We did a buy-in on the 2014 Elk Cove Willamette Valley Pinot Noir, and it allowed us to drop the price from $28 to $24. I figured I had better grab a bottle to write up before it all disappears! Elk Cove Vineyards was founded by the Campbell family in 1974 and is still family owned. The fruit for this bottle is a blend from all five of Elk Cove’s vineyard sites: Estate, Mount Richmond, Five Mountain, Clay Court, and Windhill. The wine is aged for 10 months in French oak of which 20 percent is new. On the nose, the wine shows cherry, light strawberry, a touch of earth and some baking spice. On the palate, it is very soft and has a lovely texture showing strawberry jam, Bing cherry, cherry cola, cranberry and a little orange peel. This wine is drinking very well now, and I would lay in enough to drink over the next one to two years.
Normally I am not drawn to Torrontes, as I usually find them a bit insipid and overtly floral. But we recently poured wines from the Crios line and their Torrontes is absolutely fantastic. Crios is the entry level for Susana Balbo Wines. Having worked at a number of top estates around the globe, Susana Balbo is recognized as one of Argentina’s top winemakers. Earning her degree in enology in 1981, she was the first woman in Argentina to do so. The Crios line-up provides top quality at a very reasonable price. This Torrontes is bright and fresh, with tropical notes and crisp acidity. The Wine Advocate gave it 90 points. At $10.99, it’s a steal!
It all started when our manager, Kathy, asked me to do a project in the Wine Shop. The task involved moving every bottle of wine in our Portuguese section. Oh my! Being the new kid on the block, my knowledge has been expanding as fast as my curiosity in the vast World of Wine. You’ve probably heard of Ports, those justly famous fortified dessert wines, but what about the other wines from Portugal? Portuguese wine production dates all the way back to Roman times, and there are over 500 indigenous grape varieties. I chose this very affordable Portuguese red. At first, the name, Silk & Spice, was a turn off, but I decided to go with it. After all, Portugal is the country that pioneered the Cape route, sparking the maritime trade of those goods to Europe. I was instantly intrigued with its very dark ruby color and great legs! The nose is very complex with notes of vanilla, mushroom and a little tobacco. The flavor starts out dry and very fruit forward with plum and raisin. Then there is a following that’s hard to describe—floral, honey, slightly sweet. Finally, on the finish you get a little pepper and mineral. Overall, pleasant sipping, and at $10.99, a definite bargain. Enjoy!
As you would expect from their location, this Loire property is best known for their Muscadet wines made from the Melon de Bourgogne grape grown primarily in that region. But the Chon brothers, who own the estate, have family roots in Burgundy dating back to the 17th Century, so it’s not so surprising that they offer this Chardonnay as well. The wine itself is something of a surprise, fresh and light with floral ripe apple aromas. The supple palate offers soft citrus and stone fruit flavors with a subtle hint of black walnut that makes you think Chenin Blanc (another Loire variety) rather than Chardonnay. That said, it’s a very appealing style, intriguingly different, well priced and with a nice hit of acidity on the finish that works well when paired with food. It’s a nice plus that they farm their 150 acres of vineyard organically.
I don’t have a lot of experience with Portuguese red table wines, but in a couple of weeks, my wife and I are traveling there for the first time, so I thought it was time to try some. This wine hails from the heart of the Douro wine region, certainly Portugal’s most famous. The Quinta Vallado estate has been in the Ferreira family for six generations, producing wine from the native grapes of the area: Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz, Tinta Franca, and Sousao, all of which contribute to this red blend. I found the wine to show intense dark fruit aromas, good structure with round tannins and a long persistent finish. It was aged in stainless steel tanks and neutral French oak, which I think suits its punchy but easy-going fruit-forward nature. It is no wallflower however, as it has enough concentration and depth of flavor to pair with hearty dishes and red meats. This was an auspicious introduction to Portuguese wines, and I think I’m going to enjoy expanding my experience with them during our upcoming trip and beyond.
Like most of us I’ve kind of forgotten about Zinfandels. America’s grape, America’s wine, it went the way Merlot did a while back. Because it was the favorite of hippie winemakers in the sixties and seventies (remember when wineries were owned by people who weren’t lawyers or dentists?), Zinfandels were the romantic favorite from California. But like Merlot, demand created overproduction and sloppier wines—then of course demand dwindled to white Zinfandels.
But I want to like Zins again. I want to be a romantic hippie again. Fortunately, there are still some die-hard Zinfandel producers making wonderful wines. I picked this one because it is from a family producer using their own (Truchard) vineyard fruit. Good call. Dark, brooding, brambly fruit up front that finishes with delicate strawberry and blueberry hints. Great notes of sixties- era brown leather backpack and, though by no means an alcohol bomb at 14.5%, it does carry just an edge of that Zin/alcohol sweetness. Though they never truly went away, ZINS ARE BACK!
When people think of Beaujolais they mostly think of red wines; however, my pick this month is a white one and it deserves some recognition. Made from 100 percent Chardonnay (Beaujolais is part of Burgundy) this wine isn't going to blow your mind with its complexity, but it will impress you by how awesome it is for this price point. This mineral and saline driven wine has aromas and flavors of tree fruits, and delicate flowers. It drinks really well now with great texture and balance. This is a superb value on a wine from a really lovely vintage for white Burgundy. The wine will pair well with just about any food that calls for a white wine. I tasted the 2015 recently and even though it is going to be a great value as well, you don't want to miss out on this tasty wine from a special vintage!
Ah, the elegance and purity of a good Chablis! Chablis is the northernmost Burgundian region, therefore wines produced there are technically white Burgundy. While they are both Chardonnay based, the comparison stops right there. The weather in Chablis tends to be cool, rainy, and sometimes downright miserable. The consequent result of this climate is a white wine known for its austerity and unadorned, honest integrity. One must also mention the abundant limestone chalkiness of the stony soils that are nearly always damp and cold. Because of the tendency of this region to experience sudden drops in temperature, wine-makers in Chablis will frequently employ extravagant techniques to prevent the delicate Chardonnay grapes from freezing. Slow-burning chaufferettes (little stoves) are placed between rows in an effort to minimize the damage caused by freezing conditions. Additionally, Chablis producers will employ the “water aspersion method” where vines are deliberately sprayed with water at critical moments in order to develop a thin coating of ice, which is designed to insulate them against any further drops in temperature. These are merely two of many examples of intensive care given to grapes grown in a region that has produced some of the world’s finest wines since the 11th Century!
To present an accurate description of the experience of enjoying a good Chablis, think of the feeling you get when you are indoors, curled up with a good book, comfortably reading and deeply engaged—while outside, it is cold, rainy, and miserable. Think of the blissful contrast of cold misery outside combined with the comfort and intellectual stimulation reading indoors. Such are the positive attributes of a great Chablis—cool, pure simplicity, drizzling with minerality and an honest freshness that reminds us that all is well, in spite of the chaotic harshness of the outside world. If a buttery, voluptuous California Chardonnay is Marilyn Monroe, then Chablis is Grace Kelly in a grey flannel suit with a pure-white linen blouse and sterling silver accessories. Chablis is the “Hitchcock Blonde” of wines!
Domaine Billaud-Simon’s Chablis Tete d’Or 2015 is a reasonably priced, excellent Chablis that delights the drinker with everything a good Chablis should be. Fermented in stainless steel, then aged in 80 percent stainless, and 20 percent oak for added texture—it’s refreshing flavor and faint traces of oak and butter, enable it to stand proudly with head held high among all the other great wines from this region. The nose offers subtle citrus and white flowers; the palate is smooth and rich. It is perfectly balanced, lively yet discreet, slightly fruity yet refined, offering steely minerality without being too dry. For those of you that have yet to enjoy Chablis, this is an inexpensive, tremendous credit to one of France’s most coveted and virtuous wines. Drink now and pair beautifully with halibut, monkfish, cod, or even chicken-salad.