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Outstanding Value from Chianti Classico

Today’s Story: Castello di Volpaia

Castello di Volpaia is a historic winery situated in the fortified medieval village of Volpaia in the heart of Chianti Classico. Drenched in winemaking history, Volpaia’s viticultural roots trace to 1172 and they were a founding member of the Lega del Chianti (Chianti League) in 1250. In 1966, a printer and bookbinder named Raffaello Stianti purchased the Volpaia estate and 2/3 of the village, later giving it to his daughter Giovannella and her newlywed husband Carlo Mascheroni as a wedding gift in 1972. Carlo and Giovannella instituted a major renovation project to modernize the winery and convert historical buildings into cellars, all while instituting an underground “wineduct” that carries wine from their fermentation tanks to the cellar by gravity. Castello di Volpaia is the highest elevation winery in Chianti Classico with 114 acres of vineyards situated between 1,300-2,100 feet above sea level. All viticultural practices at the estate are certified organic by Q Certificazioni srl.

Today’s Wine: 2016 Chianti Classico Riserva

100% Sangiovese; 13.5% ABV

The 2016 Chianti Classico Riserva is mostly opaque and medium garnet in color with ruby hues. This needs to decant for an hour or two, but once it does the nose blossoms to showcase aromas of black cherry, blackcurrant, anise, lavender, smoked game, tobacco leaf, damp gravel, dark chocolate, sage, and oak. Once on the palate, this wine delivers notes of blackberry compote, spiced black plum, brambleberry, black cherry, violet, licorice, crushed rock, wet volcanic soil, smoke, savory green herbs, and blood. This is full-bodied with high acidity, medium (+) tannins, and a very long finish. The wine is beautifully complex for how young it is, and based on its structure I would give this another 7-10 years to develop in the bottle.

Price: $35. This is one of the greatest value Italian wines I’ve had, and every time I find either this vintage or the 2015 I stock up. Pair this with chicken parmigiana, ossobuco, or lamb chops.


Remarkably Affordable Grand Cru Chablis

Today’s Wine: 2014 Chablis Grand Cru Les Clos

100% Chardonnay; 12% ABV

The 2014 Les Clos is gorgeous deep gold in color and transparent. I let this open up in the glass for about 45 minutes to an hour and the nose showcases aromas of lemon citrus, white peach, stone fruit, golden apple, white florals, saline minerality, brioche toast, toasted almond, and marine limestone. On the palate, I get notes of golden pear, lemon, orange zest, green apple skins, brine, white lily, honey, beeswax, and chalk. This beauty is full-bodied with mouthwatering high acidity and a plush, well-rounded mouthfeel into a long finish. An incredibly precise and intense wine, I recommend giving this another 7-10 years in the bottle to add additional complexities.

Price: $80 (though this seems difficult to find online and my CellarTracker gives it a value of $100). This is an absolutely beautiful value for Grand Cru Chablis, drinking like one of the best that I’ve had. If you are able to find this for $100 or less, you cannot pass it up. Pair this with shellfish, foie gras, or spaghetti carbonara.


Pinotage Off the Beaten Path

Today’s Story: Beaumont Family Wines

Beaumont Family Wines, as the name implies, is a small family owned and operated winery established in 1974 by Jayne and Raoul Beaumont in Bot River, South Africa. Though the farm was originally established in the 1700s by the Dutch East India Company and is home to the region’s oldest wine cellar, its wine business did not start until the 1940s and halted during the late 1960s. When Jayne and Raoul replanted some of the vineyards and started producing their wines, they established the goal of producing small quantities of high quality wines including Chenin Blanc, Pinotage, Syrah, Mourvèdre, and various blends. All of the wines are crafted to showcase the terroir, so Beaumont practices minimal intervention and traditional winemaking methods including the use of natural yeasts for fermentation and old open concrete fermenters.

For more about Beaumont Family Wines or to browse their portfolio, check out the website here!

Today’s Wine: 2016 Pinotage

100% Pinotage; 14% ABV

The 2016 Pinotage is opaque deep ruby in color and produces moderate staining on the glass. Once this opens up, the nose showcases aromas of blackberry, wild blueberry, juicy black plum, smoked game, sweet tobacco, menthol, rocky mineral, and mixed nuts. On the palate, I get notes of black cherry, jammy blackberry, fig, muddled strawberry, black raspberry, licorice, dried rocky soil, mocha, and smoke. This is medium- to full-bodied with high acidity, medium tannins, and a long finish. 60 barrels produced.

Price: $33. This is a great price-point for the wine and is fairly accessible for those who want to explore South Africa’s signature variety. A cross between Pinot Noir and Cinsault, Pinotage is a fun variety to try for those who like Pinot Noir or want to expand their horizons. Pair this with venison, smoked duck, or a meat lover pizza.


Old-World-Styled Pinot Noir From California

Today’s Story: Mount Eden Vineyards

Mount Eden Vineyards was established in 1945 in the Santa Cruz Mountain Appellation of California, with a focus of crafting small lots of Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, and Pinot Noir. Located at an elevation of 2,000 feet above the Santa Clara Valley floor, Mount Eden Vineyards is widely considered one of the first “boutique” California wineries and remains true to this philosophy today. Mount Eden believes every bottle is an expression of their terroir and thus winemaker Jeffrey Patterson spends most of his time in the vineyards connecting to his fruit and vines and centering his efforts on producing quality (not high-quantity) fruit. Part of Jeffrey’s focus in the vineyards is also making sure that this land will produce quality fruit for generations to come, so he feels deeply connected to the need to care for his vineyards. In the cellar, Jeffrey practices minimal intervention and all fruit is handled gently before going through fermentation using only natural yeasts. For more on the history of this wonderful winery, check out their website here.

Today’s Wine: 2015 Pinot Noir

100% Pinot Noir; 13.5% ABV

The 2015 Pinot Noir is pale ruby in color and moderately opaque. This is incredibly young and needs a couple hours to open up, but once it does the nose showcases aromas of cherry, black raspberry, black olive, mint, freshly ground green herbs, pine, charred cedar, leather, rocky earth, and incense. Once on the palate, the wine displays notes of tart cherry, dried strawberry, boysenberry, crunchy cranberry, red licorice, rose petal, sweet tobacco, scorched earth, underbrush, rocky minerality, and exotic spice. This is medium-bodied with an incredibly elegant and velvety mouthfeel, vibrant medium (+) acidity, medium (-) tannins, and a long finish. 936 cases produced.

Price: $65. This is an incredibly high-quality Pinot Noir that drinks on par or better than many $100 Pinot Noirs I’ve enjoyed. The one thing to keep in mind, though, is you need to be patient with this and give it at least another 5-7 years of bottle age. Pair this with rack of lamb, herb grilled pork chops, or eggplant parmigiana.


Small Batch Bordeaux Blend From Paso Robles

Today’s Story: Aleksander Wine

Aleksander is a small, family-owned boutique winery established by NBA player Sasha Vujacic and his family when his parents Goran and Ksenija discovered their property in 2009. On what became S&G Estate, a 30 acre property in Paso Robles complete with estate vineyards and its own winery, Aleksander produces Merlot-dominant Bordeaux blends in a “White Label” bottling and a “Reserve” bottling. Aleksander ages their wines in a mix of French, Serbian, and Eastern European oak barrels with the White Label wines calling them home for a minimum of 18 months and the Reserve wines a minimum of 24 months. All wines are aged in the bottles a minimum of 10 months before release.

Today’s Wine: 2012 Aleksander Red Blend

55% Merlot, 22% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Cabernet Franc, 8% Petit Verdot; 13.8% ABV

The 2012 Aleksander is opaque deep ruby in color with deep purple hues in the bowl. Once this opens up, the nose showcases aromas of blackberry, blueberry, plum, black cherry, redcurrant, violet, loamy soil, wet slate, cigar box, chocolate, and oaky spice. On the palate, I get notes of cassis, anise, blackberry, baked cherry, worn leather, wet gravel, charred earth, ground coffee, dark chocolate, baking spice, and oak. This wine is medium- to full-bodied with high acidity, medium (+) tannins, and a medium (+) length finish.

Price: $70. This is a very solid wine, though it is certainly toward the higher end of price-point I’ve paid for Paso Robles Bordeaux blends. That being said, I think this does stand up to a lot of the Napa wines in this price range and this, while being restrained in ABV and not a jammy fruit bomb, should have broad appeal. Pair this with roasted duck breast, filet mignon, or herb-grilled pork.


Delicious Entry Level Alsatian Riesling

Today’s Story: Domaine Weinbach

Domaine Weinbach was established in 1612 by Capuchin friars and is named for the stream meandering through the property. Located at the foot of a hill called Schlossberg in Alsace, France, the property has been planted to vine since as early as the 9th century and the vineyards are surrounded by ancient walls named Clos des Capucins. During the French Revolution, the domaine sold as national property though came into the Faller family when two brothers acquired it in 1898. Domaine Weinbach remains in the family today and passed to Théo who expanded and improved the winery; then Colette (Théo’s wife), Catherine, and Laurence; and finally to Eddy and Théo who currently work alongside their mother Catherine. The domaine now totals 28 hectares which, since 2005, are entirely farmed according to biodynamic principles. All harvesting is accomplished by hand, and minimal intervention takes priority in the cellar.

Today’s Wine: 2016 Riesling Réserve Personnelle

100% Riesling; 13% ABV

The 2016 Réserve Personnelle is transparent and medium straw in color with water-white near the rim. On the nose, I get aromas of melon, lemon citrus, stone fruit, green apple, honeysuckle, petrol, saline minerality, and vanilla. Once in the mouth, the wine showcases notes of white peach, pear, pineapple, apricot, white florals, petrol, crushed rock, mineral, cream, and straw. This is medium- to full-bodied with high acidity and a long, mouthwatering finish.

Price: $30. This is a great entry price to explore Alsatian Riesling, which alongside Mosel, Germany produces some of my favorite wines with the variety. Pair this with smoked whitefish, Thai food, or charcuterie with goat cheese.


Unique and Powerful Shiraz

Today’s Story: d’Arenberg

d’Arenberg (known as Bundarra at the time) was established in 1912 by Joseph Osborn in McLaren Vale after he sold his stable of prize winning race horses to purchase the property. They planted their first vineyards to 8 acres of Shiraz, though only 4 acres survived, and Joseph and his son Frank harvested their first vintage in 1913 and sold the fruit for £20 per ton. In 1927, Frank’s brother-in-law encouraged him to produce his own wine and, after studying winemaking at Ryecroft, he produced his first red table wine and port labeled Bundarra Vineyards by F. E. Osborn & Sons in 1928.

During WWII, Frank’s health deteriorated and he halted wine production in 1942 until his son d’Arry left school at the age of 16 to work at the family winery. d’Arry oversaw several great technological advances, including the use of McLaren Vale’s first rubber-tired tractor in 1946 and electricity in 1951. Several years later, d’Arry established his own wine label named for his late mother and adorned it with the family crest and signature red stripe. In 1965, the Bailey family who owned a well-established winery in Glenrowen, Victoria named Bundarra challenged d’Arry’s use of Bundarra so d’Arry decided to drop the name from his vineyard and wines.

Over the next couple years, d’Arenberg expanded with a second tasting room to accommodate increasing numbers of visitors and installed their own bottling line. During the 1970s, d’Arenberg rose to new heights by winning several awards for their 1967 Burgundy which proceeded accolades by their Rhine Riesling and Port. In 1984, d’Arry’s son Chester Osborn took over as chief winemaker and set about restoring traditional winemaking methods such as foot treading and basket pressing while eliminating fertilizer and minimizing irrigation in the vineyards to reduce yields. In 1988, d’Arenberg exported their Shiraz and Shiraz Grenache blend wines to Europe for the first time which marked another milestone in the brand’s global acceptance.

A man striving to reach new heights, Chester became one of the first to plant white Rhône varieties in McLaren Vale in 1995/1996 with 10 acres of Marsanne, 9 acres of Roussanne, and 14 acres of Viognier. Since then, Chester racked up an impressive resume of awards and trophies for both himself and the d’Arenberg winery. One of their highly awarded wines, The Dead Arm Shiraz, is what I am reviewing today and it was first released in 1993. Dead Arm is caused by the fungus Eutypa lata and affects old vines by slowly reducing one half (or arm) of the vine to dead wood. At most wineries, these vines are pruned, replanted, or abandoned but d’Arenberg sustains these low yielding vines to produce powerful and concentrated wines. The fruit for this wine is kept separate throughout the winemaking process and given extra care before being passed through a gentle roll crusher in small batches before foot treading and basket pressing. Primary and secondary fermentation is accomplished in used French and old American oak barriques and the wine is aged for 20 months on lees. Chester and his team select the best barrels for final blending and this is bottled with no fining or filtration.

Today’s Wine: 2009 The Dead Arm Shiraz

100% Shiraz/Syrah; 14.5% ABV

The 2009 Dead Arm is deep garnet in color and completely opaque. This demands an hour-plus to open up, but once it does the nose showcases aromas of blackberry, baked black cherry, redcurrant, licorice, smoke, chocolate, coffee, forest floor, underbrush, and charred red meat. Once on the palate, the wine offers notes of blackcurrant, juicy plum, cherry, tobacco, loamy soil, black pepper, wet crushed rock, mocha, tar, and oak. This is full-bodied with high acidity, medium (+) tannins, and a long finish dominated by flavors of dark berries and char. The wine is powerful yet balanced with the structure to go at least another 5 years.

Price: $60 (though slightly cheaper overseas). This is an outstanding value that drinks like some of the “higher end” Shiraz out of Australia. Pair this with herb-roasted leg of lamb, barbecue spareribs, or strong hard cheeses.


Incredible Value in a Second Wine

Today’s Story: Château Montrose

Château Montrose is a historical Bordeaux wine estate located in Saint-Estèphe and established in 1815 by Etienne Théodore Dumoulin on a patch of land his family purchased from Nicolas Alexandre de Ségur but largely forgot. At the time of Etienne’s death in 1861, the estate spanned 95 hectares though his heirs sold it in 1866 to factory owner Mathieu Dollfus who quickly redeveloped and modernized the buildings and winery with the best technology of the time. One of Mathieu’s most interesting achievements, in my opinion, is the construction of a windmill to pump water aboveground and flood the estate which ultimately saved much of the vineyards from phylloxera. After Mathieu passed away in 1886, the estate fell to the Charmolüe family who, from 1896 to 2006, guided Château Montrose through wars and financial crises while crafting some of the best vintages and providing stability. Martin and Olivier Bouygues acquired the estate in 2006 and engaged in a massive renovation project, propelling Château Montrose to ever increasing heights for decades down the road. Montrose, one of fourteen Deuxièmes Crus (Second Growths) in the Bordeaux Wine Official Classification of 1855, produces world-class wines and even placed third with their 1970 vintage in the Judgment of Paris in 1976.

To learn more about this great estate, check out their website here. In particular, I recommend checking out the “From Vine to Wine” section!

Today’s Wine: 2016 La Dame de Montrose

52% Merlot, 35% Cabernet Sauvignon, 11% Petit Verdot, 2% Cabernet Franc; 13.5% ABV

The 2016 La Dame de Montrose is opaque deep ruby and nearly black at its core with purple hues. I decanted this for 6 hours (wanted a preview of my Grand Vins still in hiding) and it needed every second of it. On the nose, I get aromas of blackberry, crème de cassis, black plum, pencil shavings, cigar box, finely crushed rock, dried earth, chocolate, black pepper, and oak. Once in the mouth, the wine showcases notes of blackcurrant, blueberry, cherry, redcurrant, graphite, loamy soil, slate, tobacco, spice box, and toasted oak. This is full-bodied with medium (+) acidity, high tannins, and a long finish. The wine is incredibly promising, and makes me excited to try the Grand Vin in 15 years.

Price: $50 (though you can find steals closer to $40). This is an absolute rockstar for value from the utterly incredible 2016 vintage, though you will have to be patient. Pair this with steak, grilled leg of lamb, or a high-end burger.


High Quality Value Barolo

Today’s Story: Paolo Scavino

Paolo Scavino was founded by Lorenzo Scavino and his son Paolo in 1921 in Castiglione Falletto within the Barolo region of Italy. Throughout its history, Paolo Scavino remains a family endeavor born on traditions of farming and today Enrico Scavino (3rd generation) and his daughters Enrica and Elisa (4th generation) operate the estate. Enrico is nearly 70 years into his work at the winery (he started in 1951 at the age of 10) and he has been instrumental in expending the estate’s holdings to include some of the greatest crus in all of Piedmont. With 30 hectares of vineyards across 20 crus in Castiglione Falletto, Barolo, La Morra, Novello, Serralunga d’Alba, Verduno, and Roddi, Paolo Scavino grows the traditional grapes of Nebbiolo, Barbera, and Dolcetto.

Today’s Wine: 2013 Barolo

100% Nebbiolo; 14.5% ABV

The 2013 Barolo is deep garnet in color and moderately opaque. This needs a good two hour decant, but once it opens up the nose emits aromas of cherry, strawberry, black raspberry, blackberry, anise, dried leather, tobacco, truffle, garden herbs, and oak. On the palate, I get notes of muddled raspberry, black cherry, pomegranate, licorice, rose, crushed granite, scorched earth, chocolate, clove, black tea, and cigar box. This wine is full-bodied with high acidity, medium (+) tannins, and a long finish.

Price: $43. This is a great value Barolo from an outstanding vintage, though I suggest giving it another 3 years in bottle and consuming over the following decade. Pair this with veal chop, venison steak, or assorted cheeses.


Boutique Napa Winery With a Unique Origin

Today’s Story: Phifer Pavitt

Phifer Pavitt is a boutique, family-owned winery located in the Napa Valley (Calistoga) and owned by Suzanne Phifer Pavitt and her husband Shane Pavitt. Though Suzanne grew up in rural Georgia and Shane in Manhattan Beach, CA, the couple share a love of wine and explored properties along the west coast before ultimately purchasing their property in 1998. Since their first vintage in 2005, Suzanne and Shane source their Cabernet Sauvignon from Temple Family Vineyards in Pope Valley and, since the first vintage in 2011, Sauvignon Blanc from Juliana Vineyards also in Pope Valley. Phifer Pavitt’s signature wine, the Cabernet Sauvignon named “Date Night,” is inspired by Suzanne and Shane’s weekly date night when they typically enjoy a bottle of wine and each other’s company away from work and the chaos everyday life can bring. On these weekly date nights, Suzanne and Shane seem to make decisions that greatly change their life’s scope (from career changes to family planning) so it makes sense their decision to purchase the property for Phifer Pavitt resulted from one of these nights as well. The couple’s wines are generally Bordeaux in style, and they have worked with winemaker Ted Osborne since the winery’s inception with Cabernet Sauvignon and father/father-in-law Gary Warburton with Sauvignon Blanc.

Today’s Wine: 2011 Date Night Cabernet Sauvignon

98% Cabernet Sauvignon, 2% Petit Verdot; 14.5% ABV

The 2011 Date Night is medium to deep ruby in color and almost fully opaque. Once this opens up, the nose showcases aromas of blackberry, plum, black cherry, violet, green pepper, scorched earth, chocolate, bacon fat, green herbs, crushed rock, and oak. There is some heat that needs some time to blow off as well. On the palate, I get notes of blueberry, spiced plum, blackcurrant, fig, licorice, tobacco, caramel, baking spice, wet rock, loamy soil, and smoke. This wine is medium- to full-bodied with medium (+) acidity, medium tannins, and a medium (+) length finish with added notes of iron and oak.

Price: $80. This is a tasty wine, but it’s up in that price-point where it faces significant competition from great value wines that I think pack a bit more of a punch for your “investment.” Pair this with roasted rack of lamb, a blue cheese burger, or braised beef short ribs.


Elegant Rioja That Won’t Break the Bank

Today’s Story: Bodegas Muga

Bodegas Muga is a family-owned winery established in 1932 in Haro, La Rioja, Spain by Isaac Muga and his wife Aurora Caño. Their children, Manuel and Isacín, picked up the baton to carry the winery into its second generation, however it is truly the current third generation responsible for modernizing the estate. Manuel’s sons Manuel, Juan, and Eduardo look after management of the estate, sales, and marketing, whereas Isacín’s sons Jorge and Isaac work in viticulture and winemaking. In recent past, Jorge shifted toward more complex blending in his wines by utilizing typically 20-30% of native varieties besides Tempranillo, particularly Garnacha, Graciano, and Mazuelo. For all of their wines, Muga utilizes classical winemaking methods and fermentation, aging, and storage is accomplished in oak barrels produced by their very own cooperage. The wines are racked using gravity every four months and before bottling they are fined using egg whites. Some of the wines (such as the one I’m reviewing today) are bottled unfiltered.

A relatively large winery, Muga owns 250 hectares of vineyards and produces roughly 1.5 million bottles of wine annually. With their vineyards planted to Tempranillo, Garnacha, Mazuelo, Graciano, Viura, and Malvasía, Muga’s portfolio includes a broad range of wines from White and Rosado to Red Rioja Reservas and Cava (sparkling). You can visit their website here.

Today’s Wine: 2013 Rioja Reserva

70% Tempranillo, 20% Garnacha, 10% Graciano & Mazuelo; 14% ABV

The 2013 Rioja Reserva is nearly fully opaque medium ruby in color. I decanted this for about an hour and the nose opens to express aromas of black cherry, plum, blackberry, purple and blue florals, leather, charred earth, tar, chocolate, vanilla, and oak. On the palate, I get notes of blackcurrant, blackberry, cherry, black raspberry, cola, tobacco, slate, dried rocky earth, green herbs, and smoky mineral. This wine is medium- to full-bodied with medium (+) acidity, dusty medium tannins, and a long finish.

Price: $25 ($16-$18 in Europe). This is an incredible value that drinks with refined elegance now but still has gas in the tank to go another 5+ years. Pair this with roasted pork loin, veal, lasagna, or Manchego cheese.


Not Your Typical Cali Zin

Today’s Story: Joseph Swan Vineyards

Joseph Swan Vineyards was founded during the early 1970s by Joe Swan, a man whose passion for wine spawned at an early age through reading. However, Joe’s career did not begin in wine but rather as an artist, a flight instructor for the Army Air Corps during WWII, and ultimately a pilot for Western Airlines. Though Joe retired in 1974, his passion for wine remained strong through those middle years and he even produced Zinfandel when stationed in Salt Lake City and made friends visiting the Enology and Viticulture department at UC Davis following the war. In 1967, Joe purchased a small farm planted with 13 acres of Zinfandel, fruit trees, and a pasture near Forestville in the Russian River Valley with a plan to follow his dream of operating a small vineyard and winery. Though Joe made Zinfandel in 1968, he quickly received encouragement from André Tchelistcheff (a highly influential winemaker I discussed in my BV posts, as well as Joe’s friend and mentor) to replant his vineyards to Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. With significant inspiration from French winemakers and the belief that lower production would increase his quality, Joe selected low production clones and both pruned and thinned his vines to significantly reduce yield. In 1987, Joe’s son-in-law Rod Berglund worked the Joseph Swan harvest with him and this would unfortunately be Joe’s last vintage. Joe fell ill during 1988 and passed away January, 1989 but his perfectionism and love of wine carries on with his daughter Lynn and son-in-law Rod today.

Today’s Wine: 2012 Mancini Ranch Zinfandel

100% Zinfandel; 12.9% ABV

The 2012 Mancini Ranch Zinfandel is moderately opaque and medium garnet in color with ruby hues. Once this opens up, the nose showcases aromas of tart cherry, strawberry rhubarb, dried raspberry, aged leather, forest floor, truffles, smoked red meat, savory green herbs, baking spice, and cedar. On the palate, I get notes of blackberry, blueberry, cherry pie, dusty strawberry, red licorice, dried tobacco, damp earth, mushroom, cinnamon, pepper, and slight oak. The wine is medium-bodied with medium acidity, medium (-) tannins, and a medium (+) length finish. Overall this is very well-balanced and a complex depiction of old-school Zinfandel that upon tasting does not seem like anything from California.

Price: $32. Joseph Swan produces some of my favorite Pinot Noir in the $35-$45 price-point, and I can now add their Zinfandel to this list of great values. This is a gorgeous Zin unlike many I’ve had from California and demonstrates the restraint this grape can display. Pair this with barbecue chicken, leg of lamb, or tomato-based pasta.


Boutique Napa Valley Estate for Family and Friends

Today’s Story: Zakin Family Estate

Zakin Family Estate consists of 150 acres situated between 1,250 and 1,450 feet above the Napa Valley floor with southwestern exposure on Howell Mountain, though only 3.8 acres are planted to vine. Janice and Jonathan Zakin purchased the property in 1998 to build their dream home, and at the time it was undeveloped and never once planted to vine. When Jan and Jon ultimately decided to clear land and plant their vineyards, they created three distinct vineyard blocks named The Pool Block (located just below their home’s outdoor pool), The Upper Vineyard, and the Back Blocks. 2012 marked the first vintage at Zakin Family Estate, though they held it back for extra aging and released it following the 2013 and 2014 vintages. Now with five vintages bottled, the estate is starting to come into its own and produces typically between 200 and 250 cases annually.

Jon Zakin is originally from New York and found success with a career in tech entrepreneurship which also helped foster his love of French Bordeaux and Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. Jon met Jan, an OB/GYN by trade from Hawaii, in 1998 and the couple married on their new property in 1999. I had the wonderful opportunity to tour the property and taste with Jan and Jon at their home in September, 2019 and it made for one of the most intimate experiences of my recent Napa Valley visit. Jan greeted us with glasses of Rosé which we carried around the property before settling into their main dining room with a board of cheeses, charcuterie, and home-grown figs to accompany our tasting. This was an incredibly peaceful, laid back, and friendly experience where we chatted more like long-lost friends than vintner and patron meeting for the first time.

Jan and Jon hired renowned winemaker Philippe Melka after fixating on a dream to create world-class Cabernet Sauvignon. Philippe grew up in Bordeaux and earned his Geology degree from the University of Bordeaux before his foray into wine at Château Haut-Brion. While at Haut-Brion, Philippe completed a masters program in Agronomy and Enology though with his passion for Cabernet Sauvignon blends ventured out to learn more. Philippe ultimately spent time at Dominus Estate (Napa Valley), Chittering Estate (Australia), Badia O Coltibuono (Chianti, Italy), and Chateau Petrus (Bordeaux) before settling down in Napa Valley and starting Melka Wines alongside his successful consulting business. Philippe is joined by vineyard manager Jim Barbour who has an impressive resume of his own, including work for Hundred Acre, Grace Family, Checkerboard, Blankiet Estate, Revana, Gandona Estate, Keever, Husic, Pillar Rock, and more over his roughly 40 year career.

Today’s Wine: 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon

Predominantly Cabernet Sauvignon, blended with Cabernet Franc (no tech sheet); 14.7% ABV

The 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon is opaque deep purple/ruby in color. I let this decant for 3 hours before serving and it certainly needed every minute of air. Once this opens up, the nose showcases aromas of blackberry purée, spiced plum, blueberry, redcurrant, graphite, tobacco leaf, black volcanic soil, clove, and oak. On the palate, I get notes of blackcurrant, black plum, black cherry, slate, charred rocky earth, baking spice, cracked black pepper, a touch of vanilla, and oak. This is full-bodied with medium (+) acidity, medium (+) but fine-grained tannins, and a long finish with notes of mocha and crushed rock. The wine is incredibly powerful while showcasing gorgeous mountain fruit, though you can tell there is an elegance starting to breach with more bottle age.

Price: $260 purchased at on-site tasting. It is a treat tasting wines from Zakin, whose production typically falls between 200-250 cases annually, as these are made in an opulent style that is utterly delicious and built for the long haul. Pair this with steak au poivre, herb-grilled leg of lamb, or blue cheese.


An Artist’s Barolo

Today’s Story: Vietti

Vietti was established in the late 1800s by Carlo Vietti in Castiglione Falletto, a small village within the Piedmont region of Italy. Throughout its history, Vietti passed from generation to generation and today its guides Luca Currado Vietti and his wife Elena make up the family’s fourth of winemaking. Though Krause Holdings acquired the Vietti estate in 2016, Luca and Elena maintain their familial approach to winemaking and the acquisition allowed them to expand vineyard holdings with a number of prized crus. I would be remiss, however, to skip the 1960s-1970s when discussing Vietti since the estate entered somewhat of a turning point under Luca’s parents Luciana Vietti and winemaker/art connoisseur Alfredo Currado. Alfredo’s contributions include one of the first Barolo crus (Rocche di Castiglione in 1961), single varietal vinification of Arneis in 1967, and the Artist Labels in 1974. The idea for Vietti Artist Labels spawned from an evening and bottle of wine Alfred shared with a group of friends (some of whom were artists) who declared that spectacular wines like the Barolo Rocche they were drinking deserved unique labels designed by artists. Since that evening, certain wine bottlings are adorned with original works of lithographs, xylographies, etchings, silkscreens, and linocuts inspired by a particular wine in a particular vintage and are only used once. Since the 1982 Barolo Villero, all Artist Labels are dedicated to wines exclusively grown in that vineyard.

Today’s Wine: 2015 Barolo Castiglione

100% Nebbiolo; 14.5% ABV

The 2015 Castiglione is pale to medium garnet in color and moderately transparent. I double-decanted this and then let it open up for about an hour, and this needs every bit of air in its youth. The nose showcases aromas of baked cherry, dried strawberry, orange zest, licorice, mint, scorched earth, truffle, tar, and oak. There’s also a bit of heat that will blow off with air or further aging. On the palate, I get notes of bing cherry, black raspberry, stemmy wild strawberry, earthy mushroom, tobacco, rocky soil, bitter dark chocolate, dried green underbrush, and charred oak. This wine is medium- to full-bodied with high acidity, high tannins, and a long finish. Give this 5 more years of bottle age and drink it over the following decade.

Price: $48. This is an outstanding value for well-made, textbook Barolo. If you buy this now give it plenty of air, though this is a great addition for your cellar at an everyday price-point. Pair this with venison steak, bistecca alla fiorentina, white Alba truffles, or assorted cheeses and charcuterie.


Premier Napa Valley Rosé

Today’s Story: Blankiet Estate

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. Today, they produce 5 wines from the Bordeaux varietals of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Petit Verdot.

Blankiet farms their vineyards utilizing organic methods (they are Napa Green Certified) and their position on the hillsides in depleted soils requires a great deal of manual work but results in intensely flavored fruit. During the winter, Blankiet Spur prunes their vines and as they grow throughout the spring and summer vineyard workers thin out buds, flowers, leaves, and grape clusters to reduce yields and enhance the wine’s concentration. During harvest, Blankiet completes up to 32 “mini-harvests” thanks to their array of soils and microclimates between and amongst the four varieties they grow. Though the estate examines sugar levels, acidity, and pH to help in their picking assessments, most of the fruit is harvested by taste tests of the berries and any deemed ready are de-leafed and trimmed of damaged clusters that afternoon. Harvest begins at 4am the following morning so workers can pick fruit in cooler temperatures and avoid the 50+ degree temperature swings common in Blankiet’s vineyards from day to night as well as fruit flies that are inactive at night. All fruit is carried to the winery in small baskets before being destemmed by a gentle machine and sorted by two state-of-the-art optical sorters. A few employees manually check and sort the fruit at the end of the process. After sorting, Blankiet adds carbon dioxide ice which maintains the fruit at a cold temperature while displacing oxygen and this is then gravity loaded into small fermentation tanks to begin cold maceration.

During the actual winemaking process, each pick is fermented separately and cold maceration lasts generally a week which allows enzymes to soften the fruit’s cellular structure but inhibit alcoholic fermentation due to the temperature. Once cold maceration is complete, Blankiet slowly warms the temperature of the fruit mass so alcoholic fermentation can begin and they closely monitor temperatures to help the yeasts thrive. The winemaking team checks each tank two times each day, with pump-overs a result according to taste. When the wines are ready for malolactic fermentation, they are moved to new French oak barrels in a warm cave for several months until they are ultimately moved into the cold aging caves where they call home for the next couple of years. Unlike many wineries today, Blankiet steers clear of adding sulphur dioxide (SO2) to their wine barrels when natural evaporation eventually takes place but they instead refill this open space with more wine. When the wine is ready to be bottled, it is done so on-site without fining or filtration.

I previously wrote about Blankiet in Fit for a King when I reviewed the 2014 Blankiet Estate Paradise Hills Vineyard, and you can also check out this prior post for a description of my visit to the property in September, 2019. For the source of today’s information and more for you to explore, check out Blankiet’s website here.

Today’s Wine: 2016 Prince of Hearts Rosé

Predominantly Merlot, with some Cabernet Franc (no tech sheet); 14% ABV

The 2016 Prince of Hearts Rosé is medium salmon/copper in color and transparent. On the nose, the wine showcases aromas of white peach, ripe melon, cherry, dried herbs, dried rose petal, white florals, cream, and stony minerality. On the palate, I get notes of muddled strawberry, wild raspberry, peach, red apple skins, tropical citrus, white and red florals, white peppery spice, mineral, and a hint of oak. This wine is medium-bodied with vibrant medium (+) acidity into a bright, crisp, and refreshing medium length finish.

Price: $100 direct from winery. This will be difficult to come across if you’re not on Blankiet’s mailing list, however it is worth trying if you find a bottle. Though this is the very expensive end of Rosé, it certainly is the best from California that I’ve tried. Pair this with melon and prosciutto, shrimp, salmon, or a salad with grilled chicken.


Premium Cabernet Sauvignon From a Boutique Napa Vineyard

Today’s Story: Adler Deutsch Vineyard

Adler Deutsch Vineyard is a very small, 2-acre vineyard located on the edge of the West Rutherford Bench and owned by vintners Bob Adler and Alexis Deutsch-Adler. ADV works with Cabernet Sauvignon (though some of their wines can be a blend of around 98% Cabernet Sauvignon and 2% Petit Verdot) to produce highly limited and premium wines amounting to a mere couple hundred cases each vintage. Bob and Alexis work very closely with their workers in the vineyard, particularly their winemaker Aaron Pott. Aaron studied Enology at the University of California-Davis before taking a position at Newton under John Kongsgaard, where he also met famed consultant Michel Rolland who helped him land positions in France at Château Troplong Mondot and Château La Tour Figeac. While in France, Aaron received a master’s degree in Viticulture from the Université de Bourgogne and worked for six years before returning to the US at Beringer as their winemaker for the French, Italian, and South American brands. Aaron also worked at St. Clement and Quintessa before establishing his own label, Pott Wine, and consulting for Napa Valley wineries. ADV practices sustainable farming methods with a dedication to ensuring their vineyard thrives for decades to come.

Today’s Wine: 2011 Estate Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon

100% Cabernet Sauvignon; 14.8% ABV

The 2011 Estate Reserve is almost entirely opaque and deep ruby in color with dark purple hues. Once this opens up, the nose showcases aromas of blackberry, blackcurrant, plum, cherry, redcurrant, pencil shavings, sweet tobacco, loamy soil, pepper, milk chocolate, vanilla, and oak. On the palate, I get notes of wild blueberry, blackberry, crème de cassis, black raspberry, cigar box, graphite, scorched earth, cedar, clove, blood, and blue florals. This wine is full-bodied with high acidity, medium (+) tannins, and a long finish dominated by black fruit, cocoa, and dried earth.

Price: $90 (though this appears unavailable in retail markets). This is an outstanding wine that drinks well above its price point for both quality and rarity. ADV only produces a couple hundred cases of wine each year, but if you manage to find some it’s worth a try. Pair this with grilled NY strip steak, black-pepper-crusted Ahi tuna, or rosemary lamb steak.


Refreshing Small-Batch Languedoc Blanc

Today’s Story: Domaine Saint Sylvestre

Domaine Saint Sylvestre was established at the end of 2010 by husband and wife duo Vincent and Sophie Guizard. Located in the small commune of Puéchabon within the Terrasses du Larzac appellation of the Languedoc region in France, the domaine consists of roughly 8 hectares of vines planted to Roussanne, Marsanne, Chardonnay, Viognier, Syrah, Grenache, and Mourvèdre. They produce two white wines, denoted Blanc and Le Coup de Calcaire Blanc, as well as one red, denoted Rouge. At young ages, both Vincent and Sophie joined their respective grandfathers in family vineyards and learned how to grow wine grapes. Vincent ultimately went on to learn how to produce Languedoc wines from Olivier Jullien at Mas Jullien between 1998 and 2000 before venturing on his own to clear hillsides of rolled pebbles and oak trees to plant his own vineyards. Between 2003 and 2010, Vincent worked at Domaine de Montcalmès in an effort to raise their status to become one of the top producers in Puéchabon, with the domaine using fruit from his parcels Fon de la Coste, Red Défriche, and White Défriche. These three parcels laid the foundation of Domaine Saint Sylvestre and are the source of their fruit today.

Vincent and Sophie are both highly involved in their vineyards, said to consider each vine an individual person that demands the same attention in each parcel. All vineyard work (including pruning, trellising, and de-budding) is accomplished by hand and green harvesting limits yields to a low 20 hl/ha. The vineyards are completely tilled and the only treatments used are with copper and sulphur. When it comes time to harvest their fruit, Vincent and Sophie pick by hand controlling for varietal and parcel with some picking being more selective to include only the highest quality grapes on a vine when necessary. The fruit is destemmed at the winery and crushed by variety and parcel before being fermented using only natural yeasts. The two white wines are aged in Burgundian oak for 12 months, while the red is aged in Burgundian oak for 24 months.

Today’s Wine: 2016 Domaine Saint Sylvestre Blanc

45% Roussanne, 45% Marsanne, 10% Viognier; 14% ABV

The 2016 Blanc is transparent medium gold in color with water-white variation near the rim. On the nose, this showcases aromas of lemon, apricot, stone fruit, beeswax, chamomile tea, limestone, tropical minerality, light vanilla, and brioche toast. Once on the palate, the wine displays notes of lemon and lime zest, dried orange peel, quince, mango, honeysuckle, white florals, wax, and bright spicy minerality. This wine is medium-bodied with medium (+) acidity and a long, dry finish. 150 cases produced.

Price: $45 (though closer to $26 if you can find this in France). This is a delicious and well-made Languedoc Blanc and will be, I presume, unfortunately hard to find. The domaine’s low yields were lowered further thanks to weather with this vintage, but the quality is all there. Pair this with herb-roasted chicken, vegetable stir fry with Asian spices, or prawns.


Budget-Friendly Pinot Noir

Today’s Story: Meiomi

Meiomi was established in 2006 by Joe Wagner while he was working for his father Chuck at Caymus Vineyards. Coincidentally, Meiomi sort of spawned, in a way, from Belle Glos which was a Joe Wagner single-vineyard Pinot Noir project whose 2017 Clark & Telephone Pinot Noir I reviewed in The Caymus of Pinot Noir. Anyway, Meiomi is named for the native Wappo word for “coastal” and their Pinot Noir is sourced from Monterey County, Santa Barbara County, and Sonoma County to this end. Meiomi was founded with the goal of producing reliable and financially accessible wines for the masses, at a time when Pinot Noir drinkers cherished bright berry sweetness in their wines which could pair with a broad range of foods. By 2010, Meiomi sold roughly 90,000 cases per year and that number stretched to 700,000 cases annually by 2015. In July, 2015, Wagner sold Meiomi to Constellation Brands for $315 million and under their ownership the brand continues to churn out easy-drinking, people-pleasing, fruit-forward wines that also include Chardonnay and Rosé.

Today’s Wine: 2017 Pinot Noir

100% Pinot Noir; 13.7% ABV

The 2017 Pinot Noir is pale ruby in color and moderately transparent. A geographic blend, the fruit for this bottling is sourced from Monterey County (56%), Santa Barbara County (26%), and Sonoma County (18%). On the nose, I get aromas of jammy strawberry and raspberry, bing cherry, red licorice, loose rocky soil, slight peppery spice, iron, vanilla bean, mocha, and oak. Once on the palate, the wine showcases notes of candied cherry, strawberry, blackberry jam, boysenberry, clay, clove, green underbrush, and new oak. This wine is medium-bodied with medium (+) acidity, light tannins, and a medium length finish.

Price: $17. This is a budget-friendly, food-friendly, and people-pleasing wine meant for large summer barbecue yard parties, family gatherings, or perhaps people first exploring approachable Californian Pinot Noir. Keep in mind this drinks like a cocktail with its jammy and syrupy notes. Pair this with pizza, tomato-based pasta dishes, or barbecue chicken.


Youthful but Delicious Nuits-St-Georges

Today’s Story: Domaine Jean Grivot

Domaine Jean Grivot is a relatively small family owned and operated Burgundian estate now under guide of the fifth generation Étienne Grivot, his wife Marielle, and their daughter Mathilde who took over winemaking from her parents in 2017. Étienne took over the domaine from his father Jean Grivot in 1987, and Jean had taken over from his father following his death in 1955. The majority of the domaine’s vineyards are located in Vosne-Romanée, however over time their growth to 15.5 hectares stretches across 22 appellations in additional communes of Vougeot, Chambolle-Musigny, and Nuits-Saint-Georges. The domaine’s holdings include notable Grand Cru vineyards in Clos de Vougeot, Echézeaux, and Richebourg, as well as 8 Premier Crus including Les Beaux Monts and Suchots in Vosne-Romanée. Their vineyards are farmed organically founded in a desire for minimal impact on the environment and removal of chemicals in the vineyards. In Richebourg, Echézeaux, Beau Monts, and Suchots the domaine uses a horse to plough the vineyards in an effort to minimize impact on the soil. Harvest is accomplished by hand and the grapes are 95-100% destemmed before beginning fermentation using only natural yeasts. Unlike other winemakers in Burgundy, Grivot does not like punch downs before fermentation begins but rather pumps over the wines after fermentation is complete and before they spend 15 months in barrels.

Today’s Wine: 2016 Nuits-St-Georges Les Charmois

100% Pinot Noir; 13% ABV

The 2016 Les Charmois is pale ruby in color and moderately transparent. Once this opens up, the nose showcases aromas of black cherry, blackberry, black raspberry, gravel, tobacco, forest floor, underbrush, ground green herbs, and slight oak. On the palate, I get notes of cherry, cranberry, ripe wild raspberry, blue and purple florals, sous bois, tar, black truffle, white pepper, smoke, and a hint of oak. This red Burgundy is medium-bodied with high acidity, medium tannins, and a long finish. 98 cases produced.

Price: $100. This is a great value Nuits-St-Georges which is drinking surprisingly well with some air at its young age. However, this has the structure to where I’d suggest waiting another 3-5 years and it’ll last for at least 10-15 years beyond that. Pair this with lean steaks, roasted game, or grilled pork.


Napa Valley Power and Elegance

Today’s Story: Corison Winery

Corison Winery is a small, family-operated farm and winery founded in 1987 when Cathy Corison started purchasing Cabernet Sauvignon grapes from vineyards between Rutherford and St. Helena. In 1995, Cathy and her husband William purchased Kronos Vineyard which afforded them the ability to construct a winery on this century-plus-old farm with and have their own estate vineyard. In 1999, Cathy and William broke ground on their winery (which William designed in a Victorian barn style) and today it can be seen off the St. Helena Highway in Napa Valley. Corison later expanded in 2015 with the purchase of the Sunbasket Vineyard, which is close to the existing winery and was a source of Corison fruit for more than 25 years prior. Throughout her winemaking, Cathy is largely non-interventionist which allows the wines to showcase their unique place while being both elegant and powerful at the same time.

Today’s Wine: 2008 Kronos Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon

100% Cabernet Sauvignon; 13.8% ABV

The 2008 Kronos Vineyard Cab is medium ruby in color and moderately opaque. This was singing out of the bottle and the nose showcases aromas of cherry, redcurrant, blackberry, underbrush, saddle leather, truffle, loamy earth, wet gravel, and black pepper. Once in the mouth, the wine displays notes of blackberry, plum, black cherry, black raspberry, tobacco, scorched earth, slate, green herbs, and a hint of oak. This is medium- to full-bodied with medium (+) acidity, medium integrated tannins, and a long finish.

Price: $280. I’ve known the legend of Cathy Corison’s wines but this is actually my first bottle. This was a true treat and was an exceptional wine drinking insanely well right now. Pair this with filet mignon, herb-roasted lamb, portobello mushrooms, or assorted cheeses.


A California Titan

Today’s Story: Diamond Creek Vineyards

Diamond Creek was established in 1968 by Al Brounstein, a former pharmaceuticals wholesaler based in Southern California. During the 1960s, Al desired a career change and discovered a 70 acre property on Diamond Mountain which he believed to be perfect for producing wine and offer him a new venture. In 1966 before Al owned the property, he smuggled vine cuttings from two Premier Cru properties in Bordeaux (they are a secret) by personally flying them up through Tijuana, Mexico to a nursery in St. Helena, California. When Al finally purchased the property in 1967 and began planting in 1968, he established three separate blocks differentiated by their soil composition: Red Rock Terrace (7 acres), Gravelly Meadow (5 acres), and Volcanic Hill (8 acres). In addition to these three mainstays, there exists a 0.75 acre vineyard on the property named Lake Vineyard, and wines from this vineyard are only bottled in particularly outstanding vintages. Though the wines today are typically a blend of Bordeaux varietals, Diamond Creek was established with the idea of producing exclusively Cabernet Sauvignon.

I had the opportunity to taste at Diamond Creek and tour the property in September, 2018 and I included some pictures at the end of this post.

Today’s Wine: 2016 Volcanic Hill Cabernet Sauvignon

88% Cabernet Sauvignon, 8% Merlot, 2% Cabernet Franc, 2% Petit Verdot; 14.5% ABV

The 2016 Volcanic Hill is opaque deep ruby in color with purple hues. Once this opens up in the decanter, the nose showcases aromas of blackberry, plum, crème de cassis, redcurrant, licorice, graphite, tobacco, damp earth, gravel, and oak. In the mouth, the wine reveals notes of blackcurrant, ripe plum, blueberry, black cherry, violet, cigar box, dark chocolate, cinnamon, crushed rock, dried green herbs, and a touch of charred oak. This wine is full-bodied with high acidity, high tannins, and a long finish. Superb bottling from Diamond Creek.

Price: $250. Diamond Creek is always exceptional and even though we committed infanticide with this bottle of a restaurant wine list its potential is monstrous. Give this at least another 7-10 years of aging and pair it with filet mignon, grilled game meat (like bison and elk), or roasted lamb.

From My Visit:

A view of the vineyards from the tasting room.
Property tour by golf cart.
The property’s lake (above) and Lake Vineyard (below).

Outstanding Marriage of Howell Mountain and Valley Floor Cabernet Sauvignon

Today’s Story: Dunn Vineyards

Dunn Vineyards dates to 1979 when Randy and Lori Dunn purchased a 14 acre parcel in Angwin with about 5 acres planted to Cabernet Sauvignon. Though Randy worked as a winemaker in Rutherford for his day job, he spent the nights and weekends with Lori and their young son Mike farming their vines. The Dunn family also farmed Harry Frank’s adjacent vineyards and purchased the fruit resulting in a first harvest of 9 tons of fruit. With an additional purchase of 3 tons from Beatty Ranch, the Dunn’s were on their way to producing their first vintage. The family moved onto their property shortly thereafter with another young child, Jennifer, and Dunn Vineyards was officially bonded in 1981. After their second daughter, Kristina, was born, Randy was still working in Rutherford when the winery’s success picked up and encouraged him to leave his job in 1985 to move into a new family house and put all of their effort into Dunn Vineyards. By the late 1980s, Randy was consulting for other wineries, their wine was selling out, and the family needed to burrow into the mountain in 1989 to create more room for barrels. Mike returned in 1999 and three years later became a full-time employee at Dunn Vineyards and after Kristina graduated from Cal Poly with a degree in winemaking and viticulture she joined as well. Today, Kristina’s daughters play in the vineyards and Mike’s son helps bottle the wines, making it seem the family tradition at Dunn Vineyards is set to continue into three generations and beyond. Today, the family farms 42 acres of Cabernet Sauvignon high up on Howell Mountain and the resulting wines are elegant yet profound and built for cellaring.

Today’s Wine: 2014 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon

100% Cabernet Sauvignon; 13.9% ABV

The 2014 Napa Cab is opaque deep purple/ruby in color. Once this opens up, the nose showcases aromas of blackcurrant, blackberry, plum, black cherry, redcurrant, red licorice, cedar, tobacco, loamy earth, graphite, green herbs, and a touch of vanilla. On the palate, the wine displays notes of blackberry, crème de cassis, black cherry, black raspberry, charred earth, smoke, pencil shavings, chocolate, and oak. This wine is full-bodied with medium (+) acidity, grippy high tannins, and a medium (+) length finish.

Price: $90. Dunn always produces exceptional Cabernet Sauvignon and this is relatively a good value, however I would spend the extra money to buy their Howell Mountain bottling which is consistently one of my favorites. These wines are built for the long haul as well, as I’ve tasted them back to the 1980s and each was fantastic. Pair with filet mignon, roasted lamb, or pepper-crusted ahi tuna.


Quite Possibly My Best Value Bourgogne Rouge to Date

Today’s Story: Thibault Liger-Belair Successeurs

Thibault Liger-Belair Successeurs was established alongside Domaine Thibault Liger-Belair in 2001. Though the Liger-Belair family owned the domaine for 250 years, it certainly did not fall to Thibault in a linear path. In 1720, Claude Marey who was the mayor of Nuits-Saint-Georges and a vineyard owner established C. Marey wine house to sell his wines. Next, Claude’s son Claude Philibert Marey (also a mayor of Nuits-Saint-Georges) took over the family business until his death in 1804 when his youngest son Guillaume Felix Marey took over. In 1852, Guillaume Felix partnered with his nephew Comte Liger-Belair (who owned Grand Cru vineyards in Vosne-Romanée) to establish C. Marey et Comte Liger-Belair. The domaine passed through several generations, ultimately until 1892 when Vincent Liger-Belair took over and restructured it with work handled by three sharecroppers. After studying viticulture and oenology for six years, working for a Parisian communications firm, and starting an internet wine sales company, Vincent’s son Thibault transitioned to winemaking and took over the vines to establish his namesake domaine.

Thibault Liger-Belair harvested his first Nuits-Saint-Georges, Nuits-Saint-Georges Charmottes, and Vosne-Romanée Aux Reas in 2002 but quickly set his eyes upon expanding his portfolio. In 2003, Thibault ventured into Richebourg Grand Cru, Clos Vougeot Grand Cru, Vosne-Romanée Premier Cru Petits Monts, and Bourgogne Rouge, followed in 2009 by Beaujolais. While all of the domaine’s vineyards are certified organic by Ecocert, each appellation is cultivated and worked differently based on their unique soils and climates which Thibault takes great care to analyze. Through harvest and in the cellar, Thibault believes that his grapes need to be treated very delicately and with respect to produce the best wines. Regarding barrels, he selects between three coopers and requires a three year drying period before they are made and he almost never uses more than 50% new oak. Thibault’s wines are aged between 14 and 18 months depending on appellation without racking, and are bottled unfined and unfiltered.

Today’s Wine: 2015 Bourgogne Rouge Les Grands Chaillots

100% Pinot Noir; 13% ABV

The 2015 Bourgogne Rouge is moderately opaque pale ruby in color with rose variation near the rim of the glass. On the nose, I get aromas of cranberry, wild raspberry, cherry, rose petal, forest floor, faint barnyard, peppery spice, black tea leaf, rocky minerality, and a hint of oak. Once in the mouth, the wine showcases notes of dried strawberry, red cherry, blackberry, black raspberry, violet, tobacco, loamy soil, green underbrush, dry crushed rock, and pepper. This is medium-bodied with medium (+) acidity, medium dusty tannins, and a surprisingly long finish. 1/3 of the fruit comes from one of the domaine’s Nuits-Saint-Georges vineyards (0.8 ha planted in 1986) and 2/3 is purchased from growers in Marsannay, Côtes de Nuits, Beaune, and Ladoix Serrigny.

Price: $35. This is quite possibly the best value Bourgogne Rouge I’ve tried to date. From first smell you can tell this is a well-crafted wine and that first sip is profound. This is drinking well now with some air but certainly has the structure to where I’d hold off on my next bottle for at least 5 years. Pair this with seared duck breast, herb-roasted chicken, or mild goat cheese.


Great Value from the Douro Valley

Today’s Story: Churchill’s

Churchill’s is a relatively young Port wine company, founded in 1981 by John Graham which made it the first to be established in 50 years. Though John comes from a long lineage of Port winemakers of Graham’s, he wanted to start his own venture to explore his own individual style of Port. Named for his wife, Churchill’s produces Port wines using as much natural fermentation as possible and as little fortification brandy as possible. In 1999, Churchill’s expanded into the production of Douro wines by acquiring Quinta da Gricha. All of Churchill’s wines are produced with Grade A (IVDP’s highest quality rating) native grapes and for Port are hand-sorted at the winery before being crushed and vinified in open granite fermentation tanks called lagares. Foot treading is utilized to provide a gentle maceration of the grapes and skins, and the traditional winemaking practices as a whole alongside minimal intervention results in dry, well-structured wines.

Today’s Wine: 2012 Grande Reserva Douro

Field blend of Touriga Nacional, Touriga Francesa, Tinta Roriz, Tinta Francisca, and Tinto Cão; 14% ABV

The 2012 Grande Reserva is slightly transparent and medium purple in color. Once this opens up, the nose showcases aromas of plum, stemmy blueberry, cherry cola, violet, sweet tobacco, rocky earth, wet slate, green vegetation, and black pepper. On the palate, I get notes of blackberry, blueberry, juicy black plum, black raspberry, cocoa, mint, damp loamy soil, iron, nutmeg, slate, and a hint of oak. The wine is full-bodied with medium (+) acidity, medium tannins, and a medium (+) length finish.

Price: $32. This is a really solid value from the Douro Valley that is drinking very nicely right now. Pair this with steak, a good burger, or game (particularly wild boar or venison).


Delicious Middle-Road Sweet Wine

Today’s Story: Coume del Mas

Coume del Mas was established in 2001 by Philippe and Nathalie Gard and today encompasses roughly 15 hectares of vines on the steep slopes of Banyuls sur Mer. Though the Gards work an incredibly challenging terroir, they work almost entirely by hand and in close contact with their vines to glean an understanding of the varying soil and nuances it can impart into wine. Coume del Mas cannot reach their vines by tractor and a majority cannot be reached by plough horse, while both the rocky soil and extreme climate keep yields low (around 20 hl/Ha). Coume del Mas produces wines in two categories: Banyuls which are sweet wines fortified during fermentation, and dry wines namely with Grenache, Mourvèdre, and Carignan. Banyuls is one of the older appellations dating to 1936, whereas the appellations that source Coume del Mas dry wines date to 1971 for the reds and 2002 for the whites.

Today’s Wine: 2015 Quintessence Banyuls

100% Grenache Noir; 16.5% ABV

The 2015 Quintessence is moderately opaque and pale to medium purple in color. On the nose, this Banyuls showcases aromas of muddled strawberry, prunes, baked plum, black licorice, damp earth, cinnamon, eucalyptus, and a touch of oak. Once in the mouth, I get notes of stewed black raspberry, candied strawberry, cranberry sauce, jammy blackberry, dates, fig, saturated soil, chocolate, and purple florals. This wine is full-bodied with medium (+) acidity, medium (+) tannins, and a long finish dominated by inky black fruit. 250 cases produced.

Price: $50. This is what I paid for a 500ml bottle, though I am certain this is cheaper overseas if you can find it. This is a delicious sweet wine that is neither too sweet nor too syrupy to enjoy after a decadent meal, and an easy one to have multiple glasses of which can be difficult with something else like Port. Pair this with chocolate, raspberry tart, or mixed berries.


La La Land

Today’s Story: Guigal

Guigal was established in 1946 by Etienne Guigal in Ampuis, a small village in the Côte-Rôtie appellation of the northern Rhône region in France. Etienne arrived in Côte-Rôtie at the age of 14 in 1924, and early in his career he helped develop Vidal-Fleury for 15 years before starting his namesake venture. His son, Marcel Guigal, took over management of the Guigal domain in 1961 when Etienne was struck with temporary but total blindness, and Marcel was joined by his wife Bernadette in 1973. As Marcel and Bernadette worked tirelessly to expand the family business (namely by purchasing Vidal-Fleury in the early 1980s and Château d’Ampuis in 1995), their son Philippe (born 1975) grew amongst the vines with expectations of one day joining the domain. Today, Philippe serves as Guigal’s oenologist alongside his wife Eve and the two strive to produce the greatest wines of the Rhône Valley.

Guigal has experienced significant expansion since their first acquisitions in the 1980s and 1990s, particularly in 2001 when they purchased the domains Jean-Louis Grippat and de Vallouit to not only strengthen their stature in Côte-Rôtie but expand into the Hermitage, Saint-Joseph, and Crozes-Hermitage appellations. In 2003, Guigal started producing their own wine barrels to not only learn more about the entire wine production process but control another facet of their business. Guigal expanded yet again in 2006 by purchasing Domaine de Bonserine, and made strides in 2017 by purchasing Château de Nalys in Châteauneuf-du-Pape to establish a foothold in souther Rhône.

Today’s Wine: 2004 Côte-Rôtie ‘La Turque’

93% Syrah, 7% Viognier; 13% ABV

The 2004 La Turque is mostly opaque and medium ruby in color. This requires at least an hour decant, but then the nose blossoms to emit aromas of plum, blackcurrant, bing cherry, licorice, cola, smoked game, loamy soil, white truffle, flint, cracked pepper, and oak. Once in the mouth, the wine showcases notes of ripe red cherry, redcurrant, candied raspberry, dried blueberry, forest floor, graphite, earthy mushroom, leather, smokey tobacco, dried green herbs, and mineral. This supple and elegant wine is medium-bodied with medium acidity, medium (-) tannins, and a long finish. 350 cases produced.

Price: $300. Though not one of the “greatest” vintages of La Turque, this is an exceptional wine drinking beautifully right now. I would say this has another five years left in its prime drinking window and could be a great introduction to Guigal’s “La La’s.” Pair this with wagyu filet mignon, grilled lamb, hare, or pheasant.


The Queen of Burgundy

Today’s Story: Maison Leroy

Maison Leroy was founded in 1868 by François Leroy who was a winemaker and vineyard owner at Auxey-Duresses as well as Meursault, Pommard, Chambertin, Musigny, Clos Vougeot, and Richebourg. Though François sold his wines through Comptoir des Proprietaires de la Cote-d’Or in Beaune, his desire of enlarging his business led to the foundation of Maison Leroy. When François’ son Joseph joined the business alongside his wife Louise Curteley, the two grew Auxey-Duresses by producing liquors and distilled alcohols alongside the wine and garnered significant critical acclaim during the late 1800s and early 1900s. Henri Leroy, son of Joseph and Louise, joined the Maison in 1919 and further extended the family business by creating a subsidiary to produce eaux-de-vie alcohol near Cognac. One of Henri’s great achievements in Burgundy, however, came through his friendship with Edmond Gaudin de Villaine whose wife and brother-in-law (Jacques Chambon) inherited Domaine de la Romanée-Conti in 1912. Though the domaine went up for sale during the financial crises of the 1920s, Henri convinced Edmond not to sell his ownership and later purchased Jacques’ half in 1942 to cement the de Villaine and Leroy families as equal owners of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti (DRC). Henri worked tirelessly at DRC for the following four decades until his death in 1980, having turned the domaine into one of the most famous in the world and a producer of today’s most expensive wines.

Lalou Bize-Leroy, Henri’s daughter, joined Maison Leroy in 1955 and became President-General Director in 1971. Lalou, or Madame Leroy, worked tirelessly to understand the diverse terroir of Burgundy’s vineyards and selects her purchased wine with intense scrutiny and demand for quality. Madame Leroy also accompanied her father Henri at DRC until his death and became Co-Gerante with Aubert de Villaine from 1974 to 1992. While Maison Leroy’s village wines truly drink on par with some of the great 1er Cru equivalents throughout Burgundy and the 1er Crus drink like Grand Crus, Madame Leroy founded Domaine Leroy in 1988 after Takashimaya, an owner of luxury department stores in Japan, purchased 1/3 of the company and funded the purchase of vineyards. Madame Leroy purchased the estates of Charles Noellat at Vosne-Romanée and Philippe-Rémy at Gevrey-Chambertin to get the domaine running and she immediately transitioned to biodynamic farming for all of her vines. While Maison Leroy wines typically start around $70 per bottle and go into the several hundreds of dollars, Domaine Leroy produces wines in the thousands of dollars per bottle up into the tens of thousands of dollars due to their immeasurable quality and rarity.

Though the following is a description of the winemaking practices at Domaine Leroy and not necessarily Maison Leroy, I think it is important to include because of the demonstration it shares of Madame Leroy’s strict winemaking and quality standards. Starting in her vineyards, Madame Leroy follows a strict set of guidelines which includes spreading “Maria Thun”-type compost and manure throughout the vineyards as needed while hand-tilling the soil. At Domaine Leroy, they do not replant vineyards but rather replant individual vines as needed using buds of sister vines in the same vineyards. Leroy practices the Guyot pruning method from mid-January to early April only when the moon is passing the constellations Sagittarius, Aries, Leo, and, if necessary, also Aquarius, Gemini, and Libra keeping with strict biodynamic practices. They also remove a selection of buds to keep yields lower, remove buds from the trunk of the rootstock, and remove excess buds growing between nodes but do not clip the end of vines to keep the last bud in tact. At harvest, Domaine Leroy selects all fruit carefully by hand and carries them to the winery in small baskets before they are double hand-sorted on a stationary table to guarantee selection of the healthiest grapes. Fermentation is accomplished in large wooden barrels without destemming or crushing the fruit to avoid oxidation and preserve natural yeasts on the grape skins. Fermentation is not rushed and the fruit goes through extended periods of maceration before the wine is pressed and sent into the first level of the cellar until malolactic fermentation is complete. Using only gravity, the wine is then poured off the lees into the lower second level of the cellar where wine is stored until it is bottled.

For the source of the information above and more, check out Leroy’s website here.

Today’s Wine: 2010 Côte de Beaune-Villages

100% Pinot Noir; 13% ABV

The 2010 Côte de Beaune-Villages is moderately transparent pale ruby in color with rose variation. I used my Ah-So opener on this bottle, as with almost every Leroy bottle the long corks are soaked and can often display mold on the top due to over-filling. On the nose, this wine showcases aromas of dried cranberry, dried cherry, and dusty wild strawberry but is dominated by worn leather, sous bois, tobacco, mushroom, wet rock, and underbrush. Once in the mouth, the wine displays notes of crushed raspberry, dried strawberry, rose, gamey meat, forest floor, truffle, dried green herbs, smoke, white pepper, and stone minerality. This is medium-bodied with medium acidity, medium (-) tannins, and a long finish filled with tilled soil and red cherry.

Price: $110 (though some stores sell this for $250). Every wine I’ve enjoyed from Maison Leroy is of incredible value and this bottling is no different. The strict selection process of Madame Lalou Bize-Leroy is palpable and every Burgundy lover should try something from Maison Leroy and, if one is supremely fortunate, from Domaine Leroy. Pair this with feathered game, salmon with roasted mushrooms, or mild goat cheeses.


Aged Terroir-Driven Pommard

Today’s Story: Domaine de Courcel

Domaine de Courcel was founded roughly 400 years ago in the village of Pommard and is a family winery throughout its history. To this end, today the estate is managed by Anne Bommelaer and Marie de Courcel and its owners include three sisters and one brother who are descendants of the domaine’s founders. Production is somewhat limited at the domaine, with annual production numbers never rising above 30,000 bottles (2,500 cases). I previously wrote about them in Rustic, Terroir-Driven Burgundy when reviewing the 2009 Pommard 1er Cru Les Fremiers as well as in Outstanding Pommard from a Superb Vintage when reviewing the 2005 Pommard. For more about the domaine, you can check out either of those two prior posts.

Today’s Wine: 1996 Pommard 1er Cru Les Fremiers

100% Pinot Noir; 12.7% ABV

The 1996 Les Fremiers is pale garnet in color and moderately transparent with some fine sediment that snuck through the filter. The nose emits aromas of muddled strawberry, black raspberry, cranberry, slight barnyard, aged saddle leather, forest floor, truffle, white pepper, dried herbs, and tar. On the palate, I get notes of stemmy strawberry, ripe cherry, dusty wild blueberry, tobacco, damp forest floor, dried underbrush, crushed rock, and mineral. This wine is medium-bodied with medium (+) acidity, medium tannins, and a medium (+) length finish.

Price: $220. This is not an inexpensive bottle of wine, though it is difficult to find aged Burgundy from notable producers that are nowadays. This wine still displays great fruit and structure which made it a very enjoyable bottle and I would happily purchase this again. Pair this with herb-roasted chicken, game birds, or filet mignon with black truffle.


Napa People-Pleaser of Palpable Quality

Today’s Story: John Anthony Vineyards

John Anthony Vineyards was established by John Anthony Truchard and his wife Michele after he planted his own vineyards during the late 1990s and harvested his first vintage of Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah in 2003. A second generation vintner, John learned a great deal about farming and winemaking at an early age working alongside his father at Truchard Vineyards. When he was in his early 20s, John started his own vineyard management company and farmed vineyards on nights and weekends before ultimately planting his own fruit and securing long-term leasing agreements to foster his dream of bottling his own wine. John selected Bordeaux, Burgundy, and Rhône clones when he planted his vineyards and the resulting wines are elegant and terroir-driven while each showcasing a unique place. John oversees the entire winemaking process from vineyard to cellar and bottles his wines into four distinct categories: AVA Series, Single Vineyard, Reserve, and The One. The wine I’m reviewing today falls into the Single Vineyard category, with other options being Crane Vineyard, Church Vineyard, and Coombsville District.

Note: John and Michele also started JaM Cellars in 2009 with the goal of producing affordable yet quality wines. They started with a bold, fruit-forward Cabernet Sauvignon priced under $20 but have since expanded the portfolio to include Butter Chardonnay, Toast Sparkling, and Candy Rosé.

Today’s Wine: 2009 Oak Knoll District Cabernet Sauvignon

100% Cabernet Sauvignon; 15.2% ABV

The 2009 Oak Knoll Cabernet Sauvignon is opaque deep garnet in color with ruby hues and pale garnet variation near the rim of the glass. Once this opens up, the nose showcases aromas of ripe red cherry, dried raspberry, redcurrant, blueberry, cedar, chocolate, clay, musky tobacco, red licorice, and truffle. On the palate, I get notes of dusty blackberry, ripe blueberry, cherry, jammy plum, tobacco leaf, black tea, graphite, forest floor, green garden herbs, coffee, and oak. This wine is medium- to full-bodied with medium acidity, velvety and integrated medium (-) tannins, and a long finish dominated by notes of rose and licorice.

Price: $80 on release (the current vintage 2015 sells for $125 at the winery). This is drinking really well right now and it is not as jammy/fruit-forward as some of the wines from John Anthony I’ve had prior. I still think this fits into the people-pleasing camp but today’s typical Cab lover would enjoy this. Pair with filet mignon, herb-roasted lamb, or mature hard cheeses.


Remarkable Value from Toro

Today’s Story: Bodega Numanthia

Numanthia is a somewhat young winery, founded in 1998 and located in Valdefinjas in the region of Castile and León in northwestern Spain. The winery is named for the ancient city of Numancia, one whose residents resisted Roman rule for 20 years before ultimately sacrificing their lives instead of surrendering to the invading army. Though Numanthia is slightly over two decades old, their vineyards were first planted centuries ago and have weathered the passing of time and even survived the phylloxera crisis throughout Europe during the 19th century. These vines are planted in sandy and rocky soil, causing them to struggle and stretch their roots up to five meters below the earth’s surface to reach water and nutrition. The vineyards are planted 100% to Tinta de Toro and are made up of more than 100 plots, with some vines dating over 120 years old, and all farming is manual and organic while removing the use of pesticides. There are three expressions of Tinta de Toro in the Numanthia portfolio, which includes the Termes, Numanthia, and Termanthia bottlings.

Today’s Wine: 2012 Termes

100% Tinta de Toro (aka Tempranillo); 15% ABV

The 2012 Termes is opaque medium to deep purple/ruby in color. This requires about 45 minutes to open up, but once it does the nose emits aromas of blackberry, cassis, spiced plum, black raspberry, anise, smoked game, tilled rocky soil, wet granite, dark chocolate, nail polish remover, and oak. On the palate, this wine showcases notes of black plum, blackberry jam, blueberry, black cherry, cola, licorice, sweet tobacco, leather, cracked pepper, loamy earth, and light vanilla. This is medium-bodied with medium acidity, medium (-) tannins, and a medium (+) length finish.

Price: $25. This is a really good value wine, especially since I’ve been able to find it multiple times on sale around $15! Even at $25 per bottle this drinks incredibly well with some bottle age and the high ABV actually goes mostly unnoticed. Pair this with pizza, barbecue pork ribs, steak tacos, or tomato sauce pasta.


Incredible Value from Andy Erickson

Today’s Story: Leviathan Wine

Leviathan was founded in 2004 by renowned winemaker Andy Erickson. Andy’s goal with creating Leviathan was to create a unique red blend sourcing Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Cabernet Franc, and Merlot from some of Northern California’s best vineyards and each year releasing a bottling of different blends. For those of you who are not familiar with Andy, his resume in California winemaking is extensive and includes stints at Screaming Eagle, Harlan Estate, and Staglin as well as consulting roles at Dalla Valle, Arietta, Dancing Hares Vineyard, Mayacamas, and Ovid. Andy also co-founded and co-owns Favia Wines with his wife Annie and together they are producing some of my favorite wines I’ve really come to love over the past several years.

Today’s Wine: 2015 Leviathan

Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Cabernet Franc, Merlot (exact blend not provided); 14.8% ABV

The 2015 Leviathan is deep purple and almost black in color while being completely opaque like a starless night sky. Once this opens up, the nose emits aromas of blackberry, black plum, wild blueberry, redcurrant, black raspberry, graphite, dried tobacco, potting soil, black truffle, mocha, cinnamon, and cedar. On the palate, I get notes of black cherry, cassis, blackberry compote, black licorice, violet, worn leather, charred earth, smoke, green peppercorn, chocolate, and oak. This wine is full-bodied with medium (+) acidity, medium (+) grippy tannins, and a long finish dominated by dark chocolate and black fruit notes.

Price: $45. This is an outstanding value while its complexity and high quality are both mind-boggling but not shocking because this is after all an Andy Erickson wine. Pair this with steak au poivre, grilled lamb, or grilled portobello mushroom.


Pioneer of the Russian River Valley

Today’s Story: Gary Farrell Vineyards & Winery

Gary Farrell is one of the great pioneering winemakers in the Russian River Valley, playing a big role in marketing the area and Sonoma County as a whole as one of the greatest regions for Pinot Noir before the Russian River Valley even had its own AVA status. During the 1970s, Gary apprenticed under legends including Joe Rochioli, Robert Stemmler, Davis Bynum, and Tom Dehlinger before landing his first winemaker gig at Davis Bynum Winery in 1978. Though Gary shortly became involved in early releases at Rochioli Winery, Limerick Lane, and Moshin Vineyards, he produced his first namesake wine, a Pinot Noir, in the 1982 vintage using fruit from the famed Rochioli Vineyard. Making a name for himself by producing quality RRV Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, Gary expanded his winery during the 1990s by developing the Starr Ridge and Cresta Ridge vineyards before ultimately constructing a production facility in Healdsburg. Gary sold his namesake brand in 2004, however, and later sold his vineyard properties and started Alysian Wines focused on small quantities of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.

Today’s Wine: 2014 Westside Farms Chardonnay

100% Chardonnay; 13.9% ABV

The 2014 Westside Farms Chardonnay is medium gold and almost straw in color while being completely transparent. On the nose, this wine showcases aromas of golden pear, apricot, white peach, lemongrass, honeysuckle, butter, toast, vanilla, and some white spicy minerality. Once in the mouth, this Chardonnay displays notes of green apple, tropical citrus, lemon and lime zest, starfruit, jasmine, vanilla cream, and saline minerality. This is medium- to full-bodied with mouthwatering high acidity leading into a crisp finish that lingers with you for quite some time.

Price: $50. I could see almost any California Chardonnay drinker enjoying this wine for its classic notes while being not too overly butter-bombed, however I think at this stage it seems to be a little out of balance and needs a couple more years of cellaring to settle. Pair this with lobster, crab, citrus-spiced chicken, or asparagus salad.


An Italian Legend

Today’s Story: Mastroberardino

Mastroberardino is a family-operated winery founded in 1878 in Atripalda within the Provincia di Avellino in the Campania region of southern Italy. While widely known for their production of Taurasi DOCG, Mastroberardino further cemented themselves into Italian viticultural history through tireless efforts to identify and protect native ancient varieties in Campania, particularly those formerly grown in Pompeii. For instance, Mastroberardino was selected by the Italian government in 1996 to oversee the Villa dei Misteri project in Pompeii where they replanted vineyards destroyed by the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in AD 79 using the same plans, varieties, viticulture, and winemaking practices of that period in time. Though the winery has had its ups and downs over time (including near collapse following WWII due to economic hardship, phylloxera, neglect, and even family feuds), Antonio Mastroberardino resurrected his family’s legacy and helped build the winery into what it is today: a standard bearer of winemaking in southern Italy. Traditionalists in style, Mastroberardino continues to make some of Italy’s most historically important wines with Antonio’s son Piero now at the helm.

The wine I am reviewing today received countless critical acclaim, and is largely considered the wine that brought significant attention to winemaking in the Campania region and the immense potential of the Aglianico variety.

Today’s Wine: 1968 Taurasi Riserva

100% Aglianico; 12% ABV

The 1968 Taurasi Riserva is almost entirely opaque and is deep ruby in color with garnet variation, especially near the rim. This is shockingly youthful right out of the bottle and we let it decant for about an hour before enjoying over the next hour-plus. The nose showcases aromas of black cherry, black plum, forest floor, tobacco leaf, black truffle, smoked game, white pepper, black tea, underbrush, oregano, and dried rose. Once in the mouth, this beautiful wine displays notes of dried blackberry, black cherry, cigar box, forest floor, mushroom, leather, tar, ash, smoke, peppercorn, and green herbs. The wine is medium- to full-bodied with medium (+) acidity, refined medium tannins, and a long finish.

Price: $850 (though this came into our possession years ago for a much lower cost). This is truly a unicorn wine that I will surely never taste again, and a bottle we were very lucky to receive with the purchase of a private wine collection. Pair this with braised beef, venison, wild boar, or grilled lamb.


An Italian Great

Today’s Story: Marchesi Antinori and Tenuta Tignanello

Marchesi Antinori traces its roots to 1385 when Giovanni di Piero Antinori joined the Arte Fiorentina dei Vinattieri (Florentine Winemakers’ Guild) and the family has been making wine since through 26 generations. I recently reviewed one of the family’s other wines, the 2016 Chianti Classico Riserva Tenuta Tignanello in Chianti Classico for a Remarkable Value. Interestingly, that Chianti Classico is made using fruit from Tenuta Tignanello, one of the great estates owned and operated by the Antinori family. Tenuta Tignanello is located between the Greve and Pesa river valleys in Tuscany on 319 hectares with 127 hectares planted to vine in calcareous rocky soils with alberese and marl. Though some of the Tignanello fruit goes into the Chianti, Tignanello’s prized vineyards and signature wines of Tignanello and Solaia are some of the most influential and important wines in Tuscan winemaking history.

Today’s Wine: 2012 Tignanello

85% Sangiovese, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Cabernet Franc; 13.5% ABV

The 2012 Tignanello is deep ruby red in color and almost entirely opaque. This wine requires at least an hour in the decanter to truly blossom, but once it opens up the nose is characterized by aromas of blackcurrant, blueberry, red cherry, strawberry, violet, blue florals, graphite, smokey earth, crushed rock, savory green herbs, and tar. On the palate, this wine showcases notes of plum, black cherry, wild raspberry, licorice, rosemary, dried tobacco, red and blue florals, dried and dusty rocky soil, white pepper, and clove. This wine is full-bodied with moderate acidity, medium dusty tannins, and a long finish while being elegant and supple in mouthfeel and supremely classy overall.

Price: $100. Tignanello is always worthy of its price tag and even though it is not cheap provides great value for high quality Italian wine. Pair this with bistecca alla fiorentina, herb-roasted lamb, or assorted cheese and charcuterie.


Textbook Small-Lot Syrah

Today’s Story: Nicora Wines

Nicora Wines was established by Nick Elliott and its name is a combination of his own name and his great-grandfather’s name, Ora. Nick’s great-grandfather utilized his entrepreneurial spirit to turn a passion into his own business, which inspired Nick to follow his own dream of creating a winery. No stranger to hard work and dedication to one’s craft, Nick very deliberately selects the vineyards sourcing his fruit and his winemaking philosophy is rooted in the idea that great care and tireless effort is required to make quality small-lot wines. All of Nick’s wines are produced using Rhone varieties, both in single bottlings and blends, and he is highly involved in the vineyards thanks to close contact and relationships with each vineyard owner. Working in incredible Central Coast vineyards from Paso Robles to Santa Maria, Nick sources fruit from Bien Nacido Vineyard, Denner Vineyard, La Vista Vineyard, Russell Family Vineyard, Shadow Canyon Vineyard, and Slide Hill Vineyard. For more detailed descriptions of each, check out the Nicora website here.

Today’s Wine: 2012 Shadow Canyon Vineyard Syrah

100% Syrah; 15.2% ABV

The 2012 Shadow Canyon Syrah is opaque deep purple/ruby in color and there is some moderate sediment buildup in the bottle. This takes at least an hour to open up, but once it does the nose showcases aromas of blackberry, black cherry, blueberry, violet, smoke, licorice, black pepper, vanilla bean, and toasted oak. Once in the mouth, the wine displays notes of black plum, blackberry, cherry cola, graphite, tobacco, loamy earth, lavender, coffee grounds, chocolate, and baking spice. This Syrah is full-bodied with medium (+) acidity, medium dusty tannins, and a long finish with notes of inky black fruit and wet rock. 144 cases produced.

Price: $50. This is a delicious Central Coast Syrah that portrays the variety with charm. Though I was worried this might show some heat with its 15.2% ABV, the wine actually drank quite enjoyably. This will be tough to find unless you’re on the mailing list, but if you happen across a bottle it’s worth checking out. Pair this with braised beef, barbecue spare ribs, or roasted leg of lamb.


Value Argentinian Malbec

Today’s Story: Anko

Anko (which means “high water” in the native Indian language of Salta, Argentina) is a small winery founded in 2008 by Fernando Saavedra Jr. and his father in mountainous northwestern Argentina. Along with Anko’s winemaker Alejandro (Colo) Sejanovich, Fernando strives to create terroir-driven Malbecs that display the unique growing conditions of Salta, a “high altitude oasis” amongst the rugged, mountainous deserts of the region. Anko’s winery and vineyards sit at an average elevation of 5,700 feet above sea level in Estancia Los Cardones, named for the cacti that grow there, and the thick-skinned fruit experiences extreme sunlight and creates powerful, concentrated, and structured wines.

Today’s Wine: 2017 Malbec

100% Malbec; 13.5% ABV

The 2017 Malbec is deep purple in color and almost fully opaque. This needs about 30 minutes to truly open up but once it does the nose showcases aromas of plum, blackberry, black cherry, tomato, sweet tobacco, baking spice, pepper, and oak. On the palate, this Malbec displays notes of juicy red plum, blueberry, maraschino cherry, rose petal, mint, ground green cooking herbs, cocoa, and vanilla. The wine is medium- to full-bodied with moderate acidity, medium fine-grained tannins, and a medium length finish.

Price: $20. This was named Wine Spectator’s #1 Top Value Wine and #1 Top Value Malbec last year, and I can certainly see why. While I don’t drink a lot of Malbec, this is very enjoyable and would pair incredibly well with herb-roasted pork, a buffalo burger garnished with blue cheese, or mushroom-stuffed roasted peppers.


Revisiting an Old Friend

Today’s Story: Gargiulo Vineyards

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.

I recently reviewed Gargiulo’s 2009 Money Road Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon in Gotta Get That Money (Road), so I thought it would be interesting to check in on the 2012 vintage while it is still fresh in my mind. Earlier, I reviewed Gargiulo’s 2015 Aprile Sangiovese in Italy’s Favorite Grape…from California?.

Today’s Wine: 2012 Money Road Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon

100% Cabernet Sauvignon; 14.6% ABV

The 2012 Money Road Ranch Cab is deep ruby/purple in color and almost entirely opaque. Once this opens up, the wine showcases aromas of blackberry jam, crème de cassis, wild blueberry, spiced plum, redcurrant, green herbs, tobacco, fresh leather, black volcanic soil, slate, and toasted oak. On the palate, I get notes of black cherry, juicy plum, boysenberry, licorice, cedar, damp rocky earth, ground black peppercorn, black tea, cardamom, and a hint of vanilla. This wine is medium- to full-bodied with moderate acidity, remarkably integrated and velvety medium (-) tannins, and a medium (+) length finish that adds notes of iron and smoke. Though you can certainly draw the parallels between the 2009 and 2012 vintages in terms of style and expression, the 2012 is certainly more elegant and velvety in its mouthfeel where I felt the 2009 was a bit more jammy and syrupy. 1,236 cases produced.

Price: $80 direct from the winery upon release. This is a very solid vintage for the Money Road Ranch bottling and, alongside the 2007 and 2013 vintages, one of my favorites that I’ve tried. Pair this with filet mignon, pepper-crusted ahi tuna, or lamb.


Velvety Smooth Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir

Today’s Story: Davies Vineyards

Davies Vineyards is one of the most storied wineries in the Napa Valley, tracing their roots back to 1862 when Jacob Schram purchased 200 acres and began developing hillside vineyards. The winery, at the time called Schramsberg, greatly ramped up production by the late 1800s and proved a success, however after Jacob Schram died in 1905 the winery sold in 1912 and fell out of prominence. Jack and Jamie Davies purchased the 200 acre Schramsberg property in 1965, however, and resurrected the great vineyards and Schramsberg name. Known for their Diamond Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon, Davies also produces sparkling wine under the Schramsberg label and an assortment of Pinot Noir from the Sonoma Coast to the Anderson Valley and beyond.

I first reviewed Davies wines with the 2012 Ferrington Pinot Noir in Who Wants Pie?, then the 2012 JD Cabernet Sauvignon in Easy-Drinking Cab, the 2013 Jamie Cabernet Sauvignon in The Matriarch of Diamond Mountain, and the 2005 J. Schram Sparkling Rosé in Premier American Sparkling. Check them out if you haven’t already for more history of the winery as well as tasting notes across other portfolio offerings.

Today’s Wine: 2015 Piedra Libre Vineyards Pinot Noir

100% Pinot Noir; 14.2% ABV

The 2015 Piedra Libre Pinot Noir is medium ruby/purple in color with rose petal variation near the rim and is moderately transparent. On the nose, this wine showcases aromas of red cherry, blueberry, plum, violet, damp earth, tobacco, baking spice, white pepper, vanilla, and oak. There is also some heat from the alcohol. Once in the mouth, the wine offers notes of cranberry, raspberry, wild strawberry, cassis, cola, loamy soil, chocolate, coffee grounds, and rose. This is medium-bodied with mouthwatering medium (+) acidity, light tannins, and a long finish that ends in notes of cherry liqueur and mocha. 225 cases produced.

Price: $65 direct from the winery. Certainly one of my favorite Davies Pinots I’ve tried, but I can never get around to justifying the price-point on these wines. Pair this with pork stir fry, a bacon cheeseburger, or herb-roasted chicken.


A Friend of Henri Jayer Is a Friend of Mine

Today’s Story: Domaine Philippe Charlopin

Domaine Philippe Charlopin was established by Philippe when he purchased his first vines in Gevrey-Chambertin in 1978. The son of a vigneron who rented vines rather than owned his own, Philippe comes from humble beginnings and started his own career as a vigneron-ouvrier in 1977. Throughout his early years, Philippe was a student of the great Henri Jayer and his winemaking philosophy is greatly impacted by Henri, with the two later becoming close friends. Though Philippe expanded with a parcel of Clos St. Denis in 1983 and later throughout various appellations, he only made Pinot Noir until his son Yann joined the domaine in 2004. Yann was passionate for crafting white wines, so they purchased 5 hectares of vines in Chablis, 2 hectares in Pernand-Vergelesses, and a small parcel of Corton-Charlemagne to augment their portfolio with Chardonnay. Today, Domaine Philippe Charlopin encompasses 25 hectares of sustainably farmed vines across 36 different appellations which are divided into 140 parcels.

Today’s Wine: 2011 Gevrey-Chambertin Vieilles Vignes Morceaux

100% Pinot Noir; 13% ABV

The 2011 Morceaux is pale to medium ruby in color and moderately transparent. I let this breathe in the glass for about 30 minutes, allowing the nose to reveal aromas of black cherry, dried strawberry, blue florals, forest floor, worn leather, asphalt, tar, dried green underbrush, incense, and light oak. Once in the mouth, this wine showcases notes of cherry, cranberry, black raspberry, blood orange, violet, wet gravel, tobacco, rocky soil, iron, green herbs, and sandalwood. This is medium-bodied with medium (+) acidity, medium (-) tannins, and a medium (+) length finish. Sourced from 60- to 100-year-old vines planted in clay and limestone soil.

Price: $90 (though this is tough to find in the US and looks to originally sell around $65). This is a gorgeous Gevrey-Chambertin from one of the tougher vintages in recent past, and it doesn’t show pyrazines like some of the other 2011 Burgundy I’ve had. Pair this with beef bourguignon, saddle of lamb, or coq au vin.


Chianti Classico for a Remarkable Value

Today’s Story: Marchesi Antinori

Marchesi Antinori traces its roots to 1385 when Giovanni di Piero Antinori joined the Arte Fiorentina dei Vinattieri (Florentine Winemakers’ Guild) and the family has been making wine since through 26 generations. While the historic epicenter of the Antinori “empire” rests in Tuscany and Umbria, over time the family purchased vineyards in various regions throughout Italy and the world to bolster their portfolio and live a consistent goal of exploration and experimentation. Not only is Marchesi Antinori one of the largest wine companies in Italy, they are also one of the oldest family operated companies in the world. Today, Albiera Antinori is President of Marchesi Antinori and is supported by her sisters Allegra and Alessia, while their father Marchese Piero Antinori acts as the Honorary President.

Though the Antinori family owns what I’d say are too many estates for me to justify listing here, their website has great maps and lists of their properties here and it is worth checking out. Further, there is a really cool timeline tracing the family back to 1179 here, which I could not do any justice to in trying to reproduce myself.

Today’s Wine: 2016 Chianti Classico Riserva Tenuta Tignanello

90% Sangiovese, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon; 14% ABV

The 2016 Chianti Classico Riserva is medium ruby in color and slightly transparent. Once this opens up, the nose showcases aromas of blackberry, cherry, cranberry, black licorice, chocolate, purple florals and rose, crushed rock, green herbs, and dried earth. On the palate, this wine displays notes of blackberry, blueberry, plum, forest floor, mocha, sweet tobacco, spice, savory herbs, and slight vanilla. This is full-bodied with medium (+) acidity, medium dusty tannins, and a long elegant finish.

Price: $35. One of the greatest Chianti Classicos I’ve enjoyed and consistently incredible value after Antinori switched exclusively to Tenuta Tignanello grapes in 2011. Pair this with red sauce meat pasta, pizza, veal marsala, or chicken parm.


Unique Blend from Walla Walla

Today’s Story: K Vintners

K Vintners was established by Charles Smith as his first winery in December 2001. Located at the base of the Blue Mountains in Walla Walla, Washington, K Vintners produces small lot single vineyard Syrah and field blends of Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Grenache, Tempranillo, and Viognier which are all picked by hand, fermented using only natural yeasts, and basket pressed. Though Charles spent a lot of time during his developmental years traveling throughout the state of California and grew an appreciation for wine, his real passion for the beverage spawned during his time living in Scandinavia for roughly a decade. As a manager for rock bands and concert tours, Charles spent a great deal of time wining and dining before moving back to the United States in 1999. On a journey through Walla Walla in late 1999, Charles met a young winemaker who shared his passion for Syrah and Charles was convinced to move to the small city to make his own wine. In December 2001, Charles released 330 cases of his first wine, the 1999 K Syrah.

Today’s Wine: 2016 The Creator

80% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Syrah; 13.5% ABV

The 2016 The Creator is medium to deep ruby in color and moderately transparent. After some decanting, this wine showcases aromas of black cherry, blackberry, boysenberry, french style green beans, green bell pepper, ground black pepper, underbrush, coffee grounds, black olive, and smoke. The nose is rather herbaceous and earthy with fruit not necessarily leading the show. Once in the mouth, the wine displays notes of plum, blackberry, black raspberry, pomegranate, tobacco, forest floor, dried underbrush, herbal tea leaf, and flint. This is full-bodied with high acidity, medium (+) tannins, and a long finish.

Price: $50. Very pleasantly surprised with this wine, which offers a drinking experience I will remember for a long time thanks especially to the very unique nose. This is a supremely balanced wine for its youth and the velvety mouthfeel and lower than usual alcohol makes for an easy drinker. Pair this with herby red sauce pasta, a good burger, or veal.


Yountville Hidden Gem

Today’s Story: Kapcsàndy Family Winery

Kapcsàndy Family Winery was established by Lou Kapcsàndy and is a small, family owned and operated estate in Yountville of the Napa Valley. An immigrant from Hungary, Lou arrived in the United States in 1956 and worked as a chemical engineer and manufacturer in the Bay Area of California and Seattle. Wine became a focal point for Lou during his successful career thanks to colleagues in the wine business, however his desire to establish his own winery one day came after a visit to Château Leoville Las Cases with his wife Bobbie in 1998. With their son Louis Jr., Lou and Bobbie started searching for property in the Napa Valley when they stumbled upon the 20 acre State Lane Vineyard in Yountville which had been destroyed the previous year by phylloxera. In May 2000, the Kapcsàndy family closed on this historic property (it was the source of fruit for Beringer’s Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon) and embarked on massive replanting of the vineyards. They planted the main Bordeaux varietals of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Petit Verdot, though also planted several acres to Hungarian Furmint. When the winery was completed in 2005, Lou’s vision was finally realized and both he and Louis Jr. remain highly involved today.

Kapcsàndy wines are inspired by Bordeaux both in terms of vineyard management and winemaking style, resulting in lower-alcohol wines made from 100% estate-grown fruit. With both Lou and Louis Jr. active in the vineyards and estate management everyday, Kapcsàndy practices sustainable farming with great appreciation for their soil and the environment. The family constructed nesting boxes, perch poles, and songbird houses to avoid the use of chemicals for pest control, and they also add compost to the vineyards and natural fertilizers to supply bacteria, photo nutrients, and trace elements which prove beneficial for vine growth. Further, Kapcsàndy plants cover crops between the vines to prevent erosion and encourage beneficial insects to inhabit the vineyards and enhance this natural ecosystem. For more, check out the Kapcsàndy website here.

Today’s Wine: 2014 Estate Cuvée

72% Cabernet Sauvignon, 19% Merlot, 9% Petit Verdot; 13.8% ABV

The 2014 Estate Cuvée is deep ruby in color and almost fully opaque. I let this bottle decant for three hours before drinking any, and the nose showcases aromas of blackberry, blackcurrant, black cherry, anise, lilac, gravelly earth, black peppercorn, dried green herbs, and some light oak. Once on the palate, this wine offers notes of blackberry, blueberry, redcurrant, cherry, graphite, sweet tobacco, loamy earth, chocolate, rosemary, and rocky minerality. The wine is full-bodied with medium (+) acidity, silky but medium tannins, and a long finish. 750 cases produced.

Price: $140. Not a cheap bottle of wine, but for both its quality and rarity this is an outstanding bottle. Compared to the previous Kapcsàndy bottle I had (one multiple times this price) this is a great entry into the estate’s portfolio. Pair this with filet mignon, pepper-crusted Ahi tuna steak, or herb roasted lamb.


Baby Grange

Today’s Story: Penfolds

Penfolds was founded in 1844 by Dr. Christopher Penfold, an English physician by trade, and his wife Mary. Penfolds is one of the oldest and most famous wineries in Australia, with the first vines planted by Dr. and Mrs. Penfold with cuttings they brought when they emigrated there. Over time Penfolds grew successfully and their early production of Claret and Riesling proved popular, though many of the day-to-day operations of the winery fell to Mary since Christopher’s medical practicing occupied much of his time. When Christopher unfortunately passed in 1870, full responsibility fell to Mary. Mary later retired in 1884 and her daughter Georgina took over the estate when Penfolds was producing 1/3 of South Australia’s wine. When Mary died in 1896, the Penfolds legacy was continuing to grow with the exploration of new winemaking techniques and they became the largest winery in Australia by 1907.

In 1948, Penfolds hired who would become one of the most famous winemakers in Australia and throughout the world of wine: Max Schubert. An innovator in his field, Max catapulted Penfolds onto the global stage by crafting wines built for incredible aging through experimentation and ultimately the release of Penfolds Grange in the early 1950s. Labeled as “Grange Hermitage” and crafted with Shiraz, Grange is one of the world’s most famous wines and you often find it at the store for $700+ per bottle. In 1959, the unique “Bin” labeling started at Penfolds with the first being a Shiraz named simply for its storage area in the cellars. This Kalimna Bin 28 became the first Penfolds Bin numbered wine.

Though a lot has changed over the years at Penfolds, the experimental spirit of winemaking continues to live on to this day. All of their wines fit into categories of single vineyard or single block, single region or sub-region, and multi-region or multi-varietal blending in an effort to showcase each category’s character. The wine I’m reviewing today, for instance, fits into the multi-region or multi-varietal category while something like the Magill Estate Shiraz fits into the single vineyard or single block category. At the head of a team of roughly 10 winemakers crafting these wines, Peter Gago is chief winemaker today and the fourth in the history of Penfolds. For more about Penfolds, check out their website here.

Today’s Wine: 2017 Bin 389 Cabernet Shiraz

54% Cabernet Sauvignon, 46% Shiraz; 14.5% ABV

The 2017 Bin 389 is incredibly opaque and deep purple in color with black at its core. Once this opens up (I drank this over four hours), the nose showcases aromas of blackberry compote, plum, blueberry, smoke, tobacco, forest floor after a rainstorm, wet slate, thyme, eucalyptus, nutmeg, and cedar. On the palate, I get notes of black raspberry, black cherry, blueberry, blackberry, cigar box, damp earth, dark chocolate, mint, vanilla, and oak. This wine is full-bodied with high acidity, medium (+) tannins, and a long finish.

Price: $50. This is a great bottle of wine and while not the cheapest from Grange a great introduction to their portfolio. Though young, this is drinking surprisingly well with some air but I’d lay this down a few more years. Pair this with beef carpaccio, roast beef, or roasted leg of lamb.


Ridge Hits the Mark Again

Today’s Story: Ridge Vineyards

I’m traveling today, so I figured I would make this easy and review a wine whose backstory I shared earlier in History. Quality. Ridge. when I reviewed the 2015 GSM and Consistently Delicious Zin when I reviewed the 2012 Geyserville. If you are unfamiliar with this historic Californian wine estate, I suggest checking out my first blog linked above or their website here. At the very least, between my prior two posts and this one today you can get tasting notes on three different wines in their portfolio!

Today’s Wine: 2012 Lytton Springs

70% Zinfandel, 21% Petite Sirah, 6% Carignane, 3% Mataro; 14.4% ABV

The 2012 Lytton Springs is opaque purple in color and actually almost black at its core. Once this opens up over 30-45 minutes, the nose emits aromas of plum, dusty blueberry, blackberry, sweet tobacco, licorice, loamy earth, wet gravel, cola, and oak. On the palate, I get notes of jammy blackberry, prunes, juicy plum, damp rocky soil, tobacco leaf, black tea, chocolate, baking spice, and charred oak. This wine is full-bodied with medium (+) acidity, medium grippy tannins, and a medium (+) length finish dominated by black fruit compote and mocha.

Price: $35 direct from the winery. Though prices have come up a little for these (the average I can find online seems to be about $44 per bottle), Ridge makes some of the most consistent and quality Zinfandel blends. If you find some of their wine, particularly sub-$40, snag it. Pair this with red sauce meat pasta, barbecue chicken, or barbecue pulled pork sandwiches.


Fun Orange Wine for the Adventurous

Today’s Story: Tre Monti

Tre Monti was established in 1974 by Sergio and Thea Navacchia. Thea was a major driving force behind the winery throughout their inaugural decade-plus, and together with her husband Sergio became pioneers in a sense by planting large densities per hectare and experimenting with non-traditional vines. During the 1980s, the couple collaborated with a young Francesco Spagnolli before working with Vittorio Fiore and later Donato Lanati, all quite instrumental in making Tre Monti what it is today. Thea unfortunately passed away in 1989, however, though this tragic event inspired her children Vittorio and David to join their father in managing the estate. While Sergio continues to run the show, Vittorio controls the enological side of the business while David, who has a background in Law, controls the financial and marketing aspects.

In the cellars, Vittorio follows a minimal intervention philosophy in order to showcase the integrity of his fruit as well as the terroir from which it comes. The winery became certified organic in 2014 and the team refrains from using unnatural products in the vineyards thanks to this practice. To learn more about the estate, their farms, or their wines, check out the website linked here. If anything, it gives you a nice representation of how down to earth, friendly, and passionate the Navacchia family seems to be.

Today’s Wine: 2017 Vitalba Albana in Anfora

100% Albana; 14.5% ABV

The 2017 Vitalba is a fully transparent pale to medium amber color with peach variation. On the nose, this wine showcases aromas of apricot, cantaloupe, stone fruit, mango, orange marmalade, honey, white and yellow florals, and some bright herbaceous overtones. Once in the mouth, the wine offers notes of golden apple, peach, dried apricot, nectarine, lemon zest, pineapple juice, bright peppery mineral, and ginger. This is medium- to full-bodied with mouthwatering high acidity, light tannins (!), and a medium (+) length finish. Really refreshing and a fun wine to try, this is fermented in Georgian amphora (kvevri) using only natural yeasts and sees 95 day maceration. 125 cases produced.

Price: $24. For its price, this is a fun “orange wine” to try and offers a structure many wine drinkers probably do not experience from a white grape variety. If you come across this bottle and are in the mood for an adventure, check it out. Pair this with assorted white fish, goat cheese, fruit tarts, or apple pie.


Barolo That Won’t Break the Bank

Today’s Story: G.D. Vajra

G.D. Vajra was established in 1972 by Aldo Vaira and is named after his father Giuseppe Domenico. A few years earlier, in 1968 to be exact, Aldo joined a mass of student protestors in the streets of Turin however was discovered by his father and immediately sent to his grandparents’ farm in Barolo for a summer away from trouble. After spending several months on the farm, Aldo’s dream of one day starting a winery began to blossom and he joined Suolo e Salute in 1971 where he became a pioneer of organic agriculture in Piedmont. With the inclement weather and poor vintage of 1972, Aldo was faced with either leaving his fruit on the vines to rot or defiantly bottle wines, laying the foundation of G.D. Vajra. During the mid 1980s and early 1990s, Aldo’s three children Giuseppe, Francesca, and Isidoro were born and continue to operate the winery today as a family endeavor.

G.D. Vajra is located in the village of Vergne in the commune of Barolo, with vineyards planted 400 meters above sea level. Over time, Aldo gradually increased his land holdings under vine to 60 hectares of which 10 hectares are planted to Nebbiolo. With vines located in Bricco delle Viole, Ravera, Fossati, La Volta, and Coste di Vergne amongst other sites, Aldo crafts magnificent wines in a traditionalist style coupled with modern practices particularly when it comes to using oak. To learn more about G.D. Vajra or scroll through their portfolio of wines, check out the website here.

Today’s Wine: 2011 Barolo Albe

100% Nebbiolo; 14.5% ABV

The 2011 Albe is bright medium ruby red in color and moderately transparent. Once this opens up in the decanter, the nose offers aromas of black raspberry, bing cherry, licorice, rose petal, smoke, tar, forest floor, black tea, white pepper, and oak. There’s also some heat on the nose that will take some time to blow off. Once in the mouth, I get notes of sour cherry, raspberry, strawberry, truffle, scorched earth, tobacco, crushed granite, chocolate, and oaky spice. This wine is full-bodied with high acidity, medium (+) tannins, and a medium (+) length finish.

Price: $36. At this price point I was hoping for a lot out of this bottle in terms of value, but the wine seems a bit too out of balance for me particularly with the alcohol. While 2011 was not a bad vintage for Barolo by any means, maybe it would be better to try something from 2010 or 2015. Pair this with pheasant, duck, or pork chops.


Pinot Noir From the Team Behind Far Niente

Today’s Story: EnRoute Winery

EnRoute was founded in 2007 by the partners behind Far Niente Winery thanks to their passion for Pinot Noir. Since they stick to Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon at their Far Niente estate, the owners decided it best to create EnRoute in the Russian River Valley, an AVA within Sonoma County known for their Pinot Noir. While EnRoute produces one blended Pinot Noir under the name Les Pommiers, their current releases focus on four single vineyard bottlings from Amber Ridge Vineyard, Bucher Vineyard, Marty’s Vineyard, and Northern Spy Vineyard. The first single vineyard offerings came in the 2013 vintage from Amber Ridge and Northern Spy. Also in 2013, EnRoute released their first Chardonnay under the name Brumaire for the morning fog. To check out some details about the EnRoute vineyards including maps, check out the website here.

Today’s Wine: 2014 Northern Spy Vineyard Pinot Noir

100% Pinot Noir; 14.5% ABV

The 2014 Northern Spy Pinot Noir is deep ruby in color and actually almost purple at its core while being nearly fully opaque. Once this opens up, the nose showcases aromas of cranberry, black cherry, dried raspberry, leather, bergamot, mint, cola, sweet tobacco, and rose. In the mouth, this wine offers notes of blackberry, strawberry rhubarb, ripe cherry, black tea leaf, baking spice, earth, tar, peppery spice, and oak. This Pinot is medium-bodied with mouthwatering high acidity, medium (-) tannins, and a medium length finish which is shorter than hoped.

Price: $85. Not my favorite single vineyard bottling from EnRoute, though this could be a vintage story. I’ve heard good things about the 2014 Hop Kiln Vineyard though, but have yet to pop it. Check out their Les Pommiers for $60 if you’re interested in exploring the brand. Pair this with roasted chicken, smoked salmon, or pork loin.


The Wine That Shocked the World

Today’s Story: Chateau Montelena

Chateau Montelena traces its roots back to 1882 when Alfred L. Tubbs purchased 254 acres of rugged land with the dream of turning it into vineyards. Tubbs first planted his vineyards before constructing the chateau in 1886 and bringing in a winemaker from France, and by 1896 the A.L. Tubbs Winery was the seventh-largest in the Napa Valley. This prowess was short-lived, however, when winemaking shut down during Prohibition. With its repeal in 1933, Alfred’s grandson Chapin Tubbs continued harvesting the vineyards to make some wine and started selling fruit to others. He rechristened the winery to Chateau Montelena Winery in 1940 with the name derived from a contraction of Mount St. Helena.

In 1947, Chapin unfortunately passed away and winemaking at Chateau Montelena ceased again two years later. The Tubbs family sold this magnificent estate in 1958 to Yort and Jeanie Frank, a couple who emigrated from Hong Kong after WWII and were then seeking a peaceful place to retire. The Franks did not resume winemaking but rather worked to transform some of the overgrown grounds into a lake and landscaping reminiscent of their native gardens back home. Jade Lake on the property still provides evidence of this today and remains a beautiful and peaceful sanctuary.

The renaissance of this great winemaking estate, however, came about in the early 1970s under the leadership of Jim Barrett. Barrett quickly cleared and replanted the vineyards and brought in modern winemaking equipment alongside a team to oversee the vineyards and production. In 1972, winemaking resumed at Chateau Montelena and within years it would become one of the most important wineries in all of California and at that time even throughout the world. Chateau Montelena today thrives under the watchful eyes of Jim’s son, Bo Barrett.

Arguably the most important event in Chateau Montelena’s history occurred in 1976, though halfway around the world in France. Steven Spurrier, a British wine merchant, sought to put the best Californian wines head to head with the best French wines and assembled the Paris Wine Tasting of 1976 (known as the Judgment of Paris). There were an assortment of red wines and an assortment of white wines, with the Chateau Montelena Chardonnay being one of six Californian whites going against four greats from France’s Burgundy region. The 1973 Chateau Montelena Chardonnay beat all of the other white wines in a blind tasting and shocked not only the panel and those in attendance but the entire world, cementing California as a winemaking region demanding respect. Funny enough, Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars also in Napa Valley won for the red wines with their 1973 Cabernet Sauvignon.

I reviewed the 2011 Chateau Montelena Estate Cabernet Sauvignon in my first ever blog post here if you would like to read tasting notes for a red offering in their portfolio. Further, if you’d like to learn more independently about Chateau Montelena’s winemaking process check out the website here. If you’d like something a bit more “fun” to learn about Chateau Montelena, watch the movie Bottle Shock starring Alan Rickman, Bill Pullman, and Chris Pine.

Today’s Wine: 2009 Chardonnay

100% Chardonnay; 13.6% ABV

The 2009 Chardonnay is a beautiful deep gold in color while being fully transparent. On the nose, this showcases aromas of green apple, stone fruit, golden pear, white lily florals, lemon citrus, cream, honey, refreshing minerality, dried straw, and a hint of toast. Once in the mouth, this beauty displays notes of dried apricot, white peach, pear, lemon zest, dry gravel, grass, light caramel, white pepper, and shaved hazelnut. This is drinking incredibly well right now while being full-bodied with vibrant medium (+) acidity and a fully rounded finish that lingers with you for quite some time.

Price: $80 direct from winery after visiting last September. Montelena Chardonnay is always one of my favorites, and you can typically find current release vintages in the $55 price range at a wide range of stores. You must try this wine of historic origin at least once. Pair this with shellfish, a lobster roll, roasted chicken, or assorted cheeses.


Delightful South African Red

Today’s Story: Paserene

Paserene is a relatively new, small, and family operated winery founded by Martin Smith and Ndabe Mareda with the first vintage in 2013. The winery gets its name from the Latin word “Passeriformes”which is used to describe traveling birds including swifts and swallows, and Martin chose this name in homage of his winemaking ventures that took him around the world before ultimately returning home to start his own winery. Martin is a third generation winemaker from the small town of Ashton, and from an early age grew a passion for wine and knew becoming a winemaker was his dream. He first “worked” in the wine industry during a week-long study at Nuy Winery during school and traveled to Portugal to learn at Amorim Cork, though his broader experiences followed after graduating from Elsenburg Agricultural College with studies in viticulture and winemaking. Post-graduation, Martin worked briefly at Vriesenhof Vineyards before spending five years at Cosentino Winery in the Napa Valley. In 2006 Martin moved to Caldwell Winery and worked alongside renowned winemakers including Tim Mondavi and Philippe Melka, though around 2011 he received an offer to become the winemaker at Vilafonte back in South Africa and returned home.

Today’s Wine: 2016 Marathon

53% Cabernet Sauvignon, 42% Petit Verdot, 5% Carménère; 14% ABV

The 2016 Marathon is medium ruby red in color and moderately transparent. This requires some time to breathe, but once it opens up the nose showcases aromas of blackberry, plum, blueberry, licorice, olive, tobacco, volcanic soil, crushed rock, green herbs, and underbrush. Once in the mouth, this wine displays notes of blackberry, blackcurrant, black cherry, red florals, loamy earth, mushroom, black pepper, cigar box, and dried cooking herbs. This is full-bodied with medium (+) acidity, medium tannins, and a medium (+) length finish.

Price: $40 (though this is tough to get in the US and online shows a fairly broad range from $27-55 overseas). This is a high-quality South African wine that is both delicious and offered at a fair price. The bottle today is shared with me by two great friends who recently visited the winery. Pair this with grilled steak, game, veal, or spicy pork.


The Caymus of Pinot Noir

Today’s Story: Belle Glos

Belle Glos was established in 2001 by Joe Wagner, a fifth generation Napa Valley winemaker who grew up in the vineyards and worked alongside his father at Caymus Vineyards. With great admiration for Lorna Belle Glos Wagner, his grandmother and co-founder of Caymus Vineyards, Joe named his new endeavor in her honor. Though his family previously produced Pinot Noir from Napa Valley fruit between 1972 and 1990, the wines did not display what they thought possible out of the variety and began searching for cooler coastal appellations suited for Pinot Noir. Joe soon thereafter produced his first vintage at Belle Glos from the Taylor Lane and Clark & Telephone Vineyards, the first of several vineyard-designated wines Belle Glos would create. By 2004, Belle Glos added the Las Alturas vineyard in the Santa Lucia Highlands to their portfolio and 2011 marked the first vintage from the Dairyman Vineyard in the Russian River Valley appellation of Sonoma County. Each year, Belle Glos releases the Clark & Telephone, Las Alturas, and Dairyman bottlings in accordance with their initial goal of producing single-vineyard Pinot Noir, however occasionally they offer limited release wines when vintage conditions allow.

Today’s Wine: 2017 Clark & Telephone Pinot Noir

100% Pinot Noir; 14.6% ABV

The 2017 Clark & Telephone is opaque and rather deep ruby in color, actually almost purple. Given 30 minutes or so to open up, the nose showcases aromas of black raspberry, cranberry, licorice, red and blue florals, leather, cedar, baking spice, and mild chocolate. There is also some heat thanks to the ABV that is unfortunately a bit off-putting. Once in the mouth, the wine offers notes of cherry, strawberry jam, blackberry, sweet tobacco, damp earth, white pepper, cinnamon, coconut, and vanilla. This is medium- to full-bodied with high acidity, medium (-) tannins, and a medium length finish. No doubt this needs a few more years of aging.

Price: $55. This is high for what it is, in my opinion, and seems too heavy-handed by the winemaker. While I’m sure this boozy fruit-bomb would have wide appeal (I nicknamed this the Caymus of Pinot Noir, which is funny because it’s also in the Wagner family), I would skip it for quality options in the $30-40 range. Pair this with grilled chicken, pork, or pasta.