Wine, grape, scores, best wines, rankings, interviews, wine news and wine reviews and criticism as written by wine writers.
NEW ZEALAND PINOT NOIRS
With most consumers focused on New Zealand's spirited sauvignon blancs, that country's pinot noirs are often overlooked. Yet pinot noirs put Central Otago on the worldwide wine map. Today, good pinot noir is being produced all over New Zealand and places like Nrth Canterbury are getting a lot of attention.
I have found New Zealand's pinot noirs unique when tasted alongside California pinot noirs. That may be the reason for the increased attention they are getting. Exports of pinot noir is up 129 percent over the last five years.
I really like the wines from Felton Road in Central Otago, but, like so many others, they are hard to find in the United States. Matua and Greywacke also are very good.
Here are a few I recently enjoyed:
Nobilo Icon Pinot Noir 2014. Generous berry and spice aromas and dark berry fruit with a hint of oak and round tannins.
Kim Crawford Pinot Noir 2014. More ripe in style with back berry notes and sweet fruit.
Mt. Beautiful Pinot Noir 2014. From the emerging and truly beautiful North Canterbury region of South Island, this gem is packed with fresh black cherry fruit. Excellent balance.
HERE'S TO YOUR HEALTH: CHAMPAGNE
Most of us have grown up with the theory that alcohol destroys so many brain cells that you're likely to be comatose by age 50. Now we find out that champagne may actually help prevent dementia. What a relief.
According to a survey by the University of Reading (UK), there is a compound found in Champagne's pinot noir and pinot meunier grapes that boost spatial memory. At least that's what they found when they offered a drink to lab rats and set them loose in the maze.
This news couldn't come at a better time for us all. In just a few weeks, we'll be popping champagne corks for the holidays. Do so with your mind on health.
- Arnaldo Caprai Montefalco Rosso DOC 2012 ($23). This is a colossal wine for the price. From the Umbria region of Italy, it blends sangiovese, sagrantino and merlot to create the proverbial iron fist in a velvet glove. Very generous aromas and ripe berry fruit.
- Ruffino Modus Toscana IGT 2012 ($25). We are perennial fans of this luxurious super-Tuscan blend of sangiovese (50 percent), cabernet sauvignon and merlot. The combination provides a broad foundation to a delicious wine for current consumption. Soft texture, ripe dark berry flavors. It is an excellent value.
- Lo Nuevo Sorbo a Sorbo 2014 ($12). This stellar garnacha made from old vines in the Calatayud region of Spain is very delicious – just what you expect from grenache. Reasonably priced, its fruit-forward style shows off ripe black cherry, raspberry and cassis flavors.
- Concannon Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 ($20). This is a very drinkable cabernet sauvignon with no hard edges. Deep berry fruit in the nose and mouth, and a very long satisfying finish. Give us a steak with this wine.
- Columbia Crest Grand Estates Syrah Columbia Valley 2013 ($14). Syrah is now the number one most planted grape in Washington State, and this syrah demonstrates the potential of this noble grape. Very well balanced medium bodied with plum fruit flavors and nose with some chocolate notes, and a very satisfying finish. Great value!
- Kunde Estate Zinfandel Sonoma Valley 2013($16). A great bottle of zinfandel for a modest price. Intense berry scented nose and flavors with interesting black pepper spice notes. A mouth-filling experience that is very impressive.
YOUR WORST NIGHTMARE
Several years ago one of my buddies scared the beejeezus out of me. He played out a scenario where I die (I know, some friend) and my wife remarries a red-neck Budweiser drinker. He wanders into my wine cellar and, fascinated, he indiscriminately pulls bottles. As luck would have it, he finds my lone bottle of 1985 Lafite-Rothschild and declares to my wife, "Hey, this is good shit."
I thought that was my worst nightmare until I found out about a New Zealand wine collector who came across an uninvited house guest.
Myles O'Connor, 45, is a homeless alcoholic who took residence in the wine collector's palatial Queenstown home. The uninvited party-goer stumbled onto a vast cellar and chose to partake in something other than his usual Mad Dog. He did not spit.
Delighted with his find, he swilled 20 bottles of wine over the course of a week before the homeowner found him asleep in his bed. He disputes the quantity. Maybe he thought it was more?
The value of the wine was said to be $1,329. At about $66 a bottle, that WAS some good shit.
GUIGAL AND RELIABILITY
Back in the mid-1980s, I bought Guigal's Cotes du Rhone for about $8 a bottle. It was steal then, which enabled me to buy a case. Today's version costs twice as much, but it's still one of the best buys on the market.
I've enjoyed Guigal's other wines over the past several years. The Gigondas is spectacular and the Crozes-Hermitage always an overlooked value at $29 a bottle. I recently enjoyed a lively Chateauneuf-du-Papes ($59) that stands up well to its competitors.
Guigal is relatively easy to find on the market. This are still wines to include in your cellar.
HOW GOOD CAN A $400 WINE TASTE?
I recently had the pleasure to dine with Monique Seillan who with her husband Pierre co-owns Chateau Lassegue in St. Emillon. She is also responsible for bringing together Pierre and Jess Jackson in the mid-1990s.
"We were introduced by a mutual friend," she said. "All we knew when we visited them in California was that they enjoyed wine."
Talk about an understatement.
Before they could sit down for dinner, Jess was giving them a tour of his vineyards. They hit it off even though Pierre couldn't speak English and Jess could speak French. There must have been a lot of ESP.
Seillan was asked if he could make a wine in Sonoma County that would be equal to the stature of Petrus. And then he did.
The merlot-based wine is called Verite ("truth") and it has gotten 100 points from the Wine Advocate for 8 vintages. At $390 a bottle, it isn't for the timid or poor. But, wow, it's a killer wine.
I honestly don't know what a $390 wine should taste like, but now I have a benchmark. I've tasted Petrus and some first-growth Bordeaux as well as Gaja Sori Tilden barbaresco and even a few expensive Krug champagnes. But wines at this level from Sonoma County are rare.
Verite is owned by Jackson Family Wines. The partnership owns and operates Chateau Lassegue in St. Emillon. Verite La Muse is merlot based, La Joie is cabernet sauvignonn based and Le Desir is cabernet franc based. Given a choice, we'd buy the Le Desir. Opulence in a bottle.
WEST COAST, FRENCH PINOT NOIRS
I recently paired a Volnay with an Oregon pinot noir. It wasn't as if I expected to be surprised, but I like putting an American wine alongside its French ancestor just to compare styles. It isn't hard to lose the original definition of a wine if you don't return to regions that made it famous from the beginning.
I find French burgundies -- red and white -- to be more subtle. They have finesse, elegance and tease the palate. Oregon and California pinot noirs, on the other hand, are often effusive, heavy and forward in fruit and big in alcohol. There is rarely anything subtle about them. Of course, this is a generalization, but I still find it easy to pigeon-hole American pinot noirs.
Recently phenoms, like Meiomi, even have residual sugar -- something you won't find in France.
Burgundies are unaffordable for most wine enthusists, including us, but West Coast pinot noirs can easily surpass $50 a bottle. We love the pinot noirs from Goldeneye, an offshoot of Duckhorn, but damn their pricey.
Here are a few West Coast pinot noirs we recently tasted and enjoyed:
· Talbott Vineyards Kali Hart Pinot Noir 2013 ($21). Talbott makes complex pinot noirs for the price. Its Sleepy Hollow ($42) is our favorite, but we draw your attention to this Kali Hart for the price. In a field of expensive pinot noirs, it stands out as a good deal. Bright cranberry and currant flavors with a hint of sweet vanillin oak. Talbott was recently purchased by Gallo.
· Fulcrum Anderson Valley Pinot Noir 2012 ($55). Rich in texture, this wine exudes black cherries and expresso flavors. Very sensuous drink with hints of expression and earth.
· On Point Christina’s Cuvee Anderson Valley Pinot Noir 2013 ($36). Fulcum winemaker David Rossi created this brand to “explore another expression of pinot noir.” Using grapes from the same Donnelly Creek Vineyard and goes into the Fulcrum, he has a brighter, more vibrant pinot noir in the Christina’s Cuvee. Younger vines, perhaps? He also has an On Point Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir for the same price that is equally good.
· Rodney Strong Russian River Valley Pinot Noir 2013 ($25). This medium-bodied pinot noir has a lush texture with copious sweet cherry fruit, floral aromas and a hint of vanilla.
· Decoy Sonoma County Pinot Noir 2013 ($25). Simple, but well made, this reasonably priced pinot has broad and lush strawberry and cherry flavors with hints of pepper and mushrooms.
· Patz & Hall Sonoma Coast Jenkin’s Ranch Vineyard Pinot Noir 2013 ($60). Very rich in style, this big wine sports layered plum and raspberry flavors with a meaty character and hints of dried herbs and chocolate.
· La Crema Russian River Pinot Noir 2013 ($40). A consistently good pinot noir from year to year, La Crema offers a wine big in cherry and plum fruit with a hint of coffee. Well-made and balanced.
· LUTUM Durell Vineyard Pinot Noir 2013 ($60). A new partnership between Bill Price (Three Sticks) and Gavin Chanin, LUTUM is focus on small-production, single-vineyard pinot noirs and chardonnay from Sonoma and Santa Barbara counties. There are four exciting pinot noirs in the impressive portfolio, but we liked the Durell Vineyard from Price’s estate the best. Stunning wine with blackberry and cherry fruit flavors and good spice.
· Cobb Wines Emmaline Ann Vineyard Pinot Noir 2012 ($75). An extra year in the bottle helps the consumer see the full potential of a pinot noir. This hearty Burgundian-esque pinot noir has subtle and elegant character.