Friday, September 5, 2014

Decent Rioja for $10? deAlto Amo Delivers

Friends frequently ask me for wine recommendations in the $10 range. It’s not hard to find drinkable wines in this price range, but it is hard to find wines that offer something memorable.

Every once in a while, I stumble across some cheap wines that I find delicious and also telling of their region’s story. I recently tasted two Riojas (a white and a red) that fit this bill.

A project from Goelet Wine Estates (which owns Napa’s Clos du Val), deAlto Amo makes some solid, entry-level versions of this classic Spanish wine. The white is a blend of Vuira and Chardonnay, the red a mix of Tempranillo and Garnacha.

Here are my notes on the wines...

2012 deAlto Amo Rioja Blanco - Spain, La Rioja, Rioja
SRP: $10
Smells of oyster shell and white flowers on top of green apple and kiwi, a hint of vanilla and honey. Focused acid, the white peach and green apple fruit is crisp and crunchy but the wine also shows creamy honey, almond and white tea accents. A good amount of complexity, with a medium finish. 75% Viura and 25% Chardonnay. (86 points)

2012 deAlto Amo Rioja - Spain, La Rioja, Rioja
SRP: $10
Nose of black cherries, raspberry jam, some vanilla and toasted oak. Ripe red and black berry fruit on the palate, a silky frame, medium acid. Cherry cola, sweet pecans and mocha coat the fruit. A fun, easygoing blend of 70% Tempranillo and 30% Garnacha. Not very complex or cellar-worthy, but this wine delivers juicy, Rioja goodness. (85 points)

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Wine Reviews: Celebrating California Cabernet

This post first appeared on the daily wine blog Terroirist.

It seems Napa Valley will need a long time to recover from the recent earthquake. My heart goes out to everyone who was injured or sustained property damage. I’m saddened by all the social media images of broken library bottles, fallen wine barrels and spilled wine. But every year Napa vintners give us something to look forward to. Cabernet is Napa’s gift to the world, and I for one am thankful that so many people work so hard to make this great juice.

Many Napa Cabs appear in this report, but they come from all across California. They were received as trade samples and tasted single blind. Overall, I found this to be a high-quality crew, with some really beautiful standouts.

2009 Anakota Cabernet Sauvignon Helena Montana Vineyard - California, Sonoma County, Knights Valley
SRP: $75
A deep bold purple color. Smells of plum cake, currants, all lush and deep with cedar, graphite, sweet vanilla, mocha, so complex and evolving. Rich but structured on the palate, with sweet and chewy tannins, medium acid, a velvety feel. Flavors of roasted fig, currant jam, blackberry mix with graphite, cedar and a hint of sweet spice that reminds me of menthol and pepper jam. Still very young, but lovely, and so deep and mineral-driven on the finish. Wasn’t surprised to see this was a single mountain vineyard Cab. 100% Cabernet. (92 points)

2009 Anakota Cabernet Sauvignon Helena Dakota Vineyard - California, Sonoma County, Knights Valley
SRP: $75
A brooding dark purple color. Takes a bit to open up aromatically, then shows black cherries, currant jam, mocha, deep violets and rich loamy soil. So much structure on the palate; the tannins show tons of grip, a bit of acid to keep it fresh. The black cherry and cassis tastes ripe, deep, but also tart. Lots of loam, tobacco leaf, loam and granite notes, accented by mocha, dark roast coffee and spiced cranberry sauce. Some black licorice and molasses on the finish. Big, such concentration, young, but beautiful and complex. Deserves to be buried for at least three-to-five before it probably comes out to show its best, but it will hold up for so long. (92 points)

2009 Cenyth Sonoma County Red Wine - California, Sonoma County
SRP: $60
Deep purple colored. Aromas of currants and blackberries, along with loam, cedar, tobacco and bell pepper. Generous texture, with dusty tannins and medium acid. The flavors are really woven together well: fresh currants and black cherries, some tanginess to the fruit, and the secondary flavors come in waves: loam, bell pepper, tobacco and bay leaf. Notes of dried herbs, black olive and roses linger with cedar on the finish. Dusty, very pretty, could use a few years to unwind and will last for quite a while. A full Bordeaux squadron of 47% Cabernet Sauvignon, 28% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Franc, 8% Petit Verdot and 7% Malbec. (91 points)

2011 Cliff Lede Cabernet Sauvignon Stags Leap District - California, Napa Valley, Stags Leap District
SRP: $70
Deep ruby-purple colored. Aromas of currant jam, fig paste, roasted plums, along with black olives, charcoal and some sweet herbs. The palate shows plush tannins and tangy acid, supporting the waves of silky-smooth fruit (currant, blackberry, tangy blueberries). I love the mushroom, cigar box and sweet olive notes, which are rounded out with cedar and kirsch. So velvety and pure, complex and long. Drinking surprisingly well now, but I could easily bury this for five years to see what happens. 75% Cabernet Sauvignon, 14% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Franc, 3% Petit Verdot and 3% Malbec, aged in 60% new French oak for 21 months. (92 points)

2011 Cliff Lede Cabernet Sauvignon “Moondance Dream” - California, Napa Valley, Stags Leap District
Violet-magenta color. The fruit aromas dark and deep, currant jam, dark plum skins, blackberries, but there’s also a lot of cedar, forest floor, roasted coffee and some bell pepper. Lots of grippy tannins on the palate, but balance comes from the acid, and the wine shows a velvety feel. I could write an essay on the textural elements of this wine. The black currant and black cherry fruit is pure, deep but also tangy. Integrated notes of cedar and vanilla, matched by sweet oregano and pepper. Very complex, deserving a long sleep, but a very special wine. Aged 18 months in 50% new French oak, a blend of 87% Cabernet Sauvignon, 6% Petit Verdot, 4% Malbec and 3% Merlot. (93 points)

2011 Clos du Val Cabernet Sauvignon - California, Napa Valley
SRP: $38
Nose shows black and red currants and cherry fruit, but there’s a whole lot of tobacco, bell pepper, tar and smoke on the nose as well, which is really intoxicating and complex. Juicy red and black fruit on the palate, the firm tannins and medium acid cooperate to form a rich and fleshy mouthfeel. The tart berry fruit is mixed in with pencil shavings, chewing tobacco, spearmint, and I get these great tar and olive notes. Complex, earthy, worthy of sipping over a few days or burying in the cellar for four to six years. Includes 8% Merlot, 7% Cabernet Franc, and a 2% splash of Petit Verdot and Petite Sirah, aged 19 months in 25% new French oak, 13.5% alcohol. (90 points)

2010 Clos du Val Cabernet Sauvignon - California, Napa Valley, Stags Leap District
SRP: $80
Deep and complex on the nose, with rich cherries, black and red currants, dusted with cedar, pencil shavings, mossy rocks and tobacco. Juicy and fleshy on the palate, with fine tannins and tangy acid. Crunchy red currants, some black cherries and strawberries. Lots of tobacco, bell pepper, graphite and charcoal notes. The sweet vanilla and cedar is well-integrated. Bold but also quite elegant, with tons of length on the finish. Could develop complexity with age, but I’m impressed at how well it’s showing now. Includes 10% Merlot and 6% Cab Franc, this wine is aged 24 months in 50% new French oak. (91 points)

2010 Clos du Val Cabernet Sauvignon Joie Du Vin - California, Napa Valley, Stags Leap District
SRP: $400/Magnum
Rich and saucy on the nose, with black cherries, some coffee, pencil shavings and loamy soil. Tart red and black currants on the palate, grippy tannins, medium+ bodied, but an almost crunchy feeling from the tangy fruit and fresh acid. Notes of coffee, pepper and cedar shavings add complexity. Some mushroom, fallen leaves and cherry wood come out with time. Finishes long with notes of loam, granite and toasted oak, but it stays tangy. 100% Cabernet, aged 26 months in 50% new French oak, this wine is made from several select barrels at the estate vineyard in Stags Leap. A very good wine, but not cheap. (91 points)

2012 Counterpoint Cabernet Sauvignon Sonoma Mountain - California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Mountain
SRP: $35
Vibrant purple color. Smells of red and black currants, some smoke and graphite notes, a bit of sweet cocoa and cinnamon. Juicy red and black fruit on a firm tannic backbone with a fresh acidic frame. Earth, tobacco and clove accent the juicy currant fruit. Long, tangy, open, showing well now. Some olive and bell pepper accents the finish. Aged in 30% new French oak and 10% new American oak, includes 9% Merlot in the blend. (89 points)

2012 Edna Valley Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon - California, Central Coast, Edna Valley
SRP: $15
Bright purple color. Cool red and black berry fruit on the nose, some spicy cedar and oak, a bit tight and hesitant, requiring time to open up to show some underlying earth and pine forest notes. Medium to light tannins, very fine, with a moderate dose of acid. The black cherry and dark plum is ripe but also showing some tartness. Notes of pine resin, menthol and cedar accent the fruit, some mocha lingering on the finish. Bright and lively. (86 points)

SRP: $35
Medium purple color. Saucy and rich on the nose, with dark plums, currant jam, some vanilla, clove and sweet mocha. On the palate, medium tannins, not too drying, medium acid. Darker berry fruit (black currants, dark plum skins) notes of cola, toast, spearmint, chewing tobacco, a hint of bell pepper. With time, some underlying mushroom and black olive notes come out. Full and long, I think it needs a few years to show its best. Aged 15 months in 2/3 new French oak, this Cab contains some Syrah, Petite Sirah Zinfandel, Petit Verdot and Merlot. (88 points)

SRP: $60
A medium purple color. Beautiful nose of currant jam, fleshy black cherries, sweet lavender and cedar, some dark roast coffee and forest floor. Very complex and evocative on the nose. Full on the palate but some tanginess and grippy tannins. Tart black currants and blueberries, mixed in with notes of peppered steak, mushroom, some sweet and savory spices, spearmint, tobacco. A bit tightly wound, a good decant could help, but perhaps four or five years in the cellar would yield an even more harmonious wine. Includes 13% Petite Verdot, this wine is aged 20 months in 77% new oak, 13.8% alcohol. (91 points)

SRP: $28
Medium purple colored. Lots of tart cranberries, red currants, dried roses and cedar shavings on the nose. Fresh and tangy on the palate with tart berries, fine tannins, crisp acid and only 13.5% alcohol. I usually associate Franciscan with a rich and bold style, but this shows a lot of freshness, graphite aspects and tangy red fruit. I also get notes of black pepper, leather and mushroom notes. Includes 10% Merlot, 2% Petite Verdot and a 1% dash of both Syrah and Cab Franc. Drinking well now. Solid buy at $28. (87 points)

2011 Grgich Hills Cabernet Sauvignon - California, Napa Valley
SRP: $60
Aromas of sweet black cherries and raspberries, also very floral, with notes of sweet caramel, cedar and mushroom. The palate shows fleshy texture, fine but structured tannins and a good amount of tanginess from the acid. The berry fruit is pulpy and fleshy, backed up by a delicious blend of mushroom, cedar, root beer, menthol, loam. Complex, surely this will evolve for quite a while, but I’m surprised by how well it’s drinking right away. Loving these lingering non-fruit flavors. (91 points)

2010 Jordan Vineyard & Winery Cabernet Sauvignon - California, Sonoma County, Alexander Valley
SRP: $53
Deep ruby color. Lots of bright red fruit on the nose (cherries, red currants) some tobacco leaf, mocha, loam and white pepper, all of it intertwined well. The palate shows fine tannins and juicy fruit (black cherry, red currant, some plum) along with moderate+ acid. I like the dusty, forest floor aspects of this wine, and there are some cedar and tobacco notes as well. Good structure, but showing openness and vibrancy now. 76% Cab, 16% Merlot, 7% Petit Verdot and 1% Malbec, aged 12 months in 39% new French and American oak. (89 points)

Vibrant purple color. Nose of sweet violets, fountain cola, and raspberry, plum and blackberry jam mixed together, underlying mushroom and sweet balsamic notes need time to fully come out. On the palate, the berry fruit is tart is juicy, coated in soot, graphite and mushroom, which add interesting elements to contemplate. Notes of coconut shavings and mocha on the finish. Very fine tannins and medium acid, the fresh fruit combines in a silky mouthfeel that offers immediate pleasure. A skilled but a fan-friendly effort. (88 points)

2011 Louis M. Martini Cabernet Sauvignon Alexander Valley - California, Sonoma County, Alexander Valley
SRP: $35
Bright purple color. Lovely currants and black cherry sauce on the nose, some cedar, pencil shavings and roasted coffee. On the palate this wine is juicy and approachable with fine tannins and some fresh acid. Juicy and fleshy, with black cherry and currant fruit, some underlying cola, vanilla and root beer. An undeniably fun and tasty wine that delivers droves of happiness but also shows some complexity. Some dust, tobacco and bell pepper note slinger on the finish. Some decent structure, but seems ready for business. (88 points)

SRP: $20
Bright magenta-purple color. Nose of dark berries (blackberries and black currants), some roasted nut qualities, along with some mocha, menthol and cedar. Bold on the palate with waves of currant and black cherry fruit. A great mixture of non-fruit elements, which remind me of menthol, cedar, roasted nuts, black olive and coffee. Includes a bit of Petite Sirah and Merlot. Solid value. (87 points)

SRP: $60
Dark purple colored. On the nose, wild, dark berry fruit with a lot of intensity, some tobacco and spice undertones, cigar smoke. The palate shows a lot of density, with firm tannins lining up with the fresh acid. The fruit is pure, dark and deep, almost brooding but not quite, there’s still a real sense of freshness and silkiness to this wine. The fruit is equally matched with notes of tobacco leaf, dusty soil and graphite, a slight herbal aspect. Very complex and inviting, with a finish of cedar and sweet vanilla. Basically, this is beautiful stuff. So nuanced already, but it has time ahead. 100% Cab, spends 18 months in French oak. (92 points)

2010 Merryvale Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley - California, Napa Valley
SRP: $65
Aromas of plum cake, fig paste, also violets and roses, eucalyptus, tobacco and soil. Fresh acid, but grippy structure, the plums, currants and mulberries combine to form a rich but an almost crunchy mouthfeel. Lots of spice, clove, rose hips and tobacco. Needs cellaring or a very long decant. Includes 6% Cabernet Franc, 6% Merlot, 5% Malbec and 5% Petit Verdot, aged 23 months in 50% new French oak barrels. (92 points)

2010 Mira Cabernet Sauvignon - California, Napa Valley
SRP: $52
Nose of tangy red fruit (cranberries, red currants) some darker fruit underneath, also some tobacco, sweet roses, cedar shavings, pencil lead. Firm, grippy tannic structure. Tart cranberry mixes with rich black cherries and currant jam. Mouthfilling but tart, with rose hips, cigar smoke, lots of eucalyptus and incense notes. Big but precise, the flavors glide across the palate with ease. Still, it could use time to smooth out. Includes 5% Cabernet Franc and 4% Syrah aged 20 months in 60% new French oak. (89 points)

2011 Moniker Cabernet Sauvignon - California, North Coast, Mendocino County
SRP: $30
Deep purple color. Red and black currants and plums on the nose, some cola, vanilla, cedar and something that reminds me of mossy rocks, which is actually very nice. On the palate I get juicy red currants, dark plums, the fruit is clean and fresh. Medium tannins, they’re fined down and the acid provides freshness. I get some good tobacco, sweet baking spices and menthol, some soy. Very pretty and open, seems more of a near-term drinker but a high-quality one. A bit of Petite Sirah and Cabernet Franc blended in. (88 points)

2010 Mt. Brave Cabernet Sauvignon - California, Napa Valley, Mt. Veeder
SRP: $60
Dark purple-black color. On the nose, sweet cassis and plums, cedar and dark chocolate. Bold but showing freshness on the palate, with rich plummy-blackberry themes. Some loam, graphite and cola aspects add complexity. Tanginess helps keep it balanced with the creamy tannins. Olive and tobacco notes came out with time, along with a mineral note on the finish. A lovely young Cabernet that could show a lot more as it unwinds in the cellar. Aged 22 months in 85% new French oak, a dash of Merlot and Cab Franc in here. (92 points)

2011 Piña Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon Buckeye Vineyard - California, Napa Valley, Howell Mountain
SRP: $85
Dark purple color. On the nose, this is deep, complex and exotic, with black currant and blueberry mixed in with black tea, violets, cedar elements, clove and roses. On the palate, the tannins are bold but fine and pleasant, balanced out by superb acid. Black cherry, tart blueberry and currant fruit, fresh but just a bit jammy. Wonderful Howell Mountain mix of charcoal, iron and graphite with these delicious cola, anise cookie and ginger snap elements. Big but so elegant. Lovely and long, cellar-worthy or give it a serious decant. (93 points)

2011 Piña Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon Firehouse Vineyard - California, Napa Valley, Rutherford
SRP: $85
Deep purple-magenta color. Nose shows black cherries and blueberries, and I get this pervading scent of fresh mulch, also some mocha and mulling spices. Firm tannic punch, a full-bodied wine with medium- acid. Very grippy and toasty, the blackberry and blueberry fruit is coated with espresso, loamy soil, old library books, soy and roasted red pepper elements. Long finish with pencil shavings and Brazil nuts. Very good stuff, but it needs time to unravel. (90 points)

2011 Piña Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon Wolff Vineyard - California, Napa Valley, Yountville
SRP: $85
Ruby purple color. Dark and earthy on the nose, like charcoal soot, forest floor and portobello mushroom on top of deep, extracted berry fruit. Dense nose, takes time to open up. Full and velvety on the palate but the tannins are quite fine, balanced a bit by medium acid. Waves of blackberry, blueberry and pomegranate fruit roll in, backed up by notes of cedar, cherry wood and cigar smoke. Some chewing tobacco and roasted chestnut linger onto the finish. Rich and creamy but well-structured. Complex, long, needs time to open up but this will be beautiful in four or five years. (91 points)

2011 Scotto Family Wines Cabernet Sauvignon “50 Harvests” - California, Napa Valley
Deep and dark on the nose, requiring some coaxing before the aromas come out: boysenberry, blackberries, sweet cocoa powder and coffee, some violets and sarsaparilla. Smooth and silky on the palate, with velvety tannins and medium acid. Fleshy black cherries and plums are backed up by notes of cola, sweet mocha, black olive, granite and pencil lead. Time pulls out notes of sarsaparilla, clove and vanilla. Long, pure, elegant and delicious. Very open and attractive, but could be tucked away for a few years. 13.9% alcohol, includes 6% Petite Verdot. (91 points)

Friday, August 29, 2014

DeMorgenzon: Harmonious Stellenbosch Wines

In May, I spent a few weeks in South Africa, surfing, tasting wine and watching wildlife. I had a great time visiting wineries around Walker Bay and Stellenbosch. The last wine stop on my trip was DeMorgenzon, located in the hilly western part of Stellenbosch.

We arrived at the beautiful winery grounds one afternoon and met up with Carl van der Merwe, the winemaker and general manager. He showed my wife and I around and poured some wines from his line-up. We had a great time tasting and talking and afterward he showed us around the winery, gardens and vineyards. DeMorgenzon is located on a sloping hill with a beautiful view of the ocean on a clear day. The name means morning sun, which this area of higher elevation gets plenty of. It’s a great place to walk around and the wines are consistently delicious.

This is actually the afternoon sun, but it's a beautiful place in any light.
As we were walking around the vineyard, I noticed speakers mounted on poles around the vineyards. They were playing calming classical music. Carl explained that these speakers treat the vines to classical music 24-7. Baroque music, to be specific. The music can be heard in the vineyards and throughout the cellar and barrel rooms. The idea is that this type of music has calming and positive effects on the life of the vines, resulting in a more harmonious wine. Carl said something about the mathematical precision and rhythm of this particular style being good for living things, but it was clear the music isn’t his idea.

I’m not fully sold on the notion of playing music to grapevines, but there are some studies that show DeMorgenzon might be onto something. (Grape Collective explored the subject of vines and music further in this interesting piece.)

Regardless of the Baroque music, the unique terroir and Carl’s winemaking result in some compelling wines. No Pinotage here, but DeMorgenzon’s portfolio is a great example of the wines of Stellenbosch.

2013 De Morgenzon Sauvignon Blanc DMZ - South Africa, Western Cape
Rich papaya on the nose, touched with lime and fresh honeysuckle. High acid, creamy, richly textured on the palate. Papaya, green apple and a very mild hint of grass. Combines freshness and minerality with some openness and fruit-forward gusto. A lot going on, but it’s balanced by lasting acid. (88 points)

2013 De Morgenzon Chardonnay DMZ - South Africa, Western Cape
Fresh and floral on the nose, with sea breeze and rich peaches. Very bright and attractive. On the palate, this wine is lively with kicking acid and lots of different fruit notes: green melon, lime, green apple. I also get honeysuckle, daisies and some sea salt. Creamy, nutty, but tangy. Fermented in a mix of oak and stainless steel. (87 points)

2013 De Morgenzon Chenin Blanc DMZ - South Africa, Western Cape
Aromas of saline, honeysuckle, cantaloupe and oyster shell. Tingly acid, creamy body, with flavors of papaya, cantaloupe drizzled with lime and some waxy tones. Playful, fruit-forward, fermented in a mix of stainless steel and old oak barrels. (86 points)

2013 De Morgenzon Chenin Blanc Reserve - South Africa, Coastal Region, Stellenbosch
Loving the depth and complexity on the nose: saline, crushed rocks, mountain streams, clover, green tea, all of it accentuates the apricot and white peach fruit. Superb balance on the palate between richness and acid. Apricot, white peach, glazed pear, add in some nougat, honey, white tea and mineral notes. A gorgeous Chenin Blanc that could develop a lot more in the cellar. All barrel fermented (25% new) the fruit comes from 40+ year-old vines planted in granite soils.  This was my favorite Chenin Blanc of the entire trip. (91 points)

2013 De Morgenzon Maestro White - South Africa, Coastal Region, Stellenbosch
Potpourri like crazy on the nose! Tons of white flowers, yellow wild flowers, lavender, some saline on top of lemon and green and yellow apples. Creamy body, with lots of melons, apricot and papaya. Notes of hazelnut, honey, hint of white cherry. Crisp, juicy, quite complex, capable of development over the next few years. A blend of 37% Chenin Blanc, 24% Chardonnay, 24% Roussanne and 15% Viognier. (90 points)

2012 De Morgenzon Syrah DMZ - South Africa, Coastal Region, Stellenbosch
Dark purple color. Smells rich and jammy with dark fruit, spice and deep floral tones. Black currant and blackberry jam on the palate, this is firm but fleshy, with cedar, earth, smoke and a whole lot of black pepper. Let me say it again: this is a very peppery Syrah. If you like that, this is for you. Not a ton of complexity, but a solid Syrah. (86 points)

Maestro, get it? They really like
classical music at DeMorgenzon.
2011 De Morgenzon Maestro Red - South Africa, Coastal Region, Stellenbosch
Deep aromatic complexity: dark, chilled fruit, eucalyptus, menthol, cedar and earth. Wonderful texture on the palate, elegant but firm. A complex fruit assortment glides across the palate: fleshy plums, currant jam, fig paste and cool blackberries. I get dark chocolate, vanilla, black pepper, eucalyptus and a note that reminds me of a dry, dusty road. Graphite and cedar linger long on the finish. Gorgeous now, but lay it down and be rewarded. A blend of 41% Merlot, 35% Cabernet Sauvignon, 11% Petit Verdot, 7% Malbec and 6% Cabernet Franc, aged 12 months in 25% new French oak. (91 points)

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Tasting Report: Grab Bag of Languedoc Wines

Earlier this year I had the pleasure of touring the Languedoc region of France. It was an eye-opening experience, and I found many underdog wines worth rooting for. Since my last tasting report on wines from the Languedoc, I’ve tasted through a few rosés and reds and found some impressive and interesting wines. Most of them are solid values as well.

These wines were all received as trade samples and tasted sighted. 

2013 Domaine de Gournier Vin de Pays Cévennes Rosé - France, Languedoc Roussillon, Languedoc, Vin de Pays Cévennes
SRP: $10
Aromas of white peach, honeydew and watermelon, some white pepper as well. Zingy and crisp on the palate, steely even. White cherries and tart strawberries mix with sea salt, white pepper and minerals. Crisp but plump with lingering minerals on the finish. Cabernet, Cinsault, Grenache, Merlot and Syrah. (87 points)

2013 Domaine Saint-Antoine Vin de Pays du Gard Rosé - France, Languedoc Roussillon, Languedoc, Vin de Pays du Gard
SRP: $13
A vibrant watermelon color. A burst of red apple peel, strawberries, sweet roses and a rustic, earthy, herbal quality as well, which I find very attractive. The palate is really impressive, showing a lot of concentration and depth, but the acid rips through, balancing it out. Gushing strawberries, white cherries and McIntosh apple fruit, but it’s laced with pepper, granite and there’s a lot of earth tones in this wine. I’m impressed with the complexity of this wine, and the kinds of food it could pair with, but it’s still fresh and zesty wine at its core. A rosé of Syrah, and a ridiculous value. (89 points)

2012 Abbaye Sylva Plana Faugères “Les Novices” - France, Languedoc Roussillon, Languedoc, Faugères
SRP: $20
Medium ruby-purple color. Spicy on the nose, with cracked pepper and sage over top of cranberries, sour cherries and red plums. Medium-bodied with medium tannins and fresh acid. The raspberry and cherry fruit is tangy and fresh but it’s also got just a bit of a sun-roasted quality to it. This wine shows a lot of earth, like deep, loamy soil mixed in with crushed rocks. I get a nice sweet spice note as well, like clove and cinnamon. Made from the estate’s younger vines, this is a bit lighter, but it still shows significant complexity. 55% Cinsault, 30% Grenache, 10% Syrah and 5% Mourvedre. (87 points)

2012 Abbaye Sylva Plana Faugères La Closeraie - France, Languedoc Roussillon, Languedoc, Faugères
SRP: $25
A bright magenta-purple color. Aromas of sweet roses, tar, strawberry, currant jam, basil-rosemary, all deep and complex. Fresh, fine tannins, juicy strawberry, cherry and currant fruit mix with earth, chestnut and roasted coffee notes. I also get some bright floral notes, and an underlying sense of minerality. Very impressive and lasting, could even use 2 or 3 in the cellar. So pure and tangy and fresh, elegant even. 35% Syrah, 25% Grenache, 20% Carignan and 20% Mourvedre. (89 points)

This Faugeres sounds the clarion call: Take Languedoc seriously.
2011 Abbaye Sylva Plana Faugères Le Songe de lAbbé - France, Languedoc Roussillon, Languedoc, Faugères
SRP: $39
Dark purple color. Complex, deep aromas of blackberry, black currant, crushed rocks and pencil lead, some cedar, graphite and iron, so dark and complex. Fresh and tangy acid but firm tannins. Tart black berries and black currant fruit blends with accents of charcoal, cedar, black pepper and cocoa powder. I also get some earthy-herbal elements (Sweet basil? Eucalyptus?) Deep and very complex, profound even. This is drinking well now but could easily improve with 3-5 in the cellar. From the producer’s oldest vines in schist soils, this is a blend of 50% Carignan, 30% Cinsault, 10% Grenache and 10% Mourvedre, aged 12 months in new oak. I’ve tasted a ton of Languedoc wines this year, and this ranks up there with the best. (92 points)

2012 Mas des Bressades Vin de Pays du Gard Cabernet/Syrah - France, Languedoc Roussillon, Languedoc, Vin de Pays du Gard
SRP: $15
A juicy ruby color in the glass. Nose of black cherries, black currants, vibrant roses and sweet herbal tea, incense, herbal liqueur. Full bodied and velvety with chewy tannins and moderate acid. The plum cake, roasted fig and currant paste flavors are long and complex, accented by spice cake, fig cookies and some pepper sauce. Ripe and chewy but not just about the fruit. Decant or hold for two to four years. 70% Cabernet and 30% Syrah. (88 points)

2012 Domaine Sainte-Eugénie Corbières La Réserve - France, Languedoc Roussillon, Languedoc, Corbières
SRP: $15
Bright raspberries and red currants on the nose, some underlying smoke, anise and violet notes. Tangy and fresh on the palate, with crisp acid and dusty tannins. Bright raspberries, red currants, red apple peel mix with minerals, crushed rocks and pencil shavings, and there are some underlying herbal elements. So fresh and lively, quite complex with lots of mineral and rocky-granite elements. Finishes long and fresh. I’m really surprised by how pretty this wine is. Syrah, Carignan and Grenache. Great bargain. (90 points)

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Art and Identity in Patti Smith’s “Just Kids”

It’s taken me years to pick up Patti Smith’s memoir “Just Kids.” Now that I’ve finished it, I’m wondering why I waited so long. Like Smith’s poetry and music, her memoir is beautifully composed but incisive, leaving a lasting impression on the reader.

The book has a straightforward structure. Smith starts with her childhood and moves from adolescence into adulthood. Growing up for Smith seems like a continuous run of artistic explorations. From an early age, Smith becomes fascinated with the individual’s ability to create art and captivate the attention and imagination of an audience. A childhood trip to the Museum of Art in Philadelphia has a profound impact on her:

But it was the work in a hall devoted to Picasso, from his harlequins to Cubism, that pierced me the most. His brutal confidence took my breath away… secretly I knew I had been transformed, moved by the revelation that human beings create art, that to be an artist was to see what others could not.

As a young woman from South Jersey, Smith makes the common trek to New York City. When she arrives, in 1967, she can hardly contain her stoke. She visits lots of bookstores and hangs out in parks and coffee shops in Greenwich Village, just like I did when I first moved to NYC.

It’s during this wandering period when Smith meets Robert Mapplethorpe. The two become inseparable, each inspired by the other to explore different artistic themes and media. Their relationship is the crux of this memoir, which works because their enduring connection is a beautiful thing.

When Smith meets Mapplethorpe, he’s struggling to accept his own sexuality, struggling to find a place in the world for his artistic expression.

He wasn’t certain whether he was a good or bad person. Whether he was altruistic. Whether he was demonic. But he was certain of one thing. He was an artist. And for that he would never apologize.

Together, Smith and Mapplethorpe weave their way through the thriving art rock scene of late 60s/early 70s New York. They move into the Chelsea hotel together, which Smith describes as being, “like a doll’s house in the Twilight Zone, with a hundred rooms, each a small universe. I wandered the halls seeking its spirits, dead or alive.”

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Three Terroir-Driven Rieslings

Riesling is endlessly fascinating for its diversity and ability to translate different vineyards into flavors. A transparent grape, lovers of terroir never tire of Riesling’s complexity.

I recently tasted through three Riesling from three different regions: Germany’s Rheingau, Austria’s Kamptal and France’s Alsace. They were all exciting wines, offering entirely different takes on this one grape, showing the complexities of their unique terroir. The wines were received as trade samples and tasted sighted. I had fun chatting with industry reps at @AustrianWineUSA@DrinkAlsace and @GermanWineUSA using the #winechat hashtag.

My notes on the three Rieslings…

Much more floral and honey-driven on the nose, with some riper white peach and mango nectar, lots of potpourri. Creamy and fresh on the palate, a great balance of body and acid, a hint of sweetness. White peach, caramel apple and mango, drizzled with lime. Hints of dusty earth, white flowers and clovers. The finish shows interesting notes that remind me of tonic and pencil lead. Quite complex, this could develop well over the next 3-5, probably more. I like the nerve of this wine. 9.5% alcohol. From loam, chalk, marl and sand soils. (89 points)

2011 Weingut Brandl Riesling Zöbinger Heiligenstein - Austria, Niederösterreich, Kamptal
Very stony on the nose, it reminds me of mountain stream rocks, ocean jetties and crushed chalk. The fruit aromas tend toward the green apple and kiwi. Full bodied (14% alcohol) and bold but clean with fresh acid. The apricot, kiwi and green apple fruit are ripe but tart, laced with lots of chalky, crushed stone elements. Wow, really chalky, with some seashell and sea salt and jetty rocks and a whole lot of saltwater. As a surfer, I’m loving this oceanic streak. It’s tangy and mineral-driven but a full and big wine that could use some age or a decant. The chalkiest of the three, I even get some earth and library dust. I dream of drinking this with some steamed mussels, but it’s strong enough to balance out a variety of strong cheeses. Every time I’ve tasted a Heiligenstein, I’ve been excited, and this is no exception. From sandstone and siltstone soils. (91 points)

2010 Paul Blanck Riesling Schlossberg - France, Alsace, Alsace Grand Cru AOC
SRP: $34
Bright gold color. Gorgeous nose of chamomile tea, clover honey, apricot jam, candied orange peel, lamp oil, some dusty notes. Crisp acid, I love the balance of tartness and richness in this wine. Clean, medium+ bodied, just a hint of sweetness. A whole fruit salad of apricot, green apple, kiwi, green melon, drizzled with honey and crushed rocks. A deep and pervasive sense of smoky minerals in this wine. Long finish with screaming acid. Age-worthy for sure. Aged on the lees in oak for a year and aged two to three years after bottling. From the granite soils of Alsace’s Grand Cru Schlossberg vineyard. 13% alcohol. (92 points)

I’d love to conduct this same tasting three or four years from now, because I’m sure these three Rieslings have many more stories to tell.

Drink any good Old World Riesling lately?