Tuesday, November 13, 2012

2005 - Chateau Puy Arnaud Maureze

Drinkable Value Bordeaux Exists?  Yes!

2005 - Chateau Puy Arnaud Maureze

Tonight I opened one of the best Bordeaux I have ever tasted that cost less than $20.  A really exciting Bordeaux priced under $20 is kind of like the Loch Ness Monster or Bigfoot, elusive and mythical in existence.  

At $18.98 this 100% Merlot wine came recommended from one of my favorite salesmen at one of my favorite wine shops.  The pedigree on this wine is outstanding.  The bad boy of Bordeaux himself, Jean-Luc Thunevin, personally oversees this production of this wine.  It also comes from an excellent vintage, 2005 was off the charts in quality and to me probably the second best vintage this decade.  To boot the property is owned by the fellow that is the property manager at Dominus in the Napa Valley, which many of you may or may not know, is owned by the famed Christian Moueix's wine company that also owns of Petrus.  To boot the property is bio-dynamic, which is the equivalent of hyper organic in the wine world.  The grapes are harvested from 30 year old vines and are then aged in 15% new oak barrels, 60% one year, and 25% neutral tank.

Back up the truck and stock up!


Monday, October 08, 2012

Campania Wine Travels

A day in the Italian countryside featuring wines from 
Taurasi, Avellino and Greco di Tufo 

July 25, 2012

     The night before this adventure into the Campania wine regions, I was reading up on some of the DOCG notes on my iPad. I was brushing up on my previous research for a day not knowing what to expect as hired wine tours can sometimes seem amateur, watered down, or just not what you expect. I got to know the core regional wines better from dining the last few days and the last few weeks of reading (thank you Oxford Companion to wine). But I had no idea how they would react to these wine geek Americans poking into their cellars.  Did they speak English? Would they open older vintages?  Would we see the inner passion that fuels all great wine making? The only way to find the answer to those questions would be to sit back, relax and take it all in. And that my friends, is exactly what we did.     

     As we arrived in the lobby the next morning at the wonderful Punta Regina, Gaetano Petrillo met us there and whisked us off to his plush touring van.  The “bus” is actually a brand new smooth riding, spacious and comfortable touring van.  Ever the consummate professional, Gaetano was a professional sommelier before he left that world behind to help others discover the untapped riches of the wine regions of Southern Italy. Gaetano not only knows Southern Italian wines well but he also knows Tuscany and Piedmont quite well. After some small talk about where we were from and what we do, we started to talk about the region’s wine and its best foods. My wife and I both know our wine pretty well, but we learned so much from Gaetano, especially from this region where we are less familiar with the wines and producers. Gaetano is a native of this region so he knows many of the producers well. To try and better understand my tastes in wine Gaetano asked me about the types of Brunelli and Barolo that I prefer. He of course was able to quickly ascertain I really like wine, really good wine.  Not to toot my own horn but he went so far as to call me the “Wine Doctor” as we went back and forth on Italian, French, American and Spanish wines that we liked. We shared similar ideas and principles on what makes a great, natural wine that reflects the terroir or typicity of a particular grape or region. It was not wine geek in any way, the conversation was relaxed, gracious and very humble as we just wanted to learn from each other. I kept thinking to myself this guy is great.  No matter the level of wine knowledge a person has, Gaetano would be able to match the conversation to their level so as to not sound like a know-it-all or a boring wine snob.  This is great because around the world the younger generations of wine leaders, be they sommeliers, wine makers, or wine experts, are helping bring the world of wine to those that want to learn in an honest and humble way. Gaetano gave us a day we will never forget touring the Campania wine regions in Southern Italy sampling some of the best wines from stellar producers Antonio Caggiano and Feudi di San Gregorio. 
     We made our way out of Positano on the winding cliff side roads full of hairpin turns back towards Naples passing through Sorrento’s upper reaches. As we made our way off of the peninsula we headed due east and then a little North towards Taurasi. Along the way we passed Pompeii and the towering, and dormant but still dangerous, Mount Vesuvius which was responsible for the devastating volcanic eruption that buried Pompeii and some of the surrounding villages a little less than 2,000 years ago. 

     As we made our way further east we passed large hills, some with castles on the top of them from several hundred years ago. The region is very hilly, mountainous even, with a lot of greenery in the form of shrubs and trees. This surprised me because for some reason I was expecting terrain more like Tuscany that had some mountains, but was mostly rolling hills that were golden yellow. As we arrived in Taurasi, we were at a pretty high elevation at 1,260 feet above sea level. It snows here frequently in the winter, something else I hadn’t expected. Taurasi itself is tiny, only 5 square miles large and almost exclusively grows the Aglianico grapes for wine production. The DOC allowed some years ago for Aglianico grown in certain vineyards adjacent to Taurasi to use the Taurasi name to some controversy. Many of the original vigneron say that the expanded lands are of drastically different terroir to the orginal Taurasi DOCG and thus reduce the quality reputation which Taurasi touts and has been judged to be the preeminent terroir for Aglianico in the world.

     We arrived at Cantine Antonio Caggiano on time with sun high and warm with a bright blue pastel sky. Antonio Caggiano was there to greet us and shook both of our hands, with his trademark cigar stub in his mouth. Antonio does not speak English, but Gaetano was there every step of the way translating for us so we could communicate and share our thoughts and philosophies on wine, food, travel and life because those are the things good people talk about over good wine. 

     We made our way in to the Cantine and over to an area where the photographer Antonio Caggiano (and architect) had many of his best works on display of vineyard scenes and workers toiling in the vineyards. Antonio also had two albums in particular that help translate without words the inspiration for two of his regional white wines Bechar and Devon, Fiano di Avellino and Greco di Tufo respectively. Bechar was inspired from a trip to the deserts of Morocco and Devon from a trip to the North Pole. Each album showed aspects of the trip and the lands that gave Antonio this inspiration. 

     We then made our way winding through the back of the property underground where the bottle and barrel cellars rested both the young and the old wines peacefully in a rustic iron, steel and stone construction that spoke of medieval days. Reconstituted materials from the vineyards and cellar made some of the décor in the cellar in the form of ballerina sculptures made from grape vines, and barrel rings were joined to create globes for lighting. 

     Also in the tour was a space dedicated to ancient and more recent equipment used in the vineyards and the cellars to make wine. There was also a space tastefully built into the barrel room for a chapel where masses can be held to bless the harvest or even for the occasional wedding. 


     We made our way through the large room that looked like a hanger where the grapes came in from the vineyards, are de-stemmed, and then put into large steel tanks for initial fermentation. From there gravity then fed the wines from tank into barrel for extended aging of the reds and whites if warranted. 

     We sampled 5 of the latest releases from Caggiano and all of them were excellent. The whites were without flaw and showed the best of what Fiano and Greco di Tufo offer. The reds made from Aglianico were sturdy, solid and noble wines that can easily age for 20 years in the best examples. Giuseppe Caggiano, Antonio's son, stopped in to introduce himself as he is the current winemaker.  We talked some more about life on the road as Giuseppe constantly travels when vineyard and cellar work do not fill his schedule.  He regularly travels to New York so we talked about meeting up on his next trip to see his distributors.  We signed the guest book and left our business cards with Antonio who promptly stapled them to the guest book where we signed and thanked Antonio for his graceful hospitality and superb wines.  We had to run to lunch so we packed up and headed southwest toward Avellino for lunch and then to our next appointment in the afternoon.

     We had a phenomenal, classic lunch at the Italian trattoria Zia Pasquelina where we were treated like royalty. The food kept coming from the kitchen in generous amounts. Fresh local Buffalo mozzarella, a huge board of prosciutto, fresh local ricotta, ricotta and spinach pie, and simply made, but fresh and delicious fusilli pasta with tomato sauce. With the food we had by carafe a locally made Aglianico.  It was simple and perfectly delicious with our lunch.  We polished of some espresso and made our way to the next appointment nearby at Feudi di San Gregorio. Before we left we toured the wine cellar that was jam-packed with treasures from all reaches of the fine wine making quadrants of Italy. 

     Feudi di San Gregorio was high up in the hills of Campania in Taurasi. Feudi is a huge producer of wine, one of the bigger, if not the largest, in Campania. Mastroberardino may be larger and is one of the oldest wine producers in the Campania region. The tour was what you would expect from a large, successful winery. A walk through the facilities with the wine making production equipment, tanks, barrels and finally the tasting lounge where we sampled 4 different wines representing the variety of wines available from this important, high quality producer. We also walked through one of the Fiano vineyards, inspecting the vigorous looking vines. Fiano is a very hardy vine and if it is not controlled it will grow too many shoots and too many grape bunches. Ideally you want to limit the growth so that the energy of the plant is placed into fewer grapes, concentrating the flavor and intensity of the grapes.  
The four wines we tasted were a Fiano, Greco di Tufo, a younger Aglianico from Taurasi and an older vine and older vintage Aglianico from Taurasi (1999). Below are my tasting notes. 

     When we confirmed the appointment the day before the trip, I asked Gaetano if we could stop by a wine shop as there were much better prices in Italy on many wines that we would pay much more for back in the USA. Gaetano of course said no problem as it was nearby.  Gaetano made sure we would have time to go to the shop and pick out a few bottles to take with us. We stopped off at what looked like a somewhat fancy candy store as the family that owned the wine shop also ran a famous cake and candy company.  This shop was one of their stores that doubled as a wine shop. We made our way downstairs where many of the great wines of Italy were available in new and older vintages and at great prices. I selected a few hard to find Brunelli from Biondi Santi, a bottle of Le Pergole Torte from Montevertine, and a few older 90's Felsina Rancia Chianti Classico. 

     We were now ready to make our journey home back to Positano. As we drove back we passed by the port city of Salerno, again the ruined city of Pompeii that was destroyed by the still active volcano Vesuvius and then Sorrento which was near the home stretch. The sun had just set and we were ready for another wonderful Italian meal to reflect over the wonderful day we just had.

     I cannot recommend Gaetano enough as he a is a classy, knowledgeable, safe driving and hardworking guy that makes it his sole mission to ensure that his guest have the best possible experience as possible.  I plan to meet with him again when we go back to Positano someday or if he makes his way to New York.  Gaetano also has contacts in other regions so if you ask he may be able to also help you in visiting Tuscany, Umbria or even Piedmont. The Wine Bus is wonderful and truly one of a kind! 

Cin cin! 

Tasting Notes 

Cantine Antonio Caggiano, Azienda Agricola Antonio Caggiano, Taurasi, Campania, Italy 

Devon, Greco di Tufo, 2011, Campania 
A deep gold color. Aromas and flavors of apples and pears, sweet lemons. Clean finish with fresh acidity and length, flint like minerality. I really liked this version of Greco di Tufo. It was full bodied but cut a nice mineral streak in the wine that also retained great freshness from the acidity. Ultra hard to find in the US.

Bechar, Fiano di Avellino, 2011, Campania 
Bright cold in color with green flecks. Citrus aromas of grapefruit and lemon, zesty herbal notes with granite minerality. Some tropical notes poke in but are more tame such as medium ripe banana and mango. The finish is acid driven, racy and floral with a clean, zesty finish. 

Tari, Aglianico, 2011 Taurasi young vines, Taurasi, Campania 
This wine is the intro level Aglianico Taurasi from Caggiano. The fruit is mostly sourced from younger vines from vineyards owned by Caggiano. A bright red at the edges, the center is a nice deep red core. Violets, red cherry, forest floor and licorice aromas rise from the glass. On the palate plum adds to the flavor mix with some cedar/neutral wood like flavors and textures. Gripping tannins are very present with the ripping acidity that will keep this wine around for quite a few years. Great now but better with a few years on the bottle.

Taurasi, Vigna Macchia Dei Goti, 2008, Aglianico di Taurasi, Campania The color is purple-red at the edges with a deep red core, not dark. This wine is WAY too young but hints at the possibility of what is to come. Spicy red and black fruits, lead pencil, licorice, very complex, meat notes even. Plum, juicy acidity, medium to full tannins. Finishes long and complex with bright and juicy acidity, bright red to purple fruits all wrapped up in a tannic frame.

Feudi di San Gregorio, Campania, Italy 

Fiano di Avellino, 2011 
Fun fact: The Fiano name originates from the bees that are abundant at harvest as the Romans named this grape in Latin vitis apiana, with the root of apiana being the Latin for bees.

Colors of bright gold again with green hints. Citrus especially lemon, with fennel and green leaf herbs. Juicy and bright acidity and that is from a riper than normal vintage according to our guide. The grapes are larger than Greco di Tufo as well.

Cutizzi, Greco di Tufo, 2010, Santa Paolina (finest expression of Greco from Feudi) 
A golden hue, a perfect light gold shines from the glass. Rich, with crushed rock and granite aromas coming through from the soil leads to a long mineral laden finish.

Aglianico Dal Rae, 2010, Irpinia, Campania 
Ruby red color. Plum nose, pencil lead, tar, espresso, black cherry, spicy licorice, ripe & fleshy, silky tannins, medium to full bodied with a tight, gripping finish. 

Serpico, 1999, Taurasi old vine Aglianico, Campania 
A dark core with brick red edges. Mature aromas of baking spices, fall leaves, dried black fruits, stewed but strong beef notes, smoked meat. The palate is rich and strong showing nice mature character. Fine, but full tannins frame a long and serious finish. Good, ample acidity too. Some brown sugar and balsam notes. This is for sure mature, but should have plenty of years to go and still improve. Vines for this wine are 70, 100, and 150 years old.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Tasting with Luc Morlet at Morlet Family Vineyards

Morlet Family Vineyards
A Grand Tasting of Exceptional Wines with Luc Morlet
May 28, 2012 

     One of the last tasting appointments on our vacation was with Luc Morlet of Morlet Family Vineyards in St. Helena early on Monday morning. Since that day was our last day of vacation, I had a bitter-sweet feeling in the car on our way to the recently built winery just off of highway 29 on the very far north end of St. Helena. By the time we finished up at Morlet that feeling would be forgotten and we would be saying to ourselves how great that appointment was. We were in for a real treat as we tasted through the lineup of varied and solidly made wines. 
     Surprisingly, or not surprisingly if you know Luc’s background, we started off with a French wine. Luc poured for us his family’s Champagne as we got to know each other and talk about where we were from, what we do for a living, and how we had heard of Morlet. The Champagne was superb, showing crisp citrus and good yeasty bread aromas and flavors, a very traditional style. We moved outside from the barrel fermentation room, sipping our delicious bubby along the way. Luc walked us through the production line, showing us some of the custom made appointments he had made to ease the grapes into the wine making process. Luc showed us the de-stemmer and the sorting table that operates with a vibrating conveyor belt. The sorting line was designed by Luc himself to optimally sort through the berries and discard those not usable to make wine. From there the grapes head to fermentation tanks for a few weeks and later on to barrel for aging. 

      We made our way inside to view and discuss the French oak barrels used to raise his wines in. Luc has the exclusive import rights to one of the most sought after French oak wine barrels in Napa to raise Cabernet Sauvignon in. Located in Saint Emilion, Vincent Darnajou was previously the cooper for the famous Chateau Petrus of right bank (Pomerol) Bordeaux fame before starting his own cooperage. 

      We made our way to the table to start the tasting of the Morlet lineup at the beautiful centerpiece table. We started with the 2010 ‘Ma Douce’ Chardonnay sourced from an elevated hillside Sonoma Coast vineyard. The Ma Douce means “My Sweet” and thus Luc dedicated this wine to his wife. The wine is aged in oak from what I would guess to be a year in length with weekly sur lie battonage. About 90% of this wine underwent malolactic fermentation in barrel. A great start to the tasting, here are the notes: 

2010 ‘Ma Douce’ Chardonnay, Sonoma Coast
Color: A rich, deep golden hue 
Nose: Tightly wound by youth, the aromas are complex and varied with sweet vanil, orange peel, spicy pear, with some yellow plum and a touch of hazelnut. 
Palate: A richly flavored, yet elegantly textured wine, the flavors are packed in and deliver in layers the creamy vanil, orange and Meyer lemon, then move more to riper stone fruit with the hazelnut and orange spicing things up. A solid core of minerality adds backbone and structure. 

The second wine moved us into the second Burgundian varietal in the lineup, the 2010 ‘Coteaux Nobles’ Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir. The grapes for this wine come from a vineyard one hour North of Hirsch near Sea View/Fort Ross on the Sonoma coast and is farmed by the Nobles family. The vineyard is on the second ridge east of the coast, facing east which combines the cooling coastal effect from the maritime breeze with the eastern mountain exposure above the fog in the sun for most of the day. The wine was super tight, finally relenting to show wonderful Pinot fruit notes with good texture and elegance. Here are my tasting notes: 

2010 ‘Coteaux Nobles’ Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir 
Color: Burgundy purple red, with elegant red edges. 
Nose: Raspberries, cherry, earth and fresh flowers rise from the glass 
Palate: Elegance and refinement rule here with an underlying complexity. The juicy and fresh finish from the great acids is a plus to the already supply and velvety textures. The raspberry and cherry flavors fan out while the earthiness adds further complexity. 

The diversity of this outstanding lineup continues as we moved on from Burgundy to the Rhone. Up next is what I think is one of the all time great names for a Syrah outside of France, ‘Bouquet Garni’. In fact I said to Luc, this is such a great name for a Syrah, how was this name still available? Ironically enough he said that Robert Parker also asked him that same question. For those that do not know, a bouquet garni is a bundle of herbs like thyme, bay leaf, rosemary, and sage that are bundled or tied together in a cheesecloth and used to add savory and herbal flavors to all sorts of tasty traditional braises and stews. The Syrah grapes come from Bennett Valley in Sonoma County which is an up and coming site for Syrah. The vineyard ranges in elevation from 850 to 1,000 feet. I liked this wine a lot; it showed classic Syrah notes with new world flair. 

2010 ‘Bouquet Garni’ Bennett Valley Syrah 
Color: Purple with red, showing good depth and gradation to the edges 
Nose: A potpourri of fruits, violets, savory and spice. Some meaty and bacon aromas revealed further complexity. The aromas rose easily from the glass to show the complexity and depth that awaited the palate. 
Palate: Good depth and concentration with medium to full grained tannins that gave this wine a solid core of structure. Black cherry, black olive, violets and spice unfold elegantly across the palate. Cool climate, high altitude this is bouquet garni for sure! 

Next we took a break from the reds and moved into what Luc calls “intermission” as we were half way through the tasting at this point and we were going to have a white made from Bordeaux varietals Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc, and the rarely used Muscadelle. ‘La Proportion Doree’ translates into “The Golden Proportion or Rule “. The 2010 ‘La Proportion Doree’ was super tight at first. The structure and core of the wine was surprising to me as I expected more delicacy and raciness as opposed to strength and vigor. I said to Luc I would love to try this wine in 5-7 years as the wine has such a solid core and was so tightly wound. He excused himself from the table and came back a minute or two later uncorking the inaugural vintage, the 2006 La Proportion Doree which was 6 years old! I was so thankful and grateful for the opportunity to try this wine and taste it in its prime. I knew after tasting both of these vintages that this was one the greatest white Bordeaux I have had outside of the Graves in Bordeaux. This wine is typically about 2/3 Semillon, 1/3 Sauvignon Blanc Musque, and about 2% Muscadelle. This wine goes through initial fermentation in steel (2/3) and puncheon (1/3). A puncheon is about 80 liters larger than a hogshead, or wine cask as we all know it at 318.2 liters. From there the wine is aged for 10 months in French Oak barrels. In those barrels the wine does not go through malolactic fermentation, which helps keep freshness and acidity in the finished wine. Here are the notes on both wines: 

2010 ‘La Proportion Doree’ Sonoma County White Wine 
Color: A deep golden core, showing flashes of lighter gold flecks 
Nose: Lemon oil, honeysuckle, lime blossom, and a stony minerality. The nose was tight and took some coaxing to bring out these wonderful aromas. There is a richness embedded deep in the core of this wine hinting from the nose. 
Palate: Rich, yet elegant, the wine has a dense, muscular core that was slowly changing as the wine evolved with air in the bottle and glass. The flavors are concentrated with a beam of minerality and at the core there is lemon, spice and honeysuckle flavors. Finishes long and clean! Make no mistake this is not a typical acid driven Bordeaux Blanc look-alike. This white wine has power and depth, delivered with unrelenting persistence. We left a good amount of this wine in our glasses to go back to as we progressed further into the tasting with other wines. We went back and forth to this wine and the 2006 vintage since it was so tight. After about 45 minutes it finally relented and opened nicely. 

2006 ‘La Proportion Doree’ Sonoma County White Wine
Color: Golden yellow here too, though a deeper gold than the 2010 showing a touch of maturity
Nose: The aromas of the 2006 rose easier from the glass, as they should after experiencing the youthfully taught 2010 initially. Generous beeswax, honey, more candied fruit, orange blossom, and gingerbread spice aromas rise from the glass.
Palate: Rich, supple, more density than the 2010, the core of this wine was more fruit, with the minerality, and a nicely persistent soft acidity. Lemon oil, honey, beeswax and a touch of candied orange and spicy brown notes fan out on the palate. Finishes clean and long with good acidity and candied lemon notes. The length on the 2006 was just as deep as the 2010 but longer and more complex. This wine is older than the 2010, but it also needed plenty of time to open up. This is a confident wine that would stand proud shoulder to shoulder with its cousins from the Graves in Bordeaux.

Next up was the prime part of the lineup, the big showstopper 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon wines. We moved into the best trifecta of Cabernet Sauvignon we had on our entire trip, and that is saying a lot because we had a lot of exceptional Cabernet up until this point.

2009 ‘Passionnement’, Oakville, Napa Valley, Cabernet Sauvignon
Up first was the 2009 ‘Passionnement’ that soared from the glass, showing a complex, powerful, and intense aromatic and flavor profile. Highly impactful this wine was big in every way, but those large proportions showed true balance. Passionnement was probably the most generous of the 3 big reds and is 100% Cabernet Sauvignon. Only the finest barrels are used for this wine as it ages for about 16 months in new French oak barrels.

Color: A deep purple-red at the core with a nice vibrant and youthful garnet at the edges. Nose: The nose is aromatically huge with crème d’cassis, licorice, black cherry, blueberry and sweet oak. 
Palate: The crème d’cassis and black fruit flavors really come through on the palate, with a dollop of sweet oak. The palate is silky smooth with a seamless texture and awesomely ripe tannins that provide a deeply generous and long finish. Probably not the longest aging wine of the group, but certainly a charmer that will likely be in its prime in 5-7 years and age for 15+ years.

2009 ‘Coeur de Vallee’, Oakville, Napa Valley, Cabernet Sauvignon
The 2009 ‘Coeur de Valle’ seemed familiar and I recognized that aroma and flavor, it was To Kalon! Coeur de Valle is 76% Cabernet Sauvignon and 24% Cabernet Franc from the legendary To Kalon vineyard. If you have not heard of the To Kalon vineyard in Oakville, well, it’s not only the best source of Cabernet Sauvignon in Napa, but one of the best in the world. Coeur de Valle has power and a solid, deep core meant for the long haul, but may have the potential to be generous sooner than one would think. This wine delivers well past the attack and strong through the mid-palate to a long, structured finish. The tannins are more prevalent, but the fruit intensity balanced well with the tannin.

Color: A dark red hue, with vibrant red edges. 
Nose: The nose on this wine shows fresh currants, pencil lead, mocha, a savory licorice note and Bing cherry.
Palate: The palate is tightly layered and complex, barely budging in immediate expressiveness but hinting at future greatness. The pedigree is there from both the hands of the winemaker and the legendary To Kalon fruit, it’s just many years away from its peak. Currants, cherry, and licorice fan out over the palate in tight, but persistent layers. The finish is long and tannic, showing the structure of a wine yet to show its best.

2009 ‘Mon Chevalier’, Oakville, Napa Valley, Cabernet Sauvignon
The third and final Cabernet based wine, ’Mon Chevalier’, is from Knights Valley. Earlier in Luc’s career he made a little wine similar to this from the same region called Les Pavot that garnered critical acclaim and wide fanfare, maybe you have heard of it? The Knight’s Valley region has a totally different terroir than the two previous Oakville beauties. Knight’s Valley is more rugged with loamy, well drained and rocky volcanic soils. It is higher in elevation, and on average warmer than Oakville. This wine was also built for the long haul, and by that I mean this was tight with medium to full grain tannins that amplify the structure even more than the Oakville Cabernet wines. Mon Chevalier is reminiscent of a modern styled Saint Estephe from Bordeaux which is a commune that traditionally produces some of the most tannic wines with the highest proportion of Cabernet Sauvignon in Bordeaux. The wine shows the complexity that this hillside vineyard should produce. It was a little tighter and had higher acids than the other 2 wines, but showed the most potential to age of the 3 Cabernet wines. Mon Chevalier is a traditional Bordeaux blend being 86% Cabernet Sauvignon, 8% Cabernet Franc, 3% Merlot 2% Malbec and 1% Petit Verdot. The vines for all 5 grapes are an average of 20 years old planted at 1,100 to 1,400 feet of elevation.

Color:  A dark red core with ruby red eges
Nose: The nose is more black fruit, cedar, earth, licorice, fresh coffee grinds, and blackberry.  Palate: The palate is persistent and fresh, with great acidity and medium to full grain tannins. Mon Chevalier is also only hinting at its greatness, but should easily go the long haul and turn out to be a 25+ year wine. The palate is full bodied and expansive, cascading over the palate we see hints of its greatness in the blackberry, licorice, and blueberry. The finish is right on the money showing great length and freshness, with a tannic intensity that should help mature this wine nicely.

The grand finale was a desert wine that was a mirror image to a fine Sauternes from Bordeaux. This is by far one of the best domestic attempts at a sweet desert wine, but also has cut and some verve to retain freshness.

2010 ‘Billet Doux’ Late Harvest Semillon
The Billet Doux is an exceptional sweet desert wine with a golden honey yellow hue. Nose: The first glass I had was not clean and the aromas were off so we changed wine glasses. In the new glass the nose showed creamy tangerine, honey, nougat, and stone fruits.  Palate: The palate was rich, unctuously thick and layered. The complexity of this wine was easy to enjoy as it was giving the taster a lot of different flavors to mull and distinguish. 100% botrytised, the Billet Doux is 76% Semillon and 24% Sauvignon Blanc. The finish is long, thick and sensually textured. Easily a showstopper at the end of a meal, this would pair greatly in the same way Sauternes would with Foie Gras, peach cobbler crumble, funky or sharp cheeses or even candied orange covered in dark chocolate. The persistent finish of this wine was relentless, showing great length and depth. As I said earlier, one of the best sweet wines made in this part of the world. 

As we finished our appointment we realized we were 20 minutes late for our next appointment not far away in Calistoga. We rushed through our purchases and picked a mixed bag of these wines to bring with us and some for shipment later in the cooler shipping season in the late fall. Luc was such a wonderful host, showing us the run of his business, answering our questions, comparing tasting notes, and just any other wine discussion in general. I could have spent several more hours picking his brain about the wine business and learning from one of its truly passionate, gifted, kind and talented personalities.

The next group had arrived and Luc did not even flinch. Luc excused himself for one minute and greeted the guests to let them know he would be with them shortly. He came right back to finish with us and make sure all of our questions were answered. Luc even helped us with directions to the next appointment.

This tasting at Morlet Family Vineyards was by far one of the best tasting appointments we have ever experienced. We look forward to tasting the rest of the portfolio on our next trip back to Napa, hopefully this fall or in 2013.

A bientot!


Sunday, June 17, 2012

"The Vineyardist"

"The Vineyardist"
Diamond Mountain
Napa Valley
May 28, 2012

     While researching our trip to Napa, I came across a new wine made by Mark Herold, who made wines in the late 90's and early 00's that garnered a lot of high scores from critics and thus attention from consumers, Merus, Buccella and Kobalt are just a few.  All fruit for this wine is from the estate vineyards high on Diamond Mountain in the northwestern part of the Napa Valley.  Immediately below are the tasting notes from two points in the day as we had a whole bottle over a day.  Notes and photos on the visit follow further below.

Wine opened 11:30am, tasted 1:15pm:

Color: A dark red core, with vibrant red edges.
Nose & palate: Violets, black cherries, red licorice,and black plum. Herbal notes, but in a seasoned sage, dried basil and rosemary way (read: not vegetal). Velvety medium grained tannins amass a nice structure, lending this wine a long finish that is fresh, fresh, fresh from the good acidity this wine has retained!

Tasted at dinner 7pm:
The structure is even bigger as the wine has put on more weight. Many of the flavors are there with more complexity and depth. The black cherry has melded with more cassis notes but the refined herbal notes still add a nice accent, almost seasoning the delicious fruit the wine puts forward.  With food, this would pair superbly with any beef, especially a top prime steak or cabernet braised short ribs.

Lisa and I enjoying the view of Mt. St. Helena

     This past May, my wife and I visited the Napa Valley and toured a lot of old and new wineries.  They had a lot of differences, but one similarity the best wines had was that they did not subscribe to any school per se except the one school that makes great, not just good wine, in the Napa Valley.

     The Vineyardist was actually our last appointment of the vacation and one of our best. It was my first time visiting a winery on Diamond Mountain as there are few places open to the public in this AVA.  I am typically in Oakville or on Spring Mountain, Howell Mountain and Pritchard Hill just to give some perspective.

The historic Victorian House from 1879. This is where the tastings was held.

The "Dream Kitchen" at The Vineyardist
     "The Vineyardist" property is a jewel in the rough.  Tucked way up in the north in western Calistoga, the property is just off Petrified Forest Road.  As we drove through the winding road to the house, you could tell where the focus was at the property:  the vines, the gardens and the house.  The house faced east, overlooking one parcel of the vineyard, with gardens laid out in front welcoming the visitor.


     We were running 30 minutes late and our host Roy Piper stuck around to graciously meet us at the front gate.  Were so glad that Roy waited for us as the grounds, the vineyards and the wine were spectacular and well worth the visit.  The kitchen of the historic reconditioned house was incredible and gave me ideas of how I would like my kitchen to look given this type of incredible opportunity.  The vineyard plots are in 4 or so different sections of the property with different exposures, lending some good diversity in altitude, soil and sun exposure. From the top of the ridge above the house, you can see Sonoma to the west and a perfect view of Mt. Saint Helena to the east.  Then looking southeast you could see Howell Mountain with Viader resting on the eastern slopes of Howell Mountain.  If you turned North, you could make out Peter Michael in Knights Valley off in the distance.  There were various vineyards within view on Spring Mountain to the southwest and in closer proximity on the same Diamond Mountain the cabernet vines of Schramsberg were in view.  Below on the valley floor vines were stretched out in every direction.

     "The Vineyardist" was one of the better cabernet based wines on our trip.  We tasted fabulous wine, talked shop about the wine biz, took home some amazing photos from the beautiful terroir, and met with one of the better hosts we had all week. 

Thanks again Roy!

A bientot!

Peter Michael off in the distance in Knights Valley

Viader on the eastern slopes of Howell Mountain
Schramsberg Cabernet vines on Diamond Mountain AVA

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Crocker & Starr

Crocker & Starr
“2 Years in the Making”

St. Helena, Napa Valley
May 25, 2012

     A few years ago I had visited Napa on a whim and in a flurry booked the few appointments that I could muster. Crocker & Starr was one of the appointments I wanted to nail down but just couldn’t get an appointment time with Pam to stop by and taste her wines. Ever since that trip I had made it a point to seek out Pam on the next visit to Napa.

      That time had come as we were planning our trip this year and I made a point to make sure Crocker & Starr was in the itinerary. Again, it almost did not happen. We originally had a Wednesday appointment the day we arrived but fighting traffic after a delayed flight we blew the appointment time. Pam was super-accommodating and was flying out to Seattle that Wednesday, but would be back in St. Helena that Friday. We booked a late morning appointment and this time were able to see the tasting appointment fully through.

     Later Friday morning we made our way down Hwy 29, or Main Street as it’s called in St. Helena, to the Crocker & Starr appointment on Dowdell Lane. Crocker & Starr (C&S) is located in the Southern section of St. Helena, in between Hwy 29 and the Silverado Trail. The site of the property has historic significance as it was the site of a prominent winery and distillery before prohibition called Dowdell & Sons.

     When we arrived, we were greeted with freshly chilled Sauvignon Blanc on the porch of the house on site which I believe houses the business side of the winery. Crisp and citrus laden, this was a welcome refresher as the temperatures were starting to climb. My tasting note is as follows:

2011 Crocker & Starr Sauvignon Blanc
Medium gold and straw in color. Citrus lemon and lime aromas meet subtle grassy and mineral notes with a hint of pineapple. Being fermented in steel (95%), the wine focuses on the fruit and mineral notes Sauvignon Blanc is typical of. The remaining 5% was fermented in barrel and lends a small dollop of creaminess that rounds out the wine nicely and adds to the length of the finish.

      Pam joined us to taste the red wines and it was great to have her there to taste her wines with her there first hand. We moved over to the Casali, a rustic stone barn like structure. A table was set up on a patio covered with a veranda that overlooked the vineyards to the east. Pam has a hearty laugh and a welcoming smile. She is a straight shooter and a consummate business person, a very refreshing person to speak to. We talked about our careers, the wine business, and other matters of wine and life. We talked about her philosophy on wine and business, something I like to ask most of the winemakers I meet. I could have gone on a while more but we had to make a lunch appointment and meet our friends that were flying in to meet us at that lunch. Here are the notes and some background on the fantastic red wines we tasted.

     The Cabernet Franc was the first red and it blew us away. The structure, depth and persistent elegance of this wine was impeccable. It showed power with restraint. The vines for the Cabernet Franc are some of the oldest vines on the property and planted on some of the prime sectors of the estate. The great site and exposure of these vines has created a unique wine from a varietal that rarely impresses me when it does not originate from France. In France there are two regions where Cabernet Franc hails: the Loire Valley and the right bank of Bordeaux (Pomerol and Saint-Emilion). In the Loire Cabernet Franc wines are typically 100% Cabernet Franc. The wines tend to be elegant, medium bodied red wines that typically show pepper and spice, with tobacco and black tea. In Bordeaux it adds complexity, lift and mid-palate to the blended Claret wines of the Right Bank. This wine presents to the taster both the structure and elegance of the old world, with more depth, fruit and texture coming from the new world. The balance of the wine is superb. A fresh palate experience starts out strong and carries through a full and juicy mid-palate and finishes with ripe tannins. My tasting note is as follows:

2009 Crocket & Starr Cabernet Franc
An inky core with purple/red edges. Notes of pencil lead, wild berries, violets and crushed rocks meet scents of mocha and dusty earth tones. Vivid flavors of blueberry and blackberry mix with the mocha, violet and earthy notes, delivering a persistent and long finish. Tight, youthful tannins frame the flavors and the juicy acidity freshens the palate. The blend is 97% Cabernet Franc, 2% Malbec and 1% Petit Verdot. This wine saw 70% new French oak for 17 months, neutral oak made up the other 30%. 

     The 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon “Stone Place” showed the complex and layered side of the grape that is found in the best wines of the Napa Valley. Packing a multitude of aromas and flavors, the wine was kicking on all cylinders. The best parcels of the vineyards are old vine heritage-clones and form the core of this wine’s DNA. 100% Cabernet Sauvignon, the 2008 Stone Place was aged for 20 months in 80% new French oak barrels. The Crocker & Starr vineyard sections lie in the central section of St. Helena, with the bulk of the Cabernet Sauvignon vines resting in the eastern and southern sections of the vineyard. My tasting not is as follows:

2008 Crocket & Starr Cabernet Sauvignon “Stone Place”
2008 Crocket & Starr Cabernet Sauvignon “Stone Place”
This wine exhibited a dark core with nice vibrant red edges. The nose was full of black cherry, currants, sweet oak, and mocha, with flecks of purple floral notes. The palate delivered the black cherry and mocha in spades, with spice, dusty earth and tobacco notes. The wine passed through the palate with ease from the depth of the wine’s concentration, finishing in a solid structure of youthful, but ripe tannins. A sexier wine than many of the 2008 I have had, this is an impressive effort. 

      We enjoyed our visit and conversation with Pam and look forward to trying these wines and the futures releases. I highly recommend these wines and savvy wine aficionados should check them out if they are in Napa on their next visit or search them out at your local wine shop or on wine-searcher.com.

A bientot!

Charlie Crocker and Pam Starr in their estate vineyards.

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Napa Valley & Sonoma 2012

Napa Valley
Sebastopol (Sonoma)
May 23-28, 2012

     During our recent trip to Napa Valley (and one day in Sonoma), we met with some of the best producers of fine wine in Sonoma and the Napa Valley. We met with some old favorites and discovered some new favorites that we can’t wait to tell you all about. Whether new or old, these are relationships we plan to maintain and cultivate. These are fantastic producers, winemakers and proprietors that exhibit the passion and zeal I seek out to create a truly phenomenal wine. We had to cut a few appointments and were late to a few more because our appointment times ran longer than expected. 2 hours of wine and conversation is a good sign of a great gathering of like minded wine folk!

     The vintages we tasted ranged from 2007 to 2009 for the Cabernet and Bordeaux varietals and mostly 2010 for the Burgundy and Rhone varietals. The most common vintage for the Cabernet wines was 2009. I was surprised at how nicely the 2009 Cabernet based wines were showing. I really do like Cabernet wines from 2009 more than 2008. The wines taste fresher with more acidity, and the tannin structures are riper and friendlier. The finishes in the best wines were long, clean and persistent. There were a few busts, but not many as we chose our tasting appointments wisely. Lastly I will mention we tasted a lot of 2011 Sauvignon Blanc and Semillion white wines. The style of this wine has really changed over the last 10 years as the oak has been drastically reduced, or entirely removed from the raising process, to allow the fruit to shine through and the acidity to freshen and energize the finish.

     The bad news is that prices are up as was reported a few weeks ago in a few of the trade reports, but overall the quality is there in many, if not all, of the places we visited with.


     I have to confess I had been falling out of love with the wines of California, mainly collecting Bordeaux, Burgundy, Rhone and Barolo wines the last few years. My collection was 75% California only 3 years ago but today only represents 33%. This trip was exactly what I needed to do to open my eyes wider and beyond some of the stale and passé wines from California that I was hanging on to or abandoned for the Francophile that I had become. It was also nice to refresh myself with a few of my old favorites that have kept up with the change in palates that is going on out there. A few of our new favorites have been at this style for decades and are now finally getting their due. Spottswoode and Philip Togni craft more traditionally styled Cabernet Sauvignon wine that has not changed much over the years. Paul Hobbs, Crocker & Star, Morlet, Melka Wines, Cimarossa, Littorai, L’Angevin and the new upstart “The Vineyardist” have kept up with the times and made fresh wines in 2009 (Cabernets) and 2010 (Pinot Noir) with great depth and structure, with a freshness not seen for most of the past decade. 

     Keep your eyes peeled, I will try to write as many of these spotlight stories as fast as I can, but unfortunately (or maybe fortunately) this is not my day job!

Follow this link to ALL of the pictures from our trip:  http://pix.kg/p/2956293901103%3A197694262/scl

A bientot!

 FYI - If you would like a copy of our itinerary to use for your own purposes if you are planning a trip to Napa just let me know as I will email you the excel spreadsheet that is loaded with hyper-links that direct you to the website of the winery or restaurant.

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