Wine Enthusiast

Syndicate content Wine Enthusiast Magazine
Wine Enthusiast Magazine
Updated: 3 hours 56 min ago

A Guide to the Wines of the Southern Rhône

December 13, 2018 - 1:00pm

From Châteauneuf-du-Pape, the wine of popes and kings, to the easy-drinking bottlings of Côtes du Rhône found in bistros worldwide, the hedonistic wines of the Southern Rhône are familiar friends. As a whole, they share a lusciousness of fruit, fiery spice and earth characteristics. The most dynamic generally hail from the region’s mighty crus.

A cru, which translates to “growth” in French, designates a legally demarcated region that’s recognized for its quality and distinctive terroir. Cru wines, labeled solely by their appellation, are the elite; they’re positioned above wider regional classifications like Côtes du Rhône or Côtes du Rhône Villages.

This designation proves both a reward and challenge to winegrowers. It imposes strict yield limits and mandates laborious quality measures like hand harvesting.

While Châteauneuf-du-Pape is the original cru of the Southern Rhône, advances in viticulture and winemaking have blurred the lines between the appellation and its lesser-known and less expensive neighbors.

Today, nine cru appellations span the region, each offering distinct wines that express the Southern Rhône’s varied terroirs. And with stunning vintages from 2015 through 2017 on store shelves, now is the perfect time to dive in and drink up.

Dusk falls over Châteauneuf-du-Pape / Photo by Mick Rock / Cephas Châteauneuf-du-Pape

With wines that showcase opulence juxtaposed to elegance, the deeply concentrated, beefy bottlings of Châteauneuf-du-Pape are the undisputed royalty of the Rhône’s southern cru. Foreign demand for them is so great that about 80% of the region’s wines are exported, primarily to the U.S. and the UK.

Châteauneuf-du-Pape translates to “new home of the Pope.” It’s a moniker that dates to the early 14th century when Pope Clement V established a summer court in nearby Avignon.

By the 20th century, the region’s prominence suffered due to rampant wine fraud. Efforts by Châteauneuf-du-Pape’s winegrowers to designate borders and impose strict production rules led to the French Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée (AOC) system, which now governs the nation’s wines. Then, in 1936, Châteauneuf-du-Pape became one of the first wine AOCs.

Wine Styles: Red (93%), White (7%) Permitted Varieties: Red and White Wines—Bourboulenc, Cinsault, Clairette (Blanche and Rose), Counoise, Grenache (Blanc, Noir and Gris), Mourvèdre, Muscardine, Picardan, Picpoul (Blanc, Noir and Gris), Roussanne, Syrah, Terret Noir, Vaccarèse Recommended Producers: Château de Beaucastel, Château Rayas, Domaine du Pégau, Domaine du Vieux Télégraphe

The appellation is synonymous with its galets roulés, or rounded pebbles. Shaped by the flow of the Rhône river into flattened formations that range from the size of baseballs to basketballs, the stones lay atop subsoils of sand and clay throughout the region’s plateau. The formations store heat during the day, which warms the vineyard at night.

Lesser-known limestone, gravel and sand terrains contribute to the region’s unique expressions, too.

The art of blending is also central to the appellation’s identity. Grenache reigns supreme here, much as it does throughout the entire Southern Rhône. However, Châteauneuf-du-Pape winemakers are free to formulate distinct cuvées from any of the region’s 13 permitted grape varieties. As a result, its wines can vary significantly in composition.

What Do We Mean When We Say Rhône-style Wine?

For example, the red bottling of Château Rayas is 100% Grenache, while at Château de Beaucastel, Winemaker César Perrin describes his family’s Châteauneuf-du-Pape rouge as “a symphony with each of the 13 grape varieties playing a valuable role.”

Some grapes, like Mourvèdre, serve as lead instruments, he says, while others, like Picardin, are more akin to subtle background notes.

“Each year, each member of our family makes their own blend, and then we decide which direction to go,” says Perrin. “Blending is key to the complexity of each vintage.”

Rosé from Tavel / Photo by Ian Shaw / Alamy Tavel

In Tavel, wine has always meant one thing: rosé. Long before it became the official beverage of Instagram and pool parties, French royalty and intellectuals swooned for the appellation’s bottlings.

Beloved by King Louis XIV, Balzac and Hemingway, Tavel wines are often shockingly pink, with hues that range from deep salmon to ruby. While rosé is often developed as a byproduct of red wine production, grapes here are cultivated exclusively for the style.

Tavel became the first French rosé appellation in 1937. It remains the only appellation in the Rhône exclusive to rosé.

Wine Styles: Rosé (100%) Permitted Varieties: Primarily Grenache (Blanc, Noir and Gris); accessory varieties include Bourboulenc, Calitor Noir, Carignan, Cinsault, Clairette (Blanche and Rose), Mourvèdre, Picpoul (Blanc, Noir and Gris), Syrah Recommended Producers: Château d’Acqueria, Domaine des Carteresses, Domaine Maby, Les Vignerons de Tavel

The style here is always bone dry and distinguished from its paler Provençal cousins by deeper fruit concentration and earthy complexities. They’re invigorating yet solid wines suitable for enjoyment beyond summer, and can even benefit from cellar aging.

A wide variation in varietal blends and three distinct soil types within the appellation—galets roulés, sand and limestone—further enhance complexity in these wines.

A vineyard in Lirac / Photo by Mick Rock / Cephas Lirac

Across the Rhône River from Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Lirac shares many of the same iconic galets roulés, sand and limestone soils.

“The terroir of Lirac is often hidden in the shadows of Châteauneuf-du-Pape,” says Laure Poisson, commercial director for Les Vignerons de Tavel & Lirac a cooperative of 55 family growers. But, in recent years, “Lirac has emerged from the shadows to become something different,” she says.

Wine Styles: Red (85%), White (10%), Rosé (5%) Permitted Varieties: Red Wine—Primarily Cinsault, Grenache Noir, Mourvèdre, Syrah; accessory varieties include Carignan, Clairette Rose, Counoise, Grenache Gris, Marsanne, Picpoul, Roussanne, Ugni Blanc, Viognier White Wine—Primarily Bourboulenc, Clairette Blanche, Grenache Blanc, Roussanne; accessory varieties include Marsanne, Picpoul Blanc, Ugni Blanc, Viognier Rosé Wine—Primarily Cinsault, Grenache Noir, Mourvèdre, Syrah; accessory varieties include Bourboulenc, Carignan, Clairette (Blanche and Rose), Grenache Blanc, Marsanne, Picpoul, Roussanne, Ugni Blanc, Viognier Recommended Producers: Les Vignerons de Tavel & Lirac, Domaine Coudoulis, Domaine de la Mordorée, Domaine Lafond

Designated a cru appellation in 1947, Lirac is rare in that it is authorized for production of red, white and rosé wines. Much of Lirac’s production had been focused on easy-drinking rosé, though today, red wines make up 85% of its output.

While Grenache is central to Lirac’s distinct blackberry character, winemakers have increasingly tapped Syrah and Mourvèdre as central blending components. The cru’s best red wines are notable for their perfume, savoriness and complexity.

A vineyard in Gigondas / Alamy Gigondas

Characterized historically as a poor man’s Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Gigondas is an appellation often explained in comparison to its glossier cousin.

Like Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Gigondas is defined by luscious fruit, generosity and spice. It’s typified, however, by a slimmer profile than the brawny wines of Châteauneuf-du-Pape, as well as an intoxicating pungency of garrigue, the rustic base notes of underbrush and herb found throughout Provence and the South of France.

In 1971, Gigondas was the first of the Côtes du Rhône Villages appellations to be elevated to cru status. The wines offer remarkable affordability compared to ever-escalating prices for Châteauneuf-du-Pape.

In recent decades, however, it’s become increasingly difficult to differentiate the best of Gigondas from Châteauneuf-du-Pape.

Wine Styles: Red (99%), Rosé (1%) Permitted Varieties: Red and Rosé Wines—Principal varieties include Grenache (Noir), Mourvèdre, Syrah; accessory varieties include Bourboulenc, Cinsault, Clairette (Blanche and Rose), Counoise, Grenache (Blanc and Gris), Marsanne, Muscardin, Picpoul (Blanc and Noir), Roussanne, Terret Noir, Ugni Blanc, Vaccarèse, Viognier Recommended Producers: Château de Saint Cosme, Domaine Santa Duc, Pierre Amadieu, Tardieu-Laurent

“Quality has improved a lot in the last 10 years,” says Bastien Tardieu, lead oenologist at family-operated négociant Tardieu-Laurent, which works with more than 100 growers throughout the Rhône Valley. He says that the advances can be attributed to cru appellations like Gigondas being held to “the same restrictive regulations [as Châteauneuf-du-Pape] to produce wine.”

Like most of the Southern Rhône crus, Grenache is the appellation’s backbone, augmented by Mourvèdre and Syrah. Small amounts of other traditional Rhône varieties are permitted in any blend, with the exception of Carignan.

A key factor that differentiates the cru is topography. Gigondas, along with neighboring Vacqueyras and Beaumes de Venise, sits along the slopes of the Dentelles de Montmirail, a ragged limestone formation that towers above the Southern Rhône. The outcrops of the Dentelles protect against the morning sun and extend the growing season. Its altitude allows for a wide day-night temperature range that maintains acidity and balance in the grapes.

“There’s an element of freshness here,” says Louis Barruol, owner of Château de Saint Cosme, a Gigondas estate that dates to the 15th century. “It’s not just from altitude or acidity, but a saltiness and minerality reminiscent of the sea.”

Vines in Rasteau / Photo by Mick Rock / Cephas Rasteau

Planted on predominantly south-facing slopes, Rasteau is characterized by profound ripeness and intensity. Grenache thrives in this arid, sun-drenched terrain, and a large proportion of 30–90 year-old vines continue to bear fruit year after year.

Long considered one of the best regions of the Côtes du Rhône Villages, the appellation obtained cru status in 2010.

“Rasteau is a powerful wine,” says Helen Durand, owner of Domaine du Trapadis, a small estate winery. “Power and freshness aren’t opposites here. Even if acidity is soft, there is freshness from minerality and finesse, particularly with age.”

Wine Styles: Red (100% in Rasteau AOC), Vin Doux Naturel (100% in Vin Doux Naturel Rasteau AOC) Permitted Varieties: Red Wine—Primarily Grenache (Noir), complemented by Mourvèdre, Syrah; accessory varieties include Bourboulenc, Carignan, Cinsault, Clairette (Blanche and Rose), Counoise, Grenache (Blanc and Gris), Marsanne, Muscardin, Picpoul (Blanc and Noir), Roussanne, Terret Noir, Ugni Blanc, Vaccarèse, Viognier Vin Doux Naturel—Primarily Grenache (Blanc, Noir and Gris); accessory varieties include Bourboulenc, Carignan, Clairette (Blanche and Rose), Counoise, Marsanne, Muscardin, Picpoul (Blanc and Noir), Roussanne, Syrah, Terret Noir, Ugni Blanc, Vaccarèse, Viognier Recommended Producers: Domaine de Verquière, Domaine du Trapadis, Domaine Fond Croze, Domaine La Soumade

The red wines of Rasteau are composed principally of Grenache, though they’re augmented by Syrah, Mourvèdre and a host of other minor blending partners.

The appellation is also revered for its vin doux naturel, which means naturally sweet wines. These expressive fortified wines are produced from Grenache Noir, Blanc and Gris. Most unique are the region’s nutty, deliberately oxidative rancio-style, ambré and tuilé vins doux naturel.

Beaumes de Venise / Photo by Tim Moore / Alamy Beaumes de Venise

Located at the foot of the Dentelles de Montmirail, Beaumes de Venise is a particularly warm appellation sheltered from the Mistral, the famously frigid northerly winds of the Rhône.

Muscat thrives in the dry heat and arid soils here, and Beaumes de Venise is perhaps best known for its vin doux naturel. Unlike those of Rasteau, these are youthful, delicately fortified sweet wines made from the intensely floral, fruity grapes.

Wine Styles: Red (100% in Beaumes de Venise AOC), Vin Doux Naturel (100% in Muscat de Beaumes-de-Venise AOC) Permitted Varieties: Red Wine— Primarily Grenache Noir, complemented by Syrah; accessory varieties include Bourboulenc, Vaccarese, Carignan, Cinsault, Clairette (Blanche and Rosé), Grenache (Blanc and Gris), Marsanne, Mourvèdre, Muscardin, Picpoul (Blanc and Noir), Roussanne, Terret Noir, Ugni Blanc Viognier Vin Doux Naturel—Muscat (Blanc and Rouge) Recommended Producers: Domaine de Coyeux, Domaine de Durban, Domaine des Bernardins, Domaine la Ligière

Despite limited distribution stateside, the 150 or so winegrowers of Beaumes de Venise actually produce more than three times as much red wine than vin doux naturel. Since 2005, its red wines have been designated to cru status as well. Both styles are priced well in relation to quality.

Grenache and Syrah, which dominate the red wines here, can be potent and haunting in perfume. Intensely fruity and ripe, they’re approachable in their youth, but the wines are also structured with firm tannins that reward cellaring.

Vacqueyras / Alamy Vacqueyras

If Gigondas is the diminutive cousin of Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Vaqueyras might be Gigondas’ little brother. Rusticity is often used to differentiate the appellation’s wines from those of Châteauneuf-du-Pape and Gigondas. Yet, in recent decades, Vacqueyras has made great strides through improved vineyard and cellar standards. Compared to its powerful contemporaries, it’s sleek, fresh and light on its feet.

Located at the foot of the Dentelles de Montmirail, and adjacent to Gigondas, the vineyards of Vacqueyras are generally lower in elevation and warmer than their neighbors. While much of the cru is planted in what’s known as the garrigues, or flatlands covered with galets roulés, there are higher-elevation vines found on the region’s sandy slopes and stony terraces as well.

Profiles vary with terrain, but, overall, the wines of Vacqueyras combine approachable fruitiness with elegance, bright acidity and fine, persistent tannins.

Wine Styles:  Red (95%), White (4%), Rosé (1%) Permitted Varieties: Red Wine—Principally Grenache (Noir), complemented by Syrah, Mourvédre; accessory varieties include Bourboulenc, Carignan, Cinsault, Clairette (Blanche and Rose), Counoise, Grenache (Blanc and Gris), Marsanne, Muscardin, Picpoul Noir, Roussanne, Terret Noir, Vaccarèse, Viognier White Wine—Bourboulenc, Clairette, Grenache (Blanc), Marsanne, Roussanne, Viognier Rosé Wine—Cinsault, Grenache, Mourvèdre, Syrah Recommended Producers: Château des Tours, Domaine Font Sarade, Domaine les Semelles du Vent, Montirius

“Compared to Gigondas, Vacqueyras has always been the more accessible and eager wine,” says Jean François Arnoux, the 13th-generation owner of Arnoux & Fils. “It offers more fruit, warmth and spice, and it doesn’t hurt that the price is typically 20% less.”

Appellation rules that govern yields, methods of harvest and winemaking are almost identical to Gigondas and Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Production is almost entirely red wines, which must be made from at least 50% Grenache and contain either Mourvèdre or Syrah, and can be enhanced by a host of other Rhône varieties.

Four Ways to Explore Wine Outside the Tasting Room

At Domaine Font Sarade, owner Bernard Burle and his daughter, Claire, make wines from both Vacqueyras and Gigondas.

“Particularly in cooler, northerly vineyards with western exposures, Vacqueyras is distinguished by its body, its balance and integration of alcohol,” says Bernard.

Cairanne / Alamy Cairanne

Elevated to cru status in 2016, Cairanne is one of the Rhône’s newest and most promising appellations. Compared to the powerhouse wines typical to the Southern Rhône, the Grenache-based blends here often exhibit a distinct finesse.

“Wines from Cairanne have elegance,” says Laurent Brusset, the winemaker and third-generation owner of Domaine Brusset.

Wine Styles: Red (96%), White (4%) Permitted Varieties: Red Wine—Primarily Grenache (Noir), complemented by Mourvèdre, Syrah; accessory varieties include Bourboulenc, Carignan, Cinsault, Clairette (Blanche and Rose), Counoise Noir, Grenache (Blanc and Gris), Marsanne, Muscardin, Picpoul (Blanc and Noir), Roussanne, Terret Noir, Vaccarèse, Viognier White Wine—Primarily, Clairette, Grenache Blanc, Roussanne; accessory varieties include Bourboulenc, Marsanne, Picpoul Blanc, Ugni Blanc, Viognier Recommended Producers: Domaine Brusset, Domaine Oratoire St Martin, Domaine Rabasse-Charavin, Domaine Alary

The region’s soils vary from clay and limestone to sand and pebbles.

This diversity of terroir is reflected in the wines. The reds can be fleshy and ripe, redolent of figs and wild strawberries, yet they are often well structured and offer spicy, savory undertones.

Cairanne is rarely overextracted or jammy. Instead, it offers typically soft and supple tannins. The permitted white grapes of the appellation “are often planted at higher altitudes, where cool night temperatures lend acidity and delicacy to the wines,” he says.

A bird’s eye view of vineyards in Vinsobres / Alamy Vinsobres

Located at the northern limits of the Southern Rhône, with hillside terraces at more than 1,600 feet above sea level, Vinsobres is one of the region’s coolest appellations. Comprising just 27 domains, which includes three cooperatives, it’s a small appellation that stretches across five miles of rolling hills.

“Vinsobres marks the beginning of the Alps,” says winemaker Mélina Monteillet, whose family winery, Domaine de Montine, crafts bottlings in Vinsobres and neighboring Grignan. “The vineyards here are always the last to be harvested. Calcareous soils and high altitude lend minerality and freshness.”

Wine Styles: Red (100%) Permitted Varieties: Primarily Grenache Noir, complemented by Mourvèdre, Syrah; accessory varieties include Bourboulenc, Carignan, Cinsault, Clairette (Blanche and Rose), Grenache (Blanc and Gris), Counoise, Marsanne, Muscardin, Picpoul (Blanc and Noir), Roussanne, Terret Noir, Ugni Blanc, Vaccarèse, Viognier Recommended Producers: Domaine Chaume-Arnaud, Domaine Constant-Duquesnoy, Domaine de Montine, Domaine Jaume

The red wines of Vinsobres, elevated to cru status in 2006, must be made up of 50% Grenache and include Syrah and/or Mourvèdre. Syrah grows well here, and it lends briskness and structure to the wine.

Wines from small domains can still be difficult to find in the U.S., but regional producers like Famille Perrin or Pierre Amadieu produce fine Vinsobres bottlings that have wider distribution.

Splurge-Worthy Napa Cabs for Under $100

December 13, 2018 - 8:45am

Finding the right bottle of Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon is tough for anyone who wants to stay within a modest budget. The prices can seem out of reach to anybody who isn’t a vested entrepreneur. Part of the reason for that reality is the cost of the region’s grapes is notoriously high: $7,421/ton on average just last year, as opposed to $2,209/ton in Mendocino County.

Labor and other production costs have to be factored in as well. And, ultimately, there’s the undeniable fact of scarcity. At 30 miles long and only a few miles across, the Napa Valley American Viticultural Area (AVA) isn’t all that big and only accounts for a wee 4% of all California wine.

But it is possible to defy the odds and find great, quality bottles for a more modest price. Here are 10 wines, $85 and below, perfect for gifting and enjoying over the holidays. They reflect an enviable span of tremendously good vintages, starting in 2012.

A Guide to the Best Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon Recommended Napa Cabs to Splurge On

Trefethen 2015 Family Owned Estate Grown Cabernet Sauvignon (Oak Knoll District); $60, 95 points. Blended with small amounts of Petit Verdot, Malbec and Merlot, this is an impressive wine well worthy of the producer’s 50th anniversary. Currant, boysenberry and light handfuls of spice are wrapped in soft, polished tannins that offer an elegant length. Editors’ Choice.

Inglenook 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon (Rutherford); $78, 95 points. This bottling reflects the past several years’ fine-tuning the winery’s vision in the vineyard and in the cellar. Including small amounts of Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, Merlot and Malbec, it’s a rounded, concentrated wine that expresses the vintage with ripe, grippy tannins that beg for further resolution. Blackberry, clove and leather flavors rise to the fore. Cellar through 2035. Cellar Selection.

Turnbull 2015 Estate Grown Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon (Oakville); $85, 95 points. This is a grainy, herbal red wine, boldly tannic and softly smooth in texture. It takes on mountain airs of sage, clove and tobacco, with a brushy graininess that adds complexity and intrigue. Blackberry, black cherry and currant give a tart fruitiness to the flavor.

Spring Mountain Vineyard 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley); $75, 94 points. From the producer’s high-elevation, 225-acre site on Spring Mountain, this is mineral in crushed rock and sanguine characteristics, with a hit of graphite and black licorice. The fruit is subtle, a mix of black currant and plum wrapped in contrasting notes of cedar and mocha. Medium-bodied, it shows structure and elegance. Editors’ Choice.

Bella Union 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley); $80, 94 points. Fermented in stainless steel, then aged 16 months in French oak (60% new), this wine is brightly aromatic in tones of cherry, cassis and spicy clove. Supple and integrated on the palate, it has depth at its core, with an intense ripe berry flavor.

Lail 2015 Blueprint Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley); $80, 94 points. Made by Philippe Melka, this wine sources fruit from across the valley, adding in 7% Petit Verdot. Structured, chalky tannins settle into a soft, billowy entry of cassis, clove and quiet oak. Dried herb and additional baking spices touch up the lengthy finish. Editors’ Choice.

Axr 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley); $84, 94 points. Tart in red and black currant, this wine offers explosive acidity and fleshy polished tannins, the core densely structured and full-bodied. Given nearly two years in French oak, 75% of it new, it is accented in woody, herbal layers of dust and earth. Enjoy 2024–2030. Cellar Selection.

Heitz 2012 Trailside Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley); $85, 94 points. From a certified-organic vineyard in Rutherford, this is a 100% varietal wine that impresses from start to finish, allowing room for a slight whiff of reduction and tar on the nose. Dark notions of coffee are interwoven between bright layers of cassis and red cherry around structured acidity and oak. Enjoy 2020–2028. Cellar Selection.

Paradigm 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon (Oakville); $84, 94 points. Smooth, youthful and concentrated, this wine offers earthy graphite and tobacco around a midpalate of well-developed, lively acidity and fresh black fruit. Tenacious in oak and tannin, it needs time to develop further; enjoy 2024–2029. Cellar Selection.

Spottswoode 2015 Lyndenhurst Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, $85, 94 points. This remains one of the most impressive wines at its price point—a varietal wine blended with small amounts of Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot, from both the producer’s estate and other pedigreed sites. Tense acidity buoys a brawny tannic profile that settles into lushness texture, highlighted in black fruit, butter, gunpowder and plum. Editors’ Choice.

The Wines of Christmas Past, Present and Future

December 12, 2018 - 9:30am

From the Muppets to the Smurfs, George C. Scott to Bill Murray, with well over 100 adaptations on stage and screen alone, Charles Dickens’s “A Christmas Carol” may be the most widely adapted holiday tale of all time. Everyone knows the story by now, in which a miserly Ebenezer Scrooge is visited by three ghosts on Christmas Eve to show him the error of his curmudgeonly ways and the perils of a life lived in regret.

With 2018 quickly drawing to a close, we began to think about our own wines of past, present and future. Though our tasters, and annual vintage guide, go to great lengths to help you discover a wine’s prime drinking window, they can often get lost in the avalanche of the thousands of wines we review annually, or forgotten about in home cellars. So we’ve broken down selections to look for, from older vintages that are perfect to pop open now, to young wines that should be enjoyed in the present, as well as a selection of bottles perfect to begin cellaring now in order to make your future Christmases bright.

The wines of Christmas past / Getty Wines of Christmas Past

If there’s one quality that applies to wine more than any other alcoholic beverage, it is its potential to age. But when is the right time to open a wine? We’ve gone through our Buying Guide to compile a list of past vintages which are just now hitting their peak drinking window.

Tenuta San Guido 2010 Sassicaia (Bolgheri Sassicaia); $227, 97 points. This supremely elegant and age-worthy Sassicaia opens with an intense bouquet of black cherry, Mediterranean herbs, blue flower, cedar and leather aromas. Powerful but graceful, the palate delivers a vibrant core of black cherry accented with white pepper, mineral and balsamic notes alongside youthful but polished tannins and vibrant acidity. It’s not as exuberant as some of its counterparts, but it may outlive all the other Bolgheri 2010s. Drink 2018–2040. Kobrand. Cellar Selection. –Kerin O’Keefe

Emmerich Knoll 2013 Ried Loibenberg Riesling Smaragd (Wachau); $54, 96 points. This is so young, the yeast of the ferment still swings on the nose. Underneath that, tightly curled freshness suggests both candied lemon slices and lemon sorbet—but this needs time to unfurl its glory. Despite its slenderness, this wine has muscle and tone, structure and poise. The long finish is lip-smacking and moreish. Drink 2018–2025. Circo Vino. Cellar Selection. –Anne Krebiehl MW

Mvemve Raats 2011 MR de Compostella Red (Stellenbosch); $65, 94 points. This world-class blend of 52% Cabernet Franc, 20% Malbec, 13% Cabernet Sauvignon, 9% Merlot and 6% Petit Verdot is concentrated, structured and powerful, with the promise of a long life ahead. Earthy, herbal streaks of cigar box, licorice root, char and minty fynbos frame the lush fruit core of muddled boysenberry, black raspberry, plum and currant. The palate is bold and assertively flavored, with good evolution from jammy black fruit to earthy spice and finally leather and toast on the finish. Drink 2018–2024. Cape Classics. Cellar Selection. –Lauren Buzzeo

Eight Crazy Nights of Wine for Hanukkah

Matarromera 2011 Gran Reserva (Ribera del Duero); $125, 94 points. This is a deep, layered, tannic Tempranillo from an intense vintage. Its blackberry, black plum and cedar aromas are broad and lush. Chocolaty oak flavors enwrap its ripe blackberry fruit, remaining rich and long on the finish. Drink 2018–2026. USA Wine West. Cellar Selection. –Michael Schachner

Jada Vineyard & Winery 2013 Passing By Cabernet Sauvignon (Paso Robles Willow Creek District); $60, 93 points. This expertly structured wine will last for ages. It begins with dense blackberry jam, caramel, vanilla, fresh licorice and chocolate-ganache aromas. There is a density of flavors on the sip, but not an overwhelming weight, with black cherry, chocolate syrup and asphalt tones hung on chalky tannins that are a little firm right now. Drink 2018–2033. Cellar Selection. –Matt Kettmann

Les Belles Collines 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley); $65, 93 points. Given slightly less new oak (60%) than the producer’s Les Sommets bottling, this is an equally rewarding wine, blended with 12% Merlot. Red fruit dominates atop a soft grip of leather, pencil lead and cedar. The considerable density of the tannins and overall firm texture suggest this will benefit from further aging; drink 2018–2022. Cellar Selection. –Virginie Boone

Bryn Mawr Vineyards 2014 Reserve Pinot Noir (Eola-Amity Hills); $60, 92 points. Combine the two block selections and you come close to this reserve. There’s good intensity to the black-cherry fruit, and a base of minerality that gives it a mouthfeel as if it had been carved directly out of rock. Tight and ageworthy. Drink 2018–2026. Cellar Selection. –Paul Gregutt

Grey’s Peak 2015 Pinot Noir (Waipara Valley); $40, 90 points. Intriguing aromas of earth, raw meat, cola, menthol and dark cherry lead into a surprisingly powerful palate of prominent but well integrated tannins, broody dark fruit, and herbaceous flavors. This Pinot should be fascinating to try after a few years in the cellar. Drink 2018–2024. American Estates Wines, Inc. –Christina Pickard

The wines of Christmas present / Getty Wines of Christmas Present

If the holidays (and the ending to Dickens’s classic) teach us one thing, it’s never to forget to live in the moment. These wines are all meant to be consumed young and fresh, not to be hoarded like Scrooge did his money. Guaranteed to please the loved ones in your life, these bottles are best opened now.

Krug NV 21ème Edition Rosé Brut (Champagne); $299, 96 points. This wine has richness, maturity and intensity. It offers so many complexities and layers of flavor that come together in a red-fruit-flavored, lightly toasty wine that has freshness as well as some age. Drink now. Moët Hennessy USA. –R.V.

Bründlmayer NV Blanc de Blancs Extra Brut Reserve (Österreichischer Sekt); $60, 94 points. A rich tone of baked apple fills both nose and palate. Yeasty development is expressed as buttery patisserie notes, while lemony brightness lends a fresh, vivid aspect. The fizz is fine and very creamy. This is rich in its slenderness, opulent in stone fruit and flavor and yet ultrafresh. The long finish brims with ripe lemon. Drink now–2025. Terry Theise Estate Selections. –A.K.

Jim Barry 2013 The Armagh Shiraz (Clare Valley); $300, 94 points. The 2013 vintage was a warm year with a short harvest, and so the Jim Barry’s top red wine is more than ready to drink now. While it may not have as long a cellaring life as some of its predecessors, it’s still a beautiful a wine. It starts with aromas of dried flowers, Dr. Pepper, raisiny plums, raw meat, milk chocolate and spices like cumin, star anise and white pepper. The palate is still showing relatively juicy, primary fruit that’s sewn together with ultrafine, powdery tannins and an earthy spine. This is powerful yet finessed. Loosen Bros. USA.  Editors’ Choice. –C.P.

Celebrate the Birthday of “Silent Night” with Austrian Wine

Borgo del Tiglio 2016 Studio di Bianco (Collio); $80, 93 points. A blend of 40% Friulano, 40% Sauvignon and 20% Riesling, this structured white opens with aromas of toast, crushed stone, grilled herb and a whiff of yellow stone fruit. It’s full bodied, delivering baked apple, dried apricot, citrus zest, vanilla and butterscotch flavors. A hint of toasted almond and a savory, almost salty mineral note linger on the finish. Drink now or hold for even more complexity. Grand Cru Selections. –K.O.

Quady North 2014 Steelhead Run Vineyard Syrah (Applegate Valley); $32, 92 points. This soft Syrah opens with lush flavors of blueberry and ripe cherry. Some lightly liquorous barrel flavors add toast and walnuts into a long and sensuous finish. Drink now. –P.G.

Sutcliffe 2015 Cinsault (Colorado); $24, 91 points. Engaging aromas of forest berries and wild herbs are touched by savory white pepper and blue flowers on the nose of this light red. On the palate, delightful flavors of ripe red cherry, cranberry, granite and crushed thyme are supported by barely perceptible tannins and a peppery spice. There is a charming vein of acidity right from the start that weaves all the way through the wild black raspberry and white pepper-inflected finish. Drink now–2025. Editors’ Choice. –Fiona Adams

Mas des Bressades 2017 Cuvée Tradition Rosé (Costières de Nîmes); $14, 90 points. Initial whiffs of smoke and earth blow off to reveal bright red plum and bramble aromas here. Dry and refreshingly tart, it offers crisp raspberry and strawberry flavors nuanced by hints of garrigue and crushed stone. Drink now. Robert Kacher Selections. Best Buy. –Anna Lee C. Iijima

Substance 2016 Cs Cabernet Sauvignon (Columbia Valley); $15, 90 points. The aromas are compelling, with notes of fresh herb, black currant, black raspberry and black cherry, showing a pleasing sense of purity. The flavors are soft and pure, with sleek black-fruit notes lingering on the finish. Firm tannins back it up. It’s a fruitful expression of the variety and a superb value. Drink now. Best Buy. –Sean P. Sullivan

Bodegas Muriel 2017 Pazo Cilleiro Albariño (Rías Baixas); $20, 90 points.  Nectarine and tangerine aromas are bright and clean. On the palate, this is plump yet balanced by a zip of acidity. Orange, nectarine and honey flavors finish with length and a sense of healthy ripeness. Drink now. Quintessential Wines. —M.S.

Spier 2017 Sauvignon Blanc (Stellenbosch); $9 89 points. Medium-intense notes of fresh orange, firm mango, green melon and ripe gooseberry form the bouquet of this easy-to-like wine. The palate is well balanced, with ample acidity that highlights the crisp tropical and citrus fruits. Hints of lemon and lime peel lend a pithy accent to the finish. Enjoy it for its freshness now. Saranty Imports. Best Buy. –L.B.

The wines of Christmas future / Getty Wines of Christmas Future

While you enjoy aged older vintages and fresh young wines, find some time to lay down bottles for future generations. Many of these bottlings will last decades into the future, ensuring friends and loved ones will be drinking well for holidays to come.

Sattlerhof 2013 Trockenbeerenauslese Sauvignon Blanc TBA (Südsteiermark); $65, 100 points. The allure of caramel and smoke hits first, after which a cloud of the purest apricot essence reaches the senses. The viscous palate tingles with disarmingly sharp acidity, balanced by incredibly luscious sweetness. Layer upon layer of apricot, passion fruit and candied lemon unleashes itself in this clean, precise TBA. It offers marvel concentration and purity. Drink until 2040. Craft + Estate–The Winebow Group. Cellar Selection. –A.K.

Pol Roger 2008 Cuvée Sir Winston Churchill Brut (Champagne); $293, 100 points. One of the great Champagnes both for its richness and its longevity, this latest incarnation is superb. The wine’s richness is linked to the ripe fruit and the dominance of Pinot Noir in the blend. It also shines in the perfect balance between the texture, the minerality and the integration of the fruit. It can be enjoyed now, but it will be better from 2020 and then for many years to come. Frederick Wildman & Sons, Ltd. Cellar Selection. –R.V.

FEL 2015 Savoy Vineyard Pinot Noir (Anderson Valley); $70, 97 points. Sleek, vivid and sophisticated, this wine wows with fresh, concentrated tones. There’s a sense of taut balance between acidity and ripeness, with a laser focus of raspberry, cherry and strawberry flavors that extend the finish for minutes. This great wine from a celebrated vineyard is an excellent choice for the cellar, best enjoyed after 2023. Cellar Selection. –Jim Gordon

Proprietà Sperino 2012 Lessona; $75, 96 points. Structured, vibrant and boasting extreme elegance, this radiant Nebbiolo opens with enticing scents of iris, violet and crushed aromatic herb. The chiseled palate has wonderful intensity and precision, delivering red cherry, raspberry compote, star anise and Lessona’s classic salty finish. It’s still young and nervous but impeccably balanced, with taut, refined tannins and firm acidity. Give it time to unwind and fully develop. Drink 2023–2043. Petit Pois. Cellar Selection. –K.O.

Get into the Holiday Spirit with Boozy Advent Calendars

Quilceda Creek 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon (Columbia Valley); $200, 96 points. This hails from Champoux, Lake Wallula, Palengat and Wallula Gap Vineyards. The aromas draw you into the glass, evoking anise, blackberry, black raspberry, graphite and exotic spices. The flavors show intense depth, richness and hedonism, and the finish seems endless. Best from 2029–2036. Cellar Selection. –S.S.

Rudolf Fürst 2015 Hundsrück GG Spätburgunder (Franken); $200, 96 points. Ripe but restrained black-cherry and berry aromas are accented by complexities of violet, lavender and herbs on the nose of this boldly structured Spätburgunder. It’s an opulent wine boasting fleshy layers of black plum and mulberry peppered with spice and dense, mouthcoating tannins. Hold till 2025 to allow this lavish wine to meld but enjoy for years to come. Rudi Wiest Selections. Cellar Selection. –A.I.

Foxen 2016 Block 8 Bien Nacido Vineyard Pinot Noir (Santa Maria Valley); $64, 94 points. This block-designated wine is intense in hearty aromas of black raspberry, dried mint and loamy earth. Spiced cake and sharp purple-flower flavors arise on the palate, but it’s the dark, penetrating and focused boysenberry and dark-fruit flavors that command attention. Drink 2019–2036. Cellar Selection. –M.K.

Finca Allende 2015 Gaminde Single Vineyard Estate Bottled (Rioja); $75, 94 points. This wine’s blueberry and cassis aromas are accented by wet clay notes. Its saturated palate is so dense it requires a drill to get through in this youthful stage. Offering deep blackberry and dark chocolate flavors, it finishes with melting tannins and a lasting note of burnt wood. Drink through 2035. New Age Imports. Cellar Selection. –M.S.

Trisaetum 2017 Estates Reserve Riesling (Willamette Valley); $42, 93 points. This young wine has all the components for long-term ageability, though they are still melding together. Dense tree-fruit flavors, apple cider and almost syrupy peach are all evident, with a dusting of powdered sugar. What keeps it lively and fresh is the appealing acidity. Drink 2020–2030. Cellar Selection. –P.G.

Yalumba 2012 The Tri-Centenary Grenache (Barossa); $56, 92 points. From the oldest plot of the Tri-Centenary vineyards (1889), of which just 820 vines remain, this Grenache is an inky-hued, dense version of the variety, swimming with plush, almost raisiny blackberry fruit, cola, dusting polish, mocha and spice. The full-bodied palate offers more rich, dark fruit and tight-grained, dusty tannins. This is a classy drop and should age beautifully through 2028. Negociants USA–The Winebow Group. Cellar Selection. –C.P.

Masciarelli 2015 Marina Cvetic Riserva (Montepulciano d’Abruzzo); $30, 91 points. Sourced from the winery’s San Martino estate in Chieti, this wine is inviting in aromas of clove, tobacco and dill that waft over a dense core of red-skinned berries. The palate displays rich red-fruit tones underscored by oak spice, with fine-grained tannins and structured acidity delivering support and length. Give it time in the cellar to fully integrate; drink 2020–2025. Vintus LLC. Cellar Selection. –Alexander Peartree

Your Guide to Sustainable Wine Certifications

December 11, 2018 - 1:41pm

How can wine be “green”? It’s not as straightforward as you might think. Symbols and letters on the back of wine labels indicate some kind of commitment to the environment, but to what extent? While the benefits of cultivating and producing wine in a responsible manner can aid the environment and ecosystem, the nuances can be confusing. Here, we break down the “what” and “why” of different wine certifications.

Wine can have multiple sustainability certifications. Organic

“Certified Organic” wines must meet the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) National Organic Program’s criteria in both farming and production, as well as requirements set by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau. At its core, the organic program is about the protection of natural resources, to promote biodiversity and limit the use of synthetic products, especially in the vineyards.

Once the vinification process begins, substances like commercial yeast must also be certified as organic. Naturally occurring sulfites are permitted, but sulfite additives are not allowed. This is just a small sample of protocol. Additionally, certification is an arduous, three-year process during which producers have to transition vineyards by discontinuing any use of prohibited substances.

How Yeast Works to Make Your Favorite Wines

For Sarah McCrea, vice president, marketing and strategy, of Long Meadow Ranch in Napa Valley, organic certification has long been a goal. When she sold Stony Hill Vineyard in September 2018 to Long Meadow Ranch, which has exhibited expertise in organic viticulture, she saw an opportunity to complete the transition of the vineyards. Through the elimination of synthetics, herbicides and pesticides, Stony Hill can take its farming to the next level, she says.

The USDA also offers a “made with organic grapes” label, where viticultural practices are the same as certified organic, but there’s more leeway with permitted substances like non-organic yeast and added sulfites in the winery.

Organic certifications in other parts of the world, like the European Union, differ from U.S. guidelines. In addition, while International Organization for Standardization (ISO) guidelines regulate winemaking processes globally, there are no rules for organic production methods.

At Hedges Family, poultry roam the vineyards / Photos by Kim Fetrow Demeter

Biodynamics is the next step beyond organics. Based on Rudolf Steiner’s ideology, biodynamics views the entire estate as a living organism. Naturally occurring cycles like moon phases dictate when to harvest, and there’s even a calendar for optimal wine-tasting days.

Special concoctions of herbs, minerals and manure may also be planted in the soil to aid fertilization. It’s one of the few certifications recognized globally, but in the U.S., just a handful of wineries like Hedges Family Estate have earned Demeter’s “Certified Biodynamic” seal.

Relying on Animals for Sustainable Winemaking Sustainable wine certifications

Sustainability encompasses the same environmental concerns as organic and biodynamic practices, but it also accounts for the winery’s role in the community. Under this umbrella, there are multiple certifications, but each has a slightly different emphasis and methodology. However, most conduct annual self-assessments and are audited regularly by a neutral third party.

Certified California Sustainable Winegrowing (CCSW)

The largest of the sustainable certifications, CCSW places an emphasis on the production of high-quality California wine. The “Certified Sustainable” seal, which is issued by the California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance, covers multiple aspects of a winery’s operations, from utilizing Integrated Pest Management (IPM) to greenhouse gas emissions to providing employee educational benefits. Established in 2010, producers under the CCSW label can have their vineyard, winery, or both certified sustainable. For Honig Vineyard & Winery, which runs on solar power and pays strict attention to water conservation, the third-party audit helps create consumer confidence, says Stephanie Honig, director of communications and export.

The rooftop solar panels of Stoller Family Estate’s Tasting Room / Photo by Mike Haverkate SIP Certified

While CCSW started as a statewide initiative, Sustainability in Practice (SIP) began as a regional effort in California’s Central Coast area in 2008. After expanding throughout the state, they recently started certifying vineyards elsewhere beginning with Michigan’s Waterfire Vineyards. Labor is of particular importance for SIP Certified wineries.

“The farm worker is the backbone of any farming organization,” says Steve McIntyre, of McIntyre Vineyards, one of the founders of the program. According to McIntyre as well as Paul Clifton of Hahn Winery, medical insurance and continuing education for workers contribute to a strong, loyal team that in turn create better wine, which leads to better profits, which funnels back into worker care and environmental efforts.

The Beginner's Guide to Natural Wine Lodi Rules

In addition to more than 100 sustainability standards, Lodi Rules implements a unique Pesticide Environmental Assessment System (PEAS) that examines the impact pesticides have on workers and the vineyard’s ecosystem. One of the original sustainability certifications, Lodi Rules started in 1992 as a farmer education program before pivoting to a regional sustainability certification in 2005. It went international in 2017 when Golan Heights Winery and Galil Mountain Winery in Israel certified their vineyards.

“We thought it was a great opportunity to join a high-quality existing program and avoid having to develop our own standard, thereby saving time and speeding up the process,” says Victor Schoenfeld, chief winemaker at Golan Heights. “Our goal is now to have Lodi Rules become the Israeli standard for vineyard sustainability.”

Low Input Viticulture and Enology (LIVE) Certified

Wineries in the Pacific Northwest often choose to become LIVE Certified, which takes into account unique attributes of the region. For instance, chemicals that cause ecological issues in warmer regions are permitted with no issues, or not requiring cover crops in vineyards located in arid climates. “Our approach is to work with nature, instead of fighting it,” says Melissa Burr, vice president of winemaking for the Stoller Family Estate, a LIVE-certified winery. “By fostering a habitat that supports pests’ natural predators, we encourage the ecosystem that keeps them in check.”

Red Tail Winery’s LEED-certified winery / Photo courtesy of Red Tail Winery Other Certifications Salmon Safe

Through a partnership network, many LIVE- or Demeter-certified wineries in the Pacific Northwest also seek a Salmon Safe seal, like Left Coast Estate in Oregon. The certification focuses on water-quality protection so aquatic ecosystems—and the prized salmon—can thrive.

Although the certification process was lengthy and expensive, Red Tail Ridge Winery’s use of geothermal energy in the winemaking process allowed them to reduce energy consumption by 50%.
Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED)

Environmentally conscious winemaking isn’t limited to the vineyards. Nancy Irelan, co-owner/winemaker at Red Tail Ridge Winery in the Finger Lakes region of New York, built the state’s first Gold Certified LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) winery in 2009. Issued by the U.S. Green Building Council, LEED certification is based on the sustainability and environmental impact of a winery’s design, construction and building operations. The certification levels—Silver, Gold and Platinum—is based on a points system.

Having worked in the sustainability sector in her previous career as vice president of research and development at E. & J. Gallo, Irelan and her husband, Michael Schnelle, wanted the winery to be “representative of our values and aspirations for the community,” she says.

Geothermal heating and cooling, water conservation and the use of recycled materials in construction are just a few of the measures taken.

Although the certification process was lengthy and expensive, their use of geothermal energy in the winemaking process allowed them to reduce energy consumption by 50%, says Irelan. “Due primarily to this factor, we saw a return in our investment in two-and-a-half years,” she says.

Six Producers Bringing out the Best in California Zinfandel

December 11, 2018 - 9:30am

Only a winemaker with a deep independent streak and an intentional avoidance of marketplace realities would devote their career to Zinfandel. The vines are difficult to manage, the wine is challenging to make and sales are perennially lukewarm, except among a small, dedicated following of Zin lovers.

Yet, such winemakers do exist, and the world is better because of them. The best Zin masters turn the fruit of gnarled old vines into bold, nuanced and expressive wines.

Zinfandel is known as California’s heritage variety. While it appears to have originated in what’s now Croatia, the grape came to the state in the mid 1840s. Production began to surge after the 1849 Gold Rush, well before the now-common French varieties were popular. It grew well in the Mediterranean climate and made good-quality wine in various styles, from sparkling and dessert wines to red and rosé still selections.

Zin was the “darling of the California wine industry in the 1880s,” says wine historian and author Charles L. Sullivan. It was the most widely planted red grape in the state as late as 1998, when Cabernet Sauvig­non replaced it atop the list.

Its lineage and widespread plantings account for the many small patches of old vines today. The vines survive in spite of Zinfandel’s notoriously uneven ripening habits, susceptibility to mildew and bunch rot, and only moderate color and tannin components. Grown in the right places, it has an exuberant berry-like, briary and spicy flavor profile that can be irresistible.

These six Zinfandel producers do it right. Unlike the mass-market Zins that wow drinkers with high alcohol and oaky, jammy flavors, these small-quantity, vineyard designated bottlings reflect their sites in widespread regions of the state. The wines embody subtlety and structure as they paint unique impressions of California terroir. —Jim Gordon

Tom Greenough (left) and Bill Greenough (right) of Saucelito Canyon / Photo by Shelly Waldman Bill & Tom Greenough A Zinfandel Legacy

At Saucelito Canyon, crafting nuanced Zinfandel isn’t much different today than it was when founder Bill Greenough made wine nearly 40 years ago.

“My dad’s first wines in the early 1980s were really low alcohol, 13% across the board,” says Tom Greenough, Bill’s son and the current winemaker. “Styles have changed over the years, but we’ve always tried to keep it consistent.”

Bill found the remote property surrounded by mountains behind Arroyo Grande in 1974. It was home to forgotten Zinfandel vines planted by English homesteader Henry Ditmas in 1880. Just three acres, it had been San Luis Obispo’s County’s first commercial vineyard. But the vines were abandoned around Prohibition.

Upon discovering the plot, Bill began to bring the head-pruned, dry-farmed vineyard back to life slowly. His first releases, red and white Zinfandel, were from the 1982 vintage, and he sold them from the trunk of his car.

Those restored acres still form the core of Saucelito Canyon’s estate program, which produces about 5,000 cases a year across 18 different bottlings, mostly Zinfandel varietal wines or blends.

Time to Take a Deep Look at Santa Barbara's World-Class Wines

The wines offer bright acidity and a high skin-to-juice ratio, as the old clones don’t produce very heavy clusters or big grapes. The Greenoughs enhance complexity by staggering picking times from early on through later in the season.

“The wines from here are naturally very well balanced,” says Bill, who’s focused on farming these days. “They’re not quite so big and bold. The fruit is a lot more subtle.”

He believes Tom is more adventurous in the cellar, where he cold-soaks some lots—“that used to scare me to death,” says Bill—and puts others through open-top barrel fermentation. With Zinfandel, ripeness can vary among grapes in the same cluster, so the biggest challenge is determining the grape’s sugar content at harvest.

For Tom, that’s the key to “ensure a good, clean fermentation and not get really high alcohols.”

Taking on the challenge does have its reward. Saucelito Canyon continues to make fans with its Zinfandel.

“Zinfandel had the connotation for only being really big, giant, jammy, really extracted style of wine,” says Tom. “When people try our wines and other good Zinfandel producers, they can be really surprised when it is a more elegant wine, instead of being super sweet and really alcoholic.” —Matt Kettmann

Joe Shebl of Fiddletown Cellars / Photo by Shelly Waldman Joe Shebl Seeking the Soul of a Site

Shebl is director of winemaking and general manager of Renwood Winery, one of the biggest and best Zinfandel producers in Amador County and the Sierra Foothills. He’s a strategic winemaker who’s not shy about using French oak barrels, adding a particular yeast strain that enhances a wine’s glycerol or even reducing alcohol through membrane filtration when he thinks it’s necessary.

But he gives the credit for Renwood’s impressive Zinfandels to Amador County’s shallow soils, relatively high elevation and the warm days tempered by cool evening breezes that come down from the Sierra Mountains.

“My battle cry at the winery is to find the best sites and let the fruit show through in the resulting wine,” says Shebl. “Freshness, vitality and drinkability are our hallmarks. To showcase that kind of Zinfandel, it doesn’t have to be a high-alcohol, monster wine. We’re able to preserve the soul of the site.”

Shebl started at Renwood in 1999 as a cellar worker and rose to assistant winemaker. He left in 2009 to start his own winery, Fiddletown Cellars, which also produces outstanding Zinfandels from individual sites. Ultimately, however, he would return to Renwood in 2013—it’s as if his career has come full circle.

Shebl’s Renwood wines are firm in tannins and fairly big at 14.5% alcohol, but that’s wimpy compared to some of his neighbors that register 15% and higher. The differences in the sites show through, with Riker Vineyard displaying boisterous blackberry character and Story Vineyard laden with seductive lilac aroma.

“I am lucky enough to be able to make them the way I like to drink them,” he says. “We get more of a finesse-driven style by picking sites that have the weight, but [we’re] going for the sweet-sour balance in the wine. I like it when a wine starts ‘sweet’ and soft, but has some acidity behind it.” —J.G.

Bob Biale of Robert Biale Vineyards / Photo by Shelly Waldman Bob Biale A Hero of Heritage

If you visit Grande Vineyard along the Silverado Trail with Biale, you might be invited into Dorothy Rossi’s house for fresh-baked cookies. Her family has farmed this piece of land since 1920, still tending to many of the original vines.

Grande is one of the knockout single-­vineyard designates made by Biale and his team at Robert Biale Vineyards. Such unique, long-standing parcels are the stuff that Biale’s Zinfandel dreams are made of.

It all started with the Aldo Vineyard in Napa, in the middle of what’s now the Oak Knoll District. The plot is named after Biale’s father, Aldo, who found the head-trained Zinfandel vineyard planted in 1937. Despite urging, Aldo refused to replant the land with trendier grapes like Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon. He was known to quip, “My dad grew Zinfandel and I’m sticking with Zinfandel.”

The familial vineyard and his father’s persistence in producing Zinfandel was an inspiration to Biale when he founded Robert Biale Vineyards in 1991 with childhood friend and fellow Napa native, Dave Pramuk.

Saving America’s Indigenous Wine Grapes

“Zinfandel is not only an ideal wine grape for Napa Valley, and California in general, it symbolizes our forefathers’ immigrant heritage story,” says Biale. “It’s a hardy grape that came from the Old World, adapted to a new land and went on to great success as the foundation of American winemaking.”

Biale works with dozens of historic Zinfandel and mixed-blacks sites across Napa Valley and Sonoma, on which he applies more Burgundian winemaking techniques. In 2013, Biale hired Trester “Tres” Goetting, another Napa native, to help craft the wines.

Aldo’s and Grande are two of the crown jewels in Biale’s portfolio. The winery also makes Zinfandel from the Falleri Vineyard in Calistoga, a living relic of California’s field-blend era, farmed by members of the Falleri family since the 1920s.

Other notable sites in Biale’s lineup include the Old Kraft Vineyard west of St. Helena that dates to the 1890s, one of the oldest vineyards in California; R.W. Moore Vineyard in Coombsville, originally planted to Zinfandel in 1905; and the Varozza Vineyard in St. Helena, which has been farmed by the Varozza family since 1913.

“Our remaining old vineyards in Napa are like historic treasures,” says Biale. It’s good to know that they’re in great hands. —Virginie Boone

Jake Bilbro of Limerick Lane / Photo by Shelly Waldman Jake Bilbro A Sense of Place in Sonoma

Limerick Lane is a historic brand and rambling estate vineyard largely devoted to Zinfandel, which is unusual for the Russian River Valley. Though the oldest producing part of the vineyard dates to 1910, Bilbro, a Sonoma County native who took over the property in 2011, is just its third owner.

“The longer I spend at Limerick Lane, not just in the vineyard or in the winery, but living on the property, the more convinced I am that it is a truly magical site,” says Bilbro, the son of Marietta Cellars founder Chris Bilbro. “The site speaks louder to me than the variety in many ways. Our wines, while full-bodied, are less about ripe fruit and more about the interplay between tannin, acidity and fruit.”

Bilbro’s wines show a real sense of place. They combine the power of a relatively warm knoll just south of Healdsburg with the cooling influence of the Russian River Valley appellation.

This is rare dirt for Zin, a variety that remains popular and respected within Sonoma County, even as the area continues to evolve and refine its plentiful Pinot Noir and Chardonnay offerings.

But Zinfandel’s history in Sonoma County is significant. The county has the second-most Zinfandel acreage after San Joaquin, with a little more than 5,000 acres planted. Zin vineyards that date back to pre-Prohibition dot the region, and some of the most important producers to put the grape on the map are based here.

Limerick Lane’s Rocky Knoll Zinfandel has been our highest-scoring Sonoma County Zin for two vintages in a row (2013 and 2014). A dry-farmed, rocky outcropping of vines interspersed with Petite Sirah and Carignan, it’s full-bodied yet balanced and beautifully put together.

“My goal isn’t to be considered a great Zinfandel producer, a great Sonoma County producer or even a great California producer, although I hope we are perceived as fitting into all of those categories,” says Bilbro. “My goal is to have Limerick Lane seen as a world-class estate producer alongside the great estates whose wines happen to be Cabernet, Pinot Noir, Syrah, Chardonnay, et cetera.”

His hands full with the winery and being a father to four kids, Bilbro has slowly begun passing the winemaking reins for Limerick Lane to superstar Chris Pittenger.

Pittenger has been winemaker at Limerick Lane since July. He also makes the wines for his own brand, Gros Ventre Cellars, and was previously winemaker at Skinner Vineyards. —V.B.

Scott Harvey of Scott Harvey Wines / Photo by Shelly Waldman Scott Harvey Finding Beauty in Difficulty

What’s more difficult to make: Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon or Sierra Foothills Zinfandel? Harvey, who’s crafted wines for almost 45 years, has made both more times than he can count. To him, the answer is easy. To make Zin, he contends, is not.

Harvey took his first winemaking job at Montevina Winery in Amador County in 1974, and the next year did an official work-study winemaking apprenticeship in Germany. Returning to California, he spent the next two decades making Zinfandel and other wines for Story Winery, Santino Winery and Renwood Winery, also in the Sierra Foothills.

In 1996, Harvey was recruited as partner, winemaker and president of Folie à Deux Winery in Napa. The winery was purchased out of foreclosure, and he was tasked with the mission to revive the operation.

“When I first went over to Napa and got a load of Cabernet Sauvignon delivered to the winery, I said, ‘No wonder people like making wine over here,’ ” says Harvey. “The fruit was pristine, evenly ripened and beautiful.”

Make Room in Your Cellar for California Red Blends

Harvey produced award-winning Cabernet Sauvignons from the winery’s Estate Vineyards in Napa Valley, but he also continued his passion for Amador Zin. He used the region’s best vineyard sites and relationships with local growers to produce exciting wines under the Folie à Deux brand.

Eight years later, Harvey returned to Amador County to launch his brand, Scott Harvey Wines. He knows the intricacies and potential shortcomings of the grape well, but what he is concerned about is the challenge that wine lovers face when choosing a Zinfandel.

“What’s happening in Zin is that my style is hard to find, with lighter color, still 14.5% alcohol, but not that huge residual sugar and low acidity that you find in what I call ‘New World-style’ wines,” he says. “I think the consumer is becoming confused. When I go into a restaurant myself, I am absolutely not ordering a Zinfandel if I don’t know which one it is.”

His solution has been to place a graphic on the back label of Scott Harvey Zinfandel bottles. It depicts a style scale from left to right that ranges from New World to Old World, the latter end where Harvey places his winged dragon logo. It serves to show where his dry, non-oaky, complex and high-elevation wines stand. —J.G.

Robert Henson of Peachy Canyon Winery / Photo by Shelly Waldman Robert Henson Perfecting Paso Robles

When Doug and Nancy Beckett launched Peachy Canyon Winery with 350 cases of old-vine Zinfandel in 1988, the former San Diego teachers became Paso Robles wine country pioneers.

For more than 25 years, the pair crafted rich, jammy Zins that would become the emerging region’s hallmark style with the help of their sons, Josh and Jake, who also co-founded Chronic Cellars.

Then, in 2015, the Becketts hired Robert Henson as winemaker and shifted course. Over the past three years, Henson has explored how Zinfandel can translate the terroir of the family’s five estate vineyards.

“Picked at the right time and treated with restraint, Zinfandel shows sense of place as well as any other grape,” says Henson. “It’s more like Pinot Noir than anyone knows.”

And it is often considered more challenging than Pinot Noir in the vineyard. “A perfectly ripe cluster has raisins,” he says. “If you pick without raisins, you get a green flavor, so optimal ripeness has some raisins.”

Henson worked in restaurants in the decade following college, as he opened about 45 properties for Brinker International. He then studied winemaking at California State University, Fresno, and worked for Michael Michaud, who crafted legendary Chalone Vineyard wines before he started his namesake label.

“I didn’t realize how important an apprenticeship would be,” says Henson. It was while working for Michaud that his tastes shifted from heavy Napa Cabs and Super Tuscans to more delicate, ageworthy wines. “I unlearned everything I knew,” he says.

That more delicate approach is what Henson applies to the Peachy Canyon wines. He has helped replant many of the older vineyard blocks and even dialed back production from a peak of 100,000 cases to about 50,000.

One of his favorite projects is the D-Block, a one-acre plot of 18 heritage Zinfandel clones from across the state that the University of California, Davis, collected years ago. The grapes are picked at once and go into the same bottling. The resulting complexity, Henson says, is “because all of the clones hit these different peaks and valleys.”

It’s just one more reason to revisit this new era of Zin. And one more reason why, as Henson says, “people are remembering that they like Zinfandel again.” —M.K.

How Donna Parker Builds Relationships and Continues to Grow WinePro Recruiters

December 10, 2018 - 12:24pm

If you are looking for a job in the wine industry, you might want to see Donna Parker. The founder of WinePro Recruiter International, Parker specializes in wine industry recruitment. We caught up with the staffing veteran to learn what it takes to make it in the wine business.

When is the Wine Industry Hiring?

“Hiring revolves around the timing of the winery or crush,” says Parker. “It’s pretty quiet in August and September.”

The seasonality of winemaking determines her daily routine much more than the Labor Department’s jobless numbers. Throughout November, December and January is when Parker says she gets the majority of calls from people telling her, “Donna, here’s what I do. Here’s what I’d like to do and here’s where I’d like to do it. And what do you think?”

“Anyone who would like to think about changing jobs is contacting me, from New York to California, Oregon and Washington and everywhere in between,” she says.

Experience Matters and Conversations Build Relationships

Parker has been working as a job recruiter in the industry for more than 30 years.

“No one else was doing anything like this at the time,” she says.

She has placed winemakers, top executives, middle managers, cellar masters, lab directors, sales directors and marketing managers, building strong relationships with wineries over the last three decades. Her business is mostly from word of mouth.

“I don’t do cold calls. I never have. Wineries call me, and then we engage in the conversation [about] what the heck does a recruiter do and could I be of value to you,” says Parker.

Some of Parker’s clients include Williams Selyem, Acacia Vineyard, SummerWood Winery and Kendall-Jackson Wine Estates.

Liv-ex is Proof You're Not Condemned to Wall Street Relationships and Reputation are Key

Most of her clients are mid-size and smaller wineries, and their situations tend to be highly competitive.

Parker works on a retainer basis. “I’m in favor of having a partnership with the person I work for, and when they give you upfront money, they’re your partners. [That] is what motivates me to work hard every day: having partners.”

Those looking for a job, she says, find her because of her reputation. “I’ve been in this business for so long that people know the name,” Parker says.

Trust is Important

Looking for a job and trying to find out what is available can create a sense of vulnerability for people.

“They want to talk to someone whose name they have heard for a long time,” Parker says.

She also stresses that confidentiality and discretion are vital to her success.

“You’ve got to trust the person who’s got your résumé, that it won’t go to the wrong person,” she says.

Parker has a small office in downtown Santa Rosa, California where “we can talk. It’s very private and often employers, winery owners, will choose to meet there.”

She does not deal in volume. “I know my clients at both ends of the transaction,” says Parker. “The wine industry is an industry of relationships, and that couldn’t be more true here.”

Advice to Employers

She has a piece of advice for every employer, be they in or out of the wine business.

“When people call me and tell me they want to look for another job, it’s never about money. It’s always about how they’re treated. How they’re managed means more to them than anything.”

Parker suggests “scheduling time just to listen to how things are going. Listen to your people.”

Local Meets Global in Portland, Oregon

December 10, 2018 - 8:45am

Portland originally earned the nickname Stumptown because its rapid growth meant that freshly cut tree stumps littered empty lots. Today, the city’s food and drink scene continues apace, marked by an emphasis on locally grown and produced ingredients, and playful combinations of flavors from around the world. With the Willamette Valley just an hour out of town, there’s wonderful wine everywhere, too.

Multnomah Whiskey Library / Photo by Shelly Waldman Drink

The Southeast Wine Collective is an urban winery and bar/restaurant rolled into one. Stop by for a flight of local sips in a casual environment. Geeks will delight in Thelonious Wines, a bottle shop and tasting room opened by two somms who sought to educate drinkers about uncommon grapes. Put a little sparkle in your life at Ambonnay Champagne Bar, a cozy spot to enjoy bubbles. For those hankering for something harder than wine, Multnomah Whiskey Library has an impressive selection. Local cocktail savant Jeffrey Morgenthaler’s Pépé le Moko serves barrel-aged cocktails in a sophisticated yet bunker-like setting. For a casual vibe and nonstop happy hour, bright, airy Shift Drinks is the place.

Nostrana / Photo by Shelly Waldman Eat

In a city packed with great restaurants, it’s hard to know where to start, but breakfast makes a good beginning. Måurice opens at 10 a.m. with coffee and pastries. For faster, more casual eats, check out the city’s food-cart pods—Alder Street is the biggest. When you’re ready for dinner, try Bistro Agnes for beautifully prepared renditions of French cuisine. Nostrana is a Portland institution for house-made pastas served alongside delicate salads from its own kitchen garden. Both also have exciting, mostly Old World wine lists, with a few favorite local bottles in the mix. It’s hard to find a more fun dinner experience than Kachka, where horseradish vodka is a must for washing down pickles and pelmeni dumplings.

International Rose Test Garden / Photo by Shelly Waldman See

Take your allergy medicine before going for a stroll through any of the city’s stunning botanical reserves: Lan Su Chinese Garden, the Portland Japanese Garden and the International Rose Test Garden, where 650 varieties of the flower are planted. For a look at the city’s less-rosy history, tour Portland Underground, a network of subterranean tunnels that once connected saloons, brothels and other places of ill repute. If you need to clean off all that shady past, the Kennedy School Soaking Pool is a little oasis in a former school turned hotel.

Powell’s City of Books / Photo by Shelly Waldman Shop

No trip to Portland is complete without a stop at Powell’s City of Books, which boasts that it’s the largest independent bookstore in the world. Connected to Powell’s, Union Way is a covered breezeway with shops selling all things small-batch and artisanal, from leather goods to shaving products to candy.

Eugene, Oregon, Is for Wine Lovers

Fashion seekers should wander NW 23rd Street in Portland’s Nob Hill district for designer boutiques, while vintage lovers can get their fix at Portland Flea + Food.

Photo by Shelly Waldman 4 Hour Getaway

Yamhill County, about an hour outside of Portland, makes a great starting point for exploring Willamette Valley wines. Black Tie Tours arranges affordable custom excursions. Let them know if you prefer small and rustic, big and glossy, or a mix of the two—or just key them into your favorite wines—and they can help plan your trip around the Yamhill-area AVAs. They also offer tours featuring samplings of Oregon’s distinctive indulgence, black truffles. Tasting rooms of wineries located farther afield can be found here, too, along OR 99-W in Dundee. Stop by a couple to pick up souvenirs on your way back to town.

Warm Almond and Cognac Cocktail

December 8, 2018 - 8:30am

Adapted from Devon Tarby, co-owner, The Normandie Club, Los Angeles

This may be the most virtuous version of a flip we’ve ever seen. The traditional flip template, more than 300 years old, combines a spirit, fortified wine or beer with sweetener and a whole egg.

Some modern-day flips have come to include cream as well.

Break out your most beautiful mug to hold this drink, which looks a little plain on its own, says Tarby. “A decorative wooden bowl, coffee mug or teacup can give the drink more character, just as tiki mugs do for tropical drinks.”

However, after a festive season full of thick nogs and buttered rums, a lighter version is welcome. Leave it to the wellness epicenter of Los Angeles to supply just the elixir.

Five Nightcap Cocktails to End the Day Right

Created by Co-owner Devon Tarby for sleek speakeasy The Normandie Club, this cocktail doesn’t contain dairy or eggs. The creamy texture comes instead from steamed almond milk, with rich Demerara syrup for added body, and the finished drink is served soothingly warm.

Almond Orchard 

Top 100 Spirits of 2018

December 7, 2018 - 1:29pm

As is the case every year, this list is culled from all the products reviewed in our Spirit Buying Guide over the past 12 months. And, as always, compiling it has been quite a treat, with selections ranging from rare single-vintage Armagnacs to Bourbons meant to represent the pinnacle of the distiller’s craft, like Wild Turkey Master’s Keep Revival, which nods to the legendary Jimmy Russell, or Booker’s Bourbon 2017 Sip Awhile, a tribute to Booker Noe.

Each year also brings delightful surprises, however. For example, who would have predicted a tropical-fruit-inflected gin from a newly launched Kentucky whiskey maker, like Rabbit Hole’s rye barrel-finished dry gin? Or an amaro that showcases arugula’s natural bitterness to pleasing effect, found in Italy’s Rucolino Amaro? How about a pink-tinged Tequila rested in Napa Cabernet barrels. Hello, Código 1530 Reposado.

Together, these are the pleasures of the spirits world. We’ll always have familiar standbys to comfort us, like classic Scotch whiskies, pristine vodkas and cozy brandies that gently warm and cheer with every sip. But at the same time, new, innovative bottlings add pep to our step. They push the industry forward and spark new cocktail ideas, too.

Now is the perfect time to celebrate the old and the new. We’re lucky to have both options in abundance. –Kara Newman

Click here for a downloadable PDF of our Top 100 Spirits of 2018.

Feast of the Seven Fishes

December 7, 2018 - 1:08pm

Throughout Italy, the traditional Christmas Eve meal is known as la vigilia, or “the vigil,” where red meat is not on the menu. But if you ask a native Italian about the Feast of the Seven Fishes, you’ll likely get the fish-eye—this seafaring feast earned its name in America. As waves of Italian immigrants arrived on our shores beginning in the 19th century, so did the adaptation of the seven-fish feast on Christmas Eve.

Here, seven chefs give us their favorite dishes to try.

Fish and seafood supplied by Mt. Kisco Seafood

Jump Straight to a Recipe Flounder Crudo Fritto di Sardine Tips for Buying the Freshest Fish Carmellina’s Christmas Fish Salad Pasta con le Sarde Salt Cod Stew Capón Magro Roasted Whole Fish with Herbs

Pasta con le Sarde

December 7, 2018 - 1:07pm

Courtesy Michael Ferreri, executive chef, Res Ipsa Cafe, Philadelphia

For a dish to receive prodotto agroalimentare tradizionale (PAT) status, says Ferreri, owner of Philadelphia’s charming Res Ipsa Cafe, it has to have certain ingredients prepared in a certain way. “Pasta con de Sarde is one of the only [PAT] pastas —it’s the national dish of Sicily,” he says. “It’s a fun way for us to really showcase what we do, which is almost entirely seafood.”

Feast of the Seven Fishes

Roasted Whole Fish with Herbs

December 7, 2018 - 1:07pm

Courtesy Nicola Marzovilla, owner, I Trulli, New York City

Puglia, located in the heel of Italy’s broad boot, is as famous for its seafood traditions as for the conical-shaped dwellings, trulli, that dot the countryside around Alborobello. Marzovilla emigrated with his family to the United States at age 10, and his elevated Southern Italian restaurant, I Trulli, nods to the great food culture of his home region. Each Christmas Eve, his restaurant’s Feast of the Seven Fishes is packed to the proverbial gills with simple yet spectacular dishes like this wood-fired, whole-roasted fish.

Feast of the Seven Fishes

Capón Magro

December 7, 2018 - 1:07pm

Courtesy Paolo Laboa, chef, Solo Italiano, Portland, Maine

This cake-styled dish takes effort, but its layered, flavor-packed results are worth it. Don’t be confused by the name, though. In this instance, capón isn’t fowl, but a Ligurian word for a particular red, mullet-like fish popular in the region. Halibut makes a great substitute.

Feast of the Seven Fishes

Carmelina’s Christmas Fish Salad

December 7, 2018 - 1:06pm

Courtesy Carmelina Pica, Enoteca Maria, Staten Island, NY

On New York City’s Staten Island, Jody Scaravella’s restaurant, Enoteca Maria, has a different nonna (grandmother) prepare the food of her region on a rotating schedule. The Naples-born Pica is renowned for her fresh, bright seafood salad, a southern Italian staple at any Christmas fish feast.

“We make a lot of things, like this fish salad, baccalà and shrimp. We make capitone, the eel,” says Pica of her family’s traditions for the vigilia. “We make everything, all kinds of things, for my family.”

Feast of the Seven Fishes

Salt Cod Stew

December 7, 2018 - 1:06pm

Courtesy David Pasternack, Esca, New York City

It isn’t an Italian Christmas Eve without baccalà, or salt-dried cod. While many families make this into an antipasto-style salad, Pasternack cooks his cod into a luscious, spicy ragù that clings gorgeously to polenta.

Pro tip: When you make polenta, Pasternack recommends an even ratio water to milk for the cooking liquid base to produce ultra-creamy results.

Feast of the Seven Fishes

Fritto di Sardine

December 7, 2018 - 1:06pm

Courtesy Cesare Casella, chef/dean of Italian Studies at the International Culinary Center, New York City

These whole, fried sardines melt in your mouth. Use a squeeze of lemon and the freshest fish you can find. “I like cooking with sardines in a simple way to bring out the quality of the fish,” says legendary Tuscan-born chef Casella. “The key to this dish is the freshness of the ingredients and the quality of the frying oil.”

Feast of the Seven Fishes

Flounder Crudo

December 7, 2018 - 1:05pm

Courtesy Ken Vedrinski, owner/executive chef, Trattoria Lucca, Charleston, SC

Vedrinski discovered his love of cooking in his Abruzzo-born Italian grandmother’s kitchen. “For us, they serve a lot of crudo where my family is from on the Adriatic,” says Vedrinski. His restaurant offers an annual Feast of the Seven Fish dinner. “My grandma always did this.”

Feast of the Seven Fishes

Celebrate the Birthday of “Silent Night” with Austrian Wine

December 7, 2018 - 9:11am

Sung in English, Spanish, French and its native German, performed by choirs, orchestras and even Jamaican steel bands, “Silent Night, Holy Night” is the world’s most recorded Christmas carol. This year, the song celebrates its 200th birthday.

The words were written in 1816 by village curate Joseph Mohr in Salzburg , Austria. In 1818 it was set to music by his friend, local teacher Franz Gruber. Since the singing was accompanied by a guitar, a nonliturgical instrument, Gruber and Mohr first performed it after the Christmas Eve mass of 1818 in the village of Oberndorf, just north of Salzburg.

The simplicity of the song, intended as a lullaby for the baby Jesus, was part of its huge appeal. It spread via touring singers to Germany and beyond. It was first performed in New York in 1839 and has been an integral part of the holiday season ever since. Austrian tradition dictates that it should only be sung after 5pm on Christmas Eve.

To celebrate the carol’s bicentennial in true Austrian style, what could be more fitting than toasting it with a glass of sweet Austrian wine, especially from the spectacular 2015 vintage? Gerhard Kracher, director/winemaker of Weinlaubenhof Kracher, sweet wine specialist from Illmitz in Burgenland, Austria, explains why this was such a special year for sweet wines.

“2015 was exceptional and rare. All year it was warm and dry which usually is not conducive to the development of botrytis,” says Kracher. “But rain arrived in October followed by a gorgeous Indian summer. Botrytis spread quickly and evenly, and we could make sweet wines of exquisite concentration and harmony.”

For an even more Austrian experience, try baking Vanillekipferl, a simple but delicious hazelnut and vanilla crescent-shaped Christmas cookie. Kipferl and a Trockenbeerenauslese (TBA) from Kracher with Silent Night playing in the background are bound to put you in a festive mood.

Easy Crescent Cookies Recommended Austrian sweet wines

Heidi Schröck 2015 Ruster Ausbruch Auf den Flügeln der Morgenröte Welschriesling (Burgenland); $80, 100 points. On the nose, a hint of dark fir honey shows with a streak of its pleasant bitterness. Fresh notes of apple and lemon zest mix with the earthy notes of botrytis. On the palate, this zestiness unfolds completely, crashing with the full force of its fruit like roaring surf against a rock. That lovely element of noble bitterness still holds sway, creating a sensation of the most intense but also precise sweetness. Drink until 2040, at least. Skurnik Wines, Inc. Cellar Selection.

Kracher 2015 Zwischen den Seen Trockenbeerenauslese Nummer 8 Muscat Ottonel (Burgenland); $130, 100 points. Damask rose, honeysuckle and blood orange peel unite in an almost otherworldly headiness. The palate keeps shimmering with these floral overtones while a solid wave of sweetness assails the taste buds with an insisting urgency, only to follow this with a sharp, welcome smack of pure lemon freshness. These notions alternate and fill the head with the pleasure of their tension. Sublime. Drink until 2040, at least. Terlato Wines International. Cellar Selection.

Gunter Triebaumer 2015 Ruster Ausbruch Welschriesling (Burgenland); $45, 97 points. Citrus richness sprays from the glass: Sunny, ripe lemon and zesty tangerine are edged with the earthy tang of botrytis and honey. Luscious sweetness and concentrated acidity appear at full tilt on the tangy palate, but it is the lemon that lasts on the finish, leaving this incredible richness and a fresh aftertaste. Drink until 2035. Magellan Wine Imports. Editors’ Choice.

H.& C. Nittnaus 2015 Beerenauslese Exquisit White (Burgenland); $19, 96 points. Caramelized lemon takes turns with candied lemon to entice the nose. The concentrations of both sweetness and acidity seem to potentiate each other, creating an increasing sense of joy, drama and thrill. The citrus and passion fruit flavors are of immense precision, and one drop on the tongue makes all the taste buds tingle with excitement. This is compact and impactful in all its sweet and tart glory. GD Imports. Editors’ Choice.

Rosenhof 2015 Trockenbeerenauslese Chardonnay (Burgenland); $29, 96 points. A smokiness lies thickly above the apple fruit notes of this heady TBA, glossing everything with a darker, brooding presence. That same smoky darkness hovers on the palate, but here the spiky, bright spur of lemon freshness breaks through triumphantly, lending drive and precision to the apricot and Mirabelle plum fruit that spreads its lusciousness across the tongue. This is rich, concentrated, intense and beautifully unusual. Drink until 2040, at least. Blue Danube Wine Co.

Poitin, Ireland’s Original Illegal Spirit, is Making a Comeback

December 6, 2018 - 1:00pm

Known as the uisce beatha, or “water of life,” poitin (also called “potcheen” or “poteen”) is essentially Irish moonshine that’s deeply rooted in the island’s history and lore. The spirit’s humble beginnings can be traced to sixth-century Christian monks who reportedly brought the art of distillation from the Middle East and created the potent brew. It’s prevalent throughout Irish culture from songs like “The Rare Old Mountain Dew” and traditional oral stories passed through the generations.

Poitin is still served at important Irish occasions. From wakes to weddings, you’ll likely find a bottle or two.

Poitin on display at Micil Distillery / Photo courtesy Micil

“I come from six generations of illicit poitin distillers,” says Pádraic Ó Griallais, founder and director at Micil Distillery. “I [learned] all the craft from my grandfather, and I was lucky to have grown up around him, otherwise the brand Micil—named after my great-great-great-grandfather—would never have been created or continued.

I was lucky that my grandfather was a seanachaí (a storyteller/raconteur) as he made stories so engaging. It was hard not to love poitin, the craft, the heritage and the spirit in our family.”

“Poitin is symbolic of Irish liberation and oppression at the same time.” –Pádraic Ó Griallais, founder/director, Micil Distillery

During the 17th century, when Ireland was under British rule, the government tried to collect a tax on poitin. It was not an easy task: Distillers simply hid their bottles and denied its existence to tax collectors. So, in 1661, King Charles II banned the beloved spirit. Many believe the move was part of a bigger effort to repress Irish culture by the British.

“It’s inextricably linked to Irish culture and pride, as it’s hard to separate the two,” says Ó Griallais. “Poitin is symbolic of Irish liberation and oppression at the same time. It was a drink that small farmers made that could help them pay the British landlords’ rent… It was a way for the Irish people to express their irreverence towards the colonial British Empire.”

Its illegal status made poitin even more popular, and the spirit went underground.

How Haiti is Making Some of the Best Rum on Earth

Produced primarily in rural Ireland, poitin was crafted in homes, sheds and in the woods. Many times, it was distilled intentionally on land boundaries—if the illicit spirit was discovered by authorities, the issue of ownership could be disputed.

“Poitin may have disappeared from the mainstream, but was kept alive by a small group of artisans that plied their trade in the shadows,” says John Ralph, CEO of Intrepid Spirits, which produces Mad March Hare Poitín. “The people who continued to make it at home were in fact experienced, skilled craftsman, or it was done as a collective effort by all the townspeople.”

Mad March Hare, one member of a new class of poitin / Photo courtesy Mad March Hare

Historically, poitin is distilled in a small pot still and made from a malted barley base. Variations in the mash bill range from crabapples to wheat, sugar and beets. When introduced to Ireland in the 16th century, potatoes were used as well.

“Poitin may have disappeared from the mainstream, but was kept alive by a small group of artisans that plied their trade in the shadows.” –John Ralph, CEO, Intrepid Spirits

The finished product varied due to many factors, like the region and the distiller, so no two recipes were alike. Much skill and effort was needed to produce it, as malting, milling, fermentation and distillation was done essentially by hand. When the Irish emigrated, they brought this art form with them.

Top: Traditional copper alembic still on display at Micil Distillery (Photo courtesy Micil). Bottom: Cross section of alembic still showing internal workings (Getty)

“Poitin in ‘Gaelic’ means ‘little pot’ and was the first form of a new make whiskey that we know of,” says Stephan Teeling of Teeling Distillery in Dublin. “Until it was outlawed, nearly 100% of poitin would have been made from barley. But once it was outlawed, people used potatoes and sugar beet as a cheaper substitute.”

“Farmers all around the world always found a way to make alcohol from excess cereals, and in Ireland this was the birth of Poitin,” Teeling continues. “As emigrant Irish families moved to all four corners of the globe, they brought this distilling tradition with them—hence why Kentucky and Jarnac have deep Irish roots at the basis of the Bourbon and Cognac industry.”

Meet Pechuga, the Mezcal Made with Raw Chicken

In modern times, the people of Ireland started to embrace poitin’s illicit past and sought to remove what had become viewed as an unlawful ban. In 1987, regulations were loosened a bit, and a few companies were allowed to sell poitin for export only. It wasn’t until 1997 that the ban was lifted.

Teeling’s “Spirit of Dublin” poitin being crafted in the distillery’s three copper pot stills / Photo courtesy Teeling Whiskey

“The ban was removed through intense lobbying of some forward-thinking individuals and some powerful conglomerates that wanted to revive the category,” says Ó Griallais. “The owner of Bunratty Potcheen should be credited with a lot of that hard work. Diageo was also involved in pushing for legalization to launch a brand called Hackler, which was later discontinued.”

Though the ban has been lifted, it’s taken another 20 years for distilleries to truly embrace this forgotten spirit. Modern consumers, curious to taste something so intertwined in Irish history, have fueled a resurgence. Premium craft poitins like Mad March Hare, Teeling’s Spirit of Dublin, Bán Poitin, Glendalough and Micil seek to dispel the stigmas associated with lower-quality homemade poitin.

Baijiu, the World's Most Popular Spirit You May Never Have Heard Of

Steps have also been taken to preserve the spirit’s heritage. In 2008, poitin received Geographical Indication (GI) status by the European Union, which requires that the spirit be produced on the island. Later, in 2015, the Irish government defined production methods and created regulations to weed out inauthentic bottlings.

Though hidden in obscurity for centuries, poitin is a wholly Irish spirit with a story that needs to be told. Now that it’s finally stepped out of the shadows, the world is ready to listen.

Oregon’s Iberian Connection

December 6, 2018 - 10:45am

The impact of Iberian grapes on the Oregon wine industry can’t be measured simply by overall production.

The state’s reputation for world-class Pinot Noir is well established, but those premium bottlings are anchored principally in the Willamette Valley. Southern Oregon vintners grow Pinot grapes, but the region’s warm, arid climate has caused many in the Umpqua and Rogue Valley American Viticultural Areas (AVAs) to explore Mediterranean varieties.

Southern French and Italian grapes are being grown with considerable success, but it’s the Spanish and Portuguese varieties, along with Syrah, that are ascendant.

What Does it Mean When the Same Grape has Different Names?

Tempranillo is the leader here. Its introduction signaled the start of a spreading Iberian influence initiated by the Abacela winery more than two decades ago. Multiple producers have now dived into Albariño, Grenache/Garnacha, Mourvèdre/Monastrell, Syrah and a number of Portuguese varieties.

When Abacela’s founders, Hilda and Earl Jones, began their search for the best place to grow Tempranillo, the Umpqua Valley was far from their minds. Both scientists, they hit the books and the road, quizzing winemakers in Rioja and Ribera del Duero. They studied climate records both there and in the western U.S.

They concluded that a short growing season, preferably with a cool spring and a hot, dry summer, was optimal. They believed the lack of such conditions was the reason why efforts to make good Tempranillo in California have been hard-won.

Abacela’s Cobblestone Hill, Umpqua Valley / Photo by Andrew Johnson Photography

The pair struck gold in southern Oregon, particularly around Roseburg. There, the risk of spring and autumn frost is the lowest, and deep winter freezes, the rarest. They looked for hillsides with rocky, well-drained soils and the most days of sunshine during the growing season.

The couple purchased a virgin tract of land in 1992, and began to plant in the spring of 1995. As many Rioja wines are blends, the initial vineyards had small amounts of Grenache, Mazuelo, Graciano and others, along with Tempranillo.

Two years later, the first Abacela vintage included 243 cases of Tempranillo. At least four styles of Tempranillo have been produced since, along with varietal bottlings of Grenache, Graciano, Tinta Amarela and Albariño. The producer also creates a Port-style blend of Tempranillo, Tinta Amarela, Bastardo, Tinta Cão and Touriga Naçional.

“We love Tinta Amarela as a red table wine,” says Earl, who claims to have made the country’s first varietal wine from the grape.

Oregon Riesling is the Best in the West

In 2015, the Joneses and other producers formed the Oregon Tempranillo Alliance, an organization that currently claims 38 members. At its inaugural symposium in 2018, more than 70 wines were submitted for a blind tasting, which included a few bottles of Rioja as ringers. (Full disclosure: I was on that judging panel).

A major topic at the symposium delved into various Tempranillo clones, a sign that significant progress in the vineyard is taking place. In recent vintages, Wine Enthusiast awarded 90+ scores to more than two dozen Oregon Tempranillos.

The increased interest in Spain’s leading grape has also benefited Grenache, which struggled initially in the Pacific Northwest due to harsh winters. The southern Oregon climate makes all the difference as far as its long-term potential.

Earl Jones calls it, “a great and versatile grape in our climate, as a red table wine, a rosé or in a blend.” For Abacela’s red Grenaches, he looks for well-drained, hot sites to keep the berries small. For rosés, Jones chooses deeper soils to crop up with larger berries.

“In the Applegate Valley, Grenache gives a very delicate, elegant wine with weight more like you find in Oregon Pinot Noir, but layered with a spicy, white pepper component,” –Craig Camp, general manager, Troon Vineyard

Troon Vineyard’s general manager, Craig Camp, is another Grenache booster. After he struck out with Tempranillo, Camp jumped in with almost five acres of Grenache plantings.

While he waits for those vines to bear fruit, Camp has been purchasing biodynamically farmed Grenache from the Applegate Valley winery, Cowhorn.

“In the Applegate Valley, Grenache gives a very delicate, elegant wine with weight more like you find in Oregon Pinot Noir, but layered with a spicy, white pepper component,” he says.

Troon also plans to plant 3.5 acres of Mourvèdre for similar reasons.

“We are looking to emphasize the natural acidity and moderate alcohols you find in the Applegate Valley on both of these varieties,” says Camp.

Cowhorn, Jaxon and J. Scott Cellars produce good versions of Grenache.

At Reustle Prayer Rock Vineyards, owner/winemaker Stephen Reustle has tried it as a blending grape with Tempranillo. He finds the acidity of cool-climate Grenache balances Tempranillo. He says it adds a nice spicy component.

“But I was pleasantly surprised to find out how well our Grenache was as a standalone varietal [wine],” says Reustle.

Some of Abecela’s Grenache vines in the Fault Line vineyard / Photo by Andrea Johnson Photography Oregon’s Iberian white wine grapes

At Treos, in the southwest corner of the Willamette Valley, a cooler location allows partner/winemaker Dave Jepson to grow Albariño, arguably Spain’s most distinctive white grape.

Jepson and his Treos partners lived in Spain for a few years, where they fell in love with the wines.

“We loved the crisp, mineral-driven, higher-acid Albariños that are produced in the cooler valleys in Spain’s West Coast,” says Jepson.

Jepson intended to create a ‘tribute’ to those Spanish Albariños. He selected two cool-climate clones and cropped the yield back to promote intensity of aroma, flavor, body and finish.

Now with six vintages completed, he says he’s found a significant increase in depth and complexity of flavor as the vines have matured. Treos Albariños have scored well, where they exhibited rich fruit and vibrant acidity. Also making exemplary versions are Abacela, South Stage and J. Scott.

Bottles of Treos’ 2017 Albariño / Photo courtesy of Treos

Umpqua Valley vintner Marc Girardet finds Tempranillo ideal for blending, but saves his best grapes for his varietal bottling.

It’s put through a Gran Reserva-style barrel aging program—three years in French oak and two in the bottle—in an attempt to accentuate notes of black tea, cigar box and leather profiles, he says. Next up for Girardet is a Tempranillo/Grenache blend, another small yet significant step along the Iberian trail.

“A critical mass is developing with Iberian varietals and blends in the Pacific Northwest,” says Kiley Evans, winemaker of 2Hawk. He worked for years previously at Abacela. “Local marketplaces are becoming somewhat crowded, and producers are beginning to look for avenues outside their local regions to market and sell their wines and grow their brands.”

Though his Raptor Ridge winery is located in the Chehalem Mountains AVA, founder/winegrower Scott Shull, sources a bit of Rogue Valley Tempranillo as a portfolio-expanding, non-Pinot Noir option.

“Southern Oregon is creating a name for itself in producing world-class Tempranillo wines, much in the way the Willamette Valley has done for Pinot Noirs,” he says.

To achieve that, Shull says that producers will need to create ample supply and deliver a consistent message to consumers.

“It only took the Willamette Valley 40 years, so it might happen in our lifetimes,” he says wryly.

The proof, as always, is in the bottle.

Recommended Tempranillo

2Hawk 2015 Darow Series Tempranillo (Rogue Valley) $49, 92 points. This reserve-level offering is subtle and complex in tones of fig, blackberry, black cherry, leather, espresso and oregano that come together beautifully. There’s no need to wait, but it should continue to drink well through 2025. Editors’ Choice.

Delfino 2016 Tempranillo (Umpqua Valley); $31, 90 points. Though slightly high toned, there’s much to like here. Black cherry fruit and a dusting of cocoa powder focus the flavors in a smooth and spicy wine. As it moves across the palate, a streak of vanilla, followed by a lingering flavor of bacon, comes up. It’s probably best to drink this now through the early 2020s.

Holloran 2015 Tempranillo (Eola-Amity Hills); $25, 90 points. Though the vineyard source is not indicated, the texture and flavors of this wine speak to biodynamic farming. It’s loaded with dark, bloody flavors and accents, along with a whiff of wet moss. On the palate, it recalls cool climate Syrah with its mix of umami, herb and cured meat flavors. Play close attention, and it will slowly reveal hidden pleasures.

Oregon Territory 2015 Tempranillo (Oregon); $20, 90 points. An outstanding value, this is the second label from Tempranillo specialist Paul O’Brien. It offers a boatload of mixed flavors and accents, with citrus, fig, cherry tobacco and bourbon tea all well represented and supported with lively acidity. Editors’ Choice.

Reustle 2015 Winemaker’s Reserve Tempranillo (Umpqua Valley); $42, 90 points. This is a dark and concentrated wine. The nose suggests sweet hay, while the palate is substantial and loaded with flavors of black raspberry, chocolate and coffee. It’s fairly tannic and the astringency should set it up well to accompany a thick cut of beef.

Recommended Grenache

Fox Farm 2015 Grenache (Rogue Valley); $35, 90 points. Co-fermented with 12% Syrah, this tasty wine opens with complex cinnamon, roasted coriander and wood smoke aromas. Mixed berry fruit flavors follow, with added brightness from using 30% whole clusters. The tannins are polished, contributing streaks of tea and tobacco.

Quady North 2017 Rosé of Grenache (Rogue Valley); $19, 90 points. One of three different 2017 rosés from Quady North, this is a low-alcohol, pale-copper-colored wine, that appears deceptively light. Yet in fact, it’s packed with flavor and displays a rich, rounded mouthfeel with a winning combination of mixed flowers, herbs and tangy cherry. The ample acidity adds a blood-orange vein to the mix.

Upper Five 2015 Grenache (Rogue Valley); $26, 89 points. Made from organically grown grapes, this supple, well-ripened wine shows the grape’s typical spicy plum and black cherry flavors. The fading color and short finish suggest drinking it sooner than later. Enjoy now–2020.

Recommended Albariño

Abacela 2017 Albariño (Umpqua Valley); $21, 92 points. Nothing has changed here in this new vintage, and that’s a good thing. Rich, leesy and dense with ripe fruit flavors of apple, pear, peach and guava, if anything it’s even more generously endowed than the glorious 2015. Refreshing minerality completes the picture. Editors’ Choice.

Treos 2016 Albariño (Willamette Valley); $25, 92 points. Once again Treos nails this wine, and in 2016 the alcohol is down and the acids up. Bracing, lemony, and drenched in lip-smacking minerality, this wine overdelivers. It’s definitely for acid lovers, but with its extraordinary detail and length, it goes well beyond just tart. Editors’ Choice.