Monday, November 30, 2009

Sub-terroir Rhônesick Blues

I'm indebted to Rob Moss for pointing this out to me. Bonny Doon's parody-loving Randall Grahm takes on Bob Dylan and the wine world. Excellent.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

2006 La Honda Pinot Noir "Black Capsule North"

This isn't your typical chocolate-and-cherries Pinot. Sourced from a number of small domestic vineyards at the northern end of the Santa Cruz Mountains, the nose begins earthy, like a damp forest floor, before developing floral notes that reminded me of dryer sheets. On the palate it's structured and earthy with cherry notes that develop with air. Should probably have been left for at least a couple more years before drinking. 87



As I noted recently, Generosa winery has been sold and will close permanently at the end of the year so I thought I'd take the opportunity to visit. The winery is located on Summit Road about 2.5 miles from Burrell School towards Highway 17. The property is on the north-east side of the road and enjoys great views across the hillside.

Parking is at the bottom of a steep drive, next to the old winery. Steps lead up to the tasting room which is surrounded by ancient redwood trees.

I re-tasted the wines and was surprised by the variation since last time. The Pinot Noir showed less acidity and more fruit, whereas the Sangiovese didn't show the oxidation that marred the last tasting.

Part of this can perhaps be attributed to the fact that the wines being poured in the tasting room had been decanted for around an hour, but an additional factor to consider is batch variation.

When wines are to be bottled the usual approach is to blend the individual barrels in a settling tank, but at Generosa the wines were bottled by hand straight from the barrel.

There was one additional wine, not previously tasted:
2004 Cabernet Sauvignon, Dorcich Vineyard, Santa Clara Valley
Brambles and pepper on the nose followed through on the palate but the weak finish lets it down. 86



One of the wineries participating in the aforementioned Christmas Tree Wine Trail promotion is Regale (rhymes with prevail). This is a major new development on Summit Road, next door to Burrell School. It's been under construction for about 3 years; this summer it opened to guests by appointment only and is now open to the public at weekends.

Regale is the dream of real estate developer Larry Schaadt. Assisted by his brother Greg he made a couple of trial vintages in Carmel Valley before deciding to go commercial. He purchased a little over 10 acres on Summit Road and planted a 4.5 acre vineyard with Pinot Noir plus a small amount of Chardonnay. The winery was designed in the style of a tuscan villa and the grounds are landscaped with herb gardens, olive groves and lemon trees. No expense has been spared; from the marble floors to the roof which is covered in century old hand made clay tiles, recovered from abandoned villages in the Amazon.

The tasting area is outdoors, under a balcony, and features a seating area and a wood fired pizza oven. While we were tasting, the staff brought out a continual stream of delicious complimentary pizzas, made by hand from scratch with paper-thin crusts. There was also rustic bread to go with the winery's own olive oil. The tasting area faces west, so as the sun goes down it gets very bright for the servers, but the sunset was beautiful.

The winery has a wide range of wines with fruit sourced from various different AVAs. Two flights are offered, five wines for $10 and six for $15, with the first two wines common to both flights. Total production is under 4,000 cases.

2005 Chardonnay, Central Coast
Sourced from the 122 acre San Felipe Vineyard in the Pacheco Pass AVA. A typical 'oak and butter' style Chardonnay with a creamy mouthfeel and a mineral finish. 86 $35

2007 Pinot Noir, O'Neel Vineyard, Russian River Valley
Starts with a lovely perfumed, cherry nose. On the palate it's dry with tart cherry flavours and a hint of pine. The finish is rather quick without a great deal of tannin or oak evident. 87 $55

2007 Estate Pinot Noir, Santa Cruz Mountains
The first vintage from 3 year old vines. Only 45 cases made. Has a darker colour than the RRV. Intriguing nose of candied fruit and raspberry, with a hint of menthol. Full bodied with good bramble and black cherry flavours. Surprisingly intense from such young vines. 92 $65 (Club members only)

2007 Sangiovese, Napa Valley
From a private vineyard in the Stag's Leap District. Bright fruity nose with white pepper and black olive notes. Smooth with, redcurrant and blood orange flavours. 89 $42

2006 Zinfandel, Dry Creek Valley
Has a great raspberry and cigar box nose. Elegant & balanced, with berry and herb flavours, but the finish is a little quick. 90 $45

2006 Cabernet Franc, Napa Valley
Also from the Stags Leap District, the nose shows nice blackberry and tobacco that follow through to the palate, with some herbal notes. Good balance. 91 $48

2007 Barbera, El Dorado County
Big, bramble jelly nose. Fruity and smooth, with some white pepper and liquorice on the finish. Nice acidity, light tannins. 89 $40

2005 Ovation, Carmel Valley
A blend of 60% Cabernet Sauvignon and 40% Merlot. Nose has smoke, graphite and blackcurrants. Elegant, balanced and smooth with hints of violets. Reminds me of Ridge. 93 $75

2007 Cabernet Sauvignon, Alexander Valley
Bright blackcurrant nose, with a touch of green pepper. Lots of currant fruit, plenty of oak, dry tannic finish. Still very young. 91+ $N/A

With the Real Estate market timing and location are critical; the same may be true of wineries. While Regale has an excellent location it has certainly picked a difficult time to launch - the market for high-priced wines has been hit hard in the recession, as a recent report in Decanter confirms. While Regale is certainly worth a visit it will be interesting to see whether the region can support a Napa style winery with Napa style prices.

Christmas Tree Wine Trail

I had no idea that there were so many Christmas tree farms in the Santa Cruz Mountains. I suppose I never stopped to wonder just how many trees get sold at this time of year and where they all must come from.

Some of the local businesses have got together to promote a Christmas Tree Wine Trail - come up into the mountains and cut your own tree at a tree farm, taste some local wines and dine at a local restaurant.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

1999 Fellom Zinfandel, Santa Clara Valley

Fellom Ranch is situated on Monte Bello Road, at a similar elevation to Ridge. The estate is planted with Cabernet Sauvignon; they also source Zinfandel from a vineyard in Saratoga and Chardonnay from the Russian River Valley. The wines have become increasingly difficult to find; Beverages & More used to carry them, but these days they seem to be available only direct from the winery.

A friend opened this 1999 Zinfandel at thanksgiving. It hadn't been stored properly; the colour was light brick red with an amber meniscus. The nose showed dried fruit and some oxidation, though less than the Solis or Generosa that I've tried recently. The palate had some nice dried raspberry flavours with good acidity but not much tannin, and a touch of oxidation on the finish. No rating due to the poor storage, but we had no difficulty in finishing the bottle.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

2004 Solis Estate Sangiovese

I opened this thinking that it would be a light and fruity accompaniment to a pasta dish - I was in for a bit of a surprise. The first clue was on the nose; it was hot, ripe, oaky and slightly port-like. The palate was surprisingly sweet, with raisin notes and more oxidation. There was decent acidity and tannin, but overall it came across as too port-like. Drank half, kept the rest to cook with. Not rated.

Monday, November 23, 2009

The most expensive vineyard in the world?

What would you say was the most expensive vineyard in the world? It's difficult to tell, as the most valuable land is rarely - if ever - sold and prices tend not to be discussed openly. In the Napa Valley, where land can go for $200,000 or more per acre, the Screaming Eagle estate was recently sold for a rumoured price of $30 million. This included 60 acres, plus the brand and inventory. The wine sells for $750 a bottle on release, rising to thousands on the open market.

Surely the first growths of Bordeaux must be among the top contenders. Perhaps Lafite or Yquem, who respectively hold the titles for the most expensive bottles of red and white wine ever sold.

In Burgundy the arcane legal system means that land is even harder to get and surely no vineyard can be more expensive than Romanée Conti. Less than 5 acres in size, it hasn't changed hands in over 140 years. Individual bottles of the wine costs thousands of dollars on release and are snapped up almost instantly.

And then of course there's the Atherton vineyard.

Atherton's 94027 ZIP code is one of the most expensive in the nation. Though prices have declined by almost a quarter and it gave up the top spot to 07620 (Alpine, NJ), the median home sale price is still a massive $3.85 million according to a recent article on So the idea of a vineyard in Atherton may seem ridiculous, but to Ann Ramsay - whose family have owned the property since the 1920s - the land is part of the family. In 1994 she planted 2.5 acres with Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc. The wine is made in small quantities yet is surprisingly inexpensive; it retails for up to $20, rising to $35-$40 in restaurants. The vineyard is north of the Santa Clara Valley AVA boundary and below the elevation of the Santa Cruz Mountains AVA, so falls under the San Francisco Bay appellation.

2007 Orchard Hills Atherton Vineyard Pinot Noir, San Francisco Bay AVA
Light garnet colour. Some initial burnt match funk soon blew off, revealing light cherry and cranberry. With time caramel notes emerged. Light bodied with good cherry fruit and bright acidity, and a good medium-length finish. Developed nicely in the glass. 89 Value. $20 at Vino Locale in Palo Alto.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Equinox / Bartolo

The Santa Cruz Mountains has a long tradition of sparkling wines; Paul Masson's rose "Oeil de Perdrix" (Eye of the Partridge) won many accolades and he was even granted a licence to continue production "for medicinal purposes" during Prohibition.

Barry Jackson has been making sparkling wine under the Equinox label for 20 years. The wine has traditionally been a 100% Chardonnay "Blanc de Blancs" style, and is kept on the lees for much longer than average; the current release is from the 1997 vintage. He has recently added a second release called "Harmony Cuvee", which includes 29% Pinot Noir. As with previous releases all the fruit comes from the Trout Gulch vineyard, and though no vintage is listed it's from the 2001 vintage.

NV Equinox Harmony Cuvee
Lovely mousse, light straw colour. Nose shows dough, earth and apple. Fresh flavours of green apple backed by minerals and a rich, toasty finish. The addition of Pinot Noir results in a more rounded flavour. Lovely stuff. 92

Recently Barry introduced a sister label, Bartolo, making red wines primarily from the Mann vineyard in Santa Clara Valley.

2007 Cioppino Rosso, Santa Clara Valley
A blend of 61% Syrah 20% Chardonnay and 19% Mourvèdre.
Dark, brooding fruit on the nose follows through onto the palate. Despite being a minority component the gamey Mourvèdre shows well. 89

2006 Syrah, Santa Clara Valley
Fragrant with herbal notes and good black fruit. Smooth and fruity; easy drinking. 88

2006 Merlot, Santa Clara Valley
Smoky with bright fruit. Palate shows ripe fruit and chocolate, with a quickish finish. 88

Generosa: Last call

Generosa is Italian for generous; it's also the maiden name of winemaker Chris Gemignani's grandmother, and the name of the winery that Chris founded. He built a lovely property on Summit Road, with winery, tasting room and a guest house named Villa Generosa. Sadly Chris died in 2007.

Following his death the family were left with a significant stock of wines, both bottled and in barrel, and attempted to sell the winery as a going concern. However the poor economic situation meant a buyer could not be found, so earlier this year the family engaged the services of local wine writer and marketer Laura Ness to help complete the necessary legal paperwork and sell off the remaining stocks.

The tasting room and guest house has now been sold and since the new owners have no interest in wine this is the last chance to purchase these wines. The property will be open at weekends from Noon-5PM from now until Christmas for tasting, and after that any remaining stocks will be sold off to a wholesaler. All the wines are $30, with discounts available for half and mixed cases.

2005 Pinot Noir, Veranda Vineyard, Santa Cruz Mountains
There's some 'Pinot funk' on the nose along with wild strawberry. On the palate it's fairly typical of the Veranda Vineyard; lean and earthy with light body and bright acidity. 87

2005 Sangiovese, Alegria Vineyard, Napa Valley
There are notes of oxidation and maturity on the nose. It has good acidity with some pleasant cherry notes and a fairly nice rounded finish where the oxidation shows again. 81

2003 Cabernet Sauvignon, Dorcich Vineyard, Santa Clara Valley
Great nose showing liquorice, ash and hints of eucalyptus. It's got plenty of smooth blackcurrant fruit with some herbal notes. Medium weight with a good finish. 90

2005 Cabernet Sauvignon, Monte Bello Ridge, Santa Cruz Mountains
Late picked; allegedly from Ridge's Monte Bello vineyard. It shows lots of sweet raisin fruit, both on the nose and the palate. Lacks acidity and the finish tails away somewhat. Should perhaps have been blended with the Sangiovese. 83

2003 'Tuscan Wedding', Central Coast
Given Chris's Tuscan hertitage, it's not surprisingly that his signature wine was a "Super Tuscan" blend of French and Italian grapes. This example includes Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Sangiovese and Petit Verdot.
Earthy nose, showing a little barnyard at first. A rich blend, with the Syrah showing well. Notes of white pepper and redcurrant. 89

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The sad state of California chardonnay?

I've had my head down with work and family recently, so I'm grateful to Christopher Watkins over on Ridge's 4488 blog for drawing my attention to Laurie Daniel's piece on California Chardonnay. I found it a little odd that while writing for the San Jose Mercury she managed to cite examples of good Chardonnay from all over the state with the exception of the Santa Cruz Mountains. Hardly anyone here is making the "cookie cutter" buttered toast style she was complaining about, and most of them are very reasonably priced.

Now obviously the region boasts two of the finest producers in the world in Mount Eden and Ridge. In the $30-$40 range I'll put Varner and Windy Oaks up against anything else the state can produce. Sarah's Vineyard have two nice examples, one from the Santa Cruz Mountains and another from Santa Clara Valley. Storrs, Fogarty and Beauregard make a range of interesting Chardonnays in the $20-$35 range. Cooper Garrod's Gravel Ridge can often be found around the $16 mark. My local Safeway currently has J Lohr's Riverstone for $9 and Clos LaChance's unoaked Emerald Throated Hummingbird for a little over $6. And all that is just off the top of my head.

So is Californian Chardonnay in a sad state? Not as far as I can see. Maybe you're just tasting the wrong wines.

Monday, November 16, 2009

2008 Stefania Chardonnay, Chaine d'Or Vineyard

Having opened two of the recent Stefania releases you knew it was only a matter of time before I got to the last one, the Chaine d'Or vineyard Chardonnay.

Chaine d'Or vineyard, pictured above, is located off Highway 84 in Woodside, to the east of Skyline Drive. It's a little over an acre on a cool southerly slope. The vines were planted a little over 20 years ago by Jerry and Anne Anderson in the grounds of their home. The Andersons made wine under the Chaine d'Or label for many years, but have now retired and the vineyard and winery is now managed by Paul and Stef Romero. The old Chaine d'Or label has largely been discontinued in favour of the Stefania label, though a few cases are still marked the old way for some older restaurant clients.

I don't normally decant white wines, but I did with this as it's so young and I wanted to see what the air did to it. Initially the nose was quite floral; with time it showed more of a lime character. On the palate it had lots of chalky minerality, flavours of green apple, hints of butterscotch and a creamy mouthfeel. I'm assured that it sees 75% new oak, but you wouldn't think so from the way it tastes. It continues to remind me of Cooper Garrod's Gravel Ridge Vineyard Chardonnay, and to a degree of Clos LaChance's Santa Cruz Mountains Chardonnay. While it's probably my least favourite of the Stefania range, it's a nice example of a Santa Cruz Mountains Chardonnay, and a pleasant change from the butterball style. 89

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Pinder 2002 Cabernet Sauvignon, Gallaway Vineyard

I had this earlier in the year and wasn't particularly knocked out by it - I'm afraid it hasn't got any better since. The nose shows pear drops and a vegetal note. There isn't much fruit, just some tart redcurrant with a touch of oxidation. Tannins are still there on the finish. The sink enjoyed it more than I did. No rating.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Famous Last Words

You know how I finished my last post on Stefania saying I'm definitely going to try to hold on to the 2007s for a little longer? That may prove to be harder than I thought. I collected my latest shipment a little over a week ago and have already got through three bottles of the 2007 "Haut Tubbe". On the nose it's slightly funky, with notes of lavender, brambles and pine. With air some eucalyptus showed. On the palate the tannins first appear soft, though on the final glass they were firming up. There's plenty of acidity and a complex blend of fruit dominated by blackcurrant and with hints of mint. Just kept getting better. My guess is that this blend has a larger proportion of Cabernet than the 2006, which I think was predominantly Syrah. Terrific value at $20, and I believe there's still a little left if you haven't already got your order in. 90. Recommended

Then there's the 2007 Uvas Creek Cabernet Sauvignon, which exemplifies the kind of quality wines the Santa Clara Valley is capable of producing, and is drinking really well with an hour or so in the decanter. The nose has brambles, oak, caramel and a hint of toasted coconut. It's got bags of lush blackberry and blackcurrant fruit with enough structure backing it up. On first opening there's a hint of citrus-pith bitterness on the finish which recedes with air. Should continue to develop nicely if only I can keep my hands off it. 92 Recommended

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Attention Bargain Hunters

Clos LaChance are having another big sale this weekend. Unlike the last couple of sales, the wines on offer this time are all their own label. There is a 50% discount on about 15 different wines, as well as a massive case discount to $8.25 on the Santa Cruz Mountains Chardonnay. The sale starts on Thursday for wine club members, Friday for the general public. For more details see their website.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

A first look at 2009

The Chaine d'Or winery is maybe 30 minutes from where I work, so when Paul Romero told me he'd be bringing in the last of his grapes I took a long lunch break to go up and see. By the time I arrived the heavy work was done and it was down to what may be the most important part of winemaking - cleaning up. Jerry was hosing down everything in sight (including the dog) while Stef was doing punch downs on the Syrah and estate Cabernet Sauvignon, as well as lab tests on the latest delivery.

Much of the wine is now through primary fermentation and is in the barrel undergoing the secondary malo-lactic fermentation. Since 2007 Paul has relied on wild yeasts with good results.

I got to taste my first barrel sample of the 2009 vintage - a Cabernet Sauvignon from the "Crimson Clover" vineyard. So far everything I've heard about the 2009 vintage has been positive; it was an easy year and has resulted in a larger than average crop of very good quality. The downpour in late October doesn't seem to have caused too many problems. Pretty much every winemaker I've spoken to has had good things to say about it, and before the cynics say "well they would, wouldn't they" bear in mind that they still have plenty of wine from previous vintages to sell.
The cab was a lovely dark purple colour; loads of fruit and some nice young, firm tannins - it tastes good now!

Crimson Clover is a 1.5 acre vineyard in the Santa Clara Valley near Morgan Hill. It's not too far from the Uvas Creek vineyard, from which Paul & Stef sourced some excellent fruit for their first vintages. Uvas Creek's owners now also own the Sycamore Creek winery and are using all the fruit themselves, so this will be the winery's Santa Clara Valley Cabernet from next year.

The winery has just released their fall offering; 2007 Santa Clara Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, 2007 "Haut Tubbe" and 2008 Santa Cruz Mountains Chardonnay. I'll post notes once I open them, but I'm particularly keen to try the Cabernet again, as the last time I had it, it was showing very well indeed. The Chardonnay is completely sold out; there may be some of the others left.

The "Haut Tubbe" is a blend of various small lots including Cabernet, Zinfandel, Syrah, Grenache and Mourvedre. Because it's sourced from both the Santa Cruz Mountains and Santa Clara Valley AVAs it has to carry the "California" appellation. I recently opened a bottle of the 2006 Haut Tubbe (my last as it turned out thanks to an out-of-date cellar listing, bad planning that). It had good fruit backed by lots of tannin; we had a glass each and put the stoppered bottle in the fridge. On the second day the tannins had softened considerably and the dry, brambly fruit was showing nicely. On the nose it was savoury, with grilled meat, menthol and figs. Clearly this is a wine that deserves cellar time. I'm definitely going to try to hold on to the 2007s for a little longer.