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.


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.



Mollydooker Carnival of Love 2014

W Love 2014Shiraz from The Gateway, McLaren Vale, Fleurieu Zone, South Australia, Australia

100% shiraz

15.5-16.5% alcohol

Purchased: 14 Feb 2014 – $100.00

Opened: 14 Feb 2018

els: 9.4/10

Wine Spectator: 95

Tasting Panel: 95

Cellar Tracker: 93

Vinous: 70

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 are cold fermented, below 60ºF, with final fermentation occurring in oak barrels. After fermentation the wine is racked back to tanks for oxygenation. Then back to the barrel for approximately 3 months of malolactic fermentation. The final stage is to rack the wine again into different oak barrels to age some more before finding their way into the colorfully labeled bottles. Even before leaving the cellar these are well-traveled wines.

A dark, dark purple wine with a ruby rim. A bouquet of jammy berries and plums, bursting with chocolate. A very bold wine with medium tannins and acidity.  Luscious silk and velvet on the tongue. A wonderful, lasting, spicy candy finish. A parenthetical aside on the alcohol content.  The bottle states the ABV is 16.5% while the technical sheet states 15.5%.  Either one packs a wallop.

An outstanding wine.  My wife and I had this for our Valentines’ dinner at the Helix Wine and Bites restaurant in Grand Forks, ND. We started the meal off with a terrific morsel of grilled watermelon topped with a pepper spiced shrimp followed by oysters on the half shell heaped with garlic and herbs. The entrees were a medium rare rib eye and a filet of orange roughy tightly wound in herbs and spices.  The wine supremely complemented both of these main dishes. We finished off the wine with a desert of berries and milk chocolate fondue. Actually the wine ran out before we finished the desert forcing us to top off with Bailey’s and Penfolds’ port; life is hard but we try to go along with it.

The wine with the meal was simply astounding. Drink now, but should last until 2025-2029. This is still a young wine so I strongly recommended that you decant and aerate for one hour, or more, before drinking.


CasaSmith Cervo Barbera 2014

W CasaSmith 2014Barbera from Columbia Valley, Washington, US

100% barbera

14.5% alcohol

Opened 5 Feb 2018

els: 9.1/10

Wine Advocate: 93

Wine Enthusiast: 91

International Wine Report: 90

Cellar Tracker: 88

Charles Smith, vagabond, restaurateur, rock band manager, hard partier, and after almost 40 years decides to postpone adulthood further by starting a winery.  And doggone it, he’s good at it.  Mr. Smith builds up the winery, produces some darn good wines and sells the business for a ludicrous amount of money, and then promptly starts another winery; which he will likely sell for an even larger and more absurd (ludicrouser?) amount of money.  I spent 35 years at a nice, respectable and steady day job, thinking I was proceeding down a proper path.  Retrospection of ones life can be painful.

W Charles Smith 2018

Charles Smith.  Photo stolen from one of his web sites.

Charles Smith has set up shop in the southeastern Washington state, Columbia Valley town of Walla Walla; a megalopolis of about 45,000 folks which sits close to the Oregon border. The Cervo Barbera wine is part of a collection of Italian grapes grown and produced from his Washington vineyards, where he strives to reproduce the quality and integrity that one would find in Italy.

The Barbera, native to northwestern Italy, is a dark purple skinned grape producing a wine of low tannins and high acidity.  To combat the acidity, ageing the wine in old or neutral oak barrels is highly recommended to give the product more balance and a smoother finish.

The Northridge vineyard, planted in 2003, is a 92 acre site on a Wahluke Slope alluvial gravel fan, created approximately 15,000 years ago, in the Late Pleistocene, from the periodic floods originating from the ice dammed Glacial Lake Missoula in western Montana. Underneath the gravels are caliche deposits and Miocene-aged flood basalts.  The gravels provide excellent drainage for the vine’s roots and the caliche provides the calcium carbonate that the Barbera grapes thrive on.  Growing season temperatures range from daytime highs around 90ºF to nighttime lows approaching 40ºF.   Rainfall, during the growing season, ranges from 0.6-2.25″ per month.  The Northridge vineyard is approximated 2º degrees of latitude further north than its Italian Barbera counterparts in northwestern Italy and as a result receives more summertime sunshine.

The wines are whole cluster fermented and macerated for 37 days.  The wine is aged in old oak barrels for 12 months.

A wine with a garnet to ruby-red color and an amber rim. A bouquet of earthy herbs and black berries. On the palate a fruity, full-bodied, slightly acidic but balanced wine.  It has a fresh, long finish.

An outstanding wine at a fair price.  Serve this Italian wine with Italian pastas and pizzas. Drink now, but should last until 2020. Decant and aerate for one hour before drinking.


Chateau Francs Magnus Bordeaux Superieur 2014

W Francs2014Bordeaux Red Blends from Bordeaux, France

Proprietary red blend

13.5% alcohol

Opened 11 Nov 2017

els 9.0/10

James Suckling 91

From the winery and vineyards of Arnaud Roux-oulie, complete with limestone quarries and Gallo-Roman silos.

This wine has a clear garnet to ruby color, redolent of plums and dark berries, with a touch of licorice. A medium body and finish, with smooth and easy tannins. A nice, unpretentious everyday wine, enjoyable with simple fare such as pizza or cheeseburgers. Decant and aerate for at least one hour.


Chateau d’Agassac 2014

W D'Agassac 2014Bordeaux Red Blends from Haut-Medoc, Bordeaux, France

Proprietary blend of  cabernet sauvignon and merlot

Opened 14 Oct 2017

els 9.0/10

James Suckling 92

Wine Enthusiast 91

Robert Parker 83

Chateau D’Agassac, a Haut-Medoc winery, purchased in 1996 by the French insurance conglomerate, Groupama, is located in the village of Ludon-Medoc, less than 10 miles north from the center of Bordeaux, and less than 3 miles west of the Garonne River. TheW Chateau d'Agassac charming, fairytale Chateau located at the winery, complete with turrets and moat, is known to have existed as far back as 1238 AD, under the lordship of Gaillard de Gassac, vassal of King Edward I of England. The vineyards, originally swampland, around the Chateau, were  not known to exist prior to the French Revolution in the late 18th century, when the area was drained.

The vines are grown on a young alluvium cover, deposited from the nearby Garonne River during its flood stage. In the western vineyards the soil consists of a  gravel, up to 10 feet thick, and produces refined and elegant wines. Sandy gravels in the middle vineyards, produce subtle wines high in tannins. The eastern most vineyards, closest to the river, consist of clayey gravels, with rounded stones the size of ping-pong balls, reaching 20 feet thick, and produce full body wines.  The vineyards encompass 106 acres, planted with 50% Merlot, 47% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 3% Cabernet Franc; the grapes are harvested from, on average, 25-year-old vines.

The temperatures of Ludon-Medoc reach their peak during August, with highs near 80 and lows hovering around 60. August is the driest month of the year, still producing, on average, about 2.5 inches of rain over those 30 days, with the remaining growing season, before and after August, producing 3 to 3.5 inches of rain each month. The gravels release their sun-acquired heat at night, protecting the vines’ roots from extreme temperature variations during the growing season, and especially during the harvesting of the grapes. The loose gravels also drain away the rain water quickly, keeping the grapes in peak condition.

This Bordeaux needs decanting and aeration for at least 2 hours, 4-6 hours, even better; if not, the acidity and tannins will overpower your senses, infusing your soul with utter regret that you even came to purchase this bottle of fermented grape juice. I opened this bottle after 3 years but in hindsight I should have let it set for at least 2 more years.  With that said, and with proper aeration, this is a good wine; an incredibly dark ruby-purple wine, redolent of plums, prunes and raisins. Full-bodied, dry, and intense with an excellent and protracted finish.

An outstanding wine.


Chateau Carlmagnus 2014

W Carlmagnus BordeauxBordeaux Red Blend from Fronsac, Bordeaux, France.
Proprietary red blend.
14.5% alcohol by volume

els 9.1/10

Wine Advocate 90-92

Wine Spectator 90

James Suckling 90

Fronsac, a wooded and hilly area, east of the Bordeaux wine region, in southwest France, is located near the northern bank of the Dordogne river, just a few miles west of the small city, Libourne; home of numerous appellations including Saint-Emilion, Pomerol, and of course, Fronsac.

Merlot is the main grape variety harvested here along with a smattering of Cabernet Franc, grown on primarily clayey-limestone soils. The vineyards sit atop a network of limestone caves, serving as the winery’s cellars. The summer climate is mild and sunny with temperatures dipping into the low 50s at night, and the days range from the mid 70s to the low 80s. Rain brings 1 to 2.5 inches of water per month.

Chateau Carlmagnus is a gorgeous dark purple, cherries and plums dance into your nose, slightly acidic but is quickly tamed.  This is a full-bodied, complex but balanced wine.

A outstanding wine.


Baracchi O’lillo 2014

W Baracchi OlilloTuscan Red Blend from Tuscany, Italy
25% cabernet sauvignon
25% merlot
25% sangiovese
25% syrah
14.5% alcohol by volume

els 9.0/10

James Suckling 93

Wine Spectator 90

The Baracchi winery and vineyards are located on the southern, sunny slopes of the Apennine Mountains, in the eastern central area of Tuscany, just outside the stone walls of the ancient, small city of Cortona.

Legend has it that Cortona was originally established by Noah, shortly after the great flood; falling in love with the fertile soils and natural beauty of the area. Umbrians, Etruscans, Romans, Guelphs, Medici, Italians have all called Cortona theirs. The town, at approximately 1600 feet above sea level, overlooks Lake Trasimene, the setting for one of the Roman Empires great military defeats at the hands of Hannibal in 217 BC (Carnage and Culture, The Punic Wars).  When touring the Tuscany wine region this is a required stop to cherish and savor the legends, the history, the scenery, the food, and certainly, the wine.

The Baracchi Estate, winery and vineyards, a family business since 1860, is run by Riccardo and his son Benedetto, producing some of the best wines in the region. There are 4 vineyards sitting about 1000 feet above sea level, enjoying hot days, rising to the high 80s, and cool nights dipping down to the chilly low 50s. The rains, coming roughly once a week, deliver from 1.5 to 3 inches of water per month to the thirsty vines. The soils range from sandy to clayey and chalky. The wines are aged in French oak barrels.

This red blend is a brilliant ruby-red, redolent with red and black cherries and just a whisper of black pepper.  The tannins are about as smooth as a cloudless Mediterranean sky, with an enjoyable, hearty and long finish.

An outstanding wine.


Zombies — or Not


Theaters:  March 2014

Streaming:  February 2015

Rated:  R

Runtime:  97 minutes

Genre:  Drama – Mystery – Science Fiction – Thriller

els:  8.0/10

IMDb:  7.5/10

Amazon:  3.9/5 stars

Rotten Tomatoes Critics:  6.9/10

Rotten Tomatoes Audience:  3.7/5

Metacritic Metascore:  69/100

Metacritic User Score:  8.0/10


Directed by:  Michael and Peter Spierig

Written by:  Michael and Peter Spierig (screenplay) Robert A. Heinlein (story- All You Zombies)

Music by:  Michael and Peter Spierig

Cast:  Ethan Hawke, Sarah Snook, Noah Taylor

Film Locations:  Melbourne, Australia

Budget:  $NA

Worldwide Box Office:  $5,386,852

Ethan Hawke, temporal agent and bartender, must find and eliminate the Fizzle Bomber before he explodes one last devastating bomb that will take thousands of lives.

For the child of God, time is linear and unidirectional; we are born, we live, we die; the beginning, the middle and the end are all planned out except you can choose what to do with God’s offered grace.  Predestination, the doctrine, the outcome is a certainty; Predestination, the movie, the outcome is in doubt.  For predestination versus free will, the doctrine, is not a contradiction because, for God, time is immaterial, all moments are present in their immediacy. For predestination versus free will, in this movie, it is not a contradiction because time is circular and the protagonist can Keep On Keeping On until he selects good over evil, death over life (Live Die Repeat and Groundhog Day).

The Spierig brothers are identical twins born in Germany, living and working in Australia, creating movies from the ground up.  They write, they direct, they produce, they create the music, but they don’t act. Predestination is their 3rd feature film.

Predestination is a faithful rendition of Heinlein’s All You Zombies with enough temporal displacement to develop a very twisted noodle. The movie provides enough clues that you should figure out the plot well before the end credits roll; but knowing the plot ending neither diminishes the fun nor un-scrambles your brain.

The directing, writing and acting are all superb, but the story is what puts it on my to watch again list.

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