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Relic Wines, 2004 Alder Springs Syrah

Date: Tue, Jun 12, 2007 Wine Tasting



Winemakers looking to make great Syrah should take a page out of Relic Wines owner/winemaker Mike Hirby's book. Furthermore, readers traveling to the Napa Valley should try to schedule a tasting with Mike. If the thought of tasting with the owner and winemaker conjures up images of sitting around a white tablecloth with a stuffy, old, self-important, elitist then you've got the wrong guy. Mike is committed to one thing only when it comes to Relic, and it is not his ego - it is making great wine. When tasting with Mike his passion and enthusiasm for wine are apparent, and his laid back demeanor and affable personality will immediately put you at ease. Currently, he tastes by appointment only at Behrens and Hitchcock, which is at the top of Spring Mountain on the Napa/Sonoma county line. Try to schedule back to back tastings with Relic and B&H, but plan on either spitting or having a designated driver. Spring Mtn. Road is narrow and steep with numerous tight curves.

Before becoming a winemaker, Mike was a sommelier at Primitivo in Colorado Springs. I sat down with him for a brief, virtual interview earlier this week to learn a bit more.

How did you become interested in wine?
I was first introduced to quality wine in college when a friend told me about a wine sale at the local wine shop. We were on a budget, so this was pertinent. I became entranced by a particular bottle of Ridge Zinfandel from Geyserville, and my life has never been the same!

What was your first winemaking gig?
After an ill-fated trip to learn how to make wine in the Cotes Du Rhone in Cairanne, I moved to Napa Valley and started working for Behrens and Hitchcock. I was the Assistant winemaker from 2000-2002. I was hired as the Winemaker for Realm Cellars in 2002.

How did you become involved with Behrens & Hitchcock?
A friend I met at a local wine shop my second day in Napa Valley told me to apply to work harvest at a GREAT winery, not just a good winery, so I called Les, met him in my loaded-down, dented 1988 VW at his winery. He jokes that he took one look at my beat-up car and hired me on the spot, which is more or less true.

Relic's motto is "Modern wines the old way." What is it about using primitive winemaking techniques that compels you to do so?
Making wine the old way, I have a chance to experience the miracle of winemaking - the sense of working with nature and looking through the "magnifying glass" to taste the communion of earth and human endeavor. You could call this terroir. As soon as I start to make a wine simply to sell, the miracle has vanished. By taking the risks that are inherent in "the old way," the wines are not simply products, but expressions of something else entirely. Something ancient.

What is your favorite varietal to work with?
My favorite varietal to work with is Syrah! It can be made so many different ways, with dramatically different results. It is a fantastic paintbrush.

Outside of the B&H umbrella, what is your favorite wine?
Today that would be a 2002 Joseph Roty Mazy-Chambertin enjoyed recently,because it had the modernity of CA Pinot Noir, but with a fantastic focus that I just have not seen in CA. My mind will probably change tomorrow!

What is your favorite appellation outside of California?
Tough question! My favorite appellation outside of the US is probably one of the following depending on the day: Chateauneuf-du-Pape, Chevalier-Montrachet, Chambertin-Clos-du-Beze, or Cote-Rotie.
What is Relic's production?
Relic's 2006 production will be around 750 cases. We may grow to about 1500 cases eventually, but not anytime soon.

Where can readers find Relic wines?
People can buy Relic Wines directly from us via our mailing list! But there are also great restaurants in NY, Las Vegas, and HI that have our wines. Look for Union Square Café in NY and Alec's at the Wynn in Vegas.

Producer: Relic Wines
Wine: 2004 Alder Springs Syrah, Mendecino County
Winemaker: Mike Hirby
Estimated Cost: $54

Tasting Notes: A huge wine. Deep purple to the rim. Notes of white pepper, plum, blueberry, raspberry, smoke and game with grippy tannins. Finish goes on and on. Still very young. Some may find the tannins to be too much at this point, but they will mellow with a little bit of time in the cellar. I have had very few California Syrahs which are its equal. 93 points

Read Full Wine Blog Post

Relic Wines, 2004 Alder Springs Syrah

Date: Tue, Jun 12, 2007 Wine Tasting



Winemakers looking to make great Syrah should take a page out of Relic Wines owner/winemaker Mike Hirby's book. Furthermore, readers traveling to the Napa Valley should try to schedule a tasting with Mike. If the thought of tasting with the owner and winemaker conjures up images of sitting around a white tablecloth with a stuffy, old, self-important, elitist then you've got the wrong guy. Mike is committed to one thing only when it comes to Relic, and it is not his ego - it is making great wine. When tasting with Mike his passion and enthusiasm for wine are apparent, and his laid back demeanor and affable personality will immediately put you at ease. Currently, he tastes by appointment only at Behrens and Hitchcock, which is at the top of Spring Mountain on the Napa/Sonoma county line. Try to schedule back to back tastings with Relic and B&H, but plan on either spitting or having a designated driver. Spring Mtn. Road is narrow and steep with numerous tight curves.

Before becoming a winemaker, Mike was a sommelier at Primitivo in Colorado Springs. I sat down with him for a brief, virtual interview earlier this week to learn a bit more.

How did you become interested in wine?
I was first introduced to quality wine in college when a friend told me about a wine sale at the local wine shop. We were on a budget, so this was pertinent. I became entranced by a particular bottle of Ridge Zinfandel from Geyserville, and my life has never been the same!

What was your first winemaking gig?
After an ill-fated trip to learn how to make wine in the Cotes Du Rhone in Cairanne, I moved to Napa Valley and started working for Behrens and Hitchcock. I was the Assistant winemaker from 2000-2002. I was hired as the Winemaker for Realm Cellars in 2002.

How did you become involved with Behrens & Hitchcock?
A friend I met at a local wine shop my second day in Napa Valley told me to apply to work harvest at a GREAT winery, not just a good winery, so I called Les, met him in my loaded-down, dented 1988 VW at his winery. He jokes that he took one look at my beat-up car and hired me on the spot, which is more or less true.

Relic's motto is "Modern wines the old way." What is it about using primitive winemaking techniques that compels you to do so?
Making wine the old way, I have a chance to experience the miracle of winemaking - the sense of working with nature and looking through the "magnifying glass" to taste the communion of earth and human endeavor. You could call this terroir. As soon as I start to make a wine simply to sell, the miracle has vanished. By taking the risks that are inherent in "the old way," the wines are not simply products, but expressions of something else entirely. Something ancient.

What is your favorite varietal to work with?
My favorite varietal to work with is Syrah! It can be made so many different ways, with dramatically different results. It is a fantastic paintbrush.

Outside of the B&H umbrella, what is your favorite wine?
Today that would be a 2002 Joseph Roty Mazy-Chambertin enjoyed recently,because it had the modernity of CA Pinot Noir, but with a fantastic focus that I just have not seen in CA. My mind will probably change tomorrow!

What is your favorite appellation outside of California?
Tough question! My favorite appellation outside of the US is probably one of the following depending on the day: Chateauneuf-du-Pape, Chevalier-Montrachet, Chambertin-Clos-du-Beze, or Cote-Rotie.
What is Relic's production?
Relic's 2006 production will be around 750 cases. We may grow to about 1500 cases eventually, but not anytime soon.

Where can readers find Relic wines?
People can buy Relic Wines directly from us via our mailing list! But there are also great restaurants in NY, Las Vegas, and HI that have our wines. Look for Union Square Café in NY and Alec's at the Wynn in Vegas.

Producer: Relic Wines
Wine: 2004 Alder Springs Syrah, Mendecino County
Winemaker: Mike Hirby
Estimated Cost: $54

Tasting Notes: A huge wine. Deep purple to the rim. Notes of white pepper, plum, blueberry, raspberry, smoke and game with grippy tannins. Finish goes on and on. Still very young. Some may find the tannins to be too much at this point, but they will mellow with a little bit of time in the cellar. I have had very few California Syrahs which are its equal. 93 points

Read Full Wine Blog Post

Teachworth, 2002 Cabernet Sauvignon Estate Blend

Date: Sun, Jun 3, 2007 Wine Tasting

I consider myself to be a reasonably tough critic. Many times I agree with the most prominent writers, but other times I find myself wondering what the hell all the hype is about. This being my inaugural post, however, I've decided to start out on a high note.

For those who are simply interested in what I think of the wine, and not my experience at the winery, this one is a BUY. It will undoubtedly be one of my highest scoring wines ever at 97 points, and I highly suggest readers get on their mailing list before this producer is discovered by Parker. Full tasting notes are available at the bottom of this post.

The story of tasting with Joan Teachworth should be of interest to anyone with children, and especially to those thinking of having children.

My wife and I travel to the Napa Valley several times a year for tasting. Of late, our travels have been somewhat hampered by the addition of two children over the past three years. Last month, however, we once again made the pilgrimage to the holy land of Cabernet with our two little ones. My sister, brother-in-law, their two little ones, and my father and his girlfriend also made the journey. It was a fun crew, but I very quickly learned that such a group doesn't go well with the private tastings I usually schedule when traveling to the Napa Valley.

I had one such tasting scheduled with Teachworth Winery. Of course, the baby sitter we had arranged pulled a no show, so my wife graciously volunteered to watch the two infants while my sister and I went to the tasting - just as long as we agreed to take the two toddlers. I was hesitant, but the kids seem to entertain each other, so I figured they would just run around on the lawn while my sister and I would enjoy a pleasant tasting with Joan Teachworth.

As soon as we stepped into Joan's home I realized I had made a big mistake in bringing the kids. The Teachworths, you see, are art collectors. Their taste is eclectic, and although displayed in an informal and comfortable way, they have lots of artwork and sculptures throughout the home. Some pieces are worth more than others, but to tell you the truth I couldn't tell which ones were worth $50 and which were worth $50,000 - all I knew was that the kids seemed to be on a search and destroy mission. Although my blood pressure soared to new heights while trying to keep the kids from smashing what might be family heirlooms, Joan was as relaxed as a hippie in a hookah bar.

She poured each of us a glass of the '02 Estate Blend (100% Cabernet Sauvignon) and offered cheese and cherries grown on the property. As I began to take in the nose one of the two kids started banging away on the piano. Although they are both pretty sharp kids neither is a childhood prodigy. After steering them away from the piano we decided it might be best to move to the deck to keep the kids out of trouble. No sooner than Joan had cautioned that the deck was very high (about 35') and could pose a danger to the kids, my niece began climbing up the railing. We pulled her away from the precipitous drop, then my 2 1/2 year old son discovered the retractable screen - THWAP! THWAP! THWAP!

At that point Joan sensed our worry about what they might do next and suggested a walk around the property. We quickly agreed. As we started to walk, things began to get better. It was a beautiful day, my stress level was subsiding, and I finally got a chance to taste from the glass and ask Joan a few questions. The kids darted ahead, but as we approached the bocce ball court (Joan is an avid bocce player) my son came waddling back toward us with a frown on his face. In his saddest and whinniest voice he said, I pee-peed through my diaper and now my pants are wet.

Could this get any worse? Embarrassed, I placed my glass on a barrel and excused myself to go change him. Clearly unfazed Joan said Oh, just take off his pants and let him go in the woods. It's really no big deal.

Upon returning from the car he promptly spilled my wine - on purpose. Luckily, the glass was spared from breaking. Of course, when I picked him up in a failed attempt to keep him from spilling the glass in the first place he screamed and cried as if I were about to beat the tar out of him - never mind that he has never been spanked in his life. Now I just wanted to get out of there. Fast. But Joan insisted that she loves kids, and suggested we go down to the pool where there is a lawn for them to run around on. She poured me a refill, and off we went.

As we made our way down to the pool we talked with Joan a little bit more about her vineyards and winery. It didn't take long, however, for the kids to discover the flower garden and pick some of her flowers. They then raced across the lawn as we tried get a few more words in with Joan. While talking with her I thought I heard a sprinkler head in the background. You know that sound when a sprinkler head returns to it's starting position? At first it sounds like ch-ch-ch-ch with a 1/4 second pause in between the ch's. Then it returns rapid fire chchchchchchchch with no pauses. That was the sound.

A few seconds later I hear my sister shout - Oh my God, a snake! Turns out, my son had found a 5' long rattlesnake at the edge of the lawn and was laughing hysterically while "playing with it." Luckily, he wasn't bitten, and the snake retreated as I cautiously scooped up my son. At that point we decided to not tempt fate anymore than we already had and call it a day. Assuring us that they would be intact upon our return, Joan kindly offered to watch the kids while we went to our next tasting. We declined her offer, of course, and unfortunately had to cancel with Diamond Terrace, which was our next tasting.

The moral of this story is always bring your nanny when traveling to the Napa Valley.

Producer: Teachworth Winery
Wine: Estate Cabernet, 2002
Winemaker: Phil Steinschriber
Estimated Cost: $100

Tasting Notes: Deep purple/black to the rim. Extremely concentrated, but this is no fruit bomb. Alluring nose of blackcurrant, blackberry, plums, lavender, cigar box, new saddle leather and lead pencil. Slowly builds and unfolds in the mouth revealing layer after layer. A backward, brooding, monumental wine. Not for the faint of heart. It will require several years of cellaring before it is ready to drink, but it's clearly a 25 - 30 year wine. One of the best Cabernets I've ever had the pleasure of tasting. 97 points. find it

Read Full Wine Blog Post

Teachworth, 2002 Cabernet Sauvignon Estate Blend

Date: Sun, Jun 3, 2007 Wine Tasting

I consider myself to be a reasonably tough critic. Many times I agree with the most prominent writers, but other times I find myself wondering what the hell all the hype is about. This being my inaugural post, however, I've decided to start out on a high note.

For those who are simply interested in what I think of the wine, and not my experience at the winery, this one is a BUY. It will undoubtedly be one of my highest scoring wines ever at 97 points, and I highly suggest readers get on their mailing list before this producer is discovered by Parker. Full tasting notes are available at the bottom of this post.

The story of tasting with Joan Teachworth should be of interest to anyone with children, and especially to those thinking of having children.

My wife and I travel to the Napa Valley several times a year for tasting. Of late, our travels have been somewhat hampered by the addition of two children over the past three years. Last month, however, we once again made the pilgrimage to the holy land of Cabernet with our two little ones. My sister, brother-in-law, their two little ones, and my father and his girlfriend also made the journey. It was a fun crew, but I very quickly learned that such a group doesn't go well with the private tastings I usually schedule when traveling to the Napa Valley.

I had one such tasting scheduled with Teachworth Winery. Of course, the baby sitter we had arranged pulled a no show, so my wife graciously volunteered to watch the two infants while my sister and I went to the tasting - just as long as we agreed to take the two toddlers. I was hesitant, but the kids seem to entertain each other, so I figured they would just run around on the lawn while my sister and I would enjoy a pleasant tasting with Joan Teachworth.

As soon as we stepped into Joan's home I realized I had made a big mistake in bringing the kids. The Teachworths, you see, are art collectors. Their taste is eclectic, and although displayed in an informal and comfortable way, they have lots of artwork and sculptures throughout the home. Some pieces are worth more than others, but to tell you the truth I couldn't tell which ones were worth $50 and which were worth $50,000 - all I knew was that the kids seemed to be on a search and destroy mission. Although my blood pressure soared to new heights while trying to keep the kids from smashing what might be family heirlooms, Joan was as relaxed as a hippie in a hookah bar.

She poured each of us a glass of the '02 Estate Blend (100% Cabernet Sauvignon) and offered cheese and cherries grown on the property. As I began to take in the nose one of the two kids started banging away on the piano. Although they are both pretty sharp kids neither is a childhood prodigy. After steering them away from the piano we decided it might be best to move to the deck to keep the kids out of trouble. No sooner than Joan had cautioned that the deck was very high (about 35') and could pose a danger to the kids, my niece began climbing up the railing. We pulled her away from the precipitous drop, then my 2 1/2 year old son discovered the retractable screen - THWAP! THWAP! THWAP!

At that point Joan sensed our worry about what they might do next and suggested a walk around the property. We quickly agreed. As we started to walk, things began to get better. It was a beautiful day, my stress level was subsiding, and I finally got a chance to taste from the glass and ask Joan a few questions. The kids darted ahead, but as we approached the bocce ball court (Joan is an avid bocce player) my son came waddling back toward us with a frown on his face. In his saddest and whinniest voice he said, I pee-peed through my diaper and now my pants are wet.

Could this get any worse? Embarrassed, I placed my glass on a barrel and excused myself to go change him. Clearly unfazed Joan said Oh, just take off his pants and let him go in the woods. It's really no big deal.

Upon returning from the car he promptly spilled my wine - on purpose. Luckily, the glass was spared from breaking. Of course, when I picked him up in a failed attempt to keep him from spilling the glass in the first place he screamed and cried as if I were about to beat the tar out of him - never mind that he has never been spanked in his life. Now I just wanted to get out of there. Fast. But Joan insisted that she loves kids, and suggested we go down to the pool where there is a lawn for them to run around on. She poured me a refill, and off we went.

As we made our way down to the pool we talked with Joan a little bit more about her vineyards and winery. It didn't take long, however, for the kids to discover the flower garden and pick some of her flowers. They then raced across the lawn as we tried get a few more words in with Joan. While talking with her I thought I heard a sprinkler head in the background. You know that sound when a sprinkler head returns to it's starting position? At first it sounds like ch-ch-ch-ch with a 1/4 second pause in between the ch's. Then it returns rapid fire chchchchchchchch with no pauses. That was the sound.

A few seconds later I hear my sister shout - Oh my God, a snake! Turns out, my son had found a 5' long rattlesnake at the edge of the lawn and was laughing hysterically while "playing with it." Luckily, he wasn't bitten, and the snake retreated as I cautiously scooped up my son. At that point we decided to not tempt fate anymore than we already had and call it a day. Assuring us that they would be intact upon our return, Joan kindly offered to watch the kids while we went to our next tasting. We declined her offer, of course, and unfortunately had to cancel with Diamond Terrace, which was our next tasting.

The moral of this story is always bring your nanny when traveling to the Napa Valley.

Producer: Teachworth Winery
Wine: Estate Cabernet, 2002
Winemaker: Phil Steinschriber
Estimated Cost: $100

Tasting Notes: Deep purple/black to the rim. Extremely concentrated, but this is no fruit bomb. Alluring nose of blackcurrant, blackberry, plums, lavender, cigar box, new saddle leather and lead pencil. Slowly builds and unfolds in the mouth revealing layer after layer. A backward, brooding, monumental wine. Not for the faint of heart. It will require several years of cellaring before it is ready to drink, but it's clearly a 25 - 30 year wine. One of the best Cabernets I've ever had the pleasure of tasting. 97 points. find it

Read Full Wine Blog Post

Teachworth, 2002 Cabernet Sauvignon Estate Blend

Date: Sun, Jun 3, 2007 Wine Tasting

I consider myself to be a reasonably tough critic. Many times I agree with the most prominent writers, but other times I find myself wondering what the hell all the hype is about. This being my inaugural post, however, I've decided to start out on a high note.

For those who are simply interested in what I think of the wine, and not my experience at the winery, this one is a BUY. It will undoubtedly be one of my highest scoring wines ever at 97 points, and I highly suggest readers get on their mailing list before this producer is discovered by Parker. Full tasting notes are available at the bottom of this post.

The story of tasting with Joan Teachworth should be of interest to anyone with children, and especially to those thinking of having children.

My wife and I travel to the Napa Valley several times a year for tasting. Of late, our travels have been somewhat hampered by the addition of two children over the past three years. Last month, however, we once again made the pilgrimage to the holy land of Cabernet with our two little ones. My sister, brother-in-law, their two little ones, and my father and his girlfriend also made the journey. It was a fun crew, but I very quickly learned that such a group doesn't go well with the private tastings I usually schedule when traveling to the Napa Valley.

I had one such tasting scheduled with Teachworth Winery. Of course, the baby sitter we had arranged pulled a no show, so my wife graciously volunteered to watch the two infants while my sister and I went to the tasting - just as long as we agreed to take the two toddlers. I was hesitant, but the kids seem to entertain each other, so I figured they would just run around on the lawn while my sister and I would enjoy a pleasant tasting with Joan Teachworth.

As soon as we stepped into Joan's home I realized I had made a big mistake in bringing the kids. The Teachworths, you see, are art collectors. Their taste is eclectic, and although displayed in an informal and comfortable way, they have lots of artwork and sculptures throughout the home. Some pieces are worth more than others, but to tell you the truth I couldn't tell which ones were worth $50 and which were worth $50,000 - all I knew was that the kids seemed to be on a search and destroy mission. Although my blood pressure soared to new heights while trying to keep the kids from smashing what might be family heirlooms, Joan was as relaxed as a hippie in a hookah bar.

She poured each of us a glass of the '02 Estate Blend (100% Cabernet Sauvignon) and offered cheese and cherries grown on the property. As I began to take in the nose one of the two kids started banging away on the piano. Although they are both pretty sharp kids neither is a childhood prodigy. After steering them away from the piano we decided it might be best to move to the deck to keep the kids out of trouble. No sooner than Joan had cautioned that the deck was very high (about 35') and could pose a danger to the kids, my niece began climbing up the railing. We pulled her away from the precipitous drop, then my 2 1/2 year old son discovered the retractable screen - THWAP! THWAP! THWAP!

At that point Joan sensed our worry about what they might do next and suggested a walk around the property. We quickly agreed. As we started to walk, things began to get better. It was a beautiful day, my stress level was subsiding, and I finally got a chance to taste from the glass and ask Joan a few questions. The kids darted ahead, but as we approached the bocce ball court (Joan is an avid bocce player) my son came waddling back toward us with a frown on his face. In his saddest and whinniest voice he said, I pee-peed through my diaper and now my pants are wet.

Could this get any worse? Embarrassed, I placed my glass on a barrel and excused myself to go change him. Clearly unfazed Joan said Oh, just take off his pants and let him go in the woods. It's really no big deal.

Upon returning from the car he promptly spilled my wine - on purpose. Luckily, the glass was spared from breaking. Of course, when I picked him up in a failed attempt to keep him from spilling the glass in the first place he screamed and cried as if I were about to beat the tar out of him - never mind that he has never been spanked in his life. Now I just wanted to get out of there. Fast. But Joan insisted that she loves kids, and suggested we go down to the pool where there is a lawn for them to run around on. She poured me a refill, and off we went.

As we made our way down to the pool we talked with Joan a little bit more about her vineyards and winery. It didn't take long, however, for the kids to discover the flower garden and pick some of her flowers. They then raced across the lawn as we tried get a few more words in with Joan. While talking with her I thought I heard a sprinkler head in the background. You know that sound when a sprinkler head returns to it's starting position? At first it sounds like ch-ch-ch-ch with a 1/4 second pause in between the ch's. Then it returns rapid fire chchchchchchchch with no pauses. That was the sound.

A few seconds later I hear my sister shout - Oh my God, a snake! Turns out, my son had found a 5' long rattlesnake at the edge of the lawn and was laughing hysterically while "playing with it." Luckily, he wasn't bitten, and the snake retreated as I cautiously scooped up my son. At that point we decided to not tempt fate anymore than we already had and call it a day. Assuring us that they would be intact upon our return, Joan kindly offered to watch the kids while we went to our next tasting. We declined her offer, of course, and unfortunately had to cancel with Diamond Terrace, which was our next tasting.

The moral of this story is always bring your nanny when traveling to the Napa Valley.

Producer: Teachworth Winery
Wine: Estate Cabernet, 2002
Winemaker: Phil Steinschriber
Estimated Cost: $100

Tasting Notes: Deep purple/black to the rim. Extremely concentrated, but this is no fruit bomb. Alluring nose of blackcurrant, blackberry, plums, lavender, cigar box, new saddle leather and lead pencil. Slowly builds and unfolds in the mouth revealing layer after layer. A backward, brooding, monumental wine. Not for the faint of heart. It will require several years of cellaring before it is ready to drink, but it's clearly a 25 - 30 year wine. One of the best Cabernets I've ever had the pleasure of tasting. 97 points. find it

Read Full Wine Blog Post


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