“A rose by any other name could be a violet”…………………. James McMillan

Pinot Grigio, Pinot Gris.  Same grape. Different wine.  As with Sauvignon Blanc and Fume Blanc, much ado is about how the juice is handled, i.e. wood or no wood.  And much has to do with the climate and soil where the vines are grown.  There are other factors too, but the jury seems to have already voted: Grigio (what I call the “Italian Style”) is the preferred.

Speaking about “Italian,” ask a wine drinker about Pinot Grigio and she or he will probably be familiar with the varietal.  And if they regularly enjoy Pinot Grigio, ask them where their wine comes from and they may say “Italy”.  Where in Italy?  Well, if they’re really into wine, they may even say Trento-Adige (an alpine-continental climate area in NE Italy.).  But if they’re more into domestics, they may say Oregon (better known for Pinot Gris) or California.  But Michigan?  Probably not. 

Too bad.  Fenn Valley Vineyards, at latitude 42.57 degrees N shares some characteristics with Alto-Adige at 46.43 N. Fenn Valley enjoys a continental climate moderated by its proximity to Lake Michigan. Soils within the Alto-Adige (a MUCH larger area) are more varied and may contain sandy marl, volcanic porphyrl, quartz, mica or dolomite (or a mix of these to some extent).  Fennvile (the oldest AVA in Michigan and 3rd oldest in ALL the U.S.) is smaller than Alto-Adige and the soil is primarily sandy and infertile.  (Grapes grown on fertile soil – encouraging leaf vigor and vine growth – will not make for good wine while deep sand encourages root growth).  So important is this that despite Fennvile being its own AVA within the larger Lake Michigan Shores AVA (of SW Michigan) its unique topography (and distinct AVA classification) acknowledges the large sand ridge (and higher elevation) extending inland from Lake Michigan between the Black River and the Kalamazoo River Valleys. Fenn Valley Vineyards and Winery was the first such classified in Fennville and remains the only such classified vineyard today. 

Despite being within the larger Lake Michigan Shore AVA to the south, its unique topological character and cooler temperature provides for wines with a different personality. (Think all the sub-AVAs within NAPA/Sonoma counties and why particular varietals are chosen to be sited there). Naturally, Fenn Valley works to match the most appropriate varietals with their unique environment and growing conditions and has been doing so since their founding in 1973, making changes along the way.  But before going on (there are other sources for this) about the history of Michigan’s AVAs, let’s talk about this wine: Pinot Grigio.

Brian (L)
It’s whole cluster pressed.  Why?  Brian Lesperance winemaker, V.P.) told me he wanted to reduce skin contact. Whole berry processing emphasizes light and delicate fruit characteristics.  The wine sees no oak, instead being 100% stainless steel fermented.  “The emphasis is in trying to bring out the fruit flavors and aromatics and nothing else.”

Pale lemon-green in the glass, the nose presents (for me) salinity, wet stone, kefir lime, then floral notes of lime blossom and a very delicate vegetative note that adds a savory quality. For me, that speaks Alto-Adige Italian. And while every palate is different, I was struck that others referred to this wine offering tastes of ripe peach and pear, which indicates grapes grown in a warmer climate. It was the wine’s citrus character: Lime – soft, not bitter, dry and with a mouthwatering acidity dominating a hint of lemon that kept me coming back to experience the bottle’s contents.

This contrast in opinion is interesting because Pinot Grigio in the minerally-citrus style is what cool climate PG is all about, while the stone fruit style traditionally defines a warmer grown climate in this varietal.  But most interesting is that everyone tasting Fenn Valley’s PG found it delicious regardless of their tasting notes.  As for me, I’ll hold with this wine being in the Italian style. Still, I wonder, is this a wine for all people?  I don’t know, but with a price of $14, you might want to host your own tasting experience and find out. 

…………….. Jim

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Fenn Valley Vineyards, the only vineyard/winery within the Fenn Valley sub-AVA (Est 1981) benefits from their placement high atop a sandy ridge. The vineyards are sloped so that denser, cold air drains off on colder nights. This prevents vine-killing frosts while still assuring grapes make for wine with a crisp character due to acidity. This placement (site selection) also provides for longer “hang time” assuring ripeness of the berries without “cooking” the grapes. The AVAs within Michigan are unique although Fenn Valley Vineyards will, at times, label their wines with the larger “Lake Michigan Shore” appellation (Est 1983) because it is better known.  Lake Michigan Shore, as an AVA, is Michigan’s largest and holds 90% of Michigan’s vineyards.

Fenn Valley makes several wines. I have written about several of them on my Facebook page (Wine Mizer) and in this blog. For more information about their wines, visit their website:

6130 122nd Avenue
Fennville, MI 49408
(269) 561-2396
(800) 432-6265
Near the resort area of Saugatuck, Michigan and an easy drive from Chicago or Holland Michigan as well.

I particular enjoy their Rieslings, Chardonnay and cool grown Cabernet Franc (with the Cab Franc reminding me of those from the Loire Valley – Chinon).

Varietal:                  Pinot Grigio 100%
                                Whole Cluster Pressed
                                Steel Fermented
pH:                         3.22
TA:                        .58 g/L
ALC:                      13.2% (12% per label)
The 2016 Vintage won GOLD at the 2017 Michigan Wine Competition.



"Wine offers a greater range for enjoyment and appreciation than possibly any other purely sensory thing which may be purchased." --- Ernest Hemingway

“Don Ernesto” (as Hemingway was called by the Spanish) spent time travelling throughout that country to cover the civil war as a reporter for The Alliance after arriving there in 1937.  No doubt, he knew that the wine grape we call Mourvedre was known there as Monastrell. 

Monastrell is a thick-skinned grape, and the third most important (5th most planted grape) in Spain where this wine is made.  As I’ve often said, Spain is bargain priced - especially for those looking to areas other than Rioja and varieties other than Tempranillo.  And before that comment begins a heated one-way exchange, I should explain that I’ve enjoyed (and still do) Bodegas Muga Prado Enea Gran Reserva (from Rioja and made from Tempranillo), their “Seleccion Especial” and other labels and many other wines from Rioja. But as Merlot is to Cabernet Sauvignon, Monastrell is to Tempranillo, meaning only they are both black grapes, they both belong to vitis vinifera, they each make good wine, but they’re different.  And it is that difference that keeps things interesting.

Like Cab with its thick skin, Monastrell can throw tannins.  It can also contribute acidity.  Whether you call it Mourvedre (as in France) or Monastrell, that’s why it’s so frequently used in red blends.  But I love the varieties. And I love when they are rendered unblended, or at least, not so blended as to lose their unique personality in the process.

That brings us to Tarima  With an ARP of less than $10, that’s a difference in itself.  Lots of Monastrell is made in Spain.  Most of it good.  But at under $10, one wonders?  Don’t. At this price point., it’s one of the best wines I’ve tasted.  Said another way:  It tastes higher than priced.  Much.

Brandied plum, minty dark chocolate, black currant on the nose. A hint of licorice and violet.  The wine is silky with well-managed, though evident, tannins and, up-front, announces black cherry.  The palate then is greeted with contributions of ripe black plum, vanilla and – on the finish – coffee.  Other tasters refer to toast and leather, with floral aromas and notes of grass on the nose.   Still others refer to blueberries and raspberries with notes of crushed chalk; another – blackberry with a “meaty” note.  I got “oak” but another “smoke” (same thing?).  Regardless, all the oak used in aging this wine is used and neutral wood.  Regardless again, this wine is obviously complex. And to think I found it at $8.99 only makes me regret I didn’t buy more.

I was so impressed with the quality to price ratio of this wine, I did a little checking.  Seems Bodegas Volver Tarma has a history of being awarded scores in the 90s for many years.  This one earned 91 from Robert Parker.  James Suckling gave it 92 points for the 2016.  Of course, I didn’t know that when I bought the wine.  I didn’t know that when I tasted the wine.  But I knew it tasted like it deserved such scores however.  And that it did so under $10 affirms that this wine is a value among a country of values.

Pair it with grilled beef or sausage, lamb kabobs or braised short ribs.  The short ribs remind me that many people enjoy this wine with acidic red sauced pasta dishes and pizza.  The best pairing, however, will be found in buying more than just one bottle of this wine.

……………… Jim

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Bodegas Volver
Country:              Spain
Region:                Levante, Murcia
Appellation:        Alicante (D.O.) S.E. Spain
Grape Varietal:   100% Monastrell
Aging:                 Used Oak and Stainless, 6 Months
ALC:                   14.5%
ARP:                   $9.00 U.S.
Imported By:       Garnacha Ltd. Bensenville, IL



“The best wine is that which tastes good to thine own palate.” Pliny the Elder, Roman Historian
“… but that depends on when you taste it.” ….. James McMillan

I had an opportunity to taste three different varietals of Santa Julia from Mendoza, Argentina, each being made 100% from the named varietal.  The occasion presented itself due to the winery and importer/marketer electing to change the bottles’ labels and the importer/marketer asking if I was interested in a tasting the wines. Looking to acknowledge a younger generation of consumers being more desirous of organically produced wines, Santa Julia chose to prominently feature the wording “Made with Organic Grapes” on the labels of those bottles.  Many vineyards/wineries practice organic viniculture, often because their location provides them an opportunity to do so.  Santa Julia in Mendoza, Argentina is one, though, I admit, not everyone …. not even most do so.  Santa Julia has been certified as an organic winery since 2001.  They produce a selection of entry-label organically produced wines suitable for everyday enjoyment, priced friendly to one’s budget, as well as reserve and other varietals.

The new labels are now featured on all five of Santa Julia Organica wines: Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Tempranillo and a Malbec rose. (The website for Santa Julia also refers to Torrontes, and a Sangiovese/Bonarda blend).   My own impression is that these budget friendly wines, made without intervention of wood, are geared also to today’s consumers who prefers lighter, more casually enjoyed wines (but that’s only my impression).   Aside from the marketing material, or the “read” on today’s consumer (a most difficult undertaking), or focus groups, or the graphic design experts that advise on labeling impact, my concern has always been involved with what’s inside the bottle.

I had concerns.  But they were allayed.

I “get” that their 2018 CHARDONNAY is made without oak.  No oak fermentation.  No oak aging. No staves. Not even chips.  Pure, clean, zesty Chardonnay.  Lots of people prefer it.  Sure, I enjoy both oaked and steel styles, but respect there are people that are entrenched firmly in each camp.  I want some oak with certain seafood and lobster, but if you don’t, why should that bother me?   Besides, French oak costs money. Aging in oak costs money (storage is rent is more expense is more price). Chardonnay aged in steel with no intervention costs less and makes sense for some of today’s consumers, especially those looking for lighter, “cleaner” less influenced wines.  I found it zesty with lime citrus dominant and a crisp finish. Tasting three wines, I vacuum pumped and sealed the bottle for another day’s tasting.  Most impressive?  The wine held up remarkably. The citrus softened on day 2 and 3; became creamier and incorporated some lemon. Would pair well with oysters, but not on the shell.  Better balanced against Oysters Rockefeller with the lime balancing the Pernod.  Want to keep it simple?  This wine would work beautifully against a herb roasted chicken.  Tasters commented also on the wine offering aromas of green apple, pear and pineapple. 
TECHS:  ALC: 14%, TA:  6.0 g/L   RS: 3.50 g/L   

CABERNET SAUVIGNON 2017: (Lighter colored in the glass than what you would expect from a Cab).  Raspberry, cassis, green pepper and plum on the nose.  The red plum and raspberry carry on to the palate joined with notes of cherry.  Other tasters get sweet, candied prune.  With skin maceration for 10 days, and no oak, this (for me) is a light Cab that wine drinkers preferring a lighter-styled, easy drinking red might find appropriate especially in hotter weather and at casual picnics and barbeques.  Heretical, perhaps, but so light, you may want to serve slightly chilled. 
TECHS:  ALC: 13.5%   TA: 5.70 g/L   RS: 4 g/L   Skin Maceration 10 Days   

MALBEC 2017:  Is there a “bad” Malbec from Mendoza – even at $12?  Darker in the glass than the Cab,   this thick-skinned grape offers more body despite it not being oak aged or fermented. Frankly, I didn’t expect much. Frankly, I was surprised.  Opened (twist-off) and poured, it was Malbec.  But what amazed me was how this inexpensive wine held up; actually getting better overnight and even into the day following.  All the fruit softened and rounded and came forward but balanced and pleasingly so. While I would certainly acknowledge that it was drinkable immediately, I have to say I was blown away by how enjoyable it became over the days. And I found it amazing that the wine was not aged in oak – further destroying my pre-conceived view (always a pleasure and a learning opportunity).  Ripe, red plum, raisin, fig, medium bodied and simply very tasty.
TECHS:  ALC: 13.5%   TA: 5.5 g/L    RS:  4.0 g/L   Skin Maceration 10 Days

ETC:  Grapes are from 100% Certified Organic Vineyards in Maipu.  Produced & Bottled by Bodega Santa Julia    http://www.santajulia.com.ar/en/     Other Vineyards in Valle de Uco and Santa Rosa.

Imported By: Winesellers, Ltd. Niles, IL. (USA)      http://www.winesellersltd.com/     Bodega Santa Rosa produces also Merlot, Syrah, Tempranillo, Sauvignon Blanc and other wines in both Reserve and non-Reserve labeling and others not identified as organic.  

…………….. Jim

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“What Tom Rochioloi does with Pinot Noir is like what Michelangelo did with chapels.” .... James McMillan

Then again, Luis Fernando Olaverri, said, Wine is the only art work you can drink.” And someone, long ago said, “If the shoe fits,” but I’m getting carried away.  What’s relevant here is that I’m a Francophile, brought up, in the 60s, on the Burgundy of the Cote d’Or (when it was less pricey and I didn’t so much concern myself with what I was spending on wine).  Old world vs new, with the lines drawn decades ago based then on availability as much as anything else.  But then I went to Oregon’s Willamette Valley and subsequently to California (twice) and met with Tom Rochioli.  I’ve been a committed fan of Rochioli Vineyards and Winery since I first visited an met with Tom Rochioli in October of 2012.
Rochioli has estate vineyards in Russian River Valley, its own AVA within Sonoma California and produces estate and single vineyard estate wines. From Chardonnay to Sauvignon Blanc to Valdiguie (a good wine to blind taste with a SOMM or WSET graduate to see if she/her can identify the varietal – hint: it’s like a cru Beaujolais).  But it’s his Pinot Noir that amazes me.  Estate or Single vineyard (there are several) the Pinot Noir from this place continues to entice, thrill and amaze.  And, yes, even when his Pinot Noir is rendered as a rose, I am drawn into it; wanting to continue tasting to better understand what I’m experiencing.  Not “new world,” or “old,” it’s a mélange of the best of both. Fruit is evident, but always reserved and handled gracefully.
In the glass, the rose presents as medium-plus rose. And its nose is complex, especially for a rose: Fresh sea breeze, chalk, white peach and strawberry hulls, cherry, sweet floral notes, watermelon hard-candy. Fruit is opposed by chalk and minerality: a see-saw of interest enticing one to sip and verify first impression.  But it doesn’t stop there.  On the palate: contrasting notes: watermelon, cherry, vanilla but citrus opposes. The wine is dry, but fruity, sweet (just somewhat from the fruit) but tart in its finish. The finish is long, again – especially – for a rose. Cherry is forward, but tart and clean. Some white pepper announces on the finish balanced by strawberry balanced by tart cranberry. 
Don't Just Look At The Glass
Look INTO It.
The wine is a “Flying Wallenda” of balance with a constant see-saw of opposing notes that makes for an interesting experience. Fruit opposes tartness and minerality but the finish is always cleansing and, in that sense, “old world.”  Like a Provence, but not – weightier. 
Perhaps it is that balances that so attracts me to the wines of Rochioli Vineyards. The mystery in his wines that keeps unfolding and involving me in tasting more and continuing to do so.  It is “art that you can drink”.  The shoe fits.  And I am unabashed in my admiration.
It’s most certainly a food friendly wine with its acidity.  Perfect for picnics with cold fried chicken at the beach or on the deck and patio with summer’s lighter foods. I’ve enjoyed it with simple salads and chicken kabobs. It could easily be appreciated with a charcuterie or a chilled pasta salad, goat cheeses, some grilled fish (Salmon, Opah). Having the acidity of a white, but the fruitiness of a red, pair this wine against a grilled (Italian) cheese sandwich.  
Salad With Strips Of Grilled Chicken
Breast, Watermelon Radish and
Dried Raspeberry
Chicken Kabobs, Zucchini with
Stewed Tomatoes and Parmesan Reggiano


…………………. Jim
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Rochioli Vineyards & Winery
6193 Westside Rd
Healdsburg, CA 95448

Avg Age of Vines:                             18 Years
Drinkable:                                          2-3 Years With Proper Conditions
Fermentation:                                 \   Steel, Temperature Controlled 62F
                                                           30 Days, 30 Days Malolactic Complete
                                                            No Skin Contact
TA:                                                     .62
PH:                                                     3.45
RS:                                                     0.1%
ALC:                                                 14%
WHOLE CLUSTER PRESSING and FREE RUN PINOT NOIR JUICE from Estate grapes with traditionally produced, barrel aged Pinot Noir added back in for color.
Cases Produced:                               308
Picked:                                                 Sept. 2017
Bottled:                                                                Jan. 17, 2017
For information on other Rochioli wines, see:
For Their Sauvignon Blanc
For its (single vineyard Pinot Noir)

Production is limited. For availability, you may need to ask your retailer to order a sample bottle.  Exclusive agent in the U.S. is Terlato Wines




“More important than food pairing is the person with whom you drink the wine.” …. Christian Moueix

If you can take a French grape from Cahors, France that was better received in Mendoza, Argentina and make it so well in Sonoma County, California --- you got me! 

This bottle of 2010 Rodney Strong Vineyards “Dry Creek Valley” (single vineyard) Malbec slipped through the cracks of my racks so to speak. Would it still be good? Rodney Strong is the vineyard/winery that makes, after all, one of my all-time favorite red blends: “Symmetry” (from Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Merlot, Petit Verdot & Cabernet Franc) and which consistently is awarded 90 and more points. And then too, many of their other wines are also highly awarded. So, was the wine still good? No, it was VERY good. And with an ARP of $30, it scores as a “value bottle.”

The wine was awarded DOUBLE GOLD at the 2013 San Francisco Wine Competition, but that was five years ago. That this wine held up so precisely since is a strong endorsement not from a critic but from simple fact. On the nose, a basket of black fruit and spice. It’s a lush, rich wine packed with black raspberry, black cherry, blackcurrant, black plum and blueberry. The black cherry fights for dominance in its long finish joined with chocolate and baking spice. But the baking spice had me anyway and just at the nose. So seductive, you can’t help but be drawn in to tasting this Malbec. Not as tannic or rustic as many from the grape’s birthplace (though I still enjoy them), I have to say Strong’s Malbec, at its price point, is also richer and deeper with fruit than many from Mendoza. That all this gets accomplished without losing balance or without becoming jammy is another endorsement.

Research conducted, in part, by UC Davis compared the phenolic composition of Malbecs from Mendoza, Argentina and California in the U.S. and concluded there were distinct compositional differences accounting for different tastes in these wines of the same varietal. My first response was “Duh, you think?” I think I got it right, even without the benefit of a study, by saying Strong’s Malbec was less rustic than Cahors while also being less jammy than some from Argentina. Of course, it made me feel good having my palate confirmed by a formal study, and UC Davis has contributed much for the industry; in fact for anyone drinking wine.  But most important here is the lesson learned: If you’ve settled on a varietal from one particular area, keep trying new ones.  Your best friend (other than a corkscrew) in wine education is a willingness to try.

After tasting, I just had to grill some veggies and a skirt steak. Enjoyed it with gnocchi & freshly made basil pesto, garden tomatoes and Lima beans. My only regret? That I don’t have more bottles of Rodney Strong Malbec. Look for current vintages (2013 & 2014 Reserve & and 2015 Dry Creek Valley).   Alc: 15.5%.

………………. Jim
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Rodney Strong Vineyards
11455 Old Redwood Hwy
Healdsburg, CA 95448

For information on Rodney Strong’s “Brother’s Ridge” Cabernet Sauvignon, see:


“Wine is the only art work you can drink.” ……  Luis Fernando Olaverri

My new favorite “slow food” is a grain (which I shouldn’t eat and haven’t for several years). But it’s so tasty, I can’t resist treating myself to a small portion occasionally: Organic brown basmati and wild rice cooked in chicken broth with diced dried apricot and cranberry added and, later, slivered almonds. Crunchy, sweet, savory – it’s got everything going for it. Paired it with a mix of shrimp, shallot, sweet onion, garlic and red bell pepper grilled stove top in walnut oil and served over grilled fresh pineapple then served it all with snap peas.

The wine?  A 2014 (estate bottled from old vines) Weingut Nik Weiss - St. Urbans-Hof Riesling from the Mosel Region in Germany. For me, Riesling from the Mosel is what best expresses the grape and German Rieslings offer tremendous value. The ARP is just $17, but look for current vintages. That year is no longer on the shelves. Production quality, however, is consistent from St Urbans-Hof. Consider that Nik Weiss (3rd generation winemaker) took over the winery in 1997 and by 2000, the estate became a member of the prestigious VDP (Association of German Praedikcat Estates). Then consider that the age of vines he uses in his estate wines are at least 60 years of age.

Deep lemon in the glass, the wine’s nose offers creamed lemon and butterscotch contrasted against some chalkiness (a nice and unusual trick) and orange blossom. Pumped and saved for the next day, the nose offered the added note of petrol and elderflower. Riesling can develop notes of petrol when aged, but with this wine being only four years from vintage, it was a genuine treat. Lemon on the palate – not sharp, more like lemon curd. Semi dry, the wine worked beautifully against the sweetened dried cranberry in the rice. Lime blossoms add delicacy. Acidity makes it all crisp toward the finish that adds a hint of pineapple. What a balancing act!

The trend in Riesling is for dry wines (Troken) and I enjoy them.  But trends don’t always suit the circumstance.  While not dry, this St. Urbans-Hof is not sweet either.  It’s not even semi-sweet.  Cleansing the palate with a crisp finish, and best described as off-dry, it truly is an art work that can be enjoyed in the glass. Pair with any moderately spiced dish.

…………………….. Jim

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ALC:                             9.5%
Imported By:               Hb Wine Merchants (NY NY)
Wine Spectator           91 Points
Wine Enthusiast          89 Points                                    


“If you want to start an argument in the wine world – and believe me, it’s not hard to do – all you have to do is mention the word terroir.”…..  Eric Asimov, The New York Times

If every place was the same, they would be no need to travel, but it would be very crowded here.  Or would it be there?  Terroir is a French term and it refers to the specificity of place. Terroir Includes all those environmental conditions that lend themselves toward making a wine with a different flavor nuance. The soil, climate, topography – really all and every of the environmental factors that contribute to the vine’s production.  That is why the French (and others) do not name wine after the grape, but rather its place of origin.  The grape we know as Sauvignon Blanc may be labeled, if French, as Sancerre, Graves, Pouilly Fume, Pessac-Leognan, Entre-Deux-Mere … well, you get the point.

When it comes to Albarino, let’s assume that if Spain is the capital of wine for you, Rias Baixas is the capital of Albarino.  It is from that sense of place, unlike any other on the planet, that defines Albarino: a white wine that is crisp, is born for summer’s enjoyment, is food friendly, and may be compared to Sauvignon Blanc, but is different – of course – because it is a different grape and makes a different wine.  Albarino is so well received, that while not an officially recognized “international;” grape, it is made worldwide.  The best, however, always has and remains being that made from Rias Biaxis on Spain’s NW coast.

The Galician coast is exposed to the Atlantic Ocean and benefits from a cool maritime climate. Summer daytime temperatures (24 degrees C) average 74 degrees F.  Winters are mild. The whole of the region is known as “Green Spain” because conditions are cooler and wetter than otherwise in Spain, resembling Ireland with its rocky coasts and hillsides covered in green.  The best-known wines of Galicia come from Rias Baixas, a single D.O. broken up into five non-contiguous areas.  Soil throughout Rias Baixas is granite bedrock and alluvial topsoil with concentrations of sand, silt and mineral providing for excellent drainage.  Mild temperatures throughout summer allow grapes to ripen slowly assuring a wine that retains acidity and makes Albarino extremely food friendly.

I’ve enjoyed the Albarino of Rias Baixas for decades and would have to work very hard at finding one that wasn’t a “4-Star Value”.  Today, I re-tasted an Altos de Torona’s “Triple 3”, called such because it is a blend of Albarino, Loureiro and Caino Blanco.  Altos comes from the sub-D.O. of Rosal in the south of Rias Baixas and is located adjacent to where the Minho River meets the

Atlantic.  Vineyards are located 6.2 miles from the ocean and 2.1 miles from the river and on terraced vineyards planted on the slope of Mount Galelo about mid-point at 200-350 meters (656-1148 feet) above sea level. This well thought out location protects the vines from the mists and excess moisture of the valley floor while also sheltering them from the extreme cold at the summit.  With a southerly aspect, vines absorb excellent sunshine, while ripening slowly and developing phenolic character (otherwise known as “yummy flavonoids”).                                                                                                  

When it comes to yummy flavonoids, this Albarino based blend excels in both taste and value.  Deep lemon in the glass, the nose is enticing and complex:  You’ll put off immediately tasting the wine just to continue to enjoy its aromas. Honeysuckle, lemon crème (as in a meringue pie) orange peel, lychee, and an undertone of lavender.

The texture is creamy. Citrus is initially soft but builds intensity throughout while never becoming awkward. This is a refined and graceful approach with everything in balance.  On the palate, expect to enjoy a mélange of apricot, lychee, and pineapple.  A dry wine, yet creamy and rich, it finishes cleanly. Tasting it again over a span of two hours, I enjoyed added notes of orange as the wine warmed in the glass. Notes of dried green tea. And most surprising: banana!  The finish is medium to medium plus. 

There’s the saying, “If it grows together, it goes together.”  And in Galicia, sea food rules.  I paired this wine with Spanish cheeses and olives.  Grilled vegetables are an excellent companion.  A platter of shellfish with grilled oranges went excellently.  Before you consider that splurging on shellfish would kill the budget, consider the ARP for this wine is just $13-$14.  Then consider the care that went into site selection for these Albarino wines of Rias Baixas.  It’s an opportunity to enjoy the best of the varietal at budget friendly pricing: a gift of terroir.

……………. Jim

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TECH SPECS and etcetera:
(Bodegas) Altos De Torona                           http://www.altosdetorona.com/  (Spanish)                                          http://www.riasbaixaswines.com/winery/altos-de-torona/
Varietals:          Albarino (85%), Caino Blanco (10%) Loureita (5%)
Caino contributes citrus freshness to the blend along with mineral notes, tropical flavors and good structure. Loureiro offers aromas of orange and acacia blossom. Each varietal is harvested separately and matured over their lees, after fermentation, for 120 days (which explains the wine’s texture).
ALC:   13%
Imported By: Vinaio Imports, LTD., (Bronx, NY)                                           


“The moments of happiness we enjoy take us by surprise. It is not that we seize them, but that they seize us.”   …….   Ashley Montagu

Pouring wine has its upside.  For one, I need to taste the wines I’m sampling before I serve them.  But the best moments come in my tasting one of those wines that I would likely and otherwise never make the acquaintance of.  This happened recently when I was pouring four Ava Grace wines: A Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc, a Rose and a Red Blend.  Ava Grace Vineyards also produces Chardonnay and Merlot.  The four I poured were all soft, easy drinking and made for the American palate. The Rose and Red Blend were fruit forward, but not offensively so.  And the Red Blend offered an interesting and enticing mortar-mashed mix of brown spice.

Of those, I most liked the Sauvignon Blanc.  And that was a surprise because I generally don’t prefer Sauvignon Blanc produced domestically.  Those that I do invariably end up being high end, sometimes difficult to find and always expensive.

At an ARP of $8, this Ava Grace is embarrassingly inexpensive.  And the surprise continues.

What do you conclude about a wine when several of the people tasting it say they like the label because it is so beautiful?  And, worse, the back label is almost all “happy talk” with references to “The beautiful word AVA means life and we believe in wine that promises Grace in every glass.”  Then there’s: “…integrity, beauty and soul, so what you taste inspires happiness and serenity. Be grateful, be graceful, and taste the beauty.”  I hate happy talk.  As Joe Friday used to say in “Dragnet”, “Just the facts.”   But then there’s the web site.  Could be some hope there.  How is it vinified? How long?  Most of it I can now guess and get pretty close, but I prefer dealing in facts, not almost/pseudo/alternative facts.  And a winery’s website is straight – as they say - from the horse’s mouth and so can be trusted.  Except it too was all “happy talk.”  I hate happy talk!  There just has to be much in my DNA that makes me want to dislike this wine.

Except the wine itself.  Disregarding the happy talk and the “How cute is that” label, the wine is good.  Surprisingly good.  For you lovers of grapefruit and grass, it is not like a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc.  And it has nowhere near the minerality of a Sancerre.  But it also is not a substitute for sugar syrup, nor is it lopsided in taste or offering a taste so weak one wonders why one bothered?  (All which is a problem I encounter with some domestics). This is California juice, for sure, but to my palate there’s a respect paid to old world beliefs. 
 In fairness to the front label, it does refer to “Citrus, Floral, Refined” and it is the word “Refined” that best exemplifies what I intended by saying “old world beliefs.”  There is a cornucopia of both aromas and tastes in this wine, but overall, each is delicate.  It’s a stew with diced vegetables and protein, not large chewy chunks, and it doesn’t present anything out of balance. You will be able to discern all the elements you expect in Sauvignon Blanc but the surprise comes in appreciating the harmony of these hints melding together. In fact, it was done so well, I couldn’t help but like this wine.

 No wonder Wine Enthusiast said it was a “Best Buy” and Wine Spectator said it was a “Great Value.”   Let me repeat:  the ARP is $8.   For me, the nose was fresh, subtle and finessed with cooked herbs, lime crème, and then becoming more pungent with quince.  On the palate: creamy lime, tart apple, kiwi, quince; greener than an Albarino but with (for me) no grapefruit, though some gooseberry.  It’s soft and flavorful and has melon notes. There’s tropical fruit, though again as a mélange. Acidity is minimal, though it finishes crisply. Others pick up peach and grapefruit on the palate. It seems to be a wine with everything but tasting – as though looking – through your bride’s wedding veil. The mystery is still there. And that’s the surprise and, for me, the pleasantry.

It will not replace Sancerre in my racks (We all have our preferences) but I can see myself getting more bottles of AVA Grace Sauvignon Blanc.  Enjoy it as you would any other.  Reward yourself with a glass picnic-side or ending the day as the sun goes down. Live Gracefully! (there goes that “happy talk” again). And, for Jane and Bill, this is your Sauvignon Blanc for the Yacht Club.

…………….. Jim
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AVA Grace Vineyards
Livermore & Ripon CA.

ALC:                       13.5%
Ph:                           3.7
TA:                          6.7 g/L
RS:                          3.7 g/L
Material refers to “California’s Central Coast AVA”.  The label, however, identifies “California” as its appellation.