Cape Red Red Blend 2020

When I profile a wine, I like to start with the story of the producer, and then get into the wine itself.  I couldn’t find much about this offering, which is just as well as it is low-quality plonk.

It is sourced from Zidela Worldwide Wines.  Their website states, “Our Company aims to be the prime South African supplier of value-for-money wines in the international private label market.  [We have} the capability to offer a wide range of bulk wines from all the wine regions in South Africa. Our long-standing working relationship with various wineries enables us to get involved in the wine-making process to meet our clients’ specific needs.”  So, no need to look for a winemaker’s personal approach or vision here.

The wine is exclusively distributed in the United States by splashwines.com, where I bought it through a Groupon offer for a mixed case of two bottles each of nine different wines.  The per-bottle price came to $5, much more than this particular wine is worth.

Cape Red Red Blend 2020

The color and clarity of this wine is fine, but then the wheels fall off.  It has thin aromas and a recessive palate of weird, unidentifiable fruit.  The acidity is totally out of balance, plus bitter tannins and an odd funk on the finish.  The only way I was able to get through it with dinner (a delightful grilled pork roast) was by refrigerating the hell out of it.  The packaging is nice; too bad they didn’t put half as much effort into the wine.  I don’t know how many cases were made, but, frankly, any was too much.  ABV is 13%.

https://www.splashwines.com/products/cape-red-2019?_pos=1&_sid=b92ded527&_ss=r

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Vale do Bomfim Red Blend 2017

In the 1970s, Portugese rosés such as Lancers and Mateus were the height of sophistication to many young wine drinkers: “It’s imported, and comes in a fun bottle!” With age comes wisdom however, and these wines were largely abandoned for the justifiably famous fortified wines of Portugal, Port and Madeira, produced by many ancient and famous houses.

Much less well-known is Portugal’s status as a producer of both red and white table wine, ranking in the world’s top ten in production.  With a population of just 10 million, but #2 in per capita consumption as of 2019 , much of that wine is sipped by the thirsty Portuguese.  (The U.S. is 44th out of a total of 167 countries.)

Winemaking in Portugal has a long and storied history. It was the first country to implement an appellation system, the Denominação de Origem Controlada, in 1756, almost 180 years before the French established their own similar system. The DOC established early quality-control standards, but because it has been in place for over 350 years much Portuguese winemaking is tightly bound by tradition; even calcified, some would say. However, this has been steadily changing, and many producers are updating their winemaking equipment and methods and are producing good high-quality wines.

The Vineyard

This wine comes from the Douro [DOO-roh], a wild mountainous region located along the Douro river starting at the Spanish border and extending west into northern Portugal. The grapes for many Ports originate here also, but the vineyards for the table wines are at higher altitudes, where the grapes don’t ripen as fully or produce the higher sugar levels desirable for fortified wines.

The Douro

In the 19th century, the area around the village of Pinhão was known as Vale do Bomfim, which translates as ‘the well-placed valley.’  The specific vineyard from which this wine comes was acquired by George Warre for Dow’s in 1896 (his family had been involved in the Port trade since its earliest years).  In 1912, Andrew James Symington became a partner in Dow’s and made Quinta do Bomfim his family home in Douro.  (Quinta is Portuguese for farm, estate, or villa.)

The Vale do Bomfim vineyard.

Quinta do Bomfim sits in the upper Douro Valley, located in an area of transition between temperate and Mediterranean climates. Predominantly south-facing with ample solar exposure, the terraced vineyards sit on schist, a medium-grade metamorphic rock formed from mudstone or shale.  The total property is 247 acres (100 hectares) with 185 acres (75 hectares) planted to vine.  The elevation varies from 262 to 1,260 feet (80 to 384 meters).

The Lagare Method

Historically, Portuguese wine was pressed by foot in granite treading tanks called lagares on the upper level of a winery, and then gravity sent the juice from the lagar to oak or chestnut vats for fermentation on another floor below.  The original winery at Quinta do Bomfim was modernized beginning in 1964 with the introduction of automated lagars to increase winemaking capacity, as increasing labor shortages made treading in stone lagares impractical and too expensive.   The automated lagar is an open stainless steel vinification tank in which mechanical treaders, powered by compressed air, replace the human foot in treading the grapes. It was designed to replicate the gentle treading action of feet and the configuration of the tank itself recreates the shape and the capacity of the traditional stone lagar.

The Quinta do Bomfim winery.

Vale do Bomfim Red Blend 2017

This wine is made by Dow, one of the premier Port producers in the Douro Valley for over two centuries.   For many years it was only available to the family and their guests.  It is made from a blend of 50% Touriga Franca, 20% Touriga Nacional, and the remaining 30% is a field blend of indigenous varietals.  It was aged in an equal mixture of stainless steel and French oak (30% new for the half of the wine in wood) for six months.

The wine is a medium dark purple in the glass.  It is quite aromatic, wafting of dark fruits.  These continue on the palate, particularly black cherry.  But, it is perhaps predictably lean in the European style, so the fruit is complemented by slate, sage, and a bit of earth.  It is all bound together with racy acidity and moderate tanninsABV is 14%.

Brutocao Cellars

Irv Bliss’ early years as a farmer were occupied with growing pears, prunes, walnuts, and a large family garden just outside of Healdsburg, in Sonoma County, California. Although successful, for years Bliss nursed the vision of planting a vineyard in Mendocino, which he believed to be one of the best places around to grow grapes. In 1943, he purchased a plot of land in southern Mendocino County, and immediately planted the vineyard of his dreams. In the early days, in addition to growing grapes on the property, Bliss farmed figs and raised sheep and cattle. At some point in the 1970s, all 100 acres of the land was converted to grape production, mostly Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandel.

When Leonard met Martha

In 1910, the Brutocao (pronounced brew’ tuh coe) family emigrated from Treviso, Italy (a small town near Venice), at first settling in Canada. Son Leonard Brutocao was born in 1935 in Fort Erie, Canada and, after the family moved to the U.S., was raised in Covina, Calif.  He met Irv Bliss’ daughter Martha while attending the University of California, Berkeley. After Leonard and Martha married, the families joined forces, and continued to farm grapes which they sold to well-known Sonoma and Napa wineries. Irv and Leonard worked together for over 35 years until Irv’s retirement in 1969, at which point the new ownership was split between Lenonard and Lenonard’s brother Albert (who co-founded with Leonard the Brutoco Engineering and Construction company in southern California which  the Brutocao clan also owned and continued to operate, as well as a number of other entrepreneurial ventures).

For several years, most of the family’s grapes were sold to local area wineries, including Beringer and Mondavi.  Leonard and Albert were interested in more than just farming however, and saw the potential for producing a handcrafted Mendocino wine. Acting on this vision, the Brutocao family released their first wine with the 1980 vintage. Shortly thereafter, they chose as their symbol of family tradition and quality a version of the Lion of St. Mark, the lion on top of St. Mark’s Cathedral in Venice, Italy,  (But they flipped the way it faces, for whatever reason.)
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In 1991, the original winery was built, and the first estate vintage was produced. Around the same time, Leonard’s three sons, David, Len Jr., and Steve, joined the family business. (Forth son Dan and daughter Renee Ortiz also share ownership of the winery, but have limited involvement.)  David is Director of Winemaking Operations, and works side by side with Brutocao winemaker Hoss Milone to produce their estate wines. Len Jr., as Director of Vineyard Operations, oversees the cultivation of the land from new plantings to grape harvest.  Following the death of his father in 2010, Steve assumed the role of CEO  after many years of experience in wine marketing and sales.

Brutocao outgrew the first winery by 2003, when a new facility was built, and it was expanded in 2009. The original building has now become an onsite wine storage warehouse.  The more visitor-friendly tasting room is about a mile and a half due west, in Hopland, California.
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The Legacy Continues

The Brutocao operation is now in its fourth generation. Ryan, Director of Custom Label Sales, is tasked with distribution as well as coordinating with Brutocao’s non-profit partner, Wine to Water.  Kevin, a jack of all trades, does a bit of everything, from pouring wines in the Hopland tasting room to managing the winery’s online presence. He also creates many of the designs for marketing materials.

The Winemaker

Hoss Milone became the winemaker for Brutocao in 2009 after spending 18 years toiling for Ferrari-Carano.  Hoss is a fourth-generation winemaker who grew up in his family’s vineyards, and watched his grandfather and father produce their own Mendocino wines. Milone is also a trained cooper, aka barrel maker.  At some point it was discovered that Milone’s grandfather tilled the land for Irv Bliss in the original vineyard. Quite a coincidence.

The Vineyards

The Bliss Vineyard, also known as the Home Ranch, is the original property purchased in 1943 by Irv Bliss. The vineyard is 400 acres, with 177 acres planted to Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc, Zinfandel, Merlot, Sangiovese, Barbera, and Dolcetto.

The Feliz Vineyard was purchased in 1994. It is 583 acres in size, with 114 acres planted to Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Sangiovese, Dolcetto, Barbera, Zinfandel, and Pinot Noir.

The 251-acre Contento Vineyard was purchased in 1997, but not planted until 1999. 90 acres are now under vine, growing Cabernet Sauvignon and Primitivo*. Contento is the site of an old cattle ranch, where purebred Brangus cattle were raised. Some of the ranch was used for research and development of new tractor equipment, resulting in very well-worked soils.  Contento is also the site of an abandoned gold mine.

Brutocao Chardonnay 2019

Made by Brutocao since the mid-1980s, this  pale-straw colored Chardonnay comes entirely from Bliss Vineyard, the original property purchased by Irv Bliss in 1943.  The wine was 100% barrel fermented and sur lies aged for nine months in French oak, 30% of which was new.   Some of the grapes were “whole cluster pressed” for maximum flavor extraction.  It underwent 100% malolactic fermentation, which in this case lead to citrus rather than the more typical buttery notes.

The wine opens with aromas of honeysuckle, pear, and mango.  These  evolve into a full-bodied palate of tropical fruit with just a hint of butterscotch on the finish.  Serve moderately chilled at about 60° F.  ABV is 13.5%, and  3000 cases were produced.

Brutocao Quadriga Red Blend 2017

A quadriga is a chariot pulled by four horses, harnessed side by side, and is an ancient Italian symbol of triumph. This selection, on offer since the early 2000s,  is a proprietary blend of 43% Primitivo*, 31% Sangiovese, 19% Barbera, 6% Dolcetto, and a 1% topping of Syrah, which is reminiscent of traditional Italian field blends.  “Field blending” is the custom of planting different grape varieties together in the same vineyard, harvesting them all together, co-fermenting, and making a wine from the mixture. However, Milone was careful to point out that Brutocao’s varietals are kept separate in their vineyards, and he makes individual wines from each of the grape types before he begins the blending process.  This offers him much greater control over the flavor profile of the wine than the traditional field blend approach would.  The fruit was sourced from the Bliss, Feliz, and Contento vineyards.  After fermentation, it was aged for 18 months in 90% French oak and 10% American oak, of which 25% was new.

This wine is a totally transparent medium purple, but is more boisterous than its color suggests.  The nose features aromas of red berries and cinnamon stick.  These continue on the palate, with additional flavors of blueberries and caramel, complemented by a rich, smooth mouthfeel.  Decant for an hour or two before serving.  The ABV is 14.5%, and 500 cases were made.

www.brutocaocellars.com/

www.goldmedalwineclub.com

*There is ongoing debate about whether or not Primitivo and Zinfandel are the same grape.   However, it is agreed that at the least they both share a Croatian forebear.  Primitivo is mostly planted in Italy, while Zinfandel is almost exclusively American.  Winemaker Hoss Milone insists that Brutocao’s Primitivo can be sourced back to mother vines in Italy.  He also believes Primitivo prefers French oak aging, while Zinfandel is more suited to American oak.

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Lost Eden Red Blend 2018

Georgia, oh Georgia
No, no, no, no, no peace I find
Just an old sweet song
Keeps Georgia on my mind

Of course, that old Hoagy Carmichael tune was about the US state of Georgia.   But this selection is from Georgia the country, in the Caucasus region of Eurasia.  Specifically, Lost Eden is produced at the Vaziani Winery, located in Telavi, Georgia

Little known to most Americans, Georgia is one of the oldest wine regions in the world. The fertile valleys and protective slopes of the Transcaucasia, which spans the southern portion of the Caucasus Mountains and their lowlands, straddles the border between the continents of Europe and Asia.  Here grapevine cultivation and neolithic wine production began at least 8000 years ago. The very word “wine” is believed to have been derived from the ancient Georgian word “Gvino” which means something that “rises, boils or ferments.” Due to these many millennia of wine history in Georgia, and its prominent economic role, the traditions of wine are considered entwined with and inseparable from the national identity.

When Christianity and the Eucharist came to Georgia in the 4th century AD, wine gained further importance in the nation’s culture.  According to tradition, Saint Nino, who preached Christianity in Kartli, bore a cross made from vine wood.  Another old legend tells of how soldiers prepared for battle by weaving a piece of grapevine into the breastplate of their armor. If they fell in battle, a vine would rise not just from their bodies but from their very hearts.

In 1950, vineyards in Georgia occupied 143,000 acres, but in 1985 that had grown to 316,000 acres, primarily due to increasing demand in what was then the USSR.  However, following the dissolution of that alliance and the end of the Cold War, the relationship between Georgia and Russia has often been rocky, if not outright hostile (including a war with Russia in 2008), and production saw  a subsequent decline. Even so, a recent trade agreement with the European Union has brought renewed optimism to Georgian producers.

According to the Ministry of Agriculture, in 2009 Georgia exported about .9 million cases of wine to 45 countries.  By 2019, production and  exports had increased significantly, with total exports of 7.8 million cases to 53 countries.   During those ten years, exports to the US, although still modest,  increased 48%, to 56,512 cases.  The wine is produced by thousands of small farmers (using primarily traditional techniques of winemaking), as well as some monasteries and modern wineries.  In 2006 there were roughly 80 registered wineries, but by 2018, the number had ballooned to 961.

Growing conditions

Extremes of weather in Georgia are unusual: summers tend to be mild and sunny, and winters frost-free. Natural springs abound, and the many streams of the Caucasian Mountains drain mineral-rich water into the valleys. The moist, moderate climate, influenced by the Black Sea, provides excellent conditions for vine cultivating. In many regions of the country the grapevines are trained to grow up the trunks of fruit trees in terraced orchards, a method of cultivation called maglari.

Georgian grape varieties

Perhaps not surprisingly, traditional Georgian grape varieties have been little known in the New World. However, with increasing international awareness of the wines of Eastern and Central Europe, grapes from this region are gaining a higher profile. Although somewhere between 400 and 500 exist, only 38 varieties are officially grown for commercial viticulture, in 21 distinct wine-producing regions (a.k.a. PDO – Protected Designation of Origin).

Traditionally, much like French regional wines such as Bordeaux or Burgundy, Georgian wines carry the name of the source region, district, or village.  They are usually a blend of two or more grapes, and are classified as sweet, semi-sweet, semi-dry, dry, fortified, and sparkling. The semi-sweet varieties are the most popular in the domestic market.

The Winemaker
Lado Uzunashvili is an 11th generation winemaker.  He was raised in Mukuzani, in the largest wine-producing region in Georgia.  He learned oenology in Moscow, France, and Australia.
“When making the Lost Eden Red Blend, it was important to showcase Georgia as the birthplace of wine. To do this I found the perfect balance between modern and traditional Georgian winemaking practices to illustrate the quality and evolution of wine produced in my country. We believe wine is better with less human intervention,” Uzunashvili explained.

Lost Eden Saperavi Red Blend

Lost Eden is a new product, launched in September of 2020.  The producer states, “In partnership with the Georgian Ministry of Agriculture and Partnership Fund, Lost Eden was crafted to build ties with the West and forever pivot Georgia, the birthplace of wine, away from Russian dominance.”

“The Georgian people have suffered many years of Russian oppression and a number of crippling embargoes that have negatively impacted both our current wine industry and our 8,000 year winemaking tradition. To break free from Russia’s grasp, we partnered with an incredible team to create Lost Eden for the United States wine market. This visionary wine project will not only introduce Americans to an exquisite Georgian wine, but also will help us build back a strong, free wine market in Georgia,” said Irakli Cholobargia, of the National Wine Agency, Ministry of Environmental Protection and Agriculture of Georgia.

The Vaziani Winery

Lost Eden harvests grapes
from arguably the oldest vines on earth.  They use the ancient clay pots called qvevris (pronounced kwevr-ees for fermentation and aging.  They are always buried in the ground, and are usually coated on the inside with beeswax, a natural sealant designed to keep undesirable bacteria from seeping through the walls.

The qvevris are buried in the winery floor.

Saperavi, grown in some areas of the Kakheti region, is one of Georgia’s most important indigenous varietals.  It produces substantial, deep-red wines that are suitable for extended aging of up to fifty years.  It has the potential to produce high alcohol levels, and is used extensively for blending with other, lesser varieties.

The bottle of this unoaked blend features a glass stopper, which is rather stubborn to remove, instead of a cork, and the “veins” molded into it invoke the maglari cultivation method.  Although 100% Saperavi, it is considered a blend because a portion of the wine came from the traditional qvevris and a portion from stainless steel.   And, grapes were sourced from several vineyards.

Lost Eden pours a crystal-clear ruby in the glass.  The nose offers light to medium aromas of red and black cherries and mulberries.  These continue on the smooth palate, joined by cassis and some cocoa.  This is a semi-dry wine, with moderate but pleasant acidity, low tannins, and a somewhat short finish.  ABV is 13%, and 4,500 cases were made.

https://losteden.com/

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Kenwood Vineyards

Kenwood

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Author Jack London (1876 – 1916) was an American novelist, journalist, and social activist. A pioneer of unabashedly commercial fiction in both novels and  magazines, he was one of the first American authors to become an international celebrity and earn a large fortune from writing. His most famous works include The Call of the Wild and White Fang, both set during the Klondike Gold Rush.

In 1905, London purchased a 1,000 acre property in Glen Ellen, California, on the western slope of Sonoma Valley which he named Beauty Ranch. He wrote, “Next to my wife, the ranch is the dearest thing in the world to me. I write for no other purpose than to add to the beauty that now belongs to me. I write a book for no other reason than to add three or four hundred acres to my magnificent estate.”

Working with famous botanist Luther Burbank, he educated himself about caring for the land through the study of agricultural manuals and scientific tomes. They conceived of a system of farming that today would be considered “sustainable,” and hoped to adapt the techniques of Asian agricultural practices to the United States as well.

London intended the ranch as a commercial enterprise, but due to a number of factors, including London’s total lack of business acumen, it was an economic failure.  (Indeed, the property was originally up for sale because the owners believed that the land was “played out.”)   London’s workers laughed at his efforts to play serious rancher, and considered the operation a rich man’s hobby.

Although the vineyards have always been, and remain, owned by London’s heirs, today the the forested parts of the ranch are a National Historic Landmark and are part of Jack London State Historic Park. 

Kenwood Vineyards

The financial success that eluded London has been captured by Kenwood Vineyards, which has been the exclusive producer of wines from the vineyards on this historic property since 1976.  Kenwood was established in 1970 when John Sheela and his brothers-in-law, Mike and Marty Lee, bought the former Pagani Brothers Winery, which was built in 1906.  They converted what was a “bring your own jug” wine facility into a modern winery; this was long before the region’s AVAs were created.

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In 1978, local artist David Lance Goines was commissioned to create original artwork to be used for the label of the 1975 reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, the first release of Kenwood’s Artist Series.

In 1996, F. Korbel & Bros., Inc. acquired a 50 percent stake in the winery. In 1999, Korbel acquired the remaining 50 percent and bought out the founders.  Under Korbel’s management, the operation nearly doubled in size, from less than 300,000 cases (still substantial) to more than 500,000 cases.

In 1999, Korbel sold Kenwood to New York-based Banfi Vintners, the makers of Riunite.  Korbel owner and president Gary Heck explained at the time that the rationale for the sale was to prioritize the company’s sparkling wine business, an operation that was eventually completely abandoned.  So much for the best-laid plans, eh?

In 2014, Kenwood ownership was transferred to Pernod Ricard Winemakers.

The Winemaker

Zeke Neeley grew up in Daly City, south of San Francisco.  He studied biochemistry at U.C. Davis, and later worked in the biotech industry as a cancer researcher.  However, during this first career he kept dreaming of making something physical, and was more and more drawn to wine.  To that end, he took an M.S. in Viticulture and Enology, and subsequently worked at wineries in Santa Cruz, Carneros, and Napa.  He joined Kenwood as chief winemaker in 2017.

Neeley shared, “When walking a vineyard near harvest it feels like a conversation between me, the vineyard, and the wild forces of nature, discussing what personality [a] wine will have, and then I do my best to reach that ideal.”

Neeley works with Winemaking Assistant Rachel Gondouin and Enologist Lois Mateer,

The Jack London Estate Vineyards

The 2,400-foot Sonoma Mountain range rises above the town of Glen Ellen at the western edge of the Valley of the Moon. The 130-acre Jack London estate vineyards sit here at 920 feet, with an eastern exposure that catches the fog-free morning sun. The vineyards’ soil is a unique red volcanic type composed  of Spreckles loam and goulding clay loam.

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Following London’s inspiration, sustainability is the order of the day at Kenwood. Farming techniques are employed that utilize as little of the valuable water resources as possible. The biodiversity program supports endangered fish such as Coho and Steelhead salmon by creating habitats along low flow areas. Bird and bat boxes made from reclaimed pallets are placed throughout the vineyards to attract these creatures as they in turn eat pests. The vineyards are entirely worked by hand, a time-consuming and labor-intensive process, as their layout and slopes make mechanization impossible.

The vineyards are Sonoma Sustainable Certified, with the goal of preserving natural resources, improving  air and water quality, and protecting ecosystems and wildlife habitats.  In fact, through the efforts of the Sonoma County Sustainability Program, 99% of Sonoma’s grape farmers have met the criteria, a remarkable achievement attained within just six years.

The Jack London Wines

With a combined total of just 6,833 cases, these four selections from the Jack London Vineyards represent only a small portion of Kenwood’s current annual output of 300,000 cases.

Kenwood Vineyards Jack London Red Blend 2016

This red blend is made of Zinfandel (62%), Merlot (21%), and Syrah 17%), and saw 18 months in oak barrels, of which 65% were new.   (The blend can and does vary each year.)  It is a completely transparent but dark garnet in the glass.  The nose offers subtle aromas of dark fruit, especially plums, which continue on the lush palate, with hints of toasted oak, plus a bit of pepper from the Zinfandel. The medium tannins and acidity are in excellent balance.  If you are a fan of Pinot Noir, this is a red blend for you.  ABV is 14.8% and 833 cases were produced.

Kenwood Vineyards Jack London Cabernet Sauvignon 2016

A blend* of 78% Cabernet Sauvignon, 16% Merlot, and 6% Syrah, this wine saw 26 months of aging after fermentation in a combination of French, American, and Hungarian oak barrels, 31% of which were new.  It is a dense, dark purple, with a nose of plums and a hint of sweet Bing cherries.  The plums are on the full-bodied palate as well, plus a hint of mint from the eucalyptus trees that surround the vineyards, and a suggestion of cocoa.  The grippy tannins are balanced by good acidity.  ABV is 15.2% and 5,000 cases were produced.

Kenwood Vineyards Jack London Dry Farmed** Cabernet Sauvignon 2018

In order to meet California’s strict “dry farmed” classification, the fruit for this wine comes from a single block in the vineyard, and must be carefully segregated from bud break to bottle.  The wine saw 17 months of aging after fermentation in a combination of French, American, and Hungarian oak barrels, 60% of which were new. This age-worthy 100% Cabernet is a deep, dark purple, with a nose of brooding blackberry.  The palate is super dry, with recessive dark fruit, particularly dried blueberry, paired with flavors of earth and bay leaf.   Jack London himself can be seen on the label, admiring his Beauty Ranch in 1913.   ABV is 14.1% and 500 cases were produced.

Kenwood Vineyards Jack London Wild Ferment*** Cabernet Sauvignon 2018

Zeke Neeley makes this wine “whenever his ulcer will permit.”  Although he claims to be a “control freak,” relying exclusively on wild yeast to ferment a wine is about as risky as it gets.  Visually identical to the Dry Farmed, the barrel regimen was also similar: 17 months of aging in a combination of French, American, and Hungarian oak barrels, 54% of which were new.  The nose presents aromas of raspberries and blackberries.   The soft, rich palate offers that same raspberry, with black cherry and a bit of dust and leather.  The tannins and acidity of this hedonistic wine are in excellent balance.  On the bottle, Jack London can be seen on horseback riding through the ranch in 1915.   ABV is 14.9% and 500 cases were produced.

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https://kenwoodvineyards.com/

* The US Government’s Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau mandates that in order for a wine to be labeled as a varietal, i.e. Cabernet Sauvignon, a minimum of 75% of that grape must be used. 

** Dry farming, also called dryland farming, is the cultivation of crops, in this case grapes, without irrigation in regions of low precipitation. Dry farming depends on efficient storage of the limited moisture available in the soil. Tilling the land shortly after harvest, keeping it free from weeds, and prevention of runoff are typically done.

*** A wild-fermented wine uses only native yeasts that are found on the fruit and in the winery, rather than commercial yeasts. For winemakers looking to showcase an individual vineyard and vintage, using wild yeasts for fermentation is the most honest reflection of what’s going on at that site, and is another component of terroir.

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Black Willow Winery

Just about everyone knows about the world-famous Niagara Falls, of course, but the area is home to some increasingly serious winemakers as well, on both the Canadian and U.S. sides of the border.

New York State’s commercial wine industry began when its first bonded winery, Pleasant Valley Wine Company, was founded in Hammondsport in 1860, and the state now ranks third in grape production by volume after California and Washington. But 83% of New York’s grape output is Vitis labrusca varieties, mostly Concord, that find their way into grape juice, jams, jellies, and wines such as, ahem, Manischewitz. The rest is split almost equally between Vitis vinifera (the broad vine species that produces 99% of the world’s wines) and select French hybrids.

Black Willow Winery is located on the south shore of Lake Ontario in Burt, New York, a part of  the Niagara Wine Trail and in the Niagara Escarpment AVA.  Because of its northern location, at first glance this region hardly seems suited to quality winemaking.  However, the climate is moderated by lake effect* from Lake Ontario.  Also, the Niagara Escarpment, an approximately 600-foot-high ridge that runs from east to west through the Great Lakes, retards winds coming off the lake. This makes for good air circulation and helps protect the local vineyards from frost and disease. (The escarpment is most famous as the cliff over which the Niagara River plunges at Niagara Falls.)

The Black Willow property is comprised of 43 acres, with soil and drainage well-suited to growing grapes. It was founded by Michael D. Chamberlain and winemaker Cynthia West-Chamberlain in 2010.  West-Chaimberlain received her Enology Degree from VESTA, the Viticulture Enology Science and Technology Alliance.  It is a National Science Foundation funded partnership between the Missouri State University system, two-year schools throughout the Midwest, state agriculture agencies, vineyards, and wineries, with a 21st century vision for education in grape growing and winemaking.

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Black Willow’s estate vineyard is planted with Diamond grapes, which are a cross between Concord and Iona, both native American varieties, developed in the 1880s in New York.  The winery currently sources other grapes from vineyards across Niagara, Erie, and Seneca.  At this time, Black Willow produces 17 different wines, of which I profile six below, including two meads.

Dry Wines

Black Willow Trilogy Red NV

This red blend, made of Cabernet Sauvignon, Marechal Foch, and Chancellor,** shows a rich dark red in the glass.  Next comes a nice aromatic nose of cherry, cola, and a bit of plum.  With 12% alcohol, it’s also less boozy than most other reds, which tend to come in at 14% to 16%.  You might not think just that slight difference matters, but it does, particularly if you’re looking for something a little less powerful. On the palate, the fruit becomes surprisingly lean and recessive.  The acidity is relatively low, and the tannins are mild.  Overall, a pleasant wine, especially if you are just getting into reds. 250 cases were produced.

Black Willow Trilogy White Reserve NV

Made from Chardonnay, Riesling, and Cayuga White,*** this very pale yellow wine is crystal clear. The nose offers aromas of honeydew melons and crème brûlée.  The palate features a smooth, creamy mouthfeel with flavors that include lemons and limes. It’s all supported by good balanced acidity.  12% ABV, and 250 cases were made.

Black Willow Estate Diamond NV

The winery characterizes this white wine as “unique,” and indeed it is.  Very pale straw-colored in the glass, it is made from 100% Diamond grapes. This wine starts with scents of Granny Smith apples, nectarines, and papayas.  These continue on the palate with the addition of canned pineapple, backed up with a zing of lemon.  It qualifies as dry, but I’d say it’s right on the edge of that; the acidity saves it from being pushed over.  11% ABV, and 500 cases were made.

Sweet wine

Black Willow Classic Diamond NV

This sweet wine is also  100% Diamond grapes, and demonstrates how a skilled winemaker can produce remarkably different products from identical ingredients.  It is nearly colorless, and starts with a nose of apricots and lavender.  There is a smooth mouthfeel on the palate, with flavors of Granny Smith apples, apricots, and peaches.  The sweetness characteristic of those fruits is there for sure, but it is nicely balanced by some racy acidity.  The winery suggests this would pair well with “cheese, desserts, Asian, Thai, and Indian cuisine.”  Before tasting the wine, I was down with the cheese and dessert, but was skeptical about the rest. But that acidity certainly makes it doable, especially if you lean towards sweeter wines, or even soft drinks, with meals. Clocks in at an approachable 11% ABV, and 750 cases were bottled.

Meads

“What the heck is mead?” you may be asking.  Good question.  It is an ancient tipple, dating back as far as Biblical times, and was produced throughout Europe, especially early England, Africa, and Asia. It’s very popular on Game of Thrones. Long relegated to the dust bin of history, mead has been enjoying a renaissance over the past few years.  Because its production shares much of the ingredients and equipment of winemaking, it has been embraced by a few boutique producers like Black Willow.  The alcohol content can range from about 3.5% ABV to more than 18%. The defining characteristic of mead is that the majority or all of the beverage’s sugar is derived from honey, which is fermented with water and yeast, plus optional fruits, herbs, spices, or flowers.  It may be made as still, carbonated, or naturally sparkling; and as dry, semi-sweet, or sweet.

Mead has played an important role in mythology, particularly that of Scandinavia. For example, the Mead of Poetry was crafted from honey and the blood of the Norse deity and seer Kvasir, and allegedly turned the drinker into a poet or scholar.

Black Willow Odin’s Nectar Mead NV

One of three meads Black Willow makes, Odin’s Nectar draws on Norse mythology.  According to the winery, “The horns of Odin, father of all Viking gods, are recalled in traditional Norse toasting rituals. Odin uses his wit and magic to procure the magical brew over three days. The three horns reflect the three draughts of the magical mead.”

Odin’s Nectar presents as nice medium gold. The nose has a distinct floral quality, mostly honeysuckle, with aromas of honeycomb and toasted almond as well.  Even though it is made from honey, it is less sweet than might be expected, and definitely qualifies as semi-dry.  It is soft on the palate, with tastes that echo the aromas, plus dried pear and vanilla.  The finish is long and dry.  12% ABV, and 500 cases were made.

Black Willow Valkyrie’s Lure Mead NV

This mead also is connected to an ancient Norse story. Says Black Willow, “Commanded by Odin, the Valkyrie claimed the fallen from the battlefield. They are believed to have welcomed warriors into Valhalla, the afterlife hall of the slain, with a horn full of mead. Lovers of battle heroes and harbingers of death, they are sweet but deadly.”

This mead is a rich, honey gold.  Appropriate, no?  In addition to the honey, it is made with pears and cinnamon. Like Odin’s Nectar, there is distinct honeysuckle on the nose, along with pear, predictably.  The palate features flavors of pear,  a hint of that cinnamon, and surprisingly, some mango and apple.  It has a smooth mouthfeel, and is only semi-sweet, so it would work well both as an apéritif and with cheeses or dessert.  I guess you could call this a wine to die for, eh?  12% ABV, and 500 cases were made.

https://blackwillowwinery.com/

*As the spring growing season begins, the lake’s cooling effect retards the vines from budding until the spring frost season is over. The lake stores daytime heat as the growing season continues. The effect of the warming water lessens the variation between day and night temperatures, which can lengthen the growing season by as much as four weeks. As summer draws to an end, the stored warmth of the lake water delays frost that might damage  the vines or fruit in the early fall. In winter, the lake also causes heavy, moist snowfall, which blankets the vineyards, insulating and protecting the vines from the frigid air.

**Marechal Foch and Chancellor are French-American hybrids widely grown in the eastern U.S. and Canada.  They produce light, Beaujolais-like red wines.

***Cayuga White is a hybrid created by the New York State Agricultural Office by crossing  Seyval Blanc with a native American vine.

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Riley’s Rows

Riley's Rows

 

There’s an old witticism in the wine business that goes, “If you want to make a million dollars by producing wine, the first thing you need to do is spend a million dollars.” For a young and ambitious vintner to be able to skip that first step would be quite a blessing. Such is the case with Riley Flanagan. She is the eldest daughter of Eric Flanagan, a boutique winemaker and grape supplier in Sonoma, California. Through his Flanagan Wines operation, her father shares the tasting room, winemaking facility, and some of the fruit for his daughter’s own wine label.

Riley Flanagan

Riley Flanagan literally grew up in the vineyard. She was born in 1999, the year that her father bought his first piece of land, which at the time had not yet seen any cultivation. At the age of three, she helped plant their first vines in that first family vineyard, located in Bennett Valley. The site sits at 1200 feet up on the south and southwest slopes of Bennett Ridge at the confluence of San Pablo Bay and Petaluma Gap. The soil is rocky, volcanic cobbles with excellent drainage. Having a warm micro-climate in a cool region means that bud break here is early, but harvest is late. The extra hang time for the grapes, along with the low yields and the hillside site, can deliver intense, complex fruit.

Isabelle MortIsabelle Mort

She helped bring in the harvest of Flanagan’s first wine (it was just one barrel, released in 2004). As she grew older, she began to work in the cellar of the winery, being mentored by Flanagan’s winemaker, Isabelle Mort (among others along the way), and who is now her winemaker as well. With this kind of background, Riley, although as of this writing just twenty-years-old, is way ahead of the game. (I find it’s rather ironically amusing that Riley is old enough to legally oversee a wine operation in California, but not to drink its products.) Her stated goal is to “create a wine for everyone; great wines, made with integrity, at an accessible price. I want [people] to experience all of the beauty [wine] has to offer.”  To fill her idle hours, Riley is currently a full-time student in chemistry, a field she has also been interested in since childhood, at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo.

Riley Flanagan

 

The name “Riley’s Rows” refers to the vines she planted with her father twenty years ago, and her current releases are bottlings made from those very same plants. About that early beginning, Riley shared, “From that day on, I was in love. I gave up my aspirations of being a princess and committed to becoming a wine maker.” The drawings of grape vines on the labels are by Riley herself, made when she was four years old.

Flanagan clan

The Flanagan clan.

4CsA portion of Riley’s Rows retail sales are donated to 4Cs, a nonprofit organization that operates 11 state-funded preschools, and provides affordable, quality childcare in the Sonoma area.

4Cs Sonoma

 

The neck of the bottle of this and all of the Riley’s Rows selections have no foil capsule, by intent.  Riley shared, “I don’t use foils because I don’t like them. I just prefer the look of not having them and I can’t stand cutting them!”

Riley’s Rows Sauvignon Blanc. 2019

This wine was made from just the second crop harvested from the Redwood Valley Grape Ranch in Mendocino County, way up north.  It was fermented in 60% stainless steel and 40% barrels.  It is nearly colorless, with merely a suggestion of yellow.  It has a delicate nose of papaya and honeydew, and a nice smooth mouthfeel.  The subtle flavors are lemon and grapefruit, with absolutely no grassiness.  Although relatively common in this varietal,  I prefer my Sauvignon Blancs without it.  The finish is clean but somewhat short.  ABV is 12.8%, and 1,024 cases were released.

Riley’s Rows Rosé of Syrah 2019

This super refreshing rose began life in a small Syrah vineyard in Sonoma’s Bennett Valley.  The goal was to mimic the pink wines of Provence.  It is a lovely light salmon color in the glass.  You are greeted with aromas of mouthwatering ripe fruits, particularly nectarines and strawberries.  The soft plush mouthfeel and medium body is paired with flavors of grapefruit, blood orange, and stone fruits.  The delicate tannins and vibrant acidity lead to a medium finish.  The dry fermentation was in 60% stainless steel and 40% neutral barrels (hence those subtle tannins).  ABV is 12.8%, and 540 cases were produced.

Riley’s Rows 3×3 Red Blend 2017

Made from 36% Cabernet Sauvignon, 35% Syrah, and 29% Merlot from a number of north-coast Sonoma vineyards, including the Flanagan’s Brandt Ranch. It was in French oak barrels, 20% new and the remainder once-used, for 14 months.  This blend opens with a nose full of dark fruits and a hint of cocoa.  Next come flavors of plums, blackberry, and more cocoa, complemented by good acidity.  But what really stands out here are the big, grippy tannins.  Now, this is fine with me, but may not be for everyone.  It ends in a long finish with, predictably, plenty of black tea notes.   The ABV is 14.2% and 355 cases were made.

https://www.flanaganwines.com/Riley-s-Rows-Wines

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Flanagan Wines

Flanagan Wines

 

Eric Flanagan did not come of age with a background in the wine business, or even farming. After graduating from college in 1985, he embarked on a banking career, which he pursued until 2013. His job during those years took him on journeys around the world. He had always had an interest in wine, and over the course of these trips Flanagan became fascinated by how grapes of the same variety expressed themselves in different places.

the siren call of wine

Seeing no need to wait for retirement to start a second career, at the age of 36 in 1999 he decided to act on his deep interest in the world of wine. He purchased 40 acres of open land on the side of Bennett Mountain in Sonoma, California, (in what would later become the Bennett Valley AVA). The site sits at 1200 feet on the south and southwest slopes of Bennett Ridge at the confluence of San Pablo Bay and Petaluma Gap. The soil is rocky, volcanic cobbles with excellent drainage. Having a warm micro-climate in a cool region means that bud break here is early, but harvest is late. The extra hang time for the grapes, along with the low yields and the hillside site, can deliver intense, complex fruit. Flanagan and his then very-young first daughter, Riley (who has gone on to become a vintner herself), planted his first vines there in 2001.

Flanagan

The original winery and Bennett vineyard.

Flanagan’s first wine was one barrel of Cabernet Sauvignon made in 2004 with winemaker Philippe Melka. In just the following year he grew production to 150 cases.

Cabell Coursey                                     Isabelle Mort

From 2014 to 2016,  Cabell Coursey was the winemaker at Flanagan. The energetic and peripatetic Coursey also makes the wine for Tony Lombardi, as well as his own label, Coursey Graves. Although he continues as consulting winemaker for Flanagan, the day-to-day winemaking operations are overseen by Isabelle Mort, who also makes the wines for Riley Flanagan’s label, Riley’s Rows.  (And while Eric Flanagan sources all of his grapes from Sonoma County, his daughter draws some of her fruit from ranches in Lake County and Mendocino.)

In 2015, Flanagan obtained a 27-acre Pinot Noir vineyard named Gap’s View in the Petaluma Gap area of the Sonoma Coast AVA. Cool afternoon winds from the Petaluma Gap keep the fruit “clean” and allow it to ripen slowly. The site is the source of some of Flanagan’s Pinot Noir grapes, a small amount of which are made into a vineyard-designated wine.

That same year, he purchased the iconic Sonoma Coast Platt Ranch. With over 300 acres of redwood and fir, it is home to one of the largest coastal redwood groves in the state. The vineyard itself is just 2.5 miles from the Pacific Ocean, and has 31 acres planted to Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. The soil is Goldridge fine sandy loam, and sits high above the regular morning fog. From the top of the property, you can see the tiny town of Bodega and the Pacific Ocean.

Platt Ranch

Platt Ranch vineyard, which Flanagan believes “may be the greatest Pinot Noir and Chardonnay site in California.”

Flanagan winery 2.0

With access to so much high-quality fruit, Flanagan quickly outgrew the original production facility. In 2016 he purchased a shuttered winery located just outside of Healdsburg. The operation is one of the oldest in Sonoma County, having been originally bonded in 1885. “We couldn’t be more thrilled to have found this special winery site and estate vineyards,” said Flanagan. “We realized [in 2014] that the winery I built in Bennett Valley wouldn’t meet our future needs. Acquiring an operating winery with a 25,000 case permit, ten acres of vineyard, and a public tasting room feels like a miracle.”

Flanagan

The current Flanagan winery.

FlanaganThe Flanagan production building. The three blue rivulets are the winery’s logo, symbolizing the Flanagans’ three children, all daughters.

The estate totals twenty acres, ten of which are planted to vines. Shortly after the purchase, Flanagan and then-winemaker Coursey replanted to Cabernet Sauvignon with modern spacing to make the most of the hillside site. Coursey said at the time, “I’m excited to replant the winery’s estate vineyards, and look forward to redesigning the winery and creating a world-class facility. The new winery will enhance our ability to craft wines with integrity from some of the most exceptional vineyard sites in Sonoma County.”

Flanagan

The view from the tasting room patio.  The rainbow does not appear every day.

In 2016, Flanagan bought the historic Brandt Ranch, which is located within the Kelsey Bench appellation in Lake County, north of Napa Valley. The 120-acre vineyard has 108 acres planted to Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc.

“Having a top Kelsey Bench Cabernet source was a thoughtful addition to the highly-acclaimed Pinot Noir vineyards at Platt Ranch and Gap’s View,” reminisced Flanagan. “Brandt Ranch is a site with great soils, aspect, and climate … my commitment is to help every vineyard we own to realize its potential.”

Other vineyards

In addition to the Bennett Valley, Platt, and Brandt Ranch already mentioned, Flanagan also sources fruit from these two properties (and a few others I won’t get in to).

Bacigalupi Vineyard is a few miles south of the Flanagan winery. The Bacigalupi family owns about 120 acres of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir here. This vineyard was the source of the Chateau Montelena Chardonnay that beat the French competition at the famous “Judgement of Paris” tasting in 1976.

Ritchie Vineyard, a famous Chardonnay site in Sonoma County, was planted in the early ’70s with a Wente clone of Chardonnay. Owner Kent Ritchie was told shortly afterward he would have to eventually replant the vineyard because the vines were not phylloxera resistant, but some forty years later the Ritchie Vineyard is still producing world-class fruit.

Sustainability

Flanagan has an annual production of 4,300 cases, all made sustainably. As of this writing, they are in the process of having their vineyards certified sustainable by CSWA (California Sustainable Winegrowers Alliance).

Beyond the formal certification, sustainability for Flanagan means, “that we farm with a long-term mindset. We do everything we can to ensure that this land will be as healthy, or healthier than, it was when we found it. We are committed to balanced, healthy vineyards, and to producing wines that reflect the integrity and distinctiveness of their site. Our mission is to make great wines from the best vineyards in Sonoma County.”

Flanagan clan

The Flanagan clan.

Flanagan Chardonnay Russian River Valley 2017

The wine was 100% barrel fermented with a blend of fruit sourced primarily from the Bacigalupi and Ritchie vineyards, and then aged for 11 months in French oak barrels, of which 45% were new. A bright gold in the glass, it features a nose of citrus and papaya aromas, with a hint of butterscotch. The lush mouthfeel is accompanied by flavors of tart grapefruit, pineapple, pear, and a suggestion of minerality.  It has bright acidity to balance the richness, and a long finish. ABV is 14.5%.  359 cases produced.  This is one of Flanagan’s four Chardonnays.

Flanagan Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast 2016

This Pinot Noir saw 11 months of ageing in  French oak, 46% new. Fermentation was done in open top fermenters for 10 days.  It exhibits a brilliant clear dark red color, and a nose dominated by dark plum accompanied by red cherry, floral notes, and spice. There are flavors of tart cherry and mixed red fruits on the palate.  The tannins are nicely integrated.  It ends in a medium finish, with a lingering suggestion of black tea. This vintage was sourced from the  Gap’s View and Platt vineyards, as well as two others. ABV is 14.3%, and 700 cases were made.  This is one of the five Pinot Noir’s Flanagan produces.

Flanagan The Beauty of Three Proprietary Red 2015

This is a blend of 80% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Syrah, and 5% Merlot, drawn from the same barrels as their Flagship blend, but with a different composition.

It presents with a rich, dark purple color.  There are plenty of blackberry and dark stone fruit aromas, and these continue on as the primary flavors with the addition of some cassis.  It has an unctious mouthfeel, very smooth tannins, and a nice long finish. ABV is 14.8% and 640 cases were released.

www.flanaganwines.com

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Coursey Graves Winery

Coursey Graves

 

Cabell Coursey

Cabell Coursey is a busy guy these days. In addition to being the winemaker at Lombardi Winery, he is also winemaker and co-owner at Coursey Graves Winery in Santa Rosa, California. He began his career in wine in Burgundy, where he worked his first harvest during an undergraduate semester abroad. After graduation, he returned to the States and pursued the menial but necessary chores of picking grapes, scrubbing tanks and barrels, and learning traditional winegrowing methods. He went on to toil in Oregon’s Willamette Valley, and later traveled to Christchurch, New Zealand, where he earned graduate degrees in Enology and Viticulture from Lincoln University. It was there he developed the passion for cool climate wines that guides his style today. Before starting Coursey Graves in 2015 with partner John Graves, Coursey made wine for Alder Springs Vineyard, DuMol, Flanagan, and Kosta Browne.

He is committed to constantly improving the wines he makes from vintage to vintage by understanding his vineyards and maximizing their quality.  He also feels obligated to mentor young winegrowers by teaching parameters they can use to customize and improve grape farming for better produce.

Coursey stated,  “I am interested in making wines that show the place where they are grown, taste great young, but also age [well]. With most wines, aging means maintaining. I strive to make wines that evolve, not just maintain.
Except for a little bit of Chardonnay, I grow all the grapes I make to wine. It’s important, because my team learns about the vineyard and can change how we grow the grapes to make better wines.”

John GravesJohn Graves began his career in computer technology, and after a decade spent working for others, he left to strike out on his own. Thirty years later he sold a successful B-to-B software business. He and his wife Denise used a portion of the proceeds to establish the Graves Foundation, whose mission is to provide disadvantaged youth in greater Minneapolis with access to the resources, opportunities, and caring relationships that will propel them to a successful life. Specifically, the foundation focuses on K-12 education reform and providing foster kids with support during the transition to adulthood.

Grave’s interest in wine began as a hobby, influenced by a good friend and by Robert Parker’s reviews in the Wine Advocate. At length his interest expanded until the desire to learn became a desire to own a winery. Serendipitously, about the same time his winemaker friend Cabell Coursey began talking about starting a new venture of wines in a style they both loved to drink and share. Graves acquired the existing Bennett Valley Winery, and the first vintage of Coursey Graves was bottled in 2017.

Bennett Valley AVA

In 1862, Santa Rosa winemaker Isaac DeTurk planted a vineyard on land he purchased from valley namesake James Bennett. DeTurk called his winery, the valley’s first, Belle Mount. However, the combination of phylloxera and Prohibition cleared the valley of vineyards. It wasn’t until the late 1970s that vineyards returned to Bennett Valley in a meaningful way at the pioneering Matanzas Creek Winery.

The Bennett Valley AVA is located south of Santa Rosa, on high ground between the Sonoma Valley and Cotati Valley. The AVA begins where the city’s suburban neighborhood known as Bennett Valley abruptly gives way to rolling oak woodland and horse pastures bordered by ancient stone walls.

This tiny appellation is one of the coolest AVAs in Sonoma County. This is because of  the Petaluma Gap, where a break in the higher coastal hills lets in cool winds and fog from the Pacific Ocean. Bennett Valley sits directly in the path of the initial incursion.   The fact that there is fog in all of the photos in this post is testament to that!

Although there are plenty of renowned wineries and vineyards throughout Sonoma, of course, the lesser-known vineyards of Bennett Valley quietly yield some of the area’s most highly concentrated fruit. This is because the well-drained volcanic soils of the area ensure that the vines grow deep root systems in search of hydration. Ultimately this leads to concentrated, complex wines, as the water-stressed vines will focus their attention on grapes, rather than luxurious foliage. The rocky soils coupled with the cool weather mimic the austere conditions of Bordeaux.

There are now 650 vineyard acres and four wineries in Bennett Valley, which was awarded AVA status in 2003.

The Coursey Graves Vineyards

Coursey Graves is located on vineyard sites 800 to 1500 feet above sea level on Bennett Mountain overlooking Sonoma, on the western edge of the ancient, volcanic Mayacamas Range that separates Napa and Sonoma. The winery, estate vineyards, and caves are built into the slope overlooking the Bennett Valley below. Eighteen acres are planted to Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Merlot, Petit Verdot, and Syrah.

 

In addition to the estate vineyard, Coursey Graves relies on two others as well. Nestled on the sloped edge of an ancient volcano, Coombsville Vineyard is home to sixteen acres of Bordeaux varieties growing between the red and black igneous basalt and the white, ashy volcanic tuff. At two thousand feet above sea level, Cabernet from Howell Mountain Vineyard benefits from much cooler daytime temperatures and slower ripening.

The wines

I have now had the opportunity to try eight of Cabell Coursey’s wines.  They all have a smooth and silky mouthfeel.  Thinking this had to reflect the intervention of the winemaker, I asked him about how he achieves that, and he had this to say,  “First is vineyard work.  I get up-front and mid-palate concentration through diligent effort in the vineyard, by managing fruit load to the amount of vine canopy, and careful applications of irrigation. I have some control over berry size, and therefore juice to skin ratio, by controlling how much water-stress the vines have at various times during the growing season. Extra stress at flowering and fruit set limits berry size, while more water increases berry size. I don’t have a standard plan each vintage, but rather change according to conditions.

“Second is tannin management during the winemaking process. Certain tannins (phenols) extract from grapes at different ranges in temperature. Also, they bind at different temperatures. I manage the temperatures during fermentation very closely and change to either extract, not extract, or bind, depending on taste and mouthfeel. I do use lab numbers to double check what I taste. However, it’s mostly by taste. After working with these vineyards and my cellar for a few years, I’ve started to learn where the wines’ tannins need to be at the end of fermentation to age properly upon the wines’ release and subsequent aging.”

Coursey Graves Chardonnay 2018

The fruit for this wine was sourced from the Durell and Heintz vineyards on the Sonoma coast. It was fermented in oak and stainless-steel barrels. It is light bright lemon yellow in the glass, which is appropriate as it opens with the smell of lemons, paired with a hint of melon and crushed stone. Those flavors continue on the palate, abetted by a zippy acidity and a suggestion of oak.  It wraps up in a brisk finish.  Only 91 cases were made.

Coursey Graves West Slope Syrah 2016

This 100% Syrah  hails from Coursey Graves’ estate vineyard in Bennett Valley. It is an opaque but brilliant purple color. It features aromas of dark red fruits. The rather lean palate offers flavors of blackberry and olive, with a bit of pepper at the end.  It’s all complemented by good  tannins and a moderately long finish. Production was limited to 268 cases.

Coursey Graves Cabernet Sauvignon 2016

This wine is 100% Cabernet Sauvignon (although in some years Coursey adds and just a bit of Merlot). The grapes were  mostly harvested from vineyards in Howell Mountain and Coombsville in Napa, as well as some from Bennett Valley in Sonoma.  The aromatics are of rich, complex dark fruit. On the palate the wine offers tart cherry, black cherry, red licorice, and cocoa. The  oak tannins are well-integrated and bracing.  According to the winery, it will be at its peak performance around 2023 to 2024, by which time those tannins will inevitably round out, if you prefer them softer. .192 cases were produced. 

Coursey Graves Bennett Mountain Estate Red Blend 2016

This elegant wine was my favorite of the quartet. The blend is 60% Cabernet Sauvignon and 40% Merlot, all from the estate vineyard in Bennett Valley.  This deep-red selection displays aromas of crushed rock and currant, with a hint of strawberry.  These are followed by flavors of dark plum, blueberries, crème de cassis, and a touch of vanilla, supported by fine tannins.  It offers an excellent example of Coursey’s super smooth, lush mouthfeel.  There is just a bit of dried herbs on the long finish.  234 cases were made.
Coursey Graves’ tasting room is located in downtown Healdsburg, just off the historic Healdsburg Plaza.

https://www.courseygraves.com/

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Hall Craig’s Red Wine 2014

HALL wines hail from five estate vineyards: Sacrashe (Rutherford), Bergfeld (St. Helena), Hardester (Napa Valley), Atlas Peak Estate, (Atlas Peak), and T Bar T Ranch (Alexander Valley). From these 500 acres come classic Bordeaux varietals: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Sauvignon Blanc. In each vineyard, small-vine farming is employed to produce low-yield, high-concentration fruit.

The winery is dedicated to environmental responsibility. Only natural products are used for weed and pest control, and the vineyards are certified organic. The farming operations use 50% bio-diesel fuel to reduce carbon emissions.

The St. Helena winery qualified for the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED®) Green Building Rating System, and was the the first in California to earn LEED Gold Certification.™

Finally, A portion of all business profits is donated to charity via the Craig and Kathryn Hall Foundation.

Photo: Mark Buckley

Photo: Urban Daddy

Photo: Jody Resnick

Photo: Vadim Lazar

Hall Craig’s Red Wine 2014

Craig Hall, with his wife Kathryn, is the co-founder of Hall Wines, and this wine is one of his pet projects. It is a blend of 65% Cabernet Sauvignon and 35% Merlot from a number of Hall’s growers throughout Napa Valley. It was aged in 60% new French oak for 22 months.

This big, bold Bordeaux-styled red blend has a nose of black fruits, black cherry, raspberry, earth, and a touch of smoke. It offers a palate of blackberry, cherry, plum, and chocolate. There is good acidity and plenty of tannins. If you like a tannin punch, drink now. If not, wait a year or two. Either way, let it breathe for about an hour after decanting. The finish is long and concentrated.

https://www.hallwines.com/

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Viader Proprietary Red Blend

Viader Vineyards and WineryAlthough I’ve never met Delia Viader, founder of Viader Vineyards and Winery, she is by all accounts quite a remarkable woman.

She was born in 1958, the first child of a wealthy Argentinian engineer, Walter Viader. In addition to his expertise in aerodynamics and telecommunications, he also traveled the world as a diplomatic attaché. As soon as Delia could read, her parents encouraged her to pursue her innate curiosity, recommending a number of books which they could discuss together.

When Delia was five years old, she was sent to a German girl’s boarding school, where she would receive the beginning of her formal education over the next twelve years. It was a thoroughly classical curriculum, including learning ancient Greek and Latin for Mass. She also gained a fluency in English, German, Italian, French, Spanish, and Portugese. And she remained very inquisitive. As she has said about her never-ending questioning, “I guess I had no fear. I always asked, politely, ‘And why is it this way, and not that way?’ I wasn’t being rude; I just had questions, because the nuns only provided beginnings, which led to my many more questions about everything.”

In Latin American cultures, a young girl’s fifteenth birthday is marked by a quinceañera, the traditional celebration (usually a Mass followed by a big party) which symbolizes her transition from childhood to adulthood. Already the shrewd investor, Delia told her father that she had no interest in something so fleeting as a party, but rather wanted to use the money to buy land. “I want to get a piece of dune by the beach with a view of the ocean,” she announced. He was at first taken aback, but her father agreed. When they went to visit the property Delia had in mind, Walter paid for her lot, and purchased the one next to it for himself as well.

After boarding school, Delia was off to Paris. There at the Sorbonne, she took a Ph .D. in philosophy, with a concentration in logic. While still at university, she married her sweetheart of four years. At just 19-years-old, she bore a son, Paul, who was born with Down syndrome. “When Paul was born, that definitely made me realize that there is a purpose in life,” she emphasizes. By the time she graduated, she had two additional children and the marriage had ended.

Casting about for her next act, she asked her father to pay for three more years of education at MIT, where one of her younger brothers, Walter Jr., was already enrolled. Always the doting father, Walter agreed, and Delia was accepted into the Executive Financial program at MIT’s Sloan School of Management.

After MIT, she and Walter Jr. decided to move to California. She immediately fell in love with Napa Valley, but just for the beauty of the area, rather than any winemaking ambition. However, in 1985 Walter Sr. was approached by a local he had met about forming a partnership to develop a parcel of land on Howell Mountain by planting a vineyard and creating a winery. But Delia had another idea. She said, “Dad, if you put up the money, I think I can make this work by myself.” When her father replied, “After all the money I poured into your education, all you want is to become a farmer?” she assured him, “Yes, Dad.”

And so Viader Vineyards and Winery was launched. Delia drew up a comprehensive business plan, as her father’s money was an investment rather than a gift.

Delia soon discovered that preparing the property to become a vineyard was going to be a big challenge. The place was nothing but mottled rock and poison oak, on a steep hillside. Knowing she would need expert help, she quickly assembled a top-notch team. The first task was preparing the soil itself. To make it suitable for planting, “low to the ground” explosives, followed by jackhammers, were used to break up the most stubborn rock outcroppings.

Next came vineyard layout. At that time, most vines grew on the Napa Valley floor. The few hillside vineyards were terraced, running in a north to south orientation. Because of cost, the fear of erosion, and her instinct for the vines from her years in France, Delia rejected terracing. Instead, the rows were planted up and down the mountain, with an east to west orientation, which allows for more even distribution of sunlight. Although quite innovative at the time, this sort of layout has become commonplace for hillside sites in Napa today.

In addition, Delia and her team opted for a high-density planting of 2,200 vines per acre. 1,800 or less is more the norm. There are cover crops between rows. As is done in Burgundy rather than California, the hanging fruit zone is much closer to the ground. Because of this, the grapes have to be hand harvested, with the workers toiling on their knees. This is always done at night, further increasing the effort. But low-hanging grape clusters also mean that the fruit benefits from heat radiated from the volcanic rock in the soil right after sunset. The cumulative effect is that the grapes mature seven to fourteen days ahead of neighboring properties, and well before the late-autumn rains that can ruin a harvest.

As the vineyard was being established, the next task was to build a home for her family, a higher priority than the winery itself. (For her company’s first 11 years, production was at rented space at Rombauer Vineyards.) During the winter of 1989, the house was built just above the vineyard, with views of the vines, the valley, and the lake below. That same year, Delia brought in the first vintage of “Viader,” her signature wine, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. Production was a mere 1,200 cases.

 

 

Interestingly, Delia opted to concentrate selling the wine not in the U.S., but in Europe, where she felt more comfortable. Being a polyglot didn’t hurt, either. Every other week throughout the 1990s and 2000s, Delia was on the road, traveling to more than thirty countries and opening accounts in every market by herself. “I wanted to present my wines in the bigger pond of the world rather than what I considered the smaller pond of the United States. It keeps you honest and humble to work side by side with brand owners who have over two hundred years of history over you,” she says. During this time, the winery itself was constructed, as well as a system of interconnected tunnel cellars.

All of the effort paid off at the end of 2000, when Wine Spectator named the 1997 Viader the #2 of their annual Top 100 Wines. The following year, the Spectator ranked the 1998 Viader as the #3 Top 100 wine of 2001. Success seemed assured as people started clamoring for Viader’s products.

As almost all of us eventually learn, life dispenses struggle as well as triumph. In 2005, because of ongoing construction at the winery, Delia was obligated to transfer the entire stock of bottled 2003 vintage wines to an off-site warehouse. This facility was a major storage and distribution center for many other wine and food products vendors as well. It was later learned that a warehouse employee was engaged in fraud and embezzlement. On October 12, 2005, he was in the warehouse attempting to destroy evidence against himself with a propane torch. The fire got out of control, leading to an eight-hour-long five-alarm fire. Viader’s 2003 wines, worth $4.5 million, were totally destroyed. Other companies suffered major losses as well, including a number of other small wineries that were subsequently forced out of business.

Delia rallied the family, and the decision was made to press ahead, almost starting over, really. There was insurance money, but it was slow in coming. Delia began to sell off the winery’s reserve library of wines, going direct to customers instead of through distribution to maximize profit. She continued to travel to restaurants and wine shows, determined to keep Viader in people’s minds. The hard work paid off, and Viader survived to release the 2004 vintage a year later.

The entire family has been actively involved in the business. First, Alan, Delia’s second son. After working the land during summers and completing internships, in 2002 he graduated from UC Davis with a degree in viticulture and became vineyard manager. Next came responsibility as winemaker, with the 2006 his first vintage. He became brand ambassador as well, and in that capacity he followed in his mother’s footsteps by traveling the world to promote the family’s wines. In 2007, daughter Janet joined the company full time, taking over the sales role. She also served as one of the youngest elected members on the Board of Directors of the Napa Valley Vintners Association.

Today, Viader’s estate vineyard is planted to 28 acres of vines and includes Petit Verdot, Syrah, and Malbec, as well as many of the original Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc vines. “We’re not 100 percent organic, but we are mostly organic,” stated Alan. He noted that organic is not always a “silver bullet,” because of potentially nasty organic chemicals. He also finds that strictly following the guidelines of biodynamic certification doesn’t result in quality in line with costs, so he abandoned that after a six-year flirtation. Sustainable practices do include the use of beneficial insects to help eliminate the need for pesticides; raptor roosts and falcon kites to help patrol the property for rodent, snake, and pest bird infestations; and solar paneling to power sensors in the vineyard. The property is carbon negative also, and the soils are never tilled.

Continuing to stay in their separate lots, the unblended wines age in concrete tanks or French oak barrels for 14 to 24 months. During this time, the wine goes through secondary, malolactic fermentation and is racked once, at most, during the aging process. Once final blending occurs, the wine continues to rest in barrel until bottling, which takes place in-house. The wine sees further bottle age for about a year before being released.

Viader Proprietary Red Blend 2014

With just 1811 cases produced, and at the upper end of Napa prices, this is the cult wine you’re looking for. The flagship wine from Viader put this unique mountainside winery on the map as one of the first in Napa to tackle and successfully showcase Cabernet Franc as a deserving companion with Cabernet Sauvignon. This blend has been referred to as “liquid cashmere.”

It is 72% Cabernet Sauvignon and 28% Cabernet Franc. Cabernet Sauvignon provides the backbone, structure, character, and aging potential, while Cabernet Franc instills a balance and early approachability. The wine was aged for two years in 70% new French oak. It shows firm structure influenced by the rocky volcanic soils of the eastern slopes of Howell Mountain, and an elegant yet intensely rich profile. Big, hearty tannins wrap around flavors of succulent dark fruit, clove, and sage, with hints of floral notes. Cellar for up to 12 years.

https://viader.com/

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Protea Wines

Protea WinesYou Can Bring Me Flowers

Protea [PROH-tee-uh] (sometimes also called sugarbush) is the national flower of South Africa. It was named after the Greek god Proteus, who could change his form at will, because the flowers have such a wide variety of forms.

Taking its inspiration from the flower, Protea the winery is on a mission to make wines that dare to be exotic and beautiful in every way.

The winery is located in the Franschhoek [FRAHNSH-hoook] Valley, about 45 miles due east of Cape Town on South Africa’s western coast. Franschhoek, which translates to “French Corner,” was first settled by French Huguenots in the latter part of the seventeenth century, but quality wine production there is a relatively recent phenomenon. Encircled by the mountains that form the Drakestein Valley, Franschhoek is a highly-regarded, cool-climate wine ward (growing area), which historically has particularly favored white-wine grapes, especially sémillon, chardonnay, and sauvignon blanc.

A popular tourist destination, Franschhoek draws visitors for its many fine-dining restaurants as well as its wines.

Protea is especially proud of their bottles. They were designed by Cape Town native Mark Eisen. An internationally recognized fashion designer, he has now turned his attention to artistic glass. Using an advanced screen-printing process in which nontoxic ink fuses with the glass at a very high temperature, Eisen was able to transfer his evocative designs directly onto and wrapped around the bottle.

Protea encourages their customers to repurpose rather than merely recycle the bottles, using them to hold floral displays, olive oil, candles, etc.

Protea also hosts a blog on their Web site. The blog is for “social, adventurous, and creative women.” It provides accessible wine knowledge, simple entertaining tips, and easy crafting ideas, giving women “the confidence to entertain affordably and sustainably.”

Protea Chenin Blanc 2014

This 100% Chenin Blanc is light-blond in the glass. It shows aromas of fresh, crisp fruit, especially citrus. This continues on to the palate, where you’ll find hints of pear, grapefruit, honeysuckle, and melon. The wine is medium bodied, with well-integrated supporting acidity. An excellent choice for the warm weather just around the corner.

Try this with Citrus Terrine with Orange Coulis, Frisée Salad with Bacon and Poached Egg, or Scallops with Endive.

Protea Red Blend 2012

Happily, pinotage, South Africa’s workhorse red, is not to be found anywhere near this blend of 53% cabernet sauvignon and 47% merlot. This medium-bodied, ruby-hued wine starts out with delicate suggestions of tea and espresso on the nose. The flavor basket of dark stone fruits is augmented by cocoa-like tannins and a medium-length finish.

This wine would like to go with Chicken in Red Wine, Rabbit with Mustard Sauce, or Steak Frites, a truly classic pairing.

http://www.proteawinesusa.com/

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Israel’s Yatir Winery

Yatir Winery

The Yatir region in the Judean Hills has produced grapes for winemaking since the ancient days of the Judean kingdom.  A large Jewish settlement existed in this region between the periods of the destruction of the Second Temple to the inception of the Islamic period.

Although the Israeli wine industry is 2,500-years-old, winemakers from this area of the Negev have only relatively recently been drawing critical and commercial acclaim.

David Ben-Gurion was the primary national founder and the first Prime Minister of Israel, which he led from 1948 until 1963 (with a short break in 1954-55).  He had a quixotic dream of making the Negev region in the south bloom and blossom.  When he decided to plant a forest in the area, he consulted with experts to guide him through the process. After numerous discussions and assessments, the agronomists determined that the region, which was predictably dry and warm, was unsuitable for planting trees. Ben-Gurion had other plans in mind however.  “Replace the experts!” he demanded.  A forest was in fact established, and it has gone on to become one of Israel’s largest . It was named after the Levite biblical city of Yatir, whose ruins remain within. The site serves as a “green lung” and a hiking site, as well as an experimental model for innovative methods for combating desertification. The Yatir Winery vineyards were planted as part of that effort.

Yatir Winery was established in 2000 as a joint venture between local growers and the Carmel Winery, who recognized the potential of the Yatir region. The Yatir Winery was built at the foot of the Israelite Tel Arad Fort (an archeological site), 10 minutes away from the vineyards.

Yatir Winery’s first wine was released in 2004, and today the winery produces 150,000 bottles. Over the years, this desert winery has become a symbol of the region.

Yatir’s  growers and winemakers are committed to excellence every step of the way – from growth and cultivation to harvest, fermentation, aging, and bottling – employing the most cutting-edge technology and equipment available to the industry today.

The vineyards of Yatir Winery are planted at an altitude of up to 900 meters [3000 feet] above sea level, and are scattered across various locations in the forest. The plots in these vineyards have varying soil compositions, with different slants and angles. The climate is characterized by cool, breezy mornings, dry days, cold nights (even at the peak of summer) and snowy winters. The soil is well-drained limestone, chalk, and clay that ensures low yields.

“We are proud to be planting in vineyards from an ancient region, where wine presses existed more than 3,000 years ago,” said Yaakov Ben Dor, Yatir Winery’s general manager.

“Although Israel’s winemaking tradition is ancient, the current industry is still young.  Israel has been widely recognized as capable of producing world-class wines, and growth is happening fast. We are pleased by the exciting potential of the region,” reported Etti Edri, Yatir’s export manager.

According to Eran Goldwasser, who oversees Yatir’s vineyards and production, “At Yatir Winery we are integrating state-of-the-art winemaking and technology within a man-made forest in the heart of the desert, to produce award-winning wines.  Though it seems unlikely, this area in Israel provides an excellent environment for wine making.  Due to Israel’s warm Mediterranean climate, the grapes have no trouble ripening.  As the vines age, yields will decrease, and our wines will become more nuanced.”

Yatir Creek 2016

This blend of 76% Syrah, 12% Tannat, and 12% Malbec is plum red in the glass.  The nose offers aromas of rhubarb, cherries, cassis, and a hint of green olives. The palate presents flavors of recessive fruit, coca, and cigar box.  The  tannins feature a slightly salty and pleasantly bitter finish.  The wine was aged  for 12 months in large oak barrels,  and aged in the bottle for two years.

I suggest serving this wine with Moroccan chicken with preserved lemons and olives; souvlakia (skewered lamb) with grilled vegetables; or sghenna (a one pot meal for the Sabbath).

Yatir Mt. Amasa White 2017

With an unusual blend of 52% Chenin Blanc, 39% Viognier, and 9% Roussanne, this  white displays a pale golden-greenish hue.   The aromas hint at grapefruit and actetone (which disappears after chilling).  That grapefruit is joined by peach, and pear on the palate.  There is a soft mouthfeel and balanced acidity.  The wine was fermented and aged for five months in a combination of concrete amphorae (a growing trend internationally), oak barrels, and stainless steel vats.

Yatir Mt. Amasa White would go well with Libyan fish tangine; sea bass with olives and roast tomatoes; or saffron chicken and mussels.

Or, if you’re not an observant Jew, you could do as I did and make a lobster and champagne risotto.

https://winervana.com/lobster-and-champagne-risotto/

These wines join other Yatir products, including Yatir Mount Masa Red (which is a best seller), Yatir Rose, Yatir Peti Verdo, and the flagship wine, Yatir Forest.

https://yatirwinery.com/en/

 

Above: Etti Edri [left], Yatir Winery’s export manager
and Israel’s Ambassador Dani Dayan [right] with bottles
of Yatir wines.

 

These wines are “kosher for Passover.”  This certification requires handling and processes unique to these types of wine.

Kosher wine is grape wine produced according to Jewish dietary law (kashrut). To be considered kosher, Sabbath-observant Jews must supervise and sometimes handle the entire winemaking process, from the time the grapes are crushed until the wine is bottled. Any ingredients used, including finings, must be kosher as well. Wine that is described as “kosher for Passover” must have been kept free from contact with chametz, such as grain, bread, and dough.

To ensure the kosher status of the wine it must be overseen by a Jewish authority who supervises the kashrut status of the producer. Generally, this supervisor will physically tip the fruit into the crush and operate the equipment. Once the wine emerges from the process, it can be handled in the normal fashion.

Here’s some more information on kosher wines:

https://winefolly.com/review/myths-facts-kosher-wine/

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Portugese Red Table Wine

Portugese Red Table WineLeaving Port

In the 1970s, Portugese rosés such as Lancers and Mateus were the height of sophistication to many young wine drinkers: “It’s imported, and comes in a fun bottle!” With age comes wisdom, and these wines were eventually abandoned for the justifiably famous fortified wines of Portugal, Port and Madeira, produced by many ancient and famous houses.

Much less well-known is Portugal’s status as a producer of both red and white table wine, ranking in the world’s top ten in production.  With a population of just 10 million, but top five in per capita consumption, much of that wine is sipped by the thirsty Portuguese.

Winemaking in Portugal has a long and storied history. It was the first country to implement an appellation system, the Denominação de Origem Controlada, in 1756, almost 180 years before the French established their own similar system. The DOC established early quality-control standards, but because it has been in place for over 350 years much Portuguese winemaking is tightly bound by tradition; even calcified, some would say. However, this has been steadily changing, and many producers are updating their winemaking equipment and methods and are producing good high-quality wines.

The wines of this post come from the Douro [DOO-roh], a wild mountainous region located along the Douro river starting at the Spanish border and extending west into northern Portugal. The grapes for many Ports originate here also, but the vineyards for the table wines are at higher altitudes, where the grapes don’t ripen as fully or produce the higher sugar levels desirable for fortified wines.

All three wines are also the result of a collaboration that began in 1998, a joint project between Bruno Prats, former owner of the famed Château Cos d’Estournel, and the Symington family, world-renowned fourth generation Port producers. A dedicated facility with an underground barrel cellar was built specifically for this partnership. Vinification and élévage (i.e. racking) closely follow the Bordeaux method.

Each of these wines is composed of Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz, Touriga Franca, Tinta Francisca, and/or Tinta Barroca, so right there you can tell these ain’t your everyday quaffs.

Chryseia Douro DOC 2007

The flagship of the Prats and Symington combine, Chryseia (Greek for ‘golden,’ as ‘douro’ is in Portuguese), was first launched in 2001. The fruit is Toriga Nacional [50%] and Touriga Franca [50%]. After fermentation, only 30% of the juice was deemed worthy of Chryseia.

On the nose, the wine opens with aromas of coconut macaroons. The coconut is also evident on the palate, in pleasant concert with black currants and black cherries. There’s even a hint of bacon on the back palate. The wine displays characteristic Douro minerality (wet rocks), here well-balanced by the firm tannins and supporting acidity.

If you’re like me and hate to wait, give Chryseia two hours to breathe in the decanter and serve it with Pork Chops with Apple Filling, Roast Duck with Cherries, or Cholula Spicy Chicken Pizza.

Post Scriptum de Chryseia Douro DOC 2007

Many European houses have a tradition of a ‘second label,’ a wine made from the ‘not quite good enough for prime time’ grapes featured in their most premium wines. Post Scriptum de Chryseia fills that role, and is therefore the little brother to Chryseia. (And, the Post Scriptum name mimics the initials of Prats and Symington. A little wine humor.)

The Post Scriptum is made up of Tinta Roriz [40 %], Touriga Franca [35 %], and Tinta Barocca [20 %]. It spent nine months in French oak, but the influence is subtle. Again, the wine displays characteristic minerality, balanced by dark fruit, leather, and smoke. The understated fruit is complemented by soft tannins and some acidity for structure. The medium finish has a hint of bitterness.

Enjoy this wine with a top-quality Reuben Sandwich, Filets with Mushroom and Madeira Sauce, or Lamb Brochettes.

Prazo de Roriz Douro DOC 2008

The grapes for this Douro were sourced exclusively from Quinta de Roriz, making it comparable to a French estate-grown wine. Quinta [KEEN-tah] is Portugese for “farm,” so this wine literally comes from “Roriz’s Farm.” It is a blend of Touriga Nacional [35%], Tinta Roriz [35%], Touriga Franca [28%], and Tinta Francisca [2%]. The wine was aged in French oak barrels and subsequently in bottle, prior to release.

In the glass, the wine is dark red, a misdirection from its surprisingly light body. There is a slight tartness on entry. The palate displays flavors of mulberries, cedar, unsweetened cocoa, and minerals, which add to the dustiness on the rather short finish. Allow this wine to breath for an hour or so.

Pair it up with Barbequed Salmon, Flank Steak Filled with Spinach and Pistachios, or Roast Chicken with Port, Cream, and Mushrooms.

https://www.chryseia.com/wines

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Carmel Winery Private Collection

Carmel Winery Private Selection

The first mention of wine in the Bible appears in Genesis, chapter 9, verse 20, “And Noah began to be an husbandman, and he planted a vineyard.” The story goes on to recount some unpleasantness after Noah overimbibes, but there is no reason to go into that here. The point is, wine is as old as history itself, with some of its earliest beginnings in the Middle East. Indeed, references to wine appear hundreds of times in Scripture, through both the Old and New Testaments.

Wine production flourished in the eastern Mediterranean until the rise of Islamic prohibitionists suppressed it in the 8th century. However, there has been a modern renaissance in Turkey, Cyprus, and Lebanon, as well as Israel, from which these Carmel Winery Private Collection wines come.

Sweet red kiddush wines, consumed on the Shabbat (the Jewish day of rest) and other Jewish holidays, were for years the standard output of the original cooperative wineries of Carmel at Rishon le Zion and Zichron Yaacov in the coastal regions of Samaria and Samson, a gift to Israel from French wine magnate Baron Edmond de Rothschild, owner of the famous Chateau Lafite in Bordeaux. They still control just under half of all grapes in the most traditional wine-growing areas.

Starting in the 1980s with the introduction of technology and expertise from California, Israeli wines began to move from primarily sacramental use to products intended to compete on the international stage.

Carmel Winery, one of the first and largest winemakers in Israel, was founded in 1882 by the aforementioned Baron Rothschild. It sits on the eastern shore of the Mediterranean, about 14 miles south of Haifa. The Zichron Yaakov wine cellars were built in 1890, and are still active to this day. Carmel Winery works with 108 families of wine growers to nurture some 3,500 acres of vineyards in Israel from the Galilee and the Golan Heights in the North, to the Negev in the South. Carmel uses state-of-the-art technology to produce an array of wines from entry-level offerings to premium bottlings.

This new Private Collection series showcases the country’s most prized growing regions and Carmel Winery’s 137 years of winemaking expertise.

The 2018 Winemakers Blend is an easy-drinking mix of 50% Cabernet and 50% Merlot, made by Carmel’s Chief Winemaker Yiftach Peretz. It has fragrant aromas of blueberry and vanilla on the nose. The taste features suggestions of plums with hints of spices and cocoa abetted by soft tannins. The finish is relatively short.

The 2018 Cabernet Sauvignon, perhaps predictably, is much like the Winemakers Blend. It has rich aromas of blackberry and chocolate, with a similar flavor profile. The well-balanced tannins are more prominent, and the finish rather longer.

The 2018 Shiraz is deep purple in the glass, with a medium-bodied palate of dark stone fruit, a hint of green pepper, and good supporting tannins. It offers the longest finish of this trio.

All three of these Carmel Winery expressions are worthy of your consideration, but the Shiraz was the standout for me.

These wines are “kosher for Passover” and “mevushal.” Both certifications require handling and processes unique to these types of wine.

Kosher wine is grape wine produced according to Jewish dietary law (kashrut). To be considered kosher, Sabbath-observant Jews must supervise and sometimes handle the entire winemaking process, from the time the grapes are crushed until the wine is bottled. Any ingredients used, including finings, must be kosher as well. Wine that is described as “kosher for Passover” must have been kept free from contact with chametz, such as grain, bread, and dough.

Mevushal is a subclass of kosher wine that can be handled by non-Jewish or non-observant waiters, and is consequently frequently used in kosher restaurants and by kosher caterers. To be classified as mevushal, kosher wine is cooked or boiled, after which it will keep the status of kosher wine even if subsequently touched by a non-Jew.

The process of fully boiling a wine can greatly alter the tannins and flavors. Therefore, much care is taken to satisfy the legal requirements while exposing the wine to as little heat as necessary.  Surprisingly, there is significant disagreement as to the precise temperature a wine must reach to be considered mevushal, ranging from 165°F (74°C) to 194°F (90°C). Heating at the minimum required temperature reduces some of the damage done to the wine, but still has a substantial effect on quality and aging potential.

Alternatively, flash pasteurization rapidly heats the wine to the desired temperature and immediately chills it back to room temperature. This process is said to have much less impact on flavor, at least compared to actual cooking or boiling.  I assume Carmel Winery uses the flash pasteurization method to achieve mevushal status, as none of these wines display any obvious damage from overheating.

Regardless of the heating method, to ensure the kosher status of the wine it must be overseen by a Jewish authority who supervises the kashrut status of the producer. Generally, this supervisor will physically tip the fruit into the crush and operate the equipment. Once the wine emerges from the process, it can be handled in the normal fashion.

http://carmelwines.co.il/en

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