Tim’s latest Italian recommendations are a must-try so I feel I should pass them on to you. First is the impeccable 2015 Robert Princic, Gradis’Ciutta, Friulano, Collio. It is lively with the right amount of fruit, weight, and grip. In other words it is both flavorful and pleasing in the mouth. Little did I know that the 2011 Loredan Gasparini, Venegazzu Della Casa, Colli is important in the history of Italian wine. This vintage is the latest in the series of Bordeaux blends which began with the 1951 vintage. Thus Loredan Gasparini made the first Italian Bordeaux blend. This bottle is developing mature notes but the core of the fruit and structural components still exist. There is a sense of tightness and resolve so drink it after double-decanting or better yet in a few years from now. These wines are available at MacArthur Beverages.
2015 Robert Princic, Gradis’Ciutta, Friulano, Collio – $19
Imported by Vineyard Brands. This wine is 100% Friulano that was fermented and aged in stainless steel. Alcohol 13.5%. There is a lively start of white fruit and nuts which is delivered in a round character. There are stone notes through the middle, a dry finish with a touch of grip, and a fresh aftertaste. Well articulated. *** Now – 2018.
2011 Loredan Gasparini, Venegazzu Della Casa, Colli – $22
Imported by Dionysos Imports. This wine is a blend of 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Franc, and 5% Malbec that was aged 18 months in Slavonian oak. Alcohol 13.5%. There are focused, round and dense flavors of blue and black fruit couple with initial bottled aged notes. This maturity is more ethereal adding complexity throughout. An herbaceous note at the start moves on to lively, dry spices in the middle, and a suggestion of powdery, ripeness in the finish. With air the wine becomes more incensed and takes on a polished wood note. ***(*) Now – 2027.
This bottle of 2015 Viticultores Emilio Ramirez y Envinate, Benje, Canary Islands flat out surprised me. On the first night it is certainly light bodied, a bit thin on flavor, and somewhat frail. Though there is enough earthiness and tightness that I recorked the bottle. Over the course of the second night the wine transformed. Jenn succinctly described it as a wine of pepper on the nose and potpourri in the mouth. There is more though, it is a gentle wine that develops a moderate amount of body, appropriate ripeness, and never loses a sense of its volcanic origins. It is actually quite good and I would not be surprised if it is drinking really well by the end of the year. This wine is available at MacArthur Beverages.
2015 Viticultores Emilio Ramirez y Envinate, Benje, Canary Islands – $20
A Jose Pastor Selections imported by Llaurador Wines. This is a blend of high-altitude 70-120 year-old Listan Prieto with some Tintilla that was foot trodden, fermented in concrete and tubs with indigenous yeasts then aged 8 months in neutral oak barrels. Alcohol 12.5%. The nose smells of black and white pepper with some dried floral notes. In the mouth this light bodied wine begins with red fruit flavors, a little cranberry, with some ethereal ripeness by the finish. With extended air it develops more weight by the middle with a rather substantial amount of tartness, minerality, and ripe texture. More importantly the old-school potpourri flavor weave its way from start to finish. ***(*) Now – 2022.
I do not think I have ever tasted a Rhone wine solely from Valreas. The 2015 Domaine du Seminaire, Cote du Rhone Villages Valreas is a new wine in our area so of course I grabbed a bottle. This is a traditionally made wine, fermented in concrete with no use of oak. It is strong and forward with a grapey, floral personality. The liveliness is attractive, causing you to return for another taste. I imagine it might open up over the next year but it is a fun drink right now. Go get some! This wine is available at MacArthur Beverages.
2015 Domaine du Seminaire, Cote du Rhone Villages Valreas – $18
Imported by Martine’s wines. This wine is a blend of mostly Grenache with Syrah that was fermented concrete. Alcohol 14%. The higher-toned grapey, floral nose makes way to similarly grapey, black fruit in the mouth. The wine has quite the strength, building intensity through the middle. This is balanced by almost lively acidity and fine texture. Flavors of baking spices and a tangy finish add to the complexity. This is an impressive, grapey wine. *** Now – 2022.
As happy as I am to continue drinking the 2014 Fornacina, Rosso di Montalcino I thought it best to get Tim’s advice on other wines from the region. He first recommended the affordable 2013 Tenuta Vitanza, Le Paturnie, Rosso di Montalcino. This is a firm wine of black fruit that mixes in pleasing herbal notes. It could stand a few years of development to open up perhaps becoming elegant and focused. The 2012 Le Ragnaie, Rosso di Montalcino is a step up in quality and price. The deep nose will excite you and the lively flavors will only add to the positive impression. I highly recommend you drink a few bottles over the next several years. These wines are available at MacArthur Beverages.
2013 Tenuta Vitanza, Le Paturnie, Rosso di Montalcino – $17
Imported by Tenth Harvest. This wine is 100% Sangiovese fermented in stainless steel then raised for six months in Slavonian oak. Alcohol 13.5%. This is a firm wine that remains focused with air. There is black fruit with dry herbal notes, polished wood, and an ethereal ripe finish. It remains tight with watering acidity. **(*) 2019-2024.
2012 Le Ragnaie, Rosso di Montalcino – $26
Imported by Vine Street Imports. This wine is 100% Sangiovese fermented in concrete then aged for 24 months in Slavonian oak. Alcohol 14%. The nose is deep and a touch pungent. The red and blue fruit quickly takes on polished wood notes before the brighter, red middle. There is fine acidity and grip in the end. With air this becomes a lively wine with controlled ripe fruit, a dry and bright middle, stone accented finish, and wood tannin aftertaste. Delicate floral notes even come out. This has strong development potential over the short-term. *** Now – 2026.
Domaine Palon is a small estate located in Gigondas. From 17 acres in Gigondas and 12 acres in Vacqueyras the family has produced wine for four generations. However, it was not until 2003 that the wine was first bottled under the family name. The 2015 Domaine Palon, Vacqueyras is a strong value. It is one of those wines enjoyable in its vigorous, powerful youth yet should develop and open up over the next few years. With the cold weather in our forecast I would stock up on a few bottles this weekend. This wine is available at MacArthur Beverages.
2015 Domaine Palon, Vacqueyras – $20
Imported by Misa Imports. This wine is a blend of Grenache, Mourvedre, and Syrah. Alcohol 14.5%. This is a black fruited, floral and mineral wine with a very focused core of ripe fruit. It ripples with power and though it evolves with air to become a tasty wine of youthful vigor the balanced acidity and textured tannins will see it develop over the next couple of years. ***(*) Now – 2027.
Bodegas Beronia was founded in 1973. My particular bottle of 1982 Bodegas Beronia, Rioja Reserva was vintaged the same year González Byass bought the winery. The estate is famous for their barrels made from American oak staves and French oak heads. The fruit for this wine was sourced entirely from Rioja Alta, a higher altitude region that produces brighter and lighter wines. The nose on this wine reflects its age with mature notes that remains aromatic for hours. In the mouth you get a sense or origin for this is a fully mature, bright wine with texture from the remaining structure. I recommend drinking it now but it should hold its current state for years to come. Given the release price for the current vintage, this vintage only costs an extra $1 per year of age. It is available at The Rare Wine Co.
1982 Bodegas Beronia, Rioja Reserva – $50
Imported by The Rare Wine Co. Alcohol 12.5%. It is a clear, light garnet color. There are good aromas of modestly sweet fruit, vanilla, and a sweaty note. In the mouth this is fully mature with a very fine texture from the structure. It is a gentle wine with moderate body, watering acidity, and a generally bright and slightly tart profile. It remains aromatic. *** Now but will last.
It took nearly one century for the wines of Mendocino County to become recognized for their quality. Grapes have grown in Mendocino County since at least 1880. The vineyards survived and perhaps even expanded during Prohibition as demand for home wine-making spread beyond San Francisco to the east coast. After Repeal grapes made their way to Napa and Sonoma Counties to be used in blends. It was not until the 1970s that the wines became recognized. This was first due to the efforts of Parducci and soon by those of the Fetzer family.
At our most recent dinner with Sudip and his wife Melanie, I brought up two bottles of Fetzer wine from the 1978 and 1979 vintages. We would first spend the afternoon tasting the wines in the living room where a fire burned for hours and a Mercury Living Presence reissue of Saint-Saëns Symphony No. 3 spun on the turntable. The 1978 Cabernet Sauvignon was produced from purchased fruit coming from Lake County. The 1978 Cabernet Sauvignon was sourced from the Home Vineyard originally planted by the Fetzer family in 1958.
It was a year prior, in 1957, that the lumberman Bernie Fetzer and his wife, moved their family of 11 children from Oregon to the sawmill region in Mendocino County some 120 miles north of San Francisco. Here the family purchased an abandoned 720 acre ranch where they found an old 70 acre vineyard. The family worked the land and in planting vines chose to include Cabernet Sauvignon, the first in the county.
As demand for varietal grapes reduced in the mid 1960s, the Fetzers began to sell grapes to amateur winemakers throughout the country. In 1968 the winery was bonded. The timing was impeccable. It is from this legendary 1968 vintage that Fetzer’s first Zinfandel earned a reputation which lasted for many years.
Nearly the entire family worked for the business. They constantly reinvested in the latest winemaking equipment, developed their own sales force, and sought expansion by purchasing fruit instead of land to develop vineyards on. They earned a reputation for producing pleasing, yet inexpensive premium wine. Even Robert Parker found the entire range “above average to very good” and priced below the “absurd” levels of other wineries. Eight years of nearly 20 percent annual growth in sales allowed them to avoid the cycles of the American wine boom which saw preferences oscillate between American and French wines. Fetzer went from being considered a small winery to the 25th largest Californian winery in 1983. Volume rose from 2,500 cases in 1968 to half a million cases in 1983.
Fetzer built their reputation on red wines including Zinfandel, Petit Sirah, and Cabernet Sauvignon in part through winning medals at the Los Angeles County Fair. Bernie Fetzer planted Cabernet Sauvignon on the Home Vineyard against the recommendation of UC Davis. He did so because he valued soil and sun exposure before science.
Both bottles had fills where the neck meets the shoulder. The short corks were sound. The 1978 Fetzer, Cabernet Sauvignon, Lake County is mature and herbaceous. Despite rallying after half an hour by taking on some firmness it largely did not hold interest. The 1979 Fetzer, Cabernet Sauvignon, Home Vineyard proved different. There is both more fruit and body with integrated acidity that gave it a bit of zip in the end.
Several LPs and burning logs later we sat down to dinner. I brought out a third bottle of wine this time from the southern half of California. Like Mendocino, San Luis Obispo County has been home to the grape vine since the 1880s. It is the York Mountain Winery that was responsible for the wines of the region until the early 1970s. Zinfandel was their specialty but new money and the wine boom meant several enormous new vineyards were being planted by 1973.
These new vineyards were planted with Zinfandel but the focus appears to be on Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, and Chardonnay. Estrella River Vineyards was one of these new ventures. It was founded in 1973 by Gary Eberle who went on to found Eberle Winery in 1979, co-found the Paso Robles Appellation, and recently return to Estrella.
Little is written about the early years of this winery but they were one of the new wineries to catch attention at the 1978 Los Angeles County Fair. Their 1977 Chardonnay won a gold medal. When one journalist visited the winery during the winter of 1979 he found the winery but no tasting room. It had not yet been built so with no wine for sale he had to purchase his bottles in town. The Estrella River Vineyard name soon made the pages of the New York Times when Frank J. Prial listed it as one of many award-winning wineries few people had heard of.
It is one of these passing references which caused me to originally pick up the 1978 Estrella River Vineyard, Cabernet Sauvignon. In perfect condition and again with a solid, short cork the wine first greeted me with an annoying amount of bottle stink. I moved on to find a surprising amount and quality of ripe fruit with fresh acidity. After half an hour the stink was still around, perhaps muted but unwilling to fully clean up. It is a shame as it is quite lively, sporting robust fruit in the mouth. It was ultimately Sudip’s favorite wine. I preferred the 1979 Fetzer, Cabernet Sauvignon, Home Vineyard for it is clean, balanced all around, elegant, and easy to drink.
1978 Fetzer Vineyards, Cabernet Sauvignon, Lake County
The herbaceous flavors mix with vintage perfume in this finely textured wine. It is acidity driven, crsip and bright. Though surviving the flavors are ultimately uninteresting before it falls apart. Past.
1979 Fetzer Vineyards, Cabernet Sauvignon, Home Vineyard, Mendocino County
This wine was aged for 13 months in American oak barrels. Alcohol 12.3%. There is good fruit and body with better integration of acidity. It remains lively in the middle as polished wood notes come through in the finish. It even has a little zip in the end. It is more in the vein of elegant, clean fruit with good overall balance. It did not fade over two hours. *** Now.
1978 Estrella River Winery, Cabernet Sauvignon, San Luis Obispo County
Alcohol 13.5%. The bottle stink is strong at first but does lessen with air. Some of that stink follows through in the mouth but there is also a surprising amount of mature, ripe fruit with quite the youthful grip. The acidity keeps it lively throughout when it finishes with coffee and sweet cocoa flavors. ** Now – 2020.
1) WINE: STATUS QUO 20 YEARS LATER, THE FETZER FAMILY Balzer, Robert Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File); Oct 30, 1988;
ProQuest Historical Newspapers: Los Angeles Times pg. N38
2) Santa Barbara? It’s Part of Wine Country Now: Even Actors Get Into Grape Binge on Central Coast Cannon, Carl Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File); Jul 10, 1977; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: Los Angeles Times pg. E1
3) SAN LUIS OBISPO COUNTY: STATE HAS NEW GRAPE-GROWING REGION GRAPES CHROMAN, NATHAN Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File); Oct 18, 1973; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: Los Angeles Times pg. F18
4) VINTAGE YEARS TO COME: THE PURPLING OF MENDOCINO CHROMAN, NATHAN Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File); Nov 8, 1973;
ProQuest Historical Newspapers: Los Angeles Times pg. F18
5) Coast Winery Bucks Trends: A Rapid Ascent For Fetzer Winery By THOMAS C. HAYESSpecial to The New York Times New York Times (1923-Current file); Dec 23, 1983; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The New York Times pg. D1
6) The Fetzer Line By Robert M. Parker Jr. The Washington Post (1974-Current file); Sep 20, 1981; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The Washington Post pg. L1
7) Wine Talk: Little-known California wineries winners of many top awards. Prial, Frank J New York Times (1923-Current file); Aug 22, 1979; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The New York Times pg. C14
8) Bernie Fetzer: ‘Nonconformist’ With an Award- Winning Vineyard: Wine Notes By William Rice The Washington Post (1974-Current file); Sep 30, 1976; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The Washington Post pg. E19
9) A Watch on the Wine Smith, Jack Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File); Feb 13, 1979; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: Los Angeles Times pg. E1