Category Archives: Wine Reviews

The Upshot of Rodney Strong

Northern Sonoma County, especially Knights Valley and Alexander Valley, produce some of the best dark berry fruit for wines. Both winegrower Ryan Decker and winemaker Justin Seidenfeld have created Upshot, a Rodney Strong red blend at a reasonable price of $28. The label is a circular calendar highlighting the back story in the making of this wine, and the tagline, “Life Simply Does Not Blend Itself” is playful and approachable to wine novices and oenophiles.

Speaking of back story, the Rodney Strong story published on their website is quite interesting:

“Our story begins over 55 years ago, when a celebrated American dancer named Rod Strong settled in Sonoma County to pursue a second lifelong creative passion: winemaking. Rodney Strong Vineyards was the 13th winery bonded in the newly discovered Sonoma County wine industry. A trio of winemaking paths crossed when Rick Sayre joined the team as Winemaker in 1979, and again when the Klein Family, 4th generation California farmers, purchased the winery in 1989 and initiated a renewed commitment of modern artisan winemaking. Through the years, Rodney Strong Vineyards has earned the reputation for critically acclaimed Single Vineyard and Reserve wines, stand out Estate releases and best-in-class Sonoma County varietal wines.”

Upshot actually means, “the final or eventual positive outcome or conclusion of a discussion, action, or series of events” — and this red blend is a collaboration of the winemaking process from the 2015 harvest to the 2017 release.

Five grapes were involved in this blend: zinfandel, merlot, malbec, petit verdot and …wait for it….riesling! Says winemaker Justin Seidenfeld,

“The Upshot of blending these varietals is a wine that was made to underscore my passion for blending wine, a place that I love, and my enjoyment for this amazing life I get to live.”

I found this wine enjoyable without being pretentious… simply a good table wine priced at a great value. Just as taste sensations change in different contexts and situations, it’s interesting to note that there are white wine characteristics that come through within the deep blackberry and dark cherry burst of flavor, especially on the nose, as well as in the light tannin structure. And I enjoyed this with a variety of popcorn snacks and a turkey burger!

Visit https://www.rodneystrong.com/wines/upshot/ for more information.

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Martha shares her palatable wine picks

True-to-form, Martha Stewart excels as the DIY queen for home-bodies who seek to simply decorate their surroundings or add pizzazz to dinner parties. So, it would make perfect sense for the gal who continues to experience a career as a television personality, author, publisher — not to mention her former real-life role as a white-collar criminal and amazing ability to get back in the game — to assert her notoriety and jump on the bandwagon of a trendsetting wine company!

Her website: marthastewartwine.com offers a guide for matching her suggested wines with the flavors on a dinner menu. Her tips keep in line with her brand’s mission, which is to celebrate the art of creative living, simplified. For example, she includes “Easy-to-Find cheeses That Will Work Every Time”, listing:

  • Double Gloucester
  • Sharp Cheddar
  • Parmigiano-Reggiano
  • Gouda
  • Manchego
  • Chevre
  • Brie
  • Havarti

Martha claims to have personally tasted each and every wine she’s selected from worldwide vineyards. With every order she includes a pairing chart for reds, whites and sparkling wines to highlight four choices of food pairings.

The old adage, “you get what you pay for” rings true, but there’s really nothing wrong with that if you’re seeking sips that won’t break the bank, yet are acceptable — even enjoyable.

My palate was poised for 4 bottles that included 1 Arbos Bianco of Italy, 2 French whites and 1 2014 Le Vassal De Mercues Malbec Cahors. Of the four, I would re-order the 2016 Cuvee Joelle Mauzac, a white wine from South West France that wasn’t too dry or sweet — an easy wine to drink, and absolutely order the A D’Arche White Blend Bordeaux (50% Semillon and 50% Sauvignon Blanc), a diamond in the rough with a lovely floral and citrus nose and flavor that highlights its terroir of Bordeaux minerality. I’d recommend enjoying both of these wines with smoky cheese and charcuterie.

With the holiday season swiftly approaching, giving the gift of a Martha Stewart Wine Company box is affordable and fun! You can order holiday gift packs of 4 bottles for as low as $59.95.

 

Celebrated sips: California’s Central Coast

Living in the Napa Valley, I’ve become accustomed to high-end wines crafted by celebrated winemakers known throughout the world. So when I had the chance to try three wines of the Central Coast, I was a bit skeptical. With Thanksgiving nearly here, I decided to first try the 2015 tangent Albariño of Edna Valley ($17), mainly because I enjoy this Spanish varietal and realize it is sparsely planted in California.

The Niven family’s estate vineyard, Paragon, revels in its SIP™ Vineyard Certification (Sustainability in Practice). The grapes for tangent grew in the Edna Valley, halfway between Monterey to the north and Santa Barbara to the south, mimicking the Rías Baixas climate in the province of Galicia.

My first pour enlightened me on the idea that you really can bring a taste of Spain to California, even with American soil and cultivation. The nose on this wine proved citrus clean and fresh, and the taste was pure Albariño, dry and light with medium acidity. When you buy this wine, try it with sushi (ahi tuna) and you will not be disappointed. In fact, you can drink this wine alone and be perfectly happy.

Next, I tried a 2015 Zocker Grüner Veltliner of Edna Valley, a really good pick to bring to your host for Thanksgiving dinner ($20). These Grüner Veltliner and Riesling grapes are grown in the same region as the tangent Albariño, and is also SIP™ certified. Also, both of these white wines were aged in stainless steel tanks without ever sitting in an oak barrel. And both are screw caps.

Aromas of pepper, tastes of minerality and melons set the stage for a winning wine crafted by winemaker Christian Roguenant. Kudos!

The quote on the label of my final wine review of this area says it all: “Her Secret is Patience”. The 2014 True Myth Cabernet Sauvignon ($24) of Paso Robles is a glowing representation of what Mother Nature can do with finesse. Its motto is “Taste and Believe” and I am on board as a believer! With just enough oak to create cherry and vanilla notes, and a light spice finish, this smooth cabernet sauvignon I sipped has only one drawback for me… I wish I had saved it to enjoy it even more in a few years. Stock your wine cellar with this one, and you won’t be sorry!

Lesson learned: Central Coast wines are worth sipping, and even though the pricing is less than the majority of Napa Valley wines, it doesn’t mean they are lesser in quality and taste!

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.

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