October 19, 2017
It was on a damp, chilly autumn afternoon just outside Beaune, in the heart of France's Burgundy region, that I came to the realization that wines are seasonal.
I stood in the doorway of a humble country restaurant with a wood-burning stove that served a dual purpose, in that it also warmed the dining room. The day's special was braised rabbit with chanterelle mushrooms. The aromas were savory and inviting, making the special an easy sell for the waiter.
The only question would be the wine selection. Only the day before, it seemed, I had been basking in the warmth of an Indian summer and quite content with a crisp rose or a fruity Beaujolais at lunch — lighter, refreshing wines generally served chilled.
This day was different. The regional cuisine had shifted, almost overnight, to heartier fare — bouef bourguignon and the aforementioned braised rabbit and earthy chanterelle mushrooms. It reminded me of a similar autumn experience in Italy, when I happened upon the truffle festival in Alba. The golden porcini mushroom was in season, as well.
It is a time of year that calls for earthier wines, with more body and complexity, to complement the roasts and stews and earthy flavors of fall cuisine. I've selected seven of my perennial fall classics for your enjoyment. 'Tis the season.
Eberle Winery's 2015 barbera, Kokopelli/Steinbeck/Partridge vineyards, Paso Robles ($32) — Eberle's barbera has long been one of California's finest. The grape variety is indigenous to Italy's Piedmont region, which most likely accounts for its compatibility with earthy dishes that incorporate mushrooms, onions and the like. A perfect complement to braised veal shank.
Georges Duboeuf's 2015 Emile Beranger Pouilly-Fuisse, Burgundy ($35) — From the Maconnais subregion of Burgundy, this superb Pouilly-Fuisse sings with an inviting earthy minerality and a generous helping of ripe pear and green apple. Richer and weightier than you might like on a hot summer day but perfect for serving after the autumn leaves have started to turn.
Ledson's 2014 Mes Trois Amours, Sonoma Valley ($40) — Red Rhone-style blends are always a hit when summer gives way to fall, because the wines have more richness and depth without coming across as heavy. This blend of grenache, syrah and mourvedre is on the black-fruited side of the spectrum, with an attractive touch of wood spice and a leafy, dried herb note. A perfect companion with game.
Renato Ratti's 2014 Ochetti nebbiolo, Langhe, Italy ($25) — Ratti is among the finest producers in Italy's Piedmont region, which is most famous for long-lived Barolo and Barbaresco. The Langhe is a subregion outside the Barolo and Barbaresco districts, but its money grape is the same: nebbiolo. Ratti's Orchetti nebbiolo is easy on the wallet; it will cost you a third of the price of a top Barolo. But it will give you nearly as much satisfaction. This vintage shows notes of truffle and dark cherry and has milder tannins than the more famous wines of Barolo.
Sartori di Verona's 2013 amarone della valpolicella, Veneto, Italy ($40) — Amarone, with its richness and heft, is most definitely a cool-weather wine that pairs perfectly with osso buco and other braised meat dishes. Sartori's 2013 is a beauty, with smooth, supple tannins that mask the weight of the wine. It shows dark fruits and spice and a long, persistent finish.
Siduri's 2015 pinot noir, Russian River Valley ($35) — Winemaker Adam Lee is best-known for his single-vineyard pinot noir, but most of those are twice the price. His so-called appellation wines may not possess all the nuance and subtlety of the vineyard designates, but they have exceptional value and can stand alone on their own merits. This 2015 Russian River pinot has all the depth and complexity that a Russian River pinot should have, without the hefty price tag.
Wente's 2015 chardonnay, Riva Ridge, Livermore Valley ($22) — Wente was among the first to plant chardonnay in California, and the "Wente" clone has been a staple of California viticulture for the past 40 years. So it stands to reason that the Wente family knows a little something about making top-notch chardonnay. The 2015 Riva Ridge chardonnay is a beautifully balanced example of what Wente can do, showing excellent richness and depth without losing touch with the acidity that provides its backbone. And because it's the Livermore Valley and not Napa or Sonoma, the price is oh-so sweet!
October 11, 2017
It seems likely that almost all readers of Wine Review Online are already aware of the horrible fires that have wrought massive destruction across large swaths of wine country in California's North Coast.
Still, it would be inappropriate for us to post coverage of anything else in this space at this deeply trying time, and all of us who write for this Web site have many friends in the area...about whom we are deeply concerned.
As of this time of writing, 17 people have lost their lives in the fires, with 11 of those being residents of Sonoma County, two from Napa County, three from Mendocino County, and one from Yuba County. Roughly 200 others are reported missing, and though many who were formerly missing have now been located, the situation on the ground seems so chaotic that it is pointless to speculate on how high the loss of life might rise.
Clearly, losses of property are not quite as upsetting, but for those who lost their homes -- and all of their possessions, in many evident instances -- the trauma shouldn't be understated. Santa Rosa, the largest city in Sonoma County and home to more than 175,000 people, suffered catastrophic losses of entire neighborhoods, and photos and videos of the affected areas are difficult to process when viewed--at least for me.
The number of destroyed homes and commercial buildings is currently estimated by The San Francisco Chronicle at between 1,500 and 3,000. The number on the low end of that range is horrifying, and it is almost as disturbing to consider the uncertainty in the area manifested by the breadth of the range in numbers.
Although WRO is obviously a wine-dedicated Web site, I find it a bit distasteful to accord more importance to winery damage than residences or businesses of other types. Still, we know of at least three wineries that seem to have been destroyed outright (Paradise Ridge, Signorello and White Rock), with at least six others having suffered significant damage. These numbers have not moved for nearly 24 hours, but it is essentially impossible to know whether this reflects a leveling off of damage or just delays in reporting.
What is clear is that multiple fires continue to burn out of control, and though winds calmed somewhat yesterday, they are expected to pick up again later today.
I know that I speak for all contributors to WRO when extending my concerns and sympathies to all who have been affected by these terrible fires. Our hearts go out to you....
October 5, 2017
October is merlot month. Once upon a time, the mere thought of a month dedicated to merlot would have inspired smirks all around. The hit movie "Sideways" poked fun at merlot drinkers, and for years afterward, merlot producers wrestled with the image of merlot as a mediocre wine.
That was never the case, of course. The most sought-after wine in the world, Chateau Petrus from the Pomerol district of Bordeaux, France, is a merlot. And merlot is the money grape throughout the Right Bank of Bordeaux, the most prominent wine-growing areas being Pomerol and Saint-Emilion. Merlot thrives in the cool clay soils of the Right Bank, whereas cabernet sauvignon struggles to ripen there most years.
Many of the wines produced there are legendary, such as the long-lived Chateau Cheval Blanc, Chateau Ausone, Chateau Angelus and Chateau Figeac. The finest fetch eye-popping prices.
But Bordeaux isn't the only wine-growing region that is kind to merlot. Italy's Tuscan region has embraced merlot, and it frequently pops up blended with sangiovese in Chianti, and with cabernet sauvignon and sangiovese in the so-called Super Tuscan red blends.
Washington can also claim merlot as an important grape variety, probably more so than cabernet sauvignon.
And California's finest merlot, most of which comes from the Napa Valley, can be compared favorably to the great wines of the Bordeaux Right Bank. Duckhorn Vineyards built a vast empire around merlot. Its Napa Valley neighbor Beringer Vineyards has long made a sensational merlot from the Bancroft Ranch on Howell Mountain.
Chappellet, while renowned for its cabernet sauvignon, has a 30-year track record of outstanding merlot. More recently, Nickel & Nickel has produced stunning merlot from its Harris Vineyard.
These are some of the world's greatest red wines. So go ahead and celebrate merlot month. There is no shame in enjoying a nice glass.