Archive for the Tasting Notes from the Underground Category

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

Reporting from Day-twah,

Bastardo

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

Reporting from Day-twah,

Bastardo

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

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

Reporting from Day-twah,

Bastardo

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

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.
Read the rest of this entry »

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

Reporting from Day-twah,

Bastardo

Save

Save

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

Reporting from Day-twah,

Bastardo

Save

Save

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

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Two Left Coast Cellars Whites

Carrying on with my pet “white is the new red” theme, we got our hands on two late model wines from the Willamette Valley producer Left Coast Cellars, courtesy of their PR firm, and both are of the pale persuasion. We’ve had two previous encounters with this winery that we feel is very much deserving of greater recognition, and we’ve enjoyed everything we’ve tried from them.


Both wines are the latest versions of LCC efforts we’ve tried previously. I only got a very brief taste of the 2014 Left Coast Cellars White Pinot Noir a little over two years ago, and while I liked it, I didn’t detect a lot of varietal character. No such anonymity with this one, however; the wine screams Pinot Noir.

2016 Left Coast Cellars Willamette Valley White Pinot Noir, 100% Pinot Noir, 14.1% alc., $24.00: Clean, medium color, showing a tinge of Pinot pigment; the generous nose gives off cherry and citrus aromas, which echo and expand on the palate with a good dose of mineral. Medium bodied and then some, and denser than it looks, with zippy acids and good length. This is essentially a pale Pinot Noir rosé, and a really good one at that. Find this wine

2016 Left Coast Cellars Willamette Valley Pinot Gris The Orchards, 100% Pinot Gris, 14.1% alc., $18.00: Clean, medium color; green apple/citrus nose, with plenty more of the same in the mouth, and some mineral underneath it all. Kim adds an impression of a certain underlying earthiness, and I wouldn’t disagree. Rich and intense, medium-to-medium full bodied, with active acidity and good length on the finish. The citrus fleshes out into a lime like character in the flavor profile, which is a plus in my book. A most worthy successor to the very fine 2015 model. Find this wine

Reporting from Day-twah,

Bastardo

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

A Couple of Whites

More and more lately, my tastes have been turning towards white wines. I was never in “the only wine is red” camp, even though there was a time not so long ago when reds were probably about 70% of what we drank here at Gang Central. These days, however, it seems like I often prefer something lighter and more crisp, with lower alcohol content. Take the two wines in this report, for instance. I found both during a recent visit to, where else, Western Market in Ferndale, where I buy most of our wine these days.

We’ve been fans of good Muscadet for what seems like forever, but this is the first time we’ve run into this producer. Château l’Oiselinière is a 10 hectare single vineyard overlooking the confluence of the Sèvre and Maine rivers. The grapes are sourced from 40+ year old vines, given temperature controlled fermentation in stainless steel and then aged 6-8 months on the lees.

2015 Château l’Oiseliniere de la Ramée Muscadet Sèvre-et-Maine Sur Lie, 12% alc., $15.99: Fairly pale in color, with a citrus and green apple nose that jump right out of the glass; rich and expressive on the palate, the flavors echo the aromas, along with a strong mineral undertone. Medium bodied, with excellent acids and very good length. Hits all the right buttons for me when it comes to Muscadet, now where are the freakin’ oysters?! The bonus is that this will very likely get better with at least a few years in the cellar. Find this wine

Longtime readers know that we’re always up for trying something new from our friends at Bonny Doon Vineyard, and this is the first Picpoul from California that we’ve had the pleasure of becoming acquainted with. The fruit was sourced from the same vineyard that provides grapes for Doon’s flagship white, Le Cigare Blanc. (Some Picpoul is also used in that blend.)

2016 Bonny Doon Arroyo Seco Picpoul Beeswax Vineyard, 12.7% alc., $15.99: Pale-to-medium straw in color, with lots of lemon-lime citrus on the nose, and more of the same in the mouth, shaded with some mineral. Medium bodied, with very active acids and decent length. I’d like a little more intensity of flavor, which only just delivers on the promise of the nose. Nice with a Salade Niçoise, and all by itself, but I’d like it better at around $12. It didn’t wow me, but it more than didn’t suck, either. Find this wine

Reporting from Day-twah,

Bastardo

Save

Save

Save

Four Austrian Whites

One of my favorite memories of this past summer is the delightful Terry Theise Estate Selections tasting that I attended at Ferndale’s Otus Supply, in June. The wines were uniformly outstanding, and I came away from the event so impressed with just about everything I tasted. I was particularly wowed by the Austrian whites that I tasted at that event, so when I happened upon the four wines noted in this report during a recent scouting mission to Western Market in the same town, there was no way I wasn’t going to pick them up and try them. I believe Nikolaihof had been represented at the tasting, though I never got to that table, but I’ve had at least one other from this fine producer in that past that I liked quite a bit. The Ott Grüner Veltliners that I tasted at the Otus Supply event were all excellent, so finding an earlier vintage of the “Am Berg” was a very easy choice, for starters.

I picked up two each from these fine producers, starting with Grüner Veltliners and then moving on to Rieslings. It didn’t matter to me that vintages didn’t match, I just wanted to try some really good Austrian whites, and that’s exactly what I got with these four.

These are two rather different, yet delicious, Grüner Veltliner specimens; the Ott is more angular, while the Nikolaihof is rounder.

2014 Ott Grüner Veltliner “Am Berg,” 11.5% alc., $23.99: Clean, medium color, with a mineral-driven nose, featuring quince and green apple playing second fiddles; things initially do an about-face in the mouth, with fruit coming to the fore, and minerality taking a supporting role. With just a little air, however, that stony character reasserts itself big time. Ultimately, this is like a big mouthful of river rocks, more than medium bodied and driven along by brisk acidity, with a lingering finish. The price point, compared to the other three in this report, makes this even more attractive. Find this wine

2013 Nikolaihof Wachau Grüner Veltliner “Hefeabzug,” 12% alc., $31.99: Clean, medium color, with less mineral and more fruit than the Am Berg in both flavor and aroma; green apple, citrus and mineral set the tone here. Medium bodied, with ample acids and very good length on the finish, this is a bit less “wild and wooly” than the previous selection, but no less enjoyable for what it is. Rich and appealing, with nice intensity of flavor. Find this wine

Next came the Rieslings. Mmm, Riesling…

Read the rest of this entry »

Pr Newswire
Recent Comments
Geo’s Picks
Categories