This is an easy one again today, as I previously wrote about Ridge Vineyards in my post History. Quality. Ridge. back on October 19. Long story short, this is another historic Californian winery and they produce some of my favorite Zinfandel-based wines and Cabernet Sauvignon. I highly suggest you read about their history if you haven’t already.
I’ve had this wine several times and across multiple different vintages, each time being a delightful experience. The wine is medium ruby in color while being moderately opaque. I simply let this breathe in the glass which helped bring out aromas of blackberry, plum, blueberry pie, black licorice, violet, and sweet tobacco. There is not a lick of tertiary aromas yet, which does not surprise me. Once in the mouth, I get notes of very dark plum, black raspberry, blueberry, dates, a hint of charred earth, and a touch of vanilla. This Zinfandel blend is medium-bodied showing medium (+) acidity, medium tannins, and a long finish with notes of black cherry.
Price: $45. As much as it pains me (as a consumer) to see Ridge prices rising from ~$30 a few years ago to where they are now, I still love these wines on a quality perspective. These are consistently well-made wines I suggest everyone try. Pair this with bbq pork or chicken, lamb, or duck breast.
Palmaz Vineyards, as it exists today, was founded in 1997 by Julio and Amalia Palmaz. Julio is a medical doctor by trade, credited with being a co-creator of the heart stent, though he and his wife Amalia always believed that close attention and care to their land can produce superior quality wines for generations to come.
Before I get too far, I’d like to take a step back to the origin of winemaking on their plot of land. In 1852, a man by the name of Henry Hagen moved to the West Coast in pursuit of Gold Rush treasures. Though he originally lived in San Francisco, in 1881 he purchased a plot of land at the southeastern edge of Napa Valley against Mount George and founded Cedar Knoll Vineyard and Winery. At that time a pioneer in Napa Valley, Hagen produced high-quality wines served throughout San Francisco high society and even won a silver medal for his brandy at the 1889 World’s Fair in Paris.
Fortunes changed, however, with Hagen’s death in 1895 and, as many wineries of the time experienced, the onset of Prohibition in 1919. With 450 acres of land in the hands of Hagen’s kin who didn’t share his passion for wine, winemaking ceased and the estate fell into disrepair.
Circling back to the Palmaz family, Julio and Amalia purchased, restored, and modernized the long-lost winery while building an estate totaling 600 acres with 64 acres under vine. One of the coolest features of the winery is their caves, which total 100,000 square feet and are listed as the largest in Napa Valley. The winery is built into an 18-story cavern behind Mount George, allowing for gravity-flow production of wine while also providing a naturally cool environment. The crowning achievement, in my opinion, of the Palmaz renovations is in their “fermentation dome” where the ceiling showcases high-tech data points and charts for easy monitoring of the wine during fermentation. This thing looks like it could control the Starship Enterprise so I highly suggest you take a look at pictures online and on their website here.
Today’s Wine: 2009 Louise Riesling
100% Riesling; 13.2% ABV
Palmaz is known for their Cabernet Sauvignon, particularly the Gaston which is produced from the best lots and only in certain vintages, several of which I’ve been able to enjoy. If you find a bottle of their Cabernet on a shelf, I suggest you give it a shot (though it is not cheap at about $130-150 per bottle). All this being said, I was unaware Palmaz produced a Riesling and I am excited to review it today.
Almost perfectly clear, this Riesling is pale straw/yellow in color with rim variation of water white. The nose is classic Riesling with aromas of petrol, green apple, and lime zest as well as pineapple, white florals, and slight nutty notes. Once in the mouth, this light- to medium-bodied white showcases notes of tangerine, peach, green apple, lemon peel, beeswax, and slight white spice. This is a creamy textured Riesling and not as dry as I prefer, showing medium acidity and a rounded medium length finish. 150 cases produced.
Price: $95. This is high in my opinion, though I think the rarity of this bottling plays into the price. I’d say skip this one and look toward Alsace or Mosel if you’re spending that kind of money. Pair this (like most Rieslings) with Chinese food, spicy Thai food, or even Tex-Mex.
Domaines Lupier is a relatively new wine estate, founded in the 2000s by Enrique Basarte and Elisa Úcar. Enrique comes from a background in wine, having worked in vineyards throughout Spain following degrees in agronomical engineering and oenologist studies. Elisa studied economics and holds an MBA, though she also has more than a dozen years of experience in the wine business. Both equally passionate for winemaking in its entirety (the vines, terroir, and production of wine), Enrique and Elisa started rescuing small plots of Garnacha from very old vines to jumpstart their own project.
The efforts of tracking down and studying existing vines ultimately yielded the couple 27 parcels of Garnacha planted in different soils and microclimates ranging in elevation of 400-750 meters above sea level. Some of the vines they own even date back to 1903. This broad range of terroir and old age of the vines allows Domaines Lupier to showcase a true and brutally honest representation of the Garnacha variety and the land from which it comes.
Still a relatively small winery, Domaines Lupier produces two wines. Their El Terroir annual production sits around 30,000 bottles, while La Dama annual production sits around 4,000 bottles. In order to make and age their wine, Enrique and Elisa purchased and renovated an old manor house near their vineyards. They constructed a cellar to hold 50,000 bottles of wine, outfitted the winery with 3,500 and 5,500 liter vats, and updated the technology to modern standards. All of their wine is aged in French oak barrels under careful watch of both Enrique and Elisa.
Today’s Wine: 2011 La Dama
100% Garnacha; 14.5% ABV
This wine is moderately opaque and medium purple in color. This needed some time in the decanter to blossom, and once it did the nose emits aromas of plum, dried forest floor, mushroom, licorice, smoke, leather, and bitter chocolate. I also get a bit of heat out of the nose thanks to the alcohol content. Once in the mouth, the wine showcases notes of black and blue fruit, dried cranberry, black licorice, slight milk chocolate, loamy soil, crushed rock, and oak. Medium-bodied with medium acidity, medium tannins, and a medium (+) length finish. 353 cases produced.
Price: $60 (United States). I like the price-point on this bottle, it has a certain Old World charm to it that needs to be experienced. This is also one of the most unique Garnacha wines I’ve tried. Pair this with chicken or pork, though you could probably get away with smoked salmon as well.
While the Lamarche family origins place them in Vosne-Romanée as early as 1740, the domaine was founded in 1797. Over time, particularly through the end of the 19th century, the domaine grew in size under Henri Lamarche and his wife Marie Grivelet from Chambolle-Musigny. When their son Henri (born 1903) took over, he soon inherited La Grande Rue when he married Aline Demur in 1933. Then, in 1985, François took over the estate with the death of his father Henri and he and his wife Marie-Blanche currently lead winemaking and sales. Truly a family endeavor throughout its history, the domaine is also run by François’ sister Geneviève Lamarche (accounts), his daughter Nicole (viticulture), and Geneviève’s daughter Nathalie (sales).
Domaine François Lamarche owns some very enviable land within Vosne-Romanée. While the estate makes 14 different wines ranging from village to 1er Cru to Grand Cru, their most historic holding is the monopole La Grande Rue (one of 6 Grand Crus in Vosne-Romanée). La Grande Rue borders La Tâche and Romanée Conti (monopoles of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti) as well as La Romanée (a monopole of Comte Liger-Belair). While over time the wine from La Grande Rue has fallen under shadow of its neighbors (La Tâche sells for about $5,000 per bottle and Romanée Conti for $15,000+) Nicole Lamarche has been making viticultural changes in an effort to bring out elegance and terroir that have been missing from their wines.
More care seems to be going into the harvesting and winemaking processes with Nicole leading the charge, particularly with grapes being hand-harvested and sorted in the vineyards. Grapes are taken to the winery in small baskets to avoid premature crushing and oxidation where they are shaken and then hand sorted. Partially and sometimes totally destemmed, the grapes go into open vats made of stainless steel or wood and pressing is accomplished with a bladder press. Wine is bottled after being matured 14-20 months in French oak ranging from 30-50% new.
Fun Fact: The Grand Cru wines of Domaine François Lamarche are La Grande Rue, Clos-de-Vougeot, Grands-Échezeaux, and Échezeaux. Relative to their neighbors, these wines are still very, very reasonably priced and could be worth looking into if the changes being made to the winemaking process prove successful in achieving their goals.
Today’s Wine: 2014 Bourgogne Hautes Côtes de Nuits
100% Pinot Noir; 12.5% ABV
I’ve wanted to try a wine from Domaine François Lamarche since they came onto my radar a month or so ago, and I figured it best to start with their entry level Bourgogne.
The wine is clear pale ruby in color. While the nose is very feminine, clean, and soft and took some time to open up, I get aromas of raspberry, strawberry, dried cranberry, rose petal, slight leather, and chalky earth. After this opened up a bit the nose added some characteristics of red meat as well. Once in the mouth, the palate showcases notes of ripe red cherry, strawberry, white pepper, slight baking spice, and chalk. This falls apart on the palate, especially by the mid-palate which is almost non-existent, and I found it quite disappointing after learning of the improvements the domaine is taking. Nonetheless, this is light- to medium-bodied with medium (+) acidity, light tannins, and a medium length finish. I remain curious to try the Lamarche higher-end offerings, particularly La Grande Rue.
Price: $35. For Burgundy, this is a good entry level price-point and I think controlling for its shortcomings it does deliver. This being said, I would suggest taking $35 and buying a bottle of Pinot from Oregon or a more established Bourgogne. Pair this with lamb, veal, or duck breast.
Far Niente was founded in 1885 by a forty-niner of the California gold rush named John Benson. John constructed his winery just below the hillsides in western Oakville, and he had it designed by Hamden McIntyre who was behind the Christian Brothers winery (now the CIA at Greystone). Like several prominent wineries today, John built Far Niente to function as a gravity flow winery.
Though Far Niente was quite successful for its first few decades, during the onset of Prohibition in 1919 it was abandoned and fell into disrepair. It wasn’t until sixty years later in 1979 that a man by the name of Gil Nickel purchased the dilapidated winery and began a three year restoration project. Winemaking resumed once again in 1982 with the harvest of the estate’s first Cabernet Sauvignon as well as Chardonnay. To this day, Far Niente continues to only produce Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay.
Switching gears a little bit, in addition to their Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay bottlings you can find at many wine stores (and sometimes grocery stores), Far Niente releases a Cave Collection. Their Cave Collection wines make up an annual limited release of wines from the Far Niente library and are simply the Cabs and Chards put aside by the winery for further aging before release. You can tell the difference between a normal bottle and a Cave Collection by the black band added around the capsule. Their goal with the Cave Collection, which started in the late 1980s, is to provide collectors an opportunity to taste more mature wines without waiting years to age them themselves. This is a great way for wine enthusiasts and collectors to guarantee provenance of aged wine.
I’ve had a lot of wine from Far Niente (including their family of wines Nickel & Nickel, EnRoute, Bella Union, and Dolce) but this bottle truly surprised me. Had I tasted this blind, I probably would’ve called it Left Bank Bordeaux. In appearance this is deep, opaque ruby. I opened this bottle for an hour, then decanted it for about another hour. The nose offers aromas of blackcurrant, crushed blackberry, forest floor, slight barnyard, purple florals, graphite, and mocha. Once in the mouth, I get flavors of blackberry, blueberry, cigar box, pencil shavings, damp earth, dark roast coffee grounds, and slight pepper. Full-bodied with medium (+) acidity, dusty and refined medium tannins, and a long finish with notes of blackberry and black cherry. With a very tough vintage for Napa in 2011, Far Niente killed it with this bottling.
Price: $240. A good bottle of wine for a special occasion (we opened this with family in town from out of state). Pair this with filet mignon or slow cooked short rib.
Viader was founded in 1986 by Delia Viader (first commercial release in 1989) and is located on the slopes of Howell Mountain 1,300 feet above the Napa Valley floor. Delia was born in Argentina and came to the United States as a post-graduate student, and she holds a Doctorate in Philosophy from Sorbonne University in Paris and studied Business in the US at MIT. While Delia served as the founding winemaker of Viader, her son Alan later picked up the torch and acts as winemaker today. Alan started working in the vineyards at the age of 9 and pursued his passion for grape growing after high school by attending a program in Sonoma and attaining a Viticulture Management degree. In 2002 Alan became the vineyard manager at Viader and in 2006 the lead winemaker.
As winemaker, Alan is said to be more hands-on and an experimentalist. For instance, he tries a range of organic, biodynamic, and sustainable practices in farming the vineyards and producing wine, seeking to strike a balance to produce the highest quality wines possible. Additionally, Alan experiments in the cellars with different blends, yeasts, fermentations, and barrel options.
Viader produces relatively small quantities of wine across four bottlings. Their signature, the Viader Red Blend, is always a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc and was 60% Cabernet Sauvignon and 40% Cabernet Franc in the 1989 inaugural release. They also have the Viader Black Label (a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Cabernet Franc, and Merlot), Viader V (Cabernets Sauvignon and Petit Verdot), and DARE (Cabernet Franc).
Fun fact: For over a decade, Viader produced wines at Rombauer Vineyards prior to construction of their own winery. Back then, Rombauer functioned as a custom crush winery for many now-prominent Napa Valley vintners.
This wine is medium to deep ruby in color and almost completely opaque. I filtered and decanted this due to some fine sediment in the bottle, and the decanting helped a bit of the alcohol blow off the nose while bringing out some of the wine’s complexities. On the nose I get aromas of jammy blackberry, anise, cigar box, dark chocolate, vanilla, and oak. I can also notice the alcohol on the nose. Once in the mouth, the wine showcases flavors of chewy blackberry and blueberry, cola, cardamom, iron, dried earth, finely crushed rock, and green herbs. Overall a very silky wine, this is medium-bodied with medium (+) acidity and medium (+) tannins into a long finish with notes of sappy blackberry and plum. Still some time left for bottle aging, though I don’t see this getting any better from here.
Price: $100. I think there are better values out there at this price-point, whereas I could see this being more reasonably priced around the $70-75 mark. Pair this with beef in steak or burger form.
Martha Stoumen Wines is a project dedicated to making natural wines in a patient, environmentally considerate manner. Following her study of traditional agricultural systems and Italian as an undergraduate, Martha worked the vineyards, olive orchard, and winery of a small farm and learning center in Tuscany. These experiences built her foundation as a grape grower due to her time spent mostly in the vineyards, something that would prove instrumental in how she would view winemaking back in the US.
Today, Martha herself leases and farms about half of the vineyards yielding fruit for her wines, while the other half are farmed by multi-generation farmers who share her philosophies. One of the most important words for Martha’s growing philosophy is “patience.” This includes composting rather than using fertilizers, not using insecticides but rather allowing nature to take its course, and working largely by hand. Martha also prunes her vines for a long life ahead rather than focusing on yields like many other producers nowadays.
During her winemaking process, Martha is as hands-off as possible. For example, fermentation is accomplished with only natural yeasts and bacteria present on the skins. She also allows for longer maceration and aging in pursuit of stability of her wines, rather than adding tannin, acid, or stabilization agents. For all of this above and more, I encourage you to visit her website here.
Today’s Wine: 2018 Zinfandel Venturi Vineyard
100% Zinfandel; 12.7% ABV
The wine is medium purple in appearance while being opaque and slightly hazy. Once this opened up a bit, the nose showcases aromas of plum, wild blueberry, perfumed lavender, charcuterie (especially an earthy prosciutto), wet slate, and slight baking spice. On the palate I get notes of jammy plum, black raspberry compote, allspice, black tea, and sweet tobacco. This wine is medium-bodied with high, lip-smacking acidity, medium (+) tannins, and a very long grippy finish. 462 cases produced.
Price: $38. This is most definitely worth a try. The wine is very true (an honest representation of California Zinfandel) and this is quite different from all of the Zins I have tried so far. Really cool wine to pair with bbq pork, bbq chicken, lamb, or even pizza and pasta.
Shalauri Cellars is a relatively new Georgian producer whose first vintage came in 2013 with releases of Mtsvane, Rkatsiteli, and Saperavi. Shalauri’s goal is to create artisanal wines by utilizing the traditional approach of fermentation and aging in Qvevri. For those not familiar with the Qvevri Method (I was not when I purchased this bottle), it is an 8,000 year-old process of winemaking wherein a massive clay jar (Qvevri) is buried underground to provide a naturally cool and even environment for fermentation and aging. Further, the Qvevri being surrounded by earth helps reinforce the jar which may otherwise break under pressure of the wine. One additional important note about Shalauri is that they are one of few wineries of their small scale bottle aging wine before releasing it commercially.
Today’s Wine: 2015 Mtsvane
100% Mtsvane; 13.5% ABV
When I asked for a bottle of wine that would be new to me, the owner of a local wine store steered me toward this Mtsvane. The wine is fermented and aged using the Qvevri Method, which I mentioned above, while seeing extended skin contact of six months. Further, the winemaker tries to interfere with the process as little as possible. I’ve had a few white wines from around the world that pick up tannin and body from prolonged skin contact, but this is my first from Georgia.
In appearance the wine is amber orange with deep yellow variation near the edges of the glass. This is also incredibly transparent, almost acting as a magnifying glass. The nose is somewhat muted, though is dominated by aromas of tangerine, orange zest, honey, marmalade, and hazelnut. Once in the mouth, the wine showcases notes of charred pineapple, crisp red apple, white peppery spice, slight lemon citrus, caramel, and almond. This wine is medium- to full-bodied with medium (+) acidity, medium tannins (thanks to the prolonged skin contact), and a long chewy finish.
Price: $28. I’ve had less expensive wines that achieve the “unusual” effect of tannin in a white wine, but this is very well done and is a cool experience from a country you might not know produces wine. Pair this with mature cow cheese, chicken, or pork. I drank this with a roasted apple cider pork loin.
Domaine Cecile Tremblay has a very interesting history, partly because she did not start making wines until 2003 though her family owned vineyards for several generations. Cecile is the great-granddaughter of Edouard Jayer, uncle of the famed Henri Jayer (go Google some of his wines, and perhaps sell your car to buy a bottle). Cecile’s family inherited vineyards from Edouard, though the two generations before her leased out the land to other producers and did not make their own wine. In 2003, however, with the expiration of a lease on three hectares of vines Cecile started making wine under her own label with a plan for further growth. For instance, the Domaine owns roughly 10 hectares of vineyard land and while more of this becomes free from leasing agreements in 2021, Cecile rented or purchased land along the way in communes such as Gevrey-Chambertin.
When Cecile took over her family’s land for her own use, the vineyards were in no standing to produce high quality wines. The producers leasing the land, for instance, used too much fertilizer for Cecile’s taste and utilized herbicides instead of ploughing. Throughout her time thus far as a winemaker, Cecile transitioned to organic farming and many of her practices include biodynamic farming measures as well. During maintenance of her vineyards, Cecile ploughs the soil mechanically and with horses while using copper sulfate to prevent mildew and other fungi.
Similar to her views on caring for her vines, Cecile is very traditional in her winemaking process. She presses her grapes with an old-fashioned vertical press and her wines see only a moderate amount of new wood during fermentation and aging. All of this effort culminates into wines that are refined and elegant, though built for the long haul.
Today’s Wine: 2011 Chambolle-Musigny Les Cabottes
100% Pinot Noir; 13% ABV
This bottle was gifted to me by a great friend, and after opening it today I sure am happy that I recently purchased another one. Right out of the bottle I can tell this will be a bold Burgundy thanks to its medium to deep ruby (but mostly clear) color. The nose on this thing is sort of a roller coaster (of emotions) as I get aromas of black cherry, boysenberry, eucalyptus, mint, purple florals, ground coffee, tobacco leaf, and moist forest floor. This even took on notes of gravel/crushed rock as it sat in the glass. The palate continues this dark theme with notes of wild blackberry and blueberry, licorice, smoked red meat, crushed granite, mocha, and tobacco. Shockingly (for me) full-bodied, this wine shows high acidity, medium (+) tannins, and what seems like an immeasurably long finish. This is one of those wines that makes me want to smell the glass all day, and eat the glass when that last drop is gone.
Price: $110 (though I got lucky and the going rate online is about $300). I would buy this again in my sleep at $110 and I’d even buy it again at $300. This is an exceptional bottle from an “off vintage” and the complexity I get out of this wine is mind-boggling. This will also age gracefully for another 15+ years! Pair this with filet mignon, rabbit, quail, or duck…and if you can accompany these dishes with black truffle you’re in for a real treat.
Founded in 1982 by Claudio Conterno and Guido Fantino, Conterno Fantino has grown into a somewhat large (~140,000 total bottles annually) producer of Nebbiolo, Barbera, Dolcetto, and Chardonnay. This being said, the winery employs only about 10 people at a given time including Alda, Fabio, and Elisa Fantino who joined over the years. During an expansion for the winery in 2008, Conterno Fantino implemented solar panels and a geothermal system to conserve energy in pursuit of their environmental impact goals, which I will delve into a bit more speaking about the winemaking process.
Throughout harvest and winemaking, Conterno Fantino employs methods such as manual picking of fruit, spontaneous fermentation from indigenous yeasts, and careful use of wood for aging the wine while minimizing sulfites. Taking a step back, the entire farming process is certified organic in an attempt to preserve the land’s biodiversity with a goal of environmental sustainability. All this being said, Conterno Fantino is a great example of modernist Italian winemaking, particularly for Barolo. Namely, Conterno Fantino ages their Barolo in French oak barriques after relatively short maceration and fermentation. While I am not reviewing one of their Barolos today, hopefully I will in the near future.
Today’s Wine: 2015 Langhe Nebbiolo Ginestrino
100% Nebbiolo; 14% ABV
I normally don’t pair Nebbiolo with spaghetti (I prefer a Sangiovese such as Chianti), however, when duty calls and this is what I can find, we drink it. The wine is clear, pale to medium ruby in color which is a bit lighter than most young Nebbiolo wines I’ve tried. Once this opens in a decanter, the nose showcases aromas of cherry, strawberry rhubarb, tomato sauce, tar, red licorice, and mixed green herbs. On the palate, we get notes of cherry, dried raspberry, gravel and slate, slightly smokey earth, and tobacco. Overall very easy drinking with not a whole lot to it, this wine is medium-bodied with medium (+) acidity and medium (surprisingly not medium (+) to high) tannins with a medium (+) length finish.
Price: $35. This is a good price-point for entry level, drinkable-while-young Nebbiolo. Though I am a staunch proponent of traditionalist winemaking, this wine could be a great entry for those not familiar with the Nebbiolo grape or Italian wine as a whole. The wine paired easily with red/meat sauce pasta, though would also go well with lightly peppered ribeye, prime rib, or smoked duck.
For several generations, the Thymiopoulos family has owned vineyards in Naoussa, though they typically sold the fruit to other wineries without making their own wine. This changed, however, when Apostolos Thymiopoulos completed his oenology program at the University of Athens and returned to the family vineyards to produce a wine under his own label. Thymiopoulos Vineyards was born and their first wine released in 2004, becoming a successful bottling throughout both Greece and Europe as a whole.
Like many producers in the Old World, Apostolos farms his vineyards in a very traditional manner. He limits or does away with chemical use and many of his practices fall under biodynamic farming norms. Apparently, Apostolos even borrows his neighbors’ cows to mow the grass after harvest in the vineyards (source). Apostolos owns several dozen vineyards, and in order to help care for them all he enlists people from his village with vineyard experience for help. This allows him to foster a unique bond within his community, as well as provides him the opportunity to know each vineyard like the back of his hand.
This wine came recommended to me thanks to one of the owners of a local wine store. In appearance, the wine is a clear, pale ruby color. The nose on this wine is an absolute thing of beauty, one so aromatic and crisp I felt like I got slapped in the face (but in a good way). Right out of the gates I got aromas of cherry, strawberry jam, very clean florals reminiscent of red rose and white wildflower, cedar, leather, mild and slightly sweet tobacco, and a hint of cinnamon. In the mouth, the wine showcases notes of sour cherry, wild strawberry, home-garden-grown cherry tomatoes, rocky-soil-esque minerality, faint vanilla, and a touch of oak. The wine is overall very dry and is medium-bodied with mouthwatering high acidity, medium tannins, and a very long finish. This is drinking beautifully (and is one of my favorite wines in recent past) but I really want to try it again in three years.
Price: $35. I’ve only had a couple Greek wines so far, but this is a screaming value. The nuances and absolute shock I received from the profoundly beautiful bouquet of aromas says it all. Pair this with chicken, pork, or cheese-based pastas.
This should be a fairly short and easy read today, as I already talked about the history of Lillian Winery in my post Sensual Syrah a few weeks back. Long story short, Maggie Harrison worked with the Krankl family at Sine Qua Non, and Manfred Krankl encouraged her to start her own Syrah endeavor. Lillian was born in 2004 from that encouragement.
The wine I reviewed several weeks ago was a 2013 Lillian Syrah, while today’s wine is the 2013 Gold Series Syrah. While the two wines are obviously similar in style and overall profile, the Gold Series is a smaller production bottling which Maggie says comes from “a small number of barrels that speak with a different voice.” In other words, the Gold Series comes from barrels with completely different expressions than the rest of the wine bottled as the Syrah. While Maggie will blend some of these barrels with the main Syrah to add complexity, she bottles them on their own to portray a wine that is “singularly exquisite.”
Today’s Wine: 2013 Lillian Syrah Gold Series No. 03
100% Syrah; 14.4% ABV
With the 2013 Lillian Syrah still fresh in my head from a few weeks ago, I thought it would be very interesting to open this Gold Series for comparison. Based on the youth of this wine and my experience with the 2013 Syrah recently, I decanted this bottle for five hours. The wine is deep, opaque purple in color with moderate staining on the glass. On the nose I get aromas of plum, cassis, mint, cinnamon, crushed stone, and loamy earth. Once in the mouth, the wine boasts flavors of blueberry, black cherry, rocky soil, granite, and smoke. Full-bodied with medium (+) acidity, surprisingly refined yet medium tannins, and a long, bold finish. Much like the standard Syrah, I’m excited to try this one again in another five years.
Price: $100. Again, due to Maggie’s history with Syrah, the precision of her wines, and the rarity of these bottlings this is worth the price. Pair this with a leg of lamb, bbq ribs, or a burger.
Domaine des Roches Neuves was founded in 1992 by Thierry Germain following his move to the Loire Valley from his native Bordeaux. At 23 years old, Thierry soon met Charly Foucault from Clos Rougeard who would become an inspiration behind some of his winemaking practices. Thierry converted his domaine to biodynamic viticulture, as well as being certified organic, in an effort to let his vines guide him rather than play a heavier hand that removes truth and transparency from terroir to bottle. This practice helps Thierry’s wines showcase vibrant ripe fruits (thanks in addition to relatively early harvesting) with incredible purity while avoiding rustic vegetal notes. Also, his red wines do not typically have high tannin but rather integrated, soft tannins conducive to drinkability.
When harvesting his fruit, Thierry practices very traditional methods such as hand harvesting and hand sorting at the winery. Further, all of his wines are fermented with natural yeasts in no new oak barrels or tanks. For the wine I am reviewing today, grapes are 100% de-stemmed and fermented in conical tanks. There is a great overview of Thierry’s history and practices here, as well as an overview of his wine portfolio. The domaine’s website also contains fact sheets and an overview of the history and people here.
Today’s Wine: 2015 Les Mémoires
100% Cabernet Franc; 13% ABV
I picked this up based on a recommendation from an employee at one of my local wine stores. He believes that Thierry Germain is making some of the best wine in Saumur Champigny, and while I need to explore more offerings from the region this already seems tough to beat. The wine is a deep ruby color, though I almost want to call it purple especially near the edges of the glass. The nose showcases aromas of crunchy blackberry, steel cut oats, chocolate, cigar box, damp forest floor, violets, slight bell pepper, and mineral. Once in the mouth, we get flavors of tart blueberry, blackberry, pomegranate, loamy earth, pepper, and limestone minerality. This is medium- to full-bodied with medium (+) acidity, medium tannins, and a long finish. Give this a few more years of bottle age, though if you can’t wait it is drinking well with some air.
Price: $70. This is a rockstar wine well worth the price tag, especially compared to some of their neighbors. The traditional style does a beautiful job portraying the “place,” and this wine comes from 110+ year old vines. Pair this with beef, pork, roast chicken, duck, or lamb.
Joseph Drouhin is a historic producer in Burgundy that found its start in 1880. Joseph, a 22 year old from Chablis, moved to Beaune and started his own wine company with the aim of providing high quality wines. His son Maurice, however, shifted the focus to estate grape growing and winemaking by purchasing land in Clos des Mouches and Clos de Vougeot, amongst other appellations. Robert Drouhin, who succeeded Maurice in 1957, ties most with Joseph Drouhin’s state as it sits today. Robert acquired a great deal of vineyard land, including in Chablis, and was one of the first producers who stopped using pesticides and other chemicals in Burgundy. Today, Robert’s children Philippe, Véronique, Laurent, and Frédéric carry on the legacy of this great producer with the same founding principles of creating high quality, true to form wines at heart.
Today, Joseph Drouhin is one of the largest estates in Burgundy consisting of 78 hectares (193 acres) throughout Chablis, Côte de Nuits, Côte de Beaune, and Côte Chalonnaise. Most of the wines are of 1er Cru or Grand Cru status, with vineyards planted to both Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. In addition to their own vineyard land, Drouhin purchases some fruit from other established vineyard owners who they have longstanding relationships with. This allows them to produce a broader assortment of wines for distribution throughout the world.
Today’s Wine: 1995 1er Cru Pommard-Epenots
100% Pinot Noir; 13% ABV
In appearance the wine is cloudy pale ruby turning garnet near the rim. This threw very fine sediment that snuck through the filter, however I did pour some through cheesecloth which cleared it up. On the nose, we get aromas of baked cherry, overripe cranberry, dried green herbs, sous bois, cedar, and tobacco. Once in the mouth, the wine showcases notes of tart cherry, red licorice, wet stone, smoked red meat, and green underbrush. Holding up remarkably well, this is medium-bodied with high acidity and fully integrated light tannins into a medium length finish.
Price: $150. Really cool experience finding and drinking aged Burgundy. Pair this with duck, lamb, or a burger.
Blankiet’s roots start with Claude and Katherine Blankiet, a couple who spent years searching for land conducive to grape growing on the western foothills of the Mayacamas Mountains. Finally, in early 1996, an agent working with the Blankiet family showed them an undeveloped property above the famous Napanook vineyard (and Dominus Estate) and the Blankiets purchased the land on site. From the onset of their search, Claude and Katherine desired to create world-class, high-quality, small production Bordeaux style wines and now, with ownership of the land, set right to work.
During development of the vineyards, the Blankiets brought in famed viticulturist David Abreu and winemaker Helen Turley for their expertise. The terroir of Blankiet consists of three volcanic knolls with alluvial deposits between them thanks to water flowing down from the mountains. The vineyards are broken into four sections, each with a unique subsoil and microclimate, and they used root stocks from First Growth Bordeaux estates to get the ball rolling. I encourage you to explore their website https://www.blankiet.com/ for more, as I’d like to talk about my visit to the winery for the remainder of this post.
I was fortunate to visit the winery this past September, and we arrived slowly by way of a long, winding gravel road up into the hills to the Blankiet gate. Once inside, our host Patrick greeted us and walked us through the vineyards where we had an opportunity to taste grapes off the vine. Fortunately, workers were sorting grapes while we were there so we got to see them using dual optical sorters in addition to the classic hand sorting many of us picture. Before walking into the caves, Patrick shared some juice that was beginning its fermentation process from one of the tanks.
Once in the caves, Patrick showed us the barrels they use and discussed the process of fighting evaporation as the wine ages. Unlike many wineries, Blankiet does not fill evaporation in their barrels with sulfur dioxide but rather refills the barrel with more wine. This practice fits well with their goal of crafting wine that is true to form and of superior quality.
After the cave tour, we drove further uphill to the Blankiet family home to do what we came for: taste wine. Patrick guided us through a tasting of five wines accompanied by cheese, charcuterie, and crackers while also giving us a sneak peek tasting of two wines yet to be released. Keep an eye out for these two upcoming wines, as they were quite delicious and while I’m keeping them secret now I think you will know exactly what I’m talking about when they launch.
I had an opportunity to taste several Blankiet wines during my visit this past September (including two special wines not yet released), but figured it prudent to open a bottle now to review for my site. This wine is medium purple/ruby in color and surprisingly transparent. The nose showcases aromas of blackberry, blueberry, redcurrant, raspberry, gravel, mild tobacco, and oak. The nose is rather tight due to its youth and either needs a ton of air or 5-7 more years of bottle age. On the palate we get notes of black cherry, cranberry, jammy strawberry, crushed stone almost chalky in nature, blood, and ground cooking herbs. Full-bodied with mouthwatering high acidity, medium (+) tannins, and a long black fruit compote finish. This is already a wonderfully elegant wine but needs time to bring out some of the complexities. 840 cases produced.
Price: $200. This is not your everyday bottle, though it is a fantastic bottle of wine for a celebratory occasion. After visiting the winery and seeing how much care, precision, and hard work goes into each bottle I can comfortably recommend the wine. Pair this with beef or lamb.
Williams Selyem is another winery with a homegrown, almost comical, origin story. During the 1970s, Burt Williams received several tons of free grapes from a grower with an abundance of fruit that would otherwise most likely go to waste. With his friend Ed Selyem, in 1979 the pair started making wine at Burt’s house over the weekends with Zinfandel grapes from the Martinelli family. Though the two set out to make wine only for themselves as a hobby, Burt and Ed fully devoted to the endeavor in 1981 and named their winery Hacienda del Rio.
They bottled their first vintage in 1982 and released it commercially in 1983, however Hacienda Winery quickly sent a cease and desist letter that resulted in removal of “Hacienda” from Burt and Ed’s labels. In 1984, Burt and Ed moved production to a nearby garage in Fulton and released the first vintage with the now famous and globally-recognized Williams Selyem label.
Williams Selyem picked up steam very quickly for a new winery in California. In 1985, they released their first vineyard-designated Pinot Noir from the Rochioli Vineyard and in 1987 that wine won the California State Fair Sweepstakes Prize for top red wine. With its status blown open, Williams Selyem grew a cult following and they needed to create a waitlist that immediately spanned 2-3 years. In 1989, Williams Selyem relocated to the Allen Ranch facility on Westside Road and in 1992 Burt and Ed quit their day jobs to focus 100% on their wine.
Six years later, however, in 1998 Burt and Ed sold Williams Selyem to John Dyson who was a longtime customer. John and his wife Kathe still own the winery today, and throughout their proprietorship greatly expanded winemaking by adding estate vineyards along the way. In my opinion, their crowning and historic achievement came in 2009 when Wine Enthusiast Magazine rated the 2007 Williams Selyem Litton Estate Pinot Noir 100 points. This was the first North American Pinot Noir in history to achieve a perfect score by a major wine publication, and while I do not buy wine simply based on score and have my issues with the scale, I can appreciate the historic achievement.
Today’s Wine: 2014 Pinot Noir Ferrington Vineyard
100% Pinot Noir; 13.4% ABV
Over the years, I’ve had a number of different wines from Williams Selyem (both red and white) but this is my first from the famous Ferrington Vineyard. Today’s Pinot is pale/medium ruby in color and fairly transparent. On the nose are aromas of dried strawberry, crushed cranberry, mint, aged leather, gravelly road after a rainstorm, and a hint of oak. The palate showcases notes of ripe red raspberry, strawberry jam, cinnamon, lightly scorched earth, and slate. Medium-bodied with medium (+) bright acidity, medium (-) tannins, and a long mouthwatering finish.
Price: $100, getting up there with the Kosta Browne I reviewed about two weeks back. This is an exceptional quality Pinot that I highly recommend (I love every wine I’ve had from them), though there are some great options for half the price. Pair this with salmon, chicken, pork, or charcuterie.
I talked about Alpha Omega’s origins in a prior post (A Napa Take On Chablis), though will reproduce it briefly here.
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.
The winery, as I mentioned before, is known for their red wines and particularly high-quality single vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon. However, we have a couple bottles of the Cabernet Franc, a limited bottling I can no longer find online, that I thought would be fun to review prior to reviewing one of their single vineyard Cabs. Cab Franc is probably known to most as a blending grape for Bordeaux wines, however they are becoming much easier to find as a standalone wine.
For those of you relatively new to wine, Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc are the two parents of Cabernet Sauvignon. The cross occurred during the mid-1600s in southwestern France.
Today’s Wine: 2016 Cabernet Franc
100% Cabernet Franc; 15.5% ABV
This is a cool offering from Alpha Omega, as I did not know they released a Cabernet Franc specific wine. That being said, this does appear to be a limited release available to mailing list members since I cannot find anymore on their website or stores online.
In color, the wine is medium purple with pale purple/ruby variation toward the edges of the glass. I double decanted this bottle so it would be ready for dinner, and with the accelerated air it opened up nicely. On the nose, we have aromas of blackberry, blueberry, plum, lilac, leather, sweet tobacco, and oak. There is a slight hint of alcohol on the nose as well, likely due to its relatively high ABV. Once in the mouth, flavors on the palate include blackcurrant, blueberry jam, loamy earth, tobacco leaf, and black pepper. This medium-bodied red has medium (+) acidity, medium (+) tannins, and a long, dark-fruit-forward finish.
Price: $100. Given similar-priced, high-quality Cab Franc I’ve tried, I think this is worth the tag if you’re used to paying around $100 for your wine. Nonetheless, I recently tried some outstanding Cab Franc from Tuscany and Michigan for about 1/3 the price and I think you’d be well served trying more Cab Franc from these regions or Chile and Argentina. Pair this with beef, duck, or pork (we had it with bbq pork sandwiches).
If you would like to try some French Cab Franc, keep an eye out for some Chinon!
Domaines Albert Bichot traces its roots back to 1831 when Bernard Bichot started a wine trading business. Hippolyte, Bernard’s son, succeeded him and was the first family member to purchase vines in Volnay due to his belief that upstream control of the product is vital to his success as a merchant. This expansion of sorts prompted Albert Bichot, Hippolyte’s son and the first to bear the name, to set home base in Beaune in 1912.
As the family endeavor grew exponentially, the second Albert Bichot (born 1900) set an emphasis on international trade and travelled constantly throughout the world to introduce the family’s wines. During the second half of the 20th century, Albert’s sons Albert, Bernard, Bénigne, and Jean-Marc helped expand the domaine with this same mentality. For instance, they constructed a large cellar, bottling center, and winery to produce wine for distribution to every inhabited continent.
Still a family brand today, Albéric Bichot joined in the early 1990s and took over management responsibilities in 1996. Albéric’s main challenges thus far have been converting to organic viticulture in the Côte-d’Or vineyards, adhering and changing with global tastes, laws, and market trends, and increasing the world’s knowledge and respect for Burgundy wine. He dramatically expanded Albert Bichot’s vinification capacity again in 2010 and the company’s vineyards now total 6 estates throughout Burgundy.
Today’s Wine: 2014 Chassagne-Montrachet
100% Chardonnay; 13% ABV
I’ve had several wines, both white and red, from Albert Bichot and the quality to price ratio is always quite good. This easy-drinking Chassagne-Montrachet is pale yellow/straw in color with water white variation near the edges of the glass. On the nose are aromas of pear, peach, stone fruit, lemon citrus, cream, and white florals. Once in the mouth, flavors of pear, melon, pineapple, lemon zest, and white pepper abound. Full-bodied with vibrant medium (+) acidity, the wine finishes well-rounded with buttery notes.
Price: $55, great QPR for this wine. Pair this with chicken, fish, or crab.
Château Léoville Las Cases is a historical Bordeaux estate rated as a Second Growth (Deuxième Cru) in the Bordeaux Wine Official Classification of 1855. Though the estate used to be much larger and is one of the oldest in the Médoc, it was split up between 1826 and 1840 as a result of the French Revolution and came into the Las Cases family as 3/5 the size of the original estate. Luckily for the family, however, their land made up the heart of the domain and therefore consists of the original terroir back to the 17th century.
Las Cases was managed by the same family through the 19th century, moving by inheritance through Pierre Jean, Adolphe, and Gabriel de Las Cases until Théophile Skawinski bought a stake in 1900 to become the manager. Today, Jean-Hubert Delon is the sole owner with the family coming in during the mid-20th century. I encourage you to take a look at the cool video on their website here, which shows the estate’s geographic location as well as a breakdown of the terroir at the domain.
Château Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande is also a Second Growth (Deuxième Cru) based on the Bordeaux Wine Official Classification of 1855. Pichon Lalande is considered by many to be a classic example of Pauillac, known for its deep, concentrated layers of ripe fruit accompanied by notes of cassis, tobacco, and earth.
Similar to Léoville Las Cases, Pichon Lalande was once part of a much larger estate. As ownership changed hands over the years, Pichon Lalande earned its name when the founder’s daughter Therese received it as a dowry for her marriage to Jacques de Pichon Longueville. During the 18th century, the estate was dominated by women (Therese de Rauzan, Germaine de Lajus, and Marie Branda de Terrefort) throughout the winemaking process until Baron Joseph de Pichon Longueville took over for his mother. In 1850, with his death, the estate split between his two sons and three daughters and ultimately resulted in the division of Comtesse de Lalande and Pichon Baron.
With no familial heirs, Edouard Miailhe and Louis Miailhe purchased Pichon Lalande following WWI. Edouard’s daughter, May-Eliane de Lencquesaing took over management in 1978 and became a prominent ambassador for Bordeaux wines while dramatically increasing quality of her estate. One of her major endeavors, and possibly most famous, was growing the size of Pichon Lalande from 40 hectares of vines to 89. In 2007, however, May-Eliane sold a majority stake of the estate to the Rouzaud family, owners of Roederer Champagne, and management changes as well as renovations took place.
While I’d put the fill level on this bottle between top shoulder and into neck, a pull of the cork showed immediately that we were in for a beautiful, textbook Bordeaux. No need to decant this one, we just let it slow ox in the bottle and glass. In appearance this is still deep ruby with slight garnet rim variation. On the nose, I got aromas of crème de cassis, graphite, pencil shavings, tobacco leaf, and forest floor. Once in the mouth, this luxurious medium- to full-bodied wine shows notes of black and blue fruits, crushed stone, cigar box, and ground green herbs with a hint of black pepper. We get high acidity and medium dusty tannins into a long finish.
Price: $500. Another rare bottle that my generous friend shared (the ’86 Pichon was his too) so we could do this side-by-side tasting. If you can stomach paying the price, this wine is damn near perfect. Pair with steak with a peppercorn or mushroom sauce.
Today’s 2nd Wine: 1986 Château Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande
This is my second bottle of 1986 Pichon Lalande, coincidentally consumed with my same friend who was there for the first bottle. While fill level and provenance of the bottle are good, this seems to be significantly more advanced than the first one (tasted April 2018). Color on this was more light ruby and borderline garnet. After slow ox in the bottle and a glass, the nose offered aromas of stale cranberry, red apple skins, graphite, eucalyptus, chocolate, and pyrazine that unfortunately didn’t want to blow off. Perhaps this needed more air time than we gave it, but regardless it was an overall solid nose save for the pyrazine. Once in the mouth, the wine showcases flavors of green herbs, cigar box, mushroom, black peppercorn, and forest floor. Due to this more advanced stage, the palate certainly showed better than the nose. Medium-bodied with medium (+) acidity, medium tannins, and a medium (+) length finish.
Price: $250. If you can guarantee the provenance, this is well worth the price. As with any aged wine you take a risk, however to try old Bordeaux and such a classic example of it, the potential reward is there. Pair with steak.
Winner: 1986 Château Léoville Las Cases
The Léoville Las Cases drank with such elegance and class while being a textbook representation of what Bordeaux is and what it should be. I am already hoping and dreaming that I get a chance to taste it again.
Château de Beaucastel, as it exists today, traces its history back to 1549 when Pierre de Beaucastel purchased a barn and plot of land extending to Coudoulet. Chateauneuf-du-Pape (which translates to “the Pope’s new castle”), however, is a French AOC that traces its history back to the early 1300s. In 1321, Pope John XXII sent four barrels from the papal cellars to be filled with wine in the region and constructed a castle for his use. As the wine became a favorite of the Pope’s, it became known as “Vin du Pape” until eventually becoming Chateauneuf-du-Pape (CdP).
Though Beaucastel’s origins place the estate well within CdP’s winemaking history, there is no certain record of vines on the property until many years later in the early 1800s when ownership credits to Etienne Gontard. As some of you may know, however, phylloxera hit vineyards during the 19th century and, with the estate under new ownership yet again by Élie Dussaud, Dussaud decided not to replant vines and rather sold the estate.
With over 300 years of history at this point, Beaucastel’s true winemaking prowess did not come about until Pierre Tramier purchased the estate in 1909. Under his ownership, he led massive vineyard replanting efforts and eventually transferred responsibility to his son-in-law Pierre Perrin. Perrin dramatically expanded the vineyard holdings during his tutelage and the estate has been in the Perrin family since then, eventually passing to his son Jacques Perrin who managed the estate until 1978.
Today, Jacques’ sons Jean-Pierre and François Perrin continue to manage the estate with the help of Marc, Pierre, Thomas, Cécile, Charles, Matthieu, and César who make up the fifth generation. They continue to farm their vineyards organically, a practice since 1950 at the estate, and introduced biodynamic farming in 1974. Grapes are always picked exclusively by hand and carefully monitored to use only the best fruit.
I am a big fan of Chateauneuf-du-Pape, and every bottle I’ve enjoyed from Beaucastel has been a wonderful representation. However, this is my first time trying the Hommage as they can be hard to find and come at a significantly higher price-point. The Hommage, as the name states, is made in honor of Jacques Perrin and comes from the best vines on the property.
Our wine today is opaque medium ruby in color with pale ruby variation toward the edges of the glass. Slightly tight on the nose, we let this decant while my friend and I enjoyed a different bottle. Once the wine opened, the nose offered aromas of dusty pomegranate, graphite, sous bois, wet gravel, mushroom, and cigar ash. This is another wine I could smell all day. Since that’s not the main point of wine, the palate showcases notes of chewy cherry, red licorice, tobacco, soggy earth, and green underbrush. A beautiful bottle with plenty of gas left in the tank, this is full-bodied with moderately high acidity, fully integrated mild tannins, and a long finish that really made me wish we had more with my last sip.
Price: $500. Certainly a rare experience and one made possible thanks to my good friend’s tendency for sharing. Pair this with beef, game, or lamb and add a mushroom sauce.
Once you’re hooked on white Burgundy, there’s no going back.
Today’s Story: Etienne Sauzet
Domaine Etienne Sauzet found its origin in the early 20th century when Etienne inherited and purchased additional grape vines in the village of Puligny-Montrachet. A family endeavor throughout its history, the domaine has operated under four generations and became modernized under Etienne’s granddaughter, Jeanine Boillot, and her husband Gérard Boudot. The efforts by Jeanine and Gérard include improved vinification techniques and a transition to biodynamic farming. Currently, Jeanine’s daughter Emilie and her husband Benoît Riffault produce the wines.
Comprised of 15 hectares distributed on Puligny-Montrachet, Chassagne-Montrachet, and Cormot-le-Grand in the Hautes côtes de Beaune, the domaine produces an assortment of white wines. Like many producers, Sauzet offers a regional Borgogne but also produces Puligny-Montrachet and Chassagne-Montrachet villages, nine 1er Crus (including the one I am reviewing today), and four Grand Crus. Sauzet’s Grand Cru sites include Montrachet, Chevalier-Montrachet, Batard-Montrachet, and Bienvenues-Batard-Montrachet.
Today’s Wine: 2010 Puligny-Montrachet Les Combettes
100% Chardonnay; 13.5% ABV
When seeking out a white Burgundy to be the first wine for dinner with a good friend, I was very excited to find this bottle which happens to be my first from Etienne Sauzet. In appearance, this wine is a gorgeous, crystal-clear pale gold. As the wine opened up, enthralling aromas of pitted melon, honeysuckle, white florals, flakey vanilla pastry, Manchego cheese, white chocolate, and cotton candy (!) leap from the glass. My eyes, as well as my friend’s, nearly popped out every time we took a sniff. On the palate, we got flavors of stone fruit, lemon zest, baked green apple, white pepper, butter, and seaside minerality. Utterly complex and still way too young, this wine is full-bodied with mouthwatering high acidity that culminates into an oily yet luxurious mouthfeel. I will buy more to lay down.
Price: $160. This is an outstanding value for 1er Cru white Burgundy. Already drinking beautifully, the age-worthiness of this bottle makes it a staple in any cellar. Pair this with shellfish, particularly lobster. It even went well with our Italian sausage bruschetta.
Santa Margherita was founded in 1935 by Count Gaetano Marzotto, a pioneering vintner who helped revitalize a portion of the Venetian countryside in both farming and winemaking. With a goal of producing authentic Italian wines full of regional character and tradition, Marzotto expanded the Santa Margherita brand to vineyards in Alto Adige and Tuscany. Famous for their Pinot Grigio, Santa Margherita also makes Chianti Classico Riserva, Prosecco Superiore, and Sparkling Rosé.
Since its beginning, Santa Margherita put a major emphasis on preserving the environment through sustainability efforts. For example, during the winemaking process they use natural products and compost to feed the soil, organic land management in terms of in-ground irrigation, use no chemical pesticides for their Chianti, and hand-harvest 90% of their grapes in Veneto. Further, Santa Margherita stopped using animal byproducts and uses yeast-derived and vegetable-derived products during filtration so their wines are vegan-friendly. Lastly, Santa Margherita is powered completely by renewable resources including 6,500 square feet of solar panels at their winery in Portogruaro.
Fun fact: Santa Margherita manufactures their own wine bottles in a factory adjacent to their fermentation cellars. They do this to reduce carbon emissions related to storage and transportation of bottles from outside producers.
Today’s Wine: 2015 Chianti Classico Riserva
100% Sangiovese; 13.5% ABV
For spaghetti night, I knew I needed to run to the store to grab a bottle of Chianti Classico. As expected, this bottle filled its role for the pairing beautifully. Our wine today is a clear, medium ruby color with a variation of pink hues toward the edges of the glass. I briefly decanted this before drinking, as these are known to have high tannin, but letting this slow ox in the glass would do just fine. On the nose are aromas of cherry, cranberry, barnyard, forest floor, shoe leather, and a hint of bitter chocolate. Once in the mouth, we get flavors of sweet cherry, cranberry, strawberry, dried earth, mushroom, and mineral. True to form, this is medium- to full-bodied with high acidity, medium (+) tannins, and a long finish dominated by notes of red fruit and berries.
Price: $27, a nice price-point. I recommend trying this for its solid quality compared to many other options you will find on the shelf, even if they are slightly cheaper. Pair this with red/meat sauce pastas, lamb, or veal.
TOR is a small production winery that makes single vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, and Bordeaux varietals from high-quality fruit sourced from multiple vineyards in Napa Valley. Its proprietors, Tor and Susan Kenward, started their endeavor following Tor’s nearly three decade career with Beringer Vineyards helping craft their reserve and single vineyard bottlings. With Beringer, Tor was able to become friends with several Napa Valley icons who helped encourage him to learn and push the envelope with quality wines, while also traveling the world and walking vineyards of some of the most important wine producers in Europe. Susan, on the other hand, began her career in the culinary industry as she wrote five cookbooks and won two James Beard Awards. She then moved into fashion and the beauty industries, becoming a well-known lifestyle influence.
On the winemaking front, Tor and his winemaker, Jeff Ames, share similar purist ideals such that wine should represent its place rather than a winemaker’s particular style. Every wine is made by hand and comes unfined and unfiltered, built in a high quality that is meant for serious aging. As Tor says, “the wines I’m making right now, I’m assuming a good number of them are going to outlive me.”
In addition to their Beckstoffer To Kalon I am reviewing today, TOR makes a Vine Hill Ranch Cab, Cimarossa Vineyard Cab (Howell Mountain), Melanson Vineyard Cab (Pritchard Hill), Herb Lamb Vineyard Cab, and Tierra Roja Vineyard Cab. TOR also makes several very small production blends, including Black Magic (only 125 cases in 2017, this is only made in specific vintages). I will review one of their Chardonnay offerings in a future post, delving into their range of white wine bottlings at that time.
Today’s Wine: 2012 Beckstoffer To Kalon
100% Cabernet Sauvignon; 15.1% ABV
This is the third time I’ve had this wine (first in April 2017, then in March 2018) and it seems to be developing nicely. That being said, this still seems somewhat one-dimensional to me versus my prior two tastings.
In appearance, this Cab is medium purple at its core with ruby near the edges of the glass. The nose emits welcoming and sweet aromas of blueberry, plum, black cherry, lavender, and cedar, though this is not as multi-dimensional as other bottles I enjoyed. I’m excited to try this again in several years to see if we get some of the tertiary notes. The palate continues the sweet theme with flavors of blackberry compote, blueberry, sweet tobacco, milk chocolate, and a hint of vanilla. Medium- to full-bodied with high acidity, medium (+) tannins, and a medium (+) length finish with jammy dark fruit. I think this falls into the people-pleasing camp of wines, though don’t get me wrong it is high quality. The unfortunate thing about this bottle is…
Price: $185. I’d be more comfortable recommending this if it were closer to $120 per bottle. It is small production (39 barrels, about 975 cases) and it carries the Beckstoffer name, which is why I think it is so high. There are better values elsewhere.
Realm Cellars was founded in 2002 with a focus on producing high-quality, limited production Bordeaux blend and single vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon wines. Co-Founder Juan Mercado left his role as a hospital administrator in San Francisco to pursue working in the wine industry and, until recently, Realm sourced their fruit from historical, high-quality vineyards (like Dr. Crane, To Kalon, and Farella) rather than growing their own. Juan runs the winery with Managing Partner Scott Becker, they have an excellent winemaker in Benoit Touquette, and Michel Rolland consults.
Switching gears, one of my favorite aspects of Realm (more a “that’s really cool” kind of thing) is their inspiration from Shakespeare. For example, the title of this blog post starts the line “This blessed plot, this earth, this realm” from Shakespeare’s Richard II, a line noted on every bottle of Realm wine, on their corks, and highlighted on the label I am reviewing today. Realm’s Bordeaux blends include The Tempest, named for the violent storm and play thought to be one of Shakespeare’s last; Falstaff, named for the fat, vain, boastful, and cowardly knight present in four of Shakespeare’s plays for comic relief; and of course The Bard, named for Shakespeare himself. Each wine highlights a particular variety, ranging from Merlot to Cabernet Franc to Cabernet Sauvignon, respectively.
As far as their single vineyard wines go, Realm produces Farella (100% Cab), Houyi (100% Cab), Beckstoffer Dr. Crane (95% Cab, 5% Petit Verdot), Beckstoffer To Kalon (100% Cab), Moonracer (Cab dominant blend), and a white wine called Fidelio (Sauvignon Blanc). As I mentioned in the beginning of this post, recently Realm started producing wine from their own fruit which is where Moonracer comes in. This wine comes from their vineyard on Wappo Hill in the Stags Leap District and is named for the Wappo Native Americans who were known for bravery, strength, and athleticism. The Wappos often took part in (and are said to have won most) inter-tribal races during a full moon, hence the name Moonracer.
Note: Realm also makes a highly limited blend only in certain vintages called The Absurd, but be ready to pay $600-$750 per bottle for a chance to taste it.
Today’s Wine: 2016 The Bard
85% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Merlot, 5% Petit Verdot; 14.6% ABV
As expected due to its young age, this wine is deep, opaque purple in color and almost black at its core. I double decanted this bottle due to its youth and let it breath for about an hour. On the nose are aromas of blackberry, blueberry, anise, cigar box, pepper, chocolate, and crushed stone. In the mouth, the palate consists of flavors of black fruit, licorice, smokey earth, violet, dark chocolate, and a touch of ground coffee. Full-bodied with medium (+) acidity, medium (+) but refined tannins, and a very long, concentrated finish. I definitely committed infanticide with this one, but wanted to try it and will definitely buy more. Give it at least 5-7 more years but drink over the coming decades.
Price: $150. While not an everyday drinking price, this bottle is well worth its tag. Already at such a young age this is drinking with finesse, elegance, and balance that is hard to find. Pair this with filet mignon or ribeye.
Domaine Leflaive is a very highly regarded winery located in Puligny-Montrachet, Côte de Beaune, Burgundy. While origins of the estate come as early as 1717 with Claude Leflaive, the winery as it is today seems to begin with Joseph Leflaive (1870-1953). Initially working as a naval engineer who helped develop the first French submarine, Joseph cared for his family’s vines in Puligny-Montrachet following his marriage. Thanks to phylloxera, many of the vines needed dramatic replanting and many of the produce at the time sold to wine merchants. Thus, in the 1920s, Joseph replanted the parcels of his estate and started selling wines under his own label.
When Joseph died in 1953, Domaine Leflaive came under the control of his four children (Jo, Vincent, Anne, and Jeanne) and the family desired to maintain the winery at the peak of excellence. Jo, an insurance underwriter by trade, took over the administrative and financial management of Domaine Leflaive while Vincent, an engineer who studied management and business, covered the vineyard, wines, and commercial side of the business. Over time, Domaine Leflaive produced some of the greatest white Burgundy wines and continues to be a family endeavor. In 1990, Vincent’s daughter Anne Claude became joint manager with Jo’s son Olivier and the two learned from Vincent until his death in 1993 and Anne Claude was named manager.
Much changed at the estate from the 1990s, though it is still run by the family. Today’s steward is Brice de La Morandiere, Anne Claude’s nephew and great-grandson of Joseph Leflaive. Brice’s largest contributions so far include the updating of historic buildings on the estate and enhancements to the winemaking process that include new corks to allow for prolonged aging of the Domaine’s wines.
Lastly, as a common thread, I will leave you with a brief conversation on the farming and winemaking practices of Domaine Leflaive. Leflaive practices biodynamic farming in an effort to understand and appreciate all natural phenomena that ultimately strengthen the immunity of their vines. They tend to their soil with the use of products made from vegetable, animal and mineral matter at certain points during the annual cycle, while working the land by tilling and scraping. Further, Leflaive practices organic cultivation of the vines. You can read more in-depth on their practices at https://www.leflaive.fr/en/the-spirit.
Today’s Wine: 1995 Bienvenues Bâtard-Montrachet
100% Chardonnay; 13.5% ABV
This was a “fingers crossed” type of bottle for a couple reasons. First, the cork on this bottle was slightly depressed (only 1-2mm or so) and was nearly soaked. I’ve seen this with wine before, so I gingerly used my Ah So wine opener to get the cork out and thankfully it was one solid piece and the seal seemed intact. Secondly, white Burgundy from the 1990s, particularly starting with the 1995 vintage, has a somewhat significant problem with premox (premature oxidation) which can ruin a relatively young wine. The wine can give off aromas and flavors like a Sherry, or worse, and become undrinkable while showing darker than expected or brown colors. Fortunately, this bottle had no premox and the slight depression of the cork turned out okay.
With that good news, our wine today shows a vibrant gold color. Once this opened in the glass, beautiful aromas of ripe pear, honeysuckle, cream, white florals, nuts, and white truffle leap outward. I could smell this wine all day. In the mouth, flavors of lemon citrus, golden apple skins, white pepper, spice, and minerality mingle in perfect balance. The wine is full-bodied with lip-smacking high acidity and a finish that goes on for easily 40 seconds. This bottle was truly a pleasant surprise, and for anyone who has one left I’d advise you to start drinking.
Price: $530. This is one of those bottles I drink very rarely, with the vintage coincidentally being my birth year. Pair with stone crab, mild fish, or a small plate of pear and mild cheeses.
Garnier & Fils is a family endeavor in Chablis, where the Garnier family has owned 57 acres of property for decades. The current patriarch of the family sold their grapes to other winemakers, however in 1996 his sons Xavier and Jérôme produced their own wine for the first time and began selling it to restaurants. The two brothers share an equal passion for great wine as well as an eagerness to produce high-quality wines from this cool and challenging region, with Jérôme working the vineyards and Xavier making the wines.
Like many small and “newer” wineries, Garnier & Fils practices traditional, environmentally friendly, and organic farming/winemaking. They harvest their grapes later than many other producers in Chablis, ferment only with native yeasts, and store their wine in large (used) wood barrels to not impart any woody notes into the wines. This dedication to their winemaking process afforded Xavier and Jérôme the ability to make very deep-flavored and profound wines with their entry level all the way to the Grand Cru, also making them somewhat “rising stars.”
With top producers in Chablis such as Domaine François Raveneau and Vincent Dauvissat, it can be very hard for vintners to make a name for themselves and it comes over time. However, with the rising quality from Garnier & Fils I am eager to try more of their wines and believe that one day we will be much more familiar with them than we are now. I also speculate the incredibly reasonable price-point on their wines will creep up with that fame.
When asked to pick a bottle of Chardonnay for our group’s evening wine tasting, I was very glad to find this Chablis for its value and fact that many of my friends are not familiar with the wines of Burgundy. Our wine today is pale gold/straw yellow in color, almost water white toward the edges of the glass. The nose is very delicate and inviting with notes of green apple, pear, white florals, and mineral. Simple and classic. On the palate are notes of pear, green apple skins, citrus zest, white pepper, and chalk with a slight salinity to it. This Chablis is medium- to full-bodied with juicy acidity and a rounded, full finish.
Price: $30, a good price-point for entry Chablis. Pair this with an assortment of goat cheese or shellfish.
Gargiulo is a small, family-owned winery in Oakville, Napa Valley that produces about 3,400 cases of wine each year from two vineyards. Owners Jeff and Valerie Gargiulo bought their first vineyard, Money Road Ranch, in 1992 to fulfill their winemaking dream, adding to the property in 1997 by purchasing the 575 OVX property. Founded as a Cabernet Sauvignon estate, Gargiulo produces three different Cabs and a Sangiovese, though they also have Cabernet Franc, Petite Verdot, and Merlot planted for blending in their G Major 7 Cab. Gargiulo produces small amounts of Chardonnay from Frank Wood Ranch and a rosé of Sangiovese as well.
The Gargiulo family and their winemaker, Kristof Anderson, follow a more hands-off approach to winemaking, who in their words say is “gentle and patient.” When it comes time to harvest the grapes, they do so by hand at dawn, hand sort the grapes three times, and use gravity flow methods for winemaking. This arguably preserves the natural fragrances and flavors of the wines by removing pumps and machinery, and is a reason I believe Gargiulo wines are consistently elegant yet structured to go the distance.
During the last week of September this year, I had the opportunity to taste at Gargiulo for the first time (though I’ve had many of their wines over the years) and it was an incredible experience. While the indoor tasting room is something special with its stone walls, big leather chairs, and guitars stationed on stands around the perimeters, we sat outside taking in the view. Paired with a plate of meats and cheese, we tasted through Gargiulo’s current offerings and chatted with our exceptional host, Lucas, while looking out at the vineyards and their neighbor, Screaming Eagle. I included a picture of this view on my homepage, and also threw a couple bonus pictures at the bottom of this post.
Today’s Wine: 2015 Aprile
96% Sangiovese, 4% Cabernet Sauvignon; 13.6% ABV
I’ve had an opportunity to drink several bottles and vintages of this wine back to 2008, and it’s always a crowd favorite. Easy drinking, bright red fruits, and low alcohol combine into a refined Sangiovese. The wine is bright ruby red in color and almost rose/pink toward the edges of the glass. The nose is very vibrant, with aromas of strawberry, raspberry, cherry, green herbs, and a little bit of earth and oak that leap from the glass. On the palate we get notes of cranberry, cherry, underbrush, white pepper, and chalk. The mouthfeel with this wine is very elegant and smooth, being medium-bodied while showing medium (+) acidity and medium tannins into a long, slightly chewy finish. GV produced 912 cases of this wine.
Price: $60. I like the price-point on this. It is somewhat hard to find Sangiovese in California to begin with, especially of this quality from a producer like Gargiulo. Pair this with red sauce pizza like I did (or pasta) and it’s hard to beat.
Ridge Vineyards, another historic California winery, found its beginnings near the top of Monte Bello Ridge in 1885. Osea Perrone, an Italian doctor in San Francisco, bought 180 acres and constructed the winery into three levels of the mountain using native limestone. He produced the first vintage under the Monte Bello Winery label in 1892, however later as Prohibition crippled the wine industry the facilities were abandoned.
Once Prohibition ended (thankfully), a man by the name of William Short purchased the winery and replanted several parcels to Cabernet Sauvignon in the late 1940s. The breakthrough came, however, in 1959 when the winery changed hands again to Dave Bennion, Hew Crane, Charlie Rosen, and Howard Ziedler and the partnership produced a quarter-barrel of “Estate” Cabernet. One of the greatest Cali Cabs at the time, this Monte Bello wine inspired Dave Bennion to leave Stanford Research Institute (where all partners worked) to focus on winemaking full-time.
As winemaking ramped up at Ridge, I would be remiss not to mention their Zinfandel, first made in 1964 from vines further down the mountain. In 1966, they produced their first Geyserville Zin that many of you should be able to find at your local wine store. By 1968, the winery was approaching 3,000 cases of annual production and had grown from 15 to 45 acres following an acquisition of the original Monte Bello terraces. Ridge demonstrated a quality and character in the upper echelon of California wines, with their 1971 Cab ultimately entered into the Paris Tasting of 1976, which I briefly talked about in my Chateau Montelena post.
As further background on Ridge, I’d like the opportunity to discuss their winemaking practices as well. Calling their style “pre-industrial,” Ridge shies away from chemicals and additives prevalent in the industry nowadays. They ferment their wines only with natural yeast, do not use commercial enzymes or nutrients to affect color, flavor, or tannin in the wines, and are certified organic. Further, one of my favorite features of a bottle of Ridge is the back label that tells the winemaking process and lists ingredients, which is not common.
Today’s Wine: 2015 Syrah/Grenache/Mataro
35% Syrah, 23% Grenache, 42% Mataro; 14.3% ABV
Most of you who know me know how much I love Syrah, and Rhône varietals in general, so I was very excited to find this bottle of ’15 GSM to taste and review. Our wine is medium ruby in appearance and fairly transparent. On the nose are aromas of black and blue fruits, redcurrant, lavender, mild earthy white cheese, cured meat, and slate. This was still somewhat tight as a pop-and-pour so I gave it about 30 minutes of air before drinking. Once in the mouth, the wine showcases notes of blueberry, ripe blackberry, dried cranberry, parched dirt, mushroom, underbrush, and a touch of blood. Full-bodied with medium (+) acidity, medium tannins, and a long (surprisingly bright fruit) finish.
Price: $40. Though I’ve watched the prices for Ridge rise over the past several years, I still think their wines (especially the range of Zins) are some of the best values for the quality. Today’s GSM blend is no different and, quite honestly, this was better than I expected. Pair this with red meat and mushroom sauce.
Kosta Browne is a very storied, highly sought-after winery whose Pinot Noir amassed a cult following over the years. The “winery” started in 1997 with two friends, Dan Kosta and Michael Browne, who both happened to work at a restaurant in Santa Rosa but desired to make their own Pinot Noir. Every night they both worked in the restaurant, each would save $10 of their tips stashed in an envelope in Dan’s desk (he was the restaurant’s GM and Michael was the sommelier). Once their savings grew to about $1,000, they were (almost) ready to make wine.
Short in their ability to purchase both grapes and machinery to produce wine, Dan and Michael received $400 from a chef at the restaurant to push them to their goal. With $1,400 to their mutual name, they spent $400 on winemaking equipment and $1,000 on grapes from Everett Ridge in the Russian River Valley which allowed them to produce one barrel of wine (24 cases when all said and done). Most of this barrel went to VIP restaurant patrons, and as it emptied KB turned to Sauvignon Blanc due to its lower-priced grapes and no need for barrels to age. This Sauvignon Blanc allowed them to turn profit more quickly, paving the way for a return to their focus on Pinot Noir.
Following that batch of Sauvignon Blanc, in 2000 Michael networked tirelessly to find someone willing to sell him (a small, unknown producer) high quality Pinot Noir grapes. His efforts paid off when he convinced John Ferrington, the former assistant winemaker at Williams Selyem, to connect him with the owners of Cohn Vineyard who ultimately sold him grapes. As their second batch of Pinot aged in the barrels, Michael constructed a business plan and the pair partnered with investors to augment their return to Pinot Noir.
Now, I would love to run through more of the history of Kosta Browne but it is quite an extensive story with many trials and tribulations along the way. Even more so following what I wrote above! I encourage you to visit their website https://www.kostabrowne.com/pages/stories/, which provides all you will ever need to know.
Note: Duckhorn Wine Company purchased Kosta Browne last year. At that time, KB’s waiting list consisted of 30,000 members who account for 85% of the 30,000 case annual production. The remaining 15% typically goes to restaurants or high-end wine stores in small quantities. It will be interesting to see how Duckhorn’s ownership affects the KB brand.
Today’s Wine: 2014 Keefer Ranch Pinot Noir
100% Pinot Noir; 14.6% ABV
Though I’ve been familiar with Kosta Browne for quite some time, this is actually my first time drinking a bottle. The wine is bright, clear ruby red in appearance with hues of rose petal toward the rim of the glass. On the nose are aromas of crushed raspberry, strawberry, pomegranate, florals, a touch of leather, and a waning hint of alcohol. In the mouth, the palate showcases notes of sweet cherry, ripe red berries, spice box, green herbs, and vanilla. Medium-bodied and elegant, this Pinot shows moderately high acidity, low tannins, and a medium (+) length finish. Overall a very velvety wine that will only get better with a few more years in the bottle.
Price: $140. This is definitely pricey for a Pinot, however given its rarity I see why it is priced this way. There are certainly other Pinots that deliver a stronger QPR (even their “entry” Sonoma Coast can be found online for $80), but if you really want to make an entrance and tell your company an incredible wine story, grab a bottle of single vineyard Kosta Browne…if you can find one.
Susana Balbo’s career in wine is truly incredible and her broad range of wines and critical acclaim speaks to it. Susana originally hoped to study nuclear physics, however her family would not let her leave Mendoza to pursue it because the pathway was “unconventional” at the time. Instead, Susana remained in Mendoza and took up her family’s business of viticulture. Polar opposite of a degree in nuclear physics, Susana graduated with a degree in Oenology in 1981 and still managed to challenge the status quo by becoming the first women in Argentina to do so.
After working throughout the world as consultant to wineries in Spain, Chile, Italy, Brazil, Australia, and California (the first women from Argentina to do so, no less), Susana created her own winery in 1999. Located in Luján de Cuyo, Mendoza, Susana Balbo Wines prospers from their location at the foothills of the Andes Mountains where the ice melts into pure water during spring and summer for use in the vineyards. Like many higher-quality wineries nowadays, Susana Balbo Wines is committed to sustainable practices like avoiding chemical and machinery use in the vineyards, utilizing drip irrigation on the vines, and using pruning waste to nourish the soil.
To truly appreciate the history and significance of Susana’s career, I highly recommend trying some of her wines if you see them at your local store. While I am reviewing one of her “entry level” offerings today, her Nosotros Single Vineyard Malbec received outstanding notes and is worthy of seeking out. Hopefully I can review one for you someday soon.
Today’s Wine: 2011 Signature Malbec
90% Malbec, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon; 14.5% ABV
I’ve had an opportunity to taste Susana Balbo Malbecs on multiple occasions, but they have all been more recent vintages so I was intrigued by this bottle (served to me blind) with eight years of age. Today’s wine is medium purple to ruby in color with moderate staining on the sides of the glass. On the nose we have aromas of blackberry, blueberry, anise, sweaty locker room, and flint. The palate is not complex and the wine is very easy drinking, showcasing notes of plum, dates, cigar box, and baking spice. Good value for the money, this is medium-bodied with medium (+) acidity, medium (+) tannins, and a medium length finish. This bottle makes me excited to try her higher-end wines in the future.
Price: $20, a solid price-point for Malbec. Pair this with a burger, skirt steak, or dark meat chicken.
Jonata came onto my radar in unlikely fashion about two years ago, as these wines very rarely call retail stores home. I sat on the Screaming Eagle waitlist twiddling my thumbs for the chance to purchase an allocation (I am still waiting), and I received an email that their sister winery, Jonata, had offerings for purchase. I quickly discovered that Stan Kroenke, owner of Screaming Eagle and the LA Rams, owns Jonata as well and since their wines are highly regarded began seeking some out.
Jonata’s vines are planted in the Santa Ynez Valley on California’s Central Coast, and although Kroenke bought 586 acres of property only 84 acres are planted under vine. Like many wineries in the area, Jonata found success planting Rhône varietals such as Syrah but also grows Sangiovese and Bordeaux varietals. As far as soil goes, the entire Jonata property is sand (specifically Careaga Sandstone) which is known to be highly aerative with low water holding capacity and therefore low fertility for fruit. However, thanks to their adept winemaker Matt Dees, Jonata is able to produce exceptional wines and some of the best Cabernet Sauvignon in the Ballard Canyon appellation.
On the topic of quality, Jonata in their words seeks to become “the vanguard of an emerging quality movement in California winegrowing.” Great care is put into their vineyards and the winemaking process, resulting in a relatively small production of about 4,725 cases per year across 8 wines (2,426 cases being their Todos red blend). Sustainability is also a major point of focus for the winery, integrating livestock (chicken, turkeys, goats, pigs, and sheep) into the farming model to naturally enhance the soil. Jonata also maintains a communal garden and an orchard that produces olive oil and honey from bees raised on the ranch. Source: https://www.jonata.com/.
Today’s Wine: 2005 El Corazón de Jonata
41% Syrah, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon, 11% Cabernet Franc, 11% Merlot, 5% Petit Verdot, and 2% Sauvignon Blanc; 14.9% ABV
Our wine today is a very deep, opaque purple color with ruby variation toward the rim of the glass. We let this slow ox in the bottle for about 30 minutes before additional air-time in the glass, as it was still slightly tight as a pop-and-pour. On the nose are enticing aromas of black cherry, blackcurrant, red berry fruit, cigar box, sweet tobacco, licorice, and oak. Once in the mouth, we get notes of jammy blackberry, black cherry, blueberry, graphite, smokey/charred earth, and a touch of chocolate. Opulent and showing no signs of age, today’s Jonata is full-bodied with medium (+) acidity, mature medium tannins, and a long finish that lingers with notes of iron.
Price: $65. I think this is a little high (I’d love to see ~$50) but still worth a try due to its rarity and complexity with plenty of gas left in the tank. We paired this with smokey barbecue chicken, but I think this would also stand up well to a New York Strip.
Paolo Bea is a beautiful, working farm winery located in the hilltop commune of Montefalco in the region of Umbria. Records indicate that the Bea family lived in Montefalco as early as the 16th century and to this day produce fruits, vegetables, olives, and livestock to both sustain themselves and sell in the marketplace. While Paolo Bea, the senior member of the family today, spearheads the practices of the winery, his two sons Giuseppe and Giampiero farm the vineyards and assist in the vinification process, respectively.
A traditionalist through and through, Paolo Bea creates his wines in an effort to showcase the rustic character of grapes native to Montefalco, especially with his red made of Sagrantino. All care for the vineyards is organic, harvesting is done by hand, only native yeasts are present during fermentation, and the wines are bottled without fining or filtration. Many wine producers around the world create wines for the international stage (higher alcohol, bigger fruit, more forward) yet vintners like Paolo Bea remain my favorites because they want to share what their land produces in an open and honest representation.
While the Sagrantino is one of the greatest value wines I’ve been able to find from Italy, the white wines produced by the winery are some of the most interesting you can find. For example, Bea leaves his whites in contact with the grape skins for a time which adds tannin and body to the wines. The Arboreus, made from Trebbiano grapes, for instance shows a gold/amber color and medium tannins thanks to this process. My wine today, the Santa Chiara, shares similar tannin and body characteristics but is a true orange wine.
“Interesting” is the word uttered profusely by my tasting companions when we drank this bottle. I speculate that is because this was the first orange wine for many of them and only my second. Our wine today is amber orange in appearance, captivating for many of us in the room. On the nose are aromas of sweet (almost candied) cherry, apricot, melon, caramel, white wildflower, crushed stone, and mineral. The nose evolved dramatically over the time we drank this bottle, which made for a very unique experience. On the palate are notes of peach, apricot, honey, assorted nuts, vanilla, and mineral. Very complex and fun to drink, this is medium-bodied with moderate acidity, medium (-) yet grippy tannins, and a long finish characterized by notes of citrus and herbs. Another excellent and intriguing wine from Paolo Bea.
Price: $50. Well worth a try if you stumble across this in a store. Paolo Bea wines are full of character and produced using traditional methods in relatively small quantities, justifying the price. This would pair well with Korean dishes like Bibimbap.
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.
Founded by four friends who studied Oenology together, Envínate quickly become 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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
Cabernet Sauvignon is the king of grapes, but Pinot Noir is the grape of kings.
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.
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.
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.
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.