Archive for May, 2020

Over the years, I have encountered many red zinfandels that stunned me with their beauty, intriguing vinosity, savoriness, tastiness and wonderful food-friendliness.  I vividly remember the 1976 Ridge “Lytton Springs” as one of the first to absolutely wow me and create a lifelong memory.

My journey with this long-time California grape variety has continued and evolved, with many other memorable experiences.

I was recently reminded by Randy Caparoso, a noted wine journalist and former founding partner/wine guru of the Roy’s Restaurant group, that we should be paying more attention to zinfandel-based wines, as they can have lots of flavor, mojo and innate character, while also being incredibly food-friendly, a point that Caparoso, as a former sommelier, strongly advocates.

In addition, many top producers are championing really old, heritage vines grown in various nooks and crannies throughout California, rather than replacing those vines with more popular, mass market grape varieties. The real enticement, however, is value —especially compared with grapes like pinot noir and cabernet sauvignon.

Care for a taste? Here are recommendations for really interesting zinfandels:

2016 Ancient Peaks Zinfandel “Paso Robles”–grown in the Santa Margarita Ranch, in the hills of southern Paso Robles, Calif., at roughly 1,000 feet in elevation, is owned and operated by three ranching families (real cowboys). My wife and I chased & lobbied them for many years to get some of their wines to the islands. The ranch has at least five distinct soil types, three of which contribute to this wine — shale, volcanic and rocky alluvium. I love how earnest, blue-collar and welcoming this wine is, year after year. Serve it at barbecues (slightly chilled), with pizzas and meatloaf, or simply pour it when friends come over to talk story after an especially long, hard day at work.

2013 Edmeades Zinfandel “Gianoli Vineyard”–Starting with the 1994 vintage, Edmeades, with winemaker Van Williamson at the helm, has crafted some of the most provocative, hearty, robust, soul-stirring zinfandels out of California.  Now under the direction of winemaker Ben Salazar, Edmeades zinfandels are somehow more civil, not as wild, wooly and “funk-centric,” yet they remain true to the soul of their stable of top-notch vineyards.  I’ve written before about Edmeades “Mendocino” bottling which is more readily available. They also produce a  small, high-quality portfolio of single-vineyard zinfandels, in this case from Gianoli Vineyard, an iconic site in the remote, rugged, high-elevation Mendocino Ridge appellation. It was first planted in 1882, although roughly 40% was replanted in 1997 using cuttings from onsite heirloom vines. The wine is certainly is something to write home about — bold, full of mountain-grown, old-vine character, structure and complexities. While only 250 cases were produced, it is worth searching out.

2016 Scherrer Zinfandel “Old & Mature Vines”–This has been a unique and heartfelt rendition of old-vine zin since the original 1991 vintage. Smelling and tasting that 1991 bottle was an aha moment for me, providing a compelling example of what zinfandel can be. What draws me to this wine is that it is an old-vine zinfandel crafted by a pinot noir master, meaning it is much more transparent, civil and refined.  Recently, a regular guest kindly shared the 1997 vintage of this wine with several of us. It certainly had a pinot-esque edge in terms of transparency, texture and balance. It was truly lovely. Having tasted every vintage of this bottling over the years, I can say the 2016 is stellar today, but just wait and see what 20 or more years of additional bottle aging will bring. It certainly will be a worthwhile adventure.  Scherrer also produces Zinfandoodle–a charming blend of two or three vintages.  This terrific wine “find” is also quite a good match for a wide array of dishes, from fowl to meat, from casual to more serious fare.

This is just the starting point.  Other noteworthy renditions I have also seen available in Hawaii on a much more limited basis include those from—Carlisle (one of the most acclaimed & prolific masters of old vine Zinfandel); Turley (quite the cache producer of unique Zins from up & down California, now with winemaking prodigy Tegan Passalacqua at the helm); and Linne Calodo (the Problem Child & Outsider bottlings, which showcase the minerality of the marine soils of Paso Robles and therefore a completely different slant on what Zinfandel can be).

As a side note, Caparoso is now championing many family owned, old-heritage-vine zinfandels from the Lodi, Calif., region, where he lives. I have tasted several, and would say they give a completely different perspective on what this grape variety wants to say. As more of these real treasures come to the islands, I will make sure to spread the word.

Categories : General, Red, Wine, Wine Thoughts
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At VINO as regulars well know by now, we continually search to find really “good”, interesting wines from along the Mediterranean basin & from afar to bring home & offer our valued guests. Once in a while, we strike GOLD. Yup, this is one of those occasions. The Jackpot!!!!…featuring a quartet of Muscat based white wines. The Muscat grape is very widely planted throughout the world. There are many sub-varieties of this vine and they all produce very different takes, most of which can be quite forgettable. We are fortunate to sample Muscat based wines from around the world. Our task for this tasting was to find four which will show tasters what this grape variety can be, under the right circumstances. Yup, we think these four unforgettable wines are really worth tasting and experiencing. I am pretty jazzed about this one, as we are always looking for really good aromatic white wines, which can create a whole ‘nother dimension to wine & food pairings. Yes, this is yet another tasting that we hope will help affect change.

2015 Botani Moscatel Old Vines”–This is old vine (planted in1946, 1968 and 1975) Moscatel de Alejandría grown on the very steep, rocky (slate & quartz soiled) hillsides of Sierra de Málaga. Yes, yet another dry, aromatic white wine, done with a more masculine, virile touch. We love its uplifting, mesmerizing combination of lime blossom & stony nuances & its striking, dynamic mouthfeel.  “Botani Moscatel was chosen in 2016 by Robert Parker as one of the three best wines of the world with best value for money”.

 

2013 Zind-Humbrect Muscatundeniably the most celebrated Muscat producer in the entire appellation”.  Where the home turf of Alsace is a rather sleeping, relaxing countryside, it is also the home turf to Olivier Humbrecht one of the world’s larger than life superstar winemakers AND his extraordinary white wines. Yes, his wines have incredible concentration levels, but today, done with much more grace & civility than in his younger years. AND, they also have a clearer focus on terroir than amplification & sheer power. The 2013 Turkheim bottling featured fruit from mainly the alluvial Herrenweg vineyard.  It was also a vintage where the acidity levels were naturally higher & the resulting wine that much fresher on the palate.  Definitely a wine that will add interesting & different perspective to this tasting.

 

2014 Les Mille Vignes Muscat Sec–Hear ye, hear ye! Let us introduce you to the wine wizardry of New Age winemaking prodigy Valérie Guérin, the hottest wine phenom in France who has a cult like following for her wines. Her family’s domaine is located in Fitou down in southern France (an exclusively red wine appellation).  “The terroir is an amalgam of strong natural elements: clay, limestone, and schist soils; wild scrubland scented with thyme and lavender, and perhaps the most potent force of all, Tramontagne—a fierce wind that sometimes seems it will never stop blowing”.  She also produces a miniscule amount of white wine, though not labeled as Fitou, this is a most dazzling and unique white wine produced from the Muscat à petit grains. You will be entranced by how she masterfully combines the stoniness of the soils, character of the surrounding wild countryside with the exotic, profuse, mesmerizing perfume of the Muscat grape, as only she can do. I doubt you have ever had a wine like this before.

 

2018 Giovanni Montisci “Modestu”–To end this fabulous tasting, we finish with a VERY rare treat!…..a wine I would easily describe as “otherworldly”, it is so wonderfully unique & noteworthy. It really is the wine which made us jump on a plane for 32 hours of planes & airports to go see. PLUS, many hours of driving the radically, ever turning/winding, narrow roads just to actually get there. Montisci owns & works but 2 hectares of vines….in this case at least 60 years in age, grown in sandy-granite soils at roughly 2200 feet in elevation, in the remote mountains of central Sardegna. Yes, this is old vine Moscato vinified dry (or close to it, with a most interesting & unique, fleshy, viscous texture & lots of swag. It certainly caught my fancy. Thankfully, we were able to get ONE case & after a few of years of trying. No, it is not a fad wine. It is a real standout & redefines what this aromatic grape variety can be!

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May
19

2 New Italian Wine Discoveries

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We continually search for really interesting wines from around the Mediterranean basin—indigenous, family owned and operated, heirloom/heritage vines and farmed sustainably. We recently ran across TWO very noteworthy family wine projects—one from Campania and one from Mt. Etna in Sicily. They certainly caught our attention! Really good juice. Here is your chance to try them yourself. How often do opportunities like this come around?

 

Terre del Vescovo–We continually search for interesting wines in Italy’s Campania region which is probably most famous for being the home turf of Mt. Vesuvius. We feel this is also the home turf (of potentially Cru quality) of the indigenous, highly revered Aglianico grape variety. The true artisanal, more traditionally produced renditions are indeed getting harder and harder to find! Terre del Vescovo recently popped up on the radar screen and we were quite taken with their wines.   “They own and farm four hectares of vineyards in Montemarano, a top cru of the Taurasi zone where the appellation’s highest-elevation sites yield chiseled, mineral, age-worthy reds. At up to 2100 feet above sea level on soils of clay and limestone, the vines benefit from significant diurnal temperature shifts crucial to developing complex, well-defined flavors and preserving freshness at this southerly latitude. Thanks to this slow maturation, the late-ripening Aglianico is harvested in November, sometimes under a blanket of snow”. On this night, we will sample two of their wines.                                                                       

2017 Coda di Volpe “Kisteis”–Coda di Volpe is an ancient grape variety to the area and is used to make very interesting regional white wines, most notably Lacrima Christi Bianco. This is a very interesting, fresh, stony rendition grown in the estate’s clay limestone soils and age on its fine lees for 2 to 3 months. Certainly caught our eye.

2010 Irpinia Campi Taurasini “Re’na Vota”–“The King” is produced from 100% Aglianico, planted in 1952. This wine deftly shows the vast potential Aglianico innately has. The wine spends four years in large botti and one year in bottle before release. Here is your chance to try it, in all its glory.

 

 

Grottafumata–Interestingly, this estate is really noted and revered for their high quality olive oil. Come to find out, they also produce small amounts of wine too, on the eastern slope of Mount Etna. The area is actually named Mount Ilice—1.4 hectares located on the closest part of Etna to the Mediterranean Sea—at a 45 degree slant, nearly 2800 feet in elevation. The old vines (40 to 100 years in age) struggle in the volcanic soils, strong winds, cooler growing temperatures to eke out some very special juice. We will be tasting two of their wines on this night.

2017 “Lato Sud” Bianco–This is a studly, masculine white wine with lots of bravado and swag. Yup, nothing shy or demure here. 70% Carricante, 30% Catarratto, with very small percentages of Minnella, Grecanico, Terribile, Inzolia and Coda di Volpe (40 to 100 years old). The wine is then wild yeast fermented in clay amphora for three days, completes its malolactic in and then aged in stainless for nine months.

2017 “Lato Sud” Rosso–This is NOT a big, full throttle red, as most tasters might expect. It is quite masculine, VERY savory, vinous, stony with quite a surprising transparency and purity of old vines (40 to 100 year old vines) & terroir. Well worth the effort of getting some that’s for sure!

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May
19

Limestone & Chardonnay

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One of the world’s most famous soil and vine combinations is Chardonnay grown in limestone/calcareous soils. They usually create an incredibly dynamic synergy which creates oenological magic, in a way which creates something so unique and somewhat unrecognizable to most avid New World Chardonnay fans.  Yes, these are wines somehow much more about the soil the vines grow in, rather just flavors & nuances associated with the Chardonnay grape variety itself.  It is the caterpillar that has transformed into a gorgeous, breathtaking butterfly. Something you, after the fact, scratch your head in wonderment. Here are four terrific renditions to better show you what we mean. All four come from Burgundy, France, each with a different composition of limestone influenced soils AND each done by a different winemaker.  How often do opportunities like this come around?

2016 Henri Perrusset Macon Villages–We start off with a “country” style Chardonnay, produced by a father and son team. I say “country” style because of how unpretentious it thankfully is. NO fanfare, NO oak, NO foo-foo. Just downright delicious, earnest, food friendly and gulpable. A true standout in its category. I wish there were more wines made today with these kinds of values.

2014 Maison L’Envoye Bourgogne Blanc “Vieilles Vignes”–What a terrific discovery this 2014 has been. Produced from 45 to 50 year old vines, biodynamically raised down in the Maconnais. It is really a wine about limestone soils and old vines, rather than grape variety and winemaking. We absolutely love its purity, minerality and remarkable etherealness.

2014 Antoine Jobard Bourgogne Blanc–As many of this domaine’s neighbors would attest to, Jobard produces some of the very best Bourgogne Blanc and wines in all of Burgundy. The grapes, for this seemingly unassuming labeled white wine, are a blend of four parcels–Herbeaux, En l’Ormeau, La Monatine, and Sous la Velle—a total of 1.12 hectares. The wine is fermented and aged in barrel with lengthy lees contact–all is done in a very slow, continuous manner. Don’t be deceived by the label and nomenclature, this is a wine to behold, because of its fortitude, mojo, pedigree and vehement structure. Historically, the Jobard wines take a very long time to unwind and strut their stuff. Antoine carries his truly iconic father’s legacy forward, which we can readily see with this wine.

2015 Larue St. Aubin Premier Cru “Murgers des Dents de Chien”–St. Aubin is located just behind the Montrachet and Chevalier slope and just north of Chassagne Montrachet. Domaine Larue is one of the most revered out of St. Aubin and Burgundy, in general because their mastery of growing and masterfully making their Chardonnay based whites that “sing its limestone birth right”. The Premier Cru “Murgers des Dents de Chien” parcel is their showpiece and is but 1.12 hectares in size, planted in 1946, ‘64, ‘72, ‘90 & ‘97. It is barrel fermented and spends ten to twelve months on the lees. The resulting whites have mesmerizing purity/minerality with wonderful vinosity, innate and more “delicate” complexities which are quite stunning.

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May
19

A Quartet of Old Vine Grenache

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There is no doubt that the Grenache grape variety is capable of producing top echelon wine. Chateau Rayas Chateauneuf-du-Pape is a prime example and I would also add to that the Sucette Grenache from Vine Vale of southern Barossa Valley, Australia. There are far more so-so Grenache based grapes being grown & produced and like with all categories of wines, it really is about sifting through the onslaught of possibilities and finding the gems. Here are four very interesting renditions. I believe each will give tasters a perspective on what this venerable grape variety can be.

 2015 Cirillo Grenache “The Vincent”–One of very top Grenache specialists from Australia.  What separates this wine from many of its peers is its wonderful savoriness.  The Vincent is a thank you to my father who has passed eight generations of Italian winemaking & grape growing knowledge down to the ninth. This Grenache is produced from two 100+ year old vineyards, which are predominately sand, from the renowned Barossa Valley of Australia”.  This wine deftly combines The inherent fruitiness of this unique Grenache with the innate vinosity of these old vines & transparency & core of minerality highlighted by the predominately sandy soils the vines grow in.

2016 Tres Ojos “Old Vines”–A very delicious, charming old vine Grenache based “country” styled red wine from Calatayud in northern Spain. The warm climate and loose, rocky soils work together to make this a perennial Great Value.

2015 Gramenon Vinsobres “La Papesse”–Gramenon is truly one of the champions of uber-sustainable vineyard work, bordering fanatical and are renown internationally reverently for their beliefs AND their resulting wines. The La Papesse bottling is produced from 100% 60+ year old Grenache vines grown in a small enclave in northern part of the southern Rhone valley named Vinsobres. Typically for me, this is the star bottling as it deftly displays a very provocative transparency and profound vinosity and savoriness.

 2017 Giovanni Montisci Cannonau de Sardegna “Barossu”–Is Cannonau in fact Grenache? To some yes, even in Sardegna they say it is the same, but I, on the other hand, would say they are related. In any case, this producer, his vineyards and his wines were one of the real standout visits during a long, pretty comprehensive wine trip to the islands of Corsica and Sardegna late last Fall.   I wouldn’t say they are Grand Cru in their intent. His wines have a deliberate-ness, a core of old vine-ness, savoriness and soul that stirs one’s gut and moves you. Grown high up the hills of Mamoiada, this real garage-ist is one to definitely keep an eye on. I place it along with the most unique, memorable, artisanal wines of our 40 plus year journey. We have been waiting along time for its arrival and here is your chance to try it.

There you have it,  four really interesting renditions of what Grenache can be.

Categories : General, Red, Wine, Wine Thoughts
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