Friday, March 13, 2020

Review: Tongue Dancer 2017 'Pinot de Ville' Pinot Noir Putnam Vineyard Sonoma Coast ($65)

Let me just start out by saying this is a really interesting, dynamic wine. It comes from the Sonoma Coast AVA, which is quite a broad AVA. Parts are super-cool, parts are a good bit warmer. The Putnam Vineyard in particular is located near Annapolis, which is only a few miles from the Pacific Coast. One expects Pinot Noir from this area to be a bit wiry and lighter in color. When you pour this wine into the glass, it's surprisingly dark, probably because of the small cluster Dijon clone grapes (clone 777 and 155) that make up most of the blend. These are clones of Pinot Noir that will give a wine intense saturation of color. Then when you taste the wine you really get an impression of the cool climate. It has mostly red fruit flavors: plum, raspberry and wild strawberry come to mind, and there's a decidedly spicy note on the finish, which might well be from some stem inclusion in the fermentation, or which also might be a product of the cool climate. At 14.2% alcohol, it's neither bombastic, nor is it sparse. What it is, is a great example of a complex, pleasure-delivering Pinot Noir from a very cool region. That's a challenging assignment, and I'll give this wine a solid A. (94 Points)

Review: St. Supery 2018 Dollarhide Estate Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc Napa Valley ($40)

Let's cut to the chase: I love Sauvignon Blanc, and I love great California Sauvignon Blanc. This state is capable of delivering some primo stuff when SB is grown in the right place and approached with experience and perspective. This particular wine, St. Supery's Dollarhide Ranch single vineyard Sauvignon Blanc, has been one of the state's benchmarks for decades running. I think you can chalk that up to a few factors. 1) This vineyard was planted with heritage "clone 1" vine cuttings from Chateau d'Yquem in Sauternes. It has pedigree. 2) clone 1 does really well in California, and elsewhere, delivering the grapefruit-and-grass flavors that distinguish this variety around the world. Clone 1 makes TEXTBOOK Sauvignon Blanc. 3) These vines at Dollarhide Ranch are getting to be kinda old, I mean at least 20 years+, graduated from college kind of old and all growed up. That gives you a different kind of Sauvignon Blanc in my opinion. You get deeper mouthfeel and body, more honey and hay notes in addition to the grapefruit and grass notes.

That DEPTH is the quality that Robert Mondavi's To Kalon Fume Blanc used to have before it was re-planted. Today it's something that Dollarhide Vineyard now delivers - something that it has slowly grown into after many years of "don't change a thing" excellence. I really think this is a wine that every American should try at least once in their life.

Oh yeah, the wine... it has gorgeous pink grapefruit, quince, hay, orange blossom honey, almond and meyer lemon notes. It's generous on the palate, bright on the finish, distinguished, inspiring, and excellent. (95 Points)

Reviews: New 2017 Pinot Noir Releases from Migration

Migration 2017 Running Creek Vineyard Pinot Noir Russian River Valley ($70)
The price tag is baller, but the wine's a banger. I just adore the bright blueberry and tart/sweet blackberry fruit flavors, and it doesn't go too far down the sweetness rabbit hole the way some Russian River Pinot does these days. The strawberry-rhubarb pie note on the finish is just right, and really lingers. It's irresistibly delicious now, but it should hold up well for another 7 or 8 years. (95 Points)

Migration 2017 Bien Nacido Vineyard Pinot Noir Santa Maria Valley ($70) 
This beauty comes from Santa Barbara County's famed Bien Nacido vineyard, which was founded in 1969 and played a very important role in the rise of Central Coast Pinot Noir in the 1970's and 1980's. The very large estate (now over 800 acres of vines) continues to deliver first class grapes today. This release is translucent and medim weight with velvety cherry and strawberry fruit laced with coriander and cinnamon spice notes. For me, it's the combination of feathery texture on the palate and persistent spice notes that really set it apart. (94 Points)

Monday, February 24, 2020

Review: Raimat 2016 'Pirinenca' Tempranillo Costers del Segre Spain ($14)

I'm fortunate in that I have the opportunity to taste a lot of expensive, fairly precious wines that deserve a lot of attention, and I tend to give it to them. But sometimes I'd prefer to sip a satisfying, easy to drink wine that isn't terribly pretentious and doesn't require too much thinking. This is just that kind of wine. The Tempranillo grape is widely grown in Spain, but it really flourishes in the northern areas of Rioja and Ribera del Duero. Costers del Segre is a bit farther east, just inland from Barcelona. Wines from Costers del Segre tend to be very good values, with a bit more focus and crispness than wines from farther inland and farther south. Raimat is easily one of the biggest brands from Costers del Segre. The wine itself sees just 12 months in oak and has fresh, velvety plum, cherry and red currant flavors with subtle hints of smoke and coffee. Slightly more generous than medium bodied, but very much translucent, you can serve this wine with just about anything. At this price it's a steal, and a nice step up from some of the cheapest Spanish wines you can find in a retail shop these days. Highly recommended. (88 Points)

Friday, February 21, 2020

Review: Alma de Cattleya 2017 Chardonnay Sonoma County, CA ($24)

Alma de Cattleya is a relatively young label established in 2011 by Bibiana Gonzalez Rave. Rave's resume is rather dazzling. Columbian by birth, she cut her teeth at Domaine Stephane Ogier in Cote-Rotie, and followed that with stints at Chateau Haut-Brion and La Mission Haut-Brion, and jobs in Burgundy, Alsace, Cognac, California and South Africa. Eventually, she decided to settle in California and start her own brand as well as consult for other wineries. In 2015, she was named Winemaker of the Year by the San Francisco Chronicle. Yep, this is a label to watch. For the price, this is very serious juice. It's deep and long, with beautiful fresh apricot, lemon, fennel, toasted almond and thyme notes and has ample acidity on the finish. Beautifully made. Well worth tracking down, it's as good as many Sonoma wines selling for twice the price or more. (94 Points)

- Tim Teichgraeber

Sunday, February 9, 2020

Languedoc Region Boasts Quality and Range

The Languedoc was the first part of France that the Romans used to expand viticulture into, and as recently as the 1980's, the Languedoc produced 10% of the worlds entire wine production. Back then, the region was mostly a source of cheap, basic red table wine. Over the last few decades though, the region is shoring up the quality of wines and showing off its excellent terroirs and sub-zones in spectacular fashion. Having spend a lot of time in this area, I genuinely believe is is one of the finest wine production areas in the world. Insider tip: it is also one of the most underappreciated, perhaps because it is complicated and difficult to understand, just as Burgundy is.

Do not let the complications of the Languedoc deter you from diving in to these deep waters. You will almost never be disappointed. Imagine saying that about investing in Burgundy... I'll leave it at that.

In the last several years I've had the great pleasure of twice attending a wine conference in the Languedoc region of Southern France called Terroirs et Millesimes. It's an incredible event, with massive regional wine tastings every morning, master classes, and visits to numerous A.O.C. regions withing the Languedoc like Faugeres, Pic St. Loup, Terrasses du Larzac, Picpoul de Pinet, and Minervois. My first visit to this area ten years ago was truly eye-opening, and my impression of the area only gets better and better.

Not only are the wines from decent producers almost uniformly excellent, the region boasts an impressive range of wine styles. Red blends from varieties including Grenache, Carignan, Mourvedre and Syrah are certainly the dominant varieties of the Languedoc, but you also get excellent rose wines, sparkling wines from Limoux, and even Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Cabernet Sauvignon from Malpere.

Here are reviews of a few wines I received recently from the French promotions agency Sopexa.

Cochon Volant 2018 Corbieres Rose ($12 est.) It could certainly be argued that the making of rose in the South of France is more a science than it is an art form with a broad expression of styles, but damned if they don't get it right 95% of the time. You're expected to make a light style, floral, fragrant rose, and almost everyone does, which is why the wines are so reliably delicious. This 90% Grenache, 10% Mourvedre rose is right in the pocket with quince and lavender aromas, and light, juicy violet and strawberry notes. (88 Points) 

Maris 2017 Languedoc Rouge ($18) Made from certified organic Syrah (80%) and Grenache (20%), this lovely red is produced by Chateau Maris, a substantial estate based in the Minervois A.O.C., but not all of the grapes are estate grown. Who really cares? It's a gorgeous medium-to-full weight red with juicy plum and raspberry fruit, garrigue (Languedoc countryside scrub) herb notes and great balance. Highly recommended. (90 Points)

Antech  2016 Limoux "Heritage" Brut Millesime ($20 est.) I'm not sure how widely distrubuted Antech's Limoux sparkling wines are in the U.S., but having tasted them many times (often blind, at Terroirs et Millesimes), I can testify that they are probably the most consistent, finest wines of Limoux. Coming from the Bay Area, the brand Antech sounds like it should almost have the words "Technology Solutions" following it, and the labels are stark. Don't let that fool you. This is a 6th generation family firm dating back to the 1890's. The 2016 vintage is lemony and crisp, rounded out by yeasty, bready notes, and punctuated with great bubbles. It's a very satisfying and reasonably priced sparkler. (90 Points)

Wednesday, January 8, 2020

Pineau des Charentes!

Up until this year I really hadn't had much experience with Pineau de Charentes (popular shorthand "PDC"), a fortified, semi-sweet spirit from Charente, the French departement that surrounds the famous brandy region of Cognac. PdC is made by adding unaged Cognac eau de vie to un-fermented grape juice, or slightly fermented grape must, then the mixture is matured in barrel for at least 8 months, sometimes for several years.The final result is usually right around 17% alcohol.

Most PdC is made using the preferred local white grape varieties for Cognac like Ugni Blanc, Folle Blanche and Columbard. There are also rose and red versions, the latter usually made from Bordeaux varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc.

Though it's made with the juice of wine grapes, PdC really isn't a wine. It's more like a liqueur. 

PdC is pretty delicious stuff, and it makes a great aperitif, usually served by itself, well chilled. It's also a popular accompaniment to foie gras. It's a little bit sweet, but not cloying, with the sugar balanced well by a bit of alcohol and nice acidity.

Because of it's sweetness and complex flavors, it has been gaining popularity as a cocktail ingredient. It basically is a cocktail, now that think about it... Some people like it with tonic (with an orange peel or lemon garnish). It's great with a couple of ice cubes as long as you don't dilute it too much, and an ounce of PdC can add a lot of panache to a glass of sparkling wine. It's not exactly the same thing, but young Pineau reminds me in some ways of the aperitif wine Lillet, which I also adore. The older, longer aged Pineaus are often compared to fortified tawny Ports because of their richer flavors and similar alcohol levels.

Rayon d'Or Pineau des Charentes ($25 est.) My old lady's cousin brought us this a couple of years ago and we just hadn't opened it since. I guess we weren't sure what to do with it. I finally cracked the screwcap and fell in love. It has a range of flavors slightly akin to a young tawny Port, with notes of raisin, orange marmalade, and caramel apple, but it's a bit fresher, brighter, and I think less viscous than a tawny. Like a tawny Port, it should be great as an accompaniment to all kinds of cheeses. (91 Points)

Bache Gabrielsen Very Old Pineau des Charentes ($42 est.) From the small Cognac maker of the same name, this one is aged 10 years and has deep apple pie, juicy fresh gala apple, cinnamon, caramel, and cardamom notes. Deep, complex, juicy and utterly delicious. (93 Points) 

Hardy Le Coq d'Or Pineau des Charentes ($25) From a well-known Cognac producer, this is a bright, relatively affordable and well-made Pineau with zesty orange, apple pie, cinnamon, and caramel notes. Textbook young Pineau at a reasonable price. (90 Points)

Reviseur Pineau des Charentes Vieux Pineau ($35) This older PdC has been aged for five years in barrel, giving it rich caramel, golden raisin, orange marmalade, vanilla, and cafe au lait flavors that are nicely layered and rich with a nutty, spicy finish. (92 Points)