Sunday, November 20, 2011

Heart O' The Mountain

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The Heart O' The Mountain estate sits on a southwest facing slope on Mount Roberta near Scotts Valley, 1000 feet above Monterey Bay. It was originally established in 1881 when Pierre and Sada Cornwall purchased an 85 acre parcel for $500. Cornwall was a lawyer and a partner in the Coldwell, Cornwall and Banker real estate firm. He planted Cabernet Sauvignon and established the Santa Sada winery, which apparently continued producing until Prohibition forced its closure. Cornwall also purchased additional neighbouring land, bringing the total to 154 acres.


In 1940 the property was purchased by the director Alfred Hitchcock, who had recently moved from England. The vineyards were replanted with Riesling and the fruit sold to the re-opened Cresta Blanca winery in Livermore. Hitchcock lived there on and off for the next 30 years and was noted for hosting lavish parties attended by many Hollywood celebrities. When the Hitchcocks sold the property in the 1970s the vineyard was neglected and became overgrown. It was subsequently purchased in 1978 by the Brassfield family, founders of GNLD - a successful network marketing company that sold nutrition supplements.

The property is only reachable via a long, winding single track road. As you climb up the mountain there are some great views towards the coast, but it's only when you reach the top that you'll realise what Cornwall and Hitchcock saw in it. The Brassfield family have tried to preserve the property the way that Hitchcock kept it; they have a self-guided walking tour around the buildings and gardens.

When Bob Brassfield retired in 2000 he and his son Brandon decided to restore the property's viticultural heritage. Together with vineyard manager Jim Bauer they planted Pinot Noir, selecting five Dijon and Pommard clones. The first harvest was in 2004; just two barrels were made and were not released commercially. Of the 150+ acres in the estate a scant 6.5 acres are under vines. There are a couple of additional blocks that would be suitable, but the family don't have plans to extend beyond around 1,000 cases.

Each of the clones is harvested, destemmed and vinted separately in small bins, with manual punch-downs. Yeast is added to most lots, though the winery occasionally experiments with wild yeast fermentations on small batches. Ageing is for around 18 months in French oak, with the Estate being blended just prior to bottling.

Initially the winery released a single Estate Pinot Noir; it's available at a few local restaurants and specialist retailers, such as Vinocruz and Unwined. As the vines matured and produced more fruit they began bottling some of the individual clones separately, beginning in 2006 with the Pommard clone - these are available to wine club members only.

The winery has no tasting facility due to its remote location, but holds occasional events for club members only. I was recently invited to the autumn release party.



2007 High Valley Winery Fume Blanc
From a winery in Lake County owned by Bob's brother, Dustin Brassfield.
Nose of citrus - particularly grapefruit - and some smoke.
On the palate it's very fruity and soft with notes of 'Starburst' candy. 84

2008 Estate Pinot Noir
Big, perfumed nose - spicy, smoky and ripe. Notes of cherry, strawberry and spice. Tannin and Oak shows on the finish 90

2008 Clone 828 Pinot Noir
Gamey, meaty nose with floral notes. Black cherry, herbs, cloves and dried orange peel. Dry, tannic finish. 90

2009 Wild Yeast Pinot Noir
Very fruity; cherry, cranberry, pear drops - this follows on the palate, adding white pepper. Ripe tannins. 90

2009 Clone 115 Pinot Noir
Earthy, cherry and smoke. Rustic flavours of cherry, herb, black pepper, clove and orange peel. 90

2009 Estate Reserve Pinot Noir
Bright nose of cherry and clove. Strawberry, cherry, orange and some spice. 91

2008 Roberts' Reserve Pinot Noir
Just half a barrel was made of this private blend.
Nose is smoky with cherry, pear drops, allspice and earth. The spicy palate shows raspberry, cherry, cinnamon and clove. 93

Saturday, November 19, 2011

2011 Vintage Report - First Look

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Ascona Vineyard, Santa Cruz Mountains
Wine Spectator magazine recently published a series of reports on the 2011 vintage. Their report on California covers Napa, Sonoma and Paso Robles, but omits the area in between. So here is a provisional report on the 2011 vintage for the Santa Cruz Mountains and Santa Clara Valley.

Let's start by getting some boring science stuff out of the way.
Last winter saw one of the strongest La Niña events ever recorded. When this occurs the surface temperature of equatorial waters cools by several degrees, which in turn alters the path of the jet stream that crosses the USA. The effect usually fades in spring, but in 2011 it remained strong much later than usual. The jet stream remained farther south and blew more strongly. The effects were felt across the country, with many states experiencing near record highs or lows of temperature and rainfall.

In California the effect resulted in a spring that was colder, wetter and later than usual. The cold weather delayed budbreak, while rains during bloom affected 'set' - the formation of the grape cluster as flowers turn into berries. Yields were affected across the state, with many regions reporting 20% to 30% below normal, but the Santa Cruz Mountains vineyards were impacted more severely, particularly at higher elevations. Growers are typically reporting yields 40% to 60% below normal, with some vineyards being written off entirely.

Summer was long and cool without unexpected heat spikes; this increased risk of mildew - growers had to be diligent about spraying. Mary Lindsay of Muns Vineyard reported adding potassium to sprays to help boost vine health and encourage better and more even ripening throughout the vineyard. The cool weather did little to help the already late running harvest, and some light October rains brought an additional threat of botrytis. Paul Romero of Stefania Wine called it "a tough, unhappy year - 2010's work with 2008's yields ... larger berries than 2008 but close in quality [and] without the tannin issues".

On the positive side, the long, cool season and low yields rewarded those who had looked after their vines with crops of high quality fruit. Many growers report good balance of acids, fruit intensity and tannic structure, with full ripeness at lower sugar levels. Marty Mathis of Kathryn Kennedy Vineyards described their Estate Cabernet harvest numbers as "perfect as I have ever seen in my 30 vintages".
The expectation is for some elegant, balanced wines at lower alcohol levels. Bradley Brown of Big Basin vineyards said "Quality appears to be remarkable and for those who picked at the right time and maintained healthy vineyards, this could be one of the best vintages in a long time."

References:
http://www.bom.gov.au/climate/enso/feature/ENSO-feature.shtml
http://www.worldweatherpost.com/2011/06/14/u-s-had-most-extreme-spring-on-record-for-precipitation/#.TsfaBXKwXAg

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Ridge Zinfandel Pairs 1978-1990

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Ross Bott runs a tasting group that meets twice a week, on Mondays and Thursdays. The theme for this tasting was Ridge Zinfandels. There were two different wines from four vintages; 1978, 1983, 1985 and 1990. As usual the wines were poured blind, though we had a list of the wines beforehand. The wines were not decanted prior to serving.
The colours of the wines were all remarkably consistent; despite each one being at least 20-30 years old they still tended more towards garnet than brick.

A (1985 Geyserville) - Ranked 3rd overall, no first place votes
The nose was initially musty, though this faded with time. Notes of leather, with raspberry becoming increasingly evident as the mustiness faded. Nice raspberry fruit, with the tannin and acidity well balanced, and a dry finish. Was fading a little by the end.

B (1985 Howell Mountain) - Ranked 4th overall, though it did receive 2 first place votes.
Rich, brambly nose with a herbal note Bright red fruit - raspberry and cranberry, with an earthy 'old world' finish. Held up well

C (1978 York Creek)- Ranked 2nd overall, with 1 first place vote.
Nose showed matchsticks, mushrooms and leather. Mature with flavours of black fruit, coffee, cola and strawberry. Some leather, and a long finish.

D (1990 Geyserville) - Ranked 7th overall.
The nose wasn't great (I wrote 'stinky') - earthy and leathery. There was some debate as to whether it was corked, but it was certainly flawed in some way. Some sweet, ripe, pruney fruit and what I took for brett on the finish

E (1990 Lytton Springs) - Wine of the night; only 4 tasters did not rate it #1 which is almost unheard of at an event like this.
Ripe fruit on the nose, with floral notes. Palate shows loads of rich, sweet fruit - blackcurrant and raspberry - and a long finish. An awesome wine; easily 95+ points.

The last three wines were all a bit disappointing. Unsurprisingly 2 of the 3 were from the weakest vintage: 1983.

F (1978 Langtry Road) Rated 6th overall, despite getting one first place vote.
If I hadn't known that all these wines were Zinfandels I'd have called this as a Petite Sirah. It does in fact contain 30% Petite Sirah as well as 10% Carignane; I think labelling rules were more flexible back then. 
It had the darkest colour of all the wines; nose showed some barnyard and earth. There was some black fruit but this was dominated by some monster tannins. Somewhat unyielding initially, though it did soften a little as time went on.

G (1983 Park-Muscatine, Howell Mountain) - Rated 8th 
The nose was light, with floral, berry and smoky notes. On the palate there was some raspberry and bramble, but it was light, tart and tannic.

H (1983 Geyserville)
The earthy nose showed a 'porty' note. As with the previous wine (from the same vintage) it was light with some brambly fruit. Seemed a bit oxidized, though it still had some tannins left.

Afterwards we were treated to a delicious 1978 Dusi Late Harvest, with 10% residual sugar and 14.2% alcohol.
Colour of amber/tea. Great mature nose with raspberry and port notes. Great flavours of raspberry, coffee, cocoa, fig and dark chocolate backed by nice acidity. 94 points

Friday, October 7, 2011

Selling wine

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I read a post by my friend Jo Diaz, discussing the problems of how we as wine consumers can go about selling a bottle of wine that's in our possession. In her article Jo suggested two well known auction houses. I proceeded to write a detailed comment on her blog, which the capricious software elected simultaneously to reject and delete. Rather than spend the time typing it all in again there I thought I'd answer here instead.

As a private individual you are faced with two distinct problems: firstly, that it's typically illegal to sell wine that you own without a licence* and secondly that it's not simply illegal to ship wine, it is in fact one of only two ways that you as an individual can violate the US Constitution. The 21st amendment - possibly the most tersely worded piece of legislation since the ten commandments - section 2 states: The transportation or importation into any State, Territory, or possession of the United States for delivery or use therein of intoxicating liquors, in violation of the laws thereof, is hereby prohibited.. Incidentally, if you're curious, the only other way that you can violate the constitution is to enslave someone. Of course if you get your slave to deliver the wine then by the legal principle of duos nefas correctum you're probably okay. But I digress.

The simplest, legal way to sell your wine is therefore to contact a local wine retailer who specialises** in such things. In the Bay Area, one such retailer is K&L Wines; they have an entire department dedicated to purchasing private collections. They typically prefer to buy entire cellars rather than individual bottles, so this may not be ideal for someone seeking to sell off a few extra bottles. You will also need to demonstrate provenance; that the wine has been stored appropriately and how you acquired it.

The other legal way its to use a licenced wine auction house. There are several around, but the best known among collectors is probably WineBid. You will need to ship or deliver the wine to them to be appraised; since they are licenced they will provide appropriate paperwork which means that it's they who are legally responsible for shipping (although you are the one who pays). Since it's an auction you can't negotiate a price up front, though you can specify a reserve. However if the wine fails to sell due to too high a reserve there may be a fee to pay. You will also pay a commission of around 15% to 25% of the "hammer price" when the lot is sold. As with retailers, many auction houses don't like to deal in small lots, so there may be a minimum amount that they will accept. It may also takes some weeks before you receive the money for your sale.

There is a second type of auction house which is unlicenced; the best known is WineCommune. This operates in a similar manner to sites like eBay; they simply connect buyers and sellers; they take no responsibility for the legality of the transaction. The benefit is greatly reduced commission fees (around 3% to 5%), but the trade-off is that there's very little comeback. Since selling without a licence is illegal you're breaking the law and there have been instances where the authorities have fined sellers, though these have apparently been people using the service extensively rather than casually.

The last option is a private sale on an online wine forum. There are many discussion forums (or fora, depending on your preferred level of pedantry) which include a commerce or trading area. The benefit of these boards is that you're likely to agree a price close to the real value of the wine without paying commission charges. However it's a good idea to establish yourself as a member of the board before offering wines for sale; the boards can be suspicious of (and merciless to) brand new users posting lists of wines for sale.

If you choose to use either of these latter approaches you hit the second snag: it's illegal to ship the wine without a shipping licence once you've sold it. Carriers won't even accept a shipment if they believe it contains alcohol. So unless you have a contact with a shipping licence you need to be creative. A common approach is to label the package as containing some other liquid, such as Olive Oil; another way is to disguise it using boxed previously used for some other purpose. Either way, rather than taking the package to a carrier's office it's generally considered safer to leave it to be picked up, especially if you work for a large company that has a daily collection. Even so, there have been instances where packages have been intercepted and destroyed, so be aware, particularly when shipping to states with more draconian rules.

So there you have it. You can either pay huge fees, accept a fraction of the wine's value or become a criminal.

* I'm British. That's how it's spelled. And wile we are on the subject, there's a U in Colour.
** See previous. It should be a S not a Z***
*** Which is pronounced "Zed" like "bed"

Friday, September 30, 2011

Bloggers' tasting at Ridge Lytton Springs

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Recently I was invited up to Ridge's Lytton Springs facility for their quarterly bloggers' tasting. Although the post count may have slowed to the point where I barely qualify as a blogger any more I wasn't going to let that stop me from going - neither was the weather, which was starting to suggest that summer was almost over and done with.

Lytton Springs is just off the 101 in Dry Creek Valley - my favourite Zinfandel region overall. The site was originally a Victorian spa and hotel, with the first vineyards being planted from 1901 to 1910. Around 15 additional acres were planted in the 1950s. Ridge has made wine from the vineyard for 40 years and has owned it since 1991. The old vines are head pruned and are a field blend of mostly Zinfandel with small quantities of Petite Sirah, Grenache, Carignane, Alicante Boushet, Mataro (Mourvedre) and others. We tasted through a vertical of the Lytton Springs Zinfandel blend on our visit last year; this tasting would focus on the Rhone varieties. In recent years several blocks of Syrah have been planted to the West, together with some Viognier and Grenache. The latter are typically blended or cofermented with the Syrah, though occasionally they are bottled on their own. The wines are typically only available to members of the ATP list or at the tasting rooms.

Before the tasting Chris took us on a tour of the facility. The recently constructed winery and tasting room is very impressive and eco-friendly; the wooden frame is insulated with blocks made from local straw and clay; and the facility is almost entirely solar powered. The last time we visited the tasting was held on the crush pad, but with harvest in full swing we we assembled in the barrel room. We began the tasting with two Grenache blends.

2002 Grenache
78% Grenache, 13% Petite Sirah, 9% Zinfandel
This wine is a field blend, sourced from some century-old blocks that contain a high proportion of Grenache, plus some younger vines planted in 1991
The nose shows musty caramel and blueberry. There's nice black fruit up front; good rich concentration and plenty of structure. Grenache is typically drunk young since they have a tendency to age fairly rapidly, but this still seems very youthful; perhaps due to the age of the vines and the blended components, I'd say it still needs another 3 - 5 years. 92+

2003 Grenache/Syrah
50% Grenache, 50% Syrah
A softer, fruity nose than the Grenache with more floral character. Unfortunately it shows rather a lot of oak. There's nice black fruit but it's somewhat overshadowed, particularly on the finish. 89

Richard Jennings had brought a mystery wine, and Chris presented it now, blind. He asked us to guess the grape and the vintage. Light in colour, with a meaty, gamey nose suggesting bacon or sausage. On the palate there was tart cranberry, with light tannins and a medium finish. I accidentally caught a glimpse of what looked like a zero on the cork, so guessed 1990. For variety I thought it seemed like an Italian; I don't know what Italian varietals Ridge has made, but we've tasted Sangiovese in the past from that era, so that as my guess. Close, but not good enough; it was in fact a 1990 Rancho Pequeño Barbera.

We then tried several vintages of Syrah in pairs. The newer wines are designated Lytton West, the older ones Lytton Estate; the vines are the same, it's purely a branding thing.

2003 Lytton West Syrah
91% Syrah, 9% Viognier
The nose shows ripe black fruit and some white flowers from the viognier. On the palate there's good rich fruit balanced by some nice tannins. A lot of oak shows on the finish. 90+

2005 Lytton West Syrah
91% Syrah, 6% Viognier
Bright floral nose with notes of pepper. Again there's ripe fruit - lots of blueberry and bramble with some liquorice and a floral note, leading to a long finish. 93+

2002 Lytton Estate Syrah II
76% Syrah 22% Grenache 2% Viognier
In 2002 there were two lots of Syrah; both were blended with Grenache but neither lot really worked. As an experiment one lot got a small amount of  Carignane added,the other got a similar amount of Viognier. Those small additions made all the difference, and both wines were released.
Nose is smoky and meaty, with floral notes. There's plenty of black fruit backed by fine tannins and soft acidity. A medium length finish with a note of white flowers. Very tasty. 92


2001 Lytton Estate Syrah
99% Syrah cofermented with 1% Viognier.
A really gamey, salami, smoky note. The black fruit really pops; plum, currant and berry notes, some liquorice and black pepper. There's a good smooth finish; the tannins are mostly resolved. It's drinking great right now. 93


2000 Lytton Estate Syrah
99% Syrah cofermented with 1% Viognier.
Nose is very faint in comparison with the 2001. This was the first wine that is starting to show some nice secondary characteristics; black fruits with leather and a touch of old-world rusticity. Good finish. 94
 
1999 Lytton Estate Syrah
Smoky, musty nose Assertive fruit and bright acid; seems to have more acidity than previous vintages. Good fine grained tannins. A hint of leather, not as much as in the 2000. 94

1997 Lytton Estate Syrah
Talk about saving the best until last. The nose was smoky, with some chinese 5 spice, The nose is constantly evolving; come back 5 minutes later and notice something new. Rich, unctuous fruit, endlessly layered. Soft and velvety; a delight. 95
A second bottle showed slight variation; a slightly rustic, barnyard note. 94


A great tasting; as you can see, the wines just seemed to get better and better. Huge thanks to Chris and everyone at Ridge for thsi opportunity, and to Richard for the Barbera. Everyone knows that Ridge make great Zinfandels, but the Syrahs and other wines from the ATP series can be just as good, if not better. As I noted at the start these wines are usually only available at the tasting rooms, but are well worth seeking out.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

2007 Sarah's Vineyard Chardonnay, Santa Clara Valley

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In 1977 Marilyn Clark and John Otterman bought a 10 acre property off Hecker Pass Road. They planted 7 acres of Chardonnay and named it Sarah's Vineyard. The first Estate vintage was made in 1983. The winery quickly established a reputation for wines of richness and depth with good aging potential. The winery stood apart from its neighbours, at a time when most of Santa Clara valley was producing cheap 'jug' wine. No expense was spared; even the labels were reportedly printed on stock normally reserved for wedding invitations, printed by a company that produced banknotes using a custom die made by an engraver from Smith & Wesson. However as time went on the price increased drastically while the quality became more variable. By the late 1990s the Estate Chardonnay cost $45 or more a bottle, but was only getting 80 points when reviewed by Wine Spectator.

In 2001 the winery was purchased by Tim Slater, who set about revitalising both the vines and the brand. The estate vineyards were replanted or retrellised, the buildings were renovated and extended, and a stack of brand new high-tech equipment was installed including a neat compact bottling line and a small but sophisticated laboratory. The winery currently produces Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from their estate vineyards and the Santa Cruz Mountains. They also source a range of Rhone varieties from the nearby Besson Vineyard, itself notable for providing Grenache to Bonny Doon's Cigare Volant for over 20 vintages.

The good news is that the 2007 Sarah's Vineyard Estate Chardonnay is far more reasonably priced than it would have been 10 years ago - $30 at the winery, but I've seen it as low as $20 at retail. It shows lots of toasty oak on the nose; On the palate there's apricot, lemon, cream and vanilla, with a rich, almost oily mouthfeel. The oak is very prominent on the finish. Despite its youth this bottle was already starting to show some mature notes; given the low acidity I wouldn't plan on holding it for more than another year. 88

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

2011 SCMWA wine competition

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The Santa Cruz Mountains Winegrowers Association runs an annual Commercial Wine Competition, open to all of its members. This year's competition was held last Monday at Ma Maison restaurant in Aptos, and I was  invited to be a judge. The judging panel is made up of both trade professionals - restauranteurs, sommeliers, wine buyers etc., and consumers.
Judging Table. 8 judges each tasting a different set of wines.

I arrived in Aptos at 9:30 and was greeted by the chilly grey morning skies that help to make the western side of the mountain such a great place to grow Pinot Noir. I signed in at the main desk and was assigned Flight #5 - Pinot Noirs. When everyone had arrived we were led into the restaurant and told to sit at any table, in front of our particular number.

Each table had 8 judges, with every judge tasting a different flight. The purpose of this is so that you can talk to your fellow judges without worrying about affecting the results. The wines were laid out on the table in front of us, with each glass labelled only with a 4 digit code number. We were also given a sample of a white wine (a rather pleasant New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc at a guess) as an introduction.

The organisers gave some basic instructions on evaluating the wine. We were to score on the 100 point scale, with 90+ indicating a gold medal, 85-89 indicating silver and 80-85 indicating bronze. We were advised that around 20-25% of wines typically fall into the Gold category and around half fall into the Silver category. Very few get no medal at all. This seemed reasonable; in my personal scoring system anything below 85 isn't worth buying, anything below 80 is not worth drinking. On this scale 70-79 is supposed to indicate an 'average' wine, so I take that to indicate the mass of sub-$5 supermarket plonk.

As with most blind tastings the wines were poured in the same order for everyone. I typically go through the wines in order and smell them, to get a first impression. I then taste them in an order based on those impressions; if a wine seems odd or unbalanced I'll leave it until last. After tasting them all I'll go through them again to confirm my decisions.
The first flight. Each wine is identified by a 4 digit code number

The first flight was fairly straightforward. There were 7 wines, 2 of which I gave Gold scores to. They turned out to be 2008 Clos LaChance Santa Cruz Mountains and 2008 Sonnet Muns Vineyard. I gave good marks to the 2008 Domenico Santa Cruz Mountains and 2008 Black Ridge Estate.

The second flight had one wine that I found particularly unusual. It had almost overpowering notes of white pepper and spice. After trying it a couple of times I decided that it worked and awarded it a Gold - it turned out to be the 2008 Beauregard Santa Cruz Mountains. Another Gold went to the 2008 Santa Cruz Mountains Vineyard Branciforte Creek, and an honourable mention to the 2008 Ahlgren Veranda Vineyard.

The final flight was unusual in that the first and last wines seemed very strange; I left them until the end and declared them both to be not medal worthy. My favourite turned out to be the 2008 Woodside Estate, with 2008 Muccigrosso and 2009 Soquel Estate also scraping Golds.

We then had a pause while the administrators tallied up the scores to determine the top 10 wines. While we were waiting there were some snacks including some delicious rillettes on mini croissants.

Finally the top 10 wines were revealed. We were told the variety in each case, and they were presented in order of lightest to heaviest, so I sampled them in that order. I was suprised to see that the winning Pinot Noir was not on my tasting list. It turned out that there were so many entrants that a fourth flight of Pinots had been given to a different set of judges, who had also been tasting the 'mixed' reds and blends. Frankly I wasn't overly impressed by their choice; there seemed to be a lot of sulphur evident, with the nose showing struck match and the fruit muted.
One of the judges analysing a wine.

Picking a favourite from 10 completely diverse wines is tough; ranking them in order is tougher still. Of the reds I particularly liked the Cabernet Sauvignon which was revealed to be the 2007 Woodside Estate; they also were awarded the best Zinfandel. I correctly guessed that the Petite Sirah was from Sones, though I thought it was probably from French Camp. The Soquel Chardonnay was very good and well balanced, and the dessert wine - a 2004 Angelica from Picchetti - was in a class of its own in more ways than one.

But in the end the top award went to Martin Ranch for their delicious 2009 Thérèse Vineyards Malbec. What's even more impressive is that Martin Ranch also scooped the top honour last year for their 2007 Lester Family Vineyard Syrah. Congratulations to Dan and Thérèse Martin!

Top 10 wines (Santa Cruz Mountains AVA unless noted)
2009 Martin Ranch Thérèse Vineyards Malbec Santa Clara Valley, Dos Ninas Vineyard
2010 Soquel Chardonnay, Ben Lomond Mountain, Meyley Vineyard
2009 Black Ridge Viognier
2007 Byington Pinot Noir Block 4
2008 Martin Ranch JD Hurley Merlot, Santa Clara Valley
2008 Sones Petite Sirah, Lodi
2008 Bargetto Syrah, Nelson Vineyard
2007 Woodside Cabernet Estate
2007 Woodside Zinfandel Estate
2004 Picchetti Angelica of Chardonnay

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Helping out at Chaine d'Or

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Last weekend Paul and Stef of Stefania Wine asked for volunteers to help out at the Chaine d'Or vineyard in Woodside, so on a glorious Sunday morning I drove up to lend a hand. Chaine D'or is located close to the junction of 84 and 35 (Skyline). It's a pretty 2 acre vineyard on a south facing slope, planted in 1987. The upper and lower blocks are Chardonnay, with a block of Cabernet in between. It is laid out in rows running north-south at the top, gradually curving to almost east-west in the lower part. The vineyard uses the Vertical Shoot Position trellising system which originated in France and is now common practice, particularly up in Napa and Sonoma, but at the time its use in California was considered novel. In Chaine d'Or there is a single lower wire around 3' off the ground to which the vine's cordons are trained. Above it are two pairs of catch wires which are fixed (in some vineyards they can be raised and lowered, but not here) and at the top, around 7' up there's a single wire that the vine's tendrils can latch on to.
The rootstock is unknown; it was whatever the nursery had in at the time. Paul's guess was St. George since that was popular then, though the leaves don't seem to match.

View of Chaine d'Or vineyard looking south. Morning fog burning off the mountains.
I arrived a little after 9AM. The crew had already started; some had been there since early morning. We were tucking the vine shoots under the catch wires as well as removing suckers and shoots without any clusters. (The grapes are fed by the leaves further down the shoot; any shoots without fruit simply use up nutrients and water.)
As you can see by the first picture, left untouched the vines will grow in all directions and their tendrils will wrap around those of vines in the next row, making passage difficult. This also provides an environment where powdery mildew can proliferate. Once tucking is complete the vines can be treated by spraying with organic sulphur.
Finished rows of vines. Workers and tractors can move easily between the rows.
Suckers are shoots emanating from the base of the plant.
In this case the sucker is coming from below the graft,
so the leaves are those of the original rootstock (left).
Compare size and shape that of the grafted Chardonnay.
Vineyard work is, like most forms of farming, pretty laborious. The essential tools are sunscreen and water; a hat is advisable and pruning shears come in handy.

The job was straightforward; feed the flexible shoots under the two sets of catch wires and point them at the upper wire. The shoots are flexible and rarely break by accident, unlike the brittle stems of many garden plants like tomatoes. It all seems very simple and relaxing; just you, the vines, a nice warm day and the constant scream of motorcycles tearing up and down Skyline; it sounded more like Laguna Seca than sleepy Woodside. The work doesn't seem particularly strenuous, but I certainly noticed the effects in my back and shoulders later that evening!

The vines were on the whole looking healthy; most of them are over 20 years old and a few are showing signs of common diseases, such as shoots with red, shriveled leaves.

Cabernet Sauvignon is a later maturing grape,
so it was largely unaffected by the weather;
the clusters looked to be in much better shape.
Sadly the Chardonnay crop appeared to be exceptionally small; it's doubtful that there will be enough fruit for a commercial release.

It may surprise some of  you to know that this year's crop is not determined by the weather at the time of flowering (though obviously that can have an effect) but by the weather the previous spring. That's when the buds which would produce this year's crop developed. Spring 2010 was particularly cold, with lots of late frost, and it's likely that Chardonnay yields across the state will be significantly lower in 2011.

We called a halt at around 2PM after a good 4 hours of work. We still hadn't quite finished; there were a few rows left, but Paul's day crew would take care of them the following morning.

Overall it was an enjoyable way to spend a summer morning, but for a deskbound computer geek like me it's hard to imagine doing this on a daily basis. The next time you look at a neatly manicured vineyard remember that it doesn't get that way by itself; spare a thought for the humble labourers, and raise a glass to them.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

11 vintage Monte Bello vertical

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Summer has finally arrived and last Friday was a gorgeous day for a drive up Black Mountain for another of Ridge's regular wine bloggers' tasting. This event was held in the newly opened Black Mountain Suite - a brand new conference area located above the existing tasting room. The room is accessible via the old winery building, which now boasts fine new reproductions of some old photographs featuring the Ridge founders, a youthful Paul Draper and even Oseo Perrone, who first planted grapes on the mountain top over 100 years ago.

To celebrate the opening of the new suite we were being given the opportunity to taste through the latest library releases of Monte Bello. Ridge maintains a significant stock of older vintages and regularly tastes them to follow their progress. The wines were to be poured blind; our task was simply to put them in chronological order. Sounds easy enough, right?

As we settled down and prepared ourselves we were offered a sample of the as-yet-unreleased 2008 Monte Bello Chardonnay. Nose of green apple, lemon and wet stone; flavours of tart apricot and lemon with fresh grassy notes and some vanilla; the oak was not obtrusive despite it's youth. 92

We then began to taste through 11 vintages of Monte Bello. The wines were labelled A through K and were poured in pairs, which meant that you couldn't go back and compare against a wine from a previous pairing. This made the task harder still. That's my story and I'm sticking to it.


A My first impression of this was that the colour suggested a young wine. Unfortunately that can be deceptive with Monte Bello. It seemed lighter than the accompanying wine B. The nose seemed ripe and fruity nose, with lots of black fruit, some mint and eucalyptus; the palate had plenty of tannin and blackcurrant, but overall it seemed a little lean and tart; a bit closed. Overall I think it was my least favourite and I guessed that it was from a 'lesser' vintage, such as 2004, 2000 or even 1998. 91

The colour of B was noticeably darker than A; a deep garnet. The nose was very rich and rustic; a much thicker mouthfeel, with stacks of tannins, less evident fruit and lots of earth, though less acidity. A big and meaty wine. I guessed it to be significantly older than A; probably mid 1990s. 92+

C seemed darker still than B. Plenty of that eucalyptus and mint; rich and balanced. Lots of bramble, blackcurrant and black cherry flavours. The tannins are much smoother. I could drink this all day. It still had plenty of life, but I doubted I'd want to keep it much longer. Mid 1980s? 95

D was the first wine that really showed significant age. The colour was a deep brownish red, and despite having been double-decanted there was still some sediment. It smelled old - lots of leather and cigar box notes. In the mouth there was still some fruit but loads of secondary characteristics. The tannin was mostly gone. It was certainly the oldest so far; I guessed it would probably be the oldest overall. It didn't improve in the glass beyond the first delicious taste; this was a fine example of a mature Monte Bello. Certainly 1970s, maybe even older. 96



E was the first controversial wine. The color was a dark red, with some bricking around the rim. However the nose was odd; almost cheesy - Fred to my right called it soy. Certainly it had some savoury notes; it tasted fine and the odd note blew off somewhat with time. 92

Chris took note of the various comments on the nose and reappeared with a second example of the same vintage. The colour of this bottle seemed slightly redder; the odd note wasn't present and overall it showed significantly more fruit. It was alittle cold to start with and improved as it went on. I began to wonder if this was the much-maligned 1986, though it didn't seem quite that old. Early 90s? 94+

F was another great mature example though it didn't seem as old as D. There was a nice red-brown colour and a fascinating nose of rich leather and dried fruit.
I guessed it was younger than D but not by much. Probably mid 1970s. 96

G was another dark one, again showing plenty of sediment despite the decanting. The nose didn't seem to be giving that much away; some smoke and earth. On the palate there was huge fruit; lots of bramble and blackcurrant. The tannins are chewy, so it's clearly a younger wine that will improve with age. Mid to late 1990s? 95+

H Looked older than G. It was very earthy, both on the nose and the palate. I took a wild stab and guessed early 1990s. 94

I think of all the wines I surprised me the most. There seemed to be some browning on the meniscus; Lots of coffee and chocolate and stacks of delicious fruit. I jokingly suggested the 2005; it seemed a big wine from a ripe year so I guessed 1990. Wes thought it seemed older. 95+

I think everyone instantly recognised J as a barrel sample of the 2010, if only by the bright purple colour. This has got better each time I've tried it; there's huge primary fruit and immense structure - it's likely to be a particularly long lived vintage. Some of the tasters went so far as to declare it their favourite. 95+

Finally K was clearly a very recent release; I couldn't be certain which but the youngest wine poured (after the barrel sample). At this point we were wrapping up and I failed to take detailed notes. 93+

So after much umming and ahhing I finally decided on the ordering J K A G I B H C E F D. Boy was I wrong; the only ones I correctly spotted were the oldest and the newest. The actual ordering was J K B C A E G H I F D. I only managed to put 4 out of 11 in their correct positions. I was only slightly encouraged by the fact that the best score anyone managed was 7 out of 11!


D 1977 ($400) - Perhaps it should have been easier to spot, given that I only tasted it a month ago. In comparison to the rest it seemed even older, though still holding its own.
F 1978 ($475) - I got this too. 1978 was a very good year, so it's unsurprising that it seemed noticeably younger than D
I 1981 ($185) - I was astonished by this. I'd have said it was a decade younger. I don't recall having tasted anything from 1981; the advice I've been given in the past was that 81-83 was a run of three weaker vintages. Excellent value.
H 1985 ($300) - This one fooled me by a decade as well. I had it as early 1990s.
G 1990 ($250) - Getting a bit closer; I had it as late 1990s
E 1994 ($250) - I went for early 1990s. I think that qualifies.
A 1995 ($300) - I was wrong about the lesser vintage, but I'll stand by the 'closed' comment. I think this needs more time.
C 1999 ($225) - Chris was amused by my comment that I could drink this all day, since the genesis of these tastings can perhaps be traced to comments that Wes and I made on the same wine a couple of years ago - see my original post and the notes from the follow up tasting. I think the 1999 is showing rather well right now and would again question whether it's one to hang on to in the long term.
B 2000 ($225) - Slightly younger than I thought. Surprisingly big for what's generally considered a weak vintage.
K 2006 ($150)
J 2010 ($NR)

Huge thanks to Chris and the staff at Ridge for a hugely enjoyable - and somewhat humbling - event.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Monte Bello 2010 final assemblage tasting

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I realise that this blog is starting to look like a Ridge fan page, and for that I apologise. But the assemblage tastings at Ridge are some of the most fun events of the year, so it's not one that I miss if I can avoid it. In addition, Wes Barton usually organises a picnic with some unusual older vintages to taste.

We began the official tasting with the recently released 2009 Jimsomare Chardonnay. I didn't realise I was tasting it for the first time, so largely glossed over it and didn't take much in the way of observations beyond a lemon sorbet note and a distinct mineral character. I was keen to get on to the main event, which comprised 4 vintages of Monte Bello going back over 30 years.

There's not much I can say about the 2005 Monte Bello that I haven't already said. I consider it to be an excellent vintage with concentrated fruit (by Monte Bello standards) and amazing depth. 95

I tasted the 1995 Monte Bello a couple of months ago at the wine bloggers' tasting and loved it, once it had opened up. The nose is earthy, with plenty of black fruit; rich flavours of bramble, blackcurrant and hints of mint and eucalyptus. There is still plenty of tannin and it's still a way from its peak, though it wouldn't be a crime to drink it now with a good steak. 94+

I don't believe I've ever tried the 1977 Monte Bello before. The mid 1970s produced a string of very good vintages; 1977 was a drought year which can result in small, tough berries with concentrated flavours and tannins. I have no idea what this was like in it's youth, but I'm betting it was a chewy, tannic monster. The deep brick red colour tells you it has some age, although few would realise how much. The nose is great, with earth, leather and underbrush. In the mouth there is tart black fruit, with leather, cigar and herbal notes. Despite its age it still has plenty of tannin left. Delicious. 94

The current release is the 2007 Monte Bello. Of the four finished vintages it smelled the ripest, with some dusty oak. There was lots of brambly fruit, with some mint, violet and graphite notes. Balanced and well structured, as you'd expect. 94+

Finally the barrel sample of the 2010 Monte Bello. The blend is currently 74% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot, 4% Petite Verdot and 2% Cabernet Franc. The colour is a very deep purple - the darkest for a few years. 2010 was a cool vintage resulting in berries that were on the small side with thick skins. The violet note from the Petite Verdot was particularly evident. There's lots of tannin, with plenty of black fruit and floral notes. It certainly comes across as a wine to cellar for a long time; buy it for your unborn children.

Afterwards we enjoyed a picnic in the gardens and sampled some other older vintages.

1990 Zinfandel Alegria Vineyard, Russian River Valley
Herbal, with earthy, dried berry flavours. Rich and dry. The tannins are fully resolved. 92

1976 Lytton Springs
90% Zinfandel 10% Petite Sirah
Lovely complex nose of leather, dried flowers and caramel. There is plenty of acid, some tart raspberry flavours, perhaps a bit tired. 89

1977 Zinfandel, San Luis
60% Zinfandel, 35% Petite Sirah, 5% Carignane
The nose wasn't great - seemed stale, with mushroom and compost. However it's still got some fruit; sour redcurrant with savoury notes.  83

1996 Geyserville
75% Zinfandel 17% Carignane 6% Petite Sirah 2% Mataro
Great nose; lots of herbs, with some raspberry syrup. A lovely wine; plenty of rich fruit, lots of structure, still improving. 94

2007 Old School Zinfandel
Seemed very ripe, with some residual sugar. Intense Raspberry syrup, a little oak. Not really a food wine; it might go well with chocolate. 89

Monday, May 30, 2011

Cinnabar Current Releases

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Since 1983 Cinnabar has been making a range of wines from both estate fruit grown at the vineyard in Saratoga and fruit purchased from Centarl Coast and beyond. Following founder Tom Mudd's death in 2007 the winery and vineyards were sold to Mount Eden, but winemaker George Troquato continues to produce great wines under agreements at a number of locations. The winery maintains a tasting room in the village of Saratoga.

The entry level wines carry a distinctive yellow label and are made primarily with fruit from Central Coast. I recently received two samples from the range for review.

2008 Mercury Rising, California
Mercury Rising is a blend of Bordeaux varieties sourced from several different regions, including Paso Robles, El Dorado and Lodi. As a result it carries the California designation.
There's a lovely nose of chocolate and blueberry, which follows through on the palate. The oak is prominent but not overpowering. It's full bodied and mouth coating, with a medium finish. This may be the best vintage of Mercury Rising that I can remember. The retail price is $21, but I've seen it as low as $15 and can highly recommended it at that price. 89

2009 Chardonnay, Monterey County
Chardonnay is a versatile grape whose wines range from being flinty and acidic to flabby, oaky and buttery. Sadly this one strays too far in the latter category for my tastes. There are some nice tropical fruit notes, but there's too much sweetness and not enough acidity; it's bland and simple. And while there's a ready market for wines like that it's already packed with examples at half the price. 81

The real gems of the Cinnabar range are the Santa Cruz Mountains wines, as well as some limited release wines made in small quantities and only available directly from the winery.

2006 Cabernet Sauvignon, Santa Cruz Mountains
Opens up with an earthy, smoky nose betraying a little heat and barnyard notes. On the palate there's firm acidity, with notes of mint, eucalyptus and brambles. As it opens up the fruit becomes more defined, with blackcurrant and plum adding to the mix, and the earthy notes recede. Very good indeed. 92

2007 Chardonnay, Santa Cruz Mountains
Now this is more like what I want from a Chardonnay. The nose shows white flowers, wet stone, brine and lime. Flavours of lemon and lime, with salty notes. The oak isn't prominent at all. Acidity is a bit on the light side. 89

2008 Syrah, Sextant Vineyard, Paso Robles
Nose shows notes of roast beef, dried fruit and menthol.
Flavours of redcurrant and blueberry with mushroom and allspice notes. The finish is oaky and tannic. Softened up with air, but really needs some cellar time to show well. 89+

2008 Sorcerer's Stone
Last year cinnabar released a non vintage wine entitled "Lot 310 - Philosopher's Stone". This was a blend of 2/3 Zinfandel and 1/3 Teroldego, and was a fascinating and delicious wine; I wish I'd bought cases of it.
The 2008 Sorcerer's Stone is the successor to that wine. It could be labelled as a Sonoma County Zinfandel since the remaining components are just 10% Petite Sirah from Clarksburg and 5% Teroldego, which I presume is also from the Mistral vineyard in the Santa Clara Valley.
The nose showed a lot; fireplace, black pepper and herbs, with black fruits and other savoury notes developing over time. On the palate there were rich yet rustic raspberry and blackberry flavours, with a long finish. The oak doesn't seem quite integrated yet, but it certainly has the stuffing to warrant cellaring for a year or so. 91+

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Coterie Cellars offer on LivingSocial

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For the uninitiated, LivingSocial is one of those sites that has daily offers at big discounts. Today's offer is from Coterie Cellars; $20 gets you a bottle of their Casatierra Vineyard Rosé of Syrah, a ticket to a 2 hour wine tasting and $20 off the purchase of any 3 bottles of Coterie's wines. Coterie is a small winery in south San Jose specialising in Pinot Noir and Syrah, as well as Rousanne and Viognier.

Buy the ticket on LivingSocial. Today (April 21st) only.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Downhill takes Flight

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Frank Ashton, owner of Downhill Cellars, has opened a tasting room and wine bar in Cupertino. Flight Wine and Food is at 20333 Stevens Creek Boulevard, close to De Anza Boulevard.


The wine bar has a varied selection of local wines as well as some unusual imported Croatian and other European wines. Prices seem reasonable, and wines are available to-go. The wine bar is open midweek from 4-8, weekends 12-5 and will be open this weekend for Passport Day.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Tasting Notes from Pinot Paradise

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Pinot Paradise is the annual showcase of Pinot Noir from the Santa Cruz Mountains. Most of the local Pinot producers attend, pouring one or two of their current releases. Here are my brief notes from the event. As usual I wasn't able to get round all of them.

If you're confused, Remde Vineyard is another name for Veranda Vineyard. Similarly, Deer Park Vineyard and Lester Family Vineyard are the same.

Ahlgren

2008 Veranda Vineyard
Fresh dug earth and dried currant. Rich glace cherry. Tart herbal, floral finish. Light tannins 89

Alfaro

2008 'A' Schultze Vineyard
Earthy, spicy. Rich cherry. Similar to the Windy Oaks Henry's Block 90
2007 Lindsay Paige Vineyard
Cherry, fresh bread. Rich tart cherry, raspberry, earth. Long finish. This is the best showing I've seen from any vintage of this wine; they generally seem tight and tough on release. 91+

Black Ridge

2008 Estate
Tart cherry, espresso. Smooth cherry, cranberry. Prickly tannins. Medium finish. 88

Burrell School

The vines were planted in 1991; there are 4 different clones, roughly evenly divided. Now well established, they are dry farmed.
2008 Estate
Darker colour than the 2007, with a slight funky nose, some alcohol/volatile, bright cranberry, tart earth, black cherry, dark raspberry. Firm tannins. 87
2007 Estate
Much earthier than the 2008 notes of iodine, mushroom, forest floor, with some black cherry. Firm, grippy tannins. 86

Cinnabar

2008 Lester Family Vineyard
Lots of funky earth. Surprisingly light and bright; Earthy redcurrant. Medium finish 87
2007 Santa Cruz Mountains
50% Lester Family Vineyard, 50% Estate
Soft funky nose Lots of cherry and redcurrant Long tannic finish. 90

Clos LaChance

2007 Santa Cruz Mountains
Light smoky nose. Rich sweet redcurrant, coffee. Firm tannins. Long finish. 89
2007 Biagini Vineyard
Funky earthy Sweet red fruit, caramel, good finish 89

Cumbre

2007 Rafaelli Vineyard
Earthy, meaty. Fresh earth, sweet red fruit, wild strawberry. Lots of tannin on the finish. Needs time. 88

Dancing Creek

2008 Regan Vineyard
Much darker than any of the other wines on offer. I guessed that there was something else here and was told that it contains 15% Nebbiolo from Santa Barbara.
Strikingly different nose from all the other wines; lots of black fruit. Bramble, black cherry, cassis, dried fruit. Nice wine and good value, but if you're looking for an expression of the Pinot Noir grape, this isn't it. 89


Downhill

Peter Martin Ray Vineyard was once part of Mount Eden. It's a separate small vineyard lower down the hill planted to the same clones; head trained and never replanted.
2006 Peter Martin Ray Vineyard
Earthy, spicy, candied peel. Rich cherry, cinnamon, citrus peel. Hint of Brett on the long finish. 90
2007 Peter Martin Ray Vineyard
Lighter nose than the 2006. Bigger and richer; more concentrated than the 2006, with a long finish. Excellent value. 92

Hallcrest

2005 Terra Serena Vineyard
Smoky cinnamon. Sweet cherry, cranberry. Tart, tannic, earthy finish. 88
2006 terra Serena Vineyard
Odd (VA?) note on nose. Sweet cherry, redcurrant, dark fruit. The acidity seemed less evident than on the 2005, yet technically the 2006 has more. 87

Heart o' the Mountain

2007
Pear, pepper. Sweet redcurrant, maraschino cherry, medium finish, soft tannins. 88
2008 Six Sixty Seven
Wild strawberry on the nose and palate. Sweet, spicy, peppery finish. 88

Kings Mountain

2002
Earthy, iodine. Cherry, red fruit and mushroom. 85

MJA Vineyards

2007 DaVine Regan Vineyard
Savoury - almost cheesy - nose. Meaty umami, black fruit, tannic finish. 88
Rhonda Boos of The Mountain Winery

Mountain Winery

2008 Estate
Elegant, light nose. Asian spice. Complex rich cherry and savoury with firm tannins. Needs cellar time. 92

Mount Eden

2008
Orange peel, herb, smoke. Rich spicy cherry, pomegranate, Long finish. 94+
2009 Domaine Eden
Mostly from the old Cinnabar vineyard, which Mount Eden purchased in 2008. The existing Cabernet vines were grafted over to Pinot Noir (Dijon clones, rather than Mount Eden); this is the first vintage since then. There's also some Pinot from Woodside and Santa Cruz in the blend.
Faint nose. Soft berry, cranberry flavours. Light weight. 87

Muccigrosso

2006
Bright nose. Meaty, rich dark fruit, mocha, black cherry. Plenty of tannin. 88
2007
Fainter nose. Similar to the 2006, but with a slight oxidised/pruney note. 87

Muns

2006 Vineyard
Smoky, rich bold, cherry. Coming together well; some interesting green herbal notes. 89
2007 Vineyard
Tangy cherry, smoke. Chocolate cherry, subtle earthy notes, lots of tannin. 89

Nicholson

2008 Estate Brookes' block
Interesting caramel and cherry. Nice complex cherry, earth, herb, meat. Medium finish, fine tannins. 89+
2008 Estate Reserve
Light, smoky cherry. More intense oak, good cherry flavour, more structure, needs time. 89+

Odonata

I was particularly impressed by both of Denis Hoey's offerings; the guy is an extremely talented winemaker. You should get on his mailing list while you still can.
2009 Domani
Black cherry, fig. Good dark fruit, bright acid, smooth tannins. Needs 3-5 years minimum. 91+
2009 Woody & Jenny's Top Block
Tangy and spicy. Lots of spice and bold red cherry flavours. Unbelievably this was aged in neutral oak; all that spice is coming from the vineyard, not the barrel. 94+

Pelican Ranch

2007 Deer Park Vineyard
Smoky, savoury. Rich, sweet cherry. Bitter tannins on finish. 86
2007 Remde Vineyard
Smoky raspberry. Sour cherry, raspberry, red fruit. Dry, tart finish. 86

Pleasant Valley

2006 Dylan David
Smoke, cinnamon, clove. Sweet red cherry, nutmeg. Soft tannin. 88+
2008 Lester Family Vineyard, Clone 667
Earthy, musty, bubblegum. Sweet earthy, strawberry. Fine tannins. 88
2008 Lester Family Vineyard, Clone 115
Less earth, more red fruit. Sweet redcurrant, cinnamon. Long finish. 89

Poetic Cellars

2008 Regan Vineyard
Light savoury Smooth redcurrant light acid Dr pepper light oak 88


Regale

2008 Estate
Rose petal, earth, cherry Sweet concentrated black cherry lots of tannin. Needs cellaring, though the acid is a little light. Give it 2-3 years 90+

Roudon Smith

2008 Private Reserve
Corralitos (partly Regan) Light perfumed nose Soft red fruits - cherry redcurrant a little spice Soft tannins 88
2009 Armitage
Corralitos (Rembe) Bright cherry and berry Smooth fruit, some earth chewy tannins. 89+

Sarah's

2009 Santa Cruz Mountains
2 corralitos Vineyards Bright red and black fruit notes Concentrated fruit, earth and tannin. Needs time. 89+
2007 Rebhahn Vineyard
Black fruit, earth Rich sweet intense black fruit Firm tannins. Long finish. Come together nicely 90+
2007 Veranda Vineyard
Smoky Cherry Tart black cherry earthy tannic finish. 90+

Santa Cruz Mountain Vineyard

2001 Estate Reserve
(new release), 22.5 brix 3.20 pH finished 12.5% 1200'
spicy nutmeg a little fresh earth,
tangy acidity - raspberry, red fruit
nice finish plenty of structure still very ageworthy 90+
Needs food
2004 Bailey's Branciforte Ridge "Bella's Reserve"
14.2% 3.48pH 800'
French and hungarian oak. Inoculated
earthy, cherry
bright cherry fruit
long finish, good structure, 90+
2008 Branciforte Vineyard
Earthy funk Sweet cherry herb earth loads of structure 91+

Savannah Chanelle

2007 Estate
Interesting funky nose, earth and spice Rich intense red fruits, black cherry, spice. Good structure. 91+
2009 Muns Vineyard
Barrel sample Nose is bright smoky cherry Intense red and black fruit lots of structure 90-93

Silver Mountain

2006 Miller Hill Vineyard
Smoky funk hint of acetyl? Structured red fruit, bold tannins Earthy finish 88+
2007 Muns Vineyard
Lighter floral nose Lots of structure. Fruit in the background. Needs more air. 88++
Annette Hunt of Skov Winery

Skov

2008
light cherry cinnamon nose Soft cherry fruit Smooth tannins 87

Sonnet

2008 Muns Vineyard
Earthy black cherry Assertive sweet fruit - cherry redcurrant earth spice lots of tannin 90

Thomas Fogarty

2008 Windy Hill
- highest elevation, just under 2000' 2.5 acres 8x10 Martini clone on AXR1, some variation, last to be picked, exposed to weather
Vigorous rootstock, no phylloxera issues, all cane pruned
1/3 whole cluster, always native yeasts, no SO2 at crush 100% french 50% new

Medium colour
Fragrant, floral
light sweet fruit redcurrant/raspberry
oaky tannin on finish 89

2008 Rapley Trail
fainter nose, less floral, some smoke
Tarter redcurrant, cranberry, less tannic 88

Villa del Monte

2009 Regan Vineyard
Savoury dried herb roast meat Sweet redcurrant, spice Smooth tannins. Balanced. 88

Vine Hill

2008
Cherry vanilla Soft red cherry Fairly simple Light tannins 85

Vino Tabi

2008 Lester Vineyard
Bright cherry syrup nose and palate. Some pepper. Prickling tannins on finish 86
2008 Regan Vineyard
Smoky oak, coffee Rich redcurrant, blue cheese Medium finish 86

Windy Oaks

2008 Henry's Block
spicy cinnamon/clove, cherry rich spicy black cherry, parma violets, red vines long finish early drinking 90
2008 Wild Yeast
Lovely nose elegant floral Intense red fruit up front, fresh earth on finish 92

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Ridge Bloggers tasting, March 2011

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Has it really been 3 months since the last Bloggers' event? Once again, Chris Watkins invited a group of wine bloggers to a tasting of current, unreleased and library wines at the Monte Bello tasting rooms. A dozen of us braved torrential rains and hailstones; some of the regulars were joined by Chiara Shannon of K&L Wines, Melanie Friedman and Erin Grant.


Chris likes to have a different theme for each event, and this turned out to be a demonstration of how Ridge wines age over decades.

We began with a couple of the newly releases. Ridge has dropped the "Santa Cruz Mountains" designation in favour of "Estate" for both the Chardonnay and the red blend, which is now a fully fledged Cabernet.

2009 Estate Chardonnay
Nose shows peach, apricot, a touch of of almond and creamy vanilla. On the palate there's sweet white fruit up front, and a salty note. There's some bitterness from the oak and tannin on the finish; it needs a little cellar time. 90+

2008 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon
Earthy nose with blackcurrant, mint and herb. Tart fruit flavours of bramble and blackcurrant backed with earth and smoke. Good structure; firm tannins on the finish. Nice now, but will repay cellaring. 92

We moved on to a 10 year comparison of Geyserville - the newly released 2009 vintage and the 1999 from the library.

2009 Geyserville
The 44th vintage is a blend of 74% Zinfandel, 17% Carignane, 6% Petite Sirah, 2% Alicante Bouschet and 1% Mataro.
The colour is a bright red-purple. The nose is tart, with a medicinal note. Flavours of cherry and redcurrant, with bright acidity. 91 It's a nice wine, but it was completely overshadowed by

1999 Geyserville
Blend of 68% Zinfandel, 16% Carignane and 16% Petite Sirah.
A deep brick red colour. Lovely mature nose and great flavours of dark fruit, dried cranberry, leather. There's amazing depth and a long finish. 94

This was followed by three impressive vintages of Monte Bello spanning two decades.

1985 Monte Bello
93% Cabernet Sauvignon, 7% Merlot
Similar deep brick red colour to the Geyserville.
Aromas of leather, dried fruit and hayloft; palate showed earth with some blackcurrant (but not a lot), and savoury, meaty notes. Still a surprising amount of tannin on the finish.
The fruit showed more clearly when tasted alongside food. After the tasting was over I went back and retasted all the Monte Bellos and was surprised by how the fruit showed - here's a 25 year wine that needs air to show its best. 95

1995 Monte Bello
The nose was musty and earthy, with notes of menthol. The palate showed lots of bright acidity and earth, hiding the fruit, and lots of tannin. It seemed shut down tight and I wasn't going to assign a rating, but revisiting after a couple of hours the fruit came out - great, rustic brambly and herbal notes. Clearly many years from its peak. 94+

2005 Monte Bello
This wine has always been a delight; the nose is big and fruity, with mint and earth notes. On the palate there's lots of intense black fruit - blackberry, blueberry and blackcurrant, with graphite, smoke and pepper - the finish just goes on and on. With air it got even better and showed a liquorice note. The best young Monte Bello I've tasted. 97


We then moved to two examples from the ATP programme, which focuses mainly on Rhone varieties.

2004 Lytton Estate Syrah
Cofermented with 10% Viognier, and blended with an additional 8% Grenache.
The nose shows spicy, peppery red fruit which follows through onto the palate. Notes of redcurrant, tobacco and allspice. 91

2006 Lytton Estate Syrah
The 2006 is not yet released. The nose is altogether more assertive than the 2004 and overall there's significantly more going on; lots of red fruit and spice with a long finish. Definitely one to watch out for. 94

Alan Bree then teased us with two blind wines from his extensive personal Ridge cellar. He firmly believes that all of Ridge's wines deserve cellaring and are typically consumed too young. We had no other clues as to what was being offered.

Both wines had a similar brick red colour to the 1999 Geyserville and 1985 Monte Bello, so my guess was that the wines were 10-15 years old.

The first had a light nose that suggested cigarette smoke. Nicely mature, with notes of sweet raspberry fruit and some good tannins. The raspberry and tannin made me guess a Zinfandel blended with Petite Sirah. (Dead wrong)

The second showed a slightly redder colour, suggesting that it was the younger of the two. There was a sour note on the nose that I didn't care for, but the flavour was surprisingly sweet. Again a raspberry note made me think it was a Zinfandel, but the tannins were much softer.

The wines turned out to be 1997 and 1998 Sangiovese, from Dry Creek Valley. The 1997 was blended with 17% Merlot, while the 1998 was 100% Sangiovese. I would never have guessed this as I was unaware that Ridge had ever made a Sangiovese. (Apparently they took over the vineyard in 1997 and replanted it in 1999.) Two fascinating wines, probably slightly past their peak despite the tannins on the 1997, but still interesting and tasty. I didn't score them at the time, but in retrospect I'd probably say 89 each.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

SCMWA Trade Tasting 2011

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Here are some tasting notes from the SCMWA trade tasting last month. This is an annual event open to retailers, restaurateurs and media, which was held at Farallon restaurant in San Francisco.

Unfortunately my punishment for somehow angering the tech gods continues and I've been unable to find the iPod that I had used to record most of my comments. Thankfully I had sync'd it with my PC before it evolved legs, so the notes were safe, but somewhat inaccessible; Apple certainly doesn't believe in letting you have easy access to your own data and I was damned if I'd pay the necessary $25 for what seems to be the only available third party recovery application.

I finally got around to doing the necessary hackery myself to extract the data from its binary prison; it turned out to be a bit easier than I expected. And so, with apologies for the delay, here are my notes.

All wines carry the Santa Cruz Mountains appellation unless otherwise noted.

Beauregard

2007 Estate Chardonnay
This had a really smoky, oaky nose. Big, creamy and smoky with baked apple flavours. Good acidity. Long oaky finish, but despite all the wood I enjoyed it. 90
2007 Bald Mountain Chardonnay
This wasn't showing the oak anything like as much as the Estate Chardonnay, which is surprising given that it sees 100% new French oak and the Estate sees less. Nose shows creamy apples; notes of lime, salt and honeysuckle with a medium to long finish. Reminds me of Varner. 92
2007 Estate Pinot Noir
Light smoky, earthy nose. Earthy and austere with redcurrant and herbal notes. lightly tannic finish. 88
2008 Bald Mountain Pinot Noir
Smoke and maraschino aromas. Earthy but less austere than the estate with black cherry flavours and a medium finish. 90

Big Basin

2008 Homestead Syrah
Blend of 73% Monterey and 27% Santa Cruz Mountains
Nose has roast meat and blueberry. Rich and fruity with smoky berry flavours and a medium finish. 90
2007 Fairview Ranch Syrah, Santa Lucia Highlands
Floral, berry nose. Fairly gentle tannins, smooth red berry flavors showing white pepper on the long finish. 91
2006 Rattlesnake Rock
The nose is very complex, showing smoke, meat, fruit and spice. Rich, smooth flavours of smoked meat, redcurrant and pomegranate, with a longish finish. 93
2007 Mandala
The nose suggests dusty old books, but on the palate it's sweet and spicy, with blueberry and blackberry notes and nice firm tannins on the finish. 92

Cinnabar

2007 Chardonnay
Lemon and lime on the nose; flavours of citrus, oak and mineral notes. Oak seemed harsh on the finish; give it time. 87+
2007 Pinot Noir
Funky, earthy nose; spicy flavours of sweet cherry, cinnamon and cedar. Very good. 92
2006 Cabernet Sauvignon
Dusty blackcurrant nose. A rather concentrated combination of rich fruit, smoky oak and chewy tannins. 89+

Clos LaChance

2007 Chardonnay
Vanilla and apple on the nose; sweet baked apple and vanilla cream on the palate. Seems low in acidity, with notes of sweet caramel on the finish. 88
2007 Pinot Noir
Inviting nose of cherry pie; sweet cherry and allspice flavours. Oak came across as a little harsh - needs time. 88
2007 Cabernet Sauvignon
Dusty bramble nose; flavours of blackcurrant, oak and underbrush. Promising. 89

Kathryn Kennedy

2000 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon
Leather and black fruit on the nose. Complex flavours of cassis, earth, leather and cedar; a big wine with a long finish. 94
2006 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon
Softer nose than the 2000. Showing lots of primary blackcurrant fruit; good structure, just needs time. 93
2007 Small Lot Cabernet sauvignon
Rustic black fruit, balanced oak, plenty of tannin, good finish. Cellar this. 93

La Honda Winery

2009 Sauvignon Blanc, Sonoma
Smooth gooseberry and grapefruit flavours; creamy, clean finish. 87
2008 "Sequence" Pinot Noir
Interesting nose - sandalwood? On the palate it's got lovely spicy redcurrant notes with silky tannins and a longish finish. 91+
2009 Exponent
Blend of 44% Cabernet Sauvignon, 24% Merlot, 18% Grenache and 14% Sangiovese
As the blend suggests it's an easy drinking red table wine; light fruity nose and soft brambly fruit. Only $15 at Beltramos; a good value midweek red. 88
2008 Salinian Block Cabernet Sauvignon
5 vineyard blend from small vineyards around the Santa Cruz Mountains.
Nose shows smoke, cassis and brambles. Bold black fruit, lot of tannin, dusty oak on the finish. 90+
2007 Naylor's Dry Hole Vineyard, Chalone AVA
Lots of cassis on the nose. Spicy blackberry, blackcurrant fruit, lovely smooth tannins, a rather elegant wine. 92

Martin Ranch

JD Hurley 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon
Rustic, with notes of blackcurrant and allspice. Tannins are silky and the oak is nicely balanced. 89
JD Hurley 2008 Zinfandel, Santa Clara Valley
Some nice tart raspberry flavours, but perhaps a little oxidized? 86

MJA Vineyards

Marin Artukovich recently relocated his winery from St Helena to Los Gatos. The winery has a tasting room on Ingalls St. in Santa Cruz and a Pinot Noir vineyard on Highland Way (the continuation of Summit Road) in Los Gatos. A second tasting room at the vineyard is scheduled to open next month. The winery has two labels; Serene Cellars and Davine Cellars (not to be confused with nearby DeVine Consultants). The winery produces Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc from Napa and a Santa Cruz Mountains Pinot Noir.
2007 Serene Cellars Sauvignon Blanc
An oaked Sauvignon Blanc. Creamy and low in acidity, with some gooseberry notes. 85

Naumann

2008 Chardonnay
Lots of butterscotch on the nose. Flavours of creamy apple, with mineral and brine; clean finish. 88
2006 Merlot
Bright plum aromas, some smoke. Berry and plum fruit, oak seems nicely integrated. 88
2007 Merlot
Earthy nose, which comes across on the palate too. Sweet fruit, some spice and smoke. Tannic finish. 89

Ridge

2008 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon
The new name for the Santa Cruz Mountains blend; with more of the younger Cabernet vines now producing the balance of the blend has shifted and it can be called a Cab. The blend is 75% cabernet and 20% Merlot, with 3% Petite Verdot and 2% Cabernet Franc.
Nose is brambly with a little smoke; rich flavours of cassis and spice. Terrific value. 93
2007 Monte Bello
Did not disappoint. I'm a big fan of this vintage, as you probably know. 95

Santa Cruz Mountain Vineyard

2009 Verdelho, Silvaspoons Vineyard Alta Mesa AVA
Impressive floral nose, kind of a cross between Sauvignon Blan and Viognier. Light bodied; floral and crisp gooseberry notes with caramel on the finish. 89

Savannah-Chanelle

(Edited. Zinfandel vines aren't the oldest of their kind in the state but Cabernet Franc vines probably are. Thanks to Tony Craig for the correction.)
2007 Cabernet Franc
From vines planted in the 1920s; believed to be the oldest Cabernet Franc vines in the new world. Smoky blueberry nose. Concentrated fruit - blueberry, redcurrant and cranberry. Chewy, tart finish. Hint of cigar. 91
2007 Zinfandel
Sourced from hundred year old vines. Dark blackberry/raspberry nose. Good concentration. Lots of tart raspberry syrup, backed by great acidity. Rich intense flavour and a long finish. I really liked this. 93
2007 Montmartre
Blend of roughly equal parts Cabernet Franc, Zinfandel and Carignane, with a little Syrah. Light meaty, smoky nose. Most tannic of the three wines. A chewy, spicy fruit medley that will need time to show well. 90

Storrs

2008 Chardonnay
Big, ripe nose with lots of vanilla. Rich and creamy with good acidity and flavours of red apple, lemon and lime. 88
2008 Chardonnay, Christie Vineyard
Rather shy nose, showing a little apple. Crisp apple and pear flavours, with the oak far less evident. 88

Thomas Fogarty

2007 Chardonnay
Nose of caramel and apple. Crisp apple, lime and brine. Mineral on the medium finish. 87
2008 Gewurztraminer, Scheid Vineyard, Monterey County
Consistently a great value wine and my favourite domestic Gewurztraminer.
Lovely spicy, floral nose. There's a hint of sweetness, nice citrus flavours, low acidity with a long, floral finish. 90

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Monte Bello component tasting

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The annual barrel tasting at Monte Bello is an opportunity to get an early glimpse at the most recent vintage. 2010 was a particularly cool year punctuated by occasional heat spike; from what I've heard it was not an easy year for the local growers. The Monte Bello tasting showcases four distinct varieties, as well as the first assemblage of the Monte Bello blend.

We began with the 2007 Monte Bello Chardonnay, with its enticing nose of lemon, lime and honeysuckle. The oak is prominent, as is typical on the new releases; there's creamy lime and mineral flavours, but the oak takes over on the long finish. 93

The barrel sample of Merlot was somewhat unyielding. There was a nice nose of red fruits and floral notes, but on the palate it was structured and herbal, with taut acidity.

The sample of Cabernet Franc was the first harvest from recently planted vines, and will not be a part of the Monte Bello assemblage. The nose showed ash or fireplace, with notes of brambles and coffee beans. On the palate there was lots of tannin and some earth, but very little fruit.

Cabernet Sauvignon makes up the bulk of Monte Bello. This sample showed smoke, brambles and blackcurrant. On the palate there was smooth black fruit backed by earth, light tannins and a touch of dried herbs.

The final component of Monte Bello is Petite Verdot. It's a late ripening grape and thus does not always get ripe enough to be included in the blend, but when it does it adds spice and a violet note. Since 2010 was a cool year it was doubtful whether the fruit would ripen fully; the winery went to the trouble of laying reflective film between the rows to help the process; it worked. The sample had a great nose, with floral violet notes. On the palate there was rich, black fruit and good acidity with a smoky finish and good tannins that were not too pronounced.

So on to the first assemblage of 2010 Monte Bello. The initial breakdown is 70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 23% Merot, 5% Petite Verdot and 2% Cabernet Franc. The volet notes of the Petite Verdot were evident on nose; there were notes of fireplace and black fruit. At first tasting it seemed taut and tannic; there was some black fruit, meaty and mineral notes. It seemed particularly difficult to judge at this early stage; I got the impression that it's going to take longer than average to show itself fully. On second tasting, which saw much more air, the fruit became more evident. It does give the impression of being a long-lived vintage.

For comparison we then tasted a 1992 Monte Bello poured from 375ml bottles. This turned out to be an interesting example of how bottle variation is amplified with age; one sample showed cedar, leather, black fruit and herbal notes, with a rich, layered, earthy finish. In contrast a second sample from a different bottle was somewhat earthy; the nose showed barnyard and herbs, with black fruit, earth and leather flavours. Both were of excellent quality. 94

Down in the main tasting room they were pouring the newly released 2008 Monte Bello. It's come together nicely since the barrel tasting two years ago; the nose has violet, mint, meat and brambles. It's young and structured, with rich fruit and mint but overall seems slightly thinner than recent vintages. It will be interesting to retaste in a year or two. 92

Sunday, January 23, 2011

4th Bloggers tasting at Ridge

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It can't have escaped the attention of any regular readers that updates have been few and far between recently, for which I can only apologise and blame various factors including the day job, not one but two catastrophic computer failures and my own laziness. However with Christmas and the New Year over it's time I got back to updating the blog, and where better to start than with a report from the final Bloggers' tasting at Ridge.

Since Chris Watkins, the Monte Bello tasting room manager began these quarterly events we've had the opportunity to review an impressive vertical of Lytton Springs Zinfandels, compare our views on recent Monte Bello vintages with those of Robert Parker (he was completely wrong about the 2007) and compare vintages of Rhone varietals released to ATP members.

For this tasting Chris promised us a different theme, which turned out to be an anagram; certain letters from the wines spelling out the words WINE BLOGGER. This explained the rather eclectic list of wines that we were offered.

The usual core of Wes, Richard, Amy and myself were joined by Fred Swan of NorCalWine and Allan Bree of Gang Of Pour, who came bearing gifts; more of which later.

So onto the wines:

2007 Monte Bello Chardonnay
Huge nose; lots of lemon, white flowers, with nice oak and vanilla
Lots of wood on the palate, nice white peach, ice cream. Long finish.
Needs cellar time, obviously. Really good. 94+

2008 Buchignani Ranch Carignan
Light nose - dried berries - raspberry, cranberry and smoke.
Light, tart and tannic, with some redcurrant fruit. Lighter finish. 87

2008 East Bench Zinfandel
From the Dry Creek Valley; one of my favourite Zinfandel appellations. Produced from younger vines.
Nose of spicy berry, pepper and coriander.
black raspberry flavours, with dark chocolate notes. Drinking well now. 90

2007 Lytton Estate Zinfandel
Sourced from a block planted with young Primitivo clones, blended with 4% Carignane and 3% Petite Sirah.
Nose doesn't immediately suggest Zinfandel - Earthy and woody with caramel notes.
Rustic and herbal with notes of maraschino cherry and thyme. Needs time. 91+

2003 Geyserville
A blend of 76% Zinfandel, 18% Carignan and 6% Petite Sirah.
Nice amethyst colour. Slightly musty nose suggesting old books, and tart raspberry
The oak is still quite evident; floral raspberry and espresso flavours. Still young. 92

2002 Nervo Zinfandel
Source from a head trained, dry farmed vineyard in Alexander Valley and blended with 8% Petite Sirah.
Deep red colour with some bricking. Interesting feminine nose, dried herbs (lavender)?, showing some heat.
Nice mature fruit; probably at its peak. Nice notes of Raspberry coulis and leather 91

2002 Lytton Estate Grenache
Deep red, no sign of browning. Nose shows earth and wood, slightly musty. A lot in common with the Zinfandel from earlier. In the mouth there's plenty of sweet fruit; golden raisins and wild strawberry.

2003 Syrah, Lytton West
Co-fermented (rather than blended) with 9% Viognier
Nose shows black fruit, plum and pepper, with some floral notes from the Viognier.
Some residual sweetness, with gamey notes. The tannins are still prominent. 90

2007 Old School Zinfandel
100% Zinfandel. Formerly known as Independence School (Can you believe they changed the name just for the sake of an anagram?)
Nose of tart raspberry, and a hint of something odd - at first I thought aldehyde. Palate was jammy and sweet, with notes of raspberry syrup. I found that the residual sugar made it seem one-dimensional. 87

2003 Independence School Zinfandel
Blended with 9% Carignan and 3% Petite Sirah. It had the same odd aldehyde note, which suggests it's a vineyard characteristic rather than a flaw. Not as sweet as the 2007 bottling. Good tannin, with flavours of raspberry and brambles. A little rustic. I felt the blend provided more structure and complexity than the 2007,
but still not my favourite. 89

The flight finished with a 2000 Monte Bello
Great complex nose with notes of herb, mint and meat. Lithe black currant and brambly fruit. Meaty, musty tannins, medium to long finish. 93

We were then offered a flight of three wines that Alan had brought. Served blind, we were told that it was a vertical from the 1990s. They turned out to be three Pagani Ranch Alicante Bouschets, though I utterly failed to recognise the similarities between the three wines. In each case they are blended with around 25% Zinfandel.

1993 Alicante Bouschet Pagani Ranch
This reminded me of a Lytton Springs Zinfandel. Earthy, with cherry and redcurrant flavours. Nicely integrated tannins. Very smooth. 92

1994 Alicante Bouschet Pagani Ranch
This made me think of Petite Sirah. Somewhat reductive, stinky nose. Earthy, with lots of tannin and flavours of redcurrant and herb. Would appear that it still needs time to sort itself out. 88++

1997 Alicante Bouschet Pagani Ranch
This was my favourite wine of the whole tasting. It had a lovely feminine nose, with floral notes. Everything came together, the fruit was delicious 95

The last wine was a 2007 Zinfandel Geyserville Essence
Blended with 23% Petite Sirah 16.9% residual sugar and 13.5%ABV
Powerful, concentrated nose of raspberry syrup. Obviously very sweet, with lots of raspberry fruit. An interesting, complex wine. 92++