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Wine: Reviews, Thoughts & Culture

Archive for February, 2008

Schug – 2006 Pinot Noirs

Posted by Gabe on February 29, 2008

My look today at two of Schug’s Pinot Noir releases closes the book on this weeks coverage of their wines. Similar to their Chardonnay program, Schug Carneros Estate has 3 different Pinot Noir releases.

SC PinotThe Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir is noteworthy for several reasons. It’s worth mentioning that this is Schug’s largest bottling at just under 14,000 cases. Which varietal a winery produces most of and how they do with it is something I often find to be very telling. While this wine was aged in oak, that was done in larger casks, limiting the exposure. The retail price on this wine is $22.

One thing that’s immediately interesting to me is that this wine opens up very quickly. If the Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir were your date, she’d be a flirt for sure. As soon as you raise the glass a huge bouquet wild strawberries roars out. It’s underscored by subtler rhubarb scents. The first sips and the mid-palate feature a bevy of tremendous cherry and spice notes. The finish, which I found to be above average for this price point, features a lot of spice, lingering cherry and tingly mineral notes that cling to the tongue and back of the throat. 

This Schug Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir is silky and lithe. There is firm acidity and the wine is well balanced.  It is the sort of Pinot Noir that’s a pleasure to drink on it’s own. That said it will marry well with a wide variety of foods. What I said about quality Chardonnay in this price range goes doubly for Pinot Noir in my opinion. This wine, at this price, is unquestionably a bargain as far as I’m concerned. With 14,000 cases on the market this should be an easy one to find. If you like well made, accessible Pinot Noir, do yourself a favor and locate this one.


Approximately 7,500 cases of the 2006 Schug Carneros Pinot Noir were produced. It spent 2 months in large oak casks and 9 months in 30% new French oak barrels. Fruit was sourced from a handful of vineyards in Carneros. The retail price is $26.

The first thing that hit me was the earthiness of this wine. The nose is full of mushroom and dry cherry notes. Some spice Carneros Pinotnotes emerge on the nose as the wine opens up. Unlike the Sonoma Coast Pinot, the Carneros plays hard to get. Either decant it for an hour or so, or pour a glass and drink it slowly over a few hours to witness it evolving. The first sips reveal sour cherry notes and subtle cola characteristics. The oak adds toast and vanilla notes that really emerge in the mid-palate. As with the Sonoma Coast Pinot, the Carneros bottling has an above average finish in it’s category. While I found this wine to be a great match for a grilled pork chop it should go well with a wide array of foods. Considering the earthiness, I think mushroom dishes are a natural match. Drink this one now or hold it for a few years and watch more earthiness emerge.

Once again this wine over-delivers at it’s price-point. There is more complexity in this wine than the Sonoma Coast Pinot. They have different mission statements and in my opinion they both achieve them. What I like most about the Carneros Pinot Noir is that it’s the sort of bottle I could drink over a long evening. Whether I chose to enjoy it’s evolution as I paired it with food, or simply decided to contemplate the loveliness of Pinot Noir as a varietal, I’d be happy with my choice.

Having tasted 6 wines from Schug Carneros Estate this week, it’s unquestionable there is a house style. They make wines that are well balanced, which allow the fruit to shine and pair wonderfully with food. These are wines you can live with and enjoy anytime, knowing you’re getting at least fair value for your money. I recommend checking out their website which has a lot of information about the wines and the history of the Winery. You can also read about several wine club options they offer. And while all of their wines are enjoyable, I found the most pleasure in their Pinots.

Next Week: Coverage of “Gambero Rosso” the Italian Wines Roadshow in New York City.

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Schug – 2005 Sonoma Valley Cabernet Sauvignon

Posted by Gabe on February 27, 2008

My first time trying the wines of Schug Carneros Estate was this past January at the Sun Wine Fest. Up until that point my familiarity with them was by reputation. So when I noticed they were represented, I made a point to taste through their wines. The wines were sufficiently impressive that I knew immediately I wanted to cover some oSchug Cabernetf them here.

Today’s selection is a 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon. Just over 3,000 cases of this Sonoma Valley designated wine were bottled. 13% Merlot, 12% Cabernet Franc and 1% Syrah were blended with the Cabernet Sauvignon. The retail price is $26.

The first thing apparent to me about this wine is how much the Cabernet Franc does to lift the nose of this wine. Dark berry fruit abounds in the bouquet along with subtle spice notes. The first sips reveal a lot more spice and copiuous black cherry fruit. As these carry through the mid-palate they are joined by some clove and strong mocha characteristics. This Cabernet finishes with an underlying earthiness and continued spice notes. This wine is rich and mouth-filling. It’s a natural companion to heartier fare. A steak would certainly suit it rather well. I found it to pair perfectly with a beef barley stew.

To fully enjoy this wine now, I recommend decanting it for a minimum of an hour. It needs that time to really open up and reveal all it’s layers and charm. As with the other releases I have looked at from Schug, this Cabernet is very well balanced and quite frankly elegant. The use of oak is apparent but well in check. The style of this wine reminds me a bit of a Wellington Cabernet I looked at a few weeks ago. Both are well crafted wines from Sonoma, whose balanced style strike me as more typically European than Californian.

Although it’s drinking well now I’d expect this wine to improve nicely over the next handful of years. The earthiness which is present now will likely become more readily apparent. Whether you want to drink it tonight with dinner, or lay it down for a few years, the 2005 Sonoma Valley Cabernet is another solid bet from Schug.

Coming Friday: This weeks look at Schug Carneros Estate closes with two Pinot Noir releases

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Schug Carneros Estate – 2006 Chardonnays

Posted by Gabe on February 26, 2008

Today I’m looking at a couple of 2006 Chardonnays from Schug, the Sonoma Coast and the Carneros. In addition to those they also make a third, more limited, Chardonnay known as Carneros Heritage Reserve. Walter Schug whose vision has guided the winery since he founded it in 1980, learned wine-making in his native Germany. This experience strikes me as particularly relevant and helpful when making varietals such as Chardonnay or Pinot Noir that love cooler wine growing regions.

The Sonoma Coast Chardonnay is Schug’s entry level offering of this varietal. The retail Sonoma Coastprice is $22. With just over 7,300 cases made, this is Schug’s second largest production. The nose reveals a lot of citrus and a hint of spice. The first sip shows more spice and citrus notes along with peach and pear characteristics that carry through the mid-palate. The finish of the Sonoma Coast Chardonnay has white pepper and little touch of candied apple. This is a medium bodied wine with firm acidity. Oak is detectable and adds to the spice characteristics throughout, but never overshadows the fruit.  I found this wine to be a great complement for a classic panini with tomato, basil and fresh mozzarella. Most lighter fare will be a good match for it as well. It’s also light and refreshing enough to enjoy on it’s own.

It’s not always easy to find well made Chardonnay from California in this price range. The Schug Sonoma Coast Chardonnay is a winner. What pleases me most about it is it’s true varietal character. This is a wine made to drink in it’s youth.

Carneros ChardonnayThe Carneros Chardonnay comes mostly (96%) from Carneros fruit. Half of that is from the Schug Estate. In a lot of ways the Carneros Chardonnay is a bird of a different feather. Even from the vanilla in the nose it reveals the additional use of oak which lends itself to greater complexity. Pear and spice present themselves in the first sip. The mid-palate has a buttery apple pie note accompanied by significant mulled spice characteristics. The finish is clean, crisp and quite refreshing. This is a bigger, richer wine with a rounder mouth-feel than the Sonoma Coast Chardonnay. Still the use of oak is restrained and never over the top. Sufficient acidity is present to make this a well balanced effort. More than the Sonoma Coast Chardonnay, this one seems to need food.

Just over 5,000 cases of the 2006 Schug Carneros Chardonnay were produced and it retails for $26. Wine-Searcher shows that it’s available pretty widely for closer to $22. For either price you’re getting a good amount of complexity and a well crafted wine for your money. I would expect this wine to drink well for a couple of years.

Both Chardonnays from Schugare well made wines that are also fairly priced. Beyond that it’s a question of taste. My personal preference was for the Sonoma Coast Chardonnay. It has an easy drink-ability about it, which for me makes it a more than solid “everyday drinker.” It’s a workhorse Chardonnay, which seems to be it’s intent. The Carneros Chardonnay offers more complexity, structure and room for contemplation. Also a solid bet, especially, paired appropriately with food. It’s a Chardonnay you’ll enjoy if you want to get a little “dressed up” for dinner.

Up Next: Schug Carneros Estate 2005 Sonoma Valley Cabernet Sauvignon

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Schug – 2006 Sauvignon Blanc

Posted by Gabe on February 25, 2008

Up first, in my coverage of Schug Carneros Estate wines, is their 2006 Sauvignon Blanc. The fruit was sourced from several diverse vineyards in Sonoma County and just over Schug SB1,600 cases of this wine were produced. Retail price on this Sauvignon Blanc is $18.

A ton of grapefruit is the main story of this Sauvignon Blanc’s nose. The first sips reveals an accompanying zesty tartness. That tartness disappears pretty quickly as the wine opens up a bit in the glass. This gives way to a lot more fruit flavors that coat the mouth through the mid-palate. More grapefruit, melon and lychee fruit come out and carry on through the substantial finish, which also features an underlying spiciness that tingles the tongue and back of the throat in a very pleasant manner. This wine is clean, crisp and very well balanced. Some of the wine was aged in large oak casks. This added a layer of complexity, but is subtle enough not to detract from the fruit.

This Sauvignon Blanc is an excellent match for mild cheeses. I had it with a wine cured goat cheese and found it to be a perfect complement. I expect it would also be a terrific match for entree salads and other lighter foods. Though it’s built for food, this wine also works well sipped on it’s own. Drinking it made wish for summer to get here quickly.

For $18 the 2006 Schug Sauvignon Blanc is undoubtedly a good buy. What impressed me the most about it is the impeccable balance and restraint it shows. Often Sauvignon Blancs swing too far one way or the other for my taste. The 2006 Schug Sauvignon Blanc however, is right in my sweet spot for this varietal.

Tomorrow: A look at two distinct Chardonnays from Schug Carneros Estate.

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Schug Carneros Estate

Posted by Gabe on February 24, 2008

This week I’ll be taking a look at 6 wines from Schug Carneros Estate in Somoma California. Schug is a family owned and run Schug Carneros Estateoperation that was founded in 1980. They produce approximately 25,000 cases of wine per year. Walter Schug whose roots run deep in California Wine industry history, founded Schug. Previous to striking out on his own he worked for Gallo and was then the winemaker at Joseph Phelps. While at Phelps, among other things, he made Insignia which remains a benchmark California Wine.

Since 1996 their head winemaker has been Michael Cox, a Somoma native. He had previously worked side by side with Walter Schug as his assitant winemaker. Prior to that he’d worked in the cellar at Dry Creek Vineyards and at Napa’s De Moor Vineyards as Winemaker. At the time he was Napa’s youngest winemaker.  

Over the next few days I’ll take a look at Schug Carneros Estate’s Sauvigon Blanc, two of their Chardonnays, Two Pinot Noirs and a Cabernet Sauvignon. Please check back and read about the wines being produced by this reputable New World Winery. The wines they are producing reflect a sense of place reminiscent of their Old World fore-bearers.

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Santa Ema – 2003 Syrah

Posted by Gabe on February 21, 2008

Santa EmaSanta Ema is a Chilean Winery founded by Italian immigrants. Best known for some of their value priced wines, they also make some selections in premium price ranges.

The 2003 Santa Ema Syrah is amongst their value priced offerings. Retail is around $11 but it can generally be found in the $8 price range.

Deep garnet in color, this wine offers spice, earthiness and a bouquet of blueberries on the nose. The first sip reveals more dark berry fruit, loads of pepper and soft, ripe tannins, all which carry through the mid-palate. The finish features chocolate and subtle leather notes. There is some noticeable oak but it’s use was judicious as it doesn’t get in the way of the fruit. The Santa Ema Syrah is well balanced with appropriate acidity. This wine is a perfect match for pizza or a dish of pasta. It’s bound to go nicely with dark chocolate as well.

Considering the relatively low price tag, this wine is a nice bargain. It delivers more varietal character than is often found at this price range, as well as a decent amount of complexity. That said it’s surely not intended for long term aging. Drink this one up before the calender hits 2009.

Coming Next Week: A Look at 6 current releases from Sonoma’s Schug Winery.

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Robert Mondavi – 2005 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon

Posted by Gabe on February 20, 2008

I suppose it’s fitting that the final selection for Cabernet Sauvignon Week is from Robert Mondavi CabMondavi Winery. The story of the Mondavi impact on the California Wine Industry is retold often enough that it doesn’t bear repeating here.

As with many of the larger wineries, that are now owned by corporations, the Mondavi brand has a wide reach at numerous price and quality levels. Today’s Cabernet is from the Napa Valley series. For me, it’s at this level up that one can seriously consider the Mondavi wines. The Mondavi 2005 Napa Valley Cabernet is in fact 85% Cabernet Sauvignon. The other 15% is made up of parts of all four of the other Bordeaux varietals.

The nose of this wine reveals oak, vanilla and a lot of spice. What becomes immediately apparent when taking the first sip is that this wine is young. There is an upfront tartness that dissipates as the wine breathes, but is still apparent. Blueberry, mocha and white pepper come out and resonate through the mid-palate. There are present, slightly rough, tannins in this wine. A sign that it needs some time in the bottle. The finish is slightly above average in length with more spice and a very subtle earthiness. The 2005 Mondavi Cabernet shows good acidity and is well balanced. The alcohol is a somewhat surprising 15%, but it doesn’t come across that way when drinking it.

It’s clear to me that this wine needs more time in the bottle to resolve itself. Six months to a year should make a huge difference. My bet is that it’ll be enjoyable to drink for 7 or 8 years after that. Suggested retail is $28. Check Wine-Searcher though as it can easily be found for $20 or under. This is a well made Cabernet that needs some time to be fully enjoyed.

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Tara Bella – 2005 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve

Posted by Gabe on February 18, 2008

Today’s Cabernet selection is from Sonoma County California. Tara Bella Winery is very Tara Bellaliterally 2 people, Tara and Rich Minnick. They do just about everything themselves, including hand numbering and hand-waxing every single bottle of their Cabernet Sauvignon. They planted their vineyard in the foothills of the Russian River in 1995. Their 100% varietal, 100% Estate, Cabernet Sauvignon is the only wine they make. Their total annual production is between 300 and 500 Cases. In 2005 they made 359 cases.

The first thing apparent about this wine is that it’s a little on the young side right now. Decanting it for a couple of hours is highly recommended if you want to enjoy this one in it’s youth.

Once it does open up the nose reveals spice, blueberry, cedar and a hint of licorice. The first sips bring out some earthiness as well as raspberry and cherry fruit characteristics. The mid-palate is rich and mouth-filling with excellent acidity. The berry characters as well as the earthiness and spice continue through the long and persistent finish. There is an inherent earthiness to this wine that I’d expect to increase with some bottle age. This wine is very well balanced and made for food. I found it to be a perfect match for Wild Mushroom Risotto.

Tara Bella 2005 Estate Cabernet Reserve sells for $65. However, almost 95% of their wine each year is sold to their wine club for $53 per bottle. If you can get your hands on some of their Cabernet I suggest laying it down for a few years and then pulling it out for a special occasion of some kind. The 2005 should improve nicely for at least 10 years, perhaps more, considering how well balanced it is. This wine might be made in California but it has an Old World style to it.

Tomorrow: The final wine of Cabernet Sauvignon Week, is from Robert Mondavi

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Mollydooker – 2006 The Maitre D’ Cabernet Sauvignon

Posted by Gabe on February 17, 2008

For today’s Cabernet selection I’m looking at one from Australia. Although this is only the second vintage for Mollydooker Maitre D'Wines, the folks behind the label Sarah & Sparky Marquis have been in the wine business for the better part of two decades in one form or another. Mollydooker Wines has several distinct series which translate into different price points. Today’s Cabernet Sauvignon is part of the Lefty Series. Each of the wines in the Lefty Series has a retail price of $20.

Upon approaching The Maitre D’ the first whiff from the nose reveals plum and berry notes in great abundance. The first sips showcases more dark berry fruit and some softer mocha notes. This wine absolutely explodes on the mid-palate with extremely rich and mouth-filling intense dark berry and plum fruit. The finish of The Maitre D’ is long, lingering and noteworthy for the price point. Clearly above average in length it features, fig, candied blueberry a ton of spice and subtle espresso notes. The tannins on this wine are soft and fairly sleek. Above all The Maitre D’ is smooth, silky and loaded with ripe enticing dark fruit that draws you back for sip after sip.

Considering the wine clocks in with 16% alcohol it’s a marvel that it doesn’t drink hot at all. In fact it’s well balanced with firm acidity and goes down quite easily. It’s a big wine for sure but it’s also not overwhelming and didn’t tire my palate as I drank it. The Maitre D’ drinks very well right now and I expect it has a solid 5 years ahead of it. For $20 this an excellent value and you’ll be hard pressed to do better. This is especially recommended for fans of big, rich wines. Mollydooker Wines has a great deal if you order through their website. If you purchase a case of wine, shipping from California for the entire thing is only .12 cents.

Stay tuned as I will be looking at two other Mollydooker Wines, The Boxer and Blue Eyed Boy in the upcoming weeks.

Up Next: A Look at Tara Bella’s 2005 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon.

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Wellington Vineyards – Mohrhardt Ridge 2003 Cabernet

Posted by Gabe on February 15, 2008

Today’s Cabernet Sauvignon is a single vineyard offering from Wellington Vineyards in Sonoma County California. Included in their diverse offerings are several Rhone varietals, a few blends, a few vineyard designated Zinfandels, Cabernets and more. The Mohrardt Ridge Cabernet is one that Wellington has been making for many years. The 2003 that I looked at is in fact their 15th straight vintage from that vineyard.

WellingtonThe nose of the Mohrardt Ridge offers up lots of spice, blueberries and cedar notes. The first sip reveals oak that is firmly present but in check and reserved. The mid-palate features a lot of dark berry fruit along with continued spice notes that tingle along the tongue and back of the throat. The finish, which is substantial in length, has some light earthiness and subtle black pepper. This Wellington Cabernet is very well balanced with good acidity and firm tannins. An hour or so in the decanter does wonders to change the flavor profile of this wine and allow it to open up and shine.

The retail price on this wine is $22. This is a good value for a wine that has at least 5 years of positive evolution ahead of it. What I liked best about this wine is it’s balance. That balance is what helps this wine pair wonderfully with a wide range of foods. This is a New World wine with Old World restraint and elegance. Having had a number of Wellington Vineyards wines over the years it’s fair to say that describes their house style.

The next Cabernet featured will be from Mollydooker.

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