Category Archives: Wine Reviews

Grapelive Latest: Wine of the Week

sangio06.jpg2006 Casanova Della Spinetta Il Nero di Casanova Sangiovese, Tuscany, Italy (By La Spinetta)

This is a great wine and at a super price, with beautiful dark color and bursting with lively fruit. This little Sangiovese has enough stuffing to impress Brunello drinkers and will blow away Chianti fans completely! La Spinetta has long been one of my favorite wineries and as much as I like their big Barbarescos and their Sezzana also from Tuscan, this wine is one that I buy by the case and am never let down. This red has blackberry, cherry and tangy plum fruits with hints of smoke, spice, kirsch, strawberry and mountain herbs, a full palate and good depth and length. The fruit is very impressive and the wine is vivid and mouth filling leaving deep purple stains on the rim of the glass and maybe your teeth!  (Est. $22-26) 90-91 Points, grapelive

Imported by the Henry Wine Group

*Can be ordered from RANCHO CELLARS


Grapelive: Wine of the Week

aw2000champoux.jpg2000 Andrew Will Champoux Vineyard (Cabernet Blend) Walla Walla, Washington State
It is so nice to get to try mature and fully developed wines, especially when they are as beautiful and deep as this wine is right now! Chris Camarda, who has been hailed as a master by the likes of Robert Parker and others, continues to shine today for his talents. But, going back in time even proves they praise and I am telling you this wine is fantastic and makes me ask the question, why do we buy young tannic wines when we can drink wonderful aged gems like this. The 2000 Champoux is lovely and complex with lush textures and darkly colored with smooth rich tannins. The fruit is still focused and clear leading with blackberry, currant and plum flavors on the palate. The nose is smoky and spicy with hints of liqueur and flowers, and the body is full, but still remarkably fresh and lively. This wine is much more friendly and charming than most 2000 Bordeaux(s) especially Lynch-Bages and Cos D’Estournel, I mean it crushes them and drinks better than even Mouton! Trust me I’ve had the 2000 Mouton at least 3 times and it was never even close to this good! (Est. $65-80) 94 Points, grapelive

*A few bottles available at RANCHO CELLARS click or call 1-831-625-5646

Grapelive Latest: An Oregon Tale, Willamette Valley

glkwserene.jpgGrapelive: Oregon Trip Report *Updated With Reviews

THURSDAY, 9/11/08: Dundee Hills

I new it was going to be tough to pack this adventure into two days, so I tried to be careful not to do too much or schedule myself silly, as I wanted to relax a bit and really see the Willamette Valley in the best light possible. And I can tell you, I did just that, in fact it was nearly perfect in everyway. The weather was maybe the best of the year, as we were told by many of the locals, with hot sunshine each day and a light breeze keeping things in check in the vineyards. Driving around got some getting used to, but once we got the hang of it, finding places was not too difficult, though I did get us off course a few times, damn MapQuest!

I was playing sidekick and navigator for my friend and winemaker Jennifer Pandol, who makes a wonderful Pinot Noir herself from the Santa Cruz Mountains. I was here to get the story and learn about the terroir, Jenny was here to do the same, but also to see family and relax a bit before her harvest/crush madness. We both learned a lot and came away excited and very impressed with what we saw and tasted.

For the first day it was all about the red hills of Dundee, now known as the “Dundee Hills” and tasting wines that highlighted this area’s unique terroir profile. The Dundee Hills are home to some of the best of the best, plus an amazing array of small family producers. The big guns here are Domaine Serene and Archery Summit, I flipped a coin and it came up Domaine Serene, so that ended being the first stop. At this point, I would like to mention that I owe a big thank you to Tom Elliott of Northwest Wines, as he was my go to guy to set up most of these appointments, so Thank You Tom. Northwest Wines brokers mostly Oregon and Washington wines in California, and they do a fantastic job of promoting the region. Now, it was time for my Pinot quest.


s5003133.jpgDomaine Serene
With beautiful vineyards and pine forests in the background, Domaine Serene certainly is a wonderful setting to get your feet wet and dive into Oregon Pinot Noir. This is a luxurious and expensive villa with everything done with class and elegance, but as with most places in Oregon there is a cozy laid back air and Tara showed us their wines with ease and good humor. We started with their 2006 Clos du Soleil Chardonnay, which was full of character and flavor, with peach and pear fruit, hazelnut and elegant balance. Then it was a selection of their famed Pinot, the 2005 Evenstad Reserve and the 2005 Jerusalem Hill, both of which were great. I gave the Evenstad the nod as my favorite now, and Jenny gave her affection to the Jerusalem Hill. Both were lush, rich and full of texture and showed deep red fruits with fine creamy oak notes. The tasting finished with the 2004 Rockblock Syrah from the Rogue Valley in southern Oregon. Sourced from the Del Rio vineyard, this wine shows a pure Syrah nature with black and blue fruits, cassis, mocha, game and spices. This was a great way to start the day and my first tasting ever in Oregon.


s5003123.jpg2005 Domaine Serene Pinot Noir “Evenstad Reserve”, Willamette Valley, Oregon
One of my favorite wines year after year, the Evenstad Reserve gives lots of pleasure and is an amazing Pinot Noir most every year, with the 2005 not letting me down, in fact it surely proves the quality in even a tough vintage. This wine shows sweet smoke, wild flowers and raspberry on the nose and lush red fruits on the palate. This s a deep and complex wine that allows instant enjoyment, but keeps you entertained with the changing layers. Red plum, strawberry/rhubarb, and round cherry fruits, mineral and spices, and a long creamy finish with beautiful French oak shadings. 94 Points, grapelive


Domaine Serene Winery – Tara Shepersky
6555 NE Hilltop Lane, Dayton 97114


s5003145.jpgDe Ponte Cellars
Down the hill from Domaine Serene and in the shadow of Domaine Drouhin, De Ponte is a small family winery and farms the Rudolf Steiner way, purely Biodynamic. This friendly and warm place produces some very good wines and I can recommend them as a great value as well. Their line up was all good and offered a fun selection. To clean the palate, we started with the 2007 DFB Estate Melon; Melon is a rare Loire Valley grape that makes a fresh and light white wine. Their version has zesty apple and lime fruit and tangy acidity, perfect for hot days and or seafood. I also liked their pink wine, a 2007 Rose of Pinot Noir that has flowers, light cherry, watermelon and fresh citrus. Then it was back to Pinot, and Suzanne poured us three, a light Smokey 2006 Clay Hill (their second label) Pinot Noir that had lots of fresh cherry fruit and sweet oak shadings. Then the savory and rich 2006 Dundee Hills Estate Pinot Noir, the flagship wine, which was full-bodied, big and round with layers of fruit and good depth. As a special, we also got to taste the Burgundy like 2004 Dundee Hills Estate Pinot Noir that was packed with dark fruit, truffle, mineral and classic Pinot flavors, hands down our favorite and the most interesting.


s5003142.jpg2004 De Ponte Cellars Pinot Noir, Dundee Hills, Willamette Valley, Oregon
Thanks to De Ponte Cellars for letting me try this library wine from the classic 2004 vintage. This Pinot is very compelling and super interesting with lots of Burgundy like intensity and style. There are layers and layers here and the wine changes greatly with air and is a stunning wine. This Pinot shows truffle, earth, spice and deep flavors and subtle quality oak notes with a full array of dark and red berry fruits, plum, tangy currant and a smoky sweet finish. No question this wine is still a baby, but it is all ready drinking great and should do so for many more years. 93-94 Points, grapelive


De Ponte Cellars – Suzanne Baldwin
17545 Archery Summit Rd. Dayton 97114
503-864-3611 offices
503-864-3698 winery


s5003169.jpgStoller Vineyards
The Stoller family spared no expense to build an award winning green design winery and the first winery to be Gold LEED certified. (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) The Stoller’s believe in a sustainable work place, and their winery is all done to the highest standards and seems very well thought out. We were very impressed with Kenny Stoller as he led us on a tour of the facility, as he explained each area and the family goals with energy and patience. I had tried a few Stoller wines prior and had been impressed and nothing changed my views after tasting their solid line up of current releases. The highlights from Stoller included; the 2007 JV Chardonnay, an un-oaked gem with fresh bright apple and pear fruit with crisp citrus that was both rich and refreshing. And the 2006 SV Pinot Noir (red label) that was powerful and at the same time elegant with rich red fruits, wild flowers and big round body. I also want to Thank Mitch, as she made us feel very welcome and was especially good at explaining the wines we tasted.


s5003156.jpg2006 Stoller Pinot Noir SV, Dundee Hills, Willamette Valley, Oregon
Deeper and richer than the lovely 2005, this wine seems to have it all with ripe intense dark fruits and lush textures. This bold wine shows dark cherry, brambleberry, sweet plums and liqueur with wild flowers, rose petals, incense spices and smoky sweet vanilla oak shadings. This is a fun and serious Pinot that drinks great now, but should smooth out and get even deeper over the next 3-5 years. 94 Points, grapelive


Stoller Vineyards – Kenny Stoller
15151 NE Stoller Rd
Dayton 97114


Dundee Bistro and Ponzi Wine Bar
(next door)

This upscale Bistro in the little hamlet of Dundee offers a great selection of plates and the wine list is amazing, I am very grateful to my friend Christine Baker for giving me the heads up on this place. We especially enjoyed the claims in a Pinot Gris and garlic broth, in fact we keep the broth through out lunch to dip our bread in, sending the busboy away many, many times with out that bowl! I had a lovely 2007 Ponzi Pinot Gris that was lively and pure with green apple and cool citrus notes, very nice. My curious winemaker friend opted for a rare Dao white from Portugal that opened with a sherry note, but really got some life after a minute in the glass turning rich and flavorful. Next to the Dundee Bistro is the Ponzi Wine Bar and tasting area that had a great selection of wines for take away and to taste from the Willamette Valley. Ponzi has long been a favorite of mine and their Reserve Pinot always impresses me with depth and flavor richness.

Ponzi Wine Bar
 100 SW Seventh Street, 
Dundee, OR 97115


*Grapelive Notes
The Dundee Hills “terroir” flavor profile seems clear and distinct to me, I find lots of sweet red cherry fruit, red berry, strawberry/rhubarb and baking spices (like maybe nutmeg) giving way to creamy textures. This may come from the Red Jory Soils and to a lesser extent climate factors. The dirt here is red in color and high in iron and minerals, which make it different from other areas in the Willamette.


FRIDAY, 9/12/08: Ribbon Ridge, Yamhill County

s5003220.jpgThis was an exciting day, as I’ve been a big fan of the main three wineries we planned to visit and I was finally going to walk and taste the famed Beaux Frères Vineyard in person. To me Beaux Frères, is like a top Grand Cru Burgundy comparable to Domaine Romanee-Conti, or better yet Domaine Comte Georges du Vogue makers of the great Musigny & Bonnes Mares. But first we were headed to Penner-Ash and then Shea Vineyards; it doesn’t get better than this! After finding the right road leading to Ribbon Ridge and Yamhill County things were all right in the world, with beautiful sunshine and views of wild blackberries and hazelnut orchards. This is pretty country and very peaceful, with stunning vistas across the valley with the impressive Mount Hood in the background.


s5003219.jpgPenner-Ash Wine Cellars

Lynn Penner-Ash makes some of the finest Pinot Noir period, and I have always been a fan since I first tried her wine some five or six years ago. Lynn went to Davis, did some time in Napa, then headed north taking the winemaking role at Rex-Hill Vineyards before creating her own label. In 2005 she got her own winery up and running, as well as sourcing her own estate vineyard, the Dussin Vineyard. Since then things have only got better she continues to showcase her talent and gather acclaim worldwide. In fact, recently she was hired by a “Cult” Napa Valley producer to make a special Willamette Valley Pinot Noir for them to partner their highly rated and priced Cabernet Sauvignon!

Natalie gave us the tour and told us all about the place, Natalie runs the front of the house and is a wonderful guide with great stories and a good sense of humor. The best story she told was of how the winter rains flood the lower driveway to the winery, which hits about a mile up on a hill, with the raging waters too deep to drive through for up to two weeks at a time. No problem for Natalie, she puts her laptop and cell phone in her backpack and canoes across the river of water and then hikes the mile trek to the winery and office each day! I think she needs a raise Lynn, don’t you? That is the real pioneer spirit, and shows some of the down to earth nature of the Willamette Valley that comes through when you get to know people here.

Did I forget to tell about the wine? Well, I’ll fix that now, as this was one of the best line up’s of wine by a single winery that I’ve tasted ever! We started with a lovely Rogue Valley 2007 Viognier, which was a classic in flavors and purity with honeysuckle, spice, apricot and peach. Then we were treated to five fantastic Pinot Noirs, four of which were single vineyard wines that showed each terroir well, and the fifth was the flagship wine of the Penner-Ash Wine Cellars, the 2006 Willamette Valley. Included in the single vineyard selections were: the 2006 Dussin (Estate), the 2006 Goldschmidt (Dundee Hills), the 2006 Carabella (a vineyard Lynn advised on) and the 2006 Seven Springs. The 2006 Willamette Valley is drinking great all ready and should age great too, with amazing layers and complexity it won out in the end as our top choice, even though I was torn between the Seven Springs and the Dussin as well. Really they all were top notch and rival top Pinots from anywhere. After the Pinots, Natalie poured us the dry rose of Pinot Noir, the 2007 Roseo, which was a delight and I made sure I got a bottle before heading out.


willamettepinot_sm.jpg2006 Penner-Ash Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, Oregon
This lusty dark Pinot Noir has to be one of the best Pinots in the new world and a world-class wine. This multi vineyard cuvee delivers all the ingredients for an amazing wine, and is sourced from only top sites that all add to the success of this Pinot. Lynn Penner-Ash is a proven master with this grape and region and this wine showcases all of her greatness to perfection. The wine is deeply layered and unfolds with lush fruit and textures. The 2006 vintage is a blockbuster and shows the darker nature of the Pinot with lots of black fruits, plums, blackberries and a medley of red berries and black cherries. The wonderful wine is perfumed with violets, wild flowers and roses leading to a thick palate of fruit and touches of smoke and spices, finishing with lavish, pretty toasty oak. Wow, without a doubt this is an awesome wine! (Est. $48-50) 95-96 Points, grapelive


Penner-Ash Wine Cellars – Natalie Sigafoos
15771 NE Ribbon Ridge Rd, 
Newberg, OR 97132


s5003256.jpgShea Wine Cellars & Shea Vineyards
Dick Shea is the man behind the legend of Shea Vineyard, Oregon’s most famous vineyard. The Shea Vineyard has graced the label of some of the greatest wines of this region and has the top winemakers in the Willamette and even California begging for this fruit. Mike Etzel (Beaux Frères), Ken Wright (Ken Wright Cellars), and Lynn Penner-Ash (Penner-Ash Wine Cellars) are just a few of the Oregon winemakers using these grapes to make amazing Pinots, and then there is the Californian wineries: Loring, Pali and Auteur as well. The Auteur 2006 Shea was utterly amazing and as close to perfect as Pinot gets. I would also compare Shea Vineyard with the Pisoni and Garys’ Vineyards (Santa Lucia Highlands) here in California, or even maybe also similar to the Melville Vineyard (Santa Rita Hills).

We found Shea Wine Cellars and met up with Drew Voit, Shea Wine Cellar’s Winemaker, who I am grateful to for taking so much time out of his day to show us around and answer a massive amount of questions. Drew is a great guy and was kind, with a bright smile and lots of passion for his work. He has also consulted with Domaine Serene and really got their Chardonnay program to the next level. Here at Shea, he has the pick of the place and gets the most interesting selections for their line up of Pinots. Shea has lots of different sites on the vineyard, in fact Shea Vineyards is in reality two separated vineyards, and they have most clones planted. They use different blocks to blend into their main wine, the Estate Pinot, and then they have single block wines as well, and sometimes they produce even single clone wines like, the Wadenswil (a Swiss clone) and the Pommard (French clone).
As we walked through the vines at Shea, it was hard not to feel content and at peace, as it is a special place, I even mentioned my thoughts to Drew who agreed with a knowing grin.

Drew is very excited about the Chardonnay at Shea, and after tasting it I can see why, this is great stuff and a heady wine with bold richness and sublime balance and texture. This was the 2006 Estate Chard, which even though a hot year by Oregon standards showed focus and bright flavors with apple, pear and white peaches along with hints of fig, lemon, clove and vanilla. This is a very complex and layered wine that has class and body that are more Batard-Montrachet like than some quality California Chardonnay. Then we dived into the Estate Pinot, the 2006 vintage, which was extremely ripe and bold at first, but opened up nicely into a balanced and deep wine with lots of plum and dark fruits all held in with pleasing toasty oak. I can’t wait to get back to Shea and taste from barrel and see how the Chardonnay ages, plus after 2009 Drew is planning to due his own label and that will be really fun to keep up on. Shea was planted first in 1989 and they started producing their own wine in small amounts in 1996, and now are par with the worlds best, congrats Dick, you have a awesome place and make super wines.


s5003244.jpg2006 Shea Vineyards Chardonnay “Shea Vineyards” Estate, Willamette Valley, Oregon
Watch out Burgundy, Oregon has your whites in their sights now and they are on target! This has the beginnings of a Batard-Montrachet beater, with solid structure and intense fruit. This Chardonnay shows pear, white peach, apple, fig and hazelnuts in beautiful layers. The texture is rich and creamy with plenty of soft sweet oak, but there is vigor and life here too. A hint of lemon goes well with the brioche and vanilla on the finish. (Est. $45-50) 93-94 Points, grapelive


Shea Wine Cellars – Drew Voit, Winemaker
12321 NE Hwy 240, Newberg, OR 9713


img_1615.jpgBeaux Frères Winery

Michael Etzel came to Oregon, liked what he saw and bought and took on a hog farm. This was 1986, and he only had a slight connection to wine, though an expert one, he had the famous wine critic Robert Parker as a brother in law. I guess Parker liked what he saw and became a full partner in the pigpen, soon to become vineyard. Michael hand planted Beaux Frères Vineyard in 1988 to 1990, all 23 acres, and took part-time work in the cellars of Ponzi and others to learn about wine. From bacon to Grand Cru in 10 years! In 1994 Michael produced one of the greatest Pinot Noirs in the new world and has never looked back. I was lucky to have tried that vintage recently and was amazed by what I was tasting, and I became a believer again. I remember the joy of tasting Beaux Frères from the 1998 and 1999 vintages and thinking of someday going to this place, and today was going to be that day! The Beaux Frères Vineyard and the newer Upper Terrace Vineyard at Beaux Frères are both farmed biodynamic and much love and respect is given the land, and they feel this connects them spiritually to the place and makes much better wine.

img_1616.jpgKurt Johnson, Beaux Frères Sales Manager and his boxer Jackson lead us on a march through the vineyard and told us the tales of this stunning site. Michael greeted us warmly, then went to sell metal scraps with his assistant winemaker Grant in tow, but Kurt and Jackson put on a great show and we were in no way disappointed and I really enjoyed my game of tug of war with Kurt’s dog while he talked about Beaux Frères’ past and future. Kurt also let us know that Ribbon Ridge and especially Beaux Frères produces darker and more intense fruit profiles, this might be from the sedimentary soils here, it seems all of the Yamhill-Carlton region is set on ancient seabed. I also learned that the original vineyard was and is planted to the Wadenswil (Swiss clone) and the Pommard (old French clone) giving me a new insight on these Pinot clones, both of which are not so popular in California, but make wonderful and complex wines here. He also let us know the newer vineyard the Upper Terrace that Michael planted modern French clones like 113, 114, 115, 667 and 777 as well as a tiny plot of Grenache, yes I said Grenache. Well, that is crazy I thought, but I got have one; I mean I really need this wine! So I bought one, and took it away with me. (I drank it later that night, I could not wait…)

Beaux Frères does three Pinot Noirs normally, a Willamette Valley from purchased fruit and the Beaux Frères Vineyard Estate Pinot and the Upper Terrace Estate Pinot, plus that crazy Upper Terrace Grenache mentioned above. We able to try the 2006 Beaux Frères Estate Pinot Noir, which never regularly gets poured, but they had sold out of the Willamette Valley Pinot Noir, oh too bad! So, after all the build up how did it taste? Well now, even though I have had the 2006 earlier and rated it way up there close to perfect, this wine did not let me down. Let’s just say with only a tiny sip and sniff, I was in heaven, as this is a great and almost perfect wine. In fact I was so utterly convinced I gave my winemaker friend the rest of my glass! Amazing is all I can say now, the dark rich fruit and sublime smoky oak notes frame it perfectly and the depth is compelling all ready, even though it should be a wine for the ages. Maybe, just maybe, we had saved the best for last, at least I think so. It was a great moment to live, Beaux Frères is an important place and one of the Grand Cru sites in the new world, and it was fun to catch up with Kurt, oh yeah, I had met him before when he had been with Etude in Napa Valley and more recently when he was down showing off Beaux Frères in California this last March. People do make a difference and Kurt is one of the good guys in this business and it great to see that nice guys make good in this world.


s5002236thumbnail.jpg2006 Beaux Frères Pinot Noir “Beaux Frères Vineyard” Estate, Ribbon Ridge, Willamette Valley, Oregon
I originally tasted and reviewed this wine in March 2008, and though it was one of the best Pinots I’ve tasted and compared it to the great Burgundies, and now I am even more impressed. Mike Etzel has crafted a fantastic wine, even if he thinks the 2006 vintage is over hyped and not typical of Oregon. This wine compares to the great Burgundy vintages like 1990 and 1999, with huge fruit and power. That said the wine is opening up nicely and has lovely perfume and sublime depth and balance. I could rave on and on, but I guess I should say it s close to perfect. The fruit is dark and lively with blackberry, plum and currant mostly with only a hint of cherry at this stage. Pretty smoky sweet oak toast frame this wine perfectly. This Pinot Noir is one of my all time favorites. (Est. $75-80) 96+ Points, grapelive * Tasted at Beaux Frères, September 2008.


Beaux Frères   – Kurt Johnson, Sales Manager
15155 NE North Valley Road   Newberg, Oregon 97132 USA
Telephone: (503) 537-1137   Facsimile: (503) 537-2613   e-Mail:

*Grapelive Notes:
The Yamhill-Carlton District and Ribbon Ridge area in the Willamette Valley form sort of a horseshoe shape of raised ancient seabed and produce wines of slightly darker color (in general) and more intense dark flavors, led by blackberry, plum and briar notes. Though most Oregon wines have good acidity, it seems that the Yamhill-Carlton have more tannins which would lead me to believe that they might have aging advantage. It is something I’ll keep exploring, for sure.


All Oregon Wine Reviews *Click Here For Reviews 

Grapelive: Oregon Tale, Portland

s5003097.jpgWalking Portland on a hot Indian summer day is a big deal, and I enjoyed it to the fullest taking in the sights and sounds of this cool and thriving city. Of course there was a stop at Powell’s Books, though it really does require maybe more than a single afternoon to browse! I think a month! Then just wandering around the Pearl District before lunching at Clyde Common, a chic restaurant and whiskey bar that serves up fresh and interesting dishes all of which were awesome. This was also my start to Oregon Pinot mission, with a glass of the brand new 2007 Broadley Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley. A very nice easy wine that went great with the flavors of my dishes, with soft juicy cherry and raspberry fruit and round full mouth feel. So, I was off to a good start and went heading for more. A long walk up Burnside in the warm, well it might be better if I said hot, sunshine ended at Zupan’s Market, a great place to take in all the goodness of the produce and wines from the local area. Alaya Wyndham-Price, wine writer and now on screen wine expert, led of through the selections and gave of a turn of her cellar. She puts on food and wine events for Zupan’s and the cellar looks to be a fine venue indeed with lots of fantastic wines all around. So if you get up this way be sure to check it out, you’ll be very happy you did.
With all the great bistros and brewpubs, Portland has one of the best food and drink scenes I’ve ever come across, lucky me I didn’t have to decide on a place for dinner, that was planned by friends and it turned out wonderfully. We ate and drank and laughed in total bliss and were treated like royalty the entire time, all this heaven was at Clarklewis Restaurant. To say the food was great is just not enough, and to tell you the service was fantastic would still not cover it, as this place just has it all and is relaxed and casual to boot. The open space and see everything floor plan adds to the whole experience, especially when you see the raw and beautiful ingredients being prepared by engaging, joyful staff. Then there is the wine list, where you can find a fine array of interesting selections by the glass and bottle, from around the world and up and down the Willamette Valley. Oh, by the way, the wine pricing up here is more than fair and we took advantage of that and drank in some super wines. The highlights were the 2005 St. Innocent Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, which was full of dark fruits, pleasing earth, lavender and subtle oak notes all of which matched up with the cuisine perfectly. Then there was the 2006 Wahle Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, that was floral, bright fruited and plump, round with a creamy sweet finish that was a good distraction between courses, and I thought it was a very fine wine.
After the chef’s meal, served family style, all a blur now of frenzied feeding and grunts of joy, I mean how else can I explain the overwhelming pleasure of the meal given to us, we took to their bar for the medicinal effects of exotic liqueurs and the sublime Stumptown coffee, roasted in Portland. These worked well to settle the stomach, maybe too well, as we then decided on another bottle of Pinot to finish the night! The wine was the juicy and fruit filled 2006 Patton Vineyards Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, which started out a little much, but opened into a very nice wine indeed, with black and red fruits delivered in layers of texture, sweet oak and it finished smoothly. This was a day and meal to remember and this was just my first day in Oregon.

Grapelive: Wine of the Week

greenredzin.jpg2006 Green & Red Zinfandel Chiles Mill Vineyard, Napa Valley

Don’t miss this lush and elegant Zinfandel, it is a delight and shows the best traditional flavors and style of Zin. This wine has plenty of fruit, but is not over done or flabby, with bright boysenberry, raspberry and bramble spices that lead to some pretty currant and dark cherry fruits. This is a Zin for sure, though it has a Bordeaux class and balance. With touches of mineral, lavender, vanilla and pepper this wine has nice depth and complexities to savor. Green & Red have long been making world class wines and their Zinfandels are fantastic and always rate as great values as well. This Zinfandel should age really well with the acidity and structure it has, though I do enjoy the youthful fruit and zesty spices it shows now. I would think in 3-5 years it would taste more subtle and impressively like a fine Bordeaux. So, I’m tempted to enjoy a few bottle now and put a few bottles away to age short term just to see how it all comes together. I brought this Zinfandel out and poured it for a group of friends and it was a real hit, even to a few non Zinfandel fans, showcasing this wines broad appeal and smooth nature. This is a wine that reminds me why I love Zinfandel and why we should drink more of it!

(Est. $25) 93 Points, grapelive (By Kerry Winslow)

*In stock at Rancho Cellars call 831-625-5646

Grapelive Lastest

kwglgreek.jpgWhile sipping on 2006 Dionysos Korinthiakos Topikos Corinthian White Wine, Greece, I reflected on the week in wine that I have just finished. I was attending the Monterey Greek Fest in Monterey and enjoying the flavors of the Greek Islands and trying their wine, beer and of ouzo! The wine, which was much, better than the last Greek wine I had tried was while not fresh, had some good depth and interesting layers of orange peel, citrus, melon and sherry notes. The beer was a slight improvement with more refreshing acidity and sweetness, which was nice on such a sunny day. The Ouzo burned and reminded me why I don’t drink it, but it was a good way to end this festive and exciting day, and week!
The week started at the Family Winemakers Tasting in San Francisco, and ended over ouzo. The Family’s is always a great tasting and lively show for the trade and the public alike with hundreds of small and rare producers showing off their best wines. I was amazed at the overall quality this year, it was hard to find really bad wine and the selection of remarkable wines was outstanding. From Pahlmeyer Chardonnay to Mount Eden Estate Pinot Noir things were just fantastic, and I enjoyed catching up with many of my favorite producers. My local heroes, Richard Alfaro, Joe Martin and Jack Galante were winning great praise with their latest offerings, with the Martin Alfaro Deer Park Pinot Noir and the Galante Blackjack Cabernet getting lots of attention.
A couple of wines that really stood out were the 2006 Ancien Pinot Noir Red Dog Vineyard, Sonoma Mountain, 2006 Robert Biale Zinfandel Aldo’s Vineyard, Napa Valley, 2006 Lamborn Family Vineyards Zinfandel Howell Mountain, 2006 Heintz Family Chardonnay Sonoma Coast, and the 2006 Mount Eden Pinot Noir Estate, Santa Cruz Mountains. All of which rated in the 92-94 Point range and offer something special in their range of wines. I can highly recommend these wines, and urge you to chase them down.
I also recently tasted through the line up of Hartwell Estate wines and was highly impressed, and was left in awe of their Estate Cabernet and Merlot. I had the 2004 Hartwell Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, Stags’ Leap District, Napa Valley rated at 96 Points and the 2005 Hartwell Estate Merlot, Napa Valley at 94 Points, both wines were super and left me wanting more. These can be ordered through Rancho Cellars, by request only. Only tiny amounts are available retail, so get on it now or they will be gone.
Before my week ended I returned to my friend Jack Galante’s ranch, yeah I just can’t stay away from this beautiful and amazing place to taste from barrel and do a little more research. Jack is a great host and welcomed me again like a family member, for which I am honored. He pulled samples of his 2007 Galante Vineyards Pinot Noir Almond Flat Vineyard, and I was blown away with its elegance all ready and light touch, I think this vintage is a break through for this wine. Make note and reserve some if you like interesting and unique Pinot Noir. Then he regaled us with tastes from barrel of his famed Blackjack Pasture Cabernet from the 2007 vintage, and again this was awesome with big flavors, chocolate-like textures and stunning depth. He also showed off some barrel selections of reserve wines and component blends, all of which were showing great. Jack is riding a big high right now and if you get a chance to visit Carmel or Carmel Valley look up Galante Vineyards. Bravo Jack, you are rocking it right now, keep it up!

Grapelive Latest: Summer Dreaming & Driving

s5002800a1.jpgA lovely tour of the Corralitos wine route, in the Santa Cruz Mountains, another visit to my home base Carmel Valley, and a fun Pinot quest in Carneros and Sonoma, all in a week! Richard Alfaro gave me a tour of his amazing estate and showed off his vineyards and his new releases. His Alfaro Family Vineyards label is in Corralitos and is a beautiful spot, especially for Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, but I found his estate Syrah and even his estate Merlot well worth the trip. This area is on the rise with some remarkable wines and vineyards getting huge acclaim and rewards. I have spotlighted Richard many times, but he is just blowing me away with his talents with every new release and vintage, and I think this area is the place to watch in the next couple of years. With the vines and wineries getting some age and time under their belts has proven this, and I can recommend all of the Alfaro Family Vineyards wines, in fact every wine I tried from his latest line up scored 90 Points or better! The 2006 Alfaro Family Vineyards Chardonnay, Lindsay-Page, Estate, Santa Cruz Mountains is a beautiful and awesome wine with huge flavors and lush textures with lots of depth and elegance. Definitely my favorite Chardonnay of the year from California, and his Pinot Noir, the 2006 Alfaro Family Vineyards Pinot Noir, Lindsay-Page, Estate, Santa Cruz Mountains is not far behind and is a great effort with layers of pretty dark fruits and sublime balance and complexity. Then there is the estate Syrah, 2006 Alfaro Family Vineyards Syrah, Estate, Santa Cruz Mountains, which has black fruits, smoke, spice and mocha on the full palate. This is a wine to enjoy now, but should develop even more complexity and depth over the next few years.

parsonagewiney.jpgSpending time in Carmel Valley, where I grew up, is really easy and I try to make regular visits to my hometown friends, like Galante Vineyards and Parsonage Village Vineyards to keep up with their wines in barrel and bottle. Last week it was back to Parsonage, and wow just a few months have gone by and great things are going on. Especially the remarkable 2007 vintage “Grand Kids” reserve wines in the barrels, I was amazed at how good these wines have got, I mean they are filling out and bursting with amazing fruit. Bill Parsons showed me the wines named for his grandchildren, “Dario” a Merlot based red, “Bixby” a Petit Verdot based red, “Tanner” a barrel selection reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, and “Rocco” a barrel selection Syrah, all of which are great all ready and could yet again surpass the previous vintages. Sadly the 2007 vintage was a tiny crop, so about 70 cases of each are all that is going to be available. which is really a shame as these are so good, even as young as they are. I recommend you get on Bill’s wine list and hope those all ready on it don’t take it all! Also, check out his tasting room in the Carmel Valley Village, they have two new Snosrap, their second label, a Chardonnay and a Pinot Noir, both of which I rated over 90 Points in barrel. I just tried both in bottle, both from the 2007 vintage, and they are even better now. The Chardonnay is rich, pure and textured, and the Pinot Noir all ready is showing dark sweet fruits and nice smoky oak notes. Both of these wines will get even better too, so for about $25 each, they are steals!

s5002856.jpgI checked out Sonoma and Carneros on a quick trip through the south end of the Sonoma Valley. My friend Brad Gray, who runs his own public relations firm and writes for various wine and lifestyle magazines, (including showed me around and let me in a couple secret finds and made a great host for my adventure. He brought me to the Sonoma Farmers Market and turned me on to some of the nicest produce I’ve ever seen, including some intensely colorful heirloom tomatoes. This is a fun event, every Tuesday, where the locals come and picnic in the park on the Sonoma Plaza, near to where California’s bear flag was first raised. I didn’t have much luck finding interesting wines at first; in fact I was very underwhelmed with my days haul until I found a great new co-op tasting room Sonoma Grange. This is a place if you get up to Sonoma you must visit, I can tell you this place has small producers and a incredible selection of fantastic wines. John Matthew Green is the very well versed General Manager, from an old Napa family, but is world of knowledge about wines from everywhere. He puts on a great show and has picked out some passionate and talented winemakers to display. I picked up some super Pinot Noirs, one from Harrington Vineyards and one from Hientz, both of which showed real depth and class. I’ll definitely go back to try some more of his selections, you should too. Grange Sonoma is an easy find, as it is right across the street from Gloria Ferrer on Hwy 121.


Alfaro Family Vineyards New Releases

s5002799.jpg2006 Alfaro Family Vineyards Pinot Noir “Lindsay-Page Vineyard” Santa Cruz Mountains
This richly colored and flavorful Pinot Noir has good depth and grip in its youth, but really opens up nicely in the glass with lovely fruit and bright flavors. Wild flowers, spices, and pretty berry fruit up front, leads to a ripe cherry core on the palate. This wine is layered and has very good focus with smoky sweet wood notes that gives hints of vanilla and smoothes it out. I should think a year in bottle will do wonders, but can I wait that long, not likely. Even though it will be better with some age, I like it now and will just have to buy a few bottles more! ($40 Est.) 93+ Points, grapelive



s5002797.jpg2006 Alfaro Family Vineyards Syrah, Estate, Santa Cruz Mountains
This wine is ripe and direct on the nose with violets and cassis, but is all class on the palate with delicate layers and beautiful pepper spices at first, then bang it gets up and goes with rich and full black fruits and thick textures. It reminds me of Hermitage or a really good Crozes-Hermitage with hints of game, mineral and blueberry adding to the complexities. There are subtle wood notes that are matched up perfectly with the fruit and acidity. Syrah seems to like the Alfaro estate, and I can tell you that this wine deserves attention. I plan to follow this one closely and hope you get a chance to try it too. ($35 Est.) 92+ Points,


Grapelive Lastest: Smoke on the Water…. (Monterey Bay)

s5002710.jpgWith fire in the sky, I went out to Galante Vineyards and saw huge flames rising from the last of the “Basin Complex Fire” and sipped a wonderfully crisp Sauvignon Blanc. Jack Galante had his Wine Gang day out to his beautiful and remote ranch in Carmel Valley to enjoy his estate wines and a BBQ with Chef Michael Reese, the Cajun specialist. It was hot and smoky, but a fun filled day and enjoyable tour. Jack has almost unlimited energy and skill, chatting away with his guests, pouring wine, four-wheeling to remote vineyard sites and poaching old wines from his private cellar with out coming up for air! His loyal following and team all celebrated with rose petal foot baths, spiced tri-tip, savory beans, pretty vistas and lots of Galante’s famed Cabernet Sauvignon, even a 1995 Galante Vineyards “Blackjack Pasture” to quaff on. I stayed with their bright and refreshing 2007 Sauvignon Blanc, as it was close to 90 degrees out and I was hiking around the vineyards. Over the hill the firefighters were back lighting and set a ridge a blaze with 60 foot flames, which looked terrifying, but was done to create a buffer zone and keep the fire line secure. Later in the day Jack took me up to his high elevation Pinot Noir vineyard, “Almond Flat”, and I was amazed at both the height and the danger in which I was put to get there! In the end it was a very rewarding trek as I got to s5002723.jpgsee this amazing site and view the whole valley from there. Planted to mostly Calera clone with some other modern French clones, including 777, “Almond Flat” is a special place and a site that will produce some special fruit in the years to come. The current release, the 2005 and the 2006 both are big steps for this small winery and remind me of Nuits-St. George Burgundies with intense earthy and mineral notes and brisk, tight and dark fruits. These wines need air and food to show their class as intended. The 2005 gained elegance and depth with over 24 hours of air and I think the 2006 might be a 5-year lay down. In other words, like real Burgundy!

On a drink up note, their 2006 Galante Cabernet Sauvignon “Red Rose Hill” is a smash hit, with beautiful red fruits, smooth tannins and lush textures. This is a blend change, now included are small lots of Petit Verdot, Petite Sirah and Malbec that give many good complexities and fill this pretty wine out. Then there is the estate Sauvignon Blanc, this being from the 2007 vintage, with lovely tangy citrus and melon flavors that are zesty and pure. Both are their Wine Gang favorites, so be sure to call them quick like to get any that remain unclaimed!
Another wonderful weekend gone, but long-lived memories forever!



alfaros.jpgLast week I ran into Richard Alfaro and his wife Mary Kay, Alfaro Family Vineyards, and I re-tasted his 2006 Alfaro Family Vineyards Chardonnay “Lindsay-Page Vineyard” Santa Cruz Mountains Estate, and wow, I was again blown away! This is a world class Chardonnay that ranks right up there! I am not kidding you when I say it rates well against Batard-Montrachet and anything from this State for sure, in fact I had to bump it up a few points on score. I have been singing the praises of the South Santa Cruz Mountains for a few years now, mainly shouting about the Pinot Noir Like Richard’s estate, Windy Oaks and more lately Jennifer Pandol’s Pandol Pinot sourced from the Schultze Vineyard, but this Chardonnay is amazing and totally mind blowing. It is complex and lush from beginning to end with pear, apple, lemon tart and hazelnuts framed with sweet oak notes. Richard and Mary Kay Alfaro are also making some fine estate Syrah and even a Bordeaux-style estate Merlot that they are releasing soon.




galanteredrose06.jpg2006 Galante Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon “Red Rose Hill”, Carmel Valley Estate

Galante’s Red Rose Hill Cabernet is a soft tannin and pretty wine that ages well and offers full flavors, and this wine takes that to the next level and then some! This wine is a new blend, a Cabernet base with small lots of Malbec, Merlot and Petite Sirah, with the Malbec being new to the Galante ranch. They make a big impact here giving added color and more texture, with some savory spice notes added in too. This wine now is Galante’s homage to Chateau Margaux or Bordeaux’s left bank and I would say it is successful in giving an impression of the French classics. The wine has plenty of fruit, but not soaring alcohol levels and maintains good grip and balancing acidity making this a super wine with food and one that can age with elegance. I still would recommend drinking now as it is really good as is, even if it will fill out more in the next year or so. The fruit is red currant, plum, black cherry, raspberry and cassis with some dried rose petals, cedar, sage and spicy sweet oak shadings. ($35-40 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive





2006 Alfaro Family Chardonnay Lindsay-Page Vineyard, Santa Cruz Mountains
This is a big full bore Chardonnay that is ultra rich and incredibly deep and focused with lovely flavors and a long lush finish. Hazelnuts and white flowers lead to pure pear and apple fruit, with touches of clove, mineral, honey and vanilla. This wine is still a month or so away from release, but it is well on its way to be a classic.  A little more than a hundred cases of this wine is heading to market, so get on it now! ($30 Est.) * I revisited this wine recently (July 2008) and I must say it is even better now and reminds me of a great Batard-Montrachet! This wine is stunning and I can really not say this any other way, get it and get it now if you are a Chardonnay drinker, even if you are not you’ll love this wine. (94 Points before) 95 Points, grapelive



Grapelive Latest: Teaming up with The Wine Spies

s5002772.jpgI’ve been drafted into service and I am now known as Agent Noir, and my mission will be to do guest reviews for the agency. The Wine Spies are your secret undercover deal makers and they search out some amazing wine finds! This Saturday they are going to feature one of my big favorites: Parsonage Estate Syrah, from Carmel Valley! Don’t miss out and as a bonus to my readers, The Wine Spies are offering an extra special discount to you.

Be sure to use the special Grapelive promo code on the coupon below to get an extra 10% off your orders.

Cheers, Kerry Winslow,

AKA “Agent Noir”

Grapelive Latest: The Garys’ Show, Great Vines & Wines


by Kerry Winslow, grapelive

This last week has been a blur, a real frenzy of wine and vineyards to taste and try. But, it really is the people that matter most and the friendships that have developed that move me. I have been very lucky in the last week to have seen some of the kindest and talented people based here in the Monterey Bay area, and of course try their wonderful wines and or see their amazing vineyards. My latest trek took me out to the Garys’ , Rosella’s and Pisoni Vineyards, all in the Santa Lucia Highlands, and though I’ve been out to Pisoni before, I had never been to Rosella’s and Garys’ Vineyards, so it was with a lot of excitement I went touring out there with. Gary Franscioni and Gary Pisoni, long time friends are partners in the Garys’ Vineyard and it is mostly planted to “Pisoni clone” Pinot Noir, and this is what it is most famous for. That said they have really turned a lot heads with their Syrah from this site and I can tell you it is fantastic, especially the 2006 sample I was lucky enough to get my hands and palate on.

Franscioni has his own vineyard too, this the Rosella’s Vineyard named after Gary’s wife Rosella, and this site is planted to Pinot Noir, Syrah & Chardonnay, all of which are top flight grapes and make wine to drool over. Rosella’s Vineyard is the coolest of the vineyards and usually picked last, and has shown to be a perfect place for well-developed Chardonnay and dark and floral Pinot Noirs. Though in recent years the Pinots have got much richer and the Syrahs are doing extremely well here too. The long hang time and multitude of clones give lots of complexity and depth as the vines age here.

The main partnership vineyard, the Garys’ is regarded as Grand Cru class and it is very prized among the select winemakers that can get any fruit here. Franscioni and Pisoni have about 20 or so clients that take grapes, all must be friends, make good (great) wine, and of course pay on time! It is almost a license to print money, as almost every Pinot made from Garys’ fruit is a sell out! Honestly, can you think of a bad Garys’ Pinot Noir? Not easy, and I recently went crazy for the 2006 Martin Alfaro Pinot Noir Garys’ Vineyard and remarked it may be the best yet from them, and I can say that Franscioni’s own label Roar, now made by Ed Kurtzman, is getting even better, especially these 2006 vintages. 2006 was a tough year and for the most part the Pinot Noirs have been lighter in color and in some cases in flavors, but not from these guys’ vineyards! Both the Roar (Gary Franscioni) and the Lucia (Pisoni Family) are intensely rich and darkly colored wines with well developed aromatics and lush textures. Then there is the Syrahs, and they are super impressive with purple/black color and loads of black fruit, violets and white pepper with great length and long finishes. Oh, and I should also mention, just in case you don’t take my word on this, Robert Parker rated the Garys’ and Susan’s Hill (Pisoni Vineyard) Syrah’s between 93 and 95 Points for the new 2006 releases! These are due out in late September or October 2008, so get on both the Lucia and Roar websites and sign up to receive their offers, and get your pre-release order in as soon as possible.

gpisoni08.jpgThen there is the magic place, the vineyard that made Monterey known for world class Pinot Noir and really put us on the map, I’m talking about the Pisoni Vineyard. We locally cannot argue about that, Gary Pisoni deserves all his success and fame, and I will always tell him so, every time I see him! This place is our Romanee-Conti, a sacred place, and a place where Monterey’s fortunes turned around. Pisoni Vineyard has to be the most famous if not the most sublime site in California for powerful and mind blowing Pinot Noir. It took Gary Pisoni awhile to showcase his vision, and he had many doubters, but he perused his dream and won everyone over in the end with these grapes. His son Jeff makes their own wines under the Pisoni and Lucia labels, and his talents are now also well known and highly respected. Mark Pisoni the other son, wears many hats, he gets to run all the vineyards and do most of the business and public relations work, including helping Gary Franscioni over at Garys’ and Rosella’s. Now, getting back to my point earlier, it is all about the people, these very hard working and in demand people. They deserve all their successes and many more too, as they are some of the nicest and kindest people you’ll ever meet, and not just in the wine business either, I mean it, these are special souls with huge hearts. It makes drinking their wine all that much more special. Pisoni’s 2006 Estate Pinot is coming out this fall too, and look for it to be one of the best yet, but make sure you get your favorite wine merchant to line some up early or at least get your name on the Pisoni list. I was lucky and got a sneak peak at a few versions and came away very, very impressed. The 2006 Roar Pinot Noir Pisoni Vineyard was awesome with lovely fruit and sweet smoky goodness, and is all ready a star, drinking great now and even though Gary Franscioni likes them really young himself, it should get even better with a year or so in bottle and age well for 5-7 years. These guys are good!

bottle_splash.jpg2006 Roar Pinot Noir “Pisoni Vineyard”, Santa Lucia Highlands

Gary Franscioni’s Roar wines are now made by the talented Ed Kurtzman, who is taking over from Adam Lee (Siduri), and he is really taking these wonderful wines to the next level and allowing the vineyard sites to really show themselves. This is my favorite version of this wine so far. This unfiltered and rich Pinot Noir has a more cloudy appearance, with a pretty ruby and garnet hue. The fruit is fresh and leans on raspberry, dark cherry and plum, though there is some red currant and cranberry as well. This wine has great depth and “Pisoni” style structure and boldness with lush textures and complexity. There is a smoky sweet vanilla oak note, but it fits perfectly and this is a very focused and balanced wine that has it all right from nose to finish. This Pinot has great fruit, good savory spices, nice florals and lavish oak shadings and will be released this fall! Kudos to Gary and Ed for making a great wine even better and for letting this magical vineyard show itself and again showcase its Grand Cru statis.  ($55-65 Est.)

95 Points, grapelive (by Kerry Winslow)


gv-syrah-2005-label.jpg2006 Lucia Syrah “Garys’ Vineyard”, Santa Lucia Highlands

The Franscioni and Pisoni families have really done it again, after creating world class Pinot fruit and getting the Santa Lucia Highlands regarded as a great Pinot Noir region, they now have done the same with Syrah! This Lucia Syrah is without a bit of doubt has reached greatness and Jeff Pisoni must certainly be very proud with this amazing wine. This Syrah from Garys’ Vineyard is dark purple with lovely violets and wild flowers on the nose with white pepper and lavender notes up front and on the palate. There is power and elegance in this wine that reminds me of the Northern Rhone and with the complex flavors and full body make it a super Syrah that will be great on release and will age beautifully for 5-8 years. The fruit is mostly black in nature with mountain berries, plum and cassis filling the mouth, with some tangy blueberry, mocha, currant, cherry liqueur, smoky game and subtle wood notes. The finish still shows tannins and acidity, giving strength and freshness to the fruit, but remains long and with some creamy vanilla that lingers. This is a very young wine, though it is easy to love now, and should be released in late September. ($40-45 Est.)

94 Points, grapelive (by Kerry Winslow)