Archive for the ‘Review red wine’ Category

Borsao Berola 2008: Tradition and Innovation

BORSAORomans? Visigoths? Holy cow!

I was researching Bodegas Borsao, a Spanish winery, and discovered that the town they’re named for dates back to the 4th century BC. That’s Before Christ! It’s not the kind of time-span I’m used to, since I deal mostly in New World wines where “ancient history” is 100 years ago.

In Spain, like the rest of the Old World, the tradition of wine drinking and wine making goes back a long way. In Campo de Borja, all kinds of visitors (or invaders), including Romans and Visigoths, have put their stamp on the place. Their tradition of winemaking and wine drinking lives on, and in this part of Spain the Garnacha grape (Grenache to us Anglos) is king.

The wine I tasted recently, Bodegas Borsao Berola 2008, is 80% Garnacha and 20% Syrah that comes from 35 to 60-year-old vines. OK, that’s pretty old for a grape vine… And old vines bring deep, complex flavors.

The Berola poured out deep garnet colored and opaque, suggesting good extraction. The nose offered rich black fruit and a hint of spice and smoke. The palate was quite rich and intense, with plum, coffee, and a hint of earthiness. There was a nice roundness to the mouthfeel, although Berola showed enough acid on the finish to verify its Old World heritage.

I’ve liked everything I’ve tried from Bodegas Borsao. Their entry-level wines, such as Borsao Tinto, are a great bargain, and the Berola, at around $18, is a lot of wine for the money. These wines are handled by negociant Jorge Ordonez, who seems to have a genius for bringing great wines to the international marketplace. Try any of them that you can find, and enjoy a bit of history with your wine. Cheers!


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Malbec from the Mountains: Bodegas Gouguenheim

mendozaI love finding a great wine at a great price, especially when it’s unknown, or a previously-undiscovered gem.

While I didn’t know this wine, I know the region it hails from. I’m not bashful about saying that Mendoza, Argentina is virtually heaven on earth for wine grapes. The vineyards lie within shouting distance of the towering Andes Mountains, which block the rain moving across the continent from the West, and create a desert climate on the leeward side. Mendoza is blessed with abundant sunshine — 320 days a year! — and can be irrigated with snow melt from the Andes.

As if that weren’t perfect enough, the high elevation of the vineyards creates a large Diurnal Temperature Shift, which is wine-geek talk for “a big difference between daytime and nighttime temperatures,” like 35 degrees F. This is a good thing for wine grapes, because while the heat of the day ripens the fruit, the cool-down at night allows tannin and acid to develop. And with Mendoza’s long growing season, grapes ripen fully and develop good complexity.

Now wouldn’t you think this was heaven if you were a wine grape?

So let’s get to the wine and winery. Bodegas Gouguenheim Malbec 2010 comes from the marvelous-sounding Valle Escondido — Hidden Valley. The vineyards sit at over 3000 feet, and I’m sure I can smell and taste it. The nose has plenty of ripe fruit, with plum and black currant mixing with some floral aromatics.

The palate was really a knock-out: I didn’t expect the intensity of the fruit, the rich mouthfeel, or the bright black raspberry flavor that transitioned to chocolate and vanilla. There was depth and structure, too, making this Malbec linger nicely .

Like I say, I thought it was a knock-out, especially for $10 a bottle. That’s really amazing value, and one of the reasons I do a lot of shopping in the “Argentina” section of my wine store. We’re seeing more and more Malbecs in this country, and some of the cheaper ones (i.e. under $10) can be harsh or thin. Gouguenheim represents truly great value. Cheers!


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Signaterra Three Blocks


Jack London's house

If you go to Glen Ellen, California, you’ll find a charming little town (really little) tucked into a hollow amid a canopy of big old trees.  There are two big names around Glen Ellen: one is Jack London. He lived and worked in the forest above the town, and the remains of his cabin form the heart of Jack London State Park. The other big name is Benziger. The Benziger family has been growing grapes and making wine in the area for — years, and they’ve set themselves apart by being leaders in sustainable, organic and bio-dynamic grape and wine making.

I’ve tasted a number of their wines lately, including this one from their upper tier, single-vineyard line. Signaterra Thee Blocks Red Wine 2007 is made from mostly bio-dynamically grown grapes from three  blocks (now I get the name) in their Sonoma Valley vineyards. The vineyards sit in a big bowl on the slopes of the Mayacamas Mountains, where the aspect ensures maximum sun exposure. And what does that do? It ensures maximum ripeness and maximally delicious fruit.

I started loving three Blocks as soon as I stuck my nose in the glass. Actually, I didn’t even have to go that far — the aromas came up and hit me in the nose. There was sweet, juicy, dark berry compote mixed up with some cocoa and gentle cedar. It kept building, too: this is not a wine that’s done maturing…

The palate showed the ripeness and lushness of the fruit: I tasted boysenberry and plum, with hints of dark chocolate and vanilla. And the best news is what it wasn’t — it wasn’t flabby or overly jammy. Nice acid balanced the fruit and soft but structured tannins brought up the rear.

I think those of us who love this wine should thank the winemaker for some expert blending: the 76% Cabernet Sauvignon is softened just right by 25% Merlot.

This was my favorite of Benziger’s red wines. For my palate it hit the right balance of lushness and structure and offered power with elegance. Cheers!


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More Candor: Zinfandel Lot 2

candorI’ve written recently about the wines coming from the Hope Family Winery in Paso Robles, California: Or more specifically, from second-generation winemaker Austin Hope. I tasted and enjoyed his Troublemaker Lot 2 and Candor Merlot Lot 2, so my last tasting project was his Candor Zinfandel Lot 2.

I’ve probably written in previous posts about my taste in Zinfandel: I gotta admit I’m fussy. I don’t enjoy the over-ripe, overly-raisiny, and overly-alcoholic Zins. That style typically comes out of warm-climate appellations such as Lodi, which is why I’ve always gravitated to Paso Robles Zinfandels. This wonderful wine region has warm to hot daytime temperatures, but the mercury plummets in the late afternoon as cool ocean breezes come rushing through the Templeton Gap. That creates ideal conditions for Rhone varietals like Syrah, and for my kind of Zin.

I’m guessing that Austin Hope has the same kind of palate. Their website says that, “This wine benefits from a combination of hardy, gnarly old vines, some of them over 50 years old, and exuberant new at Austin Hope Wines, all meticulously farmed. Blended together across vineyards and vintages, Candor Zinfandel has real panache—bright berry fruit, spice, and that undefinable zing that says it’s really Zinfandel.”

Here’s my experience with Candor Zin: I had a bottle handy when we had some big steaks ready for the grill. I wouldn’t usually pick a Zin to accompany a steak, but hey, what the hell! We served up the rare steaks (marinated in Jack Daniels, no less) and poured Austin Hope’s Zin.

And it was fabulous. This Zin has nice blueberry and blackberry fruit, with enough structure to handle red meat. The wine was bold enough to match the beef, and never got too “jammy.”

I admit that I was pleasantly surprised. “If this is Paso Zin, bring it on!”

Both the Candor Zin and Candor Merlot show great quality and value. I’d suggest you try them, and keep and eye on winemaker Austin Hope. Cheers!



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Benziger Again: Cab, Cab and More Cab


Benziger's bowl-shaped vineyard on the mountain

If you drive northwest from the town of  Sonoma, California, up the amazingly beautiful Valley of the Moon, you’ll see Sonoma Mountain looming on your left. And if you get off the highway and head up into the hills behind the town of Glen Ellen, you’ll run into Benziger family territory. On the slopes of the Sonoma Mountain, someone found a pretty unique topographical feature: a giant bowl that sits in its own valley 800 feet above sea level, formed by volcanic explosions from the mountain some two million years ago .

What makes this bowl unique, and uniquely suited to grape growing, is that the surface around all 360 degrees of the bowl is exposed to a variety of sun exposures, elevations, soil profiles and drainage. In this one extended 85-acre vineyard, they have ideal conditions for planting…just about everything. While most of the acreage is devoted to Cabernet Sauvignon, they also grow other Bordeaux varietals, Zinfandel and Sauvignon Blanc.

Yesterday I reviewed a Zin and two vintages of  Bordeaux blend from this estate vineyard, and today I’ll talk about two more.

I’ll start with Benziger Obsidian Point Sonoma Mountain 2007, which is a blend of 49% Cabernet Sauvignon, 22% Cabernet Franc, 19% Merlot and 10% Petit Verdot. This wine was slow to open, and in fact it didn’t show well until a few days later. The nose was more herbal than fruit, with a sharpness and off note. I thought it might be a spoiled bottle, because the palate, too was light on fruit and didn’t show a lot of depth or complexity. Read the rest of this entry »

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Can Blau — Can You Blau Too?

montsantSorry for the silly title — I couldn’t resist playing with this (kinda odd) name.

To get down to the serious stuff, Mas de Can Blau is all about new, but it acts like it’s been around forever.

I’m talking about a wine called Celler Can Blau Mas de Can Blau, which looks like a typo but drinks like a dream. And what’s new about all this is that not only is the winery (Celler Can Blau) relatively new, but so is the D.O., or (in English) appellation, from which it comes.

Let’s start again, and clarify all these confusing words. Celler Can Blau is a winery that began in 2003 as a partnership between Spain’s Gil Vera family and Victor Rodriguez. None of these folks were new to Spanish wine, but they set out to develop a relatively new wine region. Their winery is in the Montsant D.O., and I have to admit that I’d never heard of it.blau

Turns out that the Montsant appellation was created in 2001, and includes a horseshoe-shaped patch of land that surrounds the more famous Priorat region on three sides. Montsant is unique in its soils if not its climate. The weather is fairly typical for a Spanish wine region: the summer days are hot and dry, but mountains nearby bring very cool nights (remember that Diurnal Temperature Shift I’ve talked about before? Wine grapes thrive when there’s a big difference, like 25 – 30 degrees C, between the daytime and nighttime temperatures. This builds structure to help create a balanced, bold wine).

Montsant’s soils are more unique: they include three very different soil types, each suited for a particular grape variety. And guess what? Can Blau creates it’s wine from those three different grapes.: Carinena (Carignan to some), Syrah and Garnacha (Grenache).  Now that makes perfect sense.

The wine I tasted was Celler Can Blau Mas de Can Blau 2005 (thanks to our friend Gary Johns for sharing it with us). This is their premium blend, and it’s gotten plenty of big ratings to prove it. And according to one report, it has an interesting parentage: the winemakers are Australian Liz Reed and Spaniard Richard Rofes. Interesting… Read the rest of this entry »

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Indian Wells Merlot

michelleYou know I love Washington State reds. I stumbled across one, or maybe two, a few years ago. I thought, “Damn, this is good.”

But that could have been a random occurrence of goodness. What convinced me was when I kept coming across reds from Washington State, and every one of them made me say, “Damn, this is good.”

So it’s no surprise that my latest Washington State tasting made me go…you guessed it…”Damn…”

I just tasted Chateau Ste. Michelle Indian Wells Merlot 2009. I had ordered several cases of this wine for customers, so I knew it had something going for it, but until I saw it on the glass-pour list at Ken Stewart’s Grille (perhaps Northeast Ohio’s best restaurant), I’d never tasted it.

But before the “big reveal,” let’s do some background research.

Eastern Washington State, where this wine is made, is blessed with some of the best wine-grape-growing conditions in the world. Here’s how Bob Bertheau, Head Winemaker for Chateau Ste. Michelle, explains it:

“Low rainfall, extra sunshine during the growing season, (and) cooler days at the end of harvest for longer hang time” produce grapes with “great structure and intense fruit.” That’s short-hand for deep, rich, complex, kick-ass reds (that’s a technical term…). Read the rest of this entry »

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B Crux 2007

fournierThis had to be a no-brainer.

When I saw O. Fournier B Crux 2007, and heard it was a red blend made in Argentina by a family from Spain,  I thought I might be in wine heaven. Spanish and Argentine reds top my wine hit parade, and here they were wrapped up in one package!

Here’s why I love Argentine wines. The Mendoza region of Argentina, which hugs the lower slopes of the towering Andes mountains, has possibly the world’s best micro-climate for big, red wines. The folks at O. Fournuer explain it this way:

The La Consulta region (where the winery is located) is located in the well-known Uco Valley, approximately 1,200 metres (3,950 ft.) above sea level. At this altitude, there is a significant fluctuation between daytime and night-time temperatures of up to 20º-25ºC. This variance particularly favours the production of wines with an excellent colour and suitable for long ageing in oak barrels.

The region´s stony and sandy soils offer excellent drainage during the summer season. The lack of organic material, limited rainfall and prevailing winds are also conductive to high quality, healthy grapes. Furthermore, the water that irrigates the estates comes pure and clean from the snow thawing on the Andes.

Intense sunlight, cold nights, long hang-time, crummy soil, limited rainfall. All these things combine to produce intensely flavored but  well-balanced grapes.

And what about the Spanish part of the wine equation? I love their reds too, both the traditional Tempranillos from Rioja or Ribera del Duero and the more New World style Garnacha and Monastrell from regions such as Jumilla, Priorat or Campo de Borja. If a Spanish winemaker were given the opportunity to work with Argentina’s natural resources — watch out… Read the rest of this entry »

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Siduri Garys’ Vineyard Pinot Noir: Maybe the Best of 2009


Dianna Lee

I’ve tasted some great wines from the 2009 vintage, and I’ve even tasted some great Siduri’s from this vintage (check out my review of Siduri Sonoma County Pinot Noir 2009). But when the winemaker himself says this may be the best there is, you better go find yourself a bottle…

Well, Adam Lee didn’t say the Siduri Garys’ Vineyard Pinot Noir 2009 was categorically the best, but it “is one of the highlights of our 2009 Pinot Noir line-up.”

That’s saying a lot.

Let’s start with some background: Siduri Wines is the work of Adam and Dianna Lee, who came to Northern California from Texas to make Pinot Noir. Rather than own land and vineyards, they work with growers in 20 different vineyards from Santa Barbara to the Willamette Valley. Many of these are considered the country’s most prestigious Pinot Vineyards, and Adam and Dianna work to showcase the qualities and characteristics of each one.


Two Garys and three vineyards

Garys’ Vineyard has earned to right to be included in the top ranks of California Pinot sites. It sits on benchland in Monterey County’s Santa Lucia Highlands, where cool marine breezes sweep in from Monterey Bay. As the Garys say, “the cooling fog, afternoon winds and good sun exposure lengthen the growing season, allowing the grapes to hang on the vines longer, developing complex flavors while keeping their attractive, crisp acidity. This terroir makes the Santa Lucia Highlands perfect for growing premium Pinot Noir.”

There really are two Garys? This vineyard is a partnership of two guys with the same name, buddies since high school and now proprietors of not only their namesake vineyard but two other sites in the Santa Lucia Highlands that produce kick-ass Pinot grapes: Pisoni and Rosella’s vineyards. I’ve tasted wines from all three vineyards over the years, and now it makes sense to me: their grapes all show trademark intensity, depth and balance. Read the rest of this entry »

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Malbec Fit For a Steak — or an Asado

tangoIt’s no secret that I’m a big fan of Argentine wine (you can read my posts on Finca Decero or Crios Malbec). Their quality-to-value ratio is certainly impressive, but that’s not the reason I love it.

To me, Argentine wine conjures up all the passion and mystery of this incredibly rich Latin country. Like Tango, Gauchos, seductive dark-haired women and dangerously handsome men, Argentina’s rich, bold, sexy wines express the passion of their people.

So imagine my surprise when I went ape-shit over my latest Malbec discovery and then realized that:

The winery isn’t owned by Argentines!

Is it possible that a guy from Las Vegas can make passionate Argentine wine?anoro

Here’s the story of Anoro Wine. Kenneth Fredrickson is a Master Sommelier and wine industry professional. He and his wife, Licelys Ramirez Fredrickson, visited Argentina in 2004 and not only fell in love with the wines and the people, but saw the incredible potential of this relatively new region (at least on the world wine stage). They teamed up with importer Vine Connections, and created a winery that sources fruit from some of the best high-altitude vineyards in Mendoza.

Their winemaking methods favor minimal intervention and gentle handling, letting the essence of the fruit reveal itself.

The wine I tasted is Anoro Malbec 2008, and the minute it filled my glass I saw the essence of the winery’s style. The color was opaque and deep purple/garnet, and it was obviously unfined and unfiltered (you could have eaten this thing with a spoon). Read the rest of this entry »

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