You may or may not know that Chile has the perfect environment for growing grapes. On the eastern border, the north/south-running Andes Mountain range separates Chile from Argentina, acting as a barrier from the interior heat and providing cool mountain air. While on the western side, the coastal influence from the Pacific Ocean and the Humboldt Current also act as mitigating factors, bringing in cool ocean breezes that run through the Chile's river valleys. While Chile has a warm, Mediterranean climate, these influences bring coolness, balancing the heat and providing a suitable climate for growing a range of grapes across the terroirs of this long strip of land.
In Chile’s Central Valley wine-growing region, there are four sub-appellations, one of which is the Maule Valley—and it is one of the largest and most historical appellations in all of Chile. While the Central Valley has an overall warm climate, the Maule Valley tends to be a bit cooler than the other more northerly sub-appellations in this region, giving Maule Valley wines more acidity and freshness. Such is the case for the wines of Alcance.
Alcance was established in the early 1990s when Jackson Family Wines first came to Chile. Spearheaded by Jess Jackson, Randy Ullom was brought on board to help oversee the wine portfolio in 1993 (later promoted to Winemaster in 1997), and Chilean-born Winemaker Andres Sanchez joined the team in 1994. You may know of Sanchez through his work with Vigno—an organization dedicated to promoting old vine Carignan in Chile.
Speaking of Vigno, Alcance’s 2013 Vigno Carignan from old vines that are dry farmed was the most interesting wine that I tasted from the Alcance collection. I enjoy the meaty and savory quality of the aromatics that are so evident right away, hovering above the glass. Deep and complex, the nose unfolds with floral aromas, peppered meat, black pepper, plum and raspberry. In the mouth, the wine expresses a lot of structure and freshness, with gentle tannin. It is soft on entry, though becomes more angular and dry on the mid-palate; then, it finishes dry with tannin, spice-filled fruit and a ton of black pepper that lingers on the finish. In the glass, dried cherries abound and the fruit feels lively, expansive and open. This is a well-made Vigno and simply put, a very enjoyable wine.
Carmenère is a grape you may already likely associate with Chile, as it has sort of transformed itself from the frumpy stepchild of Bordeaux to the beautiful Cinderella of Chile. In the Maule Valley, Carmenère has certainly found a true home in its expressive and spice-filled profile. Alcance’s 2014 Carmenère shows soft and gentle aromatics of spiced red fruit, white pepper and a touch of meatiness; there are also some aromas of vanilla and cocoa, alongside gravel and warm soil. This wine certainly has a complex aromatic profile… one that keeps unfolding as the wine sees air. On the palate, this Carmenère enters the mouth softly, but still with a tannic grip that keeps your palate on its toes. Spiced plums and red fruit lead to a meaty finish, with some notes of dark chocolate. There is a lot of structure here, with some noticeable angles, but those characteristics begin to soften up after an hour or two open. I recommend decanting this wine for about an hour to let the wine soften and fully shine in its red-fruited and spiced profile.
The 2014 Merlot is a different, but equally as enjoyable wine. Aromas of vanilla, sweet baking spice, red cherry, dark chocolate, sweet tobacco leaf and wet clay make for an enchanting aromatic profile. As expected, this Merlot is very silky, but still shows medium tannin and freshness. There are soft red cherry and black plum flavors, in addition to barrel-aged characteristics like vanilla and sweet baking spices. This wine has a very easygoing texture and soft drinkability to it, with that sweet tobacco flavor lingering nicely on the finish. This is a classy Merlot from Chile.
There’s almost nothing better than sipping on good wine while enjoying the sunshine in summertime. Am I right? Well, if you’re like me and love music almost as much as you love wine, then you know that good wine and sunshine in the summertime is even better with live music. This is the sentiment for the Rodney Strong Summer Concert Series. As the name suggests, it is a summer-long event that brings musicians to an outdoor stage at the Rodney Strong estate in Healdsburg. For 26 years, Rodney Strong Vineyards has been bringing famous names to the stage, wowing guests with musical performances.
On Saturday, July 23rd, Smokey Robinson put on a fantastic show on the outdoor stage at Rodney Strong Vineyards. With doors opening at 4pm and the show starting at 5pm, guests arrived early and settled in with their picnic blankets and baskets. Bountiful bottles of Rodney Strong wine were poured and local food purveyors offered tasty bites from their trucks. For Wine Club members, catered tasty bites were paired alongside a wide array of whites and reds from the Rodney Strong Vineyards wine collection. And all while enjoying the fantastic food and wonderful wine, guests watched the showmanship and talent of Smokey Robinson. A true musical legend, singing hits like Quiet Storm and Tracks of My Tears, Robinson had everyone on their feet and having a great time.
Char-grilled vegetables and a healthy, goat-cheese infused potato salad were served alongside Wagyu beef burgers and sweet/sour chicken wings in the Wine Club lounge. The vegetables had a nice char and were served cold, which was an excellent choice, given the 97* heat that day. I enjoyed the healthy approach to the potato salad, with its fresh herbs and goat cheese combination giving a lot of flavor, without all of the richness that a mayo-based potato salad brings. Before even knowing the burger was Wagyu beef, I noticed how juicy the burger was; with sweet crunchy pickles and all the fixings, this burger was packed with a ton of flavor. The sweet/sour chicken wings sure did leave my fingers sticky, but the chicken was very tender and flavorful, so it was definitely worth the nibble.
As for the wines, a real crowd-pleaser was the 2015 Charlotte’s Home Sauvignon Blanc, which was oh-so refreshing under the hot afternoon sun. Fresh and zippy on the palate, this white wine was full of green melon and lemon fruit flavors, with a ton of spice. The wine was 90% cold fermented in stainless steel tanks with no malolactic fermentation, and the remaining 10% was barrel fermented in French oak with malolactic fermentation—leaving a fresh and crisp style that was perfectly suited for the day’s weather.
From the handful of reds that I tasted, I enjoyed the 2013 Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, which is also from the Estate Vineyards collection. This Cabernet comes from a much-lauded vintage and was aged for 18 months in French oak barrels, showing fruit-forward aromatics of plum and black cherry. On the palate, the wine is dry with medium tannin and flavors of dark chocolate-covered cherries. The fruit is nicely restrained here and there is a lot of structure; the wine feels angular in the mouth while still possessing a soft texture that develops with time in the glass. This wine is open and expressive, making for an easygoing and enjoyable tasting experience.
Every once in awhile I receive an unexpected sample from a region with which I don’t have a lot of familiarity. This was the case with Stinson Vineyards in Virginia. Of course, I was curious because I have not tasted very many wines from this part of the country.
Doing a bit of research on Stinson Vineyards, I learned that the small family estate is situated in Virginia’s Blue Ridge wine-growing region near its namesake Blue Ridge Mountains, located on the western side of the state. In the Blue Ridge region and spread across the other wine-growing regions in the state, new vineyards have been planted and new wineries have been established over the last thirty or so years. There are more than 250 wineries now throughout the state.
Stinson Vineyards was formed in 2009 with the purchase of the property. On the estate, the Piedmont House is the historic icon of the property. It was originally built in 1796 and is now surrounded by vineyards, the sites of which were originally planted with vines as long as forty years ago. Although the vineyard was out of commission for a while, Viticulturist and Vineyard Consultant, Lucie Morton, helped the Stinsons bring the vineyards back to life with new plantings in 2009. Seven of the original twelve acres have been replanted with Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Petit Manseng, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Tannat. Along with grapes purchased from other regions in Virginia, Stinson crafts their wine collection in combination with the the grapes from this estate vineyard.
In the cellar, father Scott Stinson and daughter Rachel Stinson are inspired by traditional French techniques, implementing practices such as whole berry fermentation for their red wines and ageing on lees for their white wines. The winery itself was designed by Scott (who just so happens to be an architect) and built atop a three-car garage, hearkening to the concept of garagiste wines. Their quaint tasting room offers guests a chance to taste wines as well as shop their farm products, such as grass-fed beef, farm-raised pork and chicken, free range organic eggs, local produce and garden fresh herbs.
Currently, Stinson Vineyards offers a roughly 2,000-case collection of wines: for whites, a Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Vidal Blanc; a Rosé of Mourvédre; and for reds, a Cabernet Franc and Meritage blend. The two samples I received were of the two reds.
I enjoyed the straightforward and easy-going style of the 2013 Cabernet Franc. A bit shy on the initially herbal nose, with aromas of mint and faint black olive, spiced fruit and candied red cherry evolved with time. In the mouth, this Cabernet Franc is juicy and lighter bodied in a Loire Valley style, with a lot of spice on the mid-palate. There are hints of blue fruit coming through the red fruit nuances of this simple and enjoyable wine. The wine spent eight months in 20% new French oak and a small 175 cases were produced. Its gentle new oak restraint makes this wine very friendly for the dinner table.
The 2013 Meritage was a bit more rustic on the nose, with an almost brine-like, salty character. Much tastier on the palate, this Bordeaux blend composed of 33% Merlot, 25% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Petit Verdot and 17% Cabernet Franc was smooth and mouth-filling—a sign of that Merlot dominance. In the mouth, a bit of menthol-like, herbal flavors show just underneath the cherry and blueberry fruit. The wine spent 18 months in 30% new French oak and only 275 cases were made.
Tasting these wines was a welcomed introduction to Virginian reds.