Saturday, December 29, 2007

Paul Hobbs Kick Ranch Syrah, Sonoma County 2005 and the Worldly Syrah Grape

Kick Ranch Syrah is Paul Hobb’s first attempt at Syrah from his Sebastopol winery located in Sonoma County. The color of this Syrah is black in the center with dark red framing the edges. The bouquet reveals scents of blueberries and graphite, with subtle notes of meat and as always with good Syrah some pepper. Black fruits and white pepper, in the background are notes of pencil shavings and meaty (think roast) flavors all framed by judicious levels of oak. The tannins are ripe and the finish is something between a Cote Rotie and a well made Shiraz. Not as heavy as a Shiraz, not as lean and powerful as a Cote-Rotie. Delicious! Decant if you can or use a Vinturi as this shut down shortly after opening and needed air to coax it back open. Wait 6 months+ to enjoy. Cheers to Paul (right)!

Now I know why many who like Syrah from Australia and the traditional northern Rhone in France do not find California Syrah as attractive as Shiraz or Hermitage (Syrah from the Northern Rhone). The best examples of Syrah in California are nothing like the ripe, almost burnt fruit of Australia. Nor is California Syrah like the leaner, more aromatic, more velvet glove with the iron fist of the Northern Rhone. California Syrah can tend to share characteristics of both Shiraz and the Rhone by varying degrees.

California Syrah flavors and aromas are more French, but the body and color is more Oz. However that may be, I like this wine style. It seems almost like a hybrid of the Rhone and Shiraz. But to understand what I mean, first you have to understand what Shiraz is and what the Northern Rhone is (Hermitage, Cote Rotie, and Cornas).

Syrah from California is typically different than Shiraz in flavor profile except for the ripe fruits, yet just as concentrated with comparable alcohol levels and lower acidity levels. In France the flavor profile is similar sans the high fruit levels. In most cases Rhone Syrah fruit shares the stage equally with mineral flavors like hot rocks, graphite and pencil shavings, as well as bacon fat, game and meat flavors with some herbs like sage, herbs de Provence and in rare cases mint sprinkled in. Hermitage, Cote Rotie and Cornas show bacon fat, roasted or stewed meats, white and black pepper, coffee, espresso, minerality, liquorice, blueberry and blackberry fruits. Shiraz gets you those fruits and some mild pepper notes, but lacks in many cases the bacon, meaty, minerality the terroir of the steep slopes of the Northern Rhone exude. Rhone wines tend to age longer and in an average year are less concentrated in body and alcohol. In fact last month Lisa and I had 3 Cote Rotie from the 1996 vintage from the great negociant Guigal: La Mouline (see left and my favorite), La Londonne and La Turque. All were incredible, showing their maturity except the La Turque which seemed more youthful and more new world in style. Each were on sale for $250 that night at the wine shop that was generous enough to be pouring samples of all 3 (We passed on purchasing). Rhone Syrah also tends to not wear out the palate as they retain their acidity better than new world Syrah. To fans of Northern Rhone wines, California Syrah can be too low in acidity and too high in alcohol, glycerin and concentration. Shiraz lovers like the alcohol, concentration and massive fruit flavors in California Syrah but likely dislike those extra mineral, gamey and herbal notes from the Rhone that they probably think is a funk of some sort. I think it just makes the wine more interesting.

It seems like Syrah, tagged by many in the past few years to be the next Merlot, is not catching on like many would have liked in California. The reason Syrah probably never caught on as the next Merlot is that it is not like Merlot at all. In most cases Merlot is like a lighter, less complex version of the oh-so-popular and expensive Cabernet Sauvignon that established itself as the dominant red grape of the world a very long time ago and still to this day dominates red wines sales. There are great versions of Merlot, believe you me some of the best wines in the world contain or are made solely out of Merlot. Syrah is NOTHING like Merlot or Cabernet Sauvignon. Apples and oranges here folks.

In California (and Washington State) there are the die hard Syrah enthusiasts and traditionalists that create excellent examples. A few of my favorites include Cayuse (WA), Alban, Pax, Shafer, and Clos Mimi. They are well established small production wineries but consistently make excellent Syrah.

Syrah is a different beast and in many cases the best bottles are rare or hard to find. Most of my friends I have recommended these wines to have not loved them. I have yet to meet a friend of mine that is a Syrah Freak. There are plenty of Shiraz nuts, just no Syrah nuts. They mostly say the wines were nice or ok, but rarely do I get an emphatic response like, "Thanks, I bought a case". Most people love Shiraz (very frequent) or love Northern Rhone (few but more than California) - rarely do the same people like Shiraz and Rhone Syrah, let alone California Syrah.

To me, Shiraz is its own wine: super ripe, super dark, low in acidity, full of ripe fruit. Northern Rhone, like Hermitage, is leaner and lighter in color and alcohol, contains good levels of acidity, yet is concentrated and balanced in terroir, flavors and super aromatic. Almost like chewing a mouthful of blackberries, super ripe Shiraz is popular the world over. As it should be – it is simply delicious. Not overly complex but more fun. From the time we knew how to eat fruit the rule of thumb has been the riper the better. I think that's great when I want that Oz style. Some finer Shiraz examples show some refinement and great balance. Penfolds Grange is one such example of Shiraz that is one of the great wines of the world up there with Latour, Guigal, Domaine Romanee Conti, and Harlan.

Syrah is an incredible grape and has many identities; all regions have their fine examples of this ancient varietal and are justly different because of the unique terroir. There is no other grape in the wine world with so many identities and variations. For the Rhone fan, next time reach for a California Syrah from Pax or Clos Mimi or a Shiraz from Two Hands (right), Torbeck or Mollydooker. For the Shiraz fan, maybe try a Cote Rotie or a Washington State Syrah from Cayuse.

Please enjoy these photos of the Northern Rhone to help you understand why the terroir is so unique in Hermitage and Cote Rotie. Syrah is not grown in these conditions anywhere else in the world!

The Hermitage hillside from the Rhone River

Hermitage in all its glorybelted by the Rhone River

The steep hillsides of Cote Rotie (notice the label for la Mouline above is these man made terraced hillsides)

The famous Cote Rotie brick terraces created ages ago

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Petrus - The Most Expensive Wine?

This evening I was able to taste one of the rarest and highly sought after wines in the world. Petrus. From the right bank of Bordeaux, Chateaux Petrus (pronounced PAY-troos) comprises of 30 acres of vineyard which are planted to 95% Merlot and 5% Cabernet Franc in the Pomerol AOC north of Saint-Emilion. Yes, you read right, it is mostly Merlot. Production averages roughly 4,000 cases per year. Not a tiny production, but not large by any means in comparison to Lafite or Latour which average 20,000+ cases. Merlot grows best in clay soil and that is what most of Pomerol is composed of. This is Bordeaux at one of its finest. Pauillac being the other "finest" place on the left bank of the Gironde River in Bordeaux. Petrus’s history dates back to the late 19th century and was purchased by the modern day owners, the Moueix (pronounced moh-EX) family, from the Arnaud family in 1961. Now, the 1992 vintage was a difficult one in Bordeaux, but Petrus managed to still create a wine worthy of the ages. Robert Parker gave it a 90, the Wine Spectator gave it a 98, and the lowest price for it I saw online was $899. This is the most expensive wine I have ever tasted. How was it? Well, it was unlike anything I have ever had before. Was it the best? It was better than the 1994 Cheval Blanc I had last year which is a top flight wine from the right bank of Bordeaux whose vineyards lie on the border of Pomerol and the Medoc in Saint Emilion. Was it better than the 2003 and 2004 Chateau Angelus? I'll say that it is the best wine from Bordeaux that I have had with this kind of age to it. Still concentrated and complex, yet in a stately, mature way. I get classic aged aromas of tobacco, smoke, leather, and dried currants. I also noted hints of petrol and mint, unusually for a wine of this age. I could imagine this wine in its youth, dense, complex with deep red and black fruit aromas and flavors mixed with smoky oak and silky smooth tannins (mainly from the Merlot).

Our second wine was the California cousin of Petrus, the 2004 Dominus Proprietary Red Wine ($115). Young, rich, and perfectly ripe, the 2004 was from magnum and served decanted. This wine is a great example of Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon (with small doses of Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot). Not overly oaked, not overly ripe, it has the right amount of acidity and tannin to balance the ripe fruit. The nose and palate combine to reveal notes of black cherry, currants, sweet oak, and herbs.

I can’t resist telling the Dominus story as it is a subsection of one of the least known family winery stories from the Napa Valley. No, not the Mondavi’s but they had a hand in its creation. Christian Moueix, son of Jean-Pierre Moueix who turned Petrus into the world famous wine that it is when he led the purchase in 1961 of Petrus, traveled to the Napa Valley in the early 1980’s in search of a vineyard to bring the Petrus name and style to the new world wine and latch on to the rapidly growing wine region. Moueix found the 140 acre Napanook vineyard via an introduction from the man who started the modern day Napa Valley craze - Robert Mondavi.

Robert Mondavi introduced Moueix to Robin Lail, daughter of the late (and great) John Daniel Jr. Daniel, who used to own and reside on the Inglenook estate in the mid 1960’s and in many circles is considered the best winemaker in Napa Valley history. His Inglenook wines from the 40’s and 50’s are still opened and enjoyed by wine connoisseurs on the rare occasion a bottle surfaces or Francis Coppola decides to share (he bought most of the Inglenook Estate from Heublin, Inc. in the 1975 and its wine cellars with stocks of old Inglenook vintages). Robin and her sister Marcia kept the Napanook Vineyard in the Daniel family after her father sold Inglenook to a large alcohol conglomerate in 1964 (Heublin, Inc, now Constellation Inc. after about 4 sales and mergers). John Daniel as passionate as he was about winemaking was not a good businessman and had to eventually sell the winery to retain the family’s wealth. The Daniel daughters Lail and Smith decided that Moueix was the right fit for the vineyard and partnered until 1995 when the daughters sold their shares to Moueix. Robin thought up the name “Dominus”, meaning “God” in Latin, and Christian agreed it was a great name and very marketable. Not to mention the stuff inside the bottle being great, the Napanook vineyard lives on in the Dominus ($115) and second label wine Napanook Napa Valley ($39).

Dominus has excelled from its initial 1983 vintage. It still does well as Parker scored the 2001-2004 95, 96, 95 and 94 points respectively. The Dominus Proprietary red wine (not Napanook) we tasted tonight was from the 2004 vintage. Lisa and I both liked it and would definitely recommend picking some up for a special occasion as its not $899 per bottle. Its a mere penance at an average cost of about $100 compared to the Petrus. The Dominus winery is closed to the public and is located in the Napa Valley in the northernmost part of the Yountville district, bordering the famed Oakville district, just west of highway 29.

At the tasting we took home with us a great bottle for dinner that I have to mention (pictured right). Tonight with dinner we had a great table wine from the Rhone. Priced at $5.99, the Paul Jaboulet Aine “Table du Roy” paired well with salmon marinated in a pomegranate sauce. Paul Jaboulet is famous for one of the best Hermitage (Syrah) bottlings from the Rhone (avg. price $150). This non vintage (NV) Grenache (the grape) blend was great. Much more interesting than your average $10 school night wine, I would buy it again. Red berry fruit meshed well with the spicy and meaty notes you find so often in a Provencal wine from the South of France.


Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Jonesy Tawny Port and a California Cabernet

Not to supersede the Thanksgiving wines I recommended a few days ago, I have to talk about two wines I had tonight that would be great tomorrow or anytime. First off was a Cabernet Sauvignon from the Santa Cruz Mountains in California. We then followed that up with a glass of Australian Tawny Port. With dinner tonight Lisa and I had a bottle of 2001 Mount Eden Santa Cruz Mountains Cabernet Sauvignon (75% Cabernet Sauvignon, 22% Merlot, and 3% Cabernet Franc). The wine just meets the legal minimum to call it a Cabernet Sauvignon. According to the ATF a wine in the USA must contain 75% of one grape in order to call it by that varietal on the bottle. It was an exceptionally pure and complex wine. Wonderful flavors and aromas of currants, mixed berries and herbs jump from the glass and liven the palate. A surprisingly refreshing finish was defined by its acidity by which California wines get knocked for having a lack of. I blogged a few months ago about this winery and recommended all of their wines - check out my May 2007 archives!

The spotlight of this Blog I want to be the Jonesy NV Tawny Port ($8-12!). NV equals non vintage which means the wine is not of one vintage but composed of may different vintages blended together to make one singular expression of that winemaker. 46 years in fact for this particular NV wine! How do they do it? Well first of you may ask what the heck are they doing with all that old wine and where does it come from. Well, no one really knows how much 40-something year old wine is in the blend except the people making the wine. It is also not in any way ever detailed on the bottle of wine from my experience. In a bottle with 46 years of different wines it could be as small as a drop or more if the winemaker feels it is appropriate for the type of expression he'd like his wine to have. It all sits in different barrels by vintage, aging for years and blended in as the winemaker sees fit. It sounds almost like a mad chemistry experience. A little of this year, a little of that until they get what they feels is a complete wine worthy of consumption. If I were to guess (and I am as I did not do much research on port before I wrote this) I would say the winemaker uses the least amount if wine from the old and the new vintages and the core of the wine is made up of the middle to later middle ages of the wines available to blend.

Tawny port is usually brown in color bordered by copper to dark ruby hues. Aromas and flavors commonly include: maple syrup and molasses, candied fruits (think really ripe, sugary ripe, raisin-like or raisins), caramel, hazelnut, and my favorite - roasted nuts (like those in NYC sold by street vendors).

The Jonesy tawny port is ruby-brown with coppery hues on the edges. The nose is fresh and chock full of wonderful maple syrup and overly ripe dark fruit aromas. On the palate the wine is fresh and lively for its concentration and flavors of roasted nuts and maple syrup. I have to say this is a profound finding and I am going to buy a few bottle to stock up and have on hand, especially at about $10 a bottle!

Winemaker: Trevor Jones (aka the Port-meister) and Dan Phillips (importer of rock star Aussie wines)
Cost: $10
Availability: Wide! had many places in NY and NJ that had this bottle for $8-12.
Not to supersede the Thanksgiving wines I recommended a few days ago, I have to talk about two wines I had tonight that would be great tomorrow or anytime. Lisa and I had with dinner a bottle of 2001 Mount Eden Santa Cruz Mountains Cabernet Sauvignon (75% Cabernet Sauvignon, 22% Merlot, and 3% Cabernet Franc)
Cheers and Happy Thanksgiving!

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Wines for a Thanksgiving Celebration

No doubt you have read countless ideas of what wines go best with Thanksgiving Turkey this year. American Zinfandel because it’s the only indigenous American grape; Napa Valley Cabernet because it’s American, Riesling because it’s versatile, etc. Those are great ideas and feel free to serve that with the Turkey. I am going to take a slightly broader approach and focus on the entire celebration on not just dinner. Here is how I feel an ideal Thanksgiving dinner should unfold.

To start things off I would serve a champagne or sparkling wine, country of your choice of course. I would serve a “Grower Champagne”, preferably a Blanc de Blanc which is always 100% Chardonnay from Larmandier or Diebolt-Vallois ($35-50). BdB’s are lighter and leaner than your average Champagne because the Chardonnay is typically blended with Pinot Noir and a small percentage of Pinot Meunier. BdB’s maybe leaner, but are intense in a different way. They scream minerality and purity in aroma and flavor with a beautiful pearl like texture thanks to the bubbles and vibrant acidity.

A Grower Champagne is from one of the small guys in Champagne. Not a Cliquot or Moet, the small growers only account for 22% of Champagne sales, 3% outside of Europe! The big guys only own 12% of the vineyards in Champagne yet account for 78% of sales. Most growers don’t make their own wine; they just sell it to the big houses. The big guys are great, not doubt I love my Feuillatte and Cliquot, but growers create individual wines full of character and personality because of their small size and unique vineyard sources.

Now if I were to single out a white grape to serve I would choose Viognier. The best from France and California will display notes of citrus and/or stone fruits, honey, floral aromas, an oily texture and refreshing minerality to complement the flavors. The floral aromas and the oily texture are hallmark notes for Viognier, flavors and aromas vary otherwise.

I consider Viognier a red wine drinker’s white wine. My favorites from California are the Alban Vineyards Central Coast Viognier ($20-25) and the Peay Vineyards Estate Viognier, Sonoma Coast ($30, hard to find but worth searching out).

In France Viognier’s home is in the northern Rhone village of Condrieu, but is also grown plentifully in the rest of the Rhone. Condrieu is located on the Rhone river and thus where the village and the vineyards take its name. The name Condrieu is derived from coin de ruisseau, which literally means 'bend in the stream.' Steep hillsides and scattered terraces define the vineyard appearance. Viognier that is not from Condrieu will be labeled Cote du Rhone or Vin de Pays and may contain 100% Viognier or be blended with Marsanne and/or Roussanne. A favorite of ours from France is the Domaine Miquel vin de pays d’oc which is 100% Viognier and priced nicely at about $15. The production in Condrieu is so small that only a few hundred cases each year make their way to the US so prices are a little higher in the $30-60 range. If you want to spend around $40-50 to taste the heights of what this grape can be, try a Guigal, M. Chapoutier, Jean-Luc Colombo or Rostaing Condrieu. If you can’t find my recommendations and come across Viognier in the $15-30 range try one. I would recommend you ask the salesperson first to check that the Viognier is a classically styled wine. Sometimes winemakers get to generous with the oak and that can mask the natural flavors and aromas.

Now onto a few red wine recommendations for Thanksgiving. For the meal, various wines will work just fine. However I think medium to lighter body reds pair best. If you want a more full bodied wine with dinner, maybe serve the lighter reds before dinner, alongside the Viognier and after the Champagne. This time of year is when the Gamay grape is in the spotlight because of the marketing campaign that pushes Beaujolais Nouveau to consumers. Beaujolais Nouveau is the first wine of the harvest to be put on the market from the 2007 vintage. The wines are simple, fruity quaffers made for immediate consumption. However, Cru Beaujolais is not a simple fruity quaffer. Cru Beaujolais, also made from Gamay but from 10 special Cru villages in the Beaujolais region, can age 10-30 years depending on the vintage! These are subtly complex wines deserving your attention. Most Cru bottles cost between $10-15, with the very best and rare only costing about $30. These are affordable to just about anyone! Gamay has very similar characteristics to Pinot Noir so if you like Pinot, you may like Gamay. In fact, the Beaujolais region is just south of Burgundy and has similar weather patterns and soils. In 1935 it was declared illegal to plant Gamay in Burgundy where it was planted along side Pinot Noir grapes.

Any Beaujolais from the ten Cru villages are considered the best that Beaujolais has to offer. The ten Cru villages are Brouilly, Chénas, Chiroubles, Côte de brouilly, Fleurie, Juliénas, Morgon, Moulin à Vent, Régnié, and Saint-Amour. My favorites usually are from Brouilly, Morgon and Moulin à Vent. Popular producers are George Deboeuf, Brun, Desvignes and Louis Jadot. My favorites this year so far were the 2005 Desvignes Morgon Javernieres and the 2005 Broilly Chateau Thivin.

If you desire a full bodied red wine with dinner your options are quite numerous. Red Zinfandel (not the pink stuff) has been quite popular for Thanksgiving because of its American roots. Most are relatively affordable and give you a lot for your dollar. The Seghesio Family Vineyards Zinfandel portfolio offers up a few different Zinfandels and are some of my favorites. The entry level bottle is about $15-18 and is called the “Sonoma County” bottling. The Sonoma County is one of my “go to” bottles and one of Lisa’s favorites. The Old Vine, Cortina, and Home Ranch are single vineyard Red Zinfandels that cost around $25-30 and are a step up in complexity and flavors. Another reason I recommend them as they are not the ultra-ripe, high octane alcohol fruit bombs that can sometimes be made when ripeness levels are pushed to the extreme which tends to happen a lot with Zinfandel.

Other than that, I leave it up to you the reader to decide what you want to drink with dinner. Maybe open up that special bottle or two you picked up at a winery you visited. Maybe you have a special magnum you have been saving for a special affair. Wine should not be about what you should have but what you want to have!


Monday, September 24, 2007

Paul Hobbs and his Single Vineyard Wines

For my latest blog posting I have chosen Paul Hobbs as my subject matter. Paul Hobbs has been making wine for over 25 years in California and Argentina. He is praised by critics, professionals, and wine geeks for his incredible single vineyard wines of remarkably consistent quality. Paul Hobbs wines make up one of the larger percentages of bottles in my collection and his Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon is one of my favorite all around cabernet sauvignons.


Originally a New Yorker born and raised near Buffalo, it was no surprise to learn Paul comes from a large fruit farming family of 11 children. His first wine experience was what some would consider a remarkable first. When Paul was a small child his father gave each child a small cup of a well know Bordeaux desert wine called Sauternes, in fact it was a 1962 Chateau d'Yquem to be precise. At that moment he new exactly what he wanted to do when he grew up. According to his brother Matt, who I met recently at a wine dinner, Paul convinced his dad when he was 16 to rip out a few fruit trees and plant grape vines.

Paul received a viticulture degree as an undergraduate at Notre Dame and obtained a masters in enology from UC Davis - one of the perennial viticultural schools in the world. Paul got off to one of the best first steps a winemaker could have. Few people may know this but he is an alumnus of the Opus One team that made all of those fabulous wines back in the early 80's when that wine was the premiere wine made in this country. Paul was personally selected from UC Davis by Robert Mondavi to join a team built to create Mr. Mondavi's newest vision of American wine. In no time Paul was named head enologist at Opus One. To this day that wine still carries the prestige as one of America's finest cuvees. Though of late, Opus One has seen better days from critics. From there he moved on to Simi over in Sonoma's Alexander Valley in 1985 where he was the head winemaker. In 1989 Nicolas Catena hired him to create a world class chardonnay in Mendoza, Argentina. At the same time back in California Paul consulted for wineries such as Peter Michael, Lewis, Kunde and Fisher. In 1991 he decided to create his own label and recently in 2004 completed construction of a state of the art winery in the Russian River Valley town of Sebastopol. Up until 2004 Paul made his wines at Fisher and Kunde Vineyards in Sonoma County as he lacked a winery of his own.

The Craft, Terroir, and wines with "a First and Last Name"

Paul is a disciple of the traditional French methods and philosophies of winemaking: non-interventionist and bio-dynamic. Winemaking starts in the vineyard with meticulous care applied to the vines and the fruit. Vines are pruned, crops are thinned and come harvest the resulting fruit is ready for crush given physiological ripeness. Great wines are made in the vineyard. You can't make great wine from inferior grapes. A skilled winemaker can only mask the faults of inferior fruit and the resulting wine will be out of balance. A balanced wine seamlessly weaves the acidity, alcohol, fruit, and tannin (reds) components. In a poor vintage if a winemaker knows what they are doing and make the right decisions in the vineyard you can still get impressive results with outstanding fruit.

An excerpt from his web site explains his philosophy towards single vineyard wines, "Taking grapes from a particular site and allowing them to show me different possibilities in the varietal makes for a wine in which the subtleties of the individual vineyard come through — a wine, you might say, with both a first and last name." A single vineyard wine is made from the fruit of one designated vineyard that shares all or most of the components of that vineyard's terroir (pronounced ter-whar). Terroir being the French term for the impact of soil, angle of planting, air, wind, water, elevation and sun on a vineyard and its fruit. For example the Hyde Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon is made from grapes sourced from the Hyde vineyard located in Los Carneros, a cooler wine region at the southern tip of the Napa Valley (see this month's Wine Spectator for a great article on Larry Hyde). Carneros is known more for pinot noir and chardonnay production because of its cool temperatures and the cool, clay loam soils. The resulting cabernet will have different levels of acidity, alcohol, tannin and resulting flavor nuances when compared to a To Kalon Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon sourced in Oakville, a much warmer part of the Napa Valley. The To Kalon Vineyard lies in the sweet spot of Napa Valley: Oakville. Oakville is centrally located in the Napa Valley. The To Kalon vineyard lies west of highway 29 and east of the Mayacamas mountain range on the valley floor. Since it is at the floor of the valley the appellation is flat and its soils are dry and alluvial, a result of the volcanic activity of Mt. St. Helena from prehistoric times. This harsh soil is perfect for growing cabernet sauvignon. When it is farmed correctly it, amongst many other facets of growing wine grapes, stresses the vines to help produce impeccably concentrated fruit. Cabernets from Oakville are typically endowed with higher tannin and flavor complexity when compared to Carneros where a cabernet typically has softer tannin, lush fruit and crisp acidity from the loamy clay soil, cooler temperatures, and the almost constant winds blowing across Los Carneros. However Oakville cabernet is not without its own unique acidity. Oakville, like most other wines from warm growing regions, obtains its acidity from the cool nights where temperatures dip 20-25 degrees from days' high. This cools the fruit and slows the ripening process, while at the same time locking in flavor and nuance you find in a wine's bouquet.

The Wines

The Paul Hobbs Winery portfolio consists of well endowed and fabulously crafted wines of elegance and structure. Worthy of instant gratification but well rewarded with patience from cellar aging. Cabernet sauvignon, pinot noir, and chardonnay - the trifecta of California wine making of late - make up the bulk of the portfolio. Robert Parker is a huge fan of Paul's' wines and his ability to source great fruit. Each year he reviews in barrel and bottle the wines for his Wine Advocate buying guide. James Laube of the Wine Spectator regularly reviews the wines and they typically land north of 90 points from both Jim and Bob.The cabernet sauvignon portion of the portfolio encompasses distinctly different single vineyards and one that ties them all together. There is the Hyde and To Kalon mentioned above as well as the Stagecoach Vineyard from Atlas Peak in the Vaca Mountain range that borders the eastern edge of the valley. The newest addition to the lineup is the 2003 Dr. Crane Vineyard located up valley in St. Helena. Lastly, the Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon (my favorite and his most widely available at approximately 2,500 cases) blends all or some of the single vineyards (depending on the vintage) into one single expression of what Napa valley Cabernet Sauvignon is all about - power, elegance, and ripeness. The unequivocal iron fist in the velvet glove!

Pinot noir is quite the grape "du jour" of late. 10 years ago I heard that you could not give away California Pinot Noir. Since the Sideways effect took hold in 2004 the wine has had a surge of popularity unlike anything seen since the merlot madness of the late 80's and early 90's. These Pinots are all crafted from single vineyards and have been around far longer than the "Sideways" effect has taken hold. The Russian River Vineyard Pinot Noir is made up of a majority of Paul Hobbs' only estate vineyard - the Lindsay Estate Pinot Noir Vineyard (see picture) with some minor additions from other local Russian River vineyards. The Hyde Vineyard Pinot Noir (my favorite) is a bigger, fuller style than the RR wine as the vines produce more mature fruit. Crisp, yet balanced acidity mingles with beautiful cherry and plum flavors on the palate. A dollop of vanilla rounds out the flavors and the leads to an always reliable, smooth finish. As if the Hyde Pinot could not get any better there is the "Cuvee Augustina" Hyde Vineyard Pinot Noir. The Cuvee Augustina is named for Paul's daughter and is a selection of the best barrels of the Hyde Vineyard Pinot Noir. The wine has a similar flavor palette but with greater structure from the extended barrel aging (16 months compared to 11 for the RR and the regular Hyde pinots) and a silkier, sexier finish. The latest Pinot Noir addition to the Paul Hobbs portfolio is from the Linsday Estate Vineyard located at the winery in the Russian River Valley.

All of the Chardonnay goes through 100% malolactic fermentation, a style that of late has been attacked of late as being "too California" as the ripe fruit from California in this French method tends to create wines with what seems excessive flavors of butter or vanilla flavor from the toasted oak barrels. The argument is that this style hides most of the other flavor components of a wine - mainly the fruit. These wines have the creamy flavors associated with barrel aging "sur lees" and malolactic fermentation, but are not overtly cloying so they take away from the fruit and acidity. These are enjoyable wines with impeccable balance. However if you like a Chablis style chardonnay you may want to rethink purchasing one of these wines as they are not inexpensive. The entry point wine is the Russian River Chardonnay, Paul's second most widely availably wine at 2,000+ cases. Walker Station Ranch, being the smallest in production with fewer than 100 cases in 2003, is my favorite of the group. It displays one of my favorite flavor profiles of a chardonnay - green apple. The Richard Dinner Vineyard chardonnay is located on Sonoma Mountain and is whole cluster pressed. The best barrels from Richard Dinner, like the Hyde Vineyard Pinot Noir, receive the "Cuvee Augustina" status.

In Memoriam

Paul recently stopped production of one of the best examples of Merlot to come from California - the Michael Black Vineyard Merlot. Started in 1996, the last vintage was the 2003. In a sea of average to plonk-ish merlot coming out of California, this will be a dearly missed wine. A wonderful replacement to the merlot is the release of a Syrah available recently in 2007 and sourced from Sonoma County - the 2005 Kick Ranch, Sonoma County.


From the start Paul has displayed an unyielding dedication to creating the best, most natural wines possible. Since that first taste of d'Yquem to what will be a hopefully be a profoundly "Rhone at heart" Syrah, Paul's wines have been a result of dedication to the learning, creation and innovation of wine methods and philosophies. I can't wait to see what's next as the fall allocation is just a few weeks away!


Related web sites:

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Avalon - Cabernet Sauvignon - Napa Valley – 2005 - $12.99

One day on a walk home from work I stopped in a small local grocer looking for a cheap bottle of white wine to cook with. I knew they had (and still do by the way) a decent selection of wines so I would probably find what I need. I found what I needed up front near the register (a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc for $3.99) but as I usually do when I go anywhere that has wine, a compulsion inside me draws me to peruse the aisles for any under-priced gems or rare bottles. One in particular I found to be one of my best buys in a while and want to share it with you. That bottle was the Avalon Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon from the 2005 vintage and it only cost me $12.99

“Unlike wines from the Culinary Industrial Complex, Avalon wines are original and uncut. Our wines reflect the true essence of Cabernet Sauvignon without pretense, hang-ups or apathy.”

So says the quote from the website extolling the virtues of Avalon Winery. He is the long short of this winery. The business man behind the wine, Derek Benham, started the Blackstone label (famous for their Merlot) right when Merlot hit its stride in the 90’s here in the US. He later sold it 7 vintages into its genesis. The winemaker, Alex Cose, was a banker for six years and must have made a killing or burned out as he left the banking business behind to seek out his dream to make wine. After a few small jobs at some reputable wineries he landed at Joseph Phelps and later the eponymous Peter Michael, quite possibly one the best wineries in California. The website ( references many quotes from legendary writers and musicians, as well as to comparing the wine industry and their wines to the entertainment industry (mostly movies and music).

The wine was consumed over two days. The first day we did not decant and upon first taste I deemed it was unnecessary as it had superseded my expectations. It had the hallmark full flavored California fruit, nicely fine grained tannins and ample acidity to balance out the fruit. Classic aromas of cassis, cherry and oak rose from the glass. The palate was fresh cherries and cocoa with an herbal note on the back and the finish. Clean and pure, the wine finished off with those supple tannins and acidity. The second day the wine was even better. It added a few more layers of complexity. Blackberry and plum now mixed with the cherry, oak and herbal aromas and flavors. The cocoa turned into dark, rich chocolate. Sadly we only had about a glass and a half left. Most wines in this price category turn bad after a day being opened. I used no gas to preserve the wine. Just a bottle stopper (clamp style) and the refrigerator! Simply amazing!

Were not done yet! The fruit is mostly Cabernet Sauvignon (I would guess about 85-95%) from Rutherford and Oakville (excellent sub-appellations in the Napa Valley – Hello! Paul Hobbs, Schrader, Provenance, Plumpjack, Cakebread, BV, Mondavi Reserve, Opus One, Silver Oak, Rudd, Screaming Eagle are Oakville/Rutherford sourced Cabernet) ) with the addition of a minute portion of Syrah. This is great considering most people cut their Cabernet with Merlot. You just don’t find many wines of this pedigree and quality for under $20, let alone under $15! I will be buying a case VERY soon! There is also a “California Cabernet” and I will be trying to source some over the next few weeks and will blog it if it turns out to be as good a deal as the Napa Valley bottling. This will be my house red for the foreseeable future!


Monday, July 16, 2007

Graff Hardegg - Veltlinsky - Gruner Veltliner 2005 $9.99 - 11.99

In a first for my wine blog, today's wine is a Gruner Veltliner. Fresh on the scene here in the US, "Gruner" hails from the great country of Austria (one of the countries my family hails from). Not exactly the place that people think of when they are thinking wine, Gruners were brought about in the US marketplace by the demand for certain types of wines to pair with the Asian fusion culinary explosion in the last 10 years. Fresh and clean, these wines deliver varietal distinction with their hallmark white pepper notes, spicy mouth feel, and refreshing acidity. If you took a Sauvignon Blanc, removed the grassy and gooseberry notes and swapped them for white pepper and spice, you have Gruner Veltliner. If you ask me though, a proper Gruner has too much white pepper and in most cases is too spicy for spicy Asian cuisine. To me a Chenin Blanc, Riesling Kabinett, or a Gewürztraminer are ideal with Thai, Chinese, and Japanese (CB especially with sushi) cuisine. I think minimally enhanced seafood (some butter, some garlic) and raw oysters are best with a Gruner.

If you are seriously thinking of getting into these wines, they have a very accessible price point. The most expensive in recent vintages are only about $75 from what the recent wine shop I visited had for sale (Crush Wine & Spirits – NYC), with many great bottles priced around $20. Wachau seems to be to Austria and Gruner what Napa is like to California Cabernet. Try other, less known regions to the marketplace and buyers such as such as Kremstal and Kamptal for ideal varietal character and great price points. Some say the soils in the latter two make for better Gruners, that’s up to you to decide for yourself.

Today's meal was a spinach salad with zebra tomatoes and my own balsamic vinaigrette, broccolini in olive oil and roasted garlic, and pork tenderloin marinated in olive oil, garlic and herbs. Not exactly what I would pair with a Gruner, or anything else specific, but the pairing worked well because of the refreshing acidity natural to a well made Gruner Veltliner. Now on to the wine!

This wine is a blend of different vineyards in Austria by the winemaker Graff Hardegg. Veltlinsky is considered Hardegg’s value wine and interesting enough is bottled in a Bordeaux style bottle and not the traditional Riesling style (long, cone shaped and skinny). The wine is straw yellow in color. Aromas of flowers and blossoms dominate a nose also containing spicy granny smith apple notes. On the palate, the acidity and peppery spiciness abound. Fresh citrus fruits round out the palate. The finish is white pepper, lime and that fresh acidity. This is a great all around wine perfect with food! Grab a dozen oysters, some mignonette, and drink up!

NON WHITE DRINKERS: If you "don't drink white", please know that wine is about what tastes good and pairs well with food. Not what color wine is and what people think of you when you have a certain color wine in your glass. If you care about that, do you really have any preferences of your own? I love cabs, merlot, pinot and syrah like any other wine geek, but not really in the summer when its 95 degrees and I am looking for something refreshing. By all means drink what you like. Heck, I have red with a lot of foods like fish that normally people would say only white wine will do on a 100 degree day. It happens, but not many times.
Please keep an open mind!

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

"Think Pink": Rose from Provence, Domaine Tempier

Rose wines are hotter than ever this year. I know, I know, every year you hear it but it never seems to actually be that prevalent. Not this year! I have been to quite a few wine shops around the NYC area and have noticed "pink" displays in the windows and at the ends of many shops' aisles highlighting this great style of wine from so many different areas. The most popular and world renowned Rose is from France. The benchmark for roses, are those from Provence. Spain, Italy, the US, South America and Australia are prominent pink purveyors as well.

Now, let’s just make one thing clear - "traditional" Rose wine is NOT SWEET. New world version may have a little more upfront fruit, but they lack any residual sugar that makes any wine sweet. Old world Provencal Rose is bone dry with floral, herbal and fruit aromas, framed by refreshing acidity. A good Rose has qualities of both a red and white wine. It will have body and texture like a red and the bracing and refreshing acidity of a white wine. Flavors are wide ranging from both sides of the wine color spectrum, red and white, as well as flavors found only in a rose.

This is NOT white zinfandel, the adult "Kool-Aid" concocted by the folks at Sutter Home which gets its sweetness from the residual sugar in the wine. Residual sugar is the leftover sugar not fermented during the process of making the wine and not removed - yes that's right, they don't ferment it fully. One more thing, it also has less alcohol for what that's worth as less sugar is converted to alcohol. There is nothing wrong with saying you once had it; many have had it as a bridge to wine from beer and spirits. So long as you eventually learned about the rest of the world of wine, its ok, not everyone can start out with Mouton Rothschild! Let’s face it, Americans are raised on sweet sugary sodas, juices, and milk with dinner from birth. It’s only natural as you move away from that as a young adult you are inclined to be more familiar with a sweeter wine, it’s more palatable and bridges the soda to wine a lot easier. Maybe that's the reason for the explosion in super-ripe wines in this country as wine consumption is at an all time high? Enough of that for now, that will take a whole other blog to go through. Onto the feature winery and wines.

Domaine Tempier ( located in Bandol (AOC), which is in Provence between Marseilles and Toulon on the Mediterranean, is the modern day benchmark for premium rose wine. Bandol has made wine for centuries, but started to really hit its stride in the mid-20th century when pioneers like Lucien Peyraud championed Mourvedre wines. Lucien married Lucie Tempier and together in 1940 took over at Domaine Tempier and made it into the modern version we know today. Most wines at this estate are made of the grape Mourvedre. In fact red wines with the name Bandol on the label by law must contain 50% Mourvedre in the blend. Therefore, all of the rouge or red wines from this estate and others in Bandol are more than half Mourvedre, with Cinsault, Syrah and Grenache some of the remaining components. The more Mourvedre, the better the Bandol wine is thought to be. The amazing thing about the Mourvedre grape is it is unique from any other red grape in that it has a natural compound that resists oxidation. Tempier wines can age for 50 plus years, some well over 100 years. It’s not uncommon to have a 30 year old Tempier Rose and the wine is in a perfect stage of growth, many times much livelier than one would think a rose of this age would be.

Domain Tempier Rose 2005 $32

Pink and copper in color. Creamy and spicy aromas abound in the wines bouquet. Surprisingly lighter acidity than I would have thought. Rounder and creamier with cherry and fig flavors. The fig was at first odd as I was not expecting it and never had tasted anything like that. It took a while to pin that flavor down, but man it was worth it. The mouth feel was viscous and complex; you knew you had a wine of structure and flavor. The finish was supple and smooth, with refreshing red fruits, spice and a little honey/waxy feel from that fig. The wine is a blend of Mourvedre, Grenache, Cinsault and Carignane.

Domain Tempier Rose 2006 $32

Deeper in pink with a copper hue, the 2006 was just as excellent. The acidity was a little more prevalent, but nothing you would notice without thinking about it - quite refreshing. The nose was creamy but had more red fruit like strawberry and a touch of spice. Red fruits like cherry and strawberry filled the mouth. The finish was a little flashier than the 2005 with spice and red fruits. Also a blend of Mourvedre, Grenache, Cinsault and Carignane.

Pick up a rose this summer and you won't regret it! Many Rose can be had for $10-15!

"Think Pink!"

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Vin de Pays de l'Hérault White Haute Vallée du Gassac 2005 - Daumas Gassac - (Region: Languedoc-Roussillon, sort of)

Typical from the Viognier in the blend, the nose starts out with aromas of white flowers and apricot, followed up by spicy pear and baked apple. On the palate a fresh beam of acidity ties together apple, lemon/lime and pear flavors, framed by stone and minerals. The finish is clean and crisp with citrus and mineral flavors lasting 30 seconds! 90% of this wine is composed of the following grape varietals: Viognier, Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc, and Manseng. The remaining 10% are a blend of 5 other varietals : Roussane, Rhole, petite Arvine, and petit Courbu du Bearn. The note on the website says there could also be another 10 or so varieties (read below about the “lax” wine making rules in the Languedoc-Roussillon region)

Daumas Gassac wines come from a place not well known outside the land of wines geeks (or Europeans), Languedoc-Roussillon. Unbeknownst to many people outside of France, the Languedoc-Roussillon is the largest wine region in the world. Many of its wines, however, are "non-appellation"; meaning the grapes are not necessarily all from the L-R. Gassac in fact blends so many different grapes many from other regions such as the Rhone or Provence, that most of his wines are “non-appellation”. A typical appellation would be Bordeaux or Burgundy. West of the Rhone, northwest of Provence and bordered on the south by the Mediterranean, the Languedoc lies dead center in the south of France. Many of the wines from the L-R are blended from a wide variety of grapes. The L-R rules are relatively lax, so you can grow just about any grapes that make wine in this region and blend them any way you like, unlike in other classic regions where only certain varietals are allowed and certain blending practices permitted. (i.e. Burgundy is mostly only Pinot Noir and Chardonnay and are not blended with other grape varieties).

The most popular red varietals grown in the L-R are familiar grapes such as Syrah, Grenache, Mourvedre, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Common white varietals in the L-R are Chardonnay, Viognier, Chenin Blanc, Marsanne, and Roussane. Many of the wines from this region are inexpensive because of the relative obscurity of the region to the mass markets, and make for some great deals. Gassac wines are the most respected and well known from the L-R.

Daumas is a wily old man and VERY French. Daumas is a classic old French vingeron and is very proactive in protecting and defending his and other fellow European wine making heritages. He is very “anti-new world” (i.e. Parker, California, Australia, etc.) and very anti-Bordeaux. Check out the flick Mondevino as he is one of the featured wine personalities alongside Robert Mondavi, Robert Parker and famous globe trotting Bordeaux consultant Michelle Roland. It is interesting to see how his views clash not only with the Americans but even with his fellow Frenchmen.

Politics aside, its good stuff and his red is worth checking out too. The red, or “Rouge” as it’s labeled as, is also kitchen sink blend mostly composed of Cabernet Sauvignon (80% in the 2003, 20% anything else I guess he could find or fit into the blend).

Try a right wing French wine, try a Gassac.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

2005 Henry's Drive Shiraz Dead Letter Office

Price - $22-30 (the average is about $25)

Day 1 – Dark and brooding black in color framed in deep red – not much purple here. Aromas of dark ripe berries, sweet oak, and mint jump from the glass. In the mouth the wine fans out with layers of dark chocolate, blackberry, oak and mint. Unctuous and concentrated with a solid tannic base, the wine soars with flavor and texture. The finish is bold and sure; fruit, tannin and that Aussie accessibility make for a wonderful experience

Day 2 – Just as dark and red, raspberry and blackberry, subtle notes of cocoa, oak and mint (still!) make up the nose. More complex flavors develop after a day of blackberry and raspberry, tobacco, spicy oak, dark chocolate and mint. The tannin still remains and is even a little more obvious (good sign) as well as more acidity as the fruit from Day 1 has relaxed in its expression. A wonderful, more precise finish evolves on day 2.

Blend - The 2005 Dead Letter is a blend of 98% Shiraz and 2% cabernet sauvignon.

Food - Perfect with lamb chops, ribs or even a filet mignon, though I had it with lamb on night 2 and it was excellent. I am sure some mint and reduced sugar to the marinade or as a sauce would make the pair that much better given the mint notes in the wine.

The Dead Letter Shiraz is made by the folks at Henry’s Drive, makers of full throttle Shiraz and cabernet from Padthaway and McClaren Vale. The Dead Letter is relatively new as the 2005 is only the second vintage of this wine. I have had a few vintages of the reserve and the regular HD Shiraz and they have always been excellent wines that have impressed me each time. Depth, concentration and 100% Aussie define this wine.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

2001 Mount Eden Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Estate

The 2001 Mount Eden Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Estate, Santa Cruz Mountains ($25-30) shows Bordeaux like aromas of smoky oak, cassis and lead pencil. On the palate the oak structure and tannins surround a core of cherry and cassis fruits with a hint of sage and a dollop of vanilla. The excellent tannin structure is supple and refined. Long finish of smoky fruit and toasty oak. Well made and one of the better Cabernets from a consistent producer from California. 75% Cabernet Sauvignon, 22% Merlot, and 3% Cabernet Franc.

I first had Mount Eden about 7 years ago when I lived in San Francisco. Immediately I was struck by what a great wine this was for such a weak vintage (1998). I visited the Santa Cruz Mountain Wineries last spring but never made it to Mount Eden because they were not open on the weekends to visitors. I did however make it to the renowned Ridge Vineyard run by the legendary Paul Draper and to Bonny Doon Vineyard, known for their eclectic artwork on the labels as well as the founding father of the Rhone Rangers Randall Grahm.

Mount Eden Vineyards is located on a 2,000-foot peak in the Santa Cruz Mountain Range about 15 miles from the Pacific Ocean in Saratoga, California. Founded in 1942 by Martin Ray, Mount Eden was one of the first wineries to focus on small lots of single varietal Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Cabernet Sauvignon at a time when most of California was making jug wines. Martin ray was a pioneer in the likes of André Tchelistcheff (Beaulieu Vineyards or “BV”) and John Daniel Jr. (Inglenook, Coppola and now Rubicon Estate). Mount Eden claims their “…lineage of estate bottled Chardonnay and Pinot Noir is the longest in California”.

Since 1981 Jeffrey Patterson has guided the winemaking and grape growing at Mount Eden. His emphasis is on wine growing rather than winemaking. He lets the grapes make the wine and tries not to intervene.

The Chardonnay and Cabernet are well distributed. The Pinot Noir may take a little effort to hunt down.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Delectus Petite Sirah Spring Mountain 2002 - $40-50

Dark, rich and extracted, the Delectus Petite Sirah is a big wine. The color is almost black with purple at the edges. The nose reveals blackberry fruit, smoky aromas, and slight coffee notes. The mouth feel is surprisingly lighter than expected because of its almost black appearance; though make no mistake it is still plenty endowed with tannin and rich flavor. Blackberry, plum, loads of dark chocolate, and some coffee flavors standout and are framed by the firm tannins. Finish is a bit tannic, but that’s a petite sirah!

Petite Sirah, originally a French variety known as Durif, is just that, a small grape that makes a tannic wine because the juice to skin ratio is higher than most grapes. The more the juice has contact with the skins when fermenting, the more tannin the wine will develop. Petite Sirah IS NOT the same as Syrah. They are not related in any way. The vines for this vineyard were first planted in 1911 and are the oldest in the Napa Valley. Miniscule fruit is harvested from the vines, about .7 tons/acre. Harvest is not easy either as these vines are on steep cliffs and require special harvesting equipment and patience to pick.

Delectus is s small production winery I first heard of 2 years ago when reading about new wines in a Wine Spectator advance release publication previewing some upcoming scores to be published in the next month’s issue. I had decided to check them out on a visit to Napa and was welcomed and treated to lots of friendly smiles, excellent wines, and a large tasting planned. Gerhard Reisacher is not your typical California winemaker. He's an eighth-generation winemaker who grew up in a small wine village south of Vienna in Austria. We met Gerhard, his parents who were in for the crush that fall to assist and see their family, his wife and children and their loyal dogs.

We tasted the following that day:
2001, 2002 and then from tank the 2003 Petite Sirah.
2001 and 2002 Stanton Cabernet (Oakville)
2001 and 2002 Beckstoffer Merlot
2002 Syrah Mt. George (south of the SLD in Napa)

Delectus makes 2 premium bottlings: the Sacrashe (Rutherford) Cabernet Sauvignon (which is what caught my attention originally) and the Cuvee Julia named after the Reisacher’s daughter. The Cuvee Julia is the top of the line bottle from Delectus. I was a member of the Delectus Wine Club for over a year and a half and enjoyed all of the wines I have received. I highly recommend their wines and suggest their wine club if you like red wines, especially from California.

Seghesio "Old Vine" Zinfandel Sonoma County 2003 $30

Tonight with dinner Lisa and I opened a bottle of Seghesio “Old Vine” Zinfandel from the 2003 vintage ($26-35 – we paid $27). We had planned to have BBQ ribs and pulled pork for dinner and thought what better style wine than Zinfandel to go with dinner. Red Zinfandel (not the pink stuff) pairs well with BBQ foods because the acidity in the wine pairs well with the vinegar base in the marinade and sauces of BBQ food. The tannins match up with the meat and the spicy fruit matches perfectly with the overall heat and spiciness of the food.

The “Old Vine” was great right out of the bottle and did not need any decanting. The nose was full of licorice, cherry, spicy oak and a subtle hint of flowers (violets). On the palate the wine explodes with spicy blackberry, raspberry, and black cherry. The fruit mingles nicely with the oak from the barrels the wine was aged in before bottling, lending structure (tannin) and spiciness to the wine. Overall it was well balanced, albeit on a high level with vibrant acidity, noticeable tannins, and ample fruit. There is an abundance of alcohol at 15.2%, but surprisingly without the heat.

The Seghesio story starts when Edoardo moved to Sonoma from the Piedmont region of Italy in the late 1800’s. Rich in tradition, Edoardo took with him his heritage and knowledge of growing grapes and making wine to California. He started a family and settled in the Dry Creek Valley just west of Healdsburg. Four generations later, the Seghesio family still runs one of the most successful and longest running wineries in California. They make a variety of excellent and well received Red Zinfandels, as well as other Italian varietals such as Sangiovese (Chianti), Arneis, Barbera, and Pinot Grigio. A few times a year I will have the entry level Zinfandel, the Sonoma County bottling ($15-20) and is one of my favorite go to Zinfandels. The Cortina is another of their bottlings I have had and is also excellent. It’s great to know that of the 5 Red Zinfandels they make, they are all distinctly different.

The oldest of these “Old Vines” were planted in 1895 and together average 90 years in age. The Seghesio family owns many of the oldest vines in California. Old vines bear less fruit than your average 10-20 year old vine. But, with that age you get more complex and distinct fruit than the younger vines can produce. This is because all of the nutrients are focused to fewer grape bunches, thus concentrating the flavors and characteristics into those fewer grape bunches. Old vine Zinfandels are not too common but can be found with a little effort.


Saturday, January 13, 2007

The Sweet Spot of Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon $20-40

Napa Valley cabernet sauvignon more often than not is one of the most expensive wines in the marketplace today. The name “Napa Valley” alone garners a wine an air of prestige and quality amongst professional, connoisseur and novice wine drinkers and collectors. What contributes to these prices? Cult status? Barrel costs? Property and vineyard management costs? Marketing? The answers are all yes and of course for different wines the impact is at different levels. Just in time to stock up for the fall and the first half of winter, this blog entry will spotlight what I call The “Sweet Spot” of Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. The sweet spot being those Napa Valley cabernet sauvignons priced in the neighborhood of $20-40. Not many well made, hand crafted, outstanding cabernets from Napa are in this price range, they are usually a lot higher in the $50-100 range. However, in this blog I will highlight those few that are consistently well made and in this “sweet spot” price range.

An Eagle vs. Chuck

Wines with a “Napa” name tag or source of origin range in price from over $1,000 for a single 750ml bottle at auction to as low as $2 at the grocery store. Rare and hard to find Napa Valley cabernet sauvignon “cult wines” fetch prices in the stratosphere at sometimes $200 from a winery allocation list to over $1,000 at auction for the likes of Screaming Eagle - the original "cult wine". Then there are “those” winemakers - usually monolithic corporation types that try to capture the notions of prestige and quality by using the name Napa Valley in bargain priced wines commonly priced around $5-10. Napa Ridge is one such commonly found wine that capitalizes on this practice. Not one drop of juice for the wine comes from Napa Valley. This same company (Bronco Wine Co.) is the creator of the famed, and not for any reason in quality but price, Two Buck Chuck - or as the label calls it Charles Shaw. This company recently lost a lawsuit filed against them to remove the name Napa from its wines since none of the fruit used to "manufacture" these wines comes from Napa Valley. An educated consumer or collector would know better, but a novice or casual wine drinker that has not been around the block a few times may not know better and think that since it has the name “Napa” in it, it must be good. The wine still sells well, mainly because of the cheap price tag and not because of any reason such as quality.

Apart from being some of my favorite wines, these are solid buys for immediate satisfaction, or will further reward the buyer with patience for cellaring the wines a few years to mellow out those sometimes brawny youthful tannins and allow the wine to further mature. Most of these wines have been in this price range for years and rarely have climbed drastically in price. Unless they are awarded 95+ points by Mr. Robert M. Parker’s Wine Advocate or the Wine Spectator’s James Laube, don't expect prices to rise too much.

On to the bottles…

2003 Provenance Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Beckstoffer Tokalon Vineyard, Oakville $35

What a mouthful! Just wait till you taste it. New to the market this year is the 2003 Provenance Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Beckstoffer Tokalon Vineyard, Oakville. Andy Beckstoffer owns the Tokalon vineyard and is part owner in Provenance. He sells most of the fruit from this vineyard to other wine makers who make their own Tokalon bottles such as Paul Hobbs ($175-300), Schrader ($125-250) and Behrens and Hitchcock ($150). Robert Mondavi also owns a large part of the To Kalon vineyard and it is bottled into the Reserve and the Oakville bottlings. In special years it will get its own labeling as a designated single vineyard. This beauty starts out brimming with cherry and cassis aromas with a hint of black olive and a slight whiff of fresh violet flowers. On the palate we have rich cherry fruit framed by vanilla and toasty oak notes imparted from the oak barrels. Fine grained, but youthful, tannins, coat the palate, wile the package is completed by a solid, clean finish. Nice structure, great concentration, yet slightly elegant. Drink now or hold for up to 10 years. But why wait? It’s drinking great now!

Worthy Sophia’s Cuvee $25

The next wine in the lineup, WORTHY Sophia’s Cuvee, has been solid in its first 3 years of production and continues to impress critics and connoisseurs alike. The nose starts with a deep concentration of cherry, vanilla and blackberry, accented ever so slightly by some spices, and some cedar. Silky smooth flavors of cherry and blackberry, earthy black tea, vanilla/sweet oak, and a touch of spice round out the flavors. Maybe lacking in acidity but full of ample, velvety tannin. Dark and well endowed with ripe tannin and fruit, Worthy is one of my favorite wines and I bought a case of the 2002. The 2003 consists of a blend of 77% Cabernet Sauvignon, 18% Cabernet Franc, and the remaining 5% is equal parts Merlot and Petit Verdot. This is the baby brother of the cult wine AXIOS from Napa Valley, made by the famed winemaker Bob Egelhoff. Axios, which in Greek means “Worthy” stands apart for slightly more structure, if not its better aging potential. This is due to the fact that Axios is made from the best fruit, while Worthy is the declassified Axios fruit not used in the premium bottling. Leftovers they are not. Such a word should not be used for such a well made wine. Drink now or hold for 5-8 years.

Chappellet Signature Cabernet Sauvignon $40

The Chappellet Signature Cabernet Sauvignons of 2002 and 2003 are some of the best wines for the money that I have had in the last 2 years. In fact the folks at Chappellet and many wine critics think that these are their best wines in years from Chappellet. I almost kicked myself for drinking the 2002 it was so good and perfectly made (I only bought 2 bottles). The 2003, though not as superb as the 2002, is by no means far behind in quality. Different wines structurally and from a flavor perspective, they are what California Cabernet Sauvignon are all about when well made. First, the 2002. I have to say this may be one of the best 2002’s I have tried. The nose starts with aromas of crème de cassis, a perfect amount of oak, a touch of chocolate and some minerals. On the palate, pure flavors of cherry, sage and plum cascade repeatedly with a long, solid 60 second finish. Finely grained tannins, ample acidity and the perfect amount of fruit define this beauty. Drink now if you dare or hold it for 12-15 years! In the 2003 we find more notes of chocolate and deeper notes of dark cherry and black fruits, as well as an ample waft of oak. Espresso and vanilla in addition to the cherry and black fruits round out the nose. The flavors roll in like a ripe bing cherry covered in sweet, oaky vanilla and chocolate. Spices, mocha, herbs and coffee round out the fruit and vanilla attack on the palate. The tannins are a bit more pronounced, yet big and round. Not as balanced as the 2002, drink the 2003 now decanted or hold for 8-12 years.

A short alphabetical list of extraordinary Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon priced $20-40:

- Buehler Napa Estate Cabernet Sauvignon $20-30 - always seems to get that 90 points from the WS
- Chappellet Signature Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon Pritchard Hill (solid, best in years - awesome, read above) $35-45
- Chimney Rock Stag’s Leap District Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon (always a reliable 88-94 pointer) $35-45
- Cross Barn by Paul Hobbs (see my first blog) $35-40
- Franciscan Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon (consistently delicious) $18-25
- Groth Napa Cabernet Sauvignon (classically made and has been around for years) $40
- Heitz Cellars Napa Cabernet Sauvignon (one of the originals) $25-35
- Honig Napa Cabernet Sauvignon $25-30
- Mount Eden Estate Bottled Santa Cruz Cabernet Sauvignon (not Napa but I HAD to include it) $27
- Mount Veeder Napa Cabernet Sauvignon Napanook Napa Red $35-40
- Pine Ridge Rutherford Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon $25-30
- Provenance Beckstoffer Oakville Tokalon Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon (awesome, read above) $30-35
- Robert Mondavi Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon (Mondavi is making their best wines in years) $17-25
- Robert Mondavi Oakville Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon $28-35
- Rombauer Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon $30-35
- Silverado Napa Cabernet Sauvignon (owned by Disney’s children) $30
- Stag's Leap Wine Cellars "Artemis" Napa Cabernet Sauvignon (a classic wine, elegent, refined, nicely structured, better with age too and includes 33% of the Fay wine that costs $75)
- St. Clement Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon (one of the best values in Napa) $35-40
- Whitehall Lane Winery Cabernet Sauvignon (consistently a 90+) $30-35
- Worthy Sophia’s Cuvee (excellent, read above) $25-30

These are all exciting wines drinking well now, but also have the stuffing to age a few years (5-12) and mature into a finely aged beauty. These are well crafted wines of personality, depth and complexity worth aging. 2004 seems to be a very uneven year with over-ripe, jammy wines being the hallmark trait of a hot vintage to watch out for. But the majority of 2004 Napa Cabernet from these makers will not hit the shelves until mid-2007. All of these wines are currently available for purchase and are in good supply, though some may take some effort online to find ( Some stores may have these priced above the $40 price point, but most can be found for under $40 or when bought by the case you save that extra 20%.

I encourage you to please add your own feedback, recommendations or experiences below!


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