Category Archives: California wine

Wine of the week: Clayhouse Adobe Red 2011


 Clayhouse Adobe Red The Wine Curmudgeon spends an inordinate amount of time trying to find California labels to use for the wine of the week. Either they’re too pricey, $10 wines in $16 packaging, or too crummy, one-note wines with little more than focus group sweet fruit.

So when I find a California wine to use, like the Clayhouse Adobe Red ($12, purchased, 13.7%), you know it’s not a wine of the week just to fill space. Rather, it’s one of a too-rare example of what California — in this case, the Paso Robles region — can do with cheap wine when a producer focuses on wine and not hocus pocus.

This red blend, mostly zinfandel, has lots of sweet red fruit. But that’s not all it has, and the fruit is more than balanced by a surprising grip, some zinfandel brambliness that you almost never see anymore, and soft tannins on the finish. That a wine at this price and this style has tannins to complement the fruit shows how serious Clayhouse is about quality.

Highly recommended, and so far above the glut of grocery store wine that I must endure to do what I do that I could carve out a special place in the 2016 $10 Hall of Fame for it. Serve the Clayhouse Adobe Red as winter ends, but keep it around for summer barbecues.

Wine of the week: Lyeth Meritage 2012


Lyeth MeritageWineries are like rock ‘n roll bands — they come and go for no particular reason, and if you write about wine or drink it, that’s something you need to understand. Just because a winery made a great wine one vintage is no guarantee it will be around to make a great wine five years later.

Which is much of what you need to know about the Lyeth Meritage ($12, purchased, 13.5%). In the 1980s and early 1990s, this was one of the world’s great wine values, and then it disappeared. I had not seen it in 20 years until I was digging through the bottom shelves of a Dallas wine shop a couple of weeks ago, and there it was.

Hence this very unexpected — but very positive — Lyeth Meritage review. A Big Wine company bought the Lyeth name and has been turning out a full line of wine for the past couple of years. They have done an excellent job with the Meritage, a red blend that’s mostly merlot and cabernet sauvignon. And it shows just how good cheap wine can be when the producer cares — terroir, even. Look for sweet Sonoma black fruit, earthiness, and tannins that offer some grip, each part in balance with the other.

Highly recommended; big enough so that it would complement red meat, but not so big you can’t sip it in the evening after work. And if Lyeth can come back, does that mean there’s hope for Rockpile?

Expensive wine 71: Jordan Chardonnay 2012


jordan chardonnayThe world of California chardonnay has gone in so many directions over the past decade that it’s sometimes difficult to keep track. First, everything was toasty and oaky, then there was the backlash against toasty and oaky, and then there was the backlash against the backlash. Meanwhile, alcohol levels shot up by a point or more, giving us chardonnay that was hot as some zinfandels, close to 15 percent. Except when they weren’t.

Through all of this, a handful of producers ignored the trends and did what they did best. One is the Jordan chardonnay ($30, sample, 13.7%). Vintage after vintage, it’s dependable, well-made, and varietally correct. This, in the hipster world of California chardonnay, is often seen as damning with faint praise.

Which is foolish. What’s wrong with doing something correctly every year? The Jordan is the archetype for California Russian River Valley chardonnay, with green apple fruit, oak more or less in balance, and a rich mouth feel. This vintage is a little less oaky and more crisp, with a bit of apricot in the mix.

The Jordan chardonnay is better with food, and especially with classic chardonnay dishes made with cream sauces. But given the extra acidity in this vintage, don’t shy away from from roasted fish or chicken ballotine. Highly recommended (even for the holiday that must not be named), and regular visitors here know how fussy I am about chardonnay.

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