Category Archives: California

Small Wine Tasting

It might be said that numerous blog posts are written for an audience of one, the writer! In the case of this post, it is true, a record of wines we tasted for future reference. We recently attended a small sampling of wine in San Francisco. It was a tasting where nice wine was poured, however pour sizes were very small. In this type of tasting, you get a quick sense of the cellar provenance before purchase, and a snapshot view of the wine quality itself. In this particular instance, tasted each wine when first opened, and revisited the majority later in the evening. For Santa Rosa Fine Wine, it is invaluable to taste samples from a private cellar prior to purchase.

Excellent Drinking wines:

1959 Doudet Naudin Volnay
1970 Chateau Pichon Lalande
1978 Mongeard Mugneret Echezeaux
1978 Robert Mondavi Reserve Cabernet
1982 Clos Rene
1984 Dominus
1986 Cos d’Estournel
1995 Harlan Estate
2000 Dalla Valle Maya
2005 Chateau Certan de May

Very Good Drinking Wines:

1975 Leoville Las Cases
1983 Ducru
1989 Hospices de Nuits Les Fleurieres
1993 Calera Jensen
1995 Lynch Bages
1997 Pio Cesare Barolo
2006 Aubert Ritchie Chardonnay

Beyond these, some wines showed just ok: 1978 Jaffelin Chambolle Musigny, 1978 Lynch Bages, 1980 Heitz Martha and 1999 Gemstone Red. Sadly, some bottles did not show well: 1971 Jadot Gevrey Chambertin, 1976 Jordan Cabernet, 1983 Pierre Bouree Corton, 1991 Moraga Bel Air Cabernet, 1995 Chateau Gloria, 1997 Galante Blackjack Pasture Cabernet, 2002 Jones Family Cabernet, 2005 Chateau La Gomerie and 2007 Hartwell Reserve Cabernet. The not so great wines showed various degrees of oxidization, drying out, past maturity, or simply out of balance.

As a general rule, we value balance, age worthiness, structure, and complexity. We do not value, brett (bandaid on any level, barnyard when excessive), obvious flaws (corked, VA, ethyl acetate, etc.), one dimenional wines, as well as those that are past maturity, oxidized, or overly ripe with a plum, prune, raisin quality. Very small samples pose an evaluation challenge, but in the context of writing for yourself, it is certainly helpful!

Nick Wittman
Santa Rosa Fine Wine
www.santarosafinewine.com

Heitz Martha Lunch

This weekend, we hosted a group of friends for an afternoon of wine focused around a vertical of Heitz Martha. With a long history of tasting Heitz Martha, there are few vintages we have not tried. The 1974 and 1985 have been two of our favorites to date, and as luck would have it, would be our first time tasting one of the wines, a 1967 Heitz Martha. For this tasting, it was a smaller group so pour sizes were generous and allowed us the opportunity to revisit over the afternoon. A bottle was opened from every decade Heitz has made wine from Martha’s Vineyard. All wines were served pop and pour, and none of them were flawed. Brief observations of all bottles opened follow:

Champagne Starter

Jacques Selosse Initiale (disgorged Oct 2006) – Served in Riedel Chablis glasses, a smooth easy drinking Champagne. Notable roasted walnuts up front, with yeast and earthy qualities in the background. A mature, balanced, complex wine that drank more like a still white wine than a Champagne. With no signs of oxidation, thought it was absolutely gorgeous, in a sweet spot right now.

Chablis Starter

2002 Jean Marc Brocard Valmur – Fully mature, at first thought this was going to be a very good Chablis. Had a nice crisp oyster shell palate, though pretty light bodied. Did not pickup any sweetness, sometimes apparent with the producer. Revisiting the wine after about 15 minutes on, it began a relative quick decline. Did not enjoy the wine as much as others at the table.

Heitz Martha Flight

1967 Heitz Martha – An excellent, elegant, highly age worthy wine! Heitz Martha is noted for its tell tale eucalyptus nose, and this wine had it, though subtle. Amazing fruit, tannin and acid balance with a mix of herbs, spice, meat and earth. A lighter to medium bodied wine, noted no signs of oxidation. There is no rush to open this wine, several hours after first opening, the wine maintained its profile. It has a long future ahead of it. Overall, thought it was an outstanding wine and wine of the flight.

1977 Heitz Martha – A close second for wine of the flight. Enjoyed it for very different reasons. The wine had a more liquor quality to it, yet with a rustic backbone that became baked fruits in time. A big nose, more powerful fruit in contrast to the 1967, wondered if this wine could be the 1967 with another 10 years of age? Like the 1967, no signs of oxidation, and plenty of potential for continued aging. An excellent drinking wine.

1980 Heitz Martha – Some mint, tight, lean, some background spice, it picked up steam the more it sat in the glass, but never quite achieved the level of complexity or greatness like that from the 1967 and 1977. This was just an ok wine, more one dimensional, it had all the tell tale characteristics of Heitz Martha, just toned down on every front. There would be no additional benefit to continue aging this wine. Overall, just ok.

1990 Heitz Martha – Far riper than the previous three bottles tasted, thought it third best wine of the flight. It had clean, deeper red fruit, some chocolate, and more perceivable eucalyptus than the other wines opened. Maintained a consistent style through the bottle. About a glass remained, and revisited the next day. Still a very big style of Heitz Martha, showed better on day two. The wine will benefit significantly with additional cellar aging.

2005 Heitz Martha – A far different style than any of the wines tasted, more blue fruits than red, big, sweet, almost barrel sample like. Made in a more modern California Cabernet style. Overall, thought it was disappointing from a vintage we have tasted so many nice wines. Perhaps with additional cellar aging, it will come around. A wine worth revisiting in the future.

Bordeaux Finisher

1985 Cos d’ Estournel – Wine the day, thought this was an exceptional wine. Had everything that makes for a great Bordeaux, tremendous balance and complexity! Thought it was a darker fruit based wine than the Heitz, also noted some coffee, dark chocolate, and exotic grainy spice. Another outstanding 1985 Bordeaux!

Last year tasted a vertical of Louis Martini Cabernet (50’s through 80’s), this year Heitz Martha Cabernet (60’s through 00’s), what should we do next year?

Nick Wittman
Santa Rosa Fine Wine
www.santarosafinewine.com

 

Castagna Wine Dinner

We recently got together with local friends for an informal wine dinner at Castagna in San Francisco. Have been to the restaurant a few times now, and everything served to date has been fantastic, highly recommended French cuisine! For this dinner, four of us got together on relatively short notice. Continue to find these smaller wine dinners are so much more enjoyable than larger ones. You really get to evaluate a wine over time and enjoy a single table conversation.

After a few back and forth e-mails, we decided on a simple theme, Chardonnay, Pinot, Cabernet and Rhone. As sometimes happens, the Cabernet never made it to the table. The 1974 Louis Martini Mountain Cabernet and 1974 BV Georges de Latour will have to wait for another occasion. Brief observations of the wines opened follow:

Chardonnay

2004 Bouchard Corton Charlemagne – An awesome Corton Charlemagne, the wine has not changed significantly from other times tasted over the past few years. Sulfur, flinty, lemon citrus, mineral, floral, and still very firm acidity. Could easily continue to age this gorgeous wine for many more years!

2006 Marcassin Three Sisters Chardonnay – Have had this wine several times recently and this was the best showing. Distinctly California Chardonnay in style, medium bodied, round, nice acidity early on, becoming more creamy in time. Noted pear and vanilla. Even though it was the best showing of the wine for us, overall just an ok experience.

Pinot

2001 Hospices de Beaune Mazis Chambertin Henri Boillot Cuvee Madeleine Collignon – A nice drinking wine, in perhaps five to ten plus years! It was very young, tightly wound, plenty of dark fruits, and very tannic. Everything was in place, but just highly reduced. Suggest letting the wine age considerably longer before opening.

2006 Rhys Alpine Pinot Noir – A disappointing wine. The more Rhys we taste, the more disappointed we have become in their Pinot Noir. Barrel sample like with plum, raisin, some blue fruits, but overall disjointed and simple. Like the Marcassin, distinctly Californian in style. Revisited a few times during the evening, and found nothing particularly appealing.

Rhone

1990 Les Cailloux (Lucien et Andre Brunel) CdP Cuvee Centenaire – Have never tasted a better Southern Rhone than this wine! A seductive coffee, red raspberry nose led into a dense palate of layered rich licorice, chocolate and earthy black fruits. Excellent balance, nuanced, it kept improving over the span of the bottle. Unlike many Southern Rhones tasted, no over ripe raisin and prune notes. This wine showed extemely well, and suspect it will continue to show well for a decade plus!

1983 Paul Jaboulet Aine Hermitage la Chapelle – In very tough company next to the Andre Brunel, far leaner and grassy. Slight oily like consistency, some oak, and earth, do not think the wine will improve with continued cellar aging. Fully mature right now with no signs of oxidation, should plan to drink over the next few years. An ok experience.

A very fun evening, especially one with an eye opening Southern Rhone!

Nick Wittman
Santa Rosa Fine WIne
www.santarosafinewine.com

California Wine Trade Tastings

Living in Northern California, there are no shortage of wine trade tastings a person can attend. The most recent one was a fantastic event put on by the Rutherford Dust Society. For us, this tasting and others are important to get a sense of a particular wine region and evaluate vintage characteristics. Collectively, the tastings influence what we purchase as a merchant in fine and rare wines!

In formats where you taste a high volume of wine, our approach is to generally sample wines we “track” first, wines we are establishing or have already established a personal record of quality. After which, we usually followup with a round of tasting producers we have never visited before. Given the number of wines, and relatively small pour sizes, at best you get a quick educated impression. We feel rating wines at mass trade tastings with detailed tasting notes or assigning “points” is generally doing an injustice to the producer as well as the potential reader/buyer. That said, the following are wines that made an impression at varous wine trade tastings we attended since the beginning of the year. In all the tastings that follow, if a wine is not listed, either we did not find it particularly appealing or did not taste the wine.

In Pursuit of Balance 2012 – Our first time attending this tasting, the selection of wines is generally what we look for, producers known for making wine that is ageworthy, balanced, nuanced, where character and a sense of place is valued over wine power and intensity. The fast majority of wines poured were California Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.

Top wines:
1995 Calera Mt. Harlan Chardonnay
2009 Hirsch Reserve Pinot
2009 Littorai Charles Heintz Chardonnay

Very good wines:
2010 Anthill Farms Tina Marie Pinot
2010 Arnot Roberts Watson Ranch Chardonnay
2009 Au Bon Climat Isabelle Pinot
2010 Calera Central Coast Chardonnay
2009 Calera Ryan Pinot
2010 Ceritas Porter Bass Chardonnay
2010 Ceritas Heintz Chardonnay
2010 Ceritas Escarpa Pinot
2010 Copain Brousseau Chardonnay
2009 Flowers Camp Meeting Ridge Chardonnay
2009 Flowers Camp Meeting Ridge Pinot
2009 Hirsch San Andres Fault Pinot
2010 Hirsch Estate Chardonnay
2009 Littorai Mays Canyon Chardonnay
2009 Littorai Savoy Pinot
2009 Littorai Cerise Pinot
2009 Littorai Haven Pinot
2010 Peay Pomarium Pinot
2009 Peay Scallop Shell Pinot
2009 Peay Estate Chardonnay
2009 Twomey Sonoma Coast Pinot
2009 Wind Gap Woodruff Chardonnay
2010 Wind Gap Gaps Crown Pinot

Good wines:
2009 Alta Maria Vineyards Chardonnay
2010 Calera Mt. Harlan Chardonnay
2010 Ceritas Annabelle Pinot
2009 Copain Monument Tree Pinot
2010 Failla Sonoma Coast Chardonnay
2010 Failla Hudson Chardonnay
2009 Flowers Sea Ridge View Pinot
2010 Freeman Ryo-fu Chardonnay
2007 Mount Eden Estate Chardonnay

Above the Fog Howell Mtn Spring Tasting 2012 – Another tasting we attended for the first time, went away impressed by several wines poured. Similar to the In Pursuit of Balance tasting, was struck by the age worthy quality of the wines overall, a quality we value over more ripe fruit forward wines.

Top wines:
2005 Dunn Howell Mtn Cabernet
2009 La Jota Merlot
2008 Lamborn Family Cabernet

Very good wines:
2009 Cornerstone Cabernet
1994 Cornerstone Cabernet
2009 La Jota Cabernet
2008 Notre Vin Cabernet
2007 Red Cap Cabernet
2007 Retro Cellars Petite Sirah
2009 Robert Craig Cabernet

Good wines:
2008 Aloft Cabernet
2008 Cade Cabernet
2008 Cakebread Cellars Dancing Bear Cabernet
2007 Charles Krug Rocky Ridge Cabernet
2008 Cornerstone Cabernet
2008 O’ Shaughnessy Cabernet
2007 Roberts and Rogers Cabernet

Passport to Cabernet 2012 – Held at the Bentley Reserve in SF, tasted a wide range of Cabernet from the 2007, 2008 and 2009 vintage, as well as numerous 2011 barrel samples. The 2011 barrel samples were difficult to evaluate at this point in time and ultimately tried very few for that reason. Continue to be impressed with 2007 and 2009 Napa Valley Cabernet, far less so with 2008.

Top wines:
2009 Kristine Ashe Entre Nous
2007 Volker Eisele Napa Valley Cab

Very good wines:
2005 Ackerman Family Cab
2007 Guilliams Vineyard Cab
2008 Keenan Napa Valley Cab
2006 Kristine Ashe Entre Nous
2008 Louis Martini Monte Rosso Cab
2008 Raymond Generations

Good wines:
2007 Ackerman Family Cab
2009 Bell Cab
2008 Bell Claret
2007 Cain Five
2009 Charles Krug Generations
2008 Charles Krug Vintage Selection
2008 Chimney Rock Tomahawk
2009 Cornerstone Howell Mtn Cab
2009 Diamond Creek RRT
2009 Faust Cab
2007 Hidden Ridge Cab
2007 Linked Knights Valley Cab
2009 Louis Martini Napa Valley Cab
2007 Merryvale Profile
2009 O’Shaughnessy Mt Veeder Cab
2007 Peju Napa Valley Cab

Santa Lucia Highlands Tasting 2012 – Year after year we have enjoyed the Chardonnays and Pinot Noir coming out of the Santa Lucia Highlands. It was very clear at this tasting, both the Rosella’s and Gary’s vineyards have established themselves among some of the best vineyards in the US. While we have disliked nearly every pre 2007 Kosta Browne, was impressed with the 2009 vintage wines.

Top wines:
2010 August West Rosella’s Pinot
2009 August West Rosella’s Syrah
2009 Kosta Browne Rosella’s Pinot
2009 Kosta Browne Garys Pinot

Very good wines:
2010 August West SLH Pinot
2009 Bernardus Rosella’s Pinot
2009 Bernardus Pisoni Pinot
2007 Hahn and Lucienne Doctors Pinot
2010 Mansfield Dunne Peterson Vineyard Pinot
2010 McIntyre Estate Chardonnay
2010 McIntyre Block K1 Chardonnay
2009 McIntyre Estate Pinot
2009 McIntyre Block 3 Pinot
2010 Morgan Double L Pinot
2010 Morgan Double L Chardonnay
2009 Morgan Garys Pinot
2010 Pisoni Lucia Soberanes Chardonnay

Good wines:
2009 Mer Soleil Chardonnay
2010 Mer Soleil Chardonnay
2008 La Rochelle SLH Pinot
2009 Miura Pisoni Pinot
2009 Miura Garys Pinot
2009 Sequana SLH Pinot
2009 Talbott Sleepy Hollow Pinot
2010 Talbott Sleepy Hollow Chardonnay
2009 Testarossa Garys Pinot
2009 Testarossa Rosellas Pinot
2010 Testarossa SLH Pinot

Santa Cruz Mountains Tasting 2012 – We have attended this particular tasting a few years now. It is a smaller tasting, but a worth while visit. None of the wines really stood out as particularly strong, a lot of good wines, no question, but nothing great.

Top wines:
2006 Ridge Monte Bello

Very good wines:
2008 Clos LaChance Pinot
2007 Clos LaChance Meritage
2009 Mount Eden Wolff Chardonnay
2009 Mount Eden Estate Pinot
2008 Mount Eden Estate Cab
2009 Odonata Zayante Syrah
2009 Ridge Estate Merlot
2009 Sonnet Tondres Pinot
2009 Sonnet Nums Pinot
2006 Thomas Forgarty Merlot

Good wines:
2008 Kathryn Kennedy Small Lot Cab
2008 Kathryn Kennedy Contra La Marea Blend
2005 Kathryn Kennedy Estate Cab
2008 Michael Martella Hammer Syrah
2008 Michael Martella Heart Arrow Petite Sirah
2009 Mount Eden Estate Chardonnay
2009 Ridge Estate Cab
2010 Storrs Chardonnay

Rhone Rangers 2012 – Similar to Pinot Days, this is a very large tasting held at Fort Mason in San Francisco focused on Rhone wines. Jemrose and Tablas Creek consistly show well after many years of tasting their respective wines. Additionally, both are reasonably priced. A good venue to taste Syrah, Grenache, and Viognier.

Top wines:
2009 Jemrose Cardiac Hill Syrah
2009 Miner Family La Diligence Syrah
1999 Ridge Lytton Estate Syrah
2009 Tablas Creek Espirit de Beaucastel 

Very good wines:
2009 Beckman Purisima Syrah
2009 Cosa Obra Proprietors Blend
2009 Cornerstone Cellars Stepping Stone Syrah
2009 JC Cellars Rockpile Syrah
2010 Jemrose Egret Pond Viognier
2009 Jemrose Foggy Knoll Grenache
2009 Krutz Stage Coach Syrah
2009 Project 772 Brawler Syrah
2009 Project 772 Instigator Syrah
2009 Sanglier Boars Camp Red Blend
2007 Sheldon Deviant Velocity Petite Sirah
2009 Stephan Vineyards Cote a Cote Red Blend
2009 Stephan Vineyards Estate Cuvee Red Blend
2009 Thomas George Estates Timbervine Syrah
2009 Thomas George Bei Ranch Syrah
2009 Truchard Carneros Syrah

Good wines:
2008 Folin Cellars Rogue Valley Syrah
2006 Kaleidos Reserve Syrah
2008 Martinelli Vellutini Ranch Syrah
2009 Quivira Wine Creek Mourvedre
2008 Skylark Rodgers Creek Syrah
2009 Stolpman Vineyards Hilltops Syrah

A Day in the Dust 2012 – The most recent trade tasting attended, an all Rutherford Cabernet tasting of the 2009 vineyard. Overall, we continue to be a big fan of the 2009 Napa Valley vintage and the Rutherford based wines did not disappoint. Surprisingly, the top wine of the tasting was a 2008! The 2008 Staglin Rutherford Cabernet was outstanding, had all the elements of a great wine, tremendous structure, balance and complexity. Sadly, one of the very few wines not tasted was a 2009 BV Georges de Latour.

Top wines:
2009 Beaulieu Vineyards Clone 6
2009 Freemark Abby Bosche
2009 Quintessa Red Blend
2008 Staglin Rutherford

Very good wines:
2010 12C Georges III
2009 Conn Creek Hozhoni
2001 Heitz Trailside
2006 Heitz Trailside
2009 Martin Reserve
2009 Monticello Tietjen
2008 Sequoia Grove Morisoli
2009 Staglin Rutherford

Good wines:
2009 D.R. Stephens Walther River Block
2009 Flora Springs Rutherford
2009 Frank Family Reserve
2009 Frank Family Winston Hill
2009 Freemark Abbey Sycamore
2009 Hewitt Estate
2009 Honig Campbell Vineyard
2009 Hunnicutt Rutherford
2009 Meander Morisoli Vineyard
2009 Monticello Corley Reserve
2009 Peju Rutherford
2008 Provenance Rutherford
2006 Quintessa Red Blend
2008 Rutherford Grove Once Acre
2009 Trinchero Chicken Ranch

When at various trade tastings, it is hard to not ask the question of producers, what is your impression of the current vintage? As you might expect, especially in challenging vintages, some are very honest, some use carefully chosen words, and others will communicate it is the greatest vintage ever! We typically expect to hear the first two, but in the case of 2008, surprisingly heard the last view more often than not. Begs the question, do California producers say this because they truly value ripe drink young wines or simply a statement to move wine?

Nick Wittman
Santa Rosa Fine Wine
www.santarosafinewine.com

Fine Wine Dinner at Cafe Castagna

This week, got together with a few friends at Cafe Castagna in SF to open up some wine with the goal of pulling something rare or exceptional from our respective cellars. What was particularly interesting about this dinner was that we opened quite possibly the best California wine I have ever tasted, a 1974 Joseph Phelps Insignia. I have had this bottle in my cellar for a few years now waiting for a special occasion to open, and this was the night.Four of us attended the dinner allowing for very generous pours, and the opportunity to fully explore how the wine developed in the glass over time. All wines were served pop and pour. Wine tasting notes follow from this highly memorable dinner, sorted in order of personal preference by flight.

Grand Cru Chablis

2001 Raveneau Valmur – An awesome wine, immediately showed very tight and youthful. Acidity was prevalent, however well in check with the fruit. Some notable lemon citrus and subtle oyster shell, found the wine deep and complex. Over time, it very slowly opened up, and revisited the wine frequently over the approximately 4 to 5 hours tasted. One of the most reduced Raveneau I have tasted, could easily continue to age this wine for a significant period of time.

2001 Raveneau Blanchot – Floral, pretty, feminine nose, yet restrained on the palate initially. Had a highly interesting nutty quality to the wine, but not from oxidiation. After a little time in the glass, thought it mature, but hours into the tasting, kept giving up more power and complexity. When the wine hit its peak, noted a pleasant saline quality and custard like mouthfeel. Overall, the Blanchot was rounder, and perhaps flashier, but appreciated more the restrained power of the Valmur.

Rare California Cabernet

1974 Phelps Insignia – The best California Cabernet we have ever tasted! The color was deep, dark and youthful without any signs of bricking. On the nose and palate, a Bordeaux like quality of intense, silky, big dark fruits, mint and lightly floral. Clean and layered on the palate, had power without being overdone, and a stagging finish that was both seductive and structured. From first pour, through the end of the bottle, maintained a consistent style, yet gave layer after layer of complexity. A youthful wine that could be easily aged for decades. Wine of the night, and the most memorable California Cabernet experience I have ever had. A stellar absolutely perfect wine!

1978 Diamond Creek Volcanic – Similar to the Insignia, a very rare wine. Also like the Insignia, showed very Bordeaux like, though dryer and slightly more mature in contrast. It was served a touch warm which took away from the wine, but could still appreciate the underlying material. Also a dark fruit wine, more tart, and showed some bandaid brett, which was distracting to me, not as pronounced to others. Balance, structure and overall density of the wine was excellent. A very good wine!

Bordeaux from the 80’s

1986 Rausan Segla – Another gorgeous wine, showed far more gamey, barnyard and full bodied, with red raspberry fruit and a tomato paste like texture, without being vegital. Distinctly Bordeaux, had a consistent style throughout the bottle. No rush to open this wine, however if done, shows well immediately on opening. Enjoyed this wine slightly more than the Diamond Creek, but not as much as the Insignia.

1982 Lynch Bages – Expected a great deal more from the Lynch Bages. Relatively light bodied, with dry saddle leather, mineral, earth, and very firm acidity. The acidity seem to outweight the fruit, and did not come together in the time we drank through the bottle. The wine may have suffered being next to the Rausan Segla, as it was the most toned down wine of the evening. Based on this tasting, suspect the wine should not be opened for many more years to give it time to come together.

Mystery French Red

1986 Gruaud Larose – Served blind, clear it was a great Bordeaux. The Gruaud Larose had more in common styllistically with the Rausan Segla than the Lynch Bages. After the 1974 Insignia, the second most enjoyable bottle of the night. It was stunning, pencil lead, clean, yet big bold fruit, and forest floor, the wine was balanced, had plenty of depth and the complexity was exceptional. This was a youthful wine that opened up slowly in the glass, could easily age or enjoy in the near term.

This was both a fun and memorable wine dinner. Had everything we enjoy, a small group allowing ample pours, special wines you don’t drink or see everyday, excellent food, and of course, great company!

Nick Wittman
Santa Rosa Fine Wine
www.santarosafinewine.com

Buckeye Roadhouse Wine Dinner

This past week, we attended a dinner with a very saavy group of wine drinkers at Buckeye Roadhouse in Mill Valley. The theme was flights of Chardonny, Pinot, Rhone, Cabernet and Dessert Wines all served double blind. Despite the very good planning to make it a challenge to identify specific wines, the group proved effective at accurately guessing nearly every region on all flights, and in a few cases, guessed the producer or vintage. It was a fun dinner and the vast majority of wines enjoyable. Brief observations follow. All wines were served pop and pour with a fresh glass provided after each flight. Wines are sorted in order of personal preference pre reveal.

Flight 1 – Chardonnay

2005 Henri Boillot Clos de la Mouchere – Wine of the flight and white wine of the night, the Boillot was easily identified as White Burgundy. Firm acidity, lemon/lime, some subtle oyster shell, perfect balance, a very well made and youthful wine.

2009 Rochioli Rachel’s Vineyard Chardonnay – Distinctly California Chardonnay, thought it had a young Peter Michael profile with clean candied fruit and some residual sugar apparent. Was surprised it was a Rochioli Rachels, which in our opinion is one of the best Chardonnay made in California. On reflection, think the wine was opened too young, and expect it to show significantly better in 3 to 5 plus years.

2006 Marcassin Three Sisters Chardonnay – Initally guessed the wine as anything but California Chardonnay or White Burgundy. Thought it had a toned down, if not muted style. As it sat in the glass, was somewhat dirty and funky, not a clean stony mineral quality I tend to get with Marcassin Chardonnay. The wine did not show well.

Flight 2 – Pinot Noir

2002 Chevillon Nuits St. Georges Saint Georges – Quickly identifed as Burgundy by all. It was earthy, mineral, gritty, with notable barnyard and animal notes. In time, more rugged and rustic. A very well made wine and standout among the three Pinot Noirs.

2004 Rhys Family Farms Pinot – With stemy blue fruits, initially thought it was a Burgundy, but after a little time in the glass, the wine lacked complexity, showing more simple dried cherry plum notes. Correctly guessed the wine as a Rhys! The wine had good weight, but overall was not a great showing.

2005 Marcassin Blue Slide Pinot – Ripe, raspberry, plums, prunes, sweet palate, dense but unresolved and spritzy, thought it might be a young Aubert Pinot. On reveal, was surprised it was a Marcassin Blue Slide. This wine needs to be aged for many more years before enjoying. The wine also did not show well.

Flight 3 – Rhone

2008 Sine Qua Non The Line Grenache – The red wine of the flight, and night, thought this was an outstanding wine. Nothing out of place, big red clean candied fruit, correctly guessed it as a Sine Qua Non Grenache! A touch lighter on its feet than the Atlantis Grenache, a great drinking wine! Would expect it to age gracefully for years.

2004 Greenock Creek Alices – Guessed this wine as a California Syrah, compact dark fruits, it showed very well, but quite different than the Grenache. Normally not a big fan of Austrailian Shiraz, but this wine was very enjoyable. Did not spend as much time with this wine over time as others who thought it less impressive.

2007 Usseglio Mon Aieul – Correct guested the wine as French, thought it was just ok. Not a lot going on in the wine. The group as a whole did not particularly find the wine appealing. It may have suffered being in a flight with two other big powerful wines!

Flight 4 – Cabernet

1998 Pavie Macquin – The wine of the flight, enjoyed the Pavie a great deal, it was easily identified as Bordeaux. Started out green and tannic, very similar to what I get with the 1998 Pavie, in time, this wine lost some of the greeness and became more red and black exotic fruits. Thought it was a gorgeous wine, more so than the overall group!

2001 Araujo Eisele Cabernet – Initially did not like this wine, had a good bit of vanilla which I generally dislike in California Cabernet, and a simple style. However, this was an example of a wine that improved considerably with time in the glass, full bodied, and held up well to the meat course.

2003 Noon Reserve Cabernet – A very ripe wine, minty, thought this might be either from California or Australia. It was a pretty good wine, but not particularly a standout. Was really enjoying the Pavie in this flight, and spend less time on the other wines as we approached the end of the evening.

Flight 5 – Dessert

1990 Raymond Lafon – The only wine I correctly guessed the exact vintage, the color immediately lent itself as a 15 to 25 year old bottle, and oddly reminded me of a 1990 Sauternes in my cellar. This was an excellent age worthy dessert wine.

1986 Climens – The Climens did not show as age worthy as the Raymond Lafon. A nice wine, but overshadowed by its peer. Neither of these wines came across as California. A nice wine to end the evening.

The Mill Valley tasting group is made up of some of the most delightly folks we have had the pleasure to drink with over the past few years. Sophisticated palates, no question, a friendly group where you always go away learning something new. A great time where we highly enjoyed the food, wine, and conversation!

Nick Wittman
Santa Rosa Fine Wine
www.santarosafinewine.com

 

Ceja Burgundy Dinner

Following the recent Las Madres Winemaker Lunch, we attended a followup dinner the next day with Las Madres Vineyard Manager and good friend Armando Ceja. Dinner at the Ceja’s is always a treat guaranteed to have good company, food and wine!

Armando generously shared several Ceja wines, as well as some very nice Burgundy. We brought along an old California Pinot Noir served blind, to see how well it was showing, and test our knowledgeable host! Surprisingly, Armando could not pick the grape, vintage or region! Our hostess Martha Ceja however accurately guessed a California wine from 1978! She mentioned the wine tasted like ones she drank with Armando a long time ago!

2009 Ceja Sparkling Brut – A good starter wine, crisp, clean, a well made wine. Was impressed how well made this wine was as a highly affordable everyday drinker.

2007 Ceja Carneros Chardonnay – Fuller, creamier, rounder wine, pineapple on the nose, a wine that is very youthful at this point. Would improve with a little cellar aging.

2004 Jadot Corton Charlemagne – An excellent Jadot, mature without showing signs of oxidation, bread yeast, subtle minerality, and light sweet citrus. In a sweet spot right now, will not improve with cellar aging. My favorite white wine of the evening.

2005 Domaine Leflaive Clavoillon – More advanced than expected, but still drinking very well, did not have the powerful sulfur, black tar, I often get from the wine, it was buried in the background. Nose was a touch astringent, slightly reduced. Improved considerably with time in the glass. A very nice wine.

1978 Louis Martini Special Selection Pinot Noir – An awesome wine! Served this blind to the group, most thought it was a Burgundy. Game meats, exotic minerality, earth and redwood, clearly had age, but amazing structure. A complete lucious wine that I could still taste the following day, it was that good. Had a very good condition cork, and high fill level, but the cork was very short with a plastic capsule. Buy this wine with care.

2005 Louis Latour Corton Grancey – A good showing by the Corton. Light to medium body, strawberry fruit, resolved with no RS, sometimes apparent in other Corton Grancey tasted. Thought it was a good wine, expected a little more density prior to opening.

2009 Ceja Dulce Beso – Powerful peach and orange citrus, clean and also well made. A very nice end of meal wine.

A very nice evening, and to top it off, got to see the Ceja’s new very good looking and intelligent German Shepherd!

Nick Wittman
Santa Rosa Fine Wine
www.santarosafinewine.com

Las Madres Winemaker Lunch 2012

This past Wednesday, we were fortunate to attend the 2012 Las Madres Winemaker Lunch. The intent of the lunch is to get all winemakers using grapes from the Las Madres Vineyard together to discuss and taste barrel samples from the current vintage, in this case, 2011. We also had the opportunity to taste through previous vintages in bottle.

Las Madres is a beautiful vineyard located on the Sonoma side of Carneros. In our opinion, the cold climate Syrah that come from the property are some of the best examples you could find anywhere in California, and might add, at some of the most attractive prices. We highly recommend the wines to our customers. The 2011 wines all showed a relatively consistent, creamy, ripe and clean style.

2011 Las Madres Barrel Samples
2011 Apsara Las Madres Syrah – Made by Robin Akhurst, the barrel sample just went through malolactic, as did all other samples. His wine made with once used french oak white wine barrels, equal parts clone 174 and 300. Thought it was a clean, very well made wine, not over the top, a wonderful expression of cold climate syrah.
2011 Vie Las Madres Syrah –  Bryan Kane’s wine used indigenous yeast to ferment, co fermented with about 3% Viognier. It was approximately 60% clone 174, 40% clone 300. Year after year, Vie has always showed well, and has a good grasp on this vineyard. Find their wines more compact and nuanced, tend to have a slightly darker fruit quality to them, yet well within the vineyard profile.
2011 Vanite Las Madres Syrah –  Brenda Martin’s wine used 100% new french oak, co-fermented with about 8% Viognier. A very good wine where the aromatics leap from the glass. Think it will be quite age worthy and one I hope to revisit in the future!  Was a distinct wine and showed uniqueness, primarily due to the Viognier.
2011 Myriad Cellars Las Madres Syrah –  Mike Smith’s Myriad and Quivet were our first introduction to Las Madres Syrah. 100% clone 174, no cold soak. This was a big, clean, pure, intense wine. Thought it was excellent, and highly curious to revisit with time in the bottle.
2011 Quivet Cellars Las Madres Syrah –  100% clone 300, Mike Smith’s other Syrah showed distinctly different. It does not have the intense round fruit of the Myriad, more reserved with a touch of oak that added a little spice and elegance to the wine. A fantastic effort that I thought showed slightly better than the Myriad.
2011 Eric Kent Cellars Las Madres Syrah – .  Kent Humphrey’s wine, approximately  60% clone 174 and 40% clone 300 with 60% whole cluster. A lovely standout for someone who likes a stemy quality to their wine. Thought it was exceptional and like where the wine is headed. Based on previous tastings of whole cluster inclusion, found it works very well with wines from the Las Madres Vineyard. Look forward to see how the wine evolves over the coming years in bottle.
2011 Lois Rae Cellars Las Madres Syrah –  Mark Finver’s 1st commercial vintage from the Las Madres Vineyard, the wine showed slightly less dense than the other wines, but highly approachable. Comparing Marks wine to last year, the wine making has matured considerably and he is on the right track to producing an enjoyable wine!
2011 Orin Swift Cellars – Dave Phinney and Kevin Fox’s wine was probably one of the most closed on the table. It did not want to come out of its shell and was one of the more challenging to see where it was headed. A wine that will have to be revisited in time. It was balanced, which should bode well for the future.
Las Madres Lunch Wines
2002 Las Madres Garagiste – Made by Armando Ceja and John Painter, 3rd leaf 50/50 clone 174 and 300. A very young wine, spritzy, a curious early effort!
2004 Nicholson Ranch Las Madres –  Made by Thomas Brown, a very hot Carneros summer, did not find this wine showed well. Plums, prunes and raisin notes.
2004 Nicholson Ranch Consentido Las Madres – A fantastic wine, thought it was well integrated, good fruit, complex, my favorite bottled wine with a lot of life ahead of it.
2005 Nicholson Ranch Las Madres –  Made by Thomas Brown and Mike Smith.  60% whole cluster. Second favorite bottle tasted, round, expressive Las Madres fruit, easy drinking, and yet, still very youthful. Could easily continue to age for some time.
2006 Myriad Las Madres Syrah –  The Myriad Syrah remained consistent to their style, clean, ripe, big fruit, nothing out a place. Year after year, a beautiful wine.
2008 Vie Las Madres Syrah –  As a producer, Vie has previously had a style more unique to the producer than the vintage, leaner toward darker fruits, slightly more restrained. Was a little surprised how ripe the fruit was in this wine! Very nice, however different than expectations.
Sadly, did not taste the 2010 Apsara Cellars Las Madres Syrah, 2010 Lois Rae Garagiste, or 2006 Eno Wines “In Your Own Time” Syrah while enjoying the wonder lunch offered by Las Madres Vineyard owners, John and Jean Painer.
This was a fantastic event! Great food, great company, and great wine! Our second time attending this tasting, cheers to joining the third!
Nick Wittman
Santa Rosa Fine Wine

Taste of Oakville 2012

This week, we attended one of our favorite wine events of the year, a Taste of Oakville. The Oakville Winegrowers put on the event which includes a Master Class, Lunch, and Grand Tasting. This year, the theme was Vintage and Vision, with wines primarily poured from 2009.

Master Class – The master class was moderated by Paul Roberts of Bond, and panel members Dirk Hampson of Far Niente, Patrick Sullivan of Rudd, and Andy Erickson of Dalla Valle. In keeping with the theme of vintage and vision, the Master Class focused on wines separated by some age, growing conditions, and challenges wine makers faced in particular years. The wines that followed were discussed.

1998 Far Niente Cabernet – A hot year, where nearly half the harvest was lost, noted black tea, cognac, cherry. Light bricking, a wine that tasted old school. A very good drinking wine from a historically challenging vintage.

2008 Far Niente Cabernet – A small harvest, grapes were on the vine much longer than usual. Made in a more modern style, the wine was bright, yet had a dense and clean mouthfeel. A great drinking wine.

2000 Bond Vecina – A vintage that was not particularly hot or cold, no frost, no major climate challenges. Noted a vanilla quality immediately, soft tannins, with a more notable finish than mid palate. Beginning to show its age, showed better as it sat in the glass.

2005 Bond Vecina – A classic vintage, again noted some vanilla, clean, and like the 2000, got a lot better as it sat in the glass. A powerful wine, did not pickup any heat, and thought it had more notable oak than the previous wine. An excellent wine.

2002 Rudd Oakville Cabernet – A leaner, more tannic wine, thought it was more balanced and age worthy than the previous wines tasted. Subtle mint on the nose was appealing. One of the better 2002 California Cabernets tasted in some time.

2008 Rudd Oakville Cabernet – Initally, thought the wine was more one dimension, big ripe vanilla fruit, with a touch of funk. With time in the glass, got cleaner with a nice chalky finish. With firm acidity, and dry tannin, thought it was just an ok wine.

1991 Dalla Valle Cabernet – Grassy, tea, forest floor, exotic game, minerality, thought this was a great Cabernet. Tannin is still quite firm, with darker fruits. One of our favorite producers, the wine was excellent, and made in a more old school style.

2009 Dalla Valle Cabernet – Distinctly modern in style, ripe, big blue fruits, some vanilla creaminess. Not entirely sure this wine is built for the long term. Came across as a wine that would be best opened young. A good wine to revisit.

Grand Tasting – The Grand Tasting was a walk around tasting of current release wines from various Oakville member producers. Pours were relatively small, so no effort is made to capture detailed tasting notes. Wines did leave an impression, and a brief list follows. If a wine is not listed, either we did not taste it or did not show well. Wines are not sorted in any particular order.

Top Wines

2009 Futo Estate Red Wine
2008 Groth Reserve Cabernet
2008 Harlan Maiden
2009 Maybach Materium
2010 O’ Shaughnessy Chardonnay
2008 Robert Mondavi Reserve Cabernet
2009 Screaming Eagle

Very Good Wines

2009 Ghost Block Estate Cabernet
2009 Harbison Estate
1993 Harlan Estate
2009 Miner Family Oakville Cabernet
2008 Opus One
2005 Paradigm Winery Cabernet

Wines to Revisit

2001 Bond Vecina
2006 Cosentino Oakville Cabernet
2009 Far Niente Estate Cabernet
2008 Kelleher Family Cabernet
2009 Nickel and Nickel John C Sullenger Cabernet
2008 Saddleback Cellars Cabernet
2005 Swanson Alexis Cabernet
2003 Tierra Roja Cabernet
2009 Vine Cliff Oakville Cabernet

Of the last three Napa Valley vintages and based on the wines we have sampled at this tasting and numberous others, have a preference toward the 2007, 2009, and 2008 vintage in that order. Think the 2007 and 2009 vintage wines tend to offer more structure and age worthiness, whereas, the 2008 wines are more big and ripe, ones that we think will tend to drink best on the younger side.

Thank you to the Oakville Winegrowers and Robert Mondavi Winery for hosting an outstanding event. Special thank you to Dirk Hampson who sat at our table at lunch offering numerous insights into wine making and sharing his rich history and experience in the wine industry!

Nick Wittman
Santa Rosa Fine Wine
www.santarosafinewine.com

 

Premiere Napa Valley 2012

For the past several years, we have attended numerous winery tastings, some of the best ones are around Premiere Napa Valley. The all trade Auction was held this past week, the vast majority of winery tastings on Thursday and Friday. This years auction centered around the 2010 vintage. It is one of the best early opportunities to taste some of the finest examples of Napa Valley wines from the upcoming vintage.

Hundreds of wines were tasted this weekend. Pour sizes were minimal, and there was a limited opportunity to revisit each wine. No attempt is make to take serious detailed notes. To do so would be an injustice to the producer and reader. That said, as a taster, you do go away with impressions and educated guesses that are note worthy, a reference point to revisit in the future. What follows are the events we attended and some brief observations of wines that have potential for future enjoyment.

Yountville First Taste – An impressive tasting overall, the wines listed left the strongest impression. The top two wines at this tasting interesting enough both came from Grgich Hills, the 2011 Grgich Hills Paris Chardonnay and 2007 Grgich Hills Yountville Selection Cabernet Sauvignon! Both were special wines. Blankiet, Dominus, Gemstone and Charles Krug all showed well across the board. Have tasted Casa Piena the last few years. It shows a consistent style, balanced, age worthy, and simply delightful. Several other producers were tasted, they did not show the balance, nuance or complexity expected.

2009 Blankiet Estate Rive Droite
2009 Blankiet Estate Proprietary Red
2009 Blankiet Estate Prince of Hearts Red
2008 Casa Piena Cabernet Sauvignon
2009 Casa Piena Cabernet Sauvignon
2008 Charles Krug X Clones Cabernet Sauvignon
2008 Dominus
2009 Gemstone Estate Red Wine
2007 Grgich Hills Yountville Selection Cabernet Sauvignon
2011 Grgich Hills Paris Chardonnay

Cliff Lede Open that Bottle Night – One of our favorite events associated with Premiere Napa Valley, it is basically a wide open, bring a special bottle from your cellar event. Lots of nice wine was opened, and no notes were taken. The host, Cliff Lede opened their current releases, all excellent, and offered a generous 5 liter bottle of 1990 Chateau d’Yquem. Sadly, tasted a very disappointing wines. One of them was a 2006 Shafer Hillside Select 1.5L, just not developing well in the bottle. Then there was a 1983 Burgess Cabernet Sauvignon and 1983 Robert Mondavi Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, both in 3 liter format, past maturity. Some very nice wines tasted follow.

1973 Beaulieu Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon
1990 Chateau d’Yquem
1990 Laurel Glen Cabernet Sauvignon
1994 Dominus
1995 Peter Michael Les Pavot
2005 Pride Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon
2005 Gaja Sori San Lorenzo
2008 Ridge Monte Bello Chardonnay

Atelier Melka Portfolio Tasting – First time attending this particular event, was highly impressed with nearly all wines poured. Most of the 2010’s were auction lots, while the 2009’s were in bottle. In general, find barrel samples a hard taste, challenging to predict where they will go in the future. The diversity of style among the various wines was more apparent at this tasting than others. Appreciated the style of the wines as a whole, striking balance and structure. Lot of powerful fruit driven wines, higher alcohol levels, but many showed an element of age worthiness that left a positive impression. Met Philippe Melka for the first time, and thought he was a thoughtful, talented, and intelligent person who will hopefully continue to contribute to the success of Napa Valley wines for many years to come.

2009 Brand Cabernet Sauvignon
2010 Cliff Lede Dream Hill
2010 Dana Estates Cabernet Sauvignon
2010 Gemstone Yountville Appelation Cabernet Sauvignon
2009 Entre Nous Cabernet Sauvignon
2009 Metisse
2010 Seavey Cabernet Sauvignon
2010 Vineyard 29 St Helena Special

St Helena Appellation Tasting – We spent a very short period of time at the St Helena Appellation tasting, and only tasted a handful of the wines at the event. Both Revana wines were the most memorable of the tasting, power without weight, at the same time floral and feminine. The host winery, Charles Krug did a wonderful job hosting the event, though sadly, they displayed an empty bottle of 1966 Charles Krug Cabernet, opened the night before, not sharing it with their good friends at Santa Rosa Fine Wine!

2009 Flora Springs Rennie Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon
2009 Revana Family Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon
2010 Revana Family Vineyard Premiere Cuvee Cabernet
2010 Raymond Vineyards Evolution Cabernet Sauvignon
2009 Trinchero Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon

Shafer Tasting – Shafer is arguably one of the better wineries in Napa Valley, they have a consistent track record of age worthy Cabernet over the span of several decades. It is always a pleasure to visit them at Premiere Napa Valley to see how older vintages are holding up. The 2001 was the best wine in the lineup, medium bodied, good structure, will easily last another decade plus. Both the 2005 and 2002 Shafer Hillside Select were riper, not as age worthy as the 2001. The 2005 was full bodied, however not heavy, and the 2002, a similar taste profile, but far more concentrated. Like 2001, the 2003 continues to age very well. Find 2003 Napa Valley Cabernet generally disappointing, however Shafer did a great job that year. Like the 2006 Shafer Hillside Select, unfortunately thought the 2008 Shafer Hillside Select was not to expectations. Did not find the wine particularly appealing, age worthy or characteristic of the Shafer Hillside Select style. Hopefully the wine will improve with more time in the bottle, right now, it did not show well.

2001 Shafer Hillside Select
2005 Shafer Hillside Select
2002 Shafer Hillside Select
2003 Shafer Hillside Select
2008 Shafer Hillside Select

Stags Leap District  Winegrowers Tasting – The last event we attended on Friday, tasted wines focused around the Stags Leap District. No notes were taken, but thought the following note worthy. The 2010 Shafer Sunspot Block Cabernet Sauvignon was the top wine, and a pleasure to revisit the 1997 SLV, which I fondly remember tasting on release. Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars still makes wine in a more age worthy structured style that will hopefully continue long into the future.

2010 Shafer Sunspot Block Cabernet Sauvignon
2008 Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars SLV Cabernet Sauvignon
1997 Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars SLV Cabernet Sauvignon
2009 Silverado Vineyards SOLO Cabernet Sauvignon

It is of tremendous value to the trade to get an early preview of the upcoming Napa Valley Vintage. Cheers to Premiere Napa Valley for putting on another fantastic event!

Nick Wittman
Santa Rosa Fine Wine
http://www.santarosafinewine.com/