Fine Wines from Roero in the Piedmont: New Releases from Negro Angelo e Figli

Giovanni Negro

Located in Monteu Roero not far from Canale in the Piedmont hills, Negro Angelo e Figli is one of the oldest winemaking families of the Roero.  The family has cultivated vines since the 17th century and today has vines in Monteu Roero, Canale and Barbaresco. Giovanni Negro, who made the first dry Arneis on record in 1972, manages the estate with his family. As we can attest to, visitors to the winery can expect a most warm and hospitable welcome from the entire family: Giovanni and his wife Maria Elisa and their four children—Gabriele, Angelo, Emanuela, and Giuseppe.  Angelo leads the winemaking today.  US Importer: The Piedmont Guy

The Wines

Angelo Negro 2019 Onorata Favorita Langhe 89  Showing melon and pear aromas and flavors with just a hint of lime zest, this is a pleasant, quaffable wine with brisk acidity that lends a petillant character to the wine. Made from the Favorite variety, it’s fruit forward and super fresh. Sourced from Roero vineyards and fermented and ages in stainless steel. 

Angelo Negro 2019 Serra Lupini Arneis Roero  90+  This softly textured Arneis is redolent of pear and white melon. It has a suave attack and a perfumed, honeyed palate. It offers nice, easy drinking. Sourced from a 20+ year old vineyard in Monteu Roero with sandy calcareous soil located at about 300m elevation. 

Angelo Negro 2018 Perdaudin Arneis Roero 92  Considerably more dense than the Serra Lupini, the single vineyard Perdaudin is a refined Arneis with notable minerality. The palate is zesty, rich and beautifully balanced with lingering notes of citrus and oyster shell. Sourced from a 45 year old vineyard in the Prachiosso Cru where the sandy soils are especially rich in fossils. Matured sur lies in stainless with battonage for 7 months. 13.5% alc. 

Angelo Negro 2016 Prachiosso Roero 92  Medium red. The Prachiosso Nebbiolo offers an aromatic nose with notes of pomegranate, plum and tobacco leaf. The palate is full and mouth filling with a silky texture and good depth of rich red fruit complemented by hints of earth and tobacco. Sourced from the sandstone and fossil soils of the Prachiosso Cru in Monteu Roero and matured in cask and barrique. 14.5% alc.

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Alvaro Castro: Outstanding Selections from the Dão

Alvaro Castro

Alvaro Castro is one of the most accomplished winemakers in Portugal.  Since 1980 he has served as winemaker for his family’s properties at Quinta da Pellada and Quinta de Saes. Alvaro crafts elegant wines sourced from traditional varieties with minimal intervention in the cellar. 

Having tasted Alvaro’s wines several years ago for our report on The New Wines of Portugal, we are delighted to note that today his wines are better than ever.  Most notably they reveal a sense of place and exhibit the elegance and refinement of wines that are unique to the Dão Readers unfamiliar with wines of the Dão are encouraged to try these selections—and to do so with food. These wines are imported in the US by Olé & Obrigado. 

Alvaro Castro 2017 Quinta de Saes Tinto Dão ($20) 91  The Quinta de Saes Tinto is a blend of Tinta Roriz, Touriga Nacional, Alfrocheiro and Jaen.  A young wine, it displays a fresh nose a fruit rich attack of boysenberry and plum.  Aged 18 months in second year barrels, it reveals lovely purity of flavor and excellent balance. A perfect food wine.

Alvaro Castro 2015 Quinta da Pellada Vinho Tinto Dão ($74) 94  This is a rich and flavorful, 100% Touriga Nacional sourced from sustainably grown vines planted in 1950.  It offers spicy red fruit on the nose. On the palate it is silky smooth with concentrated flavors of dark plum and earth. A vibrant wine with excellent balance and outstanding persistence.   

Alvaro Castro 2013 Quinta da Pellada Casa Dão ($114) 95  This is a magnificent single vineyard red blend of earthy dark red berry fruit with savory notes. Very fragrant on the nose, it is big and bold flavored on the palate with layers of dark plum and black currant. Beautifully balanced, it reveals some firm tannins at this stage of development and has a rich lingering finish.

Posted in Countries and Regions, Great Winemakers, Portugal, Portuguese, Red Wine, Uncategorized, White Wine, Wine Articles, Wine Type | Leave a comment

Siduri Pinot Noir: Latest Releases from California and Oregon

Siduri is one of America’s preeminent producers of Pinot Noir. Under the guidance of founder Adam Lee, it produces a wide variety of vineyard designated premium wines and blends from celebrated vineyards in California and Oregon. Adam and his winemaker, Matt Revelette, oversee the management of vineyard parcels from Oregon’s Chehalem Mountains in the northern Willamette Valley to the Sta. Rita Hills in California’s southern Central Coast, almost one thousand miles to the south.  Siduri wines are handcrafted in small quantities for vineyard designated wines following winemaking techniques that bring out the unique character of each vineyard. 

Adam Lee & Matt Revelette

Adam Lee released his first vintage of Siduri Pinot Noir in 1994.  It consisted of just 107 cases from a small vineyard in the Anderson Valley. Twenty vintages later, Adam and his wife Diana decided to escape the business side of running a winery and marketing wines and sold Siduri to Jackson Family. However, Adam continues as consultant at Siduri where Matt Revelette now has the winemaking responsibilities.  Matt’s previous winemaking responsibilities included Sojourn Cellars, Williams Selyem and Kosta Browne after earning his Masters in Viticulture and Enology at Cal State Fresno.  

The International Wine Review recently completed a tasting of many of the wines in the Siduri portfolio. Our tasting notes confirm the high quality of the wines and the variety of expressions of Pinot Noir they offer to the consumer. The tasting notes also explain how climate, clones, soils and winemaking contribute to the unique character of each wine.  Of course, we’ve tasted the Siduri wines many times before.  In particular, we reviewed Siduri’s Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noirs in our report The Santa Lucia Highlands: Unique Terroir, Marvelous Wines; we reviewed its Russian River Valley and Sonoma County Pinot Noirs in our report The Wines of Sonoma County. And we review Siduri’s Santa Barbara Pinot Noirs in our soon to be published report Sta. Rita Hills: A New Look.

Santa Barbara County

Santa Barbara’s Sta. Rita Hills’ Pinot Noir vineyards are the furthest south (at 35° latitude) of Siduri’s vineyard sites.  However, the east-west orientation of the mountains and the open access to the sea gives these sites a strong maritime influence that varies with distance from the Pacific, vineyard elevation, and aspect. Sta. Rita Hills comprises two distinct east-west valleys, and Siduri sources from both. The southerly valley, along Santa Rosa Rd, is a windy site with more calcareous soils, and the wines are darker and more mineral. The northerly valley, along Hwy 246, produces wines that can be more lush.  

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La Encantada Vineyard

The Wines

Siduri 2018 Pinot Noir Santa Barbara County  ($30) 89  Medium ruby red.  Red fruit shows on the palate with herbal notes. A light bodied, easy drinking wine showing dried red cherry on the palate. 

Siduri 2018 Pinot Noir Sta. Rita Hills ($40) 91  The Siduri Santa Rita Hills displays pretty red fruit with a touch of spice. Full in the mouth, it is nicely balanced with good acidity and a pleasant finish. An easy drinking wine.  

Siduri 2018 Pinot Noir Clos Pepe Vineyard Sta Rita Hills 93+  Semi-opaque in color, the Siduri Clos Pepe Vineyard offers a spicy dark fruited nose. It is full bodied and elegant on the palate with excellent concentration of ripe dark red cherry fruit complemented by herbal brambly notes.  A wine packed with flavor.  Located in Hwy 246 and planted in the mid-1990s to mostly the Pommard clone, Clos Pepe has established itself as one of the top vineyards of the Sta. Rita Hills. 

Siduri 2018 Pinot Noir John Sebastiano Vineyard Sta. Rita Hills ($60) 91  The Pinot Noir John Sebastiano displays a medium ruby color and aromas of spicy and brambly red berry fruit. On the palate it is seamless with an elegant texture, good concentration and a long finish.  Planted in 2007, John Sebastiano is a relative newcomer to Sta. Rita Hills; it’s located on the eastern end of the appellation with steep vineyards and highly varied aspects, some exposed to strong winds.

Siduri 2018 Pinot Noir La Encantada Vineyard Sta. Rita Hills 94  The Siduri La Encantada Vineyard is a hedonistic wine. Semi opaque, it offers pure and spicy dark cherry and plum fruit on nose with a touch of cola. On the palate it is silky smooth, ripe and rich tasting with a hint of chocolate on the finish.  Originally planted by Richard Sanford, La Encantada is located close to the Sanford & Benedict Vineyard on Santa Rosa Rd. 

Sonoma County

Siduri’s Sonoma County wines come from diverse locations ranging from the Perry Ranch in southwestern Green Valley to much warmer sites like Barbieri and Parsons on the Santa Rosa Plain not far from the city of Santa Rosa.  Proximity to the sea is often, but not always, an important determinant of the maritime influence, including fog, of these sites.  The Russian River Valley almost always produces ripe fruit; the percent of whole cluster used in Siduri’s winemaking depends on hang time and lignification of the stems.  

Lingenfelder Vineyard

The Wines

Siduri 2018 Pinot Noir Russian River Valley 92  Medium red. The Russian River Valley Pinot is a pretty wine, offering very fresh scents of red cherry and raspberry with a slight candied edge. The wine is fruit forward with pure flavors and a suave mouth feel. Finishes with good length. 14.5% alc.

Siduri 2018 Pinot Noir Barbieri Vineyard Russian River Valley ($55) 93  The Pinot Noir Barbieri Vineyard offers aromas of dark red berries and plum with spice notes. It has a silky texture and a full mouth feel with considerable purity of flavor. It is an elegant wine, beautifully balanced and persistent on the finish a good sense of refinement. The Barbieri Ranch was originally planted by an Italian immigrant, Italo Barbieri, on Olivet Rd northwest of Santa Rosa.  It was later (1970) purchased by the De Loach family and when they filed for bankruptcy in 2003, it was resold to the Boisset family, and the old vine Zinfandel was ripped out in favor of Pinot Noir. 14.5% alc.

Siduri 2018 Pinot Noir Ewald Vineyard Russian River Valley ($55) 91  Medium dark ruby. The Pinot Noir Ewald Vineyard offers earthy aromas and flavors of cherry. pomegranate and smoky spice. The palate reveals brambly notes of blueberry and blackberry with moderate intensity. The wine is well-balanced with good acidity, fine grained tannins, and a persistent finish. Ewald is a 3.1 acre vineyard of clones 115 and 777 located directly behind the Kistler winery in the Vine Hill area of Forestville. Matured in 30% new French oak for 14 months. 14.2% alc  

Siduri 2018 Pinot Noir Lingenfelder Vineyard Russian River Valley ($55) 91+  The Pinot Noir Lingenfelder Vineyard displays a medium ruby color. It exhibits lovely freshness with notes of cherries, red plums, tangy mulberry and hints of herbs. It’s a vivacious wine with an uplifted finish. Although technically on the Santa Rosa plain, Lingenfelder is a cool climate, 3 acre vineyard west of Fulton planted in 1996 with a mix of Pommard and Martini clones. About 40% whole clusters on the Pommard which lends a brightness to the wine. 14.2% alc.  

Siduri 2018 Pinot Noir Parsons’ Vineyard Russian River Valley ($55) 92  The Pinot Noir Parsons’ Vineyard displays a dark garnet ruby color and intense aromas of dark ripe cherry and plum fruit. It is full-bodied on the palate with big fruit flavors and mouth feel and is rich in alcohol with hints of forest floor, tea and earth. Parsons’ is a relatively warm site located west of Santa Rosa on the Santa Rosa plain. 14.5% alc.     

Siduri 2018 Pinot Noir Perry Ranch Vineyard Russian River Valley ($55) 92+  The Pinot Noir Perry Ranch Vineyard is light bodied with a savory mid-palate.It offers a silky elegant mouth feel, pure light red fruit flavors with notes of earth, firm acidity, fine tannins, and excellent focus. A significant portion of the fruit is whole cluster fermented with a significant amount of whole clusters; matured in 40% new French oak. Perry Ranch (formerly part of the Keefer Ranch) is a 16 acre vineyard subject to intense morning fog planted in Goldridge soils and managed by the Dutton family in the southwestern part of the Green River Valley. 

Siduri 2018 Pinot Noir Pratt Vineyard-Sexton Road Sonoma Coast ($55) 94  The Pinot Noir Pratt Vineyard-Sexton Ranch is a beautiful wine offering pure dark red berry aromas and flavors. It is soft and delicious on the attack and is intensely flavored of dark berries, black cherry and dried herbs. It reveals an elegant texture and mouth feel and is beautifully balanced with soft round tannins and a long finish. The Pratt Vineyard is south of Graton and west of Sebastopol in an area known as the Sebastopol Hills. It was developed by Jim Pratt in the late 1990s. It’s a southwest facing vineyard at 453’ with 2697 GDD and Goldridge soils. 14.1% alc. 


A field of grass with trees in the background

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Gran Moraine Vineyard

Oregon’s Pinot Noir vineyards lie at approximately the same latitude (45°) as those of Burgundy, about one thousand miles north of the Sta. Rita Hills.  Its northerly location used to present problems with ripening, but the warming climate has led to consistently good vintages. Unlike the coastal vineyards of California, those of Willamette Valley have a more subtle maritime influence.  Long hours of summer sunlight contribute to darker fruit notes and a savory elegance in the wines. 

The wines we tasted were all from the 2018 vintage, which was warm and dry in the Willamette Valley. According to Professor Greg Jones of Linfield College average summer temperatures were 1.4 to 2.3 degrees above normal. But there were few heat spikes and less heat stress than in 2017, and cool autumn weather led to a longer season than normal. Sugar levels, acidity and pH were all close to average with production levels up significantly. Some producers claim the fruit showed darker and juicier flavors compared to the 2017 vintage. 

The Wines

Siduri 2018 Pinot Noir Willamette Valley ($35) 92  Medium to medium dark red. Nice dark cherry and pomegranate with floral notes and an earthy/underbrush edge. Good focus, firm backbone, nice savory and brambly edge. Dry finish. A versatile food wine.  Sourced from three appellations:  Yamhill-Carlton, Chehalem Mountains, and Eola-Amity. 

Siduri 2018 Pinot Noir Zena Crown Vineyard Eola – Amity Hills ($65) 94  The Pinot Noir Zena Crown Vineyard is an elegant wine offering a medium ruby color and aromas of black cherry fruit. On the palate it displays a beautiful silky texture with perfect balance and acidity, round firm tannins and a lengthy finish. A gorgeous wine! Premier Pacific Vineyards developed this vineyard in the early 2000s. It’s located due east of the Van Duzer corridor, which allows cool Pacific breezes to flow through, decreasing temperatures beginning in the late afternoon, helping grapes retain acidity, thickening skins, and firming tannins. Jackson Family purchased the 115 acre Zena Crown vineyard in 2013, their first foray into Oregon. The southwest facing vineyard is diverse in terms of clones, aspects, and altitude, ranging from 300-650’. 14.4% alc. 

Siduri 2018 Pinot Noir Gran Moraine Vineyard Yamhill Carlton ($65) 93  A dark earthy wine, the Pinot Noir Gran Moraine Vineyard offers ripe dark berry and dried dark cherry fruit flavors. It is elegant and superbly balanced with a soft texture, dense extract, and savory notes. Still quite youthful, it displays firm round tannins and a long, rich finish. Yamhill Carlton is located in a relatively warm area of the Willamette Valley with the earliest harvest dates, but Gran Moraine and its 220 acres is located to the west and receives a cooling influence from the Pacific. 14.2% alc 

Posted in California, Countries and Regions, Oregon, Pinot Noir, Red Wine, Uncategorized, Wine Type | Leave a comment

Cameron Hughes: An American Negociant Offering Wines of Superb Value

Cameron Hughes is a wine négociant who started his eponymous enterprise in 2001, buying excess, bulk wine from well-known California wineries, bottling it and selling it at Costco and other discount locations.  This business model works well when there’s surplus wine. And now there’s an ocean of it, thanks to COVID 19, the changing tastes of younger consumers, and the decreased consumption of older ones.  California’s first-growth wineries can’t sell all their expensive wine, but they don’t want to reduce prices either, so the only alternative is to sell their wine in bulk to negociants like Cameron Hughes.  This means consumers get to buy first rate wine at cut rate prices.  We evaluate several of Cameron Hughes’ bottlings below. 

Buying great wine at low prices is a good deal for consumers. But, as Milton Friedman once said, there is no such thing as a free lunch.  While Cameron Hughes’ wines are excellent value, consumers know little about their provenance aside from the region where they are grown. And the lots are small, so consumers wishing to purchase more may find the lot is sold out.  Also, the wines are seldom professionally reviewed since neither the producer nor the winemaker can be identified.  Fortunately, you can use our reviews to help select the wines to purchase. 

The Wines 

Cameron Hughes 2017 Chardonnay Lot 675 Santa Barbara County ($14) 91  Golden straw color.  A soft, waxy bouquet offers yellow stone fruit, ripe pears and honeycomb. Packed with flavor and good balancing acidity, this single vineyard Chardonnay has a creamy texture and flavors of mango, peach and acacia. One of the few deeply flavored California Chardonnays not overwhelmed by toasty oak. Sourced from the top vineyard of the Santa Maria Valley.  Bien Nacido?  Outstanding value! Chardonnay of this quality would easily sell for 3-4 times this price.         

Cameron Hughes 2018 Chardonnay Lot 706 Napa Valley ($16) 91 Showing a lovely, soft floral perfume on the nose, this is a Chardonnay that’s especially well balanced for the price. There’s good lemony acidity on the round, mellow palate complementing melon, apple, and lemon curd flavors. This is a big, mouth filling wine that would go well with roast chicken or creamy pasta dishes. 13.5% alc. 

Cameron Hughes 2018 Chardonnay Lot 718 Russian River Valley ($18) 90 This is a nicely balanced Chardonnay with good freshness and balance. There’s the bright, lemony acidity that’s common to the Russian River and light oaking that lends a roundness to the wine. Sourced from an important grower of Chardonnay in the Russian River Valley. 13.5% alc. 

Cameron Hughes 2016 White Blend Santa Barbara County ($14) 90  Medium yellow straw hue. This white Rhone blend offers an appealing profile of white peach and melon with a hint of clementine. It’s full in the mouth with refreshing lemony acidity and flavors that linger on the finish. A nicely crafted wine and well worth the price! A blend of 49% Roussanne, 27% Viognier and 24% Marsanne. Alc 14.3% 

Cameron Hughes 2017 Pinot Noir Lot 678 Willamette Valley 89   This is an easy drinking, surprisingly light Oregon Pinot Noir. It reveals red cherry and spice aromas and flavors with a medium weight palate and long finish. 

Cameron Hughes 2017 Pinot Noir Lot 703 Anderson Valley ($15) 91 Medium red ruby.  A very attractive Pinot Noir from Mendocino County’s Anderson Valley AVA, the Lot 703 is medium weight with spicy red and dark red cherry and pomegranate fruit.  The finish is long and beautiful.  A surprisingly elegant wine at this price. 

Cameron Hughes 2018 Pinot Noir Lot 704 Carneros Napa Valley ($16) 92 Dark red.  The bouquet and flavor profile of this wine sourced from the Napa end of Carneros evokes dark red cherry, red berries and a hint of underbrush.  It’s easy drinking with a soft attack and suave palate, but there’s good depth of flavor, lovely balance, and amazing complexity for a wine this inexpensive.  Buy a case!

Cameron Hughes 2017 Zinfandel Lot 705 Dry Creek Valley ($18) 90 Medium ruby red. The label on this bottle says 15.9% alcohol, about as high as one can find in red table wine. Yet this wine holds its alcohol well. There are aromas of red plum and dried cherry. The palate follows suit with good density of flavor and bright acidity that complements the dried fruit character and uplifts the wine. There’s a touch of heat on the finish, but, overall, very good and exceptional value. From one of California’s prime Zinfandel growing areas. 15.9% alc. 

Cameron Hughes 2018 Zinfandel Lot 725 Russian River Valley ($17) 90  This is another great value Zinfandel from Cameron Hughes. The Russian River Valley is home to some of the world’s oldest Zinfandel vines.  Increasingly, they’re being ripped out in favor of Pinot Noir. This wine is classic Russian River Valley Zinfandel—beautifully fragrant and richly flavored of ripe plums, red raspberry, and spice.  Rich but dry on the palate, this is the wine to have this summer with grilled meats. 15.5% alc. 

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

James MacPhail’s Tongue Dancer: New Releases from Russian River Valley and the Sonoma Coast

Veteran winemaker James MacPhail has four new offerings of his Tongue Dancer wines, and each is a pleasure to drink.  Sourced from top vineyards in the Russian River Valley and the Sonoma Coast, the new releases include a Chardonnay, a Pinot Noir rosė and two Pinot Noirs.  All of James’ wines are handmade in small quantities with a minimum of intervention, and the results speak for themselves.  Readers will find these wines flavorful and mouth filling with good persistence. 

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Pratt Vineyard

The Wines

Tongue Dancer Wines 2018 Chardonnay Pratt Vineyard Russian River Valley ($42) 93+ The Chardonnay Pratt Vineyard is a lovely wine, rich in flavor and elegance. It displays a yellow-gold color and a rich creamy mouth feel. It reveals ripe tropical and stone fruit flavors with barely a hint of oak, yet it is round and mouth filling with good acidity and persistence on the finish. The Pratt Vineyard is high on our list of top vineyards in Russian River; it is perhaps the most outstanding site for both Chardonnay and Pinot Noir in the Sebastapol  Hills.

Tongue Dancer Wines 2019 Rosé of Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast ($22) 91 This is a delicious Pinot Noir rosé. It displays a lovely salmon color hue and aromas of light strawberry fruit. On the palate it offers crisp and dry citrusy fruit flavors with excellent acidity and a long finish. The Pinot Noir grape makes some wonderful roses, such as this one.

Tongue Dancer Wines 2018 Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast ($49) 93+ The Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast offers aromas and flavors of dark cherry fruit. It is soft and mouth filling on the palate with good acidity and overall freshness. It is beautifully balanced with good acidity and structure and has a long satisfying finish. A blend of two outstanding vineyards, the Pratt Vineyard on Sexton Road and the Putnam Vineyard in Annapolis.

Tongue Dancer Wines 2017 The Sly One Sonoma Coast  90  The Sly One is a 100% Pinot Noir sourced from various vineyards on the Sonoma Coast. Medium ruby in color it offers aromas of dark cherry and plum. On the palate it is ripe and earthy with a slightly tart mid-palate with good acidity and a long finish.

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Luis Seabra Vinhos: Wines from the Douro and Vinho Verde

Luis Seabra crafts some of Portugal’s finest terroir-driven wines.  Focusing on the Douro, where he previously served as winemaker at Niepoort, Luis crafts wines that are both original and unique to the region.  His Xisto Crus reviewed here are field blends of indigenous grapes from small vineyard plots rarely found in other wines of the region.  A gifted winemaker, he approaches winemaking with a philosophy of spontaneous fermentation, native yeasts, and large format tight grained oak. The results are wines that are flavorful, beautifully focused and perfect for pairing with food.  His Alvarinho from Vinho Verde is also first-class, offering a rich flavor profile with considerable refinement.   Luis Seabra Vinhos wines are imported in the US by Olė & Obrigado.  Luis narrates a lovely video presentation of his vineyards in the Douro Superior on YouTube.   

The Douro Superior

The Wines

Luis Seabra Vinhos 2018 Xisto Cru Branco Douro ($82) 94  The Xisto Branco is 70% Rubigato and a field blend of other Portuguese varieties (Codega, Gouveio, and Viosinho Dozelino Branco) from 87-100 year old, sustainably farmed vineyards in the Douro Superior. It is a gorgeous wine rich in white fruit flavors of dried pear, honey dew melon, herbs and herbal tea. Fermented in used tonneaux with indigenous yeast, it spends 9 months in used French oak barrels. It is crisp on the attack and displays lovely fullness on the palate with hints of minerals and a chalky finish.

Luis Seabra Vinhos 2017 Xisto Cru Tinto Douro ($82   ) 92  The Xisto Cru Tinto is a field blend of several Portuguese varieties planted in the Cima Corgo subregion of the Douro. An inky semi-opaque wine, it exhibits ripe red berries and black fruit aromas with hints of earth and toasted oak. It has a silky mouth feel and bold concentrated fruit flavors. Full-bodied, it is beautifully balanced with firm dry tannins and a rich long finish.  Sourced from sustainably farmed vineyards planted in 1910-33 at 650-700m elevation. Matured 22 months in used French oak barrels.

Luis Seabra Vinhos 2017 Mono Castelao Douro ($58) 93  The Mono consists of 100% Castelao planted in yellow schist at 450m elevation in Baixa Corgo. Whole cluster fermented in plastic bins, it displays ripe red fruit on the nose and has a soft silky attack with wonderful mouth feel and a palate of fresh plum and berry flavors. It is nicely structured with good acidity, round tannins and a long finish.

Luis Seabra Vinhos 2018 Granito Cru Alvarinho Vinho Verde ($48) 92  This 100% Alvarinho is rich and golden in color and displays aromas of light herbal tea and minerals on the nose. It has a bright attack with hints of manzanilla and stone fruit on the palate. It is honeyed and mouth filling with good balance and density and thick lingering extract on the finish. Sourced from vines planted in 1989 in vineyards located in Moncao e Melgaço in Vinho Verde, the birthplace of Alvarinho/Albarino. 

Alvarinho in Vinho Verde
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Flora Spring of Napa Valley: Current Releases

Flora Springs is one of the Napa Valley’s storied wineries.  Located at the base of the Mayacamas mountain range in Napa Valley, it became famous in the 1990s, especially for its Cabernet Sauvignon. Today, its best known for its flagship wine, the Bordeaux blend Trilogy and the white blend Soliloquy. We review the current releases of these and other wines below. St. Helena native Paul Steinauer made the wines.

The 280 acre Flora Springs estate, formerly home to Louis Martini, was purchased by Jerry and Flora Komes in 1977. They established the winery at the urging of their children, John Komes and Julie Garvey, who have continued to run the winery with their spouses and children. Earlier this year, the families sold the Flora Springs estate to Daniel and Florence Cathard, who also own Château Smith-Haut Lafitte and other wineries in France.  However, the Komes and Garvey families retain ownership of the Flora Springs name as well as 200 acres of Napa Valley vineyards.

The Flora Springs wines are notable for their depth of flavor and the earthy, dark fruited character of the red wines. The Flora Springs Soliloquy is an original and very successful white blend.  In addition to the wines reviewed here, Flora Springs makes several high end, single varietal Cabernet Sauvignons, which we plan to review in the future.

The Wines

Flora Springs 2019 Soliloquy Napa Valley ($50) 92 The Soliloquy is a Sauvignon Blanc-based blend which includes Chardonnay and Malvasia. It is a lovely multi-layered wine showing orchard fruit, melon and citrus. On the palate it is mouth filling and elegant. Sourced from the estate’s proprietary Soliloquy Sauvignon Blanc clone grown at the Crossroads Ranch vineyard and aged in cement eggs and other vessels for 7 months. 14.2% alc.  

Flora Springs 2019 Rose Napa Valley ($26) 89 Deep pink. Showing a light strawberry/pomegranate nose, this is an easy drinking rosé. It’s very soft on the attack with good acidity and pomegranate fruit on the palate. A blend of Syrah and Sangiovese made the saignée method. 14.2% alc 

Springs 2017 Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley ($50) 91 Dark ruby red. Showing notes of cedar, plum and herbs on the nose, the 2017 Cabernet Sauvignon reveals an earthy palate with dark fruit flavors integrated with subtle oak notes. The tannins are fine grained, and the finish is long and flavorful. Sourced from Oakville and Rutherford and matured 18 months in 70% French and 30% American oak. 14% alc. 

Flora Springs 2017 Merlot Napa Valley ($35) 91 Dark ruby. The 2017 Merlot offers plum, lead pencil, and chocolate aromas on the nose that carry over on to the palate. Aged 20 months in French oak barrels, with ripe concentrated fruit and earthy herbal flavors with firm, round tannins on the palate. Sourced from estate vineyards in St. Helena, Rutherford and Oakville and aged 20 months in French oak barriques. 

Flora Springs 2017 Trilogy Napa Valley ($85) 92  Semi opaque ruby red. The 2017 Trilogy has a rich, dark nose of dark cherry, licorice and Mexican chocolate. It’s densely flavored of rich dark fruit, Port like in its richness, and shows firm tannins and prominent earthy notes. A youthful wine that needs a few years in the cellar to show its best.  A blend of 80% Cabernet Sauvignon, 17% Petit Verdot and 3% Malbec matured 22 months in 92% French and 8% American oak. 

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The Azores Wine Company: Volcanic Wines from the Azores

Wine enthusiasts who are searching for unique and authentic wines, should try these magnificent wines of the Azores. The Azores are an archipelago located 1000 miles off the coast of Portugal.  Pico, the principal island, has windswept vineyards of extremely poor volcanic black soils. [see map below] These vineyards, protected by basaltic walls, are the source of an important indigenous grape known as Arinto dos Açores. Verdelho is another important local variety.  We review several Azores wines produced by the Azores Wine Company (Vinhos dos Açores). 

The vineyards of the Azores are in extreme conditions, very close to the sea and planted on volcanic fissures. The sea sprays the vineyards with salt, and creates the brackish water below the vines. Stone walls constructed 500 years ago help protect the vines from the elements; they are part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site created in 2004. 

The Winemaking Team–António Maçanita Second from Left

The renowned enologist António Maçanita is the winemaker at the Azores Wine Company, a joint venture created in 2014 to produce authentic wines from the indigenous grapes of the Azores. He previously made wine at Merryvale in Napa, D’Arenberg in Australia, and Château Lynch Bages in Bordeaux. The other partners include economist and hospitality industry expert Filipe Rocha and Paulo Machado, a viticulturist responsible for growing vines in this most challenging environment.  Reviewed here are two styles of Arinto, as well as blends of Arinto and Verdelho and a 100% Verdelho. The wines are imported by Ole & Obrigado.    

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Wine Reviews

Azores Wine Company 2018 Arinto dos Açores Non Sur Lies Pico Azores Islands ($57) 92  An exceptionally fresh and bright wine. Unctuous and dense, evoking liquid minerals, with notes of herbal tea and citrus and vibrant acidity. Crisp finish with excellent persistence. Made from the Arinto, which is indigenous to the Azores and a descendant from Verdelho. Unrelated to the Arinto grown on the mainland, this grape produces wines of searing citrus and vibrant minerality not unlike the Assyrtiko grape one finds on the Greek island of Santorini.

Azores Wine Company 2018 Arinto dos Açores Sur Lies Pico Azores Islands ($63) 93 The Arinto dos Açores Sur Lies displays a nose of lemon citrus and grapefruit. Soft and round on the palate, it reveals light leesy notes of melon with rich extract and good citric acidity, It has a highly satisfying lingering finish. A magnificent food wine.

Azores Wine Company 2018 Branco Vulcánico Pico Azores Islands ($35) 91+ The Branco Vulcánico is a blend of 50% Arinto and 50% Verdelho. It displays floral notes on the nose with hints of herbal tea and minerals. Full and round on the palate, it offers flavors of citrus and dried herbs with hints honey. It is crisp with good acidity and has a pleasant finish.

Azores Wine Company 2018 Verdelho O Original Pico Azores Islands ($52) 92 The Verdlho O Original is a lovely wine. 100% Verdelho do Pico, it offers a fruity nose and a flavorful palate of lemon citrus with mineral notes. It is a nicely focused wine bright, pure and mouth filling with a soft elegant texture and a long finish.  Cuttings of Verdelho do Pico were carried to Australia in 1824. 

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Ron Rubin’s Very Good Value Wines from the Russian River Valley

Sonoma County’s Russian River Valley is home to some of California’s best vineyards and winemakers, and many of the wines are priced accordingly.  It’s not easy to find inexpensive, good quality wines from this part of the wine world.  Ron Rubin is a successful entrepreneur who could have chosen to go the boutique wine route and establish an upscale winery, but his motivation was different—to provide good quality Russian River Valley wine at a price that most people can afford. We review a selection of his wines below.

Ron Rubin grew up in the wine and liquor business in Illinois and liked it so much that he ended up studying viticulture and enology at UC Davis.  He later took over his father’s liquor business in Illinois and expanded it with a focus on California wine. After several highly successful investments, he returned to his first love, wine, with the purchase of the River Road Family Vineyards and Winery in the Green Valley AVA in 2011.  Today, along with winemaker Joe Freeman and vineyard manager Alvaro Zamora, he makes wines under the Ron Rubin and River Road labels.  Ron is also the current President of the Board of Directors for Sonoma State University’s Wine Business Institute. 

The Wines

Ron Rubin 2018 Pam’s Unoaked Chardonnay California ($14) 88  This unoaked Chardonnay offers plenty of ripe orchard fruit with notes of sweet honeydew melon. It’s fruit forward with a lingering, sweet finish. Cleanly made and flavorful, but it will appeal most to those who like their wines off dry.  12.5% alc   

Ron Rubin 2018 Chardonnay Russian River Valley ($20) 90  Showing honeysuckle, apple and hints of dulce de leche on the nose, this is a traditionally styled California Chardonnay that provides excellent drinking pleasure for the price. The palate is soft with firm acidity and light flavors that mimic the nose. No one is going to compare this to a Grand Cru Meursault, but it’s very good for the price.  Hand picked, whole cluster pressed, and matured in 20% new French and American oak barrels. 13.7% alc. 

Ron Rubin 2017 Pinot Noir Russian River Valley ($25) 90+  Medium red. This inexpensive (for Russian River Valley) Pinot Noir reveals an appealing dark cherry, tobacco leaf, and smoky oak nose that run throughout the wine. It’s soft on the attack and shows well on a medium dense palate with lingering flavors. Outstanding value in Pinot Noir.  Sourced from the estate vineyard and other local vineyards.  Aged in 15% new French oak for 8 months. 13.7% alc 

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The Authentic Spanish Wines of Alberto Orte

Tintilla Growing in the Albariza Soils of Jerez

Alberto Orte Espejo is a talented Spanish winemaker who handcrafts unique wines from Spain’s indigenous grape varieties.  The grapes are primarily sourced from low yielding old vines grown in exceptional sites often at high altitudes in different regions of Spain.  Orte’s wines include rare grape varieties like Tintilla, Merenzao, and Brancellao as well as better known ones like Mencia and Palomino.  Born in Madrid, Orte now lives in El Puerto de Santa Maria (Cadiz) with his family.  

Since 1999 Alberto has partnered with his friend Patrick Mata, a native of Malaga, to create and manage Ole Imports.  Alberto handles the selection of wines and winemaking in Spain, while Patrick manages the commercial and marketing side of the business in the USA. Readers who have yet to try the unique wines of Alberto Orte will find them in retail stores and restaurants throughout the US.  

Alberto Orte

The Wines

Alberto Orte 2015 A Portela Valdeorras ($28) 92 The A Portela is 100% Mencia. Medium dark red in color, it offers aromas of wild cherry with hints of earth and tobacco. Cultivated at high elevation, it displays a silky mouth feel, vibrant acidity, good depth of flavor and a long finish.

Alberto Orte 2016 Escalada Do Bibei Valdeorras ($71) 94  The Escalada Do Bibei is a superb blend of Mencia, Merenzao and Brancellao. Medium ruby in color, it displays a lovely nose of red raspberry. plum and cranberry. It is bright on the attack with a silky mouth feel and complex flavors of red berry, pungent herbs and underbrush. It has excellent concentration of flavor on the palate, firm tannins, excellent persistence and freshness with vibrant acidity on the finish. Still a young wine with a great future.

Alberto Orte 2016 Escalada Do Sil Valdeorras ($49) 93  The Escala Do Bibei displays a medium ruby purple robe and offers a bouquet of red fruit complemented by earth and herbs. It is light and silky on the palate showing lovely purity and depth and intensity of flavor. It displays vibrant acidty, freshness and good length. A winner made of Merenzao, Mencia and Garnacha.

Alberto Orte 2015 Vara y Pulgar Vino de la Tierra de Cadiz ($25) 92 Vara y Pulgar is crafted from 100% Tintilla, a rare grape variety of southwestern Spain. It has a savory nose of ripe dark red fruit complemented by meaty, earthy notes. Somewhat rustic in character, it offers full-bodied flavors, firm round tannins and a pleasant finish.

Alberto Orte 2015 Atlantida Tinto Vino de la Tierra de Cadiz ($40) 91  This wine of 100% Tintilla is sourced from a single parcel of an organic coastal vineyard. It is light-bodied with a silky mouth feel and offers aromas and flavors of blackberry and boysenberry with hints of dried fig. It is nicely balanced with good acidity and has a persistent finish.

Alberto Orte Bodegas Poniente NV Fino Jerez ($58) 93  The Fino Bodegas Poniente is a blended sherry sourced from organic vineyards in El Aljibe. It has a median solera age of 8 years and is sourced from different Palomino clones. More complex than most finos we have tasted, the Bodegas Poniente Fino reveals a variety of solera flavors combining dried fruits, hints of aged barrels, and flor. Sherry enthusiasts who have not tried this Fino should definitely do so.

Alberto Orte Bodegas Poniente NV Oloroso Jerez ($152) 94  The Bodegas Poniente Oloroso is a very fine sherry. Like the Fino reviewed above, it is blended with rare wines from 18th and 19th century soleras and criaderas in the historical estate in El Alijibe. The median age for these wines is 30 years. This oloroso is a rich dark tawny color and displays intense yet subtle flavors of nuts and oxidative dry secondary notes from casks. Once opened, this sherry will offer drinking pleasure for a year as an aperitif or desert wine. Try it with a wide variety of dishes like figs, nuts, olives, foie gras, cheese and game.

Photos courtesy of Friederike Paetzold. 

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