- Winemaker Interviews
- Idaho Wine Experience
We began 2020 with our annual trip to Sonoma County for Winter Wineland. This is a company-wide retreat of business and pleasure. Isn’t all wine tasting pleasure? Yes!
We scarcely could have foreseen the year that would follow from there. While we still were able to make several more trips to various wine regions we constantly had to improvise due to COVID and fires. We learned to be adaptable and appreciative. We also learned that misfortune is actually the mother of revelation.
As we have written previously our scheduled Napa trip in August was canceled due to the fires so we rerouted to the Santa Ynez Valley instead. This is an extremely underrated wine region and we have documented the great wine we tasted, including our January wine-of-the-month:
2017 E11even Petit Verdot, an Andrew Murray Production
Andrew Murray Vineyards had been recommended to us by several folks in the region. In fact, here’s a tip for when you go winetasting: ask people who work at a winery where THEY like to taste. You will find many hidden gems that way. We drove on winding Foxen Canyon Road in Los Olivos out to Andrew Murray Vineyards.
We sat shaded at a table on their elevated, pebbled front deck on a warm August afternoon. Two different tastings were set up for us: the first was a line of Andrew Murray wines and the second was E11even Wines, an Andrew Murray Production. While we liked everything we tried, which doesn’t happen very often at a tasting, the E11even wines were the star. As fans of This Is Spinal Tap, we were instantly curious about the name (“This one goes to eleven!”), especially when the label on the bottle is fashioned in the form of a concert ticket. Sure enough, Andrew Murray (a musician himself) confirmed for us that the movie was indeed his inspiration for this label of wines. He was very generous with his time, took us on a tour of his entire facility, and gave us great insight into their winemaking philosophy and procedures.
Back to the wine. Petit Verdot has lived a long life as primarily a blending grape but has been gaining steam as a single varietal. This Bordeaux varietal is a late ripener, which brings a balancing acidity to the wine. The grapes are small with thick skin, which provides the tannins. On the nose of this E11even Petit Verdot you detect a delightfully slight buttered popcorn from the 25% new French Oak. On the palate are ripe cherries and the minerality of the high elevation in which this estate grape is grown. It is a layered wine with surprisingly softened tannins for a 2017, leading to a long finish. An exceptional wine.
Of course, at Peninsula Underground it is not enough for the wine to be outstanding. It also must provide great value. At $36 per bottle this 2017 E11even Petit Verdot by Andrew Murray is our first highly recommended purchase of 2021, and is our January wine-of-the-month.
Order yours here:
and follow them @amvwine and @e11wine.
Tell them Peninsula Underground sent you.
Proper wine tasting takes place using these three senses in order: sight (“appearance”), smell (“nose”), and taste (“palate”). The way the wine looks as it is poured from the bottle, as it rests and swirls in the glass, and as it is held to the light can give you clues as to its age, level of tannins, alcohol content, and flavor profile. After observing a wine—and swirling it in your glass—you are ready to smell it. Doing so may confirm your visual observations, reveal how it was aged, and further prepare you for its taste. Finally you get to taste it. Is it tannic, sweet, dry, bitter, sour? How does it feel in your mouth? Do you like it?
If you are interested in a wine that will arouse all of those senses in a unique way then let us introduce you to the 2019 Merkin Vineyards (Caduceus Cellars) Shinola Orancia from Arizona’s Willcox AVA. It is our February wine of the month. This 100% Malvasia Bianca is an Italian white varietal grown at 4,300 feet in Cochise County. Smartly presented in a clear bottle, you first start tasting this wine before it is ever poured.
The orange hue is intriguing; something you’ve never seen before. This occurs because of the 10-day maceration on the skin. You expect there to be notes of citrus on the palate. It appears slightly lighter in the glass than in the bottle and exhibits good viscosity when swirled. On the nose Orancia surprises you with tropical fruits: papaya and mango...not citrus. There is also a floral component. Not a hint of oak, which makes sense, given that it was fermented in stainless steel.
On the palate you experience crisp, restrained fruit with a pleasantly bitter finish. What you might expect to be an overwhelming fruit bomb based on your sight and smell is a deftly structured wine that should age well for a white. It’s thoroughly enjoyable. Owner and winemaker (and Renaissance man) MJ Keenan, of the bands Tool, A Perfect Circle, and Puscifer is a descendant of Northern Italian winemakers and the effort and skill he applies as a vintner is truly notable. Perhaps what we appreciated most about his Shinola Orancia is that it’s a wine that keeps you on your toes; from sight, to smell, to taste it delivers the unexpected. It is a wine to be experienced. Our readers know that we love wine that exceeds its price point. The 2019 Merkin Vineyards (Caduceus Cellars) Shinola Orancia is only $20. This is an amazing value, and when you consider what the wine delivers, it was an easy choice as our February wine of the month. When you order yours make sure you tell them Peninsula Underground sent you.
There are times when selecting our wine-of-the-month is a difficult process, weighing the merits of many great bottles and taking into consideration their corresponding value. This was not one of those months. Quite simply, the best wine we had over the past month was the 2017 Chalk Hill Estate Red. It is our featured wine for March.
Before we even get to the wine, Chalk Hill Estate just might sit on the single best property in all of Sonoma County. Set high atop Chalk Hill Road roughly 5 miles northeast of the town of Windsor, this winery offers breathtaking views from outside their tasting room. A 180 degree vista of lush, forested trees sweep into the distance, revealing an idyllic pond on the valley floor to the right, and dissect rolling vineyards high on both sides. You could sit, drink wine, and stare all day. We have (well, not ALL day).
The 2017 Chalk Hill Estate Red is a blend of 49% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Malbec, and 11% Petit Verdot. It is rich and bold with leather, dark berries, dark chocolate, and a long, supple finish. The tannins are rounded and the wine has great structure. It is mature beyond its years. When our board visited their tasting room last year we tried about a dozen of their varietals and blends and liked every one of them. Part of what makes Chalk Hill wines so fantastic is that most of their offerings are drinkable on release and can lay down for quite some time. This reflects the skill and deft touch of winemaker Courtney Foley and her staff. At Peninsula Underground we receive shipments of wine from all over the world. Perhaps no other winery makes us smile as much as when we open a box and see it’s from Chalk Hill.
What about value?
The U.S. Wine Institute reports that each U.S. resident consumes 2.95 gallons of wine per year, which is nearly 15 bottles. That’s one per month, plus an extra bottle at Thanksgiving, Christmas, and for your birthday. Why not splurge on at least one of those bottles and buy this 2017 Chalk Hill Estate Red for $70? At Peninsula Underground when we talk about great wines of great value we don’t just mean inexpensive wines, we mean wines that outperform their price. Our March wine-of-the-month is not inexpensive but it outperforms its price and will continue to for at least the next 6-7 years. Order yours today and tell them Peninsula Underground sent you:
Need an excuse to join a new wine club? We offer for your consideration Beckmen Vineyards in Los Olivos. Their 2018 EXP Aggregate is our April wine of the month and only available to wine club members.
Beckmen Vineyards is another of our 2021 wines of the month with music industry ties (see Andrew Murray in January and Caduceus/Merkin in February). Owner Tom Beckmen founded Roland Corp. U.S., a leading manufacturer and distributor of electronic music instruments. He and his wife Judy, along with sons Steve and Jeff, use biodynamic farming practices to craft world-class wines from the Los Olivos and Ballard Canyon AVAs in the highly underrated Santa Barbara wine region.
The 2018 EXP Aggregate is a blend of Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Grenache, with small percentages of Mourvedre, Counoise, and Merlot. You first detect blackberries on the palate. This makes sense because the blackberry is produced by many species in the genus Rubus. These species have often been grouped together and called species aggregates, hence the name of the wine: Aggregate. This wine is wonderfully floral and features notes of licorice and spice; it is complex and balanced. Enjoy it now but buy enough to lay down because it will likely hold through the end of this decade.
Our mission at Peninsula Underground is to help you find great wines of great value that are ready to drink right away. The 2018 Beckmen EXP Aggregate is a great wine that is drinking beautifully right now...and if you join their wine club it is a great value at $34. When you do tell them it was because you read about them on Peninsula Underground.
Join and follow here:
If you are a fan of dessert wine do we have a treat for you! Our May wine of the month is the Stone Hill Moscato.
Based in Hermann, Missouri, Stone Hill is Missouri’s oldest winery, dating back to 1847, and one of its most acclaimed. They routinely win top awards at wine competitions in Missouri and elsewhere.
Stone Hill’s Moscato is made from the Valvin Muscat varietal, which is a cross between Muscat Ottonel and Muscat du Moulin. This hybrid grape was first released in 2006. Of course we believe its application as a dessert wine has been more recently perfected by Stone Hill! This wine is heavenly. In the glass it is a shade darker than a clear Cabernet Sauvignon (see our October 2020 wine of the month). It has a luxurious, slightly effervescent mouth feel. Peach and lychee on the palate. Those used to California wine might liken this to a late harvest Chardonnay. Can’t say enough good things about this wine. We kept going back trying to find fault with it but we could not. As close to a perfect dessert wine as you can find.
As you know, our mission at Peninsula Underground is to help our readers and followers find great wines of great value. At $12 the Stone Hill Moscato delivers on that mission statement perhaps better than any wine we have reviewed in a long time and that is why it is our May wine of the month.
Buy yours here and tell them Peninsula Underground sent you:
They have produced wine for 26 generations. Their wine is served at Buckingham Palace and is coveted worldwide. Now the legendary Antinori family has reached the new world: California (Anti - Ca), specifically Napa Valley. Be thankful. Their 2017 Antica Napa Valley Mountain Select Cabernet Sauvignon is our June wine of the month.
Yes, Antinori, for the first time, is producing wine outside Italy. The 2017 Antica Cab is the perfect combination of old world Italian savvy with new world Napa power. Unlike a Tignanello, which uses Cab in its red blend and usually should be cellared for several years after release, Antica is a true Cab ready to drink right now. Completely counterintuitive. And value? That’s what it’s all about in choosing wine in modern life. Antica is basically half the price of Tignanello, or a premier Napa Cab.
The wine itself has a pleasing, consistent aroma of fresh berries backed by firm yet refined tannins and a long finish. Your glass will last longer than a normal pour. It’s hard to believe that a 2017 Napa Cab can be so approachable. That’s what you get from the Antinori family.
Legendary Napa Cab meets legendary Italian winemaker at half the price? Yes, please! That is why the 2017 Antica Napa Valley Mountain Select Cabernet Sauvignon is our June wine of the month.
Learn more about Antica and order yours here (and tell them Peninsula Underground sent you):
The wand chooses the wizard. That’s been the metaphor for explaining how we choose our monthly featured wine. Sure, we can dig into our cellar and pull out what we expect to be a compelling wine. And the wine is often quite good and you read about it on our daily posts. But at a basic level if we have to go searching for a wine it isn’t very romantic, is it? It feels forced. Even up against a deadline the wine we end up highlighting always seems to find us.
Hello, 2017 Merry Edwards Russian River Valley Pinot Noir Olivet Lane. You are our July 2021 wine of the month!
We were given this bottle two days before deadline by a colleague and brought it to dinner that night with friends. We decanted it for an hour and then experimented by pouring it into two different glasses: a traditional “red wine” glass and a glass with a larger bowl and wider opening (not a typical Pinot glass). Remember, we taste wine with three senses: sight, smell, and taste. Right out of the gate we were struck by the deep purple color of the wine; not what you expect from a Pinot. Already intrigued, we moved to “the nose.” The wide bowl was the right choice. It delivered aromas of ripe berries and freshly cut flowers, while the traditional glass gave off a tighter, one-note smell.
A great start. But we’re really all in it for the taste, right? The wine-of-the-month must taste great. This Merry Edwards Olivet Lane Pinot delivers. A creamy texture with raspberries and a hint of chocolate leading to supple tannins. Great complexity and structure. One of the finest Sonoma County Pinots we have tasted in some time. Even our CEO, who is not a Pinot fan, enjoyed her glass. Bravo!
As you know, at Peninsula Underground our mission statement is to highlight great wines of great value. While purchasing this wine might be a splurge, value doesn’t always mean inexpensive. It means exceeding the price point. This wine does that and is our July wine of the month.
We can’t wait to see what wine chooses us next month!
Purchase Merry Edwards wine and follow them here:
At Peninsula Underground it is known as “Magic in a Bottle,” so named by Sara, our VP of Marketing and PR. Corner 103’s Sparkling Rose’ has long been the go-to sparkling wine of our executive board. It is delicious. It is versatile. It is perfect. And in August it is our wine (and cocktail) of the month.
Speaking of magic, owner Lloyd Davis must be a magician because every wine he releases is ready to drink right away. It’s uncanny. In fact, Corner 103 is one of the inspirations for our mission statement.
Corner 103 sits on the square in the town of Sonoma. Lloyd and Tasting Room Manager Brent Johnson lead their guests in an unparalleled sit-down experience. Each wine is served in its dedicated glass that sits on a customized coaster providing all the stats for that wine. Lloyd and Brent teach you how to taste, how to pair with food, and how to think about wine. One of their basic tenets is that their guests are wine experts because they know what they like. It’s a great way to break down the sometimes intimidating barriers that can be ingrained in the wine industry. For this reason, and many others. Lloyd and Brent are beloved by their guests and wine club members. It should therefore come as no surprise that they were named the Best Tasting Room in America by USA Today in 2020. (And as of this writing they are leading the vote for 2021.)
Corner 103’s Sparkling Rose is 84% Pinot Noir, 12% Chardonnay, and 4% Pinot Meunier. They describe this extraordinary sparkling wine that used the traditional methode champenoise as follows:
“This beautiful salmon-colored wine opens with inviting aromas of strawberry and rose. Flavors of freshly-picked strawberry, red raspberry and brioche dance upon the palate, with a pleasingly full finish.”
Agreed. It is our go-to for parties, celebrations, toasts, and Tuesdays. The point is, we drink it all the time. If you only drink this sparkling straight up you are already ahead of the game. Ah, but wait. Lloyd also has crafted our single favorite sparkling wine cocktail.
Allow us to introduce you to the Corner 103 Rosé-Aperol Spritz. It is the perfect summertime drink and draws rave reviews whenever we serve it. You need to incorporate this in your rotation; it will change your life. Here is their recipe:
• 3/4 cup grapefruit or passion fruit juice, chilled
• 1/4 cup Aperol
• 1/4 cup fresh lime juice
• 4 teaspoons sugar
• 1 750ml bottle of NV Sparkling Rosé (Corner 103), chilled
• Ruby red grapefruit wedges
Whisk grapefruit or passion fruit juice, Aperol, lime juice, and sugar in a large pitcher until sugar is dissolved. Stir in Sparkling Rosé. Serve in a large ice-filled wine glass. Garnish with a grapefruit wedge.
If you want to take this recipe from a 10 to 11, use fresh passion fruit (or guava).
For producing a perfect sparkling rose’ and our favorite sparkling wine cocktail, the Corner 103 Sparkling Rose’ is our August wine (and cocktail) of the month. Visit Lloyd and Brent for a special tasting experience and join their wine club. You can thank us later. Purchase and follow here:
One of the blessings of being based in California is our access to a plethora of world-class winegrowing regions. No matter how often we travel around the state tasting wine we always seem to discover something new and exciting.
South of both Sonoma and Napa and east of San Francisco lies Contra Costa County, a lesser-known yet vastly underrated winegrowing region in the Central Coast AVA. It is home to some fantastic old-vine plantings of Zinfandel as well as Mourvedre and Carignan.
We recently tasted what we believe to be the best example and expression of this wine region: the 2019 Bedrock Wine Co. Evangelho Vineyard Heritage Red Wine. It is our September wine of the month.
We received this bottle, among others, for a virtual winetasting conducted by Aldo Sohm. The wine is a gem. It is a Zinfandel-based blend that also features Carignan, Mataro, Alicante Bouschet, Grand Noir, Mission, Palomino, and Clairette Blanche.
Most of us on the executive board are suckers for wine that pours purple from the bottle to the glass. This Bedrock Wine shows that beautifully rich, opaque hue. On the nose you experience a powerful aroma of jammy black fruits. This wine is full bodied with ripe blackberry and leather on the tongue. Surprisingly low tannins and a silky mouth feel lead to a satisfyingly even finish. Outstanding.
As you know, at Peninsula Underground we don’t just love great wine, we love great value. This flagship Contra Costa County wine from Bedrock Wine Co. retails for under $40. It is a must buy and our September wine of the month.
Purchase yours and follow here: https://bedrockwineco.com/bedrock-heritage/on-the-wings-of-a-pig/
Cabernet Sauvignon can be a difficult purchase, particularly if your goal is to bring a bottle to a friend’s house for dinner. What’s the problem? Cabs are among the more expensive varietals and what you typically find in the supermarket aisles are current releases that are often heavily tannic and therefore not yet approachable.
We offered a solution with our May 2020 wine of the month, the Mercer Family Vineyards Horse Heaven Hills Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve, which is exceptional and checks in around $25. Washington Cabs like Mercer are generally a great value. But can you really find a quality California Cab that is ready to drink right away for around $25?
Yes you can. Let us introduce you to the 2018 Liberty School Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve from Paso Robles. It is our October 2021 wine of the month. This release comes from Hope Family Wines, makers of the highly regarded Austin Hope Cabernet Sauvignon, which we refer to as the Great American Cab.
As you know, at Peninsula Underground we are fascinated by wines that perform well on pop-and-pour. This Liberty School Reserve is money in that regard. Out of the bottle it pours as deep cardinal. After a swirl your nose detects picante dark fruit. This wine is drinkable from the first sip as softened tannins are integrated into dark fruit and pepper. Wonderfully balanced. We paired it with pumpkin spice hummus and it was magic in the mouth. Perfect for the fall season.
As with the Mercer Cab, this delightful 2018 Liberty School Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve checks in at $25. See, it is possible to pick up a great California Cab at the market that you can drink tonight at a reasonable price. Bravo Hope Family Wines!
For showing that you can have it all with a California Cab, the 2018 Liberty School Reserve is our October 2021 wine of the month.
Purchase yours and follow Hope Family Wines here:
Many of us are prone to hyperbole in our speech. It’s a way that we emphasize our feelings about something. Sometimes that hyperbole is literally true. This is the case with our November wine of the month. The 2020 Verterra Rosé of Merlot is the best Rosé we have ever tasted.
Located in Leland, Michigan in the Leelanu Peninsula AVA, Verterra Winery has been producing award-winning, estate-grown wines and hard ciders for years.
This wine is beautiful in the bottle; a deep pink/salmon color. It has an inviting aroma of strawberries and raspberries that is slightly floral. With a hint of effervescence, the taste confirms the nose of red berry fruit and has a long finish. It is an absolute crowdpleaser. Hear everyone “oooh and aaah” as you pour it from the bottle; you might even hear people prone to hyperbole to describe it. It is absolutely delicious.
The 2020 Verterra Rosé of Merlot is more than just a great summer Rosé to savor by the pool or lake. We’re way past the point now in our collective wine knowledge of pigeon-holing Rosé into a summertime, daytime wine. This Verterra Rosé of Merlot should be enjoyed anytime you want a bold, bright, tasty wine.
This outstanding representation of the northwestern Michigan wine region delivers great taste and great value at $26 and we proudly name it as our November wine of the month. Pick up at least a half a case and follow them here:
Things happen for a reason. On our recent trip to Paso Robles we arrived at our vacation rental to find it had no running water. After several frustrating hours trying to get this resolved (don’t ever rent from TurnKey Vacation Rentals) we had to leave to check into a hotel. This caused us to have to change our tight winery itinerary for the next day. The result was an unscheduled stop to visit Nicora’s tasting room in Tin City of Paso Robles. We’re so glad we did. Their 2019 Buxom is our December wine of the month.
Upon arriving at Nicora we were met by tasting room manager and sommelier Evan Vossler, who was happy to accommodate our group of six. It was immediately evident that Evan has a passion for service and uses the delicious wines at Nicora as his vehicle for bringing joy to others. We chatted and joked with him as if we were old friends. He is smart, amiable, and fun. Evan led us through a series of Syrahs and Syrah blends that were all delicious. Really, any of them could have been our wine of the month; whatever you buy at Nicora is a great purchase. We also want to recognize general manager Glenn Mitton, who is a great guy, even though he wouldn’t share his pizza with us (smiles)!
The 2019 Buxom is a 100% Syrah that comes from three vineyards: 74% La Vista Vineyard, Adelaida District, Paso Robles; 13% Bien Nacido Vineyard, Santa Maria Valley, Santa Barbara County; and 13% Fulldraw Vineyard, Willow Creek District, Paso Robles. Winemaker Nick Elliott, who cut his teeth with Central Coast heavyweights Scott Hawley (Torrin), Eric Jensen (Booker), and Bob Tillman (Alta Colina), has produced a big, bold Syrah that is approachable right out of the bottle. This is the result of having used the cooler climate Bien Nacido vineyard to temper the wine. In the glass it is a crimson purple with no rim variation. The nose and palate are consistent as you savor the dark fruits and smoked meats with firms tannins that build to a long finish. A luxurious wine to be enjoyed now and over the next 8-10 years.
We are always impressed with wines that outperform their price. While the $65 price tag might give you some pause, it is much better than many Syrahs we tasted in Paso Robles that were more expensive. We suggest picking up several bottles for the holidays.
Order yours here and when you do tell them you heard about their wine from Peninsula Underground: