Splendor in the Glass

Arturo Ciompi's blog on wine

Wines for Fun

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Clock icon May 12, 2013

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Maybe this IS the best way to get Americans to try Grüner Veltliner, but it seems to have done just fine, even with its Germanic (Austrian) name. Some may remember the scandal of 1985, where Diethylene Glycol, the sweet stuff in antifreeze, was actually added to some Bürgenland dessert wines. I actually owned some of this tainted stuff–had it tested at North Carolina State University labs–and, perhaps foolishly, tried some. I’m still here, and it was actually quite tasty. But it did nothing for Austria’s reputation…

All is mostly forgotten now, thankfully, and Austrian reds and whites are selling deliciously well everywhere. But Grüner is the prize winner. People ask for it as often as they do Pinot Grigio, and its delights are myriad. Like any grape, some producers make more serious versions than others, but today’s selection fits smack in the middle–thoroughly enjoyable without asking too much of the imbiber.

  • 2012 Grüner Veltliner, Weingut Meinhard Forstreiter, “Grooner” $12 srp

Nose of spiced apple and pear with peppery highlights. It has a snappy “green” quality about it–like springtime mornings. It also has a light vegetal touch, but in a good way–like newly sprouted, leafy shoots. Flavors have an apple-like crunch to them– light and almost spritzy, continuing  on to the off-dry finish. This is the definition of fun and perfect for fresh fish dishes and casual outdoor sipping. Drink now.

86/100 points


th-2                                    Rockpile Vineyards overlooking Lake Sonoma
Mauritson Wines is located on the northwest edge of Dry Creek Valley. But that is deceiving. Its position, now known as the American Viticultural Area “Rockpile,” overlooks Lake Sonoma, with vineyards at 800-2000 feet above sea level. Beautiful wines are fashioned here and their rosé, only in its second vintage, is a great introduction to their vigorous wines.

2012 Mauritson Rosé Wine, Sonoma County, Rockpile $19 srp

Pale Salmon color–quite a delight for the eye. A gushing, fruit-laden nose of strawberry and watermelon–ripe and mouth-watering. Flavors are opulent and flinty at the same time. Generous fruit compote lingers nicely and a slice of crisp end acidity makes it a great match for scallops, pork chops or a pasta salad. ( A blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Merlot and Cabernet Franc) Drink now-2015.

88/100 points

From the Cellar

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Clock icon May 5, 2013

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wynns-estate-michael-frontWynns Coonawara Estate was the first Australian wine I ever tasted. (It was the 1972 regular release Shiraz) My strongest memory of it is jamminess – like spreading marmalade on my tongue. But in the ensuing years, I have tasted more and more sophistication and layered goodness in all of their wines. None more so than their top of the line red, the “Michael” Limited Release Shiraz. Named for the owner’s youngest son, this wine hits on all cylinders. (It’s only made when vintage conditions are deemed worthy.) My wife and I recently visited with friends in Palo Alto, Calif. and, lo and behold, a 2004 was one of the treats generously shared with us. It reminded me that this gem is always a shockingly great wine.

  • 2004 “Michael” Limited Release Shiraz, Wynns Coonawarra Estate, Australia $75-100 srp*

Inky purple color with a rim beginning to lighten. Needed three hours uncorked to fully open up. Freshness is paramount on the soft, velvety “come into my lair” nose. Mulberry and blackberry elements meld with the American oak influence to create a chocolatey sensation. The silky mouth texture is simply gorgeous and the stick-to-your-tongue richness pleases greatly – yet it never feels heavy. Pepper and coffee notes join the crushed blackberry flavors in a beautiful, un-aggressive red. It’s like the most polite and sophisticated guest at your table–which it may be! Drink now-2024.

94/100 points

*The current release is 2009.


Petite Sirah (Durif)


California’s Petite Syrah (Sirah) success, often forgets that this bold, viscous red grape has been genetically traced back to the French grape named Durif. Australia’s Nugan Estate uses this original name while fashioning an extraordinary wine of character and power. Located in Riverina (New South Wales), this single-vineyard bottling is a steal at around $23. The biggest problem is finding it! Web search is your best bet. The 2009 vintage is the current release.


  • 2003 Nugan Estate Durif, Manuka Grove Vineyard $23 srp


Dark Crimson color. Brown sugar, molasses, plum and cocoa elements inhabit the rounded nose. Yet this is decidedly an elegant bouquet despite its richness. The mouth texture is almost claret-like in weight, yet with a generous, plummy, stick to your palate texture. Very supple flavors lead to a long, balanced finish. A Hangar steak would be heavenly with this. At 10 years of age, this wine was showing beautifully.

93/100 points


What can I say about Paul Draper whose image adorns the home page of this site? A hero of mine as a winemaker, man and visionary, his many wines include small production parcels that are hard to find commercially. So it is with his Petite Syrah from Spring Mountain. Usually only available through Ridge’s ATP Wine Club, this wine occasionally can be found at retail. The bottle we shared was a knockout at 11 years of age.

  • 2002 Ridge California Petite Syrah, Dynamite Hill $40 srp

Deeply rewarding saturated fruit on the nose. Smoke and spice elements oversee the very ripe blackberry, tar and licorice notes. (A touch of funkiness blows off after about 20 minutes open.) Persistent deep flavors blossom over the course of four hours. There are  chocolate and espresso notes woven into its rich fruit goodness. This wine fascinates in its full-blown rustic charm. It’s not as “pretty” as the Nugan, but it continues to unfold with overt, dramatic layers of complexity. A wine to contemplate as long as it holds out!

94/100 pointsth-1

Note: The vintage tasted was 2002.

Finally, a wine that first fascinated me when I looked over my friend’s list of his cellar contents: a 1999 Jacob’s Creek, Centenary Hill, Barossa Valley Shiraz. Most American’s know Jacob’s Creek wines as everyday fare, but would this 14 year old reserve bottling have the stuff to showcase the estate’s pride and joy. It’s the first wine we consumed together, and it showed its all–caught at it peak.  The 2009 vintage is readily available commercially.

  • 1999 Jacob’s Creek, Centenary Hill, Barossa Valley Shiraz $39 srp

The tell-tale nose of Barossa Valley Shiraz blended in American oak.–one of the most felicitous marriages in the world of wine. Exuberant bouquet of cedar-vanilla accompanying generous plum and cinnamon with a cashmere-like sensation. A wine to sniff again and again–its sexy warmth enfolds you. Flavors are medium-bodied and rounded with dark berry and milk chocolate notes, totally integrated tannins and serene aftertaste. Superb balance–the only negative is a lack of great complexity–but a lovely mouthful.

92/100 pointsth-1

My thanks to Daniel Pitt for his generosity in sharing these and other wonderful bottles of perfectly aged reds.

Drouhin Chablis Vaillons

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Clock icon April 21, 2013

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Question: What’s relatively expensive, but positively irreplaceable as a wine?

Answer: Chablis – the real thing from the northernmost vineyards of the Burgundy region of France.

With the use of the word “Chablis” used to describe some of America’s most mediocre wines, (not to mention the word “Burgundy”) it’s no wonder people sometimes shy away from true Chablis. Just what is it?

It’s Chardonnay – a Chardonnay that takes the the Kimmeridgian clay and limestone that it grows on and produces a wine like no other. So crisp, edgy and minerally that it seems to be God’s answer to “What shall I have with oysters tonight?”.

And Maison Joseph Drouhin makes some of the best Chablis going. Since this is not Chablis 101, I’ll simply say that you’ll not go wrong in investing in any Chablis bottling from Drouhin’s stable. Today’s wine is a Premier Cru (a vineyard-designated wine with specific requirements set by the French government). Bite into a bottle sometime soon.

  • 2010 Chablis, Premier Cru Vaillons, Joseph Drouhin $38.75 srp

Shimmering pale golden color. A honeyed, engulfing nose of springtime botanicals that magically expresses itself in the same manner as a top-flight Riesling. There’s an airiness in the lemon, verbena and ocean-scented bouquet. Unmistakably Chardonnay of clipped enticement, the flavors float with silky smoothness, while leaving crisp apple and pear impressions. There’s a slight peach pit bitterness on the long aftertaste. Match with the simplest of seafood preparations and let the wine sing! Highly recommended. Drink now-2017.

92/100 points


Antinori’s Bolgheri Pink Stuff!

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Clock icon April 15, 2013

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Among Villa Antinori’s stable of wineries, the one in Bolgheri has produced some stunning wines. On the western seaside coast of Livorno (think the Pisa environs), the reds of Guado al Tasso are delicious examples of using non-native varietals to produce splendor. They also make a rosé using a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah. Those of you who think of rosés as soft and candied need to try this for a very different experience.

2011 Scalabrone, Bolgheri Rosato, Tenuta Guado Al Tasso $18 srp

Bright cranberry color. A bold, overt nose of dried cherry and wild strawberry with nut-like overtones. Brisk, takes you aback dryness and energy on the palate; the cherry fruit drives towards a crackling and slightly bitter finish. (It’s like the Campari of wine if that makes any sense.)

Alive and bursting with character, it’s a grown up rosé to accompany all manner of grilled foods or a seafood risotto. Drink now-2015.

90/100 points

Sokol Blosser

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Clock icon April 7, 2013

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Sokol Blosser is one of Oregon’s oldest wineries (1971) with a long history of excellent Pinor Noir production under its Dundee Hills belt. Its famous red soil suits many grape varieties, and Sokol Blosser used to make a radically different, but very tasty, red called Meditrina. Their newest red blend, Evolution, (now in its second vintage) follows a similar path. I’m not sure if Evolution also features Pinot Noir, Syrah and Zinfandel (!), but, having now tasted it, I wouldn’t be surprised. This is a fanciful bottling–sleek, smooth and sexy!

Evolution 2nd Edition, Sokol Blosser Winery, Dundee Hills, Oregon $17 srp

Mid-summer nose of powerful floral scents, with baked stone, coffee and spicy berry notes. A soft, elegant mouth texture with savory plum, cherry and generous meaty elements. Very smooth, lingering finish. Could take a little chill if consumed at a cookout. Daringly different and enjoyable. Drink now-2014.

89/100 points



2011 Pinot Gris, Sokol Blosser, Willamette Valley $20 srp

Yellow-grey glint of color. A charming, lithe nose w/lush tropical elements held in check by a steely “cut” on the nose. Totally inviting with suggestions of banana and Passion Fruit. Very dry mouth entry with crisp green apple fruit and mouth-cleansing structure. A great foil for oily fish or simple roast poultry.

88/100 points


Evolution White, 16th edition, Sokol Blosser $17 srp

Low key, gentle nose of melon, pear and juicy apple. Somewhat Vouvray-like, hinting at light sweetness. Lilting fruit elements on a linear, just off-dry palate. Good acids on the refreshing finish and a good bet for summer pasta or Quinoa salads or grilled shrimp. Most pleasing.

89/100 points

Thelema Mountain / Sutherland Vineyards

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Clock icon March 31, 2013

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South African wines have always been a tough sell.  I remember the lovable Cyril Back, who would come to visit and pour his delightful Fairview wines.  Customers were receptive to him, his wines and their value.  But sales didn’t stick unless we local wine merchants kept reminding consumers of their value.  Things haven’t changed much, but excellent wines continue to be made and independent wineries push on despite the political upheavals across their beautiful land.  Today’s Merlot offering reminds me of the giddy ’80s, when quality California versions flew off the shelf.

  • 2009 Merlot, Thelema Mountain Vineyards, Stellenbosch $27-$29.50 srp

Deep purple color. This one sneaks up on you with subtle, yet direct fruit essences. Has black cherry notes with cocoa, licorice and a touch of eucalyptus on the nose. The fat, plummy, “happy” mouth texture is a joy to drink. Soft on the palate with an overall restrained quality that doesn’t shout. Delicious. Drink now-2016.
90/100 points



Today’s winery, founded in 1983, is as picturesque as it is fruitful. In fact, former fruit groves have been turned into a vinous paradise with high elevation coolness combining with its southern facing slopes.

Thelema also has a newer property in the Elgin region, whose wines are bottled under the Sutherland Vineyards moniker. Most appealing whites are being produced here, in yet another former fruit orchard.

  • 2012 Sutherland Sauvignon Blanc, Elgin $17.50 srp

Bright golden color. Quietly understated yet utterly fresh nose. Freshly cut grass combines with lime, smoke and pepper elements. Lively and clean on the juicy, citrus-tinged palate. Reminiscent of a fine Bordeaux Blanc. Drink now.

90/100 points     LABEL2-5221



Around the World…

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Clock icon March 24, 2013

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Wine Wednesday Brut

I recently tasted a hodge podge of wines from Italy to New Zealand. Here are some of the most fascinating–and worthy of your coin.

Contratto is the first name in the history of Italian sparkling wine. The project began in 1867 when a 100-foot-deep cellar was carved into the limestone hills of Canelli, located in the Piedmont region of northern Italy. Contratto made the first Italian bubbly using the “Champagne” process of second fermentation in the bottle. In recent years, acclaimed wine maker Giorgio Rivetti has acted as consultant, and the new Brut sparkling is indeed an exciting venture.

  • 2007 Contratto Brut Millesimato, Oltrepo Pavese $34 srp

A beautiful golden color with pinpoint bubble. Excellent forward bouquet of complex fruit elements and nutmeats. Besides a berry component, there is that wonderful sensation of a toasty brioche that reminds one of the finest Champagnes. Flavors are brisk and fresh with lemony touches on the medium bodied and lingering flavor. This wine spent 4 years resting on its sediment before bottling. (80% Pinot Noir, 20% Chardonnay.) Drink now-2014.

90/100 points


Gil Family Estates are new to me, but what quality and values they represent. Scour the market for these. Old vine Verdelho from the Rueda region of Spain? If you’d like a shockingly good white for your seafood feasts, try this remarkable novelty.

  • 2011 Shaya Verdejo Old Vines, Rueda $15.65 srp

Deep straw color. An overt nose of ocean-kissed fruit with minerality coursing through every sniff. There’s a spice box of scents with nutmeg especially prominent. Gorgeous round flavors with low acidity that cling to your palate for dear life. Great complexity makes this a red wine lover’s white. (This somehow reminds me of the long-aged whites of R. Lopez de Heredia) Fabulous buy.

92/100 points    th
Also from the Gil Family Estates comes a high-octane Tempranillo.
  • 2010 Entresuelos Tempranillo, Castilla Y Leon $13.80 srp
Black cherry color. A huge pungent nose of pure Tempranillo fruit that includes dark chocolate, graphite and concentrated plum scents.  Big yet velvety flavors with excellent length and a bone-dry finish. A blockbuster in its way but also forward and inviting. Grilled beef or a Paella would love this. Drink now-2016.

92/100 points
Familia Zuccardi has been a cutting edge Argentinean winery for decades. Their various “Series” bottlings raise the bar, utilizing numerous grape varieties. It was a Cabernet Sauvignon, most reminiscent of Bordeaux, that caught my tongue.
  • 2009 Familia Zuccardi ‘Q’ Cabernet Sauvignon $22 srp   
Purple to garnet color. Fresh and vibrant with high-toned cranberry, blackberry and an appealing, overall “dusty” element. A big wine on the palate but beautifully balanced. A serious red with excellent spicy texture and room for improvement in the bottle. (Reminiscent of a Bordeaux St. Julien.) Drink now-2018.
91/100 points  200911111955080.cavernet_sauvignon_nueva
Spy Valley wines, named for a satellite communications station in Marlborough, New Zealand, have been estate-bottled since 2000. Theirs is the kind of Pinot Noir that turns heads and excites even die-hard francophiles.
  • 2011 Pinot Noir, Spy Valley Wines, Marlborough $27.70 spr

Deep ruby color. Absolutely lovely purity of fruit with raspberry, beet root and multiple spice impressions. Middle-weight mouth texture with plenty of long, red fruit flavors and a cinnamon kick of refreshing end acidity. Already a treat, this will improve nicely with bottle age. Drink now-2018.

91/100 points  793890645

Dry Creek Duo

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Clock icon March 18, 2013

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Those of you who have read my past articles are aware of my love for the Dry Creek Valley in California’s Sonoma County. I have visited countless properties there, made many friends, and am always struck by the ingenuity, pioneer spirit and varied styles that permeate this glorious landscape. Kachina Vineyards, named after a Hopi Indian god, is fairly new on the scene, but their 2007 Cabernet shows that hard work and winemaking smarts are alive and well here.

  • 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon, Kachina, Dry Creek Valley $42 srp

Saturated purplish-black color. Concentrated robe of black cherry, raspberry and a hint of basil on this almost “waxy” nose. (I mean this in a positive sense.) Deeply textured, long and powerful flavors that manage to retain a light touch (13.8% alcohol is modest by many standards, and definitely contributes to reducing the heat or over-extraction that can mar big cabs.) Opulent flavors of ripe raspberry and Italian plum. A lovely mix of power and elegance. (95% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Syrah) Drink now-2019.

91/100 points


On the other hand, an eponymous estate now celebrating its 40th anniversary is Dry Creek Vineyard, one of the pioneers in growing grapes with the highest quality result in mind. From its everyday priced Dry Chenin Blanc, ($12, truly delectable) to today’s offering, Dry Creek delivers exceptional quality.  Their “Endeavor” is a single-vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon that spends 26 months in 100% new French barrels. This wine seems to become purer and more focused with each passing vintage. It reminds me of a top-tier Graves from France’s Bordeaux region. But I’m sure that founder David Stare simply wants his wine to taste the best. (91% Cabernet Sauvignon, 7% Petit Verdot, 2% Merlot.

  • 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon, Endeavor, Dry Creek Vineyard $65 srp

Blue black coloring. A brooding nose of luxurious Cabernet fruit. Impressively calm, yet ready to burst its black olive, black cherry, dried flowers, engulfing dark berry and what I call the “Dry Creek Bramble” components. Wrap-around flavors with waves of rich cherry and berry compote, further enhanced by warm vanilla impressions. Simply delicious now but a bit primary. It will layer, soften and improve over the next six years plus.  Drink now-2023.

93/100 Points


A panorama of this small but fruitful valley



Lionel Latorse Presents…

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Clock icon March 10, 2013

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Bordeaux winemaker Lionel Latorse was in town this week, showing off wines from his own Chateau Gabaron estate, as well as other Chateaux for which he serves as wine making consultant. His own property, in the region called Entre-Deux Mers (really meaning “between two rivers”,  not oceans) produces a 100% Sauvignon Blanc, vinified in stainless steel with no oak aging.

  • 2011 Sauvignon Blanc, Chateau Gabaron, Entre-Deux-Meres $9.75 srp

Fresh, clean and grassy with wonderful lift and cut on the nose. There’s a “green” sense throughout suggesting spring-like, flowery exuberance. Explosive flavors are chalky, sharp and lemony, but so mouth cleansing that they are a perfect foil for oysters, oily fish or a Quinoa salad. Drink now.

87/100 points             Good Value

One of his consulting jobs features Chateau De La Ligne, a right bank Bordeaux Supérieur.  In what was considered a miserable summer by most accounts (in 2007, mildew was rampant), the grape selection process must have been extreme, because the wine shows little sign of the inherent difficulties.  This ancient property has been reborn under the ownership of Irishman Terry Cross and, although the vines are young, the final blend smells and tastes lush and fully ripe.

  • 2007 Chateau De La Ligne, Bordeaux Supérieur, Cuvée Prestige $15.25 srp

Good depth and a penetrating nose of subtle berry, black currant and deft oak underpinning suggesting cedar forest. Smells like right bank Merlot – a good and special thing! Mouth feel is fairly plush and long with the berry flavors both prominent and balanced. A hint of tartness is the only suggestion of vintage issues, but it disturbs the overall pleasurability not at all. Fifty percent new oak barrels house 60 percent Merlot, 30 percent Cabernet Sauvignon and 10 percent Cabernet Franc.  Fine with potato gnocchi, lamb or a mushroom-based pilaf.  Drink now.

88/100 points


  •   2009 Sauternes, Chateau Saint-Vincent $36 ($18.75 375 ml.) srp

Glorious nose of succulent peach and apricot with a touch of petrol one often associates with sweet Rieslings. This blend of 80% Semillon, 10% Muscadelle and 10% Sauvignon Blanc is redolent with “noble rot”, the fungus that shrivels the grapes and concentrates their sweetness. Flavors are luscious with golden fruit flavors tickling your palate, plus good acids that prevent any cloying or heaviness. Nice effort in an excellent vintage. Drink now-2021.

90/100 points

Grapes "afflicted" with Noble Rot

Grapes “afflicted” with Noble Rot

Rodney Strong Today

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Clock icon March 3, 2013

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