Keuka Spring Epic Reserve Finger Lakes Red Wine 2016

Long before California became America’s leading winemaking state, plenty of wine was being made in New York. The Hugeunots, a French Protestant sect of the 16th and 17th centuries, planted grapevines there in the 1600s. The first commercial plantings of native  American grape varieties began in 1862. Shortly thereafter, the area established a reputation for making sweet sparkling wines, and by the end of the 19th century plantings had increased to around 25,000 acres.

In the early 20th century, production declined sharply as a result of phylloxera vine disease, competition from California wines, and Prohibition. After that scourge ended, production resumed but the rebound was moderate. Further limiting production, after World War II Americans began to develop a taste for the drier wines made from the European Vitis vinifera grape varieties dominant in California. Unlike in California, however, it was believed that these grape varieties would not survive in the harsh New York winters.

In 1951 Dr. Konstantin Frank, a Ukrainian immigrant with a PhD degree in Plant Science, came to work at the New York State Agricultural Experiment Station in Geneva, New York, with the goal of growing Vitis vinifera varietals in the cold Finger Lakes climate. This was unheard of — and laughed at — back then. Other winemakers predicted failure. “What do you mean?” Frank retorted. “I’m from Russia — it’s even colder there.” With support from Charles Fournier of Gold Seal Vineyards, a sparkling wine producer, he began planting Vitis vinifera vines in 1958. In 1962 Dr. Frank started Vinifera Wine Cellars in Hammondsport, at the far southern end of Keuka lake, where he began to successfully produce Riesling, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Gewürtztraminer, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Rkatsiteli (the most widely-planted white-wine grape in the countries of the former Soviet Union). Plantings of these varieties spread throughout the region and new wineries soon emerged. Continue reading “Keuka Spring Epic Reserve Finger Lakes Red Wine 2016”

Italics Winegrowers Sixteen Appellations Red Wine 2013

In 1870 the Carbone family purchased a large parcel on Coombsville Road in Napa, California. They opened a winery, which is long gone, and that was about it for winemaking in the area for the next hundred years.

Around 1970, dozens of wineries started  appearing along Highway 29 in Oakville, Rutherford, and St. Helena, but Coombsville remained largely uninvolved in the burgeoning wine scene. By the 1990s, however, a number of up-valley wineries, looking to expand their production, came looking for additional sources of fruit. They were impressed by the rolling benchlands, moderate temperatures, and volcanic soils of Coombsville.

In 1995, the winery that would eventually become Italics was founded in Coombsville by commercial pilot turned vintner Bill Frazier. Frazier sold the winery in 2011 to a China-based company that renamed it Zhang Winery. The Chinese owners expanded the existing small cave system into what is now 16,000 square feet carved into a hill, and made a number of practical and visual improvements. In 2014, the operation was purchased by Mike Martin of Texas, who once again renamed it, this time to Italics. (The name Italics was chosen because “words in italics are used to emphasize something or to make something stand out.”) He was president of Rio Queen Citrus, Inc., his family produce business, until selling it in 2012. Rio Queen began with a small 20-acre grapefruit orchard in the south part of the state, but grew to become one of the largest distributors of produce in Texas (including citrus, onions, and melons).

Italics’ founding winemaker was Steve Reynolds, who Martin met by chance at a wine dinner in McAllen, Texas.  Martin was particularly interested in one of Reynold’s many ongoing projects, Thirteen Appellations, which began in 2002 when 100 cases were made.  The idea behind the label was to create a wine with fruit from all of Napa’s then extant sub-appellations. The thinking was that, “each wine taken individually has its own unique colors, aromas, and flavors, and blending them results in an arguably richer, perhaps more complex wine.” The wines from each sub-appellation are fermented and aged separately – all coming together when the final blend is made.  Ultimately Martin acquired Thirteen Appellations, a brand that evolved into Sixteen Appellations. As additional sub-appellations were approved in Napa, further vintages were called Fourteen and then Fifteen Appellations. With the Coombsville sub-appellation finally being added in 2011, the wine is now Sixteen Appellations

In 2019, Marbue Marke became Italics’ winemaker. He was born in Sierra Leone, West Africa, and originally studied to become a doctor, enrolling in UC Davis’ Pre-Med program at just 15 years old.  However,  he soon realized that he tended to get woozy at the sight of blood, a definite handicap for a doctor.  Abandoning that career path, he transferred to the UC Davis wine program, and graduated with a degree in Viticulture and Enology. He later earned an M.B.A. from Sonoma State University.  Prior to Italics, he toiled at Caldwell Vineyard, Marston Family Vineyard, J Winery, Cosentino, Benziger Family Winery, and industry giant EJ Gallo Winery. In 2018 he was named U.S. Winemaker of the Year by Bonfort’s Wine and Spirits Journal.

The entire Italics operation resides in caves carved into the hillside.

In addition to the Sixteen Appellations offering, Italics Winegrowers focuses on wines made from traditional red Bordeaux varietals, with a total current production of about 5,000 cases annually.  The fruit for these wines thrives in vineyards not far from the San Pablo Bay.  Breezes that blow in from the bay bring fog by day and cool air at night, moderating extreme temperatures.  Coombsville is surrounded by a partially collapsed caldera, the remnant of a fractured volcanic vent. The caldera’s half-bowl reaches some 1,800 feet in elevation, and acts as a collector for the cool marine air from the Bay.  The grapes grown here can hang longer without dehydrating while retaining their natural acidity.

The film Decanted premiered at the 2016 Napa Valley Film Festival. It depicts what it takes to open a winery in the Napa Valley, and it follows Italics Winegrowers from the inception. Winemaker Steve Reynolds and owner Mike Martin were included in the cast.

Italics Winegrowers Sixteen Appellations Red Wine 2013

This red is composed of 45% Cabernet Sauvignon, 35% Merlot, 15% Cabernet Franc, and 5% Petit Verdot.  Some of the vineyards sourced are owned by Robert Keenan, Blackbird, Annapurna, and Constant, as well as Italics’ estate vineyard (these change every vintage).  After fermentation in 25% new French oak and 75% stainless steel, it was aged for 22 months in French oak barrels, 60% new and 40% used.

This quite dry, dark garnet wine greets you with a heady nose of mouthwatering rich dark fruits.  These are most evident on the palate as somewhat restrained blueberry and blackberry, plus dust and a hint of clove.  The flavors tend to fade as the bottom of the bottle approaches.  The acid and tannins are in excellent balance, complemented by a medium-long finish.  ABV is 14.5% and 1,337 cases were made.

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Parallel 44 Winery / Door 44 Winery

Parallel 44 WineryKewanee, nestled in the heart of Wisconsin beer country, is 40 miles east of Green Bay and on the western shore of Lake Michigan. This is where Parallel 44 Winery calls home.  (They also market their wines under the Door 44 label, where they are offered in a tasting facility in Door County farther north.

The story of Parallel 44 Vineyard & Winery began in 2005, when husband and wife team Steve Johnson and Maria Milano planted their first grape vines. Steve grew up in Green Bay, where his father Carl experimented early on with growing grapes. Maria grew up in Stevens Point, Wisconsin, where her Italian-born father continued his tradition of making wine for friends and family celebrations. Steve and Maria met while in school at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, and then attended law school together. While working as attorneys, they attended seminars on grape growing in Wisconsin, with an eye towards getting into the wine business.

Maria and Steve

After years of searching for a location with the soil, sun exposure, and temperatures for growing grapes, they found the location that Parallel 44 now sits on. Originally, it was a simple corn field and former gravel pit. As soon as they purchased the land, they began to plant vines, a novel idea at the time.

A year after the vineyard was planted, in 2006 construction was started on the winery and tasting room. Since opening on Memorial Day weekend in 2007, Parallel 44 has continued to grow and expand. Today, all of the wines produced by Parallel 44 are either made with grapes grown in their own vineyards, or at one of the vineyards that the winery contracts with throughout the state of Wisconsin and the Upper Midwest.


Cold weather grape growing, for sure.

The winery itself has undergone several remodels. The first major expansion of the winery occurred in 2009, which nearly doubled the size of the original. A second, smaller expansion and remodeling was completed in 2011. To capitalize on the resort trade, Steve and Maria decided in 2013 to open a second location, located in Door County forty miles due north, where tens of thousands of tourists flock each summer. (They like to promote this as a second winery, but it’s really just a tasting room and storage facility.)

The Door County tasting facility. Photo: Mike Stanford

The vineyard and winery are situated on 44° north latitude (hence the name), which is renowned for the world’s finest grape growing and winemaking regions, such as Bordeaux in France, and Tuscany in Italy. Parallel 44 shares many similarities with these regions, such as seasonal growing period, annual rainfall, and length of daylight. But, a big difference from their European counterparts is that Parallel 44 suffers through winters of subzero temperatures, adding the challenge of growing grapes on the “frozen tundra” of Wisconsin.

The estate vineyard in Kewanee. Photo: Dave Bloedum

Johnson and Milano decided to forgo the classic European varietals we are all familiar with, knowing that the vines would struggle to even survive the harsh northern Wisconsin winters, much less thrive.

So, they turned their attention to cold-climate grape varietals available for commercial planting, of which there were only a few. Most of the varietals were quite new to the world of wine and were less than 20 years old. Undetered, Steve and Maria carried on with their dream and today, 15 years later, there are approximately 7000 vines on 10 acres planted at Parallel 44.

The grape varietals they grow are known as “cool climate grapes.” This means that some of the vines can withstand temperatures as low as -36° F in winter, but as summer approaches they spring back to life!

These cool-climate varietals have the hallmark qualities of bright acidity, fruit forward aromas, and flavors that are unique to the region. Some of these varietals are Marechal Foch, Frontenac, Louise Swenson, St. Pepin, and Petite Pearl. These are the genetic cousins of such well-known varietals such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Moscato, and Riesling.

Parallel 44 La Crescent NV

The La Crescent white grape varietal was invented by University of Minnesota researchers James Luby and Peter Hemstad as part of the university’s cold hardy-grape breeding program. Since its release to the market in 2002, La Crescent has been planted with success in Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Vermont, and, of course, Wisconsin. The variety can survive temperatures to −36° F (−38° C). Those wishing to propagate La Crescent must obtain a license from the university, as they hold a patent on the grape, awarded in 2004. It has parentage in the Moscato family.

This semi-dry white wine shows pale yellow in the glass. The nose has pleasant orange blossom aromas. Next come flavors of a summer fruit basket, including peach, apricot, and citrus, with a full mouthfeel. It all ends with a refreshing, crisp finish.

Pair this selection with Lobster Bisque, Swordfish Steaks with Mango and Avocado Salsa, or Cornish Hens with Cranberry Sauce.

Parallel 44 Vintner’s Reserve NV

This dry red wine is a blend of 60% Marquette and 40% Petite Pearl.

Marquette is another University of Minnesota offering, introduced in 2006. It is a complex hybrid, one that involves vitis vinifera as well as American species. It is named after Pere Marquette, a Jesuit missionary and 17th century explorer of North America, and has been said by the university to be a cousin of Frontenac and a grandson of Pinot Noir.

Petite Pearl was bred by Tom Plocher, a well-respected northern climate viticulturist and grape breeder; currently, Parallel 44’s is the largest planting.

Winemaker Steve Johnson sees Petite Pearl as “the holy grail, so far” and “to date, the one with the most promise” when it comes to northern red grapes such as Marechal Foch and Marquette that are transforming the quality of wine from the Upper Midwest. As he explains it, compared with other cold-hardy red grapes, Petite Pearl has a more balanced chemical makeup with lower acidity and higher tannin levels.

This medium-bodied red has a nose of bright fruit, especially strawberry and blueberry. Those are complemented on the palate by plum and black cherry, balanced acidity, and light but firm tannins. There is a bit of spice and pepper, as well. The mouth-feel is somewhere between Pinot Noir and Merlot.

Try it with Peppered Salmon with Snow Peas and Ginger, Spinach and Bacon Souffle, or Boned Pork Loin with Apple Cream Sauce.

Parallel 44 Salve NV

Salve is a traditional Italian greeting that comes from the word “to be well.” This unassuming red wine is fresh and easily approachable.

The source grape is primarily Petite Pearl, with a small amount of a white varietal called Prairie Star, bred by Elmer Swenson. It produces a neutral white wine with good mouth feel, and is perhaps even hardier than Frontenac, a widely-planted cool-climate varietal. It can have a strong floral nose. Prairie Star is also consumed as a table grape. The addition of a white varietal during fermentation is a traditional practice in some other countries, including Italy, and is more common than you might expect.

This light red wine has a quite transparent ruby color. The nose shows strawberry and red cherry. That light cherry follows through on the palate, joined by a hint of cola. The finish is short, and without much tannins.

This simple but food-friendly wine would play well with Grilled Butterflied Salmon, Spinach and Bacon Souffle, or Veal Escalopes with Tomato Sauce.

Door 44 F2 Red Blend 2018

This is a 50/50 blend of Frontenac, yet another  hybrid developed at the University of Minnesota, and Marechal Foch, a French-American hybrid created in the late 19th century.  Hence, F2, or perhaps F squared. It is dark ruby-red in the glass, with aromas of red cherry and plum.  This continues on the palate, which offers a slight sweetness as well as an effervescent acidity, typical of these grapes (although no actual bubbles are present). Steve Johnson noted, “While many California winemakers would feel intimidated by the high acidities that result from our cold-climate varietals, they would yearn for the structure our acidities can provide. As F2 matures, the toast of oak will add an expression of dark chocolate, a common characteristic of an aged wine made with the Frontenac grape.”

Here’s a post on another northern Wisconsin winery, but this one brings in juice from California rather than growing locally:

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Rabble Wine Company

 Rabble Wine CompanyRousing Rabble

If you are looking for affordable, approachable, easy-drinking wines, I suggest you seek out those from Paso Robles. This large but lesser-known appellation was established in 1983 (a mere toddler in wine years), and is located around the town of Paso Robles in the northern part of California’s San Luis Obispo County. Most of the growing area is classified as Region III, equivalent to France’s Rhône region. At last count, there were over 18,000 acres under vine.

Rabble Wine Company encompasses four labels: Rabble, Stasis, Amor Fati, and Tooth & Nail. Rabble’s estate winery and visitor center is regarded as one of the region’s leading destinations, featuring a somewhat kitschy castle-like building that includes an expansive tasting room.

Rabble was founded by Rob and Nancy Murray in 2011. In addition to becoming a vintner, Rob has been a grower and vineyard owner for over 20 years. He continues to own and manage properties from Paso Robles to Santa Maria, with his own brands utilizing roughly five percent of the grapes he farms. He’s obviously doing something right, as Rabble is one of Paso Robles’ fastest-growing labels.

Speaking of labels, I’m almost always more interested in what’s in a wine bottle than what’s on it. However, the iconoclastic labels for Rabble and its sister brands have attracted a lot of attention in the wine press. The Rabble labels are renditions of historical woodblock prints from the Nuremberg Chronicle, dating to the late 1400s. They have been faithfully reproduced, including a full-embossing rarely seen in this context. The images depict nature’s wrath, as a reminder to work in concert with her at all times.

Rabble Red Blend 2015

This disorderly mob member hails from Mossfire Ranch, about three miles southwest of Paso Robles. A mix of 90% merlot and 10% syrah, it greets you with its bright red-purple color and aromas of red cherry and cocoa on the nose, with just a hint of anise. The rich cherry continues on the palate, adding red berries and delicate spice notes. The flavors, lively acidity and firm but sweet tannins are remarkably balanced. An excellent value. The label illustrates the Apocalyptic Comet falling upon Florence with the Unicorn and Phoenix.

Try this wine with cranberry-cheddar brats with bell peppers, New Mexican rubbed pork tenderloin, or grilled chicken with Fresno chile/plum sauce.

Rabble Caberrnet Sauvignon 2016

Another Mossfire offering, on first approach currant, cocoa, and a hint of tobacco drift from the glass. Again, the taste of cherries, but this time of the tart variety, supported by vanilla, dried sage, blueberry, and cassis. These are complemented by woody notes from the French oak, which also supplies lively and supple tannins and a nice long finish. And the label? Mount Vesuvius Erupting over Pompeii.

Enjoy this wine with venison and black bean chili with toasted cumin crema, pan-roasted chicken with blackberry-ancho sauce, or red chile and honey-glazed salmon.

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Exitus Red Wine

Exitus Bourbon Barrel Aged Red Wine
And Now for Something Completely Different

The Exitus winery is located in Parlier, California, about 20 miles southeast of Fresno. I don’t know how badass the people of Parlier are, but it’s certainly the image that Exitus is trying to cultivate. Their one current offering is Exitus Bourbon Barrel Aged Red Wine. It is fermented in the usual stainless steel. But, rather than using traditional barrels expressly made for wine, Exitus is matured for three months in charred barrels that were previously used for the production of Kentucky Bourbon. The schtick is supported by distributing the wine in clear liquor bottles.

Exitus is a blend of Zinfandel, Petit Verdot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petite Sirah, and Merlot, sporting a robust 15.9% ABV. The wine displays a dark but bright cherry color in the glass (as well as the bottle). The alcohol is evident on the nose of the first pour, but gives way to aromas of dark berry, leather, and tobacco thereafter. After about an hour, Exitus becomes surprisingly well-behaved, with flavors of ripe dark stone fruit, dusty chocolate, and spices. Things wrap up with a bit of oak, vanilla, and balanced tannin. Interestingly, Exitus had me thinking about a glass of port for after dinner.

Try this wine with sweet and sour baby back ribs, thyme-scented pork loin with grapes and port, or sloppy joe burgers.  But do it soon.  As clever as that clear bottle is, the wine won’t age gracefully in it.

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