Wine Review: Vinum Cellars Chenin Blanc Clarksburg 2014



vinum cheninVinum has a long track record producing wine from this grape that deserves far more attention than it receives in the U.S.  2014 is their 17h vintage from these grapes grown in the Sacramento River Delta. It’s hot there but cool, nighttime breezes from San Francisco Bay keep fresh acidity in the grapes.

The aromas of crushed rock, pear, lemon and lavender are pretty but this wine’s charm is really in the caressing mouth feel that manages to be both light, crisp and viscous, exuding minerality but with slight honeyed notes that lend a touch of sweetness. Orange zest blooms on the midpalate but the emphasis is on the floral and mineral spectrum. It finishes long and cool, with a spine like pure spring water.

Relatively small production of 2500 cases.

Score: 88

Price: $16

Alc: 13.5%

The sweet, languid,  but crisply pulsating sound of Bebel Gilberto captures the mood.

Budget Wine Review: Chateau Marzin Blaye—Cotes De Bordeaux 2011



chateau marzinAn inexpensive Bordeaux that is rich and full of flavor yet distinctly Bordeaux? Impossible, you say. It’s rare as a nun in a bikini, but this one get’s close.

Deep plum, with pungent scents of freshly turned earth and a hint of barnyard playing in the background, on the palate the fruit is laced with coffee, soft and round in the mouth and surprisingly dense for Bordeaux. The acidity is low but the midpalate shows some steel, the tannins have grain but no grip, showing off a medium length finish with a nice seam of pure fruit.

From an exceptionally good vintage. Blaye is a large wine region producing mostly cheap Merlot on the right bank of the Dordogne northeast of the more celebrated regions of Pomerol and St. Emilion. There are gems to be found there.

The mood evokes a soft, mellow rusticity. Bonnie’s got some barnyard in that voice.

Budget Wine Review: Gnarly Head Double Black 1924 Red Blend 2015



gnarly head 1924This Zinfandel-driven blend is called 1924 because it’s suppose to remind us of prohibition when wines were field blends and most were sweet. They were also swill made under the pretense of being sacramental. So marketing guy. Which association do you prefer I latch onto.

Inky in the glass,  the nose is a bit smoky, with a hint of raw wood wrapped around bold, berry aromas.

In the mouth it’s thick, round and sweet with cinnamon notes complementing the berry fruit. It’s not dessert sweet but if you’re used to dry wines you’ll find it cloying. The medium length finish has a core of sweet fruit which covers up a bitter woody note.

This is not my style. After 1/2 a glass I crave a shot of tequila blanco to erase all vestiges or 5 or 6 to erase all memory.

But wines like this are flying off the shelf. If you enjoy sweeter wines, this one has lots of big flavors and will excel at washing down a burger.

Score: 85

Price: $10

Alc: 15%

A gothic ballad of a wine, sweetly delivered

Time to Lose the Pre-Conceptions About Emerging U.S. Wine Regions



us wine mapThis article speaks to the difficulties East coast wine regions have in getting wine consumers to take them seriously.

“The hardest thing for East Coast wineries is the general attitude toward their wine,” says Elizabeth Slater of In Short Direct Marketing, who works with wineries across the nation to improve their sales. “People don’t take wine from Virginia, North Carolina, or New Jersey seriously. They have a preconceived notion, just like they used to have about California, where California was no good next to French wine.”

The issue is not just with East coast wineries but wine regions in the Midwest and Mountain West face the same challenges. And it’s not just getting consumers to try the wine but also to taste with an open mind.

Slater adds that the difficulty can even go beyond getting people to try the wines. “One of the challenges they have is getting people to taste the wine as it is, rather than the way they expect it to be. People will taste a wine from Virginia and say, ‘oh it’s okay,’ when in actuality it’s really very good.”

It’s a new wine world out there. Technology and the expansion of our knowledge about growing grapes and making wine have dramatically improved quality even in locations that were previously considered marginal. More importantly, many of these new regions in the U.S. now have several decades of experience with matching the varietal to local conditions. The result is excellent wine from New York to Arizona and several states in between,

I travel around the country drinking wine and I’ve brought several samples from across the country to my blind tasting group of sophisticated, Southern California wine lovers. Invariably these select wines hold their own and sometimes outshine wines from classic regions around the world.

Have they reached the quality level of the finest wines of Bordeaux or Napa? No. The average wine from New York or Virginia is probably just a cut below the average California wine as well since many of these regions face extraordinary weather-related challenges and vintage variation can be extreme.

But there are gems to be found in Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, Virginia, Texas, North Carolina, and New York. (Idaho, Michigan, and New Jersey are on my radar) Extraordinary winemakers with talent and a dedication to quality who make distinctive wines. Although have to do your research to find them (which is true of any wine region) there is no longer reason to discount these regions or lower your expectations.

And they will continue to get better.

Budget Wine Review: Castle Rock Red Wine Blend Reserve Columbia Valley 2013



castle rock blendCastle Rock’s negociant, business model produces value-priced wines with some personality. And this one is no exception.

They claim it’s fashioned after the “great wines of Bordeaux”. But Bordeaux has nowhere near the sun and temperatures of the Columbia Valley. This is no Bordeaux but it’s not jammy or alcoholic either, and it’s made from Cabernet and Merlot so there’s that.

Black cherry, charred wood and smoked meat aromas make you think barbecue.

On the palate it’s simple but structured, dry with sneaky, medium-grain tannins and bright medium-plus acidity. The charred wood carries through on the palate, but chocolaty, midpalate richness blooms before turning nervy and taut on the finish.

Very nice with steak, this one grows on you, a wine for grown ups.

Edgy and defiant. “I’m learning to survive on earthworms and houseflies”

Score: 88

Price: $12

Alc: 13.5%

What is So Sacred about Ordinary?


dodici pizzaSo an upscale pizza shop in New York City decides to go all out and make a pizza that sells for $38.

This week, the Sofia Pizza Shoppe, in the well-heeled Sutton Place section of Manhattan, is upping the ante, with a $38 pizza that requires an online ticket purchase and is available only a few nights each week, for a limited number of seatings. Only one pie will be made for each seating…

Thomas DeGrezia, who opened the shop last July with Matthew Porter, said he cold-fermented the dough for about three days before letting it rise in an oil-lined pan with grated cheese for 12 hours. (The name is a play on “dodici,” Italian for “12.”) It is cooked for 10 minutes without stretching the dough, resulting in a collapsed, airy crumb. The result is a six-slice pizza that Sofia will sell only by the pie…

“We use all imported flours, and we also use an imported, unfiltered, organic Sicilian olive oil,” said Mr. DeGrezia, who traces his pizza heritage to J& V Pizzeria, which his grandfather helped found in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, in the 1950s. “Of the four cheeses on it, one is a daily-hand-made, fresh mozzarella, and another is a 36-month red cow Parmigiano-Reggiano that gets shaved on top right before serving.”

That’s a very “New York” thing to do.  But we admire great wine, super-fast automobiles, and world-class athletes—why not excellent pizza? Well the comments on this story aren’t having any. Here’s just a sampling:

This is more of a loaf of bread with “pizza topping”. It bears no resemblance to the best of Italy let alone NYC, home of America’s best pizza.”

Now $38 for a slice of deep dish pizza which my mother has been making for decades at home sans the fancy-sounding ingredients. More power to them. For the rest of us – this is a sign of a bubble about to pop.

It won’t beat what I can get for a few singles in any local joint Brooklyn/Queens/ Jersey , 38 bucks? Really ?

Clever idea, great pr, but not pizza. Pizza is a flatbread. As for the price, a stupendous pie in Naples can be as little as 3.5 Euros.

Well that just kind of misses the point doesn’t it? The idea wasn’t to make your average New York or Neapolitan slice but to do something different and extraordinary. DeGrezia wants to make a great pizza with the best ingredients and that takes time and resources. If you don’t want to pay for it then don’t buy a ticket. But why treat this as a sin against the pizza Gods?

Why is it we admire excellence and pushing the boundaries in other areas of life but when it comes to food only the ordinary will do?

Budget Wine Review: Blue Plate Chenin Blanc Clarksburg CA 2012


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blue plateA crisp, bone dry version of this versatile grape from the Clarksburg AVA near Sacramento. I guess it’s called “blue plate” because it’s a utilitarian wine—solid and inexpensive.

Melon and subtle honey notes rest on a background of faint apricot, all gently cloaked in a funky wet hay aroma.On the palate it’s peach upfront with a lanolin infused midpalate. The slight viscosity gives it a pleasing softness set off by dominant stony, minerality that rushes quickly into a seriously tart, slightly bitter finish with good length.

Domestic, dry Chenin Blanc is worth buying. It’s not insipid like too many Pinot Grigio’s, not as in-you-face as Sauvignon Blanc, and more lively than budget Chardonnay.

Playful and bouncy, signaling summer, a cruel, cruel Summer

Score: 87

Price: $9

Alc: 12%

Kramer’s Contradiction



reverse osmosis

Reverse Osmosis Filtration

The usually cogent Matt Kramer is letting his logic slip. In an interesting post on the future of wine, which consists of reasonable guesses for the most part, he claims:

Natural wines, so-called, won’t exist. Why not? Because they will have been mainstreamed, that’s why. It will be normal for producers to create wines more or less along the lines that are deemed “natural” today. What will be different will be that these same wines will be universally well-made rather than today’s more hit-and-miss “naturalism.”

Perhaps, but then he claims:

Conversely, wines made using reverse osmosis and spinning cones to reduce alcohol will be ever more common and—here’s the kicker—producers will be forthright about it. Strange as it sounds to us today, it will be the new “natural.”

Here again, climate change may be the prime mover. If producers in now-warm and possibly-getting-hotter zones can demonstrate that judiciously removing alcohol with technology does not materially affect the remaining “naturalness” of the wine, then a new generation of tech-savvy and tech-accepting wine drinkers will say, “No problem.”

I don’t get it. Natural wine enthusiasts reject wines made with sulfur because it’s considered excessively interventionist and obscures the influence of weather and soil on a particular vintage.Why then would they be OK with reverse osmosis since it also is manipulating the character of the vintage. Why is it “unnatural” to protect wine from excessive oxidation by using sulfur but acceptable to modify it’s alcohol content using hi-tech machinery?

I doubt that the conflict between technology and nature will be so easily resolved by natural wine enthusiasts simply forgetting their commitments.

Winemaking is Hard


winemaking disasterIf you ever get the idea that it would be cool to make wine in your garage, on weekends, when the spirit moves you, you should probably read this first. And keep your expectations very, very low

As my experience proved the hard way, there’s a reason most winemakers learn their skill with a university degree. While fermentation is a simple process, good winemaking simply is not. Most of the nuances of winemaking are invisible and microscopic, especially with natural wines. There might not be any visual indicators of a problem, and the aromatic indicators are minute, demanding that the stewards of vino be scrupulous and focused on their grapes from the field to the bottling line.

Yes. It was a real mess.