Some wine blogs offer value recommendations. Others catalog tasting notes. Many cover the wine industry. Just about all sit dormant for weeks at a time. David White launched Terroirist on November 9, 2010 to change all that by covering everything, daily.
This week’s report has a nice spread, from zesty Sauvignon Blanc to big and bold Napa Cabernet. The Chardonnays from Stony Hill and Shafer steal the show, but Chalk Hill and La Crema bring some solid offerings to the table as well. And Shafer and Cliff Lede wow with their Stags Leap Cabernets, while a few other producers offer up moderately-priced and delicious wines.
These wines were received as trade samples and tasted sighted.
2016 Gamble Family Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc Gamble Vineyard- California, Napa Valley, Yountville
Light yellow color. Bursting aromatics of quince, nectarine, lime, pineapple, some white pepper and dandelion notes as well. Rich texture, lovely depth, but the acidity is crisp and it frames the wine nicely. The fruit is rich and tropical (pineapple, kiwi) with tart lime and lemon crème, hints of almond and honey. Lovely freshness and minerality on the finish. 75% barrel fermented, 25% stainless steel, 13.1% alcohol. Fascinating and delicious stuff. (90 points IJB)
2016 3 Badge Beverage Corp Pinot Grigio Moonbuzz- California, Central Coast, Paso Robles
Pale straw color. Bright aromatics of yellow flowers, honeysuckle, green melon, lemon crème. Zippy and fresh on the palate but rich texture. Plump pear, apricot, lime flavors, with dandelion, honeysuckle, hints of sea breeze. Impressive balance and depth for a Pinot Grigio at this price point. (88 points IJB)
2015 Chalk Hill Chardonnay- California, Sonoma County, Chalk Hill
Light gold color. Aromas show orange blossom, whipped butter, salted almond, on top of yellow apples and pears. Creamy, deep texture, but lovely freshness throughout, as the yellow apple and green pear fruit rolls in. Almond, nougat, whipped butter, with white tea, sea salt, chalk dust. Lovely balance, complexity is quite impressive, and it’s undeniably delicious. All maloactic fermentation, aged 11 months in about 50% new French oak. (90 points IJB)
2015 Stony Hill Chardonnay- California, Napa Valley, Spring Mountain District SRP: $48
Light gold color. Gorgeous, enticing aromas of golden delicious apples, apricot, tangerine, with complex elements of spiced white tea, shaved ginger, honey and sea salt. Full and velvety on the palate, such depth of texture, but the acidity is lively and lip-smacking. Apricot and tangerine drizzled with lime, the fruit is tangy but shows great concentration. I get complex flavors of minerals, limestone dust, lemongrass, hazelnut, smashed sea shells… the flavors go on and on. Such purity and depth. A stunning wine from a master of Napa Chardonnay. Aged 10 months in old French oak. (95 points IJB)
2016 La Crema Chardonnay- California, Central Coast, Monterey
Light gold color. On the nose, I get apricots, lemon curd, honeycomb, toasted oak, whipped butter. Creamy texture but refreshing acidity makes for a rich wine but it stays fresh. Bruised apple and apricot mix with whipped honey, cinnamon, nougat and floral perfume. Quite delicious for this style and price range. 7 months in 17% new oak. (87 points IJB)
2016 La Crema Chardonnay- California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Coast
Gold color. Aromas of yellow apples and bruises pears, with whipped butter, yellow flowers, cinnamon and almond. Plush texture on the palate, rich and creamy and fun, with medium acidity. Pears and bruised apples with notes of honey butter, toasted bread and ginger. Rich and flavorful, fun stuff for lovers of big, rich Cali Chardonnay. 8 months in 17% new French and American oak. (87 points IJB)
2017 Cline Cellars Mourvedre Ancient Vines Rosé- California, San Francisco Bay, Contra Costa County
Light watermelon color. Ripe and juicy on the nose with melon, white peach, cucumber, nettle and honeysuckle. Plump texture on the palate with vibrant acidity. Strawberries, watermelon and white cherries mix with spicy white pepper, cinnamon candies, honeysuckle. Pleasant and ripe but quite complex, too, always so good for the price. (87 points IJB)
2016 Shafer Chardonnay Red Shoulder Ranch- California, Napa, Carneros SRP: $56
Rich golden color. Aromas are rich and plump with pineapple, apricot, bruised apple, along with whipped honey, salted almond, vanilla. Rich textural depth on the palate but the acidity is so surprising and fresh – loving the mineral and chalky depth. Bold apricot, yellow plum, bruised yellow apple fruit, laced with vanilla crème, whipped honey – notes of seashell – wow – pure and vibrant despite the intense richness of the wine. A gorgeous, stunning Napa Chardonnay, I’d love to see how this ages. No maloactic fermentation, aged 14 months in 75% new French oak. (94 points IJB)
2015 La Crema Pinot Noir Russian River Valley- California, Sonoma County, Russian River Valley
Deep ruby colored. Juicy black cherries and dark plums on the nose, along with clove, cedar, violets and cola. Full and juicy on the palate with easygoing tannins and medium acidity. Black cherries and forward dark plums, the fruit is mixed with root beer, cola, smoky oak, dark chocolate and coffee. Fun, fruity, yummy stuff for near-term consumption. Aged 11 months in 31% new French oak. (88 points IJB)
2015 Scotto Family Wines Sangiovese Masthead Mohr-Fry Ranch- California, Central Valley, Lodi
Light ruby color. Smells of warm cherries, strawberry jam, topped with menthol, rhubarb, roasted coffee, mint chewing tobacco. Surprisingly fresh acidity with soft/fleshy tannins, great contrast in this wine between fullness and brightness. Sour cherries, sweet strawberry and raspberry jam, rich but fresh fruit with notes of tobacco, rose petals, mint, violets, coffee. Impressive stuff for near-term drinking. Includes 10% Zinfandel, the wines spend 18 months in French and American oak. (89 points IJB)
2015 Cliff Lede Cabernet Sauvignon Stags Leap District- California, Napa Valley, Stags Leap District
Rich purple color. Dark aromas of blackberries and currant compote, with menthol, cedar, cocoa, pine resin, complex and evolving aromas. On the palate, well-built tannins but velvety, and crisp acidity makes this wine enticing. Black currant and dark plums laced with tobacco, eucalyptus, iron, cedar, dark earth. Lots of time ahead for this wine, another impressive vintage of this wine. Aged 21 months in 80% new French oak. (93 points IJB)
2015 Shafer Cabernet Sauvignon One Point Five- California, Napa Valley, Stags Leap District
Dark purple color. Dark and rich on the nose, with deeply concentrated blackberry and cassis, graphite, loamy earth, spiced tea, violets, mint chewing tobacco, vanilla. On the palate, the acidity is quite refreshing, and keeps the wine moving forward despite the serious tannic backbone. Deep core of blackberry and cassis fruit, rich but shows a tart edge, with complex notes of chewing tobacco, eucalyptus, vanilla, cedar, graphite, all woven in very well. Another gorgeous example of this wine from Shafer, and the 2015 has lots of years in the cellar for this beauty. Includes 7% Merlot and 3% Malbec, aged 20 months in 100% new French oak. (94 points IJB)
Teutonic Wine Company produces serious wines with a playful, adventurous aesthetic, exemplified by three wines in today’s report. Barnaby Tuttle and his wife Olga put their first vines in the ground in 2005, after a friend offered them her fallow land in Alsea, Oregon. Barnaby, a restaurant wine buyer with a serious love of German wines, left his career and started making his own wine at a shared facility in Carlton.
Teutonic’s first vintage was 2008, a small amount of Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. Production has increased since then, as the couple found new fruit from other vineyards in the Willamette Valley, focusing on high-elevation, old-vine sites. Today they produce about 6,000 cases of wine, including Riesling, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, Gewürztraminer, Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier, and others. With the exception of the red blend in this report, Teutonic’s wines are all single-vineyard wines.
I found the two whites really interesting and different: a Riesling blend bursting with tropical flavors, and a floral, spicy, dry Muscat. The red wine is produced in cooperation with Red Fang, a groovy doom metal band from Portland, Oregon. The band worked together with Teutonic to release “Red Fang Red,” which is a pretty cool and slightly oddball (in a good way) red wine that I was excited to taste.
These wines were received as trade samples and tasted sighted.
2016 Teutonic Wine Company Red Fang Red- Oregon
Light ruby color. Nose shows strawberries, wild raspberries, rose petals, white pepper, cola and tobacco. Light tannins on the palate, bright acidity, the wine boasts tangy cherries and raspberries, red apple peel. I get notes of cola, tobacco, white pepper and rhubarb, along with some coffee and cigar box. Light and brisk, but delicious, no jammy, fake fruit or oaky overtones, here, this is a simple-drinking, bright wine. An interesting blend of 80% Pinot noir, 15% skin-fermented Gewürztraminer and 5% Tannat, sourced from vineyards in the Willamette and Rogue Valleys. (88 points IJB)
2016 Teutonic Wine Company “Jazz Odyssey” Wasson Vineyard- Oregon, Willamette Valley
Light gold color. A tropical aromatic explosion of peaches, guava, lychee, honeysuckle, dandelion and circus peanut candies. Fresh but juicy texture, almost waxy, slight sweetness, packed with tropical goodness: guava, peach, lychee. Notes of honey and white flowers. Ripe, tropical, could use a bit more acidity for my palate, but it’s nice. A blend of Riesling, Gewurztraminer and Chardonnay. (88 points IJB)
2016 Teutonic Wine Company Muscat “Recorded In Doubly” Wasson Vineyard- Oregon, Willamette Valley
Light gold color. Lots of tropical aromas (peaches, lychee, cantaloupe, guava nectar) with some honeysuckle. Medium acidity offers a nice frame to this plump, tropical wine (packed with kiwi, lychee, guava and tangerine fruit). I get notes of honeysuckle and baby’s breath. Juicy, floral, fun. 100% Muscat. (87 points IJB)
Wine-Searcher considers how Bordeaux is maintaining its grip on the wine world. “In terms of quality and volume, there isn’t a threat from any other region. The biggest threat is from themselves. If they get their pricing strategy wrong, they risk their brand and reputation.”
“As much attention as is paid to the rare and profound bottles that fire the imagination, far less is devoted to the sorts of wines that people might actually consume at any given weeknight meal. Yet the bottles we might open every day are actually the most important wines in our lives,” says Eric Asimov, who offers tips on how to drink better wine every day in the New York Times.
In the Wall Street Journal, Lettie Teague looks at the psychology of wine pricing, the fluid definition of pricey and what a wine-list mark-up actually pays for.
In Wine Enthusiast, Virginie Boone discovers Coombsville. “An appellation since 2011, it’s quietly become the darling of small, up-and-coming producers, as well as buyers that desire something new from Napa.”
In Decanter, Jane Anson meets Vincent Dupuch, the man with a claim to be Bordeaux’s best Right Bank consultant, and leaves feeling optimistic about the fortunes of Fronsac.
Jason Haas with his late father, Robert Haas. (Source: Tablas Creek)
On the Tablas Creek blog, Jason Haas pens a beautiful tribute to his father Robert Haas, who passed away this past weekend. “What many of you may not know is the impact he had on the American wine market before Tablas Creek ever got off the ground, or what he was like as a person. I hope to share some of each of these in this piece…”
In the Terroir Review, Meg Houston Maker ponders how we might shift the language we use to describe and market American wine in order to make it more precise and meaningful, and looks toward French cheese (not wine) for inspiration. “An AVA designation provides useful information about where the fruit was grown, but it doesn’t address terroir expression, cépage, production techniques, or conformance to historical or traditional prototypes. Wine producers could layer the new lexicon atop the AVA listing to offer consumers more specificity about not just where the wine was made, but how.”
Martin Reyes. (Source: The Institute of Masters of Wine)
In SevenFifty Daily, Julie H. Case profiles Martin Reyes, the first Mexican-American Master of Wine. “He may be the first Mexican-American MW, but he says that there has to be a second—and hopefully, someday, the first MW who is a Mexican citizen. Reyes would like to be there to help raise them up.”
In the Buyer, Jason Wilson shares what led him down the journey with the obscure and underappreciated grapes he explores in his forthcoming book, Godforsaken Grapes. “Even today, there are plenty of powerful people in the wine world who fight to maintain the status quo of the noble grapes, and they throw shade on the idea of exploring new grapes or rediscovering classic-but-forgotten regions. One of them is Robert Parker…”
In the Los Angeles Times, Patrick Comiskey reports that Robert Haas, Tablas Creek Vineyard partner and founder, died Sunday. He was 90. “Few had a more thoughtful, canny and generous vision of the industry and its future. His advocacy for the wines of Burgundy, the Rhone, and Alsace changed the stature of those wines in this country irrevocably.”
In Vinous, Josh Raynolds offers his thoughts on the 2016 Beaujolais vintage. “It’s the rare 2016 Beaujolais that’s tough to drink right now…”
Is Rioja today’s most overlooked and underappreciated wine? Matt Kramer makes a compelling argument for Rioja’s greatness in Wine Spectator.
In VinePair, Laura Burgess looks at the marketing hype around canned cocktails and wine.
Caroline Henry reports on the latest data on Champagne exports in Wine-Searcher. “There was much reason to celebrate as the 2017 sales value soared to €4.9 billion ($6bn), breaking the 2015 record of €4.74bn… The record value figure was carried by the increasing export sales – which are now just shy of 50 percent of the total production”
David Morrison compares the variation in the wine scores of James Laube and James Suckling. “The formal explanation for the degree of disagreement is this: the tasters are not using the same scoring scheme to make their assessments, even though they are expressing those assessments using the same scale. This is not just a minor semantic distinction, but is instead a fundamental and important property of anything expressed mathematically.”
Prosecutors allege that the Bordeaux wine merchant Grands Vins de Gironde illegally blended at least 68,000 cases of wine. Wine Spectator shares the details. “…the investigation revealed that at least 611,900 liters of wine (the equivalent of 68,000 cases) worth $1.6 million were mislabeled during a period from Jan. 1, 2014, to Dec. 31, 2015.”
The Drinks Business reports that French officials have released the details of an enormous fraud perpetrated by a leading bottler in the Rhône, thought to be Raphaël Michel, which was of such size that at one point up to 15% of all Côtes-du-Rhône was falsely labeled. “The DGCCRF has described the case as a “massive misuse of the Côtes-du-Rhône AOC”.”
In Decanter, Andrew Jefford attends a tasting that compared single-variety wines from the same appellation grown in two different soils—schist versus limestone—in an effort to focus on the soil differences. “The results were fascinating,” he says.
American wine as we know it doesn’t exist without the Mondavis. What two Italian immigrants, Cesare and Rosa Mondavi, started in Prohibition-era Napa has become one of the greatest success stories in not just wine but American history. Today, the story—which has always been about family, for better or worse—continues, with a formal announcement that the fourth generation Mondavis have taken on a more prominent role at CK Mondavi and Family, as shareholders, board members, and brand ambassadors.
Last month, I met with Riana Mondavi, one of the so-called G4, at a coffee shop in the Philadelphia suburbs. She was making the rounds with local media (and probably also paying a visit to her alma mater, Villanova, where I also attended and where she earned her bachelor of arts in marketing and international business).
Riana is the great granddaughter of Cesare Mondavi (pronounced chez-a-ray), the granddaughter of Peter Mondavi, and the daughter of Marc Mondavi, current co-proprietor with his brother, Peter Jr., of Charles Krug Winery and the CK Mondavi and Family brand. Joining Riana to form the G4 are her three sisters, Angelina, Alycia, and Giovanna, and her cousins Lucio and Lia. (Family tree.)
When we hear the name Mondavi, we think Robert, not Peter. However, both brothers made significant contributions to winemaking—winemaking lore, too, famously brawling over a mink coat in the family vineyard, a fight that was less about a garment and more a clash of ideals.
For twenty-three years, Robert and Peter worked side by side at Charles Krug, Napa’s oldest winery, which their father Cesare, at Robert’s urging, had purchased in 1943. As Robert would later write, “For years I clashed with Peter over the quality of our wines.” Robert’s ideal was of continuous improvement. “I went throughout the world to find out what my competition was. And then I stopped at nothing to improve what we are doing, to excel.” Peter’s ideals, on the other hand, seemed to align more with those of his father and Italian immigrants like him who treated wine as less exotic and more household staple.
In Robert’s son Tim’s estimation, “Robert had a vision. Peter had a vision too, but went at a slower pace; he was more introspective and methodical.”
So, the brothers went their separate ways.
I asked Riana if Mondavi family relations have normalized in the more than fifty years since the notorious schism. I forget her exact words, but she indicated that they had, and that the Peter and Robert lineages do cordially cross paths these days.
Before our meeting, I had known the basics of the Mondavi story, but Riana added quite a bit of color, especially to Peter’s side of things, and brought the human aspect to what was already compelling history. She told me about working in the family winery at ten year’s old alongside her siblings, a family tradition that included such tasks as cleaning dishes and the lab, all for twenty-five cents an hour. Riana told me the story behind her great grandfather Cesare’s transition from wine-grape shipping to winemaking. It was pure happenstance, really: Cesare couldn’t in good conscience allow a shipment of unusually wet grapes, due to be sent east, succumb to mold en route. So he made wine, the logical and most profit-saving solution.
The tone of reverence and appreciation with which Riana spoke about her relatives, along with all the looking back at Mondavi history I’ve done since our time together in the coffee shop, have given me a greater appreciation for some of the low- and mid-shelf selections I tend to ignore.
In joining CK Mondavi and Family, the G4 are taking up the Mondavi mantle, but it’s more Peter’s than Robert’s. The CK Mondavi portfolio features exactly the type of inexpensive, massively produced table wine that was foundational to Cesare’s success, then Peter’s, after Robert left, and then Marc’s and Peter Jr.’s, in their time.
The current CK Mondavi lineup includes a Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and a Red Blend (Cab, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Cab Franc, Malbec). Each has a vintage (unusual for wine in this price point) and retails in the seven dollar range. I’ve found them to be exactly as advertised: balanced wines for casual, everyday drinking.
Many serious wine drinkers will shy away from brands like CK Mondavi. But as I said before, having acquired more of the story behind these screw-capped bottles with marketing-friendly labels—understanding that they hearken back with care and fidelity to the staples of the Italian table—I now have a greater appreciation.
In a curious plot twist, Riana and her three sisters are actually making their own wine under a label called Dark Matter, which is of a considerably different caliber than CK Mondavi. “It’s kind of my side hustle,” said Riana. Fruit is sourced from two vineyards on Howell Mountain. The first, the sisters own together—appropriately called Four Sisters and planted entirely to Zinfandel. The other, called Rocky Ridge, owned by their parents, Marc and Janice, provides the Cabernet Sauvignon.
Allocations are extremely limited for Dark Matter (120 cases each of the current two offerings). As hard as I tried, I couldn’t get a sample.
I like to think the sisters’ dual allegiance to the high craft of Dark Matter and the quality-for-the-quantity of CK Mondavi is appropriate homage to pay the family legacy. Even though Robert and Peter had their own way of doing things, both discovered that there’s room at the America table for a broad spectrum of wine, from Woodbridge “Bob Red” and CK Mondavi White Zin, to Opus One and Charles Krug Vintage Selection Cabernet.
“We do not know a world where it’s not difficult to get a job. We do not know a world where we are not crippled by student-loan debt. We do not know a world where it’s easy to save money and buy a house. And as far as wine goes: We do not know a world where a bottle of first-growth Bordeaux costs $30.” In Wine Spectator, Emma Balter speaks up for millennial wine consumers.
Horatia Harrod goes on a wine tasting tour of Arizona in the Financial Times. “There is plenty to see — where 15 years ago there were fewer than 10 wineries in the state, today there are more than 100 — and this youthful scene, not hung up on heritage, is unintimidating for novice wine-drinkers such as myself.”
Michael Callahan has a thing for Riesling — an obsession, perhaps. But, as a Riesling-lover in general, and a big fan of California Riesling, I find it refreshing.
Michael, who works at Chamisal Vineyards, has scoured various Central Coast vineyards for Riesling vineyards, and has found some real beauties. Under his Maidenstoen label (which he started in 2013) Michael bottles single-vineyard Rieslings that speak clearly of their place. He seems to have set a mission with these wines: to pay homage to Riesling’s importance in the history of California wine, and to make sure Cali Riesling has a viable future.
“Although tastes change and financial decisions must be made, it is important to have advocates in order to keep some pieces of what California’s winegrowing history is,” Michael told me. “It is impossible to contribute to the greater world of wine without an understanding of our history and interpreting what is capable from our older vineyards. The story of California wine should be more than just Cabernet or whatever is selling for the most dollars.”
I say: Amen!
Even though dry Riesling has seen increased popularity with many consumers, Michael laments how some older Riesling vineyards in California have been pulled out or grafted to other varieties. The lower price that growers can fetch for their Riesling make it a difficult endeavor. But lovers of dry Riesling have a lot to get excited about when it comes to California. Though few and far between, there are some thrilling Rieslings out there. And (like these wines that cost $22 a pop), the quality to price ratio can be incredibly high.
Michael recently sent me three of his 2016 Rieslings, sourced from select vineyards in Sta. Rita Hills, Monterey and Edna Valley. My notes on these exceptional wines are below.
2016 Maidenstoen Wines Riesling Lafond Vineyard- California, Central Coast, Sta. Rita Hills
Light gold color. Nose shows lime, apricot, lemon candle, and some chalky, oyster she and sea salt notes, mixed with some spicy/floral notes. Creamy presence on the palate, but lovely focus and acidity. Orange zest, pineapple and lime fruit is topped in mineral dust, stony-flinty elements, spiced white tea. I get some wax and honeycomb too, but the wine stays focused and bright throughout. Gorgeous, deep, complex, age-worthy stuff. Sta. Rita Hills Riesling is rare, but this site contains some vines dating back to 1971! (94 points)
2016 Maidenstoen Wines Riesling Coast View Vineyard- California, Central Coast, Monterey County
Pretty gold color. Lovely aromas of apricot, orange, lime zest, waves of white flowers, chalky and ocean spray notes – rocky minerals and mountain stream, too. Plump texture but such mouth-watering acidity, the balance is lovely. Tart lime, apricot, airy and fresh and floral with honeysuckle and dandelion. Some mineral notes, limestone, that exquisite Riesling minerality and vibrancy, with a chalky, floral finish. An exceptional California Riesling and absolutely delicious. From a 2,200-foot elevation vineyard on terraced rows, planted in decomposed granite soils. (93 points)
2016 Maidenstoen Wines Riesling Oliver’s Vineyard- California, Central Coast, Edna Valley
Light yellow color. The nose shows sea salt, ginger, gorgeous lemon-lime and kiwi, yellow flowers, lots going on aromatically. Crisp acidity on the palate, such focus, but the fruit is rich and juicy (guava, kiwi, drizzled in lime). Brisk notes of mineral and chalk dust combine well with deep notes of honey and white tea. A long finish with stony mineral elements. Gorgeous depth but such freshness, too. From a clay soil vineyard six miles from the coast. (93 points)
In the San Francisco Chronicle, Esther Mobley looks at the state of natural wine in the Bay Area. “At what point did Bay Area wine drinkers get on board? Certainly, the popularity of the wine bars, and their staff’s fervent advocacy, helped ease consumers into the idea of natural wine… The growing acceptance of natural wine seems to mirror, too, our local food culture’s embrace of the weird.”