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11.02.2004

Jim Neal Wines: Current Releases

I'm particularly excited to be able to introduce you to Jim Neal, a winemaker you probably have never heard of. As you know, one of my goals here at Vinography is to "discover" great new wines that we all want to drink. I use quotes around that word because I don't pretend to be the first person that has ever heard of these winemakers, some of whom have been making wine for years, but many are extremely small and below the radar of most wine consumers. Some, like Jim are even struggling to get their wines into retail shops and distributed in the places they desire to have them sold. It is extremely gratifying, then, to write here about folks like Jim both because I am personally glad to have had the chance to taste their wines, but also perhaps because I (and you dear reader) might be able to get them some recognition for their labors of love.

Jim Neal has had a flirtation with wine ever since he was in college and worked in a wine shop to pay the bills and feed an interest that even began in High School. This interest continued for years as he graduated from college and Jim decided what he really wanted to do was open a restaurant. Jim worked his way up through many kitchens and in the mid 80's he ended up at Spago. Like many in the cooking business, he followed connections and loyalties forged in these kitchens to other fine restaurants, and eventually ended up as Sous chef at a restaurant named Terra in Sonoma (which has since closed).

Living in Sonoma brought Jim closer to the wine business than he had ever been, and perhaps rekindled some of his initial passions that had to take a back seat to the heat of the kitchen. Like most chefs, Jim was working nights and decided to spend his days exploring the wine world. He got a job at a wine shop in St. Helena and started volunteering to work the harvest in Sonoma, absorbing all he could about winemaking. As a cook he took a particular interest in verjus, a tart, very pure juice made from wine grapes often used in French cuisine, and in 1994 he decided to start using his knowledge and connections with growers to source grapes for, and produce his own. It's only a short step from making verjus to making wine, and encouraged by David Abreu, then consulting vineyard manager Spottswoode with whom Jim worked for some time, Jim produced a small lot of Dolcetto in 1999.

With that first vintage, Jim was hooked, and while he continues to work in restaurant kitchens and the catering business to pay the bills, Jim Neal Wines is a label in full swing. He's been through the oenology courses at UC Davis to augment his already substantial experiences working at Spottswoode Jim now sources grapes from all over Sonoma and crushes at some of wine country's best facilities including Caymus, Meridian, and Monticello among others.

Jim explains his wines this way: "When you're a cook you don't really make much money, but you're exposed to a lot of great wine in the business. I was always looking for that really great bottle of wine for ten bucks." Jim doesn't think great wine should cost a lot and focuses on making wines that the average consumer, and cook, can afford, without sacrificing any of the quality he was exposed to in his experiences at various wineries in the valley.

With his current 2003 wines, Jim is in his fifth vintage and his productions levels average somewhere around 2000 cases for each of the three wines he makes. In addition to the Pinot Grigio, Sangiovese, and Syrah he produces now, he has made arrangements to produce a Cabernet in the next year or so. Beyond that addition to his portfolio, he doesn't have many grandiose plans " he wants to keep his operation manageable and high quality.

If you are interested in getting a hold of Jim's wines, he is carried by some retailers outside of California via a distributor he has hooked up with. If you give him a ring, he'd be happy to help you hunt them down. If you're in California your only chance is to call him up and order some right now. As a word of warning, Jim says he doesn't have much time for the work required to pack up and ship orders to folks in a timely fashion. If you order you'll have to be patient.

Alternatively, you can wait a little while as I try and find him a retailer or a California distributor that will carry his stuff. If you think you can help, let me know. In any case, no matter how you might come across his stuff, I highly encourage you to give it a try. It's great stuff, and at his current prices, a total steal.


2003 Jim Neal Pinot Grigio
The color of light straw this wine has a perfume of clover honey and bosc pears with a surprising amount of minerality in the nose. In the mouth, the dominant flavors are of honey and orange blossoms, but that sweetness is balanced by a nice acidity. 1300 cases made.

Overall Score: 9

How Much?: $10


2002 Jim Neal Sangiovese, Central Coast
This wine is a medium garnet color and leaps from the glass with aromas of cinnamon and cherries. In the mouth it has a traditional set of Sangiovese flavors " cherries, toasted oak " underscored by light mellow tannins. The finish is satisfying with elements of incense.

Overall Score: 8.5/9

How Much?: $12


2001 Jim Neal "Chariot" Syrah
This wine is a gorgeous ruby color in the glass and smells of ripe cherry and blackberry fruit compote. In the mouth those berry flavors remain dominant with dusty tannins to add support to the fruit, which is nicely balanced with enough acidity to keep it from being cloying. This wine is 25% Sangiovese and the fruit is sourced from the Vinzaca vineyard next door to Pisoni.

Overall Score: 9/9.5

How Much?: $15

Comments (24)

Ryan wrote:
11.03.04 at 10:02 AM

I'll pass the word on to the wine shop here in Dublin which loves to carry these kind of wines and these prices.

Check them out yourself at:
www.winecentives.com

The guys there are always looking for value wines to promote to their customers.

Give them a call or drop them a line. The more people pushing it on them, the more likely they'll jump on the opportunity!

Tom Carroux wrote:
11.06.04 at 9:27 PM

I live in Menlo Park, California and would like to buy Jim Neal 'Chariot' wines. Can you steer me to a distributor in the San Francisco - San Jose area?

Best Regards,

Tom Carroux
[email protected]

Alder wrote:
11.08.04 at 8:26 AM

Jim is currently not carried in Retail stores or by any distributors in California. If you really want his wines you'll have to wait a little while or call him up directly. Be aware though, he says he is not competely set up to do direct shipping so it may take a little while for you to get your wine.

I'm glad you're excited about his wines, and I hope you get to try them

Rosalind wrote:
12.21.04 at 7:32 AM

I was gifted last night with the Syrah-Central Coast...having never heard of CHARIOT, I was curious. Your site has my mouth watering in anticipation. But, I'll wait til Christmas to try it. Thank you. If I like it, I will ask the wine guy at Metropolitan Market to carry it.

Happy Holidays to you.

Rosalind Bell

Martin Steger wrote:
03.02.05 at 10:48 AM

A friend of mine gave me a bottle of Jim Neal's 2001 Chariot Syrah Central Coast.
I always favored french wines only, but this wine made a believer out of me, with Californien wines. The flavors are delicious. Martin Steger
PS: where can i get this wine in the Melbourne Florida region?

Alder wrote:
03.02.05 at 11:07 AM

Martin,

Thanks for the comment. Unfortunately I don't have a good answer for you. I'd suggest giving Jim a call at (707) 287-1872 to see if he can get you in touch with a distributor or a retailer in Florida.

Robert wrote:
11.06.05 at 4:37 PM

I just opened a very mouth filling 2002 Chariot "Diana". It's must be a blend, but I cannot find any info on Neal's web site or any place else. Can you tell me the nitty-gritty on this vintage?

Thanks,

Robert S Steinberg

Nat wrote:
03.02.06 at 4:54 PM

Tell that Martin Steger to contact me and i can give him the name of the store that has the Jim Neal 2001 in Melbourne FL. contact me at [email protected]

Neil Collins wrote:
04.04.06 at 11:52 AM

Martin Steger is this you from Saratoga Springs NY. I sold the 356 SC to a guy in Santa Barbara CA. hope you find your wine.

john wrote:
11.04.06 at 4:33 PM

You can find Chariot wines at Trader Joes, at least in the state of Washington. In fact Trader's just received a exclusive Gypsy red blend. Uber tasty.

Lee wrote:
01.13.07 at 8:13 PM

I just had a bottle of Jim Neal's Chariot "Gypsy" 2003 which is up here in Washington State Trader Joes. It is a lovely wine, perfect with my family Italian cuisine. The label says "Red Wine". What are the varietals he uses in the blend? Does anyone know?

Merle Bush wrote:
02.27.07 at 4:03 PM

I just purchase a bottle of your 2003 Chariot and like it very much.
I can not remember where I bought it.
Who in the Seattle/Tacoma area has
your products??

Lee wrote:
02.27.07 at 11:22 PM

Trader Joes carries it. But I'm guessing you need to call ahead and be sure they have it in stock. They tend to get limited quantities of interesting wines so you need to "get while the gettin's good". They had a remarkable Glass Mountain in 2005 that they only stocked for a short while and everyone snapped it up. Subsequent vintages have not been nearly as notable. So call ahead to TJ's and see if they can get it for you.

jc neal wrote:
03.06.07 at 12:41 PM

Where can I buy Jim Neal wines in Upstate NY?

Simone wrote:
05.21.07 at 11:00 PM

I am desperately looking for 2003 Chariot Gypsy wine produced by Jim Neal Winery in California. Any one know where I can get my hands on a few cases? I would be eternally grateful. Please email me at [email protected] Google is NOT helpful. Thanks!

Alder wrote:
05.22.07 at 1:16 PM

Simone,

I think at this point the only way is to call him yourself.

Simone wrote:
05.23.07 at 11:14 PM

Thanks for the advice and will give that a try. Any recommendations for wines that are similar?
Thanks again,
Simone

gregg wrote:
09.02.07 at 11:29 PM

The 2003 Chariot Gypsy we got at Trader Joe's in University Place, Wa, was superb. I wish we bought a couple cases - it was that good - but now TJ's is out of stock. Anyone in the area know where we might find some?

Diana Lachmund wrote:
10.03.07 at 6:44 PM

I was reading the comments on your wines and I am very sad that they are not available here in California stores. I saw that my exhusband sent in a very glorious review of your 2002 Chariot "Diana". I am, Diana and I really need to taste this wine after hearing his review. HELP ME GET A BOTTLE PLEASE. DiAna

Barbara Harris wrote:
09.10.08 at 9:29 PM

Just purchased Chariot Gypsy 2005 at Santa Rosa, CA Trader Joe's. What do you think of this vintage? Thanks much for your input.

P.S. I can't find a way to reach Jim Neal. Can you forward contact info? I'd tried the link in the fourth paragraph and was directed to the verjus info only. Thanks much, Barbara Harris.

09.10.08 at 9:31 PM

Please forward your critique of the 2005 Chariot Gypsy, Jim Neal.

Kate wrote:
09.27.08 at 8:43 AM

How lovely that his wine is now sold at TJs here in Santa Rosa, Ca. I also "discovered" the Chariot Gypsy while browsing through the red section. It was a recommendation by a member of their staff (an element of shopping at Trader Joe's that is always a welcome surprise). It is as complex a wine as it is subtle. I'm very impressed.

scaleworm wrote:
11.11.08 at 5:53 PM

WOW!!!!

Bought Three cases of Gypsy tonight at the Cap hill Seattle store. (11/11/08)


Spectacular and wonderful flavors...Very fruit forward and Sooooo smooth... another Chariot Winner!

Is there another to come before the holiday's?

Thank you for Great drink!

Jesse Porter wrote:
06.29.09 at 6:06 PM

Here in the Young Winos of LA, we're huge fans of the Chariot "Gypsy" Red Wine, which we feel represents a huge value for the quality. The only trouble is that it's almost impossible to find. Please leave word if you know where we can find any!

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