Sensual Syrah

Today’s Story: Lillian Winery

Lillian came to fruition in 2004 with their inaugural release of Syrah. The winemaker, Maggie Harrison, worked as assistant winemaker for Manfred Krankl of Sine Qua Non (think $200-$1,000 bottles of cult Rhone varietals) when he encouraged her to begin producing her own Syrahs. With grapes coming from the White Hawk Vineyard, Maggie bottled 150 cases of her 2004 Syrah and, though I have not had that vintage, the several vintages I’ve had sense clearly reflect on her experiences at Sine Qua Non.

Over time Lillian grew from 150 cases and, although still small, sources grapes from White Hawk Vineyard, Stolpman Vineyards, Bien Nacido Vineyards, and now Cabernet Sauvignon from True Vineyard on Howell Mountain. Additionally, Maggie makes Lillian Roussanne from Stolpman Vineyards. Each vineyard offers different character to her Syrah (White Hawk is sandy soil producing dark fruit personality, Stolpman is calcareous soil producing brighter fruit but more tannin structure, and Bien Nacido is cooler producing smokier and floral notes with higher acidity and tannin) and when they come together produce a very elegant wine.

Today’s Wine: 2013 Lillian Syrah

100% Syrah; 14.5% ABV

Looking at today’s wine in the glass, we have a purple/ruby color that is not as opaque as many Syrahs that I’ve had. Without a decanter, I let this slow ox for a couple hours before drinking, which helped open the wine from my initial pop and pour taste. On the nose we have elegantly intertwined aromas of blackberry, black cherry, violets, wet gravel, and ground coffee. I could smell this wine all day without taking a sip. Once in the mouth, we get flavors of blueberry, black fruit, cola, black pepper, and a hint of oak and tobacco. Full-bodied like most California Syrah, today’s Lillian shows moderate acidity and dusty, refined tannins into a medium (+) length finish.

Price: $90. Considering Maggie Harrison’s history with Syrah and how beautiful and elegant this bottle is, I think this is well worth a try. Adding how difficult it can be to find a bottle of Lillian, this is a must-try. Pair this with a leg of lamb or lighter, slightly smokey barbecue.

Vitality from Spain

Today’s Story: Envínate

Founded by four friends who studied Oenology together, Envínate quickly became one of, in my opinion, the most important producers in Spain. These individuals (Roberto Santana, Laura Ramos, Alfonso Torrente, and José Martínez) came together through their mutual passion for growing grapes native to Spain and making wines that demonstrate with full truth and transparency a range of terroir with a coastal focus. Add this to the fact that they produce wine in a very traditional sense (vineyards are hand-picked, grapes are foot-trodden, and the wine is fermented with native yeasts and stored in neutral-oak barrels with sulfer only added in small amounts if needed at bottling) and there’s no surprise Envínate is showing the world what true Spanish wine can be.

On the topic of terroir, Envínate added to vineyard holdings over time with their vines now grown in Ribeira Sacra, Tenerife, and Almansa. Each of the three areas have unique soils ranging from slate to volcanic to chalky with their ultimate intent to demonstrate the different terroir in its most honest sense across grape varieties that they plant.

Discussing Envínate, I think it is quite apparent why they are such an important fixture in the Spanish wine community. The care, dedication, and traditional winemaking style employed elevates their wines onto high-end wine lists and into the inner circles of sommeliers and wine aficionados that may not otherwise learn to appreciate what makes Spanish wine Spanish. While they are a relatively small operation and Envínate wines are somewhat rare and hard to find, if you spot a bottle in your local wine store do not pass up trying it.

Today’s Wine: 2018 Envínate Albahra

100% Garnacha Tintorera; 13% ABV

I’ve tried a couple other wines from Envínate, but this was my first bottle of the Albahra and both my tasting companions and myself were thoroughly impressed. We let this open in the decanter for about 30 minutes before drinking and that seemed to do the trick. In appearance the wine is a very deep, opaque purple with moderate staining on the glass. On the nose, we have aromas of plum, black fruit, asphalt, volcanic soil, and a hint of dark chocolate. Once in the mouth, flavors of blackberry, red fruit, graphite, smoked meat, and charred earth abound. This medium- to full-bodied wine is bold, yet easy drinking, with medium (+) tannins, medium (+) acidity, and a long finish.

Price: $24, an outstanding value that cannot be missed. I think this would go great with game, red meat, and lamb.

A Napa Take On Chablis

Today’s Story: Alpha Omega

Alpha Omega is the creation of Robin and Michelle Baggett following their move to Napa Valley in 2006. Though Robin began his foray into wine much earlier, in 1988 as a grape grower and in 1998 by starting Tolosa Winery, Michelle worked in the design and development of hospitality brands before the couple culminated their pursuits into Alpha Omega.

While Alpha Omega is known for their red wines (they make multiple excellent single vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon options) that range from Cabernet Sauvignon to Cabernet Franc to Merlot and blends, the winery produces some great Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, and late harvest whites. I recently had an opportunity to taste at the winery through a library of single vineyard Cabs, however it was the Chardonnay I tasted there that led me to want to try the Unoaked variation I am reviewing today.

Today’s Wine: 2015 AO Chardonnay Unoaked

100% Chardonnay; 13.4% ABV

2015 marked the last growing season of the recent drought, and while quality of the wines remains elevated the fruit yields dropped and one needs to be more discerning in stocking up. I’ve had the opportunity to taste many 2014s and 2015s side-by-side, and I love the way 2015s seem structured and more charismatic while being drinkable now after a decant or years into the future.

In appearance today’s wine is a very pale straw yellow, almost water-white on the edges of the glass. The “lower” alcohol content is apparent on the sides of the glass with a lack of legs but more spotting. Aromas of green apple, pear, peach skin, and white pepper leap from the glass, while I also get a hint of petrol. Once on the palate, this full-bodied Chard showcases notes of lemon, peach, white florals, and mineral. Closing out each sip comes vibrant and high acidity into a well-rounded finish that will only get better with more time in the bottle. Great effort by Alpha Omega in producing a Burgundy-styled white wine.

Price: $35, a little higher than I’d like. Nonetheless, if you find yourself with a bottle, pair this with light fish (like Dover Sole) or shellfish.

Bonus: Single Vineyard Cabs

Since I mentioned the single vineyard Cabernet bottlings, I figured I might as well list them here:

Thomas, Stagecoach, Sunshine Valley, and Beckstoffer Dr. Crane, To Kalon, Georges III, Las Piedras, and Missouri Hopper.

These are some truly special offerings from Alpha Omega, so be sure to keep an eye out for them for a special occasion. I will hopefully be reviewing one, or multiple, sometime soon!

King of Wines

Barolo is a wine worth devoting yourself to.

Battista Rinaldi

Today’s Story: Oddero

Oddero is one of the great, historical producers of Barolo and Barbaresco, with the family owning property in Piedmont dating back to the 18th century. This being said, Giovanni Battista Oddero started producing wines in the commune of La Morra sometime between the 18th and 19th centuries, kicking off what today marks seven generations of winemaking for the Oddero family.

As Oddero’s wines found their way into the world, first by small barrels, bottling began in 1878 under Giacomo Oddero and the winery recently discovered that their Barolo was exported to the Americas via small barrels as early as the late 19th century. This is in stark contrast to today’s winery, which is impacted immeasurably by another Giacomo (grandson of the above).

The second Giacomo worked tirelessly during the 1950s to renovate the farm and winery, meanwhile fighting to demonstrate the quality of Piedmont wines to the world. In doing so, Giacomo helped lay the foundation for DOC and DOCG certifications for wines of the Langhe and guided agricultural regulation for products such as cheese, nuts, and vegetables.

Today, Oddero is led by his daughter Mariacristina and two grandchildren, Isabella and Pietro.

Today’s Wine: 2010 Oddero Barolo

100% Nebbiolo; 14.5% ABV

2010 was a fantastic vintage for Piedmont (just wait until I review a 2013 Barolo!) characterized by a long, cool growing season that allowed for late harvesting of the fruit. Many of these wines seem to be structured and bold, yet elegant at the same time. Age-worthy is almost an understatement…

Our wine today appears a beautiful clear ruby in the glass with, as expected, no signs of aging near the rim. Still somewhat tight on the nose, we get aromas of black cherry, plum, eucalyptus, and leather. After two hours of air, the wine softened a bit and some early alcohol on the nose wore off. On the palate this is a bold, food-worthy Barolo with notes of cherry, dried strawberry, tobacco, just-past-its-prime red licorice, and loamy earth. Medium- to full-bodied with mouthwatering high acidity, medium (+) tannins, and a medium (+) finish that seems to go on for over half a minute. I think this is just starting to enter its drinking window but has plenty of gas left in the tank.

Price: $50. This is an outstanding value to me, in one part due to the quality of Oddero as a producer and another the ability to pull this off the shelf with 9 years of age. Let this breathe while you cook gamey meats, steak, or red sauce meat pastas.

Polished Pauillac

Today’s Story: Château Haut-Bages Libéral

Château Haut-Bages Libéral is a winery in the Pauillac AOC of Bordeaux, and one of eighteen wineries classified as a fifth-growth in 1855 (5ème Grand Cru Classé en 1855). The classification came about when Napoleon III, the emperor of France, organized a Universal Exposition in Paris and wanted French wines in an exhibit. The Bordeaux Chamber of Commerce enlisted wine merchants to develop a list of 1er through 5ème wines only, to not overrun the exhibit with wines, and the designations are present on bottles to this day. Some of you may be familiar with the Premier Grand Crus of Château Lafite Rothschild, Château Latour, Château Margaux, Château Haut-Brion, and Château Mouton Rothschild (this was 2nd-growth until 1973), however these wines start at the $100s of dollars and move upward of $1,000 per bottle.

Anyway, Château Haut-Bages Libéral operated under the Libéral family beginning in the early 18th Century and their wine was shared throughout various social and political circles. For the classification of 1855, half of the winery’s vines are next to Château Latour, with the other half being behind Château Pichon Baron. Running forward to 1960, the family behind Château Pontet-Canet, another 5th-growth in Pauillac, purchased Château Haut-Bages Libéral and replanted much of the vines. Ownership changed again, however, in 1982 when the Villars-Merlaut family stepped in and they have been running the winery since then.

Today’s Wine: 2005 Château Haut-Bages Libéral

65% Cabernet Sauvignon, 35% Merlot; 13% ABV

2005 was an outstanding vintage for Bordeaux, with the growing season hot and dry as a whole. Though vines struggled at times, rain came at opportune moments, particularly in August and September, to help sustain the vines. Today’s wine shows this vintage in stride and the notes demonstrate classic Pauillac. In the glass, we have deep ruby with not much color variation toward the rim. I let this open up in the glass and decanter for about 30 minutes, which it needed, and drank over the following couple hours. The nose showcases notes of blackberry, cigar box, spice, dried soil, green herbs, and pencil shavings. Moving to the palate, our wine displays blackberry, blueberry, charred earth, ground pepper, and a touch of coffee. Overall not entirely complex and easy-drinking, this Bordeaux is medium-bodied and shows medium (+) acidity, medium tannins, and a medium length finish.

Price: $75. I think this is great value for Pauillac, an AOC where wines can run into the hundreds or even thousands of dollars per bottle. Pair this with filet mignon, potatoes, and veggies and you can’t go wrong.

Who Wants Pie?

Today’s Story: Davies Vineyards

Davies Vineyards is one of the most storied wineries in Napa, however to be perfectly honest I don’t think many people new to exploring wine know about them.

Their history began in 1862 when Jacob Schram purchased 200 acres and began the development of hillside vineyards in Napa. In 1870, Chinese laborers dug what became the first hillside caves in Napa Valley for aging and storing wine, with the winery quickly ramping up production. By 1880, Schramsberg was producing 8,403 cases of wine annually from 50 acres of vines, which ramped up to about 28,361 cases from 100 acres of vines by the year 1890. Fortunes would change in the early 1900s, however, when Jacob Schram died in 1905 and the winery sold in 1912.

It wasn’t until 1965, however, that Jack and Jamie Davies purchased the 200 acre Schramsberg property and crushed the first grapes under their proprietorship. Jumping forward in time to 1994, the Davies family started replanting their Diamond Mountain vineyard property with Cabernet Sauvignon and other red Bordeaux varietals, paving the way toward their exceptional red wines in circulation today.

Several years later in 1998, Jack Davies unfortunately passed away and his wife Jamie became Chairman of the winery. Then, in 2000, Davies truly became a family affair when their son Hugh became head winemaker. His 2001 J. Davies Diamond Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon, the first vintage from the replanted vines, released in 2004 and is named in honor of Jack.

Davies makes an assortment of wines, including Pinot Noir which I am reviewing today, as well as sparkling wines under the Schramsberg name. A timeline of the history above can be found at http://www.daviesvineyards.com/about/history/ for parts I missed.

Today’s Wine: 2012 Ferrington Pinot Noir

100% Pinot Noir; 14% ABV

The 2012 vintage in California was a fantastic bounce-back from the cool, rainy 2011. 2012 proved to be a long, sunny growing season that produced outstanding grapes up and down the coast, which in turn created fantastic wines that are now coming into stride. But onto the task at hand… The 2012 Ferrington is pale ruby through and through, a classic Pinot appearance. On the nose I get aromas of cherry, strawberry rhubarb, blueberry, vanilla, baking spices, and a touch of alcohol. This wine smells like a freshly baked pie! The palate offers similar notes to the nose, expanding on blueberry, pomegranate, plum, and iron. The mouthfeel is very silky and elegant, which makes for easy drinking. Medium-bodied with medium (+) acidity, medium (-) tannins, and a long, lingering finish with flavors of overripe red fruits.

Price: $60. I can see a vast majority of Pinot Noir drinkers enjoying this wine for its silky texture and creamy fruit notes, however I think the price-point is high. I would avoid this wine for the plethora of delicious options in the $20-30 range.

Grape of Kings

Cabernet Sauvignon is the king of grapes, but Pinot Noir is the grape of kings.

Unknown

Today’s Story: Wild Hog Vineyard

Wild Hog Vineyard is a small and family-owned operation, and one whose wines I’ve been eager to try for some time now. While the winery opened in 1990, the Schoenfeld family started producing wines in 1977 on their property on the Sonoma Coast. The vineyard is located at 1,400 feet elevation and is 5 miles from the ocean, with the Pinot Noir coming from 3.5 acres of organically farmed vines certified organic by California Certified Organic Farmers.

Another fact I love about Wild Hog, and producers like them, is that the co-owner, Daniel Schoenfeld, is also the winemaker. Even more importantly, his view on winemaking is to let the fruit speak for itself and produces all of his wines unfiltered. This is one of those wines you can taste and truly appreciate the dedication to quality, stemming of course from the winemaker.

For more on their incredible story and farming methods, visit their website http://wildhogvineyard.com/.

Today’s Wine: 2013 Pinot Noir Fort Ross-Seaview

100% Pinot Noir; 15% ABV

2013 proved to be a fantastic vintage for Californian wines, with the growing season long and sunny. It would also mark the first of the drought years (2013, 2014, and 2015). In sight, this wine is deep ruby at its core with some rose petal variation toward the rim of the glass. I let this wine open in the glass for about 30 minutes, with the nose characterized by notes of cranberry, cherry, strawberry, forest floor, smoke, and charred oak. In the mouth, the palate showcases bright red fruits (like cherry, raspberry, and strawberry), jammy blackberry, baking spice, rocky earth, and underbrush. This Pinot is medium- to full-bodied with high, juicy acidity, medium (-) tannins, and a medium length finish. The high ABV is apparent, hence I believe this needs a couple more years of aging to better integrate.

Price: $30. This is right in the sweet spot for quality Pinot Noir for me (high enough price point to be hand crafted and not mass produced, yet low enough to drink more regularly). I do like this wine but I think the ABV detracts from it a bit. Pair it with gamey smoked meats.

Calistoga Royalty

Today’s Story: Chateau Montelena

Chateau Montelena found its origin many years ago, in 1882 to be exact, but experienced short-lived winemaking prowess thanks to the onset of Prohibition during the early 1900s. The winery passed hands several times until, in 1968, Lee and Helen Paschich purchased Montelena with Jim Barrett (who some of you may already know) as partner. Winemaking resumed in 1972 and within years Montelena became one of the most important estates in California, and quite possibly the world…

The year of 1976 proved pivotal for Californian wines, thanks to an unlikely event in a faraway place: the Judgment of Paris. The competition was a blind tasting organized by Steven Spurrier, a British wine merchant, in an attempt to pit the best wines of France against the best wines of California. Up against some of Burgundy’s best white wines (Chardonnay), Chateau Montelena took 1st place with their 1973 vintage Chardonnay and shocked the world. Popularity of Californian wines exploded and Napa Valley became what it is today–a tourist destination filled with some of the best grapes producing world class wines.

Though I am not reviewing their Chardonnay today (I will in the future), I find their Cabernets quite interesting as well.

Today’s Wine: 2011 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon

99% Cabernet Sauvignon, 1% Cabernet Franc; 13.5% ABV

A tough vintage for California, 2011’s are starting to become some of my favorite wines since they truly demonstrate a winemaker’s skill. In appearance, this beauty is still a youthful ruby/purple with no variation toward the rim of the glass. On the nose are aromas of blackberry, blueberry, leather, white pepper, cigar box, chocolate, and dried herbs. Once in the mouth, the wine showcases notes of redcurrant, dried earth, pepper and baking spice, licorice, and green herbs. Full-bodied as most Cabs tend to be, this 2011 shows medium (+) acidity, moderate tannins, and a medium (+) length finish accompanied by notes of iron.

Price: At $130 per bottle, this is not an everyday drinker. While I do like the wine, I think you can find better QPR (quality-to-price-ratio) elsewhere. I recommend this bottle for a special celebration, perhaps over a classic steak dinner.