The Wines of Lawer Estates of Knights Valley

Lawer Estates is a Calistoga-based winery owned and operated by David and Betsy Lawer.   Originally from Alaska, the Lawers launched their operation in 2003.   With their extended family and the help of an experienced team of vineyard managers and winemakers,  they developed Lawer Estates into a winery producing  small quantities of excellent premium wine. Continue reading

Share this post!
Posted in Cabernet Sauvignon, California, Chardonnay, Countries and Regions, Pinot Noir, Red Wine, Rosé, Uncategorized, White Wine, Wine Type | Tagged | Leave a comment

Bodega Marichal of Canelones, Uruguay: Current Releases

Bodega Marichal was one of the first wineries we visited on our recent trip to Uruguay.  Winemaker Juan Andrés showed us the wines and discussed the evolution of Tannat in Uruguay in recent years. His Tannat wines show the incredible progress made in softening this grape’s ferocious tannins by harvesting phenolically ripe fruit and then fermenting shorter times in temperature controlled vessels and aging in oak. We’ve always been very favorably impressed with Juan’s wines; reviews of the latest releases can be found below. Continue reading

Share this post!
Posted in Red Wine, Uncategorized, Uruguay, White Wine, Wine Type | Tagged , | Leave a comment

The New Muscadine Wines of North Carolina’s Cypress Bend

Dan and Tina Smith have cultivated 35 acres of muscadine cultivars (Carlos, Noble and Magnolia) near Wagram for several years. In 2005 they opened the doors of their winery to the public with the goal to produce modern, dry table wines from muscadine cultivars. Continue reading

Share this post!
Posted in Countries and Regions, Germany, Red Wine, Uncategorized, White Wine, Wine Type | Tagged | Leave a comment

The Outstanding Low Dosage Champagnes of JM Sélèque

Founded in 1965 by Henri Sélèque in Pierry, a Premier Cru village in the Coteaux Sud d’Epernay in the Vallée de la Marne, today JM Sélèque is one of the top producers of grower Champagne (récoltant-manipulant). Champagne in Pierry dates from the late 17th century when the Benedictine monk Jean Oudart gained fame for his sparkling wines. Today, Pierry is known for its Meunier, which represents half the total plantings of the village. We tasted a selection of JM Sélèque wines while preparing our upcoming report on Champagne. See the tasting notes below.

Jean-Marc Sélèque

Henri’s son Richard began making his own Champagne in the 1970s. Henri’s grandson Jean-Marc Sélèque has put his mark on this winery since returning from an internship at Chandon in Napa in 2008.  His changes in the winery include gentler pressing (PAI Coquard), cooler fermentations, longer aging on the lees and more (40%) aging in oak (increasingly larger format), less malo, minimal fining, reduced SO2 and lower dosage.  In the vineyard, he began farming organically and, since 2010, biodynamically. The domaine has 9 ha of vines in 45 parcels across 7 villages with an average age of 40 years, including several highly regarded vineyards (lieux-dits) like Les Gouttes d’Or, planted in 1951.  Reserve wines are aged in a single, 20 hl oak fondre. Continue reading

Share this post!
Posted in Champagne, France, Uncategorized, Wine Type | Tagged | Leave a comment

Hawk and Horse Selections from Lake County

Hawk and Horse is a family-owned and operated, certified biodynamic vineyard located in the Mayacamas Mountain range of the Red Hills AVA of Lake County.  Red Hills is one of the six sub-appellations of Lake County. The 18 acre, mostly Cabernet Sauvignon vineyard has red volcanic soils and straddles elevations from 1800 to 2200 feet with slopes of 15% to 85%.  It has been Demeter-Biodynamic certified since 2008 and California Certified Organic since 2004. A herd of Scottish Highland cattle provides materials for some of the biodynamic farming protocols. Continue reading

Share this post!
Posted in Cabernet Sauvignon, California, Dessert Wine, Fortified, Petite Sirah, Red Wine, Uncategorized, Wine Type | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Spann Vineyards Wines: New Releases from Sonoma County

These new releases from Peter and Betsy Spann are wonderful examples of the authentic and artisanal wines being crafted in Sonoma Valley today. They are ripe and juicy wines, mainly red Bordeaux blends and single varietal reds. They include a delicious Primitivo and Zinfandel that do especially well in the sunny and warm climate of Sonoma Valley. There is one white wine called Yin-Yang  among the new releases; Yin-Yang is a lovely blend of Chardonnay and Viognier that offers the best of both varieties.  Spann Vineyards wines are made in small quantities with passion and good craftsmanship.


The Wines

Spann Vineyards 2017 Yin-Yang California ($25) 91 The 2017 Yin-Yang is a refreshing blend of 55% Chardonnay and 45% Viognier. It is crisp and citrusy on the palate showing white stone fruit with a touch of mandarin. There’s good acidity, excellent concentration and mouth filling richness. Chardonnay and Viognier are made for each other.

Spann Vineyards 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon Mayacamas Range Sonoma Valley ($45) 90 This light bodied Cabernet Sauvignon offers red and black fruit with high acidity, firm tannins, and a good deal of cedar on the nose. It has a lovely suave mouth feel with excellent freshness. Sourced from The Spann’s estate vineyard 1700 feet high in the Mayacamas Mountains and from neighboring vineyards. Blended with 15% Cabernet Franc, 8% Merlot, and a small amount of Petite Verdot.

Spann Vineyards 2014 OMG Sonoma County ($39) 89 The OMG is a 50-50 blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbec. It is soft and round in the mouth with dark red berry fruit flavors and good concentration, albeit a touch jammy.

Spann Vineyards 2015 Primitivo Sonoma County ($30) 91 Dark ruby. A pleasant tasting wine offering ripe, fresh plum and strawberry flavors with soft round tannins, good acidity and a persistent finish. A blend of 90% Primitivo and 10% Syrah. Enjoy it now.

Spann Vineyards 2014 The Classic Four Sonoma Valley ($35) 93 The 2014 Classic Four is a delicious, mouth filling wine with rich earthy, red and black fruit flavors and minerals. It has a lovely texture and persistent finish. A blend of 50% Malbec, 33% Cabernet Sauvignon, 9% Cabernet Franc and 8% Merlot.

Spann Vineyards 2016 Zinfandel Sonoma Valley ($30) 92 The 2016 Zinfandel is high toned and appears somewhat richer and more complex than the 2013 vintage we last tasted. A blend of 75% Zinfandel and 25% Mourvedre, it offers spicy black cherry flavors with a hint of earthiness, a silky texture, soft and round tannins and a lovely finish

Share this post!
Posted in Cabernet Sauvignon, California, Red Wine | Tagged | Leave a comment

The Alicante Bouschet Wines of the Alentejo

Alicante Bouschet originated in Franc, but today its principal home is in the Alentejo region of Portugal. Developed in 1886 as a cross of Petit Bouschet and Grenache, it’s a teinturier (red colored flesh) grape that produces inky red wines.  First planted at Herdade do Mouchão, Alicante Bouschet is today Alentejo’s flagship red. Continue reading

Share this post!
Posted in Portugal, Red Wine, Uncategorized, Wine Type | Tagged | Leave a comment

The Wines of Santa Barbara’s Happy Canyon Vineyard

Happy Canyon Vineyard is a family owned and operated estate vineyard and boutique winery in the Santa Ynez Valley of Santa Barbara County.  It was purchased in the early 1990s by Tom Barrack, a polo enthusiast who also has a passion for wine. Happy Canyon consists of 60 acres and forms part of the Piocho Ranch, which includes two regulation sized Polo fields and ponies.

Happy Canyon Vineyard is also one of several wineries that today form part of the Happy Canyon AVA that was approved in 2009.   Located in the eastern most end of the Santa Ynez Valley,  it is the warmest micro-climate of the valley with summertime temperatures reaching the low to mid-nineties.  The soils are a mixture of loam and clay loam and are low in nutrients.  The AVA is ideally suited for growing Sauvignon Blanc and other Bordeaux varieties.

Happy Canyon Vineyard produces 3000 cases annually under the Piocho and Barrack brands.   The current winemaker is the affable Sean D. Pitts (shown here), son-in-law of  owner, Tom Barrack. Doug Margeurm, one of Santa Barbara’s  top producers serves as consulting winemaker.  The wines are all estate-grown and consist of Bordeaux and Rhone varieties.  The wines are very well made. Unfortunately, they are not widely available.  Readers who wish to purchase them will have to contact the winery.   Tel: 805-2039.    The winery also has a wine club.

The Wines

Happy Canyon Vineyard 2018 Piocho Sauvignon Blanc Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara ($25) 92 The Piocho Sauvignon Blanc is a perfumed and flavorful wine, full in the mouth and rich and round on the palate. A Bordeaux-like California wine with enriched barrel fermented-Semillon revealing medium acidity and richness on the finish.

Happy Canyon Vineyard 2015  Barrack Family Blanc Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara ($38) 93 The Barrack Family Blanc is a Bordeaux-style blend of 2/3 Semillon and 1/3 Sauvignon blanc. The Semillon is fermented and aged on the lees for 10 months in a 600 liter demi-muid Taransaud oak barrel and is blended with Sauvignon Blanc that is aged in all neutral French oak.  It is then blended and spends a year in barrel and was bottled in 2017.  The wine offers aromas and flavors of toasted brioche and figs, with rich smokiness, vanilla and orchard fruits. Mouth filling.  A beauty. Happy Canyon Vineyard 2015 Piocho Red Blend Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara ($32) 92  The “Piocho” is a Bordeaux style right bank red blend of 56% Merlot, 22% Cabernet Sauvignon and small amounts of Cabernet  Franc, Petit Verdot and Malbec. Aged 22 months in new and two year old neutral Taransaud French oak barrels, it offers red plum and ripe cherry fruit. It is nicely balanced and integrated with firm round tannins and a long and slightly earthy finish. Happy Canyon Vineyard 2015 Barrack Family Estate Brand Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara ($50) 91 A blend of 80% Merlot and 5% each of Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Cabernet France and Petit Verdot, the Barack Family Estate Brand is a fruit forward wine with pleasant flavors of plum and black cherries.  It exhibits lovely purity of flavor and a soft round mouth feel with a low alcohol level (13.5%).and a pleasant finish.  Happy Canyon Vineyard 2015 Barack Family “Ten Goal” Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara ($82) 94 This is a gorgeous and complex opaque wine sourced from head trained vines on eight acres of hillside vineyards yielding 2 tons per acre. A blend of 80% Cabernet Sauvignon and small amounts of Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Malbec, it exhibits concentrated black currant fruit with a silky smooth, elegant mouth feel and light toast. Aged 22 months in Taransaud “T5”  barriques, it is an age worthy wine with firm tannins needing at least two more years in the bottle.  A powerful wine.

Share this post!
Posted in California, Countries and Regions, Red Wine, Uncategorized, White Wine, Wine Type | Tagged , | Leave a comment

André Brunel’s Les Cailloux & Cuvée Centenaire from Châteauneuf-du-Pape

Fabrice Brunel came to town recently, bringing with him his excellent, new releases from the Côtes du Rhone and Châteauneuf-du-Pape.  We paired them with the elegant cuisine of the French restaurant Convival in Washington DC.  We’ve long been fans of the wines of Fabrice’s father André but hadn’t tasted Les Cailloux since Fabrice took over the winemaking in 2013.  After the dinner we decided to dig around in our cellar to see if we had any older vintages, and we found a 1999 Les Cailloux Rouge Châteauneuf-du-Pape as well as a 1995Les Cailloux Cuvée Centenaire. André Brunel introduced the world to the Cuvée Centenaire, made from the domaine’s oldest (now 125 years old) Grenache parcel beginning with the 1989 vintage. We opened the bottles from our cellar later and found that both wines are drinking fantastically right now. Our notes on all these wines follow. Continue reading

Share this post!
Posted in France, Red Wine, Uncategorized, White Wine, Wine Type | Tagged | Leave a comment

The Friuli Wines of Perusini from Corno di Rosazzo

The Perusini ronchi di Gramogliano winery is located in Italy’s Friuli-Venezia-Giulia region, which produces some of the finest wines of Italy. Sandwiched between the Adriatic Sea to the south and the Julian Alps to the north, Friuli’s cool climate is uniquely suited for high quality wine production. This is especially true for Colli Oriental, the Friuli’s appellations where Perusini is located. Colli Orientali is just to the west of Collio, another of the regional appellations justifiably famous for its elegant white wines. We wrote about Friuli and Collio in some depth in our Report # 63: The Wines of Friuli: Collio’s Elegant Whites. 

Perusini ronchi di Gramogliano is most famous for its Picolit, a rare grape variety that almost became extinct but was revived in the 19thcentury by Giacomo Perusini, but it grows other grape varieties as well, including Ribolla Gialla and the oddly named Refosco dal Peduncolo Rosso.  Located in the hills of Gramogliano within the municipality of Corno di Rosazzo, the Perusini estate enjoys a terroir well suited for producing high quality grapes, both indigenous and international. Our reviews of the wines are given below. Corno di Rosazzo is famous not only for its wine but, also, for the historic Abbey of Rosazzo, which we visited while preparing our report on The Wines of Friuli: Collio’s Special Whites.   Continue reading

Share this post!
Posted in Countries and Regions, Dessert Wine, Friuli, Italy, Red Wine, Uncategorized, White Wine, Wine Type | Tagged | Leave a comment