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Tasted—5 Rhone Variety Wines from Clos Solene

I was in Paso Robles last weekend for the Cabs of Distinction events (more on that soon). There I met up with Guillaume Fabre, production manager at L’Aventure winery where he’s worked since arriving from France in 2004. As of 2007 he’s also been producing Rhone-varietal wines under his own label, Clos Solene. I stopped by for a tasting of his current releases on my way out of town.

I first tasted Clos Solene at a Rhone Rangers Paso Robles Chapter event several years ago. Guillaume poured just one wine then, a Roussanne, but it was gorgeous and easily one of the best wines that day. Subsequently I’ve tasted with him twice, both times in the barrel room at L’Aventure where he makes his wine. Recently, Clos Solene took a big step forward, opening a downtown Paso Robles tasting room with three other producers.

Paso Underground features the wines of Aaron (excellent Petite Sirah), Clos Solene, Edmond August (Rhone varieties from Paso’s west side) and Turtle Rock Vineyards (not to be confused with Turtle Rock Ridge of Ramona Valley). The room has just opened, so tastings are by appointment. The address is 1140 Pine Street but its dedicated entrance is actually through a gate on the back side of the block next to the party patio at Villa Creek restaurant.

Clos Solene uses only hand-picked westside Paso fruit, principally from the Russell Family Vineyard right next to the L'Aventure Vineyard in the Templeton Gap, a funnel for cool Pacific breezes. Clos Solene white wines include Saxum, Booker and James Berry grapes. The de-stemmed berries undergo a cold soak for most of the wines, red and white. Barrel fermentation is also a common thread and Fabre gets hands-on with that, vigorously rolling barrels several times a day to mix fruit and juice.

My tasting notes follow this photo of Guillaume Fabre pulling samples from his barrels in 2011.

Photo: Fred Swan

2011 Clos Solene Essence de Roussanne, Paso Robles - $60
This winsome wine of 100% Roussanne from the Saxum and Booker Vineyards opens with pretty aromas of pear, stone fruit, white flowers and a squeeze of sweet citrus. The palate is nearly full-bodied but supple with flavors of nectarine, white flowers, sweet citrus and spice that glide effortlessly across the dance floor. The best Roussanne I've had in some time. 7 months in French oak, 20% new. 100 cases made. Drink now through 2015. Highly Recommended+

2012 Clos Solene La Rose, Paso Robles - $35
La Rose was made saignée-style from Russell Family Vineyard Syrah, Grenache and Mourvedre. The fermentation was cool and the wine saw no oak. A pretty, light coral pink color and scents of strawberry and raspberry lead to the lithe palate of medium body with light, talc-like tannins and red berry flavors. Good length. 50 cases made. Drink now through 2014. Recommended+

2011 Clos Solene La Petite Solene, Paso Robles - $55
The 2011 La Petite Solene and 2011 Harmonie, poured sequentially, stand in marked contrast. La Petite Solene is 70% Syrah, 30% Grenache and spent 15 months in once- and twice-used French oak. The ruby red wine has a gorgeous, ebullient nose of blackberry, black cherry and that thick raspberry syrup you find inside some chocolates. Fine-grained tannins and acidity, both just north of medium, preside over delectably ripe black cherry and spice on a palate of medium-plus body. Satisfyingly long. 50 cases made. Drink now through 2018. If you decant, do it immediately before consumption.Highly Recommended+

2011 Clos Solene Harmonie, Paso Robles - $80
Like La Petite, the 2011 Clos Solene Harmonie fruit comes from the Russell Family Vineyard. This time, however, the blend is 41% Grenache, 27% Syrah and 22% Mourvedre with 15% of the barrels new. The result is a much more masculine wine. The nose, earth and blackberry, shows confidence but not the big smile of La Petite. The palate is again medium-plus in body and has just slightly less acidity but tannins that are a step heavier and create a lightly chalky texture. The tall, dark and handsome flavors include black cherry, blackberry, and tangy dark spice and will open up further if you serve them a plate of duck. 100 cases made. Drink now through 2020. Very Highly Recommended

2011 Clos Solene Sweet Clementine, Paso Robles - $60/375ml
I suspect Sweet Clementine could be habit-forming. It's a sweet, fortified wine made in the style of Banyuls (at least 50% late-harvest Grenache Noir, no Muscat, fortifying alcohol added during maceration). In this case, the wine is almost all Grenache with just 3% Syrah. It was barrel-fermented and aged for 14 months in French oak barrels, 50% new. The nose and palate are full of lively, fresh red berries, cherry and brown spice. The considerable sweetness is checked by mouthwatering acidity and moderate, talc-like tannins. The wine is limber in the mouth, not at all syrupy or cloying. The classic pairing for this type of wine is a chocolate dessert and I can't argue with that. But it would be just as good with a savory-sweet dish like duck with cherry glaze or molé sauce. Or all by itself... 50 cases made. Drink now through 2016. Very Highly Recommended

Interpreting my wine ratings


Disclosures: The FTC has tightened its guidelines with respect to online ads, reviews, blogs, etc. in response to people who are passing paid adds off as personal recommendations or who getting samples of expensive hard goods in exchange for reviews. My lengthy disclosure here is meant to address those guidelines.

The review above reflects my personal experience with the product. It is not a paid ad, nor do I accept ads or compensation for reviews directly from wine producers. Reviews may cover products that I have purchased, received as samples, or tried under other circumstances I consider to be good tasting conditions. Receiving a product as a sample does not obligate me to review it positively (or at all) and I do not consider samples to be compensation or “free wine.” I have purchased plenty of wine over the years and have more of that than I can drink. Samples are opened for review purposes, not added to my personal cellar or taken to restaurants.

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This article is original to Copyright 2013 NorCal Wine. All rights reserved.

Russian River Valley Winegrowers’ 2nd Annual Single Vineyard Night

The Russian River Valley AVA is very large. It covers roughly 150 square miles, 15,000 acres of which is planted with high-quality wine grapes. It has one-third the vine acreage of the Napa Valley AVA. But Napa Valley contains 15 smaller AVAs. There are only two smaller AVA within Russian River Valley: Chalk Hill and Green Valley.

Because it covers so much territory, it is hard to make useful generalizations about the characteristics of Russian River Valley wines. There are too many mesoclimates, soil types, slopes and flats, wind breaks and wind gaps. This diversity allows wineries to create succulent and balanced blends. But, in a tasting of five different Russian River Valley Pinot Noir or Chardonnay blends, there could be five very dissimilar wines. The variety is delightful on one hand, but frustrating on the other. If you are looking for a particular flavor profile or want to know why a given wine tastes the way it does, you need to a wine that highlights a much smaller piece of land.

Fortunately, there are hundreds of single-vineyard wines made from Russian River Valley fruit. Taste these wines and you begin to understand how Chardonnay grow on Goldridge loam vineyards differ from that on volcanic clay, how a slope near Occidental with an eastern facing ripens grapes differently than the flats near Santa Rosa. When you want wine that stimulates your mind as well as your palate, single-vineyard selections are hard to beat.

To really get a sense of the differences between a group of single-vineyard wines, you want to taste them side by side. There is a great opportunity to do exactly that coming soon. The Russian River Valley Winegrowers’ 2nd Annual Single Vineyard Night is Saturday, June 4 at Thomas George Estates. There will be more than 30 winemakers pouring small lot, single vineyard wines in partnership with their growers. Tasty bites, provided by local eateries, will be paired with each wine.

The tasting runs from 6:30 to 8 PM. (Sign up for the VIP Reception to get in an hour earlier, have exclusive access to winemakers and more.) At 8PM, an auction begins. That is followed by a dance party which goes until 10PM. For more details, visit the event page at Advance tickets are just $45.

Buy tickets for the Russian River Valley Winegrowers Single Vineyard Night

If you’d like to win a pair of tickets, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. . In the email, tell me which Russian River Valley winery is your favorite. A winner will be selected at random from all entrants. I’ll accept entries until noon on Tuesday. I will notify the winner shortly thereafter.

Here is the roster of participating wineries and growers:

Ancient Oaks, Siebert Ranch
Arrowood-Saralee’s Vineyard
Balletto Vineyards , selection of single vineyards
Benovia, Bella Una Vineyard
Desmond Wines, Estate
Dutton Estate Winery, Dutton Palms Vineyard
Dutton Goldfield, Freestone Hill Vineyard
Ferrari-Carano, Fiorella
Gary Farrell, Westside Farms
George Wine Company, Leras Family Vineyard
Graton Ridge Cellars, Bacigalupi Vineyard
Hop Kiln Winery, HKG Bridge Selection
Inman Family, Olivet Grange Vineyard
Iron Horse Vineyards, Rued Clone
John Tyler Wines, Bacigalupi Vineyard
Joseph Swan, Trenton View Vineyard
LaFollette, DuNah Vineyard
Lauterbach Cellars, Estate
Longboard, Dakine Vineyard
Martinelli Winery, Lolita Ranch
Matrix Winery, Nunes Vineyard
Merriam, Willowside Vineyard
Merry Edwards, Klopp Ranch
Moshin Vineyards, Bacigalupi Vineyard
Mueller Winery, Vino Farms
Nalle Winery, Hopkins Ranch
Old World Winery, Estate
Papapietro Perry, Leras Family Vineyard
Russian River Vineyards, Estate Vineyards
Sandole Wines, Oehlman Ranch
Siduri Wines, Ewald Vineyards
Sonoma Cutrer, Owsley
Thumbprint Cellars, Saralee’s Vineyard
William Selyem, Flax Vineyard

If you enjoyed this article, please share it! Icons for popular sharing services are at the right above and also below.

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. Banner edited from photo by Naotake Murayama. All rights reserved.

Join Me in Becoming a Certified California Wine Appellation Specialist

In September, I reported on a new wine class and certification, the California Wine Appellation Specialist (CWAS) program. Created and conducted by the San Francisco Wine School, the course is focused solely on the wines and wine regions of California. It is the only such certification course in the world.

As I mentioned in my previous article, I don’t believe there is enough focus on California from certifying bodies or wine schools in general. California produces 90% of all wine made in the United States and accounts for 90% of it’s exports. California is the world’s fourth largest producer of wine — behind France, Italy and Spain. California is a huge state with a a broad range of climates, landscapes and soils. Yet classes with global focus tend to treat California as one big, uniform state that makes only oaky Chardonnay, fruity Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon with no sense of terroir. The amount of time given to California is sometimes less than that for New Zealand.

sfwineschoolI asked the San Francisco Wine School’s founder, Master Sommelier and talented wine educator David Glancy, to allow me to audit the first session of the class. My goal was to get an understanding of how the classes would be conducted along with their breadth, depth and quality so that I could write a review. But the first class impressed me so much, I signed up for the full course and certifying exam myself the next morning.

Each class was taught by either David Glancy or Maureen Downey, an MW candidate, Certified Wine Educator and Certified (Advanced Level) Sommelier. There were seven sessions, plus the test date, in the program. (An additional class has been added for the upcoming course, to allow even greater depth on a couple of key regions.)

For the most part, the classes are organized by major region. Detail is provided on all the AVAs in those regions, including their history, location, climate, soil, topography, production volume, principal grapes, wineries and vineyards. Facts provided are exhaustively researched and fully vetted for accuracy. (You’d be amazed at how much conflicting, or just plain wrong, information there is out there.) The detailed breakdowns are complemented by practical insights and personal anecdotes. The wines provided for tasting, around 10 per class, were very well chosen and ranged from new releases exemplifying a particular style or terroir to aged bottles illustrarting development and long-term potential.

I was able to attend all but one of the evening classes and got the class handout for the one I missed. I studied hard and took the test. Now, I am the first wine writer to hold the California Wine Appellation Specialist certification.

As chief-bottle opener at, I feel obligated to know as much as I can about California wines and AVAs. And I’m pleased to say that I earned top score on the test — 99%. That’s great news for me and for you. It means I’ve learned a lot about California wine and it means you have an opportunity to take the class and outscore me. Consider that a challenge ;-)

Should you choose to accept my challenge, the next series of classes begins on January 11 (see below for the full schedule). If you do outscore me, there’s a very nice bottle of wine in my cellar with your name on it. You won’t have a hard time finding me to collect either. The San Francisco Wine School has invited me to become an adjunct instructor for them and I’ll be teaching two classes in the upcoming series.

To sign up for individual classes or the entire series, go to the San Francisco Wine School’s CWAS page.

Full California Wine Appellation Specialist program:

Jan 12, 2012 USA/California Law, Overview & Mendocino with David Glancy
Jan 18, 2012 "Napa Valley Rocks!" Napa County with Maureen Downey
Jan 25, 2012 Lake County & The Sierras with Fred Swan
Feb 1, 2012 Sonoma County with Maureen Downey
Feb 8, 2012 Monterey & San Benito with Maureen Downey
Feb 15, 2012 Paso Robles & the Rest of San Luis Obispo with Fred Swan
Feb 22, 2012 Santa Cruz, SF Bay & The Delta with David Glancy
Feb 29, 2012 Santa Barbara & Beyond with David Glancy
Mar 7, 2012 California Wine Appellation Specialist (CWAS™) Exam with David Glancy








The price is $79 per class plus $100 for the test, if you choose to take classes individually. There is a discounted rate of $679 for the whole package. All attendees must be at least 21 years old.

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. Photo of David Glancy by Fred Swan. All rights reserved.

U.S. Wine Consumption Increases for 17th Consecutive Year

According to the 2011 Wine Handbook, U.S. wine consumption continues to increase. Total consumption in 2010 was 303.1 million 9-liter (112 bottle) cases, up 2.1% over 2009. Total wine spending was $26.9 billion dollars in 2010. Domestic wineries benefitted disproportionately with a 3% increase. While purchases of imported wine dropped 0.9%, purchases of Australian wines here dropped precipitously, 12.5%.

The publicly released analysis related to this particular publication, created by the Beverage Information Group, isn’t very insightful. They say that “As the US economy slowly recovers, the wine industry is regaining its momentum to mark the 17th consecutive year of case gains.  This positive direction is directly attributed to the improving economy and the resulting increase in consumer confidence.” But, if growth in wine sales has continued for 17 consecutive years, then that trend cannot be attributed to improvements in the economy relative to the crisis of 2008-2009. And if their reference was solely to the increase in momentum, rather than the overall increase, then there must have been more significant thoughts they could have shared. While a shift from near flat to 2% growth is massive on a year-on-year percentage increase basis, the actual dollar and unit growth was not hugely significant.

If you have interest in the full report, which does include detailed information about sales, consumer preferences, ad spending and regional breakdowns, the 2011 Wine Handbook is available for $815 from Beverage Information Group.

Disclaimer: Neither I nor NorCalWine are compensated in any way for sales of the 2011 Wine Handbook.

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.

Drink with Legends, Eat Like a President

President's Day is an odd holiday. Many Americans get the day off work, but there aren't any traditional celebrations or fireworks displays. It falls too soon after Thanksgiving and "The Holidays" for another big family reunion. Mid-February is too cold for barbecues or a day at the beach. There's no scrum at the Hallmark store with people trying to find the perfect card for their favorite... president. President's Day is officially Washington's Birthday, but Abe Lincoln's birthday is just over a week earlier, so George got merged. If it weren't for those desperate car dealership owners dressing up like Washington "to attract people," our founding father wouldn't get any love at all.

All of that being the case, you probably don't have big plans for February 21, 2011, President's Day. But I do. And you can join me as I hobnob with a Who's Who of wine and food. We'll drink great wine, taste foods that have been served at State Dinners and  dishes prepared by celebrity chefs. And we will honor the careers of five people who've had a huge impact not only on California wine, but the global wine business. Doesn't that sound a lot better than a night at home with a glass of whatever's still open in the fridge from Saturday night? Yes, I know that House and The Chicago Code are on. DVR.

The gala event takes place in St. Helena at the Greystone Campus of the Culinary Institute of America (aka CIA). If you've not been there before, it's worth the trip just to check out their facilities.

The occasion is the induction of five new members to the Vintners Hall of Fame. The new inductees are: Joel Peterson (Ravenswood), Dick Graff (Chalone), August Sebastiani (Sebastiani), Bob Trinchero (Sutter Home and Trinchero wineries) and Vernon Singleton (U.C. Davis). For more information about the inductees, see this article.

The featured guest of honor is former White House Chef and CIA graduate Walter Scheib.

Luminaries who have promised to attend include winemakers, vineyard owners, winery proprietors, writers, political leaders and scholars. Here's a partial list: John Aguirre, Gerald Asher, Andy Beckstoffer, Boots Brounstein, Darrell Corti, Randall Grahm, Violet Grigich, Hal Hufsmith, Agustin Huneeus, David Kent, Darioush Khaledi, Robin Lail, Dick Maher, Mike Martini, Carole Meredith, Margrit Mondavi, Gavin Newsome, Joel Peterson, Don Sebastiani, Don Sebastiani Jr., Vernon Singleton, Garen Staglin, Bob Steinhauer, Jack Stuart, Dorothy Tchelistcheff, Mike Thompson, Bob Trinchero, Andrew Waterhouse, Warren Winiarski, and Phil Woodward. There are no velvet ropes at this event. Say "hello," shake their hand, "buy" them a drink.

Festivities start at 4:00 p.m. PST. They include a celebratory reception, featuring wines served at White House dinners, the Vintners Hall of Fame induction ceremony, and a celebrity chef walk-around dinner in the CIA at Greystone’s teaching kitchens.

Proceeds provide scholarships for the Rudd Center for Professional Wine Studies at the CIA at Greystone.

Tickets for the program are $175 ($100 tax-deductible) and may be purchased by visiting For more information on the 2011 Vintners Hall of Fame Induction celebration, please contact Cate Conniff-Dobrich, 707-967-2303 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

For more information on the Vintners Hall of Fame and to view the list of former inductees with their photos and biographies, please visit

If you enjoyed this article, please share it! Icons for popular sharing services are at the right above and also below.

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 outour 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. Some text from Balzac Communications, used with permission. All rights reserved