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Thursday, December 29, 2016

Wine Review: Matchbook Dunnigan Hills 2015 Old Head Chardonnay

Matchbook Wine Company has appeared on this blog many times. November of 2015 was dedicated entirely to their wines, and then they returned for a few more reviews in July of 2016 and September of 2016. If you'd like to read more about them then check out my article A Brief History of Matchbook Wine Company

One of those previous wines I've reviewed by them was their 2012 Old Head Chardonnay and today I'm revisiting their Old Head with the latest vintage. The 2015 vintage is 100% estate bottled Chardonnay and made from six different clones of the varietal. Clone 809, 25% of the blend, was fermented in stainless steel while the other clones, 75% of the blend, saw 100% aging in French, hybrid American and Hungarian oak barrels on the lees. It has an ABV of 13.9% and 48,000 cases were produced.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Jeroboams & Balthazars, Part 3: Wine Bottles of Colossal Proportions

This is the conclusion of a series on the stories behind the names of wine bottle sizes, and we're now left with the biggest of the big. These are the bottles that may require some assistance to physically pick up.

In Part 1: Wine Bottles of Typical Proportions, everything from the 187.5 milliliter piccolo to the 3 liter double-magum was covered. This included several hypotheses on how the 750 milliliter became the standard bottle today. I also, in the end, gave an explanation on why this was a 3-part series instead of being one, flowing, easily accessible source. Part 1 is a completely different animal and a much lighter read than the following two.

Part 2: Wine Bottles of Biblical Proportions started off with the Christian necessity of wine for worship, leading to better quality wine everywhere it spread. Because of this everything above 3 liters with the exception of one are named after legendary and powerful characters from Abrahamic mythology. Then it was the turn of anything from the 4.5 liter Jeroboam / Rehoboam to the 15 liter Nebuchadnezzar.

If you read Part 1 then you know the backstory on how the idea to do this was planted into my brain. And you know from both parts and some of my other writings that I'm on the Richard Dawkins level of religious belief. So why would I actually spend months with the Bible to write this series? The answer is because I love history and even (or especially) the mythologies that people still cling to today are an important part of our history both culturally and as a species as a whole.

But what good to anybody does it serve to get this in-depth? You could argue that most of the content of Part 2 and Part 3 are just ancient stories organized in a bottle size format and none of this really has to do with wine at all. And you can get plenty of simple lists of the bottle size names in books and on the internet, right?

My answer to that is this: I'm a true believer in understanding things. I just didn't learn how to make French toast, I learned that it was invented by the French living in poverty to rehydrate stale bread. I just didn't accept Christmas lights as a tradition, I learned why it's a tradition and that they're meant to mimic the moonlight reflecting off of icicles. Telling somebody that gravity exists does absolutely nothing. But tell somebody why gravity exists and now you're really providing something useful. By the same token, if you tell somebody that an 18 liter bottle is a Melchior then you've just given out information that only creates more questions. Is that piece of data enough for you? That an 18 liter bottle is a Melchior? Because that isn't enough for me. And speaking of Melchior, that's where we're starting right now...

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Wine Review: Alta Mora Etna Rosso 2014

Cusumano isn't just Tony Soprano's doctor and neighbor. They're a Sicilian family winery now in their third generation with impressive vineyard spots for both their classic style wines and new age, trailblazing wines. Their entry level Nero d'Avolla is good quality and pretty popular among the average wine consumer in the US, but their other wines likes their Insolia are also nice.

Alta Mora is their new project. It's not a new label or brand as an extension of their winery, it's an entirely new winery itself. The focus of this winery is their vineyards on the slopes of the active volcano Mount Etna, so the name "Alta Mora" represents the high altitude and the dark volcanic soil.

The Etna Rosso is 100% Norello Mascalese. This is an indigenous grape to Sicily, mostly grown around Mount Etna, that is almost like a cross between a light and earthy Pinot Noir and the high acid, high tannin, tarry Nebbiolo. It may be outshined by Nero d'Avola on the market, but it will not be outshined in the glass.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Wine Reviews: Best of Fall 2016!

Tomorrow is the last day of fall! Since October was International Merlot Month and November was Market Vineyards Month, there was a lot of Merlot and Market Vineyards reviews on the blog. Here's the best of the wines that I reviewed for the season!

#5. Market Vineyards Dividend Syrah 2013

Market Vineyards Dividend Syrah 2013Region: Columbia Valley, Washington State
Review Release: November 13th, 2016

On the nose there's an overlaying minerality above aromas of lavender, raisins, chocolate (Raisinettes, anyone?) and pepper, with a slight note of anise. It smells very ripe and sticky. In the mouth it's rich and lush with soft tannin and just a little perk of acidity. That minerality on the nose is also on the palate with flavors of pomegranate, strawberry jam and baked earth. The most impressive feature of this wine is the finish! It's ridiculously long and lip smacking with pomegranate and baked earth.


Price: $39
Rating: 4.5/5 = Recommended / Highly Recommended (what does that mean?)

#4. Benziger Sonoma County Merlot 2013

Benziger Sonoma County Merlot 2013Region: Sonoma County, California
Review Release: October 30th, 2016

The nose just hits me right in the heart. If you love Merlot as much as I do then you'll see just what I mean. There's aromas of cinnamon, big juicy and ripe blueberry and blackberry, a hint of mint (hehe, that rhymes), and there's a fiery spiciness following it all up. I started this month with a Merlot that screams #MerlotMe on the nose and I'm finishing with one as well.

On the palate it echoes the flavor descriptors of the nose, it's medium to full bodied, has low acidity, medium and balanced tannin, and a mouthfeel that's as smooth as Luther Vandross. It finishes with blackberries, an uprise in tartness, and oak.


Price: $16
Rating: 5/5 = Highly Recommended (what does that mean?)

#3. Market Vineyards Red Mountain Alpha Merlot 2010

Market Vineyards Red Mountain Alpha Merlot 2010Region: Red Mountain, Columbia Valley, Washington State
Review Release: November 24th, 2016

The nose has juicy cherries, mocha, fresh bbq rosemary, vanilla and cinnamon. The way it all comes together makes me want to slam my Riedel onto the desk and shatter it. But a Riedel broke in the sink the other day and it was gutwrenching so I cannot, no -- WILL NOT, go through that pain again. Do you think you know grief and suffering? Because you do not, my friend.

On the midpalate it's medium bodied and smooth as velvet with soft tannin and very low acidity. Big, concentrated flavors of cherries and blackberries with cedar, cool moist sand and dark chocolate. The finish turns grainy in mouthfeel as the tannins kick up their game, and flavors of blackberries and dark chocolate last incredibly long.

Price: $63
Rating: 5/5 = Highly Recommended (what does that mean?)

#2. Scott Family Estate Chardonnay 2014

Scott Family Estate Chardonnay 2014
Region: Arroyo Seco / Monterey, California
Review Release: November 1st, 2016 (Wine Pick of the Month)

The nose is outstanding with aromas of vanilla, carnations, pear, banana, ginger and dry stone. It's full bodied in the mouth and, again, creamy and buttery but with a lively acidity that keeps it all from going overboard. There's flavors of almonds, lemon, pear and ginger. Then it finishes dry with oak and banana.

It really is sensational all around and every Chardonnay lover should give it a try.


Price: $20
Rating: 5/5 = Highly Recommended (what does that mean?)

#1. Market Vineyards Red Mountain Acquisition Cabernet Sauvignon 2011

Region: Red Mountain, Columbia Valley, Washington State
Review Release: November 27th, 2016

The color is a ruby garnet. Black licorice sucker-punches you right in the nose! There's also aromas of black current, cherry cola, vanilla and toffee. It just reels you right in!

Unlike MV's Arbitrage Cabernet, which needs some bottle aging, the Acquisition Cabernet is good to go right now. There's a refined, feminine elegance dancing around on the smooth mouthfeel, while still being full bodied with a burly and masculine richness. An assortment of cherries are on the palate, along with plums, driftwood and caraway. It finishes with a little visit from the tannin, but not overwhelming, and a higher acidity than you would expect; both aspects making it an excellent and versatile food wine.


Price: $52
Rating: 5/5 = Highly Recommended (what does that mean?)

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Wine Review: Markham Napa Valley Merlot 2014

Markham Napa Valley Merlot 2014

Back in 1852, Jean Laurent left Bordeaux for California in search of gold. He struck out on that, but in 1874 he ended up founding one of the very first Napa Valley wineries. He'd became one of the largest producers of California wine of the 1880's. Skip ahead to 1978. Bruce Markham bought several vineyards in Napa, along with the Laurent winery. Laurent's winery was yet again a big success as Markham Vineyards, and it became one of the most advanced winemaking facilities in the country after renovations following the 1988 sale to Mercian Corporation. The heart of the modern day winery is Laurent's old stone cellar.

Markham has been making Merlot since 1980, the same year I was born, so they have my lifetime's experience with the varietal. Their 2014 Merlot comes from various places around Napa Valley including Oak Knoll, Yountville and Calistoga. The blend is 86% Merlot, 12% Cabernet Sauvignon and 2% Petite Syrah. Eleven days were spent with skin contact while it fermented in 100% stainless steel. Then it saw fifteen months aging in new oak. It has a 14.2% ABV.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Wine Review: Hanna Russian River Valley Sauvignon Blanc 2015

Hanna Russian River Valley Sauvignon Blanc 2015

Dr. Elias Hanna was raised around the farm life, and in 1985 he bought 12 acres of vineyard land in Russian River Valley to bring him back to his farming roots, founding Hanna Winery & Vineyards. Today their Home Ranch Vineyard has 25 acres of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir in Russian River Valley, and their Slusser Ranch Vineyard (also in RRV) is 50 acres of Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay. Red Ranch Vineyard is 88 acres of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec and Petit Verdot in Alexander Valley. In the New Moon AVA of Sonoma they've got their Bismark Mountain Vineyard, planted with 67 acres of Zinfandel and, like Red Ranch Vineyard, Bordeaux varieties.

I've got right here a bottle of their 2015 Russian River Valley Sauvignon Blanc. 100% SB fermented in stainless steel with a comination of commercial yeasts and wild ones, and then aged in stainless steel on the lees. For a few vintages there I was getting a lot of floride on the palate of California Sauvignon Blanc but that seems to be fading, so I'm hoping this one continues with that trend.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Memories of Garnacha Day 2016 (September 16th)

On the 16th of September I was lucky enough to be a part of a online tasting for #GarnachaDay. It was hosted by Master Sommelier Laura Maniec with Master of Wine Christy Canterbury as a guest, both on video while the rest of us were on chat that was connected to our Twitters.

When this happened I had a lot going on and wasn't sure if I'd be able to make it that night, and luckily I was. But not as organized and prepared as I would have liked to be. I didn't take notes (dumb), didn't spit (dumb), and had to be up incredibly early the next day.

Regardless, it was a fun time had by all and I was honored to be invited. Here I'll be giving just a quick rundown of what I thought of the wines.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Jeroboams & Balthazars, Part 2: Wine Bottles of Biblical Proportions

Throughout the history of wine there have been countless variations of vessels to carry and store it. As we've already seen, there are many different names that have been used to describe specific glass wine bottles (apart from simply calling them by how much volume they carry). The title of this three part series, Jeroboams & Balthazars, are just two of them. The point of this series is to not only show the names of these bottles that are still in production, but also to tell the stories of for whom specific bottles were named after and why that name was chosen.

Nebuchadnezzar's Dream
In Part 1: Wine Bottles of Typical Proportions everything below 3 liters was covered. And everything below 3 liters are easily summarized as a translation (piccolo means "small", magnum means "great") or just an old unit of measurement (like the chopine). In other words: light reading. When you go above that 3 liter bottle, things change.

Wine is an essential part of Christian worship. And so you have Christians, particularly the Catholics, pretty much making all of the advancements in viticulture and winemaking for the vast majority of the last 2,000 years. Wherever Christianity spread, the wine got better. If they didn't make wine before, then vineyards started popping up. Of course, the monotheist institution caused other advancements to be set back hundreds to thousands of years but c'mon... wine is a necessity of life.

The people that named these impressively large bottles had larger-than-life characters from their religious faiths in mind. Who better to be the namesake of an enormous and heavy bottle of wine than a great king of Israel? Or a giant that tried to kill one of them? They may be characters from an ancient mythology that's still believed by many today, but there is no denying that these characters are legendary and have had influence in the course of world history. And, whether you're a theist or an atheist like myself, you have to admit that they're great stories.

And so we transition away from a double-magnum being twice the size of a magnum, and thus double-great, into something completely different. Now we delve into the world of the Christian Old Testament, AKA the Jewish Tanakh.

But before we begin, this blog comment was made by mgraves in Part 1: "What you should emphasize is how infrequently the the odd sizes are used. Most especially the very large bottles. It has been said that there have been more very large bottles of old Bordeaux sold than were ever known to be produced. Large bottles have played an important role in famous wine frauds." Thanks, mgraves! I was unaware of that fact!

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Wine Review: Cecchi Chianti Classico 2014

Cecci Chianti Classico 2014

The Cecchi family got into the winemaking business in 1893 with Luigi Cecchi, and the first bottles of Cecchi labeled wines were produced in the early 1900's. However, the land that their winery and estate vineyards are on has been making wine for over a thousand years. Today it's run by Andrea and Cesare Cecchi, and they pride themselves on their practice of sustainability.

My favorite thing about Cecchi actually isn't their wines, although they're good too. Cecchi has among the coolest social media accounts for wineries.They're constantly posting stuff on their Facebook and Instagram and it's almost always awesome. From vintage photos, gorgeous vineyards, behind the scenes looks at tastings and harvests, delicious food, interesting articles, and etc. They're also HIGHLY interactive and helpful with their followers. Cecchi is on top of the social media game.

Today I'm reviewing their 2014 Chianti Classico. It's 90% Sangiovese and I'm assuming the other 10% is Canaiolo and/or Cabernet Sauvignon. It saw 12 months in oak, two months bottle aging, and has an ABV of 13%.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Bad Luck Brian on wine

Says Moscato is "too sweet". Loves Asti.

This happens way more often than you think it should.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Jeroboams & Balthazars, Part 1: Wine Bottles of Typical Proportions

On a daily basis, the wine bottle sizes that you'll most likely encounter are the 750 milliliter and the 1.5 liter. They're known as the standard and the magnum, respectfully, and they fill the shelves of wine shops and aisles of liquor stores everywhere. You'll also see "splits" and smaller bottles in four packs regularly, with sparkling wine as the more common purchase in those formats. But did you know there's a 6 liter bottle? A 30 liter bottle?

Banfi Centine - standard bottle vs Jeroboam
These smaller or larger bottles also have names that have been applied to them besides just a description of their volume or content. Their namesake, once you get over 3 liters, strictly comes from the kings and characters of ancient mythology. More specifically: the Tanakh of Judaism (the Old Testament of the Christian Bible). And one of those fellas, the biggest one of them all, is from Greek mythology. Hint: he likes gold.

Some of these characters after which these bottle sizes were named were real people implemented into the stories and some of them were completely fabricated or legendary figures embellished through religious text. But also some of these bottle names in the lesser sizes come from something else entirely, like the pleasantly small "piccolo".

A friend of mine, namely my personal history expert and special guest editor Graham Richardson, had come across, IIRC, the "Methuselah" six liter bottle. He messaged me asking if all of the bottle sizes for wine had Biblical names. After we began investigating the topic he stated "I think I smell an article." He was actually smelling nachos but an article was a good idea.

In the two and a half years I've been doing this, you should know that I don't do things simply and easily. So rather than just spit out the names of the bottle sizes with a blurb that says "Biblical King" or whatever, let's get into the stories of their namesakes.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

December Wine Pick: Mont Gravet Cotes de Gascogne 2015

This WINE PICK of the month was written for the Luke's of Cape Cod website.

Mont Gravet Cotes de Gascogne 2015

Mont refers to the hills of France's Gascony region on which the vineyards rest on their slopes, and Gravet refers to its gravelly soil. The Gascony region is famous for its brandies, most notably Armagnac, but they do make drinkable wine there. This wine is 100% Colombard, one of the more popular permitted grapes used for making brandy.

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