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On My Table

Happy Surprises from a Local Harlem Wine Shop
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
May 7, 2024

May 7, 2024: Within my household, I am the wine scholar - educator, wine school owner, Master of Wine - but my husband is Monsieur le Sommelier. He buys the wine and collects wine, and I share the drinking. Recent circumstances have made me the sole wine drinker in the family and separated us from our large cellar to boot. Now I am a wine buyer. Short of time, I turned to my local wine shop in Harlem, The Winery, which is run by Eric White, a former student of mine who has done me proud. It's a small shop that by necessity offers carefully chosen wines from a thoughtful taster. I have had no end of delight in exploring its shelves. The following wines are a few examples.

Five Takes on Tuscan Sangiovese
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Mar 27, 2024

March 27, 2024: Tuscany is a remarkable wine region. Although most of its red wines are based on the Sangiovese grape - with notable exceptions along the coast - the variety among them is almost endless. Even within a single DOCG appellation such as Chianti Classico, the wines, always 80 to 100 percent Sangiovese, vary from commune to commune and from producer to producer. A case in point is my recent tasting of five Tuscan Sangiovese wines from a single importer, Dalla Terra Winery Direct. This company specializes in family-owned Italian estates and, thanks to its particular distribution model that eliminates the middleman, the wines are all very well priced at retail. More than ranking each wine against the other in terms of quality, I found myself characterizing the wines stylistically to highlight their unique faces. Sassy, pretty, polished, age-worthy or solid and complete: Even this mini selection of Tuscan reds proves what pleasures await an exploration of Sangiovese in Tuscany.

Towards an Honest Expression of the Vineyard
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Nov 8, 2023

Nov. 8, 2023: Four years ago, only months before the word 'Covid' was coined, I visited Chile with a group of fellow Masters of Wine. Many of the wine regions we visited were familiar to me, but one wine region was a discovery. That region is Cachapoal-Andes, within the Rapel Valley south of Maipo. Thinking back, I recall Cachapoal as a secret pocket of vineyards at the edge of the Andes foothills, a gorgeous site producing impressive wines. Returning to the present, I had the pleasure of welcoming to my wine school Gabriel Mustakis, the winemaker who hosted our visit to Cachapoal four years ago. As winemaker for San Pedro Icon Wines in Cachapoal, Gabriel overseas the elite, 'icon' wine production for Viña San Pedro, one of the largest winery groups in Chile. He came to NYC bearing bottles of Altair, a Cabernet blend from the vineyards of Cachapoal.

Seamless Syrah
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Aug 23, 2023

August 23, 2023: We each have our favorite wine descriptors that suggest special characteristics of fine wine that we encounter only rarely. 'Seamless' is one of those words for me. It suggests a wine that expresses itself as a whole, with no edges, no seams; complete unto itself. When I tasted this Syrah, 'seamless' was the first descriptive that popped into my mind. 'Round' and 'harmonious,' followed close behind. I was not familiar with Mira winery, and so some research was in order. The winery is a small estate of 16 acres in the heart of Napa Valley. The partners are winemaker Gustavo Gonzalez and entrepreneur Jim 'Bear' Dyke, who happened to meet in 2005 in Washington DC. They struck up a friendship based on a common love of wine and, improbably, mathematics. Their joint wine venture began in 2009. Gustavo Gonzalez was the red wine maker at Robert Mondavi Winery and besides global winemaking experience, he boasts a 25-year deep, local knowledge of Napa terroir, having worked across every AVA in the Napa Valley. At Mira, his aim is to farm sustainably, use 100% Napa Valley fruit, and make the wines in the gentlest, most natural way possible, to set each wine on its path of terroir expression.

Subtle Sauvignon Blanc and Powerful Cabernet
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Mar 8, 2023

March 8, 2023: The property today known as Titus Vineyards can trace its wine history back to 1841 and has been continuously farmed for more than 150 years. Dr. Lee Titus, a radiologist, purchased the land in 1968 and soon began farming the vineyard. As the old vineyards were replanted, Dr. Titus focused on the five classic Bordeaux varieties. Brothers Eric and Phillip Titus today run the family property; Stephen Cruzan became winemaker in 2015 with a resume that included work at several notable Napa Valley properties. I had not tasted the Titus Vineyards wines in several years, and welcomed the opportunity to sample three 2019 reds and the 2021 Sauvignon Blanc.

Cool-Climate Sauvignon Blanc from Chile
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Dec 21, 2022

Dec. 21, 2022: The fact that Chile has spread its viticultural wings beyond the warm Central Valley and into cool locales is no longer news but is still exciting. Vineyards at two extremes- in cool coastal areas along the Pacific Ocean and in high-altitude sites in the Andes Mountains- are now increasingly common. The coastal areas have enabled Chile to excel in wines such as Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir-which had never been the county's strong suit-as well as distinctive cool-climate Syrahs. The Leyda Valley is one of Chile's notably cool, coastal appellations. It is a tiny area within the much larger San Antonio Valley area, and is distinctive for its proximity to the Pacific Ocean, which is less than three miles away. The Leyda Valley boasts foggy mornings, cool Pacific breezes and bright afternoon sunshine, a combination that promotes high acidity in the grapes along with ripe fruit flavors. Viña Leyda is the acclaimed wine producer of the zone. Viña Leyda produces two well-priced Sauvignon Blancs ($15 and $20) available in the U.S. They are different enough in style that one or the other is likely to charm anyone who enjoys wines from the Sauvignon Blanc grape. My tasting partner, for example, much preferred one of the two wines and I much preferred the other.

Riding the Lingering Waves of Summer
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Sep 7, 2022

Sept. 7, 2022: Labor Day is history. In some parts of the country, early morning temps have dipped into the mid 40°s. But just as daytime drinkers might remark that 'It's 5:00pm somewhere!' summer persists for many of us, in our hearts. These very good renditions of rosé and Sauvignon Blanc are for those who share that persuasion. You might have caught past columns of mine reviewing red wines by MacRostie - Pinot Noir and Syrah. MacRostie is a fine, reliable winery whose wines I have enjoyed for years. The 2021 Rosé of Pinot Noir is a wine that I particularly like. It carries the appellation 'Sonoma Coast' because its grapes come from both Russian River Valley and the Petaluma Gap. The former source is a special block of MacRostie's Thale's Estate Vineyard; the latter is the winery's newest property, Nightwing Vineyard. While I was savoring the rosé, my tasting partner became excited by the Sauvignon Blanc for its true varietal expression. 'Clockwise" is a small-lot wine from MacRostie's winery-within-a winery.

Fiddleheads for Spring: Pinot Noir and Grüner Veltliner with the Advantage of Extended Aging
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Apr 30, 2022

Back in the 1990s, winemaker Kathy Joseph's path crossed with mine and my husband's many times when we all participated in large West Coast wine competitions. Recently, I was delighted to spend time again with Kathy and her wines at a press tasting she conducted over Zoom. Reacquainting with friends and acquaintances from Before is one of the special pleasures of these post-pandemic days. Reacquainting with Kathy Joseph of Fiddlehead Cellars was a particularly rich pleasure because of the terrific quality of her wines - two wonderful Pinot Noirs and a stunning Grüner Veltliner. Kathy is a pioneer in the wine trade, one of Santa Barbara County's first female winemakers to own both her own winery and vineyard, while maintaining a hands-on role in the farming, winemaking, sales, and all other aspects of the business. For 30-plus years, she has run Fiddlehead Cellars winery as a one-woman show. Obsessed with the concept of place as it expresses itself in wines, she has focused on grapes that express terroir: Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir and, more recently, Grüner Veltliner.

Golden Anniversary Wines from a California Classic
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Apr 6, 2022

Apr 6, 2022: It was one of those evenings: We were almost finished with dinner, and the bottle of Pinot Noir that we had opened the previous evening was empty. But we each wanted just one more glass of wine. Nothing so serious that it would be better served as the featured wine of a meal. We grabbed a Zinfandel from Dry Creek Vineyards because we are not big Zinfandel fans, but after a couple of tastes we realized that we had seriously underestimated the wine. We had to restrain ourselves from drinking the whole bottle. The next day, I tasted the wine again for this column, opening another Dry Creek Vineyards red, The Mariner, alongside it. One thing I believe about Dry Creek Vineyards is that its wines are always reliable, and that the wines - white or red - are great go-to options. It feels as if I have known the brand forever, and I nearly have. I remember the early Fumé Blanc wines that founder David Stare promoted in the NYC market in the mid-1980s, and through the years, the wines that Stare's daughter, Kim Stare Wallace, became responsible for. Last year's 2021 vintage in fact marked fifty years of winemaking for Dry Creek Vineyards. Whatever has changed has made the wines better than ever.

About that Fruit
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Feb 23, 2022

I have professed my love for Napa Valley Cabernets that are made from mountain-grown fruit. Mountain grown grapes tend to make wines that are flavorful with concentrated fresh fruit (as opposed to raisiny or baked fruit), with good acidity and firm tannins. When a wine's appellation contains the word 'mountain' - as in Howell Mountain, Diamond Mountain or Mt. Veeder - it's easy to know that the wine comes from a mountain site. But in some cases, the grapes come from several AVAs within Napa Valley, and must carry the general appellation of Napa Valley. Ladera Cabernet Sauvignon is a case in point.

A Good Glass of Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon-or Three
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Jan 25, 2022

I do love a glass of good Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. I love the refined, elegant examples, and I love the powerful examples, provided that alcohol and new oak don't dominate the wine and the fruit does not taste raisined. But I'm partial to the Cabs from the Mount Veeder AVA, where vines grow at the highest elevations in Napa Valley; the growing season is the longest, promising slow, complete flavor development; and the crop levels average about half that of other appellations, fostering concentration. Three wines from Brandlin Estate (formerly called Brandlin Winery) have me particularly excited. Two of them are labelled as Cabernet Sauvignon, while the third, called 'Henry's Keep,' is labelled a Red Wine (although Cabernet dominant), and all of them are from the fairly cool 2018 vintage. They are all amazingly smooth and are very flavorful with rich but fresh fruit expression.

The Variety of Italy's Indigenous Grapes, as Seen in Two White Wines
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Oct 26, 2021

Exploring Italy's indigenous grape varieties is an ideal pathway to expanding your knowledge of Italian wines. Many native varieties flourish in only one or two Italian regions, and produce wines with a regional signature as well as that of the variety. Both wines are white and unoaked, but they are markedly different in style - as well as being high quality and eminently affordable. The first is a Gavi di Gavi DOCG. Gavi is a wine zone in Piedmont, in northwestern Italy. Although the huge majority of Piedmontese wines are red, Gavi is white, made from the Cortese variety. Cortese produces wines with high acidity and fairly light aromas. The origins of the Gavi zone track back to Cortese's potential for sparkling wine - for which high acidity and neutral aromas and flavors can be desirable. Today, Gavi is a dry, medium-bodied, crisp white with lemony flavors and savory mineral notes. Large grape crops strip any character from Cortese, and the best wines are therefore those from serious producers and from the best sites in the zone. My second recommendation is Garofoli Verdiccio from the DOC Castelli di Jesi Classico area of the coastal Marche region in east central Italy. This particular selection is called 'Serra del Conte.' It is the most basic Verdicchio that Garofoli makes, and it sells for only $12. It's meant for early consumption.

Exceeding Expectations for Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Sep 28, 2021

Sometimes before tasting a wine, assuming that I am not tasting it blind, I glance at the technical sheet for that wine and imagine how the wine will taste. For a mid- to high-end Sauvignon Blanc from California, these days I expect to read about various clones that produce the wine, and maybe some portion of Semillon. I expect to read about stainless steel fermentation at a range of temperatures, possibly oak aging and perhaps a mix of vineyards from different altitudes. These comments will support findings of aroma complexity, fruitiness, freshness and crispness in differing degrees. But the tech sheet for the 2020 Turnbull 'Josephine' Sauvignon Blanc from the Oakville district of Napa Valley told me that the wine is entirely Sauvignon Blanc (nothing about clones) and that it is aged in concrete (52 percent) with French oak for 38 percent and Italian terracotta amphorae for 10 percent (not stainless steel). Likewise, the tech sheet for the 2018 Turnbull Oakville Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve reveals no blending of Merlot or Petit Verdot, but simply 100 percent Cabernet Sauvignon and 100 percent French oak aging. And yet both wines express nuance and complexity, seemingly born that way. The good genes behind these wines, the press material explains, is the richness of the estate's vineyard holdings, 110 acres in Oakville divided among three vineyards, one of which carries vines from the pre-Prohibition era.

An Early Peek at a Great Montalcino Vintage
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Aug 24, 2021

The Caparzo estate was initially planted beginning in the late 1960s, in the very earliest days of international recognition for the wines of Brunello di Montalcino. In 1998, Elisabetta Gnudi Angelini purchased the property, which she runs in collaboration with her son and daughter. The estate covers 223 acres of vines on all sides of the hill of Montalcino. Aficionados of Montalcino wines credit different parts of the production zone with imbuing different characteristics to the wines from that area. This 2019 Rosso di Montalcino hails from three vineyards in the northern, southern, and eastern parts of the production zone, ranging from 220 to 270 meters in elevation (720 to 885 feet). When you taste the 2019 Caparzo Rosso di Montalcino, expect to find aromas and flavors of red fruits (red cherry, sour cherry, pomegranate, even raspberries) with notes of smoke, spice, nut meats, and dry earth. In your mouth, these flavors are pronounced, lively and fresh.

A Great-Value Tuscan Red, Beyond Sangiovese
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Jul 27, 2021

I tasted this wine on a muggy July afternoon as part of a tasting of Tuscan red wines, the others of which were based heavily on the Sangiovese grape. Whether due to mood or weather - or the absence of food - this Bordeaux-blend wine stood out as the most appealing and the most impressive. ia Vecchia is owned by the Pellegrini family, who for several generations were grape growers in and around Tuscany's Bolgheri area, where they sold grapes to established local wineries. In 1996, the family founded its own winery, naming the business after an old building called Aia Vecchia. The Merlot-based Lagone, the winery's first release and its flagship wine, debuted in 1998.

A Quartet of Italian Rosatos
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Jun 29, 2021

In Scene Two of the first act of my wine career, when I represented several Italian wine producers, I pitched a Sangiovese Rosato from the Romagna region to potential U.S. buyers. Sangiovese makes an exceptional rosé wine, the producer explained, because the wine can still taste fresh in its second year. But there was no market for rosé wines 35 years ago, any more than there was a market for Prosecco, my other flop. Time has changed that reality both for rosés and for Prosecco. Wine producers all through Italy make rosé versions of their red wines, using their local red grapes. Because Italy boasts so very many native grape varieties, the possibilities for rosato are almost endless. Even if the predominant style of these wines is light and easy-drinking rather than thought-provoking, Italian rosé is an interesting segment of wine for wine drinkers to explore. I recently compared four rosés from four different Italian grape varieties grown in three different regions. My two favorites were from the Veneto (Rondinella grape) and Marche (Montepulciano grape).

Chenin Blanc in Two Renditions
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Jun 1, 2021

I have in front of me two glasses of Chenin Blanc wine from California, both of which I enjoy and admire. But stylistically, they could hardly be more different. One is fairly light and refreshing, a lively wine that's ideal for summer drinking. The other is rich, provocative, sensuous, the kind of wine that you want to sip and ponder. Actually, it's not unusual for Chenin Blanc to show a range of faces. Even in the grape's two classic production areas, the Loire Valley and South Africa, a Chenin Blanc wine can be dry, off-dry, or sweet, including notable botrytised wines; it can be oaked or unoaked; it can be a still wine or a bubbly; it can be an everyday wine or it can be a wine worthy of a special occasion. In the U.S., Chenin Blanc vineyards are scarce compared to Chardonnay's, and only a few producers take it seriously enough to produce a varietal Chenin Blanc. And yet it is something of a geek's wine that serious winemakers want to take a crack at-and serious tasters are curious to taste in every manner of rendition.

Rediscovering Lugana
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Apr 27, 2021

I take pride in knowing Italian wines fairly well, but if you had asked me my feelings about Lugana until quite recently, I now realize that I likely would not have given the wine its due. With some recent exceptions, Italian white wines have a long history of undistinguished production, especially in northeastern and Central Italy. High crop levels of unremarkable grape varieties such as Trebbiano and unimaginative wine making techniques have produced floods of fresh, crisp, clean, fairly neutral white wines that are easily overshadowed by their red wine counterparts. Nothing to see here. But the Lugana DOC district has been beating its drums over the past year, and a recent tasting of six Lugana wines finally opened my eyes. What I tasted were distinctive, flavorful whites with character.

Cabernet Sauvignon in Montalcino
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Apr 6, 2021

Count Francesco Marone Cinzano is a gregarious winery owner in Tuscany who, like so many winemakers these days, is frustrated that he cannot travel to the U.S. to present his wines to wine writers and the trade - no more than we can travel to see him at his stunning estate in the Montalcino district. When he hosted a Zoom tasting of his wines recently, dozens of us showed up to taste his 2016 Brunello di Montalcino, 2013 single-vineyard Brunello di Montalcino Riserva and 2015 Cabernet. The Brunello wines are unquestionably stunning, especially the 2013 Poggio al Vento Riserva. But Col d'Orcia's Olmaia Cabernet Sant'Antimo DOC captured my imagination. The late Filippo Di Belardino, my friend and everyone's friend, spent his career importing Italian wines and speaking to others about them with the comic timing of a late evening talk show host. Discussing the misguided trend in the 1980s to include Cabernet Sauvignon in some Sangiovese-based Tuscan wines, Phil would say, 'Using Cabernet in a Chianti Classico wine is like inviting your mother-in-law to live in your home: you think you've added just a minor amount of Cabernet, but before you know it, she has taken over the entire house!' The great super-Tuscan blends notwithstanding, Cabernet is a difficult fit in central Tuscany.

Nebbiolo Elegance
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Mar 9, 2021

Among the great red wines of Piedmont, Barolo gets the lion's share of attention from collectors and critics. Barbaresco - a wine made entirely from the Nebbiolo grape variety, as Barolo is, but from a smaller nearby area - is often an afterthought. The 'Queen' as opposed to the 'King.' Barbaresco does have ardent fans but for a wine with less than half as much production on average and a less powerful style, that fan base is much smaller than Barolo's. Within Barbaresco, different producers and their various vineyards have different styles on the spectrum ranging from intense to elegant. Marchesi di Gresy's Barbaresco wine epitomize elegance and delicacy. The flagship vineyard of the estate, Martinenga, is considered among the finest in the Barbaresco zone and is the only single-family monopole vineyard in the region.

The Evolution of Chianti Classico Grand Selezione
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Jan 19, 2021

When the Chianti Classico Consorzio introduced the designation Chianti Classico Gran Selezione in 2013, the move was seen as an effort to create a higher quality tier among the wines of the region. Previously, the wines fell into either the basic Chianti Classico category or that of Chianti Classico Riserva, differentiated by slightly more than two years of additional aging. The Gran Selezione wines are required to come from a single vineyard or estate owned by the producer and aged a minimum of 30 months - six months more than Riserva - before release. The new category was controversial. Reactions involved confusion at best, and some critics expressed disapproval for what seemed to be an all too obvious marketing scheme. But as the term began appearing on wine labels, usually on a producer's finest and most expensive Chianti Classico, it gained traction as a quality indication.

The Charms of Lighter Valpolicella
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Dec 22, 2020

I recently attended a live video seminar with Armando Castagnedi, owner of Tenuta Sant'Antonio, a family-owned winery in the Valpolicella district of the Veneto region, in northeastern Italy. Armando presented a range of his wines, from the region's most basic appellation, Valpolicella DOC, to Valpolicella Ripasso DOC, and the region's pride, Amarone della Valpolicella DOCG. To no one's surprise, the three Amarone wines stole the show. What may be surprising, though, is that I ultimately decided to feature the other two wines - the youngest, least expensive wines - in this column. The 2018 Valpolicella 'Nanfre' is a dry, light-bodied, fruity red with soft texture, only a medium amount of tannin, and pronounced aromas of red cherry, cherry jam and floral accents, with just the most fleeting suggestion of candied cherry. I don't recall ever having such an aromatic Valpolicella. Tenuta Sant'Antonio's 'Monte Garbi' is a Valpolicella Ripasso is a medium-plus bodied, dry red wine with weight and substance, and a medium amount of grippy tannin. It's a bit like a light Valpolicella but with more stuffing and a rounder mouthfeel.

A Surprising Sauvignon Blanc
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Nov 10, 2020

I like to think that I can blind-identify the Sauvignon Blanc grape variety and can also tell you the region of production for a wine from that grape. Sauvignon Blanc is a variety with particular aroma and flavor signatures, and although it is made differently in many wine regions of the world, most regions have signature styles for the variety. This Sauvignon hails from the Friuli region in northeastern Italy - a well-established region for this variety. I did not taste this wine blind, and in retrospect I wonder whether I could have identified it. I can find the typical grassy and herbal notes of the grape, but the richness of the wine's aroma extends well beyond those notes. I also find a delicacy and gentleness in the wine that belies the assertiveness I expect from a Friuli Sauvignon.

A Virtual Finger Lakes Tasting Room Visit
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Oct 20, 2020

This column, like so many recently, opens in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic which has prevented us all from meeting face to face. A fellow Master of Wine, Charles Curtis, announced he would organize a Zoom tasting with the owners of Ravines Wine Cellars, a fine Finger Lakes winery. The winery would make a discounted three-pack of wine available to participants and we would taste the wines together in a live-remote wine tasting. Seven months ago, I would have declined an invitation to participate in a remote tasting, because in-person tasting opportunities abounded in New York City. These days, I saw a real opportunity. The quality of the wines made the experience pure pleasure. The three wines included a 2012 sparkling Brut that spent six years aging on its lees in the bottle; Ravines' signature, single-vineyard Dry Riesling from 2016; and a Pinot Noir / Blaufränkish blend from 2017 - every one of them impressive and highly recommended.

Wines that Stand Out from the Pack
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Sep 1, 2020

My late August wine-tasting activity involved ploughing through various sets of wine samples that I received since the Spring, to make room for what is usually a steady stream of new samples that arrives in the Fall. Most of the samples were from California, of course, reflecting the composition of our wine market. Some of the wineries were familiar to me, and others were not. Some of the wines weren't my cup of tea - Chardonnays and Sauvignon Blancs with perceptible sweetness to me, for example - while others were decent for their price, and just a few I judged to be top-notch. The wines of Newton Vineyards fell into this latter category. The Newton wines included two Chardonnays - Newton 'Unfiltered' Chardonnay from both 2017 and 2016 - and three Cabernets or Cabernet dominant reds. Because Newton is best known for its red wines, I was surprised how much I enjoyed the Chardonnays, although predictably, my favorite wines were the reds.

Finding Atypical Freshness and Vibrancy in Sicily
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Aug 4, 2020

One lesson that many of us have learned from our protracted confinement and conscribed isolation during the COVID-19 pandemic is the wisdom of surrendering control and accepting whatever comes our way. When my school, International Wine Center, conducted a seminar on Sicilian wines for its advanced students, I took that as an opportunity to explore for myself what's happening with Sicily's wines these days. Although I consider myself an Italian wine specialist, I have always favored the wines of the North and, apart from Etna, have failed to do justice to Sicily and its wines. My lesson-humbly learned - is a reminder not to paint the wines of Sicily with broad brush strokes of over-ripeness and heaviness. I knew that the wines of Etna were an exception and I realized that other exceptions existed, but now I know where to find them.

Three Chiantis from an Outlying District
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Jul 20, 2020

These days, Chianti is my favorite wine that I hardly ever drink. As much as I am a big fan of Chianti and Chianti Classico, I'm not dining out these days and therefore not ordering it in restaurants, where it is often the ideal choice. That and the urge to explore new and different wines have left Chianti out of my repertoire of late. Consider this column the beginning of my reparation. The overwhelming majority of my favorite Chianti wines are actually Chianti Classico, a separate wine once encompassed within the broader name of 'Chianti.' Within the Chianti category per se, Fattoria Selvapiana is the star. It hails from the smallest of the Chianti subzones, Rufina, in the northeastern part of the territory. Here the soils are similar to those of Chianti Classico, but a more northern location and elevations that can range from 200 to 700 meters (655 to 2300 feet) give the wines delicacy and tautness that is particular to the region - particular to Selvapiana, in any case, which is the zone's finest producer.

Something New from Old Argentina
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Jun 9, 2020

When I received this sample, I immediately thought that it would be an interesting wine to share with you in one of my columns. Even without tasting the wine, I knew that the grape variety, Trousseau, has a good story - an obscure red variety from the Jura region of France, itself an obscure area - and that the Aniello winery in Argentina has been garnering acclaim lately, particularly for its Pinot Noir. Tasting the wine simply sealed the deal. In the Patagonia region of Argentina, Aniello owns a vineyard of Trousseau that's barely two acres in size. The vineyard was planted 'by anonymous hands' in 1932, making it the oldest Trousseau vineyard in Argentina, and possibly the oldest in the world. At a latitude of 39 degrees south, the zone is distinctly cool climate, with long sunlight hours and significant diurnal temperature shifts - factors that bring ripeness and yet freshness to the wines.

Snapshot of Two Vintages in Saint Émilion
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
May 19, 2020

To a geeky wine lover, comparing the same wines from two different vintages is some of the most fun that can be had during a coronavirus lockdown. Ideally, the wines will reveal differences that go beyond their difference in age and development. Ideally, you will be able to taste the mark of the specific vintage in each wine. Perhaps with the precise intention of intriguing bored, shut-in Americans, Château Lassègue has released its current 2016 grand vin alongside a library selection, the 2012. Father and son vignerons, Pierre and Nicholas Seillan, intend the dual release to enable wine lovers 'to discover the character of a newer release…while at the same time enjoying a library release in its prime drinking window.' I tasted the two wines side by side and did in fact find the 2012 in its prime drinking window - a window that for me extends a few years into the future although the wine is perfectly ready now. The 2016 likewise is very drinkable now - the wine's rich style makes it delicious upon release - but it has a long and promising future appropriate for a young Bordeaux from a fine vintage.

Night and Day: Timorasso and Arneis
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Apr 14, 2020

Both Arneis and Timorasso are native Piedmontese grape varieties that were rescued from obscurity, if not from extinction, in the last part of the 20th century. Timorasso gained recognition through the efforts of Walter Massa, whose vineyards are located in the Colli Tortonesi area in southeast Piedmont; he began experimenting with wines from this grape in 1987 and made a splash with his 1997 single-vineyard release. Arneis began its modern life as a white wine in the hands of the late Alfredo Currado, former owner and winemaker of Vietti and the father of the current winemaker, Luca Currado; in 1967 Alfredo collected small lots of Arneis grapes from farmers in the Roero district, not far from the Barolo and Barbaresco zones, and earned acclaim for his 1968 Arneis from Italy's leading wine critic at the time, Luigi Veronelli.

Great Value from Piedmont
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Feb 25, 2020

If you have ever driven from Malpensa Airport in Milan to the Barolo district of Piemonte, you would have passed the town of Canale shortly before arriving in the small city of Alba and the Barolo hills soon after. Canale lies on the opposite side of the Tanaro River from Alba and the Barolo zone, in a district known as Roero. Roero has a long history of grape growing and winemaking, and in fact Nebbiolo - the grape of Barolo and Barbaresco - is a major variety there, but the area lacks the renown of Barolo and Barbaresco, across the river. Within Roero, the Enrico Serafino winery in Canale, founded in 1878, is one of the most prominent producers. The Enrico Serafino winery is now owned by the Krause family, from the U.S. Midwest; the Krause family also owns Vietti in the Barolo zone. Although situated in Roero, the Enrico Serafino winery owns several Barolo vineyards. It is entitled to vinify the grapes in Roero, having been grandfathered in as an exception when the DOC/G regulation was enacted in 1967. In addition to Barolo, the winery produces a range of still and sparkling wines, including a white wine, Gavi di Gavi.

Finding Value Without Sacrificing Quality
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Feb 4, 2020

As I write this column, everyone in America who sells or drinks European wine is nervously awaiting a decision regarding the potentially devastating 100 percent tariffs on European wines that the U.S. has proposed. Italian wines dodged the bullet on last year's 25 percent tariffs, which instead hit French, Spanish and German wines as well as Scotch Whisky, and which caused French wine imports to plummet by 18 percent last November. Now, Italian wines could join the targeted camp. For wine lovers the situation is a matter of choice - will your favorite wines even be available? - as well as a matter of price.

Tasty Wine Explorations for the New Year
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Jan 2, 2020

High on the list of 2020 wine resolutions for many wine lovers is undoubtedly the desire to explore new grape varieties and new wine regions. While neither of these wines is made from a recently rediscovered variety, and Sicily is by no means an unsung wine region, these wines are both curiosities worthy of wine lovers' attention. Each of these wines hails from an island off the island of Sicily itself. The Grillo comes from Mozia, a.k.a. San Pantaleo, a tiny island in the Marsala lagoon about half a mile from Sicily's west side. Didyme comes from the island of Salina, one of the Lipari (or Aeolian) islands, north of Sicily; Salina lies northwest of the island of Lipari, which is known to some wine lovers for its sweet Malvasia di Lipari wines, and like that island is volcanic in origin.

The Many Faces of California Pinot Noir
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Dec 3, 2019

It's easy for a wine drinker to say, 'I like Pinot Noir,' but the more that you drink Pinot Noir, the more you realize how simplistic that statement is. What set me thinking about diversity in Pinot Noir was a tasting of 11 Pinots that had so very much in common, and yet were each distinctive. The wines were all from the same winery, Dutton Goldfield, all from the 2017 vintage, all produced by the same winemaker (Dan Goldfield), mainly from Sonoma County, all produced with a five- to seven-day cold soak before fermentation, and mainly sharing a similar oak aging regiment (16 or 17 months in French oak, 50 to 55 percent new). The overall quality was excellent. And yet the wines were different enough that I could devote a playful hour to deciding which of the wines I preferred and why.

Charm, Freshness and Vibrancy
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Oct 29, 2019

Five years ago, I reviewed four 2012 Pinot Noir wines from Anderson Valley that carry the Maggy Hawk brand. Recently, I had the chance to taste the 2017 Maggy Hawk Pinot Noirs and was pleased to see their subtle evolution. Maggy Hawk is a wine estate owned by Barbara Banke, who heads the Jackson Family Estate collection of wineries in six countries. The estate is situated in the western part of Anderson Valley, where it is one of the vineyards closest to the Pacific Ocean, at the cool end of a cool region. The property is a patchwork of slopes deliberately planted with different vine orientations and different clones. Five vineyard blocks exist, but the 2017 wines represent only four of them. The estate takes its name from one of Banke's favorite race horses, and each of the 2017 Pinot Noir wines carries the name of one of Maggy Hawk's offspring. Like the 2012's, these four 2017 Pinot Noirs share an intensity of aroma, soft and silky texture and general charm. In the 2017's, however, I notice more freshness, more vibrancy in most of them, less evidence of oak, more nuance and modulated alcohol levels.

Overdelivering for the Price
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Oct 1, 2019

Alois Lageder is one of the largest private wine producers in Alto Adige. The family owns more than 135 acres which are all farmed biodynamically, and also works with 80 individual growers. Besides the Alois Lageder label, which includes more than a dozen varietal wines along with single-vineyard wines and special bottlings, the family makes wines under the Terra Alpina label. These are larger-volume wines that carry the Vigneti delle Dolomiti IGT classification rather than the more restrictive Alto Adige DOC; the IGT territory extends into neighboring Trento province, enabling the wine draw from more vineyards. The 2018 Terra Alpina Pinot Bianco has a quiet aroma that suggests fresh apples, grapefruit and, vaguely, peaches.

Masterful Chardonnay
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Sep 10, 2019

Ramey, Russian River Valley, Chardonnnay 2016 ($42): Long before the Ramey name appeared on wine labels as a brand of fine California wines, David Ramey was widely recognized as one of this country's most talented winemakers. I personally encountered him in the late 1980s when he was winemaker at Chalk Hill Winery in Sonoma and I was a Master of Wine student eager to devour the knowledge and experience he so generously shared. Most recently, I encountered him through this 2016 Chardonnay. Searching for the ideal California Chardonnay to use in my most advanced wine class, I tasted through various wines and, no surprise, I zeroed in on David Ramey's Russian River Valley bottling.

The Magic of Extended Aging
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Aug 13, 2019

Of the many aspects of wine that fascinate me, the one that intrigues me the most is the ability of a Champagne producer to create many different wines from a single blend. We know that for Champagne, and the many sparkling wines around the world that Champagne inspires, the magic is in the details: the precise vineyards represented in any blend, the percentages of grapes, the amount of reserve wine (or its absence), the duration of the lees-aging of the bottled wine, the amount of the sweetening dosage added before final corking, and so many other fine details along the way in the production process. Change one detail, and the wine becomes a different wine, even if all the others stay the same. Sometimes, nothing changes except the length of time the wine rests en tirage (in the bottle, on its yeast lees) before it is released to the market. And yet even that factor produces a different wine. Argyle Extended Tirage Brut 2008 is a delicious case in point.

A Tuscan- Californian- Rhône-Inspired Italian Red
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Jul 16, 2019

Sogno Mediterraneo 2016 is a red IGT Toscana wine produced by Casadei, a winery located in Suvereto in southern Tuscany. Casadei is a collaboration between Stefano Casadei, a prominent viticulturalist who works throughout Italy and has been particularly involved in the coastal Tuscan DOC zone of Bolgheri, and Californian Fred Cline, of Cline Cellars Winery in Sonoma. At Cline Cellars, Fred and Nancy Cline are long-time proponents of Rhône grape varieties, and so it is no surprise that Sogno Mediterraneo is a Rhône-varieties blend -- unlike the majority of internationally-inspired Tuscan wines that are focused on Bordeaux varieties. The wine is 60 percent Syrah, 20 percent Mourvedre and 20 percent Grenache.

A Great Chianti Classico Estate Struts Its Terroirs
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Jun 18, 2019

One of the inspiring modern figures in Chianti Classico is Francesco Ricasoli, owner and president of Ricasoli and the 32nd generation Baron of Brolio. He is the great-grandson of Bettino Ricasoli who was Italy's second Prime Minister, in the mid-19th century, and who proposed the historic blend for Chianti Classico that was adopted into the wine's DOC regulations before becoming outdated in modern times. In the 1970s the Brolio estate was purchased by a multinational company and the brand quickly lost its lustre. In 1993, young Francesco Ricasoli purchased back the property and the Barone Ricasoli company name. Gradually, he has brought new life to the estate's vineyards -- the largest vineyard acreage in Chianti Classico -- and today Brolio produces several of the most exciting of all Chianti Classico wines.

Cabernet Franc, the Underdog
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Apr 16, 2019

Are you someone who likes to root for the underdog? If so, you might want to focus your sights on Cabernet Franc. In 2015 -- the growing season of this particular, fine Cabernet Franc wine --only 0.5 percent of all the red grapes grown in California were Cabernet Franc, while Cabernet Sauvignon accounted for 22 percent of California's red grape tonnage. In Napa Valley specifically, Cabernet Sauvignon owned 59 percent of the red grape action, compared to Cabernet Franc at only 3 percent. That's underdog status. The quality of Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon is acclaimed worldwide. But increasingly, Cabernet Franc is also impressive in its quality. This Robert Mondavi Oakville Cabernet Franc 2015 serves as an example. This wine hails entirely from Mondavi's legendary To Kalon Vineyard in Oakville.

Unpacking a New Terroir in Argentina
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Mar 19, 2019

This wine is a blend of Malbec and Cabernet Franc produced by the Dominio del Plata winery, which is the winery of notable Argentine enologist, Susana Balbo. The winery produces several different tiers of wines, of which BenMarco is among the finest. The BenMarco wines focus on terroir as their defining concept, and that focus roused my curiosity to taste the wines. After visiting Argentina in February, I came to understand the exciting terroir movement that is occurring there - particularly within the Valle de Uco -- and I witnessed the distinctiveness that Malbec wines can derive from their different terroirs. This wine hails from what I consider one of the most exciting of Argentina's new Geographical Indications (GIs), Gualtallary.

Cabernet Franc in the Spotlight
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Feb 26, 2019

The 2015 Ehlers Estate Cabernet Franc is the product of a drought year whose warm and sunny weather resulted in historically early budding and ultimately a small, concentrated harvest. The wine's concentration of fruit expresses the vintage but nothing about the wine is exaggerated or overblown. It is a firm, structured wine infused with unobtrusive tannins and gorgeous fresh fruit. The wine's aromas suggest fresh red berries, black cherry, cranberry and floral notes, along with smoke and vanilla. In your mouth, the wine is dry and full-bodied with enough acidity to lend depth and some juiciness. Firm but ripe tannins are integrated all through the fabric of the wine, an admirable and exceptional characteristic. Leather and dried-herb flavors emerge along with a vibrancy of fresh, beautifully ripe fruit. The wine's texture is velvety, which is to say that the wine has a soft but substantial feel in your mouth. The finish echoes the wine's fresh fruit and its leather note.

Big Can Be Beautiful
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Feb 12, 2019

Wine drinkers seem to have very specific style preferences for Chardonnay wines. My husband likes them sleek, crisp and unoaked, a la Chablis. I like them rich but not very rich, and not too oaky -- and I like them expressive. Many fine Burgundy-like Chardonnays from California need age before I find them sufficiently expressive for my enjoyment. When I tasted this fine Sea Smoke Chardonnay, my first impression was that it is just too big. As soon as the second taste, however, I became seduced by the wine's complexity and expressiveness. It's a huge mouthful of Chardonnay but it's delicious and very well-balanced.

Pursuing the Holy Grail of Pinot Noir
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Jan 1, 2019

New wineries and new vineyards emerge constantly in California, but few have the heritage that Emeritus Vineyards can claim. Its origin dates to 1999 when Hallberg Ranch, a 115-acre estate in the Green Valley district of Russian River Valley, came up for sale. Pre-Prohibition, this site had been a vineyard but subsequently it became orchard land. Because of its size, its cool climate and its classic Goldridge soils (mineral-rich sandy loam), this 'extraordinary piece of land' captured the imagination of Brice Cutrer Jones. The founder and, until 1999, the owner of Sonoma-Cutrer Vineyards, he purchased Hallberg Ranch and with his friend and now vineyard manager, Kirk Lokka, set out on his mission to make Pinot Noir that would rival California's finest. In 2007, Emeritus Vineyards acquired the Pinot Hill vineyard in the Sebastopol Hills.

Merlot and More from an Exciting McLaren Vale Estate
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Nov 20, 2018

Three years ago, when the wines from Hickinbotham Clarendon Vineyard first became available in the U.S., I wrote about the Cabernet Sauvignon called Trueman and the Shiraz called Brooks Road, both of which impressed me very much. Now, with the 2015 vintage, two additional wines from Hickinbotham Clarendon Vineyard are available here, a Merlot and a Cabernet Shiraz. I continue to be impressed. Clarendon is part of South Australia's McLaren Vale GI but it is a distinct subregion situated in the very north and interior part of the GI, close to the Adelaide Foothills. Compared to most of McLaren Vale, the elevation is higher, up to 820 feet above sea level, resulting in cooler temperatures as well as significant day-night temperature shifts.

A Walk on the Wild Side
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Oct 23, 2018

Lioco, Mendocino Carignan 'Sativa' 2016 ($30): As much as I enjoy Lioco's Pinot Noirs, they quickly lost my attention at a recent tasting when my eyes turned toward this 2016 Carignan. Carignan is generally regarded as a rough and rustic grape, and its fortunes have been falling around the world for many decades. To find a varietal Carignan wine from California -- as opposed to a blended red with some Carignan in it -- is unusual; to find one from a producer such as Lioco that is known for making wines of nuance and restraint is all the more unlikely. The irony piqued my curiosity and the wine in no way disappointed me.

Cool Climate Cabernet Sauvignon
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Oct 9, 2018

Of all the world's wine regions that I have visited, those of Western Australia have left some of the most indelible impressions on me. I was struck by the remoteness of the state, eight hours flying time from Sydney; the diversity of its wine regions, from charming, maritime Margaret River 150 miles south of Perth on the Indian Ocean, to the isolated, continental Great Southern some 200 miles to the east; and the distinctive quality of the wines. Whenever I see wines from Western Australia, I jump at the opportunity to taste them. This Cabernet Sauvignon hails from the Great Southern region. The largest wine region in Australia, the Great Southern encompasses a variety of soils and climate influences, which enables the cultivation of both white and red grapes with needs as diverse as those of Riesling and Cabernet.

Miles Away from Pinot Grigio
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Sep 11, 2018

Some grape varieties are easy to categorize: Riesling, Gewurztraminer, Muscat, and Viognier, for example, are aromatic varieties whose flavor is so irrepressible that their wines express those flavors vividly. Chardonnay occupies the opposite end of the spectrum with flavor subtle enough that its wines can easily reflect winemaking technique more than grape character. Some experts might place Pinot Gris in the aromatic-grape category, but the neutral flavor of most Pinot Grigio wines argues against that. In fact, the Pinot Gris grape makes a wide variety of wine styles, from the most innocuous mass-market Pinot Grigios to more flavorful, somewhat richer Pinot Grigio wines from areas such as Alto Adige, and Alsace Pinot Gris wines that are almost exotic in comparison. This Pinot Gris from Chile falls toward the more intense, expressive end of the Pinot Gris spectrum. Its style is flavorful -- miles away from your standard Pinot Grigio -- although it has less body than many an Alsace version. The closest comparison, in my experience, is an unoaked Pinot Gris from New Zealand.

The Thrill of a Great Sauvignon Blanc
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Aug 28, 2018

Ladoucette, Pouilly-Fumé (Loire Valley, France) 2015 (Maisons, Marques & Domaines, $45): I have been souring on Sauvignon Blanc wines lately because so many of them that I taste --largely from California, which dominates the wine market in this country -- just fail to hit the target of expressive fruit with high acidity and dryness, which to me typifies Sauvignon Blanc. (Perceptible sweetness is one of my issues, as well as structure that's driven by high alcohol rather than acidity.) Drinking this Sauvignon Blanc from France's Loire Valley righted my world by confirming that the Sauvignon Blanc grape can still attain greatness. Ladoucette Pouilly-Fumé is not just any Sauvignon Blanc wine, of course. For decades it has occupied the highest tier in one of France's two most acclaimed appellations for this variety, the other being Sancerre.

Mountain Cabernet
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Aug 14, 2018

So much excitement exists around Pinot Noir in California now, it can seem that Cabernet Sauvignon is becoming an also-ran. Of course, Cabernet is California's most celebrated red wine, and in Napa Valley -- California's most celebrated wine region -- it leads in volume of production, crop value, and reputation. But is there anything new and exciting about old, reliable Cabernet? Meet Acumen, a wine estate in the Atlas Peak district of Napa Valley, that originated just six years ago. Proprietor Eric Yuan has amassed 116 organically-certified acres of vines spread across two sites in a remote, cool locale of steep slopes, high elevation and rocky, volcanic soils. From these estate vines, Acumen produces several red wines based on Cabernet Sauvignon that are masterful expressions of this noble grape.

Patagonia Pinot Noir Offers Vibrancy and Value
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Jul 31, 2018

Patagonia is Argentina's southernmost wine region and one of its smallest, encompassing less than two percent of Argentina's vineyard acreage. But in a country where one region, Mendoza, dominates production with 70 percent of vineyard plantings and also claims nearly exclusive consumer recognition, Patagonia offers an exotic alternative of cool climate wine style. Patagonia is actually a huge area made up of four provinces, Neuquén, Rio Negro, La Pampa, and Chubut. The latter two areas are still frontiers for Argentine winemakers, and Neuquén is also a relatively new area. The original vine growing area of Patagonia, and its first GI (Geographic Indication), is Rio Negro, where the small Aniello estate is situated. The Rio Negro wine district in fact has two parts, the Upper Rio Negro Valley where vineyards stretch along both sides of the river and a smaller, less significant vineyard area near to the coast.

Loire Valley Inspiration from California
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Jul 17, 2018

The weather was uncomfortably warm and humid when I prepared to taste wine samples, forcing me to scrap my plans to open powerful Australian reds. Fortunately, I had on hand a lovely trio of white wines from Dry Creek Vineyard. Over its 46 years of wine production in Sonoma County, Dry Creek Vineyard has held fast to its original inspiration, the white wines of the Loire Valley region of France -- the sort of wines that are perfect in summer. My tasting involved three wines from the 2017 vintage: Two Sauvignon Blanc wines and a Chenin Blanc. True to the Loire Valley prototype, the two Sauvignon Blanc wines are different in style, one lighter and crisper and the other, a bit fuller and more complex. The Chenin Blanc is made in a dry, medium-bodied style and is a wine that's perennially applauded by wine critics.

Chenin Blanc Shows Class on Pritchard Hill
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Jul 3, 2018

Chappellet is a living legend of Napa Valley wine. Donn and Molly Chappellet established their property on Pritchard Hill, high in the Vaca mountains of eastern Napa Valley, in 1967, with the advice of legendary winemaker Andre Tchelistcheff. Chappellet became one of Napa Valley's pioneers of mountain viticulture, and one of the most renowned producers of Cabernet Sauvignon. Cabernet Sauvignon occupies 65 acres of the family's 102 planted acres in the Pritchard Hill estate, and most of the remaining acreage grows grapes suitable for blending with Cabernet, such as Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Malbec. And then there's Chenin Blanc, which to many wine lovers is a secret surprise with the winery's portfolio.

Great Chardonnay from the Ground Up
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Jun 5, 2018

When I first reviewed a wine from Ten Acre Winery five years ago, I wrote that I plan to keep my eyes on this winery. It's a fairly new operation, founded only in 2008, that specializes in making small-lot Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs from the grapes of respected growers in cool-climate sites in California. Currently, their wines include Pinot Noirs from three growers in Russian River Valley and one in the Sonoma Coast AVA, with production of generally less than 300 cases per wine, as well as a Russian River and a Sonoma Coast Pinot that are not vineyard-specific. Ten Acre Winery's Chardonnay production is similarly limited; it features two grower-specific Russian River Valley Chardonnays, one Sonoma Coast Chardonnay and a Santa Lucia Highlands (the wine that so impressed me five years ago), as well as a blended-source Russian River Valley Chardonnay.

Classic, Timeless, Consistent
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
May 22, 2018

Jordan Cabernet Sauvignon is one of California's most consistent wines. With subtle changes from vintage to vintage, the wine typically shows a relatively restrained, graceful, food-friendly style, with fairly low-key fruitiness and the concentration and balance to develop beautifully for a decade or more. The 2014 vintage, the 39th release of Jordan Cabernet, is a lovely Cabernet that maintains that classic style.

An Austere Terroir and Its Rich, Ripe Fruit
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
May 8, 2018

Cellers Melis, and its wine called 'Melis,' are new to most wine lovers in the U.S. because the 2015 is the first vintage released here. But the roots of the winery extend back to California, where its founders, longtime friends Javier López and Victor Gallegos, were once roommates at U.C. Davis. In 1999, the two friends decided to pursue their shared passion for the wines of Spain's Priorat region, capitalizing on Javier's skills as an agricultural engineer and Victor's winemaking expertise. In 2004 they made their debut vintage of Melis. Victor stepped back from the project in 2009 to devote more attention to Sea Smoke, the respected California winery where he is general manager and director of winemaking; Toni Sanchez, who had been involved in winemaking there since 2005, guided the production of 2015 Melis.

Verdicchio Rising
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Apr 24, 2018

Italian wine is all about native grape varieties, and increasingly the coolest aspect of Italian wines is about undiscovered white varieties. I get it. But with all respect to grapes such as Carricante, Timorasso and Pecorino, my own favorite emerging native white grape variety is Verdicchio. It's a grape that has been known for decades, but only now is it beginning to enjoy the respect it deserves. Verdicchio is the main white grape in the Marche region on Italy's Adriatic coast. It also grows in the north, under different names: Trebbiano di Soave, in the Soave area (where it's a minor blending partner with the fine Garganega variety) and Trebbiano di Lugana, or Turbiana, in the nearby Lugana zone. It's known for its high acidity and citrusy and minerally aromatics.

Transcendental Wine
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Apr 10, 2018

I tasted the wines of Dalla Valle Vineyards this week and immediately knew that I must share that experience, even as I struggled to determine what would be the single, salient point to make about them. Great wine, admirable wine -- undoubtedly. But many wines are great in their own way: What is the seed of greatness in these wines? Elegance of expression within the powerful Napa Valley Cabernet paradigm? The voice of an estate that sings across three separate wines? The importance of family as the guiding light of a property and its wines? (Okay, I'm verging into sentimentality now, but the family is a mother-daughter team whose story makes 'heart' a living element of terroir.) The wines of Dalla Valle -- Collina Dalla Valle, Cabernet Sauvignon, and an icon wine called Maya -- embody all of these aspects of greatness. They are beautiful Cabernet Sauvignon-based Napa Valley wines that do not overplay the power card and yet are built for long aging.

A Cabernet Winery Identifies as Pinot Noir, Too
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Mar 27, 2018

Identity politics are not normally associated with wineries, but as I tasted these two wines, the topic sprang into my mind. Ever since its first commercial vintage in 1997, Ladera Vineyards has identified as a mountain-grown Cabernet Sauvignon property, producing intense, authoritative Cabs with the concentration of mountain fruit and yet subtlety of expression. When the winery purchased a Chardonnay and Pinot Noir vineyard in Russian River Valley in 2006, and an adjacent parcel in 2008, it created a separate label for the wines from that area, in order to preserve its identity as a Cabernet specialist. But identity politics can be limiting. With the 2015 vintage, Ladera has incorporated the Pinot Noir and Chardonnay into its Ladera brand.

A Third Single-Vineyard Cabernet from Heitz
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Feb 27, 2018

In 1961, Joe and Alice Heitz entered the vanguard of modern-era Napa Valley winemaking when they purchased their first vineyard land in Napa Valley, where Joe was already making wine at Beaulieu Vineyard under the great Andre Tchelistcheff. In 1966, Heitz made history by producing the first single-vineyard Cabernet in Napa Valley, from the legendary Martha's Vineyard. The Martha's Vineyard site is owned by the May family; since that initial collaboration with the Heitzes in 1966 the family has consigned its Martha's Vineyard grapes exclusively to Heitz Wine Cellars. As Heitz expanded its own vineyards over the years, it produced a single-vineyard eatate-owned Cabernet, Trailside Vineyard in Rutherford, which debuted in 1989, as well as a single vineyard Zinfandel, Ink Grade Vineyard on Howell Mountain, also in 1989. Now, Heitz has released its first new single vineyard wine since 1989 -- Linda Falls Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon.

Overachieving Sauvignon Blanc and Extraordinary Cabernet
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Feb 13, 2018

'How high can you score a Sauvignon Blanc?,' my fellow taster and I mused. Can a mere Sauvignon Blanc attain scores worthy of white Burgundy, for example? Philosophical discussions of quality and scoring aside, we acknowledged that we are not accustomed to finding Sauvignon Blanc wines from California that even raise those issues. In this wine, we had found one. The wine's fresh, pronounced aroma evokes citrus, tropical and stone fruits: Lemon and grapefruit mingle with melon and guava, and with nectarine. In your mouth, the wine is dry and nearly full-bodied with creamy texture and vibrant acidity. Its flavors are concentrated and vivid, echoing those in the aroma, with mango and herbal notes joining in; these flavors are enduring on the palate as you hold the wine in your mouth. Nothing about this wine says 'oak' except the rich texture and the slightest note of toast on the finish; in fact the purity and intensity of flavor skews this wine itoward the unoaked stylistic camp. Dry, rich, extremely flavorful, with great depth and enduring length: this is a Sauvignon Blanc that offers the ready expressiveness of the variety and yet is actually an important wine.

The Diversity of Napa Valley Cabernet
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Jan 30, 2018

I tasted five very fine Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon wines recently, and in the process, I received a lesson in the diversity of Napa Valley better than any I could learn from a textbook. The wines were all from Duckhorn Vineyards, mainly from the 2014 vintage, and all priced the same, at $98 a bottle. They were all outstanding Cabernets. Although they shared certain stylistic similarities that I attribute to the winemaking, they all were highly individual wines.

Chile Goes Cabernet Franc
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Jan 16, 2018

When someone tells me that he or she has a good wine from Cabernet Franc, I am immediately interested. Compared to Cabernet Sauvignon, the production of Cabernet Franc is small and isolated enough that every Cabernet Franc wine from the New World piques my curiosity. The best wines are more flavorful and sprightly than most Cabernet Sauvignons, with enticing fresh fruitiness and yet enough weight to be considered serious wines. Larry Challacombe, President of Global Vineyard Wine Importers in Berkeley, oversees a large portfolio of wines from artisanal family wineries in South America. He pointed out that several of his Chilean wineries have embraced Cabernet Franc and produce varietal Cabernet Franc wines, while many others are relying on this grape as part of their blends. He believes that the growing acreage of Cab Franc in Chile signals increasing importance of this variety in South America.

Back to Basics
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Jan 2, 2018

Not so long ago, the heartland for California Pinot Noir was the Carneros district that spans the southern part of Napa and Sonoma counties. Then our lexicon broadened to include Sonoma's Russian River Valley of course, and Santa Barbara, and then Green Valley, Sonoma Coast, Anderson Valley in Mendocino County, and Sta. Rita Hills. The wine lover exploring top quality California Pinot Noir today has a large territory to cover. In all the excitement, do we risk overlooking Carneros? A quick perusal of my tasting notes suggests that over the past couple of years I, for one, have spent far less time with my nose in a glass of Carneros Pinot Noir than those of other California AVAs. Now, with the new year, it's time to turn back to basics. I'm starting with Cuvaison, a winery founded almost 50 years ago, in 1969, that produces Pinot Noir and Chardonnay exclusively from its estate vineyard spanning more than 200 acres.

Worthy of the Holidays
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Dec 19, 2017

While I must confess that occasionally I have chosen not to drink a bottle of fine Burgundy from our cellar because 'It's too special,' at this time of year I am likely to say, 'Bring it on!' During the holidays, we deserve Burgundy. This particular Burgundy is one that you might not see very often. The producer, Joseph Drouhin, is one of most recognizable names from France's Burgundy region. A family-owned company, Joseph Drouhin produces white and red wines all across Burgundy, from Chablis in the northern reaches down to Beaujolais at the region's opposite end. Many of the wines come from vineyards that the family owns and farms bio-dynamically. (The family was also a pioneer in Oregon, where its Domaine Drouhin Oregon is celebrating its 30th anniversary.)

A Candidate for the Holiday Table
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Dec 5, 2017

Grgich Hills Estate, Napa Valley, Zinfandel, 2013 ($36): The holiday season brings the perpetual dilemma of what type of wine to serve with the major meals. In reality, no single wine can complement the entire mash-up of flavors on the holiday table. The sensible route is to choose a good-quality wine that works fairly well with most of the food, is easy to drink and is enjoyable to a wide range of personal tastes. This Zinfandel fits the bill. I have always enjoyed the wines of Grgich Hills because I find them to have a note of refinement that is not the norm for California reds. Founded forty years ago, the winery rose to prominence on the reputation of founding winemaker Mike Grgich, who was the talent behind the 1973 Chateau Montelena Chardonnay that won the legendary Judgment of Paris wine-tasting in 1976. Grgich is now 93 years old and still active, while his daughter Violet and son-in-law Ivo Jeramaz have taken the helm. The winery has remained small by choice, and all the wines are estate-grown.

When You Need A $10 Pinot Grigio
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Nov 7, 2017

The Pinot Gris grape makes some impressive white wines in places such as Alsace, Italy's Alto Adige and Friuli regions, New Zealand and Oregon. But inexpensive, ordinary Pinot Grigio wine from high-volume vineyards in northeastern Italy has come to be the dominant style for this grape variety. Even as we critics look down on neutral, light-bodied Pinot Grigio wines, they remain dominant, and hugely popular. When you entertain people who enjoy wine but don't take it seriously, you might think about buying an inexpensive Pinot Grigio as a logical fit for their tastes and your budget. Fortunately, with the release of this new Pinot Grigio wine from Alois Lageder, there is a $10 Pinot Grigio option that stands above the quality norm for this price point.

A Sonoma County Survivor
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Oct 24, 2017

When wildfires broke out in Sonoma and Napa Counties earlier this month, one of the casualties was the historic Bundschu family home. Jim and Nancy Bundschu lived there -- parents of winery president Jeff Bundschu and VP Katie Bundschu -- and like so many others victimized by the fires, they were forced to leave suddenly, with little more than the clothes on their backs. The 100-year-old home was completely destroyed. Ultimately, however the winery buildings survived, thanks to firefighting intervention. As one of California's oldest wineries, founded in 1858, Gundlach Bundschu has had its share of tragedy and triumph. In the San Francisco earthquake and fires of 1906, the company's winemaking facilities in the city burned to the ground, requiring the thriving business to downsize and relocate to Sonoma, close to its historic Rhinefarm vineyard. After prohibition, the family sold grapes to legendary producers such as Inglenook, Almaden and Louis Martini, but did not make wine under its own label again until 1973.

Another Exciting Burgundy-Oregon Alliance
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Oct 10, 2017

A salient quality of the 2015 Nicolas-Jay Bishop Creek Pinot Noir is its roundness on the palate, a structural balance so ideal that you sense you are tasting greatness. It is a generous Pinot Noir but not dense or fleshy in texture. Acidity enlivens its richness from within, and tannin grounds the taste, both components supporting the wine's spherical beauty. Aromatically, the wine is intense with dark fruit notes, black cherry and plum, as well as savory notes of warm spices, damp earth and smoke. The wine aged in French oak barrels that were half new and half neutral, and while you can detect characteristics of oak -- the smokiness, the fine grip of oak tannin on your tongue -- you would probably not label the wine 'oaky.' Despite how impressive this wine is now, it has everything it needs to age gracefully for many years.

Impressive Sauvignon Blanc from Northern Italy
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Sep 19, 2017

Historically, Alto Adige produced more red wines than white, but now white wines account for 60 percent of the region's production. Not surprisingly considering the wine's popularity, Pinot Grigio is the leading white grape, followed by Gewurztraminer, Chardonnay and Pinot Blanc -- producing, incidentally, probably the world's finest Pinot Blanc wines. Only then does Sauvignon Blanc enter the picture, with only 970 acres of production, just seven percent of the region's total. But the Terlano zone, where this wine originates, is considered one of the favored districts in the entire region for growing Sauvignon Blanc. I am extremely impressed by this particular wine, even without considering its highly affordable price. It is rich but fresh, it is complex in flavor, and it's very well made.

Revisiting Lake County, California
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Sep 5, 2017

When I was offered the opportunity to sample a selection of wines from California's Lake County recently, I jumped at the chance because, frankly, I hadn't given much thought to that area in many years. The four wines I tasted impressed me. They shared many characteristics that I prize, such as vibrant acidity, freshness of fruit flavors and long finishes -- and yet they also showed lovely ripeness, which often does not go hand-in-hand with those characteristics. This Petite Sirah was my favorite of the lot. Tasting the 2013 Petite Sirah and then factoring in that the wine aged for two-plus years in new oak (French and American), you can appreciate what fruit concentration the grapes had: The wine's fruit easily sustains the oak influence. And yet this is not a monster Petite Sirah; it is a very well balanced wine with freshness and finesse.

Making Chardonnay Matter Again
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Aug 15, 2017

The 2015 Sonoma-Loeb El Novillero Chardonnay is a gorgeous Chardonnay, with all the richness and complexity that California Chardonnay can deliver but none of the excess. Its exotic aroma speaks of lychee, ripe lemon, quince, butterscotch, cream and smoky oak. In your mouth, the wine is full, round and voluptuous, with creamy texture but also an enlivening acidity that holds the rich elements in check. Its flavors suggest peach, pineapple, lemon, floral notes, nutmeg and buttery brioche. The wine's acidity gives depth and dimension to the complex flavors and rich structure. The oak barrels in which this wine fermented were 50 percent new; all the wine underwent ML and the time on the lees was ten months compared to eight months for the other two Chardonnays.

A Cabernet Icon's Lighter Offerings
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Jul 25, 2017

One evening last week, I taught a class that involved a discussion of the many ways that blending can help a winemaker achieve his or her quality and stylistic goals. Two days later, I tasted this rosé wine and the newly-released 2016 Clos du Val Sauvignon Blanc and wished that I could have tasted these wines with the students, as real-life examples of one form of blending. Although both wines are made entirely from their named grape variety, they both are blends of grapes from different vineyard locations, with the fruit of each area complementing the fruit of the other parcel.

An Aristocrat of Napa Valley Cabernet
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Jun 20, 2017

Napa Valley's history of grape-growing dates to 1839, and its first commercial winemaking dates to 1861. The number of wineries grew to 140 by 1889, but the combined setbacks of the first phylloxera scourge and Prohibition brought Napa Valley's burgeoning wine production to its knees in the early twentieth century. In 1966, Robert Mondavi Winery became the first new winery in Napa Valley since Prohibition. One year later, Chappellet Vineyard became the second. The pinnacle of Chappellet's product line is the limited-production Chappellet Pritchard Hill Cabernet Sauvignon, currently available in the 2013 vintage. This is a glorious wine, among the finest Napa Valley Cabs I have tasted. It is rich in aroma and flavor and rich in body, but it is also surprisingly nuanced. It is a wine that speaks of its grapes and its vineyard far more than its winemaking, which is a high compliment to longtime Chappellet winemaker Phillip Corallo-Titus.

Award-Winning Chardonnay from Australia's Adelaide Hills
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Jun 6, 2017

I had been waiting patiently for the Bird In Hands wines to become available in the U.S., and finally about three months ago, the inaugural shipment arrived. What had stoked my interest was an announcement about the winery's having won an unprecedented trifecta of wine awards from Australia's Winestate magazine: 2015 Winery of the Year, Winemaker of the Year and Wine of the Year -- the first time ever that a single winery has earned all three titles. The winemaker in question is Kym Milne MW, who won the Winemaker of the Year award also in 2014. The wine was the 2012 Chardonnay in the winery's 'Nest Egg' line, a range of limited production wines not made every year. Nest Egg Chardonnay is the winery's flagship Chardonnay. I tasted that 2012 Nest Egg Chardonnay in January and found it to be a wine of enormous character but also enormous grace, rich and big yet showing restraint. Now 2015 is the current vintage.

Gorgeous Pinot Noir from Heaven-and-Earth
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
May 23, 2017

When I visited South Africa a few years ago, one of my most memorable days was spent in the region known as the Cape South Coast, southeast of Cape Town, and its Walker Bay wine district. I can still recall walking the beach outside the town of Hermanus, looking for whales in the distance and snapping photos of two children cavorting in the white sand. I can also recall the wines of the area --especially Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays, grown under cool Atlantic Ocean influences and showing vibrant acidity with stylistic restraint. I recently compared three Pinot Noir wines from the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley ward, the most important area for Pinot Noir in the Walker Bay district. (Poetically, the name translates as 'Heaven and Earth.') This is a historic area for Pinot Noir in South Africa because it is the place where Tim Hamilton-Russell planted the country's first cool-climate Pinot Noir vines in 1975, winning rave reviews for his Burgundy-like Pinots and Chardonnays. Today the area is home to more than a dozen wineries.

Revisiting an Old Favorite Variety
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
May 9, 2017

During the 1980s and 1990s, my husband and I visited the Piedmont region of Italy almost every summer. Despite the heat, we would taste newly released Barolo and Barbaresco wines at every winery we visited, along with easier-to-take Barbera and Dolcetto wines from the previous vintage. And then we would always ask to taste Grignolino, a light red wine from a native local variety which was produced at about half the wineries we visited. Not inclined to promote their more modest wines, many wineries didn't offer the wine until we asked. We love Grignolino, we would assure them, as the wine's vibrant acidity refreshed our mouths.

Another Face of Sangiovese
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Apr 25, 2017

Coastal Tuscany is a fascinating wine production area. It includes more than two dozen DOC or DOCG wine zones, many of which make very good red wines. Some of the zones, such as Bolgheri, rely on Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot while others make wines predominantly from Sangiovese, the grape that dominates the interior of Tuscany. Unlike in the interior, the Tyrrhenian Sea brings a Mediterranean climate, with warm, sunny, dry summers and cooling night temperatures. One of the areas that focuses on Sangiovese is the DOCG wine zone, Morellino di Scansano, situated around the town of Scansano in the southwestern corner of Tuscany, just east of the city of Grosseto. ('Morellino' in fact is a local synonym for Sangiovese.) Although it is not the smallest wine zone in coastal Tuscany, Morellino di Scansano is small; its predominantly hilly vineyards cover just 3,705 acres, which is less than half the size of the Brunello di Montalcino DOCG zone.

New Kids on the Pinot Noir Block
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Apr 11, 2017

Over the years, many California wineries that were exclusively sparkling wine houses have commercialized a still wine brand featuring Chardonnay and Pinot Noir wines from grapes that could not find their ideal use in sparkling wine. Roederer Estate has been an exception. Which is not to say that the Rouzaud family, owners of Roederer Estate, haven't apparently felt the urge to produce a Chardonnay and Pinot Noir brand: Their approach has been to purchase a separate winery estate specifically for these wines.

Like a Kid in a Candy Shop
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Mar 28, 2017

While plenty of wine drinkers love Pinot Noir, for others of us it might be more accurate to say that we love Pinot Noirs-plural--because we so much enjoy experiencing the different expressions of the grape from different regions and different vineyards within the same region. Recently faced with six Pinot Noir wines from a very good Anderson Valley producer, in an exciting vintage and from several highly individual vineyards, I was right in my element. The wines were from Goldeneye, the Anderson Valley outpost of The Duckhorn Wine Company, and the group's Pinot Noir specialist winery. Goldeneye produces six Pinot Noirs, of which five are entirely from estate fruit and four are single-vineyard bottlings.

A Gentle Reminder: Drink Chianti Classico
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Mar 14, 2017

Every time I taste Chianti Classico, I wonder why I don't drink it more often. I love Chianti Classico's dryness (unfortunately, an increasingly uncommon characteristic in red wines), its typical aromas and flavors of red fruits, its nervy tannin structure and its terroir-driven range of expressions. More often than not, I marvel at the affordable price. Is there a greater value among the world's classic red wines? Last year, Chianti Classico celebrated its 300th anniversary as a wine zone. Sales are strong, having risen steadily since the global recession had its impact in 2009. Almost 80 percent of Chianti Classico wines are exported, and the U. S. is their largest market. And yet, I don't hear wine lovers talking about Chianti Classico as much as they discuss the wines of Piedmont or Mt. Etna, for example. Consider this column a gentle reminder that Chianti Classico is a great wine from a dynamic wine region.

Heritage Vines, Pedigree Wine
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Feb 28, 2017

Stags Leap District is one of Napa Valley's most iconic sub-appellations. Acclaim began in the early 1960s with the success of Heitz Cellars' vineyard-designated Fay Cabernet Sauvignon produced from grapes grown by Nathan Fay, who pioneered the planting of Cabernet Sauvignon vines in the District. The success of Stag's Leap Wine Cellars' 1973 Cabernet Sauvignon in the 'Judgement of Paris' tasting in 1976 raised the area's profile further. In more recent times, outstanding wines from wineries such as Clos du Val and Shafer Vineyards brought even more recognition.

Heritage Vines, Pedigree Wine
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Feb 28, 2017

Stags Leap District is one of Napa Valley's most iconic sub-appellations. Acclaim began in the early 1960s with the success of Heitz Cellars' vineyard-designated Fay Cabernet Sauvignon produced from grapes grown by Nathan Fay, who pioneered the planting of Cabernet Sauvignon vines in the District. The success of Stag's Leap Wine Cellars' 1973 Cabernet Sauvignon in the 'Judgement of Paris' tasting in 1976 raised the area's profile further. In more recent times, outstanding wines from wineries such as Clos du Val and Shafer Vineyards brought even more recognition.

Carménère in the Spotlight
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Feb 14, 2017

I recently compared three wines from the Carménère grape and found an excellent example in the 2012 Grial Carménère from Apaltagua winery. Apaltagua is a family-owned winery whose vineyards, many of them old vines, are scattered throughout Chile, in regions such as Casablanca, San Antonio Valley, Maule and Curico Valley. The Grial Carménère, Apaltagua's flagship wine, comes from Apalta Valley, considered one of Chile's finest red wine zones. The grapes for this wine grow on 70-year-old ungrafted vines in the family's 148-acre Apalta vineyard.

The Beauty of Merlot
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Jan 17, 2017

These two 2013 Merlots hail from opposite sides of Napa Valley: Mt. Brave Merlot, from Mt. Veeder in western Napa Valley and La Jota Merlot, from Howell Mountain in the east. The two wines are equally impressive, but in fact quite different. Mountain viticulture encompasses several factors that positively influence the quality of Merlot grapes. The cooler temperatures at high altitudes foster a slower, more even ripening of the grapes; sites above the fog line enjoy longer sunshine which enhances ripening; and thin, stony mountain soils result in small crop levels and smaller, more concentrated grape berries. The difficulty and challenge of mountain viticulture is itself another influence, because it demands dedication from the growers and winemakers who work the vines. In 2013, all these factors converged with an ideal growing season that saw temperatures hover in the 85° to 95° range, without heat spikes, and dry conditions throughout.

An Exemplary Trio from Washington
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Jan 3, 2017

An impressive trio of new releases from Buty Winery underscores the diversity and potential of the three varieties. One wine, the 2014 Connor Lee Vineyard from Columbia Valley ($45) combines Merlot with Cabernet Franc in a 63-37 ratio. In another wine, the 2013 'Columbia Rediviva' from Horse Heaven Hills, Cabernet Sauvignon dominates with 15 percent Syrah in the blend. The third wine, 2013 'Rediviva of the Stones' ($60) from the winery's Rockgarden Estate in Walla Walla Valley, is 80 percent Syrah; Cabernet Sauvignon and Mourvedre account for the balance, at 14 and 6 percent respectively. All three are fine wines that truly represent their dominant grape varieties.

The Heights of Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Dec 20, 2016

Jess Jackson was one of the true visionaries of California wine. Besides his obvious accomplishment in establishing the phenomenally successful Kendall-Jackson brand, he purchased vineyards in some of California's most favored sites and hired the talent to produce exquisite, world-class wines from those sites. One of my cherished professional memories is flying with Jess in a helicopter about twenty years ago and surveying the vineyards dedicated to producing Lokoya Cabernet Sauvignon, captivated not only by the magnificence below us but also by Jess's passion for the individual character of each terroir. Among the many wine properties that Jackson Family Estates owns today, Lokoya perhaps stands at the pinnacle.

Pinot Grigio Cut from a Different Cloth
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Dec 6, 2016

There's Pinot Grigio, and then there's Pinot Grigio. Most of the Italian Pinot Grigio wines that you find in wine shops or restaurants epitomize the descriptor, 'simple.' They are light-bodied, high-acid whites with neutral flavors, and their main virtues are that they are refreshing and easy to drink. But it is possible to find Pinot Grigio wines that actually have character. Together with the region of Friuli-Venezia Giulia in Italy's far northeast, Italy's northernmost region, Alto Adige, is one of the places where winemakers take Pinot Grigio seriously.

Three New Elite Pinot Noirs
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Nov 22, 2016

Three years ago, Jackson Family Wines caused quite a stir by purchasing a vineyard in Oregon -- its first foray into that state. The company had staked a significant presence in California and already had properties or winemaking projects in France, Italy, Australia and South Africa. The vineyard purchase in Oregon, as I recall it, was seen as a validation of what many critics and wine lovers firmly believed, that Willamette Valley's terroir and winemaking potential are world class. That vineyard was Zena Crown Vineyard, established in the early 2000s by Premier Pacific Vineyards and for many vintages a source of grapes for vineyard-designated Pinot Noirs from several top Oregon producers. Now, under Jackson Family Wines, Zena Crown Vineyard is one of Oregon's newest Pinot Noir domains.

A Favorite and Six Fellow-Travellers
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Oct 25, 2016

Such a fascinating exercise it was -- blind-tasting a dozen Willamette Valley Pinot Noirs, all but one from the fine 2014 vintage and each the basic Pinot Noir bottling from its producer, ranging in price from $19 to $32. I had no role in selecting the wines, and I tasted without any awareness of which brands were included. On the whole, I found good quality across a range of styles: some wines quite light and elegant, some dry and others ripe-fruity to the point of suggesting sweetness, many showing a subtle presence of oak but few with notable tannin. From the high baseline, my favorites emerged. To my delight, most of them were wines from my long-time favorite Oregon producers.

White Burgundy Value
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Oct 11, 2016

It's a perennial topic in wine writing: Finding good-value wines from France's lauded Burgundy region. Contrary to many expectations, the region that produces some of the world's most treasured wines -- the region that made Chardonnay and Pinot Noir famous -- also makes wines that are everyday-affordable. What's more, as prices of Burgundy's elite wines climb sky high, prices of the region's least expensive wines seem to remain quite steady. Part of the secret in finding affordable white Burgundies is to look in the geographic extremities of the region, north of the Côte d'Or heartland to the Chablis district, and especially south to the Mâconnais district.

A Great Chardonnay Find from South Africa
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Sep 27, 2016

For white wine lovers, something feels just right about a good Chardonnay now, after all the pretty Rieslings and Sauvignon Blancs of summer. When the fleece jackets come out, Chardonnay's greater weight and more substantial personality seem to bolster us for the serious seasons ahead. Maybe the early autumn context caused me to love this South African Chardonnay -- but the wine's indisputable quality and amazing value had more than a little to do with my positive reaction. Imagine: a Chardonnay under $20 that you can only praise, despite your best critical efforts to detect some shortcoming. Glenelly is a property in the Stellenbosch region with a long history of agriculture, dating back to the 17th century, but the property became a wine estate only a dozen years ago.

Cool Climate California Syrah
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Aug 30, 2016

Although Syrah is one of the world's greatest red wine grapes, the diversity of wine styles that Syrah produces has complicated wine drinkers' enthusiasm for Syrah wine. At one end of the spectrum are majestic Northern Rhône wines such as Hermitage, Cornas and Côte Rôtie, and power-packed Barossa Valley Shirazes; at the other end of the spectrum are what the Brits would call 'cheap and cheerful' supermarket reds. The range of styles is confusing enough to turn a wine drinker to Cabernet instead.

A Tribute to the Chehalem Mountains AVA
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Aug 16, 2016

There would seem to be something ironic about the name of this Pinot Noir from Oregon's Adelsheim Vineyard. 'Breaking Ground' suggests something new or revolutionary -- and in fact this is the first new wine from Adelsheim Vineyard in more than a decade -- but Adelsheim itself is as old as the Oregon wine industry. David and Ginny Adelsheim purchased their first vineyard-to-be in 1971 and began planting the land the following year. A true pioneer of Oregon wine, David Adelsheim had broken new ground on many occasions and in many ways. The best interpretation of the name 'Breaking Ground' Pinot Noir, therefore, is more historic than literal, a name that hearkens the accomplishments of the past for a winery on the eve of its 40th commercial vintage.

Freshness and Vitality Rule in Summer Reds
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Aug 2, 2016

A late July afternoon when half of the country is sweltering under a heat dome is probably not the best time to sit down to a tasting of serious Tuscan red wines, such as several examples of Chianti Classico and Brunello di Montalcino. But to my delight, one of the wines took the heat by the horns and delivered actual refreshment. Although it is a serious, well-made Chianti Classico, its style is relatively light and flavorful and the wine is a welcome find for red wine lovers in warm weather. 'Terre di Prenzano' is a traditionally-made, all-Sangiovese Chianti Classico from the Vignamaggio winery, which is situated in the Greve subzone of the Chianti Classico DOCG territory.

Rethinking Summer Whites
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Jul 19, 2016

Treana Winery, Central Coast (California), Treana Blanc 2014 ($30): The first thought that crossed my mind as I tasted the 2014 Treana Blanc on a sultry July afternoon was, 'This is certainly not what you'd call a 'summertime white!' My second thought was, 'Hell, it's so delicious I'd drink it even in this heat.' Relatively light body, crackling high acidity and vibrant flavors of crisp, fresh citrus typify the white wines we tend to reach for in warm weather. This wine, instead, is full-bodied and unabashedly rich, with aromas and flavors of tropical fruits and honey. It's a white wine with the weight and presence worthy of France's Rhône Valley but more opulent in its flavor intensity, as you would expect from California. Treana Blanc, in fact, is a blend of grape varieties grown in the Northern Rhône Valley: Viognier and Marsanne at 45 percent each and the more delicate Roussanne at 10 percent.

Mountain-Grown Integrity
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Jul 6, 2016

If you have a wine cellar, you know that sometimes wines can get away from you and at a certain point you discover a few that you meant to try sooner. The same thing can occur to wine critics with samples they receive: by the time you taste a wine, a good wine that you want to recommend to readers, it is no longer available at the winery. Luckily, some wine shops around the country still carry it. The wines that got away from me are the winter releases from Smith-Madrone: The 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon and the 2013 Chardonnay. They are both terrific wines, especially the Cabernet, to my taste. Yet I have experienced such consistency of quality from Smith-Madrone over the years that, although these two vintages were 'picture perfect,' they can also stand in proxy for future vintages of the same wines.

A Gem of a Grenache
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Jun 28, 2016

Yangarra Estate Vineyard, McLaren Vale (Australia), Old Vine Grenache, 2013 (Majestic Imports, $32): One of the most memorable wine-tastings I have ever attended was a Grenache vertical conducted last year outdoors under a huge tent in the middle of Yangarra's High Sands Grenache vineyard. The occasion was a visit - maybe infestation is a more accurate word! - by more than 40 Masters of Wine who were making the rounds of the most important wineries in Australia. Gnarly, head-trained vines surrounded us on all sides. At the head table, winemaker Peter Fraser and vineyard manager Michael Lane sat with octogenarian Bernard Smart, the original owner of the site, who helped his father plant those very vines in 1946. The takeaway was clear: Yangarra takes Grenache very, very seriously.

Still Classy After All These Years
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Jun 7, 2016

The first case of wine that I ever purchased was a Monsanto Chianti Classico Riserva, specifically the 1971 Il Poggio vineyard, from what was at the time a fairly new Tuscan estate. In wine terms, I suppose that's like a first kiss: Even as other flames come and go, you remain forever linked to that wine that elicited your first full-case commitment. With the release of the 2012 Chianti Classico Riserva, Monsanto is now celebrating half a century of grape growing and wine production. Luckily for me, my old flame continues to impress me.

An Impressive Chardonnay from Central Italy
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
May 24, 2016

The wine map of Italy is vivid in my mind, as it probably is for most devotees of Italian wine. When I met producers Noemia and Paolo d'Amico, and their talented winemaker Guillaume Gelly, recently, my very first issue of business was to ask, 'Where exactly is your estate?' because I couldn't quite fathom its coordinates. In short order, my confusion over location gave way to admiration for their fine wines. Their location, in a word, is Lazio, the region south of Tuscany on Italy's western coast. It is a region far better known for its major city, Rome, than for distinguished winemaking. But the d'Amico estate sits in an obscure part of Lazio, in the far north interior, where Lazio meets Umbria. It is a dramatic hilly area, overlooking deep valleys of vertical lava and tufa cliffs, a UNESCO protected area. The family property there dates back 30 years, and is situated at more than 1600 feet.

Clonal Blending for Complexity
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Apr 19, 2016

Long before Pinot Noir's current popularity craze, Davis Bynum earned a solid reputation for the quality of his Russian River Valley Pinot Noir. Forty-three years ago, to be precise, Bynum moved his fledgling winery to Russian River Valley and produced the valley's first single-vineyard Pinot Noir with grapes purchased from neighbor Joe Rochioli, a renowned Pinot Noir grower. Ten years later, Russian River Valley would become recognized as an AVA. In 2007, Davis Bynum sold his winery to the Klein family, led by Tom Klein who also owns Rodney Strong Vineyards, another pioneering Russian River winery. Winemaking is now in the hands of winemaker Greg Morthole and consultant David Ramey.

A New Partnership in Beaujolais
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Apr 5, 2016

Joseph Drouhin is one of the leading wine producers in Burgundy, with domain vineyards throughout the Cote de Beaune, Cote de Nuits and Chablis as well as negociant production extending into the Chalonnais and Maconnais regions of Burgundy. As of the 2014 vintage, the Joseph Drouhin name now also appears on several cru wines from the Beaujolais region in conjunction with that of the Domaine des Hospices de Belleville. The Domaine des Hospices de Belleville, a smaller version of the famous Hospices de Beaune, owns 34 acres of Beaujolais cru vineyards which were donated to the charity over the centuries. In an exclusive partnership, Maison Joseph Drouhin will provide viticultural and winemaking oversight and marketing support, while the Domaine des Hospices de Belleville will continue to own the vineyards and produce the wine. The inaugural releases of this partnership are three cru Beaujolais from the charming 2014 vintage: Brouilly, Fleurie and Morgon.

The Cosmos of Rosé Wine
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Mar 22, 2016

Now that Daylight Savings Time is here, the season of rosé wine is close at hand. That's great news for curious wine lovers because the category of rosé wine is a fascinating cosmos of variations. A case in point is a selection of four rosé wines that Bonny Doon Winery has just released. The four wines encompass six red grapes (Grenache, Mourvedre, Tannat, Cabernet Franc, Ciliegiolo, and Cinsault) and two white grapes (Grenache Blanc and Roussanne) -- singularly or in various combinations. The four wines are all dry or nearly dry, but they range in color from light ruby red to the palest onionskin hue, and in personality from provocative to picnic-easy.

Coastal Pinot Noir, Still and Sparkling
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Mar 8, 2016

Lately, the wines of coastal California seem to be capturing my fancy. Comments of sea breezes, fresh fruitiness and cool-climate acidity pepper my tasting notes for many of my higher-scoring wines, whites and reds both. These wines hail from coastal Sonoma County down to Monterey and Santa Barbara, often from isolated sites where growers have identified conditions that promote full flavor development in the grapes along with refreshingly high acidity. Most recently, my coastal wine enthusiasm was sparked by two Pinot Noirs and a sparkling rosé from Sea Smoke, an estate winery situated in the western end of the Sta. Rita Hills AVA, in Santa Barbara County.

One of the World's Riesling Stars
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Feb 23, 2016

I always sit down to a wine-tasting with optimism, but when I sat down recently to taste through the Rieslings of Frankland Estate, it was with genuine excitement. Ever since I tasted a Frankland Estate Riesling for the first time -- seven years ago at a Riesling Rendezvous conference sponsored by Chateau Ste. Michelle -- I understood that this winery ranks as one of the world's Riesling stars. Frankland Estate is a second-generation family winery situated in Western Australia. More specifically, it is in the Frankland River sub-region of the remote Great Southern region, which stretches inland from Australia's southern coast, about four-and-a-half hours southeast of Perth by car. That's truly remote. The estate vineyards are situated only 24 miles away from the cold Southern Ocean and cool ocean breezes funneled by the Frankland River are a main factor in the vineyard terroir, along with very old soils rich in mineral matter.

The Site Determines the Grape Varieties
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Feb 9, 2016

Wine producers in the central part of Italy's Tuscany region have been weighing the effectiveness of red Bordeaux grape varieties against that of Sangiovese, their traditional red grape, for nearly half a century. Sangiovese has held strong, as evidenced by DOCG regulations for Chianti Classico which have evolved to allow the wine to be made entirely from Sangiovese. 'Other red' grapes may be part of the blend up to 20 percent, and for many wines they are Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot or other Bordeaux varieties, but local red varieties are increasingly preferred over Cabernet and its ilk for blending with Sangiovese.

Nostalgia in the Present
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Jan 26, 2016

I can still remember the first California Chardonnay that wowed me, back in the late 1970s. It was from an area we then referred to as the 'South Central Coast,' but today would go by a more specific appellation. The wine was a fresh, flavorful Chardonnay with gentle fruitiness and wondrous texture. In the subsequent era of big, oaky California Chardonnays, and the next, reactive era of fresh but unexciting un-oaked Chardonnays, I sometimes recalled that wine with nostalgia. Today, I discovered its stylistic cousin in the 2013 Albatross Ridge Estate Chardonnay from Carmel Valley in Monterey County.

The Good Gets Better
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Jan 12, 2016

Not all that long ago, it seems, I approached California Pinot Noir with caution: Although some very fine wines existed, too many Pinots suffered either from insensitive, manipulative winemaking or from uninspired vineyard sourcing. My, how things have changed! MacRostie Winery's Pinot Noirs have always landed in the positive camp for me. But even so, California's -- and especially Sonoma County's -- trend toward higher quality Pinot Noir has made those wines even finer.

The Expression of a Place
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Dec 29, 2015

If the format of this column were different from what it is, I would be writing a long article about four wines from Presqu'ile Winery, or perhaps even six. Compelled to headline one wine, I have chosen the Presqu'ile 2013 Chardonnay from the winery's estate vineyard. That wine is in fact my favorite of the winery's six current releases, but you can also consider it emblematic of this producer's entire production. Presqu'ile (pronounced press-KEEL) is a fairly new winery in the Santa Maria Valley that I had not been familiar with until I tasted through its current releases. Run by two generations of the Murphy family, the operation features a 73-acre vineyard estate just 16 miles from the Pacific Ocean, at altitudes from 700 to 1000 feet. The transverse mountain ranges that border the Santa Maria Valley carry cool maritime weather inward and enable the Murphys' goal of growing cool-climate Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc.

Pinot Gris with Texture and Flavor
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Dec 15, 2015

When most wine drinkers think of New Zealand, they almost certainly think of Sauvignon Blanc, which twenty-five short years ago became the country's vinous claim to fame and redefined the stylistic range for that grape variety. Sauvignon Blanc still accounts for 72 percent of New Zealand's wine production. But wine producers have been growing and making alternative white wines for years. Chardonnay ranks first among these and, perhaps surprisingly, Pinot Gris ranks second. The stylistic bookends of Pinot Gris -- Italian Pinot Grigio on the light end and Alsace Pinot Gris on the rich end -- attest to the versatility of the grape. In cool New Zealand, Pinot Gris styles fall between these two extremes, veering closer to the richer style in the warmer North Island regions and to the lighter style in the cooler south Island vineyards.

Mountain Do
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Dec 1, 2015

I have always admired California's mountain wines. Their vines usually are dry-farmed and grow in poor, infertile soil, producing small crops of intensely flavored grapes. Altitude and slope bring superior illumination to the vines to aid ripening in climates that are cooler on average than those of valley-floor vineyards. Mountain-grown red wines can be huge but they are often compact as well, with an intriguing precision of flavor.

Another Pinot Noir Discovery
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Nov 17, 2015

I'm never surprised to discover a type of wine that I never heard of before, let alone a brand of wine that's new to me. My most recent lesson in humility occurred when I encountered the Maggy Hawk Pinot Noirs from Anderson Valley, four wines sourced from the same vineyard that share a family resemblance of gentleness and balance--but are nevertheless singular expressions of Pinot Noir. The Maggy Hawk vineyard is situated in the western part of Mendocino County's Anderson Valley, where it is one of the vineyards closest to the Pacific Ocean, at the cool end of a cool region. Barbara Banke is the owner, and Maggy Hawk is the name of one of her favorite racehorses. Each of the Pinot Noir wines grown there carries the name of one of Maggy Hawk's offspring, or in one case that of her sire, Hawkster. All the wines are priced at $66.

Cabernet Still Excels in Washington State
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Nov 3, 2015

I remember the early days of Washington wine, when prevailing opinion held that Merlot would be the state's signature wine. I preferred the Cabernets, at least until Syrah came along in the 1990s and fascinated me for a bit. In fact, Washington boasts excellent red wines from all three varieties, both varietally-labeled wines from each of the grapes and blends of the three varieties, with Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, Malbec and you-name-it included for interest. I revisited my early thinking about red varieties in Washington recently when I tasted several Washington reds blind. My favorite wine was a Cabernet Sauvignon, but not the Cabernet Sauvignon blended 25 percent with Syrah, Malbec and Petit Verdot. It was a classic Cabernet Sauvignon blend with Cabernet Franc (8 percent) and Merlot (6 percent). The wine was Tamarack Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon 2013.

An Inspired Blend
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Oct 20, 2015

Improbably, I heard about this unusual, relatively inexpensive Chilean red during an elaborate tasting of Brunello di Montalcino, Tuscany's luxury red wine. Count Francesco Marone Cinzano, the dapper owner of the Montalcino estate of Col d'Orcia, hosted that tasting. He mentioned in passing that he has established a wine estate in Chile and that he is blending Barbera and Garnacha. I had to try a bottle. What intrigued me was the grape blend. I could almost taste it in my mind: Lively, spicy, edgy Barbera together with soft, round, full Grenache. It sounded to me like an inspired combination.

A Thoroughbred Right Out of the Gate
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Oct 6, 2015

Some wine professionals who respect the role of history and tradition in wine production are inclined to quibble at the thought of a world-class wine that emerges almost overnight, whether that wine be from Napa Valley, Barossa Valley or the Tuscan coast. But the wine itself can make skeptics into believers -- especially when the back-story involves plenty of legitimate talent. Capensis Chardonnay from South Africa is my case-in-point.

A Perennial Good Choice
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Sep 22, 2015

Every time I taste Dry Creek Vineyard's Dry Chenin Blanc, I am impressed. I admire the wine on three counts: individuality, quality, and value. Being a Chenin Blanc, it's unusual for California and as such it's a refreshing alternative to Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. The wine is very well made, showing the appropriate flavor concentration, depth, palate length and richness of finish to mark it as high quality. And yet its price is a mere $12. Although Chenin Blanc is not mainstream for California -- in 2014, the total tonnage of the grape in the state was only six percent that of Chardonnay -- this grape has been a cornerstone of Dry Creek Vineyard's white wine production since Day One. The winery first produced Chenin Blanc 43 years ago, in 1972, with grapes grown in Sonoma County's Dry Creek Valley. In the early 1980s, the source of grapes shifted to the Clarksburg AVA, southwest of Sacramento, a region that benefits from a cooling influence from San Francisco Bay.

A New Face for a Heritage Property
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Sep 8, 2015

Hickinbotham Clarendon Vineyard, McLaren Vale (Australia) Cabernet Sauvignon 'Trueman,' 2012 (Majestic Imports, $75): With an upcoming visit to Australia on my mind, I have been paying special attention to all news about Australian wines and to every Australian wine that I encounter. I'm heartened to see the increased attention that Australia's finer wines are receiving, and the growing recognition that the country has so much more to offer than the inexpensive, mass-market brands that initially brought international recognition to Australian wines. The wine brand, Hickinbotham Claredon Vineyard embodies not only the tradition of prestige wine in Australia but also the new confidence in the market for fine Australian wine on the part of international players.

Blast from the Past
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Aug 25, 2015

When I received a sample of Dievole Chianti Classico recently, I was a bit confused. I knew the name: I had visited the gorgeous, age-old Dievole property more than once and had tasted through the whole line of wines on multiple occasions, but that was at least 15 years ago, or even twenty. I hadn't encountered the wine at all in recent years. But now, suddenly, I was holding a bottle in my hands. I was delighted to discover that the 2013 Dievole Chianti Classico is a lovely Chainti Classico, if rather different in style from what I remember the earlier wines to be. Of course it would be different, because the entire Chianti Classico region has undergone so much change over the past two decades, beginning with the clones of Sangiovese being planted and continuing through the growing methods, blending grapes, and winemaking practices. Even so, the changes in the Dievole wine were striking.

Terroir Bound, Tradition Bound
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Aug 11, 2015

As long as I have known the property, Hedges has been a different kind of winery. The two founders, Tom and Anne-Marie Hedges, have far-reaching international backgrounds, and her French upbringing in particular permeates the ethos of their winery. Their winery building is a chateau. Their aim is to make wines that reflect the land -- 'farmers first and winemakers second,' as their literature reads. They are deeply attached to their vineyards and to the small Red Mountain AVA, which they helped bring to official recognition in 2001. All of this is to say that when I taste a Hedges wine, I expect it to be particular, a wine that reflects a traditional European approach with West Coast fruit.

A Question of Style
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Jul 28, 2015

My recent blind tasting of several California Pinot Noirs included two wines that delighted me, although they were different in style, as Pinot Noir wines can be. It turned out that both wines were from the same producer but from different wine regions. The brand was On Point, a label of Fulcrum Wines, and the wines were a 2013 Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir and a 2013 Anderson Valley Pinot Noir. Three years after launching Fulcrum Wines -- a very small operation based in Napa Valley that sources grapes from respected growers of Pinot Noir winemaker David Rossi developed his On Point line in 2008 as a home for Pinot Noir wines that are immediately alluring and vibrant, compared to the rich, more structured character that marks his Fulcrum Pinot Noirs. Grapes for the On Point wines come from many of the same respected vineyards as the Fulcrum Pinots; the nature of each wine in the barrel determines whether a particular Pinot Noir will debut under the Fulcrum or On Point label.

A Pinot Blanc That Over-Delivers
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Jul 14, 2015

This year marks the 50th anniversary of Oregon's Williamette Valley as a wine region, and that occasion has me (and many other wine writers, I'm sure) tasting numerous Oregon wines, particularly those from the 'old guard' of early producers. Other columnists on this site have addressed Willamette Valley Pinot Noir, the region's flagship wine, made from the grape that occupies 64 percent of the region's vineyards. Pinot Blanc, in comparison, is a statistical afterthought, claiming only 1 percent of vineyards and lagging well behind Pinot Gris, Chardonnay and Riesling among white varieties. But Ponzi Vineyards has been growing Pinot Blanc for 25 years now.

A Fresh Take on Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Jun 30, 2015

Sauvignon Blanc is one of those grapes that can be successful in a wide variety of wine styles, from far-flung parts of the wine world. I appreciate all its different manifestations, and yet I have a very specific preference for a particular style: The dry, lean, steely, compact wines with crisp acidity, herbal and mineral aromas and flavors, and concentration of fruit character. This wine is not in that style, but I admire it and enjoy it tremendously. J. Lohr is a winery best known for its Paso Robles vineyards and wines, particularly rich, deep reds, but the winery has vineyard properties in Napa Valley and Monterey as well. This wine is from Carol's Vineyard, a site in the St. Helena sub-district of Napa Valley, where the winery also grows Cabernet Sauvignon.

An Island of Tradition in a Sea of Chianti Classico Change
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Jun 16, 2015

I have many favorite Chianti Classico wines. One that has remained a constant on my list for all my years of tasting is La Selvanella, the single-vineyard Chianti Classico Riserva that is the flagship wine of the Melini winery. Through all the changes that Chianti Classico has undergone over the past three decades -- clonal research and replanting, for example, the trend toward inclusion of international varieties to complement Sangiovese and what seems now to be the reversal of that trend, the use of French oak barriques for aging, and so forth -- La Selvanella today remains essentially the same as it was since Melini made the first wine in 1969.

Two Brilliant Anderson Valley Pinot Noirs
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Jun 2, 2015

Handley Cellars' Pinots are among the great, unsung (or at least under-sung) Pinot Noirs of California. Every year, Milla Handley turns out numerous Pinot Noir wines from Anderson Valley fruit that are all seductive, delicious and unobstructed by excess ripeness or oakiness. The wines do vary in richness, intensity and flavor profile because they vary in their vineyard site(s), their clone(s), the yeasts used to ferment them, and the fine-tuning of winemaking details. But they share an exuberant expression of Pinot Noir fruit.

Flavorful, Fun, and Comestible-Friendly
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
May 19, 2015

Bonny Doon Vineyard, California, 'Gravitas' 2014 ($16): Just look at the price and you know that this wine is not positioned in what marketers call the 'aspirational' category -- wines that people aspire to own but can't really afford. But the wine itself does have aspirations. Specifically it considers itself the antithesis of the typical affordable New World white wine. In fact, it is a very good wine and not at all a typical California white. This new white is a companion to the red wine, 'A Proper Claret,' released by Bonny Doon Vineyard in the 2012 vintage. Like the red, the label depicts a fusty Englishman circa early 20th century, who espouses what would now be considered antiquated notions about how wine should taste. Except that some wine drinkers agree with those notions, including, obviously, winemaker Randall Grahm, the alter-ego of the stuffy old Englishman named Reginald.

Here's to Sauvignon Blanc
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
May 5, 2015

If there is an official California Wine Month (September) and a Finger Lakes Wines Month (May), I suppose we can't be surprised to hear that an International Sauvignon Blanc Day exists. The date was April 24, and a Twitter event, #SauvBl, marked the occasion. Somehow, I missed it. But a week later, the occasion gave me the retroactive opportunity to sample two New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs from Nobilo, which had been sent to help celebrate the day. Nobilo produces two Sauvignon Blanc wines, both carrying the Marlborough appellation -- its 'Regional Collection' wine ($13) and its 'Icon' Sauvignon Blanc ($22). According to what a Nobilo winemaker told me a few years ago, the Icon range (which includes a Pinot Noir and a classic method bubbly) is sourced from the best estate parcels, and from the best grapes of those parcels, to make a superior wine.

A Napa Valley Pioneer, Better Than Ever
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Apr 22, 2015

Some people believe that terroir -- the particular growing conditions of a vineyard -- encompasses only natural factors such as soil, slope, climate, weather and so on, whereas others believe that the human element is also part of a vineyard's terroir. Spottswoode Estate Vineyard & Winery is a solid argument of the latter point of view. When I think about Spottswoode and its consistently fine Cabernets, I find it difficult to distinguish how much of the excellence derives from the historic, 132-year-old vineyard and how much derives from the family that has tended that vineyard with such devotion for the past 43 years.

Unlikely Bedfellows
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Apr 7, 2015

I tasted this wine blind, and when the big reveal came, I knew at once that I needed to write about it, because the wine embodies so many stories. There's the story of the Colla family, and the story of the Langhe appellation, as well as the story of the curious grape blend in this wine. Tino Colla and his niece Federica created Poderi Colla barely more than 20 years ago, in 1993. But the family is no Johnny-come-lately to Piedmont wines, having been involved in grape growing and winemaking since the early 18th century. Beppe Colla -- Tino's older brother, Federica's father, and winemaker at Poderi Colla -- is one of the most highly respected authorities on the wines of Piedmont's Langhe hills, and the former winemaker of the Prunotto winery, now owned by Antinori. Poderi Colla encompasses three wine estates: One in Barolo, one in Barbaresco, and one within the borders of Alba, the town between those two wine zones.

Legitimate Celebrity
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Mar 24, 2015

I'm not one for following celebrity, whether its species be homo sapiens or vitis vinifera. Therefore, when I received a bottle of this wine with a press release boasting that the Chinese magazine, Wine in China had named it the Best Wine in the World, the highest-scoring wine in the magazine's 2014 wine competition, I naturally donned an attitude of skepticism. But the proof, as they say, would be in the glass. Marco Abella is a winery estate named after Rámon Marco Abella, who in the 19th century devoted himself to reviving the phylloxera-ravaged vineyards that his ancestors in the Priorat region had worked since the 15th century.

An Elite Red from a Region Known For Value
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Mar 10, 2015

In 2013, white wine production in Italy continued to gain on red wine, 53 percent for white to only 47 percent for red and rosé. (Not so long ago, red wine accounted for two-thirds of production.) The phenomenal success of Pinot Grigio and Prosecco are likely reasons for the spurt in whites but, with total production decreasing, what accounts for the corresponding drop in red wines? In pondering this question, I wondered whether Montepulciano d'Abruzzo was part of the answer, but hoped it wasn't, because this wine from central Italy has long been one of Italy's most compelling red wine values.

Pedigree Without the Price
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Feb 10, 2015

I imagine it can't be easy making wine in Central Tuscany. On the one hand, you would be part of one of the most scenic, most visited and most famous wine areas in the world -- the place where Chianti Classico, Chianti and Brunello di Montalcino are situated. On the other hand, you would compete with many hundreds of other wineries for consumer recognition of your brand and possibly even your historic terroir. Consider the small zone of Carmignano, which overlaps the northern part of the large Chianti zone, just west of Florence: despite its heritage and the fine quality of the wine, how recognizable is the name even among knowledgeable wine lovers?

Terroir-Driven Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Jan 27, 2015

When New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc emerged in the U.S. twenty years ago, I was thoroughly excited about it. I still enjoy the wines on some occasions, but over the years my interest has turned to other types of wine that seem to me to have more to say about the intricacies of their terroirs. Now, however, Yealands Estate has rekindled my interest in New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc through its collection of Sauvignons that are intriguingly differentiated.

Let's Not Forget Amarone
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Dec 30, 2014

With 2015 looming, I find myself looking ahead, but also backwards to years past. Somehow, in my mind, nostalgia suits Amarone. Not that Amarone is a thing of the past, by any means -- but I sense that for such a classic, iconic, great Italian wine, it easily gets lost in the excitement over Barolo, Brunello di Montalcino, and elite Tuscan estate wines, not to mention prestigious red wines from Napa Valley and Bordeaux. Let's not forget Amarone. Amarone is that massive red wine produced within the Valpolicella district of Italy's Veneto region in the northeast (hence the appellation, Amarone della Valpolicella). It's that wine made from specially-selected, very ripe grapes that dry indoors for several months to concentrate their flavors and structural components, so that the wine from that concentrated juice is big, rich, concentrated and complex. It is probably Italy's most massive red wine, and yet it is a wine of complexity and refinement, in its best examples.

A Barolo Producer Worth Knowing
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Dec 2, 2014

Such are the riches of the Barolo wine zone that even those of us who visit the area regularly can be delighted by the discovery of a producer with whom we are not already familiar. I discovered Attilio Ghisolfi's Barolos thanks to Kerin O'Keefe's comments in her new book, 'Barolo and Barbaresco' (University of California Press). This winery had not been anywhere on my personal list of top Barolo producers, but in that, I apparently was not alone: O'Keefe describes Attilio Ghisolfi as 'Yet another of Monforte d'Alba's little-known treasures that flies under the radar of the media…'. Tasting the three Ghisolfi Barolo wines that are currently available in the U.S., I found much to like.

World-Class Cabernet Sauvignon from Chile
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Nov 18, 2014

Casa Real Cabernet Sauvignon is the iconic wine of Santa Rita, one of Chile's most historic and acclaimed wineries. It is made entirely from Cabernet Sauvignon grapes grown on the Alta Jahuel estate situated at an altitude of 1800 feet in the Alto Maipo region, close to the Andes Mountains. Casa Real is the product of warm days and very cool nights (warmer than Bordeaux by day, but cooler at night), well-drained clay and sandy soils, and low humidity. Both the low humidity and wide diurnal temperature range slow the ripening of the grapes and result in a long growing season with full flavor development in the grapes. The vines were planted as long ago as the 1960s.

A Cabernet Franc Winner on Long Island
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Nov 4, 2014

Long Island's beginning as a wine region occurred forty years ago, but the region today is still a very young one. Grape growers and winemakers continue to experiment with grape varieties, vineyard location and winemaking styles. Most wineries produce a wide range of white and red wines, continuing to learn about their vineyards while also hedging their bets against unpredictable weather that could devastate one grape or another in any given year. One Long Island winery that is currently enjoying its time of glory is Macari Vineyards, a family-owned winery founded in 1995. This summer, Macari earned the distinction of being named New York State Winery of the Year at the NY Wine & Food Classic, a tasting competition of 800-plus wines from across the state's viticultural areas. Moreover, the 2010 Macari Cabernet Franc was named by the competition's judges as the Best Red Wine of the show.

Chile's Original 'Garage Wine'
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Oct 7, 2014

Alvaro Espinosa is Chile's leading advocate for organic and biodynamic grape farming. He was also Chile's earliest proponent of Carmenere, when in the mid 1990s scientists identified as Carmenere vines in Chilean vineyards that were thought to be Merlot; at the time he was winemaker at Carmen. In 1996, Espinosa created Antiyal--which has been called Chile's first 'garage wine'--as a small family venture, producing tiny quantities of the namesake wine. In 2012, he produced only 400 cases of Antiyal. The 2012 vintage of Antiyal is particularly attractive -- a rich red wine with exceptional balance, seductive texture and a complex but not overpowering expression of aromas and flavors.

Refinement Rather than Power
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Sep 9, 2014

There's something to be said for difficult vintages. The cool 2011 growing season in Napa Valley was challenging for winemakers and growers due to a rainy Spring, a cool summer and late ripening, but it has produced some lovely Cabernet Sauvignons -- provided that, like me, you enjoy Cabernet wines that skew toward elegance. The 2011 Grgich Hills Estate Cabernet Sauvignon is a fine example of what this vintage produced in the hands of top winemakers. The wine is delicious, complete, and seamless, with all the fresh fruit character that you want, but just a tad less power than is typical.

A Steal of a Chardonnay
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Aug 27, 2014

Now that the era of over-oaked, heavy-handed winemaking is behind us, I find that California Chardonnays are reaching new heights of quality, and I am enjoying these wines more than I ever have. In a recent blind tasting of ten Chardonnays ranging from $15 to $50-plus, I rated all but two of them at 90 points or higher. Of my favorite wines, one that particularly struck me was this Dry Creek Vineyard Chardonnay -- not only for its quality but also for its exceptional value.

A Beauty of a Pinot
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Aug 12, 2014

Even if you have never encountered a bottle of wine produced by Charles Heintz Vineyard and Winery, you might have seen the Heintz Vineyards name listed as the source of fruit on other brands of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. More than two dozen wineries purchase grapes from Heintz Vineyards, including highly-respected names such as Littorai, Peay, Freeman, Flowers, Radio Coteau and Williams Selyem. Heintz Ranch, the farming arm of the Heintz famly, has existed since 1912; today it includes vineyards in Sonoma County's cool western AVAs -- Sonoma Coast, Russian River Valley and Green Valley. Heintz Vineyards is particularly renown for its Chardonnays, but in a recent blind tasting of Pinot Noirs, I could see that the land is equally gifted for its Pinot Noir.

Viva Vermentino
Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Jul 29, 2014

If I had to name my favorite native Italian white grape variety, I might very well say Vermentino. It's not a variety that you see a lot of. The island of Sardinia is the principal source for Vermentino in Italy, and Sardinian wines aren't really mainstream in Italian restaurants here, or in wine shops. And of the few wineries that produce Vermentino wine on Italy's mainland, most of them are small. To find Vermentino in this market takes a bit of hunting, but if you ask me, of course I'll say that it's worth the effort.