Wednesday, July 29, 2009

August 25th: Dinner at Restaurant James Randall

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There's an interesting dinner coming up in Los Gatos next month. It's an opportunity to try 5 local wines alongside dishes created for the event. What makes the event particularly special is that it marks the relaunch of the Generosa label. You may recall that the winemaker Chris Cemignani died a couple of years ago leaving behind a wife and young son, and a cellar full of unsold wines. Local wine writer Laura Ness is helping the family bring the wines to market and will be attending the event. The 6 course dinner including wine is $85 per person (plus tax and gratuity).

Here's the lineup:
2007 Poetic Cellars Chardonnay, Chestnut Hill Vineyard ~ Prawn Risotto with Watercress Puree.
2008 Big Basin Vineyards “Aura” Syrah Ros├ę ~ Spinach and Arugula Salad with Pistachio Crusted Goat Cheese and Strawberry Vinaigrette.
2005 Muns Vineyard Pinot Noir ~ Pancetta Stuffed Figs with Fromage Blanc.
2005 Generosa Pinot Noir, Veranda Vineyard , Monterey ~ Bacon Wrapped Meatloaf with Roasted Tomatoes.
2006 Stefania Cabernet Sauvignon, Santa Cruz Mountains ~ Grilled Rack of Lamb with Mashed Potatoes and Succotash.

followed by dessert and coffee. For more information, contact Restaurant James Randall.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Notes from the cellar sale at Clos LaChance

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As I noted in an earlier post, Clos LaChance are having a cellar clearance sale. I headed down there earlier this evening to see what's on offer. There were around 20 wines on sale, most in unfamiliar packaging. The wines are effectively variations on the regular Hummingbird series bottlings (which has always offered decent value for money) that have been bottled for corporate clients. The deals are certainly attractive; I picked up a few cases. Here are my brief impressions. Note that for contractual reasons I'm unable to publish the names of the wine, only the reference number. A full list is available at the winery.

SRCH06 2006 Chardonnay, Monterey County $4
Unoaked, and similar to the "Emerald Throated Hummingbird" label.
Light floral, apple nose. Crisp and dry, with green apple and lime. Good acidity, shortish finish. 88

SRCH07S 2007 Chardonnay, Monterey County 375 $4
Unoaked. Light nose shows lime and kiwi. Dry and tart; gooseberry and a slightly bitter finish. 84

JRCH07 2007 Chardonnay, Monterey County $5
Unoaked, and similar to the "Emerald Throated Hummingbird" label.
Apple and lime aromas, Smoother mouthfeel than the 2006 San Ysidro Ranch; apple, kiwi and lime. 87

FACC07 2007 Chardonnay, Monterey County $5
Unoaked. Red apples, sherbet, and surprisingly a hint of vanilla.
Smoother and more buttery, less acidity 86

WGWW07o 2007 Chardonnay, Monterey County $7
Light oak and citrus. Slight Belgian beer note. Lemon oak on the finish 86
(Note that there's also an unoaked version, but I missed that since the labels are almost identical)

2006 Clos Lachance Chardonnay, Santa Cruz Mountains $10
Big nose of baked apple, pear, vanilla. Creamy toast, fig, apple, lime. Oak tannins show on the medium finish 89 (Sold out!)

2008 Clos Lachance Estate Muscat $8
Light nose of oranges and elderflowers. Bone dry; notes of orange/citrus and a crisp, shortish finish. 87

There were three variations on the 2005 Hummingbird Meritage, each similar, but with some variation in blend or barrels.

FAMT05 2005 Meritage, Central Coast $7
Smoky, musty plum. Smooth smoke/ash notes; dry with plum and brambles, touch of bitterness on the finish. 87

JRMG05 2005 Meritage, Central Coast $7
As above, lighter nose and less smoky, finish less bitter. 87

SRMG05 2005 Meritage, Central Coast $7
Showed the least oak influence and brighter bramble & cassis fruit. 88

FACA06 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon, Central Coast $8
Nose shows blackcurrant and liquorice root. Nice berry & bramble flavours and a smooth finish. 88

WGRW06 2006 Red Wine, Central Coast $7
Bright plum and cranberry nose, hint of raisin. Smooth with spicy plum flavours; dry, peppery finish. 88

The remaining wines were bottled for some kind of charity event and had a baseball theme:

CWBA06 2006 Merlot, California $3
CWJS06 2006 Merlot, California $3
Two similar offerings; light, fairly simple wines, each showing plums and smoke. Not much to separate them; the second had an odd note on the nose (hint of sulphide perhaps) and less smoke. 84

CWMB07 2007 Merlot, California $7
Bright fruity nose of brambles and raspberries. Showed more oak than the previous two - lots of black coffee and berries, with a dry finish. 86

CWDL07 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon, California $7
Smoke and brambles on the nose. Dry and tannic, with cassis, toast, mint and nettles.
tannins show on the finish. 88

Monday, July 20, 2009

How accurate are the NASS surveys?

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Fair warning: This will be a brief but unusually geeky post.

I was looking over the NASS figures on grape acreage in the area this weekend, and noticed a couple of anomalies in the data.

Firstly, there's no Malvasia Bianca listed in Santa Clara. Yet Kirigin have been making an estate Malvasia Bianca for ages, from 6 acres of what are supposedly 60+ year old vines.

Also there's no Gewurztraminer listed in Santa Cruz County. Yet I know for a fact that there's about an acre at the Woodruffe vineyard; there may be more.

So how does NASS collect the data, and how accurate is it really?

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Creekview Vineyards

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Creekview is a 1000 case winery located in San Martin owned by Greg and Teri Peterson. Keen home winemakers for many years, they entered some of their wines in competitions and won several awards. Buoyed by this success they bonded Creekview Vineyards in 2005.

Most of the wine is made from purchased fruit sourced from the Santa Clara Valley, as well as the Ventana Vineyard in Arroyo Seco. There is a small estate vineyard, covering around 1.5 acres and planted with a wide selection of vines. There are several rows of VSP trained Bordeaux grapes - Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot. There's also some Syrah and a little Negrette, grafted with cuttings from the De Rose vineyard in Cienega Valley.

The creek that gives the winery its name winds through the vineyard. To one side there's a block of tightly spaced head-trained Zinfandel. A small block of Merlot is planted on the far side; since it's only accessible by foot it's also head trained and tightly spaced. The grounds also include a wide selection of citrus, stonefruit and pipfruit trees.

The winery opens to the public on the third Saturday of every month. Tasting is free and there may also be live entertainment. On this particular Saturday it was unusually hot and humid, as a result some of the reds were served a little warmer than normal.

2008 Sauvignon Blanc, Ventana Vineyard, Arroyo Seco
This had a nice citrus nose, with lemon, lime and kiwi. Crisp and dry with flavours of grapefruit & lime. Pleasant, if a little simple. 86 $22

2007 Chardonnay, Dorcich Vineyard, Santa Clara Valley
Creamy vanilla and floral (honeysuckle?) notes on the nose. On the palate it was smooth and rich with flavours of baked apples and a long, creamy finish without being flabby or over-oaked. Very good. 89 $22

2007 Chardonnay, Ventana Vineyard, Arroyo Seco
Showed much more oak than the previous wine, with a nose of vanilla and apple. Flavours of apple pie and cream, and a shorter finish. 87 $25

2006 "Melody", Estate Vineyard, Santa Clara Valley
This Bordeaux blend saw almost 2 years in new French oak. The nose showed fragrant oak, brambles and smoke. The first impression it gave was hot, dry and tannic, but looking beyond that it showed good black fruits with a hint of mint and a touch of bitterness on the finish. At least 89, probably more under better circumstances. $38

2007 Merlot, Wilder Vineyard, Santa Clara Valley
Jammy, plum nose. Smooth and fruity with soft tannins that firm up on the finish. 88

2006 Cabernet Sauvignon, Dorcich Vineyard, Santa Clara Valley
Cellared in hybrid barrels, French, with American heads.
Lovely nose of spice, cassis & toast. Good, bright berry flavours with, a little smoke. Nice balance. Drinking well now. 89

2006 Syrah, Santa Clara Valley
Sourced from the Dorcich and Wolfenbarger Vineyards, this also contains some estate Syrah and small amounts of Negrette and Mourvedre.
The nose showed lots of smoke, black fruits, spice and black pepper. Concentrated fruit flavours with good structure and nice balance, and a long, smoky finish. Worth at least 91, maybe more; I'll let you know as I bought a couple. Recommended

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

2007 Ahlgren Chardonnay, Ventana Vineyard, Monterey

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These days I'm finding that I enjoy Chardonnay more the less that it's manipulated, or at least that it appears to be manipulated. When I complimented Paul Romero on his nicely balanced 2008 Chardonnay he commented that he's reluctant to disclose the details because it sees more new oak than you might think.

Having said that, I appreciate that many people still want a Chardonnay that shows the typical hallmarks of California winemaking; ripe fruit, lots of new French oak and malolactic fermentation, giving a wine that shows butter, vanilla and toast rather than fruit. Those people would probably enjoy the 2007 Ahlgren Chardonnay. The first sniff reminded me of sherbet - creamy, effervescent vanilla and it's got bags of buttered toast and creamy mouthfeel. But despite all that there are still some nice white peach, lime and wet stone flavours discernible - particularly on the finish - which hint at the potential of the vineyard. 87 $27 168 cases

2006 Woodside Vineyards "King'sMountain" Cabernet Sauvignon

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Bob Mullen's winery manages several small Cabernet Sauvignon vineyards scattered around the township of Woodside. The most famous is of course the La Questa vineyard, established by Emmett Rixford over a century ago but now down to barely one non-contiguous acre of vines. The rest of the fruit goes in to one of two blends; the structured Estate Cabernet and the more fruit-forward King's Mountain.

In 2006 yields were way down; at around 250 cases that's almost half that of the 2005 vintage. As a result there was only enough wine available to supply wine club members and restaurant contracts, not for general retail.

I opened my sole bottle at the weekend. On the nose there was a lot of barnyard, brambles and mint. At first I thought the barnyard was "brett", but it diminished with time in the glass. On the palate it was very earthy and structured; there was fruit but it was hidden under the tannin, acid and earth. I decided to leave the rest of the bottle until the following day.

As it happened, I didn't get chance to revisit it for about 3 days, by which time it had changed significantly. The barnyard element had faded into more of a forest floor; the mint was still present but the blackcurrant fruit stood out, both on the nose and on the palate. The tannins had softened, though it still showed good acidity.

Unfortunately, as I said before, if you aren't in the wine club then the only place you're likely to find this wine is on restaurant wine lists, which means it's unlikely to get the time in the cellar or decanter that it so desperately needs. Order it at lunchtime, have them decant it and come back for dinner or even the day after. 91 $25

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Another Clos LaChance cellar sale

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Last January Clos LaChance held a cellar sale. It was a rather popular event; the place was heaving when I got there, with many cases of wine being hauled out to waiting vehicles. I loaded up on about 4 cases of whites and reds at ridiculously low prices ($3 to $7 a bottle) which have kept my wife's tennis team supplied with wine ever since.

Well it seems they are holding another cellar sale next week. It runs from Thursday 23rd to Monday 27th of July, which coincides with the Gilroy Garlic Festival. I have no idea what's on offer yet; I'll update this post with details as I get them.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Interesting links

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The Wineries of Santa Clara Valley have launched a new web site and asked me to write for them. My first piece is now up; it's a brief history of the Santa Clara Valley AVA focusing mainly on the 20 years since the AVA was founded and the wineries that are active today. I'd welcome any feedback, updates and corrections.

It seems I'm no longer the only person writing about the Valley - over on Examiner.com Steve Ferree has recently started covering the area. He's got articles on Jason/Stephens, Martin Ranch, Monte Verde and Satori. Check them out.

Meanwhile, over on the Mercury News, Laurie Daniel has a piece on Randall Grahm and his new project in San Juan Bautista.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Stefania Wine - fall release preview and barrel tasting

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Paul & Stef were opening the Chaine d'Or winery for a guest from England and invited me to join them, to get a preview of the forthcoming fall releases.

2008 Chardonnay, Chaine d'Or Vineyard.
Light, fresh lemon and peach nose. A rather creamy mouthfeel; lemon/lime flavours with a chalky mineral finish. The oak was present but not intrusive, and there's nice acidity. Reminds me of the Cooper Garrod "Gravel Ridge" Chardonnay. $24 89 Only 72 cases produced

2007 "Haut Tubbe", California
A blend of small lots from multiple vineyards; roughly 50% Syrah with the remainder Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, Grenache and Mourvedre.
Nice dark colour. The nose showed dark fruit and toast. Good body with a rich, creamy mouthfeel. Spicy berry/fruit punch flavours and a medium finish. Recently bottled and just opened, it clearly needed air and put on weight in the short time it was open. Excellent value at $20. 91+ Only 94 cases produced.

We then moved on to some barrel samples:

2008 Pinot Noir, Santa Cruz Mountains AVA Barrel Sample
Lightish colour. Nose showed some Pinot funk and sulphur. As it blew off, notes of roses and cherry emerged. Palate showed tart cranberry and raspberry; 88+ now, will be interesting to see how it develops.

2008 Cabernet Sauvignon, Santa Cruz Mountains AVA
Blend of 80% Cabernet Sauvivnon (Chaine d'Or and Harvest Moon Vineyards) 20% Merlot (Elandrich Vineyard)
Barrel Sample, 1yo oak: Light, smoky, berry nose. Good flavours of blackberry blackcurrant and earth. 90+
Barrel Sample, New oak: More dusty oak showing on the nose. Palate was dry and tannic; tight with spicy bramble flavours. 90+
Both samples showed good acidity and structure. With 5 barrels made, total production should be around 125 cases. Note that because of the small crop all the 2008 Chaine d'Or Vineyard Cabernet will go into the Santa Cruz Mountains.

And to finish, some existing releases:

2006 Cabernet Sauvignon, Santa Cruz Mountains AVA
Appealling nose of blackcurrant and eucalyptus, plus a hint of menthol, follows on to the palate in spades. Like a liquid Halls blackcurrant mentho-lyptus (but in a good way). Good, fine tannins on the finish. Paul has noted that the eucalyptus component waxes and wanes from tasting to tasting and has an interesting theory on the cause. For the record, the moon is currently waxing gibbous. Either way, the wine is showing superbly right now but has plenty of fruit and structure to merit patience. 93

2006 Cabernet Sauvignon, Uvas Creek Vineyard, Santa Clara Valley
Faint hint of volatile acidity on the earthy, brambly nose. Showed nice black fruits and good balance. Drinking well now. 91

2007 Syrah, Eaglepoint Ranch Vineyard, Mendocino
Hints of candied plums, smoke and hay. Rich, black cherry flavour with notes of black pepper and a long, spicy finish. 92

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Muns Vineyard

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There are two basic kinds of vineyard owners; those who purchased a property for the potential it offered as a vineyard site, and those who decided to plant grapes on a property they already owned. Ed Muns falls into the latter category. His property sits off Loma Prieta Way at a height of 2600 feet, overlooking Monterey Bay and - well, pretty much everything else. It had already been planted with vineyards by a previous owner, but these now derelict vines weren't the reason Ed was drawn to the place. As a world record holding amateur radio enthusiast* (call sign W0YK) the 2600' elevation would be ideal for DXing.

So having purchased the property, Ed eventually realised its potential for viticulture. Taking advice from local experts and classes at Davis, he planted a number of one-acre blocks with multiple types of rootstock grafted with clones of Pinot Noir. There is also some Syrah, which is yet to produce.

I was invited to join Ed and Mary for a picnic, tasting and Q&A session in the vineyard.

2008 Rose
This had a light, sweet strawberry nose and flavours of fresh cherry & strawberry. It had a fruity, crisp finish and nice tannins for a rose. Lovely summer wine. 87

2007 Rose
The light, floral nose showed some redcurrant fruit. I got fresh cherry, with a little earth and a nice tart finish. 86

2004 Pinot Noir
The first commercial vintage, made by Peter Bargetto of Soquel Vineyards.
Nice tart cherry & vanilla oak nose. Good bright cherry fruit, good acidity with a dry, tannic finish. Still improving. 88

2005 Soquel Muns Vineyard Pinot Noir
From 2005 Muns was produced by Tony Craig at Silver Mountain. However Soquel also purchased some fruit in 2005, so this serves as an interesting segue between the two.
Noticeably deeper colour. Nose of dark fruits and coffee. Palate had cherry and rose petals, with a rich, oaky, tannic finish. 90

2005 Pinot Noir
I tried this recently and found it disjointed with an oxidised note - that must have been an off bottle. This showed no sign of oxidation, however the fruit was still masked by a lot of acidity. Perhaps with the right pairing it will show well. 85

2006 Pinot Noir
Light nose showed some "pinot funk" and rose petals. Lots of rich fruit - particularly cherry and cranberry. Good and balanced with nice structure. 90

2007 Pinot Noir
Similar to, but richer than the 2006. If this is the house style emerging then I like it. Good cherry and strawberry flavours; nice oak, not too much. Good finish. Needs time to fully integrate. 91

* As the (former) holder of UK Class B amateur radio licence G1CWR and member of the Durham University Radio & Electronics Society I'd like to point out that we dislike the term "radio ham".

Saturday, July 4, 2009

2006 Windy Oaks "Diane's Block" Pinot Noir

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Jim & Judy Schultze farm 14 acres in Corralitos, at the southern end of the Santa Cruz Mountains. They also manage a vineyard in Aptos owned by the Klein Family. Four acres are currently producing fruit, with an additional half acre being prepared for grafting. Fruit from this vineyard all goes into the "Diane's Block" Pinot Noir. While it's perhaps the most fruit forward of the Windy Oaks wines, it is still fairly tight and doesn't show all its fruit right away. It's best decanted for at least an hour or so before serving.

The nose showed lots of spicy oak and rose petals. With time a caramel note emerged. It had flavours of tart cranberry and strawberry, with cherry and tea in the background. When first opened the finish showed a woody bitterness, but that soon dissipated. As the wine opened up, the rich, lush fruit became more apparent. My initial reaction was that it was a 90 point wine, but by the end of the bottle I'd revised the score up to 92. $45, 341 cases Recommended

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Barrel tasting at La Honda Winery

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La Honda Winery in Redwood City operates one of several local vineyard management companies. It's an interesting symbiotic relationship; land in the Santa Cruz Mountains is so expensive that only the very wealthy can afford large estates. Vineyards not only make a practical form of landscaping, but the owner also gets to share the finished wine with his friends.

Wes Barton and I went over after work one day to meet Ken Wornick and see how his 2007 vintage is shaping up. These were all single-barrel samples from single vineyards; the wines aren't finished and some may never be commercially available.

2007 La Honda Winery Sangiovese-Cabernet Sauvignon blend
From the winery's own vineyard, located near the village of La Honda itself.
Dusty, light berry nose. Tart and acidic, with light tannins; the Sangiovese seemed to dominate. I'm not much of a fan of Italian-style wines, but the acidity suggests that it would pair well with a tomato based pasta sauce. 85

2007 "Meritage"
From a vineyard in Los Altos Hills, this is a roughly even field blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc & Malbec.
Lots of ripe fruit on the nose; brambles and candied blackcurrants. Full bodied with earthy currant flavours and good structure. The oak is present but doesn't intrude. 90+

2007 "SHV" - 100% Cabernet Sauvignon from Los Altos Hills
The nose is really good, with blackberry, blackcurrant and dusty tannin. Unfortunately the palate doesn't live up to expectations; it's tart and tannic, with notes of green apple. There's definitely something missing. 82

2007 "SON" - 100% Cabernet Sauvignon from Saratoga
Nose shows smoke and black fruit, with hints of herb & tobacco. It's balanced with nice black fruit flavours, good acidity and lots of liquorice on the finish. 89+

2007 Lone Hawk Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, Saratoga
From a South-West facing vineyard at 1200' - the fruit used to go into Kathryn Kennedy's Lateral blend.
The nose is dark and heavy, with black fruits, toast and coffee. On the palate it's dry and tannic with lots of acidity; there's some raspberry and redcurrant fruit underneath, but it's very hard to judge at this stage.

2006 Thomas Fogarty Chardonnay, Santa Cruz Mountains

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Picked this up at Safeway for $18 ($20, with 10% discount as part of a mixed 6 pack).
The oak on the nose reminded me of freshly cut sawdust; there was also some date and citrus. Flavours of lime and fig, backed by some butter and vanilla and minerals on the finish. Plenty of acidity. I'll definitely buy some more if the offer is still going. 88

2007 Downhill Winery Pinot Noir, Peter Martin Ray Vineyard

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First off, don't get excited - as far as I know it's still unreleased. I got this as a sample.

I'm sure that most people reading this know all about Martin "Rusty" Ray; he's pretty much a legend in these parts. But just in case, here's a brief recap: Martin Ray grew up in Saratoga idolising Paul Masson. He eventually bought the Mountain Winery before selling it to Seagrams and buying the next hilltop over, known as Table Mountain, which he named Mount Eden. He eventually lost the majority of the property in a legal fight with shareholders, but retained his 'chateau' and the 5 acre head-trained Peter Martin Ray vineyard, named after his stepson. You can read all about it in "Vineyards In the Sky" by Eleanor Ray.

I've yet to visit the vineyard; I'm told that it still has the original 40 year old vines but is in need of replanting. It has Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and a little Cabernet Sauvignon. The latter is sold to some local amateur winemakers, but the Pinot and Chardonnay was used to great effect by Duane Cronin and is now being purchased by Downhill.

The nose shows raspberry, cranberry and roses, with at times hints of pine, caramel and menthol. (It was also showing some 'heat' from the alcohol, but it's been very warm around here this past few days and the wine was at room temerature.) In the mouth there's quite a lot of rhubarb, along with cherry, cranberry, raspberry and a little earthiness. Light at first, the intensity of the fruit increased with air - although it was decanted it would surely have benefited from being open longer. It has plenty of structure; I'd give it at least 90 now with the expectation that it'll gain a point or two with time. Recommended. Unreleased, however the 2006 vintage sold for $28.