Quinticentually Quintessa

_MG_0049Earlier 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 luxury to taste the different blends and different vintages really shows a wine lover how wines can develop over time, but also how particular vineyard sites, soil, and blending decisions impact the final result — which make no mistake — was yummy.

The Quintessential Quintessa is $125 per person, and advanced reservations are required.  I promise, it’s worth every penny!  I look forward to going back and experiencing it again soon!  Alternately, you can book an Estate Tasting, which will also be delicious and informative.

**There are no tasting notes on this post on purpose, because I encourage you to form your own opinions about the wine.  However, if I was forced to choose, I’d highly recommend the unctuous and delicious Cabernet based blends, particularly the 2010 and the older vintages that have surpassed their awkward teenage years.  The discussion of the different vineyard blocks and types of soil ties directly in to each vintage, blending decisions and final results, which is part of the fascinating study of wine.  Go forth and taste them for yourself!**

Special thanks to Fineman PR for arranging this visit.


Live Blogging: Trione Red Wine

The 2009 Trione Red Wine is a Bordeaux style wine, from Alexander Valley in northern Sonoma County.

69% Cabernet

12% Merlot

7% Petite Verdot

6% Malbec


This elegant and velvety wine was fermented separately and then blended after vinification.  Classic flavors of cassis, blueberries and deep blue and red fruits this is a great bottle for a steak.  $48

Steven Kent Winery – tradition and trailblazers

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 flavors come from this vineyard that is named for a Mexican land grant in Monterey County.  Originally planted by the Pisoni family (of Gary’s and Rosella’s fame), the Soberanes vineyard is next to Gary’s and shows many of the same flavor profiles of bold, rich red fruit while maintaining the acid that is so wonderful in the cool foggy areas of the highlands.

One of the crowd favorites was the 2005 La Rochelle Pinot Noir – Sleepy Hollow Vineyard.  Having an older wine to compare with a fresher wine reveals carmel, mushroom and earthy notes where the fruit has fallen back to reveal a spicy and bold wine.  Comparatively, the 2009 La Rochelle Sleepy Hollow was full of beautiful purple and black fruit, with a beautiful bold finish and a touch of tart cherry on the finish.  It was a mixed bag around the table which was the favorite!

Moving on from the Pinot Noirs of La Rochelle, we delved deeper in to the wines of Steven Kent.  Making red wines that can compete with the big boys of Napa is no easy feat, particularly in an upstart region such as Livermore.  However, these wines have terroir, freshness, and interes – which is often chanllenign to find amonst the sea of sameness in that other valley.

2010 Steven Kent The Premier – This reserve Cabernet is dark and dusty, with a pocketful of bittersweet cocoa.  A touch of chewy beef jerky gives this some structure and denseness that was a beautiful finish.

One of my favorites, the 2010 Steven Kent Cabernet Franc was one of my favorites.  I love Cab Franc, primarily because it has an earthy note to it that gives complexity tot he fruit forwardness.  This Cab Franc had dried olives, tobacco, and stewed meat and was a Velvet Elvis painting waiting in a Vegas hotel room.  While Cab Franc is known for it’s green and herbaceous notes, this was a perfect balance of herbal and floral notes without being green bean or green pepper.

Wanting to make beautiful complex elegant wines that tell a story is one of the reasons why the winery was founded, and the flagship wine, the 2009 Lineage, is the culmination of this effort.  This blend is the best selection of each base wine, with a foundation of Cabernet Sauvignon, and the blending components are added one layer at a time.  With Cabernet Franc, Petite Verdot, Merlot,and of course, Cabernet Sauvignon, this is a treat for the senses.  Here, in the LIvermore Valley, you are transported to another place and another time, where the expression of the place is in the glass.

If you go to Livermore, be sure to stop by Steven Kent Winery!  You have your choice between a traditional tasting bar, and a seated reserve tasting with pairings.  In the warmer months, the outdoor seating can be paired with fresh pizza from the oven.  Enjoy!

Special thanks to Steven Mirrassou for his hospital and passion, and for sharing a wonderful afternoon in the reserve room with us.

*Editor’s note: thanks to a corrupt data card, I am missing the pictures of the wonderful food pairing in the reserve room.  you’ll just have to go find out for yourself!


Baby done a bad bad thing…

Where is my John Wayne

Where is my prairie son

Where is my happy ending

Where have all the cowboys gone

Apparently, they are in Napa!  there is just something about a cowboy.  In this case, it’s the Bad Boy on the 2007 Bad Boy Red, by Rcca Family Vineyards in Napa.  This little baby is 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, 33% Cabernet Franc, 17% Merlot, and 10% Petite Verdot, but the only thing that is Bordeaux about this is the blend itself.  This is a big, bold, California Cab, with blackberry and plum notes up front.  There is a lot of baking spice in the nose, and the palate has juicy blue & black fruit.  I also found leather, tobacco, notes of cinnamon, vanilla, and dense chewy blackberries followed by cherries.

The Bad Boy Red forms its base from the Cabernet Sauvignon grown at the Collineetta Vineyard stie in Coombsville, which departs from a classic Napa cab and makes it a great choice for a BBQ or a big steak.his wine is a from the Rocca vineyards in Yountville and Coombsville, and area that is well known for producing some of Napa’s best Cabernet.  The Coombsville climate is unique in Napa, since the fog from San Pablo bay breezes in and cools down the fruit.  The further east you go, the warmer you will get, which has a big impact on the terroir of the area.

This Bad Boy was sent to me by Rocca Vineyards.  i’m sorry to say he is married, and a doctor, and he was not in the bottle.  the juice was good though!

Are you ready for some meatballs?

Those of us who great up in the 80s will appreciate Morty’s summer camp trip on the lake at the end of the summer, Wudy da Wabbit’s run through the woods, and Tripper & Roxanne’s canoeing as they sang Let’s Walla Walla down by the mango tree.

This summer, I will be doing a lot of Walla-ing, and this is just a sneak peak at one of the wineries.  L’ecole No. 41. resides in a 1915 schoolhouse, just outside of Walla Walla.  The first wine I am sampling from them is the 2006 Perigree, a Bordeaux blend of 56% Cabernet Sauvignon, 34% Merlot, and 10% Cabernet Franc.  The name has an interesting history as Perigee is the point at which the moon is closet to the earth.  the winery uses this name to express their wish to be close tot he earth, and to reflect the earthy character of the wine.

When I first opened the wine, I got a lot of dark blue and black fruit, including black cherry, blackberry and fig.  Then the power went out.  Suffice it to say, I couldn’t continue my tasting notes, and I did continue drinking.  This was a very pleasant wine, with lots of fruit adn medium body.  I rather enjoyed it but I’m not sure about the $49 price tag.    I look forward to getting to know more of their wines, as they sent me a large selection of current releases.

While my summer camp beared no resembleance to camp North Star, we did sing.  Just not in canoes.  And I was a CIT for one summer, but they CERTAINLY had more fun than I; thank you to L’ecole no. 41 for the tasty treat i enjoyed while plunged in to darkness.  No thanks to PG&E for the darkness.

The Adventures of Buckaroo Bonzai and other tales of blending

First – apologies for this post being late on arrival.  As some of you may know, I have been dealing with some personal issues that have been hammering me in to the ground like Wile E. Coyote under an Acme Anvil.  I’m trying to come up for air, so here goes.  Please excuse the lack of video, since I still don’t entirely know how to work my Flip.  I will learn someday, but not today.  And the lack of pictures is mystifying since I swear I took some of at least the bottles, but they are lost.  C’est la vie, tech fail!

One recent Sunday, before the madness of Christmas, and after the food orgy of Thanksgiving, a crew of bloggers descended upon the good graces of Paul Askiman and Conn Creek Winery’s AVA Room to create our own personalized blends of wine.

The Conn Cree AVA Room is a one of a kind wine adventure, where mad scientists wine lovers, and it this case, some bloggers, can learn how Conn Creek blends its flagship wine Anthology.

The AVA Room was developed in Conn Creek’s search to find the best Cabernet Sauvignon that Napa had to offer, and in doing so, they found fruit sources from almost all of the 14 sub appellations in Napa.  In this secret room at the back of winery, next to the gardens, you will find 15 different barrels of Cabernet Sauvignon and a barrel each of the classic Bordeaux blending grapes Malbec, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Petite Verdot.

The Cabernet barrels are grouped by major profile, like Soft, Supple, Complex, Rich and Bold.  One of the fascinating things about this experience is that as a wine ages in barrel, it may not stay in its category, as it becomes more complex or develops some backbone and loses some of the plush fruit upfront.  This is what makes wine such a tremendous beast.  Each Cab barrel starts out as 100% new French Oak, and eventually matures in 50% new / 50% neutral Oak, which also contributes tot he changes in the wine profile.

I apologize in advance for not remembering all of the different component wines – I just lost my mojo and can’t find my booklet.  If i do, I’ll be sure to share!
The base wine contenders that I particularly enjoyed were:

  • Atlas Peak – Stagecoach Vineyard
  • Rutherford – Conn Creek Vneyard
  • Stags Leap – Clos du Val Vineyard

After sampling the different options for the base wine (the Cabernet) I got to work creating my master blend.

First, I tried 50% Atlas Peak – Stagecoach, 15% Rutherford Conn Creek, 25% Stags Leap Clos Du Val, and a splash of Petite Verdot and Cab Franc.  While I liked this wine, it was the first one i tried and I found it a big of a fruit bomb with blackberry pie, subtle spice, and firm tannins.  I thought I wanted a bit more structure, so I moved on to Blend 2 while keeping careful track of this beginning.

The 2nd try was

  • 45% Atlas Peak
  • 15% Conn Creek
  • 20% Stags Leap
  • 20% Cab Franc.

This was totally different than Blend 1, and it was too earthy and I wasn’t sure if I liked it.  Back to the drawing board.

Blend 3 was another experiment.

  • 50% Rutherford Hozhone
  • 15% Conn creek
  • 20% stags leap
  • 15% cab franc.  Given that this was a totlaly differnet base wine, it wasn’t waht i was looking for.

My final blend wa a variation on Blend 2, which after much tasting and talking, was widely agreed upon (mostly by Marcy Gordon) to be the best.  Yep THE best.  Therefore, I ended my Dr. Bunson Burner experiments with:

  • 45% Atlas Peak
  • 15% Conn Creek
  • 20% Stags Leap
  • 5% Petitie Verdot
  • 15% Cabernet Franc

As I put the finishing touches on my blend, we snacked on Sift Cupcakery baked goods, and the little ginger man called out my name.  Thus, was born, the 2009 GingerMan Bordeaux Blend that I hope to enjoy at the Wine Bloggers Conference in Walla Walla in June.  I really enjoyed making this wine, but I know with a little time to settle together and meld the flavors, it will become even better.  I look forward to writing about that tasting in the coming months.

The moral of this story is – for $95 you get 2 hours of hysterical fun and a LOT of wine, education on the different sub-AVAs of Napa Valley, a priceless learning experience of how the Pros do it, and…your very own bottle of wine to take home.  This is a MUST do if you are a wine geek, and you find yourself in Napa.  Considering that many Napa Cabs cost $95 just for the wine, this is a tremendous value and I reccomend it to any one who wnats a unique experience in Wine Country.  In Fact, I gave my mother a “custom blending session” gift at christmas, and my dear old brother was asking where his was.  I told him I’d consider it for his birthday if he was a good boy.

There are several places that do custom blending sessions for consumers, including Judd’s Hill (3 bottles), Bennet Lane, Fontanella (case only), and Ravenswood (half bottle).  There are probably more, but I haven’t heard of them – yet.  You can also avail yourself of Crushpad’s FuseBox, where you can blend your own samples at home and then send away for a case of custom labeled wine.  I really think that for the value and the experience, Conn Creek gets a gold medal!

Conn Creek can be found on the Silverado Trail at Conn Dam Road in Napa.  They graciously hosted us in the AVA room and were lovely!  Thanks again for your hospitality Paul!


Today’s wine is brought to you by…

The Letter A!

You remember those closing credits on Seasame Street right? “Seasame Street is brought to you by the letter…”?  Well my friend Amy @educatedpalates, told me about the Alphabet Challenge that she was participating in with some other bloggers.  The Alphabet challenge pushes us to try wines frmo every letter of the alphabet.  you could go crazy and do it all by varietal, A to Z, but I’m not sure I know of any Z grapes I’d want to try, and i’m certerain that I do NOT want to try white Zinfandel.

Most of the others who are participating are doing it out of order, but I thought it would be more of a challenge, as well as a push to get some more Century Club grapes under my belt, if I did it starting with A.  I could start with Albarino, because I have some in the cellar, but given the chill in the air and the misty fog, I’m not much in the mood for a chilled white.  So i will start with A is for Audelssa.

So I am going to try to Producers and Varietals, starting to with the letter A.

A is for Audelssa, that makes my mouth sing.

A is for awesome, cuz that’s just the thing.

A is for audacious for that is what i found

A is for Audelssa, who makes Glen Ellen Proud.

On my recent visit to Audelssa, I tasted through thier current releases with Amy aka @educatedpalates.  I had never been there and I was excited to try out the juice.  Audelssa focuses on artisinal wines in the Bordeaux tradition, and is also releasing Rhone blends this spring.  I must say, I particularly enjoyed their Bordeaux blends Summit and Summit Reserve, and am looking forward to the Rhone.

The 2007 Summit is a Right Bank style belnd of 38% Cabernet Sauvignon, 35% Merlot, 12.5% Cabernet Franc, 10% Malbec, and 4.5% Petite Verdot.  I found it earthy, rich and chewy with a flavor of underripe blackberries and a floral aroma.  At $52, while it was interesting, I’d like to wait to see how ti develops in the next couple of years.  HOLD

My favorite of the tasting of 5 wines was the 2007 Summit Reserve, which is 75% Merlot, 25% Cabernet Franc.  Only 100 cases were produced, and it was a deliciously rich blend with plum & blackberry flavors followed by cloves and spice.  The lush wine was complex, with really nice blue & black fruit but a nice backbone and finish.  It’s a bit pricey at $125, but I’d say it’s worth the splurge for a special occasion.  If you have deep pockets, BUY this wine.

Stay tuned for B-Z and thanks to all our group participants!


It’s Super! It’s Saintly! It’s LIVE!

I am really excited to be co-hosting  St Supéry for Taste Live on July 11th.  Since St Supéry has been producing outstanding wines from their 1500+ acres in Napa Valley since the early 1980’s, and since I have written about them several times before here and here, I am really looking forward to this opportunity to taste them along with you on Twitter with several groups around the country, and hundreds on line.

At  St Supéry, their wine making history stems from the Skalli family’s French roots, and Bordeaux varietals are the particular focus.  Additionally, St Supéry is well known for their Moscato and Chardonnay.

We will have the opportunity to taste through the following delights and talk live the returning star winemaker, Michael Scholz. Scholz is a 6th generation family winemaker from Australia’s Barossa Valley, and has created the distinctive style that has made St. Supéry a landmark destination in Napa Valley.  He is new to Twitter, and will be answering questions about the wines for us as we taste.

St. Supéry farms according to sustainable viticultural practices, including use of cover crops, estate composting, and natural predators.  On my recent adventure at the winery, Vineyard Manager Josh Anstey showed us how they do this, and walked us through their demonstration vineyard as well as thier practices.

In 2008, Wine & Spirits Magazine named St. Supéry “Outstanding Winery of the Year”, and it really shows!  Their signature property, The Dollarhide vineyard, is an historic cattle and horse ranch nestled among the hills of Napa Valley.  It was here that Robert Skalli, the wineries founder, planted the Bordeaux grapes in the early 1980s, and developed the Rutherford estate property as the home of the winery and their first class Cabernet Sauvignon vineyards.

These are just a few of many reasons why you should join us for our tasting on July 11th!  We will be experiencing four superstar star wines:

If you are here in the San Francisco Bay Area,  head on down to the Jug Shop on Polk & Pacific, where you can taste live some of the winery crew.  For full details, you can visit their events page here.

If you want to host your own Taste Live with St Supéry, you can find out how by going over to the website now!

See you in the Twittersphere at 6pm PT on July 11th!



To learn more about Twitter Taste Live, click the logo!