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  • A Pair of Iconic Cab Producers and a Sonoma linked Champagne

    Posted: 2018-09-22 14:24
    2012 Alexander Valley Jordan Vineyard & Winery Cabernet Sauvignon (750ml $72; 1.5l $199)
    Jordan Vineyard & Winery has been an iconic producer of Sonoma County Cabernet Sauvignon since practically its first release in 1976.  Their estate is located in the Alexander Valley AVA - just north of Healdsburg - which is the largest wine region in the county. The AVAs boundaries have changed slightly over the years but the the original border extended from the banks of the Russian River eastward to the foothills of the Mayacamas Mountains and is sheltered by the moderating influences of the Pacific.  This means the day times are dry and hot whereas the colder night temperatures create a large diurnal temperature swing leading to slowly maturing grapes and intense acids. The 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon contains 77% Cabernet Sauvignon, 16% Merlot, 5% Petit Verdot; and 2% Malbec from the Jordan estate and an allotment from 16 family growers. The fermented wine undergoes a year of oak treatment in various vessels and toast before final release. Winemaker Rob Davis considers 2012 "a phenomenal growing season" and this is exhibited in the wine, even a few years after its initial release. The wine is still considerably fresh with solid black fruit, a creamy mid-section, and a long soft landing. This wine is phenomenal on its own and will still pierce through any red meat.

    Jordan Cuvée ($49)
    Since its inception, Jordan Vineyard & Winery has offered visitors sparkling wine, initially true Champagne, but later sparkling wine from sister winery J Vineyards & Winery.  After J Vineyards became part of the Gallo empire, Jordan returned to the past and established a relationship with Champagne AR Lenoble in France as bother wineries share a "joint commitment to independent ownership, wines of balance and quality without compromise". In fact there are no financial investments or legal contracts -- the two wineries are independently aligned through mutual respect and friendship. This respect is born from AR Lenoble’s focus on quality by limiting yields in the vineyards, using exclusively first-press juice, and blending more reserve wine in its non-vintage bottling.  This holds true for the Jordan Cuvée which is a 2012 baseline blend of 30% Grand Cru Chardonnay; 35% 1st Cru Pinot Noir, and 35% Pinot Meunier using only first-press juice and 35% reserve wines. The wine is then aged 4 years on the lees with 18% aged in oak barrels and then aged in bottle for a year. And the sparkling wine is fantastic, starting a little bready but then transitioning to a creamy, racy citrus finale that persists long after the bubbles.  

    2014 Concannon Paso Robles Cabernet Sauvignon ($20)
    Another iconic and even more historic producer of California Cabernet is the Livermore Valley's Concannon Vineyard. The winery is "America's oldest, ongoing winery under the same family label and stewardship" and more importantly the source of approximately 80% of California Cabernet Sauvignon through three cones of a single vine imported from famed Château Margaux.  And this Mother Vine is located at the beginning of a row near the auxiliary house not far from the winery's main tasting room. Besides their Livermore estate, Concannon produces wine from other appellations such as Paso Robles, an area making a statement with Cabernet through the Paso Robles CAB Collective. The affordable wine is made in part from the Concannon clones and is a blend of 87% Cabernet Sauvignon, 6.5% Petite Verdot, and 6.5% Petite Sirah. This is a bold wine, yet restrained; dense, but flows effortlessly throughout the palate. Dark fruit mingle with spices and chocolate before finishing with a silky and smooth. A bargain at this price.
  • New Zealand's Wairau Valley and the Wairau River 2015 Marlborough Pinot Noir

    Posted: 2018-09-18 17:08
    New Zealand's modern wine industry began in Marlborough in the 1970s with growers planting Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir vines in the southern Wairau Valley. Nowadays, Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir are world famous and the Wairau Valley is home to some of New Zealand's most famous producers. One of these early growers was the Rose family who planted their estate vineyards on the banks of the Wairau River.

    "The Wairau Valley is one of three zones – along with the Southern Valleys and the Awatere Valley – which make up the heartland of New Zealand's Marlborough wine region. It accounts for approximately 45 percent of plantings within the wider region. It is a wide river valley that follows the Wairau River from the Spenser Mountains in the west to the Pacific at Cloudy Bay. The Richmond Mountains in the north separate it from the sunny region of Nelson, and the Wither Hills in the south protect the valley from harsh weather systems from the south-east. The Wairau Valley has a warm, dry climate that is moderated during the growing season by sea breezes from Cloudy Bay. Hot sunshine during the day and cold ocean winds at night extend the ripening period in the grapes, leading to a balance of fruit complexity and acidity. This diurnal temperature variation is essential to the terroir in the Wairau Valley – without it, much of the classic punchiness of the wines made here would be lost." -- via Wine-Searcher.

    After supplying popular producers with grapes for most of the 1980s, Phil and Chris Rose established Wairau River Winery in 1991 taking its name from the river on whose banks Phil and Chris Rose hand planted their first vines in 1978. In total they maintain ten estate vineyards all benefiting from different numerous meso-climates within the Wairau Valley sub-region. The winery is a complete family operation with siblings winemaker Sam Rose handling the cellar and Caroline Rose responsible for the Wairau River restaurant. I recently received a sample of their Wairau River 2015 Marlborough Pinot Noir ($24.99).

    This wine is 100% Pinot Noir sourced from three estate vineyards located along the Wairau River: Home Block, Spring Creek, and Winery Block. The vines are cropped to enhance the intensity and color and after fermentation the wine was aged 10 months in large French barriques. The result is a generous velvety cherry fruit profile which transitions to soft spices and then very approachable tannins. Nicely done.
  • Do You Know Your Croatian Grape Varieties?

    Posted: 2018-09-17 06:00
    I'm less familiar with Croatian grape varieties as I am with Hungarian, but this last trip to Hrvatska expanded my knowledge. Like Hungary, Croatia has a long wine tradition dating back to pre-Roman periods with many wins favored by nobility throughout Europe. Here is a subset of Croatian grape varieties to start your studies.

    Crljenak Kaštelanski (Tribidrag) (r)
    Crljenak Kaštelanski was an almost extinct Dalmatian grape varietal until DNA fingerprinting revealed that it was an exact DNA match to both Zinfandel and the Italian grape Primitivo. It was once the most dominant red grape in Dalmatia with written records reaching back to the 15th century but susceptibility to disease lead to its decline. Yet after the DNA match the grape is being replanted with the advantages of ripening early and needs less sun than its child Plavac Mali (plus produces less tannins). Try the Dubrovački Podrumi Crljenak Kaštelanski.

    Plavac Mali (r)
    Grown throughout Dalmatia as a replacement to the disease ridden Crljenak Kaštelanski and now the most important red wine grape in Croatia. Plavac means blue, and Mali means small but this offspring of Crljenak Kaštelanski and Dobričić packs a punch with cherry flavors, spice, and tannins. The high alcohol and acidity lead to solid aging potential as in the Plavac Mali wines from Miloš Winery.

    Graševina (w)
    Although not indigenous to Croatia, Graševina (Welschriesling, Olascsrizling in Hungary, and Laški Rizling in Slovenia) is the most widely planted wine grape - particularly in Slavonia where it thrives on cooler soils and a continental climate. It is intended to be consumed young and shows its popularity and the Croatian equivalent of boxed wine. However for those producers producing a deeper style, minerality replaces some of the fruity and flowery characters with the remaining crisp acidity. The Krauthaker Graševina Mitrovac was one we discovered. There's also the Adžić Winery Graševina available in the U.S.

    Malvasia Istriana (w)
    Malvazija (Malvasia in Italian) comes from the Istria peninsula and is known for creating intense wines that can be drunk young like a fresh Sauvignon Blanc or barrel aged for a more complex style. One of these with excellent minerality is the Piquentum Malvazija Blanc.

    Debit (w)
    Debit grows best in the central and north coast of Croatia and is characterized by golden yellow grapes that provide green apple flavors and abundant citric acidity. Try the Bibich Winery Debit

    Pošip (w)
    A popular grape coming from Dalmatia and associated with islands of Hvar and Korčula. These wines are flavorful, rich and textured with strong aromas and refreshing notes. Toreta Winery is a large producer of this grape.

    Babić (r)
    Babić are blue wine grapes grown mostly in Dalmatia. These are full bodied wines featuring dark berries, plums, and figs, as well as distinct spices. The Bibich R6 Riserva blend is a great example.

    Bogdanuša (w)
    This grape is native to the island of Hvar in Central Dalmatia, translates to “a godsend”, and is traditionally drunk during religious festivals. The Carić Vina is the only version of this wine exported to the U.S.

    Dobričić (r)
    This grape is from the island of Šolta (near Split) and with Crljenak Kaštelanski is the other parent of Plavac Mali. The grapes are extremely dark red and creates a purple wine -- sometimes called “the darkest wine of Dalmatia”. The grapes do not produce much sugar so varietal wines are low in alcohol as well as extremely low in acids. But be prepared for a tannic tail to create s bitter sour cherry finish. While visiting Šolta stop by Agroturizam Kaštelanac to taste different styles of Dobričić.

    Vrbnička Žlahtina (w)
    Vrbnička Žlahtina is mostly grown on the island of Krk, the largest of Croatia’s 1000+ islands, and benefits from colder climates. It produces light, refreshing white wines with floral and white fruit aromas. Try the Šipun Žlahtina.

    Teran (r)
    Up until a century ago, this grape was the most widely planted in Istria. In best of times the wine is "ruby-red, almost purple wine of a typical, fruity aroma that is easy to recognize, and has hints of berries and pepper, unusually high acidity and high tannins and not too high alcohol content: 12 – 13%". Good luck finding it outside of Istria since there is an EU dispute with Slovenia over naming rights.

    Dingač (r)
    Dingač is not a grape but a Plavac Mali wine produced in the Pelješac sub-region of the Middle and South Dalmatia wine growing region. Its included here because there can be some confusion on its definition.
  • #TasteTheNew with German Summer Wines

    Posted: 2018-09-13 20:59
    In 1985, just 16% of German Rieslings were dry and German white wines were known for their general sweetness. Since that year, consumers have demanded drier wines and German wine producers have responded accordingly such that as of 2016, 46.3% of German Rieslings were produced in a dry style. Wines of Germany is publicizing this fact; as well as the increased quality and dryness of other white varietal wines such as Muller-Thurgau, Pinot Gris, and Pinot Blanc; through the #TasteTheNew promotion. Partnering with Snooth they are offering a German-4-pack for $47.80 which can be purchased here. And this week Matthew Kaner (Wine Director & Partner of Good Measure LA, Bar Covell, Augustine Wine Bar, and Dead or Alive Bar) led a discussion and sampling of these wines for various influencers. Here are my thoughts on the wines. Cheers.

    Borell-Diehl Muller-Thurgau 2017, Pfalz ($12.99)
    Muller-Thurgau was developed by Hermann Müller of the Swiss Canton of Thurgau in 1882 by crossing Riesling and Madeleine Royale - the latter an early ripening table grape. The grape eventually became one of the most widely planted grape varieties in Germany as farmers planted over deflated sugar beets. they found that Muller-Thurgau basically grows like a weed and provides generous yields. Today wineries such as Borell-Diehl crop yields to enhance quality and plant in appropriate locations regarding elevation and soil chemistry. The vines are also grown without systemic pesticides or herbicides and are dry farmed - no irrigation in the vineyards. The resulting wine is delicious heavy with lemon-lime fruit, wet stone, and abundant acids. Kaner recommends enjoying this bargain with oysters.

    Koehler Ruprecht Pinot Blanc 2016, Pfalz ($20)
    The Pfalz region of Germany has a long history of viticulture where traces of winemaking have been found in Celtic graves as far back as 550 BC. In contemporary history, the Koehler-Ruprecht winery is one of the oldest in the area continually producing wine since the 1700's. Inspired by his grandfather, current winemaker Bernd Phillipi utilizes similar methods as Borell-Diehl with no irrigation, fertilizers or herbicides and systemic treatments against pests or fungal illness are kept to a minimum. In the cellar, Phillipi utilizes long spontaneous fermentations in large, old German oak barrels with extended lees contact. Pinot Blanc shows that this technique produces fuller and creamier white wines without oak influences penetrating into the wine's profile. The wine is floral, creamy, with green apples and lively acidity. Excellent.

    Weinreich Basisweiss Pinot Gris 2017, Rheinhessen ($12)
    In German speaking countries, Pinot Gris goes by Grauburgunder and specifically in Germany as Ruländer named after Johann Ruland -- who in 1711 discovered wild Pinot Gris vines in a now non-existent vineyard.  Marc and Nina Weinreich created a certified organic version labelled Grauburgunder that is an absolute steal. For $12 you receive a fantastic wine with layers of creamy

    Von Winning ‘Winnings' Riesling 2015, Pfalz
    Riesling is Germany’s most widely-planted grape variety and the 'Winnings' explains why the dry style is the current rage.  Although the wine is vinified dry, its character oscillates between sweet and dry with tart lemon, steely minerals and acids. The grapes are grown on the Von Winning Grosses Gewächs vineyards -- these GG sites are considered the best vineyard plots according to the German VDP classification system that is overseen by a group of producers called the Verband Deutscher Prädikatsweingüter (VDP). Winemaker Stephan Attman employs a minimalist approach in the cellar naturally fermenting the juice in oak and the gravity flow creates a "distinctive indigenous and very elegant style". I agree,
  • Do You Know Your Hungarian Grape Varieties?

    Posted: 2018-09-11 14:41
    I thought I did, at least until this last trip to the Heart of Europe.   Like most European countries, Hungary has a long wine tradition dating back to pre-Roman periods where indigenous or central European grapes have slowly matured and propagated to fit the climate.  And like all wine regions, international grape varieties have been imported, however in Hungary, this occurred in the past two centuries particularly in regions such as Villany. Yet it is the indigenous that I find most interesting particularly when you discover a new varietal such as Kéknyelű. Thus I decided to compile this compendium of Hungarian grape varieties that I have sampled over the years including some favorite producers.

    Furmint (w)
    Most known for its plantings in Tokaj (70% of vines) but also grown in Somló, Badacsony, Balatonfüred–Csopak, and Eger. Furmint is best known for being one of the three grape varieties used to make the sweet botrytised Tokaji Aszú wines that have been the wines of Kings for centuries. Lately dry Furmint has become increasingly popular displaying the and acidity inherent in the grape as well as the minerality of the growing region.  Patricius Winery, Fuleky, & Hétszölö in Tokaj; Apátsági Winery in Somló

    Kékfrankos (Blaufränkisch) (r)
    This grape is generally the primary grape variety in the Eger and Szekszárd Bikavér blends but is also well suited in the Villany and Sopron regions where the later has the largest plantings in the world. The dark skinned grape provides juicy fruit with noticeable acids and tannins. See Pfneiszl Winery in Sopron & Böjt winery in Eger.

    Kadarka (r)
    Before the Communist terror, this was Hungary's most famous red wine grape. However, due to its extreme late ripening, susceptibility to disease, and the need to control its vigour, the Communist regimes preferred other red grape varieties. It is still a common component to the Bikavér blends providing minimal tannins, but decent acidity, ripe red fruit flavours, and a spicy tail. There are also several wineries producing excellent 100% varietal Kadarka wines such as Eszterbauer Kadarka Nagyapám and the Heimann Winery Kadarka.

    Hárslevelű (w) The other grape variety in Tokaj (18%) where it is a component of Aszú wines and planted throughout Hungary usually creating off-dry wines. Translates to "linden leaf" and expect floral aromas and a more elegant wine with texture and spice.  Fekete Winery in Somló; Demeter Zoltán Winery in Tokay

    Portugieser (Kékoportó) (r)
    Most popular when produced in Villány, Hungary’s most southerly and hottest wine region, but also a component in Bikavér wines. The previous name Kékoportó was disallowed due to EU regulations because of the inclusion of port in the name. When produced as a 100% varietal wine it is meant to drink young with its ruby red fruity, texture, and easy drinking style. Nyolcas Bor in Eger;

    Olaszrizling (Welschriesling, Graševina in Croatia, Laški Rizling in Slovenia) (w)
    The most widely planted grape in the Carpathian basin and introduced into Hungary earlier in the 20th century. Does particularly well around Lake Balaton, Somló, and Eger and it's full body is compatible with oak aging to alleviate its unique bitter almond character.  Gere Attila Winery in Villany; Káli-Kövek Winery in Badacsony.

    Királyleányka (w)
    Translates to little princess, Királyleányka originated in Transylvania and this hybrid of Leányka and Kövérszőlő was introduced into Hungary in the 1970s.  Although now grown throughout Hungary, it is popular in the Egri Csillag blends from Eger.  It is a delicate wine,  slightly aromatic with fresh acids.  Böjt winery & Bolyki Pinceszet in Eger

    Kéknyelű (w)
    Unlike most of the grapes that start with “kek” (which translates as “blue” in Hungarian), Kéknyelű translates as “blue stalk.” This grape was once widely planted but almost disappeared during the Communist era as it was replaced due to its limited yields and temperament.  It is now found almost exclusively on the north shores of Lake Balaton, where it produces elegant wines with creamy structure and subtle acidity. Think Viognier with minerality as in the Szaszi Birtok Badacsonyi Keknyelu 2017.

    Juhfark (w)
    Grown almost exclusively in the small volcanic hill of Somló and to a lesser extent in Balatonfüred, the name refers to a sheep’s tail as the long cylindrical shape of the bunches resemble that object.  Exceptional examples contain racy minerals with high acids that follow a green apple and sometimes smokey profile.   Fekete Winery in Somló; Kreinbacher Birtok in Somló

    Szürkebarát (Pinot Gris) (w)
    This grape is included in the list because of it's Hungarian name that translates to "grey monk"  - most likely a result of monks bringing the wine to the volcanic soils surrounding Lake Balaton. A modern version from VáliBor in Badacsonyors is rather tasty.

    Irsai Olivér (w)
    Developed in the 1930s by crossing the Pozsony and Pearl of Csaba grapes as an early ripening, Muscat-like grape with juicy tropical fruit characters. Grown in Kunság, Mátra, Balaton, Etyek–Buda, Neszmély, Sopron. Szõke Mátyás Winery in Matra; Nyakas Pince in Etyek-Buda

    Tramini (Gewürztraminer) (w)
    Gewürztraminer or Tramini in Hungarian is grown in cooler sites in the Pannonhalma wine region. as well as north of Lake Balaton.  The wines display the characteristic aromas and spicy nature of the grape.  Apátsági Pincészet Pannonhalmi Tramini

Featured Visit

Due South Brewing Company; Boynton Beach, Florida - Friday, November 23, 2012
In all the years I've lived or visited south Florida, I have always been disappointed in the deficiency of local beer options in the West Palm Beach area. Until now. Earlier this year, Due South Brewing Company,opened their 15 BBL brewhouse in Boynton Beach - just off Route 95 and very close to our Florida destination. On Black Friday we visited during the brewery's all day Black Friday Party and tasted though most of their brews.

And this is a wide ranging portfolio of low alcohol beers favored by owner and brewer Mike Halker. Starting with the Florida Blonde, which is an ale - and not the lager we presumed. It resembles an amber ale in color and flavor - but exudes much less hops at the tale. Next was the Caramel Cream Ale, aged in used apply brandy barrels from Laird & Company in North Garden Virginia. Nice. The beer is brewed with whole vanilla beans which gives it its creaminess as well as gentle sweetness. The seasonal Isle of MaGourdo is a "naturally conditioned pumpkin ale"  that's right on - not overbearing - just subtle bits of pumpkin and spice. Just what we want for Thanksgiving. The specialty Southbound Brown was our first beer with a little more hops - 36 IBU - and is a single hop - the .....  This is just enough malt to balance the roasted malt flavor. Another "roasty" flavor was the firkin delivered Roasted Cocoa Stout brewed with cocoa nibs - one of my favorites. My other favorites were the Category 3 IPA (Cat 3) – Florida Style IPA and the Cafe Ole Espresso Porter. The Cat 3 is a clean refreshing India Pale Ale with a little citrus lemongrass and well balanced between the 64 IPU and malt. Next time I will try the even stronger Cat 4 at 85 IPU. And the porter, wow - whereas I enjoy my espresso in the morning, I normally do not care for espresso or coffee flavored beverages. Except for this one - perhaps a replacement for the morning ritual. The espresso flavors blends tightly into the chocolate flavors delivering a most pleasant tasting experience. In other words, this is one awesome ale. Nice job Due South - can't wait to return. Cheers to local beer.

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