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50 Years of American Sparkling Wine: The Schramsberg Odyssey

The famous sign that welcomes the world to Napa Valley hosts a quote by author Robert Louis Stevenson: "...and the wine was bottled poetry." In the early 1880's Stevenson took his honeymoon in the northern end of Napa valley, and wrote about it in a book called Silverado Squatters. In it, he describes his visit to the property of German immigrant Jacob Schram:"Mr. Schram's, on the other hand, is the oldest vineyard in the valley, eighteen years old I think; yet he began a penniless barber, and even after he had broken ground up here with his black malvoisies,... continue reading


The Brilliance of Canadian Chardonnay

Less than an hour from Buffalo, New York, some of the best Chardonnay I've tasted in years is being made, and practically no one in America knows about it. If Americans think of anything when it comes to Canadian wine, they almost always think of icewine. Just why this treasure trove of crisp and bright lemony Chardonnay goodness has remained almost completely off the radar of American wine lovers is a topic for another time. Right now, I simply need to tell you that Canada's province of Ontario is making some seriously world-class Chardonnay. I found out about it... continue reading


A Singular Expression: The Champagnes of Cédric Bouchard

When I first met the improbably youthful Cédric Bouchard six years ago on his first visit to the United States, he had already decided to break just about every rule he could in Champagne while still labeling his wines as such. "I hate bubbles," he said to me at that time. "If I could make my wines without bubbles, I would." Sitting in the back garden of his beautiful, circa-1728 villa in the tiny village of Landreville, I remind him of those comments, and he laughs. "Absolutely," he says. "I still feel the same way. I suggest everyone decant... continue reading


A Man, an Island, and a Bottle of Grüner: The Wines of Rudi Pichler

"I am not a modern winemaker," says Rudi Pichler, as we walk through his compact, and yes, very modern winery in the little village of Wosendorf within view of the Wachau river in Austria. What little hair he has left on his head is closely cropped, emphasizing the broad, deeply lined expanse of his forehead that frames a genial, even cherubic face animated with enthusiasm. "If I were a modern winemaker," he continues, "I would be whole cluster pressing, and doing all sorts of stuff to make nosy wines. That is not my job. It is much more important... continue reading


California Chardonnay According to David Ramey

"Some people say, 'Why shouldn't California Chardonnay be something else entirely, instead of like the whites of Burgundy' and there's no reason why it can't be," says winemaker David Ramey. "If you can reinvent the wheel, go ahead and do it. But the techniques of Burgundy evolved over thousands of years," he continues. "Someone once said that tradition is the result of experimentation that has succeeded. When it comes to California Chardonnay, I find myself fairly ecclesiastical on these matters. Trying to reinvent the wheel is just an ego quest." If anyone could have succeeded in such a quest... continue reading


Flirting with the Ecstatic: The Wines of Nikolaihof, Austria

There are certain places in this world that feel as if they exist outside of time. Or perhaps they exist inside of time but move much slower than the world around them. Stepping through the doorway into the inner courtyard of Weingut Nikolaihof, a stone's throw from the Danube, with the morning light filtering down through the century-old linden tree, the world narrows down to this quiet bounded space. Gravel crunches underfoot, and there exists a stillness in the shadow of the bell tower that speaks of the building's storied past as a monastery. That moment of stillness may... 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 Great White South: An Introduction to Châteauneuf-du-Pape Blanc

One of the world's greatest white wines is also one of its least known. The wines of Châteauneuf-du-Pape generally cross a wine lover's radar at some point, but even those who enjoy the vibrant Grenache-based reds from France's first officially declared appellation are often unfamiliar with the region's white wines. Yet they are often more consistently in their quality than the reds, and they can reward long cellaring with remarkable results. They also happen to be damn delicious. White wine makes up only a mere 7% of the production in the Châteauneuf-du-Pape appellation, but that percentage has been rising... 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


Weingut Veyder-Malburg, 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. When I first visited Veyder-Malburg,... continue reading


Friuli Meets California: The Wines of Arbe Garbe

You can take the boy out of Friuli, but you can't take the Friuli out of the boy. One quick flash of his boyish smile and it's easy to understand the bright conviviality that you taste in Enrico Bertoz and his wife Letizia's wines. Like the man, they are positively brimming with big love -- a zesty, sunny cheer that is, like his smile, quite infectious. Bertoz, 37, spends his days making wine for Flora Springs Winery in Napa (and as a brief aside, seems to have made a wonderful improvement to the wines in his recent years there). Look... continue reading


The Doctor is In: A Visit with the Mosel's Dr. Loosen

Winding your way along the German Moselstrasse, tucked in between the curves of the river that the highway mirrors, and the impossibly steep vineyards, the picturesque villages whose names adorn some of the world's greatest Rieslings give the impression of timelessness. When the stately homes whose family names also appear on these labels cozy up to 12th Century churches and cobbled courtyards, you can be forgiven for imagining unbroken lines of winemaking patriarchy stretching back for a millennium, as each father handed the cellar keys to his son through the ages. Certainly, most of the region's famous estates easily... continue reading


Schlossgut Diel, Nahe, Germany: Current Releases

When Caroline Diel was seven, she was old enough to wonder whether or not her father loved her as much as her older brother, Victor. After all, her father had been making a wine called Cuvee Victor for several years. The question was clearly too much for her father, who capitulated immediately and began to make a Riesling named Cuvee Caroline. "But then by 1990," she recalls, "there was such a huge demand for Cuvee Victor, that my parents told me, 'Unfortunately we don't have enough wine to make yours anymore. We have to put it all into Cuvee... continue reading


Weingut Fritz Haag, Mosel, Germany: Current Releases

The Mosel River placidly winds its way from the heart of Germany to the northwest on its journey to join the Rhine. Its deeply carved and ancient course through blue Devonian slate long ago defined the hallowed hillsides that have grown the world's greatest Rieslings for centuries. It takes a personal visit to the Mosel to fully appreciate the logic of the region's terroir. As it journeys sinuously from the village of Ruwer to the village of Alf, some 35 miles to the northwest, the river's course is dotted with town after tiny town. Each of these towns either... continue reading


Weingut Dönnhoff, Nahe, Germany: Current Releases

Some great wines obscure their own greatness, and seemingly get noticed out of the corner of your eye, and then only if you're only paying close attention. Some great wines sidle up next to you, inclining their heads as if to say, "Hey there, good lookin'." And then there are the great wines that blow through the doors of the restaurant and knock you speechless on your ass. Welcome to Weingut Dönhoff, unquestionably home to some of the world's greatest Rieslings. Weingut Dönhoff sits unassumingly on the green banks of the placid and pastoral Nahe river, nestled in the... continue reading


Eva Fricke, Rheingau, Germany: Current Releases

Eva Frick's eyes are the same shade as her electric turquoise tennis shoes. They are so arresting that it can be hard to concentrate on her soft-spoken and humble answers to my somewhat persistent questions about how a young lady like herself, who didn't even like wine when she started her career is now making some of the most interesting wines in the Rheingau region of Germany. "At first," she says, "I just liked being outside. I liked the individual, creative part of the profession. You can see it as plain agriculture, if you like, but you can also... continue reading


Tasting the Stars of Trento: A Vertical Tasting of Cantine Ferrari

At the turn of the 20th century, people everywhere set their dreams adrift in the currents of a new era, hoping or feverishly working for a future that matched their visions. One man, born in the mountains of northern Italy was beginning a quest of historic proportions. Giulio Ferrari was in love with wine. But not just with any wine. He loved wine with bubbles. These days, sparkling wines are commonplace, and so beloved around the world that a majority of the world's wine regions produce them. But back in 1898, sparkling wine was still largely the province of, if... continue reading


Massican Wines, Napa: Current Releases

Let's begin with the fact that, in my opinion, Dan Petroski makes the single best bottle of Sauvignon Blanc in the entire state of California. In a world full of superlatives and cliché, I cringe whenever I find myself saying things like "it blew my mind" but his Sauvignon Blanc really did blow my mind the first time I tasted it. This wine makes you want to violently grab your nearest Napa winemaker (whose 14.5% alcohol, 100% New French Oak Sauvignon Blanc sells out every year) by the lapels and shake them, shouting, "Why the hell can't you make wine... continue reading


Framingham Wines, Marlborough, New Zealand: Current Releases

Sometimes the true story of a winery is not found in its history, tracing back the ownership from generation to generation. The story of some wineries begins when someone decides to start afresh with the materials of the past, looking forward instead of back. Rex Brooke-Taylor was certainly forward looking when he planted his Marlborough Vineyards in 1980 and 1981. An engineer from Wellington, Brooke-Taylor named his winery Framingham after his ancestral estate in East Anglia, and had the unusual foresight to plant Phylloxera-resistant rootstock in an era when many couldn't imagine the pest making it to New Zealand's... continue reading


New Zealand and a Tale of Two Grapes

When you don't have two thousand years of history proving which grapes grow best in your soils, how do you decide what to grow, and how do you learn how to grow it well? And perhaps even trickier, once you've planted something, how do you decide whether you made the right decision? These were some of the questions that went through my mind as I tasted some of the first Grüner Veltliners produced in New Zealand. Along with a few dozen other journalists and members of the wine trade, I attended the 2013 Nelson International Aromatics Symposium a few weeks... continue reading


Hawkes Bay Chardonnay Versus the World

Hello from the land of the Kiwi. As some of you know, I'm down here at the bottom of the world exploring the wines of New Zealand for a couple of weeks. It's been about 8 years since I've been to New Zealand, and I'm quite excited to see how the industry has changed and evolved. New Zealand was the first wine region I visited after beginning my odyssey as a wine writer, and I'm sure I've changed a lot, too. I've tasted a good bit of New Zealand wine in the intervening years, but if feels good to be... continue reading


2011 Tatomer "Paragon" Gruner Veltliner, Edna Valley

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


Domaine Coffinet-Duvernay, Chassagne-Montrachet, Burgundy: Some Current Releases

Burgundy is nothing if not consistent. The unbroken line that the region traces back through thousands of years of winegrowing history anchors the soul of the place as firmly as it does its vines. Families, too, for sometimes dozens of generations, seem rooted in place, as the father's wines give way to those of the son, preserving and slowly evolving the family link to the place. Anyone who has visited Burgundy and descended into the mold-encrusted cellars understands how everything there is steeped in time and tradition, as if somehow you could strip away a few trappings of modernity like... continue reading


2009 Hyde de Villaine Chardonnay, Carneros, Napa

In some quarters, speaking of the greatness to be found in California Chardonnay will earn nothing but sniggers and the complete loss of credibility when it comes to quality wine. The cognoscenti of the wine world, with few exceptions, have largely written off California's rendition of one of the world's greatest grapes as a failed experiment with excess: too much ripeness and too much oak. Of course, most American wine drinkers care not a whit for what the elite of the wine world think. They never even hear their babbling. Instead they're content to keep buying the slightly sweet, overly... continue reading


Treasure in the Hills: Tasting Oregon's Rieslings

"Pssst. Hey buddy. Wanna taste some Riesling?" said the shadowy figure in the trench coat from behind a tree. I must say, I wasn't surprised at this open solicitation in broad daylight amidst the festivities of the International Pinot Noir Celebration. After all, it had happened to me once before -- a mysterious invitation to slip away from the orgy of Pinot Noir for something a little more.... racy. In fact, I've come to eagerly anticipate the opportunity to check in on the progress of Oregon's least known wine trend. In the land of hills awash with fantastic Pinot Noir,... continue reading


Weingut Franz Hirtzberger, Wachau, Austria: Current Releases

Standing at the edge of the Danube on a cold spring day, gazing at darkening clouds above the picturesque church of Spitz that is set against a natural bowl of steep terraced hillsides lined with vines, it would be so easy to imagine that you are actually looking backward through time. Other than the modern highway snaking past this little village at the northern end of Austria's Wachau wine region, some barely visible power lines, and the occasional hum of aircraft, not much seems to have changed since the 13th century, when countless hands built these stone terraces that now... continue reading


Weingut Fred Loimer, Kamptal, Austria: Current Releases

"This can't be the way, there's nothing out here," I hear myself saying as my traveling companion and I dutifully follow the GPS into a landscape so pitch black that our high beams barely make a dent in it. All we can see is a rutted dirt road extending in front of us for as far as the beams can see, with a hill falling steeply off to the right and the edge of an embankment to the left, so close that we'll never be able to pass or turn around if we happen to run into another car. Of... continue reading


Zoltan Demeter, Tokaj, Hungary: Current Releases

It's hard to fathom what it must be like to have the world change beneath your feet overnight. When the Iron Curtain fell in 1989, I was a relatively clueless high schooler for whom the news was elating, but only in a purely theoretical sense. For a whole generation of Eastern Europeans, however, the event wrought an entirely new future. When the wall came down, Zoltan Demeter was a Hungarian student, dreaming of a future as a winemaker. Before 1989, that future in Hungary would have involved working for one of the huge state-run winemaking companies whose primary mission was... continue reading


Weingut Nikolaihof, Wachau, Austria: Current Releases

There are certain places in this world that feel as if they exist outside of time. Or perhaps they exist inside of time but move much slower than the world around them. As I stepped through the doorway into the inner courtyard of Weingut Nikolaihof, a stones throw from the Danube, and saw the morning light filtering down through the century-old linden tree, the world narrowed down to this quiet bounded space. Gravel crunched under my feet, and there was a stillness as I gazed up at the bell tower that spoke of the building's storied past as part of... continue reading


Schloss Gobelsburg, Kamptal, Austria: Current Releases

It seems like they have always been there. For centuries, the monks have been rooted as firmly as their grape vines, watching empires come and go, tending their secrets as carefully as the grapes and the sacred wines they produce. Shrewd investment and politics have brought great wealth through the ages -- palaces and vineyards, coffers and buildings. Not to mention the troves of knowledge. But time does not preserve all -- neither fortunes nor knowledge -- and one day, after nearly eight centuries of unbroken devotion to a place, and to the vines that grow there, the monks turn... 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


Weingut Nigl, Kremstal, Austria: Current Releases

If you begin in the medieval town of Krems, and turn your back on the Danube to instead follow the Krems river from where it hits the Danube back up a narrow valley, you will eventually find yourself in the village of Senftenberg, gazing up at an ancient church perched on a rocky promontory overlooking the valley, itself overshadowed by the crumbling ruin of a castle. If you bring yourself right up to the base of the escarpment, you may find yourself imagining life in this little valley in the 16th century, dark and feudal, punctuated with the pleasures of... continue reading


2010 Grgich Hills Estate "Fume Blanc" Sauvignon Blanc, 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 (pronounced "gur-gich")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... continue reading


The Sweet Taste of Freedom: Austria's Ruster Ausbruch Wines

It's hard to imagine an age when wine might have literally been seen as treasure. Certainly those of us with the privilege of living in first-world countries take the idea of drinking wine for granted as an everyday pleasure. There was a time, however, that wine, especially the good stuff, was more valuable than gold in some places in this world. So valuable, in fact, that it could be used to buy your way out from underneath the control of an empire. With a mouthful of the finest Ruster Ausbruch swirling around your tongue, it's not difficult to accept the... continue reading


Weinlaubenhof Kracher, Burgenland, Austria: Current Releases

When it comes to dessert wines, most people have heard of Sauternes or ice wine (location unspecific). Perhaps some have heard of Tokaji, the sweet wines of Hungary. But few have heard of the sweet wines of Austria's Burgenland region. There are several reasons for this. Dessert wine isn't all that popular, Burgenland doesn't make all that much of it to begin with, and those who actually do know about these wines tend to buy as many as they can afford and guard them like buried treasure. The sweet wines of Burgenland are one of Austria's best kept secrets, and... continue reading


2006 Peay Vineyards Roussane/Marsanne Blend, Sonoma Coast

As a wine reviewer who gets paid next to nothing for his work, I have the luxury of only reviewing wines that I think are worth writing about. I've got no deadlines, no quotas to fill, and no obligation to anyone. All of which means that it's always a great pleasure to say nice things about a wine or wines that I enjoy. But this is perhaps the most pleasurable kind of review I write. The review of a winery whose wines I can safely say are all spectacularly good -- so good that I will simply buy any 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


Bastianich Wines, Friuli-Venezia Giulia, Italy: Some Current Releases

Celebrity wines cause most serious wine lovers to cringe. Despite the immediate tendency to dismiss such wines as vanity projects with little substance, a lot of celebrity wines are fairly good, if only because making good wine can sometimes take a lot of money. There's a different sort of celebrity wine starting to emerge on the scene, however. Wines that can be called celebrity wines only because we live in an era of celebrity chefs and restaurant personalities. If we didn't have the food network, and the 21st Century foodie craze sweeping across America, very few people would have any... continue reading


2008 Star Lane Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc, 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


South African Sauvignon Blanc: Some Tasting Notes

I've been trying to remember the first South African wine I tasted, but it's a little fuzzy in my mind. At the time I wasn't keeping notes on wine, so I don't have a scribble in any notebook to look back on for my very first impression. I do remember subsequent opportunities to drink South African wines, and in particular their Sauvignon Blancs. My general impression of these wines were that they were competent, but they didn't grab my attention much more than that. Three years ago, however, I had the opportunity to visit South Africa and taste hundreds of... continue reading


1983 Schloss Schonborn Rudesheimer Bichofsberg Riesling Spatlese, Rheingau, Germany

Wine is the closest we come to alchemy. And ironically, the most magical transmutation that takes place within wine is almost entirely out of our control. Far be it for me to deny winemakers their due for what is surely the magical feat of assisting in the transformation of simple grapes into fluids that evoke things as exotic as mangos, lavender, chocolate, and wood smoke. But at least half of the magic in wine comes from what happens to it when we stop messing with it and leave it to its own devices for a decade or two. Aged Riesling,... continue reading


Montenidoli, San Gimignano, Tuscany: Some Current Releases

About three months ago, I found myself wandering around the halls at the Vino2011 tradeshow in New York. Put on by the Italian Trade Commission, it is the largest Italian wine show outside of Italy, and an opportunity to taste an awful lot of Italian wine in a very short period of time. Sometimes when I go to such events, I have a plan to focus on certain regions, or grape varieties, but sometimes I just wander to see what catches my eye. Which is how one afternoon I ended up in the back corner of a side hall where... continue reading


1971 J.J. Prum Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Auslese, Mosel, Germany

As you know, I think wine reviews should be more than just tasting notes and scores. They should be the stories of the people and the places behind the wines. While the people quite often bring the most life to the story of a wine, sometimes the place, even the vineyard itself, can be the most prominent character in the drama. In the case of this wine, the story consists of the inextricable link between a family and a vineyard. By most accounts, the Prum family has owned vineyards in and around the town of Wehlen in Germany's Mosel river... continue reading


The Wines of Alsace in Anderson Valley: Tasting Notes

My first memories of Alsace? A confusing little strip of land that the Germans and the French kept fighting over. Somehow the grade-school history lesson never quite resolved itself, as I had lingering uncertainty for many years about which country this beautiful little wine region had ended up in. But many years later, I got my first taste of the wines of Alsace and I started to pay a lot more attention to this unique wine region in northeast France. Subsequently, I have fallen in love with the region through its wines, and I harbor deep seated fantasies of a... continue reading


Domaine Jean Chartron, Puligny-Montrachet: 2009 Barrel Samples

One of the most characteristic qualities of the Burgundian wine experience is missing for visitors to the village of Puligny-Montrachet. Because of the shallowness of the water table, none of the winemakers have cellars. So instead of tramping down into an ancient cellar, you're more likely to be taken "around back" to the barrel shed, or some variation thereof. What the village lacks in ancient stone cellars, it makes up for in quality wine, of course. The little village (which today still has less than 1000 inhabitants) takes its name from its Roman designation Puliniacus, where vines were planted at... continue reading


2009 Dancing Coyote Gewurztraminer, Clarksburg, California

I try to taste widely. I'm always excited when I come across wines from regions that I haven't heard of before, especially when those regions are in my back yard. It's been a few years since I first spotted the region "Clarksburg" on a California wine, but that first experience with a Grenache Blanc from the region made me sit up and pay attention. Since then I've been pleased to gradually see more wines appearing from the region. The Clarksburg AVA (American Viticultural Area) has been called California's "secret appellation" because so few have heard of it, yet its grapes... continue reading


Dominique Cornin, Chaintré, France: Current Releases

When you wind your way up to the east out of the little village of Fuisse in the Mâconnais region of southern Burgundy, you should take time to look back over your shoulder at the beautiful little church with its plot of vines, and the hillside skating back up behind it to the west. The narrow road will curve around the shoulder of the hill (atop which sits what has long been called the "faerie woods") and if you bear to the left, you will quickly find yourself in the little village of Chaintré, the home of many men bearing... 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


1957 R. Lopez de Heredia Viña Tondonia Blanco, Rioja, Spain

There are few wineries in Spain whose names conjure the heritage and prestige evoked by R. Lopez de Heredia. Don Rafael Lopez de Heredia was born in Santiago, Chile in 1857. At the age of 12 he was sent by his family to Spain to study with the Jesuits, and nearly became a doctor before discovering the world of business, leaving his brother Fernando to realize the family dream of having a doctor for a son. When he was 19 years old, Don Rafael arrived at the railway station in Haro, Spain suffused with the aromas of wine. The railway... continue reading


Domaine Vessigaud, Pouilly, France: Current Releases

Arguably, one of the key defining features of Burgundy as a wine region must be the huge plateau of limestone on which it sits. Like a solid layer of frosting atop a deeper cake of sedimentary and metamorphic rocks, this limestone starts in the far north in Chablis and continues down into the southernmost parts of Burgundy. There exists a point in Burgundy, however, where this limestone ends, and rather abruptly at that. So sharply and starkly in fact, that you might easily fall to your death from the edge of it. Get too close, even, and the edge might... continue reading


2007 Freestone Vineyards "Ovation" Chardonnay, Sonoma Coast

Most people aren't aware that I grew up, at least partially, in Sonoma County. My parents split up pretty early on, and I moved with my mother to Colorado. But starting at the age of five, I would come out to visit my dad during the summer in the little town of Bodega, and spend my time chasing around the sheep ranch where he still lives. As a kid I knew Sonoma County was wine country. Mostly because whenever my dad's parents would come visit during the summer, we'd all pack into Grandpa's car, and trundle off to Rodney Strong... continue reading


2007 Chateau de Beaucastel Chateuneuf-du-Pape Blanc, Rhone Valley, France

My love of deeply complex white wines has been growing for some time. I'm not sure exactly when I learned that there was more to white wine than Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay, but ever since then, I have been seeking out white wines, and especially white blends, that lean towards the profound. I'd be hard pressed to pick a clear favorite among the bevy of beauties that fit the aforementioned description, but certainly one of the top contenders would be the white wines of the the southern Rhone Valley, and in particular this wine from Chateau de Beaucastel, Known for... continue reading


2008 Dr. Loosen Ürziger Würzgarten Riesling Spätlese, Mosel, Germany

There are a few categories of wine that qualify for the designation of "I just don't drink nearly enough of this stuff" in my house, and one of the top candidates is German Riesling. When it's good, it's just so damn good. It goes so well with food, and it makes you happy. What's not to love? Of course, to the uninitiated (and that applied to me about six years ago) it can be an intimidating landscape to navigate. The inscrutable labels, the different levels of sweetness, the unfamiliar quality designations -- they all contribute to an unease for many... continue reading


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


2006 Marc Kreydenweiss "Clos Rebberg" Pinot Gris, Alsace, France

The wines of Alsace are some of the most unique and distinctive in the world. They are also some of my favorites, not only because they are delicious, but also because they are made by some of France's most individualistic and headstrong vintners. Alsace has long been a place apart, both from France and Germany, each of which have laid claim over the valleys and hills that lie west of the Rhine river which currently demarcates the border between the two nations. It's easy to characterize the region as a smooth and quirky blend between the two countries, but such... continue reading


2004 St. Hallett Semillon, Barossa Valley, Australia

I'll tell you right off the bat that if you live in the United States, you can't buy this wine. It's currently not imported. Those of you who live in Europe or Asia may be able to get your hands on it, but not much leaves Australia. What is the point, you may ask, of reviewing a wine that most will not be able to buy? Firstly, the wine is delicious, and worthy of a review on its own merits alone. But more importantly, the wine represents a very under-appreciated Australian contribution to the world of wine: old vine Semillon.... continue reading


2005 Chateau-Grillet Vin Blanc, Rhone Valley, France

With just a quick glance at the bottle, you might think to yourself, "Oh, it's just some random little white wine from somewhere in France." After all, it's just a Vin Blanc with some unfamiliar name on it. But look a little closer, and you might start to get the idea that this isn't just any wine. For starters, the bottle is somewhat unusual, resembling something you might see in Germany or Austria. Indeed, it would be easy to mistake this wine as coming from the Alsace region of France for that reason. A slightly more studied glance at the... continue reading


2007 MacRostie "Wildcat Mountain Vineyard" Chardonnay, Sonoma Coast

There are two worlds of California Chardonnay drinkers in this country. There are those who continue to order their favorite white wine whenever they go out to dinner, and are collectively responsible for making California Chardonnay the most consumed wine variety in the country each year. And then there are those who consider themselves wine lovers, critics, and geeks, and the consensus in recent years seems to be that there are few California Chardonnays worth paying attention to. Put more bluntly, it's getting easier and easier to find someone who hates California Chardonnay these days. I've read several major wine... continue reading


2007 Cornelissen MunJebel 4 Bianco, Etna, Sicily

Many of the world's greatest wines are also the most unlikely. Unlikely because most sane, rational, educated, and professional winemakers wouldn't be caught dead making wine in some of the strange ways and places that yield the truly exciting. It takes a strong vision, or as some might suggest, a special breed of insanity to break all the rules of modern winemaking and winegrowing, but those who break such rules often follow their passions across the border without a moment's thought to the uncharted territory they are exploring. High on the slopes of one of the world's most active volcanoes,... continue reading


2008 Grgich Hills Estate Fume Blanc, 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


2007 Smith Madrone Riesling, Spring Mountain District, Napa

There are more legends, stories, fairytales, and fables than anyone could count that 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


2007 S.A. Prüm "Wehlener Sonnenuhr" Riesling Kabinett , Mosel-Saar-Ruwer, Germany

As you know, I think wine reviews should be more than just tasting notes and scores. They should be the stories of the people and the places behind the wines. While the people quite often bring the most life to the story of a wine, sometimes the place, even the vineyard itself, can be the most prominent character in the drama. In the case of this wine, the story consists of the inextricable link between a family and a vineyard. By most accounts, the Prüm family has owned vineyards in and around the town of Wehlen in Germany's Mosel river... continue reading


2005 Savanna "Sogno Due" White Wine, Campania, Italy

Despite all kinds of advice to the contrary, we continue to judge our books by the cover and our wines by the label. As humans we find it quite hard to turn off the part of our brains that rushes to judgment based on the surface of things. Presumably our lightning-quick opinions were advantageous to us at some point in evolutionary history, to the point that our first impressions are often so powerful we can't move past them. From racial stereotypes to celebrity obsession, we're often captives to our own psychology, whether we like it or not. So tell me,... continue reading


1994 Zind-Humbrecht "Brand" Riesling, Alsace, France

For anyone who drinks Alsatian wines on a regular basis, let alone someone who considers themselves a fan or an aficionado of the unique wines from this narrow slice of northeastern France, it's pretty much impossible to have a discussion about the area without the name Zind-Humbrecht coming up. While everyone is reticent to pronounce any one winery "the best" no matter which region you're talking about, many people would be hard pressed to find a reason why you couldn't say that Zind-Humbrecht has the position fairly well covered for Alsace. The Humbrecht family has a long history in winemaking,... 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


The Joy of Spätlese: Tasting the 2008 German and Austrian Vintage from Terry Theise

The wine world needs more people like Terry Theise, the man I call the Shakespeare of Terroir. It's so easy to get caught up in the stuffy, over-intellectualized world of wine geekery, where people endlessly debate the smallest aspects of winemaking or vintage ratings. All of us who spend enough time talking, thinking, and reading about wine get sucked into that world occasionally. But I find myself attracted to those who fall into that trap with the least regularity. As luck would have it, there are several simple cures for me readily at hand whenever I forget that wine is... continue reading


2007 Morgan "Metallico" Chardonnay, 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... continue reading


2006 Isole e Olena "Collezione de Marchi" Chardonnay, Tuscany, Italy

Chardonnay is just about the last grape variety I think about when I daydream about Italian wine. In casual conversation, I might have even been overheard to suggest that planting Chardonnay in Italy would be a waste of a good vineyard. Now, that isn't to say that I haven't had good Chardonnays from Italy -- I've had a couple of them that are quite good -- but with all the fabulous indigenous grape varieties that exist, I tend to confine my white wine drinking to grapes that are a little harder pronounce. All of which meant for the perfect set... continue reading


2007 Rosemount Estate Show Reserve Chardonnay, Mudgee, Australia

In this day and age of farmers markets, boutique stores, and micro-breweries, it's easy for the upwardly mobile wine lover to forget that there are a lot of great wines on the market that are made in quantities well north of 5000 cases. There are big wine companies that make great wine, and big wine companies that make lousy wine. And some that do both. I've had mixed luck with Rosemount Estate wines throughout the years. I've had some wines that were everything I wanted them to be, and others that sent me running for the hills. In particular I... continue reading


Slovenian Wine: A New Frontier for White Wine Lovers

The wine world increasingly sorts out into two camps, those who believe increasing globalization is good for the wine industry, and those who believe that it ruins everything good about wine. Never mind that it is most certainly happening and impossible to stop. Those who regularly follow my ramblings know that I think globalization is the best thing to happen to wine since someone figured out that stainless steel tanks made for good fermentations. Leaving aside all the petty and ridiculous arguments about the homogenization of wine, which I think are bollocks, I offer the simplest and most compelling reason... continue reading


2004 Chateau du Rouet "Cuvee Belle Poule" Blanc, Cotes de Provence, France

I drink wine from as many different countries as I can, as often as I can. I firmly believe that the only way I keep learning anything as a wine lover will be through continued exploration. There are times, though, when searching out new countries, grape varieties, and appellations just takes too much energy. At times like these, usually after a long week, I just want a nice meal and a good glass of wine to go with it. Like most people in these situations of part-exhaustion, I tend to stick to the predictable -- the least risky choice that... continue reading


1990 Trimbach "Cuvee Frederic Emile" Riesling, Alsace

I can remember a time when the word "Alsace" only brought to mind dim memories of my 5th grade class discussion on some valley that people were fighting about in one of those big wars. In those days I definitely couldn't spell Gewurztraminer, and I had only tried one or two of them. Perhaps you'd call me a late bloomer when it came to Alsatian wine, but bloom I eventually did, and now I'm a quiet, but fierce devotee of what I believe to be some of the most individualistic wines on the planet. Alsace has always been an... continue reading


2005 Domaine Albert Boxler Pinot Gris "Vieilles Vignes," Alsace

Like Jazz standards interpreted endlessly by masters and amateurs alike, grapes find infinite expression in the hands of winemakers around the world. These interpretations, filtered through the lens of a regions climate and geology, are often wildly different from place to place. Syrah from Paso Robles in California, the Barossa Valley in Australia, Cornas in France's Northern Rhone Valley, and Washington State's Colombia Gorge are so wildly different you might even question that they were the same grape in a blind tasting. Such variation serves to both delight and befuddle wine lovers at different turns, and can often prompt the... continue reading


2001 Benanti "Pietramarina" Bianco Superiore, Etna DOC, Sicily

I try to avoid getting into discussions about terroir for the same reasons I avoid arguing about religion: no one has any proof, but everyone seems to have strong opinions. I tend to share my own opinions only amongst those whom I have pre-screened as like-minded when it comes to issues of how and whether wines can actually taste of the place from which they come. Regardless of whether you are a believer or not, and independent of what elements of its origin you truly believe can be expressed in a wine, perhaps you can agree with me that at... continue reading


WBW#41 Roundup Has Been Posted: Friuli White Wines

The white wines of northeastern Italy have never been on the radar for most Americans. Robert Parker's Wine Advocate only began covering this area in the past year, thanks to the addition of Italian critic Antonio Galloni to his staff. Yet this area produces some of the world's finest white wines. The best of these wines are made in very small quantities and are quite expensive and difficult to get ahold of here in the U.S. but as more importers seek out the nooks and crannies of the wine world, we are slowly beginning to see more wines from Friuli... continue reading


2006 HdV "De la Guerra" Chardonnay, Carneros

California's Carneros AVA (American Viticultural Area) is unusual in many respects. It's most well known eccentricity is that it exists divided between two other AVAs -- Sonoma County and Napa Valley. One of its other oddities, at least for me, is the fact that the best wines from this region are invariably made by producers who do not actually have wineries there. Many have argued with me on this point, but I maintain that, overwhelmingly, this is true. There is perhaps one striking exception to this belief of mine, and it's name is HdV, or Hyde de Villaine Wines. Not... continue reading


2005 Lusco do Mino "Pazo Pineiro de Lusco" Albariño, Rias Baixas, Spain

Spain has many claims to fame in the wine world but it will always hold a special place in my heart for being home to the wine region that is the most fun to say: Rias Baixas. Confoundingly difficult to wrap one's English tongue around, as is most of the Galician language, this small region produces wines that most white wine lovers should want to wrap around their tongues. For the record it's reeyahs-bye-shuss, and it is tucked into the far northwest corner of Spain near the border with Portugal and the Atlantic ocean. Were it not for the fact... continue reading


2006 Vincenzo Cesani Vernaccia di San Gimignano, Tuscany, Italy

If someone ever held my feet to the fire and forced me to name just one group of wines that I'm most excited about exploring these days, I would certainly squirm, as my curiosity for learning more about all the wines of the world does not have limits. However I would probably break down eventually, and with some honesty say that no category of wines really excites me as much these days, from a pure learning standpoint, as the indigenous white varietals of Italy. Throughout that country, on small farms and in small villages, winegrowers and winemakers are working with... continue reading


1988 R. Lopez de Heredia Vina Tondonia Reserva Blanca, Rioja Alta, Spain

There are few wineries in Spain whose names conjure the heritage and prestige evoked by R. Lopez de Heredia. Don Rafael Lopez de Heredia was born in Santiago, Chile in 1857. At the age of 12 he was sent by his family to Spain to study with the Jesuits, and nearly became a doctor before discovering the world of business, leaving his brother Fernando to realize the family dream of having a doctor for a son. When he was 19 years old, Don Rafael arrived at the railway station in Haro, Spain basked in the aromas of wine. The railway... continue reading


2005 Spencer Roloson Grenache Blanc, California

It's particularly pleasurable to watch a small wine label mature and make a name for itself in the world. I guess that could sound patronizing if I didn't make clear that I underline this sentiment with the utmost admiration for the hard work and talent that is required to have a wine label survive at all, let alone thrive. I have been watching, and drinking, Spencer Roloson wines since I first started writing about wine. At that time they were on their third or fourth vintage, and owner winemaker Sam Spencer was still settling into his groove, as it were.... continue reading


The World's Best Prosecco: Tasting Conegliano Valdobbiadene

We Americans aren't deprived of much in the world when it comes to wine, but if there's one segment of the wine universe that remains highly unexplored by the average American wine drinker it's the world of non-Champagne sparkling wine. And I'm obviously not not talking about California wine. I'm talking about the hundreds of different types of sparkling wine made in dozens of countries around the world. Thankfully, as more people begin to appreciate the pleasures of bubbly but can't always spring for the price tag of Champagne, there is an increasing demand for alternatives, such as Prosecco. Prosecco... continue reading


Hospice Du White Rhones

Last weekend was the 15th Annual Hospice du Rhone festival, an event that every year draws a couple of thousand people to Paso Robles to learn, drink, and to celebrate wines of (or in the style of) the Rhone Valley. This was my first year attending the event (it's usually not held at a good time of year for me, but this year I got lucky), and I was excited at the opportunity to attend an event that incorporated Rhone wines from outside of California. As regular attendees know, the French and the Australians show up loaded for bear, and... continue reading


2004 Remelluri Bianco, Rioja, Spain

It's hard not to be jealous sometimes of the old world wine producers. While new world winemakers, and those pioneering winegrowing in new regions of the world have to make their own stories as they go, winemakers from the old world have plots of land that speak volumes already. Who needs marketing when you've got 10th century grape crushing equipment carved from stone by Hieronymite monks on your property? You could work on branding, but why do that when you've got seven centuries of grape growing history you can point to? The Remelluri estate is blessed with such history.... continue reading


2005 French Rabbit Chardonnay, Vin de Pays d'Oc, France

In case you hadn't noticed, the wine packaging revolution is upon us. Or should I say, upon us again. It was only about a thousand years ago that wine came in a wide variety of packaging, from the scraped bladders of Eurasian mammals, to clay jugs, to woven waxed baskets, to precious glass bottles. Times changed of course, and wine packaging converged on the convenient, durable, and increasingly inexpensive glass bottle, but these days we are seeing a renaissance of options for toting man's favorite beverage. These days, the choices are even more varied than deer bladder vs. sheep bladder.... continue reading


2005 Pascal Cotat "Les Monts Damnés" Sancerre, Chavignol (Loire), France

Call them old school, call them luddites, call them crusty old throwbacks, but whatever you call them you've got to love the winemakers that see no reason to fuss with all the trappings of modern high-tech winemaking. After all, some of these old farts (and their children, or even their children's children) are making some of the most profound, unique wines in the world. Perhaps more so than the younger generation of passionate prodigy-winemakers, it is the grizzled old poet-winemakers that evoke the romance of wine more than any other. Perhaps not surprisingly, there are a lot of these folks... continue reading


2003 Bibich Debit, Skradin (North Dalmatia), Croatia

In my last post here on Vinography I mulled, tongue-in-cheek about the impact of wine on the hallowed halls of civilization, and in particular on the English language. Fun and games aside, wine and language are just as inextricably entwined through history as wine and culture. Lest there be any doubt, one need look no further than the northern coasts of Dalmatia, which has been making wine from a grape with a strangely (to English speakers) familiar name for two centuries. Actually the winemaking traditions in Croatia go back well before the Roman Empire, though it was the Romans who... continue reading


2005 Hook and Ladder "The Tillerman" White Blend, Russian River Valley, Sonoma

Old winemakers don't die, they just start another label. I've never seen this bumper sticker on any old pickup truck in Napa valley, but in addition to being cute, it's certainly a truism if I've ever heard one. While making wine is tough work, the better you get, the more you've got other folks who can do the heavy lifting for you while you make the critical decisions that ultimately determine the nature of the wine that is produced. That's why it's possible for us to have the cliché of the crusty old winemaker, still tottering around through the vineyards... continue reading


2005 Boutari Moschofilero, Mantinia (Peloponnese), Greece

OK. So I'm on a bit of a Greek wine kick these days. Trying to poke my nose into potentially up-and-coming wine regions. Although, as I've mentioned, Greece would be entering perhaps it's "third time around" as a major global wine region. Certainly there's a lot of wine made in Greece, but less than historical times, and only some of it is gradually winning acclaim on the world market for being high quality. Quality seems like it has two ways of building in the marketplace of any wine region, at the well-financed hands of the big guys, and in the... continue reading


2001 Weinrieder "Poysdorfer Schneiderberg" Riesling Eiswein, Weinviertel, Austria

Winemaking can be a nerve-wracking business. A lot of things can go wrong in the fermentation process, strange things happen in barrel sometimes, and there's always a bit of nervousness when the wine goes into the bottle and suffers a condition known as "bottle shock" where it usually tastes lousy for several weeks to several months until it settles down in its new home. But perhaps the most nerve-wracking aspect of winemaking for most winemakers, one that can never be completely erased no matter how many years of experience they possess, is the day and time of picking. A lot... continue reading


2004 Argyros Estate "Barrel Select" White Wine, Santorini, Greece

I go out of my way to taste wines from up-and-coming, out of the way, and generally obscure wine regions. I never know what I'm going to find, and sometimes I'm really surprised. Greece can hardly be considered any of those things, perhaps with the exception of up-and-coming, but if one were to be wholly accurate you'd have to say "up-and-coming, again." The Greeks have been making wine for a long long time (since roughly 1600 BC), though unfortunately their reputation as winemakers suffered a setback in the 1960's with the dramatic rise in popularity of retsina, a white wine... continue reading


1996 Domaine Marcel Deiss "Burg" Riesling, Alsace

I can remember the first time I heard of a place called Alsace. I was sitting in my middle school world-history course with some teacher whose name I've long forgotten, and we began to talk about a region called the Alsace-Lorraine. At that point, it was a vague strip of land which seemed tiny and insignificant in scale compared to the European continent surrounding it, and I remember wondering just why the French and Germans both cared so much about the place. I'll come clean and say that my understanding of the significance of the Alsatian role in geopolitical history... continue reading


Tasting The Terry Theise Champagne Portfolio

The average wine consumer can name the number of champagne brands they know on the fingers of one hand. Many might not be able to blurt out more than "Cristal" or "Dom Perignon." Like in many industries, the world of Champagne (and at this point I'm not talking about sparkling wine in general, but literally the stuff from the Champagne region of France) is represented in the minds of many and the world media by a few mega-brands. By some estimates, however, there are more than 3500 producers within the bounds of the (relatively small) Champagne appellation. For those willing... continue reading


2004 Kiona Vineyards Late Harvest Riesling, Red Mountain, Washington

Frequent readers know that I'm not the greatest fan of dessert wines. Most sweet wines just don't have enough acidity to keep me from feeling like I'm drinking syrup, and many are just too sweet for me to take. Even though I had a huge sweet tooth as a kid, these days it's pretty easy for less than stellar dessert wine to push me into the zone where I feel like I ought to be taking insulin pills along with each sip. Dessert wines, however, are certainly one of the wine world's most hedonistic pleasures. When they are good, I... continue reading


2004 Palmina Pinot Grigio, Santa Barbara County

You know how some entrepreneurs seem to start businesses in their sleep? They create a company, make it profitable or sell it to someone, and then it seems like a week into their "vacation" they're starting another one, and another. The most successful of these seem to have the Midas touch, with each business more successful than the last, as if they can't help but make tons of money. There's an analogue to this type of personality in the wine world, and it is readily demonstrated by one Steve Clifton. Clifton is best known for his partnership in Brewer-Clifton wines... continue reading


2003 Movia Ribolla Gialla, Brda, Slovenia

I am, like many of you readers, supremely lucky to be able to buy and to drink a wide variety of wines. Certainly the selection of wines here in California is exceptional, unfettered as we are from state-run liquor monopolies. Despite such an abundance of wines from all over the world, it never ceases to amaze me how many people seem to be stuck in the rut of only ever drinking a few basic California-produced varietals. While the number of different types of wine produced in California is growing all the time, it still pales in comparison to somewhere like... continue reading


2004 Shafer Vineyards "Red Shoulder Ranch" Chardonnay, Carneros, Napa

Nobody likes to be pigeonholed. It's easy, though, to be typecast when you're really, really good at doing one thing. There are a lot of wineries whose product portfolios are victims of their own success, and nowhere is that true more than Napa. So many people are looking for that blockbuster Napa Cabernet to put them on the map, but ironically when they make one, quite often it eclipses all of their other offerings. Which is why many people might be saying as they read this, "Shafer makes a Chardonnay?!?" Shafer Vineyards is, of course, known for their red wine,... continue reading


2001 Smith Madrone Chardonnay, 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. His start as a winemaker certainly sounds like it... continue reading


1994 Domaine Aux Moines Chenin Blanc, Savennieres-Roche Aux Moines, France

South-central France has many distinguishing characteristics, but the one that cannot be avoided and ignored, and certainly cannot be underestimated, is the Massif Central. This huge upwelling of ancient granite, and the limestone and sandstone it sloughed aside as it rose, present a formidable obstacle for anyone attempting to drive from, say, Clermont-Ferrand to Nimes. As large mountain ranges have a habit of doing, it also drives many of the weather systems in the area, capturing moisture, and unleashing it in torrents. Somewhere in a sub-range of the Massif Central called the Cévennes, a trickle begins amidst granite and limestone,... continue reading


2004 Sula Vineyards Chenin Blanc, Nashik, India

Regular readers know I jump at any opportunity to try interesting wines, especially from regions that I'm unfamiliar with. I've been hearing about Indian wines off and on for a while now, and I took special note when I saw recently that some famous winemakers like Michel Rolland were going there to help people make wine. India is such a huge country with such a wide range of topography that there just have to be places that are good for growing wine grapes, provided there were people with the interest and the expertise to do so. Apparently, the Nashik region... continue reading


1999 Domaine Clos St. Landelin (Rene Muré) "Vorbourg" Grand Cru Riesling, Alsace

If you ever needed an example of why my wine reviews aren't just tasting notes, here's one for you. Scroll down to the bottom of this page and see what this wine tastes like and what score I gave it. Then come back up here to the top, read this story, and then explain to me why everyone persists in reviewing wines with a couple of simple sentences about how the darn stuff tastes. There is so much more to wine than flavors and aromas. Once upon a time, roughly around the 7th century AD, an Irish monk by the... continue reading


1989 Fiorano (Boncompagni Ludovisi) Botte 48 Semillion, Roma, Italy

So what is a perfect wine, anyway? There are several answers to that question, one of my favorites being, "There are no perfect wines, only perfect bottles." Most folks who buy and drink their favorite wines with regularity know that some bottles just are better than others. Another answer to the question might be, "There are no perfect wines, just perfect tasting moments," where the wine drinker gets some celestial alignment between all things important to wine tasting -- the flavors of the wine, the environment of tasting, the company, and the food on the table. Finally, of course, I... continue reading


2001 Weingut Nigl "Kremsleiten" Riesling, Kremstal, Austria

I'll be honest with you, I'm a relative newcomer to Austrian and German wines. I haven't been drinking them for years as I have the wines of France, Italy, and California. I'd had one here and one there over the years, but not until I sat down last year and tasted my way through a good 200 different Rieslings and Grüner Veltliners did I really start to understand them in any way. One of the first things I learned was that I really prefer Austrian Rieslings to their German counterparts. Don't get me wrong, the Germans make some good stuff,... continue reading


2001 Phillipe Ehrhart Grand Cru "Brand," Pinot Gris, Alsace

Ever since we figured out the fermentation trick, we humans have grown a lot of grapes. Frankly we've lugged clippings and seedlings and grafts to some of the most unlikely places in the world. It seems like throughout history, we've tried to grow grapes pretty much anywhere we've set down our own roots. The results: a lot of bad wine. There are a lot of vines planted where they shouldn't be. But don't try telling that to the folks that put them there. Once upon a time, when the choice was between some wine (no matter how bad) and no... continue reading


2004 Domaine Gaillard "Le Secret Ivre" White Wine, Vin de Pays des Collines (Rhone), France

I'm on a kick. That's the opposite of a rut, I guess. I'm drinking a bunch of the same stuff and loving it. This month, despite the chilly weather in San Francisco, I'm all about white wines from the Southern Rhone. I've always enjoyed these in the past when I've had them (most often by the glass at French restaurants) but more and more I'm seeking them out as extremely food friendly alternatives to my usual white Burgundy and whites from the Loire. So when I found myself and a couple of new friends recently in an LA restaurant (possibly... continue reading


2004 Domaine August Clape Blanc, Côtes-du-Rhône, France

Some wines just ruin you. One sip and you realize the folly of your ways and can never go back to thinking or drinking wine quite the same way again. Really, when I think about it, this happens to me all the time. Not with every wine, mind you, but with many good ones, there's something in the glass that lifts you to a place that you can't come back from. Of course, you do go back and have a California Sauvignon Blanc every once in a while after tasting a great Sancerre, but you'll always remember that there's something... continue reading


1986 Fiorano (Boncompagni Ludovisi) Malvasia Bianca VdT Botte 25, Latium, Italy

I've insisted many times that the story behind a wine is an important part of my enjoyment of a wine -- knowing about who made a wine and the circumstance of its creation is part of appreciating it fully. Sometimes, though, the story of a wine is so compelling that it can transform the experience of drinking the wine into something else entirely. Such is the case with the wines of Alberico Boncompagni Ludovisi. The story behind this man, his wine cellar, and the wines that he made was so extraordinary when I first heard it, I hardly imagined that... continue reading


2005 La Yunta Torrontés Riojana, La Rioja, Argentina

I'm always looking for good wines to go with Chinese food. Especially around the holidays, when we eat with my Chinese in-laws. I like to drink wine with meals, and so does Ruth, but we haven't yet found the perfect wine for her country's cuisine. We enjoy Gewurztraminer with certain dishes, or Verdelho with others, an occasional Austrian Riesling or Gruner Veltliner, but we haven't quite hit on one that is consistently a good match with the wide variety of flavors that can be found in a proper Chinese meal. Hence, we're constantly experimenting with different wines. We're visiting Ruth's... continue reading


2003 Vinum Cellars 'VIO" Viognier, San Benito County, CA

I can't tell you how many stories I've heard of winemakers striking out on their own or forming partnership brokered by their shared love for Pinot Noir. Happens every day, practically. This is not one of those stories. Or rather it is one of those stories, but Pinot Noir is not part of the cast. Instead, the guys at Vinum Cellars were brought together because of their shared love of Chenin Blanc. A quirky and unlikely candidate for creating the passion that fuels the creation of a new winery to be sure, but the winery that this grape has spawned,... continue reading


2004 Uriondo Txakolina, Bizkaiko (Basque), Spain

If I could find a wine like this once a month, for the rest of my life, I think I would die a happy man. Not that it's such an amazing wine, it's tasty but not mind-blowing, but its just got so much unique personality, and it is so different from what I drink on a daily basis. The world of wine is a wide and wonderful place. But let me back up, since you may still be stumbling over the name of the thing, which to most Americans is quite a mouthful. The name of the producer is Uriondo,... continue reading


NV Il Colle "Cuvée 46° Parallelo" Prosecco, Conegliano, Italy

I'm not a huge connoisseur of Champagne. I like a good aged Champagne every now and again, but I don't have the urge to drink much of it, especially since most Champagne that you might drink on an everyday basis isn't very good in my opinion. Unlike most other wines, where it's possible to find a decent, even a great bottle at the $10 to $20 price range, I find that same task extremely difficult when it comes to Champagne. For my money, by far the better bet in that price range is the Spanish sparkling wine Cava, or even... continue reading


1997 Zind-Humbrecht "Clos Jebsal" Pinot Gris VT, Alsace

For anyone who drinks Alsatian wines on a regular basis, let alone someone who considers themselves a fan or an aficionado of the unique wines from this narrow slice of northeastern France, it's pretty much impossible to have a discussion about the area without the name Zind-Humbrecht coming up. While everyone is reticent to pronounce any one winery "the best" no matter which region you're talking about, many people would be hard pressed to find a reason why you couldn't say that Zind-Humbrecht has the position fairly well covered for Alsace. The Humbrecht family has a long history in winemaking,... 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


2002 Domaine Ramonet "Boudriotte" Premiere Cru Chassagne-Montrachet, Cote d'Or (Burgundy), France

I think everyone who loves wine should occasionally go out and buy a bottle that falls into the category of "prototypical." It's an important part of one's wine education to taste the wines that are the hallmarks of a particular style or varietal. Invariably these are expensive, so finding friends who want to share a bottle can help with the hit to the pocketbook, but ultimately it's worth it to be able to say (if even to yourself), "So this is what a proper ____________ tastes like." Fill in the blank with a varietal, a style of wine, a particular... 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


2003 Viñedos de Ithaca "Odysseus" Pedro Ximinez, Priorat, Spain

There's nothing like a mystery to get me all riled up. For all I know it's not really a mystery -- I'm sure thousands of Spaniards would laugh out loud knowing that I'm now obsessed with this -- but I really want to know who Pedro Ximinez was. And why there is a grape named after him. I imagine him the humble yet respected mayor of a small Andalusian town who rescued his faithful villagers from economic ruin by breeding a grape that winemakers idolized and a nation desired. Sigh. Not even my wine bible had the answer to that... continue reading


2003 Taft Street Winery Chardonnay, Russian River Valley, Sonoma

The term garagiste entered the wine lexicon about 10 or 15 years ago, mostly because of some enterprising small producers in Bordeaux who were bucking the tradition and winemaking styles of the large established Chateaux. Since these winemakers rose to prominence, with a little help from Robert Parker, the term has gone from an originally derogatory or at least disdainful label to one that is useful for describing all manner of small winemakers around the world, some of whom actually do make wine in their garages. While certainly not the first to make wine in a garage John and Mike... continue reading


The 2004 Vintage in Germany and Austria: An Idiots Point of View

Before you read any further, you should know that I'm the idiot. I know next to nothing about German and Austrian wines. Before last week I had tasted probably thirty of them in my life. Maybe fifty. They'd just never been a real source of interest. Sure I'd had a lovely Gewurztraminer here and there, a gorgeous dry Riesling over Thai food, but honestly I never really made a serious study. This, of course, is problematic when you hang out with people who are convinced that German and Austrian wines are the best wines on the planet. And I do... continue reading


1994 Zind Humbrecht "Heimbourg" Gewurztraminer Vendange Tardive, Turkheim, Alsace

Today we are exploring off-dry wines as part of the monthly virtual tasting event known as Wine Blogging Wednesday. This month's tasting is hosted by Beau over at Basic Juice. My entry in this category is an Alsatian wine from one of the most famous producers in the region, Domaine Zind Humbrecht. The father and son operation has been in existence since 1959 when the marriage of the Zind and Humbrecht families brought together a passion for winemaking and some of the best land in Alsace under one roof. Leonard Humbrecht and his son Olivier (notable for being France's first... continue reading


2003 St. Innocent "Freedom Hill Vineyard" Pinot Blanc, Willamette Valley, Oregon

This wine review is my contribution to today's online wine tasting event known as Wine Blogging Wednesday. This incarnation is being hosted by Alice over at My Adventures In The Breadbox and she has decided the theme would be White Pinot. White Pinot refers to the two common mutations of the Pinot Noir grape that are cultivated with regularity: Pinot Gris and Pinot Blanc, which for many years people thought was Chardonnay (and vice versa). As a result, here I am sipping the fruits of St. Innocent, a small winery in the Willamette Valley of Oregon. Founded by Mark Vlossak... continue reading


2001 Ancien Chardonnay, Carneros, Napa

I presume that some of you have friends like mine who belong to the ABC club. That's "Anything But Chardonnay" to the uninitiated, and what's required for membership is an abiding love of White Burgundy and Chablis and the belief that there's not a single Chardonnay made in California that can come close to the way that it is done in the "motherland." I'm constantly having conversations with friends like this and while I continue to maintain that they are wrong, I certainly don't have a huge portfolio of wines that I can point to as examples which disprove their... continue reading


2001 Chateau Potelle Estate "VGS" Chardonnay, Mt. Veeder, Napa

In the espionage business, spies "cross over" or are "turned" to become double agents, working for the people they once used to spy one. When Marketta and Jean-Noël Fourmeaux first came to California, they were on an official mission from the Appellations of Bordeaux and the Northern Rhone to learn as much as possible about California wine, winemaking and winegrowing for their French employers. After 6 months, they are reported to have sent back a telegram saying "Looks good. We'll stay." And thus began Chateau Potelle. The Fourmeaux bought a piece of property high on Mount Veeder in 1988 and... continue reading


2002 Domaine Henri Pelle, "Clos des Blanchais," Menetou-Salon (Loire), France

I only recently learned of the small Loire Valley appellation known as Menetou-Salon which sits nearby to its more famous sister Sancerre. Widely regarded as the best producer in the appellation, Domaine Henry Pelle was also one of the first, at least in modern winemaking history. A classic, family-run operation of 15 people, Pelle has been operating for over three generations in the Menetou-Salon, well before it was granted appellation status in 1959. The Domaine has 75 organically farmed acres in and around the tiny town of Menetou-Salon. Here, the soil is incredibly calciferous, made up of millions of fossilized... continue reading


1996 Domaine Pichot Vouvray "Moelleux," Vouvray (Loire), France

The Pichot family is one of the oldest in Vouvray and can trace its members (mostly restauranteurs and viticulturists) back as far as 1739. The family estate is located inside the city limits of the town of Vouvray, and both the cellars as well as part of the family home are located in caves hewn from the rocky hillsides. The domaine combines two sets of properties "Coteau de la Biche," owned and managed at one time by the family patriarch Jean-Claude, and "Peu de la Moriette" owned and operated by his son, Christophe, who has recently taken over management of... continue reading


2003 TAZ Chardonnay, Santa Barbara County, California

It's always a little bit of a mystery to me when I come across small producers that are part of huge wine corporations. Firstly, I wonder at their ability to remain relatively independent entities and I'm inherently suspicious about whether they are actually small producers that perhaps one day decided to cash out and become part of a conglomerate, or whether they are cleverly executed niche marketing programs set up by savvy corporate marketers. Take TAZ Vineyards for instance, which is part of the large wine conglomerate known as Beringer-Blass which produces a staggering 7.7 million cases of wine per... continue reading


2003 Adegas Galegas "Dionisos" Albariño, Rias Baixas, Spain

It's always great for me to be able to bring you wines that are relatively cheap and totally delicious. It's even a bigger bonus if they are made by small artisan producers, which this producer sort of qualifies for (See more below). It is with glee that I present what is one of the best, if not THE BEST tasting Albariño I've ever had. Albariño is appreciated by many for the steely, highly mineral, crisp white wines made from it, mostly in the Rias Baixas area of Spain. Albariños typically have lots of calcium, lime, and slate flavors accompanied by... continue reading


2001 Clos de la Coulee de Serrant "Becherelle" Chenin Blanc, Savennieres (Loire), France

One of the things I love about the world of wine is the sheer size and mystery of it. There are so many wines out there, and no matter how many times I taste what various winemakers do with a certain varietal, one day or another I come across a wine that makes me reassess what I think a particular grape can taste like. Perhaps I will feel differently when I've been seriously drinking wine for 40 years but I hope not. This particular wine was one of those where I thought I knew what it would taste like, even... continue reading


2003 Caves Plaimont "Colombelle" Blanc, Vin de Pays, Gascony, France

A few weeks ago I came across one of the best values in red wine I have encountered in a long time, and it seems this week I am bringing you its mate in the white wine category. What do I look for in a value white wine? Something that has enough complexity to warrant sipping on its own and something that pairs well with food. Caves Plaimont has managed to meet both of these criteria with a wine they call "Colombelle" which is a play on the primary varietal used in the wine, Colombard. For many, including myself, this... continue reading


2002 Vincent Girardin Corton-Charlemagne, Burgundy, France

Do you really know what Chardonnay tastes like? Really? There was a point at which I thought I knew. I was young, a hip Web designer who for the first time in his life had some disposable income and I was buying Hawk Crest Chardonnay from gourmet grocery stores and drinking it with homemade pasta and cream sauce. The height of sophistication, right? But just like when I finally went to Italy and realized what real fettuccine with a perfect cream sauce tasted like, I also discovered one day that the Chardonnay I had been drinking was preceded in history... continue reading


2000 Domaine Marcel Deiss "Gruenspiel," Alsace, France

Domaine Marcel Deiss is one of the more famous, and possibly infamous, producers in the Alsace region of France. Proprietor Jean-Michel Deiss a magnet for criticism over any number of things. Alsace is the one region in France where it is common practice (and legal) to label wines by their varietal, but he chooses not to, instead labeling his wines by single vineyard designations. Most wines in the region are single varietal, and his are not only blends, but field blends made from interplanted grapes all harvested together and crushed together. Most people think you shouldn't (because it doesn't work)... continue reading


2002 Leeuwin "Art Series" Riesling, Margaret River, Australia

This is my entry for WBW4, the fourth installment of Wine Blogging Wednesday, which this month is being hosted by Derrick over at An Obsession With Food. Derrick is a huge fan of Alsace, Austrian and German wines and so it's no surprise that he selected Riesling as the theme for this month's virtual tasting event. That would have been fine with me, even exciting, but the bugger had to go one dastardly step further and tell us it had to be New World Riesling, ruling out the whole set of wines that he likes, and even worse, ensuring that... continue reading


2003 William Fevre "Champs Royaux" Chablis (Chardonnay), Burgundy, France

It's wines like this one that make me begrudgingly admit that some of my friends have a pretty valid point. You see, I hang out with a bunch of folks who have completely sworn off of California white wines, especially Chardonnay, in favor of French whites -- in particular the Chardonnay based White Burgundies and Sauvignon Blanc based wines from the Loire. They clamor (at any given opportunity) that there are hundreds of wines that can be purchased for around twenty bucks that are infinitely better than most $20 California Chardonnays. Better tasting, better food pairing, and just all around... continue reading


2000 Domaine de Chevalier Blanc, Pessac-Leognan (Bordeaux), France

Most of the time when people talk about Bordeaux, they're talking about red wines, so it kind of tickles me to seek out and try the other side of the coin from the world's most famous wine region. Those interested in experiencing white Bordeaux could do worse than start with Domaine de Chevalier, an estate that has become as well known for its whites as its reds. Domaine de Chevalier was only converted to a winegrowing estate in 1865 (as opposed to many Chateau in Bordeaux who have centuries and centuries of history) by the Ricard family. It was shepherded... continue reading


2002 Calera "Mount Harlan" Viognier, Central Coast, California

It's worth noting, if only to give more weight to this review, that I'm really not much of a fan of Viognier wines from the US. Most of them are a little too one dimensional - pleasant, but not really interesting expressions of fruit in the same way that their Australian or European cousins can be. Something special, in my opinion is going on in the hills to the east of Salinas. Calera Vineyards sits atop Mount Harlan on the east side of Highway 101 about halfway between Salinas and Soledad in the Central Coast appellation of California. Formerly the... continue reading


2001 Arrowood "Grand Archer" Chardonnay, Sonoma

Massive corporate wine property or small family run business? With Arrowood, you're looking at both. Started as a family affair in 1986 by Dick Arrowood, who spent years making wine at Chateau St. Jean, Arrowood Vineyards was a popular Sonoma Winery from the start. In 2000 it was purchased by the Mondavi Corporation in an effort to expand their portfolio of premium Sonoma wines, and with the impending breakup of the company, it looks like it's going to be on the market again. This may be good or bad news for Dick depending on how you look at it. He... continue reading


2003 Jaffurs Viognier, Santa Barbara

I find myself drinking a lot of wines from Santa Barbara these days, partially because they're new to me, and also partially because they are affordable. But perhaps most of all, it seems that many of these winemakers are small, family operations that are guided by their own principles and vision for winemaking and are not simply making what has come to be stereotypical California wine. Jaffurs Wine Cellars is a classic example of these principles at work. Owner/Winemaker Craig Jaffurs started his operation in 1994 with a singular purpose, to take what he saw as a particular microclimate (Santa... continue reading


2003 Domaine Bru Bache Jurancon Sec, Jurancon, France

I was first introduced to Jurancon through a dessert wine poured in a local French bistro here in San Francisco. "Here, try this," said our waiter and whipped out a few glasses which he filled with a nearly colorless wine with a simple parchment colored label. "Henry the Fourth was baptized in this stuff" he said as he wandered off. We thought, "did we hear him right?" but sure enough, that is the claim to fame of this tiny little appellation in the south-eastern part of Provence in southern France. It also happens to be one of France's oldest appellations.... continue reading


2002 Caymus Conundrum, Napa

Everybody knows Caymus, right? [note: their web site seems to be having issues at the moment] They're one of the producers regularly ticked off on the fingers of Cabernet lovers' left hands as they enumerate the "hallowed" producers in the Napa valley. Their wines are good, but not often surprising, and consistently priced higher than they should be. However, one exception is the wine that deviated so far from their primary brand expectations that in 2001 they decided to give it its own separate brand, website and all. I've been a fan of Conundrum for a while now, and often... continue reading


2002 Saintsbury Chardonnay, Carneros

I was first introduced to Saintsbury wines through their Garnet Pinot Noir, which is a Carneros pinot made in a lighter style with less oak and more fruit, and a really nice wine for buying by the truckload and drinking every day. Saintsbury is one of the moderately large commercial producers in Napa that in my opinion is still maintaining high levels of quality and boutique style winemaking processes. They pretty much abjure filtering and they are not afraid of making wine in time consuming ways like fermenting and barrelling all of their vineyard lots separately to be blended as... continue reading


2002 Domaine Henry Pelle Menetou-Salon Morogues (Sauvignon Blanc), Loire Valley, France

Widely regarded as the best producer in the small appellation of Menetou-Salon in the Loire Valley of France, Domaine Henry Pelle was also one of the first. A classic family run operation of 15 people, Pelle has been operating for over three generations in the Menetou-Salon since before it was granted appellation status in 1959. The Domaine has 75 organically farmed acres in and around the tiny town of Menetou-Salon, close to the heart of the valley and the heart of Loire Sauvignon Blanc: Sancerre. Here, the soil is incredibly calciferous, made up of millions of fossilized oyster shells from... continue reading


2001 Schweiger Chardonnay, Spring Mountain District, Napa

Perched on the crest of Napa's famous Spring Mountain, Schweiger's vineyards are some of the highest in Napa. Owner Fred Schweiger's parents purchased the estate in 1960, and the first commercial harvest was in 1984. Like many winegrowing families in Napa, the Schweigers started out selling their grapes to others (Cafaro, ZD, Newton and Stags Leap to name a few) but in 1994 the family decided to start making their own wine from the classic Cabernet, Merlot and Chardonnay vines that flourished in this hilltop winery. This wine was puzzling to me to drink because I found it highly oak-driven... continue reading


2002 Manciat-Poncet Chardonnay, Macon-Charnay (Burgundy), France

Claude Manciat and his wife Simone Poncet are regular features of the landscape in the section of Burgundy known as the Maconnais. This region has been producing Europe's classic Chardonnays for decades, and so have Claude and his wife. Growers since the 1950's they began bottling their own wines in 1979, and have changed little since then. They maintain strict quality standards which include all hand harvesting and whole cluster pressing, among other things. Both of which are increasingly rare in the Maconnais. Domaine Manciat-Poncet (which also has a presence in Pouilly-Fuissé)is located near the small village of Charnay. Wines... continue reading


2001 Domaine Faively "Les Joncs" Chardonnay, Montagny (Burgundy), France

I was at a party the other day with someone who swore up and down that all California Chardonnay was crap, and that no one was making wines to equal the best whites of Bordeaux or Burgundy. I begged to differ, but embedded in his point was that there are very few winemakers, indeed, who are doing Chardonnay in a true European style, which I would characterize as high acidity, stronger mineral component, lighter fruit flavors, and less oak -- not to mention no trace of the buttery malolactic fermentation that is so Californian. While there are exceptions, I have... continue reading


1999 Mount Eden "Estate" Chardonnay, Santa Cruz Mountains California

It's pretty typical for folks who don't live in California to think of Napa as the original site of winemaking in California, but in reality, winemaking has an even older history in several parts of the state like Amador county in the Sierra foothills and in particular, the Santa Cruz Mountains. In 1878, a Frenchman named Paul Masson traveled from Burgundy to the little nothing of a mission town and orchards that were San Jose, California and started planting vines in the hills above what today is Saratoga. He quickly became the region's "famous Frenchman" and primary winemaker, and started... continue reading


2001 D.R. Stephens Chardonnay, Carneros

D.R. Stephens I presume? Actually a lot of people take a quick look at this label and start referring to it as 'Doctor Stephens' wine, but it's actually got one too many punctuation marks for that. The "D" most likely stands for Don, as in Don Stephens who along with his wife Trish, owns the small Howell Mountain estate that this wine calls home. What the "R" stands for I don't know, but as far as I'm concerned it might stand for REALLY good. This wine is a classic Carneros, made with cold climate fruit that actually comes from the... continue reading


2000 Miura Vineyards Chardonnay, Carneros

In the course of telling stories about the wines that I taste and feature here on the site, I've come across a few themes that seem to echo in the stories of many of California's small producers who have entered the market in the last couple of decades. Most common are folks who have owned vineyards for years and finally decided to make their own wine. Less common are folks that have worked in the vineyards for years as managers, cellar rats, or even laborers who are now making their own wine. Perhaps least common of these themes are the... continue reading


2002 Three Saints Chardonnay, Santa Maria Valley, Santa Barbara, California

Three Saints Vineyard is a small production vineyard that I really don't know much about. They make a Pinot, a Chardonnay, and a Cabernet (all of which I have seen on the market), but other than that I can't tell you much -- they're mostly under the radar for now. So let's talk a little about the Santa Maria Valley instead. Home to the famous Bien Nacido vineyard, this is a low slung valley lies south of San Luis Obispo towards Santa Barbara. Set back away from the ocean, up against the foothills of the San Rafael mountains, it is... continue reading


2002 Salvatore Murana Zibibbo Bianco, Pantelleria, Italy

Imagine yourself shipwrecked and storm tossed in the middle of the ancient Mediterranean. By some stroke of luck you find your way ashore to a rocky but habitable island, with a few families of sailors that have lived there for generations. If you were to settle and eke out a small living as a farmer, you might one day plant grapes from seeds carried by the occasional trader (even remote islands need their wine) and hundreds of years later, you might have a descendant named Salvatore Murana, who has this to say about his wine:"On the volcanic terraces of the... continue reading


2001 Liparita Chardonnay, Carneros

Liparita was launched in 1987 with 100 cases of Chardonnay and derives its name from from the Sicilian island of Lipari (mod. Isolta Lipari). The volcanic soils of this tiny island were reminiscent of those found on Liparita's Howell Mountain property. Owner Bob Burrows and winemaker Kerry Signoracci have increased their production to 8000 barrels and have expanded from that initial Chardonnay to a whole portfolio of wines which include some excellent award winning Cabernets and a great Sauvignon Blanc. Much of the winery's fruit is sourced from elsewhere in Napa, and often from very high quality vineyards, known and... continue reading


2002 Jacques & Francois Lurton "Les Fumees Blanches" Fume Blanc, Vin de Pays d'Oc, France

Jacques and Francois Lurton preside over a modern-day wine dynasty that breaks the mold of their predecessors. The sons of a well known Bordeaux owner-grower named André Lurton (of Châteaux Bonnet and Clos Fourtet among others) they have chosen to forsake their ties to the traditional estate, and instead become globe trotting multi-continental winemakers. The Lurton brothers either own vineyards or have control over vineyards in France, Spain, Argentina, Chile, Australia, and Uraguay, and use them to produce several lines of generally value-priced wines. More experienced wine snobs have often scoffed at the Lurtons' high production, shotgun approach to producing... continue reading


2001 Westerly "Estate" Sauvignon Blanc, Santa Ynez Valley California

It's unfortunate how sometimes the best way to describe something you like is a word or phrase that doesn't normally make people think good thoughts. Such is the unfortunate case for Sauvignon Blanc which, at times, manages to smell just a little like cat piss. Yes. I know. Who would drink a wine that reeks of a vengeful or incontinent feline? I've definitely experienced a few wines (mostly old Sancerres or Pouilly Fumes) in which this aroma was so overpowering I could not bring myself to drink them. However in many wines it is a mere background aroma, one that... continue reading


2002 Qupe "Bien Nacido Cuvee" White Meritage, Central Coast

After a recent review of a nice Edna Valley wine, let's move south and west along the central coast to the Santa Maria Valley and this all-purpose white from Qupe Wine cellars. Qupe shares a production facility with the famous Chardonnay producer Au Bon Climat, which is a cult favorite from the Central Coast appellation that commands hefty prices on the market. Qupe was founded Bob Lindquist who got his start, like many of today's small producers as a cellar rat for Zaca Mesa winery where he met and learned from winemakers Ken Brown and Jim Clendenen. After seven years... continue reading


2001 Cinnabar Estate Chardonnay, Santa Cruz Mountains

Cinnabar has been around since 1983, when owner Tom Mudd, a scientist and researcher, decided to take his interest in grapes to a new level. For many years, this little winery that sits high in the Santa Cruz Mountians near Saratoga was a well kept local secret, but with its recent vintages it has garnered widespread acclaim for producing wines that are both high quality and great values. Named after the mineral that contains murcury and was prized by medieval alchemists, Cinnabar strives for modern day alchemy in the transformation of its land and fruit into something extraordinary. Tom and... continue reading


2002 Londer Chardonnay, Kent Ritchie Vineyard, Sonoma Coast

So I seem to be on a little bit of a quest. An attempt to understand and experience a particular piece of terroir. After drinking and reviewing a Londer Pinot the other day, I happened to notice that Londer also makes a Chardonnay from the Ritchie Vineyard. Regular readers will be familiar with my raves about the Aubert Chardonnay and more recently the Tandem Chardonnay from the same vineyard. When I saw that Londer also made one, I had to give it a try, especially knowing that winemaker Greg LaFolette (who is also responsible for the Tandem Chard) has the... continue reading


2002 Tandem Chardonnay, Ritchie Vineyard, Sonoma Coast

They say that great winemakers can make good wines from mediocre grapes, but let's face it, the raw materials make a huge difference. That's why some grape growers can demand unbelievable sums for their fruit, and why certain vineyards are sought out again and again. Earlier this year I had the luck and the pleasure to try the Aubert Ritchie Vineyard Chardonnay (which was basically one of the best Chardonnays I've ever tasted in my life), and so it was with anticipation that I opened this bottle. Wouldn't you know it, but this is an amzing wine too. Far be... continue reading


2000 Husch Special Reserve Chardonnay, Anderson Valley

If you cruise through the Anderson Valley either going or coming from the Sonoma coast, you'll wind your way past golden fields dotted with live oaks, and eventually you'll round a bend to find a small sign on the right pointing you up the hill to Husch Vineyards. Other than the grape arbors alongside the driveway, you might think that you're arriving at someones (lovely) little farmhouse. The winery is a small set of buildings perched on the edge of the hill and their tasting room is basically a old grain storage building covered in flowering vines and ivy. The... continue reading


2003 Marquis-Philips "Holly's Blend," Verdelho, McLaren Vale, Australia

Whenever the tasting group I'm a member of does a blind tasting, the person who hosts always throws in a ringer -- some wine that's doing it own thing. Often it's an incredibly cheap wine of the varietal that we're tasting, or sometimes it's another varietal entirely (we tend to focus on a single varietal per tasting). This wine showed up as the ringer in a recent Sauvignon Blanc tasting and while several of us suspected that it was not a Sauvignon Blanc, its incredible floral aromas made it both an interesting comparison to the Sav Blancs we were tasting,... continue reading


2000 Rochioli Sauvignon Blanc, Russian River

Spring seems definitely to have sprung here in San Francisco, and cold, foggy Summer is right around the corner. So this is our brief reprieve from the fog, and one of the two times per year that the weather is just divine. On a sunny day if you're drinking wine, there's nothing better than Sauvignon Blanc for my money. With that in mind, the group of winemakers that I sometimes taste with got together a group of 11 Sav Blancs to taste blind (as usual). Our opinions were a little more divergent than usual, but this wine was my favorite,... continue reading


2002 J.M. Boillot Rully Premier Cru, "La Pucelle," France

I have a friend and former colleague who is pretty fanatical about wines. He enjoys them all, but on a number of occasions has told me that pretty much all he drinks at home are Pinot Noirs and White Blends. For Pinot, he seems to favor new world wines, specifically Oregon and Washington, but for his crisp whites, he really only drinks French, and more to the point, white Burgundy. I had a chance to sample his tastes the other day when he brought me this bottle from one of Burgundy's mainstream producers, Jean-Marc Boillot. Boillot is the grandson of... continue reading


2000 Mi Sueño Cellars Chardonnay, Los Carneros

It is good to have dreams. For Rolando Herrera, since he first set foot in the wine cellars at Stags Leap at the beginning of his career in wine, the dream was always to create his own wine. Now nearly 20 years later, that dream is embodied both literally and figuratively in his wines at Mi Sueño ("my dream")Cellars. Lucky for us, Herrera chooses to share his dreams, even if they are in volumes of less than 500 cases. This is a classic Carneros Chardonnay in the modern California style (heavy on the new oak, and cool weather tropical fruit... continue reading


1999 Tyrrells "Vat 47" Pinot Chardonnay, Hunters Valley, Australia

A visit several years ago to Tyrrell's was my introduction to the wines of Australia's Hunter Valley, and the beginning of my love affair with Australian Chardonnays. Unfortunately, or fortunately, I was weaned on the gold standard -- Tyrrell's Vat 47 was one of Australia's first Chardonnays, starting in the 1970's and continues to be one of the benchmarks for excellence for the varietal on that continent. My tasting experience at Tyrrell's was phenomenal, as I was able to sample over 19 versions of their Chardonnay from various vineyards and in doing so, understand the impact of the various components... continue reading


2002 Forman Chardonnay

I first had Forman Chardonnay at Dine restaurant in San Francisco with a whole pack of Japanese colleagues who were starry eyed about California wine. The Forman that we ordered them to go with their crab cakes only encouraged their obsession. Since then I have had Forman Chardonnay only on a couple of occasions, and each time I have enjoyed it. Those who are looking for a classic oaky and buttered California Chardonnay may want to steer clear, however, because Ric Forman makes his wines more in a European style. His Chardonnays in particular are much more mineral and citrus... continue reading


2002 Aubert Chardonnay, Ritchie Vineyard, Sonoma Coast

Mark Aubert has quite the resume: Rutherford Hills, MontiCello Cellars, Peter Michael Winery, Colgin Cellars, and since 2000, proprietor of his own label. In the decade and a half that he's been making wines, he's churned out his share of blockbusters to the accolades of Parker and Tanzer and the rest. This week I had the opportunity to taste his recent efforts in the Chardonnay category, and even though this review is about only one of his wines, honestly I can't decide which one I like better. These wines also define a point where Mr. Parker and I see eye... continue reading


2003 Groth Sauvignon Blanc, Napa Valley

Get it while its hot, folks. Or better yet, get it while it's ice cold on a sunny day. It looks like this summer is going to be a hot one, and what better to drink as the hills get golden in Northern California than some outstanding Sauvignon Blanc. One of my favorite aspects of this varietal is how many different aromas it is capable of. Good winemakers can coax all manner of floral and fruit characteristics out of this grape. Groth certainly falls into that category of "good winemakers" in my book. I've known them for a while based... continue reading


2002 Keller Estate "La Cruz Vineyard" Chardonnay, Sonoma Coast

I've written before about Keller Estate, so I won't repeat myself with praises. I've been enjoying this wine along with their Pinot (also reviewed here) since I first heard about them. For not having been around that long, and being quite small, Keller has made an immediate impression, garnering high scores from the Spectator for their Chardonnays several years in a row (Last year's got a 93, this year's a 92). This 2002 wine is a great example of a solid Sonoma Coast Chardonnay. Tasting Notes: I love the color of this wine -- gorgeous buttercup yellow, clear as a... continue reading


2001 Newton "Special Cuvee" Chardonnay

Occasionally (more than occasionally) I find a Napa wine that I know nothing about. Never heard of it, never seen the label, never even seen it on a menu anywhere. Yet on occasion these come highly recommended by a friend, a sommelier at a restaurant, or they even just jump out at me from a store shelf or a menu somewhere. Such was the case with this Newton. Saw it on a menu and thought, "what the heck." It turns out that I'm not the only one who hasn't heard of this vineyard. A quick poll of some of my... continue reading


2002 Thomas Fogarty Gewurztraminer

Thomas Fogarty is one of the few good california wineries between San Francisco and Montery Bay. Nestled at the top of the coast range with an incredible view of the Penninsula, Fogarty churns out consistently good to excellent wines at decent prices, at the direction of winemaker Michael Martella, creator of the Martella "Hammer" Syrah, which I've written about here before. One of the wines they are known for is their Gewurztraminer, which I have tasted in previous vintages as well. They make it (thankfully) in a European style, which means that at the most it has .5% residual sugar,... continue reading


2001 Pahlmeyer "Jayson" Chardonnay

If Chardonnays lifted weights, this one would be able to bench press way over its body weight. It's a massive, full frontal assault of oak and butter that, while not my style, is an extremely competent wine and one that will satisfy a certain set of extremely demanding California Chardonnay drinkers who enjoy powerful wines that will even age for a time. Warning: this wine is not for everyone -- if you're looking for a refreshing, food-friendly Chardonnay that will please wine afficionados and novices alike, this aint it. Tasting Notes: The wine shines as a viscous golden yellow in... continue reading


2002 Pascal Jolivet Sancerre, Loire, France

There's nothing like Sancerre (known anywhere else it grows as Sauvignon Blanc) to go with oysters and other shellfish. I happen to be a big fan of Loire sav blanc-based wines. One interesting thing I learned recently is that there are bottles of red wine sold as Sancerre, of course, made in the same region, but containing Pinot Noir grapes instead of Sauvignon Blanc. Not knowing a huge amount about the various sub-regions or chateaus of this region, up until recently I have often bought Sancerres and Pouilly-Fume wines blindly, just counting on generally good winemaking practices and the solid... continue reading


2002 Storrs Chardonnay Santa Cruz Mountains

Several years ago I fell in love with un-oaked Chardonnay, through the whites of Burgundy and some of the Chardonnays of Australia. As I drank this wine, I thought to myselft, "aaah, what a nice thing that someone is doing Chardonnay without oak in California." Storrs has made one of the best white wines from the Santa Cruz mountains that I have ever tasted. Imagine my surprise when I found out that a full 70% of the wine had been aged in New French Oak, and pushed through malolactic fermentation! Whoever made this wine knows how to finesse the elements... continue reading


2001 Rosenblum Viognier, Rodney's Vineyard

Viognier is, of course, the up-and-coming (read: cheaper and more accessible) and increasingly stylish alternative to California Chardonnay. The grape is very old and like much of our wine heritage, has been grown in France for thousands of years, but only recently has it been widely appreciated as a lone varietal. Many wineries are now making Viognier for the market in the US and abroad including Rosenblum. Tasting Notes: This wine is very mild and drinkable, which means that most people will like it, especially those who often have a hard time with the oak and butter of heavily malolactic... continue reading


2000 Trimbach Gewurtztraminer, Alsace

I'm still learning a lot about Alsatian wine, but I know enough to categorically say this: if you're gonna drink Reisling or Gewurtztraminer with dinner, don't drink it from California. I had the Trimbach with a Chinese dinner. Tasting Notes: Exquisitely light and crisp with none of the cloying sweetness of its California imitators. Not a lot of aroma in the glass, but as soon as it entered the mouth the bouquet exploded into white rose, lychee, and apricot mixed with cool honeysuckle and jasmine. A very clean finish made for an exceptionally refreshing wine. Food Pairing: Great with asian... continue reading


1998 Leeuwin Art Series Chardonnay - Margaret River

I've had a fondness in my heart for Australian Chardonnays since the first time I visited Tyrrell's winery and had their Vat 47 Chardonnay, which is a lovely, un-oaked, crisp mouthful of sunshine. Indeed, that wine has been one of my gold standards for Chardonnays. Until last night. A friend and client of mine took me out to Sushi Ran in Sausalito, and we packed a couple of wines along, including the Leeuwin. Tasting Notes: This wine was simply stellar in every sense of the word. The nose was bursting with gorgeous aromas of pineapple, clean and clear as its... 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

June 2016

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Most Recent Entries

50 Years of American Sparkling Wine: The Schramsberg Odyssey The Brilliance of Canadian Chardonnay A Singular Expression: The Champagnes of Cédric Bouchard A Man, an Island, and a Bottle of Grüner: The Wines of Rudi Pichler California Chardonnay According to David Ramey Flirting with the Ecstatic: The Wines of Nikolaihof, Austria From the Quiet Garden: The Wines of Pichler-Krutzler, Wachau, Austria The Great White South: An Introduction to Châteauneuf-du-Pape Blanc Coastal Diamonds: The Rieslings of Oregon Weingut Veyder-Malburg, Wachau, Austria: 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