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


Grapelive Lastest: 2007 Vintage Pinot Noir

kw09julygl.jpgGrapelive Latest: July 29, 2009

I’m declaring 2007 the vintage of Pinot in California, especially as I begin tasting some new releases from small vintners that are dedicated to terroir driven wines and let the vineyards show their unique flavor profiles. I think overall this amazing vintage showcases everything that is great about Pinot Noir, giving rich and deep layers, slightly dark color and flavors, but with refined elegance and good firm acidity that will allow aging and lifts the fruit. After some thin or fat vintages that still produced fine Pinot Noir, this vintage puts everything together in a more complex and complete fashion. 2006 for the most part had softer flavors, though nice and sweet with smooth depth, the color was also remarkable light in some cases, but they will not match the 2007’s for substance and cellar potential, so enjoy your 2006’s now and get the 2007’s and count on them lasting a good long time, though you might not want to wait after trying them!

The 2007 vintage also marks the return of Gary Farrell as an artisan winemaker, and he is releasing his new Alysian (label) wines from his favorite vineyards in the Russian River Valley, including Rochioli, Allen and Starr Ridge for his new line up of Pinot Noir(s) plus adds the “new” Floodgate Vineyard. These wines look to restore him to his former glory and highlight his sublime talents as one of the best winemakers in the region. His rebirth is perfectly timed and new releases are intensely flavored and intriguing wines that have stunning purity and deep fruit that will impress his fans of old and bring a new wave of followers, no question. Gary’s new line up includes a rich and full-bodied Chardonnay much in the Williams-Seylem and Rochioli does with loads of sweet pear, toasty oak and long apple pie and vanilla cream finish. The Chardonnay seems much more interesting than anything I alysian.jpgcan remember from his old label that bares his name, and the Pinot Noirs too have much more character and terroir to them, plus they are in a riper and vibrant style that makes them really stand out. The new Floodgate Vineyard Pinot is very unique and bold giving the drinker lots of pleasure and something to savor, but Farrell has put most of his attention on his main cuvee, the plain Russian River Valley Pinot Noir that gets his hand selected best lots from the top sites, which this vintage include Rochioli, Allen, Starr Ridge and other tiny plots that showcase the best grapes from the Russian River. So the savvy wine buyer and wine enthusiast should take advantage of this wines availability and better price than the most costly single vineyard releases for smart drinking, though I must say the Floodgate was worth the price and I will not pass up the single vineyard Rochioli, when Gary releases it later this year!

After releasing her wonderful 2005 Ryan Pisoni Vineyard Pinot Noir late, Peggy Ryan is now following that great effort with the 2007 Ryan Silacci Vineyard Pinot Noir, a wine made with the “Pisoni Clone” blocks in the Silacci Vineyard just west of the Santa Lucia Highlands, where the famed Pisoni Vineyard is located. Silacci is a cool site and has a longer growing season which lets the grapes get darker and riper, but still with plenty of acidity. The new Ryan Silacci is a bold and meaty wine that feels tight and powerful now in its youth, but is all ready textured and deep in complex flavors, even rivaling the Pisoni for intensity. Peggy Ryan and her Ryan Cellars label have been knocking it out of the park lately and continues to really impress for style, quality and price, considering she usually produces less than 200 cases of each single vineyard Pinot Noir she crafts.

So for the Pinots of 2007, I say stick to California as both Oregon and Burgundy had much weaker efforts with some thin and bitter wines. While if you can find 2005 Burgundies, and even some 2006’s, then there was the powerful 2006 vintage in Oregon, with the Willamette Valley Pinot giving super rich fruit and lovely depth. All that doesn’t mean there were not exceptions as I found out when I tasted the 2007 Shea Vineyards Pinot Noir releases recently with Dick Shea. Kudos to Dick and his very talented winemaker Drew Voit, for delivering fantastic wines from a hard and challenging year in Oregon, from this special vineyard. These wines along with the Beaux Freres must be considered the Grand Cru of Oregon and no matter the vintage should be sought after. I tried the 3 different Pinot Noir selections from Shea Vineyards, the Estate, the Pommard Clone and the Homer Block, all of which gave wonderful perfume; depth and beautiful pure fruit and all were worthy of more attention in the future. The surprise was the Shea Vineyards Chardonnay, and for the second vintage in a row, I was blown away with the elegance and layers found in this wine, making a real contender to go up against the best from Puligny or Chassagne Montrachet(s) in other words, you just need to try this beauty!


alysianpinot.gif2007 Alysian Pinot Noir Russian River Valley.
Gary Farrell has finally got back to doing what made him famous, back doing what made him one of the best winemakers in California that is making small lots of handcrafted wines from great vineyard sites and expressing his region, his love of terroir in the Russian River Valley. His fans will rejoice that he has come back from the mass produced corporate world that took over his namesake label. Instead of overseeing 100,000 cases of wines, including wines made from grapes from all over California, he has turned back to his favorite passions, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, only from the Russian River. The first vintage is a stunning debut with the rich and intense Russian River Valley Pinot, which has lots of terror character and vibrant flavors. The palate explodes with black cherry, raspberry, strawberry jam and plum fruits mixed with cola bean, sweet spices, lavender, and smoky sweet toasty oak leaving a long vanilla cream finish.
($48 Est.) 93+ Points, grapelive

*Can be ordered through RANCHO CELLARS 831-625-5646


ryansilacci07.gif2007 Ryan Cellars Pinot Noir “Silacci Vineyard” Monterey.
Coming hot on the heels of her late release of the Pisoni Vineyard Pinot Noir, Peggy Ryan has now just released the powerful and young 2007 Silacci Vineyard Pinot that comes from special selections of “Pisoni Clone” sections of the vineyard that lays just west of the main Santa Lucia Highlands. Over the last few vintages many small talented producers are buying grapes from this cool climate site, feeling the grapes are getting longer hang time and developing fuller flavors and darker colors with losing grip or acidity. Peggy’s 2007 Silacci has massive and meat fruit, dark color and dense structure all held together by firm acidity making for a blockbuster style Pinot Noir and a complex wine to enjoy soon and for many years to come. The nose is bursting with sweet smoke, violets, briar and game with an intense palate of blackberry, cherry, plum and currants with tea spices, dried flowers, licorice and plenty of toasted French oak shadings. This wine is wound up and has lots of vigor, so be sure to let it breath, and is best if decanted!
($47 Est.) 93+ Points, grapelive

*Can be ordered through RANCHO CELLARS 831-625-5646


shea07.gif2007 Shea Vineyards Pinot Noir “Shea Vineyard” Estate, Willamette Valley, Oregon.
This wine is beautiful and layered and lovely in every way, and even more amazing since the vintage was so difficult and was tough for most vintners in the Willamette to make complete and complex wines, with most turning out thin if not unpleasant wines. Shea and his winemaker beat the odds and produced a wonderful line up of Pinot, and especially good is this cuvee from this Grand Cru class vineyard. The Estate Pinot shows elegant and refined flavors and sublime balance with subtle perfume and round flavors. The nose is bright with wild flowers and rose petals, with hints of oak and spice leading to a palate of red currant, plum and a solid core of pure cherry fruit that is persistent through to the long lingering finish. This wine fills out with air and while bright and vibrant it is lush and full in the mouth with hints of mineral, light baking spices, piecrust, fennel and vanilla.
($48-50 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive


Grapelive: Wine of the Week

hamacher.jpg2006 Hamacher Pinot Noir Willamette Valley, Oregon.
Eric Hamacher grew up in my hometown of Carmel, California and has made wine at Chalone, the moved north to work at Etude, before following his personal path to Mecca and ending up making wines in the Willamette Valley. Eric fell in love with the place and the style of Pinot Noir they could achieve there, finding the near perfect balance between old and new world. If you get a chance to tour the Willamette Valley region, you should look him up at the Carlton Winemakers Studio where he makes his wines in a state-of-the-art facility along with some other young talents, you will be rewarded, I promise. 2006 was a Pinot drinker’s vintage in Oregon where near perfect conditions and warm harvest gave big rich wines, with bold ripe flavors. Eric’s amazing 2006 Pinot has it all, lush textures, layers of dark fruit, flowery perfume and a super long finish. The fruit explodes on the palate with blackberry, cherry, plum and currant, before touches of spice, mocha, mineral, smoke and vanilla come through in the background. This wine has it all and then some, while Eric himself like the more delicate lighter vintages, I am a huge fan of Oregon’s 2006 vintage and this might be one of my top choices! ($45-50 Est.) 94+ Points, grapelive

Grapelive Lastest

July News

erichandme.jpgAs the wine business continues to feel the economic crisis and a slump in sales hits every price point, we can only hope things come back a bit by slow bit and focus on some of the wonderful wines that are now much easier to find. We must go on living and be grateful for life’s blessings as much as we can and enjoy the simple things. This has been a rough year, but I am doing my best to see hope and the pleasure of this summer. There are plenty of things to keep me occupied and I am taking advantage of that to pass these slow times. There have been some fantastic tasting events and I can hardly keep my tasting notes and reviews up to date! I am working on many new stories as well and hope to get some travel notes posted as well, like my Fourth of July in Sonoma article. This last few weeks have raced by, with two or three fantastic Italian tasting events, a stunning Oregon tasting and a tour de force German Riesling panel. I got to see Dick Shea of the famed Shea Vineyards in Oregon and taste the new releases from his own winery all of which came from the difficult 2007 vintage, that said, his winemaker Drew Voit has blown me away again, with an amazing array of Pinots and a world class Chardonnay. Plus I connect with another Carmel hometown boy, like me, Eric Hamacher (shown with me above) who makes some fantastic wines in the Willamette Valley as well. Thank you all again for your support and comments over the last few months, I am very thankful! Also I want to thank Brandy Falconer for all her hard work and great stories from Italy and wish her well as she pursues her dreams in the wine world and life, I am sure we’ll get some more articles out of her soon. Cheers!

Grapelive Lastest: Sonoma

lv1.jpgSonoma and an All American Fourth of July
Kerry Winslow

I went to Sonoma to see a friend and reconnect with my inner American/Rocker roots, as well as taste a bit of wine. My friend, Bradley Gray, a writer, a public relations guru, an amateur race driver, and accomplished guitarist had told me about a friend of his that was a professional musician turned winemaker and said he was playing a gig and that I should come up and spend Independence Day with him in Sonoma, where unlike my Monterey, was going to have fireworks, a parade and hot rod car show as well as a rock concert all near the vines of Sonoma Valley. So I agreed, and off to Sonoma I went to hear some music, taste some new wines and soak in the rich Americana that I’ve somehow been missing.

rocking.jpgBradley, who is now working on a book project and whom I’ve known for better than 30 years, was looking at me when I arrived with distain, me in Puma trainers (I mean sneakers!) a shirt that looked as if I was trying out to be in Coldplay, Lacoste cologne and chatting away about how cool Europe was… Then he saw the playlist on my iPod! Oh my God, I thought he was going to have a heart attack after seeing Lady Gaga. He was now convinced I needed an intervention; I was not helping myself by bringing a white Burgundy to Sonoma, even though he loved it! He had his work cut out for him, and he relished the challenge, starting out by playing some Van Halen, James Gang, Aerosmith, Journey and other American rock classics to refocus me. He reminded me it was the Fourth of July for heaven’s sake, it was time to get my USA on!

We then headed to the Sonoma plaza, in downtown Sonoma to see the traditional Independence Day Parade. This was as old fashioned as we American’s get with a huge flag waving crowd cheering the kids and animals marching by with big smiles and we all saluted our heroic veterans and servicemen and women with pride. There were all the fixings, clowns, horses, native Americans, hot dogs & hamburgers, apple pie, funny costumes and of course, everyone’s favorite, fire trucks! It was sweet and patriotic with a sense of small town charm and friendliness, even though I did cringe at the sight of the “young republican women” float… Then again the “hippie free love” float did not excite me either, both of which seemed very out of place in this setting, but it takes all types, and as Americans we are free to express our own views as we wish.

mustang.jpgThen we were off to an All American Hot Rod show, refreshing ourselves with a Coca-Cola at the taco truck (okay, it is a California thing), supporting people that love America as much as we do, first. After a short drive we parked at B.R. Cohn, the well-known Sonoma winery owned by Bruce Cohn the manager of the Doobie Brothers and olive oil producer. B.R. Cohn makes a nice array of Sonoma wines and great olive oil from estate trees on a beautiful sun drenched piece of land in the heart of the valley. Bruce is a big supporter of local charities and a huge car buff and collector with some amazing hot rods and the like. What an event, with hundreds of polished chrome and fat tired beasts, live rock music, flowing chilled wine and a massive BBQ all almost too much to take in, going on. We wandered amongst a throng of humanity enjoying every minute, I was almost cured of my Euro influenced soul now and I was even giddy as a little boy at seeing a stunning Mustang fastback, a car I always had dreamed of owning! After refreshing ourselves again, this time with the winery’s latest offering, a tasty Russian River Pinot, while most of the others opted for the Sauvignon Blanc and even some “pink” wine, I must admit I chuckled at the black t-shirted hot rodders sucking down Rose…. We took in a set of the band.

richlittle.jpgIn the band playing was B.R. Cohn’s neighbor, Rich Little of the tiny estate Little Vineyards, and a famous musician who was jamming away on his guitar. They had the crowd singing and dancing along for a long rocking set that included everything from Prince to Tom Petty in a classic American session that brought the house down. Rich Little is still in the music game doing mostly small gigs around Sonoma and doing studio work and helping some friends like Elvin Bishop in his recording studio behind his winery!

With the day not showing any signs of winding down we followed the band next door to Little Vineyards for an All American/Rock n Roll wine tasting with some groupies and friends. Bradley had mentioned Rich’s wines and was talking up his latest estate Syrah, and I was not left wanting by any of the small production wines of this family run winery. I personally fell for the 2006 Zinfandel in a big way, which brought a big smile to Bradley’s face as it was clear that I was enjoying an All American revival, as Zinfandel is as American as a ’32 Ford!

rocking2.jpgRich happily played his electric “stick” guitar as we tasted through the rest of his impressive line-up, which included a kitchen sink blend ‘Band Red’, the Zin, the Syrah, a juicy Syrah-Zinfandel, a Cabernet Sauvignon and a beautiful meritage called ‘Center Stage’ that had all the Bordeaux grapes. Little Vineyards produces about 1,500 cases and sells most all of it through their very cool tasting room and their small, but loyal wine club. We continued to rock out in the tasting room and sampling, okay re-sampling Rich’s wines, and soaked up the almost rock concert atmosphere with even the regular wine tasting groups joining in and singing along or playing the handy tambourine or other music makers lying about, making for a real unique wine experience. I did take a few breaks to hike through the vineyards and check out the grapes forming on the vine, plus take in some shade with the winey dogs, this is a beautiful and peaceful place. The property was once owned by the Hearst family and the tasting room has a piece of history inside as well, with the tasting bar being from an old gin joint that the famous American author Jack London drank at and formed some of his classic tales. If you get a chance you should check out Little Vineyards and the Sonoma Valley, and get your own bit of Americana back. I did and I’m glad I did, Thanks to my friends old and new. Happy Independence Day indeed.


littlezin.gif2006 Little Vineyards Zinfandel Sonoma Valley
Bright cherry, raspberry, plum and bramble berry fruit layers and subtle spices, smooth tannins and long savory finish. Rich Little, the musician, rocks out in a band and his wines rock too! This wine is dark and layered with good vibrant flavors and nice balance. This is a very good red and is one that I bought and would buy again, no question. Little Vineyards is a fun place to visit and offers a great value on quality wines from a small estate vineyard in the heart of the Sonoma Valley. Little makes a very good Syrah, a fun Syrah-Zin, a smooth Bordeaux style wine called “Central Stage” and a big round Cabernet Sauvignon, check them out next time you are in Sonoma.

($25 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive

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mastro21.jpg Masteroberardino winery, Atripalda, Avellino – Part I
Brandy Falconer

When I lived in Naples from 2001 to 2003, I fell in love with the wines of Mastroberardino, what I consider to be the gem of Campania region’s producers. It was their Taurasi that first caught my attention as I explored Campania wines looking for something to steer myself away from the old standby, Chianti. At the time, Taurasi, a bold red made from Aglianico grapes, was the only DOCG wine in all of southern Italy, which really impressed me. Thanks to Tony in the Navy base package store and his weekly TGIF wine tastings, I sipped my way through Mastroberardino’s lineup and discovered their other treasures, like Greco di Tufo, my all-time-favorite white wine, and Naturalis Historia, an important red with a beautiful, enticing bottle. At the end of two years of collecting, drinking and collecting some more, 120 bottles from various producers were shipped back to the states.Today, the only bottles that remain from that “collection” are two bottles of 1997 Historia, signed by Antonio Mastroberardino himself, which wait patiently at my parents’ home in Carmel Valley for a special occasion.

Believe it or not, I never actually visited the winery when I lived in Naples. Wine tasting is just not as simple as it is in the states, or especially California where you just show up, pay and taste.Italian producers know this and are working on ways to be more ready to receive visitors. For example, on May 31st, there is a national event called “Cantine Aperte” where many of the wineries all over Italy are open to visitors for tasting and buying. After such a great experience at Mastroberardino’s booth at Vinitaly, I knew I would not make the mistake of missing the winery this time while in Naples.Plus, there was a promise of a Neapolitan pizza feast…

brandynfriends1.jpgRecently, with two girlfriends, I made my second, and less formal, visit to the winery, about 45 minutes from Naples on the A16 autostrada heading east around the back side of Vesuvius.  For those of you who know the restaurant A16 in San Francisco, this road is its namesake.  On the drive out to the town of Atripalda, Mastroberardino’s home among the rolling hills of Avellino, the feeling of relaxation was almost tangible.  The three of us had smiles on our faces and each of us said, “now, THIS is what I expected Italy to look like!”  Green rolling hills dotted with olive trees, vines, and villages and a clear sunny sky fulfilled any romantic vision one might have of Italy (which, mind you, can be found OUTSIDE of Tuscany.)  Just minutes off the Autostrada, the winery is in the center of the little town, and stands beautifully and proudly as a piece of its history.  The fact that it was easy to find, and easy to get to was a delightful surprise for us.

We were greeted by Dario Pennino, Chief Marketing and Export Manager for the winery, who immediately took us into the production area to begin our tour.  As usual we were marveling at the huge stainless steel tanks and the production machinery that somehow fits together like a puzzle on this compact property.  As he walked us through the process and their special projects, and more of the secrets of winemaking were revealed, we tried to not lose that romantic feeling about wine making.  This was helped in large part by the organized beauty of the maze of stainless steel pipes that route the wine from tank to tank for the various stages of production, with all the precision and complexity of a computer circuitboard (or Formula 1 Ferrari engine!)

mastro31.jpgOur tour moved on to the cellar area where we were instantly met with the cool, delicious smell of red wine, oak and stone.  Mastroberardino’s history, in its various forms; ancient, old and recent plays out in many ways here, complementing the modern technology that keeps this winery at the forefront of (family-run) Italian producers.  We learned that that the types of grapes used to create their lineup of wines, like Greco di Tufo and Aglianico are of Greek origin, imported prior to the Romans, and thanks to the Mastroberardino family and their 130+ years of cultivation and research, they survive and flourish again.  We were told that after the Second World War, when many of the local variety vineyards had been wiped out, it was Mastroberardino who dissuaded wine producers from planting northern grape varietals and encouraged the repopulation of the indigenous species.  The most recent contribution to keeping the ancient history of Campania alive is the project that produces the “Villa dei Misteri” wine from grapes actually grown within the walls of ancient Pompei!  And not just any grapes, these are clones of the actual varietals grown before Pompei was destroyed in 79 AD.  This fascinating story coming in Part II.

mastro11.jpgStill in the cellar with the barrels and barriques, we turned to see what they were all facing, the cellar wall, where we were met with a collage of the family’s more recent history.  A beautiful collection of letters and photographs from the last 120 years taught us that Mastroberardino is the oldest winery in Southern Italy and the first to export as well.  Letters from son Michele to the family, sent from South America before the turn of the century explain their first ventures into export to the rich cities of Montevideo Uruguay and Sao Paulo Brazil.  Next, was the letter from 1906 asking for financial backing to visit the “emerging city” of New York and explore the possibilities for export, demonstrating that the Mastroberardino family was, even then, looking forward while embracing its heritage.   After the 1980 earthquake that devastated Irpinia, many local families decided to leave the region, but this family stayed, citing the reason that their roots were there in the countryside of Avellino.  This philosophy gave rise to the name “Radici” or “roots” given to their  DOCG Taurasi made from Aglianico grapes.

Revered as the archaeologist of vines and wine, Antonio, the patriarch of the family today, was awarded the designation of “Cavaliere” by the Italian Government (the equivalent of Knighthood in Britain) for his work to maintain and preserve the history and viticulture of the Campania region.  This spirit is alive and well in the hands of Antonio’s son Piero, who heads the company and leads its progress in this 21st century.  One example of his honoring their past while innovating for the future is the change in their Naturalis Historia wine, from a blend of Aglianico and Piedirosso grapes to 100% Aglianico, thus designating it as a DOCG Taurasi.  This dedication to varietal purity (rather than the minimum percentages required by law) is executed masterfully by their winemaker Massimo in all of their wines, red and white.  I think this is something that makes Italian wine so special, and Mastroberardino’s in particular, that they strive to create beautiful wines from 100% of single varietals.  One must also recognize that the fact that they are able to do it with both their reds and whites is impressive, and in Italy, there are few small zones, if any, like Irpinia that can boast both red and white DOCG wines.

Leaving the collage of history, reeling from the fact that the documents we were looking at were actually the originals (!), we walked through the century-old cellars discussing the barriques, experiments in aging practices, and the fact that the floor we were walking on was actually the original street than ran through the center of town.  All of a sudden we looked up to see the vaulted ceiling and were amazed at the beautifully painted scenes of harvests and vines as depicted by three different international artisits, and we thought “why, why here?”  Art for the sake of the wine, the winemaker’s cellar and the lucky visitor is about as romantic as it gets when it comes to wineries, I think.

mastro51.jpgAs I mentioned before, this is a compact property, though it doesn’t feel like it once you are inside.  We walked from the cellar through a set of doors to begin our tasting in a room that looked like a beautiful salon or living room with shelves of books, historic wines and cozy sofas.  A table was set up for us complete with spitting buckets, which made my friends a little nervous, but the lineup would have been impossible to get through without them.  (Besides, if you’re going to learn how to use the buckets, what better way than with friends?)  We made our way through the white crus, Morabianca Falanghina, NovaSerra Greco di Tufo which is a delicious compliment to my favorite dish, spaghetti with clams, and Radici Fiano di Avellino.  Then came the surprise favorite, the Lacrimarosa Aglianico (Rosato, or Rose), which impressed my friend who usually prefers a sweeter, younger red wine. This Rosato is my “everything” wine, enjoyable chilled as an aperitif, with first and main courses, and especially as a drinking wine in the summer months.  After sharing ideas for pairing this and the whites, we then moved on to the reds and tasted the 100% Aglianico which offers a terroir experience, and the DOCG Radici Taurasi Riserva 1999, also 100% Aglianico, which we agreed would be our choice for steak night.  The experience of tasting like this, in a professional yet friendly environment allowed my friends to get used to discerning aromas and flavors and both were delighted to have successfully spit out their wine!  We took glasses of our favorites to the salon table between the couches and enjoyed an extensive and delicious lunch.  Plate after plate arrived with something new and tasty to try with the wines, and we all picked our favorite pairings.  Again, the setting was more like being in someone’s home than at a winery, but that is the essence of Mastroberardino – sharing their wines rather than merely selling them.

radiciresort1.jpgAfter lunch, which in Italian terms means, “after we couldn’t possibly eat another bite,” we got in the car for a short drive to Mastroberardino’s new Radici resort which offers an excellent restaurant, beautiful rooms, garden pool area, and a golf course with driving range, all set among rolling vine-covered hills. The rooms are beautifully appointed, and each one styled differently, all with views of the countryside, and all with large, comfortable spa-like bathrooms. The pool area has room for entertainment (think summertime jazz concerts) and the golf course has nine holes, on its way to 18. The grounds are perfect for receptions and large parties with covered patios, grass and lots of mature trees to lend to the romantic setting.  We stopped into the restaurant, Morabianca, elegant and welcoming, with a menu that changes with the seasons.Professional staff and beautifully prepared traditional local cuisine offer a dining experience which, when paired with their wines, is something altogether special.

While my one friend has discovered new wines to enjoy, expanding her palate, the other is already creating a list of people to invite for a tasting dinner at Morabianca. We’re all sold on this Campania concept, and happy to see such a comprehensive experience available so close to Naples.  In my opinion, the comparison of Tuscany to Campania is like Napa to Monterey.  The smaller and perhaps less-visited regions offer everything the others have and more, like the ocean, diverse history, and closer attention to quality experience. Come to Campania and see for yourself, you won’t be disappointed.

Grapelive: Wine of the Week

ryan05.gif2005 Ryan Pinot Noir “Pisoni Vineyard” Santa Lucia Highlands
this wine is pure class & pure Pisoni fruit, with blackberry, dark cherry and plum with elegant violets and wild flowers on the nose. Hints of cassis, currant, exotic tea spices, mocha and vanilla add complexites. Smooth texture and a silky palate, a wonderful Pinot from a Grand Cru vineyard! Awesome.  Very limited, only 106 cases made. Peggy Ryan has a devoted following and was hand-picked by Gary Pisoni to made Pinot from his grapes! ($60 Est.) 94-95 Points, grapelive

*Available  at Rancho Cellars


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