2014 Chianti Classico Riserva, Conti Torraiolo

Savvy marketing or a good end cap occasionally turns my head to a wine that wouldn’t normally make my dinner table. The 2014 Chianti Classico Riserva Conti Torraiolo is the latest example, an old world red from the Tuscan region. It was positioned to grab shoppers’ attention and that’s why I’m coming to you now to talk about this easy-drinking red.

Italy’s Chianti region includes multiple districts, including the Chianti Classico subregion, and its best wines come from hilly areas (colli or colline in Italian) where the terroir has a strong hand in shaping the wine. Further research shows that only the Chianti Classico carries its own DOCG distinction, owing to the high quality of wines produced in this region—which lies between Sienna and Florence. (With a sigh I think again of our postponed Italy trip and the opportunity to drive through all the winding hills from Florence out to this countryside…) The soils of Chianti Classico are galestro: a soft, clay-like soil that enables the wines produced here to have high acidity and noticeable tannic structure with a medium body.

Towns in the region include Greve, Radha, Gaiole, and Castellina, and top producers include Badia a Coltibuono, Brolio, Ruffino. That’s the company kept by this 2014 Chianti Classico Riserva from Conti Torraiolo, which we finished last evening.

2014 Chianti Classico Riserva, Conti Torraiolo, Chianti Classico DOCG, Italy.

I found the wine to be pleasantly fragrant, light cherry and leather, when poured in the glass. It’s 100% Sangiovese. The Torraiolo, however, was thin and underwhelming. I can appreciate that Chianti Classico can be a total powerhouse, but that’s not the case here. The 2014 Chianti Classico Riserva by Conti Torraiolo accompanied a mixed salad and (delicious!) crab cake dinner, and that meal called for (if you’re pro-red as is this taster) a lighter bottle that would play well with the tastes of the arugula and dill… the Torraiolo didn’t really do that.

It was okay, but only okay. The price should have offered a clue of this, but perhaps I was all caught up in Christmas shopping and missed the sign. Enjoyed this opportunity to taste and comment on a new wine, but this first experience with the 2014 Chianti Classico Riserva, Conti Torraiolo does not need a repeat. Happy holidays and thanks for reading!

2018 The Count’s Selection Charbono, Buena Vista Winery

This Christmas special had to follow up a 2017 Machete from Christmas Eve, and it was very equal to the challenge. Whenever possible, I try to keep Buena Vista in mind for life’s occasions, even when that occasion is simply to make a celebration. Voila…

2018 The Count’s Selection Charbono, Buena Vista Winery, Calistoga, Napa Valley, California, USA.

It poured ruby red, little flecks of rich color flecking our glassware as it tumbled from the bottle. From these first notes you could scent dark, heady fruits—I think perhaps black berry or black cherry?—at the heart of the Charbono. With our minds thinking of family and friends far away, I had been asked to pick a good red (but nothing too sweet!) and I was positive this 2018 would answer the call.

The Charbono is a byproduct of a European vine-collecting expedition by the winery’s founder, Count Haraszthy, and I presume there are far fewer of these grapes grown in Napa Valley than the Cabernet Sauvigon that’s the hallmark of this AVA. The warm Calistoga weather brings us this wine, a soft, medium-bodied red. It tastes more black cherry than plum, and yes a few earthy spices that add a little complexity to the wine.

Our 2018 Charbono accompanied pan-seared duck breast called into service by virtue of postponed travel plans. An amazing port/cherry demi-sauce went with the bird, as did Hericots Verts and a fun parsnip purée that was flavorful and delicious. Our arugula salad included shaved fennel, sweet onion, toasted walnuts, and blue cheese crumble. Yes, dinner rolls and a Christmas Tree butter rounded out our plates just as the Buena Vista did our glasses, which we raise in toast to those who couldn’t be with us this day. Sending much love to you all…

2017 Double Ripasse, Vellas Pere et Fils Languedoc

There’s serious swag in the Double Ripasse, another new find from my friends at Vellas. Notes has recently covered their Vienobles Vellas Cabernet Sauvignon and Mazet de la Palombiere (there are more here in the house now) and I relished the chance to tackle this brash red blend.

 

2017 Double Ripasse, Vellas Pere et Fils Languedoc, Rhône, France.

2017 Double Ripasse, Vellas Pere et Fils Languedoc, Rhône, France.

Obviously originating from the Languedoc appellation, this wine is a big Rhône consisting of Syrah (60%), Grenache (30%), and Mourvèdre (10%) grapes, and they come together to interesting effect. It needs to set up for a few moments when you first uncork, but you’re very much the benefactor once you let it breathe.

“Ripasse” typically means to press or squeeze in wine terms, and a little research says that a vintner has typically made the wine but held onto the skins, then reprocesses to add even more flavor (sounds tannic, right, or Amarone-ish?) to the juice. In this case, it’s also a clever bit of wordplay, and if you know this fella you know that’s worth the price of admission. 

Few notes for you:

  • It’s got a new world vibe even though the 2017 Double Ripasse hails from Rhône.
  • Deep, dark purple fruit flavors, and carried to you with heavier tannins (which fade a bit with time)
  • Blackberry or black cherry are most prominent, but there’s a slow, easy earthiness that comes as you get into the Ripasse. Definitely the Syrah back there, lurking in the shadows at first…

The bottle art, and the growing history that I have with Vellas wines, was all I needed to find my way to the 2017 Double Ripasse. Next bottle I’ll show you the rear of the label and you can enjoy that with me. In the meantime, go out and grab yourself one…or the Vienobles…or the Mazet. This is becoming one of my favorite families and I’m confident will be one of yours too.

2018 Sheriff of Buena Vista, Buena Vista Winery

Slipped away to the lake this weekend for some quiet and quality time. The Sheriff of Buena Vista has been covered previously in Notes and this 2018 vintage is worthy of the history. Be sure to review older vintages on the site, including the 2017, 2016, 2015, and even the 2013. We’re old friends at this point.

2018 Sheriff of Buena Vista

2018 Sheriff of Buena Vista, Buena Vista Winery, Sonoma Valley, California, USA.

This bottle accompanied grilled strip steaks and sweet potatoes, and good times and even a refresher guitar session courtesy of my brother from another mother. Looking forward to more of all this in the future. Thanks BMan…

2018 The Prisoner, The Prisoner Wine Company

The Prisoner is a favorite red blend, for me as well as so many Dave Phinney fans. Back in 2003 when Phinney first created it, the Prisoner was not familiar to me but has thankfully become a welcome dinner guest. I wish I could say “frequent” dinner guest but that’s really more a case of wishful thinking.

2018 The Prisoner, The Prisoner Wine Company, Oakville, California, USA.

Anyway, so here we go..The Prisoner stopped by last night and again this Halloween night to keep us company. Friday a 2018 vintage of The Prisoner accompanied a fun Greek (including a great hummus…can’t believe I’m writing that…) meal and tonight it finished up with a memorable seafood dinner, one with all the right fixings and high-class touches. That’s the right way to enjoy the Prisoner for sure!

Yes, Notes has covered The Prisoner on prior occasions. (And various Dave Phinney wines—if you’re interested just do a Search on the site) What’s true there remains valid here as well. It’s a rich, black cherry gem, delivering a huge mouthfeel and an even finish. All these flavors are blended together, a wine with many fathers—including zinfandel, cabernet, syrah, petite sirah, and charbono grapes in a proprietary blend. The Prisoner offers you hints of other dark fruit plus vanilla and earthiness, and a cult of fans extols its virtues.

Here is The Prisoner in the winemaker’s own remarks: “Bold aromas of black cherry and plum are heightened by hints of oak and Madagascar vanilla. A soft and velvety palate of anise, dark cocoa powder, and roasted sage lead into a dense finish with luscious tannins.

I’ve had this wine to celebrate life events both great and small, and it goes well on these occasions and every thing in between. Happy Halloween to you all.

2017 Salman Vineyard Petite Sirah, Jeff Runquist Wines

Held back this Jeff Runquist gem for as long as possible but finally uncorked it after emerging largely unscathed from the week’s challenges. Notes has covered the vineyard often (most often for its 1448), including this Petite Syrah on multiple occasions. This is more of the same goodness and you’re encouraged to chase down the 2017 Salman Vineyard Petite Sirah. 

2017 Salman Vineyard Petite Sirah, Jeff Runquist Wines, Plymouth,California, USA.

2017 Reale Sonoma County Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon

The 2017 Sonoma County Reserve from Reale makes an appearance as Notes sneaks up on review #500. This bottle breaks a recent streak of France-based Cabs but doesn’t quite come all the way back to the Napa-based Cabernet Sauvignon that this reviewer (often) finds so enjoyable.

Reale 2017

2017 Reale Sonoma County Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, Sonoma County, California, USA.

Let’s stop for a second. Perhaps this is obvious, but not all California Cabernet is created equal. AVAs have been established specifically to showcase the distinct differences in grapes from one location to another. Case in point—Napa and Sonoma are a stone’s throw from one another but produce very different grapes. Sonoma offerings, for example, have slightly different exposure in coastal sun and soil from their eastern brothers. Sonoma is also almost twice the size of Napa, so there is more diversity among its production, too. 

Part of this comes through in the 2017 Reale, which is a gentle, slightly more tannic expression of the Cabernet Sauvignon grape. This wine is 100 percent Cabernet Sauvignon. It shows plenty of dark berry (e.g., black cherry, blackberry) notes, with a kiss of spices, And I know, I know…Notes sometimes shares a pretty interesting meal or two in context to the vino, but this weekend that’s less a consideration. Suffice it to say the grapes stand on their own merit.

Here are the words of the winemaker: “The wine showcases a ruby color with aromas of red fruits and dark cherry. Hints of red raspberry and black cherry follow with spicy notes of currants, anise, cloves, cedar, and a touch of vanilla.”

This bottle was obtained from an online reseller, and I have only seen it offered once (this occasion) so I’m not sure how easily you can find a similar Reale. If you do, know that it’s a good one, and decent value as you consider its taste versus the cost. I’ll look to order my next and encourage you do to the same. Until then, cheers!

2019 Vienobles Vellas Cabernet Sauvignon

This reviewer is often biased toward new world Cabernet Sauvignon, and each new vintage released by my favorite Napa, Sonoma, and Paso Robles-area winemakers brings me great joy. Discovering (or rediscovering) their nuances is the perfect example of wine therapy. Recently, however, I had the pleasure of the 2018 Mazet de la Palombiere and now this 2019 Vienobles Vellas Cabernet Sauvignon. Both are flat-out excellent!

2019 Vellas
2019 Vienobles Vellas Cabernet Sauvignon, Mas du Pont, France.

The 2019 Vienobles Vellas Cabernet Sauvignon tastes way beyond its price point. There’s an earthy, layered undertone just below the dark cherry and plum surface of this wine. It has great legs and an even finish that begs for your next taste. The deep burgundy colors and gentle aromatics ensure this 2019 makes for a great tasting experience.

Ours came in the context of late Saturday dinner. Charcoal-grilled chicken (nice marinade!) plus peppers, zucchini, and portobello mushrooms served as the backdrop for this Cabernet Sauvignon. It took a while for the coals to provide a suitable bed for the foodstuffs, but they’re probably still going now so that’s a strong alternative to propane. 

A quick word on the winemaker, who sounds to be growing increasingly hot too. The Vellas family, which has been making wine for four generations, has accumulated properties throughout the Languedoc-Roussillon and Roussillon regions of France. The 2019 Vienobles Vellas Cabernet Sauvignon is produced near Montpellier in Mas du Pont. Its fruit comes from regions such as Costiere de Nimes, Coteau Varois, Oc, Saint-Guilhem, Grès, Saint Drézery, Muscat de Lunel, Languedoc, Pic St. Loup, and Faugères.

My wine budget for this month is already spent. If it wasn’t, though, I would be right back to the wine store to grab another case of this. The 2019 Vellas COQ Cabernet is really that good. Enjoy!

2018 Mazet de la Palombiere Cabernet Sauvignon

The 2018 Mazet de la Palombiere Cabernet isn’t a wine you’ll recognize by name. It might catch your eye on the shelf, though, a really cool bottle and label that draw you in for a closer look. Great packaging and presentation do a lot for us as wine consumers!

2018 Manzer de la Palombiere Cabernet

2018 Mazet de la Palombiere Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabardès, Languedoc-Roussillon, France.

Honestly, that’s not how I came to this wine. About a year ago, the tasting banks at my favorite wine store were concealed by numbered aluminum sleeves–all set up to promote a blind taste testing to see who among their consumers could identify the latest Silver Oak Cabernet release. These events are assuredly a big draw for the store and I personally love ’em. If you take a moment to browse Notable Wine Tasting Experiences here on Notes you’ll see this isn’t the first time I’ve joined in such fun.  

At not ONE of these tasting events have I been able to identify the flagship wine, whether for Caymus, Belle Gloss, or Silver Oak (which I’ve tried on two separate occasions). I learn something every time, however, so I’m always grateful for the opportunity.

This last time I thought the 2018 Mazet was Silver Oak. Positive. I would have bet a small sum that I was right and had finally developed a palate sensitive enough to pick out the big $90 wine from the also-rans. Chuckling I tell you I have missed yet again, but the wine I thought the best taste / most worthy of the big price tag was the $12 Mazzet. Boom! Just blew your mind, didn’t I?

The 2018 Mazet Cabernet Sauvignon is full of dark berry flavors; black cherry and plum in huge helpings. There is a bit of tannin presence here but the berry really offsets it well. This fan of new world Cabernet appreciates what’s in the mix here for the Manzer. It’s produced in France, and more specifically the Cabardès region that’s part of the Languedoc-Roussillon appellation. A little research shows me the Languedoc-Roussillon AOC has for years provided cost-effective wines for Parisian cafes and big international companies to bring to wine drinkers globally. Its soils are limestone and even gravel in places; the grapes hang from old wines and grow in a climate that’s dry and windy enough to support non-chemical wine growing. We’re chalking up more points here.

Responsible winemaking? Big, fruit-forward flavor? This one has it all. Tip of the cap to Nicolas Vellas for a really great wine at an even better price. Started out looking for silver but happily stumbled onto gold. Grab a bottle of this (several if you can!) and you’ll thank me later. Cheers!

2015 Yeoman Cabernet Sauvignon, Goldschmidt Vineyards

The holiday this year includes fewer fireworks, but this wine goes off with a big bang* nevertheless. Happy July 4th, friends, so pull up a chair and check out the 2015 Yeoman Cabernet Sauvignon from Goldschmidt Vineyards.

2015 Cabernet Sauvignon - Yeoman Vineyard, Goldschmidt Vineyards

2015 Cabernet Sauvignon – Yeoman Vineyard, Goldschmidt Vineyards, Alexander Valley, California, USA.

We found this Cab in the fine wines section of Raleigh’s version of Wegman’s. Sigh. What a fun field trip to cruise through its well-stocked aisles…even writing this now I’m thinking of the amazing charcuterie awaiting Cara and I later today.

Shortly after sipping a couple delicious watermelon cocktails, we turned our focus to dinner and opened the Goldschmidt while prepping. It’s first impression is black cherry and leather, a heady mix of the bold and the subtle. My favorite wines often weave together such traits, and probably why I often gravitate to California Bordeaux-style Cabs and powerful Syrah.   

The Yoeman Vineyard is specifically a 3-acre plot near Geyersville, a small bit of land that is home to loamy soils and Eastern morning suns. Winemaker Nick Goldschmidt notes that the topography enables extended grape hang time for maximum flavor development—this taster nods appreciatively. The fruit was harvested October 1, 2015, hand-picked and aged 31 months in French Tarasaud barrels.

It’s 100% Cabernet. A powerful red (pours like ruby) that is slightly tannic but not dry; to the contrary it’s lush and full. Little bit of blackberry flavor too. Really great wine. As excited as I was to sample this Goldschmidt, I know in the back of my head that it would be even better if we let it breathe for a couple beats before drinking. That’s a prescription for another day some time off in the future.

Because today we’re celebrating things. Freedom. Time together. And even our dinner—charcoal-grilled strips, grilled asparagus, and a Romaine salad (also grilled!) with anchovy vinaigrette and toasted and buttered panko. Proud to report that we kept the coals crazy hot; they produced not only great steaks but also stayed hot enough to support a couple killer s’mores too.

Sometimes wine IS the occasion, and sometimes you have wine to mark an occasion. On a day this great I’m not sure which applies, but I want more. Bring on the “too much” I’ll take every bit I can get.

 

* Yes, I know it’s a ‘dad’ joke but hey sometimes these things write themselves…