My wife and I attended a tasting this weekend as our Valentine’s Day gift to each other. This was the second time we attended this particular tasting and find it to be an incredible value for the wines presented. The tasting is small featuring roughly 40-50 wines from all over (slightly USA-centric), with many different styles available. Below are some of my extremely brief notes on the more memorable wines of the evening (in no particular order):
2006 Coniglio Diamond Mountain Merlot ($40): It’s “merlot-ness” is apparent, but the structure and texture are impressive. 89 pts.
2005 Coniglio Napa Cabernet Sauvignon ($30): The merlot had more guts, but this certainly delivers Napa Cabernet character for the price point. 88 pts.
2008 Frank Family Vineyards Napa Cabernet Sauvignon ($50): Tasted side by with the Coniglios and on this night, this one stood above the rest. Dark fruits and some herbal notes with good structure and smooth tannins. 90 pts.
2008 Justin Isosceles ($59): Definitely a crowd pleaser, but it tastes like they left in a good helping of residual sugar. In a big sturdy wine like this, I am skeptical when they taste sweet because “rs” (residual sugar) tends to be used like make-up to disguise an otherwise unimpressive wine; still great. 91 pts.
2008 Casa Lapostolle Clos Apalta ($84): Even the snootiest of wine aficionados would have to admit that this wine is well made and delivers the goods on a silver platter. In a tasting of 40+ wines, I tend to pour out a lot to limit my intake, but I took the time to savor this one. 91+ pts.
Non-vintage Justin Obtuse Port ($29): This Cabernet based fortified wine was surprisingly and pleasantly un-sweet. Some toasty character, but I would suggest eating dessert with it. It is a bit much to take all alone. 87 pts.
Chocolate Shop ($11): This is not wine. No score. Tastes like tootsie rolls.
2008 Klinker Brick Old Vine Zinfandel ($18): OMG! May be the best Zinfandel I’ve ever tasted for the money. Dark brooding fruits and perfect balance and complexity, For The Win! 91 pts.
2009 Klinker Brick Farrah’s Syrah ($18): Also very good, but the Zin stole my heart this time. Definitely a worthwhile value Syrah. 89 pts.
2007 Spring Valley Vineyards “Frederick” ($47): Cabernet Sauvignon. Comes across as very young (read: bright and tannic) but with a ton of potential. Needs cellar time, probably 3-4 years. The brightness and good acidic backbone remind me of a Barolo. 90+ pts.
2006 Col Salare ($62): Cabernet Sauvignon. Darker and more luscious than the Spring Valley, but didn’t ring my bell quite as well. 89+ pts.
2009 Erath Estate Pinot Noir ($33): Good representation of Oregon Pinot Noir; more delicate than many from California but retains good concentration and length of flavors. 88 pts.
2007 Franciscan “Stylus” ($45): They claimed this is normally a $100 bottle, and it is very good; I just don’t know about a whole $100 of my hard-earned dollars. Certainly worth $45 for a nice home-cooked meal in a few years. 90+ pts.
2009 Beringer Knights Valley Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon ($56): A lot of regular wine drinkers might not even be aware that Beringer makes some higher end wines, but this one is a blockbuster. If you love the inviting structured fruit, well-integrated oak, and a future full of complexity, then Sonoma Cabernet may be right in your wheelhouse. Sort of brambly and young now, but I would say buy 2 and drink one now and one in 8 years. 92+ pts.
2007 Sbragia Dry Creek Cabernet Sauvignon ($28): After tasting this wine, I would have guessed it to be in the $50-60 range. When I found out it was under $30, I was fairly floored. This is another wonderful Sonoma Cab; consider it a younger brother to the Beringer. 89 pts.
2009 Bodegas Penalba Lopez Ribera Del Duero Finca Torremilanos ($15): You could easily enjoy this wine and finish the bottle in the time it would take you to pronounce the name. Good complexity and full of flavor for this price point. 88 pts.
2009 Hope Family Wines Treana Red Wine ($30): The label on this bottle is sort of goofy looking, but I was surprised at the quality. Well made Cab blend that drinks just fine all by itself, or would perfectly compliment any manner of hearty dishes. 89 pts.
2006 Steltzner Stags Leap Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon ($80): This wine is dynamite, but at the same time hard to appreciate at this point. When a wine is built for greatness (high extraction, a fair amount of oak, high tannins, etc.) it will be in relative balance throughout its life, meaning that no single aspect will stick out no matter when you drink it. At this point, however, all of the flavors seem sort of simplistic and muted. I would give this one 10 years at least and I can almost guarantee that it will blossom into a sexy seductress of a wine. 91+ pts. now, could be 94-96 pts. given that you pop it at the right moment.
2009 Cellar Cal Pla Mas D’en Compte Porrera Black Slate Priorat ($20): For the price, this is the clear winner of the evening. It smells like a bowl of roses and is perfectly balanced on the palate with a finish that goes on for days. Imagine eating a bowl of black cherries in a cedar lined closet with a bouquet of flowers in your hand and you’re half way there. 92 pts.
2005 Rocche Costamagna Barolo ($29): For thirty dollars, this had a lot of the good character of a Barolo. The trouble is, I can’t tell if it is just too young or if it might not have the stuffing necessary to outlive the tannins and the fruit and spice will die before it smooths out. 88 pts.
2009 Chateau Foria Chateauneuf Du Pape ($40): Another stand out wine of the evening. I actually re-tasted this one at the end of the night to relive the wonderfully integrated oak and vanilla character along with the spice box and leather character that is beginning to become apparent. Harmony in a glass. 92 pts.
2007 Viader ($100): This wine is way too young to even say much about. The couple next to us were gushing about it, but I felt it to be extremely tight and muted at this point. I can tell it is well made by the balance and good acidity, but not much else can be said at this point. 90+ pts.
2007 Dare by Viader ($45): This wine is so named to help people remember how to pronounce Viader . Meant to be the baby brother of the namesake above, this one is much more approachable at this point with more resolved tannins and secondary flavors and aromas. Certainly a good Cab for the price and prestige. 90 pts.
2009 Chateau La Croix De Berney Puisseguin-St. Emilion Bordeaux ($20): Sorry to end on a down note, but this wine seemed sort of grapey and one-dimensional to me. Would probably be a good Tuesday night pizza wine. 86 pts.
That pretty much wraps it up. The good news is that if you live in Ohio, there are currently distributors with these wines available, so feel free to ask for them at your local wine shop if you feel so inclined. Cheers to my longest post to date (congrats if you made it this far), and Happy Valentine’s Day!
P.S. I type this as my lovely wife prepares a home-cooked meal of scallops fettucine alfredo
I have a few quick reviews jotted down at wine shop tastings and other such events where I didn’t exactly take the time to mull over the details. I tasted these wines probably over the last 6 months or so. I present them here in an unedited format for your enjoyment:
The following are from a Coturri Winery Tasting:
Rose’ – Great acidity w/ grapefruit and pear. 89 pts.
06′ Pinot Jewell Vineyards – Dark and jammy. Doesn’t taste like a Pinot but good. 88 pts.
Merlot – Drinkable. 85 pts.
Sandocino – Pretty awesome, blueberries and smoke. Great balance but tannins need time to resolve. 90 pts.
Petit Sirah – Licorice, black cherry, and Swedish Fish. Oaky, delicious. 89 pts.
Primitivo – Stinky and smoky. Cola and black raspberries. (no score given)
Other odds and ends from various tastings:
08′ Sineann Pinot, $38 – Smells jammy, little lake water with oak on top. Some cherries, alcohol apparent. Overdone. 86+ pts.
07′ Federalist Zinfandel, $29 – Aromatically challenged. Some zin character comes through with a punch of fruit. Slightly muddled. 87+ pts.
03′ Ridge Del Carlo – Big earthy nose. Slightly browning at the edge of the glass. Smells incredible and you can tell it has some age. Big mouthfeel, very elegant and well-balanced in its bigness. Still a little cloying. Truckloads of fruit and complexity in the mid-palate. Some pepper and mint. (no score given)
07′ Silver Oak Alexander Valley Cabernet, $70 – Aroma is very big and concentrated with an oak blanket. Currants and blueberries with an herbal quality. Bright acidity, very well-balanced. Lots of tannin, but has lots of everything. Will be fantastic. 92+ pts.
Hope you enjoyed the uncut, unrated wine reviews. I apologize for any grammatical atrocities. Cheers!
So on this wonderful Saturday morning I’m sitting here browsing the web and I came up with the idea for a “safe bet” list of wineries that I feel could be very helpful to my readers in a more broadly ranging and general sense than my otherwise very specific wine reviews. This list comprises wineries with which I feel I am very familiar and is limited to those who I feel offer very consistent quality and value at their respective price points. My goal here is to put these wineries’ names somewhere back in your mind so that the next time you are at the grocery store or wine shop, you might just recognize a few of these labels and be confident that the wine in the bottle will be well made and enjoyable for whatever occasion might call for it. I took the extra step of pairing this list down to wineries from which I have never had a disappointing wine. Please also feel free to add your comments on any additional wineries you might be fond of and be sure to include the price range of their offerings:
Price Range: $5-$25
Mumm Napa (primarily sparklers) Mumm Napa Website
Casillero Del Diablo (division of Concha Y Toro, Chilean reds and whites) Casillero Del Diablo Website
Price Range: $20-$40
Coturri (very rustic wines, “sulfite free”, and various varietal wines) Coturrio Website
Mollydooker (readily available fruit bombs from Australia) Mollydooker Website
Michael David (famous for 7 Deadly Zins and Petit Petit ‘petit sirah’) Michael David Website
Gundlach Bunschu (‘gun-lock bun-shoe’, good red blends and cabs from Sonoma) GunBun Website jjj
Alexander Valley Vineyards (their cabernets taste more expensive than their price, a good thing) AVV Website
Price Range: $40+ (I could list a ton in this category, but have stayed with those that are readily available)
Silverado Vineyards (cabernets and super-tuscan blends from Napa) Silverado Website
I may augment this list in the future, but I feel this is a good starting point. Let me know if you have had or do have any of these wines, and give me an earful if you think they were junk (you won’t ).
Welcome back everyone and raise a glass to 2012! Ok, now that I have all the exclamation points out-of-the-way, I would like to apologize for my unannounced hiatus (last post in Mid Movember). I suppose I underestimated how busy I could be throughout that most hectic and stressful time of year. I hope you had a wonderful round of holidays and are completely refreshed to dive headlong into the new year. I am going to use this post to float a few topics out there, some related to what I have been up to (read: drinking) and a few tidbits about the current world of wine as well as some potential additions to the realm of possibilities here at GrapesRGreat.com.
So a quick summary of recent quaff worth talking about is probably due. For thanksgiving my wife and I opened a bottle of 2007 Chronicle Cerise Vineyard Pinot Noir that was purchased through Lot18, which is a quickly growing website that does a fantastic job of presenting customers from little tucked away corners of the US (Ohio) access small production wines that may not be available via direct shipping or through local distribution. I highly recommend you check it out, and no I am not paid for the endorsement. The Pinot was absolutely fantastic but would certainly benefit from a year or 2 more of cellaring (Visit Chronicle Wines Here). We also had a bottle of 2005 Saddleback Cellars Napa Cabernet, also a real blockbuster. Nils Venge is the Owner and Winemaker at Saddleback and started the winery in 1985, the same year he produced the first ever 100 point score from Robert Parker for a Californian wine with the 1985 Groth Reserve Cabernet. Other highlights include snagging a bottle 1990 Veuve Cliquot Grand Reserve Champagne from a local retailer when I asked about vintage Champagnes. The wine was actually from his private home cellar and I got it for a more than reasonable price given the incredible pedigree. The bottle was a gift for a close family friend who adores Champagne I am forever indebted to Chris and Urmila at Rumbleseat Wine in Dayton, Ohio for their continued hospitality and over the top customer service.
After Christmas my wife and I went to St. Louis to visit my family and picked up a bottle of Boulevard Brewing’s Saison-Brett limited edition brew (Boulevard is a Kansas City based brewery and is not distributed in Ohio :*( ). The beer is a Saison style farmhouse ale inoculated with “Brett” or the brettanomyces yeast strain responsible (controversially so) for much of the barnyard-y and earthy qualities found in many a French wine. Although it is considered a spoilage yeast, many wineries (and now breweries) use it in a controlled fashion to add character and complexities to their wines and beers. When we got back from our trip we poured it around to our friends at Rumbleseat Wine and it was really yummy and wonderful. The hoppy character plays off the earthiness of the Brett very well and the whole become more than the sum of the parts.
Along the way, we also drank a 2006 Coturri Freiberg Zinfandel, a perennial favorite with dark stewed plums on the nose but tons of big fruit on the palate; and a 2001 Gundlach Bunschu Cabernet Sauvignon which developed into a monster of complex layers with toast and smoke, I actually guessed that it had some Syrah in it before I knew what I was drinking. All in all, I have no complaints about the wines during this holiday season.
In other news, the 2009 Kosta Browne Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir was named wine of the year by Wine Spectator, so don’t count on ever finding any and 2009 was declared possibly the best vintage ever for California Pinot, so grab it while you can! Especially since you will not likely be having any Bordeaux First-Growths as the 2010 futures broke pricing records when the cheapest of these were set to release at 600 Euros ($765 US). 2 things, 1) that is a futures price, so folks are betting the price will go up by the time the wines are actually released and 2) that is a per bottle price. . . amazing.
Thirdly, and finally, if you have read this far, I want you all to look at the right side of this page and sign up for the email updates to ensure you never miss a beat and are getting all of the wine tasting reviews and any other exciting news here at GrapesRGreat.com. I am currently toying around with a few different things I may be adding to the blog including entries covering breaking news in the wine industry and legislation affecting how you buy wine, hot deals I see and where to find them, and possibly most exciting I may be doing a raffle with a real prize in the near future. So stay tuned!
At this point, Williams-Selyem has popped up on this blog several times and I think it is fair to say that I am a fan (see my first post with a little history here). Until now, however, I never had the privilege of visiting the winery. The building you see in the picture is fairly new and represents a years long effort by Williams-Selyem to build a tasting room and cellar (with bottling line) in order to properly welcome loyal customers and offer them a unique wine tasting experience. The reason I have elected to nominate them for the Red Carpet Award comes from the fact that they only hold tastings for members of their mailing list (not waiting list) and, more importantly, they only hold tastings for one reservation at a time. This means that the entire building, grounds, cellar, and all were in existence solely for the indulgent purposes of my wife and I (and the tour guide/pourer) during our 90 minute visit. The tour guide was very knowledgeable and showed that he knew exactly what to do when he quickly poured us the first wine before we took off on our tour. The unfortunate piece is that the wine is not actually produced here, just bottled and cellared, but they do have quite the venue for get togethers and harvest parties etc. My wife (pictured) and I are toying with the idea of making a trip out to Williams-Selyem in the spring for their “Pigs and Pinot” event (my 2 favorite things ) in which they routinely pop magnums and other large formats of famous WS bottlings from their library collection. After the tour we came back to our (I mean our) tasting bar where we finished up the library tasting of 5-6 Pinots (all wonderful and worthy of the praise they receive) at which point we were offered any of the wines we had just tasted including one extremely small production and available only at the winery, estate pinot (bought one!!!!) The tasting, the views, and the tour are all 100% free of charge and it is difficult to not feel at least a little special when you leave through their wrought iron gate at the entrance on westside road. I guess it is bittersweet that you cannot see the building from outside the gate.
For anyone on their mailer, it is worth the trip out to feel like royalty if just for a moment. Secondly, if you are on the mailer and take a friend to the tasting, they are eligible to be added to the list right there at the winery and “skip the line” so to say. It is just their way of saying thanks for taking the time to visit.
As a sidenote, longtime winemaker Bob Cabral of WS recently received the Winemaker of the Year Award from Wine Enthusiast so their wines are sure to be that much harder to acquire in the future. Has anyone out there had any Williams-Selyem and want to chime in?
After a long and exhaustive week of wine tasting, I have to admit that I did not document every wine we tried, although I will say that it likely numbered over 100. I think this will go to improve the credibility of the chosen favorites as they were given the task of sticking in my mind for all this time in order to make the cut. The reason for having 2 first place wines is mostly because the two wines given this honor could not be more different, and yet they are both equally wonderful. One is a delightfully luscious, though a bright and complex wine from Sonoma and the other is a dark and sinful tasting wine from Napa’s Spring Mountain with plenty of oak to match the towering tannin structure that will need significant time to develop. At this time I will not attempt a full review as specific notes were not taken at the time of tasting (I was on vacation after all), but in 5 or 10 years when I open these gems, I’ll get back to you on the details. On with the awards!
Best of Show wines tasted
1)2009 Rochioli Estate Pinot Noir – Absolutely wonderful Pinot with elegance, complexity, and power www.rochioliwinery.com
1)2007 Juslyn Spring Mountain Estate Cabernet – I have really high hopes for this one, dark and complex and super concentrated now www.juslynvineyards.com
2009 Ridge Pagani Ranch Zinfandel – This one gets some bonus points for only being $35! www.ridgewine.com
2008 Williams-Selyem Westside Road Neighbors – Not as juicy as some other Cali Pinots, more complexity than most. www.williamsselyem.com
Leave me a comment if you have had any incredible California wines recently and let me know what you thought!
A.K.A. Best Passive Aggressive Tasting: Hartford is one of the wineries my wife Cat and I decided to visit again, having first tasted there during our honeymoon. They make absolutely wonderful Russian River (and Green Valley of Russian River, a lesser known and used sub-appellation) Pinots and Zinfandels. They also make some purportedly good Chardonnays but I am not as good a judge of those because I tend to pass on most of them. Cat was hesitant to re-visit for the very reason that they are being honored with this award. During our first visit the pourer working the tasting bar spoke much less of how great Hartford’s wines and much more about how all the neighboring and better known wineries use inferior grapes and cut corners in production. In my eyes this isn’t exactly the best marketing strategy. During this second trip, and based on the quality of the wines, I was willing and eager to give them a second try. I thought that it was likely just that one pourer that had the cynical attitude and had drunk all that Haterade. At this point I suspect you can see where this story is going. . . The wines were equally as stunning the second time around, however, the help was as snarky as ever, spending at least 10 minutes talking down to the likes of Williams-Selyem and Rochioli. The pourer made the claim that the idea that Williams-Selyem and Rochioli need to limit their mailing list customers because of limited wine supply is all a marketing ploy to boost sales and that both of those wineries make plenty of wine for as many people as would want it. She said that Hartford could play that game too if they wanted and it would be just as effective, but their wines are so good that they don’t need ploys to sell their wine.
Sorry if I am rambling at this point, but I know for a fact that Williams-Selyem produces 15,000 cases of wine a year (30 different bottlings) and has 20,000 mailing list customers. On top of that, they reserve something like 10-15% of their wines for library releases (at the winery they only pour and sell ”library” wines, meaning past releases with some cellar age) and have several restaurant and some retailer accounts throughout the country. Do the math and figure each of their mailing list customers have less than a case a year with their name on it and it seems realistic that their wines are hard to find.
Rochioli is an even more dire situation with their mailing list only single vineyard wines. They make 5 different “single vineyard” wines and the largest production amount of any of them is 350 cases! That is something like 1100 cases for the entire country. That, is why it takes 4 years to get on their list, you have to wait for enough old geezers to kick the bucket before you can get in on the action.
I am not denying that having a mile long waiting list to get on a very short mailing list does lend itself to some hype of a winery, but you don’t get that many people willing to pay that much for your wine in the first place without having the goods. To summarize, Hartford really does make superb wine, but they sure know it. Oh, and they don’t ship to Ohio, so the only way for me to acquire their wines is to visit. Take a look at the website www.hartfordwines.com and note that the first link is “acclaim”.
So my wife and I are now back to reality after our 7 indulgent days in Sonoma, and in order to have a sufficiently brief recap, I thought I would create some “awards” for the places and events of the trip. I hope to give any potential travellers to the northern California wine country some tips and tricks so you can skip the duds and have the best experience:
Best Free Tasting: J. Rochioli Vineyards and Winery (tasting room pictured at right) - The Rochioli property is some of the most coveted Pinot ground in all of the Russian River as well as California. Their single vineyard estate wines currently have a 5 year waiting list and are only available through their mailing list. The tasting at the winery, however, consists of the regular lineup of “estate” wines, which vary by the time of year. The 2009 Estate Pinot Noir we tasted on this trip could very well have been the best wine we tasted the entire trip. In addition, we tasted their Estate Chardonnay and a Syrah blend. I will say that these wines (even the Estate “blends”) are not exactly inexpensive, with the Estate Pinot going for $52/btl. at the winery. Contrast that with the fact that if you should ever find a bottle of this pinot on the shelf at retail, it will easily go for $100 or more. I do not plan on reviewing each of the wines I tasted, but I can say that the 09′ Rochioli Estate Pinot is a 94-96 point wine, depending on when you decide to open it.
$42 (plus $18 shipping!), 14.6%: This wine has a soft spot in my heart and I originally tasted it at the Sonoma County Harvest Fair during my honeymoon and the wine was being poured by the winemaker himself. They produce 150-500 cases (depending on crop) of 3 separate pinot noirs. One of them is completely sourced from the O’Connell vineyard, one solely from the Hallberg vineyard, and one which represents a combination of the two. This “Burgonet” is produced using a 9-barrel (totaling 210 cases) selection from the O’Connell vineyards and was my favorite of the 3 when my wife and I tasted them in Sonoma. Strange enough, the winemaker told us that men tend to prefer the O’Connell vineyard wine and women the “Three Plumes” from the Hallberg vineyard. This proved to be true. . . weird. Get on with it man. . .
The wine has a very delicate color to it, but very brilliant with a ever-so-slight tawny. The aromatics of this wine are well refined; very earthy with some stink (read: barnyard-y like so many French pinots). Cinnamon and clove are also easy to pick out and speak of the impressive delicious factor that I remember this wine previously possessing. On the palate this wine has a delicious minerality that really makes your mouth water (and tend to drink it too quickly ). This wine seems somewhat disjointed at this point with the fruit falling off somewhat in the finish and being replaced by some heat; it maybe nearing the end of its life but I still get some of the pie seasonings and tasty red raspberries with a long lingering finish. I also have a bottle of the 2007 Burgonet in my cellar, may be time to enjoy . . . I plan to have a long lasting relationship with this winery. 91- pts.
So I don’t know if you feel the same way I do, but if you have spent any time reading wine reviews in publications such as Wine Spectator or Wine Enthusiast, they will frequently review really old or rare wines (such as the 99′ Hartford Court Sevens Bench Vineyard Carneros Pinot Noir that I am about to review, or something like a 47′ Chateau d’Yquem). I sort of see these reviews as moot in most instances simply because the reader will likely never drink the wine in question. I suppose that some read the reviews strictly for entertainment (guilltyyyyyy!!!!) but the primary purpose is to help consumers choose wine with some information on wine style and quality before dropping any coin. If you have any particular feelings on this issue, let me know in the comments.
1999 Hartford Court Sevens Bench Vineyard Carneros Pinot Noir; 14.1% alc., (purchased in charity auction): This is the maiden bottling of this particular pinot from a very well-respected pinot and zin producer from Sonoma, CA. The wine is surprising young tasting without any of the port-like character I might expect. Still juicy, the wine is not very fruity at this point, but seems to have lost some of the elegance and complexity that it might have once had. Nice spice though. 12 years might have been a few too long, but definitely enjoyable. 89- pts. So much for rapid, ha.