El Dorado County, a tragically obscure grape growing region east of Sacramento, is not an area that I would dub “Riesling Country.” Known generally as a grape that thrives in cooler climate areas (think Germany, Alsace in northern France, southern Australia, Washington State), Riesling would basically be caught dead in a frickin’ hot area like El Dorado. El Dorado, where the gold rush started… where Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel and countless hot-loving Italian varieties roam. (Read more about Riesling) I sure love being shocked. Madrona, who grows Riesling on their estate at more temperate elevation of 3,000 feet above the valley floor, shocked me. And a few other wine writers recently at a blind tasting.
Read more: Wine review: Madrona 2010 Signature Dry Riesling El Dorado
The 2011 Pinot Gris from Oregon’s Willamette Valley are simply spectacular. Loaded with tart acidity, peaches and grapefruit, you can be assured that any bottle of 2011 Oregon Pinot Gris you grab from the shelves will be worthy of passing your lips. But if you can find this one, you’re golden. The Elk Cove 2011 Pinot Gris has refreshingly crisp acids, resulting from the cooler climate experienced throughout the state during that vintage year. Fragrant citrus fruit on the nose leads into a light-bodied white with flavors of pink grapefruit (but smoother than a New Zealand Sauv Blanc), lime zest and green apples. This grog is sassy and simply easy to drink on a warm day.
Read more: Wine review: Elk Cove 2011 Pinot Gris Willamette Valley (Oregon)
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
Although I taste wines (and often drink!) virtually everyday, most don’t land on the site to bask in the glory of a good wine review. Maybe they’re too expensive for the quality, or taste nothing like the grape listed on the label, or maybe they’re just plain plonk and don’t deserve the attention. Occasionally, despite all the momentous efforts of the winery (’cause why would they want their wine to be crappy?), the bottle is cooked or corked… always a tragedy. The following six wines ranging from $12 to $32 have left an indelible mark on my memory and hope you’ll enjoy them as much as I did.
Read more: The best red, white and rose wines I’ve tasted in the past six months
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
Serenading and reviewing one of the best sauvignon blanc wines I’ve had. With a touch of sweetness, this wine pairs with lots of different foods, has a depth of character with the additional of Rhone white grapes Viognier and Roussanne and worth every penny of its $23 price tag. Really.
Read more: Wine review: Dutcher Crossing 2011 Sauvignon Blanc Dry Creek Valley (a poem)
Torrontés is one of those grape varieties that teeters on the edge of massive popularity. Its soft, elegant feel in the mouth, coupled with extreme fragrance and fruit could make it a no-brainer for women wine drinkers and men with enough balls to drink a white wine that smells like flowers. It is truly a lovely wine. From Argentina, Torrontés was long believed to be a descendant of Spanish Torrontés but DNA evidence says it’s a cross between Muscat of Alexandria and the Mission grape (more history about the Mission grape). Thus, if you like Muscat (aka Moscato) — a wine that’s blowing up right now — then Torrontés should be flying up there with it.
Read more: White wine review: Callia Alta 2010 Torrontes Valle de Tulum (Argentina)
I’ve wondered whether the lack of mass success of the Viognier grape is because of the tongue-twisting name(pronounced VEE oh NYAY”) or some other reason. With its luscious, aromatic fruit, slight sweetness and sip-ability, you’d think it would be a girlie girl’s dream and be as popular with the chicks as Moscatos are now (more on that later). But, unlike Moscato/Muscat it’s tough to make Viognier well. Pick it too early in the growing season, you won’t get the pretty aromas and rounded flavors; pick it too late and you’ll get a wine that’s syrupy, flabby or has no acid at all. Some wineries get it just right though — Bonterra Vineyards in Mendocino County is one of them.
Read more: Wine review: Bonterra 2010 Viognier Mendocino County
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