Category Archives: Wine Reviews

A winery with no name

My experience during a stay at Aria Hotel Budapest (by Library Hotel Collection) began in the music-inspired lobby where a spaceship-shaped Bogányi piano was being played. Guests were gathered at various bistro tables to enjoy complimentary afternoon wine and cheese in the indoor music garden. I accepted a cool glass of Sauska Rosé, an award-winning wine from Villainy, in southwest Hungary. It was a delightful refresher.

The next day, I set out to explore Etyek, a village in Fejér county in Hungary, less than 20 miles from Budapest, where it’s a good idea to taste wines. Etyek is, after all, a wine region in Hungary where cool climates  produce fruity wine varietals such as Pinot Gris, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.

While visiting Anonym (translation: no name) Winery in Etyek, owned by Áron Szövényi and his family, I was treated to tastes of its rosé of pinot noir, sauvignon blanc, chardonnay and pinot noir. But it was the egyböl kettö blend of 40% pinot gris and 60% zenit (a varietal grown in Pázmánd, located about 40 miles south of Etyek) that stole the show, at least for my palate.

I had never heard of a zenit grape, but was informed that it is a rare, black-spotted, white grape varietal developed in 1951 by Hungarian viticulturist Dr. Ferenc Kiraly, who crossed Ezerjo, a local variety, with Bouvier, a grape cultivated in modern-day Slovenia.

I sipped a 2017 made using a reductive technique (when a winemaker ferments in stainless steel containers). These grapes were incredibly fruit-forward and brought forth a buttery mouthfeel of a “wow” factor. I purchased a bottle for $9 and took it home to enjoy later during a dinner party with friends. And now it’s gone forever with no hope of finding this wine in the U.S.

Although Anonym produces 23,000 bottles annually, they don’t export to the U.S. or anywhere else in the world because THEY RUN OUT OF WINE. They admitted to actually importing wine for local consumption.

Fun Fact: Hungary exports more Hungarian oak barrels than wine.

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Two bottles of organic grenache

Terroir is the environment of vineyard, including characteristics of altitude, slope, soil content, drainage, exposure to sun and ambient climate. But that’s not all. It is also the history, class and pedigree of the vineyard and winery. Vincent Lataste is a third generation winemaker who continues to carry out the family tradition, combining history with modernity. Founded in 1890, Lataste vineyards is manned by Vincent, who took over the family vineyards at the age of 17, after the death of his father.

The Languedoc-Roussillon region of France is where Vincent Lataste produces this organic grenache I had the pleasure to taste. The Mediterranean climate and limestone in the soil adds the minerality adored by oeonophiles.

How can wine be organic? It’s in the production of grapes, which are grown free of chemicals such as pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, insecticides or chemical fertilizers. Instead, natural methods of combating vineyard pests are employed. Ladybugs and praying mantis’ are a few insects that eat the pests that ruin grapes.

The soft, pale salmon-toned 2017 grenache proved to be fruit forward, and I was more than pleased with this wine because I love the soft palate of grenache and the subtle taste of raspberries. It’s smooth, balanced and refreshing as a rosé.

I also tried the 2015 grenache, which was straightforward in its elegant expression of strawberries and raspberries. This is a red wine to enjoy with something a bit heartier, such as sausages or steaks, and even game meats like rabbit.

Did I taste the organic elements? Honestly, I wouldn’t know what organic or non-organic tastes like, but I do know that I sometimes experience allergic reactions to pesticides, so there’s that.

The price is right for the consumer who wants quality organic wines; you can purchase a bottle of the rosé at around $20. So, whether you’re sipping on rosé from Château de Lardiley, or merlot from Château Mamin, LaTaste is your go-to organic wine for every season.

The sweet truth of two bubbles

Like any wine reviewer knows, you must have range and understand value wines in addition to wines created with financial backing to create some of the world’s best. If you’re like me, your budget doesn’t allow a pricey bottle of bubbles more than once a year, if that. My goal is to share some favorite finds of affordable bubbles.

Here are two options: one sweet and one dry, one that hails from Piedmont, Italy, and one that’s made in Argentina. These are two different choices, so one will hopefully work for you!

Honestly, moscato is a hit or miss grape for my palate. But for those who enjoy a 100% Italian (Piedmont) moscato bianco with a bit of bubbles – and love sweet wine – you’ll want to purchase a bottle of Lucia Bosio Vineyards 2016 Moscato d’Asti D.O.C.G. ($17.99). Although this wine wasn’t one of my favorites, it will be somebody’s special sweet wine of summer. Enjoy with fruits, aged cheeses or hazelnut cake, or simply as an aperitif.

This is a wine with just a bit of bubbles created with secondary fermentation, or “pris de mousse” that took place over two months in its own yeast.

What is “pris de mousse” you ask? The secret to a successful secondary fermentation is in the temperature of the cellar. For this wine, the two months brought forth aromas of pear and taste of green apple.

My next review pleased my palate much better. Made with 100% chardonnay, the sparkling Toso Brut NV produced by Pascual Toso from the region of Maipu, Mendoza in Argentina proved to be celebratory. This was a perfectly balanced inexpensive bottle of bubbles ($12.99) to enjoy as a toast to celebrate any occasion: breakfast (w/some OJ), lunch or dinner works for me! There aren’t layers of character to this wine, so it would be considered unrefined, but it is crisp, bright and refreshing on its own.

What’s old is new again at Cakebread Cellars

The story of Cakebread Cellars begins in Oakland, California. Jack and Dolores Cakebread were high school sweethearts who married and led a somewhat average life…to start. Jack was a mechanic but loved taking photographs…enough to study under Ansel Adams at Yosemite. In homage to Ansel Adams, a new outdoor section at Cakebread Cellars incorporates a stone from Yosemite.

In 1972 Jack was hired as a photographer to head to the Napa Valley on assignment for “The Treasury of American Wines”. His payment for the book of images was later used as a down payment for Cakebread Cellars, a modest structure at that time. It wasn’t until 1985 that the structure seen today was built. Another renovation is in process – a visitor center which will be complete sometime next year.

Although Stephanie Jacobs has served a few roles at Cakebread Cellars for over a decade, most recently she was appointed as head winemaker. Among the 14 vineyards Cakebread owns, she has a love affair with pinot noir from Anderson Valley. I couldn’t wait to try a glass and share her comments with you:

Several of us on the Cakebread production team are UC Davis alums, so we enjoy partnering with their Viticulture and Enology researchers to explore new innovations – from the vineyards to the cellar – in pursuit of quality. That could mean new technology and equipment, like the infrared spectroscopy machine that we’ve started using in the lab to analyze large amounts of grape samples in short amounts of time.  What may have taken four hours in the past now only takes an hour, which is precious time savings during the busy harvest season and helps us make more timely grape picking decisions. 

Innovation isn’t just chasing what’s new.  It could also mean revisiting older historic techniques that have fallen out of fashion or are less commonly used.  For example, we harvest nearly all of our grapes at night because we think it greatly improves fruit quality, plus it provides cooler temperature working conditions for our picking crews during the warm Napa weather months.  Concrete egg fermentation tanks and larger-sized puncheon oak barrels are other examples of “what’s old is new again” when it comes to winemaking explorations.

On a hot 100 degree Saturday, I froze inside the air-conditioned private tasting room, where a pour of a 2017 sauvignon blanc set the stage for a superb tasting of a 2015 chardonnay reserve made from Carneros grapes. Carneros is a region within Napa Valley with a cooler climate; the grapes grow a thinner skin. This wine feels like cream on my palate and instantly I recall my gal pals on the North Shore of Boston who loved Cakebread Cellars chardonnay. I wholeheartedly agree.

Aside from tasting wines, Cakebread Cellars offers cooking classes and an in-depth tour twice each morning to oversee vineyard production – from the grapes’ path to the bottle. Cooking classes include the harvest from Dolores’s Garden for farm-to-table offerings.

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Finally, I’m ready to taste the 2015 pinot noir from grapes of Apple Barn vineyard. This is a heavy counterpart to Annahala Ranch and sold only at this winery. If you’re a wine club member, you can get this wine. This wine alone is worth the membership. But if you require more incentive, upcoming wine club events include an August 25 Full Moon Dinner at Dancing Bear Ranch, an October 13 Harvest Dinner and a December 1 Holiday Cooking Class.

OK, I’m ready for a tasting of the 2014 Dancing Bear Ranch Estate Merlot ($54), which turns out to be robust and dry, with 6% cabernet sauvignon to give it a good backbone.

If you’re in the Napa Valley and want to know what restaurant wine lists include Cakebread Cellars, check out Saint Helena: Cook, Goose & Gander, Market and Sunshine Market.

My farewell sip, a 2013 cabernet sauvignon from Dancing Bear Vineyard, is smooth – an actual drink alone cab?! One bottle will set you back $146 but like so many great wines of California, it’s worth the splurge.

 

10 Summer Sips, including a Sparkling Shiraz

Halfway through summer and tired of rosé, I don’t know about you, but I’m ready for some summer whites. To kick things up a notch, I’ll throw in a sparkling shiraz. Here’s my list of recommendations in order of my personal preference:

  • Let’s make white wine really interesting with a bottle of 2016 Grüner Veltliner Count Karolyi ($11) from the region of Pannon in the country of Hungary. It’s dry with a lemon bouquet and its light spritz is as refreshing as the cool of morning when those grapes were picked. Enjoy as an aperitif, poolside, with an eggplant mozzarella sandwich and with shellfish dishes.
  • Cortese grapes grow in Gavi and Tassarolo village in the southeastern part of the Piedmont, close to the city of Genoa and the sea. This Italian terroir is bottled as a 2016 Luca Bosio Gavi (DOCG) ($18.99) by Luca Bosio Vineyards. This wine’s aromatic complexity (floral overtones and a bouquet of pineapple, apricot and peach) is a result of the grapes’ 24 hours spent in contact with its skin before they’re pressed and the must fermented in steel tanks. Three months in contact with its own yeasts post-fermentation and another three in the bottle and you can count on a good pairing with chicken and pork dishes.
  • A bottle of Spanish Verdejo sets the stage for seafood and fish or pasta and rice dishes. From the region of Vino de La Tierra de Castilla, a bottle of Real Compania Verdejo ($11.99) is refreshing and intense with exotic fruits and fresh herbs.
  • If Wine Spectator awarded a bottle of 2015 Georges Dubœuf Pouilly-Fuissé ($34.99) 90 points, who am I to disagree? A white Burgundy never disappoints. Prestigious, balanced and best served with smoked salmon, sole meuniére or chicken in cream sauce, this chardonnay is a true summer sip.
  • I happen to adore Ironstone whites of Lodi, California, the first being a 2017 sauvignon blanc ($13.99). If you can get your hands on an authentic New England lobster roll, enjoy with a glass of this zesty blend of 88% sauvignon blanc and 12% viognier.
  • If you prefer to pair the perfect wine with grilled scallops or trout dishes, try the 2016 Ironstone Chardonnay ($14)
  • If you’re invited to a cookout with shrimp on the Barbie, bring along a bottle of 2016 Ironstone Vineyards Chenin Blanc ($12) and you’ll wow everyone.
  • Heading back out of the U.S., I’m sipping on a Spanish albariño with my sushi. To be exact, a 2016 Pazo Cilleiro Albariño produced by Bodegas Muriel in the region of Rías Baixas (D.O.) ($19.99) of northwestern Spain. You can also serve this with fish paella.
  • The chenin blanc grape has its roots in South Africa, so a bottle of 2017 Simonsig Chenin Blanc from Simonsig Estate in Stellenbosch, South Africa, works for me ($13.99). Keep it light and serve as an aperitif.
  • Finally, if you like the taste of Welch’s grape juice with fizz, you’ll love a bottle of 2016 Paringa Sparkling Shiraz from The ARH Australian Wine Company in South Australia. I’m advised to drink with bacon and eggs for breakfast, but seriously… save your $17.99 for one of the wines at the top of my list. I love a good cab-shiraz from South Australia, and I love a good sparkling, but not this one.

Three Shades of Rosé

The little black dress isn’t only for women. Sorry, ladies, but according to a 2018 Wine Intelligence Study, over half of rosé wine drinkers are male! Excelsior Wine Company discovered a way to cater to both sexes… with a gender-neutral label of a script acronym, “lbd” and to cater to the ladies… its new vintage has been featured as part of LBD Cares Initiative supporting women at nationwide events. How’s that for keeping everyone happy?

My bottle of Mendocino County, California 2017 ldb rosé pours a full-flavored watermelon and berry sweet summer sip. It is the perfect blend of zinfandel and petite syrah in a pink-salmon shade that speaks of summertime.  The price point doesn’t break the bank, either. At $12/bottle, visit www.lbdwines.com to locate your Little Black Dress. If you’re feeling cocktail creative, here’s a recipe for an LBD Spritzer:

  • 4 oz. LBD Rosé
  • 1/2 oz. lychee liqueur
  • 1/2 oz. Pama liqueur (or POM juice)
  • 2 dashes of rhubarb bitters
  • Dash of Strawberry Rhubarb soda or Club soda

Fill a wine glass with ice. Combine LBD Rosé, lychee liqueur, Pama liqueur, and rhubarb bitters. Top with strawberry rhubarb soda or club soda. Garnish with fresh-cut strawberries and wheels of lime and fresh sprig of rosemary.

Next, I sipped a Vivanco 2016 Tempranillo Garnacha. This is a deeper shade of rosé and hails from Rioja, Spain in a blend of 80% tempranillo and 20% garnacha from Vivanco’s estate vineyards. The bottle was inspired by an original 18th century bottle on display at the Vivanco Museum of the Culture of Wine. Visit www.vivancowineculture.com for more information. The buildup to taste begins with aromas of red licorice, raspberry, and strawberry wrapped in a floral mix of roses and violets. This affordable bottle retails at $14.99.

Last, but not least is a Western Cape, South Africa sparkling Simonsig Kaapse Vonkel Brut produced at Simonsig Wine Estate. I brought this straw-colored bottle to a Fourth of July celebration/cookout and it was a huge hit! I will definitely be ordering more bottles to pair with breakfast (scrambled eggs), lunch (sushi) and dinner (duck) with dessert of almond cake suggested as the perfect pairing. Priced at $25/bottle, I’m impressed.

Three varietal staples of sparkling wine went into this brut: chardonnay, pinot noir and a touch of pinot meunier. If you enjoy sipping light flavors of apples and pears, you’ll love this sparkling imported by Quintessential Wines. Note of interest: In 2004, winemaker Johan Malan created the first ever blend of Pinotage.

St. Hugo of the Barossa Valley, Australia

We were chauffeured to the Barossa Valley, a premier wine region an hour from Adelaide in South Australia, in a vintage Daimler as part of an Ultimate Wine Experiences tour. First stop: St. Hugo winery.

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Although we were in the one of the driest continents in the world, it rained off and on that day, mostly when our group walked through the vineyards. Our umbrella procession escalated in its amusement when we spotted a few kangaroos hopping between a few rows of grapevines. No need to worry about the grapes; kangaroos like to munch on the grass and offer free labor for their excellent vineyard maintenance.dsc02568.jpg

Inside the luxurious underground private tasting room, where a vault holds a time capsule of vintage wines, I tasted from a bottle of 2016 Shiraz that had no label. Like most Australian wines, it was secured via screw cap. This wine offered a lovely perfume of cherry with a slight of oak, and its taste was somewhat approachable, but could be more so once it’s released next year. The grapes for this Shiraz were sourced from several vineyards.

While at St. Hugo, I learned that from 1980 through 2008, the region only grew Cabernet Sauvignon grapes, but now there’s plenty of Shiraz, Grenache and a few white grape varietals, especially impressive are the Semillon grapes.

I taste a 2015 Barossa Shiraz with ripe tannin structure. Very nice, full-bodied. And then a 2009 Barossa Shiraz harvested during a drought. Those vines were stressed while growing in the ancient sea bed soil, and as a result, the wine offers an intense flavor and velvety structure with great tannins and leather aroma. If held for three more years, you’d get more characteristics of plums and pepper.

Next, a 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon with no label was green pepper dominant in its aroma. St. Hugo deems this as its flagship cabernet. It tastes different than my palate recognizes as cabernet, but it does have a good tannin structure and I find it interesting in comparison to the 2009 cabernet that was so black currants-jammy and high in acidity that I craved a filet mignon to make it work for me.

Behind the Saint

Formerly the wine label Gramp & Sons, St. Hugo came about following a tragedy that occurred in 1938, when Hugo Gramp’s flight from Adelaide to Melbourne – with two other prominent wine industry members, Thomas Hardy and Sidney Hill Smith, ended with a crash.

Honoring Hugo as a legend in winemaking, in 1983, a wine labeled “St. Hugo” was released. The “Saint” was inspired by European tradition of naming vineyards after saints in order to bestow good fortune upon them.

The first St Hugo Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon was made with grapes harvested in 1980 and hailed for its power and elegance, much like the great man himself. St Hugo sets the benchmark for excellence in Australian Cabernet Sauvignon.

Two French Rosés and a Portuguese White to Enjoy This Summer

Rosé is probably the most subjective wine that catapults conversations and arguments among wine drinkers. Considered the summertime sip, there are variations on the winemaking methods and grapes used to create a ballet-pink to jewel-ruby color wine, best served chilled.

As a fan of Alsace wines, I wasn’t surprised to fall in love with a 2017 Gustave Lorentz Pinot Noir – Le Rosé, even though I prefer Grenache rosés. Pretty as a perfume bottle, its shape and label match the elegant palate of soft and supple femininity. I would suggest sipping this throughout summer, and stocking up isn’t going to break the bank, either. Depending on where you purchase this wine, it ranges from $13 up to $19.99 per bottle. It also pairs well with barbecue, roasted meats salads, light cheeses, non-spicy Chinese, Vietnamese, Thai and Indian foods. Win-win.

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Next, a bottle of Chateau Ferry Lacombe Haedus Rosé 2017, Cotes de Provence (AOP) France sets the stage for rosé excellence. I gave this wine five stars on Vivino because of color, clarity and taste. All magnificent. Fifty percent Grenache, 25 percent syrah, 15 percent cinsault and 10 percent vermentino work for me. The soft pink/peach color leads to a delicate taste of raspberry and strawberry mixed with some freshly-picked white and citrus fruits. Served best as an aperitif, but if you must sip with food, choose white meats or grilled fish, mixed salads, paella or Thai satay. Priced at $21.99 a bottle, you’ll want to savor this one.

Now we’ll head to Portugal for a 2016 Vila Nova Vinho Verde (DOC) made with 50 percent Loureiro, 30 percent Arinto and 20 percent Avesso grapes. Priced at $11.99, you get what you pay for with this bottle. It’s a bit Vila_Nova_Verde_BFfrizz-forward upon opening, but once it relaxes, it offers a fresh, tropical fruit palate. Best served with shellfish and vegetarian dishes (sushi).

 

www.quintessentialwines.com

 

Two wines, Two Angels

Jacob DeBacker’s artistic interpretation of the Two Angels label of Lake County, California is a yin-yang for oenophiles; it depicts the hilarity of inebriation and the trauma of the morning after. In my own yin-yang evaluation of one white and one red, I came to the following conclusions:

#1 – Two Angels Sauvignon Blanc made from grapes grown in High Valley, California, proved to be a lovely 2017 vintage priced at approximately $15. I enjoyed sipping this fruit-forward wine and was informed that it is reminiscent of the Rhone Valley’s Crozes-Hermitage vineyards, which are in the northern region opposite of where the best Rhone grapes are grown. This French region uses white grapes as a blend in the red wines. High Valley in Lake County, California offers red volcanic soils from the hillsides while the valley floor provides well-drained beds for the vines.

What makes this wine special is the winemaking technique of leaving a percentage of sur lies, as it adds a silky-ness while keeping it crisp. I give it three stars.

#2 – Two Angels Petite Syrah made from grapes grown in Red Hills of Lake County, California is a 2015 vintage. What you need to know is that in 2015, Lake County experienced a horrific fire storm. I was eager to see what resulted in the finished product, especially knowing a bottle is priced at approximately $25.

Upon a pour, this was as inky as a petit syrah should be in color, but it fell flat after the start. It was texturally rich but with a band-aid finish, sort of like a dead end, devoid of fruit. It was an abrupt end to a good start. It was more a beverage than a wine. I give it two stars. I do look forward to the next few vintages to taste a difference.

The ‘Little Rascal’ of Northern Italy

The scent of honeysuckle thrills me. Italy thrills me. Wine thrills me. And I was able to embrace all three pleasures in a bottle of 2016 Langhe Arneis (DOC) from Luca Bosio Vineyards in Piedmont, Italy.

As one of the most acclaimed Old World wine regions in Italy, Piemonte (Piedmont) is located in the northwest corner, and is a region most notable for its Barolo wines. In Italian, Langhe Arneis means “little rascal”, which is a good way to describe this grape and the winemaking method where technology and rural tradition co-exist.

Valter and Luca Bosio, father and son, with Rosella, mother and wife, manage Bosio Family Estates. The Bosio’s winemaking philosophy is about sharing a heritage: “It’s our style, style of people who like to cultivate the vineyards and make wine, an old and tiresome ritual that is patrimony of everybody, as the piedmontese landscape is.”

I was ready to pour a glass. The first thing I noticed was this deep straw yellow color, which may be a result of the young winemaker’s method of 24-hour arneis grape skin contact. Next, I inhaled the aroma, and its floral scent gave way to a fruity taste of apricots, pineapple and peaches, which explains why this wine would pair well with white fish, chicken, pork and savory vegetable dishes.

I was ready to pair with dinner, but all I had was a slice of pepperoni pizza. This was not a good pairing because the red sauce heightened the acid component a bit too much for my taste. Next time, I’ll try it with white fish.

Now that I’ve sipped this Piedmont arneis, I’ve established an introduction to the Langhe region. Eventually, I hope to visit Piedmont, Italy, so that I might taste more of its wines. Until then, cheers!