Grapelive Reviews Sept. 2007

Alfaro Pinot Noir

2005 Alfaro Family Vineyards Pinot Noir Lindsay-Page Vineyard, Santa Cruz Mountains

Wildly ripe on the nose with fresh flowers and boysenberry syrup leading to a refined and creamy palate, with classic cherry fruit and lovely depth and body. This wine is intense, but is lush and smooth and should develop nicely for the next 2-3 years if you can wait that long. I’d drink it up now for sure. The sweet fruits and smoky mocha oak notes give plenty of enjoyment and again I must say I really admire the efforts of Richard Alfaro as a stylish and natural winemaker. 92 Points, ($40 est) grapelive

Bouchee Wines

Bucklin Old Hill Ranch Zin

2005 Bucklin Old Hill Ranch Zinfandel (Field Blend) Estaste, Sonoma Valley

This is pure dry-farmed classic old style Zinfandel that is everything we always loved about Zin and old vine fruit! Will Bucklin has crafted a special wine that is both clean and rich, but pays homage to the classic wines that made Zin the wine that maybe defined California uniqueness. This wine has pop and zesty acidity that gives life and edgy energy, that holds together lush and spicy fruit. This isn’t your pancake or ice cream topping, this is serious red wine with lots of soul and hearty flavors. Big raspberry and black plum fruit lead the way, with touches of pepper, lavender and vanilla adding support. This is very tasty and it should age well too. 94 Points, ($35) grapelive

Bouchee Wines

Palmina Pinot Grigio

2006 Palmina Pinot Grigio Santa Barbara County

Steve Clifton of Brewer Clifton famed, know considered by those in the know to be one of the best winemakers around recently launched this almost all Italian inspired line of wines. This Pinot Grigio is a wonderful and true wine, it is everything you liked about the classic Italian wines, but almost better is all ways! Lovely and light on the palate, but full in flavors and length, it is nothing short of enjoyment. Fresh citrus, green apple, spicy pear and tangy refreshment, this is a wine that can just be fun, but serious too. Great value for what you get, thanks to Mr. Clifton, bravo. 90 Points, ($16) grapelive

Bouchee Wines

Cliff Lede Claret

2004 Cliff Lede Claret Napa Valley (Cabernet Blend, Bordeaux-Style Red)

This is great wine and a steal, I must say it kicks butt over lots of over $100 Meritage wines and that just makes me like it even more! At around $35 a bottle and flavors that taste like Insignia, I say power to the people! Lovely nose and pure mouth feel right away tell you this is the real deal, giving way to blackberry, cassis, currants, cherry pie, mocha and creamy sweet oak all layered to perfection. Good depth and smooth tannins make it all work and ready to drink now. Lede has the talents of David Abreu and Michel Rolland in the background, though clearly present. Get it and get it now… 93 Points, ($35) grapelive

Bouchee Wines

DEux Montille Burgundy

2005 DEux Montille Chambolle-Musigny “Les Babilleres” Red Burgundy (Pinot Noir)

This is what Burgundy can be and is, from a wonderful vintage, a true classic and clean, bright and lovely. These guys do it right and in turn do us right with an affordable gem that delivers all the best and rewards you with being very fairly priced even with the total crap exchange rate. Violets, rose petals, earthy minerals and spice lead to a solid core of bright red cherry fruit and plum jam. The wine remains fresh and tangy though to the long finish and the deft use of oak adds to the balance and complexity. I should think a little cellar time would deepen the enjoyment and thicken it all up as well, maybe 3-5 wait is deserved. 93-94 Points, ($69) grapelive

Bouchee Wines

Martin Alfaro Pinot Deer Park

2005 Martin Alfaro Pinot Noir Deer Park Vineyard, Santa Cruz Mountains *Re-Tasting

This wine has surpassed my predictions and continues to develop and grows with each passing month. I tried it as a barrel sample and loved it and now it is all grown up and even better! Lush and thick with ripe earthy fruits this Pinot is firmly hitting the sweet spot and delivers high quality enjoyment. Dark colored fro long hang-time and firm stucture give backbone and plum and cherry fruits give loads of flavor. Hints of blueberry, cranberry and smoky coffee bean all wrapped in a polished and focused way. 93+ Points, ($35) grapelive

Bouchee Wines

Andrew Murray Syrah Tous les Jours

2005 Andrew Murray Syrah “Tous les Jours” (Central Coast)

Just buy it, you’ll see… This is a rich and easy drinking Syrah and come on it is less than $20! Andrew can really make wine and this screw-capped little beauty is a great bottle for any and all occasions. Lusty blueberry, cherry and plum fruits leading the way and stay all the way to the fresh lengthy end. There is some nice espresso, pepper and mineral notes and a lack of overt oak that add up to a zesty Syrah that that is easy and pure. I’d say this with be a party favorite and with its clean flavors should go with most menus. Enjoy now and often. 91 Points, ($18-20) grapelive

Bouchee Wines

Cave De Chante Perdrix Saint-Joseph Syrah, Rhone Valley, France

2005 Cave de Chante-Perdrix Saint-Joseph (Syrah) Nothern Rhone, France (Red Wine)

This pretty and earthy Syrah really gives a lot for a really nice price, like a baby Hemitage. I like the floral and blueberry compote notes, as well as the smooth cherry and plum fruits. There are subtle complexities that come with some air, like lavender, dried flowers, white pepper, mineral and grilled meat. This a round wine with good vigor and ripeness that shines with quality. 92 Points, ($25-30) grapelive

Bouchee Wines

Snosrap Cyrano Red

2005 Snosrap Cyrano Red Table Wine, Arroyo Seca, Monterey

Here is a lush, chocolaty red that shows some sage, cedar and cranberry on the nose with smooth cherry mocha on the palate. There is some green pepper notes that add a Cabernet Franc like characte, but the rich mouth-feel and long finish will surprise you. The dusty ripe tannins are there, but never harsh and overall this is a solid wine and is really pleasing, much better now then when I barrel tasted it. This vintage has Merlot, Cabernet & Syrah and I think the Syrah really adds to the whole and makes it much more interesting. 90 Points, ($20-25 Est) grapelive

Pasonage Village Vineyard Direct

Snosrap Cyrano Pinot Noir

2005 Snosrap Cyrano Pinot Noir, Arroyo Seco, Monterey

Wow, again this wine has really gained a lot of everything good since the barrel, it has come together nicely. Bright and medium weighted now this Pinot has more traditional flavors and a long finish than when I first tried it, I’m glad I got a chance to correct a small slight, I will drink up the rest happily no doubt! Fresh strawberry, cherry and raspberry come forward now and there is a nice spicy plum and tartness that add depth. The length is impressive and the acidity keeps everything in place with the sweet toasty wood coming in at just the right time. 90 Points, ($20-25 Est) grapelive

Pasonage Village Vineyard Direct

Palmina Brings a Taste of Italy to California

Italian wines hold a special place in my heart and lots of us American’s are captivated by their romance and simple pleasures, all made more the unique due to the fact that we could not make the Cal-Itals taste or feel like the real ones. Well, until now! At first I was a non-believer and though I liked some Cal-Itals made with Sangiovese grapes, they were not very true to their Italian templates. Now I’m eating my words and thoughts that is because I have just tasted the line up of Palmina wines, which are the truest to their roots Italian varietals I’ve ever tried. Produced in tiny amounts, Palima delivers with quality wines crafted by the talented Steve Clifton (Brewer-Clifton, famed Chardonnay and Pinot Noir makers) these wines are not only dead-ringers for their Italian cousins, they are fantastic wines! I was blown away with their Nebbiolo that was a regal as any Barolo and even their pretty Arneis was a delight. While these wines will not replace the originals in my heart, they will be getting some space in my cellar!

Parsonage 2006 Vintage Barrel Tasting Report

Parsonage 2006 Barrel Tasting Early Report July 16, 2007

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2006 Parsonage Merlot Estate Carmel Valley

Again, the Merlot surprises me, with great depth and length making it a pleasure and something to look forward to. The color is dark and pure as are the flavors in this rich and seductive wine. The fruit is thick and creamy on the palate and there is a freshness that perks everything up. Black cherry, plum, cedar, red berry and savory vanilla all blend together seamlessly. 93-94 Points, grapelive

2006 Parsonage Cabernet Sauvignon Estate Carmel Valley

This is a powerful and intense wine with bold Cabernet flavors and youthful tannins, so with another 8-10 months in barrel comes as good thing. That said this is something that will come together into a wonderful wine, as the fruit here is deep and complex all ready. Lots of black fruits and creamy new oak will make this red a big winner on release. Patience will be rewarded here for sure. 92-93 Points, grapelive

2006 Parsonage Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve Carmel Valley

I had heard from friends that this would blow my socks off, and I can tell you with out a doubt that was the case! This is a wildly exotic wine and will be something exceptional and maybe the odds on favorite to be the wine of the vintage around here. The color is shocking black purple and it has intense perfume even it this barrel sample. Now, honestly, it is a truth that a great wine begins a great wine and is always a great wine, and I can tell you right now this is a great wine. This Cabernet is pure and has that something extra that one usually finds in a 1983 Chateau Margaux or maybe a 1997 Caymus Special Select. There is a beautiful nature here and it drinks well even now, but don’t be fooled it isn’t a soft wine, as it has impressive tannins and vibrant acidity. Everything is just in harmony giving this red some real Zen. The amazing Cab has blackberry, Blueberry, cassis, currants and plumy fruits, with hints of tobacco and sweet smoky oak notes that linger on and on. 96-98 Points, grapelive

20006 Bixby Petit Verdot Reserve Carmel Valley

This is a sexy and spicy wine with subtle perfume and lush fruits that is still a little shy. There seems to be everything here and it should develop nicely and really fill out over the next year. By giving it some air really got things going, so I have no questions here at all, this is going to be a stunning and unique wine. They haven’t finished the final blend here and I hope the give it a little of that Merlot and maybe a dollop of the Cab to give it a little more pop. Blueberry, wild flowers and lush cherry fruit all come together early on the front of the palate and the finish is long and bright. 93-95 Points, grapelive

2006 Parsonage Syrah Estate Carmel Valley

This rich and sweet-fruited Syrah has the stuffing of years past, but it is really developing a certain terroir now, with unique flavors and style. This wine shows only the slightest hint of pepper, but has some savory sage and mineral notes to go with the full red fruits and crème de Cassis. This Syrah is just a baby now, but it has a certain class and gamey quality that hint at good things to come. 91-93 Points, grapelive

2006 Parsonage Syrah Carmelstone Reserve Carmel Valley

This one has it all, but it is tight and rock hard now with acidity and tannin galore to go with its powerful fruit. The black and blue fruits give great length and the sweet toasty oak is pleasurable though it must certainly get much better in the coming year in barrel. Overall I am convinced that it will develop into a fruit forward joy of a wine, just be giving it time. 90-93 Points, grapelive

2006 Parsonage Syrah Cuvee Rocco Reserve Carmel Valley
This wine is a stunner! Amazingly it is all ready a gem and will get even better, with complex and super rich fruit. The flavors are both clear and classic that does remind me of a wonderful Hermitage, maybe better! Blackberry, blueberry, cherry liqueur, grilled meat, mineral, spices and perfume all mix perfectly. This wine has exotic mint, lavender and vanilla too, though it takes some air to get it all out. This wine makes it tougher to pick a best of show for this Parsonage vintage! 94-96 Points, grapelive

Fermented Travel: Riga, Latvia

Riga, The Jewell of the Baltic States (And the Home of Some Very Nice Beer)

Riga, Latvia

Riga, the capital of Latvia is a beautiful and historic city that has about 4000 years of recorded habitation and a long and trying past, as Latvia has had only about half a century of independence total in all that time. Still Latvian culture has endured and remains strong with their language and folk music that is ever present in even this modern world. I came to Riga to meet a friend, an American like myself, but one that has been living in Moscow for the last 6 years and had been in Prague for the 6 or so years before that. He was a wonderful tour guide and was able to get me into the spirit of the place right away with a drink in a local pub in the old town within 45 minutes of landing in this beautiful city. Michael did have connections and the apartment he rented for us was ideally located in the heart of the old town and very near the medieval section and close walking distance to everything important to see and experience here. Smooth cobblestones greeted my feet as we ventured into the Riga night, I had just spent a week in Sweden with friends and at first saw some Scandinavian accents here and there, and in fact at one time Riga was the second capital of Sweden. The history breathes in this place and its mark is everywhere. The Finns, the Danes and the Swedes all ruled here, but it is the German and Russian occupations that are remembered here and still there is much bitterness that can be felt. Soviet liberation is sweet for Latvians and only came in the early nineties and one is struck by its effect. That sad, the Russian influence will continue here as a third of the population in Latvia are ethnic Russians and their language seems to be the most widely spoken, even as the Latvians tear down signs and billboards in that tongue. The German influence remains in the Lutheran churches and of course the beer, of which I enjoyed very much. That first sip convinced me, and the smoke filled pub just added to the atmosphere in this charming city, though the pole at the end of the bar with the beautiful young blonde in a bikini didn’t hurt either. Did I mention the women here? Well, I’ll be back just for them I can tell you, never in my life have I seen so many beautiful women as I did in my three days in Riga, but that is another story.

That first night in Riga, Michael and myself savored the local favorites Aldaris and Cesis beer brands and stuck to their Pils, both of which were fresh and very tasty. Over the next couple of days we ventured Riga far and wide from its riverbanks, parks, soviet blocks, orthodox Russian churches, museums and of course the city’s fantastically located beer gardens and trying some of their more exotic beers and ales. Bee keeping has a long history here as well and honey is cherished and honeycomb is like gold at the marketplaces, so as you’d imagine honey mead is popular and indeed very nice here and the are honey beers too of which I had a few during a sun drenched afternoon that saw us chatting away about how Riga remains totally unique and how it has absorbed western influence without much loss in its old world ways. There are cell phone stores, Puma boutiques and a few Pizza Huts like the rest of western Europe, but in Riga somehow they seem to go unnoticed with everything else that grabs your attention like markets in most squares selling handmade linens, hand crafts, amber jewelry and traditional garments. The sounds of Riga are different and are like nothing like anywhere else I’ve traveled. An old Russian soldier played fiddle for us, in between telling us of his march to Berlin in 1944 and his time now unwanted by both his motherland and his adopted Latvia, neither of which will not pay his army pension. Things are different here and many struggle with life in this new age here. We were approached by little kids begging, scurried away by Michael shouting at them in his perfect Russian and then smiled and groped at by “massage therapists” with perfect creamy white skin and ultra purple eyes who we gently sent on their way without any tinge of quilt. It was time to get back to the beer, and a wonder live-hop style called Uzavas of which we tried both the Bauska or Tervetas brands at two of our favorite beer taverns. These beers were some of the best hoppy beers I’ve had and highly recommend them. Latvia also does dark beers in porter and stout styles to and we sampled some of these while taking in a real Latvian lunch at a traditional restaurant Michael found here a couple of years ago. It was all dark wood and had many fireplaces and the food was served buffet style with a tray and all, which I found somewhat Las Vegasish, but real in its local feel. Latvian food tends to be heavy and dull tasting, though it should serve them well in the cold of winter. There is fish, though it tends to be cured or pickled, so my quest for a light lunch didn’t fly too well, especially after I sat down with my lightly battered chicken breast which turned out to be stuffed with ground beef and ham! Thank god for the beer, most definitely the best part of the Latvian lunch, no question.

Honestly the best food I had in Riga was had when we slipped off to an Uzbekistan restaurant in the suburbs that had great lamb and couscous, that we eat up with a pleasant Georgian red wine, though we had a few lager style local brews as well. Apart from the great beer, Latvians drink up Vodka like water in the clubs and discos, which are mostly run by the Russians still. Latvians in Riga enjoy a secret liqueur called Riga Balzam or Black Balzams, it is a hundred year old recipe that is made up of roots, flowers, herbs and various juices, it is both sweet and bitter and is an acquired taste much like some of the other herbal liqueurs found across Europe that were made by monks over the last couple hundred years or so.

Riga is an amazing city with lots of soul and life that will intrigue you and leave you mystified and place you’ll want to visit again and not just for the great beer.

Wine Travel: Tuscany

Wine Travel: Tuscany

Kerry Winslow

The Twelve-hour flight helped build the anticipation and I couldn’t sleep a wink on the Lufthansa red-eye to Florence. I had dreamt of Italy all my life and now I’m finally going to be there, not just Italy, but Florence the romantic heart of Tuscany. Florence is a beautiful city and it was just magic to walk from palazzo to piazza and to museo. The Duomo and the Ponte Vecchio were just as advertised, nothing disappoints here. I had heard terrible stories of crowds, gypsies and litter, though no of these were in evidence to the extent of any problems. I guess with all the art and history on display, I only saw Florence’s lovely side and enjoyed every minute. In fact the only thing I can remember being annoying was the buzzing of thousands of vespas, and that even didn’t matter much. I was looking forward to my first night in Italy, and it was made all that more special that the Antinori winery was treating me to dinner at the La Cantinetta Antinori, their bistro at their family Palazzo di Antinori. The Antinori family is distantly related to the Medici Family the former rulers of Florence and Tuscany, and are thought of as Italian royalty. I must say the Caninetta was simple in appearance, but amazing in service and quality. The evening was very special and one of the best wine nights I ever had, with some of the finest Tuscan wines available. The tasting started with antipasto to die for, with their estate olive oil drizzled on everything including my shirt. The wines kept coming almost the entire Antinori lineup from their various estates. The only white was a crisp and lively Vermentino from Bolgheri that cleaned up my palate and left me mouthwateringly ready for the impressive reds that were to follow. The night went in a blur of fantastic food and stunning wines, but here are the highlights of the wine. Peppoli Chianti Classico, Tenute Marchese Antinori Chianti Classico Riserva, Guado al Tasso Estate Bolgheri rosso and the famed Tignanello “Super Tuscan” red. Whew, the time just flew by and my head was spinning as I sat back with desert and vin santo and a double espresso waiting in the wings just to make sure I could find my way back to the hotel! Lucky for me it was only three blocks away, sadly it didn’t give me all that much time to reflect on my first meal in Italy. I awoke surprisingly refreshed and stepped out onto the hotel’s rooftop terrace and enjoyed the finest cappuccino I’ve ever had, made for me by a man in a elegant uniform that I had mistook for a submarine captain. As I sat at my small table in the sunshine I smiled at the view of terra cotta tiles and church towers, yes Florence is wonderful. Read Dante, view Michelangelo and drink Antinori and you’ll just start to understand this beautiful historic city.

Next up was touring the ancient hilltop towns of Tuscany by rental car. Again I was very lucky that all those horrible tales of mad Italian drivers and terrible medieval roads proved not to be the case. OK, I do admit that the line at the rental car place was frightening as was driving out of Florence through impossibly narrow lanes, but once out of the city it turned to pure joy. The roads were excellent, the drivers courteous and the road signs easy to read, please I’ll take this over trying to get around San Francisco or LA anytime! I just made rules for myself, never ever drive into a walled city no matter what the guidebook says. Trust me on this, because I had read that Lucca had quote “wide Roman streets that are easy to navigate” Sure, I drove in and promptly turned onto what was promised as a main avenue, in reality it was a pedestrian walkway barely wide enough for the tiny VW I was driving. To make it absolutely perfect, it was pouring rain and packed like sardines with people! I quite literarily had to push the mass of humanity along as I in almost a complete panic attack found a way out. Finally I found a side lane where luck would have it there was a police car full of laughing policeman that very nicely escorted me to my hotel, it made me wish that I understood Italian, because the parting words were lost on this guy, but I’m sure they were hilarious. So never break that rule, even though I almost drive into San Gimignano through the back entrance to the city of towers, but at the last second I braked hard and reversed out scaring the hell out of German family in a Mercedes as I went blazing by backwards at 45 MPH. Those streets were so narrow that vespas had to fold their mirrors to get through.

I stayed in a beautiful villa in the small commune of Bucine; the place is an olive oil and wine estate named Tenuta di Lupinari, set in the Eastern hills of Chianti. Seven days and nights of Heaven, that offered a castle view with the rising sun to wake up to every morning. The estate produces easy drinking Chianti that went great with the local menu, but Tenuta di Lupinari’s star is their olive oil, which is flavorful and cloudy green and very full bodied. Foodies listen up, I found a gem, with some help from couple that were staying at the villa, from San Francisco bless them. The best meal in Italy was had at Osteria di Rendola, a fabulous restaurant in the little town of Montevarchi. The place was amazing and the food was out of this World, the best of show dish was a porcini mushroom risotto with buffalo mozzarella and avocado cream. Of course they had a great wine list, but I went for their own wine a Cabernet Sauvignon bottled just for them. I had been drinking local Chianti and other Sangiovese based wines, so I was curious to try the Cab. It was lovely and fruit driven with big flavors and good depth. This was as good as most $50.00 Napa wines, so I was even happier to find, even though this was not a cheap place the Cab only cost $25.00, this was a great evening meal. The other highlights were the visits to Cortona, with its Etruscan tombs, Siena with its huge fan shaped Piazza del Campo and the harvest of grapes in Montepulciano. Before leaving Tuscany behind for Portofino and Milan, I had to drive though and explore Chianti Classico. The beautiful Radda in Chianti was a wonderful place to spend the afternoon with its tiny Piazza and cute little shops including a wine shop offering for sale and taste some of the finest small estate Chianti’s. Lunch in Radda was great pleasure and humorous. The place Villa Miranda; is a little roadhouse that is run by an old woman and her family. The food was fresh and vibrant that delighted the senses, the homemade ravioli in sage butter sauce still lingers in my mind. The funny part was the wine service, I thought a light white would go with the food ordered, but I found this was just not done in Radda. The troll of a woman brought me a half bottle of ancient Villa Antinori Chianti Bianco that was brown in color and totally cooked with a label that was bleached out by sitting on a window sill for ten years. Totally undrinkable, but the food was so good I didn’t even send it back. I got a good chuckle out of it and hell I was sitting outside overlooking the gorgeous hills covered in vines, Villa Miranda gets mixed reviews for quality and service from travel books, I was lucky I guess. When in Radda please drink Chianti Classico, I learned my lesson the hard way.

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