While I’m rigorously working on all my WSET study materials and gathering my accompanying tasting notes encompassing the quality standards of the WSET grid, you should know…I still drink wine for fun.
Not every bottle I enjoy is as meticulously examined as others. (Although, admittedly, most are just so I can keep practicing my tasting/tasting note-taking.) In fact, probably like many of you, there are a few bottles in my cellar that are household staples—wines we’ve enjoyed in the past and continue to enjoy on a quasi-regular basis.
So, I thought it would be fun to show a few bottles I’ve been enjoying lately that aren’t associated with any work event or school study. Cheers!
Nalle Winery 2018 Hopkins Ranch Pinot Noir
I came across this small family winery fairly recently, though their Sonoma farming heritage dates back to the 1800s. In fact, their claim to fame is their Old Vine Zinfandels—which I also highly recommend. Given their specific climatic conditions, terroir, and the fact that Old Vines kinda just develop a great grape growing routine, the Nalle’s are actually one of the first to pick their Zin grapes, which equates to wines with a naturally high level of acidity, but fully ripe, fine-grained tannins, and what the Nalle’s lovingly refer to as “Zin-berry flavors.”
So with that great experience, I was so excited to taste their Hopkin Vineyard Pinot Noir. And I was not disappointed.
What you’ll taste is what I can only describe as an earthy Pinot Noir. As in, it tastes, “of the earth.” Folks talk about “Rutherford Dust,” well I’m here to tell you “Russian River Dust” is also real. The wine is not dusty or moisture-wicking, but there’s this overlay of a sensation reminiscent of an indian-summer afternoon walking along a field of gently drying grass. And if that’s the aura of the wine, the soul is truly the vibrancy of everything red: cranberries, red cherry, rose petals. That vibrancy is soothingly calmed by just a kiss of oak: baking spices, vanilla, a hint of tea leaves—when I taste a wine with this kind of nuanced oak integration, I remember how high my bar is for what qualifies as a truly excellent wine.
Tannins are present, but fine-grained and in tune with the high level of acidity and moderate alcohol. They add structure, body, but do so as if directing the musical, but never taking the stage themselves.
The finish is long, lingering, with a decadence that will make any night feel like a special occasion.
From the Winery: “Located in the heart of the Russian River AVA, the soils are well drained loam over a deep layer (20-30 feet) of Russian River gravel. Longtime family friend and winegrower, Bob Hopkins, planted our source block in 1989 using cuttings from the famous Swan vineyard. We have been producing Pinot Noir from the same rows since 1998. The Swan clone tends to be a lighter, more delicate iteration of the varietal and compliments our style well.”
More Info: For more information and to purchase wines directly, please visit the Nalle Winery website.
Gary Farrell 2018 Russian River Selection Chardonnay Russian River Valley
I did a tasting with Gary Farrell winemaker Theresa Heredia this past summer. She’s such an insightful interview—just speaking with, her I got the sense of how in tune she is both with the the vines in the vineyards as well as every detail of cellar operations.
“My approach to winemaking is very much about taking advantage of specific vineyard and fruit qualities,” Heredia is quoted as saying in her official bio. “I like to tailor the winemaking techniques specifically to each block of fruit that we receive separately. My job is to treat it as gently as possible so that we end up with a balanced wine.”
But during our interview she also said how much she enjoys the blending process as well—as in, blending different vineyard sources to craft the perfectly well-rounded expression of a distinct AVA.
And that’s what we have here with the Gary Farrell Russian River Selection Chardonnay.
Not only is this a blend of vineyard sources, this is also a well-integrated blend of winemaking techniques: barrel fermentation, lees aging, malolactic conversion, oak maturation—all of which creates a harmony of flavors on the palate.
What you’ll taste are the classical cool-climate Chardonnay flavors innate to the grape variety—citrus zest and pith, green apple, pear, with hints of green melon and lemongrass. These are complimented by a gentle addition of lactic acid, lending toward a smooth mouthfeel as well as some bread and yeasty tones from that lees aging. Notes of baking spices and vanilla are sprinkled in with a chef-like touch of delicate seasoning. And there’s kind of this “popcorn” essence that envelops it all.
The wine is both full of energy and life, yet the round, fleshy body keeps it from becoming hyperactive. I enjoyed this wine chilled, which actually highlighted more of those primary fruit tones, while my partner enjoyed it at more of a room temp, highlighting those secondary flavors. Either way, it was a fun wine to pair with casual dinners throughout the week.
From the Winery: “The grapes were harvested at ~21-23° Brix. After hand-sorting, we combined all the fruit in the press, and used a gentle program to extract only the most desirable solids and phenolics. The resulting juice was left in tank to cold-settle overnight before transferring to 30% new and 70% one to three-year-old neutral French oak barrels and puncheons for fermentation and aging, where it remained for 9 months on its primary lees until it was time to bottle in June. The wines were racked off the primary lees only once, just before bottling.”
Vineyard Sources: Westside Farms, Bacigalupi Vineyard– Goddard Ranch, Olivet Lane Vineyard, Rochioli Vineyard, Allen Vineyard, Lazy W Vineyard, Martinelli Vineyard– Parnell Ranch, Pratt – Cornerstone Vineyard
More Info: For more information and to purchase wines directly, please visit the Gary Farrell Vineyards & Winery website.
Grandes Vinos 2019 Anayon Chardonnay
This was a fun one. I did a webinar that was all about the Cariñena DO in Spain. It was pretty interesting and the line-up of wines for the tasting ranged from quaffable to delicious. But the standout by far was this Chardonnay—which, by the way, when I think of Spain I don’t typically think Chardonnay, so that in itself made the experience interesting.
What made it even more interesting was the winemaking that went into it. While the wine brand (Grandes Vinos) doesn’t offer up a technical sheet with details, one cannot help but recognize the aromas and flavors that span the flavor spectrum from primary fruit-freshness to tertiary signs of age.
That’s right, I said age. And yes, you’re reading the label right, 2019. But with increased oxygen exposure during the winemaking process, the producers were able to integrate notes of honey, marmalade, almonds, and dried apples–all things we associate with wines of age. While I can’t splash some wine at your face through the screen, just take a look at the below picture—the amber hue of the wine can pretty much tell that same story itself.
Besides the intriguing notes listed above, you’ll also find primary flavors of cooked (or some would say bruised) yellow apple, over-ripe pear, nectarine as well as notes of vanilla and baking spices. In reality, this is a medium bodied wine, but if you’re a white wine drinker not used to this level of intensity, it will feel like a mouthful—and I mean that in a good way. The mouthfeel is smooth, creamy, decadent—like drinking a Christmas apple pie really.
This wine 100% has the potential for additional aging—and I kind of wish I had an extra bottle to hold onto so I can experience how it develops further. But if enjoying this now, I highly recommend pairing with food. And none of this “white wine pairs with fish” stuff. You can barely see the background of the below picture, but we paired this white wine with a grilled filet mignon, mashed potatoes topped with a mushroom gravy, and a side salad sprinkled with creamy blue cheese. Perfect pairing.
The wine aged for 6 months in American Oak barrels
More Info: For more information about Grandes Vinos and their Anayon range of wines, please visit the Grandes Vinos website.
Panther Creek 2017 Lazy River Vineyard Pinot Noir
Panther Creek Pinot Noirs have become a staple of the Briscoe household. I love their range of single-vineyard offerings. While the winery does offer a Pinot Noir that is a vineyard blend, I highly recommend spending the extra dollars to experience the single-vineyard expressions. It truly is a case-study in terroir to taste how each one has its own personality and voice.
I actually have reviewed this wine, in full, before. You can read the full review for the Panther Creek 2017 Lazy River Pinot Noir here.
CliffsNotes: A bouquet of aromas and flavors: cranberry, raspberry, pomegranate, cedar wood, and hints of chocolate, eucalyptus, and baking spices; toast, anise or fennel, wild strawberries nutmeg, and vanilla.
More Info: For more information about Panther Creek Cellars, their wines, and to purchase wine directly, please visit the Panther Creek Cellars website.
Passaggio Wines 2019 Namesake Vineyards Unoaked Chardonnay
Another Briscoe staple—this one particularly appeals to those who may not like the typical California Chardonnay. No oak, no ML, no BS—and I mean that last bit with respect. If you want to know what Chardonnay taste like in its true form, find an unoaked expression from a producer who knows how to do it right.
Interesting factoid: This is winemaker Cindy Cosco’s “flagship wine.” When she first ventured into a winemaking career, she thought she’d focus on white wines only. (Oh how far she’s come…)
What you’ll taste: green apples and pears, apple blossoms, white peach, apricot a hint of pollen, and an over-riding floral perfume. There’s a zingy lemon-lime zest that hits the tongue straight-away and a confident acidity that rides evenly from start to finish—lingering finish.
Fermented and aged in 100% stainless steel tanks
More Info: For more information about Passaggio Wines, the wine, and to purchase wine directly, please visit the Passaggio Wines website.
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**Please note: all reviews and opinions are my own and are not associated with any of my places of business. I will always state when a wine has been sent as a sample for review. Sending samples for review on my personal website in no way guarantees coverage in any other media outlet I may be currently associated with.**
Educational posts are in no way intended as official WSET study materials. I am not an official WSET educator nor do I work for a WSET Approved Program Provider. Study at your own risk. Read the full disclaimer.