Wine review: Bonterra 2010 Viognier Mendocino County

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.

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Wine reviews: Terra d'Oro 2009 Barbera and Terra d'Oro 2008 Sangiovese Amador 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

Sparkling wine review: J Winery Cuvee 20 Brut

A dear friend gave me a 1.5 liter magnum of this elegant sparkling wine for Christmas and I almost peed my pants. (Available to buy online only, by the way). There’s nothing quite like looking at a family-sized bottle of bubbly and savoring the ensuing drinking fantasies. I haven’t opened the behemoth yet but the little 750-milliliter brothers of the California sparkler are a staple in my house. A blend of 49% Chardonnay, 49% Pinot Noir and 2% Pinot Meunier grapes, Cuvee 20’s new, sleek packaging celebrates Judy Jordan’s 25 years of making sparkling wine in Sonoma’s Russian River Valley. They’ve had some time to get it right using the same production methods and grape varietals established in France. Sure, not that long in French Champagne terms but, hey, we’re a new country full of zeal, still finding our wine way.

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Wine review: Penfolds Bin 128 2008 Shiraz Coonawarra

Most consumers have heard of Penfold’s, and unfortunately have mostly tasted their somewhat generic, everyday Cabernet and Shiraz blends. But their Bin Series bottlings, made from a more exclusive, higher tier of fruit, are simply breathtaking (and worth the extra $8 or so). Established in 1962, Penfold’s Bin 128 Coonawarra Shiraz series is made from grapes grown on Penfold’s-owned land and produces a consistently tasty wine vintage after vintage.

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Wine review: Castello d’Albola 2007 Chianti Classico

Chianti is one of the classic food wines of Italy. In this wine-soaked country, regional foods are designed to pair with regional wines. [Read about my foodie trip to Italy). They’re crafty that way. Like Garanimals back in the day. In Tuscany, the locals sip Chianti, Chianti Classico and Chianti Classico Reserva (what’s the difference?) with red sauces, long-simmered bean dishes and slow-roasted meats. The higher acidity of the Sangiovese grape complements the high acidity of tomato sauces but also contrasts with the delicious fat of the meat dishes. Matches made in foodie heaven.

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Wine review: Quivira 2009 Zinfandel Dry Creek Valley

I was a bit hesitant to write about Quivira’s Zin that I recently tasted blind, since I reviewed the 2008 vintage in April of this year. But I thought, what the hell, they deserve to get kudos twice in one year. These guys rock the Zinfandel. And, farming biodynamically, they’re stewards of the earth.

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Wine review: Elena Walch 2010 Lagrein Alto Adige (Italy)

For a few years now, the Alto Adige wine region in northeastern Italy has been a darling of mine. With a cooler climate than the rest of the heated Italian countrysides, the Pinot Grigios taste crisper, the eclectic reds are more refined and they grow a whole slew of interesting grapes from this rich, historic soil. Like Lagrein.

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Wine reviews: King Estate 2009 Domaine Pinot Gris and 2008 Pinot Noir

King Estate specializes in Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir, and that’s what I’ve been sipping on these past eight years since I met them. Still family-owned — like most wineries in Oregon — they’ve expanded their horizons with their other, more affordable (and still tasty) Acrobat Pinot Noir and Gris. I really admire what these guys have been doing.

Read more: Wine reviews: King Estate 2009 Domaine Pinot Gris and 2008 Pinot Noir

Wine review: J Vineyards 2010 Pinot Gris California

The J Vineyards 2010 Pinot Gris has a fabulously creamy mouthfeel but offers up a snappy, crisp finish. Medium-bodied and dangerously easy to slurp on a hot day. Aromas of honeyed peach, red apple and honeydew melon follow onto the tongue with a splash of lemon and ripe apricots. Almost Viognier-like in body and flowery aroma but with a lot more food-friendly acidity. Gorgeously well made and now, thankfully easy to find.

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Wine review: Tormaresca 2008 Neprica Puglia (Italy)

Bravo to this deliciously affordable Italian red wine, made from two grapes few have heard of — Negroamaro and Primitivo (the Italian equivalent to Zinfandel) — and the ubiquitous Cabernet Sauvignon. Neprica also hails from an obscure region in Italy, Puglia — the heel of the boot — where vineyard land doesn’t fall into the ranks of the absurdly expensive. Puglia (also called Apulia) is an up-and-coming wine region, having shod their former lowly, bulk wine rep, and now competes successfully in the international red blend market.

Read more: Wine review: Tormaresca 2008 Neprica Puglia (Italy)