Category Archives: Thumbs Up

2010 Santa Alicia “Edición Limitada” Pinot Noir

Casablanca, Chile; 14% ABV
Imported by Halby Marketing, Sonoma, CA
$6.99 at Palo Alto on February 28th

IMG_0084Getting out from under the back-log and wanted to get this up before the sale as I know this is still around in quantity, at least at Palo Alto. This came in with two other Santa Alicia wines (a “Shiraz” which was not good and the “Millantu” red blend which was very good) and I picked up a bottle because the price point seemed nice and the packaging alluded to some quality. A brief web search had me immediately regretting my decision. Wine Enthusiast panned this, giving it 80 points, calling it bitter and astringent. That review was dated 2013, and all I can surmise is that the wine was either totally shut down or that they got a bad bottle. I really liked this and found it a refreshing change of pace from the darker, more brooding pinots that have been around lately.

This wine pours sweet and a little one-dimensional, but after about an hour or so really opens up to display a wide spectrum of strawberry, pomegranate, and red cherry flavors with nice balancing brightness from the acidity. There’s a hint of some mushroom earthiness on the nose, but it doesn’t carry over to the palate. Bright, clean fruit, some oak influence, and no noticeable flaws make this a solid choice for a $7 pinot. Two thumbs up from me, especially for $5.60 on the sale next week.

Duparc Pineau des Charentes “White”

Pineau des Charentes AOC, France; 17% ABV
imported by Halby Marketing, Sonoma, CA
$5 for 375ml at the Richmond, CA, store

When I ordered this, I thought it was just some French white wine I’d never heard of.  When it arrived, I was completely baffled, so I looked up Pineau des Charentes in Wikipedia: It is “a regional French aperitif … a fortified wine (mistelle or vin de liqueur), made from either fresh, unfermented grape juice or a blend of lightly fermented grape must, to which a Cognac eau-de-vie [twice-distilled spirits] is added and then matured.”  So, of course, I had to try one.

I think this is delicious!  It’s sweet from the fresh grapes, but a little less sweet than a dessert wine.  I’m not satisfied with my description here, but what comes to mind is honeysuckle / honey and yellow-grapey canned oranges, peaches, and pears.  The flavor of purified alcohol is also prominent.  I prefer it chilled.  For me, at least, this aperitif, with its delicious sweetness and high alcohol content, is a bit dangerous.  🙂

Chateau Simon Carretey 2008 Sauternes

Sauternes AOC, Bordeaux, France; 13.5% ABV
imported by Halby Marketing, Inc., Sonoma, CA
$7 for 375ml at the Richmond, CA, store on 27 Feb

chsimoncarretey_2008_sauternesOn the nose and then on the palate, the wine shows full-flavored but delicately delineated honeysuckle, yellow pear / apple, pineapple, ripe Asian pear, very slight (if any?) botrytis, and ripe apricot.  This is not the most amazing Sauternes, but it is an outstanding bargain.  Like most such sweet wines, this could probably develop well for at least another ten years in good storage.

The next day, the flavors were much the same, with the flavors more delicate and “liquidy.”

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!

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.

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.