Volcano Wine Tornatore, Etna Rosso, Sicily Italy 2016

The sun baked, windswept volcano of Eta looms above Sicily like a black hat. On bare  topsoil vines roll down the slope. Since 1865, the Tornatore family have grown grapes and olives on the North East slopes than any family. But for some reason they never made wine. Until, Francesco Tornatore made the first vintage in 2012.

The modern winery fills resplendent with cement eggs to circulate fermentation, massive barrels, and stainless transfer tubes. Yet the methods remain minimal and gentle.

Tornatore, Etna Rosso, Sicily Italy 2016

Tornatore Rosso 2016

Its APPEARANCE looks clear with a medium minus ruby and a pale rim.

Medium plus AROMAS glow with craisins, orange pulp, a whiff of mulled wine, ash and basalt.

The PALATE clinks and clanks with crisp medium plus acidity, lean medium tannins, a sneaky medium alcohol, and a medium body and fine silk-textured mid palate.

Medium plus intense FLAVORS ring a seamless tone of dried cranberries, pommegranate, and a light fine ash of medium plus intensity.

Tornatore’s Etna Rosso is very good (4 of 5) and can take on most Pinot Noir pairings from grilled meats, a wide range of cheeses, mild sausages, to fish simply prepared like salmon or tuna.

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A Chill Carmenere Wine from Paso Robles Dubost 2014

Carménère: a wine grape that Bordeaux bailed on generations ago has reared its head in Chile, Italy, and eclectic hot pockets of California.

Today’s Carménère comes from Cali and the hands of Dubost winery.

The Dubost family hailed from France in the 1870s, blacksmiths, settled in Adelaida in Central Coast, California, farmed, ranched, grew walnuts, then olives on 320 acres. Finally for us in 2002, son Jacob put grape vines into the ground. Then brother Zachary took on winemaking in 2010. Nearly all Dubost siblings, children, and spouses work the fields, winery, or promotion.

But today’s Dubost wine comes from bought fruit courtesy of Colbert Vineyard, which sits in Paso Robels Estrella District, Paso’s largest, running East of the 101 and north of Paso town through rolling plains of well draining alluvial soil. Temperatures are moderate so Rhône and Bordeaux varieties ripen well. An ideal spot for Bordeauxs long lost grape: Carménère. At least three other wineries make a Colbert Vineyard Carménère, so they must have something that works.

Dubost, Carménère, Colbert Vineyard Estrella District Paso Robles California 2014

Dubost Carmenere Paso Robles 2014

The APPEARANCE frames a narrow clear rim of ruby around a deep purple core that hangs on wide tinted legs. Seductive AROMAS of dried fig, a dash of black cherry liquor, a twang of orange zest, cocoa powder, and charcoal carry a medium plus heft.

The PALATE however is serious stuff: dry, bright medium acidity, fine medium tannins, decent alcohol (13 %abv), make for a medium bodied, lithe, unexpectedly refreshing red. Medium plus

FLAVORS match the fig and black cherry aromas but veer off to sharper, brighter, yet rockier territory: citrus peel bounces off flint and tobacco and then mellow into a calm medium length.

Well, that was a pleasant surprise. Often Paso reds strut high alcohols and oodles of jammy fruit. Dubost’s Carmenere, however, works earthy and dark flavors against a tame palate. It is very good (4 of 5) wine: drinkable, inoffensive, interesting, yet not overt or demanding. Enjoy it with red enthusiasts, and try some grilled meats, peppery charcuterie, truffled cheese, and darker chocolates.

Not shabby for a family of farmers.

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A Winey Whiskey For The Rest Of Us: Glenmorangie Nectar dOr Highland Single Malt Whiskey Scotland

Hi wine nerds! Don’t like Whiskey? Or want something more than your piddly 20% ABV Port? Well, you’re in luck. Scotland’s Glenmorangie, having perfected the 12 Year Single Malt, happens to work within Moët Hennesey’s empire.  With that extra bank, Glen could go wild and buy wine barrels to finish their spirits.  This ruffled Scottish feathers a few decades ago. But today, distilleries enjoy adding wine spice to their still’s cupboard.

Today’s spirit, Glenmorangie’s Nectar d’Or, wiggled its way into Sauternes barrels. Yes, Sauternes: Bordeaux’s golden gift to dessert wine.

For those not Sauternes savvy: Bordeaux fog makes a fungus, aka noble rot, aka botrytis. It dries Sauvignon Blanc and Semillion grapes into funky, cheesy, hyper-sweet magic: aka Sauternes.  Barrels tame it, absorbing sugars, aromas and flavors over years.  The funny thing is, LVMH’s empire houses another icon that happens to come from Sauternes: Château d’Yquem.

Yquem stands upon the pinnacle of dessert wine (Premier Cru Supérieur (“Superior First Growth”). They carry over two hundred years of prestige as the only Sauternes producer included in 1855’s classification of Bordeaux’s best wines.

If rumor holds weight, after living a decade in Bourbon barrels, Yquem’s barrels might just finish Glen’s spirit for two more years. Does this give them the magic touch?

Glenorangie, Nectar d’Or, Highland Single Malt Whiskey, Scotland

Glenmorangie Nector D'Or

The APPEARANCE looks a clear, mild, amber wheat color with brassy highlights. Intense, sexy AROMAS sit on a base of almond croissant, burnt honey, vanilla powder, with ginger and clove spice clanging overhead. I pick a whiff of gooseberry, lemongrass hanging on from Sauvignon Blanc touching those barrels. The PALATE has a slight crystalized sugar sweetness, but finishes dry, with slightly woody tannins, a lilting acidity, and a viscous round but medium body, punctuated by edgy 46% ABV heat. The FLAVORS inch in, slow and sweet, with pure golden honey, dried chamomile, gold raisins, turning to hot coals, pepper, and charred vanilla that last a medium plus length.

Glenmorangie’s Nectar D’Or is far from perfect. The high alcohol burns and the Bourbon barrels nod too heavily to Scotch’s past. It tries the impossible, to dip a foot in Whiskey and the other toe in dessert wine royalty. But taming the heat and char could render it sickly sweet and one note. The marriage may not seem seamless, nevertheless, Nectar d’Or is very good (4 of 5) and admirably ambitious. Skip dessert and sip this instead. Or pair it with funky cheeses drizzled in honey.


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Mellen Meyer Oregon Bubbly

Can Oregon wine catch Champagne’s coattails? Our climate is too warm, our soil too rich, and our winemakers too impatient, but our grapes are Pinot and Chardonnay. So, why not try?

Well, most Oregon bubbly from Argyle to Argyle tastes nice, dry, but a bit fruity and simple. That sexy, nutty, chalky, dry, autolytic character that Champagne can have seemed elusive.

Luckily, I stumbled onto a bottle of Mellen Meyer Brut. The maker behind it is Bobby Rowett. He left philosophy, then a wineshop launched his tour of France, next apprenticeships with the wine world’s precious producers: from France’s, cheap geek staple Mas de Gourgonnier, Australia’s answer to S. France, Hewitson Wines, Idaho’s edgy Cinder Wines, and Portland’s darling, Goodfellow.

Bobby now makes about a thousand cases above Winter Hill’s winery in Dundee. He has a website and club and a few placements around town, but no brick and mortar.

Mellen Meyer, Brut, Willamette Valley OR NV $26-$30

Age is key to making MM’s Brut echo Champagne. Even before the long (and costly) 27 months of bottle aging, Bobby sneaks 30% of the wine from a tank topped off, solera-style, from multiple vintages (he claims to be inspired from grower champagne, but this is a classic negociant move). 20% is from a Dundee vineyard, the rest comes from a mix of clones from biodynamic Johan Vineyards south near Van Duzer.

Pinot Noir leads the blend at 65%, with 35% Chardonnay. Oak also tacks on complexity. The Chard ferments in used Oregon oak barrels.  Meanwhile old French oak barrels tame the Pinot Noir.


Mellen Meyer Brut Willamette ValleyThe APPEARANCE looks a mild bright straw with a rapid super fine fizz. Medium intense AROMAS smell the color of green, very green: green pear, granny smith apple, limoncello, clove, and shaved almond. The PALATE feels dry, cracking with medium plus acidity, mild alcohol, and a medium minus body, and fine vivacious . FLAVORS jump at you with fresh cold pear, green apple, lemon zest thankfully balanced by classic autolytics: baguette core, almond, and chalk ash that carry a long while.

In sum, Mellen Meyer’s Brut is bebop jazz, still lively yet serious, fresh yet aged. It is very good, nay outstanding fizz (5 of 5) for its complexity and ringing tone. It tastes different than Champagne but is as good as many.

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Chinese Wine Review: Chateau Rongzi 2013 Shanxi China

Picture China. Depending on where your from, a collage of pandas, red flags, chopsticks, tea, rice bowls, Mao portraits, and bamboo groves may pass through your mind.

Not this:


Rongzi Vineyards

Yup. Vineyards. Since at least 7,000 BCE, China has been making alcohol from grapes. Yet wine remained a fringe product, more an exotic treat for the elite than a mass produced, daily beverage for the masses. It took until 1980 for French wine to crack into China, but public interest only swelled by 2000 with China’s global rise. Production has hovered around 7th place worldwide, sandwiched between Argentina and South Africa at 11.5 million hectoliters.

But I am not worried about volume. Can they make quality vino? Today’s tipple comes from Shanxi: a high plateau, with deep loess soil, kept dry by mountains with wide temperature ranges, below the Great Wall, southeast from Beijing.

China Wine Regions

Today’s winery is Chateau Rongzi.  Zhang Wenquan founded it with billions he had made in coal mining after the recession hit. And he did not mess around. He spent a cool $92 million on 400 hectares with a massive, and I mean massive castle.

He also hired the best, Jean Claude Berrouet: the winemaker of Bordeaux’s Petrus. So can ambition, money, talent, and worthwhile land make great wine?

Rongzi WineLineup

Let’s try their cabernet,

Chateau Rongzi, Cabernet Sauvignon, Shanxi, China 2013 

Hand picked 75.85% Cabernet Sauvignon, 18.63% Marselan (a Cab/Grenache crossing), and 5.52% Merlot aged 12 months in oak barrels.

APPEARANCE: A clear but abnormal ruby cranberry color with cranberry highlights
AROMAS: smell a bit quiet, dusky, with rhubarb, black cherry, dried wood, spice, and fox musk .
PALATE: Feels dry, with medium plus acidity, tame medium tannins, a medium body, and rustic linen texture.
FLAVORS: range from raspberry and twangy cranberry, a slight soy, to fox musk and ash that cary into a dry, spicy, medium plus length.
Chateau Rongzi Bottle
Rongzi’s Cab blend is a bit wild, a bit tame, but very good (4 of 5). It reminds me of cool vintage, young vine Bordeaux, or Cabernets from fringe cool climates like New York or the Loire where wild yeasts fight fruit and oak for attention. However, $139 is a hefty price. Although it’s cheaper than a flight to China.
Not your wallet’s cup of tea?
$39 will get you Rongzi’s rosé. Your guess of what the grapes are is as good as mine.
Rongzi Rose
It looks neon pink. It tastes sweet yet acidic, like grapefruit and those strawberry candies. Like a white Zin, Rongzi’s rosé is somehow horrible but everything it should be: like a sweet tart, or sweet and sour pork. You know it is gross but you feel guilty liking it. It fits a niche (3 of 5) even if that niche is a deep, dark crevice that I never wish to enter ever ever again.
In summation, Rongzi has taken a “great leap forward” (apologies) for Chinese wine. They risk pricing into a luxury market they do not yet deserve. But a ton of Champagne, Napa Cab, and Bordeaux disappoints relative to its hefty price. So Rongzi, and by association China, have enough potential, ambition, and money parallel to upwardly mobile consumers to be the next premier wine producing nation.
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