Tuesday, March 30, 2010

2008 Dahlia Chardonnay

Regular readers will recall that I've already reviewed both the Dahlia Pinot Noirs. There are two Chardonnays too; as with the Pinots the 'Reserve' has a black label while the other has a white label. All the wines were made by Bill Brosseau of Testarossa from fruit sourced in Monterey.

The other day I sat down to watch the new season of Top Gear with a glass of the 2008 Dahlia Chardonnay. Frankly it tasted exactly like Kendall Jackson Chardonnay, which is boring as hell and a damn sight cheaper. As I struggled to think of anything good to say about the wine, an idea came to me. Why don't I review the wine in the style of Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson? Now if you haven't seen the show, Clarkson has an amazingly arrogant, condescending attitude. I then spent altogether too much time wondering how he would describe the wine: This is a wine that would appeal to people (pause, look at the camera) who wear hats. Or maybe If this wine were a car, it would be a Geo Metro. (pause) In beige.

I was all set to write the review when my wife returned home from her tennis match. Now I supply the wines for her team so I always pick wines that I'd be happy to drink myself. Partly it's for the image, but mostly it's because she brings whatever is left home with her. Recently we've all been enjoying Clos LaChance's hummingbird series unoaked Chardonnay ($6.50 at Safeway) and Merlot ($5 at Trader Joe's). However on my last trip to Safeway I'd picked up a bottle of Meridian Chardonnay to see if it was any good.

The team had drunk all the Merlot, but had left most of the Meridian; after one sip I could see why. This was an uttery soul-less wine, the very epitome of mass-produced supermarket dross. There was nothing particularly wrong with it; technically it was sound, but there was no pleasure at all in drinking it. I realised I'd underestimated the Dahlia. It wasn't mass-produced supermarket dross after all, it was better than that.

Just not very much. 82 $20 ($13 with loyalty card.)

Monday, March 29, 2010

2008 Kirigin Cellars Malvasia Bianca

Kirigin is the oldest active winery in the Santa Clara Valley. Its history goes back before Prohibition; the original Bonesio Winery was founded in 1916 by Pietro (Peter) Bonesio. In 1976 it was taken over by Nikola Kirigin-Chargin, who renamed it Kirigin Cellars. Then in 2000, aged 84 he finally retired and sold to Dhruv Khanna, founder of Covad. Khanna apparently has little interest in wine; his real passion is sport, and the vineyard would soon be augmented with cricket and football (soccer) pitches.

The winery continues to operate under his patronage, in the main producing fairly unremarkable wines. One standout is their Malvasia Bianca. The winery's own description (Flowery, grapey aroma, noticeable flavor, slightly sweet) doesn't do it justice.

2008 Kirigin Cellars Malvasia Bianca, California
An initial note of struck match soon blows off revealing nice pear and lychee aromas. On the palate there's lots of tropical fruit - gooseberry, lychee, melon and kiwi. The finish is rounded though perhaps a little short. 88 $18 ($9 after case discount.)

Pinot Paradise, Grand Cruz Tasting 2010

Last weekend was the SCMWA's Pinot Paradise event, an annual event where most of the region's Pinot producers get together to show off the latest releases. It's always a great event, well organised and supported. The food looked and smelled lovely, but I was trying to concentrate on the wines.

Last year I moaned a little about the number of dump buckets and lack of water on the table; I'm pleased to say that the organisers took care of that this year; I didn't see a single table without a bucket and the staff ensured they never got too full. Thank you!

I was disappointed not to see McHenry or Ahlgren there; I hope that all is well with them both.

As usual I struggled to get to everyone, managing to visit about 2/3 of the tables. Apologies to everyone I missed. I'm sure that Richard Jennings and Wes Barton will fill in the gaps.

All wines are from the Santa Cruz Mountains AVA unless noted otherwise.

Alfaro Family

2007 Alfaro Family Vineyard
An odd plastic note quickly blew off to reveal an earthy, brambly nose. Smooth and spicy black cherry, with a tannic finish. 90
2007 Lindsay Paige Vineyard
Vanilla and tangerine on the nose. Much more tannin than the Alfaro Family Vineyard; flavours of tart cranberry and cherry. 89+

Martin Alfaro

2007 Lester Family Vineyard
Bright cherry aromas, with a little cinnamon. Rich, sweet cherry fruit, oak showing on the finish. 90


2007 Devery Vineyard
Smoky, tart nose with redcurrant and grapefruit. Flavours of bright cherry and grapefruit; light in both body and tannins, decent acidity. 88
2007 Estate
Smoky, earthy, berry nose. Sweet, simple fruit flavours with a little spice. Some tannin on the finish. 84


2007 Beauregard Ranch Vineyard. Ben Lomond Mountain AVA
The first vintage from new vines. Nose shows rose petals and cranberry. Flavours of earth, mushroom and black cherry; nicely structured. 90+
2007 Trout Gulch Vineyard
Interesting nose of orange with a hint of clove. Sweet red cherry flavours with a touch of smoke; nice acidity, fairly light tannins. 89

Big Basin

2007 Alfaro Family Vineyard
Floral oak and cherry aromas. Rich complex fruit with some cinnamon notes and a good long finish. 93
2008 Woodruffe Vineyard
Lighter nose, with violets and black cherry. On the palate it's got quite concentrated, smoky cherry flavours and a nice medium-length finish. 92

Black Ridge

2006 Estate
This has come together nicely since I first tasted it 2 years ago. Nice bright cherry, with smoother tannins. Drinking well now, but will hold. 90
2007 Estate
Has a richer nose than the 2006; still lots of tannin backed by plenty of black cherry and a medium length astringent finish. Still needs a couple of years. 90+
2008 Estate, barrel sample
This had an unusual nose, with mint, tangerine and sandalwood. Flavours of baking spice, redcurrant and cherry. 89-92


2007 Estate - Unfiltered
Definitely unfiltered - this was very cloudy indeed; almost soupy, and a little offputting. However the nose was interesting; stemmy and floral. Flavours of sweet cherry, raspberry and dough. Liquorice on the finish. 85
2007 Estate Block 4
Smoky nose with raspberry and orange. Rich, sweet fruit but fairly one-dimensional; light tannins on the finish 86

Clos LaChance

2007 Santa Cruz Mountains
Light nose with hints of barnyard, cherry and caramel. Lovely smooth cherry flavours with some baking spice and a long finish. Good value 92+
2007 Biagini Vineyard
A blend of four clones: 113, 114, 115 and Mount Eden.
Earthy yet rich with nice strawberry notes and good structure. 92
2007 Biagini Vineyard Nancys Block
Made solely from Mount Eden clone; I was particularly impressed by this one.
Nose has smoke, oak, cherry and spice. Lashings of good rich fruit, lots of spice and a long finish. Really nice. 94

Heart of the Mountain

2006 Estate
Light smoky nose. Rich, tart cherry, nice vanilla oak, medium finish. 91
2007 Estate
Similar nose to the 2006, though with a hint of stemminess. (More whole cluster?). Palate has darker fruit; brambly notes and a longer finish. 92

Hunter Hill

2008 Estate
Nose shows redcurrent backed by an oddly chemical note - perhaps a trace of va? Earthy, with cranberry, redcurrant and some minerality; nice acidity. 86

Kings Mountain

2005 Estate
The nose shows some bretty barnyard and band-aid characteristics. There's some good cherry and strawberry fruit behind it, with a mineral (possibly sulphur?) note on the finish. 88

Loma Prieta

2007 Saveria Vineyard
Lovely expressive nose, floral with notes of pine and earth. Rich earthy cherry flavours, but a harsh oaky finish spoils it. Hopefully that will resolve with time. 88+
2008 Saveria Vineyard
More earthy, forest floor notes than the 2007. Brooding, earthy black cherry and a very earthy finish. Interesting. 89+

Mountain Winery

Second vintage from the replanting of what was once one of the finest vineyards in the country. The young vines (777, 828 and Swan clones) are still getting established, but signs are good. In a sense history comes full circle, since the wine is being made by Jeffrey Patterson at Mount Eden. I expect great things from this label; I hear the Chardonnay is outstanding.
2007 Estate
Tart cherry and earth on the nose; Rich, spicy cherry flavours with a tart finish. Needed more air. 91+

Mount Eden

2006 Estate
Awesome rich, spicy nose. Complex, with plenty of spicy black cherry, and lots of tannin. Needs 5+ years. 92+
2007 Estate
I've already praised this wine enough, but I wasn't going to pass up the chance to taste it again. While the nose is more restrained than the 2006, the palate is superb, with loads of concentrated fruit. 95+


2006 Estate
Light cherry, berry nose. Good, balanced red fruit with some spice and an earthy finish. 90
2005 Estate
Nose shows pear drops and vanilla essence. Tart cherry and strawberry, with a medium finish. 86


The winery struggled a little in the earlier part of the decade, relying on consultants. In 2007 they took on Ian Brand as full-time winemaker; 2008 is the first vintage that he made from start to finish.
2008 Santa Cruz Mountains - Barrel Sample
Fruit sourced mostly from Corralitos. A light nose, with spice, oak and red fruit. It has a big, chewy mouthfeel with bright red cherry flavours and a medium length, tannic finish 90-92
2008 Estate - Barrel Sample
This has a brighter nose than the other sample; shows more oak, with nice flavours of cherry pie, good structure and a dry finish. 90-92

Pleasant Valley Vineyards

Formerly a tiny all-estate producer, now producing a range of additional wines with purchased fruit. Their Pinots and estate Chardonnays remain the outstanding centrepieces.
2007 Thelma Henrietta Block
It's full name is 2007 Dylan David Pinot Noir, Lester Family Vineyards, Thelma-Henrietta Block (Dijon Clone #115) and the wine is as much of a mouthful as the name.
Nose shows smoke and black fruit. In the mouth there's lots of concentrated black cherry and brambly fruit, with a good, long finish. 93+
2007 Willa-Louise Block
Sharing a similar name and pedigree, this is made from a block of Clone 667. Bright strawberry fruit on the nose; Rich red fruit - strawberry and raspberry - on the palate, with light, silky tannins. 92+
2007 Dylan David Estate
Here's a wine that I know from experience needs a lot of time and air to show its best; I got the first pour from a freshly opened bottle. The nose was restrained, not showing much beyond oak and earth. On the palate it's quite intense and earthy, with dark cherry and brambly fruit. 93+


First time attending Pinot Paradise for Regale, an impressive new property on Summit Road near to Burrell School. They have around 4 acres of Pinot planted as well as a little Chardonnay. 2007 was their first vintage from the young vines; less than 50 cases were made.
2007 Estate
Nose shows herbal notes - mint, lavender and liquorice. In the mouth there are concentrated black fruit flavours - berry, currant, cherry. A surprisingly intense wine from such young vines. 93
2008 Estate
As yet unreleased. This had a lighter, fruitier nose than the 2007, with some sulphur evident. A touch more elegant, but with nice black cherry fruit and lots of tannins. 92+

Santa Cruz Mountain Vineyard

2007 Branciforte creek
Very earthy, spicy nose. Bright, intense cherry and cranberry flavours with a longish, tannic finish. 92+
2006 Baileys vineyard
Lighter than the Branciforte and with more acidity. Good cherry, cranberry fruit and a long finish. 92+

Sarah's Vineyard

Sarah's has a new winemaker. Ken Deis, formerly of Flora Springs has taken over from Robert Henson. The winery has recently launched a range made from Rhone grapes, as well as a fourth Pinot Noir.
2008 Santa Cruz Mountains
Sourced from the Regan and Veranda vineyards. Nose of raspberry and black cherry; floral, with flavours of sour cherry. Some nice tannins. Seems more substantial than the 2007. 91+
2009 Santa Cruz Mountains - Barrel Sample
Nose shows plenty of red fruit - redcurrant and raspberry. Lots of red fruit up front, tails off somewhat in the middle. 88-91
2007 Rebhahn Vineyard
A tough vineyard to deal with, out of the way on a steep hill. The clusters are unusually small.
Black fruits on the nose, particularly blueberry. Dark, rather high acidity and quite tannic. Certainly needs time to come around. 88

Silver Mountain

2007 Miller Hill
Light nose - mineral and tart cherry. Bright acidity on the palate and lots of tannin. Some red fruit, with an earthy finish. 86+
2007 Estate
An initial odd, plastic note, which soon blew off revealing some cranberry. Nice flavours of redcurrant, cranberry and gooseberry, with good acidity. 89

Thomas Fogarty

2008 Santa Cruz Mountains
Nose is floral, with oak and red fruit. Sweet red cherry and strawberry with a hint of cocoa. 91
2007 Windy Hill
Dark fruit and undergrowth with some stemmy notes. Nice sweet red fruit flavours; the stemmy notes return on the finish. 91

Trout Gulch

2007 "La Source"
A light, tart nose, with notes of mineral and cherry. Good flavours of sweet cherry and raspberry, with a nice finish. 91
1999 Estate
Clearly a mature nose, reminiscent of apple cider. Rich and meaty on the plate with flavours of dried cherry and cranberry, and some pastry. Still plenty of tannins. Interesting. 89
1990 estate
Odd nose that reminded me of blue cheese! Mature, earthy flavours with some dried cherry. Probably a little past its peak for my tastes. 87

Windy Oaks

Perhaps more than any other winery on show, Windy Oaks needs time or air to show its best. In particular I got surprisingly little out of the 2007 Wild Yeast, which is odd as I've really enjoyed the 2006. I suspect with a few hours of air I would have scored each of these a few points higher, particularly the first two.
2007 Wild Yeast
Nose showed a little sulphur and red cherry. Nice cherry with notes of fresh earth and quite a lot of stemmy tannin. 90++
2007 Cuvee
Bright nose of earthy cherry. Fruitier and a little lighter than the Wild Yeast, with good acidity. 91++
2007 Henry's Block
Lovely perfumed nose showing roses and raspberry. Rich smooth fruit, nice complexity. 92+
2007 Whole Cluster
Floral - rose petal nose with earthy notes. Fuller and richer than the Henry's Block. Fresh earth, sappy tannin, less pronounced fruit. 92+


2006 Estate
A nice earthy, spicy, smoky nose. Rich and complex with dark cherry and a long, spicy finish 93

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Budbreak at Chaine d'Or

Spring is here, and the vines are emerging from their dormant state. I was up at Chaine d'Or for the Stefania spring pickup yesterday - the Chardonnay vines have already sprouted new growth, but the Cabernet is still a little behind. Further south in warmer areas the new growth is more advanced. Here's wishing everyone a successful 2010 vintage.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Happy 21st Birthday, Santa Clara Valley AVA

The Santa Clara Valley AVA officially came into existence on March 28th 1989 following a petition by Gene Guglielmo. The AVA covers around 330,000 acres within within Santa Clara County and a portion of San Benito County. It encompasses historic sites such as the former Leland Stanford Winery in Fremont and the campus of the university that bears his name, as well as the New Almaden Winery. To the south it includes Uvas Canyon, where early settlers found native grapes growing wild. It took in the existing Pacheco Pass AVA and also the San Ysidro District which would be granted AVA status the following year.

Here are some other interesting facts about the AVA:

The first Californian wine made from Bordeaux varieties (Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbec) was produced by the New Almaden Winery. There are many inaccurate statements commonly repeated about the winery; even the commemorative plaque that marks its location has at least two significant errors1. In 1852 Etienne Thee planted Vitis vinifera grapevines at the site. As was common at the time the variety was what is commonly known as "Mission", now identified as a little-known Spanish variety called Listan Prieto. Fellow Frenchman Charles LeFranc joined the company a few years later; unsatisfied with the quality of the wines produced he sent to France for cuttings from Bordeaux which were grafted onto the existing vines.

Within a short time Santa Clara County had more acres of vineyard than any other county in the state, with over 100 different varieties of grape being grown. At its peak there were over 120 wineries based here.

The Almaden winery is now a housing estate, and the brand that bears its name is based in Merced. However two other Santa Clara Valley wineries can trace their history to before Prohibition. Solis Winery was originally Bertero, and was founded in 1919. Kirigin Cellars is even older; it was previously called Bonesio Winery, founded in 1916.

The largest vineyard in the AVA is Dunne Ranch. This 1000 acre property has over 370 acres of grapevines - more than all of Santa Cruz County combined. Among them are around 300 acres of Chardonnay; this planting alone makes it the most prolific variety in the valley. The fruit is mostly sold to large producers like Kendall-Jackson for their California blends.

After Chardonnay, there are more acres of Gew├╝rztraminer planted in Santa Clara County than all other white varieties combined. Almost all those vines are in the Dunne Ranch vineyard too.

At over 100 acres, Ridge's Monte Bello vineyards are the largest in the Santa Cruz Mountains AVA, but are only 6th overall in Santa Clara County.

The Wineries of Santa Clara Valley is an organization representing many local wineries. This weekend is their twice-yearly Passport event; a passport costs $30 and gives you entrance to 25 different wineries.

1The plaque reads: On this site, in 1852, Charles LeFranc made the first commercial planting of fine European wine grapes in Santa Clara County to found Almaden Vineyards. LeFranc imported cuttings from vines in the celebrated wine districts of his native France, shipping them by sailing ship around the Horn. This is incorrect, as outlined above.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

2009 Barrel tasting at Coterie Cellars

The 2009 vintage is already being hyped by the Wine Institute as being another excellent year, particularly for early ripening varieties. Last weekend Coterie Cellars held a barrel tasting, giving me my first chance to try some of the 09 Pinot Noirs for myself.

Tucked away in an industrial unit off Almaden Expressway, Coterie Cellars is the pride and joy of Kyle and Shala Loudon. Kyle is a software developer by training who apprenticed with Eno and Harrington in Oakland before getting bonded in 2007. The winery focuses on Pinot Noir and Rhone varieties, sourcing fruit from Saralee's Vineyard in Russian River Valley and Fairview Road Ranch in the Santa Lucia Highlands.

Two samples were poured from Saralee's Vineyard. The first was from Pommard 4 clone and was light and floral, with some bright cherry fruit. The second was from 667 and showed more earth and structure.

From Fairview Road Ranch came a blend of clones 113 and 23, showing more dark fruit character than the lighter Russian River Valley fruit, with some brambly notes.

For 2009 Coterie have added a third Pinot Noir vineyard - Tondre's Grapefield, also in the Santa Lucia Highlands. All the wines I've had from this vineyard until now have been made by Tony Craig and Gerald O'Brian at Silver Mountain. This is in a riper style with a darker purple colour and more concentrated black cherry and brambly fruit.

The winery is located at Unit 110, 1805 Little Orchard St. in San Jose and is open by appointment.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Bloggers vs Bob - a tasting at Ridge

Chris Watkins, tasting room manager at Monte Bello and Ridge's blogger-in-chief, recently invited a few local bloggers up the mountain for what is hopefully the first in a regular series of events. As you probably know, the influential critic Robert Parker Jr recently reviewed some recent vintages of Monte Bello for the first time in several years. Chris thought it might be interesting to get the opinions of some of us wine blobbers as Mr Parker disparagingly calls us, and see how our opinions equated to those of His Bobness.

Never ones to decline an opportunity to drive up the beautiful mountain, my friend Wes Barton and I headed up on a glorious spring morning. Also in attendance were Thea "The Wine Brat" Dwelle, Amy Cleary, Gary "Iron" Chevsky and Liren Baker

I've added Mr Parker's scores where available. For the record I was pretty sure I could quote his scores for the Monte Bellos but couldn't remember what he'd scored the others beyond the fact that I thought they were all 90+

We began with a couple of whites. Jimsomare is the lower of the Monte Bello vineyards, lying below the fog line. The 500 acre ranch has supplied fruit for over 40 years and is currently under a 30 year lease. In the past Ridge have made both Cabernet and Zinfandel from the vineyard, but this is the first Jimsomare designated Chardonnay.
In 2008 the Chardonnay yields were quite good. During the selection for the Monte Bello and Santa Cruz Mountain Chardonnays it became evident that a few lots showed a particular character that didn't fit the profile. In all around 8 barrels were identified, and as a result this one-time blend was created. As yet unreleased, it will probably be priced below the Santa Cruz Mountains, in the mid $30s.

2008 Jimsomare Chardonnay, Santa Cruz Mountains
14.8% alcohol. Typical pale straw colour that Ridge Chardonnays usually have.
Nose shows tropical fruit, lemon and fig. There's some minerality, but less than usual. On the palate it's creamy and smooth, with lemon and sweet green apple. Nice longish finish, with a hint of caramel. Showing well for a young Ridge Chardonnay - one to drink young. 91

2008 Santa Cruz Mountains Chardonnay
Nose shows lemon, pear and toasty oak. There's significantly more acidity than the Jimsomare, and more minerality, with less immediate richness and a crisp, lemony finish. This needs a year or two. 91+

Now on to some flights of Zinfandel. The East Bench comes from a vineyard in Dry Creek Valley that is newly replanted with cuttings taken from Lytton Springs. The first vintage was in 2006.

2008 Zinfandel, East Bench, Dry Creek Valley
Not yet released.
Light, herbal nose with raspberry and cherry notes. Lots of tannin, flavours of "red vines" and liquorice; there's some good bright acidity but a fairly short finish. 87 (RP90-92)

We were supposed to be tasting the 2007 East Bench too, but it was unavailable so the 2006 was substituted. Just out of interest, here's my note on the 2007 from a tasting in January:
2007 Zinfandel, East Bench, Dry Creek Valley
Ripe nose, with raspberry and date. Big, rich brambly fruit with a herbal note. Good structure, tannin shows on the finish. 90

2006 Zinfandel, East Bench, Dry Creek Valley
A more expressive nose than the 2008, with spicy oak and sweet berry aromas. In the mouth it's rich and smooth, with lovely raspberry and spice flavours. 89

Geyserville and Lytton Springs are the pinnacle of the Ridge Zinfandels. Two very different wines, each is a field blend which often contain less than 75% Zinfandel and thus are no longer explicitly designated as such. Both have an enviable track record for ageability; typically I find the Lytton Springs to be more approachable when young.

2008 Geyserville, Sonoma County
20% Carignan 6% Petite Sirah, 2% Mataro
Smoky nose, with dark, brambly fruit. Full bodied and a good mouthfeel and nicely balanced. Complex flavours of raspberry and black fruits. Dry, astringent finish. Drink some time after 2012 92 (RP90-92)

2007 Geyserville, Sonoma County
22% Carignan, 18% Petite Sirah, 2% Mataro
There are toffee, cedar and floral notes on the nose. A dark and brooding wine, with the additional Petite Sirah really showing. Lots of chewy tannin partially masks the black fruit; here's a wine that needs 3-5 years to show and will last 20+ years. Tough to rate; right now for me it's a 91+ but in time will most likely rate 2-3 point higher. (RP91)

2008 Lytton Springs, Dry Creek Valley
21% Petite Sirah, 5% Carignan
This had a lovely brambly, raspberry, spicy nose. Very fruit forward, with concentrated raspberry, black cherry and allspice. Showing well now but posessing enough structure to merit ageing. 92 (RP91-93)

2007 Lytton Springs, Dry Creek Valley
The nose is more integrated nose than the 2008, with dark brambly fruit and smoky oak. Good concentrated fruit and a fairly long, tannic finish.. More structured than the 2008, this needs 2-3 years. 92+ (RP92)

Then we switched to the local juice. Starting in the late 1970s Ridge began producing a second Cabernet Sauvignon called the Santa Cruz Mountains Estate. Lots that were considered too fruit-forward, less structured went into this second label.
Starting with the 2000 vintage the wine developed a specific identity, becoming a blend that typically contains around 40% Merlot and under 60% Cabernet. Consequently the Santa Cruz Mountains is no longer designated as a Cabernet Sauvignon.

2007 Santa Cruz Mountains Estate
58% Cabernet Sauvignon, 42% Merlot.
Big nose of blackcurrant, menthol and coffee. Lots of plum and blackcurrant backed by nice herbal notes. Great fruit without being too fruit-forward; nice structure - lot of tannin on the finish. A great food wine; approachable now with air but will repay cellaring. 93 (RP88)

2006 Santa Cruz Mountains Estate
56% Cabernet Sauvignon, 42% Merlot 2% Petite Verdot
Nice bright nose - lots of blackcurrant. The small amount of Petite Verdot contributes some floral violet notes. Initially very tannic, though there's good fruit in the background. Nice notes of grilled meat and dried herbs. Needs time. 91 (RP91)

2005 Santa Cruz Mountains Estate
58% Cabernet Sauvignon, 42% Merlot.
Elegant nose; meaty, brambly and smoky, with a touch of mint. This is now nicely integrated; the tannins are much smoother than the younger examples. Tart brambly, blackcurrant fruit and a good, longish finish. Everything is in the right place. 93+ (RP92)

And finally a wonderful vertical of young Monte Bellos. We began with a barrel sample of the 2008 and ended with an interesting older example.

2008 Monte Bello, Santa Cruz Mountains Barrel sample
A blend of 72% Cabernet Sauvignon and 28% Merlot. None of the Petite Verdot or Cabernet Franc made the final selection.
Savoury nose; ash, brambles, red currant and meat. On the palate there are soft, silky tannins and smooth black fruit. Unsurprisingly it's still very primary. 91-94 (RP94-96)

2007 Monte Bello, Santa Cruz Mountains
This was only opened that morning and on the initial showing I can see why Parker didn't rate it as highly as I did.
The nose showed smoked meat, black fruit, mint, pencil shavings. In the mouth there is concentrated black fruit but it's very tight and not showing anything like as well as it did the last time I tried it.
So having tasted though the rest of the line-up I came back to it. By then it had opened up quite a lot and was showing far more fruit and less of the tannin. Still very primary, but good delineation, nice black fruit and a long finish. I'm right, Parker is wrong. 95+ (RP92)

2006 Monte Bello, Santa Cruz Mountains
Nose is floral, with violets and black fruit. Silky tannins, great black fruit and nice herbal notes with a longish finish. 93+ (RP94)

2005 Monte Bello, Santa Cruz Mountains
What a great nose this wine has. Intense and smoky, with rich black fruit. On the palate it's very concentrated and chewy. Wes had warned that the last bottle he had was closing down, but there was no sign of that here. Full bodied, rich and smooth, elegantly structured with great black fruit and a long lingering finish. Amazingly drinkable right now for a young Monte Bello, but try to keep your hands off it. A true classic. 96+1 (RP97+)

2004 Monte Bello, Santa Cruz Mountains
Interesting grassy, straw nose with some blackcurrant fruit. In the mouth it's tannic, herbal and earthy, with some bell pepper notes and a dry, medium length finish. This is the only release I've passed on since 2001; it will be interesting to see what happens in 10 years. 91 (RP91)

2003 Monte Bello, Santa Cruz Mountains
The nose had an unusual 'grain silo' note, along with the typical black fruit and violets. Smooth rich fruit - blackcurrant blackberry, coffee and camphor. Tannins are pronounced on the finish. 94 (RP95+)

1996 Monte Bello, Santa Cruz Mountains
Deep brick red colour. The nose has signs of brett, with earthy, barnyard and leather notes. There are layers of rich fruit; black berry, pomegranite, cherry. The hint of brett also provides interesting secondary flavours of leather and cigar box. Smooth, fine tannins. Long finish.
Still very youthful; hopefully the brett won't continue to develop and end up overpowering the wine. Worth keeping an eye on. 94

I'd like to thank Chris and Darren for hosting us and opening such an array of great wines. Here's hoping that this turns out to be a regular event.

1 Just as an aside, since I adopted the 100 point scale 96+ is the highest score I've awarded.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

New blog layout

After 2 years and over 300 posts I decided it was time to do something with the layout.
It's still not quite as I'd like it, but I could probably spend weeks trying to get it right, so it will have to do. Hope you like it.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

BYO and Corkage

I've become a great believer in the practice of bringing my own wine to a restaurant.

It used to frustrate me that I'd go out for a nice meal and find the wine list full of stuff that I either didn't like or couldn't afford. Meanwhile at home I had plenty of wines that were ready to drink that I was saving for "a special occasion". The final straw was about 10 years ago at a nice restaurant in San Jose where my wife asked for a Cabernet Sauvignon and I couldn't find a single one on the list for under $50.

At first the idea of bringing my own wine to a restaurant seemed odd. Back in the UK it was acceptable to bring drinks if a restaurant (most often Indian/Balti) did not have a licence to sell alcohol, but almost unheard of in a licenced restaurant. Nowadays almost the first thing I think of when going to a restaurant is what wine to take. I choose my dishes from the menu based on how they would pair with the wine I've brought.

The reason I bring this up is because I recently read a discussion on the Wine Spectator forums regarding the legality of BYOB, particularly with regard to a bottle that had been opened earlier. I've done this myself a couple of times without a problem, but I learned a few things as a result of the discussion that I thought people might find interesting or useful. Obvious disclaimer: I'm not a lawyer.

In California there is no law either for or against corkage.
According to a poster on the Wine Spectator forum, quoting an un-named California ABC official:
    Neither the Alcoholic Beverage Control Act nor our business regulations specifically allows the practice of an adult customer bringing a personal bottle of wine into a properly licensed premises (“BYOB”). On the other hand, nothing specifically precludes the practice. A licensee may or may not permit BYOB as he or she sees fit.

Since there is no law, opening or decanting is not prohibited.
Perhaps you want to decant the wine to remove the sediment, so that it doesn't get shaken up on the way. Or maybe it's a younger wine that will benefit from several hours in the decanter. Either way, there's no law against it. However according to the same post:
    While a restaurant manager may not have any problem permitting BYOB, it is possible that for other (non-ABC) reasons these managers may insist on his/her wait staff opening the bottle of wine inside the restaurant. You may want to discuss this matter with the restaurant owner or manager.

There are laws in most - if not all - states against transporting open bottles.
This is something that catches many of us foreigners by surprise. You aren't allowed to be in posession of an open beverage container in a vehicle, unless the container is locked in the trunk/boot or glove compartment. If your car doesn't have a trunk then that's OK, the bottle
    shall be kept in some other area of the vehicle that is not normally occupied by the driver or passengers. For the purposes of this paragraph, a utility compartment or glove compartment shall be deemed to be within the area occupied by the driver and passengers.

This rule doesn't apply to buses, taxis or limousines. (Source: WWW.DMV.CA.GOV). Rules about carrying an open bottle as a pedestrian can vary by locality.

What about taking unfinished wine home?
This is another area where the laws vary wildly. Some don't allow it, which I find very strange. Some states such as New York have laws mandating specific seals or bags, others just require that the bottle is properly sealed. In California the rule seems to be that if you buy wine in a restaurant they must open it, but you don't have to drink it and can take it home - handy if you happen to be in a restaurant that comps corkage with purchase. You can often find a bottle on the list that costs around the same - ask whether a half bottle counts too. Also when trying to push the cork back in, hold the bottle by the base and press the cork against a hard surface such as a wall, leaning on it if necessary. Much easier than trying to press the cork in by hand.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Rhys - Spring pick-up day

Saturday was the spring pick-up day and open house at Rhys Vineyards. Cellarmaster Josh Beck was pouring a selection of as yet unreleased wines at their facility in San Carlos. This will probably be the last event held here as the new winery is nearly completed.

According to Josh, they are very pleased with the way the 2008s are turning out. 2007 has been recognised as an excellent vintage, with remarkable concentration and depth, but the wines are already starting to shut down, needing a lot of air to show well. On the other hand the 2008s are more elegant and feminine; though they may lack some of the concentration they are expected to show better when young (though still to age well).

The wines had been opened the night before to check for cork taint.

2008 Alesia Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir, Santa Cruz Mountains
The 2008 vintage in Sonoma was significantly weaker than 2007. As a result there will be no Alesia releases from Green Valley or Falstaff; the fruit all went into the Sonoma Coast bottling. 2008 is planned to be the last vintage for the Alesia label, since all the Santa Cruz Mountains estate vineyards are now on line.
On the nose there's cola, red fruit and some rose petals. Light bodied with good acidity and nice red currant flavours. 88

2008 Family Farm Vineyard Pinot Noir, Santa Cruz Mountains
Nose shows some black, brambly fruit. On the palate it's fairly rich with black cherry, firm tannins (compared to the Sonoma Coast at least) and a stemmy finish. 90+

2008 Alpine Vineyard Pinot Noir, Santa Cruz Mountains
This had the darkest colour of the Pinots. An interesting, complex, floral nose with some redcurrant. Rich and more intense than any of the others; still very primal but has very good structure and a long finish. 93+

2007 Horseshoe Ranch Syrah, Santa Cruz Mountains
The first vintage of Syrah from Horseshoe Ranch. Unlike most Rhys wines this was 100% destemmed. (The 2008 was not destemmed. The 2009 vintage was ruined by the rains and is unlikely to be released)
Nose is floral, with violets and some dusty oak. Much more concentrated and structured than a Fairview Ranch that I tasted recently. Lovely fruit, nice black pepper notes and a pretty, floral finish. Lots of potential; very good indeed. 92+

2008 Bearwallow Vineyard, Anderson Valley
Bearwallow is the first estate vineyard outside the Santa Cruz Mountains. It is in the process of being replanted, but already had some established vines in place Pommard, 777 and 115 clones. Those will be replaced in due course.
Cherry, strawberry nose. Lots of dry, astringent tannin; there's good fruit but it's rather in the background at this stage. Somewhat different to the other Rhys wines, but still good. 90

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Communication Breakdown

When you look at the number of big wine events held in the bay area it seems like there's at least one or two every month. You wonder how the organisers manage to arrange things so that they don't clash. And then it dawns on you - they don't even try. Case in point, in two weeks it's Pinot Paradise. As a wine writer covering the Santa Cruz Mountains that's probably the cannot-miss event of the year. It's the only event of the year that focuses entirely on this one region, with most of the top producers gathered in one place pouring their latest releases. It's always challenging, but a lot of fun.
Meanwhile up in San Francisco the Rhone Rangers are having their annual grand tasting event at the Fort Mason centre at the exact same time. So local wineries that make both Pinot and Rhones - and there are several - have a tough set of choices (as do we consumers).
But if that wasn't bad enough the Wineries of Santa Clara Valley are holding their Spring Passport weekend then too.
And in typical contrarian fashion, Stefania are holding their Spring pick-up open house at Chaine d'Or in Woodside on Saturday 27th. So all in all, it's going to be a busy weekend. Whichever events you attend, please remember to spit!

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Mount Eden Winemaking

Here's the second of my videos from Mount Eden. Jeffrey discusses the techniques he uses to craft his 2006 Estate Pinot Noir.

Watch on YouTube

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Mount Eden: History

First of two short videos that I shot last year on a visit to Mount Eden Vineyards. Winemaker Jeffrey Patterson talks briefly about Martin Ray and the history of the winery.

Watch it on YouTube

Monday, March 8, 2010

2009 Ridge Monte Bello Component Tasting

The Ridge Monte Bello component tasting is always a fun event, even on a cold, foggy and windy March morning. For many of us it's the first chance to get personal experience of the most recent vintage as well as to try the most recent Monte Bello release.

As usual the tasting was held in the barn just up the hill from the tasting room. Paul Draper and Eric Baugher were in attendance to pour the first assemblage and talk about the vintage, but due to the lack of a babysitter I wasn't able to spend any time chatting.

We began with the newly released Chardonnay:

2007 Ridge Chardonnay, Santa Cruz Mountains
This had a lovely nose of fig, oak, stone and lemon. On the palate it's rather light and creamy, with some lemon and lots of briney mineral notes. Definitely not your typical California Chardonnay. Right now the palate doesn't really seem to live up to the richness of the nose, although it was rather cold. I suspect others will rate this much more highly than I did, and with time I might well agree. 89+

2009 Cabernet Franc, barrel sample.
Nice aromas of fresh blackberry, liquorice root and green pepper. But on the palate there was lots of tart acidity and harsh, green tannin, which was masking what little redcurrant fruit there was. I'd be very surprised if this makes the final blend.

2009 Merlot, barrel sample.
Rather good nose; some oak is showing already. Nice plum and herb notes.
Good balance; flavours of mint or wintergreen, with nice black plum/cherry fruit. Plenty of tannin on the finish. Impressive.

2009 Cabernet Sauvignon, barrel sample.
Nose is floral with plenty of blackcurrant fruit. Great mouthfeel; rich and full bodied, with plenty of good fruit and a dry, astringent finish.

2009 Petite Verdot, barrel sample.
One day a region is going to take on Petite Verdot and allow it to show in its own right. It is an interesting grape that seems to add a lot to the Monte Bello blend, particularly aromatically.
This sample - darkest of all the barrel samples - had a powerful nose of violets, backed with black fruit. On the palate there was soft black fruit with fresh earth notes and good structure.

2009 Monte Bello, First assemblage.
67% Cabernet Sauvignon 25% Merlot 8% Petite Verdot
I didn't get chance to talk to Eric or Paul about this, but I did hear Eric confirm that they are particularly pleased with the way that the Merlot turned out this year. All the Petit Verdot is in the blend and as I expected no Cabernet Franc. There are some lots of Cabernet Sauvignon still in consideration so the final composition could be higher.
Beautiful nose of violets, blackberry, blackcurrant, smoke and pencil shavings. There is lovely rich fruit ans plenty of structure. At present the finish seemed somewhat lean, but that's something which will develop. Certainly seems to be another winner. 94-96

2007 Ridge Cabernet Sauvignon, Santa Cruz Mountains
Fresh black fruit and spicy oak on the nose. Rich flavours of mint, herb and blackcurrant with plenty tannin. Really needs at least 3-5 years and probably much longer. 92

2007 Ridge Monte Bello, Santa Cruz Mountains
Good powerful yet elegant nose of violets, cassis liqueur, graphite and cedar.
Wow. Hugely rich and concentrated by Monte Bello standards. Oak is a little harsh right now, but to my mind this is significantly better than the 2006. 95+

Wes brought some great examples of older Ridge bottlings which we opened with lunch. I took brief notes of a couple of them:

1975 Ridge Monte Bello Cabernet Sauvignon, Santa Cruz Mountains
From the days when it was officially billed as a Cabernet, this includes just 4% Merlot
Nose is earthy, almost stinky, with redcurrant notes. For a 35 year old wine it still had loads of sweet fruit and some nice leather. Amazingly youthful, with a long finish showing mint and herbs 93

1998 Petite Sirah, "Paddock Block", York Creek
Rather mature for a Petite Sirah, but this was from the very wet 1998 vintage. Nice earthy, black fruit. Very smooth with herbal and leather notes. 88

Some great notes as usual by Richard Jennings on CellarTracker

Saturday, March 6, 2010

2008 Dahlia Pinot Noir, Monterey County

A few months ago I commented on the 2008 Dahlia Reserve Pinot Noir, a wine made for the retailer Beverages and More by Testarossa in Los Gatos. There are in fact four wines in the range; two Chardonnays and two Pinot Noirs, all made from Monterey fruit.

The Reserve Pinot Noir - which wasn't bad value at $20 - seems to be all sold out around here, but it non-reserve sibling is still available. List price is $20, loyalty card holders get it for $15, so I decided to give it a shot. (I also picked up the non-reserve Chardonnay at $13 and will review that at a later date.)

2008 Dahlia Pinot Noir, Monterey County
Bottled under screw-cap. Nice bright colour. The nose has straw and cherry, with some earth. On the palate it's fairly simple, with sweet cherry fruit. On the finish there's some orange-pith bitterness and rose petals. Acidity and tannins are both rather light. There aren't many good Pinots for under $20, and sadly this doesn't alter that fact. It's well made as you would expect from Bill Brosseau, but is rather dull. Frankly even at $15 it's overpriced, it should be under $10. 83

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Happy 50th Birthday Ridge

Ridge was officially founded 50 years ago this week. In recognition of this achievement here are a couple of excellent articles by Eric Asimov in the New York Times and Jon Bonn├ę of the San Francisco Chronicle.

In addition, the latest edition of the Wine Advocate has come out with some very nice scores for recent vintages of Monte Bello, including a 97+ for the stunning 2005 and a 94-96 for the 2008. Congratulations, guys.

The winery is celebrating by organising a grand retrospective tasting and inviting several major wine writers. Sadly, my invitation seems to have been mislaid, however I'll be heading up the mountain this weekend for the annual Monte Bello Futures Tasting.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Two 2007 Stefania Cabernets

I normally begin my posts with a brief overview of the winery in question, but for Stefania I've already said everything there is to say. Instead I'll start this one with a whole slew of disclosures: these wines were received as trade samples and were not tasted blind. Add to that the fact that Paul and Stef are friends, I've been a fan of their wines since release and have purchased every wine they have released to date.

Okay, so with that out of the way, what do we have? The Stefania Spring release comprises a brace of Santa Cruz Mountains Cabernet Sauvignons. One is a blend from several vineyards that Paul and Stef manage, together with a significant portion from Harvest Moon/Martin Ranch. As you'll know from my previous post this vineyard is located in a valley at the south-east end of the appellation.

By contrast, the other wine is from the Chaine d'Or Vineyard in Woodside. This is at the northern end of the AVA, not far from the historic La Questa vineyard and close to Summit Road. It's significantly cooler up there. So what we have is a quite interesting contrast. I therefore decided to open the wines side by side and drink them over two nights. The bottles were recorked but not refrigerated.

2007 Stefania Cabernet Sauvignon, Chaine D'Or Vineyard
Not decanted. On first opening all I got was oak; it took quite some time before the fruit started to show on the nose, along with some smoke. Similarly on the palate the first impression was of tartness, austerity and light weight. Over the next hour it loosened up to reveal complex black fruits - cherry, currant and berry with fine tannins.

On day two the nose had earth, oak and fruit right from the start. It seemed to have significantly more weight than before, good blackcurrant and black cherry flavours with fresh earthy notes. A light and elegant wine. I'd give this at least 5 years. 91+ $24

2007 Stefania Cabernet Sauvignon, Santa Cruz Mountains
Not decanted. This has a lot more fruit on the nose. It's smoother, fuller bodied and significantly more opaque than its sibling, with plenty of up-front black fruit. Over the next hour it seemed to tighten up; the tannins and oak became more pronounced.

On day two it was much the same story; some more smoke on the nose, brambles, blackcurrant and mint, good structure. Drinking nicely now, but will certainly last a while. 92 $40