Category Archives: Wine Reviews

Grapelive Lastest

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

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

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

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Reviews of Alfaro Family Vineyards and Windy Oaks Estate by graplive.com

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

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

*Not yet released.

Big Basin Vineyards

Grapelive Lastest: Vinitaly 2009 (Preview)

VinItaly 2009 Preview: Milan to Lucca
Brandy Falconer

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

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

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

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

Grapelive: Wine of the Week

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

Grapelive: Wine of the Week

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

Grapelive Lastest: Gary Pisoni

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

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

Grapelive Lastest: Roar(ing) Success

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

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Roar Wines

Grapelive: Wine of the Week

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

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RANCHO CELLARS

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

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

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

Lucia Vineyards

Here are the wines and winemaker notes:

Lucia, Spring 2009 Releases

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

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

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

2008 Lucy Rosé of Pinot Noir, Santa Lucia Highlands.

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

Grapelive Lastest: Corralitos

Corralitos Wine Trail

mission.jpgI found myself completely free on a lazy, mostly sunny Saturday and ready for a short drive, so I breezed through Carmel, took in the beach watching dog walkers and surfers then watched the rising sun reflect of the old walls of the Carmel Mission. On a whim and with an old friend in tow I headed north to re-visit my happy wine hunting grounds in the south Santa Cruz Mountains and see the vineyards getting their finishing (pruning) touches before the new season on the vine and the bud break. After a couple of weeks of rain the sun etched a smile on my face and turned my cheeks pink as we twisted and turned our way towards the little hamlet of Corralitos, that used to be more famous for country old world sausage that classic Burgundian style Chardonnays and Pinot Noir, plus now emerging as a new hot spot for Syrah. The landscape is full of scrub oak, orchards and redwood groves set in rolling hills with a peak at the ocean. It was magic to see the glistening Pacific in the distance, with lush green hills all around and with the sloping vineyards making it just that much more special. I really like this place, and I admire the wine made here a lot.
afv.jpgThings have changed around here with world class wines being turned out here, going from orchards and small farms, which remain unfettered still, with the addition of quality wine estates and the wine geeks, like me buzzing through the hills and redwoods to find them. I have waxed about Alfaro Family Vineyards and Windy Oaks Estate so much my old friend was getting antsy to be there all ready and taste their wines, or it could have been my driving, but either way, she was blown away with the quality and beauty of the place, and she had been living in Italy, so it made it all that much more impressive.

wovineyard.jpgI have been saying for a few years now that this was the next big find and that the wines here were going to be a big deal, like the Santa Lucia Highlands and the guys like Pisoni and Franscioni. I feel that Richard Alfaro, Alfaro Family Vineyards and Jim Schultze, Windy Oaks Estate will get that kind of reputation and lead a rush to the area. Now, I’m not alone, with critics and wine big shots finding their way here to see what is happening, plus both Alfaro and Schultze have been collecting gold and silver medals like I collect grey hair, especially the San Francisco Chronicle which has some of the best wines in California gathered for blind judging. Well it couldn’t happen to better or more passionate people and talented wine-makers, as they continue to turn out unique and terroir driven wines that rival the best from anywhere.

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Alfaro Family Vineyards
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alfaros.jpgStopping at Alfaro Family Vineyards is a great way to stretch the legs after the drive and feel the laid back nature of the place, being so close to Santa Cruz it could be no other way. The casual earthy feel and the warm smiles are welcome and refreshing, giving little hint of the seriousness of the wines being served. Richard who is always ready to give complete vineyard tours, either in the truck or the ATV, gives a running dialog of almost each row of vines and has an endless supply of stories that remind me of “ A Year in Provence”, in a Santa Cruz tweaked version of course, all witch shows his passion and provides humor to the quiet and pretty landscape going by. His wines offer some of the best value in premium wine there is, with some stylish and complex wines starting under $20. Then there is his select estate vineyard wines, these are amazingly layered efforts that will stun any wine enthusiast, especially his Lindsay-Page Chardonnay, which for me is one of the best Chards in California, regardless of price and I would say it can hold its own to most Chassagne-Montrachet and even some Puligny-Montrachet, such is the class and depth I find in it. They were pouring the 2007 version, and it is just getting better and better. Note I have rated this wine 95 Points for the 2006 and at first rated the 2007 about 93-94 Points, but I am thinking given a bit of age, I may have to change that and rate it higher, as it is now on par with the 2006 easily!
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brandytaste.jpgRichard’s Pinots are all lovely and ripe, all garnering low to mid nineties scores and I was impressed with his entry level “A” Pinot this time, this was the new 2007 release and it showed elegant bright fruit, good depth and should get even better once the wine settles into place. The 2006 Lindsay-Page Pinot shows very ripe sweet plumy fruit and has a long creamy finish with smoky vanilla oak shadings. This was a great way to start the afternoon. Then we tried the Syrah, wow, this may end up Richard’s star wine, regardless it is a big success to me with classic Rhone character. The cool climate gives a dark purple color and a perfume of violets, game and intense black fruits with a cayenne note. The palate is full of red and black fruits, currants, cherry liqueur, white pepper and savory game and sweet herbs, finishing with smoke, chocolate powder and vanilla toasty goodness. As a heads up look for his 2006 Ryan-Spenser Syrah coming out soon, this promises to be an intense monster Syrah with great depth and stunning power, I tried it in barrel at was blown away, I will bottle review it soon, so stay tuned!

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Windy Oaks Estate
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wotaste.jpgThe Pinot Noir grape captured Jim and Judy Schultze heart and they remain spellbound to Burgundy, the spiritual home of this magical grape and still the ultimate goal post for Pinot nuts. Remarkably they found a spot, planted a vineyard, worked hard in the traditional Burgundian ways and came up with a wine that shocked me, and the world, with real burgundy class and elegance with flavors that screamed Chambolle-Musigny. I was working with Jacques Melac, a French wine expert, at the time and we tried Jim’s first Pinot, the 1999 Vintage and bought it on the spot! Jacques and I had recently finished a marathon Burgundy tasting so we really were stunned by Jim’s effort and I’ve been a fan ever since.
Nothing in the following years has changed my mind about Windy Oaks; this is classic and delicate Burgundy like wine with some interesting unique characters that are developing over time with vine age. Jim employs old world winemaking and lets the wine be as natural as possible without filtration or fining, which adds to depth and complexity of his wines. Even though his wines don’t tend to be dark, they are deep, rich and long finished. He says long fermentations bleed pigment, but add flavor and perfume, so don’t fret about the lack of color, and let the wine make its impression on the palate.
wobarrels.jpg Jim is going to with the 2007 vintage have about 10 different bottlings of estate Pinot Noir all from separate blocks and he has a wild yeast Pinot and a whole cluster pressed Pinot as well, plus the Estate Cuvee from mixed blocks. We tasted four Pinots, all different and all wonderful in flavor and texture with depth and interesting character. Somewhere in my mind I recalled visions of the Willamette Valley, Oregon and memories of wines from the Cote de Nuits, Burgundy when tasting Jim’s wine, though they all had their own distinct profiles.

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wo2006henrys.jpg2006 Windy Oaks Estate Pinot Noir “Henry’s Block” Schultze Family Vineyards, Santa Cruz Mountains.
Jim and Judy Schultze are making some of the finest Pinot Noir you’ll ever taste from their tiny Estate in the South Santa Cruz Mountains and this one is just a dream like gem that offers flavors that seem more of a cross of Oregon and Burgundy that what you’d normally find in the central coast. The color is delicate and glows a light ruby in the glass, but the flavors and deep and the finish goes on forever. My first impressions were of Chambolle-Musigny (Burgundy, Cote de Nuits) and Dundee Hills, (Jory soils of the Willamette Valley, like Domaine Serene) though this wine as t opened up got richer and showed its own unique character. There are lush plums, raspberry, savory currant and bing cherry fruits with subtle sweet French oak, exotic Asian spice and dried roses. This is without a doubt one of the best 2006 vintage Pinot Noirs I’ve had and should even get a bit better in a year or two, while not a modern Syrah like Pinot, it is a classic beauty. ($49-55) 94-95 Points, grapelive

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woestate07.gif2007 Windy Oaks Estate Pinot Noir “Estate Cuvee” Santa Cruz Mountains.
This wine is one of my go to Pinots every vintage, as it gives a lot of bang for the buck and it is a rare gem, being not so easy to find, it makes a of people take notice of the Corralitos area of the South Santa Cruz Mountains! The 2007 vintage is shaping up to be the vintage of the decade for Pinot Noir, and this new release from Windy Oaks and the Schultze family is a good bellwether, and I think we are going to really enjoy 2007 greatly, though I think my wallet is going to be lighter, as I will be buying a bunch! The Estate Cuvee has youthful zest and sweet tangy dark fruits, with a full rich palate and lots of grip. This Pinot shows loads of fruit ranging from cherry, raspberry, plum to mountain raspberry and cranberry, plus some strawberry rhubarb pie notes. The wine has good depth all ready, but still could use some cellar time to fill out even more. Everything thing is there and the acidity is in perfect balance with the fruit, with good oak shadings giving gentle vanilla, smoke and mocha flair. ($36-40) 92-93 Points, grapelive

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wodianes06.gif2006 Windy Oaks Estate Pinot Noir “Diane’s Block” Schultze Family Vineyards, Santa Cruz Mountains.
Don’t be fooled by this wines light almost rose like color, or better yet, just close your eyes and take it in without even thinking, as it is a French inspired joy with elegance and charm. This wine is beautiful and delicate throughout with lush strawberry, cherry and creamy raspberry fruit, light touches of cured pork, mineral, roses, lavender and vanilla. This wine has all the classic easy style of a lovely Burgundy, but remains true to its own terroir. This is an artist’s wine and a wine that makes you smile and reflect on beautiful things. With soft layers and just enough lively acidity to lift the flavorful fruit, this is a wine to drink now and enjoy, though it will gain some body with another year or so of cellar time and take on some smoky sweetness. The 2006 vintage had much less natural pigment to hold color, but the flavors are all there and unfold in pretty and velvet like layers giving lots of pleasure, so don’t be fooled and get some while you can. ($45-50 Est.) 92-93 Points, grapelive

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wovines.jpg2005 Windy Oaks Estate Pinot Noir “SBC” Schultze Family Vineyards, Santa Cruz Mountains. (Special Burgundian Clone) *Late Release
This Pinot is a massive and unique creation, from rare Vosne-Romanee cuttings and one clone. Vosne-Romanee is a small village in the heart of the Cote de Niuts, north Burgundy and is the fabled home of some of the great Pinot Noirs. Jim Schultze personally hand tends this small block, and his eyes go slightly wild with glee when he talks about these vines that he has nurtured along and lovely cares for. This is his most time consuming and artful wine, with only a barrel or so making it to bottle, last year only 25 cases were made. This Pinot which is very different from the rest of his wonderful line up, spends over 2 years in French oak and then is held in tank a further year before bottling. The wood gives a solid frame to showcase this wine’s depth and full weight, though let it have plenty of air as it takes lots of time to reveal itself. At first there is classic reduced red berry and smoky oak notes, but with a few swirls it bursts into life with wildflowers, violets, and perfume that lead to an explosion of fruit on the palate. The “SBC” is an intense and edgy wine that should really be put in the cellar for another 4 to 5 years to really get all of it perfect, but it is an amazing wine that has layer after layer of lush flavors and has silky fruit that goes on forever and a day. The core is made up of tangy black plum, cherry and a mix of strawberry and raspberry fruit, with rose oil, fennel, sage, truffle and coffee bean deep in the background. It would really be interesting to re-visit this wine in 5 years, I hope I get that chance, I only wish I could afford some. ($95 Est.) 94-96 Points, grapelive

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apnoir.gif2007 Alfaro Family Vineyards Pinot Noir “A” Estate, Santa Cruz Mountains.
This new release has plenty of tasty fruit and texture with lots of bright youthful acidity making everything feel balanced and lighter than is the case, given time this wine will fill out and be bold shouldered. The fruit is lush and tangy with lots of plum, cherry and cranberry that expand on the palate with some tangy red currant, mint leaf, allspice and soft oak notes. Really zesty now and pretty making it a gem with salmon and light meat dishes, it will smooth out and sweet up with time, enjoy it now and for the next 4 years. ($20-24 Est.) 89-90 Points, grapelive
*Will get better in the next 4-6 months, no question.

Grapelive: Wine of the Week

andromeda1.gif2006 Sean Thackrey “Andromeda” Pinot Noir, Devil’s Gulch Vineyard, Marin County.
This was my first chance to try this rare and beautiful wine from the unique and brave winemaker Sean Thackrey, who has become a legend by making funky hand crafted wines. He makes wine in a natural and “In nature” style and his barrels live in the elements at his home on the Sonoma Coast near Bolinas. This wine is full of flavor and has rich classic Pinot fruit, with sweet plum, cherry and red berries. The wine has remarkable depth and is bursting at the seams like a great Burgundy. This turned out to be my favorite of Thackrey’s impressive portfolio for its complexity and the pleasure it gives. This Pinot is a stunner, with texture, spice and lots of exotic touches going on and nice acidity that lifts the flavors and gives it a freshness. This wine has a round velvet finish that shows pretty French oak at its sublime best. ($60 Est.) 94-95 Points, grapelive

*Can be ordered through Rancho Cellars

Call Jacques, Rancho Cellars 831-625-5646