Brancott highlights the diversity of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc

I recently participated in a digital tasting of New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs. With one exception, they were from Brancott Estate. The outlier was from Stoneleigh, which is a sister winery. Pinot Noir from New Zealand has been making a strong mark throughout the world over the last decade, with good reason, but it was with Sauvignon Blanc that New Zealand first made its mark internationally. This quintet showcases a variety of styles and choices made by growers and winemakers. The weather is warm and the time is right for keeping some Sauvignon Blanc standing by in the refrigerator. One of the five choices below should quench your thirst.

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Brancott Estate 2013 Flight Song Sauvignon Blanc ($15)

Grapefruit and gooseberry aromas leap from the nose here. Lemon zest, minerals and spice fill the palate, which is even-keeled and fresh. The finish shows off hints of yellow melon, white pepper and continuing citrus elements. This wine is also made to be 20 percent lower in calories.

Brancott Estate 2014 Estate Sauvignon Blanc ($14)

Year after year, this particular release stands as one of the great Sauvignon Blanc values in the world. It’s a wine of consistent style and quality. Citrus and tropical fruit aromas abound on the nose. The palate is generously laced with tons of gorgeous fruit flavors and tiny wisps of grass. Papaya, yellow melon and white pepper emerge on the lovely finish. It’s a middle-of-the-road Sauvignon Blanc in the way you want an entry level wine to be. It has good varietal character and lots of drinking pleasure. It’ll appeal to a wide array of taste buds. Stock up and drink this all summer.

Stoneleigh 2013 Latitude Sauvignon Blanc ($18)

The aromas here are slightly more reticent than on the other wines, but white flower and ruby grapefruit aromas are evident. The palate has tons of minerals and spice along with fruit flavors that fill a somewhat subservient role. Wet limestone, lemon ice and a touch of chamomile tea are all part of the substantial finish, which has memorable length and depth.

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Brancott Estate 2013 Letter Series Sauvignon Blanc ($26)

A bit of mesquite appears on the nose along with bright stone fruit. Peach, nectarine and apricot flavors all appear on the palate, along with hints of grapefruit. All of those characteristics carry through to the finish and are joined there by a refined core of minerals and elements of spice. The finish is long and impressive.

Brancott Estate 2010 Chosen Rows Sauvignon Blanc ($65)

Chosen Rows is a tiny production from a producer that makes, well, a lot of wine. This selection is limited to a grand total 3,500 bottles which are hand numbered. Gooseberry and grapefruit aromas are dominant on the nose of this Sauvignon Blanc. The palate is gently layered with tons of depth and complexity. The fruit flavors are joined by bits of savory green herbs. This wine has remarkable persistence, and a prodigious finish which goes on for an impressive length of time. Continued citrus fruits, bits of grass and white pepper are all in play as things come to a close. On its own, this Sauvignon Blanc is delicious and mouthwatering. When it’s paired with the right foods it’s simply stunning. Quite simply, Chosen Rows is one of the best Sauvignon Blancs in the world.

Sauvignon Blanc is one of the most adaptable grapes in the world. Some grapes only work in a limited range of styles; Sauvignon Blanc is more of a chameleon. This quintet showcases some of those styles through the lens of New Zealand Winemaking. Each and every one of these wines is delicious and fairly priced. Even Chosen Rows, at $65, is a fair value when you consider its quality and relative scarcity.

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Warm weather means it’s time to drink rosé

Thankfully, winter’s icy grip is nothing but a fading nightmare now. Warm weather means different things to everyone. For some, it’s the beach, outdoor grilling and sports, and for others, it represents the time to get their yards or vegetable gardens growing. Each of those things is certainly worthy, but none as fun to me as always having at least one bottle of delicious, dry rosé in my refrigerator ready to go. I’ll drink them all year round, but when the thermostat starts going up, my consumption of them does too. Here are three I just tasted that are delicious, fairly priced and very different from one another.

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Michael Torino 2014 Malbec Rosé

All of the fruit for this wine was sourced in the Cafayete region of Argentina. It’s composed entirely of Malbec and all of the grapes are from estate vineyards. After pressing, the juice had minimal contact with skins to achieve its color. After that, fermentation and vinification follows the same protocol used for white wines. Suggested retail price is $12. The first thing that stands out about this rosé is the color, which is deeper and darker than average. Wild ripe strawberry and red cherry aromas leap from the nose here along with a touch of vanilla bean. The palate is loaded with a bevy of sumptuous fruit flavors such as cherry, raspberry and bits of red plum. Sour cherry and a hint of white pepper are each substantial parts of the finish, which has good length. This rosé has a bit more weight than usual and will stand up to more substantial foods.

Hecht & Bannier 2014 Cotes de Provence Rosé

This offering is a classic blend of Cinsault (45%), Grenache (30%) and Syrah (25%). All of the fruit came from the limestone laden foothills of Montagne Sainte Victoire. The Grenache and Syrah are macerated together for maximum integration. Suggested retail price is $18. The pale pink hue of this offering from Provence is precisely the color in my mind’s eye when rosé comes to mind. Light red fruit aromas fill the nose along with subtle bits of tropical fruit. The palate is gently layered with oodles of continued fruit and accompanying spices. The finish is long and persistent with crisp acid. The lingering impression is of being refreshed. This wine pairs well with light food and is also just fabulous all by itself.

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Pascal Jolivet 2014 Sancerre Rosé

The fruit for this wine comes from France’s Loire Valley. It’s composed entirely of Pinot Noir. It was produced using two methodologies: saignée and direct press. It was fermented exclusively in stainless steel utilizing only native yeasts. Suggested retail price is $23. Strawberry aromas are underscored by a hint of pink grapefruit and crème fraiche on the nose. Wisps of bay leaf and thyme show up on the palate alongside tons more red fruit flavors, mainly in the form of strawberry. The finish shows off, firm crisp acidy and plenty of spice. This is a beautiful expression of rosé that will pair well with a wide array of foods.

If you don’t think you like rosé, I’d venture to guess you’re drinking the wrong ones. Each of the three above could easily be the right one. It all depends on what flavors you enjoy and what sort of food you’ll be eating. So figure out which one sounds most appealing and grab a bottle. If you do, I’m willing to bet you’ll be drinking rosé all summer long too. Cheers!

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Frei Brothers offers solid Sonoma County drinking

Frei Brothers is a label that’s probably familiar to many wine consumers. Their offerings are produced in sizeable quantities and available all over the country in all sorts of retailers. It had been a while since I’d actually consumed any of their wines though, so I was happy to dive back in and see what they have going on. What I found are wines reflective of their Sonoma County origins, true to their varietal, widely available and well-priced. What’s not to like? Here’s a closer look at the trio I tasted.

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Frei Brothers Reserve 2012 Russian River Valley Pinot Noir ($27)

This offering is 100 percent Pinot Noir and entirely Russian River Valley fruit. Fermentation took place in a temperature-controlled environment. Barrel aging was accomplished over nine months in a combination of new and used French and American oak. The black cherry hue of this Pinot Noir gives it a darker color than average. The aromas wafting from the nose are similarly dark and ever so slightly brooding. Black and red cherry flavors dominate the palate with bits of plum and strawberry interspersed as well. Cinnamon, bay leaf, mushroom and hints of cigar box are all part of the above-average finish. This is a solid choice for an everyday Pinot Noir. It’s got a little more heft than the average Pinot, but not so much to distract.

Frei Brothers Reserve 2013 Russian River Valley Chardonnay ($20)

This wine is predominately Chardonnay (99 percent), with a touch of other mixed whites blended in (1 percent). All of the fruit came from the Russian River Valley. Fermentation occurred in a combination of barrel and stainless steel using wild yeasts. This textbook example of Russian River Valley Chardonnay shows off bits of toasted vanilla and white fruit aromas in a welcoming nose. The palate is stuffed with orchard fruits, baker’s spices and a lush mouthfeel that fills the mouth and coats the senses. Toasted hazelnut, crème fraiche and continued apple and pear flavors dominate the above-average finish. This is a solid example of Chardonnay for the money. It offers plenty of fruit and reasonable complexity.

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Frei Brothers Reserve 2012 Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon ($27)

In addition to Cabernet Sauvignon (83 percent), some Merlot (13 percent) and Petite Sirah (4 percent) were blended in. All of the fruit was grown in Alexander Valley. After temperature-controlled fermentation it was aged in a combination of new and used French and American oak. Blackberry and earth aromas interspersed with bits of vanilla leap from the heady nose of this Cabernet Sauvignon. The palate is studded with juicy, dark fruit flavors such as black plum, raspberry and hints of smoke. Earth, black teas, pepper and continued dark fruit flavors are all in play on the finish which has terrific length. This Cabernet has soft tannins and good acid. It would be an excellent match for a burger or cheesesteak.

Store shelves are filled with a dizzying array of wines. That’s particularly true when you look at offerings that are widely available and made in fairly large quantities. We need something to help us distinguish one offering from another. In this case these wines set themselves apart because they do taste like their place of origin, Sonoma County and the grape they were each predominately produced from. All that, and they’re reasonably priced. Check them out!

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A delicious quartet from California’s Central Coast

California’s Central Coast is a large area that encompasses many distinct growing regions. Rob Murray Vineyards is located in Paso Robles and produces wine from both there and the Santa Barbara area. The winery’s proprietor owns and manages more than 1,000 acres of vineyard and produce wines under a handful of different names. I recently sat down and tasted side by side through a number of their current releases. Here are the four that really stood out to me.

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Force of Nature 2013 Chardonnay ($22.50)

All of the fruit for this wine (100 percent Chardonnay) came from a single vineyard in Santa Maria Valley. It was aged over 10 months in a combination of new French oak (20 percent), neutral oak (30 percent) and stainless steel (50 percent). Pear and lemon zest aromas inform the lovely nose of this Chardonnay. The palate is studded with white peach, Anjou pear and guava flavors. Limestone, pie crust, lemon curd and a bevy of spices all emerge on the lengthy finish, along with a touch of crème fraiche. Bottom line this is a juicy, Chardonnay loaded with appealing fruit flavors.

Force of Nature 2013 Zinfandel ($22.50)

This wine is made up entirely of Zinfandel from the Mossfire Ranch in Paso Robles, which is planted to the Rockpile Clone. It was aged over 12 months in a combination of new (20 percent) and third use (80 percent) French oak. Red raspberry and plum aromas lead the nose, along with a dollop of blueberry. The palate is stuffed with jam-laden fruits such as black raspberry and wild strawberry, along with black pepper and bits of cinnamon. Dark chocolate, blackberry and a tiny wisp of espresso are each in play on the long, somewhat lusty finish. If you think of Paso only for Zinfandels that are too big and high in alcohol, think again. This is a terrific example of a refined and proportionate Zinfandel.

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Tooth & Nail 2012 The Fiend ($26.99)

The fruit for this blend came from the Tolliver Ranch in Paso Robles. The Fiend combines Malbec (80 percent) with Syrah (20 percent). It was aged over 26 months in French oak; 30 percent of the barrels were new. Bits of sage and thyme join dark fruit aromas on the nose. The palate is stuffed with oodles of delicious and even-keeled dark fruit flavors such as plum and blueberry. Dark dusty chocolate, spices and chicory are all present on the above average finish. The tannins here are soft and lush lending to a velvety mouthfeel. This is a real subtle depth to the flavors and layers here that is worth mentioning, as it is a wine far from hitting you over the head like some of the Coast blends you’ll find on the shelf. The Fiend is a wine that can — and probably should — be savored in fine company with a lovely meal.

Tooth & Nail 2012 The Possessor ($26.99)

Cabernet Sauvignon (70 percent), Syrah (12 percent), Petite Sirah (10 percent) and Malbec (8 percent) were blended together. It was aged over 16 months in 30 percent new French oak. Kirsch liqueur aromas are prominent on the nose, along with wisps of bay leaf. The palate features plums galore and bits of spice that reverberate. Minerals, hints of smoked meat and plenty of sweet berry fruits mark the finish alongside a hint of black tea. The Possessor is an extremely tightknit and cohesive blend; none of the varietals jump out and steal the show. They work together to form a sum different than the parts.

Some wines from the Paso Robles region have a reputation for being big and over-extracted. That’s not at all the case here. All four wines are full of fruit and provide tons of dynamic flavors. Each one of them is also more than fairly priced for the quality in the bottle. The Chardonnay in particular is a real steal of a deal. It exhibits the sort of complexity and richness I expect from bottles priced closer to $40. And it demands mentioning, these wines are all interesting, which is something I want in my wines of course. Drink these up, they’re delicious!

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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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