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February 17, 2019

Winery to Watch: TerraPura

In 2016, Chile's Matetic Wine Group purchased an obscure but modern winery in the Colchagua Valley, one of the country's most renowned wine regions.  Matetic, true believers in organic and biodynamic farming, did two things to move the needle for the TerraPura winery: hired a new winemaker, Felipe Vial, and enlisted the services of Napa Valley winemaker Bob Pepi as winemaking consultant.

Pepi brought a trove of experience in South America to the task, having served Argentina's Valentin Bianchi as a consultant for more than a decade.  The TerraPura project is aimed at value consumers.  The wines are "line" priced at $11.99 each, and I recently had the opportunity to sit down with Pepi and taste four of the 2018 releases: a Sauvignon Blanc, a Carmenere, a Pinot Noir and a Cabernet Sauvignon.

What struck me most was the clean, fresh delivery and fruit purity.  None of the wines were barrel-fermented, though nuances of wood spice emerged because of the use of barrel staves during the winemaking process.

Pepi, who has his own label, Eponymous, that sources grapes from a number of top vineyards in Napa and Sonoma, favorably compares the terroir of Chile to California.

"I consider Argentina somewhere between Bordeaux and California, but with a little more fruit than Bordeaux," Pepi said. "Chile is more like California with its diversity of soils and climate, and the wines have plenty of fruit."

The Sauvignon Blanc, from the Valle de Curico, was bright and fresh with notes of grapefruit.

The Pinot Noir, from the cooler Valle Itata, offered notes of cherry and spice and impressive persistence on the finish.  Pepi is especially proud of the Pinot.

"I'm pretty excited about this," he said. "I don't think you can touch it for the price."  Indeed, tasty Pinot Noir for $12 is a rare and beautiful thing.

The Carmenere and Cabernet Sauvignon, both from the warmer Colchagua Valley, are fresh and pure, with the Carmenere delivering slightly more weight and richness than the Cabernet, though each is distinctive in its own way.

Chile has long been known for tasty wines at value prices, and TerraPura does nothing to change that equation.

Follow Robert on Twitter at @WineGuru.

Posted by Robert Whitley at 11:05 AM

February 12, 2019

Valentine's Day Advice: Bubbly!

With Valentine’s Day just around the corner, getting it “right” is top of mind for many. A box of chocolates would be nice, though flowers might be better. As the big day draws near and you are overtaken by a sense of doom over doing the right thing, I have a bit of advice. Don’t panic. There is one gift that is sure to win the day: a bottle of nice bubbly!

There is an ocean of fine sparkling wine to choose from, but I have narrowed it down to five favorites over a range of prices.

Prosecco, for example, is the fastest growing segment of the sparkling wine market. This frothy bubbly from northern Italy is a delicious celebration in a glass and even the best Proseccos are relatively inexpensive. The Prosecco region has upped its game in recent years as it has shifted more production to the drier “brut” style. Caposaldo ($15.99) is currently on a roll and recently earned a platinum award and Best Prosecco title at the Winemaker Challenge in San Diego.

California’s Gloria Ferrer is another sparkling wine producer on something of a roll. At the same Winemaker Challenge Gloria Ferrer entered four bubblies and took gold of better with each one. Most impressive was it’s Sonoma Brut ($22) that earned a platinum medal. This is an elegant yet inexpensive bubbly that delivers creaminess, exceptional finesse and impressive complexity, with a subtle touch of brioche on the finish.

Another California producer, Domaine Carnerous by Taittinger, offers one of the most consistently satisfying rose sparklers this side of Champagne, the delicious and affordable Cuvee de la Pompadour Brut Rose ($37). With a gorgeous mousse and aromas of red berries, this is a stylish brut rose that never disappoints.

Champagne, of course, is the epitome of all sparkling wines and the house of Bruno Paillard is the epitome of elegance in Champagne. Bruno’s non-vintage Rose Primiere Cuvee ($59) is a stunning rose Champagne, primarily pinot noir based with a splash of chardonnay. Elegant, but with remarkable power and depth, it is an exquisite option for dinner, pairing beautifully with roasted game birds or grilled salmon. The price, compared to other Champagne of comparable quality, is as stunning as the wine.

It’s only a small step up to vintage Champagne at reasonable price if you go for the readily available Moet & Chandon 2009 Grand Vintage Brut ($65). Moet's 2009 at ten years of age shows uncommon freshness and richness, with notes of brioche and baked apple, a hint of citrus and outstanding length, with an exquisite finish. You won’t find a better deal in vintage champagne anywhere.

Posted by Robert Whitley at 10:21 AM

February 8, 2019

The Gallo Juggernaut

Wine enthusiasts of a certain age remember fondly Gallo Hearty Burgundy, the king of the jug wines that introduced several generations to California wine long before most consumers had heard the words Napa Valley.

Brothers Earnest and Julio Gallo established their winery in Modesto, California, in 1933. By the mid-1960s Gallo had become by far the largest winery in the United States in terms of sales volume, a distinction it maintains to this day.

The E&J Gallo empire is not only big, it is remarkably diverse. Almost quietly, if that is even possible, Gallo has staked out a strong position in the luxury wine market, buying up vineyards and wineries in the Napa Valley, Sonoma County, California’s Central Coast and Washington’s Columbia Valley.

Established stars such as Louis M. Martini, J. Vineyards, Talbott Vineyards, William Hill, Columbia Winery and Edna Valley Vineyards now fly the E&J Gallo flag. To be sure, Gallo hasn’t abandoned the “value” market. It’s Barefoot Cellars and Barefoot Bubbly combined sell a reported 11 million cases per year.

What’s more, the E&J Gallo company has plunged headlong into the import market and now represents several important and highly regarded Italian brands (think Jermann, Renato Ratti, Allegrini and Pieropan).

Gallo power was on full display at the 10th annual Winemaker Challenge International Wine Competition January 19-20 in San Diego. Between its own brands and its import brands, E&J Gallo entered 99 wines in the Challenge, which is judged exclusively by professional winemakers.

The results were impressive, with 77 of the Gallo entries earning medals, including two platinum awards, 17 golds and 58 silvers. The lesson from the 2019 Winemaker Challenge is obvious: big is not always bad, and sometimes it’s better!

Posted by Robert Whitley at 12:15 PM

February 2, 2019

V. Sattui Scores Hat Trick at Winemaker Challenge

The Napa Valley winery V. Sattui is famous for its picnic grounds, perhaps the most inviting and comfortable winery picnic grounds in all of California. It gets attention, too, for its unique marketing plan. V. Sattui wines are sold only at the winery or through its website.

Then there are the wines. V. Sattui has achieved an enviable record of excellence on the wine competition circuit with an array of wines. And V. Sattui is nothing if not consistent. For the third consecutive year it has been named domestic Winery of the Year at the Winemaker Challenge, staged January 19-20 in San Diego.

Not only did V. Sattui amass 36 medals from 40 wines entered, it claimed four best-of-class Directors awards with its 2017 Collina d’Oro Chardonnay ($40), 2016 Grenache ($38), 2016 Malbec ($44) and 2016 Gilsson Vineyard Zinfandel ($42). Among V. Sattui’s 36 medals, three were awarded platinum and 14 gold.

Banfi was equally impressive capturing the honors for best foreign winery, though with far fewer entries. Its crowning achievement was the 2015 SummuS ($69.99), a red “Super Tuscan” blend that tied the 2015 Ledson Stagecoach Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon ($150) for Wine of the Year. Each wine was awarded a score of 98 points.

The SummuS continues a strong run for Banfi, which was the Wine Talk 2018 foreign Wine of the Year. Banfi earned 11 medals, including one platinum, six golds and one silver.
Ledson’s wine-of-the-year award was only the beginning of its strong showing. It took medals with all four of the wines it entered and earned another of the top awards when its 2015 Bellisimo was voted best Bordeaux-style blend.

For the record, the value wines of Barefoot Cellars and Barefoot Bubbly, which retail for between $6.99 and $9.99, scored 24 medals and racked up a major award when its non-vintage sweet Riesling at $6.99 was awarded Best of Show Dessert wine. This is a wine that Barefoot should be especially proud of given the volume of production and its consistent high quality.

Complete results can be found at WinemakerChallenge.com

Posted by Robert Whitley at 11:54 AM