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Lost Treasures in the Sierra Foothills: The Wines of Renaissance Vineyards

Soon after gold was discovered in California in 1848, and word spread east, more than 80,000 prospectors descended upon the foothills of the Sierras in search of their fortunes. Most only found hardship and broken dreams. Almost as soon as the Gold Rush began, stories began to circulate about "lost mines," rich troves of gold that were never to be found again when their discoverers met with misfortune. Even today an occasional prospector still goes in search of these forgotten treasures. What would you think if I told you that the legends of a massive treasure buried in the... continue reading


A Life Indomitable: The Wines of Casal Santa Maria, Portugal

"I have been condemned to death four times," says the man that everyone calls Senhor Baron with a smile that emerges broadly from underneath his thin mane of snow-white hair and droopy eyelids, "but as you can see, here I am." It is two days after his one hundred third birthday and he is dressed in a bold three piece houndstooth suit with a brilliant blue tie and matching pocket square. His wrinkled, pale hands wrap sturdily if slightly trembling around the well worn handle of his cane, and he leans in with a conspiratorial air to tell me... continue reading


Bay Area Bordeaux: Tasting Santa Cruz Mountain Cabernets

It sounds like the beginnings of a joke: how do you hook a wine writer? The answer, it turns out, at least in my case, involves offering to put on the most comprehensive tasting of Santa Cruz Mountains Cabernet ever held. When the Santa Cruz Mountains Winery Association made the offer, I suspect they knew I would have a hard time refusing. Just in case it was a trap, I brought my friend Elaine with me (you can read her writeup of the event here). As it turns out, the event was a trap, and a cleverly designed one... continue reading


From the Quiet Garden: The Wines of Pichler-Krutzler, Wachau, Austria

Winemaker Erich Krutzler has carried a lot of baggage in his life. At 46 he is still a relatively young man, but when he smiles from under his mop of slightly graying bangs, you can see the miles he has traveled in the corners of his eyes. Even leaving aside the difficulty of purchasing vineyards in the very limited market of Austria's Wachau valley, beginning a wine label wasn't going to be easy for Krutzler. For starters, there was the long shadow of Blaufränkisch to step away from. Krutzler was partners with Roland Velich when he began the MORIC... continue reading


The Taste of Something New: Introducing Solminer Wines

Many things motivate the ambitious wine lover, but the curious joy of discovery often ranks highest among the forces that drive us to drink widely. Few things compare to the electric thrill of opening a completely unknown bottle or taking up an inscrutable glass only to be rewarded not just with something tasty, but something fantastic. This feeling remains one of the main reasons I continue to dutifully work through all the unsolicited wine that comes to my door. Because for all the mediocre and totally uninspiring wines I get, there are gems. This is the story of one of... continue reading


Coastal Diamonds: The Rieslings of Oregon

About every two years, I get an invite to attend the International Pinot Noir Celebration in Oregon's Willamette Valley. The event continues to be one of the best run and highest quality wine events in the country, with a fantastic combination of excellent wine and equally fantastic food. More about Pinot Noir in a day or two. In addition to attending one of the best wine parties around, IPNC also gives me (and a number of other wine writers) the excuse to do something slightly less expected: taste a lot of Oregon Riesling. Each year following IPNC, the Oregon... continue reading


The Abbot's Dinner: A Tale of New Beginnings in Châteauneuf-du-Pape

Few things excite me more than getting a peek into the birth of a promising new winery. Especially when such beginnings are humble and hard fought. I knew I was in for something good when I pulled up in the driveway of Chateauneuf-du-Pape's newest winery only to find a tin shed on a slightly overgrown lot. We leapt over large puddles in the muddy gravel of the driveway to take shelter under the corrugated metal overhang that shielded the door, and were met by the young and delightfully cheerful Nathalie Reynaud, who sweetly began apologizing (through an interpreter) for... continue reading


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


Kocabag Winery, Cappadocia, Turkey: Current Releases

From the small airport of Nevsehir you must cross the Kizilirmak or "the red river," the longest river in Turkey which earns its name each spring as it fills with the iron-rich soils washed down from the painted hills of Cappadocia. But for now, the river exists in placid greenish-gray, slightly turbid from the recent rains, flowing as ever towards its end in the Black Sea. Once across the narrow bridge, the road climbs back onto the the terraced plateaus of former floodplains which silently date this wide expanse of high desert to somewhere between ancient and eternal. It's easy... continue reading


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


Garagiste Winemakers Tasting: November 10, Paso Robles

One of my favorite pastimes involves tasting wines made by small winemakers who either are just beginning their journeys to becoming more established, or those who are deliberately small and will always remain that way. And by deliberately small, I mean they make a couple of hundred cases of wine, have no tasting room and no vineyards to their name. California is full of these sorts of wineries, and while not all of them are great, these small estate-less wine brands can make some truly excellent wines. Every region of the state plays host to some of these wine labels,... continue reading


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


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


Love is All You Need: The Magical Wines of Imre Kaló

The road from Tokaj to Eger, Hungary, tells something of the country's story. An early spring afternoon shows lush, gently undulating farmland stretching to either side of the two-lane blacktop, which unrolls in front of me with stoic determination. It is going somewhere, at least in contrast with the countryside, which seems just as intensely to be nowhere specifically. Indeed, for many miles, this slice of green fields dotted with trees and tractors could well be anywhere in the world, at least until the hulking, nearly-empty industrial cities rise from the horizon and place a definitive pin on the map,... continue reading


Weingut Veyder-Malberg, Wachau, Austria: Current Releases

In Austria's Wachau valley, it's hard to pay attention to what winemakers tell you, especially when they're talking with you in a vineyard. The Danube twists olive and lazy below incredibly steep hillsides terraced with centuries-old rock walls, each containing but a single row of vines, climbing for thousands of feet from the floodplain. Never mind the vertigo that anyone susceptible to heights might feel perched on these ledges that perch precariously on slopes many would not ski down -- the view is so incredible that you easily lose yourself in the vast majesty. My appointment with Peter Veyder-Malberg was... continue reading


2008 Pheasant's Tears Rkatsiteli, Republic of Georgia

We don't know exactly where and when mankind first made wine in any significant quantity, but we believe that it was approximately 8000 years ago -- long before the rise of the Egyptian civilization. We're also fairly sure that these initial efforts to produce large quantities of fermented grape juice took place in the region currently occupied by the Republic of Georgia. These estimates of the time and location of mankind's earliest forays into oenology are based on the carbon dating of grape seeds found in the bottom of ancient clay amphorae, the remarkable progenitors of the world of wine... continue reading


Tatomer Wines: Current Releases

When you meet some winemakers, who are seemingly making a living at a pursuit borne entirely of passion, it's hard not to look at success in their chosen field as a product of luck. Many of them will encourage this impression, speaking honestly of how lucky they are to be doing what they love, and to have been successful at it. The younger they are, the more likely they are to talk this way. Such surfaces belie the deeper truth of what it takes to really make it as a winemaker -- the incredible amount of work, persistence, and knowledge... continue reading


Presqu'ile Winery, Santa Maria Valley: Current Releases

I'm wandering around the grand tasting tent at the World of Pinot Noir conference, focusing, as I often do, on a combination of wines that I know well, and those that I've never heard of. I walk up to a table with an unfamiliar label, get a little something poured into my glass, lift it up to my nose, and WHAM! It's like I've been slapped upside the head and my senses have just kicked into overdrive. All of a sudden I'm hyper-aware and focused on this delicious experience: a wine that grabs me by the lapels, shakes me... continue reading


Turkish Wine: Some Initial Tasting Notes

Exploring new wine regions continues to be one of my greatest thrills as a wine lover and wine writer. And when I say new wine regions, I mean new to me, of course. I wish I were writing these words above the bustling streets of Istanbul or out in the countryside off the Aegean, but sadly my first explorations of Turkish wine had to be as an armchair traveler. Or should I say, by-the-bottle traveler? At the great generosity of a Turkish friend, who happens to be a wine critic for a Turkish newspaper, I got the chance to spend... continue reading


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


Domaine Seguin-Manuel, Beaune, France: Current Releases

My recent trip to Burgundy was an exploration of the Burgundy of tradition and heritage, as well as the Burgundy of a new generation. While I thrilled to visit sixth generation vignerons working in their family cellars as many generations had before, under the same name, and with the same parcels of grapes, I was also interested in the (somewhat less common) new ventures. Such new ventures are rare, simply because vineyard plots are so difficult to get ahold of, thanks in part to the strict laws of inheritance and the relative scarcity of the vineyards to begin with. While... continue reading


Domaine Buisson-Battault, Meursault, France: Current Releases and Library Wines

Part of the charm of Burgundy has to do with the context of many of the wineries and their cellars. Rather than the grand Chateaux with long driveways between rows of trees and vines (though Burgundy has a few of these) more often than not, you simply round the corner of a narrow street in a small village, walk through a wrought iron gate into a gravel driveway, into a garage with a few steel tanks, and then down a set of stairs attached to a normal looking stone house, into a 16th century vaulted brick cellar (most recently used... continue reading


Domaine des Vignes du Maynes, Cruzille, France: Current Releases

I went to Burgundy to dig my feet into the dirt a bit. To get down on my hands and knees and smell the wet leaves, and to stand on the crest of the hills and see the lay of the land. But I also went to Burgundy hoping to spend some time off the beaten path. Sure, I wanted to taste some Corton Charlemagne, and have dinner at Clos Vougeot, but I also wanted to see if I could find my favorite kind of winegrower -- the kind that is more "crusty hermit" than "lab chemist." And so,... continue reading


2007 Monastero Suore Cistercensi "Coenobium Rusticum" Bianco, Lazio, Italy

We owe much of modern viticulture and winemaking traditions to the church in some form or another. Even before the last supper's famous entreaty that gave rise to the concept of Christian transubstantiation, wine has been a sacred fluid that was grown and made by various religious orders who had the land, the time, and the knowledge to make it happen. In the past, most such organizations were the exclusive domain of men, and consequently so were the wines. Even as various religious orders for women have proliferated, it seems that most of those that make wine (or other... continue reading


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


Garagiste Winemakers of Chile: Introducing MOVI

If I were Hugh Johnson or Jancis Robinson, I could clear my throat and begin my story with a distinguished pronouncement about how I've watched several wine regions around the globe evolve from their infancy to later stages of maturity. But I lack the perspective of someone who's been a professional observer of the industry for decades. While I may not be able to tell you how, exactly, I do know that wine regions evolve over the course of their history, and that Chile finds itself in a particular stage of evolution that most regions probably encounter after a few... continue reading


Tasting Oregon Riesling...At the International Pinot Noir Celebration?

Adulterous. Maybe a little sneaky, and a tiny bit rebellious. There I was at the International Pinot Noir Celebration in Oregon -- a whole weekend dedicated to the glory of Oregon Pinot Noir and it's Burgundy forebears -- when someone in a trench coat pulled me aside and whispered, "Hey buddy, wanna taste some Riesling?" The thought, frankly, couldn't have been the furthest thing from my mind at that point. But when the shadowy figure suggested that this was a nearly comprehensive tasting of all the Rieslings made in the state of Oregon, give or take a few, my interest... continue reading


Fontanella Family Wines, Napa: Inaugural Releases

When it comes to family-run wineries, I always enjoy seeing how the many different roles and responsibilities involved in a full-fledged winery are divvied up among the family. Often, the winery benefits from the luck of a child that has gone into marketing as a career, or a sibling that has gone back to school to learn about enology. The combined skills, passion, and familial bond that makes such wineries tick can sometimes make for quite a powerful operation. I don't think I've ever seen quite the combination represented by Jeff and Karen Fontanella. They're just a young couple in... continue reading


2004 Erba Mountainside Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa

In Isaac Asimov's Foundation series of science fiction books, the main character has invented a science called Psychohistory for predicting the behavior of large groups of people. And by large groups, I mean the entire galaxy. Based partly in sociology, partly in history, and heavily in math, the psychohistorians have developed algorithms that can be used to figure out what big groups of people will do in any situation. I'm not so sure there isn't some sort of algorithm that we might be able to construct to figure out the kind of person (apart from trained winemakers or wine business... continue reading


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


Croatian Wine: Some Tasting Notes

There are a lot of wine regions I have yet to visit in the world, and with a young child I don't think I'll be getting to many in the next few years. But now that I've ticked South Africa off the list (a list that I've never really sat down to write), the region at the top may very well be Croatia. And this was before I tasted through the recent case of Croatian wines that arrived on my doorstep. Now that I've tasted them, I'm kicking myself for not dragging myself and Ruth there while we were childless.... continue reading


2004 La Stoppa "Ageno" White Blend, Emilia-Romagna, Italy

Most people faced a with the choice of merely a specific color of wine to drink will consider their stated preference between the options of red, white, or pink. My choice is none of the above. If I had to swear my allegiance to one color of wine, it would be orange. I have a friend who has seriously suggested that the world ought to acknowledge orange as a legitimate fourth color when it comes to wine. I don't know that I'd go that far, but I would seriously suggest that everyone drink as much of it as they can... continue reading


Cadaretta Winery, Walla Walla, WA: Current Releases

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 probably comes as no surprise to most, but that has nothing to do with my preferences, so much as... continue reading


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


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


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


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


Cooper-Garrod Vineyards, Santa Cruz Mountains: Current Releases

One of the greatest joys in my life remains the feeling I get when stumbling upon a small winery whose name rings no bells, but who produces excellent wines. I don't know why this is, exactly, but it has replaced the childish joy I used to experience as a young boy when finding a small crystal on a hike, or setting a new personal record for stone skipping on a pond. Little wineries with high quality wines are like buried treasure, I guess, but these days my goal is not to hoard but to share as widely as possible. Which... continue reading


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


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


The Best of Brazilian Wine: My First Taste and Impressions

Call me curious, or just call me a big geek, but I get really excited when I get the opportunity to taste the wines from somewhere I've never tasted before. So when the invitation came in to attend an event focused on the wines of Brazil, I jiggled some appointments around and snuck out of work for an hour last week and spent some time on my "other job" -- the intrepid global wine explorer. My experience with and knowledge of Brazilian wine before this tasting amounted to a big fat zilch -- never tasted it, never talked about it,... continue reading


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


Farella Vineyards: Current Releases

To say there are "undiscovered" areas of Napa Valley may be overstating the case a bit, but there are certainly a few areas of California's most famous wine valley that most wine lovers have never heard of, let alone visited, no matter how many times they've been to Napa. The small, shallow valley of Coombsville is one such place. Literally off the beaten path, this area of Napa Valley that lies east of the city of Napa cannot be found by traversing Highway 29 or the Silverado Trail, the two main arteries of Napa. Instead one must strike out east... continue reading


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


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


Cameron Hughes Wines, San Francisco: Current Releases

The continued evolution of the global wine marketplace has made many things possible for many people. Small regional wineries that couldn't survive, let alone exist twenty years ago are now thriving because there are folks out there like me and you that are looking for just the type of wines they are producing. Likewise, the proliferation of estateless wineries (bonded, licensed wineries that own no land and may even rent their winemaking facilities) has exploded in California in particular. Finally, a relatively recent phenomenon for California and the US (though old news to the negociants in France) has surfaced in... continue reading


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


Rivers-Marie Winery, Sonoma: Current Releases

The creation of a new winery is always an exciting thing, especially when it is founded with the goal of being small, conscientious, and expressive of a particular place and grape. By exciting, I mean especially exciting to me. Like turning the corner in a new neighborhood and discovering a tiny shop that sells exquisite crafts, or finding a hole in the wall restaurant that serves the perfect version of a favorite dish, tasting a great wine from a recently begun boutique winery is one of my favorite experiences in the world. We hear a lot (and I certainly write... continue reading


Harrington Wines, San Francisco: Current Releases

Our mental images of the single-minded winemaker who long ago forsook all but one grape in the pursuit of something nearly spiritual in wine, tend to be sepia colored and involve the backdrops of small villages in the European countryside. These men (and women) who work, often alone, in both the vineyards and the cellar to master the equation of one grape + one barrel + one vineyard on a personal level seem decidedly Old World. Over time, I have found a few new world examples of such winemakers, holed up in small towns or in the far reaches of... continue reading


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


2002 Holdredge Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley, CA

There is a whole class of wines in Napa and Sonoma that represent dreams in the process of being realized. These small efforts are usually what I like to call "estateless" wineries. Such wineries are the work usually of one or two individuals (surprisingly often a husband and wife team) who have made tentative but substantial steps towards a goal of becoming winemakers. Often, these people are doing this work in addition to their day jobs -- sourcing fruit after hours and on the weekends, taking classes in winemaking in the evenings, requesting a couple of extra days off work... continue reading


2003 Parallel Wines Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa

Even though it's the middle of January, and the rest of the country, and much of the Northern Hemisphere is still coated with snow (the ski season is probably at its peak right now) it is Spring in Northern California. The hills are greening, some species of Magnolia are blossoming, and mushrooms are popping up on the forest floors as the rains become more intermittent and we start to get days of sunshine. Mushrooms aren't the only things popping up, seemingly out of nowhere. So are new wine labels. Many are new ventures by new people, but occasionally a label... continue reading


Arista Winery, Healdsburg, CA: Current Releases

It's always exciting for me to try new wines from brand new wineries, and its doubly exciting when the wines are actually good. Lots of people spend an awful lot of time and money creating wineries in Napa or Sonoma and end up with wines that are barely noticeable in the sea of average wines available from the region. If the inaugural release of wines from Arista Winery weren't noticed, it certainly wasn't because they were average. I guarantee that while you might not have heard of this Sonoma winery, if you enjoy Pinot Noir you will hear about them... continue reading


Cameron Hughes Wines, San Francisco: Current Releases

The continued evolution of the global wine marketplace has made many things possible for many people. Small regional wineries that couldn't survive, let alone exist twenty years ago are now thriving because there are folks out there like me and you that are looking for just the type of wines they are producing. Likewise, the proliferation of estateless wineries (bonded, licensed wineries that own no land and may even rent their winemaking facilities) has exploded in California in particular. Finally, a relatively recent phenomenon for California and the US (though old news to the negociants in France) has surfaced in... continue reading


2002 Match Vineyards "Butterdragon Hill" Cabernet, St. Helena, Napa

The more young winery owners I meet, the more I keep hearing the line "If you had asked me six years ago if I were going to be making wine right now, I would have laughed in your face." It's amazing how many people seem to accidentally fall into making wine. And I say that without any trace of sarcasm. I really do keep meeting people who tell me stories that make it clear that they've just sort of found their way there. The journeys that they relay seem to to have an aspect in common, that I have a... continue reading


Halleck Vineyards, Sonoma: Current Releases

One of the things that I love about Sonoma County and its wines are the little nooks and crannies that seem to exist, more so, I think, than in its more famous neighbor to the east. While there are small bits of Napa Valley that play host to little vineyards, most of the real estate, at least the vineyard covered real estate, is well known. In Sonoma County and its appellations on the other hand, there exists much more of a patchwork of wine growing, with little hidden vineyards here and there, and new ones sprouting up all the time,... continue reading


2003 Baldassari Family Winery Syrah, Bennett Valley, Sonoma

I've said more than once how energized I am by the new wineries that seem to be popping up every month or so throughout the state. Like mushrooms on the forest floor after a nice rain, they seem to appear out of nowhere. Many of them are small family operations or even estateless wineries, but regardless of the form, they are usually the result of someone's dream, and so I'm always excited to hear about them. It's hard to get any more brand new than Baldassari Family Vineyards and this Syrah. They are a brand new winery, this is their... continue reading


2004 Quinta do Alqueve Fernão Pires, Ribetejano, Portugal

Perhaps we can make this week be about fantastic wine bargains. Earlier in the week I blogged about a great New Zealand Pinot Noir for about twelve bucks, now I'm telling about what might just be the best white wine I've ever had at the $11 price range. Let's start off by asking the most obvious question: Who was Fernão Pires anyway, and why is there an obscure Mediterranean Grape named after him? Well the first answer is that Fernao Pires is the same grape as one called Maria Gomes elsewhere in Portugal, which is where this grape makes its... continue reading


1999 Királyudvar "Lapis" Late Harvest Tokaji Furmint, Tokaj, Hungary

Let me get down on my knees and pray to the gods of wine drinking. "Please, oh gods who bestow blessings upon those who call themselves wine drinkers, let me continue to be surprised and delighted by random wines that I stumble across in my life. I don't need to taste the vintage of the century, and I probably can't afford it, but I really want to still be finding out about wines like this when I'm eighty-five." Of course, this is where the fantasy of being a sommelier comes along. Imagine spending your days actually hunting down these wines.... continue reading


2003 CrauforD "The Highlander" Sauvignon Blanc, Napa

The CrauforD Wine Company began as a conversation over dinner. Marilyn "Mama" Crawford Anderson sat at the dinner table and looked around at her daughter, a working winemaker, and her daughter-in-law, an accomplished viticultralist and vineyard manager. "There's just too much talent at this table for us girls not to be making our own wines," she said. She would know -- she and her husband were the founder and owners of Monticello Vineyards for years. Apparently a little encouragement and support from Mama Crawford was hard to ignore, especially when it came with a bit of start-up financing. So by... continue reading


2002 Nicolette Christopher "Daniela" Pinot Noir, Carneros, CA

Hand-crafted is a term that has been abused by wine marketers and copywriters for a long time, but it still means something, and there are still winemakers who live up to its humble promise. There are a lot of small wineries that could qualify for the use of this descriptor, all at varying sizes, but you don't get much closer to hand crafted than a man, his wife, a friend, 5 barrels and 2186 pounds of Pinot Noir. Nicolette Christopher is a tiny winery started in 2001 by Chris and Nicolette Demetre. Like many small wineries, it represents the realization... continue reading


2001 Strata Vineyards Estate Merlot, Oak Knoll District, Napa

While it's rare to find a winery dedicated to producing wines from a single varietal, it's even more rare to find one that produces a single varietal that ISN'T Pinot Noir. For some reason that grape seems to inspire the cultish, obsessive compulsive instinct in winemakers like none other. How refreshing, then, to encounter the little known wines of Strata Vineyards. Strata is one of those small projects that is becoming more and more common in the Napa valley: a labor of love by highly experienced, talented wine professionals who decided that retirement was boring and there's nothing better... continue reading


2001 Piña Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, Howell Mountain, 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 that's beside my point. What I'm getting at is that good wines don't happen by accident. They're made by talented people, great vineyards sites or a combination of both. So my theory is that most of the time it shouldn't come as much of a surprise to stumble across... continue reading


2003 Olson & Ogden "Sonoma Valley" Syrah, Sonoma

As regular readers know, I am very interested in small, family-run wineries. These come in several flavors in the industry, and one of the most interesting to me is the estate-less label -- those wineries who 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... continue reading


Kingston Vineyards, Casablanca Chile: Current Releases

Courtney Kingston's American grandfather sailed to Chile on a quest to find copper and gold. He found a lot of the former, and very little of the latter, but stuck around nonetheless, and became a beef and dairy rancher in his later life, farming the very land parcels that he once prospected. Three generations later the family is still on the farm, and instead of cattle, the family now grows grapes in what, over the years, has been established as the westernmost part of the Casablanca Valley appellation of Chile. The switch from ranching to winemaking wasn't an easy nor... continue reading


2000 Peacock Family Cabernet, 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


2002 PhillipsHill Estates "Oppenlander Vineyard" Pinot Noir, Mendocino, California

Sometimes I hesitate to write about wines that are so small in production that they are virtually impossible to get. In this case, however, it is possible to purchase the wine online, so I'm going to go ahead. A mere 100 cases of this wine is extracted from 18 acres of prime Pinot Noir vineyard located at the mouth of the Anderson valley as it opens up to the Mendocino Coast. Known as the Oppenlander Vineyard, it is named after homesteaders with the name Oppenlander, who eked out a living on this property in the 1860's and were so isolated... continue reading


2002 Darcie Kent "Crown Block" Merlot, Livermore Valley, California

California's Livermore valley was once the state's largest single wine region. What? You don't remember that time? Well it's hardly your fault that you weren't around in the 1880's. But back then it was a happening place, with wineries springing up everywhere. Some of those wineries (or at least their vineyards) are still around, but most have been demolished to make way for high-tech manufacturing companies, office parks, and the now infamous Lawrence Livermore Labs. Amidst all that buildup, and the suburban sprawl that has grown up around it, however, over the last couple of decades winemakers have been rediscovering... continue reading


2002 Saxum Vineyards "Broken Stones" Syrah, Paso Robles, California

Since the age of 10, Justin Smith has been growing grapes in the same place in Paso Robles. At that tender young age he was planting grapes on the hillsides and ridges that his family still farms today. He has lived his life on this hard calcerous soil, kicking his feet in the dry dust, and unearthing his share of ancient petrified whale bones from the cement, hard ground, sometimes with the aid of a jackhammer. Wine was in his blood, you might say. Justin, still very young by nearly anyone's standards, started Linne Calodo Cellars in 1997 with a... continue reading


2002 Spann Vineyards "Mo Jo" Red Blend, Sonoma

Everyone comes to the wine business from different places and for different reasons. Peter and Betsy Spann describe their entry into the wine business as "a combination of stupidity and bad real estate decisions." Peter had worked in the wine business for years - in retail, wholesale, marketing, you name it - when he and his wine decided to move to the Bay Area for work during the height of the dot.com boom. They couldn't afford to buy a house anywhere near San Francisco and so started looking farther and farther north until they found themselves visiting properties that came... continue reading


Spencer Roloson Winery: Current Releases

I first encountered the wines of Spencer Roloson at the Rhone Rangers tasting last March. At the time, I had their 2002 Viognier and thought it was one of the better interpretations of that varietal amidst a mostly lackluster showing. Their brightly colored labels with sans-serif type caught my eye at the time, and I recognized them at the Family winemakers tasting this fall, and spent some time tasting through their lineup and chatting with winemaker and co-owner Sam Spencer. Sam is one half of the ownership team of Spencer Roloson and the other half is Wendy Roloson. Sam brings... continue reading


California's Best Boutique Wines: A Report From Family Winemakers 2004

To those whose idea of serious wine tasting involves hitting seven or eight wineries in a day trip to Napa instead four or five, it may come as a surprise to hear wine tasting described as exhausting. Yet that's just the right way to describe any serious attempt to sample the offering at an event like Family Winemakers. One of the largest (and in my opinion, the best) tasting events in California, this marathon tasting makes available wines from over 400 different wineries, each of whom belong to the Family Winemakers Association. With so many wineries, and each pouring between... continue reading


Jim Neal Wines: Current Releases

I'm particularly excited to be able to introduce you to Jim Neal, a winemaker you probably have never heard of. As you know, one of my goals here at Vinography is to "discover" great new wines that we all want to drink. I use quotes around that word because I don't pretend to be the first person that has ever heard of these winemakers, some of whom have been making wine for years, but many are extremely small and below the radar of most wine consumers. Some, like Jim are even struggling to get their wines into retail shops and... continue reading


2001 Acorn Winery "Axiom" Syrah, Sonoma

When I get a chance to write about wines like this, I feel like I am really succeeding in what I wanted to do when I set out on the journey to create Vinography. While I had no (and still don't have) official mission statement detailing what I wanted this site to be, one of my definite goals is to find great wines that aren't well known, that are made by good people, and that won't break the bank. This lovely little Syrah made by the folks at Acorn Winery in Healdsburg is a perfect example of such a wine.... 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.

Calendar of Postings

April 2016

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Most Recent Entries

Lost Treasures in the Sierra Foothills: The Wines of Renaissance Vineyards A Life Indomitable: The Wines of Casal Santa Maria, Portugal Bay Area Bordeaux: Tasting Santa Cruz Mountain Cabernets From the Quiet Garden: The Wines of Pichler-Krutzler, Wachau, Austria The Taste of Something New: Introducing Solminer Wines Coastal Diamonds: The Rieslings of Oregon The Abbot's Dinner: A Tale of New Beginnings in Châteauneuf-du-Pape Drinking The Past: The Wines of Zorah, Armenia Kocabag Winery, Cappadocia, Turkey: Current Releases Vivier Wines, Napa: Current Releases

Favorite Posts From the Archives

Wine Will Never Smell the Same Again: Luca Turin and the Science of Scent Forlorn Hope: The Remarkable Wines of Matthew Rorick Debating Robert Parker At His Invitation Passopisciaro Winery, Etna, Sicily: Current Releases Should We Care What Winemakers Say? The Sweet Taste of Freedom: Austria's Ruster Ausbruch Wines 2009 Burgundy Vintage According to Domaine de la Romanée-Conti Charles Banks: The New Man Behind Mayacamas Wine from the Caldera: The Incredible Viticulture of Santorini Why Community Tasting Notes Sites Will Fail Chateau Rayas and the 2012 Vintage of Chateauneuf-du-Pape A Life Indomitable: The Wines of Casal Santa Maria, Portugal Bay Area Bordeaux: Tasting Santa Cruz Mountain Cabernets Forgotten Jewels: Reviving Chile's Old Vine Carignane The First-Timer's Guide to Les Trois Glorieuses of Hospices de Beaune

Archives by Month


Required Reading for Wine Lovers

The Oxford Companion to Wine by Jancis Robinson Wine Grapes The World Atlas of Wine by Hugh Johnson to cork or not to cork by George Taber reading between the vines by Terry Theise 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 Taste of Wine by Emile Peynaud