Category Archives: Wine Reviews

Hooked on Historic Chardonnay

Napa Valley’s most famous winery we all know as Chateau Montelena was a chateau founded by Alfred Tubbs, who made his fortune selling rope during the Gold Rush. Today it’s a winery best known for its silver-screen moment in the film, “Bottleshock” — which tells the story (loosely adapted) of the “Judgment of Paris” in 1976. The story was based on an international wine competition that included Montelena’s chardonnay, which surprisingly bested its French counterpart in a blind tasting. At that time, the winery was owned by Jim Barrett, who opened the winery in 1972. Today, following Jim’s death in 2013, Chateau Montelena is run by his son, Bo, and it’s world-famous chardonnay is crafted by winemaker on-site, Matthew Crafton.

The quality of this chardonnay hasn’t skipped a beat when it comes to its elegance, not even since that tasting of ’76. Open a bottle of 2016 Chateau Montelena Chardonnay and you’ll be able to relate. This is a bottle that presents notes of fresh florals and a palate of crisp acidity that adds to the wine’s freshness. It’s a perfect wine to open at the onset of Thanksgiving dinner. While some chardonnays are “oaked out” and compete with the buttery mashed potatoes on the table, this chardonnay will complement with its ideal oak and fruit balance. You might not want to switch to reds during dinner.

In fact, once you’ve tasted this 2016 Chateau Montelena Chardonnay, you may be tempted to order more. And why not? The exclusive privileges of wine club membership include access to enjoy picnics in the private Chinese pagodas on the elegant grounds surrounded by resident swans, fish, vineyards and some of the best wines in California.

Charlene Peters, a.k.a. SipTripper, is a WSET Level 2 Certified wine writer with extensive experience traveling the world to explore New and Old World wines and indigenous culinary creations to share with readers. She can be reached at siptripper@gmail.com

Judging a wine by its label

Unlike a book cover, judging a wine by its label is trendy and assumed. And when you see a chardonnay label with artwork of buttery yellow drips, it’s safe to assume the chardonnay will taste like a butter bomb.

Au Jus is a 2017 Monterey County Chardonnay ($25) showcasing a robust malolactic fermentation; its label doesn’t lie. This glass of liquid gold was crafted from grapes grown in the best conditions offered in a coastal climate. The aromas of this wine brought the label of dripping butter to life, and on my palate, this chardonnay reveled in the smooth, stone fruit flavors and buttery finish.

Los Angeles Street Artist, Saber, created the label on the Au Jus chardonnay, but all the labels on 1849 Wine products are a depiction of contemporary inspiration from the art movement of the 21st century. In fact, every handcrafted bottle of 1849 Wine reflects the artistic spirit and dedication to the art of wine making.

My next taste was a 2016 Pinot Noir of Sonoma Coast called iris ($30), with a kaleidoscope-colored graffiti label Saber titled “Tool of Dissent”. The philosophy of a prevailing idea is what dissent is all about, but I have to be honest here and admit that outside of the label, this is everything you’d expect a pinot noir grown on the Sonoma Coast to be: aromas of violets and a palate tinged with earthy elements but dominated with red licorice flavors of raspberry, which I personally love — but nothing beyond the typical.

It is worth noting that this pinot noir was barrel aged for 10 months in French and Hungarian Oak and has won several awards: a double gold medal at the 2018 Sonoma County Harvest Fair; a gold medal at the 2018 San Francisco International Wine Competition and at the 2018 Harvest Challenge and Sommelier Challenge, and a silver medal at the 2018 Millennial Awards and New Orleans International Wine Awards.

They say that women generally select wines by the label, and while I don’t personally use this method of selection, I totally understand the allure to visuals. My recommendation: Choose the Au Jus every time!

Charlene Peters, a.k.a. SipTripper, is a WSET Level 2 Certified wine writer with extensive experience traveling the world to explore New and Old World wines and indigenous culinary creations to share with readers. She can be reached at siptripper@gmail.com

 

A Bucket of Luck with Lot 681

Cameron Hughes is a négociant for Languedoc wines (formerly Coteaux de Languedoc), specifically in the town of Cesseras, a sleepy farm village of less than 200 in the Minervois appellation d’origine contrôlée (AOC). What makes this place so beautiful is its geography, with endless acres of southern-facing delineated vineyards.

The Languedoc is an appellation d’origine contrôlée (AOC), also known as the bucket region in the Southwest of France because of the high volume of mid-level quality wines produced. To add perspective, the Languedoc produces more wine than all New Zealand. One such wine is crafted from thick-skinned cabernet sauvignon grapes and is labelled “Lot 681”.

Upon first pour, the wine’s deep purple color was telltale of its youth (2017). A quick swirl later, my nose detected notes of black current, black cherry, and black plum with a slight note of thyme. A tasting revealed medium-high alcohol content (14%), and an earthy, short finish (time in the cellar would most likely improve the finish). The added petit verdot created more of a tannin structure and freshness to this cabernet sauvignon. At $13 a bottle, this is an “enjoy now” bottle — don’t expect a whole lot of complexity. This is a table wine, not a Bordeaux Supérieur.

Word in the wine world is the Languedoc region is making a comeback as the “New World of France”, yet this is an Old-World region if there ever was one. The history of this wine region began with the Greeks, who first planted grapevines there during 5th century BCE.

Interesting to note is that half of the wine produced is organic and is where Millesime Bio, the world’s largest organic wine fair is held. Also of interest, is that Cameron Hughes Wine, Lot 681 2017 Languedoc, is the négociant’s first French release in 5 years.

The Sip Tripper, a.k.a. Charlene Peters, is WSET Level 2 certified and has been reviewing and promoting wines for over a decade. She occasionally serves as a wine judge internationally and travels to wine destinations as often as possible. To reach Charlene, email: siptripper@gmail.com.

The best Prosecco to pair with brunch

Autumn mornings in Sonoma, California are when the air feels crisp and cool before the afternoon sun warms temperatures up to near 90 degrees. A recent birthday brunch with a few favorite ladies could not have happened on a more perfect day.

We met at the River Vine Café in Santa Rosa, part of the Vintner’s Inn. The café closes at 1:30pm and serves breakfast/brunch items with indoor/outdoor seating. The inside was nearly empty on this Saturday morning, mainly because the outdoor seating was full. The view of the gardens captivated our attention, especially when we noticed white folding chairs were being set up for a wedding. It was a perfect day for a wedding, but I was happy with celebrating my friend’s birthday during this marvelous brunch.

The bottle of bubbles I brought to toast my friend’s birthday was much like the air that morning – before temperatures soared into the 80s. This luxury collection Mionetto Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG was as crisp as the first bite of an apple – extra dry, and it was as clear as water with bubbles bigger than bottle-fermented sparkling wines. Prosecco is a sparkling wine made from the Glera grape that grows in the northeast of Italy. The sparkling version is typically made using the tank method, and this bottle was no exception. It was lovely, dry, and fitting for fall with its apple notes. I enjoyed the pairing of this Prosecco with my order of Rancho Huevos.

We finished the bottle with ease, laughed and enjoyed the setting and each other’s company, and departed to continue our Saturday, but with a renewed vigor and stride in our step that could only be formed by bonding with your girlfriends during Saturday brunch.

This isn’t the first Mionetto Prosecco I’ve enjoyed. I shared a cocktail recipe previously, of which I’ll share again for those hosting their own brunch sometime soon. I recommend you pour this cocktail in a martini glass.

Italian Honey Suckle (courtesy of Mionetto Master Mixologist, Justin Noel)

Ingredients

– 1 jalapeño slice

– .5 oz fresh lime juice

– .5 oz honey syrup

– 1 oz blanco tequila

– 1 oz Mionetto Prestige Organic Prosecco DOC Extra Dry

– jalapeño slice for Garnish

Preparation

  1. In a mixing glass, add jalapeño slice and lime juice.
  2. Muddle lightly.
  3. Add honey syrup and tequila and shake.
  4. Strain into a martini glass.
  5. Top with Mionetto Prosecco.
  6. Garnish with jalapeño slice.

 

Reflections of Mirror Sauvignon Blanc

I finally visited the Petaluma Gap, a premier vineyard spot and the newest American Viticultural Area (AVA) in Sonoma County linked by the Pacific Ocean and San Pablo Bay. A few weeks earlier, I tasted a 2017 Mirror Petaluma Gap Chardonnay ($48), so now I was able to connect the area where the grapes grow in a cool climate, thanks to the constant sea breeze. I enjoyed the top note of honey in this chardonnay, but my palate was still swooning over the 2018 Mirror Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc ($28).

I tasted these Mirror wines in Napa, inside the Kitchen Collective, where membership has its privileges of allocated spaces for tastings — great for a winery that doesn’t have a tasting room. Note: reservations required.

About that sauvignon blanc, though…Using 20 percent used French oak, this sauvignon blanc is a robust, full-bodied, but balanced gem of a wine made from grapes grown in a dry farming technique (no vines are irrigated after fruit set – when tiny grapes appear) for freshness and high acidity. It doesn’t hurt to use grapes grown in Rutherford dust and clay soil – and to pair these grapes with the winemaking style of Kirk Venge.

Mirror Wines began over a decade ago, when Notre Dame “Golden Boy” Rick Mirer, an Indiana native and well-known football player for the Seattle Sea Hawks, 49ers and Raiders, took his wife on a visit to Napa Valley. Once retired, he considered what his next project would be and came up with Mirror Wines. Today, Mirer resides with his family in San Diego, but he makes it a point to visit Napa Valley at least every month.

Mirror’s red wines reflect grapes sourced from Howell Mountain and Oak Knoll. I can attest that his approximate 240 case production of 2016 Mirror Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon Howell Mountain “Pre-Release” ($110, to be released in October) scores a touchdown. This deep berry, black currant cabernet sauvignon with black licorice and tobacco notes offers a lovely tannin structure for aging.

Visit www.mirrorwine.com for more information.

White Wine 3 Ways

Sauvignon blanc is an easy wine to make, drink, and enjoy. It doesn’t need to age so it’s an instant gratification wine. I had a bottle of Samuel Charles Sauvignon Blanc from grapes grown in the High Valley AVA in Lake County, California.

Priced at $24.99/bottle, it’s a bit higher than usual because the winemaker took the extra step and partially aged the wine sur lies for added richness on the palate and a complexity in its aromas. Aside from the typical floral and herbaceous notes, what caught my attention from the start was the scent of honeysuckle – one of my most favorite aromas. It was easy for me to enjoy this palatable silky, crisp wine, and the fruit characteristics lingered to my liking.

More information on this wine can be found by clicking HERE.

***

Initially, I wasn’t a fan of Mionetto when I sipped it on its own, but when I made it in a cocktail, I became a fan. Since 1982, this Prosecco has been made in the Charmat method — with the secondary fermentation in autoclaves instead of individual bottles. That means bigger bubbles. I prefer small bubbles and the Champagne method. But when you pour half tequila and half Prosecco to make a cocktail named “Italian Honey Suckle” – of course, I would love it! I recommend you pour this cocktail in a martini glass.

Italian Honey Suckle (courtesy of Mionetto Master Mixologist, Justin Noel)

Ingredients

– 1 jalapeño slice

– .5 oz fresh lime juice

– .5 oz honey syrup

– 1 oz blanco tequila

– 1 oz Mionetto Prestige Organic Prosecco DOC Extra Dry

– jalapeño slice for Garnish

Preparation

  1. In a mixing glass, add jalapeño slice and lime juice.
  2. Muddle lightly.
  3. Add honey syrup and tequila and shake.
  4. Strain into a martini glass.
  5. Top with Mionetto Prosecco.
  6. Garnish with jalapeño slice.

***

Another summer sip that excels when blended is a Bosio Tropical Mango Moscato from the Piedmont region of Italy. This is an 85% fermented Moscato with 15% natural Brazilian mango pulp – without any flavor enhancers or additives. As was the Mionetto Prosecco, this is a not-so-popular sip on its own, but a wonderful mixer on a hot summer evening as an aperitif when mixed with sparkling water. I enjoyed a glass with some cheese before a ladies’ dinner on the patio.

Wine Légende’s of Bordeaux

Bordeaux, in Southwest France on the Garonne River, has a total vineyard area of over 120,000 hectares (almost 300,000 acres) – notably the largest wine region in France. Bordeaux leads the world of wine, setting the bar quite high for winemakers who strive to emulate the blending of at least two of these five red varietals: cabernet sauvignon, merlot, cabernet franc, Malbec and petite verdot.

On a restaurant’s wine list, a Bordeaux is usually higher in price, but I’ve discovered a few bottles of Légende that won’t break your budget and are pleasant on the palate.

The first one is a 2015 Légende Pauillac crafted with grapes grown in the prestigious Barons de Rothschild (Lafite) vineyards of Bordeaux. This wine is a blend of 70% cabernet sauvignon and 30% merlot, partially aged in oak barrels crafted at the Domaines Barons de Rothschild (Lafite) cooperage.

It was as if I poured a glass of ruby slippers. The color was intense, and the aromas of dried figs, black pepper and cocoa powder took me back to Bordeaux when I visited Chateau Lafite Rothschild in early 2015. This is a Bordeaux within reach — under $50 a bottle. It has enough character to remind you you’re drinking a Bordeaux (that licorice finish…), but it’s a drink alone wine without an overpowering tannin structure — so get ready to open a bottle this fall, when red wine becomes more appealing!

Next, I sipped a 2016 Légende Saint-Émilion, but before I took my first sip, I was seduced with notes of baking spices, butter, pomegranate and dark berries that dominated my senses. This somewhat bold and balanced, dry and slightly acidic merlot has a touch of cabernet franc for elevated interest. This is an affordable right-bank Bordeaux ($37) made with inspiration from the tradition of quality. Twenty percent of its final blend was aged in barrels, which explains its medium body, atypical for a Bordeaux, and fine with me.

More information on these elegant wines of France may be found HERE.

A Super Splurge on Sauvignon Blanc

Perspective is everything, so when you ponder a $200+ bottle price of a 2016 Sauterne Château d’Yquem, a sauvignon blanc and semillon blend often interpreted as French “nectar” of the Gods, a $90 bottle of sauvignon blanc seems like a sweet deal.

I didn’t taste a Château d’Yquem, but I did taste a glass of Larkmead 2016 Lillie Sauvignon Blanc and it proved to be well-balanced and complex, imparting a silky finish. The bottle price for this Napa Valley, California stunner is $90 — higher than most Napa Valley sauvignon blancs, but a slam-dunk savings when you think about that bottle of Château d’Yquem.

Larkmead’s website refers to this high-priced white wine as “a sauvignon blanc that acts as a chardonnay.” Only 265 cases of this 2016 Lillie were produced at its estate in Calistoga, so it’s offered only in allocation.

Aside from the soil profile: Pleasanton Loam (clay), the big difference in the making of this wine is in the barrel aging. Lillie is special enough to have spent 10 months in a French barrel from La Charité-sur-Loire, France, and then a few months of downtime in a stainless steel tank before bottling. That explains why Lillie presents more like a chardonnay.

But it’s not.

Lillie is a sauvignon blanc without the Sauterne blend of semillon. And it’s pear season in Napa Valley, which may be why I conjured up pear notes at the top; perhaps it was more a sort of stone fruit or stone minerality. But then there’s a slight garden vegetable note at the bottom nose.

It’s all good.

The creamy mouthfeel and elegance of this summer white will set you craving a pineapple upside down cake.

Set this bottle down for 5 years and you’ll most likely get a creamier version with more complexity – similar to a Sauterne.

But it’s not. However, it will make an impression if you bring a bottle to your bestie’s barbeque this summer.

Summer in Style with Bubbles & Balls

Summertime is in full swing, and I’ve joined a boccé ball league.

Yes, I did.

I’ve never played before and now was as good a time as ever. I showed up early on a Friday evening ready to impress my team — with 2 bottles of Simonsig South Africa Kaapse Vonkel sparkling wine in-hand, one a 2016, and an award-winning 2015 brut. I skipped the first game and spent time popping corks over introductions with my team. We noshed and sipped in preparation of my inaugural boccé ball game (pétanque if you’re French).

I knew this Simonsig would be a winner because I sipped this last summer and fell in love with  this elegant South African rosé of pinot noir bubbles. It’s also got a bit of chardonnay and pinot meunier to add complexity — always a good idea to add finesse.

Bring a bottle to a friend’s for brunch on a lazy Sunday morning, or saber open a bottle with some takeout sushi. Bring a bottle and pay a corkage fee to enjoy Simonsig with a dozen oysters and a good friend.

By the time the first game was over, so was the Simonsig. Although I didn’t drink alone, I realized I had imbibed liquid courage to play this strange game that wasn’t quite like bowling as I’d thought when my first ball hit the wall, but more like pool. In fact, I kept this thought in my head as I took out my opponent’s green ball and moved my red in its place, but a bit closer to the palino (that little white target ball thrown out as the game begins).

My bubbly bribe worked, and I made new friends who shared my love for this South African brut. It was a win-win-win as my team won my first game, the bubbly I brought was a winner, and I won over a group of new friends.

Check out Simonsig bubbles at Quintessential Wines.

 

Down memory lane and the pursuit of sweetness

Fourteen years ago, I began my journey to learn the most I could about California wines. As a woman living in Boston, my awareness grew from visits to Napa and Sonoma. But one of the first California wines I appreciated was an old vine zinfandel made from Lodi grapes. Almost four years ago, I moved to Napa Valley, and when I opened a 2016 bottle of Ironstone Vineyards Reserve Old Vine Zinfandel from Lodi, it was a tasty reminder of my journey in the world of wine.

Those twisted, gnarly, head-trained vines are older than I am, and with a small dose of petite sirah and grapes sourced from five old-vine-zinfandel vineyards, this well-balanced wine is a bargain at $24.99.

I can’t say the same about the Moscato d’Asti D.O.C.G. 2017 from Luca Bosio Vineyards, but to be honest, I’m not a huge fan of moscato bianco. I do love the complex aromas of this Piedmont grape almost as much as I love a surprise bouquet of flowers. But it is undeniably sweet, and best sipped as an aperitif. $17.99

Speaking of sweet, a bottle of vino Dei Fratelli Mochetto tastes like drinking actual rose petals with a bit of effervescence to add dimension. I really did enjoy this wine, restricted to drinking one glass. Enjoy with dessert and you’ll be glad you chose this pink wine. $17

Speaking of pink bubbles, a toast was in order and validated my opening a bottle of Mionetto rosé sparkling wine. Extra dry. Although produced in Italy, I didn’t wane nostalgia for these soft-pressed red grapes with the peach blossom color. The flavor I can best describe is like drinking violets. Best served as an aperitif. Note: This prosecco might be a challenge to purchase in the U.S.

The time was right for Obsession, a 2016 red blend of California merlot, zinfandel and petite sirah. The merlot smooths the finish, the zinfandel catapults the palate, and three months spent in new French oak barrels sent me over the edge. I’m obsessed. $17

The obsession continued with a tall, slender bottle of 2016 Obsession Symphony California. Wow. This is a cross of Muscat of Alexandria and Grenache Gris grapes created in California. It’s exotic and fun to serve with Indian food.

Sometimes a wine label lures you to purchase a bottle of wine, and with Tom of Finland’s OUTstanding RED, let’s just say it’s the whole package. Tom of Finland is well-respected as a promoter of universal human rights and sexual expression – he was quite influential to the late 20-century gay culture. He was a Finnish artist known for his masculinized homoerotic fetish art, and has been called the “most influential creator of gay pornographic images” by cultural historian Joseph W. Slade. The wine, like Tom of Finland’s drawing on the label, is sensual in a blend of petite sirah, zinfandel, cabernet sauvignon and merlot.

Going stag is something I’ve become used to, and it’s an excellent method of effectiveness in networking. But that has little to do with a bottle of 2018 Samuel Charles Sauvignon Blanc, High Valley, other than the fact that I drank this solo and there’s a picture of a stag on the label. It was a perfect light wine to enjoy on my own and without regret.