Tag Archives: California wine

Expensive wine 112: Chateau Montelena Chardonnay 2015

Chateau Montelena ChardonnayThe Chateau Montelena chardonnay remains classic California white wine

The Big Guy and I were drinking pricey California chardonnay, which is probably worth a blog post all by itself given our devotion to white Burgundy. The point here, though, is that the wines we tasted, which included the Chateau Montelena chardonnay, reminded us that California producers can make some of the best wine in the world.

The Chateau Montelena chardonnay ($48, purchased, 13.5%) remains the kind of California wine that helped earn the world’s attention at the Judgment of Paris in 1976. It’s elegant and balanced, without the too much of one thing or another that makes me crazy when I taste high-end California chardonnay. Yes, some of my colleagues may consider this a fuddy-duddy approach to winemaking, but it’s their problem if they can’t appreciate grace and virtuosity.

What makes the Chateau Montelena chardonnay so classic? Taste this – even just one sip – and you can tell it’s Napa Valley chardonnay. That means more fruit (a lovely, barely ripe green apple) and an undercurrent of minerality, as well as layers of structure. The oak is decidedly New World, but it isn’t over the top and will integrate into the wine over the next several years.

Highly recommended. This is a delicious wine that will only get better over the next five years and could last even longer.

Wine of the week: Ryder Estate Sauvignon Blanc 2017

Ryder Estate sauvignon blancThe Ryder Estate sauvignon blanc reminds us that California can still offer delicious cheap wine that offers quality and value

Regular visitors here know how despondent the Wine Curmudgeon has been the past three or four months, what with rising wine prices, decreasing wine quality, and an increasing amount of foolishness from the wine business. And then, from out of nowhere, the Ryder Estate sauvignon blanc arrived.

Ryder Estate is made by one of the oldest producers in Monterey County, but I’d never heard of it until the samples arrived. That was my loss. The wines were mostly enjoyable and fairly priced, and the chardonnay and rose were especially well made. The Ryder Estate sauvignon blanc ($12, sample, 13.5%) was even better, almost certain to make the 2019 $10 Hall of Fame and a candidate for the 2018 Cheap Wine of the Year.

This is California wine at its best, and something we don’t see much these days. It offers quality and value, as well as professional winemaking to make those happen. It’s true California sauvignon blanc, and not tarted up with sweet grape juice, flavored with fake oak, or a New Zealand sauvignon blanc knockoff. It’s varietally correct and delicious – fresh, grassy, stony, a bit of citrus and a hint of tropical fruit, and much more balanced than I expected or that we usually see in sauvignon blanc at this price.

Chill this and drink it on its own on a warm summer evening, or pair with grilled chicken or shrimp marinated in olive oil, garlic, and lemon juice. And then you can worry a little less about the future of the wine business.

Mini-reviews 111: Geyser Peak, Castle Rock, Ranch 32, Tyrell’s

geyser peakReviews 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, a highly recommended white and red:

Geyser Peak Chardonnay Water Bend 2016 ($18, sample, 14.5%): California white that tastes like coconut and pineapple – another example of the post-modern, better living through winemaking approach that dominates so much wine at this price. Coconut and pineapple are ideal for an ice cream sundae, but probably not the way chardonnay should taste.

Castle Rock Pinot Noir Willamette Valley 2016 ($15, sample, 13.5%): This vintage of the Oregon red is not what the 2015 was, unfortunately – a little brambly black fruit aroma, but too heavy and not very interesting. It tastes like it has lots of something in it besides pinot noir, a practice that is legal and not uncommon for less expensive pinot noirs.

Ranch 32 Pinot Noir 2016 ($17, sample, 13.5%) If all $17 wine tasted like this California red, I wouldn’t rant about $17 wine. It’s got actual pinot noir character – almost silky, with precise black fruit and actual oak that lends to the wine and doesn’t dominate it. Highly recommended.

Tyrell’s Semillon 2016 ($22, purchased, 11%): This white is another brilliant Australian wine that was lost in the disaster that was 15 percent shiraz and that the Aussie wine business is still recovering from. It’s somehow balanced, soft and crisp and with lots of fresh stone fruit, and balanced. Highly recommended. Imported by Broadbent Selections

Wine of the week: Wente Sauvingon Blanc Louis Mel 2016

wente sauvignon blancThe Wente sauvignon blanc is a California white wine that speaks to terroir and quality

The Wente sauvignon blanc is a top-notch California white wine that’s widely available – even in some grocery stores. So why has it been seven years since it appeared as the wine of the week?

Blame it on the wine business.

Pricing, for one, is incredibly screwy. The suggested retail price is $18. It’s $16 on wine-searcher.com, $15 at wine.com, and as little as $11 in Dallas. Given that I try to keep the wine of the week at less than $15, and preferably $10 to $12, how do I decide what the real price is so I can use it?

This time, though, quality wins out. The current vintage of the Wente sauvignon blanc (sample, 13%) is classic California sauvingon blanc, the kind of wine that speaks to terroir but has been shunted aside in the rush to make everything taste like a New Zealand sauvignon blanc grapefruit.

The Wente is so far removed from New Zealand — and even some French sauvingon blancs – that many people won’t believe that’s what it is. But that’s exactly what it is, in all its grassy aroma glory – the smell of a freshly mowed lawn. It’s crisp and refreshing, but not simple, and there is just enough citrus flavor (lemongrass?) to hold the wine together.

Highly recommended, and areminder that not all wine has to taste alike –and that it’s not supposed to taste alike.

Wine of the week: CK Mondavi Sauvignon Blanc 2017

CK Mondavi sauvignon blancThe CK Mondavi sauvignon blanc, a long-time grocery store staple, is easily the cheap wine find of 2018

The CK Mondavi sauvignon blanc ($7, sample, 12.6%) is a grocery store wine that I have been trying to use as a wine of the week for years. But it has never quite been up to the challenge.

Until this vintage. Somehow, despite all the horrific cheap wine news this summer, the CK Mondavi sauvignon blanc is well-made, varietally correct, and worth more than $7. Score a victory for value and quality in these dark, dismal times.

There is nothing fancy about this California white wine, which is made by the other Mondavis – the company started by Robert’s brother Peter and run by Peter Jr. Look for lots and lots of white grapefruit, with maybe a certain something or other that tastes sort of pleasant in the back.

But it’s crisp and refreshing and delivers infinitely more value than many wines that cost two or three times as much. In this, it’s easily the cheap wine find of 2018; drink it well chilled on its own or with salads, chicken, and other warm weather food.

Highly recommended, and a candidate for the 2019 $10 Hall of Fame, but with this caveat: Quality control has been so slipshod for so many cheap wines this vintage that I can’t guarantee that the bottle you buy will taste like the bottle I got as a sample. But at $7, it’s worth the try.

Mini-reviews 110: Aldi wine, Bota Box, Chammisal, Jean Bousquet

chardonnayReviews 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 critically-challenged chardonnays

Broken Clouds Chardonnay 2016 ($9, purchased, 13.5%): I desperately wanted to like this Aldi private label white from California, But it’s a “least common denominator” wine – made to appeal to the most people possible without regard for quality. It’s the same price as Bogle or McManis, but not nearly as well made thanks to the cloying vanilla fake oak and the hint of sweetness. One more example of how Aldi and Lidl aren’t doing in the U.S. what they do in Europe.

Bota Box Chardonnay NV ($15/3-liter box, sample, 13%): This California white, about $4 a bottle, is, sadly, is what everyone thinks boxed wine tastes like. There’s a little chardonnay character, but it’s bitter and tannic thanks to what seems to be the poor quality grapes used to get the price so low. Plus, it tastes like the stems and seeds were crushed with the grapes, which would be the cause of the off-putting flavors.

Chamisal Vineyards Chardonnay 2015 ($16, sample, 13.5%): This California white is heavy, somehow hot, and oaky though it’s not supposed to have oak. Plus, it’s very warm climate – tropical fruit instead of crisper green apple. In other words, almost everything I don’t like in California chardonnay. Having said that, if that’s your style, enjoy.

Domaine Jean Bousquet Chardonnay 2018 ($12, sample, 13.5): This Argentine white is grocery store chardonnay that would be OK at $8 or $9, but is overpriced here. Plus, it’s not especially crisp the way an unoaked, cool climate chardonnay should be. It just sort of sits in the glass and you don’t really care whether you finish it or not.

Wine of the week: Bogle Pinot Noir 2015

bogle pinot noirThe Bogle pinot noir is, as always, $10 Hall of Fame wine. The same can’t be said for the label’s cabernet sauvignon

How amazing is the Bogle pinot noir ($10, sample, 13.5%)? It mostly tastes like pinot noir. This is unheard of in a $10 wine, and it’s not all that common for pinot noir that costs as much as $30, either. That Bogle can do it speaks to the producer’s emphasis on quality and value.

That’s the good news. The bad news, and it pains me to write this, is that the 2015 Bogle cabernet sauvignon ($10, sample, 13.5%) is as disappointing as the pinot noir is not. The cabernet is soft, flabby, and bereft of almost any varietal character. In this, it’s another example of winemaking by focus group; someone, somewhere, decided that U.S. wine drinkers don’t want tannins or spice or pepper or earth or anything that adds interest to cabernet. Instead, all we want is great gobs of gushy fruit, so any number of red wines that were once worth buying aren’t (like this one and this one). I never thought to add a Bogle wine to that list.

Regular visitors here know of my respect – almost reverence – for Bogle. That is borne out in the pinot noir ($10, sample, 13.5%), which is as subtle and elegant as a $10 pinot noir is going to get. Look for cherry fruit, some peppery spice, a little foresty something or other, and oak that is there to be barely noticed. Again, all qualities I rarely seen on wines at this price.

Hopefully, the decision makers at Bogle will realize wine drinkers prefer wines like the pinot and will return the cabernet to its former style. That, more than anything, is why I included it in this review. Because it’s easy to buy cheap wine; it’s much more difficult to buy cheap wine that reminds us why we love wine.