Grapelive Latest: Brandy’s Back in Italy

“Life Between Nature and Culture”–Prosecco Day with Isabella Spagnolo of Iris Vigneti
By Brandy Falconer, grapelive.com

iris_brgrapes.jpgThis week I traveled from Naples to Venice by plane to visit the heart of Prosecco country, and in particular the Iris Vigneti Winery (www.irisvigneti.it).  For the last 10 years, husband and wife owners Isabella (Spagnolo) and Loris  (hence, the combined name of I-ris) have been realizing their dream of producing and selling high-quality Prosecco in the luxury market.  I emphasize high-quality here because in the last bunch of years there has been an influx of inexpensive, medium grade Prosecco which, like in the ‘70s with basket-bottle Chianti, makes it difficult for quality producers to distinguish themselves and sell at prices they merit.  Isabella tells me that to combat this, the area where Prosecco is produced is working hard to make funds available to producers to market and export their product, which in her case means constantly traveling the world to show her line of bubbly.  In a sense, Prosecco is the valiant hero of the people of this region, the “Zorro” representing these dreamers, and fighting for a fair share in the global market.

Prosecco, sparkling wine from this particular region in Italy is made from Prosecco grapes using the Charmat method, rather than Méthode Champenoise which means the fermentation occurs in the stainless steel tanks rather than the bottles; and without the processes of riddling, or turning the bottles, and disgorging the sediment as with champagne, these bubbles usually cost considerably less than champagne.  For those of us who like to celebrate just about anything, this is one nice advantage!  Another is the fresh, crisp fruit flavors (without sweetness) rather than the more complex yeast and cheese flavors found in most traditional champagne.

iris_grapesbottles.jpgAt Marco Polo airport in Venice, Isabella picked me up and we drove straight to the seat of Prosecco country, Valdobbiadene, which you have probably seen on labels of Prosecco with DOC designation.  This area is a sharp contrast from the Venice we know and love, with its rolling green hills and more area dedicated to grapevines than to houses and towns.  Out of this green wilderness, order takes shape as small parcels of rows of vines  appear like puzzle pieces fitting nicely together.  Vineyards are rolling up and over hills, around houses and groves of trees, and though the grapes have already been picked, the  vines are beautiful as the leaves start to change color.  Valdobbiadene has signs for the “strada del vino” or wine-road throughout the town pointing Prosecco pilgrims to the different wineries which helps make this a tourist-friendly experience not always found in other famous wine regions.  The calm and tranquility of this town offer a nice contrast to the spirit of celebrations of every kind that merit popping open a bottle of bubbly, and this gives me a sense that this is a treasure, understated, and worth the effort of discovery.

iris_tastingtable.jpgBack at the winery, a beautiful and modern complex which houses the offices, tasting area and production facility, I start to learn the history and the source of the passion behind Iris Vigneti.  Awards cover the walls of the offices, from shows in New York, London and Valdobbiadene, and after tasting the collection, it is easy to see why.  The tasting area is upstairs at an incredibly long table that seats 30.  As I look around, admiring the open space and light, Isabella tells me that this part of the building is inspired by her love of Kenya, and the lodges found there.

iris_oderzo1.jpgThat night and the next morning, I had the pleasure of visiting the nearby town of Oderzo, an old Roman town that has aged gracefully and welcomes visitors with beautiful architecture, frescoes and a river that winds through it.  I will surely return to this town, because I found everything here: relaxed atmosphere, beautiful cafes and stores, and friendly people, and in addition, the first question at the restaurants and cafes is “a glass of Prosecco?”  My hosts at the Postumia Hotel Design will definitely see me again, as they offered all the comforts of a sophisticated American boutique hotel (not easily found in Italy), in a 33-room package, steps from the city center, with a restaurant serving delicious Venetian specialties along the riverbank; perfect.

iris_ibgrapes.jpgBefore leaving for the airport, I would have the opportunity to see the harvest and production in action.  The press is filled with grapes picked that morning, and Loris starts the machine, extracting the first juice to become Prosecco, and little Alessandro, their son, looks on from the seat of the forklift, pretending to direct the action.  Inside, Isabella shares with me her “wine book” which expresses in beautiful fashion what compels her to follow her dreams of producing these beautiful, shining bottles of bubbly, and this for me adds something to the experience of tasting the collection of Prosecco, because I know that it is produced with passion and attention to detail.  And when choosing the right bubbly with which to really celebrate something, in the true sense of the word, isn’t this a great reason?


(Dedicated to Daniel Barduzzi, a generous friend and a life worthy of grand celebration)

Brandy Falconer 

Wine Writer & Guest Columnist for Grapelive.com

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Grapelive Latest: Santa Cruz Mountains Harvest and New Release Update

Grapelive Latest:  Santa Cruz Mountains Indian Summer

By Kerry Winslow

kwafv09.jpgA mid September afternoon and I head up to the Santa Cruz Mountains to see the Pinot Noir harvest and catch up on some new releases at Alfaro Family Vineyards, the weather is warm and perfect, with blue sky a welcome sight after some Monterey fog. Richard Alfaro is fine tuning his talents and getting the best out of his estate in this special region, showcasing their interesting and unique terroir. His wines show remarkable class, depth and balance with out doubt he is making some of the best wine for the money in the central coast. His Chardonnay from the Lindsay-Page estate vineyard has been rocking my world and grabbing gold medals for a few vintages, then there is his Pinot Noir, which is getting better and better as the vines gain age here, and the new release of the estate Pinot is stunning with intense color and richness, and Richard’s newest project to be released is the estate Syrah of which I can say enough good things about.

Richard also buys select grapes from some big name vineyards, including the Garys’ Vineyard down in the afv09.jpgSanta Lucia Highlands and will for the 2009 vintage feature it as a single vineyard bottling under his own Alfaro Family Vineyards label, and he also gets some fruit from the Lester Family Vineyard in the Santa Cruz Mountains of which he has worked with for many vintages under the Martin Alfaro label and was known as the “Deerpark Vineyard”, for those that had this wine know it was a secret find, giving a wine of density and charm, and I’m happy Richard is continuing with it. While on this visit, I saw the 2009 vintage must, pre-fermentation, and I can tell you that both the Lester Vineyard and the Garys’ with be fantastic wines to look forward to, I can’t wait to see them develop. Alfaro showed me around the cool jacketed bins of juice soaking on the skins and ran lab tests on sugar and PH levels, all which was really enlightening even to this wine geek and I can attest to the numbers looking great for the 2009 vintage, with all of the Pinot lots on track, and Alfaro’s own fruit which only partial lots have been brought so far is very impressive, and I was jazzed to see the alcohol looks set to be about 14% and can report on near perfect balance coming from this ra09juice.jpgharvest.

If you get to Santa Cruz, head down to Corralitos and check Alfaro Family Vineyards out, not only will you see beautiful landscapes and vines, you’ll be treated to some of the most intriguing terroir wines from this up and coming region. This is a special place and the wines are great here, especially the Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, though I’m fond of the Syrah too. The nice thing about Santa Cruz is that it is very relaxed and laid back; everyone is open and friendly, especially at Alfaro’s place. People can taste wine and take in the winery or vineyards, as well as having a great spot to enjoy a picnic or cheese and crackers. The setting is peaceful and warm with a down to earth character that is steeped in local tradition and humor, I highly recommend a visit and know you’ll be getting quality wine and a huge bang for the buck here.

On the other side of the region to the very north is one of the legends of California wines, Ridge Vineyards, and they are just releasing their fall releases, include their flagship wine and one of the first growths of California, the Monte Bello, which in my mind is the great red of California. This Bordeaux style blend is mostly Cabernet Sauvignon with the other varietals playing lesser, but important roles in support, making a for a classic wine that does the state proud, as has done since Paul Draper first made it. Ridge also is letting out their Monte Bello Chardonnay, same 2006 vintage as the red, and the estate Cabernet blend too, from the original vineyards high above Cupertino and the South San Francisco bay.

mb06.gifThe 2006 Monte Bello red meritage is exotic and fruit forward, shockingly easy to enjoy and love now, which is surprising for a wine that in most vintages takes years to unfold. The is bold red fruits and savory licorice and plum layers and then the finish which is mouth coating and long that gives the true classic flavors that you’ll be more accustomed to with Cabernet fruit, mineral, tobacco and subtle oak notes. This was for sure the most round and lush young Monte Bello that I’ve tried to date, so I’d say mark this vintage for early drinking.

06ridgechard.gifThe 2006 Ridge Monte Bello Chardonnay is vast and a wonderful wine that has it all and then some, just like last year this wine maybe just be the best wine coming out of Ridge Vineyards, with deep full flavors and stunning complexity. The wine has unique character and is not a Napa or Burgundy clone, though it does have Grand Cru like elements and class. The nose has pretty white flowers, matchstick, apple pie and peach notes before a huge palate of pear, apple, yellow peach, banana and butter cream that unfolds in smooth layers, but has bright fresh acidity that just gives a hint of lemon. The Chard has mineral, spice and a golden hue that all wrap it up, letting you know that it is something truly special.

ridgescm06.gifThen last, but not least is the other estate red, the Santa Cruz Mountains Estate 2006 that is the baby Monte Bello, a wine that sells in the $40 region and delivers great value and full flavors that will knock some of the Napa Cabs down a few pegs! All in all Ridge Vineyards delivers true California wines that can rival any wines from any region, well they have done for 40 plus years now and don’t look like stopping anytime soon.

Again, Santa Cruz has blown my mind, just when I think they have done it all, they bring something new out of the area that makes me take even great notice. This is a region that doesn’t seem to get media glare, but makes some of the states best wines year after year. All of which makes me very happy as it is very close to home and the people deserve massive props, and the wine will amaze you. I’ve been singing the regions praises for that last three or four vintages and I think I will keep doing so until I lose my voice! This is a great region with magical terroirs that highlight its wonderful character and location. Bravo Santa Cruz, keep rocking my world!

Grapelive: Wine of the Week

melville08vpn.gif2008 Melville Pinot Noir Verna’s Santa Barbara County
Melville and their talented winemaker Greg Brewer (Brewer Clifton & Diatom) continue to nail it with amazingly good wines at a great prices. This new release is even more interesting than last years, and 2007 was a great vintage! So you can get this wine now before other critics chime in and know you are getting a fantastic deal and wine. For your hard earned dollar, this is one of the best Pinots you can get, especially this vintage, as it has layers of rich fruit and silky classic Pinot texture, plus it is just plain sexy. Lush, full and focused wine with grenadine, cherry, cola and raspeberry cream ending with tea spices and sweet vanilla! ($26 Est.) 92+ Points, grapelive

*Available now at RANCHO CELLARS 831-625-5646

Grapelive Latest: Pisoni Rules!

glkwgp09.jpgGary Pisoni Shows His New Releases

by Kerry Winslow

Every time I see Gary Pisoni I tell him how grateful I am to taste his wine and I make sure I mention that I believe, with out a bit of doubt in my mind, he is the greatest thing to happen to Monterey wine ever! I thank him for his passion and for making the Santa Lucia Highlands a household name for wine lovers the world over. As a native and a local, I am profoundly proud of my region and I regard Pisoni the man who put us on the map. Before Pisoni, there was Chalone, Morgan and Talbott all making nice and interesting wines, but there was mostly bulk wine that deserved no merit and that defined Monterey as a whole, that changed when Pisoni starting growing Pinot Noir on his family’s ranch, for which he took a huge gamble at the time. His risk paid off, and now his Pisoni Estate is almost certainly regarded as the best Pinot Noir vineyard in California and might even be on par with the likes of Romanee-Conti, La Tache and Richebourg, the top Grand Cru sites in Burgundy.

glgpgrapes.jpgGary loves to hear me sing his praise, though he is far to humble and seems more amused than anything, always telling me that he just did it because he loves it. His legend has grown beyond the scale, though he may be even bigger in real life, his joy is infectious, his intensity is inspiring, his kindness and heart are not mere mortal. Gary loves his family, he loves his wines, he loves his friends, he would give the shirt of his back for a stranger, and lives large, I mean really large! No question, he has a reputation as a wildman, sometimes deserved I am sure, but I know him as a quiet spoken supporting person that always has a joke, a smile and something nice to say about everyone. Honestly, Gary Pisoni will be remembered as much for his generous nature, humor and class as he will for his amazing grapes.

It is early September and harvest 2009 has started for certain varietals including Pinot Noir in some areas and Gary Pisoni brought some freshly picked grapes from his estate for us to taste, they are sweet, dark and beautifully flavored. So there you have it, your first review of the 2009 vintage, even before Beaujolais! Look for an exceptional Pisoni Estate vintage for 09, mostly likely to be released in two years to the day. As well as his grapes, Gary has brought his line up of wines to try, all new releases from the 2007 vintage, some of which I previewed in March and for which the slightly more famous wine critic than me, Robert Parker just published reviews of this month. Mr. Parker was as blown away as I was, and even though I put my reviews up first, I must say he gets much more attention, as the wine world hangs on his every word, and those words about Pisoni and his wines were in a word, awesome. Most all got mid to high nineties ratings from Parker (and me too!) with the Pisoni Estate Pinot grabbing 96 Points, along with his Lucia Syrah Susan’s Hill Pisoni Vineyard, scored by Parker.

glpisoniwines.jpgMy latest reviews of the Pisoni wines with echo my first impressions from March, though at that time I didn’t get to rate the 2007 Pisoni Estate Pinot though I gave it 96-97 recently when a tried it a month earlier at the family winemakers show in San Francisco. This time my notes recorded a full 97 Points, and I am convinced that it might be the finest vintage ever. So the Pisoni family does the Pisoni label, of which to date is just the Pisoni Estate Pinot, and the Lucia Vineyards label that has a Rose of Pinot Noir known as Lucy, a fine Chardonnay, two Pinots (A blended cuvee Santa Lucia Highlands, and the Garys’ Vineyard) and two Syrahs that are the big surprise, one is from the Pisoni Vineyard called Susan’s Hill and one from the Garys’ Vineyard. All of Gary’s wines are made by his talented son Jeff Pisoni who once trained at Peter Michael Winery and who is getting a lot of praise in his own right as a top winemaker. These wines are world class and rival any wine from the same grape any place in the world, I can say that with no reservation at all, with no hesitation at all and all with a straight face, these wine are that good. My local pride no know bounds when it comes to the Pisoni wines, and I am even more certain that they get better every vintage!
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Latest Pisoni Reviews
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luciachard.gif2007 Lucia Vineyards Chardonnay (Pisoni Vineyard) Santa Lucia Highlands.
Pisoni’s Chardonnay continues to shine, even though the press is all about their Pinot Noir, and the 2007 vintage is rich and textured with massive appeal and charm, much like Gary Pisoni himself. I wonder if this beautiful wine will ever get the merit it deserves? This Chard is right up there with the likes of Aubert, Talbott, Kistler and Peter Michael with pretty pear, white peach, and tropical fruits, liquid mineral, cream, fig, butterscotch and spicy vanilla. When it was first released it had a lovely lemon tart layer that seems to be fading now into the background, but everything else about this wine pure heaven. ($40-45 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
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luciaslh07.gif2007 Lucia Vineyards Pinot Noir Santa Lucia Highlands.
This cuvee of Pisoni and Garys’ grapes is very ripe and lush with intense fruitiness and bold flavors, I had rated it slightly higher in my earlier tastings, but it seemed a touch over the top this time, even though it is hedonistic and totally a pleasure to drink now. This vintage has Plum jam, wildflowers, cherry liqueur, blackberry and tea spices all mixed with classic Pinot character as well. This wine continues to be a great value for a big in your face Pinot that has many fans. This wine is fun and lush and should be drunk while young. ($40 Est.) 90-91 Points, grapelive
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lucia07garyspn.gif2007 Lucia Vineyards Pinot Noir “Garys’ Vineyard” Santa Lucia Highlands.
This wine just gets better each time I try it, this highly impressive Pinot Noir has depth and density that is mind blowing with sublime flavors and focus. Jeff Pisoni is becoming one of the best Pinot Noir winemakers in the state and this Lucia Garys’ is proof in the pudding. This remarkable vintage has rich dark berry, plum and black cherry fruit with bramble, briar and sweet spices coming on after you take in a nose full of violets, roses and lavender. The oak is subtle and pure French though it leaves a hint of smoke, vanilla and mocha goodness. You can and I’m sure will enjoy this beauty now, though it should gain lots with a few years in the cellar as there is potential perfection here! ($50-55 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
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pisoni07.gif2007 Pisoni Vineyards Pinot Noir “Pisoni Vineyard” Estate, Santa Lucia Highlands.
This nearly perfect wine is a stellar Pinot Noir that is my all time favorite Pinot and surpasses the 1993 Romanee-Conti “La Tache” I had been holding on to in my memories, and I hope I’m able to save a few bottles for 5 to 10 years to revisit, as I’m sure that it will develop even more greatness in the cellar. It is amazing when a wine blows away the hype, and this wine surely does that in spades. The nose is lovely with fresh wildflowers and rose oil with blackberry and cherry fruit. This vintage has intense flavors and wonderful balance with layers of silky fruit, spice, mineral and pure French oak smoke, vanilla and caramel that lingers on the finish.  ($65-75 Est.) 97 Points, grapelive
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luciagaryssyrah07.gif2007 Lucia Vineyards Syrah “Garys’ Vineyard” Santa Lucia Highlands.
If you try one new wine this year, let it be a Lucia Syrah, it will change all your ideas about the grape and where it grows well! I was blown away last year with these wines, but this year everyone is blown away with these wines! The Lucia Garys’ Syrah is a mammoth wine with deep color and layers with bright peppery spice. The nose is still closed on this young wine, but the palate explodes with fruit with black plum, blueberry, cherry and mountain berries unfolding in the mouth. There is a meaty and bacon essence along with the thick texture very much like the wines of Hermitage in the Northern Rhone, the spiritual home of Syrah in France. This wine should just get better and more complex over the next few years. With question this is one of my favorite Syrah wines and a unreal value! ($40-42 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive
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luciasusans07.gif2007 Lucia Vineyards Syrah “Susan’s Hill, Pisoni Vineyard” Santa Lucia Highlands.
This young Syrah is very tight and fresh, but once it gets some air you know right away it is something very, very special with perfume and massive fruit. This wine is very much the Cote-Rotie type of Syrah from the Pisoni Estate with a touch more elegance and less pepper than the Garys’ with more refinement maybe and smoother in texture. That said this wine will really fill out and be a monster with some short-term cellar time and I look forward to seeing it develop, as I believe it has wonderful potential. The last two vintages were excellent, but this is something really special and Pisoni just might be even better known for Syrah than his Pinot! The mouth is full and rich with loads of black and blue fruits, cassis, licorice, cherry liqueur and bitter chocolate, hints of smoke, crushed rock, and vanilla. ($40-42 Est.) 94-96 Points, grapelive

Grapelive Latest: Paso Robles Wine Country

Grapelive Latest: Paso Robles
by Kerry Winslow

kwpaso.jpgPaso Robles has a diverse and interesting mix of wines and terroirs, and after an in depth tour recently I was left very impressed with the regions passion, quality and potential. These people have a sense of common cause and unity that them together and sets them apart from other regions and this sense of purpose, even in this economic down turn is admirable, instead of fighting each other for every dollar they are sticking it out together and preparing for the future which they believe is brighter when looking ahead. From the outside looking in the market notes Paso Robles as a fine producer of ripe and easy Cabernet and Zins, as well as the hot region for Rhone style specialties, but Paso winemakers don’t want to be pigeon holed, they believe they compete for interest and quality on all levels from value priced table wines to the super high priced limited production boutique segment, plus they want to be free to explore new ideas and types of wines from their many micro-climates. Paso has many distinct soils and differing climates very close together, maybe because it a place where the tectonic plates crashed into each other and cool breezes have found small gaps in the Santa Lucia coastal range. These things change the character of the wines dramatically even from within the same vineyard. There is a friendly rivalry between the hotter eastside and the more severe degree changes that is found on the fashionable westside. While interesting wines are produced from both sides, I must admit I find the small estates on the westside the more deep and complex of the two. The soil is loamy on the eastside and ancient seabed, almost limestone like on the west, though there is some granite also mixed around the region as well, all which adds its own stamp on the wine too.

kwasseo.jpgReality check, while Paso has had some good success, like J.Lohr’s Cabernet Sauvignon becoming the best selling wine in North America in its category by volume and cult hero Tobin James having about 20,000 wine club members! There are uncertainties and problems still, and after tasting thousands of wines I personally am not convinced Cabernet Sauvignon is the way forward for Paso, and even Zinfandel looks shaky to me in some regard. Paso is trying to undo the stigma of being not Napa Valley, like every other region in California, and the desire to be lifted out of Napa shadow or stop being the ugly stepsister, and its efforts so far have been mixed. That said, I did get a chance to try a 1977 Estrella River Cabernet Sauvignon made by Gary Eberle and it was still youthful and rich in flavor and color, a complete marvel and revelation. While I am happy for Steve Lohr and his families achievement in Cabernet Sauvignon sales, I am not convinced that for quality and price Paso is the region to be for Cabernet, though there are exceptions of course, one being Stephan Asseo’s L’Aventure which does compete with any wine from anywhere, no question. And, while Paso has many fanatics for its Zinfandel, it kwjdusi.jpgwould be hard to say in my mind, that Paso is the best region for the grape for my personal tastes. Still, there are people that brave the heat of summer and miles of dusty highway to stock up on Tobin James, Peachy Canyon and be part of their “gang”. But, I do admit there is a new wave of Zins coming from Paso that will change the way people and critics view Paso and I am a fan of this new group and wish them all the success in the world, people like Four Vines, Lone Madrone (Neil Collins, winemaker from Tablas Creek) and Janell Dusi (J Dusi Wines), third generation winegrower, as these may lead a new Zin revolution here. Also, even Turley Cellars is enjoying the Zinfandel revival with his Paso Robles old vine Zins plus an estate Grenache and Rhone White blend.

The most successful side of Paso Robles to be me has to be the Rhone style wines and unique regional blends where you see the marriage of Rhone, Bordeaux and Zinfandel grapes and others, these to me are the future and the most interesting wines that I have tasted from Paso Robles. Though Gary Eberle and John Alban (in neighboring Edna Valley) made Paso a household name as part of the Rhone Rangers with stylish Viognier and deeply flavored Syrah, it might have been Tablas Creek that brought home the point when the Haas and Chateauneuf-du-Pape legend Chateau du Beaucastel family, the Perrin’s came to Paso in the mid nineties. Tablas Creek kwtobin.jpgfocused on vines and terroir and made a huge gamble on the region, and a noble investment that has helped the region in many ways. The Tablas vines have become the stuff of legend and have been the cuttings of choice for lots of new winegrowers in the region and beyond. Tablas Creek wanted a place to plant Mourvedre especially, like their Chateauneuf, and Roussanne for their white grape, and Paso Robles has been a great host for these varieties. Tablas remains an explorer and continues to try new grapes and refining their blends their commitment to Paso has never waivered, and they have become part of the family heritage there. Plus the up and comers like Booker, Denner, Saxum all making an impact with amazingly deep and seductive wines from Rhone grapes, mostly Syrah, but with Grenache, Mourvedre playing important roles as well. There is some Zinfandel crossover with the Rhone styles with Linne Calodo and Four Wines making Rhone plus Zin blends with super results. There is also a push in Rhone style whites mixed results, though most people are finding lots to love in certain grapes and blends with Roussanne and Grenache Blanc leading the way, though some of the Viognier is good too, but might be better as a minor player.

pasoview.jpgPaso’s history in winemaking and grape growing goes back to the California mission era and after that many pioneers continued to plant grapes in the region through out the centuries, both 1800’s and 1900’s, but the most successful period has been since the end of the second world war, including the Dusi vineyard plantings that started in 1945 and the dynasty that Dante and Benito build and that Mike and daughter continue today. In fact now for the first time there is a family label, J Dusi Wines that had their premier release with the 2006 vintage. The Dusi Ranch has the feel of the southern Rhone, almost like Chateauneuf-du-Pape with rocky vineyards and “old sisters”, head pruned vines, mostly Zinfandel of course, but there is some other things hidden here too, like some old Carignane that they are looking to bottle on its own at some point. Family history and culture are a big part of what makes Paso Robles such a welcoming region to visit, and almost every winery has family roots and are warm and are sincerely friendly in almost a Midwestern or Southern sort of way with a humble charm that is refreshing. This makes Paso Robles an easy place for new wine drinkers to visit and get an initial taste for many different wines from light and fruity, sweet and serious styles. Young and old are treated very well here and it is a true bargain area to visit that has lots to offer the day traveler and the multi-day visitor with hundreds of wineries and a wonderful selection of reasonable hotels, I stayed at La Bellasera and was very impressed at the service and comforts for the price.

pasovines2.jpgPaso Robles has a vast array of restaurants offering everything from sushi, old school country cooking to cutting edge culinary magic all though are easy to enjoy and casual laid back places with excellent service. I will give huge nod to Artisan, an awesome foodie experience with a local slant to farms and wines, all exceptional quality, a place I will return to many times! Then there is Villa Creek, another place that highlights the local scene and also has a winery, sort of like the Hitching Post, with better food and wine… The whole region is waiting out the economic crisis with hope, enthusiastic passion and undoubted talent. The future is in their hands, and while there are some painful times ahead they are as a region only just scratching the surface of what they can do and achieve. and it is an exciting time for the winemakers and wine lovers alike. The whole community is buzzing here and the togetherness is heartwarming to see, the loyalty, values and earnest nature are very much in the air here in Paso. I want to thank all the wineries and vintners, plus the Paso Robles Wine Association for the candid discussions and their remarkable hospitality that they and the whole wine community showed me over my visit to the area. It was a real pleasure to finally give Paso the attention it surely deserves, again I give thanks to all those that helped make this trip special, way to many people to mention, but to all I owe a great thanks.

PASO WINE

*Wine reviews  to follow

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 www.parsonagewine.com

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

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RANCHO CELLARS

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

PATZ & HALL

Grapelive Latest:The Mystery of Syrah

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

By Kerry Winslow, grapelive.com

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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.

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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

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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

ALFARO FAMILY VINEYARDS

Grapelive Latest: Book Review

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

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.

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