Sunday, March 20, 2011

Sips From Sicily

Today I'd like to review a pair of wines from Donna Fugata winery in Sicily, Italy. Both are IGT wines, and since I'm loathe to repeat myself, see my very first entry from June 2010 entitled "Tuttobene - It's All Good" for a breakdown on what exactly that means.

Donna Fugata, or "fleeing lady," is named for Queen Maria Carolina, who hid in the land surrounding the vineyards following the storming of her palace in Naples by Napoleonic troops.

In true Italian form, neither of these labels reveal the composition of the blend, and I don't know the vast cornucopia of native Italian grapes well enough to guess. The only thing I'm certain of is that there's a good portion of Nero d'Avola in the red, because that's the most common red grape in Sicily, and this wine possesses in abundance the bright, compelling fruit I find so enjoyable in so many Nero d'Avolas. This is also the reason that varietal is made into astoundingly good dry rosés. But I digress.

The white is a lovely emerald-tinged straw color in the glass. The nose exudes ripe, luscious aromas of juicy peach, yellow plum, and pear, with some Golden Delicious apple, honeydew, and a bit of tart gooseberry rounding out the finish. The taste, however, is not the tropical vacation promised by the nose, though it is good: bright acid pushes forward flavors of mouthwatering Granny Smith apples and crisp plum. The finish is somewhat herbal, with green tea and tangy sweet basil. Caprese salad anyone?

Date: 1/16/11
Wine: Donna Fugata "Anthília" Bianca Sicilia
Grapes: unknown
Vintage: 2009
ABV: 12.5%
Origin: Sicily, Italy IGT
Color: straw with emerald highlights
Nose: peach, yellow plum, pear, sweet apple, honeydew, gooseberry
Palate: tart apple and plum; herbal finish. green tea, tangy sweet basil
Price: $12

The red is as beautiful in the glass as the white, a softly glowing violet ruby with a very bright and fruity nose. Cherry, cassis, strawberry, raspberry, with some zesty rhubarb and a hint of spicy oak around the edges. The taste is more of the same. This wine bursts forth with explosive flavors of very bright, expressive fruit. Strawberry is dominant, but its friends raspberry and rhubarb also come out to play. There is a hint of rosemary as it finishes with tart, clean acid. A perfect food wine, but it IS Italian, so who is surprised? However, with the light to medium body and zesty fruit flavors, this wine would be great by itself as well. Whether you're sipping, or pairing with homey fare like pizza, pasta, burgers, ribs, etc ... gather up some friends and  put this in your face.

Date: 3/2/11
Wine: Donna Fugata "Sedára" Rosso Sicilia
Grapes: unknown
Vintage: 2008
ABV: 13%
Origin: Sicily, Italy IGT
Color: violet ruby
Nose: bright and fruity nose! cherry, cassis, strawberry, rhubarb, raspberry, oaky spice
Palate: very bright, expressive fruit! strawberry flavors foremost, then raspberry, rhubarb, rosemary, with tart, clean acid on fruity finish (straw/razz)
Price: $12

Friday, March 18, 2011

Stunning Savvy

Several months ago, I reviewed the '08 Maxwell Creek Sauvignon Blanc in the post titled "White Hot Summer." The '09 is out and I'm pleased to report it is still a killer deal, if not quite as complex as '08 was.

Where the '08 led off with a predominantly tropical nose, '09 favors a more citrusy bouquet with peach, nectarine, and grapefruit up front, and some light aromas of comforting hay at the finish.  The flavor is much the same, with some tangerine and juicy white plum thrown in for good measure. The acid balance is perfect. Is it as hyperbole-laden as the '08? Not quite. Is it still kind of a stupid deal for savvy this good at nine bucks? Yes. Absolutely.

Date: 2/24/11
Wine: Maxwell Creek Sauvignon Blanc
Grapes: Sauvignon Blanc
Vintage: 2009
ABV: 13.5%
Origin: Rutherford, Napa Valley, California
Color: light gold
Nose: peach, nectarine, grapefruit, hay
Palate: peach, nectarine, grapefruit, tangerine, white plum, hay. Perfect acid balance.
Price: $9

Now, the Mulderbosch is a slightly different beast. South Africa gets a lot of attention for its red. Deservedly so; they make a killer Cab, and I adore a good Pinotage. But in my opinion, its their white wines that really shine. Mulderbosch Sauvignon Blanc more than lives up to that statement - it exemplifies it.

The nose is very herbal, with green pepper and green tea up front and an interestingly pungent finish I've never before encountered in any white wine save Chablis. On the palate, the texture is as airily delicate as lace, with bright acidity and a surprisingly earthy finish that tastes, for all the world, like a coastal estuary: salt-breeze blown resinous herb, rosemary, driftwood, and sweet mushroom. Its 92 points are well-earned. Do NOT pass this one up.

Date: 1/19/11
Wine: Mulderbosch Sauvignon Blanc
Grapes: Sauvignon Blanc
Vintage: 2009
ABV: 12 %
Origin: Western Cape, South Africa
Color: very pale gold
Nose: green pepper, green tea, something pungent on the end. mushroom.
Palate: bright and light acid, dry and earthy. resinous herb. rosemary, driftwood, sweet mushroom.
Price: $12 (regularly $20. score at my price, still VERY worth it at full price)

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

The Heart Has Its Rieslings

Greetings, loyal libation lovers! I know it's been a while since I updated, but my hiatus from blogging hasn't stopped me from tasting. I've got a lot of catching up to do. Let's start by examining two recently tasted wines made from a favorite grape of mine - Riesling.

Riesling gets a bad rap. People consider it a cheap, syrupy-sweet wine favored predominantly by young consumers with uncultured palates. For many years, the vast majority of domestically available Riesling was exactly that, so the reputation is not unfounded. However, I do feel it is unjustified. In the past two decades the American palate has evolved - we are now importing German and Alsatian Rieslings of good quality, and producing some of our own that are truly standouts in their category. But there's still a lot of mediocre and even bad Riesling out there, some from otherwise highly reputable producers. That's why I'm here to help.

The most important trick I've learned for finding good Riesling, whatever style you like, is to buy Washington Riesling. The exquisite drainage provided by the Ice Age granite deposits in the Columbia Valley is comparable to the same found on the steep slate terraces of the Mosel Valley in Germany. The Riesling produced is of exceptional character and, like its German cousins, tends to exhibit nice minerality.

I'm not trying to hate on California. It's just that I've never had a Californian Riesling that's measured up. That's why I was so excited to try the Bogle Riesling. I'm a huge fan of Bogle. I honestly feel they're one of the most consistent value brands out there. Guaranteed to be an accessible, crowd-pleasing, food-friendly pour well worth the sticker price.

When I first smelled the Bogle Riesling, I was impressed. For a Californian Riesling it was surprisingly complex, with a floral-forward nose of honeysuckle, jasmine, chamomile, and white tea, highlighting aromas of juicy white peach, nectarine, and mandarin. I confess, the excitement I had been too nervous to feel upon purchasing now began to grow. As I sipped, I prepared myself to finally, after all these years, taste a California Riesling I liked.

But it was not to be. Like all it's brethren before it, the Bogle Riesling fell flat on the palate. Tart, heavy-handed lime up front, followed by mandarin and more chamomile. On the finish, the ungainly tartness was replaced by a saccharine sweetness. Over all, it was unbalanced and sub-par - the ONLY unimpressive bottle of Bogle I've ever had. How sad. That being said, it was still miles ahead of any other California Riesling I've experienced, in that it was at least tolerable. I did finish my glass. I was just hoping for more.

Date: 2/15/11
Wine: Bogle Riesling
Grapes: Riesling
Vintage: 2009
ABV: 13.5%
Origin: California
Color: light gold
Nose: honey, honeysuckle, jasmine, white peach, nectarine, white tea, mandarin, chamomile
Palate: tart lime, orange, chamomile. A bit saccharine on finish with unbalanced acid. 
Price: $7

More is exactly what I got from the Pacific Rim Riesling, but that's not surprising. Pacific Rim was founded by people just like me - crazy about the versatility offered by the Riesling grape, but frustrated by the lack of quality Rieslings in the market. So they did something radical, and founded a winery devoted exclusively to Riesling. And of course they did it in Washington State's Columbia Valley. Today "only" 90% of their wines are still Riesling, but they're some of the most consistently high-quality Rieslings available. Their dry Riesling is the driest I've ever tasted, and the best in that category. Their sweet, on the other hand, is the sweetest non-dessert Riesling I've ever had, but it's still exemplary. Their middle ground bottle, simply labelled "Riesling," is no exception.

The nose is nothing short of seductive, oozing honey-drenched chamomile and nerula, followed bu luscious, juicy D'anjou pear, white peach, nectarine, and a hint of lemon zest. The exposition on the palate is much the same. Sweet up front with a squeeze of lime on the finish with the palate-cleansing acidity ... something more that lingers. Some sort of resinous herb flavor. It's not quite pine, not quite juniper, and not quite rosemary. I'm sure a more cultured palate than mine could nail it down. But whatever it is, it's delightful. The impeccable balance throughout the wine perfectly masks the 2.3% residual sugar. It blends in more seamlessly than some Rieslings at 1.7%. Definitely put this one in your face.

Date: 2/23/11
Wine: Pacific Rim Riesling
Grapes: Riesling
Vintage: 2009
ABV: 11.7%
Origin: Columbia Valley, Washington
Color: light gold
Nose: honey, chamomile, lemon, nectarine, white peach, white tea
Palate: same with a squeeze of lime on the finish. Sweet up front with a nice cleansing acidity on the finish. some sort of resiny thing - sticky nectar?
Price: $9