Monday, September 28, 2020

Grape Spotlight: Berryessa Gap Durif (Petite Sirah)

In 1880, deep in the Rhone Valley, Dr. Francois Durif released to the world a new grapevine that he discovered created from a natural crossing (most likely due to cross-pollination) of a mystery grape pollen and one of his Peloursin vines. Over a century later DNA analysis identified this second parent as Syrah. This new vine was called Durif in Europe but for more mysterious reasons was called Petite Sirah in California as early as the mid-1880s. This name stuck in North and South America.

The name Petite Sirah may have resulted from the grape's "petite" berries which provide plenty of intense fruit and high tannins. High acidity is another inherent characteristic of the grape - which with the tannins encourages aging. Other common notable characteristics are blackberry, chocolate, and black pepper flavors.

Berryessa Gap Vineyards is located in the Winters AVA and situated in the western corner of Yolo County, located off Route 128 between the town of Winters and the Vaca Mountains. Napa County lies on the western side of the ridge. The Berryessa estate - Coble Ranch vineyard - is planted along the eastern ridge of the Vaca Mountains and benefits from a climate that resembles the hot and dry conditions of Mediterranean climates.  

Durif (Petite Sirah) is one of their many grapevines and the winery releases two versions. Their Berryessa Gap Petite Sirah ($27) is composed of 85% Durif, 10% Primitivo/Zinfandel, and 5% Peloursin and is modeled after the Rhone field blends copied admirably by California's Ridge Vineyards in Sonoma's Lytton Springs.  The Durif in this wine is whole-berry fermented which tones down the tannins and intensity leading to a soft and elegant wine. 

On the other hand, the Berryessa Gap Durif ($32) is 100% Durif, grown in its own plot elsewhere on the estate.  For a sensory descriptor, the wine is juicy, with dense blueberries, slight spice, and friendly chewy tannins. But on a metaphysical dimension, this wine provides deeper sensory pleasure like the feeling after that perfect golf swing or getting the barrel on a baseball.  This is a memorial wine. Great job Nicole.  

Monday, September 21, 2020

Grape Spotlight: Herzegovina Trnjak

Trnjak (TER-nyak) is an indigenous grape to both Croatia and Herzegovina and is usually planted as the pollinator to the more popular female Blatina grape.  For instance, Vinarija Citluk, the biggest winery in Bosnia and Herzegovina, plants a row of Blatina, a row of Trnjak, 2 rows of Blatina, a row of Trnjak, and so on. And in the best of times, Trnjak is able to pollinate itself as well as the Blatina. Currently, Blatina is the more fashionable wine, but after opening a bottle of the 2015 Wines of Illyria Trnjak ($35.99), I see Trnjak as having more potential. It provides more body and structure than Blatina, just as rustic, with a little more spice.  Sadly, there's just not a lot of Trnjak produced or available. This and other Illyria wines are available on the East Coast and hopefully soon in the DC area through Siema Wines.

Saturday, September 19, 2020

La Forêt Blanche Winery in the Judean Foothills

The Judean Foothills is the largest of Israel's six major wine regions - part of the ancient Kingdom of Judah and lying between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.  At the Tel Hebron archaeological dig, pottery shards from wine amphorae have been unearthed stamped with the royal seal of the Kingdom of Judah (700 BCE) stating “For the King of Hebron”.  For thousands of years, winemakers have taken advantage of this Mediterranean climate with abundant sunshine, chalky and clay loams, and a diurnal swing of 20°C.  Modern winemaking resurfaced in the 1950s and 1960s with the Livni family joining in 2003 by producing wine from the single varietal vineyard at Sde Kalev at La Forêt Blanche Winery. Ten years earlier Menachem Livni pioneered the planting of Cabernet Sauvignon grapes in the Hebron Hill area and established this vineyard.

Several La Forêt Blanche wines were included in the summer Hopwine kit. The red wines were sourced from their Judean Hills vineyard whereas the white wine from the cooler and more mountainous Negev Highlands to the south. The Dvir Cabernet-Shiraz-Merlot 2017 is excellent - a blend of 45% Cabernet Sauvignon and 33% Shiraz from the Sde Kalev vineyard, rounded off with 22% Merlot. The wine was aged for 12 months in French and American oak barrels and bottled without filtration. Expect velvety cherries, mint, and earth.  The Dvir Pinot Noir 2017 is also derived from the Sde Kalev vineyard and is very juicy with black pepper sprinkled within the black cherry profile. The Dvir Cabernet Sauvignon 2017 was aged for 18 months in French and American oak barrels, then bottled without filtration. This is a rich creamy wine, blackberries, and some cocoa and mint.  The Talpiot Red Judean Hills 2017 is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon (80%), Petit Verdot (7%), Shiraz (7%), and Merlot (6%) that was aged for 6 months in French and American oak barrels and bottled without filtration.  Red raspberries and considerable acidity are reflected in this wine. Finally, the Talpiot White 2018 (Viognier grapes (80%) and Chenin Blanc (20%) showcases the Negev Highlands and impresses with its peach pit character and refreshing acidity. 

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Comparative Chilean Carménère with TerraNoble

TerraNoble is a Chilean winery that was founded in 1993 with the intent to highlight wines from the Maule Valley. The following year, Chilean Merlot was correctly identified as Carménère, and TerraNoble committed itself to this rediscovered grape.  They chose to establish their winery and initial vineyard (La Higuera Vineyard) in an area called Valle del Claro within the San Clemente district - the highest region in the Maule Valley. Over the years TerraNoble expanded their holdings into the Casablanca and the Colchagua Valleys with the later including the Los Lingues Vineyard near the Andes and the Los Cactus Vineyard near the Pacific Coast. 

This development offered a clear opportunity to produce single vineyard Carménère wines using the same winemaking techniques in order to compare and contrast wines made near the coast to those produced near the mountains.  These techniques included an 8-12 day fermentation at 26-27º C and a one-two week post-fermentation maceration -- all depending on the lot. Finally, the lots were combined into French oak barrels and untoasted foudres to age for 14 months. The resultant wines were the 2017 TerraNoble CA1 and the 2017 TerraNoble CA2 (both $24.99). 

The CA1 comes from the Los Lingues Vineyard located at the base of the Andes Mountains and benefits from a temperate Mediterranean microclimate. At night though, the vineyard experiences a strong diurnal temperature to 20º C that helps the grapes ripen slowly over time while retaining acidity.  The soils consist of high draining sand, clay, and granite with few nutrients. These conditions help produce a fresh Carménère wine with lively acids, dark black fruit, a slightly green and herbaceous palate, and firm tannins. 

The CA2 derives from the coastal Los Cactus Vineyard which shares a similar temperate Mediterranean climate with a cooling effect from the constant sea breezes. The soils are silt and sandy loam over a granite base that provides good drainage and similar low nutrients.  In some respects, the CA2 is similar to the CA1 -- but with less intensity. It's lively, but not as acidic with a higher fruit expression.  And the tannins are slightly less firm. But the primary difference is the absence of herbs and green characters. 

They both are delicious wines, but my favorite was the 2016 TerraNoble CA1 ($24.99) that the winery snuck in as a vertical to the 2017 CA1 but with a slightly different winemaking protocol. This wine has a similar freshness and herbaceous green character, but the tannins were much more rounded. Excellent. 

Disclosure: We received samples from TerraNoble in order to share our opinion about their products, but this isn’t a sponsored post.

Thursday, September 3, 2020

Grangestone Bourbon, Rum, Sherry Cask Single Malt Scotch Whiskys

While browsing the miniatures at a Florida Total Wine - which are so superior to Virginia based stores since spirits are sold -- I found a trio of Grangestone Single Malt Scotch Whiskys each spending a second maturation in a different type of cask.  The Grangestone brand is a Total Wine house brand that internet sleuths have most likely linked it to William Grant and Sons and produced at their Kininvie distillery.  William Grant and Sons was founded in 1887 and has grown into the third-largest producer of Scotch whiskey behind Diageo and Pernod Ricard. They feature brands such as Grant's, Glenfiddich, and The Balvenie.

Alone, Grangestone should be considered a mid-tier brand where the initial finishing occurs in traditional American oak casks for three years in order to be regarded as a "proper" Scotch whisky. But finding a trio of miniatures that underwent a second maturation in bourbon, rum, and sherry casks provided an opportunity to see how each imparted different characters into the whisky. As stand-alone 750ml bottles, these whiskys sell for $30, but as miniatures $2.50 each.

Overall, I preferred the Grangestone Rum Cask Finish Single Malt Scotch Whisky as it seemed to impart more balance and depth with vanilla and a rum-honey sweetness. The Grangestone Sherry Cask Finish Single Malt Scotch Whisky was the most concentrated with plenty of baking spices, dried fruits, and caramel.  Finally, the Grangestone Bourbon Cask Finish Single Malt Scotch Whisky was very spicy - almost rye spicy - with more burn and oak flavors. Ready for another round...