Saturday, October 22, 2011

2009 Martinelli pinot noir, Zio Tony Ranch, "Grace Nicole"

This is another in a long line of successes with this varietal by a family who started farming in Sonoma County well over 100 years ago. They make exemplary syrahs, zinfandels and chardonnays, all estate grown, but my soft spot is for their splendid pinots. This one is from the Russian River Valley AVA and it displays the typical Martinelli lush, ripe fruit flavors and perfectly focused sweet cherry and wet earth aromas. This is a wine that deserves serious contemplation.

All of Martinelli's single vineyard wines are allocated. This one retails from the winery for $60. The Wine Spectator recently reviewed California's 2009 vintage, which was particularly successful for Sonoma pinots. They gave this wine a 95 rating.

2007 Tenuta delle Terre Nere, "Santo Spirito"

If you are searching for something really different in a red wine, this is a good one to try. Proprietor Marc de Grazia produces this wine from grapes grown on the slopes of the Sicilian Mount Etna. The wine is almost 100% Nerello Mascalese, a relatively obscure varietal native to Sicily. When you pour some in your glass, the light red color would cause you to anticipate a lightness in flavor and structure. But this is a powerful and tannic wine, built to age for a decade or more. De Grazia also produces a similar wine called "Guardiola."

I purchased this wine from the Wine Exchange in Orange, CA for $40. Parker (Galloni) gives it a 93 rating. The 2008 vintage of these two companion wines has now been released and they sell for the same price. Parker (Galloni) gives them 95 ratings.

2008 Turley zinfandel, Howell Mountain (Dragon Vineyard)

If you like your zins to be inexpensive, light-weight and fruit-driven, you would be well advised to avoid Turley zins. This concentrated, mouth-filling wine is sourced from old vines, which in itself is somewhat remarkable since most old vine zins in Napa Valley have long ago been pulled out and replaced by Cabernet Sauvignon. This wine displays a dark ruby color with intense aromas of spice box and red berries. The flavors are rich, ripe and long. The acid and tannin structure means this wine should age well for five years or more.

This is one of Turley's allocated wines, but given the state of the economy, it should not take you very long to get on their list. The price was $45 and I have no problem with that given this wine's fine quality. Parker rated it 93-95. Tanzer gave it a 93.

2009 Russolo "Doi Raps"

This white wine from Friuli is a blend of pinot bianco, pinot grigio and sauvignon blanc. According to the folks at the Wine Exchange, Russolo, after the harvest, leaves two bunches ("Doi Raps" is Friulian for "two bunches") on each vine to further ripen for up to six weeks. These super-ripe grapes are fermented separately and the result is a wine that is chock full of aromatics and flavor. You can tell sauvignon blanc plays a role here but it is a supporting role only. This is a fascinating wine that can hold its own structurally with the biggest of white wines. The Wine Exchange sells it for $17.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

2008 Hartford zinfandel, "Highwire Vineyard"

Hartford winery is one of several premier quality boutique wineries which were owned by the late Jess Jackson. This operation has been quietly cranking out top-notch zinfandels, pinot noirs and chardonnays from vineyards located in the Russian River Valley AVA and on "true" Sonoma Coast ridgeline locations. They regularly produce several old-vineyard zins and this is always one of their top efforts.

This full-throttle zin has intense wild berry and spice aromas laced with (but not overwhelmed by) oak. This is a big mouth-filling wine with a finish that is almost endless. The wine has limited availability in the retail market but you can purchase it directly from the winery. Their wine-club price is $55. Now that's a lot of money for a zin, but in my opinion this wine ranks along with zins from Martinelli Jackass and Turley Hayne vineyards, and you will pay similar prices for those benchmark zins.

2008 Bridlewood Winery, viognier "Rseseve"

This wine demonstrates how great bargains in quality wines can be found in today's economy. This Santa Ynez winery sells their 2009 version of this wine online for $25. The Lukas Superstore location in Kansas City at 135th and State Line carries the 2008 vintage for $9(!). This is a quality white wine at a near giveaway price. They even gave me a case discount.
I initially bought one bottle to see if perhaps it had already gone over the hill, a problem you often encounter with this varietal. But such was not the case. This wine is fresh and focused with good acidity and a delicate but complex aroma profile. What a great summertime poolside wine!

2008 Martinelli pinot noir "Moonshine Ranch"

No doubt about it, I am a real fan of just about everything this venerable wine-making family makes. They make benchmark chardonnays, syrahs and zinfandels, but I am a pushover for their pinot noirs, whether they come from their "true" Sonoma Coast vineyards or, like this one, from Russian River Valley origins. Every separate vineyard has its own clear varietal identity, but they all share a seamless focus in their aromas and flavors. This one has intense black cherry and strawberry aromas with just a touch of damp earth. All of their wines reflect Martinelli's philosophy of picking fully ripe fruit, which means they will be high in alcohol. But you will not detect that in the aroma or the flavor.
This wine costs $60 and I think, given the quality, it is a fair price. All of their single vineyard wines are allocated, but the waiting list to get on their allocation mailer should not be excessive. You can reach them at (707) 525-0570. Their website is

1997 Domaine des Baumard Savennieres "Clos du Papillon"

Although the wine probably does not belong in "New Tastes" since I bought it 11 years ago, I wanted to highlight this dry Loire Valley chenin blanc, not only for its modest price but also for its incredible ability to gracefully age. This wine cost me $18 a bottle and later vintages now on the market are perhaps double that (but still a bargain). Domaine des Baumard is a top producer, not only of Savennieres, but also several sweet Coteaux du Layon examples, culminating with the luscious Quarts de Chaume.

This wine was 14 years old when I pulled the cork. The color and fresh aroma said "new wine" and I had to look at the label a second time just to make sure I had not opened a recent vintage by mistake. This amazing longevity is mostly attributed to the bracing acidity this varietal exhibits when grown in its place of origin. I have one bottle left and I am not in any hurry to open it. If you are looking for a wine that speaks of "somewhereness" chenin blanc from the Loire Valley will give you exactly that. Baumard's wine has good national distribution so you should not have any problem finding both the dry and the sweet versions.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

2005 Carlisle "Two Acres" Russian River Valley red wihe

Although this is not a recent release, I wanted to review it to give you a sense of what is being produced by this exemplary Sonoma winemaker. Although Mike Officer has not been making wine for very long, he has catapulted to near the top rung when it comes to zinfandel and syrah, He specializes in searching out ancient vineyards in need of loving care and restoration. This particular wine is neither zinfandel nor syrah based. It is a blend of 80% mourvedre, 15% petite sirah and 5% other varietals. The person that owned this abandoned vineyard told Mike it was zinfandel but research proved otherwise. The vineyard was in terrible condition but Mike eventually brought it back into production. Like all his wines, this one is full-bodied with ripe tannins and great mouth feel. All of his wines are now allocated but it would be worth your while to get on his list because his pricing philosophy means you always get your money's worth. I purchased this wine in November of 2007 for $35. I wish I had a case of it sitting in my cellar. Mike can be reached at (707) 566-7700.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

2009 d'Arenberg "The Stump Jump"

D'Arenberg is a reliable Aussie producer that has been in business since 1912. Although many of their McLaren Vale wines are pricey indeed, their lower-priced reds and whites are high in quality, delivering a lot of bang for the buck. Such is the case with this tasty offering, a blend of 42% grenache, 33% shiraz and 25% mourvedre. Medium-full bodied (14% alcohol), this wine offers lots of complexity and flavor interest. Ripe tannins and medium acidity signal a wine ready to drink now, although it will not lose anything if it spends a year or two in your cellar. This wine is widely distributed and its $12 (or less) price tag should cause no heartburn.

2009 La Crema Chardonnay, Monterey

La Crema winery, now owned by Jess Jackson, is quietly increasing the quality of its various bottlings without jacking up prices. This wine is simply delicious with subtle oak accenting the solid tropical fruit aromas and flavors. A nicely balanced chardonnay with no rough edges or excessive acidity. Perfect for immediate consumption, it should not fade in your cellar for at least a couple of years. Robert Parker Jr. gives it a 90 and indicates a retail price of $20. This wine is certainly worth that, but you should be able to find it at a reduced price in your local area. I purchased my bottle from a grocery store in Tucson for $14, a price that puts it in the outstanding value category.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

2009 Luigi Bosca Pinot Noir, Reserva

This interesting Argentine pinot noir is sourced from the Maipu region of Mendoza. The vineyards are located at approximately 2,500 feet elevation. Bosca is better known for its cabernets but the winery likes to experiment with other varietals. This pinot is not a blockbuster - everything is in balance including the 13.1% alcohol. The distinctive aromatics have classic cherry aromas with a few exotic notes thrown in. This wine appears ready to drink now, but sticking it in your cellar a year or two would do no harm. I purchased this wine at a Costco store in Tucson for $24. It is nice to stumble on to interesting wines like this.

Monday, February 28, 2011

2002 Domaine Huet Vouvray Petillant, Brut Reserve

I love the chenin blancs that are produced by this Loire Valley chateau. Most of the Huet wines that garner the highest accolades are their still chenins which range from bone dry to very sweet. But Domaine Huet's sparkling vouvrays are jewels in their own right. This one is their top-of-the-line sparkler from a great vintage (and alas the year the great Gaston Huet passed away). This wine would give many French Champagnes, costing twice as much, some strong competition. You will not regret tucking some of this wine into your cellar. I purchased this wine directly from Sonoma Rare Wine Company in Somoma, CA. They have a web site or they can be reached directly at (707) 996-4484. The cost per bottle was $40, a very reasonable price for wine of this quality.

2008 Breggo Cellars Pinot Noir, Savoy Vineyard, Anderson Valley

Breggo Cellars is a top notch producer of pinots and chardonnays. This relatively young winery is located in a remote valley north of Sonoma County. Like the Russian River Valley AVA, Anderson Valley receives a heavy morning dose of fog off the ocean during the summer, giving pinot noirs and chardonnays an ideal climate to produce excellent quality fruit.
This wine has beautiful aromatics with notes of black cherry and damp earth. Excellent overall balance makes for a wine that is delicious to drink now but should benefit from a couple of years in your cellar. I purchased this wine from a Costco store in Tucson - I was surprised to find it there since this is a relatively low-production wine. Breggo has a user-friendly web site ( where you can purchase most of their wines. The Costco store price was $22, which made it a fine bargain.

Monday, January 31, 2011

2007 Henry's Drive Vignerons "Pillar Box Red" Padthaway, Australia

There are a lot of very inexpensive Aussie reds on the market, but I think this one is near the top of the heap. This shiraz (65%), cabernet sauvignon and merlot blend is an easy-drinking red. Medium-full in body with ripe flavors and soft tannins, this wine matches well with BBQ, stews and hamburgers. The price should be around $10 at your favorite store and the wine enjoys very wide distribution. By the way, according to the back label, a "pillar box" is an Australian mail posting box. Red became tne standard color in 1874.

2009 Yalumba viognier, South Australia

Although you may be up to your knees in snow right now, spring and summer surely will arrive someday, and this is the perfect pool-side sipper. Yalumba makes wines to meet all price points and the lowest priced ones (like this one) do not disappoint. Clean, fragrant, flowery aromas are followed by crisp flavors. Balanced acidity is something that is lacking in many inexpensive viogniers, but no problem here. The price ($9) makes this an easy case-purchase wine. This wine has wide distribution so you should be able to find it at any well-stocked store.