Tag Archives: California wine

wine of week

Wine of the week: Pine Ridge Chenin Blanc + Viognier 2014

Pine Ridge chenin blanc viognierHow impressive is this California white wine blend? For one thing, it has its own website, and how many $10 wines can say that? For another, some retailers — who apparently have no shame — charge as much as $15 for it. Is it any wonder the Wine Curmudgeon is so curmudgeonly?

The other thing you need to know about the Pine Ridge chenin blanc viognier ($10, purchased, 12.5%)? That it is, as always, one of the great cheap wines ever made, combining the qualities of each grape to produce something greater than the whole. Given how much stupid label, fake oak, sort of sweet cheap white wine gets foisted off on us, this is a revelation. And that it’s made with two grapes that don’t get much respect makes the Pine Ridge chenin blanc viognier that much more interesting.

In addition, the Pine Ridge chenin blanc viognier is different each vintage, something that also rarely happens with cheap wine. The 2014 has less citrusy sauvignon blanc character than the 2013 (something you can get from chenin blanc), with more steely chenin minerality and a dollop of white fruit (peach?) from the viognier, as well as an almost floral aroma.

Drink this chilled on its own, or with any end of the summer dinner. It’s a fried seafood wine, too — clam rolls, anyone? Highly recommended, and sure to take its place again in next year’s $10 Hall of Fame.

wine of week

Wine of the week: Pinot Patch 2013

pinot patchRegular visitors here know one of the Wine Curmudgeon’s favorite laments: That it’s almost impossible to find $10 pinot noir that tastes remotely like pinot noir (or $20 or $30 or $40 pinot noir that tastes like pinot noir, but that’s another matter). There are several decent $10 wines that say pinot on the label, but they’re more fruity red blends than anything else.

So I was quite pleased to meet Aaron Inman, whose family owns Romililly Wines, which makes Pinot Patch pinot noir ($11, sample, 13.5%) because that’s one of the reasons for being for the wine — to make a quality, affordable pinot that tastes like pinot. This California red has berry fruit, but not so much that it tastes like a fruity red blend, as well as that hint of earthiness in the aroma that pinot should have. Best yet, the tannins are zingy and not harsh, so that the wine doesn’t remind you of cabernet sauvignon.

Yes, it’s a simple wine, but it doesn’t insult you by pretending to be something that it’s not. In $10 pinot, that’s a victory for the good guys. Drink this with any red meat (burgers on the grill?) and be glad that Inman gave up engineering in favor of winemaking. And check out the picture on the Pinot Patch website of the young Inman and his brother Jesse on their bikes. Those are the kind of people I want making my wine.

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Mini-reviews 76: Four $20 (or so) wines worth buying

white wine reviewsReviews of wines that don ?t need their own post, but are worth noting for one reason or another. Look for it on the final Friday of each month. This month, four whites around $20 that offer value and are well worth drinking:

?Frei Brothers Reserve Chardonnay 2013 ($17, sample, 13.5%): This California white, part of E&J Gallo, shows what Big Wine can do when it pays attention — lush and creamy, but not over the top, with baked apple and lemon fruit. Highly recommended, and the kind of wine you’ll be stunned to be able to buy at the grocery store but delighted none the same.

? Coquerel Family Le Petit Coquerel Sauvignon Blanc 2012 ($22, sample, 13%): One of the best California sauvignon blancs I’ve tasted in a good while — fair price, determined quality, gooseberry, long finish (mineral, lychees) and that wonderful California expression that isn’t done enough anymore. Highly recommended.

?Rodney Strong Charlotte’s Home Sauvignon Blanc ($17, sample, 13.5%): Consistent, well-made, varietally correct California white that always offers value. Look for assorted citrus and tropical flavors, none overdone, and a clean finish.

?Kunde Estate Magnolia Lane Sauvignon Blanc 2014 ($17, sample, 13.8%): Zesty and fresh California white, with notes of grapefruit and lemon rind and a crisp finish. Not overly complex, but lively, and doesn’t disappoint.

wine of week

Wine of the week: Bonny Doon Vin Gris de Cigare 2014

Vin Gris de CigareBonny Doon’s Randall Grahm is perhaps the most subversive person in the wine business, and one sip of his rose, the Bonny Doon Vin Gris de Cigare, shows why. On the one hand, it has all of the necessary qualities for a terrific pink wine — freshness, nary a hint of residual sugar, and a certain stoniness that many of the great French roses from Provence have.

On the other hand, the Vin Gris de Cigare ($15, sample, 13%) also tastes like it will age for at least a couple of years. What cranberry fruit there is is hidden beneath the other components, and the fruit should slowly show itself over time. This is not supposed to happen with rose, which is usually made to last for just one vintage (and is perfectly fine when it does). That Grahm makes a rose that will age, and for only $15, is just another example of how sneaky he is, and how his wines almost never do what the wine business says wine should do.

Hence it’s no surprise that I enjoy them so much. Highly recommended; serve the Vin Gris de Cigare chilled, either on its own or with any summer food, be it salad or grilled fish, chicken, or beef. I drank it with socca, the chickpea flour pancake from southern France on a hot Dallas Saturday afternoon. If I wasn’t magically transported somewhere other than my air conditioned living room, the combination reminded me why pairings can work as long as we aren’t slaves to them.

Finally, a note about Grahm’s newest — and perhaps most subversive — project. He is crowdfunding a vineyard to create 10,000 new grape varieties, in the hope of finding a unique New World vinifera, something that didn’t come from Europe and so is better suited to our climate and soil. In this, Grahm figures he has a chance to explore New World terroir in a way no one ever has. That creating new grape varieties is incredibly difficult does not seem to daunt him in the least.

The project is about 35 percent of the way to its $350,000 goal — you can contribute here, and there are some impressive premiums. And, given my experience with crowdfunding, Grahm will have more fun than he can imagine. Not that I know anything about waking up at 2 a.m. to check the funding percentage.

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Mini-reviews 75: White wine for summer

white wine for summerReviews of wines that don ?t need their own post, but are worth noting for one reason or another. Look for it on the final Friday of each month. Th month: white wine for summer.

? Josh Cellars Sauvignon Blanc 2014 ($10, purchased, 13.5%): The Josh Cellars reds are some of the best values in the world. Unfortunately, this California white is nowhere near as well made as the reds — thin, bitter, and stemmy, and what seems like fruit chosen to hit the price point and not to make better wine.

? Argento Chardonnay Reserva 2014 ($12, sample, 13.5%): Grocery store chardonnay from Argentina that demonstrates how Big Wine can turn ordinary grapes into something quite pleasant when it wants to. Look for white stone fruit and a hint of sweetness that balances everything out.

? Rodney Strong Charlotte’s Home Sauvignon Blanc 2014 ($15, sample, 13.5%): Consistent, well-made, varietally correct California sauvignon blanc that always offers value. Look for citrus and tropical flavors, but none that are overdone, and a clean finish. This may cost as little $12 or $13 in the grocery store, which is the time to buy several.

? Line 39 Pinot Grigio 2014 ($12, sample, 13%): One of the oddest wines I’ve ever tasted, with little pinot gris or pinot grigio character and more chardonnay flavor than anything else. But it’s 100 percent California pinot grigio, and without any added sugar despite a decidedly sweet feel to it. Go figure.

wine of week

Wine of the week: Hess Sauvignon Blanc Select 2014

hess sauvignon blancThe knock against Big Wine is that it can’t make terroir-driven wines, because the formula that has given us better quality at lower prices works against that style. But that’s not necessarily true, and we have the Hess sauvignon blanc to prove the point.

Hess is among the 30 biggest producers in the U.S. and it sells six brands besides its namesake. So why is the Hess sauvignon blanc ($11, sample, 13.5%) a candidate for the 2016 $10 Hall of Fame (since it’s probably $9.99 in many places)? Because not everyone in Big Wine uses the same formula, or any formula at all.

The Hess sauvignon blanc is a tremendous value, given that most sauvignon blanc at this price tastes like it came off an assembly line — a requisite amount of grapefruit, a hint of something tropical, and not much of a finish. This wine is the just the opposite. It shouts of the grassy aroma and flavor that defines California sauvignon blanc, and those are followed by some lemon fruit and a stony finish. Plus, it’s fresh and crisp, two of the qualities that make sauvignon blanc so attractive.

Highly recommended — wine from a producer that cares about quality, its customers, and charging a fair price for its products. Drink this chilled on its own, or with grilled or roasted chicken.

wine of week

Wine of the week: Shannon Ridge Wrangler Red 2012

shannon ridge wrangler redThere are a variety of red blends from California, usually older vintages from smaller wineries, that you won’t find unless you dig through the bottom shelves at your local retailer. The Wine Curmudgeon, who is infamous for this sort of behavior, found the Clayhouse, Josh Cellars, and Stephen Vincent reds this way.

My most recent shelf digging turned up the Shannon Ridge Wrangler Red ($14, purchased, 13.9%), a blend from from Lake County, a region probably better known for its whites. Nevertheless, the red — a combination of zinfandel, syrah, petite sirah, and cabernet sauvignon — was more than up to the standards set by the region’s whites. It had a most welcome freshness, without any of the cloying fruit that dominates so many of these kinds of wines.

Look for red fruit (cherries and raspberries?), but much more than fruit, including a surprising depth from the cabernet that most winemakers don’t bother with when they make this style of red blend. The oak was a little top heavy, but given the wine’s age, it didn’t get in the way and even sort of faded as the bottle emptied. Drink this with any summer barbecue; it’s the kind of wine to sip while you’re grilling burgers and getting ready for Fourth of July fireworks.