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Monday, November 4, 2019

Wine Each Week – Gundlach Bundschu 2016 Merlot

“Gun Bun,” as it’s affectionately known, is celebrating their 40th anniversary of their Merlot. For any winery that’s a huge accomplishment since Merlot has seen its ups and downs over the years. What sets this Merlot apart from others is the crisp red and black fruits of black cherry, blackberry, red raspberry and a vibrant acidity, that holds in the palate. 17 months in French oak barrels gives the requisite caramelized toast, but it does not overwhelm. There are back notes of tobacco and light powdery mocha and this ends up, after a recommended hour or so of air time, as a compelling Merlot that leans towards darker notes, and is immensely likeable and drinkable.
ORIGIN: Sonoma Valley, Sonoma
PRICE: $35/ 750ML

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Wine Each Week - Graham’s Six Grapes Port

Six Portuguese grapes make one wine. Since 1820 Graham’s has been a leading producer of Vintage and non-vintage Port. Their Six Grapes, a non-vintage uses grapes that are sourced from the same five vineyard plots that are used for their Vintage program, so in essence you get quality for a fraction of the price. Six Grapes is aged in barrel for three years. It yields black cherry, raspberry, candied almond, blueberry preserve, vanilla, graham cracker, and plum with enough acidity to support foods. Though many people claim they don’t like sweet wines, typically they are speaking of inexpensive fortified wines that lack character. A bottle of Six Grapes, a reasonable investment, will undoubtedly change your mind and on the plus side, it will be fin once opened for month.
ORIGIN: Douro Valley, Portugal
PRICE: $25/ 750ML

Thursday, October 17, 2019

Wine Each Week – Grgich Hills Estate 2016 Merlot

Grgich Hills is iconic. It is one of Napa’s stalwarts. Since 1999 it has made Merlot and it has always been a consistently excellent wine. Their 2016 iteration veers a little bit, which is a good thing; after all, we should celebrate vintage variation.
It’s dominated by Merlot with 5% Cabernet Sauvignon and 3% Cabernet Franc blended in, and spent 21 months in oak with just 25% of those barrels being new. Therefore the oak is evident, but its judicious use allows more of the terrific Napa fruit to shine through. It offers black cherry, raspberry, blueberry and lingonberry notes along with a savory components of vanilla, rosewood, parsley, mint and charred cedar. This Merlot does not apologize for its distinctive herbal elements but celebrates a kind of wild garden vibe, earthy and piquant, its success is in being slightly different. Pulling fruit from their estate vineyards in both warmer and cooler regions has clearly paid off. If you’re looking for a Merlot with a unique personality, this is it. 3,740 cases
ORIGIN: Napa Valley
ALCOHOL: 14.6%
PRICE: $43/ 750ML

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Wine Each Week – Seven Hills Winery 2016 Merlot

When Walla Walla Valley became its own AVA in 1981, there were two dozen wineries. Currently there are over 930 in Washington State. Seven Hills itself was established in 1988 and their initial plantings were Cabernet and Merlot. That provenance is clear when you taste this Merlot.  Blended with 11% Cabernet Sauvignon and 4% Cabernet Franc, the 2016 was aged 16 months in barrel. The result is a lovely wine that offers blackberry, boysenberry, black cherry, vanilla, hints of tobacco, mocha and dusty spice. That this wine is a mere $25 for a Merlot of this quality shows winemaker Casey McClellan’s judicious use of his estate fruit and an understanding that Merlot need not be a bulk wine in a fancy wrapping. If Merlot is not on your list, this will entice you to rethink it, and Seven Hills gives verifiable proof that quality Merlot still exists.
ORIGIN: Walla Walla Valley, Washington State
ALCOHOL: 14.4%
PRICE: $25/ 750ML

Monday, October 7, 2019

Tasting With: Megan McGrath Gates - Winemaker Lucas & Lewellen

One of the best parts of the wine business is sitting down with a winemaker, tasting their wines and just talking about…whatever. These times are intimate, it’s not a sales pitch, and it’s just two or three people discussing the wines in front of them, and life around them. Megan stopped by my Santa Barbara home for an informal tasting in early 2019.

She’s been the winemaker at L&L since 2007. Prior to that she worked at various wineries including Flowers in Napa. I first met her years ago when I wrote an article on her for a now defunct publication called Costal Woman.

Megan is intelligent, thoughtful and courteous and she does one thing most people don’t do – she listens. On the L&L website there’s a quote from her: “There is a cadence I borrow from nature that sets the pace for me in the winery.” That sounds exactly like PR speak, but with Megan, it’s actually true – I can attest.

We discuss “lateral complexity,” as she calls it – the more you smell in a wine, the deeper you go into that wine, down the rabbit hole as aromas and flavors slowly reveal themselves opening up other dimensions. And it’s true for many of us who have spent time with a glass, not merely consuming it, but looking for the subtle shifts as the wine changes and evolves over time.

And we discuss hiking, not merely as a source for exercise as it is for me in the mornings above my home, but as a platform for discovery. She mentions how in the midst of hiking someplace in the Santa Ynez Valley, what catches her eye is a tiny blossom on a moss-covered rock. Whereas most people would notice the rock, it’s the delicate, ethereal flower she’s drawn to. “It’s not the summit that is the destination,” she says. And in life it’s not the end, the big payoff, it’s the small discoveries along the way.

As we sit across from each other one of the wines we taste and which I find successful is her Chenin Blanc, an oft-tedious version here in the US lacking the minerality and acidity of its homes in South Africa and the Loire Valley. Chenin Blanc is a “core wine,” as Megan puts it. Meaning it’s not an easy sell to the public, but it’s a wine she wants to make as part of the building block of her portfolio. “It’s a point of pride to be hard to sell,” she tells me. That may be, but she makes two dozen varieties.
“People tell me you shouldn’t be making 24 varietals,” she says in mock tone. Well, yeah, but then if you believe in what you’re doing, then maybe you should. The Chenin was originally planted by owner Louis Lucas. “The aromatics are so rich and different, it’s a warm aroma,” she tells me. Chenin used to have a bad rap - I would argue still does – but there are some stellar examples here in the U.S. “Chenin is more of a chameleon, it still has intrigue, especially with food,” Megan says.

We taste one of her Pinot Noir’s - an earthy rustic note to this wine with notes of cranberry, black cherry, resin, rhubarb, and huckleberry.
Then there’s Hidden Asset, a blend of Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Merlot, Petite Sirah and Syrah. On the nose it’s ripe and fruit-driven, supported by blueberry, black berry, black cherry notes with reasonable acidity and moderate tannins.

Early on Megan was pursuing a degree in soil science, not winemaking. “Chardonnay is the wine that convinced me to leave soil science,” she tells me, and she’s been making Chardonnay for 17 years now. But what caused her to leave field work for winemaking? It was a small vat of Chardonnay that was fermenting as she walked by. “It just grabbed me like a siren’s song.” She makes several styles of Chard, including one with a touch of Viognier added in. And she notes, rightfully, that the buttery quality of many Chards is not inherent to the grape. “The pathway for forming diacetyl (that butter quality, also called 2,3-butanedione for the hard core folks out there) is citric acid, not malo as everyone thinks,” she says, noting that it’s a specific winemaking choice during a second fermentation. There’s also her 2014 Late Harvest Sauvignon Blanc, which beautifully expresses how good sweet can be. The sweetness is mitigated by a mild acidity, and there are notes of resin, butterscotch, lemon, lime kefir, and guava.

A visit to the Lucas & Lewellen tasting room in Solvang is well worth your time. True, you can’t sit and talk with Megan, but you can get to know her a little bit through her wines.

Thursday, October 3, 2019

Wine Each Week – 2017 Cherry Pie Tri-County Pinot Noir

In spite of the name, this is not some innocuous sweet Pinot Noir that doubles as dessert. The name in fact was based on the imagery of the label, taken from an oil painting. Cherry Pie is a companion brand to Layer Cake, which also successfully used imagery to build its brand. Fortunately, this wine works. There is mild red raspberry, strawberry, Bing cherry, fairly integrated oak (30% was new wood), soft tannin and finishing with a hint of sweet tobacco. The majority of the fruit is from Monterey, with 21% from Santa Barbara, and 16% from Napa. The blend varies from year to year, the 2016 iteration for example had Sonoma Coast fruit – it also sold for $28. The growing field of terrific Pinot Noir under $25 is quickly growing and the competition is a very good thing for the consumer. Cherry Pie helps raise that bar and this is more than worth its retail price.
ORIGIN: Monterey, Santa Barbara and Napa counties.
ALCOHOL: 14.2%
PRICE: $22.99/ 750ML

Sunday, September 29, 2019

Wine Each Week- 2018 Chateau Tour de Mirambeau, Despagne White

France is known for its many wine regions (specifically Bordeaux and Burgundy) but it has one which is almost unknown just outside of the city of Bordeaux. Entre-deux-Mers is the place for dry white wine. In the 1950s through the 1970s Entre-deux-Mers was pretty much avoided as it was considered cheap bulk wine. That Mirambeau championed the resurgence of the region starting in the 1980s has helped place the region again on the map, this time with much better results. Their Despagne white is a blend of 80% Sauvignon Blanc, 17% Semillon and 3% Muscadelle and is all stainless steel fermented, which allows for a crispness. It presents bright grapefruit, lemon verbena, white peach, a slight guava, spring wildflowers as well as a bold acidity, making food pairing easy.

You can visit the winery itself when near Bordeaux, or get a taste of the entire Entre-deux-Mers region if you visit the “Syndicat,” a consortium of growers whose wines are collectively housed in a re-purposed barn from 1512 (original timbers are used throughout the building and is the backdrop for the above photo) that belonged to the Abbey of La Sauve Majeure next door. Here you can sample the exciting dry white wines that Bordeaux should also be known for. Specifically, under French law, wines from Entre-deux-Mers must contain a minimum of two grapes so you’ll find white wines unlike other Bordeaux regions. 4 Euro gets you three wines to taste, or better yet, spend just 8 Euro and that includes access to the very cool ruins of the Abbey.

ORIGIN: Entre-deux-Mers, Bordeaux, France
ALCOHOL: 13.5%
PRICE: $10/ 750ML