We had a bit of a problem with the site, so I am rebuilding it better, stronger, and faster. Some of the prior reviews might not be available, but more are coming monthly.
When you visit any areas producing wine, the things you remember most are not necessarily the WINE. The experiences enjoyed while visiting wineries, looking at the wonderful scenery, and taking in the local cuisine, remain in your fond memories for years. This year, we planned well enough ahead to get some great private tastings and hands-on and up-close-and-personal visits. I highlight just of few of them here:
Krupp Bothers/Stagecoach Vineyard
Our guide, Dan, picked us up for the morning’s adventure at the Soda Canyon Deli on the Silverado Trail. Dan drove up Soda Canyon Road to the Stagecoach Vineyard in a 4WD SUV. Soon, we learned why. The drive up to the top of the estate required a rugged off-road type of vehicle. But the drive up the dusty trail rewarded us with spectacular views of the Stag’s Leap AVA and vineyards.
Occupying parts of the Atlas Peak and Pritchard Hill AVAs, Stagecoach Vineyard is nearly large enough to be its own AVA (600 acres planted!) The terrior varies with differing types of soil, mesoclimates, and elevations, thus allowing for the growth of many varietals on the property including: Chardonnay, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and others.
Dan provided us with a very good lunch from the Soda Canyon Deli as we enjoyed a few of the current releases from Krupp Brothers. The Krupp Brothers 2013 Chardonnay is a winner ($65) as is the 2012 Synchrony blend ($135) and 2010 Veraison Cabernet Sauvignon ($85).
Call ahead and reserve the full experience with lunch and tastings inside of the vineyard!
Robert Biale Vineyards
I just love it when I get to meet the winemaker. By chance, I got a rare opportunity to meet Robert Biale while visiting his tasting room in Oak Knoll. He told us about the family vineyard nearby this location and that his family grew Zinfandel and has stayed with it throughout the years.
I asked him to comment on the current vintage and the growing season (2016). He said he will have to work for this vintage, but it will be good. This seems to be the consensus throughout all of Napa.
As a special treat, we were allowed to taste a few rarities from small case production lots including: Founding Fathers’ Zinfandel 2014 ($32), Limerick Lane Zinfandel – Russian River 2014 ($62, vines circa 1910), and his estate Sangiovese ($45, planted 1935).
You can’t really call ahead and plan a meeting with Mr. Biale, but give it a try and see if he’s there. He’s a great winemaker and he loves to talk about wines.
No appointment, end of day. Not really expecting the red carpet, but we still got it. Having only tasted (and loved) the Trilogy blend, we were allowed to taste the single vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon wines blended into the Trilogy.
It was very tough deciding between these lovely Cabs, but try as we might, we made a decision, a consensus. 1. Wild Boar 2013 ($125) – edged out #2 by a nose.
Very interesting notes of smoky BBQ, cocoa. Exciting mid palette, a bit wild, I really dig it!
2. Out of Sight 2013 ($125) – more herbaceous and a bit softer. Long finish, perhaps the best of the singles to put in the blend as it offers maturity and finish.
3. St. Helena Rennie 2013 ($150)
Pricey, but offers bold sage and rosemary notes. Very neat strong Cab but still soft tannin throughout.
4. Holy Smoke 2013 ($125)
Feels smoky, thus the name. Whole mouth feel, explosive up front, but finishes soft and long.
5. Flora’s Legacy 2013 ($150)
Complex, lots going on. Herbs and barrel influences, a blend of some of the above big boys. It’s good, but bring your credit card. Hold it for a few years.
I had no room for new wine clubs. Really, I’m fill up here. That is until we visited Hall. We had the “Cab Experience” in the restored Bergfeld Winery building on the estate. Experience Cabernet, we surely did. It is a fine thing to taste each of the vineyard cabs separately. One will find distinct differences between the Diamond Mountain (green herbs, baking spices, pie crust, and large structure), Mt Veeder (more old world on the nose, less acidic and tannin, fruitier), and St. Helena (Bergfeld Estate).
The blends get better with price point, of course. The Kathryn Hall blend was the only one I’d tried prior to the visit. The 2009 and 2010 were poured during the visit. I believe the 2009 is ready now, but the 2010 shows promise for the cellar. At $225, it’s a prized pony, or so I thought.
The Bishop was poured as a bonus. A rare treat, this is a blend of the finest of the vineyard selected grapes from Diamond and Howell Mountains. I dubbed this an “Opus One Killer” at the tasting, which raised a few eyebrows from the peanut gallery. Pricey ($350!) it’s something to behold with an opulent nose of dusty briar, blackberries, pie crust, and rosemary. Fully round in the mouth, it’s a nearly perfect Cab. I believe you wouldn’t cellar this too long, but one could. It’s structured, but certainly isn’t crying for time. It’s big, fruity, herbaceous, dusty, and full. One of the greats.
Needless to say, we joined, especially after learning we could also get shipments from the Pinot Noir and Chardonnay house of Walt.
Always visit your wine club estates when in the area. Tastings are usually comped, if not, much reduced. I like that the folks there are usually trying to upsell you futures or current release stuff. Well, we got the full monte at Williams Selyem on this trip. We got vintage library stuff (2004 Westside Neighbors Pinot Noir) which was superior in flavors and nose. This makes me rethink how long I’m holding these bottles before opening!
A rare treat indeed came with the pouring of the sparkling Dekane Blanc de Noir. Surely one of California’s great sparkling wines, a large format version accompanied us home, tucked safely away in our suitcase.
Note we had the place to ourselves and had a placard on the table reserving the space in our names.
Long Meadow Ranch – Farmstead Restaurant
Don’t go hungry now, gotta eat sometime. Very conveniently located within the vines of the St Helena AVA is Farmstead. This is a farm-to-table restaurant that fills the gastro need after a big day of wine consumption. We agreed on the same dish – the California arborio rice with wood grilled summer squash, Brentwood corn, mushrooms and pistou (yes with the farm egg). Oh yeah, we had a Walt Chardonnay with it, of course.
Get there are soon as you’re done with the wine tasting for the day and you might just beat the crowd. This is a place for the locals to gather, so plan accordingly. Do check this place out!
California offers many different wines from many different areas. This post offers up a quick look at what you can expect when you visit.
Wine aficionados have long talked about terroir when they talk about wine and how to differentiate grapes grown in one area vs another. An appellation is a legally defined and protected geographical area meant to describe the place where a grape is grown. American winemakers don’t stress terroir but wine aficionados do. So is an AVA written on a wine label mere marketing or is it real? In the US, federal guidelines are pretty loose and some would argue anyone with enough time and money can get an AVA pushed through especially a sub-AVA which really isn’t official. That being said many wine drinkers alike will argue that they can tell the difference between Cabernet Sauvignon grown in Rutherford vs one grown in Stags Leap District and one grown in Howell Mountain.
Napa was designated as an appellation or AVA in 1981 and was the first in California although Napa had long been producing wine since the late 19th century. However Napa Valley only produces about 4% of the total wine produced in California. While Napa is relatively small, different microclimates and terrain allow the grapes to take on differing characteristics thus making the case to break Napa down further into several sub-appellations. There are currently 16 sub appellations in Napa and likely still growing. In 2001 there were 13 AVAs which grew to 14 in 2004, 15 in 2009 and now 16 as of 2012. So is having 16 AVA’s in one region a marketing gimmick? No. The truth is that grapes that come from the same AVA tend to taste more similar than grapes from other AVA’s. If you take into account the same clone, rootstock, row spacing, irrigation, winemaker, etc. why would one wine taste different than another? Soil, mesoclimate, and other factors account for differences, inspiring wine geeks to spend so much time talking about terroir.
Napa wines can simply say “Napa Valley” on the label meaning it could come from any or multiple AVAs or they could specify a specific sub-AVA such as “Howell Mountain” or even a specific vineyard such as “Beckstoffer To Kalon” and even a specific block within a vineyard.
Image courtesy of NapaVintners.com
Atlas Peak AVA: The soil is volcanic and very porous that has limited water retention so irrigation can be very important. This AVA sits at a higher elevation and based on its direction gets more direct sunlight on the vines than other areas. Atlas Peak used to be known for primarily Zinfandels but now also produces many Bordeaux and Rhone style varietals.Napa Vintners gives a great summary of the 16 Napa Valley sub appellations:
Calistoga AVA: The soil is volcanic and is also the northern most sub-appellation in Napa and consequently the hottest with temperatures often above 100° during the day and in the low 40s° at night. Similar to Atlas Peak, Calistoga AVA is known for Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, Syrah and Petite Syrah wines.
Chiles Valley District AVA: The soil is primarily alluvial with silty clay composition. The area has a cooler climate (with highs in the mid 80s° and below 50° at night) due to its higher elevation. Chiles Valley is known for Zinfandels and Cabernet Sauvignon as well as Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc.
Coombsville AVA: the soil is primarily volcanic with alluvial deposits. Coombsville is the newest sub-appellation in Napa located in the south east corner of Napa just outside the historic Napa town. The primary varietals are Cabernet Sauvignon on the hillsides with Syrah, Merlot, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir in the lower, cooler spots.
Diamond Mountain District AVA: The soil is volcanic and very porous allowing it cool down quickly. Diamond Mountain sits on the Napa/Sonoma border. Since the bulk of Diamond mountain including the peak actually sits in Sonoma, the AVA is known as “Diamond Mountain District” vs just Diamond Mountain. Many Diamond Mountain District wines tend to have good acidity and be tannic in nature making them well suited for aging. Primary wines include Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc,
Howell Mountain AVA: The soil is primarily volcanic with low fertility. This stresses the vines which produces small berry clusters and intense wine. Located on the northeast side of Napa in the Howell Mountains, the Howell Mountain AVA is the first sub-appellation within Napa. The primary grape varietal is Cabernet Sauvignon although Zinfandel, Merlot, Chardonnay and Viognier is also grown.
Los Carneros AVA: The soil is clay dominant which often prevents deep rooting. The cooler and more moderate climate allows for more Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes.
Mount Veeder AVA: The soils is sedimentary based. Steep slopes with shallow and well drained soils result in tiny berries with intense flavors and soft tannins. The primary grape varietals include Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec and Chardonnay.
Oak Knoll District AVA: The soil is volcanic in nature. The area is cool with a moderate climate with primary varieties of Merlot and Chardonnay.
Oakville AVA: The soil is predominantly sedimentary on the western side and volcanic on the eastern side. The climate is just right with it being not too hot or and not too cold. The primary varietals are Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot.
Rutherford AVA: The soil is predominantly sedimentary on the western side and volcanic on the eastern side. The primary grape varietals are Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Zinfandel.
Spring Mountain District AVA: The soil is primarily sedimentary with low fertility and high drainage which makes the vines struggle producing more intense grapes. The primary varietals are Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Zinfandel.
St. Helena AVA: The soil is predominantly sedimentary in the southwest and predominantly volcanic in the northeast. The primary varietals are Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot often with jammy flavors and firm structure and acidity for long cellaring.
Stags Leap District AVA: The soil is volcanic with low to moderate fertility due to clay subsoils. The primary varietals are Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot with velvety textures and soft tannins.
Wild Horse Valley AVA: The soils are volcanic with limited water retention so irrigation is often necessary. Wild Horse Valley is the coolest of all the Napa Valley AVAs due to its elevation and proximity to San Pablo Bay. The primary varieties are Pinot Noir and Chardonnay both with great acidity.
Yountville: The soils are primarily sedimentary as well as alluvial soils with rock and moderately fertile. The primary varietals are Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot with supple flavors and firm tannins.
This year’s trip began with our own amateur study of the sub appellations. Is it marketing or is it science? Although we are merely wine advocates, we believe AVA’s make distinctly different wines.
2012 Revelry Cabernet Sauvignon, Dionysis Vineyard D11 Block – Walla Walla
I have a fondness of Washington State Cabernet Sauvignons (along with Rhone varietals, Chardonnays, and most everything else produced there.) So the Revelry D11, which comes from a specific block (11) of the venerable Dionysus Vineyard, was an instant hit here at home. This Cab, and many from this area, possess a bit less tannin and weight than do a lot of California examples. What you get is a wine that will be drinking well sooner, and one that expresses a bit more of the terrior of Eastern Washington.
The D11 expresses a bit of stone and cherry in the nose, with both of those sensations coming through in the palette as well. The tannin is velvety soft and the fruit is moderate, not overwhelming. This wine will cellar, but is drinking very nicely now. This is a good thing, as I really want to drink it now! This is a really good way to get yourself into a single-vineyard Walla Walla Cabernet at less-than big prices from some of the other red houses.
T-Scale: 92 points
Price: $65, not cheap, but worth it
2011 vintage: 92 Parker, 86 WE – can’t say why there is a big difference there. The 2012 seems to be a better vintage all around in Washington, however. I expect those points to go up for the 2012. I say drink it now
First posted March 11, 2016:
First post in a while! It’s been a long while since I’ve been really moved by a wine, but there have been a nice big lot of them lately. The 2009 Benton Lane Pinot Noir was in a case of wine I bought during a silent auction at the International Wine Festival in Cincinnati last week. In fact, I won a 2012 bottle of this one as well. But for now, we’ll talk about this gem. Apparently, I’m not the only fan of this wine.
Robert Parker: “In contrast, there are only 340 cases of the 2009 Pinot Noir First Class. It exhibits more of an earthy terroir character as well as more structure than the Willamette Valley cuvee. It is a shade more complex but hardly worth twice the price. Benton Lane, located in the southern tip of Willamette Valley closer to Eugene than Portland, is owned and operated by Napa Valley ex-pat, Steve Girard. His Estate Pinot Noir has long been recognized for its excellent price/quality ratio as well as for its distinctive postage stamp label which makes it stand out on a retail shelf.” (10/2011)
Anyway, this wine shows the great nose of what I love in a Willamette Pinot Noir. Very floral rose petal fragrance with some earthy tones. Cola and some strawberry jam in the background as well. Ruby with some brick-red coloration suggest this is aging well, but is peaking now more than likely. The flavor profile suggests to me that it won’t get any better than it is now. Some slight acidity remains as does plenty of fruit flavors. Blackberries and vanilla-cherry cola flavors present. Not big, but certainly no lightweight. Call this one a light-heavyweight contender from a good vintage. Full flavor pinot with a great nose.
T-Scale: 92 points. I paid about $9.50 for this bottle, but it was part of a lot. Expect to double that price if you find one. Note this is different from the regular bottling from Benton-Lane. This is a limited release of 350 cases, but you may still find it out there. I would jump on it if you find one.
Completely Jonesing for a viognier (and not finding any) I asked my local expert for a reco. He came up with this gem – 2010 Les Vins de Vienne Condrieu 2010. He found this at one of the distributors and bought it up, but it never came around again after the 2010 vintage. Quel dommage!!!
But… given that he cannot get more, he offered it to me at a “friend” price. I jumped at the chance to scoop up six bottles of quality Condrieu at a more than reasonable price.
It is fab! Velvety-smooth with familiar viognier notes of melon, fig, and light citrus. Not too heavy (unlike some over-ripe US viognier can be), but not too light either. Grab this up, if you find it. If you CAN find it, please let me know. There are only a few bottles left around here and I intend to own them shortly.
T-Scale 92 points. Release price, $65. My price was a lot lower. Expect to pay between $48 – $65. If you can get it lower, get it. It has some life left regardless of the reviews below. I would bet on this cellaring another 3 -5 years, but it is superb now.
Wine Spectator (93 points) – “This is juicy and packed, with fig, persimmon, anise and melon all in reserve, wrapped with judicious toast and fine minerality. The long, sleek finish should blossom with cellaring as there is a lot to unwind. Shows the cut and density of the vintage. Best from 2012 through 2014.” (Nov. 2011)
Steven Tanzer (90 points) – Bright yellow-gold. Exotic aromas of mango, passion fruit, peach nectar and candied orange, with a spicy overtone. Fleshy and smooth, offering spice-accented tropical and pit fruit flavors with a hint of candied ginger. Finishes with impressive cling and length, leaving notes of honey and peach pit behind.(Mar. 2012)
From March 14, 2013
Ah, cometh the spring and soon, warmth. Warmth means deck wines, and we all know that deck wines keep us smiling in the sun even when the temp climbs. In sampling many of the 2011 whites, I’ve found that it’s going to be a super vintage. Sauvignon Blank (or Fume Blanc to all of you drinking California), is crisp and clean.
It’s not a secret that I’m a big Sauv Blank fan. I’ll take them ripe and fruity or crisp, clean, grassy and full of grapefruit. When I try to please C’s palette, I have to look for the Sauv Blancs that feature less gooseberry and open green fields. I found one here that suits that palette.
Correctly grown and nicely fermented, the Ferrari-Carano Fume leaves the big white grapefruit and spiking acidity behind. Rather, it has a subtle fruity feel with a long finish. Not a big acidic or minerality-laden wine, it drinks a bit malolactic with a touch of oak. But still, there’s no mistaking the Fume for any other variatal, it’s definitely Sauv Blanc.
One minor flaw – a noted a bit of effervescence on the pour, but it fades in a few seconds. I’d give the pour a few swirls and about thirty seconds before tasting unless you like the bubbly tickle. After the bubbles, you get a very nice finishing white.
I found it on sale for $14.99 but I’ve seen it for as much as $19.99. The current vintage (2012) is available, but the 2011 sold out. I can see why at this price. I’d grab a few, they should be on shelves now. Quite nice at this price, drinks above this price point.
From the winemaker:
“Ferrari-Carano’s 2011 Fumé Blanc has aromas of lime, kiwi, citrus, melon and a touch of grass complemented by flavors of grapefruit, lemon and lime with a mango and guava finish. Cool, stainless steel tank fermentation gives this wine a crisp freshness while the subtle oak character from barrel aging adds complexity and depth. Made with 100% Sauvignon Blanc.”
From Wine Enthusiast:
A little on the sweet side, but crisp acidity provides a clean whisk of tartness, and the lemon-cream and orange flavors are absolutely delicious.
T-Scale 89. Sweet price for a definite party crowd pleaser that’s not your standard white. Be different and take on the Sauvignon Blanc. It’s rewarding, full of flavor and a real bargain in most instances.
Summer’s here and the time is right for dancing in the… half price bin at your local wine shop. I like taking a chance on some of the interesting bottles when they’re marked down. Take for examples these two beauties: 2012 Saint Clair Family Estate Vicar’s Choice sauvignon blanc and the 2009 Bodega Norton cabernet sauvignon Reserva. I’m not sure why these didn’t move at full retail, but I’m sure not complaining.
Marlborough sauv blancs make you understand why the French named this grape sauvignon, or “savage.” Mostly, these New Zealand sauv blancs are grassy and full of white grapefruit and gooseberry. Lot’s of folks don’t dig them at all, but I sure do. I think of these as the IPA’s of the wine world.
This one is no exception. Lots of big citrus bite up front with grassy backbone. I like it for hot days outside. I keep wines like this chilling in my electric cooler while sitting under a misting system on my deck. If you like Kim Crawford sauvs, you’ll really go for this guy. When you see the price, you’ll probably favor this over whatever Marlborough white you’re currently consuming. Of course I hit it at half price, but I’d pay the next one at retail. Super good value if you find it marked down.
the Bodega Norton Cab Reserve is a nice entry from an old school (1895) winery in Mendoza. These folks know a few things about making cabs. This one spent some time in new oak before bottling. The result is a nice chocolaty palette with subtle red fruits. The tannins are subdued, making this one a drinker now. No need to hold it, it’s popping right now. Parker 89 points, Spectator 90, well earned, especially for this low price. Super nice middle of the week cab or pair it with what’s grilling. It’s big enough to hold up to bbq or other thick sauces.
Saint Clair Fam Vicar’s choice Sauv Blanc – T-Scale rating: 90 points. My price $9.00 – jump on it if you can find it.
Bodega Norton Cab 2009 Reserva – T-Scale rating 91 points. I plan to buy in bulk as this one will please you and all your wine-o buddies. Cheap enough to drink anytime and will work well with foods of many kinds.
A few years ago Belle Glos entered my radar with a bullet. The two vineyards I’ve tried (Dairyman and Clark/Telephone) are both outstanding examples of moderately-priced Pinots. This is NOT a lightweight. If you’re into Burgundian styles, this isn’t what you’re after. If Pinot wanted to adorn the strength of a Cab or display the weight of a Rhone blend, this is it.
Big fruit with low acidity make this one a drinker. It surely could age, but if you’re ready to drink one, go ahead. It likes air and rewards you with more flavors of pomegranate, Bing cherry, and spices when allowed to evolve in the glass.
I compare C&T to other Santa Maria Valley Pinots such as Tantarra and Au Bon Climat. Most of those have a lot of backbone. I like Pinot from this area due to the big body and large flavors. I don’t compare them to Pinots from other cooler AVAs such as Russian River, Carneros, and Mendicino to these. This is a different animal and I treat them differently. A Burgundian lover can still like these wines. These Pinots can substitute for syrah and cab anytime.
Notes from the winemaker from the 2011 vintage:
Deep scarlet red in color, this wine leaves little to the imagination with rich, expansive aromas of blackberry, raspberry, plum and sweet baking spices like cinnamon, clove and nutmeg. The palate is similarly intense with flavors of ripe blackberries, raspberries, warm cherry pie, blueberry and fresh cranberry, perfectly balanced with velvety tannins and a smooth toasty oak finish. Best described as “Christmas in your mouth!”
TScale: 93 points! I’ve spent between $25 and $40 for this wine. Look for it on WTSO where you can really score. Super great wine at this price point! Current vintages are higher in price, but still worth a look.