All posts by Alma

Alma joined wine.com in 2008 as part of the buying team. A resident of San Francisco, Alma becomes grouchy if she misses a run in Golden Gate Park with her cattle dog or pays too much for a mediocre glass of wine. Her favorite appellations include Burgundy, Alsace and the Russian River and she credits Sancerre with sparking her interest in wine.

Staff Pick: Hall Helps Ease the Pain of Black Eyed Peas Super Bowl Half-Time Show

Wine: Hall Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc 2009
Reviewer: Alma Leon – Wine Buyer
Paired with:  Super Bowl party fare – Guacamole, pretzels, dips & pizza etc.
Rating: 3 stars

Review:   The smartest thing I did yesterday was to take this wine to yesterday's Super Bowl party.  This VERY good California Sauvignon Blanc helped me make it through a rough 15 minutes.  Don’t let the 3 stars fool you,   I don’t hand out very many 4 or 5 stars, so 3 stars to me means a fantastic wine that I can enjoy without  having to worry about my wine budget.  It’s my version of “Two thumbs up!”  The best thing about this wine is that it proves that great Sauvignon Blanc can be produced in California.  My biggest complaint about domestic Sauvignon Blanc is that it can be extremely tropical on the nose, thanks to our warm climate.  Meaning it can be difficult to pair with food and a bit like standing next to a person with too much perfume on a crowded elevator.  Hall has managed delicate grapefruit, guava and lemon aromas in a medium-bodied wine.  There is a creaminess to it that ends with fresh acidity.  In short, it is well-balanced and likely to impress a wide variety of palates.  Although I went for the gusto and tried it with party food,  I could see this going great with lump crab meat on a buttered roll or even gnocchi in a creamy white sauce.

Read more of my reviews on my Wine.com community page

Roads of the Rhone

The Rhone Valley is one of my favorite wine growing regions in the world. Perhaps part of this reason is because I have the privilege of visiting the area almost every summer. Not only are there delicious warm summers with fields of wild lavender and rosemary wafting to your nose, but there’s some pretty spectacular wine as well.

Two things that make the Rhone stand out to me – diversity and quality. The northern and southern Rhone are so distinctly separate, both in geography and style, that were there not a river to connect them, they would easily be two separate appellations.

I drink more southern Rhone wines by far, which I assume is true for most people. Northern Rhone wines are known for being a bit more structured, age-worthy, collectible and expensive. Thus our value-driven wallets and drink-it-now palates are drawn to the south, where these styles of wine abound. And yet, the northern Rhone has some excellent wines that could be considered great values.


A quick northern Rhone cheat sheet: Syrah is the exclusive red grape, though most regions can blend a small percentage of white grapes into the wines (except Cornas, which is 100% Syrah). Viognier is the exclusive grape of Condrieu, while Marsanne and Roussanne join Viognier in most other northern Rhone white wine blends. Vines are trained high on steep, terraced slopes with granite-based, gravelly soils.

A few gems to look out for in the north:
Crozes-Hermitage – the little step-sibling to Hermitage, Crozes-Hermitage is a great way to introduce your palate to the northern Rhone style, at a lower price tag. Guigal and Delas make some excellent examples.

St.-Joseph -Though Cornas is one of the more talked-about regions in the north, I love to find a good St.-Joseph. Sometimes they are a bit less… rustic than a Cornas and more approachable. They can range from great value to slightly collectible (see Guigal).


Southern Rhone cheat sheet:Grenache is the primary red grape, though almost all wines are blends, and include red grapes such as Syrah, Mourvedre and Cinsault. Whites are more rare, but are also blends, with Grenache Blanc, Marsanne, Roussanne and Clairette leading the make up of most blends. Vines are often bush trained over flat terrain, with a warmer climate than the north.

Gems of the south:
Yes, I love a great Chateauneuf-du-Pape or a refreshing Tavel or a spicy Gigondas. But a few others I look out for are:
Cairenne – I think Cairenne will eventually be elevated to “cru” status, just as the Cotes-du_Rhone Villages Vinsobres was in 2004. Cairenne, one of the 18 Cotes-du-Rhone-Villages, is totally worthy of a try – it has the depth and complexity of many cru wines from the southern Rhone, but often with a lower price tag. Domaine Alary is a favorite of mine, but most Cairenne labels deliver beyond expectations.

Cotes-du-Ventoux – move over Cotes-du-Rhone, this is where you can find the new values! Offering refreshing and fruit-driven whites as well as rich and fruit-driven reds, this is a region I am watching. Loving that more and more wines are coming in from here.

It is Rhone Week at Wine.com, so it's a good time to stock up.

No matter what your palate, the Rhone most likely has something to satisfy it.

 

Diamond Creek Shines

For those of you who don’t live in the Bay Area: Lucky You. We’ve been freezing since last year. Each day I pray the forecast will predict that some ray of sunshine might make it through the fog. This, week I gambled on short sleeves and got lucky. It’s a beautiful 81 degrees and I am reminded of a warm day in July when Diamond Creek opened its doors and invited me to its Open House. It was all very exciting, I signed up for the mailing list and viola, I received a parking pass to attend their open house, ah… the feeling of privilege.

Wine aficionados have long known about Diamond Creek but for some reason it remains a relatively unknown gem. I was very excited to see the three storied vineyards up close. Diamond Creek produces Cabernet Sauvignon exclusively and has done so since 1968. Only 3 single vineyard wines are produced each year, each with a splash of Petit Verdot, they are: Gravelly Meadows, Red Rock Terrace and Volcanic Hill. Although located in the Napa Valley, these are not Napa Cabs. These are Bordeaux, through and through. The late Al Brounstein sweet talked his way into a few premier cru cuttings in Bordeaux and personally flew them (also known as smuggling) into California.
 

After swimming in all 3 of their lakes (woo-hoo!), I made my way to 2008 barrel tasting. Let me walk you though the barrel samples in three words: Dy-no-mite. Like the 2007 vintage, these wines are meant to age. In ascending order of intensity it goes from Gravelly Meadows to Red Rock Terrace and finally, the mighty Volcanic Hill. The names are completely self-explanatory and literally describe these three vineyards. Each vineyard is distinct, each an actual stones throw from the next. Like the greatest Cabs of the world, muscular deep black fruit, spice, earth and tannins balance with the underlying acidity to give grace and elegance. Fruit and oak bombs need not apply. Although these are cellar worthy wines, the 2007 Gravelly Meadows and even the yet to be released 2008 vintage can be uncorked, if only to realize how great these are even as babies. To give you some perspective, fellow picnickers were uncorking bottles from 70’s and 80’s to the delight of our hosts.

It looks like it going to be another warm day tomorrow, maybe not a Cab day, but those Diamond Creek lakes are making me restless for next year's Open House.

WineShopper Launches Today: Incredible deals, limited time, members only.

If you are any sort of regular online shopper, chances are you’ve heard and seen “flash sale” sites. Most of the usual suspects, like Gilt Groupe and Rue La La, focus on fashion. But increasingly, these sites are showcasing items outside the fashion realm. This format has gained momentum in a number of categories, including travel packages, home goods and now wine.

The idea behind flash sales is to provide customers with a limited time, limited quantity item at a steep discount (up to 70% off the suggested retail price), which is a terribly attractive proposition. The new web site from Wine.com, WineShopper, is exactly that for wine.

What is WineShopper?
WineShopper is a members-only wine retail site, offering exclusive wine deals in limited quantities for a limited time. From well-known big brands to small, boutique wineries, WineShopper will have a diverse line up of wines. Sales will last from 24 – 72 hours, or until stock sells out.

Even better? The first 50 members to refer 50 friends to join WineShopper will receive four Riedel Ouverture Magnum Glasses worth $37.99. So sign up at www.wineshopper.com and start telling people that this where they’ll find the best deals in wine.


Another Great Way to Explore Wine

As a long-term member of the "majority" of
oenophiles, defined as those individuals have have never tried a vertical of any fancy
wine or have 1,000 bottle wine cellars, I have been authorized (by myself) to invite anyone who's curious
about wine to join our group, like a jogger vs. runner, the distinction
is a state a mind. Oh and just to be clear, those of us who know which
years are "good years" and what to avoid or covet in wineshop, don't
actually buy or even try every bottle of wine, instead we cheat by
attending wine tastings.


This weekend, I attended the New Zealand Wine Discovery Tasting in San
Francisco. I seldom write tasting notes but I do make mental notes of
my general impressions and star my favorites. It's not laziness on my
part, but really it's about forcing wines to be memorable for good or
bad and taking away generalities that are much more useful than jotting
down 5 descriptors. I use this info to navigate menus and select from wines I've never tasted. So,
without further ado, I've laid out below my tasting plan of attack and
the mental notes that followed to show you how I add to my wine
knowledge without trying every bottle I see.

Attack Strategy #1: Scan the winery list. You might see wines you've always been curious about.

There has been a lot of buzz lately about pinot noirs from Central Otago, so
I gave them a try. I would have liked to have found a greater breadth
of aromatics and more substance. Nonetheless, I
found that Central Otago wines tended to have more complexity than
other regional wines, consequently, they would be great better with
food and at lower price points than quality pinot noir from California,
in other words, a good value. I liked the 2008 Matua Valley Central Otago Pinot Noir. Mental note to self: Central Otago = food/wallet compatible.

Attack Strategy #2 Taste the most expensive wines. This is often the best way to make sure your aren't disappointed later on.

In this case, the higher priced wines retailed around $36. They all turned out to be pretty good in terms of quality and given the pricing, as compared to top tier pinot, a good deal. Our favorite of the event turned out to be one of the most expensive at $37
a bottle (2008 Alana Estate Pinot Noir from Martinborough). For $37 and
up you get more tannic structure and finesse (in other words, it's not
quite as fresh and fruity). Mental note to self: Martinborough is producing some excellent and nuanced higher end pinots.

Attack Strategy#3 Experiment. Try the strangest wine you see on the list. Maybe it's from an obscure place or perhaps a variety you've never heard of.

We tried a brilliant 2008 Bordeaux blend from the tiny island of Waiheke produced by Man O' War called the Ironclad. Mental note to self: Waiheke Island is on my radar for Bordeaux blends.

Attack Strategy#4 Sample different regions and vintages

We tried side by side vintages of the 2007 and 2008 Tarras Vineyards
Pinot Noir from Central Otago. I enjoyed them both. I learned later
that 2007 is a great vintage for reds in New Zealand. Given a choice, I
would go for the 2007 if only because additional age rounds a wine out. Mental note to self: Don't fret over 2007 vs 2008 vintage for Central Otago pinot.

Attack Strategy#5: Sample different price points. I like knowing what another $5-10 gets me.

For this experiment I tried three lines of Brancott wines. First, I tasted the 2009 Brancott Sauvignon Blanc Malborough ($11). I got a lot of grassiness, grapefruit and perceptible sweetness. I like my wines a bit drier, however, it paired very well with oysters. Next we sampled the 2009 Brancott Reserve Sauvignon Blanc ($15). This wine was more weighty and less obvious in the nose, making room for more complex aromas. I think this one would pair much better with an entrée than the less expensive Brancott which is better suited to more casual occasions or a hot summer picnic. Finally, I tried the Brancott Letter Series 'B' Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough ($24). This is very good wine with an interesting minerality on the nose and good texture in the mouth, by far the best and pairs well with seafood and lighter pasta dishes. For these wines, I think it's important to decide what you personally enjoy. Some tasters love grapefruit aromas (one taster kept raving that "the
grapefruit just punches you in the nose"), whereas, I like less
violence and more minerality. Mental note to self: These start fruity and crisp and increase in weight, minerality and complexity for just a few dollars more.

Now get out there and start exploring!