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

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Glorious Gun Bun: The Wines Of Gundlach Bundschu

Last week I was fortunate to have the chance to chat and taste with Bill Shenas of Sonoma winery Gundlach Bundschu (Gun Bun). If you don’t already know them, you should, and if you find the name difficult to pronounce, they provide a wonderfully illustrative guide on every cork - Gun Lock Bun Shoe (See below).  

Gun Lock Bun Shoe
Jacob Gundlach established the vineyard in 1858 and was joined by partner Charles Budschu a decade later. It has remained in near-constant operation ever since, with only brief interruptions for little things, like Prohibition. The winery farms over 175 acres distributed over 300+ acres of property to the west of Sonoma’s Arrowhead Mountain.  More importantly, Gundlach Bundschu has earned a reputation in the modern era, for providing quality wine with a thoroughly non-threatening price tag.  I took the opportunity to taste through some of their wines with Bill at Wit and Wisdom Tavern in Baltimore.  Here is my summary:

The 2012 Estate Chardonnay is a pale straw color with beautiful aromatics that resonate with zest and marmalade. The palate mirrors the nose nicely, with a soft, mouth feel and hints of honey and creamy but all the while remains clean and fresh. This is an elegantly structured lighter mid-weight Chardonnay that finishes with nice notes of baking spice. Fermentation took place in barrel (80%), of which a fifth were new French Oak cooperage, and stainless steel (20%) – no malolactic.  Given the $25 price point, I see this as a very competitive 90 points.


The 2013 Gewürztraminer, Estate Vineyard, Sonoma Coast is truly a bone-dry delight.  Nose and palate show wonderful spice and orchard fruits with lychee, white peach and apricot dominating on the palate.  It’s refreshing, spicy and lively with a persistent finish that adds a component of pith to the spice and fruit. At approximately $22 per bottle, this great little Gewurz is an easy 89 points and a "no brainer" for bulk buy.

2012 Pinot Noir, Estate Vineyard, Sonoma Coast is a delicious meld of red fruit. The nose gives a great impression of raspberry sorbet, with a little edge of cinnamon.  On the palate layers of ripe AND slightly tart red and black raspberry are layered with fresh vanilla, hints of bitter cherry giving a pleasing and cleansing slightly bitter acidity and nice clean finish. This was an early bottling and will likely add some complexity over the next nine months. At $32 per bottle, this Sonoma Pinot is a delicious 89 points.


 2011 Merlot, Estate Vineyard, Sonoma Coast (88% Merlot, 5% Malbec, 3.5% Cabernet Sauvignon, 3.5% Petit Verdot). This is a beautiful and well-structured Merlot. It exudes classic Black Forrest gateaux; blueberries, black cherries and chocolate with an earthy tone edged by herb and cherry pith.  It’s possesses a wonderfully pliant spine with an almost chalky minerality. $30 per bottle, 89+ points.

2011 Sonoma Cabernet, Estate Vineyard, Sonoma Coast (90% Cabernet Sauvignon, 4% Petit Verdot, 3% Cabernet Franc, 3% Malbec) – a lovely black/blue fruit-driven cabernet infused by herb and white pepper. The palate is mid-weight and broad. The fruit is bright and fresh, herbaceous with a chalky minerality on the finish.  It’s definitely young right now but will gain depth with some bottle age.  Drinking window 2017-2027. A highly desirable Sonoma Cabernet at $40 per bottle, 89+ points.


2010 Vintage Reserve (85% Cabernet Sauvignon, 11% Cabernet Franc, 3% Petit Verdot, 1% Malbec). This is outstanding! Black currant-driven with glorious texture and mouth feel. Lush pliant fruit tannin underpins an earthy, dusty minerality.  Ripe red fruit emerges with air, and gives rise to spice, and mocha. A pure stream of fruit wrapped in layers around a core of mineral complexity. $90 per bottle, 93 points.

All in all, Gun Bun wines provide a quality and elegance rarely seen at these price points. These are, without exception, delicious and food-friendly wines. Further, there is not one among them on which I would be unhappy to pull the cork and share with friends, and that's a valuable metric in a wine.  

For all of you 90 point wine-hounds out there - please note, there are many excellent and delicious wines just below the 90 point meridian. Conversely, there are many wines that score over 90 points that may be beautifully constructed but may not be considered to be delicious.  Do not sell your wine experience short by the exclusive pursuit of the 90+ point score.  

You can catch other bottle notes and pictures on my twitter account - please drop in and follow @BruisedGrape  Your comments are always appreciated!

 All original content, inc. text and photographs remain the copyright of the author (A. McCallion)

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Wine of the Week: 2005 Château Labégorce-Zédé

“If the world were merely seductive, that would be easy. If it were merely challenging, that would be no problem. But I arise in the morning torn between a desire to improve the world and a desire to enjoy the world. This makes it hard to plan the day.” ― E.B. White

I'm truly torn, each time I’m considering a wine[s] for purchase, it’s viewed through the lens of desire. I’m torn between two choices, whether to enjoy the world for a day, in the form of a bottle of wine from the old world or the new world; more often than not that desire-vacuum is filled with a bottle of Bordeaux. I spent two weeks there last year, and ever since then, I've been quite taken with its flavors, textures and aromas. 

I've become especially intrigued by Appellation Margaux Controlee, a brilliant region which offers amazing depth and complexity, it has become quite compelling for me personally. Many say, this region is so compelling because of its uber high gravel content, excellent drainage and the poor nutrients in the soil, which make the vines struggle to thrive. Sadly, many of the wines produced in this region are also very popular with many other vino-sapiens, commanding and getting some very high prices. But if you're a bargain hunter like myself, than with some carefully chosen choices, you can drink like you live a more affluent lifestyle.

Have you've seen the movie, this movie? "Outstanding depth and complexity" If not, it's a thrill ride, well worth the price of admission. High toned tannins take center stage and the fine ground minerality jams on the vocals, while red and black fruit plays bass in the background. In the glass, dark and brooding, nearly opaque dark ruby; I decanted this gem for an hour, and once it warmed up a bit, from cellar temperature the curtains lifted and the show was on.

Putting my nose in the glass, a potpourri of delicate dark floral notes, intriguing underbrush, ripe blackberry, freshly wrapped tobacco leaves and a pinch of cedar playing bass in the background. I was taken back after the first sip, like a primer on classic Bordeaux, again reminding me of the unforgettable experiences I had in the region last year and continue to have vicariously through each bottle I uncork.

Another sip, slurp or what have you, wow, riper burnish dark plums flavors popping in and out, warm licorice notes and floral components float about its rich body. But less I be remiss to report, this wine does get a bit ‘grippy’ right away, sporting hefty tannins, [which smooth out a bit with decanting] ample structure and well balanced acidity.

Although enjoyable now, it’s still quite youthful and just starting its evolutionary path. Sometimes, I don’t like reporting on gems like this, because I’d like to keep this wine’s great potential all to myself, but my better nature takes over and I spill the beans. Honestly though, this wine will need another 5 years or more to fully realize how wonderful it will be for those patient enough to wait. My score for this wine is 93 points; it sells most places for $59 and again in my opinion is well worth the price of admission.

If you've ever wondered why I review one wine and not another or why this bottle of Bordeaux, and not a bottle which may have caught my fancy while I was abroad, it all comes down to personal preferences, opinion, availability, price and the right timing. 

It has been said;
"Wine writers and critics of all kinds are in the business of opinion, nothing more and nothing less"
I’m in total agreement with that point of fact or what some would merely call an observation. That said I know I’m highly opinionated about wines I encounter, the events I attend and the places I travel to and eventually choose to write about and share with the kind souls who I affectionately call my readers.

I have finally found a morsel of agreement with Mr. Asimov regarding his statement where he said,
"Personal preferences are not only unavoidable, they are, in fact, the very thing that must govern what a critic has to say."
Yes, you of course are correct, while it governs what I say; it’s just one factor of many, which guide my words and recommendations.

Exactly, personal preferences guide me through each and every article I pen and I've done so without one bit of regret or remorse. Further, my team and I are always honest with our readers, not every wine, whether sample or not, will be featured on this blog. Hopefully that 'frankness' is appreciated and I think it is, because they seem to always come back for more. Until then folks, remember life is too short drink commodity wines, keep on exploring, thinking, tasting and drinking. As always remember to sip long and prosper cheers!

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Wine Wednesday Thought of the Day

We must walk consciously only part way toward our goal and then leap in the dark to our success. - Henry David Thoreau

2014 Auction Napa Valley: Sweet Homecoming For Napa Valley

It's time to uncork another insiders-look, into the world of high-end Food and Wine, an article written by regular guest contributor; Ilona Thompson. In this week’s article she will focus on the sites, sounds and tastes of the iconic Auction Napa Valley. She's the Editor in Chief for Palate Exposure, a self-described believer in the Sustainability of Critical Thinking and Personal Responsibility. She is also a regular contributor to the Brenner Brief.

It is the most exhilarating weekend of the year in Napa Valley; overflowing with euphoric anticipation, filling the balmy June air with excitement.

Auction Napa Valley (ANV) seems to be everyone's favorite charity event. Since its start in 1981, the Napa Valley Vintners Association, which operates Auction Napa Valley, has raised and donated more $120 million to community causes.

The 34th Annual ANV, titled "Sweet Home Napa Valley," had a pair of gargantuan shoes to fill. Last year, the most watched wine auction in the country, broke its own previous record, raising $16.9 million for local health care and children’s education programs. The wine community brimmed with happy anticipation, combined with a hint of trepidation, a tough standard to live up to.

Saturday evening the world learned that they need not have worried. Auction Napa Valley set a new record by raising 18.7 million dollars; surpassing the previous record by 10% and solidifying ANV reputation as the most prestigious and highly effective charity auction in the US.

Multiple lots earned over $400,000, with several prominent vintners becoming top bidders themselves. Prior to the main event, many participating vintner hosts went all-out for to support the four-day event by hosting pre-parties or winery sponsored dinners prepared by private Chefs. The barrel and live auctions were, once again, runaway successes.

After a head spinning final tally and an extravagant epicurean journey (with lots of culinary and winemaking celebrity sightings) one wonders what makes this auction so incredibly special. Is it the presence of Margrit Mondavi, widow of the late Robert Mondavi, who has been involved with every wine auction from its inception? Is it the site of Thomas Keller, Michael Chiarello and Masaharu Morimoto greeting guests and chatting away with fellow chefs? Is it the rivers of extraordinary wines, freely poured?

Is it the ostentatious, one-of a kind lot’s, such as the Star of Africa pendant studded with 100 diamonds and encased in a fluid-filled sapphire orb? Or is it the opportunity to experience the debut of Bill Harlan's "Promontory"?  I think not. What makes this event special is that it is an event by the community for the community; permeated with the pure spirit of neighbor helping neighbor.

This large scale, theatrical production, which takes over a year to plan and countless individuals to execute it is a real coup d’état. Although appears effortless, this gargantuan task brings together seasoned auctioneers, chefs, winemakers, and industry luminaries, all bound together by copious amounts of goodwill. It's where worlds intersect; billionaires meet volunteers, community leaders assist vintners, and police officers volunteer their time. It’s a place to see and be seen but where charity is the greatest equalizer.

By the Numbers:
  • 500 Vintner members. 1000 Vintners participated.
  • 1000 Barrel Auction guests. 100 barrels of predominantly 2012 Cabernet. Total $1.694 million. Top Lot: Brand Napa Valley at $83,050 (followed by Shafer Vineyards: $55,200 and Continuum Estate: $52,750)
  •  E-auction open to everyone: 175 lots. Total $490,000. Top Lot: Continuum Estate, Freemark Abbey and Staglin - $21,000
  • 50 live auction lots, 5 hours of bidding, 1000 attendees. Total 16.6 million, 7 lots were doubled to accommodate the under-bidder.
Top Live Auction Lots were:


The total dollars raised: $3.8 million, 100 bidders energetically raising their paddles, with highest contribution of $1 million by billionaire Kieu Hoang. A Vietnam-born U.S. citizen, Hoang is the pharmaceuticals executive of companies focused on plasma, and a believer in the link between wine and good health. Having already spent $240,000 for a lot that included a jeroboam of 2010 Ovid, dinner for eight and the services of the famed architect's Harold Backen who will design or remodel a house or a winery; Hoang seemed elated to contribute more to his new wine home base.

"Promontory" by Bill Harlan: $600,000

Acquired by a vintner and philanthropist Lee Anderson, this lot entitles him to the lifetime 1st Mailing List Customer title as well as ten cases of the first ten vintages of wine produced by Promontory. It also included five double magnums from the 2009 through the 2013 vintage and accommodations at Meadowood, along with lunch or dinner for 30 at the estate.

Opus One: $550,000

Next year's Auction Chairs, enticed five couples to pay $110,000 each for a trip to Bordeaux, a visit to Château Mouton-Rothschild, Mondavi's partner in Opus One, five large format bottles of Opus One, and VIP packages to Auction Napa Valley 2015.

Araujo Estates: $520,000

Araujo Estates' new owners, The Pinault Wine Group offered a whirlwind trip to Bordeaux; including tours of Château Latour, Margaux, Pessac-Léognan, St.-Emilion and Pomerol. Also included was a 6-liter bottle of Araujo for the winner's cellar.

Raymond Vineyards: $840,000 (Winning bid $420,000, doubled for two separate winners)

The charismatic Jean-Charles Boisset, with the help of his friend Harvey Weinstein, offered the winning bidder an unforgettable night at the Academy Awards, including a private jet, evening gown, tuxedo, an Oscar after-party, a VIP table, with plenty of chances to hobnob with Hollywood elite. Also included were double magnums and a Salmanazar of Raymond Vineyards Generations Cabernet.

Casa Piena: $420,000

In addition to a couple of delicious double magnums from proprietors Carmen and Gail Policy’s Casa Piena, the winning bidders are entitled to four tickets to the 2016 Super Bowl in Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, as well as a pre-Super Bowl party with the NFL Commissioner.

Chappellet Vineyard: $410,000

Blakesley and Cyril Chappellet offered a "traveling in style" package, that includes a ten-day trip for four to New Zealand, business class, lodging, 10 dinners in NZ plus a lavish dinner for 24 in Napa Valley, and four double magnums of Pritchard Hill Cabernet Sauvignon.
Lokoya: $400,000

If you would rather visit Australia, this package included a ten-day trip to for two, including a helicopter tour of Adelaide, private winery tours and sixteen bottles of wine.

Gargiulo Vineyards, Silver Oak and Twomey Cellars: $400,000

This lot included a trip to Colorado’s Diamond Tail Ranch, four Fender guitars, four target rifles, four fly rods, meals by Charlie Palmer, entertainment by Grammy Award winner Billy Dean, plus three wines offered by the Duncans and Gargiulos.

Mayacamas Vineyards: $660,000 (Winning bid was $330,000, doubled for two bidders)

Mayacamas Vineyards, recently acquired by Charles Banks (former Screaming Eagle partner), offered a stunning historic collection of wine, including a magnum from 1964 and five jeroboams from 1978, 1989, 1997, 2002 and 2013 as well as a six-decade vertical tasting. Also included were two dinners for twelve at their historic property, prepared by Blackberry Farms' Chef Joseph Lenn, as well as a two-night stay for six couples at the Mayacamas estate on Mt Veeder.

Napa Valley Vintners and Lexus: $580,000 (Winning bid $290,000, lot doubled for two separate bidders)
This lot included a three-day cycling adventure for two couples in the Great Smoky Mountains, four customized Panatela bicycles, 48 bottles of Napa Valley wine. Tickets to the Tour de Smokies, include accommodations and meals at Blackberry Farm in Tennessee and use of Lexus vehicles.

Darioush and Robb Report Magazine: $440,000 (Winning bid $220, 00, paid by two separate bidders)

Judgeship for the 2015 Robb Report Car of the Year and 2015 Culinary Masters Competition, five-night stay at Four Seasons Maui, five-night stay and Four Seasons Bora Bora, and dinner for five couples with Darioush and Shahpar Khaledi.

One of the most intense foodie lots, Colgin Cellars, offering four double magnums and a dinner for 50 (!) at either the French Laundry or Per Se, sold for $340,000.

For those looking for fantasy and once in a lifetime adventure, this was a playground like no other. International destinations, such as France, Australia and New Zealand lots were clear winners, but so were the "sweet home" lots.

David Alan Bernahl, founder of Coastal Luxury Management who produces Pebble Beach Food and Wine (among many other luxury wine and food events) attended the event; he was very impressed! No slouch when it comes to top notch food and wine events, his appraisal of ANV was sky high.

I had a chance to spend some time with Sex in the City star, Kyle Maclachlan who was in town filming Anthony Bourdain's new show, "The Getaway". This show follows celebrities into their favorite locations. He was filming a segment in Napa's famous bakery, Alexis Baking Co and briefly stopped in at ANV. Himself a vintner and a philanthropist in his native WA state, he spoke eloquently about the importance of giving back to the community: 
"It's not just the right thing to do; it's an important part of connecting with and supporting one another."
All in all, ANV demonstrated, once more, the generosity of those who love to visit and who inhabit this very blessed spot. One can't argue with success, and, certainly, one can't argue with love for your extended family; your community, and your favorite place to come home to... Home indeed, is where the heart is.

Congratulations, ANV, you deserve it all.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Harney Lane: Perception and Reality Meet

“There is no creation without tradition; the 'new' is an inflection on a preceding form; novelty is always a variation on the past.” ― Carlos Fuentes

I'm constantly surprised by the things I believe to be true, about a particular wine region, like Lodi. This is especially true, when it turns out to be completely different than my expectations. This is where perception walks up to meet reality. On this journey into the 'renewed' Lodi Wine Scene, my expectations about what I would find there, was turned on its head more than once. Of the five other wine writers who had traveled with me, I was the only one who had been to the area before, and this time around I was happily surprised by what I found. 

Moment of honesty; it was with a bit of hesitation, that I agreed to go on this trip in the first place. Especially knowing I had to put my preconceived ideas about the region on the back burner and approach the visit with an open mind and a open tasting note book. 

Frankly, I've become bit a more jaded [but, I think in a good way] about wine, then I ever imagined I would be, and I didn't see this coming at all. But I'm seeing my tastes, appreciation and fascination in wine evolving toward the old world [France, Spain and Italy] more and more. Hedonism is fine once in a while, but in wine, restraint is far more valued commodity for me personally. I simply like to think of it as palate progression, you may want to think of it as evolution. But whatever you may like to call it, I find the whole process pretty exciting. 

I say this, because as I eluded to earlier my first time through Lodi, I wasn't all too impressed after my first visit back in 2009. Maybe I just didn't go to the right places, I certainly didn't visit Harney Lane, or any of the other great wineries I encountered on my recent visit to Lodi. I'm so glad they were one of the very first places we visited, because it set the tone, for the rest of the week. Oh yes you heard me right, I spent an entire week in Lodi Wine Country and I have a whole new level of respect for the region. 

Tradition: "Since 1907,  Harney Lane has been [and continues to be] proud stewards of the land, farming the vineyards on and surrounding areas."

One of the biggest surprises for me about Lodi, was the diversity of the varietals planted in these sandy dry soils. The Chardonnay at Harney Lane, which you see in the glass above was in a word, outstanding. I'm giving this wine, a good swish, and I'm thinking, "oh, yes this how you do it" great balance between the fruit and acidity. Vibrant minerality, green apples and pears, very crisp and refreshing, a nice homage to Chablis. As you see above this vineyard is not dry-farmed, but the introduction of water is used sparingly when prolonged heat spikes, strike the area, it's more of precautionary measure.  

I also tasted an Albarino, 100% estate and 75% stainless steel, sur-lie, wow one of the best I've had in sometime. It's bright, clean and crisp, and very floral, pool-side summer sipping in a bottle. You can find it selling at Whole Pay-Check [foods], for $17, it's excellent. Again folks, I'm impressed, the whole time I'm thinking, "uh, this is Lodi?" huh, who knew?".  Their 2012 Albarino is their first wine to be released bearing the spiffy new 'Certified Green’ seal. According to the Lodi Rules "to be certified, as growers, they had to pass an independent audit of our viticultural practices, ensuring that their product [wines] qualifies." ~ Lodi Rules

No visit to Harney Lane is complete without saying hello to Ranger, who typically is found near the tasting room door greeting customers [aka vinosapiens] as they walk up in for a tasting. He followed us out to the vineyards, to keep an eye on us squirrely wine-bloggers. I just love exploring new regions and re-visiting those I've written off, time to time things can change and the changes I've seen here, are definitely for the better.

At Harney Lane, Kyle Lerner [seen above in the foreground] told us that they favor the simplicity of the process over complexity. In the picture above you see their simple and rather ordinary crush-pad, but I can assure you there is nothing simple about the wines they produce here. “Any darn fool can make something complex; it takes a genius to make something simple.” ― Pete Seeger

In the red wines department, we sampled four different wines, each unique and quite different one from the other. There was a Petite Sirah, a Tempranillo, their Lizzy James Old Vine Zinfandel and then their everyday Zinfandel. While I didn't mention it at the time, I was pretty happy to not see a Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot anywhere in sight. Not because I didn't think they could do a great job with it, no it was because that's what so many folks who own wineries think they have to have in order to succeed and/or be taken serious. Having tasted their wines, I'd have to say folks are taking Harney Lane very serious and the other writers who were with me on the trip agreed with that sentiment. 

Seeing the bottles sitting on the table, where we had the most amazing lunch among an old stand of trees, which must have been planted way back in the day, I said those labels appear a group of guys in tuxedos. Having worked in the formal wear business for more than a few years, I think my insight was dead on. The brilliant label designer, we came to find out was Jeremy Trettevik, who now is making his own wines and designing some very creative labels. But that's a story for another day.

"Farming is like legalized gambling with more variables." ~ Kyle Lerner

The 2011 Tempranillo: Normally, I don't appreciate the expression of this varietal grown domestically, I've run into a few I like, but most times I just roll my eyes. But the HL Tempranillo is a stunner, I kept pivoting back to it over and over. Yes, it has a new world flashiness, but it also has a refreshing brightness and a captivating minerality to it. This wine was aged for 19 months in European Oak, when I wrote that down, I was thinking uh-okay, what does that mean. But on a follow-up question about the oak, I was told, actually it's Hungarian and some not so European American Oak, delivering some of those savory Riojan styled characteristics, underbrush and wild licorice. The first thing, I wrote in my note book, regarding this wine, was simply "wow". Personally, I'd lay this bad-boy down a bit, to let it shake off some its more flashy aspects. This wine sells for $25 and my score an eye popping 93 points. 

The 2011 HL Petite Sirah: Unfortunately this wine is sold out, so once their 2012 is released, I'd hop and pop to get a few bottles or as it's often said, snooze, you lose. A dense wine, nearly opaque in color, heading toward deep purple. Chunky, but not clunky. Ripe blackberries and blueberries dominate, acid helps them both to play nice and the vibe of minerality keeps things interesting. This wine also displays a good of amount of vanilla, no doubt picked up from resting 18 months in 100% American Oak barrels. It sells for $24 and I scored it 88 points. 

The 2011 HL Lizzy James Old Vine Zinfandel: Many folks in the 'know' winch a bit, when they hear "old vine" anything and especially in regard to Zinfandel. To be honest there is no legal definition governing its use on the label and as a result those two words are often suspect at best. But in Lodi, most of the vineyards there, really can make that claim and especially so when it comes to the Lizzy James vineyard, where vines planted on their own root-stock back in 1904. Does anyone really want to dispute their "Old Vine" claim? What's that? I didn't think so. Tasting note wise, lush, elegant and textured. Folks this Zinfandel is the "real-deal", not a pretender to the throne like so many other so-called Old-Vines Zins. Oh my the layers of flavor, piped with nice acidity, give the fruit real pop. This is how you do it, not a jammy note insight, this wine is seamless and the flavor sails on into the horizon.

In the picture above is the great crew of wine writers who I traveled with in Lodi, meeting a few [exactly three] of them for the first time. If you're not familiar with their work, you should be. I can't speak for any of them directly, but what I can say is that in our 'after action' conversations many of them were very impressed by the wines we experienced and the things we learned. We even took a Harvest Ride together to our next stop. That was a blast and one of the highlights from the trip. If you're reading this, you most likely know all the characters in the picture above. However if there is someone new in the reading audience, from left to right, with her boot on the table is Amy C. Anderson Gross,Gregory Dal Piaz, Nannette Eaton, Bill Eyer, Dezel Quillen and Ben Carter.

The takeaway from the trip, the Lodi Wine scene is better than many wine writers have given it credit for [myself included] and collectively many of the smaller producers are coming together to make the point that Lodi is far more than just big jammy, over-ripe, flabby monsters produced by many of the larger commodity wine brands who also call Lodi home. 

If you consider yourself wine nerd, a wine-geek or what have you, then I can say unequivocally, you owe to yourself to check out this region and drill down beyond the surface. There's so much good going on, in terms of serious wine making, and respect for the land, the people who call Lodi home, I know you'll come away [as I did] with a whole new appreciation for the Lodi Wine Scene and by all means, you need to stop-by and see the great folks at Harney Lane, they set the bar very high! Until next time folks remember life is short, so don't settle for plonkish wines, sip long and prosper cheers! 

Thursday, June 5, 2014

News Flash: Steven Kent Makes Delicious Wines

Steven Kent Winery (SKW) was born in 1996, a product of the imagination, passion and aspirations of Steven Kent Mirassou.  Steven's initial (stated) goal was to produce world class Cabernet, to rival the best and most renowned in the world. Livermore Valley puts that dream within reach but Steven recognizes that developing a relationship with, and an understanding of, the soil and the vines is essential to his development as a winemaker and to the quality of the wines he produces.  His commitment to quality can be most readily seen in his flagship "Lineage" wine, which now commands an enviable level of respect. Although not inexpensive ($140), it does not even approach the cost of many cult California Cabernet Sauvignon and Bordeaux blends.

That said, SKW has now established a growing reputation with other varietals and blends, including Sauvignon Blanc/Semillon, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. These wines span the lower to upper mid-range of retail shelf prices. Here, I took the opportunity to explore some of these more affordable efforts, and they are delicious! Who knew? Well, truth be told, the secret is out. However, sometimes a blog post should simply (re-)introduce you to wines that you should put on your shopping list, if you have not already.  I hope this post makes your mouth water and prompts you to do just that.

2013 Steven Kent Winery “Lola” Sauvignon Blanc Steven Kent Winery Ghielmetti Vineyard. The Ghielmetti Vineyard block responsible for this, fifth Lola release, is planted to two distinct clones of Sauvignon Blanc (SB) and one of Semillon.  Normally assembled as a Bordeaux-styled white blend of SB and Semillon, the latter was deemed to lack the quality required of it in the 2013 vintage and so was excluded from this year’s assemblage. The SB blocks were harvested and fermented separately in stainless steel to retain the essential crisp acidity, although about 10% of the resulting juice was aged in Acacia wood barrels, highlighting some of those exotic fruit notes.

The final product is delightful.  The nose displays pink grapefruit and lime/orange zest edged by a lovely talc note. The attack is bright, but not so aggressive, showing lemon, grapefruit and fine-grained bite of under-ripe pear in its minerality. The mouth-feel carries good density without ever feeling lethargic, resulting in a great full-palate persistence on the finish with all components remaining intact and bright.  In summary, the 2013 Lola is crisp and clean - beautifully put together.  File this under “elegant with an energetic and fun side.”  89 points, $24 per bottle. Drink now.

The 2011 Steven Kent Winery Cabernet Sauvignon, Livermore Valley comprises 88% Cabernet Sauvignon from the Ghielmetti Estate Vineyard and Home Ranch; 5% Petit Verdot, 5% Merlot, and 2% Cabernet Franc from Ghielmetti Estate Vineyard. Each lot was fermented separately and the final blend bottled 6 months prior to release. In the final barrel selection 60% had seen new oak with a total of 24 months in wood. 

The 2011 SKW Cabernet Sauvignon shows gobs of black and blue fruit on the nose accompanied by elements of spice, pepper, and incense.  On the palate dark fruit predominates, driven by black cherry on the attack. The fruit intermingles with mint, eucalyptus and cocoa and wonderful herby note, presumably, at least in part, from the Cab Franc.  The 2011 SKW Cabernet Sauvignon is mid-full weight but is by no means dense, nor overly tightly wound.  It is actually quite agile, with decent structure and ample finish that is edged by good lifting acidity and earth, dusty, sweet fruit tannin. At $48 per bottle, I give it 90 points – an elegant, accessible and overtly delicious wine, well worth the exploration. Drink now and over the next 5 years.

2011 La Rochelle Chardonnay, Dutton Ranch, Morelli Lane Vineyard.  The 2011 is the second release of this Grand Cru Collection Chardonnay.  The grapes are sourced from the Dutton Ranch (Morelli Lane Vineyard), with primary fermentation and aging in 50% new French oak barrels.  The wine then underwent malolactic fermentation and aged “sur lees” for an additional year, with a marked impact on nose and texture.

The La Rochelle Chardonnay is a beautiful straw color.  The nose integrates lemon curd, with apple and ripe pear.  The palate is a gorgeous interplay of lively lemon zest, pith, Granny Smith apple – bright ripe fruit balanced by energetic acidity.  It’s almost unstoppable through the mid-palate to the finish, providing a piercing, minerality-infused fruit core, baking spice, brioche and a wonderful cleansing bitter bite on a lingering finish.  It paired nicely with fresh, steamed mussels, with shallots, diced plum tomatoes and some fresh, warm, crusty baguette. At $65 per bottle, I will happily give this a yeasty, toasty 92+ points for its fine impression of full-throated white Burgundy - reminded me a wee bit of Louis Latour Corton-Charlemagne Grand Cru.  With room for further evolution in the bottle, I would say you can drink it now or at any time over the next 5+ years.

2010 La Rochelle Pinot Noir, Sleepy Hollow Vineyard, Santa Lucia Highlands. Sleepy Hollow is one of the more northerly vineyard in the SLH appellation and is renowned for producing some of the biggest and most intense pinot, that are often infused with wonderful savory meaty notes.

The La Rochelle Sleepy Hollow Pinot Noir is deep ruby in color and translucent at the rim. The nose is intense with Bing cherry, cola, herb, pine needle and caramel.  The attack shows wonderful acidity, with searing black cherry, red currant, layered over cinnamon and clove.  Great bitter cherry and a savory soy-like minerality extend the mid-palate, with an almost Granny Smith-like bite on the lingering, earthy, herb-infused, black cherry close.  In short, this is a wonderfully provocative example of CA Pinot Noir, bright, fresh but not overripe with good complexity and a wonderful edge that keeps the conversation interesting. This offers a great paring for duck, pork or fowl. I enjoyed it with Trader Joe’s pulled pork. At $48 per bottle this delightful Pinot gets 91 points from me.  Drink now through 2018.

You can catch other bottle notes and pictures on my twitter account - please drop in and follow @BruisedGrape  Your comments are always appreciated!

 Disclosure: Reviewed wines were from medias sample provided (not for sale) for the review process.

 All original content, inc. text and photographs remain the copyright of the author (A. McCallion)

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Top Ten Reasons to Visit Napa Valley

"Every time I open a bottle of wine it's an amazing trip somewhere" ~ Jose Andres

It's time to uncork another insiders-look, into the world of high-end Food and Wine, an article written by regular guest contributor; Ilona Thompson. In this week’s article she will focus on her opinion about the superlative nature of the iconic Napa Valley. She's the Editor in Chief for Palate Exposure, a self-described believer in the Sustainability of Critical Thinking and Personal Responsibility. She is also a regular contributor to the Brenner Brief.

I have been visiting Napa Valley's 16 appellations for over 16 years; twice a month on average. One might say that it an anniversary of sorts, an odd coincidence. Napa was my first love, no doubt, and although one never forgets, not many of us marry their first love, do we?

As an independent journalist, not beholden to any entity or school of thought, and with no specific agenda, I've ventured to every wine country found in California; from Santa Barbara to Lake County. I've written about my spirited adventures in Sonoma, Anderson Valley, Paso Robles, etc. Each region offered an exciting, transformative, and exceptional experience.  Richly worthwhile, but they were not the same as the experience of visiting Napa, which will forever occupy a very special spot in my heart.

At a dinner party, in another wine region, a couple of my colleagues started bashing Napa as pricey and elitist; offering poor value for their readers. Their comments caused my blood to slowly, but surely, come to a boiling point. I have heard the same sentiment expressed all too often for my taste.

It's time to contribute my two kopecks to the collective cup of kvetching on this subject.

Occupying an area of 788 sq. miles, the Napa Valley stretches from the Mayacamas Mountains to the foot of Mt. St. Helena, in Calistoga area. It is home to over a dozen grape varieties. It won a geographical lottery with the location delivering superb geological and climatic conditions ideally suited for grape growing.

Napa's first distinctly successful marketing efforts started after Prohibition, when Beringer invited Hollywood stars, the likes of Clark Gable and Carole Lombard to visit the winery. Today 4.5 million people visit Napa Valley's 450 wineries each year. It is the largest wine and food tourist destination in the country.

A lot of brands from other regions secretly wish to be Napa in terms of prestige and corresponding revenue. Yet they fail to grasp is that imitation is a form of flattery, not a formula for success.

How has the Napa Valley earned it well deserved reputation as one of the world's premier food and wine destination?

Hospitality Standards

Let’s face it - every wine region offers fine hospitality; but what sets Napa apart is the level of guest experience. Wuthering heights would accurately describe it, when one is on the receiving end of the elevated customer service. Think of it as Four Seasons of the wine world. There are a lot of wonderful, well-run, even charming hotel chains, but there is only one Four Seasons.

Wine Quality

Let's state the obvious. Napa is steeped in viticultural and winemaking talent, plus unparalleled technical and financial resources. The influx of capital (much of it from the Silicon Valley) into this small valley has insured that you will be drinking well. What happens when capital and skills meet? Good things for the consumer.

Fabulous Food

Yountville alone, which I refer to as "Magnificent Mile" has more phenomenal restaurants within one freeway exit than a large number of entire major US cities. It is a capital food crime to visit Napa Valley and not have a memorable meal.  Whether you eat at Michelin star restaurants or a get in line at the outdoor Gott's Roadside casual diner which famously made Robert Parker's Favorite Meals of the Year you will be well sated.

Easy Access

Unlike many other wine regions Napa is geographically compact and easy to navigate. There are six major stops, Napa, Yountville, Oakville, Rutherford, St. Helena and Calistoga all of which are a just few miles apart. Spring Mountain, a wine tasting paradise is just a few minutes away from St Helena.  Should you feel adventurous you can venture into the more remote Angwin and Lake Berryessa. They are in fact close by, yet feel quite secluded.

Diverse Landscapes

Within a few miles drive a visitor can experience various microclimates, terrains, views and landscapes. A small, modest, family run winery can have a palatial estate with all the attributes of ostentatious living as a neighbor. The Napa area offers rugged mountain estates and idyllic valley floor vineyards, festooned with postcard-worthy golden wild mustard.

Glamorous Hotels

Napa hosts a large concentration of some of the most upscale and the ultimate guest experience focused hotels and resorts such as Meadowood Resort, Calistoga Ranch, Auberge du Soleil, Bardessono, and The Meritage Resort.  Napa Valley offers a discerning traveler some of California's best options for a five star experience.


You heard me right. Napa Valley had become a Mecca for great cocktails thanks to rock stars such as Scott Beattie of Goose and Gander, mixologists at Solage Calistoga, Redd, Ad Hoc (I dream of their Bloody Marys), Morimoto, Fagiani's, etc. For a fantastic (and inexpensive) Margarita, try La Condesa in St Helena.

Health and Wellness

Should your trip's motto be "healthy body, healthy mind and spirit" Napa offers a logical choice yet again. Most upscale hotels offer modern gyms, full service spas, yoga and wellness classes, some have phenomenal golf courses, tennis courts, etc. You can grab a bike and go for a ride along idyllic countryside or lay out by the pool. Charming Calistoga is famous for its hot springs, mineral pools; mud baths that should get you relaxed enough to forget the meaning of stress for a while.

Blend your own wine

Wineries such as Judd, District 4, Raymond, Mondavi, Franciscan, Conn Creek, and Paraduxx all offer a chance of being a winemaker for a day at the end of which you will boast your very own custom wine. Raymond Vineyards, for instance, will outfit you with a shiny lab coat and sit you in a stainless steel room with black lighting where you would use professional equipment to make as much wine as you want to take home.

Food and Wine events

Napa is home to some of the best food and wine events is the country, so you may consider planning the timing of your trip to coincide with one or more of them.  This week is one of the most exciting weeks of the year when the largest Napa Valley fundraiser, Napa Valley Wine Auction, takes place. For all its glitz and glamour, it is really a charity event that raises funds for the local community, with a strong emphasis on healthcare for immigrant workers. Monumental effort goes into the event which set and broke many of its own fundraising efforts.

There is a very good reason why guests who have all the choices in the world are so eager to contribute to Napa community. Yes, there is a prestige by association, but dig deeper and you will see that the real reason is how unique and special they are made to feel. Great hospitality is an art form and combined with unparalleled food, wine and fellowship it is simply irresistible.

Some other festivals worth considering are The V Foundation Wine event, which is celebrating its 16th Anniversary of raising funds for cancer research; Flavor! Napa Valley, Mustard Festival, A Taste of Yountville, Justin Siena Wine Auction, Tour de Cure, Walk Through the Vineyards, Art in The Park, Festival del Sole, Mondavi and Staglin Music Festivals, Stag's Leap Vineyard to Vintner, BASH St Helena, and many, many more.

Or consider taking a course at CIA, Culinary Academy at Greystone and sharpen you knife and wine skills, be taught in a state-of-the-art facility by top notch instructions from one of the country's most prestigious culinary schools in a glorious wine country setting.

Napa Valley is what you make of it. You can take a safe route, hire a limo and be taken to some of the most obvious destinations. Or you can figure out what appeals to you and invest into a trip that will become a revelation and a lifetime memory.  I have, and I haven't stopped coming back for more.

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