Strong Value From a Tuscan Second Wine

Today’s Story: Orma

Orma is a relatively young wine estate, established in 2004 when it was purchased by Tenuta Sette Ponti owner Dr. Antonio Moretti. Situated in the district of Castagneto Carducci of Bolgheri DOC in the Italian region of Tuscany, Orma consists of 5.5 hectares (13.6 acres) of vineyards planted to Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Cabernet Franc. The first vintage was released in 2005 and received immediate praise, with some comparing it to the property’s neighbors of Sassicaia and Ornellaia. Orma has continued to increase in quality and reception over the years, and they released their second wine, Passi di Orma, during the exceptional 2015 vintage. Both wines are typically Merlot dominant, followed by Cabernet Sauvignon and ultimately Cabernet Franc.

Today’s Wine: 2018 Passi di Orma

40% Merlot, 35% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Cabernet Franc; 14% ABV

The 2018 Passi di Orma is medium ruby in color with hints of deep garnet at the rim. I decanted this for an hour and drank it over the following two hours. The aromas are of pronounced intensity, with the rather complex nose showcasing notes of blackberry, black plum, black cherry, strawberry rhubarb, blood orange rind, licorice, dried tobacco, smoked game, charred green herbs, coffee grounds, cedar, vanilla, and a pinch of cinnamon. There’s a slight funky aspect to the nose as well. Meanwhile the flavors are also of pronounced intensity and the palate offers up notes of blackberry, blueberry, spiced plum, black cherry, violet, licorice, sweet tobacco, charred green herbs, mocha, vanilla, baking spice, iron, and charred oak. This dry red blend is full-bodied with medium (+) acidity, medium (+) but velvety tannins, high alcohol, and a medium (+) length finish. Very good quality and quite surprisingly complex for a “second” wine.

Price: $30. This is an outstanding value in my opinion. Though it’s still young and needs the time in a decanter now, this offers great intensity, length, and complexity for its price-point. Balance is pretty solid as well already, though it will improve with a couple more years of bottle age.

If this wine seems like something you might enjoy, you may find this link helpful in locating it.

Unclassed Bordeaux Offering Solid Value in the 2014 Vintage

Today’s Story: Château Gloria

Château Gloria is a “relatively” young Bordeaux wine estate, established piecemeal during the mid-1900s by Bordeaux native Henri Martin. Situated in the Left Bank appellation of Saint-Julien, Château Gloria today consists of 50 hectares (124 acres) and is planted to roughly 65% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Franc, and 5% Petit Verdot. Henri purchased his first six hectares (15 acres) in 1942, and expanded the estate over time by purchasing holdings from the likes of Beychevelle, Léoville-Poyferré, Gruaud-Larose, Léoville-Barton, and Ducru-Beaucaillou amongst others. Though Château Gloria is an unclassed estate thanks to its founding roughly a century after the Bordeaux Wine Official Classification of 1855, it is widely considered to be on par with classed growths today thanks to its quality and representation of the Saint-Julien appellation.

From a winemaking perspective, all fruit at Château Gloria is harvested by hand. Vinification occurs in temperature-controlled stainless steel tanks, which range in size from 50hl to 178hl. Once primary fermentation is complete, the wines are barreled down into French oak barrels of which 40% are new and malolactic fermentation occurs in barrel. After 14 months of aging, the wines are bottled and production of the Grand Vin is typically around 20,000 cases per vintage. Château Gloria also produces a second wine named Esprit de Gloria, which was previously known as Peymartin.

Today’s Wine: 2014 Château Gloria

Cabernet Sauvignon dominant Bordeaux blend; 13.5% ABV

The 2014 Château Gloria is deep garnet in color, almost deep ruby. I decanted this for about three hours though sampled it along the way. The aromas are of medium (+) intensity, with the nose showcasing notes of redcurrant, muddled strawberry, black cherry, blackcurrant, anise, rose, cigar box, forest floor, truffle, graphite, gravel, cedar spill, and vanilla. Meanwhile the flavors are also of medium (+) intensity, with a palate of blackberry, plum, blackcurrant, black cherry, licorice, tobacco, violet, charred green herbs, chocolate, vanilla, and baking spice. This dry red blend is medium- to full-bodied with medium (+) acidity, medium (+) tannins, medium alcohol, and a medium (+) length finish. Pretty good quality and a solid wine for the 2014 Bordeaux vintage.

Price: $50. This is a pretty fair price-point and offers decent value for dipping one’s toes into Bordeaux. I’ve been a huge fan of the 2014 Bordeaux vintage lately and this is no different, offering great balance and solid complexity after a bit of a decant. Should age nicely as well for at least another 5-7 years.

If this wine seems like something you might enjoy, you may find this link helpful in locating it.

Screaming Value From Bordeaux’s Côtes de Francs

Today’s Story: Château Marsau

Château Marsau is a family owned and operated wine estate located in Bordeaux’s Côtes de Francs, purchased by the Chadronnier family (who are principals in the large négociant CVGB) in 1994. Today the property consists of 14 hectares (34 acres) on red and grey clay soils, with the vineyards planted to Merlot which excels here. Anne-Laurence and Mathieu Chadronnier run the estate today, with Ann-Laurence spearheading winemaking and Mathieu overseeing sales. Meticulous attention to detail is the name of the game in both vineyards and cellar, with each vine and plot carefully managed individually throughout the growing season. In the cellar, each plot receives its own attention and ages in French oak separately, ensuring the identity of each unique plot is maintained. New oak percentage varies by vintage, though often hovers around the 25% mark, and a small percentage of the vintage matures in amphora for a year before bottling. The Château Marsau portfolio consists of three wines, the Grand Vin which I am reviewing today, their second wine named Prélude, and an additional bottling named Prairie.

Today’s Wine: 2018 Château Marsau

100% Merlot; 14.5% ABV

The 2018 Château Marsau is deep ruby in color. I decanted this for two hours and drank it over the following two hours or so. The aromas are of medium (+) intensity, offering up gorgeous notes of blackberry, redcurrant, cherry, red plum, blueberry, licorice, clay, charred green herbs, cedar spill, chocolate, and coffee beans. Meanwhile the flavors are also of medium (+) intensity, with the palate showcasing notes of black cherry, blackcurrant, blueberry, redcurrant, sweet tobacco, anise, fennel, iron, charred green peppercorn, mocha, and mild baking spice. This dry red is medium- to full-bodied with medium acidity, medium (+) and grippy tannins, high alcohol, and a medium (+) length finish. Very good quality and has the structure to age well for another five to ten years.

Price: $36. This is a great value for Bordeaux, particularly given its balance and complexity at such a young age. Château Marsau also only produced 20% of their normal yield during 2018, unfortunately due to disease as they shifted to organic farming.

If this wine seems like something you might enjoy, you may find this link helpful in locating it. If you’re lucky, you could even find this closer to $30.

Beautifully Aged Bordeaux in a Sweet Spot Right Now

Today’s Story: Château Léoville Las Cases

Château Léoville Las Cases is a historical Bordeaux estate ranked as a Second Growth (Deuxième Cru) in the Bordeaux Wine Official Classification of 1855. It is located in the appellation of Saint-Julien on the Left Bank. Though the estate used to be much larger and is one of the oldest in the Médoc, it was split up between 1826 and 1840 as a result of the French Revolution and came into the Las Cases family as 3/5 the size of the original estate. Luckily for the family, however, their land made up the heart of the domain and therefore consists of the original terroir back to the 17th century. Las Cases was managed by the same family through the 19th century, moving by inheritance through Pierre Jean, Adolphe, and Gabriel de Las Cases until Théophile Skawinski bought a stake in 1900 to become the manager. Today, Jean-Hubert Delon is the sole owner with the family coming in during the mid-20th century.

The estate today consists of 98 hectares (242 acres) of vineyards planted to roughly 66% Cabernet Sauvignon, 24% Merlot, 9% Cabernet Franc, and 1% Petit Verdot. The soil is classic Left Bank, made up of gravel over gravelly sand and gravelly clay subsoils. The heart of the property is the 55 hectare (136 acre) Grand Clos, where vines average an age of 52 years and farming is nearly 100% organic. The Grand Clos is walled-in and borders Château Latour to the north as well.

Winemaking is largely traditional at Léoville Las Cases, beginning with manual harvest and moving to fermentation in temperature-controlled wood, concrete, or stainless steel vats of varying size and age. Malolactic fermentation occurs in vat, and then the wines are blended before moving into French oak barrels for 18-20 months of aging. Come bottling, the wines are fined using egg whites and production of the Grand Vin is around 15,000 to 16,700 cases depending on vintage.

I previously wrote about the 1961, 1986, and 1990 (which I’ll be revisiting today) Château Leoville-Las Cases.

Today’s Wine: 1990 Château Leoville Las Cases

43% Cabernet Sauvignon, 29% Merlot, 21% Cabernet Franc, 7% Petit Verdot; 13.25% ABV

The 1990 Château Leoville-Las Cases is deep garnet in color. I decanted this for an hour, both for some mild sediment and per the winery’s recommended time. The aromas are of pronounced intensity and the complex nose showcases notes of redcurrant, black cherry, cassis, graphite, cigar box, pencil shavings, smoked meat, forest floor, truffle, green bell pepper, underbrush, eucalyptus, and clove. Flavors are also of pronounced intensity, with an equally complex palate of black cherry, redcurrant, blueberry, cigar tobacco, leather, gravel, forest floor, earthy mushroom, charred green herbs, green peppercorn, and a touch of cinnamon. This dry red is medium- to full-bodied with medium (+) acidity, medium (+) but super fine-grained tannin, medium alcohol, and a medium (+) length finish. Superb.

Price: $475 (we paid $340). The going market rate on this wine is tougher to discuss on a value perspective, though I think the price we paid is well worth it. I reviewed this same wine two years ago, with this bottle showing more complexity but equally great balance. For the depth, balance, and complexity of this wine at its age it is truly a memorable bottle.

A Fix of Realm for the 2020 Vintage

Today’s Story: Realm Cellars

Realm Cellars was founded in 2002 with a focus on producing high-quality, limited production Bordeaux blend and single vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon wines. Co-Founder Juan Mercado left his role as a hospital administrator in San Francisco to pursue working in the wine industry and, until recently, Realm sourced their fruit from historical, high-quality vineyards (like Dr. Crane, To Kalon, and Farella) rather than growing their own. Though Juan is no longer with Realm, the winery is spearheaded by Managing Partner Scott Becker and their excellent winemaker Benoit Touquette. Michel Rolland consults for the project as well.

One of my favorite aspects of Realm (more a “that’s really cool” kind of thing) is their inspiration from Shakespeare. For example, the title of my blog post on the 2016 The Bard starts the line “This blessed plot, this earth, this realm” from Shakespeare’s Richard II, a line noted on every bottle of Realm wine, on their corks, and highlighted on the label of The Bard. Realm’s Bordeaux blends include The Tempest, named for the violent storm and play thought to be one of Shakespeare’s last; Falstaff, named for the fat, vain, boastful, and cowardly knight present in four of Shakespeare’s plays for comic relief; and of course The Bard, named for Shakespeare himself. Each wine highlights a particular variety, ranging from Merlot to Cabernet Franc to Cabernet Sauvignon, respectively.

As far as their single vineyard wines go, Realm produces Farella (100% Cab), Houyi (100% Cab), Beckstoffer Dr. Crane (95% Cab, 5% Petit Verdot), Beckstoffer To Kalon (100% Cab), Moonracer (Cab dominant blend), and a white wine called Fidelio (Sauvignon Blanc). As I mentioned in the beginning of this post, recently Realm started producing wine from their own fruit which is where Moonracer comes in. This wine comes from their vineyard on Wappo Hill in the Stags Leap District and is named for the Wappo Native Americans who were known for bravery, strength, and athleticism. The Wappos often took part in (and are said to have won most) inter-tribal races during a full moon, hence the name Moonracer.

I previously reviewed the 2016 The Bard, 2013 The Tempest, and 2019 Fidelio Sauvignon Blanc from Realm.

Today’s Wine: 2020 La Fe Rosé

90% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon; 13.9% ABV

The 2020 La Fe Rosé is pale copper in color. The aromas are of medium (+) intensity, with the nose showcasing notes of watermelon, white raspberry, white cherry, cantaloupe, rose petal, finely crushed stone, and a hint of underbrush. Meanwhile the flavors are also of medium (+) intensity and the palate offers up notes of white peach, strawberry, bing cherry, watermelon, rose water, white pepper, stony mineral, and green herbs on the finish. This dry rosé is medium- to full-bodied with medium acidity, high alcohol, and a medium (+) length finish.

Price: $75. This is quite pricey for a rosé, so there are certainly better “values” out there on a dollar-per-dollar basis. Nonetheless this is a delightful bottle of wine and one of few Merlot/Cabernet blended rosés that I truly enjoyed. This maintains a brightness while offering up nice mineral tones in a fairly deep presentation. Perfect to keep up my Realm fix for a very tough vintage.

Note: This is the only wine Realm made in the 2020 vintage, and it’s also their first rosé. Following the 2020 fires in the Napa Valley, Realm’s winemaking team made the decision to not risk producing their Cabernet Sauvignon wines due to risk of smoke taint and loss of fruit. This rosé was carefully made and monitored using very delicate winemaking practices from Farella and Moonracer fruit.

Boutique Chilean Project From a Rockstar Team

Today’s Story: Aristos

Aristos is a very small winemaking project dreamt up in 2003 by Chilean winemaker Francois Massoc, Chilean terroir expert Pedro Parra, and Burgundy legend Louis-Michel Liger-Belair of Vosne-Romanée. The idea for Aristos came about in a cellar in Vosne-Romanée, with the trio discussing their mutual admiration for terroir and the immense potential of Chile. While the initial idea was to pursue Pinot Noir winemaking in Chile, at the time this wasn’t possible given their knowledge of terroir so Aristos commenced with Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, and Merlot. The first commercial release was 2007, with 10 barrels of Barón (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Syrah) and 2 barrels of Duqueza Chardonnay. Over time Aristos grew to about 30 barrels per year (~750 cases) across three wines, and they planted their first Pinot Noir in 2011.

Today’s Wine: 2013 Barón d’A

74% Cabernet Sauvignon, 26% Merlot; 15% ABV

The 2013 Barón d’A is deep ruby in color. Given about an hour to open up, the aromas are of medium (+) intensity and the rather complex nose showcases notes of blackberry, blueberry, plum, licorice, cigar box, damp earth, cracked black pepper, chopped green herbs, vanilla, and oak-driven baking spice. Flavors on the palate are also of medium (+) intensity, displaying spiced plum, black cherry, blackberry, tobacco, green pepper, oregano, iron, underbrush, and allspice. This dry red is full-bodied with medium acidity, medium (+) but silky and refined tannins, high alcohol, and a medium (+) length finish. While this is slightly jammier than I expected, it is rather complex and shows some Old World charm behind all the New World fruit. 283 cases produced.

Price: $54. I think this is a very fair price for the bottle and offers a solid value proposition, if you can find it. While this is a bigger wine than I typically lean toward, the complexity and how well it’s made prove rather enjoyable.

Merlot as It Should Be

Today’s Story: Enfield Wine Co.

Enfield Wine Co. is a relatively small family-owned and operated winery established by John Lockwood and Amy Seese in 2010. John started working in the wine industry in 2004 at Heron Lake Vineyard, followed by harvests at Littorai, Bodega Melipal in Argentina, and Failla Wines. John remained with Failla for five years managing and farming their Sonoma Coast and Russian River estate vineyards, ultimately starting Enfield as a small passion project. In 2013, John left Failla and devoted his time entirely to Enfield.

Enfield focuses primarily on terroir as a starting point, working with small independent growers across a range of regions to source their fruit. John and Amy purchase fruit from Antle Vineyard and Brosseau Vineyard in the Chalone AVA, Haynes Vineyard in Coombsville, Heron Lake Vineyard in Wild Horse Valley, Jesus & Patricia’s Vineyard in Fort Ross-Seaview, and Shake Ridge Vineyard in Amador County. From these sites they acquire a range of varieties including Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Syrah, Chenin Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Tempranillo amongst others, all with varying vine age as well. John’s philosophy is to harvest his fruit for balance and ferment the wines naturally in order to showcase each unique terroir, eschewing a heavy-handed winemaking style. The wines are often fresh, lively, and mineral-driven, though John does enjoy exploring esoteric bottlings as well.

I previously wrote about the 2019 Jurassic Park Vineyard Chenin Blanc from Enfield.

Today’s Wine: 2018 Michael Black Vineyard Merlot

100% Merlot; 13.9% ABV

The 2018 Michael Black Vineyard Merlot is deep ruby in color with deep purple hues in the bowl of the glass. I decanted this for 2.5 hours due to its youth, which seemed perfect. The aromas are of medium (+) intensity, with a rather complex nose showcasing notes of black plum, blackberry, blueberry, violet, licorice, cigar box, clay, dried green herbs, baking spice, and cocoa. Meanwhile the flavors are also of medium (+) intensity and the palate displays notes of blackberry, blueberry, black raspberry, black cherry, sweet tobacco, cedar spill, crushed rock, and eucalyptus. This dry red is medium- to full-bodied with medium acidity, medium (+) but fine-grained tannins, medium (+) alcohol, and a long finish.

Price: $45. I think this offers rather strong value, and it’s a fantastic representation of the Merlot variety. This is very well-balanced, offering great depth and length as well all while being rather young. For those wine drinkers who don’t like Merlot, I’d suggest giving it another shot with this bottling.

High Quality Provence Rosé From Two Burgundy Titans

Today’s Story: Triennes

Triennes is a wine estate established in 1989 in Provence, France by Burgundy legends Jacques Seysses of Domaine Dujac and Aubert de Villaine of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti. Given their prowess in Burgundy, the duo became convinced that great wines of incredible quality could also be produced in the south of France when focus is put on the vineyards first and foremost. After they purchased their estate, Triennes underwent a massive replanting program to ensure the healthiest of vineyards, with vines and rootstocks specifically adapted to the local climate and microclimates. The vineyards are farmed as naturally as possible, with Ecocert organic certification following a transition that began in 2008.

As far as the Triennes wine portfolio goes, they produce three main wines of Saint Auguste (Syrah, Cabernet sauvignon, and Merlot), Viognier Sainte Fleur (Viognier), and the rosé I am reviewing today. They also produce a Merlot, Les Auréliens Blanc (Chardonnay, Viognier, Vermentino, Ugni Blanc, and Grenache Blanc), and Les Auréliens Rouge (Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon).

Today’s Wine: 2020 Rosé

Primarily Cinsault blended with Grenache, Syrah, and Merlot; 12.5% ABV

The 2020 Rosé is pale copper in color. Aromas are of medium intensity, with the nose showcasing notes of white strawberry, raspberry, watermelon, mild cherry, dried green herbs, and subtle maritime minerality. Meanwhile the flavors are also of medium intensity, with the palate displaying notes of watermelon, juicy strawberry, rosewater, lime zest, a touch of vanilla, and finely crushed rock minerality. This dry rosé is medium-bodied with medium (+) acidity, medium alcohol, and a medium (+) length finish.

Price: $15 for 750ml (closer to $8 in Europe). This is a very easy-going, fresh, and enjoyable rosé and I think for the price it offers great value. My 375ml bottle was $7.50, and I find myself hard-pressed to find another rosé at the quality level of this one for the price.

Impressive South African Red That Outperformed My Expectations

Today’s Story: Vilafonté

Vilafonté is a relatively new wine estate established in 1997 in the Paarl region of South Africa. A joint venture between Mike Ratcliffe of South Africa and Zelma Long and Dr. Phil Freese of the United States, Vilafonté consists of 42 hectares (104 acres) with 16 hectares (40 acres) planted to vine. A unique aspect of Vilafonté, and where it derives its name, is the ancient vilafontes soil which is recorded as one of the oldest soil types in the world between 750,000 and 1.5 million years old. This soil, having evolved over the centuries, encourages the vines to struggle and in turn results in smaller vines, lower yields, and higher quality fruit. The estate is planted to Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Malbec with the ultimate goal of producing Bordeaux blends. Vilafonté produces two main wines, the Cabernet Sauvignon dominant Series C and the Merlot/Malbec dominant Series M. They also produce a second label bottling called Seriously Old Dirt which I’ll be tasting today.

Today’s Wine: 2014 Seriously Old Dirt

41% Merlot, 31% Cabernet Sauvignon, 28% Malbec; 13.5% ABV

The 2014 Seriously Old Dirt is deep ruby in color and opaque. I used my Coravin, so instead of decanting the bottle I let this open up in the glass for about 45 minutes. The aromas are of medium (+) intensity, with the nose showcasing notes of blackberry, plum, black raspberry, black licorice, violet, chocolate, a hint of vanilla, and mild oak. Meanwhile the flavors are also of medium (+) intensity with the palate displaying notes of blackberry, red plum, black cherry, blueberry, sweet tobacco, crushed rock, charred green herbs, and mild baking spice. This dry red is medium- to full-bodied with medium acidity, medium (+) but refined tannins, medium alcohol, and a long finish.

Price: $40. To be honest I wasn’t expecting a ton with this wine, but it greatly outperformed my expectations. I think this offers solid value and it is certainly a high quality wine. It’s beautifully balanced, offers considerable complexity, and has great length in the finish.

Historic Pomerol Estate Showcasing the Promise of the Underrated 2014 Vintage

Today’s Story: Château L’Évangile

Château L’Évangile is a historic Bordeaux wine estate located in the appellation of Pomerol on the Right Bank of Bordeaux. L’Évangile traces its roots back to the year 1741 when it first popped up in the land registry under the name Fazilleau, and it was owned by the Léglise family from Libourne. By the turn of the 19th century, the estate was fairly close to its current configuration and consisted of 13 hectares (32 acres) of vineyards. In 1862, Paul Chaperon purchased L’Évangile (as it was known by this time) and he built the reputation of the estate to greater heights and constructed the château in 1874. By 1900, L’Évangile was widely considered the third-best wine of Pomerol behind Vieux Château Certan and Château Pétrus. Chaperon’s descendants, the powerful Ducasse family, continued to run the estate until 1990 when it was purchased by Domaines Barons de Rothschild who own Château Lafite Rothschild on the Left Bank amongst other highly-regarded properties.

Today Château L’Évangile consists of 22 hectares of vineyards planted in prime sandy clay and gravel soils on the plateau of Pomerol. The property borders Château Pétrus to the north and Château Cheval Blanc to the south, so one can say they are in good company. L’Évangile’s vineyards are planted to about 80% Merlot and 20% Cabernet Franc, though there is now a small plot of Cabernet Sauvignon that was blended into the wine for the first time in 2019. The vines at L’Évangile average about 30 years of age, and the estate started shifting to organic viticulture in 2018 before ultimately becoming certified organic in 2021.

In the cellar, all plots are vinified separately in vats with traditional pump overs and controlled maceration. The goal by the end of fermentation is to try to determine which plots/vats ultimately make it into the Grand Vin and which may end up in the second wine called Blason de L’Évangile. The Grand Vin ages for 18 months in 70% new French oak barrels, and total production of the Grand Vin and Blason de L’Évangile averages about 5,000 cases per vintage.

Today’s Wine: 2014 Château L’Évangile

82% Merlot, 18% Cabernet Franc; 14% ABV

The 2014 Château L’Évangile is deep ruby in color. Given my first taste and a check-in after 2 hours, I decided to decant this for a full 4-5 hours as it was rather shy. Once it opens up, the aromas are of medium intensity and the nose showcases notes of black cherry, spiced plum, cigar box, new leather, black truffle, clay, cinnamon, and toasted oak. The flavors are also of medium intensity, and the palate displays notes of blackberry, cassis, plum, black licorice, tobacco, scorched earth, sage, chocolate, and oaky spice. This dry red is medium- to full-bodied with medium (+) acidity, medium (+) but refined tannins, high alcohol, and a long finish.

Price: $160 (I paid $143). On a relative basis, this wine offers considerable value compared to stronger vintages like 2015 and 2016 which for this bottling are priced closer to the $260-300 range. This wine also shows incredible promise for the future, as I think it needs probably 3-5 more years of cellaring and should drink well for a couple decades beyond that.