Château de Bensse 2012 Médoc

Cru Bourgeois from the Médoc, Bordeaux, France
50% Cabernet (presumably Sauvignon), 50% Merlot; 13.5% ABV
$12 at the Richmond, CA, store on 17 Feb

chdebensse_2012_medocThis wine had intrigued me for a few reasons — it was designated from a specific region of Bordeaux, the Médoc, not just from Bordeaux; it was imported by Max Beverage, whose previous Bordeaux I’ve tasted have been quite good; and two customers, including a Frenchman, had recommended it — but I had been deterred by the high (by GO standards) price until yesterday.

I thought it was pretty good after being decanted for about an hour, showing elegant purplish dark red cherry fruit with subtle complexity of plum, in a structure that was tight but not punishing.  It continued to improve the next couple hours, darkening and becoming only slightly more accessible.  Around three hours after opening, some of the darker purple fruit did seem to soften up a little, but along with the structure breaking some, not just relaxing.  So far, I liked it, but I wasn’t impressed it was worth $12 at the GO.  I wanted to soften it up a bit more, so instead of storing the rest in a completely filled small bottle as usual, I just put the cork back in the top.

Expat reviewed, and very much liked, the 2011 Ch. de Bensse here.  (His taste tends toward the very dry, earthy, and tannic.)  Wine Advocate rates 2011 Left Bank (which includes Médoc) as 88, and 2012 as 87, not much different.

On the second and third days, the wine was about the same as on the first two days, never really opening up very much.  I suspect I would prefer this with a few more years of age, but some may enjoy it now with a bit of air.

2014 “Pioneer Red”

“Imported by Vinedos La Consulta, Sonoma, CA
Product of Argentina
Vinted and Bottled by S&R Wines, Graton, CA”
unspecified red blend; 14.5% ABV
$5 at the Richmond, CA store on 8 Feb

pioneer_2014_redI usually stay away from non-traditional blends that don’t say what’s in them, but this one somehow intrigued me.  It’s a bit on the soft and ripe side for me, but it is quite tasty and easy to drink.

The wine is engagingly tasty from first pour, showing sweetly ripe red cherry with tangy dark red raspberry, rustic purple boysenberry, vanilla, and a hint of roses / violets.  It smooths out and darkens (including more mulberry / blackberry) over about two hours in a decanter.  The wine is highly Drinkable.

This wine appears to be from the La Consulta, Mendoza, Argentina winery Adelante.  Their web pages mention only Malbec, so I’ll assume this wine is at least predominantly Malbec.  The web site says, “The 2014 vintage was challenging as weather conditions varied from region to region and vineyard to vineyard,” so I’ll further speculate that this wine is Malbec that didn’t meet the standards for their Adelante label.  The label above appears to show an old photo of their winemaker, Ray Kaufman (left), who got his start in Sonoma County, CA.

The next day, the saved single-glass, screw-cap bottle is less red, more blue / purple, but still delicious.

Rock Springs 2013 (Rhone-style) Red Blend

Sierra Foothills, CA; 14.0% ABV
Cellared & bottled by Napa Wine Arts, Napa, CA
$6 at the Richmond, CA, store on 11 Feb

rocksprings_2013_redThis looked interesting because I’ve previously very much liked Rhone varietals grown in the Sierra Foothills AVA.  The color through the bottle was a little bit translucent, but of a good color, so I was expecting a wine with medium body and good flavor.  That was what I got, except…

The wine has tasty ripe and tangy flavors of red, lighter purple, and slightly blue fruit, with the earthiness I associate with the Sierra Foothills, but there is also a tinge of spoiled-ness or vinegar that didn’t air out and that I couldn’t get past.  If all bottles were like mine, I have to go Thumbs Down here.  Did anyone have better experiences with this wine?

The next day, the saved, single-glass, screw-cap bottle of this wine was worse.  Not only was the slight spoiled / vinegar character still there, but the fruit had become more cheap candy-like.

2012 Castillo Marín

Cariñena, Spain; 13.5% ABV
Purchased for $5.99 at Palo Alto on 1/20/2017

img_9919-1This wine is a 50-50 blend of Tempranillo and Garnacha from a winery about which I sadly couldn’t find much information. Perhaps my bottle needed a few more days to rest after transport, or perhaps the wine is just still really young, but there are some promising components here that, if they come together, might make this a winner down the road.

The real standout on night 1 was the nose. Black cherry, raspberry, some herbal (as in thyme and rosemary) aspects as well as this almost dark violets floral note that was just fantastic. On the palate though, the wine was really muted, bordering on unpleasant. A bit of raspberry liqueur and some saline acidity, giving way to some tart cherry, cork, and a slightly bitter finish. I gave the wine about 2 hours in the glass, trying it at 30 minute intervals. As time progressed it improved, but only slightly. The nose, however, remained fantastic, even intensifying as the evening went on.

Day 2 was another story. The wine needed about 45 minutes to an hour in the glass, but once it finally opened up, it was wonderful. Blackberries, some subtle vanilla and spice oak notes (from what to me tasted like very nice barrels), more of those mediterranean herbs, all in a wine that was rich, but not too heavy or overdone. The nose, sadly, had simplified. It was still pleasant, but lacked the complexity of the night before.

If everything comes together, this could be really good. At this point though, I’m going to rate this as drinkable, bordering on thumbs up. If you’ve got space to lay a few down, at $5.99 / bottle it might be worth the experiment.

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.