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Wine: Reviews, Thoughts & Culture

Archive for September, 2010

Forefront – 2008 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon

Posted by Gabe on September 28, 2010

In recent years Pine Ridge Winery has branched out. That expansion includes properties in Oregon and other parts of California. One of the most recent projects is Forefront, an offshoot of Pine Ridge Vineyards. What differentiates the Forefront Wines from the others in the portfolio is they’re not limiting themselves by regional boundaries. They’re sourcing fruit from various regions looking for the best growing conditions and area for the varietals in question. Today I’ll look at the current release of Cabernet Sauvignon.

The Forefront 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon was produced using fruit sourced primarily in Napa Valley (84%), with the remaining 16% coming from Edna Valley and Lake County. In addition to Cabernet Sauvignon (78%), Merlot (11%), Syrah (5%), Petit Verdot (3%), Malbec (2%) and Cabernet Franc (1%) are blended in as well. Fermentation took place in temperature controlled tanks with pumpovers 2 to 3 times daily. Each varietal was aged in barrel for 12 to 16 months prior to blending and bottling. This wine has a suggested retail price of $24.

Aromas of black mission fig as well as both red and black cherry fill the nose of this 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon. Blackberry, raspberry and plum flavors are each prominent throughout the palate along with plenty of spice, particularly black pepper. Bittersweet cocoa, espresso and touches of toasty oak all emerge in the finish which has good length. This wine has firm acidity and drinks well on its own as well as alongside medium to full flavored foods.

If you buy this wine you’re going to get a solid example of Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. It has plenty of appealing upfront fruit, more than sufficient structure and a solid finish. For a suggested retail of $24 (less is you shop around) this wine can be a nice everyday Cabernet Sauvignon for folks waiting for their higher end stuff to mature in the cellar. Additionally it’s a nice step up for those who routinely drink in the $12-15 window.

Posted in Cabernet Sauvignon, Wine | Leave a Comment »

Stepping Stone by Cornerstone Cellars – 2008 Syrah / 2008 Cabernet Franc

Posted by Gabe on September 27, 2010

Over the last few years I’ve had the opportunity to taste a number of releases from both Cornerstone Cellars and their sister label Stepping Stone. While the flagship label is focused with laser like precision on Cabernet Sauvignon, Stepping Stone has a host of varietals in its growing portfolio. Today I’ll look at two current release reds.

The 2008 Stepping Stone by Cornerstone Cellars Napa Valley Syrah was produced from fruit sourced in the Carneros region of Napa Valley. In addition to the Syrah from the Truchard Vineyard (95%), a dollop of Grenache (5%) from Lake County was also blended in. A mere 153 cases of this offering were produced and it has a suggested retail price of $20.

Dark brooding fruit aromas fill the nose of this 2008 Syrah. Purple fruit flavors like plum, and dark fruits like blackberry fill the palate. They’re accompanied by copious amounts of spice such as white pepper and a hint of vanilla bean. Bacon fat emerges on the finish along with minerals and rhubarb. This Syrah shows off soft, yielding tannins and solid acidity. It drinks nicely on its own but excels when paired with flavorful foods.

The 2008 Stepping Stone by Cornerstone Cellars Napa Valley Cabernet Franc was produced using mostly fruit sourced in Carneros. In addition to Cabernet Franc (96%) from the Truchard Vineyard, a small amount of Cabernet Sauvignon (4%) from the Ink Grade vineyard on Howell Mountain was blended in. Just over 600 cases of this offering were produced and it has a suggested retail price of $30.

Leather, cherry and red plum aromas explode from the nose of this 2008 Cabernet Franc. The palate is loaded with a cornucopia of fleshy dark fruit flavors. Blueberry and black cherry are both in strong evidence. Earth, espresso and minerals are each part of the finish along with chocolate notes that keep echoing after the last sip is swallowed. Excellent acidity makes this a fine companion to a host of food choices.

Both of these wines from Stepping Stone are fine values that do a nice job of showcasing varietal character. For my money there isn’t nearly enough stand alone Cabernet Franc out there, particularly in California. So finding a well made, reasonably priced one from a winery with an already impressive track record makes me smile, and reach for a second glass.

Posted in Cabernet Franc, Syrah/Shiraz, Wine | Leave a Comment »

Paul Dolan Vineyards – 2007 Zinfandel

Posted by Gabe on September 21, 2010

The Paul Dolan Vineyards 2007 Zinfandel was produced using fruit sourced in two distinct appellations. The majority (79%) is from Mendocino with the remaining 21% coming from Amador County. Barrel aging was accomplished over 20 months in American oak. The grapes used were organically grown and certified as such. Just fewer than 3,000 cases of this offering were made and it has a suggested retail price of $25.

Aromas of black mission fig and dark berry fill the nose of this 2007 Zinfandel. Zippy black raspberry flavors along with blueberry and droves of cherry are joined by a wealth of spices such as black pepper and nutmeg throughout the bold and layered palate of this wine. Black tea, minerals, chicory, earth, dusty baker’s chocolate and a hint of coal are all present in the lengthy finish of this Zinfandel.

What I like most about this Zinfandel is its depth. Too often Zinfandel is a lot of up front flash without much substance or backbone supporting it. That’s not the case here as this wine, while plenty big enough, including a nice bit of jam laden fruit is also well proportioned. I paired this Zinfandel with Cuban Beef Stew served with a side of Cilantro Rice and it was a marvelous match. I went back to this wine after it had been open for a full 24 hours. I found that not only had it held up it was drinking even better than it had the first night. This is first rate Zinfandel from Paul Dolan Vineyards.  At a pricepoint of $25 it also represents a very good value.

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Auction To Benefit Four Public Schools in St. Helena, California

Posted by Gabe on September 19, 2010

My inbox is often flooded with press releases and information about wine and events. Some of them pique my curiosity and some not. And then some like the one I’m reprinting below are worthy causes that deserve all the attention they can get. So please do check out the information and maybe you’ll find something you’d like to bid on:

For immediate release


Media: Julie Ann Kodmur, 707/963-9632,

Bidder questions: Dianne Maher, 707/484-4231,

Proxy bidding forms are here.

Lots online here.

Buy-a-spot lots.


Only in Napa offerings at combined public school auction in St. Helena

 St. Helena, California, September 2010—– Tickets are sold out to The St. Helena Unified School District’s annual fundraiser, Just Imagine/Backstage Pass, taking place on September 25 at Hourglass Blueline Estate in the Napa Valley. More than 400 attendees will enjoy an evening of food catered by Dean & DeLuca and a dance after-party with music by Wristrocket.

 “Our proceeds will raise much-needed funds to provide enriching experiences for all the children in the St. Helena School District,” explains Chair Dianne Maher. “One of our goals was to improve the ‘fun factor’ of the benefit,” she adds.

 An unusual aspect of the event this year is that—if you live in the Napa Valley and you were one of the top 20 bidders—Dean & DeLuca will deliver your lot/s to you on Sunday, September 26, along with a box lunch.

 Not going? Don’t worry! Anyone, anywhere can bid on the amazing array of lots. Anyone not at the event can register as a proxy bidder by going here to buy any of the live lots. Proxy bids must be submitted by Thursday, September 23.

 The buy-a-spot lots are available for purchase only online, not as a proxy bid.

 The buy-a-spot lots are here. and include a Ping-Pong Party, an Academy Awards Party at The Cameo Theatre, A Mother-Daughter Holiday Tea, a “Boogie Wonderland” ‘70s party, an “Iron Chef Saint Helena” competition, An ‘Eat, Pray, Love’ Experience including a feast with foods from Italy, Indonesia and India, a yoga meditation and a fortune-telling session, The Ultimate Pajama Party, where the group will take over The Wine Country Inn for a night and enjoy dinner and music from Wristrocket. Please note: these can be purchased online, through the website (but not be bid on with a proxy bid).

 The live lots are here and include:

LIVE LOT #1, 20 bottles of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay

LIVE LOT #2, dinner at Press for 8 and a collection of wines

LIVE LOT #3, a trip to a resort in Utah with meals and guided fly-fishing

LIVE LOT #4, collection of magnums from the 2005, 2006, and 2007 vintages

LIVE LOT #5, a day-long family adventure bridging farming, gardening and cooking for young children at Connolly Ranch under the guidance of Michael Chiarello

LIVE LOT #6, Vineyard manager David Abreu and son Rico will deliver a pig they raised to be prepared at a BBQ for 30 at Mustard’s Grill

LIVE LOT #7, tickets for 4 to the Kentucky Derby, Mint Julep Ball, Kentucky Oaks and tours of Churchill Downs, Kentucky Derby Museum and a thoroughbred farm

LIVE LOT #8, making your own Cabernet Sauvignon (20 cases) with Winemaker Philippe Melka

LIVE LOT #9, a BBQ at Chappellet Vineyard for 30

LIVE LOT #10, airfare and lodging for 4 at The Westin Princeville Ocean Resort in Kauai, Hawaii

LIVE LOT #11, 40 magnums from the 2006 vintage assembled by David Abreu

LIVE LOT #12, lodging and tours for 6 in St. Emilion (Bordeaux)

LIVE LOT #13, 2003-2005 verticals from Bond, Colgin, Shafer, Sloan, Spottswoode, Lail, Bryant Family Vineyard, Pride Mountain Vineyards

LIVE LOT #14, Argentinean-themed dinner for 24 at Behrens Family Winery

LIVE LOT #15, Dinner at the Dump for 20, hosted by Christy Abreu and the Pestoni Family with dinner from Knickerbockers’ Catering

LIVE LOT #16, 18 primarily-magnums from the Spring Mountain District appellation

LIVE LOT #17, 2,010 daffodils planted by Kevin Twohey from Whiting’s Nursery along with the St. Helena Waves Swim Team which he coaches

LIVE LOT #18, Private dinner for 30 at Cook Restaurant St. Helena with wines from Orin Swift

LIVE LOT #19, a party for 100 and the movie of your choice at The Cameo Theatre

LIVE LOT #20, 4 3Ls made by David Abreu and only ever available at Just Imagine

LIVE LOT #21, Fund-A-Need to support technology and new media

LIVE LOT #22, 3 magnums from the first three vintages made by students in the St. Helena High School Viticulture program

LIVE LOT #23, a Mexican fiesta and tequila tasting for 40

LIVE LOT #24, Harlan Estate vertical 1997-2006 (750 mls)

LIVE LOT #25, a private screening of Francis Ford Coppola’s movie The Outsiders for 16 people at the Coppolas’ new theater on their estate in Rutherford with dinner from Gott’s Roadside and an overnight stay for the group at The Cow Barn on the Coppola estate.

LIVE LOT #26, a private jam session with the band Wristrocket (vintners by day, musicians by night) and dinner, for 20

LIVE LOT #27, for 16, a day with Chef Thomas Keller, visiting the garden at The French Laundry and concluding with dinner at The Napa Valley Reserve, along with Chef Keller, Laura Cunningham and Philip and Carol Norfleet.

LIVE LOT #28, two nights at Poetry Inn and tours at Staglin Family Vineyard, Herb Lamb Estate, Dominus Estate

LIVE LOT #29, a Napa Valley outdoor adventure including a guided mountain bike ride, lunch at Silverado Brewing Co., a yoga class, lunch at Solage and dinner for 8, organized by Dunn Vineyards, Clif Family Winery & Farm and Grassi Wine Company

LIVE LOT #30, large format bottles of Merryvale, Trinchero, Buehler, Cakebread, Caymus, Duckhorn, Dunn, Forman, Joseph Phelps, Robert Mondavi, Silver Oak.

 The St. Helena Unified School District’s four schools are:

St. Helena High School (grades 9-12), with 510 students.

Robert Louis Stevenson Middle School (6-8), with 315 students.

St. Helena Elementary School (3-5), with 260 students.

St. Helena Primary School (K-2), with 260 students.

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Casa Lapostolle – 2007 Cuvée Alexandre Syrah

Posted by Gabe on September 17, 2010

The Casa Lapostolle 2007 Cuvée Alexandre Syrah is a single vineyard effort. All of the fruit for this offering was sourced at Las Kuras vineyard in the Cachapoal Valley of Chile. This vineyard is farmed using Organic and Biodynamic practices. The grapes were hand picked and hand sorted. Barrel aging occurred over 15 months in French oak; 65% of the barrels were new, 16% once used and 19% twice used. Just fewer than 3,400 cases of this offering were produced. It has a suggested retail price of $30.

The first thing that stands out about this Syrah is the color, it’s as black as night. Violet, berry and smoked meat aromas are each prominent throughout the seductive nose of this Syrah. Flavors of blackberry, blueberry and dark plum are all present in droves throughout the rich, layered and full flavored palate. Both black and white pepper as well as pencil lead, minerals and chicory are each part of the palate along with earth and a final burst of chocolate sauce that lingers at the back of the throat for a nice long while.

This wine ultimately has more in common with its old world counterparts than most new World Syrah. That said though it does display plenty of powerful fruit both upfront and throughout to have some commonalities with its new world brethren. In any case this is a complex, well made wine that shows off how great Chilean Syrah can be when the grapes are grown with care in an appropriate spot, and treated properly once they’re picked. If you enjoy bold, balanced, complex Syrah here’s one to strongly consider.

Posted in Chile, Syrah/Shiraz, Wine | Leave a Comment »

Gnarly Head – 2007 Old Vine Zinfandel

Posted by Gabe on September 15, 2010

The Gnarly Head 2007 Old Vine Zinfandel was produced using fruit sourced from vines between 35 and 80 years old. The fruit is hand harvested from these old head trained vines. These vineyards in Lodi are primarily located in the Mokelumne River area. Fermentation took approximately 9 days followed by racking and then barrel aging. This wine has a suggested retail price of $10.99.

This 2007 Zinfandel leads with a jam laden nose loaded with both bright and dark berry fruit. These aromas are underscored by wisps of eucalyptus and vanilla bean. Cherry, raspberry and blackberry flavors all play key roles in the palate of this even keeled Zinfandel which is simply loaded with sweet fruit flavors. A hint of sour raspberry leads the finish which also shows off toasty oak and white pepper. Sufficient acidity keeps things in check.

This wine is a good choice for pizza night. It’s widely available and priced right at $10.99 (less if you shop around). If you’re looking for an everyday Zinfandel or even a house red this is one to consider. In addition to the fact that it’s reasonably priced on shelves across America this wine also boasts a flavor profile that will appeal to the masses looking for a glass of something tasty. Of course I’d love to have Filet Mignon and First Growth Bordeaux every night, but the reality for most people, is both wine and food that’s a bit more casual, more often than not. That’s where the likes of Gnarly Head comes in. I also found this wine pairs nicely with dark chocolate, give it a shot.

Posted in Wine, Zinfandel | Leave a Comment »

Rodney Strong Vineyards- 2009 Charlotte’s Home Sauvignon Blanc

Posted by Gabe on September 13, 2010

The Rodney Strong Vineyards 2009 Charlotte’s Home Sauvignon Blanc was produced from fruit sourced mostly at an Estate vineyard of the same name. The rest of the fruit was sourced from other estate vines. This offering is 100% Sauvignon Blanc. 90% of the wine was cold fermented in stainless steel tanks without malolactic. The remaining 10% was fermented in French oak barrels with malolactic. This wine which is widely available nationwide has a suggested retail price of $13.50.

Aromas of lemon, white pepper and limestone fill the fresh, provocative nose of this 2009 Sauvignon Blanc. Throughout the palate there are copious citrus notes present along with elements of pear and lots of spice. Grapefruit, lemon ice with a creamy tinge, minerals, and white pepper are all part of the finish which is clean, crisp and refreshing; beckoning you back to the glass for sip after sip.

I like this wine for quite a few reasons; it’s zesty zippy and incredibly appealing. It also offers a ton of character and excellent Sauvignon Blanc flavor at a modest price point. While I find that many Sauvignon Blanc’s really need food to perform well, Charlotte’s Home from Rodney Strong does as well on its own as partnered with the right cuisine. This wine excels ice-cold and that’s how I choose to serve it. The bottom line for me is that I reach for this wine time after time and vintage after vintage, it’s become a standard-bearer for me. Its wide availability across the country, and more than reasonable price point, makes it an easy go to choice.

Posted in Sauvignon Blanc, Wine | Leave a Comment »

Hecht & Bannier – 2009 Vin de Pays Rosé

Posted by Gabe on September 8, 2010

The Hecht & Bannier 2009 Vin de Pays Rosé was produced from fruit sourced in the Languedoc-Roussillon region of France. The vineyard sites in question have soils rich in limestone and clay. This wine is a blend of equal parts Syrah, Grenache and Cinsault. Grapes were picked mechanically. Fermentation took place over two weeks with select yeasts introduced. Aging was accomplished in a combination of concrete vats (30%) and large 600 liter barrels (70%). This wine has a suggested retail price of $12.

Red fruit aromas really pop out of the nose of this fresh and vibrant 2009 Rosé. That red fruit parade continues through the palate as cherry, strawberry, watermelon, raspberry and plum flavors all march by. These are buoyed by an undercurrent of citrus as well as tropical fruit flavors. These all come together to form a lovely and appealing mélange of flavors. White pepper, vanilla bean and light nutmeg flavors provide a trio of spices flavors that all ring out through the crisp and cool finish. Solid acidity keeps things in check and moderate alcohol makes it easy to enjoy a second or third glass.

No two ways about it, for $12 (less if you shop around) this Rosé is a steal. It offers all the elements I look for in Rosé. It’s light, and refreshing, but it has complexity. It drinks beautifully on its own, yet it will complement classic light summer fare (and more) very well. Whether you drink it now or consider it for your Thanksgiving Day table, this is a heck of a Rosé deal.

Posted in Blends, Rosé, Wine | Leave a Comment »

Cline Cellars – 2009 Marsanne Roussanne

Posted by Gabe on September 6, 2010

I find White wines from the Northern Rhone in France to be amongst the most aromatic and appealing blends for summer. Add in the level of complexity they often include for a fairly low entry point and you can often find yourself a winner on the cheap. In California there is a growing contingent of folks growing and making wines from these varietals. When they’re planted in the right spot and treated with care they can do just as well in the Golden State as they do in the Rhone. Today I’ll look at a Rhone style Blend from Sonoma’s well known and venerable producer Cline Cellars.

The Cline Cellars 2009 Marsanne Roussanne was produced using grapes sourced in the Sonoma Coast appellation. This wine is 74% Marsanne and 26% Roussanne. This wine was fermented and aged in stainless steel. It has a suggested retail price of $20.

Golden Delicious apple aromas lead the nose of this 2009 blend from Cline Cellars. Loads of white and yellow peach flavors pack a wallop throughout the palate. They’re joined by copious quantities of apricot and nectarine as well as plenty of spice in the form of white pepper and nutmeg. Clover Honey emerges on the finish along with minerals and hints of lime. This wine has solid acidity and is nicely balanced.

This 2009 selection from Cline Cellars is a great choice to either pair with lighter cuisine or simply sip on its own. For $20 (less if you shop wisely) this wine provides plenty of value and overall drinking pleasure. This is a solid value and a good wine to share with friends who might be stuck in a white wine rut.

Posted in Marsanne, Roussanne | Leave a Comment »

La Tunella – 2009 Pinot Grigio

Posted by Gabe on September 4, 2010

Pinot Grigio is the most ubiquitous Italian white grape varietal on US shelves. Unfortunately many of the bottles clogging up the Pinot Grigio section are pretty sub standard. More than anything they’re often, bland and anonymous, barely recognizable as wine, let alone discernible for varietal character. The sad thing is when it’s grown right and produced properly Pinot Grigio can be an excellent and highly distinguished wine. On the occasions I’ve had the one from La Tunella in past vintages it has been an excellent representative, of the varietal, and Italian whites in general. So today I’ll look at the current vintage and see how it stacks up.

The La Tunella 2009 Pinot Grigio was produced using fruit from the Colli Orientali Del Friuli region of Italy. This offering is 100% Pinot Grigio. Fermentation took place in temperature controlled stainless steel over 30 to 40 days. The wine was then aged sur-lie with bottling following in March of this year. 10,000 cases of this selection were produced and it has a suggested retail price of $21.

This 2009 Pinot Grigio has a striking, pale straw hue. Gentle hints of clove and nutmeg spice emerge from the nose along with a trio of fruit aromas; pineapple, papaya, and lemon. Throughout the palate, the citrus echoes with lemon crème standing at the forefront. Melon flavors join in along with continuing tropical undertones. Minerals, spice, citrus peel and a touch of sour fruit all play a role in the lovely and above average finish. The overriding impressions are of a fresh, clean, crisp wine with a solid level of gentle and nuanced complexity.

The Pinot Grigio from La Tunella has been a consistent winner vintage after vintage, the 2009 is no exception. If you want to know what Pinot Grigio really tastes like, this is as good a place as any to start. One note of caution though, don’t over-chill this wine. It needs a light chill to be sure, but much more masks its gorgeous, subtle layers.

Posted in Pinot Grigio/Pinot Gris, Wine | Leave a Comment »


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