Tag Archives: Louis Latour

The Fanatical But Forgotten Legacy of Martin Ray

As California Wine Month comes to a close, I want to spend some time reflecting on the men and women who have made California what it is today.

Folks like Agoston Haraszthy, H.W. Crabb, Charles Krug, Josephine Tychson, Louis M. Martini and, in more modern history, people like Andre Tchelischeff, Robert Mondavi, Warren Winiarski, Robert Haas, Donn Chappellet, Fred and Eleanor McCrea and Dick Grace.

Truthfully, the list could go on ad infinitum because the history and story of California wine is truly a patch work quilt of individual dreams and efforts.

But I’m willing to bet that if you asked most wine lovers to list some of the influential figures in California wine history–only the truly old timers and the geekiest of wine students would mention Martin Ray.

Which is remarkable considering the modern legacy of all “the Martians” that came after Ray.

The Invasion of Quantity over Quality

In the link above, wine economist Mike Veseth highlights the dichotomy in thought of two post-Prohibition wine pioneers over what the “idea” of wine should be–a topic he greatly expands upon in his 2011 work Wine Wars: The Curse of the Blue Nun, the Miracle of Two Buck Chuck, and the Revenge of the Terroirists.

Philip Wagner, who founded the Maryland winery Boordy Vineyards, bequeathed the Wagnerian ideals of wine being an everyday commodity–much like any other food and beverage–that should be affordable and accessible. As Veseth notes, the existence of “Two Buck Chuck” is a very Wagnerian model. However, Wagner’s idea of everyday affordability wasn’t just limited to bottom of the barrel prices.

Photo from Radicaldreamer29. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-SA-4.0

Martin Ray in the 1960s.

Martin Ray, on the other hand, thought that American wine should aim high and not settle for just being a commodity like milk and grains. Inspired by the great wines of Europe, the original “Martian” was convinced that California had the potential to reach similar heights.

Post-Prohibition Blues

As Thomas Pinney notes in A History of Wine in America, Volume 2: From Prohibition to the Present, the American wine industry was in a bit of a funky, cloudy haze in the years after the repeal of Prohibition–just like many of the wines of that period.

The goal of most post-Prohibition wineries was cheapness and quantity with quality being a distant third. In chapter 4 of his work, Pinney quotes UC-Davis professor Maynard Amerine’s 1940 letter bemoaning the fact that many producers ignore their vineyards until late in the harvest season, letting the grapes go far past their ideal harvest time and producing wines that were “…heavy, lacking the essential fruit quality and frequently have an overripe grape or raisin taste.” Beyond the poor condition of the fruit, Amerine noted, in the winery this often led to the presence of spoilage bacteria.

Amerine’s letter (as quoted by Pinney) would go on to say:

Aside from [Martin] Ray you would be amazed at how few of our growers or vintners have the least conception of these facts. This is one of the recurring reasons for the lack of quality (or even drinkability) of California wines.

— Maynard Amerine’s October 20th, 1940 letter to Julian Street as quoted in Thomas Pinney’s A History of Wine in America, Volume 2

Martin Ray was different.

 

A protégé of Paul Masson, Ray grew up near Masson’s vineyards in the Santa Cruz Mountains south of San Francisco.

While today his name is synonymous with low quality jug wines made by Constellation Brands, Paul Masson was a pioneer in his own right aiming to make high quality sparkling wines in the style of his homeland of France–even importing his own cuttings of Pinot noir and Chardonnay vines from Burgundy (likely from his friend Louis Latour’s vineyards).

During the Great Depression, Martin Ray quit his career as a stock broker to joined his neighbor Paul Masson at his winery. Falling in love with the industry, Ray bought the Paul Masson winery in 1936.

Seeing the poor quality that dominated the post-Prohibition wine industry, Ray made it his personal mission (a fanatical obsession as Pinney describes) to bring back the quality levels and standards that trademarked the industry in the Pre-Prohibition days of Haraszthy, Krug, Lily Langtry, Tychson, Jacob Schram, Gustave Niebaum and Georges de Latour.

The Best Of Intentions, The Poorest of Results
Photo from the California Historical Society. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under PD US

A 1935 advertisement for California port with a hefty 18-20% ABV.

But he had an uphill battle with the legacy of bootlegging, speakeasies and moon-shining leaving American drinkers with a taste for things strong and sweet.

Many of the California wines that dominated the market were often fortified with brandy and sweetened up with the use of raisins or very late harvested grapes made from Muscat, Thompson Seedless and Sultana. Thomas Pinney notes those three grapes represented nearly half (44%) of the 1941 vintage alone.

The nature of the industry and a devastating winery fire were too much to overcome. In 1942, Ray accepted an offer from Seagram’s for the Paul Masson brand and what was left of the winery.

The Sky’s The Limit

However, rather than retire, Ray tried his hand again in his fanatical quest for quality. Purchasing land on the hilltop across from the old Paul Masson vineyards, Ray transferred many of those Burgundian cuttings of Pinot noir and Chardonnay to plant what is now known as Mount Eden Vineyards–2000 feet above the Santa Clara Valley. His widow Eleanor Ray and their daughter, Barbara Marinacci, detailed Ray’s passion and goals in their book Vineyards in the Sky: The Life of Legendary Vintner Martin Ray which is a great read for folks wanting to know about this pivotal time in California’s wine history.

By Radicaldreamer29 - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

The Martin Ray vineyard was renamed Mount Eden in 1972 with the legendary Dick Graff and Merry Edwards making the first few post-Ray vintages. Today Jeffery Patterson tends to these grapes.

Branded under his own name, Martin Ray spared no expense in making Pinot noir, Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon wines that he felt could compete with the best that Europe offered. In the vineyard, he focused on lowering yields and refused to irrigate–believing that excess water diluted the vine’s potential to make great grapes.

After the grapes were harvested, he rushed to get them crushed and fermenting within an hour of leaving the vine in order to minimize the degradation of quality and exposure to spoilage bacteria.

The wines were barrel fermented and then pressed in a custom built hand press that Ray designed himself to minimize extraction of harsh tannins. He then aged the wines in oak barrels before bottling them unfined and unfiltered. However, rather than releasing the wines soon after bottling, Ray kept the wines back and aged them further in cellar until he felt that they were ready for the market. Sometimes this meant holding them back as long as ten years.

Recognition, at last?
Photo a derivative of photos on Wikimedia Commons uploaded by self under CC-BY-SA-3.0

Unfortunately by the time Steven Spurrier was touring California to select wines for his famous tasting, the wines of Martin Ray were fading into obscurity.
S

Ray’s efforts and dedication to quality allowed him to ask for and receive some of the highest prices in all of California at the time–$2 a bottle.  Martin Ray wines were even served at the White House for both Johnson and Nixon.

However, Ray still had the cards against him. Many American drinkers of dry wines were more apt to look eastward towards Europe than to the home grown products of California. The costs and expenses of his quality-driven style–plus some bad business decisions with investors–caused Martin Ray to lose his winery in 1970. The new owners did allowed him to spend his remaining years living in a house below the vineyard.

He passed away in 1976–the same year that the famous Judgement of Paris wine tasting took place. It seems both fitting and tragic that the moment when Martin Ray’s passion and vision were actualized was when he left this earth.

That year, American wines truly did compete with the best that Europe offered.  The embrace of American consumers came shortly after.

His life’s work. Finally completed.

Rediscovering Martin Ray

Following the Judgement of Paris, the California wine industry entered a boom period of prosperity and acclaim. In the dust, the name of Martin Ray continued to fade into obscurity until 1990 when a young entrepreneur named Courtney Benham stumbled upon a warehouse in San Jose that contained 1500 cases of old Martin Ray wines along with Ray’s letters and winemaking notebooks.

That same year Courtney Benham had founded Blackstone Winery with his brother Derek. Intrigued, Benham inquired with the family of Martin Ray about acquiring the rights to Ray’s name.

Lindsey Haughton and Bill Batchelor of Martin Ray.

In 2001, the Benham brothers sold Blackstone to Constellation Brands for $140 million and in 2003 acquired the historic Martini & Prati Winery in the Russian River Valley to be the new home of Martin Ray Winery.

Blackstone’s winemaker Dennis Hill made the first vintages of the new Martin Ray wines until the 2001 sale. Then Bryan Davison succeeded him. The new winery building in 2003 saw the hiring of Bill Batchelor. The brand expanded to with the introduction of sister labels, Angeline and Courtney Benham Wines.

Batchelor eventually left Martin Ray in 2017 to take over the winemaking operation of Gundlach Bundschu. He was succeeded by his assistant winemaker, Lindsey Haughton who has been with the winery since 2012. Prior to joining Martin Ray, Haughton worked harvest at Heitz Cellars in Napa and studied at Fresno State University. While at school, she worked at Engelmann Cellars.

The Wines

2016 Martin Ray Sauvignon blanc Russian River Valley ($16-20)

100% Sauvignon blanc sourced from vineyards mostly in the Green Valley of the Russian River.

High intensity nose. Very intriguing mix tropical citrus fruit like starfruit and pomelo with richer honeydew melon and subtle grassiness. It’s not as green as a New Zealand Sauvignon blanc but the nose is as intense as one.

On the palate, the citrus notes hold court and add a lemony note. Medium-plus acidity is mouthwatering and fresh but doesn’t stray into tartness. Good balance with medium bodied fruit. Moderate finish brings back some of the honeydew notes.

2016 Martin Ray Sonoma County Pinot noir ($23-28)

A gorgeous Pinot that way over delivers for the price.

100% Pinot noir sourced from the Ricioli and Foppiano Vineyards in the Russian River Valley and the Sangiacomo Vineyard in Carneros.

WOW! High, high intensity nose. Mix of dark cherries with red raspberries and some subtle dried floral and earthy notes. With air those earthy notes become more defined as forest floor and cola nut.

On the palate the red fruit comes out more than the dark but feels weightier with medium-plus tannins. Noticeable vanilla oak also brings spices like nutmeg and cinnamon to the party. Medium-plus acidity is very lively and balances the weight of the medium body fruit. Long finish lingers on the juicy fruit at this point. It will become even more complex as the baby fat of oak fades and the floral and earthy notes develop.

2016 Martin Ray Sonoma County Cabernet Sauvignon ($18-22)

100% Cabernet Sauvignon sourced from vineyards in the Alexander Valley, Sonoma Mountain and Dry Creek Valley.

Medium-plus intensity nose. Very jammy dark fruits of black currants and blackberries. More noticeable oak on the nose with toasty vanilla and some clove.

On the palate those jammy dark fruits come through with medium-plus body weight. Ripe medium-plus tannins holds up the fruit and contribute to the smooth mouthfeel with the vanilla. Medium acidity gives some balance but has me wishing for more. Reminds me a lot of the Justin Paso Robles Cabernet Sauvignon. Moderate length finish continues with the dark fruit and vanilla oak.

Final Thoughts

It’s interesting that the modern incarnation of Martin Ray seems to combine the “Wagnerian” and “Martian” ideals. These wines offer affordable everyday drinking of very good quality.

I know that not every household has $20 wines as their everyday drinkers. But compared to many higher priced $30-40 bottles, these wines certainly make that kind of quality level more attainable.

Compared to many Napa and New Zealand Sauvignon blancs over $20, this Russian River Sauv. blanc is extremely tasty and vibrant.

The Pinot noir, in particular, is outstanding for the price with single vineyard designates from the legendary Sangiacomo vineyard rarely dropping below $35. The Ricioli and Foppiano vineyards in the Russian River Valley also tend to fetch higher prices.

While the Martin Ray lineup certainly does include more expensive wines from the Diamond Mountain District and Stags Leap District of Napa Valley, I don’t think the original Martin Ray would balk at these more affordable bottles from Sonoma.

 

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Keeping Up With The Joneses of Burgundy — Coche Edition

Photo by Torsade de Pointes. Released on Wikimedia Commons under CC-Zero

Vineyards in Meursault, home to many of the Coche family’s prime holdings.

Welcome to the latest installment of my on-going series about the winemaking families of Burgundy!

Be sure sure to check out previous editions about the Boillot, Morey and Gros families.

If you have any suggestions for future editions (or know anything I missed!), feel free to leave a comment below.

Along with some internet sleuthing, my tools on this journey will be:

Remington Norman and Charles Taylor’s The Great Domaines of Burgundy
Clive Coates’ The Wines of Burgundy
Matt Kramer’s Making Sense of Burgundy
Bill Nanson’s The Finest Wines of Burgundy
Benjamin Lewin’s Burgundy (Guides to Wines and Top Vineyards)

The Coche Family

In the 1920s, Léon Coche started his domain after acquiring six parcels in Meursault, Auxey-Duresses and Monthélie. While he did some estate bottling, most of his grapes were sold to négociants. On his passing, the estate was inherited by his 3 children–Julien (who already had founded his own estate in 1940), Georges and Marthe. Georges took over his share of the family estate in 1964 and expanded his holdings with parcels in the Volnay Premier Crus of Clos des Chênes and Les Taillepieds.

Georges’ son, Jean-François Coche, assumed the domain in 1972 and appended the maiden name of his wife, Odile Dury, in 1975. In his nearly 40 years at the helm, Jean-François elevated Domaine Coche-Dury to “cult wine” level. Along with Comtes Lafon, Jancis Robinson describes the estate as one of “Masters of Meursault”. In 2010, Jean-François’ son Raphael took over the family domain as the fourth generation of Coche.

Photo by e_calamar. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-2.0

Through Léon’s grand daughter, some of the Coche family holdings are now in the hands of Domaine Roulot.

The inheritance of Léon’s daughter, Marthe, eventually passed to her daughter Geneviève who married Guy Roulot of Domaine Roulot. That estate is now ran by their son, Jean-Marc Roulot.

In 1940, Julien Coche founded Domaine Julien Coche-Debord with just a single hectare in Meursault. The estate was expanded with some of his inheritance from his father Léon and was further enlarged when his son, Alain, took over added several notable Meursault premier crus like Les Charmes and La Goutte d’Or. Alain also changed the name to Domaine Coche-Bizouard et Fils.

Alain’s son Fabien joined the family estate in 1991 and started a négociant firm (Maison Coche-Bouillot) in 2001. Up through at least the 2013 vintage, wines have been produced under the label Domaine Alain Coche-Bizouard but now the estate is known as Domaine Fabien Coche à Meursault.

Current Coche Estates

Domaine Fabien Coche à Meursault/Maison Coche-Bouillot (Meursault) The estate formerly known as Domaine Coche-Bizouard et Fil and the négociant firm of Alain’s son Fabien. In addition to their holdings in Meursault, the estate also owns parcels in Auxey-Duresses, Monthélie and Pommard. The entire estate produces around 50,000 bottles.

Prime holdings: Batard-Montrachet Grand Cru, Meursault Premier Cru Les Charmes (0.28 ha), Pommard Premier Cru La Platière (0.20 ha)

Domaine Coche-Dury (Meursault) Ran today by Raphael Coche, son of the legendary winemaker Jean-François Coche. The estate bottles more than 70% of its holding with the remainder being sold to négociants like Louis Latour and Louis Jadot. All estate holdings are farmed sustainably with annual production is around 50,000 bottles.

Prime holdings: Corton-Charlemagne Grand Cru (0.34 ha), Meursault Premier Cru Les Perriéres (0.23 ha and 0.37 ha in Les Perriéres-Dessus), Meursault Premier Cru Les Genevriéres (0.20 ha)

Additional Keeping up with the Joneses in Burgundy

The Boillot Familly
The Morey Family
The Gros Family
The Leflaive Family

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60 Second Wine Review — 2007 Poisot Romanée-Saint-Vivant

A few quick thoughts on the 2007 Domaine Poisot Romanée-Saint-Vivant Grand Cru.

The Geekery

Domaine Poisot began in 1902 when Marie Poisot inherited half of her father, Louis Latour’s, estate with her brother, Louis, taking the other half. For many years, the Poisots parcels were farmed in agreement with Maison Latour but starting in the 1980s, Maurice Poisot, grandson of Marie, began taking back the family plots.

In 2010, Maurice’s son Rémi, a captain in the French Navy, returned home after 28 years at sea to take over the estate. The tiny domaine owns around 5 acres that includes choice parcels in the Grand Crus of Romanée-Saint-Vivant (1.2 acres), Corton-Charlemagne (1.4 acres) and Corton-Bressandes (1.06 acres) as well as holdings in Pernand Vergelesses 1er Cru en Caradeux (0.89 acres).

According to Clive Coates in The Wines of Burgundy, the parcel of Romanée-Saint-Vivant that Poisot owns is in the southwest corner of the Grand Cru, just below Romanée-Conti, in the section known as Clos-des-Quatre-Journaux and was historically farmed by the Benedictine monks of Saint-Vivant de Vergy for over 650 years. They share this section of the Grand Cru with other notable domaines like Arnoux, Domaine de l’Arlot, Sylvain Cathiard and Dujac. The section that l’Arlot farms used to belong to Remi’s uncle, Henri Poisot, who sold it in 1990.

The Wine

Medium intensity nose. Some floral herbal notes–fennel and sage. Red fruits like cherries and currants dominant. Fairly youthful aromas for its age.

Photo by ShakataGaNai. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under  CC-BY-SA-3.0

Lots of red cherries in this Burg.


On the palate, those red fruits carry through and bring some subtle oak baking spice like cinnamon and cloves. The herbal notes also carry through and married with the medium-plus acidity, give a savory juiciness to the wine. Medium tannins and medium body do contribute to the silkiness characterized of Romanée-Saint-Vivant but the finish is very short.

The Verdict

An interesting wine that was fun to try but not quite worth the $245-260 to buy.

It’s clear that the domaine is going in a new direction with Rémi Poisot in charge so it is worth keeping an eye on.

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60 Second Wine Review – 2012 Au Pied du Mont Chauve Les Chenevottes

Some quick thoughts on the 2012 Au Pied du Mont Chauve Chassagne-Montrachet from the Premier Cru vineyard of Les Chenevottes.

The Geekery

Made by Domaines Famile Picard, owners of 35 hectares (86.5 acres) in the Côte d’Or, most of which are farmed organic and biodynamically. Since 2010, the wines have been crafted by Fabrice Lesne, former winemaker of Maison Nicolas Potel.

The 1er vineyard of Les Chenevottes in located on the northern end of the village of Chassagne-Montrachet, just southwest and slightly upslope of the Grand Cru vineyard of Le Montrachet with the sites sharing similar orientation and exposure. The Picard family’s plot contain 60+ year old vines that are farmed biodynamically.

Other notable producers that make wine from this Premier Cru include Pierre-Yves Colin-Morey, Domaine Leroy, Marc Colin et Fils, Louis Latour, Henri Boillot, Louis Jadot, Bouchard Aine & Fils and Gerard Thomas & Filles.

The 1er vineyard of Les Chenevottes highlighted with star


The wine
Glistening golden hue. Very visually inviting. The nose is medium-minus intensity. Some tree fruit and white floral notes. A little subtle spice.

The palate is tight. Medium-plus acidity and medium body. You really have to work it in your mouth, rolling it around your tongue to coax out the fruit. The tree fruits become more defined as honey crisp apple and d’Anjou pear. You also start to pick up some oak spice and a little vanilla cream. On the finish, the acidity leaves you salivating and brings out mineral notes. Once the wine gets going, you start to see an impressive balance of weight & presence coupled with freshness and verve.

Everything about this wine is screaming that is a bit young. Its clear that this Chardonnay has a lot of life ahead of it and more story to tell. It’s well worth seeking out a bottle.

Right now, the Wine Searcher average price is $74 which is fair for this quality level. I can see it going up to $90 with the wine still over delivering as a “baby Montrachet”.

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Wine Spectator Grand Tour 2017 Las Vegas (Part I)

The 2017 Wine Spectator Grand Tour Las Vegas was held at the Mirage on Saturday, May 6th

For thoughts on the 2018 Wine Spectator Grand Tour check out the post Déjà Vu at the Wine Spectator Grand Tour

On May 6th, I had the opportunity to attend Wine Spectator’s Grand Tour at the Mirage Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas. Earlier in the day, the 143rd Kentucky Derby was held but for wine lovers like me, the real race that evening was trying to see how many of the 244 outstanding 90+ rated wines we could taste in three short hours.

I topped out at 68 wines with that involving making some hard decisions to miss areas that I would have loved to explore more like New Zealand and Piedmont. It also meant missing some of the wines that poured out quickly such as Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars’ 2012 Cask 23 which was gone about 2 hours into the event. Heading over to the Champagne side last also meant missing the Perrier Jouet’s 2007 Belle Epoque by about half an hour.

One of the observations I made during the evening was how many truly incredible wines only got 90 points. Historically, achieving 90 points from a reputable wine critic was considered a significant achievement for a wine but now it generates as much excitement in many consumers’ eyes as a baseball slugger who hits only 30 home runs a season. Yeah, Ted Williams’ 30 homers was a big deal back in 1951 but that would have him tied for 32nd and keeping company with folks like Kendry Morales, Jedd Gyorko and Curtis Granderson in 2016.

You can partly blame the proliferation of wine critics and wine rating magazines but the truth is that the market is literally flooded with great wine. Advancement in technology and knowledge in both the vineyard and the winery means that consumers have access to more wine of very high quality than ever before. This abundance of choice often means that consumers who focus on critic scores start moving their eye balls higher up the 100 point scale, making wines with scores under 94 points hard press to catch some consumers’ attention.

But Jedd’s got nothing on Teddy Ballgame’s “Blue Steel” action

That made me appreciate the beauty of the Wine Spectator‘s Grand Tour even more. This event, billed as a “United Nations of Wine”, showcased not only the breadth of quality around the globe but also, somewhat ironically, highlighted how much quality is not really defined by a number. While Wine Spectator makes its mark dishing out scores for wine, it was very telling that the vast majority of the 244 wines featured at their event had scores in the 90-93 point range, including 61 wines that scored a mere 90 points. Several of these were highly impressive including one that would make my Top 10 list by the end of the night.

That is why I’m going to start my three part series on the 2017 Wine Spectator Grand Tour with highlighting some of these Jedd Gyorko-scoring wines that are delivering Ted Williams-like quality.


Benovia 2014 La Pommeraie Russian River Pinot noir (90 points. Wine Searcher Average price $59) This was my first time trying wine from this tiny Russian River winery and I was so impressed that I signed up for their mailing list.

Beautiful high intensity aromatics that mixed floral and spice elements. The palate had medium-plus dark fruit notes which were well balanced with enough juicy medium-plus acidity to add elegance to the weight of the fruit. In an evening where I was comparing this wine side by side to other highly acclaimed Pinots such as the Belle Glos (2014 Clark & Telephone), Patz & Hall (2014 Hyde Vineyard) and even a Grand Cru Burgundy from Louis Latour (2014 Corton Grancey), this was the best Pinot noir of the night.

Clos Beauregard 2012 Pomerol (90 points. Wine Searcher Average price $56) Another first time pleasure for me to try. While 2012 as a vintage is a far cry from the very heralded 2009-2010 or the upcoming 2015-2016, it is, in my opinion, a solid vintage that offers good bargains for Bordeaux enthusiasts who need “Cellar Defenders” that that can open up as younger wines while giving their 09/10s and 15/16s more time to age. This Beauregard from Pomerol fits that bill perfectly in offering soft, but full-bodied and structured, tannins with rich dark fruit with spice and chocolate on the finish.

Montecillo 2009 Gran Reserva Rioja (90 points. Wine Searcher Average price $20) Probably one of the best values of the night. Savvy Rioja lovers have long known about Montecillo since it is one of the oldest estates in Rioja and has spent over 140 years making outstanding wines. This 2009 Gran Reserva most impressed me with how well it straddled the line between the modernist, more fruit-forward style of Rioja and the classic, more old-school and oak driven style.

The Montecillo was clearly classic with tobacco and oak spice but it had a rich core of fruit that made the wine seem more fresh than a lot of old-school Gran Reservas tend to be. The event features a lot of great Riojas from producers like Muga (2009 Prado Enea), LAN (2012 Edicion Limitada), and CVNE (2010 Imperial Gran Reserva) but I would put the Montecillo second only to the 2007 La Rioja Alta Gran Reserva 904 for top Rioja of the evening.

Quinta do Vale Meao 2013 Meandro (90 points. Wine Searcher Average price $21) This Portuguese wine is probably fighting head to head with the 2009 Montecillo Gran Reserva for best bargain of the night. Full bodied with chewy tannins and a long savory finish. Again, this will be no surprised to savvy wine geeks who have already been well aware of the outstanding value of dry red wines coming out of the Douro. Nor will this be a shock to Port lovers as the Olazabal Family’s Quinta do Vale Meão vintage Ports have been raking in critical acclaim for several years now.

This wine is a blend of 35% Touriga Nacional, 34% Touriga Franca, 20% Tinta Roriz, 6% Tinta Barroca, 3% Tinto Cão and 2% Sousâo and is almost a “baby brother” to the Quinta do Vale Meão Tinto 2013 that earned 94 points from Wine Spectator and 95 points from Robert Parker. The 2011 version of that wine was #4 on the 2014 Wine Spectator Top 100 wines list. For a $20 wine, this wine punches WAY above its weight and out-shined many bottles that were 3 to 4x the price.

Emilio Moro 2011 Malleolus de Valderramiro Ribera del Duero (90 points. Wine Searcher Average price $85) One of my Top 10 wines of the night. Absolutely stunning wine from one of the top estates in the Ribera del Duero. The nose smelled like dinner at an incredible restaurant with tons of savory meaty character mixed with fragrant Indian spices that can’t help but make your mouth water before taking a sip.

The mouthfeel is velvety with oak and black plums mixed with medium-plus acidity that continues making your mouth water with lingering flavors of fruit and spice for a finish that was several minutes long. And that was just from a taste! I can only imagine how many more layers could unfurl if I had a chance to savor an entire bottle of this wine.

Montes 2012 Alpha M (90 points. Wine Searcher Average price $64) Another great delivery from the Montes family of Chile. This is a Cabernet Sauvignon dominant Bordeaux blend with 10% Cabernet Franc, 5% Merlot and 5% Petit Verdot which gave this wine a lot of tobacco spice and cedar cigar box notes on the nose. Very Bordeaux-like but it was paired with a palate of ripe, juicy black currant and black plum with a velvety mouthfeel closer to that of a nice Napa Cabernet Sauvignon.


S.A. Prum 2010 Wehlener Sonnenuhr GG Old Vine Dry Riesling (90 points. Wine Spectator list price $47) At the beginning of the tasting the Champagne and white wine tables where crushed as people, logically, sought to try those wines first before moving on to the big reds. In order to maximize the amount wines we could experience, my wife and I made the strategy decision to hit the reds first and then towards the end hit the whites with the Rieslings and Bubbles being palate cleansers. It was a risky strategy but this dry Riesling from S.A. Prum made it a smashing success. Intensely dry with lively acidity that scrubbed all the tannins and extract from the 40+ red wines we’ve had by then right off the palate. It was like a B12 shot for the palate and it awaken my taste buds to enjoy the vibrant stone fruit of white peach and almost salty minerality. Such vivacious life for a 7 year old Riesling that still could go on kicking for several more years!

Sbragia 2013 Monte Rosso Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon (90 points. Wine Spectator list price $65) From the legendary Monte Rosso Vineyard in the Moon Mountain district of Sonoma, it would be a sin to call this Cabernet “Napa-like”. Sure, it has the power of ripe black fruits of a great Oakville or Rutherford Cab but there is a freshness to this wine that I often find missing in Napa. It reminds me of an NFL linebacker who studied ballet. Power and grace. While the winery was founded Ed Sbragia, former head winemaker of Beringer, I learned that his son Adam now heads up winemaking duties. While I always enjoyed Ed’s wine, tasting this wine has me even more intrigued at what the future holds for Sbragia.

Ch. du Tertre 2011 Margaux (90 points. Wine Searcher Average price $42) A blend of 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Cabernet Franc, 10% Merlot and 10% Petit Verdot from the 5th growth estate in Margaux. In the “Intermission Years” of Bordeaux between 2009/2010 and 2015/2016, the 2011 vintage would probably rank just slightly ahead of 2013 for roughest of this very rough patch. But as I noted with my comment on the 2012 Clos Beauregard, there are still gems to be found but wine lovers need to be realistic. These are not wines to lay down in the cellar for decades. A wine like the 2011 du Tertre has character and personality with its woodsy and black tea notes on the nose. The medium body tannins with blueberries, dark cherry and truffles and medium-plus acidity would shine with dinner featuring game, mushrooms or a hearty stew.

Caiarossa 2011 Toscana (90 points. Wine Searcher Average price $43) This is an exciting Italian wine project from Eric Albada Jelgersma, owner of the 3rd Growth Bordeaux estate Chateau Giscours and 5th Growth Chateau du Tertre. A blend of 30% Merlot, 24% Cabernet Franc, 22% Syrah and 4% Cabernet Sauvignon it is an unusual blend even by Bordeaux standards, much less something you would expect from Tuscany. But the Cabernet Franc and Syrah in this wine really sing with a mix of blackberry, violet and peppery spice. On the finish there is some intriguing dark chocolate and espresso notes that pop out. This is a wine tailor-made to impress wine geeks.

Ornellaia 2014 (90 points. Wine Searcher Average price $168) I was shocked to see this wine as I didn’t even realized it was released yet! One of the classic Super Tuscans, this wine is a blend of 34% Cabernet Sauvignon, 32% Merlot, 20% Petit Verdot and 14% Cabernet Franc. Huge, huge tobacco. There are many cigar bars in Vegas and this wine smelled like I walked into one. It has some interesting aspects but with the big, chewy tannins this wine needs a lot of time. If I had a bottle, I wouldn’t think of touching it for at least another 3-5 years but its best days are probably 10+ years away.

Volver 2014 La Mancha (90 points. Wine Searcher Average price $16) For many New World wine lovers, shopping for European wines can be a scary proposition with so many unfamiliar names, labels and grape varieties. One of the easiest thing you can do is to start learning importer names. Flip the bottle around and look at the back label for names like Kermit Lynch, Becky Wasserman, Alfio Morconi, Frederick Wildman and, if you’re looking at Spanish wine, Jorge Ordonez. The gems he finds are outstanding such as this old vine, single vineyard Tempranillo that had gorgeous juicy red fruit with a medium-plus body that gave the wine elegance and finesse.

Coming up next: The Heavy Hitters and 94+ rated wines.

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