Schug Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir 2015

W Schug 2015Pinot Noir from Sonoma Coast, Sonoma County, North Coast, California, U.S.

100% pinot noir

13.8% alcohol

Purchased:  7 April 2017  –  $19.99

Opened:  19 April 2018

els:  9.0/10

James Suckling:  93

Wilfred Wong:  92

Tastings:  89

Cellar Tracker:  87

The US, when first discovered by the Vikings, was covered in vines and they named the area Vineland. Unfortunately the early settlers discovered that those vines produced a terrible wine. The effort to find a suitable vine for the US began in earnest in the 1600s with the introduction of the Mission grape to Texas, Arizona, and New Mexico and Vitis vinifera to Virginia.  America’s first commercial winery was not established until 1798, finding its home in Kentucky.  Today the US is the 4th largest producer of wine in the world, behind Spain and ahead of Argentina, accounting for 8% of the world’s wine production. There are 89 regions in the country planting 129 prime varieties of grape. The country has almost 8000 wineries that produced 800 million gallons of wine in 2016.

The California wine industry was initially established by Spanish in the 18th century, planting the Mexican sourced “black grape” around their Catholic missions to be used for religious ceremonies and enjoying Californian sunsets.  The “black grape” or the Mission grape, was originally brought to the new world buy Hernan Cortes in the 16th century. It did nothing of note for the Aztecs but it dominated the state’s industry for almost 200 years.

California is far and away the largest grower and producer of wine in the country accounting for about 85% of US production.  The state still ranks as the 4th largest producer in the world just behind France, Italy, and Spain; without including the rest of country. There are over 600,000 acres of vines, 5900 growers and just shy of 4700 wineries in the state producing 285 million cases of wine in 2016. Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon are the most common wine varieties, accounting for about 90,000 and 85,000 acres planted, respectively. In 2016 the state had about 44,600 acres planted in Pinot Noir grapes.

The state has 5 main growing regions: Central Coast, Inland Valleys, North Coast, Sierra Foothills, and South Coast.  Within these 5 regions are upwards to 200 AVAs.  The AVAs  are defined by geography only; counties are automatically classified as an AVA without further registration with the federal government.  85% of the grapes used on an AVA that’s smaller than a county, must be grown there but there are no restrictions on what grapes or amounts that can be used. If it is a county labeled AVA only 75% of the grapes need to come from that area.

The North Coast region, just north of San Francisco, includes the counties of Lake, Marin, Mendocino, Napa, Sonoma, and Solano. The area stretches 100 miles, north to south, and about 50 miles east to west. From Clear Lake on the eastern boundary to the Pacific Ocean on the western edge, the area includes the valleys just north of the San Francisco Bay to the North Coast Mountains in the northern part of the region. The North Coast contains almost half of all the state’s wineries spread over 3 million acres with more than 130,000 acres dedicated to vineyards within 50 smaller AVAs. The predominate grapes are Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay.

Sonoma County wine history dates back to the early 1800s when a Catholic priest established a vineyard around the San Francisco Solano Mission which is now in the city of Sonoma. By the early 1920s the county boasted 20,000 acres of vines and 250 plus wineries. Prohibition knocked Sonoma’s wine industry down to a shadow of its former glory and it took almost 60 years for the county to recover from that social experiment.

Sonoma County has a rich, heterogeneous geography of mountains and valleys that present a profusion of soils and climates that make the French landscape look like vanilla pudding.  The area’s soils are heavily influenced by volcanism along the county’s eastern boundary in the Mayacamas Mountains.  The volcanoes include the Plio-Pleistocene aged Mount St. Helena and Hood Mountain which, among others, spiked the surrounding soils with ash and other wine-loving volcanic ejecta. The climate of the area is a product of its proximity to the Pacific Ocean which has endowed the area with foggy mornings, warm days, not too hot, and cool nights.

Sonoma County is the North Coast’s largest AVA, about 50 miles on a side, containing more than third of North Coast region’s grape acreage, along with 1800 growers, and 400 wineries. The county grows 66 varieties of grapes on 60,000 acres but just 7 of these account for about 90% of all the wine produced.  Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Cabernet Sauvignon are the top 3 grapes grown. The area produces about 6% of California’s total wine production versus 4% for Napa.

The county is further subdivided into 3 large AVAs loosely based on geography: Northern Sonoma, Sonoma Coast, and Sonoma Valley with each of these containing an additional 15 distinct AVAs within their borders. These include:  Alexander Valley, Bennett Valley, Carneros Sonoma, Chalk Hill, Dry Creek Valley, Fort Ross-Seaview, Fountaingrove District, Green Valley, Knights Valley, Moon Mountain District, Petuluma Gap, Pine Mountain – Cloverdale Peak, Rockpile, Russian River Valley, Sonoma Mountain. Petuluma Gap was granted AVA status in 2018.

Sonoma Coast, awarded AVA status in 1987, has about 2000 acres planted in vines and around 10 wineries. Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are the most planted variety in the AVA with Syrah coming in third. The climate in this area is cooler and wetter than the rest of the county with lots of fog.

Pinot Noir, native to the Burgundy region of France, is a cool climate, thin-skinned, fussy grape. It is a popular drinking wine, ranking as number 10 in the world by acreage. France and the US are the largest growers of the vine, each with about 75,000 acres under cultivation out of 215,000 acres worldwide. The grape produces a garnet to ruby colored wine with low tannins and medium-body.  The low tannins generally mean it does not age well but that property can be quite unpredictable. Young wines have aromas of cherries and raspberry but older wines tend to acquire more earthy smells.

Schug Carneros Estate Winery, a family operation, with strong wine-making roots in Germany has been making North Coast Schug wines since 1980. In 1989 the family purchased 50 acres in the Sonoma part of the Carneros Sonoma AVA from which winery has grown to its present form of old world tradition and new world wine-making techniques.

This Pinot Noir is sourced from several owned and non-owned vineyards in the Sonoma Coast AVA area including: 29% Ricci, 16% O Tirado, 13% Stage Gulch, 5% Schug Estate, 4% Sangiacomo, 15% Russian River, 14% Sonoma-Carneros. The grapes were harvested from 24 August through 19 September 2015.

After harvesting, the wine was fermented in stainless steel tanks with pump over occurring 2-4 times daily, followed by malolactic fermentation in neutral oak casks. Aging was in neutral French oak barrels.  The wine was released for sale on 1 October 2016.

A dark garnet color with aromas nuts, chocolate, cherry and a hint of oak.  A spicy medium-bodied wine with a medium finish.

We enjoy Pinot Noir as a sipping wine, indulging in them in the late afternoon, slightly chilled, with a plate of sliced fruits and chocolates nearby to provide some contrasting tastes to this fruity wine.

An outstanding wine at a fair to good price. It should last until 2019-2021. Decanting this wine did it a world of good.

$16.99-29.00 wine-searcher.co

Mollydooker Blue Eyed Boy Shiraz 2016

W Blue Eyed 2016Shiraz from The Gateway, McLaren Vale, Fleurieu Zone, South Australia, Australia

100% shiraz

16.0% alcohol

Purchased:  6 April 2018  –  $60.00

Opened:  6 April 2018

els:  9.1/10

Cellar Tracker:  91

In the beginning, Australia’s entire stock of vines had to be imported from Europe and South Africa since it does not have any native grape varieties. In the early 1800s John Macarthur, established the first successful vineyards and winery near Sydney. By the early 1820s wine was being produced in sufficient quantities that the first exports were recorded in 1822.  In 1833 James Busby brought additional cuttings from Europe and introduced Shiraz to the fledgling wine industry. By the latter half of the 1800s, Australian wines were garnering world-wide attention and tasting awards.  Then the unspeakable happened. Phylloxera reached Australia around 1875 destroying a majority of vines in the country.  It would take until the 1960s before Australia moved beyond fortified wines and started producing good to great table wines again.

Wine is currently produced in all 6 six of the country’s states which are further divided up into 65 wine regions that contain over 2400 wineries.  The regions creating serious wines, though, are all located in the cooler southern states of Western Australia, South Australia, New South Wales, and Tasmania.

Australia, in 2016, was the 5th largest producer of wine in the world, behind the US and ahead of China, making 343 million gallons of wine or about 4% of the world-wide total.  Australia consumes about 40% of their wine or a little more than 135 million gallons and exports 60%, about 215 million gallons in 2017, and is 4th largest exporter of wine in the world.  The country exports to 126 counties but five of those countries; China, the US, the UK, Canada, and Hong Kong account for 75% of the total wine exports. China is by far the country’s largest market, sending about a 3rd of their total wine exports, by value, to their thirsty northern neighbors.

The country grows over 130 varietals with just a few accounting for the lion’s share of all grapes harvested. The red grapes Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot accounted for 85% of all grapes harvested in 2017. Shiraz contributed 47% to that years red grapes total harvest.  Chardonnay is the top white grape harvested in 2017 accounting for 42% of the total.

South Australia is the largest wine area, by acres of vines planted and wine produced, in Australia.  The temperatures vary widely over area, cool along the coast and hot in the interior. The area is consistently dry and requires irrigation almost everywhere. The area first started growing grapes and producing wine back in the 1830s.

The region had almost 190,000 acres planted in 2017, more than half of the country’s total.  The area produced over 160 million gallons of wine in 2017 and exported 135 million gallons. China-Hong Kong, the UK, the US, and Canada are South Australia’s largest export markets.

There are 7 wine zones, further divided up into 20 distinct regions in South Australia. The zones are: Barossa, Fleurieu, Mount Lofty Ranges, Far North, Limestone Coast, Lower Murray, and The Peninsulas.  The 20 regions are all recognized appellations known in the country as Australian Geographical Indications or AGIs.

McLaren Vale, 1 of the 5 regions within the Fleurieu zone, is one of two premier South Australia wine-producing regions in the country; the other being Barossa Valley. McLaren Vale’s wine history goes back at least 175 years to the time of John Reynell and Thomas Hardy and their first grape plantings in the region.  Today’s Accolade Wines traces its beginnings back to the establishment of the Thomas Hardy and Sons winery, in 1853, in Old Reynella, now a suburb of Adelaide. With its Mediterranean climate and well-drained soils, McLaren Vale has 18,000 acres planted in vines and more than 80 wineries. Its star pupil is Shiraz, accounting for 55% of all grapes grown and processed. The region also produces great wines from Cabernet Sauvignon and Grenache grapes.

Australia is the second largest producer of Shiraz or its genetic French twin, Syrah, in the world, France being the first. These are dark-skinned grapes that produce wildly different flavors depending on the terroir they spring from. The cooler climate versions tend towards medium-bodied wines with higher tannins, producing flavors and aromas of pepper and tobacco.  In the hotter climates, such as McLaren Vale, the wine is fuller in body, softer in tannins with notes of leather and velvety chocolate. Ageing potential is 10-15 years.

In 2006, Sparky and Sarah Marquis established their own brand: Mollydooker, and opened their winery the next year just a few miles southwest of Adelaide and a hop, skip, and jump from the Gulf of St. Vincent in The Gateway sub-region of McLaren Vale. From the outset they have produced outstanding wines garnering high 90s ratings and wine of the year accolades, seemingly without effort. The winery includes 3 vineyards: Long Gully Road, Coppermine Road (Steve Earle’s Copperhead Road produced weed and whiskey),  and the Home Block, totaling 114 acres planted in Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.

The grapes for Blue Eyed Boy were grown on all 3 of Mollydooker’s vineyards: Coppermine Road, Long Gully Road, and Home Block. The vines are growing in ancient, Snowball Earth, Pre-Cambrian to Cambrian metasediments, usually extremely weathered and kaolinized. The metasediments include various textures from siltstones to sandstones and limestones to dolostones.  The Mollydooker vineyards are situated a little over 450′ above sea level and enjoy a Mediterranean climate with growing season temperatures ranging from 55-85ºF.  Rainfall is generally less than 1.25″ per month during the growing season.

The grapes are barrel fermented and matured in American oak, 58% new and 42% one- year old.

A dark, dark purple wine with a ruby rim. Aromas of  blueberry, plum and a hint of vanilla. A full-bodied wine, well-structured, and solid tannins. Juicy, silky and smooth, with a very long finish. The high alcohol content does sneak up on you after a couple of glasses.

An outstanding wine.  My wife and I had this for dinner at the Helix Wine and Bites restaurant in Grand Forks, ND.  We shared an entrée of a fall-off-the-bone rib eye, served with baked new potatoes and fried broccoli in olive oil and garlic.

The wine with the meal was simply astounding. The wine is on the pricey side but worth it for special occasions. It is a little young to drink now, wait awhile.  It should last until 2026-2030. Decanting this wine did it a world of good.

$48.99 wine.com

Graham’s Six Grapes Reserve Port

W Graham Ruby 2018Ruby Port from Vila Nova de Gaia, Douro Valley, Portugal

Main Grapes: touriga franca – touriga nacional – tinta roriz – tinta barroca

Secondary Grapes:  tinta amarela – tinta cao – souzao – tinta francisca

19.5% alcohol

Purchased:  6 March 2017  –  $19.99

Opened:  31 March 2018

els:  9.0/10

Decanter:  95

Wine and Spirits:  91

Wilford Wong:  91

Falstaff Magizin: 91

Wine Enthusiast:  89

Wine Spectator:  87

Cellar Tracker:  87

Grapes in Portugal extend back 4000 years to the times of the lost civilization of Tartesso, with vineyards being established in river valleys along the southern Iberian Atlantic coast. Tartesso is thought, by some, to be synonymous with Atlantis or at minimum, a contemporary cousin and both are now believed to be drowned, sunken cities, possibly somewhere on the southern Iberian continental shelf. The Phoenicians, who began arriving in 12th century BC, followed by the Celts in the 8th century BC, and the Greeks a century later, all likely contributed to increasing the plantings, production, and trade of Iberian wine. The first real evidence of wine production comes from the 5th century BC and the arrival of the Carthaginians, who replaced the Phoenicians and closed the Gibraltar Straits to the Greeks. Meanies. Then the Romans came, gaining partial control of the Iberian Peninsula from the Carthaginians after the first Punic War in the 3rd century BC, and cementing their control by the conclusion of the second Punic War.  The Romans were instrumental in expanding the vineyards of southern Portugal and establishing the first vineyards in northern Portugal, including the Douro River Valley. The Christians and the barbarians continued the wine making and trade after the Romans left until the 8th century AD, Arab conquest of the peninsula ended their reign. This caused the wine industry to experience setbacks and difficulties, mainly in the 12th century, but everything returned to normal after they were expelled from Portugal in the 13th century.  Beginning in the late 14th century, the British, in their thirst for wine, slowly took control of Portuguese wine industry, and trade between the two countries thrived.

Portugal is the 11th largest producer of wine by volume, behind Germany and ahead of Russia.  In 2015 the country produced 177 million gallons of wine or 2.4% of the world-wide total. The country is the 9th largest exporter of wine, by volume, shipping 74 million gallons or about 2.7% of the total world-wide exports, behind Germany and ahead of Argentina.  Fortified wines accounted for 19 million gallons of the 74 million exported. Their exports rank 10th in the world by value, shipping $805 million worth or 2.5% of the world total, behind Argentina and ahead of Hong Kong.  Their vineyards exceed 550,000 acres planted in grapes, about 2.5% of the world-wide total.  France, UK, and Angola are the top markets for Portuguese wines.  There are more than 2900 wine producers growing in excess of 250 types of grapes in the country.

Portugal’s wines are categorized into 3 different levels of quality. At the upper end of quality scale are 31 DOCs (Portuguese label) or DOPs (European Union label), with clearly defined geographic limits and strict rules for grape usage, and yield. The mid-level quality wines are the 14 large regional areas labelled as VR, IG, or IGP; 12 on the mainland and the 2 island regions of Madeira and the Azores. The rules for these wines are less strict than DOCs but details such as grape varieties and alcohol content are still prescribed. At the bottom of the scale are table wines, which are not necessarily bad wines, but this level has no rules to constrain the artistic impulses of the area’s wine makers.

The Porto and Douro DOC, with a bit more than a 100,000 acres of grapes under cultivation, occupies the valley created by the 550 mile long Douro River, its headwaters near the small Spanish town of Duruelo de la Sierra at 7300′ above sea level. The Portuguese portion of the river flows westward about 90 miles through the Mountains of Leon from the eastern Spanish border to the  Atlantic coastal city of Porto. The DOC’s geographical limits in the valley stretch from the Spanish border and continue westward about 60 miles to the small city of 4500 inhabitants: Mesao Frio, an ancient shelter along a Roman road and the Douro River dating back to the 3rd century AD.

Wine in the Douro region is known from at least the time of the 3rd century Roman occupation but likely goes back to the beginning of the first century AD. It is the oldest region in the world with a formal demarcation (appellation) for making wine.  A royal Portuguese edict in 1756 stipulated the geographic boundaries for Port wine. Two other less formal wine region declarations in the world preceded Douro: the 1716 Lega del Chianti which defined the geographic area for production of Chianti wines in Italy, and the 1730 Hungarian vineyard classification in the Tokaj region which used soil and the propensity for the grapes to rot as an area specific guide.

The wine region’s vineyards are terraced into the steep slopes of the mountains, planted in man-made soils of broken up schist and granite.  The schist soils are usually reserved for grapes used in the production of Port while the granite soils grow grapes for table wines. The mountains protect the grapes from the full climatic effects of the Atlantic Ocean’s cold winds.  The DOC is divided up into 3 sub regions: Baixo Corgo, the cooler, wetter, western-most area with the most vineyards, 35,000 acres, but with the generally the lowest quality wines; Cima Corgo or Upper Corgo, the heart of Port wine production with 47,000 acres planted; and the eastern-most Douro Superior, having the coldest winters and hottest, driest summers. This latter area is currently experiencing rapid growth in grape plantings and wine production but currently only 21,000 acres are cultivated. Temperatures in the valley during the growing season range from 45-90°F with rainfall averaging 0-2.3″ per month. There are 5 main Port grapes grown in the area: Tinta Roriz, Touriga Franca, Touriga Nacional, Tinta Barroca, and Tinto Cão, all usually planted together in the older vineyards but the modern method is to plant single varietals. The Sousão grape is also gaining popularity in the Douro vineyards.

Port, a fortified sweet wine, takes its name from the northern Portuguese, Atlantic coastal city of Porto, the main export center for the valley’s wines. The grapes are grown, and the wine is produced upstream in the Douro Valley while the blending and ageing generally occurs across the river from Porto in the sister city of Vila Nova de Gaia. No one really knows exactly when Port wine was created but is believed to have its genesis in the later part of the 1600s or the beginning of 1700s, and as legend has it, the monks in the Douro Valley monastery of Lemago were responsible for its inception.

Port is made by adding a neutral grape spirit, sometimes referred to as brandy, to the wine before the fermentation process has completed.  The grape spirit stops the fermentation leaving residual sugar and boosts the alcohol content and sweetness of the wine.  The addition of the grape spirit, was to ‘fortify’ or protect the wine for its trip to England. There are numerous styles of Port including: Ruby, a young, blended wine of  different vintages and varietals, aged for less than 3 years; Tawny is a blended wine that is aged in wood for more than 3 years and sometimes up 40 years; Vintage is a single, exceptional year harvest, allowed to age in a barrel for 2 to 3 years and then bottled. Not all years produce a Vintage Port.  Vintage Ports should be allowed to age for 15 years or more in the bottle before drinking.  They can take up to 60 years to fully mature. The six most widely used grapes for Port wine are Touriga Franca, Tinta Roriz, Tinta Barroca, Touriga Nacional, Tinto Cão, and Tinta Amarela.

Touriga Franca is the most commonly planted grape in the Douro DOC, accounting for about 20% of all acreage planted. The wines are  dark and dense with aromas of black fruits and flowers. The tannins are high which provide for excellent aging potential.  For Ports and red blends it is commonly mixed with Tinta Roriz and Touriga Nacional wines.  The grape is almost exclusively grown in Portugal, accounting for 99.97% of the world-wide plantings.  It is the 59th most commonly grown grape in the world, planted on 28,600 acres world-wide.

Tinta Roriz, also known by its more familiar name, Tempranillo, is a black grape used to make full-bodied red wines, or in Portugal, one of the main varietals used to make Port.  The grape is believed to have existed on the Iberian Peninsula since the time of the Phoenicians. It produces a ruby-red wine with flavors of berries, plum, tobacco, vanilla, and herbs. Tempranillo is the 4th most common grape grown in the world.  In Portugal it is grown on 41,300 acres versus 575,000 acres world-wide.

Tinta Barroca is another commonly planted vine in the Douro area and is almost exclusively grown in Portugal. It is seldom used as a single varietal wine. It is a thin-skinned grape that adds dark colors, the tannins are few, with flavors of plums and cherries. The grape does poorly in high temperatures or excessively dry conditions. This varietal is the 96th most common grape in the world being grown on 15,250 acres world-wide of which 14,675 acres are planted in Portugal.

Touriga Nacional is Portugal’s finest red grape and is planted throughout all 14 of the country’s regions but is believed to have originated in either the Dao or Douro areas. It is a low yielding, thick-skinned grape, high in tannins, with intense flavors of  black currants, raspberries, and liquorice. The varietal is the 67th most common grape in the world, planted on 25,800 acres world-wide, of which 25,000 of those acres are in Portugal.

Tinta Cao dates back to the 1700s in the Douro Valley. The thick-skinned grape has great balance between tannins, acidity, and sugar. It has floral aromas, is well-structured, and is frequently blended with Touriga Nacional and Aragonez wines. The grapes produce very low yields making them very difficult to justify, economically, in the growers’ vineyards. This varietal is ranked 411th in the world and is only found in Portugal.  It is grown on about 900 acres and may soon be extinct.

Tinta Amarela is a difficult grape to grow, doing best in hot, dry climates.  The grapes are full of tannins producing dark, full-bodied wines but are primarily used in Ports.  The grapes are fairly high-yielding, producing aromas of blackberries, flowers and herbs.  The berries are susceptible to rot in wetter climates and have a harvesting window of just a few days. This grape ranks 75th in the world and is almost entirely grown in Portugal. In Portugal it is planted on 22,850 acres with only about another 60 acres grown in the rest of the world.

The brother’s Graham, William and John,  British mercantilists, founded their firm along the banks of the Douro River in Porto, Portugal. There initial business was to trade in textiles but in 1820 they bartered twenty-seven barrels of Port for textile debt. From that point forward they decided that making the best port in the world was much more interesting and enjoyable than buying and selling patterned cloth.  The brothers bought their own vineyard in Douro Valley in 1890.  That same year they also built their Vila Nova de Gaia lodge, across the river from Porto.  The lodge is still used today to blend and age their ports. The cellar contains 2000 pipes (126 gallon wooden barrels), and 40 tonels (cement vats) and balseiros (large wooden, vertical vats).

In 1970 the Symington family fortuitously took control of the company with that year’s vintage being considered one of the greatest in the century.  The families Portuguese heritage dates back to the arrival Andrew Symington, arriving in Porto from Scotland in 1882. Today, 5 Symington cousins run Graham’s, along with Warre’s, Dow’s, Blandy’s, Leacock’s and many others. They are the largest owners of vineyards in Douro which today amounts to about 2300 acres.

Graham’s has 5 terraced vineyards in the Douro Valley; all with well-drained, unirrigated schistose soils, growing in a hot dry climate: 1) Quinta Dos Malvedos, the original Quinta, in the Upper Corgo grows 4 different grapes: 35% Touriga Franc, 29% Touriga Nacional, 18% Tinta Barroca, and 13% Tinta Roriz. 2) Quinta Das Lages in Rio Torto, a northern tributary of the Douro River, grows 38% mixed varietals (it is quite common in the valley for growers not to know exactly what varietal is growing) 22% Touriga Franca, 21% Touriga Nacional, and 14% Tinta Barroca. 3) Quinta Da Vila Velha in the Upper Corgo, produces 38,000 gallons of wine each year from 4 varietals: 33% Touriga Franc, 17% Tinta Roiz, 13% Touriga Nacional, and 12% Tinta Barroca. 4) Quinta Do Vale De Malhadas in the Douro Superior grows 3 varietals: 55% Tinta Roriz, 24% Touriga Franca, and 15% Touriga Nacional.  5) Quinta Do Tua in Upper Corgo has some of the oldest vines, growing 4 varietals: 28% mixed varietals, 21% Touriga Nacional, 17% Touriga Franca, and 17% Souzao.

Six Grapes, Graham’s short hand for their best grapes, sources them from the same 5 vineyards that produce its Vintage Ports. Approximately 35% of the best grapes from the vineyards are set aside each year to potentially source their Vintage Ports. Only a small percentage, if any, of those grapes eventually are bottled as Vintage Ports with the remaining being used to make Six Grapes Port.

The grape varietals are fermented separately at the company’s Quintas and are brought down river to Vila Nova de Gaia to be aged 1-2 years in the cellar’s seasoned, wooden barrels.

A dark, inky wine with flavors of plum and sweet cherries. A great structured wine with a very elegant, lasting finish.

Although there is some movement to serve Port with a meal containing beef, I find this difficult to pursue or appreciate. I believe there are only a few options for enjoying Port, either as an after dinner digestive, by itself as an after work or late night restorative, or with chocolate.  My preference is to have a few Godiva raspberry truffles on hand when drinking this Port.  They were absolutely made for each other.

An outstanding ruby port at a fair price. Drink this year but will be good for many years, decades even, after buying.

$19.99 wine.com

Benanti Etna Rosso 2014

W Etna 2014Other Red Blends from Etna, Mount Etna, Sicily, Italy

80% nerello mascalese

20% nerello cappuccio

13.5% alcohol

Purchased: 21 September 2017  –  $19.99

Opened: 27 March 2018

els:  9.1/10

Wine Enthusiast:  94

Cellar Tracker:  89

The ancient Greeks arrived in southern Italy and Sicily 3000 to 2800 years ago, planting vines, among other, lesser endeavors,  laying the ground work for an extensive Greek tourism outpost in the Iron Age. The Etruscans were quick studies and turned Tuscany into a wine haven soon after.  Then came the Romans expanding the wine trade to their known world, much to everyone’s satisfaction. Italy is the number one producer of wine in the world with a 2017 output in excess of 1 billion gallons versus world-wide production of about 6.5 billion gallons. The greatest amount of Italian wine, by volume, is exported to Germany but the greatest amount by monetary value, is exported to the US.  There are 4 main producing areas in the country; northeast, northwest, central and southern plus the islands, all further divided up into 20 regions, 408 DOCs and DOCGs, growing 396 prime varieties of grapes. White wine accounts for 54% of all wine produced in Italy with the remainder being red or rose. Sangiovese and Trebbiano grapes are the most common varieties planted.

Sicily, the largest island in the Mediterranean located near the western toe of Italy, likely was one of the first Italian areas the sea-faring Greeks planted vines on. They set up a robust trade in wine that continued with the Phoenicians and Romans. Today, Sicilian wine and food go hand in hand, creating gastronomic delights worldwide.  The island is the 4th largest producer of grapes and wine in Italy by volume; equaling more than 10% of the country’s total. 58% of Sicily’s wine is white, slightly higher than Italy as a whole. There is 1 DOCG, 23 DOCs, and 7 IGPs on the island. About 25% of all wines produced are DOC or DOCG. Sicily produced 140 million gallons of wine in 2016.  Catarrato and Nero d’Avola grapes are the most common grapes grown, amounting to 34% and 16% by acreage, respectively.

Etna DOC wraps around Mount Etna in eastern Sicily, covering the entire mountain slopes, except the northwest quadrant, from top to bottom, from the plains to more than 3500′ above sea level, covering it all in 5000 acres of vines. The vineyards contain some of the oldest vines in all of Europe, many over 100 years and some as old as 200 years. Four wines can be produced under the DOC. 1) Bianco: Carricante (minimum 60%), Catarratto (no more than 40%). 2) Bianco Superiore: Carricante (minimum 80%), Catarratto or Minnella (no more than 20%). Grapes have to come exclusively from the Milo area. 3) The most common DOC wine is Rosso or Rosato: Nerello Mascalese (minimum 80%), Nerello Cappuccio or Mantellato (no more than 20%). 4) Spumante: Nerello Mascalese (minimum 60%). More than 70% of the grapes produced in the DOC are Nerello Mascalese and Nerello Cappuccio. The volcanic soils contain a large percent of sand with clays and are very rich in minerals. Because of the elevation and azimuthal changes around the mountain, temperatures and rainfall vary dramatically from place to place.

The Nerello Mascalese grape, thought to have originated on the Mascali plain at the foot of Mount Etna, is possibly a child of the Sangiovese grape plus some other unknown variety. The grape is dark-skinned (nero-Italian for black), producing medium-bodied, dry wines with fairly high acidity. It is the dominate grape in Rosso wines.

Nerello Cappuccio, almost always used in blended wines, thrives on the higher elevations of Mount Etna. It is a sweet, dark-skinned grape with high tannins and acidity. It is usually blended with Nerello Mascalese to soften it up and add a brilliant ruby color.

The Benanti family winery, its origins dating back to the late 1800s, near the southeastern foot of Mount Etna in Catania, was revived and updated by Giuseppe Benanti in 1988.  After many years of studying the local terroir he brought the proud grapes of the past into the modern world of wine making.  His Etna vineyards are located on the northern, eastern, and southern slopes of the volcano. The company has additional vineyards in the southern tip of Sicily at Pachino and also at Pantelleria, a small island of the southwest coast of Sicily.

The Benanti vineyards are on the northern, eastern and southern slopes of Mount Etna from 1500 to 3000′ above sea level, totaling about 30 acres and producing about 30,000 cases per year.. The vines are 10 to 60 years-old growing in sandy volcanic soils.  The vines grow with-in a highly variable humid, mountain climate with lots of sun.

The grapes are hand-picked in October, de-stemmed, crushed and fermented at 77°F in stainless steel vats coupled with a 3 week maceration. 80% of wine matures in stainless steel tanks while the remaining 20% is aged in French oak barrels for 8-10 months. They are further aged in the bottle for 2-3 months.

A brilliant pale ruby-red to a pale tawny wine with a tawny rim. A perfume of cherries and dark fruits. Light, dry and acidic with a wonderful, long finish.

I find this wine similar in structure to Pinot Noirs and Burgundies. I drank this wine while nibbling on strawberries and apples slices which I found very satisfying.  It is a light wine and I would pair it with light fare such as a minestrone or Italian wedding soup.

An outstanding wine at an ok price. Drink this year but likely good until 2021-2022. Decant and aerate for one hour, or more, before drinking.

$16.98-21.99 wine-searcher.com

Domaine Berthoumieu Madiran Cuvee Charles de Batz 2014

W Charles Batz 2012Other Red Blends from Madiran, South West, France

90% tannat

10% cabernet sauvignon

14.5% alcohol

Purchased: 12 July 2017  –  $19.99

Opened: 25 March 2018

els:  9.2/10

Wine Enthusiast:  93

France is the 2nd largest producer of wine in the world, just behind Italy and ahead of Spain, representing about 21% of the global wine market. The country is responsible for creating some of the most recognizable old world wines on the planet, from the bubbly Champagnes in the cool north to world-class Bordeaux along the Garonne and Dordogne Rivers to the GSMs in the warm Mediterranean south. There are 17 major wine-producing regions in the country along with another 28 smaller areas, all growing 96 varieties of predominate grapes with Merlot and Grenache the most common. Reds account for almost 70% of the 2 million plus acres planted in vines, with whites accounting for the remainder. As with the other major European wine producers, France’s vineyard acreage has been shrinking over the last couple of decades due to less demand from their home population and increased market pressures from new world producers.

The South West or Sud Quest region, France’s 5th largest wine area, begins in the central north on the eastern edge of the Bordeaux region and continues 150 miles to the southwest towards the Pyrenees, ending near the Spanish border. The region includes 25 AOCs with 120,000 areas planted in grapes producing around 270 million bottles of wine every year; roughly 3% of total for all of France.  The Romans initially cultivated the area for grapes and had it awash in wine before the Bordeaux region even thought about growing their own. But because Bordeaux controlled the wine trading routes they strangled the South West market, through taxes and laws, in the 13th century and the area never regained its prominence in the France, or the world. The area predominately grows red Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Tannat grapes along with white Semillon Sauvignon, and Ugni Blanc grapes.  The climate is a combination of oceanic and continental with cool wet winters and springs, offset by warm, sunny summers.

Madiran AOC is named after the town of Madiran in the Gascony Provence near the Adour River, 90 miles south of Bordeaux, 80 miles west of Toulouse and 60 miles from the Spanish border. The AOC is available only to red wine containing 40-60% Tannat, although 100% is acceptable (makes no sense to me), and blended with Cabernet Franc and or Cabernet Sauvignon. There are 3200 acres of vineyards in the Madiran AOC producing about 10 million bottles of red wine annually. The Pyrenees to the south have deposited, a generally, well-drained alluvium of clays and silts, rich in limestone interspersed with lots of red iron pebbles and stones. The area enjoys warm summer days rarely topping 80°F with rainfall averaging 1-2″ per month with a few inches of snow in the winter.

The Tannat grape, as its name suggest is very high in tannins, is native to the South West region of France. It is not a commonly grown grape, ranking at 100 out of all grapes grown globally but in Madiran it is king. There are about 15,000 acres planted worldwide or much less than 1% of the total grape acreage.  The wine from the grape is often blended with “softer” wines such as Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon to reduce its astringency. To further soften up the wine they are kept in oak barrels for up to 20 months.  The wines exhibit a deep tannic structure with notes of raspberry.  They are very dark in color and have great aging potential. Tannat grapes are high in procyanidins, a condensed tannin class of flavonoid with high antioxidant values that affects the wines astringency, color and mouth-feel.

Cabernet Sauvignon is a cross, believed to have occurred naturally sometime in the 1600s in southwestern France, between Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc grapes. It is now the most widely planted grape in the world covering more than 700,000 acres or about 6.5% of all vines planted. France is number 1 in the world in acres planted for this grape. It is a thick-skinned grape that’s relatively easy to grow and maintain, exhibiting high tannins and acidity, producing a distinct bell pepper flavor, especially in cool climates, along with aromas of mint and eucalyptus. The grapes produce a full-bodied and dark-ruby colored wine.

The Domaine Berthoumieu  was founded in the 1850s by Virgile Dutour in the tiny village of Viella which is 5 miles northwest of Madiran. In the 1980s Didier Barré took over management of the winery from his father Louise. Today the property is in the hands of the family’s 6th generation of wine makers: Claire and Marion Bortolussi. The Berthoumieu field, part of the Domaine  Berthoumieu, is part of d’Artagnan’s homeland, aka Charles de Batz, Louis XIV’s Musketeer.

The winery has 64 acres which is planted in 85% red and 15% white grapes with the vines being 50-100 years-old.  The reds include: Tannat, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Pinenc.  The whites include: Petit Manseng, Gros Manseng, and Petit Courbu. The soils are a silty-clay, heavy in limestone with gravels and stones. The area enjoys an oceanic climate with diurnal growing season temperatures ranging from 45-80°F and rainfall ranging from 2-2.75″ per month.

After picking and sorting the grapes they are transferred to 150-210 gallon tanks for 30 days of fermentation and maceration.  The wine is then aged for 12 months in new and used oak.

A dark, dark purple, almost black wine with a ruby rim. Strong aromas of delicious raspberries  Full-bodied and powerful.  The tannins are, cut with a knife thick, and the wine is very dry.  A wonderful long, long finish.

This wine needs a strong, flavorful food pairing. Strong cheeses.  Strong tangy barbecue. Meats with strong herbs such as rosemary. Try my slow cooker rosemary stew.  I always make this slightly different so I’ll try to generalize it a bit. Start with 1-2 pounds of beef stew meat cut up in small chunks, add in a cup of beef broth, one chopped medium onion, a small can of tomato sauce (optional), a handful of baby carrots, 10 ounces of canned corn, 1 tablespoon of garlic, a cup of chopped celery, 1-2 teaspoons of dried rosemary, and 2 cups washed and sliced baby potatoes (I usually make these fairly big chunks by just quartering the baby potatoes), 1-2 teaspoons of cornstarch (thickener), salt and pepper, a dash of oregano and basil.  Add everything, except the cornstarch, salt and pepper, into the slow cooker for 8 hours, half on high, half on low.  Add the cornstarch to a half cup of warm water and mix.  Stir into the slow cooker about 15 minutes before serving.  Add water ifs needed. Salt and pepper to taste.

An outstanding wine at a fair price. Drink this year but likely good until 2025-2030. Decant and aerate for one hour, or more, before drinking.

This wine’s vintage appears to be no longer available outside of the borders of France. The 2012 vintage is still available and has ratings of 90 or more.

 

Finca Decero Remolinos Vineyard Malbec 2014

W Decero 2014Malbec from Agrelo, North Mendoza (Lujan de Cuyo), Mendoza, Cuyo, Argentina

100% malbec

14.5% alcohol

Purchased: 6 March 2017  –  $19.99

Opened: 19 March 2018

els:  9.0/10

James Suckling:  92

Tim Atkin:  92

Vinous:  88

Cellar Tracker:  87

Argentina is the world’s 6th largest producer of wine by volume, just behind the US and ahead of Australia. It produces about 6% of the world’s total wine. The country has 350-400,000 acres planted in grapes. Argentina has 4 main wine-producing regions: Atlantic, Cuyo, North, and Patagonia. Cuyo is the largest and most important wine-producing, macroeconomic region in central Argentina and includes the wine sub-regions of La Rioja, Mendoza, and San Juan; with Mendoza being the largest of the 3 by area, population, GDP, and wine production.

Argentina was the first South American country attempting to grow vines, beginning in Mendoza in the early 1800s.   The initial plantings came from the Bordeaux region of France, including the ubiquitous Malbec.  Eventually, Mendoza was producing world-class Malbec wines, on par or superior to those produced in France, mainly due to its high elevations in the foothills of the Andes, well-drained soils, and lots and lots of hot sunshine. Today the country produces 75% of the world’s Malbec.

The Mendoza region, lapping up onto the eastern foothills of the youthful Andes, is the largest wine producer in Argentina, accounting for 65-75% of the country’s total. A third of the country’s vineyards are dedicated to Malbec with Mendoza also producing the lion’s share of that variety. The Mendoza wine region is partitioned into another 5 sub-areas: Central Oasis, East Mendoza, North Mendoza, South Mendoza, and Uco Valley. North Mendoza, aka Lujan de Cuyo, designated as an appellation in 1993,  contains an additional 6 micro-regions including: Agrelo, Barrancas, Las Compuertas, Perdriel, Ugarteche, and Vistalba.

Agrelo, named after a local village, is one of the most prestigious wine micro-regions in Lujan de Cuyo, North Mendoza, and all of Argentina. Its terroir was made for growing Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon grapes. The vines grow at an elevation of  2900-3500′ above sea level in very dry air, and as such, the cloudless skies provide for an intense sun producing lots of heat.  The soils are a thick, very sandy loam, encouraging deep root penetration into the cool gravelly subsurface. These subsurface gravels help to cool and protect the green vines above from the hot sun. An auspicious terroir responsible for creating Malbec second to none in the world.

Malbec grapes originated around Cahors in south-west France.  It is a thinned-skinned, dark grape, requiring lots of sun and heat. It produces full-bodied wines with medium to high tannins and acidity. In France most of the Malbec is grown around the Cahors AOC on the low, gravelly terraces of the Lot River. In Cahors, a Malbec must contain at least 70% of this grape and is usually blended with Merlot and Tannat. In Argentina the grapes grow at much higher elevations than in France, producing a high acidity, high tannin wine with herbal-flower aromas and flavors versus the more earthly notes of its French sister.

Thomas Schmidheiny, a descendent of Swiss wine makers, set up shop in Agrelo in the year 2000 upon a land of nothing, “cero”, naming his new winery after that land of nothing: Decero. The land he chose is the highest in all of Agrelo; 3500′ above sea level. He planted all reds; Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot, and Tannat grapes on his 270 acres, calling the vineyard Remolinos, named after the tiny whirlwinds or dust devils that commonly dance across vineyards in tandem with the lazy dry winds. They tease the white-hot summer sun, beaming down from on high, to come and join them in a tango of sleepy idleness and pointless play.

The Remolinos vineyard, with some variation, has soils that are similar to all of Agrelo, sandy loams over a gravelly subsoil. The growing season diurnal temperature range is 55-85ºF with rainfall averaging 0.75-1.5″ per month, dropping to almost nothing in the winter. Temperatures may approach freezing in the winter, but usually don’t.

The winery employs its labor intensive “amano”, by hand, process to its vineyards and wine making processes. In the vineyards, all the vines are planted, pruned, and picked by hand. The vines are relieved of their east facing canopy leaves to increase grape cluster exposure to the sun. The clusters are individually thinned to 1 or 2 per branch.

The 2014 harvest was cool and wet, delaying the grape picking by about a week and taking the entire month of April to complete.  The grapes were individually selected on the vine, hand-picked, and sorted, grape by grape, repeating this process again and again throughout the harvest.  The grapes, after crushing, spend 5-7 days in a cold soak and then 10 days fermenting in small stainless steel tanks.  Most grapes are fermented at 78ºF while a small amount is subject to fermentation at 86ºF, ostensibly to increase texture. After fermentation the grapes spend an additional 15-18 days in the tanks for maceration.  90% of the wine is then aged in new and old French oak barrels for 14 months.  The other 10% remains in the stainless steel tanks to preserve the original aromas.

A dark ruby-red wine with a light purple rim. Aromas of red fruits, mainly cherries, with some spice and flowers. Full-bodied and nicely balanced.  The tannins are thick and the acidity is tad more than usual.  Breathing for an hour definitely improves this wine.  It leaves you with a nice long finish.

I’m not sure were I developed this habit but I prefer fruit, berry and cheese, bits and bites, when I drink a Malbec. I can’t remember the last time I had a full meal with a Malbec wine. I usually prefer thin slices of apple and pear, blueberries and sliced strawberries, and strong cheese.  I once tried chocolate dipped strawberries with a Malbec and I’m certain I glimpsed heaven.

An outstanding wine at a fair price. Drink this year but likely good until 2023-2025. Decant and aerate for one hour, or more, before drinking.

$14.96-19.99  wine-searcher.com

 

Bodegas Castano Hecula 2013

W Hecula 2013Monastrell (Mourvedre) from Yecla, Murcia, Spain

An Eric Solomon Selection

100% mourvedre (monastrell)

14.0% alcohol

Purchased: 12 November 2017  –  $10.99

Opened: 3 March 2018

els:  9.0/10

Wine Advocate:  91

Guia Penin:  88

Cellar Tracker:  87

The Murcia Region of Spain, located in the Segura River basin in the southeastern part of the country with the Beltic Mountains in the central west, the coastal Mediterranean plain to the southwest and the central high plateau to the north and east. Yecla, 45 miles northwest of the Mediterranean coast, is a small Denominación de Origen (DO — Designation of Origin in English) food and wine region in the northeastern corner of the Murcia Region which takes it name from the eponymous small town of 35,000 people. Yecla enjoys a mixed Mediterranean-continental climate; dry with rare freezes and large swings in the daily temperatures. It is mainly noted for its Monastrell wines and is entirely surrounded by the other notable Monastrell regions of Jumilla, Almansa and Alicante.

The DO classification is Spain’s second highest, DOC being the highest, in terms of quality for wines and food. In 2003 Spain added the DO Pago designation applicable only to single estate wines.  A classification that allows wineries some latitude in production and grape usage, slightly mimicking Italy’s Super Tuscan designation.  Currently there are 2 DOCs (Rioja and Priorat), 69 DOs and 14 DO Pagos in the country.

Yecla vineyards, dating back to the seafaring Phoenicians, are mainly planted in red grapes with Mourvedre vines being the most common. Syrah, Grenacha, Merlot, and Petit Verdot are also grown but in lesser amounts. Currently there are about 26,600 acres of vineyards in the Yecla area with approximately 75% of that existing under the DO designation. This constitutes only 1% of the total grape acreage planted in all of Spain. The Yecla wineries produce upwards to 9,000,000 liters of wine per year, of which 95% is exported out of the country.

Mourvedre is the 9th most planted grape in the world, by acreage, and is the 6th most common in Spain. It is one of the primary grapes for GSM blends, Grenacha and Syrah being the other 2, and is only occasionally bottled as a single grape wine. Spanish wine makers also use this grape, along with others, such as Grenacha and Tempranillo, for making sparkling roses or cava roses. It is a black-skinned variety that is believed to have originated in Spain but is now found throughout the world, especially in France, Australia, US, and South Africa. Spain produces the lions share of this grape with France coming in a distant second; all other countries place as a comparative after thought. The grape has bold flavors of blackberries, tobacco and black pepper.  In cool climates the grape takes on notes of red plums.  It is a full-bodied wine with high tannins and medium high acidity allowing for a long shelf life.

The Bodegas Castano is the best known and largest winery in Yecla. The family run operation traces its roots, in the area, back to the 1950s but it wasn’t until the 1980s they started bottling their own wines. Starting in the early 2000s the family steadily upgraded their winery and cellars including temperature controlled fermentation and smaller tanks for selective vinification. Their vineyards and winery occupy about 16,000 acres with Monastrell grapes planted on a little less than 1000 of those acres.

Only 2 of the 8 Castano vineyards grow the grapes for the Hecula wine: the higher altitude Las Gruesas and Pozuelo. The 400 acre Las Gruesas vineyard at roughly 2600-2800′ above sea level has organically poor, clayey to gravelly limestone soils with 35 to 60-year-old vines. In addition to Monastrell grapes, red varieties of Garnacha, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, and Cabernet Franc are also grown. The 100 acre Pozuelo vineyard at approximately the same elevation as Las Gruesas has similar soils but not as rocky. Its vines are slightly  older with some in the 80-year range. This vineyard grows, in addition to Monastrell, Garnacha Tintorera, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Macabeo and Tempranillo grapes. The growing season diurnal temperature range in the area is 50-85ºF with rainfall ranging from 0.25-2.0″ per month.

The Monastrell grapes are hand harvested, destemmed, sorted, fermented, and macerated at 77ºF in stainless steel tanks for 10 days. The wine then spends 6 months in half new, French and American oak barrels at approximately 64ºF. Production is limited to approximately 12,000 cases. This is an Eric Solomon Selection, slated mainly for export to the US.

A medium to dark ruby-red wine with a light purple rim. Aromas of black fruits and pepper. Full-bodied and nicely balanced.  The tannins are thick and chewy with a very easy acidity that produces a long-lasting finish.

Enjoy this wine with a Spanish dish of Chicken Paella. You will need a cup of vegetable oil, 1 green and red pepper diced, 3 breasts of de-boned chicken; each breast cut into 4-6 pieces, 3 cups of white rice, 6 cups of chicken broth, 8 ounces of peas; canned or fresh, 1 small onion chopped, 2 tomatoes diced, 1 clove of garlic or 2 teaspoons, salt and pepper to taste,  and parsley.  Heat half the oil and put the chicken into a(n) (iron) skillet. Cook for 15 minuets or until brown and remove to a holding dish. In the same skillet with the hot oil, cook the chopped onion for 5 minutes, add the diced tomatoes, and cook for an additional 5 minutes while mashing the tomatoes. Strain the mixture through a colander and add the solids to a paella cooking pan; woks work great.  Add the rest of the oil, plus the cooked green pepper and chicken. Stir the mixture to avoid further browning of the chicken.  Add salt, pepper and broth.  Keep hot but do not boil.  Add garlic and parsley to the cooked rice.  Add the rice, peas, and red pepper to the paella pan containing the chicken after the broth is reduced by half.  Cook for another 20 minutes.  Remove from heat, cool for 5 minutes, and serve.

An outstanding wine at an unbelievable price. Drink this year but likely good until 2020-2023. Decant and aerate for one hour, or more, before drinking.

$8.95-15.27 wine-searcher.com

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