Wine Reviews: Brengman Brothers’ Michigan Wines

Michigan wines have fascinated me for a while, so I’m excited to be back this week tasting a bunch of wines from Brengman Brothers.

This family-run winery, now entering its 17th vintage, is based near Traverse City, Michigan, in the Leelanau Peninsula American Viticultural Area (AVA). The peninsula, which juts into Grand Traverse Bay, is home to more than 20 wineries. Cool climate grapes like Riesling thrive here, and the Bordeaux style blends from this region can show brisk, bright, Old World appeal, with lots of spicy and floral components.

The appellation, which was formed in 1982, is characterized by its proximity to Lake Michigan, creating an inland maritime climate which helps moderate temperature extremes. Lake effect snow can actually help protect vines against potentially devastating spring frosts. The climate allows for ice wine production in some vintages. Vineyards are planted on hills of

Brengman Bros. sources their grapes from three vineyards. In their Timberlee Vineyard (30 acres) Crain Hill Vineyard (25 acres) and Cedar Lake Vineyard (5 acres) they grow a wide range of grape varieties, from Chardonnay and Chenin Blanc to Muscat Ottonel, Petit Verdot, even some Rotgipfler. (I had to revisit my textbooks for that last one.) The winery is 100% solar powered, and equipped to move barrels outside for cold stabilization in the Michigan winter.

While I thought a few of the wines really stood out, they were all interesting, and only one missed the mark (for me). I can struggle with hot, heavy wines (especially in summer), so I found these wines a delightful, refreshing experience. They’re certainly worth checking out if you’re in the area or buying direct.

These wines were received as trade samples and tasted sighted.

2019 Brengman Brothers Chenin Blanc Timberlee Vineyard ­- USA, Michigan, Leelanau Peninsula
SRP: $30
Medium lemon color. Nose shows mint and verbena over chalk, talc, saline, lemons and tart apricots. On the palate this is racy, rushing and lip-smacking with a tart, live-wire feel that works really well with this green apple, lemon and apricot fruit. Crusty sea salt, honeysuckle and minerals abound. Some may find this too lean/tart, but I think it’s exciting and quite delicious. Begs for oysters. (88 points IJB)

2018 Brengman Brothers Dagüdscht USA, Michigan, Leelanau Peninsula
SRP: 25
Very pale copper color. Boisterous aromas of lemon, lychee, peach nectar, with orange blossom, dandelions, ginger and floral perfume. Light-bodied, dry and brisk, with a slightly creamy texture and precise acidity and balance. Chunks of pineapple, green apple, apricot and white peach, drizzled with lemon, topped in mint, white pepper, smashed seashells and honey. Dry and brisk but deep and complex. This is a fascinating and delicious take on a Gemischter Satz blend, and really delicious. A blend of Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris, Muscat, Gewurztraminer, Riesling, Chenin Blanc and Rotgipfler from Timberlee and Crain Hill Vineyards. (90 points IJB)

2019 Brengman Brothers Block 65 Blend Crain Hill Vineyards USA, Michigan, Leelanau Peninsula
SRP: $25
Medium yellow color. So floral on the nose with white peaches, lemons, honey, orange blossom, nettle and lemon verbena. Crisp and bright on the palate, brisk but balanced with a light, steely, feel, yet shows solid complexity. Tart lemon, orange peel, apricots, with notes of white flowers, crushed limestone, white tea. Cool, crunchy, interesting stuff. Pinot Gris, Sauvignon Blanc and Gewurztraminer. (88 points IJB)

2018 Brengman Brothers Chardonnay Barrel Aged Crain Hill Vineyards USA, Michigan, Leelanau Peninsula
SRP: $45
Deep yellow color. Nose of ripe apples, lemon curd, orange peel, with a cool mix of yellow flowers, chalk, oyster brine tones, some candle wax. Medium-bodied, crisp and bright with slightly waxy texture but a light and juicy appeal. Green apples and crunchy apricot, a bit thin on the midpalate but it also shows notes of toasted almond, hay, honeycomb. Stays bright and shellfish-friendly throughout. Aged 12 months in French oak. (87 points IJB)

2019 Brengman Brothers Chardonnay Concrete Crain Hill Vineyards USA, Michigan, Leelanau Peninsula
SRP: $30
Light yellow color. Bursting aromas of apricot, white peach, guava, along with white flowers, white pepper, crushed shells and smashed sweet tart candies. Vibrant and nervy on the palate with a mineral and mountain stream aesthetic, along with lemon, white peach and guava. Racy but juicy with chalk dust, stony minerals. A Chardonnay for Sauv Blanc lovers, but this offers a lot of dynamic and flavorful elements. (88 points IJB)

2019 Brengman Brothers Pinot Noir Rosé Block 7 Crain Hill Vineyard USA, Michigan, Leelanau Peninsula
SRP: $25
Bright pink color. Zesty aromas of red apple peel, watermelon rind, spiced tea, mint and rhubarb. Fleshy texture with zesty acidity meets red apple peel, white cherry fruit, along with elements of mint, dandelion. Delightful, crisp and fun, this shows some fun, floral and spicy complexity. (87 points IJB)

2017 Brengman Brothers Right Bank Cedar Lake Vineyard USA, Michigan, Leelanau Peninsula
SRP: $60
Bright ruby color. What a spicy nose with green herbs, tobacco and white pepper on top of sour cherry, red apple and wild raspberry. On the palate, this shows bright acid, a crisp and crunchy frame with light tannins and a spicy appeal. Wild raspberry and red currant mixes with bell pepper, tobacco, mint and earth. Crunchy, vibrant style. Cabernet Franc with 20% Merlot, 3% Cabernet Sauvignon and 3% Petit Verdot. (87 points IJB)

2017 Brengman Brothers Left Bank – USA, Michigan, Leelanau Peninsula
SRP: $65
Medium purple color. Aromas of tart black cherries and red and black currants, along with spiced black tea, anise, wild herbs and beef broth tones. Medium-bodied with a tart and zippy appeal, with tart currants, wild raspberry, red plums. Elements of earth, beef broth, anise, cocoa, leather. Already complex and integrated, this seems like one to pop now, but also shows significant complexity and balance. Interesting Cab Sauv-based blend with Merlot, Cab Franc and Petit Verdot. (88 points IJB)

2016 Brengman Brothers Riesling Beerenauslese Crain Hill Vineyards USA, Michigan, Leelanau Peninsula
Wine Reviews: Brengman Brothers’ Michigan WinesSRP: $35
Light gold color. Impressive, complex aromas of baked apples and honey with lively, fresh tones of candied lemon, white flowers and chalk dust. On the palate, the richness and sweetness is woven in so well bright acidity. Fruit-wise, we have plump yellow apples meeting lime zest, with complex notes of chalk, minerals, nuanced graham cracker, honey glaze and toasted almond. This is vibrant, balanced and exciting American noble rot Riesling worth checking out! Gaining depth with age, I think this will continue to improve for years to come. (90 points IJB)

2016 Brengman Brothers Gewürztraminer Sélection de Grains Nobles Crain Hill Vineyards USA, Michigan, Leelanau Peninsula
SRP: $30
Deep gold color. Rich and honeyed on the nose with glazed pear, baked apple, candied nuts, cinnamon, graham cracker and shaved ginger. On the palate, this is sweet and plum but balanced with crisp acidity, round but precise. Baked yellow apples and orange marmalade mix with cinnamon crumb cake, honeycomb and glazed pecans, but there’s also this underlying seashell, mineral and spiced tea aesthetic. Nuanced and delightful, should continue to age well. (89 points IJB)

2017 Brengman Brothers Riesling Ice Wine USA, Michigan, Leelanau Peninsula
SRP: $80
Deep yellow color. Aromas of gorgeous honey, apricot marmalade, with lychee, graham cracker, lamp oil – a really cool mix. The texture is waxy and plump but the acidity is really vibrant, balanced well with unctuous sweetness. Sweet, honeyed, orange and apricot marmalade fruit – juicy, ripe and plush. But there’s also notes of chalk, mineral, clover and white tea, with some floral perfume and oyster shell tones. Finishes with lovely freshness and sweetness – the balance and depth are really something. I’d love to see how this ages over the next 10 years or so. (91 points IJB)

<85 points

2019 Brengman Brothers Sauvignon Blanc Timberlee Vineyard USA, Michigan, Leelanau Peninsula
SRP: $25
Pale lemon color. The nose shows lots of floral perfume, sudsy, soapy notes and lime. High acidity on the palate, light and brisk with green apple peel, lime, and lots of floral perfume. A bit austere and heavily perfumed.

Wine Reviews: International Grab Bag

Happy Saturday, folks. I’m back this week with a mix of wines from around the world, a lot of which are great options for summertime.

One of my favorite German producers, Peter Lauer, makes an appearance with a serious value of a Riesling. Domaine Wachau comes out swinging with a fun and inexpensive Gruner that is definitely worth checking out. And a smattering of different Rioja offers up a lot of quality and value that would be great with summer grill-outs.

These wines were received as trade samples and tasted sighted.

2019 Domäne Wachau Grüner Veltliner Federspiel Austria, Niederösterreich, Wachau
SRP: $15
Medium yellow color. Nose of crushed shells and sea salt on top of lime and green melon, topped in lemon verbena. Pretty, spicy and fresh on the palate, with limes, lemon and ruby red grapefruit. Focused acidity, racy and bright, but the texture shows plumpness and depth. Elements of chalky minerals, saline, with sliced celery and cool mint notes. Really delicious and showing tremendous value. (90 points IJB)

2018 Peter Lauer Ayler Riesling Faß 4 Germany, Mosel Saar Ruwer
SRP: $20
Light yellow color. Aromas of lively lime, apricot, white peach, with tennis balls, honey, stony minerals. Plump texture on the palate is met with racy, vibrant acidity, and a complex host of stony, chalky, mineral elements. Limes, peaches, sliced green apples, topped in honey, white tea, clover and candle wax notes. Such precision, the sweetness is balanced wonderfully, this feinherb has a lot of depth and punches way above its weight. (92 points IJB)

2019 White Cliff Sauvignon Blanc Winemaker’s Selection New Zealand, South Island, Marlborough
SRP: $16
Pale lemon color. A strong burst of lemon, grapefruit, green apple on the nose, with mint, and sliced cucumbers and jalapeno. Crisp and bright on the palate, with crunchy green apples and limes, topped in mint, white pepper, and oyster shell notes. Classic, bright, spicy Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc. (86 points)

2019 White Cliff Pinot Noir Winemaker’s Selection New Zealand, South Island, Marlborough
SRP: $20
Medium ruby color. Aromas of bright raspberries, red cherries and pomegranate, with menthol, spiced tea, mint and white pepper. Crisp and vibrant on the palate with dusty-light tannins and fresh acidity. Tangy cranberries and sour cherries mix with mulling spices, subtle earth, white pepper and rose petals. Brisk but juicy, crushable but a lot of complexity, especially for a wine at this price point. (88 points IJB)

N.V. Graham Porto 20-Year-Old Tawny Portugal, Douro, Porto
SRP: $65
Warm, inviting nose of roasted pecans, caramel, yellow raisins, apple cider, ginger, lemon peel, almond cake. Plush texture on the palate, medium acidity keeps it fresh on the palate against the richness and sweetness, but it’s balanced very well. Yellow raisins and glazed pear fruit mixes with delicious notes of candied nuts, honey, ginger snap, and there’s this underlying salty aspect that I love. Balanced, lovely Tawny. (92 points IJB)

2019 Bodegas Beronia Rioja Rosado Spain, La Rioja, Rioja
SRP: $13
Pale watermelon color. Bright and fresh on the nose with chalk, talc, celery seed and honeysuckle, over red apple peels and white cherries. Plush texture but zesty acidity on the palate, a creamy texture supports watermelon rind, red apple. Notes of lime zest, cucumber, celery seed, with some chalk and mineral tones. Lots of character and verve, great value. Tempranillo and Garnacha. (88 points IJB)

2016 Bodegas Palacio Rioja Glorioso Crianza ­- Spain, La Rioja, Rioja
SRP: $N/A
Bright purple color. Nose shows juicy raspberries and red plums, with smoky earth, sweet red flowers and mint. Velvety tannins, fresh acidity, a deeply fruity but lively wine with black cherry and ripe plum fruit. Notes of earth, dried rose petals, cocoa and vanilla. Smooth, fresh, fun, accessible but sporting some solid complexity for a Crianza. (87 points IJB)

2015 Bodegas Beronia Rioja Reserva Spain, La Rioja, Rioja
SRP: $20
Light purple color. Fresh nose of cherries and red currants, mixed with spicy herbs, tobacco, red pepper, paprika, with smoky earth. Super fresh and crisp on the palate with dusty tannins, very accessible feel with a tangy vibe. Notes of pine needle, chewing tobacco, rhubarb, light roast coffee and earth accent the tangy red cherry and spicy cranberry fruit. Fun now, but will drink well over the next few years. Good, bargain-priced stuff that would be great with grilled veg and roast chicken. (87 points IJB)

2012 Bodegas LAN Rioja Reserva Spain, La Rioja, La Rioja Alta, Rioja
SRP: $18
Medium purple color. Aromas of red and black cherries, currants and plums, with violets, charcoal, fallen leaves, tobacco and vanilla. Medium-bodied with silky tannins and medium acidity, vibrant and refined but structured, still. Red and black cherries, currants, mulled fruits mixed with tobacco, leather, leaves, cocoa and vanilla. Refined and pretty, this seems to be entering a good drinking phase, but no rush. (89 points IJB)

Wine Reviews: Argentina & Chile

I’m excited to be back this week with some offerings from Argentina and Chile.

Domaine Bousquet’s organic “Virgen” reds dole out plenty of freshness and complexity for a crazy low price. I also have some crisp and deep Malbecs from some of the highest elevation vineyards in the world, Bodega Colomé. And Los Vascos continues to put out reliable, value-driven Chilean wines.

These wines were received as trade samples and tasted sighted.

2019 Domaine Bousquet Malbec “Virgen” Argentina, Mendoza, Valle de Uco, Tupungato
SRP: $13
Deep purple color. Jammy and ripe on the nose (black cherries, dark plums) with roasted chestnut, coffee, violets and charred herbs. Silky tannins on the palate, fresh acidity, a medium-bodied frame, this wine spots black cherries, plums and blueberries, fun but fresh fruit. Notes of violets, cedar, coffee, with charcoal and anise. A lot of personality and “realness” for a wine with this low a price point. (87 points IJB)

2019 Domaine Bousquet Red Blend “Virgen” Argentina, Mendoza, Valle de Uco, Tupungato
SRP: $13
Medium purple color. Nose shows smoky, beefy, peppery spice with tart currants, red plums, menthol. Zippy acidity, light tannins, a tangy but slightly chewy feel with tart currants and plums. Lots off smoky earth, beef cubes, pepper. Fresh and fun, this is a grill and veggie-friendly wine that offers some solid value. 35% Malbec, 35% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Cabernet Franc. (86 points IJB)

2019 Domaine Bousquet Cabernet Sauvignon “Virgen” Argentina, Mendoza, Valle de Uco, Tupungato
SRP: $13
Light purple color. Aromas of plums, black cherries, with mesquite, cocoa, violets, tilled dark soil. Medium/full-bodied with fresh acidity and light tannins. Red and black plums and currants, tangy and bright fruit, mixed in with earth, clay, mesquite, violet petals, some cocoa and light roast coffee tones. Wow, there’s quite a lot going on here in terms of depth and freshness for the price. Accessible yet sports complexity, too. (88 points IJB)

2018 Bodega Amalaya Malbec Argentina, Salta, Calchaqui
SRP: $16
Bright purple color. Plummy nose with black cherries and prunes, mixed with coffee, anise, charcoal and dusty earth. On the palate, this is full-bodied with suave tannins, a velvety texture, and vibrant acidity. Blackberries, black currants and tangy plums mix well with elements of smoky earth, graphite, soy, bell pepper. Underlying mineral tones. Delightfully delicious but also showing serious complexity and vibrancy. Serious value alert! (90 points IJB)

2017 Bodega Colomé Malbec EstateArgentina, Salta, Calchaqui
SRP: $25
Deep purple color. Aromas of plum cake, rich black cherry, with dark chocolate, smoky earth, roasted chestnut, mesquite, vanilla bean. Vibrant acidity frames this wine perfectly, suave tannins with some moderate grip, balanced and clean mouthfeel. Black cherry and currant compote fruit blends well with anise, black tea, grilled herbs. Notes of vanilla and cedar wove in well. Complex, vibrant, delicious Malbec. (90 points IJB)

2018 Bodega Colomé Malbec Auténtico Argentina, Salta, Calchaqui
SRP: $30
Inky purple color. Dark and deep aromas of blackberry, roasted fig, with charcoal, loamy earth, graphite, iron, and violet petal notes. Full-bodied and built well with structured tannins, met with vibrant acidity. Blackberry, black currant and roasted fig fruit, deep but tangy fruit with complex notes of graphite, smashed rocks, charcoal, dark chocolate shavings, mint. Sporting a lot of complexity, balance and aging potential. (91 points IJB)

2019 Barons de Rothschild (Lafite) Sauvignon Blanc Los Vascos Chile, Casablanca Valley
SRP: $10
Light yellow color. Aromas of lemon verbena, sliced cucumbers and jalapeno, with lemon, grapefruit, dried white flowers. Zippy and bright on the palate with juicy white peaches and bright lemon and ruby red grapefruit. Notes of honey, clover, basil and lemongrass add complexity, and I get notes of sea salt and floral perfume. Pleasant, crisp, crowd-pleasing stuff that offers a lot of personality and value. All stainless steel. (87 points IJB)

2019 Barons de Rothschild (Lafite) Chardonnay Los Vascos Chile, Central Valley
SRP: $10
Light yellow color. Aromas of white peach, yellow apples, whipped honey, lots of white and yellow wildflowers. Plump but really fresh on the palate, medium-bodied, bright acidity, it has a light, salad-friendly feel. Lemon, white peach and green apple fruit mix with notes of honey, hay, almond. Fun, summery stuff. Stainless steel with some of the wine aged on its lees. (86 points IJB)

2019 Barons de Rothschild (Lafite) Rosé Los Vascos Chile, Rapel Valley, Colchagua Valley
SRP: $10
Bright pink color. Nose pops with spicy verbena, mint, with lemon, green apple, rose tea – spicy! Zippy, crisp, crunchy with lemon and tart apple, and notes of mint, white pepper and sea salt add some complexity. This is fun, fresh, salad-friendly stuff. A blend of 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Syrah, 10% Mourvedre. (86 points IJB)

2016 Barons de Rothschild (Lafite) Le Dix de Los Vascos Chile, Rapel Valley, Colchagua Valley
SRP: $55
Light purple color. On the nose, I get waves of deep but vibrant fruit (black cherries, blackberry, plums) with tobacco leaf, charcoal, loamy earth, coffee grounds, accented with vanilla and cocoa powder. Plush and full texture with structured but velvety tannins and crisp acidity – it is all balanced really well. Smooth black currants with deep cherry and fresh wild blackberry. Complex notes of earth, roasted chestnut, pencil shavings with vanilla and coffee. Gorgeous depth and freshness, this is drinking well now, but 2-5 years in the cellar would help this integrate and allow more complex secondary elements to come out. Really impressive stuff. Cabernet Sauvignon with 10% Carmenere and 5% Syrah, aged 18 months in 50% new French oak. (92 points IJB)

Wine Reviews: Italy

I’ve been at home for 17 weeks now, and the travel lust is in full swing. Unfortunately, here in the U.S. we are still in the middle of the first pandemic wave, and things look worse and worse these days. So, this week, to satiate my desire for travel and cheery myself up, I’m visiting a range of Italian wines.

The estate wines of Alois Lageder, in Italy’s Dolomiti region, are organic and biodynamic and really exciting. But I was pleasantly surprised to taste the quality and vibrancy in their Terra Alpina wines, which are sourced from different growers in the region. For the price, these wines offer this sense of regional typicity, depth, and “realness.”

I also tasted an impressive Super Tuscan at an entry-level price from Tenuta di Arceno, and some crushable Veneto wines from Pasqua. Lastly, Zenato’s Amarone makes me long for autumnal weather and slow-cooked meats.

These wines were received as trade samples and tasted sighted.

2019 Alois Lageder Pinot Grigio Terra Alpina Italy, Trentino-Alto Adige, Vigneti delle Dolomiti IGT
SRP: $16
Pale lemon color. The nose gushes with kiwi, lime and green melon, mixed with spicy herbs, verbena, talc notes. Plush, medium-bodied, a pretty texture with racy acidity. Ripe melon meets zippy kiwi and lime fruit, which is doused in minerals, chalk, limestone notes. Floral, herbal elements add complexity. This is racy, bright, complex stuff, and a serious value. (90 points IJB)

2019 Alois Lageder Pinot Bianco Terra Alpina Italy, Trentino-Alto Adige, Vigneti delle Dolomiti IGT
SRP: $15
Light straw color. Aromas of lemon and kiwi, spiced tea, ginger, sea salt and mint. On the palate, this has a bright, chalky, dusty feel with lots of energy and juicy, tangy fruit (white peach, kiwi, lime). Notes of spiced tea and ginger meet chalk, mineral and quinine notes. Brisk but shows depth and value. (89 points)

2016 Tenuta di Arceno Il Fauno Di Arcanum Italy, Tuscany, Toscana IGT
SRP: $35
Medium purple color. Aromas of juicy plums, dark currants, with smoky earth, tobacco, mint chocolate chip and spiced black tea. Full-bodied, structured but velvety, fresh acidity, this is balanced very nicely. Tangy red and black currants and cherries mixed with complex notes of spiced coffee, earth, tar, pepper and coffee grounds. This is a bright but complex Super Tuscan that offers a lot of what I look for in these wines at a very reasonable price. Could use air or a year or two. Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot aged 12 months in French oak. (90 points IJB)

2018 Pasqua Romeo & Juliet Passione e Sentimento Bianco Italy, Veneto, Veneto IGT
SRP: $16
Light yellow color. Brisk notes of honeysuckle and lilies, celery seed and mint, over lemon and kiwi fruit. Zippy and crisp on the palate with fresh acidity, and flavors of lemons, green apples and white peach. There’s a flinty, salty undertone that makes this seafood and salad-friendly. Brisk yet some moderate creamy depth with floral perfume to round out the finish. Would be a great BTG pour at a seafood spot. All Garganega. (87 points IJB)

2017 Pasqua Romeo & Juliet Passione e Sentimento Rosso Italy, Veneto, Veneto IGT
SRP: $16
Bright purple color. Aromas of plums, sweet currant jam, with spicy tobacco, cloves, coffee and violets. Smooth and chewy texture on the palate with medium/low acidity, and a velvety feel with plums, raspberry and currant jams. Notes of smoky, resiny, herbal tones with clove. Accessible and fun but has some complexity, too. Merlot, Corvina and Croatina. (87 points IJB)

2015 Zenato Amarone della Valpolicella Classico Italy, Veneto, Valpolicella, Amarone della Valpolicella Classico
SRP: $60
Deep ruby color. Aromas of juicy raspberry, sweet cherries, raisins, sweet roses, vanilla, cocoa and earth. Full-bodied, big and burly at 16.5%, with chewy tannins and medium acidity, a rich and suave feel. Pretty cherries, plum sauce, raisins, kirsch, mixed with elements of cocoa, violets, clove, coffee. Underlying charcoal, mineral and earth vibes. Rich and juicy but shows freshness and complexity. Accessible now but bury for five or eight years and this should show some interesting development. (90 points IJB)

Wine Reviews: Monticello

Considering today is Independence Day in the United States, I thought it fitting to highlight some recent samples from the Commonwealth of Virginia.

I’ve been a big fan and follower of Virginia wine since I moved to Washington, DC, about 12 years ago. I’ve had the privilege to taste many wines from all over the Commonwealth, but this week I’m highlighting wines from the Monticello AVA. Carrying on Thomas Jefferson’s wine vision for this region, some 33 wineries call this area home. The region is centered around Charlottesville, stretching toward the gorgeous Blue Ridge Mountains. If you’re ever travelling in the Mid-Atlantic (one can dream of post-pandemic wines, can’t one?) and looking for a wine trail adventure, this is a great place to start.

Stinson Vineyards makes two super-reliable pink wines from Tannat and Mourvedre. I’ve been tasting these wines for years now, and Rachel Stinson’s 2019s are true to form – some of my favorite rosés from the Commonwealth. The three red blends stem from a webinar I attended on the French influence in Virginia wine, curated by a great Virginia wine writer and ambassador, Frank Morgan. Matthieu Finot of King Family, Damien Blanchon of Afton Mountain, and Benoit Pineau of Pollak are all Frenchmen doing exciting things in Virginia, and the state’s wine industry is lucky to have them.

These wines were all received as trade samples and tasted sighted.

2019 Stinson Vineyards Tannat Rosé USA, Virginia, Central Virginia, Monticello
SRP: $21
Light pink color. Aromas of peach, cantaloupe rind, white cherries, with chalk, sliced cucumber, white flowers and rose petals. Zippy and salty on the palate with punchy, tangy lemons, apricot, white peaches, Complex, pretty notes of mint, English cucumbers, chalk dust, lemon pith. Tangy, fresh finish with notes of talc, slate and minerals. Another great vintage of a perennially solid pink. (90 points IJB)

2019 Stinson Vineyards Mourvèdre Rosé USA, Virginia, Central Virginia, Monticello
SRP: $21
Medium strawberry color. Bouncy, boastful aromas of white peach, orange peel, with white and yellow flowers, white pepper, mint, sea salt – so inviting. Plump texture, delightful presence on the palate, with zippy acidity. Crisp but juicy fruit (yellow plums, white cherries, strawberries) with notes of mint, white pepper, sliced yellow bell pepper, white tea. There’s this rocky, mineral presence underneath. A phenomenal rosé at a crazy price. (91 points IJB)

2017 Afton Mountain Vineyards Tradition USA, Virginia, Central Virginia, Monticello
SRP: $50
Medium purple color. The nose shows tart blueberries, black currants, with graphite, smoky earth, eucalyptus and mint chocolate chips. Crisp on the palate with pleasantly bright acidity, moderate tannins, this is a vibrant, fresh style with tart currants and wild blueberries. Notes of graphite, cocoa, mesquite, roasted chestnut. A vibrant and exciting blend of 41% Merlot, 37% Petit Verdot, 22% Cabernet Sauvignon, aged two years in 25% new French oak. (90 points IJB)

2017 Pollak Vineyards Meritage ­ USA, Virginia, Central Virginia, Monticello
SRP: $40
Light purple color. Aromas show tart red and black currants, mixed with leather, cedar, menthol, and inviting notes of incense sticks and pepper. Full-bodied, medium acidity, smooth tannins, integrated nicely. Spicy red plum and cherry fruit, a zippy feel with notes of eucalyptus, mint, leather, roasted red pepper, roasted chestnut. Great to go now, but will hold well for a few years, too. 60% Cabernet Franc, 24% Merlot, 16% Petit Verdot. (87 points IJB)

2017 King Family Vineyards Mountain Plains USA, Virginia, Central Virginia, Monticello
SRP: $70
Medium purple color. Beautiful aromas of tangy cherries, plums, red and black currants, laced with complex notes of roasted herbs, clove, leather, vanilla and cocoa. Fresh and focused on the palate, this is well-built and solid with nice grip, but no harshness – the balance is lovely. Tangy currants, crunch plums, juicy wild cherries – generous fruit yet really fresh. Mixed with tobacco leaf, tilled soil, pine needles, clove, with integrated cocoa and cedar. Wow, this is expert Virginia Meritage that deserves a solid sleep in the cellar or a decant and a grilled steak. 43% Merlot, 37% Cabernet Franc, 20% Petit Verdot, aged in new French oak. (91 points IJB)

2017 Stinson Vineyards Tannat USA, Virginia, Central Virginia, Monticello
SRP: $36
Deep purple color. Aromas show deep currants and black cherries, with violets, tar, potting soil and graphite notes. Full-bodied with solid grip and moderate acidity – this is balanced really well. Tart black currants, roasted figs, plum, the fruit is juicy and tangy and laced with underlying graphite, tar, mineral, pine and cedar. The deep core of fruit blends so well with these earth, floral, spicy undertones. I’d love to see this in five years. All Tannat aged 27 months in 50% new French oak. (90 points IJB)

Wine Reviews: Merry Edwards

Merry Edwards is an icon in California winemaking. She has a long history of blazing trails and making exceptional wine, from her days in the mid-70s working at Mount Eden, to becoming founding winemaker at Matanzas Creek in 1977, to creating her own consulting business and eventually her own eponymous wine brand in the 90s. Her well-deserved accolades are too many to list.

I’ve visited the Sonoma County winery several over the years, always tying it in with a visit to Joseph Swan, whose founder mentored Merry in the early days. Merry’s well-known Sauvignon Blanc has always excited me, but the single-vineyard Pinots and Chardonnay are what have kept me coming back to these wines year after year.

There have been some recent changes at Merry Edwards Winery. In 2018, Merry announced Heidi von der Mehden (who joined in 2015 as associate winemaker) would succeed her as winemaker, the first time anyone else held that position. Last year, the French firm Maison Louis Roederer purchased the winery. Despite these changes, I’m hoping the wines in the glass stay the same – delicious, exciting, memorable interpretations of their place. After tasting a few of their new releases, that sure seems to be the case.

These wines were received as trade samples and tasted sighted.

2017 Merry Edwards Chardonnay Olivet Lane USA, California, Sonoma County, Russian River Valley
SRP: $72
Rich yellow color. Aromas of juicy yellow apple, apricot, lemon bars, with rich notes of hazelnut meeting chalky, oyster shell notes. On the palate, this is lush and creamy but sports vibrant acidity and a zippy, stony, chalky presence. Apricot, green apple, key lime pie, complex, harmonious fruit mixing with notes of almond, caramel, honey and sea salt. Pure, vibrant, delicious, I’d love to see this in three to five years. (92 points IJB)

2018 Merry Edwards Pinot Noir USA, California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Coast
SRP: $48
Ripe dark cherry color. Really aromatic, with black cherry preserves, raspberry jam, with rose petals, clove, cola, warm clay. Medium+ bodied, fresh acidity, silky tannins, it has a ripe but crisp feel throughout. Black cherries and raspberries mix with cranberry jam, spiced tea, clove and earth. This is a fresh, complex, delicious Pinot that covers a lot of different bases. (91 points)

2018 Merry Edwards Pinot NoirUSA, California, Sonoma County, Russian River Valley
SRP: $55
Deep ruby color. Smells of juicy cherries, red plums, red licorice, cola, with earth and violets. Chewy feel on a medium/full-bodied palate with zippy acidity, which balances the mouthfeel nicely. Saucy plums, raspberries, strawberry jam, along with notes of cola, violets, coffee, potpourri. Delicious but vibrant, too. Classic Russian River goodness. (91 points IJB)

2018 Merry Edwards Pinot Noir Klopp Ranch USA, California, Sonoma County, Russian River Valley
SRP: $66
Light purple color. The nose boasts black cherries, raspberries, with cola, sweet violets, tilled soil, rhubarb and mint leaves. Full and suave on the palate with velvety tannins and medium acidity, this sports pretty balance and juicy black cherries, plums and blood orange. Complex notes of chestnut, clove, clay, earth, with cola and vanilla tones. Deep, rich, yet vibrant, this will do well with a few years of age. (92 points IJB)

2018 Merry Edwards Pinot Noir Olivet Lane Vineyard USA, California, Sonoma County, Russian River Valley
SRP: $72
Medium ruby color. Vibrant, deep aromas with raspberry, bright cherry, fresh strawberries, with complex elements of clove, rose petals, pine forest. On the palate, this is crisp and elegant on a medium/full-bodied frame with velvety but structured tannins – the balance is pristine. Delicious cherries, pomegranate, plum, raspberry fruit, tangy but deep. Complex elements of pine sap, crunchy leaves, tobacco, bay leaf, rose petals, just all sorts of things going on. Pure, delicious, give this air or five years of age and listen to it sing. (93 points IJB)

Wine Reviews: California New Releases

I’m back this week with a roundup of some recent wine samples from all over California.

This week, I take a look at some wines from Carneros’ Ram’s Gate Winery, which bring some nationally-distributed Chardonnay and Pinot Noir worthy of checking out.

Napa’s Castello di Amorosa offers up some solid wines, but their Gewurztraminer (surprisingly) really stands out.

Cliff Lede provides two splurge-worthy Napa Cabernets that show depth, elegance, and aging potential.

And a couple other wines are sprinkled in for good measure. These wines were received as trade samples and tasted sighted.

Sparkling, White & Rosé

N.V. J Vineyards & Winery Cuvée 20 USA, California, Sonoma County, Russian River Valley
SRP: $38
Gold color with nose of white flowers, green apples and pears, orange peel, with some pie crust and chalk dust elements. Crisp and zippy on the palate with a chalky, bright feel, and subtle biscuits, pie crust. Lemon, green apple and melon, with sea salt and sugar cane tones. Juiciness and sugar are woven in well with the brighter elements. Solid value, consistent sparkler. 51% Chardonnay, 41% Pinot Noir, 8% Pinot Meunier. (88 points IJB)

2018 The Paring Sauvignon Blanc USA, California, Central Coast, Santa Ynez Valley
SRP: $25
Light yellow color. A punchy burst of limes and peaches on the nose, with cucumber slices, mint and sliced jalapeno. Zippy and crisp on the palate, with white peach, lemons, limes, a crisp and crunchy feel. Stony, bright but shows depth and complexity. (88 points IJB)

2019 Balverne Sauvignon Blanc Forever Wild USA, California, Sonoma County, Russian River Valley
SRP: $27
Pale lemon color. Vibrant aromas of lime, green apple, with mint, white pepper, cucumber slices and honey. Creamy texture on the palate with medium acidity, bright lemons, white peach and nectarine fruit. Notes of mint, baby’s breath, verbena add complexity, along with honeyed waxy tones. Fun, fresh, but also complex, vibrant. (89 points IJB)

2019 Castello di Amorosa Gewürztraminer USA, California, North Coast, Anderson Valley
SRP: $29
Light yellow color. Bold and ripe aromas of lychee, white peach and guava, topped in honey and white flowers. Full-bodied, creamy with chunks of fruit (papaya, white peach, lychee, kiwi), but balanced and vibrant as well. Notes of salted almond, candied orange peel, clove and spiced tea. This is a ripe but fresh Gewurztraminer that has a friendly, lively appeal to balance the tropical density. Well done. (91 points IJB)

2018 Castello di Amorosa Chardonnay Bien Nacido Vineyard USA, California, Central Coast, Santa Maria Valley
SRP: $39
Medium yellow color. Nose shows apricot and orange peel with ginger snaps, graham cracker, sea salt. Full-bodied on the palate with a rich texture, medium acidity keeps it delightful. Apricot, orange peel, lemon crème, with notes of shaved ginger, toasted bread, honeycomb. This Chardonnay sets a lot of diverse, intriguing lines, offering a lot to consider, especially for the price. (91 points IJB)

2017 Ram’s Gate Chardonnay USA, California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Coast
SRP: $42
Medium yellow color. Rich yet bright on the nose, with lemon curd, orange peel, with hazelnut, almond, ginger and graham cracker. Plump feel on the palate but fresh acidity, this sports creamy yellow apples, apricot, peach and lemon bars. Notes of hay, sea salt, dried yellow flowers, and elements of mineral, talc, topped in graham cracker and honeyed tea. Generous and plush but also stony, focused and bright. (91 points IJB)

2019 Balverne Pinot Noir Rosé Forever Wild USA, California, Sonoma County, Russian River Valley
SRP: $24
Medium copper color. Bright aromas of lemon, tangerine, apricot, with daisies, mint, talc. Crisp and floral with focused acidity and bountiful peaches, lemon, apricot and orange pith. Notes of watermelon rind, mint, salted almond. A dry, brisk, vibrant style with a lot of depth to complement the gluggable nature. (88 points IJB)

 Red wines

2018 Castello di Amorosa Pinot Noir Il Rubino USA, California, North Coast
SRP: $39
Medium ruby color. Aromas of raspberry and juicy strawberries, with mint, menthol, eucalyptus and pepper. Plummy, velvety texture with bright acidity, this really sings. Raspberry, cherries, with clove, black tea, clove, mint and white pepper. Complex, earthy, dried rose petals, with clay and dried leaves. Really pretty, expressive, a whole lot of fun and complexity herein. (90 points IJB)

2017 Castello di Amorosa Pinot Noir Los Carneros USA, California, Napa/Sonoma, Carneros
SRP: $39
Vibrant ruby color. Aromas of crushed cherries, raspberries and red plums, along with incense, menthol, mint, dried rose petals. On the palate, this shows velvety texture, moderate acidity, with fleshy, juicy fruit (cranberry sauce, plums, raspberry jam). Notes of clove, dark chocolate, roses and violets. There’s an underlying earthiness that is really attractive, too, and it stays lively. Aged 11 months in 45% new French oak. (88 points IJB)

2017 Ram’s Gate Pinot Noir USA, California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Coast
SRP: $46
Medium ruby color. On the nose, I get raspberries, strawberries and red cherries, vibrant and spicy, with leather, rose petals and paprika notes. Medium/full-bodied with velvety tannins, crisp acidity, this is fresh, ripe and balanced with strawberries, raspberries and red delicious apples – gorgeous fruit. Complex notes of herbal tea, warm clay, dry rub, pepper and earth. Long, vibrant, spicy finish. This is uniquely delicious. (91 points IJB)

2017 The Paring Syrah USA, California, Central Coast, Santa Ynez Valley
SRP: $25
Deep purple color. The nose sports dark plums and juicy blackberries, topped in clove, charcoal, spicy steak rub. Full but fresh on the palate, this has smooth tannins and medium acidity. A deep core of blackberry, blueberry, sweet, deep fruit but it has this tangy edge throughout. Notes of roasted chestnut, pepper, scorched earth, leather. There’s a lovely depth and level of complexity in here given the price point. A lot to love about grilled meats and veg and this wine. (90 points IJB)

2018 River Road Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve USA, California, Sonoma County, Alexander Valley
SRP: $25
Medium purple color. Nose of black currants, raspberry jam, cranberry relish, with menthol, earth and clove. Fresh acidity frames the wine well, dusty tannins, a medium-bodied with with juicy red fruit (raspberry, tangy currants). Notes of spicy tobacco, menthol, tilled soil and clay round out this wine. Fun, fresh stuff for the price. Aged nine months in French and American oak. (86 points IJB)

2017 Experience Wines Cabernet Sauvignon USA, California, Napa Valley
SRP: $30
Deep purple color. Aromas of saucy plums, currants, maraschino cherries, with mint and violet petals. Velvety texture on the palate, but zesty acidity frames it well, medium/full-bodied with soft tannins. Ripe dark fruit (currants and plums) play off mocha, coconut tones. Ripe but fresh, an accessible style but has a level of authenticity to it. Aged 17 months in 24% new French oak. (89 points IJB)

2016 Gamble Family Vineyards Paramount USA, California, Napa Valley
SRP: $90
Medium purple color. Enticing nose of plums, wild blueberries, prunes, currant jam, with leather, clove, wet soil, cedar and coffee grounds. Big but fresh on the palate, structured but the tannins have smooth edges, medium acidity balances things well. Pure, smooth, rich, tangy fruit (blueberries, plums, currants), laced with complexities of earth, smashed rocks, coffee grounds, tar and anise. Pristine and pretty despite its heft, this is beautiful but young and could use five to eight years in the cellar. 31% Cabernet Sauvignon, 31% Cabernet Franc, 30% Merlot, 8% Petit Verdot, aged 20 months in oak. (92 points IJB)

Wine Reviews: California New Releases2017 Cliff Lede Cabernet Sauvignon Rock Block “Dancing Heart” ­ USA, California, Napa Valley, Stags Leap District
SRP: $110
Deep purple color. A host of deep, rich aromas: currants, blueberries, with vibrant floral tones, tilled soil, cedar and coconut shavings. Full and suave on the palate, the mouthfeel is beautiful, velvety tannins balanced well off fresh acidity. Tangy blueberries, deep currants, dark plums, the fruit is ripe but fresh and mixed with complex elements of graphite, iron, cocoa powder, sweet pipe tobacco. Voluptuous but vibrant, this is really yummy, complex stuff and holds its weight and oak really well. Aged 21 months in 85% new French oak. Give it a few years or a solid decant and a steak. (93 points IJB)

2017 Cliff Lede Cabernet Sauvignon Stags Leap District USA, California, Napa Valley, Stags Leap District
SRP: $78
Dark purple color. On the nose, I get dark currant, black cherries, with smoky earth, tar, charcoal, graphite, with notes of vanilla. On the palate, this is full-bodied, velvety but structured, fresh acidity provides a mouthwatering aspect throughout. Juicy black currants and blueberries with complex notes of graphite, mocha, anise, sweet coffee, black tea. Some earthy, savory undertones will come out more with age (3-5 would do nicely), but this is beautiful stuff. Aged 21 months in 65% new French oak. (91 points IJB)

Wine Reviews: Inama

I’ve been fascinated by the wines of Azienda Agricola Inama for quite a few years. Located in Soave Classico, winemaker Stefano Inama crafts classic Veneto wines with a lot of personality and depth, while also doing things a bit differently.

I have enjoyed this Veneto producer’s Soaves, sourced from sites Stefano’s father Giuseppe purchased in the 1960s near Mount Foscarino. But it was their Carmenère that really got me excited. Wine geeks surely know how this grape has found a new home in Chile after its history of being confused with Merlot in Bordeaux. It was brought to Italy from Southwest France some 150 years ago, where it was then commonly confused with Cabernet Franc. Regardless, in the warm, hilly area of the Colli Berici, the Carmenère grape has a found a home in which to thrive. When I met and tasted with Stefano in 2016, he told me, “Carmenere requires such an addiction.” And that intense focus on this grape is evident in the glass.

I recently tasted through some newly released wines from Inama, and I continue to find these wines to be great examples their region, while offering a sense of dynamism and excitement that makes them stand out.

These wines were received as trade samples and tasted sighted.

2019 Inama Soave Classico Vin Soave Italy, Veneto, Soave Classico
SRP: $16
Medium yellow color. Nose shows peaches, cantaloupe melon, lime, with white flowers and sea salt; Crisp and bright on the palate but shows creamy depth and lovely balance. Lemon, peach, juicy pear, the fruit mixes well with notes of slices cucumber, mint, orange zest, steely, chalk dusty tones. Brisk but nice richness and depth, for an entry-level wine at this price, serious richness and complexity in here. (88 points)

2017 Inama Soave Classico Vigneti di Carbonare Italy, Veneto, Soave Classico
SRP: $28
Light gold color. Enticing nose of lemon, quince, white flowers, hay, along with fascinating tones of talc, saline and green olive. Rich texture, medium-bodied, bright acidity, the balance is lovely. Lemons, green apple, kiwi, the fruit is mixed with oyster shell, minerals, green olive, hay. There’s a purity and focus in this wine that is really attractive. Serious Soave that Muscadet or Chablis nerds should try. From the basalt soils of the Carbonare vineyard. (92 points IJB)

2016 Inama Carménère Più Italy, Veneto, Veneto IGT
Wine Reviews: InamaSRP: $21
Light purple color. Spicy nose of pepper, anise, paprika and mesquite over top of rec cherries and black and red currants. Medium-bodied on the palate, fresh acidity, nice grip on the palate, but no harsh edges. A silky but tangy feel with tart red and black currants and cherries. A host of complex spicy notes, like paprika, pepper, grilled steak. It opens up so well with air and shows more floral and elegant tones. I’d love to see this in four to six years. Special, fascinating Carmenere that includes 30% Merlot. (91 points IJB)

2016 Inama Bradisismo Italy, Veneto, Colli Berici
SRP: $30
Deep purple color. Dark and saucy on the nose with black currants, roasted figs, black cherries, along with roasted chestnut, scorched herbs, graphite, violets and anise. Fresh acidity frames the wine nicely, on a medium/full-bodied frame, with solid tannic backbone. Roasted fig, blueberry and black cherry fruit, deep but tangy, and the fruit is laced with mesquite, pepper, soy, leather. Underlying mineral, graphite and cocoa powder tones. This will show best after about five years, I’d wager. 70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Carmenère, aged 14 months in oak, seven months in stainless steel, and 12 months in bottle. (91 points IJB)

Wine Reviews: Rosé

It’s the unofficial start to “summer” here in the northern hemisphere this weekend. But what even is summer in these pandemic times? My plans for everything are cancelled, but I’m healthy and thankful.

And the annual arrival of new rosé wines offers some sense of normalcy amidst the chaos. I’ve been receiving a lot of new pink wines from France and America, new and old (to me) wines that offer some solace in these strange times, which are reviewed below.

These wines were received as trade samples and tasted sighted.

2019 Domaine De Cala Rosé France, Provence, Côteaux Varois
SRP: $17
Pale copper color. Bright aromas of lemon, peach, red apple peel, with mint, nettle and chalk dust. Crisp and zippy on the palate on a medium-bodied frame with white cherries and tangy strawberry fruit. Notes of mint, dandelion, herbal tea, perfume. Salad-friendly, bright, tangy, fun. A blend of Grenache, Cinsault, Rolle, Syrah, Carignan and Grenache Blanc. (87 points IJB)

2019 Château de Peyrassol Rosé­ – France, Provence, Côtes de Provence
SRP: $29
Very pale copper color. Super bright on the nose with white cherries and watermelon rind, topped in dandelion, wild herbs, chalk, saline. Zippy and crunchy on the palate with a bright and steely feel, lemon and grapefruit pith fruit. Light and fun but shows some complexities in terms of chalk, mint, lemon oil and saline. Fun, summery, but deep stuff. Cinsault, Grenache, Syrah, Rolle and Ugni Blanc from 35-year-old vines. (89 points IJB)

2019 Hahn Pinot Noir Rosé USA, California, Central Coast, Monterey
SRP: $15
Medium pink color. Nose shows plump white peach and papaya, tangy red apple, with white tea, clove and sweet red flower notes. Juicy, medium-bodied wine with medium acidity and ripe peach and apricot, drizzled with lime and topped in orange peel. Notes of honey, clover and sliced cucumber add some complexity. Plush yet fresh, fun but showing some depth, especially for the price. (87 points IJB)

2019 Steele Wines Cabernet Franc Rosé USA, California, North Coast, Lake County
SRP: $18
Light cotton candy color. Nose of nettle, white pepper, with watermelon, white cherry and raspberry fruit. Crisp and vibrant on the palate with brisk acidity, creamy texture, and juicy but crisp fruit (watermelon, white cherry, raspberry). Fresh and bright with notes of honeysuckle, basil and white pepper. Crushable but showing significant complexity as well. All Cabernet Franc from the Silva Vineyard. (88 points IJB)

2017 Castello di Amorosa Spumante del Castello Brut RoséUSA, California, Napa Valley
SRP: $49
Light strawberry color. Nose shows chalk, honey, white pepper, clover, on top of strawberries and white cherries. Fine bubbles, a zippy frame with white cherry and raspberry fruit. Notes of fresh mint, verbena, chalk dust add complexity. No deep, bready notes, this is a light, bright, salad and fruit-friendly sparkling wine, but shows complexity and depth. Champagne method Pinot Noir. (88 points IJB)

2019 Gamble Family Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Rosé USA, California, Napa Valley, Oakville
SRP: $20
Light salmon color. Bright and floral on the nose with white cherries, lemon, white peach, with chalky, white tea tones. Creamy texture with a crunchy strawberry, wild raspberry and red apple peel fruit. There’s a pleasant chalky, herbal tea, nettle and honeysuckle feel. Lots of depth and personality. A blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Petit Verdot. (89 points IJB)

2019 Ehlers Estate Cabernet Franc Rosé Sylviane USA, California, Napa Valley, St. Helena
SRP: $32
Deep watermelon color. Gorgeous aromatics of watermelon, juicy cherries, strawberries, open and inviting, quite ripe, but shows complex hay, rhubarb and white pepper elements, too. Plush texture on the palate with lovely depth, ripe and juicy but bright acidity keeps it tight. Watermelon and strawberry fruit on a bed of cut flower stems and cinnamon sticks. Flinty, mineral, salty tones, this is a juicy but racy and complex rose. Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. (91 points IJB)

2018 Castello di Amorosa Pinot Noir Rosato Cresta d’Oro USA, California, Sonoma County, Russian River Valley
SRP: $39
Pale copper color. Bright, steely, floral nose with strawberries and white cherries, topped in nettle, honeysuckle, sliced cucumber. Bright and vibrant on the palate with sweet strawberry and white cherries, mixed with notes of chalk, verbena, honeysuckle and mint. Juicy but stays light, fresh, salad and summer-friendly stuff. All Pinot Noir. (89 points IJB)

2019 Cenyth Cabernet Franc Rosé USA, California, Sonoma County
SRP: $30
Light watermelon color. Aromas of white cherries and raspberries, with rose petals and white pepper. Bright, vibrant and clean on the palate with raspberries, white cherries and watermelon. Creamy but fresh, complex notes of white pepper, clove, white tea. Such a delightfully balanced and focused rose. All Cabernet Franc. (90 points IJB)

Wine Reviews: California Chardonnay & Pinot Noir

Happy weekend, wine-lovers. I hope you’re all as safe and well as can be expected during these chaotic times. I’m back this week with two of my first wine loves: California Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.

My palate will always favor the more “Burgundian” styles, but I also enjoy and respect the juicier, darker styles as well. This report has a nice mix of producers, regions and styles. There are some serious values in here as well.

These wines were received as trade samples and tasted sighted.

Chardonnay

2019 River Road Chardonnay Unoaked USA, California
SRP: $14
Light yellow color. Aromas of lemon and orange peel, with mint, honeysuckle and clover. Crisp and punchy on the palate with a fresh, fun appeal. Lemon, apricot, orange peel, the fruit and herbal/floral tones stand out and make this is a seafood-friendly, value-driven style. (86 points IJB)

2018 Qupé Chardonnay Y Block Bien Nacido Vineyard USA, California, Central Coast, Santa Maria Valley
SRP: $22
Medium yellow. Bright aromatics of see breeze and wild flowers on top of deeper notes of yellow apples and apricot, nougat, shaved ginger and graham cracker. Precise and fresh on the palate, lovely depth of texture and balanced. Yellow apples, lemon crème and apricot, mixed with meringue, salted almond, oyster shell, crushed rocks. Nuanced honeycomb and vanilla accents. A California Chard that makes me go, “Ahh…” in refreshment. What a bargain. Fermented and aged seven months in 15% new French oak. (90 points IJB)

2017 Mi Sueño Chardonnay USA, California, Napa/Sonoma, Carneros
SRP: $42
Deep yellow color. Aromas of plump peach, apricot, lemon curd, with hay, peanut shell, honey and chalk scents as well. Rich texture, creamy and honeyed on the palate, but fresh acidity, the depth and balance are quite impressive. Peach, apricot, yellow apple, plush fruit but brighter tones of chalk, river stones, crushed shells, with nuanced notes of honey, graham cracker. Vibrant, deep, a lot of class here, especially for the price. Aged 18 months in 30% new French oak, all maloactic fermentation. (91 points IJB)

2018 Frank Family Vineyards Chardonnay CarnerosUSA, California, Napa/Sonoma, Carneros
SRP: $38
Medium yellow color. Brighter aromas of green apple and lime mix with richer notes of apricot and orange marmalade, rounded out with yellow flowers, honey and chalk. Full-bodied, plump texture but vibrant acidity, with yellow apples and lemon curd fruit. Nuanced graham cracker, honey and ginger snap blend well with sea salt, chalk and wildflowers. Delightful, balanced. Fermented in 1/3 new French oak barrels and aged nine months on the lees. (90 points IJB)

2018 Shafer Chardonnay Red Shoulder Ranch USA, California, Napa/Sonoma, Carneros
SRP: $52
Vibrant gold color. Deep, inviting aromas of apricot marmalade, orange peel, lemon curd, with brighter tones of sea salt, honeyed tea, chalk dust. Plush and smooth texture, this is full-bodied and round with creamy texture, but zesty acidity, which frames the wine well. Creamy pears, lemon curd and baked apple fruit, with nutty, almond, pistachio notes, cinnamon. There’s this crisp, flinty, mineral vibe underneath that is really exciting. Rich but lively, bold but nuanced, Red Shoulder Ranch does it again. This is the 25th anniversary vintage of this wine. (91 points IJB)

2017 The Federalist Wines Chardonnay USA, California, North Coast, Mendocino County
SRP: $23
Deep yellow color. Aromas of creamy pear, glazed apple, lemon crème, with honeycomb, crumb cake and whipped butter. Rich texture on the palate, full-bodied, medium/low acidity. Shows creamy pear and peach fruit mixed with ginger, honey and yellow flowers. Not too heavy, shows nuance and value. Aged in a mix of 35% new American, Hungarian and French oak. (87 points IJB)

2018 FEL Chardonnay Anderson ValleyUSA, California, North Coast, Anderson Valley
SRP: $32
Vibrant yellow color. Inviting nose of sea salt, hay and chalk on top of deeper, honeyed, baked pear and nougat notes. Zesty acidity frames this wine really well, it has a lot of vibrancy, but also plenty of creamy, textured pear, apple and lemon curd fruit. Notes of saline, sea spray and oyster shell mix with hazelnut, honeyed white tea and almond skin. I’m liking this vintage of a perennially-killer Anderson Valley Chardonnay. Sourced from Savoy and Ferrington Vineyards, this is fermented in old oak. (90 points IJB)

2018 River Road Vineyards Chardonnay Reserve USA, California, Sonoma County, Russian River Valley
SRP: $18
Medium yellow color. Nose shows lemons, peaches, with bright white flowers, dandelions, honey and crème. Medium-bodied, fresh acidity, not too creamy or rich, shows some nice verve and brightness. Limes, lemons and peaches tossed with peanut shell, honey butter, nougat, some cool mint and white pepper notes. Vibrant style, accessible but shows complexity and depth for the price. Fermented in a mix of stainless steel and oak. (88 points IJB)

2018 Fort Ross Chardonnay Fort Ross Vineyard USA, California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Coast
SRP: $44
Light yellow color. Brisk and bright aromas of seashells, chalk, talc, with orange blossom, honeysuckle, over lemon curd and yellow apple. Bright acidity, beautiful texture, bold presence on the palate but zesty acidity keeps the wine in line. Gorgeous lemon, key lime pie, baked apple and apricot. Complex notes of sea salt, crushed shells, saline, honeysuckle. Beautiful, mouthwatering stuff that should age really well. Aged 11 months in 30% new French oak. (91 points IJB)

Pinot Noir

2017 Talbott Pinot Noir Kali Hart USA, California, Central Coast, Monterey
SRP: $26
Pale ruby. Spicy herbs and pepper kick off the nose, with floral potpourri and cola on top of cranberry relish and wild strawberry. Medium/full-bodied with soft tannins and medium/low acidity. Ripe red cherries and spicy cranberry relish blends well with white pepper, grilled herbs, tobacco – really lovely spicy tones. Easy-drinking, fun buy spicy style. Aged nine months in 15% new French oak. (87 points IJB)

2018 Laetitia Winery Pinot Noir Estate USA, California, Central Coast, Arroyo Grande Valley
SRP: $27
Medium ruby color. Bright cherries on the nose, wild raspberries, with menthol, white pepper, cola. Zesty acidity frames this wine nicely, dusty tannins, a crunchy, bright feel with cranberries, wild raspberries. Notes of rhubarb, white pepper, dusty earth and pickling spices add this spicy, earthy complexity. Fun and fresh but shows complex elements and a lot of personality for this price. For those looking for a brighter, leaner, spicier style without spending a lot. Aged 11 months in 20% new French oak. (88 points IJB)

2018 Siduri Pinot Noir ­ USA, California, Central Coast, Santa Barbara County
SRP: $30
Light ruby color. Nose shows jammy raspberries, juicy black cherries, with cola, roses, and sage notes. Full-bodied on the palate with chewy tannins and moderate acidity, a ripe but lively feel. Dark cherries, super ripe plums, raspberry jam fruit, which is laced well with notes of tobacco, mint, earth and leaves. Touches of vanilla and cola. Fun and accessible style but it shows some solid depth and complexity for the price. (88 points IJB)

2018 Frank Family Vineyards Pinot Noir USA, California, Napa/Sonoma, Carneros
SRP: $38
Medium ruby color. Aromas of juicy black cherries, raspberries, candied apple, with cola, sweet roses and coffee. Full-bodied, smooth but chewy tannins with fresh acidity and a fun, juicy feel with raspberries and black cherry fruit. Notes of cola, coffee, sweet roses and root beer add some complexity. Fun, accessible, early-drinking style. Aged 10 months in 1/3 new French oak. (88 points IJB)

2018 FEL Pinot Noir Anderson Valley ­- USA, California, North Coast, Anderson Valley
SRP: $38
Deep ruby color. Inviting scents of raspberries, strawberries, fresh and fun, also floral and spicy with rose petals, white pepper, clove and rhubarb. Medium/full-bodied with vibrant acidity and silky, smooth tannins – a bold but balanced wine. Tangy cherries, strawberries and pomegranate fruit mix well with rose petals, rhubarb, portobello mushroom and black tea. Nuanced cola and cranberry relish elements on the finish. A lovely Anderson Valley Pinot (per usual from FEL), at less than $40, this has a lot of personality and depth. Aged 16 months in 38% new French oak. (91 points IJB)

2018 Siduri Pinot Noir USA, California, Sonoma County, Russian River Valley
SRP: $40
Vibrant ruby color. Aromas of crushed cherries, raspberries and wild strawberries with dried rose petals, potpourri, ripe but also airy and enticing aromas. Full but fresh on the palate with suave tannins and fresh acidity, a ripe but balanced mouthfeel. Raspberries, cherry preserves and dark plum fruit blend well with coconut, roasted chestnut and cola, but also these earthy, oregano and bay leaf vibes. Quite a lot going on here for the price. (89 points IJB)

2018 Root & Rubble Pinot Noir USA, California, Sonoma County
SRP: $40
Wine Reviews: California Chardonnay & Pinot NoirMedium ruby color. Bright and fresh aromas of wild raspberries and strawberries, some spice pepper, rose hips and tobacco. Medium-bodied, silky tannins, this has a fresh, crunchy, pretty feel. Vibrant red fruits (raspberries and strawberries) mix well with floral and herb tones (rose petals, clove, bay leaf) with some clay and earth undertones. Vibrant, accessible, yet complex, too. Fermented and aged in concrete, a process I’m a big fan of. It gives this wine airy, lifted aromas and keeps away the coffee and vanilla that would make this wine taste just like 100 other California Pinot Noirs. From winemaker and Siduri founder Adam Lee, this is well-done, exciting stuff for a great price. (90 points IJB)

2016 Fort Ross Pinot Noir Fort Ross Vineyard USA, California, Sonoma County, Fort Ross – Seaview
SRP: $52
Medium ruby color. So vibrant on the nose with chilled black cherries, cranberries, wild raspberries, with some musky, peppery, leathery tones, accents of red flowers. Medium-bodied, crisp acidity, fleshy but zesty with dusty, fine tannins. Crunchy cherries, wild raspberries and cranberry fruit, topped in beautiful dusty earth, clay, dried leaves, tobacco and mint. Pure, vibrant, refined, this is lovely and zippy deliciousness. Aged 10 months in 40% new French oak. (91 points IJB)

2017 River Road Pinot Noir Stephanie’s Cuvée USA, California, Sonoma County, Russian River Valley
SRP: $30
Deep ruby color. Aromas show juicy raspberries and tangy strawberries with rose petals, sweet coffee, clove and black tea. Medium/full-bodied with a chewy texture, medium acidity, and plump black cherry fruit, some raspberry jam, too. Notes of cola, toasted nuts and herbal tea add some complexity. Ripe and round but shows brightness, too. Aged in 20% new French oak. (87 points IJB)

2017 Gary Farrell Pinot Noir Dijon Clones Hallberg Vineyard USA, California, Sonoma County, Russian River Valley
SRP: $60
Medium ruby color. Really bright aromas of raspberry, strawberries, red currants, with spicy, floral complexities like rose hips, rhubarb, white pepper. On the palate, this is crisp and bright on a medium-bodied frame with medium, dusty tannins. The fruit (strawberries and red cherries) is tangy and vibrant, with rose hips, rhubarb, bay leaf, hops, all sorts of complex, spicy elements that keeps this wine intriguing. Pretty and complex, this exquisite Pinot will get even better in the next five or six years. Aged 10 months in 40% new French oak. (93 points IJB)