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Monday, November 29, 2010

Gloria Ferrer Royal Cuvée Vintage 2001, bubbles up success

With the Thanksgiving holiday firmly in our collective calendars rear view mirror it's seriously time to start thinking about your"sparkling wine" choices for ringing in the new year. So I thought that todays review should center around another wonderful choice in bubbly. A sparkling wine that has become one of my all time favorites, year after year. It's from right here in California, just a bit [some 800 miles] north of where I live in Sonoma County to be precise. I had a great time visiting this past September, unlike many other vintners GF had already started picking and I took a spin around the property which is expansive to take in the sights and sounds of harvest while I reclined on the patio sipping some of fantastic sparkling wine and enjoyed the view.
This is a great Sparkling wine for your next holiday celebration or anytime. It has tremendous taste and is easy on the wallet. Since my journey into the world of vino a short six years ago, I have come to the conclusion that"Cuvées" [aka, blends] often are the dominate choice for many wine aficionados and just everyday folks [think Bordeaux]. This example is nothing different, I want to introduce to the Gloria Ferrer's Royal Cuvée Vintage 2001 which is a blend of different lots from the same wonderful harvest season and not lots from different years.

Sniffy, Swirly-Swirl and Slurp: In the flute you will the Royal Cuvee's Pinot Noir led blend has a slight champagne rose color leaning toward the orange/pink side. On the nose dried cherries, over a fresh baked brioche. After taking my first sip, fat ample bubbles and creamy mousse composed of strawberries, smeared on fresh baked buttermilk biscuits, leading to a long sumptuous finish. I've had this wine several time and I've never been disappointed.

What's the Score: I gave this wine 94 points on the CCWB 100 point scale and maximum points awarded for a great price point and availability.

Versatility: Sparkling wine or Champagne is probably the most versatile drink for pairing you're are going to find and at these prices, this is an indulgence you could easily afford to keep on hand, chilling out in the fridge. People ask me all the time, if you had to choose only one wine that would pair with a majority of everyday food choices what would it be, the one word answer would be bubbly every time. Sparkling wines also pair wonderfully with many first courses or appetizers of many shapes and sizes, including salads, which contributes to its popularity of this very versatile wine. Many sparkling wines bubbles, when contrasted with actual Champagne are less focused and feel fatter on the on the palate as opposed to champagne and is often so vibrant that it's pretty fantastic on its own.

Any Time: Forget special occasions, most anytime is suitable for a sparkling wine from California, Champagne from France, Cava from Spain or a Sekt from Germany, you need to think of bubbly as a product you can drink at any moment of the day and pairs so easily with many different types of food. While I'm not about to advocate for all-day quaffing or having a mug of it with your lunch, however I will say this lively wine has soared so much in popularity that it has become a "everyday" wine no longer reserved just for special occasions and has also found its way to the bar.

Belly up to the Bar: Bubbly is no longer for simple cork popping and quaffing no this is a wine that has made its way to the bar. Many a mixologist [bartenders] can vouch for the allure of this wonderful bar-staple. Many drinks today can and are being made with sparkling wine and fresh white-peach nectar or mixed with any other manner of fruit juices, from orange to pomegranate, generally proves eminently quaffable and a real party pleaser, which may catch your guests off guard. If you plan to make bubbly a part of your liquor line-up may I recommend for mixing their everyday Sonoma Brut or the Blanc de Blanc Brut.

Directions for Sexy Sparkle: Pour 1 ounce orange-flavored vodka and 1 ounce ginger liquor, such as Domaine de Canton or DeKuyper Ginger Flavored Brandy, into a champagne flute. Fill remainder of glass with champagne and enjoy.

Consistent: I've found that Gloria Ferrer Sparkling Wines are a fantastic consistent product. They also make a nice, pleasant aperitif or a wonderful party mixer in the right situation. The enticing simplicity and refreshing character of good, clean sparkling wines made in right here in California are hard to be denied. 

Where to Purchase: I purchased this sparkler for a mere $20.00 at Costco [normally sells for $32.99]. A vintage bubbly of this caliber at that price point makes this wine a QPR champ. It is three times the juice of many other bubblies here in the states and beats the stuffing out of many of the sparkling wines from across the pond as well. I know it is probably not a completely fair comparison because this is vintage bubbly, but if you compared a vintage French Champagne vs. a domestic vintage bubbly, whoa you really get a lot bang for the buck by going with this fresh New World bubbly.

Vintage Bubbly: If you are new to wine you maybe surprised to find that most Champagne or Sparkling wines are blends of different years, [NV] unlike still-wines which are generally made from a vintage year. So in the world of Sparkling Wine, winemakers will sometimes set aside a fantastic year called a "vintage" year. [Vintage means it is from a specific year, so if you don't see the year printed on the label (which makes up the bulk of sparklers and or Champagnes] then it is a blend of different years.

Other Voices: I find it a great practice to have others from the dying print media chime in on the great values in vino I find and so here again I've found two other sources who not only confirm my findings, but add the exclamation point.

So the folks over at WS had this say about about the GS NV Blanc de Blanc "This sparkling wine is fresh and vibrant, yet offers a core of rich, luscious fruit. Aromas of Asian pear, rose water and lemon curd lead to layered flavors of fresh ginger, pippin apple and cinnamon that finish on a showy note. Drink now through 2013." 93 points Wine Spectator

In 2008 WE listed the Royal Cuvee in Top 100 Wines of the Year, high praise indeed. Their reviewers went on to say that the "Royal Cuvée is usually Gloria Ferrer’s best bubbly, and so it is with this bottling, a worthy follow up to the past several vintages" and described it this way, "Very finely structured, it shows appealing flavors of cherries, citrus fruits and vanilla, and is so rich, it’s almost like a table wine. Addictively good now and more so in years to come." 93 points Wine Enthusiast

The Winery: Sitting like a lovely jewel in the hills of Sonoma, the GF winery cultivates 385 acres in Carneros and produces a wide range of sparkling and still wines. Gloria Ferrer is dedicated to the production of wines which reflect the artistry [well we would hope so]of the winemaker and the marriage of vine to place in the vineyard [not just PR hype either]. While they do make some still wines from their fruit in Sonoma, they also import some Spanish still wines and sell them through the winery tasting room. But their sparkling wines will always remain the first love of the Ferrer family who also happens to own the Spanish sparkling wine giant Freixenet [cava] in what has become the iconic black matte colored bottle.

My Recommendation: This is a great holiday quaffer to have by the case for your next holiday party or New Years celebration. It is inexpensive, but has premium quality. So run down and grab yourself as many as you can afford and have a great holiday season and until next time sip long and prosper cheers!

Blind Tasting Champagne Showdown

Bubbly, it starts in my nose and makes me Wiggle my Toes" ~ Colbie Caillat

When Colbie Caillat wrote what is now her very popular song entitled, "Bubbly" it got me thinking about some of my favorite bubbles, those wonderful sparklers which make toasting the successes of life or for the ringing in of the upcoming "New Year" even better. Just remember to throw caution to the wind and take this sage piece of advice when considering your next bottle of bubbly, "all that sparkles is not gold", you've seen the stars now it's time to see the light, so please read on.

Perhaps if Colbie Caillat could be encouraged to re-work her very popular song, which I'm sure would not be too much effort for someone so talented, it could connote instead the joy of the wondrous libation we all know as Champagne or Sparkling Wine.

Possibly the song could have started like this instead, "Bubbly, it starts in my nose and makes me wiggle my toes, cause as long as it stays cold for a while, where ever it goes I always know it will make me smile, a wine so fine, it can turn on a time and make your flutes, slide on a chute and gives still wines the makes me smile. So what do you think [oh I know, don't quit my day job]?

See folks even goofy wine geeks like me can get lyrical when it comes to extolling the virtues of Methode Champenoise. Especially when it's done right and still has a sense of the grapes from which it originated. I hope she will approve of my suggested change to the lyrics? Perhaps, she could cut a new single about bubbly [uh-huh, right I know]. Do I honestly think there's any chance of that happening, well a guy has to have dreams right, even if they appear to be champagne wishes and caviar dreams.

Now I'm quite sure she was not thinking about Methode Champenoise when she wrote this song, but for a wine geek like me, hearing this song helped me recall a meeting of the San Diego Wine Mafia last weekend where we got to taste a large number of bubbles, a few of them from France, two from Spain, some from Nor Cal and others from Washington State. We tasted everything blind and were very surprised by our choices as some of the least expensive bubbles [which ran the gamut from $9.99 to $105] won the day, hands down.

Before we go any further, you all should know that I'm one of those crazy folks who are either ready to party at a moments notice or just love to have the right vino for any occasion on tap. So what the bleep does that mean, it simply means that at all times I have a bottle of bubbly standing by in the fridge [chilling] waiting for the right moment to open it. 

Because you never know what life will throw at you in any given moment, so when it comes to vino I think it's always good to be prepared. So in my fridge right now, I have a inconsequential, but none the less delicious bottle of Roederer Estate from Anderson Valley. I picked mine up at my local Costco, where you can get it for about $19.00.  Another top recommendation from the CCWB, in bubbly with high QPR and widely available .

There were over 22 different bottles of bubbly for us to sample, by the time we got to number seventeen, our collective palates blown, so we decided it was time for some Scotch and Cigars. What else are members of the mafia to do, when we've become bored with writing what amounted to be the same note over and over, "flavored by toast, brioche, and other aged yeasty flavors, with little or no sense of identity of its originating grapes". 

On one hand, I am very thankful for everyone that provided a sample for our sparkling holiday bonanza, but honestly folks the bubbly that didn't make the cut in my book are not going to see the light of day. I didn't like them and honestly I just don't have anything good to say about those wines. But of the 17 tasted, 4 of them impressed me enough to publish my tasting notes below and for me to make a "drink now and drink often" recommendation.

1. Domaine Saint Michelle 2004 "Luxe" this wine was the fifth wine we tasted that evening and nearly all the Mafia was in agreement that this was fantastic juice. But at the same time we all thought the label was a bit gaudy, smacking of a glam-pak from some lurid hotel on the Vegas strip. Thee fruit is sourced from Washington state’s Columbia Valley vineyards Luxe is a very delicate Blanc de Blancs [white from white] sparkling wine crafted in the time-honored Methode Champenoise tradition. 

In making Luxe Ste Michelle only uses only free run juice or the "cuvee press" and this press is the "best of the best" and the Sur lie aging the bottled wine for 5 years gives it a lovely complexity you can smell and taste the difference.

Tasting Note: On the nose fresh baked apple pie and on the palate I found this 100% Chardonnay to be a bit earthy, yet delightfully ripe.The sweet-tart flavors are broad and mousse was a bit chalky, but is supplanted by the rich, buttery delight, of brioche, good acid on the palate with a creamy, long expressive finish. What I really like about this bubbly is that you can taste the fruits, the soils, the minerals in the layers that change on the palate from beginning to end. 

Selling for $22.99 through the winery website and other places I found online. Still no word on a retailer here in San Diego who may carry the product. But if push came to shove, you most likely could order at your local Bevmo, who carries many of their other bubblies. I scored this one 91 points on the CCWB 100 point scale, maximum points for the Quality to Price Ratio [QPR].

2. Domaine Ste. Michelle Cuvee Brut this was the eleventh sparkling wine we had tasted that day and again it was just flat out wonderful. A selection 5 base cuvées make up this delightful blend of NV sparkling wine.

Tasting Note: Racy acidity yet plush and fresh baked biscuits on the nose, the slightly sweet DSM Cuvee Brut is one of Washington's very best "bargain" sparkling wines; which is crisp and flavorful in the finish. I scored this wine 90 points, with maximum points for the QPR and availability. This wine sells for $7.99 at your local Bevmo.

3. Woodbridge Brut This next wine was perhaps the biggest surprise of the night and perhaps none shone brighter than this sparkling wine I received as a SAMPLE along with four silver straws. Which supposedly has something to do with super models, runways and sipping, uh sorry, I still don't "get" the connection.

Tasting Note: Fresh biscuits in the nose, showing fine, green apple notes, a stylish and well defined inexpensive example of Brut Champagne. A lingering finish, engulfed in the hay/peach colored core. It has a bright, zesty aftertaste that will pair with a variety of foods, especially a night out getting after some Sushi. Selling for a mere $7.99 most places, this wine represents a great value and I scored it 90 points on the CCWB, with maximum points again for QPR and wide availability. Round yourself up some today, before New Years. It's an everyday drinker that won't break the bank, so sip long and often.

4. Paul Cheneau Cava Brut Blanc De Blanc We had two cavas that evening and the one I'm getting ready to tell you about really knocked the flavor profile out of the park, while the other one was nothing but foul balls and a unsuccessful slides into home plate. This is some fantastic Cava a wonderful sparkling wine from Spain. No one including myself picked this as Cava, everyone thought this was French Champagne. We all got fooled but were turned onto a fantastic bottle of bubbly, that I for one want to have in my wine collection.

Tasting Note: has a sensuous mousse, very creamy and a warm brioche quality; reveals a lovely, creamy mouth feel and pear accents, citrus and a fresh toast quality; finishes dry with lingering fruit flavors. This wine sells for $17.00 most places and can be found at Wine dot Com. I scored this bubbly 89 points for its wonderful overall quality and amazing little price point. If you love a good cava and don't want to pay too much, I would highly recommend the Paul Cheneau to you.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Bad to the Bone, Marques de Casa Concha 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon

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Wow, this wine really is like what George Thorogood once described it's "Bad to the Bone"! This wine showed on a stinking hot one hundred degree November Day, rolling around in the back of UPS truck, bouncing from side to side and finally arrived at my door step. The bottle was still warm from the record breaking temps, but was unfazed by the conditions outside, a lesser wine would have wilted like a weak kneed little girl, fielding a kiss from a new found beau.

Oh no, not this vino, it was packing some serious heat and in a good way, even after I pulled the cork weeks later, after it had recuperated in my wine cellar, I noticed that on the wine was starting to push up past the cork, reaching for the foil.  I thought for sure that it was going to be heat damaged or spoiled, but oh no this wine was Locked, Cocked and ready to freaking Rock. I imagined how good this wine would have been if I had the opportunity to taste it, under better conditions, that said there was no denying this vino is high speed and teflon coated so look out.

Tools: Wines are like tools and this wine could be compared to a blunt hammer, it is meant for smashing. This tool is wine-freaking-tastic [yes that is a word, don't question it] and will rock your palate like Jet-Li on steroids. A cocktail wine fo-sure! Yep you heard me right, take this vino to your next cocktail or dinner party and you'll have unleashed some whoop-ass upon your guests palates and in case you think this wines only value is its beauty and amazement around the the wine-bar, oh no if you want to throw some phat T-Bones on the grill or a New York Strip, this wine is meaty and bold enough to coax the amazement out of the best cut you could throw at it.

Advice: Gentlemen this wine will have the ladies chasing after you and ladies serving this wine to your luv interest will most likely result in a proposal.  I could not believe the quality of this beast after I uncorked it an opaque monster of fiercesome resolve and courage. I sipped on it for a few minutes without decanting and thought, ummm it's great now but will be even better with some time to decant, it's a hedonistic monster, worth waiting a little more time for it to unfold. I cooked dinner on the grill and enjoyed a fine T-Bone, while the wife was off with her colleagues enjoying happy hour appetizers [her loss]. The T-Bone was held down at the mercy of the Marques De Casa Concha and finally succumbed to its wondrous powers, melding effortlessly into a beauteous wonderment of fantastic proportions and oh yeah the dinner was fab as well.

She Said: "You ask me why I do not write something....I think one's feelings waste themselves in words, they ought all to be distilled into actions and into actions which bring results." -- Florence Nightingale. Who knew such a profound statement would come from a source like this one. Be that as it may, she is so right actions do bring results and what nearly amounts to be Thanksgiving Eve, a wine that brings some fantastic results of yummy proportions for such a tiny price is waiting for you to place your order, so don't delay and grab yourself some today or at your earliest convenience. It's a very young wine that is drinking fantastic right now, but will age gracefully in the right place and upon opening in a few long years will reward your patience richly.

Sniff, Swirly-Swirl, Slurp: This wine is extraordinarily rich and rewarding now and a bit youthful , it still shows extremely well and should drink brilliantly for the next five years. In the glass it has a very dark ruby   core, nearly opaque. In the nose a deep penetrating aromas of blackberries, red licorice, leather, minerality and well integrated French oak.  At first blush it coats the mouth with a richly fruited wild blueberry, covered in mocha dust and cherry that plays against a lovely backdrop of well honed tannins.

Full Disclosure: For those folks interested, this wine was a sample sent to the CCWB for the review process.

Price, ABV and Score: This wine sells anywhere between $17.95 and $24.95 each and has a 14.5%. It's a blend of 92% Cabernet Sauvignon leading the way, 7% Carmenère, 1% Petit Verdot. On the score side of the equation, I gave this wine 93 smoking hot points on the CCWB 100 point scale, because it kicks some serious ass and takes no prisoners.

Where From: The 2010 Marques de Casa Concha Cabernet Sauvignon, from the MaipoValley of Chile. Concha y Toro is the leading wine company in Chile in terms of quantity and, happily, also occupies a commanding position in terms of quality for many of its brands. Concha y Toro's myriad labels include Cono Sur, Terrunyo, Los Robles, Casillero del Diablo, Don Melchor and Marqués de Casa Concha.

Other Voices: Jancis Robinson had this to say about this wine, "This is a really well-balanced, well-constituted wine with a future, a wine that you could drink now with food but that will repay keeping." I think this means she liked it.

My Recommendation: Folks honestly this is great juice for a great price. If you don't about this wine and you love a great Cabernet Sauvignon, don't miss this one. Please DECANT, you will thank me later. It's a very big wine and needs time to unwind. It will drink nicely now, but will get better with more time in the bottle as long as it is stored properly. Do yourself a favor, don't blink or you'll miss it. Grab yourself a case or two, you will thank me over and over. Until next time sip long and prosper, cheers!


Thursday, November 18, 2010

Giving Thanks with a Passion for Pinot

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This is the one meal that gets more wine recommendations than any other, and I guess that makes sense as many folks only have one chance a year to get it right. While many writers and experts will take the diplomatic high-road and tell you that there is no one perfect wine for Thanksgiving dinner. I would have to say for the most part that I agree with that premise, because of vast variety of flavors and profiles of the food being served. But I can't resist the urge to buck that trend and take a contrarian view and suggest a single type of wine.

However, if you want to make it easy on yourself, I would suggest having a few different bottles standing by to cover all your bases. In that case I would recommend two Chardonnays, Two Pinot Noirs and Two bottles of bubbly. You don't have to spend a arm an leg either to get some good quality vino. But if you are a little more daring and want to stay with a theme, may I recommend this Thanksgiving that you develop a "Passion for Pinot Noir."

Lets say if you were to take a look around the web at this very moment, you're sure to find a plethora of suggestions from a cornucopia of wine writers, wine bloggers, wine snobs and maybe even your parents with picks ranging from Torrontes to Tannat, from Merlot to Muscat and even a Moet & Chandon (White Star). But I'm taking a different tact and I'm recommending "A Passion for Pinot" (not the book but the wine, Pinot Noir) is the ticket to having an outstanding Thanksgiving meal, with a wine that will meld effortlessly with your meal and will garner you high praise from either your guests or your host.

Is there a problem with my recommendations, I don't think so? However some may think the meal itself is the problem. It can be so varied and different in many homes that to name just one wine as "the one" could just be a mistake [perhaps]. As we all know there's no one wine which is perfect with every food and since we are all in agreement that this is the case I going to give a specific recommendation based solely on the traditionally observed Thanksgiving meal, with the Turkey, Mashed Potatoes, Stuffing, Gravy, Corn on the Cob, Green Bean Casserole, Yams,  Pan de Sal Rolls, Cranberry Sauce and homemade Pumpkin Pie.

So is you are planning on serving ToFu Turkey or some other substitute for your Thanksgiving meal, well you may want to check into a different wine for your meal, sorry these recommnedations won't work for you. Please let me upfront with you, there is nothing wrong with alternate choices when it comes to how you may want to enjoy Thanksgiving, this is America after all and variety is the name of the game.

That being said, I am going to suggest a what I will call a patriotic [just my opinion] choice this year and recommend getting yourself an [said, the way John Wayne use to pronounced it] Ameri-caaa [Oregon, RRV or SBC] Pinot Noir. Why because all of these wines have an elegant earthiness and lovely red-berry overtones which makes them the perfect choice and in my [not so humble] opinion these are the characteristics which makes Pinot Noir a prime choice for Thanksgiving Dinner.

Hey it's not just my opinion either, oh no a certain Jordan MacKay, Robert Holmes and Andrea Johnson in their book, "A Passion for Pinot" emphasize that "California and Oregon are home to Pinots greatest expressions in the New World." with all due respect to our friends across the "pond" in Burgundy, who really make a different "expression" of Pinot Noir, which I don't think would be conducive to taking on a traditional Thanksgiving meal. Further, seeing that I'm basing my opinion on having tasted plenty of both Old World and New World Pinot Noirs, that American Pinots high expression style will win the day.You don't have to agree it's okay to be wrong, I won't hold it against you.

Other Voices: To lend further credibility to my premise here, I've found another voice promoting my point of view, who's none other the the very well respected,  Mr. Eric Asimov who has been quoted to say, "If any grape would be at home in the pose of the femme fatale—smoke curling from its lips, long, irresistible legs crossed as another winemaker is sent to his doom—it would be Pinot Noir."  That would definitely be the guest I want invited to my Thanksgiving dinner, how about you?

This quote above should be the slam dunk affirmation you need to make up your mind which wine you are going to have with your Thanksgiving meal this year, hands down. What say you?

Finally who can deny this statement from the book A Passion For Pinot where this quote is taken, "Silky, complex, and incredibly versatile, Pinot Noir is the perfect food wine; full of charm and intrigue, it drinks beautifully on its own." That's well said and I could not agree more, thus I have compiled a list of wines from these regions which should grab your attention and take your Thanksgiving dinner to new and memorable heights.

I've come up with a list of American (New World) Pinot Noirs that I have recommended over the years. Why? Because these wines are not too hard to find and two, many of them are "reasonably" priced and finally, I've chosen these wines because they are consistent year after year. If you are unable to find a Pinot Noir from the list below and you come across one that has been gathering dust on some wine store shelf for quite awhile, that could mean trouble and you may want to avoid it altogether.

For example: If the wine has not been properly stored. Meaning, standing upright, with an inconsistent temperature environment, in the sun or direct light or a unstable shelf , its palatability could be suspect. On the contrary if the wine is "old" but stored properly, then I would say you're good to go. Sorry if I did not name your favorite PN's, so please don't be offended, instead feel free to offer your choice in the comments sections as I am sure they would be welcomed. Further don't just be a lurker, feel free to make a suggestion, after all this suppose to be a conversation and not a monologue.

Pricing: The prices which are listed are broadly representative, but can vary widely and while I am saying these are great choices they don't represent a best of the best list by any stretch.

Regarding Availability: While I wouldn't expect many stores to have all of these recommendations, you should be able to find them via the links I have provided below and are good examples of wines you may want to consider.


CAMBRIA 07 PN JULIA'S, 2007 (Santa Barbara County). $18.99. Great acidity, some spice and with all kind of cranberry and strawberry fruit that, obviously, is perfect for the meal. Complex, interesting, affordable and easy to find in most stores.

Patricia Green 2007 Estate OV Estate Old Vine Oregon, 2007 $29.99 Beautiful color, with a rich, a spicy and sensuous nose. The taste is voluptious and plush, with minerals, earth and great Pinot fruit. Interesting from start to finish.

Taz 2007 Pinot Noir Santa Barbara County Taz, 2007 $17.99 This wine had a very soft floral note, leaning toward the strawberry end of the flavor spectrum and the smell (rich and filled with berries). The taste is just classy, well-balanced and don't be afraid of some varietal funk. Nicely intense and won't compete for your palates attention amongst the plentiful bounty before you.

Erath Oregon Pinot Noir 2007 750ml, 2007 $18.99 A light ruby colored core, bakers spice notes wrapped around well honed tannins, black cherry and cranberry are present in the nose of this Pinot. The palate presents a rich core of opulent fruit. Lots of cherry, blackberry round out the it subtle spices, that are underscored by a persistent layer of acidity that keeps everything balanced. This wine can also be found at most San Diego Costco's.

2007 Chehalem Pinot Noir 3 Vineyard Willamette Valley, 2007 $19.99 This smooth wine is fruit forward featuring bright raspberry and strawberry nuances, lively acidity, medium-high tannins, medium-high oak, and complex flavors. It is balanced, and has a medium finish. Overall, its appeal is attractive and would compliment your Thanksgiving meal nicely.

Testarossa Sleepy Hollow Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir, 2007 $39.99 An explosive burst of cherry and plum with underlying cedar and fruitcake spice notes make up the nose of this single vineyard Pinot Noir. Vibrant Pinot flavors in a very drinkable package featuring bright fruit yet light enough to complement everything on the table without adding yet another big taste.

Byron Pinot Noir Santa Maria Valley 2008: This is a wine my advertiser the Wine Chateau is selling for $21.97 and if you use the offer code below you can save some green. I actually purchased the one I tasted the other day from BevMo [who happens to be selling it for the same price]. This one fantastic Pinot Noir for the money, bursting with cola, sweet baking spices and cranberry flavors. It's light bodied and has great acidity making it very mouth watering. From the first sip to the last drop, flat out fantastic and I would decant this wine to fully release all of its wondrous complexities.

I want to wish everyone a safe and wonderful Thanksgiving holiday, watch some football, eat too much, catch up with family you may only see once a year and by all means enjoy a great glass of wine or two. Until next time, sip long and prosper, Cheers!

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Spring Mountain Uncorked: A visit to Vineyard Seven and Eight

“Wine is like the incarnation--it is both divine and human”  Paul Tillich

This last September I had the great pleasure of visiting with the wonderful folks at Vineyard Seven and Eight on Spring Mountain, which is just a bit south of Diamond Mountain in the Napa Valley.

In conversations about vino on the social networking phenom known as Twitter, I virtually met then assistant winemaker and the winery operations manager Wesley Steffens [who is now the Cellar Master].

As part of the that conversation, I was given an invitation to stop-by for a tour and tasting at Vineyard Seven and Eight, during the trip I had planned to Napa and Sonoma Valley in the summer. Frankly, I had never heard of their winery before, but with so many producers in Napa, it can sometimes be hard to keep up with all new faces coming and going.  

I was surprised to find the Spring Mountain Vintners and Growers Association
did not appear to have a market presence like many of their counterparts on Howell Mountain Vintners & Growers Association. They also don't appear to have a tasting roadshow. 

It may be something they may want to consider for the future. However, the reputation of the wonderful wines being made on Spring Mountain is very well known and nicely established in the vino-sapien community. I think reminding folks of that fine reputation now and again would be helpful in continuing to market their brand.

I have also read about many of the wonderful wines being produced on Spring Mountain, but I never really got a firm bead on who the quality producers were until I did some further research.

I've heard of some of these top producers before like, Fantesca Estate Wines  and Pride Mountain Vineyards, but never really associated them with the Spring Mountain District, which to me again potentially represents a great marketing opportunity to the folks who may not be in the "know".

It's because of the impact Social Media has had upon the wine industry, that I came across this winery in the first place and I'm so glad I did. Long before everyone else came out with their recent, well deserved glowing reviews, I discovered on my own and in person just how fantastic their wines were and I firmly believe they could soon become the "cult" wine if/when the economy would improve.

If you know me and how I review wines, I'm not one to "gush" over every wine that comes down the purple-paved path. In fact I will not write reviews for wines I don't like [if the wine scores less than 83 points]. But that said, the wines from Vineyard 7&8 flat out rock. Everyone and their brother loved these wines, including the usual suspects of RP, WS, WE and even a certain Mr. Tanzer gave their wines high-marks [see other voices note below].

As I said earlier, I really wanted to get this post off the "back-burner", moving it to the front of the line. However, I was not finished with this post, when I had to run to catch my plane, as a result I was the very last passenger aboard. Heading to China for the first time on vacation. I was warned I would be off the grid for a bit, so I hit publish and caught my flight and had a fabulous time. That said, there so much more I want to say about this fantastic winery, that you should know about.

About Vineyard 7 and 8: They are located on the top of Spring Mountain, set in the western hills above the town of St Helena some two thousand feet above the valley floor, they produce some wonderful vino from their forty acre estate. They got their start with their first vintage in 1999 and began their quest to produce distinctive, terroir driven wines from this unique piece of land. 

You'll find their winery set among some of Spring Mountain's greatest wine-producing vineyards, the terroir of their estate is a mix of sedimentary, volcanic, and clay soils. The vineyards of their estate were established in the early 1980's and are currently planted to ten acres of [Estate] Cabernet Sauvignon and four acres of Chardonnay [which you see directly behind Wes in the picture above].

Tastings and Appointments: So after reading this story on Vineyard Seven and Eight has caused you to want to book your own tasting appointment, please give them a call to arrange a time for your visit and tour. The tasting fee is $25 per person. But wait until you the tasting room, I was wowed by the size and flattened by the panoramic view of the Spring Mountain District shining like a bright light in the background. I thought it was "totally" worth the price of admission. If you find yourself in Napa, don't miss an opportunity to stop by say hello and taste some really fantastic vino, that will knock your socks off.

Vineyard 7 & 8 2008 Chardonnay: This was first of three wines I tasted that afternoon and I going to warn you right now folks you better get your happy little self online quickly so you can have one or more of the very best Chardonnays I've ever had the pleasure of tasting.

They only made 220 cases of this beauty and are selling for $50. This wine was bottled unfined and unfiltered with 100% Malolactic Fermentation, which is immediately evident from the first pour to the last lingering sip.

Barrel aged for 14 months in French Oak and the fruit was estate grown on Wente Clone root-stock, you can see the Chardonnay block in the picture above and to the right. A quick tasting note, this wine super rich and very creamy, baking spices, with almost dessert like qualities of a crème brulée and very pleasing long mouth coating finish. My score 96 voluptuous points.

Vineyard Seven and Eight "7" SMD Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2007: The second wine I tasted this day, it was decanted before hand, a purple opaque colored core. On the palate I found a wonderfully rich, complex and age-worthy wine. Wonderfully integrated tannins intertwined nicely around the forward fruit flavors of blackberry pie, currants. Also notes of chocolate and cedar in the long silky finish.  My score 93 points and sells for $75 with 700 cases produced. It was aged in 90% new French Oak, with an ABV of 14.8%.

Vineyard Seven and Eight 100% Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2007: This label represents a new wine that the winemaker Luc Morlet and the Steffens Family decided to craft in an effort highlight the unique character of the 7 & 8 terroir. An opaque ruby colored core, a generous pronounced nose dusting my senses blackcurrant, leather, vanilla. 

On the palate this wine in a word is plush, the fruit is fantastically concentrated, black cherries, licorice and cocoa. The finish is long and sumptuous and will only get better with more time in the bottle. 

Yes you can drink now and drink often, but will definitely improve with age and was my favorite of the day. This wine sells for $125, has an ABV of 14.8%, was aged 18 months in 95% new French Oak, with just 600 cases made. I scored this wine 95 points and it would have scored higher at a lower price point. This is damn good juice, one not too be missed.

Full Disclosure: Tasting and Tour Fees were waived.

My Recommendation: The Chardonnay is a mind blower and possibly the very best Chardonnay that could be made in California, you should try to score some of this great vino before it's all gone. Both the Cabernet Sauvignon represent the "best" of what fruit sourced from the Spring Mountain District can achieve in making superlative examples of Napa Cabernet's.

You should try to acquire some if you can, for those of you that don't have a wallet full of discretionary spending dollars the $125 per bottle may be a hard pill to swallow. But having a bottle of their Estate wine for a special dinner out to celebrate at your favorite restaurant is highly recommended. If you want to be wowed by a great tasting room experience, please make an appointment, take a nice tour of the new facilities, sip some very tasty wines with generous pours and enjoy a wonderful day on Spring Mountain as a guest of Vineyard Seven and Eight.

Other Voices: Stephen Tanzer's International Wine Cellar: The 2007 “Estate” Cabernet Sauvignon made from the best estate fruit. Bright ruby-red. Super-ripe, liqueur-like aromas of plum, blueberry, licorice, black olive and fresh herbs. Sweet, chewy and fruit-driven, with powerful black fruit flavors complemented by cedar and licorice. 

The serious, building tannins come off as a bit granular today, but I suspect they will meld with the wine's dense fruit by the time the wine is released in late 2010. Incidentally, this was the wine presented to me last year as "7", before the decision was made to offer a flagship wine from all estate vines and a second wine from younger vines and declassified lots." - Stephen Tanzer (May/June 2009) 92-94 Points "($125)

Friday, November 5, 2010

Cameron Huges Wines and Tasting Room Dot Com: Twitter Taste Live

Hey folks, I went to a twitter taste live event a couple of days ago where I was introduced to a wonderful North American wine négociant of which many of you may already be highly familiar with, and that is none other than a company who is quickly becoming Wine World icon, Cameron Hughes Wine.
I was also introduced to a new and novel approach in sending samples to wine bloggers like myself, that company is called and one possibly you may have not heard of before, but definitely one to pay attention to as this Tiny Bottle concept could be catching on, however that review will have to wait for another day.

About the Twitter Taste Live and video conference portion of the event, I and most everyone else [including the San Diego Wine Mafia] thought the speed of the tasting portion was "too-fast" it was more like a speed dating event than a wine tasting webinar. The pace of the event reminded me of the Wine Bloggers conferences where speed tasting is the norm. Other than flying through the wines too fast it was a win for the strength of social media and a win for CH and Tasting Room dot com, who will most likely get some nice exposure from this event, that they wouldn't have otherwise.

Tiny Bottles: Each of the bottles you see above is only 50ml, which is about 1.25 ounces or so.Not really enough in my opinion to render an accurate review of the wine [sometimes you have to work with what you have]. These were the samples sizes sent for this tasting. According to wines are transferred directly from finished bottles within a sealed, zero-oxygen chamber and tested [wouldn't you like to have this job] to ensure the quality prior to shipping in its new smaller [tiny] bottle.

Word on the Street: Incidentally from what I've heard from testimonial of hard core wine travelers, these "tiny" bottle are small enough to get through airport security without any hassles, if you'd like to consume it on-board I've heard but have not confirmed that a flight attendant must open and pour it for you or you'll be sternly scolded, by someone grumpy and charged a corkage fee.

About CH: Just a bit of info I was able glean from their website and couple videos on CH wines is that they started back before 9/11 as a traditional wine wholesaler when selling wine with big mark-ups was easy and ongoing. After 9/11, the economy took a lot of time to recover and they CH found themselves facing financial collapse. So after some hard [what-to-do-now] discussions between the owners, they embarked on a new business plan, they would replace a real inventory with a virtual one and would outsource just about everything else they were doing. They would get tank samples from various producers and take them to prospective buyers, who if they liked it enough, would sell them high end juice for pennies on the dollar labeled with the CH logo and thus the Lot series was born. As one of the conditions for obtaining these great values, the producer in many cases had to remain anonymous. Their success model simply stated is; reinvention is the key. CH had to get "real" and revise their business model or go under. They chose to change and realized it really "doesn't cost much to make good wine".

First: I want to preface my review here with a frank admission that I haven't really had much experience or exposure with CH wines, at least none that were too memorable and frankly I "scoffed" at their concept as a bunch of "pie in the sky' marketing, so I didn't take them too seriously. I looked down my nose at their wines and scoffed from afar, without a benefit of the doubt. That said, after I gave their wines a swirly, sniffy and Slurpee a-go in the snobbiest stemware available, overall I was pretty impressed with the caliber of their wines. I was hoping for a slightly broader selection of their wines, since they consider themselves a International négociant, however I came to one conclusion, CH is making some pretty good juice for pennies on the dollar. Please don't take what I said here, as a blanket endorsement of their wines, instead as a general guideline that CH is making some pretty good juice at great prices, considering where some of the grapes are sourced and the growers who provide them with juice they bottle under the CH label.

All the wine except the one white wine were sourced from Napa and Sonoma fruit, the one white wines fruit was sourced from the Columbia Valley. So below you will find a few notes on each wine tasted, my recommendation, price, score and the place to buy a majority of Cameron Huges wines is at your local Costco or Sams Clubs.

CH 09 LOT 151: Riesling 70% and Chenin Blanc 30% from the Columbia Valley. Beautiful floral expressions in the nose, nice steely acidity, balancing the intensely fresh apples and citrus notes. A full in the mouth, cool character, perfect for summer time sipping. Yumtastic and selling for an incredible $10
89 points. Drink now and drink often

CH 08 LOT 176: Pinot Noir, Los Carneros a self proclaimed "100% New World Style" PN. This was one of my favorites of the day, a pronounced nose full of baking spices, on the palate a refreshing soft richness, a nice mouth-feel, where it really brings out the ripe plums and sweet strawberry jam nuances quite nicely. The finish was a bit fleeting toward the end. Still very good for $18 and 89 points.

CH 07 LOT 175: Merlot, Napa Valley from Havens Winery, a bit of stinky cheese in the nose immediately after it was poured, but later after that blew off it had some nice dark fruit and cedar aromas. On the palate, forest floor, plums, berries an a juicy earth flavor, the tannins should soften in a year to leave a fresh, fruitier wine overall that will great with food. Still good for $13 and I scored it 86 points. Decant!

CH 07 LOT 179: Cab. Sauv. 50% and Syrah 50%, Napa Valley from the famous Havens Black and Blue 07 bottling.  This was very tight from the word go, like it was stuck in a straight jacket. Hard edged and with medium plus tannins, a pronounced nose of dark fruits, cedar and leather, which didn't translate to the palate. It did have some depth in leather and tobacco departments, but the fruit was too restrained. May need more bottle time and definitely decant, I scored this wine 86 points and it sells for $18.

CH 07 LOT 172: 95% Cabernet Sauvignon and 5% Malbec from Atlas Peak in Napa Valley. My initial impression of this wine had me thinking if only some Merlot had been blended in to soften this wines hard edges, it would have been that much better. That said, it's a big brooding wine, that needs to be decanted; as it's dry and tannic, the blackberry and currant notes are masked by the astringency, but still a well made wine. I scored this wine 87 points and it sells for $22.

CH 07 LOT 161: Meritage, containing 60% Cab Sauv., 30% Cab Franc, 10% Merlot and only 737 cases were produced. This was one of my favorites, a lovely pronounced nose of light floral perfume, blackberries and currant in the background, dancing around finally integrated notes of cedar. The mouth feel is comfortable and very approachable, ripe berry flavors and sweet tobacco dominate the lingering finish. This wine is selling for a screaming good deal at $16 and I scored this wine 91 points. Drink now and drink often!

Full Disclosure: Yep those tiny bottles you see in the photo above was sent as a sample case to particpate in the twitter taste live and submitted for the review process.

My Recommendation: Overall I had a very good experience with CH wines, I was impressed by the overall quality and drinkability of their wines and in my mind they represent a great value to the average wine drinker. Costco you were so smart to pick these folks up and run with it. Not sure if CH shopped their wines elsewhere and had folks balk at the opportunity, but I'm sure there's a story behind my suspicions. Until next time, sip long and prosper, cheers everyone!

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