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Friday, April 29, 2016

Beatrice's Blushes: Bonny Doon Il Ciliegiolo Rosato

Beatrice is now five months old. As I type this, she is playing with her feet and talking up a storm in her crib. I guess a nap is out of the question! She is actually a very good sleeper. She usually sleeps for 10-12 hours at night, with a snack or two thrown in. She'd actually sleep longer if we didn't wake her up to go to school. It can be difficult to disturb her from her slumber with that angelic look on her face, but she usually quite full of smiles when we do. And so are we!

Il Ciliegiolo Rosato
I had a bit more of a perplexing look on my face when I tasted this week's rosé. Randall Grahm has been known to push the envelope once or twice. The Bonny Doon Vineyard 2015 Il Ciliegiolo Rosato (12.4% abv, Sample $24) is another example of that trait. I think I've seen red wines that are lighter than this. It isn't bad, but is just a totally different type of wine than comes to mind when I think of pink wine.

Sourced from the Tracy Hills AVA, a small region in Central Valley due west of Modesto with only 5 vineyards, and made from Ciliegiolo. Ciliegiolo is from Italy, named after the Italian for 'cherry'. It is often a minor component of traditional blends, like Chianti. In Umbria it is made into a light quaffing wine. This rosato is what I could call a light quaffing red instead of a rosé. The grape is related to Sangiovese, but it is not really known if it is the parent or offspring.

This wine follows through on the cherry descriptor. It tastes like a cherry/blackberry pie. It has an odd buttery component that reminds me of a really butter pie crust. There is a touch of spice to it and it is rich and heavy. I don't dislike it, but I would definitely prefer a more traditional rosé – especially for the price.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Wednesday's Wines: Carlisle, Matthiasson and Sandlands

California is the United States' wine country and rightly so. So many good wines come from The Golden State. But in the past few decades many California wine regions are turning into something of a monoculture where one or two cultivars dominate. These "noble" varieties are now what could also be called the international varieties. Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Merlot and Pinot Noir. The varieties and styles of yesteryear have been mostly forgotten.

However, there are a few producers looking to break the mold of the big, bold, fruit-forward style of California wine. Last week I wrote about love trying interesting cultivars and they can definitely be found in The Golden State. This past week, I opened three such wines from producers of the so-called "New California" wave. It just so happened that all three were made from unusual (for CA) white grape cultivars.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Beatrice's Blushes: Bedrock Wine Co.

We're approaching a time in our life when we will have two mobile children. Recently, Ms. B has been rolling and scooting around like it is her job. It definitely is fun and exciting to see how she changes each day, but diaper changes have officially entered the octopus-wrestling-match realm. If you're not a parent, you won't really be able to fully appreciate that visualization. Another new trick is yoga. She's been practicing her best downward facing dog by getting her bottom up in the air pretty well. It won't be long now until she trades yoga for track and field and we will be chasing her around. Good thing her older brother doesn't evade us like an escaped convict anymore – we'll actually have to utilize him to help corral our cute little octopus!

Bedrock 2015 Ode to Lulu Rosé
Though not as exciting as watching children change, tasting the year-to-year changes in wine is one of the things I love about it. Seeing how weather affects the final product or how winemaker choices regarding a blend causes the synapses in my brain to fire. I especially enjoy observing these changes in rosé – I think the color lends itself to visualizing changes more than with red or white wines. One year a wine is a deep fuchsia and the next it could be a pale salmon. One of my favorite pink wines is the Bedrock Wine Co. Ode to Lulu Old Vine Rosé (12.3% abv, Purchased $19) from California. The 2015 incarnation is almost 2/3 Mourvèdre (Mataro) and the rest Grenache and Carignan. This is such a festive wine, but this vintage comes across as a touch more serious and feral – but just a bit. It is slightly lighter than the 2014 but darker in color than the 2012 and 2011 vintages. The 2015 is mostly about bright red fruit and citrus. Both the aromas and flavors revolve around strawberries, watermelon and limes. Its almost like Morgan (the winemaker) put all those fruit into a blender with a tequila that was meant for sipping as he was making a margarita and then salted the rim of the glass with some pink Punjabi rock salt that he obtained on a backpacking trip through the Himalayas. It is ready to party, but holds back a bit of mystery...

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Wednesday's Wines: California, Maryland and Uruguay

At a recent wine dinner one of the guests asked me what my favorite style of wine is. My response: new and different wines. Yes, I purchase more California wines than I probably should, but I really love tasting wine from new places and interesting cultivars. I did a pretty good job of that goal this past week.
Sterling Vineyards 2013 Heritage

California is America's wine country. That is just a fact. Most of the wine produced in the U.S. hails from sunny California. There is some terrific wine, and some not so terrific wine. The most recent wine I had from California, unfortunately, trends toward the latter end of that spectrum. The Sterling Vineyards Vintner's Collection 2013 Meritage (13.5% abv, Sample $14) left a bad taste in my mouth. No, really, it tasted a bit chemically, fishy and altogether unpleasant. It tasted like a $6 bottle of plonk - it actually shows up on wine-searcher for $6.99-$7.99. There is the requisite mocha and dark fruit flavors that come with a blend of  Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Petit Verdot, but not a whole lot of other redeeming qualities.

Bodega Garson 2013 Tannat
On the other hand, the Bodega Garzón 2013 Tannat (14.5% abv, Sample $20) from Uruguay is a delicious wine. Garzón is owned by Argentine billionaire Alejandro Bulgheroni, whom I pegged as responsible for the Cameron Hughes Private Reserve wines made at Harlan Estate in the Napa Valley. I wasn't overly impressed by those wines, but this Tannat from Uruguay is truly tasty and perfect for Cabernet Sauvignon lovers. Tannat is perhaps Uruguay's signature grape despite its southwestern French heritage as the main grape in the Madiran region. This wine is powerful yet elegant. The deeply colored Tannat reveals the red and black fruit aromas you would expect in a Cabernet and accompanied by scents chocolate and tobacco. It is smooth on the palate with silky tannins – firm but not overwhelming – adding structure to the cherry, raspberry and mocha flavors. It paired well with our strip steak – which interestingly enough was also from Uruguay. I would expect this wine to hold up for a several years and impress those interested in Napa Cabernet and off-the-beaten path varieties alike.

Old Westminster 2014 Albariño
Finally, the Old Westminster Winery 2014 Two Vineyards Albariño (12% abv, Sample $28) is a lovely wine that other Maryland producers might want to consider looking at. Three years ago at the Drink Local Wine conference in Baltimore an Albariño from Black Ankle Vineyards opened my eyes to what this Iberian grape can do on the east coast of the U.S. Black Ankle and Old Westminster are about 10 miles apart just south of Westminster, MD not too far from Baltimore. You're not going to confuse it with a Spanish Albariño, but this wine comes across more like a blend between Rhône and Rías Baixas. It is crips yet rich. There is a good amount of citrus and tropical fruit flavors present along with a bit of spice. This is a tasty and unique wine.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Wednesday's Wines: Prisoner Wine Company

Last week, Constellation Brands spent a lot of money – $285 million a lot – to acquire The Prisoner Wine Company. Most people probably aren't familiar with Constellation, but they are one of the world's largest wine producers. Constellation owns Robert Mondavi Winery, Clos du Bois, Ravenswood, Manischewitz, Vendange and recently acquired (they spent $315 million for this brand) Meiomi in addition to dozens of other wine brands. They also own the Corona, Pacifico and Modelo beer brands along with Svedka vodka. Chances are if you've bought a bottle of booze you've given Constellation some of your money.

There has been a lot written about this acquisition by the wine media. Most of the discussion revolves around the lack of vineyards or production facilities with the purchase. Just as with the Meiomi purchase, only the brand was acquired by Constellation. Some writers have been flabbergasted that so much money could be spent on a wine brand when the source of the grapes seems to be up in the air. Other companies, like E & J Gallo Winery and Jackson Family Wines have been buying vineyard land up and down the Pacific Coast. That certainly is a strong approach to building a wine empire, but I would argue that the Meiomi and Prisoner brands are stronger and more highly regarded than any owned by Gallo or JFW. In today's economy, brand is king. All of the most popular wines are built on brand and not on vineyard sources. From what vineyard does Two Buck Chuck or KJ's Vintner's Reserve come?? Prisoner is more about a certain style than it is about expressing a particular terroir. That style of wine can be produced in much larger volume than a wine based on a defined place. To most American wine consumers, consistent style and availability is much more important than the expression of time and place. As much as this disturbs me personally, it is the way the wine industry has been trending for quite some time.

As aggressive as this approach seems to be, it is actually quite conservative. Providing the same style of wine year in and year out in as many markets as possible is a tried and true path to building a strong brand. Just look at how popular America's fast food chains have become. I can buy a Big Mac in Denver, Seattle and Miami and they all will taste the exact same. However, this doesn't mean all wine is going this way as my friend the Wine Curmudgeon often rants about. The number of wine brands that are privately owned, small wineries is much larger than the number owned by "Big Wine" overlords – and actually continues to grow. Yes, volume-wise they are much smaller, but we obviously still have the progressive end of the wine where the expression of place and vintage characteristics is important. Instead of converging to the same common point, wine seems to be as rapidly diverging as American politics.

A few weeks ago – and prior to the acquisition announcement – I sat down with Prisoner's winemaker Jen Beloz to taste through the lineup. Jen started in 2011 after Huneeus Vintners purchased Prisoner from Orin Swift founder Dave Phinney for $40 million. While doubling production from ~85,000 cases to ~170,000 cases Huneeus made quite a profit on that ~6 year investment! And just think, The Prisoner originally started as a single 385 case label. Now, the portfolio of wines produced by PWC includes the namesake Prisoner blend, a newer white blend called Blindfold, the Thorn Merlot, a Zinfandel called Saldo, and a Cabernet Sauvignon known as Cuttings. The wines are perhaps known best for their clever, catchy, creative and most importantly memorable labels. The Prisoner label is an image Francisco de Goya's The Little Prisoner etching. While the labels are cool and all that, I wanted to get to know what was inside the bottles.

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Beatrice's Blushes: Bonny Doon Vineyard Vin Gris Tuilé

Once again it has been too long since I posted about our weekly rosé. In that time, Beatrice has started full-time at daycare as mom has gone back to school. She seems to enjoy her time there, but she is by far the youngest of the group. Three of the four other children are walking and the fourth is almost a year old and crawling all over the place. Perhaps Bea will be an early walker like her brother because of how she observes her older classmates, but for now she is the odd man out.



Bonny Doon 2013 Vin Gris Tuilé

Similarly, Bonny Doon Vineyard Vin Gris Tuilé (13% abv, Sample $26) is a bit of an oddball in the realm of pink wines. A blend of 55% grenache, 23% mourvèdre, 10% roussanne, 7% cinsaut, 3% carginane, and 2% grenache blanc, but don't think of this wine so much as a rosé but as an imitation Manzanilla. This wine was placed outside where it sat, in the elements for nine months in glass carboys to be "solarized" and tastes every bit oxidized as you might expect. It is quite complex with a tiny bit of dried citrus fruit, but most characteristics are of scorched cream, toasted nuts, gasoline and cumin seed. If you're looking for a crisp, refreshing rosé you'll be sadly disappointed. However, if you have fino sherry on your mind it might work for you as this is an interesting approach to selling an oxidized wine. Let's just say I'm not a fan of it, but I don't totally hate it.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Wednesday's Wines: Bedrock North Coast Syrah

This week we celebrated our son's fifth birthday; it's amazing how fast the time flies. One of the advantages of having been afflicted with a wine collection disorder means that I have decided that birth-year wines are a purposeful component of our sizable wine stash. Now, unfortunately I do not have any from my wife's or my birthdays, but having young children makes buying their birth-year wines easy. It is looking like our second child's birth year – 2015 – will be a decent year for agreeable wines that may see her 21st birthday. However, Benjamin was born in 2011 – not the greatest vintage across the globe, with a few exceptions such as German whites and vintage Port. I do have a few wines set aside that I think will make it to his 21st birthday, but I'm guessing most 2011 wines will be best long before he is even able to operate a motor vehicle let alone legally consume a glass of wine with his parents. So, on his fifth birthday we decided to open a five-year old bottle of California Syrah from one of best value producers out their.

Bedrock 2011 North Coast Syrah
The Bedrock 2011 North Coast Syrah (14% abc, Purchased $20) is the entry-level Syrah offered by Morgan Twain-Peterson. His single-vineyard wines tend to be in the $30-$50 range, but this blend of barrels that didn't make the cut for those pricier wines is a steal at $20. Entry-level wines are a great way to get a glimpse of what a winery's more expensive wines taste like. As with most of the Bedrock wines, this wine is full of lovely and powerful aromas. Scents of flowers, bacon, white pepper and cherries radiate from the glass. The dark purple wine shows its pedigree of richness and complexity with flavors of black olives, spicy pepper, tobacco, cedar, and dark cherries. It doesn't have the density and concentration of the more expensive wines, but it still punches above its price class. Still going strong after five years with a few more likely at its peak. Good thing I have a few more of these waiting downstairs.