What to Look For In May

rocks-by-cornerstone-california-red-wine-2013In May, The International Wine of the Month Club’s Premier Series offers four exceptional and unique wines with a delicious California blend leading the way. From one of Napa Valley’s great Cabernet producers comes Cornerstone’s 2013 California Rocks! Red, a bodacious blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, and Syrah, which offers a deep purple potion of smooth rich fruit and a velvety elegance. Add a heady bouquet of cassis and currant fruit, along with a toasty patina born of oak barrel ageing, and you’ll wonder why more California producers aren’t more daring.

Our next Premier Series feature is the 2015 Montinore Willamette Family Pinot Gris. The 2015 Montinore Estate Willamette Valley Pinot Gris offers dynamic aromatics, pure fruit flavors, and supreme balance that reflect the organic, biodynamic methods employed at this exemplary estate. Citrus and stone fruit aromas waft from the glass the moment Montinore’s Pinot Gris is poured. On the palate, the wine’s crystalline aromas become infused with tropical fruit notes and become enveloped by crisp acidity, lending lift and dynamism to the wine’s long, lingering, and refreshing finish.

Next in this month’s quartet is the 2006 Core Ground Around, an artful blend of Grenache, Syrah, and Tempranillo that has matured to perfection. Core’s Ground Around offers an amplifying aroma of blackberry, cranberry, dried cherries, baking spices, fennel, and dried herbs.  In the mouth, complex fruit flavors infused with eucalyptus, dark chocolate, and expresso tones dominate the flavor profile and gratify the thirsty palate.

Rounding out this month’s offerings is the 2014 La Vis Simboli Trentino Chardonnay, a wine that sparkles in the glass, offering a glint of sunshine and a bright, sunny color. Lovely aromas of spring flowers, ripe mountain apples, pears, pineapple, and quince delight the nose. Fresh and lively in the mouth, the medium-bodied 2014 La Vis Chardonnay offers pure fruit flavors and a gentle minerality, much like its French counterparts from the Maconnais in southern Burgundy. There’s no smoke or mirrors in this wine; only unadulterated Chardonnay fruit and the distinct minerality of Italy’s Trentino to delight the senses.

fore-family-vineyards-carneros-napa-valley-pinot-noir-2010The International Wine of the Month Club’s Collectors Series is proud to offer three more superb wines in May. The 2010 Fore Family Carneros Napa Pinot Noir leads the way. This hand-crafted Fore Family Pinot Noir offers superb balance, an entrancing bouquet of Morello cherries, freshly picked strawberries, cinnamon, and assorted baking spices, along with a deep, youthful color, plenty of stuffing, and an array of palate pleasing flavors. Draughts of red and black fruits, rose petals, and Asian spices fill the mouth, while ripe tannins add definition and structure to frame this pretty Pinot’s mid palate.

In our next May Collectors Series offering, the highly allocated 2014 Domaine Gilles Noblet Pouilly-Fuissé demonstrates how low yields and a strict selection process yield superior concentration. Gilles Noblet’s Pouilly-Fuissé offers all one can ask for in a Pouilly-Fuissé, including a bright, sunny color and Noblet’s signature aromatic profile – an intriguing cornucopia of acacia blossoms, mountain apples, and soft mineral tones. Add an elegant, seductive mid palate in a slightly larger than normal format and you have one fine Pouilly-Fuissé.

The medium to full-bodied 2006 Kuyam Cuvee Nolan rounds out this month’s Collectors Series offerings. The 2006 Kuyam Cuvee Nolan, a mere 270 case production, is a blend of five red Bordeaux varieties: Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Petit Verdot, and Malbec, all from Santa Barbara Highlands Vineyard, that drinks like first class Bordeaux. This mature Meritage offers a beautiful purple robe, a complex bouquet of forest blackberries, cassis, boxwood, and unsmoked tobacco, along with plenty of palate-pleasing flavors. Cheers!

Salud!
Don

Pinot Noir: The World’s Most Expensive Wine Need Not Break the Bank

pinot-noir-grapePinot Noir grapes are, without a doubt, one of the world’s most expensive grapes to grow, as well as one of the most difficult grapes to cultivate. Like an orchid, it requires constancy, just the right soil with a precise environment to thrive, and temperatures that are neither too cool nor too warm. More often than not, the temperamental Pinot Noir grape acts as a jealous and demanding lover. However, when the stars align, the terroir is ideal, and the winemaker possesses enough knowledge of the finicky, thin-skinned Pinot Noir grape to know when less is more in the winemaking process, Pinot Noir becomes transfigured and the wine it yields shines with a luster like no other.

Adored by connoisseurs and idolized by collectors and critics, Pinot Noir enjoys worldwide appeal. Pinot Noir’s ancestral home is France, where it is responsible for all of the great red wines of Burgundy, including Chambertin, Clos de Vougeot, and Romanée Conti – the latter being the world’s most expensive wine. For centuries, French Burgundy enjoyed the reputation as the only great Pinot Noir. However, in the past forty years, California’s Carneros, Monterey, Russian River, Santa Barbara, and Santa Lucia Highlands appellations have lured Pinot Noir lovers by fashioning world-class Pinot Noirs. Oregon’s Willamette Valley, New Zealand’s Central Otago, and most recently Chile’s cool Casablanca Valley also rank as meccas for the mercurial Pinot Noir.

Although fine Pinot Noir will never be cheap, it need not break the bank. Some exceptional affordable French Burgundies still exist, including the 2012 Domaine Jacques Girardin Clos Rousseau Premier Cru Santenay, and the 2010 and 2012 Jacques Girardin Les Feuillets Premier Cru Savigny-les-Beaune. From California, Fore Family Vineyards’ 2009 and 2010 Carneros Napa Pinot Noirs truly outperform the pack by delivering complex, age-worthy Pinot Noirs that keep on giving. Benovia, Freeman, Molnar, Paraiso, and Walt are other outstanding boutique California producers of world-class Pinot Noir, but whose wines cost a fraction of most Premier and Grand Cru French Burgundies.

bethel-heights-aeolian-pinot-noir-2012-bottleWalt’s La Brisa and Blue Jay offerings are especially worth seeking out. Oregon’s Willamette Valley holds another treasure trove of outstanding Pinot Noirs. Bethel Heights 2012 Aeolian Estate Eola Amity Hills Pinot Noir is just the most recent success from this pioneering Willamette Valley family estate. And from lands “down under,” few can match Josef Chromy in Tasmania or Rockburn in New Zealand’s Central Otago in fashioning outstanding Pinot Noir. Enjoy!

Salud!
Don

What to Look For In April

cepas-antiguas-rioja-2014In April, The International Wine of the Month Club’s Premier Series offers four special wines.  To begin the parade is Bodegas Martinez Corta’s 2014 Cepas Antiguas Selección Privada Rioja, a wine that constitutes one of the best values in Rioja wine.  This Cepas Antiguas spent just enough time in new French oak barrels, which imbue it with everything it needs to please and succeed in life, including a bright ruby robe, a soft, seductive aroma of blueberry, red cherry, and plum mingled with hints of cinnamon, clove, and vanilla, as well as wonderful flavor and texture.

Our next Premier Series feature is the 2014 Tamellini Soave DOC.  Year after year, Tamellini Soaves consistently impresses critics and consumers alike, as the many 90+ point scores for Tamellini Soaves readily attest.  However, no Tamellini Soave DOC to date outshines the quality and purity of the 2014 Tamellini Soave DOC.

Next in this month’s quartet is the 2011 Santa Lucia Castel del Monte Nero di Troia, a soft, rich, velvety wine with plenty of flesh and backbone.  As a quintessential southern Italian red from one of the region’s indigenous varietals, it offers an eye-popping, deep purple color, a heady aroma, and a big mouthful of wine.

Last, but certainly not least, is a first time offering from Camille Braun.  Thanks to the natural, biodynamic viticultural practices at the estate, the 2014 Camille Braun Cuvée Marguerite-Anne Pinot Blanc offers a delightfully fruity, crisp, delicate glass of Pinot Blanc with superb definition.  Light and ethereal in bouquet and supple and supremely clean on the palate, Camille Braun’s 2014 Pinot Blanc stands out for its pinpoint precision and clean energizing flavors.

beckmen-vineyards-pmv-ballard-canyon-syrah-2013The International Wine of the Month Club’s Collectors Series is proud to offer three more superb wines in April.  Our first April feature is the outstanding 2013 Beckmen Vineyards Purisima Mountain Vineyard Ballard Canyon Syrah, a wine that recently received 93 points from Wine Spectator.  This Syrah catches the eye and captivates the senses from the moment it is poured.  Beguiling scents of blackberry, kirsch, violet, and sizzling bacon pour from the glass.  In the mouth, this dense, beautifully endowed Syrah offers massive appeal in the form of rich berry fruits, plum, dark chocolate, wood smoke, and pepper, all wrapped in polished, tightly-wound tannins.  From its savory bouquet to its authoritative finish, the 2013 Beckmen Vineyards Purisima Mountain Vineyard Ballard Canyon Syrah embodies the essence of great Syrah.

In our next April Collectors Series offering, Clelia Romano clearly demonstrates why her 2014 Colli di Lapio Fiano di Avellino is the premier Fiano and the benchmark by which other premium southern Italian white wines have come to be measured.  Brilliant and sparkling in the glass, the 2014 Colli di Lapio Fiano di Avellino offers up an enticing array of aromas and flavors: spring flowers, stone fruits, and incense all make their appearance and exude a seductive energy with pinpoint precision, refreshing acidity, and gentle minerality.

The 2012 Bethel Heights Aeolian Estate Eola-Amity Hills Pinot Noir rounds out this month’s Collectors Series offerings.  For nearly four decades, Bethel Heights has produced many of Willamette Valley’s most compelling, estate-grown Pinot Noirs.  In fine vintages and fair, Bethel Heights has fashioned top notch Pinot Noir.  In the blessed, highly favored 2012 vintage, Bethel Heights has produced a truly exceptional Aeolian Estate Eola-Amity Hills Pinot Noir.  Consummate winemaking skills, great terroir, and exceptional weather conditions in 2012 have resulted in an outstanding 2012 Bethel Heights Aeolian Estate Eola-Amity Hills Pinot Noir.

Salud!
Don

Rioja: Home to Spain’s Best Red Wine Bargains

TempranilloRioja’s Minister of Tourism describes Rioja as, “a land of history, light and color, vines and wheat, and above all, people for whom friendship is the greatest possible treasure.”  Rioja is indeed a special land, etched by history and endowed by a special wine which shares the region’s name. Spanish Rioja wine is as warm, friendly, and distinctive as the people who inhabit this unique land halfway between Spain’s capital and the towering Pyrenees Mountains.  Rioja is also the most approachable and recognized name in great Spanish wine and the home of Spain’s best red wine bargains.

Vineyards have always influenced the history and character of the people in the Rioja.  Long before France became a bastion of fine wine, the Romans had settled in Iberia and pushed inland from the Mediterranean to the headwaters of the Ebro River and its tiny tributary, Rio Oja, from which Rioja derives its name.  In Rioja, the Romans found ideal conditions for the cultivation of exceptional Spanish grape varietals, like the Tempranillo, Mazuelo, Graciano, and Garnacha (Grenache) grape varieties that today constitute red Rioja.  Given its long history for continuously producing fine red wines, Rioja not surprisingly received Spain’s first Denominación de Origen (D.O.) in 1933.

It is Rioja’s unique blend of red grapes, coupled with an often lavish hiatus in small, mostly American oak barrels, that produces a warm, truly dry, but richly fruity red wine of great finesse and perfume that can appear nearly immortal in great vintages.  Although a few names in Rioja carry hefty price tags, the vast majority of red Rioja comes from 132,000 acres and three distinct zones (Rioja Alavesa, Rioja Alta, and Rioja Baja). These wines sell for far less than wines of comparable quality from elsewhere, making red Rioja one of the planet’s greatest red wine bargains.

Red Rioja comes in four basic styles: Joven, Crianza, Reserva, and Gran Reserva.  The amount of oak barrel aging, coupled with time in the bottle before release, determines the designation. These styles begin with Joven, which receives little or no time in oak barrels, and culminates with Gran Reserva, which matures in barrels for two or more years and cannot be sold before its fifth birthday.

The best bargains in Rioja are among the Joven, Crianza, and Reserva designations.  Some wonderful bargains in red Rioja include the 2014 Martinez Corta Ceps Antiguas Selección Privada, an exuberant Joven Rioja from old vines, the 2012 Bodegas Montaña Crianza, a smooth, aged Rioja that drinks like a fine Reserva, and the 2008 Valenciso Rioja Reserva, Decanter magazine’s Wine of the Year.

As a well-lauded Reserva, the 2008 Valenciso Rioja Reserva sells for considerably more than Joven or Crianza offerings, yet it still constitutes a bargain vis à vis French and Italian wines of comparable quality.  Other wonderful red Rioja producers to look for are Amézola de la Mora, La Rioja Alta Viña Ardanza, and Luis Canas, among others.

Salud!
Don

Châteauneuf-du-Pape: France’s Greatest Appellation

Châteauneuf-du-PapeChâteauneuf-du-Pape sits astride the swift-moving Rhône River in the sun-drenched heart of Provence, known as the Vaucluse.  Blessed with a dry Mediterranean climate ideal for the cultivation of vines and the production of wine, this picturesque wine region fashions a vast array of the world’s greatest red wines, thanks in large part to the proliferation of old-vine Grenache.

Châteauneuf-du-Pape championed France’s Appellation Control and was the first wine region in the world to garner Appellation d’Origine Controlée (AOC) status in 1936.  Châteauneuf-du-Pape became the model for the entire French system of Appellation Control and nearly all other subsequent attempts to guarantee the authenticity of wine and improve the wine of individual wine regions worldwide.  Quality and integrity have long been the hallmarks of Châteauneuf-du-Pape, which led Robert Parker, Jr. and other wine critics to dub Châteauneuf-du-Pape France’s greatest appellation.

Great wine almost always begins with healthy old vines, and Châteauneuf-du-Pape possesses some of the oldest vines in France. The average age of the vines in Châteauneuf-du-Pape is in excess of 40 years, by far the oldest of any major appellation in France, and many of those vines are actually more than 100 years old.

Châteauneuf-du-Pape VineyardIn addition, the entire production of this great wine is hand harvested.  Moreover, there is the region’s fabulous terroir – large, flat stones known as galets roulés that mingle with decomposed gravel.  These remnants of Alpine glaciers, which once covered southern France, form Châteauneuf-du-Pape’s glacial till. This sacred till provides excellent drainage and imparts subtle nuances of flavor to the appellation’s outstanding wines. Many consumers are surprised that both red and white wines emanate from the Châteauneuf-du-Pape region, and that red Châteauneuf-du-Pape may contain up to thirteen legal grape varieties!

Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre, Cinsault, Muscardin, Counoise, Clairette, Bourboulenc, Picpoul, Roussanne, Terret Noir, Picardan, and Vaccarese are all legal grape varieties in Châteauneuf-du-Pape, and a case can be made that there are actually fourteen legal grape varieties in Châteauneuf-du-Pape, as Grenache comes in both red and white varieties.  Although many fine white Châteauneuf-du-Papes now proliferate in the market, red wine still reigns supreme in Châteauneuf-du-Pape, both in terms of quality and quantity.

Hundreds of proprietors fashion red Châteauneuf-du-Pape from the appellation’s more than 8,000 acres, much of it world class.  Some of the most consistent producers of top-notch red Châteauneuf-du-Pape include Château Beaucastel, Domaine Vieux Lazaret, Guigal, and Domaine du Grand Tinel. The latter’s regular estate bottling and luxury Cuvée Establet offerings constitute two of the greatest values in Châteauneuf-du-Pape.

Salud!
Don