Please pass the Claret Carson!

If you’re a fan of the period piece Downtown Abbey as I am, you are no doubt experiencing withdrawal symptoms now that they are on hiatus for the rest of the year.  Yet, I am always enthralled at the ritual involved when the wine is selected by Carson and Lord Grantham, and the elaborate pouring rituals begin.

This ritual is, of course, part and parcel for the Bordeaux wine trade in years past.  British “Claret” increased in popularity in Britain when Eleanor of Aquitaine married in to the royal family, paving the way for Bordeaux exports.  At that time, most wine was from Graves, and was called “clariet”, which is why the name still sticks today.  Until relatively recently, the English would buy barrels of wine, import them across the channel, and bottle them themselves, translating the somewhat confusing French labeling system in to a more English friendly naming convention.

Today, we don’t have to go to such great lengths to get the delicious wines from the Bordeaux region.  We are able to purchase, and taste, wines of wide variety and price point; In fact, we don’t have to go through quite the elaborate decanting rituals that Carson the Butler does in Downton Abbey, in thanks to modern bottling techniques and cleaner process.

This month, as I study for my CSW, we are meandering through France.  I’ve already talked a bit about the Loire Valley region, but now we are delving in to serious, hard core, confusing, amazing, enthralling, Bordeaux.  Bordeaux is located roughly halfway down the western coast of France, where the Girdone river meets the Atlantic Ocean, and moves inland to the southeast where there Gironde and the Dordogne meet to form the Garrone River.

 

Image courtesy of Wikipedia Commons

 

Bordeaux is a challenge for me, with over 30 distinct subregions, Left Bank, Right Bank, middle bank (Entre-deux-Mars) and the uniqueness that comes with each of these.  After tasting a beautiful array of Bordeaux a the Union des Grand Crus last month, I have come to discover that my heart lies on the Right Bank, with the silken elegance of the Merlot based wines, but there are several areas of the Cabernet driven Left Bank that call to me as well.  The myth of Bordeaux as an old man’s luxury has been dispelled, and today, it is an accessible option to even the most budget friendly wine drinker.

First, some 411 on the basics.  Yes, I know this is overly simplifying the details quite a bit, but going in to detail on the 37 distinct regions is just too overwhelming for most wine lovers, unless you are a Francophile.  For a long time, I didn’t like the tannic, seemingly thin, overly astringent flavors in the Bordeaux that I had experienced.  Fortunately, there is such a wide array of wine available, that there really is a wine for everyone, at every budget.

The primary regions of the Left Bank are Graves, Medoc, and Pauillac, and are Cabernet based blends.  The Right Bank includes my favorite Saint Emilion and Pomerol, which are Merlot based.  Smack dab in the middle of them both is the no man’s land of Entre Deux Mers, the No Man’s Land of Bordeaux.  Thanks to the good folks at Planet Bordeaux, I have some great examples to share with you.

2005 Barons de Rothschild Reserve Special – Pauillac – A Left Bank powerhouse (this beauty was hiding in my cellar.  At the time of purchase, it was $18, current vintage is about $30).  This middle aged gentleman deserves some decanting, as he is a bit rough around the edges.

2010 Chateau de Landiras – Graves another Left Bank powerhouse, Graves.  So named due tot he intensely gravelly soil, this cabernet based wine is minerally with a graphite nose, rose petals, dried flowers, and a kiss of Brett.  This is a wine that needs a steak, and an hour int he decanter but a lovely example of how complex Bordeaux can be, even at the $20 price point.

2010 Chateau La Grangere – Saint Emilion Grand Cru – this plush and velvety Right Bank beauty oozes dark chocolate and espresso, with ripe black plums and tobacco leaf and dried fig.  This blend of 75% Merlot, 20% Cab Sav, and 5% Cab Franc speaks to all those Merlot haters and calls out, drink me!  Love me!  $25

Laffittte de Laujac – Medoc – the Medoc is at the very northern tip of the Left Bank, inching closer to the Atlantic Ocean.  Full of savory herbal notes and stewed fruit, this elegant olive toned wine is bursting with blackberries, currents, and fig.  Reminiscant of a class Napa Cab from teh 70s, there is great potential here for duck, Cassoulet, and other hearty dishes.  $30

I could go on for days at the variety of Bordeaux available, but these are just some value priced examples of what you can find.  There are so many options out there, from so many smaller regions in the Bordeaux area, at all price points.  So what are you waiting for?  Go out and experiment!  And remember, Lefty Loosy (Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc), Righty Tighty (Merlot).  I love the velvety softness of the Right Bank, but if you let the Left sit and stew for a while in a decanter, it is the perfect accompaniment for heartier meals.Enjoy!

Special thanks to Planet Bordeaux for sending me these wines to experiement with.

Baconlicous is St. Supery!

When you tIMG_8383hink of wine tasting, I am going to guess that you don’t typically think of line up like this.  Think of your comparative literature class from college, toss in some bacon, and you have St. Supery’s Bacon and Bordeaux tasting experience summed up.

Having tasted the wines at this Napa Valley stalwart several times, I knew that at the very least, I was going to enjoy my tasting experience, but this special tasting brings it to a new level.  Conducted upstairs, in the newly remodeled private tasting lounge, these special tastings are a world apart from the hustle and bustle of the normal rush in the tasting room.

For our tasting, we paired each of the Bordeaux style wines with a bacon-licious dish, each specifically made by the winery chef to play off of the wines.

IMG_83892012 Napa Valley Estate Cabernet Sauvignon paired with a Quesedilla with smoked mozzarella and…bacon with green salsa verde.  Both the Rutherford estate fruit as well as my favorite Dollarhide go in to this blend which has fresh loganberry, pink peppercorn, ripe plums and ginger notes.  The quesedilla brought out dark spices and blue fruit, as well a ground black pepper.

Next, the 2010 Napa Vallely Estate Elu, which is 76% Cabernet Sauvignon, 17% Merlot, 4% Petite Verdot, 2% Malbec, and 1% Bacon (well, really 1% Cabernet Franc.  This is St. Supery’s signature red wine, and has a beautiful Bergemot nose with savory herbal qualities.  Dark cherries, dried lavender, and blackberries in cassis syrup were paired with a classic BLT.
IMG_8390

Next, the 2010 Rutherford Estate Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, which is 87% Cabernet Sauvignon, 11% Merlot and a touch of Cab Franc and Petite Verdot, all from Rutherford.  This unctuous red wine was full of coffee and chocolate, with cracked black pepper.  Paired with a Toma Grilled Cheese with applewood Smoked Bacon, the earthy and herbal notes really sang out.

FiIMG_8391nally, the 2010 Dollarhide Elevation is 93% Cabernet Sauvignon and 7%  Malbec.  Dense and deep blackberry notes emerge from this “accidental” blend.  While it is always a blend, it’s typically over 90% Cab to soften the punch.  The Malbec adds in a dense blue fruit, with young & lively notes of dark chocolate and espresso.  As this was our dessert course, it was paired with the “Happy Childhood” – An almond butter & estate fig jam sandwich, with cassis candied bacon.

Yum!While this special tasting experience isn’t always on the menu, be sure to call ahead and make reservations for any of St. Supery’s special tastings.  Experiences start at only $35 per person (group of 4 minimum) and are an event to remember.  I can’t wait to go back and experience another version of this event as the estate garden grows through the seasons!

A special thank you to St. Supery and Scott Tracy, Guest Experience Manager for a truly spectacular tasting experience.

 

The wine and bacon were provided by St. Supery, but all of the sound effects and accolades are purely mine!

IMG_8401

 

A King of Cabs

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

HALL Wines: An Art Treasure steeped in Cabernet

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.

Hall WinesArriving 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

 

Live Blogging: Vineyard 511 Diamond Mountain Cabernet

The 2010 Vineyard 511 Cab is distinctly Diamond Mountain.  I love hillside fruit, and this is no exception.

Rich and lush, but with a beautiful bright note hiding under the blackberry, this cab has dusty notes of coffee and chocolate.

The tiny production of 160 cases will not last long, so go get this lush gem!

Cabernet all day!

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 BeckstofferBlake 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 of Napa Valley winemakers moderated by Paula Kornell and including Heidi Peterson BarrettCelia WelchMartha McClellanAmy AikenSara Fowler and Dawnine Dyer. A panel discussion and tasting exploring the blending of Cabernet Sauvignon with master winemakers noted for their high-end Napa Valley wines.

Tickets are now available online at www.lincolntheater.org or by calling 707-944-9900:

  • CabFestNV VIP All-Access Ticket (Limited to 100 attendees, includes Friday night VIP “Cigars & Guitars” Party, preferred seating for both concerts, Grand Tastings, Private Tastings, VIP Lounge): $500
  • Grand Tastings Only: Two-Day Pass $225 & Single-Day Pass $125
  • Kickoff Concert (Jeff Bridges & the Abiders, Jessie Bridges): $100, $75*, $65*, $55*  (*discounts available with purchase of a Grand Tasting Pass, 20% off with a two-day pass and 10% off with a one-day pass)
  • Wine Industry Insiders “Meet-Up & Concert” (The Silverado Pickups): $10 (open to the public)

Hope to see you there!

Media passes were provided for consideration.

Jordan Royalty


IMG_2897
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

IMG_2899

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.

IMG_2910 IMG_2909

 

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!

IMG_2924IMG_2926

 

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.

IMG_2947Starting with local cheeses, artisan bread and Jordan’s olive oil, we moved on to Sonoma miso beef, served with mushrooms and endive.  Both courses were paired with the 2002 and 2009 Cabernets, two amazing examples of what can be achieved here in Alexander Valley.  The amazingly fresh 2002 tasted as if it were just bottled, and was well integrated with earthy black pepper notes and blue fruit jumping out of the glass.  The 2009, by comparison, was fresh, lively and young – and still delicious – with blackberry, lavender, and herbs de provence.  As we sat chatting and tasting, it was easy to see our glasses emptied and refilled as we sighed away the afternoon on the mountain top.IMG_2951

From the wine lover to the wine geek, the Jordan Estate Tour & Tasting is the perfect experience for any one who wants to learn more about the proprey and the products produced here.  For $120 per person, you have an amazing experience to remember.IMG_2942IMG_2941

The bloggers on this preview tour were guests of Jordan Winery

 

Howell Mountain Cabernet has a special place in my heart!

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

Rockaway baby on the hilltop, take 2~

Here we are, several years later, and the Rockaway blogger scandal of past years is – I hope – a distant memory.

2007 Rockaway Cabernet Sauvignon, Alexander Valley*The fog has come in, fall is rearing it’s ugly head after a teaser week of Indian Summer, and I wanted a big red wine.

The 2007 Rodney Strong Rockaway Cabernet Sauvignon is from the vineyard of the same name in Alexander Valley, somewhere between 225 and 700 feet in elevation.  This 100% Cab is a huge monster right out of the bottle, with bitter chocolate, espresso, chicory and blackberry notes followed by cedar & menthol.

When I run this through an aerator, it immediately softens up to show more of the blackberry, but the black licorice is also coming forward.  Underlying the leather and subtle black pepper there is a tinge of cherry fruit.

One hour, three aerators and some other wine later, it was luscious and rich with mellow tannins.  A touch of chewy leather remained but mostly what was left was dark blue and black fruit covered in dark chocolate.

I can see this wine being an excellent match with a big piece of steak, after some time in the decanter.  If you want to splurge and impress yoru friends by not buying Napa, TRY IT!

 

Thanks to Rodney Strong for sending me another tasty winter treat!

High on a hill

There’s a lonely goat herd, yodeleeellooooheeho!  Or in this case, there are some horses, some cows and a whole lot of scrub brush.  Up on top of Atlas Peak, VinRoc creates micro crafted small lot Cabernet Sauvignon.  Above the fog line, overlooking the Foss Valley, where open pastures and oak trees haven’t been overtaken by vineyards, the vineyards are actually east of Stag’s Leap, which is something you don’t realize when you are driving up the hill mandering past a way of life rarely seen in Napa these days.

The estate vineyard is located between 1500-2200 feet on volcanic rocky soils, with sunny days and cool nights.  Because of the inversion layer up here above the fog, it’s actually cooler in the summer with more average hours of sunlight than the valley floor.

We first started out on the viewing platform with the Enjolie Rose, a dry Provencal style wine made from Grenache and Barbera grapes.  It was dark salmon in color, created by fermented the juice on the skins for longer than most typical roses.  It had a sweet candy nose butwas bone dry with raspberries and strawberries, with a very low ABV.  This type of rose is perfect for summer sipping on those very hot days, and at $14 a MUST BUY for summer quaffing.

Next, we moved on to the proprietary red blend, RTW.  Now, this could be Round the World, Red Table wine, Really Terrific Wine, or Rocking Thea’s Wine – whichever you prefer, it was really lovely.  This blend of Cab and Merlot had cocoa, bright dark red berries and dusty plums, and is made by selecting the Cab that won’t be used in the Estate Cab, and blending it with purchased merlot fruit.  The spice on the finish was just what I needed as we sat in the chilly breeze on an unusually dreary day.  This is a special red wine, and at $40 is a treat you can afford more than once a year.  BUY

Once we were inside the cave behind the newly built Japanese Craftsman house and visitors center, we talked to Michael a bit about his wine making techniques.  By harvesting one ton at a time, out of the total 15 tons in the vineyard, they are able to tightly control the harvest vine by vine, creating the best wine possible.  Each ton yields free run juice, which is fermented separately from the single pressing that occurs afterwards.  Once this process is complete, the barrels are fermented separately, and then blended with the rest of the harvest, to create the superior Cab that we tasted.

The 2006 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon had rich dark black ffruit, with figs, baking spice, and black pepper.  I tasted a ot of coffee notes as well as cigar box and cedar, followed by the rich fruit of blackberries and cherries.  It did have a hint of leather and tobacco, and evolved as we sat there talking for an hour.  With only 200-300 cases produced, every bottle is a work of art.

By providing a minimally invasive environment, these truely are handcrafted wines.  Given the abundance of $100 Napa Valley Cabernets, I am not typically a big fan of the over priced cult wine.  That said, this hand made, nuanced cab is a winner in my book.  Yes, it’s pricey, but buy a bottle and hold on to it for a while.  You won’t b e sorry.  SPLURGE

VinRoc provides visitors with a unique and welcoming hospitality experience, in the middle of literally nowhere.  You will forget you are in Napa, and think you are in the foothills of horse country in Kentucky, but with really good wine.  If you’d like to visit VinRoc for yourself, they are open by appointment only and can be reached at 707-265-0943.  Please tell Michael and Kiky I sent you!

We didn't go for the almonds but…

Jordan Winery is a hidden gem in Alexander Valley.  Up a winding driveway, through the woods, and yes – even over a creek, you meander up to the upper vineyard of the winery, where the French inspired chateau winery sits.  It was founded in 1972, coincidentally the same year both I and our host john jordan, were born – based on the dream of creating world class Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay in Sonoma.  I’d say that they have accomplished that dream quite nicely.

John Jordan, CEO

Tom Jordan began the winery in 1972, when he signed the deed the day John, his son, was born; the first blocks in the lower vineyard were purchased then, and in 1974 the property was expanded to incorporate the upper ranch of the vineyards.  Construction began on the winery in 1976, and the first Cabernet Sauvignon was released in 1980.  Fast forward 25 years, and John, the prodigal son returned to the home ranch where he grew up, to take over.  John Jordan, the current CEO, took over operations in 2005 after a successful career in law.  In fact, he STILL works in law, which is rather amazing considering what it takes to run a place like Jordan well.  When he took over, John strived to find the best of old world techniques and new world know how, including sustainable farming techniques and a unique focus on a welcoming hospitality center which includes a private library tasting room as well as Michelin star worthy dining experience.

On our arrival to the winery, we were greeted by John, Lisa Mattson (@jordanwinery) – my friend and Jordon’s Communications Director, as well as a great video blogger-, Brent Young – the viticulturist, and hors d’oeuvres by Chef Todd Knoll who was tucked away in the kitchen preparing our nosh.  The 2008 Russian River Chardonnay that was paired with the tidbids was not at all what I was expecting and absolutely delightful.  I found lively citrus, stone fruit and a creamy mineral finish, while being subtle and not at all over oaked or overly full of buttery malolactic fermentation.  The lemonade flavors gave way to baking spices, green apples, and Asian pears.  this wine is treated with only 55% new French Oak, while the rest is in 1-2 year old barres; a full 25% is stainless steel fermented, which allows the fruit to shine through.  The 75% of barrel fermented wine balances out the stainless steel and the 28% malolactic fermentation rounds out the wine while retaining the crisp refreshing chard that even this ABC curmudgeon would love.  This wine was literally just released (May 1st) and at $29 I would recommend it for summer sipping.

After our chardonnay, we stepped in tot he dining room which is in the end of one wing of the tank room.  And by tank room, I don’t mean large steel drums.  I mean beautiful, hand built oak tanks, which look as if they should sing to you.  In the dining room, our tables were set with beautifully hand calligraphered corks with our names, as well as a menu card (which clearly I could not see well as it’s blurry here).

We began lunch with 3 chardonnays – the 2005, 2007, and some more of the 2008 we tasted outside.  The 2005 Chardonnay had a bit of age on it, which I found to show a touch of petrol, with creamy lemon curd and richer earthy bold profile.  37% was fermented in new french oak, with extended sur lie contact to round out the palate.  Again, the malolactic fermentation was limited to 76%, which preserved the green apple and lime zest flavors.  For me, this was my least favorite of the three whites – but if you enjoy a creamier chardonnay do try it.  the 2007 Chardonnay showed more grapefruit than the 2008, and 48% was fermented in new French Oak.  This year had more ofa spiced pear favor to it, and I can imagine it going quite well with fish dishes and apple pie.  All in all, I really identify with Jordan’s style of chardonnay, and I am still learning to love new wines that are made in the Burgundian tradition, with less oak and subtle maloactic fermention which lets the fruit speak for itself.
Next, we moved on the to Cabs.  We were treated to a lineup that is jealousy inducing, with a 1999, 2005, and 2006 cabernet Sauvgnon.  The 1999 was soft and supple, and simple a luxuriously plush wine.  The velvety black and dark red fruit showed plums, blackberries, and juicy raspberries with a touch of chocolate cherry on top.  1999 was the first harvest from the newly acquired upper vineyard, and the wine has 23.2% merlot, which adds to the soft fruti flavors.    It was aged for a year in oak barrels, but also for an additional 6 months in American Oak tanks, which produce less contact with the wine and therefore more subtle oak flavors.  Yum!  I adored this wine, and found that it went with my duck quite well (everyone else had lamb).  The 2005 has 5% of Petite Verdot bleed in, and I could really taste even that small addition.  It was earthy and robust, and much more of a masculine wine than the 1999.  I found smokey tobacco leaf, coffee and cola, with black walnuts and figs followed by a touch of anise.  With a year in oak (64% French) , it was tasty but I think it would be better over time.  The 2006 is a baby, and really needs to lay down for a while.  It was just released, and has 4.5% Petite Verdot as well as 19.5% Merlot.  It is a young wine, full of cherries and cassis, but just isn’t ready yet.
After lunch we took a little hike in the vineyard and then had dessert on the terrace with a sip of the very rare Jordan Sauterne style late harvest Sauvignon Blanc.  But, I can’t tell you about that, or I’d have to kill you.  And, given the caliber of wines being poured, and the fact that I had a sutie at the guest house fit for a queen, I did my Thirsty Girl best to NOT spit the good s*!t, and enjoyed most of my sips.
Please take a moment to stop by, by appointment only, and taste for yourself.  If you can’t make it up to the winery, check out the terrific blog!
Special thanks to everyone at Jordan for such a great day, which yes FCC folks, was gratis, and to all my blogger buddies for making the trip out!

On top of the world, looking down on…

Silicon Valley?  Yes Virginia, there is wine in the South Bay, high above the muck of Cupertino, on Monte Bello ridge.  Long before the computer chip was invented, the Monte Bello winery was started on this ridge.  At 2600 feet, the winery is located at the apex of the hill, where the upper most vineyards are.  Winding our way past the gravel trucks and up the mountain, there were precarious hairpin turns and road closures, but nothing was goign to stop me from getting to the good stuff at the top of that hill.

On one particularly gorgeous day recently, I was invited to attend a private tasting at Ridge’s Monte Bello property.  Although I adore Ridge wines, I often find myself avoiding the mayhem on holiday and special event weekends as it can get to be quite crowded.  It’s a long drive up the mountain, but the reward at the top is a sweeping view of the Bay Area, including a hazy glimpse of San Francisco in the distance.  Upon arriving at the tasting room, we were greeted by our host Christopher Watkins, the tasting room manager.  Here, we started with a glass of the Santa Cruz Mountains chardonnay as we wandering the garden, waiting for the rest of our crew to arrive.

Once we were assembled, we started our journey with the 2008 Jimsomore Chardonnay.   Not being a huge chard drinker, I really didn’t have that many expectation of the starter, but  this vineyard is dry farmed and head trained, and the wine undergoes full malolactic fermentation with native years.  I found it quite floral, with note of honey tangerine and cream caramel.  It was rich and viscous, with a hint of lemon curd.  this limited release only has 200 cases, and the vineyard lies below the fog line with hot summer days and cool nights, making for some great chard.

Next up the 2008 Santa Cruz Mountain Chardonnay.  this is a parcel selection, and is intended for longevity and complexity.  It is more vibrant than the Jimsomore, and has a bright acidity and is refreshingly ful of stone fruit and Meyer lemons, with some tropical influences.

Now we delve in to the zin, which is how I fell in love with Ridge.  First the 2008 East Bench Zinfandel, which is the youngest area designated benchland between Dry Creek and Alexander valleys.  The cuttings here are 120 years old, and this pre-release wine was spicy cherries with black pepper, soft berry jam, figs, beef jerky and a mellow soft medium bodied zin that is perfect with food.  We also tried the 2006 East Bench, which I found to have more fruit forward flavors of strawberry, cherry, smoke and tobacco.  This was a very cool year in Sonoma County, which made for a leaner wine.  It was a bright zin, and was the first vintage from the then 8 year old vines.  This was a terrific example of a complex zin that would pair well with food without being overpowering and jam packed with berries.

The 2008 Geyserville is a blend of 72% zinfandel, 20% Carignane, 6% Petite Sirah, and 2% Mataro (Mouvedre).  it had a sweeter edge of big blackberries with a smoky backbone that I attribute to the Mataro, with flavors of raspberries and figs blended in a brambly pie with a faint hint of cedear.  The 2007 vintage, which is the current release, is 58% Zinfandel, 22% Carignane, 18% Petite Sirah and 2% Mataro, which made for a chocolate blackberry pie with brandied blackberries and coffee, followed by molasses and bittersweet cocoa over stewed fruit.  Each one of these blends is hand selected from a field blend, parcel by parcel, and depending on the best of the crop for a given vintage, the blend can change significantly.  Wine after all is half science, half dream, and half magic.

Lytton Springs, which is next door to Geyserville, showed less fruit and more structure in the 2008 blend of 74% Zinfandel, 21% Petite Sirah, 5% Carignane.  It was quite spicy with raspberries, strawberries, and blackberries.  The 2007 was much jammier, with black fruit, dried figs, and earth.  I found it a touch hot, but that soon blew off.  The 2007 blend was 71% Zin, 22% Petite Sirah, and 7% Carignane.

After meandering through the zinfandel country, it was time to get to the big boys of cab, which started it all for Monte Bello.  First, the 2007 Santa Cruz Mountains Estate Cab, which is a blend of 58% Cabernet Sauvignon and 42% Merlot.  It is not yet released, and was quite chewy and dense with scents of lavender and leather.  The 2006 is 56% Cabernet, 42% Merlot, and 2% Petite Verdot, and had coffee notes adn an herbaceousness that the 2007 did not.

Finally we worked through several of the Monte Bello Cabs.  Two of my favorites were the 2006, wtih 68% Cabernet Sauvigon, 20% Merlot, 10% Petite Verdot, and 2% Cab Franc.  I found chocolate coverted cherreis, bright fruit, and dusty cocoa and really enjoyed it.  The 2005 was also a favorite, with 70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 22% Merlot, 6% Petite Verdot, and 2% Cab Franc.  It had a dusty earth cover, with blueberreis and blackberries, covered with instant coffee.  It was a very low yield in 2005, and this wine was muscular and lean.

As you can see, we did some serious damage to the Monte Bello libarry and I would like to thank Christopher for his hospitality and humor as we tasted some of these amazing wines!  Next up…who knows?

O Brother, where fort art thou?

So, you’ve seen my post on the little wine called Rockaway.  This wine is other half of Rodney Strong’s single vineyard high end Cabernet project, called Brothers Ridge
.  This vineyard sits between 400-1030 feet, in the hills above Cloverdale, and while it shares many similarities with Rockaway it is a very different wine and I enjoyed it for different reasons.

I did not use the Eisch glass this time, but I did decant this wine for about an hour before some old friends came to dinner the night before Thanksgiving.  Given that it was a celebration meal, I thought it was the right time to open something special.

This wine is rich rich rich, full of chocolate and coffee, with a hint of leather.  Even before I had it in the decanter, it was smooth and rich and simply lovely.  I tasted dark cherries, ceder, blackberries and cassis.  It was a chewy wine and had hints of beef jerky.  I truly loved this wine, even more than the Rockaway.   Part of it’s allure was the kick of chili pepper at the finish which surprises and delights.

I especially enjoyed the oak treatment of this wine, as it was subtle and deliciously matured for 22 months in 42% new French Oak, which has a terrific blaance and doesn’t overdo anything.

I would definitely splurge on this wine for a special dinner, but as it’s allocation only you should get in while you still can, and decide if you want to buy it when they release the next round.

Happy drinking!

This wine was provided by Rodney Strong, and as much as I would sometimes like to – I didn’t harm my brother while drinking it.  I also didn’t share, which well, is his bad for not being around :-p

Google

THE VINEYARD

Rockaway baby, in my wine glass

Who can forget, the Rockaway Scandel of 2008, where bloggers around the country were courted sent bottles of the Rockaway Cabernet Sauvignon by Rodney Strong.  Now, I wasn’t part of the original Rockaway 10, or however many it was, but some of you might recall that the big bruhaha was becuase of a misunderstood condition that all bloggers must write something in return for the sample bottle of wine.  Again, I wasn’t participating at that time, but I do think that a huge mountain was made out of a molehill.  Yes kids, that’s my opinion, please don’t string me up for it.  Fast forward to 2009, when I have become one of the cool kids and was asked to play kickball at recess, in the form of my very own bottle of 2006 Rockaway Cabernet!  To be clear, no one asked me, cajoled me, or otherwise insisted that I write this piece.

This luxury cab comes from Alexander Valley in Northern Sonoma country, where there is an interesting mix of old school zins and high end cabs planted.  I was really excited to try this wine after all the conversation, and opened it up.  The 2006 Rodney Strong Rockaway cabernet Sauvignon Single Vineyardis 97% Cabernet Sauvignon, 2% malbec, and 1% Petite Verdot, which spent 22 months in 47% new French oak barrels.  Rockaway is planeted primarily to Cab and Merlot, but includes all af the major Bordeaux varietals.  The vineyard is belanted between 250-750 feet, which provides a variety of microclimates.

to further my experience, I also decided to take advantage of an Eisch Breatheable glass that was sent to me as a press sample.  The Eisch Breatheable Glass claims that with it’s patented breathable technology that you will have the same effect leaving the wine in their glass for 2-4 minutes, as you would in a decanter for 1-2 hours.  Now, I was skeptical, but what the heck.  To control the experiment, I also used a Riedel Bordeaux glass, as well as a “standard” glass, aka a regular tasting room glass.
The first sip was in the Eisch, and I found dark cherries, leather, and notes of ceder on the nose.  on the Palate I tasted mocha, chocolate, coffee, molasses, smoke, and it was rich and elegant.  The first impression was that it was a bit young, but that’s not surprising given that it’s only a 2006.  The tannins were very mellow, and this was smooth.  It was elegantly bold with firm backbone, and the dried cherries from teh aroma made their way in to the palate with a finish of bittersweet chocolate.  There was a touch of soy sauce in there as well, with big blackberry pie flavors.  I really enjoyed this wine right out of the glass, with no decanting.

In the Riedel Bordeaux glass, I had a hard time getting the nose.  Again, this wine did not decant, and was only in the glass about 4 minutes before I tasted it.  At first, I got a slight whiff of alcohol, followed by bright red fruit.  I tasted bright red fruit, cranberries and pomegranate with a touch of bitterness on the finish that I wasnt’ expecting from teh previous taste.  I went back to taste out of the Riedel after about 30 minutes and I still tasted that bitterness.  This was not a good outcome, surprisingly.

In the standard glass, I smelled brandied cherries, sour plums, and something slightly off at the first whiff.  I tasted soy sauce and underdone meat, with a bitter note again.  After 30 minutes, the funk had gone away, but ti was still very astringent and not so enjoyable without food.  It tasted very much like the wine in the Riedel but after 30 mins – 1 hr i couldn’t tell the difference.

After a full hour, the Eisch sample was full bodied, focused, and full of dark fruit, coffee, leather, figs and burnt toast.  At this point the Ridel was starting to match the Eisch, and was opening up to all black fruit, figs, burnt toast, and smoke.  I didn’t like the wine in the standard glass at all, and I would avoid it if were served in that glass.  After one hour and fifteen minutes, there is no difference between the Eisch and the Reidel so for impatient drinkers it’s awesome

The moral of this story is two fold:

  1. Glassware matters!  I’ve always believed this, and force my friends and family to do mad scientist experiements to prove this point.  You don’t have to spend a lot of money on good stemware, but it does make a difference.
  2. The Rockaway is a beautiful wine, but it needs a good hour of decanting to enjoy properly.
  3. You would probably enjoy this wine more with food.
  4. The Eisch Breatheable Glass is an excelletn idea that works far better tahn I anticipated.  if you are a drinker that is in a hurry the $20 per stem price tag is well worth it.

Rockaway is an allocation only wine, but I would suggest that you get on the list if you are a Cabernet lover, as it is apt to sell out quickly.

The Rockaway Cabernet and the Eisch Breathable Glass were sent as Press Samples.  However, I did put the Eisch glasses on my holiday wish list so I could round out the set of 1 I currently have!  There are no rocks in the Rockaway, but it might Rock you Away.

Google

On a mountain top

Haber Family Vineyards, which sits high atop Howell Mountain, near the village of Angwin, was founded in 2004 by Ron and Sue Marie Haber, a couple of summer refugees from the East Coast.

My blogging friend Melissa Dobson, of Melissa Dobson PR & Marketing, was kind enough to arrange a bloggers tasting day up on the mountain.  Sue Marie and Ron were gracious and welcoming, and the usual suspects (Randy, Michael, Marcy, and Ashley) made our way out of the Napa Valley for an unforgettable experience.

The estate on Howell Mountain is a lean 5.5 acres, which was painstakingly developed 1 acre at a time due to local zoning laws at the time.  My personal opinion is that slow and steady wins the race however, and this turned out to be worth the slow development.  The Howell Mountain AVA was the first sub-appellation in Napa Valley to be officially recognized, and is known for it’s Cabernets.  The rocky red volcanic soil sits above the valley fog, which creates long mellow growing days.  The estate vineyard is between 1550 and 1650 ft, which is smack dab in the middle of the Howell Mountain vertical AVA.

While the fruit grew, and the estate developed, the 2006 Diamond Mountain District Cabernet Sauvignon was released earlier this year . This bottle was decanted the night before our visit, and it was simply stunning.  Those of you who know me well know that I don’t like the typical overblown overdone overextracted Napa Cab, and this wine was the elegant, silky antithesis of that.  I tasted chocolate, smoke and salami in the wine.  Or was that the nibbles I was chowing down?  Sue Marie put on an amazing spread for us.  The wine continued with pepper and subtle blackberry, with juicy plum notes.  As the wine opened up further in the glass, and as we ate lunch and drank more, the rich mocha flavors came out to play and evergreen notes teased me.  At one point I had an overwhelming aroma of Earl Grey tea, which was followed by fig, black cherry and root beer.  I really enjoyed this wine, and for $80 it is worth it.  I would certainly buy another bottle to hold for a special (or not so special) wine drinking occasion.

If you have an opportunity, try to catch Sue Marie and Ron while they are in town and make it a point to taste their beautiful wine.  The Howell Mountain Estate Cabernet will be released next year, and I look forward to going back and tasting that offering as well.

Happy drinking!

Google

1 2