Category Archives: Wine Travel

Grapelive Latest

Grapelive Pacific Northwest Wines Update: Wines to Look For

By Kerry Winslow


2008 Patton Valley Vineyards Pinot Noir “Lorna-Marie” Estate Grown, Willamette Valley, Oregon.

Sadly this beauty is wildly priced, otherwise it would be an Oregon classic, but for that kind of money Beaux Freres would be a better choice I think, even though only a tiny amount was made. With my pricing gripes, this is a stunning Pinot Noir with nice depth and clear focus that is a step up from their regular bottling. I have admired Patton Valley for a good many vintages and am always impressed with the pureness and lovely texture they get in their Pinot Noir. The 2008 Lorna-Marie is darker and sexier than the others in the line up with smoky blackberry, mineral spice, crushed flowers and a full plummy palate of sweet cherries and tea notes. The subtle backdrop of forest floor, strawberry compote and vanilla add just the right amounts of each to the mix and the acidity lifts everything without any bitter trace. There is not much doubt that this wine is nothing short of excellent, just that touch of envy that I can’t afford it., but I am none the less grateful for the effort and will enjoy a few bottles of their very delish Willamette Valley and be as happy as a clam.
($70 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive


2008 Retour Pinot Noir Willamette Valley.
Even though I don’t believe the bottle I tasted was a perfect one, there was so much to enjoy in this Eric Hamacher made Pinot I have high hopes that the next one I try will rate even higher. I have only tasted Retour once before, but I have sampled Hamacher’s wines many times in the past and must say, not only is he a great person he is a fine artisan that produces wonderful Pinot Noirs, and even some fine Chardonnay as well. The 2008 Retour is subtle and a wine of great finesse with intriguing delicate flavors that remind me of some Spatburgunders or classic Cortons from Burgundy with hidden intensity and silky richness that lingers on and on with red fruits, toffee, slate like mineral essence and truffle. *Like I mentioned this bottle was maybe slightly bruised or heat affected, so I have a gut feeling the next one will show more heightened fruit, but even if it was a solid example, I was left wanting for nothing and would very much recommend it for it’s class and unique restraint.
($50 Est.) *93-94 Points, grapelive


2008 Gramercy Cellars Syrah Columbia Valley, Washington State.
This lush chocolate and blueberry pie of a wine has hedonistic written all over it, but the is a certain grace about it and a spicy kick in the pants that is refreshing and charming too. The nose lets you know it is a Washington Syrah, it won’t fool you at all, not that I wanted to be tricked, it just is what it is and is just great the way it is. This 2008 has some nice acidity to hold the mocha and vanilla cream in check and will a few years it should be something even more special. There is boysenberry, cassis, espresso and creamy cherry layers, hints of fennel, pepper and vanilla in this full-bodied red and the finish is long and mouth coating. I really like Gramercy Cellars, they do really fun and serious stuff, so I recommend trying a few bottles if you get the chance!
($45 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive


2008 Gramercy Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon Columbia Valley, Washington State.
This juicy rich Cabernet is very nice now, but I would suggest giving it some time in the cellar to fill out and deepen, it is round and has some baby fat at the moment and loads of red fruitiness that kind of hides the true nature and Cabernet character at the moment, even though it is a really enjoyable wine. The 2008 has a spicy edge and smooth tannins behind round up front raspberry, currant and cherry fruit with a mix of cedar, tobacco leaf, mocha and sweet oak vanilla. Just a bit young yet, but shows wonderful promise if you are willing to put it away for a few years. On a side note, Gramercy also makes one of the best Tempranillo wines in the States and the 2008 is a rockstar version, check that out as well, it is really amazing.
($45 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive


2009 White Rose Estate Pinot Noir Willamette Valley, Oregon.
Another knockout from this winery, honestly I was thrilled by their 2008, but this 2009 vintage looks even more interesting! There is a sweet and savory Burgundy like quality that sings in this well made Pinot Noir from the heart of the Willamette Valley. This is made from a selection of barrels from prized vineyard sources that adhere to mostly organic practices and are cropped for balance and intensity, and it really shows in the finished product. This is a star winery that deserves attention and gives a remarkable bang for the buck! White Rose’s 2009 Willamette Valley cuvee as plenty of interest and depth with fresh cherries, mineral, tea spices, lavender and plum leading the way, with some rose petal perfume and subtle oak notes. There is lots of vivid life in this wine, but everything is balanced, focused and silky. If you want a super wine from Oregon, this is the real deal, I highly recommend it.
($30 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive


2009 White Rose Estate Pinot Noir “Dundee Hills A.V.A” Willamette Valley, Oregon.
If you are looking for a true “Terroir” wine, well here you go, not only is this pure Oregon Pinot at it’s best, and it translates the Dundee Hills in perfect fashion. The Red Hills of Dundee shine through in this cuvee with loads of soft red fruits, edgy mineral, red soils and truffle. The Dundee A.V.A gives an extra red spicy, almost rocky cayenne pepper note along with a strawberry and lavender tone and this Pinot highlights those and remains true to them right through, start to finish. The nose has rose petals and plum and the mouth is rich with silky fruit, raspberry, tangy cherry and wild strawberry. The earthy and stone mineral streak is subtle and adds complexity while fresh acidity keeps this feeling light, even though there is plenty of rich layers. White Rose is making some amazing wines and this one stands out, so if you can find it, pick up a few it will blown you away.
($45 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive


Gambero Rosso Gala

Gambero Rosso’s “Gala del Vino Campano” event in Naples.
By Brandy Falconer, Grapelive Guest Columnist

Halloween in my eyes is pumpkins and costumes and candy, and although Italy is a little behind the times when it comes to this creative and fun celebration, this past week I was happy to see Naples come alive with overgrown fuzzy spiders and kids in costumes and spooky window displays.  I got much more than I bargained for when I extended my recent stay in Naples, because I was able to participate in what I consider a delightfully Italian spin on Halloween:  trick-or-treating with a wine glass!
On October 31, Gambero Rosso, producer of Italy’s most renowned wine and food guide “Vini d’Italia”, held a tasting event in Naples celebrating the Southern Italian region’s top-awarded wines and wineries.  The event location, Citta’ del Gusto Napoli, is a purpose-built food and wine event center complete with a test kitchen/professional tasting room, two-level expo area and beautiful outdoor seating area.  Home to monthly wine seminars, tastings and cooking classes, this location signifies a great shift in locals’ interest in wine as a part of their culture and cuisine, a delicious adventure we Californians have enjoyed for years. The event itself was a way for the wineries to showcase their award-winning wines for journalists and enthusiasts alike, and for the participants to discover the region’s treasures and compare them side-by-side in one evening.

Of the 1,019 entries from 200 wineries submitted from Campania’s five areas, Avellino, Benevento, Caserta, Napoli and Salerno, 53 were chosen for the final tasting, and 43 received either the top award, the “tre bicchieri” or 3-glasses, or the “due bicchieri colorati” or two-colored-glasses.  Gambero Rosso is proud to highlight the wines from Campania because, as Daniele Cernilli, Director and co-Founder of Gambero Rosso believes, the region is one of the few dedicated to producing quality wines from ancient indigenous grapes, the major percentage of wineries producing 100% varietal wines without blending, even the 15% that is allowed by law.  In addition to the 24 stands showcasing the wines, seminars held during the event in the beautiful tasting room highlighted different groupings of the wines like “top wines under 15 euros” and “the Veterans, classics of excellence.”
Upon entering the event, my friend Kim and I were handed a press kit and a little fabric bag with a long strap.  Our candy sack?  No, the ingenious item invented to hold a wine glass around your neck, leaving your hands free for writing or grabbing delicious bites of taralli or mini fried ricotta pizzas between visits to the tasting stands.  Is there a better adult version of trick-or-treating?  Heck, we can buy candy any time we want, but going from stand to stand where eager sommeliers in full costume (ok, uniform) were offering exceedingly generous pours of the region’s top wines was a great treat!  The only trick was remembering to spit out the wine or at least pour out the remainder after the first sip.  Now, when it comes to Halloween, I am normally the first to decree costumes a must, but there was no need this year because what’s creepier than glossy eyes and a smile full of purple-stained teeth?!
We started our tasting with the whites and simply went stand to stand, which allowed us to really get a feel for the expression of the grapes from the 5 areas of the region, then doubled back for the reds, which were mainly Taurasis.  Among the featured wines, 19 of which were Tre Bicchieri award winners, the classic Campania grape varietals were on show: Fiano, Greco di Tufo, Falanghina, Aglianico, represented by the Taurasis, and Piedirosso.  Various awards were being announced throughout the evening, including one for sustainability, going to Contrade di Taurasi, and the Grand Mention going to a delicious Taurasi Principe Lagonessa DOCG 2006 by Amarano in Avellino.  Top honors went to Mastroberardino’s Taurasi Radici Riserva 2004, which in today’s news was just declared the top wine in Italy by the foremost guides.  An excellent example of comments by Vini d’Italia’s Gianni Fabrizio who has said that in recent years the benchmark of Italian wines has been placed farther south; first in Sicily and now in Campania, where wineries who have seen a slower growth process have in fact matured with a solid base of winemaking, gaining notoriety not “at once” as their counterparts to the north, but notably “at last.”
One thing about this event and about Naples in general was the expression of personalities, not only of the wines, but of the people who make and represent them.  This was an awards party, more for celebrating, rather than promoting, and the relaxed atmosphere added to the fun.  Notable whites for me were the San Francesco Costa d’Amalfi Bianco Pereva 2009 with its freshness and balanced flavors, perfect for seafood.  While the wine’s finish was adequate, the winemaker’s was rather lingering, as he recounted at length Jessica Biel’s recent excursion to the vineyard…  Another favorite white was the I Favati Greco di Tufo Terrantica Etichetta Bianca 2009 which expressed the typical complex, subtle honey and vanilla flavors which come from the grape, rather than from oak barrels.  This sharp contrast with American winemaking, white wines aged only in stainless, is something I love.
My favorite reds were the Taurasi Riserva 2005 by Contrade di Taurasi, wonderfully balanced between body and flavor and, with great enthusiasm, the Taurasi Radici Riserva 2004 from Mastroberardino-silky smooth, yet complex and elegant.  The only thing better than tasting this wine was sipping a glass at the end of the event with Mastroberardino’s winemaker, Massimo di Renzo and agronomo, Antonio Dente, who, along with Dario Pennino, Director of Sales, make up the team that produces these incredible wines.  As a group they are a great example of the concept of family, whether by blood or by choice, as being a strong and lasting foundation for success.
Like a great wine, the Gala’ del Vino Campano event had all the characteristics of excellence: personality, elegance, expression of the local area and the ability to bring people together to enjoy each-other’s company.  Next time you’re looking for a new wine, don’t be shy about picking up a guide from another country, like Vini d’Italia.  Having a look at how another country sees itself and rates its own wines will give you more of an insight into what’s in the bottle.  Salute!

Grapelive Latest: Wineries to Watch

Napa Valley Refocused With Some New Faces to Look For

By Kerry Winslow, grapelive


kwimage615.jpgOver the past couple of years, with this deep recession, there has been a big refocus on what is Napa Valley and where it should go in the future. Many labels and wineries have disappeared and many more with do so soon, it is the times and the reality now. The boom years and the era of easy money are gone and it is time for the real wine guys to shine again, a time for the passionate winemakers to move out of the shadows of the wannabes and take their place as the face of Napa Valley. Now, I will admit that those that still have their fortunes continue and most of the big names still draw attention, but I am seeing some new faces making it even in these difficult economic conditions, and that is a great thing to see.

I will always root for the “I’m doing it because I love it, and because it is in my heart” crowd and want to give them my loyal support when I can. During the last few months I’ve traveled the wine country, especially Napa Valley and met these kinds of souls and was struck by how down to earth and enthusiastic they were, and tasted their wines, and was left in awe, being impressed greatly by the quality and complexity of these handcrafted wines. For the purist, Napa Valley is all about Cabernet Sauvignon so that is what I’ll stick with here for this article, though I have seen the quality of everything from Chenin Blanc to Zinfandel rise in this fabled Valley.

One of my friends, who makes wine, and once said he’d never do a Napa Cabernet, is now doing exactly that, though he is mixing it with a healthy dose of Petite Sirah that is growing in the same vineyard. I just tried he barrel from this last harvest, and it was a true unique terroir wine with life and vibrancy, proving that Napa Cabernets don’t have to be formula flavored generic to be admired. What I mean is, over the last ten years most Napa wineries tried to make what everyone else was making, a dumbing down of the wines, making for a dark, low acid, almost sweet wine with lots of oak. They were all hoping to gather big scores in the wine press and make lots of money, and many did for a long while. Not that there was anything wrong with the wines, it was that for a period of time most tasted very much the same. They almost took out the natural flavors of the vineyard, by means of picking very late with super high sugars and using all high toast new oak barrels. On the good side, this made the wines with smoother tannins and less acidity, making the wines much easier to drink young, unlike the “Old School” Napa guys, Diamond Creek and older Dunn Vineyards which always had powerful tannins and were difficult or near impossible to drink young.

There seems to be a happy middle ground that has come to the fore, and some experienced and some new winemakers that have taken a bit of old and bit of new and have dialed in a more interesting wine in the process, the would call it letting the vineyard, or the place speak for itself. While we’ve seen a trend to bring the sugars down, as well as the alcohol level, but not sacrificing true ripening of the grapes. This is a more intensive method and makes for higher costs in the vineyard, as the vines need to be much more closely catered to and coddled. Making sure the grapes are fully ripe, but not lacking in acid is tough in hot vintages, though with great management and care it can be done, and I’m seeing it in these new Napa Cabernets.

Here are some wineries and winemakers to search out or watch over the next few years as their stars are rising, or have been even more so lately. Without any order of significance I’ll put some of my thoughts and reflections of whom I was really impressed by in this last year or so and think that will be more highly regarded in the future. Of course many will be missed or overlooked, as I can’t visit everyone in this time frame, but I’ll follow up later with others as I have opportunity in following articles.

rudiuswines.jpgA few years back, I met a winemaker Jeff Ames, from America’s great south, that was just starting his own label in his spare time, as he was a full time assistant winemaker to Thomas Brown, at Schrader, Tor (Jeff took over as head winemaker in 2003), Outpost and Maybach, one of the elite winemakers at the moment, and tried his wine. It was a Syrah and it was almost mind-blowing glorious, and I knew I had to keep an eye on this guy, and now his winery Rudius is a huge hit and he is specializing in Cabernet Sauvignon now with tiny lots being made from small plots from unique corners and hills around Napa Valley. Jeff Ames, the winemaker, has with almost no budget or huge dollars backing him has turned out to be a star and I can’t even get a bottle of his wine it is so sought after! I can say I tasted his first Rudius wine, but now he is in with Robert Parker, the world’s most famous wine critic, which is like getting the golden ticket. I suggest you search him out and get on his mailing list as soon as you can, I can tell you that you will not be disappointed.

Rudius Cabernet Sauvignon is sold only on the mailing list and as a futures pre-order, the current vintage has sold out, meaning I can’t write any tasting notes even. The Rudius Syrah and Grenache are worth checking out in the meantime.

sheldons.jpgAnother young guy that has turned from Rhone style wines to Cabernet Sauvignon is Dylan Sheldon, of Sheldon Wines a “Micro-Winery” who found an old vine vineyard in St. Helena that has a field blend of mostly Cabernet Sauvignon and with a good chunk of Petite Sirah mixed in the site. Instead of separating the grapes he has chosen to craft a cuvee from them as they are and the result is very impressive in the barrel, though you’ll have to wait another couple of years before release. Dylan and his partner and wife Tobe, have won praise for their signature Chateauneuf-du-Pape wine, the Vinolocity, and have had 90 Point scores in Wine Enthusiast for their Pinot Noir, but have now turned their attention to Cabernet and will be doing more of it in the future. The Napa wine they call “Weatherly Cuvee” might be offered to their list early, so again I’d check them out, and drink some of their other wines while you wait.

I was lucky enough to run into Dylan recently, and got to taste some of his wine in barrel, including his Napa Cabernet Sauvignon Blend (with Petite Sirah) to be called the Sheldon”Weatherly Cuvee” Napa Valley,  from the vineyard in St. Helena. This wine is about 2 years away from release and just a baby in barrel, but is all ready showing elegance and delicate flavors, though it with really bulk up as it ages and develop a thick texture. It has a bright purple hue and lots of blackberry fruit, it is wine to look forward to….

fairchild2.jpgOne of the top wines I’ve had out of Napa in the last couple of years comes from a new winery called Fairchild Estate, and if you are a regular reader of my articles you’ll have heard me comparing it to Chateau Latour and heaping praise on these Cabernets. Lawrence Fairchild’s estate vineyard and wine Sigaro is an amazing wine, both the 2006 and 2007 releases are magical. Fairchild employs the talented team of winemaker Paul Hobbs and one of the top gurus of vineyard management Jim Barbour to tend to his baby, a very smart and successful move. Fairchild also has a cuvee from top vineyards that Paul Hobbs makes for him, and it too is remarkable, with the 2006 mostly coming from Beckstoffer’s To-Kalon Vineyard and the 2007 mostly from grapes off Beckstoffer’s George III Vineyard, both some of the best fruit available.

2007 Fairchild Cabernet Sauvignon “Sigaro” Napa Valley.

This amazing wine is all ready very compelling with a hedonistic and fragrant bouquet of perfume, violets, lilacs and other wildflowers on the nose with touches of cedar spice, black fruits and vanilla. All this before you even taste the wine itself, which is a good sign for things to come, and good things do come on the palate, in force too. The mouth is filled with black currants, mountain berries, cherry liqueur, blueberries and crème de cassis, while in the background there is plum, melted licorice, a sage like spice and cigar box. A nice elegant cherry and cedar element come out too after some air, as does some mocha, almost chocolate like notes add complexity. All the layers unfold beautifully and as all the wines I’ve tried from this estate everything is well balanced with a very defined focus, while the tannins are well integrated and ripe, giving solid structure with any harshness. Only 100 cases made. ($150 Est.) 97 Points, grapelive.

doslagos.gifThen there is a tiny estate on the eastern side of the Napa Valley that should get some mention, Dos Lagos Vineyards, this really small vineyard and label has been brought from total obscurity to almost breakthrough status by the talented Robert Foley, for winemaker at Pride Mountain Vineyards, and famous for his own Robert Foley label as well. Bob fell in love with the grapes here and uses them in his own wine and also makes a small lot of single vineyard Cabernet for Tom Dinkel. Dinkel bought the property around ten years ago with a small vineyard and has planted a bit more since, and has been rewarded with great fruit, but the yields are so low there is not much wine at the end of the day. Foley has certainly played a huge role and been a great guide to Dinkel, and has made a fantastic Cabernet Sauvignon that is both expressive of the vineyard and full flavored and explosively rich, maybe taking it to the extreme with going over the edge is the best way to describe it, but is great non the less.

2007 Dos Lagos Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley
The 2007 Dos Lagos is a deep and thickly concentrated Cab with solid structure and fruit intensity with a black/purple hue that coats the glass. The palate is ripe, but focused showing massive black fruits and pure Cabernet character, leading with blackberry, dark currant, plum and blueberries before array of background flavors unfold. Interesting crème de cassis, mocha, cedar spice, cigar tobacco and violet like perfume all come across in layer after layer with powerful tannins holding things together, though thankfully they are not harsh or distracting from the wine and I’m sure as it is still a very young wine will fade in time to allow much pleasure over the following 5-10 years. Bob Foley, ex Pride, and maker of top Napa Cabernet like his own Claret, Switchback Ridge and Hourglass seems to have fallen in love with the terroir at this rugged Atlas Peak location, and after tasting this vintage, I think he is on to something big here.($125 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive

cimarossarivadiponente.jpgLastly, I am excited to be visiting soon Cimarossa winery on Howell Mountain, a winery I fell in love with a few years back. This vineyard and estate is all ready a top level producer, though still not well known, with the perfect location, steep terraced vines and with Mia Klein making the wine they have too much going for them not to succeed! Mia, famed for her past and present roles as winemaker to Della Valle, Araujo and Spottswoode, just to name a few as well as her own Selene label, continues to grab headlines and press for her elegant and layered wines that rival or better all comers. Ex-Peter Michael man, Sean Capiaux made the Cimarossa Cabernets until this last harvest, and the current wines are drinking great! Cimarossa (Red Hill) with it’s Italian owner Dino Dina of Genoa also makes an estate olive oil from trees on the property, that also give the place an exotic flair, not that it needed more with such great wine and being on the famous slopes of Howell Mountain, Cimarossa is a must have Cabernet Sauvignon. You would be well served to get on their mailing list soon and watch for their new releases coming soon.

Of course there are many others I should talk about and I will, but this is a tight little list of some very interesting people and wines that are just now being recognized and that offer wines that are distinct in character and have soul, that also showcase their individual terroirs and styles. Napa Valley has its Opus Ones, Caymus, Silver Oak and Joseph Phelps that produce tens of thousands of cases of very good, if not great Cabernet, but is nice to see the small guys take the stage too, and especially as they produce their Cabernets in the hundreds of cases, making it just that much more special and rare.


Cimarossa Winery
1185 Friesen Dr, Angwin, CA, 94508-9670. Phone: (707) 965-2143


Fairchild Estate Vineyards
P.O. Box 807 St. Helena, CA. 94574 Telephone (866) 725-7503. Fax (707) 581-7393


Sheldon Wines
6761 Sebastopol Avenue #500 Sebastopol, CA. 95472 Phone: (707) 829-8100 Fax: (707)824-2676


Dos Lagos Vineyards
Phone (415) 279-9227 

Fax (415) 358-4534


Rudius Wines
P.O. Box 552 Napa, CA. 94559 Phone: (707) 287-2986

Grapelive Latest: Vinitaly Report

Grapelive Latest: Vinitaly Report
By Brandy Falconer, Guest Columnist, Grapelive



Vinitaly Report-April, 2010


bchips2.jpgIf someone says, “wine is for everyone,” I’ll bet the first thing most people think of is this wonderful new wine culture of enthusiasts and accessible tastings to discover new wines, and more importantly, new favorites.  At the same time, most wineries are embracing that sentiment with enjoyable and well-made “entry-level” wines.  Not to be confused (in most cases) with cheaply made wines, these diplomats travel the world and introduce indigenous grape varietals and wineries to enthusiasts via their value price in supermarkets and wine lists alike, which is great.
What I discovered at Vinitaly, though, is that “for everyone” has a flip side, and actually means for every kind of person–from the casual drinker to the connoisseur, from the weekly budget shopper to the big budget collector.  Think about it, it is the fine wines, ambassadors if you will, crafted by the top producers, which gain notoriety through scores and reviews in big magazines and are usually what create interest in the wineries in the first place.  This “two sides of the coin” approach applies to most everything in life, and I can also relate it to my other passion, auto racing.  There are many levels of competition, from amateur to elite professional; heck, even I have raced in an SCCA club race.  But, it is the premier events that really build the interest in fans and participants.  If there was no Indianapolis 500 or Monaco Grand Prix, would as many people have such passion and dreams to pursue the sport (Would I have belted myself in, scared out of my wits, just to experience what it’s like for myself) So let’s look at the other side of the coin this time, and celebrate the wines that put the wineries on the map and continue to inspire the public…and celebrate the people who are giving a little part of themselves in the crafting of their wines, no matter what their background.

bchips.jpgEach year at Vinitaly, there is an exclusive tasting event that happens exactly 24 hours after the expo opens.  This year, I was invited to attend this event, the “Blue Chips of Italian Wine”, hosted by Civilta’ del bere, one of Italy’s leading wine magazines ( which for me was like being invited to attend a UN conference.  Representing over 40 countries, the 200 participants were journalists and “authorities of the international public of wine tasting” invited to experience how 12 top wineries in Italy are able to create wines of excellence in quantities large enough to support worldwide demand.
Borrowing from the stock exchange term for the companies who have the highest value based on the number of shares times price per share, the Blue Chips of Italy are those wines sold at a premium price while being produced in appreciable quantities.  Qualifying factors were: being sold in all major markets in the world, and having won at least two awards of excellence from the five main national guides including Duemilavini, Gambero Rosso and L’Espresso, as well as nods from international critics such as Robert Parker and Wine Spectator.

Armed with my headphones, ready to receive live translation (my Italian skills were no match for the speaking velocity and different accents) I again felt like I was sitting in at the UN, and I couldn’t help but think that maybe if the UN had glasses of wine at the table instead of water there would be a lot less arguing…

The first wine to be poured was Planta’s Cometa, IGT Sicilia Bianco 2008, and the parade of suited-up sommeliers from the AIS (Associazione Italiana Sommelier) with bottles in-hand was magnificent as they came streaming into the room.  This 100% Fiano varietal wine, with a ‘juicy’ balance of acidity and complexity was an appropriate representation of the winery’s research into indigenous varietals. In the mid range of production at 88,000 bottles, this wine has a retail price of € 22, or $32.

Moving through the lineup, the first wine I had experience tasting was Mastroberardino’s Radici Taurasi DOCG 2005.  CEO of sales and marketing, Dario Pennino recounted a 2007 vertical tasting of this wine where the 1934 vintage was awarded 99 points by Gambero Rosso. This elegant and delicious 100% Aglianico wine which has won numerous awards and scores over 90 points, has a production of 80,000 bottles and a retail price of €25 or $37.

Allegrini’s Amarone della Valpolicella Classico DOC 2005 was the next wine to grab my attention because, as an Amarone lover, I was impressed by the freshness and layered flavors of this wine made from partially dried grapes–a result of Allegrini’s preference for a more modern style than conventional taste.  Retailing at €60 or $90, the production is 125,000 bottles.

The Tuscan wine that left me wanting more was the Flaccianello della Pieve, IGT Colli della Toscana Centrale 2006 from Fontodi.  It is This Wine Spectator 99-pointer made from 100% Sangiovese has enveloping aromas of ripe berries, spices and leather with distinct yet balanced tannins.  A production of 50,000 bottles, this super Tuscan retails for about €60 or $90.

Finally, the one I had been hearing about, the red giant, with the second-highest production at 180,000 bottles, San Guido’s Sassicaia, Bolgheri Sassicaia DOC 2006, made from Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc.  From its intense ruby color to the elegant aromas to the beautifully balanced silky cherry mouthful, I enjoyed every moment of my epiphany as I realized why some wines really do merit their high price tag, in this case, €130 or $195.

I will never again roll my eyes at someone extolling the virtues of a wine like this, and learned that the flip side of the “wine for everyone” coin can be just as interesting and exciting.  Though I am typically an advocate for indigenous varietals, this wine is without a doubt special.
Though all merit comment and exaltation, the following wines, not previously mentioned, completed the tasting:

Cantina Tramin–Nussbaumer, Gewürztraminer Alto Adige DOC 2008.  55,000 bottles.

Falesco–Montiano, IGT Lazio 2007.  55,000 bottles.

Firriato–Harmonium, Nero d’Avola IGT Sicily 2007.  120,000 bottles.

Lungarotti–Rubesco Vigna Monticchio, Torgiano Rosso Riserva DOCG 2005.
 50,000 bottles.

Cantina Santadi–Terre Brune, Carignano del Sulcis Superiore DOC 2005.  80,000 bottles.

Ornellaia–Ornellaia, Bolgheri Rosso Superiore DOC 2006.
 140,000 bottles.

Antinori–Tignanello, IGT Toscana Rosso 2006.  350,000 bottles.

vintrullia.jpgThis particular day, I concentrated more on the organized tastings than going from stand to stand (with 4,200 to choose from, you can end up in wine oblivion!).  One I was particularly excited about attending was that of Podere Castorani winery in Abruzzo, owned by Formula 1 driver, Jarno Trulli.  Racing season has started with its usual changes in rules, drivers and helmet designs, and while searching for news on the internet, I took a minute to check out Podere Castorani’s website (  When I saw that Jarno would be at Vinitaly to present his wines at a special tasting, I quickly called the winery to reserve a spot.  Abruzzo is best known for it’s flagship grape, Montepulciano, and the region, amidst rebuilding after the earthquake last year, is determinedly moving forward in many aspects, including showcasing their other varietal gems, and showing how well their wines are aging.  The Abruzzo pavilion, with the slogan “pleasing notes” referring to the wines as well as the region’s devotion to music, was spacious and full of large and small stands alike, with a beautiful tasting area and even a restaurant.

As one tasting was finishing, crowds of people were gathering for the Podere Castorani presentation and I could see Jarno Trulli talking with whom I assumed to be some of his associates.  The first thing I noticed was how low-key he seemed to be.  I could see that this event was entirely about the family winery, no matter that he had just flown in from Malaysia, and in a few days would be returning to China for the next Grand Prix.  I admit, this surprised me, and it made me even more interested to finally taste the wines and learn about their philosophy.  For those of you who have witnessed other celebrity figures venturing into wine, take this into account:  the family farm in Abruzzo was already established in 1793, and the 32 hectares of current estate vines are part of that original land.  Fifteen years ago, the family and business associates decided to build a modern winemaking facility and 2000 was their first year of modern vinification.  With this new facility, Jarno, coming from the world of Formula 1, wants to express the right balance between tradition and technology.  We began the tasting with the 100% Trebbiano d’Abruzzo DOC Coste delle Plaie, with fresh and balanced acidity and minerality and flavors of citrus and exotic fruits.  Next was the Pecorino Colline Pescaresi IGT from 100% Pecorino grapes, which delivered a silky fruitiness with some herbal notes, which made me think of enjoying it with a baked herb and cheese dish.  I am a big fan of Montepulciano, and the next two selections, the Coste delle Plaie and the Amorino were both true to the grape and terroir, and I found the Amorina Casauria Montepulciano d’Abruzzo DOC with its deep ruby-purple color and balanced tannins to be the most delicious, like a mouthful of ripe cherry and plum.

2_castorani.jpgAfter the organized tasting, I spoke with the winemaker, Angelo Molisani to learn a bit more about the wines at their impressive stand complete with a vintage Formula 1 car at the entrance.  While he poured and explained a few more wines from their lineup, Jarno joined us with one of the winery’s associates and I learned about their philosophy for the international market.  The winery produces both estate wines and wines representative of other regions of Italy, like Barbera, Prosecco and international varieties like Syrah all grown in various regions, then vinified at the estate, allowing this smaller winery to offer a variety of wines representative of Abruzzo and all of Italy to international importers.  Needless to say, the winemaker is extremely busy, but loves the work they are doing.

While pouring the Cerasuolo Montepulciano d’Abruzzo DOC 2009 Rosato, Angelo was explaining a typical dish that might be enjoyed with this wine, the Abruzzese specialty, “Brodetto”, a stew made with tomato, peppers and different kinds of fish.  Angelo explained that Jarno’s father Enzo, who loves to prepare this dish, is an excellent cook and is planning to open a restaurant, much to the delight of those who enjoy his talents.  As for me, I can’t wait to try the Brodetto and happily accepted an invitation from Enzo to visit the winery and try this local delicacy with their wines.

The “wow” wine of the day was the Podere Castorani Montepulciano DOC 2004, the original wine produced by the estate, and what they call “the beginning of the story.”  If “comfort wine” was an acceptable description, I would use it here.  Well-balanced body and tannins, with beautiful color and flavors of spices and berries make this a wine for a meal that you wish would never end. And though I didn’t really want my experience to end at Podere Castorani, it was time for me to move on, and for them to share these great wines with other enthusiastic visitors. I look forward to visiting the winery soon and seeing the beautiful terrain of Abruzzo, with its mountains, coastline and devotion to nature.

As for my impressions of Jarno, for someone who would be justified in safeguarding his privacy, as one of only a handful of elite drivers in the sport’s highest echelon, his availability and genuine interest in this event was impressive. If his hope is to achieve a balance between tradition and the fast-paced world of Formula 1, I’d say he has achieved that in his winemaking and in his lifestyle. Bravo.


Grapelive Special Report

Down by the River
By Kerry Winslow



Russian River-April 18, 2010


rrfarm.jpgThe Russian River Valley never ceases to amaze me and I find new hidden corners and gems each time I visit, plus I have habits that need feeding, so I swing by some of my usual suspects almost each time I get up that way. Now that I live in the backyard basically, it was an easy drive on a wondrous and warm spring day, and my mood for adventure has just that much brighter. Off Highway 101 at Healdsburg, resisting to strong pull to slip into town and hang out on the plaza, I lefted and headed into the wine country on Westside Road that is the line between Dry Creek Valley and the Russian River Valley regions. Westside veers left about a mile down and you fast approach the fancy of my heart, Rochioli and the gateway to the wineries in the area though a series of twists and turns down the river itself at certain points along the way. For me, a long time fan of Rochioli, I just can’t pass the place, even to just stop and taste the current releases and see the winery cat, but alas Sweetpea wasn’t hanging around the busy tasting room on this day. Rochioli had only wines that I have reviewed and talked about at length just recently, so it was on to something new.

rocsign.jpgWith early green leaves sprouting and a hot and brilliant sun shining through the vines, it was truly a magical drive and still without the slowpoke summer travelers to hold me back. The vineyards are beautiful all year for me, but spring is a special time to see them, especially when they are framed by so much green, in the hills and trees and everything thing takes on a sharper dimension, bluer sky and greener leaves come more vibrantly into focus at this time. Passing these scenes just gives you a bigger smile, a feeling of well being, and may even make the wine taste that much better. I pulling off at the old Davis Bynum property, now called Thomas George Estates, these guys are new and I’ve not heard a word about them yet, so here was the chance to get my first impressions. I must say, they have done massive upgrading to the place and I was awed by the commitment they are putting into a small family winery, everything is new and well planned out, and they even dug a cave into the hillside, very rare for the Russian River, and no detail has been overlooked. They are new here and are still filling the cave up with their red wines, from the 2008 and 2009 vintages, while the 2009 whites are under the winery keeping cool. I got a great tour from Eric Demuth, an up and coming wine maker in his own right, who is helping out at Thomas George Estates. Eric’s dad used to have an Anderson Valley winery name Demuth, but has since sold out and retired, though still selling his older vintages out of his Mini Cooper. Eric’s label is Demuth Kemos, and has some limited Cabernets and a Chard available, and I will get back to you on them when I get chance to visit his own winery at a future date.

thomasgeorgepn.jpgBack to Thomas George, and their wines all of which are well made and the whiles were especially refreshing. I enjoyed their stainless steel fermented and aged Viognier and Chardonnay, then Eric showed me the 2007 Pinots, one from estate vineyards and a special bottling of an “Allen Vineyard”, those who know the famed Williams-Selyem and Gary Farrell would have heard of this top vineyard, similar to Rochioli “West Block”, and finally a tasty Dry Creek Zinfandel. The Pinot Noir selection was the highlight, and both showed great on this day, but that “Allen” really got my attention. I am looking forward to coming back here regularly to see how things progress, and hike up to the vineyards again, they put a path in that leads up a steep forest grade to a vineyard that overlooks much of the valley and helped give me my exercise for the day.

Pushing on South in direction I made my way to one of the long time old school wineries of the region, after leaving Westside Road, twisting east on River Road, I exited up Laguna Road and tucked away about a mile is Joseph Swan Vineyards, close to Forestville and one of the pioneers of the region. I used to have Swan often by in the eighties and nineties, though have not followed them that closely in recent years, so it was fun to go here and see how the wines taste now. Joseph Swan is still very old school, and the wines are packed with tannins and acidity, making drinking young wines next to impossible, except for the Chardonnay.

jspn061.jpgThese wines take me back, though I must say, they seem very had and out of date when compared to what is available of great quality on the market from the region. The contrast is dramatic, but I’m sure those who put a few bottles away, or like to cellar their wines will be rewarded by stocking away some of the 2007 Joseph Swan Pinots, especial the powerful and tight “Great Oak Vineyard” wine. The Chard was very clean and ripe, the 2006 Cuvee de Trois Pinot was almost ready to drink and quite enjoyable, the monster Hermitage like 2005 “Great Oak Vineyard” almost ripped my palate to shreds, you might give this one another decade, then there was an odd ball, the 2006 Tannat “Matthew’s Station Vineyard” that was very raisiny and had a Port like character, not to my taste at all, but it seems to sell well and have homes to go home to, though it is nothing like a good Madiran (a Tannat wine from South West France). Swan also does lots of Zinfandel, and I tried the 2005 “Mancini Ranch” and again thought it would be best to give it more time as it was too tight and spicy still. No question, if you want to taste some throwback wines, that really are for the cellar, Joseph Swan is your must visit place when you get up here, they continue to produce wines in their iconic and classic style, true to their heart.

After Swan, I was interested in seeing the most modern and extreme example of Russian River wines would taste, so I continued East now on River Road to Martinelli Winery, a modern classic if you like. Under the guidance of the famed Helen Turley, Martinelli has become the stuff of legends, making big fruit driven wines that go down well with all the critics. These ripe high alcohol wines sometimes are too much for me, especially the Zinfandels and Syrahs, but as mentioned they have an almost cult like following and get big scores. I must admit, I really do like the Pinot Noirs and even covet their Chardonnay at times, and I must say the Martinelli’s are great people, down to earth and very friendly, so it would be hard not to love their wines.

kwgeorgemartinelli1.jpgToday was made even better than I could even imagine, it was their private customer wine pick up day, and they had a special event going where they were pouring some very rare releases and even some 2009 Pinot and Syrah from the barrel! Of course, they would let me in off the street, right? Well, they didn’t call the cops and in fact everyone was amazingly friendly and I got to taste all the wines, both in the tasting room and at the special pouring near the crush pad out back. I must be lucky sometimes, this I know and am grateful, and today was working out perfectly with no problems or even a wrinkle, so I even was able to taste through the Martinelli line up with George Martinelli, a tall charming man that heads up the farming side for the family winery. He took me through all the wine and even pulled wine from barrels for me, again I must thank my lucky stars and thank George as well, as he made an all ready good day great and it was great to hear about the vineyards and vines from someone that is so close to them and knows them all. I was sadly only a taste and spit guy today, which caused some interesting looks from the faithful, though the Martinelli’s understood perfectly, though spitting into a drain on the floor doesn’t look pretty! But, we are professionals here and some of these wines were pushing 17% alcohol, so regardless of not looking cool, it had to be done. That all said, and in good humor, these wines had wonderful depth and flavors that did make me wish I had brought that designated driver everyone talks about.

Martinelli is losing Helen Turley after this year, but don’t worry about a thing the same guy that was making the wine under her is staying, Bryan Kvamme, and he is the real deal and will keep Martinelli at the top of their game for years to come. Bryan was there today as well, holding down the Zinfandel table and pouring the fabled “Jackass Vineyard” to great fanfare I must add, that was a very popular spot today. martinellipn.jpgThe wines that really stood out for me, as good as all of them were, had to be the 2006 Three Sisters Chardonnay, the 2007 Bondi Pinot, the really amazing 2007 Moonshine Ranch, the 2008 Bondi Pinot and the 2009 Zio Tony Pinot from barrel. Before everyone screams at me, I will say the Jackass Zin and Giuseppe & Luisa Zin both showed very well too, though the only Syrah that jumped out to me was the 2009 barrel sample. It was interesting to hear that they plan to expand the Syrah line up and that they are looking to it to be their driving force red in the future. Certainly, they know what their customers want and even if they are not to my taste, these wines are very well made and receive lots of great press. And as I said, I really liked the 2009 from barrel, so be your own judge and try them yourselves. There is no doubt about it Martinelli Winery and the Martinelli family, starting here in Sonoma back in 1860, are a class act and it was with great respect and even greater pleasure to see them and taste their wonderful wines.

It is hard to beat the wine county in springtime, and the Russian River Valley is one of my very favorite places to be, and days like today will keep me coming back even more. The people and the region are special treasures and it is an honor for me to call them neighbors now and get to know them on a new and more personal level. It is a joy to have guys like Eric Demuth and George Martinelli enlightening me to the insider ways of the Russian River and to learn about what is next for the areas wines. This place is special and I have high expectations for the future up here, with old and modern ways, old and new clone vines, and good stewards of the land, you can have it all and it tastes sublime.


Rochioli Vineyards & Winery
6192 Westside Road
Healdsburg, CA 95448-8319
(707) 433-2305


Thomas George Estates (Winery)
8075 Westside Rd., Healdsburg, Sonoma County, CA 95448


Joseph Swan Vineyards (Winery)
2916 Laguna Road
Forestville, CA 95436-3729
(707) 573-3747


Martinelli Winery
3360 River Road.
Windsor, CA 95492
(800) 346-1627


Grapelive Latest: Brewer-Clifton Release Lunch

Grapelive Latest: Brewer-Clifton 2008 Releases
By Kerry Winslow



Brewer-Clifton Wine Lunch at Spruce, in San Francisco, April 12, 2010


bc4.jpgIt doesn’t get much better than this, sitting next to Steve Clifton of Brewer-Clifton Winery, the hot and highly prized Santa Rita Hills Pinot and Chard producers, and having his wines with an amazing lunch at Spruce Restaurant in the City, I mean these are the kind of food and wine events you dream about. I had never been to Spruce, though I had heard great things, and it lived up and surpassed the high praise it receives, no question. As for the wines, well, let’s just say they were near perfect and the word fantastic comes to mind. Plus, the bonus was that the staff at Spruce was warm and professional, they deserve to be mentioned in the highest regard for their quality and manner. The food was beautiful and tasted out of this world, so if you haven’t been to Spruce in San Francisco, go, and there is no doubt in my mind you’ll love the food, the place and the people. Sometimes we get jaded, I mean, I get to a lot of wine lunches, tasting and dinners, more than my fair share I’m sure, it though sometimes gets to be all the same and it is hard to not get burnt out on them once in a while, but I am so glad I braved the pouring rain and traffic to attend this lunch. Not only was it a lovely and interesting selection of wine and terrific food pairings, I really learned a lot and time just flew by.

Brewer-Clifton started in 1996, Greg Brewer and Steve Clifton, friends, winemakers and partners found a way on a shoestring budget to form a new winery and craft some of the best Chardonnay and Pinot on the Central Coast. From the start they shared a vision and made a plan to focus on the region, which would become known as the Santa Rita Hills, or Sta. Rita hills if you want to obey copyright laws! With the help of the Santa Barbara Futures program through the famed Wine Cask Restaurant and Wine Shop in Santa Barbara, Greg and Steve were able to showcase their talents and build their brand, and getting the money up front helped secure them as a viable operation, in fact as Steve tells it, they had to sell their wine on futures from the barrel, because they had no money for labels, corks or for grapes! And that is why they did the wax capsules and still do, they couldn’t afford the set up costs.

bc3.jpgVery quickly, word of mouth and restaurants had Brewer-Clifton rolling and these two stars were born and the area soon was the rage and everyone was buzzing about the Santa Barbara and especially the new Santa Rita Hills region. Before these guys, there was a few names that got press and nice reviews, these included Sanford, Byron and Ojai, now only Ojai is in the quality league as both Byron and Sanford got taken over by big wine companies that just wanted them as labels. This was before the movie “Sideways” made the Santa Rita Hills the most sought after wine area in the world, but of course the extra hype after “Sideways” was icing on the cake for Brewer-Clifton and they have never looked back.

Greg Brewer also is the head winemaker at Melville Winery and Vineyards where his talents again have made them almost as famous, and maybe even more, While Steve and his wife Crystal have their own project making some of the best Italian style wines in the States under their Palmina label. But it is the Brewer-Clifton wines that is the core of their passions and the region that holds them true, they now source only from the top sites in the area and have a bigger say in the farming, which really shows in the latest wines and gives them more security for the future.
I met Steve and Crystal about ten years ago, and have been luck to have had most every vintage of Brewer-Clifton since 2000, when they were able to release enough, wine not bought in futures, to get them out on the market. They as people, Greg, Steve and Crystal, and as winemakers have always impressed me, with the Brewer-Clifton label ranking right up there with Rochioli in my personal favorite wines.

bcpic1.jpgAround the 2000 vintage, they got the stunning endorsement of famed wine critic Robert Parker and have regularly seen 90-95 Point rating from him, making them very exclusive wines to find and help push them to the top of their field. None of their overwhelming success has gone to their head(s), in fact they all seem even more down to earth and playful than ever, and are very easy to talk to and eager to learn about their own wines and how everyone sees them. Steve and Greg have changed next to nothing about how they make the Brewer-Clifton in the last 10 years or so, except a tweak of yeast and going from 25% new oak to zero new oak in the barrel regime, it has really been focus on the vineyard that has been where they have done the most. I guess you’d call them traditional in their approach, and certainly it is far from modern to not use new oak, and in most cases the kiss of death in the ratings game where lots of sweet toasty new oak gets more attention and better reviews. But, sticking to their core values and wanting to show the fruit over oak and terroir over the latest craze has worked for these guys. Now they have been modern in terms of high alcohol, in fact they have had Chardonnays topping out in port like range, at well over 16%, though with their new found control of the growing side of these the percentage of alcohol has been dropping by a big margin, with the latest wines closer to 14%, and I am loving the wines even more. This crop management has done wonders, allowing better overall ripeness of the grapes and stems, plus balancing the naturally high acidity from this very cool climate region, and I believe this will take Brewer-Clifton to the next level and lead them to even greater things in the future.

bcpic2.jpgBrewer-Clifton’s Mount Carmel vineyard is the ace up their sleeve, it is a top site and it is all their own, they are the only ones that get fruit from here and they control the whole thing. This “Monopole” is the wineries showcase, like Kistler Vineyard, Maracassin Vineyard, or Pisoni Vineyard (even though Pisoni sells some of his fruit of course), these vineyards are like the American Grand Cru super sites, producing top Chardonnay and Pinot Noir together. In Burgundy, there are only two Grand Cru vineyards that give both Grand Cru white and red, Musigny and Corton, so it is rare for a single vineyard to produce such high quality of both the grapes, even though Pinot Noir and Chardonnay enjoy the same climate and soils, and most often grown close to each other, but we are talking about the best of the best here. Mount Carmel is a challenging place for growing grapes and gives a few hair-pulling moments, according to Clifton, but it really gives fantastic fruit and I can attest to the sublime and deep flavors the wine shows year after year. I can say I have tasted many Mount Carmel Chardonnays that rivaled or reminded me of Batard-Montrachet, one of the greatest Chardonnay vineyards on earth. This for sure is a special vineyard, and I find the Pinot Noir almost as exciting as I do the Chardonnay from Brewer-Clifton’s Mount Carmel. The combination of exposure, soils, which include limestone and botella clay, steep slopes and unique clones all play a part in making Mount Carmel the magical spot it is.

bcduck.gifThe 2008 vintage seems to be somewhat overlooked so far and underrated, but in most cases, in the best areas, I am finding them even better than the stellar 2007’s with more perfume, deeper complexities and more vibrant flavors. This goes especially true in the case of Chardonnay, as the 2007 seem fat or sweet, somewhat dull when compared to the 2008 vintage. Maybe the 2008’s didn’t show well in the barrel? I can only tell you they are coming on strong now and the Brewer-Clifton wines across the board are all, in my opinion, much more interesting than the last two or three vintages and I firmly believe will just get better over time. Both Steve and Greg (who was not present at Spruce) echo this on their own and Steve thinks 2008 was his best year and line up to date, even though he is sentimental for his early efforts, as anyone can well understand. Overall 2007 was excellent with big rich wines, I’m not knocking it, I have plenty stored away myself, but I am a big fan of the 2008 vintage for Pinot Noir on the Central Coast, from the Santa Lucia Highlands to the Santa Rita Hills, while their was some fire problems in the North and customers will have to really be careful of some areas like Anderson Valley and the Sonoma Coast, no such worries for Brewer-Clifton that is for sure.

bcspuce.gifBrewer-Clifton also has two sublime value wines available, a cuvee of selected vineyards for both Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, both were taken from their finished single vineyard selections and blended, these coming from the best lots, nothing from seconds or barrels that didn’t go into the single vineyard wines. These under $40 wines are as good as anything they do, though they maybe lack a bit of the unique quality of the single site terroir, but that said I bet most people would like these as well if not more in most cases. So far Brewer-Clifton has released a select few of their 2008’s, and what I tried today (April 12, 2010) were the spring release: 2008 Santa Rita Hills Chard & Pinot, 2008 Sea Smoke Chard, 2008 Sweeney Canyon Chard, 2008 Mount Carmel Chard, 2008 Ampelos Pinot, 2008 Mount Carmel Pinot and the 2008 Melville Pinot. All of which topped 90 Points in my notes. It was hard to pick a favorite wine of the day, but I narrowed it down to three wines from the 2008 vintage: The Sweeney Canyon Chardonnay, the Mount Carmel Pinot and the Melville Pinot. That was tough, as all the wines were amazing and who knows, I may end up rating them different the next time I try them! When all is said and done, the vintage was a huge success for Greg Brewer and Steve Clifton, with stunning and pure wines and an even better future to look forward to in the coming years, these guys aren’t going anywhere but up.

Quick Wine Notes

2008 Brewer-Clifton Chardonnay Sta. Rita Hills.
White flowers, lemon curd, fig and kiwi all going nicely with core peach and pear fruit. Bright, perfumed, tangy with citrus notes, subtle oak and mineral. I was quick to rate this wine, and after going back to it, I might be well served to raise the score, this is a very pretty and complex wine that is only going to fill out in the next year…. Note to self, revisit soon…
($36 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive


2008 Brewer-Clifton Chardonnay “Sea Smoke” Sta. Rita Hills.
smoky, with nice oak notes, hazelnuts, rich apple and pear fruits, lemon cream, full-bodied, nice mineral edge and some fig. Needs time to show all that is here…. Maybe I should give it a better score?
($53 Est.) 92+ Points, grapelive


2008 Brewer-Clifton Chardonnay “Mount Carmel” Sta. Rita Hills.

Lemon, verbena, lime tree, white peach, pear and apple with touches of clove, spice, mineral. Rich and full, but vibrant and racy. I can’t wait to try this beauty in the years to come, it should get lots better still, but it is so good now…

($57 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive


2008 Brewer-Clifton Chardonnay “Sweeney Canyon” Sta. Rita Hills.
steely with honeysuckle, jasmine, apricot, pear, mineral spices. Edgy and bright though opens up with time to reveal apple and lemon, with brioche and quince. I love this wine, might just be my personal favorite, I could easily rate it a few points higher..

($57 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive


2008 Brewer-Clifton Pinot Noir Sta. Rita Hills.
whole cluster spicy with grenadine and rose petals, black cherry, red plum and berry fruit, silky and round with long finish. Will great potential to get better!
($36 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive


2008 Brewer-Clifton Pinot Noir “Ampelos” Sta. Rita Hills.
Biodynamic, sweet and funky to start, but opens up nicely with lovely texture with pomegranate, currant, plum and raspberry plus a red cherry fruit core. Some Asian spices, and a long lingering finish. 828 clone, unique and intriguing.
($53 Est.) 93-94 Points, grapelive


2008 Brewer-Clifton Pinot Noir “Mount Carmel” Sta. Rita Hills.
A perfected mix of clones gives real depth and complexities, floral perfume, rich body, pretty color, hints at violets, roses, black cherry, plum with bright lively flavors, all vibrant with hints of apple skin, spices. Long fruit sweet finish.
($57 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive


2008 Brewer-Clifton Pinot Noir “Melville” Sta. Rita Hills.
bold, intense, young and layered with black and dark fruit all through, rich palate, great depth, plum, cherry, currant, black fig, firm structure, but very long on the finish. Wind swept site planted to 114 and 115 clones, long hang-time adds complexities and the wine seems darker in color.
($57 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive


*On a side note, I want to thank Spruce and its staff for the extra care and personal service, it just added to the wonderful food that dazzled us at the tasting, and a thank you to Steve and Crystal Clifton for their time and effort in presenting the Brewer-Clifton wines. They also opened three library wines from their own stash, a 2000 Marcella’s Chardonnay (93-94), a 2002 Mount Carmel Chardonnay (94) and a 2004 Cargasschi Pinot Noir (95), all showed well, great in fact. I am most grateful.




3640 Sacramento Street
San Francisco, CA 94118
(415) 931-5100


Full notes and ratings to follow

Grapelive Latest: Vinitaly Report

 Grapelive Special Report From Vinitaly 2010


“What’s old is new again!” (A View of Southern Italy)
By Brandy Falconer, grapelive guest columnist


mastro_grecov.jpgThis year marks the 44th edition of Vinitaly, the largest wine expo in the world with over 4,200 exhibitors here to present their wines. Here in Verona, the weather is beautiful and sunny, a welcome change from the typical rainy 5-day event. Perhaps the change in weather is a symbol for the change in attitude of the winemakers from “how to survive the crisis” to “looking toward the future.” Yes, there are a lot of smaller wineries up for sale here and around the world at the moment, but others with their eyes forward are planning their futures, strategically.

With a more precise plan of attack this year, and armed with a newly acquired press pass, the event from the outside looked much more manageable this year.  That was, until I left the blue sky and sunshine and stepped through the door of the first pavilion.  The instant change left me feeling like Alice in Wonderland, so I got my bearings and quickly made my way to the stand of Iris Vignetti where I was met with the friendliest of greetings and a glass of bubbly from my friend Isabella Spagnolo. Her beautifully presented line of Prosecco is the perfect start to fun and adventure.  Let the tastings begin!

Just like discovering the centuries-old treasures of Italian cities, like the famous Roman arena at the heart of Verona, Southern Italian wineries are presenting and releasing some treasures that many would believe had been lost to time. The news that peaked my interest first about this year’s Vinitaly is the presentation of older wines from Sicily and Campania. Reading this in California, you may wonder why it is such a big deal to talk about, say, 10 year old wines. Well, it’s not if you are talking about a barrique-aged Taurasi from Campania, commonly referred to as the Barolo of the South. But when you are talking about 10-year-old white wines, or when you are talking about the much hotter climate in Sicily for example, this is big news. What it means is that the wineries are making great wine, with healthy grapes, properly using and expressing the terroir, or territorio as they call it here. This is a great sign for those who are tired of the all-too-common comments of wine critics who think southern Italian wineries do not produce with enough consistency yet to be competitors in the worldwide market. It is also great news for those looking to discover a new favorite in an agreeable price bracket.

treehugger.jpgMy first official stop was Mastroberardino, where they are excitedly launching their newest line, “Vintage” and an Aglianico Cru made from clones of 100+ year-old vines. The new Vintage line is a very exciting project for many reasons. The wines being presented are a 2002 Greco di Tufo DOC, one of Campania’s great whites, and a 1998 Aglianico IGT. Before even tasting the wines it is important to recognize that only a winery which takes great interest in the territorio, and takes great care of the grapes, both on and off the vine can produce a wine that is fresh and enjoyable after eight or ten years in the bottle, especially when made with the intention of drinking as opposed to ageing. The 2002 Greco di Tufo is an eyebrow-raiser when mentioned to restaurateurs, and the first sip brings a smile of amazement. That is because this eight-year-old white wine, aged only in stainless steel, not oak, is still fresh, layered, and with a complexity that reveals everything about the land where the grapes are grown. The presence of minerality and a balance of acidity make this wine one to enjoy with complex and savory fish dishes where a simple white might get lost or fall flat.
Coming from California, I wondered what was really the big deal about a 12-year-old Aglianico, but what I learned is that this wine was made as an every-day wine, as opposed to a Taurasi; simply as an aglianico, not aged for years in barriques, but only 12 months in larger barrels. The result is a complex, flavorful wine with aromas of tobacco and cherries soaked in spirits. Not an aged wine that needs excuses, this vintage Aglianico is ready to drink and enjoy; the flavor is still fresh with ripe cherries and I can imagine enjoying it sip by sip with roast lamb and rosemary potatoes on a long cold evening.

vinredimore.jpgSwitching from older wines to older vines, I am introduced to the new Aglianico Cru crafted from a new biotype of Campania’s flagship red grape. What’s old is the biotype: vines that survived the phylloxera attack in the late 1800’s because the soil and locality were not ideal environments for the pest to thrive, as agronomist Antonio Dente explained. It is important to know that the wine is produced not from the ancient vines themselves, but from the clone of this older biotype, planted in idyllic Aglianico territorio at the estate in Mirabella Eclano. This is where history meets innovation: the result is the 2008 Redimore Irpinia Aglianico DOC, with its playful label showing a king on a horse with a chalice in hand. I was surprised taking my first sip of this wine because I am used to the strong tannins of the Taurasis, but Massimo Di Renzo, the winemaker at Mastroberardino explained that this particular type of Aglianico was used 100 years ago by the local population to make an every-day drinking wine. This explains the lovely roundness of the wine, balanced and flavorful, which I found to be a very enjoyable expression of the grape. For those of you who have shied away from bold Taurasi in the past, this single-vineyard cru is worth trying.

degust2.jpgFrom Mastroberardino, I headed off to the conference rooms for a much-anticipated tasting, “Sicilian Wines Challenging Time, Vintage 2000.” The organizer, Chronache di Gusto, was very enthusiastic about the top producers of Sicily presenting their 10-year-old vintages and shared his hopes of the wines becoming ambassadors of the beauty of Sicily. As mentioned previously, these wines were not necessarily produced for ageing, so it is big news to share them with press and critics. Most of the 180 tasting stations were filled which is a good sign that more people are watching the work being done in Southern Italy, as I believe they should be. Of the twelve wines, one was white, eight were red and three were Marsala and passito dessert wines.

We started off with Planeta’s Chardonnay, and the winemaker Alessio Planeta commented about the need to make durable wines, and in fact had written in his notes that this wine would age for six to eight years, so he was pleased to see it drink so well at ten. With aromas of tobacco and cooked pineapple, the optimum pairing for a wine like this would be a rich saffron or truffle risotto. My two favorites of the reds were the Barocco Cerasuolo di Vittoria DOC from Ragusa, an area called the “Mesopotamia of the Romans” and the Bordeaux-style Ceuso Custera from Trapani.  Avide’s Barocco Cerasuolo di Vittoria, made from 60% Nero d’Avola, the flagship red grape of Sicily, and 40% Frapatto for structure, with its deep blood red color is normally sold 6 years after harvest, so it was probably the most prepared for this tasting. With earthy-woody aromas and flavors of pomegranate and blackberry, this wine will best complement tasty, savory courses.

degust1a.jpgThe Ceuso Custera, presented by Ceuso Azienda Agricola is made from an international blend of 50% Nero d’Avola, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon for structure and 20% Merlot for smoothness. This was the freshest tasting of all the wines presented, which wasn’t surprising considering the use of Cabernet and the ageing that takes place before the bottle leaves the winery; first in cement casks, then wood, then in the bottle. The aroma and taste is of ripe cherries and black currants and maybe I have been away from California for too long because I am longing for steak.

Though there are opposing views about looking to the past to see the future, I believe the Sicily and Mastroberardino tastings proved that if we look at what these southern Italian wineries were doing ten years ago, we can be sure of a bright and delicious future and more treasures to come. These wineries have definite plans and are crafting wines for the competitive international market. My definite plan after the tasting was to find a quick panino which to me can never be considered simply fast food because the bread is so artisan-delicious and the prosciutto is always just-cut fresh. Then to the Foreign Trade VIP lounge to discretely brush my teeth and lose that purple tinge. The secret? Brushing with baking soda leaves your mouth clean and with the mineral-salt finish, ready to enjoy the next wine. I should send that one in to Martha…tips for the all-day wine taster.

Salute! From Verona.


Brandy lives and teaches in Italy, writing and studying about wine along the way. Based in Naples, she covers the Southern Italian wine scene and has been interviewed many times in the Italian media and presented stories to selected publications and TV.

Grapelive Travel

Grapelive Day Trip: Anderson Valley and the Sonoma Coast
By Kerry Winslow


andersonvalley.jpgAfter moving to Sonoma County about a month ago now, I decided it was time to explore further and headed north and the drive to Mendocino to take in the sights and a few wines in Anderson Valley. The beautiful spring day encouraged me and I found the long drive very pleasant and inspiring as I flashed by green hills, rolling vineyard landscapes, redwood groves, rock strewn meadows, babbling creeks and much, much later the intensely blue Pacific Ocean, I mean this is why I live on Northern California’s rugged coast now. I had been out this way only once before, in the pouring rain and in the middle of a dark winter, so this was pure heaven, and even better was the lack of traffic as I twisted and turned my way to Boonville and Philo in the Yorkville Highlands AVA in the Anderson Valley.

Finding friendly and easy going wineries with picturesque settings is not too difficult here and I recommend getting up this way, especially if you like mostly organic and cool climate wines, with Pinot Noir leading the way for reds and Chardonnay for the whites, though I always find the Gewurztraminer to my favorite from the region. This trip found me at Yorkville Cellars, in a slightly warmer area of the valley, where they do elegantly styled Bordeaux varietal wines. I enjoyed their Semillon, Cabernet Franc and a special meritage that included the original six Bordeaux grapes: Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Malbec, Petit Verdot and the rare Carmenere that is now mainly found in Chile. Yorkville Cellars offers a peaceful place to stop and the wines are solid and easy to drink, defiantly worth the stop and free tasting.

yorkvilleview.jpgMoving on down the winding road, I ended up at Londer Vineyards tasting room and was lucky to find Shirley Londer herself running the tasting bar and pouring some of the wineries finest wines. I had met the Londer’s while visiting Pisoni Vineyards many years ago, and had remembered their enthusiasm and warm nature. Londer started producing wines in 2001 with the help of ex-Flowers wine guru Greg La Follette and they have been rolling ever since with outstanding Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and the aforementioned Gewurztraminer. Shirley and Larry Londer still have a talented winemaker in Rick Davis, and were thrilled when Wine Spectator gave them the highest score they have ever given for an Anderson Valley last year for their “Corby Vineyard” Chardonnay, which got an impressive 95 Points. I must say, for me, it was the dry Gewurz that made me smile most! That said, I was very happy with the Ritchie Chard, and the stylish 2007 Pinots, the Ferrington and the Parabol, of which I rated the Parabol the highest for the potential it shows and the long silky finish.

navarro.jpgNo trip to Anderson Valley or Mendocino can be done without dropping in on Navarro Vineyards, a tiny winery that normally only sells direct or at selected restaurants. Navarro does a nice selection of small production wines that are of great quality and sell them at equally great prices! This place is beautiful with lots of charm and friendly staff, as well as a small herd of sheep to keep the weeds down near the vineyard that make for good photo ops and give small children something to take in while the grown ups taste the wines and or picnic on the scenic deck area. This time I tried a couple of wines that I hadn’t tried here before, a crisp and surprising Chenin Blanc and a bright and fresh Mourvedre that tasted like a cross between Zinfandel and Pinot Noir, and I mean that in a good way. I also enjoyed their Alsace white blend called Edelzwicker, a cuvee of Gewurztraminer, Riesling and Pinot Gris that on this warm sunny day really hit the spot, plus I had to try the famous “Methode A L’Ancienne” Pinot Noir from the 2007 vintage, another fine and elegant example of this grape. Navarro also sells some of the area’s cheeses and munchies to be sampled there or taken on the road, but I suggest carrying away as much wine as you!

sonomacoast1.jpgLeaving Anderson Valley and hitting the rugged Sonoma Coast takes you through old growth redwoods and amazing vistas along West 128 to Highway 1, and from there you can quickly get to Mendocino or Fort Bragg. I did a quick spin around the parts, before taking the long way home down the coast, hitting small coastal hamlets and State Parks along the way. If you’ve been to Big Sur then you’d get an idea of this stretch of coastline, though it is more varied and in some areas even more dramatic, if a bit lonely and more remote. I was blessed with a lack of RV’s and only a slight breeze to deal with as I stopped many times to marvel at the majestic and breathtaking scenes. High cliffs, cypress and redwoods on steep hillsides, windswept coastal meadows, old seaside farms and ranches, some long abandoned others still in use, and rocky coast vistas that words could never due justice in describing here. I did this 250 trek in an afternoon, but it was a crime not to take a bit more time and explore the area much more in depth, and I suggest a full weekend or a week even, as there is some much to see and experience here. I can’t wait to take my someone special up this way and really share it all and soak it all in again.


Yorkville Cellars
Highway 128 between Cloverdale and Boonville


Londer Vineyards
14051 Highway 128,
located in downtown Boonville across from the Boonville Hotel
(open Thursday-Monday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.)


Navarro Vineyards
5601 Hwy 128 · Philo, CA


Plus don’t miss:

Breggo Cellars, Roederer Estate and Goldeneye while in Anderson Valley!

Grapelive Weekend

Grapelive Weekend Pick

By Kerry Winslow


navarropn07.gif2007 Navarro Pinot Noir “Methode A L’ Ancienne” Anderson Valley, Mendocino.
Though Anderson Valley is remote and takes a while to get to, it is a great place to visit and Navarro Vineyards is a most see and taste kind of place. All the Navarro wines are well made and fairly priced, in fact they continue to offer some of the best wine for the money in California. Their 2007 “Methode A L’Ancienne” Pinot is lovely and elegant, very much in the Burgundy style with pretty fruit, soft texture and medium body. The nose is slightly floral, the palate is silky with strawberry, raspberry and a solid core of cherry fruit, with a touch of plum, spice and vanilla. Everything is balanced and bright making for a great drinking wine anytime. This is not a full blown Grand Cru or California Pinot, but an easy and lovable wine that has nice depth and classic character that can be enjoyed over the next 3-5 years.
($29-31 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive


Grapelive Special Report

Casa Nuestra Winery: Another Side of Napa Valley

By Kerry Winslow



Sometimes you want to just get away from the crowds, the sameness and find something completely different, peaceful and down to earth, in Napa Valley. And recently I did just that by visiting Casa Nuestra, located in the eastern part of historic St. Helena on the Silverado Trail. Now, I have wondered in here a few times in the past, though this spring day in March was quite special as not only did they have their fabled Chenin Blanc in stock and were pouring it, but they had the owner himself tipping the bottle and even manning the cash register, this time I got to meet the man behind this small unique winery, Gene Kirkham. Gene is a real down to earth guy with a big grin and humble as can be, and he’s been on the Napa scene with Casa Nuestra since 1979, and is celebrating 30 years of his dry Chenin Blanc, one of the best Chenin’s in the states and a white wine that has an intense following. It seems every time I drop in it is sold out, though I was in luck on this day and my mouth was watering just thinking about it, a real dry, Vouvray or Loire style wine that also has its own terroir and stamp as well.
Before getting to the Chenin, I tried to get a picture of the whole place that is Casa Nuestra, and listened to Gene tell his happy customers and fanatic wine club members a little of the history.

oldfieldblendvines.gifWhile Casa Nuestra was formed into a winery in 1979, the Kirkham family bought a vineyard in Oakville, one of the first hillside plots there in 1956, an old style vineyard that was planted the “blacks” or know as a field blend site, it had Charbono, Mourvedre, Petite Sirah, Carignane, Pinot Noir and more all mixed through out the vineyard and these red grapes were all blended in a Tinto wine. These wines went out of fashion and most growers ended up ripping up most of their vines and replanted to a single varietal, like Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay or Merlot, but the Kirkham’s understood the old style field blend was going to be lost here in California, so they kept them and then in 1994 grafted many of their original vine cuttings to the St. Helena property to keep the heritage going. All the vines the winery uses are organic and farmed to low natural yields to give the truest sense of the terroir and the grapes, and the winemaking as reflects a kinder and more gentle approach as well, as they take great care in the handling of the grapes and use traditional methods, like basket presses and special low impact pumps, then use the best suited oak from both France and America to age the wine.

nuestrawines.gifCasa Nuestra has had lots of critical acclaim, it is not like I was the first one to sing their praises, but you’d never know that by seeing the smile on Gene’s face when I was cooing over the beautiful Chenin, and impressed by the reds as well, he is all enthusiasm and the was a sparkle in his eyes that shows he loves to make people happy and enjoys his wines and the direction he has taken. Now, Casa Nuestra does make Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc too, and they are very worthy wines, so don’t think they only do the geeky stuff, even if that is what I was really interested in on this given day. I made note of some stars in their line up other than the Chenin and the Tinto (field blend) those being the dark and thick Charbono, one of the nicest I’ve tried in fact, the Petit Sirah, a black/purple monster that really delivers vibrant fruit and almost a chocolate like feel, and I liked the estate semi-dry Riesling that was bright and fresh with just a hint of sweetness. Even though the Rosado, Cabernet Franc Rose was not quite to my taste it was good and all the wines were very well made and of high quality, making Casa Nuestra a great place to visit and take friends as there will be something for everyone here. It is great to see a winery like this doing so well, especial in these tough times, and I’ll be heading back again soon to refill on that amazing Chenin Blanc!


chenin09.gif2009 Casa Nuestra Chenin Blanc (Dry) Napa Valley.
This hard to get white is crisp and bright with lovely citrus, peach and apricot nectar fruit and a real stony, mineral character that gives this wine its balance and depth. The nose is steely and has hints of white flowers and green apple, and then the peachy fruit takes over on the palate before a chalky, earthy rocky side comes across in the background. The finish is tangy with lemon/lime and very dry, though some white peach lingers on. When Chardonnay is too heavy and Sauvignon Blanc is too sharp and herbal, then this wine will be just right, and it will go with most everything, especial a warm spring or summer day. I hope to try it out with Hog Island Oysters soon, but it is great with creamy cheeses and fruit too. This wine offers a great value too, and that is why it sells out so fast, so visit Casa Nuestra soon, before it is gone. ($24 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive


tinto.gif2007 Casa Nuestra Tinto, St. Helena, Napa Valley.
This dark and full red has lots of sweet intense fruit and savory spices with thick texture and ripe tannins, making it a really interesting and layered wine, much like if you crossed Zinfandel with a classic Rhone blend. The blackish hue and perfumed nose will entice you, and the lush and robust palate will intrigue you, and the long finish with seduce you and make you want more. This fun field blend has the kitchen sink in it, Carignane, Petit Sirah, Mourvedre, Pinot Noir and Charbono just to name a few of the grapes, and nothing feels out of place and it flows smoothly in balanced harmony. While this type of wine is not common these days, it is a very welcome addition to my cellar and I hope you get a chance to try it yourself. ($32 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive