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July 2020

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Stoller Reserve Chardonnay 2014, Willamette Valley Cost: $40 A s the COVID-19 induced lockdown drags on I find myself turning more and more to wines produced from a winery I have visited. Drinking those wines pulls up pleasant memories as I look forward to future visits. Stoller Family Estate in Oregon is not only a place I visited, but where I spent several nights sleeping in the middle of the vineyards with some of my friends from the Magnificent 8. We rented a house set in the vineyards and roamed all over the Willamette Valley to taste wines at beautiful properties. Looking back from this vantage point I can see it was a magical trip, and I hope there are more in the future. None was more beautiful than Stoller. Its modern tasting room is set on a hilltop overlooking a large hillside vineyard. On warm days they lift the…

F rank Family Vineyards continued their fun summer series of virtual wine tastings this week with a session on wines and outdoor grilling. It was a fun tasting, but the most surprising thing was that owner Rich Frank didn’t do any of the grilling. He loves to grill and is reputed to be good at it. In California, as in Georgia, they grill all year long, but summer just seems like the time you should be grilling. It looked like Frank didn’t mind taking a back seat to Chef Christina Machamer, a former winner on the TV show Hell’s Kitchen who is known throughout Napa Valley for her cooking. Her food looked delicious, and the wines were all terrific. Frank Family already has another virtual tasting planned for Thursday, Aug. 6 from the tasting room at the winery’s Calistoga home. It will feature some of the wine educators who…

Kistler Chardonnay Hudson Vineyard 2011, Carneros Cost: $75 W hen I think a wine is going to be good I love to buy at least three bottles and compare how the wine changes over a period of years. Most wines will improve with only a little bit of aging, including white wines. The danger, of course, is holding onto wines too long and you end up drinking them past their peak. I was afraid I had done that with this 2011 Kistler Chardonnay Hudson Vineyard. I shouldn’t have worried. Even with nine years of age on it, the Kistler Chardonnay was bright, lively and refreshing. Notes of pear, lemon and tropical fruit still were there. This is a full-bodied wine, with layers of complexity, a silky mouthfeel and a long finish. For my wife and I it lacked nothing. Everything we could want in a Chardonnay was packed into this…

Inman Family Virtual Tasting K athleen Inman was ahead of her time when she began virtual wine tastings in 2007. The public might not have been ready for them back then, but now she is doing more virtual tastings than ever. During a recent virtual tasting from her winery in the heart of Sonoma County’s Russian River Valley she kept things light and breezy, but packed with information about her delicious wines. “My tastings are couch conversational,” she said. “Virtual tasting has transformed my business. People buy a three pack to get a tasting and then they like the wine. I’m working like a dog doing these tastings.” The tasting I attended included a 2017 Russian River Valley Pinot Noir Special Blend ($68), which blends the best of Inman’s three single-vineyard bottlings as the winery’s premiere Pinot Noir offering. We also tasted Inman’s 2019 Endless Crush Rosé of Pinot Noir,…

Long Meadow Ranch Merlot 2015, Napa Valley Cost: $33-36 W hile summer seems most suited for drinking white wines, there is no need to ignore your favorite reds during the summer heat. For instance, it just doesn’t seem right to drink a white wine with a hamburger or a steak. If that suits your taste, that’s fine, but most people would rather have a red wine with a burger. We interrupted the string of white wines we have been drinking this summer to have a smooth Merlot when I made hamburgers on the grill. It was a great choice. Long Meadow Ranch Merlot has everything you could look for in a Merlot: fresh fruit flavors and mellow tannins with some depth and complexity. It is a beautiful dark red color in the glass, with aromas of cherry and raspberry. The tannins are balanced with crisp acidity to make a well…

Backsberg Chenin Blanc 2019, South Africa Cost: $15-17 I n these COVID-19 quarantine times, my wife and I look for any reason we can to celebrate. Leafing through the grocery store ads in Wednesday’s newspaper I noticed Publix had lobster tails on sale, so that became the reason for the celebration and part of the celebration itself. Lobster is one of our favorite foods, but if we ate it whenever we wanted to we would be broke. So we wait for the sales. The question always is what wine should we drink with lobster. An easy choice is a rich, creamy chardonnay, but we also like to try new combinations. We have had the Backsberg Chenin Blanc before and liked it, but we weren’t sure this South African stalwart would bring out the best in the lobster. We shouldn’t have worried. It was spectacular with the lobster. It is a…

Chemistry Pinot Gris 2019, Willamette Valley Cost: $13-15 I t amazes me that for an industry that is thousands of years old, there is always innovation going on in the world of wine. Sometimes it’s a different grape in a region, or a new technique or a new blend. They all work to help us wine consumers find something we like. And, as is the case with the Chemistry wines, the innovations often lead to lower prices. Oregon wines have captured the imagination of American wine drinkers over the past several years, but often we have to pay premium prices for the outstanding wines produced in the Willamette Valley. The Chemistry wines range from $14 to $20, and sometimes you can find them for a couple of dollars less. This is a joint venture between two of the best known Oregon wineries, Stoller and Chehalem, which make excellent premium wines.…

Cupcake Vineyards Rosé 2019, California Cost: $12-14 S ometimes you get so used to seeing a wine everywhere, from supermarkets to discount stores to wine shops that you forget about how good it is. It’s like that with the Cupcake Vineyards wines. They produce many very good wines at an outstanding price. I have been drinking their wines since they began 12 years ago, and I’ve never had a bad bottle. These are not wines to lay down in your cellar; they are meant to be enjoyed right away, while they are young, fresh and vibrant. These wines are meant to be enjoyed in celebrating the daily joys of life, and even in quarantine pandemic mode, there are plenty of things to celebrate. This Rosé is a perfect summer wine. Full of fresh fruit flavors like strawberry, raspberry, watermelon and nectarine, it would be a great wine on a picnic…

Napa Neighbors, or 3 Amigos Tasting E ven in our stay-at-home pandemic world, wine tastings can be fun. Virtual tastings have gotten so popular at Frank Family Vineyards it looks like they will keep offering them for the foreseeable future. They have been doing weekly tastings of some of their wines, which anyone can join, even if you don’t buy their wines. The tastings are always fun and informative, with topics such as aged wine or how to prepare a cheese board for a wine tasting. A few weeks ago they hosted a tasting that featured the owners of three neighboring wineries and called it a Napa Neighbors tasting. Rich Frank of Frank Family, Cyril Chappellet of Chappellet Vineyard and Jim Regusci of Regusci Winery walked participants on a Zoom meeting through through three storied Napa Valley growing regions for Cabernet Sauvignon: Stags Leap District, Rutherford and Pritchard Hill, as…

Codorniu Classico Brut NV, Spain Anna de Codorniu Brut Rosé NV, Spain Cost: $10-16 E ven though many fireworks displays have been cancelled for Independence Day this year, it doesn’t mean you have to go without. Just add some sparklers to your grilling or other backyard celebrations. What better way to toast the birth of our nation than by popping the corks on some sparkling wine? There are many nice sparklers available, but for now let’s look at two from Spain, Codorníu Clasico Brut NV and Anna de Codorníu Brut Rosé NV. My wife Teri and I have had these wines this week, and we love them both. They are everything you want in a sparkling wine: refreshing, fun, a party in your mouth. And best of all, they are bargains. For as long as I can remember Spanish Cavas have been great bargains. Years ago I could find some…

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