Out of curiosity and at the urging of a friend, I decided to try a few wines from Trader Joe’s and this is one of them. It’s a light day background-wise, as this seems to be one of the many bottlings made for Trader Joe’s specifically and I cannot gather much information beyond the back label. The wine I’m reviewing today is a Pinot Noir vinted and bottled by Ashford Court in American Canyon within Napa County, though the fruit comes from Monterey County (56%), Sonoma County (33%), and Santa Barbara County (11%).
Today’s Wine: 2018 Cotillion Pinot Noir
100% Pinot Noir; 13.8% ABV (seems like it could be higher)
The 2018 Cotillion Pinot Noir is pale ruby in color and rather transparent. Given some time in the glass, the aromas blossom with medium (+) intensity and the nose showcases notes of black cherry, black raspberry, blood orange rind, leather, cola, baking spice, a hint of vanilla, and oak. Meanwhile the flavors are of medium intensity and the palate displays notes of strawberry, raspberry, red cherry, sweet tobacco, licorice, charred green herbs, and vanilla. Though the profile is exactly what I was expecting (fruity and with more oak influence than my personal preferred taste) this is better than I expected given the price. This dry red is medium- to full-bodied with medium (+) acidity, medium (-) tannins, high alcohol, and a medium-length finish.
Price: $10. Though not a wine I’d personally buy again, I think this is actually quite good given the accessible price-point. It has broad consumer appeal and offers better complexity and balance than many wines in the same ballpark. It seems to be pretty good quality overall as well.
Immortal Estate is a very new winery in name, though the estate traces back to 1990 and Hidden Ridge Vineyard which lies in Sonoma County. Originally developed by Lynn Hofacket and Timothy Milos, Hidden Ridge Vineyard is situated on 150 acres in the mountainous terrain between Napa and Sonoma Valleys and, in its early years, developed somewhat of a cult following for the exceptional quality of the wines produced. In 2016, partners Tim Martin and Randy Nichols purchased the estate and, in an effort to increase exposure, rebranded it to Immortal Estate named after the “immortal jellyfish” to signify the wine’s lauded aging potential. Thanks to an exceptional terroir (and a unique slope of 55-degrees versus the now 15-degree maximum per county rules), the wines of Immortal Estate are often described as rich, complex, and long-lived.
Of Immortal Estate’s 150 acres, nearly 50 acres are planted to vine with 46 acres of Cabernet Sauvignon, 1 acre of Petit Verdot, and 1 acre of Chardonnay. The estate produces two wines, the Impassable Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon ($303) and the Slope Cabernet Sauvignon ($75). Fruit for both wines is hand-harvested over multiple pass-throughs, then hand-sorted at the winery before heading into native fermentation. Both wines see 50 days of maceration, then transfer to French oak barrels to age for 28 months. Come bottling, both are bottled unfined and unfiltered.
To learn more or view impressive images of the Immortal Estate vineyards, check out their website here.
Today’s Wine: 2014 Slope Cabernet Sauvignon
97% Cabernet Sauvignon, 3% Petit Verdot; 14.9% ABV
The 2014 Slope Cabernet Sauvignon is opaque deep ruby in color. After 2 hours in the decanter, the wine really opens up and showcases a complexity I was not expecting. The nose is filled with rather pronounced aromas of crème de cassis, jammy blackberry, black plum, violet, licorice, sweet tobacco, graphite, loamy earth, cedar, and clove. The alcohol heat does show, but not as much as I expected. Meanwhile the palate is also of pronounced intensity with notes of blackberry jam, blackcurrant, blueberry, black cherry, licorice, violet, tobacco, dried herbs, charred oak, vanilla, clove, and chocolate. Again the heat from the high ABV does show. This dry Cab is full-bodied with medium (+) acidity, medium (+) but velvety tannins, high alcohol, and a long finish. Overall this fits into the people-pleaser camp for me and the alcohol needs time to integrate, but this is still much more nuanced than I expected.
Price: $75 from the winery (I paid $65 retail). Though not particularly my style of Cab, this is in my opinion pretty fairly priced (particularly relative to some of the other Cabs of its style on the market). I am pleasantly surprised by the complexity, and given some time for the alcohol to integrate I think this could be a very solid wine in 5-7 more years. While I probably wouldn’t seek this out for myself again, it’s a great option for those who love the bigger style or for those who want to put a Sonoma County Cab up against the Napa Cabs they may be used to.
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.
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.
Paul Hobbs Winery was founded in 1991 by Paul Hobbs with his initial release of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Cabernet Sauvignon from purchased fruit. I previously wrote about Paul and his winery’s history in The Steve Jobs of Wine when I reviewed the 2015 Katherine Lindsay Estate Pinot Noir, but I will recycle it here for ease…
Paul grew up in upstate New York on a working family farm and orchard, so one could say agriculture was in his blood from an early age. Though Paul helped plant, harvest, and sell crops at nearby farmers’ markets before school each morning, his first foray into wine was helping his father achieve his dream of replanting some of the apples, peaches, and nuts in their orchards to wine grapes.
When it came time for Paul to go to college, his father encouraged him to study viticulture and enology but instead Paul followed in his great-grandfather’s footsteps by studying medicine and graduated with a BS in Chemistry from Notre Dame. His father’s persistence paid off, however, and Paul moved to California after graduation and studied viticulture and enology at UC Davis where he received his Master of Science three years later. Fresh off his new degree, Paul was hired by Robert Mondavi for his advanced knowledge of oak aging and he was quickly promoted to the inaugural Opus One winemaking team. Following his experiences at Robert Mondavi and Opus One, Paul joined Simi Winery as their winemaker before beginning consulting roles for Peter Michael, Lewis Cellars, Bodegas Catena, and soon other wineries around the world.
Throughout these experiences with wine, Paul Hobbs crafted a dream of his own to produce vineyard designated wines under his own name. In 1991, Paul spoke with Larry Hyde in Napa and Richard Dinner in Sonoma about purchasing some of their fruit, and the resulting 5 tons of fruit from each vineyard culminated in the first Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Cabernet Franc of Paul Hobbs Winery. Paul’s dreams entered their next phase in 1998, however, when he purchased his family’s first estate vineyard and established the Katherine Lindsay Estate (named after his great-grandmother) in Sebastopol, CA. The first vintage of this wine came with the 2003 harvest, and today Paul Hobbs consists of seven estate vineyards in some of the preeminent Californian regions for Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Cabernet Sauvignon.
Paul Hobbs practices sustainable farming in caring for his vineyards and a minimalist approach in producing his wines. To sustain the integrity of his fruit and each vineyard block, Paul demands a constant flow of communication and knowledge from the vineyards to the cellar. When it comes time for harvest, all Paul Hobbs fruit is hand-harvested using hand sheers to keep the fruit in pristine condition. During the winemaking process, all wine is fermented using only native yeasts that originate in the vineyards and the cellar and the wine is aged in finely grained French oak barrels. With his finished product, Paul bottles the wine unfined and unfiltered in an effort to display the purity of the fruit and the place of each wine with elegance and transparency.
Fun fact: Paul Hobbs is widely known as “the Steve Jobs of wine” thanks to his “ardent exactitude” and immensely high demands for quality.
Today’s Wine: 2016 Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
100% Pinot Noir; 14.1% ABV
The 2016 Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir is opaque medium ruby in color with purple hues. Given about 45 minutes to open up, the nose showcases aromas of brooding wild blueberry, dark cherry, plum, red licorice, dry charred earth, saturated gravel, hickory smoke, cinnamon, and oak. On the palate, I get notes of tart red cherry, black raspberry, pomegranate, blackberry liquor, scorched earth, slate and clay, dried cooking herbs, and cola. This is medium-bodied with medium (+) acidity, medium (-) tannins, and a long finish. Overall pretty ripe and somewhat opulent, this will only improve with a few more years of cellaring.
Price: $60. I will say there are better “value” Pinot Noir bottlings out there, but I do think this is a great entry opportunity into the Paul Hobbs portfolio and is remarkable in terms of quality and ripeness of fruit for a regional wine.
Before I jump into today’s story, I would like to apologize for the lack of wine content lately. The work from home life has caused the demands of my “day job” to rise (thanks to my desk being about 6 feet from my bed) and has eaten into the time I can spend on my passions. Thanks to this long holiday weekend I am able to reset a little bit, and hope I can find a way to revive the more regular sharing of my love of wine.
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, 170 of which are planted to vine with the balance home to the winery and 100 acres of natural woodland. 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.
The 2018 Illumination is transparent pale to medium yellow in color with straw hues in the bowl. On the nose, this aromatic white emits aromas of apricot, white peach, honeydew melon, citrus rind, honeysuckle, and stony mineral. The palate showcases notes of pear, golden apple, grapefruit, lemon zest, grass, wet slate, and vibrant minerality. This is medium-bodied with high acidity and a crisp, refreshing finish that makes the wine perfect for a hot day.
Price: $39. This is certainly a higher quality Napa/Sonoma Sauvignon Blanc blend and I think the price is justified. Is it overpriced? No, but it’s also not underpriced.
Bedrock Wine Co. was established in 2007 by Morgan Twain-Peterson in a converted chicken coop in his friend’s backyard. Though Bedrock has grown over the years, Morgan stays true to a mission of working with respected growers throughout the state of California in preserving and breathing new life into old vineyards dating to the late 1800s and early 1900s. Working with vineyards from Contra Costa County, Sonoma Valley, Oakville, Lodi, the Russian River Valley, and beyond, Morgan produces wines with Zinfandel, Mourvèdre, Carignan, Petite Sirah, Alicante Bouschet, Grenache, Semillon, Gewurztraminer, Trousseau Gris, and Riesling. He also works with a handful of other varieties and is always on the hunt for more to explore. Though his blends can seem pretty eclectic, Morgan keeps his winemaking simple by gently handing the fruit, fermenting with whole clusters and only native yeasts, and rarely or never fining the wines.
For more on Bedrock’s history, the vineyards they work with, or the portfolio of wines, check out the website here.
Today’s Wine: 2018 Pagani Ranch Heritage
Zinfandel dominant blend with Alicante Bouschet, Lenoir, Grand Noir, and Petite Sirah (no tech sheet); 14.5% ABV
The 2018 Pagani Ranch Heritage is opaque deep purple in color with dark fuchsia near the rim. I decanted this for about 2 hours, allowing the expressive nose to showcase blackberry, blueberry, plum, anise, leather, chiseled rock, cracked pepper, chocolate, and oak. Once in the mouth, this bold and powerful wine displays notes of black plum, black cherry, cassis, unlit cigar, wet slate, tar, peppery spice, and charred oak. The wine is medium- to full-bodied with medium acidity, medium (+) chewy tannins, and a long finish. Fantastic now with some air, but will only get better with age.
Price: $50. Without a doubt worth the price, but would be immensely more rewarding if you have the patience to lay this down and check on it in another five years. This is a bold, thought-provoking wine that will pair with barbecue pork ribs, bacon-wrapped ribeye steak, or lasagna.
Jolie-Laide is a small, boutique winery established by Scott Schultz in Forestville, California, though he sources his fruit from various California winegrowing regions and appellations. I previously wrote about Jolie-Laide’s history and reviewed their 2016 Provisor Vineyard Grenache in A Journey for the Mind and Palate, and I highly encourage you to read this post if you haven’t already. For now, let’s get onto the tasting notes of today’s remarkably fun wine.
Today’s Wine: 2019 Trousseau Gris
100% Trousseau Gris; 12.4% ABV
The 2019 Trousseau Gris is transparent peach/salmon in color. The nose showcases aromas of tangerine, melon, stone fruit, white florals, cream, white peppery spice, and saline mineral. On the palate, I get notes of white peach, nectarine, melon, pink rose, honeysuckle, white tea leaf, and crushed stone minerality. This is medium-bodied with crisp medium (+) acidity and plush mouthfeel into a fully rounded and long finish.
Price: $30 direct from winery. This is a great value for several major reasons. Its quality and precision are impeccable, it is very fun (drinks like a cross between a rosé and white wine), and the versatility is profound. Pair this with lobster, herb-grilled chicken, or a turkey sandwich.
Established by Scott Schultz, Jolie-Laide is a small, boutique winery crafting wines in Forestville, California. Jolie-Laide is a French term of endearment for something unconventionally beautiful that translates to “pretty-ugly,” and Scott decided to use it in naming his winery following experiences in the restaurant business. When he worked at Bouchon in Yountville, Scott realized that the majority of people didn’t seem to explore the wine list but rather stick to Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, or Cabernet Sauvignon. He thought this was a travesty of sorts, given the wonderful varieties including Gamay, Valdiguié, Vermentino, or Trousseau Gris. Eventually Scott transitioned out of the restaurant business and found himself working alongside Pax Mahle, a wildly skilled winemaker in his own right. One year, Pax allowed Scott to make a wine of his own using 1-2 tons of fruit and he decided to use none other than Trousseau Gris because of how fascinating of a variety it is to him. Alas, Jolie-Laide was born and continues to produce magnificent and wildly fun wines today.
When it comes to sourcing his fruit, Scott works with farmers he has known for years who largely follow organic practices and work incredibly unique sites. After harvest, all of the Jolie-Laide red fruit is foot crushed and left whole cluster with some of the varieties (like Gamay) seeing carbonic maceration. Thanks to Scott’s selection of incredible sites, he can be pretty hands-off during the rest of the winemaking process and let the terroir and fruit speak for itself. Jolie-Laide lets their wines ferment naturally and, instead of using temperature control, says “we stick things in the sun if we need to get them warm” (source). Furthermore, Scott adds little SO2 when necessary in part because his wines tend to be bottled young to both preserve freshness in the fruit and provide barrels for the following year’s harvest.
Today’s Wine: 2016 Provisor Vineyard Grenache
100% Grenache; 12.8% ABV
The 2016 Provisor Vineyard Grenache is pale ruby/garnet in color and moderately transparent. I drank this over 4.5 hours (don’t ask me how I restrained myself) and it is remarkable how drastically this picked up weight over time. The nose showcases aromas of candied strawberry, juicy raspberry, black cherry, red licorice, sweet tobacco, granite, oregano, and cinnamon. Once on the palate, the wine displays notes of muddled strawberry, tart red raspberry, candied plum, anise, tobacco, dark leather, crushed rock, green herbs, and peppery spice. This is medium- to full-bodied with medium (+) acidity, medium (+) tannins, and a long finish. While this started off thin and falling off by mid-palate, my patience was handsomely, handsomely rewarded.
Price: $38. Buy it. All I can say is if you can find this bottle close to the price, it is supremely worth the adventure. If you do though, and haven’t taken heed of my commentary above, I implore you once again to give this air. Pair with braised pork, wild boar, or smoked charcuterie.
I very recently wrote about Joseph Swan Vineyards when I reviewed their 2012 Mancini Ranch Zinfandel in Not Your Typical Cali Zin, so I wanted to check in on another bottling today while it is fresh in my mind. Today’s wine will be a very different experience, what I expect largely due to its 15.3% ABV versus the 12.9% of the 2012 Mancini Ranch bottling.
To recap……Joseph Swan Vineyards was founded during the early 1970s by Joe Swan, a man whose passion for wine spawned at an early age through reading. However, Joe’s career did not begin in wine but rather as an artist, a flight instructor for the Army Air Corps during WWII, and ultimately a pilot for Western Airlines. Though Joe retired in 1974, his passion for wine remained strong through those middle years and he even produced Zinfandel when stationed in Salt Lake City and made friends visiting the Enology and Viticulture department at UC Davis following the war. In 1967, Joe purchased a small farm planted with 13 acres of Zinfandel, fruit trees, and a pasture near Forestville in the Russian River Valley with a plan to follow his dream of operating a small vineyard and winery. Though Joe made Zinfandel in 1968, he quickly received encouragement from André Tchelistcheff (a highly influential winemaker I discussed in my BV posts, as well as Joe’s friend and mentor) to replant his vineyards to Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. With significant inspiration from French winemakers and the belief that lower production would increase his quality, Joe selected low production clones and both pruned and thinned his vines to significantly reduce yield. In 1987, Joe’s son-in-law Rod Berglund worked the Joseph Swan harvest with him and this would unfortunately be Joe’s last vintage. Joe fell ill during 1988 and passed away January, 1989 but his perfectionism and love of wine carries on with his daughter Lynn and son-in-law Rod today.
Today’s Wine: 2013 Bastoni Vineyards Zinfandel
100% Zinfandel; 15.3% ABV
The 2013 Bastoni Zinfandel is opaque medium to deep garnet in color with medium ruby variation. Once this opens up, the nose showcases aromas of boysenberry, wild blueberry, cherry, leather, sweet tobacco, rocky soil, cinnamon, a hint of chocolate, and oak. On the palate, I get notes of juicy blackberry, pomegranate, plum, bing cherry, ripe raspberry, pipe tobacco, loamy earth, white pepper, dried green herbs, and a touch of oak. This is medium- to full-bodied with medium (+) acidity, medium tannins, and a long finish with added notes of iron and crushed rock.
Price: $30. This is an incredible value, similar to the 2012 Mancini Ranch I just had and Joseph Swan wines as a whole. This bottling certainly drinks more like your “classic” Californian Zin whereas the Mancini Ranch was more “old-school.” Pair this with barbecue pork sandwiches, pepperoni pizza, or roasted leg of lamb.
Joseph Swan Vineyards was founded during the early 1970s by Joe Swan, a man whose passion for wine spawned at an early age through reading. However, Joe’s career did not begin in wine but rather as an artist, a flight instructor for the Army Air Corps during WWII, and ultimately a pilot for Western Airlines. Though Joe retired in 1974, his passion for wine remained strong through those middle years and he even produced Zinfandel when stationed in Salt Lake City and made friends visiting the Enology and Viticulture department at UC Davis following the war. In 1967, Joe purchased a small farm planted with 13 acres of Zinfandel, fruit trees, and a pasture near Forestville in the Russian River Valley with a plan to follow his dream of operating a small vineyard and winery. Though Joe made Zinfandel in 1968, he quickly received encouragement from André Tchelistcheff (a highly influential winemaker I discussed in my BV posts, as well as Joe’s friend and mentor) to replant his vineyards to Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. With significant inspiration from French winemakers and the belief that lower production would increase his quality, Joe selected low production clones and both pruned and thinned his vines to significantly reduce yield. In 1987, Joe’s son-in-law Rod Berglund worked the Joseph Swan harvest with him and this would unfortunately be Joe’s last vintage. Joe fell ill during 1988 and passed away January, 1989 but his perfectionism and love of wine carries on with his daughter Lynn and son-in-law Rod today.
Today’s Wine: 2012 Mancini Ranch Zinfandel
100% Zinfandel; 12.9% ABV
The 2012 Mancini Ranch Zinfandel is moderately opaque and medium garnet in color with ruby hues. Once this opens up, the nose showcases aromas of tart cherry, strawberry rhubarb, dried raspberry, aged leather, forest floor, truffles, smoked red meat, savory green herbs, baking spice, and cedar. On the palate, I get notes of blackberry, blueberry, cherry pie, dusty strawberry, red licorice, dried tobacco, damp earth, mushroom, cinnamon, pepper, and slight oak. The wine is medium-bodied with medium acidity, medium (-) tannins, and a medium (+) length finish. Overall this is very well-balanced and a complex depiction of old-school Zinfandel that upon tasting does not seem like anything from California.
Price: $32. Joseph Swan produces some of my favorite Pinot Noir in the $35-$45 price-point, and I can now add their Zinfandel to this list of great values. This is a gorgeous Zin unlike many I’ve had from California and demonstrates the restraint this grape can display. Pair this with barbecue chicken, leg of lamb, or tomato-based pasta.