20 August 2014

Montes Angels of California

Aurelio Montes is well-known in Chile, where his self-named winery has been a regional powerhouse. Over time he expanded to Argentina, and also to North America with the Angel line.

Operating in both hemispheres provides an interesting challenge and a contrast to the regular operation of a winery that ticks along according to the seasons. When you're running both north and south of the equator, you're always working. February is pretty quiet north of the equator but south of the equator, that's when harvest begins.

2008 Star Angel Red Wine
Paso Robles, California
100% Syrah
$20, 15% abv.

Plum and spice notes with medium tannins, tasty and great for a pizza in the middle of the week. This wine has an interesting marketing line--though it is pure Syrah, they choose to market it as "red wine" in order to attract the market looking for just a red for the evening.

2011 Star Angel Pinot Noir
Santa Rita Hills, California
100% Pinot Noir
$34, 14.5% abv.

The wine shows bright ripe wild strawberry aromas and flavors with a tart edge and a bold body. Quite young, should be milder in a few years.

2008 Napa Angel Cabernet Sauvignon
Napa Valley, California
$34, 14.9% abv.

I don't know the exact grape makeup, but this likely Bordeaux blend opens up with a rich nose of cassis and a touch of chocolate. Well-aged with medium tannins and a gentle finish. Highly recommended and one that is expected to improve over the next 3-5 years.

Note: These wines were provided as samples for review.

18 August 2014

Spanish Verdejo

Ampelography is the branch of botany that deals with the identification of grape varieties. Traditionally this was done through identifying leaf shape and color of the fruit, but now we do it through DNA testing. You might think that the scientific approach would make everyone sit down and rationally agree as to which grapes originated where, but I'm guessing you haven't watched many daytime TV shows hosted by Maury Povich.

Verdejo is a white wine grape of North African origin grown in the Rueda region of Spain since the 11th century. It is not related to the Verdelho grape that is famous on the Portuguese island of Madeira. It is also not the same as the Italian grape Verdello, which, coincidentally, is one of the Spanish nicknames for a fourth unrelated grape better known as Pedro Ximénez. Complicating matters are outdated wine books that group all of these as the same grape. There is a tendency by some to believe that the older a book is, the more authoritative it is. However, we're talking about biology. You (hopefully) wouldn't look to the middle ages for medical advice when modern treatments can cure you.

2013 Protos Verdejo
Rueda, Spain
100% Verdejo
$10, 13% abv.

The wine opens up early with a bright and fruity nose of peach and pineapple. On the tongue it has mild acidity and a delicate, floral finish.

2012 Yllera Verdejo
Rueda, Spain
100% Verdejo
$10, 12.5% abv.

This one is softer and milder with a rounder body, and a far more restrained style. Very faint mandarin orange flavor and a light finish.

Both are perfect for summer, and the great bargains make them ideal for picnic purposes. Throw one in the cooler and enjoy with cheese, fruit, and salumi under the sun. Salud!

Note: These wines were provided as samples for review.

15 August 2014

Ventisquero Grey

The driving force behind the Ventisquero Grey line is not a tie-in to the upcoming Fifty Shades of Grey film, but rather a commitment to single block wines that show distinctive terroir.

Most of the wine drinking world subsists on table wine, which is how the beverage has been enjoyed for thousands of years. Grapes of varying backgrounds and fields are mixed, blended, fermented, and a final palatable product is released. And that is awesome. In the modern era, it means consistency from year to year, so that your bottle of 2010 Benito House Wine tastes pretty much the same as 2012 Benito House Wine. Coca-Cola didn't become a powerhouse because their product could suffer in a single year because of bad weather or leaf mites, or that the product wouldn't be ready to drink until it had rested for twenty years. Such wines fuel the wine industry and keep wine shops in business, and without them, we wouldn't be able to sit around and argue about our favorite expertly crafted, small batch wines from obscure regions.

I think this line strikes a nice balance, because you get the benefit of a unique single vineyard expression without high prices, and distribution is broad enough that you should be able to find these two red wines, as well as the other five bottles under this marque.

2012 Ventisquero Grey Single Block Pinot Noir
La Terrazas Vineyard, Leyda Valley
100% Pinot Noir
$24, 13.7% abv.

Chilean Pinot Noir continues to improve over time, though I'd like to see how this one develops over the next few years. Right now it is bright and tart with a dominant red cherry profile. Still quite young with medium tannins, but I expect it to mellow out in another two years.

2011 Ventisquero Grey Cabernet Sauvignon
Trinidad Vineyard, Maipo Valley
96% Cabernet Sauvignon, 4% Petit Verdot
$24, 14% abv.

The Cabernet Sauvignon, on the other hand, is ready to drink now in the presence of a great steak. It displays dark plum and a touch of chocolate, with gentle aromas of tobacco and green tomato leaf. Certainly a young Bordeaux style and one that, after an hour of decanting, is ready to be enjoyed with red meat.

Note: These wines were provided as samples for review.

11 August 2014

Brinley Gold Shipwreck Rum

The Brinley Gold Shipwreck Rum distillery was founded in 1986 on the island of St. Kitts in the Caribbean just south of Anguilla, and got a distribution deal from Opici in 2005. While I haven't written about rum in a long time, I am still a fan of the spirit when made in the proper fashion. And over the years, I have tended to stay away from the flavored versions. However, the Brinley family has a commitment to all-natural ingredients and a focus on producing a smooth product, so I was eager to try these two bottles.

Brinley Gold Shipwreck Spiced Rum
$26/750mL bottle, 36% abv.

Blended with vanilla, cloves, orange, nutmeg, and other spices. I get a little pepper and allspice on the finish, and there's just a touch of sweetness. Far more reserved than most spiced rums on the market, and one that will work out well on the rocks. You can certainly mix it with Coke, but that has so many other spices involved that you're basically combining a string quartet with an orchestra and hoping that the end result sounds good.

Brinley Gold Shipwreck Vanilla Rum
$26/750mL bottle, 36% abv.

This is an interesting product. Most vanilla rums are very sweet and also as clear as water. This one, on the other hand is black as night. It has a dominant profile of blackstrap molasses (which I love), and in the glass it is thick, creamy, and hangs for a bit. It's really not until you let it breathe for a while that the molasses aroma fades back to reveal the Madagascar vanilla scent and flavor. The sweetness means that you'll definitely want to enjoy this as an after dinner dessert liqueur, though I can definitely see incorporating it into various recipes like pecan pie, cheesecake, or even chocolate chip cookies.

Note: These rums were provided as samples for review.

09 August 2014

Villa Maria Wines of New Zealand

With a name like Villa Maria, it's got to be... New Zealand?

Yes indeed... And on top of that, the winery does not have a Spanish or Italian background. It was founded by Sir George Fistonich, the son of Croatian immigrants who got tired of being a carpenter and decided to start growing wine grapes in 1961.

New Zealand is often associated with only Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir, but Villa Maria has a pretty wide range including rosé and sparkling wines.

2014 Villa Maria Private Bin Sauvignon Blanc
100% Sauvignon Blanc
$15, 12.5% abv.

The wine opens up with a bold gooseberry profile with an herbal edge. On the palate it is tart with firm acidity. I enjoyed it with a nice tuna salad sandwich, where the bright citrus style made a nice contrast with the creamy food.

2013 Villa Maria Cellar Selection Sauvignon Blanc
100% Sauvignon Blanc
$20, 13% abv.

These two wines are an outstanding example of how different two wines can be from the same grape. The Cellar Selection is far more restrained nose with a hint of orange blossom, not the powerful grapefruit you might be expecting from New Zealand. It is more light and delicate with just enough acidity to achieve proper balance. Highly recommended for serving with good scallops and a simple summer salad.

Note: These wines were provided as samples for review.

04 August 2014

2012 Martín Códax Albariño

The wines of Martín Códax take their name from a Galician troubadour, which I've written about in a previous review. While the Albariño has been a consistent and enjoyable performer over the years, I was impressed by the label on this vintage.

The company uses a lute as their logo, but rather than go for a photorealistic version, the designer stripped down the concept into seven simple lines, with the five strings in cyan foil. I've always loved this stuff and as I find myself being pulled back into the world of graphic arts, I appreciate the clean and simple approach as opposed to just throwing everything at a logo and hoping that the viewer will be able to figure it out.

Our brains are quite capable of filling in the details from minimalist designs, which is why we can all understand the concept of a happy Homo sapiens with just two dots and a curved line. :) How long does it take you to figure out if someone is in a good mood from mere social signals and language?

2012 Martín Códax Albariño
Rías Baixas
100% Albariño
$15, 12.5% abv.

I get a message on Facebook from a reader. "I'm grilling some chicken tonight. What should I serve?" Without knowing this person in real life or knowing the details of the dish, I recommended this wine. Spanish Albariño is affordable, ridiculously easy to find, and pleasing to a wide range of palates. This vintage opened up with melon and floral aromas. On the palate, it shows mild white fruit flavors with bright, medium acidity and a slightly tart finish. In short, everything that you want from a cool summer sipper.

Note: This wine was provided as a sample for review.

28 July 2014

Nuvino Wine Pouches

While tasting the wines from Nuvino packaged in foil pouches, I did not think about Capri Sun as much as I did the space program, and how it felt like the kind of beverage packaging that one would need in zero gravity. That took me back to something I made last year for an April Fools post that I ended up scrapping, but I still like the fake label that I made for a hypothetical wine made on board the International Space Station.

On the 45th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing, I found myself sipping wine out of a foil/plastic pouch of the sort that would be very convenient on the ISS or other spacecraft. Indeed, fellow Presbyterian Buzz Aldrin celebrated communion on the moon with a little vial of wine, and of course the Russians have had no problem sending up adult libations over the years. (There was an early idea to provide astronauts with sherry on Skylab, but that got nixed and since then the US space program has had a zero alcohol policy.)

These four wines are packaged in 187mL pouches made by PreservPak and marketed by Nuvino. Each pouch is a single serving and retails for $4, which is a fairly good bargain since you're getting a fourth of a bottle versus the traditional fifth in a glass.

2013 Sauvignon Blanc
Maule Valley, Chile
13% abv.

Clean and mild, gentle Meyer lemon flavors. Round body and a quick finish.

2013 Chardonnay
Cape Winelands, South Africa
13.5% abv.

Light apricot, no oak, mild finish. Really very delicate for a Southern hemisphere Chardonnay.

2013 Malbec
Maipu, Argentina
14.5% abv.

Dominant profile of prune and stewed fruits with a little ash and leather.

2013 Red Blend
Swan Hill, Australia
13.9% abv.

Blackberry and chocolate with firm tannins and a long, lingering finish.

Note: These wines were provided as samples for review.