Tag Archives: Merlot

Cannonball Run and Review

The 1981 Burt Reynolds film Cannonball Run is a classic campy action film. But it’s also one of those films that can get a little cringe-worthy watching it in a modern light.

CannonBall Run posted. Uploaded to Wikipedia under Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=11146898

Based around a fabled cross-country race, the film has an all-star cast that includes Reynolds, Farrah Fawcett, Dom DeLuise, Roger Moore, Dean Martin, Jackie Chan, Sammy Davis Jr., Peter Fonda, Mel Tillis and Terry Bradshaw as well as a heap of “good ole boy” bawdiness.

Fawcett’s character gets kidnapped to be a fake patient in Reynolds’ souped up ambulance. She’s drugged by a creepy doctor (played by Jack Elam) when it’s convenient for Reynolds to use her unconscious body to avoid speeding tickets.

When she comes to, she sleepily smiles and asks if any of the men laid a finger on her while she was out. The joke was that the only thing they did was give her “a little prick” (of a needle, har, har). But, of course, everything is okay because she eventually falls for her captor. Never mind that he didn’t care to even want to learn her name at the beginning and just called her “Beauty”.

Then there was the Vixen Team played by Marcie Thatcher and Jill Rivers who responded to every obstacle in their path by unzipping their racing suits to show more cleavage.

Yet as problematic as Cannonball Run is by today’s standards, it’s hard to judge it too harshly. It was certainly a different time 37 years ago and Cannonball Run was never meant to be taken as a serious film. It was always just a silly, popcorn muncher.

Why am I waxing philosophically about an old Burt Reynolds film?

You could blame a late night Netflix binge. But really why we’re here is because of my recent experience with the Cannonball Eleven wines from Share a Splash Wine Co.

While the Cannonball brand was built on value oriented supermarket wines in the $10-15 range (the popcorn munchers of the wine world), the Cannonball Eleven series is marketed as a more elevated and terroir driven offering.

It’s more Academy Award nominated Boogie Nights Burt Reynolds than Cannonball Run Reynolds–with certainly less “Captain Chaos”.

Intrigued by Cannonball’s all-star cast of Dennis Hill (formerly of Seghesio, Alexander Valley Vineyards, Martin Ray and founding winemaker of Blackstone) and Ondine Chattan (formerly of Ridge, Cline and Geyser Peak), I decided to give these new wines a try.

Full Disclosure: These wines were sent to me as samples.

The Background

Cannonball Wine Company was founded in 2006 in Healdsburg, Sonoma by Yoav Gilat and Dennis Hill.

Focusing on under $20 wines blended from a variety of California regions, the company eventually grew to include a portfolio of brands like Angels & Cowboys Wines, High Dive (a collaboration with Napa Valley winemakers Scott Palazzo of Palazzo Wines and Peter Heitz of Turnbull Wine Cellars) and the Marlborough winery Astrolabe.

In 2017, Cannonball Wine Company relaunched itself as Share a Splash Wine Co.

The Wines

2017 Cannonball Eleven Sauvignon blanc Dry Creek Valley ($24.99)
Cannonball Sauvignon blanc

I’m not a big fan of grassy and green New Zealand Sauvignon blancs so this tropical but elegant Cannonball Eleven Sauvignon blanc hit a lot of pleasure notes.

A 100% Sauvignon blanc, the wine was primarily fermented in stainless steel with a small portion fermented in (presumably neutral) French oak barrels. Around 14,000 bottles were made.

Medium-plus intensity nose. Very tropical with lots of citrus starfruit and melon notes. What’s interesting is that you can get both the zest and pulp aromatics from the fruit. No sign of oak on the nose.

On the palate, the medium-plus acidity makes the tropical fruit tastes very fresh and juicy. Still no oak flavors but the medium body weight of the fruit is balanced by a creamy texture that isn’t that dissimilar to a white Bordeaux. The moderate finish keeps with the fresh tropical flavors but tilts more towards the zestier aspects of the fruit.

2017 Cannonball Eleven Chardonnay Sonoma Coast ($34.99)
Cannonball Chardonnay

I gave these wines nearly a month from when I received them to settle down from travel shock.
I suspect the awkwardness of this Chard is due to its youth,

A 100% Chardonnay, this wine was fermented in a combination of stainless steel and French oak barrels (20% new and 15% second fill). After fermentation, 40% of the wine was aged 8 months in neutral French oak barrels sur lie. Around 15,000 bottles were produced.

Medium-minus intensity nose. Tree fruits like apple with some pastry tart elements. A little vanilla and baking spice from the oak. Rather muted even as the wine warms in the glass.

On the palate, the apple notes carry through and also spice d’Anjou pear with them. There is still some of the pastry baking elements but the presence of oak is much more toned down. Medium-plus acidity gives balance to the medium-plus body fruit. There’s texture to the mouthfeel but it isn’t very malo driven. Unfortunately everything just quickly fades on the mid-palate ending on a practically non-existent finish.

2016 Cannonball Eleven Merlot Sonoma County ($34.99)

A blend of 94% Merlot with 6% Petite Sirah sourced from the Dry Creek and Russian River Valleys. The wine received a cold soak prior to fermentation in stainless steel before being aged in French oak barrels for 6 to 20 months. I suspect that probably the Petite Sirah was aged closer to the 6 month mark while most of the Merlot lots in the blend were aged longer.

Medium-plus intensity nose. Lots of oak with noticeable vanilla as well as chocolate latte aromatics. It’s a very toasty latte like the burnt coffee base of Starbucks. Underneath the oak and chocolate is some dark fruit but it’s hard to make out at this point.

On the palate, the chocolate definitely carries through and so does the dark fruit which become more defined as cherries. But also here is where a distinct streak of pyrazines, particularly jalapeno, emerges. Medium acidity adds a soft lushness to the medium-plus tannins. It’s just enough to hold up the full-bodied fruit. The moderate finish unfortunately lingers on the chocolate-covered jalapenos.

The Verdict

The Dry Creek Sauvignon blanc is by far the strongest of the three Cannonball Eleven wines I tried. It’s clearly California with the warm climate fruit but it has an elegant structure and mouthfeel that you don’t often find in California Sauvignon blancs. It’s versatile as an easy drinking sipper but has the depth to be a solid food pairing wine.

Compared to its peers, I would put the Cannonball Eleven above the similarly priced Emmolo and Duckhorn and not that far off from the $30-35 Cakebread Sauvignon blanc.

I suspect that the Sonoma Coast Chardonnay is in an awkward phase. It tastes a bit disjointed with some of the baby-fat of oak on the nose and the fruit quickly fading on the palate.
It seems to have decent structure and probably will improve with at least 6 months more bottle age. With its acidity and balance I can see this improving even for another 2 to 3 years.

But right now it reminds me more of the $13-16 Kendall Jackson Grand Reserve than it does other Sonoma Coast Chardonnays like Amici and Paul Hobbs’ Crossbarn which can often be had in the $23-26 range. With a price in the realm of Ramey, Failia and Patz & Hall’s Sonoma Coast bottlings, it’s hard to say the Cannonball Eleven Chardonnay is justifying that at the moment.

Oh but that Merlot…
Cannonball Merlot

Yeah, not my thing.

The only Cannonball Eleven wine that wouldn’t personally buy is the Merlot. The combination of overt oak, chocolate and pyrazines just isn’t my style. The best way I can describe this wine is as a bowl of chocolate covered cherries and jalapenos.

Maybe we did have some “Captain Chaos” after all.

I can possibly see this wine working for folks who aren’t as sensitive to pyrazines. If you can look past the green notes, it does have jammy, chocolately fruit with a lush mouthfeel. However, you can find wines in that style (particularly California red blends) for far less than $35.

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Bordeaux Futures 2017 — Gruaud-Larose, Lagrange, Ducru-Beaucaillou, La Croix Ducru-Beaucaillou

It’s been a few months since we’ve visited the 2017 Bordeaux futures campaign. Travel played a big role in that gap but my wallet also needed a bit of a break as well. But we’re going to return now and head to St. Julien to look at the offers for the 2nd Growths Gruaud Larose and Ducru-Beaucaillou, the third growth Chateau Lagrange and the second wine of Ducru-Beaucaillou.

If you want to catch up, a good place to start is with our first Bordeaux Futures 2017 post covering the offers of Palmer, Valandraud, Fombrauge and Haut-Batailley. There I also lay out my general outlook and philosophy on buying futures for this vintage.

You can also check out the links at the bottom to see what other offers have been previously reviewed in this series.

Ch. Gruaud-Larose (St. Julien)

Some Geekery:
Bottles of Chateau Gruaud Larose in Bordeaux

Bottles of 1815 Ch. Gruaud Larose resting in the cellars of the St. Julien estate

The reputation of Gruard-Larose dates back to the early 18th century when it was owned by a French knight, Joseph Stanislas Gruaud. In the 1750s, two of his descendants, a priest and a magistrate took control. The brothers purchased adjoining parcels, enlarging the estate to 116 ha (287 acres), and established a reputation for high quality.

Clive Coates notes in his work Grand Vins, that during this time the wines of Fond Bedeau (as it was known then) fetched some of the highest prices in St. Julien and was only behind the four First Growths in reputation.

Coates also notes the eccentricity of the magistrate Gruaud who eventually assumed control of the estate. He constructed a large tower, a replica of which is still in use today, in the vineyard so he could keep eye on his workers.

At the end of each harvest, he would also raise a flag up on the tower indicating the nationality of buyers who he thought would most appreciate the style of the vintage. If the wines were full-bodied and firm in structure, he would raise a British flag. For vintages that were more soft and easy drinking, he would raise a German flag. If the style of the year fell somewhere in the middle, then the magistrate would raise a Dutch flag.

The Establishment and Break Up of Gruaud-Larose

When the magistrate passed in 1778, the property was inherited by his daughter and son-in-law, Joseph Sebastian de La Rose. The new estate was christened Ch. Gruaud-Larose. As Lieutenant-Governor of the Province of Guyenne, M. Larose was able to get his wines served at numerous public events held by the nobility prior to the outbreak of the French Revolution. These events featured not only Gruaud-Larose but also those of his Haut-Medoc estate Ch. Larose-Trintaudon located outside the borders of Pauillac and Saint Laurent. Several cases of Gruaud-Larose also made their way to the nascent United States.

Following the outbreak of the French Revolution and the financial difficulties of the Napoleonic era, the descendants of Larose had to put the estate up for auction in 1812. It was purchased by a consortium of individuals who included the Baron Jean Auguste Sarget. Eventually disagreements with Baron Sarget and the heirs of the other owners led to a splitting of the estate in 1867. From then until 1935 when the Cordier family reunited the property, there were two Gruaud-Larose wines–Ch. Gruaud-Larose-Sarget and Ch. Gruaud Larose-Bethmann (later Ch. Gruaud Larose Faure).

The Cordier family maintained ownership of the property, along with the 4th Growth Ch. Talbot, the 5th Growth Ch. Cantemerle, Ch. Meyney in St. Estephe, Clos des Jacobins in Saint Emilion and Ch. Lafaurie-Peyraguey, for several decades until selling it to the Suez Banking Group in 1985. Gruaud-Larose went through a succession of owners until 1997 when it was purchased by the Merlaut family of the Taillan Group.

Ch. Gruaud-Larose Today
Chateau Gruaud Larose

Outside the chateau of Gruaud-Larose

Today it is part of a portfolio that includes the 3rd Growth Margaux estate of Ch. Ferriere, the 5th Growth Ch. Haut-Bages-Liberal in Pauillac, Ch. Chasse-Spleen, Ch. Citran and Ch. La Gurgue. It is unique among the 1855 classified estate in that the vineyards are relatively the same as they were when the estate was first classified.

Most of the estate is one large block of vines between Branaire-Ducru and Ch. Lagrange with another segment separated from the commune of Cussac and the Haut-Medoc estate of Ch. Lanessan by a stream. Compared to other estates in the Medoc, Gruaud-Larose tends to have a significant amount of clay in the soil (particularly in the parcels close to Lanessan). However, plantings in recent years has focused on increasing the amount of Cabernet Sauvignon and pulling up parcels of Merlot and Cabernet Franc.

The vineyards are farmed organically with several of the parcels farmed biodynamically. Around 18,000 cases a year are produced with some fruit being declassified to the estate’s second wine Sarget Larose.

The 2017 vintage is a blend of 67% Cabernet Sauvignon, 31.5% Merlot and 1.5% Cabernet Franc.

Critic Scores:

92-94 Wine Enthusiast (WE), 91-94 Wine Spectator (WS), 92-93 James Suckling (JS), 90-92 Vinous Media (VM), 90-92 Jeb Dunnick (JD)

Sample Review:

The 2017 Gruaud Larose is pliant, deep and quite expressive, while staying light on its feet. In 2017, Gruaud is a wine of precision and nuance rather than volume. There is lovely persistence and nuance in the glass. Even so, I can’t help thinking there is quite a bit of unrealized potential here. All of the wine was fermented in oak vats, with slightly higher than normal temperatures for the Cabernets. — Antonio Galloni, Vinous Media

Offers:

Wine Searcher 2017 Average: $73
JJ Buckley: No offers yet.
Vinfolio: No offers yet.
Spectrum Wine Auctions: No offers yet.
Total Wine: $74.97 (no shipping with wines sent to local Total Wine store for pick up)
K&L: $69.99 + shipping (no shipping if picked up at 1 of 3 K & L locations in California)

Previous Vintages:

2016 Wine Searcher Ave: $85 Average Critic Score: 92 points
2015 Wine Searcher Ave: $83 Average Critic Score: 93 points
2014 Wine Searcher Ave: $71 Average Critic Score: 92 points
2013 Wine Searcher Ave: $68 Average Critic Score: 89 points

Buy or Pass?

A lot of wine experts feel that Gruaud-Larose turned a corner after the 2009 vintages. While notoriously inconsistent and noted for wines that were often quite awkward and austere in their youth, the thinking was that this new era of Gruaud-Larose would bring the estate back to the some of the glory that originally earned it a 2nd Growth classification.

After visiting the estate in 2016 and tasting several of its recent releases at Union des Grands Crus de Bordeaux tastings, I do think the estate has got the consistent quality part down pat. But I’m skeptical that the “awkwardness” and austerity of youth is gone. These wines are still remarkably tannic and well-structured. They are certainly built for the long haul which makes them a good investment for cellar-worthy vintages.

But for vintages like 2017 where I have an eye for more early-drinking styles, this is not an estate I have on my radar. Pass.

Ch. Lagrange (St. Julien)

Some Geekery:
Winery of Ch. Lagrange

The cuvier of Ch. Lagrange

The estate that is now known as Ch. Lagrange dates back to the Middle Ages when it was known as Maison Noble de Lagrange Monteil. Wine production has taken place since at least the 1630s when it was owned by Jean de Cours, the Sire de Paulliac, who acquired the estate by marrying Marguerite de Vivien.

In the 18th century, it came under the ownership of the Baron de Brane who also owned Brane Cantenac and Mouton Brane (later Mouton-Rothschild). At this time the wines were sold as Baron St. Julien.

During the French Revolution and into the Napoleonic era, the estate was owned by Jean-Valère Cabarrus who eventually became Napoleon’s Finance Minister to Spain. Cabarrus daughter, Thérèse, was notable for saving many nobles from facing the guillotine during the Revolution and being the lover of Jules Ouvard who owned both Clos Vougeot and Domaine de la Romanee-Conti.

The next couple centuries saw a succession of ownership changes including a time in the care of John Lewis Brown who owned Ch. Cantenac Brown in Margaux and Ch. Brown in Pessac-Leognan. For most of the 20th century, Lagrange was owned by the Cendoya family from the Basque region of Spain. Financial difficulties during that period caused the Cendoyas to have sell off parcels of vineyards including several hectares used by Henri Martin to found Chateau Gloria. In 1970, the Borie family of Ch. Ducru-Beaucaillou purchased 32 ha (79 acres) with a good chunk of that eventually becoming the estate Ch. Lalande-Borie.

Stephen Brook notes in The Complete Bordeaux that by the time the Japanese whiskey firm Suntory purchased the estate in 1983, it had shrunk from 120 ha (297 acres) to just 57 ha (141 acres) with under half the vines being Merlot.

Ch. Lagrange Today
Chateau Lagrange in Bordeaux

Visiting Ch. Lagrange in St. Julien.

Upon their acquisition of Lagrange, Suntory began investing millions into renovations in the vineyard and winery. Marcel Ducasse was brought on to manage the estate with Emile Peynaud and Michel Delon consulting.

Suntory and Ducasse initiated what Clive Coates called “a Renaissance” at Lagrange and noted that Suntory was uniquely qualified to help the 3rd Growth estate reclaim its standings. In addition to the vast capital from their whiskey empire (which now includes Jim Beam), Suntory is the largest importer and distributor of French wine in Japan. They also have owned a vineyard at the base of Mt. Fuji for many decades, the Yamanashi Vineyard, producing wine under the label of Ch. Lion. Suntory’s head enologist, Kenji Suzuta, spent time at Lagrange assisting Ducasse.

Ducasse introduced sustainable viticulture to Lagrange with many parcels farmed organically. He also began an extremely selective sorting regiment in the vineyard and the winery which necessitated the creation of a second wine, Les Fief de Lagrange, in 1985.

Stephen Brook notes that the strict selection process continued even after Ducasse successfully rehabbed Lagrange’s image and through his retirement in 2007. Today, under the direction of Bruno Eynard, many top quality parcels of Lagrange are still declassified down to the second wine, making Les Fief de Lagrange a top value in Bordeaux.

Today Lagrange produces around 60,000 cases of the Grand Vin each year.

The 2017 vintage is a blend of 78% Cabernet Sauvignon, 18% Merlot and 4% Petit Verdot.

Critic Scores:

92-93 JS, 89-92 WS, 89-92 VM, 89-91 Wine Advocate (WA), 91-93 JD

Sample Review:

The 2017 Château Lagrange is certainly a success in the vintage. Possessing a great nose of crème de cassis, violets, and spicy oak, it hits the palate with medium to full-bodied richness, a terrific mid-palate, present tannin, but a sexy, forward, charming style that’s already hard to resist. It should keep for two decades or more. — Jeb Dunnuck, JebDunnuck.com

Offers:

Wine Searcher 2017 Average: $46
JJ Buckley: No offers yet.
Vinfolio: No offers yet.
Spectrum Wine Auctions: No offers yet.
Total Wine: $44.97
K&L: No offers yet.

Previous Vintages:

2016 Wine Searcher Ave: $55 Average Critic Score: 92 points
2015 Wine Searcher Ave: $51 Average Critic Score: 91
2014 Wine Searcher Ave: $48 Average Critic Score: 91 points
2013 Wine Searcher Ave: $43 Average Critic Score: 89 points

Buy or Pass?

This 2009 Les Fiefs de Lagrange was outrageously delicious. I would put it on par with many 3rd Growths by itself in the $50-60 range.

This was another estate that I had the opportunity to visit in 2016. While I was a little underwhelmed with the 2012 Lagrange they poured, I was blown away by how scrumptiously delicious the 2009 Les Fief de Lagrange (Wine Searcher Ave $45) was. However, I don’t want to judge the Grand Vin too harshly on a youthful showing from an average vintage (especially compared to the more superior 2009 vintage).

But with that track record, I am going to be cautious. There is definitely value in the 2017 offering being priced less than the 2014-2016 vintages so I can’t blame anyone for pulling the trigger. I’m still going to take a “wait and see” approach. It’s unlikely that the price will jump dramatically so I’m okay with give it a Pass for now.

Ch. Ducru-Beaucaillou (St. Julien)

Some Geekery:

Clive Coates notes that Ducru-Beaucaillou was originally known as Maucaillou (bad stones) because of how difficult the stoney soil was to work with. Once the quality of the wine from the vineyard began garnering attention in the 1700s, the name gradually changed to Beaucaillou (beautiful stones).

The “Ducru” part of the name came in 1795 when Bertrand Ducru purchased the estate and commissioned the famous Parisian architect, Paul Abadie, to design the chateau. His descendants would later sell Ducru-Beaucaillou in 1866 to Lucie Caroline Dassier, wife of the notable Bordeaux merchant Nathaniel Johnston. Johnston unsuccessfully tried to change the name to just Beaucaillou but by this point the name, and its 2nd Growth classification, had solidified itself in the market.

It was during this time at Ducru-Beaucaillou when vineyard manager Ernest David accidentally stumbled upon the recipe for the famous “Bordeaux mixture“. According to Coates, David was looking to thwart thieves who were snatching grapes from the vineyard by painting the vines closest to the road with an organic blue-green mixture of copper sulfate and lime.

Neighboring growers and professors from the University of Bordeaux noticed that these treated vines did not get infected by powdery or downey mildew and convinced David to conduct more trials. Cautious about adverse effects on the Ducru vines, the trials that eventually confirmed the efficacy of the Bordeaux Mixture were conducted at another property of the Johnston family–the 5th Growth Ch. Dauzac in Margaux.

Ducru-Beaucaillou Today
Photo by Megan Mallen. Uploaded to Wikimedia commons under CC-BY-2.0

Bruno Borie of Ducru-Beaucaillou

In 1941, the estate was purchased by the Borie family who still own the property today. In addition to Ducru, the family owns the 5th Growth Pauillac estates of Grand Puy Lacoste and Haut Batailley. These estates are managed by Francois Xavier Borie with his brother, Bruno, managing Ducru-Beaucaillou.

From 1986 to 1995, the estate was plagued with systematic cork taint issues that required significant investment to eradicate. Many of the bottles from this period had to be recorked with those demonostrating noticeable TCA destroyed.

Beginning in the late 20th century, production of the Grand Vin at Ducru started decreasing from a high point of 20,000 to 25,000 cases in the early 1980s to around 9,000 to 11,000 cases today.

Since 2010, Virginie Sallette has been the technical director working with long time cellar master René Lusseau.

The 2017 vintage is a blend of 90% Cabernet Sauvignon and 10% Merlot. Due to more severe selection in this vintage, there is estimated to only be around 7500 cases produced for 2017.

Critic Scores:

97-98 JS, 95-97 WA, 94-96 WE, 93-96 WS, 93-96 VM, 96-98 Jeff Leve (JL), 94-96 JD

Sample Review:

There was no frost at Ducru-Beaucaillou in 2017 due to its proximity to the estuary. This barrel sample comes from the final blend, which was made in early 2018. Composed of 90% Cabernet Sauvignon and 10% Merlot and sporting a deep garnet-purple color, the 2017 Ducru-Beaucaillou is intensely scented of blackcurrant cordial, blackberries and lavender with hints of crushed rocks, iron ore, rose hips and Provence herbs plus touches of wood smoke and sandalwood. Medium-bodied, very firm and grainy in the mouth, it possesses lovely freshness, lifting the intense flavors, finishing long and minerally. Sporting an incredible core of muscular mid-palate fruit, this wine should age incredibly. — Lisa Perrotti-Brown, Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate

Offers:

Wine Searcher 2017 Average: $169
JJ Buckley: $167.94 + shipping (no shipping if picked up at Oakland location)
Vinfolio: $175 + shipping
Spectrum Wine Auctions: No offers yet.
Total Wine: $169.97
K&L: $169.99 + shipping

Previous Vintages:

2016 Wine Searcher Ave: $206 Average Critic Score: 95 points
2015 Wine Searcher Ave: $199 Average Critic Score: 95 points
2014 Wine Searcher Ave: $151 Average Critic Score: 95 points
2013 Wine Searcher Ave: $126 Average Critic Score: 92 points

Buy or Pass?

While Ducru is a wine that I never want to open up too young, it’s virtually an automatic buy for me every year. Just stellar stuff that’s usually worth bending my financial discipline a bit for. While the 2017 is priced a little above the 2014, the reduced yields and supply likely played a significant role.

It’s still well below 2015 & 2016 levels and is a wine that I can see jumping $20-25 higher when it hits the market. That makes its a justifiable Buy for at least a bottle or two.

La Croix Ducru-Beaucaillou (St. Julien)

Some Geekery:

La Croix is the second wine of Ducru-Beaucaillou that was first introduced in 1995. Since 2005, the wine has been produced from dedicated plots located near Ch. Talbot instead of just declassified fruit from the Grand Vin.

Starting with a limited release in 2009 and with all bottlings since 2010, the labels have been designed by Jade Jagger, daughter of rock star Mick Jagger.

The 2017 vintage is a blend of 58% Merlot, 39% Cabernet Sauvignon and 3% Petit Verdot.

Critic Scores:

92-94 WE, 92-93 JS, 90-93 VM, 89-92 WS, 89-91 WA, 90-92 JD

Sample Review:

The Merlot here is grown on sandy-gravel soils and brings both freshness and structure. There’s good balance, plush autumnal berry fruits and lovely spice, supported by well placed, delicate tannins. It’s a clear Médoc twist on the varietal, even though this is a little lusher and more approachable than in recent years where Cabernet Sauvignon has been higher in the blend – last year it was at 66%, but vintage conditions in 2017 affected some of the crop. It’s a little different in expression from 2016, but is an extremely high quality, great drinking wine. (91 points) — Jane Anson, Decanter

Offers:

Wine Searcher 2017 Average: $45
JJ Buckley: No offers yet
Vinfolio: No offers yet.
Spectrum Wine Auctions: No offers yet.
Total Wine: $44.97
K&L: No offers yet.

Previous Vintages:

2016 Wine Searcher Ave: $56 Average Critic Score: 92 points
2015 Wine Searcher Ave: $58 Average Critic Score: 92 points
2014 Wine Searcher Ave: $50 Average Critic Score: 91 points
2013 Wine Searcher Ave: $35 Average Critic Score: 90 points

Buy or Pass?

My affinity for Ducru certainly extends to its second wine which I often buy. A bit unusual in being a Merlot-dominant Medoc in this vintage, I find that these Merlot heavy blends usually fall picture perfect into the role of “Cellar Defender” that I’m seeking in years like 2017.

The pedigree, coupled with solid pricing under 2013-2016 vintages makes this a good Buy for me.

More Posts About the 2017 Bordeaux Futures Campaign

Why I Buy Bordeaux Futures

*Bordeaux Futures 2017 — Langoa Barton, La Lagune, Barde-Haut, Branaire-Ducru

*Bordeaux Futures 2017 — Pape Clément, Ormes de Pez, Marquis d’Alesme, Malartic-Lagraviere

*Bordeaux Futures 2017 — Lynch-Bages, d’Armailhac, Clerc-Milon and Duhart-Milon

*Bordeaux Futures 2017 — Clos de l’Oratoire, Monbousquet, Quinault l’Enclos, Fonplegade

*Bordeaux Futures 2017 — Cos d’Estournel, Les Pagodes des Cos, Phélan Ségur, Calon-Segur

*Bordeaux Futures 2017 — Clinet, Clos L’Eglise, L’Evangile, Nenin

*Bordeaux Futures 2017 — Malescot-St.-Exupéry, Prieuré-Lichine, Lascombes, Cantenac-Brown

*Bordeaux Futures 2017 — Domaine de Chevalier, Larrivet Haut-Brion, Les Carmes Haut-Brion, Smith Haut Lafitte

*Bordeaux Futures 2017 — Beychevelle, Talbot, Clos du Marquis, Gloria

*Bordeaux Futures 2017 — Beau-Séjour Bécot, Canon-la-Gaffelière, Canon, La Dominique

*Bordeaux Futures 2017 — Carruades de Lafite, Pedesclaux, Pichon Lalande, Reserve de la Comtesse de Lalande

*Bordeaux Futures 2017 — Vieux Chateau Certan, La Conseillante, La Violette, L’Eglise Clinet

*Bordeaux Futures 2017 — Montrose, La Dame de Montrose, Cantemerle, d’Aiguilhe

*Bordeaux Futures 2017 — Clos Fourtet, Larcis Ducasse, Pavie Macquin, Beauséjour Duffau-Lagarrosse

*Bordeaux Futures 2017 — Kirwan, d’Issan, Brane-Cantenac, Giscours

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Exploring the Cascade Valley at WBC18

As I was looking back at my notes and photos from the 2018 Wine Bloggers Conference, I realized that I had a serious Day 2 omission. That Friday was a jam pack day. Between the panel on Wine Blogging vs Influencing, Lewis Perdue’s keynote speech and the mystery dinner excursion, I totally forgot to note all the fun discoveries at the lunch sponsored by Cascade Valley Wine Country.

Which is a downright shame on my part because this area is a hot bed for great family wineries. It was also the source of one of the best wines I had at the entire conference.

Some Geekery

Located in north-central Washington State, Cascade Valley Wine Country includes the winemaking hubs of Lake Chelan, Wenatchee and Leavenworth. The area is home to over 50 wineries and many more satellite tasting rooms.

In some ways, the Cascade Valley Wine Country is more geography–rather than terroir–oriented. Just like Woodinville Wine Country, the vast majority of wines made in the area comes from fruit sourced elsewhere in the state like Red Mountain, Wahluke Slope, Horse Heavens and Walla Walla.

However, that dynamic is changing. Several of the wines I tried at the Wine Bloggers Conference (like Hard Roe to Hoe’s Lake Chelan Pinot, Tipsy Canyon’s Viognier and Stemilt Creek’s red blend) came from fruit grown in the valley. With the establishment of Lake Chelan’s own AVA in 2009 and the potential for Wenatchee to get one, the growth potential in this area is immense.

It’s particularly intriguing for an industry grappling with the impact of climate change. While eastern Washington is a lot warmer than many people give credit for, the higher elevation sites around Wenatchee and Leavenworth and the moderate lake effect of Chelan does offer a more temperate climate compared to the very hot AVAs of Red Mountain and Wahluke Slope.

The Ancient Lakes region south of Wenatchee was designated as an AVA and has already shown an affinity for producing outstanding cool-climate wines.

It’s very likely that the future of the Washington wine industry is emerging here in the Cascade Valley.

Wines I Tried

In addition to the lunch sponsored by Cascade Valley Wine Country, I also got a chance to try some of the region’s wines at the speed blogging events on day 2 and day 3.

Hard Row to Hoe 2016 Pinot noir from Lake Chelan

Outside of maybe Otis Kenyon, this winery has the best backstory in Washington. Let’s just say the ladies of Moulin Rouge would be proud. If you are in Manson, it’s well worth the visit to the Phelps family winery just to experience it and hear more of this place’s fascinating history.

Pinot noir is a tough grape to market in Washington. As I noted in my review of Whidbey Island’s Pinot noir from Puget Sound, few Washington Pinots have impressed me. But I do see a lot of potential in this Lake Chelan Pinot noir. It had bright acidity, good balance with oak and nice juicy fruit. It just didn’t quite deliver the depth and layers that you can find from Oregon for the same $40 mark. I strongly suspect that vine age will play an important role because the climate and terroir of Lake Chelan seems, on paper, to be ideal for Pinot.

Succession 2017 Viognier from the Columbia Valley

Owned by Brock and Erica Lindsay, Succession Wines was named this year by Wine Press Northwest as the 2018 Washington Winery to Watch.

Their tiny production of 138 cases of Viognier definitely demonstrates the very fruity, tropical side of the grape. At around $26, I can see these appealing to fans of Pinot gris. I couldn’t find any technical notes but I suspect this wine has a touch of residual sugar which amplifies the fruitiness.

Tipsy Canyon 2017 Viognier from the Columbia Valley

Owned by the Garvin family, this Viognier is sourced from the Antoine Creek Vineyard north of Lake Chelan. That vineyard is also the source of an outstanding sparkling Viognier made by Cairdeas Winery as well.

I will admit that this Tipsy Canyon Viognier was more of my personal style than the Succession one. It tasted noticeably drier with crisp medium-plus acidity and a little stoney minerality. You wouldn’t confuse it for a Condrieu but it is a bottle that you could empty very easily in one sitting.

Unfortunately, they don’t seem to have much of a website or web presence so I couldn’t find out what this Viognier costs. For myself, I would rank this just slightly behind àMaurice’s sinfully delicious Viognier that runs $28-35. If this Tipsy Canyon falls into the $23-28 range, I would have no problem buying multiple bottles of it.

Stemilt Creek 2014 Boss Lady Red from the Columbia Valley

Founded in 2001 by Kyle and Jan Mathison in Wenatchee, Stemilt Creek sources primarily from their own estate vineyard that they farm sustainably. The 2014 Boss Lady is a blend of 46% Syrah, 30% Merlot, 18% Cabernet Sauvignon, 3% Cabernet Franc and 3% Petit Verdot.

I am a huge fan of the “Hermitage’d” Bordeaux-style wines that add Syrah to the traditional Bordeaux blend. It takes the structure and dark fruit you typically associate with Cab-Merlot and adds gorgeous spiciness. At $24, this Boss Lady Red from Stemilt Creek is a killer value that should probably be priced more in the $30-35 range.

Baroness Cellars 2016 Riesling from Red Mountain.

Founded by Danielle Clements, Baroness Cellars is based in Leavenworth where Clements makes food-friendly European style wines.

While details on this 2016 Red Mountain Riesling is scare, I’m incredibly fascinated with how well she succeeded here. Though off-dry in style, this wine still had crackling acidity that reminded me a lively German Kabinett. Really surprising to see this came from the very warm Red Mountain AVA.

Put Chateau Faire Le Pont on your radars

By far one of the most impressive wines at the entire conference was the 2014 Chateau Faire Le Pont Sangiovese from the Wahluke Slope.

Making good quality Sangiovese (especially domestically) is tough. Despite the proliferation of Chiantis, Brunellos and other Tuscan wines, the grape is actually rather finicky to grow outside of its native Italian homeland. The Antinori family invested millions into their Atlas Peak Antica project–feeling that was the ideal spot for Sangiovese–only to have to admit defeat and move many of those parcels over to Cabernet Sauvignon. For a family with 26 generations of winemaking experience, that’s a tough pill to swallow.

Can Washington do better? Leonetti has been making a tasty Sangiovese sourced from vineyards in Walla Walla but that bottle is usually $80+. For rosé, it has shown great promise such as this delicious example from Davenport Cellars sourced from Ciel du Cheval fruit on Red Mountain. Kaella Winery in Woodinville also used to make a great Sangio rosé from the same vineyard before an ownership change altered its style.

Wine Notes

The 2014 Chateau Faire Le Pont Sangiovese had a terrific medium-plus bouquet with a mix of bright red cherries and savory spice notes. Ripe medium-plus tannins gave it great structure and held up the full-body fruit of the wine well. The medium-plus acidity enhanced the savory spices and contributed a mouthwatering quality which lingered on the long finish. Sangiovese’s best role is usually on the table and this was certainly a winner at lunch with several bloggers going from table to table to find more bottles to finish off.

Again, details are unfortunately scarce outside of noting it was sourced from the Wahluke Slope and that it runs for around $40. Well worth that price.

Other Cascade Valley wineries I’ve enjoyed in the past

Ancestry Cellars (Manson)

Full disclosure, I went to winemaking school with Jason Morin so I’ve had many opportunities to try his great food friendly wines. His 2017 Pinot gris, in particular, hits it out of the park and shows that not all Northwest Pinot gris have to been on the fruity, slightly sweet side.

Cairdeas Winery (Chelan)

Another disclosure, Charlie Lybecker is also a Northwest Wine Academy alum and I’ve been a big fan of his wines for a while. His Rhones are outstanding and the 2014 Caislén an Pápa Chateauneuf-du-Pape style blend was one my top wines from the 2017 Taste Washington Grand Tasting.

Karma Vineyards (Chelan)

By far, some of the best domestic sparklers in the US. I may only rank Schramsberg in California above them but, honestly, the separation is not much at all. Their wines featured at this year’s Taste Washington The New Vintage made dealing with that hellish cattle-call almost worth it.

Seriously, if you love bubbles. Check them out.

Boudreaux Cellars (Leavenworth)

Rob Newsom is one of the most interesting figures in Washington wine. A trained musician, tasting a bottle of Leonetti Cabernet Sauvignon while passing through Walla Walla turned his life around. He learned a lot about winemaking from the Figgins family of Leonetti which he’s used to produce very big, almost Napa-like wines in Washington. I’ve yet to have a bottle of Boudreaux that didn’t beg to be paired with a juicy prime rib. If you like big, bold wines then you need to seek out Boudreaux.

Recommendations for Cascade Valley Wineries

By far, one of the biggest barriers to success for the Cascade Valley wineries is getting their message and branding out.

I would definitely advise them to by looking at what message their websites are sending out. While tasting room traffic and one-on-one dialogue is great, in today’s digital age there will be a lot of customers who are first introduced to a brand via their online presence–including social media.

As much as I enjoyed the wines from this region, I have to admit that writing this post was incredibly difficult. I had a heck of a time trying to find more info about the wineries and wines featured. As a geek, I acknowledge that I sometimes have to play detective and sleuth out details from a variety of sources but 99.9% of wine consumers aren’t going to put in that same effort. You have to make it easy for them to find you and learn more about your wines.

While there are certainly great websites from Cascade Valley wineries (check out Cairdeas and Hard Row to Hoe in particular), most of the sites had very little information or were difficult to navigate. At the very least, tech notes of current and past vintages with details on vineyards and farming practice would go a long way towards filling in the blanks. Beyond that, it would be fantastic to hear more about the stories of the wineries and what make this region so unique and dynamic.

The future looks bright for Cascade Valley Wine Country, folks just need a little help to find these hidden gems of Washington wines.

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Geek Notes 10/10/18 — Grape Radio Episode 391 Interview with Hubert de Boüard of Ch. Angélus

I’m getting ready to teach a class on Bordeaux so I’ve been getting my geek on with Bordeaux-themed podcasts. I found lots of great material from this 2015 episode of Grape Radio (44:43) featuring interviews with Hubert de Boüard of Château Angélus in Saint-Emilion and Angus Smith, Grand Maitre of the US chapter of the Commanderie de Bordeaux.

I don’t know when I’ll get a chance to do Geek Notes write up on them but Levi Dalton’s I’ll Drink To That! had two more great Bordeaux episodes that I really enjoyed. Check them out!

Episode 388 with Decanter’s Jane Anson. REALLY good stuff that’s worth listening to two or three times because of all the great info. Anson is one of my favorite wine writers and her writings are worth the subscription to Decanter’s premium content alone.

Episode 350 with Alexandre Thienpont of Vieux Château Certan and François Thienpont of Le Pin in Pomerol. The difference in their approach is fascinating. Also Erin Scala gives a great overview of the lasting impact of the 1956 frost in St. Emilion.

Some Background

Angélus is my absolute favorite Bordeaux estate. While I obviously can’t afford to drink it everyday, I do make sure that I nab at least one bottle as a future each year to enjoy at a special dinner down the road. Even though vintages average around $300-400, I actually think Angélus is relatively undervalued compared to other top growths in Bordeaux like the First Growths of the Medoc, Cheval Blanc and Petrus.

While I enjoyed my evening with Petrus, I would take 6 to 7 bottles of Angélus over a second bottle in a heart beat.

I haven’t done a full geek-out post on Angélus yet (oh but its coming) so I will direct folks to Jeff Leve’s awesome write up of the property on his The Wine Cellar Insider site as well as this geeky little blurb from the Grape Radio episode page:

The estate has been owned by the Boüard de Laforest family since the Domaine de Mazaret was bequeathed to Comte Maurice de Boüard de Laforest in 1909, and expanded by the acquisition of Clos de L’Angélus in 1926 and a plot from Château Beau-Séjour Bécot in 1969. The name refers to the three Angelus bells audible from the vineyards. — Grape Radio, June 9th 2015

While the terroir is top notch, I do think a lot of Angélus success is because of Hubert de Boüard’s viticulture and winemaking style. Which means if you are looking for better price points, some of his other properties like Château La Fleur de Boüard in Lalande de Pomerol (Ave $35), Chateau Bellevue in Saint Emilion (Ave $56), Chateau de Francs in Cotes de Bordeaux (Ave $14) and consulting clients are good places to look.

Among his consulting clients, a few of my favorites are:

I would put the quality of Ch. Lanessan on par with many 4th and 5th growths.

Ch. Grand Corbin in St. Emilion (Ave $33)
Ch. de Ferrand in St. Emilion (Ave $45)
Ch. Vieux Château Palon in Montagne-Saint-Emilion (Ave $30)
Ch. La Pointe in Pomerol (Ave $47)
Ch. de Chantegrive in Graves (Ave $28)
Ch. Fieuzal in Pessac-Léognan (Ave $48)
Ch. Grand Puy Ducasse in Pauillac (Ave $51)
Ch. Lanessan in Haut-Medoc (Ave $24)

The 2015 vintages for several of these (the Vieux Château Palon, Chategrive and Lanessan in particular) are exceptional values for the money and well worth stocking up on.

There is also a second and third wine for Angélus, Le Carillon de l’Angelus (Ave $103) and Number 3 d’Angelus (Ave $52), but I haven’t had an opportunity to try either.

Some Fun Things I Learned From This Podcast

(2:11) Hubert de Boüard talks the signature role that Cabernet Franc plays in the wines of Angélus. While the estate has less Cab Franc than Cheval Blanc, it still accounts for 47% of plantings. In most years the grape makes up around 40-50% of the blend. Side note: Really interesting to compare de Boüard’s view of Cab Franc to the Thienponts who don’t seem as enthralled with the variety.

(2:55) He goes further into how this high proportion of Cab Franc differentiates Angélus from other Merlot-dominant St. Emilion wines. While it also plays a prominent role in Cheval Blanc, the sandy gravel soils of that property give it a different personality than the clay-limestone soils of Angélus.

(6:00) The second wine, Le Carillon, is made from both dedicated blocks and declassified Angélus fruit.

(7:26) Brian Clark asks how the style of Angélus has evolved over the years. Hubert de Boüard talks about the influence of his university studies and Émile Peynaud on adding a more scientific approach to winemaking.

Photo by Marianne Casamance. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-SA-4.0

It often seems like Cabernet Franc is the forgotten “third wheel” of the Bordeaux blend behind Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Even Petit Verdot is starting to get more attention.

(9:20) Jay Selman brings the topic back to Cabernet Franc and notes how some people love the variety and some hate it. (Put me on the love side) Hubert de Boüard highlights the importance of ripeness and good soil which allows the grape to show its spicy and velvet side.

(10:27) Cab Franc is not favored on the Left Bank because it tends to be more green when grown in their gravelly soils. It often ends up in the second labels of Medoc and Grave producers.

(10:54) Really fascinating description of the “crescent” (or croissant?) of ideal soils for Cabernet Franc that begin with Ch. Lafleur next to Petrus in Pomerol then Certan (Vieux Château Certan? Certan de May? Certan Giraud?) into St. Emilion with Cheval Blanc, Angélus and Ausone. The key is clay but too much is too much because the soils will be too cold. The clay needs to be balanced with a warmer top soil of limestone, gravel or sand. To de Boüard, Cabernet Franc is very Pinot noir-like in needing the right balance of conditions to shine.

(12:18) Cab Franc vines need at least 20 years of age and low crop yield to perform best.

(13:20) At Angélus around 17% of the Cabernet Franc vines are at least 70 years of age.

(14:30) Hubert de Boüard talks about the classification of St. Emilion which is VERY interesting to listen to in light of recent news. One interesting note he does make is the importance of evaluating the land in St. Emilion’s classification versus just the winery’s brand with the 1855 classification.

(18:50) Eric Anderson asks about what would happen if a winery gets demoted in the St. Emilion classification. Surprisingly, instead of answering “hire lawyers” de Boüard gives the example of Beau Séjour Bécot and how the Becot family responded to their 1986 demotion.

I know de Boüard thinks the 2001 is better but man was this 2000 Angélus a sexy, sexy wine.

(19:50) Brian Clark asks about top vintages in Bordeaux. I got a chuckle out of Hubert de Boüard’s response “The best one is the one we didn’t sell.” Wondering if he’s thinking about the Woeful ‘7s’? More seriously, de Boüard notes how the reputation of a vintage on the Left Bank sometimes overshadows how the year was on the Right Bank. He gives the example of the 2000 vintage which was great on the Left Bank but overshadows the more superior Right Bank vintage of 2001.

(21:30) It’s unfortunate that consumers get obsessed with the “expensive vintages” de Boüard says. He highlights years like 2001 and 2006 as years that consumers can get great value. With this interview taking place in mid-2015, I wonder if de Boüard would include years like 2012 & 2014 in those “great buy” vintages once they reach the age of 2001/2006.

Interview with Angus Smith of Commanderie de Bordeaux

(27:29) Here the interview switches to a description of the dinners of the Commanderie de Bordeaux and details about the organization. Essentially this is a not-so-secret society of wine lovers dedicated to advocating Bordeaux wines across the globe.

Historically, the Commanderie had been open to just men and their spouses. Thankfully, that looks to be changing with some chapters, like the Chicago chapter, opening up their membership to women. The DC chapter even had a women hold the title of chapter head, or Madame Le Maitre, with Bette A. Alberts.

When this episode first aired in 2015, I emailed the head of the Seattle chapter and got no response. So I don’t know if women are allowed in this chapter. Frankly, I think it is ridiculous to even let this be a chapter by chapter decision. I understand the nature of private clubs and the privilege they have in deciding their membership. But its 2018 and having gender-based restrictions on wine clubs is beyond silly.

(36:56) Jay Selman asks about decanting with a good discussion that follows. Smith and de Boüard seem to be fans of a few hours and double decanting. At Brian Clark’s chapter of the Commanderie they tend to do a blanket 3 hour decant on all wines–outside of very old vintages.

(39:43) Smith and de Boüard argue against putting the cork back into the bottle after double decanting. With this the cork is often put in upside down with the wine stained side facing out. This means that the side that was exposed to dirt and dust is now inside the bottle and potentially contaminating the wine. But beyond that, de Boüard sees little need to recork the wine at all after decanting.

(40:31) A shout-out to decanting white wines. This is something that I don’t do myself but I can see the benefit–especially with whites seals with screw-caps which can be very reductive on opening.

(40:56) A discussion about what is it about older wines that are appealing to wine drinkers. One good point I like from this discussion is how people’s definition of “older wines” varies from person to person.

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60 Second Wine Review — 2011 Lynch-Bages

A few quick thoughts on the 2011 Lynch-Bages from Pauillac.

The Geekery

For more in-depth Geekery about Lynch-Bages see my write up for their the 2017 future offer.

Compared to the near perfect vintages of 2009 and 2010, the 2011 vintage started off well with a dry and warm spring. A wet, rainy July threw a curve ball with things not quite getting back on track till September when harvest saw dry weather and warm temperatures. At Lynch-Bages, only around 66% of the harvest (from 90 ha/222.4 acres) made its way to the Grand Vin.

The 2011 vintage is a blend of 72% Cabernet Sauvignon, 23% Merlot, 3% Cabernet Franc and 2% Petit Verdot.

The wine was aged for 15 months in 65% new French oak.

The Wine

Medium intensity nose. Dark fruits with blackberry and blackcurrants. With air some cured tobacco spice pops out but overall this wine is rather quiet.

Photo from The U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under PD US FDA

The black licorice spice adds some complexity to this wine.

On the palate the flavors get a little richer but nothing close to jammy or dense. The high tannins and medium-plus acidity hold the medium-plus fruit well but contributes to a thin taste. The tobacco spice from the nose gets more pronounced and brings black licorice and espresso coffee character as well. Moderate length finish ends on the dark fruit and testifies to its youth.

The Verdict

I suspect that this 2011 Lynch-Bages is still at least 2-3 years from hitting its stride but the thinness of the mouthfeel makes me wonder how much it will still improve. The firm tannins will soften but the fruit is going to fade rather than grow in prominence. However, seeing the spice notes from the nose developing and becoming more complex on the palate is always a good sign.

Right now the 2011 average $124 a bottle. Compared to 2010 ($224) and 2009 ($198) there is some value here but nothing worth beating down the door to get.

Personally, I would be looking more to the 2012 ($119) and 2014 ($121) for value or the vastly superior 2015 vintage ($143) for the better wine at just a little bit more.

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WBC18 Day 1 Quick Impressions

Getting ready to start Day 2 of the 2018 Wine Bloggers Conference and my nervousness has subsided considerably.

It was really great meeting several bloggers who I’ve only known before as names on a screen. I’d love to give a particular shout out to Lisa Stephenson (Worldly Wino), Noelle Harman (Outwines), Anne Keery (Aspiring Winos), Maureen Blum (Mo Wino), Dwight Furrow (Edible Arts), Reggie Solomon (Wine Casual) and Margot Savell (Write For Wine) for being great geeking and drinking companions yesterday.

I also want to thank Nancy Croisier (Vino Social) who I’ve known outside of blogland but has done a lot to help me feel welcomed here at WBC.

Lustau’s Sherry Wine Specialist Certification Course

I will definitely be doing a full write-up in the next few weeks on this event. A big light bulb moment for me was realizing the similarities and overlap between Sherries and Scotches.

Both drinks mostly start out with a single main ingredient (Palomino grape and Malted Barley). Yes, there are some other minor grapes like Moscatel and Pedro Ximenez and Blended Scotches can have various grains like corn and rye but, for the most part, the reputation of both are built on these primary ingredients.

Many Scotches are aged in Oloroso Sherry casks which makes tasting the Lustau Don Nuno Oloroso Sherry a great education for Scotch fans. 

The diversity of styles that arise from those single ingredients begin early in the production process with pressing decisions with Sherries that dramatically impact mouthfeel while the shape of the still and angle of the lyne arm with Scotch will similarly have a pronounce influence on the resulting mouthfeel and body of the Scotch.

Then comes the ever important aging period with the environment, barrels and time leaving their indelible print. While the use of yeast seems to be more important to Bourbon producers than necessarily Scotch, you can still see an overlap with the presence or absence of Sherry’s famous Flor yeast. Though a better comparison on degree of influence may be more with water source.

You can also draw a parallel between the art and skill of blending for whiskies with the simplicity yet complex results of the solera system.

Welcome Reception Wine Tasting

Two big wine discoveries jumped out at the reception tasting–the wines of Mt. Beautiful in the Canterbury region of New Zealand and the Lugana DOC located at the south end of Lake Garda in Italy.

The 2016 Mt. Beautiful Pinot noir, in particular, was excellent and ended up being the best wine of the entire day (with the 2013 Mullan Road a close second). It reminded me of an excellent Oregon Pinot noir from the Eola-Amity Hills with its combination of freshness, dark fruit and a mix of floral and spice notes. I would have pegged it for a $35-40 bottle but the Wine Searcher Average for it is $26!

After tasting the Lugana wines, I want to explore more about its primarily grape Trebbiano di Soave–locally known as Turbiana. As I’ve discovered reading the work of my Vino-Crush Ian D’Agata, the Trebbiano group of grapes is a mix bag with a reputation that is often overshadowed by the blandness of Trebbiano Toscano (the Ugni blanc of Cognac) yet can produce some stellar wines such as Trebbiano d’Abruzzo made by its namesake variety.

That “mixed bag” feel also characterized my tasting of the Lugana wines with some of them being fresh and vibrant like a racy Verdicchio or complex and layered like a Vermentino while others were decidedly “meh”. That could be producer variation but I’d like to learn more about Turbiana and which side of the Trebbiano family tree this variety may fall on.

Mullan Road Winemaker’s Dinner

Dennis Cakebread of Mullan Road and Cakebread Cellars

It was very fun to meet Dennis Cakebread and learn about his plans for Mullan Road.  He doesn’t necessarily want it to go down the Cakebread path in Napa with a large portfolio of wines (including apparently a Syrah from the Suscol Springs Ranch Vineyard in Jamieson Canyon that I now eagerly want). Instead, he wants to keep this 3000 case label focused on being a Bordeaux-style blend.

I also found it interesting that instead of going the Duckhorn/Canvasback route of purchasing land in a notable AVA like Red Mountain, Cakebread is embracing the blending mentality with sourcing fruit from great vineyards like Seven Hills in Walla Walla, Stillwater Creek and the Lawrence Family’s Corfu Vineyard in the upcoming Royal Slope AVA.

They poured both the 2013 and 2015 vintages of Mullan Road (as well as a one-off bottling of extra Merlot from the 2013 vintage) and it is clear that Mullan Road is a wine that rewards patience. While I suspect the 2015 will eventually be the better bottle, it was still at least 2 to 3 years away from starting to hit it stride while the 2013 was just now entering a good place with a solid core of dark fruit, juicy medium-plus acidity but added spice and floral aromatics for complexity. I can see this 2013 continuing to deliver pleasure easily for another 7 to 10 years that more than merits its $40-45 price point.

The evening also featured an unexpected history lesson with a character actor re-enacting the story of Captain John Mullan and the military road he constructed to connect Fort Walla Walla to Fort Benton in Montana on the banks of the Missouri River.

All in all, a great day. Here’s to Day 2 following suit!

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A Lot of Sweet But Little ‘Loko’ With Capriccio Bubbly Sangria

Earlier this summer social media was abuzz with headlines about the new ‘Four Loko’ that supposedly was causing people to black out and other wild stories. One rumor about how this wine was somehow helping to spread HIV had to be debunked by Snopes.

Now granted, having Snopes deal with wine rumors isn’t too out of the ordinary–see their report on the California wine arsenic scare and the bizarrely bogus “helium infused wine” video. But still, this was pretty crazy stuff for something that is essentially regular old sangria with a normal wine ABV of 13.9%.

Living on the West Coast, it took a little time for this “wine of the summer” from Florida to make its way to my neck of the woods.

But once it got here, I figured I would try the NV Capriccio Bubbly Sangria from Florida Caribbean Distillers in the same vein of open-mindedness that I tried the Apothic Brew and Mamamango.

So here goes.

The Geekery

Florida Caribbean Distillers was founded in 1943 by Alberto de la Cruz whose family hailed from Cuba. Today the company is managed by Carlos de la Cruz who also manages the main Coca-Cola bottler for Puerto Rico and Trinidad & Tobago.

The Capriccio line was launched in 2014 and was named by someone, at some point, as the #1 selling sangria in the Caribbean. The wine was first released in the US through Publix grocery stores in the southeast and Meijer stores in the Midwest.

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

Could there be Florida grown Muscadine grapes in the Capriccio Bubbly Sangria? Who knows?

Finding actual details about the wine is scarce. Like for instance–what grapes are in the wine? In an interview with MensHealth.com, the National Sales Director at Florida Caribbean Distillers claims that the sangria is made with a blend of wine grapes and “100 percent natural fruit juices”.

Coming from Florida there aren’t many options with only 500 acres of grapes planted–many of them native American varieties like Muscadine or hybrid grapes like Blanc du Bois.

Another source list the wine as being made in Puerto Rico which does have some Tempranillo and Merlot vines along with white Muscatel that is used for sangrias.

The back label of Capriccio is more forthcoming about the fruit juices in the wine–listing pineapple, pomegranate, orange, lemon, pear, apple, cherry and lime. It is possible that the dark color of Capriccio is coming from the pomegranate and cherry juice component with then a white wine base like Muscatel.

The Wine

Medium intensity nose. It does smell like fresh fruit juices with the cherry, orange and pineapple dominating. No sign of the musky Muscadine note on the nose.

Photo a derivative work by  Nova. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under GFDL

While there is a lot of fresh cut pineapple on the nose, the darker fruits of cherry, orange and pomegranate come out more on the palate.


On the palate, the cherry and orange carry through the most with the pomegranate making its presence known as well. It is very sweet with only the slight spritziness and medium-minus acidity balancing the medium-bodied weight of the fruit.

The “bubbly-ness” is very low, probably no more than 1 atmosphere of pressure with it feeling less bubbly than many sodas. Very low tannins add to the grape juice feel of this wine. Moderate finish lasted longer than I expected with a surprisingly fresh fruitiness. No back end heat at all to give evidence of the 13.9% ABV.

The Verdict

For sweet wine fans who are probably use to Moscato wines in the 5-8% ABV range, I can see how the smooth and easy drinking style of this wine can sneak up on people. Pounding back a couple of 375ml half bottles (the equivalent of two glasses of wine with each bottle) will hit you just as hard as finishing off a full bottle of regular dry red and white wine by yourself. Perhaps even harder with all that sugar in it as well.

But if you treat it like normal wine and drink it in moderation, there is nothing crazy about this at all. At $7-9 for a 750ml bottle and $11-13 for 4 pack of 375ml bottles (1.5L total), it’s just a fruity and easy-drinking buzz.

In many ways it reminds me of Mamamango–though that Moscato-Mango hybrid is far less sweet. While I can see non-sweet wine fans enjoying the Mamamango on the right occasion (like a light brunch), the Capriccio Bubbly Sangria is definitely something for folks with a sweet tooth who don’t like tannins or acidity.

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Geek Notes 9/23/2018 — UK Wine Show Episode 111 with Ian D’Agata

I have a new vino crush and man have I been crushing hard.

How can you not to get all tingly and giddy over sweet talk about biotypes, Pigato vs Vermentino, Cerasuolo di Vittoria and the battle for the soul of Pecorino?

Well at least it is hard for me not to get tingly, especially when that sweet talk is coming from a wine writer with over 25 years of experience living and breathing the wines of Italy. Thankfully for us, and my geeky fan-girling heart, Ian D’Agata has drilled down all of those years of walking the vineyards and tasting wines with producers into the magnum opus of Italian wine grapes with his 640 page tome–Native Wine Grapes of Italy.

Frequent readers know that one of my favorite resources is Jancis Robinson’s Wine Grapes written with Julia Harding and José Vouillamoz. That gorgeous hunk of geekdom devoted 1280 pages to covering 1,368 grape varieties grown across the globe.

But with an estimated 2500 different varieties (many of which likely biotypes/clones of other grapes) growing in Italy alone, you need a dedicated source to help untangle the messy weave of regionalization, synonyms and just downright weirdness that can be found with Italian grapes.

D’Agata’s book is like a scalpel to that tangled mess. While he is upfront about not having all the answers–especially with conflicting DNA analysis and contrary first person observations–it is impossible to pick up Native Wine Grapes of Italy and not come away learning mountains of new information about Italian grapes.

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

Did you know that the Moscato bianco grape of Piedmont was once one of the most widely planted wine grapes in the Tuscan village of Montalcino? In fact, it is still grown there today and used to make the DOC wine Moscadello di Montalcino.
Those are just a few of the hundreds of fun tidbits I learned from D’Agata’s Native Wine Grapes of Italy.

The work is exceptionally well organized (mostly alphabetical though several varieties which belong to groups or families of grapes like the many Greco, Trebbiano and Malvasia grapes get their own chapter) making it a fantastic and easy to use reference anytime you want to dive deeper.

I seriously can’t recommend Native Wine Grapes of Italy enough for wine geeks and students. A definite must have that is less than a third of the price of Wine Grapes and can often be found used for around $25.

But you don’t need to take my word on it. As I’ve discovered while prepping for my upcoming class on Italian wine, Ian D’Agata has been a frequent guest on several of my favorite podcasts discussing Italian grapes and wine regions. These podcasts, plus his writings on Vinous, give you a great sneak peak into the content of Native Grapes as well as an upcoming book he’s working on about the crus of Barolo and Barbaresco.

They are all well worth a listen–after which I’m sure you’ll be vino-crushing on Ian too.

Podcast Interviews with Ian D’Agata

In The Drink Episode 206 w/ Ian D’Agata (43:57)

Monty Waldin’s Italian Wine Podcast Episodes 20 through 22 on the Aglianico, Glera and Sangiovese grapes respectively. (About 10 to 15 minutes each)

Really wished I had listened to the IDTT episode with D’Agata before I visited Piedmont last June. I probably would have appreciated even more how cool this map and viewpoint from La Morra was.

I’ll Drink to That! Episode 354 w/ Ian D’Agata (1:37:49) — In this podcast, Levi Dalton and D’Agata spend a lot of time talking about Barolo, Barbaresco and his upcoming book on those regions. Really fascinating stuff.

My only slight negative with D’Agata’s interviews is that he does speak very quickly. While his enunciation and articulation–especially of Italian names and words–is great I do find myself having to slow down the podcast or go back sometimes to re-listen to things that D’Agata breezes through.

For this edition of Geek Notes, I’m going to go back to a June 2008 interview that Ian D’Agata did with Chris Scott of the UK Wine Show (37:28).

Some Fun Things I Learned/Enjoyed From This Podcast

The format of the UK Wine Show starts with Chris and his wife Jane going over recent wine and beverage industry news. Even with older podcasts, I always find this segment very interesting as a “window in time” look at what was big and newsworthy in the world of wine at the time. I also often end up learning something as well.

Photo taken by self and uploaded to Wikimedia Commons as User:Agne27 under  CC-BY-SA-3.0

I know now if I pick up a strong oaky flavor in a DOC wine under $10-15 that perhaps I should be suspicious.


For instance, the first news story in this 2008 podcast (1:07) was on a controversy in the Tuscan wine region of San Gimignano where 4000 bottles of red wine were confiscated because of the use of oak chips in production of the DOC wine. I honestly didn’t know that San Gimignano produced red wine (much less a DOC wine) because I was only familiar with the white Vernaccia di San Gimignano.

While it makes sense that oak chips wouldn’t be acceptable in DOC/G wine, I didn’t realize how strictly regulated that was in Italy or that oak chips were permitted for IGT wines.

It was also fun listening to early thoughts on the 2007 Bordeaux vintage with Chris and Jane (5:36) especially considering the woeful reputation that vintage has now (though, in hindsight, good cellar defenders can still be found from 2007).

The interview with Ian D’Agata begins at the 10:35 mark.

(11:47) Of the 2500+ grape varieties grown in Italy, only around 1000 of them have been genetically identified. Of that 1000, around 600 are used for wine production.

(13:55) Chris asks if the Sangiovese of Brunello di Montalcino is a specific clone. Ian D’Agata debunks quite a bit of common misconceptions about Sangiovese and clones that is incredibly eye opening (and also well worth reading about in his book). Simply put, a lot of the stuff that we’ve learned in wine books of the past have been very incomplete and imprecise.

(18:45) D’Agata describes the Umbrian variety Sagrantino which I haven’t had the privilege of tasting yet but am very intrigued by.

(19:20) A prediction that Aglianico is the next big thing from Italy. This has definitely held true with even producers in the US like Leonetti releasing an Aglianico. I know at my local wine shops I’ve seen the selection of Italian Aglianico in the last 5 years go from maybe one bottle of Taurasi ($50+) to now featuring more than a half dozen options from Basilicata, Marche and Campania. As many of these can be found in the $13-25 range, there is some awesome value here that is well worth exploring. In my January 2018 post In a rut? Try these new grapes!, I describe Aglianico as a fantastic wine for Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah drinkers to branch out with.

Fun fact: When you Google pics of Nero d’Avola, one of the results is a picture of the Muscat of Norway grape instead. I know this because that is my hand in the pic holding a cluster of Muscat of Norway I harvested from Cloud Mountain Vineyard in the Puget Sound AVA.


(20:40) Chris notes that he always found Nero d’Avola to be very Merlot-like. D’Agata highlights the similarities (and that Merlot is apparently often blended with Nero d’Avola) but also the relationship with Syrah and Teroldego and what good Nero d’Avola should taste like.

(21:40) A great discussion about the unheralded gems of Southern Italian whites like Mt. Etna’s Carricante (a distant relative of Riesling), Grillo, Inzolia, Vermentino and Grechetto. However, D’Agata notes that the Grechetto used in Orvieto is not always the best Grechetto.

(24:52) Apparently Italy makes really good dry Kerner, Silvaner and Gewurztraminer on par with Alsace up in the Alto Adige region.

Photo by Puntin1969. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-2.0

The Valadige (pictured), Alto Adige and Friuli regions can be more labor intensive than the Veneto or some parts of New Zealand which can make producing value priced Sauvignon blanc a bit difficult.


(26:16) While Italy doesn’t do well with Chardonnay (over-oaked), D’Agata feels that they excel with Sauvignon blanc with a style between Sancerre and Marlborough. This definitely caught the attention of New Zealand native Chris Scott. Considering how hot Sauvignon blanc has been in the UK market, I’m kind of surprised that we don’t hear more about Italian Sauvignon blanc. The higher cost of bottles from Italy compared to bulk NZ Sauvignon blanc probably is a significant reason.

(29:06) A lot of Pinot grigio that is/was imported to the United States might not actually be Pinot grigio with D’Agata noting that a fair amount of Trebbiano is likely used.

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

D’Agata does notes that just because there might be Syrah, Merlot or Cabernet Sauvignon growing in a vineyard of Montalcino that doesn’t mean it is being used in a producer’s Brunello di Montalcino. However, the color of the wine could be a tip off.


(30:26) Very interesting discussion about the Brunellopoli scandal that was just starting to hit the news at the time of the interview. D’Agata notes that the dark purple/black color of Brunello di Montalcino is often a clue that something might be up with a wine that is supposed to be 100% of the moderately pigmented Sangiovese. The new clones of Sangiovese that produce darker colors can only give you a deeper ruby, not black color.

(34:23) Even though Italians invented screw caps, apparently they can only be used for IGT wines and not DOC/G? (At least back in 2008) D’Agata pointed out that it is more expensive to bottle wines with screw caps as opposed to corks which can be a financial burden for small producers.

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Celebrating International Grenache Day With The Grenachista

Today is International Grenache Day–according to someone.

I honestly have no idea who comes up with these things and googling around it looks Grenache Day hops all over the calendar a bit like Thanksgiving and Easter.

Which is kind of fitting since Grenache goes so well with turkey and rabbit. (Sorry kids)

But hey, I don’t need much of an excuse to geek out about something so that makes today the perfect opportunity to take a flashback to this spring’s Hospice du Rhône event and revisit the highly impressive wines of CR Graybehl aka The Grenachista.

The Background

CR Graybehl was founded in 2013 and is named after founder and winemaker Casey Graybehl’s grandfather, Cliff R. Graybehl, who inspired Casey to get into winemaking. The small operation is essentially a two person show with just Graybehl and his wife.

Graybehl studied Fruit Sciences at California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo when the school hadn’t yet developed a viticulture program. He spent time working at wineries in the Central Coast and Bay Area before starting his winery in Sonoma.

In addition to his own wine project, Graybehl is a production manager for Obsidian Wine Co.–a custom crush facility and makers of Obsidian Ridge and Poseidon Vineyard.

The Grape – A Little Geeky History

While it is generally agreed that Grenache is a very old grape variety, Jancis Robinson, Julia Harding and José Vouillamoz note in Wine Grapes that the origins of the grape is debated by ampelographers.

Photo by Fabio bartolomei. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-SA-4.0

Old vine Garnacha growing near the the Sierra de Gredos mountain range in Central Spain.

The stronger argument favors a Spanish origin where it believed that the grape was first documented growing in Madrid under the synonym Aragones in 1513 by Gabriel Alonso de Herrea in his work Argicultura general. The name Garnacha seems to have been established by the late 1600s when Estevan de Corbera describes the grape growing in Tarragona in his 1678 work Cataluña illustrada.

A competing theory argues that the grape is a native of Sardinia where it is known as Cannonau. Here the first mentioned appears in Caligari in 1549. The name Garnacha also shows up in Miguel de Cervantes’ 1613 work El licenciado vidriera referencing an Italian white wine that was being served in Genoa. The theory of a Sardinian orgin involves assuming that the Aragones grape of Madrid was not actually Grenache and that the grape was brought to Spain sometime after 1479 when Sardinia became part of the Spanish empire.

While Aragones is still a synonym used today for Garnacha it has also been used as a synonym for other grape varieties like Tempranillo.

Italian ampelographer Gianni Lovicu also argues that the Spanish name Garnacha is closely related to the Italian name Vernaccia that is derived from the Latin vernaculum meaning local. Documents in Catalunya dating back to 1348 describe a Vernaça grape that appears to have been introduced to the area from somewhere else. This would predate Sardinia’s Spanish colonization and suggest perhaps a different Italian region as the grape’s origins.

Photo by www.zoqy.net. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-SA-2.0

Grenache blanc vines growing in the Rivesaltes AOC of the Roussillon region that borders Spain. Here the grape is used to produce the sweet Vin Doux Naturel dessert wines.


However, even today Spain remains the loci of the greatest mutation and clonal diversity of Grenache–strongly suggesting a far longer presence in the area than anywhere else. While Sardinia and the Colli Berici DOC of the Veneto have significant plantings of the dark skin Grenache noir, only Spain and southern France have a notable presence of the other color mutations (white and gris) as well as the downy leaved Garnacha Peluda.

Grenache in Modern Times

Today Grenache is the second most widely planted grape in France, after Merlot, with 94,240 ha (232,872 acres) planted as of 2009. The grape forms the backbone of many Southern Rhone blends such as Châteauneuf-du-Pape (around 70% of plantings), Gigondas and Vacqueryas as well as the rosé wines of Tavel and Lirac.

In Italy, it is the most widely planted grape on Sardinia–accounting for around 20% of the island’s wine production–with 6288 ha (15,538 acres) planted by 2000.

After Tempranillo and Bobal, Garnacha is the third most widely planted red grape in Spain with 75,399 ha (186,315 acres) of vines covering 7% of the country’s vineyards. The grape is most widely planted in the Aragon region of northeastern Spain where it accounts for 45% of production. It is also a popular planting in Castilla-La Mancha, Castilla y León, Catalunya, Priorat and the Rioja Baja region. In Navarra, it is an important component in the region’s rosé.

CR Graybehl’s Grenache from the Mounts Family Vineyard in the Dry Creek Valley of Sonoma.


Grenache noir is believed to have been introduced to California in the 1850s by a Santa Clara wine grower named Charles Lefranc. The grape became a significant planting in the Central Valley after Prohibition where it was used to make dessert wines and lightly sweetly rosés. Today, along with Grenache blanc, it is used to make dry varietal wines and Rhone-style blends.

In 2017, there were 306 acres of Grenache blanc and 4,287 acres of Grenache noir growing throughout the state from the Sierra Foothills and Sonoma down to Paso Robles and Santa Barbara.

Paul Gregutt notes in Washington Wines that Grenache was the first vinifera wine to earn critical acclaim in Washington when wine writer Leon Adams praised a dry Grenache rosé made by a home winemaker in the Yakima Valley in his 1966 book Wines of America.

As Gramercy Cellars’ winemaker Greg Harrington noted in his interview on Levi Dalton’s I’ll Drink to That! podcast, severe freezes in Washington in the late 20th century nearly killed off all Grenache in the state.

However, the grape has seen a renaissance of interest in recent years thanks in part to winemakers like Master of Wine Bob Betz and the Rhone Rangers movement pioneered in Washington by Doug McCrea. As of 2017, there were 212 acres of Grenache noir in Washington.

Over the years, growers have used Grenache to breed several new grape varieties such as Caladoc (with Malbec), Carnelian (with F2-7, a Carignan/Cabernet Sauvignon crossing), Emerald Riesling (Grenache blanc with Muscadelle) and Marselan (with Cabernet Sauvignon).

The Wines

Below are my notes on the CR Graybehl’s Grenache wines I tasted during the April Hospice du Rhône event updated with some production and winemaking details.

2017 Grenache Rosé Sonoma Valley ($24-25) — Sourced from Mathis Vineyard. Around 190 cases made. Medium intensity nose. Bright red fruits of cherry and strawberry mixed with some blood orange. Medium-minus body weight and juicy medium-plus acidity. Good patio sipper but not a great value compared to Grenache-based Rhone and Spanish Navarra rosés in the $10-15 range.

2016 Grenache blanc Dry Creek Valley ($19-24) — From the Mounts Family Vineyard. Around 245 cases made. Medium intensity nose. Tree fruits–pear and apples with noticeable baking spices of clove and nutmeg. Subtle herbalness. Medium body weight and medium acidity. Long finish ends on the tree fruits. Reminds me of a more refreshing Chardonnay.

2016 The Grenachista Alder Springs Mendocino County ($34) — High intensity nose. Dark fruits with wild berries like huckleberry, blackberry and boysenberry. Lots of blue floral notes and herbs de Provence giving this wine a lovely bouquet. Very full bodied but very ripe medium-plus tannins that are balanced by medium-plus acidity which highlights a peppery spice. Long finish.

The very full-bodied and fruit forward Mathis Vineyard Grenache from Sonoma Valley would go toe to toe with much more expensive old vine Grenache from Australia.


2015 Grenache Mathis Vineyard Sonoma Valley ($34) –Around 273 cases made. Medium-plus intensity nose. Lots of dark fruit–blackberries and black cherries. By far the most fruit forward nose of the bunch. Some spices come out on the palate with medium-plus acidity giving the fruit a lip-smacking juiciness. Ripe medium-plus tannins and full body bodied fruit. Kind of feels like an old vine Aussie Grenache.

2015 Grenache Mounts Family Vineyard Dry Creek ($34) — Made from clones 362 and 513 sourced from the Southern Rhone and Languedoc. Wild fermented with 100% whole cluster. Around 273 cases made. High intensity with a lot of savory black pepper spice that has a smoked BBQ element. Mix of red and dark fruit flavors on the palate. Medium-plus body and medium-plus acidity with ripe medium tannins. Long mouthwatering finish ends on the savory notes.

The Verdict

Across the board I was enjoyed all of CR Graybehl’s wines though I definitely think the best values lie with their reds. These wines shinned at a tasting that featured many more expensive bottlings. The whites are certainly well made and tasty but you are paying a little bit of a premium for their small production.

The vineyard designated Grenache noirs, however, could be priced closer to $45 and would still offer very compelling value. Each one has their own distinctive personality and character that more than merit exploring further.

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Zinfandel — The “Craft Beer” of American Wine

Photo from the Provincial Archives of Alberta. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons with no known copyright restrictions

In 1915, on the eve of Prohibition in the United States, there were over 1300 breweries across the country producing around 60 million barrels. While the growing behemoths of Anheuser-Busch and Pabst Brewing Company had national scale, the vast majority of these breweries were small regional players that were deeply influenced by the traditions of the local immigrant communities.

In 1940, seven years after the repeal of the Volstead Act, that number of breweries was nearly halved to 684 yet the country was still producing nearly 55 million barrels as production and distribution started consolidating around the big breweries.

By 1980, there were only 101 breweries in the United States cranking out nearly 200 million barrels–with the 10 largest breweries being responsible for nearly 94% of that.

This was the state of the beer industry on the eve of the Craft Beer Movement–a movement spearheaded by folks who simply wanted something different apart from the mass proliferation of American lagers.

Chanpuru — “Something Mixed”

I’ve been binge watching Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown, trying to get through all 8 seasons on Netflix before it leaves their listings on October 1st.

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

Also good to know that the Okinawan diet includes plenty of beer!

In the Season 6 episode on Okinawa, I was introduced to the phrase chanpuru which Bourdain described as the Okinawan idea of eating something different every day and enjoying the richness of variety.

Considering that the Okinawa diet and lifestyle is legendary for promoting long life and contentment, this was certainly a concept that resonated with me–especially being part of a generation that is notoriously “…open to new experiences, new regions and new grape varieties.”

Which brings us back to Zinfandel and the lessons of craft beer.

While the craft beer category in the United States has evolved to encompass envelop-pushing styles and new ideas, at the root of the movement was a desire of beer lovers to get back some of what was lost prior to Prohibition–those traditional styles and varieties of beers that were regionally influenced by local German, Austrian, Irish and Latin immigrant communities.

While the majority of beer drinkers had “moved on” and were content with their mass-produced lagers, a tiny but growing segment of passionate beer lovers knew that this country’s brewing heritage was a worthwhile story to explore. And if the big brewers weren’t going to explore it, then these beer lovers needed to take the mantle themselves and lead the way.

They not only found their chanpuru but made it their own.

Heritage Vines — Heritage Wines

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

Zinfandel vineyard first planted in 1910 in Saratoga, California. Even the “young” 1976 vines are over 40 years old.

First introduced to California during the Gold Rush of the 1850s, Zinfandel has always been an American wine with an immigrant’s story–likely coming to the US as a Croatian vine (now known to be Crljenak Kaštelanski/Tribidrag) that was part of an Austrian nursery collection.

Once the grape reached California, it was spread widely across the state–particularly by Italian immigrants who established numerous old vine vineyards in the North Coast that are still treasured today.

While the Hungarian immigrant Agoston Haraszthy, the “Father of California Viticulture”, didn’t originally bring Zinfandel to the US, Thomas Pinney notes in his A History of Wine in America, Volume 1 that Haraszthy did much to propagate and promote the variety.

By 1888, Zinfandel was the most widely planted wine grape in California with around 34,000 acres. Even after Prohibition, Zinfandel still maintained significant plantings with Master of Wine Benjamin Lewin noting in Claret and Cabs that in the mid 20th century, Zinfandel far outpaced Cabernet Sauvignon in Napa Valley with many Napa “clarets” actually being Zin-based.

It wasn’t until the 1980s that Chardonnay (and in the 1990s Cab) eventually surpassed Zinfandel as most widely planted variety in California. However, with over 44,000 acres, Zinfandel still remains the third most widely planted grape in California.

Master of Wine Morgan Twain-Peterson of Bedrock Wine Co. and Tegan Passalacqua of Turley Wine Cellars both serve on the board of the Historic Vineyard Society. Here they are giving a presentation on old vine vineyards at the 2018 Hospice du Rhone.


A Sleeping Giant

Interwoven within those 44,000+ acres are plots of old vine Zinfandel that are increasingly being highlighted by wine producers and organizations like the Historic Vineyard Society.

Scattered across the state of California–from Sonoma to Amador County, Lodi to Paso Robles, Santa Clara Valley to Cucamonga Valley–each of these old vine vineyards are planted with stories that span several decades. In the case of the Zinfandel vines in the Grandpere Vineyard in the Sierra Foothills, those stories have been shared for nearly 150 years.

For a generation of consumers that crave experience and authenticity, connection and chanpuru–few wines can craft a better calling card for Millennial wine drinkers than Old Vine Zin (the real stuff, not the marketing fluff–which is fodder for another post).

But are Millennial drinkers actually interested?

Perhaps.

This post was provoked by two articles that came across my Twitter dash today–Mike Veseth (@MikeVeseth) examining trends in the US Wine Market highlighted by Nielsen data that was reported in Wine Business Monthly and Winesearcher.com’s Liza B. Zimmerman report on the takeways from the recent Silicon Valley Bank’s State of the Wine Industry report (brought to my dash via @DwightFurrow‘s daily round up of interesting blog writings).

I found it curious that this grocery store display of “Beginner’s Wines” under $20 didn’t feature any red wines–only Chardonnay, Sauvignon blanc and Riesling.


After noting Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay’s sustained dominance in both case volume and sales value, Veseth was surprised to find that the number one variety in terms of average bottle price in the United States was Zinfandel at $11.19 a bottle–beating out Pinot noir’s $10.43 average. Along with his surprise, Veseth expressed a desire to see more research into this development.

Of course, correlation does not imply causation and all that but I couldn’t help but wonder if there is a link between this and the “frugal hedonists” that Rob McMillan, founder and executive vice president of the Silicon Valley Bank Wine Division, describes when talking about Millennials in Zimmerman’s WineSearcher.com piece.

While the under $9 category of wines are slumping, adventurous Millennial drinkers are branching out more into the $8-14 range. Like craft beer drinkers before them who weren’t content with just the cheap brews of the mass produced beers, Millennial drinkers are willing to spend a little bit more to get something that appeals to their wanderlust hedonism and cravings for something interesting.

Few varieties offer a better (or more frugal) bang for the buck in quality than Zinfandel.

Yeah….I’ve been low on Merlot but given these options, you really can’t blame me for heading over to the Zin aisle.


While there is not that huge of a quality gap between an $8 Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot or Pinot noir and a $14 example–when you get to Zinfandel there is a much more noticeable jump in quality from the $8-9 Bogle and Seven Deadly Zins of the world and $12-14 examples from the Sobon and Maggio-Reynolds families or even relatively large wineries like Ravenswood, Klinker Brick and St. Francis.

The jump to the $15-25 range in Zinfandel also offers an exponentially higher quality jump than you typically find in Cabs, Merlot and Pinots with offerings from wineries like Rosenblum, St. Amant, Seghesio, Truett Hurst, Carol Shelton, Ridge and Renwood.

Then when you start exploring the character-driven wines of single vineyard, old vine Zinfandels from producers like Turley, Bedrock, Carlisle, Bella, Robert Biale and the higher-end Ridge wines, you find oodles of wines in the $40-60 range that would blow most $100+ Napa Cabs out of the water.

Even Turley’s entry-level Juvenile Zin at $30-38 offers more character and complexity than a lot of Cabernets twice its price.


Zin-ful Thoughts Part II

Now I’m not saying that cheap, crappy Zin doesn’t exist.

If there is a dollar to be made and a brand to be mass produced, you know that one of the big mega-corps are going to capitalize on it.

Just look at what has happened to the craft beer segment which has become a feeding frenzy of acquisitions by the big beer firms trying to conquer the craft market by gobbling up brands like old European powers colonizing Africa and the New World. Just as beer drinkers have to be open minded, but weary, so too are wine drinkers well served by frequently asking who made the wine that is in their glass.

Still these mass-produced (and sometimes “faux old vine”) Zins aren’t all bad and I would wager that, for an equivalent price, a mass-produced cheap Zin is on par (if not better) than a mass-produced cheap Cab, Merlot or Pinot.

Above all, what I am saying is that there is a special heritage here in the United States with Zinfandel–a heritage that is too valuable to be lost to the dust bin of history.

Just like the craft beer drinkers of the late 20th century reclaimed their heritage, we also have the same opportunity to reclaim a bit of ours and add a little more chanpuru to our drinking options.

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