Leeuwin Estate Art Series Riesling

There is a reason why Riesling is cultishly discussed amongst sommeliers and wine enthusiasts. Tremendous structure and complexity, wonderful expressions of fruit, and flexibility in pairing. This wine has it all.

An Art Series wine deserves an artsy background…

Producer: Leeuwin Estate

Region: Margaret River, Australia

Grape(s): Riesling

Tasting Notes: Granny Smith Apple, Kaffir Lime, Minerals, Lemon Citrus Zest, Floral

Pairings: Soft cows cheese, sushi/sashimi/nigiri, babaganoush, seared scallops, Vietnamese cuisine

Price (approximately): $16

Buy: Fujioka’s Wine Times

 

My Musings:

While most may characterize Riesling as a sweet wine, there are plenty of specimens on the dry side of the spectrum that are crisp, mineral- and citrus-driven delights. This wine is a perfect example at a bargain price. 

Margaret River, a coastal region located south of Perth in western Australia, is unequivocally one of my favorite wine regions of Australia. Comprised primarily of small botique wineries and breweries, it can be difficult to procure wines from this appellation outside of Australia, but a diligent search is well-rewarded with tremendous, intensely-flavored wines. Margaret River enjoys extraordinary growing conditions, with a maritime climate providing consistent temperatures throughout the ripening season and a dry growing season. Known for Cabernet Sauvignon, it also produces Shiraz, Merlot, Chardonnay, Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc and Riesling. It is hard to find a more enjoyable region to drink and to visit than Margaret River.  A perfect place for wine and surfing — is there a better combination?! I feel a vacation coming on ...

This wine was dry with floral notes, kaffir lime, and lemon zest bursting from the glass. On the palate, the lemon-lime parade continues and is accompanied by fruit (Granny Smith apple, melon) and a heavy dose of minerality. Strikingly balanced with tremendous focus and clarity. Very expressive wine from its alluring bouquet to the bright acidity and long, dry finish. This is definitely one of my favorite Rieslings in this price range. Truly enjoyable.

As if there isn’t sufficient reason already, this wine comes ready for any environment with a screw cap that won’t have you searching for a bottle opener. As stated in my previous bottle-closure musings, screw caps can deliver the same great tasting wine in many cases while keeping a few extra bucks in your pocket. I’ll take that deal anytime.

In Honolulu, pick up a bottle at Fujioka's Wine Times. Be sure to purchase more than one bottle; you will definitely need it! 

Cheers!

Casa Silva Carménère, Cuvée Colchagua

Tasting Notes: Tobacco, tar, leather, sour cherry, plum, bell pepper, coffee, chocolate

Pairings: Grilled meats (e.g., chicken, sausage, steak, lamb) with herb-based sauces, salsas and chermoula; game meat with earthy flavors, such as rabbit, venison and wild bore

Price (approximately): $16

Producer: Casa Silva

Region: Colchagua Valley,
Rapel Valley, Chile

Grape(s): Carménère

Buy: Tamura’s Fine Wine & Liquors

 

My Musings:

Ever heard of Carménère? It is a much lesser-known grape than its distant cousins, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, but it shares a similarly delightful profile. As a bonus, Carménère boasts a fascinating journey from the Old World to the New, from extinction to rebirth, from unwanted to celebrated. Everyone loves an intriguing narrative, and Carménère has a story to tell.

I have mentioned this wine before, but in a recent tasting I was reminded of its incredible taste and value. Fruit takes a back seat in the aromatics, which are driven by tobacco, tar, leather, bell pepper, green peppercorn, coffee, and chocolate. Darker fruit joins the party on the palate, with sour cherry, blackberry and plum, balanced with rich chocolate, coffee, earthiness, vanilla, and spice.

Carménère closely resembles Merlot in body and texture, commonly containing lighter tannin and higher acidity. This combination makes it a great food-pairing companion for a variety of cuisines.  Carménère is an excellent selection for grilled meats (e.g., chicken, steak, sausage and lamb) with herb-based sauces, salsas and chermoula that can complement the herbal characteristics of the wine. Carménère also pairs well with game meats that have earthy flavors, such as rabbit, wild boar and venison. Finally, want a unique, versatile wine that will draw some attention and conversation around the Thanksgiving table? Try Carménère!

Carménère is not a grape with ageing potential, and is best consumed within a couple of years of its vintage date. Drink early, drink often.

In Honolulu, find this wine at Tamura’s Fine Wine and Liquors

Norton Malbec, Medoza Argentina

Tasting Notes: Black fruit, tobacco, chocolate, spice, and violets, plum, blueberry, vanilla, chocolate and tobacco.

Pairings: Korean barbeque (kalbi, kalbi, and more kalbi), blue and Taleggio cheeses, chocolate, teriyaki beef.

Price (approximately): $14

Producer: Bodega Norton

Region: Mendoza, Argenina

Grape(s): Malbec

Buy: Costco

 

My Musings:

A perennial value wine from a value region! Some Old World wonks may scoff at South American wines, but they have been producing wine for a LONG time, and down in this hemisphere Malbec finds its home away from home.

Bodegas Norton has developed a reputation in Argentina and beyond for consistently high-quality, value wines. The wine’s beautiful dark purple color is the first inviting characteristic, soon followed by expressive aromas of black fruit, tobacco, chocolate, spice, and violets. On the palate, a velvety body showcases a black fruit profile with accents of plum, blueberry, vanilla, chocolate and tobacco. Fruit-forward, concentrated with medium tannins and a long, smooth finish. A wonderfully-produced wine at an exceptional price. Costco annually stocks this particular wine for around $15. At this bargain price, enjoy with regularity.

Native to France, the Malbec varietal has traditionally played a supporting role in the prestigious Bordeaux blends. In the high elevation vineyards of the Andes Mountain Range, however, Malbec has found its vinous second home. Here, Malbec is king. Its success raises the question of what sets this region apart as a preeminent location for Malbec and other varietals?

Planted in some of the highest elevation vineyards in the world, one may ponder the possibility of venturing too close to the sun. Icarus would be inclined to answer in the affirmative, but grapes at these high altitudes have adapted to the unique climate and increased ultraviolet exposure by developing thicker skins and deeper pigmentation. This translates to a greater concentration of pigments, tannins and phenolic compounds. In other words, elevation helps to produce tasty grapes. Discerning viticulturists facilitate the process with canopy management practices that can provide optimal protection from ultraviolet radiation and strong winds.

Some aspects of the weather in these high altitudes can be unpredictable, but one can consistently rely upon a cool, dry wind, plenty of sunshine and minimal risk of disease. This combination contributes to a long growing season and significant crop yields.  Grapes have plenty of sunshine and time to ripen a their leisure. 

The warm, sunny days quickly give way to cool, brisk evenings. This diurnal temperature variation is a key to this region’s productivity. Temperatures drop sufficiently at night to permit grapes to ripen slowly, preserve acidity, and develop deep, rich flavors.

The high elevations of Mendoza afford unique conditions, climate and terroir. Winemakers are harnessing these attributes to create balanced, complex and delicious wines at bargain prices. Bodegas Norton is a consistent and splendid example, but there is value in every corner waiting to be uncovered... 

2015 La Monacesca Verdicchio

Year: 2015

Producer: La Monacesca

Region: Verdicchio di Matelica, Le Marche, Italy

Grape(s): Verdicchio

Alcohol: 13.5%

Body: Medium+

Dry/Sweet: Dry

Tasting Notes: Lemon citrus, mineral flavors, almond, stone fruit and green apple.

Pairings: Fish of all sizes, shapes and preparations, pesto shrimp, grilled lemon-pepper chicken, antipasta, lemongrass tofu.

Price (approximately): $18

 

My Musings:

The first impression of this wine comes before any sip, swirl or smell. The color is simply stunning. While I do not frequently comment on appearance (I like to get right down to drinking), this wine will get some stares, and deservingly so. It possesses an absolutely gorgeous golden yellow hue that is produced not through oak aging, as one might expect, but through extra time on the vines.

The wine’s bouquet is floral and delicately fruity, with unripe stone fruit, green apple, refreshing lemon citrus, and subtle fresh green herbs. On the palate, the wine is full bodied, wonderfully structured and elegant. The palate is driven by mouthwatering acidity, lemon citrus, flinty minerality, a touch of salinity and finishing with sweet almond.

Many Italian wines are absolutely brilliant with Pacific Rim cuisine, and this wine is no exception. An ideal companion for fish, uncork this vino for a variety of preparations, including pink snapper ceviche, Moroccan fish tagine, Hawaiian-style steamed Moi, grilled lampuka with pesto and penne pasta, pan fried lemon-glazed 'Opakapaka, and roasted whole Onaga with fresh lime and cilantro. Not in the seafood mood? No worries, the wine’s full body and acidity affords versatility in food pairing. Try with grilled lemon-pepper chicken, light pastas and pizzas, lemongrass tofu, and grilled vegetables.

Pick up this gem at Tamura’s Fine Wine and Liquors for under $20, or have it by the glass with some pizza at Brick Fire Tavern

Le Marche

This wine hails from the central Italian region of Le Marche, long reputed for its mastery of Verdicchio, arguably Italy’s greatest white varietal. Seriously, it is that good.

Although most tourists are [quite understandably] attracted to the white sandy beaches, towering picturesque cliffs and clear blue waters of the Adriatic, those with vinous ambitions become more intrigued as they journey inland. The western border of Le Marche is formed by the imposing Apennine Mountains, which offer regional diversity of elevation, climate and terroir. This diversity complements Verdicchio splendidly, as it is known to adapt readily to different conditions and soils. The region's viticultural acumen even garnered the attention of the Catholic Church, who promptly claimed the region as Papal Lands in the Sixteenth Century. One can always rely upon the monks to offer an ecclesiastical beverage to nurture the [inebriated] soul.

Verdicchio is best expressed in two Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (DOCG) sub-regions of Le Marche, Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi and Verdicchio di Matelica, which have grown Verdicchio since at least the Fifteenth Century (and arguably as far back as the Eighth Century). Here, Verdicchio is at its finest.

Verdicchio di Matelica

The Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita of Verdicchio di Matelica is distinct in its geographical position and ancient geological character. An elevated, hilly region nestled near the Apennines on the border of Umbria, Verdicchio di Matelica has a continental climate and excellent diurnal temperature variation in the summer months. This combination contributes to a long growing season that is ideal for Verdicchio to remain on the vine and ripen evenly and at its leisure. This helps to preserve acidity and produce wines with complexity and great aging potential.

The remnants of Le Marche’s ancient beginnings can still be found amongst the soils. Fossilized bones and shell deposits from maritime creatures in a long-extinct salt lake bed add to well-drained soils rich in potassium, calcium and limestone. This combination has consistently translated to age-worthy wines with exceptional mineral flavors and structure.

Verdicchio is perfect for summer sipping or as a companion to Pacific Rim cuisine. It is crisp and refreshing, yet full-bodied, versatile and can age in the cellar alongside your White Burgundies and Rieslings. Verdicchio encompasses everything a wine should be.

Cheers! 

2014 Testa Vineyards Black Sette Blend

Year: 2014

Producer: Testa Vineyards

Region: Redwood Valley and Mendocino AVAs, Mendocino, California

Grape(s): Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, Carignane, Charbono

Alcohol: 14.5%

Body: Medium+

Dry/Sweet: Dry

Tasting Notes: Blackberry jam, raspberry, blueberry, spice, damp earth, vanilla

Pairings: Barbecue! [burgers with bacon, barbecue chicken], lasagna, braised oxtail

Price (approximately): $25

 

My Musings:

This “black wine”, so nicknamed for the dark-colored grapes that comprise the blend, is fruit-forward, presenting a bright and expressive bouquet of baked red and dark fruit, including blackberry, strawberry rhubarb and blueberry. The palate is greeted with jammy fruit of raspberry, boysenberry and blackberry, balanced splendidly with spice, damp earth and vanilla. Bright acidity and smooth tannins balance the palate and provide finesse and structure. The finish possesses strong acidity when first uncorked, but pleasantly mellows with time, so decanting prior to serving makes for the best tasting experience.

Mendocino County - the Northern Limits of California Winemaking

Driving north from San Francisco through Sonoma County, one will eventually come across Mendocino and Lake County, the northernmost vinous regions in California. Although Mendocino was established relatively recently (in 1984), its viticultural origins extend back nearly 160 years. In the 1850s, down-on-their-luck prospectors whose hopes had faded in the gold rush disavowed a laborious life in the coal mines and traversed north to the beautiful, untamed wilderness of northern California. Although the rugged, picturesque Pacific coastline and altitudinous redwood forests brought fame to the region, it was Mendocino’s climate and terroir, demonstrating an efficacious agricultural haven, that interested its early residents. Soon thereafter, vineyards were established. Although the County is blanketed in redwood forest, farmers and vintners made good use of the rest. Where there is a way, there is a wine.

The majority of wineries in Mendocino are family owned, and many can trace their origins back to the founding prospector families of the 1850s and Italian immigrants that arrived in the years thereafter. Indeed, it was Italian families that planted the earliest vineyards in Mendocino County in what is now designated as the sub-appellation of Redwood Valley. One can always rely upon the Europeans for vinous inspiration.

The climate of this upland Redwood Valley is cooler than surrounding appellations of Mendocino due to higher elevation and a penetrating Pacific breeze that navigates through a gap in the coastal ridge. Italian heritage is still well-represented in the varietals that thrive here, such as Barbera, Carignane, Charbono and Dolcetto, which grow alongside California mainstays Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel and Petite Sirah. The climate affords a long, consistent growing season and its unique red, volcanic soils combine to produce a wine with character, complexity and elegance.

The family-driven, inter-generational stewardship of the land has emphasized ethical farming practices that strive to preserve and protect the natural landscape. As we say in Hawaii, keep the country country. This has resulted in a regional commitment to organic and sustainable farming systems. Mendocino County is the largest aggregation of organic-certified vineyards in the country.

Waves, Wilderness and Wine

This strategy has also facilitated the promotion of the region as a tourist destination. Mendocino entices nature enthusiasts with the spectacular scenic coastal drive, a host of outdoor activities (camping, hiking, etc.), fresh seafood, national parks and, of course, wine. Rugged, remote, adventurous. There is much to love in Mendocino.

Testa Vineyards finds itself in the middle of it all. Farmed by six generations for over 100 years, Testa Vineyards has a long and proud heritage in Mendocino County. Committed to ethical and sustainable farming techniques, Testa Vineyards ensures that its indelible legacy in the region is maintained and expanded. Staying true to its Italian heritage, Testa Vineyards grows Carignane, Barbera and Charbono, in addition to Cabernet Sauvignon, Grenache, Zinfandel and Petite Sirah.

Testa Vineyards throws in a bonus - a wonderfully charming 3-bedroom farmhouse, built in 1927, for your next vacation getaway. The Testa family, both human and canine (English Springer Spaniels Patsy and John - named after Patsy Cline and Johnny Cash - are eager to welcome you) invite guests to unplug and relax, meander the gorgeous property or grab a pole and head to the fishing pond. Utilize the vineyard as your home base while you peruse the Pacific coast, visit the redwood forests and enjoy delicious farm-to-table cuisine from the local restaurants. At the end of a long day, a beautiful, rustic farmhouse and abundance of hand-crafted wines await you. Inebriated outdoor adventures and vinous relaxation are inevitable.

Cheers!

2014 E. Guigal Côtes-du-Rhône Blanc

Year: 2014

Producer: E. Guigal

Region: Côtes-du-Rhône, France

Grape(s): Viognier (65%), Roussanne (15%), Marsanne (10%), Clairette (8%), and Bourboulenc (2%)

Alcohol: 13.5%

Body: Medium

Dry/Sweet: Dry

Tasting Notes: Apricot, peach, Meyer lemon, honeysuckle, orange blossom, white flowers

Pairings: Seared scallops, grilled Mauritian lobster, pan fried or grilled fish, Vietnamese spring and summer rolls, Bún thịt nướng with shrimp or grilled pork

Price (approximately): $13.99

 

My Musings:

I must admit, I adore southern Rhône white blends. Although they are difficult to locate, particularly in Hawaii, this E.Guigal Côtes-du-Rhône Blanc often finds a tropical home on the shelves of Tamura’s Fine Wine & Liquors.

Driven by the aromatic Viognier, this wine’s perfumed bouquet offers alluring stone fruit of peach and apricot, with honeysuckle, orange blossom, Meyer lemon and white flowers. The palate is rich, bursting with a honeyed sweetness that accentuates the ripe stone fruit. Citrus, minerality and mild acidity balance the palate in an elegant presentation. This easy-drinking wine represents incredible value in a designation (Côtes-du-Rhône) that can be hit or miss. [Below I give a few tips for reading wine labels of southern Rhône!].

Southern Rhône Valley

Winemaking practices in this region have ancient origins. At the time King Nebuchadnezzar II was building his famed Hanging Gardens of Babylon (one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World) in 600 B.C.E., nearby Phoenician merchants and Greek sailors with vinous ambitions set up shop and began to cultivate the vine. Greek civilization and commerce spread that early viticultural acumen. By the time the Romans occupied the region in 67 AD, winemaking was a vast industry spread across the southern region, utilizing well-established infrastructure and trade routes to expand its sphere of influence. As the Roman trail through France commenced, the Romans surmised that copious wine was an excellent excuse for a hostile takeover. I’m inclined to agree. The Roman occupation utilized the region as a respite for the Roman Legion. Even in ancient times, Southern France was the prime destination for drinking and frivolity. Party on!

At the time of the Greeks and Romans, the vinous wisdom opined that winemaking required warm climates and plenty of sunshine. Rhône Valley fit the profile, brilliantly. The region benefits from a warm Mediterranean climate that combines an abundance of sunshine, arid conditions, cooling Mistral winds, and the distant sea’s tempering maritime influence. Traversing the region, one is pleasantly greeted with the aromas of Provençal herbs that grow wild in the Valley, filling the air with olfactory delight. Be certain, however, to watch your step! Across the southern Rhône, vineyards are visibly marked with stony gravels and soils, an ancient remnant of its glacial past during the Ice Age period.

Most vinters in southern Rhône opt for blends rather than a wine produced from a single  varietal. And with 19 permitted varietals, there are plenty of options for the winemaker. For the white wines, the workhorse grape varietals include Grenache Blanc, Clairette, and Bourboulenc, followed by Picardin and Picpoul. The unexciting Marsanne, finicky Roussanne and my personal favorite, the aromatic Viognier, round out the blending options.

Know Thy Label

French wine labels can often appear intimidating. Fear not; just a few guideposts can navigate your vinous journey through the wine aisle.

Basic Level: Côtes-du-Rhône. The most basic designation for wine from the region is Côtes-du-Rhône. Côtes-du-Rhône is the largest appellation in the Rhône Valley and easily produces the most wine - roughly half of the total production in the entire Valley. Under this designation, grapes can come from anywhere in the region, and winemaking requirements are less stringent. As a result, the wines broadly range from low-quality, oxidized, alcoholic wines to (albeit few) exceptional, rich and balanced wines. Although this week’s wine is a Côtes-du-Rhône designation, quality here can be a bit sparse, so traverse carefully. As with this wine (E.Guigal), look for reputable cooperatives that are known to produce consistent, drinkable wines.

Mid Level: Côtes-du-Rhône-Villages. The next quality designation is Côtes-du-Rhône-Villages. These wines originate on vineyard sites located near important winemaking villages in the southern Rhône. In these specific villages, winemakers are permitted to include the “Villages” tag on their labels, as well as the name of the specific village. These wines are characteristically more structured and higher quality than Côtes-du-Rhône. This can be prime bargain wine territory.

Top Level: AOC Specific. Specific villages have developed a reputation for producing wines of such a high quality that they were elevated to their own appellation d'origine contrôlée, or "AOC" - the highest tier of French wine classification. In Southern Rhône, look for my personal favorites in this category, Vacqueyras and Gigondas, which are consistently growing in quality and prestige, producing rustic, powerful and spicy cuvées that can rival Châteauneuf-du-Pape at a fraction of the price. Read: find value here.

The Flagship: Châteauneuf-du-Pape. The flagship AOC in southern Rhône Valley is Châteauneuf-du-Pape. This region famously crafts some of the best wine in France and, indeed, the world. It does, however, typically come with a price tag to match. While you will not find many bargain wines bearing the Châteauneuf crest, this is a truly magnificent region that should be explored as your budget permits.

Cheers!