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California Pinot Rooted in Burgundian Traditions

Today’s Story: Littorai Wines

Littorai is a small family-owned and operated winery established by Ted and Heidi Lemon in 1993. Dedicated to Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, Littorai produces vineyard-designate wines (save for the Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir and Chardonnay) from coastal vineyards in the Sonoma Coast and Anderson Valley of California. Ted is a career winemaker, having earned an Enology degree from the University of Dijon in Burgundy in 1981. During his time in Burgundy, Ted worked stints at a number of prestigious domaines including Domaine Georges Roumier, Domaine Bruno Clair, Domaine Parent, Domaine de Villaine, Domaine Delorme, and Domaine Dujac. In 1983, he became the first American ever to become winemaker and vineyard manager of a Burgundy estate by taking the reigns of Domaine Guy Roulot in Meursault. Though his stint at Roulot was fairly short-lived (this was during the uncertainty following Guy’s death), Ted returned to the United States and worked or consulted at a number of wineries before establishing Littorai. Heidi worked in wine as well prior to the couples’ own project, with an impressive resume including Domaine Chandon, Robert Pecota Winery, Robert Long Vineyards, and Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars.

As one might surmise, Ted’s winemaking philosophy is shaped tremendously by his studying and work in Burgundy. Ted believes the soil and more broadly terroir are the leading factors of winemaking and he strives to showcase a true sense of place with each bottle of wine he produces. To this end, Ted is very particular about the vineyards he sources from (though today his fruit is roughly half purchased and half estate grown) and common characteristics include low yields, organic viticulture, and biodynamic practices. Ted and his team further believe in manual farming and they only use natural materials such as “estate produced compost” for “fertilizer.” In the winery itself, Ted remains somewhat hush on his process but does certify there are no additives in his wines such as cultured yeasts, cultured bacteria, acidification, or enzymes. Littorai wines are also bottled unfined and unfiltered off the original lees. Production numbers are quite limited, and all wines sell direct to consumer via the mailing list or to various restaurants.

In 2003, Ted and Heidi purchased a 30-acre biodynamic farm to advance their goal of generative agriculture. The Lemons produce as much as they can on-site for both farming and winemaking needs, which the inhabitants of cows, sheep, chickens, and ducks assist with. Several years later, the Lemons completed their winery in 2008 and the walls are made of caged bales of hay! Natural cooling from nighttime temperatures helps maintain the winery and the cellars, and it is set up using gravity flow to minimize handling of the wines.

To view the source of the above information, view pictures of the winery and vineyards, or join the mailing list for Littorai Wines, visit their website (previously linked) here.

Today’s Wine: 2016 Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir

100% Pinot Noir; 13.4% ABV

The 2016 Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir is translucent pale to medium ruby in color, though it’s almost opaque. This requires about 45 minutes to an hour to blossom in the glass, showcasing a nose of black cherry, black raspberry, stewed strawberry, blueberry, violet, leather, tilled earth, chopped herbs, baking spice, and white pepper. The palate showcases classic notes of bing cherry, jammy raspberry, stemmy strawberry, plum, cola, leather, sweet tobacco, underbrush, slate, clove, and oaky spice. This is light- to medium-bodied with high acidity, medium (-) tannins, and a long finish.

Price: $60. I could argue there are better values for California Pinot Noir, but this is a very high quality and well-made Pinot Noir that does pose good value against the more “cult-level” bottlings that can be twice as expensive.

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The Legend of Montalcino

Today’s Story: Soldera Case Basse

Soldera Case Basse (known broadly just as Soldera) was established by Gianfranco and Graziella Soldera in 1972. Soldera was born out of a desire to craft high-quality natural wine, and Gianfranco and Graziella settled on an uncultivated and abandoned estate in the southwestern area of Montalcino. Between 1972 and 1973, they planted the first vines and selected only the parcels most suitable for the Sangiovese variety. A staunch traditionalist, Gianfranco made his wines adhering to a very strict natural and hand-crafted process from vine to bottle. Gianfranco was even strict about who could visit to taste his wines, requiring they share a similar philosophy and appreciation for great wines and he did not allow anyone to spit his wines during tastings. Though Gianfranco passed away in February 2019, Soldera remains under the watchful eyes of Graziella and their children adhering to the same strict and time-tested principles.

Covering roughly 23 hectares at an elevation of 320m, the Soldera estate is as devoted to nature as it is to winemaking. In addition to the rich botanical garden on the property, the vines grow in a complex ecosystem with varying animal and insect life which allow the family to farm without the use of any weedkillers or other chemical products. In fact, only organic substances are used in the vineyards and all vine rows are worked only by hand. To allow for manual labor, the vineyards are kept to a maximum of 10 hectares and very low yields with the balance dedicated to the winery, eight hectares of woodlands, refurbished old buildings, fruit trees, berry bushes, pomegranates, and olive trees.

Winemaking at Soldera is very traditional, beginning with harvest of the grapes by hand. Once the grapes reach the winery, they are sorted berry by berry to ensure only the best fruit goes into their wines. Fermentation occurs in large vertical Slavonian oak vats and is entirely natural and spontaneous. Afterwards, the wines transfer to large Slavonian oak barrels without filtering and racking occurs only when necessary based on barrel sampling of the wines. Soldera only adds minimal SO2, and after four years of aging the wines are bottled in the cellar directly from barrel without filtration. After a few months in bottles, the wines are labelled, packed, and shipped but only if they are of a quality that meets the strict requirements of the winery’s expectations. Total production averages around 1,250 cases per vintage, though this output is drastically reduced in lesser quality vintages.

I highly recommend visiting the Soldera website here to view incredible pictures of the vineyards, gardens, and winery.

Today’s Wine: 2009 Soldera Toscana IGT

100% Sangiovese; 14% ABV

The 2009 Soldera is translucent medium garnet in color and absolutely beautiful in the glass. I gave this about 4 hours of air and tasted it along the way, which helped the nose add complexities and depth though the palate needs more coaxing. The nose blossoms into aromas of vibrant red cherry, wild strawberry, raspberry, red rose, anise, tomato paste, leather, scorched earth, truffle, savory green herbs, faint cinnamon, and crushed rock mineral. Meanwhile the perfectly balanced palate shows notes of bright cherry, strawberry, orange rind, mild sweet tobacco, roasted tomato, charred herbs, smoke, rocky earth, and oregano. This is medium- to full-bodied with medium (+) acidity, beautifully integrated medium tannins, and a long finish. Will only get better over the next 5+ years.

Price: $600 (paid $460 two years ago). I think the value conversation goes out the window at this price-point, however this is an absolutely magical wine and far and away the best Sangiovese I’ve ever tasted. I’m excited to taste the remaining bottles over the years to come, and I’m glad we snagged these before the prices rise even further.

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A Fun New Bottling From Ridge

Today’s Story: Ridge Vineyards

Ridge Vineyards, another historic California winery, found its beginnings near the top of Monte Bello Ridge in 1885. Osea Perrone, an Italian doctor in San Francisco, bought 180 acres and constructed the winery into three levels of the mountain using native limestone. He produced the first vintage under the Monte Bello Winery label in 1892, however later as Prohibition crippled the wine industry the facilities were abandoned.

Once Prohibition ended (thankfully), a man by the name of William Short purchased the winery and replanted several parcels to Cabernet Sauvignon in the late 1940s. The breakthrough came, however, in 1959 when the winery changed hands again to Dave Bennion, Hew Crane, Charlie Rosen, and Howard Ziedler and the partnership produced a quarter-barrel of “Estate” Cabernet. One of the greatest Cali Cabs at the time, this Monte Bello wine inspired Dave Bennion to leave Stanford Research Institute (where all partners worked) to focus on winemaking full-time.

As winemaking ramped up at Ridge, I would be remiss not to mention their Zinfandel, first made in 1964 from vines further down the mountain. In 1966, they produced their first Geyserville Zin that many of you should be able to find at your local wine store. By 1968, the winery was approaching 3,000 cases of annual production and had grown from 15 to 45 acres following an acquisition of the original Monte Bello terraces. Ridge demonstrated a quality and character in the upper echelon of California wines, with their 1971 Cab ultimately entered into the Paris Tasting of 1976.

As further background on Ridge, I’d like the opportunity to discuss their winemaking practices as well. Calling their style “pre-industrial,” Ridge shies away from chemicals and additives prevalent in the industry nowadays. They ferment their wines only with natural yeast, do not use commercial enzymes or nutrients to affect color, flavor, or tannin in the wines, and are certified organic. Further, one of my favorite features of a bottle of Ridge is the back label that tells the winemaking process and lists ingredients, which is not common.

I previously wrote about Ridge with their 2015 Syrah/Grenache/Mataro, 2012 Geyserville Vineyard, and 2012 Lytton Springs.

Today’s Wine: 2018 Adelaida Vineyard Roussanne

100% Roussanne; 13.8% ABV

The 2018 Adelaida Vineyard Roussanne is transparent pale to medium gold in color with straw yellow hues. This needs some time to open up in the glass, but once it does the nose lets off aromas of apricot, peach, lemon, chamomile, wet stone, dried vanilla, and oak. On the palate, this showcases notes of lemon, quince, underripe pear, apricot, wax, white florals, brioche, and oaky spice. The wine is medium- to full-bodied with fairly high viscosity and medium (+) acidity into a medium (+) length finish. This is the first 100% Roussanne produced by Ridge and they only made 4 barrels of it.

Price: $25 direct from winery on release. Unfortunately Ridge is sold out of this bottling and I cannot find it anywhere in store or online, though thankfully we have 8 more bottles left of a case hiding in the cellar. This is a really fun wine that I think is a steal at $25, though I’d like to wait another year or two before revisiting it.

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Clone 6 Showdown

Today’s Story: Beaulieu Vineyard

Beaulieu Vineyard is one of the most historic wineries in Napa Valley, founded in 1900 by Georges de Latour and his wife Fernande. Located in the Rutherford AVA, BV got its name from Fernande when she first saw the property and said it was a “beautiful place,” or “beau lieu.” Georges de Latour sold his successful cream of tartar business shortly thereafter and the couple purchased 4 acres with the intent of producing wines that could stand up to their native France. When they began planting, de Latour brought in Phylloxera-resistant rootstock from Europe in order to buck the trend of a California wine industry in trouble.

Though I have written about several wineries with origins in the late 1800s or early 1900s, BV is different in that unlike many of their neighbors they not only survived Prohibition but thrived during Prohibition. How? BV started selling sacramental wine to the Catholic Church and saw their business increase by four times while those around them shuttered their wineries. Once Prohibition ended, however, the story becomes more “traditional” Napa with de Latour focusing on how to create the best wines from his land by instituting updated farming and winemaking techniques. In an effort to raise his status higher, de Latour traveled to his native France to meet André Tchelistcheff, a world-renowned viticulturist and enologist, who championed continuous innovation. It was André who, upon tasting the 1936 vintage of BV’s Private Reserve wine, encouraged de Latour to bottle their flagship wine. André would become BV’s winemaker, a role he would maintain for over 30 years. In 1940 BV released their first Georges de Latour Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, a wine still in production today.

BV has come a very long way from the initial 4 acre plot in 1900. BV currently operates on roughly 1,100 acres of estate vineyards, broken down into different “Ranch” designations. Ranch 1 (79 planted acres) came along in 1903, Ranch 2 (85 planted acres) in 1910, Ranch 3 in 1933 after the repeal of Prohibition, and so on. One of the cool features of BV’s winemaking technique is that each small vineyard lot stays separated throughout the entire process (not an easy feat with their vast holdings). During winemaking, each wine ferments such that the best expression of the fruit results. For instance, the white wines are cold-fermented to display a bright, vibrant character while the red wines are cold-soaked to showcase optimal color, flavor, and tannin. The reds are then fermented in small barrels and aged in oak varying in age, level of toast, and type.

For more on Beaulieu Vineyard’s history, portfolio of wines, or winemaking processes check out the website here, a source of much of the information above.

If you’d like to revisit some of the notes I wrote about BV’s wines before, I previously wrote about the 2014 Tapestry Reserve, 2010 Maestro Collection Ranch No. 1 Red Blend, and 2008 Clone 6.

Today’s 1st Wine: 2005 Clone 6

100% Cabernet Sauvignon; 14.4% ABV

The 2005 BV Clone 6 Cabernet Sauvignon is opaque deep ruby in color, showing no signs of its age. After an hour in the decanter, I get aromas of blackcurrant, blackberry, black cherry, violet, cigar box, forest floor, black truffle, dried green herbs, a hint of green bell pepper, and slate. The palate showcases notes of blackberry, plum, redcurrant, black cherry, anise, tobacco, mushroom, black pepper, stony mineral, coffee, and dried cedar. This is full-bodied with high acidity, velvety medium tannins, and a long finish.

Price: $150 from the winery in 2015. I think this is a very fair price for this Cabernet Sauvignon, granted it is nearly impossible to find these in the marketplace nowadays. This is a very refined, elegant, and complex bottling that is drinking exceptionally well right now.

Today’s 2nd Wine: 2007 Clone 6

100% Cabernet Sauvignon; 15% ABV

The 2007 BV Clone 6 Cabernet Sauvignon is also opaque deep ruby in color, still very youthful in appearance. Given some time to open up, the nose showcases aromas of crème de cassis, blackberry, plum, black licorice, sweet tobacco, damp earth, wet gravel,  green herbs, and mild baking spice. The palate, meanwhile, displays notes of blackberry, blueberry, blackcurrant, tobacco, anise, green pepper, clove, coffee grounds, chocolate, and charred oak. This is full-bodied with medium (+) acidity, integrated medium (-) tannins, and a long finish.

Price: $150 from the winery in 2015. Especially next to the 2005 vintage, the pricing for this 2007 vintage seems a little steep. The wine is more of the people-pleasing type and the higher ABV gives the fruit character more of a jammy appeal. Nonetheless, this is just as difficult to find in the marketplace.

The Winner Is…

While both delicious wines, the 2005 takes the cake in this showing. The lower alcohol is easily apparent, and coupled with an extra two years of bottle age provides for a much more refined, elegant, and complex wine. The 2005 is also showing more of the tertiary notes I love in my Cabs.

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The “Grand Cru” of Barolo

Today’s Story: Damilano

Damilano is a family owned and operated wine estate located in Piedmont, Italy and they are known for their Cru Barolo bottlings from the Cannubi, Brunate, Cerequio, and Liste vineyards. The Damilano family traces their winemaking roots to the year 1890 when Giuseppe Borgogno, the great-grandfather of today’s owners, began making wines from the family vineyards. It wasn’t until 1935, however, that Damilano got its name and “official” start under Giuseppe’s son-in-law Giacomo Damilano. Giacomo worked to improve the quality of his family’s wines, ultimately passing the estate to his children and then his grandchildren Guido, Mario, and Paolo Damilano who run the estate today.

Today’s Wine: 2008 Barolo Cannubi

100% Nebbiolo; 15% ABV

The 2008 Barolo Cannubi is opaque deep garnet in color. Given an hour or two to open up, the nose showcases classic aromas of black cherry, black raspberry, anise, red rose, tobacco, truffle, basil, scorched earth, and oak. Meanwhile on the palate I get equally classic notes of black cherry, plum, baked strawberry, cola, black licorice, pipe tobacco, oregano, and mineral. This is full-bodied with medium acidity, grippy and dusty medium (+) tannins, and a medium length finish.

Price: $85. There is a lot of good here and I think the price is justified, but this is lacking in complexity and depth to really blow me away. Though the alcohol is not overbearing, at 15% you can tell it is there and this comes across as a more modern expression than I would like. It has all the great Barolo notes to it, but there are bottlings more my style around the $50-60 mark.

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A Harlan Family Rarity

Today’s Story: The Napa Valley Reserve

I previously wrote about The Napa Valley Reserve when I reviewed the 2003 vintage, which I was fortunate to find in a retail location. These wines are not for resale so it is a rare opportunity to drink them, though I pulled today’s bottle of 2005 out of our family’s personal cellar.

The Napa Valley Reserve was established by H. William Harlan in 2000 and is a private members-only club located in St. Helena of the Napa Valley. While the vineyards are overseen by the Harlan Estate viticulture team and winemaking is spearheaded by Harlan Estate winemaker Bob Levy and winemaker Marco Gressi, members are involved in as much of the winemaking process as they desire. For instance, members are able to assist in pruning during the winter months, thinning during the summer months, and harvest in the fall which is accomplished entirely by hand. Members even get to help monitor the fermentation process, top up their barrels during aging, and can help determine a custom blend for their own wines, custom bottles, and custom labels. If you would like to join this exclusive club of about 600 members, prepare to pay upwards of $100,000 for entry after receiving the necessary invite.

To learn more, visit their website here.

Today’s Wine: 2005 Napa Valley Reserve

Blend unknown; 14.5% ABV

The 2005 Napa Valley Reserve is opaque deep ruby in color showing no signs of its age. Given 2 hours to open up, the complex nose showcases aromas of plum, blackberry, cassis, violets, cigar box, graphite, volcanic earth, green herbs, a hint of bell pepper, eucalyptus, clove, vanilla, and mocha. Meanwhile on the palate I get notes of blackberry, blueberry, plum, redcurrant, tobacco, cola, crushed rock, graphite, cracked pepper, cedar spill, grilled herbs, and espresso. This is full-bodied with medium (+) acidity, refined and velvety medium (-) tannins, and a long finish. Perfectly balanced and opulent despite being soft and supple.

Price: Not for resale (we acquired this from The Napa Valley Reserve during a visit roughly ten years ago). This being said, I am seeing this vintage online for $450 per bottle, though I’m sure these will pop up in auction time to time and you can probably snag it for less. If you do have the rare opportunity to taste these wines, they are similar to the other Harlan properties but I would place it somewhere around the Bond offerings.

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High Quality Rutherford Red

Today’s Story: Quintessa

Quintessa was established in 1989 by Agustin and Valeria Huneeus in the Rutherford AVA of the Napa Valley. Though Quintessa was the Huneeus family’s first venture into Napa, both Agustin and Valeria were wine industry veterans in Chile. Agustin helped build Concha y Toro into the largest winery in Chile as their CEO, while Valeria is a microbiologist and viticulturist who discovered the land that ultimately became Quintessa’s home. The property consists of 280 acres, 160 of which are planted to vine with the balance home to the winery and 100 acres of natural woodland. The 160 acres of vineyards are planted to Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, and Carménère across 26 individual blocks that are fermented separately. The vineyards are farmed organically with the occasional use of biodynamic practices, while wines are made utilizing gravity flow to maximize the gentleness of the winemaking process. Quintessa produces one premium Cabernet Sauvignon wine each vintage, while also bottling limited quantities of Sauvignon Blanc under the Illumination label.

To read my review on their 2018 Illumination Sauvignon Blanc, click here.

Today’s Wine: 2012 Quintessa

85% Cabernet Sauvignon, 7% Merlot, 4% Cabernet Franc, 2% Carménère, 2% Petit Verdot; 14.5% ABV

The 2012 Quintessa is opaque deep ruby in color. I gave this about 2 hours to decant as it is still very youthful, allowing the nose to blossom into aromas of blackberry, blueberry, plum, licorice, sweet tobacco, chopped herbs, wet slate, cedar spill, and vanilla. On the palate, I get classic notes of blackberry, cassis, plum, violets, tobacco, chocolate, clove, black pepper, and oaky spice. This is full-bodied with high acidity, medium (+) tannins, and a long finish.

Price: $200 (paid $150 from winery). There’s no denying this is a delicious, high-quality, and well-made Napa red blend, however I don’t think I can justify the QPR especially at today’s market prices. It certainly fits into the more people-pleasing realm for me as well, which is generally not my style preference.

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Outstanding Bordeaux Blanc From a Sauternes Legend

Today’s Story: Château d’Yquem

Château d’Yquem is a very special estate, one whose Sauternes are coveted the world over and whose wines are some of my favorites to have tasted. I previously wrote about the 2001 Château d’Yquem, and am excited to return with their Y (Ygrec) bottling today.

Château d’Yquem has a very long, mysterious history that traces its roots back to the 15th Century. One of the most interesting snippets of this history, for instance, is that the estate belonged to the King of England during the Middle Ages! In 1593, however, southwest France again came under control of the French crown by Charles VII and has remained as such since. It was also this year that the d’Yquem estate came under control of Jacques de Sauvage, a descendant of a local noble family. Though some winegrowing practices and late harvesting existed at this time, the Sauvage family did not start building the château for several more years and then began the long process of assembling land for the current estate plot by plot.

Jumping forward in time, it wasn’t until 1711 that the Sauvage family fully owned the estate under Léon de Sauvage d’Yquem. Furthermore, under the rule of Louis XIV, Château d’Yquem received noble status. The magnificent estate switched hands yet again, however, in 1785 when Françoise Joséphine de Sauvage d’Yquem married Count Louis Amédée de Lur-Saluces, a godson of Louis XV. Sadly, three years later in 1788, the Count died in a riding accident but his widow took over management of the estate and quickly displayed her acumen by sustaining and improving d’Yquem. One of the most notable practices at d’Yquem was established under Françoise Joséphine de Sauvage d’Yquem, for instance, which is picking over several passes (sometimes picking one grape at a time). Another notable feat under this young widow is the admiration noble figures around the globe felt toward d’Yquem, including Thomas Jefferson who reportedly purchased 250 bottles of the 1784 vintage for himself and additional bottles for George Washington.

Romain-Bertrand de Lur-Saluces, a grandson of Françoise Joséphine, took over the estate and helped guide it through seemingly endless successes in the second half of the 19th Century. For example, d’Yquem’s wines became a necessity for the rich and powerful throughout Europe, Russia, and Asia. In 1855, Château d’Yquem was awarded Premier Cru Supérieur in the Bordeaux Wine Official Classification of 1855, the only Sauternes awarded this level. Times changed, however, as they always do with estates of this age when World War I came and the château transitioned into a military hospital under Eugène de Lur-Saluces (a son of Romain-Bertrand). Eugène’s son Marquis Bertrand de Lur-Saluces took over the estate following the war (he had served in the trenches) and he is responsible for much of d’Yquem’s strength to this day. For instance, Marquis Bertrand fought relentlessly to save the estate during the Great Depression, helped determine many legal aspects of the Sauternes appellation as President of the Union des Crus Classés de la Gironde for forty years, and was a leading proponent of château bottling to guarantee authenticity. His death in 1968 changed the tides once again.

Though Bertrand was childless at the time of his death, he took precautions and named his nephew Alexandre de Lur-Saluces manager of Château d’Yquem. Alexandre struggled at first through difficult vintages, a crisis in the Bordeaux wine trade, and an inheritance tax that almost forced the estate to fail, though his efforts were saved with the exceptional 1975 vintage followed by several more during the 1980s. Alexandre managed the estate exceptionally well until 1996 when a family feud exploded over his brother’s decision to sell part of his 47% ownership stake, thus in turn requiring LVMH Moët Hennessy-Louis Vuitton to step in and purchase 55% of the estate. Though under new ownership, Alexandre remained manager of the estate until his retirement in 2004.

Though I could go on and on about d’Yquem’s terroir, vineyards, and winemaking practices I will leave it here with the history of Château d’Yquem. I encourage you to take a deeper dive on their website here to truly appreciate what goes into a bottle of this sacred juice.

Today’s Wine: 2014 Y (Ygrec) d’Yquem

75% Sauvignon Blanc, 25% Sémillon; 14% ABV

The 2014 Y d’Yquem is transparent pale yellow in color with hues of straw and water white. This absolutely sings out of the bottle, dominated by a nose of white peach, tangerine, apricot, gooseberry, tropical citrus, honeysuckle, freshly cut grass, and beeswax. Meanwhile, on the palate, I get notes of pineapple, grapefruit, peach, lime, cantaloupe, white pepper, white florals, and wet stone. This is medium-bodied with mouthwatering high acidity and a velvety smooth mouthfeel into a long, seductive finish capped off with a touch of caramel (perhaps from the used d’Yquem barrels). Very hard to not gulp this down.

Price: $145. Though very expensive for a white wine, this is a great value in my eyes compared to the top-tier Bordeaux Blancs and other Sauvignon Blancs I’ve tried. This offers incredible depth, opulence, lip-smacking drinkability, and age-ability that is tough to beat.

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Remarkably Preserved and Burgundian Napa Valley Pinot Noir

Today’s Story: Robert Mondavi Winery

I just wrote about the 1981 Robert Mondavi Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, so I will save you the duplicate reading today and jump right into the tasting notes on today’s 1980 Reserve Pinot Noir. If you missed my prior commentary on Robert Mondavi, however, feel free to pause and click the link above!

Today’s Wine: 1980 Reserve Pinot Noir

100% Pinot Noir; 13.8% ABV

The 1980 Reserve Pinot Noir is translucent medium garnet in color with slight bricking (though it’s really not too bad). The fill level was superb (about 1-2cm ullage), the cork was pristine, and there was hardly any sediment thrown. Though firing on all cylinders as a pop-and-pour, this only got more complex in the glass with a nose of tobacco, coffee grounds, worn leather, forest floor, earthy mushroom, underbrush, gravel, tar, grilled herbs, and black olive. There’s even some cherry, baked strawberry, and black raspberry clinging on for dear life. The palate showcases some of the more primary notes up front with black cherry, black raspberry, brambly red fruits, and red rose petal, but offers similar depth and complexity to the nose with further notes of cigar tobacco, leather, smoke, scorched earth, black truffle, wet gravel, garden herbs, cracked green peppercorn, and green underbrush. This is light-bodied with medium (+) acidity, medium (-) dusty tannins, and a long finish. There was one owner who purchased this upon release before us, and this wine is one I will remember for perhaps the rest of my life.

Price: Your guess is as good as mine, but looks like this was last available in auction a few years ago for about $50. If you are able to find a perfectly stored bottle of this with great provenance, I would buy it. This was an absolutely incredible bottle of wine that grew in the glass and drank like some of the top-tier aged Burgundy I’ve had. Absolutely mind-blowing experience.

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Luxe Napa Red Atop Pritchard Hill

Today’s Story: Ovid Napa Valley

Ovid Napa Valley is a “cult” winery established in 2000 by husband and wife Mark Nelson and Dana Johnson, and 2005 was their inaugural vintage. Situated at 1,400 feet elevation on secluded Pritchard Hill, Ovid consists of a 15 acre vineyard planted largely to Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc, though it includes plots of Merlot, Petit Verdot, and Syrah as well. Ovid practices organic viticulture and the vineyard is broken into one-acre blocks with various rootstocks and clones to allow for an experimental philosophy of winemaking. Winemaker Austin Peterson has been with Ovid since 2006, and he enjoys utilizing both traditional and cutting edge winemaking techniques to produce wines with a sense of place. The Ovid winery utilizes gravity flow to minimize handling of the wines, and fermentation is accomplished using only native yeasts before the wines age and transfer to bottle unfined and unfiltered.

Ovid remains steadfast in their support of sustainable practices in the vineyards and the winery, keeping bees, using cover crops, and using their own compost to avoid inhibiting natural biodiversity. They also placed owl boxes, bluebird boxes, and an insectary garden on the property to facilitate a more natural form of pest control. Ovid even maintains a fruit and nut orchard where they grow cherries, plums, pluots, peaches, pomegranates, and persimmons which are then allocated to Napa restaurants including The French Laundry and The Restaurant at Meadowood (which unfortunately burned down in 2020). The winery itself is powered by solar energy and built of wood, stone, and concrete which blends effortlessly into the mountainous surroundings.

In terms of production, Ovid crafts four main wines which include their signature Ovid Napa Valley (Cabernet Sauvignon dominant), Hexameter (Cabernet Franc dominant), Loc. Cit. (100% Cabernet Sauvignon from the best plots only in the best vintages), and Syrah. As special as the main Ovid wines are, they also release highly limited quantities of Experiment bottlings which change vintage to vintage to showcase the unique blends, varieties, winemaking styles, and terroir Peterson has to play with. Total production is said to be between 1,000 and 1,200 cases per vintage, with roughly 85% of that going direct to customers on the membership list.

To learn more about Ovid and their wines, view pictures of the beautiful winery, or find the source for much of today’s information above, visit the Ovid website here.

Today’s Wine: 2015 Hexameter

65% Cabernet Franc, 21% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Merlot, 4% Petit Verdot; 14.8% ABV

The 2015 Hexameter is opaque deep ruby in color, still certainly showcasing its youth. I decanted this for four hours, which I think it needed, guiding the nose into expressive aromas of blackberry, black cherry, blackcurrant, redcurrant, tobacco, green peppercorn, graphite, vanilla, and oak. On the palate, I get notes of black cherry, blackberry, spiced plum, blueberry, orange peel, violets, tobacco, cola, pencil shavings, graphite, and toasted oak. There’s a peppery and herbal characteristic to this wine that really showcases the Cabernet Franc well. This is full-bodied with high acidity, fine-grained medium (+) tannins, and a long finish.

Price: $310. This is an incredibly delicious wine, though it is very young at this stage and I don’t think it offers great QPR. You could lob $100 off this price and I think that would be much fairer, though I am sure this will grow into an absolute showstopper with more cellaring.

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The King’s Wine

Today’s Story: Château Lafite Rothschild

Château Lafite Rothschild is a world-renowned First Growth Bordeaux wine estate located in the left bank appellation of Pauillac. Though the winemaking prowess of Lafite came centuries later, the estate traces its roots to the year 1234 under ownership of Gombaud de Lafite and is labeled as a medieval fief during the 14th century. Though vines certainly existed on the property by the 17th century, it was Jacques de Ségur who is credited with planting the vineyards in the 1670s and 1680s and setting Lafite on its way to producing highly regarded wines. By the early 18th century, Lafite’s wines found a loyal following in the London market and, during the 1730s, became a darling of Prime Minister Robert Walpole. During that time, Jacques’ son Nicolas-Alexandre de Ségur improved the winemaking process and enhanced the quality and prestige of Lafite as he marketed it in France to the court of Versailles. By the mid-1700s, Lafite became known as “the King’s Wine” and found its place among the royal and aristocratic families of France.

Though Lafite was arguably the pinnacle of Bordeaux winemaking at the time, even becoming a darling of Thomas Jefferson following a later visit in 1787, the estate experienced some difficulties with changing ownership for a number of reasons. First, Alexandre de Ségur did not have any sons so he divided his estate (which included Château Latour) amongst four daughters. His grandson, Count Nicolas Marie Alexandre de Ségur, inherited Lafite but he was forced to sell to relative Nicolas Pierre de Pichard in 1784 due to financial difficulties. This ownership, however, was also short-lived because Nicolas Pierre was executed as part of the Reign of Terror in 1794 during the French Revolution. Lafite fell into public ownership for a few years, until Dutchman Jean de Witt purchased it in 1797 and set off a string of changing ownerships until Baron James de Rothschild purchased Lafite in 1868.

Though the end of the 1800s and first half of the 1900s were quite turbulent for Lafite, the Rothschild family maintained ownership of the estate and brought it back to prominence after World War II. This period included the phylloxera and mildew crises, WWI, the Great Depression, and occupation by German forces during WWII which saw ransacking of the cellars and theft of historical bottles of Lafite. When Baron Elie de Rothschild regained control at the end of 1945, Lafite was once again on the path to greatness with fantastic vintages in 1945, 1947, and 1949. As Baron Elie restored the vineyards and buildings, improved farming methods, and opened the winery to new markets including the United States, Lafite prospered and continues to do so to this day.

The vineyards of Château Lafite Rothschild today consist of 112 hectares planted in the classic, well-draining, deep gravel soils of Pauillac (though this includes 4.5 hectares in Saint Estèphe). They are planted to Cabernet Sauvignon (70%), Merlot (25%), Cabernet Franc (3%), and Petit Verdot (2%) with an average vine age of 39 years. For the Grand Vin, however, they do not use fruit from vines younger than 10 years old so the average vine age for the Grand Vin is closer to 45 years. Lafite practices traditional viticulture based on strict yield control and manual harvests, and they use little to no chemical fertilizers and are transitioning to organic viticulture. Vines are typically re-planted when they reach an age of about 80 years.

In the cellar, Lafite practices traditional vinification methods and ferments their wines separately plot by plot. Some of the fermentation occurs in traditional large oak vats, while some occurs in stainless steel vats before the wines are tasted and drawn off into wine vats. Malolactic fermentation then occurs before the wine is transferred into barrels by batch. Blending occurs after the first racking of these barrels, and then the wines age for 18-20 months. The wines are fined with egg whites and then bottled.

Today’s 1st Wine: 1981 Château Lafite Rothschild

Bordeaux Blend (no details on Lafite’s website); 12% ABV

The 1981 Lafite is translucent medium to deep garnet in color. Keeping with the cellar master’s practices at Lafite, I double decanted this and served it 3 hours later. The nose is rather feminine and took some time to open up, showcasing aromas of redcurrant, licorice, cigar box, pencil shavings, tilled earth, earthy mushroom, graphite, gravel, and cedar. Meanwhile the palate is certainly still kicking, offering notes of blackcurrant, redcurrant, violets, tobacco, forest floor, black truffle, cracked black pepper, graphite, and cedar. This is very well-balanced and medium-bodied with medium (+) acidity, well-integrated medium (-) tannins, and a medium (+) length finish. I don’t see this improving, so drink up if you have any.

Price: $750 (though we acquired it years ago for much less). It is always a special occasion to drink a bottle of Lafite, and the pricing is certainly justifiable based on how perfectly balanced and complex these wines can be. This bottling, however, seems to be past its prime and I wouldn’t suggest spending the money on it at this point.

Today’s 2nd Wine: 1985 Château Lafite Rothschild

65% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Franc; 12% ABV

The 1985 Lafite is translucent deep garnet in color, definitely a shade deeper than the 1981. I also double decanted this 3 hours before serving and it really came alive in the glass. The nose showcases classic aromas of blackcurrant, black cherry, black raspberry, lavender, cigar box, forest floor, black truffle, graphite, wet gravel, and grilled herbs. Meanwhile on the palate I get notes of cassis, redcurrant, dried plum, violets, tobacco, pencil shavings, scorched earth, black truffle, graphite, underbrush, and crushed rock minerality. This is medium-bodied with medium (+) acidity, dusty medium (-) tannins, and a long finish. Impeccably balanced with much more power than the 1981 vintage (no shock) tasted side-by-side.

Price: $985 (though we acquired it years ago for much less). This is perhaps the best vintage of Lafite I’ve tasted to date, and while the near four-digit price tag is seemingly outrageous I think it’s worth it for a special occasion.

The Winner Is…

This should come as no shock, but the 1985 absolutely steals the show here. The 1981 vintage is certainly alive and kicking, but is very feminine and I think past its peak in the plateau phase or start of the declining phase. The 1985 is showing its Comet Vintage pedigree, still offering incredible power and a structure that suggests there is still plenty of time to enjoy this bottling. Both wines are incredibly well-balanced and an absolute pleasure to drink, but the 1985 is simply the more perfectly wrapped package.

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Beautifully Aged Napa Valley Icon

Today’s Story: Robert Mondavi Winery

Robert Mondavi is a historical and world-renowned Napa Valley winery established by Robert Mondavi in 1966. With the immense history and promise Mondavi felt with the To Kalon Vineyard in Oakville, he set up his winery there amongst the vines and set out to craft Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon that could compete with the greatest wines in the world. Mondavi did not only set his sites on Cabernet Sauvignon, however, releasing his first Fumé Blanc (made with Sauvignon Blanc) in 1968 which is the wine that ultimately became his signature bottling. As Mondavi’s prowess started to show in those early years, he also expanded into the Stags Leap District by acquiring the Wappo Hill Vineyard planted to Sauvignon Blanc, Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon in 1969. In 1970, Mondavi met for the first time with Baron Philippe de Rothschild and the duo voiced an idea of creating a joint venture that ultimately became Opus One, established in 1978 with an inaugural vintage of 1979.

As Mondavi’s wines grew in prominence, so did his reputation almost like a father to Napa Valley winemaking. He was instrumental in bringing music to the Valley with his Summer Music Festival, showcased his philanthropic mindset by helping to pioneer Auction Napa Valley, and advanced the magic of food and wine pairing by creating the Mission Tour, Great Chefs of France, and Great Chefs of America programs. Robert Mondavi’s impact on Napa Valley and the wine world beyond is as strong and steadfast now as it was back then, and the world of California winemaking will forever thank him.

Today’s Wine: 1981 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon

100% Cabernet Sauvignon; 12.7% ABV

The 1981 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon is translucent medium garnet in color, with very minimal sediment thrown from the bottle. Given some time to blossom in the glass, the nose opens to showcase aromas of blackcurrant, black cherry, plum, cigar box, forest floor, mushroom, dried underbrush, green pepper, and wet gravel. Meanwhile the palate is equally as gorgeous, characterized by notes of blackberry, blackcurrant, redcurrant, tobacco, charred earth, earthy mushroom, green herbs, cracked black pepper, and rocky mineral. This is medium-bodied with medium acidity, dusty medium tannins, and a medium (+) length finish.

Price: $190 (we paid much less years ago). With how this is drinking right now, $190 is a fantastic price for a well-stored bottle though it is very hard to find in the marketplace. This drinks like some of the beautiful aged Bordeaux wines I’ve had, and showcases the incredible prowess of Robert Mondavi in the “good old days” of Napa.

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Tear-Jerking Champagne From the Fantastic 2002 Vintage

Today’s Story: Dom Pérignon

I wrote about the 2003 Dom Pérignon Brut Champagne yesterday, so I will save you the duplicate history lesson and jump right into today’s tasting notes for the 2002 vintage. If you missed yesterday’s post though, feel free to give it a quick read. At the very least you can compare consecutive vintage tasting notes!

Today’s Wine: 2002 Dom Pérignon Brut Champagne

Typically about 50% Pinot Noir and 50% Chardonnay (exact blend unknown); 12.5% ABV

The 2002 Dom Pérignon Brut Champagne is transparent deep gold in color. I drank this over the course of a couple hours, and it only got bigger and bigger with air. The nose is stupidly complex, showcasing aromas of lemon curd, green apple, pear, honeysuckle, jasmine, incense, chalk, saline mineral, brioche, vanilla cream, butter, and almond. Meanwhile the palate is equally as mind-boggling, displaying notes of crisp green apple skins, peach, apricot, stone fruit, white florals, white truffle, chalk, limestone, white smoke, dill, caramel, butterscotch, and hazelnut. This is medium- to full-bodied with a creamy mouthfeel and razor sharp high acidity into an endlessly long finish.

Price: $270 (paid $180 a few years ago). This is in a very, very special place right now and provided one of those unique drinking experiences where a wine makes me tear up. Though there are no doubt better “value” brands out there, this 2002 is worth its price.

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A Titan Showing the Scars of Age and a Tough Vintage

Come quickly, I am tasting the stars!

Dom Pierre Pérignon (supposedly)

Today’s Story: Dom Pérignon

Dom Pérignon is a very famous Champagne produced as the prestige cuvée of Champagne house Moët & Chandon. Though the first vintage was 1921 and it first released to the market in 1936, Dom Pérignon takes its name from Benedictine monk Dom Pierre Pérignon (1638-1715) who became cellar master in the Abbey of Hautvillers. Though Dom Pierre did not “invent” sparkling Champagne (as many myths state), he was instrumental in quality control at a time when weak Champagne bottles were prone to explosion due to refermentation in the bottle as the wines aged. Some of his contributions included the use of blending to improve quality of the wine, perfecting the process of pressing white wine from black grapes, introducing corks instead of wood, and strengthening the glass of bottles to minimize time bombs in the cellar.

Originally, Dom Pérignon was bottled using vintage Moët & Chandon Champagne transferred to their new, specially designed Dom bottles so it was essentially an oenothèque. This ended with the 1943 vintage, however, and Dom was produced entirely separately for the next released vintage of 1947 and beyond. Why the gap you might ask? Well, Dom Pérignon is only produced as a vintage Champagne when the quality is high enough, so this Champagne has only been produced in 44 vintages from 1921 to 2010. Wildly enough, Dom Pérignon only released more than two vintages in a row three times until 2004 when vintages of 2005 and 2006 mark the first time ever five vintages were made consecutively (2002-2006).

Dom Pérignon is always a blend of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, forgetting the third permitted grape of Pinot Meunier included in many other Champagnes. Across vintages, the Chef de Cave at Dom Pérignon sticks to roughly 50% Pinot Noir and 50% Chardonnay, however they maintain the flexibility of blending up to a maximum 60% for one variety depending on vintage conditions. I would be remiss, though, if I forget to mention that in one vintage (1970) they went over and the blend was 65% Chardonnay and 35% Pinot Noir. This is the only time one variety accounted for more than 60% of the blend. All grapes are sourced from Grand Cru Champagne vineyards, save for one historical 1er Cru vineyard at Hautvillers which keeps the wine from being labeled as a Grand Cru Champagne.

Today’s Wine: 2003 Dom Pérignon Brut Champagne

60% Pinot Noir, 40% Chardonnay; 12.5% ABV

The 2003 Dom Pérignon Brut Champagne is transparent deep gold in color with delicate effervescence. The nose is still gorgeous, offering up aromas of golden delicious apple, pear, honeysuckle, white lily, white truffle, brioche, white pepper, and vanilla cream. However, unfortunately the palate seems fairly advanced and displays notes of green apple skins, canned golden pear, white florals, almond, caramel, toffee, and hazelnut. This wine falls apart on the palate, proving rather disappointing compared to the last several bottles of 2003 I’ve enjoyed that showed the prowess of the producer in a tough vintage. This is light-bodied with medium (+) acidity and a moderately dry but medium (-) length finish.

Price: $250 (paid $170 several years ago). I had high hopes for this bottle, largely since we held it for a number of years and also since the prior 3 bottles of 2003 I enjoyed were fantastic. I’d say skip this if you come across it (though it could be an off bottle), and put the money toward 2002 or a more recent vintage like 2008.

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50 Year Old Port Still Kicking

Today’s Story: Warre’s

Warre’s is a large, historical Port company established in 1670 as the first and oldest British Port company in Portugal. Though no members of the Warre family were involved at that time, two Englishmen named William Burgoyne and John Jackson established Burgoyne & Jackson as a trading company involved in wine, olive oil, fruit, cod, and wool trading. As the company grew over time and added new partners, it was known as Clark & Thornton by 1723. In 1729, however, William Warre (1706-1773) arrived in Portugal from India and joined the business which became Messrs. Clark, Thornton & Warre. By the time the Warre family shifted into control and the company was known as Warre & Sons near the end of the 18th century, Warre’s was one of the largest exporters of Port accounting for about 10% of the total with 21 companies in the trade.

Under the Warre family, Warre’s grew and became ever more prestigious, particularly under another William Warre (1784-1853). This William completed an illustrious military career fighting alongside the Anglo-Portuguese army with the Duke of Wellington (whom he supplied with Port wine) in nearly every major battle of the Peninsular War (1807-1814). A half century later, Andrew James Symington joined Warre & Co. in 1905 and took sole ownership in 1908. Andrew James comes from a long, long lineage of the Port making Symington family, which spans 13 generations and 350 years of history, so he was a natural individual to pick up the reigns of this great company. More than a century later, the Symington family still owns and operates Warre’s and six members of the family are actively involved in day-to-day operations today.

Not only is Warre’s the last Port producer of British origin owned by a single family, they are also one of the few great estates who own 100% of their vineyards (named Quinta da Cavadinha, Quinta do Retiro Antigo, and Quinta da Telhada). This point of pride and tradition carries into the cellars as well, where they continue to make some of their Port by the traditional treading method in shallow stone treading tanks (though not all is made this way). Instead, Warre’s introduced the first automatic treading machine in a stainless steel tank with pistons that mimic human treading to produce a large number of their wines. Fermentation lasts a very short period of time (roughly 2 days) because Port is fortified and a natural grape spirit is added to interrupt the process when about half of the natural sugar is converted to alcohol. This is why Warre’s Port is sweet, rich, and high in alcohol while commanding great longevity in the cellar.

Today’s Wine: 1970 Tercentenary Vintage Porto

Port Blend (Touriga Nacional, Tinta Cao, Tinta Roriz, Tinta Barocca, Touriga Francesa, and Tinta Amarela); 20.5% ABV

The 1970 Tercentenary Vintage Porto is translucent pale ruby in color with garnet variation (I’d never guess this is 50 years old). The nose on this is absolutely captivating and only got better after several hours, showcasing aromas of ripe red cherry, pomegranate, strawberry rhubarb, fig, cola, spice cake, tar, clove, and sweet rum spice. The palate is fantastic as well, characterized by notes of cherry, black raspberry, dates, cranberry, rose, anise, rum cake, toffee, caramel, chocolate, and baking spice. This is medium-bodied with medium (+) acidity, light tannins, and a long finish. A really fun and exciting wine that is beautifully balanced.

Price: $250 (but I’m seeing it up to $900 online). This was a gift to my father, so in our eyes it was the best value we could ever find! Jokes aside, I think if you can find a properly stored bottling with great provenance this could be really fun to try, though I’d hope closer to the $250 price. I can’t see this selling for $900.

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Profound Bourgogne Blanc From Perhaps the Greatest Name in Meursault

Today’s Story: Domaine Roulot

Domaine Roulot is a renowned Burgundy wine estate situated in the village of Meursault in the Côte de Beaune sub-region. Though Roulot’s history dates back to at least 1830 when Guillaume Roulot registered as a vigneron, the modern domaine traces its roots more directly to a 1930 founding and growing success following WWII under Guy Roulot. Guy came into some vineyard property through his marriage to Geneviève Coche, though he quickly set about purchasing additional vineyard parcels of village and 1er Cru classifications. Unique at the time, Guy vinified and bottled his wines by single vineyard, also mastering the lieu-dit practice of bottling a named vineyard without its own “legal” classification within the larger village. Guy made some of the greatest white Burgundy at the time, even later having his 1973 Meursault Charmes place second for the white wines at the Judgment of Paris in 1976. Sadly, Guy passed away suddenly and far too soon in 1982 and left his domaine in a precarious situation since his son Jean-Marc was in Paris studying acting. Though Domaine Roulot had several winemakers come in until Jean-Marc returned home, it wasn’t until 1989 when he fully took the reigns.

Shortly after taking over, Jean-Marc transitioned fully to organic viticulture and he has not used any herbicides since. Further, any treatments used in the vineyards ensure minimal if any impact on the natural microbial life amongst the vines. In the cellar, Jean-Marc crafts wines based on a philosophy that they should be what he likes to drink, not necessarily what the “modern palate” likes to drink. While many of the wines of Meursault can be rich and concentrated, Roulot’s wines are often described as chiseled, linear, precise, restrained, tense, and transparent. He achieves these descriptors through incredibly rigorous harvesting, very gentle pressing of the fruit, indigenous yeast fermentation, barrel aging for 12 months on lees followed by 6 months in stainless steel, and modest use of new oak of between 10% and 30%. Roulot even minimizes stirring the lees (and mainly does it in vintages of higher acidity), which is a practice more common with producers who like adding richness to the wines.

Today’s Wine: 2017 Bourgogne Blanc

100% Chardonnay; 13.2% ABV

The 2017 Bourgogne Blanc is transparent pale gold/straw yellow in color with water white variation around the rim of the glass. I decanted this for 2 hours due to its youth, and to be honest it probably could’ve decanted for longer. Once open, the nose showcases aromas of peach, green apple, apricot, white florals, matchstick, flint, wet river stone, dill, and almond. Meanwhile on the palate I get notes of golden pear, lemon zest, green apple skins, white peach, honeysuckle, crushed rock, light green herbs, flint, and hazelnut. This very linear and precise Bourgogne Blanc is medium- to full-bodied with gorgeous high acidity into a long finish. Not as intense as I was expecting, but give this at least 4-5 more years of cellaring before touching it.

Price: $90. This is no doubt a fantastic Bourgogne Blanc, and though I opened it young I think there are better values out there. If you can find this closer to $65-70 (and I know a few locations are still priced that way) I would be more intrigued. We shall see if I am proven wrong with more bottle age.

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Solid Aged Volnay, but Over the Peak

Today’s Story: Maison Nicolas Potel

Maison Nicolas Potel was established in 1997 as a négociant business by Nicolas Potel following the passing of his father Gérard Potel of Domaine de la Pousse d’Or. Thanks to his father’s influence and respect within Burgundy for helping to improve quality, ripeness, and concentration in the region’s wines, Nicolas was able to access some of the great 1er and Grand Crus of the Côte de Nuits and Côte de Beaune. For example, Roumier, Lafon, and Jean-Marc Boillot (all who looked up to Gérard) sold Nicolas fruit to help jumpstart his namesake venture. By 2002, Nicolas was making wines from 50 different appellations. Shortly thereafter, however, Nicolas ran into cash flow issues during the global economic uncertainty and sold his Maison (including naming rights) to the Cottin brothers of négociant Labouré-Roi in 2004. Nicolas stayed on until 2009 when tensions boiled over, with the Cottin brothers saying his side projects competed with Maison Nicolas Potel and Nicolas saying they disagreed with his philosophy of quality over quantity. Though Nicolas moved on and established Domaine de Bellene with his own vineyards, Maison Nicolas Potel continues making wines under his name to this day.

A traditionalist and staunch proponent of quality over quantity, Nicolas worked with 35+ year old vines whose growers often practice organic or biodynamic viticulture. In the cellar, he practiced minimally invasive winemaking which included pressing with a vertical wine press, maturing the wines for 12-16 months on the lees without racking, and adding minimal SO2. All told, Nicolas adapted each wine to the vintage but at his core wanted to make wines as naturally as possible so they could express each terroir in the truest sense. Though this philosophy remains at Maison Nicolas Potel after he left, the wines bearing Nicolas’ name naturally don’t seem to be the same.

Today’s Wine: 2002 Volnay 1er Cru Pitures

100% Pinot Noir; 13% ABV

The 2002 Volnay 1er Cru Pitures is translucent medium garnet in color with slight bricking (though not too bad). This needed about an hour to blossom in the glass, helping to lift the fading nose to showcase aromas of forest floor, earthy mushroom, leather, grilled green herbs, and gravel followed by red fruits of cherry, raspberry, and strawberry all on their way out the door. The fruit is slightly more alive on the palate but is certainly still fading, displaying notes of tart red cherry, black raspberry, cranberry, truffle, tobacco, leather, loamy earth, garden herbs, and slight smoke. This is light-bodied with medium acidity, medium (-) tannins, and a medium length finish (shorter than I’d like, but that’s the age). There’s still decent structure here, but overall the fruit is fading fast. Drink up if you have any.

Price: $130 (looks like it used to be $70 when last priced on wine-searcher in 2017). I think at its peak drinking window this would’ve been a fantastic bottle for the price. However, given how advanced this is now I would pass on it if you come across it.

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Top-Notch Napa Cab With Historical Pedigree

Today’s Story: Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars

Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars was established in 1970 by Warren Winiarski in what became the Stags Leap District of Napa Valley. Warren purchased the 44 acre property, which was primarily a prune orchard, and replanted it to Cabernet Sauvignon and small plots of Merlot next to Nathan Fay’s vineyard which was the first Cabernet Sauvignon planted in the district. Initially called Stag’s Leap Vineyards, the first vintage came in 1972 at rented winemaking facilities with Warren as winemaker assisted by the renowned André Tchelistcheff. In 1973, winemaking moved to new facilities at the S.L.V. estate and this second vintage is the first made in commercial quantities. A few short years later, in 1976, the 1973 S.L.V. shocked the world by winning the now famous Judgment of Paris blind tasting panel where it bested the red wines of Bordeaux (including 1970 vintages of Château Mouton Rothschild and Château Haut-Brion). Following the success, Stag’s Leap continued to grow and acquired the neighboring FAY Vineyard in 1986, producing their first FAY Cabernet Sauvignon in 1990. They expanded again in 1996 with the purchase of the Arcadia Vineyard from Mike Grgich, which is planted to Chardonnay. Though Warren sold Stag’s Leap in 2007, his family retains ownership of the Arcadia Vineyard and sells fruit to Stag’s Leap on a contract basis.

Stag’s Leap owns and farms the two estate vineyards of FAY and S.L.V. The FAY Vineyard consists of about 66 acres mostly planted to Cabernet Sauvignon, but with 1.5 acres planted to Cabernet Franc. Stag’s Leap refers to this as their “water element” vineyard, as the soil is composed of more alluvial soils of Bale gravelly clay loam and volcanic alluvium. Think of the wines of FAY offering more softness, delicate perfume, and rich berries. S.L.V. meanwhile consists of about 35 acres of Cabernet Sauvignon and 1.5 acres of Cabernet Franc and is the more “fire element” vineyard. Planted in more volcanic soils, the S.L.V. Vineyard offers more multilayered structure, complexity, aging potential, and “spicy intensity.” Stag’s Leap practices sustainable viticulture, which includes practices such as maintaining cover crops, utilizing drip irrigation, managing pests with beneficial bugs and nesting homes for owls, and following rigorous canopy management.

Today’s Wine: 2007 Cask 23 Cabernet Sauvignon

100% Cabernet Sauvignon; 14.5% ABV

The 2007 Cask 23 is opaque deep ruby in color with deep purple and black hues in the bowl, showcasing no signs of its age at this point. After 3.5 hours in the decanter, the nose opens to showcase aromas of black cherry, blackcurrant, black plum, cigar box, loamy earth, black truffle, graphite, cedar spill, cracked pepper, and nutmeg. Meanwhile on the palate, I get notes of crème de cassis, black cherry, blackberry, redcurrant, tobacco, cola, forest floor, black pepper, chocolate, and oaky spice. This is full-bodied with medium (+) acidity, medium (+) but refined tannins, and a very long finish. Gorgeous right now but this has several years left in the tank.

Price: $220. I’m at the price-point where I don’t think I can call this a good value, but I do not think it’s outrageously overpriced either. This is a top-tier Napa Cab that is complex while offering great depth and aging potential, though I’ve had similar wines for $50 to $70 less as well.

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A Familiar Producer, but a Special Vineyard

Today’s Story: Davies Vineyards

Davies Vineyards should be familiar to those of you who have been around since the beginning of this blog, namely because I reviewed the 2012 Ferrington Pinot Noir, 2012 JD Cabernet Sauvignon, 2013 Jamie Cabernet Sauvignon, and 2015 Piedra Libre Vineyards Pinot Noir. I’ve even reviewed one of their sparkling wines under the Schramsberg label, the 2005 J. Schram Sparkling Rosé. Now it’s rare I review this many wines from the same producer, and more rare that I’m reviewing another one today. However, the fruit for today’s wine comes from a vineyard (and vintner) I hold in very high regard, and whose 2014 Cabernet I reviewed in the rightfully titled What Wine Is Meant to Be.

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

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

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

Today’s Wine: 2013 Red Cap Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon

100% Cabernet Sauvignon; 14.6% ABV

The 2013 Red Cap Vineyard Cab is mostly opaque deep ruby in color with deep purple hues in the bowl of the glass. Given a couple of hours to open up, the nose showcases aromas of blackberry, blueberry, redcurrant, violets, volcanic soil, wet slate, green peppercorn, and oak. Meanwhile on the palate I get notes of blueberry, blackcurrant, black cherry, black raspberry, licorice, sweet tobacco, loamy earth, grilled herbs, and a hint of smoke. This is full-bodied with medium acidity, medium (+) tannins, and a medium (+) length finish. Great mountain fruit on this one but the structure is slightly underwhelming. 200 cases produced.

Price: $80. I think this is pretty fairly priced, however there are still markings of a consistent style of winemaking (justifiably so) that makes it very similar to the rest of the Davies bottlings. I’d say go for the namesake Red Cap Vineyards wines for roughly the same price if you’re in the club, or for $15-20 more if you’re not.

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Aged Nuits-St-Georges Perhaps Just Past Its Prime

Today’s Story: Domaine Henri Gouges

I wrote about Domaine Henri Gouges around Thanksgiving 2019 when I reviewed the 2012 Nuits-St-Georges 1er Cru Les Saint Georges and am excited to be returning to the domaine again today.

Though the Gouges family has deep-rooted history in grape farming going back 400 years, Henri Gouges didn’t form his domaine until 1920. When he no longer liked the idea of selling his fruit to négociants, Henri started producing, bottling, and selling his own wine in an effort to make higher quality wines. By 1933 this transition was fully complete and the domaine existed in similar fashion to its current status. A family endeavor throughout its history, Domaine Henri Gouges passed from Henri to his sons Marcel and Michel, then to Pierre and Christian, and finally to cousins Gregory and Antoine Gouges who manage the domaine today.

Undivided since its founding as a domaine, Henri Gouges today sits at roughly 36 acres of vineyards. Several of their holdings include Nuits St. Georges 1er Crus, though Henri Gouges does produce village wines as well. Though the winery and vineyards have been updated over time (including the use of organic viticulture and transition to a gravity flow winery), the domaine’s goal is to produce wines that truly represent and express the terroir. The harvest is carefully inspected and all fruit is completely destemmed, while vinification begins in lined cement vats for approximately 15 days depending on wine and vintage. Once fermentation is complete, the wine is transferred to small oak barrels (typically 25% new) and each is fined with egg whites before light filtration and into the bottle.

Today’s Wine: 1996 Nuits-St-Georges 1er Cru Clos des Porrets – St. Georges

100% Pinot Noir; 13% ABV

The 1996 Clos des Porrets – St. Georges is translucent medium ruby in color and actually almost deep garnet. This was great as a pop-and-pour, with the nose filled with aromas of barnyard, mint, menthol, forest floor, truffle, stemmy underbrush, black olive, and mineral followed up by black cherry, black raspberry, and red florals. The palate is nice as well, but starts to fall apart on the mid-palate with notes of stemmy strawberry, black cherry, cola, rose, sous bois, earthy mushroom, granite, and mineral. The nose steals the show with this bottling. This is light- to medium-bodied with medium (+) acidity, medium tannins, and a medium (+) length finish.

Price: $140 (shared by a good friend who paid $180). I think if the palate was firing on all cylinders, this would be a great value Burgundy. The nose is profound and decidedly the star act, though perhaps this could be a slightly off bottle since the last enjoyed by my friend was said to be exquisite.

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Champagne Charlie

Today’s Story: Champagne Charles Heidsieck

Charles Heidsieck is a well-known Champagne house established by Charles-Camille Heidsieck in 1851 in Reims when he was 29 years old. The grand-nephew of Florens-Louis Heidsieck who established the Champagne Heidsieck et Cie House, Charles grew up amongst the vines and became well-educated alongside a passion for fine Champagne. Quickly recognizing the untapped potential of the Champagne trade in America, Charles traveled to the country in 1852 and won the adoration of New York, titans of business, and the South for his Champagne. He even picked up the nickname Champagne Charlie (of which there is a song and movie titled) along the way thanks to his charm and astute business acumen.

With the success of his Champagne in America, Belgium, and England (amongst France of course), Charles made the audacious purchase of the breathtaking 3rd century chalk cellars known as the Crayères in 1867. Robbed of any light and noise 30 meters below ground, the Crayères can house millions of bottles of Champagne in perfect storage conditions where they age for the minimum four years but at times surpass 40 years. At minimum I suggest you take a look at pictures of these majestic cellars here, which are classified as an UNESCO World Heritage site.

One of the “smaller” top-tier and well-known Champagne houses, Charles Heidsieck consists of about 60 hectares of vines divided between the Marne and Aube departments. These vineyards are all farmed adhering to sustainable viticulture, and they are certified High Environmental Value. The house also holds long-term contracts with winegrowers and cooperatives from whom they purchase extra fruit. In the cellars, a large number of reserve wines have been set aside to provide blending capability into the non-vintage bottlings where, for example, the Brut Réserve consists of about 40% reserve wines with an average age of 10 years.

Today’s Wine: 2008 Brut Millésimé

60% Pinot Noir, 40% Chardonnay; 12% ABV

The 2008 Brut Millésimé is transparent but very vibrant medium gold in color, showcasing beautifully delicate effervescence as well. While this no doubt needs time in the cellar (maybe revisit in 5 years?), the nose displays enticing aromas of ripe pear, golden apple, lemon zest, honeysuckle, crushed rock, brioche, vanilla cream, and almond. The palate is much more tight at this stage, characterized by notes of green apple skins, lemon, lime zest, pineapple, chalk, hazelnut, and lees. This is medium- to full-bodied with racy high acidity and a very tight, precise, and linear attack into a long, long finish.

Price: $100 (though I’ve seen this priced closer to $85-90). I think this is an exquisite Champagne and certainly one I would buy multiple bottles of to cellar. This is a fantastic showing in a fantastic vintage, and I could easily see this bottling appreciating as it falls on more peoples’ radars.

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Incredibly Impressive Willamette Valley Chardonnay

Today’s Story: Walter Scott Wines

Walter Scott Wines was established in 2008 by husband and wife Ken Pahlow and Erica Landon in the Willamette Valley of Oregon. Ken comes from a background in wine, which began in 1994 in production, sales, and harvests at St. Innocent Winery. He later moved to Patricia Green Cellars in 2009, coinciding with the first vintage of Walter Scott La Combe Verte Pinot Noir in exchange for harvest labor. Erica, on the other hand, has a background in the restaurant industry and wine education. Her impressive resume includes sommelier and GM for the Ponzi Family’s Dundee Bistro, wine director at one of Portland’s best restaurants Ten 01, and wine director for Bruce Carey Restaurants. Erica has also taught classes for Wine & Spirits Archive, WSET, and the International Sommelier Guild. Lastly I would be remiss if I forgot to mention the youngest member of the Walter Scott team, Lucille who is the daughter of Ken and Erica. She “joined the team” in 2014, the same year Ken and Erica quit their main jobs to focus 100% on Walter Scott.

Walter Scott sources their fruit from a number of growers in the Willamette Valley AVA, with many in the Eola-Amity Hills area around their “home base.” All of the growers are friends of Ken and Erica, who in their words are people they like to sit around a table with while enjoying a glass of wine. All of these vineyard partners practice dry farming without the use of herbicides, pesticides, or fungicides, while some are also organic or biodynamic. This meshes well with Walter Scott’s goal of producing single vineyard and blended bottlings from old vines that offer clonal diversity from expressive terroir.

In the cellar, Ken practices a more “dynamic” winemaking style in that he never follows a recipe and adapts vintage to vintage. The end goal is to purely let the wines speak for themselves and showcase each unique vineyard site with freshness and purity. Ken only ferments with native or ambient yeasts, minimizes punch-downs or extractive techniques, and remains committed in his attention to detail vintage to vintage in order to seek constant improvement. All of the wines age in French oak barrels, with each barrel a small part of the larger whole.

To learn more about Walter Scott Wines, view pictures of the team and vineyards, or purchase some bottles of your own, check out their website here.

Today’s Wine: 2018 X Novo Vineyard Chardonnay

100% Chardonnay; 13% ABV

The 2018 X Novo Chardonnay is transparent medium gold in color with straw yellow hues. This is an absolutely gorgeous wine from first whiff, offering up a nose of lemon peel, golden apple, quince, dried gravel, reduction (gunpowder and smoke), petrol, limestone, and saline mineral. The palate is equally beautiful, though still pretty tight due to its youth with notes of green apple skins, golden pear, lemon curd, white florals, flint, and crushed rock minerality. This is medium- to full-bodied with gorgeous and mouthwatering high acidity while being very precise and crisp into a long finish. Definitely give this a few more years in the cellar, or drink it over multiple hours now.

Price: $75 (shared by a good friend who paid $65). I think this is a great value Chardonnay, and I know prices are already on the rise as this gets more recognition. Though young, this opened for us and was one of the wines of the night in an incredible lineup, also beating another 2018 Willamette Valley Chardonnay we put it up against.

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Ooh La La

Today’s Story: E. Guigal

I previously wrote about Guigal when I reviewed the 2004 Côte-Rôtie ‘La Turque’ this past February, and I am returning to review the same wine from a younger vintage today.

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 southern Rhône.

Today’s Wine: 2011 Côte-Rôtie ‘La Turque’

93% Syrah, 7% Viognier; 13% ABV

The 2011 La Turque is translucent deep ruby in color. I decanted this for 4-6 hours and it does need more time in the cellar (I’d say 5-7 years or so), but it’s very hard to resist right now. The nose showcases aromas of black cherry, blackberry, plum, bacon fat, maple syrup, smoked game, black olive, cracked black pepper, clove, vanilla, coffee grounds, and oak. Meanwhile the palate displays notes of blueberry, blackberry, plum, black cherry, smoke, barbecue braised beef, bacon fat, toffee, mocha, gravel, and lightly charred oak. This is medium- to full-bodied with high acidity, fine-grained but high tannins, and a very long finish.

Price: $400 average online (I paid $325). At this price point I find it difficult to call any wine a “great value,” however I think this La Turque is absolutely worth its price. I will certainly try to buy more if I come across it again.

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Beautifully Aged Morey-Saint-Denis

Today’s Story: Domaine G. Roumier

I previously wrote about Domaine G. Roumier when I reviewed a much younger 2014 Morey-Saint-Denis 1er Cru Clos de la Bussière back in November, 2019.

Domaine Georges Roumier originated in 1924, however most of their production at that time sold to wine merchants. This changed though, in 1945, when Georges Roumier started bottling wine at the domaine. I’m thankful Roumier made this change, as I’m sure many throughout the wine world are, because the reputation of this domaine has soared higher and Roumier sits as one of the upper-echelon producers in Chambolle-Musigny, Morey-Saint-Denis, and Corton-Charlemagne.

Christophe Roumier and his father Jean-Marie became partners in 1981 to manage the domaine, which as it currently stands covers 11.52 hectares in some of Burgundy’s premier appellations. Christophe has been instrumental in the continued rise of Roumier’s wines, immeasurably due to his very strict and dedicated care for the vines and winemaking process. Christophe produces 11 different bottlings ranging from the village level to Grand Cru, each wine made with this same rigor to produce high-quality, luxurious, profound, and always delicious wines.

All of Roumier’s fruit is hand-harvested and sorted, the village wines are typically made with destemmed fruit (the rest of the wines vary), punchdowns occur during fermentation, all yeasts are natural, and minimal new oak is used for aging (Christophe says he never goes above 30%). I’d love to dive deeper into the farming and winemaking practices, but I believe this Decanter article does an incredible job and suggest you read it if you’re interested in learning more.

Today’s Wine: 1995 Morey-Saint-Denis 1er Cru Clos de la Bussière

100% Pinot Noir; 13% ABV

The 1995 Clos de la Bussière is transparent pale to medium garnet in color with slight bricking around the edges of the glass. This took about 45 minutes to blossom, and I decanted it to remove some sediment and cork that broke off in the bottle. The beautifully tertiary and well-integrated nose showcases aromas of black raspberry, black cherry, rose petal, dried red licorice, forest floor, mild green herbs, and prominent black truffle. Meanwhile on the palate, I get notes of black cherry, dried cranberry, underbrush, black truffle, sous bois, wet gravel, and pepper. This is light-bodied with still lively medium (+) acidity, medium (-) tannins, and a long finish. Absolutely gorgeous aged Burgundy that is perfectly balanced and perfectly aged, with the structure still a tour de force.

Price: $700 (I paid $315). I never turn down an opportunity to taste Roumier, particularly one with this much age and especially the provenance of having one owner before me. If you don’t like old wines that are dominated by forest floor and truffle, this certainly wouldn’t be for you. But for me, it’s well worth the $315 paid.

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Surprising and Fun Ruby “Port” From Calistoga

Today’s Story: Chateau Montelena

I previously wrote about Chateau Montelena with the 2011 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, my first post on this website, and then with the 2009 Chardonnay early this year. I figured it would be fun to return to Montelena today with a unique and special bottling.

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.

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: Twenty Year Ruby

100% Syrah; 20.3% ABV

The Twenty Year Ruby is translucent medium ruby to deep garnet in color. The nose is rather beautiful and surprisingly complex, showcasing aromas of bing cherry, raspberry liquor, strawberry shortcake, licorice, spice cake, chocolate, hazelnut, almond, baking spice, and vanilla. Meanwhile the palate offers equal depth with notes of orange peel, cranberry, red plum, red licorice, fig, anise, caramel, mint, chocolate, and clove. This is full-bodied with high acidity, light tannins, and a long finish. An outstanding and fun wine, though only available to Chateau Montelena club members in California or with visits to the winery.

Price: $125 (club price). I don’t think I can call this 500ml a great value at $125 each, however it is a delicious wine and surpassed all expectations I had for it. If you’re in the Montelena club, why not give it a try.

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Classic Napa Cab With Some Age on It

Today’s Story: Silver Oak

Silver Oak was established in 1972 by friends Ray Twomey Duncan, a Colorado entrepreneur, and Justin Meyer, a winemaker who trained at the famous Christian Brothers Winery. The two shared a vision of focusing solely on Cabernet Sauvignon and aging their wines in strictly American oak to produce a Napa Cabernet Sauvignon built for cellaring. Silver Oak quickly grew out of their dairy barn and inaugural 1,000 case release, climbing over the following decades to become one of the top selling restaurant wines around the country. Though Justin Meyer retired in 1994 and sold his shares to the Duncan family in 2001, winemaker Daniel Baron picked up the reigns having studied Justin’s ways and Silver Oak continued to make consistent wines. Nate Weis has been winemaker since 2014, and to this day Ray’s sons David and Tim Duncan own and operate the winery.

Silver Oak consists of over 400 acres of vineyards between Napa Valley and Alexander Valley, all of which grow under sustainable viticulture practices. The vineyard management and winemaking teams are both delicate in changes that occur in the vineyards, but they also use a great deal of science and historical accounting in deciding when to pick the fruit. Silver Oak practices Berry Sensory Analysis, using tools to discover and analyze the sugar, acid, pH, and flavor of the fruit in addition to its pulp, seeds, skin, and texture. Coupled with catalogued details of each vineyard and block going back several decades, Silver Oak can pick at optimal ripeness for the wine they want each vintage.

In the cellars, the Silver Oak winemaking team led by Nate Weis prides themselves on producing consistent and high-quality Cabernet Sauvignon using both science and art. With only three winemakers in the history of Silver Oak (with overlap between each “changing of the guard”), it’s no surprise that Silver Oak offers a similar profile vintage after vintage. Interestingly, Silver Oak blends their young wines before aging and therefore they get an image of what the wine will be like before going into oak and picking up any characteristics of the wood. After nearly five years of barrel and bottle aging, Silver Oak releases their wines which are both enjoyable in their youth and have the structure to age for several decades in the cellar.

Fun Fact: Silver Oak owns their own barrel cooperage in Higbee, Missouri and I highly suggest taking a scroll through the images and barrel-making process on the website here.

Today’s Wine: 1995 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon

96% Cabernet Sauvignon, 3% Cabernet Franc, 1% Petit Verdot; 13.3% ABV

The 1995 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon is deep garnet in color with ruby hues. There’s absolutely no bricking yet, and the wine is somewhat translucent. I decanted this for an hour or so, but in reality this was singing as a pop-and-pour. The nose showcases aromas of black plum, juicy blackberry, redcurrant, blueberry, licorice, forest floor, and cigar box with that classic Silver Oak clove and vanilla. On the palate, I get notes of black cherry, cassis, plum, tilled earth, green underbrush, cracked black pepper, cedar, and more Silver Oak vanilla and oak. This is medium-bodied with medium acidity, medium (+) but integrated tannins, and a medium (+) finish. Drink up if you have it.

Price: $135 (shared by a friend). I always struggle to call Silver Oak a great value wine, largely because every vintage tastes very similar and these fit more into the “people pleasing” camp of wines. The one thing you can credit Silver Oak with is consistency, but I think there are more exciting wines for the price. All depends what you want out of a Napa Cab.

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Young and Rather Tropical Willamette Valley Chardonnay

Today’s Story: Antica Terra

I first wrote about Antica Terra back in January 2020 with the 2017 Botanica Pinot Noir, though these wines hold a fairly sizable allocation in our cellar and I was destined to return to them sooner or later.

Antica Terra was established in 2005 by Scott Adelson, John Mavredakis, and Michael Kramer, three friends and partners who had collaborated before and dreamed of owning a vineyard together. This being said, vines were first planted in 1989 on the property, an 11 acre vineyard on pre-historic seabed in the Eola-Amity Hills of Oregon’s Willamette Valley. Having taken ownership of their new vineyard, Scott, John, and Michael started seeking a winemaker and their crosshairs quickly fell upon Maggie Harrison. Maggie began her winemaking career at Sine Qua Non (known for $200-$1,000+ bottles of cult Rhone varietal wines) working for Manfred Krankl and her expertise was quickly realized. In 2004, Manfred encouraged her to begin her own Syrah project on the side, and Lillian was born (I reviewed two of these Syrahs previously). Maggie worked tirelessly on her passion project wines while still tending to barrels at Sine Qua Non, demonstrating her pure passion for the craft. When Scott, John, and Michael asked Maggie to become their winemaker, she refused profusely though the three friends ultimately convinced her to simply visit the property to offer her opinions of the vineyard. 26 seconds after Maggie stepped foot into the vineyards and observed the fossils, oaks, and vines, “she found herself hunched beneath one of the trees, phone in hand, explaining to her husband that they would be moving to Oregon.”

The vineyard of Antica Terra is rather intense, both in appearance above the earth and underground for the vines. The vines find home amongst fossilized oyster shells and sandstone with no topsoil, leaving them to struggle for nutrients and in turn producing incredibly unique fruit. Aboveground, the vineyard is strewn with boulders, steep grades, and vines that (due to the soil) appear spindly and frail. Fruit for Antica Terra wines forms in tiny clusters with thick-skinned grapes that are half the size that is typical for their varieties and the canopy of these plants is incredibly sensitive. Maggie provides immense care and attention to these delicate vines, which culminates into unique and immeasurably profound wines. Antica Terra produces four Pinot Noir bottlings, two Chardonnays, and one Rosé.

To explore the wines of Antica Terra, join the mailing list, or plan a visit, check out their website here.

Today’s Wine: 2018 Aurata Chardonnay

100% Chardonnay; 14.1% ABV

The 2018 Aurata Chardonnay is transparent medium to deep gold in color. We let this slow ox for probably an hour or two before drinking it over the following hour. The nose is much more tropical than I imagined, showcasing aromas of white peach, apricot, pineapple, lemon zest, honeysuckle, wet river stone, and delicate green herbs. Meanwhile the palate is tropical as well with notes of lemon, green apple, tropical citrus, white florals, dill, chalk, and gravel. This is medium- to full-bodied with vibrant high acidity and is very dry and nicely rounded into a medium (+) length finish.

Price: $110. I’m very anxious to return to this bottling in another 5 years or so, as it was much different than I was expecting in its youth. On the value side of things, however, I think there are better options out there sub-$100. I remain a huge fan and proponent of Antica Terra Pinot Noir, though.

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Legendary Barolo in a Great Spot Now

Today’s Story: Bruno Giacosa

I previously wrote about Bruno Giacosa back in April when I reviewed the delightful and refreshing 2017 Roero Arneis. Though I have a bottle or two of Giacosa Barolo hiding, I have not tried it until today when a good friend of mine shared a bottle of the 1996 vintage.

Bruno Giacosa was one of the most respected and legendary winemakers not only in Piedmont, Italy where he crafted some of the most highly regarded and traditionally made Barolo and Barbaresco, but throughout Italy and the world. At age 13, Bruno helped his father and grandfather in the cellar of their Langhe winery and joined the family business full-time two years later. Though Bruno never studied to become an enologist, his appreciation of traditionally made Barolo and Barbaresco spawned from this time with his family and instilled in him some of the most important practices he followed for his entire career until his death at the age of 88 in early 2018.

Bruno was quite adept at selecting parcels and fruit for his wines, and always emphasized intentionally small grape yields, limiting treatments in the vineyards, traditional vinification methods, and allowing the wines to honestly display the terroir and typicity through minimal intervention. Historically, Bruno crafted his wines with fruit sourced/purchased from some of the greatest crus of Barolo and Barbaresco and it wasn’t until the early 1980s he purchased his own vineyards as estate-bottling rose in prominence. In 1982, Bruno purchased the Falletto di Serralunga d’Alba vineyard which became the source of arguably his greatest Barolos ever made, followed in near significance by his purchase of the Asili and Rabajá plots in Barbaresco in 1996. Today, the Bruno Giacosa estate is in the capable hands of his daughter Bruna alongside his longtime enologist Dante Scaglione and they continue Bruno’s winemaking philosophies while respecting traditional techniques.

Today’s Wine: 1996 Barolo Falletto di Serralunga d’Alba

100% Nebbiolo; 14% ABV

The 1996 Barolo Falletto di Serralunga d’Alba is translucent medium to deep garnet in color. We decanted this for probably 3-4 hours and I think this is in a great drinking window. The nose showcases classic aromas of black cherry, cranberry, rose petal, musty cellar, forest floor, Alba truffle, anise, tar, thyme, and slate. I actually prefer the palate on this wine, however, which displays notes of baked strawberry, black raspberry, rose, black licorice, truffle, sous bois, damp green herbs, and chocolate. This is medium-bodied with lively high acidity, medium dusty tannins, and a long finish.

Price: $530 (shared by a good friend). As you might guess, this is a pretty impossible price level for me to discuss the value proposition. While “not a good value,” this is a special and ethereal wine that hopefully you get to taste.

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Aged Pauillac Striking up With the First Growths

Today’s Story: Château Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande

I previously (and somewhat recently) wrote about Château Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande and have reviewed the 1966, 1986, 2003, and 2008 vintages on this blog. Though I’ve tasted a number of other vintages including 1979, 1996, 2005, and 2014, the 1989 vintage remained elusive…until today.

Château Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande is a Second Growth (Deuxième Cru) estate based on the Bordeaux Wine Official Classification of 1855. Pichon Lalande is considered by many to be a classic example of Pauillac, known for its deep, concentrated layers of ripe fruit accompanied by notes of cassis, tobacco, and earth.

With nothing short of a somewhat tumultuous history, Pichon Lalande’s ownership changed hands over the years and earned its name when the founder’s daughter Therese received it as a dowry for her marriage to Jacques de Pichon Longueville. During the 18th century, the estate was dominated by women (Therese de Rauzan, Germaine de Lajus, and Marie Branda de Terrefort) throughout the winemaking process until Baron Joseph de Pichon Longueville took over for his mother. In 1850, with his death, the estate split between his two sons and three daughters and ultimately resulted in the division of Comtesse de Lalande and Pichon Baron.

With no familial heirs, Edouard Miailhe and Louis Miailhe purchased Pichon Lalande following WWI. Edouard’s daughter, May-Eliane de Lencquesaing, took over management in 1978 and became a prominent ambassador for Bordeaux wines while dramatically increasing quality of her estate. One of her major endeavors, and possibly most famous, was growing the size of Pichon Lalande from 40 hectares of vines to 89. In 2007, however, May-Eliane sold a majority stake of the estate to the Rouzaud family, owners of Roederer Champagne, and management changes as well as renovations took place.

Today’s Wine: 1989 Château Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande

45% Cabernet Sauvignon, 35% Merlot, 12% Cabernet Franc, 8% Petit Verdot; 12.5% ABV

The 1989 Pichon Lalande is translucent deep ruby in color with deep garnet hues. There’s absolutely no bricking either, which is fantastic. We served this as a pop and pour and let it develop in the glass, with the nose showcasing aromas of blackcurrant, blackberry, pencil shavings, tobacco, forest floor, cedar, graphite, green pepper, and eucalyptus. Meanwhile on the palate, I get notes of redcurrant, cassis, blackberry, black cherry, cigar box, scorched earth, green underbrush, bell pepper, gravel, and clove. This is medium-bodied with medium (+) acidity, medium tannins, and a long finish. Beautifully balanced and not showing any signs of its age yet.

Price: $300 (but this was shared by a good friend). Though not nearly an inexpensive bottle of wine, if you can verify provenance and find a bottle with a great fill level, I would give this a shot. Pichon Lalande has outperformed with each of the 9 vintages I’ve tried and oftentimes these drink like the First Growths. Great value.

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Balanced and Easy-Drinking Vosne-Romanée

Today’s Story: Domaine Cecile Tremblay

I previously wrote about the fantastic Domaine Cecile Tremblay in November, 2019 with the 2011 Chambolle-Musigny Les Cabottes. As these wines are fantastic and prices have skyrocketed since I started buying them, I am excited to try her Vosne-Romanée today.

Domaine Cecile Tremblay has a very interesting history, partly because she did not start making wines until 2003 though her family owned vineyards for several generations. Cecile is the great-granddaughter of Edouard Jayer, uncle of the famed Henri Jayer (go Google some of his wines, and perhaps sell your car to buy a bottle). Cecile’s family inherited vineyards from Edouard, though the two generations before her leased out the land to other producers and did not make their own wine. In 2003, however, with the expiration of a lease on three hectares of vines Cecile started making wine under her own label with a plan for further growth. For instance, the Domaine owns roughly 10 hectares of vineyard land and while more of this becomes free from leasing agreements in 2021, Cecile rented or purchased land along the way in communes such as Gevrey-Chambertin.

When Cecile took over her family’s land for her own use, the vineyards were in no standing to produce high quality wines. The producers leasing the land, for instance, used too much fertilizer for Cecile’s taste and utilized herbicides instead of ploughing. Throughout her time thus far as a winemaker, Cecile transitioned to organic farming and many of her practices include biodynamic farming measures as well. During maintenance of her vineyards, Cecile ploughs the soil mechanically and with horses while using copper sulfate to prevent mildew and other fungi.

Similar to her views on caring for her vines, Cecile is very traditional in her winemaking process. She presses her grapes with an old-fashioned vertical press and her wines see only a moderate amount of new wood during fermentation and aging. All of this effort culminates into wines that are refined and elegant, though built for the long haul.

Today’s Wine: 2011 Vosne-Romanée

100% Pinot Noir; 13% ABV

The 2011 Vosne-Romanée is pale to medium ruby in color and translucent. Given some time to blossom in the glass, this opens to showcase a nose of black raspberry, strawberry, cherry, pine, leather, tilled earth, mint, eucalyptus, cinnamon, and a hint of baking spice. Meanwhile on the palate, I get notes of black cherry, plum, cranberry, tobacco, green herbs, gravel, and truffle. This is medium-bodied with high acidity, medium (-) tannins, and a long finish. This was much less complex compared to her Chambolle-Musigny bottling I reviewed last year, though it is very well-balanced and enjoyable to drink.

Price: $460 (but this was shared by a good friend who paid $120). While no doubt a delicious wine, I can’t see this being worth the $460 I see it going for nowadays online. For my very fortunate friend who spent $120, however, I’d say it’s worth that price.

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Fun Still Red From a Legendary Champagne Producer in Bouzy

Today’s Story: Champagne Paul Bara

Champagne Paul Bara is a small, family run Champagne house established in 1860 in the village of Bouzy in the Montagne de Reims wine region of France. Though initially the property consisted of a farm and a cellar with some vines, Paul Bara was the first of the family to sell Champagne under his name during the 1950s. In 1965, the family transformed a barn into their own press room and winery and set their sights on greater heights. 10 years later, in 1975, Paul Bara began exporting Champagne to the United States and was one of the first houses to do so. As he neared retirement, Paul’s daughter and sixth generation Chantale started helping to produce the wines and run the business before co-running the business in 1986 and later taking over. Since 2018, Chantale’s sister Evelyne Dauvergne began taking on more responsibilities as well.

Champagne Paul Bara consists of 11 hectares of all Grand Cru vineyards in Bouzy, with about 9.5 hectares planted to Pinot Noir and the remaining 1.5 planted to Chardonnay. The vines are rather low yielding and the family practices sustainable viticulture with a major focus on clean farming and biodiversity in the vineyards. All fruit is hand-harvested and hand-sorted, with winemaking in the cellar sticking to more traditional methods and only using first press juice. During aging, the wines rest in the impressive century-old chalk cellars dug by hand 11 meters below the surface of the earth. Total production is around 7,500 cases per year.

To learn more about Champagne Paul Bara and view pictures of the estate, check out their website here.

Today’s Wine: 2008 Bouzy Rouge Coteaux Champenois Grand Cru

100% Pinot Noir; 12.5% ABV

The 2008 Bouzy Rouge Coteaux Champenois Grand Cru is translucent pale to medium ruby in color. Given some time to blossom in the glass, the nose showcases aromas of black cherry, cranberry, black raspberry, olive, forest floor, underbrush, and crushed rock. Meanwhile, the palate displays notes of ripe sweet cherry, stemmy strawberry, rose, sous bois, light grilled herbs, mild peppery spice, stony mineral, and a hint of smoke. This is light-bodied with medium (+) acidity, light tannins, and a medium (+) finish.

Price: $55. This is certainly a fun wine, being a still Pinot Noir from a Champagne house known for their incredible quality and Grand Cru holdings, but I don’t think it has the complexities or depth to live up to the price. Nonetheless, it was an easy-drinking and tasty wine.

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Perhaps the Greatest Name in Crozes-Hermitage

Today’s Story: Domaine Alain Graillot

Domaine Alain Graillot is a family owned and operated Northern Rhône wine estate established by Alain in 1985. Though he cut his teeth working in Burgundy and received advice from Jacques Seysses at Domaine Dujac, Alain returned to his home in Crozes-Hermitage to fulfill the dream of making his own wines. In the short few decades since, Alain’s wines rose to legendary status and are widely considered the greatest coming out of Crozes-Hermitage. The wines sell each year on an allocation basis, with about 50% leaving France and 50% remaining in France with large amounts going to the country’s best restaurants. Though Alain retired in 2008, he is still highly involved at the domaine where his sons Maxime and Antoine now hold the helm.

Though Alain rented vineyards to produce his wines in 1985, by 1988 he began acquiring them and the domaine today consists of about 22 hectares of organically farmed vines. The vineyards are planted mostly to Syrah (Alain’s passion variety), though they do contain about 3 hectares planted to white varieties of Marsanne and Roussanne. In addition to the holdings in Crozes-Hermitage, Alain Graillot owns small parcels of Syrah in Saint-Joseph and a very tiny parcel in Hermitage. Graillot’s vines are incredibly low-yielding thanks to severe pruning, and all fruit is harvested by hand.

In the cellar, Alain and now his son Maxime follow traditional vinification methods and utilize whole cluster fermentation with the red wines (except for the Saint-Joseph which uses destemmed fruit). White wines ferment 50% in one year old oak barrels purchased from top Burgundy estates and 50% in stainless steel tanks. After being blended at the end of winter, the white wines age before bottling in the spring. The reds, on the other hand, ferment in concrete vats and age for one year with about 80% going to one to three year old used Burgundy barrels and the remaining 20% going to vat. Before bottling, the reds are lightly filtered but unfined. Total production is around 10,000 cases annually.

Today’s Wine: 2017 Crozes-Hermitage

100% Syrah; 13.5% ABV

The 2017 Crozes-Hermitage is opaque deep purple in color, which leaves fairly heavy staining on the glass. After spending 2-3 hours in the decanter, this opens up with aromas of plum, blackberry, blueberry, black licorice, violets, black olive, wet rocky earth, underbrush, smoke, and a hint of oak. The palate, meanwhile, is opulent and decidedly sexy with notes of blackberry, cassis, black plum, tobacco, black tea leaf, scorched earth, crushed rock minerality, black pepper, and mild oak-driven spice. This is medium-bodied with medium (+) acidity, fine-grained but high tannins, and a medium (+) length finish. Give this another 3-5 years and it’ll be singing.

Price: $35. I think this is somewhere between fairly-priced and a great value. I know this is young but it has great finesse to it already that I think will improve with bottle age. It also exhibits a great sense of place that would be a great addition into any Syrah lover’s lineup, particularly if they’re not familiar with Crozes-Hermitage.

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Elegant and Refined Sangiovese in a Tough Vintage

Today’s Story: Isole e Olena

Isole e Olena is a Tuscan wine estate located in the heart of Chianti Classico and was established in 1952 by the De Marchi family. The family purchased two distinct estates, Isole and Olena, each with multi-century histories of their own and combined them into this new venture. In 1976, fourth generation winemaker Paolo De Marchi left his home in Piedmont and joined the family estate of Isole e Olena. Paolo immediately set about enhancing the quality of the wines and modernizing their approach, primarily by planting non-indigenous varieties in single vineyard plots. On the quality front, Paolo will sell off any finished wine he does not feel meets the quality standards of his estate and therefore he keeps production smaller than it could be. Today Isole e Olena consists of about 290 hectares of which 50 hectares are planted to vine, and the family practices sustainable viticulture. Through a traditional and minimally invasive philosophy in the cellar, Paolo crafts wines meant to showcase the variety alongside a sense of place for the Chianti Classico region.

Today’s Wine: 2014 Cepparello

100% Sangiovese; 14.5% ABV

The 2014 Cepparello is almost opaque deep garnet in color with ruby hues in the bowl. Given two hours in the decanter, the wine opens to showcase a nose of plum, black cherry, blackberry, blue florals, leather, sun-dried potting soil, wet slate, oregano, chocolate, and oaky spice. Moving onto the palate, I get notes of dusty cherry, black plum, black raspberry, dried violets, sweet tobacco, scorched earth, charred garden herbs, balsamic, espresso, and baking spice. This is medium- to full-bodied with medium (+) acidity, high but fine-grained tannins, and a long finish. Superb depth and quality for such a tough vintage in Tuscany.

This is the estate’s flagship wine, first created in 1980. Since a 100% Sangiovese wine could not be labeled Chianti Classico, Paolo received acknowledgement for this wine as a “Super Tuscan” and it is therefore labeled Toscana IGT. Many credit this wine as a huge step up for Chianti Classico Sangiovese, and it is coveted by many in the world of wine.

Price: $79. It’s pretty remarkable what Isole e Olena did with the Cepparello in this tough vintage, and I do think there’s a solid value proposition here. I could easily put this up with the $120ish bottles I’ve enjoyed from Tuscany, even from stronger vintages. This is a beautiful and elegant Sangiovese with plenty of gas left in the tank.

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Another Stunning 2014 Bordeaux

Today’s Story: Château Pontet-Canet

Château Pontet-Canet is a historic Bordeaux wine estate located in the Left Bank appellation of Pauillac. In 1705, Jean-François de Pontet (who was Governor of the Médoc) acquired a few acres and planted them to vine. By the 1720s, Jean-François and his descendants had expanded the estate by purchasing parcels in a place known as Canet and Château Pontet-Canet was born. For over a century, Château Pontet-Canet remained in the Pontet family hands and ultimately received classification as a Fifth Growth (Cinquième Cru) in the Bordeaux Wine Official Classification of 1855. A decade later, in 1865, wine merchant Herman Cruse purchased Pontet-Canet and marked the first change in ownership since its establishment.

Though the Cruse family maintained ownership of Pontet-Canet for 110 years, the estate never seemed to live up to its quality potential. This began to change, however, when Cognac merchant Guy Tesseron purchased the estate in 1975 and set about replanting the vines in desperate need of repair. The family then worked on transitioning the vineyards to sustainable farming and a more “minimally invasive” philosophy of viticulture. When Alfred Tesseron took over in 1994, this ultimately spawned into a transition to organic and then biodynamic viticulture, which Pontet-Canet moved to fully by 2005 (they were certified organic and biodynamic several years later in 2010).

This minimally invasive philosophy for the vineyards transfers into the actual winemaking process as well. Beginning with harvest, all fruit is hand-sorted before being destemmed and hand-sorted again. The wine ferments with natural yeasts and minimal intervention, with maceration lasting an average of four weeks before the wine is run off with gravity. Over time, Pontet-Canet has reduced the amount of new oak they use so as to not mask the expression of place in the wine and today the Grand Vin ages in 50% new oak, 35% dolia (concrete amphorae made specifically for Pontet-Canet), and 15% 1-year-old barrels. The 2nd wine (Hauts de Pontet-Canet), meanwhile, ages in 100% 1-year-old oak barrels.

Pontet-Canet is a pretty large estate, today consisting of 120 hectares with 81 hectares planted to vine. The breakdown by variety is 62% Cabernet Sauvignon, 32% Merlot, 4% Cabernet Franc, and 2% Petit Verdot. To learn more about Château Pontet-Canet, I recommend visiting their website here for, at the very least, some great pictures.

Today’s Wine: 2014 Château Pontet-Canet

65% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, 4% Cabernet Franc, 1% Petit Verdot; 13.5% ABV

The 2014 Pontet-Canet is opaque deep ruby in color. I know this is young, but in an effort to continue my tasting of various 2014 Bordeaux wines I cracked into it early. With that in mind, I decanted this bottle for 6 hours and drank it over the following 2 hours. Once this opens up, the nose showcases classic Pauillac aromas of blackcurrant, black raspberry, plum, redcurrant, lavender, cigar box, pencil shavings, loamy earth, graphite, green herbs, cedar spill, and mild oaky spice. Meanwhile on the palate I get notes of crème de cassis, blackberry, plum, black cherry, violet, anise, tobacco, wet earth, dried coffee grounds, chocolate truffle, black pepper, clove, and a hint of oak. This is full-bodied with beautiful high acidity, high grippy tannins, and a long finish of 45+ seconds. This has plenty of elegance right now, though it is still pure power and should surely develop into an iron fist in a velvet glove.

Price: $120. I think this is a very nice value, as I’m finding with a lot of 2014 Left Bank Bordeaux. Particularly when overshadowed by the 2015 and 2016 vintages, wines like this provide great quality for the price and are just starting to come into their own. I highly recommend adding this Pontet-Canet to your 2014 collections.

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Three Rising Stars in Barolo

Today’s Story: Trediberri

Trediberri is a relatively new wine estate established by father and son Federico and Nicola Oberto alongside their friend Vladimiro Rambaldi in 2007. That year, the trio purchased 5 hectares of vineyards in the hamlet of Berri in the westernmost area of La Morra in Piedmont, Italy. Federico has wine in his blood, having been cellar master at Renato Ratti from 1970 to 2005. His son Nicola, on the other hand, left a career in finance to return home to La Morra and pursue his true passion of wine, having wished he studied winemaking during college instead. Last but not least, Vladimiro is a banker by trade but he shares a passion for wine and La Morra while guiding the financial interests of Trediberri. Together the three are Trediberri, which translates to “the three from Berri.”

In addition to their original 5 hectares of vines, Trediberri owns and farms 2.8 hectares between Rocche dell’Annunziata and Torriglione and they rent 3 hectares of Dolcetto and Nebbiolo in Vicoforte. The portfolio is largely focused on Barolo (Nebbiolo), but they do produce Barbera and Sauvignon Blanc on top of the rented Dolcetto and Nebbiolo (for Langhe Nebbiolo). All of the Trediberri vineyards are certified organic, and the winemaking philosophy focuses on finding balance and a true, transparent sense of place. To this end, winemaking is more traditional in style and the team prefers vinifying in cement tanks with long maceration, aging in large oak botti, and minimal SO2 additions. To learn more, particularly about each vineyard site, check out the Trediberri website here.

Today’s Wine: 2016 Barolo

100% Nebbiolo; 14% ABV

The 2016 Barolo is deep garnet in color and slightly translucent. I know this is major infanticide, but I bought an extra bottle to review at this very young age while the remaining ones rest for 5-10+ years. This justifiably required a lengthy decanting, totaling 6-7 hours for me and I drank the bottle over the following 3 hours or so. Though certainly tight, the nose emits aromas of tart cherry, black raspberry, cranberry, rose petal, dried earth, tar, savory green herbs, and oak. The palate took all night to open up, eventually revealing notes of sour cherry, strawberry, raspberry, licorice, violet and rose, pipe tobacco, charred earth, rocky mineral, and a hint of oak. This is medium- to full-bodied with high acidity, high tannins, and a long finish. A classic Barolo that is both elegant and powerful with beautiful concentration and length.

Price: $50. This Barolo has an outstanding QPR and the Trediberri name lives up to all the hype I’ve read about them. While barely getting into an approachable window with a lot of air, this is a well-structured and gorgeous wine built for the cellar. You will thank yourself down the line if you stock up today.

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Beauty on Atlas Peak

Today’s Story: Acumen Wines

Acumen Wines is a boutique estate established by entrepreneur Eric Yuan on Atlas Peak in Napa Valley in 2012. Alongside founding winemaker Denis Malbec and acclaimed viticulturist Garrett Buckland, Eric purchased the 32 acre Attelas Vineyard (planted in 1992) high up on Atlas Peak. After the estate’s inaugural vintage in 2013, Acumen expanded in 2014 by purchasing the 84 acre Edcora Vineyard which sits 350 feet higher in elevation next to the famed Stagecoach Vineyard. Totaling 116 acres of certified organic vineyards, Acumen today crafts small amounts of Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc modeled after the great, classic wines of the 1960s and 1970s. (They do have small blocks of Merlot, Malbec, Cabernet Franc, and Petit Verdot for blending as well.) Following the passing of the great Denis Malbec all too soon, Phillip Titus came in as winemaker and continues to make precise, well-structured wines in a classic style to showcase the brutal and rugged terroir of Atlas Peak.

Acumen produces two distinct “ranges” of wine, the PEAK bottlings and the Mountainside bottlings. The PEAK wines are produced in limited quantities from the best vineyard blocks and best barrels, offering a Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, and two single vineyard Cabernet Sauvignons (Attelas and Edcora). The Mountainside wines, on the other hand, are meant to open the estate to a wider audience of wine lovers and, at lower prices, include a Sauvignon Blanc, Red Blend, and Cabernet Sauvignon. To learn more about these wines or the estate itself, check out their website here.

Today’s Wine: 2013 PEAK Attelas Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon

84% Cabernet Sauvignon, 11% Merlot, 2% Petit Verdot, 2% Cabernet Franc, 1% Malbec; 13.3% ABV

The 2013 Attelas Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon is opaque deep ruby in color with nearly black hues in the bowl of the glass. I decanted this for about 3 hours, as it is incredibly youthful and should be gorgeous in 5-7 more years. The nose opens with aromas of blackberry, blueberry, plum, violet, anise, tobacco, dried earth, graphite, charred green herbs, mild baking spice, and a hint of oak. Meanwhile the palate showcases notes of blackcurrant, blueberry, black cherry, licorice, cigar box, scorched earth, gravel, coffee, chocolate, and a hint of ground pepper. This is medium- to full-bodied with medium (+) acidity, firm medium (+) tannins, and a long finish. 360 cases produced.

Price: $150 (I paid $70 on sale). While this is a fantastic wine with nothing but potential to get better, the $150 level is tough for me to call it a great value. The winery was even selling this for $225 not too long ago before they sold out… That being said, I would certainly pay $100-120 for this wine and the $70 I got it for is an absolute steal. Tremendous effort and another gorgeous wine from the late, great Denis Malbec.

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Perfectly Balanced Châteauneuf-du-Pape and a Bizarre Backstory

Today’s Story: Xavier Vignon

Xavier Vignon is a well-known wine consultant and négociant, specializing in the wines of the Rhône Valley and in particular Châteauneuf-du-Pape. The son of an agriculturalist and stone mason, Xavier grew up with the mentality that hard work and determination is necessary in everything one does. With a mind for science and music, Xavier joined a paleontology club that took him to Reims, Champagne and he just so happened to launch a passion for wine while there. While he waited for admission to study France’s National Diploma of Oenology, Xavier worked harvests in Champagne for multiple houses and built up experiences with wine along the way. When he was finally admitted, he took a spot in Montpellier and received a dual degree in oenology and agronomy. Before settling down in the Rhône Valley, however, Xavier traveled to and worked in Alsace, Bordeaux, Napa, and Australia to perfect his craft. In 1996, Xavier started working as a wine consultant for a few dozen estates and he was centered in the region of Vaucluse.

Around the early 2000s, Xavier started putting some focus on a brand of his own through a négociant model. He began bottling his wines under Xavier Vins, and this small production endeavor was largely for himself and friends in an anonymous fashion. Xavier Vins released its first Châteauneuf-du-Pape in 2007, and soon fell onto the radar of Robert Parker. Parker praised Xavier’s wines, giving all scores over 90 points, and in 2012 Xavier left the Oenological Institute of Champagne to devote more time on his own wines. Though Xavier continues to consult for a number of wineries to this day, his namesake wines are his bread and butter and he crafts them at Château Husson since he does not have his own domaine.

Today’s Wine: 2001 Châteauneuf-du-Pape Cuvée Ange

Unknown blend of 13 AOP Châteauneuf-du-Pape varieties; 14.5% ABV

The 2001 Cuvée Ange is a very special wine in the Xavier Vignon portfolio, as it is named after his son Ange who was born in the year 2001. What’s more, this is also a highly unusual wine in that Xavier sought out some of the best 2001 Châteauneuf-du-Pape wines from his partner winemakers over the course of nearly a decade and he did not blend them until 2010. Not stopping there, the blended wine went into barrels for further aging, and these barrels were submerged in tanks of wine to preserve the freshness of fruit. This wine was not bottled until 2019 (!!) to coincide with Ange’s 18th birthday, and the result is an unbelievably balanced, complex, and deep beauty of a wine.

In the glass, the 2001 Cuvée Ange is deep garnet in color and almost opaque. I decanted this for 3 hours, but it really started showing its best after about 4.5 hours as I was drinking it. The gorgeous, complex nose showcases aromas of blackberry, plum, black cherry, anise, violet, cigar box, cured game, truffle, forest floor, crushed rock, thyme, clove, and bright mineral. The palate is equally complex, displaying notes of black plum, cassis, inky blackberry, sweet tobacco, smoked red meat, freshly tilled soil, smoke, coffee grounds, cracked black pepper, dark chocolate, baking spice, and stony minerality. Still incredibly youthful and beautifully balanced, this is full-bodied with medium (+) acidity, medium (+) velvety tannins, and a medium (+) length finish.

Price: $90. I think this is very appropriately priced, as it is beautifully deep, complex, and full of life. It is also an incredibly unique and fun wine that honestly beat any expectation I had set for it.

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Traditional 2015 Brunello at a Friendly Price

Today’s Story: Mastrojanni

Mastrojanni is an Italian wine estate located in Castelnuovo dell’Abate of the Montalcino region in the province of Siena. It was established by lawyer Gabriele Mastrojanni in 1975 when he purchased the San Pio and Loreto estates and planted his first vines. Though little viticultural activity existed in this area when Gabriele purchased the estates, he viewed the soil as perfect for Brunello di Montalcino and planted his entire vineyard to Sangiovese with a goal of crafting wines after the great Biondi-Santi. The goal of creating exceptional Brunello di Montalcino has not changed over the years, but the estate grew with the times and now consists of 240 acres of which 80 are planted to vine (42 acres of Sangiovese for Brunello). For their other bottlings, Mastrojanni also grows Cabernet Sauvignon, Ciliegiolo, Moscato, Malvasia di Candia, and Sauvignon Blanc.

Since the very beginning, tradition is the name of the game at Mastrojanni. Beginning in the vineyards of gravel, clay, limestone, and sandstone which cause the vines to struggle, low yields coupled with a more hands-off approach create fruit full of character and quality. At the winery and in the cellars themselves, traditional and minimally invasive winemaking find themselves at home as well, with the winemaking team favoring finesse and a sense of place over heavy-handedness. Though the estate sold to the Illy family (yes the coffee family) in 2008, the traditions, mentality, and passion of Gabriele live on thanks to Franceso Illy’s love of the wines before Gabriele’s passing. Improvements continue to be made at Mastrojanni, with the estate now certified organic while instituting higher quality controls and improving winemaking equipment.

To learn more about Mastrojanni or read through their portfolio of wines, check out the website here.

Today’s Wine: 2015 Brunello di Montalcino

100% Sangiovese; 14.5% ABV

The 2015 Brunello di Montalcino is somewhat translucent and medium garnet in color. I decanted this bottle for about 2 hours and drank it over the following 2 hours or so. Once this opens up, the nose showcases aromas of cherry, black raspberry, redcurrant, red rose, slight barnyard, tobacco, sage, loamy earth, and mild oak. The palate displays similarly traditional notes of bing cherry, dried strawberry, plum, licorice, red and purple florals, worn leather, scorched earth, chopped green herbs, black tea leaf, light baking spice, and cocoa. This is full-bodied with medium (+) acidity, high but fine-grained tannins, and a long finish. While certainly delicious and approachable now, I’d give this another 3-5 years and drink it over the following decade.

Price: $60 average (I paid $50). I think this offers good QPR, drinking similarly to some of the $80-90 Brunellos I’ve enjoyed over the years. If you can find this for $50 like I did, don’t hesitate to give it a try or cellar it for enjoyment down the road.

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Over-Extracted Red Blend From Alexander Valley

Today’s Story: Captûre Wines

Captûre Wines is a boutique estate established in 2008 in what is now the Pine Mountain-Cloverdale Peak AVA within Sonoma County. Though now part of Jackson Family Wines, Captûre was established by Carol and Michael Foster with founding winemakers May-Britt and husband Denis Malbec (formerly of Château Latour). With a goal of marrying rugged, mountainous California frontier with French winemaking, the team settled upon Pine Mountain with their estate vineyard between 1,600 and 2,500 feet elevation in the Mayacamas Mountains. The brutal landscape which makes up the Tin Cross Vineyard consists of volcanic gravelly soil, originally planted to vine by homesteaders in 1855 and today consisting largely of Cabernet Sauvignon with small blocks of Merlot and Sauvignon Blanc. Following sustainable and organic farming practices, Captûre receives only about 2 tons of fruit per acre due to the harsh geography of their estate, in turn which produces highly concentrated and intense mountain fruit. Since 2015, winemaker Sam Teakle took over and he crafts wines from the Pine Mountain-Cloverdale Peak, Alexander Valley, Sonoma County, and Lake County appellations.

Today’s Wine: 2013 Harmonie

85% Cabernet Franc, 9% Merlot, 6% Cabernet Sauvignon; 15% ABV

The 2013 Harmonie is opaque deep purple/ruby in color. I decanted this for 2 hours and drank it over the following 3 hours or so, and unfortunately this got worse with air versus the better I was hoping for. The nose is highly concentrated with aromas of blackberry, plum, blueberry, crème de cassis, licorice, cigar box, clay, baking spice, bell pepper, and oak. There’s some heat there too from the high ABV. Moving onto the palate, I get notes of black plum, blackberry compote, wet tobacco, coffee, chocolate, blood, sopping wet herbs, and ground black pepper. This thing drinks like a cocktail wine. It is full-bodied with medium (+) acidity, high tannins, and a medium (+) length finish that is somewhat repulsive. Balance seems to be out of whack here too. 180 cases produced.

Price: $60 (I paid $40 on sale). I really wanted to like this wine, which was made by the late Denis Malbec (whose wines at Blankiet I love), but I do not. It is filled to the brim with over-extracted fruit and what I speculate may be a heavy-handed winemaking mandate. You should lose no sleep over passing on this wine.

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Breathtaking Precision and Quality in a Bourgogne Blanc

Today’s Story: Domaine Vincent Dancer

Domaine Vincent Dancer is a small, rising star estate located in the village of Chassagne-Montrachet in Burgundy, France. Established by Vincent Dancer, the domaine consists of about 5-6 hectares under vine and was the first certified organic producer in Chassagne-Montrachet. Vincent is originally from Alsace, and though he studied engineering in school he picked up a passion for wine along the way. After some urging from his father, Vincent spent time in Burgundy to learn viticulture and oenology before taking over small acreage of family vines in 1996. Known as a quiet and humble winemaker, Vincent quietly expanded his vineyards and today has holdings in Chassagne-Montrachet, Meursault, Puligny-Montrachet, Pommard, and Beaune. A staunch proponent of hands-off winemaking, Vincent hand-harvests his fruit from fairly low yielding vineyards and refrains from adding any commercial yeasts, enzymes, or acid adjustments during natural fermentation. He also resists bâtonnage, the practice of stirring the lees which is practiced by many producers in Chassagne-Montrachet to add flavors, aromas, and texture to the wine. The wines are bottled unfined and unfiltered, with common descriptors of “tense,” “precise,” and “graceful.” Total production is I believe still under 2,000 cases annually, and not a lot of Vincent’s wines make their way to the US.

Today’s Wine: 2018 Bourgogne Blanc

100% Chardonnay; 12.5% ABV

The 2018 Bourgogne Blanc is a beautiful, transparent, pale gold in color turning water white near the edges of the glass. Now before the infanticide police come after me, I do have more of this which I am already laying down for at least 3-5 years and I did decant this wine for 2 hours. My inability to have patience is both reprimandable but rewarded. The nose steals the show at this stage, blossoming into aromas of peach, juicy pear, charred pineapple, cotton candy, freshly picked white florals, flint rock, gunpowder, smoke, toasted hazelnut, and lees. While the palate is a bit tougher to pull apart (I attribute it to youth), I can still decipher beautiful notes of golden apple, white peach, grapefruit zest, tropical citrus, limestone, freshly struck flint, dill, smoke, and dried vanilla. This is medium- to full-bodied with gorgeous high acidity, a fully-rounded and opulent mouthfeel, and a long, long finish that lasts for over a minute.

Price: $49 (about $10 cheaper in France). This is one of the greatest values I’ve had all year, and I truly do not think it will remain this price for long. I’ve read a lot of hype around Vincent Dancer and I can confidently say after tasting this young bottle (not easy for me to find anything older and I spent enough time tracking down 2018s) that what I read is true. Do not pass up an opportunity to buy Dancer’s wines.

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Biodynamic New Zealand Pinot Noir With an Old World Flair

Today’s Story: Quartz Reef Wines

Quartz Reef is a relatively small winery established in Bendigo in the Central Otago region of New Zealand. The winery is named for its vineyards being planted on the largest quartz deposit in New Zealand, with the vines planted in 1998 and their first Pinot Noir bottled in 2001. Quartz Reef is known for their Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, and Methode Traditionnelle, however winemaker Rudi Bauer crafts small amounts of Chardonnay and Grüner Veltliner as well. In 2007, Quartz Reef started transitioning to biodynamic viticulture and today is one of only six New Zealand wineries certified biodynamic by Demeter. Rudi makes all his wines following traditional methods through minimal intervention in the cellar, attempting to showcase the fruit and terroir in the most natural way possible while marrying Old World and New World characteristics.

To learn more and view photos of the estate (and the winemaking puppies), visit the Quartz Reef website here.

Today’s Wine: 2017 Bendigo Estate Pinot Noir

100% Pinot Noir; 14% ABV

The 2017 Bendigo Estate Pinot Noir is pale to medium ruby in color and almost opaque. I let this blossom in the glass for about 30-45 minutes, with the incredibly Burgundian nose showcasing aromas of black cherry, plum, black raspberry, leather, smoked game meat, barnyard, forest floor, gravel, and light oak. The palate kicks off with a very similar fruit profile to the nose with black cherry, plum, and brambly strawberry before branching into notes of violet, tobacco, damp loamy soil, green peppercorn, black tea leaf, underbrush, baking spice (like allspice or clove), and oak. This is light- to medium-bodied with medium acidity, medium (-) and somewhat dusty tannins, and a medium (+) length finish.

Price: $40 average (I paid $30). Very strong value here, particularly if you can find it for around $30 like I did. This is my second time having this wine and it is as impressive as the first. While no doubt young and starting to enter its drinking window, this is both incredibly approachable and capable of going another 5-7 years. Great Old World experience with this wine and a beautiful representation of the terroir.

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Fruity Châteauneuf-du-Pape Perfect for the Holiday Season

Today’s Story: Domaine du Vieux Télégraphe

Domaine du Vieux Télégraphe is a family-owned and operated wine estate located in the Châteauneuf-du-Pape AOC of France. Tracing back to 1891, Henri Brunier gifted several plots of land to his son Hippolyte which, at the time due to their high pebble content, were thought to be nearly useless for viticulture. Nonetheless, Hippolyte planted vines on the plateau of La Crau and began the winemaking endeavors of the Brunier family. When Hippolyte’s son Jules joined the family business, he extended the estate to 42 acres and gave it the name we know today of Vieux Télégraphe.

Following WWII, the estate was in desperate need of revival and fourth generation Henri quickly took up the baton. Henri grew the estate to 136 acres and then shifted focus toward creating a “signature style” for his wines and marketed them abroad. As the 1980s came around, control of the domaine fell to Henri’s sons Frédéric and Daniel who now farm 247 acres in Châteauneuf-du-Pape and an additional 49.5 acres of IGP Vaucluse and Ventoux AOC. They are not without extra family help, however, as sixth generation Nicolas and Edouard remain dedicated to the family business as well.

Vieux Télégraphe farms all of their vineyards adhering to sustainable practices, though in reality they practice organic viticulture. From the winter months with pruning, spreading organic manure and compost, and plowing to the spring and summer months with manual debudding and thinning, the team works tirelessly to guide healthy fruit. Come harvest, the fruit is picked by hand and sorted in the vineyards twice before a third sorting at the winery. The winemaking team doesn’t follow a particular process set in stone, outside of course making sure they adhere to AOC rules and guidelines on the process. Instead Vieux Télégraphe moves through the winemaking process led by the fruit, helping to tailor each wine to the vintage conditions, its structure, and terroir.

Today’s Wine: 2015 Piedlong Châteauneuf-du-Pape

90% Grenache, 10% Mourvèdre; 14.5% ABV

The 2015 Piedlong CdP is translucent medium garnet in color with ruby hues in the bowl of the glass. I decanted this for 2 hours, though it really started opening up around the 1 hour mark. The nose showcases bright red fruits of raspberry, strawberry, and bing cherry alongside red licorice, rose, dried gravel, slight smoke, and oak. There is some slight heat too, but it does start to blow off a bit and should integrate with bottle age. Moving onto the palate, I get more vibrant fruits of stewed strawberry, black raspberry, boysenberry, and blood orange with violet, dried green herbs, crushed rock, thyme, and mild spice. This is medium- to full-bodied with medium acidity, medium tannins, and a medium length finish. A very easy-drinking CdP that’s loaded with red fruits and berries, which would have been perfect for Thanksgiving.

Price: $60 (I found it for $50). This isn’t necessarily my style of CdP (I prefer the more terroir and mineral driven bottlings) but I can see this being widely enjoyed. I don’t really see this as good value, and though I don’t see it as too overpriced either I’d really like to see it around the $40 mark.