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Tasting Report: Grace Family Vineyards at Ferry Plaza Wine Merchant

Richard Grace wants to be on a plane to Tibet tomorrow. But he won’t be. It seems the Chinese government is cracking down on foreign visitors again. His presence in Tibet could put his hosts at risk, so he will stay in Napa for now. How does this relate to a wine tasting?

When winery owners go to a tasting, they often bring a binder or portfolio. In some cases, the binder includes pictures of the vineyards or tasting room. Sometimes it has pictures of the winemaking process. Other binders have winemaker’s notes on the individual wines. What is the blend? How much new oak was used? At how many degrees brix were the grapes picked.

Dick Grace brought a binder to the tasting last night. He showed it to everyone he could.   It was full of pictures. But there was not a grape or vineyard to be seen. The pictures showed Tibetan children. It showed the poor living conditions they used to have and the run down schools. And it showed the new dormitories and beautiful schools Mr. Grace has helped build for them. It showed supporters of the Dalai Lama unfurling banners of support on the Golden Gate Bridge. And there was a photo of Dick showing THAT photo to the Dalai Lama.

Grace Family Vineyards makes some of the best wine in the world. Many people can attest to that and we will too. The wine is so sought after and made in such low volumes that at this moment there are about 4,500 people on a waiting list just to get onto the allocation list. That allocation list can only include 600 people. So if you want to try to taste the wine, you need to have a friend who already gets it. Or buy it on consignment from a store with such a friend. Or go to one of the rare public tastings as we did.

More Quick Sips: 12 Wines Reviewed

The following are among the best wines I’ve tasted in the past week or so. Many are sold out at their respective wineries. However, you may still be able to find them in shops or restaurants. You may even have some in your cellar. So, I think it’s worth relaying my recent experience with them.

When it comes to the very aged wines, bear in mind that different bottles of the same aged wine can vary dramatically due to storage conditions, quality of the seal, etc. So, your mileage may vary.

Northern California Wines

2010 Mapson “Two Voices” Sauvignon Blanc Napa Valley
Just one barrel was made of this lithe and subtle Sauvignon Blanc-Semillon blend. There are pear, vanilla and mineral on the nose along with the aroma of drying grass I often get from Semillon. A hint of peach. Acidity is moderate as is the body. Lightly grainy texture adds interest and flavors are consistent with nose: pear, peach, vanilla and mineral. Highly Recommended.

2011 Massican “Annia” Napa Valley
Massican’s Annia is Cal-Ital white featuring Tocai Friuliano (57%), Ribolla Gialla (31%) and Chardonnay (12%). It was fermented in both neutral French oak and stainless steel barrels. This wine weighs in at just 12.4% alcohol and, despite the softening effect of the oak, its acidity is racy and begs for food. It’s a floral wine but not so effusively as Viognier and Gewurtztraminer can be. There is a punch of citrus and crisp apple moderated by minerality and stone fruit. Highly Recommended.

2007 Saintsbury Pinot Noir Brown Ranch Carneros
A very masculine Pinot Noir, dark hued with flavors of black cherry, charred wood and earth. It’s medium+ in body with somewhat drying tannins. This is a Pinot Noir for red meat, not fish. The tannins in combination with the salmon I tried it with created unpleasant metallic flavors whereas they would have resolved beautifully with filet mignon or braised lamb shank. Recommended.

2010 Siduri Pinot Noir Hirsch Vineyard Sonoma Coast
left_header_logoThis wine is not from the ultra-lean, stem-influenced school of cool-climate Pinot making. Instead, its body is on the generous side of medium as are its smooth tannins. Cheerful aromas and flavors of maraschino cherry, raspberry, sweet spice and sandalwood greet you without hesitation. The wine’s north Sonoma Coast heritage does show through with acidity which easily balances the richness. The Siduri’s Hirsch Vineyard Pinot Noir is focused and consistent from the attack through the long finish. Drink it now through 2017 with or without food. Highly Recommended+.

2007 Sojourn Cabernet Sauvignon Spring Mountain
If you were teaching a class on Napa Valley terroir and wanted one wine to represent Spring Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon, this would be an excellent choice. Lush, beautifully ripe black currant is the focal point. Cocoa and pretty spice notes add interest. Decanted briefly, the palate is silky with medium body, ripe tannins and a satisfying finish. Drink now through 2018. Highly Recommended.

2009 Sojourn Pinot Noir Rodgers Creek Sonoma Coast
Very pretty with aromas of red cherry and delicate spice. The palate is cherry-flavored satin with medium to medium+ body and a lengthy finish. A lovely wine. Highly Recommended.


From Outside of California

1964 Maison Leroy Meursault Genevrieres
Medium+ gold in the glass. There’s a lot going on aromatically: loads of spice plus ginger, baked pineapple, dry grass, vanilla, herb and poached apple and peach. On the palate the body is a generous medium and juicy with medium+ acidity and flavors of baked apple and spice. Recommended+.

1960 Louis Latour Corton Charlemagne
This wine is bright and medium+ gold in color. The nose is delightfully fascinating with dried apricot, fresh herb (dill and more), cedar and alluringly exotic spice. It’s a medium-bodied wine and very finely textured with medium+ length and acidity that borders on high. Flavors match the nose note for note but there is baked apple as well. Though 52 years old, this wine won’t improve with further age but should hold at least another decade. Highly Recommended.

1955 Faiveley Corton Hospices du Beaune Cuvée Doctor Peste
This wine is medium-minus to pale garnet in color, yet bright. The nose offers aromas of medium+ intensity with a solid core of lightly poached red fruit and cedar. In the mouth, it’s medium-bodied or better with medium+ acidity. It’s flavors of rich red fruit, leathery spices and tobacco are simultaneously vivacious and elegant. The finish is long. This is a very good wine and very well preserved. Highly Recommended.

1995 Chateau Mouton Rothschild, Paulliac Bordeaux
Ruby colored, med+ intensity nose of black currant, dark flowers, cedar, pencil lead and earth. Medium+ body and tannins (light-grained), medium to medium+ acidity. Flavors as the nose. Very good, years ahead of it. Highly Recommended+

1998 Peter Lehmann “The Seven Surveys” GSM Barossa Valley, Australia
This wine will surprise people who expect all Australian Shiraz blends to be pumped up, jammy and heavily oaked. Even though 1998 was a famously ripe year, this Grenache-centric blend from Peter Lehmann is decidedly savory. Black pepper, game and white pepper are foremost on the nose. Blackberry and cherry lurk behind. In the mouth medium+, chalky tannins lead to medium+ body. Layers of flavor reveal themselves coyly. First, it’s white pepper and seared game, then black cherry and blackberry followed by iron and dark chocolate. The finish is very long. Highly Recommended+.

2001 Pierro Chardonnay Margaret River, Australia
Medium gold in color. Totally lovely and lively. Tree fruit and spice on the nose. Fresh and juicy in the mouth with concentrated apple and spice. It’s a long wine that still holds up all night in a glass. Very Highly Recommended.

2001 Cape Mentelle Chardonnay Margaret River, Australia
Not every Chardonnay ages gracefully. Most don’t. This one didn’t. The acidity is still there, but the fruit is mostly gone and that which remains is neither appealing nor long lasting. I suspect there might have been an oxidation issue with this particular bottle. However, if you have any of this wine I’d get to it quickly. Past its prime.

All wines above were from my cellar except:
The Massican was purchased and consumed at Press Restaurant in St. Helena.
The French wines were tasted at a Zachy’s wine auction in Beverly Hills.
The Mapson was tasted at Acme Fine Wines in St. Helena.

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. All rights reserved.

Free: Hospice du Rhone 2010 iPhone App Available

I'm really looking forward to Hospice du Rhone this year. it's coming up soon, April 29 - May 1, in Paso Robles. To help people like me, and you, get up to speed on everything that will go on there, the wineries involved, etc., the HdR organization has put out an iPhone app. This is the first event based iPhone app i've seen.

I downloaded it as soon as it hit the Apple App Store on Monday. There's a lot of cool stuff in there that could well be of use to you regardless of whether or not you go to the event. There's winery and varietal information, Rhone wine quizzes and more. And the price is right. Free!

Sonoma William posted an in-depth HdR 2010 iPhone app review at Simple Hedonisms if you want to learn more.

7 New Year’s Resolutions for Expanding Your Wine Horizons

New Year’s resolutions are often made but rarely kept. They are usually positive goals we create to improve ourselves or our lives. But resolutions frequently involve stopping behavior that has become ingrained. So they are difficult to stick with. That’s especially true if the habits we’re trying to break are one’s we actually enjoy.

Here are some resolutions that build on things you enjoy, rather than forcing you to give them up. Giving these a try will expand your horizons and you’ll actually have fun in the process.

Drink a red wine with fish.

There are many “rules of thumb” when it comes to pairing wine and food. They are well-intended, meant to make creating palatable combinations simpler. But some of these general guidelines seem to have become hard and fast rules. That's not right. You can play it safe and stick to the rules. But you’ll learn more, and have fun, by breaking them from time to time.

And there’s another potential benefit to drinking red wine with fish. Eating more seafood and less red meat is a healthy choice. If you prefer red wines, you may be eating red meat than you ought, just because of the pairing. I know I do. By letting ourselves enjoy reds with seafood, we'll be doing our bodies a favor.

Among the fish most likely to work with red wine are salmon, swordfish and tuna, all either pan roasted or grilled. Go easy on the salt. Skip the lemon. Feel free to pour on the mushrooms. Here are three types of West Coast red wine to try with them.

  • Pinot Noir, especially youthful wines from Oregon or cool climate areas in California
  • Merlot, particularly medium-bodied versions with only gentle oak.
  • Grenache and blends thereof, look for wines with little oak and moderate alcohol.

Drink a white wine with red meat.

You don't necessarily need to open another bottle of wine when moving from light starter course to mains. White wines are generally lower in alcohol than reds. So, going all white occasionally may keep your liver happy. And whites are often less expensive than reds of similar quality too.

When pairing red wine with fish, the main concern is that the two might clash badly. That’s not the case with white wine and red meat. Here the challenge is choosing wines that won’t be overwhelmed by the meat.

  • Oaked California Chardonnay will go well with fatty meat, such as Kobi or Wagyu beef. The wine will also pair with lean meat, like filet mignon, if the meat is served rare or medium rare, especially if it comes with a cream or butter sauce.
  • Rhone-varietal whites (Marsanne, Roussanne and Viognier) work well with many different pork preparations as well as veal.
  • Riesling is also a good choice for pork and it’s ideal for Asian meat dishes such as Indian or Thai curries, Vietnamese beef pho, as well as spicy or sweet and sour Chinese fare.

Try wines made from uncommon grapes.

There are so many wineries and vineyards that you could drink a different Pinot Noir every day for the rest of your life. But you’d be missing an awful lot of fun wine. New World wine laws are much less limiting than those of Europe with respect to what wines can be produced in a given region. You can find well over a hundred different varietals to sample just within California. Here are three suggestions to get you started.

2009 Uvaggio Vermentino - Okay, Vermentino isn’t too bizarre. It's an aromatic white wine with aromas, flavors and textures that vary substantially based on where and how it is grown. It can be citrusy and mouth-watering or heavier and softer on the palate with stone fruit. Briny minerality is common. Odds are though that you haven’t tried one unless you drink a lot of wine from Northern Italy or Southeastern France. Uvaggio’s fruit comes from Lodi. And the wine is darned good. It’s a low alcohol white that goes great with linguini in clam sauce.

2009 Robert Foley Charbono - Charbono is found in France’s Savoie region where it’s known as Corbeau Some say it’s identical to Argentina’s Bonarda, that country’s 2nd most common red grape. Still others claim, incorrectly, that it’s Dolcetto. In California you can call it almost extinct. Once common in the Napa Valley, it was pulled out over the years in lieu of the much more profitable Cabernet Sauvignon. It’s making a minor comeback now and Foley has long been a proponent. Charbono offers tangy berry flavors accompanied by plenty of tannins and acidity. It’s a good wine for pizza or grilled meat, but not one to try with fish.  

2008 McCrea Counoise Ciel du Cheval Vineyard (Red Mountain AVA, Washington) - Counoise is a red grape most commonly found in France’s southern Rhone Valley, especially Chateauneuf du Pape where it is a minor component in blends. Even there it isn’t grown widely with less than 20 acres under vine, according to Harry Karis. The scant planting is due primarily to Counoise’ susceptibility to gray rot and resulting inconsistency of yield. Wine made from Counoise is similar in some ways to Pinot Noir; light tannins, moderate alcohol, notable acidity and strawberry flavors. Unlike most Pinot Noir though, Counoise tends to have black pepper and blue fruit flavors too. McCrea lets Counoise star in this wine, mixing it with just 20% Syrah. It is medium-bodied and fresh with lovely red fruit. Pair it with food as you would Pinot Noir.

Wente Vineyards also makes a Counoise varietal wine from Livermore fruit as part of their Small Lot series. Theirs includes both Petite Sirah and Barbera.

Seek out unusual blends.

American wine laws give winemakers more freedom in making blends too. And there are some pretty interesting ones to be found in California. Here are three of my favorites.

2008 Cypher “Louis Cypher” Eclectic Red, Paso Robles - Winemaker Christian Tietje starts with four Portuguese varieties: Touriga Nacional, Tinta Cao, Souzao and Tinta Roriz (aka Grenache). Added to that are five other grapes: Teroldego (mostly found in Northern Italy), Zinfandel, Carignane, Petit Verdot and Petite Sirah. Even the oak is a blend, French and Eastern European. The wine is dark and delicious, bursting with red fruit with notes of dark flowers and exotic spice.

2010 Vina Robles White4, Paso Robles - This winery is based in Paso Robles but it’s owners and winemakers are from Switzerland, a small country with several languages. In White4, they stuff four grapes that wouldn’t normally congregate (Viognier, Verdelho, Vermentino and Sauvignon Blanc) into one bottle and it works out just fine.

2010 Matthiasson Napa Valley White Wine - This is an odd blend that critics and wine geeks love. It's that good and it's unique. A majority of the wine is Sauvignon Blanc blended with it’s natural Bordelais partner Semillon. But then things go south — geographically, not qualitatively — with two varieties from Italy. The grapes in question Ribolla Gialla and Friuliano (known as Tocai Friuliano until the Hungarians got assertive) aren’t even that common in Italy. The end result is a wine that is clean yet waxy, ripe yet fresh, light yet solid, this yet that.

Taste wine with new people.

I’m not suggesting that you ditch your spouse or stop drinking wine with your regular gang. However, adding more people to your wine tasting circles will expose you to their favorite wines and wineries. And they'll enjoy hearing about yours.

Take a wine class.

It can be intimidating to buy wines from a region you know nothing about. Taking a class focused on a particular country, region or varietal will introduce you to a lot of new wines. It will provide context that can add to your enjoyment. And you may make some new wine friends too.


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. Banner photo Copyright Sunnybeach. All rights reserved.

North Coast Rhone Rangers Build Momentum with Second Tasting

The Rhone Rangers North Coast Chapter is fairly new as an active group. The tasting they held on Tuesday was just their second. Despite that, the event was thoughtfully organized, a pleasure to attend and included a number of excellent wines.

It’s a little surprising to me that there hasn’t been an active chapter of Rhone Rangers until recently. Napa Valley, Sonoma County and Mendocino County all have excellent sites for growing Rhone-variety grapes. Some of California’s best come from those areas. Of course mindshare for varieties such as Syrah, Grenache, Viognier and Grenache Blanc, not to mention Marsanne, is still much lower than that of Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay or even Sauvignon Blanc. Which makes it all the more important for this to group thrive.

Tuesday’s North Coast Rhone Rangers tasting was held at the Napa Valley Museum in Yountville. The museum was an excellent venue—clean, quiet, temperature-controlled, easy to get to and just the right size. The fresh white walls and attractive art also brought an elegance usually missing for group tastings. That said, I hope that the group outgrows the facility soon.

Fifteen wineries poured at this tasting, a respectable number and a manageable size for attendees. I’d love to see three times that many producers participate. There are more than enough quality producers to make that an achievable goal. However, the chapter only has 34 members at present and just six from Napa. Come on, Napa...

The majority of the producers at this tasting were small. Of the wines poured, about 45, only five had case volumes above 500. Quite a few are below 200.

The tasting also confirmed a trend toward leaner, less syrupy Rhone-variety wines in northern California. Of all the wines poured, only one exceeded 15% alcohol and that just barely at 15.1%. More than half of the wines offered come in below 14% alcohol.

Map: Rhone Rangers North Coast Chapter

 Wines to Covet

I own way too much wine. This is only a problem in that I try very hard not to acquire any more these days. And sometimes I taste wines that I really, really want to buy. Here are the three wines that most made me regret having put myself on double-secret wine-buying probation.

William Allen made just half a barrel of the 2012 Two Shepherds Marsanne Russian River Valley. That’s very sad because it’s an absolutely beautiful wine. The people, probably club members, who get some are going to be very happy and I hope they are able to share with friends (or wine writers). The wine is floral but in a subtle, pretty way. There are hibiscus, peach blossom, marzipan and mineral on the nose and palate. Medium-plus body with satiny texture and a lengthy finish make it elegant yet satisfying in the mouth. $35, Highly Recommended+

My "rosé of the day award" goes to the 2012 Cornerstone Corallina Syrah Rosé Napa Valley, Stepping Stone. It’s flat out delicious. The generous aromas and flavors include guava, peach, strawberry and melon. It has medium-plus body and a silky glycerine feel in the mouth that literally made me come back for more. $20, Highly Recommended.

The red wine which most tempted me to feign temporary amnesia while whipping out a credit card was the 2007 Ridge Petite Sirah Dynamite Hill, Spring Mountain. Though a 2007, this is a current release for Ridge because... Petite Sirah. And, though a Spring Mountain Petite Sirah, it has ample acidity and just 13.7% alcohol because... Ridge. It was dark ruby in my glass with powerful aromas of black cherry, spice, tobacco and cedar. Whole berry fermentation and a few years of bottle age have resulted in moderate tannins with a lightly chalky texture and a Petite Sirah that can be enjoyed with our without food. $32, Highly Recommended.

Wineries to Watch

Kale Wines is the personal project of winemaker Kale Anderson and his wife, Ranko. Kale’s main gig is director of winemaking at Pahlmeyer Winery. Previously he worked at Cliff Lede and Terra Valentine and he interned at Colgin Estate. Ranko poured two wines on Tuesday. The 2009 and 2010 (just released) Syrah Alder Springs Vineyard, Spirit Rock. Both were very nice with excellent intensity and cool-climate Syrah typicity. [BTW, Kale is a Hawaiian moniker (Ka-le). He wasn’t named for the leafy green, so lettuce not hear any jokes about that.]

Petrichor is a great word. It refers to that aroma created by the first rain after a long dry spell. I love that smell and I was fond of the Petrichor Vineyards wines as well. They are small production (173 cases in 2010, 250 in 2011) blends of Syrah and Grenache made by Duncan Meyers of Arnot Roberts winery. The fruit comes from the Jim and Margaret Foley's estate vineyard, north of Santa Rosa. I tasted three vintages on Tuesday, each was unique and all were very good—balanced and attractively savory.

Highly Recommended Wines (and Recommended+), alphabetically by producer

2011 Cornerstone Cellars Napa Valley Syrah, Stepping Stone, $35
Flavors and aromas of black cherry, leather, black pepper, dry herb, cocoa and earth. Engaging and complex with moderate fine-grained tannins and the ability to improve for 5+ years in bottle.

2012 Cornerstone Cellars Corallina Syrah Rosé Napa Valley, Stepping Stone - see Wines to Covet above.

2010 Donelan Syrah Kobler Family Vineyard, Green Valley of Russian River Valley, $45
Lean but satisfying with savory complexity: black pepper, dark flowers, dried herb and blackberry. Medium-plus body and tannins of fine powder and chalk but—refreshingly—just 12.8% alcohol.

2010 Donelan Syrah Walker Vine Hill, Russian River Valley, $45
Yin to the Donelan Kobler Family’s yang. Ripe cherry richness, brown spice and leather reined in by moderate tannins of fine powder.

2009 Kale Syrah Alder Springs Vineyard-Spirit Rock, Mendocino County, $40
Loads of black fruit, especially black cherry, on the nose along with a grind of black pepper. Black cherry, pepper and cocoa nib on the palate of medium-plus body. Concentrated and lengthy.

2010 Kale Syrah Alder Springs Vineyard Spirit Rock, Mendocino County, $45
Cooler than 2009, the 2010 vintage tends to emphasize savory over sweet. The 2010 Kale Syrah leads with earth, leather and black pepper but there’s a backdrop of black fruit and spice. Just released this month, the wine rates Recommended+ now but a little time in bottle should bring even more goodness.

2009 Meyer Family Cellars Syrah Yorkville Highlands, $28
Game meat, sweet herb, red plum, red rope and oak are the aromas and flavors in this full-bodied wine with moderate alcohol (13.70%). Good length.

2009 Meyer Family Cellars Syrah Reserve “High Ground,” $40
The deluxe edition of Meyer’s Syrah is both darker and more savory. Earth, leather, black pepper and ripe dark fruit are mated with moderate tannins of fine powder.

2009 Petrichor Estate Les Trois Sonoma, $48
Okay, “Les Trois” is mildly confusing as this is a blend of just two grapes, Syrah and Grenache. Perhaps it refers to the triad of flavor, acidity and texture, because this wine’s got that covered. Petrichor’s inaugural release is juicy and medium-plus in body with tangy dark fruit, dry herb and spice. The tannins are moderate with the mouthfeel of fine powder and talc.

2010 Petrichor Estate Les Trois Sonoma, $48
Earthy dark fruit, spice, licorice and dry herb. Medium-plus, light-grained tannins suggest this wine has room to grow. Give it a year or two.

2011 Petrichor Estate Les Trois Sonoma, $TBD
There was some hesitation in pouring this fine for me as it’s at least eight months from release. They need not have worried though. It’s quite good, full of earthiness, spice, garrigue and black pepper. Something to look forward to.

2007 Ridge Petite Sirah Dynamite Hill Spring Mountain, $32 — see Wines to Covet above

2009 Ridge Syrah Grenache Dry Creek Valley, $32
A 50-50 blend with flavors of cherry, plum, oak and spice. Moderate tannins of light grain and talc. Try it with some tender, meaty ribs. (Recommended+)

2011 Stark Grenache Blanc Santa Ynez AVA (Saarloos Vineyard)
Some people buy Stark wines because they’re fans of the (rapdily dwindling) clan on Game of Thrones, or of Ironman. That’s cute, but the wines can stand on their own. Gentle aromas of pear, lime and white flowers. Medium+ body and a little juicy. (Recommended+)

2012 Two Shepherds Grenache Blanc Saarloos Vineyard, Santa Ynez, $35
Grenache Blanc essentially launched this brand and William Allen continues to set the bar for that variety. Focused notes of white flowers, tangy stonefruit and spice lead into a juicy palate with medium-plus body. There’s a light texture, fine and powdery, plus persistent saline minerality.

2012 Two Shepherds Marsanne Russian River Valley, $32 — see Wines to Covet above

2011 Two Shepherds Syrah Saralee’s Vineyard, Russian River Valley, $35
Syrah from the cool side: black pepper, dark cherries and garrigue. Body and tannins are medium to medium-plus with a fine, powdery texture.

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 2013 NorCal Wine. All rights reserved.