I taste a bunch-o-wine (technical term for more than most people). So each week, I share some of my wine reviews (mostly from samples) and tasting notes in a “mini-review” format.
They are meant to be quirky, fun, and (mostly) easily-digestible reviews of (mostly) currently available wines (click here for the skinny on how to read them), and are presented links to help you find them, so that you can try them out for yourself. Cheers!
In Meininger’s, Roger Morris looks at the plight of American sommeliers in a Covid-19 world. “Less than a year ago restaurant sommeliers in America were riding high — as a group the main influencers in determining which exotic varietal wine would become the next trendy item as a by-the-glass pour and which new regions would be on hot wine lists… In the months since [Covid-19 shutdowns], the somms’ worse fears – no paycheck, no job market, dark future – have played out, and many question whether the profession will ever again reach the glory days it experienced during the first 20 years of this century.”
“This year marked the earliest grape harvest ever in many important wine regions, including Burgundy… The pandemic made an extraordinary vintage exceptional in other ways too. The picking teams had to be masked and socially distanced, and there was none of the usual end-of-harvest jollity.” Jancis Robinson explores the changing Burgundian wine calendar.
In Wine-Searcher, Natalie Sellers reports on the range of insect problems plaguing vineyards.
After more than twenty years, and from a pool of over 90 communes that produce wine under the Côtes du Rhône-Villages AOC, Nyons has been promoted and awarded the 22nd Côtes du Rhône-named village, reports Matt Walls in Decanter.
Hello, and welcome to my periodic dig through the samples pile. I’m pleased to bring you the latest installment of Vinography Unboxed, where I highlight some of the better bottles that have crossed my doorstep recently.
This week I’ve got a couple of benchmark Chardonnays for you. The first is from Big Table Farm in Oregon, whose wines continue to shine as examples of purity and distinctiveness, both of which are words I’d use to describe their Yamhill-Carlton District Chardonnay. It’s positively electrifying.
I’ve also got the entry-level Chardonnay from Flowers Winery in the Western Sonoma Coast region. This wine also has a wonderful cut and zip, plus a hint of California richness.
Few people think of Piedmont, Italy as a white wine region, but there are a few traditional white wines grown in the area, one of which is Cortese, a brisk, mineral white that when farmed appropriately can make bracingly refreshing wines. The main growing area centers around the small town of Gavi, which leads some wines, to be labeled as Gavi di Gavi, while others outside of the town of Gavi are labeled simply Gavi. This week I received a few wines from Enrico Serafino, among which was his “Grifo del Quartaro” Gavi, which was a good example of this brisk style.
I also received a couple more wines from Serafino, including his Langhe Nebbiolo, which has a remarkably dark, earthy savoriness that might have led me to guess this wine was not 100% Nebbiolo, so dark and earthy as it presented. Serafino’s Barolo, on the other hand, was textbook berries and floral notes, with fantastic acidity and the smooth tight tannins that suggest this one will age for a long time. At $40, it’s a steal from a region where prices for such wines continue to climb above $70 or even $80 a bottle.
Back closer to home, Williams-Selyem sent me two of their top Pinot Noir bottlings, which are both quite expensive, but quite different in character. The Lewis MacGregor Pinot shows remarkably blue and black fruit flavors (and more than a little oak) while the Rochioli Riverblock is predictably cherry and cranberry and herbs. For those chasing the upper echelons of collectible California Pinot Noir, both may suit.
Finally, let’s get deep purple with some Zinfandel, and who better to do that with than Limerick Lane, the Zin-focused estate just outside of Healdsburg in Sonoma’s Russian River Valley. I was particularly impressed with the acidity of all three of these wines I’m featuring this week, each was mouthwatering, carrying their ripe fruit easily across the palate and begging for another sip. The standard Russian River Valley Zinfandel was zippy with classic blackberry notes, while the Rocky Knoll bottling brought in cherry notes from a decent portion of Syrah in the mix. My favorite of the three was the 1910 Block, whose old vines, as they often do, managed to offer a remarkable elegance and balance, masking all traces of its alcohol level, and showing what makes Zinfandel so lovable.
Notes on all these below.
2018 Big Table Farm Chardonnay, Yamhill-Carlton District, Willamette Valley, Oregon Light greenish gold in the glass, this wine smells of grapefruit pith and lemon curd. In the mouth, bright and juicy meyer lemon curd mixes with white flowers and a touch of melted butter. Electric acidity makes the wine quite zingy and a silky texture carries hints of tangerine zest and toasted hazelnuts in the finish. Excellent. 13.8% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $48. click to buy.
2018 Flowers Chardonnay, Sonoma Coast, Sonoma, California Pale gold in color, this wine smells of lemon curd and white flowers. In the mouth, the wine offers floral brightness with lemon curd and candied grapefruit flavors. Very good acidity, and a nice hint of pineapple richness in the finish. 13.5% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $38. click to buy.
2019 Enrico Serafino “Grifo del Quartaro” Gavi, Piedmont, Italy Palest gold in the glass, this wine smells of oyster shells, white flowers and citrus pith. In the mouth, crisp apple and white flowers have a nice wet chalkboard minerality beneath them. Hints of apple skin and citrus pith linger in the finish. Excellent acidity. 12.5% alcohol. Score: around 8.5 . Cost: $16. click to buy.
2018 Williams Selyem “Lewis MacGregor Estate Vineyard” Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley, Sonoma, California Medium to dark garnet in color, this wine smells of blueberry and black cherry. In the mouth, black raspberry and cranberry flavors have a cedary, oak inflection and a sweetness from the oak that lingers in the finish. Surprisingly dark fruits here, and a bit more wood than I would like. 13.9% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $130. click to buy.
2018 Williams Selyem “Rochioli Riverblock” Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley, Sonoma, California Medium to dark garnet in color, this wine smells of cherry and cranberry fruit shot through with peeled wilow bark and herbs. In the mouth, juicy cherry and cedar and dried herb flavors are electrified with excellent acidity and linger with a hint of brown sugar or butter toffee in the finish. Rich, but not too rich. 14.2% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $130. click to buy.
2018 Enrico Serafino “Picotener” Nebbiolo, Langhe, Piedmont, Italy Medium garnet in color, this wine smells of potting soil, oiled leather and a touch of burnt meat and dried flowers. In the mouth, strawberry and meaty, earthy flavors have a distinctly savory dusty quality that is quite interesting. Faint tannins. 14.5% alcohol. Score: around 8.5 . Cost: $25. click to buy.
2015 Enrico Serafino “Monclivio” Barolo, Barolo, Piedmont, Italy Light to medium ruby in the glass, this wine smells of strawberry, dried flowers and rust. In the mouth, beautifully bright strawberry and orange peel flavors mix with dusty road, dried flowers, and crushed herbs. Faintly muscular tannins linger in the finish. 14% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $40. click to buy.
2019 Limerick Lane Zinfandel, Russian River Valley, Sonoma, California Medium to dark purple in the glass, this wine smells of blueberry and blackberry. In the mouth, juicy fresh blackberry and boysenberry flavors have a hint of black pepper and licorice to them. Excellent acidity keeps the wine quite brisk and the mouth watering through a finish that shows just the faintest warmth of alcoholic heat. Quite tasty. 14.8% alcohol. 1500 cases made. Score: around 9. Cost: $40. click to buy.
2018 Limerick Lane “1910 Block” Zinfandel, Russian River Valley, Sonoma, California Dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of boysenberry fruit and fennel seeds. In the mouth, boysenberry fruit flavors are quite juicy and shot through with hints of candied fennel seeds and a dusty earthy note that is quite compelling. Excellent acidity keeps the wine quite fresh, and I’d be hard-pressed to guess its 15.1% alcohol. Contains 2% Petite Sirah. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $62. click to buy.
2018 Limerick Lane “Rocky Knoll” Zinfandel, Russian River Valley, Sonoma, California Medium to dark garnet in color, this wine smells of blackberry and black cherry fruit. In the mouth, juicy black cherry and blackberry flavors are brisk with bright acidity and shot through with hints of licorice, blueberry, dried flowers and powdery tannins that buff the edges of the palate. Contains 12% Syrah and 3% Petite Sirah. 14.8% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $62. click to buy.
Autumn Progress SANTA YNEZ, CA: The vineyards are turning color as autumn progresses, near Santa Ynez, California. After harvest, grapevines enter a period of dormancy in preparation for winter. Their physiological systems slow and shut down, entering a period not unlike hibernation.
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Yes, wine scores still matter, says Matt Kettmann in Wine Enthusiast. “Should it be the only metric? Hopefully not. Should people learn about critics to know where they stand on certain styles? Hopefully so. Do critics who taste from specific regions year after year while regularly visiting vineyards and meeting with winemakers have valuable insight into a given wine? Of course.”
Erica Duecy explores the evolution of Central Otago’s Pinot Noirs in VinePair. “Over the past several years, the evolution of these wines has captivated me. I’ve tasted through hundreds of New Zealand’s Pinot Noirs while judging wine competitions and writing articles, and these wines — especially those from Central Otago — have changed remarkably in a relatively short time span. Today, they are fresh and elegant, complex and structured, with a textural component that speaks to a specific sense of place.”
In the San Francisco Chronicle, Esther Mobley reports that Napa winemakers are demanding looser restrictions after wildfires, pandemic scorch local tourism.
Three decades after the end of communism, Moldova’s wine industry is still finding its feet. Caroline Gilby MW reports on the country’s progress in Meininger’s.
I will admit it. I’m one of those people who really enjoy reading through restaurant wine lists. I suppose that’s a good thing, considering that I read more than 1000 of them each year in my capacity as a judge for the World of Fine Wine’s annual Restaurant Wine List Awards.
As someone who has worked in the design industry for decades, I have become, if only through a combination of outspokenness and masochism, the lead judge when it comes to the Wine List Design category of these awards. In this capacity, I review literally every single wine list submitted to the awards as part of the creation of the shortlists for the design category that are provided to all the judges.
It will take place on November 2, at 9:00 AM Pacific Time, and is completely free. If you’re a sommelier, wine director, restaurant manager or owner, and are interested in how to avoid some of the key mistakes I see repeated again and again when it comes to the design of restaurant wine lists, I can guarantee this will be a good use of your time.
Don’t end up with wine lists that look like those above. It’s not that hard to keep your wine list from looking ugly, but it takes a bit more effort and knowledge of some key principles to make it truly excellent.
If you do happen to take the class, I’d love to know what you think. Also, I will also be fielding live questions from the audience during a portion of the 2020 awards ceremony, which will take place on November 30th, 2020 at 5:00 PM GMT.
Not because of the wine, which as you’ll read in a minute or two is well worth talking about, but because it’s just the kind of big-wine-companies-joint venture (between Argentina’s Catena and France’s Lafite Rothschild) that is almost too clever for its own good. Almost.
The idea in marketing terms? Joining the two signature grapes of its partner companies: Malbec, and Cabernet Sauvignon, respectively. That’s the kind of cleverness that makes wine wonks like me start to roll their eyes far enough into the backs of our heads that we start to see what’s left of our own gray matter.
However, this is a marriage where quality trumps clever marketing, and in some cases actually results in quite a lot of bang for the buck. Apparently, no amount of marketing sheen can tarnish the consistent quality record of the two juggernauts that makeup CARO…
When I tasted these samples live with CARO’s Jura-born estate director Philippe Rolet via Zoom, he mentioned that “Malbec is a pretty easy grape in the winery,” adding the important caveat that this is true only if the Malbec is properly tended in the vineyard. Meaning “night” in the language of mendoza’s native Quechua, this particular example of the region sees only stainless steel in order “to capture the typicity” of CARO’s site: 3000 feet in elevation, allowing the grapes to develop thicker skins and, therefor, more phenolics. This little over-achieving red is mineral, and fantastically spicy (smoked meat, coffee, tobacco, graphite), with equal parts power, grip, and freshness buttressing its red and blue fruit palate. Consider the typicity aptly captured.
A Cabernet/Malbec blend named for a high-elevation flower that is traditionally used as an engagement offering in the region (awwwwwwwwwwwwwww), Rolet cited this particular cold/dry vintage as “one of my favorites.” While the mouthfeel isn’t abundantly complex, it is absolutely lovely, with sexy, ripe, brambly fruits, a nice mix of smoothness and freshness, and earthy hints on its finish. Aromatically, this is intriguing stuff: dried herbs, plums, cassis, currants, graphite… just very hard to resist.
The flagship red, from a selection of vines grown on calcareous soils, topped off with a clever name (think about it, you’ll get it), with the Cabernet and Malbec spending time in 50% new oak from Lafite’s own cooperage. There’s a lot to like immediately with this red: blackcurrant, graphite (again!), dark chocolate, violets, dried herbal spices, smoked meat, and sweet tobacco. In the mouth, it’s powerful, fresh, structured, and fruity; if that all sounds well-integrated and balanced, that’s because it is, actually, well-integrated an balanced. I guess there’s more to this than a clever name, after all…
It’s been a hell of a year, but Sonoma producers have reasons to be cheerful, says W. Blake Gray in Wine-Searcher. “…90 percent of the Sonoma County grapes that will be harvested had already been picked before the Glass Fire broke out on September 27.”
Cutting-edge scientific techniques could soon allow us to sample the same wines King Herod drank, but it’s not certain we’ll enjoy them. Food archaeologist Dr. Tziona Ben-Gedalya discusses recreating the flavors of the past.