Life is better on the corner, the place where great wines meet reasonable prices!

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Howell Mountain Uncorked: Red Cap 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon

It has been said; “Those who bring sunshine to the lives others cannot keep it from themselves.” ~ James M. Barrie it’s this precise sentiment which I found expressed at the Howell Mountain Trade tasting I attended just a couple weeks ago. There were a few new kids on the block, one of them being Red Cap Vineyards, name was not familiar to me and I thought I have to check this place out.

So I went over and talked to the owner Tom Altemus who said, "Welcome to Red Cap Vineyards" not literally of course but definitely in spirit. Red Cap Vineyards, the launch of Tom’s third successful career. This was their inaugural release to the public which was unveiled at the Howell Mountain Vintners & Growers Trade Tasting held at the Petersen Automotive Museum, a great setting to showcase some of the most astounding cars in the world, along with world class wines.

I was curious about the label art so asked Tom, “where did the idea of kid in the swing come from”. He explained it this way, "the image of the boy was created to invoke a feeling of youthful exuberance which is pervasive here at our family ranch."  It’s an exuberance that has also found its way into the wines.

I was also curious about the name of the winery and it's origin he said, "the name Red Cap refers to our location, the top of a mountain capped in red soil”, a reference to the Aiken soil, a deep red soil which is peppered with fractured rock. One of the more interesting quotes was related to my question about sustainable farming practices; he said, "I still whole-heartily believe in the old adage, "the best fertilizer is a farmer’s footstep". This is great advice for folks looking for today’s buzz words to appear on labels, the kind of mindset that represents itself in the quality of the fruit and of course the wine in your glass.

First Swirl: After the first splash down in the glass; this wine unfold like the "SC" flags flying high like another SC touch-down pass on a Saturday afternoon, with a deep ruby core fading to garnet colored rim.
First Sniff: Sticking my fat Irish nose into the class. I caught a plume of complex, tasty mix of ripe plum and wild berry, ripe, rich and distinctively Howell Mountain.

First Slurp: Oh, my first thought was “wow” this is some serious juice, which is impressive now and better down the road. This is a dense, juicy and savory wine with elements of vanilla, cherry, anise and tarry notes melding skillfully around a generous core of black cherry and currant flavors. The finish is long and focused, caressing each taste bud with a plethora of fruit, carried nicely by the acidity and the right balance of terroir driven minerality.
ABV and Aging: This wine is aged 22 months in 100% French Oak and weighing 14.7% abv.
Composition: 100% Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon, open top fermented, [scary] native yeasty-beasts driven fermentation and punch downs done by hand.

My Recommendation: With only 250 cases produced, these wines will go very quickly. The $75.00 asking price is reasonable, within the range of comparable contemporaries of similar quality. A wine to grab a few of for the cellar and you can drink now or hold for further development and enjoyment. This is the wine you give to a client, friend or shared with the idea of impressing in mind. I would keep an eye on this winery and winemaker, the direction and focus is in a word superlative.

Wine Maker: I had a chance to catch up with Rudy Zuidema, a graduate of UC Davis during the tasting at the Peterson Automotive Museum. He is quoted as saying, "We get to taste a little mother nature in the wine." From the first sip to the last drop, this wine is equally abundant fruit and terrior driven minerality layered together. This is the type of flavor combination, which I would liken to a mushroom, sausage and mushroom risotto, a difficult but not impossible task. In my opinion I would say he has pulled it off marvelously.

If you’ve been to the Napa Valley before and thought okay, ho-hum what’s new? Well then I’d invite you to give the wines of Howell Mountain [especially the Mountain Cuvee’s] a swirl the next time you’re in the area, because you’ll be in for a sensory experience like no other. Until next folks, sip long and prosper, cheers!

Monday, March 23, 2009

Family Winemakers Tasting for the Trade

Back on March 15th I was invited and attended the inaugural Family Winemakers of California Trade Tasting here in San Diego, CA. There were over 200 wineries pouring that day, which made it difficult to choose where I would spend my time. I decided to not visit the wineries for which I was already familiar and instead focus on the wineries which I knew of their reputations, but never had an opportunity to taste their wines first hand.
It was a very good experience. I had the opportunity to sample many wines which I had previously only read about or had just scant familiarity. I was able to meet many of the winemakers, network with distributors and other ancillary individuals whom I volunteered with during the check-in procedure. Getting the word out about my Cuvée Corner Wine Blog was beneficial and I look forward to writing a few in depth posts on the those whom I was impressed with the most.
Of the hundreds of wineries represented a couple jumped out with depth and complexity and impressed me the most, one was Saxon Brown Wines and the other was Kenneth Volk. So with my time growing short and palate tiring I of course I was only able to sample about a dozen of many vintners represented. All in all it was what I would call instructive and a good use of my time. I plan to attend again next year and since it was also open to the public this would a great opportunity for the "newbies" to try out some new wines and broaden their palates perspective. It was $40.00 per person, with an opportunity to taste through some 200 plus different wineries. Quite a bargain! Until next time cheers everyone!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Howell Mountain, A sense of place!

The Howell Mountain Trade Tasting yesterday at the panoply Petersen Automotive Museum in LA, I came across some very good juice being bottled in the The Howell Mountain Appellation of Napa. I thought in advance of my reviews of the gems I discovered, that I would share a video, produced for The Howell Mountain Appellation by designTHIS!, LLC , which I found to be very informative and captivating. Due to the fact that there have been some technical difficulties in bringing this feature to my blog directly, I have posted the direct link.

I wanted everyone to see story first hand before I post my wine reviews. There were a few newcomers to this event and I can't wait to tell you about what should be an upcoming winery. One to keep an eye out for, because soon as these reviews get posted a price increase could be on the way as well a rush of wine lovers like myself to grab a few before they are gone. I look forward to all comments and feedback regarding this movie. Until next time cheers everyone!

The story of Howell Mountain

HMV&GA Above the Fog

A description of the short movie about the The Howell Mountain Appellation, "with its rolling hills and unique microclimates, offers spectacular views and a rich tapestry of vineyards to explore. The Howell Mountain Vintners & Growers Association welcomes you to take advantage of everything this off-the-beaten-path destination has to offer. Discover for yourself the best place on earth just “above the fog”. "

Saturday, March 14, 2009

A Temecula Wine Tasting - Episode #573

I've added this video from Gary V.... because he helps augment my review of the Temcula Wine Scene and lends his own unique perspective. He also reviews some of the wineries I was unable to make it to last month. His review was done last year. These reviews are very current and I hope they are helpful in planning your next visit to the Temecula Valley. Until next time, cheers everyone!

Friday, March 13, 2009

Mount Palomar 2004 Cloudbreak Gold Medal Winner

We are living in the era of change, and like it or not there are many changes afoot in our American culture. Some have embraced it, while others are coming kicking and screaming. Speaking of change, specifically in Southern California which seems to accommodate both restless individualism and personal obstinacy whose two features are not equal, but the culture of wine has a place for both features. It is in this vein, I bring to you the Mount Palomar Winery in the heart of what I call the, "Temecula Wine Scene".

The change I speak of has nothing to do with political will or class struggle but instead it is a change in direction from merely producing quaffable wines and instead making strides toward producing wines which I will hardily recommend to friends, family and to you my readers. The second thing is the willingness to embrace varietals which are best suited for this area. This is the kind of change I can believe in!

I am very glad we stopped there, and for me it was my first time, although my wife insisted I've been there before. I told her that was BB (or before Bill). But I digress, the change in direction at Mount Palomar Winery is solidified in the following statement from the wineries web site:

"Recognitions our wine has earned include four Best of Show awards at major wine competitions and numerous Best of Class and Gold Medal distinctions. A Mount Palomar wine has been named "Best Wine of the Southern California Region" by the California State Fair five separate times, most recently in 2008. Mount Palomar has also been recognized for sustainable environmental practices in viticulture"

But let me be honest I did not like every wine I tasted here, to me that would be disingenuous! But I did bring home a few bottles from Mount Palomar Winery. The one I am reviewing today is the Mount Palomar 2004 Cloudbreak Gold Medal Winner. When tasting I knew nothing of the award, but upon first swirl there was an indication of the coming attraction.

Upon first Swirl: This wine has a deep garnet core, fading away to pale ruby rim and that's what I call extraction!

Upon first Sniff: You find in the nose it's a touch high toned with lots of cherry and plum fruit caressed by lithe notes of sandalwood. (fragrant yellowish heartwood)

Upon first Sip: A solid core ripe, blackberry and black currant fruit, with some sweet spices bringing it all together effortlessly upon my palate, melding into a delightfully long and persistent finish!

Weighing in: Alcohol: 14.4% and resting upon 20 months in newer French and American Oak Barrel imparting smoothe tannins.

Composition: 61% Cab Sauvignon, 27% Merlot; 5% Cab Franc, 5% Carmenere, 2% Petite Verdot

Other wines of note: Castelletto 2005 Sangiovese and the Castelletto 2005 Trovato

My Recommendation: Drink or hold, Price is a factor at $50.00 each, it drops from favorable QPR status which kept my purchase of this wine to just one. A little pricey considering it's contemporaries in the meritage class of similar quality selling for half this price. Exclusivity is factor, but still does not merit this price point. That's is it for now until next time, Cheers everyone!

Sunday, March 8, 2009

In my backyard, Temecula wine country reviewed!

Hello everyone,

I've been asked so many times, "what's good in Temecula?" My standard reply is that I really don't know because frankly I've been ignoring this region in my backyard. For many folks who know me, this comes as a shock! It is only an hour to hour an a half away from my place, yet I have not really taken too many opportunities to explore the Temecula Wine Scene all that often. I've been there maybe three or four times at the most. This trip I decided to be more evaluative of places we intended to visit and we found two out of eight places we visited that in my opinion were serious about producing some quality juice.

Having spent only 2 days there is hardly enough time to cover the some 24 different wineries in the valley, but my wife and I were able to visit at least 8 different wineries. This typical of our tasting schedule, we find our palates become tired after the 4th place and realize it is time to take a break.

That said, there were a few situations which I would label as annoyances about our visit to the Temecula Wineries. One is the tasting fee schedule is what I would call "exorbitant", considering this is not what most people would call a destination location or a star on the well traveled wine map! I was put off a little by this fact, and none of wineries offered refunding the price of the "tasting fee" if wine was purchased, which I found curious. This is a "common" practice just about everywhere else I've been.

The second thing is the prices of the wine compared with their counterparts in the industry, seriously folks this is NOT Napa, Sonoma, or the highly acclaimed Willamette Valley. This issue was across the board and may be a factor which is keeping the Temecula Wine Scene from becoming more mainstream, many folks keep in mind the QPR factor when shopping for wine and their QPR collectively does not match the asking price.

The last annoyance, was the need to give everyone their souvenir or logo glasses, look if you want to give a glass with the tasting it could at least be some quality stemware or reduce the fee for folks who don't desire or need a logo wine glass. For example when I visited L'Adventure and Four Vines in Paso we actually wanted the Reidel "O" logo glass, which was included in the tasting fee (and retails for $12.99 ea.). But in our visit to Temecula all the wineries except one place had some clunky-funky (see the photo) glasses best left behind! I know this sounds so pretentious, and please forgive me in advance, but when queried with the question do want take the glass? Um, we had just said "no thanks".

What I liked about the Temecula Wine Scene is the trend toward making some serious (when I say serious, I'm not saying profound) wines, which brings me to my earlier point about two of the eight places we visited who in my opinion are making a noticeable effort to produce some of wines of a higher caliber. I'm not going to tell the names of the places we didn't like, but instead I am going name the two places we really enjoyed and viewed their wines as approachable, balanced and textured.
Please keep in mind that I only visited 8 of 24 or more of the wineries in Temecula, so the sampling is not a full orbed perspective.

That being said, drum roll please, ........ the two wineries I really like are Mount Palomar Winery and the other was Leonesse Cellars, with an extra nod going to Leonesse Cellars. Simply because they had larger selection of wines in the higher caliber category. I am going to review each wineries selections separately, so look for the next two posts featuring these wineries. Until next time Cheers Everyone!

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Wine of the Week: Bodega Norton Malbec Reserva 2006

 'Accept what life offers you and try to drink from every cup.' Paulo Coelho

Have you ever just caught the glimpse of what you thought was an attractive person on your peripheral vision? You just know somehow, a second look will confirm your suspicion, this was the case with this wine, a real stunner!  I've been wanting to write a review on Argentinian Malbec for some time now, sadly I never really came across one which I could recommend as hardily as the one pictured above. 

Quite the tasty pop and pour, I uncorked this one last night, Bodega Norton Malbec Reserve 2006  and it was dressed to impress. Folks let me tell I was nearly ready to run up to my PC and write this review, right then and there. But after uncorking the bottle a wave of dark black fruits wafted delightfully towards me and I knew almost immediately that I had a amazing taste on the way.

In the glass the core was a dark ruby and fading away to the rim a veil of crimson. As I gave it a swirl the aromas of dark cherry, currant, melding harmoniously together. Weighing in at 14% abv, you hardly get any sense of heat, nothing but smooth well integrated tannins and balanced acidity and a rich finish.

After the first sip, it displayed its wonderful bounty of well-layered ripe blackberry and dark plum flavors, with a touch of dark chocolate and a splash of coffee. This wine is well integrated and immediately approachable, while the finish is long and persistent. But a decant time of an hour only enhanced the the experience.

This wine demonstrates everything which is wonderful about the Argentinian style Malbec. That style appears to be the ability to offer a high-caliber for just a fistful of dollars. I know once WS and RP get a hold of this wine for themselves, that perhaps their review may possibly mirror mine own closely. Just a rough guess, but I'm thinking a score of something like a 91 may just be what the doctor ordered. t

Folks seriously this is great juice and I picked up the bottle I purchased at Costco for a mere $12.89 each making the QPR through the roof. The inexpensive price totally caught me off guard, but I enjoyed every swirl, sniff, down to the last slurp. 

Hopefully this review will get folks to run and, not walk to get this gem while supplies last. After draining that last drop from the bottle, I immediately broke open the piggy bank, and rooted around under seat cushions just so I could acquire a few more the next day. This is the kind of excitement a tasty bottle of wine can bring, sadly that's not always the case. So until next time I hope you all will continue to sip long and prosper, cheers!

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Sea Smoke Botella 2006, Pinot Noir

Do you love Pinot Noir? I really love it so much that a large part of my cellar is devoted to Pinot Noir. One the uncommon characteristics of this wine is the fact that it is not blended with other wines to deliver the complexity of flavors and aromas normally associated with making many red wines.

This wine has really taken off in and largely due to the influence of the movie Sideways popularity. I am glad because it deserves the limelight, but at the same time sad because now everyone wants to get a piece of the Pinot-pie and it's driving up the prices. Which is part of the reason why I've now kicked my allocation to the curb. 

It a grape worthy of our attention and fascination. There are many expressions of this varietal found around the wine world, but of course the most famous expression of Pinot Noir is from its homeland in Burgundy. 

That said, I have been a real fan of Sea Smoke Cellars ever since first encountering it at a wine tasting here in San Diego. There winery sits in the Sta. Rita Hill AVA, in Santa Barbara County. Pinot Noir is pretty much all they do there, except for the occasional Chardonnay. It took about six months to a year to get on their allocation list, while at the time I thought it was worth the wait, I have now found so many other Pinot Noir's that are just as good if not better, but for far less money.

With my current allocation I can purchase four Botella and one each of the other labels. I drank the 2006 a few nights back on "Open that bottle night" and wow what a treat. It has only been in laying about in my cellar for some 9 month and that small amount of bottle aging really paid off. In the glass a brightly colored core of garnet, with a much lighter colored rim. In the nose a bouquet of springtime strawberries wafting up effortlessly at first swirl.

On the palate, warm cinnamon notes melded with the raspberry and dark plum flavors typical of Santa Barbara Pinots. The Sea Smoke Botella Pinot Noir 2006 750ml was juicy, balanced, full of lively, ripe fruit, this wine is perfect for pairing with fresh caught wild Salmon, grilled to perfection over an open fire. I paid $40.00 for this bottle, which retails for $89.99 or more. Weighing in at 14.7% Alc. with an Oak profile of 40% new and 60% used French oak and barrel aging of some 16 months. I recommend at least a half hour of decanting before consuming for maximum enjoyment!

There are folks out there willing to sell you their allocation, if you troll for Sea Smoke Pinot on Wine Spectator forums. I recommend not spending more than wineries listed price. Until next time Cheers everyone!

Your Spring 2009 wine allocation is ready!

Ahh yes, Springtime is in the air in Sunny So-Cal! My apologies in advance for such a glib sentiment! That said, many of the wineries around the state here in California and elsewhere are getting ready to ship out the the class of 2007. Some of course still may have a few 2006 hanging around but for the most part the push is on to get the "class of 2007" out of the barrels and into your homes, cellars and your empty wine glass.
Are you excited, scared, or loathing with anticipation? Have you ever run into the allocation list? Some of the more "cult" wines or boutique wineries have what they call allocation lists. Possibly meaning two things, you can either buy all the wine you can carry whilst (love that word) in the tasting room or you can sign up to be a waiting list club member (which in the future will give you purchasing privileges online in the spring most often). Examples of wineries of which I am familiar with who have what I call "heavy allocation models" are; Sea Smoke, Foxen, L'Aventure, Turly and Kosta Browne to name a few. (There are many more) There are some which are so heavily allocated and their production so limited that they have no tasting room, you can only purchase at the time of allocation (and you have a set limit) and there is a long waiting list to have the privilege of purchasing their wines.

Now some of you may have no freaking idea what I am taking about and wonder geez what is all the fuss about anyway?? For those of you in this category who are saying "allocation" what is that and why do I care? Think of it this way you may be developing the taste for higher caliber wines (not your everyday quaffer) which are not main stream in terms of mass availability and with above average quality. Please pay attention because the waiting time on these lists average from a couple of years to forever so get on the list now and by the time you are ready to move up to some of the higher caliber wines you will be in line to get the wine you may be craving.

But if your happy where you are purchasing wines from your local Bevmo, Trader Joes or a local winery who has no such allocation list, great enjoy! If you are a member of a winery with an allocation model like the one I described are you planning to purchase this year? Because some places will throw you off the list if you fail to make a purchase or demote you to a lower level and others have a blanket purchase of once a year in which you agree in advance to purchase a certain number each year.

What to do, what to do? For me I am just purchasing the minimum to stay in the good standing and curtailing my weekly wine consumption. (But not my wine tasting schedule) I would be interested in hearing your thoughts and impressions on the subject?

But what are some of the benefits of being on a wineries allocation list? Well I am glad you asked, because there are a few. First there is the exclusivity part of it, you can drink wine which many folks can only read about. Second, the price you pay for the wine is considerably cheaper than purchasing it retail, because some folks on these lists are retailers who mark up these elusive labels considerably! Case in point, check out the search results for the Sea Smoke Botella 2006 I purchased for $40.00, it more than double at these places.
Third, because some of the distribution to restaurants you may come across one of these bottles on a night out and if you acted smartly with some BYOB you have saved about a 400% markup on that exclusive bottle (even with the corkage) and can use that savings to lavish upon your palate a delightful meal. Until next time Cheers everyone!

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