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
I can say with certainty that I haven’t walked away from many winemaker interviews wanting to sign up for their wine club. I simply have too much wine sitting in my cellar at home. But the wines from Pure Cru, made by the ever popular and ever well-connected Napa Valley winemaker Mitch Cosentino, had that effect on me. They were like crack, but better for you. Pure Cru is Mitch’s “side” wine project, making about 3,000 cases per vintage to create a “small, hands-on entity where I could do it all myself again, like I did in the beginning.” The rather simple yet delicious premise is to grab fruit from his favorite vineyards throughout Napa Valley and northern California to craft small quantities of wine blends. Wines that the average consumer can afford too. How novel from a Napa winery.
Read more: Pure Cru = Pure pleasure from Napa and Mitch Cosentino
Kitchen sink wines can be a fascinating bunch. Winemakers tend to love making them since it engages their creative side, consumers love them since they’re generally less expensive and they have cool names that are great for grabbing you on the aisle. And then there’s usually a cool story behind the wine. Shannon Ridge, founded by Clay and Margarita Shannon, formerly sold their Lake County grapes to huge wineries like Trinchero and Kendall Jackson. But in 2008, they made a play to create their own, affordably-priced wine label. A virtually unknown grape region that grows outstanding Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc, Lake County lies only about an hour north of Napa County in California. But the fruit sells for almost obscenely low prices. So the Shannons can sell all their Lake County wines under $25 and have something left over to buy dinner.
Read more: Wine review: Shannon Ridge 2009 Wrangler Red Lake County
I think Merlot bashing has finally come to an end. Post Sideways, Pinot fever still continues but Merlot can rest easy now and get down to the business of wooing people again. So wineries like Napa Cellars — who continued to produce magnificently non-wimpy Merlots throughout the silly “hater” period– can bask in the kudos they deserve.
Read more: The little wine that could: Napa Cellars 2009 Merlot Napa Valley
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
Years ago, a sommelier friend of mine described Bogle wines as “mass-produced, and you can find them at [the grocery store], but for the money they’re the best damn grocery-store wine you can buy.” I still agree.
Read more: Good cheap red wine review: Bogle 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon California
Sexy, sultry, sensuous, luscious — ever wondered why these words are used to describe wine? Could it be that wine leads us down the road to romance? To desire? Wine certainly pairs with Valentine’s Day. But does romance have to rule the day on Valentine’s? What if this Hallmark holiday conjures up bitterness and resentment rather than romance? For the “singles” out there, it might be black and depressing. So I started wondering about how this day has become inextricably linked with romance.
Read more: Wines for Valentine’s Day: For romance, love or massacres?
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