I’ll Drink to That: Winemaker Dominik Sona

Episode 487 of I’ll Drink to That! features winemaker Dominik Sona of Koehler-Ruprecht. Koehler-Ruprecht is a winery located in the Pfalz of Germany.

As a winery, Koehler-Ruprecht marches to the beat of its own drummer. As Dominik Sona says repeatedly in this interview, there is nobody else in the Pfalz doing things as they do. The litany of idiosyncrasies is long, but so is the history of excellent bottles of wine. That is one reason why it is worth hearing more about the approach that K-R takes in the winery. Another is that listening to Sona actually puts the rest of the German wine world into relief. By highlighting what they do that is different from others, Sona also underlines what the norms for German wine really are today. Long aging on the lees, for a year or more, without racking? Sona explains that this was once much more common in the region than it is today. Dry wines made without chaptalization? Sona alludes to how normalized an allowance for adding sugar has become in the German wine community and gives his reasons for rejecting that practice. A new approach in the vineyards? Sona details how important this has become, in light of climate change. If you want to understand the wines of Koehler-Ruprecht better, you should listen to this interview. And if you just want to understand the wines of Germany in general, you should… also listen to this interview. Either way, you will be rewarded.

Other ways to listen:

I’ll Drink to That is the world’s most listened-to wine podcast, hosted by Levi Dalton. Levi has had a long career working as a sommelier in some of the most distinguished and acclaimed dining rooms in America. He has served wine to guests of Restaurant Daniel, Masa, and Alto, all in Manhattan. Levi has also contributed articles on wine themes to publications such as The Art of Eating, Wine & Spirits magazine, Bon Appetit online, and Eater NY. Check out his pictures on Instagram and follow him on Twitter: @leviopenswine

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Wine News: What I’m Reading the Week of 6/13/21

Welcome to my weekly roundup of the wine stories that I find of interest on the web. I post them to my magazine on Flipboard, but for those of you who aren’t Flipboard inclined, here’s everything I’ve strained out of the wine-related muck for the week.

Chenin Blanc Finds Its Feet in South Africa
Amanda Barns goes prospecting.

Cold Fall and Arid Winter Conditions Wreak Spring Havoc in Some Vineyards
Climate change rears its head again…

Turning the Tables on Alder Yarrow
So, uh, I got interviewed.

By the Bottle: Alder Yarrow
Um, twice.

This Summer, Make It Chianti Classico
Chianti really has never been better.

Lush or Lean? Wine Pros on What their Favorite Tasting Terms Really Mean
Words, words, words.

Are We Entering the Post-Natural Wine Era?
Sigh.

Calling Mr. Natural — A Battle Cry
The riposte.

Tolerance v intolerance
REALLY interesting dustup on the topic of Biogenic Amines. Seriously. Read this.

The Wine Mavericks of California’s Central Coast
Some great picks in there.

Wine Lightens Up as Heavy Bottles Fall Out of Favor
But how many wineries have really made the change?

‘Turns out you can’t get away from it anywhere’: Inside the sexism that runs rife in the drinks industry
Need to keep talking about it until it’s gone.

Creating Change in California’s Food and Wine Scene
A profile of Maryam Ahmed.

New exhibit tracks the once unlikely rise of Oregon’s wine industry
Would be cool to see this.

The New Generation of Vintners Reviving Los Angeles’ Wine Heritage
Matt Kettmann profiles a few good names.

The Message in a Reusable Wine Bottle: Combat Climate Change
Every little bit helps! Eric Asimov goes deep into the subject.

Wineries Clash in Battle of the Cults
What’s in a name? Everything, apparently.

A Legend of the Vineyard
Many happy returns, Dr. Walker.

Meet the Millennial woman modernizing one of Napa’s most exclusive wineries
A profile of Maya Dalla Valle. Love the last line.

A Guide to the Wines of Languedoc and Roussillon
The 101 for a big place.

Winemakers Collaborate With Weed Growers on New Cannabis Appellation Systems
Terroir is everywhere.

Wine Label Text: How Much is Too Much–and Too Little
Consumer opinions vs. professional

It’s Time to Stop Laughing Off Wines With Funny Names
Elin McCoy drinks for fun.

Why the Wine Industry Is Betting on Jermaine Stone
Nice profile from Dorothy Gaiter.

How Château Lafite Changed the World of Wine
One night in Hong Kong….

Inside Blaufränkisch’s Global Comeback
Please sir, can I have some more?

Rioja’s power struggle
Tough times to be a little producer

Why Etna wine is so hot right now
Hotter than Hansel.

Police Seize Grange In “Sting Of The Century”
224 people charged. Seriosly, this is like Spectre for wine

Will Chemical Damage Kill the Texas Wine Industry?
Brutal.

Hot Brands And Instagram Are Fueling Rosé Wine’s Phenomenal Growth Rate In The U.S. Market
And to think, once we used to have a rosé advocacy organization.

Why Bay Area wineries may eventually struggle to sell wine – even with a rise in tourism
Fire season has begun, says Esther Mobley.

Are Napa Valley Grape Prices Sustainable?
Limited supply suggests: yes.

Why New England wines are starting to get some serious attention
Terroir isn’t limited to the West Coast.

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Napa Goes Kosher

I’m a particularly bad (read: unobservant and unbelieving) Jew, but I’ve written my share of articles on kosher wines over the years, usually for magazines or websites with broad consumer readerships, and usually to coincide with some Jewish holiday. I wouldn’t say that I’m particularly in touch with Jewish communities here in California, but when I heard recently that one of Napa’s top winemakers was making a kosher wine, I sat up and paid attention. And when I did, I learned that it seems that kosher wine is now officially a thing in Napa.

For the longest time there have been only three names to know when it comes to kosher wine in Napa, or in California as a whole. Herzog Wine Cellars, now based in Ventura, California, was the first to make kosher wine from Napa in the mid 1980s, and was likely the first to make kosher wine in the United States following the end of Prohibition. Hagafen Cellars, based in Napa Valley, has been making kosher wine since the early 1990s. And in 2003, Jeff Morgan started Covenant in Napa, which for years has been the standard-bearer for premium kosher wine in California (and the best-known, expensive American kosher wine on the market).

That was the state of things, or so I thought, until I heard Maayan Koschitzky make a passing comment about all the kosher winemaking spam he was receiving these days.

Continue reading this article on JancisRobinson.Com

This article is my monthly column at JancisRobinson.Com, Alder on America, and is usually available only to subscribers of her website. If you’re not familiar with the site, I urge you to give it a try. It’s only £8.50 a month or £85 per year ($11/mo or $111 a year for you Americans) and well worth the cost, especially considering you basically get free, searchable access to the Oxford Companion to Wine ($65) and maps from the World Atlas of Wine ($50) as part of the subscription costs. Click here to sign up.

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A Stellar Season: Tasting the 2019 Vintage Through Premiere Napa Valley

As we have all been experiencing, the pandemic changed everything. So it was no surprise when the Napa Valley Vintners Association postponed their annual fundraising event known as Premiere Napa Valley, which usually takes place in February each year. It also wasn’t much of a surprise that when they finally did hold it last weekend in Napa, it bore little resemblance to the usual seething crowd of trade and media wandering through the barrel room at the Culinary Institute of America’s Greystone Castle.

Instead, this year was an intimate, outdoor affair reserved for the most successful past bidders, and the only tasting of the barrel samples available at auction were at a few small events around Napa and sets of half-bottles that the Vintners and their winery members painstakingly assembled to send to prospective bidders.

Long-time readers will know that the Premiere barrel tasting is something like my annual blood-sport ritual, where I attempt to taste all 200+ wines before the annual auction gets underway.

That was not an option this year, but I did manage to taste a number of the lots, many from the comfort of my own dining room, which afforded me the opportunity to spend more time with each wine and make much more complete tasting notes than usual.

The Basics of Premiere Napa Valley

For those unfamiliar with Premiere, it is not to be confused with the other star-studded charity auction that Napa throws each spring known as Auction Napa Valley (pandemic-related changes to which are expected to be announced at some point).

Premiere Napa Valley is a more focused event than Auction Napa Valley. It is a barrel tasting and auction, in which the wines on offer are all unique creations made specifically and only for this event, offering purchasers the opportunity to own an incredibly rare wine that often represents the very pinnacle of a winemaker’s efforts in that vintage. All the invited bidders are ostensibly in the wine trade (retailers, distributors, etc.). The proceeds from the auction of the usually more than 200 unique lots of wine go to help fund the Vintners Association itself.

The auction action at Premiere always serves as something of a barometer for California wine, measuring both the strength of the Napa brand in the marketplace, as well as the interest in the upper echelon of fine California wine (many auction lots sell for well over $1000 per bottle).

Changed Times, Changed Approach

This year, of course, was far from normal, and most of the bidding took place online, with only a few people attending the live event itself.

A Stellar Season: Tasting the 2019 Vintage Through Premiere Napa Valley

No one knew precisely how the massively changed event would affect the annual fundraising effort. With prospective bidders only able to taste a tiny fraction of the overall number of barrel lots, would they be confident enough to pay big bucks for the wines?

Much to everyone’s surprise and pleasure, it turned out that many people didn’t actually need to taste the wines in advance in order to snap up the 149 lots on offer.

The hybrid online-in-person auction brought in $2.7 million dollars, certainly less than the $3.9 million raised just before the pandemic hit, but with 60 to 70 fewer auction lots and the other extenuating circumstances, it’s hard not to look at this as something of a triumph. The wine trade came ready to spend, and spend they did, many from international locations such as Hong Kong and the UK.

A Stellar Season: Tasting the 2019 Vintage Through Premiere Napa Valley

The Allure of a Great Vintage

It’s hard to know how much of this year’s successful haul was about the wines themselves, and how much was an industry showing its support under the most unusual of circumstances. But we can’t rule out the fact that most of the wines on offer were from the 2019 vintage.

One of the primary reasons I attempt to taste widely at Premiere each year is that it affords an opportunity to take a look at what you might characterize as the pinnacle of the vintage. Most producers attempt to offer if not their absolute best, certainly one of their highest quality wines made each year. Consequently, these wines show the best of what is possible given the conditions of the vintage, sparing no expense.

The 2018 vintage was an extremely hard act to follow: generous yields, perfect weather, no heatwaves. It was a superstar year and it resulted in some truly phenomenal wines.

And what about 2019? Well it was basically the same, if just ever-so-slightly cooler than 2018.

Just as with 2018, it was a year in which you’d have to try pretty hard to make a bad wine.

After a surprisingly heavy amount of rain in May (more than 3 inches in some places) the remainder of the spring and summer unfurled calm and untroubled. Mild weather, the lack of heat spells, and the good amount of soil moisure made for a growing season that was as long as anyone wanted it to be, at least until the start of the Kincaid Fire in Sonoma County on October 23rd. Anyone in Napa who hadn’t gotten their fruit in by that time was able to do so in quick order and without incident, making for an astonishingly good harvest.

Just as with 2018, it was a year in which you’d have to try pretty hard to make a bad wine. Having said that, looking at my scores for the 19s and collecting my impressions after tasting a bunch of them, I’m still going to give the edge to the 2018 vintage in terms of my preference.

Yields were down a bit from the very generous 2018, and I think that made, in some cases, for some more concentrated wines in 2019. That may sound great to some wine lovers, but for those of us who prefer a bit more finesse and elegance to go along with the raw power of our Napa wines, it may be that the larger yields offered just a bit more juice to skin ratio, and therefore wines that were slightly less heavy than their 2019 siblings.

Really, I’m splitting hairs here, and it may well be that with a little more time the 2019s will show that they are superior, but if they are, it won’t be by much.

The best of the 2019 wines, like those of 2018, show incredibly fine-grained tannic structure, and fabulous acidity to complement perfectly ripe fruit. Some of my favorites have a lift and a juiciness that was simply breathtaking. I’ll occasionally give my wife a sip of a particularly good sample that I’m tasting if she happens to walk through the room. As I was tasting some of these Premiere samples, I gave her a taste of the wine made by Rosemary Cakebread, Cathy Corison, Dawnine Dyer, and Diana Seysses. Her eyes lit up and she grabbed the little half-bottle, hugged it to her chest, and ran out of the room yelling, “Buy some steaks for dinner!”

While almost all of the wines below will be out of reach for even typically spendy Napa fans, you can still use my scores as a buying guide. Anyone who made a rockstar wine below for $300+ a bottle will likely have done a pretty damn good job with their standard $80 wine, so keep your eyes and ears out for the 2019s when they hit the market in late 2022 or early 2023.

Here are my scores for everything I tasted.

A Stellar Season: Tasting the 2019 Vintage Through Premiere Napa Valley

Tasting Notes

Specific details about the wines below are summarized from the information supplied by the producers to the Napa Valley Vintners Association.

WINES WITH A SCORE BETWEEN 9.5 AND 10

2019 Corison Winery, Dyer Vineyard, Gallica, Snowden Vineyards “In Concert” Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley – Lot# 23
Dark garnet in the glass, this barrel sample smells of dried sage and thyme, flowers, and cherries. In the mouth, gorgeous flavors of cherry and herbs and plum mix with floral notes and fine-grained tannins. Notes of licorice root and dried flowers linger in the finish. Fantastic acidity and wonderfully balanced between savory and fruit flavors this is a gorgeous wine. Ladies, FTW! Rosemary Cakebread, Cathy Corison, Dawnine Dyer, and Diana Seysses, who together have more than 150 years of collective winemaking experience, worked with wines from each of their vineyards across St. Helena, Oakville, Diamond Mountain, and Spring Mountain.

2019 Ovid Napa Valley “MMXIX” Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley – Lot# 85
Very dark purple in color, this barrel sample smells of black cherry, black pepper, and blackberry. In the mouth, the wine is incredibly juicy thanks to fantastic acidity that seems to burst forth from black cherry and plum flavors tinged with cola nut and cassis. Expansive and rich but without heaviness. Fine-grained tannins gain muscle as the wine lingers through a long, floral finish. Outstanding. Sourced from the organically farmed OVID estate vineyard, perched on the western reaches of Pritchard Hill at 1,400 feet, this barrel sample is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc, fermented with native yeasts and bottled unfined and unfiltered.

2019 Spottswoode Estate Vineyard & Winery “Spottswoode Clone” Cabernet Sauvignon, St. Helena – Lot# 114
Very dark garnet in color, this barrel sample smells of dried flowers and cherry fruit. In the mouth, gorgeously aromatic black cherry and dried flowers mix with plum and hints of herbs as fantastic acidity assures juiciness throughout. Fine-grained, athletic tannins give structure and texture to the wine, while notes of dried fennel seeds and flowers linger in the finish. Outstanding. This wine is 100% FPS 51 Cabernet Clone, which has become known as the Spottswoode Clone of Cabernet. Planted by the Novaks in 1974, the Spottswoode Clone is recognized as a clone of exceptional quality. The vineyards have been organically farmed since 1985 and biodynamically farmed since 2008.

WINES WITH A SCORE AROUND 9.5

2019 Ashes & Diamonds “V.1” Red Wine, Napa Valley – Lot# 8
Medium to dark garnet in color, this barrel sample smells of cherries, dried flowers, and tobacco leaf. In the mouth, wonderfully bright flavors of cherry and tobacco mix with green herbs and dusty earth. The tannins, too are dusty, fine-grained, and fill the mouth adding texture and depth to a very pretty wine. Excellent acidity and length. A blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot made jointly by Steve Matthiasson and Diana Snowden Seysses.

2019 BRAND Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley – Lot# 16
Inky, opaque purple in the glass, this barrel sample smells of rich black cherry and black plum aromas. In the mouth, wonderfully juicy black cherry and plum flavors are bright with fantastic acidity. Plush velvety tannins and wonderful length and balance. Opulent but not over the top. 100% “See Clone” Cabernet Sauvignon, organically farmed. Fermented in an upright Hermitage oak tank, aged in French oak, and bottled unfined and unfiltered.

2019 Dana Estates “Hershey BDX Blend” Red Wine, Napa Valley – Lot# 28
Inky opaque purple in the glass, this barrel sample smells of black plum and blackberries. In the mouth, wonderfully savory herb flavors mix with cherry and cedar, and cocoa powder. Dried sage notes linger in the finish with licorice root and road dust. Fine-grained tannins hang like a haze in the mouth as the wine lingers through a long finish. Quite elegant and sophisticated, with a nice sense of restraint. Fruit from the estate’s Hershey Vineyard, high up in the Howell Mountain AVA at 1,800 feet. A blend of 62% Cabernet Sauvignon, 16% Cabernet Franc, 12% Merlot, 9% Malbec and 1% Petit Verdot.

2019 Davies Vineyards “J. Davies Estate, Aguirre/Lower McEachran Blocks” Cabernet Sauvignon, Diamond Mountain District – Lot# 30
Inky garnet in the glass, this barrel sample smells of bright cherry fruit. In the mouth, sweet cherry fruit mixes with the vanilla of oak and bright plum flavors. Fantastic acidity keeps the wine juicy and bright, and moderate extraction makes for a limber, energetic expression on the palate. Juicy as all get out, with the faintest whisper of tannins giving texture and structure. Delicious. Originally planted in 1862, this fruit comes from the first hillside vineyards planted in Napa Valley. Winemakers Jessica Koga, Sean Thompson, and Celia Welch.

2019 Farella Vineyard “Coombsville Divide” Merlot, Coombsville – Lot# 37
Dark garnet in the glass, this barrel sample smells of plum and green herbs and a touch of crushed nuts. In the mouth, juicy and bright plum and green herb flavors are wrapped tightly in a suede blanket of tannins. Excellent acidity keeps the mouth-watering as sour cherry flavors linger in the finish along with plum skin. Delicious, with a faint salinity. Made from the first Merlot planted in Coombsville.

2019 Favia “The Rabbit Hole” Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley – Lot# 40
Dark garnet in color, this barrel sample smells of sweet black cherry and blackcurrant. In the mouth, black cherry, plum, and blackcurrant flavors are shot through with a hint of gunpowder and dried sage. Muscular tannins wrap around the core of fruit, increasing their squeeze over time. Excellent acidity and length. The Rabbit Hole Vineyard is planted on arguably the steepest slope in Coombsville. 100% Cabernet Sauvignon, aged for 20 months in French oak barrels with minimal racking.

2019 Kerr Cellars “La Gallina” Cabernet Sauvignon, Oak Knoll District of Napa Valley – Lot# 64
Dark purple in the glass, this barrel sample smells of lush black cherry fruit and cola. In the mouth, gorgeous black cherry and plum flavors mix with a touch of earth and licorice. Excellent acidity and a very fine haze of tannins carry plum and plum skin flavors through a long finish. Delicious, and wonderfully lithe in the mouth. A fantastic wine. Predominantly Cabernet Sauvignon sourced from the Red Hen Vineyard in the Oak Knoll District AVA. This represents the best barrel made by Cristie Kerr and Helen Keplinger. Aged for 2 years in 100% new French Oak.

2019 PATEL – Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, Coombsville – Lot# 90
Inky, opaque purple in the glass, this barrel sample smells of violets and black cherry. In the mouth, intense black cherry and blackcurrant flavors have a juicy brightness thanks to fantastic acidity. There’s a silky seamlessness to this wine, with fine-grained, supple tannins that coat the mouth as notes of violets and black cherry linger in the finish. Aromatic and intense but without being too massive. Quite pretty. Winemaker Julien Fayard selected the best barrel of Cabernet from the Bennett Vineyard in Coombsville. 100% new French oak.

2019 Viader Vineyards & Winery “Block B7” Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley – Lot# 138
Dark garnet in the glass, this barrel sample smells of cherry and cedar and dried flowers. In the mouth, gorgeous cherry and cedar notes mix with dried flowers and herbs. Fine-grained tannins wrap like a fleece blanket around the bright core of the wine. Excellent acidity keeps the mouth-watering. This is quite delicious. This was a small hand-selected group of vines grown in rocky, red volcanic soils separated at harvest from the rest of the lot. Clusters were destemmed and the fruit was placed directly into a new Sylvain French oak 500L fermenter barrel. Skin contact was extended over 14 months and the wine is aged in a 500-liter French oak barrel. Mother and son winemaking team of Delia and Alan Viader.

2019 Volker Eisele Family Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, Chiles Valley District – Lot# 142
Inky purple in the glass, this barrel sample smells of black cherry, earth, and black plum. In the mouth, rich and resonant flavors of black cherry and black plum are nestled into pillowy velvet tannins that coat the mouth with a fine, powdery quality. Juicy and bright with acidity, though it’s hard to escape the depths of dark cherry fruit that resonate on the palate. Notes of cola linger in the finish. A wonderfully powerful, but not overwhelming wine. Outstanding. 35-year-old vines in a vineyard that has been organically farmed since 1974 at an elevation of 900 to 1,100 feet in the Chiles Valley District. Aged in 100% French oak.

WINES WITH A SCORE BETWEEN 9 AND 9.5

2019 Blackbird Vineyards “Premiere Napa Valley Cuvée” Merlot, Napa Valley – Lot# 15
Dark garnet in the glass, this barrel sample smells of black plum and licorice and cedar with a hint of cocoa. In the mouth, sweetish black plum and cedar flavors are wrapped in a thick quilt of plush tannins. There’s a hint of tangy purple SweetTart to this wine that makes the mouth water, along with excellent acidity. Excellent length. Well-integrated oak. 100% Merlot sourced from the Stagecoach and Star vineyards. Blackbird made its name with Merlot wines, so this is a tribute to those beginnings.

2019 Cakebread Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon, Oakville – Lot# 19
Opaque purple in the glass, this barrel sample smells of rich blackcurrant, black cherry, and sweet oak. In the mouth, black cherry, oak, and blackcurrant flavors have a wonderful juiciness to them thanks to fantastic acidity. Exquisitely fine, powdery tannins hang in a gauzy haze across the palate. Other than slightly more oak influence than I’d like here, this barrel sample is excellent. This wine is from a small Cabernet Sauvignon block at the winery featuring Clone 337, with 22 months aging in French oak, of which 60% are new barrels.

2019 Chappellet Vineyard “Pritchard 52” Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley – Lot# 20
Inky, opaque purple in color, this barrel sample smells of black cherry and plum, and cola. In the mouth, plum and cola flavors are juicy and positively bursting with excellent acidity. Fine-grained tannins and a touch of new oak linger in the finish. Polished and elegant. 100% Cabernet Sauvignon from the winery’s best blocks on Pritchard Hill. Aged in 100% new French oak.

2019 Chimney Rock Winery “An Ode to AJT Part II” Cabernet Sauvignon, Stags Leap District – Lot# 21
Very dark garnet in the glass, this barrel sample smells of cherry, chopped green herbs, and cola. In the mouth, cherry, green herbs, and cola flavors mix with earth and dried flowers. Excellent acidity and fleecy tannins round out a very pretty, wine, with just a touch of wood showing in the finish. The fruit was sourced from the Tomahawk Vineyard and the wine is unfiltered. Aged for 18 months in unique French barrels, derived from 300-year-old oak trees. The wine is in tribute to Anthony J. Terlato.

2019 Covert Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, Coombsville – Lot# 25
Very dark garnet in color, this barrel sample smells of rich cherry and cocoa powder. In the mouth, cherry and plum flavors are bright and juicy with excellent acidity. Powdery tannins gain muscle over time and linger with flavors of cola in the finish. Quite tasty. 100% Cabernet Sauvignon from Covert Estate winemaker Julien Fayard, representing the best barrel from the Coombsville estate.

2019 Grace Family Vineyards “Grace Family Blend” Cabernet Sauvignon, St. Helena – Lot# 49
Very dark purple in color, this barrel sample smells of licorice and black cherry. In the mouth, black cherry and licorice flavors are bright with excellent acidity. Tacky, muscular tannins grab hold of the palate as the wine finishes bright with blackcurrant and black plum. Powerful, but not overly rich. 100% Cabernet Sauvignon sourced from the Grace Family Estate and Cornelius Grove vineyards. A unique blend of the very best barrels from these two St. Helena Vineyards, made by Helen Keplinger. Bottled following 22 months of aging in 100% new Sylvain and Taransaud barrels.

2019 HALL “Sacrashe Vineyard” Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley – Lot# 52
Dark garnet in the glass, this barrel sample smells of black cherry and a meaty olive note. In the mouth, that olive quality continues, as saline black olive flavors mix with black cherry and blackcurrant for a mouthwatering, umami-rich expression on the palate. Fine-grained tannins add some texture to the silky path the wine takes through the mouth. There’s a tiny bit of heat on the finish, and I wish for just a bit more acidity to give the wine some lift, but this is pretty damn tasty as it goes. The Sacrashe Vineyard features volcanic tuff soils and sits atop the eastern ridge of the Vaca Mountains in Rutherford.

2019 Inglenook “The Hearth” Cabernet Sauvignon, Rutherford – Lot# 57
Dark garnet in color, this barrel sample smells of struck match and roasted meats. In the mouth, cherry, tobacco and savory roasted meat flavors mix under a fleecy blanket of tannins that stiffens with some musculature as the wine finishes with hints of crushed nuts and herbs. Very good acidity and length. Seems like this one needs some aging time. A blend of 79% Cabernet Sauvignon, 13% Cabernet Franc, and 8% Petit Verdot. The fruit was sourced from 11 carefully chosen vineyard blocks on the 235-acre, organically farmed Inglenook estate.

2019 La Jota Vineyard Co. Cabernet Sauvignon, Howell Mountain – Lot# 66
Inky, opaque purple in color, this barrel sample smells of grapey black cherry and cassis. In the mouth, plush and lush flavors of blackcurrant, black cherry, and blackberry have a bright acidity and powdery, supple tannins. There’s a nice tangy note in the finish, and the oak is very well integrated here. Still somewhat primary in quality, but going to develop into a nice wine. 100% Cabernet Sauvignon grown in the estate’s historic Howell Mountain vineyard, which dates to 1888. Native-yeast fermented, aged in French oak, and bottled unfined and unfiltered.

2019 Matthiasson “Phoenix Vineyard ” Cabernet Sauvignon, Oak Knoll District of Napa Valley – Lot# 72
Medium garnet in color and by far the lightest hue of any non-Pinot red wine among the Premiere lots, this barrel sample smells of wet earth and chopped green herbs layered over red fruits. In the mouth earth and herbs mix with cherry and plum flavors that have a bright juiciness thanks to excellent acidity. Elegant and gentle on the palate, this is not what most people expect from Napa Cabernet, but is nonetheless quite delicious. Hints of blueberry and herbs linger in the finish. Certified Organic, dry-farmed, estate-grown, vineyard planted in ancient sea-floor shale soils on a steep east-facing hillside. Aged in a large Demi-Muid vessel.

2019 Merus Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley – Lot# 75
Very dark purple in color, this barrel sample smells of sweet blackcurrant and black cherry. In the mouth, bright and delicious flavors of black cherry and blackcurrant are juicy with excellent acidity. Fine-grained tannins flex their muscles as the wine soars through a long finish. Excellent. 95% Cabernet Sauvignon and 5% Petit Verdot from Coombsville. Aged for 28 months in 100% new French oak barrels.

2019 O’Shaughnessy Estate Winery Malbec, Howell Mountain – Lot# 84
Very dark purple in the glass, this barrel sample smells of blackberries and blueberries and a hint of gunsmoke. In the mouth, blueberry and black cherry flavors have a faint struck flint quality to them, as well as a lovely saline character that, along with excellent acidity, gives the wine brightness and lift. Intense and powerful but not brawny. Fine-grained tannins. The first time that this producer has made a 100% Malbec. This wine comes from a single block on the Howell Mountain estate where soils are a hard, volcanic ledge, that is very challenging to farm. It aged in new French oak barrels for 28 months.

2019 The Hess Collection Winery “Ridge 4 Cabernet” Cabernet Sauvignon, Mount Veeder – Lot# 126
Inky garnet in the glass, this barrel sample smells of cherry, cedar, and dried flowers. In the mouth, the wine has a wonderful effortlessness on the palate, with delicate flavors of cherry, dried flowers, cedar, and cocoa powder. Hints of cola and licorice linger in the finish. Elegant and lithe. This wine represents the very best Cabernet Sauvignon the winery produces from Ridge 4 in their Veeder Hills Vineyard.

WINES WITH A SCORE AROUND 9

2020 Ancien “Toyon Center Block” Pinot Noir, Los Carneros – Lot# 5
Medium garnet in color this wine smells of cherry and cocoa powder and a touch of herbs and oak. In the mouth, bright cherry and even strawberry flavors have a juicy zip thanks to excellent acidity. A faint hint of herbs emerges on the finish, along with the whisper of tannins and a bit of oak. Very pretty. Fermented in one-ton, open-top fermenters.

2019 AXR Napa Valley “Sleeping Denali” Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley – Lot# 9
Very dark purple in color, this barrel sample smells of rich cherry and black cherry fruit. In the mouth, a fist of muscular tannins wraps around a core of cherry and black cherry fruit that is juicy with excellent acidity. The oak here is fairly well integrated, but there’s some heat on the finish. Notes of licorice root as well. 50% of the fruit was sourced from Sleeping Lady Vineyard in Yountville and 50% from Denali Vineyard in the hills of St. Helena. Barrel fermented with native yeasts.

2019 Bell Wine Cellars “Clone 7 Selection” Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley – Lot# 12
Dark garnet in color, this barrel sample smells of nutty black cherry and cassis. In the mouth, black cherry fruit has a smokiness to it that merges with the espresso of oak. Good acidity, but a touch of heat on the finish. Supple, fine-grained tannins. A blend of Clone 7 Cabernet Sauvignon from St. Helena and Atlas Peak vineyards.

2019 Cliff Lede Vineyards “Sunshine in the Dark” Cabernet Sauvignon, Stags Leap District – Lot# 22
Very dark garnet in color, this barrel sample smells of cherry and tobacco leaf. In the mouth, cherry and black cherry flavors have a lean tightness to them, perhaps even a stony aspect, providing the impression of a wine that needs some time to blossom in the bottle. Sourced from Poetry Vineyard’s Sunshine of Your Love Block and the Twin Peaks Vineyard’s Dancing in the Dark Block. Aged for 21 months in new French oak.

2019 Dakota Shy “Moulds E2” Cabernet Sauvignon, Oak Knoll District of Napa Valley – Lot# 27
Very dark garnet in color, this barrel sample smells of struck match and black plum. In the mouth, plush, plummy black cherry flavors nestle into velvety tannins that gain strength over time. Lush and ripe, but I would like a bit more acidity. Notes of café au lait linger in the finish. 100% Clone 338 Cabernet Sauvignon from a single block of vineyard.

2019 Larkmead Vineyards “The Lark Ascending” Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley – Lot# 67
Dark garnet in the glass, this barrel sample smells of olive and smoked meats with a hint of struck match. In the mouth, wonderfully saline umami flavors mix with cherry and tobacco notes, as well as the toasted espresso notes of wood. Excellent acidity and supple-yet-muscular tannins. Perhaps a bit too much wood influence here for me, but there’s no denying the deliciousness of the fruit. 100% Clone 337 Cabernet Sauvignon, aging in 100% French oak.

2020 Michael Mondavi Family Estate Sauvignon Blanc, Napa Valley – Lot# 76
Palest greenish gold in the glass, this barrel sample smells of lemon and grapefruit pith. In the mouth, flavors of lemon pith, white flowers, and a touch of grapefruit have delicate, filigreed acidity. I adore these flavors, but I just wish there were a little more kick in the acidity department. Delicious nonetheless. Single-vineyard, estate-grown Sauvignon Blanc from the Oso Vineyard, rumored to have been planted with cuttings from Château d’Yquem.

2019 Taplin Cellars “E. Lewelling Taplin” Cabernet Sauvignon, St. Helena – Lot# 119
Inky purple in the glass, this barrel sample smells of blackcurrant and black cherry fruit. In the mouth, sweet blackcurrant and black cherry fruit have a nice brightness thanks to excellent acidity. If not for the somewhat overtly sweet nature of this fruit, this barrel sample would be quite nicely balanced. From a specific rocky section of the vineyard. Aged 24 months in 100% new French oak barrels.

2019 The Wine Foundry “Stagecoach Vineyard” Cabernet Franc, Napa Valley – Lot# 128
Inky garnet in the glass, this barrel sample smells of crushed hazelnuts, plums, and cherries. In the mouth, bright plum and crushed nuts have a fantastically juicy core, wrapped in slightly fleecy tannins. Floral notes linger in the finish. Tasty. Cabernet Franc from Block E1, a stretch of low-yielding vines. A long maceration followed by 20 months aging in Taransaud French oak, 50% new, medium-plus toast. Blended with a small percentage of Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot, also from Stagecoach Vineyard.

2020 Trois Noix “Muir Hanna Vineyard” Chardonnay, Oak Knoll District of Napa Valley – Lot# 133
Pale greenish-gold in color, this barrel sample smells of grapefruit pith and white flowers. In the mouth, wonderfully floral notes of grapefruit and lemon juice have a nice snap to them thanks to excellent acidity. There’s surprisingly little oak influence on this wine. Crisp and bright and pithy, with a faint chalkiness lingering in the finish along with floral notes. Fruit comes from the H4 block of Muir-Hanna Vineyard, originally planted in 1987-1988 to Clone 17. Whole-cluster pressed, settled overnight, and racked to eight barrels, one puncheon with no new barrels. Made with partial indigenous fermentation and malolactic fermentation blocked.

2019 Whitehall Lane “Right Bank” Merlot, Napa Valley – Lot# 143
Dark garnet in color, this barrel sample smells of plums and black cherry. In the mouth, supple, smooth tannins wrap around a core of plum, cedar, espresso, and graphite. Excellent acidity keeps the fruit fresh, and savory notes of dried herbs enter the finish. Not flashy, but quite pretty. Merlot with blending components of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Petit Verdot.

WINES WITH A SCORE BETWEEN 8.5 AND 9

2019 Amici Cellars “Morisoli Vineyard” Cabernet Sauvignon, Rutherford – Lot# 4
Inky purple in the glass, this barrel sample smells of blackcurrants, black cherry, and sweet oak. In the mouth, rich flavors of black cherry, black plum, and tobacco are shot through with a touch of jalapeño and sweet oak. Decent, but not fabulous acidity. Falls slightly flat. 100% Cabernet Sauvignon from the Morosoli vineyard, aged for 22 months in 100% new French oak in a combination of Taransaud and Darnajou barrels. Tony Biagi, winemaker.

2019 Baldacci Family Vineyards “First Born” Cabernet Sauvignon, Stags Leap District – Lot# 10
Very dark garnet in the glass, this barrel sample smells of toasted oak and cherries. In the mouth, sweet cherry and blackberry flavors are tinged with oak and a bit of cocoa powder. Excellent acidity and powdery tannins. Comes off as slightly candied. Single-vineyard, 100% Clone 6 Cabernet Sauvignon from the Stags Leap District estate vineyard. Aged for 24 months in new French oak barrels.

2019 Davis Estates “Phase Five: Loving Life!” Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley – Lot# 31
Inky, opaque purple in the glass, this barrel sample smells of black cherry and blackcurrant jelly. In the mouth, black cherry and blackcurrant flavors are thick with muscular tannins that put the squeeze on the palate but have a supple, fine grain to them. Good acidity keeps this wine from feeling too overwhelming but it’s a brawny thing and isn’t afraid of you knowing that. Made by Philippe Melka and Maayan Koschitzky. Includes a hint of Petite Sirah. The wine is aged for 24 months in 75% new Taransaud French cooperage.

2019 Eleven Eleven “Reserve” Cabernet Sauvignon, Oak Knoll District of Napa Valley – Lot# 34
Inky, opaque garnet in the glass, this barrel sample smells of raisins and dried black cherries tinged with black licorice. In the mouth, those ultra-ripe, dried fruits continue, with notes of licorice and dried herbs. Excellent acidity helps, but can’t compensate for what feels like too much ripeness and extraction. There’s also some heat on the finish. 100% Oak Knoll Cabernet Sauvignon from three estate vineyards: Destin, Laki’s, and Trancas. Aging 27 months in new French oak, Sylvain and Taransaud barrels. Winemakers are Kirk Venge and Brett Weis.

2019 Fisher Vineyards “Calistoga Estate” Cabernet Sauvignon, Calistoga – Lot# 42
Dark garnet in the glass, this barrel sample smells of sweet black cherry fruit. In the mouth, black cherry, cola, and plum have a nice brightness to them thanks to excellent acidity. The wine sort of floats off the palate a bit, ending somewhat high-toned and ethereal. Nice flavors though. A unique barrel selection from the Calistoga estate, aged in 100% new French oak barrels for 23 months.

2019 Grgich Hills Estate “Paradise Block Old Vine Cabernet” Cabernet Sauvignon, Yountville – Lot# 50
Dark purple in color, this barrel sample smells of black cherry and plum. In the mouth, velvety tannins make a bed for plush flavors of black cherry and black plum. Notes of cedar and herbs mix a savory note into the rich fruit. I wish there were a bit more acidity here to lift and enervate the wine, but the flavors are tough not to like. Sourced from vines planted in 1959, this small block is known as the Paradise Block. Organically farmed.

2019 Grieve Family Winery Sauvignon Blanc, Napa Valley – Lot# 51
Palest greenish gold in the glass to the point of being nearly colorless, this barrel sample smells of candied green apple. In the mouth, juicy green apple and kiwi flavors are silky and bright, though perhaps with not quite as much acidity as I would like. Damn tasty though, with a nice long finish. Made from the rare FSP-06 Clone planted in the Lovall Valley estate vineyard, one of Napa Valley’s most remote and coolest growing sites. Philippe Melka made the wine using a mixed vessel ferment: aging in French oak, a concrete egg, and a steel tank.

2019 Hertelendy Vineyards “Luxe” Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley – Lot# 53
Inky garnet in the glass, this barrel sample smells of black cherry and sweet oak. In the mouth, graphite, espresso, black cherry, and the toast of oak give way to mouth-drying tannins, that contribute to the sense of just a bit too much wood at work here. Very good acidity helps, but ultimately the finish has a woody, drying quality that obscures the memory of nice fruit. Aged 23 months in French and Hungarian oak.

2020 Hyde Estate Pinot Noir, Los Carneros, Napa – Lot# 56
Medium to dark garnet in color, this barrel sample smells of cherry and cranberry fruit. In the mouth, cherry and cranberry flavors mix with cedar boughs and a touch of earth. Dried herbs linger in the finish with a touch of alcoholic heat. Faint, velvety tannins buff the edges of the mouth. Rich, but with decent acidity to keep it from being too much. Comes from the acclaimed Hyde Vineyard in the Los Carneros AVA. This specific block of grapes is made up of a selection of seven clones hand-selected by Larry Hyde. Hand-harvested and hand-sorted prior to aging in 30% new French oak barrels.

2019 John Anthony Vineyards “Twisted Oak” Cabernet Sauvignon, Oak Knoll District of Napa Valley – Lot# 60
Dark garnet in the glass, this barrel sample smells of black cherry and blackcurrant jam. In the mouth, sweetish cassis and black cherry flavors are squeezed tightly in a muscular fist of tannins that don’t release until long into the finish, which is tinged with licorice and herbs. Decent acidity, but a bit brawny for me. From the estate’s oldest hillside vineyard, Twisted Oak, in the foothills of Mount Veeder, 100% Cabernet Sauvignon from the Oak Knoll District.

2019 Louis M. Martini Winery “The Golden Crown ” Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley – Lot# 69
Very dark garnet in color, this barrel sample smells of oak and black cherries. In the mouth, espresso and black cherry flavors have a slightly meaty, umami character along with intense black fruits. Good acidity keeps the wine juicy, but drying tannins and the flavors of oak dominate the finish.

2019 Quixote Winery Cabernet Sauvignon, Stags Leap District – Lot# 98
Very dark garnet in color, this barrel sample smells of sweet black cherry and blackberry. In the mouth, sweet and intense blackberry and black cherry flavors are wrapped in a thick, fleecy blanket of tannins that seems to grow and flex its muscles as the wine finishes. Good acidity but pretty heavy tannins make for a weighty experience along with very very ripe fruit. 100% estate-produced Cabernet Sauvignon from the hillside sections of the Quixote Vineyard. Concrete fermented with indigenous yeasts and a total maceration time of 36 days on the skins. Aging in 100% new French oak for 20 months.

2019 Tierra Roja Vineyards “Years for Peace” Cabernet Sauvignon, Oakville – Lot# 129
Dark garnet in color, this barrel sample smells of cherries and chocolate-covered raisins. In the mouth, dried and fresh black cherries mix with hints of cola and cedar. There’s a faint flush of heat on the finish, and fine-grained, powdery tannins. Good acidity keeps things fresh.

WINES WITH A SCORE AROUND 8.5

2019 Buena Vista Winery “Tribute” Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley – Lot# 17
Dark garnet in color, this barrel sample smells of oak and black cherry, and plum. In the mouth, black cherry and oak mix with plum and cassis flavors that linger with some bitterness of wood and bitter herbs in the finish. Compressed by the wood at this point. Decent acidity. 100% Cabernet Sauvignon from the Morris Vineyard on Diamond Mountain. Aged for 20 months in 100% new French oak.

2019 Duckhorn Vineyards “Three Palms Vineyard Block 4” Merlot, Calistoga – Lot# 33
Dark purple in color, this barrel sample smells of plum, espresso, and oak. In the mouth, mocha, plum, and plum skin flavors mix with the sweet toastiness of oak. Too much wood here for my taste, which is a shame given the juicy brightness of the fruit, which is mouthwatering in the finish, despite drying tannins. Comes from the winemaker’s favorite block in the famed Three Palms Vineyard, which has produced a Merlot for the estate since 1978.

2019 Elizabeth Spencer Chardonnay, Oak Knoll District of Napa Valley – Lot# 35
Pale gold in the glass with a hint of green, this barrel sample smells of green apples and pears. In the mouth, silky flavors of cold cream and lemon curd mix with white flowers and the vanilla of oak. There’s a hint of toasted bread on the finish. Fermented with native yeasts and aged for 15 months in a single, neutral 60-gallon French oak barrel.

2019 Faust “The Pact” Cabernet Sauvignon, Coombsville – Lot# 38
Dark garnet in the glass, this barrel sample smells of roasted espresso and black cherries. In the mouth, espresso and mocha and black cherry flavors are heavily oak-inflected and somewhat high-toned, leaving something of a hollowness in the center of the wine. There’s some heat on the finish. Good acidity and the flavors are nice, but too much wood influence for my taste.

2019 Freemark Abbey “The Tribute” Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley – Lot# 45
Dark purple in color, this barrel sample smells of sweet oak and black cherry, and tobacco leaf. In the mouth, muscular tannins wrap around a core of black cherry and espresso. Wood makes its presence known as the tannins slowly dry out the mouth, but not to an extreme. Cocoa powder and espresso linger in the finish. Dry-farmed, sustainably grown Cabernet Sauvignon from St. Helena, with vines more than 30 years old. A tribute to the estate’s founder and one of the first female winemakers in the Napa Valley circa 1886, Josephine Tychson. Made by Kristy Melton, Freemark Abbey’s second female winemaker since Tychson.

2019 Newton Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, Spring Mountain District – Lot# 81
Dark garnet in the glass, this barrel sample smells of sweet black cherry and espresso. In the mouth, black cherry and black plum flavors have a hint of woody bitterness to them, along with a bit of alcoholic heat in the finish. Decent acidity. From the highest blocks of Newton on Spring Mountain, aged for 18 months in new French oak.

2019 Saintsbury “Toyon Farm” Chardonnay, Los Carneros – Lot# 107
Light yellow-gold in color, this barrel sample smells of lemon curd and candied lemon. In the mouth, silky, creamy lemon curd flavors are quite tasty but need more acidity to keep them from feeling a bit limp in the mouth. Delicious flavors, but ultimately falls a bit flat.

2019 Terlato Vineyards “An Ode to AJT Part III” Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley – Lot# 122
Dark garnet in color, this barrel sample smells of black cherry and blackcurrant. In the mouth, cassis and blackberry mix with the faint bitterness of oak. Soft, pliable tannins and decent acidity round out the package but as a whole, the wine feels a bit compressed and narrow. Barrel fermented and aged in large-format barrels for 20 months. An ode to Anthony J. Terlato.

2019 Trefethen Family Vineyards “Sleeper Block” Cabernet Sauvignon, Oak Knoll District of Napa Valley – Lot# 132
Very dark garnet in color, this barrel sample smells of oak and black cherry fruit. In the mouth, muscular tannins wrap around a core of black cherry, black plum, and sweet oak flavors. The tannins parch the mouth, leaving it fairly dry and tasting of oak. Decent acidity but just too much wood influence here. 100% single-clone, single-block Cabernet Sauvignon, and the best barrel from the cellar.

2019 Turnbull Wine Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon, Oakville – Lot# 135
Inky garnet in the glass, this barrel sample smells of black cherry and blackberries. In the mouth, fairly grapey black cherry and blackberry flavors are wrapped in a gauzy haze of tannins that stiffens as the wine moves across the palate. Good acidity but some heat in the finish. 100% Cabernet Sauvignon Clone 337, aging in 100% French oak 500L puncheons. From a single block in the Oakville Bench.

2019 VGS Chateau Potelle “Saffron Vineyard Block 7” Cabernet Sauvignon, Mount Veeder – Lot# 137
Medium to dark garnet in the glass, this barrel sample smells of cedar and mulling spices layered over red fruits. In the mouth, sweetish notes of cherry and cola are wrapped in muscular tannins, and notes of oak and dried flowers linger in the finish. More medium-bodied in style, I just wish the wood and its tannins were less intrusive. The fruit was dry-farmed at 2,200 feet in elevation. 100% Cabernet Sauvignon from the Saffron Vineyard Block 7 on Mount Veeder. Aged 24 months in 100% new French oak: Hermitage, Seguin Moreau, and Taransaud barrels.

WINES WITH A SCORE BETWEEN 8 AND 8.5

2019 Joseph Phelps Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon, Oakville – Lot# 61
Dark purple in the glass, this barrel sample smells of black cherry and blackberry pie. In the mouth, raisins, blackberries, and black cherry fruit have a slightly dehydrated quality, that when coupled with the drying tannins of oak make for a parched quality in the mouth. Somewhat overripe for my taste. Good acidity, though. A unique blend of select lots from the Backus Vineyard in eastern Oakville: select vines from the rocky Plateau Block, and steeply terraced South and North blocks. Comprised of 94% Cabernet Sauvignon, 4% Malbec and 2% Petit Verdot.

NV Monticello Vineyards “Multis Annis” Cabernet Sauvignon, Rutherford – Lot# 77
Very dark garnet in the glass, this barrel sample smells of raisins and dried black cherries. In the mouth, raisins, roasted figs, and cocoa powder mix with licorice root and other dried fruit flavors. Definitely evolved, with suede-like tannins. Decent acidity.A Cabernet Sauvignon-based blend, that remarkably features wines from the vintages from 1981 to 2019, representing the family’s full history of winemaking. Multis Annis is a Latin phrase meaning “many years.”

2018 The Vice “Batch #70” Cabernet Sauvignon, Howell Mountain – Lot# 127
Dark garnet in the glass, this barrel sample smells of raisins and dried black cherries. In the mouth, sweetish raisins and dried black fruits are thick with powdery, muscular tannins, and light on acidity. Thick, rich, and over-extracted. 100% single-vineyard Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon, unfiltered and unfined. Single-barrel fermented and aged for 28 months in 100% Sylvain Grande Reserve heavy toast new French oak.

2019 To Kalon Vineyard Company “A Unique Offering” Red Wine, Oakville – Lot# 131
Inky, opaque purple in color, this barrel sample smells of cassis, black cherry, and ethanol. In the mouth, high-toned black cherry and cassis flavors mix with blackberry. Decent acidity but comes across as pretty high octane. Fine, supple tannins. A blend of 79% Cabernet Sauvignon, 18% Cabernet Franc and 3% Petit Verdot aged for 20 months in 100% new French oak barrels bottled unfiltered and unfined.

2019 William Cole Vineyards “Smoking Gun” Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley – Lot# 144
Dark garnet in the glass, this barrel sample smells of black cherry and licorice. In the mouth, black cherry and blackberry fruit is high-toned and wrapped in a leathery sheaf of tannins. The wine is missing some substance on the mid-palate. Good acidity, though. Aged for 22 Months a French oak barrel.

WINES WITH A SCORE AROUND 8

2019 Antinori-Antica Estate “A27 – The Next Generation” Cabernet Franc, Atlas Peak – Lot# 6
Inky, opaque purple in color, this barrel sample smells of raisins and black plums, and crushed nuts. In the mouth, extremely rich raisin, black plum, and black cherry flavors are very extracted and wrapped in a thick suede blanket of tannins. Decent acidity, but the fruit tastes a bit overripe. Low-yielding Cabernet Franc grown at 1,600 feet elevation on the slopes leading up to Atlas Peak. Fermented in 4-ton, conical fermenters and aged for 24 months in the tight-grain Taransaud Ref. 112 GC oak barrel.

2019 Varozza Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon, St. Helena – Lot# 136
Dark garnet in the glass, this barrel sample smells of blackcurrants and oak. In the mouth, drying tannins with some muscle behind them clasp firmly around a core of blackcurrant and blackberry fruit. By the time the wine finishes with hints of violets, the mouth is quite dry from the woody tannins. Overdone.

2019 VinRoc “Red Lava” Cabernet Sauvignon, Atlas Peak – Lot# 141
Inky garnet in the glass, this barrel sample smells of struck match and dried black fruits. In the mouth, rich and very ripe flavors of black cherry and raisins have thick powdery tannins and less acidity than I would like. Tastes overripe and over-extracted to my palate. Grown on Atlas Peak at an elevation of 1600 ft in volcanic soils.

WINES WITH A SCORE BETWEEN 7.5 AND 8

2019 Buoncristiani Family Winery “Liquid Gold Sticky” White Dessert Blend, Napa Valley – Lot# 18
Pale gold in color, this barrel sample smells of poached pears and apples. In the mouth, soft flavors of pastry cream and white flowers mix with poached pear and apple. Not enough acidity to be exciting. Late harvest of Pritchard Hill Viognier Rattlesnake Ridge and Rutherford Sauvignon Musqué old vines, fortified with Germain-Robin Viognier brandy.

2019 Frank Family Vineyards “Winston Hill Block 5 – Heart Block” Cabernet Sauvignon, Rutherford – Lot# 44
Dark garnet in the glass, this barrel sample smells of grape jelly and sweet cherry cordials. In the mouth, candied cherry and black cherry flavors have a cough-syrup-like quality to them, leaving blackcurrant flavors syrupy and sweet in the finish. Overdone.

WINES WITH A SCORE BELOW 7.5

2019 Correlation Wine Company, Vineyard 7 & 8 “Steffens Family Wines LLC” Cabernet Sauvignon, Spring Mountain District – Lot# 24
Inky garnet in color, this barrel sample smells of raisins and dried black cherries. In the mouth, super-ripe, over-extracted, sweet flavors of raisins and dried black fruits are thick with peanut-butter-textured tannins. Over the top and overdone. 100% barrel fermented in new French oak, with 60-day maceration, and is aged for 26 months. Winemakers Martha McClellan and Wesley Steffens.

How to Buy The Wines of Premiere Napa Valley

In recent years, the Vintners Association has been working hard to make it easier for those who are interested in purchasing some of these unique wines to find them. If you’d like to track down a bottle, you’ll want to head on over to the Premiere website where you can search by a number of parameters to find the wine you’re looking for.

The post A Stellar Season: Tasting the 2019 Vintage Through Premiere Napa Valley appeared first on Vinography.

Vinography Images: Otherworldly Wine

A view looking down on the town and vineyards of Taganana on the island of Tenerife, one of the Canary Islands of Spain. The volcanic, wind-buffeted Canary Islands play host to some exceptional winemaking, using native grape varieties that often have a saline briskness thanks to the poor volcanic soils and influence of the sea.

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ORDER THE BOOK:
The work of photographer Jimmy Hayes can be further appreciated in his forthcoming monograph, Veritas, which will be published in 2021 by Abrams Books / Cameron + Company. Pre-order the book from the Abrams web site.

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Fine art prints of this image and others are available from Jimmy Hayes Photography.

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Forging a New View of Sonoma Valley: Introducing Gail Wines

There comes a point in some people’s careers where the only thing left to do is to make some wine. Like they’ve been walking down a road without knowing where they were headed, yet all the while vigneron has been their destination.

Growing up blue-collar in Cranston, Rhode Island, Daniel O’Brien isn’t someone you would have pegged to become a winemaker. He’d be the first to tell you that.

“We were a classic Irish, Italian Catholic working-class family,” says O’Brien. “Mom worked in the local school system, dad worked in trucking and warehousing. Needless to say we weren’t a big wine family.”

Dan O’Brien inspecting the bottling line.

“I was selling paté, charcuterie, cheese—basically rich-people food I couldn’t afford”

Like most working-class kids, if O’Brien wanted pocket money, he had to earn it himself. Which is how he found himself working in a gourmet food store at 18, trying to save up a little cash before he went off to college. “I was selling paté, charcuterie, cheese—basically rich-people food I couldn’t afford,” he says. “But on Saturday and Sunday evenings, they had these ‘cafe nights’ where you could come with your own bottle of wine and so I started to pick up a little bit about wine.”

When the food store went out of business, the owner, who was also managing the Capitol Grill in Providence, hired O’Brien as a busboy, and a road through the hospitality business unfurled underneath his feet. It was a road he found himself returning to, even when he thought he was headed somewhere else.

“For some reason, I went to school for MIS and Database Management,” chuckles O’Brien. “I hated every minute of it. So at night I rolled my way into bartending and receiving wine shipments for restaurants and retailers.”

It was the early 2000s, and in the slump that followed 9/11, O’Brien moved his way up the hospitality ladder, eventually becoming a floor sommelier, and then a wine director.

Forging a New View of Sonoma Valley: Introducing Gail Wines
Checking progress in the cellar.

Listening to O’Brien chart the course of his career, it’s hard to judge exactly the point where selling and stocking wines became more than just a way to pay the rent. It’s not clear that he knows that himself, but he is 100% clear that there have been three key inflection points in his life that made Gail Wines inevitable.

The first was his decision to leave the East Coast and come to California to be the opening wine director at Cavallo Point. The second, which followed so close on the heels of this decision that O’Brien hadn’t even moved full-time to California yet, was the sudden and very unexpected death of his mother, Gail.

“It was around Christmas, two months before I was supposed to move permanently,” says O’Brien, “And it was devastating. She was 51, a saint among saints, just this super-incredible lady.”

Forging a New View of Sonoma Valley: Introducing Gail Wines
Gail O’Brien in a kayak, circa 2006.

O’Brien describes it as a “tragic time” for him, his father, and his two brothers. “But I had accepted this job, so I decided to take it and move.”

Once in California, at the helm of one of the most ambitious wine programs to launch in the San Francisco Bay Area in decades, O’Brien found himself swirling around in the pre-Financial-Crisis, New-California wine boom. Perhaps more importantly, in the midst of it all, O’Brien found both his tribe and his passion.

“Before then, I was treating wine like a business, sort of collecting and trading baseball cards for money,” says O’Brien. “I wasn’t navigating the world with my own tastes.”

Forging a New View of Sonoma Valley: Introducing Gail Wines
Looking out over Bennett Valley.

But hanging out with Rajat Parr, Shelley Lindgren, David Lynch, and Dan Petroski, among many of the others O’Brien counts as friends, mentors, and influences, O’Brien finally felt at home, and was discovering wines that lit him up like fireworks.

The decade that followed O’Brien’s move to California saw him explore every aspect of the wine business, as he moved from Cavallo Point to running a negociant wine label called Cultivar, serving as Estate Director first for Napa’s Long Meadow Ranch, and then Larkmead, where he got to hang out with his friend Dan Petroski, with whom he had been doing harvest work since 2013.

It was at this point that O’Brien realized that there was only one thing having to do with wine that he hadn’t done.

“I was basically a Swiss Army knife in the world of wine,” laughs O’Brien. But, of course, there was actually one blade missing.

In part thanks to some badgering from Petroski, as well as some fantastic bottles of Chinon shared with John Skupny, O’Brien took some of his savings and bought two tons of Cabernet Franc that he made into wine in a corner of Larkmead’s cellar in 2013.

“Even as I did it, I was thinking to myself, ‘I have to be an idiot to be doing this,’ but at the same time Dan was telling me, ‘You’re an idiot if you don’t do this,'” says O’Brien. “Dan can be pretty convincing.”

“I was trying to be cool and do whole-cluster, but I hadn’t exactly figured out the whole thing about stem lignification and didn’t really pay any attention to the pH” laughs O’Brien. “It came out…. ‘meh,'” he says, but to his surprise, he was able to sell every bottle that he didn’t drink himself to friends and family.

Forging a New View of Sonoma Valley: Introducing Gail Wines
Checking on Madhaven Cabernet Sauvignon.

At that point that O’Brien confided to Petroski that what he really dreamed of doing was starting a wine label and naming it after his mother. Petroski, of course, was all for it, as was Dan’s brother Patrick who interestingly had also ended up in the wine business at that point, and was serving as Cellarmaster at Failla wines.

“I want to express the diversity of the valley and highlight some of the incredible growers and their sites that exist here”

O’Brien thinks of 2015 as the first truly commercial vintage for Gail Wines, and by that time he had decided that his focus was going to be the Sonoma Valley.

Despite a storied history of wine production, somehow the Sonoma Valley AVA hasn’t seen the kind of recognition among wine lovers as some of Sonoma’s other appellations. In part, this may be due to the lack of a clearly defining characteristic in the same way that the Sonoma Coast has the ocean or the Russian River Valley has the river. It may also have to do with the fact that when people think about the superstar wines of Sonoma County, almost none of them (Hanzell perhaps being a notable exception) tend to carry the Sonoma Valley AVA on the label.

“It’s one of the parts of Sonoma County that really hasn’t been paid attention to,” says O’Brien. “There are a lot of big commercial producers here, but that’s not the legacy of this valley,” he continues. “I want to express the diversity of the valley and highlight some of the incredible growers and their sites that exist here.”

He goes on to add, “Sonoma Valley is like a tiny state that no one really gives a shit about, sort of like Rhode Island.”

It seems O’Brien finally feels at home in California.

Forging a New View of Sonoma Valley: Introducing Gail Wines
Madhavan Vineyard, Moon Mountain District, Sonoma.

O’Brien’s third point of departure in his career came on the heels of the devastating fires in 2017.

“When the fires came through, I was stressed out, and I had one of those ‘gotta change my life,’ moments,’ says O’Brien. “I knew I wanted to do something for myself, and I was tired of the scene in Napa.”

Despite having recently become the COO at Larkmead, a post that might seem to be the apogee of many people’s careers, O’Brien quit and downshifted his life to focus on Gail and a consulting business that he says he still needs in order to buy fruit and barrels.

He’s never regretted the decision since.

Gail Wines offers an eclectic portfolio of Sonoma wines that O’Brien says are inspired by the little producers of the Loire Valley. Yes, he admits that selling Barbera, Pinot Grigio, Chardonnay, Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon doesn’t exactly fit that narrative, but he will also point out that trying to make a living selling Cabernet Franc and Chenin Blanc might make for a very short-lived brand.

Rather than some unifying theme of geography or tradition, the Gail wines (as well as the table wine blends that O’Brien named after his great-aunt Doris) are best understood in the context of an approach to winemaking that O’Brien seems to have settled into naturally as one might ease into a comfortable chair.

Forging a New View of Sonoma Valley: Introducing Gail Wines
Walking the Warm Springs Ranch vineyard.

O’Brien finds organic or sustainable vineyards farmed by dedicated small growers. He arranges to have the vineyards farmed for early picking, so he can make high-acid, low-alcohol wines that convey energy and precision but still possess beautiful aromatics.

“I want classic expressions of specific grape varieties that are appealing.”

He ferments his wines with native yeasts, and doesn’t rack any of the wines until just before bottling. The whites are all barrel-fermented, usually with some battonage (stirring of the lees), and he generally avoids letting them go through malolactic conversion. The reds are destemmed and fermented in bins or tanks (though the Barbera is fermented in neutral puncheons) and aged, like the whites, in neutral oak.

Forging a New View of Sonoma Valley: Introducing Gail Wines
Dan O’Brien in the cellar.

“I’m trying to fit into a missing puzzle piece,” says O’Brien. “Doing good, clean, simple winemaking, but not having the wines feel made. I want classic expressions of specific grape varieties that are appealing.”

And then once the wines are made, he sells them for incredibly reasonable prices.

“My wine journey has to a certain extent been about getting in touch with the joy of drinking a hard-to-find, more affordable wine,” says O’Brien, suggesting that his apotheosis of wine drinking is a great wine that he can easily “buy a case of and not feel ripped off,” something that is increasingly difficult to do in Northern California.

I was about to write, “For the money, Gail wines are shockingly good,” but honestly, to think about these as “value wines” is to not give O’Brien or his wines enough credit. Regardless of price, this entire portfolio of wines is excellent, especially for a self-taught former sommelier who’s only 5 vintages into this journey of being a winemaker.

Of course, the fact that you can buy some of these wines for twenty bucks at retail is kind of magical.

“My wine journey has to a certain extent been about getting in touch with the joy of drinking a hard-to-find, more affordable wine”

When I first tasted O’Brien’s Chenin Blanc, I had one of my favorite moments as a wine writer and critic: when I’m stopped in my tracks, my existence narrows down to a tunnel-like focus on what is in my glass, and I usually utter some unprintable exclamation of praise filled with expletives. My next question is always, “who the hell made this, and what is their story?”

In this case, the answer is a working-class kid from Cranston who eventually found his way to exactly where he belongs.

Forging a New View of Sonoma Valley: Introducing Gail Wines

Tasting Notes

2018 Gail Wines “Morning Sun Ranch” Barbera, Sonoma Mountain, California
A bright medium purple in the glass, this wine smells of citrus peel and mulberries. In the mouth, gorgeously bright boysenberry and cherry flavors have a wonderful, crisp freshness to them thanks to fantastic acidity and a nice stony mineral underbelly. Notes of citrus peel and herbs linger in the finish. Beautiful. 13.3% alcohol. 900 bottles made. Score: around 9. Cost: $35. click to buy.

2018 Gail Wines “Doris – Red Table Wine” Red Blend, Sonoma Valley, California
Medium to dark garnet in color, this wine smells of blackberry and potting soil. In the mouth, blackberry and plummy flavors mix with earth and green herbs, all very lively thanks to excellent acidity. There’s a nice faint tannic texture to the wine that hangs at the edge of perception along with a green woody quality that suggests some whole cluster usage. Quite tasty. A blend of 40% Zinfandel, 40% Merlot, and 20% Barbera aged for 15 months in neutral barrels. 14.1% alcohol. 1200 bottles made. Score: around 9. Cost: $25. click to buy.

2018 Gail Wines “Chuy Vineyard” Chardonnay, Sonoma Valley, California
Pale gold in the glass, this wine smells of wet chalkboard, lemon pith, and lemonade. In the mouth, electric lemon flavors crackle with phenomenal acidity as pink grapefruit and other citrus notes sizzle in the finish with a wonderful mineral undertone. This is a lean, mean citrus machine and a great pleasure for acid freaks like me. 13.1% alcohol. 600 bottles made. Score: around 9. Cost: $35. click to buy.  

2018 Gail Wines “Doris” Cabernet Sauvignon, Sonoma Valley, California
Dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of stony cherry and earth and herbs. In the mouth, distinctly savory notes of cherry, wet earth, and green herbs have a cool, cave-like freshness to them. The word dank has a negative connotation, but there’s this “beneath-the-earth” quality to this wine that is quite interesting. Good acidity and supple tannins. 13.9% alcohol. 1000 cases made. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $35. click to buy.  

2018 Gail Wines “Deering Vineyard” Cabernet Sauvignon, Moon Mountain District, Sonoma, California
Medium garnet in color, this wine has a wonderful perfume of bright cherry fruit. In the mouth, aromatically sweet cherry and floral flavors have an intense, fresh brightness thanks to fantastic acidity. Supple, suede-like tannins buff the edges of the mouth, as the wine moves somewhat weightlessly across the palate and then soars into a wonderfully floral finish. Excellent. 14.3% alcohol. 600 bottles made. Score: around 9. Cost: $45.

2019 Gail Wines “Morning Sun Ranch” Pinot Grigio, Sonoma Mountain, California
Pale greenish-gold in color, this wine smells of poached pears and white flowers. In the mouth, bright lemony pear flavors have a nice crispness thanks to fantastic acidity. Lo! A California Pinot Grigio that isn’t boring! This is honestly such a pleasure to drink. 11.9% alcohol. 1200 bottles made. Score: around 9. Cost: $35. click to buy.  

2019 Gail Wines “Doris – White Table Wine” White Blend, Sonoma Valley, California
Pale greenish gold in the glass, this wine smells of apricot, honey, and chamomile. In the mouth, dried citrus peel, apricot, and peaches mix with yellow and dried herbs and a touch of candle wax. A blend of 80% Pinot Grigio and 20% Chardonnay. 12.5% alcohol. 323 cases made. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $25. click to buy.  

2019 Gail Wines “Doris – Red Table Wine” Red Blend, Sonoma Valley, California
A light coppery pink in the glass, this wine smells of red apple skin, cherries, and orange peel. In the mouth, orange zest, blood orange juice, and sour cherry flavors have a zingy brightness but also a pithy bitterness that lingers a bit in the finish along with sour cherry. Excellent acidity. A 50/50 blend of Cabernet Franc and Malbec. 12.5% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $25. click to buy.

2019 Gail Wines “Pickberry Vineyard” Merlot, Sonoma Valley, California
Medium garnet in color, this wine smells of earth, plum, and cedar. In the mouth, wonderfully fresh notes of forest floor and green herbs mix with plum and black cherry flavors. Excellent acidity and faint, muscular tannins linger through the finish along with the minty freshness of green herbs. A fantastic balance between savory and fruity. 13.9% alcohol. 600 bottles made. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $35. click to buy.  

2019 Gail Wines “Two Creeks Farm” Chenin Blanc, Sonoma Valley, Sonoma, California
Palest greenish-gold in the glass, but nearly colorless, this wine smells of pears and unripe apples. In the mouth, fantastically juicy and slightly saline flavors of crabapple, quince, and unripe apples have a beautiful crispness to them and a wonderful lemony quality that lingers in the finish on top of the deep stony qualities. One of the best renditions of this grape I’ve had from California. Truly outstanding. 12.3% alcohol. 1200 bottles made. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $35. click to buy.

Forging a New View of Sonoma Valley: Introducing Gail Wines
Dan O’Brien in his Sonoma office.

Images courtesy of Gail Wines by photographer Jimmy Hayes.

The post Forging a New View of Sonoma Valley: Introducing Gail Wines appeared first on Vinography.

Wine News: What I’m Reading the Week of 6/6/21

Welcome to my weekly roundup of the wine stories that I find of interest on the web. I post them to my magazine on Flipboard, but for those of you who aren’t Flipboard inclined, here’s everything I’ve strained out of the wine-related muck for the week.

Post-Pandemic, Wine Writers Prepare for a More Diverse and Delicious Future
Wine writers talking to wine writers.

What They’re Drinking in Paris
Yes, it’s natural. But wait, there’s more.

After Tragedy, Italy’s Taurasi Wines Rise Again
Taurus ascending?

Why Wine Lovers Are Flocking to Portuguese Wines
Catnip. Mmmmmm.

The Original Rock Star Rosé Makes a Comeback
One of my first loves, when it comes to wine.

Perfume and Wine
Luca Turin writes amazing tasting notes.

Climate Challenge for German Riesling
But which will fail first? German Riesling or California Cabernet?

Italy’s Winemakers Barrel Ahead With Chestnut
Super cool story about a super cool guy.

Debunking the Myth of Wine Travel Shock
I need a bit more evidence before I’m willing to say it’s debunked.

Is That Wine Sweet or Dry?
The oft-confused terms, defined.

I Used To Steal Verdicchio, Then It Stole Me
How wine really works in life. Lovely tale.

By the Bottle: Ian D’Agata
Alfonso asks D’Agata answers.

How A Nearly Extinct Portuguese Wine Grape Was Rescued By A Soccer Player
Interesting story.

What does ‘vin vivant’ mean when referring to wine-making?
Oh lord, let this not become a thing.

What’s the deal with NFTs and wine?
You won’t understand them any more after reading.

Thinking Wholistically About Pizza, T-Rex, and Wine
Robert Joseph writes a guest post for Jeff Slater

Please Do Not Let “Wine Racism” (over a grape!) Become a Thing
Amber skewers a ridiculous article attacking Lettie Teague.

Phil Mickelson, wine influencer? This $450 Napa Cab is selling out after golfer drinks it from trophy
Beware the power of instagram.

Why Australia’s Latest Wines Are Making Waves
The LoFi reverb continues.

Rioja Emerges as an Affordable Substitute for High-End Bordeaux
But people don’t want just the taste, they actually want the price tag.

The evolving language of wine
It needs to evolve.

10 Wines that Forever Changed the How the World Sees Italian Wine
Alfonso remembers.

Idaho wine: fresh, fruit-forward and great value
If only they’d start using less oak.

Kylie wines: Andrew Jefford meets the star and tastes the range
Another celebrity wine brand. But if Andrew Jefford likes them…

An Arkansas agriculture mogul just bought his sixth name-brand Napa winery
The buying spree continues.

Budapest’s Natural Wine Scene Embraces Hungary’s Roots
Yes, but will the government even let them sell it?

One Of The Greatest Wine Producers In Spain Has Set Firm Roots In Tokaj, Hungary
The story of Oremus.

Catastrophic Tank Collapse Destroys 250,000 Liters of South African Wine
Ouch. A tragedy. Thank heavens no one was hurt.

The Ancient Origins of Beer Geeks and Wine Snobs
Blame Pliny.

Elizabeth Banks, Houseguest From Hell, Stars in New Ad for Luxe Canned Wine Brand
It’s pretty rare to see brilliant advertising about wine. Savor this.

Winemakers to pour $4 million into Smithsonian’s popular American Food History Project
Warren Winiarski is the dude.

We Asked Wine Pros: What Are the Best Trends in Wine Right Now?
Quotes from various pros.

The Surprising Story of Oregon’s Other Pinot
Getting more popular by degrees.

Why You Should Be Drinking Wine Made on Volcanoes
Because it’s booming.

The Funky, Floral Rise of Orange Wine in Texas
Because it goes with BBQ.

Asylum-seekers help produce Italy’s famous Brunello wine
“Immigrants. We get the job done.”

Jura’s Pelican Takes Flight
Now making 11 different wines.

Rare bottles of wine crafted by Holocaust victims to be put on auction
If you don’t know the Jewish roots of Tokaj, you should.

A Tasting Tour of the Greek Islands’ Best Natural Wineries
Yes, please.

Monks of France’s first papal vineyard sell wine to help local community
Wine for the people.

This LA Wine Woman Knows Nostalgia and Daring Go a Long Way — How Caitlin Cutler Makes Ronan Sing
Sing, Cutler, sing!

The post Wine News: What I’m Reading the Week of 6/6/21 appeared first on Vinography.

Vinography Unboxed: Week of 5/30/21

Hello and welcome to my weekly dig through the pile of wine samples that show up asking to be tasted. I’m pleased to bring you the latest installment of Vinography Unboxed, where I highlight some of the better bottles that have crossed my doorstep recently.

This week’s selection of wines is as excellent as it is eclectic. I’m pretty excited to share some of these wines with you.

Let’s start off with a bang: an absolutely fabulous Chardonnay from Walter Scott Wines in Oregon’s Willamette Valley. I reviewed a couple of their wines last week, but none have been as thrilling as this Chardonnay which recalls many of the swoon-worthy qualities of white Burgundy. But at $40, it’s half the price of the entry-level for most Premier Cru bottlings. Walter Scott’s “Sojeau Vineyard” Pinot also shows up farther down in the list today, and it’s an umami-driven bottle of pleasure as well.

I’ve got a few bottles from Two Shepherds Winery this week, two of which feature some extended skin contact. The first is their orange Grenache Blanc that they call “Centime” which macerates for 12 days on the skins and has a wonderful spicy pear and citrus quality. The second is their skin-fermented Pinot Gris which you’d be forgiven for confusing with a rosé, especially given its color. Five days on the skins makes this almost a ruby color, but it’s zippy and tangy and tasty no matter what color you think it is.

Before we leave Two Shepherds behind, a little farther down you’ll also find their carbonically-macerated Carignan, which is nothing so much as the equivalent of purple SweetTart, but wine. Tangy, mouthwatering goodness.

OK, now on to even more eclectic wines.

Ever heard of the grape Csókaszölö? Neither had I until I received a bottle of it in the mail this week. Csóka means “jackdaw” and “szölö” means grape in Hungarian, for whatever that’s worth. It happens to be an ancient Hungarian grape variety saved from extinction by József Szentesi, who was the first to bottle it in 2004. The Bussay Winery has about 1 acre planted, thanks to it being the favorite grape of founder Dr. Laszló Bussay. His daughter now runs the winery, but continues to make the wine. Most of the wine was aged in an old 1000 liter cask, with some extra in stainless.

On my first visit to Hungary, I quickly fell in love with the grape Kadarka, which makes a pale, low-alcohol, high-acidity red wine that’s akin to the very trendy Trousseau and Poulssard from the Jura region of France. It can’t take much in the way of oak or other manipulation without getting overwhelmed. But when treated delicately it can offer ethereal splendor, as this example from the Vida Winery demonstrates. Made from gnarly, 100-year-old vines, hence the name “Bonsai,” this wine was fermented and aged in steel and is totally delicious. At $21, it’s also a screaming bargain.

Closer to home, I’ve got a couple more wines from Halcón Vineyards, high in Mendocino’s Yorkville Highlands. They’ve sourced some Pinot Noir from the excellent Oppenlander Vineyard that is quite delicious, but the real star this week is their Mourvèdre that grows in their chilly, high-elevation vineyard. Paul Gordon and Jackie Bracey harvest this fruit at lower sugar levels to make a brisk expression of Mourvèdre that is crunchy with acidity, and wonderfully savory.

Last, but not least, I’ve got a fine bottle of Burgundy to recommend from Nicolas Potel’s Domaine de Bellene in the form of his old-vine Nuits-Saint-Georges. While not nearly as regal or finessed, you may also find intriguing a wine called Bellenos, which does something that was actually against the law at one point: mixing Burgundian Pinot Noir and Gamay from Beajolais. It’s a fun little wine, and not just because of its slightly sacrilegious nature.

Notes on all these and more below.

Tasting Notes

2019 Walter Scott “Cuvée Anne” Chardonnay, Eola-Amity Hills, Willamette Valley, Oregon
Light greenish-gold in color, this wine smells of salty toasted hazelnuts, pine resin, and citrus peel. In the mouth, gorgeous, resinous flavors of lemon juice, lemon pith, and pink grapefruit have an electric salinity that makes the mouth water. Fantastic juiciness and silky texture. Made in a very Burgundian style, and incredibly delicious for it. 13% alcohol. Score: around 9.5. Cost: $40. click to buy.

2017 Two Shepherds “Centime – Catie’s Corner” Grenache Blanc, Russian River Valley, Sonoma, California
Medium amber in the glass, this wine smells of cinnamon-spiced baked apples and dried orange peel. In the mouth, tangy flavors of dried apple, orange peel, pear, and baking spices have a nice bright citrusy edge, thanks to excellent acidity. There’s a faint tannic texture that you’d expect from 12 days of macerating on the skins. 11.8% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $30. click to buy.

2020 Two Shepherds “Skin Fermented – Clarbec Vineyard” Pinot Gris, Sonoma Valley, Sonoma, California
A pale ruby with copper highlights, this wine smells of wet felt and candied orange peel. In the mouth, dried citrus peel, dried apple, and redcurrant flavors have a nice zing to them thanks to excellent acidity. Hints of dried sage and barley linger with citrus peel in the finish. Faint tannins scrape the edges of the mouth. Organically farmed Pinot Gris spends 5 days on the skins fermenting with native yeasts, and then another 5 months in a neutral barrel. Orange wine? Rosé? You be the judge. 12.2% alcohol. 550 cases produced. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $26. click to buy.  

2017 Peter Vida “Bonsai” Kadarka, Szekszárd, Hungary
Light ruby with orange highlights in the glass, this wine smells of dried flowers and redcurrant. In the mouth, dried herbs, orange peel, dried cherries, and strawberry flavors have a beautiful citrus brightness to them that lingers through a long finish. Notes of dried flowers and licorice root peek into the bright core of the wine. Faint, faint tannins hang like ghosts in the edge of the mouth. Made from 100-year-old Kadarka vines, fermented and aged in steel. A classic example of why this grape is so great. 13% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $21. click to buy.

Vinography Unboxed: Week of 5/30/21

2018 Bussay Csókaszölö, Zala, Hungary
Light garnet in the glass, this wine smells of crushed nuts, dried flowers, and plums. In the mouth, tart plum and sour cherry flavors mix with roasted nuts and dried herbs. Orange peel notes accompany citrusy acidity and woody, sawdust, and earth flavors in the finish. Tasty and intriguing. 12% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $18.

2018 Halcón Vineyards “Oppenlander Vineyard” Pinot Noir, Mendocino County, California
Light to medium ruby in color, this wine smells of raspberry and cranberry with hints of dried flowers. In the mouth, bright raspberry and redcurrant flavors mix with cedar and faintly muscular tannins as notes of orange peel and dried herbs linger in the finish. Bright acidity, and lovely texture. 12.8% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $35. click to buy.

2019 Walter Scott “Sojeau Vineyard” Pinot Noir, Eola-Amity Hills, Willamette Valley, Oregon
Medium to dark garnet in color, this wine smells of slightly meaty red berries, dried herbs, and a whiff of struck match. In the mouth, bright raspberry and redcurrant fruit is shot through with a salty, dashi savoriness as green herbs and wet pavement linger with citrus and redcurrant in the finish. Faint, powdery tannins have a slight grip to them. Mouthwatering and very delicious. 13.5% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $75. click to buy.

2018 Domaine de Bellene “Vielles Vignes” Nuits-Saint-Georges, Burgundy, France
Medium garnet in color, this wine smells of floral raspberries and black cherry. In the mouth, faint, fine-grained tannins flex their athletic muscles to grasp flavors of raspberry, raspberry leaf, and dried flower petals. Lovely acidity lends a faint citrus peel note to the wine, and a nice stony minerality comes through along with a hint of earth. Made from 68-year-old vines. Fermented with native yeasts and aged in 50% new French oak.13.5% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $78. click to buy.

2018 Maison Roche de Bellene “Bellenos – Cuvee Terroir” Red Blend, Coteaux Bourguignons, Burgundy, France
Medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of earth and raspberries and cedar shavings. In the mouth, grippy tannins wrap around a core of raspberry and boysenberry fruit. Hints of herbs and road dust mix with the fruit, lingering through the long finish. A (once) sacrilegious blend of Gamay and Pinot Noir, blending the north and the south of the region. 12% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $16. click to buy.

Vinography Unboxed: Week of 5/30/21

2018 Halcón Vineyards Mourvedre, Yorkville Highlands, Mendocino, California
Light to medium garnet in color, this wine smells of spices and mulberries and incense. In the mouth, cedar, herbs, and incense mix with raspberry and mulberry flavors in a gorgeously savory, but mouthwatering combination. Notes of citrus peel and grapefruit add zing to this intriguing spicy mouthful. This may be one of the coldest sites for Mourvedre in the state. 12.8% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $30. click to buy.

2020 Two Shepherds “Wiley Carbonic – Trimble Vineyard” Carignan, Mendocino County, California
Medium purple in the glass, this wine smells of boysenberries and bubblegum. In the mouth, chalky tannins fill the mouth and wrap around a core of boysenberry and sour cherry fruit that is SweetTart tangy and mouthwatering thanks to excellent acidity. If you turned a purple SweetTart into wine, you might get this one. Made from 75-year-old, head-trained, dry-farmed vines grown organically. As the name suggests, this was carbonically macerated, letting the fermentation begin within the whole berries. 11.8% alcohol. 175 cases made. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $23. click to buy.

2018 Halcón Vineyards “Tierra – Theopolis Vineyards” Petite Sirah, Yorkville Highlands, Mendocino, California
Inky, opaque garnet in the glass, this wine smells of smoky blackberry and blueberry fruit. In the mouth, blackberry and blueberry flavors are deep and dark but not thick, thanks to excellent acidity. Chewy, putty-like tannins coat the mouth, and notes of herbs and dried flowers linger in the finish. Quite a mouthful.13.8% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $32. click to buy.

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The Best Way to Preserve An Open Bottle of Wine

One of the top queries on Google that brings people to this site is one of a number of variations on “how long does an open bottle of wine last.” I wrote an article a while back to provide my own definitive answer for this question.

But then the folks at Coravin sent me their latest product, Pivot, and as a result, there’s now a coda to that story.

I used Pivot for several weeks and then the folks at Coravin paid me to write an article about what I thought of the device.

For a company that, in the grand tradition of razors and blades, makes its money selling small cartridges of inert gas, it’s a brilliant idea that nests beautifully under the mission of helping wine lovers enjoy the wine they want, when they want, in the best possible condition. Watch out, Private Preserve, your days are numbered.

Thankfully, Pivot is a fantastically handy gadget, especially for anyone who likes to have several bottles of wine open in the fridge at any given time, or for anyone who likes to finish a bottle over the course of several nights and wants it to be in pristine condition as they do so.

Head on over to the Coravin site and read what I thought about Pivot.

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Vinography Images: The Mountain

Mount Saint Helena is seen at dusk behind darkened rows of vines on the valley floor. Prominent and steep, Mount Saint Helena occupies the north end of Napa Valley. An old volcano, the mountain has two summits, the taller of which is in Sonoma County, and the lower of which is in Napa, and represents the highest point in the county. Eruptions from Mount Saint Helena shaped the diverse soils of both Napa and Sonoma, and a particularly spectacular eruption created the famous Petrified Forest of Sonoma County.

INSTRUCTIONS:
Download this image by right-clicking on the image and selecting “save link as” or “save target as” and then select the desired location on your computer to save the image. Mac users can also just click the image to open the full-size view and drag that to their desktops.

To set the image as your desktop wallpaper, Mac users should follow these instructions, while PC users should follow these.

ORDER THE BOOK:
The work of photographer Jimmy Hayes can be further appreciated in his forthcoming monograph, Veritas, which will be published in 2021 by Abrams Books / Cameron + Company. Pre-order the book from the Abrams web site.

PRINTS:
Fine art prints of this image and others are available from Jimmy Hayes Photography.

ABOUT VINOGRAPHY IMAGES:
Vinography regularly features images for readers’ personal use as desktop backgrounds or screen savers. We hope you enjoy them. Please respect the copyright on these images. These images are not to be reposted on any website or blog without the express permission of the photographer.

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