Tag Archives: California wine

Expensive wine 107: Fort Ross FRV Pinot Noir 2013

Fort Ross FRV pinot noirThe Fort Ross FRV pinot noir is a rarity from California – elegant, graceful, and varietally correct

California pinot noir is a conundrum, which is why we have movies about it, best-selling sweet versions of it, and critically acclaimed cabernet sauvignon versions of it. Mostly, the state isn’t cool and rainy enough to make a classical, varietally correct version of it. Which is where the Fort Ross FRV pinot noir comes in.

The Fort Ross FRV pinot noir ($52, sample, 13.8%) is elegant and, in its elegance, spectacular. It’s not what one expects from California pinot nor, given the excesses of many of the best selling labels. It somehow combines New World freshness with a little Burgundian complexity, so that each part of the wine complements the other and the whole is greater than the parts. It’s balance where balance is too often lacking.

Look for forest floor aromas (not too funky), plus dark red fruit and baking spice flavors, and soft, refined tannins. The tannins, as well as the exquisitely judicious use of oak, might be the most impressive achievements. This is a California pinot noir made to express pinot noir from Fort Ross’ Sonoma terroir instead of making it to get 94 points, the soil and the climate be damned.

Highly recommended. Ready to drink now, and probably won’t age for more than several years. Enjoy it with anything pinot noir–related, from roast lamb to salmon. And, given its grace, by itself.

Wine review: Four Target California Roots wines

Target California Roots winesThese four Target California Roots wines don’t do anything to help the cause, and three of them aren’t even worth the $5 they cost

The Wine Curmudgeon wanted to write a glowing, “run out and buy these wines” review. Those of us who care about cheap wine need the good news. But these four Target California Roots wines aren’t much better than the $3 junk I tasted earlier this year – sadly, more marketing hype than wine, and where the back labels are of higher quality than the wine.

For instance, why does $5 wine have a cork? Why do the bottles have a punt (albeit shallow)? Why is the phrase “vinted in the Golden State” on every bottle? Why should I care? Why is not one of the wines labeled sweet, including the moscato, when my mouth felt like cotton candy at the end of the tasting?

The wines were purchased; each cost $5. My Target didn’t have the red blend, the fifth wine. Read and weep:

California Roots Cabernet Sauvignon 2016 (13.5%): Smells like boysenberry juice, tastes too much like children’s cough syrup, and finishes with that old Big Wine standby, charred chocolate fake oak. It’s not so much that it doesn’t taste like cabernet, but that it’s overpriced at $5.

California Roots Chardonnay 2016 (13.5%): This smells like chardonnay, with lots of green apples, and I had high hopes I could write something nice. But the wine is so thin – diluted apple juice for babies? – that it had almost no flavor at all, save for a bit of sweetness. I’ve never tasted chardonnay made in the style of cheap, inoffensive pinot grigo.

California Roots Pinot Grigio 2016 (13.5%): Professional and competent wine, even if it’s not exactly pinot grigio. Think Costco’s Kirkland pinot grigio (pears and tonic water), but with appropriate amounts of sugar to cover up any bitterness and to round out the rough spots.

California Roots Moscato 2016 (10%): Not quite as sweet as white zinfandel, but that’s the approach. There’s a hint of the characteristic orange aroma of the muscat family, but everything else is sugar. And then a little more sugar just to be on the safe side.

Mini-reviews 107: Big Smooth, malbec, Rioja, Sicily

Big smoothReviews of wines that don’t need their own post, but are worth noting for one reason or another. Look for it on the fourth Friday of each month. This month, four red wines.

Big Smooth Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 ($17, sample, 14.5%): Much winemaking and craftsmanship went into this California red to make it taste like a cherry Tootise Pop. If that’s what you want your wine to taste like, then it’s worth $17. Otherwise, taste and be amazed at the post-modern marketing cynicism that also went into it.

Casillero del Diablo Malbec 2016 ($12, sample, 13.5%): This Chilean red speaks to terroir and varietal character, and is about more than the jammy black fruit of similarly-priced Argentine malbecs. Having said that, it’s not a value this price – a little thin and tart. But if you find it for $8 at the grocery store and you need a bottle of wine for dinner, you won’t be disappointed. Imported by Excelsior Wine

Bagordi Rioja Navardia 2016 ($13, sample, 14%): Nothing special about this Spanish red – just a full-bodied (heavier, more red fruit) and not especially varietal tempranillo made with organic grapes. Imported by Winesellers Ltd.

Cantina Cellaro Luma 2016 ($10, purchased, 13%): This Sicilian red, made with the nero d’avola grape, was either oxidized (doubtful, given the vintage) or so extracted and so overripe that it was about as Sicilian as my Honda. Imported by Gonzalez Bypass

Mini-reviews 106: Day Owl rose, Basque wine, Bousquet, and Innocent Bystander

day owlReviews of wines that don’t need their own post, but are worth noting for one reason or another. Look for it on the fourth Friday of each month.

Day Owl Rose 2017 ($13, sample, 12%): Intriguing California pink made with the barbera grape, not common in California or in rose. It’s still a bit young and a little heavier than I like (thanks to the barbera), but it’s a solid effort. Look for very aromatic cherry fruit and a sort of stony finish.

Etxeberria Bengoetxe 2015 ($20, purchased, 12%): This Spanish white from the Getariako Txakolina appellation in the Basque region is about as geeky as wine gets. The grape, hondarribi zuri, is past obscure, while the wine will sometimes have a little natural carbonation. Or not, as the case may be. It’s lemony and soft, but not sweet, and almost savory. Highly recommended, especially for summer.

Domaine Bousquet Sparkling Brut Rose NV ($13, sample, 12%): Fruity Argentine bubbly (berries?) that isn’t quite Prosecco, but soft and missing a little oomph. Not badly done, but $13 can buy more interesting sparkling.

Innocent Bystander Sauvignon Blanc 2016 ($15, sample, 13%): One note New Zealand white, and that note is red grapefruit from beginning to end. This is professionally made wine, which makes me wonder – and at this price – why they didn’t try to add some complexity.

Expensive wine 105: Angwin Estate The Kissing Tree Cabernet Sauvignon 2013

Angwin Estate Kissing Tree cabernet sauvignonThe Angwin Estate Kissing Tree cabernet sauvignon is a traditional Napa Valley red wine, and in the best sense – from the time before scores, Parkerization, and the idea that even expensive wine should be a fruit bomb

The Wine Curmudgeon does not often receive emails from expensive wine producers asking me to taste their wine. Nevertheless, Jon Larson did that, and included his Angwin Estate Kissing Tree cabernet sauvignon when he sent samples. It was fortuitous for him, for me, and for the blog’s readers – and especially with The Holiday that Must Not be Named around the corner.

Larson wrote that his wines are not what one expects from Napa Valley these days – the too ripe fruit, the overdone oak, and all the rest. The Angwin Estate Kissing Tree cabernet sauvignon ($70, sample, 13.8%) proves his point. It’s almost as if it comes from a different Napa – the one before scores, Parkerization, and the idea that even expensive wine should be a fruit bomb.

It’s a traditional Napa wine in the very best way, with the elegance that no one seems much interested in any more. It’s supple, young, and intriguing, with dark fruit, herbs, and even a little earthiness. The oak is there, but it doesn’t get in the way and will eventually blend into the rest of the wine to build complexity.

The layers of flavor that are the hallmark of a great wine are just starting to build, and this is a wine that should age for at least 10 years. Pair this with holiday prime rib or leg of lamb, and enjoy this with someone who appreciates wine and that you care about.

Mini-reviews 105: Cleaning out the wine closet

wine closetReviews of wines that don’t need their own post, but are worth noting for one reason or another. Look for it on the fourth Friday of each month. This month, cleaning out the wine closet.

Radley & Finch Cinsault Rose 2017 ($10, purchased, 13%): This South African pink was disappointing – slightly sweet and missing the freshness and vibrancy that the cinsault grape brings to rose when it’s made elsewhere in the world. Imported by Pascal Schildt

Miguel Torres Vina Sol 2015 ($10, purchased, 11.5%): This Spanish white was softer than I expected, especially since it’s made with cava’s parellada grape. Still, it’s pleasant enough, with some lemon citrus and a clean finish, and not a bad purchase if you’re stuck in the grocery store. Imported by Ste. Michelle Wine Estates

Palma Real Rueda 2015 ($10, purchased, 12%): This Spanish white is a Total Wine private label that’s lacking in varietal character and terroir. That means soft lemon fruit, no acidity, and no finish. In other words, what’s the point? Imported by Saranty Imports

Angels & Cowboys Proprietary Red 2015 ($18, sample, 14.8%): Well crafted Sonoma red blend that tastes like the winemaker wanted it to taste, and not as over the top as some others. But the chocolate oak could be more restrained, and the price might bother some. The exact opposite in style from the label’s much more elegant rose.

Wine of the week: Cannonball Cabernet Sauvignon 2015

Cannonball cabernet sauvignonThe Cannonball cabernet sauvignon is honest wine, made to taste like its grape and where it’s from – something missing in too many California wines these days

The amount of California cabernet sauvignon that costs as much as $20 that tastes like boozy fruit juice – sweet, even – should embarrass anyone who cares about wine. What’s the point of making wine at that price that doesn’t taste like its grape or where it’s from? Fortunately, we have the Cannonball cabernet sauvignon to remind us that it’s possible to buy quality and not spend $30 or $40.

The Cannonball cabernet sauvignon ($14, purchased, 13.8%) comes from the same company that produces the top-notch Angels & Cowboys rose, so it’s no surprise that the wine is as well made as it is. In fact, given how much wretched California cabernet I’ve tasted over the past 18 months, the Cannonball is a revelation. And it’s especially welcome with the 2018 $10 Hall of Fame coming on Friday.

This is honest winemaking, and not something put together by the marketing department. Look for mint, green herbs, and dark fruit aromas, followed by rich, but not too ripe black fruit (black cherry?, blackberry?), fine-grained tannins that add to the wine and don’t make you wince, and a chalky, pleasant finish.

A tip o’ the Curmudgeon’s fedora to Ray Isle of Food & Wine, who recommended the Cannonball. Pair this with any winter red meat dish – something as simple as meat loaf or gooey cheeseburgers, but even Saturday night prime rib or roast lamb. Highly recommended.