My Top 10 Grillin’ Wines

As my somewhat pessimistic colleague always says… no one reads copy. So let’s just get right to the juice that will immensely improve your 2014 BBQ season:

10. Belle Ambiance 2013 Pinot Grigio, California – I am usually not a Pinot Grigio fan, but this is like Summer in a bottle and my new “house white”. Floral and citrus aromas that lead to stone fruit and hints of honeysuckle on the palate, good weight for a PG too. ($10-12)

9. Matarromera 2009 Crianza Tempranillo, Ribera del Duero – All kinds of black fruits with roasted coffee, pepper and earthy notes. Big yet balanced wine. ($30-35)

8. Barrel 27 2011 “Right Hand Man” Syrah Central Coast – With 7% Viogner it’s made in the Cote Rotie style. Dark fruit, dark chocolate and peppery spice, excellent value. ($15-20)

7. Seaglass 2012 Pinot Noir, Santa Barbara – For my money this is the best Santa Barbara Pinot in town. Classic Pinot fruit with hints of earth and spice complemented by a good dose of acidity. Perfect with poultry off the grill. ($12-15)

6. Chalone 2010 Chardonnay, Limited Release, Chalone AVA – Lots of classic apple, melon and banana fruit on the nose and palate with a great balance of acidity and oak aging ($13-18)

5. Argiano Non Confunditur 2011 – Don’t miss this serious Super Tuscan! Powerful yet balanced with alluring dark fruit, mineral and licorice. Nice acidity too so it will work with anything from grilled veggies to a Ribeye steak. ($16-20)

4. Bodegas Goulart 2010 Malbec, The Marshall, Mendoza – Aside from the great name, this is a tremendously balanced, lush and sultry wine. Blackberry, peppery spice, floral notes and racy tannins make this a no-brainer pairing for those saucy St. Louis BBQ ribs. ($20-25).

3. Two Hands 2012 Shiraz Angels’ Share, McLaren Vale  – Two Hands makes some of the best Shiraz out there, like the much more expensive Barossa Valley Bella’s Garden. But for under $30 this is a dark, dense and opulent fruit driven wine that screams for any kind of meat you choose to BBQ.

2. Manzanita Creek 2009 Zinfandel, Cloud Buster, Russian River Valley – What a ridiculous value Zin this is for under $20! Brimming with brambly berry, blueberry pie, brown spice and black pepper this is a wine that pleases on all levels. Super long and fruit filled finish keeps you coming back for more. ($20-28)

And the number 1 wine for this grillin’ season is….

1. Chateauneuf du Pape 2012 Domaine Barville, Brotte – A simply stunning, complex and big CDP loaded with really pure and expressive black fruits laced with black pepper, leather and meaty notes. The balance of acid and tannins gives this a harmonious balance making it a sure fire winner for whatever you plan to grill. It isn’t cheap, but in the realm of Chateauneufs it is a tremendous value considering the quality. ($40-45)

But really the best wine to drink at your summer BBQ is whichever one gives you the most pleasure! So if you’re a Napa Cab fan, don’t be afraid to break out that Caymus, Silver Oak or Duckhorn the next time the mood strikes you…clearly they will all be fantastic with a properly cooked piece of beef too.

Cheers!

 

 

Check out these Summer Whites and “My” Malbec

While the weather around here is still way too cold to be considered Spring, it will be warming up soon. I mean, it has to right?? I recently hosted a couple of virtual tastings for two white wines that I am already stocking up on for this Spring/Summer. Both lend themselves to lighter fare (fish or poultry) but can also be enjoyed on their own as refreshing summer sippers. Best of all, they are fantastic values!

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I also co-hosted a video with my colleague Erika and we tasted this killer Malbec which happens to share my name… The Marshall! It’s made from extremely old vines that grow in a small single vineyard within Mendoza. It’s a big, soft and spicy red that will pair perfectly with just about any meat you intend to throw on the grill this summer. Check out the videos below…

Enjoy!

Belle Ambiance 2013 Pinot Grigio, California

Kunde 2012 Sauvignon Blanc, Magnolia Lane, Sonoma Valley

Bodegas Goulart 2010 Malbec, The Marshall, Mendoza

Viva Italia!

Just some tasting notes on a couple of Italian stallions that I pulled out of the cellar recently and enjoyed with family. Both aging beautifully and will still improve over the next 3-7 years.

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Taurasi DOCG 2008 Donnachiara

This has to be one of the most structured and well balanced wines at this price point (around $30-35). It has complex black fruit layered over the clove and baking spices and earthy undertones. A varietally true Aglianico wine… the balance of acid, tannins, herbal and rustic features are in complete harmony. It finishes with a pleasant chalkiness and hints of bitter dark chocolate.

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Regina di Renieri 2007 IGT Toscana

This is hands down perennially one of my favorite Super Tuscans. Syrah from this region (this being 100% Syrah)  imparts wonderfully dark and concentrated black fruit character on these wines. The licorice, spice and mineral additions just add to the complexity and balance. A tremendous food friendly wine as it maintains acidity on the mid-palate with supple tannins showing up on the back end through the fruit filled and lengthy finish.

The Green Era of 2011 Continues…

Below is a post that I wrote in April of last year… and unfortunately for Napa and Sonoma Cab lovers I was pretty dead on! Many of these 2010 and 2011 wines have had some green and herbaceous qualities to them (which can be a pleasant characteristic), while a lot of them have ONLY green and herbaceous qualities which is no bueno!

I have been tasting more of the 2011 wines lately and this “green effect” seems to be much more prevalent and overpowering in most of these wines. 2010 still had some standouts that avoided this overly stalky quality such as Cabs from Hanna, Clos du Val, Sequoia Grove and Pride. But for most of the 2011 Napa/Sonoma Cabs I have sampled so far the vegetal quality has been anywhere from noticeable to overpowering…not what you are looking for from these wines. The Peju Cab somehow avoided it, and Caymus was as consistently solid as ever. So just beware of the vintage when grabbing those Cabs from Napa/Sonoma… I would say the safer bet for now is to stick with the 2010 over the 2011 vintage.

Cheers!

(Below is my original post)

Nowadays when people throw the word “green” out there, they are usually referring to something being ecologically sound or environmentally beneficial. When it comes to wine, green means something entirely different. Sure, it can refer to a wine being made organically or bio-dynamically, but it is typically a way to refer to wines (usually reds) as being somewhat under-ripe. If you are a Napa Cab drinker and plan on drinking those wines from these two vintages, you should become familiar with this dynamic.

There is a saying that good wine is made in the vineyard, meaning that without great fruit there is not much you can do with the juice. A large factor leading to quality grapes being produced has to do with the weather that particular growing year which is early spring to fall in the Northern Hemisphere. Yes, vineyard location plays a pivotal role and so does vineyard management, but without the right temperatures, rainfall and climate… those vines can be in danger of producing a small amount of grapes and not very quality ones at that.

The last two years have been tough weather wise in Napa, and for a late ripening grape like Cabernet Sauvignon that can mean trouble. When grapes are not ripe enough at harvest they can be a bit green… but what does that mean? It could result in a stalky characteristic, possibly an herbaceous or grassy nature  or even reminiscent of a rhubarb flavor. However it comes out, unless it is in minmal amounts it is not very desirable. In these last two vintages, that green effect is going to be tough to avoid in Napa Cabs. Of course the best vineyards and the best winemakers will still be making quality wine, but it may need some aging and there won’t be a lot of it so it will most likely be more expensive than the previous vintages.

So what can you do as a consumer? Taste some of these Napa Cabs from 2010 and see if they suit your palate. This under-ripening of grapes can also give wine a lot of acidity and low tannins which some people prefer. But if you like your Napa Cabs big and bold then you may want to check out some of the Paso Robles Cabs as they seemed to fair better. Or venture out to some of the Rhone wines from 2010. It was a fantastic vintage there and practically all the wines, from the everyday Cotes du Rhone to the single vineyard Chateuneuf du Papes, have been excellent thus far. Think of it as a good reason to expand your horizons or to buy some Napa Cab cellar selections instead of the everyday ones that are usually ready to drink.
Cheers!

Top Thanksgiving Wines Under $15!

It’s completely ludicrous to think that Thanksgiving is just a little over a week away…but ready or not here it comes. Seems like there is always so much to do before this holiday: figuring out who is hosting, planning menus, ironing out the guest list and of course deciding which wines will make it to the table.

Wine lovers will often inquire about what wine makes the best paring for a Thanksgiving meal. The simplest answer is Riesling or Chardonnay for the whites and Zinfandel, Pinot Noir and Rhones for the reds as the peppery spice in all of those reds match up well with the traditionally prepared Thanksgiving bird. I have tasted some value/inexpensive options over the past month that clearly distinguished themselves as wines that would only enhance this food driven holiday…so I thought I would share.

If you plan on serving white wine with the meal you want to check out the 2012 Wilim Alsace Riesling and the 2012 Chateau Ste. Michelle Columbia Valley Chardonnay. The Wilim Riesling is made in typical Alsace fashion with bright citrus and apple fruit, lovely balance (not a very sweet wine) and a dry, minerally finish. The CSM Chard is such a food friendly wine offering supple pear, apple and melon flavors with just the right amount of that oaky and buttery character rounding out the palate. Both are steals that can be found for under $15 retail.

When it comes to Pinot, there are two clear standouts in this value price range…the 2012 Santa Rita Pinot Noir 120 Central Valley and the Seaglass 2012 Santa Barbara Pinot. You will be SHOCKED when you taste that Santa Rita 120 and realize it is from Chile. No dirty, muddy undertones that most inexpensive Chilean reds carry. Just pure, clean and expressive Pinot character with loads of vibrant berry fruit, black pepper and spice…and at under $10 it is a no brainer! The Seaglass is a perennial favorite of mine as it is delicate in nature but well structured with a lingering finish. Easily mistaken for a sub appellation Santa Barbara Pinot twice the price.

For all the ZinHeads out there, my under $15 choice for Turkey Day this year has to be the 2011 Joel Gott California Zinfandel. My family has spent many Thanksgivings with Mr. Gott (well, his wines anyway) and he never disappoints. All that blueberry and blackberry fruit layered over baking and peppery spices make for a wonderful accompaniment to a well stuffed bird and all the trimmins. And at right around $15 it is a serious value as well.

Cotes du Rhones are usually not my favorite, as I tend to find them overly tart and on the light side (yes, I am completely overgeneralizing). However the 2011 Selection Laurence Feraud CDR brought about that WOW feeling which these wines rarely elicit. Considering the wine was produced by the famed CDP Domaine du Pegau winemaker I shouldn’t have been so surprised. It is super approachable with vibrant berry and red cherry fruit surrounded by hints of dark chocolate and spice. The tannins are mellow and the mouthfeel is soft and lush. You’d be hard pressed to find a better CDR at this price point as well as one that will enhance your Turkey like this beauty.

Here’s wishing all of you and yours a very healthy and Happy Thanksgiving filled with family, friends, good food and better juice ;)

Cheers!

Hands Down The BEST Value Super Tuscan Around!!

Tasting Notes: This Il Fauno has easily become my new favorite Italian wine under $25. When I first tasted this gem I had it pegged as a $50 Super Tuscan, so at half the price this is just a tremendous value. Black cherry and blackberry fruit cascade over the brown spice and chalky tones. Firm tannins, lively acidity, a discernible mineral character and a silky smooth finish make this something to enjoy now but will also age for the next 3-7 years or so. Simply a delight…

More info on Il Fauno di Arcanum 2007 IGT Toscana, Tenuta di Arceno:

The Jess Jackson family purchased the Arceno estate in 1994. Located in he southeast corner of Chianti Classico, it has 223 acres of vines. But unlike most estates in the region the grapes are all Bordeaux varietals; Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon. This is an ideal showcase for the remarkably talented Pierre Seillan, winemaker for the Jackson’s Veritas wines as well as his Grand Cru Chateau Lassegue in St. Emilion. Here, Seillan blends 57% Merlot, 24% Cabernet Sauvignon and 19% Caberent Franc. The grapes for this wine come from a warmer, well-exposed section of the estate, where the grapes get well ripened and take on a voluptuous quality. Il Fauno is aged for 12 months in 30% new French oak barrels.

Unlike Miles…I AM Drinking Some F@#$%&g Merlot! But From Which Region?

If you have seen the movie Sideways, the title should make perfect sense. For those who have not seen it (in which case it needs to be at the top of your Netflix list), the main character (Miles) is a huge Pinot Noir snob. The thought of drinking Merlot while out to dinner enrages him to the point of dropping a well placed F bomb that has become legendary in the cinematic wine world. But I’m here to tell you, Miles is f*#&$^g wrong! There is so much great Merlot out there right now, and from various wine producing regions. Below are my top three in ascending order.

3. Bordeaux – Even though Bordeaux is infamous for it’s Left Bank Cabernet Sauvignon wines (the wines of Margaux, St. Estephe, Pauillac, Medoc, etc.), it is Merlot that is the basis for the majority of Bordeaux wines. St. Emilion and Pomerol wines are almost exclusively made from Merlot and offer some of the best value in the region. Merlot from here is typically soft, floral and even a bit earthy and usually carries a raspberry component along with black cherry flavors. It can soften some of those powerful Cabernet driven blends and can stand on its own when grown in the right areas. So go and find some 2009 or 2010 St. Emilion or Pomerol wines and then tell me you don’t like Merlot.

2. Napa – Good Merlot in Napa is like Cabernet Sauvignon light. It can carry all the same cassis, black cherry and plum flavors but with softer tannins and even some floral notes. It’s typically not as bold or powerful, but can be just as flavorful and alluring. I have to stress that I am talking about GOOD Merlot here, which most of it is in Napa. But don’t confuse this with your cheap California style of Merlot, I am definitely in full agreement with Miles on that one. However I’ll drink Whitehall Lane Merlot for around $20 over most Napa Cabs at that same price point.

1. Tuscany – I have tasted a number of Super Tuscan wines as of late that use Merlot as the main, or even ONLY, grape variety that have been simply stunning (Il Fauno di Arcanum 2007 and Re di Renieri 2009 to mention a couple). The coastal Tuscan influence does wonders for this varietal imparting blueberry and blackberry fruit flavors along with licorice and floral nuances. This was a large factor why these Super Tuscan producers basically told the Chianti DOC to go screw…because they thought they could make better wine by blending Sangiovese with Cab and Merlot, and man were they right!

So try not to be a sheep and hate on Merlot…next time you are at your local wine shop pick up a bottle. Just make sure it’s from one of these three regions and if it’s any of the specific wines mentioned above you are in for a real treat!

Cheers!