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Part 2 #WBC17 Live Wine Blogging! RED WINES at Table 5!

26 Nov

We can’t do a Speed-Dating, er, Speed-Tasting, without doing red wine!

Here’s part 2 of my #WBC17 Live Wine Blogging, RED WINES!

A reminder, the basic setup is kind of like  speed dating for wine: a table of wine writers get 5 minutes with the winemaker/representative in which we must: say hello, get a quick introduction to the wine, have a quick pour and taste, take a picture of the bottle, and crank out a 140-ish character-sized review ALL WITHIN A FIVE-MINUTE WINDOW! You think your job is crazy? This is a wild wine tasting!  Check these out for what you think you’d enjoy- and if you don’t see them locally, find them online!

READY, TABLE FIVE?

GO!!!

 

2013 Mountainside Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley from .  14.1%abv, SRP $60.
Deep purple, powerful black fruit, high acid, 2nd notes of forest floor, mocha, vanilla  and citrus notes on the long finish. Big fruit in this bottle, saying, “Go Big or Go Home!”  

Upshot from . Purple color, perfumed cassis nose. Big blackberry fruit with pepper, clove, and baking spices. Great food wine, new release and super tasty! SRP only $28/bottle, w/ 14.5% ABV.   Sonoma blend of 44% Zin with 29% Merlot, 15% Malbec, 7% Petite Verdot, & 5% Riesling. Love the label that shows the schedule after finding the right #brix to pick! The next Sonoma Classic?

2015 Small Batch Bourbon Barrel Aged Zinfandel from  . Red wine aged in bourbon casks? Some seriously powerful nose and mouth, and big on alcohol. Deep purple color, flavors of big red fruit! An Ass-kicking, motorcycle riding brute of a red!  Mendocino fruit is the backbone, $19/bottle, 15.6%ABV.

Byck Family Estate’s 2015 Pinot Noir; Walter’s Vineyard Russian River Valley from . Maroon color,delicate nose, and gentle fruit, so easy going down you’ll lull the whole bottle in a flash- easy like Sunday morning pinot. Styled as French as a California wine can be, fruit from Pommard and Dijon 777 clones, all matured in French oak. 13.8%abv SRP $54/bottle.  

Gracianna’s Russian River Valley 2015 Reserve Pinot Noir. Garnet in color, raspberry nose, very green with a red rush of cassis and cherry; tons of heat on the top palate. French oak, classic pinot with smoky finish. Decant for an hour to really enjoy the supple fruit. 14.8%ABV, SRP $72/bottle.   

Ready for something new? Try the rare  grape and a Missouri wine! Only $25/bottle for this deep purple, almost black, full-bodied wine. BlackBerry, spice, bramble, high acidity and MONSTER tannins: pair with game, or kill the chef and eat him! #FlavorMonster 

2015 Zinfandel  : a big, bold, badass of a wine! Tons of red and black berries covered in spice, with notes of sandy loam, coriander and nutmeg on the finish. SRP $19, 14.9%ABV from 

Not to be outdone, the big brother from  arrives, 2015 Bushnell Single Vineyard Zinfandel tasting lusty! Deep purple, singular, focused, and so nice! 16 months in American oak lends vanilla, cinnamon, and a touch of elegance to overcome the bold cowboy and this badass fruit! SRP$30, 15.2%ABV   

2014 Pinot noir from lovely garnet color, floral and berry nose, mixed red fruit, delicate and nice, high acidity. You might think cherry cola and cherry pie, with a hint of oaky earth- and you’d be right! Let me drink this in the afternoon shade and watch the sun go down!  $58 SRP, 13.8% ABV 

Sangiovese from Reserve from Columbia Valley, WA. 18months in oak, big cherry & strawberry and long finish. SRP$70; 14.4%ABV. She will knock you out cold and you’ll wake up naked, but probably quite happy!

red blend. Berries and plums dominate the palate in this French merlot/cab/syrah blend. Secondary notes of slate and granite, cocoa and aged oak. This killer food wine sells for a cheap $12/bottle, make it your house red and don’t tell the neighbors! 13%ABV

 As soon as the last tweet was sent and the timer buzzed, I kept looking for the next wine.
Table 5 (You know who you are! ) is a great group of folks who, while frenzied, can crank out great notes without killing each other! To be accurate, the task is both complicated and quite challenging to get a good (i.e. accurate & with unique perspective) tasting note out AND tweet it out in such short time.
Cheers to you all- everyone who enjoys wine should try speed dating, er, TASTING – and see how it changes the way you talk about wine!
What’s the most unusual way you’ve had to taste and review wines?  
Drop a comment and let me know! 

à votre santé!

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The Old-World Consistency of Napa’s Chateau Montelena

15 Sep

Chateau Montelena Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 and 2014 vintages. Calistoga, Napa Valley, CA; USA. 14% ABV, MSRP $58/bottle.

 

When an opportunity presented itself to compare back to back vintages of cabernet sauvignon from Napa’s famous Chateau Montelena, I simply could not wait! For those who don’t track annual harvest reports, 2013 was reported as a perfect growing year in Napa. To follow, 2014 started out badly with drought, but eventually this vintage was touted as a “dream” season for the Napa Valley, in spite of providing less tannin and structure than the previous year. Both years are ideal for collectors, and highly suggested for oenophiles.

 

 

In my tasting sessions, I found the vintages had significant similarities and minor differences, as you might expect from the vines, vineyard, and winemaker.  After much deliberation, I decided to use one set of tasting notes, and I’ll discuss the subtle differences in the vintages afterwards.

Color is deep purple; the nose full of blackberry, spice box, hints of fresh violets, and notes of earth. The palate is massive blackberry with allspice, cocoa, some green cuttings, and a hint of ripe raspberry, with a beautiful blend of complex minerals which demonstrate the Calistoga AVA’s flexible, alluvial soils.

 

 

 

 

I tasted these vintages with several neighbors over a mix of grilled meats, savory salads, fresh roasted vegetables, and highly spiced mediterranean chicken. Any red wine lover who tasted either wine was in heaven, but there were some differences. The 2014 was fruitier and more direct, while the 2013 more tannic, with more structure. Had I not known the vintages, I might have expected it was the same wine blend with 5 years of age. Overall, the 2013 appeared drier with the fruit more condensed, whilst the 2014 still demonstrated youthful fruit and an edge towards jam or compote with less tannin and a hint of mocha. By carefully rationing small portions, I was able to taste these bottles for four more days in which I expected the differences to become more apparent. Instead the opposite happened! I found that with more exposure to air, the wines showed stronger similarities as the fruit muted and the tannins melded, harmoniously, like some of the world’s finest old-world chateaux.

 

 

Both of these vintages drink beautifully now, but will show improved finesse and expression in another 5-10 years and beyond, if you can wait that long. The fact that they are an excellent value (and drink like an $85 Napa cab) should not be lost on the wine lover or collector: if you drink these now, you’re a smart drinker; and if you hold them and drink them later, you’re a brilliant collector!

 

Needless to say, I was impressed by both of these vintages of Chateau Montelena. They are proof to me that the winery continues to have tremendous consistency from year to year, and maintains their historic drive for excellence that shocked the wine industry at the famed 1976 Judgement of Paris. It is wonderful to be able to access these wines at a moderate price point. For the serious drinker, the quality of winemaking will make you yearn to taste their upper echelon “estate” series.

 

 

If you are a serious Napa cab lover, you won’t want to wait to take advantage of these two vintages. Now is the time to collect, if you have not already. Or if you are like me, now is the time to invite friends over and open a few bottles to enjoy!

à votre santé!

 

Ehlers Estate Sylviane Rosé 2016

3 Aug

Ehlers Estate Sylviane Rosé 2016, St. Helena, Napa Valley, CA. ABV 12.8%, MSRP $36/bottle.

 

The color of this rosé of Cabernet franc is fuschia. Yes, I said fuchsia. That’s a first for me.

 

Imagine taking the innards of a sweet watermelon and mashing the dripping fruit thru a fine strainer into a sautée pan to make a reduction, cooking it down over low heat for an hour. You add a dozen plump strawberries, the juice of one lime, and one-half of a pint of raspberries. Reduce again for 30 minutes, then strain again, transfer and chill. It’s THAT color, ok? Fuschia! Getting back to the wine:

 

Color is fuchsia. The nose offers greenery of plants: raspberry bush and strawberry leaves, with watermelon vine and rind. There is a definite hint of fruit masked by lush greens; you can sense the fruit, but the plant is hiding them. On the palate, beautifully tart red berries and melon, then lemon-lime citrus. The acid appears as gorgeous lime zest, with sandy chalk on the finish. But you probably won’t spend any time thinking about the flavors, the essence, the notes on the medium-long finish. You’re going to drink this and go, “Oh, yes! Let me have some more of that, please?”

 

Trust me. Even the most verbose of astute critics can be silenced by a wine. I’ve seen it happen.

 

 

 

This rosé of cabernet franc is just delightful. Once you get some, you might turn the bottle around in your hand, pick up the phone and call the number on the back, asking to join their wine club so that you can get some of this juice delivered direct to your door. You would not be the first, nor the last, to do so.

 

When I saw the playful, unusual, and delightful color of this wine, I put it away in the cellar and put a note on it: OTBN (Open That Bottle Night). Months later, I spent days choosing a lengthy wine evening (nine+ bottles) and as I secured treasures from my cellar, I pulled this bottle out, wiped her clean, and put her squarely in the middle of the tasting: bottle #5. Part of me wanted to make this bottle #1, as with the recent steamy weather, it would be easy to start, continue, and end the evening on one wine -if only I had a case or more to play with. But with ten guests and one bottle,  everyone could get a fair pour, and that would be that. But it would be absolutely delicious!

 

 

‘Celebration’ Dinner wines. Not including the aperitif  Vinho Verde or additional after-dinner drinks, such as a 1962 Bas-Armagnac. 

 

Kevin Morrisey as a winemaker is quite similar to me as an audio engineer or production manager. In my world, the star gets what they need, everything in the production is highest quality,  done right, and the audience gets a PERFECT performance -the way show business is supposed to be. It doesn’t matter what happened on the way to the venue, during the load-in, or what technical issues might arise- anything could be in the way.  We overcome, and the audience gets the best show possible, period.
Similar to producing an event from a single idea, Kevin raises his “stars” from seedlings, grooms and cares for them with love on the vine, trimming the canopy for both protection and optimal sun exposure. He harvests them at the perfect time, uses the least intrusive measures (100% organic) to get the maximum result. He presses them with a champagne press. The wines see fermentation only in stainless steel, before bottling. No matter what happens during the growing season or after crush, he overcomes: his eye on the prize. Kevin treats this wine with both passion and scientific expertise, with love and the utmost of care- as he only wants to make sure the person who gets to drink his rosé will love the results and the message in the bottle. The best wine possible, period

There is a reason why this rosé is both priced comparatively with the finest rosé wines from Provence, France, and why it may be difficult to find months after release: This wine is just that damn good! Production size is low, and demand is high. And that’s why you should seek it and drink it. This is NOT the “drink me every day” rosé. To me, this is the engagement, anniversary, amazing dinner, or special event rosé. I call it like I see it, but you have to do the same.  Of course, if  YOU can secure a few cases, it could be the “drink me any day that ends in Y” rosé. If that’s the case… invite me over for a bottle!

à votre santé!

Opus One: America’s Luxury Wine Brand

8 Oct

En route to Lodi, I asked a fellow, trusted oenophile for advice: “If you had ONE winery to visit in Napa Valley, what would it be? The answer was one I’d hoped for, but never expected to hear. “Opus One,” was the reply. Seeing it was on the top of my list, I made my reservation, then used my New Yorker’s attitude on myself and insisted I would clear my mind; assume nothing, have zero preconceived notions, and let the experience wash over me like any other tasting.

In hindsight, I was right to do so. But in reality, I have to admit, it was a fool’s errand.

This is simply NOT just any other tasting.

The experience is geared toward the One Percent. Gorgeous lines, limited access, muted colors, hushed voices. I was unfazed. Even after tasting the wine, I kept my composure. I took my glass to the roof and wrote my tasting notes, which is when my restraint began to unravel.

 

The 2010 Opus One. Napa Valley Re Blend. Napa, CA.  14.5% ABV. 

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Deep ruby in color. The nose offers black plum, blueberries, mocha, dark chocolate and green pepper. In the mouth, an exquisite balance. Forward in the palate are blackberry, cassis, rose petals. Secondary notes of earth, clay, and vanilla. Overall response is a beautiful proportion of black fruit atop a bedrock of acidity and mature tannin. Larger than life, expressive, and with a long, delightful finish.  

 

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When does an American modern wine drink like a classic Old World Chateau? When it is the ideal marriage of old and new world.

 

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One of the few masterworks commercially available, Opus One is the premier luxury brand in American wine. There are more expensive brands, more exclusive brands, but this, without a doubt, is the Rolls-Royce of American wine. It merges the ideal of classic and historic French grapes and winemaking with American innovation, modern farming, and production.

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After inhaling the aroma of the wine for almost half an hour, I had to imbibe.

With a classic Opus One, these is no need for a spittoon. 

à votre santé!

Book Review: “A Perfect Score” by Craig & Kathryn Hall

18 Sep

A PERFECT SCORE: The Art, Soul, and Business of a 21st Century Winery by Craig and Kathryn Hall. 224 pages w/16 page photo insert. Published Sept 13, 2016 by Center Street Books. Hardcover MSRP $26, ISBN 978-1-4555-3576-7; eBook $13.99, ISBN 978-1-4555-3678-1. http://www.HachetteBookGroup.com

I usually fall madly in love with a bottle of wine before I want to find out about the winery owner, winemaker, and vineyards. But sometimes a great story will propel you to take a look from another perspective.

This was my case in agreeing to review “A Perfect Score: The Art, Soul, and Business of a 21st Century Winery”. I did not know Hall or Walt wines, and I had a blank slate (or palate) to experience this story.

Whether or not  you are a fan of the Hall Wines and Walt Wines brands respectively is immaterial to this text. I found myself carried away on a journey of two adults (and a few co-conspirators and day players) with a mutual passion for wine and life. A Perfect Score looks back and traces the twenty years of the authors’ journey together, starting with their separate, successful, adult business lives in Dallas and their meeting in 1991.

Girl meets boy and introduces him to the beauty of California, and along the way we observe Kathryn’s career as a U.S. Ambassador to Austria to their first joint venture in wine making, to their more recent and current lives owning and overseeing two wineries with multiple vineyards in the Napa Valley. Many trials and tribulations are involved, from losing two entire seasons of their winemaking to a warehouse fire, to the fiscal damage of 2008’s recession. Today, both wineries are successful and highly praised in RP wine scores, and the culmination of the book resounds in accomplishing a lifelong goal and career-making 100 point award for Hall’s2010  Exzellenz Cabernet Sauvignon.

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As I enjoyed this book over several weeks and an accompaniment of wine (while reading, you also will stop mid-chapter to pour a glass. It’s inevitable!) I found this “Dynasty-meets Bottle Shock” story great fun. Would I expect that a re-telling of business challenges, personal struggles, and the conundrums of operations and tough decisions in farming and winemaking to be a compelling story? It is. The stories move along with flashforwards and flashbacks, delving into specific of winemaking and their business evolution, finally giving way to a relatively quick finish of the “holy smokes, all this hard work paid off” ending with their perfect Robert Parker wine score.

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Craig Hall and Kathryn Hall

As with daily life and storytelling, you will sometimes find a bump or two in the road. The prologue is insightful and endearing but fails to re-connect back with the reader later in the story, while the first chapter suffers from rapidly shifting perspective. The lengthy third-person narratives are interspersed with first person accounts by Craig and Kathryn, sometimes switching again over to a third person point of view or even to a “joint” but ambiguous couple’s perspective. These inconsistencies, however, are a small price to pay for sections of the book I enjoyed the most: the struggles the authors face in their personal lives and winemaking. The first-person accounts of the challenges they surmounted down to the tiniest details, and the real effort that goes into farming, tending, harvesting, pressing, and the intricate choices made in the winemaking, operational, branding, and distribution processes kept my interest piqued.

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The Hall Wine Cellar

From the title, the reader already knows that A Perfect Score finishes up with a win, but the struggles in the story are both dramatic and real. As I mentioned at the start of this review, I usually fall madly in love with a bottle of wine before I want to find out about the winery owner, winemaker, and vineyards. But my favorite chapters, as an oenophile, are the exacting details of winemaking, harvest fears, the 7am barrel notes sessions, the dedication spent on the Sacrashe vineyards, and their expansion into pinot noir. I love the stories about re-designing their facilities and incorporating LEED certification, and their passion for art and beauty: building a gorgeous barrel cave, designing architecture and art for the Napa public to enjoy. Devouring this book made me want to visit Hall Wines, to see their vineyards and the Hall art collection, and taste their fruit and wine. It made for a lovely read, and a great trek to the property’s St Helena vineyard off Highway 29 in the Napa Valley. While the photos above came from Hall with approval, the photos below are my own from my visit to their Napa property & tasting room.

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Carefully tended vines in the St. Helena Vineyard

 

Bunny Foo Foo Sculpture, St. Helena Vineyard, Napa

img_2590Tasting ripe fruit from the St. Helena Vineyard


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Beautiful fruit, almost ready for harvest!

 

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Perfect pairing: a Napa Cab and A Perfect Score! 

 

I expect A Perfect Score will inspire wine lovers, vintners, and those who dream of opening their own wineries for decades to come, in tasting their wines and visiting Napa Valley, to falling in love with a piece of land and tending young vines in hopes and dreams of another great accomplishment.

 

à vôtre santé!

 

 

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