GOOD Pinot is usually not available for around $20....and this is due to, in part, grape prices that are typically 35-50% higher than other varieties.

No worries!

The folks at Don and Sons (a brand of Don Sebastiani and Sons) have found a way to tackle this...and with Sonoma Coast grapes! They've done this, at least in my opinion, by using fruit from the Petaluma Gap, an area that's very close to the Pacific Ocean where temperatures inland are moderated by the cool, coastal air.

Their 2010 and 2011 Sonoma Coast Sonoma Signature Pinot Noir is a very good choice for an everyday Pinot and for those who like their Pinot on the more balanced, less forward side, is even better!

With fruit as its strength, winemaker Greg Kitchens allows the subtleties of the Petaluma Gap to speak thru the wine. Again, subdued slate, graphite matching with red fruit flavors of Bing cherry and raspberry provide an elegant opportunity for pairing with Pinot favorites like duck and salmon as well as pork Provencal as well as simple and delicious roasted chicken.

Widely distributed, it's available thru the Don and Sons website but can be found at better prices thru 1000corks.com.

This is one of the best QPR wines we've ever reviewed.

2010 or 2011 Don and Sons Sonoma Signature Pinot Noir
Retail: $25 (found as low as $15)
Grade: A

(Note: This bottle was provided as a sample to us at no cost)

For a Reuilly Good Time, call....

While it's starting to move into fall here in Sonoma County, we're still having 80 degree days and that's plenty warm for anyone to enjoy a bit of rose'.

Rose' is wonderful, but I'm a bit particular. Pinot Noir, Zinfandel, Cabernet...none of those are particularly interesting to me in their rose' form. Wines from these varieties and many others are often  "saignee" wines and don't bring the flavor or balance in which we find delight in purposeful rose', that is, wine grapes that are picked specifically for the purpose of making rose. Picked earlier and at lower brix than grapes destined for red wine, purposeful roses are a thing of beauty and often fetch prices nearly $50....and they're well worth it!

So, while that's not really helping us here and our $13-$27 range, we've managed to find something quite interesting. The 2012 Reuilly Pinot Gris Rose from Denis Jamain's Domaine de Reuilly. For those not familiar, Reuilly is an AOC in the Loire Valley where only 3 grape varieties are grown (in Reuilly, not the Loire of course): Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris and Sauvignon Blanc.

While this rose has a great pale salmon color reminiscent of it's relatives from Provence, make no mistake that this is not Mourvedre/Grenache based wine. It's Pinot Gris and I would guess has some Sauvignon Blanc blended with its hints of grapefruit and kafir lime on the front palate and clean, racy finish.

If your weeknight or weekend plans call for dining al fresco, I recommend you try this wine. Imported by Kermit Lynch, it's available widely and you can find it here, courtesy of 1000corks.com.

2012 Domaine de Reuilly Rose
Retail: $18
Grade: A-

09 August, 2013

Add to Your Wine Movie List -- "You Will Be My Son"

As a photographer of both still and motion pictures, I'm always very interested in films. As could be expected with growing up "in the business," I'm pretty picky when it comes to films.

Add this one to your list of wine films to see.

You Will Be My Sonwhile not actually a wine film, much as Sideways was not a wine film, focuses on the problematic relationship between fathers and sons. As both a son and a father, THIS is
something that I have direct knowledge and experience with

Paul Marseul, (Niels Arestrup), the vineyard owner is a demanding and passionate winemaker but is a domineering father. He is not happy that his son Martin (Loran Deutsch), who works with him on the family estate, may one day succeed him. He dreams of a son who is more talented, more charismatic, and more in line with his own aspirations. 

Furthering their rift, Paul’s trusted manager Francois (Patrick Chesnais) is dying of cancer. When Francois’ son Philip(Nicolas Bridet), also in the wine business, returns from California to look after his father, Paul sees Philip as his ideal son and turns away from his own flesh and blood.

I'm quite excited to see the film and will have a full review. As you'll see in the trailer, the photography is very European in style, the locations are stunning and the storyline seems quite interesting. Many technical details can't yet be known, but from what I saw, I'm most definitely looking forward to pouring a glass of St. Emillon and relaxing on the couch....but something tells me I'll be more engaged than relaxed.

Let me know what you think of the trailer!

More to come soon.


18 July, 2013

The Heat >Goes< On...

...and we combat it with....

More, More, Mosel!

The 2011 Clean Slate Riesling is 100% Riesling from The Mosel Valley. I'm not a Riesling fan as I typically find it too floral, fruity and sweet, at least, here in the US, and it's often related to price, that is, the more inexpensive, the more residual sugar and fruit forward. This relationship is pretty typical of most wine in the US.

Now, this Riesling certainly does have a bit of that, and slightly more than I prefer, however it does a better job than most, especially at this price point. 

Highlighting a pleasant nose of stone fruit and beautiful jasmine, it's a great idea for a summer picnic or backyard barbecue with spicy shrimp, rich fish or a great Asian noodle salad.

2011 Clean Slate Riesling
Retail: $11
Grade: B-
ABV: 10.5%

Note: This wine was provided at no cost as a sample.

22 June, 2013

Italy, and WHITE, for the HOT, DOG Days of Summer.


It's been warm here in Sonoma County. A couple of weeks ago it reached 102F. So, while the west has been warm and it's surely moving to other parts of the country, we decided to break out a few whites from Europe where it's been much more temperate.

The 2011 Esperto (Expert in Italian) Pinot Grigio is presented in screw top, as many in this price point, but it also has a little bit extra in the way of a Robert Rauschenberg print on the label.

This wine is from the IGT delle Venezie in the DOC Veneto. As many of you know, I'm not a big fan

of Pinot Grigio, not in that I don't enjoy the varietal, but that what gets imported, or really, EXPORTED is tailored for a palate that's just not mine. Too often, whispy, simple, fruity wines are assembled for the US market. Shame. It can be a great variety.

The Esperto P. Grigio brings something that's much closer to Italy and much further from the US market with it's hints of honeysuckle and Meyer lemon on the nose, but with more acid and "shoulders" than one would typically see at this price point.

Open one with some Oysters on the half shell, a turkey burger on the grill in the heat of the afternoon or a nice SF style Cioppino on a foggy nite in the city.

2011 Esperto Artist Collection Pinot Grigio
Retail: $10
Grade: B-
ABV: 12%

Note: This wine was provided at no cost as a sample.


Trebbiano is unremarkable.

It's the 2nd most widely planted grape. Everywhere. Period. It presents good yields, so vineyard managers and business people like it. It can be fruity, monochromatic...and in a word, boring...


Abruzzo is a pretty awesome place. It's in the mountains of Central Italy and leads down to the East coast where it meets the Adriatic Sea and it's often referred to as Italy's rocky heart. It's got 2 interesting climates: The mountains and the coast and Chiusa Grande is located in Nocciano and is at about 1000' in elevation. Interestingly, it's halfway between the coast and the mountains.

Chiusa Grande is the producer of the 2012 Treebbiano d'Abruzzo. It's made with certified Organic Grapes that are grown in the near mountainous region.

If you search around the inter-face-webs, you'll find plenty of reviews of reviews and opinions of this
wine as it's widely available and certainly not remotely allocated, but it's not produced by a mega-winery, either. While others have called this wine simplistic, watery and even insipid, I find this vintage quite pleasant. It's not a crazy, interesting, geek out wine by any means, but it's quite a bit more interesting than I think others give it credit, especially at this price point. It enjoys a very high QPR.

Enjoyable aromas of light citrus, especially lemon, together with a mineral driven mid palate led to a satisfying pairing with swordfish and curried brown rice. Also interesting would be Southeast Asian red curry dishes and mediterranean mezzes.

2012 Chiusa Grande Trebbiano d'Abruzzo
Retail: $6
Grade: B
ABV: 12%

As a note, both of these wines are listed at 12% ABV, a typical level in many European made wines.