Monthly Archives: August 2009

Grapelive Latest: Weekly Report

Grapelive News Aug. 28, 2009

kwaug09gl.jpgThe summer heat has finally reached us on the central coast, and the mighty Pacific Ocean is looking more like a quiet lake and the vines are just starting to get through veraison here in Carmel Valley, much later than normal after a mild season so far. The sunshine is very welcome for the small estates nestled in the hills up river from Carmel-By-The-Sea, especially Bill Parsons’ Parsonage Village Vineyard that producers some of the regions greatest red wines. After a power tasting in San Francisco at the wonderful California Family Winemakers event at Fort Mason, I came home to do a last barrel tasting of Parsonage wines before he bottled them from the 2007 vintage.

The 2007 is something special in California, with Pinot Noir grapping most of the interest so far, rightly so as I have mentioned time and time again. Though as the Syrah and Cabernet from the vintage might just see some huge ratings and ranting for them as well. At the Family Winemakers show I focused mainly on small Pinot Noir producers and will be getting out a full report soon, as I found some fantastic news wines, but I did get a chance to taste some Syrah and Zin too with some really good wines grabbing my attention, like Big Basin Vineyards (Syrah), Grey Stack Cellars (Syrah), Lamborn Family Vineyards (Zin), Red Car (Cuvee 22 Syrah), Melville Winery (Syrah), Biale (Zin) and JC Cellars (Zin & Syrah, especially the 2005 Caldwell Napa Valley Syrah!) all poured amazing Syrah or Zinfandel under the radar of the mainstream. Of course Turley Cellars impressed with their 2007 Howell Mountain Cedarman Zinfandel, but I hope you all get a chance to see the wines mentioned previous as they were great examples of these grapes.

parsonagevines09.jpgI must give a shout out to Kermit Lynch Wine Merchant (importer) for bringing some of the best value wines I’ve ever had from small family estates across Europe, especially from the tiny wineries in France. I have been buying and raving on about some of his selections, though I might have been better on keeping quiet as now Kermit is selling out of all my favorites! Honestly, is there a better regional wine than Domaine Lascaux (Languedoc), Chateau La Roque (Pic-St.-Loup), Reverdy (Sancerre), Domaine Fontsainte (Corbieres) or Domaine Katherine Goeuil (Rhone Valley)? I think not! All of these interesting wines are under $25 and some are under $15 even, red and white, plus Roses! These wineries are showing terroir and complexities that rival wines three times the price. Check them out soon, they are going fast, Kermit Lynch Wine Merchant in Berkeley, CA also sells direct to the consumer at their shop and is a great place to visit if you are up that way.

kwfw09.jpgBack to my local area, Carmel Valley and the Monterey Peninsula, the late on set of summer warmth has given a few headaches, but looks to have been super good for the Pinot Noir and Chardonnay vines, leading to perfect even ripening and small well formed clusters. Look out for another killer Pinot Noir year for 2009, after a good year for those unaffected by wildfires smoke in 2008. There are some scary wines from certain areas coming to market, smoke taint is a serious problem and I really suggest you be careful selecting Chardonnay and Pinot from the 2008 vintage, as there was some terrible fires that let some vineyards sit in smoke for weeks. Upper Carmel Valley, Anderson Valley, Sonoma Coast and other areas of the Central Coast regions were hit the worst. Be sure to support your small family wineries as with the economic crisis and fires and the high cost of doing business are taking a huge toll on them, so please do what you can to help out, really a bottle here and there makes a big difference. We are all going through this together; remember that and a little help goes a long way. Plus wine does ease the pain and tension during times such as these!

bill09.jpgSo, look for my full report on my last try of the 2007 Parsonage Estate reds which I hope to upload really soon, Bill Parsons continues to blow me away with his wines and I am always in a happy place when I visit his vineyard, it does have a positive effect on my mood and palate! Though I did have to tease him for having cheesy country music blaring as they were moving barrels around, while everything was being set for the bottling line. Apart from that I had a fantastic time tasting and making my notes on his final blends and special cuvees. I was torn trying to pick the best of the vintage, and after long reflection I have given the nod to the stunning and exotic “Bixby Reserve” Petit Verdot, which I rated in this tasting at 94-96 Points, though I’m learning towards the 96 side the more I think about how good this wine is, and I know it will vastly improve in the next 3-5 years. Since these wines are just now getting into bottle, they will not be released for a few months yet, so this gives you time to get on his mailing list. You can visit Parsonage online or in person to get their wine and release info, so check them out at

Grapelive: Wine of the Week

catherine.gif2007 Catherine le Goeuil Cairanne Cotes-du-Rhone Villages, Red Rhone Wine, France.
This intense and decadent Grenache based red is wildly powerful and vibrant, but with depth and balance much more like a fine Chateauneuf-du-Pape than a mere Cotes-du-Rhone! This wine has lots of briar and bramble, blackberry and savory herbs and spices with subtle cherry, grenadine, pepper, crushed stones, chalky tannins and lavender oil. This vintage is stunning and should fill out nicely for the next few years, in fact you might just want to put a few in the cellar for half a decade or so. This wine opens up well and full with some cranberry and mineral in the background, made with certified organically grown grapes. Imported by Kermit Lynch ($19 Est.)

93 Points, grapelive

Kermit Lynch Imports



Grapelive: Wine of the Week

ph.jpg2007 Patz & Hall Chardonnay Napa Valley.
Year after year Patz & Hall has made great Chardonnay, and this vintage is no exception, in fact it might be one of the best they have ever done. Also, this will be the last vintage of the Napa Valley cuvee, as they are going to use their best Sonoma vineyards from now on. James Hall is one heck of a winemaker and has crafted many sublime efforts both with Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. This wine is rich and focused with lovely depth of flavors that include apple, pear, pineapple, butterscotch, fig, vanilla and licorice. This Chard has a thick texture, but balanced and fresh, making it lush and still vibrant. This wine is an exciting and wonderful hand crafted wine that even reminds me of a fine Corton-Charlemagne, a Grand Cru White Burgundy.
($38-40 Est.) 92-93 Points, grapelive


Grapelive Latest:The Mystery of Syrah

Grapelive Latest: Syrah, Lonely and Misunderstood, but the Real Deal.

By Kerry Winslow,


kwsyrah.jpgSyrah is one of the greatest grapes in the world, and it has proven itself in almost every region of the world from France, Spain, Italy, South Africa, and Chile to Australia as well as right here in California. Syrah serves the mainstream as well as the top collector wine enthusiasts making for an unbelievable range of reds, everything from the lowly Yellow Tail Shiraz to Guigal’s three single vineyard Cote-Roties of which people have offered Ferraris, wives and houses for, and which garner 100 Point scores more than the First Growth Bordeaux(s) Chateaux!  Even here in the States, top Syrah are wildly sought after and get top dollars, right up there with top Napa Valley Cabernets, I mean when have you seen Sine Que Non or Alban single vineyard Syrahs on the self? Let alone under $200? Almost never… Even with that fame, Syrah still suffers from an identity crisis and has struggled to find its niche with the average wine buyer, and is most often overlooked and underrated. Oh poor Syrah and poor those that don’t give this grape a try, as it a special grape with a long history in the world of wine.
Syrah is a serious wine and anyone who has tried the aforementioned Guigal, Chapoutier’s L’Meal Hermitage, Jaboulet’s La Chapelle, Penfold’s Grange, Alban’s Pandora or Cayuse’s Bionic Frog will attest to Syrah’s greatness, maybe to the point of absurdity! Syrah’s flavor profile changes depending on where it is from, but somewhat like Pinot Noir, but classic markers include blueberries, cherry liqueur, cassis, mocha, game, licorice and pepper. The grape lends itself to very dark color and a full body, plus it can have a very floral nose, especially when grown in cooler climates I find. Syrah’s origin is the Rhone Valley of southern France, and this was recently confirmed through DNA testing. There is the myth out there that the grape came from the ancient Persian city of Shiraz, a claim that the Aussies have made to add mystic to their wines, and likely why they insist on calling Syrah by the Shiraz name. That old tale is completely untrue, but it remains as some sort of “Urban Legend” and most likely always will. Syrah was always a native grape of France, loved by the Romans when they traded and had outposts along the Rhone River, and by the crusading knights who upon returning from the wars in near and central Asia settled and were remembered in Hermitage, the spiritual home of Syrah. It is there where the truest 100% Syrah wines come from and vines hang on the steep hillsides looking over the Rhone River and the historic city of Hermitage, where they are honored with pride.

syrahs.jpgBut, besides the wine mentioned above, Syrah sometimes gets lost between the comfort of Cabernet Sauvignon and the emotional connection of Pinot Noir for affection in the market place and restaurant lists. Sadly as Syrah starts getting better and better as a wine it gets less favored by wine buyers and the wineries are having a hard time positioning in their line-ups. So you see cheap and tepid to ultra premium versions and it becomes confusing and harder for the general public to understand this amazing grape. There is hope, and the savvy wine buyer can find wonderful Syrah at remarkable fair prices. My picks for interesting Syrah wines at under $40 include: Alain Graillot Crozes-Hermitage ($30 Est.), Fairview Paarl Syrah, South Africa ($26-32 Est.), Clarendon Hills Syrah, Australia ($35-40 Est.), D’Alessandro Syrah Cortona, Italy ($24-40), Ridge Syrah Lytton West, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma ($35 Est.), Melville Syrah, Santa Barbara ($25-32 Est.), Parsonage Syrah Estate, Carmel Valley ($35 Est.), Little Vineyards Syrah, Sonoma Valley Estate ($30-35 Est.), Geo Wines Chono Reserva Syrah, Chile ($14 Est.) and Marquis-Philips Shiraz Barossa Valley, Australia ($18-22 Est.). All of these wines year after year have impressed me with depth and character and are from mostly small estate vineyards in great Syrah areas.

Oh and I must also mention the fantastic estate Syrahs that are coming out of the Santa Lucia Highlands in Monterey County, both Roar (Gary Franscioni) and Lucia (Gary Pisoni & family) are turning heads with their intense and complex wines. I have been able to try every vintage of each and can tell you with any hesitation that the Pisoni Vineyard, Garys’ Vineyard and Rosella’s Vineyard are great sources for top Syrah fruit and these wines are some of the best wine red for the money in California! All the Lucia and Roar Syrah come in at about $40 and rival their more famous Pinot Noir for quality. Keep your eyes out, as they plan to release the new vintage in the next few days and weeks…

Here are two extra special Syrahs from grower producer estates that highlight Syrah’s charm and seriousness. Both of the following wines are available now, though they are both wines that were very small productions, just a couple hundred cases of each were crafted and released.


phoenixsyrah1.gif2005 Phoenix Ranch Syrah Napa Valley Estate.
Long time wine biz guy Richard Phoenix makes a small amount of very stylish Syrah from his vineyard, but mainly he sells fruit to top winemakers in Napa Valley, like Ehren Jordan, winemaker from Turley Cellars and his own labels Fallia and 32 Winds. Jordan has made some high scoring wines from this little vineyard and Richard has done well in his own efforts too. The 2005 vintage is a lovely wine with lots of pure Syrah character and nice balance. The fruit is lush and tangy with boysenberry jam, blueberry, and red berry flavors mixed with lots earthy mineral, scorched rock, pepper and subtle wood notes. This wine still feels very fresh and has bright layers with a long lingering finish that has a touch of vanilla smokiness. This firm has firm, but smooth tannins and should age well for the next 3-5 years easy. ($22-26 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive

For where to get this wine call Richard Phoenix direct at: 707-246-4562


alfarors06syrah.gif2006 Alfaro Family Vineyards Syrah Ryan Spencer Vineyard, Santa Cruz Mountains Estate.
This is my third mention of this wine at least over the last couple of months, and I’m sure it won’t be the last, as this wine gets more and more impressive each time I open a bottle, in fact I was craving so much I just drove up to the winery and begged for more before it was even released! Richard Alfaro is a real talent and his pretty estate in the Coralitos area of the Santa Cruz Mountains is without a doubt a wonderful site for quality grapes, especially as he keeps getting gold medals for his estate wines, like the Lindsay-Page Vineyard Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. But it is this wine, his first release of Ryan Spenser Vineyard Estate Syrah that continues to enchant me and makes me crave for more with its near black color and deep richness. This wine has developed an intense perfume and is filling out into a huge and powerful wine that has everything to be a classic with strikingly good razor sharp details and layers of massive fruit. The wine opens with violets and wild flowers with hints of mocha and smoke before the palate unfolds with cassis, blueberries, currants, plum and cherry liqueur. The depth and mouth feel are impressive with fruit, spice and tannins on par with great Cote-Roties and Hermitage wines, with complexities that include cayenne, bitter chocolate, fresh ground pepper and lavender oil essence. This wine took some taming and spent almost 2 years in wood, all French oak barrels that give subtle grace and vanilla cream warm to the wine. This Syrah is world class and will certainly get even more interesting over the next 3-5 years and drink well for many more. ($35-40 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive


Grapelive Latest: Book Review

Grapelive Latest: “Billionaire’s Vinegar”
By Kerry Winslow,

vinegar.jpgGreed, Vanity, International Intrigue, Arrogance and Fraud…. You’d think I was talking about the global economic crisis, the US banking bailout or the total failure of the Republican Party, but alas I am really reflecting on the great hoax that played out in the wine world. Benjamin Wallace’s book “Billionaire’s Vinegar” Crown Publishing 2008, unravels the mystery of some bottles that were supposed to have been purchased originally by Thomas Jefferson in France in the late 1700’s when he was there. Including a fake bottle of 1787 Chateau Lafite that sold for $156,000 at Christie’s Auction House in London on December 5, 1985, an event that set the wine world on its ear and set in motion one of the most fantastic tales ever in the wine business. Thomas Jefferson, former President, writer of the Declaration of Independence and America’s first “Wine Geek” toured France’s most famous vineyards and drank some great wines while doing so. Lucky for us Thomas Jefferson was a fanatic note taker and always printed second copies of his letters and documents, so we have some fantastic insight and records of what he liked and more importantly what he bought.
Wallace’s most impressive work and the painstaking research that was carried out in his chronicles brings to light many shams and lack of competence of the supposed experts in the rare and old wine auction business, but I would say it also makes clear that some of these mega rich wine collectors cared less about wine than they did for their egos, and that in most cases they most certainly were blinded by arrogance. Not to say they deserved to be taken by these con men and frauds, though the phrase “Buyer Beware” comes to mind. The book is full of humorous mockery and touches almost all the big players in the old wine market, plus some of the biggest names in the wine media too. No one seems untouched in these pages, from Michael Broadbent famed old wine expert and director of wine at Christie’s, Marvin Shanken of Wine Spectator, Robert Parker, Shady wine dealer “Hardy Rodenstock” to Malcolm Forbes the billionaire that had to have the 1787 Lafite “Jefferson Bottle” in the first place, and many more. Oh, I must also says some of the famed Chateaux were even fooled if not slightly involved too! It is a juicy tale that I will not spoil for you if you haven’t had a chance to read the book. So pick up a copy, it makes for a great summer read and will shine some historical light on some amazing tidbits of one of our founding fathers.

Grapelive Lastest

Grapelive Latest: Turkish Wine

kwturkey.jpgI’ve never been to Turkey, but I feel strangely drawn to this historic and enchanting country sandwiched between the Black Sea and Mediterranean Sea. Turkey has always been a grand gateway to the east with the glorious Istanbul as the jewel of the ancient empire, the epicenter of trade between Europe, Asia and North Africa for thousands of years. Some of the oldest known vineyards reside in eastern Turkey, and the very oldest commercially cultivated vines were found to be from this area of the world, in Iran, Georgia and Armenia in the Caucasus, dating back at least 5,000 years. These were mans first efforts at training vines and producing wines for trading, going both east and west. Turkey’s vineyards have a rich and underrated history, and its mystery is still being uncovered. Turkey is the fourth largest grape growing region in the world, though some 97% go to table grapes and raisin production. Plus Turkey is a mostly Muslim country that frowns on any and all alcohol consumption, though it founder Mustafa K. Ataturk was very much like our founding fathers, a man that believed in a secular government and promoted tolerance and equality.

turkishwine.gifTurkey’s wines are starting to gain attention, and there has been a new youth movement there with small estates staring to show real promise. I was impressed to hear that Jancis Robinson MW went to Turkey himself and came away with high regards for the wines she tried, and wrote very positive reviews both on her website and in the Financial Times, making me want to taste and visit Turkey even more. Turkey most surely has me spellbound and is luring me with its history, natural beauty, its people and now its wine, but in the meantime I have to settle for a local Turkish street fair.

turkfestb.jpgMonterey held its Turkish Festival this last weekend, August 1 and 2, and I attended as I have a for the last few years and had a wonderful time learning about this amazing culture. A few friends have been to Turkey recently and came away with great impressions and tell wonderful tales of their senses being completely full-filled, with stories of spice, food, warm people and beautiful scenery and historic sights. This all makes me long to see the Blue Mosque, the bazaars and cafes of old Istanbul. All this was going through my head as I watched Turkish folk dancing, smelling kebabs, grilled meats, and sweet Turkish coffee brewing. Being the brave wine geek I am I also tried some Turkish wines, with good results! The white I tried was pretty generic and dull, but well made and refreshing on this warm sunny day. It was the red that impressed me more with a purple hue and clean flavors it was very enjoyable and I certainly would drink it again, and did! I know it was a co-op style brand that for the most part would be normally found in cheap ethnic grocers or restaurants, but really is was quite good, no question and left me wanting more. It was much better than Greek wines, and more interesting than other wines I’ve tried from the Caucasus Mountain regions and other eastern areas.


yakut07.gif2007 Yakut Kavaklidere Öküzgözü d’ Elazığ Province, Eastern Anatolia, Red Wine, Turkey.
Öküzgözü is the grape, it literally means “Ox Eye” and it is a large sized native variety mostly grown in the ancient region near the Euphrates River. This area is one of the oldest growing regions along with the Caucasus countries like Georgia, Iran and Armenia. This region north of the Taurus Mountains is a harsh climate, but has history on its side. This wine, which is imported to the US, mostly to Turkish restaurants, is from a more generic producer, but I can say it is a well-made and interesting wine. I found full flavors and good rich mouth feel with clean red berry fruit and dark color. The wine reminds of Zinfandel or a Cotes-du-Rhone, showing some boysenberry, raspberry, plum and blackcurrants with a nice spicy element. Really, I quite enjoyed this wine and can easily imagine drinking this wine before most Chianti or the like and it would be great with lamb kebabs or pizza. ($12-16 Est.) 88-89 Points, grapelive

Grapelive Latest: Drinking French

French Revolution
glaug09kw.jpgSometimes we get jaded, sometimes we forget, but then you try a wine and glorious memories come flooding back and you are revitalized, well that is what happened recently when a bottle of Bordeaux was opened. We have such wonderful wines here in California that it is hard to see why you’d want anything else and the thought of buying a fuddy duddy old mans claret just does appeal, but this Bordeaux easily pushed these conceptions aside and left me wondering why I didn’t drink more Bordeaux, especial when you can find beautiful and elegant ones available at half the price or less then comparable Napa Valley wines. Honestly, I’m not kidding here, if you know what to look for or do a bit of researching you can find magical Bordeaux that come in at well under $60 bucks that will drink as well if not much better than Napa Meritage in the 150 to 200 dollar range, like Opus One or Dominus! Here’s a hint, the 2001 vintage is wildly under-rated and you can find some real bargains, the two that hit me as easy choices are Calon-Segur ($40-55 Est.) and Leoville Poyferre ($60-100), but there are some hyped 2000 vintage now finding their way to the market at reasonable prices, wines such as Brane-Cantenac Margaux and Haut-Bailly Pessac-Leognan are pretty easy to find at under $70 even and are wonderful wines.

France as a whole is still a good value for quality wine and if you find a good wine merchant, you can drink very well at a bargain price. Buyer beware though, if you shop at super markets or Trader Joe’s you’ll be wasting your time and getting really boring plonk if not just plain crap, so if you want to drink French wine or just want to try it, please go to a fine wine merchant and ask them for advice and recommendations, as at least these people will have tried some, at least like wine! I really laugh when I see so called wine critics or writers telling the average person that they should not be afraid to experiment and try a $5.99 super market wine, they all say at that price you can’t go wrong, well I hate to break it to you, at that price you can’t go right! Especially if you want to try French wine! Now you can find very good wine under $20 and I’ll tell a few to look for, but most people should at least try a few in the 25-60 dollar range, which is the same average price that you’d find California estate wines at.

french.jpgNow, First Growth Bordeaux, the top Chateaux and Grand Cru Burgundy Domaines are going to cost you dear, I mean outrageously dear! Lafite, Latour, Mouton, Domaine de la Romanee-Conti and the like are anywhere from $300 to thousands of dollars and are more considered investments rather than drinking wines. So for more everyday or less special occasions, I would suggest a few of the Chateaux I mentioned before, or try some other regional wines from France, a few of my favorite are places like are, the Rhone, the Loire Valley and Cahors to name a simple few. A very good Grenache based Cotes-du-Rhone runs in the $12 to $16 price point and offer solid value and nice drinking wine, then there is Cahors an area in the Southwest of France that produces many Malbec based red wines, just be sure to buy an estate made wine and look for a good importer, such as Kermit Lynch in Berkeley, California. Then for clean whites the Loire Valley has some fantastic values and wines, and the easiest to enjoy is Sancerre, which is 100% Sauvignon Blanc, again just try to find a grower producer to find a more interesting version. The one that stood out for me recently was the Daniel Chotard Sancerre, again brought into the US by Kermit Lynch, but North Berkeley Imports also have a fine Sancerre made by Vacheron that is very serious and a great drinking wine. Sancerre is, when you drink estate wines, more intriguing and subtle than the new world Sauvignon Blancs, as in New Zealand and California. Sancerre is when done right, a wonderful wine that has depth and vigor showing lemon-lime, subtle grapefruit, mineral, earth, river stones and gooseberry flavors. The reason you search out estate wines and good importers is that there are some poor generic versions out there that are at best bland, and at worse not classy or subtle in style with a “Cats Pee” essence that is over powering, and don’t be put off by the term “Cats Pee” either as it isn’t meant as a real taste descriptor, and it is not a flavor on the palate.


Interesting French Wine Picks

lp01.gif2001 Chateau Leoville Poyferre Saint-Julien Medoc, Red Bordeaux, France.
This pretty and rich Bordeaux is the real deal with lots of character and layers with elegance and refined style. This wine right out of the bottle is fresh still and has a grapey essence before revealing pretty and classic flavors. The dusty blackberry, currant, plum and black cherry fruits unfold seamlessly on the palate…. super! This wine reminds me of Chateau Margaux meets Ridge Monte Bello, and that is saying a lot. There are interesting layers and hints of tobacco, mineral, licorice and spicy wood notes with flashes of pencil lead, forest floor, smoke and vanilla. This wine should go on filling out and drinking well for another 6-10 years, though it is very approachable now. ($60-107 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive



chotard07.gif2007 Daniel Chotard Vigneron Sancerre, Loire Valley, France (Sauvignon Blanc)
This is only the second vintage I’ve tried from this super small estate, but I can tell you Chotard is for real and a wine you should locate! Lucky for us, or me, is that Kermit Lynch is the importer and seems committed to bringing in this wine. It is hard to beat this Sancerre for style and terroir, no question; this is a beautiful and interesting Sauvignon Blanc that has bright fruit and surprising depth. Chotard makes a clean wine, but a wine that has character and unique charm with subtle and crisp flavors that persist on the palate. This vintage shows lots of citrus with lemon-lime, grapefruit and orange blossom that unfold smoothly across the palate. This Sancerre has earthy mineral, river stone and gooseberry to add depth and complexity. ($25 Est.)

91+ Points, grapelive
Kermit Lynch Imports




delas06b.gif2006 Delas Freres Cotes-du-Ventoux Rhone Red, France (Grenache and Syrah)
With vineyards that lie on the slopes of the impressive Mount Ventoux, made famous as the last grueling stage of the Tour de France, it stands out in the eastern Rhone Valley, this wine is an enticing blend of about 80% old vine Grenache and 20% Syrah. It is hard to find a better value in red everyday wine than this cuvee from Delas, with ripe flavors and earthy spices this wine is a joy. The nose is earthy with hints of game, raisins and wildflowers as well as red fruits leading to a palate that has plum, cherry, blueberry and grenadine flavors with pepper, espresso, lavender and bacon bits in the background. Don’t think about it, just enjoy it, I’ve been drinking this wine since the 1996 vintage and have never been let down. ($15 Est.) 87-89 Points, grapelive