February 25, 2024

Let’s Go Tasting

One thing I’ve mostly avoided in the almost five years of writing this column is being a simple wine critic that gives you a list of wines complete with my personal opinion and some arbitrary number score. I myself am a critic of the critics, as many times I don’t feel they do justice to the wine world since each critic comes with a full set of biases on what they like and don’t like, and simply telling you wines they enjoy without admitting their bias faults doesn’t help you if your palate differs from theirs.

That being said, reviews are an endless source of material, and after having some nice tastings recently, I figured it’s time I jump into the fray and talk about a few specific bottles. So here you get my (biased of course) opinion of a few wines I’ve enjoyed recently, along with the pre-requisite flamboyant money words used to describe them.

Sorry, no points though, just a recommendation to try them.

Bias disclaimer

Let me start with my biases. I like bold reds that have some nice back palate spiciness. Classic Napa Cabs, or stuff from Alexander Valley or Stag’s Leap District would be examples. I enjoy light, crisp whites that have a nice balance between fruit and acidity. I absolutely despise big, oaky, buttery Chardonnay, so you won’t find me waxing poetic about the latest Chateau 2×4. And don’t ever serve me one of those sweet red table wines that are the latest trend, I drink my table wines dry.

I also like things that are different and interesting. Spanish Priorat, Uruguayan Tannat, or other such curve balls so long as they’re well made.

Now that you know, here’s some of what I’ve liked on lately…

Frank Family Vineyards 2010 Napa Valley Chardonnay

Despite falling distinctly into the ABC crowd (Anything But Chardonnay), I really enjoyed the Frank Family Vineyards 2010 Napa Valley Chardonnay. Frank Family Vineyards is located on Larkmead Lane just south of Calistoga in what was the old Hans Kornell/Larkmead Winery property. The Chardonnay was barrel fermented in 1/3 new oak, 1/3 single use barrels, and 1/3 twice used barrels. It was bottled in August of 2011. The wine has a nice fruit forward nose that shows the cool climate apple and pear character of Chardonnay, with just a pleasant hint of vanilla and caramel from the oak aging. It’s a bit fuller in the mouth from bâtonnage aging with ripe apple and a touch of tropical fruit flavors, just a skosh of nuttiness, and a lemony/creamy finish. The wine had very nice balance between fruit and oak without the heavy buttery malolactic character many Napa Chards tend to flaunt. It’ll hold for a few years, but like most white wines with crisp fruit, best to drink it young.

Frank Family Vineyards 2009 Napa Cabernet Sauvignon

If I’m going to recommend Frank Family, I might as well toss in their 2009 Napa Cab Sauv as well. It’s 94% Cab with 3% each Merlot and Petite Verdot in the blend. Aged 20 months in 30% new oak and 70% once or twice used barrels. It was bottled July of 2011. It’s the classic Napa style Cab. Not over the top with extreme ripeness and oak like some of the critical blockbusters, but refined with black cherry and ripe blackberry fruit, leather, and cedar characters on the nose. It has that back palate black pepper I enjoy and just a slight hint of bell pepper pyrazine I like in my Bordeaux style reds. It drinks great now, but will easily hold for a decade.

Benzinger 2008 Russian River Pinot Noir

I also enjoyed an offering from one of the old Sonoma stalwarts in the Benzinger 2008 Russian River Pinot Noir. In that slightly different mentality, this wine was aged in Hungarian rather than French oak for 10 months. The result is a Pinot that shows great balance with classic dark cherry notes, a touch of that earthy funk that great Pinot gets, and the extra range of spice characters from the Hungarian oak. It’s also drinking great now, but will hold for at least 7-10 years.

Arizona Stronghold 2010 Centennial Pink

Last but not least, I’ll mention a local offering in the Arizona Stronghold 2010 Centennial Pink made for the centennial celebration of Arizona’s statehood. It’s a just off-dry rosé made in a frizzante style from Zinfandel, Grenache, and Muscat grapes. It has pleasant melon and rhubarb flavors with a nice clean finish. It’s best served ice cold, and would make an excellent accompaniment for spicy Asian cuisine or a light summer meal in the Arizona heat.

Drink responsibly.

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