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Wine: Reviews, Thoughts & Culture

Archive for February, 2013

Dinner with Cuvaison Winemaker Steve Rogstad

Posted by Gabe on February 26, 2013

Cuvaison Winery has a history in Napa Valley that dates back to 1969. However they were reset in 1979 when the Schmidheiny family from Switzerland purchased the property. A decade ago they built a new facility in Carneros under the stewardship of winery president Jay Schuppert and winemaker Steve Rogstad, who both joined on in 2002 and are still onboard. Previous to that the wines were made in Calistoga where they still own a facility and a satellite tasting room. Last week I had the opportunity to have dinner with Steve Rogstad at Tocqueville. We tasted through the core releases as well as a couple of wines made from the Brandlin Estate on Mount Veeder. My thoughts on my favorite wines from the evening follow.

The Cuvaison 2011 Estate Chardonnay Carneros is their flagship offering. It makes up roughly 75% of their total production which varies between 40 and 50,000 cases from one vintage to the next. The fruit for this wine came from 44 distinct blocks within their Estate. Each lot was picked and vinified separately. This Chardonnay was barrel fermented and aged in French oak for 8 months; 20% of the barrels utilized were new. This widely available wine has a suggested retail price of $25. This is a gorgeous Chardonnay with clean and crisp flavors. Apple aromas lead the nose and carry on to the palate. Tropical fruit flavors join in as well with pineapple and guava of particular note. Spice, minerals and a little kiss of crème fraiche emerge on the finish which has nice length. It is classic example of well made Carneros Chardonnay that allows the fruit to shine brilliantly through. This wine is a very solid value at its price point.

The Cuvaison 2011 Kite Tail Chardonnay is produced each year from a single block. This block is planted to the Wente clone. The fruit was hand harvested and whole cluster pressed. It was fermented and aged in barrel over 15 months in French oak; 50% of the barrels utilized were new. This wine has a suggested price of $42. Hints of smoke and toast light up the nose of this Chardonnay along with bits of orchard fruit. The flavors here are more concentrated and have a greater intensity. Apple and pear are in strong evidence along with a bit of mango. Bits of toasted almond, and copious spices such as nutmeg and white pepper emerge on the finish which has substantial length. Tasting these two Chardonnays side by side is a tiny little window into how diverse this grape is. In this case multiple factors play in to the distinction. Both wines are delicious and interesting in their own right.

The Cuvaison 2011 Estate Pinot Noir Carneros was produced with fruit sourced from 20 distinct blocks within the Winery Estate. Each block was vinified separately. Barrel aging took place over 11 months in small oak barrels; 30% of them were new. This wine has a suggested retail price of $38. Fresh red fruit aromas fill the nose of this Pinot Noir. Bing cherry and strawberry characteristics are at play on the palate along with a bit of cinnamon and black pepper spice. Raspberry emerges on the finish along with wisps of rhubarb and earth. As a counterpoint to the Estate Chardonnay this is an equally engaging and well made example of Carneros Pinot.

The Brandlin Estate Mt Veeder Cabernet Sauvignon is largely varietal (94%), with small amounts of Petit Verdot (4%), Malbec (1%) and Cabernet Franc (1%) blended in. This wine was aged over 22 months in French oak; 50% of the barrels utilized were new. This wine has a suggested retail price of $55. Cuvaison purchased this property, which has been farmed by the Brandlin family since the 1870’s in the late 90’s. This is a historic Napa vineyard whose history they honor by name and in practice. Less than 40 of the 170 acres have been planted to vine. There’s a ton of excellent Cabernet Sauvignon in NapaValley. Personally I think some of the most compelling examples are made from mountain fruit. This selection from Brandlin is no exception. Black fruit aromas dominate the nose along with hints of toast. This is a young Cabernet and it’s a bit tight out of the bottle right now. It opens up nicely with some air and shows off blackberry and raspberry fruit flavors as well as hints of cocoa. Earth and black pepper emerge on the finish which has good length. This wine has firm, gripping tannins and solid structure. It’s tasty now but will be even better a few years from now. This is a nice example of Mt. Veeder Cabernet.

The connective tissue with the wines Steve Rogstad is making for Cuvaison and their Mount Veeder Property Brandlin is proportion. These are lovely, vineyard-driven wines that pair well with a wide array of foods and quite frankly life in general. Each wine is distinct yet it’s clear the guiding hand and winery principles employed at Cuvaison have led to the creation and maintaining of an impressive portfolio that leads with their property in Carneros and the beautiful grapes that are grown there. Add to that the rugged Cabernet and other Bordeaux varietals of Mt. Veeder and the picture of a producer that lets their properties speak through the bottle emerges. It’s always a pleasure to taste wines alongside the person who shepherded them into existence. When the winemaker is one like Steve Rogstad with his wealth of experience in the business in general and at his length of tenure at his current Winery, its all the more interesting and informative.

Posted in Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Wine, Winemaker Dinner | Leave a Comment »

Visiting Domaine Chandon in Napa Valley

Posted by Gabe on February 15, 2013

On my recent trip to Napa Valley I made a point of visiting quite a few producers whose wine I was somewhat familiar with but who I had never stopped in to see. One of those was Domaine Chandon. Sparkling Wine has an air of fun and celebration automatically surrounding it that adds to the enjoyment.

A friend and I arrived at Domaine Chandon and proceeded to take the tour which went through much of their production facility. For those who have toured wineries but not sparkling wine houses it’s definitely something you should do. Domaine Chandon does a nice job of taking consumers through the process by walking through and having visuals along the way to point to. The tour guide was informative and hit the right level for a consumer tour. He was loaded with knowledge about Domaine Chandon specifically and the sparkling wine making process in general. Based on the interest of our group of about 8 people and the questions asked he tailored the information along the way. The facility is an attractive one and while it’s right off of Highway 29 in Yountville it’s hidden from the road.

After touring we sat down in a semi-private area with a handful of tables and tasted through the current portfolio. Here are my thoughts on several of the wines I found the most desirable.

The Domaine Chandon Brut Classic is the entry level wine in the portfolio. This offering blends together Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier. It was produced in the traditional method and secondary fermentation took place in bottle. This widely available release has a suggested retail price of $22. Lemon zest and toasted hazelnut aromas fill the nose of this wine. Crisp apple flavors and copious spice notes inform the pleasing palate. Bits of creaminess an yeast emerge on the finish which has good length.

The Domaine Chandon Rosé achieves it’s lovely color with the addition of a small amount of still Pinot Noir at tirage. That said the bulk of this offering is composed of Chardonnay. It sits on the yeast for a minimum of 12 months. This widely available wine has a suggested retail price of $22. The beautiful dark salmon hue of this wine is immediately striking. Cherry and strawberry aromas fill the nose along with a bit of vanilla bean. Cherries continue on the palate along with wisps of cinnamon and white pepper. Sour red fruits and bits of brioche mark the finish which is clean, crisp and begs you to take another sip.

The Domaine Chandon Etoile Brut is a blend of Chardonnay (55%), Pinot Noir (25%), and Pinot Meunier (20%) from both Napa and Sonoma. This wine is the Chandon selection that aims to make the best Sparkling Wine possible without feeling compelled to traditional methodology or other restrictions. It ages sur lees for a minimum of 5 years. This wine has a suggested retail price of $40. The depth of palate, complexity and noteworthy persistence of the finish are what strike me most about this wine. There are orchard fruit, spice and toasted note characteristics galore here. This is an incredibly enjoyable Sparkling wine that is at times classic in how dry it is as well as unique is some others.

Domaine Chandon is located on a beautiful property in the heart of NapaValley. Their tour and tasting option is educational, well paced and consumer friendly. They make some very tasty sparkling wines and a handful of well considered still offerings to boot. This is a stop to keep in mind for your next trip to Napa.

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Visiting Williams Selyem Winery in Sonoma County

Posted by Gabe on February 4, 2013

Williams Selyem Winery has been making wine in Sonoma County since 1981. It was that year that they produced their first vintage of Pinot Noir. Since then their portfolio has been expanded a bit and there are a handful of other varietals in the mix; however they are first and foremost a Pinot Noir House. A couple of weeks ago I had the opportunity to visit them and taste through some current and older releases, as well as tour the facility.

Williams Selyem graciously welcomes visitors by advance appointment. Check their website for specific details. Pulling up to the winery, the facility is impressive in a number of ways. On the one hand it’s a beautiful structure that would look good anywhere. Secondly and somewhat more importantly it fits perfectly into its surroundings. When they built this new winery property a few years back they surely kept the idea of being shepherds of the land in mind. From every angle I walked the facility, inside and out, it literally seemed as if it had been gently dropped into the vineyard land so as not to disturb anything. And in fact numerous trees of significant age are about as close to the building as one could possibly imagine. It’s also an eye-catching edifice inside and out without ever being ostentatious in any way.

William-Selyem is best known for Pinot Noir and their portfolio is dotted with single vineyard designate wines and cuvee offerings. In addition to Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Zinfandel and a port produced from traditional Portuguese varietals are part of the mix. One of the interesting production methods that sets them apart is the use of Dairy Bins for fermentation. These large, rectangular bins offer a larger surface area than traditional fermentation vessels. They’re so ingrained in the production process that William-Selyem has a company routinely looking out for additional bins for them to acquire. Once they are purchased, the bins are retrofitted to comply with their needs. While a small amount of wines go out in distribution, 96% of their production is sold direct to consumers. They have had a robust mailing list of admirer’s for years that’s the envy of many others in the industry. Allocations are largely based on time on the list and buying history.

Quite a number of well made and delicious wines passed my lips while I visited; here are my impressions of a handful of selections that particularly stood out that day.

Williams Selyem 2011 Unoaked Chardonnay. The fruit for this entirely stainless steel fermented wine was sourced at three vineyards; Drake Estate Vineyard, Olivet Lane Vineyard, and Lazy W Ranch located on Westside   Road. This was a preview of a wine being released this spring. It’s going to have a price of $37. Orchard fruit aromas fill the fresh and vibrant nose of this wine. Tart green apple flavors are prominent on the palate along with bits of lime and pear. Minerals and an undercurrent of spice emerge on the finish which is clean and crisp. If I were to sum up this wine in one word it would be lovely. Those who aren’t fond of overdone, over-oaked Chardonnay should do whatever they can to acquire their own stash of this wine. It’s beautiful, refreshing and simply a pleasure to drink.

Williams Selyem 2010 Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir. The fruit for this cuvee style offering was sourcec at a combination of five vineyards; Bucher Vineyard,  Drake Estate Vineyard, the Foss Vineyard, the Lone Oak Vineyard, and Williams Selyem Estate Vineyard. Oak aging took place over 11 months in a combination of new (25%), once used (50%), and twice used (25%) barrels. This wine which was released last spring sells for $37. Both red and black fruit aromas fill the nose of this Pinot Noir. This theme continues through the palate where black cherry characteristics take a starring role. Raspberry, earth, black tea and a gentle wisp of anise all emerge on the finish which has excellent length. Fine acidity provides a firm backbone. This is a really terrific Pinot Noir in the under $40 category.

Williams Selyem 2005 Vista Verde Pinot Noir. This wine was made entirely from fruit sourced at the Vista Verde Vineyard. The location of this vineyard is just south of Holister, near where Calera, another highly regarded California Pinot Noir house is located. Barrel aging took place over 15 months in a combination of new (65%) and once used (35%) oak. At release this wine sold for $49. From the first whiff to the last sip this wine showed itself to be in its sweet spot. At just over seven years old it’s showing subtle cherry aromas on the nose. The palate leads with gingerbread spice notes that are accompanied by red fruits. Earth, sour cherry and a bit of tea are present in the finish which has terrific length. This is a stunning wine at its peak.

Williams Selyem 1998 Central Coast Pinot Noir. This wine was produced from Estate Vineyards located south of Hollister. Their Central Coast release typically spends 10 months in a combination of new (33%), once used (33%) and twice used (33%) oak. The current release sells for $39. At first blush this wine was a bit closed off and honestly I thought it might be gone. However a few minutes in the glass did wonders. Ultimately I was knocked out by how very much alive this 15 year old Pinot Noir is. Good lively fruit marked the nose and palate, with zippy acidity and a core of spices playing along as well. Impressive for its age and well worth drinking if you can get your hands on a bottle. This underscores the importance of balance and its role in the age-ability of wines.

If you’re a Pinot Noir lover traveling to Sonoma County Williams Selyem should be on your short list of producers to visit. This is a relatively small outfit, doing things in a unique manner with consistently noteworthy results. And if for some strange reason Pinot Noir isn’t your thing, the Zinfandel, Chardonnay and Port are quite tasty as well.

Posted in Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Wine, Winery Visit, Zinfandel | Leave a Comment »


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