Recommendations

Inman Family, Pinot Noir, Thorn Ridge Ranch 2007

by Tim Elliott on January 21, 2011

Inman Family Pinot Noir 2007Every time I visit Northern California’s wine country, I discover a new producer who surprises me. Early on my current trip, while based in Sonoma County, I enjoyed an outstanding Pinot Noir from Inman Family. The winery concentrates on small-lot production of Chardonnay, Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir from the Russian River Valley. Founded by Kathleen and Simon Inman, both leaving careers in finance and law in the UK to follow their passion for wine, relocated to Sonoma County in 2000. After this first experience with Inman Family I am looking forward to tasting their other wines ASAP.

Tasting Notes:

Inman Family, Pinot Noir, Thorn Ridge Ranch, Russian River Valley 2007 ($52) – Dark ruby in color with aromas of black raspberry, sage, bay and wet earth. Rich and pure black raspberry fruit on the attack with cocoa and black tea. Very nice acidity and fine tannins finishing very long. A pretty Pinot that will improve with a year or two in the cellar.

14.2%
Screw cap closure
Rating: ★★★★☆
Score: 92

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Jean Farris Winery “Tempest” 2007

by Tim Elliott on January 16, 2011

Tempest bottleYou never know where the next emerging wine State will be here in the U.S. but if this wine is representative of the wines coming out of Kentucky these days, this might be the place. Given as a gift from the parents of a friend of my son visiting over the holiday break, the wine is a blend of Spanish and French varieties grown near Lexington, Kentucky. Since the winery also makes Petite Sirah and Zinfandel, Eastern Kentucky must have a more extended growing season than other States in the region. Indeed, the most surprising thing for me about this wine was how big it is, both in fruit concentration and in alcohol.

There’s not a lot written about Jean Farris winery aside from their website and a few other blogger notes (I think I’m the first to review Tempest). But I think you will hear more from this winery given the quality of the wine here. The rather unconventional blend of Tempranillo works well with Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. I hope to have the chance to sample some of their other wines soon.

Tasting Notes:

Jean Farris Winery, “Tempest”, Red Wine, Kentucky 2007 ($35) – A blend of Tempranillo, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Cabernet Franc. Garnet in color with aromas of blackberry, blackcurrant, sage and cedar. Bold blackberry fruit with cassis, white pepper and vanilla finishing with moderate tannins, nice acidity and just a hint of heat. Shows that world class wine can be made in the land of Bourbon.

14.3%ABV
Synthetic cork closure
Rating: ★★★½☆
Score: 87

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Rodney Strong, "Symmetry", Meritage 2007

For a long time now the Rodney Strong brand has stood for value regularly over delivering in their price category. Whether it’s their entry $18 Cabernet or their single-vineyard, allocated Rockaway bottling, when you see Rodney Strong on the label you can be assured you will get some thing interesting in the glass. The house style is to create round and harmonious wines with loads of sweet fruit surrounded by toasty French oak.

Their “Symmetry” Meritage is a Cabernet Sauvignon led wine that could have been labeled as this variety since it makes up 85% of the blend. But the winemaking team is aiming higher here producing a Bordeaux style blend from several vineyard sources in Sonoma’s Alexander Valley. The addition of traditional blending grapes Malbec, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot adds to the complexity in the aromas and flavors, elevating what would be a very nice Cabernet to another level. My only concern was the rather generous French oak treatment which will likely work itself out with further aging.

Tasting Notes:

Rodney Strong, “Symmetry”, Meritage Red Wine, Alexander Valley 2007 ($55/sample) –  A blend of 85% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Malbec, 3% Merlot, 1% Cabernet Franc and 1% Petit Verdot. Very deep purple in color with complex aromas of blackberry, blackcurrant, cigar box, sage and black licorice. Bold and rich blackcurrant and blackberry flavors with cassis and black pepper finishing with toasty oak and firm tannins. Decant for 2-3 hours now or put in the cellar for 5-7 years. Delicious, if a bit over-oaked, at this point but I expect this to integrate as it ages.

15.1% ABV
Natural cork closure
Score: 91
Rating: ★★★★☆

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Louis Jadot, Beaujolais-Villages 2009

by Tim Elliott on December 31, 2010

The holidays are the time of the year we share wine with friends and family. This year I decided to introduce my 21 year old daughter to red wines. Like a lot of novice wine drinkers, her tastes are tuned to white wines that are slightly (or noticeably) sweet. But she’s been drinking some sangria of late so I thought the next step was tasting some fruit-driven, soft reds.

I immediately thought of Beaujolais as this was one of the first red wines I discovered back in the day. Made from Gamay Noir in an appellation to the south of Burgundy, Beaujolais continues to deliver great value even in times of challenging exchange rates. And it’s not clear to me why this is given the overall market and mainstream awareness of the area due to massive marketing for Beaujolais nouveau every November.

So this Christmas I opened a bottle of Louis Jadot Beaujolais-Villages 2009 in the place of my usual Bordeaux or aged California Cabernet. And while it struggled to keep up with the rib roast at times, I found the wine to be bright and satisfying. And my daughter is now a red wine fan even without the fruit juice and ice. Perhaps next year she will develop a taste for more hearty wines? We’ll see.

Tasting notes:

Louis Jadot, Beaujolais-Villages 2009 ($12) – Ruby in color with aromas of strawberry and fennel. Bright, juicy cherry and strawberry fruit finishing with a touch of banana and supple tannins. Has everything I love about Gamay at a fair price and available just about everywhere.

12.5% ABV
Composite cork closure

Rating: ★★★½☆
Score: 88
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Rodney Strong, Rockaway Cabernet Sauvignon 2006

by Tim Elliott on January 1, 2010

I’m not sure where to start with this wine since my review of the previous vintage became the subject for the first wine blogger meltdown ever last year. I even thought of not posting a review due to this experience but my curiosity got the better of me and I had to see what the wine would be like on it’s second vintage.

Would I like it? Is it worth $75 a bottle in these recessionary times?

One of my treats for the holidays is a roast beef dinner which usually happens on Christmas Day. This past year, the roast was moved to New Year’s eve and the wine I selected to pair with this menu was not the usual Bordeaux or Napa Cab but the sample of Rockaway Cabernet received some time ago from Rodney Strong Vineyards. If you read my review of the 2005 release, there is a run down of the vineyard blocks involved and production methods used. Approximately the same process was used for the 2006 wine with most of the final blend being Cabernet Sauvignon and only slightly spiced by a dollop or two of Malbec and Petit Verdot. The result is one of the most pure single vineyard expressions of Cabernet Sauvignon I’ve ever tasted from California ensuring Rockaway’s position among the very best wines made from this grape in the state.

Tasting Notes:

Rodney Strong Vineyards, Rockaway Cabernet Sauvignon, Alexander Valley 2006 ($75/sample) — A blend of 97% Cabernet Sauvignon, 2% Malbec, and 1% Petit Verdot. Very dark purple in color, the wine shows the same refined aromatics from the previous vintage. Black cherry, dark currant, green olive, sage, fennel and vanilla return with some cigar box added for good measure. In the mouth the wine is very firm and focused even after more than 2 hours in a decanter with blackberry and black-currant fruit flavors along with black pepper and dark chocolate. The finish is long with very firm tannins at this point but worked as a very nice companion to the slightly fatty roast beef last night.

To be released in February 2010, I would recommend at least 5 years of aging before opening your first bottle. At this point, 3+ hours in the decanter is required to fully enjoy this wine but it is clear this will be one of the best California Cabs to collect based upon the first two vintages.

15.4% ABV
Natural cork closure
Score: 96
Rating: ★★★★½

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C. Donatiello Winery, Chardonnay 2006

by Tim Elliott on December 1, 2009

At the beginning of June I wrote a post in response to Pinotblogger Josh Hermsmeyer’s wine blogger contest. Basically, Josh challenged us to write about what motivates us to blog and if the role of a wine reviewer is to prescribe the ways in which a wine should be made or just write about what’s in the bottle. Had I not waited until the last moment to post my thoughts, or had seen Josh’s tweet about my lack of a wine review, I might have been in the running for the prize (yes, I’m one of the wine bloggers Josh calls out here). Ironically, the wine I would have chosen for that post would be from a winery right in Josh’s backyard in Sonoma’s Russian River Valley, C. Donatiello Winery.

C. Donatiello Winery ChardonnayI was not familiar with C. Donatiello Winery before they tracked me down on Twitter and sent a couple samples. The winery is in the same building as the venerable Belvedere Winery which I remember from the 1980′s. Chris Donatiello is the owner and marketer while Webster Marquez, formerly of Williams Selyem, is the winemaker.

There seems to be two schools of California Chardonnay these days. On one hand you have the full malolactic “butter bombs” that are usually further marred by being over oaked. On the other, there is a growing trend of “naked” Chardonnay that celebrates the purity of fruit with the only wood contact being the cork (if they use a natural one at all). There are, of course, other approaches. Some iconoclasts subscribe to the Chablis or Burgundy model of partial or no ML and mostly neutral oak with extended lees contact. In my experience this last approach makes the most interesting California Chardonnay as I like my whites with lots of acidity so they pair well with food.

So that’s what makes this wine so interesting to me. Grown in Sonoma’s Russian River Valley, this wine spent 9 months in 50% new and 50% neutral French oak. And it shows in the nice mouth weight and complexity of flavors. But unlike a lot of it’s full ML brethren, this Chardonnay still has enough acidity to clean the palate and pair with food. I’ve written here before that I don’t enjoy what ML usually does to Chardonnay and other white varieties but I can respect a craftman at work. Unlike some other wines I’ve reviewed, I really like this one a lot and will be seeking out several more bottles for my cellar.

Tasting Notes:

C. Donatiello Winery, Chardonnay, Russian River Valley 2006 ($41/sample) – Medium straw in color with aromas of ripe pineapple, pear, almond and toast. Silky pear and green apple fruit with a nice rich mouthfeel and just a touch of caramel on the long finish. A delicious, pure expression of fruit enhanced by French oak.

14.4% ABV
Natural cork closure
Rating: ★★★★☆

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