Sunday, April 30, 2006


From Barossa Valley, Australia's premier appellation, this label is a new arrival on the wine scene launching nationally this year. It is produced by Diageo Chateau & Estate Wines, which produces and markets Beaulieu Vineyard, Sterling Vineyard, The Chalone Wine Group, as well as the French wines from Barton & Guestier, to name but a few.


There is a bit of a watery edge to this Shiraz, but it still has tremendous concentration. It tastes like a ripe, juicy plum with blackberries and a hint of vanilla. The alcohol is 13.8% but it is integrated fairly well delivering good mouthfeel and ripe fruit flavors to the taste buds.


85 PTS
This is a solid wine that is priced around $14 a bottle. It is a decent effort for a new wine, but it is only slightly above average. Although its name is Archetype (which is the ideal example of a type; quintessence), this is not even close to an ideal Shiraz. However, there is plenty of potential for this Vineyard to improve its future vintages and inch a bit closer to perfection.

Friday, April 28, 2006


While "A Master Class in Pinot Noir" graces the cover of the latest Wine Spectator, winemaker Chris Phelps and GM Stuart Harrison of Swanson Vineyards are on the road teaching a class of their own. They are touring the country holding seminars on what may be the most misunderstood red grape in America: Merlot.

This past Wednesday, I drove to the Ryland Inn in New Jersey to get my education, to taste some intriguing Merlot, and to see first hand what all the fuss was about.

Long before Miles in the hit movie Sideways bashed Merlot and made Pinot Noir a hip, cult phenomenon, Swanson had embarked on a mission to set the record straight. They set out to illustrate that Merlot can be a distinguished, complex, flavorful wine when made well by specialized growers, in the right terroir and with the proper practices. If you are already a Merlot fan, this won't come as a revelation to you, but if you've drifted away from this beloved varietal, maybe it is time to taste it again.

Although Merlot has surpassed Cabernet Sauvignon in sales in the U.S. making it the most popular red wine varietal, it has suffered from a bit of an image problem. The oversaturation of mediocre or mass-market produced Merlot has created a lot of public misconception. The tremendous consumer appeal of Merlot encouraged a lot of vineyards to get into the Merlot business, but many are growing the grape in less than optimal conditions creating ordinary, if not subpar wine. Swanson and many other specialized Merlot artisans have suffered a bit from being lumped into this category since there is no labeling system in America to help set them apart as "quality" Merlot producers.

Good Merlot, just like good Pinot Noir, is hard to grow. It is a thin skinned grape that ripens early, is prone to over-cropping and tends to need well-drained clay soil and relatively cool climates in order to produce extraordinary wine. The Swanson message is clear: seek out producers who make wine from their own grapes in appropriate appellations and specialize in Merlot. Do this and you will rediscover the depth and refinement Merlot has to offer.


The seminar was accented by three sets of tastings. The first titled "A World of Difference" was arranged to illustrate the distinct New World and Old World differences from Merlot made in Italy, Chile, Washington, Bordeaux and California.

All from the 2002 Vintage, Livio Felluga, Casa Lapostolle, Pepper Bridge, Lafleur-Gazin and Swanson went head-to-head. Each wine was impressive and Swanson had to be commended for pouring wine from its competitors proving beyond a doubt their dedication and commitment to the varietal above all else. The Livio Felluga was quite interesting with a bit of white pepper at the front of it and the Swanson was so lush and layered with creamy cherry, chocolate and caramel that it stood out head and shoulders above the rest.

The second tasting was "The Importance of Place" and featured 2002 wines Cuvaision (Carneros), Sawyer (Rutherford), Twomey (Atlas Peak), Matanzas Creek (Bennet Valley) and of course, Swanson (Oakville). Again, all were exceptional Merlots, mid-priced $20 - $40, with tremendous, crisp, acidity and traditional flavors of plum, cherry, chocolate and vanilla.

The third tasting, "The Winery Difference," featured Swanson Merlot made in American Oak Barrels (commercial source), American Oak Barrels (air-dried in Oakville and custom-coopered from special ordered Pennsylvania oak), a 7 Day Maceration and a 21 Day Maceration. This was the most impressive part of the presentation. Chris Phelps spoke highly of his commitment to Custom-Oak, a commitment that requires him to order wood for the barrels years ahead of time in order to stay on track for upcoming vintages. Although not as expensive as new French Oak, it is a costly endeavor, but one taste and you realize it is worthwhile. The difference is monumental. The ordinary American Oak was flat with little character while the Custom-Oak blanketed the palate with a creamy richness that was so velvety and superior that there are no words in the English language to capture its essence.

The comparison between the 7 Day and 21 Day maceration was also fascinating. The 7 Day still had quite a bit of herbal, almost green, vegetable tastes, but by 21 Days all of that was gone and the fruit started to come into being. I kept my glass of Swanson 2002 aside and tasted it again at the end. It was clearly the best Merlot. Swanson outclassed some of its top competitors with a phenomenal effort that showcased artistry, elegance and relevance. Swanson Vineyards is firmly planted, not only within the world of Merlot, but in the world of exceptional wine.


90 PTS
It would be easy to criticize this seminar and Swanson for being self-serving or for choosing the sumptuous 2002 vintage for its California Merlot tastings, but the presentation was sound, passionate, and impressive. Although I've always enjoyed Merlot, I have to admit that lately I've been drinking a lot less of it and have been quick to generalize. But who is really to blame? Inspired by the seminar, I stopped off at my local wine stores on the drive home to pick up some bottles of my favorite Merlots from the tastings. I couldn't find a single one on the shelves and I left the stores empty-handed. Perhaps it is time to retreat to my cellar where there is a bottle of 1999 Swanson there begging to be opened.

For more information on the seminar, visit Merlot Fights Back.

Monday, April 24, 2006


From Santa Barbara wine country in California, this Pinot Noir has gained prestige since it was featured in the movie Sideways. Sanford Winery and Vineyard credits itself with starting the Santa Barbara wine craze way back in 1971 when it first opened its doors. Santa Rita Hills was made a certified AVA (American Vinticulture Area) in 2001 and its unique climate and soil continues to yield some terrific Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.


This Pinot Noir has tremendous acidity. It overwhelmed the back palate with a crisp bite and flavors of dark cherries and tart cranberries. The alcohol dominates the aroma. After tasting again on the second day, the alcohol seemed to overtake the fruit but the acidity settled down letting some of the damp oak scents emerge.


87 PTS
Perhaps a bit overdone on the alcohol which masks some of the fruit flavors, but still a decent wine. I tend to love great acidic Pinots like Etude, but this one from Sanford was a bit out of balance. The acidity just wasn't properly integrated with the rest of the wine. An interesting effort that will leave behind a nice oaky smell in the empty glass. Retails for around $25. Click
here for more info on Sanford winery.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006


This Syrah from Michael-David Vineyards in Lodi, California has an intriguing name and an enticing label. On the back of the bottle, the label has some catchy wine poetry. This Syrah seems to be all about the packaging.


There's not too much to say about this one. It is clean, with no character and honestly not too much flavor. It is smooth on the palate with a bit of dark fruit and that is about it. It reminds me of what red wine tastes like when I have a cold and all the flavors are muted.


82 PTS
Pretty uninspired Syrah with 14.8% alcohol. Perhaps one needs a 6th Sense to taste and enjoy this one. The wine costs around $13 which would be better spent on a DVD of the M. Night movie by the same name.

Monday, April 17, 2006


This wine is a new arrival at my local store and a very welcomed one. When it comes to Petite Sirah, the selections are always limited. Any new wines of this varietal instantly capture my attention.


I bought this bottle for $7.99. I have to be honest, I was a bit prejudiced based on its low price. I figured it would be average at best. Boy, was I surprised! The McManis has a simple, forward nose of Welch's Grape Juice. The initial predominant flavor was blueberry. After the wine opened up, the blueberry disappeared and the taste drifted more towards blackberry. The wine was incredibly silky and smooth. The mouthfeel was tremendously impressive. It was not at all astringent and the 14.2% alcohol content is virtually undetectable. This was not a complex wine yet it was very enjoyable.


91 PTS
McManis has crafted an alluring Petite Sirah that will keep tempting you to pour yourself another glass. Wonderfully simple, but delicious, it is hard to find any faults with this wine. Perhaps it is not as concentrated or rich as I would have hoped for a Petite Sirah, but at this price it is awe inspiring

Saturday, April 15, 2006


Pull the cork and you will find written on it:

bogle [n.][Scottish origin]
A friendly spirit;
a phantom

This haunting bottle from California has a beautiful, black, ethereal label and an intense red blend inside it. Aged 20 months in American Oak, it is made from an uncommon mix of 59% Petite Sirah, 39% Zinfadel, and 2% Mourvedre. It retails for around $16.


This is big structured wine. It is purple-red in color and has a nose of strawberry/blackberry. There is quite a bit of heat on the finish, but not enough to make it unapproachable. I know I often shy away from wines when I read reviews that indicate "heat," so let me be clear. It really isn't too much of a detriment to the wine. The wine also attacks the palate with tremendous acidity and will benefit from aging.

The flavors that haunt this wine are cherry, eucalyptus and wine barrel planter pot. If you've ever been to a garden store where they sell old wine barrels as planters, you know what I'm talking about. It is the taste of that delicious must from wine soaked wood. Since this wine is young, I let it sit out overnight without the cork and tasted it again the next day. After about 12 hours, it had really opened up and a lot of the heat went away. I could also cleary taste a hint of cinnamon on the finish which was absent the previous day.


88 PTS
This is a terrific effort although I held back my score a bit because this is a young wine. This could very well be a 90 point wine with a few years of cellaring, but you never know how a wine will develop in the bottle. I also know that most people will buy a wine like this and drink it right away. For a wine that was nearly 60% Petite Sirah, I was a bit disappointed it wasn't more inky in color. This wine deserves more than a ghost of a chance, but it needs a year or two to mellow out.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006


Today is Wine Blog Wednesday, a day for wine blogs to collectively write about a particular varietal, getting the word out on new wines and opening up the taste buds of the universe. The mission, which I have chosen to accept, was to find a white wine that is NOT Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc or Riesling. Chenin Blanc was the first white that came to mind and there isn't a better place on the planet to go looking for this grape than Vouvray.

Vouvray is a wine, a region and a grape. Just east of the city of Tours in the Loire Valley in France, lies the town of Vouvray. It is best known for producing the grape, Vouvray which is used to make Vouvray wine (named after the town).

Vouvray is 100% Chenin Blanc. The Chenin Blanc grapes that are grown here can be very fruity or mineral-like depending on the clay soil or terroir they are grown in. Some Vouvrays are very sweet while others can lean toward being more dry. In the best vintages, when grapes are the sweetest, they can be made into some of the finest dessert wines.


This honey scented wine is a clean, crisp, semi-sweet delight highlighted by citrus, pineapple, and a tinge of minerals. There is also a slight hint of petroleum on the finish and some quirky acidity on the back palate.


90 PTS
Excellent. If you haven't tasted Chenin Blanc or Vouvray, I highly recommend trying a bottle. The crisp sweetness is very different than Sauvignon Blanc or Reisling. Chenin Blanc has its own character, a nervy, bold one that will surprise you when you taste it. This bottle retails for around $25, but you can find many lower priced Chenin Blanc wines from California. Click to
explore wines from the Loire Valley.

Monday, April 10, 2006


I just finished the bottle and I'm already missing it...

I had purchased several bottles of 1999 Catena Chardonnay Agrelo Vineyard quite a few years ago (as many as I could find and afford at the time) and slowly, one by one, they have slipped away.

I have enjoyed every one of them, but not equally. Why? Because each bottle actually got better! I'm amazed at the way this wine ages. Oenophiles speak mostly of red wine aging, but this white doesn't know its white. Maybe because my cellar is 95% red, these Catenas just want to fit in. Whatever the reason, I'm not complaining.


I have tasted this wine many times. In a short number of years, the color has gone from a delicious yellow with green tinges to absolute liquid gold. The dark, golden color of this bottle is that of a trophy. It is simply beautiful. The flavors hit your tongue with integrated perfection. It starts out with vanilla and tropical citrus fruits and then progresses to creamy, toasty, smoky, oak. To say this is an explosive wine would be incorrect. It is much more of a seductive, alluring wine that coats your palate with pure elegance. If you could actually taste "golden" this is what it would taste like.


92 PTS
It might be pretty hard to locate 1999 Catena Chardonnay, but I'd highly recommend purchasing the latest vintage which is the 2004 (retails for around $14). Catena consistently makes terrific wine and is best known for its stunning Malbecs.

I do have one bottle of Catena Alta Chardonnay (the equivalent of a reserve) from 1999 left in my cellar as well as a few 2001 Catena Chardonnays which I will review later and compare when I finally decide to pop them open. I highly recommend cellaring these wines a few years which seems to really enhance their exotic, toasty flavors. To find out more about Catena wines visit The Wines of Nicolas Catena.

Saturday, April 08, 2006


This Allegrini wine has made a lot of noise due its quality and price. It made Wine Spectator's Top 100 list coming in at #80. A blend of 70% Corvina Veronese, 25% Rondinella and 5% Sangiovese it is like a "mini-Amarone." 70% of the grapes picked are used immediately to make the wine while the remaining 30% are left to dry and then re-fermented later.


There's no mistaking the quality of this wine. At $13 a bottle it is flying off shelves and for good reason. It is a very round, purple wine with good acidity and earthy, mineral-like flavors that underscore pungent blackberry and raisin flavors.


88 PTS
An excellent value wine with power and intensity. This is the second time I have tried the Allegrini Palazzo. I was very impressed with the first bottle, but it didn't quite live up to my memory the second time around. It will impress on first taste, but you won't want to load up on a case of this one.

Thursday, April 06, 2006


I think one could argue that Greg Norman may be better known today for his wine than his successful golf career. His Australian Estates have released many wines that have been awarded with high ratings and critical praise. His California Estates are a relatively new endeavor tackling five different varietals: Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, Chardonnay and Petite Sirah.

The origin of Petite Sirah has been contested for quite some time among wine aficionados. Most agree that the Petite Sirah grape, which can yield some of the most inkiest and saturated wines on the planet, is derived from Syrah and Peloursin. It is sometimes referred to as "Durif," named after the French grape grower who, through cross-pollination, brought the first Petite Sirah grapes into being.

Outside of Foppiano and Concannon, there are very few Petite Sirahs available at your local store. The best Petites you can find online or through special order and are usually in the $30+ range. Petite Sirah has yet to catch on with the mainstream, but it is no secret to red wine lovers. It is one of the biggest red wines you can buy. When it is made well, almost no other varietal can compare.


Made from Paso Robles, California grapes, this wine has gobs of blackberry with a hint of spice. It is incredibly smooth, almost silky, but shows tremendous power. So dark and inky in color it will stain your teeth and lips upon contact. Tremendous tannin and structure. Pure elegance.


91 PTS

This is an exceptional wine. It retails for around $12 - $15 and completely demolishes competitors Foppiano and Concannon. This is a bold statement. I am a fan of both Foppiano and Concannon Petite Sirahs which are excellent quality and value wines that consistently deliver. However, the Greg Norman has taken inexpensive Petite Sirah to whole new level. This is a phenomenal effort. Greg Norman, who humbly refers to himself as more of a "casual wine drinker" rather than an "intense wine connoisseur" has hit another hole in one.

Monday, April 03, 2006


There aren't too many offerings out there composed completely of Mourvedre. Mourvedre is a grape that often appears in French Rhone wines or California blends. In Spain it is known as Monastrell.

This was a pleasure to taste back-to-back with the Lucky Country Shiraz. Both wines are 14.5% alcohol, but the differences between the two couldn't be greater. The Cline was simply a better made wine with the alcohol more in check and the overall structure finely crafted.


Plum, eucalyptus, a hint of chocolate, light oak, and cedar on the finish. Pleasant, comfy mouth feel, with lots of acidity and a bit of alcohol still showing. The alcohol settled down after the bottle was open for about an hour. The color was just a tad darker than what you'd expect from Pinot Noir.


87 PTS
Delicious, a bit young, but a very enjoyable wine. Retails for $15, but if you shop around you can find for as low as $12.

Saturday, April 01, 2006


I'm trying. I'm really trying to give Australian wine a chance. I loved the Two Up Shiraz. I loved what Clarendon Hills and Two Hands have been able to accomplish in Australia even better. Lucky Country is made by Two Hands. I can't go wrong, can I? Or can I?


This 55% Shiraz and 45% Cabernet blend from down under has a nose of ripe cherries with a hint of blueberries. The wine tastes like cherries: tart cherries, pungent cherries, cherry cough syrup - nothing but cherries.


83 PTS
Australia disappoints me again. While this exhibits lots of cherry fruit it is just too medicinal to really enjoy. The alcohol content is 14.5% and out of balance with the rest of the wine. This wine retails for anywhere from $12 - $15. This is an average wine and at any price I can't recommend it.