05 Jul 2011
Wawawai Canyon Winery is in the heart of wheat country and colleges in Pullman, WA. Among the wheat, David and Stacia Moffet planted the first commercial vineyards in Whitman County since the prohibition. With a hot climate (one of the hottest in the state), and fertile soil, the results have been spectacular for this small winery.
On a previous trip to Pullman I had the pleasure of visiting Wawawai Canyon and Merry Cellars. The facility has modern clean lines and showcases various art exhibits for visitors to enjoy while wine tasting.
For today’s wine review the familiar ACDC Thunderstruck returns for my first video blog in 5 months. Between opening Nectar Tasting Room and having the worlds slowest laptop (which finally gave up the ghost), I’ve not been able to get any videos done. With my new laptop in tow, I’m hoping to be able to deliver more regular videos again.
This proprietary blend contains fruit from the three growing regions that Wawawai Canyon uses in their wine. The blend is 62% Syrah, 25% Carmenere, and 13% Petit Verdot. In the glass the wine is very dark and has shimmering jewel tones on the outer rim. Immediately aromas of cedar, campfire smoke, dark raspberries and licorice jump out of the glass. This is one of those wines where the aroma is as intoxicating as the drink. In the mouth the wine is very elegant and thick. I get immediate flavors of dark chocolate covered raspberry fruit, hints of smoke, a black licorice and anise spice as well. The finish is smooth and lingers for several seconds. At $29, the Ittero ali Rosse is a beautiful blend that delivers on all levels. Once the bottle was empty, I found myself wishing I lived among the wheat fields of the Palouse. 4/5
Every once in a while I receive wines that surprise the heck out of me. They are sometimes at low price points that provide a consistent and approachable tasting experience, some are amazingly vibrant and full representations of the grape varietal, and other times there are small wineries who send samples that truly impress me across the board. This shipment of Benessere wines from Napa, California fits into that last category. The winery sent two of each wine which gave me the opportunity to share with Ben Hilzinger, my main wine slinger at Nectar, as well as with a few friends.
Benesesere (ben-NESS-seh-ray), Italian for prosperity was founded in 1994 by John and Ellen Benish and produces about 5000 cases of Italian varieties and Zinfandel. Benessere farms 36 acres surrounding the winery, predominately Sangiovese and Merlot (27 acres). Winemaker Jack Stuart brings his 36 years of experience to the St. Helena winery where his approach of “not overripe, not over-alcoholic, but graceful flavorful and balanced,” is displayed.
I have to admit I didn’t share this wine. The blend of 49% Zinfandel, 41% Sangiovese and 10% Merlot is made from the run off juice that is drained from the main tanks of what becomes their intensely dark red wines. With only 12-18 hours of skin contact the juice is fermented separately in stainless steel tanks to make this fairly dry “pink” wine. With less than 1% residual sugar the slightly tart wine demonstrates nice balanced flavors of raspberry and spice. At only $16 per bottle this is a winning wine for summer barbeque or hanging out on the boat. 3+/5
2009 Benessere Pinot Grigio
In the glass the nearly colorless wine gives off aromas of lemon zest, and peaches. During the winemaking process the juice spends a few months in neutral oak barrels before bottling. An added depth of complexity is added to the palate of the wine. Boasting flavors of citrus and mild tartness the soft medium acidic finish lends me to believe that the wine will pair well with an array of food. The $22 price tag is a little much for me on this wine. I would encourage a trip to the tasting room to see if it fits in your flavor profile. 3/5
2007 Benessere Sangiovese
The 100% estate Sangiovese comes across slightly darker than its Tuscan counterparts. At 14.4% alcohol by volume the wine is also more alcoholic than the Italian versions. Aromas of wet leather are merged with soft red fruit and spice. The flavor profile is medium bodied and consists of subtle spicy leather, mint, and earthy raspberry. There is a modest amount of acidity and tannin on the back end giving the wine more structure and depth than what I was expecting. In all, a very well made Sangio that gives the characteristics of the grape variety while providing the strength of Napa Valley. At $28 retail, this is a nice wine, 4/5.
2008 Benessere Zinfandel “Black Glass Vineyard”
The 100% estate Zinfandel is 14.7% ABV and spends 18 months in French and American oak barrels. The color is noticeably lighter than many California Zins that I’ve tried. Smells of freshly laid tar are interwoven with the traditional dark strawberry and black pepper. In the mouth there are indications of leather, meat and herbs that nicely accompany the moderately jammy fruit. This is an approachable wine but at the $28 price point reminds me more of something I would find at ½ the price. 3/5
2007 Benessere Zinfandel “Old Vine”
With vines planted in 1923 from Collins Vineyards this Zinfandel lives up to what California Zin is known for. The grapes undergo an 23 day extended maceration to slowly extract the flavor before lumbering for 15 months in French and American oak barrels. With a deep color and flecks of jewel toned purple at the rim, the Zin is moderately robust with aromas of blackberry and earth along with tobacco. The palate reminds Ben of cherry Shesha and me of flowers and strawberry jam. If you like fruit forward Zinfandel then this is a wine you will definitely enjoy. The modest price point of $32 makes this an attainable treat too. 4/5
2006 Benessere Phenomenon
An estate super Tuscan blend of 56% Cabernet, 37% Sangiovese, 5% Merlot and 2% Syrah. The dark bold colored wine went through a gentle handling wine making process with careful attention paid at each step. The flagship wine was bottle aged a full 12 months before being released in 2009. When sharing this wine with a friend, she said, “WOW, this is an amazing wine.” This statement was said before revealing anything about the blend, price or geography. Full complex flavors invade every portion of the palate including oak, olives, sweet vanilla, tobacco and dark red fruits. Every aspect of the wine continues for an eternity on the finish providing an incredibly enjoyable experience. So far, for 2011, this is the best wine I’ve had the pleasure of enjoying. 4+/5 ($50)
07 Jun 2011
Back in November I tried my very first Virginia wines. A quick review of the post reminds me that I was blown away by 2009 Keswick Vineyards Viognier and moderately surprised by the Kluge Brut Rose. With the 2011 Wine Bloggers Conference coming up in late July, Virginia is poised to be the center of the online wine world for 3 days.
Smartly, members of the Virginia wine community are getting wine into the hands of wine writers ahead of the event. As I often teach, the blog posts that come out of the tasting will jump to the top of search engine results when bloggers and consumers start to do some research. Frank Morgan of @drinkwhatulike / DrinkWhatYouLike.com was one of the main tasting hosts in the online tasting.
The speed tasting of six wines in a sixty minute span included such world renowned bloggers as @lenndevours of New York Cork Report, @suburbanwino of Suburbanwino.com and @wineharlots of WineHarlots.com. If anyone was up to the task, it would be these guys.
As usual the tasting event bumped into a private event that was scheduled at Nectar. And, as even more usual, this post is way delayed as the event happened on May 24.
As these wines were tasted in a very quick fashion, I’ll share my brief synopsis, initial impressions and overall score. I did enjoy the wines for a few days after the online event and some of the added notes come from these experiences.
2010 Keswick Vineyards Verdejo
The first wine of the night came from the makers of the Viognier that wowed me back in November. It is great to see the Spanish grape Verdejo coming out of Virginia. The wine was cold fermented for 29 days until it was bone dry. A modest aroma of tart citrus and alfalfa come out of the glass. The mouth is very Sauv Blanc’ish’ and boasts a great acidity. The low 12.8% alcohol is a welcome site. I really enjoyed this wine, and for $18.95 it is a good price point for a crisp citrus summer wine. 3+/5
2010 Veritas Sauv Blanc Reserve
While, I’m not in the habit of paying $25 for a Sauvignon Blanc when there are many great ones to be had for under $20, the Veritas did shine a little truth into my world about the potential of this grape in Virginia. This bone dry Sauv Blanc came across very much like it’s New Zealand cousins as grassy with a little grapefruit and cat pee (trust me, not as bad as you would think). Most wine drinkers would be able to pick this out of a line up as a Sauv Blanc with the traditional tart acidic finish. At this price, only going 3/5
2010 Boxwood Topiary Rose
Ahhh, nothin’ says summer like sippin on a dry Rose! This blend of 75% Cab Franc and 25% Malbec has an extremely orange hue to it. Aromas of rhubarb, melons and herbs came out of the glass. In the mouth the wine seemed a little light overall on flavor but the mellow fruit and herbs balance made for a great experience. Like most dry Rose this wine would pair extremely well with all kinds of light summer food. $14, 3+/5
2010 Jefferson Vineyards Viognier
A very curious blend of 75% Viognier, 14% Riesling, 7% Chardonnay and 4% Petit Manseng. Three-quarters of this wine spent six months in neutral oak and an interesting aging of adding the lees (skins) of the remaining grapes back to the wine make for some very bold flavors and aromas. The plain branded label is rescued by the strong aroma of honey, guava and lemon. The mouth feel has a hint of oak but is a nice addition to the thickness of the wine. At $25 this is a fantastic Viognier, 3+/5
2010 Chrysalis Vineyards
This 100% Viognier spends 5 months in oak (95% neutral and 5% new). Very traditional flower fragrance and tropical fruit present itself in this wine. After coming off the Jefferson Viognier, this wine is a little less dramatic. The nearly $30 price tag is a big turn off for me. 3/5
This is my first experience with Petit Manseng. At first sniff the wine strikes me with apricot and a slightly sweet pineapple. After sipping the wine, I was shocked to learn that the wine had only 1% residual sugar. The apparent sweetness in the mouth made me think at least 3-4% RS. The wine had a fantastic balance of tart citrus acid and sweet peach, pineapple and apple. At $17, I can very strongly recommend this wine if you can find it. With only 150 cases produced, you may want to make a trip to Lovingston winery soon. 3+/5
27 Apr 2011
Earlier this year I made the observation that I’ve tasted a lot of wine from Washington. While I’m a huge fan of Washington Wine, I made the comment that I needed to expand my horizons and tasting experiences. So far, I’ve been fortunate this year to enjoy wine from Bordeaux, South Africa, Beaujolais (notes coming soon), Chile, and Italy. In 2010 only 1 non-American wine made my top 10 list – a Chilean red blend of Syrah, Cabernet, Carmenere, Merlot, Petit Verdot, and Mourvedre. Chile makes a lot of wine. In fact, they are the fifth largest exporter of wine in the world. In all, I’ve officially explored about 20 Chilean wines in regular tastings and Wines of Chile tastings.
I’m impressed by the focus on engaging wine bloggers to “get the word out” about the various regions of Chile. While I recently participated in a Chilean wine tasting called #redblends, the following wines were sent by Vina Santa Carolina winery. With over 125 years of history and heritage in seven Chilean wine regions, Vina Santa Carolina showcases quality wine at a value.
Approximately right in the middle of the long narrow country of Chile is the region of Maule Valley. This 100% Pinot Noir is fairly substantive in the glass with a thicker than expected crimson color. The cooler climate Pinot starts off like many of the Chilean wines I’ve had lately with hints of burnt rubber. After letting this wine sit for about an hour the magic shines through. A very soft perfumed blueberry is shy in the glass. Subtle candy aromas come out as well. In the mouth the wine is soft on the front palate but offers a touch of sweetness, light tannin and pepper on the back end and finish. The 14.5% alcohol is well balanced with the acidity. A little research shows that this wine is available online for around $10. A fantastic value even at $20. Easily a 3+/5 and a tremendous buy for any Pinot Noir lover.
- 88pts Robert Parker and Best Buy from Wine Enthusiast
Hailing from the HOT Maipo Valley is the 100% Cabernet Sauvignon. The weight of the muscular heavy bottle shouts strength and power. In the glass the wine is dark, thick and inky. The 12 months in new French oak help to impart a nicely balanced aroma of dark chocolate and toast. EVEN more aromas of dark red fruit jump out of the glass along with hints of holiday baking spices (think pumpkin). In the mouth this wine is a full bodied delight of fruit, cedar and oak. While lacking an evolving flavor profile the straight forward approach is tastefully done. Put Napa on this wine and you’ve got a price tag of $39. This Chilean wine comes in at under $20. 3+/5
- 88 Pts Wine Enthusiast
Chile’s flagship grape, previously mistaken for Merlot, shines bright in this wine. The 12 months in French oak are not overpowering and offer the perfect balance of fruit and thickness. After a brief decanting the wine loses the notable burnt rubber aroma and gives way to a beautiful minty blackberry aroma. Smelling this wine was almost as enjoyable as drinking it. The wine is dark and intense in the glass. A slight herbaciousness on the nose gives way to a very complex flavor of red fruit, baking spice and thick plum. A light tannin joins the medium finish on the back end. I often describe wine as being ‘one note wonders’ or just offering ‘two dimensions.’ This Carmenere is the full package of aroma and complex flavor. Again, under $20, scores a strong 4/5.
- Robert Parker 90 Pts
In conclusion, these are three wines that I will not only keep my eyes out for, they are wines I will strongly endorse in the good tasting under $20 range. Go Chile – keep up the great work!
21 Apr 2011
Let’s try a little word association game. I say Malbec you say <fill in the blank>. Let’s continue, I say value $10 and under wine, you say <insert thoughts here>. I would venture to guess that the same words might apply to both for a good majority of wine drinkers. Argentinian Malbec has crushed the “value to quality” category over the last few years becoming the fastest growing wine category.
For years Argentinians consumed 90% of the wine they produced (which was a lot at the tune of 60 bottles per capita). This decade has seen a massive shift in the amount of wine exported. Chances are, if you’ve had Malbec, you’ve had wine from Argentina (to the chagrin of the French folks from Cahors).
When I received a box of eight Malbec under the guise of Malbec Madness, I couldn’t help but pair the wine with the exciting college basketball happening in March and early April. I recognized a few of the labels from purchases at a local market and was excited to put the wines to the test with my own Malbec Madness bracket. At first the wines were tasted without looking at the notes. I didn’t want the price points to sway my initial judgment, so I tasted them semi-blind (maybe blurry is a better term – especially after tasting through all 8). There were a few immediate stand outs, but I set aside my notes, re-corked the wines and decided to re-visit them later…over the Elite 8 games.
I decided to pair the wines in an Elite 8 format with the 1-8 seeds based on price point.
07 Trapiche Icons ($55) vs. 09 Falling Star ($6)
The 1/8 seed match up was a disjointed sloppy mess of a game. The Icons came out ready to dominate. With a bottle twice the weight of the Falling Star it seemed as if the wine didn’t even matter. Once the game began the 07 Trapiche showed its power with 18 months of aging in new French Oak and amazing aromas of perfume, espresso, and spice. The wine was thick in the mouth without being overbearing. “Oh my god, this is good,” was the play of the night. The Falling Star committed too many turnovers to compete but showed a hint of flare with a bright juicy candy and banana aroma followed with a soft and elegant mouth feel. In the end the sharp off putting finish and lack of multi-dimensional game plan kept this wine from making a game of it.
07 Trapiche Icons Malbec (Mendoza) 4/5
09 Falling Star Malbec (Mendoza) 3/5
10 Michael Torino ($13) vs. 08 Trapiche Oak Cask ($10)
On paper this was a pretty even match up (4 seed vs. 5 seed). The high elevation M. Torino was is a young team with very little experience playing well against the extended maceration 08 Trapiche which spent 12 months in French and American oak. In the end the intensity of the Trapiche and its bold blackberry and vanilla smooth texture won out over the shallow and tart play of the M. Tornio (lacked any layers of fruit or flavor).
08 Trapiche Oak Cask (Mendoza) 3+/5
10 Michel Torino Malbec (Cafayate Valley) 3/5
08 M. Torino Don David ($16) vs. 10 Astica ($6)
This 2/7 seed match up was close until half time. At that point the experience and varied flavor of the Michel Torino Don David came through. With a super thick black core producing aromas of plum, raisin, and almonds the depth of flavor was superior to the restrained nose under-ripe fruit and semi-sweet profile of the Astica. Both wines are very fruit forward but lacked the depth of game to compete at the next level. It will be an interesting round two match up for the M. Torino.
08 Michel Torino Don David Malbec (Cafayate Valley) 3/5
10 Astica Malbec (Cuyo) 3-/5
08 Trapiche Broquel ($15) vs. 09 Trapiche Varietals ($7.50)
The 3/6 seed match up was a very well played game. Both wines showcased their Mendoza fruit forward heritage. For over 125 years Trapiche has been making fine Argentinean wine. With a little sibling rivalry the Trapiche Broquel shows more age spending 25 days of extended maceration in concrete and 15 months in French and American oak. The youthful Trapiche Varietals comes out strong with elegant fruit and hints of rosemary, vanilla and evergreen tree. The soft fruit feel is accented by pencil lead, medium tannin and a good finish. The Broquel also scores with chalk and pencil lead but in the end shows its strength by displaying strong characteristics of blueberry, vanilla smoke and a long finish. At $15 this is a very good bargain.
08 Trapiche Broquel Malbec (Mendoza) 3+/5
09 Trapiche Varietals Malbec (Mendoza) 3/5
Round two sees the dominant #1 seed Trapiche Icons advance to play the under $10 Trapiche Oak Cask Malbec. The #2 and #3 seed wines advanced with solid play making for a solid second round match up between 08 Michel Torino Don David and the 08 Trapiche Broquel.
The 1/5 match up between the two Trapiche wines was a well played game sure to go down as a classic. Far outmatched the 08 Oak Cask kept pace for most of the game with the 07 Icons. In the end the depth of flavor and aroma of the Icons proved to be too overwhelming. At just $9.99, the Trapiche Oak Cask is a solid wine worthy of many evening sips. Great work keeping pace with a wine 5x its price.
The 2/3 Match up pitted two well matched teams from different areas but of similar price points ($15). Michel Torino Don David (the favorite) started strong but in the end the subtle tannin and long finish of the Trapiche Broquel won out.
This 1/3 match up was extremely mis-matched in price points ($55 to $15) but very well matched in overall flavor, structure and intensity. While the Broquel fits in to the standard price point for a daily drinker, the Trapiche Icons dominated the boards with a consistent flavor, structure, balance, and finish that showed why it is deserving of the price point.
Overall Winner –07 Trapiche Icons Malbec (4/5)
Best Value – 09 Trapiche Varietals (3/5)
Solid – 08 Trapiche Broquel (3+/5)