No Bullsh*t Wine (Cowhorn Vineyard Recent Releases)

One could be forgiven for expecting an overdose of “yes, I did in fact write those checks” bullsh*t when visiting Cowhorn Vineyard & Garden in Oregon’s Applegate Valley, based solely on the facts that

a) it takes its name from the most infamous preparation (#500, which involves burying a cow’s horn full of manure) in wine’s most infamous set of farming practices (Biodynamics), and

b) founders Barbara and Bill Steele are former CFO/CFA financial types who, after leaving Wall Street and before establishing Cowhorn (despite not having a single lick of winegrowing experience) lived what they call a “homeopathic lifestyle in Marin County.”

No Bullsh*t Wine (Cowhorn Vineyard Recent Releases)

Cowhorn co-fouder Barbara Steele

One’s skepticism about the Steele’s seriousness regarding their 25-or-so acres of vines and 4,000-or-so case production could be forgiven, but one’s skepticism would also be quite wrong. I mean, you’ll want to be skeptical about, for example, the earnestness of Bill Steele’s long hair, but then you’ll find out that he makes his own sulfites. And that the Steele’s spent two years researching the right place to plant vines before breaking ground on Cowhorn in 2002, planning on Biodynamics viticulture from the get-go (with Alan York consulting), and despite its under-the-radar status and various environmental challenges (ripening is actually the main challenge there, as they are farming Rhône varieties, and the cold air from the surrounding hills makes this a cooler spot by Applegate standards) chose Southern Oregon anyway.

And then there’s the farming mentality employed at Cowhorn, which feels downright legit when the Steele’s are waxing philosophic about it; as Barbara put it, “It’s the people behind it that makes this kind of viticulture possible for the Applegate Valley.” Even their yeast situation is kind of endearing; Bill mentioned that that six unique strains were identified there, primarily due to the 100+ acres of property having been left isolated so long before the Steele’s bought it.

And then… then you’ll taste their wines, which all have a consistent and defining element of being well-crafted and yet still characterful; not overly polished, showing their edginess and angularity while still retaining a sense of elegance. In other words, the only thing full of bullsh*t will be your own silly preconceived notions about their outfit…

No Bullsh*t Wine (Cowhorn Vineyard Recent Releases)2017 Cowhorn Spiral 36 White (Applegate Valley, $28)

Yes, the “spiral” in the name is (predictably) an homage to the notion of the vortex in Biodynamic preparations (and including the vineyard block numbers of the fruit sources). A blend of primarily Marsanne, with Viognier and Roussane rounding it out, mostly co-fermented, with twenty percent new oak, this is a white that elegantly straddles the line between easy sipping and complex contemplation. It’s mineral, peachy, floral, and has length that outpaces its sub-$30 price-point.

 

No Bullsh*t Wine (Cowhorn Vineyard Recent Releases)2016 Cowhorn Reserve Viognier (Applegate Valley, $50)

This barrel selection release is sold out, so you’ll likely have to wait for subsequent vintages, which kind of sucks, because as Brian Steele put it, this white hails from “that magical barrel” and while I didn’t see any witchcraft performed during my visit, after tasting this I’m not ruling out the barrel actually having some magical powers. The wine seems younger than its still-youthful two years; it’s taught, herbal, floral and, despite not having undergone malolactic fermentation, has ample body and broadness to its textural mouthfeel and ripe pear flavors.

No Bullsh*t Wine (Cowhorn Vineyard Recent Releases)

No Bullsh*t Wine (Cowhorn Vineyard Recent Releases)2015 Cowhorn Vineyard Grenache 53 (Applegate Valley, $45)

When it comes to Grenache, Bill Steele warned that “too light, too fruity, and you’re into Kool-Aid land.” Thankfully, no one will be jumping through brick walls screaming “Ohhhh YEAH!” when tasting this one… or will they? Anyway, it avoids the Kool-Aid trap entirely, though it absolutely is peppery, lithe, spritely, and spicy, with clean and bright berry fruitiness without ignoring its earthy, stemmy, structured side.

 

No Bullsh*t Wine (Cowhorn Vineyard Recent Releases)2014 Cowhorn Vineyard Syrah 8 (Applegate Valley, $45)

About 800 cases of this Syrah were made, and each one is probably on the verge of bursting from its muscular, sinewy seriousness. Mineral-driven, with dark berries and even darker dried herb and spice aromas, things get earthy here very quickly, but maintain a sense of aromatic lift.

 

No Bullsh*t Wine (Cowhorn Vineyard Recent Releases)2013 Cowhorn Vineyard Syrah 21 (Applegate Valley, $45)

At this point, I was getting sick of the numbers, too, but it was nice to get a feel for what a slightly older vintage of Cowhorn’s reds could do after some repose in the bottle (and for this release, the 21 refers to the number of frost days they encountered during the season). Interestingly, this red saw 40% new oak and 40% whole cluster, which lends more peppery and cedar spice action to the mix, on top of earth, and berries galore. It’s funky, meaty, fresh, and vibrant Syrah, with nice textural grip; a great one for the Foodie set and the just-gimmie-a-good-red set alike.

No Bullsh*t Wine (Cowhorn Vineyard Recent Releases)

No Bullsh*t Wine (Cowhorn Vineyard Recent Releases)2014 Cowhorn Sentience (Applegate Valley, $55)

This one is billed as Cowhorn’s “winemaker’s blend,” with 35% whole cluster and 35% new oak. It’s the silky, rich, round, sexy cousin of their Syrah-based lineup, and while it retains some of the muscular structure of the 8 and 21, there is no denying all of that “bedroom eyes” fruitiness here.

 

No Bullsh*t Wine (Cowhorn Vineyard Recent Releases)2014 Cowhorn Reserve Syrah (Applegate Valley, $75)

Blackberries and a lithe, peppery, spicy profile are the hallmarks of this characterful, brambly stunner. The acids are jumping, the meatiness is present, the structure is at turns burly and refined. Basically, 200 cases of balanced presentation, in which there is plenty of edginess but not at the expense of a clean, clear, and powerful approach. In case you’re wondering, the 2013 is even better; it’s superb, with the plummy, meaty, and spicy/sage/pepper/cedar expressions opening up a bit more with age and fronting a finish that is minutes long.

Cheers!

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Copyright © 2016. Originally at No Bullsh*t Wine (Cowhorn Vineyard Recent Releases) from 1WineDude.com - for personal, non-commercial use only. Cheers!

Block & Tackle (Troon Vineyard Recent Releases)

You know that your brand is in trouble when, instead of talking about your forty-plus-year history in a nascent wine region, or your long hours of sun, 1300-foot vineyard elevation, diurnal temperature shifts of over fifty degrees Fahrenheit, or any of the other factors that make your terroir an ideal place for ripening interesting grape varieties, all anyone can mention is how your family business heir apparent allegedly got blowies during a commercial airplane flight.

That Troon Vineyards is now, only five years removed from that controversy, viewed as an Applegate Valley pioneer and a purveyor of some of Southern Oregon’s most promising and interesting wines is a minor PR miracle, made possible through the yeoman’s work provided by a combination of team players: new owners Bryan and Denise White (a Texas couple who started with the acquisition of nearby O’Neill Vineyard, then purchasing Troon in 2017), pedigreed winemaker Steve Hall, and impossibly indefatigable general manager Craig Camp.

Block & Tackle (Troon Vineyard Recent Releases)

Take heed!

When Napa-area veteran Camp came on board at Troon to help get the entity into more attractive sale shape, he told me that he was immediately impressed with the potential, given how good the wines already were. He focused first on ensuring that the operational and marketing basics were on solid footing – “block and tackle, man, block and tackle.” The additions of foot-treading and Biodynamics to the mix helped to put the finishing touches on the approach, and Troon was, in a very real sense, thus reborn as a brand.

What hasn’t changed is that Troon’s small vineyard location is capable of some excellent winegrowing magic when the right varieties are planted. Troon is more or less surrounded by the Siskiyou Mountains, near a wider section of the Applegate River, with river bench soils that consist of pieces of ancient seabed, granite, and sediment. “We have a mostly Northern California climate here,” Craig noted, “with a shorter growing season. So we can produce wines with European ‘weights.'”

Put another way, as winemaker Steve Hall noted when summarizing Troon’s current approach, “you do what can to make something… beautiful…”

Block & Tackle (Troon Vineyard Recent Releases)2017 Troon Vineyard Vermentino (Applegate Valley, $16)

Speaking of beautiful… or, at the very least, substantially pretty… Southern OR seems an unlikely spot for what Steve Hall called “a kind of dangerous animal all-around,” but Vermentino shines here. This example is bright, citric, focused, and lovely, with lees notes rounding out a mineral, nutty backbone.

Block & Tackle (Troon Vineyard Recent Releases)2017 Troon Vineyard Cuvée Rolle (Applegate Valley, $20)

Ten percent Marsanne (picked the same day) is added to this slightly more substantial Vermentino take; it’s less nutty, more floral, and a lot more tropical than its more modest little sister label. It’s also broader, richer, and more textural, which means that you can swap it on unsuspecting Chardonnay lovers.

 

Block & Tackle (Troon Vineyard Recent Releases)

Block & Tackle (Troon Vineyard Recent Releases)2017 Troon Vineyard Roussanne (Applegate Valley, $35)

Unique and characterful, you’ll need to bring your penchant for a pleasing astringent “bite” when drinking this white. It’s worth it, too, for the tropical fruit and white flower aromas, hints of saline and herbs, and its smooth, broad oiliness.

 

Block & Tackle (Troon Vineyard Recent Releases)2017 Troon Vineyard Kubli Bench Blanc (Applegate Valley, $35)

A blend of Marsanne and Viognier, this might be the most excellent “sleeper” wine in Troon’s white lineup. Flowers, citrus, stone fruits, and perfume kick things off, followed by a beguiling, fleshy/flinty/mineral entry that moves to a broad, sexy, silky palate. The finish is long, structured, and demands attention.

 

Block & Tackle (Troon Vineyard Recent Releases)

Block & Tackle (Troon Vineyard Recent Releases)2017 Troon Vineyard Riesling Whole Grape Ferment (Applegate Valley, $20)

Block & Tackle (Troon Vineyard Recent Releases)I love this little oddball. Technically, this is an orange wine, and while it’s not quite cloudy, you do get the rosé-not-quite feel from the amber color and visual density. There’s ample skin astringency, of course, but it’s in the form of lime and citrus pith, the way that orange peels make their way into a good plate of orange chicken at your favorite Chinese food joint. The bottom line is that this is an orange wine of which you can actually enjoy an entire glass, which puts it into somewhat rarefied territory.

Block & Tackle (Troon Vineyard Recent Releases)2016 Troon Vineyard Cuvée Côt Malbec (Applegate Valley, $30)

The words “elegant” and “Malbec” aren’t often used in close proximity of one another, but in this case the use case is justified. Remember what Camp said about “European weights?” I think he had this red in mind at the time. Spices, herbs, green tobacco, plums, earth, leather, and tart red berry fruits, it’s hard not conjure up images of good Cahors when sipping this homage to the European patrimony of the grape.

Block & Tackle (Troon Vineyard Recent Releases)2015 Troon Vineyard Tannat (Applegate Valley, $35)

Even in its best forms, Tannat is a grape that’s a hard sell outside of a steakhouse. Having said that, there’s something about the Troon site that tames this grape’s burly tannins and makes for a pleasant experience without having to wait eight years for things to soften up first. The textbook stuff is all there: tobacco, leather, deep and dark sour cherry fruit, cocoa, and a crap-ton of acidity and structure. But you can get away with pouring this one even if you’re not within chomping distance of a slab of meat.

Block & Tackle (Troon Vineyard Recent Releases)2015 Troon Vineyard M*T Cuvée Pyrénées (Applegate Valley, $50)

Troon’s flagship red is a mix of Malbec and Tannat, and that mix is a complex beast. First, there are more delicate aspects: violets, herbs, spices, plums, and silkiness. Then, there are the rough-and-ready compliments: tobacco, smoke, dark red fruits, and leather. Its penchant for being demanding doesn’t stop once it’s in your mouth, either – that’s where you have to come to terms with the tensions between the wine’s grip/power and its lithe, almost electric finish. I wish more wines like this were being made out West.

Cheers!

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You Say “Oyster,” I Say “Alsace” (Lucien Albrecht Recent Releases)

Lucien Albrecht’s Jérôme Keller surveys the Oysterhouse Philly bounty

Not too long ago – ok, well, actually, several months ago, but I’m just getting back around to the topic now because I’ve been busy being all self-employed and day-drinking and what-not – I was invited to lunch with the dry-humored Jérôme Keller, Technical Director/Oenologist for Alsace stalwart produce Lucien Albrecht. Now, it hasn’t been all that long (especially by my warped standards) since I devoted quite a bit of the virtual page space here on 1WD to Alsace, but when you’re a wine-geek-turned-critic-type you don’t turn down an opportunity to a) get reacquainted with one of the first three Alsatian firms to have helped launched the Crémant d’Alsace AOC (which, like me, dates back to the early 1970s), which now comprises about 70% of their total production; and b) eat at Phlly’s Oyster House restaurant.

So, yeah, I did those. And while it’s taken me a few months to get around to writing it up, if you consider that we’re talking about a producer whose Alsatian roots can be traced back to 1698 (when Balthazar Albrecht settled in Orschwihr) and whose winemaking roots date back to 1425 (when the impossibly-impressively-named Romanus Albrecht started the winery), then I think I can be forgiven for some tardiness, especially from that timeline perspective.

Anyway, Keller has done some work in the USofA, having participated in harvest at Sonoma Cutrer, so he understands (or at least is adept at faking to understand) what passes for American humor, so we got along swimmingly, popping shellfish and tasting through some of the more recent Albrecht wares (and yes, the food/wine match went as lovably, gluttonously well as you’d expect)…

You Say “Oyster,” I Say “Alsace” (Lucien Albrecht Recent Releases)NV Lucien Albrecht Cremant d’Alsace Rosé Brut (Alsace, $23)

Almost no one has been doing Cremant in Alsace as long as Lucien Albrecht, and that long-standing experience is evident in this lovely, 100% full-bunch-pressed Pinot Noir bubbly, which spends about 14 months in the bottle. “Our style,” noted Keller, “is to have bright red fruits.” Mission accomplished; you get lots of red berries here, an admirably rich palate, and a finish that’s longer than you’re paying for at this price point.

You Say “Oyster,” I Say “Alsace” (Lucien Albrecht Recent Releases)

You Say “Oyster,” I Say “Alsace” (Lucien Albrecht Recent Releases)2013 Lucien Albrecht Brut Chardonnay (Cremant d’Alsace , $45)

A new release, meant to showcase the “linerality” of their Chardonnay, according to Keller. Barrel aged and fermented, with malo and lees action for three years in the bottle, this sparkler is made form grapes that are selected from primarily limestone-soil vineyards. The result is intensely floral and toasty on the nose, and yeasty, peachy, perky,and textural in the mouth. It’s the kind of bubbly that makes it very, very difficult to not drink half the bottle embarrassingly quickly.

You Say “Oyster,” I Say “Alsace” (Lucien Albrecht Recent Releases)

You Say “Oyster,” I Say “Alsace” (Lucien Albrecht Recent Releases)2016 Lucien Albrecht Pinot Blanc “Cuvée Balthazar” (Alsace, $17)

Albrecht wisely (ha-ha!) grow their PB in a warmer area of their Alsatian vineyards, and add a bit Auxerrois to the final blend; what you end up with are the tropical and melon aromas you’d expect, a pleasantly plump and sexy mouthfeel, and an underpinning of astringency and lift. Think white fish recipes for dinner.

You Say “Oyster,” I Say “Alsace” (Lucien Albrecht Recent Releases)

You Say “Oyster,” I Say “Alsace” (Lucien Albrecht Recent Releases)2016 Lucien Albrecht Cuvée Romanus Pinot Gris (Alsace, $19)

Melons, stone fruits, citrus pith, astringent “bite,” great acidity, and a touch of mesquite honey… I kind of fell in love with this PG, which will wistfully make you lament as to why so many domestic US PGs taste like flat melon soda compared to stuff like this. Bear in mind that the Roman could use a couple more years of rest, to help all of that complexity meld with its ripe fruits flavors.

You Say “Oyster,” I Say “Alsace” (Lucien Albrecht Recent Releases)

You Say “Oyster,” I Say “Alsace” (Lucien Albrecht Recent Releases) 2012 Lucien Albrecht Riesling Pfingstberg (Alsace Grand Cru, $31)

Damn… this is good. The Pfingstberg Grand Cru vineyard has been renowned since at least 1299; ranging in elevation from 270 to 370 meters, the soils are chalk and micaceous sandstone (depending on the aspect). The key thing to remember about Pfingstberg, in this author’s experience, is florals: a plethora of perfumed blossom aromas await, including lime, along with a host of other things for which Riesling is so (justifiably) lauded by nerds like me (saline, mineral, stone fruits, pith, toast, pear, spices…). The finish is long, salty, and flinty, and even breaking thirty clams (ha-ha!) this GC is kind of a bargain.

 

You Say “Oyster,” I Say “Alsace” (Lucien Albrecht Recent Releases)2016 Lucien Albrecht Gewürztraminer Reserve (Alsace, $17)

Keller describes the southern-facing vineyards that source this Reserve wine as allowing for “aromatic ripeness” from which the resulting fresh-bouquet-of-roses floral characters derive. That, and almost maddening levels of winemaking patience (“we press, we wait; we press again, we wait…”). Like trying to avoid hyphenated phrases in this article, you’d be hard-pressed to find a more tried-and-true example of Alsatian Gewürztraminer; rose petal, lychee, toast, all moving to mineral, silkiness, and tell-tale mixture of pleasing astringency, structure, and a juuuust enough lift. The whole experience is harmonious, too, right through to the (not short) finish.

Cheers!

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Copyright © 2016. Originally at You Say “Oyster,” I Say “Alsace” (Lucien Albrecht Recent Releases) from 1WineDude.com - for personal, non-commercial use only. Cheers!

“There’s Liquid On The Brain” (Checking In With Primus And Claypool Cellars, 2018)

“When minds are dripping color, And there’s liquid on the brain
They laugh to one another, And politely go insane”

– Primus, The Dream

Last month, I had the pleasure of (once again) checking out the funky, entertaining, and technically dazzling band Primus, as they rolled through Philly on their Ambushing the Storm tour. Primus are currently playing with fellow prog-influenced band Mastodon in support of The Desaturating Seven, an at turns raucous, pretty, trippy, and virtuosic concept album based on Ul de Rico’s also trippy, gorgeous, and all-too-allegorically-topical-and-relevant-today (hey, one of the goblins is Orange… just sayin’…) children’s book The Rainbow Goblins. The album is played in its entirety during the show, with vibrant and also trippily-fantastic visual accompaniment that, I can tell you from personal experience, goes down even better with a wine-altered state of consciousness.

“There’s Liquid On The Brain” (Checking In With Primus And Claypool Cellars, 2018)As was the case last year, I got to tag along with the VIP Package ticket-holders as a guest of Chaney Claypool, wife of Primus front-man Les Claypool and (along with Les), proprietor of Sonoma-based Claypool Cellars, who have been mentioned on these virtual pages for over eight years (holy crap!) at this point. The current tour VIP package offers a Q&A session with the band, and a tasting of some of the more recent Claypool Cellars releases; given my penchant for awesome prog-y type tunes, and my pinch-me wine-thing day job, and my music-thing side-gig, you can probably guess that I was pretty pumped to spend an early-summer-ish evening watching my various worlds collide…

“There’s Liquid On The Brain” (Checking In With Primus And Claypool Cellars, 2018)

Goofing around with Claypool Cellars’ Chaney Claypool (far right)

“There’s Liquid On The Brain” (Checking In With Primus And Claypool Cellars, 2018)“There’s Liquid On The Brain” (Checking In With Primus And Claypool Cellars, 2018)2016 Claypool Cellars ‘CC Pachyderm’ Pinot Noir Rose (Sonoma Coast, $28)

Only 200 cases of this delightfully zesty little beauty were produced, with fruit sourced from the Russian River Valley’s Moore Vineyard, which in my experience has produced varietal Pinots on the cranberry/pomegranate/lithe side. That profile is all played to excellent effect here, with a red-berry-and-stone-fruit-infused flavor emphasis that retains a buoyant mouthfeel and should have rock music fans and rose lovers wantonly flocking to chilled bottles of this well-balanced stuff. That it’s holding up so well after getting a year+ in under its belt is, I suspect, a testament to the Claypools’ now relatively long-standing penchant for finding excellent vineyard source material in their hometown Sonoma vicinity.

“There’s Liquid On The Brain” (Checking In With Primus And Claypool Cellars, 2018)

The tall one makes wine. Also, Team Iron Man forever!!!

“There’s Liquid On The Brain” (Checking In With Primus And Claypool Cellars, 2018)2013 Claypool Cellars ‘CC Pachyderm’ Thorn Ridge Pinot Noir (Sonoma County, $68)

“There’s Liquid On The Brain” (Checking In With Primus And Claypool Cellars, 2018)It’s rare that I get to taste the same wine on three separate occasions, as I have with the Claypool Thorn Ridge vineyard Pinot. You’d think that I’d be sick of it by now, and you’d be very, very wrong. Planted in the 1990s, Thorn Ridge sits on relatively steep hills outside of Sebastopol, and sees little water. What you end up with (and what’s also the case here) are Pinot wines that kind of dance between acidic structure and floral notes on the one hand, and a bit of tannic grip and depth of red fruit on the other. When I tasted this vintage last year, here’s what I wrote: “Despite its lithe profile, there’s good structure here, and I’d recommend waiting for a couple of years (or at least through the listening of an entire Primus album) before yanking the cork out of it.” That’s even more the case now, as the density of fruit and oak aging notes are still roiling around together like young, inexperienced lovers gettin’ busy, and haven’t yet really come together to make refined, tender, sweet-sweet luuuuuv. But make tender, sweet-sweet luuuuuv they eventually will.

Cheers!

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Pert, Plus (Perticaia Recent – And Not-So-Recent! – Releases)

The name Perticaia is familiar to lovers of big Italian reds, but its meaning – “plow” in the local dialect – likely isn’t as well-known. It is, however, an apt description of how Azienda Agraria Perticaia has forced its way through to the top of the critical food chain when it comes to Montefalco Sagrantino wines.

For that, Perticaia can thank both timing and focus. The brand was founded by Guido Guardigli towards the end 1990s, when Montefalco began a quality boon and a production boom, during which the number of wineries in the region nearly quadrupled. They now farm some sixteen hectares of vines, with not an International grape variety to be found among them, and more or less focus on yields that take produce about one 750ml bottle of wine per plant. Of their 125,000 bottle annual production, a whopping seventy percent gets exported, which means that their oenologist Alessandro Meniconi (working with consultant Emiliano Falsin) is a self-proclaimed jack-of-all-trades, handling (among other things) some export management duties, as well.

Pert, Plus (Perticaia Recent – And Not-So-Recent! – Releases)

Among Montefalco Sagrantino producers, Perticaia is one of the more fastidious when it comes to production techniques, and understanding those is key to getting a full grasp of why their Sagrantino releases are so appealing at such young ages. Only about fifteen percent new French oak is used, with the remainder in some cases being as old as six years, which is kind of like the dotage period in French oak barrel terms (they’re making a push to move towards higher use of older, larger barriques, too).

The big key, however, might be in their seemingly non-intuitive, ass-backwards decision to let their Sagrantino undergo longer than normal maceration. One would think that this would make those reds tougher-than-nails when it comes to Sagrantino’s already rough tannins, but one would be wrong, because Chemistry. The longer maceration actually polymerizes the tannins, making them more approachable at the expense of color (which, as Meniconi emphasized to me during a media visit, “Sagrantino has plenty of, anyway)…

True to form for me, after talking about red wine maceration, I’m going to kick things off by reviewing some of Perticaia’s interesting indigenous white wines, because yeah, I am that guy:

Pert, Plus (Perticaia Recent – And Not-So-Recent! – Releases)

Pert, Plus (Perticaia Recent – And Not-So-Recent! – Releases)2016 Azienda Agraria Perticaia Trebbiano Spoletino (Umbria, $17)

Not to be confused with, well, every other rendition of Trebbiano in Italy (with which it shares little genetic history), Spoletino is one of the most exciting vinous things happening in the Montefalco region. Being one of the first producers to work with Spoletino more seriously, Perticaia has crafted a lively, lovely, and complex rendition; tropical, floral, mineral, creamy, and textural, with hints of saline, citrus pith, and all-around loveliness.

 

Pert, Plus (Perticaia Recent – And Not-So-Recent! – Releases)2015 Azienda Agraria Perticaia “del Posto” (Spoleto, $NA)

I suppose that when one names a wine “local,” the message is about as blunt as it can be. Heady, floral,  and honeyed, “del Posto” is a bigger take on Spoletino. Tropical fruits combine with cream, citrus, lees, and late-harvest style richness, all underpinned by ample structure and nice freshness. But it’s that perfume on the nose that will put impure thoughts in your head, and make you think of alternative meanings of their namesake’s translation.

Pert, Plus (Perticaia Recent – And Not-So-Recent! – Releases)

Pert, Plus (Perticaia Recent – And Not-So-Recent! – Releases)2014 Azienda Agraria Perticaia Montefalco Rosso (Umbria, $20)

Peticaia use the standard Sangovese/Sagrantino blend for their Montefalco Rosso, but instead of the more popular choice of Merlot, they employ the wily (and oft-underrated) Colorino. This red sees no wood, and the result is spicy, fresh, chewy, and approachable, with cherry flavors, orange peel notes, and floral hints.

 

Pert, Plus (Perticaia Recent – And Not-So-Recent! – Releases)2011 Azienda Agraria Perticaia Montefalco Rosso Riserva (Umbria, $NA)

The wood-aged version of their Montefalco red blend is so similar in flavor profile to the Rosso that they could be mistaken for twins rather than the bigger-younger brother pair that they really are; only in this case, the blend is decidedly more “manly” (think meatiness, game, and wood spices). It’s silkier, too, with more grip and richness. Lacking in character, this is not.

Pert, Plus (Perticaia Recent – And Not-So-Recent! – Releases)

Pert, Plus (Perticaia Recent – And Not-So-Recent! – Releases)2014 Azienda Agraria Perticaia Montefalco Sagrantino (Umbria, $NA)

And now for the long-overdue moment… you already know that I’m going to say that this is good. Plummy, with ample dried herb notes, along with smoked game meats and leather, this is a complex, juicy nose that ultimately finds its foundation in black cherry fruits. The mouthfeel is superb; silky to start, grippy in the center, and spicy/herbal on the way out, with a long exit and sweet, ripe fruit and cocoa throughout.

If you’ve any doubt about Perticaia’s maceration techniques, I can attest to the viability of their not-so-recent Sagrantino releases, which we also tasted during my visit. Specifically, the 2013 is dense, plummy, velvety, and full of that telltale cocoa spice, but is noticeably bigger/richer in fruit and power than its 2014 counterpart, maybe a bit more textured, and just as poised, lengthy and complex.

Going back a bit further, the 2009 incarnation is savory, spicy, and harmonious, exerting its tension through a pleasant battle of fruity chewiness and a grippy, lifted palate. It’s still a baby, too. Finally, there’s the 2004, which was essentially crafted using brand-spanking new Sagrantino vines. The quality here is striking for such young bucks; cigar, graphite, smoke, game meat, earth, and wood are present, along with stewed plums and an almost aged-Bordeaux-like presentation. It’s still quite powerful (hello… Sagrantino!), but that won’t stop you from drinking more than your fair share of it, if you an find it.

Cheers!

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High Tension Wires, Low Tension Views (Mas de l’Abundancia Montsant Recent Releases)

Jesús del Rio Mateu, proprietor of the Masroig-area Mas de l’Abundància – doesn’t just have an enviable name; he’s also got an enviably amazing vineyard view, enviably old vines, and sits enviably close to one of Spain’s critical-darling DOs, Priorat.

He also has an enviably-close relationship to a good importer, Folio Wine Partners, owned by the Michael Mondavi clan, who, Jesús is quick to point out, love to visit his hilly, llicorella-heavy eight hectares of aging vines.

High Tension Wires, Low Tension Views (Mas de l’Abundancia Montsant Recent Releases)

Jesús del Rio Mateu

“‘Can you fell the energy?’ That’s what they said when they were here,” he told me during a media tour visit to his Montsant DO estate. And while Jesús’ “house of plenty” certainly has its own energetic charm, my guess is that the tingling vibes felt by the Mondavis on their visit had more to do with the overhead high-tension power lines. Either that, or it was the pent-up tension in their shoulder-blades being released after taking in the glory of the scenery.

Anyway… the dramatic views of Priorat and the encapsulating Montsant mountain ranges from Jesús’ vines seem to have imbued him with senses of both literal and figurative perspective about the place; after all, this region of Spain has belonged to monks, aristocrats, Romans, and Arabs. Jesús puts it this way: “this doesn’t belong to me; I belong to it.”

The “it” in this case, coupled with ample sunlight, elevation, slope, and a continental climate, have combined to produce Montsant wines that are nearly as compelling, dramatic energetic, and “deep” as Mas de l’Abundància’s location…

High Tension Wires, Low Tension Views (Mas de l’Abundancia Montsant Recent Releases)

High Tension Wires, Low Tension Views (Mas de l’Abundancia Montsant Recent Releases)2016 Mas de l’Abundància “De Calpino” (Montsant, $52)

In my experience, it can be tough to find a 100% Grenache Blanc that feels whole and complete on its own. This is not one of those cases; here we have a GB that’s total from start to finish. The vineyard is slate-heavy, and was planted in 1892, so we are talking legitimately old vines here. Heady, floral, mineral, tropical, rich with stone fruits, creamy, silky, big, and yet totally lovely, this is one of te best whites I encountered over all of the Montsant DO.

High Tension Wires, Low Tension Views (Mas de l’Abundancia Montsant Recent Releases)

High Tension Wires, Low Tension Views (Mas de l’Abundancia Montsant Recent Releases)2016 Mas de l’Abundància “He Ma” (Montsant, $NA)

Sure, the title evokes He-Man, but this Cabernet Sauvignon / Grenache / Carignan blend is far from burly; in fact, it’s focused, bright, floral, and fruity (think blue and red berries), with excellent vibrancy. It’s an easy-drinking red that manages to still be intelligent.

High Tension Wires, Low Tension Views (Mas de l’Abundancia Montsant Recent Releases)

High Tension Wires, Low Tension Views (Mas de l’Abundancia Montsant Recent Releases)2016 Mas de l’Abundància “Flvminis” (Montsant, $25)

With similar blending components to the “He Ma” (10% Cabernet Sauvignon, 60% Grenache, and 30% Carignan), this bigger brother is decidedly more serious, more plummy, more polished, and more powerful. It’s savory, too, full of violets and ripe, sweet berry fruits. What I admired most about this red, however, was how well it exuded a sense of purity and transparency despite its ample palate weight.

High Tension Wires, Low Tension Views (Mas de l’Abundancia Montsant Recent Releases)

High Tension Wires, Low Tension Views (Mas de l’Abundancia Montsant Recent Releases)2013 Mas de l’Abundància “Abundància” (Montsant, $NA)

The biggest bro of the lineup is a 60/40 Grenache/Carignan blend, with fewer than one thousand bottles made from organically-farmed vines that are in excess of eighty years young. Rich, plummy, spicy, floral, and complex, with licorice and stewed fruit notes, this red starts with silk, moves to tart, spicy plums, and finishes with toast and mineral. It’s alluring, sexy AF, and simply a gorgeous sipper. Dramatic stuff from a dramatic place; and you’ll feel the energy, even if you’re not within spitting distance of an overhead power line…

Cheers!

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First Coffee, Then Tannins (Antonelli Montefalco Recent Releases)

Filipo Antonelli

It’s a wet, chilly, grey Winter morning in San Marco, a locality that sits just outside of Italy’s Montefalco and the ridiculously-well-named town of Bastardo. And I’ve had to wait in the damp cold for a short bit, because Filippo Antonelli is a bit late for our appointment at his family’s winery (hey, welcome to Umbria, right?). And that’s pretty much the only slightly-negative thing that you’ll read about Antonelli over the next few minutes… but let’s set the stage with a little bit more detail before we get into the effusive wine recommendation stuff…

Filippo opens up the Antonelli tasting room, which sits on a hill across from the old family house/cellar/former winery, and starts to bring the charmingly imposing place to life, switching on the lights, and asking me “would you like a coffee?”

I tell him no, grazie, I just had plenty of java at my hotel, so I’m good.

First Coffee, Then Tannins (Antonelli Montefalco Recent Releases)After a bit of a pause, he turns towards the espresso machine longingly, then back to me. “Do you mind if I have one, then, before we get started?” And that’s one of those moments where you just love Italy.

Anyway, Filipo then gives me the lowdown on the Antonelli biz. He co-owns (since 1986) the family company along with his cousins, with the Umbria property being from his father’s side (and formerly, for about six centuries, being the Summer residence of bishops – part of the fact that Umbria was a portion of the Vatican state until the Eighteenth Century). His great grandfather Francesco was a lawyer, who purchased the estate in 1881. At that time, it was typical Umbrian farming fare; a mix of vines, olive trees, pig farms, and wheat, with the wine being sold in bulk and crop-sharing being the norm. After the advent of the DOC in 1979, they began bottling their own wine, and now release about 300,000 bottles a year from 50 hectares of vines (and still farm olives, wheat, spelt, chick peas, and host agritourism (that is an actualy word, by the way) on roughly 170 hectares of land).

A new subterranean winery was built in 2001. And from it comes perhaps some of the most elegantly-crafted Sagrantino available on the planet…

The current winemaking at Antonelli is a team effort between consulting winemaker Paolo Salvi, resident Oenologist Massimiliano Caburazzi, vineyard consultant and Ruggero Mazzilli, and vineyard manager Alessio Moretti. What’s in their bottles suggests that they are doing just about everything right.

First Coffee, Then Tannins (Antonelli Montefalco Recent Releases)

First Coffee, Then Tannins (Antonelli Montefalco Recent Releases)2016 Antonelli San Marco ‘Trebium’ Trebbiano Spoletino Spoleto (Umbria, $20)

The whites of Monteflaco are often overshadowed by their much more, uhm, robust red brethren. But it’s one of the regional white DOCs – Spoleto – that is among the area’s most vinously exciting. italy’s maddening penchant for naming every other genetically-unrelated white grape trebbiano aside, the Spoletino version can be fascinating stuff. Here, we get friendly citric and herbal/floral notes, with more serious hints of brioche and pith. It’s tight and young, revealing little (and even that after several minutes in the glass), but the structure and aging potential is apparent right off the bat.

First Coffee, Then Tannins (Antonelli Montefalco Recent Releases)

First Coffee, Then Tannins (Antonelli Montefalco Recent Releases)2012 Antonelli San Marco Montefalco Rosso Riserva (Umbria, $33)

The Montefalco middle-child brother, this classification sits between the more instantly-appealing Montefalco Rosso and Sagrantino designations. Antonelli only produces their Riserva line in better vintages, and it sees longer wood aging than their Rosso (about 1.5 years). The blend is about 70% Sangiovese (in this case, selected from their oldest vines), 15% Sagrantino, and 15% Montepulciano. Sangio arrived in the area ’round about 1800, and despite the continental climate does well in the region’s ample sunshine. Interestingly, and thankfully unlike its Trebbiano, there’s no specific sangiovese variant that defines Montefalco’s plantings. Anyway, this red combines freshness and earthiness in a classy, spicy, plummy presentation. The mouthfeel is, at turns, full of tart cherry flavors and fleshier, riper plums, and finishes with hints of citrus peel and even clay (and I mean this in a very good, pair-it-with-flank-steak kind of way).

First Coffee, Then Tannins (Antonelli Montefalco Recent Releases)

First Coffee, Then Tannins (Antonelli Montefalco Recent Releases)2012 Antonelli San Marco Sagrantino di Montefalco (Umbria, $43)

Now we get to the meat of the meal. Sagrantino isn’t a easy grape to get your head (or tongue, or gums) around, particularly when it’s young and full of burly tannins, burly acids, and burly alcohol. Antonelli has managed to set a standard on how elegant a Sagrantino can be upon release, without going overboard trying to completely tame its youthful unruliness. This is immediately complex stuff, with ample black cherry, tobacco, leather, and mineral aromas. In the mouth, all of the requisite structure for aging is there, along with power, but it never gets overbearing. Give it ten years, and thank me later.

First Coffee, Then Tannins (Antonelli Montefalco Recent Releases)2010 Antonelli San Marco “Chiusa di Pannone” Sagrantino di Montefalco (Umbria, $NA)

I’ve been trying, since tasting this wine, to come up with reasons for not considering it one of the best young Sagrantinos that I’ve ever tasted, and despite the effort of trying to prove the negative corollary, I keep coming up short so I’m going to give up and just call this release the real deal. The wine is sourced from 1990s plantings that sit at about 400 meters elevation, helping to tame the sun-ripening and heat during the growing season. The result is about as gorgeously kick-ass (think Michelle Yeoh) as Sagrantino gets; graphite, leather, earth, tobacco spices, red plums, black cherries, and a long, fleshy, grippy, stunning palate expression. I took a bottle home, which, given how ridiculously behind on sample tastings (and storage space) I am, is about as high a praise as I can offer a wine these days, I suppose.

Cheers!

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Drunken Globetrotting Good Ideas (Domaine Bousquet Recent Releases)

Anne Bousquet

Anne Bousquet has some of her best ideas when drunk.

This isn’t something that I have experienced firsthand, mind you, but comes by way of her own admission (during an NYC media lunch at which I was recently a guest). And it’s the opinion of her wine-growing father, Jean Bousquet.

More on that later. The point is that some of Anne’s vinous ideas (sober or not) are very, very good. Such as her credo that “we just want to make high quality wines that others can afford.” That one is definitely a winner, as her wares from Domaine Bousquet harken back to a time when many of us marveled at the QPR of Argentina’s wines.

The backstory goes something like this: Anne grew up in a wine-centric family in Southwest France, moving to Minnesota and then Boston to pursue education and work, respectively. While she was busy building up her CV, dad Jean (in the 1990s) decided to plant vines in the Gualtallary Valley of Tupungato in Argentina. Jean knew a good thing when he saw it, favoring the high elevation conditions there and planning to go organic. Anne was in the process of moving to Brussels when dad called, suggesting that she come back to the family biz, which a few years later saw Anne moving yet again to another country to join her father in tiny-put-promising Tupungato as the eventual Domaine Bousquet CEO. Subsequent culture-shock ensued.

“The town of Tupungato hadn’t done much to capitalize on tourism,” Anne told me, ” so the wines really had to step up.” The last few years have seen Tupungato’s more forward-thinking wineries take the lead in terms of the type of gastronomy-focused endeavors that are meant to attract wine-lifestyle-loving tourist dollars to the region. But to do that, the wines have to be worth the trip, which in this case, they are.

By the way, Anne now splits time between Miami (where Bousquet’s importing company is based) and Tupungato, because apparently her passport had a little bit of space left on it…

Drunken Globetrotting Good Ideas (Domaine Bousquet Recent Releases)

Drunken Globetrotting Good Ideas (Domaine Bousquet Recent Releases)NV Domaine Bousquet Brut Rosé (Tupungato, $13)

Now this was a bit unexpected; a charmat-method Pinot/Chardonnay blend that takes full advantage of the freshness that Bousquet’s high-elevation vines are capable of preserving. A gorgeous pale salmon color, an emphasis on bright raspberry and strawberry fruitiness, and a hint of earth and rose petal all combine into something that is ridiculously gulpable, and yet carries just enough complexity to make you pause said gulping momentarily in order to ponder its finer points.

Drunken Globetrotting Good Ideas (Domaine Bousquet Recent Releases)

Drunken Globetrotting Good Ideas (Domaine Bousquet Recent Releases)2016 Domaine Bousquet Reserva Malbec (Tupungato, $18)

One of those wines that make you wonder why the price tag doesn’t have a higher number on it, this Malbec is 100% estate fruit and sees a smidgen of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Syrah mixed in to the final blend. Ten months in French oak (in increasingly reused percentages) rounds this out into a rich, jammy, dark-fruited palate profile, but the main draw is the amalgam of violets, savory meatiness, mineral, and spice on the nose. Focused, fresh, and at turns lovely (yes, I wrote “lovely” with respect to Malbec), it’s a great food-friendly choice that punches a bit above its weight class.

Drunken Globetrotting Good Ideas (Domaine Bousquet Recent Releases)

Drunken Globetrotting Good Ideas (Domaine Bousquet Recent Releases)2015 Domaine Bousquet Gaia Red (Gualtallary, $20)

Ok, we can finally get to the drunk story. As Anne relayed the tale to me, half-jokingly: “I was drunk in a restaurant in Adelaide, and I called my father, who was planting the vineyards in Argentina, and I said ‘you have to plant Syrah! I’m in love with it!’ It was maybe the only time with business that my father listened to me. He said, ‘I always told you, you have your best ideas drunk!’ We like Syrah, because we’re from the South of France.” It’s also worth mentioning that the subsequent wine takes its name from the Greek Mother Earth goddess, who was the parent of Uranus (insert your own immaturely crude joke here).

A wine with that kind of history had better be pretty good, and Gaia is absolutely good enough to live up to that story. A blend of 50% Malbec, 45% Syrah, and 5% Cabernet Sauvignon, all grown at about 4000 feet elevation and taking advantage of the natural acidity preserved in the grapes farmed at those heights. This wine is a beast, but a tamed one; Deep, plummy red and black fruits mingle with minerals, spices, graphite, game meat, and pepper. Stick the words “Napa Valley” on this label and the wine would likely be selling for about $50, so I consider the sub-$30 price in this case to be a nice bargain. That Syrah is promising indeed, and probably the main contributor to the sexiness that this red exudes.

Cheers!

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#FlyEaglesFly (Piper-Heidsieck Cuvee Brut Champagne)

The “Philly Special” that helped make Philly truly special

I rarely listen to Philly sports talk radio.

This is not because I don’t like the sports franchises of my adopted-home nearest-metropolitan-city; the only major sports category in which a Philadelphia team isn’t my #1 is the NFL (Steelers fan here), and even then the only time I wouldn’t cheer on the Eagles is when they’re playing the Steelers (which is, thankfully, a relative rarity).

The reason I don’t listen to Philly sports talk radio – especially this time of year – is because for many, many moons it’s been full of the self-flagellating, though legitimate, tales of woe of Eagles fans, many of whom have literally gone their entire lives wondering what it would be like for their home team to be crowned Superbowl Champions.

This week, I’ve be listening to Philly sports radio almost non-stop. And yes, it really is that good, even for a somewhat-jaded NFL fan whose fave team is, ahem, kind of used to this sort of thing (at least one time more than everyone else, in point of fact). I mean, people have been calling in literally sobbing tears of joy, and if you live anywhere near the Philly area, you immediately understand why. This week, an Eagles fan popped open a bottle of bubbles that has been in his fridge since late 1980 (when he expected his team to subsequently prevail in their first Superbowl performance). Now that, my friends, summarizes Philly’s Eagles fandom. By the way, I swear this will eventually turn into a wine review of a sample bottling.

It’s not just that the Philadelphia Eagles finally – finally! – brought home a Lombardi trophy after decades of enviable-but-ultimately bridesmaid-not-bride NFC success. It’s how they did it that makes this first Superbowl win so brilliant for this city. Unless you were a Philly sports fan, you were writing off Superbowl LII as the final coronation-to-godhead-status of the most successful quarterback/coach combination in modern NFL history. And instead, that combo got taken down in an out-play-calling, out-throwing shootout, by a QB/coach combo that was almost universally mocked, and both of whom had previously considered calling the NFL quits (and are now being hailed as sports geniuses).

A rag-tag group of talented, dedicated, underrated upstarts, many of whom were backups at their respective positions, just wanted it more badly, and worked both harder and smarter, than some of the most talented and successful performers in the history of the sport. And they beat the more dominant opponent at their own game.

Hello!!! This city erected a statue to Rocky Balboa. This city is the spiritual embodiment of the underdog. And so this Superbowl is the perfect David-vs-Goliath story for a city that needed exactly that outcome at exactly this time. And it is f*cking glorious…

If there’s a better time for the mass consumption of Champagne in Philly while listening to Eye of the Tiger on repeat, I’ve yet to encounter it in my lifetime…

#FlyEaglesFly (Piper-Heidsieck Cuvee Brut Champagne)

NV Piper-Heidsieck Cuvée Brut (Champagne, $50)

A blend of Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier, and Chardonnay in descending percentages, around 15% reserve wine, and literally sourced from about 100 Champagne vineyards, you can regularly find this for under $40 on sale, and at that sale price it comes off as one of the better picks in traditional Champers.

Pound for pound (sorry, ml for ml), this is consistently Piper’s best bang bottling for the buck. The current marketing surrounding this blend centers on seduction, which is all well and good, but it’s just as easily a celebratory pick, because the balances between richness and perkiness, green apple and brioche, flowers and earth, all hit a very well-threaded, coherent equilibrium that makes this complex without being overly intellectualized, and just dangerously easy to imbibe (and almost as easily paired with a wide variety of food… wings and cheesesteaks included).

What does the future hold for the Birds?

Honestly, who give s a sh*t right now? Not even the Superbowl MVP backup quarterback and now-lauded Eagles head coach are falling into that look-ahead trap, and they are wisely advising the city to just take it in and enjoy a well-deserved moment of glory.

And I agree with them; I’d only add that you should consider drinking bubbles when you do it.

Cheers!

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A Tale Of Wannabe Abject Hatred (Simonsig Recent Releases)

This is a tale of hatred.

Well, of wanna-be hatred.

I’m not sure exactly why I approached the wines I am about to discuss with you with such abject internal bile. But rage my bile against them I did, although they ultimately showed me who was boss and got my attitude turned around; but I did not make it easy for them.

Personally, I blame the current U.S. President. This week marked the first time in decades that I simply ignored the Presidential State of the Union address. I mean completely and utterly ignored the fact that it was happening, to the point of not even reading about its contents or subsequent Democratic party rebuttals. The less intelligent reader (who, of course, isn’t here reading this anyway, right??) will ostensibly chalk that up to me having some sort of Liberal-leaning angst over Donal Trump, even though I’m not actually a Liberal and the only time I ever affiliated with a party was as a Republican in the 1990s.

No, my bile-boiling is the result of the unique personal political hell-scape that a Trump presidency has created; I am a bit of a fiscal/budget hawk, highly value reasonable discourse, and support (along with the majority of Americans) a tolerant, progressive social agenda (within reasonable spending!). Trump is literally the opposite of all three of those things: he acts without proper analysis of how much money will be burned as a result, he is often embarrassingly angry and unintelligible in his speeches, and he seems to court the kind of oh-whatever-just-get-over-it kind of subversive sexism and racism that had no real place in the USA in the 1970s, let alone in 2018. So, basically, he’s a raging douchecanoe in my view, and since he dominates the national news cycle, I’m kind of always in a minor state of angry despair these days, waiting for that thing on top of his head to admit that it can no longer control him and crawl off somewhere to find another host…

Anyway, we’re supposed to be talking about wine, and so the TLDR version is that I wanted to hate these two wines, but instead I am enthusiastically recommending them to you!

A Tale Of Wannabe Abject Hatred (Simonsig Recent Releases)2012 Simonsig “Merindol” Syrah (Stellenbosch, $44)

I cannot be reasonably faulted for wanting to not like this. After all, the description of the wine includes the term “black forest chocolate cake topped with black cherries,” and who the f*ck wants to drink black forest chocolate cake? Not only that, but we’re talking about a wine that saw a month of extended maceration, and underwent full ML fermentation in 100% new French oak. Oh, and it takes its name from the Malan Family coat of arms, which is all about celebrating French Huguenot heritage and not really at all about celebrating the natural bounty of an African nation. It ought to be the kind of viscous, woody, overwrought, tiresome slog of a red that the cool kids love to make fun of these days.

As douchecanoe Trump would say, “WRONG!” The wine is certainly decadent, and it certainly has no shortage of wood spices, but it’s also fruity, elegant, and balanced, its blackberry and plum flavors buoyed by a sense of energy and a peppery disposition. How balanced? I didn’t even the nearly three grams of residual sugar in the reasons why I wanted to hate it, because you’d never even know it was really there, that’s how balanced. At turns, it’s powerful, sexy, and bordering on lovely.

A Tale Of Wannabe Abject Hatred (Simonsig Recent Releases)

A Tale Of Wannabe Abject Hatred (Simonsig Recent Releases)2015 Simonsig “Avec Chêne Blanc” Wooded Chenin Blanc (Stellenbosch, $36)

Again, entering with preconceived notions was a recipe for getting schooled. I mean, c’mon, the word “wooded” appears in the NAME OF THE FREAKIN’ WINE. And yet, this is clearly a case of favorable course correction, as we’re seeing a decidedly not-so-woody nose and flavor profile coming from this release. This is much more fresh-and-zesty citrus, heady white flowers, and ripe tropical fruits than it is wood spice and 2×4 scaffolding. There’s no ML here, but some oak aging does give it roundness and character and enough texture that it becomes a compelling match for a wide range of seafood and cheese options. Just leave your wanna-be hatred at the door, ok?

Cheers!

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