Selections for October 2017

Should we give it a 92?

2013 INKBERRY CABERNET SAUVIGNON – New South Wales, Australia

It’s dark.  It’s focused.  It’s a great value at 11.99 and meant to cost more.  If I have to spend any more time describing it I’ll have to raise my price. . . Or I can slightly elaborate with someone else’s material:

A veteran wineguy named Wilfred Wong used to work for Beverages & More where he had the audacity to rate his own selections on the little promotional signs you’d see throughout the store.  His 90+ ratings were everywhere and, naturally, nothing rated lower.  Cleverness or shyster-ism?  NOW Wilfred works for Wine.com, bringing along his scoring system to the new gig.  My sense of “outrage” over this has been somewhat soothed by rubbing elbows with the man himself at many recent trade tastings.  It turns out that Wilfred is quite a nice guy, coasting toward the end of a career.  – And I must admit to myself:  WE do exactly what he does, promoting our own wines with a lot of creative language.  The only difference:  That silly rating system.  Silly or smart?  You decide.

Let’s respect a fellow wine industry veteran by quoting him here.  Wilfred Wong awards this 2013 Inkberry Cabernet 92 points and remarks:

“If balance is the key to life, the 2013 Inkberry Mountain Estate Cabernet Sauvignon is just what the dining room director ordered. Not too big nor too light, this one is so juicy and delicious that all of your taste buds will wake up and sing. Medium ruby color; pretty red and fruit aromas, playing closer to red currants, fine depth; medium bodied, soft tannins and gentle on the palate, quite juicy; plenty of rich, ripe fruit; smooth and layered in the aftertaste. (Tasted: September 30, 2015, San Francisco, CA)”

Internet Powerhouse Wine.com (Wilfred’s employer) asks 13.99 for this.  Let’s do better for you.

 

Small Large Production

2015 SHENANDOAH VINEYARDS “Special Reserve” ZINFANDEL – Amador County

I have three reasons for liking this wine.

#1 Tom Quinn

Tom is a Sobon / Shenandoah family member and our rep for this Zinfandel - and several other Amador wines and such from the same Sierra Foothills producer.  He’s a little bigger than life but never obtrusively.  It’s just a sales thing;  I appreciate Tom’s patient persistence and acceptance that we’re not always going to buy what he’s showing us.  He sells loudly but correctly, and this time around he scored by offering us a deal on this beauty.  I’m glad to finally give Tom some wine club love.

#2Amador County

My Mom’s parents came to Sutter Creek in the late 1930’s.  Grandpa built the house.  Then another behind it.  – And then another behind that one.  I’ve been going there all my life for Christmas, Summer Vacation, and – now that Grandma’s gone and the house had to sell – only for occasional wine tasting.  That part of the Gold Country goes deep for Yours Truly.

#3This Wine

Zinfandel which says it all yet not too much is a rare beverage.  There is plenty of fruit and Zin-style pepper to love, but the wine remains restrained and contained with an admirable amount of crisp dryness.  Amador Zins are rarely well-behaved, but this affordable one stays on a leash!

Selections for September 2017

You’re Welcome!

2014 TRITON MENCIA – Bierzo, Spain

Jorge Ordonez found you this wine. 

He is the Spanish wine importer determined to please the casual consumer’s palate with less classical, more fruit-forward offerings from his native land.  All that he imports is impressively ripe, well-endowed in texture, and well-valued.  The People understand his wines.  “¡Muchas gracias, Jorge!”

Lisa grabbed you this wine. 

She’s one of our fave wine reps, always trying to find us a deal from her portfolio.  Several weeks ago she was trolling her company’s list of closeouts and tripped over this.  Triton was discounted, dramatically enough to get it into your club.  At its original price it might have only qualified for our Wine Adventurers Club budget.  Spying the new price, she quickly got us a bottle to taste.  “Thank you, Lisa!” 

The Wine Steward chose you this wine. 

When that sample bottle landed we eyed it suspiciously:  Why was this wine all of a sudden so much cheaper?  Was it over the hill?  Was it never actually very good?  We uncorked and tasted it and really LIKED it, concluding that this wine’s only issue is its grape.  Here is Mencia.  Ever heard of it?  Probably not!  Your Spain Wine 101 Class certainly got you up on Tempranillo along with Garnacha and Monastrell, but Mencia?  Most of you don’t know it.  The few who do know that its attempts are many and successes are few.  Mencia is grown in “Green Spain” – Galicia, that is – in its sub-region of Bierzo.  The grape has great possibilities but is also fraught with a tendency:  Reduction.  This Triton shows no sign of that.  Big and gentle, with easy plummy-ness and endearing spice; this is a great wine find.   – and “You’re welcome!”

 - The Wine Steward.    

 Fun & Flashy

2016 LOVO ‘Blossom Rosso’ – Veneto, Italy

This super-scented, forward-fruited wine with just the right amount of snappy grip is composed of 50% Cabernet Sauvignon and 50% Cabernet Franc.  Is it like any other similarly-blended wine you’ve ever tasted?  Probably not.  When has such youthful jammy-ness and nearly-ridiculous florality ever so intruded upon your senses?

We hope it is a HAPPY intrusion.  Winemaker Salvatore Lovo loves his clean, bright red wines.  He takes after his unforgettable father, Vittorio, a WWII veteran who had a sip of light-bodied rosso from his personal “tank” every evening after working in the fields.  With notes of violets, sage, and gentle brown sugar, this low-alcohol red is perfect served with a slight chill for summer sipping, or even with turkey in the winter!

You are among few Californians to see this.  It is one of those “pre-order” wines we arranged with Small Vineyards Importer Tom Kelly, and when it’s gone it’s REALLY gone!  . . . Better stock up for Thanksgiving! 

Selections for August 2017

Warmth and complexity

2014 LA MADRID CABERNET SAUVIGNON – Agrelo, Mendoza, Argentina

There is a higher proportion of South American wines - particularly from Argentina - being offered to your club.  This happens because of the popularity of its riper, more fruit-forward “New World” flavors.  It also happens because of the value.  Few other wine countries can deliver so much for so little. 

- But I hope it also happens because of the interesting situation.  In no other corner of the globe does viticulture occur at such high elevations:  This particular wine comes from what might be considered Argentina Wine Country’s lowlands - 3,000 feet up!  The particular delivery of sunshine to these higher elevation sites is believed to have a special impact on the wines from here.  Consider how easy it is to get a tan up in Tahoe; don’t you think a grape skin might enjoy the same effect?

While we often bring you Argentina’s claim-to-fame grape Malbec, it’s nice to reference the People’s Choice Varietal Cabernet Sauvignon for once.  In most tasting lineups from Argentine producers I’m usually favoring the former, but THIS wine stands out as terrific for the money.  While not so purple to the eye, the fragrance quickly distracts you.  A spicy sense of plum along with woodsmoke, cracked black pepper, zingy cherries, and a comforting dusty-ness soothe while invoking salivation.  Though richer than Sangiovese, we might be smelling something from Tuscany here.  Rioja also comes to mind.  The palate is simultaneously warmhearted with sweet leather and more of those plums, while keeping the tongue engaged with a certain mineral crispness.  Not every wine indulges and excites your mouth at the same time, especially at this bargain price.

And what about that price, for this wine grown at high elevations a whole hemisphere away?  We’d like to point out that Internet Wheeler-Dealer Wine.com sells Lamadrid Cabernet for three dollars per bottle MORE than The Wine Steward does.  You get a great price AND a wine club discount besides – while it lasts!   

The bottom of the list, often the top of mine!

2015 MAISON HENRY FESSY ‘Vieilles Vignes’ – Beaujolais-Villages, France

Do this right:  Use a Pinot Noir glass.  Serve it at cellar temperature.  Smell it a lot.  Eat sausages.  Smell it some more.  Eat some more sausages.  Do this in your favorite sundress. 

Here is a “smaller” wine - by some estimations - which I would call exuberant with its florality, beautiful with its core of berry-ness, and extremely foodworthy (even ageworthy!) based on its cherry pit grip.  This is no wimp.  This is substantial, complex, endearing, and attention-demanding.

Beaujolais is the source, the southernmost sub-region of Burgundy.  Here, the Gamay grape prevails over Pinot Noir and rendered in different ways and quality levels.  Many of us know Beaujolais only for the kindergarten version ‘Nouveau,’  released with much kazoo-ing and streamers on the third Thursday of November, barely two months after its fruit was hanging in the breeze.  Fermented via the less-common ‘carbonic maceration’ method, Nouveau is silly wine to some and a harmless harvest celebration for others, and does not fully represent Beaujolais.  More traditionally-fermented Beaujolais is happening here, from better plots with more mature plantings (“vieilles vignes” = “old vines”). 

From this very good version you can buy up for more place-distinctive versions of Beaujolais.  This sub-region of Burgundy is subdivided yet again into “Cru’s” or particular neighborhoods where exposure and soil content is believed to do something special.  I’m going to resist a Wikipedia search and attempt a reciting of all of them by heart (and butcher the spelling, perhaps).  Deep breath:  “The greatest versions of ‘Beaujolas’ are identified as Brouilly, Cote de Brouilly, Saint-Amour, Fleurie, Regnie, Morgon, Moulin-au-Vent, Julienas . . . dammit!  I’m missing two.  Ahhh:  Chenas and Chiroubles.  – Had to peek for those! 

At any rate, I’d submit one more idea:  I’ve been tasting this wine a lot of late, sometimes two days after uncorking.  This 2015 remains healthy even then, telling me you might lay some down for later.  We rarely recommend that for wines at this club level but, as I said, this is substantial – from a certain wine lover’s point of view!      

Selections for July 2017

Appropriately Named!

2015 KING MALBEC – Mendoza, Argentina

There’s a lot of this kind of thing going on: 

One month we challenge a club with a “classic” Old World version of a grape, and the next month we appease with a New World one.  We hope you enjoyed June’s French Malbec provision, and now we take you to the country which for all intents and purposes considers this its national wine grape.

“King” Malbec?  Why not?  Argentina thinks so.  Bordeaux would at least call it part of the royal family.  The casual consumer who has the final word certainly holds it in high regard.  If Cabernet Sauvignon is your true “king” you’d at least call Malbec a worthy pretender to the throne. 

 - And how often does your beloved Cabernet function so properly at the ten dollar price point?  Is it ever this amiably juicylicious yet respectful of the ideas of balance and refreshment?  The power of the American Dollar and the unique situation of 3,000 foot-elevation vineyards join forces to accommodate the cocktail wine drinker’s wish for easy juicyliciousness.     

Beware!

2015 MARCHETTI ‘Castro di San Silvestro’ – Rosso Conero, Marche, Italy

We bring you to Italy’s east side, lying on the Adriatic and looking east toward Croatia.  This is one of the world’s rare wine places where the coastal vineyards feature the sturdy red varieties and the bright, high-acid whites of the region (Verdicchio, typically) are grown well inland and higher up.  That usually happens the other way around, but the Adriatic’s more moderate water temperature induces the cultivation flip-flop.

The grapes at play in this blend are Montepulciano (90%) and Sangiovese (10%).  Montepulciano shows us deep color, teak and blackberry fragrance and flavors, and Cabernet-like tannins.  Sangiovese contributes the crispness of acidy, bringing refreshment to the party.  Combined, they make for quite a challenge to the cocktail wine consumer’s tongue.  While there is plenty of fruit and dark, fresh earth to savor, you’ll be puckering if you attempt to guzzle this sans food.

If you haven’t already come to grips with the Italian red wine challenge, do it this way.  First, try this wine on its own.  Reflect on how it feels.  Does it make you hungry?  Is your palate activated?  I’m guessing so.  Now, try a slice of good salami which you bought at The Wine Steward while picking up your club wines (whoa, product placement!).  Re-introduce this wine to your food-treated tongue and – Presto! – you will have savored the magical marriage Italians enjoy at table every day of the week.

This wine from the excellent 2015 vintage can actually age, so stock up!  

Selections for June 2017

People pleasin’ stuffe!

2013 PUNTO FINAL CABERNET SAUVIGNON – Mendoza, Argentina

Tuesday Night Club members, you have been profiled.  Perhaps it’s not fair to cram the whole group into one wine-preferring compartment, but it seems you generally like a more extroverted, flamboyantly-fruited wine like this.

Here is Punto Final Cabernet, which also includes 10% Cabernet Franc.  I think that addition is detectable via the bell peppery fun in the nose.  Cab Franc, as grown in Argentina, is also recognized for gently “feminizing” Cabernet Sauvignon’s masculine aggressiveness of texture.  Certainly, this big wine is more smooth than it would be without the Franc.

Is a richer, more heated red a proper summer selection?  Good question.  I personally veer toward delicate, chillable red wines on warm summer nights, or forsake that wine color entirely in favor of dry rosé or white- or beer.  – But what about barbecue?  The sweetness of baby back pork ribs?  This, my friends, is the sauce!   

Chunky fruit!

2015 ASTRUC MALBEC – Pays d’Oc (Languedoc), France

This comes from a big winery which – in spite of its size or because of it - manages to do everything right and at a very good price.  Astruc’s Viognier and Marsanne are varietally-correct yet resist over-done-ness.  Their generous Reserve Chardonnay is a good replacement for the J Lohr we used to carry here.   . . . And this must be at least the fifth iteration of Malbec we’ve shown from them.

Southern French Malbec sees the most attention from Cahors (not too far from here) and we’re showing the Wine Adventurer’s Club a fine example of that this month.  For YOU we defer to both a lower price and a slightly kinder, more gentle Malbec.  The place-honest dark earthiness is still rumbling around in the nose, but the fruit is more youthful and pronounced.  Customers in the market for $10 Cabernet will recognize a very good alternative here.

Pair this with rich meat dishes, pasta Bolognese, or ripe cheeses.  . . . and get back in here for more of this nice wine.. - And check out the other, aforementioned Astruc values!

 

Selections for May 2017

2012 ODISEA ‘The Temp’ TEMPRANILLO – Clements Hills, Lodi, California

This is the product of friend Adam Webb, whose whites and reds have appeared as club offerings several times over the years but never as a Tuesday Night Wine Club offering.  While Adam always strives for value in a wine place (Northern California) where real estate prices and economy make that more challenging, his wines simply don’t descend to the 12.49 per bottle category.  For his smaller-scale production level, there’s simply no money in it.  So how did this happen for us and you?  The aforementioned friendship (he helps us make our “Plus-de-Vie” house wine) and leverage.

By also buying his Cochon Syrah for our California Wine Lovers Club we were afforded a concession from Adam on THIS wine’s wholesale.  A bottle he lists as $21 on his website is yours – shhh! – for far less.  TWS gives its valued members a deal and Adam gets some inventory relief (his 2013 Tempranillo is impatient for its release).

Adam is one of several talented winemakers who access Lodi fruit and render it in a less over-the-top, more balanced style.  Ironically, these folks pursuing a more drinkable Lodi wine are rarely doing their thing IN Lodi.  Rather, they get good grapes and “get the hell out of Dodge,” so to speak.  If you visit the tasting rooms WITHIN Lodi a prevalence of style soon becomes apparent; that of “over the top”.  Adam and his peers, outside of the influence of that bubble, strive for a more drinkable style.  I think that’s showing here.

Smell this:  Is it generous?  Of course!  The source is a very warm place and the Tempranillo varietal is warmhearted in its own right.  – But don’t you also sense a certain tanginess?  - A suggestion of energy instead of plodding, gratuitous indulgence?  Taste it to be sure:  Yes, this five-year-old, inexpensive red declares actual liveliness along with myriad flavors - black plum, fresh tobacco, black cherries, and dark earth.  Here, my friends, you have a THOUGHTFUL value from another friend of ours.

2015 GRAN PASSIONE ROSSO – Veneto, Italy

This juicy-licious red comes from the land of Romeo and Juliet -  near Verona.  It is made by a producer of the famous and far more pricey red wine “Amarone” and uses the same grape varieties.  Why does it weigh in at a mere fraction of the price?  It takes less work and has a lower liability.  Basically, this inexpensive-yet-endearing gulper based on the local Corvina grape (with co-star Merlot) costs less to make.

“Regular” red wine is made from grapes brought in from the vineyards and immediately crushed and fermented.  Grape juice becomes an alcoholic beverage – albeit a not-yet-drinkable one – in a week’s time, more or less.  “Amarone” is different, with the picked fruit languishing in ventilated bins for several months before processing.  This takes the grapes to a nearly-raisined state of dehydration, and the resulting wine is incredibly concentrated.  Because so much of the potential wine has evaporated and because the process requires obsessive attention to prevent spoilage, Amarone typically costs $50 and up.

THIS wine is made from fruit seeing a mere 15-day drying-out period.  It costs far less because of the lower maintenance requirement, but could be called a “Baby Amarone” for its richer, dried fruit qualities.  Heady scents of dried cherries and red rose petals are followed by a rich, nearly-hedonistic texture of black plums, fresh leather, and – thankfully – a relieving citrus fruit effect.  Roasted meats are an automatic food-pairing recommendation here, and – more conveniently and casually – chunks of hard aged cheeses will also do the trick.  We sell the latter!

Selections for April 2017

One of the first wines to arrive from “The Trip”

2015 DOMAINE CORNE-LOUP – Cotes du Rhone, France

I had never been to Europe until the ripe old age of 41, when an importer invited me to join him and a group of my wine-buying peers on a frantic tasting trip through Spain.  Since then I’ve been back to the Old Country several times, nearly always with the wine business as the enabler.  My most recent “different hotel room every night” jaunt took place in January, with my first experience of Portugal then several stops in France.  This two-week excursion was especially important to my work with its provision of dozens (hundreds?) of tastes from the soon-to-arrive 2015 vintage.  With hardly an exception, this year will be remembered as excellent from all corners of Wine Europe.  This was already predicted by the wine reviewers preceding me with their own visits, and validated for Yours Truly with my own experiences of the soon-to-be released wines.

Our visit to Domaine Corne-Loup happened about two-thirds of the way through our journey, with the previous night spent in Carcassonne.  This day brought us to the Southern Rhone and our first stop had us in Lirac, across the Rhone River from more famous Chateauneuf-du-Pape.  This small winery makes Lirac Rouge, Lirac Blanc, and Tavel – the “King of Rosés” from the pink-wine-only region next door to Lirac.  I appreciated all they poured, and was especially happy with the 2015’s.  Most of those remain unreleased, but this little Cotes du Rhone,  a “de-classified” Lirac, was let out to play a little sooner. 

Here is 50% Grenache, 40% Syrah, and 10% Mourvèdre  

The color:  Dark red ruby.

The nose:  Red berries, truffles and spices.

The flavors:  Complex and rich with red and black fruits, plus an herbal spice – the type of aromas coming from the surrounding vegetation (Garrigue).        

This is a nice value from a great vintage.  Enjoy with barbecue and pizza and bold sauces on pasta.

Meant to cost nearly $20.  Doesn’t.

2013 BOYA PINOT NOIR – Leyda Valley, Chile

This wine asks some important questions of its drinker:  “Do you smell your wine?”  “Do you appreciate ‘delicacy’?”  “Can you tell when a wine doesn’t have to be ‘Big’ to be great?”

Here is a Chilean wine message far different from that country’s more familiar Cabernet or Carmenere proclamation of “Dark and weighty.”  This Pinot Noir tries to be nothing more – or other - than Pinot Noir.  The color is honestly transparent.  The nose references spice cake, dried orange peels, and reluctant cherries.  The palate feel is nearly vaporous.  The sum of the effect:  Delicious evasion.

One more comment:  Value.  While this is a light, less-is-more wine experience, its thoughtfulness and difficult farming circumstances (we see the Pacific from the vineyard, whose effect is windily crop-diminishing) make this a nearly $20 wine - normally.  Your membership afforded buying power, and we’re able to provide a profundity unusual for your bargain club.  We hope you appreciate it!

Selections for March 2017

We scored and so do you!

2013 KUNDE CABERNET SAUVIGNON – Sonoma Valley

There would be no possibility of squeezing this month’s two offerings into the Tuesday Night Wine Club budget without some great support from our providers of these wines.  The Wine Steward is always on the lookout for a deal WHEN a particular wine’s quality motivates the effort.  Another wine we admired, Girard Old Vines Zinfandel, was bought for the California Wine Lovers Club as a combo purchase with this Kunde, and the volume buy provided very accommodating wholesale prices.  We have been clever on your behalf.

- But the itself wine had to work for us, and having careful tasted the whole Kunde lineup we settled on this Cabernet (you should also try their Merlot and Sauvignon Blanc of which we took a few cases).  The bottle of 2013 on my desk was actually opened two days ago and it’s tasting fantastic even now.  Soothing black cherries and blackberries plus chocolatey sweet, dark earth happen in perfect amounts, in all the right places.  If it can still say all that two days later, I’d submit you could stock up to be drinking it for at least the next two years – and you can’t say that about very many “affordable” California reds!

If ever there was a wine that should prove popular with Tuesday Night Club members based on popularity of varietal and value to boot, this beautiful red from a longtime Sonoma Valley inhabitant is it!

Just as delicious, if far less known (but that’s why you’re in a TWS club, right?!)

2014 ODOARDI – Savuto, Calabria, Italy

In my nose:  Smoky plums.  Grilled sourdough bread.  Musky herbs.  In my mouth:  Juicy cherries.  Vanilla.  The delicate grip of dry earth along with a finish of endearing gameyness.  And what’s doing all that?  The combination of five different grapes, of which you’re (maybe) familiar with one:  45% Gaglioppo, 25% Aglianico, 20% Magliocco Camino, 5% Greco Nero, and 5% Nerello Cappuccio. 

Wine Spectator, calling this a $17 wine, provides different descriptors:

“Leather, smoke and black olive notes are layered with boysenberry coulis and cocoa powder flavors in this elegant red. Medium-bodied and silky in texture, with fine-grained tannins showing on the minerally finish.”

. . . and confers a respectable-for-price rating of 89 points.

Like nearly all Italian wines, this will shine most brightly with food.  While medium in body, I think its abundance of character will stand up to eggplant parmesan, pork chops, or a richly-laden pizza.

Selections for February 2017

Want an extra glass of wine?

2015 AZUL y GARANZA TEMPRANILLO – Navarra, Spain

We are providing this 1-Liter size bottle for the second vintage around NOT because you’re getting an extra glass from this format, but because this wine is a no-brainer, slam-dunk demonstration of inexpensive quality.  In most instances a larger bottle implies ‘plonk’.  In this instance it declares undeniable value.

Two positive forces are at work here.  Azul y Garanza in Navarra, Spain (just east of Rioja) is a cooperation between winemakers Dani Sanchez and Maria Barrena who let the fruit and the place from which its derived do the talking via minimal winemaking.  You’ll not find a barrel in this winery.  Wood has no part in this program.  Dani and Maria are far more into their Navarra vineyards, organically maintained, where the wine nearly makes itself.  The second “force” is the discoverer of this producer, Valkyrie Selections.  These folks who also produce Banshee Pinot Noir on this side of “The Pond” have applied their appreciation for unfunked freshness to their wine searching abroad.  We sell many Valkyrie wines here and have a sit-down event with them about once a year as well.  Good importers such as Valkyrie Selections are worth your attention, folks!

Smell this:  100% Tempranillo never exhibited more freshness.  The fragrance of cherries, oranges, chocolate, and thyme is irresistible. 

Taste it:  Immediately juicy with plums and an appealing sweet earthiness, followed by an enlivening “grip” that keeps your mouth interested in yet another glistening gulp.

You’re in trouble, right?!

Bordeaux, the quintessential winter red

2012 CHATEAU PARET – Bordeaux, France

This is a hell of a wine, but we have to qualify that for those more used to riper, fruitier California reds.  Bordeaux is hardly ever a stand-alone “cocktail” experience.  Rather, you should anticipate more “grim” and “stern” qualities from this type.  Imagine Clint Eastwood’s sturdy, unyielding visage confronting freezing rain and howling winds . . . his trigger hand momentarily leaves the rifle . . . he reaches for his glass of encouraging, muscle-flexing Bordeaux Rouge . . .

Get it?  This chewy, earthy, and sometimes-fruity macho red is meant for food of the wintertime type.  Braise something like short ribs or pot roast to go along and it will make perfect sense.

This comes from the Right Bank of Bordeaux, more specifically Castillon Cotes de Bordeaux.  On this more clay-oriented side of the estuary Merlot plays the starring role.  In this case it gets help from a 10% addition of Cabernet Sauvignon and 5% Cabernet Franc. 

Fresh leather, lead pencil, cedar, and black raspberries comprise the nose.  Acids and tannins surround freshly-turned earth and cherries in the mouth.  You are in the presence of Bordeaux.  Go, Thou, and cook something!!  

Selections for January 2017

Want an extra glass of wine?

2015 AZUL y GARANZA TEMPRANILLO – Navarra, Spain

We are providing this 1-Liter size bottle for the second vintage around NOT because you’re getting an extra glass from this format, but because this wine is a no-brainer, slam-dunk demonstration of inexpensive quality.  In most instances a larger bottle implies ‘plonk’.  In this instance it declares undeniable value.

Two positive forces are at work here.  Azul y Garanza in Navarra, Spain (just east of Rioja) is a cooperation between winemakers Dani Sanchez and Maria Barrena who let the fruit and the place from which its derived do the talking via minimal winemaking.  You’ll not find a barrel in this winery.  Wood has no part in this program.  Dani and Maria are far more into their Navarra vineyards, organically maintained, where the wine nearly makes itself.  The second “force” is the discoverer of this producer, Valkyrie Selections.  These folks who also produce Banshee Pinot Noir on this side of “The Pond” have applied their appreciation for unfunked freshness to their wine searching abroad.  We sell many Valkyrie wines here and have a sit-down event with them about once a year as well.  Good importers such as Valkyrie Selections are worth your attention, folks!

Smell this:  100% Tempranillo never exhibited more freshness.  The fragrance of cherries, oranges, chocolate, and thyme is irresistible. 

Taste it:  Immediately juicy with plums and an appealing sweet earthiness, followed by an enlivening “grip” that keeps your mouth interested in yet another glistening gulp.

You’re in trouble, right?!

Bordeaux, the quintessential winter red

2012 CHATEAU PARET – Bordeaux, France

This is a hell of a wine, but we have to qualify that for those more used to riper, fruitier California reds.  Bordeaux is hardly ever a stand-alone “cocktail” experience.  Rather, you should anticipate more “grim” and “stern” qualities from this type.  Imagine Clint Eastwood’s sturdy, unyielding visage confronting freezing rain and howling winds . . . his trigger hand momentarily leaves the rifle . . . he reaches for his glass of encouraging, muscle-flexing Bordeaux Rouge . . .

Get it?  This chewy, earthy, and sometimes-fruity macho red is meant for food of the wintertime type.  Braise something like short ribs or pot roast to go along and it will make perfect sense.

This comes from the Right Bank of Bordeaux, more specifically Castillon Cotes de Bordeaux.  On this more clay-oriented side of the estuary Merlot plays the starring role.  In this case it gets help from a 10% addition of Cabernet Sauvignon and 5% Cabernet Franc. 

Fresh leather, lead pencil, cedar, and black raspberries comprise the nose.  Acids and tannins surround freshly-turned earth and cherries in the mouth.  You are in the presence of Bordeaux.  Go, Thou, and cook something!!  

Selections for December 2016

Learn to say it - They’ll think you’re cuter than you actually are

2015 VIGNAIOLI MORELLINO SCANSANO ‘Capoccia’ CILIEGIOLO – Maremma, Tuscany, Italy

Welcome to an Italian wine so seriously-flavored you’ll want to master the pronunciation of the grape variety – Ciliegiolo – and walk back into TWS throwing it around, fishing for compliments.

“Chilly-ay- jee- O- lo!”

(Nice try)

At any rate, like the Corvina offered this month to the Wine Adventurer Club, Ciliegiolo is an important Tuscan grape which rarely gets to go solo.  We thought this common Chianti additive should get the spotlight for once so here ya go!  Great color is the first attribute we recognize, but the nose is downright head-spinning with all kinds of botanical qualities.  Some would identify cassis or mulberries, while I’d say there’s also a grapefruit component, but there’s no denying the strength of character happening here;  one can understand how a little of this would wonderfully tweak a predominately Sangiovese wine.      

The palate feel is juicy and chewy.  We’re obviously in the presence of FOOD WINE here, and robustly-sauced pastas or pizza would easily accommodate this Ciliegiolo.  Enjoy this characterful rarity!

90 Point from Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate

Your first Bobal?

2015 ATANCE BOBAL – Valencia, Spain

It’s not your first Bobal if you’ve attended our Valkyrie Selections Spanish wine evenings!  We have shown you others from these folks – all from the same producer – but they sported different label designs.

What IS remarkable is that so many of you HAVE had this grape in your mouth.  Thank TWS and Valkyrie for that if you’d like, but the real hero is the producer Mustiguillo who is determined to make it right.  Historically, Bobal is one of Spain’s carelessly cultivated workhorse grapes, never aspiring to anything better than a reliable provider of big, meaninglessly-flavored crops ending up as nothing more than plonk.  These guys saw something better just waiting to happen in hapless Bobal, and gave it a more respectful setting (terroir) and treatment (viticulture and winemaking) to see what would happen.

What’s happened is terrific.  This winery now sells a $40 and $80 Bobal, remarkably, and Spanish wine lovers revere these.  THIS wine is more practically priced and more cheerfully portrayed with a very Cru Beaujolais-like set of scents and flavors.  Pour it into a Pinot Noir glass and pretend you’re at Thanksgiving Dinner (please don’t wait for the next real one to use this!) and you’ll totally “get” it. 

From somewhere east of Valencia, from a grape few wineries have bothered to honor with preferential treatment:  Transcendent Bobal!

By the way, this has not gone unnoticed by Robert Parker’s Spanish wine reviewer who awarded it 90 points and says, “The 2015 ATANCE is sourced from the Casa Segura estate vineyards, pure organically-farmed Bobal on limestone soils at 800 meters altitude. The wine fermented in stainless steel, and malolactic was in oak vat where the wine matured for four months before bottling. This is very expressive, clean and focused, nicely balanced, with no apparent oak, with vibrant fruit, nice focus, high pitched fruit and a thin layer of spices. It has a fine texture with some tannins and a mineral sensation, very tasty, balanced and with a clean finish. It opens up nicely with time in the glass, with some floral notes. This represents great value.”  

Selections for November 2016

Regardless of Vintage …

2014/15 JEAN VULLIEN ‘St-Jean de la Porte’ MONDEUSE – Vin de Savoie, France

That’s right, some of you will receive the slightly more mellow 2014 version of this, while others will be handed the lively 2015.  That’s due to a deal where there wasn’t enough of either to satisfy your total consumption; a deal which – unusually - made the price of this drop into our Tuesday Night Club budget.

No matter – both vintages are delicious.  The grape at play is little-known Mondeuse, and the beautiful Alpine foothills of eastern France are its main nursery.  This region better known for brisk whites like Jacquere (we carry Vullien’s example) can also put out a nice red, but your expectations for such must be qualified.  This place is too cool to give you big, rich, amply-oaked fruit bombs.  Expect instead lively and refreshing reds more resembling the Gamays of Beaujolais or less-pricey Pinots of Bourgogne. 

Mondeuse with its “Beaujolais tendencies” is therefore a fantastic red for the Thanksgiving feast.  Theory: There’s a lot of heavy fare on the table . . . Granny’s yams, stuffing, mashed potatoes and gravy, the protein of turkey . . . do you really want to heap a big red atop all of that??  How many times have you been fully saturated with all of that great food all too soon - three minutes in and you’re full?  This red, slightly chilled, can be a refreshing foil; a wash-it-all-down quaffer that keeps you enlivened and engaged just a little longer.    

Use it next Thursday!  

A rambunctious Gold Country red

2014 SOBON ESTATE RED ‘A Premium Blend’ – Amador County

My Mom was born in northern Arizona but soon thereafter her family packed up and headed for Sutter Creek in the Sierra Foothills.  Up the hill my Grandfather filed the enormous bandsaws for the lumber mill in now-removed Omo Ranch, where my Grandmother also operated the general store.  Back down the hill in little Sutter Creek my grandfather and Mom’s older brothers spent any available free time building the family home on Spanish Street.  This curiously/endearingly-designed place ultimately became the venue for family weddings, summer vacations for the grandkids, and many a Small-Town U.S.A. Christmas replete with cousins, caramels, and big glass bottles of Coca Cola when we could steal them.  When Grandpa and – finally – Grandma passed we had to regretfully sell that place, but Sutter Creek as I’ve known it for more than fifty years stays in my heart with more great memories than it can properly contain.

All that time, a little wine country just to the north was barely clinging to life.  Bustling before Prohibition, by the time my Mom was driving through the Shenandoah Valley on the way to the mill she remembered but one surviving winery, D’Agostino.  That very winery became Sobon Estate, and two weeks ago I drove up Highway 49 for the first time in years to retrieve your club wine there, and reference many a memory.      

The Shenandoah Valley is now an important hub for wine tourism with more tasting rooms than you can count.  Sobon Estate and sister winery Shenandoah were a big part of its renaissance.  So this is kind of important for me, from both a personal history perspective and a love of local wine history.

We bring you a blend of what happens best in that wine region with its continental climate and rugged terrain.  30% Syrah, 24% Barbera, 24% Zinfandel, 22% Petite Sirah join forces to provide brawny scents of heat-induced pie fruit, leather, and tar.  The mouth is full-fruited and chewy, yet refreshingly lush.

Enjoy this “Gold Miner’s Cuvée” with anything off the grill, or richer Chinese fare including duck and pork.

Thanks for accommodating my nostalgic side!

Selections for October 2016

A Great No-Name Place . . . More beautifully honored

2015 LAS CAPAS TINTO – Aniñon, Calatayud, Spain

I’m losing count, but I think I have visited this dusty little pueblo 4 times in the past 10 years.  Even one visit would be considered excessive by the more critical, were they to take a cursory glance at the place:

“Why would you want to go THERE?”  

How do I list the reasons? 

I want to go here because no other gringo does.

Because it has super old Garnacha vines, many grown above 3,000 feet. 

Because these super old Garnacha vines produce but one measly ton per acre, promising more intensity of flavor instead.  

Because each old farmer (often younger than his vines) working just five or so acres can’t afford a winery of his own, so he and his neighbors co-own a downtown cooperativa and pool their resources. 

Because mono-agriculture is resisted here; many of these farmers also grow the biggest cherries you’ve ever seen, as well as peaches, almonds, and olives – and they all head for the cooperativa and the wealth is shared according to contribution. 

Because this is one of hundreds of eternally-shrinking pueblos, with the children leaving more often than staying, heading off to more exciting times and careers in Madrid or Barcelona. 

Because hundreds and hundreds of years ago the Moors, once conquered and forcibly converted (and re-named “Morizcos”) built the Catholic church here, imposing their own Mudejar architectural style.  Because that church – like all great churches – looks heavy and imposing on the outside and light, airy, and colorful within. 

Because I have smoked three cigarettes here over the past decade; the only place I’ve done so. 

Because, while there are few businesses in Aniñon a very nice lady owns and bakes for her panadería the best cookies you’ll probably never get to eat. 

Because even in this rustic situation Spain’s reverence for Gin & Tonics is faithfully expressed.

Because, like that lady, people are simply genuine here. 

Because the wine, as selected and imported by one agent and called “Figaro,” is darn good juice. 

Because another importer has finally found this backwater village, recognized the potential for better wine, and put it in the bottle before you.

Las Capas is imported by Hand-Picked Selections.  Proprietor Dan Kravitz himself visited Aniñon and obsessively tasted through a myriad of blend concepts to finally arrive at what you’re given here.  I visited the cooperativa a mere half year after this accomplishment and was shown his work.  I came back to the U.S. to discover that Las Capas does not come to California and, for love of place and its delicious product, I worked harder on getting you this wine than I usually would.  To justify the cross-country shipment we had to speak for more cases than your club needs, leaving us with an excess of goodness.  Anyone careful enough to read this knows what’s next:  If you like this, please come in and buy a lot more.

Frankly, I think we’ve found you the ultimate crowd pleaser.  This blend of Garnacha, Tempranillo, and (interestingly) the white Macabeo is extremely fragrant with cherry jam, underbrush, white pepper, thyme, and tobacco.  The palate gushes with youthful fruit generosity AND provides enough tannic grip to inspire a barbecue. 

I have a dream.  I want to go to Aniñon to make you my own wine someday, and to eat all the cookies I can before being politely asked to leave (which would sound pretty cool in Spanish).

The Case for Barbera

2014 MARCHESI di BAROLO ‘Maraia’ – Barbera del Monferrato, Piemonte, Italy

This varietal causes quite the misunderstanding. 

The “casual” California consumer walking in and requesting Barbera must be sat down and questioned about his or her real expectations.  I’m making some of that up, but we do in fact reply to their request with a request of our own, “Can you let us know whose Barberas you’ve enjoyed?”

More often than not, this customer’s experience of the grape consists of visits to Sierra Foothill (or perhaps Lodi) wineries, where Barbera plops into their glass with a purple-black color and indulges with rich, ripe fruit.  If there is the slightest tinge of lemon-y acidity it isn’t noticed or it’s quickly forgiven; all those blackberries and black cherries serve as pacifiers.

This Barbera is NOT what that customer is requesting.  It is NOT a cocktail wine but a great advocate for eating with your wine.  It is the real deal from the grape’s home country:  Piemonte, Italy.  It is meant to enliven the palate, to inspire hunger and creative cooking.  If some wines indulge, others refresh.  This is the latter.  This Barbera, to the purist and the eater of good food, is the real thing.

We hope you get it!

Selections for September 2016

Small World . . .

2015 Domaine de la Damase Grenache – Vaucluse, South of France

For us to choose you a wine it has to be good.  I think this one’s brilliant.

- But this particular one is personal too, making it even more eligible for a TWS club placement.  I’ve known and envied Kenny Likitprakong for quite some time.  While I chose (or fell into) wine retail, Kenny is a producer - small-time - in a good way.  He’s who I’d be if the stars were aligned:  Kenny buys fruit from various northern California vineyards where he observes something special going on, and TWS has some of his domestic “juice” on our shelves.  Beyond that – or enhancing it – is Kenny’s appreciation and participation in a small southern Rhone (France) winery.  This, for me, is real California winemaking, where you produce good things here that are better for your awareness of / involvement with an Old World situation.  Kenny’s wine tasting experience is equipped with impressions from both sides of The Pond.

Kenny imports this Domaine de la Damase product and even participates in its making when he can.  His preference for a direct and balanced wine message is immediately evident in this 100% Grenache:  Nothing but pure, charming red fruit and dusty white pepper greet the nose, and the mouthfeel is perfectly proportioned.  No barrels impose their own will on this; Domaine de la Damase is aged entirely in concrete vats. 

This is an honest picture of Grenache, unfettered by wood and unaccompanied by common accomplices Syrah and/or Mourvédre which might endow more color and enrich the body but steal from the intended, mono-varietal message.  It is exactly as Kenny would have it.    

Enjoy with anything off the barbecue!

The Real Deal

2013 SIERRA CANTABRIA ‘Selección’ – Rioja, Spain

Tempranillo is the Cabernet Sauvignon of Spain they say (Actually, I say it.  I might have even made it up).  It is that country’s “noble” grape, rendered at all price points and with many stylistic interpretations.  You can buy $6 “jovens” or spend nearly 1K for Pingus.  Tempranillo happens in Lodi-like regions where it delivers dependably for the jug wine crowd.  It performs bombastically in Toro.  In Ribera del Duero it aspires to the dark finesse of French Bordeaux.  Here in Rioja it occurs one shade lighter and – often – a notch up in suave elegance.

Regardless of source, style, and price Tempranillo can be depended upon for three attributes:  Good color, rich textures, and a corresponding tanginess.  Not all domestic wine drinkers fathom a dark, flavorful red that’s simultaneously lively with citric acidity.  That might be because they mistreat Spanish Tempranillo as a stand-alone cocktail wine.  Rather, they should take their cue from the Spaniard gourmand:  In Rioja and Ribera del Duero you would most traditionally serve this alongside LAMB, whether quickly grilled over flame or slowly roasted on the bone.  A bite of that rich protein followed by a flavorful yet refreshing sip of good Rioja is a wonderful duet of reciprocating palate effects.

Now, this “Selección” is no whopper.  - Nor is it as complex, deep, or durable as Rioja twice or three times the price.  However, it plays to all we’ve said here.  In the nose you can find cherries, plums, fresh leather, and tobacco leaf.  In the mouth a plum and vanilla softness is jazzed up with the juicy tang of blood oranges.  If you’ve been carefully reading you know exactly what to do about this!      

Selections for August 2016

Lodi that works for me . . .

2014 ‘ZIN91’ OLD VINE ZINFANDEL - Lodi

We only rarely access Lodi wines for you, and even more rarely do they happen to be Zinfandels.  With apologies to fans of the type, those wines can be too much of a good thing for our idea of drinkability, with overwhelming alcoholic weight, syrupy residual sugar, and an upsetting preponderance of lawn mower bag flavors.  I’m not sure what causes that last effect, but I suspect it has something to do with the environment in which the scent-susceptible thin-skinned Zinfandel clusters hang.  For their several months on the vine, those grapes may be taking on the smells of adjacent fields which are sometimes being groomed for their next planting of corn or some other crop.  These vacant patches are prepared with manure treatments, and you’ve certainly witnessed their fragrance whilst zooming along Highway 5, windows down. 

Am I suggesting Lodi Zin can smell like s - - -?  Maybe.  Does this one?  I think not. 

Let’s scrutinize this wine per my list of usual Lodi Zin complaints.  Does ZIN91 exhibit overwhelming alcoholic weight?  14% isn’t a low figure but it’s fairly modest for this wine type.  – But let’s quit obsessing about the number on the bottle since it’s probably not accurate anyway.  Trusting my senses, I’d say there’s nice refreshing restraint going on in my mouth, considering how these Zins can usually behave!

Does ZIN91 confer Port-like sweetness?  Nope.  It’s a fully dry wine.  Sure, we sense a generous “sweetness” of fruit but that’s a welcome flavor having nothing to do with residual sugar.  Be glad this wine ends with a nice dry grip which makes it more drinkable, more useful.  You can avoid palate fatigue and enjoy more of a dry, balanced wine.

Does it exhibit “lawn mower bag” flavors?  Not overwhelmingly.  I suppose such a signature of place in a wine is commendable as long as competing scents and flavors keep the wine in the range of gulpable usefulness.  ZIN91 says a lot of things, including peppermint, tobacco, soft plums, fresh berries, and juicy cherries.  It declares those with refreshing restraint.  It is Lodi Zin that works, and does not smell like s - - - !  

The cure for Monastrell

2014 CARRO – Yecla, Spain

I burned out on Spanish Monastrell some time ago, considering most of them as having TOO much character.  Yes, certain wines like Torrontes, Gewurztraminer, and Monastrell possess that possibility.  In this varietal’s case the sense of thick, sweet, hickory-oriented barbecue sauce flavors was an OVER-provision; impressive by the sip, but quickly wearying by the whole glass. 

Monastrell is Spain’s Mourvèdre, predominating in the country’s southeast wine regions of Jumilla, Alicante, and here in Yecla.  This is hot country, yielding wines of deep concentration from old head-trained vineyards.  Making more delicate and balanced Monastrell is pretty much out of the question. 

This ‘Carro’ is a thoughtful solution, utilizing the practice of blending.  While Monastrell remains a main character at 50%, other players bring moderation and dimension to the stage:  20% Syrah, 20% Merlot, and 10% Tempranillo are the supporting cast.

Robert Parker conferred 90 points on this inexpensive wine, reporting:

“The 2014 Carro is a ridiculous value in a full-bodied, complex, rich and savory dry red wine. Dense ruby/purple with notes of blackberry and blueberry fruit, licorice and camphor, the wine is totally unoaked and naked. This is a beauty of purity and richness and just goes to show what one can buy if careful with researching importers. Drink it over the next several years.” 

Enjoy with barbecue of all kinds; hickory flavors optional!

Selections for July 2016

A Tricky Year Yields an Opportunity . . .

2014 (Marchetti) CASTRO di SAN SILVESTRO – Rosso Conero, Marche, Italy

Wine Adventure Club members who spend a little more for their monthly selections have received previous vintages of this wine under a different, more ornate label.  In 2014 this part of Italy saw less wine-friendly weather than usual and Marchetti chose to “de-classify” their Montepulciano to a less recognizable label, suggesting this 2014 isn’t quite up to their regular specifications. 

-                 But it’s really good for the new low price! 

Here is 90% Montepulciano and 10% Sangiovese as grown in Rosso Conero, a sub-region of the Marche on Italy’s Adriatic (eastside) coast.  Montepulciano is one of Italy’s more friendly varietals delivering dark color and rich black fruit along with walnut skin astringency.  I often mention Sangiovese’s intentional mandate of acid.  Montepulciano is its alter-ego bearer of the tannin message; one better-understood by more American consumers.  For instance, Cabernet is tannin-driven, as are Syrah and Petite Sirah – all well-known varieties on this side of The Pond.  I’ve long felt that Montepulciano is a more friendly Italian missionary to the American preference. 

And this year it happens for less! 

Just Damn Good

SANTA JULIA CABERNET SAUVIGNON – Mendoza, Argentina

This is not stunning, complex, profound, exotic, or mindblowing Cabernet Sauvignon by any other definition.  What Zuccardi’s bargain level Santa Julia reds do provide is reliability.  We see the alternativeall the time:  Cab at this price is usually artificially souped-up with questionable winery processes OR just weird; vegetal or herbal with under-ripeness due to over cropping. 

Here instead is a Cabernet which delivers dark pleasure balanced with levitated refreshment.  The flavors are true.  The textures, while generous, aren’t generated via winery bells & whistles.  This is the result of thoughtfully (sustainably) –grown vines and a minimum of winemaking intervention.  It will please the crowd - honestly.

Selections for June 2016

Where virtually no tourist goes . . .

2012 ARMANTES OLD VINE GARNACHA / TEMPRANILLO – Calatayud, Spain

Grill something, quick! 

Thislush and spicy red isn’t necessarily as big in body as the next one we’ll describe, but it possesses good truth of place and grape to make up for it.  This is a no-oak blend of 90% Garnacha (Spain’s Grenache) and 10% Tempranillo.  It is inexpensive because it comes from a cooperative within a tiny pueblo a few kilometers west of the large town / small city of Calatayud.  Here, people with rather simple lifestyles work their five or ten acre plots of grapes, peaches, almonds, olives, or cherries and submit them to the cooperative in town.  They are compensated according to their provision, calculated by weight and quality.  . . . And life goes on, simply.  – Except these pueblos (nearly all throughout Spain) are ever-shrinking as the youngsters head off to the cities for more lucrative and exciting ventures.  In this province of Zaragoza the pueblos are rarely visited by outsiders pretty much for the same reason:  “What’s so exciting about a dusty old pueblo, compared with the city lights of Barcelona and Madrid?”

For me, plenty.  First of all, it’s refreshing to discover and observe a less hurried, seemingly more easily satisfied way of life happening somewhere out there.  The wines from here behave the same:  Not overly profound but offering real personality for the money.  The history?  There’s plenty of that if you know what to look for.  Research “Mudejar Architecture” and you’ll understand why the centuries-old churches in the middle of each pueblo feature a very distinctive look. 

I first saw the region of Calatayud with its ancient vines and weather-beaten pueblos courtesy of the importer who brings us this Armantes wine.  Call me crazy: I have been back four times.        

The Richer Red

2014 RUBUS PROPRIETARY RESERVE RED – South Australia

Let’s deliver some pleasure.  Here is darkness and richness happening in abundance.  If we’re missing out on the aspect of “place” this time around, who cares?  The idea with this Rubus is otherwise.

This wine has much to say about esoteric grape varieties, and its Importer Fran Kysela’s own website will report on it:

“The Blend is 44% Rubired, 31% Durif and 25% Shiraz.

Rubired is a cross between Tinto Cao and Alicante Ganzin (which is itself a cross between Alicante Bouschet and Aramon Rupestris Ganzin). It is known for being particularly adapted to the hot climate and producing dark wines, as the color is not only coming from the grape's skin, but also from the grape juice itself. It was developed in 1958 by H.P. Olmo of the University of California Davis.

Durif, also known as Petite Sirah, is also a cross of two different grape varietals: Syrah and Peloursin. It was created by French botanist François Durif in 1860 while keeping Syrah and Peloursin plants under the same roof; it happened from a natural process called "cross-pollination." The grape itself is known for its very aromatic, plummy character.

Shiraz, which we all know for being the most recognized grape varietal of Australia, brings some minty, spicy and fruity characteristics to the wines.”

We hope you enjoy this unabashed crowd pleaser and return for more!