Tag Archives: Napa

Thanksgiving 2017 Postmortem

25 Nov

Plan: To pair Thanksgiving Dinner with 1) an all-American group of wines, 2) from the wines currently in my cellar.

Challenge Accepted! Since I am an admitted former old world/French wine snob, my cellar does not lean towards a lot of American wines, but I was certain I could do this. I did not give myself time to worry, think, or shop, as I mix the live PA portion of NBC’s Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, and spendthrift  96 hours prior to the meal totally obsessed with the broadcast, not the meal or wines.

READY?

 

GO!

 

Pre-game: something light with a hint of sweetness. Searched my cellar for a bottle of Nimmo or Nuvola from Markus Niggli, but resorted to a great standby from NY State: Dr. Konstantin Frank.

KICKOFF! To begin the meal I wanted a sparkling rosé for a toast, and my guests who would rather drink sparkling the entire meal. I recently touted and planned to serve a great sparkling wine from Sonoma County. I searched my cellar and was lacking American sparkling (I failed twice in a row? Am I getting old?) But a beautiful charm-method Prosecco, a spumante rosé blend of pinot noir and raboso by Carpene Malvolti came to the rescue, and served some of our guests throughout the entire meal! 

2nd Quarter: After the toast, we began a vegetable/beef soup course which features very fresh, sweet vegetables. For this, I wanted a white wine with high acidity that could pair with the savory beef. In replacing my historic Bordeaux blanc blend, I considered viognier & chardonnay, but finally settled on a Rhône clone of Grenache Blanc from Acquiesce featuring a full-bodied mouthfeel and great acidic backbone.

 

 

HALFTIME! As the main meal was being served, I poured first rosé of pinot Vicarious Rosé from Modus Operandi Cellars, and then moved on to the more full-bodied Grenache Rosé from Acquiesce. Both of these are small allocation wines that sell out immediately: Jason Moore of Modus only makes one barrel (25 cases) of his rosé at the demand of his longtime fans; Sue Tipton, owner/winemaker of Acquiesce, sells out her rosé as soon as her club allocation is fulfilled. These wines are quite different but share some similar qualities:  both have the perfect balance of  red fruit and soaring acidity, beautiful freshness and tremendous  vivaciousness. Each represents the grape from which it is made, and the rosé of pinot is delicate, creamy and floral in flavor and palate, while the Grenache rosé has bold fruit, more acids and tannins, and a fuller mouthfeel. Both wines are tremendous at pairing a meal comprised of savory meat, a cornbread stuffing with cranberry and brussel sprouts, green beans and slivered almonds, a rich and savory sweet potato casserole, and fresh cranberry sauce.

 

 

3rd Quarter! As the meal progressed, some wine drinkers automatically start looking for red grapes. So the next set of wines are obvious: pinot noir! I have been thinking about this meal all year long, and changed up my game. On the lighter side, the perfumed nose and delicate mouthfeel of Harmonique’s 2009 vintage The Noble One Pinot from Alexander Valley, while compared to a just-released, full-bodied, more heavily structured Sonoma Coast 2015 pinot noir from Rivers-Marie, hailing from Calisotga, Ca. Simply delicious, each one hit a slightly different series of notes with food to serve the palate wonderfully. While I poured small tastes and then full glasses for some guests, others like myself wanted short pours to be able to change up sips of heaven between bites of dinner.

 

 

On The Bench/Special Teams:  Bold red wine! I had a big, bold red wine from a Napa producer on reserve at the serving table, but ended up not opening it. Even my big, bold red wine lovers were satisfied with the two pinot noir offered. But for special teams, with dessert we enjoyed a stunning mulled wine (Cabernet Sauvignon mulled with brandy, spices and fruit) made by a wine & spirits specialist who graced our dinner and brought this our delight. YUM! Extra Points!

 

Postgame: my plan had some flaws.  Not having a brut rosé from California was a major sticking point, I had to dock myself 12.5%.  But the food & wine pairings and guests drinking pleasure were both great successes, which received full marks! I give myself a B+  on this challenge. 

 

What did YOU drink this year for Thanksgiving?

 

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!

Dinner With Friends- #MWWC11

10 Aug
Note: This post is 1) different that what I normally write, 2) about a recent wine dinner, as well as 3) a response to my friend Jeff ‘s request for submissions to the Monthly Wine Writing Challenge, #MWWC11 which if you really want to (if you blog & want to write about wine)  you can see here.  Or if you ride or like comic writing, you should check out my favorite  section of  Jeff’s blog, which I really enjoy. I hope you enjoy this post! Feel free to comment and let me know -JvB
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A friend I’ve not seen for 28 years was in town for a family wedding- his! So I invited Joe & Kaz to come to our home for dinner while they were in NYC, visiting from Osaka Japan. Joe has lived in Japan for almost two decades and I knew we’d have a lot to discuss. I was a little nervous about making dinner since our Western meals are quite different than those in the East, so I enlisted my (much) better half to help create a solid dinner plan, while I, as in classic form, worried and worried about what wines to serve.

I stared into my cellar, pondering choice after choice, changing my mind several times. Finally I settled on a small- production petite sirah I’ve been holding for a special occasion to pair with beef, and a vinho verde I love on hot summer evenings. I grabbed a bottle of Chateau de L’Aulée AOC Méthode Tradtionelle brut sparkling wine from Touraine, France so we could toast the wedding. And just for fun, I selected two half bottles of dessert wine, a port and a sauternes. I felt prepared. No, really I felt terrified, but at least I had wine!

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Since both my wife and I are freelancers in the arts and work a lot of (ok, almost all) evenings and weekends, we rarely get to entertain. We also didn’t know how busy we would be prior to our dinner. As my schedule got increasingly hectic, she agreed to shop while I was working. Our menu plan included several cold salads that I could help prep and she could execute while I was grilling the entrée. The butcher didn’t have the cut of meat I wanted available, so she purchased several shoulder steaks and we agreed to make kabobs to allow us to serve efficiently.

As she sliced a butternut squash and put that into the oven, I cubed the beef and dumped it into a bowl for the marinade- then diced fresh garlic, onion powder, cracked 4-color pepper mix, and ground some Himalayan salt on top. I added two heaping tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil, a splash of balsamic vinegar, then raced to the cellar to get a bottle of my ‘everyday’ red table wine– a bottle of 2011 Los Vascos from Colchagua, Chile which is managed by none other than Baron Eric de Rothschild.

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This wine is one of the best values I keep in my cellar at about $10 a bottle, and is great to drink but doesn’t break my heart if I need a lot of it to make a meal taste wonderful. I poured it on the beef and mixed my marinade happily, putting the bottle aside as a backup to the Petite Syrah, then covering the marinade bowl and sliding it into the fridge to continue the prep.

Annette and I chopped Israeli cucumbers and diced roma tomatoes, parsley and scallions for a cucumber/tomato salad that could be dressed quickly with oil and balsamic vinegar. As I washed vegetables for the kabobs, she cut yellow and red peppers for me, moved to prep an avocado salad that had to be made at the last minute, then put sweet peas and water into a pan to cook while I scraped & preheated the grill.

Thirty minutes had passed and we were moments away from our guests arriving, so we enlisted a daughter to set the table while I aerated and decanted the petite sirah, using a True Fabrications Aerating Pour Spout to pour into the decanter. The petite sirah was a gorgeous, near-black purple in color, delightfully aromatic with the scent of african violets, and exciting even to pour. I was happy that the spout had caught some sediment as well as aerating. I rinsed it and set it aside, then pulled the meat out and built the kabobs for grilling, using mushrooms, onion, cherry tomato, yellow and red pepper, and of course the marinated steak cubes.

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Joe and Kaz arrived and we greeted them, opened the bubbly and toasted their wedding, and I took them with me to the backyard to grill the kabobs while Annette completed the salads and vegetable courses.

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The grill ran about 550 degrees and while kabobs require about five minutes a side for medium well (turning over once), I prefer to turn them every three minutes as neither the vegetables nor the meat always turns as one wants. After a quick sear, I moved several kabobs to a higher level to grill them to medium rare over the same duration. We chatted about their trip, enjoying the sparkling wine until it was time to take the kabobs off the flame.

Following our guests into the dining room with a plate of burning hot skewers, I noticed that Annette had made a couscous (when did she find time to do that?) and also managed to plate the butternut squash rings so that they enclosed the steaming hot green peas, a neat little visual I didn’t know was in her repertoire! I refreshed flutes with sparkling wine and poured the petite sirah, as Joe gave a quick Japanese blessing, “Itadakimasu” or いただきます.  A few bites in, Joe exclaimed his joy at the wine, which made me beam proudly and take time to explain my choice, ignoring the earlier requests from my 13-year old daughter who had begged me not to wax poetic about wine tonight…sorry, sweetheart!

Modus Operandi is the Napa, CA home of winemaker Jason Moore. I was introduced to his wines by a fellow oenophile who INSISTED I try Jason’s cabernet sauvignon- I loved it, noting the depth and complexities of flavors, with an unusual bonus: chocolate covered strawberry notes on the finish. I quickly joined the Modus wine club and have been a fan ever since. Jason may not be the first of the independent winemakers that I decided to champion and support, but he is highly accomplished and we share an affinity for passion in the things we do. His work is exemplary.

Back to the dinner table: Joe noted the sirah was more black in color than red, more floral than fruity on the nose, and deeply complex. I agreed, and explained that it was made in very limited quantity (only two barrels produced) and that I chose it specifically to complement both the meat and array of vegetables due to its flexibility to pair so well with grilled foods. I have a full review of the ’09 sirah here.

 

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The meal I had been so worried about had been a success, and we talked late into the night. After a small intermission we cleared dinner, I made coffee while Annette served berries and some small pastries I’d picked up at Financier for dessert, and I brought out the dessert beverages to our guests. These included the 2006 Chateau Doisy Vedrines which is showing beautifully right now, a tawny port from Kalyra Winery, from Santa Barbara, CA that I just tasted recently on my Wine Blogging trip, and a calvados: Christian Drouin Coer de Lion “Selection”, a delightful digestive that offers apples, spice, and cinnamon-all the best parts of apple pie- in the glass.

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We sampled sips of all three, and a little XO courvoisier that was a gift from a client.

My fears of failure seemed to have been conquered by paying great attention to detail. Fresh, flavorful, and colorful food well-paired with tasty wines and made for a lovely, memorable evening with old friends and our spouses. While I don’t know when I’ll see my friend Joe again, I hope that Annette and I will work harder to entertain more guests at our home sooner, rather than later.

à votre santé!

 

 

 

Wine Upgrades from Underground Cellar

19 Mar

The modern marketplace is full of places where you can buy wine, and pitfalls that accompany them. When something interesting and trustworthy comes along, I want to share it with you!

I ordered from a wine website recently called Underground Cellar. They are not a wine club, but sell specific wines with a unique angle: any and every bottle you buy at one price from a producer enables you to get an upgrade to a significantly more expensive bottle. There’s a little bit of gamble to it, and a little bit of fun. I was intrigued by their site, and like everyone, I like a good bargain. So I took a chance!

I went online, signed up and reviewed the options. I saw an offer for a 90+ point $20 red& white blend with a possible $50 upgrade.  It sounded too good to be true, but the optimist in me won over the New Yorker, so  I signed up and purchased six bottles, selecting ground shipping. Within a week, the wines arrived at my door. I opened the box and found four bottles of Tess Winery’s Red & White Blend and two bottles of Napa Valley 2001 Peju Province, Estate Bottles Cab Sauvignon.

From a price perspective, I did a quick search and saw that one of my local wine merchants sells the Tess for $19.99 (cool) and I saw the Peju online for $66/bottle. Score one for value.  Now, would I like them?

The Tess Proprietary Red Blend 2011 was a new one for me: a red and white grape mix. This  blend actually features Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Zinfandel, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. I was curious and a tiny bit worried for just a moment, until I poured and tasted. Bright vivid red in the glass, with a nose of fresh cut flowers, berries and herbs. On the palate, a burst of raspberry, strawberry, and a hint of melon. This could be an ideal summer red, with far more body than a rosé wine yet with the whimsy of a great pinot or sauv blanc. After tasting the wine, I tried it with fish (great pairing) chicken (great pairing) red meat (good pairing) and veggies (great pairing) and was surprised that I haven’t seen this kind of wine before. Well, I expect we’ll be hearing a lot more from the winemaker Sarah Fowler and proprietors Ariana and Lisa Peju. With good depth for a younger wine, lots of notes with more than a dash of whimsy, you’ll drink this with friends and enjoy it time after time. Tess Winery joins the ranks of small California winemakers (organic certified, to note) to keep an eye on!

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I waited until I had a red meat pairing on the menu at home to open the Peju Province 2001 Estate Cabernet. The color is a deep maroon with fading edges, while the nose showed cassis, dried rose petals, leather, earth, and oak. The age on this is apparent, and the first taste was an inspiration of classic Bordeaux. This teenager is mature, established, and a force to be reckoned with. Decanting half the bottle and letting it breathe for 30 minutes was a smart move. Another taste confirmed the first but time had allowed a huge amount of growth that might have required hours in the glass:  excellent depth, complexity, showing relaxed floral notes, older fruit (cassis, red currants, cranberry) and mellowed tannins. Very nice winemaking, a pleasure to taste, and a huge bargain at $20 for the bottle. I furiously made cellar notes for the remaining bottles and plan to open them with friends at a beach party this summer.

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I was happy to have met Tess and Peju wines for the first time, and tried the Underground Cellar. It was an exciting gamble, and one that paid off nicely. With a little research, you can get both stunning bargains, high quality, and good service. You know I’ll be going back for more.

As a parting note, I haven’t even mentioned Underground Cellar’s Influence Points, Referral Program, or free wine storage- until now. More reasons to check them out, just in case you needed them.

à votre santé!

Popping the Zork on Pepperwood Grove

16 Feb

Pepperwood Grove Pinot Noir 2010.Chilean grapes, vinted & bottled by Pepperwood Grove Winery, Napa. 13% ABV. List $10/bottle, $9 direct from winery, seen locally as low as $7/bottle.

Always on the lookout for a good value, I saw a shelf talker that mentioned this wine was a Wine Enthusiast Best Buy and Wine Spectator Best Value. OK, at this price, that’s enough to give it a try. I got home and realized they used a zork for bottle closure, and I wanted to taste Pepperwood Grove’s wine, even if only for the use of the Zork and their trademark “Groovy Green Bottle”. On the back of the bottle, they have two sliding scale markings, placing this closer to “Dry” than “Sweet”, and medium bodied, to help customers decide if this wine might be to their liking. That was a third thing I liked, and I haven’t even tasted the stuff in the bottle. Someone is a savvy winemaker. But here we go, unwrap and pull the zork:

Color: violet body with light edging. Nose: ripe plum, cut flowers and toasted almond. In the mouth, cherry and plum, a touch of spice. Modest fruit meets modest acidity and  tannins, medium finish. I’d serve this for an afternoon party in a second, it’s easy going down, gentle enough for everyone but enough body to please the cab lovers, carefully built and sleekly packaged. At this price, what’s not to love? No wonder it has the accolades. Smart winemaking that will garner a big chunk of marketplace.

Don’t take my word for it. Crack the zork and try it yourself.  Whoa, I just saw that they sell this by the BOX! While I haven’t tried boxed wine before, I guess I will now. Keep an eye out for my box wine review…

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à votre santé!

Hoopes, Hoopla and Liparita: No Quiet Tuesday Night

19 Jun

For some unknown reason, my introduction to several great modern-day American winemakers have all been either coincidences or pure accident. My Buddhist friends might explain this more as karma, but in the end, it matters little. “It was simply meant to be.”

I sat down on a quiet Tuesday night with winemaker Jason Fisher to talk about wine and taste his work. Jason was running on fumes, yet still jovial after a day dashing around the concrete jungle instead of plying his trade amongst his beloved vines, tools, and truck. An observer might think we were two old buddies meeting to discuss business and family- and would be halfway right- but we’d never met previously. Next time, we surely will be old friends with more great stories to tell.

Jason is the artisan winemaker, and one-third of the Hoopes, Hoopla, and Liparita wine team, along with Spencer Hoopes (proprietor and namesake), and John Healy who handles sales. This trio manages to churn out seven thousand cases of wine between the two labels annually, and unless we East Coast wine junkies start working for it, most of those cases may stay in California, where the bulk currently goes.

You might think that spending an evening drinking wine with a biochemist is a dull, systematically boring idea- unless like me, your grandfather was a chemist and your sister was a forensic biochemist. Jason’s biochemist/oenologist background was amazing to me, and offered an opportunity to discuss the exact process and choices he considers on a daily basis when making his product. I think every wine lover/drinker would relish an opportunity to spend time with the person who makes the choices in crafting a boutique, ultra-premium wine. I certainly did!

But far beyond Jason’s intellect, oenological prowess, and advanced degrees is a passionate winemaker and lover of quality. And even if you don’t care for details and chemistry, you will still be wowed by his charisma and impressed by his obvious love of his work- creating delicious wines. Speaking of which I will now bring up the topic you’ve all been waiting for: WHAT WE TASTED!

Hoopla Wines Chardonnay, 2011; 13.5%ABV, List $18.99

It took me a day to characterize what I love about this: it’s the un-chardonnay, since it never touches the oak that so many other winemakers use to mask problems. Hoopla exemplifies everything that is good naturally in chardonnay: It tastes as though you plucked the grapes right off the sun-washed vine. Citrus, grapefruit and honeysuckle dominate while notes of flint, gravel, and granite speak of the Yountville terroir. You realize as the wine expands and changes in the mouth, that it ferments and ages in stainless, never seeing wood- keeping the true characteristics of the grape intact, showcasing the terroir, grape, fruit selection, its time on the lees, and time spent in steel before bottling. It’s all out in the open, and it shows wonderfully. At under $20/bottle, it is no wonder the Californians won’t let this out of their sight!

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Hoopla Wines ‘Mutt’ 2010 Red Blend; 14.3%ABV, List $29.99

Mutt is a blend that includes 80% cabernet, 10% old vine petite syrah, and 10% merlot. It has a deliciously musty nose, and on the mouth hits you with big spicy mulberry, boysenberry, and pepper with cedar on the lengthy finish. Not too big for its britches, this is a wine you can enjoy with your friends in the backyard, at a black tie dinner, or as a lovely gift idea. Flexible, capable, and athletic come to mind when thinking about this wine. And the label is great, I hope to meet this dog (Dante) one day, and his owner, Spencer Hoopes.

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Hoopes Vineyard Oakville Cabernet Sauvignon 2009; 14.9%ABV, List $65.99

A ‘classic’ cabernet with a nose similar to the Mutt (delicious mustiness, reminder of wonderful old world reds). Old World melds with Classic Napa. Big, black fruit bursts in your mouth initially with clove, graphite, earth, loam and tight tannins following. This wants to be opened and see air, so decant or open hours before drinking. A delightful wine, fits well in the competition of Napa “establishment” reds like at a lower price range and to me, this is a killer value as it drinks like a $150/bottle. Very good now, I expect it will mature beautifully.

Hoopes-Cab

Liparita  Oakville Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, 14.9%ABV, List $61.99

This cab tastes of all red fruit: red plum, bing cherry, raspberry are forward with wildflowers on the nose and notes of spice, oak, shale, gravel, and vanilla on the back palate, good tannins throughout the long finish. A delicious Napa that immediately compares to Plumpjack, Conundrum, Stags Leap, and Highland Estates. Lush and sophisticated, it was only a small surprise to me when Jason proudly stated these grapes are the Old Wente Bordeaux 337 clone, aged 33 months in all French oak.

original

Liparita Yountville “V-Block” Cabernet Sauvignon 2009,  14.7%ABV,  List $61.99

This may be the Screaming Eagle for the rest of us, as it accomplishes the massive quality with first red, then black, then blue fruits in succession, the intense structure throughout the midpalate with a huge finish, yet the soft and feminine aspects are very present, most notably with the very gentle tannins.  I so very much wanted to bring a bottle of this back home and deconstruct it in small sips, as I was perplexed by the number of sensations I experienced on the tongue, midpalate, backpalate, and finish. Again, this is a wine that is an excellent value and would be appreciated dearly by the new world wine lovers.

Lip Young

My only problem with Jason Fisher’s wines? I wanted more. Really, drinking these made me want a mixed case to drink over a couple of weeks so I could try several pairings and carefully note changes over time with air. But like many great things in life, a long night passed too quickly and left me with a nostalgic feeling and desire to find these wines again, and share them with friends. This, my friends, is a good thing.

The best news? Beyond letting you know that another little-known group of high-value wines deserves your attention and patronage, I get the honor of sharing with you the information on where you might access these bottles locally. In the metro NY area, you can find Hoopes, Hoopla, and Liparita wines in end-sale establishments like Astor Wines,  Colonial, Main Street Cellars, Premier Wine & Spirits, Ridge Fine Wines, Vinomania, and Wine Library, as well as fine dining establishments like the 21 Club and London Lenny’s.

At the beginning of this too-long post, I mentioned that my introduction to several great modern-day American winemakers have all been either coincidences or pure accident. One day when I’m telling people about sitting down and meeting Jason Fisher for a night of one-on-one wine discussion, I expect people will respond as if I told them I was hanging out with Baron Eric de Rothschild downtown on a quiet Tuesday night. For now and then, it’s just karma on a not-so-quiet-Tuesday-night. Evidently, it’s really good karma. Because Jason expressed that knows that quality matters more than price, more than image. If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing right. If it’s all about making good wine to start with, you’re going to end up with some really good options. And these options happen to be really wonderful in your glass.

à votre santé!

Napa Takes on European Styling

15 Apr

Bennett Family Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2006, Napa Valley. Sample from Wine Chateau, $20/bottle.

Color is purple with ruby edging. A luxurious nose of black cassis berry with menthol, loam, musk and oak– I immediately thought of bottles aged over a decade with serious lineage and hefty price tags.

In the mouth, a hot mixture  (14.5% alcohol) of cassis, blackberry, and musk overtake the taste buds, with a hint of vanilla and wood in the long finish. What I felt to be a feminine wine shows power with balanced acidity and soft tannins, puckering up the mouth for the next bite or sip. What a pleasure to taste a Napa wine with just enough age to allow the structure to develop!

Bennett wine purple

On my first tasting I refused to write anything as I enjoyed the wine, perhaps too much- which is an endorsement in itself. On my second tasting, I forced myself to stop, appreciate and note the herbal and mocha notes in the wine, though I enjoyed the qualities of the European-styled blending and aging more than the complexity of flavors. This wine drinks well at room temperature, but may be ideal when served slightly chilled to reduce the slight heat from the alcohol content, though the finish tapers slightly as a result.

This wine drinks favorably to wines that are double its price without being as costly or as old. To me, this is a home run for the American wine drinker who looks for a bottle that can be a lovely gift bottle at $20 or a great bottle to serve for dinner with special guests without breaking the bank. Here, you have the best of old word charm from new world farming at a very nice price. Pick up a couple of bottles- one to taste, and one to share or give away- you’ll be glad you did.

You can check out The Bennett Family’s site or buy their Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve direct from Wine Chateau.

Bennett granite

Raising a Toast With Odin’s Nectar

8 Sep

I bought two bottles of Modus Operandi’s 2009 Valhalla before it was gone. Only a single barrel was made (25 cases) and those fellow fans who love winemaker Jason Moore’s creations have figured out that if you want his wine, you have to grab it when you can. I have learned the hard way, you will too by having to wait for his next creation.

Valhalla starts off big: sealed in black wax with an oversize bottle, it pours deep purple into the decanter. Focusing closely in the glass, I see black in the center of the glass edging towards purple and finally bleeding into red on the edges as I examine the color. As I swirl I note a higher alcohol content than some of the other Modus wines but very similar to the Napa standard- and this one comes in at 14.5%.

The nose offers red cassis, strong black plum, menthol, asphalt/gravel, and a hint of oak. (I had a powerful floral element but the room I’m in is dominated by a huge bouquet of flowers so I’m not going to include the floral element in deference to that outside influence.) Allow me to say simply, the wine smells great. In the mouth, it’s pronounced and powerful- not as balanced as some of Jason’s other creations, but a force to contend with: massive black fruit with bold acidity and strong tannins reel in my lips and cheeks as it swirls in my maw. I take some air and am surprised how much this comes back as tart- “What a perfect complement for red meat!” I ponder, this is a wine that screams rib eye medium rare with a baked potato and creamed spinach. Were it sold by the thousands, you’d see it in the cue with Stag’s Leap, Silver Oak, Opus One. But this is a rare and personal wine, so it will be enjoyed much more privately, and oh so well if paired correctly. I regret getting only a couple of bottles, and now I have to choose the time, place, and company when I will open the next one.

I took a moment and in the mirror saw my tongue was completely black/purple from my tastes, and with a big smile I refill my glass. It takes effort to think in detail about the qualities of this wine; like driving a stunning race car, the experience overpower your senses and you just want to drink in the moment, literally and enjoy. This is a hard glass to put down, yet another of Moore’s genius oenophilic concotions too good to contemplate as you savor the last drop and the finish lingers so long in your mouth with the tart aftertaste of an epic wine that serves the namesake well. Afterwards, the empty glass reminds you of the good things life brings you that sometimes are cut short or made in very limited supply. A bittersweet moment? It is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.

à votre santé!

or in this case, Skål!

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