Friday, November 8, 2013


                                                    The southern shore of Lake Chelan

 I attended the 2013 Wine Bloggers Convention in Pentictin British Columbia. The day prior to the start of the convention a group of about 40 visited the Lake Chelan wine region of Washington. It was a real eye opener with respect to landscape and observing the early growth of wine cultivation in Northern Washington.  As you can see from the picture above taken at the Campbell Resort Inn, there is beautiful Lake Chelan and the hillsides which are being groomed for vineyards.

                                                        WHAT HAS CHANGED?

Lake Chelan has been a recreation and farming area for many many years. In the past 20 years the idea of growing grapes and not the famous Chelan apples has taken over. The total acreage of Lake Chelan viticultural region is 247 acres! Also, much of the land near the border of the lake has been converted to housing. Imagine having a home on lake front property with vineyards in the neighborhood. From this visit it is obvious that white grapes, Gewurztraminer, Riesling, Gruner Veltner, Sauvignon Blanc and Viognier to name a few, are the highlights of Chelan. Each of these varietals shows bright clean fruit with solid acidity providing a mouth watering and refreshing drink. The production facilities in the region range from small producers of two to three barrels per varietal to larger ones which produce a few thousand cases.

                                            LACK OF RAIN AND LOTS OF WATER?

Eastern Washington has about 10 to 12 inches of rain a year. There is snow and a lot of recreational winter sports in the fall. The water source for vineyard and other agricultural ventures comes from the lake which is a 50 mile glacier-fed lake which is 1.5 miles at its widest and more than 1,400 feet at its deepest point. Vineyards can get measured amounts of water when most needed in the middle of their  hot summers. Another growth advantage is the diurnal shift of temperature from day to night. Highs in the 90's are followed by cool evenings in the 60's and lower. This combination of heat allows fruit to ripen and gain flavor and sugar. The cool evenings support the retention of acidity and keep the fruit in balance. This combination is also found in Argentina where the Andes provide a water source and altitude to what is essentially a desert, and the cool nights retain acidity.

                                                     CHELAN WINE MARKET

Due to the limited size of established vineyards (247 acres) the vast majority of wine produced is sold in the physical area of the lake. Quality is at a very high level and it appears that more land will be planted in the future as word of the wines spreads across the wine reading public. After our visit it makes good sense to incorporate a vacation and explore the wineries of Lake Chelan. Water sports, hiking and fresh air allow the visitor an opportunity to visit life at a slower pace and people who are intent on providing  the public with a fresh perspective of life in Eastern Washington.

                                                              WHO TO VISIT

KARMA VINEYARDS AND CAVE  making one of the few sparkling wines in the area.  They only make a few thousand cases but devote total attention to vineyard health and their desire to make high quality sparkling wine.  Wine Spectator has rated their sparkling wines:  '09 Estate Rose 89 pts, '09 Brut de Brut 88 pts.

NEFARIOUS CELLARS make a limited amount of very high quality wine.  They are an example of a group of people who have found their niche and are producing reds with a sense of place and white wines that sing true to their varietal. Wine Enthusiast has rated their '09 Rocky Mother Syrah 95pts, Defiance Syrah 92 pts and Stone's Throw Riesling top 100.

TSILLAN CELLARS  is one of the largest producers of wine in the lake area.  They have a range of red and whites which are crafted by a Shane Collins who has a wide range of experience in wine production.  The winery is home to one of the stellar restaurants at the lake side.  Their Estate Sangiovese, Syrah and Sempre Amore were all double gold winners at the Seattle wine awards in 2013.

HARD ROW TO HOE VINEYARDS  Judy Phelps crafts a wide array of wines which all show strong varietal character and clean aromatics.  My favorite red wine was their award winning Cabernet Franc and their Primitivo was also top class.  They make a rich Rose as well as a Sparkling Rose that has a berry rose aroma.  They also produce a very fine Riesling.  A fun winery and place to visit.

MELLISONI VINEYARDS  This is a must stop for anyone visiting the area. They produce a top quality line of both red and white wines. Their Syrah, Merlot and Cabernet sourced from other Washington AVA's  are well extracted and quite rich.  White wines may be the  top of their list for consistent quality and price. Their Riesling  and white blend are Double Gold winners in recent competitions. Pinot Grigio and Gewurtztraminer also crash the palate with fresh fruit and a clean finish. This is one of the top producers in Lake Chelan.


Should you visit or vacation in the Lake Chelan area the above wineries will provide you with ample opportunity to taste wines which will only mature and gain more complexity as the years go on.  Most of the wineries will ship to locals in the United States.  This is a trip well worth you time if you enjoy the outdoors and water recreation.  You might even find some of the famous Chelan Apples as part of your adventure.


Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Italian Family Wine Makers Tasting

                                 Italian Wine Institute Tasting San Francisco October 2013

                                              Jose Rallo of  DONNAFUGATA

I  attended the 2013 Institute of Wine and Italian Quality.  There were 19 producers from all regions of Italy producing wines of the highest quality with in their Domination of Quality Controlle which is located on all bottles of Italian wines as DCOG. This is the consumer guarantee of wines produced within the growing area.  This insignia is specific to each area of Italy that has been granted its own DCOG.

                                                    WHO WAS THERE?
The producers who were present are some of the top line families not only in Italy but Europe as well.  Some of those families are:  Antinori, Gaja, Donnafugata, Lungarotti, Mastrobernadino, Alois Ladeger, Umani Rochi, Michele Chiarlo, Pio Ceasare, Folonari, Biondi Santi and Masi to name those most well known in the American market.  A point was made that other than France the largest market of imported wine in the United States is Italy.

                              WHY DID THEY COME TO THE UNITED STATES?
The producers were very candid in the fact that they understand what France has done and why it is such a force in the world wine market.  This group has seen what the French do with respect to how they show their wines.  Every year the Bordeaux Syndicate of wines travels across the major cities of Europe, North America and Asia and presents the wines of classified Bordeaux to the world market.  This introduction not only gave the press and public a chance to evaluate the wines but also generates publicity that as individuals they could not have  access to.  This group of 19 producers have evolved over more than a decade. Their current rule of thumb is to keep membership limited and the only way a new member winery can be admitted is by a vote of 100%.  This was greeted with many laughs as it was suggested that getting total vote was very difficult.

                                                          THE WINES
We came to taste and understand the process of how these wines come to the market.  Each family member told stories of how their families dedicated themselves to vitculture and production. Here is a list of highlights of what was tasted and why they merit your time.

Ca' del Bosco Cuvee ANNAMARIA CLEMENTE 2005  Here they have produced a Pinot Noir which is vinified to make a Blanc de Noir. The Pinot Noir is aged seven years on its lees and the end result is a stunning pink colored lightly bubbly 12% alcohol wine of total finesse.  Light in flavors and quite complex in aroma. This wine demands all your attention and critical senses.  Retail $120

Sassicia Bolgheri DOC 2010  This wine is the king of Cabernet Sauvignon. I was amazed to find that total production was only a few thousand bottles per vintage.  This in my mind was one of the top wines presented. Aged for two years in French oak and held for another six to twelve months before release.  Sassicaia means Stony ground which is the basis of the name.  This is great Cabernet, your next choice is to determine if it meets your needs at about $225 a bottle.

Antinori Tignanello Toscana  2010  This Sangiovese based red is the flagship wine of the Antinori Estates.  Piero Antinori addressed the fact that this wine is what is best about Sangiovese and Italian wines overall. Since the first vintage in 1971 the wines have gone from strength to strength.  The vineyards are from 1200 to 1300 feet in altitude.  The wine undergoes full malolatic fermentation in small oak barrels.  Very high quality.  Retails price $85

Angelo Gaja Barbaresco 2010  Made from 100% nebbiolo grapes from fourteen parcels of land in the DCOG.  This wine is of a lighter color and has more finesse rather than power. The parcels are kept separate and tasted a year or so after harvest to determine which go into the final bottling.  Family members and the winemaker gather and taste to determine what the final wine will be.  This is a wine that provides ample flavors for those who are looking for complexity rather than power.  Retail $220

Pio Cesare  Barolo "Ornato" Serralunga  2009 100% Nebbiolo that has been aged for 36 months in mostly new oak.  This wine qualifies as a reserva and is very bold and forward. The years in barrel have not made this wine soft and it will require a few more years to open up and express the fruit that is at present not showing itself.  This is an old world type of wine that is meant to be cellared which is not part of the current trend in drink me now wines. That being said it is very good.  Retail $110

Folonari " La Fuga"  Brunello di Mantalcino 2008  This was one of the outstanding wines of thez day.  Full red color with high aromatics of berry, cherry and roses.  Tannins are integrated and make this wine easy to enjoy but with the backbone to age. They use Hungarian, Slovenian and French oak in the aging process. It is only a 7 hectare vineyard and produces just 30,000 bottles.  Three years in oak and one year in bottle before release.  This is fantastic Brunello!!!  Retail $66

Biondi Santi  Brunello di Montalcino 'Greppo" 2008 This estate is the King of Brunello. They have in their cellar wines up to 100 years in age.  They are the only estate with their own clone of Sangiovese Grosso.  The wine ages for three years in large barrels and then one year in bottle prior to release. This wine is elegant rather than powerful.  The most well known estate in Tuscany. This gem of a wine will retail for  $170

DONNAFUFATA Mille e Una Notte Rosso Contesse  2008  Jose Rallo (above) presented this great example of Sicilian wine. Mostly Nervo d'Avola that shows depth and great red color.  There are very heavy berry aromatics and solid tannins to keep the wine in balance.  Aged in new french oak for more than a year and then held in bottle for more than two years.  This is not a lighweight wine but it has layers of fruit and aroma that keep you coming back for more. It smells and tastes like more than the 13.% alcohol on the label but it carries itself well.  Retail $80

Masi Osar Rosso Del Veronses  2006  This wine is an experience in itself as the grape variety is rarely ever seen.  Oseleta is a vitis vinifera found by the Masi family. Its roots are from the period when Greeks were in Italy and grew grapes.  The Masi label tells you the grape variety, vintage, alcohol, vineyard and bottle production.  This wine comes from a small 8 hectare vineyard and produced under 5,000 bottles.  This is a great experience is tasting a clone of red wine I have never seen or heard of before.  Retail $70


This was an outstanding event and it provided an understanding of the different areas and their challenge to grow world class wines.  It also underscored the Italian ideal of wines which match with food and give pleasure on their own. The wines above are names and labels you may well see in retail or restaurant lists. They produce other bottlings which are also of the highest quality. Try one with friends over a nice dinner and experience some of the sun of Italy

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Ed Sbragia's Dry Creek Winery

          Ed Sbragia talking with Mike Beltran while viewing the Dry Creek Valley 

I recently visited Sbragia Winery in the Dry Creek Valley. The highlight of the day was a long 
discussion of wine history and wine philosophy with owner Ed Sbragia. He is in his mid 60's and has a great track record as the head of winemaking at Beringer Winery for more than 25 years. This by itself shows his desire for quality when you look at the wines he has crafted for Beringer. Their signature high end bottlings of Chardonnay and Cabernet rank consistently with the best of Napa Wineries.  Ed is currently an ambassador for the Beringer label and often speaks and travels on their behalf. He is a walking encyclopedia of information dating back to his early tenure with Myron Nightengale and Andre Tchelistcheff.  

                                         SBRAGIA WINERY

In 2002 Ed Sbragia started his own family winery and focused on fruit mostly from the Sonoma Appellation. The Beringer people were supportive of his effort and allowed him to work on his own label as well as work with the Napa producer.  He and his family own a small sector of vineyards. He looks for others that produce high quality fruit which express their site specific traits.  Many of these sites have stories behind them which makes them even more interesting.  Ed is committed to nurturing the land and keeping it as healthy as possible with natural ingredients. Sbragia has a current capacity of 11,000 cases annually subject to the whims of mother nature. 

The winery itself sits at the end of Dry Creek Valley high enough so that you get a perfect view of the entire valley and a back drop of the Dry Creek Dam which prevents the valley from flooding as it did in the early 1930's. Ed tells the story of his mother wanting to sell their low level vineyard for higher ground after a flood left standing water in their home at knee level not to mention the vineyards which were under water. There are some informative photos of the flood and other businesses that existed during that period at the winery. Ed is often in residence and loves talking wine and the history of his family and their start in wine growing and production. Once you meet him you will be exposed to the knowledge of a nice man and great wine maker. The following is a run down of the current wines available at the winery.

                                         THE WINES

'09 Gamble Ranch Napa Chardonnay. 92 pts. from Wine Advocate and a round, full palate of flavors. Pear and pineapple with a mid-core of French oak to draw out a beautiful glass of wine. 

'09 Home Ranch Dry Creek Chardonnay. 92 WA and 91 Spectator.  Less than  $30 a bottle and tastes so much more expensive.  Apricot, honeysuckle and pear make this wine a winner for all sorts of food. Extremely well made. 

'11 Gino's Zin comes home with 14.4% alcohol and tastes very smooth and balanced with typical Dry Creek intensity. Planted in 1957; you get the benefit of fruit from vines almost 60 years old.  Rich in berry fruit with mild tannins that will reward aging for 10 years plus.  

'11 La Promessa Zin Dry Creek. This wine checks in with 15.8% alcohol but does not show it in the nose or palate. My favorite of the Zins tasted. Rich and balanced with a bit of earth and stone to compliment the wide array of berries and tannins. Winery and wine club only.

'07 Monte Rosso Cabernet Sonoma Valley. Rated in the top 100 by S.F. Chronicle. Ed gets this fruit from a long term relationship with Mike Martini who also happens to play in their band Private Reserve. This is serious and complex Cabernet with mountain fruit and rich tannins that bring out a wine which is only grown at Monte Rosso. The winery is selling this vintage because they are sold out of the more current vintages. This goes to show the high quality of the vineyard and the wine making.

'09 Rancho Del Oso Howell Mountain Cabernet. 92 WS, 93 WA. This is a mix of power and grace from mountain fruit and carries 15.5% alcohol. Howell Mountain can bring out the wild side of Cabernet and this wine shows what comes from hill side grapes which strive to find water and produce a crop of high intensity wine. Not for the feint of heart but very rewarding. 

'09 Wall Vineyard Mr. Veeder Cabernet. 93 WA, 91 WS. This is another mountainside vineyard which required two years in new French oak to come together. While so good now it is still quite young and will reward a few more years in the cellar to round out all of its complex flavors.  

                                    LAST IMPRESSION

A visit to Sbragia winery should be on the list of any serious consumer of fine wine. More often than not you can meet the owner and share a glass of his top shelf wines. Ed said that wine is made to be consumed and he is proof positive that wine is part of the good life.   

Wednesday, June 5, 2013


Duxoup Winery sits on West Dry Creek Road and has no signing to the winery which is  within a few hundred feet of the road.  What makes this winery more than interesting is the owners and their philosophy. Andy and Debra Cutter founded this small (2,000 case) winery in the early 1980's with the idea of doing all of the major work themselves and not growing so large as to hire more people. This has served them well as they produce a line of wines which are more than user friendly and also represent excellent dollar value.  Andy cut his teeth in the wine industry with many of the famed names in California wine. He began as a cellar rat and worked his way into winemaker. Debbie worked as the head of laboratory and quality control early on for Franciscan Winery and continues to insure quality control.  This turns out to be a perfect mix of talent and ideas.  Duxoup currently makes around 1,400 cases and will ramp up to 2,000 in the near future, that is their maximum production capacity for their life style.   


            GAMAY NOIR  $15.00

 They have a half acre of Gamay Noir which was called Napa Gamay in the past.  From this patch of land they produce their only estate wine. The last good California Napa Gamay in my memory was by Raymond Vineyards in the mid 1970's.  The '74 was a stunning wine rich round and delicious.  The next vintage was not nearly as good and they decided to bud over to Sauvignon Blanc.  This is not only a fun wine to drink but it has layer upon layer of flavors which you do not find in other wines of this weight or style, it is not traditional Gamay. Production is often less than 1,000 bottles per vintage!! 

           CHARBONO  $19.50

Charbono  comes from the Frediani vineyard in Calistoga with two thirds young vine (50 years) and one third old vine (100).  Inglenook for decades made the only Charbono produced in quantity in California. Andy has been making Charbono from this vineyard going on thirty years!!   Classic deep red color and mixed smoky fruit bring forth a medium bodied red which works well with a wide variety of foods.  

          SYRAH  $21.00

  The fruit is obtained from  the Ray Teldeschi vineyard on Dry Creek Road. Ray has been farming this land for almost 50 years. One of his famous clients from years back was Joe Swan who helped put Dry Creek Zin on the map during the '60's and 70's.  This Syrah has the typical white pepper nose and mild not over the top tannins which allow you to drink more than a few glasses without getting palate fatigue. Very polished flavors and aromatics that make this a great dollar value.

        DOLCETTO  $18.00

 Also sourced from Teldeschi vineyard.  This is a larger framed version of what you get from Italy. That being said it gushes forth with ripe fruit flavors and a soft velvet finish.  What  this wine offers is perky ripe fruit flavors which show well with lighter foods or anti pastas.  The tannins cut through and compliment cheeses, pate, sausage and salads with assertive dressings or  ingredients like parsley, cilantro and root based vegetables. 

        SANGIOVESE  $19.00

 Made in the round mouth coating style which gets your palate to salivate and welcome Italian dishes with tomato infused pastas or roasted garlic chicken just to get started. Andy egg white fines his wines which helps reduce the heavy tannins without stripping the wine of its character.  

                                                   WHY DUXOUP

These are well crafted wines which are hard to find.  They reward the buyer with a bottle of unique style and flavors.  Andy Cutter sources the highest quality fruit and and produces small lots of dollar value wine.  Go online and find the local retail outlet nearest you, I know you will not be let down.   Be aware that he does not have an open door policy but will welcome you if given enough lead time.  He will charm you with his knowledge of wine and amusing tales of how  he became a wine maker extordinaire.  

Visit to Gallo of Sonoma Wineries

Recently I was able to visit the Gallo of Sonoma production facility and vineyards.  It was quite an eye opener as I observed many state of the art features in the winery.  The one thought that often comes to mind when people think of Gallo is that it is the largest family owned winery in the world.  That being said, they are also at the top of the game with regard to quality and production technique.  Many in the wine world think highly of Robert Mondavi winery and the advances he helped bring to the market since the opening of his winery in 1966.  The Gallo family at the same time has brought the quality level of all ranges of wine to highs not previously seen.  They are able to do things on a scale which involves many people at all levels that guarantees quality fruit and its transformation into top flight wine. 


I visited and tasted at the Frei Ranch in Dry Creek Valley.  Wines tasted were the Laguna series, Rancho Zabaco vineyard designates, and Gallo Signature series. After observing the barrel ageing area and fermenters we moved on to Mac Murray Ranch and tasted wines produced from that specific vineyard which was planted in 1992.  Kate Mac Murray told stories of how her dad, Fred, loved farming in Sonoma. He raised cattle and grain on the land which became vineyard upon the sale of the ranch. Gallo has restored and improved the roads and the water stream that runs through the property.  All of the wines tasted were of superior quality and true to type.  Very well balanced and in harmony alone or with food. 


Gallo owns thousands of acres of land throughout the entire state of California, and is moving into Oregon and Washington.  They also contract out large amounts of fruit from various growers in all areas of California .  They pay top dollar for grapes that meet their specifications.  They are involved in all facits of the growing and harvesting of their wine grapes.


Gallo has a long time committment for the care of vineyards and land use. They practice a one-for-one philosophy which translates to one acre of open land for every acre of vineyard they own.  The company practices water recycling, cover crop, minimal spraying,  preditor animals to keep pests from damaging grapes.  River stream restoration and habitat grounds are important to the ecosystem support in vineyard growth. 


This is best seen in how they move fruit from vineyard to tanks to cellar.  Everything is run by computer and this leaves no room for error.  Vineyards are monitored for everything from frost to wind and moisture depth.  Recycling of field material is composted and either sold or plowed back into the fields.  


This is the bottom line in any winery.  Gallo has a core of excellent winemakers and cellar staff. They produce not only large lots of wine but also smaller single vineyard wines which show not only superior quality but also a deft hand in bringing out the soul of the vineyard sites on the label.  Looking at their portfolio indicates a high ratio of quality to dollar value. 


Gallo is making wine from wide areas of the west coast but also foreign countries.  They continue to be industry leaders in both marketing and volume but also in farming as well as environmental issues. 

Gallo is a business, and they do it better than any other large scale producer in America.  They understand the market and respond to trends which affect sales.  Their objective of producing high quality wine at many price points is a success.  Consumers are the ultimate winners in this  market as they are able to choose a wide range of wines which provide very good drinking at favorable pricing.   Keep an eye on the moves of Gallo in the premium wine business. 

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Wines of Valencia Spain December 2012

Last month I attended a tasting of 10 wines from the Valencia region of Spain.  The appellation is small in size with respect to other Spanish growing areas.  One of the things that really stood out is the quality ratio to price.  There were a few wines that were just flat out deals and selling for much less the going market for wines of the same quality.  Spain is in search of new markets for their wines as they produce more than they consume or export.  Temperanillo is the driving force here as well as through out all of Spain.  Here are my thoughts on the wines tasted.

1) El Villar winery Ximo.  Semillion stainless steel made with one month in oak 2011. A very simple example of Semillion with clean flavors and acidity.  This is well price @ $14 but there is a lot of competition in the marketplace. Almost white Graves in style.
2) Bodegas Enguera "Blanc"  a blend of Viognier, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Verdil 2011.  This is an exciting wine with a blend of honey, plums and lemon on the nose.  Partially Oak fermented and the color shows a bit of straw against the light.  Wonderful flavors and body.  At $16 it is a touch high but this is full retail.  There is room for price adjustment.
3) El Villar Ximo Temperanillo 2010.  Very well made and useful in so many ways around a dinner or lunch of lighter foods and cheeses. $14.
4) Cherubino Winery, Marques de Caro Temperanillo 2009.  This is one of the winners  of the tasting. It has lovely round fruit flavors with a grip of tannin which only releases more complex fruit when enjoyed with food.  Retail is only $10 a bottle and it is such a grand wine at such a low price. This is a wine which retailers and restauranteurs would love by the palate load. The drinker gets a ton of wine at a most resonable price.
5) Turis winery, Luna de Mar Tinto 2009.  Cabernet, Merlot, Temperanillo and Syrah. This wine is a heavy weight in both body and taste.  Very dry and dark in color.  Needs time. Retail $19 is fair considering the quality.
6)  Anecoop Venta del Puerto #12 2010. Cabernet, Merlot, Temperanillo and Syrah for $12 retail.  This is the outstanding dollar value of the tasting. Medium full body with graceful flavors that mix into a round rich palate coating wine.  A long finish of berries and wood make this just a fantastic wine for all occasions.  This would be on my list for Xmas presents to folks who want a first class introduction into Spanish wines.  Total deal.
7) Bodegas Enguera, Megala 2010  Montrasell and Syrah.  Retail $25 this wine is very big in style the Montrasell is dominant and the color is inky black.  Very extracted and needs much time.  Not for the feint of heart.
8) Cherubino Marques de Caro Crianza. Shiraz, Cabernet and Bobal 2009.  $15 retail and once again an excellent Crianza that displays the benefit of one year in wood.
9) Anecoop Reymos Muscat sparkling wine 2011.  This is so refreshing and clean on the palate. 7.5% alcohol this is the equal of any Asti Spumante I have ever had and less expensive. Delightful and so easy to drink.  Floral orange blossom aromas followed by lime and lemon peel tang on the finish. At $12 retail this is another amazing value.  Open your horizons and taste this super dollar value.
10)  Baronia Turis, Dona Dolca. 2011.  Made from Muscat of Alexandria with a touch of alcohol to stop the fermentation. Made to resemble a Muscat de Baume de Venise from France.  I am afraid it does not make the mark. Very heavy and not balanced.  The 15% alcohol is not matched with acidity to make the next glass more enjoyable.  Not a bad wine but in the context of the others it does not shine.  The price of $8 per half bottle is very reasonable but not money well spent in my opinion.

In summary look for the wines of Valencia they represent excellent quality.  Many restaurants are curious and anxious to bring in these wines as they work wonders for the bottle and by the glass programs that generate large profits.

Ribera del Duero Wine Tasting

The promotional group hosted a large tasting of wines from the Ribero del Duero on Nov. 7th.  There was a sitdown tasting led by Sommilier Yoon Ha. The tasting proves that this region of Spain is the sweet spot for Temperanillo. There are many wineries which are looking for importers.  Ribero del Duero has been influenced by Bordeaux wine makers and owners who see this area as a gold mine of potential in the future.  The information that follows will allow you to explore Spanish wines with extra information.  I would recommend that you try a bottle or two from each of the  classifications to determine your palate preference. They are all of very high quality now all you have to do is find a retailer or producer who will lead you to the next experience in Spanish wine.  Remember these are above all else food wines.

Climate: Ribera has the mix of Continental and Mediterranean influences which are extremes of temperature and altitude.  The average Ribera vineyard is grown in vineyards with a high between 2,500 and 2,800 feet.  Summers are short with highs as high as 100F and evening lows of 50/60F. This coupled with moderate rainfall of 16 inches more or less makes for vines which strive for water with deep root systems. There is research that is on going looking for vines which obtain strong root growth which promotes growth through attachment to deep water pockets.

Temperanillo: is the main grape of choice. It is an early ripening grape which lends itself to the severe climate of Ribero. Also known as Tinto Fino or Tinta de Pais it is the perfect match for the highest quality of wine produced in Spain.

                                            CLASSIFICATION SYSTEM

There are levels of Ribera wines with each reflecting a type of wine treatment which affects the price of the bottle.
Cosecha: or young wine sees only minimal oak and is the first wine of the vintage released. It is meant to be consumed in its youth for the fresh fruit and low tannins.  These are excellent for bistro fare and light lunches and tapas.
Crianza: are aged two years in oak and are in my opinion the best dollar value in Spain. These Ribero wines have rich color deep fruit flavors and a touch of oak that rounds out on the palate. Most of these wines sell in the under $15 bracket and can compete with almost any wine from any where.
Reserva: are aged three years with a minimum of one year in oak. The wines are aged in the winery cellars until release. They represent elegant and intense wines with a dense finish.
Gran Reserva: are made in only select vintage years. They are aged a minimum of five years with two years of barrel age.  They tend to show a bit of age but also maintain their fruit quality. For the price this person would go for the Crianza style of Ribera.
Rosado: these are the roses of the region. I am a great fan of Spanish rosado.  They are full flavored with complex aromas of berries.  They retain acidity and are perfect for all occasions and most often sell in the $10 area.

There were 26 wineries looking for importers as well as 19 wineries who have importers who were pouring wines.  Ribera del Duero is in my opinion the top region for quality Spanish wines. They are rich, well made, extracted without being over the top and  balanced.  The Crianza level of wine is the best deal going. You get all the flavors and can drink them now. The Reservas with the extra oak and tannins generally require more time in bottle to reach optimum drinking.

Keep your eyes open for Spanish wines.  They represent consumer friendly wines of top quality and more than resonable prices.

ZAP Tasting Feb. 2, 2013 Many winners!!

Just returned from the annual Zinfandel Advocate Producers Tasting in San Francisco.  I focused on established wineries who have a record of solid wines.  Since this was an opportunity to taste single vineyards I looked for Monte Rosso and Rockpile vineyard wines.  I was not let down.  All of the Monte Rosso wines were of outstanding quality with rich high toned fruit flavors and long pleasant finishes.  As a rule they tended to be higher in alcohol 15+% but were so well balanced that it was not an issue with respect to flavors or finish. 

Wineries of high quality Monte Rosso are: Rancho Zabaco, Louis  Martini, Rosenblum,  T-Vine,   Carlisle, Robert Biale and Sbragia wines. 

The Rockpile designates were from multiple owners of land on Rockpile. These wines had the typical color and extract which this vineyard is known for.  Mauritson, Bedrock, Rosenblum and Carol Shelton made stellar wines which all merit high scores and will deliver top flight flavors.

The wineries which follow are all quality producers who sell their product for what is less than the market as a whole does. How can they do this?  Many own the land and sell much of their fruit and keep only what they want to produce under their label, others have a lower cost of doing business and pass that along to their clients. 
Wineries which produce Zinfandel at reasonable prices and high levels of quality are:
Dry Creek
Sobon Estate
Steele Wines
Brazin Cellars
Ancient Peaks 

    These are all Zinfandels of high quality.  If you have the money the Rockpile and Monte Rosso are so much better wines than your typical "Old Vine" Zinfandel from most wineries. 
My advise is to sit back pour a glass of full flavored Zinfandel and let the wine do the talking.  Enjoy one of the great wines of California.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

2010 Bordeaux Tasting Review

I attended the 2010 preview tasting of Bordeaux at the Palace Hotel in San Francisco. The tasting took place in the cental dining room under a beautiful stained glass dome which had a sun light background.  My purpose was to taste and evaluate about 24 of the 120 Chateaux that were pouring their current vintage. 

OVERALL OPINION: The entire range of wines were all extremely well made and rich in color and had youthful tannins which will reward time in the cellar.  Most of the wines had a rich outer layer of fruit and aromas to compliment the core of ripeness.  The level of winemaking was outstanding as there were no apparent flaws in both red and whites.  At the prices these wines will sell for, you would expect top wine making that shows the inherent terrior of the vineyards and the vintage.  

TOP WINES:  Because I did not taste more than 30 properties these were at the top of my list.  I tasted mostly White Graves since they are the most rare. Why? Because if you get the opportunity it would be foolish not to!  

RED BORDEAUX: Rausan Segla, Figeac, Lynch Bages, Pichon Baron and Langoa Barton. Each of these wines were most impressive with dark red fruit flavors and rich extract that gives a full palate feel and long finish. These wines stand alone as high points of their respective districts in Bordeaux. 

WHITE BORDEAUX: Chateau la France, Pape Clement and Domaine de Chevalier.  Except for la France the others are barrel fermented.  Each of these wines is impressive for their size and complete mouth feel. They are very serious wines which will age quite well due to their acid to fruit balance.  I was most impressed with the quality of Chateau la France; it is outstanding. There were also others of very high quality: Carbonnieux , Rahoul, La Louviere Latour Martillac and Smith Haut Lafitte.

SAUTERNES:  This region was extremely successful in 2010. These are some of the most difficult wines to produce because of the need for botritis.  That being said two of the eight wines poured were clearly outstanding.  Chateau Suduiraut and de Fargues were very complete, rich and round wines of distinction. The de Fargues is owned by Alexandre Lur Salues, the former owner of d'qYuem the premier Sauterne of France.  Winemaking and viticulture is the same at both properties.  They married the intense fruit of Semillion and Sauvignon.  The other wines tasted were all very good but just a shade less rich and long and they were: Coutet, Bastor-Lamontagne, Climens, Rayne Vigneau, Doisy Daene, Guiraud, Latour Blanche and Lafaurie-Peyraguey.  

SUMMARY: The wines were brilliant.  If your pocketbook is there all of these wines will provide excellent drinking for many years.  Given the fact that it is such a good vintage I think there could be deals in Bordeaux from other areas such as Fronsac, Listrac and more satellite areas.  My hope is that this has been of some help for you when choosing Bordeaux in the coming months and year.   Enjoy a glass of good wine. 

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Wines I am looking for at the Bordeaux Tasting Jan.18th

The up coming Union Des Grand Crus tasting on Friday Jan. 18th will have a huge representation of classified Bordeaux Growths.  The number of Chateaux presenting is greater than I can attempt to taste.  That being the case I am focused on tasting the properties that will be listed below.  The reason I chose these properties is that they have an excellent track record of doing well in good vintages. They are well capitalized and have all that can be asked in the way of technology, farming techniques and modern equipment to handle any unforeseen problems which may occur.  

The cost of wines from this vintage appears to be one of the most expensive in modern history. First Growths will sell for a minimum of $1,000 a bottle.  Classifed growths such as those being tasted on the 18th will retail from $30 to $100 a bottle.  Ratings are already in and the vintage is in the mid '90's with respect to quality.  Here are the wines I will look for and respond to in my next blog.

Paulliac: Lynch Bages, Pichon Lalande/Baron, Mouton d'Armailhac

Margaux: Rausan Segla, Malescot, du Tertre and Giscours

Graves: Fieuzal, Domaine du Chevalier, and Haut Bailley

St. Emilion: Canon, LaGaffillere, Figeac and La Dominique

St. Julian: Beychevelle, Gruaud Larose, Leoville and Langoa Barton

Sauternes: Climens, de Fargues, Doisey Daene, Lafaurie-Peyraguey and Suduiraut

  This will be a great group of wines and they should represent the vintage and Bordeaux well.