Chinon: The Lady of the Lake

Chinon might well be best known for it’s Chateau, and it’s central role in Joan of Arc’s story.  But in this case, Chinon is known for it’s Cabernet Franc, and it’s other wines.


Chinon is located in the region of Touraine, which is located in the central Loire Valley, in northwestern France.  Chinon is especially known for it’s Cabernet Franc, although up to 10% of Cabernet Sauvignon can be blended in.  There is also some Chenin Blanc planted in the region.  Cabernet Franc from Chinon is quite varied and can be bold and grippy, or light and minerally, but both aqre quite affordable and great alternatves to some of the more expensvie regions in France.

2012 Domaine de noiré soif de tendresse chinon – $16.00

When I first opened this, it was very dusty, closed and full force potpourri.  But now, after an hour, it’s coming around to lusciousness.  On the nose, violets, rosepetals and grassy notes.  The palate opens up to reveal a medium bodied grippy red with prune, cherry, wild strawberry, coffee, and smoke notes.



2011 Les pensees de Pallus – $20

Smokey with perfume notes, pencil lead, and bright raspberreis, the peppery notes open up to sour cherry, blackberry, and chewy stewed meat


School Daze – Further Adventures in Wine

Society of Wine educators logoAs you may have read, here on le blog, last fall I was studying for my CSW certification (Certified Specialist of Wine) through SF Wine School.  Recently, I learned that I didn’t make the cut; unsurprisingly, with only 65% of first time test takers passing, I narrowly missed my pass rate.  After my initial fury at myself for missing 9 itty questions for the required 75% passing rate, I realized that this was a great learning experience, and an opportunity for me to share what I learned here.

Studying your passion isn’t always easy.  It can turn in to a job, which, in my personal opinion, makes passion die.  A little of my passion did indeed die, as I was struggling to understand some regions that I was ill equipped to understand properly, along with work obligations, and family life.  Yep, didn’t I say it was my own fault?  I lost focus.  But I’m back!  And I’m going to share my week by week re-examination of the material as I follow along with the official Certified Wine Educators online prep course.10580071_10152495237266482_5417861720379461881_n

My downfall?  By far, Germany.  Perhaps if I put some Falco on in the background, along with Nena and The Scorpions, the Pradikat levels will soak in to my brain more thoroughly.  Rock me Amadeus in the Rhine with the Riesling!

While some weeks (namely the chemistry portion) aren’t as fascinating, there is a wine tasting component that is going to not only be really interesting and eye opening, but also help me drill in my head where each region is and what it’s terroir is.  I will be the first one to admit, 5 years ago, I was not convinced that French wine was going to be my new love; but here I am, enthralled with Burgundy and the Rhone, and enamored of Languedoc and the Loire.

So here goes:  Week 1:  Wine Composition & Wine Faults


I won’t bore you with the details of the winemaking process (unless you really want to know…) but the pairing is Chinon, red Chinon.  This Cabernet Franc based wine from the Touraine region of the Central Loire Valley (France) is one that I am less than familiar with, so I look forward to exploring it more, both on my own and with my study buddies.

Stay tuned on January 26th for my Chinon tasting exploration!

And in February, winemaking, sparkling wine, and then…yes, France!



Change is in the air – Stepping Stone by Cornerstone

When Cornerstone Cellars burst on the scene with their sister label, Stepping Stone, it was an existing time for wine lovers.  The quiet powerhouse of Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon had the opportunity to move in to some fun and interesting varietals, such as Syrah, Cabernet Franc, and a beautiful rose of Syrah.

Recently, with the leadership of General Manager Craig Camp and winemaker Jeff Keene, the Stepping Stone label has grown up:  Now, Stepping Stone by Cornerstone (Cornerstone Black Label) represents the best in class of the support cast of characters that make Cabernet Sauvignon, and Bordeaux, so sexy.

Cornerstone Stepping Stone Cabernet FrancWith the new labels, Stepping Stone by Cornerstone slides seamlessly in to the Cornerstone lineup.  The elegant white on black label mirrors the black on white labels of the Cornerstone Cabernet lineup and makes a bold statement about where these wines lie on the quality and flavor spectrum.

My favorites (well ok they really are ALL favorites but…) is the 2011 Stepping Stone by Cornerstone Napa Valley Cabernet Franc.  When I stopped by the see the gang at Cornerstone earlier this year, I tasted through the lineup and once again, the Cab Franc stand out.

I’ve always been a huge fan of Cab Franc in general, and Cornerstone’s in particular.  The 2011 has all of the savory herbaciouness that makes Cab Franc so unique, with a pop of raspberry and plum.  Hiding in the back of the mouth, I get dried herbs, French lavelddar, and tobacco along with some dark chocolate dancing on my tounge.

This is a silky, rich, unctuous wine, but it’s also bright.  With the herbal backbone it’s a great pairing for herbed chicken, pepper steak or pretty much anything.  For $45 this is an affordable luxury that you can share with your friends to warm up on a chilly late spring evening.

Here in Northern California, we aren’t sure what season it is yet.  We had about 3 days of high summer, followed by a day of winter.  It’s now calmed back in to Spring, so I say open a bottle of Cornerstone tonight and make it choose your season for you!

Corenrstone Cellars is located in yountville, just north of the town of Napa.  If you’re making a trip to Napa, make sure you stop in.  You won’t be sorry!


Putting the pieces together

Brick by brick, Stone by stone.
That’s how you build a castle, and also a successful winery.

Tonight, the weather is crisp, and the rain has cleared up.  Butternut squash soup is cooking and I’m sipping on Cornerstone Cellars’ sister label Stepping Stone 2009 Syrah from Napa Valley.  I’m a huge syrah fan, and this is a great pick for budget minded wineaux.  It’s a great example of the grape, and rivals syrahs that retail for $35-40 easily.

The earthy plums and blue/black fruit come out in this rich bold wine, perfect for winter sipping.  It’s bold and velvety smooth, with hints of black pepper and licorice.  I really love this wine, and for $20 you simply can’t wrong.  MUST BUY

With the soup that was bubbling away, we had a touch of Creme Fraiche and bacon.  I think I might be able to eat an ENTIRE bucket of Creme Fraiche but that’s another story.

Please, go out and buy some Stepping Stone today!  My faves are the Cab Franc and the Syrah, so get both.  You can’t go wrong!

Howell at the moon

Recently, I was invited to participate in a tasting of all Howell Mountain wines here in San Francisco.  This rare opportunity to taste such a selection was presented by Howell Mountain Vintners & Growers, and featured over 25 producers from this gem in Napa Valley, pouring primarily Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandel, with a few other treats as well.

The Howell Mountain appellation is located due east of St. Helena, and is in the heart of the Vaca Mountain range.  Anything that is grown above the 1400 ft elevation mark is considered Howell Mountain, and this elevation is what gives it it’s distinct style.  the appellation boundary is formed where the marine layer fog) rises up from the valley floor, while the mountain top is poking above the fog.  When the fog rolls off the ocean and into Napa, the weather up on teh mountain is cool.  Due to teh altitude, the temperatures are warmer in the evening, and cooler in teh day – teh exact opposite of the valley.  There arent’ as many heat spikes, and it gets twice as much rainfall as the valley floor.

There are two distinct soil types on the mountain and rocky, porous soil allows the water to drain, and warm summer nights produce fruit that has a great balance of acidity and sugar.  The first consists of decomposed volcanic ash, called “tufa”, and the second is red clay that is high in iron. Because both soil types have poor nutrients, they stress the vines, producing intense wines from small clusters and berries.


I tasted through some interesting wines, and the overall dominant flavor in the Cabs was graphite and vegetal.  this doesn’t tend to be my favorite flavor profile, but there were some stand out winners.  Here are some highlights.

Atlas Peak – 2005 Howell Mtn Cabernet Sauvignon is aged in 50% new French oak for 20 months.  A 98%, 2% Petite Verdot, i tasted black fruit, smooth, big & juicy.  It was a very purple wine, tasting and in color.  It had a slightly tannic finish with dark earth.

Blue Hall – 2005 Camiana Cabernet Sauvignon.  BEST OF SET (CAB)  With only 160 cases produced, this tiny winery practices sustainable and organic farming techniques.  This 100% Cab was planted in 2000, and is aged 2 years in all new French Oak.  2 separate blocks – one of clone 7 and one of clone 337, were blended in to this wine tasting of blackberry juice, baking species and earth.  It was complex and smooth and one of my faves.

Howell at the Moon – 2005 Howell Mtn Cabernet Sauvignon  Chocolate, blackberries, smoke, deep & rich, firm structure, blueberries, dark fruit.

La Jota – 2004 Howell Mountain Selection Cabernet Sauvignon – Rich and dusty fruit, bright sweet berries.  chocolate, blackberry, very fruit forward with cherries, strawberries.  Soft and lush.

Neal Family Vineyards – 2005 Howell Mountain Estate Cabernet Sauvignon – Coffee, smoke, brambly blue and black fruit.  Fresh and lush with red and blue berries.  Logan berry, blueberry, sweet plums.

Go out and explore Howell Mountain!