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Staff Favorites - Bryan Brick
2013 Gary Farrell "Russian River Selection" Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
Review Date: 11-24-2015
A few years back when Gary Farrell sold his winery we were all pretty bummed out. We thought, “Well there goes another iconic name down the drain.” Honestly time told us we were wrong. Why they may have had some growing pains when Gary finally left in 2007, the last few years the wines have been tremendous, especially since Theresa Heredia (Joseph Phelps, Freestone, Domaine de Montille ) became their full time winemaker in 2012. Since she has taken over we have been incredibly impressed with how the wines are at once delicate and powerful, fruity yet serious and ripe but fully dry. The 2013 Russian River Selection had plenty to offer and wildly overshot its $37.99 price point. In fact I’ve tasted plenty of $60 pinots this year that couldn’t hold a candle to this wine. Anise laced cherry fruit, wet red clay, boysenberry, white pepper and a touch of mocha combine on the wonderfully complex and powerful nose. Pliable and soft on entry with an expanse mouth feel this has both tons of fruit but also a skyscraper-like structure. Red and black berry fruits combine with well meshed oak toast, some bay leaf and an acid structure that is reminiscent of fresh farmer’s market persimmons. Blood orange, rhubarb, savory meaty qualities, and a return of the anise found on the nose squeeze into the packed and lovely finish. I’d love to see how this develops over the next 6-10 years; this will only grow into something even more special than it already is.
2014 Pomelo Sauvignon Blanc
Review Date: 11-24-2015
“Partyrific!” That is what I thought when I first tried the 2014 Pomelo Sauvignon Blanc. We’ve carried this wine forever, and year after year it comes to us and proves that it is one of the most rock solid $10 wines in the marketplace, regardless of varietal or region. The only difference this year is that Wine Spectator finally caught onto this little wine and gave it a 90 point score. We couldn’t believe it. Then just last week, when the Wine Spectator Top 100 of 2015 dropped, we were pleasantly surprised that it made the list at #40! Easily the least expensive wine on the list—we fought to secure as much as we can so we could pass this tremendous deal to you, our wonderful customers. With a surprisingly complex nose of talc, grapefruit, chalk and lemon curd, this wine over-delivers from the start. Fleshy and textural, with some noticeable lees-y richness, this wine will keep the masses happy with an overall nature that's kind of like a lemon meringue pie: both snappy and confectionary at the same time. Soft, pliable and full of tangy lemon thyme, orange peel, wet stone, pie crust and a long savory finish, this is one hell of a $10 bottle of wine.
2013 Orin Swift "Mannequin" California Chardonnay
Review Date: 11-17-2015
Since the late ‘90s Dave Phinney has been chugging out wine after wine under the brand Orin Swift. Probably the most popular of these wines is The Prisoner which began as a delicious affordable red full of top-notch Zinfandel and other mixed red varietals. Then a flurry of wines came: Mercury Head, Papillon, Saldo, Veladora. Heck, even some outrageous imports came down the pipeline from Spain and Southern France. Mannequin, for me, was one of the wines he made that always got lost in the shuffle. It just never seemed to have much in the way of personality or character. The 2013 vintage changed everything. Robust, fleshy, tropical and intense, this wine is fantastic for fans of big, rich, weighty whites. With a nose packed full of vanilla bean and orange 50-50 bars, this is a boisterous and flamboyant wine that has rich oak lacing and the exotic spices and fruit from the small amounts of Rhone varietals mixed in to the dominant component, Chardonnay. If you’ve ever liked one of Dave’s many wines, or super rich Chardonnay, this is not to be missed.
2013 Spellbound California Petite Sirah
Review Date: 10-22-2015
Over the last couple of years we’ve been selling box after box of the Spellbound Chardonnay to our customers, with great results. This brand, a part of the Michael Mondavi empire and made by Robert Mondavi Jr, is sourced from throughout the state of California and truly over-delivers on its price point. The winery came to us recently with its Petite Sirah, and we were floored by how good it was for way under $15. Typical for Petite Sirah in its density, brooding dark fruit and Amaro-like spice, this was as good as most of the $20-35 wines from this varietal on the market today. Plush and velvety on the palate with juicy wild berry, new leather, sweet licorice, unsweetened cocoa powder and surprisingly soft, but ever-present tannins, this is completely ready to drink right away. With the holiday season right around the corner, this would be a great candidate to stock up on for both planned and unplanned parties we are all sure to be a part of.
2012 Dunn Vineyards Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon
Review Date: 10-14-2015
There are not many wines coming out of Napa these days that have stayed as true to their roots as Dunn Cabernet. While the ripeness of the 2012 vintage certainly shows up here in the enjoyable baby fat and rare upfront openness, this is still quintessential Dunn. One will realize quickly that the savory, mountain-like flavors are all still present and accounted for. Stratified flavors of porcini mushrooms, spearmint, fried sage, blackberry, hot asphalt and spice cake are at once intriguing and comfortable, certainly familiar to longtime Dunn fans. Backed by the trademark tannins of the winery, this is a wine perfectly suited for the cellar as per usual, but more open young than I can ever recall.
2012 Ancient Peaks Paso Robles Cabernet Sauvignon
Review Date: 10-06-2015
I’ve maintained that for the last 4-5 years, Ancient Peaks is making the best series of value-driven wines in California. Their Sauvignon Blanc, Merlot, Zinfandel and Cabernet Sauvignon are all market leaders in super high-quality wines, all for under $15. In fact, I think they may be one of the few producers, if not the only one, that uses 100% estate fruit in all of the above wines. Speaking of their vineyards in Paso Robles, they are truly something to behold, if you ever get down that way. But if you can’t I’d implore you to try a bottle of their Cab. I truly believe that if you like the bolder, more extracted style of the varietal, there is no better wine out there for the cost. With a fleshy and oak-laden nose full of black currant, olive, sandalwood, cassis liquor and a touch of fresh sage, this is one wildly complex nose for such an inexpensive wine. Bold and mouth-filling, this Cab has all the bells and whistles, with sweet-tinged blackberry fruit slathered over the top of a nice core of pencil shavings and gravel. Large in scope and full in body, you just can’t beat this Cab!
2014 Talley/K&L Wine Merchants Edna Valley Chardonnay
Review Date: 10-02-2015
With a nose full of peach pit, lime flesh, brioche and wet clay aromas, this comes soaring out of the glass the instant it is poured. Fleshy and round on the palate but with consistent cut and verve throughout this is a medium-weighted Chardonnay that punches higher than its weight class. With rich laces of leesy bread dough, structural oak and a wealth of lemon curd, apricot, sea foam flavors this is one delicious Chardonnay. Long and fleshy in the finish with a recurrence of the coastal energy found on the palate. I couldn’t think of a better Chard we have at this price point.
2013 Beckmen "Cuvée Le Bec" Santa Ynez Rhône Blend
Review Date: 09-30-2015
As soon as I tasted the 2013 Beckmen “Cuvee Le Bec” I declared it the best Rhone Blend we had in the shop under $20, including wines from the Rhone. With the internationalization of the wines from the south of Rhone and the rising costs of wine all over the world, somehow this sneaks in at a tremendous value and still remains completely true to its parent varietals. Outrageous aromatics of whole black peppercorns, anisette, fennel, cured pork and wild berry fill the alluring nose. Juicy and full in the mouth, this is a ton of wine and is completely accessible currently. Full of blueberry, white pepper, crispy bacon, sage, chaparral and crushed stone the ripeness here is perfectly suited to keep the gamier, earthier flavors in check. I think I found my new go-to value wine!
2010 Clendenen "Le Bon Climat" Santa Maria Valley Pinot Noir
Review Date: 09-29-2015
The Clendenen Family Vineyards wines are probably new to most of our customers however they may be familiar to many in one aspect: the winemaker. For 35+ years Jim Clendenen has made the tremendous wines at Au Bon Climat, long focusing on Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Out of that love for making wine he began a side label where he could make wines with his children, Isabelle and Knox, all from vineyards that were planted for Jim specifically. The results are stunning wines that are similar to the Au Bon Climat wines in style but have personalities all their own. The 2010 Clendenen “Le Bon Climat” Pinot Noir is a wine that should please Burgundy fans and California Pinot lovers alike. With a deep set nose of sandalwood, muddled cherries, wet asphalt and cola this is at the same time effusively fruity and darkly earthy. Mid-weighted and savory on entry this wine has layers of sassafras, nutmeg and black tea mesh seamlessly into the pitchy fruit tones of wild strawberry, cranberry and black cherry. Certainly more savory than sweet this is a complex, layered and contemplative wine that should be used at the table rather than as a cocktail. At a great place to drink currently this would be great as a Thanksgiving dinner wine.
2010 Clendenen "Le Bon Climat" Santa Maria Valley Chardonnay
Review Date: 09-29-2015
The Clendenen Family Vineyards wines are probably new to most of our customers however they may be familiar to many in one aspect: the winemaker. For 35+ years Jim Clendenen has made the tremendous wines at Au Bon Climat, long focusing on Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Out of that love for making wine he began a side label where he could make wines with his children, Isabelle and Knox, all from vineyards that were planted for Jim specifically. The results are stunning wines that are similar to the Au Bon Climat wines in style but have personalities all their own. The 2010 Clendenen “Le Bon Climat” Chardonnay is a powerfully rich and stunning wine coming from certified organic grapes, barrel fermented and aged in 100% new French oak, sur lie for 24 months. With its crushed rock, gun flint and dried apricot aromatics and layered flavors of silica, baked apple and lemon curd wrapped tight in perfectly toasty oak this is full scale Chardonnay. However big, this wine keeps its energy and verve through with a resonating and oily finish. Truly a wine for fans of big, yet balanced Chardonnays, think ripe vintage Meursault.
2013 Dry Creek Vineyard "Heritage Vines" Sonoma County Zinfandel
Review Date: 09-22-2015
There are very few varietals that can give you as much sheer drinking pleasure as Zinfandel. When made right it has a perfect blend of fruit, spice, tannin and heft all for a comparatively low cost. The 2013 Dry Creek Vineyard "Heritage Vines" Zinfandel is a spot on example of quality and affordability all in the same bottle. From younger vines that were grafted from old parent material the idea here was to make a wine that had “old vine” character but without all the farming and yield issues of old Zinfandel vines. Airy and bright on the nose this wine is packed with white pepper and blueberry aromatics that are very appealing and rare to see in Zinfandels under $20. Ripe and bordering on the jammy edge of Zin this is packed with fun and accessible berry fruits, a plush core of chocolate covered cherries and more velvety tannins than you’d first expect for an affordable Zinfandel. This is a perfect mid-week wine, versatile, over delivers and is never a mental exercise. It gives you what it has and there is plenty of goodness to give.
2012 Qupé "Bien Nacido Reserve-Block Eleven" Santa Maria Valley Chardonnay
Review Date: 09-09-2015
Bob Lindquist has put his heart and soul into the Qupé wines for the last 30+ years, and while his winery has long been known for their category-leading work with Syrah and other Rhone varietals in California, many still don’t know just how good the Chardonnays are from him. The 2012 Qupé "Bien Nacido Reserve-Block Eleven" Santa Maria Valley Chardonnay is one of the best, and friendliest, I’ve ever tasted from Qupé. From a block of the Bien Nacido vineyard planted in 1997 exclusively for Qupé this 100% Barrel Fermented and fully Malolactic Chardonnay is one rich wine, yet still manages to feel bright and high toned throughout. Oak toast dominates the nose and play nicely with other aromas like toasted coconut, pie crust, green tea and vanilla custard. Fleshy and full weighted, this has lovely baked apple, marshmallow and treacle notes with a perfectly creamy mouth feel. If you like your Chardonnay “big” we think you’ll love this. However the truly special thing about this wine is that people that typically don’t like the “bigger is better” approach find themselves liking this wine as well. The key here is the retention of natural acidity that keeps the wine lifted and focused and adds a nice citrus driven cut to the wine that you rarely see in wines of this style. I like to think of this as a perfect middle-ground Chard that has a little something that everyone will like.
2013 Rutherford Ranch "Rhiannon" Red Blend
Review Date: 09-09-2015
Last year we sold a ton of the ‘12 Rhiannon out of nowhere, sure it got a nice score from Parker, but it really had a life of its own. I don’t think half of the employees here even got a chance to taste the wine it came and went so fast. Now the 2013 just landed, just received another fantastic score from Parker, and we expect it will sell like crazy too! This kitchen sink blend of 49% Syrah, 38% Petite Sirah and 13% Barbera is wildly crowd pleasing with gobs of sweet tinged oak and juicy mid weighted fruit. Add distinct flavors of bacon, cola spice, mocha and caramel and this is a packed wine for just over $10. Any fan of wines like Prisoner or Meiomi should absolutely love this
2013 Melville "Estate" Sta. Rita Hills Chardonnay
Review Date: 09-09-2015
We’ve supported the Melville wines for quite some time here at K&L, in fact our history with the brand dates back to the 2000 vintage which was the second year they made wines from the Estate. For the last 16 years they have consistently produced some of the most delicious and affordable wines from the Santa Rita Hills, heck, they helped put Santa Rita Hills on the map! The 2013 vintage set up well for the winery and they produced a myriad of fantastic wines numerous of which you’ll see from us in the upcoming weeks. The first of which is the 2013 Melville “Estate” Chardonnay. This 100% Barrel Fermented, all in neutral oak, Chardonnay sees no Malolactic fermentation and no lees stirring—real world translation—this is one energetic and zesty Chard that has more in common with a top flight Pouilly Fuisse than a buttery California Chard. The nose is expressive and giving with aromas of baked apples, honeysuckle, and subtle earthy notes like talc and silica. Structured, pretty and focused with great sandy minerality and flavors of apricot flesh, grilled corn and more apple this is a treat to drink and will be a great food wine. Energetic and resonant on the finish there is plenty to love about this old-world influenced Chardonnay.
2012 Novelty Hill Columbia Valley Cabernet Sauvignon
Review Date: 09-04-2015
While most here in the wine-knowledgeable state of California can get by with a lot of the “local” wineries, I am still shocked at times by the lack of awareness of the great wines coming from the Pacific Northwest. If you asked most people that come into the shops if they have ever heard of or tasted the wines from Novelty Hill, you probably get a resounding “no” from most. Well, here is your chance to get up-to-date about one of Washington State's great, value-driven wineries. This 2012 Columbia Valley Cabernet Sauvignon comes mainly from the Stillwater Creek Vineyard, which acts as the estate vineyard, and a few other sites. Carrying plenty of power and certainly over-delivering on the $20 price point, this has sappy notes of oak toast, molasses, tar, black currant and olive on the nose. Plush, mouth-filling and full of soft, velvety tannins throughout, this has plenty of five spice, cocoa powder, crème brulee, Asian plum and a lovely violet highlight on the palate. Complete and fully weighted, this is a ton of wine for the cost and is perfectly placed as crowd-pleasing Cab--just from a different place and in a slightly different style.
2012 Ridge "Lytton Springs" Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel
Review Date: 08-17-2015
If you haven’t tried the Lytton Springs and Geyserville bottlings by Ridge Vineyards by now you probably have been living under a rock, or on some deserted island somewhere. For decades--the first Geyserville was made in 1966 and first Lytton in 1972--these have been the best zinfandel based wines in the United States. For either instant consumption or long term cellaring few have ever shown as much promise and continuously paid such great dividends. We thought we’d not see any more of this wine having been sold out for some time but, PRESTO, there some was just hanging out in Southern California. So we jumped on whatever we could and are bringing this to you as a “last call.” The 2012 Lytton Springs was delicious from the start with a vibrant mix of high toned wild red berry fruit, sassafras, white pepper and streaks of vanilla and coconut flake. A bit more confectionary and lush than the 2013 Geyserville this is a touch more giving right now and is just delicious. However, like all the Ridge wines it will continue to age gracefully. It is about as good as it gets in the current world of Zinfandel.
2013 Ridge "Geyserville" Alexander Valley Zinfandel
Review Date: 08-17-2015
If you haven’t tried the Lytton Springs and Geyserville bottlings by Ridge Vineyards by now you probably have been living under a rock, or on some deserted island somewhere. For decades--the first Geyserville was made in 1966 and first Lytton in 1972--these have been some of the best Zinfandel-based wines in the United States. For either instant consumption, or long term cellaring, few have ever shown as much consistent promise and continuously paid such great dividends. The 2013 Geyserville is classic and wildly representative of why Geyserville has become so famous. Deep, brooding and darkly fruited, this is a wine that is delicious right now. It has plenty of boysenberry, unsweetened cocoa powder, whole black peppercorns and a broad rich textural feel on the palate. It has that perfect balance between ripe, plush fruit and marked spice, all the while being fully accessible early. The great news is that as good as it is now, this wine is only going to get better with time, and should be a wonderful wine over the next 8-15 years.
2013 Varner "Amphitheater Block-Spring Ridge Vineyard" Santa Cruz Mountains Chardonnay
Review Date: 08-03-2015
I’m not scared to say it, and I have many times, out loud, to real people. I think the Varner Chardonnays are some of the best, if not the best, Chardonnays made in the United States. These wines are still way under the radar to most wine fans due to their small production, out of the way location-high in the hills above Portola Valley in the Santa Cruz Mountains, and stylistic choices. But for all of us lucky enough to have tasted these wines vintage after vintage we can’t help but feel this way. The wines are just too good, with pinpoint precision, amazing complexity, and little “wine making” to get in the way of the amazing raw materials they put into each and every bottle they make. The 2013 "Amphitheater Block” stunned me with how fleshed out it was. Typically the Amphitheater is always the most strict, linear, mineral driven wine under the Varner label. However this year there is a pleasing nutty generosity to the nose and a very deep set richness on the palate that just wasn’t there in previous vintages. (The Varner’s attest this to the vineyard block maturing rather than any changes in the cellar, of which there were none.) Cashew, almond skin, dried apple and nectarine mesh on the complex and intriguing nose. Bright and citrusy on entry with layers of mineral and earth over tangerine, pomelo and lemon pith this has a subtle creaminess and fleshes out with a pretty floral bitterness at its edges.
2013 Varner "Bee Block-Spring Ridge Vineyard" Santa Cruz Mountains Chardonnay
Review Date: 08-03-2015
I’m not scared to say it, and I have many times, out loud, to real people. I think the Varner Chardonnays are some of the best, if not the best, Chardonnays made in the United States. These wines are still way under the radar to most wine fans due to their small production, out of the way location-high in the hills above Portola Valley in the Santa Cruz Mountains, and stylistic choices. But for all of us lucky enough to have tasted these wines vintage after vintage we can’t help but feel this way. The wines are just too good, with pinpoint precision, amazing complexity, and little “wine making” to get in the way of the amazing raw materials they put into each and every bottle they make. The 2013 “Bee Block,” long the favorite block of most of our local customers, is Bee Block at its finest. I don’t know if it is the suggestion of the name, or if the name came from the suggestion, but there is always a honeyed quality to this wine. Never sweet of course but more of an exotic, spiced, ripeness that the other blocks just don’t have. Build on top of that aromas of anise seed/fennel, jasmine blossoms, talc and a delicate marzipan note and this is one aromatic wine. The heftiest of the bunch this has layers of rich flavors like crème brulee, peach pit, egg custard and apricot however it never feels flat or blousy. It’s quite the contrary one the finish full of Meyer lemon, wet stone and fresh alfalfa rolls around. But never does that honey quality subside and I’m glad it doesn’t, it’s the true tell of this stunning wine.
2013 Varner "Home Block-Spring Ridge Vineyard" Santa Cruz Mountains Chardonnay
Review Date: 08-03-2015
I’m not scared to say it, and I have many times, out loud, to real people. I think the Varner Chardonnays are some of the best, if not the best, Chardonnays made in the United States. These wines are still way under the radar to most wine fans due to their small production, out of the way location high in the hills above Portola Valley in the Santa Cruz Mountains, and stylistic choices. But for all of us lucky enough to have tasted these wines vintage after vintage we can’t help but feel this way. The wines are just too good, with pinpoint precision, amazing complexity, and little “wine making” to get in the way of the amazing raw materials they put into each and every bottle they make. My favorite of the bunch, and certainly a wine worth lying down, is the 2013 Home Block. This wine is not some much about its aromas or flavors, which are all certainly wonderful (chalk, granite, Asian pear, kumquat, saline) but about its intensity and tension. Structure is always hard to write about in wine, and rarely done in white wines, but this wine is all about its frame. The way its parts build on one another to create a wall of flavor, an experience of everything at once yet remaining streamlined and delineated. I’d love to taste this wine in 5, 10 and 15 years to see the life it lives.
2013 Joseph Carr Sonoma Coast Chardonnay
Review Date: 07-22-2015
Long one of our favorite negociant producers in California Joseph Carr has continuously knocked out fantastic value wines. Some of you may remember their Cabernet Sauvignon from late 2014/early 2015? That was a huge hit with over 300 cases sold. Well we think the 2013 Sonoma Coast Chardonnay is the next big hit from this relatively unknown producer. This Chardonnay is barrel fermented, goes through 100% malolactic fermentation and sees around 10% new oak so while it’s creamy it never is too over-blown and shows great balance. Aromas of mango, passion fruit and green apple flesh are tied together on the nose by a subtle note of clover honey. Fleshy on entry with ripe orange, more honey and layers of savory oak, mushroom and challah toast this is one delicious Chardonnay. Riding the line between textural and savory this wine comes off much more serious than the price tag would suggest. Maybe that is some of Aaron Pott’s pedigree rubbing off on the wine. He’s a superstar, having made wine at Troplong-Mondot, La Tour Figeac, Newton (under John Kongsgaard) and Blackbird amongst others. If you love a great value in Chardonnay this is not to be missed!
2012 J. Davies Diamond Mountain District Cabernet Sauvignon
Review Date: 07-11-2015
Most people probably have never heard of J. Davies and their outstanding wines from their estate on Diamond Mountain but that is not for lack of history or pedigree. The Estate was founded in 1862 by Jacob Schram and planted shortly thereafter. Out of this vineyard sprung Schramsberg the famous, and quite prolific, still wine house of the 19th century. Obviously many years have passed, 153 to be exact, and while Schramsberg is still wildly famous and is now producing some of the best sparkling wine in the United States, if not the world, they wanted to get back to their roots of making great still wines. So in 1994 they replanted the Estate to Cabernet Sauvignon and other Bordeaux varietals and in 2004 the first vintage of J. Davies Cabernet Sauvignon was released (2001). Since then they have produced a string of wildly delicious, balanced, structural efforts that have for some reason or another remained distinctly under people’s radar. Hopefully that all changes with the 2012 vintage which is a stunning wine full of the complexity, depth and concentration that is rarely seen but often spoke about in Napa wines. Chock full of unsweetened chocolate, cassis liquor and spiced plum on the nose this has tons of sweet tinged aromatics but underneath that lays a savory sous bois and new leather quality that adds complexity and considerable depth. Brightly blue fruited on entry with a texture that is slick, round and approachable this Cabernet comes off as ripe but never jammy or sweet. As the wine floats along the palate it adds flavors of fleshy black fruits, asphalt, red currant, sage and black tea. The tannins melt away slowly in the finish and frame the wine in a harmonious manner.
2013 Foxen Santa Maria Valley Pinot Noir
Review Date: 06-19-2015
On our recent trip to the Central Coast we tasted a myriad of Pinot Noirs--mostly great, a few exceptional, and maybe one or two that were just OK. Point being that there is tons of great Pinot Noir coming out of the area. Few were better, however-- especially if you consider pricing--than the 2013 Foxen Santa Maria Valley bottling. The lion’s share of this wine comes from the famed Bien Nacido Vineyard, and not any parcel but the same parcel that Foxen’s famed Block 8 vineyard designate comes from. Rounded out by fruit from Riverbench Vineyard and Solomon Hills Vineyard, the quality here, for an appellation bottling, is off the charts. A fresh and pithy nose of plum, violet, blueberry and crushed stone is unencumbered by oak, the wine seeing not a lick of new oak. Ripe and juicy on the palate, with plenty of berry fruit, this spices up as it goes along with pretty confectionary spices like nutmeg and allspice and gingerbread. Broad velvety tannins round out the back end with a streak of floral complexity that persists. I don’t know if we saw anything better for $30 Pinot on the trip!
2013 Flowers Sonoma Coast Chardonnay
Review Date: 06-18-2015
On a trip earlier this year a crew of K&L employees went up to the far Sonoma Coast and visited places like Hirsch, Fort Ross and Flowers. It was certainly a wonderful experience and we had a ton of fun and found plenty of new wines. On that trip I think we were most surprised by the wines at Flowers. We knew that they were up to some new tricks but we really were thinking of the wines as they used to be, not as they actually are. A perfect example of this was the just released 2013 Flowers Sonoma Coast Chardonnay. The first thing that struck me was how balanced the wine was. I recalled these wines being bigger, fatter and flabbier, but that couldn’t be farther from the truth for what I was tasting. Made with less than 20% new oak, this wine struck a chord with me in its aromas of mint, nectarine, peach and chalk and little to no woody aromas. Vibrant and energetic, this bordered on citrusy-tangerine and clementine--with plenty of stone fruit, apricot preserves--passed around on the medium-weighted frame. Richness and texture were there but they came more on the back end with brighter fruit tones running the show. A long, savory finish laced with thyme and stone wrapped up the wine and my expectations were blown. If you haven’t checked out Flowers in a while I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised!
2013 Domaine Drouhin "Arthur" Dundee Hills Chardonnay
Review Date: 04-21-2015
One thing is for certain the Drouhin family knows what they are doing when it comes to growing and producing Burgundian varietals. When they started Domain Drouhin Oregon (DDO) back in 1987 there were producers in the area that were both thrilled and a bit terrified. They were thrilled because there was this behemoth in world of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir that was willing to put a large sum of resources into the Willamette Valley. It truly helped to legitimize the area as a world class growing region. But it terrified people for the same reason; they knew that the bar had instantly been raised. This influx of knowledge and experience certainly didn’t solely make the Willamette Valley what it is today but I think most of the producers that are in the valley would tell you that it certainly helped more than it hurt. Fast forward to 2015 and DDO are still cranking out some of the best wines you can find in the valley for fair and affordable prices. No wine better embodies this than the 2013 “Arthur” Chardonnay. Long one of my favorite Chardonnays from Oregon this wine has superb balance and a tremendous weight without ever being cumbersome or flat. Ripe flavors of baked apple, nectarine and pie crust are bolstered by fresh, mouthwatering acidity and lovely subtle lime pith. The touch of new oak, 15%, gives just enough added depth and complexity, not to mention a pleasing honeyed nature, to the wine as to make it far from an oak bomb but still noticeably oak driven. There is just so much to like about this wine no matter what side of the Chardonnay spectrum your taste falls on.
2010 Fort Ross "Fort Ross Vineyard" Fort Ross-Seaview Pinotage
Review Date: 04-14-2015
It’s not every day that I get to write about Pinotage, more less try the few coming from the States, but this certainly is the best I’ve ever seen. Sweet licorice, blueberry, sage and a touch of beef blood flavors come to the fore with a layered approach. Violets and pinning tannins fill the finish in this bold, intense wine that would be perfect for a bacon wrapped filet.
2013 Mercer Canyons Columbia Valley Chardonnay
Review Date: 03-20-2015
The Mercer winery was first put on my radar a couple of years back on a field trip to Washington State. We met with the folks behind this large farming operation; they are one of the largest producers of carrots and potatoes in the state, to check out their impressive amount of vineyards. Long one of the main growers for the largest wineries in Washington a number of years ago they decided to start making their own wine off of the better parcels of their sprawling acreage. The “Canyons” series was debuted in 2012 and already has turned heads nationally with its tremendous quality for value ratio. I was shocked on just how pure and clean these wines were. The Chardonnay is a perfect example of this. Pulpy apple aromas fill the nose with a broad streak of vanilla/butterscotch that meld into a rich golden fruited base. Broad and rich but still with a nice airy feel this has all the toasty flavors and yeasty richness that the classic Domestic Chard fans are going to want but also has a pretty floral component and some mellow citrus tones to keep the wine from being bogged down in excess. The best thing here is that this is only $11.99 a bottle which is a paltry sum for a wine that has this much going for it. I think we just found our best “cheap” Chardonnay.
Marietta "Old Vine Red-Lot #62" Red Blend
Review Date: 02-25-2015
For years the Marietta Old Vine Red has been one of the most underappreciated values coming out of California. This non-vintage, multi-varietal and multi-appellation blend has flown under the radar of most affordable minded customers, but in our experience, one try and you’re hooked. We’ve sold it religiously over the last 7-8 years and every year I’m astonished with just how true the flavors are, how fresh the fruit is and how balanced the wine comes off overall. This blend, Lot 62, is every bit as good as any of the other blends, maybe a bit more, as a new estate vineyard has come more on board in this bottling, with pretty graphite, briary berry and a clove/nutmeg spice to the nose. Pulpy and sun-fresh, the ripe, but bone-dry, berry flavors on entry are sure to please with a persistent, bright energy and an underlying pastille spice. Plum and violet combine with a rich, coating nature on the finish to round out this tremendous value for well under $15. Simply put, this is one of the truly best wines in a category with more filler than killer.
2013 Banshee Sonoma County Pinot Noir
Review Date: 01-29-2015
With every new release of Banshee I become more and more impressed with just how dedicated to quality these three young men are. This year they’ve really upped their game adding Winemaker Ross Cobb, of Cobb Vineyards, a little known winery to the masses but to us nerds this means something, and moving production to Copain’s new winemaking facility. Both of these moves are apparent to me in this new Sonoma County Pinot Noir. There seems to be a much finer point to the wine this year with better delineation of flavor, more pronounced acidity while still being fully interwoven in the wine and a bit more overall structure. All in all the fruit that most of our customers have come to know and love is still here but there is just a little bit more here than in past vintages. I’ve loved these wines for the value that they offer our customers over the years and I continue to love them for not resting on their laurels but to be in constant pursuit of upping their game.
2013 Alma Rosa Santa Barbara County Chardonnay
Review Date: 01-28-2015
Richard Sanford is a true legend that simply does not receive the credit he deserves. Back in 1971 he planted the first Pinot Noir in the Central Coast at the now famed Sanford & Benedict Vineyard. Just that act alone has him in the history books yet he still continues to make rock solid and affordable wines, first under his Sanford label that was a staple in fine wine shops in the last three decades of the 20th Century. After a shake up at Sanford, which we won’t get into here, Rick once again set off to create something new, this time Alma Rosa where sustainability was paramount to the winery, both in the vineyards and in the business practices of the winery. Taking this model Rick has made many lovely wines from both his self-planted, historic vineyards and new sites as well. This 2013 Santa Barbara County Chardonnay is a perfect example of his craftsmanship. Mostly coming from a 35 year old block of Chardonnay at the White Hills Vineyard this is a powerful wine that betrays its paltry price point. With notes of almond skin, apricot pit, sage and a touch of salinity in the nose there are few rival Chards that can hold a candle to this sort of complexity at this cost. Waves of peach flesh, green apple, sea salt, low toast oak and crushed cashew flavors flow freely on the palate to create a sense of both richness and breadth. If that’s not enough for $15 the finish is long and energetic with lemon zest and a touch of a white floral note. Kudos to Rick and all he has done, for so many years, for all the wine drinkers out there.
2013 Seghesio Sonoma County Zinfandel
Review Date: 01-07-2015
Back in 2011 there was quite a scare in the world of Zinfandel. That was the year that the Seghesio Family sold their winery to a large company named Crimson Wine Group. This was a bit unsettling at the time being that the Seghesio Family was second only to the Foppianos for the crown as the longest running winemaking family in Sonoma County. We were all a little depressed by it for a while but then nothing really changed. The family still held control of the old vine plots like Cortina and Home Ranch, Pete stayed on as CEO and Ted as winemaker. The quality and branding was the same as it ever was and quite honestly I think most people even forgot that the Winery changed hands. This was great news to all Zin fans, especially when they kept churning out tremendous, affordable Zin like the 2013 Sonoma County. Just released this is a great wine for $20 with all of is warm spice cake, berry cobbler, whole peppercorn and sweet tea aromatics. Big and burly but with wild acidity acting as a counter weight this has a little something for everyone in the Zin world with its briary richness of fruit, bushels of pepper, fresh berry notes and a sweet oak lacing which ties up the substantial finish. I guess change, or the lack thereof, isn’t always a bad thing!
2012 Chateau St. Jean Sonoma Coast Chardonnay
Review Date: 12-16-2014
Can you really teach an old dog new tricks? I don’t really know but I think that some old dogs are smart enough to pick some new things up as they go along. That is exactly what Chateau St. Jean did with this brand, spanking new Sonoma Coast bottling. (By the way please don’t confuse this with the Sonoma County bottling that is everywhere and is completely different.) To say that I was taken by surprise by this new wine would be an understatement. I was blown away by the amount of power and richness it had, all the while keeping true, cool weather Sonoma Coast acidity throughout. With a nose laced with apricots, crème brulee and persimmons, while having an underlying citrus backbone, this was completely appealing and felt really natural. On the palate comes waves of vanilla, baked apples, some crushed stone and a lovely white floral highlight. For the under $20 arena of Chardonnay it certainly does not get much better than this. I’d scoop this up before the powers that be at CSJ realize just how good this wine really is!
2012 Michael & David "Freakshow" Lodi Cabernet Sauvignon
Review Date: 12-09-2014
Incredibly surprising or surprisingly incredible, either way I think those two statements describe the new releases from the Michael & David winery. Always known for their amusing labels and marketing I think the most recent batch of wines will make people take notice for just how much quality is in the bottle for such little cash. The style of wine is still full throttle, fruit driven and bold, as the wines always have been but there is much better balance in the wines overall and most importantly I found there to be no discernible residual sugar in the wines. These are a must try for fans of exuberant Domestic Wines for reasonable prices. I’m a big fan of party rock. Think Rick Springfield’s Working Class Dog album or any of the great Power Pop Albums of the late 70’s early 80’s like The Beat’s Self Titled album. These are certainly not the most critically acclaimed albums but when you hear them, especially at a party they really make everyone feel good, loosen up and start moving around the room. I sort of felt this way about the Freakshow Cab. Not the most critically amazing wine but damn if it doesn’t taste great and won’t please everyone in the room. Under $20 this is like a record that has 3 hits on it that you’ll never get tired of and is in the dollar bin, pure magic. Deep, with silky black fruits and a nice waft of tobacco this is palate coating and intense wine that really brings some fun to the Cabernet game. Blackberry, spice cake, toffee and café con leche flavors are all apparent here and are meshed nicely. It’s going to be hard to beat this cab for this price.
2013 Talley/K&L Wine Merchants Edna Valley Chardonnay
Review Date: 08-20-2014
Back in the late winter/early spring of this year I was really trying to identify a Chardonnay producer that we might be able to do a co-branded wine with. In looking at what we had and what was popular with our customers, I thought Talley would be a great fit for the project. We spoke and we both agreed that we really were excited to work with each other on this level. So at the end of June I drove down to Arroyo Grande to blend the wine with winemaker Eric Johnson out of barrel. There were 13 barrels for us to choose from, all of which were from one of Talley’s estate vineyards, Oliver’s Vineyard, and I got to select five of those barrels for this blend. What I found that day is that if I could have taken all 13 barrels, I would have. The quality of all the barrels was just superb and really showed off the vineyard and all of the subtleties that Chardonnay can have, but rarely does, in California. The final blend was actually the first we put together and while we futzed with it a bit, we agreed that this blend was always the best blend of the bunch. The nose showed a really delicate interplay of white floral notes, baked apple, sandy soil and a richer core of peach flesh and a hit of tropical fruits. With good entering cut and resonating energy and intensity throughout, this richly weighted Chardonnay never felt bogged down in anything excessive like oak or manipulated buttery richness. Instead it traded on its richly textured mid-palate and wealth of stone fruit and cleansing earth aspects as well as a lifting citrus oil note. I honestly couldn’t be happier with the way this wine came out. Thanks, Talley, for making us such an awesome wine!
Jolly Pumpkin Artisan Ales "Bam Biere" Farmhouse Ale, Michigan 750ml
Review Date: 05-25-2010
The Jolly Pumpkin Artisan Ales "Bam Biere" is one of the best work horse beers out there. Made in the style of a Saison this is one of the best interpretations coming out of the US right now. With its yeasty, fruity nose of peach, apricot, fresh bread dough, tangerine and a pinch of clove this is about as traditional as Saison gets. Lightweight on the palate but full of flavor the beer displays flavors of brewer’s yeast, fried plantains, wet earth, savory grassy tones and a bit of drying hoppiness in the finish. The sweet/bitter interplay here is perfect, keeping the beer from ever getting out of balance or cloying white the understated fruitiness builds complexity as it goes. Big time Boosh!
West County Cider "Redfield" Cider, Massachusetts 750ml
Review Date: 05-25-2010
A perfect summer beverage is the West County Cider "Redfield" Cider. This is far from your typical cider made from the apple varietal of Redfield which is red fleshed giving the cider its brilliant orange, ruby color. Aromas of raspberry, rose water, mango and warm clay are wonderfully alluring and really add a separate dimension that most will not expect from cider. The cheery, bright flavors of cherry, cinnamon and pear build on each other developing acidity and cut as they go until you reach the grainy bittersweet apple quality towards the center of the mid palate. Mildly tannic and totally serious this has the ability to change any negative opinions you may have had about cider in the past. Total Boosh!