Monthly Archives: March 2009

Grapelive Lastest: Vinitaly 2009 (Preview)

Rainy Days in (Lucca) Italy
Brandy Falconer

hill_house_2648.jpgSaturday was a lazy day thanks to the (rainy) weather.  However the Formula 1 qualifying in Australia over breakfast had such exciting results (Though not so happy for Italy’s loved Ferrari team) that we were inspired to brave a Saturday trip to the grocery store down the hill, (similar to a small grocery in the US) for something fun for dinner.  It was packed, so much so that the checkers were even commenting that it must be Christmas Eve or something.  Grocery stores are open Christmas Eve in Italy?  What is the world coming to?

After arriving home, we took the dog for a walk down the windy, narrowly-paved hill, and were further race-inspired by the Ferrari racing flag that was waving to us from the flagpole as we came up the driveway.  But not only the Ferrari flag, but also the Italian and the California flag in my honor, how cool!  I am in Italy, of course, and the home of Ferrari, Modena is just a couple hours away.  It was time to cook dinner and discuss the possible outcome of the race based on the qualifying performances.  We enjoyed a dinner of Grilled herbed chicken with potatoes and asparagus, salad and some goat cheese drizzled with rosemary-infused olive oil (from their own grove of 150-year-old trees) This all went beautifully with a wine my hosts had never tried, but one of my favorites for light meals, Bardolino.  We opened a 2007 Bardolino from Guerrieri Rizzardi, a winery near Lake Garda I had visited about 4 years ago while enjoying the drive between Milan and Verona. It was very light in color, and had enticing aromas of sour cherries, dried apricots, and savory herbs. The first taste was slightly effervescent, but it blended nicely with the herbed chicken and potatoes, though we wondered if it was really too fruit-forward to be taken seriously.  The pleasant surprise came when pairing it with the rosemary olive oil-soaked goat cheese, which really brought out the savory flavors of the wine, rather than the ripe fruit, and altogether negated any acidity we tasted previously.  This combination particularly surprised and impressed my gracious hosts, which for me was validation for why I like to keep trying new wines and new pairings.  We all learned something new and had fun in the process.  I am almost embarrassed to admit what I paid for the wine but since it is from a reputable winery I will, E4.50 or $6.00

flags_2671.jpgSunday morning at 7:15am we were all piled in the couches, including the dog, to watch the first race of the Formula 1 season from Australia.  There is nothing like watching the races live, and the summertime weather in Australia looked gorgeous.  Personally, it was one of the happiest races I have ever seen because a brand-new team (though made up of veteran racers and engineers) managed to finish 1 and 2!  For the first time in 55 years, they said, a rookie team won the first race of the season, congratulations to Brawn GP and their sponsor, Virgin Airlines.  “Does everything Richard Branson touch turn to gold?” asked my host.  Well, he sure seemed happy and what a great thing for this team if that is true, especially because my favorite driver, Jenson Button won, something he hasn’t been able to do in a while.  But what about the BUBBLY?  In Formula 1, the champagne sprayed by all podium finishers is Mumm’s Cordon Rouge.  The team owner of the winning cars was also on the stand, and quickly used his new shield-shaped trophy to deflect the heavy spray coming from his drivers’ two magnums of Mumm’s. Hopefully the presenting authorities didn’t take offense, and saw the positive:  It was an effective tool, how many trophies can boast that?  I should mention the third place driver, also someone who has struggled to make it to the podium during the last few years, Italian, Jarno Trulli.  I mention him not only because he is Italian, but also because he is a partner in a winery in the south of Italy, called Podere Castorani. I checked out the website today when we went to a friend’s house to get online for a few minutes, and I look forward to tasting their wines at Vinitaly this week.  These American friends down the road were nice enough to enhance our Internet experience with a tall glass of prosecco, as it was “close enough” to 5 o’clock – thanks to the time change last night! Which reminds me, if any of you are searching for an excuse to enjoy a mimosa or Bloody Mary some weekend morning, just remember, we’re 9 hours ahead here, so we’re your “it’s 5 o’clock somewhere” for the 8am thirsties.

Ciao amici!

Grapelive Lastest

schultzes.jpgI was one of many that happily poured into the “Pinot Paradise” tasting put on by the Santa Cruz Mountains Growers and Vintners Association. The tasting was to showcase the different terroirs in the region and it did provide a great insight and education into what they were and how they differed, and the range of flavors and quality amazed me. There were a bunch of sublime wines and equally plenty that failed to make the grade. This may seem at first to be disappointing, but it really makes the great wines stand out and that is what I took away from the event.

For me the usual suspect rose to the top and with only one exception the best of the Pinot Noirs from the Santa Cruz Mountains came exclusively from the Coralitos gap, especially Windy Oaks Estate, Alfaro Family Vineyards and Big Basin Vineyards who made a wonderful 2007 Pinot from fruit he got from his buddy Richard Alfaro. The only real stand out not from down that way was the remarkable 2005 & 2006 Mount Eden Estate offerings, with the 2005 taking most peoples votes, though I went for the 2006 for the prettiness and structure it had. I think among my group, the was no question that Windy Oaks Estate was the overall best of show, just ahead of the Mount Eden, with Alfaro Family Vineyards and Big Basin putting in great efforts and making strong showings.


bradleybrown.jpgBradley Brown, of Big Basin Vineyards, who is gaining cult status for his rich and intense Syrahs, showed off his Pinot loving side with two wines from the Santa Cruz Mountains. I really enjoyed both, but I must give the nod to his Alfaro Family Vineyards 2007, which will be released later in the year and available to his mailing list, so I would recommend checking out his website and don’t be shy with his Syrah offerings as they are amazing wines.




Reviews of Alfaro Family Vineyards and Windy Oaks Estate by



me06pn.gif2006 Mount Eden Estate Pinot Noir Santa Cruz Mountains.
Though the 2005 was richer and sweeter in fruit, though I love the 2006 with its lovely delicate flavors and perfect balance, making picking either a tough choice indeed, so why not get both for your different moods. This is a Pinot lover’s wine and a true to Burgundy style with silky layers and bright acidity. This Pinot shows pure and classic fruit, cherry, light raspberry and spicy plum with mineral, sage and vanilla as well. The oak is smoky and toasty, but all well focused and stays in the background. This wine should fill out and age well, but will never be a big wine or a blockbuster, so enjoy it young and drink it with food or cheese. There is some lingering berry, earth and truffle that give depth. ($45 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive


bigbasin07pn.gif2007 Big Basin Vineyards Pinot Noir “Alfaro Family Vineyards” Santa Cruz Mountains.
This pre-release sample is all ready showing great character and depth, but I’m sure there is lots more to come from this young and intense Pinot. Bradley Brown, winemaker, sourced Richard Alfaro’s fruit to make this wine and he captures the terroir and still stamps his own style on it. He uses whole berry fermentation and a long cold soak, which adds a bit more color and tannin. This is why Bradley wants to wait to release this one, to give it time to fill out and for it to smooth out, though I liked it very much now. This Pinot has lush texture and full body with loads of fruit on the palate. The mouth feel is wonderful with red and black fruits, sweet oak shadings, mineral and briary spices all in good solid layers. I can’t wait until it has a few more months of age and I really can’t wait to get myself a few bottles! ($NA) 91-93 Points, grapelive

*Not yet released.

Big Basin Vineyards

Grapelive Lastest: Vinitaly 2009 (Preview)

VinItaly 2009 Preview: Milan to Lucca
Brandy Falconer

bf2.jpgSparing the details of the myriad conversations with British Airways and American Express who told me my bag was anywhere from “no where to be found” to “on the flight the following evening”, I will skip to the conclusion that my bag was in fact waiting for me at the Milan Malpensa airport the next morning.   Bag in hand, I walked downstairs to the car hire office and picked up the keys to my Fiat Panda, which luckily held all of my luggage.  With shockingly accurate directions to the nearest commercial center (mall) I headed out to get my new Italian phone number.  After just a few minutes at the cell phone store (which sold tiny Crocs cell phone holders), I had my new phone number courtesy of Vodafone, my obvious choice because of their sponsorship in Formula 1 racing (how else would you choose between them with names like Tim, and Wind?)

Dispensing with my usual logistical preparations, I headed south to Genoa, then down the west coast towards Pisa until turning inland in the direction of Florence for Lucca.  For all of you with granite or marble carrara1.jpgcountertops, you can be sure that the stone in your kitchen has visited Carrara, just south of Genoa, for cutting. The marble for Michelangelo’s greatest works is from here, and in fact that quarry just gave its last block of marble…after 500 years.  It was sunny, and a perfect day for a drive, but especially a drive close to the coast with peeks of the Mediterranean on the right and snow-capped peaks at Carrara to the left.  After about four hours, I was driving alongside the famous medieval wall that surrounds Lucca, heading just north to the hills to my friends’ “Villa Alba” or House of the Dawn.

74barolo.jpgI stopped at the local grocery store to buy something to eat, and wasted several minutes gawking at the enticing wine prices.  I bought a bottle of Prosecco, with that cute hand-tied string holding in the cork, to celebrate, and couldn’t resist the opportunity to buy a bottle of Avignonese Vino Nobile di Montepulciano (one of my favorites) for less than $20.  I love this place!  When I presented the wine to my friends to open with dinner, the response was “oh, no, that’s too good for tonight, let’s look for something here in the racks” the result?  We took a little trip to the garage cellar to pull out an incredibly dusty 1974 Castiglione Falletto Barolo, just to see if it was still good, of course.  Though the logic escaped me, I was excited to have the chance to taste this wine, and despite its cloudiness, showed some initial promise.  Overwhelming aromas of dark chocolate and dried tobacco just encouraged a taste, and amazingly, you could still tell it was a Barolo.  Incredible, considering the story of this bottle, moving from one man’s cellar down the hill to various family members, then to my friend’s garage wine rack!  Though we didn’t drink the bottle immediately, we decanted it to check its progress toward drinkability, and eventually thought leaving it until the next morning might give it the chance it deserved.

guesthouse_andchurch.jpgAfter a comfortable sleep in the guesthouse, the next morning comes and it is a Formula 1 weekend!  The first race of the season is in Australia, which made us grumble because that meant it would be on at 2:00 in the morning, and begged the question, will we decide to be up at that hour just to watch the first race of the season?  And … will we be having the compulsory champagne to go with it?  We left the question to simmer while we ran errands (mostly for me, having forgotten a few things) and enjoyed a quick coffee and treat at a pastry shop with beautifully made cakes and confections (including a marzipan Mr. Potato Head!) just in time for Easter.  Lunch was out of the ordinary for us Americans, choosing a small trattoria for a “workman’s lunch” which meant not only that we were the only women in the place, but also that the food was hot, hearty and delicious…and inexpensive.  To fill up on veal scalloppine and roasted potatoes with salad set us back a whopping 13-euro for the two of us.  The afternoon was spent visiting with nearby cousins until the church next door rang the bells with a special song to mark 6:00pm.  After driving further up the hillside to enjoy a pizza with nearby American friends, we returned home for a “digestive” drink (something to burn up whatever one just ate) and contemplated the day’s earlier dilemma.  Conclusion:  We’ll be up watching the first Formula 1 race of the season with glass in hand…and I’m sure enjoying every minute of it!

Grapelive: Wine of the Week

ojaichar07.gif2007 Ojai Vineyards Chardonnay “Bien Nacido Vineyard” Santa Maria Valley.
This wine is a rare beauty, and it is a sublime example of this noble grape. It is hard to find a Chardonnay as pure and as pretty as this one, I am a fan of Adam Tolmach and his stylish wines and this one has to be one of my favorites so far. Ojai Vineyards, long known for their lovely Pinots and intense Syrahs has been turning out wonderfully crafted Chardonnays as well, wines that show elegance, class and focused balance. With a Chablis like charm and Puligny like depth this Chard has layered flavors and subtle oak that lifts the pretty and super clean fruits, which include pear, apple, white peach and meyer lemon, with zesty acidity, river rock, liquid mineral and hazelnuts lying nicely in the background. This white will age well and drink great now, filling out in body over the next 2-3 years. The finish is fresh, but has wonderful length with hints of smoke, sweet fruit and a class you’d find in a vintage Champagne. ($28 Est.) 93+ Points, grapelive


Grapelive Lastest: Vinitaly 2009 (Preview)

On My Way to Italy
Brandy Falconer, grapelive

bf.jpgMy first taste of grape-y goodness ‘OCONUS’ (A Military flashback acronym: ‘Outside Continental US’) came at the First Class British Airways lounge in the new deluxe Terminal 5 at Heathrow in London. My friend had greeted me at the security gates after I arrived from San Francisco and told me he was taking me to a magical place. At the entrance to the lounge, I passed the star of BBC’s “House Doctor,” Anne Maurice, a California-based interior designer specializing in home staging for real estate sales who took her talents to the UK to create this very interesting show. I took that to be a good sign that what was beyond the entrance was something outside the everyday travel experience. I wasn’t disappointed.

(There were) At least 10 food and beverage stations waited for hungry travelers as seasoned professionals lounged about on the couches and living-room like arrangements, staring out at the bustle of the airport runway, possibly trying to decide between the wine, beer or cocktail bar. As we rounded the corner (the place is huge), my friend introduces me to the “magical place”, a glistening simple bar with a clever crystal-ball type chandelier hovering over 3 different types of bubbly. Not just bubbly, but French champagne, and not the run-of-the-mill, but the likes of Pol Roger, and Bollinger “Grande Annee” 1999 , which is my choice because of the obvious “Absolutely Fabulous” reference. How can I be in London living large (thanks to my friend) and NOT have some ‘Bolli Dahling?’

t5.jpgMy queasiness from the turbulence of the previous flight gave way to relaxation, as the atmosphere in the lounge almost demands it. Private bathrooms, showers and every convenience available could really get your mind of travel, hence the check-in process so the concierge knows when to usher you out to your flight. Nibbles from delightful finger sandwiches to hot rice and veggies got me back on my feet and the champagne offered just the right bubbles to settle my stomach. This was a ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ (most likely) treat but I’m convinced it is the only way to travel to Europe, what a welcome! My baggage liked Terminal 5 so much it decided to stay overnight…but that’s another story… Now on to Italy!

Grapelive: Wine of the Week

continuum06.gif2006 Continuum Napa Valley (Tim Mondavi) Bordeaux Style Blend.
From top vineyard sites including To-Kalon and select Oakville and Stags’ Leap vineyards, the 2006 Continuum is magic and even better than the premier release last year. Tim Mondavi, former head winemaker at his dad’s Mondavi and Opus One, has crafted a beautiful and rich Cabernet blend that shows the best of what we love about Napa Valley, dark and fruit forward wine, but with class and refined elegance. This wine is ripe and has sweet tannins, making it a joy now, though I suspect it will grow in weight and gain texture and depth with some cellar age, and will last a few decades easy. This vintage shows wonderful layers of blackberry, cassis, currant, and cherry fruits with soft grip and hints of mineral, graphite, tobacco, cedar and wildflowers all wrapped up in creamy vanilla French oak. This wine is pure class and reminds me of a great Margaux or Mouton, though it is a bit thicker on the palate and smoother in texture with a sublime long finish. This wine feels lively and fresh with great vigor and lovely focus, making it very interesting now even in its youth. ($150-160 Est.) 96 Points, grapelive

Grapelive Lastest: Gary Pisoni

kerryngary.jpgWine is a celebration of place and people that love the place, and there are some really special places and people, with Gary Pisoni being very special. He has become a larger than life figure in the wine world, a rock star, a cult hero and a wild man, but behind all of these is a wonderful person, a humble person and a man that loves nature, the land and his family. He is one of my heroes, and I am happy to know him and taste his wines. Gary Pisoni is the man behind the Pisoni Vineyard, that no other than Robert Parker calls a Grand Cru site, in reference to the greatest vineyards in Burgundy, and Gary is the man that put Monterey on the world class wine map for red wine. When the world wants a dark and intense Pinot Noir it looks to the Santa Lucia Highlands, and it is thanks to Pisoni in large part. Along with his partner Gary Franscioni, Gary Pisoni own the second “Grand Cru” vineyard, the “Garys’ Vineyard” and his sons run the family business, which include the Pisoni Estate label and the Lucia Vineyards label, with Gary happy to take a backseat now and just be an ambassador in the market place and just be a grandpa. The Pisoni Estate label focuses on tiny lots of Pinot Noir, and from next year on the Chardonnay, with the Lucia Vineyards label featuring Rose “Lucy”, two Syrahs and two Pinot Noirs that are cuvees made up of “Garys’ Vineyard” and young vine “Pisoni Vineyard” fruit, plus the Chardonnay (soon to be a Pisoni Estate, from 2008 on). Lucia also helps out with the Luli Chardonnay a peachy and mineral laced unoaked wine.

I met up with Gary Pisoni at Rancho Cellars to taste his Lucia Vineyards new releases and to hear about the vintage and the vineyards. Gary just glows with pride when talking about his vineyards and talking about his sons, Mark, who runs the business side and who just made Gary a grandfather, and Jeff, who makes the wonderful wines and who is one of the hottest talents in winemaking these days. Gary has lots to be proud of, great kids, great vineyards and even greater wines! Lucia is releasing the 2008 Lucy, the 2008 Luli Chardonnay, the 2007 Lucia Chardonnay, the 2007 Pinots, the Santa Lucia Highlands (cuvee) and the single vineyard “Garys’ Vineyard”, both of which were fantastic. The Syrahs get released later in the year, and I expect them to be even better than the amazing 2006’s, so watch this space, and I’ll let you know when they come out. Check out all the Lucia reviews on my “Reviews” page.

Grapelive Lastest: Roar(ing) Success

kwgf09.jpgGary Franscioni’s Roar label has been turning out world-class wine since 2000, and has only gone from strength to strength with total passion and commitment to quality. For the first 6 vintages Adam Lee of Siduri make the wines with style and finesse, and now Ed Kurtzman of Freeman and August West has taken over the winemaking seamlessly. With Gary hand picking every lot of fruit and helping select barrels for each cuvee, Roar is a loving effort from involved and it shows in the beautiful wines. Roar makes four Pinot Noir(s) all of which are serious and stylish wines, they include; the blended cuvee (Santa Lucia Highlands) and the three Grand Crus, Rosella’s Vineyard, Garys’ Vineyard and the Pisoni Vineyard. This spring Roar is releasing the Santa Lucia Highlands (cuvee of the three vineyards) and the Garys’ Vineyard, both of which are great wines. The Garys’ is the more rich and deep, but with lush smooth textures, proving the cliché that a great wine is always a great wine from day one until it is all gone. Later in the year Roar will release the other two Pinots and two Syrahs, plus a new Chardonnay from the Rosella’s Vineyard that Gary says will set new standards for richness and class from the region, and that will be a tough act, but one I can believe. Franscioni says the clones are very special and that he was inspired to do a Chardonnay in the style of Peter Michael with the class of a Montrachet to boot. I am dying to try this wine that has been bottled, from the 2007 vintage, and should be release late in the year. Back to the Syrah, I am really interested to see the new vintage, as the 2006 Rosella’s Syrah was an amazing wine and wildly hailed as a masterpiece, in fact it may prove to have won the heart of Robert Parker, who claimed that the 2006 Syrahs from the vineyards owned by Franscioni and his partner Gary Pisoni could have been the best wines of the vintage, maybe even better than the Pinot Noir(s)! I can also say the Roar Syrah really won me over as well, and I have wondered if Syrah might prove to be the best red grape of the Santa Lucia Highlands, I’ll let you know in a few vintages. As for now, well, I still love the Pinots, with the Rosella’s, Garys’ and Pisoni being to me the class of the area. I liken them to Richebourg, La Tache and Romanee-Conti the famed Grand Cru Cote de Nuits vineyards of Burgundy, enough said!


Roar Wines

Grapelive: Wine of the Week

roargarys.gif2007 Roar Pinot Noir “Garys’ Vineyard” Santa Lucia Highlands.
This wine is a stunner, no question this is one of the best Garys’ Vineyard Pinots made by Roar to date, kudos to Gary Franscioni and his wine maker Ed Kurtzman, who took over from Siduri’s Adam Lee for this vintage. This vintage is full bodied and lavish in everyway, with deep layers and amazing texture and richness. The wine starts with a heady perfume of violets and sweet fruits with a smoky touch, leading to a huge palate full of blackberry, plum and a core of cherry fruit, with flashes of currants, allspice, mint leaves, mocha and sweet vanilla cream. This is a dramatic and ripe fruit driven Pinot Noir that is fantastic now, but it will gain intensity and depth with short term cellaring. Everything here is delivered in style and class, with soft tannins and a super long finish. ($55-60 Est.) 94-96 Points, grapelive



Grapelive Lastest: Pisnoi Releases New Lucia Pinots & New Baby!

davis-m-and-dad-cellar-22009.jpgWe are happy to report that Mark Pisoni and his wife Quinn had a beautiful baby boy, Davis, shown here with proud dad Mark and new Grandpa Gary Pisoni! Congrats to the Pisoni family on this great news. Feel free to send your happy returns to them at:

Along with this wonderful announcement comes word that the Pisoni’s are releasing their Lucia Pinot Noirs this month, along with the Lucy rose and the amazing estate Chardonnay!

Lucia Vineyards

Here are the wines and winemaker notes:

Lucia, Spring 2009 Releases

2007 Lucia Pinot Noir, Garys’ Vineyard
Winemaker Notes: Darker garnet red. The very expressive aromatics display intense purity. Fresh-cut flowers, blackberries, allspice and forest floor notes entice the taster. On the palate, the wine has great density and complexity of flavors. The ripe tannins are supple, and they unfold in layers with nice acidity for a very long finish.

2007 Lucia Pinot Noir, Santa Lucia Highlands
Winemakers Notes: Dark ruby red in color. The nose offers a vibrant display of wild strawberry, ripe pomegranate, bing cherry and baking spices. As with all the 2007 Pinot Noirs, there is incredible concentration on the palate. The tannins are rich with notes of clove and sage coming through on the end.

2007 Lucia Chardonnay, Santa Lucia Highlands.
Winemaker Notes: Light straw, greenish gold in appearance, the 2007 Chardonnay may be our finest bottling to date. The aromatics display a very alluring blend of ripe pineapple, lemon meringue, citrus oil and wet stones. The texture is rich with slight oak undertones, but the acidity maintains a light freshness throughout the long finish.

2008 Lucy Rosé of Pinot Noir, Santa Lucia Highlands.

Winemaker Notes: Light pink in color, the 2008 Lucy is a very flavorful rosé. An immediate perfume of strawberries, rose petals, white peaches and fresh-cut watermelon fills the glass. On the palate, the texture is very mouth coating. Layers of flavor evolve into a more delicate finish, framed by crisp acidity.

Pre-Order Now at:

Rancho Cellars