Best Samples for 2020
Today’s sample column evaluates 69 of the 128 wines that I’ve tasted over the past five months. The Pandemic has definitely made sample tasting a much slower process as I’ve been unable to share with my usual neighborhood tasting group while the number of samples have multiplied, so I’m thankful for the patience of the wineries as I still have a closetful of vino to tackle.
I know this sounds like a first world wine problem, but I know the effort it takes to make these wines and I’ve always tried to be thoughtful about my approach to sampling the bottles that are sent my way.
NV Piper-Heidsieck (1.5L) wines — it is always a fun occasion to drink a magnum of champagne from one of the oldest Champagne houses. Since Piper-Heidsieck was the official Champagne served during the 92nd Oscars® awards season, it came in a fun package. It’s elegant with notes of apple, pear, citrus, almond, toast and hazelnut.
NV Champagne Baron-Fuente Reserve Grand Cru wines – this is a blend of 60 percent Pinot Meunier, 30 percent Chardonnay and 10 percent Pinot Noir and it is delicious. I tasted notes of peach, apple, baked bread, citrus, almond and herbal notes.
2018 Inman Family Endless Crush Rosé of Pinot Noir wine – I have always been a fan of this rosé and this vintage continues that love affair. It is complex, but bursting with fresh berries, citrus herbal notes and spice. This was a bottle that disappeared way too quickly and left us wanting more.
2018 Caraccioli Cellars Rosé of Pinot Noir wine – I was introduced to this wine during the always entertaining #pinksociety, a fun loving group who likes to try wines at a regularly scheduled night on Twitter. It was full of fruit with berry, citrus and watermelon along with floral notes and spice.
2019 Premonition Cellars Rosé of Pinot Noir wine – this wine was also brought to me care of the #pinksociety. Notes of watermelon Jolly Rancher with fresh berry, grapefruit and a nice acidity.
2018 McIntyre Rosé of Pinot Noir wine – the first thing that hit me was the smell of fresh raspberry followed by citrus, stone fruit, flowers and a nice minerality. The wine evolved in the glass and is something you want to spend a little time with to see where it takes you.
2019 Lucy Rosé wine– this sophisticated rosé is one of depth and body with notes of grapefruit, strawberry, citrus and a great acidity. This is made by the Pisoni family and they donate one dollar of each bottle sold to Breast Cancer Research. Since inception, over $125,000 has been raised.
2018 Stags’ Leap Viognier wine – this is elegant and exotic with notes of stone fruit, white flowers, ginger, green apple and lime with a balanced minerality.
2018 Stags’ Leap Chardonnay wines – I tasted notes of lemon, stone fruit, melon, apple and a touch of vanilla with wet stone and a nice creaminess.
2017 Merry Edwards Olivet Lane Chardonnay wine – this was my first time tasting the Merry Edwards Chardonnay and I was impressed. It was almost dessert-like, almost an apple/pear crumble, in a glass with notes of almond and citrus. It was delicious.
2018 Merry Edwards Sauvignon Blanc wine– this blend of 60 percent of estate Sauvignon Blanc and 42 percent Sauvignon Musqué is a stand-out and I have always been a fan. You get layers of stone fruit, melon, mango and grapefruit bursting with acidity and a nice minerality.
2016 Grgich Hills Estate Fumé Blanc wine, this was a very thoughtful gift from my friend Jill who works in the tasting room at the winery. We had a grand plan to finally meet on her epic RV road trip to Texas this year. COVID hit and my precaution kept me from attending the meet up, but she was kind enough to bring me a bottle of this fantastic wine. This wine is a juxtaposition of different flavors – it dares you to try to figure it out upon first sip where you get tropical, herbal, citrus, grassy and floral notes with a great minerality.
2018 Gamble Family Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc wine– bursting with citrus, stone fruit, flowers, green apple, ginger, herbs and almond brittle with a nice acidity. It’s zesty.
2019 Clos du Val Estate Sauvignon Blanc wine – this was my first time trying this wine and it showcases exactly what I like about Sauvignon Blanc. It had tropical notes of pineapple, honeydew, lime, lemongrass with minerality and herbs.
2018 Astrolabe Kekerengu Sauvignon Blanc wine – This New Zealand wine which translates into “star taker,” a navigational device, was tropical, herbaceous, spicy with citrus and some floral notes and a good acidity. Really interesting.
2017 Muddy Arch Roussanne wine– a neighbor brought me a friend’s wine that he wanted me to try. Many times, this is met with a nod and a smile and it wouldn’t make a wine review. However, this Rousanne was interesting. A balanced Roussanne is hard to find and this one had notes of stone fruit, citrus, melon, herbs and honey.
2018 Pedra Cancela Vinha da Fidalga Encruzado wine – after my introduction lunch to the Däo region last year, I fell in love with the Chablis-like Encruzado wines. This one is no exception. Lots of minerality with great floral notes, saline and acidity.
Courtesy of Sosie Wines
2016 Sosie Winery Roussanne — so many great things going on with this wine. It was a symphony of flavors with citrus, stone fruit, almond and herbal notes and it kept evolving in the glass. So enjoyable!
NV Cassaro Winery Trebbiano Bianco wine — Trebbianco is not an easy grape to find and this is a fun easy drinking and refreshing white wine.
2018 Frank Family Vineyards Pinot Noir wine — Frank Family Vineyards has always been a favorite stop of mine due to the diversity of the wines and the fun memories that I have at the winery. I tasted notes of cranberry, raspberry, spice and a nice earthiness.
2017 Frank Family Zinfandel wine — A Zin was the first wine that I ever tried from Frank Family and it doesn’t disappoint. I tasted red cherry, blackberry, caramel, pepper, licorice and oak.
2017 Ehlers Cabernet Sauvignon wine— this is another winery that brings back wonderful memories for me and I am a fan of how they saw a vision for the vineyard and the wines they could produce. This is a silky and elegant wine with notes of violet, blackberry, black cherry, herbs and spice.
2017 Flora Springs Cabernet Sauvignon wine — this take charge Cabernet has notes of blue fruit, espresso, chocolate, tobacco, vanilla and spice. It’s fragrant and has a lingering finish.
2017 Flora Springs Triology wine — Flora Spring’s flagship wine is made from estate vineyards and dates back to 1984 when it was one of Napa’s first proprietary red blends. The 2017 is a blend of 80% Cabernet Sauvignon, 17% Petit Verdot, and 3% Malbec. It’s big, bold and satisfying with notes of black fruit, mocha, cassis, chocolate, spice and vanilla.
2016 BV Private Reserve Georges de Latour Cabernet Sauvignon wine — This wine was an explosion of flavors in the glass with notes of blackberries, violets, currants, blueberries, vanilla, spice and oak. It will benefit with the gift of time that will allow its nuances and structure to unfold and flourish.
2016 BV Reserve Tapestry Red wine – I got notes of blue and black fruit, baking spice, black cherries, blackberries, currants, blueberries, baking spices, rose, pencil lead and a touch of anise.
2014 St Supéry Dollarhide Elevation wine — you can see the power of elevated mountain fruit in this wine with notes of concentrated berries, oak, mocha, plum and spice.
Courtesy of Clos du Val
2016 Clos du Val Cabernet Sauvignon, Hirondelle Vineyard wine – silky and sexy with notes of blueberry, mocha, black fruit, flowers, chocolate and herbs.
Courtesy of Clos du Val
2015 Clos du Val Three Graces wine– this is a blend of the best of Hirondelle Estate Vineyards. The wine is complex, elegant and perfect for your special occasion. The blend of 55 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, 44 percent Cabernet Franc and 1 percent Petit Verdot has notes of red and black fruit with tobacco, leather, cedar, mocha, vanilla and spice.
Courtesy of Clos du Val
2016 Clos du Val Estate Cabernet Franc, Hirondelle Vineyard wine– this is what Cabernet Franc aspires to be with notes of blue fruit, chocolate, caramel, spice, earth and pomegranate with a touch of eucalyptus.
2016 Mi Sueño Winery Cabernet Sauvignon wine — this is an earthy, flavorful cabernet that notes of black fruit, chocolate, earth, black pepper, caramel and mocha.
2017 Merry Edwards Meredith Estate Pinot Noir wine – Merry Edwards is known for making some gorgeous Pinot Noirs and this one is captivating. This wine has notes of black and red fruits, vanilla, cherry cola, coffee, pepper and earth.
2017 Merry Edwards Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir wine – this is journey of fruit and spice. You find notes of Asian spice, cinnamon, black and red fruit, cola, violets, caramel and earth.
2017 Stressed Vines Cabernet Sauvignon wine — this is a new release for the winery sourced from the Reynoso Family in Alexander Valley and it’s a lovely cabernet. I tasted orange peel, blackberry, black cherry, black tea, earth, mocha, chocolate and pepper.
2016 Crazy Beautiful Wines Cabernet Sauvignon wine – this is a new release for the winery that was dropped off to me by CEO Jimmy Gallivan. I think this wine ups the game for Crazy Beautiful Wines, which sources wine varietals from farmers, growers, and winemakers around the world. I tasted blackberry, chocolate, mocha and spice.
2018 JCB 1881 Napa Cabernet Sauvignon wine with Journeyman Meat Company salami and coffee from Oakville Roastery in Napa Valley. I tasted black fruit, berries, caramel, vanilla, spice and cocoa.
2018 Masseria Li Veli Orion Primitivo Salento wine — this is a powerful wine with lots of red fruit, baking spices, black pepper and clove, chocolate, and oak.
2013 Handpicked Collection Margaret River Cabernet Sauvignon wine — there was a lot of complexity going on with this one. I tasted black fruit and chocolate.
2015 Handpicked Pinot Noir Tasmania wine – notes of red fruit, herbs, cigar, oak and floral.
2018 Loveblock Pinot Noir wine – this is crisp red wine from New Zealand with lots of cherry, pomegranate, leather, mushroom, chocolate and a nice minerality.
2018 Two Hands Angels’ Share Shiraz wine – lots of intensity in this wine with notes of black fruit, baking spice, mocha, chocolate and vanilla.
Cascadian Outfitters Rosé Wine wine — this was a nice, refreshing rosé in an easy packaging version perfect for the pool, beach or boat. I tasted notes of ripe berries, stone fruit and citrus. Nice and refreshing.
Multiple or Grouped Wine Tastings:
Halleck Vineyards wine, a one-acre vineyard, was planted in 1993. It was the very first winery in Sebastopol in Sonoma County. Originally it was intended as a college fund for their infant son. I love how the website states, “Two more sons and six years later until our first harvest, this seemed a flight of fancy.” They sent me three wines to try:
2018 Halleck Vineyard Calandrelli Vineyard Dry Gewurztraminer – this wine was candied ginger meets stone fruit meets flowers. It’s a drier wine style that I could not stop sipping.
2016 Halleck Vineyard Three Sons Cuvee Pinot Noir – a rich Pinot with notes of black cherry, tobacco, leather and earth.
2016 Halleck Vineyard Clone 828 Pinot Noir – lots of red fruit, flowers, oak and earth and a nice minerality.
J Vineyards & Winery is a Sonoma winery owned and operated by E&J Gallo since 2015. J Vineyards & Winery includes nine distinct estate vineyards located on over 254 acres focused on Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Pinot Gris. The vineyard is named after the founder, Judy Jordan, and the estate focuses on sparkling wine and still varietals.
2016 J Vineyards Canfield Vineyard Pinot Noir – Notes of cherry, pomegranate, mushroom, spice and floral notes. It’s a smooth and well balanced wine.
2016 J Vineyards Russian River Valley Pinot Noir – notes of cranberry, plum and cherry on with herbal earthy notes and an off dry finish at the end.
2016 J Vineyards Strata Russian River Valley Pinot Noir – easy drinking Pinot with notes of
tobacco, earth, licorice, cherry, violets, spice and leather.
Esporão Wines/Herdade DO Esporão
Herdade do Esporão/ which is part of Alentejo’s cork oak forests in Portugal, is known for its diverse agriculture. It has large thermal amplitudes, diverse soils and is known for biodiversity. The region has 691,9 hectares of vineyards where 40 grape varieties, 4 types of olives, orchards and kitchen gardens are planted. These were a few of my favorites:
2017 Esporão Riserva White – This was the first wine to be produced by Esporão in 1985. Notes of peach, pear, grapefruit, citrus, floral notes and spice with a little oak touch.
2017 Esporão Colhetta Red – I tasted plum, white pepper, earth and currant. It was silky in the glass and continued to evolve.
2016 Esporão Quinta Dos Murcas Minas – this is a savory wine with notes of black cherry, licorice, baking spice, red fruit and a touch of licorice.
Brooks Winery is a Willamette Valley, Oregon-based winery that is the legacy of Jimi Brooks, a visionary Portland native who came to wine through his passion for history and philosophy. Jimi founded the winery in 1998 and was dedicated to holistic farming and making Riesling and Pinot Noir.
When Jimi died unexpectedly, the Oregon wine community banded together to keep the winery going with the help of his sister, Janie Brooks Heuck, who today serves as the managing director. Jimi’s son Pascal is the sole owner of the winery today and Jimi’s longtime friend and winemaking accomplice, Chris Williams, continues to make Brooks’ wines.
Brooks Winery sent us gourmet popcorn, the American Wine Story movie (based on Jimi’s story) and two wines:
2019 Brooks Winery Pinot Noir Rosé – this gorgeous wine had notes of stone fruit, strawberry, watermelon, pear, citrus lemon, and well-balanced minerality.
2018 Brooks Winery Riesling – I love Rieslings and this was a great one. It had notes of citrus, stone and tropical fruits with lemon zest, floral and spice.
Long Meadow Ranch Wines
I was invited to a winery chat with Jeff Meisel, Vice President of Brand Development of Long Meadow Ranch Wines. Unfortunately, I had a work conflict so I could only attend a few minutes of the call.
Long Meadow Ranch was once a thriving place of vineyards, apple orchards, olive groves, hay and a goat milk dairy until Prohibition. It fell into disrepair until the Hall family bought the property in 1989 and brought it back to its original glory.
Today the winery is dedicated to full-circle farming, an organic, sustainable, integrated farming system that relies on each part of the ranch to contribute to the health of the whole.
Here are the wines we tried (and they were all impressive):
2018 Long Meadow Ranch Rosé of Pinot Noir – so easy drinking with notes of grapefruit, apricot, white flowers, pineapple and a nice complexity.
2019 Long Meadow Ranch Rosé of Pinot Noir – a little fresher with many of the same notes, but still with the same complexity and easy drinking tendencies.
2018 Long Meadow Ranch Sauvignon Blanc – Notes of lemon, lime, pineapple, honeysuckle, nectarine and a balanced minerality.
2016 Long Meadow Ranch Pinot Noir – notes of cherry, plum, cranberry, earth and spice.
2016 Long Meadow Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon – nice character with notes of black fruit, licorice, vanilla, herbs, cedar and spice.
The Different Styles of Sauvignon Blanc
I was asked by Vineyard Brands to try the different styles of Sauvignon Blanc and I validated that I am an Old World style kind of girl. Here was our line-up:
2018 Touraine Sauvignon Blanc J de Villebois wine – I enjoyed the minerality and freshness of this wine. It had notes of grapefruit, citrus, green apple and white flowers.
2018 Val De Loire Sauvignon Blanc J de Villebois wine – another great refreshing wine with notes of stone fruit, green apple, lemongrass, and citrus.
2019 Mohua Sauvignon Blanc wine – lots of zestiness in this wine with notes of pear, white flowers, lemongrass, citrus and passionfruit.
Spanish Wine Samples
2019 Viña Real Rosada wine — this blend of Garnacha, Tempranillo and Viura with notes of stone fruit, flowers and ripe red fruit.
2019 Bodegas Virxen de Galir Pagos del Galir Godello wine — floral and fruity this 100 percent Godello has notes of white flowers, lime, stone fruit, tropical fruit and honey.
2019 CVNE Monopole Rioja wine – a great outdoor Summer wine with notes of apple, pear and citrus.
Volcanic Wines of Sicily
Wines being produced from Mount Etna in northeastern Sicily sit in the shadow of an active volcano. Then you think about the elevation of these vineyards – often 3,500 feet and higher – Throw in the steep vineyards and the fact that most of the work has to be done by hand. Then consider the terroir of ash, dust and smoke and think about the severe weather trends – hard winters and hot, dry Summers.
The owner of Tenuta di Fessina Silvia Maestrelli sees the prominent volcano as central to her winemaking philosophy. In her own words, “I look up to Mount Etna like a daughter would look up to a mother.”
Here is my Tenuta di Fessina line-up:
2017 Tenuta di Fessina Erse (named for the Greek goddess of new) Bianco was a blend of 90 percent Carricante, 10 percent Catarratto and 10 percent Minella. Crisp, steely and refreshing with notes of almonds, stone fruit, pear, apple and citrus.
2018 Tenuta di Fessina Erse Rosato – a blend of Nerello Mascalese and Nerello Cappuccio with notes of strawberry, cherry, floral and citrus.
2016 Tenuta di Fessina Erse Rosso this is a blend of 90 percent Nerello Mascalese, 8 percent
Nerello Cappuccio, and 2 percent each of Minnella and Carricante. Notes of sour cherry, raspberry, chocolate, spice and cinnamon.
2017 Tenuta di Fessina A’Puddara — Named as a reference to Ovid, the Roman poet who
lived during the reign of Augustus and often considered one of the three canonical poets of
Latin literature. This wine is 100 percent Carricante, this wine offers a balance of acidity and minerality with notes of lemon zest, tropical fruit, peach, pepper and apples.
2017 Tenuta di Fessina Laeneo Nerello Cappuccio — Named for the bacchanal gatherings in honor of Dionysus in ancient Athens. It is a 100 percent Nerello Cappuccio, this complex wine has notes of plums, cherry, black pepper, plum, oak and tobacco.