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I wanted to let everyone know that dougwilder - the purely domestic wine blog has migrated to http://www.wildernapavalley.com and is now fully integrated as the front page of my website. Blogger was a short term option to get my content up quickly but I began to get dissatisfied with its limitations. I switched to www.squarespace.com and am excited about the flexibility.
Barring any major problems with the conversion short of minor tweaking in the next couple days, it should be a massive improvement. For all of the followers who are here now, I will be able to have you added to the new site within a few days. Thanks for hanging on in the early months of the blog, you gave me the encouragement to keep pursuing the top wines to tell you about.
In a survey conducted last year, one of the questions I asked readers was if they would like to be directed to retailers who carried the wines I recommended and reviewed. Nearly 80% answered yes. So over the past two months I have been working with a couple retailers who understand the domestic wine business to create affiliate programs giving you a ready resource for locating the small allocations of wine I review. Eventually I should be able to link you directly to the order module for the wines I review at any of several major retailers.
Thanks again for visiting my blog and all of the support and enthusiasm.
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I want to bring my readers up to speed on what I will be doing shortly, some of it will be fairly time intensive. This week I am working on the first of what I hope will be several comprehensive themed reviews within the month that we can all sink our teeth into. As the image (left) describes, I am preparing to taste through all of the wines represented by the Rutherford Dust Society arranged with the formidable assistance and tenacity of their PR department at Balzac Communications who is acting as chief wine wrangler. I always love going to their annual trade tasting held fittingly at Rubicon Estate, one of the most historic sites in the appellation, the former Inglenook Estate, which produced its first wine in 1882, a few years before building the structure which still stands today.
Now that the holidays are finally over, more samples from Rutherford Dust members seem to arrive every day and about 1/3 of the producers have been received. So a big thank you to all who have sent wine so far. I actually had to step over boxes of wine in front of my door yesterday. A very good sign, I will begin writing those notes either tomorrow or first part of next week.
Over the next two days I will be heading off to taste the 2007 Semper Pinot Noir, from Tuck Beckstoffer, (son of Andy) made by none other than Kenneth Juhasz, followed by an in depth visit with Shane Finley of Shane Wines and (maybe) Michael Browne of Kosta Browne on Friday. On Monday, I head over the hill again to taste the first wines with Peter Michael alum, Bill Vyenielo from his new brand Baton, made by Jeff Pisoni, (son of Gary). I may even try to stop by Bedrock Wine Company, and taste with Morgan Peterson (son of Ravenswood founder, Joel).
So if you don't hear from me over the next week, at least you will know I am out there pulling together some potentially great content for the blog.
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Kenneth Juhasz and the Auteur wines continue to impress me. I tasted all of these wines as barrel samples in the summer and have had them once since then at a dinner with the winemaker and clients in early November. It is very difficult for me to taste wines objectively in a social setting, especially these since they tend to take several hours, or even days to reach their zenith after opening. So I tasted the fall releases again at the end of the year and I find even more to like.
My admiration of Auteur goes back to their premiere release, in 2005, with a pair of 2003 Oregon Pinot Noir bottling from Momtasi Vineyard, 77 cases and Hyland Vineyard, 145 cases. What impressed me then was just how solid, and pure the wines appeared. The small production wines scored DW 93, and DW 92, respectively. The following vintage provided more of the same with addition of a 2004 Shea Vineyard Pinot Noir, 72 cases, DW 92, and the 2004 Hyland Vineyard Pinot Noir, 195 cases, DW 93.
But it was the 2005 and 2006 vintages that resulted in some of the most profound experiences I have had in nearly two decades as a wine professional.
The 2005 Pinot Noir from Hyland Vineyard, 125 cases, 95 points and 2005 Shea Vineyard, 171 cases, 100 points, both sourced from Oregon's Willamette Valley, as well as the premiere release of Kenneth's first California Pinot Noir, Sonoma Stage Vineyard, 72 cases, DW 96, from Sonoma Coast catapulted Kenneth and Auteur to my top recognition for the year.
The 2006 vintage was a watershed vintage when it came to Auteur Pinot Noir. Not only did the Shea Vineyard, 313 cases repeat as a DW 100, it was joined by two others from this producer with the same perfect score; Sonoma Stage Vineyard, 146 cases, DW 100 and the premiere of Manchester Ridge Vineyard, Mendocino Coast, 67 cases, DW 100. Rounding out the assortment was the 2006 Hyland Vineyard, 291 cases, DW 95. I'll say it right here, these are the only wines that ever made me cry, mostly because they kept evolving in complexity over three days and simply refused to give in to becoming thin, bitter and dry over that time.
As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, I previously tasted the 2007 Auteur releases as barrel samples and scored them as follows:
2007 Donum Vineyard; DW 92-94
2007 Hyde Vineyard; DW 93-95
2007 Ophelia; DW 92-94
2007 Hyland Vineyard; DW 84-86
2007 Shea Vineyard; DW 94-96
2007 Sonoma Stage Vineyard; DW 95-97
2007 Manchester Ridge Vineyard; DW 98-100
I had one followup tasting in October with the 2007 Auteur Chardonnay Donum Vineyard and it was stunningly complex. Here now are my official impressions on the three Fall releases of Auteur tasted in late December. The wines were finished, fresh, capsuled samples and were tasted over three consecutive days. Samples were not gassed at any time after initial opening. Tasting impressions were taken over 48+ hours and the reported notes represent the composite conclusions.
2007 Auteur Chardonnay Donum Vineyard, Carneros; $45.00 DW 95
71 cases produced, 14.4% alcohol 30+ year-old Old Wente clone
Aromas: rich, dried apricots with sea salt, meyer lemon rinds, white peach and floral blossoms
Palate: concentrated apricot and peach showing massive weight with salted honeycombs and acidity that flows through the core giving balance
Impression: sadly this is the last vintage the vineyard will produce any fruit and a scant three barrels of this mind-blowing wine were produced to serve as its legacy. beguiling in how it combines the weight and finesse in one glass, the color is nearly that of light olive oil and the concentration is not far behind
2007 Auteur Pinot Noir Ophelia, California/Oregon; $37.00 DW 95
279 cases produced, 14.2% alcohol, 15% california, 85% oregon
Aromas: rose hips, black raspberry, whiffs of melted cocoa, slightly firm red cherry, geranium, briar, lavender, sage, red licorice
Palate: beautifully formed flavors of harmonious, round raspberry, cherry, carbon and violet/ lavender on the slightly firm finish. The acidity becomes more integrated with air taking on silky, well-defined length after 90 minutes
Impression: Auteur's largest production in this release is this beguiling, quintessential "american pinot noir" melded together from three sites in Oregon; the legendary Shea "Back Block", Hyland and Rose Rock, along with the out of this world Manchester Ridge from Mendocino. Keep in mind half of these sources scored 100 points last year in individually designated wines from Auteur. This wine is very clearly not last year's Ophelia which I felt was not up to the level of the designates. Kenneth promised me this vintage would be able to hold its own. I believe him...
2007 Auteur Pinot Noir Sonoma Stage Vineyard, Sonoma Coast; $60.00 DW 96
247 cases produced, 14.4% alcohol
Aromas: blueberry, dried plum, sassafras, violet-dipped juicy black cherries, cola, carbon and salted black licorice
Palate: immediately concentrated with a sense of free falling through a kaleidoscope, showing different flashes as you pick up speed - rich currant, sassafras, pomegranate, cocoa and raspberry. The finish shows pristine lilac-laced acidity providing plenty of focus to the copious fruit impressions
Impression: a boldly dense wine that will no doubt show better on day two, or possibly even three!
The following are the most basic rules to follow when dealing with Auteur:
- The wines seem to get better every vintage
- The evaluations of the barrels are always exceeded by the finished wines
- Patience, patience... what you don't understand, leave for tomorrow or the next day
An announcement about finding wines in the market that I review in my blog
I began writing this blog almost as career therapy in October of last year after leaving one of the most visible roles in domestic retail wines. Following 18 years in the industry, it was infinitely clear that I loved writing about wine and it was the area I could offer the most value to the wine community. I eventually considered several existing models to continue offering my opinion on wine, for various reasons none were appealing.
Whatever I did, I realized it needed to:
- Remove barriers to accessing the information (free to readers)
- Incisively inform, yet be easy to read (written in the same concise, predicatable layout)
- Establish an exclusive online presence rather than print media (a dedicated blog)
- Adhere to high standards of professional integrity (focus on only the best, not reviewing wines falling under 90 points)
- Focus on the emerging, cutting-edge producers of a finite region (don't try to do everything!)
- Lead consistently with early stage independent reviews of new releases (to provide first-to- market value to users)
- Decline advertising from producers (no pop-ups or banners)
- Innovate by concentrating on doing one thing in a whole new way
These principles helped to create a new platform for independent wine reviews on emerging brands; the first professionally written blog dedicated to only domestic wine reviews written from the viticultural center of North America with all content free to readers. It was developed and beta tested for a couple months after launching October 22, 2008. At that time, I mentioned reviews would contain links to selected retailers and wineries for purchasing. Now that testing and evaluation is complete I am beginning that part of the service today.
Until now my recent writing has had very little exposure outside of the blog. Beginning with this post of Auteur notes, the purely domestic wine blog is pleased to announce the first two affiliate retailers in California who will begin featuring selected wines I independently review and recommend. The affiliated network of retailers and wineries will likely grow in 2009 as more wines get tasted and therefore become eligible for reviews. I begin with these particular partners primarily because I have known the principals of each business for nearly ten years each and their dedication to finding the best new domestic selections and being market innovators matches my business philosophy perfectly.
Additionally, in late November, I sent a survey to my list of readers asking a battery of questions about their views on the information they receive from me for wine reviews as well as private wine excursions through Wilder Napa Valley. I found 2/3 of those who responded used my wine reviews for shopping and found my notes were important to compare with critics. In answering the question:
"Would you find it helpful if the review included names of retailers in your area who carried the wine?"
Nearly 78% of responses said yes, emphatically. I will continue to look at other potential partners across the country. For now please meet the wine shops who will begin featuring my recommendations this month.
Northern California: Calwine 1215 Silverado Trail Napa, CA 94559 1.888.225.9463. firstname.lastname@example.org
Calwine stocks over 500 domestic wines primarily from California. Mr. Al Jabarin is the proprietor and has been in business since the late 1990's.
Southern California: Wine Valet 2 Rodeo Drive, Parking Level P-1, Beverly Hills, CA 90210 1.310.274.9224. email@example.com Wine Valet stocks over 200 hand selected domestic and import wines, offering valet parking while shopping. Julie Brosterman is the proprietor of Wine Valet, as well as Women&Wine (womenwine.com), one of the top sites for connecting women and their wine, food, travel and lifestyle experiences.
Please note that ordering and fulfillment for wines is a direct transaction between purchaser and the retailer. Please consult the retailer of your choice to place your order for these limited wines.
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Are you missing some of the most pleasurable wines available?
In the most recent issue of Robert Parker's The Wine Advocate, #180, 12/22/2008, he discusses in the forward of his extensive The Best of California report how each of the major varieties growing in the state stack up.
One area particularly puzzles him, as it does me - that is the overall softness in the Syrah market for wines produced here. He says " ... why can't the ocean of very good (domestic) Syrahs find favor with wine consumers? Probably the most consistent wine of high quality across all price levels, Syrah is being dumped by wholesalers and retailers unable to sell it. This may be the most inexplicable scenario in the domestic wine market given how good and reasonably priced most Syrahs tend to be."
Throughout the year, there have been many excellent examples I have talked about. For the last post of 2008, I offer my impressions on a pair of very well regarded Syrah and Rhone variety producers; Justin Smith of Saxum, located in Paso Robles, and Kent Humphrey of Eric | Kent, located in Santa Rosa.
For serious Syrah fans, Saxum is considered one of the most collectible examples available, albeit highly allocated and rare. My samples of the fall releases came in last week and I broke them open yesterday to see what they were all about. I have had more exposure to Eric | Kent, as he is located just west of me and also produces excellent Pinot Noir in addition to the Syrah. Neither of these guys are making wines for those looking for low-alcohol elegance; they are all over 15.3%, but if you are looking for big, full-bodied wines, consider them on your short list.
Justin Smith got on many radars ten years ago when his partnership with Matt Trevisan at Linne Calodo begin producing highly sought after, high-scoring wines before creating Saxum, his personal brand, in 2002. This is my first official tasting of these wines, though I have seen them at Hospice du Rhone briefly. His fruit sources include the phenomenal James Berry Vineyard, on the west side of Paso Robles. I look at a pair of late fall releases from Saxum, 2006 Broken Stones, a blend 63% Syrah, 24% Grenache, and 13% Mourvedre, and 2006 James Berry Vineyard, 45% Syrah, 38% Grenache and 17% Mourvedre.
2006 Saxum Broken Stones Paso Robles; DW 93
16.3% alcohol; 63% Syrah, 24% Grenache, 13% Mourvedre
Aromas: room-filling rich black and purple stone fruits, carbon, licorice, peppercorn, cinnamon and slightly dried figs
Palate: dimensionally distinctive with alcohol surprising masked behind the "wall of fruit". The flavors range from salt to smoke-kissed blackberry and sweet spices; cinnamon, nutmeg, licorice and bright cherry. The texture through the finish shows firm acidity
Impression: nothing shy here - gives from the get-go and doesn't let up
2006 Saxum James Berry Vineyard Paso Robles; DW 93
16.6% alcohol; 45% Syrah, 38% Grenache, 17% Mourvedre
Aromas: deep carbon with saturated cherry and plum sprinkled with lavender-infused sea salt and wet quartz
Palate: again, quite expansive with full throttle, nearly primal flood of graphite and salt leading to smooth butterscotch and black raspberry on the mid-palate
Impression: Wickedly concentrated, with plenty of viscous, textured flavor elements, again the high alcohol is masked for the most part by the copious fruit body. Strict satisfaction for the fruit hedonista. If you want to stand out in a crowd, here is your weapon...
The relatively demure offerings from Kent Humphrey of Eric | Kent also pack in lots of satisfaction. Humphrey founded his small label in 2003 based in Sonoma County and produces Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Syrah. Each vintage, a different artist is commissioned to design a unique label for every wine in the portfolio.
2006 Eric Kent Syrah Dry Stack Vineyard Bennett Valley; DW 93
15.3% alcohol, 285 cases
Aromas: pomegranate, violet, peppercorn and hints of sweet butter cream
Palate: tightly wound elements of white pepper, blackberry, plum coupled with firm acidity
Impression: very smooth wine with plenty of structure
2006 Eric Kent Kalen's Big Boy Blend Sonoma County; DW 93
15.4% alcoho , 325 cases
Aromas: brooding black cherry, floral notes of profuse, enticing violet and jasmine
Palate: bold strokes of raw power - meat, complex black fruits, espresso
Impression: A big, intense wine with some sophisticated elements
Both of these wines are small production and in tight supply. Eric | Kent wines may be ordered directly from the winery website: www.erickentwines.com
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Wow, I expected to get the notes from Pinot Fest at Farallon posted earlier this month but it kept getting placed on the to do list while I searched for my notes that were misplaced when I moved my office. I finally recovered the notes this week and am happy to get this out before the end of the year.
Farallon is a huge supporter of the Pinot Fest, now in its 10th year attracting close to sixty producers for the two day run last month. I was fortunate to attend the trade portion on Friday thanks to intervention from the gracious host, Peter Palmer of Farallon.
Unfortunately there wasn't time to taste everything and I was still fighting a bit of a sore throat so moved a little more deliberately than usual through the offerings.
2006 Bonaccorsi Pinot Noir Santa Rita Hills; DW 92
Aromas: red licorice, violet, sweet cherry
Palate: firm, focused with well structured texture
Impression: shows all of the attributes of something to lay down for three years
2006 Bonaccorsi Pinot Noir Melville Vineyard Santa Rita Hills; DW 94
Aromas: superbly polished nose; cherry, licorice and plum
Palate: great texture, cherry, licorice with prevailing focused acidity
Impression: has everything you could want in a pinot from california
2007 Brewer Clifton Pinot Noir Mount Carmel Santa Rita Hills; DW 94
Aromas: exotic phenolics in the nose initially delivering whiffs of pine pitch
Palate: more exotic framework, the fruit is sourced from the top fruit sources including Sanford& Benedict
Impression: a very adventurous, cutting edge style of wine, not for the pinot purist
2005 Fiddlehead Cellars Pinot Noir Seven Twenty Eight, Fiddlestix Vinyard Santa Rita Hills; DW 91
Aromas: lively and forward with cherry and mineral
Palate: good focus, nice mineral element
Impression: has all of the components of elegance in spades
2006 Fiddlehead Cellars Pinot Noir Oldsville Reserve Willamette Valley; DW 90
Aromas: earthy and dense black fruits
Palate: more ripeness shows through with some air
Impression: Frankly I expected more from this particular wine considering how much I have liked 2006 pinot from Oregon
2006 Handley Pinot Noir, Mendocino County; DW 91+
Aromas: clean, lean focus showing cool climate influence
Palate: well focused red cherry, raspberry
Impression: somewhat leaner feel to this wine suggests more food oriented than others
2006 Hendry Pinot Noir Estate Napa Valley; DW 92+
Aromas: beautiful old-world nose, lean, herbal with some dusty cherry
Palate: black cherry, pomegranate with good extraction
Impression: tiny production and artisinal winemaking make this one to seek out
2006 Kosta Browne Pinot Noir Russian River Valley; DW 91+
Aromas: ripe, rich and meaty with notes of licorice and cherry
Palate: supple and smooth with cherry, herb and earth
Impression: plenty to like here for a medium priced pinot noir - I tasted this wine before bottling and it is showing nicely
2006 Kosta Browne Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast; DW 92
Aromas: smooth cherry with blackberry and spice
Palate: blackberry, dark cherry, with a polished mid-palate with hints of bark
Impression: a very well put together young pinot from the talented Michael Browne, I look forward to trying the designates soon
2006 Littorai Pinot Noir Mays Canyon Russian River Valley; DW 93
Aromas: black cherry, blue fruits with concentrated focus
Palate: deep and evolved flavors of cherry, strawberry and mineral
Impression: a wine of beautiful breeding with sexy length
2006 Littorai Pinot Noir Roman Vineyard Anderson Valley; DW 93
Aromas: focused nose of black cherry, stones and red raspberry notes
Palate: bright red fruits; cherry, raspberry and strawbery
Impression: elegant and focused structure make this one of the highlights of the event
2006 Merry Edwards Pinot Noir Meredith Estate Russian River Valley; DW 92
Aromas: smooth cherry and other red fruits with some mineral
Palate: ripe and smooth red fruit flavors with well integrated acidity
Impression: pristine focus throughout shows why this producer is short-listed for so many collectors
2006 Merry Edwards Pinot Noir Flax Vineyard Russian River Valley; DW 93
Aromas: firm, lean aromas of black cherry and black raspberry
Palate: rich, intermingled black fruit with admirable concentration
Impression: excellent complexity throughout - one of the favorite 5 or 6 wines of the day
2006 Patz & Hall Pinot Noir Pisoni Vineyard Santa Lucia Highlands; DW 93
Aromas: cassis, violet and licorice intermingling with rich black cherry
Palate: meaty, full bodied and powerfully built with solid acidity
Impression: classic example of one of my favorite producers of this site
2006 Paul Hobbs Pinot Noir Lindsay Estate Vineyard Russian River Valley; DW 92
Aromas: smooth, rich chocolate, blackberry and cherry
Palate: dense, polished red berries and black stone fruits
Impression: delivers the goods from top to bottom, delicious stuff
2006 Peay Vineyards Pinot Noir Scallop Shelf, Estate Sonoma Coast; DW 93
Aromas: beautifully centered strawberry and saturated cherry
Palate: seamless flavors of black fruits with firm acidity
Impression: another of the top three or four wines at the event - shows great pedigree
2006 Pey-Marin Pinot Noir Trois Filles Marin County; DW 90
Aromas: nice mineral nose with black raspberry
Palate: cleanly focused red fruits with moderate intensity
Impression: Always a pleasant surprise to try this cool climate site
2006 Pey-Lucia Pinot Noir Frisquet Santa Lucia Highlands; DW 92
Aromas: warm, ripe aromas of black fruit and a bit of loamy cherry
Palate: cherry, herb, bark, black cherry and chocolate with very nice texture
Impression: tasted for the first time, it delivered more than I expected
2006 Sea Smoke Pinot Noir Ten Santa Rita Hills; DW 93
Aromas: subtle nose that gains with air showing rich, sweet black cherry and pomegranate
Palate: beautiful in the mouth, balanced, polished with delicately intwined sweet, and bright red fruits, and licorice
Impression: hands down one of my favorite wine of the day, if you can find it - buy it
2007 Siduri Pinot Noir Keefer Ranch Russian River Valley; DW 92
Aromas: dense licorice, cherry and mineral
Palate: very pretty entry - cherry and strawberry with solid acid profile
Impression: Siduri consistently makes one of my favorite bottling from this source
2006 Williams Selyem Pinot Noir Westside Road Neighbors Russian River Valley; DW 92
14.2% alcohol - 2 bottles tasted as the first was oxidized
Aromas: pretty cherry, licorice and mineral
Palate: cocoa, cherry, strawberry and a hint of loam
Impression: first experience with this bottling - reminds me of why I admired this producer twenty years ago
2006 Williams Selyem Pinot Noir Hirsch Vineyard Sonoma Coast; DW 94
Aromas: very clean nose with pristine impressions of Swan, Pommard and Mount Eden clones; cherry, licorice and hints of herb and earth
Palate: focused black stone fruits with lush earth and licorice flavors, firm acidity
Impression: due to firmness currently, would recommend three - five years in the cellar where I expect it really excel
Coming tomorrow: Syrah from Eric Kent and Saxum
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I recently had a chance to taste with the top broker of wines from the Pacific Northwest as well as several boxes of wines sent to me at the blog. I continue to be blown away by what is coming out of Oregon and Washington, there are also a few highlights from California, including the continuation of my tasting at Chappellet.
A tasting with a broker of wines from the Pacific Northwest
2006 Scherrer Chardonnay, Helfer Vineyard, Russian River Valley $38.00;DW 93
Aromas: vibrant, toast points, honeycomb, mineral and citrus - additionally shows a distinct green color
Palate: warm, toasty with talc, mineral, licorice and mouth-watering citrus
Impression: restrained elegance, nicely framed acidity with a solid core of fruit
2006 Patton Valley Vineyard Pinot Noir Lorna Marie Estate Grown, Willamette Valley $70.00; DW 95+
Aromas: lush red raspberry, pulverized cherry and licorice
Palate: Lots of acidity at first, develops bold core of structure echoing the aromatics with dusty impressions
Impression: not for the timid, a full throttle wine for aging with beautiful structure, Drink 2011 - 2017
2007 Elk Cove Vineyards Pinot Noir Willamette Valley $28.00; DW 93
Aromas: floral, lilac, violet, geranium
Palate: dusty, sophisticated, intense acidity - needs time
Impression: Another ager to watch, from a cool vintage in Oregon, Drink 2011 - 2016
2006 Tamarack Cellars Cabernet Franc Columbia Valley, $28.00; DW 90
Aromas: round phenolics, slightly under-ripe blackberry
Palate: nice foundation, firm fruit, a very serviceable wine
Impression: easy drinker with nice structure
2006 Seven Hills Petite Verdot, McClellan Estate Vineyard, Walla Walla $34.00; DW 90+
Aromas: acacia, liquid violet, black cherry marmalade
Palate: a cornucopia of soft violet, sandalwood and black fruits
Impression: An interesting wine from a top producer, certainly fun to try as an alternative, considering the value
2006 Owen Roe Cabernet Sauvignon, Seven Hills and Saint Isidore Vyds, Walla Walla, $42.00; DW 94+
14.2% alcohol, 80% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Franc
Aromas: dense, polished, some herb, along with copious black fruit
Palate: An intense, stunner with gobs of fruit and seductive tannins
Impression: A tour de force from Owen Roe, they never cease to impress
The following wines were tasted with the wines discussed above, but not reviewed:
2006 Scherrer Pinot Noir Big Brother Sonoma Coast
2007 Westrey Pinot Noir Willamette Valley
2006 Anam Cara Pinot Noir Nicholas Estate Chehalem Mountains
The remainder of wines from a private tasting at Chappellet, and a series of closed tasting conducted at the offices of The Purely Domestic Wine Blog in Calistoga.
2005 Chappellet Syrah, Napa Valley; DW 90
14.5% alcohol (available at winery only)
Aromas: fig, graphite, blueberry
Palate: big fruit, generous warmth, density and black raspberry
Impression: dense, polished with plenty of guts, though pretty strait forward in style
2006 Chappellet Zinfandel Napa Valley; DW 90
Aromas: dense, toffee, nougat, stone fruit and graphite
Palate: solid cherry, black walnuts and blackberry
Impression: solid acidity and structure, no real sense of heat from the alcohol
2005 Chappellet Merlot Napa Valley; DW 91
Aromas: black cherry, vanilla and bits of herb
Palate: round red fruit with more herbal component
Impression: supple and creamy
2006 Chappellet Merlot Napa Valley; DW 90
Aromas: deep chocolate and cherry
Palate: round, polished and deep cherry with some vanilla nougat
Impression: very quaffable with nice acidity
2006 Chappellet Mountain Cuvee, Napa Valley; DW 91
14.8% alcohol, 51% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Merlot, 7% Malbec, 1% Cabernet Franc, 1% Petite Verdot
Aromas: solid nose with some herb and soft black cherry
Palate: smooth, fruit driven with carbon and black fruits
Impression: great value for the price of $29.00
2006 Chappellet Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley; DW 90
Aromas: smooth rich nose of berries, chocolate and cherry
Palate: smooth entry with creamy core and a solid backbone
Impression: a solid, cellar-worthy wine that should not be overlooked
The following wines were tasted but not reviewed:
2007 Chappellet Chardonnay, Napa Valley
2007 Listed Syrah Rose, Napa County
2007 Old Creek Ranch Winery Chardonnay Sanford Benedict Vineyard, Sta. Rita Hills
2007 Old Creek Ranch Winery Viognier Vogelzang Vineyard, Santa Ynez Valley
2006 Old Creek Ranch Winery Pinot Noir Presidio Vineyard, Santa Barbara County
2006 Old Creek Ranch Winery Petite Sirah Branham Obsidian Vineyard, Napa Valley
2006 Old Creek Ranch Winery Red Wine, Famiglia Del Din, Santa Barbara County
2006 Vino V Chardonnay Solomon Hills Vineyard, Santa Maria Valley
2005 Vino V Pinot Noir Solomon Hills Vineyard, Santa Maria Valley
2005 Vino V Red wine Confundido, Santa Barbara County
2004 Vino V Syrah White Hawk Vineyard, Santa Barbara County
2005 Vino V Syrah White Hawk Vineyard, Santa Barbara County
2005 Ramian Chapter Five, Napa Valley
2005 Prime Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon District 4, Napa Valley
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One of the first things David Sabin shared with me today when we visited in Calistoga to taste his premiere releases was how everything happens for a reason. We were discussing the relative newness of my blog and how it developed organically as a continuation of my wine writing I have done since 1996. He said essentially it couldn't have manifested unless other previous events had happened in the precise order they had. Overcoming the temptation to name him my new self-actualization guru within the first ten minutes of meeting, I let him share background on his wine, Sabina Vineyards, and how it grew out of his desire to create a garage project. In a matter of minutes we determined that mutual relationships with just a handful of well connected people had led us to sitting across from each other to discuss a pair of wines made by one of my favorite winemakers, David DeSante.
I found David Sabin to be a breath of fresh air with his realistic, low-key approach to his brand, named for his mother. The three acre property is adjacent to the historic Bale Grist Mill in St. Helena and the 150 year-old olive trees depicted on the label trace their way across the hillside vineyard, bisecting it with their almost sentinel presence harkening back to the origins of viticulture in the valley. When I actually saw them later in the afternoon, I commented to David that I almost expected them to come alive, not quite as sinister as the ones in The Wizard of Oz, but certainly with a story to tell. The winery occupies a pristine portion of the lower level of his west-side valley home tucked away anonymously just past an oak tree on Highway 29.
With fewer than 400 cases comprising his pair of bottlings: 2006 Oakville Cabernet Sauvignon; 200 cases, and 2006 St Helena, Estate; 185 cases, distribution will only go to a handful of markets, growth will be modest and partly due to the vagaries of nature (40% lower crop in 2008), self-regulating. The estate vineyard is a mere stones-throw away from the following venerable sites: Grace Family, Vineyard 29, Stony Hill, and Colgin's Tycshon Hill.
Over a period of nearly two hours, I tasted both wines with David and was impressed by what I experienced. The following impressions were derived over 6+ hours of aeration that helped to further coax previously cloaked aspects into the open.
2006 Sabina Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon, Oakville $75.00 DW 93
aromas: black cherries, polished blue fruits with some slight smoky tapenade character, sandalwood and graphite
palate: delicate and elegant cherry, plum, nicely textured tannins and a bit of spice box on the finish
impression: the moderate alcohol levels in this wine convey a much more cerebral experience than I ordinarily see in Napa Cabernet Sauvignon. The purity and elegance here just keeps gaining with air. Drink 2009 - 2020
2006 Sabina Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon, St. Helena, Estate $TBD DW 93 - 95
aromas; cinnamon, creamy black fruits; berry and plum, sweet blue fruit essences, chocolate and hints of mint
palate: bigger structure than the Oakville, more tarry black fruit with a seamless core of cassis, licorice and violet still bench pressing some substantial oak.
impression: this wine is not destined to be released until September 2009. already it is showing bountiful promise despite some of its obvious youth and muscularity. Will revisit prior to release. Drink 2011 - 2020
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I took the opportunity today after washing a few weeks worth of grime from my car to drive up to one of the most beautiful spots in Napa Valley. The air had shed about 20 degrees of the frosty crispness gripping Calistoga by the time I reached my destination - Chappellet Winery, perched high above Lake Hennessey on Pritchard Hill, east of Rutherford. Retrospectively, it seems like I am on a mission to visit and taste all of the wineries of what I recently called "The Golden Age". Since launching my blog, I reported on Montelena, followed by Duckhorn, and now Chappellet. There are more notes from the visit to post early next week but I wanted to let you know about one wine in particular.
As one of my stated goals for this blog, I want to bring the freshest information possible to you so that you can decide for yourself if you want to take action on it. My review and rating for 2006 Chappellet Cabernet Sauvignon Pritchard Hill Estate Vineyard, a wine not due for release until Spring 2009 represents the first impressions by any wine writer for this wine.
As many of you may know the 2005 vintage of this wine, made by Phillip Corallo-Titus, ranked #24 in The Wine Spectator's Top 100 list for 2008 (96 points) and was also recognized in this blog's Top 25 list of 2008 (97 points). The winemaker feels the new release will be even better, I always take comments like that with a certain amount of conservative skepticism, preferring to make my own conclusions. Here you go...
2006 Chappellet Cabernet Sauvignon, Pritchard Hill Estate Vineyard (unreleased) DW 97
After sampling a freshly opened bottle at the winery I replaced the cork and brought it back to my office for more in-depth evaluation. Upon removing the cork, I could easily smell the wine from two feet away as it settled into the glass where it displays a deeply colored, translucent magenta brilliance at rest.
Aroma: sun-warmed black fruits, chocolate, violet, rock salt and tapenade kissed with verbena and the faintest hint of clementine zest
Palate: already enormously rich and dense with complex layering of chocolate, black fig, gooey medjools, blue plum and espresso
Impression: in what should be currently fairly angular youth, the PHEV already displays rare precociousness that continues to evolve in the glass. showing beautifully polished tannins, depth and balanced intensity. It is still very early for 2006 Napa Cabernet, but as it stands right now, PHEV is my benchmark
If you want this wine please contact Chappellet Winery directly and tell them to put you on the list.
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I'm back in San Francisco for a day to attend Pinot Fest at Farallon and realized this new thing I'm doing will be a month old on Sunday. It seems like ages ago that I gave about two seconds of thought to the question -
What do YOU want to do with the rest of your life?
Wine writing sucked me in over a decade ago and it has been very good to me over the last few years. I see this transition to working for myself as a huge opportunity to take everything I've done since 1996 and build on it. These are frightening times for a lot of reasons. I look around and I see lots of friends going through a period of introspection and reevaluation. Facebook has been a "port in the storm" for me and others.
So I blog wine reviews and hope that eventually they make a difference to readers, new and old, who themselves are looking for me to once again "fill the vacuum" with the freshest opinion on wines they can then take action on before they show up reviewed elsewhere. I'm somewhat stoked that sometime today over 1000 people will have visited the blog in the last 30 days (from thirteen different countries). Remember the first 50 followers will get a limited edition dougwilder - the purely domestic wine blog baseball cap. There is still plenty of space left on that list...
So far I feel like I'm stuck in first gear and going up the steep hill very slowly, barely scratching the surface of where I will be in six months. I'm asking for your feedback - what you have loved, hated, what you want to see more of on this modest little blog.
Here is something I would love your input on specifically:
Something I have in mind is a monthly event in wine country where a group of us meet at a restaurant with a winemaker, taste a couple of their wines and then head off to visit their fruit sources. I then blog about the experience here. Who would we taste with? The up and coming trendsetters. Schoener, Ames, Kurtzman, Pott, Zepaltas, Finley, Keplinger, Juhasz are names that come to mind. This is something I would like to start in January if there is interest.
Look for my thoughts on Pinot Fest this weekend.
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A couple months ago Duckhorn Winery put on a very impressive trade tasting at Farallon in San Francisco featuring all three of their projects; Duckhorn, Paraduxx and Goldeneye. I took notes of my impressions on the wines and virtually everything I tasted was excellent. A week later when I went back to transcribe and publish my reviews I could not find my notes anywhere and realized they may never be written about since it wasn't likely the winery was going to open these bottles again just for me since some were pretty rare.
Duckhorn was always a measure of excellence for me from my earliest experiences in wine. Initially drawn to the aesthetics of the label design I was doubly pleased when I discovered the Three Palms Vineyard Merlot inside the bottle was delicious too.
Dan and Margaret Duckhorn started their winery in 1976 during the same 10 year era when wineries like Cakebread, Caymus, Chappellet, Chateau Montelena, Diamond Creek, Shafer , Silver Oak and Stag's Leap had established themselves in Napa Valley. These family owned wineries stood out for their quality commitment and production was high enough for the wines to be featured on restaurant lists in key markets. After Robert Mondavi, this cadre of producers helped establish the reputation of Napa Valley in what I refer to as The Golden Age. Virtually all of these producers strapped themselves to the rising star of Cabernet Sauvignon at a time when development of vineyard property was at its peak. Duckhorn however pursued Merlot as their market leader out of the gate. Now thirty years later this group of vintners represent the established elite, mature brands whose value to potential buyers is attractive. In August of 2007, the 80 original investors in Duckhorn sold a controlling interest in the winery to GI Partners for an estimated $250 million. CEO, Dan Duckhorn and Margaret, divorced since 2000, remain with the winery.
Growth and Diversification
While virtually every other producer who launched in TGA has grown substantially they kept their product mix narrowly focused on a few varieties. Conversely, during the 1990's Duckhorn boldly diversified not with second labels, but spun off whole new winery entities, expanding their markets and concentrating expertise in distinct niches. From the core Duckhorn brand the company established:
- Paraduxx: Est. 1994, Bill Nancarrow, winemaker. A project located south of Rutherford along Rector Creek that specializes in Zinfandel-based blends with traditional red Bordeaux varieties.
- Goldeneye: Est. 1996, Zach Rasmuson, winemaker. Sited in Anderson Valley, they produce a growing number of Pinot Noir, including Migration
Each of these brands has developed its own identity even though clearly all are under the Duckhorn umbrella.
Notes found in Timbuk2
Getting back to my lost tasting notes - I'm sure you couldn't imagine me going on about Duckhorn if I was just going to discuss their history, since you can find that on their very nice websites. The fact is I did find my notes yesterday shoved in the bottom of my cavernous Timbuk2 laptop shoulder bag. There they were crumpled along with a cocktail napkin and a pulverized bag of peanut M&M's in the luxuriusly padded slot (usually) reserved for my laptop. I was very happy to find the notes, As for the M&M's? ... :(
Here are my impressions divided by winery.
2006 Migration Pinot Noir Anderson Valley $32.00; DW 92
Aromas: black cherry, spice
Palate: licorice and plums
Impression: Elegant with nice texture
2006 Goldeneye Pinot Noir Confluence Vineyard Anderson Valley $75.00; DW 96
Aromas: cherry, violet and raspberry
Palate: black cherry, licorice
Impression: sumptuous polish throughout with extraordinary depth
2005 Goldeneye Pinot Noir Gowan Creek Vineyard Anderson Valley $75.00; DW 97
Aromas: raspberry, cherry and spice
Palate: stunning concentration of cherry, violet, red fruits
Impression: the most attractive Anderson Valley Pinot I have tasted in years
2005 Paraduxx Napa Valley Red Wine $53.00 DW 91
60% Zinfandel, 28% Cabernet Sauvignon, 7% Merlot
Aromas: dark berries and stone fruits (plum, cherry)
Palate: polished rich black fruits
Impression: Sturdy yet sleek, the core of Zinfandel rules here
2006 Duckhorn Vineyards Merlot Napa Valley $52.00 DW 91
96% Merlot, 2% Cabernet Sauvignon, 2% Petite Verdot
Aromas: licorice, black currant and dark cherry
Palate: smooth cherry, sandalwood and allspice
Impression: Classic Duckhorn structure from an amalgam of 36 vineyards
2005 Duckhorn Vineyards Merlot Three Palms Vineyard Napa Valley $85.00 DW 93
77% Merlot, 14% Cabernet Sauvignon, 6% Cabernet Franc, 3% Petite Verdot
Aromas: black cherry, licorice and mild oak elements
Palate: a melange of ripe, dark berries and wild strawberry with hints of cinnamon cracker
Impression: a powerhouse wine with years of life showing beautiful structure
2005 Duckhorn Vineyards Merlot Estate Grown Napa Valley $85.00 DW 92
84% Merlot, 13% Cabernet Sauvignon, 2% Cabernet Franc, 1% Petite Verdot
Aromas: dense cherry and licorice with sweet hints of crushed berry
Palate: blackberry, dark cherry, chocolate
Impression: smoothly integrated and approachable now, recommend 2 hour decant.
2005 Duckhorn Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley $65.00 DW 92
75% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Merlot
Aromas: fat, ripe black cherry, blackberry and cedar
Palate: blackberry, creamy black cherry and currant
Impression: classic polished experience from this producer
2005 Duckhorn Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Estate Grown $95.00 DW 94
79% Cabernet Sauvignon, 21% Merlot
Aromas: smooth black fruits with a mesmerizing integration - cherry, currant, licorice, blackberry
Palate: supple, polished blackberry, chocolate and currant
Impression: Superb concentration, an excellent wine that drinks right up there with $150 Cabs
The following wines were tasted and not reviewed:
2004 Paraduxx Red Wine Napa Valley
2004 Duckhorn Vineyards Red Wine Howell Mountain
2006 Decoy Red Wine Napa Valley
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I am the first to admit that recognizing Celia Masyczek as my Winemaker of The Year 2008 is somewhat overdue.
That her uncompromising dedication and focus on quality have put her at the top of my "most admired list" is no secret. Moreover it is her ability to do this in Napa Valley, making Cabernet Sauvignon for a multitude of producers with different personalities, yet matching visions and creating sensational wines in their premiere releases that brings her my top honor of the year. In my recently published Top 25 list of 2008, Celia made three of the Cabernet Sauvignon including the top scoring 2005 Scarecrow, and 2005 Lindstrom, both receiving 98 point scores, and the 2004 Rocca, scoring 94 points.
For those who have followed my writing over the last decade you have heard me repeatedly mention Celia over and over. Since 2003 her name appears in nearly 50 articles from my published archive and those are only the notes contained on my workhorse G4 Powerbook. There are likely another dozen or more written in the years before that but suffice to say when we first met she was pouring 1998 Staglin Cabernet at a tasting in St. Helena. I believe it was either California Cabernet Society or Premiere Napa Valley. Either way it was clear to me her efforts on this wine were a cut above virtually everything else in the room. It was then that her name and obvious talent went in to my tasting "Rolodex" that became dog-eared from the number of times I would pull it out and scribble yet another note about a new wine I tasted from Celia that proved to be impressive - Hartwell, Cornerstone, Husic, Hollywood & Vine, D R Stephens, Rocca, Keever... the list grew in breadth and depth for me through the end of 2005. Celia was nailing virtually every wine she touched. But she was doing this in relative obscurity - outside the valley very few would recognize the name. That was about to change.
In December 2005 a vintner friend mentioned a new winery project called Scarecrow produced from the venerable JJ Cohn Vineyard in Rutherford containing the oldest Cabernet Sauvignon vines in the valley planted in 1945 by John Daniel of Inglenook. My friend, Michael, added that Celia was the winemaker. Knowing my long standing admiration for her talent he felt I should be included in an upcoming focus tasting at the home of the vineyard owner. The gathering including the grower, vineyard manager, and Celia, happened about a week later and twelve of us tasted eight Cabernet Sauvignon blind. Afterwards the small group openly discussed our thoughts and insights about Scarecrow.
I recall saying something to the effect that this wine would be the one that revealed Celia Masyczek to the rest of the world. It took another year, December 2006, for a review to appear in Robert Parker's The Wine Advocate that sealed the deal and made me sound like a prophet. Parker rated the 2003 Scarecrow Cabernet Sauvignon 98 points, a rare score from him for a premiere release of California Cabernet but very much in line with my initial 97 point impression published eight months earlier. The pair of successive vintages of Scarecrow have proved critical successes as well bringing outstanding scores from virtually every reviewer who writes about them.
More grand slams
As major as the Scarecrow phenomenon was to bringing focus to her talents, it is Celia's other projects that add to her legacy as one of the top California winemakers. Since November 2007 three other wines she made have left me with a huge smile on my face. The fact that two of them were premiere releases makes this even more noteworthy. The first was Celia's own project called Corra, I had stumbled across these mystery barrels in the caves at Keever in early 2007 and was sworn to secrecy not to discuss until the premiere 2004 Corra Cabernet Sauvignon; DW 97 was announced in November. What followed was the captivating 2004 Rocca Family Cabernet Sauvignon; DW 94 a wine that entranced me from the first whiff. The latest wine to come on my radar from Celia is the premiere release of 2005 Lindstrom Cabernet Sauvignon; DW 98.
In my opinion every one of these wines has been a major success among critics and collectors and I have no doubt Celia Masyczek will continue to impress me with more stunning wines in the future.
Please join me in congratulating Celia on yet another honor - the purely domestic wine blog's Winemaker of the Year for 2008.
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This is my first official set of tasting notes for my blog. It might be somewhat symbolic that this new project of mine begins at one of the oldest established wineries in the Napa Valley, founded in 1882.
Chateau Montelena was resurrected by Jim Barrett in the late sixties and within a half decade produced what was arguably the world's most talked about white wine, the 1973 Chardonnay made by Mike Grgich that competed in Steven Spurrier's now legendary and much publicized 1976 Judgement of Paris Tasting and beat the white burgundies. This event is pointed to regularly as the seed that grew the domestic wine industry as we know it today. From the 70's through the 90's Montelena rolled off an enviable string of high scoring Cabernet Sauvignon grown on their Calistoga Estate. I can still recall how blown away I was tasting the 1985 and 1987 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon for the first time.
Montelena under the microscope
It was four years ago this month when James Laube of The Wine Spectator touched off a controversy when he reported on what he felt were "troubling inconsistencies in [Montelena's] wines", and concluded it was the fault of TCA (the chemical compound 2,4,6-trochloroanisole) in the corks that had spread to the barrels. His claims were widely debated among experts who didn't share his opinion. Whatever problems existed were dealt with. More recently the winery was thrust into the spotlight on two fronts when it was announced a deal had been struck with Chateau Cos d'Estournel, a grand cru classe in St. Estephe to sell Montelena. This news was viewed in the valley as possibly signaling the acquisition of more venerable California properties by foreign investment groups. nearly coincident with this announcement was the release of the film, Bottle Shock, that was about Montelena and the Judgement of Paris. The little village of Calistoga was under the microscope yet again. Just last week, Eric Asimov, Wine Editor for the New York Times, reported on his blog, The Pour, that the sale of Montelena had been cancelled by the Barrett family. This news also sent ripples running through the industry. Since I live only a couple minutes from the Chateau (Calistoga is my village too) I contacted the winery to introduce myself as a wine blogger, but also added I was a neighbor and would like to come for a visit to taste (at what I felt will be considered a significant juncture in the winery history). I anxiously awaited a reply and was happy to hear back within a day that I could come and they graciously set up a private tasting for yesterday.
I provided the information above simply to frame the major background on the Chateau, especially over the last four years. I agreed with the winery that the visit was not to discuss anything to do with the transaction. Further it was not my intention to explore the TCA issue during my tasting.
I met with Jeff Adams, Montelena's Marketing Director for a two hour tasting. What I had never really noticed about Montelena was the diversity of soil types that make up the estate. The stretch of Cabernet Sauvignon vineyards, Block 1, along the north bank of the Napa River, are primarily alluvial, save for for the extremely eastern block, 1A, the majority of which contains the bulk of the estate's sedimentary series. Finally the lazy 's-shaped archipelago of Cabernet Sauvignon, Block 89 A-E, Franc, Block 4, and Zinfandel, Block 2 A, B and E, consist of volcanic soils, from the slopes of Mt. St. Helena. Each of these soils play an important part in the final makeup of the Montelena style.
I tasted the following current releases:
2007 Chateau Montelena Riesling, Potter Valley
2006 Chateau Montelena Chardonnay, Napa Valley
2005 Chateau Montelena Zinfandel, Montelena Estate
2005 Chateau Montelena Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
2004 Chateau Montelena Cabernet Sauvignon, Montelena Estate
and selections from the Library
2001 Chateau Montelena Cabernet Sauvignon Montelena Estate
1999 Chateau Montelena Cabernet Sauvignon Montelena Estate
1995 Chateau Montelena Cabernet Sauvignon Montelena Estate (magnum)
2006 Chateau Montelena Chardonnay, Napa Valley $42.00 - DW 91
13.8% alcohol, 0% malolactic fermentation, 15% new oak
Aromas: Apples, bright tree fruits
Palate: Lean, elegant, crisp notes of apple with understated toastiness and fennel hints
Impression: Classic house style, beautiful acidity. Can easily go 10 years+
2005 Chateau Montelena Zinfandel, The Montelena Estate $30.00 - DW 91
Aromas: Dusty pencil lead, plum, concentrated blackberry jam with hints of cranberry and loam
Palate: Focused bright essences of fig, pomegranate and dark stone fruits
Impression: Elegant restraint, good acid profile, not a fruit bomb
2005 Chateau Montelena Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley $45.00 DW 90
Aromas: Dusty graphite and earth, hints of smoke and black fruits
Palate: Pure, black fruits, tar, smooth berry and camphor
Impression: Restrained power, moderate intensity - good value from an established brand
2004 Chateau Montelena Cabernet Sauvignon The Montelena Estate $125.00 DW 93
14.1% alcohol, 2% Cabernet Franc
Aromas: Supple elegance with fig, squeezed red plum and dark chocolate
Palate: Blackberry, lead pencil, bittersweet chocolate
Impression: Smooth, very poised and balanced - a purely classic wine
2001 Chateau Montelena Cabernet Sauvignon The Montelena Estate $140.00 DW 92
Aromas: Robust fruit, supple black currant and toffee
Palate: Firm, ripe black stone fruits and rich red and purple berries
Impression; Very youthful with plenty of grip
1999 Chateau Montelena Cabernet Sauvignon The Montelena Estate $150.00 DW 95
Aromas: Vanilla, cherry, dark chocolate, mocha and flint
Palate: Elegantly focused pure dark cherry, black berry and currant followed by hints of graphite
Impression: Excellent texture, firm acidity a beautiful vintage from Napa Valley
1995 Chateau Montelena Cabernet Sauvignon The Montelena Estate $305.00 (magnum) DW 94
Aromas: Mature, slightly subdued cherry, licorice and red berry, gained in elegance with 15 minutes of air
Palate: Cherry, allspice, polished black fruit, excellent structure and texture
Impression: Humming along beautifully at 13 years old. Can easily go another 7-10 years.
The following wine was not reviewed:
2007 Chateau Montelena Riesling, Potter Valley
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You see I mentioned Eight in the title. That is because there are plenty of references to the number in the introduction. The 2008 edition of my Top 25 list is the eighth one I have written since 2001 and it brings a two-pronged focus to Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir. These two varieties each racked up eight selections each with the other nine picks representing: Syrah; two votes, and one vote each for a Cabernet-based blend, Chardonnay, Grenache, Semillon based blend, Merlot, White Rhone blend and Zinfandel.
Out of the twenty-five wines featured, eight are Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, I don’t recall any other variety/region being so prominent before, whereas the eight Pinot Noir are evenly divided between Oregon’s Willamette Valley and Northern California’s prime coastal growing regions north of San Francisco.
Speaking of Pinot Noir, I can’t miss pointing out an amazing statistic - This is the third straight year where at least one Pinot Noir from Auteur made by Kenneth Juhasz received a perfect score. In 2006, it was the 2005 Auteur Shea Vineyard, which repeated last year with the 2006 vintage of the same wine. This year’s Spring releases of 2006 Auteur Pinot Noir from Manchester Ridge and Sonoma Stage are the first pair of 100 point wines ever to make the list from one producer, furthermore it is the only winery to make it into all of the lists I wrote beginning in 2005. Please join me in offering congratulations to Kenneth.
There are plenty of producers making their debut in 2008 – in fact with the exception of previous Winemaker of the Year winners: Auteur (2006), Buccella (2004) and Herman Story (2007), representing a total of five wines, the other twenty make their debut here. Once again I continue to be impressed by single vineyard, or Estate bottled wines – roughly 2/3 are coming from a single site.
I hope you enjoy reading about the best wines I tasted this year. Unfortunately I couldn’t write about them all, there are many more that deserve your attention. Be sure to check the bottom of this posting for a list of new producers to watch:
2006 Auteur Pinot Noir Manchester Ridge Vineyard Mendocino Ridge - DW 100
Winemaker: Kenneth Juhasz
Aromas: Violet pastille, white pepper and cola.
Palate: Small stone fruits and saturated black raspberry
Impression: Surrounds the palate with delicate silky mouth entry and displays excellent grip on the tongue. Comes on strongly in the finish
2006 Auteur Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast Sonoma Stage Vyd, Sonoma Coast – DW 100
Aroma: Mineral, vanilla pod, wild strawberry, cherry and orange zest
Palate: Dark cherry, violet wafers, pencil lead
Impression: Delicate and silky smooth throughout with enormous quiet poise
2005 Lindstrom Cabernet Sauvignon Stags Leap District, Napa Valley – DW 98
Winemaker: Celia Welch Masyczek
Aromas: Licorice, cassis, dark berries with espresso richness
Palate: Complex layers of chocolate, currant, plum and black cherry
Impression: Stunningly concentrated with extraordinary layered complexity.
2005 Scarecrow Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley – DW 98
Winemaker: Celia Welch Masyczek
Aromas: Spice box, pomegranate, cassis, plump raspberry, fleur de sel and chocolate
Palate: Coffee, black currant, pencil lead, dark chocolate
Impression: Complex purity – hedonistic yet elegant, absolutely seamless and captivating
2005 Saxon Brown Syrah Parmelee-Hill Vineyard, Sonoma County – DW 97
Winemaker: Jeff Gaffner
Aromas: Classic dense black fruits with salty bacon fat and pepper
Palate: Concentrated blackberry, forest floor and loam
Impression: Amazing richness for this region with firm acidity. A dazzling wine with a 120 second finish.
2006 Zepaltas Pinot Noir La Cruz Vineyard, Sonoma Coast– DW 97
Winemaker: Ryan Zepaltas
Aromas: Rose petal, graphite, floral pastille and cherry
Palate: Black and red fruits, firm raspberry and bittersweet chocolate
Impression: Very rich aromatics, polished flavor profile, opens up after 24 hrs.
2006 La Fenetre Pinot Noir Le Bon Climat Vineyard, Santa Maria Valley – DW 97
Winemaker: Joshua Klapper
Aromas: Wild strawberry and blueberry flesh with a whiff of warm, spiced honeycomb
Palate: Violet, lilac, white stone fruits
Impression: Compelling subtlety and texture make the wine fascinating.
2006 Scherrer Chardonnay Helfer Vineyard, Russian River Valley – DW 97
Winemaker: Fred Scherrer
Aromas: Lemongrass, herb honeys, fennel and apricot
Palate: vanilla, lemon, roasted grain and stone fruit
Impression: Another Scherrer triumph from a tiny 1 acre site that all goes to Fred. A hard wine to put down once you begin drinking it due to the smoothly integrated acidity.
2005 Chappellet Cabernet Sauvignon Estate Pritchard Hill Vyd, Napa Valley – DW 97
Winemaker: Phil Titus
Aromas: Saturated dark cherry, currant, anise and chocolate
Palate: Spicy blackberry, espresso, chocolate
Impression: Complex concentration throughout, polished, sophisticated, in short an astoundingly delicious wine. 18% Petite Verdot, 6% Malbec
2006 Robert Craig Zinfandel Howell Mountain – DW 96
All Black Sears Vineyard fruit from Howell Mountain
Aromas: Peppercorn, ripe black fig, yellow plum, boysenberry, mineral, and jasmine
Palate: Copious black fruits; blackberry, cherry, plum and date with hints of pink pepper.
Impression: A stunning Zinfandel, that drinks closer to Cabernet with a sixty second finish
2006 Rudius Syrah Alder Springs Vineyard West Block Mendocino County – DW 96
Winemaker: Jeff Ames
Aromas: bacon fat, rich smooth currant, bold floral component of geranium and rose
Palate: Earth, smooth black fruits, well-integrated acidity and weight
Impression: Five years from now, people will still be talking about this wine. It is the most French-like of the three wines produced by Rudius from the site. Superb texture with a long finish. 100% whole cluster, 30% new oak
2007 Herman Story Tomboy, White Rhone Blend Santa Barbara County– DW 96
Winemaker: Russell From
Aromas: Sweet blossoms, lemon oil, gingersnap, vanilla pod and pie crust
Palate: Yellow and white peach, fat and dense structure, honeysuckle and salt
Impression: A blend of 40% each Marsanne and Roussanne, and 20% Viognier. Is this the new L’Avion?
2006 Raptor Ridge Pinot Noir Shea Vineyard, Willamette Valley – DW 96
Winemaker: Scott Shull
Aromas: Black cherry, baking spice, black cherry and mocha
Palate: Blue and purple plum, licorice along with blackberry and cherry
Impression: Velvet-like with beautiful concentration and finesse
Sourced from a pair of blocks; 11 and 33, both Dijon clones 114 and 777, respectively
2005 Buccella Merlot Hyde Vineyard, Napa Valley – DW 96
Winemaker: Mark Herold
Aromas: Clove, currant, exotic Asian fruit
Palate: Black plum, more currant and pure black cherry
Impression: The most intense Merlot experience since the 2003 Blackbird
2006 Mathis Grenache Sonoma Valley – DW 96
Winemaker: Peter Mathis
Aromas: Pomegranate, blackberry and graphite
Palate: Pure raspberry and blackberry dance together
Impression: I love good Grenache and this is the best I tasted in 2008, needs an hour to really kick in to overdrive.
2005 Emerson Brown Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley – DW 95
Winemaker: Keith Emerson
Aromas: Dark chocolate, red and black berries, currant
Palate: Licorice, black fruits, chocolate
Impression: Velvet-like with a powerful core of dense, rich texture
2006 Shea Pinot Noir Estate Willamette Valley – DW 95
Aromas: Licorice, bark, cola and black cherries
Palate: Violet and ripe blue fruits balanced by excellent acidity
Impression: A beautifully structured example from this grand cru site
2006 Antica Terra Pinot Noir Willamette Valley – DW 95
Winemaker: Maggie Harrison
Aromas: Wild red strawberry, lavender, sun-warmed black and blue fruits
Palate: Licorice, cola, violet, dark cherry
Impression: A brilliant premiere from Manfred Krankl’s former assistant, needs several hours in decanter
2005 Caduceus Nagual Del Sensei, California – DW 95
Aromas: Rich black fruits and chocolate
Palate: Dense and weighty blackberry, kirsch and currant
Impression: Maynard James Keenan’s new brand has exciting potential based on this wine.
A stunning wine that needs time
2006 Morlet Family La Proportion Doree, White Blend, Sonoma – DW 94
Winemaker: Luc Morlet
Aromas: Pear, tropical fruit essences, lemon oil, and rock
Palate: Densely packed mineral, salt with a soft lemon delicacy
Impression: Seriously complex; a blend of 66% Semillon, 32% Sauvignon Blanc and 2% Muscadelle (planted in 1953)
2004 Rocca Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley Estate – DW 95
Winemaker: Celia Welch Masyczek
Aromas: Creamy black stone fruits, mocha and blue fruit melange
Palate: highly polished and concentrated black fruits, licorice, blueberry and cassis.
Impression: The best Rocca Cabernet produced to date with serious winemaker cred
2006 Retour Pinot Noir Willamette Valley – DW 94
Winemaker: Eric Hamacher
Aromas: Licorice, lilac, blue stone fruit
Palate: Solid focus to the saturated black and red cherry and mouth-popping red raspberry
Impression: A beautiful first effort showing power and elegance from a top vintage. Long 60 second + finish
2005 Trivium Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley – DW 94
Premiere release from Lewelling Vineyard
Aromas: Smooth, herbal hints of lavender, licorice, blackberry and warm plum
Palate: More smoothness here – classically proportioned balance between ripe black fruits, and fragrant anise
Impression: A stunning premiere from one of the most coveted sources in Napa Valley - Lewelling Vineyard.
2005 Buccella Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley – DW 94
Winemaker: Mark Herold
Aromas: Essences of ripe blue fruits, warm blackberry tart, and sweet palm fruit from Morocco
Palate: Massively formed, polished black berry, currant, chocolate and coffee bean
Impression: Another success story from this team, needs a couple years to fully integrate the oak
2004 Altamura Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley – DW 93
Winemaker: Frank Altamura
Aromas: Sandalwood, black cherry, cured tobacco leaf with traces of fragrant purple and white blossoms
Palate: A mouth-popping experience with rich, smooth cherry, blackberry, mocha and plum
Impression: The latest in a long line of top-flight Altamura Cabernet Sauvignon, focused, balanced and capable of 7 – 10 years of aging.
Wineries to watch: The following producers impressed me this year with premiere releases
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