Monday, August 31, 2009

Albert Bichot Bourgogne Vieilles Vignes Pinot Noir 2006

Unfortunately value and Pinot Noir are not often found in the same sentence. At its best, the Pinot Noir grape can yield wonderful results. When its not grown properly under the best conditions, the results can be disastrous. As a result, most of the great and even plain old good Pinot Noirs tend to be rather expensive. This effort from Albert Bichot is an exception to the rule. Its a very nice Pinot Noir that retails in the $15 range.

In your glass you get a pretty medium red color. The nose is filled with strawberry and sweet cherry aromas with a pleasant herbal undertone. In your mouth you get a very nice light-medium body with a little bit more to it than most California and Oregon Pinot Noirs. The fruit flavors are outstanding with great sweet cherry, sour cherry, and strawberry. Pleasant acidity and mild tannins provide balance and structure. Very nice for a price around $15.

This wine would make a great, not too expensive pairing for a Thanksgiving turkey. I might make some native Burgundians upset with this, but I love Burgundy with pizza. This wine is pretty flexible. It would also pair nicely with salmon, pork, or duck among other things.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Fossetti Rosso Toscano IGT 2007

It's not very often that I get truly excited about a bottle of wine that retails for $9.99. This Fossetti Rosso Toscano bottled by Mocali in Montalcino is one of those value wines that has me quite fired up. Mocali is better know for the famed Brunello di Montalcino, but this bargain Rosso made primarily with Sangiovese and some Canaiolo outperforms many Brunellos and Chiantis that cost much, much more.

Very dark purple in the glass, the nose is filled with aromas of intense cherry fruit with other dark berry aromas and some very subtle leather. The wine is fruit forward in style and very approachable at a young age. This is a 2007 Rosso that is absolutely ready to drink now. In your mouth you get the same intense cherry flavors and other dark berries that are so pleasant on the bouquet. The body is medium-full with rather mild acidity for a Sangiovese, and the tannins are very smooth. Aside from maybe wanting a little more acidity, this is already a very good wine; however, it is the long finish that really sets it apart from other value wines from Tuscany. This wine just keeps providing pleasure for your taste buds well after you swallow a sip.

As far as value for your money goes, this is about as good as it gets. At $9.99 a bottle, go out and buy a couple cases. This is an absolute steal.

I enjoyed this with some pasta and sausage with red sauce, but this would also pair very well with with grilled meats or a good aged Italian cheese.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Falesco Vitiano 2007 - Umbria

I have to say that I tasted the Falesco Vitiano 2007 with some rather high expectation for a bottle that retails for around $9. The very stingy critic Stephen Tanzer gave this wine a glowing review with a 91 point rating which is just about unheard of for something in this price range. After tasting it, I am not completely in agreement with Mr. Tanzer, but I do think that this wine is a decent value.

This Umbrian Rosso is made from 34% Sangiovese and 33% each of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. In your glass you get intensely dark purple color. The bouquet is dominated by blackberry and cassis with a little bit of leather to it. On the palate you get blackfruit flavors which are primarily cassis with some black cherry, and there is also some earthiness that I found to be just a little bit off . The Sangiovese did contribute some pleasant acidity to the blend. The other flaw I found with this wine was the tannins. They were too chalky and bitter for my taste. I'm a guy that generally likes strong tannins, but in this case they put the wine out of balance, especially on the finish. This Rosso had a finish with some nice length to it, but the chalky, almost astringent tannins overpowered the other flavors which were present but very subtle.

Overall, the Falesco Vitiano is still a good value when you consider the $9 price tag, but it is nowhere near the 91 point score that Stephen Tanzer gave it - probably more in the 85 to 87 range if I had to put a score to it. My recommendation is to really let this decant a long time, at least 3 hours, to let those tannins mellow out a little bit.

As far as food goes, this would pair best with aged Italian cheese like a Parmigiano Reggiano or a Pecorino.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Chateau Mourgues Du Gres Fleur d"Eglantine 2008

Rose wines are the Rodney Dangerfields of American wine tastes and knowledge - they just don't get any respect. In Europe, good roses are seen as fine wines just like reds and whites. In the US, many ignorant wine drinkers (and I don't mean this as a term of insult - they simply don't know better) turn their nose at roses and consider it to be a lesser category of wine. For this, we can thank Bob Trinchero, the man who started the whole concept of White Zinfandel in California.

Trinchero's Sutter Home Winery was trying to make a rose or blush wine in the early 1970's when he had a problem with fermentation one year. His grapes underwent an incomplete fermentation, and the resulting wine was left with quite a bit of sugar from the fruit that never converted into alcohol. His winemaker was ready to dump it all, but Trinchero decided to try bottling and selling it to an American public that for the most part did not drink wine and liked sweeter drinks. This move, which was an insult to good winemaking, worked out pretty well for Mr. Trinchero from a marketing and sales standpoint. Unfortunately for many wine consumers, it gave rose a bad name in the US market.

The truth is that most roses are not sweet, and there are many delicious dry rose wines that are perfect with certain foods and absolutely great when chilled on those hot summer days when red wines just feel a little too warm and heavy.

The Chateau Mourgues du Gres Fleur d'Eglantine 2008 is a great example of a nice, dry rose that makes for some perfect summer drinking. Made with Mourvedre, Grenache, Syrah and Carignan that is only left in contact with its skins for a very short time, this wine is light salmon in color with a quite complex and enjoyable bouquet. You get aromas ranging from strawberry and raspberry to ripe nectarine and a citrus element with some grapefruit. In your mouth you get much of the same with a wonderful combination of fruit flavors balanced by a crisp acidity. The finish is dry and clean with a little bit of length to it. I like this wine all the time, but I love it on a hot summer day. At a price around $13, it is also a very good value. If you like roses, go give this one a try. You won't be disappointed. If your not familiar with good, dry roses, Chateau Mourgues du Gres Fleur d'Eglantine would be a great introduction to this often misunderstood and under appreciated category.

Enjoy this with grilled salmon or swordfish, or pair with a hot sunny day in your yard.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Atalayas de Golban Ribera Del Duero 2005

Atalays de Golban is a wine with a pretty interesting story. The fruit for this very nice Ribera del Duero is sourced from vineyards in and around the village of Atauta in the forgotten eastern edge of the Ribera del Duero region. This area was not highly sought after by growers and winemakers, and in 1999 wine merchant Miguel Sanchez was able to buy up most of the land in this region at rather low prices. The land included many old vine Tinto Fino/Tempranillo plantings that had been neglected for years and just needed some care. The land here is at higher elevation and cooler temperatures than most of Ribera del Duero, which results in a somewhat longer growing season than most of the region. Sanchez first used this fruit for his Dominio de Atauta project and then bought even more land for Atalyas de Golban before prices quickly rose in Atauta due to his early success there.

Sanchez' French winemaker Bertrand Sourdais has come up with some great results in this 2005 offering. Intense purple in color, the wine was aged in 20% new and 80% used French oak. Aromas of blackberry, dark plum and cassis are laced with notes of leather and spice. This 100% Tinto Fino/Tempranillo has a rich, full bodied mouthfeel. Fruit forward in style, dark berries dominate the palate with some mild pepper on the nice finish. Smooth tannins round out the structure.

I had this with an authentic Hungarian pork dish, and it worked pretty well, but ideally this should be paired with grilled red meat, especially lamb, or good dry Spanish cheese like an aged Manchego or Mahon.

At a price right around $20, this wine represents a pretty good value.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Vincent Dureuil-Janthial Rully "La Martelle" 2007

It seems that the more I drink white Burgundy, the more I like it. My wife is still pretty firmly in the California camp for Chardonnay, but tonight's tasting is starting to turn her a little bit too. Personally I still like both, but with certain foods White Burgundy makes a much better pairing than California Chardonnay. Tonight we had grilled swordfish steaks with a lime avocado aioli. The Vincent Dureuil-Janthial Rully "La Martelle" made a very good pairing for this meal.

Rully is a village in the Cote Chalonnaise in Burgundy that is just south of the Cote de Beaune near Montrachet and Meursault. Vincent Dureuil is a young winemaker with a rising star who's family has winemaking roots going back to the 13th century. His 2007 Rully "La Martelle" had a pleasant light straw color in the glass with wonderful aromas of green apple and pear. There was also a subtle hint of vanilla and oak that rounded off the very nice bouquet. On the palate you got more of the same dominated by the fruit much more than the oak. Nice acidity and an excellent, long finish made for a very good wine that paired very well with the swordfish steak and the creamy avocado topping. At at price in the low $20s this was not an outstanding value, but well worth it for a great pairing when you consider the cost of swordfish steaks. An oaky, buttery California Chard just would not have worked with this meal.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Tarragon Roasted Red Potatoes

I consider myself quite lucky to live in a place where I can be in a vibrant downtown area in 20 minutes or out at a farmer's market that is actually on the farm in about 10 minutes. Cooking with fresh, local ingredients is not only very enjoyable, but it also makes for some delicious meals.

Recently on a visit to my nearby farm market, I picked up among many other things some locally grown red potatoes and a sweet onion without any real plan for either. On the way home I decided that I was quite tired of the same old roasted red potatoes with french onion soup mix that seems to be a staple in the kitchen of everyone I know. I searched the internet for some different recipes and was uninspired by my findings, so I decided to make it up as I went along.

I started by chopping 6 medium red potatoes into small pieces - about 1" x 1" x 1/2". I then finely chopped the onion into very small pieces. In keeping with the fresh and local idea, I then went out into my herb garden and went through the choices I had there and decided on some tarragon. I picked enough tarragon so that when finely chopped I had about 2 tbs. I then put all these ingredients into a pyrex baking dish, added 1 1/2 tbs. of olive oil and some salt and pepper and mixed them all together. Finally I cooked the potatoes for 50 minutes at 425 degrees. Once the tarragon started cooking and the aromas filled my kitchen, I knew I was onto something good. The dish was a great accompaniment to a grilled pork tenderloin and fresh summer corn.

So go ahead and get out there to support your local farmers. Buy what's fresh and local and get creative, sometimes its just the inspiration you'll need to get out of the trap of making the same old side dishes all the time. You'll feel good about the fresh, high quality food you'll get, and you can feel good that your supporting local businesses and helping our environment in many ways.

Friday, August 14, 2009

My Visit to Yountville in the Napa Valley

This is my fourth and final post regarding my good fortune in being in the Bay Area for business early this week with some time to visit wineries and tasting rooms in the afternoons. I love when things work out like that!

This posting is focused on three tasting rooms of some smaller wineries that I visited right in the center of Yountville. Jessup Cellars, Girard Winery, and Hope & Grace wines all have tasting rooms located right on Washington St. in Yountville.

The first stop I made was at Jessup Cellars, which has a very nice tasting room with a nice art collection adjacent to it. Jessup’s founder and winemaker is Mark Jessup, who has a background working at Robert Mondavi and Opus One among others. Here I tasted 4 different red wines and a Cabernet Port. The Cabernet Port was served with chocolates, and I must say that the Port and the chocolate made a great pairing to finish my visit there. As far as the other wines, their 2006 Merlot was quite good. It had aromas of blackberry, black raspberry, and cherry with much of the same on the palate. Strong but pleasant tannins and some acid provided a bit of balance. The Jessup 2006 Table for Four was a blend of 65% Cabernet, 15% Merlot, 15% Cabernet Franc, and 5% Petite Sirah (yes it is indeed Petite Sirah and not Petit Verdot). This wine had a very nice bouquet and flavors of blackberry and cassis. This and all of Jessup’s red wines were interesting in that the color was on the lighter side, but the flavor profile was very much dark blackfruit.

Girard Winery was my next stop in Yountville. Located in walking distance from Jessup, Girard was a very nice tasting room with some unique wines and some excellent wines. Meg and Erin here were excellent hosts. In the interesting category was a blend called 2006 Mixed Blacks which consisted of Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, Syrah, Grenache, Mourvedre, and Carignane. All the grapes are mixed throughout the same vineyard in Calistoga and picked at once.

In the excellent category was their 2006 Artistry which is a much more traditional Bordeaux blend consisting of 59% Cabernet Sauvignon, 13% Cabernet Franc, 13% Petite Verdot, 8% Malbec, and 7% Merlot with fruit sourced from Oakville, Yountville, and St. Helena. On the nose you get aromas of black cherry and cassis with an herbal undertone. The wine has classic purple-red color with a nice full bodied, rich mouthfeel and solid tannins. It is very good now, and I believe it will become even better in a few years. This excellent Cab was a very good value at $40.

My final stop of the day was Hope & Grace wines. Here I was greeted by Tiffani, who was friendly, very knowledgeable and shares my love for Stag’s Leap District Cabernets. The winemaker at Hope & Grace, Charles Hendricks, has a long history of making wine in the valley for wineries like Regusci, Barnett, Bacio Divino, and several others. In 2001, he started making his own wines under the Hope & Grace label, which is named after his two daughters. They are a small production winery with overall production at about 2000 cases. All seven of the wines I tasted here were quite good with a couple standouts. Their 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon and their 2006 Russian River Pinot Noir were both very good, but their 2006 Stag’s Leap District Cabernet Sauvignon was the star here. This Cab, with fruit sourced from the Regusci Ranch, had beautiful deep, blackfruit aromas dominated by ripe black cherry and blackberry. This is one of those Cabs that I could just smell all day long. In your mouth, you get a full bodied Cab with intense fruit flavors and classic Stag’s Leap District tannins. This Cab is just absolutely delicious! Although you could, it would be a shame to enjoy this while it’s young. It should just get even better over the next 5 to 10 years. This was a perfect finish to my afternoon in Rutherford and Yountville.

Well, here I am writing from my home in the Buffalo, NY area already missing some of the wonderful wineries and tasting rooms that I visited. At least I have some wine from each of them that I brought home to enjoy over the next several years. Each time I uncork one, it will be a wonderful reminder of the great little diversion I had this week in beautiful Napa Valley. On those occasions, I will not only have some great wines, but I will also uncork some fond memories.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

My Visit to Rutherford in Napa Valley

Tuesday I had the pleasure of visiting some wineries and tasting rooms in Rutherford and Yountville after doing some business for my real job in the Bay Area. For this post I’m going to focus on Rutherford and then I will cover Yountville in a later post.

My first stop in Rutherford was a second visit to the tasting room at Elizabeth Spencer Wines. This is a great, simple little tasting room right on Rutherford Rd. across from the Rutherford Grill and Beaulieu Vineyard. Owned by partners Elizabeth Pressler and Spencer Graham, they are a small winery making very limited amounts of quite a few different wines. On this visit I tried eight different wines and there wasn’t a bad one in the bunch. All the wines were made in a style that had very nice balance and would be very food friendly.

For the whites, they had a nice Sauvignon Blanc that had crisp citrus aromas and flavors without being too fruity. Nice acidity balanced out the fruit in this organically farmed and produced Sauvignon Blanc. I also tasted a 2007 Chardonnay, which was unoaked and very crisp with strong but nice acidity for a Chardonnay.

For red wines I tasted a number of excellent wines. They had a pleasant Merlot and Petite Sirah, but the Cabernets were the standouts. Their 2006 Crossroads Cuvee Cabernet was a wonderful example of a well balanced, food friendly Cabernet. Fruit was sourced from multiple locations in Napa Valley including Rutherford, Oakville, Howell Mountain, Pritchard Hill, and Mt. Veeder. Aromas of blackberry and cassis dominated the nose and you got much of the same on the palate. What was very interesting with this Cabernet is that the fruit was delicious but not overpowering. It had good acidity, decent tannins which should soften with a little time, and great overall structure. The 2006 Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon was also excellent. This offering has fruit sourced from a single vineyard near the ridgeline of Howell Mountain in the northeast of Napa Valley. This mountain fruit produced a more fruit forward Cabernet that had great intensely dark fruit flavors of cassis and black plum. It had big tannins to back up the fruit and a wonderful finish where I picked up a hint of cola to go along with the fruit.

I should also note that Mark in the tasting room was friendly and extremely knowledgeable, and largely responsible for mapping out my itinerary for the rest of the day. Finally I will point out that although I did not spend any time in them, they have a nice garden, picnic area and tasting cottage that Mark showed me before I left. I will be sure to spend some time there in my next visit to the Napa Valley. This is a great winery that is a conveniently located and easy stop on just about any Napa Valley itinerary.

My next stop was Frog’s Leap Winery on Conn Creek Road in Rutherford. This was perhaps the most relaxing winery I’ve ever visited. I tasted wine while sitting on a covered porch near a wildflower garden listening to birds chirping and roosters crowing. They poured all four wines at once to taste at your leisure and served a cheese, nut, and fruit plate to go with it. The whole experience changed the gears of my day from run, run, run, to sit back, relax and smell the roses – literally. They did have a nice rose garden , but I must confess I did not actually smell them. I was much more interested in smelling their wines.

The wines and winery at Frog’s Leap are a little bit different than what you typically see or taste. They practice dry, organic, and sustainable farming, and they built the first LEED certified tasting room and administrative center in the industry. They also run their operation on all solar energy. The wines are also a little bit different than the norm in that they are extremely well balanced and much lower alcohol than many other California wines. They even have a Zinfandel that is only 13.4% alcohol.

All the wines I tasted were very good, but the standouts for me were the 2007 Zinfandel and the 2007 Chardonnay. The Zinfandel as I previously stated has a remarkably low alcohol percentage in a time where its no longer unusual to see Zinfandel’s well over 15%. Slightly lighter in color than most Zins, it had sweet cherry aromas with some subtle spice. In your mouth you get a pleasant mouthfeel with none of the syrupy or raisiny qualities that plague so many Zinfandels these days. Flavors of cherry and wild berry along with some spice are balanced by acidity and a bit of earthiness. This is actually a Zin with structure that can be enjoyed with food. Highly recommended!

The 2007 Chardonnay also showed excellent balance and structure. Made with Carneros fruit in 78% new and neutral oak and 22% stainless steel, this was a wonderful Chardonnay. On the nose and the palate you get nice but subtle fruit flavors and a subtle hint of oak, but what really set this apart is the crisp acidity and minerality that it exhibits. This is not your typical oaky and buttery California style Chardonnay. If I didn’t know better, I would have thought I was drinking white Burgundy.

Well that about sums up my visit to Rutherford. Soon I will be posting the details of my visit to some tasting rooms in Yountville. Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Stag's Leap District Visit Part 2

I'm still pinching myself for having some time to take a couple diversions while travelling to the Bay Area for my real job. This past Sunday I had the pleasure of spending the afternoon in the Stag's Leap District visiting five wineries in total. For some information on the Stag's Leap District in general and on Clos Du Val, Chimney Rock, and Regusci please see my post for Stag's Leap District Visit Part 1. This post is going to focus on the last two wineries I visited - Baldacci and Pine Ridge.

Baldacci Family Vineyards was recommended to me by the folks over at Chimney Rock. They are a relative upstart in the Stag's Leap district, having just released their first wine in 2003. They are small and family owned as the name suggests, and with that you get the attention to quality and detail that often gets overlooked in larger wineries. Their winemaker, Rolando Herrera, has a number of years of experience working for well respected wineries like Paul Hobbs. He also has extensive experience working in the Stag's Leap District as the former Cellar Master at Stag's Leap Wine Cellars. The tasting room staff were friendly and knew their stuff.

The wines at Baldacci were quite good. Two in particular stood out for me. Their 2005 IV Sons Cabernet Sauvignon may just be the best value in the Stag's Leap District. It is 97% Cabernet Sauvignon with the remaining 3% Cabernet Franc. Aged in 40% new French oak, it has very nice blackfruit aromas and flavors with a touch of Bordeaux style earthiness to it. In the mouth you get those silky Stag's Leap District tannins. Although it is not quite at the same level of some of the world class Cabernets I tasted on this afternoon, it is a very strong value at $35.

The 2005 Baldacci Black Label Cabernet Sauvignon was, in a word, lovely! Aged in 70% new French oak for 20 months, it is 100% Cabernet Sauvignon. It had beautiful blackfruit aromas dominated by cassis with more of the same on the palate with complex hints of multiple other flavors. Even as a young wine, this has classic Stag's Leap District tannins with a fantastic finish. I know this is hard to believe for those of you are less serious about your wine, but at $65 this wine is also an outstanding value. The Baldacci family is a very welcome addition to the Stag's Leap scene.

My final stop was a winery I was aware of and drove by many times, but had never really paid attention to in the past. After visiting them, I am now regretting that I didn't get to know them sooner. Pine Ridge Winery is making some very nice wines with a pretty extensive library. Chris in their tasting room was knowledgeable and I enjoyed spending time with him and the rest of the staff. They were serious about their wine but a lot of fun to be around. Wines ranged from unique and good to excellent. Their 2006 Onyx was a Malbec Blend consisting of 43% Malbec, 38% Merlot, 10% Tannat, 4% Cabernet Franc, and 5% Cabernet Sauvignon. Although it wasn't a standout for being one of the best wines there, it was a very unique wine that was a nice change of pace.

Pine Ridge's 2006 Napa Valley Cab was made primarily with fruit from the Oakville and Rutherford AVAs. It had nice purple color to it with aromas of blackberry and blueberry. On the palate you get more of the same with some black cherry. The finish was unique and very long. The Pine Ridge 2005 Stag's Leap District Cabernet Sauvignon was excellent. Consisting of 89% Cabernet Sauvignon, 6% Petit Verdot, and 5% Malbec it was aged in 75% new French oak barrels. It had a bouquet of blackberry and cassis with some subtle blueberry. The fruit was balanced by decent acidity and classic Stag's Leap District tannins. This was an excellent wine from a winery that I need to pay more attention to going forward.

Well that about does it for my Sunday afternoon in Stag's Leap. Luckily I also had some free time to hit other parts of Napa on Monday and Tuesday afternoons. I will be highlighting those tasstings in other posts later this week.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Stag's Leap District Visit - Part 1

Yesterday I had the fortune of spending a Sunday afternoon in Napa Valley while out in the Bay Area for my real job. I spent about 3 hours total and hit 5 wineries that are all in the Stag’s Leap District in the southeast of Napa Valley. If your not familiar with it, the Stag’s Leap District is an American Viticultural Area (AVA) well known for producing some of the best Cabernet Sauvignon in the world – primarily from fruit grown on or near the hillsides that frame the eastern edge of the valley. The grapes get excellent afternoon sun exposure combined with cool mornings due to the district’s proximity to the San Pablo Bay. This combination of cool nights and mornings and hot afternoons along with some great, rocky, volcanic soil and extensive sun exposure produces some very unique wines.

The Stag’s Leap District AVA gained fame even before they officially became an AVA thanks to the 1976 Judgment of Paris wine tasting that pitted California wines against much more well known French wines in a blind tasting. The top red wine in this tasting was a Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars Cabernet, and a Clos du Val Cabernet also did well in the competition. Eventually some of the wineries and growers came together to lobby for recognition as a their own AVA, which is no small feat considering that Stag's Leap Wine Cellars and Stag's Leap winery had a longstanding lawsuit going over the Stag's Leap name. They eventually received the AVA designation in 1989. The wineries and growers argued – and I agree with them wholeheartedly – that the terroir in the Stag’s Leap District makes Cabernet Sauvignon grown there unique and different from other Napa Valley Cabernets. I also happen to think it makes them better than any Cabernet Sauvignon in the world.

Stag’s Leap District wines are powerful and gentle all at the same time. Warren Winiarski from Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars referred to these wines as having “an iron fist in a velvet glove.” It sounds crazy, but it is a perfect description of what great wines from the Stag’s Leap District give you. The hot days give you big, beautiful fruit flavor, and the cool nights help maintain decent acidity for balance. The soils and climate somehow deliver tannins that are always present but unbelievable smooth and silky.

Well that’s enough background for now. Let’s get to my visit to the Stag’s Leap District. I hit five wineries and spent 30 to 45 minutes visiting and tasting at each one. Because of my limited time, I chose not to tour any of the wineries but simply to visit their tasting room. The wineries I visited on this trip were Clos Du Val, Chimney Rock Winery, Regusci Winery, Baldacci Family Vineyards, and Pine Ridge Vineyards. On previous visits to the area I have also been to Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars, Steltzner Vineyards, and Cliff Lede, which are all very nice in their own right, but not the focus of this posting.

My first stop was Clos du Val which is the southernmost property I visited. Situated on beautiful grounds with very nice landscaping and a charming area for picnics, this winery has been making outstanding Stag’s Leap District Cabs since the early 1970’s. They also participated in the 1976 Judgment of Paris. In a follow up tasting of the exact same wines 10 years later, they were the winner.

At Clos du Val I tasted one Chardonnay and a few different Cabs. Their 1998 Reserve Cabernet was one of two standouts for me. It had aromas of blackberry, cassis, and blueberry with a hint of spice. The tannins were very pleasant and the wine was very well balanced. The 2005 Stag’s Leap District Cabernet Sauvignon from Clos Du Val was even better and less expensive than the Reserve. It had a nice purple-red color in the glass with gorgeous aromas of blackfruit with much of the same on the palate. The tannins were strong but not harsh. With some time this could be a very nice wine.

My visit to Chimney Rock Winery was everything you could ever want in a winery visit. As you pull into the parking lot you get stunned by the beautiful scenery of the Stag’s Leap Palisades right in front of you. The winery building itself is rather simple outside, but very warm and inviting once you step inside. The tasting room staff – especially Tom – were friendly and knowledgeable, and it was a pleasure to spend time with them. The experience was made all the more pleasant by meeting and spending some time in the tasting room with a very nice young couple visiting from Chicago who were also sampling some of the fine wines that Chimney Rock has to offer. Why is it that wineries always have so many nice people visiting and working for them? I guess it’s just an added perk to go with all the great wine.

The wines at Chimney Rock ranged from good and interesting to outstanding. Their 2003 Arete Cabernet and the 2004 Reserve Cabernet were unique in that they had tannins so soft and so smooth that I actually wanted a little more iron fist and a little less velvet glove. Two wines that stood out were the 2005 Ganymede Cabernet and the 2006 Tomahawk Cabernet, although I have to say there basic 2005 Stag’s Leap District Cabernet was also quite good. The Tomahawk may have been the best wine of all the wines I tasted during this visit. It had wonderful aromas of blackberry and cassis with a hint of black cherry and spice. This is a wine I could sit down with and just smell it for an hour before drinking any of it. The bouquet was absolutely gorgeous. On the palate the wine was very fruit forward but with incredible balance. The fruit was the star, but there was an excellent supporting cast of acid and those silky Stag’s Leap District tannins. I can’t believe how good this tasted at such a young age. It should get even better with a little time.

The next stop on my trip was Regusci Winery. Situated right next door to Chimney Rock, this stop was a last second drive-by decision, and I was happy that I made it. The staff here (especially Vickie) were warm, friendly, and informative, and I also met some very nice folks here tasting wine (from the Carolinas I think). This family owned winery has roots that go back to the 1800’s, and the property was acquired by Gaetano Regusci in 1932. He made wines at the time, but also dedicated a lot of land to other crops and livestock. Eventually his descendants put the focus entirely on grapes, and they grew them for other wineries and now for their own.

I tasted a number of different wines here with some surprising standouts for me. I thought they had a very nice 2007 Chardonnay with grapes sourced from the Carneros region in the southern end of Napa and Sonoma counties. I was also surprised by their 2006 Merlot. It had beautiful blackfruit aromas with a subtle lavender undertone, and it had the great velvety mouthfeel that you get with Merlot done right. The blend included about 10% Cabernet Sauvignon, and aside from the velvety mouthfeel, you could almost convince me I was drinking a Cab not a Merlot. Vickie was right to tell me that they have a “kick ass” Merlot. This also tells you a little bit about how fun the atmosphere is in this winery.

Regusci also had an excellent Bordeaux style blend. Their 2006 Patriarch Proprietary Blend had a great bouquet with flavors of blackberry and cherry with nice acidity and classic Stag’s Leap tannins. It was a very enjoyable wine to finish my visit to Regusci.

Well that’s part one of my visit to the Stag’s Leap District. In the next day or two I will write about Baldacci Family Vineyards and Pine Ridge Vineyards. Thanks for reading!

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Cambria Julia's Vinyard Pinot Noir 2006

Pinot Noir is certainly not my favorite grape in the wine world. Having said that I must admit that it is a perfect pairing for certain foods. There is nothing like a fine French Burgundy to go with a great Thanksgiving turkey. It may be somewhat unconventional, but I also happen to love Pinot Noir with pizza. Finally, it seems that salmon and Pinot Noir were made for each other. Before reviewing, I should note that Pinot is the one grape where I strongly prefer the Old World style to the new.

Last night, salmon with a maple/mustard glaze was on the menu, so I set out to get some nice Pinot Noir. I had heard great things about the Cambria Julia's vineyard, and it seemed to be a potential value at just under $20. Having tried and enjoyed their Chardonnays in the past, I had high hopes for this Pinot Noir.

In the glass, the color of the wine was a very light brick red. The nose had elements of cherry, spice, Cinnamon, and smoky vanilla. All of these were nice, but it just didn't smell like Pinot Noir. On the palate you get cherry and sour cherry, some acidity and a light body. The wine had decent balance to it. In looking for flaws in this wine, there were no glaring weak points. From a technical standpoint, there was nothing wrong with this Pinot, but for me there just wasn't anything particularly right with the wine. This sounds a little corny, but this wine had no soul. It seems to me that it was made in the winery and not in the vineyard.

Although its sad to say, just under $20 is a very low price for what was supposed to be a good Pinot Noir (93 points from Wine Enthusiast). Unfortunately I feel this was money wasted and would not recommend Cambria Julia's Vineyard Pinot Noir 2006.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Caymus Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2007

The Caymus Napa Valley Cabernet 2007 is a wine that took a long time to open up, but it was worth the wait.

Intense, dark purple in color, this wine is very full bodied - almost syrupy. It has a very high alcohol content and legs that just keep going. When first tasted after decanting 2 hours, the alcohol was still overwhelming the other flavors. I let this wine sit in glass an additional hour and came back to it at which point is was much more ready for drinking.

On the nose you get intense aromas of blackberry and cassis with underlying scents of licorice and caramel. On the palate you get much more of the same with the blackberry taking center stage. The mouthfeel is ultra rich - almost too rich and a little bit syrupy. The tannins are about as silky smooth as they get. After swallowing you get a very pleasant finish with more than a little bit of length to it. Overall a very nice wine that is wound quite tight at this young age. This needs a little time to mellow out or a lot of time decanting.

At a price tag of about $70, this wine is an OK but definitely not great value. It is quite good, but in this price range you can find better.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Clos De Noi Vinyes Velles Negre Samso 2007 Montsant

Wow - that title is a mouthful isn't it? This old vine wine is made entirely from Samso which is the region of Montsant's local name for the native Spanish Carinena grape. Most of the rest of the world calls it Carignan. Regardless of what you call it, this grape is getting some good results in Spain in the northeastern regions of Montsant and Priorat.

This bottling from Clos de Noi has a dark purple color. On the nose you get a nice bouquet of plum, blackberry, and black cherry with just a touch of earthiness to go along with the fruit. In your mouth you get a smooth pleasant feel to the wine with flavors of blackberry as well as red and black raspberry. All of this leads to a decent but somewhat uninspiring finish. Overall, it is a nice wine.

At a price point in the under $15 range, this Montsant gives you decent value.

From a pairing standpoint you could go in a couple different directions. Pork tenderloin cooked medium rare worked rather nicely for me with this, but I would caution against pairing it with well done pork. I also thinks this would go very nicely with a big, juicy burger or some authentic, fresh chorizo sausage.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Vina Cobos Felino Cabernet Sauvignon 2007

Vina Cobos is a joint venture between American winemaker and consultant Paul Hobbs and his partners in Argentina, Andrea Marchiori and Luis Barraud. Hobbs is much more famous for the Napa Valley winery that bears his name, but Vina Cobos makes some very nice wines that might start to change that a little bit.

This 2007 Felino Cabernet Sauvignon from Mendoza has deep red-purple color with a full body. Aromas of cassis and blackberry dominate with pencil lead and a hint of vanilla and spice. Fruit forward in style, you get flavors of cassis and blackberry jam with very smooth tannins for such a young Cab.

At a price of about $18, this wine gives you a lot of bang for your buck. It compares favorably to a lot of Cabs in the $30 plus price range. Highly recommended!

Like any good Cabernet, this wine pairs very well with grilled steak or other beef dishes. It also goes nicely with aged cheeses.