Monday, December 5, 2022

Wine Dinner Featuring Oregon and Washington Wines

 A small circle of friends and wine enthusiasts gathered recently for a wine dinner featuring my selection of libations from Oregon and Washington, including a Pinot Gris, an unoaked Chardonnay, and two Pinot Noirs from the former, and a Merlot and a Cabernet Sauvigon from the latter.  These wines reflect a snapshot of the leading varietals and strengths of Northwest production at affordable price points. The Westmont Pinot Gris and A to Z Pinot offer especially good values, whereas the Chehalems, Crossfork Creek and Gordon Estate represent a step-up in price and complexity for a more indulgent tasting experience. 

Many thanks again to our gracious hosts for the delicious repast featuring tasty cheeses, charcuterie, stuffed pork loin, pasta and broccoli among other mouth-watering comestibles.

All wines were purchased at Total Wine in Delaware, except for the Westmount which I picked up in the Pennsylvania wine and spirits store.

Westmount Pinot Gris 2020 ($15 plus tax)

Origin: Willamette Valley AVA, Oregon

Varietal: 100% Pinot Gris

Production/Tasting Notes: Soil composed of glaciatic silt deposits, alluvial clay; juicy, sappy, lush with ripe citrus and apple fruit with hints of green melon; crisp acidity; bright, fresh, with palate-cleansing minerality  (92 points, Wine Enthusiast)

Food  Pairing: seafood, chicken, soft cheeses - chevre, roquefort  

Alcohol: 13.1%


Chehalem Inox Unoaked Chardonnay 2021 ($21)

Origin: Willamette Valley AVA, Oregon

Varietal: 100% Chardonnay

Tasting Notes: Fermented in 100% stainless steel; aged on the lees for 2 months before being stabilized and bottled; vibrant, crisp with delicate aromas of white flowers, fresh honeycomb, pink lady apples; stone fruit on the mid-palate; silky, balanced finished.  (92 points, Wine Enthusiast; 90 points, Wine Spectator)

Food pairing: Roast chicken; butternut squash risotto

Alcohol:  12.5%


A to Z Pinot Noir 2020 ($20)

Origin: Oregon

Varietal: 100% Pinot Noir

Tasting Notes: Organically grown; red fruit aromatics - cherry, plum, cranberry, pomegranate; notes of spice - clove, turmeric, gingerbread; herbs - thyme, mint, lavender; wood - spruce, cedar; savory - bacon, mushroom; succulent, round palate; oak profile of sandalwood, mesquite, vanilla; soft, structured tannins; fresh, balanced acidity; lingering finish of cherry, purple flower, herbs.

Food Pairing: pork; grilled duck breast; salmon; pizza

Alcohol: 13.5%


Chehalem Pinot Noir 2019 ($31.49)

Origin: Chehalem Mountains AVA, Willamette Valley, Oregon

Varietals: 100% Pinot Noir

Production/Tasting Notes: Three to five days of cold maceration; fermented in stainless steel tanks for 8-14 days; aged in French oak for 10 months (21 new oak); intense bright red fruit aromatics of strawberries, cranberries, cherry pie following through on the palate with subtle notes of toasted almonds, toffee, white pepper spice; juicy, dense palate with silk tannins.

Food Pairing: coq au vin; roast lamb; osso buco

Alcohol:  12.8%


Crossfork Creek Merlot 2020 ($27)

Yakima Valley, Washington

Varietals: 100% Merlot

Production/Tasting Notes: Notes of black fruit - black currant, wild berry; dense, layered structure; full bodied

Food Pairing: Pasta with meaty ragu sauce; ratatouille; chargrilled meats; tagines          

Alcohol:  14%


Gordon Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2017 ($25)

Origin : Columbia Valley, Washington

Varietal: 100% Cabernet Sauvignon

Production/Tasting Notes:  22 months in 80% neutral French oak and 20% in American neutral oak; hints of cocoa, raspberry, black plum; on the palate a balance of black fruit, wet-stone minerality, savory dried herbs, soft, silky moderate tannins; smooth, toasty lingering finish

Food Pairings: intensely flavored meats; bone-in steak with mushroom sauce.

Alcohol: 13.8%

Thursday, November 17, 2022

Wine Tasting: Focus on Zinfandel

 In the wine world, Zinfandel is almost synonymous with California. Yet in the seemingly endless wine-growing regions of the Golden State, this dark-skinned grape has a myriad of expressions depending on the particular vintner and terroir. Whereas the wine first came to national prominence as a sweet pink blush in the 1970s, catering to the less than discriminating palates of the American consumer, over time, as tastes became more sophisticated, dry red Zinfandels of higher quality began to emerge such that today they can fetch premium prices among the cognoscenti. Confirmed by DNA analysis in the late 1990s to be identical to Italy's Primitivo, the grape first migrated from Europe in 19th century, finding great success in California's Napa and Sonoma counties. In my most recent tasting class, we took a deep dive into some of California's quality Zins, plus a comparison with a Primitivo from the varietal's Old World precursor.


Cline Zinfandel Ancient Vines Contra Costa County 2020


Origin: Contra County, California

Varietals: 100% Zinfandel

Tasting Notes: Fermented in temperature-controlled open top concrete tanks; after racking, aged in American oak for 15 months; fruit-forward raspberry and spicy cinnamon flavors.  (88 points, Wine Spectator)

Food  Pairing: slow-cooked barbecued pork

Alcohol: 14.5%


Ancient Peaks Zinfandel 2018


Origin: Santa Margarita AVA, Paso Robles, California

Varietal: 100% Zinfandel

Production/Tasting Notes: Diverse soil types include rocky alluvium, shale, volcanic, granite; round, juicy flavors of cherry, raspberry, wild berry with notes of peppery spice.  (88 points, Wine Spectator)

Food pairing: wood-fired pizza, smoked chicken, lasagna, tri-tip steak

Alcohol:  15%


Pedroncelli Zinfandel Dry Creek Valley Mother Clone 2019


Origin:  Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County, California

Varietals: 86% Zinfandel; 14% Petit Verdot

Production/Tasting Notes: After destemming, cold soak for 48 hours, followed by fermentation with selected yeast; daily pumpovers and fermentation in temperature-controlled stainless steel tanks with delestage regimes; 12 months aging in American oak barrels, 30% new oak; aromas of ripe red berry with notes of cinnamon and white pepper; jammy flavors of cherry and berry enhanced by hints of vanilla, licorice and baking spice; round tannins, lively finish. (89 points, Wine Spectator)

Food Pairing: braised ribs



BottroMagno Primitivo 2020


Origin: Puglia (Murgia) IGP (Indicazione Geografica Protetta), Italy

Varietals: 100% Primitivo

Production/Tasting Notes: Soils of calcareous Clay-loam and gravel; vines planted in 1975; 1,980 feet elevation; stainless steel tank fermentation; pumpover maceration;  12 months aging in stainless steel tanks; 6 month bottle aging before release; aromas of black cherry and baking spices with undertones of mint and tobacco; smooth and velvety on the palate with balanced acidity; long, appealing finish.           

Food  Pairings: barbeque; demi-glaces; duck a l'orange; slow-braised beef

Alcohol: 14%


Sextant Central Coast Zinfandel 2018


Origin: Chalk Knoll Vineyard in San Ardo sub AVA of Monterey County, California

Varietals: 75% Zinfandel; 25% Syrah and Petite Sirah

Production/Tasting Notes:  Brambly boysenberry and black cardamom on the nose; rich, full tannins impart texture and weight to the wine, balanced by bright acidity; dark fruit flavors of black cherry, plum, and wild fig on the palate; luscious finish with notes of sweet vanilla and clove.                  

Food Pairing:

Alcohol:  14.9 %


Seghesio Zinfandel Sonoma Country 2020


Origin : Sonoma County

Varietal: 86% Zinfandel; 10% Petite Sirah; 2% Alicante Bouschet; 2% Mixed Reds

Production/Tasting Notes: Blend comprised of vineyards ranging from Sonoma Valley, Russian River Valley, Alexander Valley and Dry Creek, 55% estate grown, 45% purchased from long-standing growers; fermented separately in small batches, then blended; 65% pumpover fermentation in closed top stainless steel;  7-10 days fermentation; malolactic fermentation; 10 months aging in 10% American oak; 85% neutral French and American oak barrel; intense aromas of currant and plum accompanied by savory notes of black olive, anise and allspice; briary black raspberry on the palate supported by supple, lively tannins and a powerful, lingering finish. (92 points, Wine Spectator)

Food Pairings: short ribs; braised pork belly; gnocchi gorgonzola

Alcohol: 15%


Notes on Zinfandel vs. Primitivo

For many years there has been a debate about the origin of Zinfandel, and whether indeed it is the same grape as the Primitivo grown in Italy.  Through DNA analysis by a researcher at UC Davis, it has been confirmed that they do, in fact, share the same genetic profile.  The difference in style of the wine then has to do with terroir and the production techniques of the wine maker.  There is still, however, the question of the how the grape first came to California and what was its origins.  It is known that Primitivo in Italy arrived from Croatia where it assumed several different names, including Tribidrag and Crljenak Kastelanski.  Whether Zinfandel came from Croatia or Italy may never be definitively answered, but there's no doubt that California has claimed it as one of its own and it has become almost synonymous with the Golden State. 

And just to add another mystery to its origin, the etymology of the name "Zinfandel" remains unknown.  So whenever you lift a class of Zin, give a nod to that first anonymous wine grower who put it on the California map and enjoy the enduring enigma of this delightful wine.

Tuesday, October 25, 2022

New Adventures in Wine Tasting - Arizona!

 When you think of Arizona, wine is not the first thing that comes to mind; in fact, it may not surface to your thoughts at all.  Well, it's now time reorient your thinking and expand your wine knowledge and palate!  Those in the know have already likely sampled bubbly from the neighboring state of New Mexico, namely the Gruet which I featured some years ago in my class on sparkling wines (and continues to be widely available in Pennsylvania wine stores).  So it's not surprising that higher altitude regions of Arizona are also prime real estate for  developing vineyards and producing wines of note.

On a recent trip to the Phoenix area, I had the opportunity to stroll around Old Town Scottsdale with a friend, and we happened upon a number of wine tasting rooms clustered around the North Marshall Way Arts District.  One of the establishments had been mentioned to me by some friends staying in the area, but we ended at a different one that caught me eye on our way to the Scottsdale  Contemporary Art Museum.  The Wine Collective features exclusively wines from Arizona in a cozy setting that provides high-backed chairs at the wine bar as well as lounge seats and tables inside and out. Since it was still quite scorching hot outside, there was no question that we would opt to stay inside, plus we benefited from the very personal and personable service and attention from wine steward extraordinaire Mark, who regaled us with a delightful selections of local state-estate grown wines from a variety of producers in the three Arizona AVAs (American Viticultural Areas).

We started off with the whites, including an Orange Wine produced from the Malvasia Bianco varietal, and a Picpoul Blanc, a French varietal which is hard enough to find in US stores from France, let alone from domestic sources.

The Orange Malavasia, dubbed "The Proper" by the Vino Stache Winery, is sourced from the Wilcox AVA in Southeast Arizona at an elevation of 4,000 feet or more, and is fermented with the skins to impart more tannic structure and body, and then is pressed and aged in a French 187- gallon concrete egg.  The result is an exquisitely fresh and lively dark golden elixir, exuding notes of gardenia, honeysuckle on the nose with crisp acidity and light tannins on the palate supporting layers of  complex flavors and a full, satisfying mouthfeel.  I had recently sampled a super delicious Orange Wine from Sicily (Modus Bibendi Bianco Macerato) just prior to my trip to Phoenix, and I would place this standout from Arizona very much on par with the Old World blend.  The Proper would be a very good food wine, and the proprietor recommends salmon and salad, goat cheese and honey, as well as fruit tart or pie.

The Seventeen Sixty-Four Picpoul Blanc is another delightfully crisp and refreshing white from the Wilcox AVA in Cochise County.  The Picpoul varietal originates in the Languedoc region of Southeastern France and can be regarded as their answer to the Muscadet of the Western Loire Valley.  As such, it is a great accompaniment to seafood, especially shell fish.

Next up were the Rosés, one of which, in particular, inspired our local wine savant to completely change his opinion of Arizona wines and led him to become an unabashed proponent of these little known producers and their products.  I have to say that his revelation was shared by your truly after this eye-opening taste session.  The Los Millics ITA'S 2021 Rosé was truly exceptional.

This 2021 blend is largely composed of Grenache, around 69%, with a healthy portion of Tempranillo (29%) and a touch of  Malvasia Bianco.  The result is a well-balanced, lively and refreshing rosé that succeeds on all levels - bouquet, palate and finish. A delightful aroma with notes of strawberry, white cherry and pink rose gives way to mouth-watering acidity and light, red fruit flavors dancing on the tongue followed by a lingering, satisfying finish to round out the sensory experience.  Although rosés are typically associated with summertime and outdoor picnics, there's no reason not enjoy such a bracing, vibrant wine such as this one year round.

The other rosé we sampled was the Page Springs Cellars' 2021 La Flor Rosa, a blend of 45% Counoise, 30% Grenache, 19% Pinot Gris and 6% Mourvedre.

Counoise is a black-skinned grape that is typically blended with other red  grapes from Southern France such as Grenache, Mourvedre and Syrah for either red or rosé wines.  As the predominant grape in this particular rosé, it affords the wine peppery, spicy notes as well as hints of anise or licorice that are often associated with this varietal.

I was especially interested in tasting the Zinfandel that was available at the Wine Collective as my next tasting class will be featuring all Zinfandels, and I wanted to see how an Arizona version compared with the  California product that dominates the market place.  The Golden Rule Zinfandel hails from the Wilcox AVA in Southern Arizona.  The difference from the typical California style was immediately noticeable in the aroma and on the first sip.  As opposed to the jammy, fruit-driven, cinnamony character often associated with the West Coast style, this Arizona version struck me as earthy, rustic, and more in line with a "natural-wine", although there's no indication that the winery follows such guidelines per se.  I also detected raisiny notes reminiscent of an Amarone or Ripasso. The wine was very full-bodied and relatively high in alcohol content ($14.9%) which is in line with most California Zins.

Rounding out our tasting experience were a couple of red blends, plus a bonus wine not yet on the tasting menu, courtesy of our host.
Callaghen's Buena Suerte Red Blend is Cabernet-based with about a third of Graciano and 10% Merlot.  Graciano is a dark-skinned, moderately tannic varietal grown predominantly in Northern Spain in the Rioja and Navarro regions and is known for its intense aromas of mulberry, violets and chocolate, and thus gives this Arizona blend  additional heft in hue, body and flavor.

Callaghen Vineyards is based in Elgin, which is part of the Sonoita AVA, the southern most wine region in Arizona, southeast of Tucson.  It has received numerous accolades in its relatively short history and has been served on several occasions at the White House, no doubt with a little nudge from a certain US Senator from the state.

Mark, our wine steward, treated us to a few encore tastings, including a sample of the Sand-Reckoner Red from Wilcox.

This blend is principally Tempranillo (86%) with equal, smaller amounts each of Petite Sirah and Grenache (7%).  Another issue from the Wilcox AVA, the wine exudes red fruit and tobacco with a meaty, round mouthfeel.

Lastly, we were regaled with an off-list, newly acquired red from Los Milics, labeled Renato's 2019, a Tempranillo-based (70%) blend with supporting varietals in the form of Monastrell (18%) and Graciano (12%).  

Fermented mostly in stainless steel for 15 months to accentuate the fruit character of the Tempranillo, with just a touch of new oak aging, aromas of dark cherry, bay leaf and black pepper emanate from this delightful, food-friendly wine with mouth-watering acidity and velvety texture.  Los Milics also issues a number of hearty red blends of the darker variety (Graciano, Syrah, Monastrell, Petit Verdot) which would merit further investigation on a follow-up trip.

All in all, the tasting was a revelation in the ever-expanding world of New World wines, that have taken classic European vinifera varietals and added their own twist on the wine-making process, blending and terroir-driven yields.

Although these wines have little accessibility outside the state of Arizona, the main purpose of this review and post is to encourage readers to always delve into the local and regional products wherever you may travel.  You might be surprised and delighted at what you discover!  I certainly was.


Wednesday, October 5, 2022

Spotlight on Pennsylvania Wine in Philadelphia Magazine

 As a wine connoisseur, educator and all-around aficionado, I take pride in being ahead of the curve, so to speak, as best I can, when it comes to discovering and getting the word out on regions or trends in wine that are worthy of further exploration.  Case in point - Pennsylvania wines.  Three years ago, I featured local PA wines in my class as the quality from certain select wineries had progressed to the point that they merited a full review on their own.  Now Philadelphia Magazine has seen fit to grace the most recent issue (October 2022) with a cover story on Pennsylvania wines and wineries.


When you think of Pennsylvania, wine likely doesn’t come to mind. Farmland, sure. But wine? And good wine, at that? Yet the beverage has been part of our landscape since at least the late 1600s, when William Penn planted what’s thought to be the first vineyard in Philadelphia, in Fairmount Park. In the centuries that followed, the state became known for sweet wines and those made with fruits other than grapes. Native grape varieties, some of which are sweeter, prevailed because they’re easier to grow here. Prohibition plus a lack of funding contributed to Pennsylvania’s stagnated standing on the national and international wine stages.

While the state hasn’t entirely left that sweet status behind — in fact, many wineries thrive off well-made dessert wines today — there’s been a change in our reputation in the past two decades. That’s due in large part to the groundwork laid by the late industry pioneer Doug Moorhead, whose Presque Isle Wine Cellars was one of the first two licensed wineries in the state. He was instrumental in the passage in the late 1960s of the Limited Winery Act, which allowed the creation of wineries to produce and sell the beverage, and he was a founding member of the Pennsylvania Winery Association, a trade group representing the industry.

Other initiatives led by the government, the industry and universities have helped promote the state’s wine production and quality, while the types of grapes grown and the styles produced have expanded — including drier, more classic iterations. The Pennsylvania Wine Marketing & Research Program Board, an initiative of the Department of Agriculture that’s made up of industry and non-industry members, was established in the early aughts. Since 2011, Penn State’s wine and grape team has been researching and experimenting with new approaches to everything from vineyard management to ways to meet consumer demand.

I've tasted wines from most of the wineries featured in the magazine spread on visits throughout the last several years, and can vouch for the overall quality of the wines and the pleasant ambiance and service at the sites.  Of special note are Galen Glen, Wayvine, Penns Woods, Stargazer and Waltz.  A glaring omission in the magazine feature was Karamoor, right outside Philadelphia near Ambler.  In any event, be sure to pick up a copy as soon as you can for a handy guide to some of the better juice now being produced in the Keystone State.


Monday, September 26, 2022

A Wine Dinner of Classics and Other Notables

 Recently, I was invited to the curate the wine selection for a friend's dinner party.  The original idea was to feature wines a bit off the beaten path, which we did indeed do, supplemented by a few French classics as well as other readily available favorites.

I have often touted the excellent value of crémants, French sparkling wines produced in regions outside of Champagne.  For this occasion, I offered a crémant de Bourgogne from my own cellar which I was anxious to share with other wine lovers, and indeed, it was a great success.  The Savoie blanc de blanc was one of the off-the-beaten- path selections as it is vinified from a blend of several different varietals, including a few regional ones that are particular to this Alpine region.

The South African Chenin Blanc is another crowd pleaser and a delightful alternative for the Pinot Grigio sector. For those Pinot Noir aficionados, do not overlook those Spatburgunder from Southern Germany; they may be harder to find, but worth the trouble, and usually a very good value.

There is nothing quite like a top Beaujolais cru from Morgon as a great food wine, also a very affordable pleasure.  And is there any other way to finish off a delicious meal than a Sauternes paired with a freshly prepared dessert?

A tip of the tocque to our host Robin for organizing and preparing the menu, as well as the guests who whipped up the creamy corn soup and delicious fruit crumble. (My bad for forgetting to snap a picture of this luscious dessert!) 

All wines were purchased at the Pennsylvania wine and spirits stores, although some may have limited stocks.

JCB No. 21 Brut Crémant de Bourgogne NV (Non Vintage)

Origin: Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée (AOC) Bourgogne, France

Varietals: Pinot Noir; Chardonnay

Production/Tasting Notes: From the house of Jean-Charles Boisset, who grew up the village of Vougeot, Burgundy; his portfolio features over 40 wines, including vineyards in Burgundy, Napa and Sonoma; this sparkling wine exudes a fresh, fruity nose (green apple, pear) with almond and white flower aromas; laced with crisp acidity, citrus; brioche; full, generous mouth feel. (90 points, Wine Enthusiast)

Alcohol: 12%

Food Pairing: Shrimp salad on toasts; stuffed cucumber barrels; olives



Varichon & Clerc Privilège Blanc de Blanc Brut NV

Origin: Savoie, France

Varietals: Altesse; Molette; Chardonnay; Chenin Blanc; Maccabeu

Production/Tasting Notes: Méthode champenoise; smooth, creamy; flavors of pear, apple, vanilla, toast.  Altesse is a white grape varietal prominent in the eastern France noted for its full-bodied, concentrated wines, featuring floral, nutty notes with good acidity. Molette is also primarily planted in the Savoie region and typically used as a blending grape.

Alcohol:  12%

Food pairing: Shrimp salad on toasts; stuffed cucumber barrels; olives


Ken Forrester Petit Chenin Blanc 2021

Origin : Western Cape, South Africa

Varietal: 100% Chenin Blanc

Production/Tasting Notes:  Hand-harvested; fermented cool; duplex soil with decomposed granite and fine sandy loam on a clay base; fresh, youthful wine with pear, quince flavors intertwined with green apple, grapefruit notes; tangy finish.

Alcohol: 13.5%

Food Pairing: Fresh corn soup


Weinhof Scheu Spatburgunder Pfalz Trocken 2017

Origin: Schweigen, Pfalz, Germany

Varietal: 100% Spatburgunder (Pinot Noir)

Production/Tasting Notes: 22 year old vines; clay soils; hand-harvested; 14 day maceration followed by 10 day fermentation; aged in 2500 liter oak barrels for one year before filtered and bottled; complex aromas of black cherry, cassis, wild berry with underlying notes of oak wood.

Alcohol: 13.5%

Food  Pairing: Stuffed chicken breast; vegetable tian; salad



Jean-Marc Burgaud Morgon Côte de Py 2020

Origin: Morgon AOC

Varietal: 100% Gamay

Production/Tasting Notes:  Intense bouquet of black cherry, forest berry, black olive, saline notes; medium-bodied with silky-smooth tannins; notes of bitter chocolate; lively acidity; long, persistent finish melding black cherry, blueberry, blood orange, citrus fruit. (95 points, James Suckling)

Alcohol:  13.5 %

Food Pairing: Stuffed chicken breast; vegetable tian; salad


Château Laribotte Sauternes 2018

Origin: Sauternes AOC

Varietals: 95% Semillon; 4% Sauvignon Blanc; 1% Muscadelle

Production/Tasting Notes: Complex notes of acacia, white flower, lemon, honey; rich, fruity mouth feel with flavors of candied fruit, orange peel and apricot. (90 points, Wine Enthusiast)

Alcohol: 13%

Food pairing: Cherry fruit crumble à la mode