Tag Archives: Merlot

Our Wine of the Week: Firestone Red Wine 2016

So much about this post is divergent from our usual notions and stereotypes about wine. Red wine in the summer? Certainly. Do you not drink Rosé in the winter? Oh, you don’t? Well, that’s a topic for another post. Our Wine of the Week being a budget-friendly, mid-week wine? Well, this just proves that good wine doesn’t have to break the bank. But the most surprising thing for us, is that our Wine of the Week this week is a…*gasp*…Red Blend from California. (Spoiler Alert: Wine Snobbery Geekery ahead.)

Don’t misunderstand. Many of the great wines of the world are red blends. Bordeaux? Red blend. Super Tuscan? Also a red blend. Côtes du Rhône? We’ve made our point. Nevertheless, stereotypes exist for a reason. California Red Blends have a reputation of being cheap, flat, and sweet; mass produced for the masses. And many of them are. And a lot of people like them. They just aren’t a style we typically prefer. To be fair, the Firestone Red Wine 2016 is from the designated Paso Robles AVA, so it isn’t technically a “California” Red Blend.

(Side note, designations matter. If you see “California” on the label, it means the grapes came from somewhere, anywhere in the vast state. The name of a county on a label means at least 75% of the grapes must come from that county, and if the wine carries a designated AVA name, it means 85% or more of the grapes came from that AVA. Why does this matter? Some regions have better growing conditions for certain grape varieties, a suggestion that the wine will showcase the characteristics of the terrier of the region, and be an overall better wine. Another topic for another blog post. We now return you to our regularly scheduled Wine of the Week blog.) 

Firestone Vineyard was the first estate winery established in Santa Barbara County. In the 1970’s, before even Napa had established worldwide acclaim, Leonard Firestone saw potential in the Santa Ynez Valley. (In case you are wondering, yes, Leonard is the son of Harvey Firestone, of Firestone Tires fame.) With 325 acres under vine, and a commitment to sustainable farming, Firestone produces an enticing portfolio of wines. Their red varieties include Bordeaux and Rhone grapes; Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec, Cabernet Franc, and Syrah, while their whites vines are Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, and Gewürztraminer.

The Firestone Red Wine 2016 is a classic Bordeaux-style wine, composed of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. We found it at wine.com (currently on sale for $14.99.) Here’s what we thought of it:

Yes, stemless. Don’t Judge.

A smooth and easy drinking red blend. Garnet color. Nose of cherry, raspberry, blackberry, and smoke. On the palate, ripe raspberries, cherry, fresh blackberry, cherry cola, tobacco, spice, and smoke. Medium body, with dry tannins and bright acidity. Medium finish.

In addition to wine.com, Firestone Vineyard wines are available through the Foley Food & Wine Society website. 

What was your Wine of the Week?

Cheers! 

  • By Kent Reynolds and Robyn Raphael-Reynolds

Three Gems from Ravines Wine Cellars

A few weeks back, we were talking about different wine varieties, and decided we needed to incorporate more Riesling into our lives. Mere days later, as if she overheard our conversation from 3,000 miles away, Courtney from Ravines Wine Cellars, in the Finger Lakes Region of New York, emailed us offering samples of their wines, including their flagship Dry Riesling. How could we refuse?

The following wines were provided as media samples for review. All reviews, descriptions, and opinions are our own. We received no additional compensation.

Riesling is a very versatile grape. It can also be polarizing; you either like it or you don’t. In our observation, the polarization is directly related to the versatility – Riesling wines can be made in a variety of styles, from dry to sweet. A few years ago, the market was flooded with cheap, sweet Riesling from Germany, which has turned a lot of wine drinkers away from Riesling in general. That’s a shame, because Riesling is a stunning grape, food friendly and elegant. While we tend to prefer dry wines, we’ve enjoyed some excellent off-dry Rieslings, and have an appreciation for the occasional sweet sip. 

The Finger Lakes Region, in Upstate New York, is known for its Riesling. With a short growing season and cold, snowy winters, Riesling finds itself right at home there. The name, Finger Lakes, comes from the 11 long, narrow lakes formed by glacial movement millions of years ago. Seneca Lake and Cayuga Lake are two of the deepest in the US, at 618 feet and 435 feet, respectively. 

Ravines Wine Cellars is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year. In 2001, husband and wife team Morten and Lisa Hallgren founded Ravines Wine Cellars, with a mission to produce a bone dry Riesling. Born in Denmark, Morten learned winemaking at his family’s estate winery in Côtes de Provence, France. Morten went on to earn a degree in winemaking from Ecole Nationale Supérieure d’Agronomie in Montpellier. Meanwhile, Lisa studied the culinary arts and is now a professionally trained Chef. As an adult, Morten came to the United States, eventually settling in Upstate New York, where he and Lisa purchased land between two ravines in the Finger Lakes region. You can read more of Morten and Lisa’s story on the Ravines Wine Cellars website.

Our sample pack from Ravines Wine Cellars included three wines; a 2017 Chardonnay, the flagship 2017 Dry Riesling, and their Bordeaux-style red blend, Maximillen 2017. These, and all of their portfolio wines are available for purchase on their website.


2017 Chardonnay (SRP $19.95)

A unique Chardonnay, made in the appassimento method by partially drying the grapes before pressing. The appassimento method is of Italian origin, and is used in making the rich and concentrated Amarone wines. 

Clear golden color. Aromas of ripe apricot, mild citrus, and pear. On the palate, there are flavors of grilled lemon, pear, peach, and citrus. Medium body with vibrant acidity. The finish lingers with fresh citrus and just a hint of toasty warmth at the end. Excellent paired with roast chicken. 


Dry Riesling 2017 (SRP $17.95)

Clear, golden color. Aromas of pear, apple, and citrus, with floral notes. On the palate, there are flavors of Bartlett pear, yellow apple, lemon lime, and lychee, with hints of honeysuckle and lemon blossom. Light body with brisk acidity and a lingering finish. Paired well with chicken and broccoli stir fry. 


Maximilien 2017 (SRP $24.95)

54% Merlot, 46% Cabernet Sauvignon. 

This is a classic Bordeaux blend. A New World wine with a distinctly Old World vibe. Ruby-garnet color. The nose is earthy, cherry, raspberry, and ripe plum. On the palate, smoky with blackberry, black cherry, ripe raspberry, and red currant, with black pepper, tobacco, cigar box, and wisps of bell pepper. Medium-plus body, with grippy tannins and bold acidity. Long finish of black fruit and spice. Somebody please get me a ribeye! 

Thank you.

We found each of the Ravines Wine Cellars wines to be distinct, expressive, and downright delicious. We are happy to have more Riesling in our lives, and will remember Ravines Wine Cellars when it’s time to re-stock that corner of the cellar.

  • By Kent Reynolds & Robyn Raphael-Reynolds
  • Photos by Robyn Raphael-Reynolds

Review: Toccata Classico 2015

I first learned about Toccata wines several years ago, when one of their sales reps was hosting a tasting at a wine bar near my home. I happened in, by happy coincidence, and was immediately impressed by the quality, complexity, and character of the wines. Alas, the wines are not widely distributed, so Toccata was difficult to find and enjoy regularly.

The Toccata label is owned by Lucas & Lewellen Vineyards, a family owned estate in Santa Barbara County. I’m fairly certain the Toccata tasting all those years ago was the first Santa Barbara wine I had experienced. Lucas & Lewellen is fairly well known to travellers along Highway 101 south of Paso Robles, as their large estate vineyards are adjacent to the highway, and are well marked with signs identifying ownership and often the variety of grape.

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Photo Credit: llwine.com

Years after that original Toccata tasting, my son started college at U.C. Santa Barbara; another happy coincidence. During the hours-long drives from Northern California to visit, as I passed the Lucas & Lewellen vineyards, I was reminded of the Toccata wines I had enjoyed. When I discovered that Toccata has a tasting room, just a few miles off Highway 101 in the quaint village of Solvang, I was thrilled to be able to enjoy these wines again while also enjoying time with my son, and the beauty of Santa Barbara. Still, once he graduated, and my regular trips to Santa Barbara came to an end, so did my ready access to Toccata.

To my sheer delight, I was recently offered a sample of the Toccata Classico 2015. There was no hesitation in my affirmative response to the offer!  

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Toccata wines are all Italian varieties and styles. Toccata Classico is a red blend made in the Super Tuscan style. The fruit comes from two estate vineyards; Los Alamos Vineyard in the Santa Barbara AVA and Valley View Vineyard in the Santa Ynez Valley AVA. The 2015 is composed of 50% Sangiovese, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 5% each of Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Freisa, and Petit Verdot. Here’s what we thought of it:

The following wine was provided as a media sample for review. All reviews, descriptions, and opinions are our own. We received no additional compensation.

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Rich, deep purple with ruby rim. Initial nose is vanilla, with ripe red berry. On the palate, flavors of ripe raspberry, blackberry, and cassis, with baking spice, vanilla, tobacco, white pepper, and toasty oak. Firm, chewy tannins, with medium acidity. Rich and full bodied. The finish is long with red and black fruit, oak, and black pepper.

SRP $29.00 per bottle

Perfect for Italian cuisine, and also fantastic with other genres of food, too. We loved it with Pan Seared Filet Steaks with Gorgonzola and Caramelized Onions. Sheer delight! img_2349

If you are in the Santa Barbara area, be sure to take a detour out to Solvang and visit the Toccata tasting room. It’s well worth the trip!

Cheers!

  • By Kent Reynolds
  • Photo credit, except where noted, and inspiration by Robyn Raphael

Review: Luke Donald Collection LDC Red, Napa Valley, 2012

Robyn made a great find yesterday at the market! We were picking up some provisions at one of our favorite shops, where in addition to great prices on groceries, they have a wide selection of quality wines at blow-out prices. We refer to this establishment as “Winevana.” You may know it as Grocery Outlet.

At any rate, we wandered into the well-stocked wine department. Alas, our Wine Genie, Jerry, was not working, so we wandered the aisles reading Jerry’s shelf-talkers instead. Suddenly, Robyn stopped, and blurted out “Bordeaux Blend!” She had stumbled upon (not into, thankfully) a display of Luke Donald Collection LDC Red wine. I’d never heard of this label, but when I read Jerry’s description, I agreed with Robyn. We had to take one home with us. Robyn also made a brilliant suggestion: “Let’s open this tonight with our burgers. So we did.

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I’ve never been one to chase celebrity or athlete wines, and frankly, I didn’t know this was such a wine until I read the back label. Luke Donald is a British professional golfer, who partnered with  Bill Terlato of Teralto Wines to create wines of excellence, that reflect Luke’s personality and style.

Here’s my Vivino review, describing what I thought of the wine:

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This is a remarkable Bordeaux-style blend. Definitely New World, with a big, bold profile. Deep, inky purple color in the glass. Aromas explode from the glass on the nose, including blackberry, dark black cherry, ripe raspberry, and mocha. On the palate, flavors of Marionberry pie, ripe blackberry, black cherry, baking spice, vanilla, and toasty oak. A little hot at first but tamed with food. Tannins are firm and chewy, and acidity is medium and balanced. We had it with grilled cheeseburgers with tarragon-Russian dressing. Exquisite! The finish goes on for days, with dark berry and white pepper. 43% Merlot, 43% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Cabernet Franc, 4% Petit Verdot.

Oh, those cheeseburgers? They were no ordinary cheeseburgers. They were Cheddar BLT Burgers with Tarragon-Russian dressing. If you want to try them, you can find the recipe at Food & Wine. (Click the link!) OK, OK, the picture here is from the Food & Wine website. We’re eating low-carb, so we had these sans-bun in lettuce wraps. They really weren’t photo-worthy, but they still tasted amazing! If you close your eyes, you can almost taste the toasted brioche bun.

Cheddar BLT Burger with Tarragon-Russian Dressing

If you can find this wine, I encourage you to try it. Check your local Grocery Outlet, and maybe you’ll get lucky. This wine averages about $35 on the Internet. We got our bottle at Grocery Outlet for just $9.99!

Cheers!

  • By Kent Reynolds, with credit and inspiration to Robyn Raphael.

Review: Château Bélingard AOC Bergerac Rosé

Summer is the traditional season for Rosé wine. There is a movement afoot to encourage wine lovers to enjoy Rosé all year, and I’m all on board. I do enjoy Rosé wine year around. Nevertheless, lighter bodied, crisp wines taste best to me (any many others) when the weather is warmer. Poolside, lakeside, or parkside, a refreshing Rosé is a great way to enjoy a summer afternoon.

Rosé wine comes to the plate with two strikes against it. First of all, many people I know still think all Rosé wine is like the syrupy sweet White Zinfandel popular in the 80’s and 90’s. This is simply not true. The reality is that a good many of the Rosé wines available today are crafted in the classic, Provençal style: dry, crisp, and refreshing. Still, some simply aren’t willing to give dry Rosé a try. I say their loss is my gain: more for me!

Strike two is that there are a lot of low quality Rosé wines out there, lacking in flavor, interest, or character. I suppose this is to be expected when a product suddenly becomes as popular as Rosé has in recent years. Everybody wants a piece of the action; to ride the wave while it is high. So they’ll rush to put something, anything out there to enter the market before the tide turns. (I’m detecting a surf theme here. Appropriate, given that Rosé is a great beach wine!)

Fortunately, there are also many excellent Rosé wines available! I found one of them recently at my local Total Wine & More store. Château Bélingard AOC Bergerac Rosé (Retail: $11.99) is a blend of 70% Cabernet Sauvignon and 30% Merlot. As one might expect from the use of these two big, bold red grapes, this Rosé has a bit more body and heft than most. Make no mistake, though; this is still a dry, crisp, refreshing wine!

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Founded in 1820, Château Bélingard is located in Southwest France, in the Bergerac appellation, east of the more famous Bordeaux region. While Bergerac wines are made predominantly with the same varietals as those of Bordeaux – Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot based red wines, and Sauvignon Blanc and Sémillon based whites – Bergerac wines are often considered softer and less serious. I don’t take this as a criticism in any way! On the contrary, these are high quality, value wines! Not everyone is a collector or connoisseur, and there is definitely a need for affordable, easy-drinking, everyday wines.

In addition to this Rosé, Château Bélingard produces an impressive portfolio of reds and whites, including a Sauvignon Blanc/Sémillon/Muscadelle blend, and several levels of Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot blends. Below is my review of the Rosé, which we recently enjoyed as a cool refresher on a 102°F Sunday evening.

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IMG_2342Salmon, almost orange color. Aromas and flavors of tropical fruit including mango and passion fruit, with a hint of mandarin, along with light red berry flavors of strawberry and ripe raspberry. Dry with medium body and a soft, round mouthfeel and lively acidity make this a refreshing wine, yet big enough to pair with grilled tri-tip steaks or other summer BBQ fare.

We really enjoyed this wine! I rated it 4.5 out of 5 stars (92 – 94 points).

Check your local retailer and seek out some of this amazing Rosé wine! You’ll be glad you did!

Cheers!

Review: Intertwine Merlot Napa Valley 2015

As the Merlot revival continues, each vintage of Bridget Raymond’s annual contribution to the NakedWines.com portfolio grows in popularity. I reviewed the 2014 vintage of Intertwine, and it is one of my most-read blog posts. So it was with eager anticipation that I opened the newly released 2015 vintage.

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The Intertwine Merlot Napa Valley 2015 is made with fruit from the Oakville and Carneros AVAs. Both are among the finest, and best known regions in the Napa Valley. Whereas the 2014 showed its youth, and required ample aeration to be enjoyed young, the 2015 is smooth and delicious out of the bottle, although a bit of air allows it to open up, with more flavors emerging, and becoming even more enjoyable. As with most young wines, it will continue to improve with several months or years in the cellar.

This is the fourth vintage of Intertwine that I have had the pleasure of sampling. My tasting notes sum up my appreciation for this delightful juice:

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This could be the best vintage of Intertwine yet! The color is deep purple. On pouring through a Vinturi, this is a blackberry delight! Plenty of juicy fruit on the nose with a hint of oak. Through sheer willpower, I let it breathe for about 30 minutes before allowing the elixir to touch my lips. Patience, rewarded. As the wine opens up, the nose develops some tobacco, black cherry, and cedar notes. When finally tasted, wow! Bold blackberry, Marionberry pie, and black cherry fill the mouth. Full, round, rich mouthfeel coats the tongue. The tannins are firm, but will soften with bottle aging, and the acidity is fresh and lively. The finish is long, with cherry, berry, cedar, smoke, and spice. I even got a bit of dark chocolate at the very end.

Food worthy? Oh yes! Intertwine 2015 took my roasted pork loin with poached pears to an entirely new level! Stellar!

4.5+ out of 5 stars (92 – 95 points)

SRP: $27.99, Angel Price: $13.99

Intertwine Merlot Napa Valley 2015 is available exclusively from NakedWines.com. If this sounds like your kind of wine, you can follow this link to become an Angel, and receive a voucher worth $100 off your first-time order of $160 or more. If you try it, please let me know what you think!

Cheers!

Bordeaux: It’s Not a Grape

bordeauxreflectionsBordeaux. The name evokes images of luxury and glamour, Downton Abbey-esque dinner parties, and the ultimate in fine wine – the standard against which all other wines are measured. This is not undeserved; Bordeaux is very good wine. It is one of the most recognized names in the wine world. As such, it is also misunderstood, and intimidating to many people.

downton-abbey-dinner-tableA while back, I invited some friends over for dinner, and to share a bottle of Bordeaux. This particular bottle, a $60 Saint-Émilion (obviously not a Grand Cru, but a very nice wine), had been sent to me to review, so I wanted to share it with people who would appreciate the quality. These friends are into wine, but drink mostly California wines. I opened and decanted, and when dinner was served, poured the wine. As they tasted, I explained that as a Right Bank Bordeaux, this wine was predominantly Merlot, blended with Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. The looks on their faces betrayed their surprise. “Bordeaux isn’t a grape?” one of my friends asked.

Old World wines can create confusion to American wine drinkers. Had I served a Napa Valley Merlot, the label would say “Napa Valley Merlot.” A red blend with less than 75% of one varietal would say “Red Blend” or something similar, and often lists the grapes on the back label. European wines, on the other hand, name the region on the label, but usually not the varietal. There, people just know that Red Burgundy is Pinot Noir, Chianti is Sangiovese, Rioja is Tempranillo, and Bordeaux is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and other grapes.

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Napa Merlot

The Bordeaux region is in southwestern France, along the banks of the Gironde river. The predominant red grapes are Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Historically, red wines from producers on the Left Bank of the river are Cabernet-based, while those from the Right Bank are Merlot-based. Other common varietals, used for blending, include Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, and Malbec. As mentioned, Bordeaux wines are renowned for their quality, their aging potential, and their glamour.

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While high-end Bordeaux, Grand Crus, can fetch thousand of dollars per bottle, there are plenty of very good Bordeaux wines for less than $20. Check your wine shop or market, and try a bottle! Bordeaux has earned it’s reputation for a good reason. Just don’t look for a Bordeaux grape!

Review: Intertwine Napa Valley Merlot 2014

Another NakedWines.com exclusive, Intertwine is made by winemaker Bridget Raymond. Growing up in the Napa Valley, Bridget knows all the best vineyards, and produces some spectacular wines. The Merlot grapes for the Intertwine Napa Valley Merlot are from the renowned Oakville AVA. A bit of Rutherford Cab and Petit Verdot are added to make it even better.

imageI’ve been looking forward to the 2014 Intertwine for many months. My patience has been rewarded. This wine is big, and young. Bridget herself advises waiting several months before tasting to let it mature. Well, I am both impatient, and also one of her NakedWines.com Archangels*, so I felt it was my duty to dive in and give it a try.

I decanted for about two hours. Of course, I had a sip before decanting, because, science. Besides, beneath the foil, I found these instructions: image

imageThis is a delicious wine! The color is ruby in the glass. Aromas of cherry, raspberry, and soft oak greet the nose. These flavors are present on the tongue as well, along with some dark berry, black currant, and spice. The finish is long, with berry and mocha. The wine has a rich, full body. At this point, the tannins are tight but not overbearing. It is quite enjoyable now. I’ll check in again in a couple hours.

imageI’m back! Oh, my! What a difference some air makes. The tannins are now soft and smooth. The chocolate/mocha flavors are more pronounced, and this wine is full, round, and stunning! Imagine how this will taste in six months. Bridget, you’ve done it again! 4.5 out of 5 Hearts.

You’d expect to pay $40 or more for an Oakville Merlot of this quality. However, this wine is available exclusively to NakedWines.com customers for just $13.99! Click here to learn more, and to get a voucher worth $100 off a first-time order of $160 or more.

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* NakedWines.com members are known as Angels, because they provide the funding that allows winemakers to make their wines. The most active Angels are given the title of Archangel, and help support winemakers they follow.