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!

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 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!

 

 

 

Maui Wine Hula o Maui Pineapple Sparkling Wine

Year: Non-Vintage

Producer: ‘Ulupalakua Vineyards and Maui Wine

Region: Maui, Hawaii

Grape(s): Pineapple

Alcohol: 12.5%

Body: Medium

Dry/Sweet: Brut

Tasting Notes: Pineapple, cream, tropical citrus

Pairings: Spicy Asian Cuisine, Mimosas, New Years Eve

Price (approximately): $20

 

My Musings:

Special New Years Edition! Want to try something a bit different this New Year's Eve?  Yes, toasting with Champagne is the gold standard, as it should be, and Cava is the bubbly bargain man's best friend. The tropical shores of Maui, however, present an intriguing sparkling intoxicant that should not be overlooked. Want the best? Go with Champagne this New Year, and the $50 plus price to tag to match. Want to try something a bit more unique with a fun story? Read on...

‘Ulupalakua Vineyards and Maui Wine, the only large commercial winemaker in Hawaii, was established in 1974 on the high slopes of the dormant volcano Haleakalā on the island of Maui. The vinous mastermind, Emil Tedeschi, procured equipment for the new winery that would be necessary in the winemaking process and decided to conduct a few tests to ensure that it functioned properly. Unfortunately, Hawaii had no indigenous vines, which can take years to mature. With grapes still maturing on the vine, Tedeschi turned his sights to a fruit with abundant supply on Maui: pineapple. Although pineapple wine was only intended as a testing method for the equipment, it soon became a favorite amongst tourists for its sweet characteristics and authentically-Hawaiian appeal. The King of Fruit was initially utilized for two wines: a crisp white wine called Maui Blanc and a pineapple sparkling wine. Although the Maui Blanc went on to become the winery's best selling wine, the sparkling line was quickly phased out due to difficulties in production.

The bubbles made a reappearance in 1994, initially as a friendly challenge in conjunction with the twentieth anniversary of the winery. One hundred cases were produced for the occasion, which sold out almost instantly. The winery couldn’t ignore the popularity and demand. The sparkling machine was reignited; pineapple bubbly was on the menu again. Along with Maui Blanc, the sparkling wine, named Hula o Maui, is one of the vineyard’s best sellers, and is a unique representation of Maui’s geographical location and agricultural history.

Hula o Maui is produced in the traditional methode champenois, famously and meticulously developed by the seventeenth-century Benedictine monk, Dom Perignon, in Champagne, France. The wine undergoes secondary fermentation in bottle, and is then aged on the lees for 6 to 8 months to develop a creamy texture without sacrificing the bright, fresh tropical fruit characteristics.

The wine’s first impression is unsurprising, with strong pineapple and tropical aromatics. The palate is brut (semi-dry) with pleasant effervescence, balanced acidity and strong flavors of pineapple with subtle accents of tropical citrus. Not a complex wine like its sparkling counterparts in Champagne, but an enjoyable and unique wine that is accompanied by a great narrative to recount at your New Year's Eve party.

Is it Champagne or even Cava? Of course not. Pineapple is vastly inferior to the grape in terms of biochemical complexity, phenolic variation and diversity of flavor profiles. But that doesn't mean that Hula o Maui cannot be an enjoyable bubbly for a festive occasion.

As a bonus, its brut dryness, refreshing effervescence and tropical fruit characteristics make it a brilliant food pairing partner, particularly with spicy Asian cuisine (Thai food!), and as a companion for mimosas and other sparkling cocktails.

Cheers and Happy New Year!

 

2016 Anniello Soil Blanco de Pinot Noir

Year: 2016

Producer: Aniello

Region: Río Negro, Patagonia, Argentina

Grape(s): Pinot Noir

Alcohol: 13%

Body: Light

Dry/Sweet: Dry

Tasting Notes: Green Apple, Peach, Minerals, Lemon Citrus

Pairings: Steamed or sauteed fish (e.g., Opakapaka, Halibut, Cod), poke, crab salad, green vegetables, fresh herbs and vinaigrette

Price (approximately): $16

 

My Musings:

Looking for something off the beaten path? This blanco de Pinot Noir is a good candidate. All the way to the south of Argentina lies Patagonia, a cool and dry climate that is heavily influenced by the Antarctic. The wines from this region are characteristically less intense than other Argentina regions, but pleasantly dry and well-structured. This wine fits the profile nicely.

This wine is crisp and almost effervescent on the palate, with strong flavors of apple and lemon citrus (maybe a touch of lime as well).  As the wine warmed, some subtle stone fruit arrived at the party, predominantly peach. Balancing the wine on the palate was structured minerality and bright acidity. Pleasant, round flavors, great acidity and a long finish. This is a good chance to get out of the box and try something a little different. It is (sadly) not easy, at least locally in Honolulu, to procure wines from Patagonia, and blanco de Pinot Noir is not a style you come across with regularity.

Sold at Fujioka's Wine Times in Honolulu.

As a fun musing to discuss over a glass, Patagonia's name, colloquially meaning "Land of the Bigfeet" (though the etymology is not entirely clear), was derived from Ferdinand Magellan, who found the natives to be giants in comparison to the small European explorers.

Cheers!

NV Kirkland Signature Champagne Brut

Year: NV

Producer: Kirkland Signature

Region: Champagne, France

Grape(s): Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Pinot Meunier

Alcohol: 12%

Body: Light-Medium

Dry/Sweet: Dry

Tasting Notes: Green Apple, Minerals, Lemon

Pairings: Seafood (Oysters!), Tako Poke, Brie or Soft Goat Cheese, Fruity Dessert Crepes, Fruit Tarts, Acai Bowl

Price (approximately): $20

 

My Musings:

This one is a little tough to wholeheartedly recommend. True to Kirkland form, the wine is not a magnificent specimen of its home appellation. It is also $20 in a region that is rarely accessed for less than $30.

On the nose and palate, green apple, apple and more apple in a rather one-dimensional offering. The finish provides a little more structure with citrus (lemon), pleasant minerality and a subtle, toasty richness.  Delicate, persistent effervescence makes for an enjoyable experience on the palate, and a beautiful presentation in the flute.

Would I recommend? Conditionally, yes. Champagne is world famous for providing a complex sparkling wine balancing ripe fruit, minerality, and citrus, with bright acidity to add freshness to the palate. It is simply tremendous when done well, and the best the sparkling world has to offer. If you have not experienced this region, and want to give it a try at a cheaper price point, then this would be worth picking up. Two things to keep in mind. First, the Kirkland label has some signature characteristics of Champagne, but does not afford the complexity of flavor that distinguishes the region. If that is what you seek, best to expend in the extra cash for a notable producer. Second, you likely won't find a good Champagne for less than $30. That is the price to pay for excellent bubbles.

If you are simply looking for tasty, good value sparkling wine, there are other and better options available. At $20 or less, it might be time to explore Cava from the Catalan region of Spain, or Lambrusco from Northern Italy, among others.

Cheers!