Gems in My Glass . . . March 2018

Tasting Notes

Traveling aboard the incomparable Crystal Serenity cruise ship is always a joy and an adventure.  Since 2012, Crystal has gone to all inclusive, with a good variety of wine, beer and liquor offered among their inclusive alcoholic beverage selections.  Here are some of the all inclusive wines I’ve enjoyed during this cruise:

“C” Wines Sommelier’s Selection 2016 Reserve Merlot; Sonoma County, California:  This expressive Merlot is made and labeled exclusively for Crystal Cruises.  It’s a smoothly textured, well balanced wine, and quite approachable, with soft tannins.  Flavors of blueberry compote, savory spice, a touch of oak and plum jam intertwine on the palate, and the finish lingers.  This selection only available on board Crystal Cruises vessels.

La Chablisienne 2013 Chablis Cuvée La Sereine; Burgundy, France:  Leading off with an expressive citrusy aroma, this Chablis explodes with vibrancy on the palate.  Crunchy Granny Smith apples, juicy white grapefruit, sliced nectarines, lemon zest, and herbal accents are bolstered by striking acidity and a solid thread of minerality.  Fresh and crisp with plenty of energy from first to last enlivening sip. SRP:  ~$22 www.chablisienne.fr

Yangarra Estate Vineyard 2013 Shiraz; McLaren Vale, Australia:  Fragrant spiciness and deep fruits dominate the nose of this full bodied, captivating Shiraz.   Opulent and balanced with layers of ripe boysenberry, fresh red cherry and blueberry, accented by hints of beef jerky, piquant spice, a touch of vanilla, and a nice level of acids.  Aging 13 months on 25% new French oak adds a nice toastiness without being over the top.  SRP:  ~$30  www.yangarra.com

Quinta da Revolta 2014 Revolta Reserva; Douro Valley, Portugal:  Florals greet the nose with this dense red wine, crafted from Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz, Touriga Franca, Tinta Barroca and Touriga Femea.  A value priced dry red wine offering up nicely ripe fruit and good balance.  Lush with a velvety texture, and flavors of raspberry, blackberry, loganberry, Damson plum, and a hint of earth.  SRP:  ~$12   www.portugalvineyards.com

Wairau River Family Estate 2016 Sauvignon Blanc; Marlborough, New Zealand:  Delicate white flowers on the nose, this snappy Sauv Blanc really hits the mark.  Nectarine, peach, juicy grapefruit and lemon-lime soda grace the palate, with a nice mineral edge and bracing acidity; energetic and delicious.  It’s been a go-to wine day after day, hoping the ship doesn’t run out of it before we disembark!  SRP:  $17 www.wairauriverwines.com

Pio Cesare 2016 L’Altro Chardonnay; Langhe DOC, Piedmont, Italy:  Inviting citrus aromas on the nose opens the door to this crisp, ethereal Chardonnay.   Fresh and elegant with a core of lemon splashed green apple, pear skin, and a pleasing thread of minerality.  Beautifully balanced with good concentration of fruit, and lively acidity keeps it vivacious through the satisfying finish.   SRP:  $22  www.piocesare.it

Wedell Cellars 2014  “Amuse Bouche” Pinot Noir; Sta. Rita Hills, California:  The tantalizing fragrance steers you into the glass.  Layers of red cherry, pomegranate juice, wild berry and cedar on entry broaden with notes of black tea, dried herbs, and savory spice as it flows gracefully across the palate.  Elegant and well balanced, with a satin smooth texture, and long- lasting aftertaste.    SRP: ~$35 www.wedellcellars.com

Knappstein Enterprise Winery 2017 Riesling; Clare Valley, Australia:  This zesty Riesling is vivid and minerally, with citrus elements and tree fruits on the nose.  The mouthwatering palate is loaded with flavors of crisp green apple and white peach, hints of guava, lime zest and a solid backbone of minerality.  Bracing acidity is a perfect accompaniment to the generous fruit.  SRP:  $22 www.knappstein.com.au

Paco & Lola 2016 Albariño; Rías Baixas, Spain:  This sleek and full of life Albariño imparts a charming aroma.   Fragrant summer wild flowers make way for flavorsome tropical fruit, chopped basil, crunchy pear, lemon curd, understated saline notes, and fresh squeezed grapefruit juice.  Vivid and streamlined on the palate with a silky texture and crisp acids. Finishes with a perky twist of lemon peel.  SRP:  ~$16  www.pacolola.com

Stay tuned for a review of wines from Crystal’s specialty wine list.  In addition to the inclusive wine list, premium wines from around the globe are also available for purchase, and your sipping pleasure.  Cheers!

 

Southern Highlands, Australia

Australia, Gems in MY Glass . . ., Tasting Notes

While cruising aboard the Crystal Serenity on the 2018 World Cruise voyage, we had the opportunity to visit the Southern Highlands wine region, located in New South Wales, Australia (120 kilometers southwest of Sydney).   There are 12 wineries and 52 registered vineyards situated here, in this relatively cool climate, high altitude region.  Time allowed for Ken and me to visit three wineries during our stop in Sydney this month, accompanied by wine aficionado and fellow cruiser, David Smith.  Ken braved the driving, which offered a few challenges!  For one, getting used to steering wheel on the opposite side of the car, and two, driving on the opposite side of the road compared to our norm, but all went well.  In this region we met delightful and passionate vintners, and discovered several nicely crafted wines.

Centennial Vineyards has vineyards reaching to 760m in altitude.  More than 80 acres are planted to vinifera grapes.  Winemaker Tony Cosgriff produces both sparkling and still wines.  Their Cellar Door is open to visitors for tasting seven days a week.  Nat greeted us with a warm welcome upon our arrival, and she provided us with a excellent introduction to the winery.  They market their wines all around Australia, as well as export to the USA, Singapore, Korea, China and Denmark. Below were among my favorites here.  Learn more at their website:  www.centennial.net.au

Centennial Vineyards Blanc de Noir:  This fruit driven, well balanced wine is crafted from 100% Pinot Noir.  Red fruits on the nose are inviting.  Tickling the taste buds are flavors of Rainier cherry, strawberry and raspberry fruit linking with fresh lemon and lime accents, a tinge of pie crust, and a lovely touch of spice.  A stream of tiny bubbles carries the wine to a bright and refreshing finish.  SRP:  $39.99

Centennial Vineyards 2016 ”116” Road Block Riesling:   Alluring wet stone aromas speak clearly of Riesling as this wine approaches the nose.   In the mouth, white peach, crisp green apple, lemon verbena and a thread of minerality decorate the palate.  Crisp, dry and well balanced with zippy acidity, it delights through the lingering finish.  SRP: $24.99

Centennial Vineyards 2015 Road Block Savagnin: A beautiful example of Savagnin, a grape more widely grown in the Jura region of France (a unique variety, not to be confused with the Sauvignon Blanc grape).  This finely tuned Savagnin was fermented 96% in seasoned French oak, and 4% in new oak.  It displays an attractive leesy, pastry dough aroma.  In the mouth it is vivacious, with flavors of lemon gelato, ripe pear, guava, dried apricot, and lime zest and a hint of spice.  Underlying oak is well placed in the background; delicious.     SRP:  $21.99

Tertini Wines is focused on producing premium, cool climate wines.  They grow and produce a number of varieties including Pinot Noir, Shiraz, Sangiovese and Cabernet Sauvignon, Riesling, Sauv Blanc, Chardonnay, Arneis, Nebbiolo, Pinot Blanc and Pinot Gris.   Their Cellar Door is open for tasting seven days a week from 10 am to 5 pm.  We thoroughly enjoyed and appreciated our time spent with talented Viticulturist and Winemaker Jonathan Holgate.  Jonathan holds a BSc degree in Wine Science, and has been crafting wines at Tertini since the 2008 vintage.  Grapes are hand pruned and hand-picked, with a focus on harvesting the best natural flavors from the vineyards.  These below were among my favorites.  Visit their website for more info:  www.tertiniwines.com.au

Tertini Wines 2016 Arneis:  Enticingly aromatic, this snappy Arneis (a grape that originated in Piedmont, Italy) is barrel fermented.  Stone fruit on the nose is mirrored on the palate from the moment of entry.  White peaches, nectarines and creamy pear join lemon-lime notes and blanched almonds, creating a masterpiece on the palate.  Rich, expressive and texturally pleasing, with a racy level of acidity through the bright, memorable finish. SRP:  $38

Tertini Wines 2016 PCC Chardonnay:  This private cellar collection, barrel fermented Chard, from their Yarraandoo vineyard, opens with tree fruits on the nose.   Juicy peaches, red apples, lively lemon and orange citrus accents intertwine with well-integrated oak (from new and seasoned barrel aging).  Still in its youth, this wine displays excellent depth of fruit and complexity.  Approachable now, and I see years of enjoyment ahead.  SRP:  $48

Tertini Wines 2015 Pinot Noir:  The delicate hue and earthy aroma could not please me more, it clearly shouts out Pinot Noir.    Sourced from their “Yaaandoo” vineyard, this gem greets the nose with captivating earthy, cherry aromas.  Red cherry compote, raspberry, dried strawberry, earthy elements and exotic spices entwine as the wine flows seamlessly across the palate.  Elegant and beautifully balanced, it boasts a silky texture, refined tannins, and a finish that persists well beyond the last drop.  SRP:  $48

Artemis Wines is a family owned winery.  Winemaking brothers Anton and Mark Balog began making wine in this region in 1996.  They were the third winery to plant Pinot Noir in this region.  They also produce hard cider and mead.  Artemis is open for tasting Wednesday through Sunday and holidays.  They, too, appreciate the cool climate, and high elevation of their site in the Southern Highlands (their vineyards sit at 660 meters).  My favorites here are included below.  More details can be found on their website:  www.artemiswines.com.au

Artemis Wines 2016 Pinot Grigio:  Expressive aromas of stone fruit and a touch of herbs at first whiff.  Peaches, nectarines, green apple, citrusy notes, hints of ginger and oyster shell salinity weave a nice tapestry of flavors on the palate.  Crisp acids complement the bright fruit, keeping it lively and balanced.   Aging in neutral Hungarian oak gives it a pleasing roundness mid palate, and the finish is vivid.   SRP:  $20

Artemis Wines 2017 Sauvignon Blanc:   An engaging citrus aroma sets the stage for this vivacious Sauvignon Blanc.  It is a brilliant rendition of this variety, with its layers of passion fruit, lemon drops, grapefruit and fresh cut spring grasses.  The racy acidity is divine, and the wine displays lovely purity.  Streamlined and thirst quenching from first sip to everlasting final one.  SRP:  $25

Artemis Wines 2015 Close Vine Pinot Noir:   The alluring aroma takes you to a walk in the forest with its earthiness.  On the palate it is offers up flavors of wild strawberries, black cherries, pomegranate seeds, bay leaf and black tea notes.  Pretty oak nuances (from aging in 70% French and 30% Hungarian oak barrels) are well placed.  Smoothly textured and fresh through the lifted finish.  SRP:  $45

If your plans take you to Sydney, Australia, don’t miss the chance to visit the Southern Highlands wine region and discover your favorites.  I certainly plan to return to the region, and spend more time here!

Gems in My Glass . . . January 2018

Calaveras County

Miro Cellars 2007 Petite Sirah; Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County; California:  For any who may question the beauty and cellar-worthiness of Petite Sirah, sip this exceptional wine, and you’ll think again; wow!  Deep, dark fruits and fresh cracked peppercorns greet the nose.  Rich and generous on the palate, as layers of boysenberry, blackberry and plum fruit entwine with savory accents.  Showing off brilliant acidity and supple tannins, it is gorgeous now, with years to go.  www.mirocellars.com

Ramey Wine Cellars 2006 Hudson Vineyard Chardonnay; Carneros, Napa Valley, California:  Here is a splendid Chardonnay, remaining impressively vibrant after more than a decade of aging.   Fresh buttered toast and sautéed apples command your attention at first whiff.  The silky texture transports layers of Honey Crisp apples, creamy pears, spice oak notes and lemon curd seamlessly across the palate.  Well structured and polished with a long-lasting finish.  www.rameywine.com

Reustle Prayer Rock Vineyards 2010 Revelation & Sorek Bloc Gruner Veltliner; Umpqua Valley, Oregon:  A hint of smoke and wet stone on the nose starts the juices flowing with this classic, ageworthy Gruner Veltliner.  Stone fruit, citrus notes, minerality, fresh snap peas, and white pepper dance gracefully on the palate.  Sophisticated, complex and pristinely balanced, with lime peel highlights on the long, zesty finish.    www.reustlevineyards.com

Smith-Madrone Vineyards & Winery 2015 Chardonnay; Spring Mountain District, Napa Valley, California: Aromas of fresh-picked tree fruits and spiced oak notes zone in on what’s ahead.  Poached pears, Granny Smith apples, brown spices and a kiss of butterscotch pudding join underlying oak on the palate.  Firmly structured and rich with good offsetting acidity through the last enlivening sip.   www.smithmadrone.com

Holly’s Hill Vineyards 2014 Estate Grenache Noir; El Dorado, California:  Fresh wild raspberries and spice notes fill the senses.  Juicy and vivid on the palate, with raspberry preserves, red cherries, subtle smoky notes and beautiful savory elements.  The texture is silky smooth, and the balance is spot on as the lively acidity carries the wine to a vivacious close. www.hollyshill.com

Cooper Vineyards 2014 Barbera Riserva; Sierra Foothills, Amador County, California:  Just try to resist the intoxicating spicy, fruit driven aroma!   Juicy and plush with succulent layers of black plums, spiced cherry salsa, dark berries and vanilla bean that explode with vibrancy on the palate.    Good grip and nicely structured tannins, with crushed peppercorns and vanilla kicking in on the back palate.  Perfect expression of Barbera, from start to everlasting finish.  www.cooperwines.com

Andis Wines 2015 Bill Dillian Vineyard Semillon; Shenandoah Valley, Amador County, California:   This snappy, unoaked wine is a fine example of new world Semillon.  Well balanced with juicy peaches and nectarines at the core, laced with fresh chopped herbs, lanolin, and beeswax. Viscous and medium bodied with a velvety texture, and a finish that shows a spry pop of citrus.   www.andiswines.com

Sentivo Vineyards & Winery 2015 Syrah Rosé; Fair Play, California:  This delicious Provence style dry Rosé captures the eye with its glittering peachy pink hue.  Cranberry, wild berry, orange zest, watermelon and notes of charcuterie create a bright burst of flavors on entry.  The wine keeps on impressing as it expands through the mid and back palate with well placed acidity, purity of fruit, and depth of lip-smacking flavors.  Finishes long, with good lift.  www.sentivovineyards.com

Gems in My Glass . . . December 2017

Tasting Notes

Hawthorne Vineyards 2015 Barrel Reserve Chardonnay; Old Mission Peninsula, Michigan:  This well-structured Chardonnay opens with intoxicating aromas of spice and baked pears.  Bright and smoothly textured in the mouth, with flavors of savory pear chutney, juicy apples, blanched almonds, leesy notes and well integrated oak from French barrel aging. The extended finish is lifted by a splash of citrus.   www.hawthornevineyards.com

Black Star Farms 2013 Arcturos Cabernet Franc; Old Mission Peninsula; Michigan: The marvelous dark fruit aromas will take your breath away.  Striking perfect balance, this gem displays layers of blackberries, plums, graphite, olallieberries, and subtle spices on the palate.  Just the right touch of roasted bell pepper reconfirms varietal correctness without being over the top; delicious.    www.blackstarfarms.com

Brengman Brothers 2013 Gewurztraminer; Leelanau Peninsula, Michigan:  From a cooler vintage comes this remarkably fragranced, enticing Gewurztraminer.  Streamlined, well balanced and focused with flavors of lychee, star fruit, citrus blossom and subtle herb accents complemented by a racy level of acidity.  Nice restraint in alcohol (11.2%), too.  Expect this gem to age gracefully for several years ahead.    www.brengmanbrothers.com

Bel Lago Vineyards & Winery 2012 Marino Reserve Vineyard Pinot Noir; Leelanau Peninsula, Michigan:  For years I’ve touted Charlie Edson’s masterful Pinot Noir, and here is another fine example.  This extraordinary wine, reminiscent of a red Burgundy, opens with forest floor notes.  Black cherry, wild mushrooms, raspberry, minerality, and licorice notes entwine with subtle oak from French barrel aging.  Ethereal and well defined, it’s delectable now, and I envision many years of enjoyment ahead. www.bellagowinery.com

Holly’s Hill Vineyards 2015 Picpoul; El Dorado, California:  This distinctive, creatively made Picpoul is fascinating!  Dry hopped, it opens with tropical aromas, and YES, a note of hops.   In the mouth, layers of dried pineapple, hints of mango, orange blossom, peach skin and yeasty notes prevail.  Delightfully unique and well balanced as it makes it way to a finish that warms you right up!    www.hollyshill.com

Saluti Cellars 2014 Estate Zinfandel; Sierra Foothills, California:  This jammy, expressive wine proclaims Zinfandel with its alluring berry filled scents.  Boysenberry, ripe plums, hints of orange peel and blackberry jam interlace with cherry soda notes, nutmeg and clove spices, while gliding smoothly across the palate.  Nicely balanced, fresh and pure  through the persistent finish.    www.saluticellars.com

Gems in My Glass . . . November 2017

Tasting Notes

Navarro Vineyards 2015 Deep End Blend Pinot Noir; Anderson Valley, Mendocino, California:  Seductive earthy, floral aromas up front lead to richness and elegance from first sip to last drop.  Alluring flavors of cherry, cedar, pomegranate, licorice and blood orange mingle with exotic spices unfolding on the palate.  Aged in French oak barrels for sixteen months, and skillful management keeps the oak nicely placed in the background.  Complex and well defined with refined tannins, and good lift on the memorable finish.  SRP: $55 www.navarrowine.com

Navarro Vineyards 2015 Methode a l’Ancienne Pinot Noir; Anderson Valley, Mendocino, California:  Deeply fruited and engaging on the nose, here is a vibrant and pure PN with black cherry, wild raspberry, sassafras, hints of mushroom and a savory spice element weaving throughout.  Silky smooth and ethereal with a brightness on the finish that sings.  SRP:  $32  www.navarrowine.com

Reustle Prayer Rock Vineyards 2015 Cana Bloc Pinot Gris; Umpqua Valley, Oregon:  Opening with entrancing citrus blossom and stone fruit on the nose, here is a finely balanced Pinot Gris.  Vivid and fresh with Granny Smith apples, tree ripened nectarines, a touch of grapefruit, and honeysuckle melding in harmony.  Smoothly textured with bracing acidity through the long finish.  SRP:  $23 www.reustlewines.com

Reustle Prayer Rock Vineyards 2014 Pishon Bloc Pinot Noir; Umpqua Valley, Oregon:  Burgundian in style, this PN fully draws you in with its fragrant earthy, wild berry aroma.  On the palate, raspberries, cherry cola, anise seed and hints of forest floor entwine in precise balance, and the 65% new French oak barrel aging adds lovely oak spice nuances.  Expressive and stylish with a lingering finale.  SRP:  $35 www.reustlewines.com

Rain Dance Vineyards 2015 Estate Pinot Noir; Chehalem Mountains, Willamette Valley, Oregon:  From Jory and Laurewood soils comes this fruit dominant, well balanced and lively Pinot Noir.  Black cherry, wild raspberry, and tart cranberry fruits join a touch of spice, and subtle oak (10 months aging in 33% new French, 22% one year French and 45% neutral French oak barrels).  A touch of earth peeks through on the pleasing finish.  SRP:  $30 www.raindancevineyards.com

Succession Wines 2016 Antoine Creek Rosé; Columbia Valley, Washington:  This Pinot Noir based dry rosé has lovely density of fruit while remaining vivacious and well balanced from the moment it hits your lips.  Strawberry preserves, red cherries and wild raspberries entwine on the palate with herb infused tisane notes and a hint of fresh squeezed lemons.  SRP:  $22 www.successionwines.com

Domaine Papagiannakos Retsina; Traditional Appellation Mesoagaia, Greece:   Much appreciated in its native country, Retsina is distinctive and it may take a few sips to acquire a taste for it.  I find this Retsina quite quaffable!  Crafted of the drought resistant Savatiano grape and resin from pine trees in Attica, the piney, eucalyptus leaf aroma is indeed distinctive.  The palate offers flavors of menthol, yellow apples, eucalyptus, lemon zest and a note of salinity; refreshing and well balanced, too.   SRP:  ~$14 www.papagiannakos.gr

Jeff Runquist Wines 2014 Silvaspoons Vineyard “R” Tannat; Lodi, California:   Tannat, a grape more widely planted in Uruguay, has found a home in Lodi.  This focused, deeply fruited example struts out with cranberry, cocoa dusted blackberries, and boysenberry pie flavors, accented by fresh herbs and tobacco.  Round and rich with velvety tannins and fine balance, it finishes persistently with notes of vanilla and spice from French and American oak aging. SRP:  $26 www.jeffrunquistwines.com

Walla Walla Vintners 2012 Cut Bank Estate Cabernet Sauvignon; Walla Walla Valley, Washington:  This sophisticated blend of 80% Cabernet Sauvignon, 16% Merlot and 4% Petit Verdot leads off with classic aromas to please any Cabernet Sauvignon fan.  Cassis, black cherry and a touch of herbs gets the juices flowing.  Multi-dimensional, pure and precisely balanced, with notes of blueberries, savory spice, tobacco, and oak nuances kicking in mid palate through the extended finish.  A backbone of firm tannins suggests ageworthiness; decant if enjoying now.  SRP:  $60 www.wallawallavintners.com

 

 

 

Gems in My Glass . . . October 2017

Tasting Notes

Trojak~Knier Winery 2016 Chardonnay; Napa Valley, California:  The compelling aroma of a fresh, buttery croissant is mouthwatering.  Flavors of sun-ripened stone fruit, lemon zest, minerality, sweet hay, subtle oak spice and a touch of herbs interweave, exhilarating the palate.  Balanced and multi-dimensional, with bracing acidity that lifts the wine through the long-lasting final drop. Trojak~Knier hit a home run with this superb Chardonnay.  SRP:  $48 www.trojakknier.com

Trojak~Knier Winery 2015 Sangiovese; Napa Valley, California:  Remarkably expressive on the nose, with dusty earth, bramble berries, and a hint of crushed spearmint leaves drawing you in.  Focused and well balanced, as flavors of strawberries, tart red cherries, Italian herbs, hints of earth and savory spices fill the mouth, keeping you more than satisfied.  The classic Sangiovese acidity never wavers, and you’ll be delighted in the finish, which never lets up.  SRP:  $40 www.trojakknier.com

Trojak~Knier Winery 2015 Syrah; Napa Valley, California:  A rich fragrance of grilled meat and black fruits set the stage for this intensely flavored, powerfully structured Syrah.  Distinctive layers of wild forest blackberries, pungent spice, a touch of smoke, and ripe black plums frame a firm backbone of tannins.  The mouth feel is luxurious, and the balance is meticulous.  I envision a long life ahead for this beauty, if you have the patience to wait (if not, decant now). SRP:  $64 www.trojakknier.com

Trojak~Knier Winery 2016 Pinot Noir; Napa Valley, California:  Intoxicating at first whiff, as notes of black truffles and violets come to mind.  The pale ruby hue suggests delicacy, and indeed this gem is elegant.  But just wait – the vivid flavor profile bursts with precisely defined flavors.  Wild cherries, underlying forest floor, cranberries, Chinese five spice, licorice and sandalwood mingle harmoniously, and the texture is as smooth as silk.  The dreamy finish will tempt you into another pour.  SRP:  $58 www.trojakknier.com

Cantine Lunae Bosoni 2015 Vermentino Etichetta Grigia (grey label); Colli di Luni DOC; Liguria, Italy:  Sleek and fanciful, with lots of personality as flavors of lemon grass, nectarine and star fruit, herbaceous notes and a hint of lime soda fan out onto the palate.  Razor sharp acidity buoys the wine from start to vibrant, refreshing finish.  Food pairing:  SRP:  ~$20  www.cantinelunae.it

Roederer Estate NV Brut; Anderson Valley, California: This sparkling blend of 58% Chardonnay and 42% Pinot Noir offers up an expressive aroma with hints of fresh baked bread, and the lively mousse is captivating. Bartlett pear, honeysuckle and citrusy notes on the palate are complemented by a firm spine of acidity.  Elegant and pure, with a long-lasting finish, and easy on the pocketbook, too.  SRP:  $23.99 www.roedererestate.com

Tonti Winery 2013 Old Vine Zinfandel Reserve; Russian River Valley, California:  Here is a jammy Zinfandel that is bound to please Zin lovers near and far.  Opulent and pure with impressive depth, it coats the palate with juicy boysenberries, fresh black raspberries, purple plums, vanilla bean, toasty oak notes and underlying spice.  Finishes with depth and lift.  SRP:  $50     www.tontifamilywines.com

B.R. Cohn Winery 2015 Sangiacomo Vineyard Chardonnay; Carneros, California:  Glorious aromatics capture lovely fruit elements, citrus blossom and a nice touch of oak without being over the top.  Rich and smoothly textured as layers of baked apple, lemon-lime, hints of ginger, and cinnamon flecked toast interlace.  Full bodied and well balanced with a creamy, extended finish.  SRP: $35  www.brcohn.com

Cliff Lede Vineyards 2014 High Fidelity Red Wine; Napa Valley, California:  Here’s a stunning blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot.  The fragrant, provocative aroma makes way for layer after layer of blackberry, cassis, woodsy notes, wild mushrooms, warm spiced plums, and anise seed unwinding on the palate. The 75% new French oak is precisely managed, giving the wine subtle oak spice nuances.   Firm tannins wrap it up perfectly; an ageworthy selection.   SRP:  $85  www.cliffledevineyards.com

 

2017 Michigan Wine Competition and Winery Visits, Part 2

Gems in MY Glass . . ., Michigan, Tasting Notes

Noteworthy Red Wines, Rosé Wines, Fruit Wines and Dessert Wines

Part 2 of my 2017 Michigan Wine Competition and Winery Visits article focuses on noteworthy red wines, rosé wines, fruit wines and dessert wines.  Those noted are among the judges favorites at the competition, and  wines I tasted while visiting the Old Mission Peninsula and Leelanau Peninsula AVAs after the competition concluded.  Gold and higher award notations are included for those wines entered in this year’s Michigan Wine Competition.

Rosé Wines

Chateau Fontaine 2016 Laughing Waters Rosé; Leelanau Peninsula:  This wildly expressive, well balanced dry Rosé crafted of Pinot Noir is chock full of red fruits.  Raspberry, strawberry, cherry and watermelon join tangerine accents and a dash of herbs creating a rainbow of flavors on the palate.  Lively and easy to quaff, with crisp acidity giving it lift and beautiful balance.  SRP:  $16 www.chateaufontaine.com  (Double Gold/Best of Class)

Black Star Farms 2016 Pinot Noir Blanc; Old Mission Peninsula:  The delicate pale pink tone of this engaging Rosé resulted from a direct-press right off the skins, shares Winemaker Lee Lutes.  This blend of Pinot Noir and Pinot Blanc reveals beautiful aromas, and juicy primary fruit on entry. A dazzling mouthful of strawberry, tart cherry, melon, and a splash of citrus enlivens the palate.  Exotic spice kicks in, and lingers through the persistent finish. SRP: $21 www.blackstarfarms.com (Double Gold)

Free Run Cellars 2016 Pinot Meunier Rosé; Lake Michigan Shore:  The brilliant pink sapphire hue is glittering.  Aromas and flavors of berries and spice grab your attention. In the mouth, it is fresh and provocative, with layers of red cherry, blueberry, savory spice, blanched almonds and subtle smoky nuances.  Racy acidity carries this zesty wine to a vibrant finish. SRP: $16.99  www.freeruncellars.com (Gold)

Red Wines

Bel Lago Vineyards & Winery 2006 Pinot Noir; Leelanau Peninsula:  Wow, this Burgundian style Pinot Noir has aged beautifully.  The varietally spot-on aroma is absolutely mesmerizing. Multi-dimensional and refined on the palate as layers of black cherry, dried cranberry, licorice, wild mushroom, toasty oak, hints of sage, and forest floor elements unravel.  Silky in texture and precisely balanced, and the finish goes on endlessly!  www.bellagowinery.com

Bel Lago Vineyards & Winery 2006 PN is likely sold out, but seek out current releases.  The spicy, earthy and elegant 2012 North Vineyard PN, the spicy, uber expressive 2013 North Vineyard PN, and the black cherry, mushroom-dusted 2012 Moreno Vineyard Reserve PN, (wines I tasted with owner/winemaker Charlie Edson) are each equally compelling, and clearly promise cellar worthiness.  I’ve tasted several vintages of Charlie’s PN over the years and continue to be impressed. Not only when the wines are released, but after many years of aging, they are exquisite. SRP:  $30 (North Vineyard 2012), $35 (North Vineyard 2013), $46 Moreno Vineyard Reserve www.bellagowinery.com

Black Star Farms 2013 Leorie Vineyard Merlot Cabernet Franc; Old Mission Peninsula: This sophisticated blend of Merlot and Cabernet Franc broadcasts generous blueberry fruit and mocha on the nose.  Pure and complex with layers of blackberry, blueberry preserves, toffee, roasted coffee bean, and a touch of graphite.  Firmly structured and precisely balanced with firm tannins, and the aftertaste lingers long after the last sip.  This star declares cellar worthiness, too.   SRP:  $42  www.blackstarfarms.com

Mari Vineyards 2013 Bestiary Red; Old Mission Peninsula:  This exemplary red blend, crafted of 60% Blaufränkisch, 30% Zweigelt and 10% Lagrein, offers up an enticing aroma.  Seductive and well balanced in the mouth, as black cherry, blackberry, plum, dried cranberry, earthiness, and savory spice notes interlace.  Skillful aging in neutral French barrels places the understated oak perfectly in the background, and the finish is smooth and long.  SRP:  $24  www.marivineyards.com

Chateau Fontaine 2015 Woodland Red; Leelanau Peninsula:  Aromas of a warm berry pie rise from the glass as you take the first whiff of this palate pleasing dry red blend (40% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Cab Franc, 12% Merlot and 8% Syrah).  Co-owner Dan Matthies shared that he and his wife Lucie began planting grapes in 1987.  They were the first to grow Syrah in Michigan, and the first to grow Cab Sauv in Leelanau.  This blend is round and luscious with flavors of blackberry, plum, nutmeg spice, blueberry, and earthy notes coating the mouth.  Smoothly textured with firm tannins and a gratifying finish.  SRP:  $36  www.chateaufontaine.com

Hawthorne Vineyards 2012 Bruce’s Blend Pinot Noir; Old Mission Peninsula:  This elegant Pinot Noir, aged in 60% new French oak barrels, opens with hints of violets and cherry cola on the nose.   Complex and nicely structured, it broadens on the palate with cassis, black cherry, Asian tea spices, hints of earthiness and cloves. Silky tannins and toasty oak nuances add further dimension as it makes it way to a charming finale. SRP:  $45 www.hawthornevineyards.com

Brengman Brothers 2013 Crain Hill Vineyards Right Bank; Leelanau Peninsula:  Reminiscent of an old-world style Bordeaux, this stunning blend is crafted of 75% Cab Franc and 25% Merlot.  Deep and complex with well delineated flavors of black fruit, earthiness, cassis, hints of roasted meat, tobacco, graphite and leather.  Exactly balanced with firmly structured tannins and a core of solid fruit speaks clearly to its ageworthiness.   $50 www.brengmanbrothers.com

Brengman Brothers 2015 Cabernet Franc; Leelanau Peninsula:  This 100% Cab Franc wows with its classic aromas of lead pencil shavings and cassis, and flavors march to the same tune.  In the mouth, finely grained tannins frame black currant, dark cherry, roasted red bell pepper, tart cranberry, cedar, roasted beets, graphite and crushed herbs.  Impressive depth and complexity; decant if enjoying now.   $50 www.brengmanbrothers.com

Walloon Lake Winery NV North Arm Noir; Tip of the Mitt:  Here’s a richly textured, highly aromatic dry red wine; a blend of 75% Marquette and 25% Frontenac (French American hybrids). Aromas of forest fruits waft from the glass.  This bold wine delivers delectable layers of blackberry jam, Bing cherry, fresh ground peppercorns and mushrooms to the palate, and hints of caramel linger on the finish. SRP:  $17.99 www.walloonlakewinery.com  (Double Gold/Best of Class)

Lemon Creek Winery NV Pleasant Run Red; Lake Michigan Shore:  If you favor a bit of sweetness in your red wine, this fanciful semi-dry red will please your palate!  Crafted of 80% Chambourcin and 20% Chancellor (French American hybrids), it boasts a deep purple hue and is pleasantly aromatic.  Soft and round on the palate, with bountiful ripe berries and sweet red cherries at the core accented by earth and cedar notes.   SRP:  $10 www.lemoncreekwinery.com  (Gold/Best of Class)

Fruit Wines

Chateau Grand Traverse NV Cherry Reserve; Michigan:  This decadent “port style” wine is brimming with red and black cherry aromas and flavors.  Wonderfully textured and rich on the palate, with notes of caramel, blood orange and chocolate-covered roasted coffee beans joining the dense cherry goodness.  Lovely acidity keeps this gem exactly balanced and you’ll soon be reaching for another pour.  SRP:  $19 www.cgtwines.com  (Double Gold)

Mackinaw Trail Winery NV Blueberry; Michigan:  If you are a fresh blueberry fan, put this on your shopping list!  Pure, balanced and lively, with the essence of blueberries on the nose. This wine also displays a glorious expression on the palate, as it delivers gobs of sweet blueberries, mixed-berry gelato, a touch of candied cherries, and a trace of spice.  A yummy afternoon quaff.  SRP:  $13.50 (Double Gold/Best of Class) www.mackinawtrailwinery.com

Dessert Wines

St Julian Wine Company NV Solera Cream Sherry; Lake Michigan Shore: This heavenly, potent elixir is richly textured and mouth filling, without being cloying.  So seductive is the aroma, you’ll want to linger over the glass before taking the first sip.  Savor the scrumptious tastes of butterscotch pudding with a dollop of orange zest scented whipped cream, cinnamon-dusted almonds, roasted pecans, and crème caramel. Striking acidity keeps it balanced to a T.  SRP:  $15.99  www.stjulian.com (Double Gold/Best of Class)

Black Star Farms NV Sirius Raspberry Dessert Wine; Michigan:  Crafted from estate grown raspberries and fortified with Black Star Farms grape brandy, this port style wine is seriously excellent!  The sheer deliciousness of fresh raspberries takes center stage, with accents of fig jam, orange marmalade and a drop of honey.  Warm and rich on the palate, a simply delectable dessert in a glass.    SRP:  $27.50 (375ml) www.blackstarfarms.com (Gold)

For a full list of the 2017 Michigan Wine Competition results, visit www.michiganwines.com, and for further details check out the individual winery websites.

There are now five AVA’s in Michigan.  In addition to Leelanau Peninsula and Old Mission Peninsula located in the northwest, you’ll find the Fennville AVA and Lake Michigan Shore AVA in the southern part of the state, and the most recently declared AVA (designated in 2016), Tip of the Mitt, located in the north central area of Michigan.  I’ve yet to visit all five, but based on the quality of wines I’ve tasted from Michigan, you can be sure I’ll be planning to so, hopefully in the not-to-distant future.  You may wish to do the same, you’ll be glad you did!

2017 Michigan Wine Competition and Winery Visits, Part l

Gems in MY Glass . . ., Michigan, Tasting Notes

Michigan hits a Grand Slam on 2016 White Wines

Judging the Michigan Wine Competition is always enlightening, this year being no exception!  A total of 380 wines were evaluated, and judges were excited about the quality of wines entered this year.  Of particular note was the significant number of Gold Medal white wines (51) sent to the Sweepstakes rounds.

My ensuing trek to the Leelanau Peninsula and Old Mission Peninsula reinforced what was suggested at the competition; 2016 was indeed one impressive vintage in this cool climate wine region.  The sparkling and white wines noted are among the judges favorites at the competition, and wines I tasted while visiting these two picturesque AVAs after the competition concluded.  Gold and higher award notations are included for those wines entered in this year’s Michigan Wine Competition.

Sparkling Wines

Mawby NV Grace Brut Rosé; Leelanau Peninsula: Produced in the traditional method, this dazzling bubble is a blend of 98% Pinot Noir and 2% Regent (a dark-skinned hybrid grape). Aromas of fresh baked pie crust lead the way, followed by red raspberry, red cherry, wild blackberry, blood orange, and a sprinkling of spice. A brilliant thread of acidity caps off the lively, lip-smacking package.  SRP:  $23 www.lmawby.com  (Gold/Best of Class)

Mawby NV Talisman Brut, also from the Leelanau Peninsula AVA, has long been a favorite of mine.  This sparkling wine, a blend of Vignoles, Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, and Chardonnay is one I’ve followed year after year.  Opening with classic yeasty aromas on the nose, it bursts onto the palate with vibrancy.  A stream of tiny bubbles transports crisp apples, star fruit, brioche, citrus, hints of toasty oak, and blanched almonds to a lifted finish.  SRP: $37 www.lmawby.com

Black Star Farms NV Delighted; Leelanau Peninsula:  This charismatic sweet sparkling Rosé bubbly is aptly named, it will keep you delighted!  Crafted of Frontenac Gris, it’s crisp and fresh, and the sweetness is balanced by a good level of acidity.  Floral aromas drive you into the glass, and succulent strawberry, raspberry sorbet, and watermelon flavors accented by sweet Meyer lemon and a touch of spice simply dance on the palate.  SRP: $15.50 www.blackstarfarms.com (Gold)

Shady Lane Cellars 2016 Estate Sparkling Riesling; Leelanau Peninsula:  Bright and lean, this Sparkling Riesling showcases a steady stream of pinpoint bubbles and a lovely Riesling fruit profile, pleasing the eye, the nose and the palate.  Loaded with juicy sun-ripened peaches, nectarines, crisp pears, a touch of minerality, crushed herbs and lime zest, it engages from first, to last refreshing sip.  SRP:  $25 www.shadylanecellars.com

White Wines

Verterra Winery 2016 Dry Riesling; Leelanau Peninsula:  Delightfully expressive aromas and a bright entry completely wakes up the senses.  Perfectly balanced and lively as white peach, pear sorbet, lemon verbena, and wet stone minerality entwine on the palate.  Racy acidity provides a solid backbone, and the well-defined flavors extend from the moment it hits your lips, to the prolonged finale. SRP: ~$16 www.verterrawinery.com (Gold/Best of Class)

Bel Lago Vineyards and Winery NV Pinot Grigio/Chardonnay; Leelanau Peninsula:  This snappy dry white blend, crafted of 75% Pinot Grigio (2015) and 25% Chardonnay (2016), really hits the spot.  Fresh and bright with green apples, Asian pears, tropical fruits, subtle oak nuances, and lemon-lime accents enlivening the palate.  Well balanced and shimmering through the final drop.   SRP:  $14 www.bellagowinery.com (Double Gold)

Bel Lago Vineyards & Winery 2016 Gewurztraminer; Leelanau Peninsula:  A stellar new world Gewurz that broadcasts a captivating floral aroma.  Energetic flavors of lychee, papaya, fresh guava juice, minerality, a touch of spice, and orange zest create a kaleidoscope of flavors from the minute this wine hits your lips.  The balance is immaculate, the mouth feel is satin smooth, and the aftertaste lingers on and on.  SRP:  $18 www.bellagowinery.com

Black Star Farms 2016 Arcturos Semi-Dry Riesling; Michigan:  The inviting aroma of fresh picked peaches and cream entrances the senses.  The palate echoes the fresh peaches on the nose, which intertwine harmoniously with nectarine, minerally notes, honeysuckle and citrus-flecked Gala apples.  Bracing acidity keeps it meticulously balanced through the polished finish, and the silky texture is divine.   SRP:  ~$18.00 www.blackstarfarms.com (Gold)

Brengman Brothers 2013 Unoaked Chardonnay; Leelanau Peninsula:  Focused and steely with razor sharp acids, this sleek Chardonnay shows off the purity of the grape.  Crisp Granny Smith apples laced with bright lemon citrus notes, beeswax, a suggestion of brioche, and honeysuckle caress the palate.  The balance is spot on, and the flavors linger well beyond the last sip.  Watch for the 2016 vintage soon to be released, it should be another beauty.  SRP:  $30  www.brengmanbrothers.com

Brengman Brothers 2013 Estate Crain Hill Vineyards Riesling Spatlese; Leelanau Peninsula:  Wet stone aromas remind me of a walk along a babbling brook.  This elegant, medium sweet Riesling is multi-layered, with nectarines, crisp pears, tree ripened peaches, and candied orange lifted by racy acidity. Lean and well balanced with a persistent, mouthwatering finish.   (Their 2016 Riesling Spatlese is not yet released.)   $24.95 www.brengmanbrothers.com (Gold)

Brys Estate Vineyard & Winery 2016 Pinot Blanc; Old Mission Peninsula:  This extraordinary Pinot Blanc immediately engages the senses with its captivating aroma. Mouthwateringly delicious from the start, with passion fruit, guava, sweet tangerine, minerally notes, crisp apples and citrus blossom accents cascading onto the palate.  Fresh and fine-tuned with exacting balance and a long, memorable finish.  SRP:  $25 www.brysestate.com

Brys Estate Vineyard & Winery 2016 Dry Riesling; Old Mission Peninsula:  Crisp and bright with a fine thread of minerality, this stunning Riesling displays classic cool climate Riesling.  Lean and pure with flavors of white peaches, nectarines and dried apricots harmonizing with the minerality.  A kick of citrus on the finish adds just the right touch.  Beautifully structured and balanced from start to finish.  SRP: $22 www.brysestate.com

Tabor Hill Winery 2016 Gewurztraminer; Lake Michigan Shore:  An inviting perfumed aroma greets the nose at first whiff with this thirst quenching Gewurz.  Bright, and true to variety with flavors of lychee, fresh squeezed grapefruit juice, mango, and apricot preserves joining minerality and honeysuckle notes flowing across the palate.  A brilliant finish caps it off perfectly.  SRP:  ~$12 www.taborhill.com (Double Gold/Best of Class)

Chateau Fontaine 2016 Pinot Blanc; Leelanau Peninsula:  Fresh sliced pineapple aromas wafting from the glass get the juices flowing. This well-crafted Pinot Blanc is lush and layered, with banana chips, grilled pineapple, hints of toast, sautéed apple, almond paste and crushed herb accents flowing across the palate, pure and finely balanced.    SRP: $18  www.chateaufontaine.com  (Gold)

Left Foot Charley 2016 Le Caban Riesling; Old Mission Peninsula: Intense aromatics and flavors confidently proclaim Riesling here!  Stone fruit and minerality abound, with a razor sharp level of acidity that catapults this wine to great heights.  Finely structured with well delineated peach, lime-accented nectarine, Honeycrisp apple and subtle herbs, it is clear-cut and spirited all the way through.  SRP: $18  www.leftfootcharley.com (Double Gold)

Left Foot Charley 2016 OMP Riesling; Old Mission Peninsula:  Wet stone minerality on the nose lays claim to what’s in the glass.  Peach, nectarine and lemon-lime soda join minerally notes that are echoed on the palate.  The succulent fruit meets up with striking acids creating a colorful explosion of flavors on the palate; and the finish is long lasting.  SRP:  $20 www.leftfootcharley.com

Left Foot Charley Hard Cider:  I would be remiss not to mention the delicious hard ciders crafted by Winemaker/Cidermaker Bryan Ulbrich, as well.  Favorites include The Cunning Ham, a rustic, dry hard cider; Antrim County Hard Cider, a juicy and fresh hard cider with rockin’ acidity; and their spicy Cinnamon Girl Cider, that will take you back to Grandma’s warm, spiced apple pie! www.leftfootcharley.com

Hawthorne Winery 2016 Pinot Blanc; Old Mission Peninsula:  Tasting this, another magnificently crafted Pinot Blanc, got me thinking that this variety may be just as ideally suited to plant in Michigan as Riesling and other aromatic whites that stand out here.  This stylish Pinot Blanc is delicately floral on the nose, with broad flavors of Golden Delicious apples, tropical melon, hazelnuts, citrusy elements and underlying minerality.   SRP:  $18 www.hawthornevineyards.com

Chateau Grand Traverse 2016 Block Twelve Riesling; Old Mission Peninsula:  Aromas of crushed stone arouse the senses with this juicy, medium dry Riesling.  Sun ripened peaches, grapefruit, candied citrus peel and minerally notes entwine seamlessly.   Nicely weighted with zippy acidity, and refreshing crushed herbs peeking through on the engaging finish.  SRP:  $19  www.chateaugrandtraverse.com (Gold)

St. Julian Winery 2016 Braganini Reserve Traminette; Lake Michigan Shore:  Heavenly aromas of tropical fruit lead the way with this sassy semi-dry Traminette (French American hybrid). Mouthfilling flavors of melon, sweet peaches, fresh apricots, lychee, a pinch of spice, and lemon meringue pie are offset by a firm backbone of acidity.  SRP:  $14.99 www.stjulian.com  (Gold)

Shady Lane Cellars 2016 Hennessey Vineyard Pinot Gris; Leelanau Peninsula:  Winemaker Kasey Wierzba conveys that the grapes for this gem are from the southern facing slope of their estate Hennessey Vineyard. Velvety in texture and deliciously dry, it bursts with aromas and flavors of stone fruit, honeydew melon, mango and a pinch of herbs, finishing with a pleasing note of chamomile tea, a sunny, flavorful Pinot Gris.   SRP:  $16 www.shadylanecellars.com

Mari Vineyards 2016 Gruner Veltliner (pre-release tank sample); Old Mission Peninsula:  Gruner is one of my favorite white varieties, and this sample assures me I’ve found another winning example.  Zesty and fresh with classic white pepper on the nose.  On the palate, grapefruit, guava, fresh pea shoots and chamomile flavors are unveiled, with a clear thread of minerality. Aging on the lees adds texture, spice and complexity.  Already uber expressive, watch for this wine’s release, soon.  Winemaker Sean O’Keefe also crafted Sezession, the first sparkling Gruner Veltliner I have ever tasted; another superb gem!

Stay tuned for the continuation of this article:  Part 2, Noteworthy Red Wines, Rosé Wines, Fruit Wines and Dessert Wines, to be posted shortly.

Meanwhile, for a full list of the 2017 Michigan Wine Competition results, visit www.michiganwines.com, and for further details, check out the individual winery websites.

 

 

 

 

Engaging Wine Writers Invitational in Lake County

Tasting Notes

Strolling through vineyards, caves and wineries, and enlightening discussions with vintners and winemakers in Lake County reminded me once again that a prize of a wine region has blossomed here.  Our first stop at Gregory Graham Wines tasting room began the unveiling of noteworthy sips.  Their 2013 Bartolucci Vineyard Viognier is superb.  Apple blossom and stone fruit aromas get the juices flowing.  Apricots, honey-drizzled apples and spiced peach pie flavors glimmer on the palate.  Fermenting in neutral oak barrels and stainless-steel tanks gives this complex Viognier further depth and definition.  Their 2012 Red Hills Syrah, 2014 Chardonnay, 2012 Cab Sauvignon, and 2013 Magma Red (Bordeaux blend of Cab Franc, Petit Verdot, Malbec and Cab Sauv) are also luscious.

A visit to Boatique Winery Kelseyville followed.  Not only are there nice wines to be appreciated, but the eye is treated to an extraordinary display of rare wooden boats.  One of my favorite wines here is the 2014 Red Hills AVA Cabernet Sauvignon.  Dark fruits and tobacco on the nose set the stage for the lush mouthful of elderberry jam, blackberries, tobacco and vanilla custard, accented by underlying oak nuances.  I also appreciate their beautifully crafted 2016 Sauvignon Blanc Musqué from the Big Valley AVA, aged in concrete egg tanks, with its tropical fruit, subtle herbs, citrus accents, and smooth texture.

A leisurely drive to the other side of the lake took us to Clearlake Oaks for our check-in at Stonehouse Cellars. There, we were greeted warmly by Stonehouse Cellars’ COO Tamara Richmond, and local Sommelier Stephanie Cruz-Green (who organized the event).  This historic property boasts a vineyard, ranch, agricultural homestay and a savvy, new upscale Bed and Breakfast with a modern, open and fully equipped kitchen that flows to a spacious dining/living area, where a tasty array of wines, cheeses and fresh fruits awaited us upon our arrival.  Touring the acreage gave us the opportunity to take in the beguiling historic guest house, carefully-tended-to vineyards, and four-legged friends including sheep, llamas, and a family of squirrels dashing in and around the stone walls crafted of stones from the property.  Also located on site is their winery, from which the first estate wine, a 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon, will soon be bottled and released.  The barrel taste was lovely, looking forward to tasting the finished wine later this year!

Our next stop took us to the stately Brassfield Estate Winery, where we were welcomed by Director of Winemaking Matt Hughes, and attentive staff members, who prepared a gorgeous evening repast.  The scrumptious fresh fish tacos and additional delights paired nicely with their lineup of well-crafted wines. The vast estate encompasses 2,500 acres, with vineyards sitting at elevations from 1,800 feet on the valley floor up to nearly 3,000 feet at the peak of the property.  The acreage spans across sections of High Valley, Lake Serenity and the Round Mountain Volcano. The trip up to the top of the 256-acre property and down to their expansive caves, in a four-wheel drive vehicle, was an experience not to be forgotten!  The wild, exhilarating ride revealed exquisite views of the towering Mt. Konocti, serene Clear Lake and its surrounds. Their miles of caves support the winery’s commitment to growth for years to come.

Brassfield Estate treated us to a compelling Lake County Sauvignon Blanc, their 2016 vintage from the High Valley AVA.  Bright and minerally up front, with an alluring aroma that wakes up the senses.  Crisp melon, stone fruit, lemon verbena, grapefruit and fresh squeezed lime flavors enliven the palate, and the texture is divine.  Their 2016 dry Rosé, a blend of Syrah and Grenache, is equally lovely.  Notes of watermelon, a touch of spice, raspberry gelato, and citrusy accents flow across the palate with perfect balancing acidity. It’s vibrant and mouthwatering through the long finish.  Their intense and well-structured 2014 Cab Sauvignon from the High Valley AVA delivers a solid core of pretty fruit, skillful oak management, and firm tannins.  When you visit, don’t miss their impressive 2016 Grenache, 2014 Eruption (blend of Malbec, Syrah and Petite Sirah), and 2014 Petite Sirah, as well.

Back to Stone House Cellars for a nightcap and a good night’s sleep, before heading out the next morning to Shannon Ridge Family of Wines.  Joy Merrilees, Director of Winemaking and Production, and Production Assistant Ben Neyman met us in the winery’s lively tasting room, offering views of their precisely manicured, certified sustainable vineyards.   We thoroughly enjoyed the tasting of their three 2016 Sauvignon Blancs, which clearly showcased the unique terroir expression of different AVAs in Lake County.  Their 2016 High Valley Vineyards SB with its loamy soils is linear and mineral driven, with layers of citrus, nectarine, and fresh herb elements.  Their 2016 Vigilance SB from the crushed pumice, volcanic soils of the Red Hills AVA, is rounder in the mouth, with ripe tropical fruit flavors of pineapple and guava joining hands with crisp green apple and subtle spice.  Their 2016 Shannon Ridge High Elevation SB crafted of fruit from the High Valley, Red Hills and Big Valley appellations, is crisp and vibrant with fresh summer grass notes playing off Bosch pear, peach, kiwi and citrusy accents, sleek and minerally with brisk acidity.  Each are well balanced, wonderfully bright and fresh; an extraordinary showing of the depth and high quality of Sauv Blancs coming from Lake County.   Don’t miss their remarkable Vigilance 2014 Red Hills Cab Sauvignon, 2014 Shannon Reserve Home Ranch Cab Sauvignon, and 2015 High Valley Petite Sirah, too.

Our next stop was Fore Family Vineyards, where we enjoyed their expressive, deep, dark and velvety 2015 Mourvedre, and elegant 2012 Cobb Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon, revealing wild berry fruits and just the right touch of oak (aged in neutral French barrels).  Both wines crafted from grapes grown in the Red Hills AVA.  Another easy to quaff wine is their 2013 Cobb Mountain Vineyard GSM, a plush, richly fruited, vanilla spiced blend of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre, also crafted from Red Hills AVA fruit.

On to our picturesque lunch setting among the super rocky vineyards of Obsidian Ridge, perched at an elevation of 2,640 feet, where we gained a true sense of place among the high altitude vines.  Their intense and complex Cabernet Sauvs are firmly structured, deeply fruited and ageworthy.  In addition to the current vintage (2014, noted below), we tasted a few earlier vintages with our delectable lunch.  Fresh air and cool breezes prevailed, as Co-Founder Arpad Molnar and Marketing/Sales Manager Jennifer La Rosa shared more about the wines, and the history of their 105-acre Obsidian Ridge Vineyard along the Mayacamas Mountains.  The 2011 Cab Sauv is drinking exquisitely, with an intense structure, dark fruit, tobacco, and a thread of minerality adding to its complexity.  The 2007 Half Mile Block (Cab Sauv and Petit Verdot blend) offers a deep hue, and fragrant violets on the nose.  In the mouth, it sings with bright red and black fruits, tea spice, and savory notes, all supported by a solid spine of firm tannins.  Meticulously integrated oak and hints of tobacco linger though the memorable finish.

Obsidian Ridge 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon (Red Hills AVA) is a charismatic wine, starting with the aromas of earth, shale, spice, and black fruit.  The palate displays tremendous depth, with blackberry, black currant and dark plum fruit melding with savory spice, leathery notes, and well placed oak nuances.  Multilayered and complex with a solid backbone of firm tannins foretelling its cellar worthiness.

Time to freshen up, and imbibe additional Lake County wines with our sumptuous dinner of lamb, salad and roasted root vegetables, back at Stonehouse Cellars.  Wines included Steele Wines 2012 Stymie Founder’s Reserve Merlot, that showcases a bowlful of fresh blueberries on the nose.  The fine aromatics are followed by juicy blueberry, fresh raspberry, and red currant fruits with accents of cinnamon, vanilla bean and oak spice elements titillating the palate.  R Vineyards expressive and vivacious 2015 Viognier offers up aromas of jasmine and sweet fruit, broadening in the mouth with honeysuckle, juicy guava, mango and clingstone peach flavors wrapped around a nice spine of acidity; brilliant.  The 2013 Six Sigma Ranch Tempranillo wows the palate with plum preserves, blackberries, crushed pink peppercorns, a touch of herbs and tobacco notes.  Mouthcoating and finely balanced.  Noggle Vineyards & Winery’s impressive 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon opens with stunning scents of cinnamon and clove, and blossoms on the palate with cherry, black raspberry, currants, tobacco, earthy notes, cocoa, and toasty oak spice; impeccably balanced with a persistent finish.  Another striking wine is the 2011 Hawk & Horse Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon from the Red Hills AVA.  Dark and delicious with layers of cassis, loganberries, black cherries, tobacco leaf, earth, cocoa and a hint of pencil shavings filling the palate.  Complex with firm tannins, it promises more years of enjoyment ahead.

Our final stop, engaging with Nick Buttitta at family owned Rosa d’Oro Vineyards, was delightful.   The family has been growing wine grapes in California since 1953.  In 2001, they founded Rosa d’Oro Vineyards, focused on crafting Italian varietal wines. The Buttittas have 14 acres of grapes planted in the Kelsey Bench AVA.  The charming tasting room is housed in an old bank building from the early 1900’s.  Nick’s stories are captivating, and the wines are varietally spot on and delicious. Their 2014 Nebbiolo is divine, starting with the heavenly berry, cherry aromas.  Rich and juicy on entry, it coats the palate with layers of raspberry, black cherry, and wild berries, hints of oak, and earthiness, and vibrant acidity carries the wine to a savory finish.  Other wines not to miss here are the lively, raspberry and herb-scented 2013 Aglianico, savory and well balanced 2014 Refosco, intensely aromatic and juicy 2014 Barbera, and jammy, boysenberry and spice-accented 2014 Primitivo.  A fitting finish to our gratifying trip, was Rosa d’Oro’s 2013 Carmen Dessert Wine, a gem crafted of 50% Refosco and 50% Tinta Roriz.   A rich, spiced plum, berry, toffee and dark chocolate accented wine to keep in mind when you are ready for a blissful nightcap!

From the Depths of the Cellar

Gems in MY Glass . . .

Notable wine journalist Dan Berger, his wife Juliann, fellow wine judge Tom Bohr, his partner Etha, and I recently dug into our wine cellars and pulled out a few aged bottles to share with friends over dinner at Ca’Bianca restaurant in Santa Rosa.  Admittedly, my cellar is not nearly as deep as Dan’s, nor Tom’s, but each bottle represented had been stored in ideal conditions, a must for properly aging wines.  The wines selected from the cellars of Dan and Tom, aged for decades, included a 1970 Napa Cab Sauv, a 1975 Napa Cab Sauv, a 1970 Margaux Bordeaux, and a 1976 Mosel-Saar-Ruwer (Germany) Riesling, among others.  My mature wine contribution was a 1998 Napa Cab (a mere 18.5 years aged).  Travel vicariously with me through the years:

Freemark Abbey 1987 Chardonnay; Napa Valley, California:  If you are one who thinks new world Chardonnay isn’t ageworthy; think again.  This elegant ~30-year-aged Chard displayed the color of a golden sunrise, and a bouquet that captured notes of honey-drizzled baked apples.  In the mouth it was velvety smooth, as layers of buttered toast, nuttiness, hints of earth, applesauce, creamy pears and citrusy accents were revealed.  The delightful finish was persistent.

Van Loben Sels 1970 Cabernet Sauvignon; Napa Valley, California:  Dan recalled this wine released at ~$12, and BV Reserve in those days was selling for ~$9 per bottle.  Imagine that!  The grapes were grown on the property across from Robert Mondavi Winery, which the Van Loben Sels’ then owned (now the site of Opus One Winery).  A pleasing earthy aroma set the stage for aged leather, spice box notes, tobacco leaf and dried currants on the palate.  Resolved tannins and nice oak nuances added further dimension.

Beaulieu Vineyard 1983 Georges de Latour Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon; Napa Valley, California:  Opened with an herbaceous aroma that led to harmonious notes of dried cherry, underbrush, orange peel, savory spice, cassis, a thread of minerality and subtle dark chocolate gracing the palate.  Fully integrated tannins and slight acids held up the mature fruit, and the pleasing finish boasted notes of toffee.

Chateau Brane-Cantenac 1970 Grand Cru Classé Bordeaux; Margaux, France:  This beautifully composed Grand Cru Classé exhibited an inviting bouquet, and incredible brightness considering its age.  Cherry, currant and dried earth melded with secondary notes of smoke and well-integrated oak, followed by tertiary flavors of saddle leather, baking spice and tobacco.  The wine finished gracefully with a touch of herbs and plenty of length.

Trimbach 1979 Cuvée Des Seigneurs De Ribeaupierre Gewurztraminer; Alsace, France:  The hue presented hints of age, and the nose offered nuttiness.  In the glass, this Gewurz showcased lovely fruit elements of lychee, honeysuckle and citrus, with a drop of honey and roasted almonds, all supported by a dynamic backbone of acidity.  The mouthfeel was silky, and the wine was nicely weighted.

Wehlener Sonnenuhr 1976 Riesling Spatlese; Mosel-Saar-Ruwer, Germany:  Wow.  A testament to the ageworthiness of this noble grape, this vivacious Riesling was wildly expressive with floral, slate and stone fruit aromas.  Sleek with a fine acid backbone, it delivered consistent flavors of peach and apricot accented by lime zest on the palate.  Minerally with remarkable liveliness through the memorable finish.

Inglenook Winery Reserve Cask 1983 Reunion Cabernet Sauvignon; Napa Valley, California:  This engaging Cab Sauv was sourced from Napa Valley vineyards, including plantings at the JJ Cohn Ranch.  It showcased earthiness, dried cherry, cassis, eucalyptus, cedar and savory spice elements from the satisfying aroma, through the palate, to the lifted finish.  This wine was holding its own, with the fruit at the core enveloped by soft tannins and still present acidity.

Caymus Vineyards 1975 Cabernet Sauvignon; Napa Valley, California: (Dan shared that this wine was crafted by Randy Dunn, who later, in 1979, founded Dunn Vineyards). This nicely aged wine opened with smoky overtones, worn leather notes, spicy nuances of French and American oak, tobacco, cassis, plummy fruit, and dusty earth accents.  Well defined with soft tannins, nice acids, and a finish that lingered on and on.

Robert Mondavi Winery 1998 Stags Leap District Cabernet Sauvignon; Napa Valley, California:  Fresh and bright, this appealing Cab Sauv enticed me into the glass with dark fruit and spice on the nose.  Full bodied with a beautiful texture, layers of cassis, plum jam, tobacco, boysenberry, anise, and underlying oak nuances filled the palate.  Supple tannins and nice acids support the pretty fruit; still youthful.

Wendouree 2003 Shiraz Mataro; Clare Valley, South Australia:  The minty, berry aroma clearly identified sense of place with this tasty, full bodied Australian red blend.  Layers of blackberry liqueur, dark cherries, red plums, oak spice and eucalyptus flowing onto the palate were buoyed by bracing acidity.  Well-structured and velvety smooth with precise balance and a vivid finish.

These gems, some of which had been bottled before some of us reached legal drinking age, were enlightening, eye opening, and a delight to sip and pair with Ca’Bianca’s delicious cuisine.  I look forward to exploring additional ageworthy wines in years ahead.  With patience over the next decade or two, perhaps some of the bottles in my cellar will still be resting, awaiting the right time to pop the cork for tasting, reviewing and sharing!

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