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Top Picks in 2009 Bordeaux from the Union des Grands Crus Tasting in San Francisco

Today we take a brief detour from California to France. I attended the Union des Grands Crus Tasting of 2009 Bordeaux on Saturday, January 21 at the Bently Reserve in San Francisco. It was a consumer tasting sponsored by K&L Wines. The tasting environment was good. The temperature was ideal and, though the event was sold out, it was not excessively crowded. It was a three-hour tasting

More than 100 chateaux participated, but most of the top names were not in attendance. I had not expected to see the First Growths. However, many who attended in the past, including Leoville Las-Cases, Pontet-Canet, Ducru Beaucaillou, Cos d’Estournel, Palmer, Angelus were not their either. Nonetheless, there was an excellent array of wines. I sampled 45 myself.

About the Vintage

la-tour-from-comtesseThe 2009 vintage in Bordeaux has been widely celebrated for it’s quality, particularly that of the red wines. That has driven or more accurately, encouraged upper echelon chateaux to drive, prices very high. There has been hand-wringing (or glee, depending on one’s perspective) over the very recent set-backs for Bordeaux in the Asian market that caused “the bottom to fall out of values.” However, “value” has long been understood to mean “going price for investment wines” rather than “fair price for drinking wines.”

The good news for you and I is that great vintages bring great values. And now I do mean bargains. Over the past decade, top growths produced very fine, age-worthy wines virtually every year. However, many fourth, fifth and unclassified growths only excel in the best of vintages. 2009 was such a year and there are many excellent wines and genuine bargains to be had from that vintage of Bordeaux.

Even in 2009 though, Bordeaux was still Bordeaux. One might think, from reading popular magazines and newsletters, that the wines for this vintage ooze fruit and bear more resemblance to Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon than traditional Bordeaux. That is not the case. The wines are clearly recognizable as Bordeaux, distinct to their districts and lean far more toward savory than sweet.

It is true, though, that the wines are much less austere than in some years. Finding fruit takes little imagination. Drinkability will take little cellaring. Wine from a Chateau that normally requires 10 or more years of age will be ready in five or less. Many of the wines will age well but are ready to drink tonight.

My Favorites

There were a lot of excellent wines at the tasting. These are the ones that made me ask, “do I really need to go on with the tasting or can I just stand here and drink this all afternoon?” They are listed here in order by my degree of obsession.

Chateau Canon La Gaffeliere (St. Emilion): Plummy red fruit, violets, spice, dry tobacco and coffee. Full-bodied for Bordeaux with plenty of fine powdery tannins that give the wine structure for aging but silky accessibility now.

Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte Blanc (Pessac-Leognan): Yes, 2009 was a red wine vintage but, “wow.” Fabulously fragrant with white peach, wood and spice.

Chateau Malartic Lagraviere Blanc (Pessac-Leognan): A beautiful wine with white peach, light wood, delicate tangerine, vanilla and herb.

Chateau Leoville Poyferre (Saint-Julien): A very pretty nose with cocoa, soft wood, gentle dark fruit, and earthy spice. Very fine, chalky tannins let the flavors through. Elegant and lovely.

Very Highly Recommended 2009 Bordeaux (alphabetically by region)

Chateau La Lagune (Haut Medoc): 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, 10% Petit Verdot. Cherry, cassis, dusty huckleberry and cream. Substantial and drying by fine-grained tannins. Best 2015 - 2025.

Chateau Lascombes (Margaux): Woody incense, warm dark fruit, dry leaves and mocha with fine powdery tannins.

Chateau Lynch-Bages (Pauillac): Fig, black currant, graphite and earthy wood. Pretty with an elegant nose but structured palate of earthy spice with dominant, chalky tannins. Best after 2018.

Chateau Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande (Pauillac): Exotic, earthy spice, tobacco and black fruit. Light-grained tannins on the palate with forest floor and coconut flavors.

Chateau Phelan Segur (Saint-Estephe): A leafy forest in Summer, earth, spice, and dried meat. Heavy, powdery tannins clamp down on the palate. Best after 2016.

Highly Recommended 2009 Bordeaux (alphabetically by region)


Domaine de Chevalier Rouge: Aromatic wood, black fruit and espresso on the nose. Light-grained tannins and mineral on the palate.

Chateau Haut-Bailly: Earthy spice, blackberry and cocoa nip. Grainy tannins. This one’s all about structure right now.

Chateau Larrivet-Haut-Brion Blanc: White peach and tropical fruit. Lovely.

Chateau Latour-Martillac: Spicy black fruit and game. Light-grained tannins. Very approachable. 55% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Merlot, 5% Petit Verdot.

Chateau Malartic-Lagraviere Rouge: Dusty black currant and black cherry aromatics. Just enough structure with juicy cherry fruit and cocoa on the palate.

Chateau Pape Clement: Roasted meat, black cherry and bay leaf. Creamy with very fine powdery tannins that pull it up a bit short right now.

Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte Rouge: Exotic gamey spice and wild black fruit. Roundish but with lightly drying tannins. Ready now.

St. Emilion Grand Cru

Chateau Beau-Sejour Becot: Sandalwood, woody perfume and soft black fruit. Powdery tannins. Warming but very tasty.

Chateau-Figeac: Black currant, violets, herb, graphite and coffee. Lean with chalky tannins. More tannin than fruit at the moment, give it some time.

Clos Fourtet: Mixed black and red fruit, spice and wood. Velvety palate, warming.

Chateau Larmande: Earthy spice, old leather and tobacco aromatics. Chalky tannins and mineral on the palate. It’s all about the nose right now, but will loosen up with a few years cellaring.


Chateau Petit-Village: Nose of black currant, spice and oak. The palate surprises with polished tannins and chocolate-covered cherries. Ready to go, but will cellar.


Chateau Chasse-Spleen: Tight nose with exotic spice. Drying tannins matched by plenty of acidity. Restrained by very nice. Hold for three years.

Chateau Poujeaux: Dense berry fruit, graphite and powdery tannins.

Haut Medoc

Chateau Beaumont: Rare roast beef, spice and coffee. At about $19/bottle, this is another great value from Beaumont.

Chateau Belgrave: 75% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot, 5% Petit Verdot. Cassis, spice and wood with a silky attack and medium-plus tannins. Very nice.

Chateau Cantemerle: Beautiful black fruit, spice and aromatic woods. Light, chalky tannins and good acidity. Highly Recommended+.

Chateau Citran: Spicy blackberry, black cherry and leather. Lightly drying, fine-grained tannins.

Chateau Coufran: Red cherry, spice, violets and forest floor. Fine, powdery but drying tannins. A very nice effort and really good value.


Chateau Desmirail: Earthy, woody spice and gamey, dark fruit. Chalky tannins and good acidity.

Chateau du Tertre: Subtle, lovely nose of woodsy cologne, dark fruit, incense, sandalwood and spice. Medium-plus powdery tannins. Powerful yet nuanced.

Chateau Kirwan: Juicy, cocoa-covered cherries. Round on the palate with soft tannins.


Chateau Beycheville: Gamey coffee and cherry. Powdery tannins. Interesting, should develop well in the glass.

Chateau Leoville Barton: Leathery spice, cedar and blackberry. Strong tannins. Best 2018 - 2030.

Chateau Talbot: Earthy spice, black fruit and forest floor with prominent, powdery tannins.


Chateau Grand-Puy Ducasse: Cherries, dark flowers and mint with plenty of chalky tannins. Best after 2015.

Chateau Pichon-Longueville (Baron): Tight with red fruit, pretty wood and cocoa. Very chalky, drying tannins. Best from 2018.

For even more detailed coverage of the tasting, see this article by Richard Jennings. Don’t be startled if there are a few points of substantial divergence between our reviews. A number of people at the tasting remarked on very noticeable bottle variation That’s not unexpected with Bordeaux. In addition, most wines were not decanted and just a few minutes of air in a half-empty bottle can open these young wines up quite a bit. The Canon La Gaffeliere is one example. Richard found it closed. Ten minutes later, it welcomed me with open arms.


Follow NorCalWine on Twitter for breaking wine news, information on events and more. Become a fan and join the NorCal Wine community on FacebookAlso check out our comprehensive Northern California winery listings. They are very useful for planning a tasting trip or just getting in touch with a winery.

This article is original to Copyright 2012 NorCal Wine. Photo of Chateau La Tour from Chateau Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande by Fred Swan. All rights reserved.

Highlights from the Rutherford Dust Society Blind Tasting - 2008 Cabernet

The Rutherford Dust Society held their annual tasting on July 13 at Rubicon Estate. In the morning, before the larger trade tasting, there is a seated media tasting. This year, there were 22 wines, poured in two flights of eleven. All of the wine was from the 2008 vintage. Some of the wines have already been released, many have not. After tasting, there is a lunch at which the same wines are available, no longer blind. This allows the media to double-check their initial impressions of certain wines.

Wine Writers Nose Wine! Rutherford Dust Tasting, July 13, 2011
Photo: Fred Swan

Overall Impressions

During the tasting, I was impressed by the fact that most of the 2008 Rutherford Cabernet blends I tasted are very drinkable now. And they had not been decanted, just opened and left in the bottle for an hour or so. The extra five months in bottle since I last tried many of them has allowed their tannins to soften and integrate. The fruit has become less dominant as well. There are still plenty of cherries, berries and currants, but they no longer shout so loudly that you can’t hear the interesting secondary voices which make wine so interesting. Despite their early accessibility, there is plenty of power in the fruit and tannins. Most of the wines have the stuffing to age nicely for ten or more years.

2008 started cold and some vineyards saw severe frost early in the season. This, and generally low yields for others reasons meant the crop for some growers was down by 30% or more. The weather warmed up later, but wasn't excessively hot. This was fortunate because 2008 was also very dry with rainfall at about 60% of average. The end result was a small crop of small-berrIes, great for quality but not for volume. In the wines I noticed no significant signs of either over- or under-ripe fruit. They are generally well-balanced, even elegant, due in part to the cool to moderate temperatures throughout much of the year.

Alcohol levels ranged from 13.7% [Frog’s Leap] up to 15.3 [Beaulieu Vineyard] with an average of 14.6. That is normal, perhaps even a bit light, for the area these days. Paul Wagner (Balzac Communications) pointed out quite correctly that the higher alcohol levels tended to come from the western part of Rutherford rather than eastern. The normal expectation would be the opposite since the east gets more of the harsh afternoon sun. This demonstrates once again that location isn’t everything. Row orientation, clonal selection, leaf pulling, pick dates and many other factors have a significant impact on grape ripeness and sugar levels.

There was dramatic diversity in the prices of these wines. The most expensive wine was the Rubicon from Rubicon Estate at $200. The bargain-hunters’ wine is Pedemonte Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon Rutherford for just $26. Sadly, only 360 cases of that wine were made. On the bright side, the next three lowest priced wines are very good as well and two of them had much higher production volumes.


Eva Swan evaluates Cabernet Sauvignon at the Rutherford Dust Tasting, July 13, 2011.
Photo: Fred Swan

Tasting Notes

Here are the wines I liked best from the tasting with some brief notes. The wines are listed in alphabetical order. Bear in mind that my ratings are provisional, since the tasting conditions, while excellent, didn’t allow me as much time with each wine as I would want for an “official” review.

2008 12C Wines Cabernet Sauvignon Beckstoffer Georges III Vineyard Rutherford, $70. Alc. % n/a, 120 cases, release 8/1/2010
Highly Recommended; A great, fruity nose of black cherry and sweet spice. Gorgeous, ripe black fruit with coconut, fall leaves and vanilla on the palate. Ripe, powdery tannins.

2008 Beaulieu Vineyard Georges de Latour Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon Rutherford, $115. 15.3% alc., 8200 cases, release 8/1/2011
Very Highly Recommended; Black currant, currant leaf, cedar and pencil lead aromas. Flavors of black currant, mild vanilla and spice. Ripe chalky tannins, pleasantly zingy alcohol.

2008 Conn Creek Cabernet Sauvignon Hozhoni Vineyard Rutherford, $45. 14.5% alc., 200 cases, release Spring 2012
Highly Recommended; Ripe black currant, macerated black cherry and currant leaf nose. Black cherry, herb, sweet spice and milk chocolate flavors with fine, ripe, chalky tannins.

2008 Hall Wines Exzellenz Sacrasche Vineyard Rutherford Red Wine, $165. Alc. % n/a, 219 cases, release 11/1/2011
Highly Recommended; Nose of dried black currant, nutmeg and oak. Black currant and sweet spice. Alcohol sticks out just a little.

2008 Honig Cabernet Sauvignon Campbell Vineyard Rutherford, $75. Alc. % n/a, 250 cases, release 6/1/2012
Very Highly Recommended; Black currant, cherry, coffee and bay leaf aromas. Flavors echo the nose and add chocolate and sweet spice. Very fine and ripe chalky tannins.

2008 Meander Cabernet Sauvignon Morisoli Vineyard Rutherford, $125. 15.2% alc., 40 cases, 3/1/2011
Very Highly Recommended, A savory nose of rare roast beef, dark spice and sage. Flavors of black fruit and cocoa. Very fine and ripe chalky tannins. Smooth.

2008 Pedemonte Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon Rutherford, $26. 14.5% alc., 360 cases, release TBD
Highly Recommended; Red cherry, cedar and mint on the nose. Flavors reminded me of a cherry and herb lozenge. Chalky, drying tannins.

2008 Peju Rutherford Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, $105. 14.4% alc., 900 cases, release 9/1/2014 [I spoke with HB in the afternoon and she told me that if someone really, really wants the wine sooner that will be possible.]
Highly Recommended; Juicy black currant and raspberry with notes of tobacco, spice and oak.

2008 Pina Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon Firehouse Vineyard Rutherford, $85. 15.1% alc,, 237 cases, release 11/1/2010.
Very Highly Recommended; Black currant, dark flowers, dust and pencil shavings on the nose. Black currant, blackberry, light cedar and sweet spice on the palate. Voluptuous body with fine and ripe chalky tannins. Gorgeous.

2008 Sawyer Cellars Cabernet Reserve Rutherford, $49. 14.1% alc., 850 cases, release 6/1/2012
Highly Recommended, A great nose with beautiful warmed spices, spiced fig, oak and vanilla. Very ripe red and black cherry flavors with spice and milk chocolate.

2008 Round Pond Cabernet Sauvignon Rutherford, $50. 14.5% alc., 3210 cases, released 1/1/2011
Highly Recommended; Plenty of black currant fruit plus currant leaf/tobacco, sweet spice and vanilla. Chalky, drying tannins.

2008 Staglin Family Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Rutherford, $185. 14.9% alc., 2600 cases, release Fall 2011
Highly Recommended; Black cherry, blackberry and spice nose echoed by the palate which adds dried coconut. Ripe, lightly chalky tannins.

If you found this article interesting, you may also enjoy:
What is Rutherford Dust?
Spotlight on the Rutherford AVA

Follow NorCalWine on Twitter for breaking wine news, information on events and more. Become a fan and join the NorCal Wine community on FacebookAlso check out our comprehensive Northern California winery listings. They are very useful for planning a tasting trip or just getting in touch with a winery.

This article is original to Copyright 2010 NorCal Wine. All rights reserved.

Quick Sips: Brief Notes on Eight Wines I’ve Tasted in the Past Week

The following are a few of the better wines I’ve tasted this week. Lucky me!

2010 Bokisch Albariño Alta Terra Vineyard Clements Hills AVA Lodi
The current vintage of this wine is 2011, but the 2010 was still drinking very nicely. Spanish-variety specialist Bokisch nailed traditional Albariño here. There are aromas of green apple and pear with subtle stone fruit and distinct minerality. The palate is medium-bodied and dry with zingy acidity and a hint of effervescence. Just 12% alcohol. It was perfect with a cold salad of dungeness crab, heirloom tomato, avocado, scallion and a touch of Kewpie mayonnaise with wasabi mayo on the side for dipping.

Corison_KronosCabernetSauvignon_Labelny_3001996 Corison Cabernet Sauvignon Kronos Vineyard Napa Valley
1996 was the first commercial vintage for Cathy Corison’s eponymous label. Her 1996 Kronos shows the virtues of her elegantly powerful style of winemaking, her old-vine Cabernet Sauvignon vineyard and of the patience to allow wines such as this age. It’s a nimble Cabernet Sauvignon, medium-bodied and silky on the palate. There is a chorus of aromas and flavors singing harmoniously and all at about the same level of volume. Gentle black currant, forest floor, black tea, spice, cedar and more. The wine is excellent now but will continue to build complexity for 20 years. (This wine was decanted for one hour prior to tasting.)

2002 Eberle Syrah Paso Robles
This wine is still dense and powerful. Dark, dark, dark in the glass with flavors of briary blackberry, unsweetened chocolate and oak. It’s full-bodied and sports medium-plus tannins. If I had another bottle, I’d either allow it to age further in bottle or give it 60+ minutes in a decanter.

2006 Robert Mondavi Fumé Blanc Reserve To Kalon Napa Valley
Still a deeply pretty wine, this Fumé Blanc has grown more elegant with the years. There are gentle aromas and flavors of soft white peach, pear, perfume-like spice, magnolia flowers, dry grass, ightly-sanded oak and ginger from the outset. These become more pronounced with time in the glass. Consider decanting it briefly before serving.

2002 Joseph Phelps Insignia Napa Valley
This former Wine Spectaor Wine of the Year is still plush and powdery on the palate. Even when pouring the wine at arms’ length, loads of creamy black currant and blackberry reach your nose. Swoon. Decanting is not required.

2009 Phillips-Hill Pinot Noir Wiley Vineyard Anderson Valley
Who in their right mind would drink a Pinot Noir after an 02 Phelps Insignia? I can’t testify to my mental state, but I did exactly that this week. And this Pinot Noir was up to the task. It’s acidity cleansed our palates while it’s beautiful layers of fruit and spice commanded our full attention. “Oh my God. What is this?” asked the multiply-certified palate sitting next to me.

2008 Phillips-Hill Pinot Noir Oppenlander Vineyard Anderson Valley
Less showy than the Wiley and more masculine, this is a handsome Pinot Noir with dark fruit and mysterious spice. Let it breathe in your glass for several minutes before diving in.

2009 Scholium Project Midan al-Tahrir
It was an appropriate week to drink this wine. It’s named for Cairo’s Tahrir Square, the marquee site for the protests which led to Mubarak’s ouster. This white blend includes 70% Verdelho complemented by Sauvignon Blanc and Gewurtztraminer. The nose is full of tropical fruit, pineapple, lychee and white flowers. It’s round and smooth in the mouth and gives the impression of slight sweetness. A very tasty wine this and it goes down easy and matches well with crab cakes. Be careful though, well-hidden inside all that fruit is alcohol of 16.35%. Drink this one with Asian fare, but nothing too spicy.


I purchased all of the wines above at shops or the winery except:
The 1996 Corison was purchased and consumed at Press Restaurant in St. Helena.
The Scholium was provided by a friend. 

Follow NorCalWine on Twitter for breaking wine news, information on events and more. Become a fan and join the NorCal Wine community on FacebookAlso check out our comprehensive Northern California winery listings. They are very useful for planning a tasting trip or just getting in touch with a winery.

This article is original to Copyright 2011 NorCal Wine. All rights reserved.

Awesome Sauvignon Blanc in Santa Ynez Valley

Sauvignon Blanc is not a variety widely associated with Santa Barbara County. Pinot Noir went “Sideways,” nuanced Rhone-variety wines have a 30-year history there and wine lovers in-the-know seek out Chardonnay. Nonetheless, Santa Barbara County—more specifically, Happy Canyon and Santa Ynez Valley—is easily one of California’s very best Sauvignon Blanc growing regions.

Soils and topography play roles in this, but the primary factor is climate. Daytime during growing season in Happy Canyon and Santa Ynez is very warm which eliminates pyrazines—a source of leafy and bell pepper flavors—but evening brings a massive temperature drop that preserves acidity and slows sugar production. This and the long, dry growing season allow wineries to produce many different styles of Sauvignon Blanc.

Early harvests deliver crisp, citrusy Sauvignon Blanc with some of the grassy flavors popularized by New Zealand, but without the green beans or aggressively pungent edge. Late harvests bring ripe tropical and stone fruits in full-bodied wines that still refresh. Some wineries create a broad spectrum of flavors by picking over the course of several weeks, using a mix of vessels—stainless steel, oak, acacia and concrete—and allowing only partial malolactic fermentation. Blends with Semillon are not uncommon.

This diversity in high-quality Sauvignon Blanc was borne out by a tasting conducted recently for me and Richard Jennings at Gainey Vineyard in Santa Ynez. We tasted six current releases with representatives from some of the area’s top producers: Grassini Family Vineyards, Margerum Wine Company, The Brander Vineyard, Jonata and Gainey. I present them below in the order in which we tasted them.

Six Delicious Sauvignon Blanc from Santa Ynez Valley and Happy Canyon

2012 Gainey Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc Estate, Santa Ynez Valley - $11.24
This affordable Sauvignon Blanc is made solely from Gainey Home Ranch Vineyard fruit. Both free-run and press juice were cold fermented in stainless tanks, no malolactic fermentation was allowed. Winemaker Jeff Lebard says he looks to make "a multi-occasional wine with  bright, vibrant acidity and exuberant fruit" from their Sauvignon Blanc. In the 2012, tropical fruit and floral accents are the primary aromas and flavors. Lime pith and peppery spice add interest on the palate (medium+ body), as does a lightly grainy texture. An enjoyable, easy-going Sauvignon Blanc with the pricing and restraint to be a Spring/Summer house white. 13.0% alcohol. 2,300 cases produced. Drink now through 2014. Recommended

Gainey Vineyard winemaker Jeff Lebard in December, 2013.
Photo: Fred Swan

2012 Grassini Family Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc Estate, Happy Canyon - $28
Grassini planted 15-acres Sauvignon Blanc at their Happy Canyon estate vineyard in 2002. It has rapidly become one of the most sought-after sources for that variety. For their own wine, Sauvignon Blanc Clone 1 grapes were whole-cluster pressed and the juice fermented mostly in stainless steel tanks but also some neutral oak puncheons. Aging was seven months in a combination of stainless and neutral oak as well. The wine's pretty and expressive nose shines with a core of white peach, Meyer lemon and lime accented by flint. It is reminiscent to me of some white Bordeaux though Grassiini isn't looking to be anything but true to their region. Katie Grassini told us they're "going for the Happy Canyon-style." Lightly grainy texture and lime-edged acidity frame the medium+ bodied palate. The finish is lengthy with a texture that moves to chalk. 13.5% alcohol. 530 cases produced. Drink now through 2015. Highly Recommended

Katie Grassini 1024
Katie Grassini is CEO, aka "Big Sis," at Grassini Family Vineyards.
Photo: Fred Swan

2012 Margerum “Sybarite” Sauvignon Blanc, Happy Canyon - $21
For this wine, Margerum took the approach of picking Clone 1 early, late and in-between from four different vineyards (50% McGinley, 20% Grassini, 15% Star Lane, 15% Curtis, the latter in Foxen Canyon) to produce a wine of charming contradictions. It’s high in both quality and volume, but low in alcohol and price. And it satisfies on the palate. The nose presents sweet lemon-lime and white flowers. They are joined in the mouth by chalky minerality. Bi-weekly batonage contributed medium+ body and light grip. 12.1% alcohol. 5,000 cases. Highly Recommended

Jason Barrette 1024
Jason Barrette is winemaker for Margerum and also Penfolds' Magill Estate winery. Photo: Fred Swan

2012 Brander Cuvée Nicolas - $28
This strikingly unique wine offsets Sauvignon Blanc with a 35% share of Semillon, both own-rooted and planted in 1975. The Sauvignon Blanc juice—from Clone 1 vines that yield just 1.5 tons/acre—enjoyed a full day of skin contact. The Semillon, picked at 25 brix, is full of character. Fred Brander believes his "best vintages are those with at least 20% Semillon," but that's not possible every year as the grape is thin-skinned and vulnerable to pests and bunch rot. All of the 2012 fermentation was in barrel (two-thirds new). Malolactic fermentation was prevented but the wine was softened by three months on the lees in barrel. The aromas and flavors are very savory, meaty with smoke and flint, but there’s also grilled white peach and a hint of grapefruit. The palate is nearly full-bodied with a grippy, light-grained texture and prominent, persistent acidity. The mineral-laden finish is long. 14.0% alcohol. 200 cases produced. Drink now through 2016. Very Highly Recommended
(Note: The currently released wine is still 2011, a 100% Sauvignon Blanc. I have not tasted it.)

Fred Brander 1024
Fred Brander is one of the pioneers of Santa Barbara County wine and produced its first gold medal winner. Photo: Fred Swan

2012 Margerum D Sauvignon Blanc - $36
The 2012 Margerum D, a “best two vineyards blend,” is a wine of citrus blossom, vanilla, delicate white peach and pretty spice. It’s lithe and juicy in the mouth and lightly grippy. Surprisingly low in alcohol (12.3%), the body is nonetheless medium+ due to nine months aging with batonage every two weeks in 265 liter French oak barrels (60% new). Filtration was light. The blend is 50% McGinley Vineyard (Point Block 2A), 48% Grassini Vineyard and 2% Semillon from Crown Point. 12.35 alcohol. 103 cases produced. Drink now through 2015. Highly Recommended+ 

2010 Jonata Flor White Wine Santa Ynez Valley - $59.99
The decadent 2010 Jonata Flor allures with aromas and flavors of straw, just-ripe white peach, yellow and green apples and perfumed wood. It is full-bodied in the mouth with a creamy attack, textured mid-palate and luxurious finish. This estate wine includes 69% Sauvignon Blanc (Musqué clone), 29% Semillon and 2% Viognier.

According to winemaker Matt Dees, the Sauvignon Blanc just doesn't taste sufficiently ripe at low brix on Jonata's Ballard Canyon property which is farther west and cooler than the others here. Most of the grapes are picked at 24 or 25. "We don't water back or anything along those lines so our wines wind up at 15%, 15.2, we've bottled 16.4" Despite that, measured acidity is very high. Complexity is built by picking some of the blocks at as many as ten different times, yielding everything from super-acidic grapes with green flavors to honeyed, tropical notes. The grapes were squeezed in 20 batches using a gentle one-ton press and then the varieties are co-fermented in various proportions. Fermentation vessels were one-third new oak, one-third used oak and the remaining third in stainless steel. Neither malolactic fermentation nor batonage took place. 15.2% alcohol. Less than 250 cases were produced. Drink now through 2015. Very Highly Recommended

Matt Dees, winemaker for Jonata and Goodland Wines.
Photo: Fred Swan

Star Lane Vineyard
Star Lane Vineyard didn’t participate in this tasting but, later in the day, Richard and I ambled through the expansive cellars of their winery, tasting from tanks and barrels with Tyler Thomas, Star Lane’s new winemaker, formerly with Donelan Family, HdV and Fiddlehead. The 2013 Sauvignon Blanc in both wood and stainless, tasted fabulous. I was particularly taken by the wine in barrel, lively and perfumed with a core of white peach. That, along with the crisp, green-fruited wine in tank, provides a broad spectrum of tasty options for the final blend.


Follow NorCalWine on Twitter for wine news, information on events and more, or friend me on Facebook. This article is original to Copyright 2013. All rights reserved.

Cellar Selection: 2009 Silverado Vineyards SOLO Cabernet Sauvignon

When I was eight years old, my folks put a bicycle on lay-away for me. Every couple of weeks, we went to the store to make a payment and visit my future bicycle. Anticipation amplified my excitement about owning the shiny yellow bike.

Today, aside from a tiny resurgence due to the recession, lay-away no longer exists. We use credit cards and take things home right away. We want immediate gratification, even if that means higher cost or lower quality. The pleasure of anticipation and working toward something has been replaced by adrenalin shots from impulse buying and the drudgery of working to pay off debt.

Our impatience has also affected wine styles. Not long ago, any top Cabernet Sauvignon had to be bottle-aged to be at its best or, sometimes, to even be drinkable. Now, vines and wines are manipulated for fruitier, softer, ready-to-drink juice. The majority of bottles are opened within 24 hours of purchase. They need to be delicious immediately. Wine aerators are a booming business because people can’t bear to wait a few minutes for sturdier wines to blossom in a decanter.

I’m not old enough to spend my days in a creaky rocking chair on the porch, complaining about “kids these days.” But I sometimes miss the “good old days” of patience and anticipation. I like to cellar wines. I enjoy wines that eschew early-drinkability but develop character, complexity and a smooth palate with years of bottle age. Those are also the wines you want to purchase upon release and hold for future anniversaries or birthdays. When enjoyed several years later, they spark recollections about the vintage and your life back then.

The 2009 Silverado Vineyards SOLO Cabernet is the product of one vineyard, the Silverado Stags Leap Vineyard. Located on and around a hill on the west side of Silverado Trail, it features spectrums of soil types, aspects and Cabernet Sauvignon clones. The variables create blending flexibility, increasing potential quality and complexity. However, the wine is always a story about place and vintage.

2009 rolled out a growing season of up-and-down temperatures, but moderate weather overall. There was much less frost than 2008 and just enough rain, well-timed. Summer temperatures climbed above 100 degrees only one-third as many times as is typical. It was a long season with little drama.

The Silverado Stags Leap grapes were picked at the end of October’s first week, just before things did get “exciting.” Two or three days later the skies opened. That October became the wettest in Napa Valley since 1962. (If you don’t like to talk about the weather, don’t chat with a winegrower. It’s a necessary obsession for them, even in California.)

That long growing season without extremes brought phenolic ripeness to the grapes with relatively low sugars and plenty of acidity. That’s an ideal recipe for wine that will age: very fresh with flavorful fruit and moderate alcohol.

I tasted this wine twice. First, I poured it in a blind flight of North Coast Cabernet Sauvignon, all of which I had quickly double decanted. At the end of the panel tasting, there was about half a bottle of each wine left. I let them sit on the counter for eight hours, then re-tasted them.

A couple of the wines were clearly made for immediate enjoyment. They were showy with jammy fruit and myriad oak-derived flavors. They were tasty right away, but began to fall apart in the glass. They didn’t fare well at all after eight hours of air.

The 2009 Silverado Vineyards SOLO Cabernet Sauvignon was the opposite. It seemed more like a Bordeaux than what we’ve come to expect from contemporary Napa Valley. Briary blackberries just peeked through layers of dry herb and bay leaf, dark spices and a touch of oak. The palate was medium-plus bodied but brisk. Tannins were very fine-grained yet quite firm. We tasters had arrived at 6am for a party not scheduled to begin until 6pm.

So I came back later. After eight hours, the wine had forgiven my premature arrival. It greeted me warmly. The tannins were silky, the freshness gentle and harmonious. The range of flavors remained the same. but they were much friendlier and more expressive. There is a strong core of dark fruit but, overall this an elegant and savory wine that will be perfect with roasted meat and potatoes on a Fall evening. It wants to be cellared, enjoy the anticipation and it will reward your patience. Best 2017 through 2030. Highly Recommended.

solo2009_150dpi2009 Silverado Vineyards SOLO Cabernet Sauvignon
Rating: Highly Recommended
Drink: 2015 - 2030
Release Date: September, 2012
Closure: Cork
Production: 1,480 cases
Retail Price: $100.00

Winemaker: Jon Emmerich
Origin: 100% estate Silverado Stags Leap Vineyard, Stags Leap District AVA
Blend: 100% Cabernet Sauvignon
Aging: 19 months in French oak, 45% new
Alcohol: 13.9%

Service Recommendations
Decanting: Required now, 6 hours+
Temperature: 58º - 64º F
Food Pairings: Juicy, pan-roasted lamb chops with fingerling potatoes and thyme-butter.

The wine above was provided for review by the winery.

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This article is original to Copyright 2012 NorCal Wine. All rights reserved.