Gary Farrell Vineyards & Winery: A Russian River Valley Classic

Gary Farrell Vineyards & Winery is a longtime Russian River Valley producer best known for their Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs. Their portfolio contains numerous examples of each and they focus on single vineyard wines, as well as multi-vineyard cuvee-style offerings. Over the years I have found that they have maintained a consistent level of quality and a really appealing house style. Really, it’s not a style so much as a decision to let the grapes and specific vineyards speak instead of hiding their charms with overwrought intervention. I recently tasted through a handful of their 2012 vintage wines. This particular vintage is noteworthy at Gary Farrell for two reasons: it marks their 30th vintage as a producer, and is also the first vintage for winemaker Theresa Heredia who joined them in the spring of 2012.

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Gary Farrell Vineyards & Winery 2012 Russian River Selection Chardonnay ($35)

Fruit from ten Russian River Valley vineyards was selected for this offering. After pressing and fermentation with wild yeast, it was aged more than seven months in French oak; 35 percent of the barrels were new. Exactly 6,902 cases of this release were produced. Meyer lemon, toasted hazelnut, and hints of linseed oil present on the welcoming nose of this Chardonnay. The palate is jam-packed with a solid core of orchard fruit flavors, along with bits of pineapple and a bevy of spice notes. Graphite, wet limestone and hints of burnt sugar join continuing echoes of apple and pear on the lengthy finish. This is textbook Russian River Valley Chardonnay. It has just enough oak influence to add some complexity, but not nearly the amount that would overburden it, or distract from all that gorgeous fruit. Serving this Chardonnay a few degrees warmer than the average white allows it to really shine, so resist the temptation to over chill it.

Gary Farrell Vineyards & Winery 2012 Westside Farms Chardonnay ($45)

This single vineyard effort was produced from fruit sourced exclusively at the namesake vineyard. After fermentation it was aged for eight months in entirely French oak; 40 percent of the barrels were new. About 580 cases were produced. Baker’s spices, toasted almond and yellow delicious apple aromas dominate the nose. The palate is full-flavored and even-keeled. It’s stuffed with spice, orchard fruits, bits of lemon curd and vanilla bean. The long finish is crisp and refreshing with continued fruit and spice. Firm, racy acid adds to the mouth-watering appeal. I paired it with lemon-thyme roasted chicken for a killer match.

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Gary Farrell Vineyards & Winery 2012 Russian River Selection Pinot Noir ($45)

The fruit for this wine came from nine distinct Russian River Valley Vineyards. Fermentation and aging tool place in French oak; 35 percent of the barrels utilized were new. They produced 9,206 cases of this offering. Wild strawberry and light bay leaf aromas are present on the appealing nose of this Pinot Noir. The palate is loaded with red fruits, savory spices and bits of mushroom. Continued fruit, bits of cocoa and a touch of cola are all present on the long finish. This is a fine example of Russian River Valley Pinot Noir.

Gary Farrell Vineyards & Winery 2012 Hallberg Vineyard Pinot Noir ($55)

All of the fruit for this single-vineyard offering came from the Hallberg Vineyard, which sits in the Green Valley section of Russian River. Fermentation took place in French oak; 40 percent of the barrels were new. Aging took place over 14 month. They produced 1,198 cases. Thyme, bay leaf, strawberry and bits of black cherry are present on the effusive nose of this Pinot Noir, along with wisps of plum pudding spice. Spice box, red and black fruits and bits of earth dominate the chewy palate. Cinnamon, minerals, black tea and pepper spice are all part of the long and deeply layered finish. The Hallberg Pinot was a revelation paired alongside cream of porcini soup.

No surprise here, but this is a lovely quartet of wines from Gary Farrell. The Russian River selections offer classic flavors and qualities that broadly represent the hallmarks of that area. The single-vineyard wines speak of those specific plots of land, as well as the conditions of the 2012 vintage. In short that’s what I’m looking for from those designations. Across the board these wines offer more than sufficient quality for the prices in question. Gary Farrell Vineyards & Winery has been a go-to producer for tasty Russian River Valley Wines for 30 years; the 2012 vintage simply reinforces that.

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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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