Federal Wine & Spirits

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This Week's Tasting:

New American Wines at Good Prices
February 1, 2012

From California to the New York Highland


Vineyard on the Finger Lakes

Woody Guthrie's line sums up tonight’s range of all American wines, especially the two chardonnays.

Last fall one of my better salesmen challenged me to taste a wine blind. It was clean and pure. It had a telltale apple and pear fruit with a succulent ripeness that marked it as New World Chardonnay, and little of the acid structure that would have made it French. Beyond that I was flummoxed. Most New World chardonnays are hot or fat, with strong citrus or tropical fruit. This was none of that. It was cool, smooth and supple, free of any wood ot grape astringency, and with lively rounded balancing acids.

I knew I liked it. Unmasked, it was the 2008 Lamoreaux Landing Chardonnay from upstate New York’s Finger Lakes. Pure, and fresh without being hard, it is good example of what I think is a newer style of American winemaking, and at 15.99, it is extraordinary value.

The 2009 Alexander Valley Vineyards Chardonnay, is more traditionally California in style, but not the worse for it. It is bigger with firm, well-structured acidity and just the right touch of new wood. Neither too fat nor too lean, it is a balanced wine for meals, not for show.


We have been getting requests from customers who had 14 Hands with a restaurant meal. There used to be enough only for restaurants, but production is catching up to demand. We tried this Washington winery’s wines as son as we heard they were available. Our customers were, as always, right. The 2008 14 Hands Merlot has a crisp, but not hard acid backbone that makes it also a good companion for a meal. It is restrained. It is not your mother’s Merlot, restrained and understated rather than fat and juicy.

John writes

On tasting the 2008 Villa San Maurice Cabernet Sauvignon (Central Coast), I was struck by its quality and structure for the price. This is not simple wine. In 2001, entrepreneur Kevin Shanno bought Villa San Maurice and turned it into one of California’s premier multi-appelation wineries. This Cabernet is balanced with 10% Merlot and comes from vineyards in both Paso Robles and Monterey

At any price, balance and structure are most important to me. The 2007 Ramsay Cabernet Sauvignon North Coast gives both while also showing classic California fruit. In 1989, Kent and Celia Rasmussen of Kent Rasmussen Winery started Ramsay as a second label. Originally intended for “less-than-usual” varietal wines. it became a ta complement to Rasmussen , offering good , earlier drinking wines at everyday prices.

Merlot often deservedly gets a bad rap for many characterless wines that quit your palate easily, I found something more interesting in the 2009 Carlton Brooke Annadel Estate Merlot Sonoma. It is clearly New World, but shows some old world style. This is a serious Merlot and could easily become my go-to $20 red.

Ty Caton founded his eponymous Sonoma valley winery in 1997 on the site of a winery and vineyard dating from 1920s. Under the Carlton Brook label, Ty makes wines to honor his parents.


Image above - Vineyard on the Fingerlakes

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