Here in the San Francisco Bay Area, we live amongst several world class growing regions. You probably have heard of Napa Valley, and maybe even Dry Creek Valley, but have you heard of Livermore Valley? With over 130 years of vinious history, Livermore is a secret worth sharing. The first families in the Livermore Valley are still some of the most well known – Concannon and Wente. Arriving in 1883, they pioneered grape growing in the region, and set the stage for what would become a hotbed of innovation and trailblazing. Today, there are over 50 wineries in Livermore, each making their stamp in the valley. Recently, Livermore came to the city, when several wineries hosted a trade tasting and seminar. Being able to listen to a third generation Wente, and hear the history of Concannon Vineyards from John Concannon is a treat worth traveling for, but luckily I didn’t have to. While Wente has expanded beyond the sprawling vineyard visitors center to launch Wente’s Winemaker Studio, where you can play winemaker and blend your own wine, take classes, and hone your aroma skills. But, while the grandfathers still stand tall, there are also smaller wineries that are making their mark in Livermore. One of these is Page Mill Winery, which was previously located in Woodside, has been making wine since 1976. Continuing the production of quality wines in Livermore, Dane Stark continues this tradition using grapes primarily harvested from Livermore Valley. Today, Page Mill focuses on Livermore Valley fruit, and makes excellent Cab Franc and Syrah. Another personal favorite is Steven Kent Winery. As I’ve reviewed before, Steven Kent balances tradition and trailblazing, while making Bordeaux style blends, highlighting how Livermore can produce world class wines. Vasco Urbano Wine Company sees the terroir for Rhone style wines in Livermore, and they do so beautifully. Their mission is clear, to produce excellent Rhone style wines that express the Livermore Valley. Using innovative farming practices and renegade winemaking techniques, the resulting Syrah, Grenache, and rosé are beautiful. With over 50 wineries in Livermore, there is something for everyone. Just over an hour from San Francisco, and easily accessible by public transit, it’s a must visit for any wine lover!
Earlier this year, before I embarked on a somewhat fool-hearty mission of getting my CSW credential, I visited the Napa Valley estate of Quintessa. Tucked away, hidden from the Silverado Trail in Rutherford, the unique gravity flow moistly underground winery pokes out from the hillside. When the Huneeus family took ownership of the land in 1990, the land was wild and pristine – and had never been used, or abused by other vines or crops. Having never been planted to vine, the land had none of the after effects of the post-phylloxera recovery efforts, and mandatory replanting that some older, established Napa vineyards did. It was virgin territory, and this prime real estate was ready to plant some amazing Bordeaux varietals. With further research done on what naturally defended against the root louse that destroyed the industry in the past, new rootstock and innovative techniques were put in to place to create an amazing site. In 2002, the estate winery opened, it was built with a vision of a building that blended in to the natural elements. In addition to the aesthetic beauty, careful consideration was given to the environmental impact as well as functional design for a working winery. The result is a stunning gravity-flow winery that beginnings on the top of the hill where the crushpad is located, and continues through chutes in the floor of the crushpad that transport the juice directly to the fermentation tanks with a minimal of intervention. With all the modern, yet mostly non-intervention techniques, you can bet there will be some great juice coming out of there! When you visit Quintessa, you have a wealth of tasting experiences to choose from. The Estate Tasting Experience gives guests a comprehensive visit to the facility as well as the vineyard, and a seated tasting paired with local artisan products. But the penultimate experience is what we enjoyed, the Quintessential Quintessa. Here, you start at the winery where you see the operation, and then take a meandering walk up the hill to the ridge where tasting pavillions have been built. These glass gazebos offer the ability to have a fully indoor / outdoor experience, while overlooking the vineyard property below. Up on the ridgeline, you leave the winery and the hustle bustle of the busy Napa Valley behind. You are truly alone, and have the time to relax, and enjoy the details of the geology of the soils, a full tasting, and a great conversation about what makes teh property so special. And oh, the cheese! The cheese… With a tasting comparison of the current releases as well as library wine, this experience is a rare and special treat in the valley. Trying to impress out of town guests? This is the way to do it. I especially enjoyed comparing the fresh, young current release, with the vibrancy and fruit forward notes of blackberry and earth, as compared to the library wine, showing dense and chewy notes of tobacco, baking spice and black pepper. Having the […]
There are few grapes that are as well known in Napa Valley as Cabernet Sauvignon. Most every winery makes at least one, and every sub appellation vies for the best, the most unique, the most impactful, fruit to make this king of wines out of. Faust celebrates an ongoing, and renewed, passion for Agustin Huunees, that a great wine must be a reflection of a great vineyard. This rich, full bodied Napa Valley Cabernet is sourced from vineyard holdings primarily in Rutherford and Coombsville, with small lots from Yountville, Mount Veeder, Atlas Peak and St. Helena. This unique combination of powerful valley floor fruit, unique Rutherford Bench fruit, and acidic, bright, and interesting mountain fruit from Atlas Peak makes this a special wine. Faust is vinified at Quintessa, which was founded by Huneeus. With his 50 years of history in wine, he firm belief in terroir is evident in this bottle. Dark and rich, with dark chocolate and blackberry jam, a touch of Cabernet Franc and Malbec gives it an earthiness that offsets the rich valley floor fruit. If you’re looking for a splurge bottle, check this out – at $60, it’s worth a steak dinner! This wine was provided by the PR agency, but I drank it all on my own. Google
It was a bright and warm late spring day when I ventured up to St. Helena to see the new Hall Wines facility and tasting room. While I had visited before, in 2009, it was shortly after the LEED Certified production facility had opened, and what a difference 4 years can make! With a focus on sustainability and responsibility, along with diverse culture, Hall has gone to new heights with the new Wine and Art Exploration tasting & tour which gives visitors to the winery a peek in to the passion for art & design that Former Ambassador Kathryn Hall has always expressed. Arriving at the St. Helena property, the first thing you see is “Little Bunny Foo Foo” – a large metal sculpture in the circular drive. This imposing and imipressive piece welcomes you in to the parking lot and sets the tone for the day to come. This is just one of the many stunning pieces of visual art that are on permanent display at Hall. As we we were welcomed in to the visitors center by a cold glass of Sauvignon Blanc, we were surrounded by the textural art in the tasting room that screams reach out and touch me. Alas, we were not allowed to do so, but that type of art work that intrigues and inspires imagination is what draws you in and leaves you wanting more. Wandering around the property, you will see several examples of these large pieces of art work that you can spend your time gazing at and just relaxing. Completing your tour in the tasting room, your palate is delighted by the focus on Cabernet Sauvignon, which is what Hall focuses on, as well as the WALT Pinot Noirs. A visit to HALL is a must on any stop in Napa, and you may never want to leave! The winery also has special programs throughout the year, including the Friday Sunset Cruise – where guests can linger outside after hours, and taste through the wines open from the day, while sitting in the Adirondack chairs by the reflecting pool, eating some delicious appetizers. Another program is Demystifying Wine & Food, where guests can expand their tasting experience with a guided food and wine experience. There are many more experiences to choose from, so you should check them all out here. I can’t possibly pick my favorite wine, since all of the Cabernets are silky, beautiful and luscious, but if you are a Cabernet Lover, you could opt for the Ultimate Cabernet Collector experience, where guests can enjoy history in a glass, one Cab at a time. These experiences range from $30 to $100 and reservations are required. If you are a wine lover, an art lover, and a Cabernet Sauvignon lover, take some time out of your day to stop and relax at HALL WInes in St. Helena. Google
Do you love Cabernet Sauvignon? Are you curious about the different regional characteristics in the Napa Vallley that create dynamic, bold, and different wines? Check out CabFestNV, from Feburary 28 through March 2nd in various venues in Napa. This inaugural three-day celebration of the king of Napa Valley wine varietals will featuring more than 100 of the biggest names in the wine industry. And, in case you haven’t heard, there will be a celebrity guest star! Yes that’s right, Jeff Bridges, movie star and rocker, will be performing in his band. In addtion, keynote presentations by “The Wine Bible” author Karen MacNeil, and cult winemakers are sure to draw people in. Here are some of the highlights: Friday – CabFestNV Kickoff Winery Tasting Circuit at more than fifteen select, participating wineries from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. for complimentary wine tastings. At 7:00 pm, famed Oscar-winning actor, singer and songwriter Jeff Bridgesand his country-rock band, The Abiders, take the stage at the Lincoln Theater for the CabFestNV Kickoff Concert, with Bridge’s talented daughter Jessie Bridges as the show opener. Following the Festival Kickoff Concert, the exclusive “Cigars & Guitars” afterparty (open to VIP All-Access Pass holders only), will feature an intimate post-concert, private performance by Jessie Bridges, Cigar Aficionado Magazine’s cigar-sampling tent (AJ Fernandez, Room 101 and Casa Magna Cigars), whiskey tasting (Redbreast by Pernod Ricard USA), a rare guitar exhibit (co-sponsored by the Napa Valley Museum and Gibson Guitars) and exceptional fortified wine and library Cabernet wines. Saturday: Grand Tasting Saturday, March 1, Grand Tasting (11:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.): All-day. “How Music Affects the Taste of Wine” a musical exploration of “tasting notes” by Symphony Napa Valley’s Orchestra Institute Fellows and guest artists; “Napa Valley Rocks” film, presented by the Napa Valley Vintners; Keynote Presentation by Karen MacNeil: “What Makes Great Cabernet Sauvignon Great” – Interactive keynote address, with a fun blind-tasting mission. (Wine tasting limited, first-come basis) Napa Valley Vintners: “Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon: The Shot Heard ‘Round the World.” The Paris Tasting of 1976 launched Napa Valley into the international spotlight, and Cabernet hasn’t been the same since. Includes a panel discussion and wine tasting with some of Napa Valley’s most renowned and iconic Cabernet Sauvignon producers. Sunday: Grand Tasting (11:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.) All-day. “How Music Affects the Taste of Wine” a musical exploration of “tasting notes” by The Symphony Napa Valley Orchestra Institute Fellows and guest artists Keynote Presentation by Karen MacNeil: “Cab on the Couch,” a spontaneous conversation and uncensored observations featuring such well-known vintners as Charles Krug’s Marc Mondavi (aka the Water Witch); Food & Wine Magazine’s “Winemaker of the Year” Aaron Pott; wine auctioneer, musician and vintner Fritz Hatton; pioneering Napa Valley grape grower Andy Beckstoffer; Blake Gilbert, director of ultra-premium winery Bond, and other surprise stars. 2:30 – 3:30 p.m. Take the “Last One Standing Challenge” presented by The Culinary Institute of America: A blind-tasting and knowledge challenge that will put everyone in the starting lineup as CIA Wine Instructor, Robert Bath, MS asks a series of progressively probing questions about Napa Valley Cabs. Someone will be the “Last One Standing.” Prizes and bragging rights will be rewarded! To Blend or Not to Blend” featuring a star-studded lineup […]
Sitting on the mountaintop overlooking Alexander Valley, Dry Creek and Geyserville, you might feel like doing your best Leonardo DiCaprio impression from Titanic. I’m the king queen of the world! Jordan Vineyards & Winery was founded in 1976, with a passion for world class Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon, made in the heart of Sonoma. Today, that vision has grown to include a showcase for the local terroir, as well as a focus on sustainability and stewardship of the land that the vineyards are planted on. From solar panels to water treatment facilities, Jordan strives to maintain the land that produces these beautiful wines. On a gorgeous late summer day, I joined a group of fellow bloggers to preview the newest tour & tasting offering, the Estate Tour & Tasting. This 3 hour tour will make you feel like you are Gilligan, lost in the rolling hills of oak trees and back acreage, but you will soon be found in your glass of wine and several stops along the way. Meanding down from the main chateau and tasting area, the first stop is in the gardens, where the produce for Chef Todd Knoll’s culinary program. Having had several meals at Jordan, I know first hand what amazing vegetables can do for a meal. Wandering through the rows of raspberries, roses, and veg, we had a mini feast of summer tomatos and fruit before boarding the newly christened (and air conditioned) Jordan shuttle for our next stop on the tour. Next up, Seven Oaks is a stand of oak trees surrounding a new tasting bar, with sweeping views of the lake and olive orchards. Here at Seven Oaks, we tasted two vintages of Chardonnay, paired with bento boxes of fresh vegetable sushi. My favorite was the 2011, with beautiful crisp green apple and citrus fruit, with a healthy dose of white necterine. The 2010 was equally beuatiful if not differnt. The 2010 was a classic California Chardonnay, but more restrained, with creamy golden delicious apple, pear, vanilla, and baking spice. Two yin and yang experiences, refreshingly chilled on a hot day. At Creekside Landing, on next stop, we strolled through the vines heavy with Malbec and Petite Verdot grapes, and tasted the componant grapes that go in the Jordan’s Cabernet program. If you haven’t tasted fruit off the vine, this is a once in a lifetime opportuinty to taste the tannic Malbec skins, and the rich ripe flesh of Petite Verdot! At our final stop on the tour, with the time going all too fast, we reach the crest of the hill at Vista Point. This open air gazebo has 360 degree views of Alexander Valley, Geyserville, and peeps of Dry Creek and Chalk Hill and is an amazing viewpoint for sunset. There wasn’t a bad seat in the house, as we sat down to enjoy our tasting of Cabernet and nibbles. Starting with local cheeses, artisan bread and Jordan’s olive oil, we moved on to Sonoma miso beef, served with […]
Steven Kent Mirassou is part of the California wine industries pioneering royalty, and has grounded himself firmly in the rich soils of Livermore Valley. As one of California’s hidden wine regions, Livermore offers more than meets the eye, and Steven Kent Winery is no exception. On a hot and bright spring day, the intrepid wine blogger crew headed out to Livermore, a scant hour from San Francisco, and located in the greater Bay Area. One of many high quality local wine regions, Livermore is often overlooked as a world class growing region. However, producers like Steven Kent are making their mark and changing what we define as California wine. Founded in 1996, the winery’s original mission was to make some killer Cabernet Sauvignon in the Livermore Valley that would give Napa a run for it’s money. With the long history of Livermore Valley producing world class Bordeaux varietals. In recent years, Livermore has become known as a bedroom community supporting the Silicon Valley, and home to government institutions, but the last 20 years have changed the face of the wine business drastically. And now, on to the wines! Steven Kent Winery is home to two brands, Steven Kent, and La Rochelle. With each brand represented by it’s own winemaker, the two sisters showcase the best of what the area has to offer. While Steven Kent is focusing on the rich history of Livermore, producing some excellent Bordeaux style wines, La Rochelle maintains the family line of Central Coast wines, focuses on Pinot Noir f 2011 Steven Kent Merrillie Chardonnay – Named for Steven’s grandmother, the Merrillie Chardonnay is made from an old Wente clone. As one of the founding wineriesin Livermore, Wente has created a unique line of clones, most noteably for chardonnay and pinot noir. This wine showed rich custard, bold viscostity and tropical fruit salad. 2010 La Rochelle Chardonnay – Dutton Ranch – Morelli Lane – one of my favorite Sonoma County chard vineyards, the bright Meyer lemon notes are framed by sandlewood and baking spice. The richness is counterbalanced by the bright acid, capturing the vitality, movement, momentum, liveliness 2010 La Rochelle – Donum Estate Carneros – Bright cherry, brown sugar and molasses are dancing in a mouthful of Dr. Pepper. The clonal selection on the western block in the heart of Carneros is a luxurious blend that is indicabtive of Carneros fruit, rich and yet somehow not opulant. The forest floor and jalepeno play in the black cherry of this elegant sipper. 2009 La Rochelle Pinot Noir – Donum Estate Carneros – it sin’t often we are lucky enough to have a side by side of two different vintages. Richer and bolder than the 2010, there is black fruit, fig, and a touch of salinity on top of cherry pie filling. This is a classic Carneros Pinot, but I prefer the liveliness of the 2010. For a change of pace, the 2010 La Rochelle Pinot Noir – Soberanes Santa Lucia Highlands – is a classic example of what Santa Lucia can offer. Huge cherry and cola […]
There is something so special about mountainside fruit in Napa Valley. With both Mount Veeder and Howell Mountain boasting some famous vineyards & producers, and a very different flavor profile emerging from both of these unique areas, they are both small AVAs that hold a special place in my heart. Napa Valley has been making Cabernet Sauvignon for over 100 years. Napa can be, and generally is, synonymous with New World Cabernet. But, for some people, the stereotypical big, fruity, over powering valley floor fruit can be too much. Now of course, there are always expectations to this rule (Titus are you listening?), but in my personal and professional opinion, there is a lot to be gained by looking up. Why? In the case of Howell Mountain, the rolling hills and steep slopes have created several micro climates. Each small clearing is above the fog. When the white stuff rolls off of the ocean, and my house is socked in the pea soup, the weather on Howell Mountain is sunny, but cool. Sitting on this inversion layer, the weather flip flops, and evenings are warmer than the days, which help to maintain the heat spikes that can be more extreme down the hill. Located on the eastern side of the Napa valley, and north of Atlas Peak, Howell Moutain is roughly parallel but north of Chiles Valley and east of Srping Mountain, and St. Helena. Rocky, dry soils on the mountain are well drained, and the cooler temperatures and later bud break lead to warm summer nights. All of these factors help to create balance between acidity and sweetness, which means, complexity and richness in your glass. Yum! In the Cornerstone Cellars, the 2009 Howell Mountain Cabernet really shows these elements. Farmed organically, the Ink Grade vineyard is on the east side of Howell Mountain at 1800 feet. Producing smaller berries with an intensity of flavor, a touch of Oak Knoll Cab and Carneros Merlot are blended in. I adore this wine, and found it deep, and earthy with beautiful blue black notes of blackberry and blueberry, with cracked black pepper and dutch cocoa. The word that came to mind immediately was unctuous. At $80 it’s a splurge, but well worth it for wine lovers and a special occasion. This wine was provided by the winery for consideration, and while all opinions are my own, seriously, this is the good sh&*! Google
Que syrah, syrah, whatever will be will be. The Sierra Foothills have long been known as the hidden gem of zinfandel production, but did you know there are other secret lairs out there? Euclid Wines, a small producing winery in Napa, is producing some wonderful examples of terroir driven wine. This 2010 100% Syrah comes from a a vineyard at about 1000 feet in elevation, near a large reservoir which allowed for cool nights in the otherwise hot climate. A silky syrah with a pop of juicy acid, there were beautiful dark red fruit notes, with bergamot, blood orange and herbal touches. Classic black pepper and cherry notes linger in the cup of espresso that is this syrah. For something different, try this lovely syrah. Priced at $40 (available in 6-packs from the winery), it’s a bit pricey but worth the splurge for something unique and fun. Come back soon for a review of the Euclid Cabernet Sauvignon. This father and son partnership brings over 30 years of Napa Valley winemaking to fruition. I can’t wait to share! This wine was provided for consideration by the winery or a PR representative but all tasting notes are my own invention.
The mountaintop of Monte Belle, in the Cupertino area of the Santa Cruz Mountains, has a long history with winemakers and vineyards. As far back as the late 1800s, city dwellers wandered south to retreat and make wine. Today, Ridge is redrawing these historical vineyard lines and producing wines from these sub plots, to see the original vineyard lines in liquid form. These wines were made from select parcels from Ridge’s vineyards, retracing the original boundaries of the historical properties. Harvested in small sub-parcels, Ridge is trying to recreate the original vineyard properties and make wine with fruit harvested in small micro climates. Since these properties had unique boundaries in the original property, the resulting wines are quite different than the current releases. The tiniest move to a row or tow over creates a micro climate different that can have subtle and amazing impact on the wine. The first historical property was Torre. The Torre property was the first winery on the site of Ridge Monte Bello. Now, it’s the middle vineyard, at about 2300 feet elevation. In 1903, hte first winery was built here, but Prohibition shut them down. In the 1940s, more vineyards were planted by William Short, and Ridge bought the land in 1959. That purchase was the inspiration to start Ridge Vineyards, built from a restored Torre winery. The Torre Merlot is dark and dusty, with blue fruit, and dense cherries. There were some meaty notes and it was a bolder muscular wine. The next wine comes from what is now the Jimsomare vineyard. This property was origianlly purchased in 1888 by Pierre Klein, a bay area restaurateur with a fondness for wine. The Klein family founded Mirra Valle winery, another victim of Prohibition. In 1936, San Francisco’s Schwabacher family purchased the property, naming it Jimsomare. Today, it’s part of the lower Monte Bello Vineyard, at about 1400-2000 feet. The Klein Cab Sav had great acid, with notes of blackberries and spicy white pepper. This one is a baby but is still enjoyable. Finally we look at the Perrone property. The Perrone winery was the second winery on the property, above the existing winery. The original 180 acres were at about 2600 feet, and gave birth to the Monte Bello Winery way back in 1892. In the 40s, with the winery abandoned, William Short bought the property and vineyards below it. Now, this is the “middle” vineyard. The Perrone Cab Franc was one of my favorite wines of the day. With smoked blueberries, cinnamon, allspice and blackberry, there were black pepper and candied ginger flavors. The best part of these historical wines is that using the old vineyard maps, Ridge is able to recreate the lots and go back in time to see what the terroir of the original property lines is. It’s a fascinating look at the micro terroir of the Monte Bello area, and great fun. I hope you can enjoy some Ridge wines soon!
Sitting on top of a mountain, over looking the Silicon Valley, I was standing watching the planes fly by in the warm spring weather. I always enjoy climbing Monte Bello in Cupertino, ending up at Ridge Vineyards, over looking everything below. You are only an hour from San Francisco, but you feel like you are a world away. This was an unusually warm spring day, and the crowds were out picnicking on the hill top and enjoying the views. On this trip, our illustrious leader Christopher Watkins, brought together a group of wine and food bloggers at one of his quarterly media tastings – which are always eventful. On this visit, Christopher, a musician at his core, had something up his sleeve. There would be no traditionally tasting, as we had come to know it. This time, when we walked in the barn, we found bottles that were brown bagged, hiding the gold within. On the screen in front of us, the history of jazz. In our ears, we had Miles Davis, Sonny Rollins, and Thelonious Monk.What was this madness? Our task was to take each of four wines and pair them with the song that we found most provocatively paired with it. Given that I know zilch about jazz, the only word that came to my mind was skat! Yes, I said skat. That’s what I think of when I think of jazz; I was feeling much like the beatnik in Peggy Sue Got Married – you know the line, “Change your destiny Peggy Sue! Marry me and change your destiny!”. In my head, I’m thinking, listen to the jazz Thea! Listen to this, and change your destiny! First up, the 2001 Monte Bello. The smoky rich berry notes were mirrored by bright acid, black pepper and allspice. There was delicious chewy leather, and blackberry spice but it was subdued and not jammy. My pairing was Paul’s Pal by Sonny Rollins. Wine number two, the 2000 Monte Bello, was dark and smoky, and a bit bold. I found fig notes and heavy sediment. There was more fruit coming out as it opened up in the glass, with some excellent earthy background. It was a mysterious wine and So What by Miles Davis was on my mind. Next, we tasted the 1999 Lytton Springs zinfandel. This older wine hid sticks and stones in the smoky prune background, with cigar box and spice rack. I found a hint of strawberries in balsamic vinegar and cranberry on the end, with lingering thoughts offruit roll up.. The Bemsha Swing from Thelonious Monk seemed the natural pairing. The final wine in the first flight was the 1997 Geyserville. This was an in your face wine for being so old, and was quite candied with brambly notes. There was quite a bit of dirt and white pepper as well as cedar and sweet cherry. I could see a sarsaparilla at an old west bar in this wine, and even though I was supposed to pick the 4th song, I still chose […]