Friday, September 26, 2008

How three wineries are elevating America's top varietal from punch line to powerhouse...

One of the first things I do on Friday mornings is check the wine section in the San Francisco Chronicle. Usually to read about old friends and wineries that I help out here in Texas. This morning was no exception. LIOCO is in the spotlight. I am so proud of Matt and Kevin for what they set out to accomplish in this wacko world of wine and how they've made it happen for LIOCO. If you haven't picked up a bottle or 12 of LIOCO yet, you better get on it. Their reds are outstanding too!

Here's the article below from the paper today...Cheers - Ali

Matt Licklider and Kevin O'Conner: Mission: To highlight the potential of extraordinary Chardonnay vineyards.

Over time, an overarching question emerged: Rather than dabble in the usual lip service about terroir or Burgundian style, could they make wines in California that reflected the true nature of their origins? How would such wines be made? How would they be different from the endless roster of others' single-vineyard wines?

They settled on Chardonnay and Pinot Noir as base material. The two began devising a strategy

that, for Chardonnay at least, would strip away most of the typical artifice and let the grapes' origins emerge. Looking to the crisp white wines of Chablis and the Loire Valley, they left behind wood barrels and casks in favor of steel tanks. Yeasts would be wild.

"What we're trying to do," says Kevin Kelley, Lioco's winemaker, "is remove as much of the winemaking as possible."

So far, none of this was terribly different from other unoaked Chardonnays on the market. But in this case they felt the typical model for wannabe Chablis - clear, lees-free juice and no malolactic fermentation in order to preserve crispness - was its own sort of interventionism. So they agreed to allow a natural malolactic fermentation to take place, and let wines sit on their lees (though never stirred) to bolster texture. It was a hybrid approach, melding the austerity of unoaked wines and the fullness of standard California Chard.

"It wasn't that we had a chip on our shoulder about oaky Chardonnay," Licklider says. "We thought we would go the whole distance with it."

What really mattered, though, were the sites they bartered and begged to get fruit from. They sought out parcels that, Licklider says, hosted vines "at the limits of their viability." That meant rocky, poor soils in the Sonoma Coast, Anderson Valley and the Chalone appellation outside Monterey.

Rather than tie themselves to a specific site, they followed the path of many younger vintners and sought out a portfolio of top sources. With the exception of their Sonoma County Chardonnay, a blend of three parcels that provides an introduction to the Lioco style, each of the four vineyard-designated wines (along with Lioco's similarly conceived Pinot Noirs) offers a distinct snapshot of vintage and origins.

And what origins. Lioco's vineyard list intersects with some of the state's best Chardonnay locales: such places as Durell Vineyard, which sources powerhouses like Patz & Hall and Kistler, or the Charles Heintz Vineyard, where wineries like Ted Lemon's Littorai get fruit.

Lioco's wines can shock the uninitiated. Rather than the sharp edges and sometimes barely ripe profiles of unoaked Chardonnay, they burst with earthy aromas and rich fruit flavors, at times more evoking a white Rhone or dry Alsatian wine. Flavors are clean and mouthfilling, not tropical but still exotic. A bit of decanting seems to help bring out the vibrancy.

Stripped of their oak and yeast trappings, each Chardonnay is unmistakably different, though with 2005 as their first vintage, it's a bit soon to know whether each vineyard will maintain its signature every year. But that's the joy of the project. O'Connor and Licklider have called a bluff on the notion that California vineyards are by default worthy of distinction. If they're proven right, they'll have strong evidence that even in the land of oak and butter, Chardonnay terroir is no myth.


2007 Lioco Sonoma County Chardonnay ($20) A blend of fruit from the Stuhlmuller, Diamond Oaks and Mazzera vineyards, this displays Lioco's style, not its preference for single-site wines. Solid, soft apple and melon fruit are balanced by hay and chive highlights. The oak-free texture is firm but ripe, though the alcohol shows a bit, which is one side effect of Lioco's WYSIWYG approach.

2006 Lioco Durell Vineyard Sonoma Valley Chardonnay ($40) From a hilly, gravelly site at the edge of Sonoma Valley, and picked at just over 23 Brix, a measure of sugar. Taut and edgy, with notes of yeast and puffed wheat to open. Then green apple, peach and grapefruit, with a bit of bitter almond on a firm finish. There's momentum to the wine, plenty of body but no moment when it loses focus.

2006 Lioco Charles Heintz Vineyard Sonoma Coast Chardonnay ($45) Probably the most polarizing of Lioco's wines. The fog-shrouded Heintz vineyard, at 1,000 feet elevation outside Occidental, faced a wet September and the threat of rot. There are clear signs of botrytis (noble rot) in what is a completely dry wine. With heavy notes of honey, fresh orange, yellow apple and Anjou pear, and a leesy weight, it's expressive and exotic, with the impression of lemon confit and a remarkably opulent texture even for Chardonnay. Think along the lines of the dry wines of Sauternes.

This article appeared on page F - 4 of the San Francisco Chronicle

Thursday, September 18, 2008


The Wine Spectator highlights the producers of Vine Connections (once again!)...

Here's a selection of new releases that demonstrates what Argentina does best: lots of vivid, ripe fruit flavors with rich but fresh finishes, all with lots of bang for the buck.

All the wines here are under $30, some under $20, and they represent the efforts of some of Argentina's best winemakers. Luis Reginato is one of them—he fashions the wines for both Laura Catena's Luca brand as well as the La Posta del Viñatero label. Roberto de la Mota, undaunted by a car accident that has left him using a wheelchair, has Bodega Mendel already among Argentina's elite wineries in just its third vintage...while Susana Balbo's Dominio del Plata winery produces both the muscular BenMarco styled wines her viticulturalist ex-husband, Pedro Marchevsky, prefers, as well as her more polished, suave eponymous line.

LUCA Syrah Uco Valley Laborde Double Select 2006 Score: 91 | $25
Rich, toasty, ambitious style, with lots of flashy mocha, blueberry compote, blackberry and boysenberry fruit. Lushly textured, with a long, creamy finish that lets the exotic fruit echo. Drink now through 2010. 2,500 cases made.
MAPEMA Malbec Mendoza 2006 Score: 90 | $20
Ripe and forward with dark licorice, fig, currant preserve and chocolate notes riding along round, rich tannins. Rock solid finish. Drink now through 2010. 2,000 cases made.
DOMINIO DEL PLATA Malbec Mendoza Susana Balbo 2007 Score: 90 | $27
Sports an enticing mocha and spice filled nose, along with creamy raspberry and boysenberry fruit flavors that carry through the lengthy, pure finish. Drink now through 2009. 6,000 cases made.—J.M.
LA POSTA DEL VIÑATERO Malbec Mendoza Angel Paulucci Vineyard 2007 Score: 90 | $18
Juicy and ripe, with lots of fig, blackberry, mocha and currant paste notes that pump through the rich, fleshy finish. Solid acidity keeps it honest. Drink now through 2010. 8,000 cases made. —J.M.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Live from Monday Night Football

It's good to be the wine maker for Luca, Tikal, La Posta and Reginato wines from Argentina! Luis is enjoying his first NFL game - what a cool game to see. Go COWBOYS! Cheers - ALI

Cooled off in Dallas today.

So nice to have seen some old friends and new faces yesterday afternoon at Central Market Fort Worth. My wine makers always say it's the friendliest place they visit. Many bottles of La Posta Pizzella Malbec, La Posta Cocina and Tikal Patriota were purchased and what a beautiful COOL evening to enjoy them. The temperature has finally dropped here - I woke up to a chill in the air - WHOO HOO! The best time of year to stock up your wine stash at home.

On a more serious note, please keep your thoughts and prayers on James Koonce and family. James is the wine director for Brennan's in Houston - he and his daughter were trapped inside the restaurant when Hurricane Ike hit - Brennan's suffered a huge fire. They are both in critical condition and have been flown to San Antonio. I know events and benefits are currently being organized - stay tuned for details soon. James has always stood out to me as one of the hardest working, incredibly passionate and humble wine buyers in the state, a treasure. He has soo many people pulling for him!

Cheers to a good week ahead and for the Houston area to recover quickly from the Hurricane Ike mess. - Ali

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Tuesday Night in Fort Worth

Don't miss out on the chance to meet the winemaker of Luca, Tikal and LaPosta wines. Luis Reginato will be at Lanny's for a gourmet dinner and celebration.

A portfolio wine tasting will precede from 5:30-6:30 with passed hors d’ oeuvres and over 12 different wines to sample. $125per person.

Wines of Argentina

First Course

Reginato, Blanc de Blanc Sparkling

Second Course

Crios, Torrontes

Third Course

Luca Syrah & Luca Chardonnay

Fourth Course

Susana Balbo, “Brioso”

Fifth Course

Virtuoso, Late Harvest Malbec

For Reservations, call (817) 850-9996

Or email

Thursday, September 11, 2008

We Are Austin...

Random Pictures from the last few days around to enlarge.
  1. Friday -TCA Asian Pacific Culinary Event featuring Sake from Vine Connections.
  2. Henley stalking the mailman on Saturday.
  3. Sunday morning greetings from this bright green lizard on the porch.
  4. "Curly Suicide Fan' at a Hell Cats Roller Derby Match.
  5. And of course, a Pig lover parked at the Post Office yesterday.
No problem with Austinites keeping things weird. Cheers - Ali

Saturday, September 06, 2008

More Amazing Scores!

Great news! Vine Connections recently received outstanding Wine Spectator reviews for the current release of Luca Malbec 2007 and for several other much-anticipated, upcoming releases. Check them out below...oh yeah!

LUCA - Shipping Now!
Malbec 2007
93 points | $35 | 1,700 cases

LUCA - Est. Release Date: November 1st
Nico 2005
94 points | $125 | 100 cases

SOTROS - Est. Release Date: November 1st
Malbec 2006
94 points | $100 | 200 cases

BENMARCO - Est. Release Date: January 1st
Expresivo 2006
92 points | $35 | 700 cases

LUCA - Est. Release Date: February 1st
Beso de Dante 2006
93 points | $50 | 200 cases

TIKAL - Est. Release Date: March 1st
Jublio 2006
91 points | $50 | 350 cases

Thursday, September 04, 2008

This just in from Eric Solomon...

The Parker reviews came in last night during a heated match of petanque at Chateau Pesquie - and how fitting since Pesquie itself received the highest score in the Rhone report!

2005 Chateau Pesquie Quintessence - 93 Points

"Pesquie's top cuvee, the 2005 Quintessence, comes from 80% old vine Syrah and 20% Grenache aged in new French oak for 12 months before being bottled with no fining or filtration. This is an opaque purple-hued, classic, cool climate Syrah from southern France. The higher elevation gives the wine great acidity as well as an extraordinary bouquet of acacia flowers, creme de cassis, blackberries, tar, licorice, and spice. Deep, full-bodied, and layered, this gorgeous offering should drink beautifully for 5-7 years."

2006 Chateau Pesquie Terrasses - 90 Points

"The unfined/unfiltered 2006 Les Terrasses Rouge, a custom cuvee made for American importer Eric Solomon, is a blend of 70% Grenache and 30% Syrah. Its deep ruby/purple hue is accompanied by a lovely bouquet of black currants, black cherries, licorice, smoke, roasted herbs, and melted licorice. Deep and full-bodied with velvety tannins, good acidity, and a long finish, this is a heck-of-a wine to drink over the next 4-5 years.

"This is the benchmark estate for fabulous wine in the Cotes du Ventoux. Even with the weak American dollar, it can still be purchased for a song."

Other Highlights:


  • 2006 Calvet-Thunevin VDP des Cotes Catalanes Cuvee Constance 91 points
  • 2005 Chateau La Graviere Tirecul Les Pins 90 points
  • 2006 Chateau Pesquie Cotes du Ventoux Cuvee des Terrasses 90 points
  • 2005 Chateau Pesquie Cotes du Ventoux la Quintessence 93 points
  • 2007 Domaine d'Andezon Cotes du Rhone Villages la Granacha Signargues 91 points
  • 2007 Domaine Lafage Cote d'Est 90 points
  • 2006 Domaine Lafage Cote Grenache 90 points
  • 2007 Frederic Giachino Abymes Monfarina 92 points
  • 2006 Philippe Cambie Cotes du Rhone Calendal 90 points
  • 2005 Saint-Jean du Barroux Cotes du Ventoux l'Oligocene 91 points
  • 2006 Domaine de l'Hortus (Jean Orliac) Coteaux du Languedoc Bergerie Classique Rouge 90 points
  • 2005 Domaine du Clos des Fees Cotes Catalanes Blanc 90 points
  • 2007 Domaine la Garrigue Cotes du Rhone Cuvee Romaine 92 points
  • 2007 Domaine de l'Hortus (Jean Orliac) Coteaux du Languedoc Bergerie Classique Blanc 90 points
  • 2006 Domaine de la Janasse Cotes du Rhone les Garrigues (90-92) points
  • 2005 Domaine de la Janasse Cotes du Rhone les Garrigues 92 points
  • 2005 Domaine la Garrigue Cotes du Rhone Cuvee Romaine 91 points
  • 2005 Domaine la Garrigue Vacqueyras 90+ points
  • 2006 Domaine la Garrigue Vacqueyras 91 points
  • 2006 Domaine la Soumade Cotes du Rhone les Violettes 90 points
  • 2005 Domaine la Soumade Cotes du Rhone les Violettes 91 points


  • 2007 Bodegas Casa Castillo Monastrell 90 points
  • 2006 Bodegas Castano Hecula 90 points
  • 2007 Bodegas Valderroa Valdesil Godello 90 points
  • 2007 Bodegas Mustiguillo Mestizaje 90 points
  • 2006 Creta Creta 91 points
  • 2006 Creta Roble 90+ points
  • 2006 Gramona Cava Grand Cuvee 90 points
  • 2006 Las Rocas de San Alejandro Garnacha 91 points
  • 2006 Las Rocas de San Alejandro Garnacha Vinas Viejas 91 points
  • 2007 Pazo de Senorans Albarino 92 points
  • 2007 Rafael Palacios Louro Do Bolo 90 points
  • 2006 Vinas de El Regejal El Regejal 92 points
  • 2007 Bodegas Jimenez Landi Sotorrondero 90 points