Rustenberg 2014 Sauvignon Blanc blend

58% Sauvignon Blanc, 33% Chardonnay, 9% Viognier; 13% ABV
Wine of Origin Western Cape, South Africa
$4 at the Richmond, Ca, store.  Gone now.

rustenberg_2014_whiteblendSorry to take a while getting to this; it was one of a couple white wines sitting in my fridge while I got over my cold.  Anyway, I think this is a nice wine for the money if any of it is still around.

I was intrigued by the blend, because I have noticed yellow tropical fruit flavors in SA SB that I haven’t in SB from anywhere else, and I thought the blend with Chardonnay and especially Viognier could be very nice.  The wine was indeed quite well made.  The nose showed yellow melon / apple, less ripe green melon, and some light yellow peach / apricot.  The palate is clean, gently crisp, and slightly minerally, with the ripe fruit flavors on the nose plus slight tropical fruit (mostly golden kiwi), balanced by some bitterness of citrus pith and grape skin.  The blend is seamless, although to me the wine is a bit intellectual rather than yummy.

The next day, however, the wine is definitely also yummy, with the sweetly ripe fruit coming forward over the bitterness, still elegantly blended and reasonably structured.

2012 Matahiwi Estate “Holly” Pinot Gris

Wairarapa, New Zealand; 14% ABV
Purchased at Palo Alto for $5.99 on January 5, 2017

img_9822A trio of new wines from Matahiwi Estate showed up at the Palo Alto store, the “Estate” level Chardonnay and the “Holly” level Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Gris. This winery makes three tiers of wine with the “Estate” wines being the middle tier and the “Holly” wines their top efforts. The back label said this wine was barrel-fermented and made in the style of Pinot Gris from Alsace. Before going any further I must admit Alsatian wines as a whole and Pinot Gris as a varietal are fairly new to me. That being said, this wine has me eager to try more. I really liked it.

The wine pours a golden, straw color with clear edges. On the nose I got ripe golden apple, some flinty mineral notes, some spice (presumably from the oak), and beeswax. On the palate this wine was definitely more weighted than the typical Chardonnays or Sauv Blancs I drink more regularly. There’s fresh, ripe apple, stone fruit, citrus, some minerally acidity and well integrated barrel spice. To be really enjoyed though, the wine needs to warm from refrigerator temperature. Served too cold, it tasted just like spiced apple juice. But, once it warms up to about 45-50 degrees, it really opens up into a well-integrated and complex wine.

Day two yielded a similar experience with the wine hitting its stride a bit sooner, after about 15 minutes in the glass, but with no loss in intensity or flavor. There’s still some life left in this one. Thumbs up for me and a repeat buy. This would be fantastic with butternut squash soup.

2010 Hearthstone Estate “Lodestone”

Paso Robles (Adelaida), CA; 14.8% AVB
Received as a sample for review from Palo Alto on December 27th.

hearthstone_lodestone-1This is the second of my two bottles of the recently arrived Hearthstone Estate wines. I was excited to try something different from this producer as I liked the “Paso Superiore “(66% Sangiovese, 17% Cabernet Sauvignon, 17% Cabernet Franc), and this one had a completely different makeup (60% Syrah, 22% Grenache, 18% Mourvedre). While they are different wines, they are made very much in the same style, and I quite liked this one, perhaps even a bit more than I liked the “Paso Superiore.”

The common thread I found between this wine and the “Paso Superiore” is the cleanness and purity of the fruit flavors done in a more subtle, nuanced style. This isn’t a sledgehammer and would also make quite a nice food wine. I got some black cherry and blackberry on the nose with a little smokiness coming out as the wine aired. On the palate I got dark fruit, some well integrated oak notes, a little pepperiness that bordered on the green/herbaceous side (not unpleasantly so) framed by some tangy acidity and soft tannins that took about an hour to emerge. We opened this with friends and quite enjoyed it so none survived to see the next day.

A repeat buy and thumbs up for me. I visited the Palo Alto store yesterday and this wine was still available in good quantity for $6.99 per bottle.

2011 Hearthstone Estate “Paso Superiore”

Paso Robles (Adelaida), CA; 14.8% AVB
Received as a sample for review from Palo Alto on December 27th.

pasosup_origI had the good fortune to be doing some shopping at the Palo Alto store when the Hearthstone Estate wines arrived, and Joe passed me this one as well as the Lodestone (Rhone blend) for review.  A quick online search shows this is still a functioning winery and that likely these were older wines that just needed to be moved. What I found particularly intriguing though is the winery’s location. Paso Robles is, I believe, one of the largest AVA’s in California and pretty diverse in the quality of the growing regions within it. This winery is located in the Adelaida AVA, right next to the Templeton Gap, where most of Paso’s heavy hitters are located, and is very close to both Linne Calodo and Saxum. This wine is a Super-Tuscan blend of 66% Sangiovese, 17% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 17% Cabernet Franc.

This wine showed well from first pour, but really hit its stride after about 2 hours in the glass.  On the nose I got wild cherry (darkening to black cherry as time passed), some vanilla oak, and a touch of herbal notes, perhaps from the Cab Franc. A medium bodied wine, there were notes of ripe cherry, red currant, some cedar and sweet tannins that took over an hour to really emerge and some really fresh acidity. This wine was great with food, and actually reminds me of the Sweetwater Sustainable Land Co. Chalk Hill Sangiovese that was floating around a year or so ago (that was fantastic by the way), just a bit darker and more complex.

On day two the Cabs started to emerge more with some darker fruit notes as well as a pleasant herbaceousness. Like BW, I was surprised by the subtlety of this wine. I’m used to Paso wines being more on the full-throttle end of the spectrum. Two thumbs up for me!

2013 Woodenhead Chardonnay

Buena Tierra Vineyard, Russian River Valley, CA; 14.3% ABV
Purchased at Palo Alto for $7.99 on December 3, 2016

woodenhead_chard_origI was really excited to see a wine from Woodenhead show up at GO. This winery is known for their Zins and Pinots, both of which are regularly well received by major publications and priced mid-30’s to mid-40’s per bottle. A single vineyard, Russian River, unfined and unfiltered Chardonnay from a quality producer sounded like a sure bet. Alas, this is “the wine that almost was.”

The wine pours a medium gold with clear edges, and on the palate showed great intensity with pear and some gala apple with well integrated oak and enough acidity to keep everything fresh. However, even these great qualities were not enough to overcome the offputting and unrelenting sulfer odor in the nose. I kept the wine open for almost a week, hoping the sulfer would eventually blow off. While it did fade somewhat, it never went away.

Surprised, I returned to the web to try to find more information on this specific wine. It’s as if the winery has wiped all traces of this wine’s production. Tech sheets abound for past vintages of all of their other wines, yet a search for this wine yielded nothing. An effort that didn’t meet winery standards that appears to have never been marketed and quietly sold off to Grocery Outlet. Pass on this one.

El Supremo 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon

Mendoza, Argentina; 13.4% ABV
$4 at the Richmond, CA, store on 28 Dec

elsupremo_2015_cabernetI thought the label of this wine had some character to it, and that the color of the wine through the bottle looked nicely dark.  When I poured it, the color of the wine was indeed quite pretty.  However, on tasting, the wine had this weird organic chemical flavor that was very off-putting.  I’m not sure what the wine fault is, but to me it tasted sort of like over-ripe or slightly spoiled fruit.  It was otherwise a pretty good wine for the price, but I’ll have to say Thumbs Down.

Hearthstone 2010 “Bruno di Paso”

100% Brunello-clone Sangiovese; 14.5% ABV
Paso Robles AVA, CA
$7 at the Richmond, CA, store on 26 Dec

hearthstone_2010_brunodipasoIt struck me as unusual and interesting that someone would go to the trouble of growing Brunello-clone Sangiovese, so I was very curious to try this wine.  I like it a lot, finding it an interesting and tasty Paso Robles version of Sangiovese.

I thought the wine was interesting, aromatic, and tasty right away, but after about 90 minutes in a decanter, the ripe CA fruit comes out, and the wine is still delicate and complex.  The wine shows flavors of earthy red cherry with hints of orange and complex darker berries, with slight, bitter stemmines, and wood / leather.  In another 30 minutes, the wine darkens to give earthy darker red and black cherries, black raspberry / almost blackberry or violets, hints of licorice and orange, still some nicely balancing stemmy bitterness.  This is quite a list of flavors, and I should probably qualify it by saying that I did not detect all flavors in every sip.  The fruit is softer, less acid, and more ripe than Brunello di Montalcino, but the wine is still nicely delicate (about the weight of a Pinot Noir) and complex, carrying it’s 14.5% alcohol well.  It’s a fairly subtle wine; it would not impress me that much if I were not paying attention.  It seems fully mature, but not about to go off in the next year or so.

The next day, the second half (stoppered in a 375ml bottle with very little air) had better integrated the flavors of the first night, but was overall less dark and more acid, which to my palate made it more balanced.  It was still quite delicious.  With this change, and since I’m tasting it right after it arrived, I’ll shorten my estimated time frame for drinking this to the next several months.

At work, we received six Hearthstone wines on Monday: this Bruno di Paso, the 2010 Sangiovese (not sure what the difference is, will have to find out), the 2011 Superiore (a Toscana IGT- or “super Tuscan”-type blend with Cabernet), the 2010 Lodestone (a Rhone-style blend of Syrah, Grenache, and Mourvedre), the 2011 Syrah, and the 2010 Fireside Claret (Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot), all $7 each.  All these wines’ showing up probably implies some kind of financial trouble for Hearthstone.  Although it would probably be better if these producers stayed in charge of the Brunello-clone Sangiovese, whatever happens business-wise,  I really hope this vineyard is not torn out.  If it can produce this wine in its relative youth, it could probably make some excellent wine with more age.

Pech Merle 2012 Zinfandel, Cuccio Vineyard

Dry Creek Valley, CA, 14.9% ABV
$11 at the Oakland, CA, store, probably some time in mid-November

pechmerle_2012_zincucciovnyddcvI bought this wine from the Oakland, CA, store a while back, around when y’all were first talking about them, but I only got around to it when I needed something to bring to Christmas Eve dinner with family.  I picked this because I thought it would be ripe and fruity, pairing easily with whatever my mother-in-law had cooked up.  This wine was, as Seedboy wrote, “Full bodied and ripe but still balanced,” but not on Christmas Eve.

That night, I decanted the wine at home for about an hour before I was due there.  Over the course of dinner, the wine tasted of Zinfandel’s typical purple cherry / black raspberry, but it remained rather thin and simple.  I gave up on it, and just stuffed the cork back in bottle with about half remaining.

The next day, the wine still needed a couple hours of air in the bottle (i.e., cork removed) to show full-bodied, tangy, slightly jammy, fruit of darker purple boysenberry / blackberry, dark red / purple cherry, slightly tarry, somewhat tart but overall balancing acid of these fruits, oak a little sweet for me but not offensively so, tannin on the finish thicker for a Zin.  This was really very good for the money, and would have been a good one to stock up on and lay down for a few more years.

Cairdean 2012 Cabernet Franc

Coombsville AVA, (SE) Napa Valley, CA; 14.0% ABV
$18 at the Richmond, CA, store on 19 Dec

cairdean_2012_cabfrancAfter I quite liked the Cairdean 2012 Atlas Peak Petite Verdot, I thought I really should also try this 2012 Coombsville Cabernet Franc.  On the first night, I tasted one glass over about 3 hours, just stuffing the cork back in the bottle after a couple hours.  I thought the wine was frankly weird, with blackberry and red cherry fruit, a bit candied, with complexities of black olive and too-strong, coarse, Chinese salt plum (li hing mui).

On the second night, I left the bottle open for a while before pouring out another glass and stuffing the cork back in.  After some time in the glass, the wine integrated pretty well, showing similar flavors to the first night’s, but also light coffee, maybe strawberry, toasty oak, in a very pretty and elegant, complex delineation.   The candied aspect was still present but more mild, and the body seemed a bit light.

Repeating this procedure on the third night, I finally noticed a pattern.  The wine starts with the blackberry, salt plum, and red cherry in a rather coarse presentation.  After an hour or so in the glass, the wine integrates well, showing more complexities and a lot more elegance.  There is still a drying and somewhat rough tannic finish, promising a good bit of further development for this wine.  It seems like it’s too young to really show well, maybe even shutting down some.

On the fourth day (!), the last glass of this wine still needed about an hour to smooth out and integrate like previous days, perhaps a little more filled out than before.  So, while there was no point at which I was really loving this wine, it seems promising and interesting enough to perhaps lay down a couple more bottles to see what develops.

Zoel wrote, “I opened up the Cairdean Cab Franc the other day, and was fairly impressed…took about 3 hr to really bloom, and then was quite enjoyable and a decent value. Yes, a tad heavy-handed, as has been noted on the Cairdean string, but a solid CFranc all the same. I bought some more yesterday.”


2014 Sunce “Franicevic” Sauvignon Blanc

Shanti Vineyard, Russian River Valley AVA; 13.7% ABV
$5.99 at the Palo Alto store on December 8th

sunce_2014_sauvblancThis producer’s “Talty Vineyard” Zinfandel was one of my “go-to” purchases at the local mega-box store a few years back, so I decided to give this one a try. The fact that this wine was neutral-barrel fermented was intriguing as well as the fact that, per the informative back label, it was made in a “white Bordeaux style.” It is, indeed, pretty good.

The wine pours a pale gold bordering on platinum color, and on the nose I got some surprising tropical and peach notes with a bit of white flowers. On the palate the wine is pretty classic Sauvignon Blanc: pink grapefruit, citrus, some peppery notes. It definitely has that “grassy” note so many Sauv Blanc’s do, but in a pleasant way that adds some complexity to the overall flavor profile and isn’t too overpowering. There is a bit more heft on the palate (perhaps due to the barrel fermentation?) that I liked. A nice, clean 5-10 second finish.

On subsequent days this wine became a bit more disjointed with that “cat pee” note that I dislike in this varietal becoming increasingly prevalent in the nose, and the grassy notes on the palate became more pronounced. If you buy a bottle, best to finish it within 24 hours. Not spectacular, but a solid choice if you’re looking for a lighter white to have on hand for the holidays.