Saturday, May 30, 2009

Cracking Open the Good Stuff -- Volume 1 -- Göpfrich

After our 100th review, I figure this is a good a time to make a slight change around here. Now don't go worrying, I'm still keeping my focus on inexpensive, quality wines. You'll still be able to get your Vine fix and that will remain the primary focus of the site. As I've tried more and more wine, my palate has broadened -- as does anyone's who keeps one hand on a tasting glass for any length of time. Many of these wines are simply too good not to share my thoughts about with all of you out there.

So, from time to time, I'm going to start jotting down a few notes on wines that are slightly higher priced -- because everyone needs a good special occasion wine from time to time. (Or, to paraphrase Virginia Madsen from Sideways -- anytime you open a good bottle of wine is a special occasion.) I'm going to start with a bottle that helped me first understand what a good bottle of wine can be.

The Sweet Partner in Crime came home with a delicious looking porterhouse steak that simply begged to be grilled up. We put together a couple of foil packs for vegetables -- new potatoes with some rosemary and basil from our garden and Brussels sprouts with some garlic, olive oil, and feta cheese. It was a Friday night after a particularly grueling couple of weeks at work, so we decided to pull something out of the "special occasion" rack.

I dug around and came out with the Göpfrich 2003 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon. Göpfrich is a Sonoma Country winery that we visited on our first trip to wine country. It's a small operation in Dry Creek Valley run by Ray and Bonnie Goepfrich. We stumbled upon the place while we were out tasting and Ray was good enough to let us try some of his bounty even though we didn't have an appointment when we popped in.

At the time, I thought his wines were some of the best I'd ever tasted, especially the Cabernet Sauvignon. Many bottles of wine have passed under the bridge and through the liver since then, and I still stand by my estimation. Especially at the price point (the current reserve cab is $38 a bottle), these wines are astoundingly good. Theirs was the first wine club that we joined, and we've been loyal customers every since that day.

Most Göpfrich wines are high in alcohol, so they're a little "hot" when first poured. So, after letting the wine breathe for a little while, we got to work on dinner and eventually poured a little -- just to get a sense. Even after half an hour, the wine still hadn't quite opened up -- but once it did (took about another 20 minutes -- just in time to eat), the wine was nothing short of spectacular.

The nose was rich and layered with blackberries, coffee, and chocolate. There was a quick burst of fruit when first sipped, but that fruit quickly mellowed into a long, rich, chocolate-and-berry filled midpalate. The wine's richness continued into an exceptionally well-balanced finish that lingered strongly for well over a minute. This was a "take a sip, close your eyes, and dream" sort of wine, one that continued to open up over the course of the evening -- flavors of blueberry peeked out around the edges, and the finish became smokier.

With the food? Well...nothing short of divine. There's really not much I can add. A great cut of meat, grilled properly and a top line cabernet -- there's simply no way to go wrong. We saved a splash for chocolate later in the evening. Again, impeccable.

Göpfrich is always my first recommendation when I get asked about Sonoma wine country. They ship nationwide.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Kinkead Ridge -- The 2008 whites...

(This entry marks a milestone for The Naked Vine -- it's our 100th wine review. So thanks to all of you out there in Vine-land for your readership, for your encouragement, and for your friendship over the last three years. It's been a heck of a ride thus far...)

Tucked away in a modest, quiet neighborhood in the river town of Ripley, Ohio, is Kinkead Ridge Winery. The estate winery, cleverly disguised as a one-story ranch style house, is the brainchild of Ron Barrett and Nancy Bentley -- a pair of transplants from Oregon, where they grew pinot noir for a number of years. They relocated to southern Ohio in 1999 and dropped roots, literally and figuratively.

I'm usually fairly skeptical of "local" wineries. There's a reason that the "best" winemaking operations tend to cluster in certain areas. While there are grapes that will grow in almost any climate, I can't tell you how much bitter Chambourcin and Norton, overly sweet Cayuga or Concord, and heavily charred Chardonel we've tried in many of these little places. (Perhaps there's a method for making those wines taste good. If there is, I've yet to find it consistently applied.)

There are no worries on that front from Nancy & Ron. The wines grown at Kinkead Ridge are all vinifera grapes. They grow primarily Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Syrah, Viognier, and Riesling. Smaller quantities of Petit Verdot, Roussanne and Sauvignon Blanc fill out the mix. They also have an "experimental" section of the vineyard where Ron, a former electrical engineer before becoming a vintner, experiments with Merlot, Gamay Noir, Dolcetto, Sangiovese and Semillon.

How do they manage to grow all this vinifera? It's the soil, Nancy says: "We looked at a lot of different places when we decided to leave Oregon. We looked in California, Washington, other places in Oregon -- and we found that the soil of the land we found was exactly what we were looking for. The soil composition on the ridge is almost identical to St. Emilion in France -- not the clay cap that you find down in the river valley."

Ron's scientific bent also comes heavily into play. "You have to keep a close eye on a lot of these vines. We've got great terroir here, but the big drawback for us is the variation in temperature and climate. In 2007, we had a frost around Easter that nearly wiped out the vineyard. We were able to salvage the cabernet, but the syrah was completed ruined, and we lost most of our Viognier and Riesling. Hazards of the occupation." When the vines are able to mature, however, the winery has the capacity to produce about 2000 cases a year -- with increased production on the way, if all goes well. As the vines continue to mature, the yield with undoubtedly increase and the quality should improve as well.

Not that there's much wrong with the quality of the wines as they currently stand. One of the hallmarks of many local wineries I've found is, on the rare occasion that one of them makes a wine of note -- the price is often two to three times what you'd pay for a comparable wine from a "known" region. Kinkead Ridge, however, has a price point for all of its wines between $10-20, and these wines are, in my estimation, about as good for those styles as you would find "normally."

Ron and Nancy release their whites every year on Memorial Day weekend and their reds on Labor Day weekend. The Sweet Partner in Crime and I took the scenic drive down US 52 to Ripley this weekend to try their spread of whites.

Kinkead Ridge 2008 River Village Cellars Traminette -- Traminette is a hybrid of Gewurztraminer, and a friend of Ron's said that she had a couple of tons available for sale. He picked them up and, unfortunately, found that some of the grapes had already begun to raisinate. He cobbled together an interesting, semi-sweet, eminently drinkable wine from the ton and a half he was able to use. Plenty of traditional gewürztraminer pepperiness to be found therein, lots of floral notes, and a surprisingly fresh finish. For about $10, a very nice sipping wine or a nice pairing for spicy Asian cuisine.

Kinkead Ridge 2008 Riesling -- My personal favorite of the four whites that we tried. Reminiscent of a German spatlese to me -- slightly sweet (1.2% residual sugar -- or at least that was Ron's self-described "SWAG" -- short for scientific wild-ass guess...) but full of really pleasant apple and pear flavors. Crisp acidity on the finish and a lasting fruit flavor that begs for some roast pork loin or a meat and cheese tray. A very flexible wine for all seasons. $14.

Kinkead Ridge 2008 White Revelation -- One of the flagship white wines of Kinkead Ridge, the blend on this white cuvee changes every year. This year, it's largely Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon, with a hodgdpodge of other grapes thrown in for good measure. The wine certainly reflects the character of the grapes -- and it drinks very much like a decent white Bordeaux. Acidic and minerally from front to back, it's a nice accompaniment for anything from salads to grilled chicken. Great summer wine. $14.

Kinkead Ridge 2008 Viognier/Roussanne -- Of the four, this one was probably my least favorite on its face, because I think it's still a little too young. That's not to say it was bad -- far from it. One of the customers had brought in a bottle of the 2006 Viognier/Roussane, and the difference was remarkable. This one needs a little time in the bottle, maybe even a couple more months, for the flavors to marry and balance and for the slight oiliness of the Viognier to die down, but the backbone of tropical fruits and aromatics were certainly there. Pick up a bottle and stash it until fall. Then have it with some grilled fish. You'll thank me. $16.

The tasting room is open most Saturdays during the summer from 11:00-5:00. For more information about Kinkead Ridge, the winery, their story, and how to get there if you're interested in making a weekend road trip down to the Ohio River, check out their website at

Monday, May 25, 2009

Vintner Select 20th Anniversary

On the 18th, thanks to an invitation from Brian Scott, the Sweet Partner in Crime and I had the good fortune to attend the 20th Anniversary grand tasting at the home warehouse of Vintner Select in Mason. As I've mentioned a few times, Brian has been a real source of wine knowledge and inspiration for me, and I was very pleased to be a part of the tasting. As I've also mentioned, if I'm wondering about a wine from France, Italy, or Spain, and I see "imported by Vintner Select" on the bottle, I can almost be guaranteed of a good bottle.

The event featured over 20 different wine distributors, each of whom poured some of the better wines from their catalogue. Additionally, there was a full room of excellent edibles, ranging from scrumptious paddlefish caviar raised locally by Renee at Big Fish Farms (coincidentally, my first "wine mentor"), organic produce from Farmer Jones in Sandusky, wonderful cured salmon from Just Cured in Cincinnati, and a variety of locally grown and raised meats, vegetables and cheeses whipped into delectable amuse-bouche by my esteemed neighbor Jean-Robert de Cavel.

But the wine was truly the star of the show. Specifically, the row of Italian winemakers. Apparently, these winemakers were already touring the US with their latest releases, and it happened that they all could simultaneously show their wines in Mason. So, what happens when you get this many Italian winemakers in one place?

The good stuff comes out.

When I say "good stuff," I'm talking about serious special-occasion wine. I must have sampled at least 15 different types of Barolo, and half a dozen types of Brunello di Montalcino. Absolute heaven. I don't know if I'll drink 15 different Barolo in the rest of my life, so I took full advantage of the opportunity to compare and contrast. The best of the bunch, in my estimation? The Molino 2005 Barolo Gallinoto and Molino 2005 Barolo Conca. Both these wines had exquisite structure, plenty of fruit, and were obviously built to age for the long haul. Even this young for Barolo, these wines showed head and shoulders above the rest. And at $45-60, they were extremely affordable for these types of wines.

In addition, there were some unbelievable ports from Porto Kopke (their "Glorious 50" port -- at around $140 retail for a 500 ml bottle -- was an explosion of unbelievable peach and deep fruit flavors.); a wonderful spread from George Hendry in Napa Valley -- ranging from their crisp rosé to knock-your-socks-off Primitivo and Cabernet Sauvignon; an incredible Blanc de Noirs Champagne from Cedric Bouchard; and any number of other winning selections.

And yes, there was even a spread that was entirely within Vine range. Many thanks to Sergio Reyes Moore from Montecastelli Selections from Chile for taking the time to walk the SPinC and I through his book. He had an entire table of selections that ranged in retail from $9-15. The "Chono" label wines were incredibly flavorful and approachable, especially the Carmenere and Syrah. His Sauvignon Blanc was as flavorful and crisp as you could ask for. His other label, "Rayun" were inexpensive and easy to drink...perfect "second bottle" wines for any occasion.

We left the tasting with full bellies, empty glasses, and happy hearts. An excellent experience all around. Here's to another 20 years...

Friday, May 22, 2009

Attention: University of Cincinnati Alums

I'm going to be leading a wine-tasting fundraiser for the UC Foundation and Department of Nutrition Sciences on Saturday, June 6th, at 6:30 PM at the home of David & Jan Lazarus. This tasting is $25 per person and proceeds benefit our scholarship fund.

To RSVP or purchase tickets contact Jillian Altus at 513-558-3879 or

Send checks to UC Academic Health Center P.O.Box 670544 Cincinnati, Ohio 45221-0544. Checks should be made out to UCF/Nutrition Dept. Scholarship Fund and sent to the attention of Jillian Altus.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Something Spanish

I'll readily admit to cribbing the idea for this column from a recent tasting by Brian Scott from Vintner Select. His spread of Spanish wines was wonderful, but it was this quote that really got me thinking:

"The great thing about Spain is that it's one of the few places left in Europe where there are basically no rules for winemaking. France and Italy have really strict regulations on how the wine must be made, what grapes are used, and so on. In Spain, it's basically anything goes, and the wines are better for it."

For much of Spain's winemaking history, Spanish wine wasn't all that popular beyond the borders of Spain. There were a couple of regions that were known for decent wine -- Rioja and Ribera del Duero -- but the majority of the country made heavily oxidized and sweet sherries and Malaga. Sparkling wine, mostly made from cava, started being produced in the late 1800's -- but for much of the 20th century, political and economic unrest prevented widespread progress in the Spanish wine world.

A wave of modernization in winemaking techniques swept the country in the late 1970's and early 1980's, creating a surge in both quantity and quality of wines. By the end of the 1990's, Spain's wine producing regions were cranking out impressive amounts of quality wine. At present, in my opinion, it's very difficult to top Spain for quality and value.

Spanish wines run the gamut -- from the sparkling cava to the rich smokiness of an aged Rioja, you can basically find a wine for any occasion. This follows logically, considering the breadth of delicious Spanish cuisine. Following are a few of the wines Brian showed at his recent tasting. I think you'll enjoy them all:

Vinedos de El Seque 2007 Alicante -- The Alicante region is in the Southeastern corner of Spain, just south of Valencia on the Mediterranean. This region was known historically for sweet dessert wines made from Muscatel, but "modern" reds have begun to take off in the last couple of decades, and this is a great entry into the market. This wine is made largely from the Monastrell grape, known to most of the rest of the world as Mourvedre. This wine has some definite French influence. (If you've had reds from Provence, you'll see what I mean right away.) The nose is full of raspberries and smoke. The palate has a very fruit-forward flavor, but there's an undertone of that "Old World funkiness" that makes it a nice pairing with meats and grilled food. It held up nicely both with some spicy beef & mushroom fajitas with criolla salsa as well as with dark chocolate. $11-13.

Espelt "Vailet" 2008 Emporda -- Emporda is a province in the northeast of Catalonia, near Barcelona. Emporda is nestled right up against the Pyrrenees and is just across the border from the Roussillon in France, where similar grapes are grown. This Spanish blend is 60% Garnacha Blanco and 40% Macabeo. It has a floral nose with sort of a "beachy" undertone. The flavor reminded me of a Spanish twist on Gruner Veltliner. It's very crisp and minerally on the tongue. Tart flavors of pineapple with a really notable flinty flavor stand out. The finish is crisp with more mineral character. We tried this this with a challenging pairing -- a salad of baby greens, garlic greens, fennel, and cucumbers with Spanish anchovies and a red wine vinaigrette. The wine's acidity sliced through the oily, pungent flavors, allowing the fruit and the minerality of the wine to pleasantly emerge and easily complement. Wonderful balance with a meal like this. Also $11-13.

Vilosell 2006 Segre Red Wine -- This wine is the perfect example of Brian's "Spanish experimentation." This wine, from a small, more inland region in Catalonia, is 50% Tempranillo, with the rest a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Garnacha, and Syrah. Very few places outside of California would even try putting together a blend like this. It's fruit-forward, to be certain, with lots of cherry and blackberry scents on the nose. Those scents are mirrored on the palate, along with a leathery undertone that begs for grilled food. The finish is long, with lingering fruit and firm tannins. The night I uncorked this, I was coming home from an exhausting day at work and an even more exhausting swim at the Y. I couldn't think of anything to make for dinner, so I got a couple of "steaks from the case" to grill, sautéed some mushrooms with a leftover leek, grilled some thick sliced tomatoes and polenta cakes and called it done. This wine went about as well as anything I could have come up with. This nuzzles right up to (and might exceed by a bit) the $15 mark, but it's certainly worth it.

Also, many thanks in advance to Brian for offering the Sweet Partner in Crime and I the opportunity to attend Vintner Select's 20th Anniversary Celebration at their headquarters in Mason. We're looking forward to seeing the "mothership" for many of the wines that we enjoy. When I'm shopping in any of the wine stores I frequent and I'm wondering about a bottle of wine, if I see that it's been imported by Vintner Select, I can rest easy in the knowledge that it's going to be a very decent bottle. I'll have a full report on this event coming soon...

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Kinkead Ridge reopens to release 2008's

From our friends at Kinkead Ridge -- just over the river and up the way a bit:

Owners Ron Barrett and Nancy Bentley will re-open Kinkead Ridge winery to the public on Memorial Day weekend, May 23 and May 25, for the release of the 2008 white wines: Viognier/Roussanne, Revelation, Riesling and Traminette. The winery will also be open on summer Saturdays through Labor Day weekend, when Kinkead Ridge will release its 2007 red wines. The winery was closed last summer due to an Easter frost that decimated 90% of the white wine grapes. Also available is the 2006 River Village Cellars Cabernet Franc, which won a silver medal at the Finger Lakes International Wine Competition.

Kinkead Ridge recently purchased a building in downtown Ripley, with the hope of turning it into a tasting room when Ohio passes the necessary legislation. Until then, the winery will continue to welcome the public to the winery at 904 Hamburg Street, 3 blocks behind McDonalds, east of downtown. See for details.

Southern Ohio is now home to several wineries, including Harmony Hill in Bethel, and other wineries will open within the next year, including Renascent Vineyards in Georgetown.

Monday, May 04, 2009


One of the interesting bits about building up an archive of columns is discovering my own little quirks --
whether it's reusing vocabulary, falling back on certain varieties of wine, or just the evolution in tone as I've written more and more entries.

For instance, I've likened all sorts of wines to Côtes-du-Rhone. It's one of my favorite French wines, so it's only natural that I'd use it as a baseline for any number of things, right? One problem, though...I'd never actually written much about what a Côtes-du-Rhone actually was, so I can imagine you saying, "Well, that's all fine and dandy, Mike -- but what in tarnation do you mean by that?" So, let's take care of that, shall we?

The Côtes-du-Rhone appellation is the viticultural area that surrounds the Rhone river in Southeastern France. It stretches from Lyon in the north to Avignon in the South and spreads east and west down the valleys of the various Rhone tributaries.

Côtes-du-Rhone (pronounced "Coat dew roan" if you have a stuffy nose), much like the Beaujolais region in Burgundy, divides its nomenclature by quality. Wines labeled "Côtes-du-Rhone" can be made from grapes grown anywhere within the region. About 95% of these wines will be reds. These reds must contain at least 40% Grenache. The remaining 60% will be largely a blend of Syrah, Mourvedre, Cinsault, and Carignan.

The Côtes-du-Rhone produces an impressively broad range of wines. The northern end of the Rhone valley is known for big, Syrah-based reds and delicate, impressive whites made largely from Viognier. The south of the region produces 80% of the wine -- most of the wines you see labeled "Côtes-du-Rhone" are going to be from the south and will be dominated by Grenache.

The next higher level of quality is "Côtes-du-Rhone Villages" -- these wines are made from grapes in a limited number of communes in the region. A few may even have the name of the town as part of the name. Beyond that are the "Cru" designations, wines from specific towns which stand among the world's best. You've likely heard of many of them -- Côte Rotie, Croze-Hermitage, Hermitage, and Condrieu in the northern part of the region and Chateauneuf-de-Pape, Gigondas and Vacqueryas in the south. There's also Tavel, the cru in the southern region just across the river from Chateauneuf-de-Pape that produces some of the best rosé in the world.

The wines we're looking at here, however, are the basic reds. Côtes-du-Rhone cranks out a lot of very good, very approachable red wine. These wines tend to be drunk young -- within five years of bottling. These reds tend to be medium bodied with lots of cherry and dark berry flavors. The "old world funk"/earthiness classic to many French reds is usually there to some extent -- but not as powerfully as in many Bordeaux. Even so, these are usually great wines to go with anything earthy or sausagey -- or even just to uncork and pass around.

So, if you'd like to see what I've been talking about all this time, here are a few for you to try:

Domaine la Montagnette 2007 Côtes-du-Rhone Villages: An excellent "gateway" Côtes-du-Rhone if you're looking for one to get yourself started, since there's not quite as powerful an earthy characteristic. It's there, sure -- but it's an undertone to the big black cherry flavors. There are also some herbal notes on the nose, and the finish is long and much fruitier than many Côtes-du-Rhone you'll find. A solid all-around wine and a good one for any kind of grilled food -- from chicken to steak. $11-14.

Verget du Sud 2005 Cotes du Luberon -- Cotes du Luberon is a region within Côtes-du-Rhone that nestles right up against the Provence region. I've tried any number of Verget's wines, and I've never been disappointed. The nose is a nice blend of cherries and earthy scents. This is an exceptionally well-balanced, medium bodied wine. There's a lot of complexity for an $8-10 bottle here. You'll get lots of dark fruit with a little edge of coffee. Finish is dry and lasting. We had this with some lamb sausages, grilled veggies, and couscous, and it was absolutely scrumptious. An absolute steal.

M. Chapoutier 2006 Côtes-du-Rhone Belleruche -- An interesting wine that also appeals to environmentalist sensibilities. Michael Chapoutier has long been a proponent of biodynamic and organic winemaking. This wine also has a lot going on. The nose is almost raisiny unless you let it breathe for a bit (say 45 minutes or so). At that point, you'll get an interesting nose of cherries, and cedar. There's a nice amount of fruit on the tongue coupled with some interesting peppery flavors and a strong shot of that French funkiness. The finish is long and somewhat tannic, making it a great match for stew, meatloaf, or something similarly hearty. $10-12.