Sweet wines are everywhere. Previously eschewed for fear of being snubbed by snobs, wineries now proudly tout their full-frontal sugar on their labels. Consumers who love dessert for their appetizer should be in high heaven. Leading the pack is Moscato, whose popularity has shot up like blood sugar after a glass of it. But, sadly, most Moscatos lack balance. When I first started drinking wine in Europe, Swiss-grown Muscat (as it is called in French) tantalized my palate with sweetness and acidity. I reveled in its dry finish after my tongue feasted on a fruit salad of apricots, peaches and juicy, red apple. I had not experienced this same sensation in a wine until recently in Franciscan’s 2012 Equilibrium from Napa.
Read more: White wine review: Franciscan 2012 Equilibrium Napa Valley
I will admit I’m not much of a Cabernet Sauvignon fan. Appreciation flows from so many other places, I rarely see the need to fawn. Often, it’s a wine with so much tannin that it begs for food to balm its harsh edges and I’m kind of a wine-for-all-purposes kind of girl (before, during and after dinner). But sometimes, just sometimes, one drops in at a blind tasting that woos me. This happened one night when the Jordan 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon showed up.
Read more: Wine review: Jordan 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon Alexander Valley
The square in rural downtown Paso Robles, California (pronounced “ROBE-less” by purists, “RO-bulls” by locals), is often covered with lush green grass and a sea of smiling tourists during harvest. It’s difficult to believe this sleepy, virtually unknown wine region has been producing wine for a quarter century, but when you taste the quality, you quickly realize this former cow town isn’t hokey-pokey. An extremely warm climate area with the widest swings in daily temperature on earth, Paso specializes in grapes that bask in heat: Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Zinfandel and other French Rhône-origin grapes. One night recently, my husband and I grilled out steaks and I grabbed this unfamiliar label, Ancient Peaks Renegade, from the “samples rack” — which we affectionately dub our wine play area. I’ve found some gems amongst the army of bottles perched in our family room over the years and when I tasted this wine for the first time, the eyebrows raised.
Read more: Wine review: Ancient Peaks 2009 Renegade Paso Robles
I’ve finally comes to terms with the fact that I’m a Pinot-lovin’ woman. Call me an acid freak, but I just can’t sit down with only a glass (and no food), pop a cork on a Cabernet Sauvignon and enjoy the hell out of the experience. Nope, won’t happen. Too assaulting. Cabernet is a food wine, plain and simple — the tannins don’t allow my palate to fall backwards into its loving yet astringent arms. But Pinot Noir is a different story. It’s the smooth operator — the wine that massages your shoulders before making its move. It guides your hand to the glass, introduces its beautiful self to your life and entertains… nay… does a lap dance on your tongue. Seduction complete.
Read more: Wine review: Gary Farrell 2009 Pinot Noir Russian River Valley
Chianti is likely the entry-point for Americans to begin learning about this complicated country of 3,000 different grape varietals. It’s on these hallowed Tuscan grounds that wine was not necessarily invented (the Turks lay that claim) but quite possibly where it was first perfected. They follow the same wine identification system as France – by region and not varietals — and it’s likely for that reason Italian wines remain mysterious. I thankfully studied Italy’s regions for weeks during my race to achieve my CSW badge but I could’ve spent countless more. It’s a confusing morass. But Chianti is pretty simple: Within these bottles lies the earthy, cherry-infused elegance of the Sangiovese grape.
Read more: Wine review: Nozzole 2008 Chianti Classico Riserva
Lake County, located just north of Napa Valley in northern California, has been a sleepy yet under-rated wine-producing area for a while now. But with its hot climate, as well as biodynamic and organic focus, Lake County is churning out some pretty slamming fruit. Grapes that love the heat — like Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc, Zinfandel and many Italian varietals like Barbera — bask in all the rays the sun can provide but also enjoy the cool nights. Recently, I wrote about Shannon Ridge, who took up residence in Lake County because the fruit is cheaper to grow (lower land costs) and the volcanic soil begs for grapes. Hawk and Horse Vineyards, founded in 1999, followed a similar path.
Read more: Wine review: Hawk and Horse 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon Lake County
Although I unfortunately missed the witticisms during the #AlbarinoDay on Twitter May 9th, I eagerly consumed the quips from my fellow bloggers post haste. Albarino [al-bah-REEN-nyo], a finicky, aromatic white grape, is grown primarily in the small, green, lush region on the northwestern coast of Spain, Rías Biaxas [REE-ahse BYEE-shash]. The grapes here practically drown in over 50 inches of rain a year. In order to avoid rot, the fruit is hung far above the wet ground, using granite support posts, rather than wood, to support the vine canopies. Rías Biaxas only produces whites and Albarino is the primary grape, which deliciously complements the area’s primary cuisine, seafood. The flavor and style is similar to New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc mixed with the creamy fuller-bodiedness of Chardonnay, and it smells and tastes like a fruit salad of green apples, pears and citrus.
Read more: Underappreciated yet joyous Albarino wines: The best tweets from #AlbarinoDay
Oberon’s winemaker Tony Coltrin grew up in Napa Valley, which makes him ideal to create a Cabernet Sauvignon crafted from many different vineyards around the area. He sources grapes from all over the valley, from the esteemed Howell Mountain wine district to Stag’s Leap (two seriously high dollar appellations) in order to find the best flavors for Oberon’s blend.
Read more: Wine review: Oberon 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley
I applaud the cojones that California winemakers are growing. Instead of blending in obscure red varietals that grow so extraordinarily well in this state (see Tempting Tempranillo), they slap grape names like Aglianico and Sangiovese on labels now. In a society that generally wine shops by comfort zone, that’s pretty daring. You may have heard of Sangiovese, the grape found in all Italian Chiantis, but Aglianico [ah LEE ahn EE co] is one of those sleeper grapes even most wine writers have to look up or study for the CSW exam. Aglianico is one of the world’s oldest wine grapes (think Romans swilling), originating in southern Italy’s Campania wine region near Naples. Amador County, with its dry, arid climate, mimics the weather in Campania so the fruit’s success there makes sense. That, and a slew of Italian settled there during the Gold Rush so the vines have been thriving there a while now.
Read more: Wine reviews: Terra d’Oro 2009 Barbera and Terra d’Oro 2008 Sangiovese Amador County