Monday, July 30, 2018

Beneath the Surface at Hertelendy Vineyards

Ralph Hertelendy showcasing his portfolio to the LA Wine Writers

Ralph Hertelendy was our host at the LA Wine Writers luncheon in April at Cafe del Rey in the Marina. Ralph is tall, dark, handsome, and he comes bearing his big, bold, gutsy Napa wines. Ok… this one of those “all that glitters isn’t gold” moments? We are talking Napa, you know. And in Napa, sometimes the shiny exterior (i.e. the chateau on the hill or the #boldAF bottle of wine) is not all it’s cracked up to be. Is there more than meets the eye at Hertelendy?

Ralph’s family had been making wine in Hungary and Slovenia over 300 years ago. His Great Uncle Gábor Hertelendy created two varietals in his volcanic basalt-mountain vineyards overlooking Lake Balaton: Szürkebarát (better known as Pinot Gris) and Kéknyelű (a rare Hungarian white wine grape only found in the Badacsony wine region). His vineyards were confiscated by the Communists, but they allowed him to stay and work on his former land as a hired hand. 

Great Uncle Gábor Hertelendy on the left
Ralph comes from a diverse family. His mother was born in China, raised in Peru, and met Ralph’s father at UC Berkeley. His father was a classical music critic, and Ralph grew up exposed to music and the arts. He is a classically trained pianist and can pick up just about any instrument and play it. In addition to making wine, he also makes electronic music. His fermentation journey began at age 15 when he made shitty (his own words) beer in his basement. At 25 he made his first wine (a Bordeaux blend) from purchased grapes.

Hertelendy’s first vintage was 2013; a new kid on the block in the Napa world. A Howell Mountain winery owner once told Ralph, “I’ll sell you my grapes, even though you’re a nobody.” It’s statements (and people) like that, that give Napa a bad name. That perpetuate the elitist mentality so often associated with the area. Hertelendy now owns the 4-acre Rockwell Ridge estate vineyard, which is 35 feet below the prestigious Howell Mountain AVA demarcation line, so they are unable to use that in their labeling. In addition to their small estate vineyard, they also source fruit from all over Napa.

Ralph’s motto is to not play by the rules. His wines showcase “bold elegance”. They do not have a private tasting room, but their wines can be tasted at the Vintner’s Collective in downtown Napa. In addition to their Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, and other Bordeaux blends, they are launching a Cabernet Franc later this year. Next up: a sparkling wine, Pinot Noir, and a GSM blend. His end game? Scotch.

During the 2017 vintage, 25% of their grapes were picked by Saturday October 7th. The 75% balance was slated to be harvested Monday October 9th. On the evening of Sunday October 8th the devastating Napa wildfires began. Hertelendy was not in a good position with most of their fruit still in the ground. The vineyards did not burn, but lab analysis does show smoke taint in the fruit. At the time of this luncheon (April 2018), the jury was still out as to the plans for this fruit. They might use a filtration method known as reverse osmosis which can remove smoke-derived compounds; although there is a chance this may only be temporary and the compounds return as the wine ages. They might use the fruit for Audēre, their sister label, or they might make a special edition “smoke” wine. Gimmicky, yes. But it could be an interesting experiment.

And now, back to the luncheon!

Kale Salad (baby tomatoes, chickpeas, almonds, parmesan cheese, curry dressing)
Pairing: 2015 Chardonnay, Russian River $85 (220 cases)

This salad was to die for. For the wine, grapes were sourced from the legendary Ritchie Vineyard that is said to be one of the best Chardonnay sites in the country. The wine spends 15 months in barrel (90% new French oak). It is unfined and unfiltered. I find it so incredibly complex and layered with notes of sweet citrus (meyer lemon), spice, tropical fruit (guava, ripe pineapple), toast, and sweet spice. Ralph describes it as a Cab lovers Chardonnay. Fun fact: the label changes color when the bottle reaches the optimal temperature of 48 degrees.

Kale Salad & Hertelendy 2015 Chardonnay

Penne Pasta (pancetta, olive oil, white wine, arugula, parmesan)
Pairing: 2015 Signature Mountain Blend $135 (283 cases)

Jesus Christ this pasta is good. This wine is the Hertelendy cuvée. It’s an approachable Napa Cab and a good entry level into the region (yes, $135 in Napa can be considered “entry level”). This is their “Right Bank” approach with Merlot making up 81% of the blend. This wine shows great red fruit, black pepper/spice, cedar box/cigar, and floral (violet) notes.

Hertelendy 2015 Signature Mountain Blend

Seared Duck Breast (orange peel puree, roasted fennel)
Pairing: 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon $135 (706 cases)

Yowzas! This wine is a delight; very well-balanced and mellows out A TON with food. I get notes of: black fruit (blackberry, cassis), bramble, black licorice, baking spices (vanilla, clove), truffle and forest floor. The fruit used is a combination of Mayacama valley floor fruit plus Vaca mountain fruit. The latter two tasting notes (truffle and forest floor) come from the Valley floor fruit).

Rack of Venison Roast (polenta, honey glazed carrots, balsamic vinaigrette)
Pairing: 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon $135 (765 cases)

This wine is a traditional Cab-heavy Bordeaux blend (76% Cab, 11% Petit Verdot, 7% Merlot, 5% Malbec, 1% Cab Franc) with the expected Cab notes of black fruit plus oak and toast.

Marina del Rey Exec Chef David Vilchez carving up the Rack of Venison Roast

Rack of Venison Roast plated

Bonus taste: 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon (533 cases)
This was Ralph’s first Hertelendy vintage. All the fruit was sourced. The wine is predominantly Cabernet Sauvignon with 12% Petit Verdot and 5% Merlot blended in for good measure. One reviewer said the oak was “beautifully disguised”. Parker gave it a 95. I get beautiful, ripe black fruit and bramble.

Hertelendy Reds & the carved Rack of Venison Roast
The group found Ralph to be knowledgeable, personable, and an all around great guy. He is a Jack of all Trades who seems to be successful at everything he touches! So yes, there is more than meets the eye at Hertelendy Vineyards. There is heart, soul, and a family legacy driving the operation. And the wines.....they kick ass. Definitely worth a taste if you come across them. They can be found at the restaurants listed HERE. Cheers!

Friday, July 27, 2018

Alloro Vineyard: Old World Allure in Oregon

Pulling up to the driveway at Alloro Vineyard, I immediately saw the Tuscan-style farmhouse that houses the winery, barrel room and tasting room. There are striking Italian cypress trees lining the vineyards. Am I in the Italian countryside? Or the Willamette Valley in Oregon? Surprisingly enough, you are in Oregon! This property was founded in 1999 by David Nemarnik, of Italian/Croatian descent, who now lives on the property.

We find ourselves in the Chehalem Mountains AVA, which is east of the Coast Range. Soils here are a combination of: Jory (volcanic red), marine sediment, and loess (sedimentary sand and silt). Laurelwood, also one of the sub-soils, could become a new AVA soon, as Luisa Ponzi is spearheading that movement.

“Alloro” means laurel in Italian. The name comes from the winery’s location on Laurel Ridge and also for the Laurelwood sub-soils in the vineyard. The estate is 110 acres, with 34 acres planted to vines. All wines are estate, single vineyard with an annual case production around 2.5K-3K cases. They currently sell half of the grapes they grow.

Overall the goal at Alloro is to make low-intervention wines using sustainable and holistic agricultural practices. The vineyard is dry farmed and L.I.V.E and Salmon-Safe certified. Solar panels generate all the electricity needed for the estate and they’re still able to credit power back to the grid. There is a culinary garden onsite and both heirloom sheep and Hereford cattle are reared on the property. Every September they host the Whole Farm Dinner, with foods prepared by a local chef to celebrate the estate’s harvest of lamb, eggs, olives, chestnuts, figs, vegetables, and wine. Typically, 90% of the ingredients used at this dinner were grown on the estate.

Tom Fitzpatrick has been at the helm of Alloro winemaking since 2010. He grew up in Chicago, moved to Seattle as an adult, and then proceeded to make wine in New Zealand, Napa, and then Burgundy, before arriving in Oregon in 2007. Since arriving at Alloro his wines have been selected to be a part of the prestigious IPNC (International Pinot Noir Celebration) four times, including this year! In fact, the IPNC starts TODAY in McMinnville, OR.

We spent some time with Tom tasting through their portfolio and walking through the vineyards. Tom’s demeanor is one of deliberate intention. He’s not one of those “artist types” who speaks better to the vines than to people. He is quiet and thoughtful in how he communicates, and you get the feeling that is also his approach with winemaking: deliberate, intentional, and controlled. According to Tom, this is a single site, so his focus is on capturing the personality of this site in their wines. Tom continued: I love vintage variation. I want the wines to look like the year they came from.  His goal is to make graceful, elegant wines with a sense of place. If this isn’t an example of honest, regional wine, I don’t know what is.

The Alloro portfolio includes: three Pinot Noirs, Chardonnay, Riesling, Rosé of Pinot Noir, and their Vino Nettare (dessert wine). The tasting room is open Thursday thru Monday 11am – 5pm. There is both indoor and outdoor seating. 

Wines Tasted:

2017 Riesling $30
This wine was just bottled when I tasted it and is under screw cap. Notes of: citrus (lime), green fruit (pear), stone fruit, tropical fruit, and white flower (jasmine). Also, a slight honeyed note. Something different for the Willamette.
100 cases

2014 Estate Pinot Noir $40
This wine made it to the Wine Enthusiast Top 100 List. Read more HERE.
I get juicy red/blk fruit, specifically black cherries, baking spice (cinnamon, clove, nutmeg), and floral (rose). Pleasing AF! I get this wine. This is the best more value priced Pinot Noir I have had in awhile. This wine has a minimal oak footprint (though there is some new French oak) and was meant to showcase terroir.
1600 cases

2015 Riservata Pinot Noir $45
This wine has more weight and fullness than the Estate Pinot Noir and is all about texture. Predominantly red fruit with lots of spice on the finish. The wine is composed of special barrel selections blended with higher proportions of oak. This makes sense as in Italy, wines with extra aging (usually in oak) are called “riserva”.
300 cases

2015 Vino Nettare “nectar wine”
This is made in the Icewine style. The juice is frozen solid, drains itself, and is then fermented. Muscat makes up ⅔ of the blend and Riesling makes up the other third. I get citrus, stone fruit, tropical fruit (pineapple), floral, and smoke/petrol.
100 cases

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

The Wines of Custoza, Italy

In March I attended the Tre Bicchieri tasting event in Los Angeles put on by Gambero Rosso. Gambero Rosso is a multimedia brand in the Italian food and wine world that includes: food guides, wine guides, books, a TV channel, a learning academy, and events around the world. The Tre Bicchieri tasting brings together all the highly rated wines that make it into their Vini d'Italia annual guide. The guide is now in its 30th edition. Over 45,000 wines are tasted annually by special committees involving over 70 people. Wines that make the cut in the guide are rated one glass (Bicchieri), two glasses (Due Bicchieri), or three glasses (Tre Bicchieri). The Grand Tasting showcased over 200 wines of all 3 levels detailed above. In tandem with the Grand Tasting, they hosted a Custoza Masterclass. I had never heard of this Italian region, so I was excited to learn about it and try some new Italian wines!

Bianco di Custoza is a while wine DOC in the Veneto region of NE Italy, just south of Lake Garda. The main grapes in the blend are: Trebbiano Toscano and Garganega (the main grape of Soave), and there are a few others. Both the region and the wine are called Custoza. 

Credit: Society of Wine Educators

In this class we tasted 10 Custoza wines of varying styles. Below are my tasting notes.

Cantina di Castelnuovo Del Garda
Custoza Cavegar 2016

Pale lemon in color with lots of primary notes of citrus, green fruit, stone fruit (white peach), and tropical fruit (pineapple). A very youthful wine that felt like a fruit salad in my mouth.

Custoza San Michelin 2016

This wine is a bit more complex than the first one. Very mouth-watering with a prominent note of salinity. There was some sort of savory note on the palate that I couldn’t put my finger on. This is a great standalone wine….it does not need food.

Custoza Superiore Elianto 2015

A lovely wine of quantity (over 250K cases are produced annually). Stainless steel fermentation and then aging in cement tanks with bâttonage, which I can feel on the palate. There is a fullness and a creaminess that comes from that use of bâttonage. 

Monte del Fra
Custoza Superiore Ca del Magro 2015

This is a very aromatic and balanced wine with a slight perception of RS. This wine has fruit and floral notes in addition to pungent spice (ginger). Overall, medium + flavor intensity. A great, sturdy wine.

Custoza Superiore Summa 2015

This wine has depth on the nose and a spicy palate that I love. This wine was fermented in stainless steel with some oak aging.

Cantina di Castelnuovo del Garda
Custoza Superiore Bosco del Gal 2014

A very aromatic wine. Reminded me a bit of a Riesling on the nose. Much riper fruit than the others we’ve tried. Stone fruit and a perfumed elderflower note. Very high acid masks the RS.

Albino Piona
Custoza SP 2013

This wine has the most interesting nose and a creamy, sherbert-like quality on the palate. No idea what that means in formal wine tasting terms, but that’s what I got! There was a saffron note and an oiliness on the palate. This felt like the most intellectual wine of the bunch.

Custoza Superiore Elianto 2012

Savory on the nose, including bruised yellow apples. Spicy (especially on the palate) with some funk and a honeyed nose. Slight RS. A wine to enjoy on its own. Bravo!

Albino Piona
Custoza Superiore Campo del Selese 2012

Woah. This wine goes through a serious evolution on the nose. It starts out almost metallic and then moves to a distinct funkiness, almost like peat. Is that possible? A beautiful and interesting palate.

Monte del Fra
Custoza Sup. Ca del Magro 2008

Wow. This wine is hard to compare to the others because of its age. I get notes of ruby red grapefruit and saffron. Great fruit and great acid.

There were a few key takeaways of this MasterClass. For one, Custoza wines age well. Also, the wines had great length in the glass. The wines are exciting and have so much personality and energy.

The tough part is going to be to find them, as much of the production is consumed locally! But keep an eye out for Bianco di Custoza on the label.....sooner or later I hope you find will not be disappointed!

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Kenwood Vineyards: Home in Sonoma County

Recently I had the opportunity to taste through samples of Kenwood Vineyards’ latest releases. Kenwood puts out 500,000 cases annually. As you may know, I don’t tend to steer towards larger producers, but I have started making some exceptions. For one, I like to see and taste what’s being made out there on a larger scale. I also continue to see some of the larger producers having a hand in meaningful sustainability practices. It is fascinating to see how these larger producers can scale sustainability that we usually associate with smaller producers. This is not a “who is better” argument. It is simply a great comparison what can be done on different levels and with different scales.

Kenwood Vineyards recently partnered with Sonoma County Trails Council on a preservation endeavor. They pledged $100,000 to the Trails Council as well as staff volunteer time with the end goal to help people get outdoors and reconnect in the wild. Wine, as a consumer product, does employ a nice little carbon footprint, so it's good to see large producers helping to offset their piece of the puzzle. Kenwood is also “talking the talk” when it comes to their grape growing and winemaking. They employ sustainable practices including reducing waste, recycling, and lower energy consumption.

Here are some members of the Kenwood team doing trail maintenance and other fire-related recovery efforts. 

Sonoma is at the heart of every wine produced at Kenwood Vineyards. Some wines are single vineyard and some wines include fruit sourced from the entire country, but you can always know that the Kenwood wine you are drinking is truly representative of Sonoma County. Winemaker Pat Henderson says that his “focus as a winemaker is to make wines that showcase the vibrant fruit flavors and distinctive terroirs that make Sonoma famous.”

Wines sampled are below:

2016 Kenwood Vineyards Sonoma County Chardonnay $18
Grapes are sourced throughout Sonoma County for this wine. This wine has seen oak and went through full malo (twice actually!), so we see aromas/flavors of dairy/yogurt, vanilla, and toast. There is also a strong citrus (lemon curd) note along with green apples on the palate. I detect an ever so slight residual sugar, but I cannot confirm as RS was not listed on the spec sheet.

2015 Kenwood Vineyards Six Ridges Pinot Noir $30
The grapes from this wine come from the Russian River Valley. A warm spell before harvest in September gives the fruit on this wine an intense, rich character. This is a nice and ripe Pinot Noir, if that is your style. Lots of ripe red fruit (cherry, plum, strawberry) along with baking spices (cinnamon and allspire).

2014 Kenwood Vineyards Jack London Cabernet Sauvignon $35
This wines name comes from the fact that Kenwood has been exclusively crafting wine from single vineyards on novelist Jack London’s historic ranch. This was a very dry year as we were in the 3rd year of California’s historic drought, which increased the intensity of fruit. On this wine we see a combination of red and black fruit (including cherries and blackberries). On the palate I get the same fruit, plus black pepper, and tobacco.

Thank you to Double Forte PR for this sampling opportunity. Cheers!

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Inside the Wine Cave: Thomas George Estates

Imagine hopping on a shuttle bus to an “undetermined location” in Sonoma wine country. What’s the worst that could happen? Nothing, it turns out! Me and about 30 of my fellow Wine Bloggers Conference attendees ended up at Thomas George Estates in the Russian River Valley. It was already nightfall, so we did not get to see the sprawling vineyards onsite, as it was already dark. We exited the bus and were immediately whisked into the wine cave/tasting room and greeted with a glass of bubbly and some charcuterie. Not bad!

This property originally belonged to Davis Bynum, a legend in Russian River Pinot. The Baker family purchased the land and winery from Bynum and founded Thomas George Estates in 2008. Since then they have acquired other vineyards and now maintain close to 100 acres of vines! All wines that Thomas George produces are estate and they focus on site-specific Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays. In addition, they also grow: Grenache, Zinfandel, and Viognier.

My wine friends and I arrived and enjoyed the reception in the beautiful cave setting. The bubbly was a hit, and the nibbles were delectable. 

We then headed to the gorgeous and dramatically lit table for dinner. The full menu, including wine pairings, is below. It was a great meal, wonderful people, and will be remembered!


Black Pig Salumi & Antipasti
House-made cured meats, roasted & marinated vegetables, crostini

2014 Brut Blanc de Blancs, Starr Ridge Vineyard, “Cooper Block” 14.2% ABV, $50
Oh boy is this wine good. Crisp green apple, brioche/toast, lees aging detectable. Bitter almond on the finish.

First Course

Roasted Brussels Sprout Salad
Black pig bacon, Asian Pear, Marcona Almonds, Aged Sherry Vinegar, Bohemian Creamery “Capriago”

2015 Chardonnay, Sons & Daughters Vineyard 13.9% ABV $35
No malo and no oak. The wine was aged sur lie in both stainless steel tank and concrete egg. This is a ripe Chardonnay with notes of citrus, stone fruit, and tropical fruit. Great acid makes this a nice everyday Chardonnay.


Cracklin’ Pork Belly + Star Anise Liberty Duck
Black Rice, TGE Estate-Grown Pomegranate, Watercress

2014 Pinot Noir, Baker Ridge Vineyard 14% ABV $70
This wine paired famously with the pork belly and duck. Aromas of red and blue fruit plus floral violet notes. On the palate, strong acid with red/blue fruit, violet and earthy notes.


Backyard Quince & Apple Tartin, Bourbon Gelato

2012 Late Harvest Viognier, Baker Ridge Vineyard “Baby Block” 17% ABV $35
Divine. Just divine.