Greetings from Critics Quarantine, where intrepid wine writers’ passports and global entry cards are rendered useless, collecting dust until the day a boarding pass to a remote wine region pops up on our phone screens and we can head to the airport. In the meantime, I’m pleased to report that all is not lost, thanks to Zoom and creative thinking on the part of producers and marketers to get messages to us so that we can get them to you in turn. Here are highlights from a couple of Zoom tastings in which I’ve participated during the past month….
Wines of Alentejo, Portugal
Assembled by the team at Creative Palate Communications, this seminar gave us a taste of wines of the region while discussing sustainable practice and encouragement through WASP (Wines of Alentejo Sustainability Program). The session was moderated by Master Sommelier Evan Goldstein, who walked us through the wines and led discussion on what is happening in Alentejo as they move toward more sustainable practice (and how that can move the needle when it comes to the marketplace as well as keeping the region viable from a resource consumption standpoint). The area has enjoyed some success in reducing water usage and moving toward solar power thanks to the program, and the wines coming from the region continue to offer strong value in relation to their prices. It’s notable that two widely planted varieties, Aragonez (Tempranillo) and Trinchadeira, are having some trouble adapting to increasing mean temperatures in an area that’s pretty hot to begin with, and that native grapes seem to be adapting better. It can be a heavy lift to convince producers that the investment required to move toward more sustainable practice is worthwhile in the long run while market forces mandate a focus on near term survival, but headway is being made. A few noteworthy wines:
2018 Esporao “Colheita” White Wine, Alentejano IG, Portugal
; $16: Floral and lemon/lime aromas lead to a dry, somewhat chalky presentation on the palate where the fruit comes through clearly with notes of nut and tropical fruit joining the citrus. This is quite crisp and refreshing, and is a blend of Antao Vaz, Viosinho, Alvarinho and “others.” 88
2018 Casa Relvas “Sao Miguel do Sul Tinto,” Alentejano IG, Portugal
; $12: Here’s a full flavored bargain that’s easy to drink, showing blackberry, plum and gentle spice aromas and flavors, with supple grip and lingering berry notes driving the finish. All that for 12 bucks? I’m a buyer. Contains 50% Aragonez (Tempranillo), 30% Alicante Bouschet, 15% Trinchadeira and 5% Cabernet Sauvignon. 89
2017 Colheiros Red Wine, Alentejo DOC, Portugal
; $20: A lively, jammy red with great acidity and bright oak spice that balance a creamy entry. There’s nice push to the finish, and it cries out for food -- I’m thinking grilled Angus burgers or steaks. Contains 50% Alicante Bouschet and 50% Aragonez (Tempranillo). 90
2018 Heredade Dos Grous Vinho Tinto, Alentejano IG, Portugal
; $19: From the VR area around Beja in the southern reaches of the appellation, showing the dark fruit tones thanks to the inclusion of Syrah in the blend. Blue fruit notes are nicely interwoven with black and red berry flavors in a well-structured, well priced wine. Contains 35% Alicante Bouschet, 10% Syrah, 20% Touriga Nacional and 35% Aragonez (Tempranillo). 91
2014 Carmim “Reguengos Garrafeira Dos Socios” Red Wine, Alentejo DO, Portugal
; $48: This spends 30 months in barrel and 12 months in bottle prior to release, and shows the spice and structure derived from extended time in barrel. It’s ripe, but well managed from start to finish, showing savory, meaty notes alongside blackberry, plum and fall spice. A mild bay leaf accent adds depth, and the wine finishes quite long with good grip. Contains 65% Alicante Bouschet, 20% Touriga Nacional and 15% Trinchadeira. 93
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A Multi Family Winery Affair
This was a virtual tour of wines by two related producers -- related by marriage, and related by virtue of quality and care in practice. Bibiana Gonzales Rave showed wines from her label Alma de Cattleya alongside husband Jeff Pisoni’s Lucia wines, along with with a bonus: An ATV tour of Pisoni Vineyard by Jeff’s brother Mark – something that they pulled off “live” thanks to the internet and Zoom’s ability to tie in people from anywhere, including the back forty, so to speak. Cheers to The Larsen Projekt for setting this up.
Bibiana’s story begins with always wanting to be a winemaker while growing up in Columbia – a country where there is virtually no wine culture to speak of – drinking fruit juice and beer. She remembers thinking that winemaking meant that you’d go to the corner store, get some grapes and make the wine. Simple, right? Thankfully, she continued to pursue her dream in Cognac and Bordeaux before coming to California in 2004. She and Jeff met in 2005. Her label is focused on delivering value in the moderate price range, and she does so beautifully. A pair of tastes:
2019 Alma de Cattleya Sauvignon Blanc, Sonoma County, California
; $22: A tart, crisp and refreshing expression of Sauvignon Blanc that features green apple, citrus and wet stone aromas and flavors. Beautifully bright and ready for more than casual summer sipping, try this with seafood or mixed green salads. 90
2017 Alma de Cattleya Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, California
; $48: This 100% Cabernet Sauvignon is very dry and very carefully oak spice-focused in a way that doesn’t cover varietally correct fruit aromas and flavors. It’s quite classic in expression, and it’s a value priced bottle considering the source. In short, a pleasurable glass that speaks plainly of what it is and where it’s from. 93
Jeff and brother Mark now handle the legacy of father Gary Pisoni, who planted about 40 years ago in what is now the Santa Lucia Highlands AVA. Though three of the four original acres were planted to Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Chardonnay, Gary was an early pioneer with Pinot Noir in the region. He focused on high quality from the start, and Jeff and Mark are preserving his legacy well with their work with Burgundian varieties. A look:
2018 Lucia Chardonnay, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County, California;
$45: Classy oak spice is prominent in this wine, but doesn’t dominate the notes of lemon crème, apple and pear, which are enlivened by zesty acidity. The wine is highly stylized and well managed from start to finish. Contains 60% Pisoni Vineyard (Clone 4) and 40% Soberanis Vineyard (Wente and some suitcase clones). 93
2018 Lucia Pinot Noir, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County, California
; $45: This wine really shows what I call SLH funk (mushroom and a combination of dry and damp earth minerality with a little stemmy character), and that plays well off of the black cherry fruit in a completely dry style that finishes very long. This vintage was crafted entirely with French oak, about 40% new, and source 50% from Pisoni Vineyard, 25% Gary’s Vineyard and 25% Soberani Vineyard. It’s a regional showcase. 93
The vineyard tour was a highlight. Mark was able to show the fog parked out to the west of the vineyard, poised to make its daily ingress into the highlands bench and make the AVA signature possible. He also showed techniques for maintaining low yields through pruning and dropping excess fruit, as well as practices such as insect propagation, use of cover crops, and composting to keep a healthy biome that makes native yeast fermentations possible. Mark has also become quite a beekeeper, and the estate is producing a small amount of honey.
Bibi and Jeff also collaborate on a Sauvignon Blanc and a Semillion/Sauvignon Blanc blend under a label called Shared Notes. Watch for reviews in the future. They also offer a custom roast coffee from Bibi’s native country, sourced from a single site near Medallín. I do a little roasting myself, and I can tell you that the coffee is legit!
I look forward to visiting all of the above in person, but until then…Zoom Zoom!