Hall makes tasty Napa Valley wines

Hall Napa Valley currently produces about 120,000 cases of wine per year. They have been making wine in Napa since they opened their winery in 2005. Just this spring, the Halls launched a new facility in St. Helena. This new winery and tasting room was built on a site that has a 150-year history in Napa Valley wine making. The Halls still maintain their original, intimate location in Rutherford and continue to make some wines there, but the new facility allows them to host a variety of events as well as have more people visit and taste wine on a daily basis. On a recent trip to Napa Valley I stopped at Hall St. Helena, toured their new facility and grounds, and of course tasted through their current portfolio. Here are some wines from their Napa Valley collection that I enjoyed. These selections are widely available all over the country.

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Hall Napa Valley 2013 Sauvignon Blanc – All of the fruit for this wine was sourced within Napa Valley. It’s composed of entirely Sauvignon Blanc. Fermentation and aging took place in stainless steel; there was no oak influence on this offering. It has a suggested retail price of $24. Bright, ripe gooseberry aromas practically explode from the nose of this Sauvignon Blanc. Citrus and stone fruit aromas abound as well. The palate is rich and refreshing with both tropical and citrus zest flavors playing big roles. Hints of crème fraiche, white and green peppercorn and a touch of grass mark the finish, which is clean and crisp with racy acidity. The Hall Sauvignon Blanc will work equally well paired with light summery foods or all by itself as an aperitif.

Hall Napa Valley 2011 Merlot – The fruit for this wine was sourced at two vineyard sites within Napa Valley. In addition to Merlot (95 percent), it contains some Petit Verdot (5 percent) as well. After fermentation, it was aged on French oak for 20 months; 45 percent of the barrels were new. This Merlot has a suggested retail price of $33. Bright red cherry aromas are supported by bits of spice on the highly engaging nose of this Merlot. The palate is stuffed with both red and black cherry, as well as chicory and black tea characteristics. Kirsch liqueur interspersed with hints of sweet chocolate are in play on the above average finish. This is a fine example of Merlot that is loaded with varietal character and has terrific structure. It’s delicious now and will drink well over the next five years.

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Hall Napa Valley 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon – This offering is composed of fruit sourced throughout Napa Valley. In addition to Cabernet Sauvignon (91 percent), some Merlot (8 percent) and Petit Verdot (1 percent) were blended in. After fermentation it was barrel-aged over 18 months in exclusively French oak; 55 percent of the barrels were new. This Cabernet has a suggested retail price of $50. Roasted coffee and berry aromas are prominent on the nose here. Blackberry, cherry and wisps of mission fig make up the substantial palate. Earth and gingerbread spices, along with a bit of brown sugar, all emerge on the persistent finish. Napa Valley Cabernet comes in all shapes, sizes and price points. This is a substantial one for the $50 category. It’s delicious now and will evolve and drink well for six to eight years.

The most important thing to me about these wines it that they are each a fine and genuine reflection of Napa Valley. Each individual offering speaks not only of the grape variety in question, but also of the place the fruit was grown. To varying degrees these are varieties Napa Valley is well known for. Cabernet Sauvignon is king there, and this selection is made in a classic style. Sauvignon Blanc has been hugely popular in Napa for years, but still it’s on the rise. Where most every tasting room seemed to once have a multitude of Chardonnays (many still do of course), it’s increasingly common to see multiple expressions of Sauvignon Blanc at one winery. Merlot — when done right, like this example — can be as well structured and complex as good Cabernet. These wines from Hall are also fairly priced for the quality they represent. And their wide availability helps make them solid go-to choices. In addition to these wines, Hall produced a range of selections in what they call the Artisan Collection. This higher end tier features vineyard designate as well as proprietary wines. So if you’re looking for genuine Napa Valley Wine, Hall should be on your radar.

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Rutini Trumpeter offers delicious values from Argentina

I don’t know about you, but Malbec is the first grape that comes to mind when discussing Argentina. It’s their signature varietal and as such has received some serious attention over the years. When it’s done right, Argentine Malbec is as good as examples from anywhere in the world. That said though, there’s a lot more to Argentine wine than just Malbec. When I started drinking wines from Argentina in the mid 1990s, it was Cabernet Sauvignon that got my attention, Chardonnay soon followed. The point is that while the Malbec gets most of the attention, there’s a lot more to love. In the value category in particular, Argentina offers a wide swath of affordable wines. Here’ are four from Rutini Trumpeter that offer varietal character and value to boot.

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Rutini Trumpeter Chardonnay – The fruit for this wine was sourced in the Mendoza region of Argentina. It’s a 100 percent varietal wine, and 30 percent of the fruit underwent malolactic fermentation (a secondary fermentation process that converts the harsher malic acid to softer lactic acid). It was aged in a combination of new (50 percent), once-used (25 percent) and twice-used (25 percent) French oak. This wine has a suggested retail price of $10.99. Apple and kiwi aromas emerge from the nose of this Chardonnay. The palate features both orchard fruit and pineapple characteristics. Both yellow and green apple flavors are in evidence on the finish, along with hints of limestone and white pepper. This is a clean, crisp Chardonnay, loaded with pure fruit. It would be a great choice to drink all summer and fall.

Rutini Trumpeter Cabernet Sauvignon – All of the fruit for this wine was picked by hand in the Mendoza region. It’s 100 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, and all of it underwent malolactic fermentation. It was aged in a combination of new American (40 percent) and used French (60 percent) oak over a period of 9 months. It has a suggested retail price of $10.09. Red plum and black raspberry aromas are prominent on the nose. Those fruity characteristics carry through to the palate where it’s joined by hints of black raspberry and cherry. Vanilla bean, black pepper and a hint of cardamom are all in evidence on the finish. This wine is loaded with eager fruit flavors. It’s fresh and appealing; drink it in its youth for maximum pleasure.

Rutini Trumpeter Malbec – This 100 percent Malbec wine was produced using fruit sourced at the Tupungato vineyard in Mendoza. It underwent malolactic fermentation. Barrel aging took place over 7 months in a combination of new and used French and American oak. It has a suggested retail price of $10.99. Red raspberry and a hint of crème fraiche tell the story of the nose on this fruit-driven Malbec. The palate is juicy and studded with more of those characteristics, as well as red cherry and a hint of super ripe red wild strawberry. The finish shows off wisps of sweet cocoa and continuing fruit flavors. Pair this wine with something off the grill for a delicious pairing.

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Ironstone Vineyards Has Something for Every Taste Bud

The Kautz family has been farming grapes in California for more than 65 years. With more than 5,000 acres under vine, they’re one of the largest growers in the state. In addition to selling fruit, for more than 25 of those years they have also been making their own wine. Ironstone Vineyards is located in the Sierra Foothills. They farm their property sustainably as shepherds of the land they inhabit. Their portfolio features a wide range of wines, many available nationally, as well as a few limited releases found in their tasting room. Here’s a look at four of my favorites among their current offerings.

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Ironstone Vineyards 2012 Ironstone Reserve Chardonnay – The fruit for this wine came from Sierra Foothills vineyards that have been in the family for four generations. This offering is 100 percent Chardonnay. The fruit was hand-selected and gently pressed. Barrel aging occurred entirely in French oak; bottle aging followed prior to release. About 1,000 cases of this wine were produced, and it has a suggested retail price of $19.99. Bright apple, white fig and gentle crème brulee aromas are all part of the nose of this Chardonnay. The palate is studded with Asian pear and a potpourri of different apple characteristics. Reminders of Challah bread and pie crust lead the above average finish, which also shows off wisps of cinnamon, butter and rugelach spices.

Ironstone Vineyards 2012 Old Vines Zinfandel – All of the fruit for this wine came from Mokelumne River, a sub-appellation of Lodi. In addition to Zinfandel (92 percent), a small amount of Petite Sirah (8 percent) was blended in. Barrel aging took place over 6 months in entirely French oak. About 15,000 cases of this Zinfandel were produced, and it has a suggested retail price of $11.99. The boisterous nose of this Zinfandel is led by violet, plum and red raspberry aromas. The aromas are so welcoming they practically demand you take a sip. When you do, you’ll find red and black raspberry, which is a just a wee bit of a jam element. Blackberry and blueberry flavors are present, along with black pepper and clove spices. All of these flavors continue through the finish which has reasonable length. This is a crowd-pleasing wine that goes down easy. You could pair this wine with a lot of full-flavored foods such as BBQ, but for me this is a perfect Tuesday-night-with-pizza wine.

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Ironstone Vineyards 2012 Petite Sirah – The fruit for this wine was sourced in the same sub-appellation that the above Zinfandel came from. After fermentation the wine was aged for 2 months in new French oak. About 5,000 cases of this wine were produced, and it has a suggested retail price of $11.99. The moment you pour this wine it has that beautiful deep purple hue that more than any other varietal brings to mind grape juice. Deep, concentrated dark fruit aromas are joined by vanilla and a hint of bay leaf. Lots of dark and brooding flavors are in play throughout the densely flavored palate; plum, blueberry and blackberry are prominent. White pepper, cardamom and minerals are all in evidence on the solid finish. Medium tannins give easily with some air. Decanting this wine for 30 minutes really allows it to open up. This is a big mouthful of delicious flavor for less than $12.

Ironstone Vineyards 2011 Obsession Red – The fruit for this wine was sourced in both the Sierra Foothills and Lodi, California. This blend is comprised of Merlot (50 percent), Zinfandel (40 percent), and Petite Sirah (10 percent). After fermentation the wine was aged in French oak for 3 months prior to bottling. About 2,500 cases of this release were produced, and it has a suggested retail price of $14.99. Plum, blueberry and plum pudding spice elements are all present on the nose. The palate is full-bodied with black cherry elements leading a veritable boatload of sweet fruit flavors. Espresso, chocolate dipped cherries and copious spices are all present on the finish. This trio of grapes comes together to form a wine with sweet, dark fruit and good structure. BBQ season is coming, and you can pair this with anything that comes off your grill.

This quartet offers a small window into the array of offerings Ironstone produces. Their wines are quite fairly priced for the quality in their respective categories. The Chardonnay is a tremendous value. The bottom line is that if you wanted to buy a Napa Valley Chardonnay of that quality and depth, you would most often need to spend $40 to $50. That makes the Ironstone Reserve Chardonnay a very smart buy for fans of that grape. Many of their wines are available on shelves all over the U.S., so check them out; it’s likely to lead to a tasty good deal.

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Variety is king in Australian wine

Australia is a diverse country whose various wine regions and wine styles quite literally offer something for every palate, price range and occasion. Shiraz is what a lot of people think of first, and with good reason — they make a wide array of lovely ones in diverse styles. However, that’s the tip of the iceberg in Australia. Whether it’s white wine or red wine, hot or cool climate, made in gentle or bold and brawny styles, Australia has something to offer. There is also quite a bit of value to be had on our shelves coming from the shores of Australia. Here’s a look at three wildly divergent wines, each delicious in its own right, representing its region and variety well, and all reasonably priced.

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Brokenwood 2013 Hunter Valley Semillon – This winery has been around for more than 40 years, and they have been featuring Semillon in their portfolio for more than 30 of those years. The fruit for this wine was picked by hand, and is entirely Semillon. Fermentation and aging was handled entirely in stainless steel. This wine has a suggested retail price of $20. Honeydew melon and Granny Smith apple aromas are prominent on the nose. Lemon zest, bits of nectarine and white pepper are all prominent on the palate, along with hints of grapefruit. The finish is crisp, clean and refreshing with continued citrus notes and a gentle hint of brioche. This wine works well as an aperitif or paired with a lighter foods. Semillon in this style is eminently age-worthy — don’t hesitate to lay this one down for a decade or more and watch its fascinating evolution.

Innocent Bystander 2012 Pinot Noir – Winemaker Phil Sexton has been producing wine in the Yarra Valley since the late 1990s. The area, and the fruit it produced, inspired and continue to inform the Innocent Bystander line. The fruit was picked by hand and destemmed. It’s entirely Pinot Noir. Fermentation took place with native yeasts; 60 percent was aged in stainless steel, the balance in oak. This wine was bottled unfiltered. It has a suggested retail price of $20. Ripe strawberry and mushroom aromas light up the gorgeous nose of this Pinot Noir. The palate here is studded with red fruit, tinged with bits of black fruit as well. Cherry is the dominant characteristic and it’s joined by hints of cinnamon. Sour cherry, rhubarb, earthy chicory and black pepper fill out the gentle finish. This is a pretty good example of Pinot Noir that tenderly envelops your senses and keeps you coming back for sip after sip. At less than $20, if you shop around, it’s a terrific Pinot for the price.

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Imprimata 2012 McLaren Vale Grenache – The relatively new producer has been making wine in McLaren Vale, where owner Ben Hammerschlag started looked for the optimal property in 2006. This offering is 100 percent Grenache. Fermentation took place in stainless steel tanks, and barrel aging followed over a period of 5 months in 2 to 3-year-old barrels. This wine has a suggested retail price of $25. Raspberry, red plum and a subtle hint of charcoal are all part of the super-engaging nose of this Grenache. Purple and red fruit flavors fill the palate; all manner of berry and plum flavors are on display here. Savory herb, black pepper and hints of stewed red fruits emerge on the finish, which has terrific length. This wine has power, grace and the ability to pair up with an incredibly wide array of foods.

Certainly, we should all keep drinking Australian Shiraz; they do a bang-up job with it. However, if the only thing from Australia you’re drinking is Shiraz you’re missing most of the picture. There’s a whole world of wine out there to enjoy. Think of the trio above as a mini introduction into some of the other wines and styles that Australia offers to the wine lovers of the world. Don’t stop here — keep tasting and drinking your way through the deliciousness. Find a grape you love and explore it from a variety of Australian regions, or find a region and explore various wines from there. In either case you’ll learn a lot and have a tasty time.

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Vino Dei Fratelli offers a broad array of tasty Italian values

Lately, I’ve tasted quite a bit of Italian wine. The wines I’ve tasted recently represent a real cross section of what’s available from Italy — they’re all over the spectrum in terms of price points, grapes used and style. And at the end of the day that’s really a microcosm of what Italy produces, which is great variety. The Vino Dei Fratelli line features wines made all over Italy, and made by several families that vary by area. Basically each family specializes in making wines from varietals that are indigenous to their area. By sourcing from a host of family producers throughout Italy, Fratelli is able to offer genuine regional wines at reasonable price-points under one umbrella. Here’s a look at a handful of their newest releases that I feel represent very good values.

Vino Dei Fratelli 2011 Pinot Grigio – All of the fruit for this wine came from the Veneto region, and is 100 percent Pinot Grigio. Fermentation took place over a period of 20 days in stainless steel tanks. About 1,500 cases were produced and the suggested retail price is $12.99. Apple and yellow melon aromas are present on the nose of this Pinot Grigio. The palate shows off a continued parade of fruit characteristics with Yellow Delicious apple and bits of mango making their presence known. Lemon and tangerine zest, white pepper and a touch of Granny Smith apple are all in play on the crispy finish. This refreshing wine shows off fine varietal character for its price category. I found that this particular Pinot Grigio was at its best ice cold. It’s tasty all by itself but steps up when paired with light foods.

Vino Dei Fratelli 2011 Montepulciano d’Abruzzo – The fruit for this wine came entirely from the Montepulciano d’Abruzzo DOCG region. It’s a 100 percent varietal wine. After harvesting and manual selection, the choice grapes were de-stemmed. Fermentation took place in temperature-controlled stainless steel tanks. Three months of bottle aging followed prior to release. About 1,500 cases of this wine were imported, and it has a suggested retail price of $11.99. Dark violet aromas lead the nose here along with interlaced red and black raspberry fruit characteristics. Sweet, fresh, black fig leads the juicy palate along with hints of blackberry and pepper spice. Montmorency cherry and dried date notes show up on the finish, along hints of rhubarb. This Montepulciano craves food and will work well with casual foods such as charcuterie, wings, simple pastas and the like.

Vino Dei Fratelli 2011 Primitivo – All of the fruit for this wine was sourced in the Southern Italian region of Puglia. It’s composed entirely of Primitivo which is a close relative to Zinfandel. Fermentation in a temperature-controlled environment took place over 15 days. Malolactic fermentation followed by aging in stainless steel tanks. About 1,500 cases of this wine were imported and it has a suggested retail price of $14.99. Fresh raspberry and blackberry aromas leap from the nose of this Primitivo. The charming palate of this wine is laced with continued blackberry, not to mention blueberry as well as red and black plum. Bits of earth and sweet chocolate emerge on the finish of this fruity, juicy and simply pleasing wine. Medium tannins and solid acid provide nice structure. This Primitivo is just a touch rustic in nature, which adds to its charm. It’ll work well with ribs, burgers, pulled pork or just about anything you pull off your grill or out of your smoker.

Vino Dei Fratelli 2011 Chianti – This 100 percent Sangiovese wine was produced from entirely Tuscan fruit. Temperature-controlled fermentation took place over 12 days, and aging in stainless steel occurred over 8 months. About 6,000 cases of this wine were made and it has a suggested retail price of $14.99. Leather, violets and tobacco aromas are all in evidence on the nose of this 2011 Chianti. Cherry flavors continue on the palate where they dominate things and are supported by underlying bits of dried wild strawberry. Pomegranate and a hint of dried red apple emerge on the finish, along with a tiny bit of black pepper. Firm acidy and medium tannins are present. This is a classic red sauce wine. Pair it with anything covered in a good Marinara or Bolognese, including a slice of Pizza on a Tuesday night, for a delightful match.

Italy as much (if not more) than any other country is food-obsessed. Part of that is a glass of wine with their meals. These four examples from Vino Dei Fratelli remind me of precisely the kinds of wine that Italians are drinking on a daily basis. These are well made, local offerings, aimed at youthful consumption. They’re also attractively priced for regular drinking. Look for these on the shelf at your local wine shop and take them home so that you can drink just the way regular Italians do every day.

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