Lodi’s Markus Wine Co. home of unique and delicious wines

I recently spent several days in the Lodi wine-growing region of California as the guest of the Lodi Winegrowers. Over four days, the group I was with took a deep dive into all things Lodi. We visited wineries, vineyard sites and had lunch at the home of a couple who own a terrific winery. The overall variety of wines we tasted was stunning in its diversity, both in terms of grapes utilized as well as styles they were made in. One wine brand in particular that stuck out for me is Markus Wine Co.

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This project is part of Borra Vineyards. There are a few distinct differences between them, the biggest being that while the Borra wines are produced from fruit grown on the family’s own vineyards, the wines from Markus Wine Co. are made from sourced fruit. Winemaker Markus Niggli looks for great vineyards in the region and crafts wines in a fresh, modern style. We tasted Markus’ wines at the Mokelumne Glen Vineyard, one of his sources for fruit. The family that owns this vineyard and grows the fruit is dedicated entirely to German varietals. They carefully tend a broad array of grapes and sell them to artists like Markus who use them to craft lovely wines loaded with character. Markus also works with a nearby artist to create labels that merge imagery that brings to mind a place from his past, with the spot the grapes are sourced. Three of his wines really stood out for me. The fruit for all of these is from Mokelumne Glen Vineyards.

Markus Wine Co. 2014 Nativo ($19)

This wine is a blend of Kerner (75 percent), Riesling (19 percent) and Bacchus (6 percent). Fermentation took place over 10 days in stainless steel utilizing native yeast. It was aged in-tank for five months prior to bottling. Granny Smith apple aromas dominate the nose. The refreshing palate is studded with appealing flavors such as honeysuckle and white peach. Bits of sweetness emerge on the finish, which shows lemon zest and wet limestone characteristics. Firm, racy acid keeps everything in check. If you want to blow away your wine-loving friends, bring a few bottles of this gem with you, and they’ll be in awe of your wine-selecting abilities.

Markus Wine Co. Nuvola ($19)

This selection is entirely Gewürztraminer. All of the fruit was hand-harvested. Fermentation took place in stainless steel over 10 days using native yeast. It was aged in stainless for five months prior to bottling. Apricot and lychee fruit aromas dominate the welcoming nose. Hints of savory herb lead the palate. They’re joined by copious amounts of stone fruit, lemon zest, minerals and a touch of orchard fruit. The long finish is layered with continued fruit, spice, minerals and crisp acid. This is a lovely and singular expression of Gewürztraminer loaded with charm.

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Markus Wine Co. 2013 Nimmo ($22)

This offering is a blend of Kerner (69 percent), Gewürztraminer (11 percent), Riesling (10 percent) and Bacchus (10 percent). Fermentation took place in a combination of stainless steel and barrel over seven days. Barrel aging occurred over nine months in a combination of French and American oak; 60 percent of them were new. Hints of smoke lead the nose here. The body has some nice weight and heft to it. Lychee, pineapple and lemon curd are all in play. There is a viscosity and mineral-driven nature to the mouthfeel which dances alongside a core of tart green apple notes and spice. The finish is crisp, long and refreshing. All of these elements come together to make this a remarkably appealing wine. This is one of those wines I had trouble putting down.

Lodi California has some truly exciting things going on for wine lovers. Projects like Markus Wine Co. are really setting a new standard. These are remarkably well-priced wines, produced from grapes one might not expect to find in Lodi. Of huge importance, of course, is the fact that they are exceptionally delicious, well-made wines that stand apart from the pack. The wines of Markus Niggli, along with those of quite a few other artisanal family producers in Lodi, are worth a special effort to seek out. Spend your money on these; they will make your tongue do a happy dance.

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Paso’s Niner Wine Estates offers variety and value

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The city of Paso Robles is located almost exactly between Los Angeles and San Francisco, two of the largest and most distinct cities in California. When wine from Paso hit the national stage, it was Zinfandel that stole the show. Soon after, lots of Rhone varietals began to emerge. In earlier days, many of the efforts were big, extracted wines featuring high alcohol. Things started to change, and today, Paso Robles is home to a truly wide array of different grapes, many of which thrive in its varied climates. In addition to that, many producers are making proportionate wines, so much so that the cartoonish wines of years back are well in the minority. One of the producers that is part of that sea change is Niner Wine Estates. In addition to Paso Robles, they have estate vineyards in Edna Valley. Here are some terrific Niner wines from each.

Niner Wine Estates 2014 Estate Albarino ($20)

All of the fruit for this wine came from their estate vineyard, Jespersen Ranch, in Edna Valley. This is a 100 percent varietal wine. After fermentation, it was aged for 10 months in stainless steel prior to bottling. Toasted hazelnut and lychee fruit aromas fill the welcoming nose here. Stone fruits such as white peach, apricot and nectarine are all in abundance on the delicious and full-flavored palate, along with bits of spice. The finish is long, mellifluous and dotted with topical fruits. Firm acid contributes to the mouthwatering nature of this Albarino. It’s delicious, refreshing and hard to put down.

Niner Wine Estates 2013 Estate Chardonnay ($25)

About 1,200 cases of this Chardonnay from Jespersen Ranch in Edna Valley were produced. It’s 100 percent varietal and was aged in entirely French oak; 30 percent of the barrels utilized were new. Orchard and stone fruit aromas fill the nose, along with toast and spices galore. The palate shows off apple, peach and pear flavors with baker’s spices. Toasted pecan, crème fraiche and continued fruit flavors fill out the above average finish. This is a fine example of Chardonnay that is enhanced by time in new oak without it becoming a distraction. Lovely sipped by itself, this Chardonnay will excel with soft cheeses, pastas with creamy sauces or a simple roast chicken.

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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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