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Wine: Reviews, Thoughts & Culture

Archive for January, 2013

Visiting Frog’s Leap Winery in Napa Valley

Posted by Gabe on January 21, 2013

Frog’s Leap has been around since 1981 and their focus has remained resolute to this day. They grow their grapes organically utilizing dry farmed vineyards. Their wine making techniques are classic and old school in intent and execution. Neither their vineyards nor their wines are over manipulated. They are also stewards of the land they inhabit and strive to be community members that make a difference. Towards that end they have been a solar powered facility since 2005. The folks at Frog’s Leap take their work, their wine and their place in the neighborhood quite seriously, but they do so while having fun, giving a wink and a smile so to speak.

A couple of days ago I made a visit to Frog’s Leap in Napa Valley. Though I’ve enjoyed a number of their wines over the years it was my first time visiting. Along with a couple of friends I made my way into their reception area and we were quickly seated even though we arrived quite a bit earlier than our scheduled appointment. They have an open porch with tables to host tastings, from that vantage point we could look at some of their vines as well as one group of visitors playing a game on the lawn while they enjoyed a taste of wine.

It was a beautiful day and Frog’s Leap is an excellent atmosphere in which to taste wine. After being seated we had someone dedicated to pouring us wine and telling us anything we might want to know about the facility and the wines. Their standard flight features 4 selections and the tastings are priced at $20. In addition to the four we were lucky enough to sample a few other releases.  On weekdays they also offer tours by prior appointment. What follows are my thoughts on a few of my favorite selections I tasted on my visit.

Frog’s Leap 2011 Rutherford Sauvignon Blanc: This 100% varietal wine is what got things off the ground for Frog’s Leap more than 30 years ago. All of the fruit for this offering comes from Rutherford. It was fermented and aged in stainless steel. This wine has a suggested retail price of $20. Citrus and mineral aromas pop out of this wine’s nose. The palate is gently layered with tropical and citrus fruit characteristics. Zippy acidity, spices and minerals galore are at play here as well and they continue through the finish which is clean, crisp and refreshing. My overriding desire after taking a sip was simply to take another. This is a lovely Sauvignon Blanc whose flavors are not forceful or over the top but rather persistent in their complexity and depth.

Frog’s Leap 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon: In addition to Cabernet Sauvignon, small amounts of Merlot and Cabernet Franc are blended into this wine. It was aged for 21 months in French oak and it has a suggested retail price of $42. The small dollop of Cabernet Franc in this blend really helps the nose pop. As a result cherry and leather aromas are in striking abundance. The palate here is smooth and approachable with deep berry flavors; Blackberry and plum are of particular note along with continued cherry. Earth and a bit of mocha emerge on the finish which has impressive length for the price. This wine will drink well for a number of years but it’s incredibly engaging and exuberant right now, there’s simply no reason to wait on this one.

Frog’s Leap 2010 Zinfandel: This wine is made in classic Field Blend style. This wine is composed of Zinfandel (77.5%), Petite Sirah (22%) and Carignane (0.5%). All 3 varietals were picked, fermented and aged together. Barrel aging took place over 12 months in French oak. This wine has a suggested retail price of $27. This Zinfandel really emerged after it was sitting in the glass for 15 or 20 minutes. Cherry aromas came out in droves along with a dollop of vanilla bean. Both red and black berry flavors dominate the palate along with a nice complement of spices such as clove, cinnamon and pepper. The finish is lengthy with sour cherry, bits of chocolate sauce and a final bit of biting spice. This is a proportionate Zinfandel made in a classic style. It’s spicy, fun, delicious and easy drinking without being over the top or simplistic. It’s a wine that will pair as beautifully with a pizza as it will a burger or soft polenta topped with sautéed mushrooms. Whatever you pair it with, you’re likely to love this terrifically well made Zinfandel.

Frog’s Leap 2010 Petite Sirah: This selection is 100% varietal and all of the fruit came from Rutherford. Aging took place over 11 months in French oak. The Frog’s Leap Petite Sirah has a suggested retail price of $37. In the glass this wine is as black as night. The aromas that emerge are dark and brooding to match. The first sip reveals Blackberries, blueberries and plum pudding spices. The finish has good length with hints of earth and a bit of chicory. This Petite Sirah is young and a bit tight right now with firm tannins. Time in the bottle will soften this wine and really help show off its charms. I’m fond of aging well made, balanced Petite Sirah that has good structure and acid. The Frog’s Leap Petite hits all those marks and I can’t wait to see where this wine is in about a decade. Of course you could decant it for a few hours and speed up the process. In any case this is a promising example of one of my favorite varietals.

It took me way too long to make it to Frog’s Leap for the first time, suffice it to say my second visit won’t take nearly as long. This is a great winery to visit in the heart of Napa Valley. The wines are terrific and well made. Each of them was balanced and proportionate with reasonable alcohol content, bucking current trends. The Zinfandel in particular stood out for being under 14%, something worth noting in an environment where some folks are making Zins that tip the scales over 16%. The wines are also clean and fresh with pure fruit flavors bursting through. Additionally the atmosphere is welcoming and charming with lovely understated décor that is soothing to the eye. The folks working at Frog’s Leap are incredibly friendly, accommodating and quite knowledgeable about the wines and Frog’s Leap in general. Next time you’re in Napa Valley, I strongly urge you to make a beeline to Frog’s Leap.

Posted in Cabernet Sauvignon, Petite Sirah, Sauvignon Blanc, Wine, Zinfandel | Leave a Comment »

Cornerstone Cellars – 2009 Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon

Posted by Gabe on January 18, 2013

Cornerstone Cellars has been making terrific wine in Napa Valley since 1991. Over the last few years they have expanded their portfolio to include some wines from Oregon as well as releases under the Stepping Stone sub-label. It’s been a pleasure to keep drinking their wines vintage after vintage as they have offered releases of consistent quality and approach. New additions to their portfolio are always a welcome surprise as they try new things. However at the core of their portfolio is Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. Today I’ll look at the latest release of their Howell Mountain Cabernet.

The Cornerstone Cellars 2009 Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon is predominately varietal (95%), with a small dollop of Merlot (5%) blended in. The majority of the fruit was sourced at their Ink grade Vineyard on Howell Mountain; a small amount of Cabernet from Oak Knoll was also used. The Merlot was sourced in Carneros. This wine was aged over 22 months in entirely French Oak. This small production release has a suggested retail price of $80.

Toast, bramble, black raspberry and vanilla bean aromas fill the nose of this Cabernet Sauvignon. The palate is loaded with black fruit flavors. Blackberry, plum and continued raspberry elements play starring roles here. Black cherry and a hefty spice component are in play as well. Dark, dusty baker’s chocolate, espresso, earth and black pepper all emerge on the finish which has terrific persistence and length. This Cabernet has firm tannins that yield with some air. There is a depth and purity of fruit here that comes across in awesome Mountain Cabs. Year after year the Howell Mountain Release from Cornerstone is amongst my favorite Napa Valley Cabernets, the 2009 is no exception. This is a big, beautiful wine that is both brawny and precise. It’s most impressive characteristics are its depth, length and how loaded it is with concentrated fruit flavors from start to finish. This wine is delicious today; particularly if you let it breathe so it can express all its charms, but will benefit from some aging. Don’t hesitate to lay this wine down for a dozen years. Either way this is top shelf Napa Valley Cabernet.

Posted in Cabernet Sauvignon, Wine | Leave a Comment »

Auchentoshan – 12 Year Old Single Malt Scotch / Auchentoshan Three Wood Single Malt Scotch

Posted by Gabe on January 16, 2013

Auchentoshan has a history that dates back to 1828; they are in fact the oldest distillery in Glasgow. This is a producer that triple distills each of their Scotches from three pot stills. Their range of offerings features five Single Malts that are widely available as well as numerous limited edition Malts and a handful aimed specifically at travel retail. Today I’m going to take a look at two Single Malts from their range.

The Auchentoshan 12 Year Old Single Malt Scotch was triple distilled after which it was aged for over twelve years. This Scotch has 40% Alcohol by volume and the suggested retail price is $50. The color of this Scotch brings to mind vibrant clover honey. Apricots and spice lead an appealing and incredibly fresh and vibrant nose. Peach, toasted hazelnut and light citrus characteristics star on the substantially weighty palate that also shows off loads of spice. Mesquite honey, black pepper and bits of clove emerge on the finish which is lengthy and impressive in its persistence. This is a notable and exciting 12 Year Old Single Malt. There are many distilleries with entries in the 12 year old category; the Auchentoshan stands out for both complexity and elegance.

The Auchentoshan Three Wood Single Malt Scotch was aged as the name would indicate in 3 different cask types. It started in American Bourbon casks followed by Spanish Oloroso Sherry and then ultimately finishing in Pedro Ximenez Sherry casks. This Scotch has 43% Alcohol by volume and a suggested retail price of $63. This Single Malt has a deep, coppery hue. Caramel, toffee and plum pudding spice aromas fill the dense nose. The palate is deep and layered with fruitcake spices, apricot, lychee, toast and a gentle hint of anise. Apple crisp, almond a touch of mocha and hints of biscotti are part of the long and warming finish. The Auchentoshan Three Wood is a very impressive release for the price point. This is a Single Malt to sit and contemplate over a long night with good company. The various casks this was aged in all add to the depth, complexity and richness of flavors here. This is a real knockout in its price range.

This was my first time sampling any of the Auchentoshan releases and I was quite impressed. The quality of their offerings and connective thread between releases in the range is quite apparent even tasting only two selections. There is an overall smoothness and delicate complexity to the palate that belies the reasonable price point of these Single Malts. That said both the 12 Year and the Three Wood are distinct in their own right. I heartily recommend either of these to anyone looking for a terrific value in Single Malt Scotch.

Posted in Single Malt Scotch, Whiskey | Leave a Comment »

Franciscan Estate Winery – 2011 Chardonnay / 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon / 2008 Magnificat

Posted by Gabe on January 14, 2013

I’ve personally been drinking wines from Napa Valley’s Franciscan Estate Winery since the early 1990’s. In that time they’ve remained a solid player that offers appealing wines sold at consumer friendly prices. Their portfolio has occasionally expanded a bit but they have mostly remained focused on their core offerings. Here’s a look at three current releases that make up a large portion of the backbone of their operation.

The Franciscan Estate 2011 Napa Valley Chardonnay is a 100% varietal wine. All of the fruit comes from the winery’s home appellation of Napa Valley. Barrel aging occurred over 7 months in a combination of French and American oak; 20% of the barrels utilized were new. 74,000 cases of this widely available offering were produced and it has a suggested retail price of $18. Golden Delicious apple and vanilla bean aromas emerge from the nose of this Chardonnay Orchard fruit and apple pie spice are in abundance throughout the even keeled palate. A bit of crème fraiche leads the crisp finish along with cloves, white pepper and an undercurrent of lemon zest. This is an easy to find Chardonnay that is well made vintage after vintage. If you’re looking for a New World Chardonnay that showcases its appealing fruit flavors this is one to consider.

The Franciscan Estate 2010 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon was produced from Napa Valley Fruit. In addition to Cabernet Sauvignon (85%), small amounts of Merlot (11%), Syrah (3%), and Malbec (1%) were also blended in. Barrel aging took place over a period of 20 months; 25% of the barrels utilized were new. 117,000 cases of this wine were produced and it has a suggested retail price of $28. Blackberry and blueberry aromas star on the nose of this 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon. Loads of dark berry flavors dominate the palate, interspersed with bits of red fruit throughout. Copious spices are present as well and add to the depth and complexity of this eager and appealing Cabernet. Minerals and earth are prominent components of the finish which shows good length for its category. Medium tannins yield with some air. This is a textbook example of a Napa Valley Cabernet that is meant for relatively short term consumption. It’ll hold up over the next 5 or 6 years, but it’s appealing, well priced and perfect to drink now, no reason to wait.

The Franciscan Estate 2008 Magnificat is a Napa Valley Meritage wine. This Bordeaux inspired blend has been produced since the 1985 vintage. The 2008 version blends together Cabernet Sauvignon (69%), Merlot (23%), Petit Verdot (6%), and Malbec (2%). This wine spent 20 months aging in oak; 70% of the barrels utilized were new. Just over 7,000 cases of the 2008 Magnificat were produced and it has a suggested retail price of $50. Bramble, red and black raspberry, as well as bits of vanilla bean are present on the nose of this 2008 Meritage. The palate here is studded with sumptuous black fruit flavors, lead by blackberry as well plum and accompanied by a vigorous spice component. Dark chocolate, espresso, earth and black pepper are all in strong evidence on the lengthy and persistent finish of the 2008 Magnificat. This is one of the longest standing and also most consistently excellent Meritage wines coming out of Napa Valley. At $50 a bottle it offers a combination of quality level and relative bang for the buck that is hard to beat. There are similar style blends selling for more than twice the price that can’t touch Magnificat. Whether you purchase it to drink today, or you want to lay it down for a special occasion a decade or so from now, you’re going to get a terrific bottle of wine at a very good price.

The Franciscan wines are standard bearers in Napa Valley. This is producer that makes fairly large quantities of wine that are easy to find all over the country. Their wines also represent a consistent level of quality and offerings that are fairly priced. These wines are well worth your time and money.

Posted in Blends, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Malbec, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Syrah/Shiraz, Wine | Leave a Comment »

Piccini – 2011 Chianti DOCG “Orange Label”

Posted by Gabe on January 7, 2013

These days Barolo, Brunello and even Aglianico often steal many of the headlines when it comes to Italian wine. However Chianti continues to be a go to choice for a lot of folks who drink offerings from Italy. And well it should be as they can often be well made at an affordable price. The fact that good Chianti is also one of the most natural food partners in the world certainly helps too. Today I’ll look at a current release from Piccini.

The Piccini 2011 Chianti DOCG also known as Chianti Orange is the standard bearer in the Piccini line. This Chianti is a blend of Sangiovese (95%) and Cilliegiolo (5%). Fermentation is temperature controlled. This is followed by a second fermentation induced by adding a selection of withered Sangiovese grapes. This Chianti is widely available around the country and has a suggested retail price of $8.99.

Red cherry, wild strawberry, rose petal, and a bit of green herb emerge from the nose of this Chianti. Dried red fruit flavors lead the palate with bits of black fruit characteristics intermingled within. Black tea, pepper and warming red fruit elements make up the finish along with a subtle hint of earth. Firm acidity adds to the mouthwatering element of this wine.

This Chianti is very solid value in the $7 – $10 range. While it will pair well with a host of foods, you need no better excuse than this wine to make or order pizza. It will pair perfectly with a delicious pie. At this price it’s a good wine to purchase in quantity so you have some hanging around the house to enjoy anytime.

Posted in Chianti, Sangiovese, Wine | Leave a Comment »


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