On the wine geekiness scale, the Alta Mora 2014 Rosso ranks high. Made from a decidedly geeky, native grape called Nerello Mascalese and grown on the slopes of Mt. Etna in Sicily, this robust, well-made red wine checks all the boxes for one-upmanship at a bring-your-own party. The Cusumano family owns this winery, two brothers with balls enough to plant a vineyard very near an active volcano. The largest active volcano in Europe. Yep — hope they’re insured.
Read more: Wine review: Alta Mora 2014 Rosso Mt. Etna Sicily
This year, the Lodi Wine Region hosted the Wine Blogger’s Conference and several hundred bloggers enjoyed some unique fruit of their vines. Sure, there were still overly extracted, high alcohol Zins and Cabs to be had (or not), but I uncovered some pretty incredible small lot, teensy production non Zins that seriously reignited the wine geek in me. Below are some of the best Lodi wines I found.
Read more: Is Lodi the next frontier for wine geeks? The best Lodi wines I’ve tasted
Back in 2007, when I was a full-time wine journalist, I spent a couple of days hanging around Flora Springs, a family-owned winery in Napa Valley. Sean Garvey, 3rd generation and a babe in the woods at the time, showed me around and expounded on the beauty of Napa Valley Merlot. So warm and welcoming, the Garvey and Kome families still hold a place in my treasured wine memories. They likely don’t know this, but, even after almost 10 years, I still recommend their wine and winery to Napa visitors. Because they’re awesome people with solid wines.
Read more: Wine review: Flora Springs Napa Valley Merlot 2014
Rosés are my “thing” in summer (well, anytime, actually) but great wines aren’t just going to land in my lap — research is needed. And foresight, since the best Sonoma County rosé wines sell out quickly. I already missed the window at some wineries, like Cartographe Wines in Healdsburg, but maybe I can glom on to someone else’s forethought to buy some of theirs? Here’s hoping! On my journey to find the tastiest Sonoma County rosés, I did not want for incredibly fruit-forward, bone dry, well-balanced pink stuff in my ‘hood. I tasted my way through eight or so wineries (I could have gone to a lot more but I ran out of space in my wine racks and wallet) and uncovered many summer-worthy finds. But here’s the rub… you generally won’t find any of these on wine shelves, except maybe around Sonoma County, so you’ll need to order direct from the source.
Read more: Exploring the best damn Sonoma County rosé wines
It ain’t easy being the underdog. When you have Chianti and Brunello as your big brothers and Super Tuscans as your sophisticated sister, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano has to do a lot to get attention. Add to that some pretty tough Italian regulations about growing, blending and a helluva long name, it’s been a tough marketing road for this small, 76-producer, sub-region of Tuscany. But they’re making a delicious go of it with Sangiovese as the king pin. Established in 1966, the Vino Nobile di Montepulciano DOC (Demonimazione di Origine Controllata) is comprised of 3,100 planted acres in the southeastern section of Tuscany, about 65 kilometers south of Siena. But grapes and wine have been in this region for millennia, with documents proving vineyards dating back to 790 AD. In 1980, the region was awarded a G on the DOC (Demonimazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita), making them among the elite wine growing regions in Italy. This year marks their 50th anniversary of being recognized with quality Italian wine.
Read more: The new (old) wines of Vino Nobile di Montepulciano
Founded in 1980 as a partnership by Glen Browne and Brit visionary Tony Cartlidge, Cartlidge and Browne began as a négociant-type winery. The young entrepreneur Cartlidge searched the North Coast of California to sniff out vineyards that spoke to him and the type of wine he wanted to make. Instead of investing in fancy digs and hoopla, the partners sunk money into high quality grapes and a fairly simple garage winemaking facility in Napa Valley. Thus, the brand was born. Fast forward over 30 years later when their well-founded success was rewarded in 2011, they sold to a company called Vintage Wine Estates who has thankfully not ruined what the partners established.
Read more: Wine review: Cartlidge and Browne 2013 Merlot
I still remember when I set eyes on Oregon’s wine country, Willamette Valley. It smelled of perfumey Pinot Noir… wafting up through the vineyards, wineries and through my hotel window. It was harvest of 2007 and I fell in love. With Oregon Pinot Noir. The love continues to this day. Willamette (rhymes with “dammit”) Valley is the main grape-growing area and one of the first wine regions (AVA) established in Oregon. It’s about an hour south of Portland, straddling the mountainous coastline. A major reason for Willamette’s success is the vast temperature fluctuations during the spring and summer growing season, allowing the fruit to develop acids — a crucial element in creating complexity in wine, especially Pinot. Over the years, distinct winegrowing regions have emerged and now the state has 17 AVAs that wineries often indicate on the bottle to educate customers. But many keep Willamette Valley on the label because they’re likely blends of several AVAs.
Read more: Impressive Oregon Pinot Noir
For me, Cab Sauv isn’t a sipping wine. Not made for the patio or the party, but more for the dinner party. Its hefty tannins and deep, dark flavors are a challenge to my palate without the fattiness of food to protect it. But a well-made Cab begs to be recognized as such – celebrated for having achieved a balance of acid and tannins, fruit and oak, and an elegance worthy of any meal. Honig Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa Valley makes this cut.
Read more: Cold weather wine: 2012 Honig Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley
Behold a photo gallery of fave wines from my afternoon spent at the 2015 Taste of Sonoma, part of the Sonoma Wine Country Weekend. A storied and epic wine event hosted by MacMurray Ranch in the heart of Sonoma County’s Russian River Valley, it’s impossible to try all the wines poured. Most of these recommended wines hail from the Russian River Valley or Sonoma Valley tents where I spent the bulk of my time exploring. And explore I did! Found a few new wineries (or, at least, new to me) that are killing it: Attune Wines, Canihan Wines, Talisman Wines and Viluko Vineyards. And reminisced with old flames like Inman Family Wines, Three Sticks Wines and Dunstan Wines. These boutique bottles won’t be at a store down the street, but on a website near your mouse or finger. Taste of Sonoma is by far the premier tasting festival of the season and is very well organized. If you haven’t had the pleasure, put it on your bucket list.
Read more: Best wines I tasted at 2015 Taste of Sonoma Festival
It’s damn hard finding a Pinot Noir worth drinking under $20. Really, really hard. Some might even say under $30 is challenging, but I’m not that hard core. But forget under $15… it’s normally sweetened grape juice with a touch of earthiness likely added in with wood chips. But occasionally, if you look and wish hard enough, you can find a wine treasure that you can enjoy everyday without feeling the pinch too much. I tried the Mark West 2013 Pinot Noir in a blind tasting lineup and pretty much everyone (from wine novices to wine pros) thought it was solid. Especially for the low, low price of $12.
Read more: Wine review: Mark West 2013 Pinot Noir California