Archive for Red

Over the years, I have encountered many red zinfandels that stunned me with their beauty, intriguing vinosity, savoriness, tastiness and wonderful food-friendliness.  I vividly remember the 1976 Ridge “Lytton Springs” as one of the first to absolutely wow me and create a lifelong memory.

My journey with this long-time California grape variety has continued and evolved, with many other memorable experiences.

I was recently reminded by Randy Caparoso, a noted wine journalist and former founding partner/wine guru of the Roy’s Restaurant group, that we should be paying more attention to zinfandel-based wines, as they can have lots of flavor, mojo and innate character, while also being incredibly food-friendly, a point that Caparoso, as a former sommelier, strongly advocates.

In addition, many top producers are championing really old, heritage vines grown in various nooks and crannies throughout California, rather than replacing those vines with more popular, mass market grape varieties. The real enticement, however, is value —especially compared with grapes like pinot noir and cabernet sauvignon.

Care for a taste? Here are recommendations for really interesting zinfandels:

2016 Ancient Peaks Zinfandel “Paso Robles”–grown in the Santa Margarita Ranch, in the hills of southern Paso Robles, Calif., at roughly 1,000 feet in elevation, is owned and operated by three ranching families (real cowboys). My wife and I chased & lobbied them for many years to get some of their wines to the islands. The ranch has at least five distinct soil types, three of which contribute to this wine — shale, volcanic and rocky alluvium. I love how earnest, blue-collar and welcoming this wine is, year after year. Serve it at barbecues (slightly chilled), with pizzas and meatloaf, or simply pour it when friends come over to talk story after an especially long, hard day at work.

2013 Edmeades Zinfandel “Gianoli Vineyard”–Starting with the 1994 vintage, Edmeades, with winemaker Van Williamson at the helm, has crafted some of the most provocative, hearty, robust, soul-stirring zinfandels out of California.  Now under the direction of winemaker Ben Salazar, Edmeades zinfandels are somehow more civil, not as wild, wooly and “funk-centric,” yet they remain true to the soul of their stable of top-notch vineyards.  I’ve written before about Edmeades “Mendocino” bottling which is more readily available. They also produce a  small, high-quality portfolio of single-vineyard zinfandels, in this case from Gianoli Vineyard, an iconic site in the remote, rugged, high-elevation Mendocino Ridge appellation. It was first planted in 1882, although roughly 40% was replanted in 1997 using cuttings from onsite heirloom vines. The wine is certainly is something to write home about — bold, full of mountain-grown, old-vine character, structure and complexities. While only 250 cases were produced, it is worth searching out.

2016 Scherrer Zinfandel “Old & Mature Vines”–This has been a unique and heartfelt rendition of old-vine zin since the original 1991 vintage. Smelling and tasting that 1991 bottle was an aha moment for me, providing a compelling example of what zinfandel can be. What draws me to this wine is that it is an old-vine zinfandel crafted by a pinot noir master, meaning it is much more transparent, civil and refined.  Recently, a regular guest kindly shared the 1997 vintage of this wine with several of us. It certainly had a pinot-esque edge in terms of transparency, texture and balance. It was truly lovely. Having tasted every vintage of this bottling over the years, I can say the 2016 is stellar today, but just wait and see what 20 or more years of additional bottle aging will bring. It certainly will be a worthwhile adventure.  Scherrer also produces Zinfandoodle–a charming blend of two or three vintages.  This terrific wine “find” is also quite a good match for a wide array of dishes, from fowl to meat, from casual to more serious fare.

This is just the starting point.  Other noteworthy renditions I have also seen available in Hawaii on a much more limited basis include those from—Carlisle (one of the most acclaimed & prolific masters of old vine Zinfandel); Turley (quite the cache producer of unique Zins from up & down California, now with winemaking prodigy Tegan Passalacqua at the helm); and Linne Calodo (the Problem Child & Outsider bottlings, which showcase the minerality of the marine soils of Paso Robles and therefore a completely different slant on what Zinfandel can be).

As a side note, Caparoso is now championing many family owned, old-heritage-vine zinfandels from the Lodi, Calif., region, where he lives. I have tasted several, and would say they give a completely different perspective on what this grape variety wants to say. As more of these real treasures come to the islands, I will make sure to spread the word.

Categories : General, Red, Wine, Wine Thoughts
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A Quartet of Old Vine Grenache

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There is no doubt that the Grenache grape variety is capable of producing top echelon wine. Chateau Rayas Chateauneuf-du-Pape is a prime example and I would also add to that the Sucette Grenache from Vine Vale of southern Barossa Valley, Australia. There are far more so-so Grenache based grapes being grown & produced and like with all categories of wines, it really is about sifting through the onslaught of possibilities and finding the gems. Here are four very interesting renditions. I believe each will give tasters a perspective on what this venerable grape variety can be.

 2015 Cirillo Grenache “The Vincent”–One of very top Grenache specialists from Australia.  What separates this wine from many of its peers is its wonderful savoriness.  The Vincent is a thank you to my father who has passed eight generations of Italian winemaking & grape growing knowledge down to the ninth. This Grenache is produced from two 100+ year old vineyards, which are predominately sand, from the renowned Barossa Valley of Australia”.  This wine deftly combines The inherent fruitiness of this unique Grenache with the innate vinosity of these old vines & transparency & core of minerality highlighted by the predominately sandy soils the vines grow in.

2016 Tres Ojos “Old Vines”–A very delicious, charming old vine Grenache based “country” styled red wine from Calatayud in northern Spain. The warm climate and loose, rocky soils work together to make this a perennial Great Value.

2015 Gramenon Vinsobres “La Papesse”–Gramenon is truly one of the champions of uber-sustainable vineyard work, bordering fanatical and are renown internationally reverently for their beliefs AND their resulting wines. The La Papesse bottling is produced from 100% 60+ year old Grenache vines grown in a small enclave in northern part of the southern Rhone valley named Vinsobres. Typically for me, this is the star bottling as it deftly displays a very provocative transparency and profound vinosity and savoriness.

 2017 Giovanni Montisci Cannonau de Sardegna “Barossu”–Is Cannonau in fact Grenache? To some yes, even in Sardegna they say it is the same, but I, on the other hand, would say they are related. In any case, this producer, his vineyards and his wines were one of the real standout visits during a long, pretty comprehensive wine trip to the islands of Corsica and Sardegna late last Fall.   I wouldn’t say they are Grand Cru in their intent. His wines have a deliberate-ness, a core of old vine-ness, savoriness and soul that stirs one’s gut and moves you. Grown high up the hills of Mamoiada, this real garage-ist is one to definitely keep an eye on. I place it along with the most unique, memorable, artisanal wines of our 40 plus year journey. We have been waiting along time for its arrival and here is your chance to try it.

There you have it,  four really interesting renditions of what Grenache can be.

Categories : General, Red, Wine, Wine Thoughts
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I wish I had a dollar for every time some said, “I just love Pinot Noir”. I would be a gazillionaire and happy as a lark. This grape variety is on fire in popularity and I have come to learn that not all Pinots are grown or created the same and thankfully so. Here are four from California that have something very unique to say. Don’t miss out! Opportunities like this don’t come around too often.

2016 Cambiata Pinot Noir “Santa Lucia Highlands”–I can’t even tell you which Pinot vine this is, as there are no records to be had on the subject. Winemaking prodigy Eric Laumann, had worked with these vines for over twelve years and REALLY liked them and he believes they are at least thirty something years old. There really is no other one like this being produced out of California today. It is transparent, sheer, earthy, stemmy and elusive without any sense of showiness or flamboyancy, like so many of the most acclaimed/fashionable renditions. Nothing tooty fruity here.

2014 Rossi Wallace Pinot Noir “Napa Valley”–Never heard of this Rossi Wallace before? This is a project of mega Cabernet icon/superstar Ric Forman & his wife Cheryl Emmolo. Yup, Pinot Noir grown high up on Atlas Peak. I didn’t even know there was still Pinot planted up there. I checked around and no one seems to know or care what clones/selections they are. They just say they were planted many years ago, like late 80’s, early 90’s. I suspect they are Dijon clones when smelling and tasting the wine. His 2014 received 91 & 92 points from Vinous & Parker.

2017 Neyers Pinot Noir “Placida Vineyard”–What is today referred to as the Swan heritage vine came to the U.S. in the 1940’s, they say by Martin Ray or perhaps in the second wave sometime later—1960’s by Joseph Swan. Regardless who actually brought the plant in, it is a vine, nonetheless that likes to be here and I love how masculine and savory it can be. Placida is predominately Gold Ridge soils and located a short distance from the Swan plantings in the Russian River and overseen by superstar vineyard-ist Chuy Ordaz. It is delicious & lovely in a masculine, savory way.  No one does Pinot like Tadeo Borchardt of Neyers.  No one.

2006 Whitcraft Pinot Noir “Morning Vineyard FI”–Chris Whitcraft was certainly one of the most “out of the box”, idiosyncratic, larger than life personalities of California’s wine scene in the late 80’s to the late mid 2000’s.   He also happened to fashion some of the most monumental, memorable Pinot Noirs of all time, especially from 1992 to 2006. Having been a winemaking disciple of Burt Williams, founding winemaker of Williams & Selyem (one of the very first Pinots out of the state that had an amazing cult like following), Chris followed with similar approaches in the vineyard and the winery. His Pinots were vehemently masculine, savory and surprisingly hearty, especially in their youth. They were continuously critiqued for having flaws and not characteristic of the grape variety. Let’s just say, they were not for everyone’s taste, that’s for sure. I, on the other hand, have had so many memorable bottles—young & old which were so amazing and for so many different reasons. He was the real deal with Pinot Noir. This morning I received an email from his son. It made me reminiscent of the days with Chris and his wines. It also inspired us to showcase some of the very last few bottles we still have from this specially gifted vigneron. Interestingly Morning Dew is a vineyard located up in Anderson Valley, which was owned and planted by Burt Williams (recently sold). In 2006, Whitcraft produced three different bottlings of this vineyard that vintage. Here is one of them., certainly not highly acclaimed or rated. Just plain good, especially now thirteen years old. We serve this wine in homage to our friend, Chris.

Categories : General, Red, Wine, Wine Thoughts
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Alto Piemonte–Day 1 Bramaterra

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Alto Piemonte can be subdivided into 7 main denominations–a cluster of Lessona, Bramaterra, Boca, Gattinara, Ghemme, Sizzano & Fara–roughly 2 hours drive northeast of Langhe. Pre-trip, I had little idea of how compact Alto Piemonte really is.  Thankfully each destination is only about 15 to 30 minutes or less from each other.

In its hey day way back when, I read Alto Piemonte had roughly 40,000 hectares of vineyards at its height.  Today, there may be 1,000 or so hectares.  I was also told there are only about 40, maybe 50 at the most producers today within the region.  Pre-trip, I had no idea.  Still, researching & finding which vineyards & which wineries to try & visit was the challenge, as there is not a whole lot of objective information & insight out there.

One of the serendipitous breakthroughs to our pre-trip planning, however, was “hooking” up with Cristiano Garella, who happens to be the top winemaking consultant of the whole region (at least 21 projects).  I believe it was partly because of star winemaker/Tres Bicchieri awardee Gilberto Boniperti of Fara & partly because of Oliver McCrum, a prominent Berkeley based Italian wine importer.  How it really came to be, I am not sure, BUT, Cristiano paid so much attention to us & opened up so many doors & opportunities for us & we are forever thankful.

Looking back, I wonder if our trip would have been nearly as insightful & fulfilling without Cristiano & Gianluca?

As our planned visit to a producer in Lessona fell through at the last moment, we started our first day in Bramaterra.

Bramaterra is the largest denomination of the cluster with at least 7 municipalities/towns within.  The aspects, microclimates & soils therefore can differ greatly.  Our first stop was Colombera & Garella, located in Masserone, & a joint project between Giacomo Colombera & Cristiano Garella.   This estate has 2 hectares in Masserano, 1 hectare in Lessona & 5 hectares in Roasio.  What immediately caught our attention was the dark, reddish, iron rich soils of their Masserano vineyard–1 hectare of 70 year old vines & the other 1 hectare was more like 25 year old vines, at our first stop.  This is quite different from many of the other Bramaterra vineyards & their porphyry-sand mixed soils we saw & walked.  The Colombera & Garella 2016 Bramaterra (80% Nebbiolo, 10% each of Vespolina & Croatina) therefore has more dark, base notes with a “blood” like nuance to its core & aroma.  Their wines were very impressive–more civil, balanced, well textured & sultry.  I would also say, this estate will only be getting better & better moving forward with the inclusion of Cristiano Garella’s expertise.  Their special soil is a GREAT start.   

Cristiano made a quick stop, still in Bramaterra, to show us how different the soils can be in the DOC.







Our next stop was to Le Pianelle, yet another Cristiano Garella project.  There are actually 5 partners–Dieter Heuskel, Peter Dipoli, working partners–Fabio, Andrea & Cristiano.  They vineyards are mostly in Bramaterra, one in the town of Brusnengo–porphyry-sand soils, replanted in 2007 & one in Roasio–50 year old vines in the vertically remote hills (closer to the mountains & therefore much cooler) at 1600 feet in elevation & red porphyry & gravel soils, some sand & virtually no clay.  Their 2016 Bramaterra red (80% Nebbiolo, 10% each of Vespolina & Croatina) was so intriguingly savory–more base notes of earth, roasted chestnuts, worn saddle leather, with a light touch of smoke & musk.  It was very masculine, virile yet still so well balanced & surprisingly polished.  This is certainly another estate on the rise & worth keeping an eye out for.  It was a terrific, memorable opportunity to be there at harvest, so we could try grapes still on the vine, different grape juice as they were fermenting & some from other vintages.


Our next stop, thanks again in kind, to Cristiano, was at Antoniotti, also in Bramaterra.  It was not originally on our pre-trip radar screen, but with HUGE endorsements from Cristiano Garella & Gianluca Zanetta at La Cappucina, we were so thankful Cristiano made a visit possible, eventhough it was harvest.  This truly iconic estate was founded in 1861 & is currently run by Odilio (father), & his son Mattia who has recently joined his father full time..  They own but 5.5 hectares of vines, including Martinazzi Cru” a breathtaking, steep, rocky (volcanic porphyry–low organic matter) Bramaterra hillside plus 1 hectare of another steep hillside of 70 year old vines across the way.  (His latest vineyard addition is 1 hectare planted above on the steepest, rockiest site.  The vines are only 2 years old & I am really anxious to taste what this parcel will produce).  Odilio, now 77 years young in age, is undeniably from the old school of the region–its grass roots thoughts, philosophies & traditional minded ways, both in the vineyard & the winery.  I was totally taken by this wise, very thoughtful wine “yoda” & his young, energetic, uplifting son Mattia.  (It thankfully seems, we always seem to run across such a wine maestro/vigneron like this in every Old World wine region we visit).  Although he prudently uses stainless steel in his winemaking, he seems to prefer old concrete (1901) totally underground & older, large oak (1250 liters, & 1700 liters) for his aging.  (His Bramaterra, for instance, is typically 70% Nebbiolo, 7% Vespolina, 20% Croatina & 3% Uva Rara, aged for 30 months in such vessels!).  Odilio Antoniotti produces glorious Bramaterra–something truly special, personal & soulful.  Stylistically, this wine reminds me of those from but a small handful of Barolo-meisters back in the 1960’s & 1970’s.  This is definitely a wine to search out!  I left Odilio with a most touching memory.  While I asked Mattia all of these questions about the vineyards, the vines, the winemaking, while we were in the vineyard, Odilio was off to the side, trying to break open one of the rocks in his vineyard.  He finally succeeded after 20 minutes or so of working it.  He then proudly showed us the core of the rock, which showed some kind of red quartz & smatterings of limestone, which was unlike anything else I saw in Alto Piemonte.  He beamed as a father would when showing his newborn baby.  I will always remember this special moment, as it will remind me how it was this soil, HIS soil, which this 77 year old true wine master treasured & proudly showed us.  Incredible!

Yes, what an incredible day this really was.

Our comrade in wine, maestro Keith, kindly hosted another BYOB winetasting at his home.  This tasting’s theme was Gamay Noir.  It was a Sunday night.  The tasting started around 8:30pm & the line-up was quite diverse & so interesting.

The first thing I would say tasters soon discovered was that not all Beaujolais are created the same.  Seems obvious, right?  But, I often hear people note, “yes, I would pair that dish with a Beaujolais“.  Tasting this line up, however, clearly showed how a wine produced from the same grape variety can differ, whether from site, soil, vintage growing conditions, harvest times, winemaker’s preference & execution & so many other factors.

Wines tasted–2015 Evening Land Gamay Noir “Seven Springs”; 2017 Dupeuble Beaujolais Rosé; 2017 Nicole Chanrion “”Perle de Gamay”; Jean Foillard Beaujolais Villages; 2016 Robert-Denogent Beaujolais Villages “Cuvée Jules Chauvet”; 2015 Julien Sunier “Wild Soul”; 2015 Anne Sophie Dubois Fleurie “Clepsydre”; 2015 Chignard Juliénas “Beauvernay”; 2016 Mommessin St Amour; 2015 Jean-Paul Brun “Domaine de Terres Dorées” St Amour; Ganevat “Cuvée Madelon Nature”; 2017 Nicole Chanrion Côte de Brouilly “Domaine de la Voûte des Crozes”; 2006 Nicole Chanrion Côte de Brouilly “Domaine de la Voûte des Crozes”; 2014 Château Thivin Côte de Brouilly; 2017 Jean-Paul Thévenet Morgon “Vieilles Vignes”; 2015 Jean-Paul Thévenet Morgon “Vieilles Vignes”; 2009 Jean Foillard Morgon “3.14”.










The highlights for me included–

2017 Dupeuble Beaujolais Rosé–a very tasty, mineral laden, vivacious, perky roséBoy, has this estate greatly improved their pink wine over the past decade or so!  Quite the turnaround.  This family run estate has doing their thing for over 500 years.  Today, the vines are farmed organically & biodynamically.  Really ideal for the fast approaching Summer months.  Thank you Ann for sharing.  2017 Nicole Chanrion “”Perle de Gamay”–My first taste of this particular white wine.  Produced from .27HA of Gamay Noir (planted in the 1970’s)–fermented in stainless steel & aged for 10 months.  Tasters loved its wonderful purity, deliciousness & softness.  Its a very pretty, lighter, easy drinking white wine.  Thank you Chris for sharing.  2016 Robert-Denogent Beaujolais Villages “Cuvée Jules Chauvet”–Jean-Jacques Robert was the first of his family to create such a fanfare for their wines.  His, are many stellar, white wine bottlings from very special & unique, old vine parcels in the Mâconnais.  I would say, these old vine white wines are more in quality company with the Côte de Beaune Crus rather than with his neighbors.  A few years back, Robert leased a 1.14 hectare parcel (20 & 70 year old vines) from Benedicte Chauvet, niece of iconic, wine game changing Jules Chauvet.  This 2016 was delicious, intriguing, vinous, savory & really good.  One of the more popular wines of the evening among the tasters.  Thank you Ann for sharing.  Ganevat Vin de France “Cuvée Madelon Nature”–This was one of the wine highlights of the night.  Because of the extreme challenges they have recently been experiencing, Jean-François teamed up his sister Anne to create some very interesting Vin de France designated wines.  Cuvée Madelon Nature is 50 to 60% old vine, organically grown Gamay Noir from the Morgon cru & the remainder produced from indigenous vines from Jura.  This bottle was very compelling–vinous, savory, full of character with mojo & structure in its core.  Quite a group favorite.  Thank you Jacob for sharing.  Both the 2017 AND the 2006  Nicole Chanrion Côte de Brouilly “Domaine de la Voûte des Crozes” were served.  (Unfortunately, the 2006 was off.  It would have been nice to taste a set of wines, 11 years apart).  Chanrion owns & farms 6.5 hectares of vineyards in the lower part of the Côte de Brouilly.  She is a very driven, visionary, totally committed, true vigneron.  Her 2017 Côte de Brouilly has a dark, sinister, very savory nature which is nonetheless done with style, refinement & balance.  Although the 2006 bottle was corked, I fortunately had a different bottle a couple of weeks or so ago.  Tasting that bottle, I was amazed how the gunflinty, savory, musky, dead leaves character moved in the forefront & the fruit smells nearly non-existent.   Furthermore, on the palate the 2006 was way more rounded, seamless & harmonious.  I wondered, who says Beaujolais doesn’t get better with some age?  The 2014 Château Thivin Côte de Brouilly comes from vineyards higher in elevation up the Côte.  The granite is very black in color & one gets a more dark shade in the wine with spice, gunflint, a real savoriness & therefore a much more masculine wine style in comparison to the Chanrion bottlings.  Thank you Brent for sharing.  One of the other standout (pair) were the  2017 & 2015 Jean-Paul Thévenet Morgon “Vieilles Vignes”.  I thought BOTH wines were REALLY good.  Both had a wonderful transparency, a very compelling vinous, earth laden character with superb texture, seamlessness & class.  I was really quite surprised because previously I had found this domaine’s wines good, but normally underwhelming in comparison to the other “Gang of Four’s” wines.  2009 Jean Foillard Morgon “3.14”–I was so thankful someone brought this bottling AND one that had some bottle age at that.  Jean Foillard, over the years, has produced some of the real standout wines from the Beaujolais appellation.  His “3.14” is his crown jewel, produced from his 100 year old vines.  The 2009 is what I would refer to as a “suped up” version–a supercharger, complete with mag wheels.  It is gorgeous & quite decadent for a Beaujolais with real vinosity, generous amplitude & depth.  Thank you Keith for sharing.

As a side note, sadly, the 2015 Jean-Paul Brun “Domaine de Terres Dorées” St Amour for this night’s tasting was oxidized, probably heat stressed.  Thankfully a few days later, Matt allowed me to try some of his 2016 Jean-Paul Brun “Domaine de Terres Dorées” Côte de Brouilly.  I thought this wine was MUCH better & quite an interesting drink.  The wine was actually brought & tasted with a candidate in preparation for an upcoming blind tasting examination he will be doing.  Jean-Paul is not typically a proponent of carbonic maceration in his Beaujolais.  The taster continued– “this wine had class, vinosity & was really good winemaking“.  That’s a really fair assessment.  I think that was, after all, the point of the wine.

I would also like to add, that we also tasted on that day a 2017 Chignard Fleurie “Les Moriers”.  I thought this wine was wonderful–gorgeous fruit, vinosity, a savory core & absolutely delicious.  For me this is a Beaujolais “banker”.  Old vines of Fleurie designated vines which actually juts into the Moulin-a-Vent appellation, done carbonic & aged in old oak.  Just for fun, we then opened a bottle of the 2011 Chignard Fleurie “Les Moriers” to compare.  The obvious fruit had changed with bottle age.  The 2011 was now vehemently about savoriness, stones & vinosity.  The edges were rounded & the wine was so very harmonious & I thought superb.  It was like comparing a caterpillar & a butterfly, the difference was so incredible.  Who says Beaujolais doesn’t blossom with age?

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Another Look at What Syrah Can Be

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For our VINO tastings, in general, we try to show participants a glimpse of the whole world of wines, something beyond just California and the New World and to create opportunities, which both professionals and non-professionals would not normally have access to…this is one of those tastings.

Over the years, while growing up in this industry, I was always taught Syrah was one of the world’s top five “noble” grape varieties. It was capable of making truly memorable red wines with that offered something extra. Along the way, something got lost in the transition from the old days to today. I would say Australian renditions muddied the waters some because of their BIG, opulent, over blown, often over ripe bottlings. These certainly created quite the sensation and headline news at one time because of their all universe high scores from the major wine writers. Syrah, however, doesn’t have to be loud, bold or swashbuckling. I prefer those that are transparent, refined, sultry, gamey, earthy and full of soul. I am hoping this tasting of four examples, served BLIND, will help you better understand what I am trying to describe. Hopefully, then they will help create a benchmark or two of what Syrah wines can be. 

2017 Lionel Faury Syrah “Collines Rhodaniennes”— Faury fashions more classical, blue collar styled wines–earnest, traditionally grounded, masculine & forthright.  This “Collines Rhodaniennes” bottling comes from parcels on plateaus at higher elevations than St Joseph, granitic soils. 80% destemmed. 6 months in demi-muids (10 to 20 years old).

2016 Jean-Paul Jamet SyrahCollines Rhodaniennes–Finally, some Jamet Syrah is making its way to the Islands! This estate is certainly in the groove of producing top caliber Syrah.  While their Cote Rotie wines are certainly “trophy”-esque, we find superb value in their Collines Rhodaniennes bottling.  The 2016 is a blend of three parcels:– young-vine Côte Rôtie; mica schist terroir on a plateau next to the domaine and outside of the Côte Rôtie appellation AND the 3rd from a plateau above Condrieu. Grapes are 90% de-stemmed and aged 11 months in older barrique (10-20 years old).

2016 Betton Crozes Hermitage “Espiègle”–100% Syrah from La Roche de Glun—alluvial soils with large quartz stones. Crushed by foot, wild yeast fermentation. One year in six year old (white Burgundy) barrels and bottled unfiltered and unfined.  This is an example of a more contemporary styled, fruit forward Syrah to compare with the others.

2015 Kermit Lynch/Louis Barruol Crozes Hermitage “Tenay”–The Louis Barruol-Kermit Lynch collaboration is the combination of two world class talents.  Louis has the insight & right connections/network to search out interesting parcels of Syrah (really focusing on the Petite Serine vine), crafting the wine & then blending the resulting wines with super palate Kermit Lynch.  A blend of two barrels from the lieu dit of Tenay, 30 to 50 year old heirloom/heritage vines.  The Tenay parcel is located on an upper slope just north of hermitage.  We loved the extra dimensions the old vine Serine innately has.

Categories : General, Red, Wine, Wine Thoughts
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What Carignane based wines can be

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Carignane can make very interesting, savory, tasty and wonderfully food friendly red wines and I am always on the look out for wines produced from this grape. When it is good, it can be smoking. Unfortunately, it can also produce very nonchalant renditions. Here is your chance to try FOUR tasty, really unique and interesting examples, each from a true vigneron of the region, just to show tasters what can be! To me a vigneron is a master of his craft who creates magic like few others can.  

2013 Neyers Carignan “Evangelho Vineyard” (California)–Undoubtedly one of our favorites out of California. These vines are around 139 years old age, own rooted, grown in predominately sand soils. Then foot stomped and done with Old World sensibilities. We are so thankful this old vine vineyard has not yet been ripped out or replanted.

2013 Domaine Neferis Selian Premier Cru “Reserve” (Tunisia)–we first tasted this wine at SommCon 2018 at a Carignane tasting conducted by  Geoff Labitzki MW & Brian Lynch.  I marveled at this wine because it was tasty, interesting, rustic, savory with a hearty personality & really delivering at a surprisingly reasonable price.  Tunisia is located in North Africa, across the Mediterranean from Italy and southern France. This is old vine Carignane, well worth checking out.  

2016 Les Milles Vignes Fitou “Denis Royal” (Southern France)–From one of the hottest winemakers in southern France, this cuvee is 80% (75 year old) Carignane 10% Grenache & 10% Mourvedre—such a spellbinding, old vine, wonderfully textured standout.  Their vineyards in the rugged terrain of Fitou is a composite of clay, limestone, marl & schist.  Furthermore, these sites are fiercely & relently pounded by the region’s infamous, ferocious Tramontagne wind, which just adds to the unforgiving growing conditions.  It is without a doubt work driven by passion.  The reins have been completely turned over to (daughter) Valérie Guerin, who in turned, along with her wines are currently one of the “wine darlings” of Paris wine scene.

2013 Domaine Vinci “Rafalot” (Southern France)–Absolutely wild, wooly, unabashed funkster, probably because of the extreme low, if at all, use of sulfur. The wine nonetheless moves me because it does have a good dose of soul, hidden amongst the funk.  Domaine Vinci is located in the heart of Roussillon–a hodge-podge of remote, non-contiguous parcels, totaling only about 6 hectares.  The “Rafalot” bottling comes from a parcel of 100 year Carignane vines grown in clay limestone.  The whole clusters are gently foot stomped with minimal, if any sulfur used during the winemaking process.  It is aged for 18 months in demi-muids & 12 year old barrels.  This is something very unique & different.

Categories : General, Red, Wine, Wine Thoughts
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“Claret” Styled Californians

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In the old days, the English used to refer to Bordeaux red wines as claret. While this tasting is not featuring any Bordeaux red wines, I just used to the word to conjure up a style reference—classy, elegant, civil, refined and so different from the lavish, humonguous “fruit bombs” quite in fashion these days. Hopefully these wines will show a different slant of what California is capable of.

2016 Obsidian Ridge Cabernet Sauvignon “Obsidian Ridge Vineyard”–This a rising star of noteworthy Cabernet from the Red Hills, Lake County, offered at surprisingly reasonable prices. The 2016 is 95% Cabernet Sauvignon, 4% Petite Verdot, 1% Malbec and 16 months in oak, 45% new.  “Obsidian—glassy black rock of volcanic origin—covers the hillsides of Obsidian Ridge Vineyard. The steep, sloping terroir of this land, with its incomparable red gravely soil shot through with obsidian, is all that a winemaker could hope for. Half a mile above sea level, the harsh mountain climate shows our fruit no mercy, and this builds character. Pacific winds, blinding mountain sunlight, and cold, rocky conditions produce grapes with exceptionally thick skins, dark color, and intense flavor”.

2016 Falcone Cabernet Sauvignon “Paso Robles”–I first met husband/wife winemakers John and Helen Falcone during their tenure at Rusack Vineyards. They were ex-Napa Valley-ers who came down to the Ballard Canyon enclave of the Santa Barbara appellation and completely turned the project around. While doing so, they also purchased a small parcel in eastern Paso Robles (Creston, I believe) and in 2000 planted four acres each of Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah. This wonderful 100% Cabernet, aged for 17 months in French and American oak (52% new) is the fruit of their journey. I ran into them at the past two Wine Speak events and we were able to get some to share with you all.

2014 Consortium Cabernet Sauvignon “Napa Valley”–This is a collaborative effort by the “Band of Vintners”, a high profile, wine “rat pack” (including Jason Heller MS) of the Napa Valley, which “overdelivers pound for pound” AND especially for the dollar.  83% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Merlot & 2% Petite Verdot.

2014 Selene Merlot “Frediani Vineyard”–we purposely poured this wine last & BLIND for the tasters.  Our intent was to show the Merlot grape variety, when grown in interesting soils & microclimates is very capable of producing top caliber wine.  In Bordeaux, for instance, the Right Bank seems to be growing its acreage of Merlot.  PLUS, despite the downward turn in popularity of Merlot in the U.S., currently the 2 most expensive Bordeaux “trophy” red wines are Merlot based.  Furthermore, on a recent wine trip to Washington state, I was very impressed with many Merlot based red wines there & truly believe this grape has a real potential & future there.  So, just to mix things up a little, we poured this wine on this night.  100% Merlot from the iconic Frediani Vineyard & superstar winemaker Mia Klein.  It did not disappoint.  In fact, right out of the gates, it had the most provocative perfume–with lots of depth, savoriness, character & vinosity.  Some might think it is because of the additional bottle age or that perhaps Merlot opens up sooner after its been bottled.  Whatever the reason, this wine had grandeur, class & much to say.  On the palate, it was deep, glorious, vinous & savory with superb texture, flow on the palate & balance.

Categories : General, Red, Wine, Wine Thoughts
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Savory Red Wines

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Here is your chance to try FOUR really unique and interesting Italian red wines, each from a true vigneron of the region! To me a vigneron is a master of his craft who works with a code, discipline, skill, passion and dedication for his craft. This honor is for a select few who embrace and masterfully work through a grape, a vine, a vineyard and create magic like few others can. We love how savory and food friendly each is, without any sense of heaviness or gaudiness. What an opportunity!

2015 Renzo Castella Dolcetto di Diano d’Alba “Rivolia”–For most Piemonte wineries, Dolcetto is often an after thought, planted when Nebbiolo or Barbera couldn’t be. In comparison, Renzo Castella proudly is a Dolcetto specialist—50 year old organically farmed vines in the Diano d’Alba appellation with its largely sandstone dominated soils. We were absolutely captivated with this charming, classy, delicious rendition. WOW! 


2017 Baron Widmann Vernatsch Südtiroler”–Grown at roughly 2000 feet elevation in the mountains of northeast Italy. 100% Sciava from one of the most revered vineyard-ists in all of Italy.  “Light colored, delicious and very drinkable table wines (sort of like a cross between Beaujolais and Bourgeuil and as mouthwatering and savory as that description suggests). This is a wine to be drunk and not discussed”. 

2010 La Viarte Schiopettino di Prepotto “Colli Orientali”–Schiopettino is an indigenous grape variety of northeast Italy, high in the hills.  It seems to excel in the Prepotto enclave.  Interestingly, Schiopettino seems to be fastly rising in recognition among the sommelier community across the country. This grape variety is easier to grow than many of its peers, while still delivering a wonderful savoriness, especially in the core, without pondering weight, richness or high alcohol levels. It definitely has a rightful place at the dinner table.

2017 Vigneti Vecchio Etna “Sciare Vive”–Mostly Nerello Mascalese—50 to 130 year old vines—grown in the volcanic soils of Etna at 2000 feet elevation and only six months aging in 500 liter oak. Yet, another red wine all about savoriness and mojo, while still being wonderfully transparent, surprisingly refined and delicious.


Categories : General, Red, Wine, Wine Thoughts
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What Old World Grenache Can Be

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I am one of those wine people who believe the soils and growing conditions can greatly affect the resulting wine.  Fortunately, the Old World countries such as France and Italy, have had decades, even in some cases centuries to discover where the truly special vineyards are.  In many of these cases the wine is then named after the place, rather than the grape variety.

To better illustrate what can be, let’s, for instance, take a look at the Grenache red grape variety.

While there may be some real standouts made exclusively from Grenache, this grape variety has really made quite the niche for itself when blended with other grape varieties such as Syrah, Mourvedre and Cinsault, just to name three.

In France’s southern Rhone Valley, many top echelon wineries have created quite the reputation and legacy through their blends of these grape varieties grown in their estate vineyards.  Each vineyard offers different soils and growing conditions, which along with the skill of the winemaker, in my opinion result in a VERY different kind of wine!

Here are some which have stood out for me over the years.

2014 Catherine Le Goeuil Côtes du Rhône Villages Cairanne–The hilltop village of Cairanne in France’s southern Rhone Valley is little known outside of the country.  Locally, it is generally considered the home of some of the finest Grenache based red wines among the 17 legally recognized Côtes du Rhône Villages.  It is also the home to wine wonder woman, Catherine Le Goeuil, who is and has been one of the champions of the organic and biodynamic farming in all of France for quite some time.  Her wines are rustic and earthy yet so charming and wonderfully delicious.  I recommend you serve it slightly chilled for afternoon sipping, outdoor barbecues or just to wet the whistle.  What a great value!

2012 Domaine Gallety “Côtes du Vivarais”–The Côtes du Vivarais runs along the western flank of the northern part of France’s southern Rhone Valley.  I only became acquainted with this newer wine appellation in roughly 2007 upon a visit.  I was so mesmerized by their tasty, interesting and unique red wine, we special ordered some for our VINO restaurant.  This bottling is 50% 50 to 60 year old vine Grenache and 50% 25 to 30 year old vine Syrah grown in a very different mix of soils.  A warmer, somewhat semiarid kind of spot, as the you will see in the picture.  We were so taken by this wine’s transparency, refinement, class, texture and balance.  I am so surprised this wine hasn’t really yet been discovered, so I suggest you take advantage of the fabulous pricing it still has, especially considering the superb quality in the bottle.

2014 Sang des Cailloux Vacqueyras–The village of Vacqueyras is yet another small, relatively low keyed discovery.  When I first visited, in 1991, I was taken back how many soils types I would see there during a 15 minute drive.  We enjoyed a filling lunch at a café before heading to meet owner/winemaker Serge Férigoule.  It was to be an introduction to a man, his vineyard and wine I will remember forever.  To this day, it is one of my favorites.  His vineyards are located on the Plateau des Garrigues, an elevated mishmash of rocks, rounded river stones, red clay and limestone, which gives this wine its strong, masculine, wildly rustic core, depth and soulfulness.  Typically, the blend is mostly Grenache with a slug of Syrah and small tidbits of Mourvedre and Cinsault.  This wine was also the partner of one of my all time food and wine pairings—Fire Roasted Ribeye Steak with a bay leaf chimichurri.

2014 Vieux Télégraphe Châteauneuf-du-Pape “La Crau”–Undoubtedly, Châteauneuf-du-Pape, is historically, the most famous wine appellation in France’s southern Rhone Valley.  It is also home to one of the world’s most famous red wines, which over the past 20 years, have been getting lots of press and high scores, which will, at least, explain some the much higher prices.  Like all areas, the are many nooks and crannies with different characteristics.  (Think about how different Nanakuli and Manoa are on O’ahu).  One of the most special and celebrated vineyards parcels of the appellation I have run across is La Crau, which is what I would characterize as a mound of rounded river stones (galets roulés) pushed together by ancient glaciers.  This gathering of stones with other earthen soils, minerals and the old vines of mainly Grenache and Syrah, can create a VERY different kind of wine—majestic in a very masculine manner, with a very earthen, rustic core and the ability to age into something utterly magical down the road when cellared properly.  Yes, $90 is pricey, but when one compares what you can get from Bordeaux, Napa Valley or Burgundy, this really is a deal.

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