Grapelive Euro 2008

euro08.jpgEvery four years the top European soccer (Football) teams play the mini World Cup and these sixteen countries due battle for the trophy as the best national side. This is war, be in no doubt about it, but it s also a big party and a great time to show your pride. Being half English, I have to pick another team to follow, as England didn’t make it into the last groups. That was not a dose of national pride, but I’m getting into it just the same. Even though my friends in Sweden and Russian might get a little mad at me, I picked Italy to win it all, and until yesterday I was feeling really good about their chances. This came to a blunt halt with a 3-0 thrashing at the hands of the Dutch. So I think I’ll play out my own Euro with wine now! Lots of wine. France didn’t do so well in their first match either only managing a tie with Romania. But, I played out an Italy vs. France wine match, with La Spinetta’s Tuscan Red Sezzana against F. Magnien’s Nuits-Saint-Georges Red Burgundy. Remarkably the wines played just like their national soccer sides in many ways, though much better! The La Spinetta Sezzana has power, flair and a strong defense and the F. Magnien Burgundy has overlapping layers and puts on a real beautiful show with energy and focus. In the end my nod goes to Italy even though it was like winning on penalty kicks, it was that close.

Then there is Spain and Portugal… I can’t wait!

*A correction mention. I put the 2006 Martin Alfaro Pinot Noir Garys’ Vineyard as my Wine of the Month for May, and I gave all the credit to Richard Alfaro, and that was a big mistake. Joe Martin, Richard’s partner was the winemaker and I would like to put that right. Joe, I’m sorry for my slight, you have made an awesome wine and deserve the kudos! Please check out all the great wines made by Joe Martin and Richard Alfaro at their website MARTIN ALFARO WINERY, besides their amazing Garys’ Pinot they have just released one of my other favorites, the 2006 Martin Alfaro Pinot Noir “Schultze Family Vineyards” Santa Cruz Mountains, which is one of the best deals in Pinot Noir out there!

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kwjune08.jpgPinot Noir shows no signs of losing its mystic appeal

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.

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Wine Syzygy Comes to Me!

Alaya Wyndham-Price

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!



See more from Alaya Wyndham-Price at her Wine Reviews For Pleasure on myspace and her page here on grapelive

Grapelive Latest From Carmel Valley to the Russian River


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.

parsonagevines.jpgThe 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!)

s5002394.jpgJust 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:, 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!

im000451.JPGAfter 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.

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Graelive Latest News

This is a great time of year to be in the wine country, it is before the summer tourist rush and all those new releases to try are more available. Plus some of the winemakers are not too busy, allowing them some time to travel, even to me! This week I got to catch up with Chad Melville of the famed Santa Rita Hills Melville Vineyard and estate winery. Chad is a great guy and super person and it was wonderful to taste through the line up of Melville wines, that he makes with the ultra talented Greg Brewer, (Brewer-Clifton) plus he brought in his own label he makes with his wife Samsara. Melville is a small winery that produces some of the best value wines in California, including Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Viognier and Syrah, all of which are very good to outstanding. It was a lot of fun to get the inside scoop to the vineyards used and learn Chad’s winemaking priorities, and I found out that he wants to make the most natural wine he can and express the terroir the best that he can, well so far so good, as you’ll see below I really loved all the wines I tried. His Samsara wines were stunning as well and they showcase his own talents as a star winemaker. Chad loves the cool climate wines and enjoys working with Pinot Noir and Syrah from his family vineyards as well as a couple of other premium sites that are well suited to his ideas. His Syrah has wonderful perfume and lovely zesty spices, making it his own little version of Cote-Rotie, truely it is an amazing wine, and the Pinots are just as good, so check out Samsara wines if you can and be sure to pick up some Melville too.

Melville Reviews 

2007 Melville Viognier Estate Verna’s, Santa Barbara County
This fresh and stylish Viognier is a great wine with seafood and good for most anytime with bright fruit and elegant layers of flavor. There is plenty going on right from the nose, with lots of honeysuckle, spice, yellow roses and citrus blossom leading to the restrained palate of citrus, apricot, peach and jasmine. Without being sweet, this white gives long flavors and perfume with a touch of oily butter cream. The finish is savory and refreshingly crisp and tangy. ($20 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive


2007 Melville Chardonnay Inox, Estate (Stainless Steel, Un-wooded)
This zesty and super fresh Chardonnay is everything you would not expect from Chardonnay; it is lean, bright and mouthwateringly crisp, almost like a Sauvignon Blanc. There is New Zealand like grapefruit and minerals with touches of green apple and pear on the palate. There is little to tell you that this is in fact a California Chardonnay, and I might be hard pressed to identify it in a blind tasting, but it is very cool and interesting wine. There is only a tiny amount of this wine made and I bet it is most drunk with fine sushi! ($35 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive


2006 Melville Chardonnay Estate, Santa Rita Hills
This rich and elegant Chardonnay is everything you could wish for in a wine and is a fan favorite, with a huge following for its’ value and class. There are not many Chards that come close to this one for price and quality, even in high-end restaurants this is still a deal. The nose is classic white Burgundy and palate is lush and giving, combining the best of both worlds. The palate has lots of depth with plenty of pear, apple and white peach fruits with light touches of toast, mineral, fig and vanilla. ($28 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive


2006 Melville Pinot Noir Estate, Santa Rita Hills
This pure and clean Pinot Noir has depth and beautiful textures with rich fruit and super balance. High Kudos to the gang at Melville for making such a wonderful Pinot and letting us have it at such a good price! This is still a small production wine and I am always amazed at how good it is for the amount of money it is. There is bing cherry, plum and cranberry fruits with a rich layer of spices and minerals all of which add to the enjoyment. The finish is clear and of good length with just the right amount of oak notes and creaminess. 91-92 Points, grapelive


2006 Melville Pinot Noir Estate “Terraces”, Santa Rita Hills
This terroir laced intense Pinot is really all about the vineyard and this most be some kind of special place, because this is great Pinot noir! Made exactly the same as the Estate Pinot, with about 50% whole cluster and the same barrel treatment, it delivers more of everything with an amazing perfume as well. Violets, currants and a hint of blueberry come at you before the rich palate of cherry and plum fruits. There are notes of raspberry, spice and smoke that highlight the purity of fruit and the sense of place. This classic wine is very difficult to get and may take some long hours to find, but it is very rewarding and worth the time and money! ($57 Est.) 93-94 Points, grapelive


2006 Melville Pinot Noir Estate “Carrie’s”, Santa Rita Hills
This is another winner from this winery that keeps turning out great wine every vintage, and just keeps impressing with style and quality. This is a smoky and savory Pinot with a darker side than the other Estate wines in their line up, with black and blue fruits. There is lovely wild flowers, bacon and cassis on the nose, like a dark forest feel, but the lush palate is bright with black cherry, fresh plum and lavender oil. This is a complex and balanced Pinot that should develop nicely and a wine with balance and structure. The finish is impressive now, with sandalwood and vanilla scents and a lingering fruit and spice note. ($57 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive



2006 Samsara Pinot Noir Melville Vineyard, Santa Rita Hills

Chad Melville and his wife’s private label, sourced from his Melville Estate Vineyard for this Pinot. This is a steal, go find it! Melville has really hit it right on here and I think it is a super wine, and ranks right up there with some of the other great wineries that use this Vineyard to such great effect, such as Brewer-Clifton, Lane Tanner and Bonaccorsi. This wine shows good richness and lovely aromatics highlighting the nature of Chad’s style of winemaking. The palate is elegant with softness and focused flavors, not a blockbuster, but a very complete and complex wine. The fruit is dark and very deep with black cherry, smoky berries and plums that keep pumping out flavors long after the glass is finished. There is subtle oak used to perfection, which adds a slight vanilla sweetness and a creamy velvet aftertaste. ($48 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive


Grapelive Latest: Wine of the Month

Martin Alfaro Garys’ Pinot

2006 Martin Alfaro Pinot Noir “Garys’ Vineyard”, Santa Lucia Highlands

This latest release is an awesome wine, the best yet and still a total steal, I mean it is a no-brainer for sure. I am a huge fan of Richard Alfaro’s talents and I’m a devotee of Gary Franscione and Gary Pisoni (Garys’ Vineyard) so it is a blessing they have got together in such a great way. The last three vintages of this Pinot have made my Top Ten Wines of the Year and I can almost be certain this one will be there too! This vintage is dark, rich and sublime in all areas, so if you’ve missed out on this wine in the past I must urge you to go out and get this one ASAP, as there is very little made and it is the best priced Garys’ Pinot I’ve found. The fruit is amazing, with blackberry, raspberry, plum, currant and a sweet and smoky cherry core that all flow together in silky layer after silky layer. The added depth of this vineyard comes through with lavender, violets and rose petals leading to the full creamy palate and long finish. The wood use is rich and perfectly matched with the weight of the fruit giving spice and vanilla. Plus, this wine is a baby still and should get even better in the next 18 months to 3 years, and will go on being great for another 5 years easy. ($42-45 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive

*A correction mention. I put the 2006 Martin Alfaro Pinot Noir Garys’ Vineyard as my Wine of the Month for May, and I gave all the credit to Richard Alfaro, and that was a big mistake. Joe Martin, Richard’s partner was the winemaker and I would like to put that right. Joe, I’m sorry for my slight, you have made an awesome wine and deserve the kudos!  Please check out all the great wines made by Joe Martin and Richard Alfaro at their website MARTIN ALFARO WINERY, besides their amazing Garys’ Pinot they have just released one of my other favorites, the 2006 Martin Alfaro Pinot Noir “Schultze Family Vineyards” Santa Cruz Mountains, which is one of the best deals in Pinot Noir out there!


Bouchee Wines or Martin Alfaro Direct


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Grapelive News

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:


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




Grapelive Latest: Santa Cruz Mountains

s5002379.jpgTouring 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 ats5002371.jpg 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 s5002392.jpgafter 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, thoughs5002396.jpg 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.


s5002340.jpg 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

Grapelive Latest: Napa The Splendor & The Silliness

Napa Vines in springNapa 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!s5002311.jpg

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.

Castello di AmorosaAnd 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.

Grapelive Latest

pisoni-1.jpgThe 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


m_1ec3ee57ddf07e7cf3d55430264d29ba.jpgOregon Spring

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

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