Category Archives: Wine Reviews

Mercer Wine of Washington State

I was caught a bit off-guard when I first sipped a 2015 Mercer Sharp Sisters Horse Heaven Hills red blend. The blackberry taste of syrah dominated the blend of which a majority was cabernet sauvignon, followed by syrah, merlot, petit verdot, Grenache and a bit of carignane; all grapes were grown in Washington State.

Mercer

Although elements of Rhône, France wine tasted familiar, the terroir of Washington State was foreign to my palate. I had met plenty of California, French, Eastern Europe and Italian wines, but this was my first encounter with Washington State, considered in the wine world to be “the new kid on the block”.

Out of three wines I sampled, one caught my attention as the winner in the trio, and surprisingly it turned out to be the white wine in the bunch: a 2016 Mercer Horse Heaven Hills sauvignon blanc. A clean, fresh aroma of citrus and newly bundled hay set the stage for a refreshing taste of perfectly ripened fruit and balanced acidity. The fruit hailed from the rolling hills on the Mercer estate Princeton vineyard in Horse Heaven Hills, where the climate proved agreeable for this second vintage, with cool nights and warm days. Priced around $15, this bottle is worthy of a purchase, but I suggest getting a case before they sell out.

My third taste was an inky 2015 Mercer Horse Heaven Hills malbec, a better taste than many Argentine malbecs I’ve consumed. This is a wine that opens nicely, escalating in jammy flavors. The grapes were grown in Spice Cabinet Vineyard in the Horse Heaven Hills on a southeast slope above the Columbia River. The crop received morning sun exposure and avoided the afternoon harshness of the sun. The wine-making skills excelled, with a double sort, and without crush. It’s the whole berry for this malbec, aged in both new and old French oak barrels for 18 months, and then blended together. It works.

For more information on Mercer wines, visit MercerWine.com.

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Blind tasting 16 rosé wines

Following almost two years living in the Napa Valley, I was finally invited to Spottswoode. Alas, I never tasted a drop of Spottswoode wine, but I did sit across from Beth, the owner, and it was an amazing experience to listen to her feedback.

The reason I sat at the tasting table in this historic family estate in St. Helena was to blind taste 16 rosé wines. The event was coordinated by Claire Ducrocq Weinkauf, a French native who grew up in Auvergne and moved to Calistoga with her husband, winemaker at Spottswoode. Claire is the owner of Calistoga’s Picayune Cellars & Mercantile, and I love her rosé.

Tasting in groups of four wines, there were about 8 wine tasters who sniffed, swirled, sniffed and sipped to decide whether each rosé was Old World or New World, hipster-worthy and within price ranges of under $15, $16-$25 or over $26 a bottle. We graded by number and discussed the wines of each grouping.

The million dollar question remains: Is rosé is a wine to take seriously or is it a pool wine … a flavored beverage? Could rosé be food-pairing-worthy and serious competition among whites and reds? Well, one factor is certain: rosé wine has piqued as a summer trend for 2017. My guess is that the strong will survive, and out of 16 tastings, I’ll share with you my shortlist of five worthwhile rosé wines to sip past summer.

#1 – Azur 2016 – New World, Hipster, over $26 blend of gamay, Grenache and barbera grapes.

#2 – Terrebrune – Old World, established, over $36 a bottle

#3 – Miraval – Yes, this is the Angelina Jolie/Brad Pitt rosé – Old world, $16-$25 a bottle, soft on the palate and good minerality.

#4 – Picayune – made with syrah, Grenache and barbera grapes, priced $16-$25, New World and hipster

#5 – Hogwash – New World made with Grenache grapes with alluring aroma and taste

Remember, rosé all day!

The wines of BottleRock Napa

Since I was only 6 years old during Woodstock, it is obvious that I didn’t attend this historical music festival. So, the next best hippie chic music experience I deem close to what I’ve heard regarding Woodstock is #BottleRock Napa, a 3-day musical playground with culinary chef demos, and yes… lots of wine. The event is, after all, in the Napa Valley, and it draws in 150,000 attendees in a 3-day period.

Coppolla bubblesInspired by a cloud of soap bubbles from the tent of Sonoma-based Coppola Winery, my first stop was in front of the tent for Domaine Chandon, where I happily sipped Chandon Rosé bubbles. I wasn’t even concerned about the plastic cup it was served in…it was that good.

A walk in the nearby Wine Garden, is where I sipped Napa Valley white wine, Dissonance. I was told this is the label of Foo Fighters, ‘so I couldn’t wait to sip this rock star wine. But, unlike the awesome rock band’s stellar reputation and performance on Sunday, May 28, Dissonance fell a bit short, or sour to describe the taste. It was a bit too acidic; perhaps with a plate of fries. Next time, I’ll try the merlot, which is what Blackbird in French means, and what has put this label on the oenophile map.

I later realizeBlackbird Dissonance Wine Labeld that there were distinct Foo Fighter wine labels for Blackbird Vineyards:

  • 2016 Foo Fighters Rosé | Central Coast, California ($24) Farmed from vineyards along the slopes of Mount Diablo, winemaker Aaron Pott intentionally crafted an elegant, dry rosé to appreciate at every occasion from the mundane to the extraordinary.
  • 2015 Foo Fighters Cabernet Sauvignon | Red Hills, Lake County ($35) Crafted by winemaker Aaron Pott from 2,400 ft. high vineyards in the Red Hills of Lake County, this ten barrel Cabernet Sauvignon commemorating BottleRock 2017 is steadfast in its character.
  • 2011 Foo Fighters Proprietary Red Wine | Napa Valley ($60) This four-barrel Signature Series Cuvée is hand-tuned to express the lithe structure that only comes from exceptional fruit.

Like missing out on Woodstock, I missed out on sipping these Foo Fighter wines and will always wonder how these small-run labels performed on the palate.

Psagot, a kosher cabernet

A noble grape is one capable of making high quality wine, is able to grow in a variety of climates outside its indigenous environment, ages well and shows a sense of place while retaining its unique characteristics. Recently, I tasted a perfect example of a successful noble grape: the M-series 2013 Psagot single vineyard cabernet sauvignon, with its grapes grown in the capital of Israel, in the Jerusalem Mountains, 900 meters above sea level.

A waxed coin was stuck on the bottle somewhere, but I couldn’t figure out where because during the bottle’s shipment it had fallen off. I wasn’t sure how this was related until I read the bottle.

“The coin depicted on the front comes from the period of the “Great Revolt” (66-73 CE). The coin was discovered while digging out a cave which would become the Winery’s barrel aging room.”

I quickly realized that I would be tasting tradition. And through the expression of tradition in the history, dusty and dry soil, and methods of viticulture to make this Psagot vineyard, I was ready to taste the kosher, single vineyard cabernet sauvignon aged for 13 months in French oak barrels.

Its dark claret offered an elegant nose of a wine steeped in culture. The deepest berries and a touch of green pepper led way to flavors of an assortment of local and global dark, blackberries. Elements of the French oak barrel were found in the butterscotch elements, and led to the smooth and subtly spicy tannins. According to the winemaker notes, there are flavors of orange peel and mint, with nice notes of citrus and branberry. Although my palate didn’t detect these – and I have never consumed a branberry – I will take his word for it.

To taste this Psagot cabernet sauvignon is about transporting your palate and imagining standing within the mountains of Jerusalem. Warning: You may be unable to resist booking a trip. But, if you’re planning to visit Jerusalem, you can head to the visitor center for a tour takes about an hour and includes wine tasting of Psagot Winery. Visit Psagotwines.com for more information.

A bottle sells for around $63, depending on where you look online.

The glamour of the gamay

Like the ruby slippers of a young girl who, in the turn of a twister wasn’t in Kansas anymore, the colorful French gamay grape awaits in a bottle of Chateau de Nervers Brouilly and Domaine Des Quatri Vents Fleurie, both villages classified. Gamay grapes are a cross between pinot noir and the ancient white gouais, and grown in the most southern region of Burgundy, in Beaujolais…considered by many to be its own appellation. The timing of the new release of gamay wines have the precision known to Switzerland. Every third week of November, a new release of Beaujolais Nouveau is swiftly sold. Many buyers open the bottles for Thanksgiving dinner as a tradition, but almost nobody will put the bottle down in the cellar.

The idea of Beaujolais Nouveau is to taste the grape of the prior harvest, newly released, as a gateway to how a particular vintage will age. This is not a wine to elicit layers of character and perfumes. It is meant to be consumed immediately and offers a straightforward mouthfeel of straight fruit and fine tannins. Its aromatics are without the mask of oak, and for the Fleurie, you’ll get hints of fresh-picked violets; for the Brouilly, cherries and red currants dominate. Both gamay wines are fruit forward, inviting on the palate and pair well with aged cheeses, spicy dishes and tarragon chicken or roasted lamb. Okay, so they both work really well with pizza!

The biggest producer of Beaujolais Nouveau is Georges Duboeuf, who also produces Chardonnays such as Macon-Villages and Pouilly-Fuisse, the former grown in limestone and the latter in clay, chalk. My preference is Pouilly-Fuisse for its Burgundian character and aroma of roasted almonds mixed with verbena. This is a slightly oak-aged wine and expected to age well. The best pairing? Caesar salad topped with lobster, or any light pasta dish, seafood bisque or shellfish.

Finally, wines from Burgundy can be expensive, yet these wines are priced around $20 a bottle. Enjoy the youthful vibrance of these entry-level, Beaujolais wines. Especially at a picnic, and if you’d like…in a sangria.

 

 

Fairy tale of a French wine

In Monte Carlo, rosé is the preferred thirst-quencher for wine enthusiasts. I experienced this in 2015, while sipping on a 2014 Château Les Valentines Rosé and dining at a Michelin-star restaurant in Monaco, seaside at Elsa restaurant at Monte Carlo Beach Hotel.

My travel calexa-at-elsaompanion, Alexa (pictured), shared my joy in the life of a princess, sipping on elegant wines such as this Côtes de Provence rosé, with a cherry blossom aroma complemented by the drifting Mediterranean sea air mixed with the fresh floral breeze. Its notes gave way to a minerality typical of French wines, but this particular rosé was like pouring rose petals into a glass lined with drenched pebbles following a summer morning rain. Its color of pale pink/orange misled my palate into thinking this would be a fragile wine short on structure, but I was wrong. This rosé saturated my tongue with a tannin structure of royal character and elegance.

A year later, I found a 2015 bottle of Château Les Valentines Rosé online through a wine searcher app, and I ordered a few to re-introduce myself to this incredible rosé, a wine fit for a princess. Come summer, I will plan for a special dinner with friends to enjoy sips sure to send me back  in time to my time spent reveling in the good life of Monaco.

Pinots for pairing during the holidays

A Facebook friend posted it best: “This is the Mondayest Tuesday.” My sentiments, exactly during this short work week packed with meetings, resolving work issues and schmoozing with fellow journalists. It seems to have taken forever to get to the biggest meal of the year: Thanksgiving. And now we are well on our way to Christmas.

In the meantime, all I want to do is to curl up with my puppy in front of a roaring fire, sip an elegant wine and binge watch “Once Upon a Time.”

The opportunity to taste some Mendocino wines made by a small California producer with a big label did manage to present itself here and there over the last few weeks. I was happy to taste a series of pinot noirs to figure out and share the best pairing for Thanksgiving.

Everyone wants a new label to bring to the table, and if you can add some table talk about where the grapes were grown and about the producer, even better than gossiping about Aunt Dottie or that nasty ex-husband when the day is supposed to be a lesson in gratefulness and appreciation of abundance in the harvest, friends and family.

Lula Cellars 2013 Mendocino Pinot Noir is my top pick for pairing with a traditional holiday dinner. Only 200 cases were produced, and a bottle with cost $45. Lula wines avoids distribution to keep costs for its artisanal product reasonable, so these wines can only be purchased via the www.lulacellars.com website, in the Lula Cellars tasting room in Anderson Valley, California, or through the Lula Cellars Wine Club.

Whether you select the 2013 Costa Vineyard Pinot Noir, the 2013 Peterson Vineyard Pinot Noir or the 2014 Mariah Vineyard Zinfandel, you’ll get a unique structure and taste with each one. For the 2013 Mendocino Pinot Noir, the grapes were harvested from Costa vineyards, which bring forth that earthiness in structure, and with grapes from Peterson vineyards, which give it that deep ruby tone. All around, this is a wine everyone at the table will be pleased to sip, as it is the most elegant, balanced wine that combines elements of the mountainous and coastal region of the Mendocino coast.

Winemaker Jeff Hansen deserves a round of applause. His 30 years as a winemaker/scientist-artist has paid off with a collection of pinots to talk about. Now, who is Lula, you ask? Here’s what you can bring to the table…with your bottle of Lula… Lula is the namesake of the winemaker’s grandmother who was born in 1879 and lived to the ripe age of 89.

Happy Holidays!

For more information on Lula Cellars, visit www.lulacellars.com

Merlot Month with Marilyn Merlot

Now that rose season has subsided, I opened a bottle of Merryvale merlot before realizing October is Merlot Month! I hadn’t known until I read (hashtag) #MerlotMe in a professional wine journal. California merlots are wonderful, fruit-forward wines that bring out my favorite, raspberry, as well as blackberry. Heavy notes of mocha delight my palate, and pouring this inky purple wine reminds me of Bordeaux wines. Merlot is famous for its part in Bordeaux blends, but in California, you get a less complex tannin structure and minerality. That is okay with me, because I opened a full-bodied (pun intended) Marilyn Merlot and became smitten with the Marilyn Monroe label. Each wine has an image of the former Norma Jean and the corks are sealed with her kiss!

With grapes from the historic Missouri Hopper Oakville appellation in Napa Valley, California, winemaker Bob Pepi had a running head start in the making of 2014 Marilyn Merlot, just as Bernard Bruno was considered the man who discovered the blonde bombshell. For the 2014 Marilyn Merlot, he blended in 3 percent petit verdot, which adds to the intense purple juice.

Open the bottle today to enjoy with hamburger, pizza and almost any meal. Keep for another 5-8 years and it’s best enjoyed with roasted duck or braised beef.

The 2015 merlot has a different label, called Norma Jeane. Grapes for this merlot hail from the “Estrella Triangle” in the heart of Paso Robles. When you’re ready, say hello to Norma Jeane, open her up and enjoy with pizza, panini or pasta.

Marilyn Monroe is known to have frequented Napa Valley wineries; in fact, if you visit the tasting room at Frank Family Wines in Calistoga, you’ll see a life-size cutout of the “Some Like it Hot” movie star for posing purposes. Can you imagine roaming tasting rooms to meet up with Marilyn?

Each varietal has a unique photographic label of Marilyn, including a 2015 Sauvignon Blonde made with Lake County grapes, and a 2014 Meritage with grapes grown Andy Beckstoffer’s Missouri Hopper Vineyard (like the Marilyn Merlot 2014 except blended with cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc and a touch of petit verdot.

Lest not forget the magic of a coupe when held by Marilyn Monroe. Bubbles and Marilyn pair well together, and Blonde de Noirs Cuvee Ten North Coast Sparking Wine (pinot noir and chardonnay) also pairs well with smoked salmon, cheeses and hey, why not caviar?

Some like it merlot. I like Marilyn Merlot and especially like the price point of $29.98 for a bottle of 2014. With a price as reasonable as this (remember, this is Napa Valley), who needs to marry a millionaire to drink good wine?

A bottle of Marilyn Monroe makes a great gift for the holidays, especially because almost everyone loves Marilyn!

For more information on Marilyn Monroe wines, visit www.marilynwines.com

To ship or not to ship?

I recently received a bottle of 2012 Estate Grown Holman Ranch Pinot Noir made with grapes grown from the Central Coast, specifically Heather’s Hill in Carmel Valley, California. The one-bottle box arrived end of day on a 90-degree Friday, as scheduled. As soon as I handled the very warm-to-the-touch box, however, I knew it might be tainted.

What to do, I wondered. Do I immediately put the bottle in my wine refrigerator or will that induce bottle-shock? The solution became clear once I tried to stash the bottle on the rack of my wine fridge; the bottle’s shape didn’t accommodate the space allocated on the rack. I placed the bottle in my living room wine rack to let it adjust gradually to a room temperature.

A few days later, I decided to open my bottle, but it tasted close to a cough syrup flavor. I air-locked the bottle and gave it another day before trying it again, this time in a proper pinot Reidel glass. I let it breathe for about 15 minutes and tried it again. This time, I did taste what was probably once a very good pinot noir but had since turned due to warm-weather shipping or perhaps improper storage before shipping. What I did get out of this was fruit forward, young wine that probably would have been great had it not been bottle shocked.

Pinot Noir grapes are difficult to cultivate and obviously difficult to ship in warm weather. There are many wineries that refuse to ship when the weather is too warm because these bottles are like their babies and they want to protect them from the elements. Priced at approximately $35 a bottle, the shock of weather is something to be considered when shipping, even if only from the Central Coast to Napa Valley. Cool packs are a great invention for short-term shipping, but many wineries hold off shipping until mid-fall, if only to avoid having to re-ship because the recipient complains the wine is bad.

To ship or not to ship? It would depend on the distance, the weather, the cool packs utilized and more factors, such as method of shipping.

3 Tastes at Limerick Lane Cellars

I once met a friend in Healdsburg. She arrived at Limerick Lane Cellars with 7 family members and was late. She was set to run a Sunday race, so picked up her pace and met me at a winery she hadn’t planned.

While I sat in wait, I sipped on a Hungarian blended white wine poured from a German-styled bottle, shaped slim and tall, with green tinted glass. I don’t know why I didn’t buy a bottle or two, but my friend will later sip on her purchased bottles to tell the tale.

OK, so enough of the limerick-ish fodder. Limerick Lane Cellars was off the beaten path from the cute little downtown square in Healdsburg, but only a 5-minute worthwhile drive down a country road of vineyards. I actually had to stop in the middle of the road to allow a segway tour group time to motor to the other lane.

The zinfandel was elegant, missing the spice I love, but balanced and quite a lovely craft of Russian River Valley grapes. Finally, the blend of syrah-grenache was a nice change of pace, as were the other two tastes, making a trip to this obscure winery worth the drive.

Following our excursion, lunch downtown at HBG (Healdsburg Bar & Grill) was inexpensive and delicious. Might I suggest the burger or cubano with a cold Lagunitas?

History of Limerick Lane Cellars, as told on the website:

Once known as The Boreen, an old Irish word meaning a small, unpaved country road, Limerick Lane has been home to small farms and vineyards for more than a century.

The Del Fava family planted our oldest currently producing vineyard in 1910. Without the benefit of modern scientific methods now used to determine the best soils and sites, the Del Favas were the first to recognize the rare potential of this small, enclosed microclimate just south of Healdsburg.

In the mid-1970’s, the Del Fava family sold to brothers Michael and Tom Collins. Like the Del Favas, the Collins brothers saw the potential inherent at Limerick Lane. They brought tremendous passion and enthusiasm to the property, overseeing the planting of twenty-five acres of Zinfandel, Syrah, and Grenache–the iconic Collins Vineyard. In addition the Collins brothers replanted and improved the existing vineyards, creating demand for their grapes at preeminent wineries De Loach, Chateau Souverain, Ravenswood, Davis Bynum and Gary Farrell.

By 2009, Mike Collins was ready to sell, but was unwilling to see the beautiful old vines and all his hard work absorbed into a corporation or fall into the hands of investors just out to make a quick buck. Instead, he approached Jake Bilbro and asked if Jake would like to buy Limerick Lane Cellars and the Collins Vineyard. Jake, a member of a family renowned for principled vineyard stewardship and sustainable winemaking, grew up in the business at Marietta Cellars, founded by his father Chris in 1978. The chance to own Limerick Lane–a place from which his father, among others, had sourced exceptional fruit–was so exciting Jake spent two years pitching nearly every bank in California. One day before harvest began in 2011, a local bank in Healdsburg finally agreed to give him the loan.

Only the third owner in the estate’s 106-year history, Jake brings modern farming and winemaking techniques to the inimitable fruit that only the historic Collins Vineyard can produce and creates wines that live up to the heritage that preceded him–wines noted not only for their exceptional balance and elegance, but with a specific sense of history and place as well.