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08.20.2014

MORIC: The Apogee of Blaufränkisch

"I am hardcore," says Roland Velich, describing his winemaking while lounging in the mid-century modern comfort of his living room, where the decor, the casual angle of his body and the informality of this tasting seem to belie this claim. But putting my nose in the outsized Burgundy glass I hold in front of me, and smelling an intoxicating perfume of crushed juniper, forest berries, and wet loam, I recognize, as I have every time I have had a chance to taste his wines, the fruits of an obsession that can easily bear up to that characterization. Like others... continue reading

08.13.2014

72 Pinot Noirs on a Sunny Afternoon: Tasting at IPNC 2014

I go to a lot of wine tastings, and have come to really appreciate those that are produced well. It may not be immediately apparent how easily a large public tasting can be screwed up, but it doesn't take much to turn such an event from a pleasure to a chore. Quite consistently some of my favorite wine tasting experiences have been at the International Pinot Noir Celebration, in McMinnville, Oregon, in the heart of the Willamette Valley. Both afternoons during this event, the "Al Fresco" tasting takes place, in which half of the attending wineries pour a wine... continue reading

07.09.2014

Drew Wines, Mendocino, CA: Recent Releases

Jason Drew is talking to me about ripeness. "It's not easy to answer the question of what ripe tastes like," he says. "If the flavors are at their most optimum on the vine, then it's too late. There is that perfect moment of ripeness that occurs, but the challenging part is figuring out when to strike to get it. The perfect point isn't clear to the observer at the time, though. You have to have some kind of instinct or intuition, and to pick the grape before it crosses that line." As I'm listening to him, I get the... continue reading

06.26.2014

Blaufränkisch is Best Before Breakfast

In the pantheon of wine grapes, a precious few are revered for what some refer to as their transparency to terroir. By this, we mean the degree to which the grape, when handled the same from a farming and winemaking perspective, demonstrates significant character differences depending on the specific place it is grown. Pinot Noir has been exalted for this tendency to exhibit terroir so strongly, as has Chardonnay. Every serious student of wine would have several other grape varieties worth serious debate as contenders for this list. Two years ago, after spending merely two or three days in... continue reading

06.14.2014

You Bet Your Blauburgunder: Exploring Austrian Pinot Noir

Hello from Vienna, Austria, where I am spending a few days wandering around what has to be the greatest indoor wine tasting venue on the planet, the Hofburg Palace, where the bi-annual VieVinum wine festival is underway. Every two years, pretty much everyone who is anyone in the Austrian wine industry, and those who love their wines, show up for a couple of immersive days of tasting, drinking, and partying. This year's event kicked off for us attending journalists with a tasting of 2011 and 2012 red wines, two widely acclaimed vintages in the country. I began my morning... continue reading

05.01.2014

25 Years in the Hills: A Seven Hills Winery Retrospective

We're funny, us humans. We like to draw these imaginary lines on the earth and give names to the places on either side, and then we treat those figments of our imaginations like they mean something. The mental model of a map becomes so ingrained in us that when we look at the world around us, its as if we can see those imaginary lines. Grapes, of course, don't care much for maps. They like to grow where they like to grow, just as the soil that makes this so meanders without regard to the political boundaries we draw... continue reading

03.27.2014

Checking On Some Older CA Pinot Noir

Once upon a time, among the many criticisms leveled at California wine, there existed the notion that California wines did not age as well as their European counterparts. While such notions are less common these days, I still frequently run across the assumptions that most California wine needs to be consumed within 10 years. "Is this stuff going to be any good?" someone will ask me, brandishing a 2001 wine they found in a corner of their wine rack. Despite ranking in the top tier of world-class wines that California produces, Pinot Noir in particular falls prey to doubts about... continue reading

02.15.2014

2008 Rivers-Marie "Summa Old Vines" Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast

We hear a lot (and I certainly write a lot) about wineries or wine labels that represent the realization of a lifelong dream. Or equally as often they are the expression of someone's ultimate vision, usually something like: "I want to make the most awesome [fill in the blank with varietal or appellation] ever." These wineries and wines begin with a story already formed within them -- a story of the life and trials and tribulations involved in getting the opportunity to pursue the dream or that vision, and the wines are the first chapters of its completion. But there... continue reading

12.12.2013

Jim Barry Wines, Clare Valley, Australia: Some Current Releases

The early American colonists were at a pretty big disadvantage when it came to making their own wine. It just so happens that they picked pretty much exactly the wrong section of the country to settle, at least as far as grapevines (and perhaps Native Americans) were concerned. But that was ok, I guess, as most of them thought drinking was a sin. The first major settlers to colonize Australia, on the other hand, had their priorities straight, and decided to live where they could actually grow vines in their backyards. Or at least the combination of English, Polish,... continue reading

10.23.2013

Icon Wines of Napa: A Tasting

What would you do if someone offered to hold a tasting of all the best Cabernets in Napa according to you? You'd give them a list, and then do a little dance, and then you'd show up early with bells on. That's not entirely how it went down, but a few weeks ago I was indeed invited to help put on a tasting of many of Napa's top wines for a group of visiting writers, sommeliers, and wine buyers from all over the world. Organized by the Wine Institute, this tasting and the dinner that followed were the penultimate... continue reading

10.09.2013

Drinking The Past: The Wines of Zorah, Armenia

Wines are always a link to our past. At the very least they tell a story of a previous season, capturing in the bottle and in the glass the sum of one circuit around the sun. But there is still more. Wine is also the repository of hopes, dreams, struggles, and levity -- all the humanity that conspires to harness the soil, the weather, and the unruly grape into something delicious. But occasionally, wine can be yet even more. Some wines tell stories and represent a past much deeper and more profound than one, or even several, generations of toil... continue reading

09.22.2013

An Obsession With Pinot: The Wines of Jamie Kutch

"I was always a hobby person as a kid, but I I would push them beyond where anyone would normally go," chuckles winemaker Jamie Kutch. The last real hobby I had was DJing. We're not just talking about playing music, we're talking turntables, mixing, blending, scratching and shredding. This was an era when I was going to college in the Bronx, smoking a little pot and watching my roommate play with his turntables. He had been DJing for six or seven years at that point. I decided it was something I wanted to do, and within six months I... continue reading

05.30.2013

Keplinger Wines, Napa: Current Releases

One of the most often proclaimed credentials for winemakers in California consists of having been trained in the Old World. While plenty of California winemakers often "work a harvest" somewhere, it still remains uncommon to find those individuals that have spent multiple years abroad making wine before coming back to the U.S. The number of winemakers in California that have not just consulted, but lived and worked for three or more years in Bordeaux or Burgundy before coming back to make Cabernet or Pinot locally is quite low, but there are those such as David Ramey and Ted Lemon whose... continue reading

04.21.2013

Stella di Campalto, Castelnuovo dell'Abate, Italy: Current Releases

Some stories are just about enough to make you believe in fate. Fifteen years ago, no one in their right mind would have ever predicted that the young Stella di Campalto would be one of the most exciting new producers of Brunello di Montalcino in the last decade. Being of sound mind, she certainly couldn't have imagined it herself, especially given the fact that she didn't drink wine. But luckily for her, and for those of us who love Brunello di Montalcino, she had an aunt who was decidedly not in her right mind. "My mother's family is from Florence,... continue reading

02.26.2013

The Best of Napa's 2011 Cabernets: Tasting at Premiere Napa Valley

This past Saturday, Napa Valley held what the Napa Valley Vintners association refers to as its "Annual Bake Sale." The event officially named Premiere Napa Valley is held each February as a fundraiser for the Vintners' operations, and is open only to members of the trade (retailers, corporate buyers, and the like). Every year, this auction provides a gauge of the overall demand for Napa wine, and perhaps a broader barometer of the American fine wine market overall. Judging by the auction's proceeds of $3.04 million, which didn't quite top last year's record haul of $3.1 million, the demand for... continue reading

01.28.2013

Hawkes Bay Merlot: Worth the Effort?

Continuing my coverage of my time spent last week in Hawkes Bay, New Zealand, we come to the opportunity to contemplate the most widely planted grape in the region, and what it may offer. Of the slightly more than 11,800 vineyard acres in the Hawkes Bay, more than 2500 are planted to Merlot. Merlot has long featured in the region's Bordeaux-style blends, along with Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, and occasionally Petite Verdot. In most wines, just as in the Bordeaux regions of Pomerol and St. Emilion, it is the dominant player rather than Cabernet Sauvignon. And, as one might... continue reading

01.01.2013

2007 Shafer Vineyards "Hillside Select" Cabernet Sauvignon, Stag's Leap District, Napa

In a family wine business, one of the most crucial moments in the history of the enterprise will always be when the parent decides to hand over control of the family's winery to the next generation. This is a time honored tradition, and one that has marked wine dynasties old and new. In Napa's short modern history (following the end of Prohibition) only a few families have achieved or are even trying to create the kind of family legacy that has ensured the continuing success of many old world wineries. Doug Shafer and his father John Shafer have been working... continue reading

12.29.2012

2004 Craggy Range "The Quarry" Bordeaux Blend, Hawkes Bay, New Zealand

New Zealand is certainly a land of surprises. A relatively compact landmass, it seems to possess every possible topography and climate. Tropical rainforests, glaciers, arid plains, high deserts, rich low country farmlands, coastal beaches, and alpine foothills, to name just a few. While the country may perhaps be known best for its cool-climate winegrowing, it should really come as no surprise that its winegrowing regions mirror the diversity of its larger geography. The fact that the country has a growing region with a climate like Bordeaux or the upper Rhone Valley (minus some annual moisture), however, still remains somewhat under... continue reading

11.23.2012

The Legendary Wines of Napa: Tasting Notes

Last weekend I had the singular pleasure of co-leading a tasting with the title Legends of Napa Valley. I wrote about my impressions of the tasting overall, and the lessons that it offered, such as they were, about the aging of Napa wines across the last five decades, as part of my monthly column for Jancis Robinson. Now that I'm done editorializing, we can get down to the wines themselves. Below I offer my tasting notes for every wine that we tasted, in the order we tasted them. We tasted in four flights, two each day. The start of every... continue reading

11.19.2012

Cobb Wines, Sonoma Coast, CA: Two Vineyards, Four Vintages

When we are children, we don't necessarily comprehend what our parents do for fun, and when we do, we rarely approve. As a teenager, the view from Ross Cobb's room included a few dozen Pinot Noir vines that his father, David Cobb, a marine biologist and environmental scientist, had planted in the backyard of their Mill Valley home. The fact that his parents were spending their Tuesday and Thursday nights taking viticulture classes at the Santa Rosa Junior College, and their weekends looking at land in Sonoma meant very little to him. "It seemed like a funny hobby, but I... continue reading

11.03.2012

Vivier Wines, Napa: Current Releases

Most winemakers have some story of how they discovered wine. It's quite commonplace in Europe to simply grow up in a winemaking family, but here in the U.S. most winemakers don't have that luxury. Instead they often can recall a specific moment when the world of wine opened up to them, and they recognized the possibility of finding their life's work in it. Stéphane Vivier grew up in the heart of Burgundy, but his family, which hailed from elsewhere, was not a winemaking family, unless you count the small batches of homemade wine by aunts and uncles. When asked how... continue reading

10.08.2012

MORIC, Burgenland, Austria: Current Releases

One of the greatest pleasures in the life of the truly wine-curious emerges in the revelatory taste -- that moment when an unknown wine hits the palate and assails the mind with an unexpected intensity of interest, complexity, and pleasure. The pursuit of such moments motivates much of my tasting, and various shades of this experience prove the most important rewards of the thousands of hours and thousands of wines I spend on my wine activities. I had tasted Blaufrankisch before my first sip of the wines from MORIC, but if you'll pardon the poetry, I had never really tasted... continue reading

09.29.2012

2007 Ruston Family Vineyards "La Maestra" Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley

I love Napa and its wines, but the bits of it that are truly dear to my heart tend to be off the beaten path, away from the big shiny wineries that front the main roads, with parking lots big enough for tour buses. Finding the "down home" bits of Napa has become harder and harder, but thankfully not impossible. It is still easy, with a little sleuthing, to track down tiny producers that cling to their little vineyards, making small quantities of good wine, and selling them for a reasonable price. Often, these last bastions of down-to-earth winemaking and... continue reading

09.13.2012

2009 Clos de los Siete Red Wine, Lujan de Cuyo, Mendoza, Argentina

Fifty miles south of the city of Mendoza the valley of Tunuyan feels less like a valley and more like a vast, kneeling supplicant to the immediate, looming bulk of the Northern Andes mountains. Though the valley floor is massive -- sweeping away from the jagged, snow capped peaks in every possible direction as if it were trying to get out of the way of their falling bulk -- you never get the sense that it is very flat. No matter where you stand, the world seems to be constantly tipping up towards (or down away from, as the case... continue reading

08.22.2012

Heimann Family Estate, Szekszard, Hungary: Current Releases

The Transdanubian hills in Szekszárd (pronounced sex-sahrd), rise up sharply off the Hungarian Plain, bounding up several hundred meters in short order, so that the roads to the top must hairpin and switchback all the way. Once atop the ridge, however, the view is worth the climb, as beautiful hills and little valleys cascade from the central ridge line, carpeted in grapevines and dotted with the small farmhouses that seem like they could have been there since the beginning of time. Szekszárd is one of Hungary's 22 growing regions. Like most, it has a long tradition of growing grapes, but... continue reading

08.18.2012

Forgotten Jewels: Reviving Chile's Old Vine Carignane

As a child, the lure of archeology cannot be denied. Fantasies of discovering ancient treasures fuel the dreams of many youngsters, as they did my adolescent imagination. These days, such notions have been replaced in my life with interests no less exciting in the wine world. For the curious wine lover, opportunities abound to explore the treasures of the past in the form of old vines, recently discovered and under rehabilitation by vintners around the world. I delight in tasting wines made from gnarled old plants to which no one paid attention for years until someone realized they might make... continue reading

08.02.2012

A Walk Through the Cote de Nuits with Allen Meadows

As some of you know, I spent last week at the (always) fabulous International Pinot Noir Celebration in Oregon's Willamette Valley. Apart from my responsibilities hosting a tasting, I attended events like everyone else, including the featured Burgundy seminar and tasting run by Allen Meadows of Burghound. As is my habit, I tend to make fairly detailed notes of these seminars, so I can offer my readers a taste of what it was like. What follows below, as usual, is not an actual word-for-word transcript, but it's the closest I can come. Any misstatements, innacuracies, etc, are mine. * *... continue reading

07.28.2012

The Life and Wines of Jacques Lardiere

As some of you who follow my adventures on Twitter know, I'm spending the weekend at the International Pinot Noir Celebration in Oregon's Willamette Valley. I attend this event periodically as a media guest, and enjoy the event's relaxed style, fabulous food, and wonderful mix of Pinot Noir producers from all over the world, including a significant number of Burgundy producers. This year, in addition to enjoying the event, I was asked to host one of the event's add on seminars, a celebration of winemaker jacques Lardiere, and a retrospective tasting os some of the wines he's produced in his... continue reading

07.11.2012

2008 Ovid Proprietary Red Wine, Napa Valley

I've learned a lot about many things in the course of meeting with Napa winemakers and writing about Napa wines for more than eight years. But I tell you, few lessons have been beaten into my head more than the dangers of looking for a vacation home in Napa. If you have the means to buy a nice place in the Napa Valley you are already imperiled. If you start looking, however, you expose yourself to supernatural forces whose breadth and depth have yet to be mapped. Much like the famed Bermuda Triangle, the Napa Valley chews you up and... continue reading

05.27.2012

Futo Wines, Napa: Current Releases

In some ways the stories aren't all that different. A wealthy businessman falls in love with wine at some point, starts visiting Napa, and eventually dreams of owning a vineyard, to make a small amount of wine, just for fun. A vineyard is purchased, wine made, and everyone lives happily ever after. I can't tell you how many times I've watched this narrative play out in Napa, and tasted the result. Nine times out of ten, the wine that results from such a venture never transcends being merely good, even for those that have spent top dollar on grapes and... continue reading

05.05.2012

Napa Royalty: Tasting the Wines of Oakville

While often considered a single "place" when it comes to wine, Napa is hardly a monolithic growing region. Each of its 14 established AVAs (American Viticultural Areas) lays claim to a separate identity, characterized by geology, microclimate, and different histories of production. The Oakville AVA has one of the most storied of such histories. It is home to the famed To Kalon Vineyard, purchased by H.W. Crabb in 1868, shortly after the installation of a railroad stop made the tiny village of Oakville spring to life. In 1876 Crabb's neighbor John Benson bottled his inaugural vintage of Far Niente wine... continue reading

03.21.2012

The Beauty of Blaufrankisch: Tasting Wines from Leithaberg, Austria

My first tastes of Austrian red wine were without context, and I will admit, not favorable. In tasting through the various portfolios of different importers, I would taste a lot of Riesling and Gruner Veltliner and occasionally find a red or two scattered in the mix. My impressions were not fully formed, but they weren't encouraging. But then I had the wines of the MORIC project in 2007, and I realized I was missing something. More importantly I realized that there was great potential in a place and a grape to produce a wine that was quite profound. Therefore it... continue reading

03.04.2012

Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, Burgundy: Current Releases

You don't get very far in a journey towards being a wine lover without hearing the words "Romanée-Conti" spoken with some combination of reverence and amazement. And in today's world of Asian fueled wine-auction speculation, even those with casual interest in wine have heard of this famous domaine. Equally referred to as both the best wines in the world and the most expensive, the wines produced by the small Domaine de la Romanée-Conti are inarguably some of the most revered and sought after wines in the world. Their price and scarcity mean that many wine lovers with modest means may... continue reading

02.26.2012

Napa's Best Cabernet: Tasting at Premiere Napa Valley 2012

It looks like the California wine industry is officially out of the recession. Yesterday, at the annual Premiere Napa Valley wine auction, the Napa Valley Vintners Association cleaned up, earning a total of $3.1 million, a gain of 31% from 2011's total. As usual, the auction featured 200 unique wines, most from the 2010 vintage, which were sold to raise funds for the organization. These wines are made solely for the auction in quantities of 5, 10, or 20 cases, and often represent the highest quality wine that each producer can make. For anyone (such as myself) with no aspirations... continue reading

02.18.2012

Spottswoode Estate, Napa: Current Releases

Great wines are always tapestries of story, with people and place making up the warp and weft of their fabric. When a family stays long enough in one place, they grow roots that can never fully come free from the soil. Such a connection doesn't take centuries, but merely a couple of generations. When children grow up running through the vines, they may wander away, but are often drawn back inexorably to the place where their roots run deepest. Such is the story of two generations of women and a place called Spottswoode, an estate in the picturesque town of... continue reading

02.15.2012

Critically Tasting Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir

One of my unbroken refrains here at Vinography has to do with the value of large public wine tastings as opportunities to educate the palate. There's just nothing like the chance to taste a lot of wines side by side to teach you a thing or two -- about what you like and what you don't, as well as the character of a grape, a region, or a vintage. Tastings held by regional wine marketing organizations continue to proliferate in the San Francisco Bay Area, much to my delight. So when the winery association of the Santa Lucia Highlands decided... continue reading

02.04.2012

The Best Zinfandels of California: Tasting at ZAP 2012

You can always count on the ZAP Zinfandel festival in San Francisco to draw a crowd, no matter what the economy is doing. The fact that things are picking up, both for business, and specifically in the wine world, meant for a very lively event last week. The big news was a new venue for this traditionally mobbed tasting, that most attendees seemed to love, myself included. While the arrangement of vintners left something to be desired (tables were supposed to be alphabetical, but it was more like alphabet soup than a line from A to Z), everything else about... continue reading

01.19.2012

2008 Alta Maria Vineyards Pinot Noir, Santa Maria Valley

If I were doing now what I thought I would probably do with my life as a sophomore in college, I would be a photographer living in a tent or an old VW Bus somewhere, splitting my time between rock climbing and taking pictures of stuff that most people wouldn't give a second glance. This wouldn't necessarily be a bad thing, but I offer it as proof of how little sense I had of what path my life would take. James Ontiveros, on the other hand, was spending his sophomore year at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo going to classes... continue reading

12.15.2011

2001 York Creek Vineyards Cabernet Franc, Spring Mountain District, Napa

One of the most gratifying experiences I have as a wine lover and very, very small time wine collector involves pulling a dusty bottle off the shelf from where it has slumbered for years, and popping it open to find an utterly fantastic wine. I don't own a lot of wine, and I have even fewer bottles that I've been deliberately aging long enough for them to be mature, so this experience isn't a regular occurrence for me, but when it happens, it engenders nothing short of joy. I think it was 2003 when I bought a couple of bottles... continue reading

12.06.2011

Piña Napa Valley: Current Releases

If one were to speculate on the wine market as a savvy investor might in the small-cap stock market, the game would be the same: follow people you know with good track records. In the wine world, we'd also have to include a corollary about betting on great vineyard sites, but leaving aside the raw materials, it's clear that most good wines don't happen by accident. They're made by talented people. Finding talented people in Napa isn't hard at first. There are a lot of them, many of whom have big brand names. When they start working for a winery,... continue reading

12.03.2011

2008 Lang & Reed "Two Fourteen" Cabernet Franc, Napa Valley

All of us wine lovers inevitably discover, in the course of our explorations, our own secret wineries. These are the wines that we hold close to our chest, revealing them to those with whom we share only our choicest of morsels, which often include such things as parking spaces, hole-in-the-wall restaurants, and great movies and books. As I'm in the business of sharing great wine with readers all the time, I can't really afford to hold much back. But I'd be lying if I told you I had reviewed or written about all my most favorite wineries around the world.... continue reading

11.24.2011

2009 Morgan Winery "Cote du Crows" Rhone Blend, Monterey

It's not a huge leap from veterinary medicine to winemaking, and that leap is made even shorter when you're enrolled at UC Davis which happens to be the top school in the nation for both. Dan Lee initially thought he wanted to work with animals, but a few courses as electives during his vet school tenure were enough to convince him to immediately enroll in the Enology program as soon as he finished his undergraduate degree. While he still loves animals, Dan hasn't looked back, graduating and continuing on to become a winemaker for Jekel and Durney (now Heller Estate),... continue reading

11.14.2011

2007 Meteor Vineyard "Perseid" Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa

Barry Schuler may know a thing or two about running multi-billion dollar technology companies, but what he really wants to talk about, given the chance, is food and wine. The former CEO of AOL, Schuler often gets credited along with Steve Case (who preceded Schuler as CEO) for the company's success in the late Nineties. But while his colleagues and most of America's top technology executives were returning home at the end of their long days to comfortable suburbs near major metropolitan areas, at the end of the week Schuler was making his way back to Napa, California. Schuler may... continue reading

11.08.2011

2009 Dry Creek Vineyard "Heritage" Zinfandel, Sonoma County

Driving through California's wine country, with its carefully manicured vineyards carpeting huge swaths of the countryside, it's easy to imagine that people have been growing grapes there for centuries. Indeed, in many places in Northern California, the first vineyards sprang up in the middle to late 1800's and a thriving wine industry along with them. But what most people forget, if they ever knew, is that the California wine industry suffered several decades that were the equivalent to Europe's Dark Ages. First, 99.9% of the vineyards were wiped out by the Phylloxera epidemic that swept through around the turn of... continue reading

10.27.2011

2007 Bodega del Fin del Mundo "Special Reserve Blend" Red Wine, Patagonia, Argentina

When I visited Argentina a few years ago, my trip was a mix of vacation and wine investigation, and, like so many great trips, left me feeling like I had done too little of both. In the wine department, I left with two main regrets. The first was the lack of a visit to Salta, which is the first place I'll head in South America next time I get down that way. And while I did get down to Bariloche in Patagonia for a little while to hike and fish, and generally relax, I really wish I had taken a... continue reading

10.05.2011

2006 Arnot-Roberts "Clary Ranch" Syrah, Sonoma Coast

The reported death of California Syrah has been greatly exaggerated. That's the topic for a rant some other time. But it's a fitting way to open this review of a wine that represents my favorite kind of wine discovery: a situation where someone pours me a glass that I'm not paying that much attention to, I stick my nose in it, take a sip, and then the next thirty seconds of my life are some combination of a sense of whiplash and usually more than a few very positive expletives. I love it when wines literally turn my head, as... continue reading

09.15.2011

Penché Winery, Napa: Recent Releases

As you might imagine, I get sent a lot of Cabernet from Napa. At first I eagerly anticipated the arrival of every new label that I had never heard of, but over the years, I've become a bit jaded, as so many fail to rise above reasonably competent, over-oaked expressions of the grape. These days it's a lot harder to turn my head with a new Napa Cab, but when they arrived, two dark bottles with simple parallelogram labels did more than turn my head, they rocked me back on my heels. A successful orthodontist, Scott Asbill eventually picked up... continue reading

09.10.2011

1988 Domaine de la Romanee-Conti La Tache Grand Cru, Burgundy

You don't get very far in a journey towards being a wine lover without hearing the words "Romanée-Conti" spoken with some combination of reverence and amazement. And in today's world of Asian fueled wine-auction speculation, even those with casual interest in wine have heard of this famous domaine. Equally referred to as both the best wines in the world and the most expensive, the wines produced by the small Domaine de la Romanée-Conti are inarguably some of the most revered and sought after wines in the world. Their price and scarcity mean that many wine lovers with modest means may... continue reading

06.11.2011

2008 HALL "Kathryn Hall" Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley

The pleasures of childhood call to us as adults. The tug of nostalgia is so great that we so often find ourselves indulging in little things that remind us of our early years, and in some cases we throw ourselves passionately into the pursuit of the things we have lost. Kathryn Hall lost the vineyard that was her childhood playground. Despite having managed the vineyard for nearly a decade, letting it go after her father's death was the right thing to do. But her memories of growing up among the grape vines in Redwood Valley, coupled with her enduring love... continue reading

06.04.2011

2008 Ridge Vineyards "Estate" Cabernet Sauvignon, Santa Cruz Mountains

If there's one thing about a winery that is likely to earn my immediate respect it is what you might describe as consistency of vision. Some of my favorite wineries not only make great wine, they have been making great wine in much the same way for decades, according to a deeply held philosophy that pervades everything they do. This sort of conviction, married to excellent winemaking, is not as common in California as you might think, but there are few who could argue against Ridge Vineyards as one of the finest examples of such a fusion of skill and... continue reading

05.03.2011

Tasting the Superstar Wines of Napa's Oakville AVA

Napa Valley is famous, or infamous depending on your point of view, for some of the world's best and priciest Cabernet Sauvignon. While it has yet to reach the heights of the few First Growths in Bordeaux in terms of pricing, the Napa Valley has been producing some of the most sought after wines in the Western Hemisphere for several decades. Napa Valley, like so many wine regions, is not actually one place, but many - its various sub-regions offering a wide variety of topographies, microclimates, soil types, and exposures. The AVAs (American Viticultural Areas) that have been created to... continue reading

04.26.2011

The Best Central Coast Pinot?: Tasting at the World of Pinot Noir

I don't know about you, but spending a couple of days tasting Pinot Noir while strolling along cliffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean is definitely my idea of a good time. Back at the beginning of March, I joined several hundred other wine enthusiasts for the World of Pinot Noir, a two day festival celebrating Pinot Noir set in the idyllic seaside tourist town of Shell Beach. Well known for its festive atmosphere and an emphasis (though not an exclusive focus by any means) on showcasing the Pinot Noirs of the Central Coast, WOPN, as it is abbreviated, draws Pinot Noir... continue reading

04.05.2011

Low(er) Alcohol California Pinot Noir: Tasting Notes from 'In Pursuit of Balance'

Spring certainly seems to be Pinot Noir season in the Bay Area. Several major Pinot focused events -- the Pinot Noir Shootout, the World of Pinot Noir, the Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival, the Santa Cruz Mountains Pinot Passport Event, etc. -- all occur within a span of about three months. To this impressive list, we may be able to add yet one more annual event, judging by the crush of the crowd at the first ever "In Pursuit of Balance" tasting held a couple of weeks ago at RN74 in San Francisco. This was a somewhat unusual Pinot Noir... continue reading

03.12.2011

Pinot Noir Everywhere: From the Expected to the Fringes

Yes, I'm on a Pinot Noir kick this week, thanks to my recent attendance at the World of Pinot Noir conference in Shell Beach, California. I haven't had time to write up my notes from the grand tasting of several hundred Pinots that I tasted, but I did want to share some notes from an interesting assortment of wines that I had the opportunity to experience. What places come to mind most easily when you think of growing Pinot Noir? For me the list, in order, goes something like this: Burgundy, California, Oregon, and New Zealand. If I want to... continue reading

03.08.2011

The Young Turks of Burgundy: Allen Meadows with Domaine Marc Roy and Domaine Jean-Marc Bouley

As I mentioned in a previous post, last weekend I had the pleasure of attending the World of Pinot Noir conference in Shell Beach, California. In addition to the grand tasting of many different wines on the cliffs above the seaside, there were some focused tastings where moderators and panelists worked through some wines in great detail. I attended one entitled The Young Turks of Burgundy, led by Alan Meadows, the wine critic behind Burghound.Com, a newsletter that in the past decade, has become the de-facto critical authority on much of Burgundy, and especially the most famous part known as... continue reading

02.19.2011

California's Best Zinfandel: Notes from the ZAP 2011 Tasting

Ah, Zinfandel. The all-American grape that fuels much passion in the Bay Area. The annual ZAP Zinfandel festival draws crowds bigger than most other wine events, even in the midst of a tough economy. Truth be told, this year continued the slightly mellower note of last year's tasting, with fewer producers and fewer attendees, though no shortage of great juice was to be had. One of the reasons, it seems to me, that the public gets so excited about Zinfandel is that the wine refuses to be taken too seriously. While there are certainly a few cult Zinfandels that are... continue reading

01.18.2011

2006 Shafer Vineyards "Hillside Select" Cabernet Sauvignon, Stag's Leap District, Napa

Napa Cabernet is getting a pretty bad rap these days from ordinary wine consumers, and from the economy as a whole. In some ways it has fallen from a pinnacle that may never be reached again -- a place where people really didn't blink an eye about paying $200 for a bottle of California wine. While sales are down a little, they are picking up, and even in the darkest hours of the global financial meltdown, top Napa wines continued to sell, even if just barely. At this point while there are probably less people willing to shell out more... continue reading

11.11.2010

2007 Three Sticks "Durell Vineyard" Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast

People tend to turn up their noses at the word "pedigree" as it is most often invoked in the context of class, but for both grapevines and the skills of the people who work them, a long history can make a big difference. The tiny Three Sticks winery started in 2002, but unlike many wine labels that spring up overnight with nary a grapevine to their name, Three Sticks emerged as a logical conclusion from the collision of several decades of experience in the wine industry and one of Sonoma County's most well known vineyards. Bill Price made his money... continue reading

11.06.2010

Looking Forward To, and Back On, the Last Decade of Napa Cabernet

There are few types of wine writing I tend to ignore so completely as I do vintage reports. The generally pithy paragraphs that attempt to sum up a vintage in Sonoma, for instance, are about as useful as a few sentences dedicated to an attempt at characterizing the quality of food in Lower Manhattan. No matter what you might say, there are a thousand and one exceptions. This vague uselessness tends to be true even if the vintage report purports to speak at the level of an individual AVA or appellation. There are just too many differences in micro climates... continue reading

10.05.2010

2001 Thierry Allemand "Cuvee Reynard" Cornas, Rhone Valley, France

As much as I love wines from all over the world, and as open and welcoming as I am of the newest upstart winemakers and their wares, when you come right down to it, there are winemakers (and their wines) out there in the world that just have more soul. And there are places, too that have more soul. And soul, when it comes to wine and winemaking, is a very good thing in my book. If I had to make a list of places that have soul, the Northern Rhone appellation of Cornas would be high on the list,... continue reading

09.09.2010

2008 Outpost Grenache, Howell Mountain, Napa

To the casual visitor or inexperienced wine lover, Napa may just be a name on a bottle, or a vision of vineyards stretched between Highway 29 and the Silverado Trail. But like many wine regions, Napa is only a word on a map and an official designation for a group of winegrowing regions that, at times, seem to have little in common. The extreme variations of climate, soils, and topography among the various sections of Napa County make the subdivision of the region into separate AVA's (American Viticultural Areas) an inevitability. The variety of terroirs represented by these 14 (going... continue reading

09.02.2010

2007 Anaba Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast

One of my greatest pleasures remains my "discovery" of small new wineries, and the opportunity to watch them mature over time. Of course, three vintages isn't exactly a lot of time to watch a winery mature, but it's quite exciting to see the third vintage of a winery that seemed to hit it out of the ballpark with their very first release. A couple of years ago some bottles showed up on my doorstep bearing the name Anaba in beautiful looping script. I was immediately intrigued to note that the first releases from this new Sonoma County winery were Rhone... continue reading

08.23.2010

1997 Calera Wine Company "Mills Vineyard" Pinot Noir, Mt. Harlan, CA

Those of you who know me well understand the soft spot I have in my heart for iconoclastic winemakers. The crazier the better, in my book, but at the very least, so steadfastly committed to their idea of what makes for great wine that they're willing to persist in their quest even when everyone else says they are nuts. And that's exactly what most people said when they spotted Josh Jensen driving up and down California in his beat-up Volkswagen stopping here and there to get out of the car and sprinkle hydrochloric acid on the ground -- even those... continue reading

08.07.2010

2008 Clos de los Siete Red Wine, Mendoza, Argentina

Fifty miles south of the city of Mendoza the valley of Tunuyan feels less like a valley and more like a vast, kneeling supplicant to the immediate, looming bulk of the Northern Andes mountains. Though the valley floor is massive -- sweeping away from the jagged, snow capped peaks in every possible direction as if it were trying to get out of the way of their falling bulk -- you never get the sense that it is very flat. No matter where you stand, the world seems to be constantly tipping up towards (or down away from, as the case... continue reading

07.24.2010

2008 Ridge Vineyards "Three Valleys" Red Blend, Sonoma County

If there's one thing about a winery that is likely to earn my immediate respect it is what you might describe as consistency of vision. Some of my favorite wineries not only make great wine, they have been making great wine in much the same way for decades, according to a deeply held philosophy that pervades everything they do. This sort of conviction, married to excellent winemaking, is not as common in California as you might think, but there are few who could argue against Ridge Vineyards as one of the finest examples of such a fusion of skill and... continue reading

07.22.2010

2008 Bodegas Colomé Estate Malbec, Salta, Argentina

Once upon a time, I went to Argentina looking for the good wine. Frankly I couldn't understand what all the fuss was about when it came to Malbec. Most of the ones I had tasted here in the US were mediocre. Only a select few rose to the level of excellent, and none to the level of amazing. Yet there was a long stream of proclamations from various people (you know, the ones whose opinions "count" when it comes to such things) that Argentinean Malbec was the next greatest thing. Scratching my head, I traipsed off to Argentina looking for... continue reading

06.25.2010

J.L. Chave, Mauve en Ardeche, France: Current Releases

Some places in this world are simply hallowed ground when it comes to winemaking. Of course every deep-rooted and honest winemaker treats his own land that way, but there are some places on earth that long ago transcended the brief attentions of mortal winemakers and instead exist in a pantheon of the world's greatest vineyard sites. No one knows exactly when the first vines were sunk into the impossibly steep granite hillsides in this particular elbow of the Rhone river valley, but in all likelihood there were grapes growing on the hillside now called Hermitage for more than five centuries... continue reading

06.07.2010

2007 Quinta de Roriz "Prazo de Roriz" Red Blend, Douro, Portugal

I think one of the greatest assets any wine lover can possess is an unflagging curiosity in the form of a desire to taste as many different kinds of wine as possible. Certainly such an orientation to the wine world provides the basis for the best kind of self-education available to anyone who is interested in wine. I consciously nurture my own appetite for wines I have never tried before, and whenever possible try to encourage it in others. These days, when I find someone who is interested in breaking out of a rut of Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, or Zinfandel... continue reading

06.05.2010

Sea Smoke Cellars, Santa Barbara: Current Releases

Sometimes as I'm traveling through wine country, I see beautiful pieces of land that aren't planted to grapes and I think to myself, "now why is it that someone hasn't turned that into a vineyard?" I don't pretend to have an eye for what makes good vineyard property, but those who do are constantly saying the same things about choice pieces of land everywhere. Sometimes these pieces of land become famous, or perhaps infamous is a better word, for their frustrating combination of appeal and unavailability. For years, even decades, the wine country of Santa Barbara, and the appellation of... continue reading

06.02.2010

2006 Hughes-Wellman Cabernet Sauvignon, St. Helena

While wines, and great wines in particular, are made with incredible forethought and planning, sometimes wine labels can spring up overnight as the result of an opportune conversation or new friendship. In 2005, a guy named Cameron Hughes met winemaker Sam Spencer. Sam, who has his own label called Spencer Roloson, had just been offered some choice Cabernet Sauvignon fruit, but wasn't interested in adding a Cabernet to his lineup. On a whim he offered to make the wine for Cameron, to bottle under his own label. Now you need to know something about Cameron to understand why the idea... continue reading

05.28.2010

2007 J Vineyards "Barrel 16" Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley

There was a time (think: late Seventies, early Eighties) when a lot of people would have put money on California being the next Champagne. It seems quite improbable now given California's reputation for Cabernet and the relative paucity of sparkling wine producers in the state. Yet there are many California winery names that have become synonymous with sparking wine (Schramsberg, Iron Horse, Korbel, Chandon, and more) and which have been producing sparkling wines for decades, and continue to do so. This is not the story of one of those brands. This is the story of the next generation. In the... continue reading

05.23.2010

1980 Soldera Case Basse Brunello Riserva, Montalcino, Italy

When I was a kid, I read a lot of science fiction. On long plane flights I still occasionally pick up a book to read, and I still get a thrill from letting my imagination explore the fantastic possibilities of the future. Perhaps it's a bit of a stretch as an analogy, but I get that same sort of thrill from exploring the world of wine. Every new wine offers an opportunity to discover and learn something new -- to recalibrate my own sense of possibility. On occasion, in my curiosity-driven stumbling through the world of wine, I come across... continue reading

05.17.2010

Noon Winery, McLaren Vale, Australia: Current Releases

The term garagiste, originally coined as a pejorative referring to the small wineries in Bordeaux's Right Bank who were making more modern style wines from purchased grapes, has been greatly overused to the point of cliché. Nonetheless, I consider it a very, very good sign when I discover the people that actually are making good wines in their garage. That's why on my recent trip to Australia as I trundled up the driveway of Noon Winery in McLaren Vale past old, gnarled vines of Grenache and into the garage that holds the ancient wooden fermenting vats and the basket press... continue reading

03.17.2010

Brittan Vineyards, Willamette Valley, OR: Inaugural Releases

Expressed briefly, making a great wine is rather quite simple. You find the right piece of ground; you put the right grapes in; you tend them well and harvest them at the right time; and then you smash them together and nudge the product gently away from its tendency towards vinegar. For some people, the most important step is finding the right piece of ground, and for anyone looking to start a winery, it is certainly the first step. It's really important. If you get it wrong, the rest of the stuff doesn't matter. At least, that's the way that... continue reading

03.14.2010

Where Malbec Comes From: Tasting the Wines of Cahors

One of my greatest pleasures as a wine lover (OK wine geek) is learning about a wine region by tasting a lot of wines. While I prefer to taste on location, there's just no way I can possibly get to all the different places I'd like to learn about until I become independently wealthy or permanently retired (and wealthy). Which really means there are a lot of wine regions I'll never get the chance to visit. Luckily a lot of smaller wine regions are realizing that one way to improve the market for their wines internationally is the "wine roadshow"... continue reading

02.27.2010

2007 TAZ Vineyard Pinot Noir, Santa Barbara County

The good $15 Pinot Noir is the unicorn of the California wine industry. A mythic beast, highly sought after, no one is actually sure whether it exists or not. I'm always on the lookout myself, as it's one of the most frequent questions I get asked when people find out I review wines. Consequently, whenever I do come across something that comes close, I feel almost obligated to share the find. It's been some time since I visited the wines made under the brand TAZ, but a couple of bottles arrived recently and went into the tasting lineup and they... continue reading

02.02.2010

The Best Zinfandels in California: Tasting at ZAP 2010

With a line snaking halfway around the parking lot by 2:00 PM, it might be easy to say that Zinfandel might be one of the more recession proof wines in California. The fact that very good bottles can be had for about $20 certainly means that there's probably a lot more Zinfandel being consumed these days than, say, Meritage blends. Once inside the annual Zinfandel Advocates and Producers Festival it was clear, however, that far fewer wineries were pouring this year than in the past, though the crowd was no less lively (I didn't stay until 5 PM when people... continue reading

01.12.2010

2001 Renaissance Winery Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, North Yuba

Every time I review a wine from some little producer whose wines I adore, I experience a pang of regret, because I know that by writing about these wineries and their wines, I only make them more expensive and harder to acquire for myself (and others). I do occasionally get e-mails from ticked off wine lovers bemoaning the fact that I've divulged one of their secret sources for great wine. But that's just an occupational hazard for me, and doesn't outweigh the joy of being able to say things like this: Listen up people. There is some seriously amazing wine... continue reading

01.05.2010

2007 Potel-Aviron Fleurie Vielles Vignes, Beaujolais, France

Should one of your New Years' resolutions be to broaden your wine horizons without breaking your wine budget, one of the places worth exploring would certainly be Beaujolais. Much maligned, or at the very least avoided -- and rightly so -- by many wine lovers whose experience with Beaujolais consists of a glass of banana-scented Nouveau in November, the region actually produces some truly wonderful wines that can be tremendous values. The Beaujolais region has seen a renaissance of winemaking in the past decade, with many serious, small producers trying to make wines that have much more in common with... continue reading

01.02.2010

Errazuriz Winery, Chile: Current Releases

The Aconcagua valley presents the first time visitor with a surreal vista. From the flattened floodplain of the valley floor, mountains rise steeply on either side but only their rocky peaks are visible. Starting only a short distance down from their spires, and extending all the way to valley below, the mountains are wreathed in a bumpy, dense green outgrowth that makes them look like they've been carpeted with a dark Astroturf on a grand scale. How someone figured out that they could grow avocados on slopes so steep I'd love to know. But once upon a time they did,... continue reading

12.29.2009

Corison Winery, Napa: Current Releases

It's hard to get attention in the world of wine. Many wineries and winemakers struggle their entire careers for recognition, both deservedly and some, not quite. In the days of big marketing budgets and cult wines that are only figuratively on everyone's lips (and literally on the lips of very few), it's easy to overlook wineries that have quietly been doing their thing for decades. I can't tell you how many times I've driven by the understated Corison Winery on Highway 29 without ever going in. The number must literally be in the hundreds. While I've still not actually stopped... continue reading

12.19.2009

Olson Ogden Winery, Sonoma: Current Releases

I take a special interest in a particular class of winery. I call them estateless wineries, but they are wineries that have no permanent physical presence. These types of operations have no vineyards, own no buildings, and sometimes don't even own any equipment. Such wineries are most often the result of someone taking small steps towards their personal dream of being in the wine business, and are often sources for great wines at reasonable prices. Olson & Ogden winery is a perfect example of such a label. Proprietor John Ogden worked in the high tech corporate world for most of... continue reading

12.07.2009

Altair Winery, Chile: Current Releases

Hillside vineyards are not the norm in Chile. The country has a plethora of alluvial valley floors that are always the first choice for planting because they're the lowest effort places to stick vineyards, and the cheapest to farm. During my visit there last week, hillside vineyards became an easy indication of both serious ambitions when it came to winemaking, as well as the financial wherewithal to back them up. Altair Winery has a lot of both. The winery was initially a joint venture between Laurent Dassault, owner of Chateau Dassault and Chateau La Fleur in Saint Emilion, Bordeaux, and... continue reading

12.06.2009

The Best Wines from Chile?: Tasting Notes for Wines over $40

As some of you know, I spent the last week traveling around Chile trying to get a sense of the country and its wines. It was my first trip there and I was quite excited to taste a lot of wine -- education by immersion, so to speak. With that in mind, my hosts for the week, the Wines of Chile organization, pulled together a tasting of what in Chile they refer to as "Icon Wines." These wines are usually the top wines in many wineries' portfolios, in some cases they are the only wines, and they generally retail for... continue reading

11.17.2009

2003 Descendientes de J. Palacios "Moncerbal," Bierzo, Spain

This is one of those wines that I live for. The kind that begins with an unknown bottle thrust in front of me by a friend with a twinkle in their eye, and ends with a profound memory of taste that becomes one of those moments that wine lovers cherish. Such wines are not common, at least not for me, but they are what keep me passionate about drinking and writing and enjoying the world of wine. Occasionally still described by romanticizing writers as "off in a forgotten corner of Northwestern Spain," the winegrowing region of Bierzo can no longer... continue reading

10.27.2009

Tasting the Wines of Lodi

I suppose you might measure my enthusiasm (or insanity) for learning about wine by the glee with which I look forward to the opportunities to taste several hundred wines from a particular region, vintage, or variety. The public tastings that afford any wine lover the chance to taste in this fashion are the single most valuable way to educate the palate as well as to find out what's going on in a particular place or vintage. So when the chance came to hang out on Treasure Island for a few hours to taste the wines of Lodi a couple of... continue reading

10.16.2009

2007 Craggy Range "Zebra Vineyard" Pinot Noir, Central Otago, New Zealand

A relatively compact landmass, New Zealand nonetheless seems to possess every possible topography and climate. Tropical rainforests, glaciers, arid plains, high deserts, rich low country farmlands, coastal beaches, and alpine foothills, to name just a few. While the country may perhaps be known best for its cool-climate winegrowing, it should really come as no surprise that its winegrowing regions mirror the diversity of its larger geography. The fact that the country has a growing region with a climate like Bordeaux or Rioja, however, still remains somewhat under the radar for most wine lovers. The Hawke's Bay region of the Northern... continue reading

10.10.2009

Blackbird Vineyards, Napa: Current Releases

As you likely know, I make it my business to keep my eye on new California wineries, especially in Napa and Sonoma, as much as I can given the fact that I do a lot of other things besides write about wine. Whenever possible, I like to taste the first releases from these wineries. They are not always fantastic - some are good, some show potential, and some simply need to be written off as first efforts and retried again later. That's the thing about wines, just because they're not good now, that doesn't mean they won't be later, and,... continue reading

10.07.2009

Bond Estates, Napa: A Retrospective Tasting

Like the saying goes, if I had a nickel for every time I'd heard or read about a winery "sparing no expense" to get the "best possible fruit" to make the "best wine they could," I'd be a rich man. Winery owners and winemakers are like proud parents -- they see the best in their operations, and if they are aware of their flaws or shortcomings, when company is over, they put on their best face. After all, they're ultimately trying to sell wine. As someone who has spent a lot of time visiting wineries, and hearing the owners and... continue reading

09.24.2009

2006 Cadaretta Cabernet Sauvignon, Columbia Valley, Washington

I make it my habit to pay attention to new, small wineries. Generally that means seeking them out at public tastings, perking up my ears when I hear the names of wineries I don't know, and approaching each box of unknown wine I get on my doorstep as the potential to be something new and exciting. Generally, whatever you might like to call these efforts of mine, if they can be described as efforts, tend to be focused on California. This has nothing to do with my preferences, so much as it does with where I live, who I know,... continue reading

09.15.2009

Kutch Wines, Sonoma: Current Releases

Every wine has a story behind it. Some are better than others. Every wine has a dream behind it. Some are bigger than others. While some people are content to drink wine their entire lives, and never once feel the urge to make it, there are those wine lovers who yearn for something more than they get out of even the best bottles. This is the story of a guy whose enthusiasm for wine got the best of him, and whose passion for his dreams got under the skin of some people who couldn't help but show him how to... continue reading

09.13.2009

2006 Girard Winery "Artistry" Red Wine, Napa

You can often tell just how much someone loves Napa wine from their familiarity with the sub-appellations or American Viticultural Areas (AVAs) that divide the larger Napa Valley into select, smaller sections. Many consumers have heard of the Stag's Leap District, and possibly Rutherford or Oakville, but there are more than ten other AVAs in the Napa Valley. AVAs are not enough for some people, however, especially those that pursue the most expensive and difficult to acquire wines of Napa. Discussions of the finer points of these wines rarely begin with appellations or AVAs. Instead they invoke individual vineyards and... continue reading

08.16.2009

2007 Quivira Vineyards "Wine Creek Ranch" Grenache, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma

If there's one thing you can bet on in the wine industry, it's change. Nothing stays the same for long -- that goes as much for any of business aspects of the industry as it does the conditions from vintage to vintage. Despite this variation, our judgments as consumers about wineries and their wines tend to be absolute. Casual wine drinkers are likely to treat wines like candy bars -- they taste them once and if they don't like them, they never buy again. There's a certain amount of sense to this, and it certainly fits my mantra of "life's... continue reading

08.08.2009

Piña Napa Valley: Current Releases

If one were to speculate on the wine market as a savvy investor might in the small-cap stock market, the game would be the same: follow people you know with good track records. In the wine world, we'd also have to include a corollary about betting on great vineyard sites, but leaving aside the raw materials, it's clear that most good wines don't happen by accident. They're made by talented people. Finding talented people in Napa isn't hard at first. There are a lot of them, many of whom have big brand names. When they start working for a winery,... continue reading

08.02.2009

Patton Valley Vineyard, Willamette Valley: Current Releases

When it comes to wineries I generally know I'm in for something good when I drive down a long dirt road (unsure if I'm headed in the right direction) and finally come upon some vineyards and a couple of small aluminum barns with harvest bins stacked outside. For many small winery operations, the barrel storage, the lab, the office, and the tasting room are all under one corrugated roof. I had the pleasure of winding my way down just such a road on a rainy Autumn day three years ago to arrive at the little operation that is Patton Valley... continue reading

07.27.2009

Notes from the Al Fresco Tasting at IPNC 2009

I go to a lot of wine tastings, and have come to really appreciate those that are done right. It may not be immediately apparent how easily a large public tasting can be screwed up, but all it takes is one small thing to make it a really miserable experience. For instance, a lack of spit buckets has turned more than one big tasting event into a nightmare. The spacing of the tables, the labeling of the stations, the number of wines available, the availability of water, the offering of food, the temperature of the building -- these can all... continue reading

07.24.2009

Oregon's International Pinot Noir Celebration: Day One

Under the towering trees and across the sprawling green lawns of Linfield College in the little town of McMinnville, Oregon, several hundred people are plowing through the International Pinot Noir Celebration at the kind of pace you would expect for 80 degree days filled with Pinot Noir and good company. My day began with breakfast on the lawn and a welcome by Master of Ceremonies Jancis Robinson. Jancis recounted her memories of past IPNC attendances, going back to the early years of the festival, which was pioneering in its singular focus on Pinot Noir. Perhaps the most interesting moment in... continue reading

07.17.2009

Arista Winery, Russian River Valley: Current Releases

Given the chance, I highly recommend anyone to make the investment of time and money to watch a winery evolve from its very first vintage. It doesn't take much, just buying a bottle or two every year from a brand new winery that you think shows some promise, and then drinking them. Such observation is a wonderful study in personality. You get to see, or perhaps more accurately, taste, how a winemaker settles into a winery and its vineyards, and how he or she begins to express whatever it is that can be expressed through the wines. I've had the... continue reading

07.02.2009

2007 J. Rochioli "River Block" Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley

It took me a long time in my evolution as a wine lover to truly understand the amount of money and sweat and energy that goes into building a world class winery over decades, even centuries. Many wine lovers early in their education (and in their earning power) are often flummoxed by prices for wines that start to head north of $80 or $90 per bottle. Should they pursue their love of wine long enough to really learn (and see for themselves) what kind of work goes into some of the world's best vineyards, and to taste the wine that... continue reading

06.27.2009

Giacomo Conterno Barolo and Barbera: Italy's Greatest Wines?

Because of our deep history with wine, the standards by which we judge today's efforts must be placed within the context of tradition. While we can judge California Pinot Noir on its own merits, we cannot understand or evaluate it completely without reference to Burgundy, its ancestral home. Burgundy will always be the benchmark for Pinot Noir, as it has been for centuries. Just as there exist regional benchmarks for grape varieties or wine styles, there also exist some individual wine producers, and even individual wines, that manage to define the uppermost limits of quality or the epitome of a... continue reading

06.17.2009

2006 Hourglass "Blueline Estate" Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa

There is no single recipe for greatness when it comes to Napa wine, but starting with a great plot of land can take you a long way. The only problem is, a lot of people don't necessarily know a great plot of land when they see one. Sometimes these plots of land can be hidden in plain sight until the right person comes along to notice. When Jeff Smith's father moved the family to St. Helena in 1964, he wasn't thinking about wine, he was thinking about real estate development. He was also thinking about the tiny trickle of tourists... continue reading

06.15.2009

2005 Lieff "Auberge Road Vineyard" Cabernet Sauvignon, Rutherford, Napa

There are people who start wineries and work for a long time to get to the point that their names become synonymous with good wine, regardless of whether their names are on the bottle or not. And then there are those who you wonder at how they managed to avoid having their name on a wine bottle for as long as they did. Robert Lieff has a long history with wine, and with Napa Valley in particular. How he has managed to only just now end up with his name on a bottle, is in part a testament to his... continue reading

06.13.2009

2006 Hall "Exzellenz" Sacrashe Vineyard Proprietary Red Wine, Rutherford, Napa

The pleasures of childhood call to us as adults. The tug of nostalgia is so great that we so often find ourselves indulging in little things that remind us of our early years, and in some cases we throw ourselves passionately into the pursuit of the things we have lost. Kathryn Hall lost the vineyard that was her childhood playground. Despite having managed the vineyard for nearly a decade, letting it go after her father's death was the right thing to do. But her memories of growing up among the grape vines in Redwood Valley, coupled with her enduring love... continue reading

06.02.2009

Flowers Winery, Sonoma Coast: Single Vineyard Pinot Noirs

I love the places where wine grows in spite of the adversity heaped upon it by the place, the climate, and the geology. I also love the places where wine grows despite all conventional wisdom to the contrary -- the places everyone else avoided, but where visionary winegrowers and winemakers have staked their claims and bet their futures. Often times these two types of places are one in the same. Call them extreme vineyard sites. The places that most people would dismiss as infeasible for making wine, for one reason or another. Some of these places stay extreme, and the... continue reading

05.30.2009

2006 Jack Larkin Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa

The allure of Napa is legendary, even clichéd. The wine country lifestyle, or whatever you want to call it, combined with the love of wine has inspired countless people to sell everything they own and head to Napa to try and live their own personal wine dream. There must be people who simply flounder and fail in these endeavors. Like many of the unfortunate, their stories never surface for most of us. We tend to only hear about those that succeed in turning their dreams into reality. Yet I continue to be astonished at just how many people seem to... continue reading

05.16.2009

2005 Peacock Family Cabernet Sauvignon, Spring Mountain District, Napa

I have a hard spot in my heart for peacocks. Spending summers with my father in Sonoma County as a kid, we had a neighbor with a bunch of peacocks that would wander over towards our house and hang out in the trees nearby. Beautiful birds? Yes. But they also have an incredibly loud, piercing call that at 5:00 AM makes you wonder what peacock stew tastes like. I recently learned what Peacock wine, er, rather Peacock Family wine tastes like, and we won't hold the bird's reputation against Christopher and Betsy Peacock, because the wine they're making from their... continue reading

05.05.2009

2003 Adagio "Premium" Malbec, Lujan de Cuyo, Mendoza, Argentina

Every time Spring rolls around, I find myself thinking wistfully of Argentina. I spent a wonderful three weeks there a few years ago just after the harvest eating, drinking, and generally appreciating everything about the country. Now, especially as our family budget gets tighter, I reminisce about amazing dinners for $25 and great bottles of wine for $15. So I dug through my notes a little just for nostalgia's sake and found a really nice wine that I discovered while I was there, but didn't end up writing about for some reason. I had asked the sommelier at Cabaña Las... continue reading

05.03.2009

Outpost Wines, Napa: Current Releases

To the casual visitor or inexperienced wine lover, Napa may just be a name on a bottle, or a vision of vineyards stretched between Highway 29 and the Silverado Trail. But like many wine regions, Napa is only a word on a map and an official designation for a group of winegrowing regions that, at times, seem to have little in common. The extreme variations of climate, soils, and topography among the various sections of Napa County make the subdivision of the region into separate AVA's (American Viticultural Areas) an inevitability. The variety of terroirs represented by these 14... continue reading

04.25.2009

2005 François Blanchard "Violoncelite" Cabernet Franc, Touraine, France

Perhaps some of the most interesting wines in the world are made by cranks, crackpots, and wackos -- iconoclasts that keep time to their own secret rhythms and make wine in ways that often make sense only to them. You might say that I'm a collector of such wines and winemakers, in the same way that young boys collect baseball cards. And today I'll add another to my growing menagerie of eccentric visionaries that make extraordinary wine. François Blanchard is a jazz musician who one day found himself the owner of his family's (somewhat decrepit) wine estate and decided that... continue reading

04.09.2009

The World's Best Kosher Wine?: Tasting The Covenant

The more stories I hear about how some wineries get started, the more I tend to think that by far the best way to start a wine brand is almost by accident. Ten years ago if you had told wine writer Jeff Morgan that he'd eventually be making the best (and most expensive) Kosher wine in the world, he would have probably fallen off his chair laughing. At that point, his exposure to Kosher wine consisted of the seven consecutive years he wrote (what he says was) essentially the same story on Kosher wine for the Wine Spectator. I'm not... continue reading

04.05.2009

1999 Washington State Cabernet: Perspectives and Tasting Notes

This past weekend I had the opportunity to attend Taste Washington, the state's annual showcase of its wines. My ratings for the more than 200 Washington wines I tasted will take some time for me to transcribe and tabulate, and will be posted here on Vinography later this week. In the meantime, however, I thought I'd share my tasting notes from one the seminars I had the opportunity to attend during the first day of the festival, a look back at some top Washington Cabernets from 10 years ago, and a comparison with their recent 2006 vintage. Moderated by Bob... continue reading

04.02.2009

New Cabernets from Napa

When I was a kid, I wanted to be an archaeologist or an exploratory marine biologist. I had dreams of discovering lost civilizations or new species in the oceans or jungles. I never quite managed to fulfill that dream, but I have managed to channel some of that passion into the discovery of new wines. In the past few years, there has been an explosion of new wineries in Napa. Other than the market forces that made making Napa wine pretty attractive, and therefore something people wanted to try, I'm not entirely sure what might be responsible for this serious... continue reading

03.24.2009

Merry Edwards Wines, Russian River Valley: Single Vineyard Pinot Noirs

Meredith "Merry" Edwards drives an SUV with a license plate that matches the title on her business card: Reina de Pinot. With far too few female winemakers in this country, claiming to be the Queen of Pinot might not involve much competition no matter what your real qualifications. But anyone would be hard pressed to find a woman winemaker in the Western Hemisphere that has more experience growing and making Pinot Noir than Merry Edwards. Frankly, there aren't many winemakers, men or women, that have been making Pinot in the state of California for more than thirty years. Edwards started... continue reading

02.25.2009

The Best Cabernet In Napa: Tasting Premiere Napa Valley 2009

One of my favorite events each year involves the opportunity to sample some of the best wines that Napa produces in a given vintage. At Premiere Napa Valley, an auction that serves as the world's most expensive "bake sale" to support the efforts of the non-profit Napa Valley Vintners Association, journalists like me get a chance to sneak a taste of hundreds of unique wines that are purchased by the nation's top wine retailers at staggeringly high prices. This year, as every year, 200 member wineries each crafted a unique auction lot of wine that in most cases represents the... continue reading

02.21.2009

Kapcsándy Family Winery, Napa: Current Releases

Napa has a way of turning modest dreams into major productions. Lou Kapcsándy and his wife Bobbie decided to retire to Napa mostly out of nostalgia for the picnics and wine tasting they used to do as a young married couple living in Sausalito. Forty years after the first of these romantic escapes, their retirement dream included only a little cottage with at most an acre or so of vines, so Lou could putter in the garage and make a barrel or two of wine from his backyard fruit. Three years after the family, including their son Louis, made the... continue reading

02.16.2009

The Best Zinfandel in California: Tasting ZAP 2009

In this tough economic climate, people are spending less on the discretionary side of their budgets. If you had asked me to make predictions, I would have told you that this would likely have led to fewer people attending this year's ZAP Zinfandel festival. Certainly market data are showing us that people are buying less expensive wines, and I would have thought that meant spending $69 for a chance to taste a whole lot of Zinfandel would be hard to justify. But the line snaking around the edge of the parking lot, and the crowds inside proved me entirely wrong... continue reading

02.08.2009

2005 Ladera Cabernet Sauvignon, Howell Mountain, Napa

I've been drinking wine for more than 30% of my life at this point, taking notes on wine for ten years, and writing this blog for five, but despite that fact, it's not exactly common for me to be able to say with certainty that I've tasted every vintage of a particular wine made by any one winery. Even those wineries whose inaugural vintages debuted since Vinography became a going concern I am generally not able to taste their wines with regularity every single year. But there are a few wineries whose wines I have been buying and tasting since... continue reading

01.29.2009

2007 Cooper Mountain Vineyards "20th Anniversary Reserve" Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, Oregon

One of the great pleasures of wine appreciation will always be the process of tasting the wine of a single winery over a very long span of time. Tracking the products of a winery's labor over the years can be remarkably rewarding regardless of whether the experience is one of consistency, or of progress and change. I've only had the pleasure of tasting the last two vintages of wine from a little family winery in Oregon's Willamette Valley. Despite my recent introduction to Cooper Mountain Vineyards, I can almost taste the twenty years that came before this, their 20th vintage.... continue reading

01.17.2009

2004 Domaine de la Bouissiere Gigondas, France

The best known and highest quality wines of the world continue to get more expensive over time. This is a function of the increasing value of their brands, the increasing recognition of the regions they are grown in, and the rising demand for top tier wines. These price and popularity gains filter down from the most well known wines to those that are slightly less well known, producing the aggregate effect of price increases in most of the world's famous wine regions, at least for the wines that represent the upper end of the regions production. As a result, regions... continue reading

01.10.2009

2003 Smith Madrone Cabernet Sauvignon, Spring Mountain District, Napa

There are more legends, stories, fairytales, and fables than anyone could count which all involve some guy up on a mountainside somewhere. Sometimes a hermit, sometimes a wizard, sometimes a troll -- sometimes just an old man who went to sleep under a tree for a long, long time. No matter what the story, there's always something a little different about the guy on the mountain, something that is both scary and alluring at the same time. Stu Smith might be living out yet another version of one of these tales. The fact that Stu sports a big gray and... continue reading

12.24.2008

Two Hands Wine, Barossa, Australia: Current Releases

One of the things I love about the wine world is the way in which it rewards people with vision, initiative, talent, and above all, passion. I find it magical that someone can fall in love with wine, and decide that the most important thing for them to do for the rest of their lives is to make wine, and then actually make a living following that passion. Maybe the same thing happens in a lot of industries, but you just don't hear such stories about accounting. Or maybe we only ever hear about the success stories in the wine... continue reading

12.07.2008

2002 Bressan "Special Bottling" Pinot Nero, Friuli, Italy

I'm not entirely sure why some of the best wines in the world are made by people who are more than a little crazy, but there are enough wacko winemakers out there to make it clear that the connection between great wine and reclusive eccentrics is more than mere coincidence. Even more telling are the number of these "eno savants" (to perhaps coin a phrase) that live in Friuli, in northeast Italy. Once upon a time, there was no Italy, there was only the river Isonzo, winding its way down out of the Alps towards the Adriatic sea. From the... continue reading

12.06.2008

1996 J. Rochioli "West Block" Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley

To paraphrase Shakespeare, there are wineries that are born great, those that achieve greatness, and those that have greatness thrust upon them. To explain: some fantastic wineries are started by people who are superstars already, and it hardly seems to matter what they do -- these properties are destined for success. Some top wineries seem to come from nowhere, and indeed have greatness thrust upon them, when out of the blue, their wine scores highly somewhere and they are vaulted from obscurity to fame. The majority of the best wineries in the world, however, fall into Malvolio's second category through... continue reading

11.26.2008

2006 Jean-Paul Thevenet "Vielles Vignes" Morgon, Beaujolais, France

The wine industry spends a lot of time and energy fighting for the attention of global consumers. In particular, they've tried hard to market seasonally to consumers, but they just can't quite compete with the likes of Oktoberfest for beer drinkers. The best that the wine industry has been able to come up with sends even the most tolerant wine lovers running for cover every November, as the rollout of Beaujolais Nouveau reaches ever more spectacular heights of commercial bling. It would be one thing if the wine was even somewhat drinkable. But these days, what passes for Beaujolais Nouveau... continue reading

11.23.2008

2006 Williams Selyem "Hirsch Vineyard" Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast

We don't have a Cru classification in California (we just have mailing lists and release prices) but there are a few vineyards in the state that would most certainly be at the top of the list. Their names are well known to those wine lovers who can afford the generally expensive wines they produce, and one of them is unquestionably the Hirsch Vineyard. First planted in 1980 by farmer David Hirsch, the Hirsch Vineyard is located on the mountain ridges above the northern California town of Fort Ross at 1500 feet above the ocean surface and 3.5 miles as the... continue reading

11.18.2008

2004 E. Guigal "Chateau d'Ampuis" Côte-Rôtie, Northern Rhone, France

One of the greatest experiences that a wine lover can encounter is a wine that stops them in their tracks. I'll admit that I'm excitable in general, but there's nothing that gets me quite so giddy as a schoolboy as when I stumble across a wine that truly bowls me over. Such wines are the closest I get anymore to the emotions of that first passionate kiss in a new relationship -- they electrify me. While the world slows down to a crawl around me, all I want to do is stick my nose in the glass and inhale slowly.... continue reading

10.16.2008

2006 Blackbird Vineyards "Illustration" Proprietary Red Wine, Oak Knoll District, Napa

As you likely know, I make it my business to keep my eye on new California wineries, especially in Napa and Sonoma, as much as I can given the fact that I do a lot of other things besides write about wine. Whenever possible, I like to taste the first releases from these wineries. They are not always fantastic - some are good, some show potential, and some simply need to be written off as first efforts and retried again later. That's the thing about wines, just because they're not good now, that doesn't mean they won't be later, and,... continue reading

09.23.2008

Tasting the Red Wines of Simonsberg Ward, Stellenbosch, South Africa

Greetings from Cape Town, South Africa! I've come down to the Cape Winelands to dive deep into South African wine in a way that isn't possible in the United States. In most wine stores I'm lucky to find a handful of South African wines at most, and forget about restaurants, which often just have a single representative wine on their list, if anything at all. So I'm here under the imposing shadow of Table Mountain to attend Cape Wine 08, the biannual South African wine convention -- their equivalent of VinItaly or VinExpo. I'll be visiting a few wine producers,... continue reading

09.20.2008

1996 Walter Hansel Estate Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley

One of the greatest, though imminently forgivable, crimes perpetrated by a large number of even the most knowledgeable wine lovers consists of the tendency to consume great wines before they have had the opportunity to fully develop. Sometimes referred to as "infanticide," this practice varies in its levels of extremity depending on the category of wine. In my opinion, perhaps the most slighted of all categories in this respect is California Pinot Noir. While it may not have the aging potential of Burgundy (though we don't really know for sure -- no one has been making really serious Pinot Noir... continue reading

09.13.2008

2005 Gargiulo Vineyards "G Major Seven Study - 575 OVX Vineyard" Cabernet Sauvignon, Oakville, Napa

There's something really cool about seeing a young winery start to hit its stride. I've only seen a few newborn calves and foals in their first moments after birth as they learn to use their spindly legs, but it's hard not to feel a sense of pride when after a few minutes, they go galloping around in circles. I was first introduced to Gargiulo Vineyards at a wine bar in San Francisco a couple of years ago. I just happened to stop by for a drink, and April Gargiulo was on hand, pouring what was then her family's second release... continue reading

08.28.2008

1997 Staglin Family Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon, Rutherford

From the late 1800's to the first half of the twentieth century California represented a land of opportunity for many. In Northern California, this potential seems to have been realized in particular by Italian immigrants who settled North of San Francisco in great numbers, founding small towns up the coast and in the inland valleys. Drive Highway 1, Highway 12, Highway 116, and the Bohemian Highway North of the city and you'll pass old barns and homesteads, country stores, and several Italian restaurants that have been operating continuously since at least the Thirties. That these fiercely determined immigrants met with... continue reading

08.24.2008

JC Cellars, Oakland: Current Releases

In the Silicon Valley, business incubation is quite common -- larger companies often provide financial, operations, and moral support to smaller companies that they themselves have started, or outside start-ups that they believe have a good potential for success. This practice has become so normal that some companies have established entire business models based on incubation. Incubation has also become common in the wine industry, where the costs of all the equipment and supplies required to make wine can be an extreme barrier to entry, and a source of extremely high overhead for those who do take the plunge. Just... continue reading

08.14.2008

2003 Meyer Family Cellars "Bonny's Vineyard" Cabernet Sauvignon, Oakville

Heritage plays out in many ways in the Napa Valley. There are only a few remaining families that have been farming in the valley since Prohibition, and even those that have tenures lasting more than three decades are increasingly being supplanted by new blood or corporate interests. Some of those families that have left the valley after decades often move on to other enterprises after cashing out on their vineyard investments. However, it's tough to abandon Napa Valley once you've lived and loved there for so long. Winemaker Justin Meyer moved his family to the Anderson Valley in 1999 after... continue reading

08.02.2008

2005 Hughes-Wellman Cabernet Sauvignon, St. Helena, Napa Valley

Good wine is rarely made by accident. So much can go wrong in the winemaking process that to get something that isn't complete dreck is a triumph, and those who are capable of creating fantastic wines are, despite their modesty and common protestations of "just letting nature take her course," truly talented artisans. While wines, and great wines in particular, are made with incredible forethought and planning, sometimes wine labels can spring up overnight as the result of an opportune conversation or new friendship. Such is the case with this wine, which may be the first and only vintage under... continue reading

07.21.2008

Vérité Wines, Sonoma: Current Releases

Formulaic is an adjective that is often leveled at some of California's top boutique wines and their winemaking. As if when you finally manage to afford all the components required to make a high-end wine, that somehow you just throw them together and, "poof" you've got yourself a $300, 94 point superstar. This stereotype is especially convenient for those who can't afford to drink such wines. I should know. I still can't afford to drink such wines, and while I've learned better now, about 10 years ago I believed that the only thing special about big name wines was how... continue reading

07.19.2008

2006 Baker Lane "Hurst Vineyard" Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast

Some people seem to get into the wine business through sheer determination. After years of saving, scraping, dreaming and planning, vineyard or winery ownership is the fulfillment of many people's long held (if not hard earned) fantasies. And then there are those people who somehow seem destined for it -- people whose stories you hear and you think, how on Earth did you manage not to do this earlier? If Stephen Singer was going to fall into one of these categories it would most certainly be the latter. In 2003 he became the proprietor of a small winery called Baker... continue reading

06.25.2008

2005 Veramonte "Primus" Red Wine, Casablanca Valley, Chile

It's hard to believe that in the early 1990's less than 100 acres of vineyards were planted in Chile's Casablanca valley. In little more than two decades, this region of Chile has surged in growth and popularity, and is currently producing excellent wines that generally represent fantastic values on the world market. The region is currently home to more than 10,000 acres of vineyards. Back when the grape acreage was still in the triple digits Agustin Huneeus decided that the Casablanca valley was one of Chile's most promising wine regions, and that he needed to start making wine there. Not... continue reading

06.22.2008

2005 Star Lane Vineyards "Astral" Cabernet Sauvignon, Santa Ynez Valley

There are those in the wine world who seek out (and often pay for) the best possible advice they can get. Winemaking and winegrowing are sciences as much as they are arts, and these days, there are plenty of experts to be had in both arenas. And then there are those in the wine world that no matter what the scientists, experts, and even their friends say, choose to follow their instincts. Call them pig-headed, call them eccentric, call them iconoclasts, there are certain people that will always walk their own paths when it comes to wine. Jim Dierberg seems... continue reading

06.03.2008

2005 Blackbird Vineyards Proprietary Red Wine, Napa

I make it my business to keep my eye on new California wineries, especially in Napa and Sonoma, as much as I can given the fact that I do a lot of other things besides write about wine. Whenever possible, I like to taste the first releases from these wineries. They are not always fantastic - some are good, some show potential, and some simply need to be written off as first efforts and retried again later. That's the thing about wines, just because they're not good now, that doesn't mean they won't be later, and, of course, vice versa.... continue reading

05.11.2008

Meteor Vineyard, Napa: Debut Releases

Barry Schuler may know a thing or two about running multi-billion dollar technology companies, but what he really wants to talk about, given the chance, is food and wine. The former CEO of AOL, Schuler often gets credited along with Steve Case (who preceded Schuler as CEO) for the company's success in the late Nineties. But while his colleagues and most of America's top technology executives were returning home at the end of their long days to comfortable suburbs near major metropolitan areas, at the end of the week Schuler was making his way back to Napa, California. Schuler may... continue reading

05.04.2008

Does Napa's Best Cabernet Live in Oakville?: A Recent Tasting

While often referred to as a single "place" when it comes to wine, Napa is hardly a single monolithic growing region. Each of its 14 established AVAs (American Viticultural Areas) lays claim to a separate identity, characterized by geology, microclimate, and different histories of production. The Oakville AVA has one of the most storied of such histories. It is home to the famed To Kalon Vineyard, purchased by H.W. Crabb in 1868, shortly after the installation of a railroad stop made the tiny village of Oakville spring to life. In 1876 Crabb's neighbor John Benson bottled his inaugural vintage of... continue reading

05.02.2008

2005 Piña Napa Valley "D'Adamo Vineyard" Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa

If one were to speculate on the wine market as a savvy investor might in the small-cap stock market, the game would be the same: follow people you know with good track records. In the wine world, we'd also have to include a corollary about betting on great vineyard sites, but leaving aside the raw materials, it's clear that most good wines don't happen by accident. They're made by talented people. Finding talented people in Napa isn't hard at first. There are a lot of them, many of whom have big brand names. When they start working for a winery,... continue reading

04.16.2008

2003 Pulenta Estate "Gran Corte VII" Red Wine, Mendoza, Argentina

Three years ago this week I was making my way around the top restaurants of Buenos Aires, ordering too much food, too much wine, and having a grand old time. I had come to Argentina, in addition to simply relax, to find out whether or not there was anything worth drinking made out of a grape called Malbec. The answer, of course, was a resounding "yes!" I managed to figure out why some serious wine lovers (and critics alike) had begun to quietly suggest that Argentinean Malbec was going to be the Next Big Thing. This wine was NOT one... continue reading

04.10.2008

Neal Family Vineyards, Napa: Current Releases

In some ways, if Mark Neal and his small winery, Neal Family Vineyards, didn't make fantastic wines, it would be cause for extreme concern. Neal has been working in the vineyards since the age of eight, and his family business, which was responsible for his early employment among the vines, has been managing many of Napa's finest vineyards for more than four decades. At this point, Jack Neal and Sons, which still carries the name of Mark's father, who passed away in 1994, is the single largest vineyard management company in Napa according to Neal. They manage well over 2000... continue reading

04.02.2008

2005 Domaine de Chateau Gaillard Saumur, Loire Valley, France

The Loire Valley is perhaps one of the most underrated and unexplored (by most Americans) wine producing regions in France. So often eclipsed by the bombast of Bordeaux, Burgundy, and the Rhone, if it is known at all, the Loire tends to be known for its famous Sauvignon Blanc from Sancerre. Yet the region, which is the largest white wine producing region in France, and the third largest winegrowing appellation (AOC) in the country, also produces many excellent red wines, chiefly from Cabernet Franc. The most dominating feature of the Loire Valley must be the river itself, France's longest and... continue reading

03.27.2008

2004 Ridge Vineyards "Monte Bello" Cabernet Sauvignon, Santa Cruz Mountains

As Paul Draper was inducted into the Vintners Hall of Fame a couple of weeks ago in a ceremony at the Culinary Institute of America in St. Helena, his acceptance speech offered a simple exhortation to members of the wine industry in attendance: make great wines for yourself and for no one else. His suggestion that winemakers follow their own vision instead of chasing the critics or the appeal of the masses (though he did acknowledge that selling wine is important, too) was backed up by the quite confidence of a man who has been doing that for more than... continue reading

03.14.2008

1974 Charles Krug "Vintage Selection - Lot F1" Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa

Do you want to know a little secret? I'm probably going to catch hell for telling you, especially from my friend Jack who served this wine to me, and who let me in on the secret in the first place. But he should know better than to tell a blogger anything. So here goes: Pre-1980 California Cabernets are some of the best buys in the wine world right now. Sure, some of them, especially pristine bottlings of reserve Beringer, BV, Heitz, or Stags' Leap wines are going for hundreds of dollars per bottle, but with a little effort you can... continue reading

03.04.2008

Kapcsándy Family Winery, Napa: Current Releases

Napa has a way of turning modest dreams into major productions. Lou Kapcsándy and his wife Bobbie decided to retire to Napa mostly out of nostalgia for the picnics and wine tasting they used to do as a young married couple living in Sausalito. Forty years after the first of these romantic escapes, their retirement dream included only a little cottage with at most an acre or so of vines, so Lou could putter in the garage and make a barrel or two of wine from his backyard fruit. Three years after the family, including their son Louis, made the... continue reading

02.14.2008

2004 Swanson Merlot, Oakville, Napa

People travel all sorts of roads to get to Napa Valley. Napa is a refuge for those who can afford to pay for their dreams (with both time and money), and is therefore a place that many choose to reincarnate themselves as winemakers or winery owners after quite storied careers elsewhere. It is also a place that some families begin new legacies for their younger generations. The Swanson family comes to wine, rather uniquely, through what some might consider the antithesis of Napa's California cuisine: frozen TV dinners. Yes, Swanson Frozen TV Dinners. If that four word phrase doesn't ring... continue reading

02.05.2008

The Best Zinfandel in California: Tasting at ZAP 2008

I never cease to be amazed at the power of Zinfandel. At the last major Pinot Tasting in San Francisco, I thought to myself that maybe, just maybe, Pinot Noir had unseated Zinfandel as the most exciting grape for the Bay Area wine drinking public. But who was I kidding. I simply just didn't remember the extent of the reveling hordes that descend on San Francisco's Fort Mason Center for the event known as ZAP. When I emerged for a breath of fresh air from the trade and media portion of the tasting, the line to get in to the... continue reading

01.31.2008

2006 Orin Swift Cellars "The Prisoner" Red Wine, Napa

I wish I knew how many wineries in Napa started as "just a guy who decided he wanted to make wine one day." There must be dozens of them. Maybe hundreds. These numbers shouldn't be allowed to devalue the effort and vision it takes to create a successful winery, but sometimes I scratch my head in bemusement at the audacity of so many people who simply decide to throw their lives into the wine business. While we don't really hear about the ones that don't make it, there are enough of them that have become wildly successful that "the guy... continue reading

01.14.2008

2002 Pietratorcia "Scheria" Rosso, Isola d'Ischia, Italy

The phrase "wine country" generally evokes a wide variety of mental images, largely derived from each person's individual experience in such landscapes. My mental image is most certainly the golden hills of Sonoma County from my summers spent as a child in Northern California, followed closely by the lush green hills of Tuscany in the springtime. I'd venture to say one of the least common pictures of wine country would be a tiny volcanic island, growing grapes within a stone's throw of the Mediterranean and interspersed with geysers and mud baths. Leaving aside the coincidence that Napa valley has its... continue reading

12.12.2007

2005 Storrs Winery Petite Sirah, Santa Cruz Mountains

I don't know who said it, but in the last few years I've heard it uttered that the Santa Cruz Mountains AVA is quite possibly the most underrated wine growing region in California. I'm not sure if I'm confident or encyclopedic enough in my knowledge of California wine to affirm that statement, but in my experience there's definitely something to that claim. The winegrowers and winemakers of the Santa Cruz mountains suffer from the same obscurity that a lot of winemakers in other AVAs do throughout the state, simply by virtue of not being in Napa or Sonoma. I also... continue reading

11.27.2007

Jack Tastes Old...Wines

The generosity and collegiality of wine lovers remains one of the tiny miracles of wine for me. I am constantly impressed by the willingness to share their treasures that bonds so many lovers of wine together. Some people seem to get a particular joy from providing others the opportunity to try wines that they would not normally be able to enjoy. In my experience, one should always have a policy of providing friends with the chance to share their best bottles with someone who appreciates them. It's an important service, and one that I'm proud to perform. I happen to... continue reading

11.12.2007

2004 Caymus "Special Selection" Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa

To say some wines need no introduction is both a truism and also a disservice. There are indeed some wines, that through hard-won success, have built themselves into a globally recognized brands. These wines have names so well known that they can become synonymous with luxury, greatness, or even a type of grape. Yet the power of a brand also means that many people only know it superficially, sometimes even second hand. Caymus Vineyards may need no introduction, because the phrase "Caymus Cabernet" is legendary at this point. Like Silver Oak, Caymus is a name that will be instantly recognized... continue reading

11.03.2007

2003 Meyer Family Cellars Syrah, Mendocino

There are some California appellations that need no introduction, others that will ring a bell for experienced wine lovers, and only a select few that nine out of ten people will likely never have heard of. Up until a few years ago, the Yorkville Highlands was one such appellation. These days, it's hard to tell whether it still languishes in obscurity or is gradually making its name known to lovers of California wine. Every time I meet a winemaker or winery marketing person from the area, however, after telling me where their grapes are grown, they always briefly pause,... continue reading

10.14.2007

1997 Colgin "Herb Lamb Vineyard" Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa

There are several tiers of wines that can legitimately and confidently wear the name tag: HELLO MY NAME IS: Cult Napa Cabernet at any party they happen to attend. The top tier is populated by Screaming Eagle, a single wine that practically invented the phrase "cult Cabernet." Below the hysterically unattainable pricing and scarcity of the Eagle, however, there are several wines which clearly deserve the moniker, and which tend to get consumed a bit more often, if only because in doing so, a wine lover isn't drinking a the equivalent of a San Francisco monthly mortgage payment. That's not... continue reading

10.05.2007

2005 Kindred Wines "Amber Ridge Vineyard" Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley

The Northern California wine scene is like a giant spreading metropolis. I think I read a few days ago that a building over 20 stories is completed in Shanghai every 12 days or something crazy like that. Northern California wine country is experiencing its own boom of expansion, and wineries big and small are popping up all over. One of my greatest joys is looking through the nooks, crannies, and back-alleyways of this boomtown for brand new wines that have a great future ahead of them. While the search is fun, finding them can be exhilarating -- an adjective that... continue reading

09.24.2007

2001 Raphael Cabernet Sauvignon, North Fork of Long Island, NY

Like many wine lovers, I enjoy exploring the wine regions of the world from the comfort of my own kitchen table. Night after night I open a bottle or two and experience little bits and pieces of the world -- snapshots of places and times captured in flavors and colors and aromas. Some of these explorations don't offer much return on the investment. There's a lot of wine out there, and much of it is below ordinary in quality, especially from wine regions that often carry labels such as "up and coming." I take extra care and effort to try... continue reading

09.07.2007

2005 René Noël Legrand "La Chaintrée" Cabernet Franc, Saumur Champigny, Loire Valley, France

Lots of people I know have a "house wine" -- some bottle that they buy in much larger quantities than any other wine and also consume in much larger quantities. A house wine is the inexpensive, drink-with-anything, because-I'd-just-like-a-glass, it-doesn't-matter-if-I-don't-finish-the-bottle, what-goes-with-day-old-pizza wine. In my opinion, every wine loving household should have one. For a lot of people this is clearly the place that Two Buck Chuck holds in their kitchen. I personally prefer to spend between ten and fifteen dollars on my house wine, and I'm constantly picking up random bottles at that price point just to see when I'm going... continue reading

08.31.2007

1970 Chateau Gazin Pomerol, Bordeaux, France

It shows a particular breed of idiocy that the American public has turned its nose up at a grape as the result of a flippant line in a clever but unremarkable movie. While we have thousands of Americans who now hate Merlot, there are still thousands more who think nothing of throwing down a couple of thousand dollars for a bottle of Petrus after a winning streak in Vegas. I'm also willing to bet that there's a good portion of that latter crowd who don't even know that they're drinking Merlot. Those of us whose wine tastes aren't easily swayed... continue reading

08.27.2007

2005 Bodegas Colomé "Estate" Malbec, Salta, Argentina

Once upon a time, I went to Argentina looking for the good wine. Frankly I couldn't understand what all the fuss was about when it came to Malbec. Most of the ones I had tasted here in the US were mediocre. Only a select few rose to the level of excellent, and none to the level of amazing. Yet there was a long stream of proclamations from various people (you know, the ones whose opinions "count" when it comes to such things) that Argentinean Malbec was the next greatest thing. Scratching my head, I traipsed off to Argentina looking for... continue reading

07.25.2007

2003 Girard Winery "Artistry" Bordeaux Blend, Napa

You can often tell just how much someone loves Napa wine from their familiarity with the sub-appellations or American Viticultural Areas (AVAs) that divide the larger Napa Valley into select, smaller sections. Many consumers have heard of the Stag's Leap District, and possible Rutherford or Oakville, but there are more than ten other AVAs in the Napa Valley. AVAs are not enough for some people, however, especially those that pursue the most expensive and difficult to acquire wines of Napa. Discussions of the finer points of these wines rarely begin with appellations or AVAs. Instead they invoke individual vineyards... continue reading

06.27.2007

2001 Enrico Santini "Montepergoli" Rosso, Bolgheri, Tuscany

When I think of Italy as a wine producing country, I tend to think to think of it as ancient. It is the home of thousands of indigenous varieties of grapes, and people have been making wine for centuries, sometimes in the very same spot for dozens of generations. This is certainly true in many of the most established and famous of Italy's wine regions. What I tend to forget is that there are other wine regions which are relatively new, in which the standards for what is good and what is not are still being defined by every new... continue reading

06.25.2007

Lang and Reed Wine Company, Napa: Current Releases

All of us wine lovers inevitably discover, in the course of our explorations, our own secret wineries. These are the wines that we hold close to our chest, revealing them to those with whom we share only our choicest of morsels, which often include such things as parking spaces, hole-in-the-wall restaurants, and great movies and books. As I'm in the business of sharing great wine with readers all the time, I can't really afford to hold much back. But I'd be lying if I told you I had reviewed or written about all my most favorite wineries around the world.... continue reading

06.20.2007

2001 Domaine Joseph Roty "Fontenys" Gevrey-Chambertin, Burgundy, France

I'm a sucker for curmudgeons and iconoclasts in the world of wine. Perhaps these eccentric winemakers play into my romantic notions of the mystery of wine, which I pray never to lose despite my increasingly rational and commercial view of the wine industry. There's just something seductive about a winemaker who does things his own way no matter what anyone says. Joseph Roty's family has been making wine in roughly the same spot in Burgundy for 11 generations, which means that they've had plenty of time to settle into their own ways of doing things. While some winemaking families can... continue reading

06.16.2007

Wolf Family Vineyards: Current Releases

Napa is increasingly the province of large established wineries with pedigrees that are as long as either their mailing lists or the lines at their tasting rooms on summer weekends. This, of course, is not exactly a fantastic thing, especially when it is accompanied by rising prices for wines bearing the appellation designation. Luckily, as in many other places around the country, Napa is also seeing a resurgence of small, family-run vineyards. The rise of such vineyards alongside the consolidation and increasing corporatization of the wine industry may at first be counterintuitive. How is it that both can be happening... continue reading

06.13.2007

2004 Spring Valley Vineyard "Frederick" Cabernet Blend, Walla Walla, WA

I'm ashamed of the city I live in. Really. I'm normally so proud at the wine sophistication of San Franciscans. Collectively we support dozens of great wine stores that carry an amazing range of wines, hundreds of restaurants with corkage policies, and we provide a home base for some of the best wine tasting events in the country. So imagine my surprise when I walked into a very large and very prominent wine store (which shall remain nameless) today looking for a bottle of Washington State Cabernet, and there were only two extremely inexpensive ones on offer. That's not what... continue reading

05.31.2007

2004 Shafer Vineyards "One Point Five" Cabernet , Stag's Leap District, Napa

Winemaking is often a family affair, especially in Europe where the wine often simply carries the family name and where it is made, sometimes for centuries. The winemaking family tradition is alive and well in the United States as well, and just as in Europe it is not at all unusual for the reigns of the winery to be passed from father to son, generation to generation. Of course, that transition between generations is not like a passing a volleyball, or handing off a relay baton. Sure there's a point at which the older generation steps back into "retirement" but... continue reading

05.23.2007

1993 Williams Selyem "Rochioli Vineyard" Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley, Sonoma

It's not every day that I get to tell the majority of the wine world that they're dead wrong, so forgive me if I savor this a little. There is a widespread belief in critical circles that California Pinot Noir does not age well. Like all blanket stereotypes there is some truth to this, especially among those wines that are made in the lush fruit-driven style that is popular these days. And furthermore it may be true that California Pinot Noir can't age as long as Burgundy can (though we're about a decade away from even being able to put... continue reading

05.12.2007

Belle Glos Winery, Napa: Current Releases

So let's say you're a winemaker. You have a winery in Napa. You've been making Cabernet for maybe 50 years. You've made a lot of it. You've won a lot of awards. You made more Cabernet. You've made so much Cabernet, in fact, for so many years that your name is nearly synonymous with Napa Cabernet. What happens, then, when one day you decide that you want to make Pinot Noir? In 2001 Chuck Wagner, proprietor of Caymus Vineyards faced this precise problem. Caymus Pinot just doesn't quite roll off the tongue like Caymus Cab, now does it? To be... continue reading

04.17.2007

2004 Quixote Winery "Quixote" Petite Sirah, Napa

It seems to me that as people get older, especially those who we might consider accomplished and successful, they might feel a bit more license to lighten up or to stir the pot, having already proven themselves a bit to the world. I certainly plan on being a bit more frivolous, eccentric, and quirky if I can afford to in my old age. Napa is filled with a generation of winemakers that could easily rest on their laurels. Over the past thirty years, this group of men and women have created an industry, and most have made their own fortunes.... continue reading

04.14.2007

2005 Toucan Wines Zinfandel, Arroyo Grande, California

I find out about the wines I review here on Vinography in a lot of different ways. Most common are the large tastings that I attend regularly. I also try to go tasting in wine country whenever I can, making special efforts to stop by new wineries or those to which I've never been. Of course, I also get sent a lot of wine in the mail, from people known and unknown, and I do my share of reading wine magazines. This particular wine, however, I discovered long before it was even harvested and bottled for the first time.... continue reading

04.03.2007

2004 Dover Canyon Winery "Alto Pomar" Red Blend, Paso Robles, CA

Some wineries are small because they are new. Some wineries are small because they simply can't be successful enough to get any bigger. And then there are some wineries that are small by choice. Small because that is the only size that makes sense to them. Such wineries are some of my favorites because they are usually the product of interesting people with interesting stories, strong feelings and philosophies, and a commitment to some specific vision for what wine is. Oh yeah. Sometimes they also make great wines. Dover Canyon Winery in Paso Robles is the deliberately small creation of... continue reading

03.17.2007

2003 Grgich Hills Estate Merlot, Napa

Visitors to Napa Valley, even those on their first trip, have a hard time missing the Grgich Hills winery, which sits prominently on the west side of Highway 29, its flower beds almost pushed right up against the edge of the blacktop. Of course, when the winery was established in the late 1970s there was a lot less traffic on that same highway, and founder Miljenko "Mike" Grgich was a young man. But despite his youth, this Croatian-born immigrant did not lack for experience or acclaim. Indeed, it was partly based on his success as the winemaker for the 1973... continue reading

03.10.2007

2003 McPrice Myers Grenache, Santa Barbara County

There's a whole new generation of winemakers in California that is only just now starting to become visible to the general public. This group of talented young vintners and their small labels have remained well below most people's radar for two primary reasons: they generally only make a very small amount of wine and many are only winemakers at night and on the weekends -- the rest of the time they have day jobs. That's right, you may be sitting one cube away from a boutique winemaker and not even know it. McPrice Myers didn't get his start as a... continue reading

03.04.2007

2005 Baker Lane "Hurst Vineyard" Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast

Some people seem to get into the wine business through sheer determination. After years of saving, scraping, dreaming and planning, vineyard or winery ownership is the fulfillment of many people's long held (if not hard earned) fantasies. And then there are those people who somehow seem destined for it -- people whose stories you hear and you think, how on Earth did you manage not to do this earlier? If Stephen Singer was going to fall into one of these categories it would most certainly be the latter. In 2003 he became the proprietor of a small winery called Baker... continue reading

02.27.2007

The Best 2005 Napa Cabernet: Tasting Premiere Napa Valley '07

Who wouldn't want to shop around at this bake sale, especially if there were free samples of everything? I joined nearly 1000 winemakers, restaurateurs, and retailers this past weekend at Premiere Napa Valley, the event which the Napa Valley Vintners Association affectionately refers to as their bake sale. As opposed to Auction Napa Valley, an event whose sole purpose is to raise money for charity, Premiere is a combination of celebration and fundraiser for the Vintners Association. Premiere also happens to be the ultimate Napa insider event -- a place where winemakers and some of their best customers get to... continue reading

02.25.2007

Domaine de Nizas, Languedoc, France: Current Releases

I can't tell you how many times I've heard friends say "I can't really afford French wine." Even after I suggest that there are plenty of French wines under twenty bucks, they're still liable to complain that they can't really afford "good French wine." Whenever I have that conversation I find myself wishing I had a backpack full of wines from the Languedoc handy. I'd whip out a bottle and a corkscrew like a gunslinger from the wild west and set them straight once and for all. The Languedoc has been the historical home to most of France's low-end table... continue reading

02.17.2007

2004 San Sakana Cellars "Los Madres Vineyard" Syrah, Carneros, Sonoma

There are only a few people who wake up one morning after a long professional career and decide that they want to become cabinetmakers. In fact there may be less than a few. But there's something about the pull and the passion of wine that inspires people every day to quit their jobs, or come out of retirement, and become winemakers. It used to be that most of these people had been harboring lifelong dreams of making wine, and after a lot of hard work and savings, they bought an estate in Napa or Sonoma and set about living a... continue reading

02.13.2007

NV "The Big Red Monster" Red Table Wine, California

You wouldn't believe the sort of stuff I get in the mail. Consumers are blissfully ignorant of the incredible amount of marketing dollars spent to push wines, not at everyday people, but specifically at journalists. In the last couple of years I've gained a certain amount of visibility in the wine world, and as a result, I receive a pretty steady stream of heavy boxes with "Adult Signature Required. 21 Years or older" stickers on them. Many of these simply contain a few bottles of wine and a letter from a winemaker urging me to try them. But many of... continue reading

02.07.2007

2002 Astrale e Terra Syrah, Atlas Peak, Napa

There's Napa and then there's Napa. For a lot of wine consumers, this four letter word is just synonymous with high quality California wine. For the slightly better informed the word might conjure up images of the broad valley alongside of Highway 29. Those who truly know Napa, however, will tell you that unless you're talking about the Town of Napa, Napa is not one place it is many different places. This phenomenon is not uncommon amongst the world's bigger appellations, and here in the US we've got some of the biggest. Napa is a name that is draped over... continue reading

01.17.2007

2001 Domain Marcel Deiss "Burlenberg" Pinot Noir, Bergheim, Alsace

Alsace, the oft-contested and much-coveted skinny strip of land between northeastern France and its neighbor Germany is an odd and unique place. Like several other such zones around the world, it has been a part of so many different countries and empires that it enjoys a sort of twilight zone atmosphere, where place names reflect one language, spoken words another, and family histories often both or none of the above. Alsace is also a unique landscape sculpted by both rivers and volcanic events, but bearing the unmistakable and essential traces of a more ancient geological past as the bottom of... continue reading

01.16.2007

2005 Segue Cellars "Segue" Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley, Sonoma

People have asked me many times if I ever think about making wine. Its something that I would love to do eventually, if only for the opportunity to learn a lot of things about wine that just can't be learned from books or purchased bottles. I'm sure I'd also appreciate good wine even more after struggling to make something passably mediocre in my first attempt. Eventually I know I will need to make wine because, honestly, how can I sit here and criticize the efforts of winemakers without knowing what they go through? This lack of hands-on knowledge must... continue reading

11.14.2006

1961 Hospices de Beaune Emile Chandesais "Cuvée Rousseau Deslandes," Côte de Beaune, Burgundy

I will never be able to taste all the wines out there, no matter how hard I try, just as I'll never be able to travel to all the places I want to go in the world. Wine offers a landscape of exploration seemingly as varied as the world around us, and just as likely to offer up surprises and treasures to those who are intent enough, or lucky enough, to find them. Great wines sometimes just sneak up on you. They are like precious gems, or veins of gold. Many of the main sources are well known and consistently... continue reading

10.04.2006

2002 Altair Bordeaux Blend "Grand Cru," Cachapoal, Chile

Most of the wine that arrives on my doorstep does so predictably. I get a call or an e-mail from some PR or marketing person who wants to know if I take samples, I explain my policy, and then a week later I get a box with some bottles and some technical datasheets and depending on the quality of the wine, maybe a refrigerator magnet or two (if you know what I mean. This bottle of wine, however, arrived most unexpectedly, and mysteriously. As opposed to the usual UPS delivery, it arrived via a special international courier service, with no... continue reading

09.04.2006

2000 Poggio di Sotto Rosso di Montalcino, Tuscany, Italy

We all have those special bottles. These are bottles of fluid that is somehow more than wine -- a miraculous mix of wine and memory that are created in some of life's most fantastic moments. This is one of those bottles. Early on in my relationship with Ruth -- the Spring of 2003 -- we took a trip to Tuscany. It was one of those perfect vacations that most people dream about. Perfect weather, fantastic food, gorgeous scenery, you name it. It was an early test of our relationship, and the beginning of her love affair with wine. At that... continue reading

08.29.2006

1988 Chateau de Beaucastel Chateauneuf-du-Pape, France

Wine, when at its most triumphant and expressive, nearly defies description. Some people speak of "perfect wines" which is always a problematic moniker, because the appreciation of wine is always contextual and always subjective. But there are some wines that have a magic to them -- from the instant they touch your lips to the residual memories that linger for days after their consumption. These wines bafflingly seem to be more than the sum of their parts, as if someone added two and three and got six -- they shine brighter and deeper than it seems possible for a simple... continue reading

08.09.2006

2004 Radio Coteau "La Neblina" Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast, CA

As many of you know, one of my favorite things about the way the wine world works today is how anyone can get their hands on excellent fruit and make great wines without even having a winery or vineyard of their own. These boutique estateless wineries are now quite common, and some of them are making some pretty incredible wine. I've been hearing about Eric Sussman for quite some time. His winery, Radio Coteau is not only a perfect example of this sort of winemaking operation, it seems to be founded precisely to capitalize on the potential that exists for... continue reading

07.16.2006

2004 Arista Winery "Harper's Rest" Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley, CA

I first learned about Arista Winery late last year when I had the opportunity to taste what the winery called it's "first commercial release." They had made some wines before, under different ownership and with different fruit, but the winery had recently been revamped, and its owners were aiming for a fresh start. And quite a start they got. Their initial wines were excellent across the board, and their new tasting room, set back among the oaks and rock outcroppings in the rolling hills near Healdsburg, was stunning. The winery has just released its "second" vintage under the new ownership... continue reading

07.05.2006

2003 Bokisch Graciano, Lodi, CA

There are endless stories of winemakers (and those who dream of becoming winemakers) spending their careers and lives waiting for the chance to finally buy a piece of land in Napa and start their own label. Markus and Liz Bokisch did just the opposite. It wasn't necessarily that they wanted to flee Napa. Markus was having a fine time as a viticulturalist working for Joseph Phelps, and in particular in his role on what Phelps called the "Le Mistral" program. Markus' job was to scour Northern California for out of the way growing areas planted with old vines bearing Grenache,... continue reading

06.23.2006

Carter Cellars, Napa: Current Releases

Every good wine has a story behind it. I've never found one that doesn't. Sometimes it takes some work to find the story, but it's always there. In addition to loving to drink wine, these stories are what keep me coming back to favorite bottles and seeking out new ones. Once upon a time, there was a guy named Mark Carter. He liked to build stuff and to drink wine. We'll come back to the wine in a minute, but as far as building things goes, Mark, in particular, liked old Victorian homes. He grew up in one, and spent... continue reading

06.21.2006

Gargiulo Vineyards, Napa: Current Releases

There's something really cool about seeing a young winery start to hit its stride. I've only seen a few newborn calves and foals in their first moments after birth as they learn to use their spindly legs, but it's hard not to feel a sense of pride when after a few minutes, they go galloping around in circles. I feel the same way after my recent tasting of current releases from Gargiulo vineyards. They're starting to make some very good stuff. I was first introduced to Gargiulo at a wine bar in San Francisco a couple of years ago. I... continue reading

06.14.2006

2001 Vignerons du Quercy "Les Hauts Lastour" Red wine, Coteaux du Quercy (Cahors), France

Ask anyone in the wine business, or any serious wine snob what the top five most salient "issues" are in the world of wine and chances are good that somewhere in those top five will be some variation on rising alcohol levels. That wines are getting more potent worldwide is an unassailable fact. Since the 1970s (a time when alcohol levels remained pretty much unchanged from their historical values for the past century) the average potency of wines has risen several percentage points. That doesn't sound like much, but when you look at it in relative terms for some wines,... continue reading

06.11.2006

2003 Azienda Agricola Ajello "Furat" IGT Red Blend, Sicily

I learn things drinking wine all the time, and some of what I learn is even the sort of stuff that I missed in history class. For instance, I had no idea that at one time Sicily was a part of the Islamic empire of that ruled north Africa for a few centuries. But here we have a wine, and a lovely one at that, whose name "Furat" speaks volumes of history. Asad ibn al Furat was a Mesopotamian, but emigrated to what is now Tunisia in the beginning of the 9th century. He distinguished himself as a religious scholar... continue reading

05.30.2006

1999 Louis Bernard Vacqueyras, Rhone Valley, France

Why people still argue about global warming is beyond me. The only proof I need are folks like the Inuit, whose boots are now squelching mud where permafrost used to be, and the grape growers of France's Southern Rhone whose weather is getting much less volatile and quite a bit warmer. Most American wine drinkers, even those who consider themselves wine aficionados can't be bothered to keep track of the historically variable weather and subsequent harvest quality in the winegrowing regions of France. Heck, I read all about it, but I can't always remember half the time whether it was... continue reading

05.21.2006

2003 Puccioni "Old Vine" Zinfandel, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma

On our recent trip to Mendoza, Argentina, we visited and tasted wines at a number of wineries that the locals referred to as "renovated." I've forgotten the specific term in Spanish, but they were referring to the increasingly common practice of new owners re-opening long shuttered wineries in the area. New owners (occasionally descendents of the original founders) were reviving old vineyards, remodeling or rebuilding old winery facilities, and generally building on the shoulders of a huge, vibrant wine industry that dried up around the same time that Prohibition was putting the final nail in the coffin of a similarly... continue reading

05.19.2006

2002 Paloma Merlot, Spring Mountain District, Napa

Today is Wine Blogging Wednesday. What's that you say? It's actually Friday? Listen, don't ask me why, all of a sudden, we're being asked to blog about wine together at the end of the week. I just work here. Today represents a collision of two blogging phenomena on the web. The original food blogging collaborative Is My Blog Burning, and the wine tasting event which was inspired by this event, Wine Blogging Wednesday. Jointly celebrating Wine Blogging Wednesday #21 and Is My Blog Burning #26 as the Fabulous Favorites Festival today, wine bloggers are being asked to cook and blog,... continue reading

05.16.2006

2001 Macari Reserve Merlot, North Fork of Long Island, NY

I love the experience of gradually getting to know an new wine region. The more wines I have from Long Island, the more intrigued I am. Many of them are not great, which is typical of emerging wine regions, but every once in a while, you get a wine that shows the promise of a place, and the dedication and hard work of the folks who believe in it. New York has played host to vineyards for about as long as European's have tried to live there. At first, European vine varieties were planted on the island of Manhattan itself,... continue reading

03.15.2006

1995 Hau Xia Cabernet Sauvignon, Changli of Hebei Province, China

I've been wanting to try Chinese wine for a year or so, as I've followed the increasing growth of the Chinese wine industry and the growing popularity of wine in China. On a business trip to LA a couple of weeks ago, I happened to eat a rushed meal at the bar in a restaurant with an extensive by-the-glass list, and what should appear on one of the pages but this little gem. When I placed my order, the bartender raised his eyebrow, and said "Oh, adventurous, aren't you?" I don't normally take that as an encouraging sign, but I... continue reading

But Wait, There's More!

This page only has the last sixty entries in this category. If you're interested in digging farther into my archives, you'll want to use the complete list of archives to access my articles by month.

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Most Recent Entries

MORIC: The Apogee of Blaufränkisch 72 Pinot Noirs on a Sunny Afternoon: Tasting at IPNC 2014 Drew Wines, Mendocino, CA: Recent Releases Blaufränkisch is Best Before Breakfast You Bet Your Blauburgunder: Exploring Austrian Pinot Noir 25 Years in the Hills: A Seven Hills Winery Retrospective Checking On Some Older CA Pinot Noir 2008 Rivers-Marie "Summa Old Vines" Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast Jim Barry Wines, Clare Valley, Australia: Some Current Releases Icon Wines of Napa: A Tasting

Favorite Posts From the Archives

Masuizumi Junmai Daiginjo, Toyama Prefecture Wine.Com Gives Retailers (and Consumers) the Finger 1961 Hospices de Beaune Emile Chandesais, Burgundy Wine Over Time The Better Half of My Palate 1999 Királyudvar "Lapis" Tokaji Furmint, Hungary What's Allowed in Your Wine and Winemaking Why Community Tasting Notes Sites Will Fail Appreciating Wine in Context The Soul vs. The Market 1989 Fiorano Botte 48 Semillion,Italy

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Required Reading for Wine Lovers

The Oxford Companion to Wine by Jancis Robinson The Taste of Wine by Emile Peynaud Adventures on the Wine Route by Kermit Lynch Love By the Glass by Dorothy Gaiter & John Brecher Noble Rot by William Echikson The Science of Wine by Jamie Goode The Judgement of Paris by George Taber The Wine Bible by Karen MacNeil The Botanist and the Vintner by Christy Campbell The Emperor of Wine by Elin McCoy The World Atlas of Wine by Hugh Johnson The World's Greatest Wine Estates by Robert M. Parker, Jr.