Archive for July, 2013

Pinot Noir a la Tendril

A few months ago, I received a generic email from one of the major shipping companies with a tracking number. There was no indication of what might be coming our way, but when I clicked on said tracking number, it informed me that whatever it was had originated in Oregon’s Willamette Valley. It wasn’t too difficult to extrapolate that there was probably some wine on board, but we’d just have to wait to find out where it might be from. It turned out to be two bottles of Pinot Noir from Tendril Wine Cellars. We were unfamiliar with this producer, but soon discovered that they are made by Tony Rynders, best known for his ten years as head winemaker at Domaine Serene Winery/Rockblock Cellars. We’re actually more familiar with Tony’s work based on the very fine Pinot Noir that he’s crafted for Cornerstone Oregon, so with credentials like these, this promised to be some very fine stuff.
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Rhys Vineyards

This was my third (or maybe fourth; CRS, ‘sorry) visit to Rhys. As always, Kevin and Jeff are the consummate hosts; gracious, generous and always ready with answers to both the easy and hard questions. The winery is like no other and the philosophy is clear; ‘let the vineyard speak.’

I could go on at length about all of this, but I’ve done it before.

I would rather tell you a little about what I learned today.

Photo courtesy of

The vines in their vineyards are becoming old enough to have an influence on the wines. Each of the wines we tasted, whether from bottle or barrel, were distinct, character driven and reflected not only the vineyard but the vintage; clearly. I am not talking about some subtle or esoteric differences; these were noticeable differences, even for the novice taster.

A quick description of how they make chardonnay: press immediately upon receiving the grapes; barrel down, put a fermentation bung in the barrel. Leave it alone. Don’t add anything, don’t stir it, don’t rack it and don’t do anything except top up once the primary fermentation has finished.

Whole cluster fermentations (which are pretty much the norm here) can produce aromas that smell a little green or vegetal at first. If you give these wines time, those aromas will become more like rose petals.

Some wines do not complete malolactic fermentation. They may get part way through, they may finish; but nothing is done to push them through to completion except putting the barrels in a warmer area of the caves. When the wine stops, no matter the amount of malic left, that’s it and that’s the way it gets bottled. Without filtration. And they have never had a wine re-ferment in bottle.

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Pinot Blanc a la Left Foot Charley

Riesling is reputed to be King in northern Michigan wine country, and in the past, I have been one who crowed loudly in that regard. I’m not necessarily changing my tune, but, as much as I love our homegrown version of that noble Germanic variety, two of my very favorite wines are different critters altogether. One is Charlie Edson’s Bel Lago Auxerrois, which I will revisit in an upcoming report. The other is Left Foot Charley’s Pinot Blanc from Werner Kuehnis’ Island View Vineyard on Old Mission Peninsula. We first walked this vineyard with Left Foot Charley himself, Bryan Ulbrich, back in ’07; we tasted the ’06 out of the tank that day, and we’ve been big fans ever since. The vineyard itself is quite interesting, due to its oddball character. As I reported back then, Swiss native Kuehnis has spent years retraining the vines, which are planted “the wrong way,” with an eastern exposure. The vines are trained with a standard trellis system, so that the fruit is on the south side…
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A Wine Guerrilla Trio

Since we first tasted Zinfandels from Bruce Patch’s Wine Guerrilla back in January of 2011, they seem to have undergone a change in style. Back then, they weren’t quite old-school in character, but neither were they the kind of over-ripe, over-extracted monsters that became all the rage in the late ‘90s and, frankly, turned us off to the variety for a while. We had similar feelings about a batch we tried last December; if anything, those leaned even more toward the style that we loved back in the late ‘70s and into the ‘80s and early ‘90s. Judging from the latest samples sent to us for review recently, something a little different seems to be going on. All three show the same kind of delicious fruit that the previous selections did, but there are some “cosmetic” overtones, for lack of a better term, that we find disconcerting in at least two of them. They are reviewed here in the order they were tasted. (Click image to enlarge.)

2011 Wine Guerrilla Sonoma Zinfandel McClain Vineyard Alexander Valley, 80% Zinfandel and 20% Petite Sirah, 14.5% alc., $35.00: Showing clean, dark color, this immediately exudes aromatics of dill and mint that morph into something like celery seed; whether or not this is a by-product of the obvious oak treatment may be up for debate, as I’ve heard arguments both pro and con regarding similar characteristics in other wines. What I do know, is that for me and three fellow tasters in the wine biz, these characteristics are rather overbearing at this early point in this one’s evolution. There’s a nice core of lovely fruit here, and the wine is sleek, full bodied and well-structured for future development. When I suggested that the dill, mint, celery seed and oak might integrate with some years in the bottle, my colleagues weren’t having any of it, and they’re probably correct. I guess time will tell. This style must have its fans, but sorry to say, we’re not among them. Your mileage may vary. Find this wine
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