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Category Archives: Pinot Noir

Want Great Wines? Head South.

For excellent wines at great values, head south. For interesting takes on your favorite varietals, head south. To expand your understanding of terroir and its influence on wine, head south. Wines from South America, specifically Chile and Argentina, define all these statements. I recently had the opportunity to experience three outstanding South American wines: Montes Limited Selection Pinot Noir 2014, Montes Twins Red Blend 2014, and KAIKEN Terroir Series Torrontés 2016.

The Three

For many years, right or wrong, Chile had the reputation of creating bulk wines of inferior quality. In 1988, Aurelio Montes, Sr. and Douglas Murray set out to challenge that notion, when they founded Viña Montes. These two pioneers believed that the unique conditions and terroir in Chile could produce world-class wines. Their first project was a Bordeaux-style red blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Merlot. In 1998, the first vintage of Montes Alpha M was released. Subsequent lines, including Folly and Purple Angel, followed, with great success and popularity. Over the past 29 years, additional labels were introduced, at various price points, including Montes Limited Selection, the Classic Series, Cherub Rose, and the Montes Twins.

Montes Pantone

Those familiar with the Montes name will recognize the iconic angel on the label. That angel was inspired by Douglas Murray, who developed an abiding faith in angels after surviving two different near-fatal auto accidents. Montes adopted the angel icon to symbolize their commitment to be a positive force and influence. In keeping with that mission, Montes is a leader in environmental sustainability. Since 2009, Montes has implemented strategies to reduce fossil fuel consumption by 30%, and use of fertilizers by 50%. Sheep now help with weed control, and the winery has begun covering water reservoirs with geomembranes that reduce water leakage from two gallons per second to zero!

The Montes family of wines has certainly succeeded in breaking the mold and improving the quality and reputation of Chilean wines. So it follows that Aurelio Montes, Sr., would seek to expand his influence beyond the Chilean borders. In 2001, Montes, Sr., founded KAIKEN Winery on the other side of the Andes mountains, in Mendoza, Argentina. The Kaiken is a near-extinct bird, native to the region, known for soaring over the high, mountain peaks. Now run by son, Aurelio Montes, Jr., KAIKEN’s logo features a representation of “birds in flight” travelling over the Andes mountains. In keeping with the environmental commitment at Montes, in 2011 KAIKEN started managing its vineyards with biodynamic principles. They are pursuing a goal of being 100% biodynamic by the end of this year (2017.)

Kaiken Site Logo

Seeking to take Argentinian wines beyond just Malbec, the KAIKEN wine portfolio includes four labels: Mai, Ultra, Terroir Series, and Reserve. Malbec is featured in the Mai line, and is represented in others, but the Ultra, Terroir Series, and Reserve lines include reds composed of Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot, and Bonarda, along with Malbec. White wines are produced from Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, and the more Argentine-associated Torrontés.

So how do they taste? Well, here’s what I thought of them:

Montes Limited Selection Pinot Noir 2014 

100% Pinot Noir from the Acongagua Coast, aged 6-7 months in French Oak and Stainless Steel barrels.  

This is a complex, well-balanced Pinot Noir. Ruby red color with a slightly brick rim. On the nose there are aromas of soft earth and ripe raspberry. The complexity is evident from the initial sniff. On the palate, soft, supple tannins and light acidity dance on the tongue with earthy influences mingling with raspberry, cherry, plum, and red currant flavors. Medium body, with a lingering finish of red fruit and a hint of cola at the end.

I find some Pinot Noir to be too earthy, with the soil and mushroom flavors overpowering the fruit. The Montes Pinot Noir has just the right amount of earthiness, that enhances the fruit and makes this a very enjoyable wine. Paired with grilled salmon, it was truly delightful. It would also go nicely with other foods, including pork or mushroom risotto.

Average Price: $13 (Wine Searcher)

Montes Twins Red Blend 2014 

35% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Syrah, 25% Carmenère, 10% Tempranillo, from the Colchagua Valley. 50% of the wine was aged for 10 months in first, second, and third-use French Oak barrels. 

Very impressive red blend. Deep purple color in the glass. On the nose, aromas of Black Cherry, Raspberry, Blackberry, and a hint of soft vanilla. After several swirls and minutes to open up, the palate offers juicy flavors of Blackberry, Black Currant, Black Cherry, and Dark Chocolate, with soft oak and vanilla influences. Rich and full-bodied, with a complex character and soft, velvety tannins and fresh acidity, the wine finishes with a flourish of dark berry, chocolate, and hints of licorice and spice. This is an intriguing, sexy wine that pairs well with anything from the grill: beef, lamb, pork…we had it with grilled Sweet Italian Sausages and the pairing was spectacular!

Average Price: $12 (Wine Searcher)

KAIKEN Terroir Series Torrontés 2016 

100% Torrontés from Salta, Argentina. Fermented and aged 6 months on the lees.  

Pale golden color in the glass. There are aromas of lemon-lime and citrus, with a hint of elderflower. On the palate, there are flavors of lemon and lime, with grapefruit, quince, and mandarin. There is bright, lively acidity, but the wine has a soft, smooth mouthfeel – evidence of aging on the lees. On the finish, the citrus notes continue, and some pear joins the party.

This is a delightfully refreshing wine, especially on the blistering hot day we tasted it. It paired magically with grilled Mahi-Mahi tacos, taking our simple, mid-week meal to a whole new level.

Average Price: $13 (Wine Searcher)

 

Delicious, food-friendly, and budget-friendly, I highly recommend that you seek out and try these wines. They are widely distributed and available, so you won’t even have to go to South America to find them!

Cheers!

Disclaimer: These wines were submitted to me as samples for review. I received no other compensation or incentive. Technical information was provided with the samples. All opinions and descriptions are my own. 

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Random Musings, February 2017

Blame it on the rain. Northern California has been slammed with a series of winter storms, the likes of which we haven’t seen in a years. As much as we need the rain, we’re Californians, and we really miss our sunshine! Or maybe it’s the recent political climate in our country. Nuf said about that. Perhaps most obviously, it could be the life changes I’m going through that, among other things, have caused a change in my wine-drinking habits. The Big D means that most nights, if I’m drinking, I’m drinking solo. A bottle of wine that nicely serves two people in an evening now lasts me 2-3 days; even four days on occasion! Whatever the cause, I’ve been drinking less wine recently, and have also been suffering from a bout of writer’s block.

Don’t cry for me, however. I’ve been active and busy, going to Meetup events, meeting lots of amazing people, and making new friends in the process. Quite frankly, thinks are looking up, and I feel like I’ve got a bit of my mojo back! With that in mind, I thought I’d piece together a few thoughts – blog ideas from the past few weeks that never got off the ground.

Blues Bars, Beer, and Whiskey

powerhouse-pub

One of the Meetup groups I joined is all about the Blues. They meet several times per week at various bars in the area to listen to Blues bands, dance, and have an all-around good time! Interestingly, I was never much of a Blues fan before. However, I’ve learned that this is because I’d only ever listened to the Blues on the radio. Now I know that Blues is a dish best served HOT! Live Blues is amazing! Where do you find the best Blues? Dive bars. Bars that sell beer by the tanker truck, whiskey, and basic (really basic; 2-3 ingredient) cocktails. These are not establishments that have a well-developed wine program. Who are we kidding? Most don’t have a wine program at all! So this has enabled me to get my beer groove on and explore the wide and wonderful world of brewski! Local craft beer, nationally known brands, and yes, even the occasional, ubiquitous Bud Light. There’s no risk (that I can foresee) of me dividing my loyalty and becoming a beer blogger, but there is a lot of great beer out there, and some pretty amazing people who drink it!

On nights when beer doesn’t appeal, I’ve also become better acquainted to the delights of brown liquor. Whiskey is another pleasing libation that pairs well with live Blues. At a more upscale cocktail bar, I’m generally inclined to order an Old Fashioned (which, ahem, I’ve been drinking since long before Mad Men, so no, I’m not just following a trend!) or a Manhattan. At a dive, Jamie and Ginger is my go-to. (Worried about dirty lines feeding your bartender’s soda gun? Most places don’t run ginger ale through the gun, so you get a freshly opened can from the fridge. Smart, huh?)

Of course, if Blues isn’t your thing, there is plenty of variety in the live music scene in most towns and cities. I hope I’ve inspired some of you to get up, get out, and go listen to some live music!

The Old Sugar Mill: Port, Wine, and Chocolate Lovers

Those of you who are longsuffering dedicated readers of my little corner of the Interwebs may recall my post about The Old Sugar Mill. (<– That’s a link, if you want to pause here to get caught up.) The Old Sugar Mill a wine lover’s fantasy destination, currently housing 13 winery tasting rooms in one location! Last weekend was their annual Port, Wine, and Chocolate Lovers’ Weekend. It’s an amazing event that I’ve missed in prior years. Admission gets you tastes at nearly all of the wineries, plus chocolate samples, live music, and access to some of the region’s best gourmet food trucks! This year I attended with a friend I met through another Meetup group. It was a blast! I was having so much fun; I forgot to take pictures – except this one.

port-wine-and-chocolate

House Parties

I’ve also been attending a few house parties, which is a great way to meet and mingle. One I recently attended was wine themed. Being a wine guy, I naturally grabbed a nice bottle from my cellar. By no small coincidence, it was from one of my favorite wineries at The Old Sugar Mill. The Merlo Family Vineyards Pinot Noir 2012 was a huge hit! It was the first bottle to run dry, of the 20 or more available at the party. Not pricy by Pinot Noir standards, it retails for $27, but Ray Merlo is a strong advocate for wine education, and a firm believer in the notion that if people can’t afford it, they can’t enjoy it. I’ve had comparable Pinot in the $35-45 range.

merlo-pinot-noir-2012

Here’s my review:

Rich, earthy Pinot Noir, in the classic NorCal style. Purple color with a ruby rim. Aromas of ripe plums and spice. Flavors of ripe plum, blueberry, cherry, and earth with a lingering finish of dark fruit and soft earth tones.

4.0 out of 5 stars (88 – 91 points)

What surprised me about the event was the number of bottom shelf bottles that appeared on the wine table. While they will remain nameless, I am familiar with most of the labels I saw and know them to be “meh” wines in the sub-$5 range. Now, I understand that not everybody is a wine geek like me, and maybe the wine they brought is the wine they drink regularly. Still, when I’m bringing a bottle to an event, I like to step it up and bring something special. Maybe that’s just me.

National Drink Wine Day

national-drink-wine-day

Finally, if you were anywhere within 10 miles of Social Media, or your favorite wine geek, you know that yesterday was National Drink Wine Day. I’m still not sure why someone decided we need a special day to celebrate drinking wine, but who am I to question? Always one to follow the rules, I made my way, with a wine-loving friend, to my favorite local wine bar where we enjoyed some good wine and great conversation. You just gotta love holidays!

Cheers!

 

Fantastic Thanksgiving Wines, Perfect for Chirstmas Dinner

before

The wine was flowing at Thanksgiving this year! My son and I were invited to spend the day with the family of his friend, Edward. With about 20 people in attendance, we blended in and had a great time. In addition to the four wines I brought, which I review below, several other people brought several bottles to share. Those included Frei Brothers Cabernet Sauvignon, Joel Gott 815 Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Talbott Pinot Noir, and William Hill Chardonnay.  There were others, too, but I didn’t get a chance to make a note of which they were. In addition, a bottle of Dalmore 12-year Highland Scotch appeared on the bar. It would have been rude of me to not have a dram or two, right? It was absolutely delicious!

dalmore-12

Photo Credit: totalwine.com

Dinner was a feast! There were two turkeys; one smoked, and one traditional; a honey-glazed ham, mashed potatoes and gravy, dressing, Brussels sprouts, sweet potatoes, two green salads, and rolls. Dessert was equally varied and delicious!

buffet-table

Let the feast begin!

Of the wines I brought, three were from NakedWines.com. The fourth was the just-released 2016 Beaujolais Nouveau from Georges DeBouef. With varying levels of wine-tasting experience represented, from “I’m here for the Scotch, but I enjoy a glass of wine once in a while, too” to a wine industry professional, all the wines were big hits. The hands-down favorite, with it’s soft, easy-drinking, fruit-forward profile, was the Beaujolais Nouveau. In fact, that bottle was empty long before dinner was served!

after

These wines were all excellent companions to a traditional Thanksgiving dinner. With Christmas just around the corner, if you are having similar cuisine, I can wholeheartedly recommend each of these for that meal as well!

georges-deboeuf-beaujolais-nouveauGeorges DeBouef Beaujolais Nouveau 2016

The hands-down favorite around the Thanksgiving table. A party in a glass! Bright purple color, bursting with juicy fruit flavors; boysenberry, cherry, plum, blueberry, and raspberry. Soft tannins and bright acidity made this a light, fun quaff before and during the meal.

4.0 out of 5 stars (88 – 91 points)

$8.97 at Total Wine & More

scott-kelley-oregon-pinot-noirScott Kelley Oregon Pinot Noir 2015

Classic Oregon Pinot. Ruby color. On the nose there is raspberry, fresh plum, and soft smoke. Flavors of ripe raspberry, cherry, and strawberry mingle with soft oak. Tannins are soft and super smooth, with balanced acid, leading to long finish. Pinot Noir just the way I like it!

4.5 out of 5 stars (92 – 94 points)

$24.99 SRP, $14.99 NakedWines.com Angel Price

franc-dusak-chardonnayFranc Dusak Sonoma Valley Chardonnay 2015

A well balanced Sonoma Chardonnay. Straw color in the glass. Aromas of apple and butter. On the palate, flavors of fresh apple and pear, with some caramel at the end. Medium body, very soft smooth with light acidity and perfect balance of oak and fruit.

4.5 out of 5 stars (92 – 94 points)

$23.99 SRP, $13.99 NakedWines.com Angel Price

benjamin-darnault-pique-nique-roseBenjamin Darnault Pique-Nique Rosé 2015

Wonderful dry Rosé of Grenache. Peach color, aromas of fresh raspberry and soft rose petal. Flavors of raspberry and strawberry with floral notes. Light body with bright acidity and a pleasing finish.

4.0 out of 5 stars (88 – 91 points)

$16.99 SRP, $9.99 NakedWines.com Angel Price

 

I hope all of you had a fabulous Thanksgiving. What was your favorite wine of the day? Let me know in the comments.

Cheers!

Review: Ceja Vineyards Vino de Casa 2010

Ceja Vino de Casa

In my continuing periodic series, Wines Scantily Clad, today’s review is the Ceja Vineyards Vino de Casa 2010.

As you may know, I am a member of NakedWines.com, a crowd-funded winery offering excellent wines at excusive, member prices. Wines Scantily Clad are wines that are not NakedWines.com wines, but are produced by NakedWines.com winemakers. These are often private labels, or part of a family venture, as is today’s selection. While not Naked Wines, they are almost Naked, thus, Scantily Clad.

The NakedWines.com connection is Dalia Ceja. Her “La Tapatia” line of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir wines are popular favorites among Angels, and sell out quickly. Dalia’s family came to Napa Valley in the 1960’s as farm workers, and later established the first Mexican-American owned winery in Napa County. (Read their inspiring story here.) When she isn’t making her own wines for NakedWines.com, Dalia is the Brand Marketing Manager for Ceja Vineyards.

Ceja Tiles

When I found the Ceja Vineyards Vino de Casa, my first reaction was, “Interesting. A blend of one of the most delicate red grapes with one of the boldest. I’ve got to try this!” Vino de Casa is a blend of 60% Pinot Noir and 40% Syrah, all from Napa Valley.

From the website:

Aromas of bright cherries, dark fruit, spice and ripe plum. The palate is medium-bodied and showcases hints of black currant and tobacco while ending in a supple finish. Flavors of cedar infused with blueberry abound. This is the perfect “everyday” wine.

 IMG_0746

Here’s my review:

A blend of 60% Pinot Noir and 40% Syrah. The color is a deep Ruby in the glass. Aromas of Bing cherry, plum, and oak greet the nose. First sip, oh so smooth! Raspberry, cranberry, cherry, and vanilla on the palate with soft cedar and blueberry on the finish. A creamy mouthfeel and light acidity make this a truly delightful wine. Delicious on its own, but magical paired with a spice crusted pork steak!

4.5 out of 5 stars

I got mine at Total Wine & More: $26.99.

I highly recommend that you get some, too!

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