Category Archives: Thumbs Up

Meerlust Estate 2013 Pinot Noir

Wine of Origin Stellenbosch, South Africa; 13.0% ABV
imported by Maisons Marques & Domaines USA, Inc., Oakland, CA
$7 at the Richmond, CA, store on 22 May

I don’t recall previously tasting a South African Pinot Noir.  However, I have liked the more savory, rusty earth flavors in other SA reds, and they seemed like they might be good in a Pinot, so…

At first pour, the wine seemed mildly promising: light, delicate, restrained, and acid, in a more “Old World” style.  However, when it finally aired after about 2.5 hours in a decanter, I was not sure where to put it in the New / Old spectrum, and I was pretty impressed.  The wine tasted of soft and ripe dark red cherry, lighter red tart cherry, orange / dried orange peel leading to earthy root beer, a tinge of nutmeg / cinnamon, and nice Pinot funk.  With a little more air, some of the cherry darkens to black cherry and other black fruit.  Unfortunately, fairly soon after fully airing, the last bit of the wine seemed like it started shutting down, indicating to me that this wine would be better with more age.

The saved screw-capped bottle of this wine was more immediately accessible, with similar flavors, although the fruit never fully came out the way it did the first night, at least during the 1 or maybe 2 hours I drank it.  It was also more fully integrated and elegant.  While it’s not the Bailiwick Pinots (c’mon, what is?), I think this is very nice and interesting Pinot for the money.  It’s fine to drink now with enough air, or the next day, but would probably benefit from 2 or 3 more years of age.  I’ll probably get a few more bottles to do just that.

Bodkin 2013 Sauvignon Blanc Reserve “The Albino”

Sandy Bend Vineyard, Lake County, CA; 13.5% ABV
“Fermented upon the skins.  Bottled without fining or filtration”
“Christopher Reid Christensen, Winesmith”
Produced and bottled by Wefew Vintners, Healdsburg, CA
$7 (or maybe $6) at the Oakland, CA, store about a month ago.  Almost certainly no longer there.

This label struck me as unusual and interesting and, indeed, the wine is one of the most unusual and interesting Sauvignon Blancs I have ever tasted.

The aromatic profile resembles that of a Riesling: perfume-like white / yellow flowers and light yellow fruit.  On the palate, I tasted lightly lemony yellow peach, yellow melon, cherimoya / light gardenia, green lime, some balancing minerally grape skin bitterness, and a hint of fresh herbs on the finish.  The wine had a pleasantly viscous mouthfeel.  Good on its own, it was spectacular with food.

The next day, the wine was a little softer and more forward, but overall it was very similar.

Macarico 2010 Serre Delle More Vino Spumante di Qualita

Alto Vulture, Vini da Vulcano, Basilicata, Italy
100% Aglianico; 13% ABV
North Berkeley Imports
$7 at the Richmond, CA, store at least a few months ago.  No longer there.

This sparkling rosé arrived probably about 6 months ago, with two other NBI wines.  A couple people told me this was awful, so I had just let this bottle sit around unopened.  However, tonight I opened it, expecting to dump it down the drain, with a backup ready.  But I was surprised: I love it!

The wine was pleasantly aromatic, showing fruity flavors of cantaloupe / quince, red berries, and a dark red cherry close to a savory, almost-meat flavor.  It was well-carbonated and pleasantly dry and crisp.  It kept well over the evening in a stoppered bottle in the fridge.  More light tangerine flavor came out over time.

Volpe Pasini 2014 Ribolla Gialla

Delle Venezie IGT, northeastern Italy; 12% ABV
imported by Diageo “Chateau & Estate” wines
$5 at the Richmond, CA, store on 12 April.  Still there.

The last Ribolla Gialla I reviewed was quite good, so I had to try this one, too.  It is even more tasty, IMO easily worth the dollar more.

I find the wine a little closed straight from the fridge, but warmed up a little, it shows good intensity of lemony pear, yellow melon, white and yellow flowers, slightly astringent minerality and grape skin bitterness, green lime, and a little orange on the finish.  In trying to help customers, I usually ask if they want something more fruity like a Chardonnay or more crisp like a Sauvignon Blanc.  To me, this wine is somewhere in between, more fruity than most SB, and more acid than most Chardonnay.  Yum!

The next day, the wine had smoothed out and integrated, and had a viscous minerality.  It was more mellow but still delicious.

Flagstone 2012 “Noon Gun” white blend

43% Chenin Blanc, 35% Sauvignon Blanc, 21% Viognier, 1% Nouvelle; 13.0% ABV
Wine of Origin Western Cape, South Africa
imported by Accolade Wines North America, Napa, CA
$4 at the Richmond, CA, store.  Still there.

This wine has interested me since it arrived a while ago, especially after the Rustenburg white was pretty tasty, but I am getting to it only now.  It’s also quite good.

It has a pleasant nose of yellow peach / pear and white pear / melon.  On the palate, the wine shows these flavors with some yellow and white floral character, some less ripe green lime, bitterness of citrus pith and grape skin that is close to a light minerality.  Anyway, if you liked the Rustenberg white, you’ll probably like this one, too.  For me, it’s a Thumbs Up.

My hesitation about this wine was that it would be too old.  The first day, I thought it was not showing its age at all, but the second day, it did show a tinge of oxidation.  Otherwise, however, it was still quite tasty the second day, with more forward yellow tropical fruit, still balanced with the same minerality and bitterness.

About the grape Nouvelle, this site had this to say:

Nouvelle – This grape, a crossing of Semillon and Crouchen Blanc (better known as Cape Riesling), was developed in South Africa by Professor CJ Orffer of Stellenbosch University. While plantings remain tiny they are increasing, mainly for inclusion in blends. It produces wines with a strong grassy, green peppery character.

The next day…

Two 2014 Pinot Grigios from Volpe Pasini

for both wines:
Colli Orientali del Friuli DOC, far northeastern Italy; 12.5% ABV
$6 at the Richmond, CA, store on 13 April. Still there.

As these wines came from the same producer and region of Italy, in the same year, with the same % alcohol, at the same price, I wondered whether they were actually the same wine in different packaging.  I am now pleasantly satisfied that they are not.

The Gri Vo’ (photo, right) has the duller label, but who knows, maybe it’s just understatement?  But no, the wine actually is the more dull of the two.  It’s still quite good, showing a hint of apricot that carries through the whole taste of more typical flavors of yellow melon, bright yellow grapefruit, and lime, with a sort of musty (from wood?) minerality and slight bitterness of grape skin.  This is a good wine for the price.

On the first day, I preferred the “Zuc di Volpe” bottling (photo, left).  It is more nervy and subtle, showing integrated floral, lemony, and minerally flavors in close succession, reined in by a slight touch of wood.

The next day, the apricot flavor in the Gri Vo’ integrated with other flavors to resemble tropical yellow fruit with a weight that surprises me in Pinot Grigio.  Still quite tasty.

In contrast to the Gri Vo’, the next day, the Zuc di Volpe bottling was still interestingly, subtly complex, but was rather dull compared to what it had been.  Gone were the bright acid and minerally structure.  Depending on whether you plan to drink it over more than one night, you might prefer the Gri Vo’.  In contrast to other blending experiments I’ve done, I could not find a blend of these two that really improved on either wine alone.

Both of these wines show their age just a little.  Drink them up soon, and there is certainly no reason to wait in this spring heat.

Nieto Senetiner 2013 Bonarda (Charbono)

Lujan de Cuyo, Mendoza, Argentina; 13% ABV
$5 (I think) at the Richmond, CA, store some weeks ago.  No longer there.

After being open a couple hours, the wine shows soft, ripe, tangy, fruit of black raspberry / almost blackberry, dark cherry, purple plum / pit, violets / licorice, wood / coffee, with somewhat zingy acid of hibiscus tea and mild, chewy tannin on the finish.  It’s not a must-have, but it’s a quite good New World wine for the price.  It would make a good stand-in for Zinfandel.

The next day, the last bit in the glass was redder and more acid.  It was still pretty tasty, but it’s probably better consumed the first day.

This is one of many wines I bought before and while I was not drinking.  Please bear with me while I work through this backlog.

Two 2015 Southern French Rosés

Le Charmel 2015 Cotes de Provence (near Bandol)
30% Syrah, 30% Cinsault, 20% Mourvèdre, 10% Grenache, 10% Rolle (Vermentino); 12.5% ABV
imported by Winesellers, Ltd., Niles, IL
$4 at the Richmond, CA, store some weeks ago.  No longer there.

Les Vignes de Bila-Haut 2015 Pays D’Oc IGP; 13% ABV
by Michel Chapoutier
imported by HB Wine Merchants, NY
$5 at the Richmond, CA, store

When I bought these, they were both new arrivals.  The Bila-Haut is still around, but Le Charmel is long gone, at least from Richmond.  They were both pretty tasty, but I preferred Le Charmel.

Le Charmel was engagingly aromatic of less ripe cantaloupe and mild white flowers.  There was more of this on the palate, with a slightly viscous minerality and a hints of lavender and red berries, and the acid nicely in balance.  The flavor was perhaps a little light for me at first, but after adjusting, I found it a very pleasant and elegant wine.  Interestingly, it contains 10% Rolle (Vermentino), a white grape.

The next day, I liked it better, with the fruit more forward while the wine still retained most of its minerality.  This is an easy Thumbs Up for me.

The Bila-Haut had less of a nose, but showed stronger fruit of strawberry, cherry, and red currant, less minerality, and attention-getting lip-smacking acid and a tang of bitterness.  I found this more flavorful, but less elegant and balanced.  Here is a Wine Enthusiast review of this wine.

The next day, I liked it better, as the wine had smoothed out and integrated, but was still quite tasty.  I’d go with Drinkable for this wine.

Of course, my favorite was a blend of about 1/4 – 1/3 Bila-Haut, the rest Le Charmel.  🙂

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.  🙂