Monday, December 3, 2018

Got Pineau?

Over the summer I had the opportunity to attend a Pineau des Charentes tasting at Lucques in Los Angeles. And I can confirm that I had no idea what Pineau des Charentes was before this MasterClass! But, I am VERY glad I went as I am now looking to integrate Pineau in my cocktailing wheelhouse...and I think you should too! It is an easy, and not to expensive way to “Up Your Cocktail Game”.

Where is AOC Pineau Des Charentes?
It is in the same region as Cognac, on the western coast of France. Pineau des Charentes gained AOC status in 1945, though it has been made there for 400+ years. The AOC gives a strict set of rules including: area of production, varieties to use, vine trimming, yields, and production methods. Also, no additives, sugar, coloring, or caramel are allowed. The climate is maritime (warm summers, cool winters, and close proximity to a large body of water).

What is Pineau des Charentes?

Pineau des Charentes is a French fortified wine with only two ingredients: pressed grape must and cognac eau de vie (3:1 ratio). The grapes from both the must and the eau de vie have to be from the same vineyard and made by the same people in order to express the terroir. The unfermented grape must is prevented from fermenting by shocking it with the eau de vie. Pineau has a low ABV (averaging 17%), much lower than spirits which usually hover around 40%. Therefore it is a great lower alcohol alternative to spirits. All Pineau must have a minimum 12 months oak aging, according to AOC rules.

The Pineau Story

The first Pineau was an accident, as many great stories start! A Cognac producer had some unfermented grape must that needed to be stored. It was put in a barrel thought to be empty, but there was some Cognac in it…..voila! Over time the liquid turned into what we now know as Pineau! There are many types of Pineau. The Blanc style is usually made with Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon, while the Red is made with Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. From there, the wines are classified by age: Young is < 5 years old, Vieux (Old) > 5 years old, and Tres Vieux (Very Old) > 10 years old.

How to enjoy Pineau des Charentes?

A little over 10,000 bottles were sold worldwide in 2017. It is best enjoyed as an aperitif or in a cocktail and it pairs well with: goat cheese, blue cheese, Roquefort, and any aged cheese. Below are some of the cocktails we enjoyed at the event:

Ingredients: Pineau des Charentes (young blanc) with tonic, and a thyme sprig/grapefruit peel for garnish. 

This is a great spring/summer pre-dinner drink.

Ingredients: Pineau des Charentes (vieux blanc), Plymouth Gin, Génépy des Alpes (génépy is the primary alpine herb in Chartreuse), a dash of absinthe, and orange bitters.

This is a super complex cocktail with layered bitter flavors. The bitters are cleansing and make your mouth water. I also think they’re good for calibration and a great palate cleanser before wine tasting. This would go great with a funky grilled cheese.

Ciel Rouge
Ingredients: Pineau de Charentes Jeune Rouge, fresh lime juice, toasted orgeat, China China, and 8-year-old dark rum. 

This drink was full of bitter flavors. Not for the faint of heart!

We also tasted the following Pineau des Charentes on their own:

Pineau Park Tessendier Park (White Young $20)
Fresh fig, stewed apricot preserves, dried grapes, and walnut. This was a very interesting wine. The sweetness registers first, then subsides, then acid/floral, then heat. It finishes almost dry with a savory note. Brilliant.

Pierre Ferrand (White Young)
Peaches, plums, prunes, and toasted nuts. I can almost smell the sea/brine. A candied, honeyed note with a warm toastiness.

Reviseur (White Old $29.99)
Walnuts, dried raisins, and a faint acid lift. Light rancio on the palate. Savory and sweet, almost medicinal (pine?). So many layered, complex rancio notes: caramelization, toasted nuts, coffee beans, and raisins/prunes.
Château de Beaulon (White Old)
Fresh, fruity with notes of white flower, honey, and vanilla. Flavors of mandarin and dried apricot. More rancio notes.

Château de Beaulon (Red Old $32)
Fruity notes of black cherry and black currant. Floral notes of red rose. 

Normandin-Mercier (Red Young $26.99)
Aromas of hibiscus, earl grey tea, and dried cherry. Smells like a still red wine though rancio and chocolate notes are not too far behind.  Lots of spice (cinnamon).

Bache Gabrielsen (Blanc Very Old $50)
Flovor of nuts, dried apricots, and well-matured Cognac. Soooo many nuts. Would be good with fresh toasted Marcona almonds.

Thank you to The SOMM Journal for an invite to this lovely event! 

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

The Zinfandel Capital of the World?

*These wines were received as samples for review

If you have read this blog before, then you know I am a BIG fan of the Lodi wine region. Lodi wines are quality, terroir-driven, and the value is unmatched! Your dollar certainly goes far when visiting and buying wine in Lodi.

Did you know that Lodi is the Zinfandel capital of the world? Over 40% of the state’s Zinfandel comes from the Lodi AVA. There are over 125 winegrape varieties grown here, but Zinfandel is the true stand out. Zinfandel thrives in Lodi’s mediterranean climate. The warm, sunny days, and cool evenings (in other words, a wide diurnal range) help the grapes to ripen fully, yet not get too ripe, as can happen in places where the temps don’t cool down at night.

Lodi is most commonly known for their Old Vine Zinfandel. In fact, Lodi has more acres of old vines than any region in California. While there is no exact definition of “Old Vine”, many vines are 50 years old, or more. When I visited for the Wine Bloggers Conference in 2016, I visited vineyards that had 100+ year old vines. Gnarly, old vines are fascinating to look at. There’s lots of twists and dark, old-looking wood. The yields tend to shrink the older the vines are, so each vine is precious, as more vines are needed to make a single bottle of wine.

Lodi Zin thrives in the deep sandy loam soils common to the Mokelumne and Clements Hills appellations, and most of the older plantings are own-rooted. Below are a couple of Old Vine Zinfandels I was sent for review:

Mettler 2014 Epicenter Old Vine Zinfandel 15.5% ABV ($25)
This wine is 85% Zinfandel with some Petit Sirah, Cabernet Franc, and Cabernet Sauvignon blended in for good measure. The Mettler family has been farming in Lodi for six generations. Their vineyard lies in the “Epicenter” of Lodi’s old vine Zinfandel district, hence the name. The grapes are organically grown. This wine is delightfully purple in color. The nose shows red plus black fruit (plums and prunes), black pepper, cedar, sweet vanilla, and molasses. There is an interesting earthy, smokey note. The palate: WOAH! Chocolate and coffee reign here. So much so that it almost feels like you are eating some sort of mocha dessert. Speaking of dessert, sometimes I opt to drink my dessert rather than eat it. I am not a huge dessert wine fan, so my dessert sometimes ends up being a nice, full, ripe dry red. This would be my “dessert” wine of choice. Oh and the finish on this wine….it never ends. A stellar showing for Old Vine Lodi Zin.

Vintage tasted was 2014

Fields Family Wines 2013 Old Vine Zinfandel 14.5% ABV ($28)
The grapes for this wine are from 60-70 year old vines in the Family Vineyard in the Mokelumne River AVA of Lodi. This wine is medium garnet in color. So. Many. Raisins. Both on the nose and on the palate. Raisins almost always bring me to Old Vine Zin. Also, spice box (cinnamon, clove, nutmeg), vanilla, leather/saddle, plus cocoa/mocha. This is a special wine to be enjoyed slowly. 

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Kiona Vineyards & Winery: Small But Mighty

Sunset over the Red Mountain AVA

In 1970 John Williams was said to have proclaimed “this just might be a pretty damned good place to grow wine grapes” when speaking of the area that is now known as the Red Mountain AVA in South Central Washington. Because of his proclamation and the subsequent formation of the Red Mountain AVA, I found myself at Kiona Vineyards & Winery in early October at the Red Mountain AVA pre-conference excursion as a part of the annual Wine Bloggers Conference. John Williams and his family are what I consider "the OGs" of Red Mountain. The original “first” family.

Our first stop in Red Mountain was at Kiona Vineyards & Winery where we met with JJ Williams, grandson of Kiona founder, John Williams. JJ met us casually in a baseball hat, jeans, and plaid shirt. Fine wine country fashion! The highlight of the conference for me was our time with JJ as he spoke so passionately and eloquently about Kiona and the Red Mountain AVA. He was unapologetically honest, which you don’t always get when people are speaking to the media/press. 

JJ Williams of Kiona Vineyards & Winery
Where the heck is Red Mountain, you ask? Red Mountain is a sub-AVA of the Yakima Valley in South Central Washington. It is the smallest and warmest grape growing AVA in Washington with about 65% of vines planted to Cabernet Sauvignon.

Source: washington

And what do Red Mountain wines taste like? Instead of giving you my impressions after spending a mere 24 hours in the AVA, I will give you word for word, what JJ Williams has to say. While with JJ, he led us through a tasting of 4 Red Mountain wines alongside 4 red wines from classical wine regions throughout the world: Bordeaux, Napa, Italy, and Australia. It was a fascinating exercise, and one that JJ refers to below:

Red wines from Washington tend to show the following characteristics: Strong fruit characteristic, vibrant acidity, and strong varietal typicity. Cabernet tastes like Cabernet, Merlot tastes like Merlot, etc. Remember back to our tasting: the Washington wines were described by fresh fruit descriptors: blackberry, cherry, cassis, plum, etc. The first descriptor used on the wines from other areas were often not fruit; but words like savory, herbal, leather, wood, and oak. The fruit in Washington takes a front seat. Okay, so if all of that is true about Washington/Columbia Valley wines in general, Red Mountain wines take that up a notch. Within Washington, winemakers will use Red Mountain fruit if they need more color, more tannin, or more structure… basically, more “oomph.” It can almost be viewed as a Petit Verdot type of addition in a blend. Deep color, stout tannins, and strong fruit character are Red Mountain calling cards.

John Williams (JJ’s grandfather) and Jim Holmes met working together in the 60’s at General Electric. In 1972 they bought the first plot of land destined to be grapevines in what is now the Red Mountain AVA. In 1975 the first vines were planted: Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, and Riesling. In fact, below is a picture of 4 of the original Cabernet Sauvignon vines. The first vintage of their wine was produced in 1980 under the Kiona name. Kiona then became one of the founding members of the Yakima Valley AVA in 1982. And in 1994 the Holmes family sold their share to the Williams family, giving them full ownership. And that is how it is to this day. No investors. No banks. Only family. It is no surprise that in 2018, Kiona Vineyards & Winery was named Washington Winery of the Year by Wine Press Northwest.

4 original vines in the Red Mountain AVA

Scott, John’s son and JJ’s father, is now the vineyard manager and winemaker (no rest for the weary!) at Kiona. JJ tells us that he remembers when Red Mountain and the Kiona property was a sea of brown and a little bit of green (now with so many vines planted, it’s the opposite). He said that the importance of his father in the Kiona and Red Mountain story is sometimes lost in the narrative. His father made it his life’s work to turn 10 acres on a dusty slope into a grape-growing area that was worthy of attention. And now Kiona (who own/farm over 200 acres) grow grapes for 60+ producers in the area, therefore they have a vested interest in making sure Red Mountain succeeds. If that is not motivation to do good work in the vineyard, I don’t know what is! JJ says “it’s a tremendous opportunity and responsibility to stand on the shoulders of two generations of greatness, and it’s not something my brother and I take lightly.”

According to JJ: Kiona operates with roles that are less traditionally-defined than most. Even though they have their titles, both Scott and JJ operate as Co-General Managers, with his (Scott's) focus being primarily production, and JJ's focus being the business side of things. JJ’s younger brother, Tyler, has dedicated his education and career thus far to being a world-class winemaker, with stints in Bordeaux, Chile, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Sicily, and more. He is also finishing up a masters degree in enology. Succession plan? They’ve already thought of it. According to JJ: Tyler (my brother) and I needed to specialize in areas that would affect the company in the most dramatic ways, and assume positions that would be difficult/impossible to hire an outside person to do as well as we were, given our backgrounds, experience, and last name. I do a lot of things that would—traditionally—fall under the “winemaker” umbrella, including blending, product/portfolio composition and execution, as well as broader decisions such as barrel/aging philosophies, vineyard/grape allocations, etc. But in terms of wearing galoshes and hooking up hoses/pumps in the winery, that’s not my day-to-day experience.

The Red Mountain AVA is over 4,000 acres with 2,600 planted under vine. And according to JJ, all the good, plantable land is taken, so this is pretty much it for the AVA. What is planted now is what the region will be in 20-30 years. Pretty cool.

What defines Red Mountain and makes the wines what they are? These are the 5 pillars that those in the area count as their competitive advantage to make good wines.

Slope: The area has a good slope and SW aspect, which is beneficial for prolonged sun exposure and warmth. This helps to create ripe tannins, which is a characteristic of Red Mountain fruit.

Low Rainfall: The region is relatively dry with an average of less than 5” of rain annually. Irrigation is necessary. Low rainfall helps to mitigate disease/pest pressure.

Breezes: Which come out of the SW. This air drainage keeps clusters small and concentrates fruit, which is also a hallmark of Red Mountain.

Soils: In Pre-Historic times, Ice Age flooding made the land barren, left only with basalt soils. Winds deposited fine granite-based silt and dust (aka loess) on top of the rock. The resulting soils are fine grained, well-drained, and perfect for growing grapes because of minimal disease/pest pressure

Heat: The vines receive 16-17 hours of sun daily. This creates ripe and concentrated fruit. Plus, cool evenings help the grapes retain their acidity, which aids in maintaining balance and structure.

While with JJ we also had an interesting conversation about oak use. Most wineries are not going to be so honest and we all appreciated JJ’s candor on the topic. He shared that it is his belief that as a general rule, winemakers want to use less oak. But the issue is that consumers demand it (in the sense that they want a certain style of wine; one that generally sees oak treatment) and on the same token, if you seek to receive ratings/scores, those critics generally demand oak use (even if it a subtle demand in that the styles of wine that receive the good score have generally seen more oak). JJ left us with this thought: If you’re a winery with a wine club, you have allocated wines, and/or seek ratings and’re going to use oak. It’s an interesting lever to pull and a very complex topic with many opinions on the table.

Lastly, as part of the Red Mountain tastings, JJ never poured his own wines. Now that is humility. 

Kiona vines

Monday, November 5, 2018

The Lenné Experience

Walk into some wineries and you can tell that they’ve read the studies: millennials are drinking wine at increasing rates and the way to get to their hearts (and wallets) is through an experience. These wineries have crafted Instagrammable moments onsite, they sell wine tchotchkes (including t-shirts that say “rosé all day”), and there is bus/shuttle parking out back for the birthday and bachelorette parties coming through. Those wineries are (generally) fun to visit and have a convivial atmosphere, but the wine isn’t always so great. Sooner or later the bachelorette party starts getting loud and you realize the people behind the counter at the tasting room don’t really know much about wine or have any connection to what they’re pouring, other than to regurgitate tasting notes that appear on the tasting sheets.

Now imagine the complete 180 of that. That would be Lenné Estate in the Willamette Valley of Oregon. To say that Lenné doesn’t have as much “atmosphere” would be completely inaccurate. For those wanting a more authentic and less gimmicky experience, Lenné Estate is the answer. The focus is the wines. Period. And don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a super serious experience only for wine connoisseurs. You still have Scarlet, the requisite winery dog who I could NOT get enough of. The tasting room is beautiful with sweeping views of the Yamhill-Carlton AVA. And they’re looking to add a winery house onsite. Something tells me it wouldn’t be a bachelorette type destination, but more of an escape for those seeking a quiet haven in wine country. Lenné is the winery to visit if you want a wine-focused tasting experience; minus the wine charms and key chains for sale on the tasting counter.


Lenné Estate resides in the Yamhill-Carlton AVA of the Willamette Valley of Oregon. Owners Steve and Karen Lutz bought the property and planted their first vines in 2001. Six long years later the vines produced their first vintage and the tasting room opened. Steve is notorious for proclaiming that his 20-acre vineyard has the poorest soils in the Yamhill-Carlton AVA. Their Peavine soils are nutrient deficient, low vigor, and depleted. Perfect for growing grapes! The vineyard lies on a steep hillside. So steep that one year a tractor tipped in the vineyard. There have also been many “almost” tipped stories. Steve likes to say they grow “death-defying Pinot Noir vines”.

Death-defying slopes at Lenné Estate

Stepping out of the vineyard and into the bottle, we have minimalist wines at Lenné made from both Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. In all, approximately 1500-2000 cases are produced each year, and they have no intention of expanding. Steve likes to make single-block wines so the customer can understand and study terroir. The tasting room is comfortable with ample seating, which is important to Steve. This isn’t a drive-by tasting kind of experience. He wants you to get comfortable, get to know the wines, and maybe enjoy one of his epic charcuterie plates.

The tasting room is open Wednesday-Sunday weekly. Steve also holds wine seminars throughout the year, including blind tastings of his Lenné wines alongside top Pinots from around the world. This is a gutsy move to put your wines alongside Pinots from Burgundy, for example. However, this fact alone shows how transparent Steve is. His wines are not meant to replace or compete with Pinots from Burgundy, New Zealand, or anywhere. The goal is to showcase the unique attributes of each wine and where they came from. 

Steve Lutz, Owner & Winemaker

I asked Steve if Lenné has any plans for growth. Any desires to make wine elsewhere? Nope. This site here. This is Steve’s story.

“This site is ingrained in my DNA” says Steve.

“I didn’t choose Lenné. It chose me”.

Wines Tasted

2016 Chardonnay $45
My notes: Bright fruit aromatics. Does not smell like a Chardonnay. Great green fruit on the palate with medium acid.
Their notes: Asian pear and green apple with lively acidity and creamy texture.

2014 Lenné Pinot Noir $40
My Notes: Oh yeah. Big nose here: bright red fruit plus pepper and smoke. I also get a minerality on the palate. This is their largest production wine.

2015 Jill’s 115 Pinot Noir $55
Their notes: Tighter grained, smaller tannins give a silkiness to the wine. Currant, mocha, and Bing cherry aromatics and a long, elegant finish.

2015 Lenné Estate Pinot Noir $40
My notes: A very balanced combination of red and black fruit. Great mouthfeel (texture) plus a clean, medium plus finish.
Their notes: Black cherry, black raspberry, and mocha aromatics surround a soft mouthfeel and long finish.

2015 Eleanor’s 114 Pinot Noir $55
My notes: Cherry on the forefront of the nose and palate. A good chunk of dirt/earthiness that I expect from a Pinot Noir.
Their notes: Black raspberry fruit, mocha, and truffle aromatics and a rich mouthfeel.

2015 cinq élus Pinot Noir $72
My notes: No words. Wow. This is my favorite wine of the group.
Their notes: This is their five-barrel blend of the best barrel from each of their clonal blocks. Mixed black and red fruit, mocha, and earth aromatic frame a dense wine with layered, and rich finish.

2015 South Slope Select Pinot Noir $55
Their notes: Seeing nearly 80% new oak, this wine has plenty of tannins an should be our longest-lived wine of the vintage. Dark Bing cherry, red fruits, smoke, and mocha aromatics and a long finish.

2008 Lenné Estate Pinot Noir $100
Their notes: 600 cases of this wine was made and 200 cases were held back. It was re-released in 2015. This wine still hasn’t peaked but is delicious, with black and red fruits, forest floor, truffle and the longest finish of any wine we have ever produced.

Monday, October 22, 2018

South America: It’s Not All Malbec

Disclaimer: These wines were received as samples for review.

My family is from Argentina. I spent many summers and school breaks there as a child/teenager and one thing I remember is how there were always tumblers of wine on the table for lunch and dinner. Soda water and “cubitos” (ice) are generally added to red wines, especially at lunchtime. Argentina has a very European culture/mentality towards wine. It’s free flowing, it’s inexpensive, and it’s to be enjoyed daily. Such a healthy way to think about alcohol, versus in the US how we view alcohol as a bad thing (a vice), something to be controlled, and less of a daily enjoyment. We moderate most of the time, yet when we get our hands on it, we tend to drink more at one sitting (binge) and suffer the effects later. I propose we all enjoy 1 glass of wine a day and get in tune with the “healthy” Europeans/Argentines!

When people think of wine in South America, they think of Malbec from Argentina. In South America, Malbec is as ubiquitous as water, generally inexpensive, and flows freely at most lunches and dinners. In the Mendoza wine region of Argentina, Malbec is KING. But did you know that many other grapes are grown there? The major wine producing countries in South America are Argentina and Chile. Uruguay is making a name for itself. And we can even find wines from both Brazil and Bolivia.

With the diversity of wine producing countries and their respective regions with different altitudes, climates, and soils, we have some very diverse grape growing in South America.

One grape that you can find in many wine producing regions of South America is Cabernet Sauvignon: the king of all red grapes. With a grape like Cabernet Sauvignon comes marketability and consumer familiarity. If you’re a wine drinker you have probably heard of Cabernet Sauvignon and feel comfortable ordering it at a restaurant or picking it up in bottle at a wine shop. Cabernet Sauvignon is also known to command higher prices than regional grapes. It is the most well-known international red variety, and for that reason more is planted and prices skew higher.

One of the most well-known winemaking families in South America is the Montes family. In 1987 Aurelio Montes Sr. (and partners) started Viña Montes with the goal of producing wines of a quality far superior to what was coming out of Chile. Their Montes Alpha “M” Cabernet Sauvignon became that first super premium wine to come out of Chile.

Aurelio Montes founded Kaiken in 2002 in the Uco Valley of Mendoza. The name comes from the “caiquén” which is a Patagonian wild goose that is found in both Chile and Argentina. A nod to Montes’ Chilean heritage. The vineyards are biodynamically farmed with over 3 million cases produced annually.

We will now taste three very different expressions of South American Cabernet Sauvignon. 

Montes Alpha M Red Wine 2012 $90 (current vintage: 2015)
Directly from the website: Production of Montes Alpha M is extremely limited and vintages are only released if our head winemaker, Aurelio Montes considers that the quality of the wine is up to demanding standards. Production starts by selecting individual grapes at harvest time. This wine, from Colchagua Valley, it´s one of the best and most awarded wine from Chile.

My notes: This wine is a Bordeaux-style blend (80% Cab Sauv, 10% Cab Franc, 5% Merlot and 5% Petit Verdot). I get red fruit (plum and raspberry), black fruit (black currant), and vanilla. On the palate I also get licorice and caramel/toast. A beautifully made, balanced wine.

Kaiken Terroir Series Cabernet Sauvignon 2014 $17
Boy has this wine got bang for your buck. At $17 this wine feels and tastes much more expensive. The wine is deep ruby in color with garnet hues. Aromatic notes include: red fruit (plum, raspberry), black fruit (blackberry), fresh cracked black pepper, spice box (cinnamon, clove), vanilla, and cedar closet. On the palate I get a stronger presence of black fruit, including blackberry and cassis. Mocha fo sho (that perfect combination of chocolate and coffee). As the wine opens up the black fruit softens and spice comes to the forefront, particularly black pepper.

Kaiken Ultra Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 $20
This wine is medium ruby in color with a perfumed/floral nose. There is a full bouquet of aromas and flavors on this wine: red berries, vanilla (from the French oak), tobacco, spice, and bitter dark chocolate. The tannins are soft and well-integrated.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Artesa: Barcelona Born, Napa Raised

Ana Diogo-Draper, Winemaker

Imagine a career where you have about 30 chances to prove yourself. Each year you get to make one decision and that decision stays with you your entire life. This is the life of a winemaker, according to Ana Diogo-Draper of Artesa Vineyards & Winery. Every year she works hard to craft a wine she is proud of. As she says: You’ve got 30 chances to make it right. And once that wine is in bottle it starts all over again. At the end of her career she will have about 30 vintages of wine that have her touch on it.

I recently attended a press luncheon featuring the wines of Artesa Vineyards & Winery. We were lucky enough to meet winemaker, Ana Diogo-Draper, who tasted us through a flight of Artesa wines. THIS is one of the perks of working in the wine business. I have virtually unlimited access to great wines and get to meet the people who are very close to the wines. The stories behind the bottle never cease to amaze me. There is so much life in a bottle of wine, and I love to share this with all of you. I firmly believe that understanding the backstory of a bottle (the vineyards, the region, the grapes, the winemakers, etc) will help you to better enjoy your wine. It’s a beautiful thing!

From the Artesa website:

In the 1980s, the historic Spanish winemaking family Codorníu Raventós began to acquire and develop vineyard land in the Carneros region of Napa Valley. Opened in 1991 as Codorníu Napa, a sparkling wine house, the winery ultimately transitioned to producing still wines as successive vintages revealed the quality and potential of the family’s vineyard holdings. The winery was renamed Artesa – Catalan for “handcrafted” – in 1997, and has since become a leading producer of artisan wines from the varietals for which Carneros and Napa Valley are best known: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon. Codorníu Raventós is still family owned and is the oldest company in Spain with a winemaking legacy in the Penedès region near Barcelona that dates back to 1551.

The 150 acres of sustainably farmed Artesa estate vines are on a former goat farm with a cool and coastal climate and sea-facing vines. Soils are rocky (sandstone, limestone, and loam). The estate vines straddle the Carneros and Mt. Veeder AVAs and are all at 100-500 feet elevation. Pinot Noir is the most planted with Chardonnay coming in at number two and a bit of Albariño. There is a small amount of Tempranillo and Cabernet Sauvignon in the Mt. Veeder vines. All grapes are handpicked because of the steepness of the vineyards.

Artesa produces 25 distinct wines for a total of 40K-50K cases annually. Ana has been at the helm of winemaking since 2015. She strives for more neutral inputs to let the grapes and the terroir speak for themselves. 100% native fermentation is used, as there is a healthy native yeast population onsite. Researchers were actually brought in and determined that the native yeast onsite does not exist elsewhere; it is unique to Artesa.

For this special tasting, Artesa bottled the component pieces of their wines for educational purposes. Note that these wines were very roughly filtered, bottled by hand, and are not available for sale.

2016 Chardonnay Component #1
This component comes from Blocks 4, 6, & 7 in their estate vineyard. Both Dijon 96 and Robert Young clones are used. In terms of winemaking, puncheon fermentation and basket press is used, the wines go through 100% malo. With this wine, you smell the winemaking (toast, dairy, and texture). On the nose I get green apple, pear, a light toast, and a dairy/cream note. The wine has a bracing medium + acid. The palate is quite textured (perhaps from bâttonage)? And there is a distinct note of toasty macadamia nuts.

2016 Chardonnay Component #2
This Martini clone component comes from Block 15 of the estate vineyard. A pneumatic press and stainless steel fermentation are both used. The wine does not go through malo. Here, I think, you smell a combination of the fruit and the vineyard. This wine is bright with no shortage of fruity, primary notes. It is a bit cloudy, due to the minimal filtering. Green fruit is quite prominent because of the lack of malo.

2016 Artesa Estate Vineyard Chardonnay $38
This finished wine has 20 components parts from 10 different clones. Out of the 20, we only got to taste two (above). This wine feels warm on the nose (it is 14.5% ABV after all!). It is quite layered, almost contemplative. I find many California Chardonnay’s reveal themselves when you first meet. With this wine I had to get to know her a little better before I could make an accurate assessment. There are certainly primary notes present (green fruit and citrus), along with the requisite secondary notes common to Chardonnay: cream and dairy. There is even a faint nuttiness on the finish.

2016 Pinot Noir Component #1
This Martini clone component comes from Block 24 of the estate vineyard, which is the first Pinot Noir pick in the vineyard. Open top fermentation in puncheon for 20-25 days, then basket press. This wine gives red fruit (cherry, cranberry), blueberry, vanilla, spice/toast, and earth (a twiggy note) on the nose. The palate is warm and comforting with immature acid that is not yet integrated.

2016 Pinot Noir Component #2
This Martini clone component comes from Block 14 of the estate vineyard. Stainless steel open top fermentation. The wine is a touch cloudy as it is not finished. This is a very primary wine, compared to the first component piece that had oak influence.

2016 Artesa Estate Vineyard Pinot Noir $45
This finished wine has 25 components, of which we got to try two. Now THIS is a finished Pinot Noir. The requisite fruit + spice/earth lead to a good, all-around red that won’t overpower food and is quality enough to enjoy on your own.

Thank you to Matt Kaner & Good Measure, Zach Groth and Colangelo & Partners, and Artesa Vineyards & Winery.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Oh Sherry Baby

Disclaimer: These wines were received as samples for review 

Sherry is an adult beverages that is a victim of the past. The word “sherry” conjures up images of elderly ladies sitting in a living room (doilies on the tables!) drinking a sweet cream sherry. Harvey’s Bristol Cream anyone? What people do not know about sherry is that it is made in a wide variety of styles. Sweet and dessert wines are less popular these days, which has made sherry naturally fall out of style. However, today we will talk about two DRY styles of sherry that may be more up your alley.

This week is International Sherry Week! I encourage you to step outside of your comfort zone and try something new! What a perfect time to jump in. Let’s first cover the basics of sherry, so you know what you’re getting yourself into!

There are three white grapes allowed for use in Sherry: Palomino, Pedro Ximénez, and Moscatel. The main environmental influences for the grapes used in sherry are the unique white chalky albariza soils (which help retain moisture) and the warm, dry weather.

Sherry is a fortified wine made only in Jerez de la Frontera, Spain. The main styles of sherry are: Fino, Manzanilla, Amontillado, Oloroso, Palo Cortado, and PX. The best way to explain what sherry is, is to explain how it is made. The two ways to age sherry are biologically (under flor, which is a blanket of yeast) or oxidatively. All the styles listed above fall into these two categories, or somewhere in the middle. But we’ll explain that in a minute!

Sherry wine aging under "flor"

First, a neutral base wine is made and fermented to a low alcohol (11-12%). The wine is then fortified, in which a neutral base spirit is added to increase the alcohol (15-18% depending on the style). The wine is then placed into oak barrels that are not completely filled to the top and is now ready to enter the “solera” for aging. A solera is a process for aging the wines in barrel. See the picture below from the SherryNotes website (which I highly recommend you visit if you want to learn more about sherry!). The bottom barrels are the oldest and the top barrels are the newest. There are different barrels for each year/vintage. Every year some sherry is pulled from the solera and bottled and every year more sherry is added into the system and it is fractionally blended with the older vintages.

Photo from:

A description of the styles of these samples lie below within the tasting notes.

Tasting Notes

Gonzalez Byass Vina AB Amontillado Sherry $24.99
An amontillado sherry starts out being aged biologically under the flor yeast. It is then moved to an oxidative solera. This is why the main markers for amontillado sherry are oxidative and nutty notes. This wine is a pale amber color, has bracing acid and is super duper nutty. There are also savory/umami notes as well as a woody note. This wine has a veryyyyyyy long finish.

Gonzalez Byass Leonor Palo Cortado Sherry $24.99
Palo cortado is a rare style of sherry. The wine starts biologically aging under the flor yeast, but sometimes the flor does not develop properly, so it is moved to an oxidative aging system. For this reason, the wine has a combination of aromas/flavors from both systems. It is a more complex wine and perceived to be of a higher quality. This wine is a medium/deep amber color, very strong acid and is richer than the amontillado. The nuts are a bit toastier, almost like garrapiñadas roasting on the street. I also get dried orange peel, caramel, candied ginger, and baking spices (cinnamon and cardamom). There is also a lactic note, which is typical of a Palo Cortado.

Good food pairings for this wine include: cured meats, nuts(!), and cheese. It is a lovely companion to a charcuterie plate to get the party started! These wines are both perfect as we move into fall and look for something other than simple whites and the ubiquitous rosè. These wines have character, a savory note, and are quite warming.

Thank you both to Donna White PR and Gonzalez Byass USA for these samples!