Archive for Wine Thoughts

A chance to get together to taste wines, talk story & share insight.  Thanks to all who came.

2012 Cambiata Tannat “Monterey”–we found this winery sometime back.  Our relationship with owner/winemaker Eric Laumann with his Albariño, which stood out among its Californian grown peers, but later very impressed, as well, with his big, black 2004 Tannat red wine beast & its character, texture, remarkable balance despite its enormity.  Albarino, Tannat????  Who in their right mind specializes in these kinds of grape variety & challenges & still have a viable business model in California?  Here is what Eric has to say about it all–“Cambiata is not your average California winery.  I launched Cambiata in 2002. My intention was to make distinctive wines that go beyond the Franco triumvirate of Bordeaux, Burgundy and Rhone. Today, we are vinifying a handful of compelling wines from some of California’s scarcest grape varieties including Albariño, Tannat and Dornfelder.   We planted our small Tannat vineyard in the rocky and well drained soils of the Santa Lucia Mountains. Tannat has an incredible ability to absorb oxygen. Technically speaking, the wine is full of procyanidintype tannins, which slow the aging and development process to a crawl. While today’s technology has given winemakers aggressive tools to introduce oxygen, at Cambiata we do it the oldfashion way – extended barrel aging. For our 2012 Tannat it took 28 months before the wine had reached an appropriate balance between fruit and tannin that allowed us to put it into bottle.  We fermented the black juice in small opentop fermenters.  The wine was then pressed straight to 60 gallon barrels (100% French, 40% new). Our 2012 Tannat is incredibly deep and concentrated with notes of earth, blackberries, saddle leather and licorice. On the palate it is thick and chewy with bold, wellintegrated tannins“.   Our intent was to show the younger generation, “good” wine can be found out of the box, without getting esoteric & trying to carry the next new frontier.  In our humble opinion there are opportunities in our VINO restaurant for wines like this…because it is very good……especially for the dollar.

2013 Hilt Pinot Noir “Old Guard”–on one of last trips to Californian wine country, this was THE standout of 8 days of visiting countless wineries, vineyards & tastings.  We loved how un-clonal it was, showcasing amazing intensity without any sense of overdone-ness & how seamless, well textured & balanced it really was.  We later found out, the core is old vine Mount Eden vine selection (with a little Martini as well), from the iconic Sanford & Benedict vineyard.  Their parcel was planted in 1971 on its own roots & organically farmed.  (I don’t think the rest of the vineyard is organically farmed).  I just to show the tasters what American grown Pinot Noir can be.  2014 Guillemot Savigny-lès-Beaune “Vieilles Vignes”–in comparison, here is a Pinot made in the “old fashion” way.  The vines average 55 years in age & are grown in limestone, marl, clay & gravel.  I have to say, however, this wine is SOOOO transparent & ethereal–much more about the limestone, especially in taste.  I could tell from the tasters’ faces, it was something they were not used too.  I understand, as it took quite a long time to understand & appreciate these wines too.  The 2014 came from 3 parcels–Planchots de la Champagne, Dessus les Gollardes, Vermots within the village.  Here is what importer Kermit Lynch appropriately says–“The Guillemot family has worked Savigny-lès-Beaune vines for eight generations (!) and produces wines with classic Burgundian finesse and balance, all while leaving us a reminder of Savigny’s rustic character. Guillemot is one of the quintessential KLWM producers, with wines that epitomize the local terroir and emphasize grace and elegance over power and structure“.

Sang des Cailloux Vacqueyras–this particular bottling/producer is one of typical favorites from the Southern Rhone Valley of France.  I am the first to admit, these wildly rustic, hearty, masculine red wine beasts are not for everyone.  Even the majority of the professional wine community I surmise probably would not tolerate the higher levels of volatile acidity & brett frequently found in these wines.  Still, for me, the true soulfulness this wine typically has is the reason I keep coming back for more, which is partly why I therefore presented these 2 wines.  In addition, I thought it would be interesting to compare a younger vintage to one completely different in profile AND with a little bottle age.  We started with the 2014, as it was showing well right out of the gates—surprisingly approachable, transparent & tame with lower in alcohol & tannin levels.  It reminded me of some of the vintages back in the 1980’s which featured rusticity, integrity & soulfulness without so much bravado.  I also would add, I cannot wait to try this wine again when it is 10 to 15 years of age, as I think it will be quite the experience!  For comparison, we then poured the 2007, a wine now 10 years of age.  I remember trying this wine upon release & thinking how humongous it really was–much darker than usual & showing mostly deep, lavish, opulent fruit & a profile I was not used to from this domaine.  (Please remember, this was coming after the 2006–which I found to showcase its feral/rusticity & stoniness right out of the gates with lighter coloring & a leaner mouthfeel….& the 2005–which was power packed & such formidable structure).  I was anxious to taste the 2007 again, as it had been awhile.  In short, despite much early on apprehension, I was mesmerized how gorgeous this wine tasted on this night.  OMG!  Yes, 10 years of bottle age had done wonders for this behemoth.  One memorable facet, was how the visceral, higher alcohol & glycerine levels from the vintage’s generous sunshine added a very different & luscious texture to the wine & the innate rusticity & stoniness was once again shining through, though with seemingly deeper base notes.  Wow!

Piemonte Reds–while we all are quite fascinated with the standout style of wines, at VINO, we also work hard to keep an eye out for really good “country” styled wines–those that are delicious, lighter, food friendly & gulpable–& therefore well suited for the dining table.  We frequently encounter 2 real challenges on that question, living way out here in the Islands.  The first is availability/supply (which is undoubtedly linked to the lack of demand here) of the smaller, true artisan renditions.  We instead see examples from large houses or those done, almost as an after thought.  Secondly, finding examples which are shipped all the way here in temperature control.  Yes, all of this can be quite formidable.  We tasted these 2 wines to show participants, it is though possible.  In addition, we wanted to show tasters 2 completely different “takes” on what dinner table red wines can be, at least from Piemonte.  The 2014 La Palazzotto Dolcetto di Diano d’Alba–we started the duo with this wonderfully delicious, fabulous new “find”.  Yes, there are quite a bit of very good Dolcetto based reds available.  I, however, don’t run across which catch my fancy like this one did.  Why?  Because of its real deliciousness.  Furthermore, it still has such a wonderful artisan feel & therefore displays the earthiness, muskiness, spices I find in many Piemontese quality reds.  In comparison, we then poured the 2015 La Pergola “Il Goccetto”.  As VINO regulars well know by now, we have been really searching for well grown & made aromatic wines, both white & red (& I am sure soon to include rose too).  They can uplift foods, just as fresh herbs do.  Here was our latest arrival, produced mainly from the lighter colored, highly perfumed Brachetto grape variety, along with some Barbera for structure & core.  It certainly did not disappoint.  The perfume is quite a shock for most.  Many wine drinkers today after all been trained in the wine world to think, bigger & darker equates to higher quality, even with innately lighter pigmented grape varieties such as Pinot Noir.  Imagine trying these 2 wines with VINO food–whether it is our Braised Spanish Octopus served with a ham hock stew or our homemade fennel sausage pizza!  The Dolcetto would be much more classical & the Brachetto would provide a completely different & unique experience.  Isn’t that at least part of the fun of pairing wine & food? 

We then followed with a duo of exemplary Nebbiolo based Piemontese red wines to remind tasters of the difference between “country”/dinner table wines & more top echelon Piemontese wines.  Furthermore, this could hopefully provide a glimpse of how different Barolo & Barbaresco can be.  2012 Cavallotto Barolo “Bricco Boschis”–yes, this is certainly one of our favorite Barolo producers, located in the Castiglione Falletto appellation.  The family owns 25ha of prime vineyard, mainly in the Bricco Boschis & Vignolo crus, all organically farmed.  We loved the 2012 because of its perfume, purity, vinosity, depth, mojo, structure & balance.  It is a real GUN.  In comparison, we poured the 2011 Cascina Luisin Barbaresco “Rabaja”.  Their winery is located on the ridge lying above the iconic Rabaja cru, right down the road from Giuseppe Cortese, another favorite producer.  This estate was founded in 1913, owns 7ha, mostly in the Asili & Rabaja crus.  The 2011 was very pretty, seemingly softer, more broad, flatter & approachable than the Cavallotto, yet still showcasing the purity & virility their wines are renown for.  This past October while visiting Piemonte, I was reminded how wonderful AND true these 3 producers’ wines are & how each is done with much respect to where they came from.

Categories : General, Red, Wine, Wine Thoughts
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Loire Valley–this duo centered around the fact that I was able to get a bottle of the much heralded Guiberteau Saumur Blanc “Brézé” on my last trip to Seattle.  My point was, while I really respect & appreciate superstar cuvees like this, I wanted to compare it to another producer’s top echelon Loire Valley bottling, Bregeon “Gorges”, just to keep things in perspective.  The 2013 Bregeon “Gorges” hails from the western region of the valley, where the greatly under appreciated Muscadet grape variety calls home turf.  While many of the soils are marine influenced, mostly sand & fossilized sea critters, this particular producer & his vineyards are planted on “Gabbro soils–an old, blue-green, volcanic rock, rarely found in vineyard land. Formed by magma eruptions under the ocean floor, it is said to impart intense complexity to Michel’s wine“.  To add to this wine fulfilling its potential, Bregeon further ages this cuvee for at least 2 years (different vintage to vintage) in subterranean glass cuvees on its lees, all done with a very masterful touch.  The 2013 was just SOOOO breathtakingly pure, minerally & delicately nuanced with a distinct, salivating salinity.  Eventhough it is quite pricey at roughly $38 a bottle retail, I bought it just because of how good it really is..  In comparison, we poured the much heralded 2012 Domaine Guiberteau Saumur Blanc “Brézé”.   This family has owned vineyards in the Saumur appellation for well over 100 years & today headed by Romain Guiberteau, who along with his father reinvented the estate & wines in the 1990’s.  The single vineyard La Brézé is their crown jewel & is truly recognized as one of the most profound single terroirs in all of the Loire Valley.  Their 1.2ha parcel, is sand & clay on limestone & today organically farmed.  A little over 1/2 of the vineyard was planted to Chenin Blanc (the other half Cabernet Franc), planted in 1933 & 1952 (although I believe there are some younger vines scattered here & there).  The juice is whole cluster pressed & wild yeast fermented in 1 & 2 year barrels & then aged on it lees for 18 months.  This is an example of a SUPER wine.  It seems every wine sooner or later features a similar standout.  Yes, there is still Beaujolais–light, delicious, unpretentious & carefree….& now there are also SUPER Beaujolais, just as their is Loire Valley Chenin Blanc & now this SUPER version.  This is an undeniably “tour de force’ bottling–so mega intense & concentrated, almost to the point of being liquid rock, with a resounding, bordering puckering structure & a strong oak presence, especially on the palate.  I suggest those lucky enough to have this wine in their collection, put it away for at least 15 years before trying it.  And, while I think the Guiberteau wine is a real trophy & deservedly so, for VINO, we think the Bregeon “Gorges” is much more appropriate, especially with our foods (& targeted price points).

German wines–This duo was to be the final pairing of the night.  It wasn’t that long ago where Germany would ripen Riesling typically 2 to 3 vintages out of every 10.  This encouraged scientists to work on finding grape vine crossings, which would offer Riesling nobility, but would ripen earlier.  One of the most popular crossings developed was Scheurebe.  In the old days, I sometimes would pair the quite exotic, fruity styled Scheurebe Spätlese with lighter foie gras dishes as well as with Asian inspired meat/fowl dishes such as Chinese Peking Duck.  Not all Scheurebe, however, are equal & one therefore needs to be very selective when purchasing one.  Plus, now, because we can essentially get ripe Riesling Spätlese & Auslese more regularly, the demand for Scheurebe for me is far less.  Still I thought it would be fascinating to try 2 Spätlese–1 Scheurebe & 1 Riesling–both from the 2008 vintage.  The 2008 Pfeffingen Scheurebe Spätlese “Ungsteiner Herrenberg” proved to be quite tropical/exotic fruited in aroma with some gewurz-ish spice & floral nuances.  Eventhough it was a more classic vintage, this 2008 was filled with gorgeous, unctuous, ripe, tropical fruit (I suspect more Auslese than actually Spätlese) whose once obvious, apparent sweetness (despite the 10.5 alcohol level) had at least partially morphed into a more tactile, visceral mouthfeel/texture.  The 2008 Dönnhoff Riesling Spätlese “Niederhauser Hermannshöhle”, in comparison , was decidedly more about slate/rock character than any kind of fruit–seemingly chiseled out of rock & done with precision & masterful workmanship.  Dönnhoff produces wines of immense concentration, elegance & adulterated power with truly majestic pedigree (especially with this vineyard, revered as the finest in the Nahe region) & the innate ability to get better with age.  The soils of Hermannshöhle are “mostly black slate with some igneous rock & limestone“.   We really treasure vintages like 2008, especially in this day & age, as they can offer wines of such purity/transparency, elegance, refinement & filigree, as was the case here.

Categories : White, Wine, Wine Thoughts
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GRENACHE 

2014 Sucette Grenache–here is a standout Grenache from superstar Master Sommelier Richard Betts, certainly worthy enough to measure others by.  It is lush, lavish & ripe, yet still remarkably transparent, delicious & surprisingly UN-heavy.   Richard selected this parcel of 90 year old vines….own rooted in the sandy soils of Vine Vale (Barossa Valley)—because of the sand & the old vines, both reminiscent of Chateau Rayas of the southern Rhone Valley of France, in addition to the vines being grown in the wild & therefore completely feral. 20 to 40% stems. Basket press. Aged in OLD oak

2011 Sella & Mosca Cannonau de Sardegna Riserva–made only in select vintages. 100% Cannonau, 2 to 3 years in old Slavonia oak.  There is much discussion about whether the Cannonau grape variety is in fact Grenache or a descendent & even some who think Grenache is a descendent of Cannonau.   I’ll leave that to the scientists & wine geek patrol.   I think this Sardinian red offers SENSATIONAL VALUE, which is why we put it in this flight with lots of Grenache like qualities, done in a VERY delicious, rustic, food friendly, “country” style of red wine.

2014 Sang des Cailloux Vacqueyras–This is undoubtedly one of our favorite Grenache based wine blends, because of its wild/feral edge & soulfulness, in spite of what many wine professionals would say are winemaking “flaws”.  That’s is probably why this wine is still so reasonably prices, especially considering the quality & soulfulness the wine innately has.  “All of Serge’s seventeen hectares rest on the great Plateau des Garrigues, where red clay, limestone, and the famous galets roulés, or rounded stones, impart a terrific intensity and depth to the wines. Given the aridity of the soil, the vines here are naturally prone to lower yields—this gives the wines their concentration and power. That Serge has been farming organically for years but has never sought certification says something about his philosophy. He is not looking to impress; only to make the best wines he possibly can. 70% Grenache, 20% Syrah, 10% Mourvèdre & Cinsault. Hand harvested, de-stemmed, wild yeast in cement cuvees & 6 months in old foudres. Bottled unfiltered, unfined”.  We are huge fans!

MOURVEDRE

2011 Gramercy Cellars “L’Idiot du Village”--Gramercy is the project of superstar Master Sommelier, Greg Harrington.  FYI–Greg used to be the wine director for all of the Emeril Lagasse restaurants & the Wolfgang Puck empire.  His highly lauded Washington based winery specializes in Syrah, but also produces a very noteworthy Mourvedre based red shown here.  Greg has told me that he feels this grape variety has huge potential in his neck of the woods & we have seen quite the improvement with each vintage he releases.  The 91 point rated 2011 “L’Idiot du Village is 90% Mourvedre, 5% each Syrah & Cinsault.  The fruit comes from eastern Washington—Olsen (near Red Mountain) & Alder Ridge (Horse Heaven). Roughly 50% whole cluster (dependent on the vintage) & aged for 15 months in old oak. Typically 200 to 350 case production.

2014 Domaine de la Tour de Bon–We decided then to compare the Washington grown Mourvedre with one from the Bandol appellation of Provence, France. Domaine de la Tour du Bon rests peacefully atop a limestone plateau in Le Brûlat du Castellet, in the northwestern corner of the A.O.C. Bandol. Nestled beneath the mountains to the North, it is a bastion of tranquility, an oasis on the Mediterranean surrounded by beautiful gardens and vineyards The Hocquard family has been farming this land since 1968, though this has been a full-time farm since 1925. Today, Agnès Henry runs the show. Independent, finally set her mind to making them on her own, she hit her stride, crafting wines with power and precision, but also finesse and charm. The domaine is situated at an altitude of 150 meters above sea-level—a high point on this coastal appellation where maritime breezes cool the arid climate. Fourteen hectares of red earth, clay, sand, and gravel rest upon sturdy limestone bedrock. Brow-beating excavation and focused determination alone have built these vineyards. 55% Mourvèdre, 25% Grenache, 15% Cinsault, 5% Carignan. de-stemmed. Traditional vinification with indigenous yeasts. age in foudres for 18 months“.

CARIGNANE–We are increasingly more & more intrigued with old vine Carignane & what it has to offer.  It started way back when with Californian old vine bottling we discovered here & there over the years.  We then became huge fans of bottlings back in the 1980’s we had from Domaine Fontsainte of Corbieres.  In our continual search for noteworthy bottlings, here are 3 fabulous, interesting Carignane based red wines that will shed new light on what this grape variety has to offer.   

2015 Neyers “Sage Canyon Cuvee”–I always refer to this very special & unique bottling as a homage to the wines of Maxime Magnon (see below).  The 2015 is 45% Carignan (vines are 140 years-old), 25% Grenache, 15% Mourvèdre and 15% Syrah—heritage/heirloom, foot stomped, wild yeast fermented & then aged in old Oak.  Absolutely delicious!!!!!!

2012 Leon Barral Faugères “Jadis”–I believe Didier Barral took over the domaine with the 1993 vintage & as he converted the vineyards & winemaking to a very fanatical uber au naturale mind set, quite candidly there were quite a few of rough patches along the ways.  In addition, he relied a lot of the Syrah grape variety as the core for his various bottlings…..with one specific showpiece which was Mourvedre dominated.  Somewhere along the way, his appreciation for old vine Carignane grew & so it is thankfully today.  We love the deliciousness it brings to the otherwise wild, feral, intriguingly rustic, earthy, core of his wines.  “Deep in the heart of the Languedoc, in the Faugères appellation just outside the hamlet of Lenthéric, Domaine Léon Barral is a beacon of revolutionary winegrowing.  50% Carignan, 30% Syrah, 20% Grenache, biodynamically farmed, hand harvested. de-stemmed, however whole clusters are also used. No SO2 is added. vinified in gravity-fed, cement cuves with natural yeasts. lightly pressed with an old, wooden, vertical, basket press.   aged for 24 to 26 months in barrel (10% new oak)“.

2014 Maxime Magnon “Rozeta”–Maxime is yet another one of the “young guns” of southern France changing the “game” both in the vineyard, the winemaking & his belief in old vine Carignane.   While he produces a few different bottlings, his Rozeta cuvee is typically our favorite, because of its wonderful perfume, vinosity & supreme deliciousmess.  “Maxime Magnon is part of one of the most revolutionary wine movements in France. He was fortunate to have purchased some prime parcels of old vines from abandoned plots and rents his cellar—a garagiste if ever there was one. He farms nine parcels over eleven hectares, with steep vineyards that reach high altitudes, and manages it all on his own. Maxime is part of the new wave of passionate viticulteurs who cultivate their vines with the utmost respect for nature and the soil. He’s certified organic, but also incorporates biodynamic practices into his vineyard management. Most of Maxime’s vineyard land is comprised of schist and limestone subsoils in the sub-appellation Hautes Corbières, bordering Fitou to the South. This is incredibly tough terrain to farm in, as there is virtually no top-soil, just pure rock and garrigue. The Corbières “Rozeta” is a blend of these two district terroirs. This blend is particularly unique, from 50 to 60 year old vine Carignan vineyards that are dispersed with numerous varietals of older vines, namely Grenache Gris, Macabou, and Terret, which are all picked and fermented together—a true field blend of the old school.   Grapes from field blend are picked and fermented together & aged in old Burgundian barrels from a producer in Chassagne-Montrachet“.

SYRAH

2014 Mollydooker “Blue Eyed Boy”–a lavish, opulent, highly lauded Australian “fruit bomb” in all its glory!  The fruit comes from McLaren Vale–Coppermine Road, Long Gully Road & Mollydooker Home vineyards…& Joppich vineyard of Langhorne Creek.  Sustainably Grown.  Barrel fermented and matured in 100% American oak—70% new; 30% one year old.

2014 Anthill Farms Syrah “Sonoma Coast”–Grown out on the true Sonoma Coast near Annapolis & crafted by a trio of Pinot Maestros.  The core comes from 2 main vineyards–Campbell Ranch is a few miles from the Pacific Ocean, near the tiny town of Annapolis, and is farmed by Steve Campbell. At approximately 750 feet above sea level, it sits right at the boundary of the marine layer, ensuring that the cool, coastal climate delays ripening well beyond the warmer vineyards to the east. The two-decade-old vines grow on sandy, low-vigor Goldridge soil, which helps reduce yields to near two tons per acre.  The Peters Vineyard Syrah–Randy Peters farms this vineyard outside of Sebastopol in western Sonoma County. The southern slopes of these hills form the northern edge of the Petaluma Gap, which rushes cool, marine air from the Pacific Ocean inland. These Syrah and interplanted Viognier vines, which Randy put in for us just a few years ago, occupy less than an acre at the lowest edge of this cool, foggy vineyard. The entire block produced just above three tons of fruit.  I am sure there is fruit from other vineyards blended in too.

2013 Chateau Fontanes Pic St Loup “La Petite Sérine”–Here is an absolutely thrilling, new wine discovery.  The conventional Old School thought in the northern Rhone Valley of France is the appreciation of the La Petite Sérine, a selection of the Syrah grape variety made famous by iconic Syrah masters such as Marius Gentaz of Cote Rotie, Chave at hermitage & Noel Verset at Cornas.  Here is the results of some cuttings, planted down in the Pict St Loup appellations southern France–organically & biodynamically farmed, & hand-harvested. 60% de-stemmed, wild yeast fermentation in cement tanks, aged in cement tank and foudre that have aged 2, 3, and 4 wines for 3 to 6 months & bottled unfiltered, unfined,

2009 Clape Cornas–One of the “Hall of Fame”, true stalwarts of northern Rhone valley Syrah.  “The Clapes farm only eight hectares, the challenge presented by the rough, tightly stacked terrace vineyards of Cornas is largely enough to handle by anybody’s standards. The dicey precipices make using any machinery in the vineyards impossible. All work must be done by hand. There are no official rules to their viticultural methodology—they work the old-fashioned way, by instinct, feeling, and common sense. The vineyards sit on granite subsoil, behind the village, with optimal sun exposure. They farm a number of prime parcels, including Reynards, La Côte, Geynale, Tézier, Petite Côte, Les Mazards, Patou, Pied La Vigne, Chaillot, and Sabarotte, the latter purchased from Cornas legend Noël Verset. Whole grape clusters are fermented with natural yeasts in open air cement cuves with punch-downs or pump-overs twice a day over 12 days. Malolactic fermentation occurs in foudre. Then, aged for 22 months in 6 or 12 hl-foudres”. Now, this is Syrah–soulful, profound & worth searching out to taste.

Categories : Red, Wine, Wine Thoughts
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Oct
07

“Country” styled wines

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To better set the table, let’s first spend a few paragraphs discussing another wine category-“trophy” wines.  Since many wine lovers are more familiar with this niche, I thought it would be easier.

–2002 Harlan Estate–“trophy”

–1997 Abreu “Madrona Ranch”–“trophy”

–2008 Penfolds Grange–“trophy”

–2003 Guigal “La Mouline”–“trophy”

–1982 Chateau Latour–“trophy”

–1985 Romanee Conti from Domaine de la Romanee Conti–“trophy”

Get the idea?  Impact wines….wines for the cellar….TODAY, 96 to 100 point rated wines….”guess what I have”…..”how did you get that?”….only 50 cases produced…..110 year old vines…..1/2 a ton per acre yields….Michel Rolland consultant……Grand Cru.

Nothing wrong with that!  If I could afford them, I would certainly look to buy some.  AND, if wineries out of this elite circle had the means to produce these kinds of wines & the resulting cult like following, at these high prices, I am sure most would.  After all, would you prefer to get $7 for your Tuscan born bottle of red wine OR $150 (pre-paid) for your Sassicaia?  For me…NO brainer.

A distinctly different wine category is what I refer to as “country” wines.  An example of this style of wine would be that $7 bottle of Tuscan born red listed above.  It is a style of regional wines commonly served at cafes & bistros along the Mediterranean basin & those scattered throughout the countryside.  At eateries, where one can see workers wearing overalls/jeans, as well as more fashionably dressed business people, these are the wines which develop a following for other reasons.

–regional (yes, that would be great)

–more affordable

–delicious (if we expect our foods to be delicious, then hopefully the wines we wash them down with them are delicious too.)

–lighter bodied (that would be great but not absolutely necessary)

–wonderfully food friendly

–& most importantly gulpable (& therefore NO hard edges)

Here are some examples of what we mean.

zoe usa white frontDomaine Skouras “Zoe”–this is the handiwork of owner/winemaker Giorgio Skouras.  Burgundy trained, Giorgio is part of the new age stars trying to move Greece & its wines into the modern era of the world wine stage.  In this case, this wine is produced from 2 indigenious grape varieties–Roditis & Moschofilero, both grown down in the Peloponnese.  This wonderfully perfumed, light & crisp white wine is yet another example of what we refer to as “aromatic”, whose fragrant qualities heighten & uplift foods in a similar way that fresh herbs do.  Furthermore, you will be amazed how these kinds of wines synergize with fresh herbs & create pairing magic.  Lastly, this wine really is tasty, light bodied, food friendly, gulpable AND really affordable!  neyers Ch

MY Essential Rose–is one of the wine projects of the brilliant & ingenius Master Sommelier Richard Betts.  The first vintages we tasted where from Provence, France.  They were as delicious, light, minerally & therefore ethereal as they come.  The first clue was how lightly hued the color was…..& whose nose was as pretty as pretty can be with a very captivating, subtle minerality that not only kept things interesting, but also greatly added to perceived buoyancy of the wine.  The crazy thing is, though, the price tag!!!!  A real deal & a real steal!  You will be amazed at how wide a window of foods this wine can work with–rich soups, salads, pizza, sausage, marinated meat, BBQ.  I suggest you keep several bottles in the refrigerator.  Furthermore, there are many other PINK wines, today, that one can enjoy along these lines too.  You should come by VINO & see how many wonderful roses we normally carry–from light & pretty to more masculine.  We feel they represent a very important segment of food friendliness.

fonsainteDomaine de Fontsainte Corbieres–this has been one of our absolute favorite French red “country” wines for a couple of decades.  As old timers recall, it wasn’t that long ago that most of southern France was noted for producing a sea of mediocre wines.  Yes, quality has changed, partly because of the focus on small, interesting parcels of intriguing soils, altitude & old vines & partly because of better farming & certainly better winemaking.  I also believe, however, America, specifically, has also grown to love & therefore embrace indigenious, country, historic & cultural ways of these families whose passion & determination perservere.  They’ve proven Fontsainte’s property, for instance, was cleared & farmed by the Romans way back when.  The current family took over in the 17th Century.  Rather than planting more & more Syrah, or using lots of new oak barrels like many of their neighbors, they’ve instead chosen to make wines like their predecessors have.  This bottling, for instance, is mainly Carignane grape based.  While Carignane is not showy, flashy or noble, in this case it sure is UBER-delicious AND incredibly food friendly.  The Grenache, Syrah & other grape varieties just add nuances & more character to the wine.

Domaine Dupeuble Beaujolais–“good” Beaujolais is one the most important sub-categories of food friendly red “country” styled wines for me.  0c7The whole secret is finding good ones.  It really is not as easy as one would think.  Part of the challenge (& not limited to Beaujolais) is that there are a growing number of suped up versions–meaning bigger, more intense, more profound, more dramatic–which is not a bad thing at all for me, it is just moving that particular wine out of the “country” wine zone for me.  There now are thankfully quite a few brilliant, provocative, masterful Cru Beaujolais being produced today & kudos to each of them for their hard work, determination & truly fearless passion, but when I am hankering for a delicious, light bodied, food friendly gulper, I look for Dupeuble. This family has been farming their vineyards for 500 years, & today is organic & biodynamic.  When you examine their grape growing & winemaking practices, they truly take as natural of an approach to both as they can  BUT, most importantly, this wine is absolutely delicious as can be, light on the palate with a very understated minerality which helps to make each glass better than the last.  Then, I suggest you consider the price.  In my world, it is a Hall of Famer!

Valpane_Canone_Inverso_novintage(11)_webCantine Valpane Freisa “Canone Inverso”–Freisa is a grape variety local to Piemonte, which we see less & less bottled on its own.  In this day & age of power, dark colored & showiness being in fashion, I don’t think Freisa fits the desired grape variety list.  What caught our eye with this wine, however, was the enticing perfume this grape variety can offer, which makes it a very interesting alternative for the dinner table.  Like the “aromatic” white wine I mentioned above, I also believe there is a niche for “aromatic” red wines, in terms of foods, too.  Cantine Valpane produces honest, more masculine styled, blue collar wines….nothing fancy…no frills…no fancy packaging.  We love their Barbera del Monferrato, but have also become enamored with this bottling.  Try this with an herbed pizza or thyme roast chicken & you will see what can be.

 

Chateau Fontanes “Les Traverses de Fontanes”–so we close with this “country” red from southern France.  0c10This cuvee is 100% Cabernet Sauvignon….from 40 year old vines, organically & biodynamically farmed!  The vineyard is remote, surrounded by sun baked rocks, wild shrub & herbs & one can readily smell them in the finished wine.  Yes, it is a wine which truly is about a sense of place, rather than a grape variety.  So…..I ask that you try a glass of this wine, next to a glass of your favorite higher end Napa Valley Cabernet.   (Since the Fontanes is surprisingly reasonably priced, just pop a bottle when you are intent on drinking the Napa Cabernet).   THEN….I suggest you try the same 2 wines with a pizza or a piece of salami.  Hopefully, you will better understand the difference between a “trophy” wine & a “country” wine!!!!!!

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Sep
21

A Fun Way to find wines

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Here is a fun game I like to play when I go to wine country or when I hang out with other sommeliers/wine professionals.  I like to ask each– their top 5 favorites of a wine category–whether it is Pinot Noir, regional Ligurian, unclassified Bordeaux, great values, or whatever they may insights into.  Then from there, those that I don’t know, I start doing research on them.

It’s quick, fun & certainly a learning opportunity.

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Sep
14

Noël Verset–a note from Bruce Neyers

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Here is a note from our dear wine friend, Bruce Neyers that really moved meI thought you might want to read it too.

“Dixon reports on word just in from Thierry Allemand that Noël Verset died over this past weekend. Dixon called him, “A kind and gentle soul with a genie’s touch with the Syrah”.

Those of you who accompanied me on the early KLWM France trips will no doubt remember the tastings with Noël, on the packed earth floor of his ancient cellars in Cornas. His eyes twinkled like a fairy tale elf as he bounded up and down the ladder to draw samples out of the casks, some of them used for winemaking by his grandfather. I have one bottle of Noël’s Cornas left in my cellar. I plan to drink it next Saturday night, and think about this remarkable man who so changed my life. All of us who had a chance to meet him should take a moment and reflect on our good fortune. For those of you who might not have seen it, a few years ago I wrote a remembrance of my first meeting with Noël, on my 1993 Kermit Lynch trip to France with Ehren Jordan. I wanted to read it again while thinking of Noël, and I thought you might enjoy one last look at this remarkable man.

 

 

The World’s Greatest Syrah, and a Teardrop

I met Noël Verset in 1993, on my first trip to France for Kermit Lynch. Although he was then in his late seventies, he was still actively working the vines and making wine. Kermit had arranged a two-week trip for me to meet his growers; the itinerary that he laid out started in Alsace and ended 12 days later in Marseilles. My friend and former colleague, Ehren Jordan, had moved to France a few months earlier and was working for Jean Luc Columbo in Cornas. I was pleasantly surprised when Ehren offered to take some vacation time and join me for the trip. He said it would give him a chance to visit some other regions and taste a wide range of wines. I welcomed the prospect of another driver and especially an interpreter. After meeting at the airport in Strasbourg in early January, we traveled through France together — visiting many of Kermit’s suppliers and tasting their wines. I was learning as much as I could about the wines, their history, their production techniques, and any other details that would help me sell them.

After a short drive through Alsace, we continued on to Burgundy, then to Chalonnaise, Mâcon and Beaujolais. We entered the northern Rhône in Vienne. From Côte-Rôtie we drove to Condrieu. After stopping to visit a producer in St. Joseph, we drove on to Hermitage. All along this part of the route we tasted Syrah. In many places, we tasted Syrah like I had never tasted before, for we were in the home of that seductive wine. After a tasting with Gérard Chave, in Mauves, we drove on to Cornas for another visit, followed by dinner at a local hotel. Ehren was excited to return to Cornas; this was his new home. As the only American living in the region, he was a celebrity, well known by many of the locals. Everywhere we went, people would see his large white American car with its Pennsylvania license plates, and begin to wave at us enthusiastically. Since he didn’t want to be late for our appointment with Noël Verset, we sped through the tiny back streets of this ancient town. At the end of what seemed like a deserted alley, we parked the car and walked towards a sign noting the cellars of Noël Verset, Vigneron. We rang the bell and were immediately greeted by the short and cherubic Noël.

He was delighted to see Ehren. As I learned during our tasting, Noël’s wife of over 50 years had died four years before and, since his two daughters had long ago married and moved out of the area, he was living alone. Over the previous few months, he and Ehren had formed a close bond. Weekly, they prepared a dinner together and shared it, along with a bottle of wine, at Noel’s kitchen table.  At one point, Noël confided in me that the meeting with Ehren had been important for him, coming as it did during a time when he was still trying to come to grips with the enormous grief he felt over the loss of his wife. We tasted several wines in his rustic cellars, then adjourned to the kitchen, where Ehren and Noël assumed their customary spots at the table. Before Noel sat down, however, he walked across the room and opened the door leading down to his frigid basement. Behind it stood a recently opened bottle of Verset 1988 Cornas.

The 1988 vintage in Cornas, as I was to soon learn, had been an especially good one. Knowing how much Ehren enjoyed this wine, Noël had set aside a bottle for us to drink while we sat and talked. In a few moments, he reached behind him and withdrew from the bookcase a large, plastic-covered photo album. Drawing a satisfying gulp of wine, he opened the book to the first page, careful to tilt it so that I could see the photo, a black and white of a strikingly attractive, slender woman in a bathing suit of the 1930’s, standing on a beach on a bright summer day. Her hair was wet, presumably from a dip in the Mediterranean, which could be seen behind her in the photo. Noël said that it was his wife, during a summer vacation they took in Cannes. She died, he said, in 1988, and whenever he drank a bottle from that vintage he liked to look at the old pictures of them, enjoying the early days of their life together.

With this, he slowly turned each page, and made a comment regarding when and where it was taken. Ehren translated for me. In a few minutes, I was transfixed, both by the magnificent wine and by this beautiful woman who was, sadly, no longer part of Noël’s life. He seemed cheerful, though, especially when talking about the photos.  And then I noticed a drop of moisture as it fell from his eyes and splattered on the vinyl covering the photograph. I looked at him and saw his eyes full of tears. My eyes welled up, too.

Noël ran through the rest of the album quickly now, as his teardrops were coming a bit faster and the end of the bottle was in sight. With a final sigh, he closed the book, turned his back on us for a bit longer than he needed to, then turned back to face the table. He was entirely composed by then. I can’t remember if I was.

Noël looked at me, as he was taking a final sip of wine. “So what do you think of my 1988 Cornas?” he asked. I paused for a moment, composed myself, and replied, “I think it’s the greatest Syrah I’ve ever tasted.”

 

Bruce Neyers Kermit Lynch National Sales Office

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I was greatly saddened to hear of Noël Verset’s passing this past weekend.  He certainly was one of the world’s true, iconic winemaking masters.

Sometime in the 1980’s I became so intrigued, bordering obsessed, with a group of Syrah Masters from France’s northern Rhone Valley–Chave in Hermitage, Gentaz in Cote Rotie & Clape & Verset in Cornas.  Each were imported at that time by Kermit Lynch.  (To that, I later would add Trollat in St Joseph & Allemand in Cornas to the list).  I am most thankful to Kermit for introducing me these wines.

In hindsight, I was very fortunate to be exposed to these masterful Syrahs before the meteoric rise to superstardom by Guigal & the sheer power of high Robert Parker ratings.  I therefore understood what true, authentic, pure, artisan Syrah could be.

While I genuinely loved each of these producer’s wines, the Verset Cornas truly had a special place in my heart.  Above all its attributes, they had soul.  People would always point out ‘flaws” in the Verset wines to me, but I REALLY didn’t care, as the Verset wines went straight from my taste buds to somewhere deep inside of me.  I therefore enjoyed them on SO many levels.

I remember reading somewhere Noël’s career in wine began in 1931, working alongside his father at the tender age of 12.  I believe his first vintage under his own label was sometime in the 40’s.  During his 70 plus year tenure, he was able to acquire great holdings on the Cornas hillside, including Champelrose, Chaillots & Sabarotte (the soul of his wines).  Interestingly, though, from those iconic lieu dits, he still produced only one Cornas.

I started hearing rumors, of an impending retirement by Noël with the 1999 vintage.  I was therefore thrilled to still get some 2000……then some 2003….& finally a smidgeon of 2006.  During that time, I later discovered, he had been slowly selling off his parcels to people he chose to sell to, which included Allemand & Clape, yet still made some quantities of wine for “home use”.

One of the crazy side notes to this story, is that his wines were so reasonably priced, considering how hard the vineyards were to work because of their remarkable rockiness/steepness.  Furthermore, how crazy is it that Guigal & Chapoutier were getting at least 10 times the price further north for their “fruit bombs”?  My mind set was always I’ll gladly take 1 bottle of Verset for 1 bottle of Guigal, much less the going rate of 10 to 1!

Yes, I am sorry to say….the end of an era.

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When one is looking for top echelon Cabernet, for most wine lovers Bordeaux, France or California’s Napa Valley would probably pop up first.

Makes sense.  After all, Bordeaux has quite a long history of producing world-class Cabernet based red wines.  The much “younger” Napa Valley, on the other hand, vaulted onto the world wine stage, when a bottling from Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars finished first in the 1976 Paris Wine Exhibition blind, comparative tasting of Californian & Bordelaise Cabernet based red wines.

What most people do not know or remember is that the 1973 Stag’s Leap Cabernet Sauvignon “SLV” was followed (in order) by 1970 Chateau Mouton Rothschild, 1970 Chateau Haut Brion, 1970 Chateau Montrose & then the 1971 Ridge “Monte Bello” in fifth place.

Back then, in the late 70’s, I didn’t even stop to think that the Monte Bello vineyard was not located in the Napa Valley.  This iconic vineyard is actually located at somewhere between 2000 & 2600 monte bello2feet elevation in the Santa Cruz Mountain appellation, near Cupertino, overlooking the Santa Clara Valley.  I remember reading somewhere, that the vineyard is roughly 83.5 acres in size, spread out on 33 parcels on the hillside, (but not sure if this information is current today).

Makes you wonder why anyone would plant vines way up there on that remote, high elevation site? AND, it makes you wonder how could they have known the quality would be akin to Californian Grand Cru?

I’ve been fortunate to have tasted the 1971 Ridge Monte Bello a few times over the years & would wholeheartedly agree it is a standout wine.

Furthermore, just so you know, the 1971 Monte Bello was NOT a one vintage wonder for the winery either.  Several other vintages–1968, 1970, 1971, 1977 (one of the very best Californians I have ever had), & later the 1981 & 1985 have also really stood out.

Another non-Napa Valley Californian Cabernet Sauvignon site which has stood out to me over the years is the Laurel Glen vineyard. laurel glen 1 Located at somewhere between 800 to 1000 feet in elevation atop Sonoma Mountain, it was originally 3 acres in size (today, listed at 16 acres in size), planted in 1968 to an unknown Cabernet vine selection, (which is today considered proprietary).  Grapes from the earlier vintages were sold to Chateau St Jean & Kenwood.  Patrick Campbell purchased the property in 1977 & produced his first commercial vintage with the 1981. Over the years since, Laurel Glen produced some very provocative, earth driven, more elegant, balanced Cabernets……some of my favorites over the years……AND, which got better with age (unlike many of its Californian peers).  I was amazed, when the 1997 was released, as it was the very first Cabernet, Patrick (& co-winemaker Ray Kaufman) produced that was over the 14 degree alcohol mark.   Patrick sadly sold the estate a few years back.  Thankfully, I still have some older vintages stashed away somewhere.

scherrer vineyardWhen speaking of Sonoma born Cabernet Sauvignon, I also really have to mention those from Scherrer Winery & owner/winemaker Fred Scherrer.  The grapes actually come from his father’s vineyard located on a bench above the Silver Oak planting in Alexander Valley.  I am continually amazed at how elegant, classy, refined & wonderfully layered his Cabernets are.  One could say, they are Cabs, crafted by a Pinot master.  I am also amazed at how much better & more harmonious each get with some bottle age.  Just know, Napa Valley Cab lovers, the Scherrer renditions display red fruit, not black fruit & deftly display a stony minerality rather than decadence & opulence.

A growing hotbed today for Cabernet Sauvignon in California is Paso Robles, which is located roughly halfway between San Francisco & Los Angeles.  It seems the real sweet spot for this grape variety in the region is on the westside of Highway 101, amongst the rolling hills (& therefore hillsides) born daou-vineyardsof marine influenced, calcareous soils such as limestone & siliceous clay.  People are now comparing these growing conditions more & more to Bordeaux’s St Emilion sub-region.   The resulting wines therefore typically feature red fruit, rather than black fruit.  In addition, what really initially caught my attention was the innate minerality underlying throughout the wine from beginning to end, which not only creates interestingness, but a fascinating buoyancy too.  Where Justin Winery was the ground breaking pioneers back in the 80’s, it is becoming more apparent that today the Daou brothers star is really starting to shine brightly in the category of Paso Robles Cabernet based reds.  There is sure much more to follow in the future, pending dealing with the area’s extreme water shortages the past several years.

I almost excluded mentioning the vast potential I believe there is in the Happy Canyon sub-appellation of Santa Barbara.   Because it much further east, it is therefore much warmer than the other Santa Barbaran subregions.  Coupled with more shale & gravel soils, this has the making for some very interesting potential.  Keep an eye out.  Happy Canyon’s time will come!

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Aug
22

Unico

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It is amazing how every few years, a new superstar winery seems to emerge.  Today, it happens so quickly, the velocity largely due to the media, specifically the writings of Robert Parker, Stephen Tanzer & of course the Wine Spectator.

In contrast, when I was growing up in this industry, I had a bucket list of wines I would hope to taste one day.  The list included several vintages each of Chateaux Lafite, Latour, Margaux, Petrus, Cheval Blanc & D’Yquem, DRC Romanee Conti, La Tache & Montrachet, Chave Hermitage, Bollinger “Vieilles Vignes Francaise” & Egon Mueller Scharzhofberger Eiswein or Trockenbeerenauslese, just to name a few.

Outside of that classic realm, my list list also included a few iconic “other” wines, which I had only heard about–such as Penfold’s Grange Hermitage (as it was called way back when), Giacomo Conterno Barolo “Monfortino”, Bartolo Mascarello Barolo, Biondi Santi Brunello di Montalcino, AND, of course Vegas Sicilia Unico.

I was absolutely thrilled, for instance, to taste the 1971 Grange Hermitage in the early 1980’s.  The Food & Beverage Director I was working with at that time was from Australia & therefore had quite a stash of Grange Hermitage wines, I believe dating back to 1955.  I remember having to trade a 1966 Chateau Haut Brion and a bottle of 1971 Krug to get it.  (quite the cost for a young, aspiring sommelier back then).  I don’t even want to try & remember what it took for me to get some of the even older vintages.  But the experience was worth it nonetheless.

Likewise, I was absolutely thrilled to taste my first Unico, the 1962, sometime in the mid 1980’s.  unico2I must admit I remember being underwhelmed at first.  How could after all, an iconic wine, one only dreamed of one day tasting, ever live up to its almost mythological reputation?

With my second taste, however, I came to the realization that the pinnacle of wine for me at that time came from either Bordeaux and Burgundy and I was therefore comparing/judging “other” red wines based upon those 2 models.  Oh, the 1971 Grange was much bigger & more resoundingly deeper & opulent than the 19XX Chateau Latour……or the 1962 Unico was more rugged, hearty & coarser than the 1962 Chateau Margaux.

I instead now had to adjust my thinking to….the 1962 Unico was indeed a very interesting, unique red wine, which tasted like NO other.  Furthermore, it deftly showed the potential the Tempranillo grape variety has…..AND therefore set a standard for other Spanish reds to be measured by in the future.

I can still say the same today.

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Aug
01

Look what I found!

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I was over on Maui sometime in June to visit with my best friends & their family.  In the hotel complex we were staying at, closer to the beach & near the pool is a small, unpretentious “watering hole”/eatery named Castaway Cafe.  I have known the owner, Gary Bush, for some years & can readily say he is a true wine fanatic.

Sadly, I had not previously been to his spot in the 20 plus years it has been opened.  On this trip, my wife & I finally stopped by there to finally check it out, have a cocktail & enjoy the ocean, its smells & of course the setting sun & its colors.

As expected, I was amazed at the wine list.  It wasn’t large but it is well selected & with reasonable prices.  Unfortunately, we did not have the time to enjoy one of their bottles, at least on this go around.

Well, last week, we made it a point to get there, looking to enjoy some0012 wine.  After much deliberation, we chose the 2004 Whitcraft Pinot Noir “Morning Dew Ranch”, which was only $75 on the list!  Chris Whitcraft was a rambunctious, quick witted & wildly colorful character, who for my palate produced some of the finest Pinot Noirs out of California. He worked with some very prestigious vineyards including Hirsch from the true Sonoma Coast (1994 to 2000 vintages), old vine Q & N Blocks from Bien Nacido (both planted in 1973 on their own roots) and Melville, I believe beginning with the 2001.  They certainly weren’t for everyone’s palate, but the good ones really rang my bell.   His mentor was Burt Williams, the iconic, founding winemaker/owner of Williams & Selyem, when that meant something special.  During his tenure there, Burt brought such iconic vineyards such as Rochioli, Allen, Hirsch, Coastlands, Summa to the forefront & therefore truly championed the Russian River & Sonoma Coast appellations, back before it was en vogue.  In addition, he started to really get into the Anderson Valley as well.  It was therefore no surprise that when he & Ed Selyem sold Williams & Selyem sometime after the 1997 vintage, Burt purchased a spot there to plant his own vineyard, which he named Morning Dew.  The core of this vineyard is planted to old DRC, the old Rochioli selection & 2A, each heritage/heirloom Californian vines.  It also was NO surprise that Chris Whitcraft was one of the first to get some of this vineyard’s fruit.  In this day & age of snazzy, tooty fruity Pinot noses, I adore the muskiness, earthy, forest floor nuances & masculinity of this wine, which is much more pronounced now than when it was released.  That pheromone/muskiness core is very reminscent of smells I get from red Burgundy, specifically from more rustic Gevrey Chambertin renditions such as those of Domaine Maume.

I know there are many tasters who will pick this wine apart, pointing out flaws & less than squeaky clean technical skills.  That’s okay, cause that means there will be more around for me to buy & drink.  Why?  Cause I enjoy it, plain & simple.  11 years old, $75….even more so.  Thanks Gary!!!!

So, that bottle didn’t last very long!  The night was young & the conversation, fun & lively.  Ok, let’s order bottle #2.  00132005 Whitcraft Pinot Noir “N Block”.  This time, I asked the manager if he could stick the bottle in some ice for 7 or 8 minutes, as it was a VERY hot & muggy night.  Bien Nacido is a VERY large vineyard located in the Santa Maria Valley, down in the Santa Barbara appellation.  This parcel, N Block, was planted in 1973 on its own roots.  Chris typically got the Martini selection, & the resulting Pinot was typically the most reticent of his Pinots, requiring considerable coaxing/bottle aging for it to open up.  It is the bottling of his which shows the most vinosity, intricacies & character, & this certainly reaffirmed that.  Eventhough this wine was 10 years old, it was still a baby, surprisingly closed, deep & well structured.  I suggest you don’t open this wine at this time.  Be patient.  It will be worth the wait, believe me.

That bottle was also emptied far too quickly.  Ok, one last bottle.  We decided on the 2005 Whitcraft Pinot Noir “Q Block”, 0014also $62.50!!!!  Q Block is adjacent to N Block & was also planted in 1973 on its own roots.  Whitcraft used to get the Pommard selection & the resulting Pinot was typically more forward, more masculine with rounder, deep flavors & more base note character.  As I would suspect & as I find normally the case, this was the favorite of the night for most of the tasters.

I found all 3 Pinots to be so enjoyable & heart warming.  Each was like a heart tugging song, sung by a truly soulful singer & in his own way.  There was only 1 Chris Whitcraft & this trio clearly reminded me why.

If you are in the Kaanapali area of Maui & looking for some good wine, make sure you visit Castaway Cafe!

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