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Wine: Reviews, Thoughts & Culture

Archive for September, 2009

Visiting Robert Sinskey Vineyards

Posted by Gabe on September 27, 2009

RSV_Circle_Logo_Brown_LowThere’s a specific trip to Napa, years ago, that really stands out in my mind. The reason I recall this particular one so fondly is that I visited several Wineries that have become favorites, for the first time. A couple of them in fact were recommended to me by the same person. One of those places was Robert Sinskey Vineyards. It struck a chord with me and I’ve returned to taste often. But I’d never toured their facility. In getting ready for my most recent trip I was speaking to a friend who I was going to taste with and she also mentioned wanting to visit Sinskey. It seemed the time to tour at Robert Sinskey had arrived.

So last Sunday I arrived at Robert Sinskey with a couple of friends and we took the Cave Raider Tour. This tour takes place weekdays at 1:00 PM and 11:00 AM on Weekends. We were greeted warmly and poured a taste of wine as we waited a couple of moments for the rest of our tour. It turned out we toured and tasted alongside two winemakers from Jacob’s Creek in Australia. The 5 of us and our well informed guide made our way through the garden outside the winery. Robert Sinskey Vineyards is Organic and Biodynamic. Part of the commitment to that way of farming is a garden outside their door which is used by the onsite chefs to craft morsels for events at the Winery.

After the garden we walked by the production area and then made our way to the caves. I couldn’t possibly begin to count the number of caves I’ve seen when touring wine regions. But there is something about them that remains fascinating, invigorating and incredibly exciting to me. Part of it might be the fact that I know I’m many feet below the earth, and the recognition of the work that went into creating these underground wonders. Another is the stacks of barrels full of wine all around. While I may not think of it with every cave I visit, subconsciously I recognize that I’m surrounded by the wine I’ll probably taste next time I visit, or pick up at my local shop down the road sometime.

When we emerged from the cave we tasted a flight of wines on the patio at their outside bar. After a couple of whites, of which Abraxas was my favorite, we moved to Pinot Noir. This classic grape is the workhorse at Robert Sinskey. They make both cuvee’s and single vineyard designate versions. The Vandal Vineyard Pinot we tasted was a standout for me amongst the couple we sampled. Each of the wines was paired with little morsels prepared by the kitchen. I’ve always been particularly fond of their Cabernet Franc and was quite happy when our host Caine, pulled one out for us to taste. This is also made from their Vandal Vineyard. Another treat was a 1998 Cabernet Sauvignon. While this wine is quite delicious now it still showed plenty of fruit and seems to have quite a number of years of positive evolution ahead of it. In total we tasted about half a dozen wines.

In addition to delicious wines and in this case tasty bites to match them I’m very fond of the atmosphere at Robert Sinskey Vineyards. More than just welcoming it’s warm, hospitable and very comfortable with a combination of rustic charm and modern accommodations. Their Organic and Biodynamic approach is also one I appreciate. Throughout the tour we learned a lot about their methods of winemaking and commitment to Organics. That said much of what we learned was driven by questions from those of us on the tour. Our host provided a perfect amount of information himself and gave us plenty of room to inquire about what we wanted to know.

The Cave Raider tour is one I can heartily recommend. It’s by appointment and the cost is $30 per person. That’s partially refundable with a purchase. However in addition to this Sinskey offers a Culinary Tour and Bento Box Tasting. Each of these has designated times they are available for appointments. Of course if you simply want to taste Robert Sinskey Vineyards is open daily from 10:00 Am to 4:30 Pm. They’re located at 6320 Silverado Trail. This continues to be a stop I look forward to time after time. Give them a try; it may become one of your favorites too.

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The “12 Days of Pinot Noir” Is Coming

Posted by Gabe on September 26, 2009

PVDB06e2A couple times a year I celebrate the Wine version of Christmas. How do I do that you ask? Pretty simple actually, I focus on a single varietal for 12 straight days. Petite Sirah, Zinfandel and most recently Cabernet Franc are amongst the varietals I’ve celebrated this semi-annual holiday with over the last couple of years.

When I was thinking about what I should taste for the Fall 2009 edition of “12 Days,” Pinot struck me as a no brainer. I’ve yet to run across a varietal of wine I don’t like at all. But by the same token, few grapes get me as excited as Pinot Noir can. When they’re excellent I find them downright inspirational. If I’m going to sit in the corner or under a tree and contemplate life with a bottle of wine, more than likely it’s going to be Pinot Noir.

So, starting on October 1, it’ll be all Pinot Noir for 12 days. How many Pinot Noirs am I going to write about you ask? I can’t tell you, because I don’t know yet. I’m tasting through quite a few Pinot’s (well over 80) and I’ll post here about the ones I like best. What I can tell you is that the Willamtte Valley in Oregon and the Santa Cruz Mountains of California are the areas I’m mostly tasting from. A couple of other appellations are on my tasting schedule and they may make it in as well. So depending on how many wines hit my sweet spot, look for multiple posts on most days. October is almost here and so is the 12 Days of Pinot Noir! Are you excited? I am and I hope you’ll check in often to read up on my Pinot progress. As I write this I’m checking my list of Pinot Noir and organizing tasting flights, not to mention making sure all of my Burgundy glasses ares clean and ready to accept wine.

Of course a few months down the road and there will be another “12 Days” event. I’m open to suggestions for what the next varietal should be. So please shoot me a message and give me your thoughts. And by all means Drink some Pinot this week to help ne celebrate the 12 days of Pinot Noir!

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Dinner With Kim Longbottom & Renae Hirsch of Henry’s Drive

Posted by Gabe on September 23, 2009

Last week I had the opportunity to have dinner with Kim Longbottom and Renae Hirsch of Henry’s Drive. This Padthaway Australia producer has a vast repertoire of wines; some appropriate for everyday drinking and others for special occasions, gift giving or cellaring. I’d met Renae last year (read that report here) and at the time she had only been on the job a short while. WithParsons_Flat_Bottle_big this followup meeting I was looking forward to learning how things had progressed for her at Henry’s Drive. And of course I was also happy to be meeting proprietor Kim Longbottom.

The first two wines we tasted were both Chardonnay based. First up was The Postmistress Blanc de Blanc. This sparkling wine is 100% Chardonnay and when it makes it to the US sometime in 2010 it will retail for $19.99. I found this to be a tasty lighter style of sparkling wine, one I’d consume with Brunch foods perhaps. The second wine was Morse Code Chardonnay. This is one of two varietal entries that will be part of the under $10 tier for Henry’s Drive. It’s fair to think of it and the Morse Code Shiraz as single varietal counterparts to the two Pillar Box wines. I really enjoyed the clean, fresh, fruit forward style of this 2009 Chardonnay. For a suggested retail of $8.99, this will make a solid choice for everyday drinking when it’s released here in the next month or so.

Pillar Box Red is the first wine from Henry’s Drive I became aware of several years back. I find that it’s been a consistent offering in the value category and also a popular one. In speaking to Renae she indicated that a wine like Pillar Box Red which many people drink and are aware of is one of the selections she feels a bit more pressure in producing since it’s had a longstanding reputation that preceded her becoming winemaker. No question to me that she’s achieved her goal as the overall quality of this wine and its flavor profile have remained true to the course.

Two wines stood out as overall favorites for me. The Trial of John Montford was one. This blend of Cabernet Sauvignon (90%) and Cabernet Franc (10%), leads with a big nose of leather, berry and vanilla. Cherry and earth are amongst the dominat notes through the palate and they lead to a lengthy and layered finish. This 2007 selection has a suggested retail price of $29.99. While I think it’s quite tasty now, a few years in the cellar will really help it come together into an even nicer package.

The 2007 Dead Letter Office Shiraz was my other favorite of the evening. This selection blends Shiraz from McLaren Vale (67%) in with the Padthaway (33%) fruit. Of the higher end reds in the Henry’s Drive portfolio this is the wine that evolved the most dramatically in the glass throughout the evening. The combination of fruit from two sources lends itself to creating a very balanced Shiraz with a multitude of layers. The suggested retail price on this wine is $26.99

In all we went through 10 selections. Beside the wines already mentioned we tasted Pillar Box Reserve, Henry’s Drive Shiraz, Henry’s Drive Reserve Shiraz, and the Parson’s Flat Shiraz/Cabernet Sauvignon. In speaking with Kim throughout the evening it was clear that the goal is to create full flavored wines with balance. This is a goal that in my opinion they’re reaching. Certainly I have my favorites as I indicated above, but the house style in general is one that I have an overall fondness for. This is an Australian producer I gladly recommend; regardless of your wine budget there are Henry’s Drive offerings you can find room for.

One of the other pleasures of meeting Kim was getting to hear details I wasn’t familiar with about their use of Postal Service terms, names and legends for their wines. Having a story is one thing, but when it’s backed by historical fact and reality it adds something to the intrigue of a bottle of wine.

By all means if you have the unique opportunity to spend some time, and taste wine, with these charming ladies I highly recommend it. Some even say they’re a couple of Saucy Aussies.

Imported by Quintessential Wines.

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Posted in Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Events, Sparkling Wine, Syrah/Shiraz, Winemaker Dinner | Leave a Comment »

Visiting Enkidu Wines In Sonoma Valley

Posted by Gabe on September 21, 2009

shamatWhenever I’m out touring wineries I try to find a happy medium between scheduling appointments and letting each day take me where it may. I keep my eyes open for things that are new and interesting; more importantly I try to keep an open mind to suggestions I hear throughout my travels. Recommendations come in all shapes and sizes. When they’re good ones they can change the entire course of a tasting day. That happened to me last week in Sonoma County. I was tasting in Dry Creek Valley and fully intended to spend the whole day there. But then someone recommended and described Enkidu Wines to me. I was probably about 45 minutes away, but I felt like it was where I needed to head next.

Suffice it to say I’m glad I took the recommendation. I was immediately impressed when a member of their terrific staff (Abby) asked if I wanted to listen to Al Green or the Black Crowes while I tasted. I happen to like both artists a lot, but I never turn down the Reverend.

There are a lot of places to sample, and all sorts of wine in Sonoma Valley. So how do you decide where to taste? Let me tell you, Enkidu is a place you should most definitely put on your itinerary for the next time you taste in Sonoma. They have an interesting back story, and their name, label art, and overall style complements their wines. But how about the wines?, you ask.

Across the board the wines are well made, tasty and balanced. I sampled close to a dozen wines and while I had favorites, there wasn’t a clunker in the bunch.  Their dry Rosé (Shamhat) was the first selection that stood out above the rest for me. It was clean, crisp and dry in a very pure and refreshing way. There are several varietals that they make distinct offerings of; Pinot Noir is one of them. Each of the three Pinots I tasted was made in a genuine style for the varietal, the Tina Marie which is made from Russian River fruit was perhaps my favorite of the trio. Petite Sirah is one of my weaknesses and their 2005 Fazekas Petite sourced in Napa Valley almost had me crying uncle it was so tasty. While I’d expect it to age well, it’s a particularly approachable Petite Sirah for barely being 4 years old. Dark fruit and earth characteristics are the standouts in this offering.

Those are but a handful of the wines Enkidu makes and pours. The tasting room at 8910 Sonoma Highway in Kenwood is warm, tastefully decorated and incredibly welcoming. It’s a fun place to hang out for a while. As my stay progressed I met several other members of the Enkidu team and they were uniformly friendly. When the combination of well made, fairly priced wines, intersects with a great atmosphere to taste them I think it’s important to take note. When I take everything they having going for them into account I doubt Enkidu will under the radar for very long. My advice is to go now and avoid the stampede when everyone else catches up.

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Cameron Hughes – 2007 Lot 101 Russian River Chardonnay

Posted by Gabe on September 14, 2009

CH 101Certain regions and varietals generally go together so perfectly that the combination of the two can induce a bit of excitement. Russian River Chardonnay is one such duo. Of course that’s not to say that every Russian River Chardonnay is terrific, far from it. But there are tons of well made examples and enough tremendous ones to inspire a bit of confidence when approaching them. I’m going to look at one today from Négociant Cameron Hughes. I’ve been very impressed with both his wines and his overall ability to source such high quality and sell it for good prices. In some cases the deals are just outrageous.

The 2007 Cameron Hughes Lot 101 Russian River Valley Chardonnay is of course 100% varietal. 50% of the juice was fermented in new oak. 8,000 cases of this selection were produced and the suggested retail price is $14.

Granny Smith apple, Anjou pear and fig aromas fill the nose of this Chardonnay. Both pear and apple continue throughout the palate which is gentle, layered and complex; rewarding attention with ever increasing nuances that include ginger, cloves, nutmeg and tart apple. The finish is loaded with mineral notes and reminders of apple pie crust. This wine has excellent structure and absolutely tremendous acidity.

If you buy this wine for $14, what you’re doing is essentially stealing it. This Chardonnay is easily worth twice the price. When you drink it, avoid the temptation to over chill; many of its layers emerged a couple of degrees warmer than one would normally drink this varietal. The bottom line here is that Cameron Hughes continues to deliver one standout deal after another. Don’t hesitate to purchase wine with his name on it, he hits them out of the park with consistency.

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Loimer – 2007 Riesling Langenlois Terrassen / 2007 Grüner Veltliner Terrassen

Posted by Gabe on September 13, 2009

Over the last decade Austrian wines have begun to find their place on US shelves. As is usually the case it starts with those who are really intoloimer wine and then eventually starts to seep into the conciousness of the everyday wine consumer. Riesling would seem like the most obvious choice to make a foothold first; and there are some tremendous Austrian examples. But in my experience it’s often something different, something that a country or region does that stands apart from other areas that helps them establish themselves. In the case of Austria that grape is Grüner Veltliner. This varietal is poised to do for Austria what Malbec has done for Argentina. Sure, it can be grown elsewhere but nobody makes Grüner Veltliner the way Austria does, ditto for Argentine Malbec. Today I’ll look at an example of Grüner Veltliner and Riesling from Loimer. This Austrian producer with a history dating to 1998 produces approximately 16,000 cases of wine per year. Well over 90% of their production is dedicated to white varietals; red varietals and sweet wines make up the remainder of their portfolio.

The 2007 Loimer Riesling Langenlois Terrassen has modest alcohol of 13.5%. This selection is most often available for approximately $25.

Lychee fruit and granny smith apple present in the nose of this 2007 Riesling. Lemon zest, grapefruit, hazelnut, Bartlett pear and subtle hints of ginger are part of a full flavored palate that delivers waves of flavor in spades. Emerging tart apple notes and a huge influx of mineral notes emerge on the lengthy and persistent finish. This wine is tangy, zest and incredibly refreshing, helped in part by fine acidity and excellent overall structure.

This is a lovely Riesling with tons of character and many layers of complexity. My advice is to drink it over the next 2-3 years and to be careful not to over chill it. A couple of degrees warmer and you will be rewarded with a lot of additional flavor.

The 2007 Loimer Grüner Veltliner Terrassen comes in with an alcohol content of 13%. This wine is also most often available for approximately $25.

Do you like apricots? If you do the tremendous apricot notes that open the nose of this Grüner Veltliner will certainly please you as they do me. These are underscored by gentle hints of vanilla. Persistent, unyielding mineral characteristics are present throughout the palate. Lovely flourishes of lemon ice and stone fruit echo onward and lead to the finish which is unrelenting in length. Honey emerges and accompanies the mineral notes that just keep on coming. This wine is incredibly crisp and refreshing with a racy acidity.

This wine will pair well with lighter foods. It would go quite nicely with brunch selections. However, I personally prefer to sip this Grüner Veltliner on its own and contemplate its beauty, elegance, complexity and my happiness that this fantastic varietal is soon to have its day on US shelves. Not to mention the prominent place in the collective conciousness of wine drinkers that it so richly deserves.

Both selections from Loimer are tasty, well made and reasonably priced for the complexity and quality they offer. The Grüner Veltliner though is a slight cut above for me for all the reasons I listed above.

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Posted in Grüner Veltliner, Riesling, Wine | Leave a Comment »

Niepoort – 2007 Vintage Port

Posted by Gabe on September 10, 2009

image002Port is one of the categories of wine that seems to bewilder a lot of folks who are curious, but not particularly familiar with it. The various designations have names such as Tawny, Late Bottled, Ruby and Vintage Port to name a few. It would much more than one post to get into the variations so I’ll focus on one for today, Vintage Port. One of the things that add to the mystique of Vintage Port is that there are quite a few years without one. For a Vintage Port to exist a Port House needs to feel the quality is sufficient and declare it to be a vintage year. Beyond that, barrel and bottle aging minimums and maximums are part of the equation in what makes up a Vintage port. Today I’ll look at one that is soon to be released from Niepoort.

The 2007 Niepoort Vintage Port will be released in October of 2009. Niepoort is located in the Douro region of Portugal. Varietals used in the blend of this port are Touriga Franca, Tinta Roriz, Tinta Cão, Tinta Francisca, Tinta Amarela, Sausão, Touriga Nacional and more. The vines the fruit came from have an average age between 60 and 100 years old. Aging was accomplished over a two year period in large old vats. The suggested retail price for this wine upon release will be $75.

A couple of months back I had a chance to taste wine with the Douro Boys. Dirk Niepoort is one of the Douro Boys and I found him to be to be an incredibly engaging speaker. That said I believe he’s an even better winemaker. So with that in mind I was eager to taste his new Vintage Port to see how it stacked up to the previous ones I’d had the opportunity to try.

Plum and cherry notes in the nose of this Port are joined by copious spice characteristics, notably plum pudding, as well as fruitcake spice. From the very first sip continued cherry flavors are dominant. Both red and black cherry notes resonate throughout the palate of this wine along with cassis and blackberry. Midway through dark chocolate flavors kick in and carry through the finish which is significant in length, persistence and structure.

This Port is terrific now but it needs time to reach its full potential as the classic it’s destined to slowly evolve into. The 2007 Niepoort Vintage Port is an absolutely tremendous wine at the earliest stages of its life-cycle. If you’re going to drink it soon, and by soon I mean over the next 20 years or so, I strongly recommend and advocate decanting this wine for 3 or four hours. By all means check on it every hour or so to see how it’s developing, but patience will be rewarded. If you have the time and the patience this wine will improve and age gracefully over the long haul. This release is a blockbuster in terms of quality and age worthiness. Here’s hoping Dirk Niepoort keeps on releasing wines of this magnitude for a long time to come.

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Del Fava Family Winery – 2007 Zinfandel

Posted by Gabe on September 8, 2009

I mentioned the other day that Cabernet Sauvignon is the first varietal thatDF Zin comes to mind when I think of Alexander Valley and that’s true. Zinfandel comes second though. It’s easy to get lost in the sea of tremendous Zinfandel coming from neighboring Dry Creek Valley and forget that there are quite a few excellent examples in Alexander Valley too. That would be a mistake. Today I’ll look at the Del Fava Zinfandel.

The 2007 Del Fava Family Winery Zinfandel is made from Alexander Valley fruit. This offering blends Zinfandel (83%), with Petite Sirah (11%), Carignane (3%), Syrah (1.5%), and Sangiovese (1.5%). This wine spent 12 months in a combination of European and American oak; 30% of the barrels were new. A mere 97 cases of this Zinfandel were produced and the suggested retail price is $24.

Starting with the nose, everything about this wine is big. Aromas of dark and spicy berry fruit lead the charge. They continue through the full throttle, all enveloping palate. Cherry, raspberry, plum and fruitcake spice keep coming in waver after wave of flavor and continue to the unrelenting and lingering finish which adds additional spice and hints of sweet Bosco sauce. Excellent acidity keeps this big, bold wine from going over the top.

If you like your Zinfandel big and loaded with jam flavor this small production wine from Del Fava Family winery is a solid entry worth seeking out. As with the other wines made by Scott and his wife this Zinfandel offers a lot of flavor and good complexity for the money. Each release is interesting and I look forward to keeping up with them to see how their wines evolve from vintage to vintage.

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Del Fava Family Winery – 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon

Posted by Gabe on September 5, 2009

DelFava_CabernetPick a winery, any winery and there’s a fair chance they have a second label. Historically this was more often the case when a well known, possibly high end, producer wanted to put some everyday drinking wines on the shelf. These days however it’s equally common form a winery to have  a second label that produces a higher or reserve tier of wines. Such is the case with Del Fava Family Winery. This is the new off shoot from V-Twin Vineyards, and their take on small production, reserve type wines. Today I’ll look at their Cabernet Sauvignon.

The 2007 Del Fava Family Winery Cabernet Sauvignon is produced from fruit sourced in the Geyserville section of Alexander Valley. In addition to Cabernet Sauvignon (77%), this offering includes Syrah (12%), Petit Verdot (4%), Cabernet Franc (3%), Malbec, (2%) and Merlot (2%). Barrel aging was accomplished over a period of 16 months in a combination of new French and American oak. Alcohol content for this Cabernet Sauvignon is 14.2%. 168 cases of this vintage were produced and the suggested retail price is $28.

Cabernet Sauvignon is the first varietal that come to mind when I think of Alexander Valley. Over the years I’ve had quite a few excellent ones, both from large well known producers as well as boutique wineries. So I’m always eager to see what someone is doing with Alexander Valley Cabernet. The nose of this wine was slightly reserved at first but some time in the decanter really helped. Once it had opened up plum, blackberry and toasty oak notes fill the nose. Lots of ripe, sweet raspberry and cherry notes are evident throughout the palate along with a nice helping of blackberry as well, to round out the berry filled experience. Cherry pie crust and spice characteristics are evident from the first sip and carry through the finish which has leather, earth, cigar box and espresso notes. This wine has fine, yielding tannins as well as good acidity.

Having had a number of the wines that Scott Del Fava and his wife are making under the two labels, the story of the house style has emerged and become apparent to me. Each of the selections is full flavored, very smooth and layered with good complexity. This Cabernet is delicious now but will certainly improve with some time in the bottle. What impressed me most about this selection is that for $28 you have a very solid Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon which is appropriate for mid-term aging. I’d hold it for a year or so and drink it in the 5 or 6 after that.

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Gnarly Head – 2008 Pinot Grigio

Posted by Gabe on September 4, 2009

If I had a nickel (ok a quarter with inflation) for every uninspired PinotGnarly PG Grigio clogging up store shelves… well you get the idea, I’d have a lot of change. Much of that blasé Pinot Grigio is from Italy itself. When it comes to California, Pinot Grigio appears to be a growing segment. That’s mostly good, if there’s more of it, someone is going to take it seriously and craft it well. But by the same token there’s going to be a lot of subpar examples to wade through to get to the tasty ones. And the truth is there are even fewer examples that instill excitement in the value category. So when the Gnarly Head Pinot Grigio came across my desk I had countering thoughts; I was balancing the above concerns, if you will, that I have with a lot of Pinot Grigio against the fact that I’ve had some Gnarly Head wines that represented very solid values in the past. What’s one to do with a conundrum like that? Tasting the wine was the only way to go.

The 2008 Gnarly Head Pinot Grigio is produced from fruit sourced throughout California; though two thirds is specifically from the Lodi region. This offering was fermented in stainless steel. Alcohol content for this Pinot Grigio is a modest 13%. The suggested retail price for this wine is $10.99.

Pineapple and hints of zesty lemon are part of the nose. A mélange of citrus emerges on the palate along with orchard fruits such as pear and apple. Citrus notes continue to dominate and lead to the finish which includes white pepper and ginger spice. This Pinot Grigio is clean, crisp and refreshing. It has excellent acidity and will pair well with lighter foods.

The bottom line for me on this Pinot Grigio is that it shows sufficient varietal character to make it interesting; it’s also tasty and refreshing. Add in the fact that it’s widely available for under $10 and I find this to be a good choice for large gatherings or everyday drinking.

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