Australia and California meet with Jacob’s Creek new Two Lands line

Australia’s Jacob’s Creek has just launched a new line of wines that represents a collaboration with California winemaker Ehren Jordan. For 18 years, Ehren made the wines at Turley, and he has a Napa-based label (Failla) where he produces his own portfolio. He’s worked with numerous others over the years as well. The team at Jacob’s Creek, including chief winemaker Bernard Hickin, reached out and recruited Ehren to work with them on a range of wines made from Australian fruit but with a California sensibility. I recently sat down with both winemakers over lunch in New York City at Michael Jordan’s Steakhouse to taste these new releases.

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All four wines below have a few things in common. The fruit for all of them came from vineyards in South Australia. Every one of them is a single varietal wine. They’re available widely throughout the United States, but exclusively here, not in the rest of the world. The alcohol content is moderate across the board at between 12.8 and 13.9 percent. Each of the wines has a suggested retail price of $14.

Jacob’s Creek Two Lands 2014 Pinot Grigio – The bold nose is laced with gooseberry and fleshy yellow melon aromas. Those characteristics continue through the palate and are joined by lemon curd and cardamom spice, as well as Anjou pear. The refreshing, crisp, fruity and lingering finish has a nice bit of richness with a touch of crème fraiche. This Pinot Grigio has terrific varietal typicity; more in fact than some well-known Italian examples that sell for almost twice as much. Jacob’s Creek Two Lands Pinot Grigio would be a great wine to hand guests as they enter your home. Nothing more inviting than a delicious glass of wine, but it will also pair well with lighter foods. Drink it in its slightly bold, fruity youth.

Jacob’s Creek Two Lands 2014 Chardonnay – Vanilla bean, toast and white peach aromas light up the generous nose of this Chardonnay. Loads of pear character dominates the palate, followed by lesser amounts of apple and a wisp of pineapple. The spicy and mineral-laden finish shows off white pepper, wet limestone and a bit of clove. This is a good example of Chardonnay that is dominated by loads of pure fruit flavor. It’s delicious all by itself and will work well with white meats or creamy chesses.

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Jacob’s Creek Two Lands 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon – The nose on this Cabernet is dense with lots of black fruit aromas. Plum and black raspberry are part of the mix, along with hints of toast. Black fruits, tinged by hints of red, fill the palate which is medium bodied, generous and smooth in nature with not a sharp edge to be found. Dusty cocoa and black pepper emerge on the finish, along with bits of sour black cherry. Velvety tannins and firm acid provide fine structure.

Jacob’s Creek Two Lands 2013 Shiraz – Red and black raspberry, plum and Mexican vanilla bean fill the nose of this Shiraz. Dried blueberry is in heavy evidence on the palate, along with continued bits or raspberry. Sweet, dark chocolate and black pepper dot the lengthy finish. This wine has plenty of giving ripe fruit, but it’s quite proportionate. Sweet, medium tannins add to the excellent mouth-feel. If the only everyday-priced Shiraz you’ve had features some sort of critter on the packaging and tastes like grape juice, try this one out for size — it’ll help adjust your perception.

All four of these wines worked well with a variety of foods. The reds really stood out alongside richer foods such as steak, mac ‘n’ cheese and the like. The whites worked with the lighter dishes but excelled on their own too. With a retail price of $14 it’s likely these will sell for a few dollars less in most stores. For that price you’re getting good varietal character and wines that will appeal to a large group of people. If you’re looking for some wines to enjoy on an everyday basis that won’t break the bank, the Jacob’s Creek Two Lands offerings should be on your radar.

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Italy’s Alto Adige, The Home of Delicious Pinot Bianco

Pinot Bianco (or Pinot Blanc) is one of those grapes that falls through the cracks for the vast majority of wine lovers. That’s a real shame, because when it’s grown in a region favorable to its characteristics and treated well it can produce distinct, lovely wines that are a tremendous match for appropriate foods. One of the regions that can and does produce its fair share of excellent Pinot Bianco is Italy’s Alto Adige. This Northern Italian region has the climate and soils that allow this grape to prosper. I recently tasted through some current releases and found three that really spoke volumes to me. So put aside those bottles of Chardonnay (at least for a moment) and dig into an alternative white!

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Kellerei Kaltern Caldaro “Vial” I 2012 Pinot Bianco – This offering is 100 percent Pinot Bianco. The fruit was sourced from a vineyard that sits at the base of the Mendel Mountains. Fermentation took place over an extended period of time in a temperature-controlled environment. Five months of aging on the lees followed, prior to filtration and bottling. This wine has a suggested retail price of $13. Ebullient White flower aromas leap from the nose here; gentle wisps of linseed oil offer a lovely counterpoint. Anjou and Bartlett pear flavors fill the appealing palate, along with fleshy, yellow melon characteristics. A mélange of orange, tangerine, minerals, ruby grapefruit and toasted walnut round out the above-average finish, which is also crisp, refreshing and studded with racy acid.

Castel Sallegg “Prey” 2013 Pinot Bianco – The grapes for this wine were sourced at a site that sits 550 meters above sea level. It’s 100 percent Pinot Bianco and comprised of numerous clones. Fermentation occurred in a cool, temperature-controlled environment. It has a suggested retail price of $13. White peach aromas are followed by morsels of fresh flowers on the nose. A strong Granny Smith apple flavor runs through the core of this wine, joined by papaya along with white pepper. A hint of mesquite honey marks the solid finish. This wine would excel paired with roasted pork loin and a side of apple compote.

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Cantina Terlano 2011 “Vorberg” Riserva Pinot Bianco – The fruit for this wine was sourced from a vineyard sitting between 350 and 900 meters above sea level. 1993 was the first year this particular wine was produced. It has a suggested retail price of $23. Golden Delicious apple aromas practically explode from the nose of this Riserva. Ripe yellow melon, apple, pear, bits of tropical fruit and a dollop of spices are each part of a palate that is dense, layered and generous in its wide ranging flavors and overall depth. Crème Fraiche, wet limestone, and pepper spice are all part of the finish, which is memorably long, persistent and mineral driven. This wine can be enjoyed now but it will easily age well for the next decade. If you’re looking for proof that Pinot Bianco can produce knockout wines with longevity, here’s the only exhibit you’ll have to enter into evidence.

Winter is here and everyone is drinking lots of reds; I know I am too. But sometimes you need a break from those to enjoy something different, and these three Pinot Biancos provide just that. They’re delicious and pair well with a variety of lighter foods; serve them to your guests with an opening cheese course or a beet salad as a couple of options. Instead of sparkling wine with brunch, these wines would be fantastic alternatives — each one would absolutely kill with Eggs Florentine. If you haven’t had Pinot Bianco before, what are you waiting for? You can’t drink Chardonnay every day. If you’re already a fan, add these three to your to drink list. You certainly won’t be disappointed and you may find a new favorite to share with friends. And ultimately, isn’t that what it’s all about?

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Quinta Do Vallado has your Thanksgiving wine needs covered

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Portugal’s Quinta Do Vallado has a history that dates back to the 18th century. It’s now in its sixth and seventh generations of stewardship by the Ferreira Family. Their portfolio focuses on dry wines, but as they sit in the Douro, naturally they also make several ports. I recently tasted through much of their current portfolio, as well as some older vintages. I was struck by the quality, drinkability and age-worthiness of their wines as a whole. In addition, I also found that it would be easy to select all the wines for my Thanksgiving table from their offerings. So with Thanksgiving just about a month away, here’s a look at four wines that offer perfect holiday sipping from the moment your guests arrive through the final bite of dessert.

Quinta Do Vallado 2012 Rosado – This Rosé is composed entirely of Touriga Nacional. All of the fruit was sourced at Estate Vineyards and fermentation without skins took place in a temperature-controlled environment over one month. This Rosado has a suggested retail price of $22.99. The most extraordinary thing about this Rosé is how remarkably fresh it still is after two years. Too often Rosé’s are good for one season and then get tired; that’s not the case here. Fresh, red fruit aromas lead the nose and continue on the super-appealing palate. Spices, bits of citrus and an underlying mineral core are in evidence as well. This wine is well crafted and fun to drink. Simply put it’s delicious. This would work perfectly as a “welcome” wine on Thanksgiving. Pour it for your guests as they walk through the door and keep it on hand through appetizers. Everyone will love it.

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Trione Vineyards & Winery produces great Sonoma County wines

For more than 30 years the Trione Family has been growing and selling grapes in Sonoma County from their own property, as well as vineyards they manage. Almost a decade ago they launched Trione Vineyards & Winery to bottle their own wines. Scot Covington, their founding winemaker, brought winemaking experience in Sonoma County and elsewhere to the table as well as winery building and design knowledge. Over the last few years, I’ve been impressed with the quality and value their releases represent. They make Estate wines that represent two distinct appellations within Sonoma County: Russian River Valley and Alexander Valley. Here’s a look at the most recent releases from their 115-acre property located in the heart of the Russian River Valley. All three wines are 100 percent varietal.

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Trione Vineyards & Winery 2012 Chardonnay – Suggested retail price is $32. When making this wine, Scot used old world Burgundian methodology. Whole clusters were pressed and then racked into French oak; 40 percent of the barrels used were new and the balance a combination of once and twice used. About 825 cases were produced. Yellow Delicious apple, Anjou pear and light wisps of spice are all part of the aroma profile of this Chardonnay. Continued apple, bits of tangerine, and papaya are all part of the deep and layered palate, along with a wallop of pineapple and a well-proportioned spice component. The finish shows off wet limestone and crème brulee in what is a rich, round, super long close that is studded with fruit, spices and hints of toast. This Chardonnay is clean and crisp, enhanced by the oak treatment, not hampered or over-burdened by it.

Trione Vineyards & Winery 2013 Sauvignon Blanc – Suggested retail price is $23. The fruit was hand-picked and pressed into stainless steel tanks. It was fermented with a South African yeast strain. Aging took place over four months in a combination of new (10 percent) and neutral (90 percent) French oak. Just fewer than 2,000 cases were produced. Big, bold, yellow melon and lemon zest aromas are in strong evidence on the nose here. Passion fruit, bits of guava, Bartlett pear and lemon ice inform the rich and succulent palate. Pineapple and green melon are part of the clean, crisp and refreshing finish. This is an incredibly appealing example of Sauvignon Blanc that goes down easy, but also features above-average depth and complexity in the price range.

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Trione Vineyards & Winery 2011 Pinot Noir – Suggested retail price is $37. This wine was made in small lots. In total, five different Pinot clones were utilized, and 20 percent of the fruit in each fermenter was whole cluster. Barrel aging occurred over 15 months in all French oak; 45 percent of the barrels were new. Just fewer than 1,300 cases were produced. A hint of pine resin, black cherry and savory herb are all enveloped in the intense nose. Wild strawberry, red and black cherry as well as cinnamon and clove are each prominent on the palate. The fresh fruit flavors, however, lead the flavor charge. Mushroom, black tea and a tiny hint of coal emerge on the persistent finish, along with minerals and copious amounts of earth. Firm acid and tannins, which yield with some air, mark the structure. This Pinot is delicious now, particularly with food. However, if you’re patient, lay it down for the next 6 to 8 years and drink it in the 4 to 5 years after that for even more delicious results.

Scot Covington has many choices in front of him when he selects fruit for the Trione wines. He picks the cream of that to make the Trione Vineyards & Winery offerings. Control of so much fruit also gives Trione the ability to sell wines that represent terrific values. Each of the wines listed above does a fine job of representing Sonoma County at large and Russian River Valley specifically. That they do so at such reasonable prices compared to the quality they are offering is a boon to wine lovers. I heartily recommend jumping on anything with the Trione name on it. You’re sure to get a genuine, well-made Sonoma County wine at a very fair price.

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A trio of 2012 California reds gets it done for under $20

It occurs to me that $20 might be the ultimate sweet spot in the wine world. There are all sorts of benchmarks and barometers, but for most people taking a leap over the $20 barrier is done cautiously and with consideration. So when I find wines under that threshold that provide significant value and taste way more expensive than the price the cash register will ring up, I make a note of it. Here are three wines made from fruit sourced in various parts of California that offers tons of drinking pleasure and tremendous bang for the buck. One of them even has the necessary elements to lay down for a couple of years, should you so choose. That’s not something often in play in this price range. Whether you’re looking for a wine to bring to a dinner party or something to keep you warm all winter long, these selections will get it done for a minimal price.

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Layer Cake 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon – The fruit for this wine was sourced in two distinct appellations, Paso Robles and Alexander Valley. It’s composed entirely of Cabernet Sauvignon. Layer Cake was aged in entirely French oak for 46 months; 30 percent of the barrels utilized were new. This offering has a suggested retail price of $15.99. Plum, black raspberry, vanilla and toast aromas are all part of the tempting nose on this Cabernet. The palate is rich, lush and deeply concentrated with lots of appealing black fruit flavors. Leather, black pepper and earth are all part of the long finish. Soft tannins and solid acidity lend themselves to the food friendliness of this Cabernet. You could probably find a wine slightly more perfectly suited, as well as more expensively priced, to pair with a burger, but why go through the trouble and expense when this one works as well as almost anything?

Educated Guess 2012 Napa Valley Merlot – The vast majority of the fruit for this wine (95 percent) was sourced in Napa Valley, the balance (5 percent) in nearby Lake County. In addition to Merlot (85 percent), some Cabernet Sauvignon (15 percent) was blended in as well. Barrel aging took place in French oak over 12 months. The suggested retail price is $19.99. The color of this wine is striking, the minute it’s poured — the deep purple hue looks brilliant in the glass. A hint of cocoa underscores blueberry aromas on the warm and welcoming nose. The palate is studded with red and black cherry flavors galore that are complemented by black pepper and cinnamon spice. A dollop of chocolate, earth and thyme emerge on the above average finish, along with all the fresh fruit flavors. This is a textbook example of a Merlot that actually tastes like Merlot.

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The Sum 2012 Red Blend – Fruit for this offering was sourced throughout California. This selection blends together Cabernet Sauvignon (75 percent), Petite Sirah (15 percent) and Syrah (10 percent). The Sum has a suggested retail price of $19.99. The nose of this blend is big and incredibly floral, and the little bit of Syrah really makes its presence felt. The flavors are deep and dark lending to a layered and dense palate. It’s substantial in complexity and depth. Bits of chicory play alongside blueberry and blackberry flavors, which dominate the palate. Sweet, dark chocolate flavors emerge on the persistent and notably long finish, along with rhubarb and sour cherry. This would be a very good wine and a reasonable value if it was priced in the $35 to $40 range. At $20 suggested retail price, less if you shop around, it’s a fabulous and delicious bargain. Scoop it up before it’s gone.

I highly recommend all three of these wines for sipping and pairing with medium-bodied to full-flavored foods. Each of them is also quite drinkable on its own. The Merlot and the Cabernet will be at their best over the next handful of years when their young, fresh fruit flavors are in full bloom. The red blend (The Sum) is delicious now and will drink well over the next decade. Its structure is such that laying it down, for those with the patience to do so, will provide a nice reward. At such an appealing price point it would be a good choice for those who don’t want to spend a ton to experiment on age-worthy wines.

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