Mourvedre Part 2: Wine Review 5 Blocks Terry Hoag Paso Robles 15

Our Mourvèdre adventures via Paso Robles continue. After the lean bright Croad (read here), today we try something a bit more friendly.  Former footballer-turned winemaker, Terry Hoag, makes some solid estate wines (read here) even if they’re named after pigskin puns. Only one wine sees Mourvèdre added: “5 Blocks” (referring to his five field goal blocks in college…of course).

Mourvèdre plays to type, with more of a supporting role at 28%, Syrah leads with 60%, followed by 12% Grenache that rounds out the blend.

How is it:

TH Vineyards, 5 Blocks, Paso Robles, Willow Creek District, California Cuvee 2015 $60


Terry Hoag 5 Blocks Paso Robles Wine 2015

It looks an inky purple, ruby-rimmed, and running the glass with thin tinted legs.  The moderate nose smells of cocoa powder, fresh mint leaf, and vanilla extract tossed on top of a hot, bubbling, black cherry pie. The dry palate has enough acidity, medium balsa wood tannins, a hot pie alcoholic heat (14.6%), and a medium plus body. But left open overnight, the flavors come to the fore. Baked black cherry, raspberry, and boysenberry fruits come off clean and ripe. Yet a serious streak of bootstrap leather, peppercorn, and pipe tobacco tame the fruit beast.

Terry Hoag’s 5 Blocks is ripe, readied, and very good (4 of 5). Drink it solely or with lamb dishes, portobello mushroom burgers, truffled cheeses, dark chocolate.

Not bad for a footballer.


Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Nebbiolo…from Oregon? Cerulean Nebbiolo Columbia Gorge OR 2010

Most American Nebbiolo sucks. Once upon a time, I loved Palmina’s efforts (read here). But if I am honest with my naive self, Santa Barbara Nebbiolo tastes nothing like the Piedmont, Italy.

So, Oregon wine. You may have heard of our fabulous Willamette Valley Pinot, maybe even warmer Umqua, Rogue, or Appelgate Valleys.  But there lies another AVA, East of Portland, East of Mount Hood, along the slopes of the river that brought Lewis and Clarke to the Pacific: the Columbia Gorge AVA.

Columbia Gorge AVAThe Cascades shield the Columbia Gorge from the dripping, dreary, I-take-Vitamin D-supplements Pacific Ocean. But it sits before the dry high desert Columbia Valley AVA. That means a still cool climate, with warmer summers and greater diurnal range than the ever cool wet westerly Willamette: a good recipe for Nebbiolo.

Cerulean Winery has a 23 acre organic vineyard called Acadia. It blankets volcanic soils on Underwood Mountain at 1,000 feat above sea level.  For Nebbiolo, they hand pick and ferment 50% whole cluster and 50% destemmed grapes then age it for 28 months in neutral French oak barrels and 18 months more in bottle.

Does all this effort make for a rival of Barbaresco or Barolo Nebbiolo? Let’s try it:

Cerulean Nebbiolo Columbia Gorge OR 2010 $20-$25

Cerlulean Nebbiolo Columbia Gorge Oregon 2010

The APPEARANCE looks clear medium intense garnet glinting with ruby highlights and washed legs. AROMAS glow exotic with medium intensity Turkish delight with rose water and almonds, crushed blueberries, black cherry liquor, and dried vanilla husk. The PALATE feels dry, with medium acidity, medium plus tannins, a mild 12.8% alcohol and a medium body.  FLAVORS lump red cherry, blueberry, and orange peel alongside toasted vanilla and smoke. They last a medium plus length.

Cerulean’s 2010 Nebbiolo is very good (4 of 5). It lacks the power, tannin, and age-ability of Barbaresco and Barolo. Yet, think of a more general Piedmontese Nebbiolo, like a Langhe, d’Alba, or Reoro: an amiable, daily red with enough earth and interest for Tuesday’s dinner. Not shabby.

(Thanks to cohort Tavia for suggesting this fab wine).

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Fizz Fit For The Queen: Hattingley Valley Classic Reserve English Sparkling Wine NV Review

Per chance, one of my buyers planned Christmas in the crucible of my wine career: Saratoga Springs, New York.  Years ago, I left academia and started fresh-ish there at Putnam Wine, run by British expat William. He crushed and carried me through wine’s complications, trends, and the WSET Advanced. So I sent my buyer with a few bottles from home in Oregon. He returned with, of course, English Sparkling wine.

Now English wine was once a staple of antiquity. A cooling Middle Ages supplanted it with beer and later spirits.  Thanks to global warming and wine’s rise for the aspirational, over 450 vineyards produce English wine today.

Wine Growing Regions Britain

An hour and a half drive southwest of London, in Hampshire, sits Hattingley Valley winery. Hattingley: as English-sounding as Paddington bear, eating marmalade in a railway. They work 60 acres on the same ribbon of chalk that runs through the Cliffs of Dover straight through Champagne. So today’s Brut blends the same grapes: 48% Chardonnay, 33% Pinot Noir, 17% Pinot Meunier and 2% Pinot Gris.

Methods match Champagne.  Teams hand-harvest grapes into small baskets. A Coquard press squeezes whole clusters. Used white Burgundy barrels ferment 15% of the grapes to soften acidity, stainless works the rest. 18% reserve wines tame the current vintage. Then secondary bottle fermentation occurs and it hangs 18 months on the lees. Seven grams of sugar add to balance it out.

But can the Brits match France?

Hattingley Valley Classic Reserve English Sparkling Wine NV

Hattingley Valley Classic Reserve English Sparkling Wine NV $45.00

It froths intensely when poured (the cross-country flight probably did not help). The APPEARANCE looks a clear, light gold with brassy highlights. AROMAS and Flavors smell layered, clean, and a bit chunky of moderately intense salted pistachio, brioche, a strawberry’s white core, mostly lemon juice, white oak, and steel.  It enters the PALATE off dry, but a zipper of citric acidity straightens it. The body feels light, lean. The rapid yet fine effervescence keeps an otherwise supple texture edgy. The long finish rides lightly with meringue and baguette crust.

Hattingley Valley’s bubbly is young, bracing fizz, and damned good (4 of 5). It has been to college, travelled a bit, knows a fair deal, but might takes itself a bit seriously imitating its mentors. Still it gives any non-vintage Champagne around $40-50 a great run for your money.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Give Mourvèdre Its Due: Wine Review of Croad, Paso Robles, California 2011

Santa brought me a surprise: a case of wine from the Central Coast, Paso Robles, California.  The mystery case focuses on a much neglected grape: Mourvèdre.  Thus, each week, check here for a new dive into Mourvèdre.

Now Mourvèdre likely originated in Spain, near Valencia, in a town suspiciously called Murviedro. It wiggled its way across the Mediterranean Coast to Provence.  Here it dominated until phylloxera sapped it, root stock grafting failed, and the famed Syrahs and Grenaches supplanted it in our glasses.

Mourvèdre survived where phylloxera could not: hot, sandy fringes like Bandol and high desert plateaus of Spain. Today, Washington, Australia, and California toy with it in their hotter climates.  The grape tends to make muscular wine with tannins, high alcohol, red fruits, and savory, earthy, and gamey notes: a perfect match for Paso Robles California.

Today, we start with a single, estate vineyard owned by the Croad family: New Zealander’s known for their fabulous mission style winery atop Paso’s West side.

Croad Vineyards, Mourvedre, Silver Fern Series, Paso Robles Willow Creek CA 2011 $46

Croad Vineyards Mourvedre Paso 2011

To stand up to the grape, Croad throws all new oak at it, half French and half Hungarian

Croad’s Mourvèdre looks clear, with a garnet core and a medium clear frame, draped with red-tinted tears.  AROMAS and FLAVORS glow and pop with dried raspberries, red apple, orange peel, sage, clove, and tobacco. The PALATE feels lean, dry, twitching with medium acidity, wood dust tannins, a medium body, and a medium 14% alcohol.

The wine is very good (4 of 5) but needy. Do not expect rich, powerful, classic Mourvèdre.

Find food to make this work. Grilled herbed salmon, ashy goat cheese, truffled pasta, stuffed mushroom caps. Think things savory things for structured, earthy Pinot Noir or Nebbiolo.

Until next week’s Mourvèdre, see you then.

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Nearly New Year: Champagne Dinner at Paley’s Place Portland Oregon

With a newly minted one year-old daughter, my wife and I will not make it to midnight on New Year’s Eve.  We find the next best fudge: sparkling wine Wednesday dinner at foodie stalwart Paley’s Place in Portland, Oregon.

Paley’s lines up six sparkling wines from the world over, along with one blind bubbly. We start them with the mixed vegetable platter: a divine mishmash of winter roots, horseradish sauce, Russian kale and barley salad, spicy cabbage, buckwheat black radish crepes, and on.

Paleys Place Champagne Dinner

Sparkling highs include Langlois‘ prim and silky Cabernet Franc Loire Valley Brut rosé (very good 4 of 5 $19), Pere Ventura‘s taut, zippy, chalky Tresor, Brut, Cava (very good 4 of 5 $14), and Dr Loosen‘s peachy, apple, lime-zested sparkling Riesling (very good 4 of 5 $14). The fizzes are eclectic, at times funky, but good value.

Then the blind bubbly rears its head. Get it right. Get the flight for free.

The glass stares at us.  Its Appearance looks a clear, mild, salmon pink with brass highlights and a near silent trickle of fine fizz. Aromas smell moderately of ethanol, red apple, honey, and dried strawberry that carry into Flavors.  Most telling is the Palate: dryish and kinda flat: with a pithy medium acidity, noted alcohol, a medium light body, and tired fizz.

All of this points to a warm-ish climate with old world tendencies, an age past its peak, and low cost.  No focussed character so it is non vintage. It lacks the fruit and alcohol of New World bubblies.  No autolytics: so not Champagne nor anything with much lees time.  Medium acidity: so not a Burgundy bubbly.  It lacks the cut of Cava, so no Spain.

Crap. This is hard.

My wife hits on Portugal: good call, warmish climate, Euro profile but a bit odd, value.  Its flatness meanders me to charmat/tank/prosecco method and considering an Italian Glera with a dash of a red grape like Pinot Nero. My second guess is a cheap Crémant de Bordeaux, cabernet/merlot blend with a bit of age.


A Cremant d’Alsace, Pinot Noir non-vintage Brut by Dopff & Irion ($19).  Ah well.  A fresher bottle would probably be delish worth buying.

Luckily, we order a bottle of Champagne to wallow over our loss.  Dryness, edged and angled crisp chalk, green apple, lemon squeeze, smoke, brioche and mineral make for a food thirsty bubbly by Moutard, Grande Cuvée Brut, Buxeuil, Champagne, NV ($32.00) (4 of 5 very good).

And then the entrées: salmon, kale mushroom gratin, truffle, potato magic.

Salmon truffle magic Paleys

My wife feigns ennui at her salmon, smoked lobster cream pasta.

Tracy Paleys Salmon Cream Pasta

Parting gifts of ice-cream and mini cocoa cookies wrap up the meal.

We may not make it to New Year’s Eve, but eight sparkling wines make for a fabulous dinner.  Thank you Paley’s Place.

Tracy Aaron Paleys Dinner


Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment