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.

2012 Saintsbury Carneros Chardonnay

Carneros AVA, CA; 13.5% ABV
$12.99 at the Palo Alto Store on November 27th

saintsbury_2012_chardonnayI’m always on the hunt for a good Chardonnay that blends balance and brightness with some well-integrated oak notes. This bottle caught my eye as Carneros tends to be a cooler growing area, and the back label touted phrases like “good acidity” and “subtle seasoning of oak and lees” which sounded right up my alley. A brief internet query yielded a thorough tech sheet from the producer (available here) revealing a wine that was barrel fermented in 20% new French oak while only undergoing partial malolactic fermentation. There are indeed some nice elements to the wine, but in the end they struggle to come together in a way befitting the hefty-for-GO-whites price tag.

On open at refrigerator temp the nose was predominantly lemon and metal and the wine had a slight acrid / aspartame note to it. After about 30 minutes of warming up it came into its own a bit more. Still fairly faint on entry, but with a dose of acidity so strong that it bordered on unpleasant. On the palate I did get some nice pear and creamed citrus notes with a bit of baking spices, but the elements of the wine never really came together and instead felt in competition with each other.

Day 2 yielded a more pleasant experience. Again, the wine needed about 30-40 minutes to warm up from refrigerator temp, but the acidity, oak, and fruit were much more in balance with the fruit gaining in intensity and the oak and acidity playing more of a supporting role rather than competing for the lead. Definitely a passable Chardonnay, and even a good one, but at that price point there are more compelling wines out there. Not a repeat purchase for me.

2013 Puydeval Red Blend, Pays D’Oc IGP

Pays D’Oc IGP, Langeudoc, France; 14% ABV
$5.99 at the Palo Alto store on November 27th

puydevalThis wine caught my eye with its attractive label and the fact that it contains a healthy dose of Cabernet Franc (which I love). The blend breakdown is 58% Cab Franc, 28% Syrah, and 14% Merlot, from vineyards in the cooler regions of the Languedoc. The wine is aged 10 months in oak (90% French, 10% American) and fermented with native yeasts. The tech sheet for the wine can be found here.

A brief web search showed this wine has a pretty loyal following and routinely scores in the high 80’s to low 90’s from major wine publications so I was excited to try it. The wine pours an opaque, deep red, and on the nose I got some blackberry and plum as well as some barrel spice and just a hint of savoriness (I’m guessing from the Syrah). There was definitely some heat as well, but that blew off after about 30 minutes.

On the palate I got dark red fruit with absolutely no vegetal notes that can be so prevalent in Cab Franc. Definitely a fruit forward wine, more in a new world style, but still with some pleasant earthiness to keep it rooted in France. Well integrated oak and pleasantly drying tannins with enough acidity and lift to keep it fresh. It shows it’s stuff best after about an hour and a half, and was fantastic with both a beef stew the first night and hearty minestrone the second night. A repeat buy and a thumbs up for me.

[ed. note: Please welcome frequent commenter DavidLikesWine to the front page.]

Castel Pietra 2014 Pinot Grigio from Mezzacorona

Vigneti delle Dolimiti IGT, Trentino – Alto Adige, (northern) Italy; 12% ABV
$6 for 1.5L (magnum) at the Oakland, CA, store on 7 Nov

mezzacorona_2015_pinotgrigioI dimly recalled liking other white wines with the Dolomiti designation, so despite not really wanting a whole magnum of this wine, I finally got one toward the end of the recent fall sale.  It’s a fairly basic wine but a solid value in Italian Pinot Grigio.

At first, I found the wine a bit crisp and slightly bitter.  In addition to PG’s typical lightly dried straw, the wine tasted of less ripe lemon and skin of less ripe yellow grape, with assertive minerally structure.  After the second pour or so, some riper fruit of yellow pear and yellow grapefruit emerged to support the acid, but it was still fairly submerged by the crisp, minerally acid.

On the second night, after a couple more pours, this fruit emerged further to make the wine more balanced between fruit, acid, and minerality, and really quite enjoyable, especially as it warmed some from fridge temp.

On the third night, the wine is quite tasty and pleasant, adding a sort of orange-y flavor.  It’s not a particularly exciting wine, but it is well made and a good value for an every-day crisp white.

Stemmler 2013 Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir

Sonoma Coast AVA, CA; 14.5% ABV (I think)
$13 at the Oakland, CA, store on 29 Oct

stemmler_2013_pinotnoirOn first pour, and early on, I thought this wine was lovely, showing, lighter red cherry / strawberry / raspberry, orange, and tasty herbal complexity.  However, with more air, the fruit filled out into thicker and relatively simple darker red / black cherry with the other complexities much in the background.  It seemed to developed as much as it was going to on the first night after about 2:15 of air, but it was still a relatively coarse wine compared to what it had been on opening.  I suspect the delicateness and complexity is under there, but will need more age to be easily available.

The saved, single-glass, screw-cap bottle was really quite lovely, showing elegant flavors of black cherry, strawberry jam, dark red raspberry, orange, complexity in the cocoa / coffee / cola area, and dried herbs.  The wine will probably be more accessible in another year or two, but it seems like a good deal in Pinot, especially at the sale price.  It will probably be gone before the sale ends, anyway.

Chateau Grand Marchand 2012 Bordeaux

Bordeaux, France; 13% ABV
$7 at the Richmond, CA, store on 24 Oct

chgrandmarchand_2012_bordeauxI thought this wine looked promising because it’s a few years old now, older than most Bordeaux we get, and the “88 points” sticker from the Wine Enthusiast.  (I’ve liked their online tasting notes.)  Indeed, I think this is pretty good for the price.

I thought the wine needed 1:40 of air in a decanter to relax and show its fruit, starting with a fairly simple earthy red cherry.  It continued to develop nicely until we finished off the first ¾ of the bottle, about 3 hours after opening.  Then, it showed complex dark fruits of ripe plum, cherry, mulberry / blackberry, purple grape, with typical Bordeaux brown earthiness, in a lighter medium body.

The saved, single-glass, screw-cap bottle still needed a bit of air, slowly developing along a similar path as the first part of the bottle, although the fruit didn’t seem to be as forthcoming.  I didn’t really give that glass long enough to air, but it did at least show that the wine will be fine the next day.

Macrae Family Winery 2011 Riesling

Cole Ranch AVA, Mendocino County, CA; 12.9% ABV
$7 at the Richmond, CA, store on 26 October

macrae_2011_rieslingSo, let me start off by saying that I am not a Riesling aficionado, because this wine strikes me as interesting and tasty and possibly the sort of thing Riesling lovers get excited about, but I am certainly not an expert on what makes a properly good Riesling (or about anything else, really  🙂 ).

Those of you who like petrol aroma and flavor in your Riesling, this is your wine!  The petrol aroma is immediately evident on the nose.  The palate follows up with a full dose, very close to an oily minerality which I will probably incorrectly call “flinty” (perhaps “shale” is more accurate?).  These are followed by well-integrated lemon, tart green grape / apple, and yellow pear.  The wine is slightly off-dry, but I thought the acid provided reasonable balance, especially on the finish.  As you can probably tell, I found the petrol component a bit unnerving at first, but after a bit, especially as the wine warmed from fridge temperature, I found it quite interesting and mostly good.

The next day, the minerality is reduced, the texture is more watery than oily, and the pear seems more white and floral than it’s previous “ripe yellow”.  However, the petrol is still there, and I still like it.  Anyone who’s tried this wine, what did you think?