Wine Reviews Tasting Notes and Education for the Non-Snob, by Vino Joe, a Certified Specialist of Wine (CSW)

White Wine Review: Luna Mater

Fontana Candida Frascati “Luna Mater” 2009 | Lazio, Italy

fontana-candida-luna-materThis is one of those wines for that rare person who enjoys drinking wine with food, and/or considers wine as food.

OK, I’m being a little facetious / condescending. The truth is, like most Italian wines, this is food — at least, as far as I’m concerned.

Don’t — under ANY circumstances — attempt to [Read more...]

American Wines for July Fourth: Macari Merlot, Macari Rose

What’s an ideal wine for the Fourth of July? Depends on your perspective, but my suggestion is a wine that is a chillable, crowd-pleasing quaffer that pairs with picnic plates, barbecue, and finger foods. If it’s a red, make sure it’s light on the tannins. Whites — or better yet, rose wines — should have a soft mouthfeel, with enough acidity to stand up to outdoor party dishes but not so tart that they taste sour when drunk alone. Then there is the Independence Day theme: the wine doesn’t necessarily have to be from the USA, but it would be a nice touch. At the very least, it should embody the spirit of American independence — perhaps represent rebellion.

With those factors in mind, my specific suggestions come from Macari Vineyards in Long Island, New York. American, obviously, so check that off. Independent? Check — the winery and vineyards are owned and operated by the Macari family. Rebellious? Not necessarily, but certainly, the Macaris fit the mold of what we like to think of Americans: bold, brave, pioneering, responsible, and always striving to improve. Only an American would try to grow French grapes on a potato field in Long Island — and succeed. Oh, and by the way this was accomplished naturally and organically, without pesticides or chemicals, using biodynamic methods and sustainable farming techniques.

Macari Rose 2010 | North Fork, Long Island, New York, USA

Mostly Merlot with Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Malbec blended in. The nose, to me, is expressing red wine, and similar to what I normally associate with Beaujolais — cherry, ripe overripe banana, hint of orange marmalade — but it also has some bright citrus. In the mouth the citrus fruit is most apparent; it’s a juicy, tasty flavor that resembles a mix of lemon, lime, blood orange, and a bit of ripe red cherry. Good chalky acidity holds the fruit together and makes it ideal for food matching. The finish has a nice mixture of red berry and citrus peel. I matched this perfectly with a curried chicken salad recipe found online, and it was also delicious on its own. I reckon it is equally good if paired with meaty fish, other chicken dishes, and pork, as well as just about anything coming off the grill. Hmm … the grill … it’s from New York, it’s friendly for food pairing, and guaranteed to be a crowd-pleaser … I’m gonna go on a limb and say this is PERFECT for a July 4th barbecue!

But what if you’re a “tough guy” who doesn’t want his friends seeing him drinking pink wine at the picnic? Luckily, Macari also makes a Merlot that you can bring to the party.

Macari Merlot Estate 2008 | North Fork, Long Island, New York, USA

Bright, ripe strawberry, raspberry, and cherry aromas jump out of the glass at first sniff, with some hints of earth and mineral. The palate is wide open and full of sweet strawberry and cherry upfront, followed by a dry cranberry and pleasantly sour black cherry flavor in the finish. Tannins are there but understated and mild; acidity is also fairly mild but enough for food matching. This reminds me more of Pinot Noir than Merlot, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing, particularly if you don’t like the bell pepper aromas and flavors typical of Merlot (that element does not exist in this wine).

This is a 2008 vintage, and it may be peaking right now. It’s delicious on its own, but I found it more enjoyable with simply roasted turkey. Try it also with other poultry (grilled chicken drumsticks!) and full-flavored fish such as salmon. This wine is really well done and is a great ambassador to the red wines of Long Island.

Use Wine-Searcher to find Macari Rose and Macari Merlot at a retailer on your way to the barbecue.

You can also learn more about these wines and the winery by visiting the Macari Vineyards website.

Disclosure: I received these wines as press samples from the winery.

Chardonnay Review: Macari Reserve

Macari Chardonnay Reserve 2007 ♦ North Fork, Long Island, NY, USA

macari_chardonnay.jpgWhen it comes to wines from the United States, North Fork, Long Island, New York, is not exactly mentioned in the same breath as, say, Napa Valley, but nonetheless this small region does produce drinkable and enjoyable wines. Its Northeast geography lends itself to less consistent and predictable summers, with a climate and soil type that is not necessarily ideal for “traditional” grapes such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, and Merlot. Very generally speaking, Long Island summers are better suited for varietals such as Riesling, Gewurztraminer, and Cabernet Franc, which tend to flourish in cooler climes.

However, that doesn’t mean that more popular varietal wines can’t be made on the East Coast — there are a few top-notch wineries that are able to bottle wines that you might guess came from the “left” Coast. One such wine that might fool you is Macari Vineyards Chardonnay Reserve, a rich and luscious example that benefits from a full year in French Oak barrels — just like they do it in Napa.

Tasting Notes – Macari Vineyards Chardonnay Reserve 2007

Bright, fragrant nose of tropical fruits, sweet peach, overripe pear, pineapple, banana, along with a bit of vanilla and butterscotch. In the mouth it has a sweet fruit flavor, showing ripe pear and some other white fruits. A distinct candied peach flavor arrives in the finish. Acidity is low. Texture is smooth, almost oily. Enjoyable on its own, can work with some low-fat foods.

a-8 t-8 b-7 fc-7 v-7 ~ 87 Points

Macari Vineyards

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Pinot Noir Review: Acacia “A”

Acacia “A” Pinot Noir 2006

Acacia A Pinot Noir wine bottleThere are oodles and oodles of Pinot Noir choices at all price levels from all regions around the world — so how does one know which one to buy?

Beats me … unless you’re spending $45 or more for a legit red Burgundy from a reliable producer, buying Pinot Noir is a crapshoot. What I’ve been trying to do is focus on the ones in the $15-20 range, with the hopes of finding a few nuggets. So far, so good. It appears that if you get too far below the $15 mark, the quality and uniqueness drops considerably. Going above twenty, though, doesn’t seem to guarantee anything. But as I uncover Pinot Noirs that deliver good bang for the buck, I’ll post them here.

The most recent find is Acacia “A” Pinot Noir.

Acacia is a winery based in the Carneros region of Napa Valley, California, and respected for their Chardonnay as well as for their pioneering efforts with Pinot Noir in Carneros. However, this wine is not from Carneros, but rather from grapes grown in both Sonoma and Monterey. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, as it allows Acacia to make wines that are more affordable for short-pocketed folks such as me. The effort is commendable, and well-executed: Acacia “A” Pinot Noir is a quality wine.

Tasting Notes: Acacia “A” Pinot Noir

Attractive aroma of roses, bright raspberry, and a hint of earth. The palate is equally pleasant, offering flavors of ripe red raspberry, black cherry, a touch of black pepper and mild, sweet earth. Texture is smooth. Acidity is medium, tannins are mild to medium. This is a pleasant, easygoing wine that is OK by itself and better with simple dishes. Try it with mildly seasoned chicken, turkey, or duck; vegetarian cuisine; or mild cheese.

a-7 t-7 b-8 fc-8 v-8 ~ 88 Points

Winery website: Acacia Vineyard

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Chardonnay Wine Review: Artesa

Artesa Chardonnay Reserve 2005

Artesa Chardonnay Reserve white wine bottleOnce in a while when I’m in the wine shop my alligator arms reach way way down to the bottom of my pocket, where I hide my twenty dollar bills, so that I can buy an “expensive” bottle of wine. I know, I know, there are plenty of people who plunk down much more than that on a regular basis — indeed, you might be one of those who regularly have Andrew Jackson as your wine enabler.

However, I tend to be — oh, let’s call it “cash challenged” — so when I go far above $15-20 for a bottle of wine, it HAS to be worth it.

In this case, it is.

The “regular” or “Classic Tier” Chardonnay made by Artesa is more in my price range — about $12-14 depending on the retailer. And it’s a very nice bottle of wine. But the “Reserve” edition, which we review here, is much better — at least ten to fifteen dollars better.

For both wines, the grapes are from Carneros, California — and if you’re not aware, that’s a good place to grow Chardonnay. The vines bearing the grapes for this “Reserve” Chard are from the highest hills in Carneros, which means they soak up more sun than any others in the region, and therefore ripen more fully and completely. Lots of sun equals lots of flavor, and in this case, the winemaker further enhances the fruit by putting most of it through what’s called a secondary malolactic fermentation. If you’re not a geek, you don’t need to know exactly what that means — all you need to know is that it makes the wine feel fuller in the mouth, and more buttery and creamy.

In addition, they put half of the juice into new oak barrels for almost ten months, which adds a nice vanilla spice complexity. You can’t do that with just any wine or it will be dominated by a woodsy flavor. With this wine, the oak both “complements” and “compliments” the ripe fruit.

On to the tasting notes.

Tasting Notes: Artesa Chardonnay Reserve 2005

Wide open aromas of ripe pear, candied peach, apple, melon, spice, and vanilla. On the palate it is equally wide open and forward, expressing ripe pear, red delicious apple, and a creamy vanilla flavor that melts into butterscotch. Acidity is mild to medium – just enough for food matching. Texture is thick and creamy, almost heavy, just short of cloying, with a luscious mouthfeel. Overall, a yummy drinker on its own, with enough structure to enjoy with food. Drink it alone or with garlic-roasted chicken, lobster in butter, popcorn.

a-9 t-9 b-8 fc-7 v-7 ~ 90 Points

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Winery: Artesa

Red Wine Review: Stonestreet Cabernet Sauvignon

SStonestreet Cabernet Sauvignon wine bottle Alexander Valley Californiatonestreet Cabernet Sauvignon Alexander Valley 2004

I’m on a Cabernet binge lately, so there will be a run of reviews on the grape coming your way.

Initially, there was almost nothing on the nose – it was closed up. After letting it sit in the glass for about an hour and a half, some aromas started to eek out. Blackcurrant, black raspberry, menthol / eucalyptus, some earth. On the palate it is glassy smooth in texture, with ample black fruit and earth flavors. Tannins are medium high, acidity is medium. There is a lot going on here, too much to analyze now. It’s a young wine that at minimum needs a few hours of decanting before drinking now, but a better plan is to leave it in the cellar for a few years. A big, bold wine that reminds one of a cru Bourgeois Bordeaux, definitely Bordeaux in style with many layers hiding right now. Cellar it, and try again in 3-4 years. A good value for a wine of this complexity.

Addendum: this wine passed the “next night” test … in fact, I corked it up and drank it again five days later and it still held its character.

a-8 t-9 b-8 fc-7 v-8 ~ 90 Points

Winery: Stonestreet

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Chardonnay Review: Franciscan Oakville

Franciscan Oakville Chardonnay Cuvee Sauvage 2005

Franciscan Oakville Chardonnay Cuvee Sauvage wine bottleGenerally speaking, I’m against the majority of California Chardonnay on the market — but not against ALL California Chards.

What bugs me is the proliferation of formulaic, oak-driven “soda-pop” Chards that taste more like Sugar Smacks than fermented grapes. The bulk of these disasters in a bottle are in the under $20 segment, but there are also a number of higher-priced Chardonnays that are flawed by too much wood.

The problems of over-oaked are 1. the wood overpowers the fruit, so you don’t taste the Chardonnay; and 2. oak doesn’t match very well with most foods. However, that doesn’t mean oak is always bad — it merely needs to be used judiciously. The key is the fruit; if the grapes produce a very rich, ripe flavor, then it can stand up to a good dose of oak and create a harmonious, delicious sipper.

One such example of a California Chardonnay with a wonderful balance of fruit and oak is Franciscan Oakville Chardonnay Cuvee Sauvage.

Tasting Notes: Cuvee Sauvage

Wide open, delicious smelling aroma of ripe pear, peach, banana, spicy oak, vanilla, and a hint of warm apple pie. In the mouth it has a silky, creamy, buttery texture, carrying lots of succulent ripe pear, baked apple, vanilla, honey, and oak. The oak actually runs a touch bitter, giving off some tannins, in the finish. Acidity is mild to nearly medium. On the fat and oaky side, but surprisingly not overwhelming and also not too hot in the finish. It’s almost on the sweet side, making it more of a fireplace wine than something you’d match successfully with a bevy of foods. However, it will match adequately with roasted rosemary chicken, dishes drenched with garlic, and maybe hot and spicy cuisine, where the sweetness acts as a foil against the heat. Long, elegant finish. A rich, delicious, and succulent wine to enjoy by the fire.

a-10 t-10 b-7 fc-7 v-7 ~ 91 Points

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Pinot Noir Review: Vicar’s Choice

Saint Clair Vicar’s Choice Pinot Noir 2006

Saint Clair Vicar's Choice Pinot Noir wine bottleSince the Sideways-induced boom of Pinot Noir, a number of affordable bottlings have been emerging from down under — meaning New Zealand rather than Australia. And it makes sense, as the most prominent wine region in Kiwi land is Marlborough, which just so happens to have the ideal climate for growing Pinot Noir vines — dry, sunny, and cool.

Tasting Notes

From the Marlborough region of New Zealand comes this bottle, dubbed “Vicar’s Choice” by the producer Saint Clair. As you might expect, Saint Clair also makes a fine Sauvignon Blanc, which we may review at a later date. For now, let’s talk about the Pinot Noir.

The color is very light — it could be mistaken for a deep rose — but the paleness belies its bigness. Open nose of stemmy green fruit, ripe cherry and raspberry, some hints of earth. Flavors are similar — ripe cherry, raspberry, and cranberry, with touches of earth, mild tobacco, mineral, and a hint of green / unripe fruit. Acidity is surprisingly medium-high, and appropriate for the fruit concentration. Tannins are medium, and also in good balance. The wine finishes with sour cranberry and cherry flavors, ripe tannins, and mouthwatering acidity.

Overall this is an excellent under-$20 Pinot Noir, showing good complexity and polish. Its subtle greenness and minerality reminds one more of an Alsace Pinot Noir than a jammy example from the New World — which is a good thing. It is enjoyable on its own but really finds its potential on the table. Match it with simply prepared chicken, complex fish, turkey, vegetarian dishes, roast pork (pork loin), mild cheeses.

I’ve seen this at various price points between $12 and $18; even at the higher end, it’s a fair value (and a great one at the lower point). Whatever the cost, it’s a good choice as a “weekend wine”.

a-8 t-8 b-8 fc-9 v-9 ~ 92 Points

Importer: Winesellers Ltd.

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White Wine Review: Simi Chardonnay

Simi Sonoma County Chardonnay 2005

Simi Sonoma County Chardonnay wine bottleSimi is a California winery founded over 125 years ago by two brothers named Giuseppe and Pietro Simi, from Tuscany, Italy. The Simi brothers built a successful business before both died just after the turn of the 20th century, leaving the estate to Giuseppe’s daughter Isabelle, who continued the business with help from her husband Fred Haight. The business continued to flourish until Prohibition (1920), and picked up right where it left off when Prohibition was repealed in 1933.

It’s an interesting story, told in more detail at the Simi website. What you need to know is that Simi remains an historic estate — by most accounts the longest continually operating winery in California (they made “sacramental” wines during Prohibition) and has gained significant respect and popularity over the last 30 years, thanks to high quality bottlings. Current winemaker Steve Reeder is a star in the industry, with a resume that includes stints at Kendall-Jackson and Chateau St. Jean — where he made some highly acclaimed wines. Simi has been and remains a producer of consistent, high quality wines — you will get what you pay for when their label is on the bottle.

Simi Chardonnay Tasting Notes

The grapes for this wine come from Sonoma County (duh) — specifically, from Alexander Valley, Russian River, and Carneros. The wine was aged in oak barrels for six months prior to bottling.

Lots of bright, ripe, spiced pear on the nose and the palate. Nose also has some honeysuckle and vanilla. Texture is creamy smooth and rich, an ideal vessel for the creamy vanilla, maple, and spice flavors. Though it is obviously oaked and has an almost maple syrup quality, it is not cloying. A decent amount of acidity tries to stand up to the fruit, but needs help from a fair dose of alcohol to provide structure. A thick, rich, full-bodied, full-flavored wine that may be best drunk alone, but also has enough acidity to match successfully with equally rich dishes. Go with bolder pork and poultry dishes, gamey fish (salmon), flavorfully prepared scallops or sea bass, corn chowder, and other dishes that you might consider matching with Pinot Noir or Beaujolais. Tasty and succulent. At somewhere between $15 to $18, appropriately priced.

a-8 t-9 b-7 fc-7 v-7 ~ 88 Points

Website: Simi Winery

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Red Wine Review: Silver Spur Pinot Noir

Silver Spur Pinot Noir 2002

Silver Spur Pinot Noir wine bottleI have to admit, I was expecting very little from this wine. Silver Spur was completely unknown to me, as I’d never seen the winery name in a retail shop, on a restaurant list, nor read in a wine magazine. It was sent to me by MyWinesDirect, an internet-only retailer that specializes in introducing unknown wines to ignorant palates such as mine.

With such low expectations, I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the wine, immediately apparent after being poured into the glass. The nose is forward, and open, and exudes a fresh, ripe aroma of strawberries, black cherry, earth, and a distinctive smokiness. Though this wine hails from California (specifically, Carneros in Napa Valley), it is more “old world” in style – one of the few American Pinot Noirs that remind me of red Burgundy. Unlike the jammy, over-the-top Pinots typically produced in the West Coast heat, this wine is ripe but not overwhelming, and retains both a rustic character and a tie to its terroir (soil).

In the mouth it has a silky smooth texture, and fills the mouth with ripe black cherry, red raspberry, ripe strawberry, some vanilla spice, and a touch of earth and leather. Acidity is appropriately medium, and tannins are likewise. Alcohol is there but subdued, so the finish is barely warm. All in all, an elegant, polished wine that is well balanced, full of fruit, and has an appealing finish. It is enjoyable alone, but will be better with lean dishes, such as turkey, fish, chicken, vegetarian. Or have it with a mild cheese or simple appetizer.

a-9 t-9 b-9 fc-8 v-8 ~ 93 Points

Silver Spur Winery website

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