Archive for the ‘Wine Review’ Category

More Desert Red: Arizona Stronghold Mangus 2009

az“They make wine in Arizona?” Good wine?”

This is what I expect to hear when I bring up Arizona Stronghold, Page Spring Cellars, or for that matter any other Southwest winery. After all, the hot, dry desert climate is known for producing cactus, not vineyards. But there’s this little thing called “micro-climate” that I’ve talked about before, and that makes it possible to produce decent wine in Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, or Texas.

Here’s how it works. A region’s topography (hills, valleys, mountain barriers), altitude (the higher, the cooler), proximity to water (an ocean, large lake or bay), and even latitude (distance from the Equator) can combine to create conditions that are conducive to grape-growing. In southeastern Arizona’s Cochise County, 4300 feet of elevation and a large diurnal temperature shift (read, “big difference between daytime and nighttime temperatures) make it possible to grow grapes such as Grenache, Mourvedre, Sangiovese, Tempranillo and Viognier.  Cochise County is also known as the last stronghold of the Apache nation — hence the winery’s name.

AZ Stronghold is a collaboration between two seemingly strange bedfellows. Eric Glomski is a very respected winemaker, most recently from David Bruce Winery in Santa Cruz, California. He hooked up with Maynard James Keenan, known to hard rock fans as the singer for the band Tool. Huh? Yes, Keenan is very committed to growing great grapes and making great wine, and it doesn’t hurt that he brings a showbiz flair to the enterprise. He’s produced a film called “Blood Into Wine” that’s been touring the country. Keenan also brings out a whole new crowd when he shows up at tastings and signings. That’s good! We can use some drama and theater in the wine business.

So let’s get to the wine. I recently tasted Arizona Stronghold Mangus 2009: actually, I drank it with a pulled pork sandwich while staring at the Super Bowl (or the Super Bowl commercials). Mangus is the second blend they’ve released, following a Rhone blend called Nachise. (In case you’ve noticed a pattern here, the wines are all named for Apache warriors.) Mangus is the winery’s Super Tuscan blend, and includes 64% Sangiovese, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon and 16% Merlot. The Italian Sangiovese certainly leads the way in this wine. The nose hit me with bright cherry fruit and some cinnamon spice. The palate packs more bright fruit and tangy acid, combining New World softness with Old World bite. Cherry, strawberry and rhubarb all show up on the palate, but with medium body that never gets jammy or over-rich, Mangus is a great food wine. Ir was also a great wine for the occassion — all that pounding and hitting called for a wine with some punch.

I know that Arizona Stronghold is now available in other states, and they’re priced between $20 and $30. Don’t be afraid to give them a try — put them in a tasting with similar varietals and see how they hold up. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised. Cheers!

  • Share/Bookmark

Homage to an Ohio Wine Pioneer: Tony Debevc, Sr.


Chalet Debonne's estate vineyards in Ohio's Grand River Valley

Northern Ohio isn’t the easiest place in the world to grow wine grapes. It takes determination, energy and a good measure of stubbornness to create a winery in the shadow of the Great Lakes. But after years of hard work, Chalet Debonne is a thriving business and the Grand River Valley District has become a popular leisure destination. This is in no small part thanks to Tony Debevc Sr, who passed away recently at the age of 94.

Tony Sr. was one of the pioneers in the Ohio wine industry. The land he lived on near Madison had been planted to grapes by his father as early as 1916, but Tony got serious about wine when he created Chalet Debonne Vineyards in 1971. With his wife Rose and son Anthony, Tony Sr. used innovative new techniques in his vineyards: before wind machines were common to prevent frost damage, Tony brought in World War II airplane engines to protect his vines. His energy, commitment, and smart ideas steered the winery through the early years and helped make it the largest estate winery in Ohio.

Tony Sr’s family made this statement: “Tony will be remembered by many as a respected, innovative winegrower whose legacy includes a strong and dynamic family, great friends and fine wines with which to celebrate life.”

It doesn’t get much better than that. Cheers.

  • Share/Bookmark

When a Decoy is the Real Thing: Duckhorn Decoy Wines

decoyAnyone who knows even a little bit about Napa wine has heard the name “Duckhorn.” It’s practically an iconic brand, having been around since Napa started to become known as a world-class wine producer. Their Merlot got lots of buzz, and the sophisticated wine drinkers would part with some serious cash for a bottle of their single-vineyard Three Palms Merlot.

Then along comes a fun little bottling called “Decoy.” The duck on the label  pegged it as part of the Duckhorn family, and it was some kind of fun red blend. It also sold for a much more fun price than the mainline bottlings (like $25 instead of $50). Napa wine fans snapped it up, which may be why it was difficult to keep in stock.

That was a few years ago, when Napa (and the rest of the USA) was flying high. Winesellers like me thought it was normal to have to beg a distrtibutor or a winery to sell us their wine. Read the rest of this entry »

  • Share/Bookmark

Wine on Fire: Garnacha de Fuego 2009

fireI just had an orgasmic food and wine experience. And it wasn’t something exotic, like Sauteed Seaweed and Toasted Coconuts paired with Romanian Sauvignon Blanc. It was just pizza. Good old American Pizza, and I ate it with a Spanish wine called Garnacha de Fuego Old Vines 2009.

The pizza was simple — my favorite Hawaiian pizza, which is a potentially odd combo of red sauce, ham and pineapple (easy on the cheese). The flavors are unexpectedly great: the sauce is tangy, the baked pineapple is sweet, and the ham is salty. What could be better?

The wine is also relatively simple. It says right on the label that it’s made from the Grenache grape (that’s Garnacha in Spanish), and it comes from a region in Northeastern Spain called Catalayud. It’s pretty hot during the day in Catalayud, but pretty cool at night, and if you want to get technical about it you’d call that an extreme “diurnal temperature shift.” But we’re being simple here, so we’ll just say this is a great combination of temperatures for growing wine grapes. The heat ripens the fruit, and the cold creates good acid in the grapes. Acid contributes to a well-balanced wine (it’s not too soft or “flabby”) and also makes it kick ass with tomato sauce, like the kind on my Hawaiian pizza.

Garnacha de Fuego comes from a winery called Bodegas Ateca, which makes many 90+ point wines and is a collaboration between the Gil family (who make 90+ wines such as Juan Gil) and Jorge Ordonez. I’ve written other posts about Ordonez, who I consider to be the world’s best negociant. He finds great Spanish wines at every price point and brings them to us here in the USofA, and I for one have enjoyed every one I’ve tasted. Read the rest of this entry »

  • Share/Bookmark

Tin Barn Napa Valley Blend 2005

tin barnHere we go again with another amazing wine value, brought to you by the Great Recession.

Tin Barn Napa Blend 2005 should have been sold out long ago, and in a normal economy it would have been. But it’s still available in late 2010, and at a great price. What was $40 on release is now just $25, even though it still drinks like $40.

Tin Barn Vineyards is one of the new “wineries without vines.” (You can read about another one in my article on Michael Pozzan Wines). Winemaker Michael Lancaster gathered up some partners 10 years ago and began buying select lots of grapes from growers in Napa and Sonoma. He sources his grapes from great appellations such as Carneros, Russian River, and Chiles Valley, where the grapes for the 2005 Napa Blend come from. Volker and Leisel Eisele  tend this vineyard in the Northeast corner of the Napa Valley, which is particularly suited to warm-weather grapes.

You can taste the ripeness and concentration in this Tin Barn wine. The blend is 63% Cabernet Sauvignon, 21% Cabernet Franc and 16% Merlot, and the Cab Sauv certainly dominates on the nose and palate. The classic cassis and blackcurrant flavors are right up front, but then it goes deep, deep down with real Napa Cab intensity. I loved that part of it. Then the Cab Franc and Merlot kick in, softening the tannins and adding a hint of spice. The finish lingers with some toasty oak.

I intend to lay in a store of Tin Barn, and there can’t be much left since they made less than 900 cases. If you want to do the same thing, I’m telling you now that I’ll try to beat you to it.


  • Share/Bookmark

The Blend’s The Thing: KitFox 2007

3 fingerThere are very few wines out there that are 100% of anything, so it always surprises me when someone says, “Oh, but it’s a blend,” like that’s a bad thing. From Bordeaux to Chateuaneuf-du-Pape to Meritage, some of the world’s best reds are blended.

The one I tasted recently is designed as a user-friendly everyday red, but it’s also a good example of a well-blended wine. KitFox 2007 Proprietary Red is Cabernet based, but three other grapes give it a unique style: Syrah, Merlot and Zinfandel.

But before I review the wine, let’s talk about the winery. Kit Fox Vineyards is owned by the Vogel family, who have been farming in Napa for four generations. Together with two other winery owners, they comprise 3 Finger Wine Company, which collaborates to produce four labels: Kit Fox, Hoedown, Dark Horse and Treasure Hunter. I guess that in the wine business, the whole is sometimes bigger than the sum of the parts…

I’ve really liked several of thew Treasure Hunter Wines, and although I haven’t tasted them I know some of the Dark Horse get great reviews. So it seems the 3 Finger concept is working. Read the rest of this entry »

  • Share/Bookmark

Port For The X Gen, or Y Gen, or Whatever

novalThe wine rep  who brought Noval Black to me introduced it by saying, “This is Port for younger wine drinkers.” I thought to myself, “Just how young are we talking?” With that “Must Be 21″ thing, they can’t be all that young. He must be talking about 20-somethings or 30-somethings: and is there a reason they can’t drink the Port that’s good enough for the rest of us? And why would this venerable Port house, that’s been making tawnies and vintage character port since 1715, see the need to launch a product for youngsters now?

I couldn’t wait to crack this bottle and answer  these questions. We set it up properly, serving it after a good  dinner with some killer fudge brownies and fresh raspberries. When the Noval Black hit the table, the first thing we noticed was the sleek, racy look of the bottle. It doesn’t look like your father’s Port: there are no clumsy stenciled letters or squatty, frumpy bottle. And there’s almost no punt underneath the bottle — you know, that deep indentation in the bottom that’s designed to hold sediment as the Port ages and sediment falls out. Hmmmm…

When we popped the (traditional) cork and  poured a glass, we noted that the color was typical of a ruby port:  nice deep garnet. The nose gave a good rush of berry fruit, and the first sip rewarded us with nice, deep, sweet black cherry flavors.The finish had the bite you want from a 19.5% alcohol wine, but didn’t linger long in the mouth. It was pleasant, and it reminded me of lots of other ruby or vintage-character ports that I’ve tasted. Read the rest of this entry »

  • Share/Bookmark

Bordeaux Meets Walla Walla: L’Ecole No. 41 Perigee 2007

ecoleThere were a lot of pedigreed  and pricey wines at a trade event we attended recently. They were all from Washington State, which my readers will know is one of my favorite wine regions. The wineries were showcasing lots of Cab, Merlots, and Syrahs, bottled separately and blended, but my favorite of the evening was L’Ecole No. 41 Seven Hills Vineyard Perigee 2007. And this sure wasn’t the priciest bottle there…

Now I gotta admit that I (and my customers) have had trouble with this winery’s name. But it turns out that it pays homage to the building they occupy, which was originally a school (“ecole”) in District 41, built in 1915 in a community founded by French-Canadian immigrants. So that explains it. The winery is family-owned, now run by the second generation. They’ve won a boatload of awards and high ratings from all the big critics.

The Seven Hills Vineyard that produced the grapes for Perigee is co-owned by L’Ecole, Pepper Bridge and Leonetti, all big names in Washington wine. It was even named one of the “Ten Great Vineyards of the World” by Wine and Spirits magazine. I can certainly speak to the quality of the wine this vineyard produces. Perigee 2007 is a classic Bordeaux blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc. The fruit is intense on the nose and palate, suggesting dark cherry and blackberry with mocha and spice. The mid-palate is deep, and the intensity seems to build right through the long finish. At $50, this is a real bargain compared to the all the $75-ish Washington blends we tasted. I’d like to run right out and find a case to lay down, so I can enjoy this one for a long time to come.


  • Share/Bookmark

Great Wine from an Overlooked Region: Wente Vineyards

wenteThere are several regions in California that get lots of attention as “wine country destinations.”  The Livermore Valley isn’t usually one of them, although it’s just an easy 50 minute drive from San Francisco. Located east of the city, on the far side of the East Bay Hills, it’s the home of a few nationally-known wineries (ever heard of Concannon?) and many small operations.

We have family in the East Bay area who had told us good things about the area, so we set out to find it. We drove east, over the sun-baked hills, and dropped down into the beautiful valley that houses Wente Vineyards. Before we reached the winery buildings, we saw … manicured greens and fairways! Yes, Wente Vineyards is also home to a championship golf course, designed by none other than golfing wino Greg Norman. (My golfer’s heart leapt, but I had no clubs in my trunk and had to wait to fight another day).

There’s a whole lot of history here. German immigrant C.H. Wente came to the valley 125 years ago and learned to make wine from none other than the original Charles Krug. The 48 acres C.H. bought then has grown to almost 3,000 acres in the Livermore Valley, San Francisco Bay appellation and Arroyo Seco, Monterey. And the fifth generation of Wentes is now in the winemaking business. This looks like a wine force to be reckoned with… Read the rest of this entry »

  • Share/Bookmark

A Great Debut for Spain’s 2009 Vintage: Montebuena Rioja 2009

montebuenaI saw the vintage “2009″ on this wine’s label and thought, “How can this be ready to drink? And how can this have already earned a very stellar rating from the world’s foremost Wine God?”

I was skeptical. But the rating acted like peer pressure on a teenager and made me try it.

And I’m glad I did. I really enjoyed this wine, despite its young age. It’s an infant compared to the Rioja Crianzas and Reservas that aren’t released until they’ve undergone years of barrel and bottle aging. But Montebuena Rioja 2009 is like a precocious youngster — it’s fresh, bright and a little cheeky, and we know it’ll get even better with age.

Montebuena is 100% Tempranillo from the Rioja region in northern Spain. While the southern part of the country had a cool, rainy season in 2009,  the North fared better.  Warmer-than-average temperatures and less-than-average rainfall threatened to shrivel the grape crop, until rains in September cooled things off and allowed the vineyards to recover.  The result seems to be intense fruit with  great concentration and balance. Some critics are even calling 2009 an exceptional vintage.  Read the rest of this entry »

  • Share/Bookmark
Wine Accessories

Switch to our mobile site