I love all wine and am in love with many other grapes, but Pinot Noir just does not get boring. I have had some wonderful other wines lately, including wines made with; Grenache, Syrah, Corvina, Mourvedre, Roussanne, Viognier, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Nebbiolo to name a few, but that Pinot magic still holds me. Recently, I did a little mini tasting with a Burgundy, a Oregon Pinot and an Anderson Valley Pinot, all cooler climate styles that I thought would be similar, but they were wildly different and it left me craving even more Pinot! Luck would have it though, and I soon got more Pinot Noir to try. Pinot is also flying on the shelves and the market is showing now signs of letting up, Pinot producers mailing lists are full and there are huge waiting lists to get just a few bottles. Just ask Sea Smoke, even after losing their star winemaker Kris Curran to Foley, or Kosta Browne, Rochioli, Brewer-Clifton or even the old guards like Hanzell or Williams-Selyem, all of which are selling out almost instantly. Here are my picks for Pinot Noir producers you may have not heard of and can still get in on now, Cobb, Freeman and F. Magnien (Burgundy) all of which are outstanding producers that make wonderful and compelling wines. Cobb is from the Sonoma Coast and they are the owners of the Coastlands Vineyard, made famous by Williams-Selyem, and made by Russ Cobb, who has been picked by Flowers to make their wines too. Freeman is made by Ed Kurtzman, he makes Roar and August-West as well. Then there is F. Magnien of Burgundy, this house makes some of the best values in the region, I really love their Morey-St. Denis, Chambolle-Musigny and Nuits-St.-Georges. Pinot Noir has a grip on the passionate wine drinker, it is not about to let go anytime soon, but that is a good thing for sure. I have my own personal favorites of which I have mentioned recently in my articles, scroll down and you’ll see my praises for Richard Alfaro, Alfaro Family Vineyards and Martin Alfaro, and Jim Schultze of Windy Oaks Estate, both of which just avoided the unthinkable, they both produce wines from their estates in the Santa Cruz Mountains which was in the path of a raging forest fire, known here as the “Summit Fire”. Thank goodness they were spared and I will happily celebrate that with more of their great wines soon and often. In my mini tasting, the Burgundy (F.Magnien Nuits-St.-Georges) won out, the Oregon Pinot (Cristom) came second, and the Anderson Valley Pinot (Lazy Creek) came third, this was a surprise, but then that is all just the amazing allure of Pinot, it is not predictable.
Wine Syzygy Comes to Me!
Syzygy: when the moon, sun and earth align. That (other than being the name of a great wine producer in Walla Walla) is what must have happened last week in my world, for all of the once-in-a-lifetime wines I was privy to try! Now, as you know, I normally focus my reviews on wines that are from the people, for the people, more modest, esoteric, hidden-treasure types of wines. But, being a wine lover and in the business, I do get excited to try more rare and talked-about wines, for education and also simply for the allure they possess. Considering my past week, and the adventure of it all, I thought it necessary to share with everyone the experience of sipping what seemed like an abnormal amount of old vintage, name-renowned, highly scored beauties!
I’ll first list them:
Château d’Issan Margaux 1986
Château Margaux Margaux 1990
Château Montrose St.-Estèphe 1990
Château Pichon-Longueville-Baron Pauillac 1990
Quilceda Creek Cabernet Sauvignon Vertical 2003, 2004, 2005
Produttori Barbaresco Rabaja 1990
Domaine des Baumard Quarts de Chaume 1988
Château Lafaurie-Peyraguey Sauternes 2003
Château d’Yquem Sauternes 1959
Plus, I tasted a couple of non-Solera Madeiras from the early sixties.
Stepping back: What a week, no? I will share in review, three Bordeaux. (Stay tuned next time for my review of favorite Loire Valley whites for summer, including the above-mentioned Quarts de Chaume.)
The Château d’Issan Margaux 1986 came to a private party I hosted, looking hairy. It was one of those times as a wine steward I had to take a deep breath, and calm myself down enough to be convincingly confident in opening something that old and weathered. It’s not the caliber of wine that scared me, but the tufts of mold growing atop the foil. This is a bad sign, I thought; don’t want to disappoint the person who brought it, or the person receiving, but I didn’t have a lot of faith in it’s possibility to be alive still. Cork out, and almost completely wine-soaked; another sign the wine would be dead, corked, or oxidized severely.
At first attempt, the wine did not show well. It was weak, fruit-stripped, and noticeably oxidized, though considering, not bad. Wait an hour, and watch it remain untouched, and I decided to give it a second try. To my surprise, the wine had opened up and become somewhat pretty.
Delicate, and ultra-feminine in style, the nose did bloom a bit with dried lavender and cherry notes. The fruit also made an appearance, more red than the black one might expect, rounding out the wine with much more body than originally expressed. This wine stayed restrained, but actually turned out quite enticing, if not just because of its turnaround, after decanting, and proved sip-worthy for about another hour. I called in the fellow who had brought it to try it again, and recommended he pair it with some pate’ – and it brought a smile to his face. Proud that his wine didn’t turn out a dud, and very pleased indeed with my pairing.
Château Margaux is one of the biggest names in Bordeaux. Therefore, the Château Margaux Margaux 1990 on the counter at this particular party was the most recognizably alluring wine opened. So what is so special about a “perfect wine?” What makes it rate so well, and how different does it taste? To many it may not be easily recognizable, other than the fact that the wine is easily pleasing, seems to carry no flaws, and remains full of interest, all at once. What I will tell you is that for what the wine should be; varietal-correct (or combination of varietals, in this case, blending to express as they should) regionally specific, stylistically appropriate, sensually seamless, structurally sound, age-appropriate and alive; the Margaux performed.
Noticeably more feminine in style than I expected, gracefully aged, with a nose that suggested a huge handpicked bouquet of wild flowers, cedar cigar box, tobacco and blackberry bramble. On the palate, this wine found its way across the tongue with elegance and grace, delivering layer after silky layer of blackberry, cocoa powder, tobacco, silty loam, and a hint of game. Beautiful in every sense of the word: If this wine were a woman, you’d want not just to look but also to talk to her, for all the apparent depth beneath the beauty. Finish lingers on and on, and one just can’t help but smile and note how lucky they are to be experiencing something this special.
Finally, the Château Montrose St.-Estèphe 1990 proved the hot-shot of the night; the Johnny Depp of wines; attractive and charismatic, buzzed about by guests for its darkness and mystery, if not for its open sex appeal. Okay, maybe I’m guilty of enjoying a slutty wine from time to time, but this was more like a high-paid escort than a cheap whore. What I’m saying here is that the wine was obviously available, if not giving, bold, and not afraid to show itself off, yet classy and refined. I loved it! More masculine than the Margaux, but not over the top in stature, this wine was seriously exotic while keeping its finesse.
A nose full of spices and flowers; cinnamon oil, clove, nutmeg, mint, pipe tobacco, thyme, wild iris, wild orchid and violet, the Montrose was unabashed and of the earth. So alive! Lush layers of dark fruits; berries, plum, and fig, along with earthy, minty clay and spices matched appropriately to the nose. The spices, like those coming in raw form from Farmer’s Market on Saturday, or off one’s porch garden, played such a huge roll in what made this wine tick, the sensual memory of their combination in my glass will not leave my mind, nor my watering mouth.
It was hard to pair my reviewing down to include just three from that amazing wine-list, which built itself for my humble tasting over a series of a few days. Bordeaux are a hot topic of late, with the currently released 2005s garnering reviews and garnishing paychecks! I thought revisiting old, well-kept vintages from Bordeaux heavy-hitters would be fun and interesting, whether in anticipation for what you may have collected, or simply to consider what is possible from a single wine – a single place. I hope you enjoyed living vicariously through my senses, and I hope everyone finds their week of wine-syzygy at some point!
My springtime adventures continue and this week grapelive caught up with some of my favorite winemakers and people from my home Carmel Valley to the far reaches of the Russian River. My first stop was just down Carmel Valley Road from where I grew up, about 13 miles from downtown Carmel-by-the-Sea, to see my friends at Parsonage Village Vineyard and to re-taste their amazing 2006 vintage wines in the final blend before bottling next month, plus a couple of new 2007 wines that I had not tried yet. Bill Parson’s small beautiful estate is just getting better and better with each vintage and the wines are becoming even more interesting as they develop here, I think the “Terroir” is now shinning through and the vines are really coming into their own. My first tasting of the 2006 vintage went well, but I did find the wines hard and closed, so I was guarded in my first reviews, though positive to them. Well, now I’m completely amazed and had to really revise my notes and their scores have soared as a result of my recent tasting! Pasonage has added three new wines to their line up, one new reserve cuvee, the Dario Reserve, a Bordeaux blend of Merlot and Cabernet, plus two new Snosrap wines, a Chardonnay and a new Pinot Noir, both of which are from the 2007 Vintage and are looking good for a release in the late fall of this year or maybe winter.
The Dario Reserve is named for the latest Grandchild in the Parson’s clan, and is a great tribute, and a wine of sublime elegance and richness. The Dario is a rival for any top Pomerol! This will be a classic and will sell out, so now that you’ve been let in on the secret, I would get on their list to receive their pre-release offer, just go to the Parsonage website and sign up. You can read my reviews on the whole Parsonage line up, which I just posted on the Reviews page, these are fantastic wines and they really make me proud of my hometown and feel honored to get to allowed in to taste them before release! Bill Parson’s Parsonage Village Vineyard is a special place regardless of where it is and has made a major impact on the area’s reputation, giving tons of inspiration to other local wineries and truly raising the standards to world-class, that is major, and Parson’s can be added to my new local hall of fame proudly, joining the likes of Jack Galante, Gary Pisoni, Dan Karlsen, Gary Franscione, Robb Talbott, Dan Lee, David Coventry and of course a few more that have made a huge difference here in Monterey over the last decade. (Sorry to the earlier Pioneers, but things have really gotten much better here in the last ten years!)
Just across the bay, in Santa Cruz, the revolution continues! The new wave of talented winemakers are showcasing the area’s massive potential and delivering wines of amazing depth and style, and I must say, they just plain and simple rock! The Pinot Noir and Chardonnay’s coming from the Santa Cruz Mountains are mind blowing and keep getting better, I think over time they will be on par with the better Santa Lucia Highlands, though in some cases they are there all ready. Then there is Richard Alfaro, he makes wine from both areas, and his latest wines are all winners! His latest release, the 2006 Martin Alfaro Pinot Noir “Garys’ Vineyard” Santa Lucia Highlands just rated to the higher side of outstanding and was my feature wine of the month! Then under his own label, the 2006 Alfaro Family Chardonnay “Lindsay-Page Vineyard” Santa Cruz Mountains (Estate) is a massive effort, a wine that is a block-buster in every way, a big and rich wine that has depth and complexity too. Last year Ridge scored big in Wine Spectator with their Santa Cruz Mountain Estate Chardonnay (95 Points WS) which put the Santa cruz Mountains back into the headlines and Mount Eden has been in the spotlight for decades, but the South Santa Cruz Mountains might even be more interesting, with the likes of Alfaro, Jim Schultze of Windy Oaks Estate, Bradley Brown of Big Basin (doing world class Syrah’s!) and Jennifer Pandol of Pandol Wines leading the charge. Big Basin’s Rattlesnake Rock Syrah has to be the best Syrahs from the whole region and compares with the likes of Alban and Guigal. Jim Schultze’s Windy Oaks Estate brings a Chambolle-Musigny style beauty and class to a California ripe Pinot Noir, in a perfect marriage of old and new world elements, especially their “Wild Yeast” version. Then there is the new comer to this group that is later going to debut her label to the public, Jennifer Pandol, and her Pandol Pinot Noir Santa Cruz Mountains, of which I have mentioned prior notes. Jennifer is a full-time RN, working about 50 Hours a week, and a talented winemaker, and her energy, passion, dedication and caring show in her tiny production wine. She sourced fruit for her first two vintages from the Schultze Vineyard and I was amazed by the never released to the public 2005 Pinot, a wonderful and textured wine, and the Pandol 2006 Pinot Noir, Santa Cruz Mountains which is to be released this summer has the same potential, especially tasting it after its recent bottling. if you want to get on her list email her at: email@example.com, she is only releasing a single barrel of 06, about 20 cases! This kind of passion and quality has the be praised and admired, and I feel the pride and spirit from these special people, and I’ll continue to focus on them and this area for a long time to come!
After basking in local glory, I was off to visit formally local winemakers Dylan & Tobe Sheldon of Sheldon Wines, now based in the Russian River, in the hamlet of Sebastopol. I’ve known them for a few years and like the winemakers mentioned above the also put their heart and soul into their wine and it really shows. While Dylan detests the idea of making mainstream wines and he focuses on different flavor profiles and characters, the wines of lovely and clean with surprising brightness and depth. They will focus on their Pinot Noir and their flagship wine “Vinolocity”, a Grenache based Rhone Ranger, there are some hidden gems there too, like the new 2007 Viognier and the 2006 Petite Sirah. Tobe may be the brains and beauty behind this husband and wife team, as she does the website, runs the tasting room and does the books along with her winemaking duties! Dylan is the showman and he is a mesmerizing character that oozes charm and wine knowledge, and many times since I’ve known him, he has regaled me with his insight and intensity. I am happy to report they are doing well and have wine brokers knocking down their door to sell their limited hand crafted wines and I really can recommend visiting their great tasting room inside an old train car in the Gravenstein Station (6761 Sebastopol Ave, Hwy 12, suite 500) next to the very cool Starlight Diner which is also in an old train car, the eggs Benedict were awesome!
Then it was a quick blast down River Road to Westside Road, the heart of the Russian River, to visit Gary Farrell, Rochioli Winery and a new winery C. Donatiello (Formally Belvedere) all of which were very nice, though Rochioli was all ready closed as it was after 4 PM on a Sunday, so now you are warned too. The team at Gary Farrell eased through a big crowd and were very attentive to my unannounced needs and poured whatever we wanted, of which the 2005 Gary Farrell Pinot Noir Allen Vineyard, and the 2005 Gary Farrell Chardonnay Westside Farms stood out, this is a place to visit when you have more time and a non-drinking driver! Their tasting room has one the best views and is a comfortable place with friendly people, and again they all are engaging and easy going. After just missing my favorite, Rochioli, my disappointment was short lived by stopping at the brand new, less than a month old winery, C. Donatiello and tried their very good, if pricey, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir of which two of the three would be considered 90-92 Point wines. My favorite was the 2006 C. Donatiello Pinot Noir Floodgate Vineyard, Old Vine, Russian River Valley, though compared with other wines at almost half the $57 tasting room price, it didn’t seem to be a bargain, but in the end I got one anyway as it was distinct and complex. The winery and tasting room are very nice and the staff was focused on letting the customer really immerse themselves in the wine, which is most enjoyable, plus they pour in big glasses in full flights of three to compare, this is how it should be done.
*I’m working on all the reviews and should have many more new posted soon, thanks.
As the economy gets bleak and the dollar becomes even weaker we need something to smile about, and the magic of Spring and wine do just that. Now we’ve had a pretty nice bit of weather, though some cold nights have played havoc with some vineyards with wide spread frost damage cutting down the crop level as much as 20% in some areas, we are still at some really nice fruit sets, so keep your fingers crossed. But, I am grateful for the longer days and clear sky, as it has brightened my spirits and then there is the amazing array of beautiful wines coming to market. Check out the Reviews Page for the latest!
Local to me, here in Monterey there has been some great news and events happening and the wine business here has been buzzing for the last month. The new Pebble Beach Food & Wine event went off without a hitch and has shown what can be done when your heart is really in it, so kudos to the people behind it for their faith and hard work, it paid off for sure. It was amazing to see the greatest figures in the food and wine biz all out on the town here on the Monterey Peninsula, especially for me when I got to meet up with a couple of my hero’s like Mike Etzel of Beaux Freres, and August Kesseler, of August Kesseler, Germany to to name a few. That was some week here and I’m glad to report that it is going to go on for many years to come.
As for great news, Talbott Vineyards just announce they hired Dan Karlsen as winemaker! Dan is great talent and a super person and I was very happy to hear of his appointment as consulting winemaker at Talbott. Talbott has been know for fantastic Chardonnay, really world class stuff, but have at times really missed the mark on their Pinot Noir and with Dan on board this looks to be a thing of the past. Dan’s touch with Pinot and his vast vineyard skills will surely produce whole new era at Talbott, and I can’t wait! Here is Talbott’s Press Release in full:
TALBOTT VINEYARDS NAMES DAN KARLSEN
AS CONSULTING WINEMAKER
MONTEREY COUNTY, Calif. – April 21, 2008 – Effective April 21, 2008, Talbott Vineyards is pleased to name Dan Karlsen as consulting winemaker. Karlsen will be working with the Talbott Vineyards team for at least the next year, guiding the winery’s acclaimed winemaking program following the departure of retiring winemaker Sam Balderas.
Karlsen brings three decades of experience to his role as consulting winemaker for Talbott Vineyards. He began his career in 1980, working with David Stare at Dry Creek Vineyard. Throughout the ’80 and ’90s, Karlsen honed his skills making Chardonnay and Pinot Noir working at Dehlinger Winery, and later as the winemaker for Domaine Carneros. In 1998, Karlsen was named winemaker and general manager for Monterey County’s Chalone Winery, a position he held until 2007, when he left to focus on his own small label. In addition to farming his Monterey County vineyard and making his own wines, Karlsen is also the winemaker for Graff Family Vineyard.
“Dan is a gifted winemaker,” says founder Robb Talbott, “with a reputation for excellence. He also has a deep understanding of Monterey County winegrowing. His handcrafted approach to winemaking and his background working with exceptional estate-grown fruit makes him a natural fit for Talbott. We are thrilled to name him as our consulting winemaker.”
Talbott Vineyards was founded in 1982, when Robb Talbott personally planted his mountainous Diamond T Vineyard to the Corton-Charlemagne clone of Chardonnay. Today, Talbott Vineyards’ acclaimed estate program encompasses two of Monterey County’s most esteemed winegrowing areas: the Santa Lucia Highlands, where Talbott’s Sleepy Hollow and River Road vineyards are located, and the Carmel Valley, which is home to Diamond T. From this world-class palette of estate fruit, Talbott Vineyards crafts Burgundian-inspired Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs that have earned a reputation for elegance and aging potential. Talbott Vineyards produces these wines under four labels: Talbott, Logan, Case, and Kali Hart.
Contact: Michelle Armour
Touring the beautiful and mysterious Santa Cruz Mountains is too often an overlooked pleasure and after a wonderful spring Sunday in the green hills I am again a true believer! Without a doubt this is a rugged and raw wine region that offers scenic vistas and remote vineyard sites across a great area from Watsonville in the Southern most part to Woodside in the furthest Northern reach. Starting the lazy drive at Fins Coffee House on Ocean Street, downtown Santa Cruz we twisted and turned our way up Highway 9, seeing wildflowers and ranches all the way to the remote estate vineyard of David Bruce Winery, before going up Skyline and Highway 35 and on to Thomas Fogarty Winery. The views are amazing and there plenty of great areas to stop and take it all in, plus tons of great hiking trails to explore or to picnic on. The is also Castle Rock, a place for serious rock and boulder climbing. The distractions are many and varied in this most natured of wine county settings, with a more earthy and laid-back feel than Napa or Sonoma even. So expect glamor up here or lots of creature comforts, but be prepared to be awed by the shear beauty of the place, especially on a day like we had, where you could see forever and was without any sort of crowds. One thing to know going in, there are lots of cycles up here, both with either foot and horse power, so keep your attention dialed to the task at hand, trust me. It was a real Santa Cruz event, from driving a bio-diesel VW, dodging flying mud crusted Subarus driven by bearded smiling locals at lethal speeds, to watching turtles sun themselves in a pond, it was relaxing and a refreshing day, well except for all the driving on twisty roads. The first stop was David Bruce Winery on Bear Creek Road, a beautiful location with wisteria extra fragrant waiting at the tasting room, this was a nice way to cut the coffee buzz and really start the day afresh! David Bruce is one of the pioneers of Pinot Noir in California, only following a few notables like Chalone, Martin Ray, Joseph Swan, Walter Schug (while at Joseph Phelps) and Hanzell in this pursuit. He firmly believed in this wonderful grape and made his name on it and still makes a very good one indeed. We were well treated and serve at this out of way local and enjoyed their 2004 David Bruce Pinot Noir Santa Cruz Mountains made from local vineyards, it showed an earthy richness and soft almost silky fruit profile very much in classic Pinot style. I will also mention their 2002 David Bruce Petite Sirah, Paso Robles, because it was full and chocolate like with an inky dark color that made us smile, so there you go. Both the those reds were very nice and well made, the same was not true of their 2003 David Bruce Chardonnay Santa Cruz Mountains, this wine was not drinkable and I have to be honest here, it was terrible with a dead sherry like tone that told you right away this wine was well on its way to vinegar. It is funny, because I do remember a time long ago when the Wine Spectator pulled not punches regarding a vintage of David Bruce Chardonnay calling it something close to cow dung! In fact a co-worker at the wine merchant where we worked just had to try it after that, and even if that didn’t seem nice or fair after trying it ourselves, I was reminded of that here. So we bought a Pinot and a Petite and forgave them their pouring of the Chard and we went on with our day unharmed and happy. After some hair raising goat tracks and some avoiding vintage Triumph motorcycles, cruised along Skyline, then up Highway 35 to Thomas Fogarty Winery. Even before setting foot on the property, you can feel it is going to be a well worth stopping kind of place, it is a stunning and breathtaking location for a winery and tasting room with panoramic hilltop views of the whole Peninsula and sloping vineyards. With lots of wild and native gardens to enjoy as well as Mortimer the winery cat, even they didn’t make good stuff I would still come here, but luck was with us and the wines were all lovely. Doctor Fogarty is highly regarded in the medical community for his skill and his inventive mind, having invented many specialized surgical tools and the Fogarty catheter, as well as teaching at the famed Stanford Medical School. The family has a love for car racing, in fact I had met his sons during their racing careers and Jon still races today, while his older brother Thomas teaches race driving. That was when I first tried their family’s wine during the late 90’s, though that was in a past life. Nowadays there are lots of choices from this winery, like: A wonderful Chardonnay, a lush Pinot Noir, a chocolate and stylish Meritage, a couple of nice Cal-Itals from the Sierra Foothills, a Sparkler, a Napa Cabernet, a Port, a white Pinot Noir, a super Merlot based red, and best of all, a dry and perfumed Gewurztraminer, yes I said Gewurztraminer! On this day it was perfect and we took one, along with the Pinot Noir. I must say the 2005 Thomas Fogarty Chardonnay Santa Cruz Mountains may have been the best wine though, and I did a have a couple of maybe I should turn around and go back moments! Alas I didn’t, though I’ll go back to watch turtles, hang with Mortimer and get a few bottles of that Chardonnay. Then it was off to explore some more back roads and torture my friends tires on the fun winding paths that were more suited to pack mules than her Passat, what a day. Oh, and before I fade out, see below for another stunning wine from this fast becoming my favorite region.
For more info on Santa Cruz Mountains Wineries and Tasting Rooms Please visit the Santa Cruz Mountains Wines Website.
2006 Windy Oaks Estate Pinot Noir “Wild Yeast”, Schultze Family Vineyards, Santa Cruz Mountains (Est. $55.00)
Kudos to Jim and Judy Schultze, they have again proved that their vineyard produces wonderful fruit and they let the terroir sing its lungs out in making their lovely wines. Small lots of Pinot are allowed to go through natural fermentation aided only by native yeasts, and this shows in the difference between this wine and the others in their impressive line. There is more to this wine and it seems a little deeper and more layered, also there is certain sexier and prettier nature here. That said I love all their wines, even if I might prefer this one. There is plenty of zesty raspberry, cherry and fresh plum fruits that go on and on. The depth is impressive now, but should develop nicely for a couple of years. Its sublime balance shades the sweet fruit and firm textures and the touches of spice, earth and minerals all fold together smoothly. Enjoy now, though I will put one away for a couple of years. 93-94 Points, grapelive
Napa Valley is wonderful in the springtime with the first leaves on the vines giving a lovely green liveliness and the lack of crowds really makes it almost perfect. The sun helps too, and we found some at the outdoor patio of Tra Vigne making for an extremely joyful lunch. There are few places to hang out on a lazy wine filled Sunday more pleasurable than Tra Vigne in St. Helena, and this visit will be remembered fondly. Jay Smith, the Wine Director at Tra Vigne knows his stuff and has created a fun and vast list of top Napa Valley gems along with a fine selection of Italian regional wines of which I sampled with my panino and awesome fresh local mozzarella on crusty bread with a rosemary sprig, how can something so simple take your breathe away? Of course, Jay brought something special to taste, that being the new release of 2005 David Arthur Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, and all I can say is thank you Jay! This vintage has smooth chocolate-like tannins and perfect fruit balance which make it a winner right now and with any luck get even better of the next 5-8 years. The finish was amazing with savory currants, cassis and tangy blackberry lingering on and on. As for the Italian vino at lunch, there was an impressive Feudi San Gregorio Falenghina, a bright and pleasing Tebbiano, a fruity and lush Primativo and a blueberry and vanilla laced Nero D’Avola from Sicily that was the star. Tra Vigne has remarkable olive oil and fresh produce that makes everything taste great!
Whetting the appetite driving into Napa, knowing that an Italian lunch lunch awaited, we did a drive by Luna Vineyards and sampled their Pinot Grigio and Sangiovese and looked out across their vines, it was an inspired choice and the wine tasted even better for being fresh on the palate with good mouthwatering acidity and bright flavors of spring. Back in the car we raced out the Silverado Trail and up to Stags’ Leap District to check out Cliff Lede Winery at the former site of S. Anderson on the Yountville crossing. Cliff Lede has made a big splash with this property and with David Abreu and Michel Rolland consulting for him, he looks to keep turning heads. Lede a Canadian businessman and rock music fan has spared nothing money-wise to build one of the best winery’s in the Valley, and the wine is right up there with the top echalon. Cliff Lede inheirited some of the S. Anderson sparkling wine which they continue to pour at their tasting room, and this of course was a great palate cleanser before driving into the Cliff Lede reds. The sparklers were very nice and well made with a real Champagne feel to them, but I was there to lose myself in the Cabernet and was luck they have a few bottles left of their wine! They produce a wonderful Claret, one of the best Napa values ever and a choice of three limited production Cabernet Sauvignon based wines, all of which will blow your mind, though sadly they sell out fast. I sipped on their 2004 Cliff Lede Cabernet Sauvignon Diamond Mountain, Napa Valley of which is only sold at their tasting room. This Cabernet has wonderful intense mountain fruit and powerful tannins all done with finesse and sublime care. The black fruits, spicy red currant and plumy body are hedonistic and the finish is long and vanilla filled.
And now for the silliness, as a wine professional and as someone that can usually find the hidden gems while flying under the radar, can for the most part avoid the garish and Disneyland-like places with posers and snobby-types, but I walked right into my worst nightmare with a smile. Castello Di Amorosa, the newest brainchild of the V.Sattui empire, looks like a castle plucked right out of Tuscany, though it looks more amusement park than Siena. At first with good humor I approached, but this faded into terror and disgust fairly quickly, almost the same feeling I get entering a Costco! There is a big attitude in the air here and it kind of sends the wrong message and I personally did not like the tacky buy a ticket to ride game they force on you here, though for some it might be okay. I just am not big on buying a ticket and being herded into a pre-paid pen, but I will say the place was packed and the cash register was singing away. Just because I kept thinking about Pirates of the Caribbean instead of Super Tuscan style wines doesn’t mean you won’t love the place, sorry I mean Castle, oh my I mean Castello! It made me really want to go back to Italy and the real hills of Chianti, so that is what I’ll save for for.
After Casello di Amorosa, I felt the need to clear my mind and refocus on the beauty of the day and of Napa, so I took the Oakville grade over the mountains, enjoying the amazing vistas and stopping for wild flowers in bloom, now this is my kind of Napa and I was refreshed and happy again. There is something special seeing mountain vineyards, nature, and the quiet that makes me profoundly happy, and you can still find it in Napa, even if you will be subjected to some silliness too.
The floodgates have opened and the new wines are flowing like raging waters to your restaurants, wine merchants or to your doorstep, and I can say it is all good. The wines I’ve had this month or even this week, most new releases and pre-sale samples, have been outstanding. Even my favorites have stepped up and there are some brand new faces that have scored big. 2005 for Cabernets and Syrah with 2006 for Pinot and Chards are the norm and with very few exceptions I’ve been blown away with the smoothness and richness of these wines, really you are in for a treat these days. My local area, Monterey had two utterly fantastic vintages in 2005 and 2006, for the small producers, and are now all on the market and ready to drink. Local icon Gary Pisoni (pictured with me) released the new 2006 Lucia line-up of Chard and Pinot Noirs, and they are amazing and a steal. Gary might have single-handedly turned the region to a world class region with his magical Pisoni Vineyard Pinot fruit that continues to awe Pinot lovers everywhere, whether it is under his on Pisoni label or made by one of less than a dozen winemakers that Gary sells his prized grapes to. Under his loving guidance his sons run and make the family’s wines and the Lucia Vineyards label is the main production, with a group or Pinot Noir and Syrah mainly, but they do an amazing Chardonnay, a bright Rose and a rare Cabernet Sauvignon in some vintages. Gary and his friend and partner Gary Francione who makes the Roar wines, have the Garys’ Vineyard that is also now one of the best Pinot Noir vineyards in the state. I have reviews of the Lucia posted, click on the link below. Then also locally for me Morgan Winery, headed by Dan Lee has just released their beautiful Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs. Dan has taken a major step up with his own estate vineyard wines from the “Double L Ranch” with both the Chard and Pinot rated outstanding. Then from over the hill in Carmel Valley, my hometown and my home team, Parsonage Village Vineyard turned out a selection of Syrah, Cabernet and a unbelievably fantastic Petit Verdot based red. These 2005’s are some of the finest wines I’ve every tasted from this area, in fact they rival anything from Napa! Also from Carmel Valley, Galante Vineyards continues to raise their quality and now have new wines in the pipeline too. I was very impressed with their lush and full-bodied Merlot and enjoyed the Almond Flat Pinot Noir, maybe the highest elevation Pinot Noir Vineyard in Central California? My kudos go out to Bill Parsons & Jack Galante for making me profoundly grateful and proud of where I’m from. Across the bay in the Santa Cruz Mountains there are some fine offerings coming out too, I love the new Windy Oaks Estate, Martin Alfaro 2006 Pinots and the Alfaro Family 2006 Lindsay-Page Vineyard Chardonnay especially. I have to wait a little longer to get my hands on the new release for Pandol Vineyards, but after Jennifer Pandol’s last effort I look forward to seeing the 2006 Schultze Vineyard Pinot Noir this summer. Her 2005 was one of my breakthrough wines of 2007, and I was very happy after tasting the barrel sample of both 2006 and 2007. Speaking of new faces, I got to taste a new Syrah from a new hot producer from the Sonoma County area and I’m sure he is going to be a star, his name is Jeff Ames and his label is Rudius, so write it down. His 2005 Rudius Syrah Russian River Valley is a seriously delectable treat with loads of style and rich fruit.
Alaya’s Latest, March 28, 2008
By Alaya Wyndham-Price, Grapelive Guest Columnist
Springtime in Portland brings many things; crazy weather (it’s snowing in March) beautiful blooms (the Magnolias are stunning) and newly released Pinot Noir in the market–hooray! We’ve seen several 2006s thus far, but they are really starting to show up in good form now. 2006 was a big vintage for Oregon Pinot, the fruit was generally lush in style, and the production was larger than normal, by 15-20% in many cases. Because weather conditions allowed fruit to set and develop under warm conditions, then ripen gradually during a cooler trend, the Pinots of 2006 are fruity, fleshy, and approachable, but not overblown; they are balanced.
2006 Beaux Freres Pinot Noir “The Beaux Freres Vineyard”, Ribbon Ridge, Oregon
Deep garnet in color, and slightly cloudy, you can see the handcrafted character right away. Nose is huge with luscious fruits, bloody mineral, forest floor and spicy wild flowers. Plum, heirloom tomato, raspberry, fig, raisin, and black cherry are an influential on the nose. Notes of rare lamb, and copper follow this brawny fruit. Roasted cashew, morel, truffle, cedar, wet soil beneath a fir tree forest, wild orchid and fresh licorice root really make this wine smell like Oregon.
The palate offers the big rush of fruit that you would expect from the nose; it is bold, focused yet velvety, and lasts in layers. Cherry, plum, blueberry, and fig. I even taste roasted beets and squash, but make no mistake; this is a great influence and matches the earthiness of this pinot well. Rounded out with influential tastes of pesto, hazelnuts, maple syrup, molasses, pipe tobacco, soprasatta, dried truffle, and cocoa. This is one sexy wine!
With 100% Estate fruit from Ribbon Ridge, this bottling comes from the Beaux Freres Vineyard. Located on a special plot of 30 acres at 400 feet elevation, are the densely planted vines, ranging in age from 9-19 years. Thus, the production of this wine (especially in relation to its cult-like following) is small. Get some if you can, this wine will age and please for a decade, easily.
Here are some of my recent favorites. READ ON
Read Alaya’s Blog at: www.myspace.com/winereviewsforpleasure
I should let my Oregon colleague Alaya handle the Pacific Northwest, as she does her local community very well indeed, but I could not control myself after trying the new Beaux Freres Pinots. Mike Etzel (pictured left with me) has a special place in the Ribbon Ridge region and makes a fantastic selection of Pinots. These wines are a great pleasure to try back to back and together, especially after tasting their 1993, 1994 & 1995 Beaux Freres Vineyard recently. I just posted the reviews on the 08 Reviews Page, see menu bar. The new Beaux Freres are richly colored and supple in tannin and deliver pure joy. The color is dark garnet and has a bright ruby edge, they seem darker than the California 2006 Pinots, but with fresher acidity and maybe have deeper flavors. That said, I’ve been really impressed with the Central Coast, Sonoma and Anderson Valley Pinots from the 2006 Vintage, which are less oaky and or Syrah-like than the recent vintages. Many of the 2006’s have a pale strawberry color to them and a brighter palate, though them seem deeply layered and have superb length and balance. So don’t read to much into the color, just let the wine show itself and I think you’ll be impressed. Also unfiltered wines tend to look lighter, because of the cloudy body that reflects light. I am thinking 2006 is going to be another banner year for Pinot Noir, with beautiful pure wines across the board! Oh, not that I mention Cabernet Sauvignon that often, but keep your eyes out for the 2005’s, these are amazing wines that offer full-bodied fruit, but with super ripe sweet tannins that are smooth giving early enjoyment and complexity even at this young stage. I will mention a couple to watch for now just hitting the market, these are: 2005 Miner Cabernet Sauvignon “Stagecoach Vineyard” Napa Valley, 2005 Keever Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon, Yountville, Napa Valley and 2005 Shafer Cabernet Sauvignon “One Point Five” Stags Leap District, Napa Valley. All of these are deals too, as they are in the $60-90 range, so check them out.
This entry level Pinot from bought fruit is an outstanding wine and a killer deal! This is a big round Pinot with lush and textured layers of fruit and pretty perfume. There is everything to love and nothing to complain about here, I really savored every sip and didn’t want to put the glass down. This is what Pinot does best, it strikes an emotional cord and sings to the soul. Rich plum and bing cherries are all over the palate with flashes of red mountain berries, briar and smoky sweet spices. There is plenty going on and the wine is supported with nice mineral and oak notes. (Est. $50-60) 93 Points, grapelive
Bang, wow, swoon and then clap in praise, as this is a Grand Cru Burgundy rival, maybe better than most even. This wine is deep, complex and riveting right out of the bottle and only just begins to hint at its great potential that will certainly come. As with most great wines, it is stunning now, but promises to be near perfect for many years. The flavors come out in vivid detail and with sublime clarity and focus leading to a wonderful long and pure finish. Nothing is out of place, but it has its own uniqueness and terroir, which remind me of Musigny, but not quite. The blackberry, cherry and fresh berry fruits dance on the palate and the truffle, mineral, spice and exotic notes all play a part in the band. A rich currant and French oak streak unfold about mid way through to the savory and firm finish. Super now, but should hit its peak in 5 years. (Est. $79-99) 95 Points, grapelive
Just when I thought I had reached the height of heights, then comes this wonderful masterpiece. This is everything the “Beaux Freres Vineyard is and a little more intense and wound up. There is a little more class and finesse here too, but it has its own presence too, with a hard to define violets and blueberry berry impression and a more meaty side as well. The round cherry fruit is mouth filling and there is a bramble-berry note that is distinct as well. The layers are linear and tightly focused with lots of mind blowing depth and expansiveness. Put this baby in the cellar and reap your reward in 5-8 years! 97 Points, grapelive
This is a great time of year, a time of rebirth in the vineyard and a time when new releases start showing up in restaurants and shops! I just love it, and some wonderful wines are flowing in now and I’ve been hard pressed to keep up, though that can hardly be called a problem. I want to give my regards to Santa Cruz Mountains winemaker Richard Alfaro, who warm-heartedly opened his personal cellar and brought out some magical wines at a wonderful wine dinner at Soif Wine Bar in Santa Cruz. Thank you Richard! He unselfishly opened to following world-class wines: 1998, 1999 & 2000 Romanee-Conti Grands Echezeaux, 1993, 1994 & 1995 Beaux Freres Pinot Noir, 1995, 1996 & 1997 Williams Seylems Rochioli River Block Pinot Noir, 2003 Kistler Pinots (Kistler Vineyard, Cuvee Elizabeth & Cuvee Catherine), 2002 & 2003 Pisoni Estate Pinot Noir, 2003 Peter Michael Moulin Rouge (Pisoni Vineyard), 1999 Bouchard Chambertin Clos de Beze, 1996 Calera Pinot Noir Reed Vineyard and finally but not least by any means the pretty 1994 Domaine Drouhin Laurene Pinot Noir! An amazing blast of Pinot greatness beyond belief and a night I won’t ever forget for the wine for sure, but also the kindness of Richard and the tasty food and service at Soif, a warm hearted thanks to all! Richard Alfaro I might add is now releasing some of his 2006 Pinot Noirs, like the 2006 Martin Alfaro “Schultze Vineyard”, a Santa Cruz Mountain gem that should not be missed and speaking of Schultze, Jim and Judy Schultze were also at that wine dinner and had some news of their own, their Windy Oaks Estate, of which I am a huge fan of is getting ready to ship a couple of new Pinots and I can hardly wait. Watch this space for notes on those soon, and I recommend getting on both the Martin Alfaro & Windy Oaks mailing lists as they sell out fast! 2006 vintage Pinots are all showing great form all ready and are good bets to stock up on early, check out the Cobb Vineyards reviews below.
Alaya Wyndham-Price is back from Walla Walla, Washington and reports in, see below!
2006 Cobb Vineyards Pinot Noir “Coastlands Vineyard”, Sonoma Coast
This their flagship Pinot from their home estate vineyard and the Cobb’s can be proud again with this wonderful wine. This is a complex, deep and pure Pinot Noir that is everything it should be and more. I continue to be amazed by Russ’ gifted touch and style which highlight the true nature of the grape and capture their terroir perfectly. This wine will lift your spirits and float you away and in my case with a happy stupid grin! There is plenty of raspberry and mineral laced cherry to entice you and subtle spice and wood notes. This is remarkable wine every year, but this just might be the best all around Pinot from this vineyard yet. Russ Cobb is the talented winemaker here and his dad David handles getting the wine out, and takes care of the vineyard, both are to be commended for their efforts. (Est. $69) 94 Points, grapelive
Also at Bouchee Wines
2006 Cobb Vineyards Pinot Noir “Rice-Spivek Vineyard”, Sonoma Coast
The second offering from Cobb, the “Rice-Spivek” is super perfumed and lovely in texture and life that comes out on the palate. This is completely different from the “Coastlands” and is a great contrast in terroir, even if it is difficult to chose a clear favorite between the two! So, I’d opt for both, no question, these are great Pinots. The “Rice-Spivek” has a more open nature and might not be the one for the cellar, that said , it is so pretty and easy to love that this Pinot really grabbed me. The red cherry fruit and floral nose just stay with you and the finish has just the hint of sweet creamy oak that adds to the joy that is this wine. This wine should develop all the classic Burgundy-style flavors over the next year or so in bottle, but there is no crime in drinking it now! (Est $69) 93 Points, grapelive
Also at Bouchee Wines
Alaya Wyndham-Price Reports From Walla Walla!
Lifting cases off the bottling line for 10 hours last spring at Isenhower Cellars in Walla Walla was to my arms and back what hiking in and out of the Grand Canyon in a day was to my legs and feet. I woke up the next morning feeling muscles I didn’t know existed. This sort of work builds character, and a lasting appreciation for the wines produced in that winery you worked for. Naturally, I am excited about Isenhower Cellars wines! But for good reasons…
Isenhower is a great little boutique winery, known for both Rhone and Bordeaux varietals. A husband and wife team, Brett (winemaker) and Denise, are modern-day Rhone Rangers, with a healthy respect for the area’s propensity toward Bordeaux varietals – they produce great examples of both styles. What’s better, is they buy fruit only from producers that are concerned with letting the expression of the land come out in the grapes, in the most natural and environmentally careful way. They recognize the value of the terroir they are working from, and are dedicated to letting the land express its character in their wines. One estate the Isenhower’s buy from is the prestigious Ciel du Cheval site in the Red Mountain AVA. Vineyard owner Jim Holmes explains his philosophy on what makes the wines coming from Ciel du Cheval so special: “Dirt and climate, climate and dirt.”
2006 Isenhower Ciel du Cheval Roussanne, Walla Walla, Washington State
A true Rhone varietal, Roussanne expresses beautifully the land it comes from. The 2006 Ciel du Cheval Roussanne showcases its light residual sugars as you pour it. Crystalline in form, they make the geologist in me delight as I watch delicate flakes float around in the golden liquid. With a nose of round and lush notes of baked papaya, flambéed banana, and honeysuckle, this wine is balanced by the addition of lemon zest, spiced almond, and wet river rock. The viscosity of this wine is exciting, as its layers slip around on your tongue, coating it with silky mineral. Flavors of honeyed, grilled pear with lavender make me smile and sip again only to find further enchantment, from notes of chalk and fossil – thanks to the vineyard’s lively geologic past – and an exciting citrus-zesty finish. Really, this is a beautiful wine, with exotic intrigue and restrained elegance.
As a member of the bottling team, I not only spent the day talking wine, running, music and travel with a great group of people – “regular bottlers” – I had the pleasure of taking home two cases of wine for my efforts. Because I showed a special interest in the very limited older-vines Ciel du Cheval Roussanne, I was lucky to find 4 bottles of it in my box. Thanks, Brett! I’m so glad I had the chance to know this wine. After a year in bottle, it has really come into its own, and is so worth sharing. The wine is balanced, and will age for many years to come, into something as beautiful and rare as fossilized amber. I’m so looking forward to watching the life of this single-vineyard Roussanne progress in those remaining bottles. Very limited production; sold out at the winery. *Check out their website and get on the list for the new vintage, www.isenhowercellars.com
Read Alaya’s Blog at
This new year is getting off to a great start with many exciting things happening and many great wines being reviewed for your pleasure, well and mine of course. Grapelive is launching a sister Website called Fermented Travel and we’ll be talking more about that soon, but you can see the preview and first column all ready at www.fermentedtravel.com.
Just as exciting, Grapelive is turning to young blood to bring you some interesting content and reviews, first we are happy to have Alaya Wyndham-Price on board as a guest columnist, reporting from the Pinot crazy state of Oregon. She is bringing a new view on the Oregon wine industry and the rest of the world as well. With her passion and drive I look forward to seeing more and more of her thoughts and I think you will as well. It is great to have a fresh face keeping me honest and covering the areas that I might otherwise miss. To see her first column read below, and to see her bio click on the link on the right hand panel.
Looking ahead there are some great wines to relate to you soon!
Well, I better get back to work…
Cheers and Enjoy
2005 Jennifer Pandol Vineyards Pinot Noir “Schultze Vineyard” Santa Cruz Mountains
Jennifer is a bright spot locally, making superb Pinot Noir’s from select vineyards in the Santa Cruz Mountains. I got to try her premier vintage of which she made only a single barrel, which made just over 20 cases, and I can say she is going places! This was a fine effort that blew me away, I rated it highly and deservely so, this Pinot has wonderful ripe fruit and sublime balance with lush texture and a long finish. Jennifer sourced fruit from and was mentored by Jim Schultze, Schultze Family Vineyards, of Windy Oaks Estate fame. I have been a big fan of his wines and his vineyard since his first vintage from 1999. The bold richness and round flavors are amazingly pleasing and again this was her first Pinot bottling, so look for great things to come. This wine has black cherry and focused red berry fruits and coffee bean and creamy tea spices, and a touch of cola. The earthy and dried flowers notes add to the complexity and the warm sweet oak vanilla finish it off with good style. The bad news is that she is out of this wine, though she plans on bottling her riper and bolder 2006 soon, so we should see it released late spring, and trust me I’ll be watching for it! At this time she does not have a list, but if you are interested, just drop me a line and I’ll pass it on. (Est. $40) 93-94 Points, grapelive
Jennifer Pandol Vineyards, Balmaseda Winery, Santa Cruz.
2002 Chateau de Negly Porte du Ciel, Syrah, (Coteaux-du-Languedoc), France
This brilliant 100% Syrah cuvee is a powerful and dark monster that belies the region and vintage, in fact this wine is on par with top Hermitage wines! Look out for the intense nose of black olives that is strikingly potent and will transport you instantly to the South of France, then come the waves of blueberry, herbs and cassis. This wine takes lots of air to gather itself, but once loose it is all-together a bold and structured red with creamy, lush fruit and a super long finish that highlights its complexity and balance. This might go another 10 years easy and should get more interesting with each year of bottle age. There are layers of cherry liqueur, rocky earth, game, pepper, lavender oil and sweet fresh picked plums. There are some hints of wild flowers, violets and tarry fruits. This wine is immense, but ripeness is near perfect with out any odd prune flavors, just purity of fruit and terroir. I was just amazed by this wine, especially in such a vintage that was seemingly so tough in this region, proving you can’t judge a book by its cover! *Note, after tasting it, I found out that Robert Parker had rated it highly too, damn it I didn’t scoop the master… (Est $100-125) 94-96 Points, grapelive
2006 Merry Edwards Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast
This lush and fruit forward wine delivers big goodness now, with creamy texture and lovely flavors. The wine is easy to love and quaff, it is not shy, but there is little acidity to worry about. Everything about this wine says drink up! And of course I did and will! This Pinot has classic Russian River like black cherry, cola and red earthy berries that feel layered and balanced all ready, even for a young wine. Feel free to give it a year or so if you like, but I’d say it is great now. The toasted sweet oak notes are persistent, but feel natural here. A very nice effort from a top producer, now for the hard part, finding it! Good luck and good hunting…($42-75 Est.)
93 Points, grapelive
2004 Sherwin Family Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Spring Mountain, Napa Valley
This is a near perfect example of Spring Mountain Cab, with rich, intense and loaded with fruit that is both dark and flavorful. It is hard to find anything that is not in balance or needed in this wine, it is simply a wonderful and complex wine that is easy to love. The black fruits have hints of briar, black mountain berries and fresh currants and there is a subtle smoky note to them. The structure is spot on and the whole wine is pure and everything it’s supposed to be. There are lovely cassis and vanilla touches that blend in nicely to the hints of lead pencil, tobacco and licorice that are present in the background. I recommend you get on their list and get at least a few bottle of this wonderful Cabernet and look for their other wines that they working on too. This is a great effort from a great location, I for one will go visit this vineyard on my next trip up that way! 95+ Points, grapelive