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Happy Fourth of July from Grapelive

by Kerry Winslow

s5002569.jpgTo celebrate the Fourth of July and the American Dream I’m going to give a quick nod to some great American Pinots I tried at Pinot Days last weekend in San Francisco. This was my first Pinot Days event at Fort Mason, and it was awesome with lots of fantastic wines and many winemakers and winery owners on hand to tell their stories and share their visions of Pinot Noir and the vineyards where it is grown. For me the event was a success in everyway and I enjoyed meeting so many new people and finding even more exciting wines, plus catching up with old friends which makes it just that much more special.
The big surprise was the amazing showing of Oregon Pinots; this fun little rivalry between California and Oregon was the real highlight of the Pinot Days event. I was not just me that noticed these super Oregon Pinots, I was walking the show with a California Pinot Noir winemaker and we both agreed that the Oregon wines came out on top on this day. To be fair most of the Pinots came from the 2006 Vintage, which flatters the big rich, vintage from Oregon, which is not typical and for which California is more known for and that had a slightly lighter vintage in 2006 by comparison. Still even in a tough year like 2005, Oregon still produced some real gems and a few were shown at Pinot Days to good effect.
The California stand outs included some sublime wines, here are a few from my mental notes that stuck out from the crowd; the 2006 Bjornstad Pinot Noir Van der Kamp Vineyard, Sonoma Mountain, the 2006 Freeman Pinot Noir, Russian River, the 2006 Martin Alfaro Pinot Noir Deer Park Vineyard, Santa Cruz Mountains, the 2007 Auteur Pinot Noir, Sonoma Stage *Barrel sample, and the 2006 August West Pinot Noir Graham Vineyard, Russian River. All of which are between $35 and $50 each and offer lots of bang for the buck, especially the Martin Alfaro Deer Park. The humble and friendly Joe Martin was pouring the beautiful 2006 Martin Alfaro Deer Park, which was competing nicely against the hundreds of other top Pinots on display and again tells me that there is a spot for the South Santa Cruz Mountains in the list of great Pinot Noir Terroirs!
Now for the Oregon Pinots that stole the show, they included; the 2006 Auteur Pinot Noir Shea Vineyard, Willamette Valley, Oregon *Maybe my wine of the day, the 2005 & 2006 Vidon Pinot Noirs, the 2005 & 2006 Stoller Vineyards Pinot Noirs, and the 2006 Lachini Vineyards Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley. Again it was a surprise to find that even the tough vintage 2005 wines showed so well, but there is no doubt the 2006 Oregon vintage is a blockbuster year and I recommend trying and buying them up before they sell out. Beyond the Pinot Days event, I can say find the 2006 Bergstrom Pinot Noirs, the 2006 Beaux Freres Pinot Noirs and any 2006 Shea Vineyard Oregon Pinot, as they are some of the greatest Pinots I’ve tasted this year.


Highlights of Pinot Days


noir_jv_061.gif2006 Stoller Pinot Noir JR, Willamette Valley, Oregon
This is the entry level Stoller, but don’t let that fool you, this is a super wine that delivers with rich and interesting flavors and is a steal at $25! It starts fresh with bright raspberry and strawberry notes, but gets deeper with air and brings a core of cherry and plum fruit to the surface. This lovely little Pinot is a ready to drink darling that has some good depth and focus with touches of rose petal, spice, vanilla and sweet tea. ($25 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive


label_05_vdk_pinot.jpg2006 Bjornstad Pinot Noir  “Van der Kamp Vineyard”, Sonoma Mountain
This serious and intense Pinot is loaded with dark fruits and amazing depth, really this is a great wine. Greg Bjornstad has created a wonderful Pinot, though that is nothing new as he was one of the Gregs’ behind the highly rated Tandem wines, but I think I like this one even more than those Tandems! This wine has layers of complexity and the flavors are powerful and rich without being sweet or over blown. The dark berry and black plum fruits come at you first then you get a classic Pinot burst of cherry that fills the palate. There is some smoke, truffle, currant, mineral and vanilla cream all mixed in perfectly and with good balance and focus. Congrats to Greg on his own label and a very successful start and a great wine here! ($50 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive

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kwjune2008b.jpgSummertime Wines
This summer has started out with long lazy days leading into long easy nights with warmth and beautiful wines playing a key role in the laughter and pleasure that I’m reflecting on. I feel lucky and am filled with gratitude for these times and for the wines that helped them be so special. Lately I’ve dropped my jaded edge and become addicted to Tempier’s amazing Bandol Rose, for me is still the best pink wine in the world, especially the 2007 vintage! This amazing and vibrant Rose is just plain a great wine, refreshing enough to have with breakfast and rich and complex enough to do the whole menu at dinner. With melon, red citrus, cherry and a teasing array of spices Domaine Tempier Bandol Rose is almost darn near perfect anytime, anywhere and goes sublimely well on day dreamy summer days. Another great summer passion is fresh and minerally Riesling that not only quenches the thirst with low alcohol and a hint of good sweetness, it also matches up wonderfully with summer menus of greens, fish and cheeses. Last weekend I dove into a glorious petrol fumed and slate infused 2004 August Kesseler Spatlese from the Rheingau, this weekend was a delicate and tropical dry 2006 Domaine Weinbach Grand Cru Schlossberg, which was very shy and easy, not the normally intense and full-bodied wine of recent vintages, but lovely all the same. To get into late evenings I’ve mostly opted for slightly chilled Pinot Noirs, but there have been some other gems too, like the 2004 La Spinetta Sezzana Sangiovese from their estate in Tuscany. With it’s perfume of sweet herbs and licorice and full smooth body this is a wine to be savored, and this vintage has to be one of the finest produced by this estate. Big rich red berry and cherry fruit, hints of strawberry and nice violet like flower notes reminds of a great Brunello and makes me remember how good Sangiovese can be. As for the Pinots, I am still moved by the power, richness and elegance of the 2006 Oregon wines, with Cristom, Bergstrom, Beaux Freres and Penner-Ash all vying for best of class honors. Then there are my favorites from the Santa Lucia Highlands and the Santa Cruz Mountains all played a part so far this summer, but you can never overlook the magic of Burgundy for moving and remarkable wines. This months’ winner is reviewed below, it is the stunning 2003 Domaine de Montille Pommard, trust me this is an awesome wine.

Grapelive Wine of the Month

s5002625.jpg2003 Domaine de Montille, Pommard Premier Cru “Les Pezerolles”, Red Burgundy, France
This sexy and complex Pinot will make anyone a Burgundy believer and or lover with rich, lush and robust flavors and textures. This layered and seamless Pommard shows depth and style way beyond what you’d normally find in this unrated village, this is way up there with the top Grand Cru’s, and again proves the talents of this producer. This wine opens with smoke, wild flowers, red currants and a hint of game, before taking you on a pleasure trip with dark and red fruits that unfold in vivid detail. There is a beautiful cherry and plum core with raspberry, rose petals and woodsy notes in the background along with touches of liqueur and truffle. The finish is immense and lingering with sweet spices and subtle fine oak notes framing the fruit perfectly. This is an outstanding wine that is fantastic now and will give much joy for years to come. (Est. $99-150) 96 Points, grapelive

*Imported by Beaune Imports

Italy Scores, Not Just At The Euro 2008!

s5002576_2.jpgItaly are world champions in soccer and just knocked the French out of the Euro 2008 tourney!

But, it is their wine that is stealing the stage and La Spinetta is one of the very best and beautiful. Giorgio Rivetti leads La Spinetta and has made this little Moscato D’Asti producer into a friend and rival of the likes of Gaja and Giacosa, in the Piedmonte region of Italy in the great areas of Barolo and Barbaresco. La Spinetta is one of my favorite wineries, in fact I don’t miss a vintage of their little Barbera and now they have added a Tuscan estate to their holdings and produce three wonderful Sangiovese wines from it. I recently had their Tuscan “Sezzana” IGT and loved it like a top Brunello! It was beautiful with intense dark fruit, hints of sweet herbs and licorice, all layered and balanced surberbly. There is little doubt that they will succeed in Tuscany as they have done in Piedmonte. For the greatest of the modern Italian winemakers, look no further than La Spinetta and the Rivetti’s as their wines are clean and done in small French barrels, buteven so this wines capture their terroir perfectly and are elegant complext wines. Their trio of Barbarescos all sublime examples of modern thinking and traditional love of farming in the vineyards. They go for tiny yields and use only the very best grapes, giving results that remind one of Grand Cru Burgundy, comparing Rivetti’s Crus to Romanee-Conti’s in not that far off. These are fantastic wines that say and offer a lot, they are wines of class and intensity that show the very best of their region, and of the greatness of Italy. Then there is the Barolo, La Spinetta started recently with Barolo, in 2000, and I was lucky enough to be at its unveiling in the US, and have been a believer since that first taste in San Francisco! Every vintage has met with critical aclaim from the worlds wine press, and the current releases are fantastic and powerful. Know as Campe della Spinetta, the Barolo is as the legend goes; (Barolo) Is The King of Wines!

So if you want to taste magic in a glass and feel the joy of Nebbiolo as it can be and should be, just find these rare wines and you’ll become a fan like me of La Spinetta, really it is like falling under a spell! So now that Italy is through to the finals of the Euro 2008, it is time to enjoy the beautiful game with some of the finest wines in the world, and for me that will most certainly be Giorgio’s little beauties, the hard part will be chosing which one!



2001 Campe Della Spinetta Barolo (La Spinetta) Piedmonte, Italy

This is a stunning wine of incredible depth and style with rich flavors and layers of complexity. This is a wine, a Barolo that makes you understand why Nebbiolo is a world class grape, and a wine that goes a long way to prove the historic adage “Barolo the King of Wines.” I had this wine at a wonderful wine dinner where Giorgio Rivetti, the leader of La Spinetta, presented his wines himself, and I can tell you even he was impressed with this wines showing! Fantastic in fruit and power, but giving and lush with red berry, plum, cherry fruits leading the way on the palate. There was also smoky tar, orange peel, licorice and vanilla all in perfect focus and adding complexity. Very clean and modern in style, but with intensity and vigor of a classic Barolo, this is the real deal. This is the baby of the La Spinetta line up, this wine being from only the second release proves these guys have got it right, I don’t know of many wineries that could have produced such a wonder in only their second try. Great wine, from a great region, made well by a super producer. (Est. $150) 96 Points, grapelive

*Current release 2003 Vintage.


1999 La Spinetta Barbaresco Valeirano Piedmonte, Italy

This beautiful red is just simply amazing now, it is near perfect and more like a Grand Cru Burgundy than not, it reminds me of a Richebourg or Grands Echezeaux for sure. Lovely floral notes come in waves, with dried roses and violets giving sweet perfume before the taste on the engaging palate. The fruit is plum, cherry and currants with added depth coming in the form of lavender, black licorice, mountain herbs, sweet smoky oak notes and truffle. This wine is just whole and balanced in a way that is special for its elegance and long finish without being too smooth or too delicate, there is a subtle vibrancy and grip that tells you that this is a great wine now and will be for many years to come. This wine is pure pleasure and was fantastic with food, and it held its own against the younger and showier 2004 version which was no mean feat I can tell you, as the 2004 is a great wine as well! If you can find this wonderful Nebbiolo, I say get it and love it now or hold it for 4-6 years. (Est. $150-175) 96 Points, grapelive

*Current Release 2004 (94-95 Points, grapelive)

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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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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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




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