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An Old Vine QPR All Star

In what now seems almost like a previous life, I managed the wine department in a high-end food market here in Greater Day-twah some years ago. Distributor reps would regularly stop in with winemakers, winery owners and other in-the-biz types who were on the road selling their wares. On one such occasion, I had the opportunity to meet and taste with Lori Felten, who, with her husband Steve, owns Klinker Brick Winery in Lodi, California. I remember Mrs. Felton as being a refreshing change from some of my other visitors; rather than being one of the glamourous Sonapanoma-types who start or buy a winery and hire others to work and manage their business or the corporate career suits who would often spout their pitch by rote in a somewhat disinterested manner, she was quite obviously a farmer, and I mean that in the kindest possible way. The Felten family has been farming their property for 5 generations, and she was down-to-earth and completely without pretense of any kind.

I enjoyed tasting with Mrs. Felton that day, and I enjoyed the wines we tasted. In the following several years, I sold more than a little of their Old Vine Zinfandel, which garnered a devoted flock of admirers. I’ve been out of retail for a while now, so I hadn’t had the opportunity to try one again until just a few weeks ago. I was strolling through my friendly neighborhood Costco, and I noticed a bin-full of the current vintage at a price that was too good to pass up. Here’s what I found in the bottle.

2014 Klinker Brick Old Vine Zinfandel Lodi, 15.8% alc., $13.99: Clean and dark in color; the “zinberry” nose is a little stingy at first, but this is tons more generous on the palate, with big, rich, ripe and earthy black raspberry and black cherry flavors. Full bodied, but not too heavy, with very good structure (the acids are as prominent as the tannins) for at least 3-5 years in the cellar and nice length on the finish. We’ve drifted away from ripe wine styles for the most part, but we like the way this one offsets the fruit forward character with those earthier elements. It’s an excellent BBQ wine, but we don’t do much of that around here, so we’ll opt for things like burgers (either lamb or beef), pizza or even some moderately spicy Asian fusion. We’ve had 4 or 5 of these already; we have 3 more in the cellar, and with such great QPR (quality-price-ratio; this costs $19.99 at the winery), you can bet that we’ll be picking up more so that we don’t run out when Chef Kerr aka Canadian Zinfan pays another visit. At this price, we can really stock up. Find this wine

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Every Sip Is A Pleasure

There are some things in this world it seems like you can always count on. For instance, who can argue with the fact that the sun always rises in the east? (Even those purveyors of “alternative facts” can’t dispute this, can they?!) Another is what we were all taught in American grade schools, that literally anyone can grow up to be President of the United States. And one of the most obvious to us is this: you can always count on Tablas Creek Vineyard to make brilliant wines, right across the board.

Since I first met and tasted with Tablas Creek General Manager Jason Haas back in 2006, not only have we not had a bad wine from this Paso Robles producer of red and white Rhône varieties, pretty much everything we’ve tried from them is really, really good. Such is the case with the six latest samples we got our hands on recently, all of which carry on with the established pattern of very high quality fruit and winemaking. (Click on images to enlarge.)

2016 Tablas Creek Vineyard Patelin de Tablas Blanc Paso Robles, 52% Grenache Blanc, 24% Viognier, 12% Roussanne, 9% Marsanne, 3% Clairette Blanche, 13.0% Alc., $25.00: Showing clean, medium color, with typically characteristic lanolin, mineral and white peach flavors and aromas. Full bodied, with excellent acids and very good length, this is very much what we’ve come to expect from this bottling over the past several vintages. We’ve just recently finished the last bottle of our not-inconsiderable stash of ‘14s and ‘15s, so it’s high time for us to stock up on the current vintage. Drink now or hold for a few years. 3000 cases produced, incorporating fruit from nine top Rhone vineyards in Paso Robles, each selected for its quality. Find this wine

2016 Tablas Creek Vineyard Cotes de Tablas Blanc Adelaida District Paso Robles, 43% Viognier, 40% Grenache Blanc, 14% Marsanne, 3% Roussanne, 13.0% Alc., $30.00: Clean, medium color with a tinge of lemon, and a stingy nose at first; classic Cotes de Tablas Blanc flavors in the “house style” that we’ve come to know and love so well, rich, ripe and so damned tasty. All white peach all the time, with a delicious dose of citrus and undertones of minerality. Full bodied, but not at all heavy; balanced, zippy and good to go now, or in five years and beyond. An absolutely dee-lish white Rhône blend that will pair well with a wide variety of fish and bird. 1790 cases produced. Find this wine  

  2016 Tablas Creek Vineyard Grenache Blanc Adelaida District Paso Robles, 100% Grenache Blanc, 13.9% Alc., $30.00: Clean pale golden color; rich and intense in the mouth, offering peachy flavors and aromas accented with some lime, with a bit of mineral lurking. Full bodied, with balanced acids and good length, and more lime/citrus emerges with air. A really tasty white, with depth and substance, and like the Cotes de Tablas Blanc, it’s well-matched with a variety of seafood and fowl, and is sure to evolve and improve over the next five years and beyond. 700 cases produced. Find this wine

2015 Tablas Creek Vineyard Mourvedre Adelaida District Paso Robles, 100% Mourvedre, 13.7% Alc., $40.00: Lighter in color than one might expect, almost Pinot Noir-like; a pretty dark berry and cherry nose leads into rich, fairly ripe red and black plum, berry and cherry flavors with nice, earthy undertones. Full bodied, but not as weighty as these can sometimes be, and while it’s structured for several years of aging and development, it’s already gorgeous with a medium rare steak, spuds and broccoli. Every sip is a pleasure. 360 cases produced. Find this wine

And then, there are the two flagship bottlings…

2015 Tablas Creek Vineyard Esprit de Tablas Blanc Adelaida District Paso Robles, 55% Roussanne, 28% Grenache Blanc, 17% Picpoul Blanc, 13.0% Alc., $45.00: Clean, rich color, almost golden; the rich, intense flavors have an earthy, almost tannic quality, very much in the white peach and mineral spectrum. Very good now with a plate of roasted turkey and gratin, but this will be even better in 3-5 years. It opens up with some air, so it might not be a bad idea to decant if you want some now. 2000 cases produced. Find this wine

2015 Tablas Creek Vineyard Esprit de Tablas Adelaida District Paso Robles, 49% Mourvedre, 25% Grenache, 21% Syrah, 5% Counoise, 14.5% Alc., $55.00: Clean and dark in color, with a red and black fruit nose leading to plenty more of the same on the palate in the guise of moderately earthy red and black plum and berry with just the faintest note of oak. Full bodied, with ample structure for 10 years and more in the cellar and good length, it is less in the voluptuous house style than many TC wines display, but it’s seriously good stuff nevertheless. It does become richer and more tasty with air, so, again, decant if you want to drink some now. A solid, no-frills California red Rhône blend that, as always, is much to our liking. 2850 cases produced. Find this wine

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A Mercer Trio

The good folks at Mercer Estates reached out to us a while ago to ask if we’d be interested in trying some of their recent offerings. It had been a while since we last tasted anything from this producer, and we have fond memories of a wine dinner centered around some of their wares back in 2014, so, of course, we replied to the affirmative. We thought it would be fun to check out the three wines they sent us with our good friends Shar Douglas and Ken Hebenstreit, and Shar offered to cook dinner, so we set a date and made our plans.

The white was poured with appetizers, and the two reds were paired with Shar’s excellent beef-centric repast. Our impressions are as follows.

2015 Mercer Estate Horse Heaven Hills Sauvignon Blanc, 12.5% alc., $15.00: Showing clean, medium color, and a little stingy on the nose; steely, and not exactly fruit forward, eliciting a descriptor of “salty” from Kim, and there is a certain subtle saline quality to it. Shar adds an impression of “a little bit of orange peel,” while I find under-ripe green apple, citrus and stony mineral. Medium bodied, with good acids and decent length, this doesn’t show a lot of varietal typicity; it could be mistaken for something else in a blind tasting, like Ugni Blanc, for instance. Perhaps surprisingly, it’s a bit more Old World in style than new, and that’s not a bad thing. A pretty good all-purpose white, in our not-so-humble opinions. Find this wine

2015 Mercer Estate Horse Heaven Hills Sharp Sisters Red Blend, 29% Cabernet Sauvignon, 27% Syrah, 18% Merlot, 14% Petite Verdot, 10% Grenache, 2% Carignane,14.8% alc., $25.00: Clean, dark color, with a bright red fruit nose kissed with a bit of oak; flavors echo, smooth, showing more oak and very New World in style (more than I care for in this case). Very soft structure, almost flabby, but full and round otherwise. Almost “generic” in character, without much to distinguish it, and quite overpriced for what’s in the bottle. Find this wine

2015 Mercer Estate Horse Heaven Hills Malbec, 78% Malbec, 22% Cabernet Sauvignon, 14.8% alc., $25.00 (sold out at the winery): Clean, dark color, with a nice black fruit nose graced with a generous dose of oak; more substantial and more structured than the Sharp Sisters Red Blend, but any varietal character is obscured by the New World winemaking. Ripe and round, with flavors reminiscent of blackberry and black plum, shaded with hints of chocolate and earth. The oak character has a more balanced place here than in the blend, and of the two reds, this one appeals to us much more. It pairs pretty well with the beef too, but I wouldn’t spend $25 on it. To be fair, those who gravitate more toward the “international” style might well view this price point more kindly, and it can be found for less using the following link. Find this wine

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Bastardo

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Five Late Model Troons

Recently, we had the good fortune to taste through 5 of the most recent releases from Troon Vineyard. We first encountered wines from this fine Oregon producer back in the summer of 2016, and with each successive group of selections they’ve offered for review, it’s become increasingly obvious that this is a winery that is deserving of greater recognition.

The wines, three whites and two reds, are all made with Rhône varieties, and they are, without exception, delicious.

2016 Troon Red Label Vermentino Applegate Valley, 12.5% alc., SRP $15: Clean, medium color; this has an earthy quality to it that complements the apple, peach and citrus fruit nicely. Fleshy, medium-to-medium full bodied, with good density and length and active acidity. As it opens in the glass, more earthy, chalky mineral emerges, adding interest and appeal. Find this wine

2016 Troon Blue Label Vermentino Cuvée Rolle, Applegate Valley, 90% Vermentino, 10% Marsanne, 12.5% alc., SRP $20: Clean, medium color; brighter and less earthy than the Red Label, with a bit more intense citrus character, very much in the lime spectrum. No lightweight, this one; it has substance and flair. Medium-to-medium full bodied, with excellent acidity and very good length. This has a dense intensity that reminds me a little of Oregon Pinot Gris, perhaps from the weight of the Marsanne. Find this wine

Kim really likes both of these, and so do I. Here’s what Troon GM Craig Camp has to say about them.
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Fifteen Geezer

Sometimes it is good to be wrong.

I recently posted notes on Ridge’s 2015 Geyserville Zinfandel blend and gave a not-so-favourable review. However, I did note that I thought the wine was possibly flawed. Geyserville and I have had a long time relationship and none consumed prior have ever tasted like this bottle did. The 2015 vintage celebrates fifty years of this coveted melange. Ridge’s first zinfandels came from the Monte Bello vineyards in Santa Cruz in the early sixties, while Geyserville wines date back to 1966. What magic Paul Draper administered with this wine stills shows through the capable hands of Eric Baugher. Baugher is the current winemaker who deftly constructs the wines at the Monte Bello winery as well as the Geyserville wine.

My non-favourable notes were spotted by someone at Rogers and Company, Ridge’s importer in Ontario. The company subsequently contacted me to inquire if I would like to taste another bottle! How nice and of course a no brainer. These are my thoughts on said new bottle.

723072 RIDGE GEYSERVILLE, Fiftieth Anniversary Bottling, 2015, Sonoma, California. $64.95
Immediately after the cork is removed, the luscious draper perfume oozes from the bottle. It’s a densely coloured wine, inky in the centre and ruby at the edge. Aromas of Black raspberry, blackberry, plum and Cassis appear backed up by hints of Dutch licorice, tar, Cardamom, slate, sawdust, walnut shells, leather and pepper.

It is full bodied on the palate, layers of super sweet dark ripe fruit, perfectly balanced, the acidity tames the sweetness. Notes of couverture chocolate meld with the fruit, and there’s minerality too. The finish has a lovely lift of acidity, plenty of dark fruit with a layer of blueberry coulis and silky tannins. Although this is enjoyable now, history has proven these wines need decades to show their best and this rendition will be in among the best. Find this wine

Cheers
CZ

Swan Solo

2013 Joseph Swan Vineyards Russian River Valley Pinot Noir Cuvée de Trois, 14% alc., $34.99: Pretty ruby color, with an attractive black cherry nose, shaded with just a whiff of smoke; denser and more substantial in the mouth than the color might indicate, with deep, dark and intense earthy black cherry flavors underscored with notes of mushroom and rhubarb that linger long on the palate. Medium-to-medium-full bodied, with excellent structure that will take it more than a few years down the road. While this wants 3-5 years to shed some youthful tannins, it’s certainly approachable now, whether sipping slowly on a cold autumn evening or enjoying with some organic turkey smoked on the grill. As you’d expect, it opens nicely with air, getting better and better.

Swan Pinots are always welcome at our house, and this has a lot of what we weren’t finding in the Flowers Sonoma Coast PN a few weeks ago, namely that “sense of place” that we always find with wines from this venerable producer. Made with fruit from Trenton Estate, Trenton View, Saralee’s, Catie’s Corner, Ritchie and Great Oak Vineyards. Find this wine

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Alan Kerr’s November 25th Vintages Release Notes

On November 25th, the shelves of Vintages will see an influx of the hierarchy of Californian wines and just in time for Christmas to boot. Having had the chance to try a few of them I can report that they are mostly good to exceptional, but the expense will be overwhelming for many.

936039 SILVER OAK CABERNET SAUVIGNON 2012 Napa Valley$184.95
A medium weight Cabernet blended with 10% merlot, 7% cab franc, and 3% petit verdot, showing a spicy nose of peppery vanilla and oak. Nice blackcurrant aromas along with mint, blackberry, sandalwood and biscuit. Soft and creamy on the palate, with some tannins, but not as weighty when compared to previous vintages, especially on the finish. Find this wine

142844 STAGS’ LEAP ESTATE THE LEAP CABERNET SAUVIGNON 2013 Stags Leap District, Napa Valley $99.95
An incredibly bold wine full of aromatics, mineral and fruit, showing plum, blackcurrant, dark chocolate, dusty soil and Dutch licorice. Pure fruit hits the palate; it’s meaty, fleshy, but well balanced. Although it tasty now, there is tannin that suggests that years down the road this will be a winner for those with patience. Find this wine

711663 CAYMUS SPECIAL SELECTION CABERNET SAUVIGNON 2014 Napa Valley $199.95
Whiffs of Moroccan spice, dark cherry, sweet vanilla, blackberry, blueberry and cherry cola are intriguing. With time in the glass it also shows a tarry note with milk chocolate and mocha. Voluptuous texture, a fruit bomb with class. Lot of silky tannin and a sweet fruity vanilla finish. Find this wine
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Chateau Virgile Update

2011 Chateau Virgile Costiere de Nimes Rouge, 60% Syrah, 30% Grenache, 10% Mourvèdre, 14% alc., $12.99: I picked 6 of these puppies up back in the spring of ’14. We would have been wiser to try 1 and cellar the other 5, but we were tannin pigs and sucked 3 of them down right away before I did the right thing. I indulged in my first Red Wings and Red Rhônes night of the 2017-18 NHL season last week by digging one of them out a few nights ago, and I’m happy to report that it’s coming around nicely after 2 ½ years.

It’s mostly as I remember it; big, brawny and earthy, with a barnyard nose and a deep core of black plums, berries and currants, all shaded with a note of iron. There even seems to be a little bit of leather just starting to develop, always a good thing in my book. The obvious difference is that the significant tannins and almost searing acidity has toned down enough to make this a nice glass of wine as soon as it’s poured from the bottle, without the benefit of any aeration. As you’d expect, it opens even more with air, and while I didn’t try it with food this time out, it is most definitely a grilled red meat kind o’ wine.

This isn’t close to being at its best; it has many years of development and improvement ahead of it. I’ll wait at least another couple of years before I open one of the two left to see where it’s at. Pretty damned good stuff for $12.99, this is indeed a QPR All-Star. If you can still find it out there, buy all they have, and save a few for Kim and me. If you can’t find this particular vintage, try anything you CAN find from them, they have a fine track record for producing very good reds, whites and rosés. Find this wine

Imported by United Estates Wine Imports, Ltd., Columbus, OH

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Alan Kerr’s November 11th Vintages Release Notes

It seems so long since I was able to get to London to taste. Happy to say, for the November 11th Vintages release, I was able to taste a few of the wines due to hit the shelf on Saturday.

France
566844 FAMILLE PERRIN LES CORNUDS VINSOBRES, Rhone Valley 2015 $17.95
A mix of dark fruit, stewed plum, dark bitter chocolate and peppery spice. Quite chewy, some dusty tannin, nicely balanced and a decent finish. Good value. A year or two should prove this as a worthy investment. Find this wine

682617 CHÂTEAU LA GARDE 2010, Pessac Leognan, Bordeaux $51.95
Layers of violet, Dutch licorice, some earthy/mineral notes combine with those of black cherry and raspberry. Still youthful, but drinking nicely, with plenty of sweet fruit and juicy acidity. Find this wine

514257 MAISON ROCHE DE BELLENE COLLECTION BELLENUM PETITE CHAPELLE GEVREY CHAMBERTIN 1ER CRU 2001 106.95
This is a rich and sexy Pinot that still flaunts a garnet robe. It offers up aromas of red fruit, plum, Moroccan spice and dried herbs. The texture is smooth and silky, with a mix of plum, damson and sweet spice. Some tannins still, but time in a decanter will allow this wine to show even better. Not cheap, but compared to US prices, this is a steal! Find this wine

711317 CHÂTEAU DE BEAUCASTEL CHÂTEAUNEUF-DU-PAPE 2015 $89.95
The blend is 30% Grenache, 30% Mourvèdre, 10% Counoise, 10% Syrah, 5% Cinsault and 5% “other” varieties. Already it is developing complexity on the nose. Hints of cassis, mineral, coal dust, smoked meat and lavender all blend together creating an enticing aroma. The tannins are ripe, and the lovely flavours offer dark cherry, damson and plum, with dusty cocoa powder on the finish. Should age superbly well and again, well priced compared to the US market. Find this wine

132415 CHÂTEAU BOUSCASSÉ VIEILLES VIGNES MADIRAN 2006 38.95
Black and brooding, this is a tannic monster. Notes of ink, cured meats, dried mushrooms and floral aromas. The palate is very tight and overwhelmed by very aggressive tannins. A potentially interesting wine indeed, that will need plenty of time to show its best, if it ever does. Find this wine

USA
479055 FRANCIS FORD COPPOLA DIAMOND COLLECTION CLARET 2015 Sonoma County $29.95
A crowd pleaser, with simple tones of currant, plum, sweet spice and smoked meat. A little fleshy on the palate, and quite sweet especially on the finish. Find this wine

524223 PURPLE COWBOY TRAIL BOSS CABERNET SAUVIGNON 2015 Paso Robles $24.95
Plum, cherry cola, oak, cedar, tar, sweet spice and blueberry with very fresh almost jam like aromas. Sweet and globby on the palate, simply not for me. Find this wine

Cheers,
CZ

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Sonoma Coast Flowers

Kim and I still have fond, if now somewhat distant, memories of our two visits to Camp Meeting Ridge way back in 1999 and 2000. This was back when Walt and Joan Flowers still owned the winery, and the stunning vistas, elegant brunches, wild rides through vineyards above the clouds and, of course, the wines, all provided lasting mental images that have remained with us over the years.

The wines were controversial, and had both admirers and detractors. I remember one particular Toledo convocation featuring a Friday Night flight that had tasters split about 50/50 either way. Our reaction was almost always favorable to the wines, but we gradually drifted away from them for purely financial reasons, not only because of escalating prices, but also because of the Flowers “hostage wine” policy that forced mailing list members to buy several bottles of wines like the one reviewed here in order to get a few of the single vineyard selections. We simply felt that the rising prices were not justified by what was in the bottles, and the allocation policy was downright greedy.

Fast forward to a few months ago, when, whilst perusing the wine department offerings at our friendly neighborhood Trader Joe’s, I happened upon the bottle noted below and decided to take a chance and try an example of what had been produced there recently. It took us a few months to get to it, but we finally pulled the cork a few nights ago, and here’s what we found.

2014 Flowers Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir, 13.7% alc., $45.99: Clean garnet color, with a clean, bright black cherry/Pinot nose. Neither wallflower nor a Syrah-wannabe, this does have some weight and density, with flavors that deliver nicely on the promise of the nose, with an earthy base underneath, hints of cranberry and rhubarb and overtones of smoky oak. Medium-full-to-full bodied, with good structure for at least a few more years of cellar aging and nice length on the finish, this is drinking well now, and is very much in the style that I remember from back when.

Having said that, I don’t favor this style like I did at the turn of the century. Yes, the wine is pleasant and well made, with no detectable flaws, but, to me, it seems “homogenized,” with no real sense of place or distinguishing characteristics to set it apart from the steady parade of Pinot Noirs in this general price range. And, speaking of price, I don’t mind having paid this much for “research,” but I won’t go there again. It just isn’t worth $46, in my not-so-humble opinion. Find this wine

It was fun to revisit old memories, but, all things considered, our Flowers fandom will remain a thing of the past.

Reporting from Day-twah,

Bastardo

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