Wine Reviews

Rioja with the Wine School in 2011 (22)

Over two thousand wine reviews! While most of our reviews focus on great wines under $20, we also offer reviews of luxury and collectible wines. As we are located in Philadelphia, most  wines reviewed here are available via PLCB Wine & Spirits Shops in Pennsylvania. Our main reviewer is Keith Wallace, the executive director and founder of the Wine School of Philadelphia.

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Poggio Scalette 2012 Chianti Classico

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Poggio Scalette 2012 Chianti Classico

The Greve Valley is lined with terraced vineyards. Looking across the valley from this winery, those stone walls can look like a giant scallete (ladder, in Italian).  At least it did for the wineries original owner.  We will never know where he thought that ladder would take him. He disappeared a long time ago and his winery fell to ruin.

Only much later, in 1991,  was Poggio Scalette  raised again, by none other than Vittorio Fiore, one of the greatest living winemakers working in Chianti.

Greve is one of the great Crus of Chianti Classico. The analogy I would make is that it is akin to Saint-Estèphe in the Haut Medoc. And yes, that is a totally geeked out analogy. Sometimes I can’t help myself.

Chianti Classico

Greve –which is pronounced like gravy, fyi– is one of the original wine growing towns of Chianti, with a history that dates far back into the middle ages.  And still remains one of the best. Sadly, this information is often missing from the wine label. When it is present, it’s often in very small type.

The nose is an intriguing blend of fresh leather and  chamomile tea. The palate is freshly crushed cherries and pomegranate that turns floral with a whiff of  bergamot.  The tannins are silky and edge the fruit into a blue state while the floral notes ebb into a spicy intense finish.

 

 

 

Rosenblum Cellars 2010 “Harris Kratka” Zinfandel

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Rosenblum Cellars 2010 “Harris Kratka” Zinfandel

No matter it’s pedigree, is big, dumb and fun.  I don’t mean that in a pejorative way. There should  always be a place for fun. This is the wine for unsophicated meals. I couldn’t imagine a better wine for the smokiness of Texas pulled pork or the tang of Carolina-style brisket.

Conversely, it’s the perfect wine for sophisticated parties.  It’s the wine for smart people having a good time: the type of party where Sartre quotes and dirty limericks are equally likely to emerge.

The Harris Kratka vineyard is high up on the pyramid, quality zin-wise.  It’s located in the Chalk Hill AVA in southern Alexander Valley in Sonoma. Pro Tip: Wine regions can sometimes seem like nesting dolls, with smaller one residing in bigger ones. Harris Kratka is a perfect example; the vineyard is located in Chalk Hill wine region which itself is located in Alexander Valley,  which is in Sonoma Valley, which is in the California AVA.

Zinfandel

The Zinfandel comes from 50 year plus head-pruned vines. This is a very old vineyard, California-wise, and has been under production since the 1970′s, when it’s grapes were sold to Gallo.  These days it’s grapes go to Rosenblum, along with a significant number of great wineries. This includes Rock Wall, Manzanita Creek, Fieldstone, R&B Cellars, Pezzi-King, Wilson, Carol Shelton, De Lorimier, and Wine Guerrilla.  That’s an impressive line-up considering this is only a 17 acre vineyard.

The fruit is classic Sonoma zin: basically a cherry-powered  Humvee  that drives over your tongue with giant  blueberry tires.  It keeps up with its decadent show of force with dried plum, creme brulee, and licorice.  At that point the jammy fruit turns a bit angular and shows a level of finesse that isn’t always found in Zinfandels. A trace of  Thai Basil and brighter fruit moves into the finish with freshly ground black pepper.  It’s that finish that shows it’s pedigree, and it’s definitely worth the price. I imagine Berliners of the Weimar Republic would have loved this wine.

Evening Land 2011 Pouilly Fuisse

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Evening Land 2011 Pouilly Fuisse

Way back when I was in my early twenties,  Pouilly-Fuissé was all the rage. The restaurant I was working at had  three on their wine list.  One of the greatest points of being a chef at such a young age was that I got to experience a lot of great wines early on.   Drinking good wine didn’t mean I knew anything about wine, but  I did know that Pouilly-Fuissé was the finest Chardonnay I had ever experienced by that point.   And like all guys in their 20′s, I spouted off my knowledge with the same level of aplomb as the  Phillie Phanatic shooting pork bullets from his pneumatic hotdog gun.

While Pouilly Fuisse has a lot more competition in the Chardonnay market today, it hasn’t lost any of it’s luster. A few salient facts: Pouilly Fuisse is the AOC (AKA wine region) for a few towns in southern Burgundy. The wines must made with 100% chardonnay.  This particular wine comes from vineyards surrounding the town of Vergisson, although other surrounding towns ( Fuissé, Solutré-Pouilly, and Chaintré) can also call their wines Pouilly Fuisse.

We have used  Evening Land wines at the wine school, but with a bit of hesitation. Their business is very different from a traditional winery, and I am not sure it’s a good direction for the wine trade. The “Evening Land” brand is owned by a investment group that started purchasing wineries in California, Oregon, and France in 2005. Their goal was to produce great Pinot Noir and Chardonnay around the world under the “Evening Land” label. They did manage to do that, but the project never really caught on with wine consumers. In fact, it seemed to confuse the marketplace. In the past few years, some of the wineries have been sold off, the firms founder (Mark Tarlov) left in 2012. The firm has recently started dumping their wine into the “Chairman’s Selection” program here in Pennsylvania. That means they are willing to sell their inventory at pennies on the dollar. This may signal the end of “Evening Land”  in the coming years.  It also means we hin PLCB land should be seeing more of these wines at good prices in the coming years, as well.

Pouilly Fuisse

Sourced from old vines, this wine is mostly aged in tank, with a quarter of the juice aged in oak barrels for less than a year.  This makes for a lovely fruit-dominated white Burgundy with fresh peach and sea foam on the nose.  The palate pushes toward red fruit and veers back to ultra ripe pear with an undercurrent of toasted spices. The bright minerality moves forward into the finish with a refreshing bright note of orange oil.  Medium bodied with a dose of  buttery luxury, this wine is a great alternative to a Napa Chardonnay.

 

Contino 2007 Gran Reserva Rioja

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Contino 2007 Gran Reserva Rioja

A number of years ago,  I was  fortunate enough to have a one-on-one tasting with Maria Larrea, the CVNE winemaker. A wonderfully gracious woman, she took me through her entire portfolio of extraordinary wines.  My favorite CVNE wine has been the Contino every since the 1996 vintage, the very first Gran Reserva. I even featured it on my long-gone Philly.com show Philly Uncorked.  I gushed and slobbered over the wine like a half-crazed bassethound.

It wasn’t until after I returned from Spain that I realized my massive faux paux. Of all the wines at CVNE, that was the only wine she didn’t make. It was the project of winemaker Jesús Madrazo, who just happens to be the son of CVNE’s owner.

Contino is completely separate from CVNE. It’s Chateau-style winery and vineyard is  located near the medieval  town of Laguardia. It is tucked into the rolling vineyards of Rioja Alvesa.  CVNE is a sprawling viticultural campus located in the outskirts of the bustling city of Haro.

PRO TIP:  CVNE is an acronym for Compañía Vinícola del Norte de España, but everyone just pronounces the winery  Coo-nay.  It started out as a coo-operative in the 19th century but is now privately owned. 

Rioja

Let’s talk about the wine.

The experience begins with a captivating aroma of cola, rust, and blackberry.  The attack offers lean but substantial tannins that leads into notes of blackberry cobbler, burning tobacco and ocean air. The acidity keeps a tense balance between fruit and mineral from start to finish. The tannins increase like gravity dragging the taste buds into some dark and pleasurable place. The finish moves toward mint, sage and cast iron. This is a classic wine, one that everyone should experience. Old vine tempranillo, with a splash of Graciano.

Saintsbury 2009 “Brown Ranch” Pinot Noir

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Saintsbury 2009  “Brown Ranch” Pinot Noir

Most descriptions of Saintsbury Winery will include the word “pioneer” somewhere within the first paragraph. Go one and google it: you will get over 3.5 million pages describing how the winery is a pioneer in California. Saintsbury does have a place in our wine history books (if such a book existed)  for planting Pinot Noir in Carneros.  They helped launch the Carneros as a sub-region in Napa Valley when  Richard Ward and David Graves launched the winery in 1981.

This bottle has been their flagship wine for the past decade. Originally a horse ranch, Saintsbury’s  Brown Ranch Vineyard was planted in the mid-nineties t0 two clones of Pinot Noir (667 and Pommard for you geeks out there). It’s one of the coolest spots in Carneros with enough sunshine to even ripening.  In other words, perfect pinot country.

It’s ownership over the past decade has become murky. At some point, it was sold to  Silverado Premium Vineyards in a very discrete sale. SPV is the closest the Cali wine trade has to a shadowy organization, pulling strings in the back rooms and wine cellars. Or so goes the gossip. To be honest, they are just a private company that acts like a venture capital firm for winery acquisitions and mergers.   In turn, they sold the winery  to Renteria Vineyard Management Company in 2013, at which point many of the major players in the winery (including their wonderful winemaker Jerome Chery) were let go.

All of this may be the reason why all of a sudden why the PLCB wine shops in Pennsylvania are suddenly awash in heavily discounted Pinot Noir from Saintsbury. The sale probably meant that the winery had to dissolve of a lot of back inventory fast.   Well, the vino VCs play out their games. We ended up with some fantastic Pinot Noir to enjoy.

Pinot Noir

The Review:

The 2009 Brown Ranch is a singular Pinot Noir that is worthy of its reputation. Deeply hued with a rippling of  Kola nut, dark cherry, and toasted spices. The palate is medium bodied with a concentration and concentration that is rare in Carneros Pinot. Flavors of  fresh red fruit,  cardamom, and savory vanilla fold into forest floor and wild flowers. The finish turns toward spice and mulberry with very linear but evolved tannins. A wonderful Pinot.

 

Montecillo 2008 Rioja Reserva

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Montecillo 2008 Rioja Reserva

If I could figure out a way to turn the Wine School into a religious institution (think of it: best communion ever!), Rioja would be one of our holy lands. It’s a place where the modern and classical worlds of wine collide and fold into each other like some sort of temporal abnormality. In other words, heaven on earth.

Longtime readers will know that I seek out Rioja for them to enjoy. Montecillo is a rather large winery, and their wines are typically in the middle of the pack, quality-wise.  Not a ringing endorsement, but their Reserva was my first Rioja, the 1992 vintage, I believe. Decades later, their ornate label brings a smile to my face whenever I see it. I will always love them.

On of the best qualities of this wine is it’s consistency. The Reserva has maintained it’s classical balance of flavors and textures for the past two decades. I am very happy to see this in the Philadelphia area again, and at a price that is much more reasonable than it used to be.

A few salient facts about the winery. They are one of the oldest wineries in Rioja, dating back to 1874.  The founder’s son, Alejandro Navajas, studied wine in France and was one of the first to start supplying Paris with wine when most of Bordeaux’s vineyards collapsed at the beginning of the 20th century.

The winery was bought by Osborne in the early 70′s. Ever see those bottles of Osborne Port? Same folks. Winemaking hasn’t changed much since then. The only real difference is that Montecillo’s winemaker is a woman: Maria Martinez Sierra. This is a growing trend in Rioja, where woman winemakers were nonexistent not too long ago.

Montecillo Reserva 2008

On to the wine itself: a very pretty bottle of Rioja with some classical aromas of tobacco and jasmine. On the palate there is a ping of cherry freshness supported by long lean tannins that open into game and pain grille along with way towards a clean finish of herbs, pencil shavings, and cranberries.

Salviano 2012 Orvieto Classico

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Salviano 2012 Orvieto Classico

Orvieto used to be huge. I still am surprised when younger sommeliers and students don’t recognize the name.  In the 80′s, it was  one of those bottles that white zin lovers could relate to: innocuous, cheap and vaguely sweet. On second thought, maybe it’s good they don’t know about it’s sorted past.

Well, it’s history  goes way further back  than that. The wines come from the borderland of Umbria and Lazio in Italy, and they date back to pre-Roman times. The Etruscans would harvest the grapes into amphora and store them in caves they dug under the volcanic hills, where the grapes would ferment and age through the winter. From the ancient world to the medieval one, it was a famous dessert wine.

These days, though, it’s a dry white wine. The decent bottles are based on the ever-popular Trebbiano grape. The best ones, though, use Trebbiano’s local variant called  Procanico along with a healthy dose of Grechetto.  The really good ones  use mostly Grechetto in the blends. 

This bottling blends equal parts Grechetto and Procanico along with a bit of Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. In the under $15 category, Salviano is one of the best producers. Their property is part of the larger Titignano estate, all of which is owned by Marchesa Nerina Corsini Incisa della Rocchetta. Her family is a famous one in the wine trade: her family is also responsible for the Super Tuscan Sassicaia.Orvieto

This wine starts off with scents of wild flowers and hibiscus and a hint of gunflint. On the palate, it is light and fresh with lovely bit of fat in the middle. The classic almond note of trebbiano is in the mix, but it’s subdued.  Flavors of peaches and cream take center stage, with a bit of exotic spice and fresh squeezed citrus on the finish.

This is a wine for a summer day. It would be wonderful with a simple salad of grilled zucchini tossed with olive oil and sea salt.

Domaine Forca Real 2011 “Mas de la Garrigue” Côtes du Roussillon-Villages

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Domaine Forca Real  2011  “Mas de la Garrigue”  Côtes du Roussillon-Villages

For a  hot moment in the late 90′s, France’s  Mediterranean vineyards were trendy, in particular the Languedoc-Roussillon. The good folks at Wine Spectator and Wine  Advocate couldn’t rate the wines high enough, new wineries were popping up every day, and prices were going through the roof.  For a wine region that was principally known for jug wines previously, this was a remarkable turn around.

The hype has cooled down since then. The big-ticket luxury wines have all but disappeared from the shelves in America. Despite a sizable drop in prices, quality has remained high.  Domaine Forca Real is an example of a winery that began during those heady days, made headway into the US markets, and still manages to produce world-class wines at less than luxury prices.

Jean-Paul Henriquès and his son Cyril have created something special with Domaine Forca Real. Their vineyards are mostly old head pruned vines of  Grenache and Carignan. Some newer plots of Syrah were planted in the 90′s, as well. All are terraced on hillsides of schist and loess.

Côtes du Roussillon-Villages

The Mas de la Garrigue gets little to no oak, which is something I prefer when it comes to Grenache-based wines. For those craving sticks with their stones, I suggest seeking out their  Les Hauts de Força Réal.

Enough chit-chat, let’s talk about this wine. This is a crowd pleaser, as long as your friends aren’t too trashy or too timid. This is a round and fleshy wine, medium bodied and very ripe. Aromas of sage and marjoram are followed by burnt toast and white pepper. On the palate, there is a spoonful of blackberry and melted chocolate that is followed up by a puff of tobacco smoke.

For food pairings, think pork. Smoked pork chops with rosemary potatoes will work well. You could also grill up some sweet fennel sausages and have a great time. Even some tuscan-style bean dishes will work great with this wine.

Château de Belcier 2011 Castillon Côtes de Bordeaux

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Château de Belcier 2011 Castillon Côtes de Bordeaux

I discovered the wine company  Gironde et Gascogne   at a trade tasting a few years back.  This is a boutique operation with  two chateaux on their roster, both in Bordeaux:  Château Ramage La Batisse in the Haut Medoc and Château de Belcier  in Castillion.

I was impressed wit  Ramage La Batisse, which is a very nice Cru Bourgeois. I strongly considered purchasing it for Bacchus Selections, but I couldn’t get the vintage I really wanted. However, it was the Château de Belcier that tickled my fancy, though.  Sadly, it wasn’t being imported into the states at that point.

This wine has just entered the PLCB system at a very attractive price, so I am happy to review it.

I have always been a fan of this little known satellite region on the FAR right bank of Bordeaux. This castle-like chateau rises  above the quaint town of Salles de Castillon, with about 50 acres of Merlot, with some Cabernet Franc, Malbec, and a small plot of Cabernet Sauvignon. The soils are typical for area, having a generous mixture of  limestone and sandy loess, a great wine growing combination.

The wine shows burnt cedar and cassis on the nose, followed by flavors of ripe strawberry and black cherry compote. A savory note of basil is balanced with an iron core that opens up in the finish with quince and pomegranate.  A pretty wine with nice delicate features, but not without gravitas. A very good purchase.

 

 

 

Paul Jourdan 2010 “Cuvee Papale” Chateauneuf-du-Pape

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Paul Jourdan 2010  “Cuvee Papale” Chateauneuf-du-Pape

This wine is something of a mystery. There is no winery in Chateauneuf-du-Pape with the name Paul Jourdan.  There was a man by that name who owned Domaine Chante Cigale from 1920 t0 1950. He even gave the winery it’s name. My guess is that this wine is a export-only wine label for Chante Cigale. This wouldn’t be the first time they have created a new brand in this way. For instance, the   Favier Reserve Des Oliviers Chateauneuf du Pape came into the PLCB system a few years ago. The wine was named after the current owner of Chante Cigale,   Christian Favier.

If that is the case, this may very well be sourced from the same inventory that Chante Cigale uses for their fantastic (but unavailable in the US) Extrait Rouge bottling.  In any case, this wine has been in the states since the 2007 vintage with very limited distribution, mostly in upstate New York and Long Island. Each vintage gets great reviews from wine critics like myself, but no one but  a very few folks can get this wine.

For food pairings, Robert Parker has been quoted as saying it pairs well with nearly any type of meat. I get his love of the wine, he singlehandedly made the region famous in America, but I am not so sure it is the perfect pairing for every meat.  Older bottles are amazing with braised leg of lamb, especially if it’s finished with a touch of olive oil. A side of Provencal vegetables work very well, too. For younger bottles, though, the best pairing is red meat. And by red, I mean RARE steaks.  A fillet of venison is fantastic, so is buffalo. A good old dry aged t-bone is a great option, too.

Let’s talk about the wine: It begins with layers of lush velvet. Flavors of savory fig and blackberry coulis are balanced by a quiver of tobacco and spice cutting through the wine’s ample fat. A more elegant leveling of licorice, salted chocolate,  and cassis comes in the finish with a firm grip of tannins. A serious wine collector would be advised to pick up a case of this  wine to enjoy over the next eight years.