Posted October 18, 2018
Last week, the PLCB held a Chairman's Selection "Preview" tasting open to the press for the first time in a year. We say "Preview" in quotes because the logistics challenges meant that some of the wines tasted are already widely available in stores. Regardless, it was a nice way to sample various current and upcoming Chairman's Selection wines.
The start time was pushed forward by half an hour on short notice to make room for a special non-Chairman's Selection presentation. The Cheurlin family has been producing Champagne since 1788, but only recently entered the US market. They've partnered with NBA Hall of Famer Isiah Thomas who is acting as their spokesman and US importer. He was on hand at the presentation, along with two members of the Cherlin family. We tasted three of their four Champagnes which recently became available in PA. They were pretty decent!
But back to the Chairman's. We tasted 35 wines in six flights (not counting the Cheurlin). For the first time in what seems like years, there was no dessert wine sampled. Maybe that's because Luke Ashton, the PLCB's biggest sweet wine fan, has moved upstairs and is no longer buying for the Chairman's program. It's not yet clear if his replacement, Josh Hull, shares the same love of everything sweet. But when it comes to European wines, we can at least say that Josh has excellent pronunciation!
J2K came along for the ride, and we put him on the spot for a video. He responded in a big way with a lightning round-style review of 26 wines in less than three minutes, which you can see below.
But first, our written coverage, with the wines listed in the order in which they were sampled. We left off a few which failed to make much of an impression.
Humble Bunch Sauvignon Blanc 2017 (PLCB # 78907) $9.99 - As stated in the video, this may be the first Kiwi Sauvignon Blanc I've enjoyed. It has the signature grapefruit on the nose and palate, but it seemed a little softer than most, which made it more enjoyable. Made by Yealands Winery.
Maison Jean Hauteville Chablis Vieilles Vignes 2016 (PLCB # 78789) $24.99 - I agree with J2K in that it seemed a bit flat.
Nielson by Byron Chardonnay 2015 (PLCB # 78909) $9.99 - Very soft with practically no acidity (despite the winemaker's notes). No thank you.
Solitude Chardonnay 2014 (PLCB # 78936) $16.99 - Very oaky. Has a bit more acidity than the Nielson but not enough.
Chateau St. Jean Chardonnay Reserve 2014 (PLCB # 78946) $29.99 - There was some debate as to whether this wine or the Solitude is oakier, but this was certainly more dense, almost thick. Again, could use more acidity.
When we got to the two Rosés, Steve mentioned that they are reducing their exposure to Rosés in the program. Last year they jumped into the Rosé market with both feet, and ended up getting burned and had to put many of their seventeen offerings on clearance. Going forward they intend to stick to Rosés from Provence and the US. Thus, we sampled one from each.
Château Ferry Lacombe Haedus Rosé Côtes de Provence 2017 (PLCB # 78900) $12.99 - This was reasonable, though I wasn't as enthusiastic as J2K. I liked the flavors but would have preferred a bit more intensity.
Kendall-Jackson Rosé Grand Reserve 2016 (PLCB # 78910) $11.99 - One could argue that they took what should have gone into a box and put it in a bottle instead. Pass.
Nielson by Byron Pinot Noir 2015 (PLCB # 78934) $11.99 - Claimed to be 100% Pinot Noir. Dry, mid-weight, short finish. If you're looking for an under $15 Pinot you could do worse.
Soléna Estate Pinot Noir Grande Cuvée 2015 (PLCB # 78905) $17.99 - This wine benefitted from following on the heels of the Nielson. This has a light-to-medium body and is well balanced. If you want to sit on a few bottles they will almost certainly be better in a couple years.
Carden Pinot Noir 2012 (PLCB # 78903) $29.99 - There is very little information available on Carden wines, as their web site seems...sparse? But it turns out that this wine was made by Tony Rynders, who established his reputation as winemaker at Domaine Serene in Willamette Valley. It's not clear whether he is still making wine at Carden. What we do know is that 2012 was an awesome vintage in Willamette Valley, and this wine is terrific.
Qupé Syrah 2013 (PLCB # 78912) $12.99 - This wine was the surprise hit of the tasting. We had a couple Qupé wines in the program a few years ago which didn't make much of an impression. But Steve pointed out those were from the Central Coast AVA, while this is one of their premium Santa Barbara County wines. It has big fruit, is a touch sweet, but only 13.5% alcohol. It's a steal at $12.99.
Matetic Vineyards Syrah Corralillo 2014 (PLCB # 78878) $14.99 - This wine was a pleasant surprise. I can't say that I've had many Syrahs from Chile. Part of the reason is that it's not hard to find decent Syrahs from the Rhone valley for the same money. But I have to say that I kinda liked this wine - despite J2K's disapproval.
Bel Ormeau Les Hérits Blaye Côtes de Bordeaux 2015 (PLCB # 78882) $12.99 - Terrific vintage, terrific price. Wine is not too bad either assuming you like Merlot (I don't).
Duca di Saragnano Rosso di Montalcino 2016 (PLCB # 78887) $10.99 - Dry, acidic, tart cherries. Classic Sangiovese from Tuscany.
Castello di Gabbiano Chianti Classico Riserva 2013 (PLCB # 78913) $13.99 - Ditto.
Gabarda Selección 2015 (PLCB # 78911) $10.99 - A blend of Cariñena and Garnacha from Cariñena, Spain. Starts off well but falls off the palate quickly.
Contino Rioja Reserva 2014 (PLCB # 78895) $29.99 - Big and oaky, medium tannins. Claimed 13.5% alcohol but tasted like more. Needs some time.
At one point while we were tasting a Cabernet Sauvignon, Steve mentioned that prices for Cabernet have really gone up and it has become very difficult to source Napa Cabs for the program at what he considers to be reasonable prices. Thus, of all the Cabernets we tasted, only one was from Napa Valley. Several others were from Washington, one was from Tuscany, and one was from Spain.
For a Song Cabernet Sauvignon Columbia Valley 2015 (PLCB # 78919) $9.99 - This may be the best $10 Cabernet sold by the PLCB. I'll leave it at that.
Los Frailes Sinergia Cabernet Sauvignon 2014 (PLCB # 78888) $16.99 - The first Cab I've ever had from Valencia, Spain. A big step up from For a Song. I'll leave it at that.
Cafaggio Basilica del Cortaccio Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 (PLCB # 78939) $24.99 - I thought this was flat.
L'Ecole No. 41 Cabernet Sauvignon 2014 (PLCB # 78914) $24.99 - OK now we're getting somewhere. This was very dry and tannic and came across as exactly what it is - a young Cabernet. If you like your Cab that way, buy it and drink up. Otherwise you would likely be rewarded if you put some away for several years.
Carden Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 (PLCB # 78902) $24.99 - Another young Washington Cab with potential.
Mark Herold Wines Collide 2014 (PLCB # 78886) $16.99 - This field blend from California is a new world fruit bomb. There's a market for this type of wine.
Havens Winery Bourriquot 2015 (PLCB # 78908) $19.99 - This is the third vintage (though not consecutive) of this wine in the Chairman's Selection program. It's big, oaky, smooth, almost viscous, and a tad sweet. A great buy for fans of the style.
Whitehall Lane Cabernet Sauvignon Friends & Family 2017 (PLCB # 78916) $24.99 - Steve mentioned that this wine was put together especially for the Chairman's Selection program under the label the winery uses for special bottlings. It was disappointing.
We sampled two wines by J. Bookwalter, both Cabernet Sauvignon blends, from Columbia Valley in Washington. The first was Protagonist 2014 which is 90% Cabernet, and the second was Conflict 2015 which is 47% Cabernet and 45% Merlot. Both are priced at $35.99, which is a better deal for the former than it is for the latter. They are both big and ripe with a lot of oak and alcohol (14.9% and 14.8% respectively).
Bersano Barolo Badarina 2012 (PLCB # 78943) $29.99 - Rather light in color. I liked this more than J2K did. My thoughts line up pretty well with Wine Spectator's review which says, in part, "A generous version...lean and firmly structured." Barolos are known for taking forever and a day to hit their optimum drinking window, but oddly enough I thought this was drinking OK now. The PLCB bought 1100 cases which was the entire production of this vintage from Bersano.
Villalta Amarone Della Valpolicella Classico I Comunali 2014 (PLCB # 78940) $37.99 - Decent value, perhaps not quite as raisin-y as typical Amarones.
Bodega Carmen Rodríguez Toro Carodorum Selección Especial Reserva 2012 (PLCB # 78944) $34.99 - Big, tannic, oaky Tempranillo. And 15% alcohol. Steve remarked that the winery probably had set an unrealistically high asking price. That being said, our Chairman's Selection price is actually $5 higher than Costco in Atlanta! I know I know, Johnstown Flood tax, etc.
Take it away J2K!
[Disclosure: PAWineTalk was invited by the PLCB to a free tasting of these wines, and lunch was also provided. We also got to meet Isiah Thomas!]
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