Vinography Unboxed: Week of 1/3/21

Hello, and welcome to my periodic dig through the samples pile. 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 was all red wines, starting with some local Pinot Noir and ending with some superstar Sonoma Cabernets.

I will admit my organization of the samples I’ve received in my cellar is not particularly scientific. In fact, at times it can hardly even be described as methodical. And occasionally embarrassing things happen. Like when I’ve received two vintages of some wines from a producer, and don’t realize it. Ordinarily, I’d prefer to review them together, but sometimes they get separated in the pile.

So today you’re getting reviews of some 2017 Pinots from Dutton-Goldfield winery, after I reviewed the 2018 vintage of several of these wines a couple of weeks ago. Both vintages are on the market, so at least these reviews aren’t worthless.

Of the four Pinots from Dutton-Goldfield, I think my favorite this week was the Azaya Ranch Pinot, from the chilly Petaluma Gap AVA. Located in the hills of Marin County, about halfway between Tomales Bay on the west and Highway 101 on the east, this south and west-facing hillside vineyard is protected from the chilliest winds from the coast, making for excellent conditions for cool-climate Pinot Noir. I really enjoy this site’s freshness of fruit, and anyone who appreciates acidity in their wine will love it.

I’ve also got one more wine from Kingston Family Vineyards, several of whose wines I reviewed last week. This “Alazan” Pinot Noir has a lovely balance between herbs and fruit and a unique darker berry character that I really enjoyed.

This week I also tasted two wines from a producer that flies a bit below the radar when it comes to Napa estates. For five generations the Battuello family has been farming 83 acres in the heart of St. Helena, but most people drive right by Battuello Vineyards because they’re tucked down at the end of Ehler’s Lane and there isn’t a big fancy winery to visit.

Like many families that have been farming in Napa for generations, the Battuello family began with nut and fruit orchards and eventually converted to grapes. They remain one of the few producers in Napa who still grows what for decades was locally known as Napa Gamay, but is more correctly known as the Portuguese grape variety Valdigue. Their rendition is on the rich side, but it retains the bright berry freshness and acidity that marks this underrated grape variety. Speaking of dark and rich, their Petit Verdot will fit the bill nicely for anyone looking for a dark red from Napa that is just a bit off the beaten path.

Lastly and certainly not least, for they are among my favorite wines made in California, I’m happy to present my notes on the 2015 vintage from Vérité, which I consider to be the crown jewel of the Jackson Family Estates. Sonoma’s answer to Opus One, Vérité represents a collaboration between Jess Jackson, founder of Jackson Family Wines, and Pierre Seillan, a winegrower and winemaker who spent two decades in Bordeaux before accepting the offer to start a new project in California with Jackson.

Seillan was given carte blanche to make the best wine he could from Sonoma County, which resulted in a selection of vineyard parcels in Chalk Hill, Bennett Valley, Knights Valley, and Alexander Valley, and a meticulous approach to vinification that Seillan (and his daughter, who has grown up to become his assistant winemaker) call “micro-cru” winemaking. The father-daughter team separately vinify and barrel more than 50 individual blocks that are then later assembled into the three iconic wines that the estate has produced since it began in 1998 (actually, the estate began with La Muse and La Joie, and two years later, began to produce Le Desir).

La Muse is a merlot-based blend, La Joie features Cabernet Sauvignon, and Le Desir is always centered on Cabernet Franc.

And what wines they each are. Rivaling (and in my book, often exceeding in finesse) anything that comes out of Napa, these are among the most profound Bordeaux-style wines made in California every year. The 2015 vintage is settling into a beautiful, relaxed elegance in the bottle, and all three of the wines are fantastic, as usual. However, the “La Muse” had just a little extra something to it that thrilled me.

Of course, like most of California’s luxury wines, these bottles are priced out of most wine buyers’ reach, but if you are in the habit of paying several hundred dollars per bottle, I would venture to say there are few better bets in Californian wine.

Tasting Notes

2019 Kingston Family Vineyards “Alazan” Pinot Noir, Casablanca Valley, Chile
Light to medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of struck match, raspberries, and chopped green herbs. In the mouth, brilliantly juicy flavors of raspberry and boysenberry are backed by green herbs and a touch of dusty tannin. Fantastic acidity and great length. 12.5% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $42. click to buy.

2017 Dutton-Goldfield “McDougall Vineyard” Pinot Noir, Fort Ross-Seaview, Sonoma Coast, Sonoma, California
Medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of cherry, cedar, and a hint of oak. In the mouth, cherry and raspberry flavors are shot through with the sweet vanilla of new oak. Excellent acidity and length, with barely perceptible tannins. 13.5% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $60. click to buy.

2017 Dutton-Goldfield “Redwood Ridge” Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast, California
Medium garnet in color, this wine smells of raspberry and cranberry fruit. In the mouth, cranberry and raspberry fruit is shot through with cedar and dried herbs. Faint but muscular tannins grip the edges of the palate. 14.2% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $62. click to buy.

2017 Dutton-Goldfield “Azaya Ranch Vineyard” Pinot Noir, Petaluma Gap, Marin, California
Medium garnet in color, this wine smells of raspberry and cranberry fruit. In the mouth cranberry and raspberry notes mix with dried herbs and a touch of forest floor. Excellent acidity keeps the wine quite fresh as notes of green herbs linger in the finish along with citrus-peel brightness. 14.1% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $62. click to buy.

2017 Dutton-Goldfield “Freestone Hill Vineyard – Dutton Ranch” Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley, Sonoma, California
Medium to dark garnet in color, this wine smells of cherry and cranberry compote. In the mouth, bright cherry and cranberry flavors have a hint of citrus peel and dried herbs to them. Excellent acidity and only the barest hint of tannins as the wine lingers for a long time on the palate. 13.5% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $72. click to buy.

2018 Battuello Vineyards Valdigue, St. Helena, Napa, California
Medium to dark garnet in color, this wine smells of boysenberry and black cherry. In the mouth, rich boysenberry and cherry flavors have a nice freshness thanks to excellent acidity, while notes of cola and flowers linger in the finish. Quite delicious. 14.5% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $45.

Vinography Unboxed: Week of 1/3/21

2018 Battuello Vineyards Petit Verdot, St. Helena, Napa, California
Inky garnet in the glass, this wine smells of black cherry and cassis. In the mouth, rich black cherry, blackberry and cassis flavors are bright with juicy acidity even as they sit with some weight on the palate. Toasty notes of oak float on top of the dark fruit, and powdery tannins fill every nook and cranny of the mouth. A touch of cola lingers in the finish. Brawny, but not overpowering in its richness. 14.5% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $70.

2015 Vérité “La Joie” Red Blend, Sonoma County, California
Inky garnet in the glass, this wine smells of cherry and tobacco leaf. In the mouth, lush, velvety flavors of cherry, green herbs and dark plums are smooth and supple as they move across the palate. Excellent acidity, powdery faint tannins and impeccable balance. This is a poised, regal wine with confidence and grace. Herbal notes linger in the finish with a touch of licorice. 13.9% alcohol. Score: around 9.5 . Cost: $350. click to buy.

2015 Vérité “La Muse” Red Blend, Sonoma County, California
Dark garnet in color, this wine smells of black cherry and chocolate. In the mouth, rich cherry cola and cocoa powder flavors are gorgeously juicy thanks to excellent acidity. Cola nut and floral flavors mix with mouthwatering cherry fruit as gauzy tannins coat the mouth. Fantastically balanced and delicious. Impeccable in every way. Effortless to drink, impossible not to love. 14.7% alcohol. Score: between 9.5 and 10. Cost: $350. click to buy.

2015 Vérité “Le Desir” Red Blend, Sonoma County, California
Inky garnet in the glass, this wine smells of black cherry, licorice, and earth. In the mouth, fleecy tannins wrap around a core of black cherry and cocoa powder that has a faint herbal bitterness to it. Excellent acidity and lovely sawdusty depths make for complex and delicious wine. Beautifully balanced and graceful to the last drop. 14.4% alcohol. Score: around 9.5. Cost: $350. click to buy.

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America’s Other Cabernet: The Wines of Red Mountain, WA

Admittedly, it sounds like the set-up for a joke: what do two nuclear engineers to for a good time outside of work? In the case of Jim Holmes and John Williams, the punchline goes something like this: after a less-than-successful experience trading stocks, their idea of fun was trying their hand at planting wine grapes in a godforsaken part of Washington state where land was cheap and sunlight was plentiful.

Every New World appellation that isn’t the subdivision of an existing growing area needs a pioneer, someone willing to gamble the time and money required to establish a vineyard and prove their intuition for its suitability when it comes to wine was justified. Sometimes those pioneers are keenly prepared treasure hunters, methodically searching for a specific set of conditions that match their vision of soil, climate and aspect. Often it seems, though, that many New World wine regions are as much the product of luck and happenstance as they are well-considered calculations.

The Red Mountain American Viticultural Area in eastern Washington owes its existence as much to the fact that Williams’ father-in-law had cheap land to sell as it does to the intuition and strategy of these two engineers looking for an interesting way to make some money on the side and do something with their hands on the weekend.

* * *

Thus begins a lengthy profile I wrote on the Red Mountain AVA for Jancis Robinson’s website this week. You can read the profile, along with tasting notes and scores for more than 100 Red Mountain wines at JancisRobinson.Com.

If you’re not familiar with JancisRobinson.Com, 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.

Above image © Richard Duval Images, courtesy of Red Mountain AVA Association.

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The Progress of Consistency: A TOR Vineyards Retrospective

There’s lucky and then there’s damned lucky. Tor Kenward has basically had his dream job since the age of 29.

Hang out with Kenward for a little while and you might begin to observe some of the effects of doing what you love and making a decent living at it for most of your life. For starters, he moves through life and conversation like a man twenty years his junior, with a spring in his step and an animated twinkle in his eye, incredibly comfortable in his own skin.

This year he’s 72 and recently finished his 44th harvest in Napa Valley, and his 19th as the owner of his own small wine label TOR Wines.

Yes, his receding hairline has gone gray and white, but his ever-present goatee remains neatly trimmed beneath his trademark round spectacles, giving him the air of your favorite college professor. You know, the one you could sit in a bar with and talk about philosophy until the wee hours of the morning?

Kenward seems like he’s constantly brimming with energy and has an earnestness that is both disarming and infectious. He’s interested in things, and easily draws others into conversation in a way that gets them interested too, no matter what the subject.

Kenward grew up a child of the 50s, with bohemian parents. His father, Allan Kenward, was a writer, his mother, a painter.

“Dad had one famous hit play that went from Pasadena to Broadway and eventually became a movie, but then nothing even remotely as successful ever again,’ says Kenward. “He wrote screenplays and plays his whole life, which is what took us to Southern California when I was a kid.”

Kenward spent most of his school years in California, except for a stint in Taos, after his father was “kicked out” of Hollywood for a time over a perceived slight by a studio head. After high school, Kenward did what a lot of kids graduating high school in 1966 did whether they wanted to or not: he went to Vietnam.

Kenward returned to Santa Barbara to go to college where he “read a book a day as rehab, which changed my life,” and resolved to do only what he wanted to do. So while taking classes he also worked two jobs more for pleasure than income.

With some friends he decided to start a jazz club, which became relatively successful, at least in terms of hosting names that most would now recognize: musicians Tom Waits and Bonny Raitt, and the comedians Steve Martin and Lily Tomlin among many others.

But it was his other part-time job, working in a liquor store, that would come to change the course of his life. Kenward started drinking wine and quickly fell in with a crowd of serious wine drinkers.

“I had a friend who was always opening up the greats—fantastic Champagne and Bordeaux mostly—and I just went down a rabbit hole that I’ve never come out of,” says Kenward. “I frankly just went nuts. I read everything I could find—Broadbent, Waugh, Finnegan, I couldn’t get enough.”

The owner of the liquor store encouraged Kenward’s new passion, to the point of suggesting he head up to Napa to check out “the scene” up there. Having a relatively new girlfriend at Stanford, Kenward took little convincing to head north, which he did with some regularity after that.

The Progress of Consistency: A TOR Vineyards Retrospective

“It was great,” recalls Kenward. “We’d camp at Bothe [Bothe-Napa Valley State Park] and we’d roll out of our tent in the morning, and just go around and visit wineries. I just went ‘Wow, this is too cool.'”

Hooked by the wine bug, and having finished his studies, on one of his trips north, Kenward responded to two help-wanted advertisements in Napa, one of which was as a tour guide for Beringer Vineyards in St. Helena.

“My wine knowledge was really good at the time,” says Kenward. “I had read things. Studied it. And this was 1977 and most people didn’t know a thing about wine in those days.”

Beringer called him back after his interview a few days later and offered him the job.

“And I said, ‘what the hell, I’m doing this.'”

Three years later, Kenward was a Vice President at Beringer, with a title that colleagues at the time joked should simply be “Vice President In Charge of Fun.”

Kenward’s 27-year tenure at Beringer certainly sounds deserving of that title. Suggesting that he was the “resident wine geek,” Kenward flew all over the world exploring the great wine regions of Europe and bringing back ideas to try out as Napa transitioned from a sleepy agricultural valley to the Wine Country destination we know today. One of Kenward’s early achievements includes pioneering food and wine pairing programs that featured (and discovered) some of the best chefs working in America at the time, including Julia Child, who Kenward eventually became friends with.

Kenward, like many of Napa’s old guard, was the right guy, in the right place, at the right time.

“When I started there were maybe 50 wineries in Napa,” says Kenward. “And everyone knew everyone. Bob Mondavi, Andre Tschelitchieff, they always had open-door policies.”

Kenward got to know many of Napa’s greatest vineyard sites during his tenure at Beringer, both professionally and personally. As if his job wasn’t great enough already, starting in the Nineties, Kenward was encouraged to start making his own wines using small quantities of grapes from some of Beringer’s best vineyard sites. For free.

These initial efforts were little more than home winemaking projects, but starting in 2001, Kenward got more serious, sourcing (and paying for) grapes from other vineyards he knew and loved in Napa, and eventually bringing on Thomas Rivers Brown and Jeff Ames to serve as winemakers for his growing project. Brown eventually stepped away, leaving Ames and Kenward to collaborate for the past 15 years on building a portfolio of single-vineyard Cabernets that has few equals in the world of Napa luxury wine.

The Progress of Consistency: A TOR Vineyards Retrospective

I had a chance earlier in the summer to sit down and taste through a selection of vintages, starting with one of his 1990s wines from the famed State Lane Vineyard, now owned by Kapcsàndy Vineyards, and progressing through to barrel samples from the 2019 vintage.

The wines are quintessentially and unapologetically Napa in both conception and execution. Bold, ripe, and layered with polished, juicy fruit supported by lush, supple tannins, and very well-integrated oak. They hit on every note that most people look for when they’re shopping for $200 Cabernet Sauvignon.

Not only do they hit every one of those notes, they do so with a remarkable consistency of expression. Part of that, no doubt, comes from having a single winemaker for the entire history of the brand, and very consistent vineyard sources as well. But there’s also a confidence expressed in these wines, a self-assuredness that is quite admirable, not to mention delicious.

I’m particularly impressed by the tactile qualities of tannin that Ames is able to achieve with these wines.

“Jeff deserves an amazing amount of credit when it comes to tannin management,” says Kenward. “After tasting a lot of California wines both old and young, I have a strong feeling about how easy it is to cross over into aggressive tannins, where as the wines age, the fruit falls out first and all you’re left with are these tannins that don’t go away.”

 “Our philosophy,” Kenward continues, “Is to have a wine where you definitely have tannins, but they’re integrated, and you also perceive the fruit through those tannins. I’ve found those are the wines that both age well and are pleasant in youth. Frankly, these are the wines that Napa should be making, They age well and the fruit stays there for a ling time. Despite the Bordeaux bullshit that somms have been bombarded with for years, Napa wines made like this can even outlive Bordeaux.”

Personally, I found myself gravitating to the younger wines in this tasting, and was particularly impressed with the as-yet-unreleased 2018 vintage and the still-aging 2019 vintage. It’s a little unfair to say, given their youth and their future of many months more in barrel and then in bottle, but the 2019s had a vibrancy that was electrifying.

Consumers have both of those vintages to look forward to being released in the coming year or two, but after that, Tor’s customers will have to take a pause for a year. Kenward, who recently evacuated to a relative’s house in Marin in the wake of the Glass fire, has suggested in an e-mail to his customers that other than some Chardonnay and a little of early picked Cabernet from the Tierra Roja Vineyard, he won’t be making any 2020 wines.

“The vintage is not a vintage for us,” wrote Kenward, a frank admission that is likely to be among the first of many to come in Napa.

The Progress of Consistency: A TOR Vineyards Retrospective

Tasting Notes

2014 TOR Wines “Hyde Vineyard” Chardonnay, Carneros, Napa, California
Medium gold in the glass, this wine smells of pineapple and buttery popcorn. In the mouth, rich lemon curd and pineapple flavors have a nice intensity with just enough acidity to keep them lively. Clean and well balanced with very well integrated wood, which has a presence but hangs in the background. While this is on the riper side, I wouldn’t have guessed at the 14.8% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $80. click to buy.

2018 TOR Wines “Hyde Vineyard – Cuvee Susan” Chardonnay, Carneros, Napa, California
A cloudy greenish gold in the glass, this wine smells of cold cream, lemon curd, and apples. In the mouth, lemon curd and a touch of green apple mix with some dried mango and tropical fruit cocktail. Rich, but with well-integrated oak. Good acidity. A slight bit of heat on the finish from the 14.6% alcohol. 125 cases made. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $80. click to buy.

2018 TOR Wines “Durell Vineyard – Cuvee Mimi” Chardonnay, Sonoma Coast, California
Light greenish-gold in color, this wine smells of lemon curd and a touch of wet stones. In the mouth, rich lemon curd and cold cream flavors have a hint of vanilla and white flowers to them as the move with satin smoothness across the palate. Nicely balanced, clean finish. 14.7% alcohol. 125 cases made. Score: around 9. Cost: $80. click to buy.

2018 TOR Wines “Beresini Vineyard – Cuvee Torchiana” Chardonnay, Carneros, Napa, California
Light to medium yellow gold in the glass, this wine smells of lemon curd and white flowers. In the mouth, rich lemon curd and cold cream flavors have a silky intensity to them, with excellent acidity and remarkable balance, given the ripe, 14.7% alcohol. Excellent. 125 cases made. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $80.

1990 Kenward “State Lane Cuvee” Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, California
Medium to dark ruby in color, this wine smells of cigar box, leather, and dried cherries. In the mouth, dried cherries, leather, and tobacco have a soft powdery tannic texture and enough acidity to keep the fruit, though fading, still juicy. Notes of dried cherry and dried flowers linger in the finish with some cedar to back them up. Home winemaking, alcohol level uncertain, but probably high 13s. Score: between 8.5 and 9.

2001 TOR Wines “West Block” Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, California
A cloudy dark ruby in the glass, this wine smells of black olives and dried black cherries. In the mouth, olive notes mix with dried black cherry and licorice. The tannins are a gauzy pillow now for the fruit that leans towards the savory side. Licorice and cherry in the finish. 14.2% alcohol. 325 cases made. Score: between 8.5 and 9.

2005 TOR Wines “Beckstoffer To Kalon Vineyard” Cabernet Sauvignon, Oakville, Napa, California
A shiny dark ruby in color, this wine smells of pencil shavings, cigar box, and dried black cherries. In the mouth, black cherry fruit (both fresh and dried) mixes with a touch of black olive and herbs. Decent acidity. Notes of roasted fig linger in the finish. Velvety tannins are faint now. 15.2% alcohol. 350 cases made. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $225.

2009 TOR Kenward “Beckstoffer To Kalon Vineyard – To Kalon Clone #337” Cabernet Sauvignon, Oakville, Napa, California
Very dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of roasted figs, dried black cherries, and a hint of truffles. In the mouth, juicy black cherry, dried herbs, and roasted figs flavors have a faint meatiness to them and mouthwatering acidity. Definitely on the ripe, rich, side, but there’s lots to love here, with well-integrated oak. 15% alcohol. 225 cases made. Score: around 9. Cost: $225.

2010 TOR Wines “Tierra Roja Vineyard” Cabernet Sauvignon, Oakville, Napa, California
A cloudy, very dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of black olives, black cherry, and a touch of green herbs. In the mouth, extremely juicy flavors of black cherry, roasted fig, and bing cherry burst on the palate with exceptional acidity. There is some alcoholic heat in the finish, but this is a very tasty wine, that leaves a touch of charred steak umami note in the finish with a hint of salinity. 14.7% alcohol. 275 cases made. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $155. click to buy.

2013 TOR Wines “Melanson Vineyard” Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, California
Very dark garnet in color, this wine smells of black cherry and cassis with floral overtones. In the mouth, rich black cherry and cassis flavors are nestled in a vest of fleecy tannins that stiffen a bit as the wine finishes with notes of cola and licorice. Excellent acidity and a hint of peppermint patty on the finish. 14.8% alcohol. 200 cases made. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $225. click to buy.

2014 TOR Wines Proprietary Red, Oakville, Napa, California
Very dark garnet in color, this wine smells of dusty black cherry and tobacco. In the mouth, powdery but muscular tannins wrap around a core of black cherry and cola nut. Touches of licorice root and cedar round out the flavor profile, which has an airy, somewhat high-toned quality. The tannins are slightly drying and there’s a faint bit of heat in the finish. Not as well-knit together a wine. A blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Petit Verdot. 14.6% alcohol. 350 cases made. Score: around 9. Cost: $225. click to buy.

2016 TOR Wines “Tierra Roja Vineyard” Cabernet Sauvignon, Oakville, Napa, California
Dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of black cherry and a touch of black olive. In the mouth, intense black cherry and bing cherry fruit is juicy with fantastic acidity and shot through with a touch of lavender and forest floor. Suede-like tannins grip the fruit and gain muscle as the wine finishes. Balanced and very well integrated. 14.8% alcohol. 400 cases made. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $155. click to buy.

2017 TOR Wines “Vine Hill Ranch” Cabernet Sauvignon, Oakville, Napa, California
Very dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of pencil shavings and black cherry fruit. In the mouth, intense black cherry fruit is rich and layered as it sits in a deep velvety cushion of tannins. Opulent and dense, this is the kind of wine that serious Napa wine lovers swoon over. It’s a bit rich for my taste but it’s damn good. 15.2% alcohol. 200 cases made. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $225. click to buy.

2018 TOR Wines “Black Magic – Barrel Sample” Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, California
Inky dark garnet in color, this barrel sample smells of cedar, black cherry, and tobacco. In the mouth, wonderfully juicy black cherry and licorice root flavors are held in a muscular fist of tannins that are fine-grained and supple. Fantastic acidity and wonderful balance. This is an impressive wine with a long life ahead of itself. Score: around 9.5. Planned release price: $350

2018 TOR Wines “Beckstoffer To Kalon – Barrel Sample” Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, California
Inky garnet in the glass, this barrel sample smells of black cherry and licorice. In the mouth, voluminous mouth-coating tannins billow around a core of black cherry, tobacco, licorice, and a touch of cocoa powder. Excellent acidity keeps the fruit bright, but can’t keep this wine from feeling dense and rich. A bit too much for my taste, but most hardcore Napa fans will love it. A faint bit of alcoholic heat in the finish. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Planned release price: $225.

2019 TOR Wines “Vine Hill Ranch – Barrel Sample” Proprietary Red, Napa Valley, California
Very dark garnet in color, this barrel sample smells of cassis and black cherry with floral overtones. In the mouth, grapey flavors of black cherry and cassis are grasped in a fist of fine-grained but muscular tannins. Rich and juicy with excellent acidity, this wine has a density and power that suggests a long life ahead of it. Very well-integrated oak leaves a hint of pencil shavings in the finish. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Planned release price: $275

2019 TOR Wines “Dr. Crane Vineyard – Barrel Sample” Cabernet Sauvignon, St. Helena, Napa, California
Inky garnet in the glass, this barrel sample smells of perky black cherry and cola with a hint of candied grape. In the mouth, juicy black cherry, cassis and cola flavors nestle into a fleecy blanket of tannins. Notes of violets and black cherry linger in the finish. Rich and juicy and bold, with excellent acidity and nice balance. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Planned release price: $225.

The Progress of Consistency: A TOR Vineyards Retrospective

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Napa History in Three Acres and Three Vintages

Some people have beautifully manicured front lawns. Some people have barely manageable jungles. And some are lucky enough to have one of Napa’s best vineyards right out their front door.

“Mostly, my memories of it growing up are tearing through on ATVs and getting into a lot of trouble,” says Matt Meyer.

When Justin Meyer, the founder and winemaker of the famed Silver Oak Cellars, told his wife in 1974 that he was ripping out the three acres of clover in front of their Oakville home to plant a vineyard, Bonny Meyer suggested that she’d like to make it her own personal project.

“I learned how to drive a tractor, and to sucker and prune grapevines,” she writes in her recently released memoir, Perfectly Paired: the Love Affair Behind Silver Oak Cellars.

Even as the first fruit came off the vines four years later, it was clear that this little, unusually gravelly patch of Napa Valley was something special. Instead of putting it into Silver Oak’s Napa Cabernet, Justin Meyer decided to bottle it separately in 1979, making it one of Napa’s first vineyard-designated wines. The Christmas before the wine was to be released, Meyer surprised his wife with a hand-carved wooden sign, proclaiming to anyone who passed that the little patch of vineyard in their front yard was forever to be known as Bonny’s Vineyard.

In the history of Napa Valley, a legendary place, there are only a few legendary vineyard names: To Kalon. Beckstoffer. Eisele. Martha’s Vineyard, and yes, Bonny’s.

Bonny Meyer

Silver Oak made a Bonny’s Vineyard Cabernet from 1979 until 1991, and from its very first vintage, it was recognized as something special by both ordinary consumers and critics alike. In fact, it became so popular, the winery had to get rid of it.

“I can remember my dad saying after one of their annual August release parties where the Bonny’s sold out in a matter of hours, ‘We’ve got more than a thousand cases of Anderson Valley and Napa Valley Cabernet left, and not a single one of Bonny’s,'” recalls Matt Meyer.

Ultimately deciding they were disappointing more people than they were making happy, the partners in Silver Oak decided to stop making a separate Bonny’s Vineyard lot, and started blending the fruit into their Napa Valley bottling.

But the sign stayed up in front of vines in the Meyer family home, and life went on. Eventually Justin Meyer decided he was ready to retire, and in 2000 sold his share of Silver Oak to his business partner, Ray Duncan. While there was some discussion at the time of Meyer hanging on to a few of the vineyards, ultimately the two amicably decided all the vineyards needed to be a part of the deal.

All except for one. And largely because it was simply the front yard of the family home.

Napa History in Three Acres and Three Vintages
Bonny and Justin Meyer

Bonny’s Vineyard was replanted in 1999 and so didn’t begin producing viable fruit again until 2002, when sadly only a month before harvest Justin Meyer died of a heart attack. That year’s harvest proved a somber one for the family, and the single barrel of Bonny’s Vineyard Cabernet they produced under their fledgling Meyer Family Cellars label was not and never will be sold.

“It’s obviously a special wine, and one that we tend to drink only on special occasions with family and our closest friends,” says Matt Meyer.

In 2003, twelve years after the name Bonny’s Vineyard last appeared on a wine label, the family released its first commercially-available Bonny’s Vineyard Cabernet, which they have made ever since, with fruit from the roughly 1.5 acres of the vineyard the family believes represents the best of what the site has to offer. This year, twelve years after that first vintage, the family is releasing the 2015 vintage of the wine.

Which, I suppose, is why I was lucky enough to get a box on my doorstep a few weeks ago containing one of the last remaining bottles of the 1991 Silver Oak “Bonny’s Vineyard” Cabernet, the 2003 Meyer Family “Bonny’s Vineyard” Cabernet, and their soon-to-be-released 2015.

“I was just struck by the symmetry of these two twelve-year periods,” says Meyer, “and thought it would be interesting to look at all three wines.”

No kidding. The opportunity to take a 25-year journey that spans the rise of Napa Valley from emerging wine region to global powerhouse through the lens of three acres of Cabernet Sauvignon is an experience not to be missed.

The profundity of this journey was made possible, in part, by integrity. Meyer, who literally grew up in this vineyard and learned winemaking at the knee of a Napa legend, has spent the past 12 years staying true to what Bonny’s Vineyard Cabernet has always been.

“When it comes to Syrah or the other wines we make, we’re always looking to improve,” says Meyer. “We can make small steps each year, and tune what we’re doing. With Bonny’s we’re doing the opposite. We are trying very hard to make the wine precisely how my father would have made it in 1986. The alcohols have drifted up over the years, but we can’t entirely help that. The old vines were diseased, and while the new ones are happier, they make more sugar. My hardest job is making the vines slow down—getting the maturation I want without the sugar content. We know people who have bottles from a few decades ago, and if they want to open up an old bottle and a current release we want them to be tasting only vintage variation and age, not a new winemaking style.”

Meyer has succeeded magnificently. Making a beautifully balanced, 13.8% alcohol Cabernet Sauvignon in the heart of Oakville is as courageous as it is difficult. Most neighbors are weeks away from picking when Meyer harvests these grapes, and most consumers have become accustomed to the ripe richness of Napa Cabernet at 15% alcohol or higher.

I find it comforting (not to mention delicious) that Bonny’s Vineyard continues to express the beauty that originally led to its fame. If it was one of Napa’s earliest rockstar “cult wines” it has now left the spotlight and stepped off the stage, content to play acoustic sets in small venues but still singing with its distinctive voice and charm.

Napa History in Three Acres and Three Vintages

Tasting Notes

1991 Silver Oak Cellars “Bonny’s Vineyard” Cabernet Sauvignon, Oakville, Napa, California
Medium brick red in the glass with a touch of tawny brown, this wine smells of cedar and forest floor mixed with roasted figs and bacon fat. In the mouth, beautiful dried herbs and dried cherry mix with dried flowers and saddle leather flavors. The tannins are a whisper at this point, a powdery cloud that adds some texture to the very pretty aromatics of this cedary meaty goodness. Beautiful in its age. 13.8% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $220. click to buy.

2003 Meyer Family Cellars “Bonny’s Vineyard” Cabernet Sauvignon, Oakville, Napa, California
Dark ruby in the glass with a hint of brick red at the rim, this wine smells of dreid cherries, cedar, and crushed herbs. In the mouth, herbal and cedar notes have a wonderful earthy backdrop to them and powdery tannins that offer a fleecy blanket into which the fruit can nestle. Very pretty with still bright acidity. Excellent. 13.2% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $145. click to buy.  

2015 Meyer Family Cellars “Bonny’s Vineyard” Cabernet Sauvignon, Oakville, Napa, California
Medium to dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of cherry and chopped herbs. In the mouth, very fine-grained, muscular tannins wrap around a core of cherry and green herbs that have a lovely cool restraint to them that is quite refreshing and tasty. Excellent acidity and a remarkably modest 13.9% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $145. This wine will be available for purchase in October by members of the winery’s mailing list.

Full disclosure: these wines were provided as press samples. 

The post Napa History in Three Acres and Three Vintages appeared first on Vinography.

The Best Brunellos: Tasting the 2015 Vintage on Tour

Anyone who doesn't fall even just a little bit in love with Tuscany the first time they visit should probably be locked away from the world. There's something magical about the place that suffuses every bit of the landscape, the food, the people, and the very air.

The first time I visited with the woman I'd eventually ask to marry me, we managed to hit it perfectly at the peak of Spring -- the hills were green, the poppies in full bloom, little puffy clouds in the sky, 80 degrees... you get the picture. Makes me misty-eyed just thinking about it.

While we were there, we did our share of tasting, and Ruth fell hard for Brunello. So much so that for many of her early years of wine appreciation, it became her benchmark for any red wine. "Nope, not as good as Brunello," she would often say. Brunello (Bruno for short) still remains the planned name for our dog, if we ever get one.

For those who are perhaps less familiar with Brunello, here's a 30-second primer. Wines can only be labeled Brunello di Montalcino if they are made from grapes grown in and around the town of Montalcino, and if they are 100% Sangiovese. There was a point a number of years ago where this could have changed, when a huge scandal rocked Italy involving several producers busted for blending Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot into their Brunellos. The wines were banned from importation to the US for a short period of time, producers paid big fines, and the whole Consorzio had a vote to decide whether or not to change the rules of the appellation.

In the end, everyone voted to maintain the standards of the past (including, strangely, the very folks who were busted for violating those standards). Brunello will thankfully stay true to its heritage and continue to be made from 100% Sangiovese. In addition to the grape variety and locality, Brunello must be aged for no less than two years in oak, and one year in bottle, and cannot be released until 5 years after each harvest.

Because that's a long time to keep a wine around without being able to sell it, winemakers may also produce a Rosso di Montalcino, which also must be 100% Sangiovese, but can be sold after just one year of oak aging.

Producers in the region can also make wines from more international grape varieties like Cabernet that used to be known as Super Tuscans before the region won approval for a special designation known as Sant'Antimo IGT (Indicazione Geografica Tipica).

The Best Brunellos: Tasting the 2015 Vintage on Tour

Brunelli, like young Bordeaux, are somewhat more difficult to judge in their youth for those not used to tasting them. The wines can often be tight and tannic, and many don't show the soft, lush fruit qualities that can emerge after a few years and a little air. But as in many regions around the world, global warming is pushing ripeness and accessibility sometimes out of the winemakers control.

Sadly, I haven't had a chance to get back to Montalcino since that first trip Ruth and I took more than 15 years ago. But thankfully, sometimes, Tuscany can come to you. That is, if you're a member of the wine trade living in New York or San Francisco. The Consorzio del Vino Brunello di Montalcino, the trade group representing the appellation, has resumed (after something of a hiatus) their "Benvenuto Brunello" tastings in the United States, which involve packing up a bunch of producers and touring them around with their wines.

So when they showed up in San Francisco a few weeks ago, I made sure to keep my afternoon free. This year's version of the event was somewhat smaller than in past years, with many of the producers listed in the tasting booklet not in attendance. Extenuating circumstances being what they are, this was somewhat understandable.

Most of the wines on offer were from the 2015 vintage, a vintage that has been hyped far out of proportion to its quality I believe. The year was unusually hot and dry in general, though the microclimates of Montalcino ensure that most generalizations about a vintage in the area are fairly inaccurate for many producers. Apparently there were some truly spectacular wines made in 2015, but I don't think any of those producers made it to San Francisco. There were certainly some standouts in the fifty or so producers whose wares I sampled, but no true superstars. While I don't taste Brunello widely enough or consistently enough to be able to truly pass judgement on the quality of one vintage in comparison with another, I did find myself surprised that the wines weren't better. I was encouraged, however, by a continued overall retreat from the flavor of new French oak -- an ongoing (and very positive in my opinion) trend in the region.

So here are my scores and notes for the wines I tasted a few weeks ago. As with all scores and tasting notes made en masse at walk-around tastings, these are to be taken with a grain of salt, as they don't reflect the concentrated attention, time, or controlled circumstances of a sit-down tasting.

The Best Brunellos: Tasting the 2015 Vintage on Tour

WINES WITH A SCORE BETWEEN 9 AND 9.5

2015 Il Poggione Brunello di Montalcino, Tuscany, Italy
A medium, cloudy garnet color in the glass, this wine smells of cherry, flowers and sour cherry aromas. In the mouth, the wine is gorgeously bright and juicy with flavors of cherry, sour cherry, and dusty herbal notes all draped in gauzy tannins. Wonderful length and balance with fantastic acidity. Long, persistent finish. 16,600 cases made. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $90. click to buy.


WINES WITH A SCORE AROUND 9

2015 Altesino Brunello di Montalcino, Tuscany, Italy
Light to medium ruby in the glass, this wine smells of earthy, floral berries. In the mouth the wine is polished and refined with juicy cherry and cedar flavors wrapped in a blanket of fine tannins. Clean and bright. 10,000 cases made. Score: around 9. Cost: $54. click to buy.

2015 Altesino "Montosoli" Brunello di Montalcino, Tuscany, Italy
Light to medium ruby in color, this wine has a wonderful floral aspect with aromas of cherry and citrus peel. In the mouth, bright sour cherry and cherry flavors have a wonderful juiciness thanks to excellent acidity. Wonderfully long finish with fine grained tannins. 1200 cases made. Score: around 9. Cost: $129. click to buy.

2013 Capanna "Riserva" Brunello di Montalcino, Tuscany, Italy
Medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of cherry, raisins and dried herbs. In the mouth, tight tannins close in a fist around a core of cherry and leather shot through with electrically vibrant acidity. Notes of leather and cedar linger in the finish. 560 cases made. Score: around 9. Cost: $100. click to buy.

2015 Franco Pacenti Brunello di Montalcino, Tuscany, Italy
Medium ruby in color, this wine smells of aromatic cherry and cedar. In the mouth, classic cherry and sandalwood flavors mix with aniseed and citrus. Gorgeous and balanced with a long finish and great acidity. 2000 cases made. Score: around 9. Cost: $40. click to buy.

2010 Le Chiuse "Riserva" Brunello di Montalcino, Tuscany, Italy
Light to medium brick color in the glass, this wine smells of red apple skin and exotic dried flowers. In the mouth, velvety tannins deliver earthy flavors of red apple skin, dried flowers and candied fennel seeds on a plush texture that is very disarming. Excellent acidity and balance.350 cases made. Score: around 9. Cost: $151. click to buy.

2015 Musico (Podere La Casella) Brunello di Montalcino, Tuscany, Italy
Light ruby in the glass, this wine has a wonderful floral and bright berry aroma. In the mouth, floral and cherry flavors mix with cedar notes for a long bright expression of fruit and cedar that is quite pretty. Muscular tannins. Great acidity. Score: around 9. Cost: $??

2014 Musico (Podere La Casella) Brunello di Montalcino, Tuscany, Italy
Light brick red in color, this wine smells of citrusy, floral cedar notes. In the mouth, citrusy cherry fruit is juicy with excellent acidity and gripped by putty-like tannins that flex their muscles in a long finish. Score: around 9. Cost: $??

2013 Musico (Podere La Casella) Brunello di Montalcino, Tuscany, Italy
Light brick red in the glass, this wine smells of bacon fat and red miso. In the mouth, bacon fat mixes with cherries, cedar and road dusty. The tannins, too have a dusty quality, and float across the palate, buffing the edges of the mouth. Long finish, and still excellent acidity. Score: around 9. Cost: $??

2015 Poggio Lucina Brunello di Montalcino, Tuscany, Italy
Medium ruby in the glass, this wine smells of cherry and cedar. In the mouth, juicy sour cherry and raspberry fruit is draped in a skein of muscular, fine-grained tannins. Wonderful acidity makes the wine wonderfully bright. 2500 cases made. Score: around 9. Cost: $??

2015 Ridolfi Brunello di Montalcino, Tuscany, Italy
Light ruby in color this wine smells of floral and cherry aromas. In the mouth, juicy flavors of sour cherry and herbs have a wonderful elegance. Fine, dusty tannins coat the mouth and linger with cedar and cherry and citrus through a long finish. 4200 cases made. Score: around 9. Cost: $45. click to buy.

2015 Tenute Silvio Nardi "Vigneto Manachiara" Brunello di Montalcino, Tuscany, Italy
Medium garnet in the glass, this wine has a wonderfully floral, cherry and earthy aroma. In the mouth, fantastic acidity enlivens cherry and cedar and forest floor flavors that are deeply resonant and wonderfully juicy. Great long finish that has just a touch of heat in it. Still, an excellent wine. 500 cases made Score: around 9. Cost: $55. click to buy.

2015 Uccelliera Brunello di Montalcino, Tuscany, Italy
Medium ruby in the glass with some bricking at the rim, this wine smells of floral aromas and red fruits. In the mouth, sour cherry flavors have an intense powerful quality mixing as they do with slightly spicy sandalwood and incense flavors. Fabulous acidity and wonderful length with powdery, subtle tannins. 2200 cases made. Score: around 9. Cost: $65. click to buy.

2015 Val di Suga (Tenimienti Angelini) "Vigna del Lago" Brunello di Montalcino, Tuscany, Italy
Medium ruby in color, this wine smells of dusty roads cherry and dried flowers. In the mouth, that floral quality persists along with flavors of cherry. Powdery fine tannins coat the palate. Good acidity and length. Quite a pretty wine. 600 cases made. Score: around 9. Cost: $51. click to buy.

2015 Val di Suga (Tenimienti Angelini) "Poggio al Granchio" Brunello di Montalcino, Tuscany, Italy
Light to medium ruby in the glass, this wine smells of dusty sour cherry and sandalwood. In the mouth, sour cherry flavors are wrapped with dusty tannins and juicy with fantastic acidity. Elegant and long. 1000 cases made. Score: around 9. Cost: $75. click to buy.


WINES WITH A SCORE BETWEEN 8.5 AND 9

2015 Fattoria dei Barbi "Vigna del Fiore" Brunello di Montalcino, Tuscany, Italy
Medium ruby in color, this wine smells of sour cherry and red apple skin. In the mouth, red apple skin flavors mix with earthy dusty notes and are stretched taut by muscular, tight tannins that need a few years to relax. Aggressive, but with very pretty flavors. 500 cases made. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $70. click to buy.

2015 Belpoggio Brunello di Montalcino, Tuscany, Italy
Medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of sandalwood, cherry and thyme. In the mouth, flavors of cherry and herbs mix with dusty road under a blanket of fine grained tannins. Excellent acidity. 1300 cases produced. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $42. click to buy.

2015 Capanna Brunello di Montalcino, Tuscany, Italy
Medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of cherry and raisins. In the mouth, intense raisined flavors are nonetheless juicy and bright thanks to excellent acidity, and shot through with tight, muscular tannins. I normally don't like such dried flavors but there's a lot of verve in this wine. 3200 cases made. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $70. click to buy.

2015 Castello Romitorio Brunello di Montalcino, Tuscany, Italy
Medium ruby in color, this wine smells of cherry and raspberry. In the mouth, fine grained tannins wrap around a core of tart, sour cherry fruit tinged with leather and slightly bitter herbs. Good acidity but somewhat narrow and squeezed. Needs time for the tannins to develop. 5000 cases made. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $59. click to buy.

2015 La Fiorita Brunello di Montalcino, Tuscany, Italy
Medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of dried herbs, cherry and leather. In the mouth, cherry and leather notes mix with dusty road and fine grained tannins. Good acidity and length. 1800 cases made. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $75. click to buy.

2015 La Magia Brunello di Montalcino, Tuscany, Italy
Medium ruby in color, this wine smells of cherry with wonderful floral overtones. In the mouth, cherry, cedar and dusty earth mix with a touch of bitter herbs that linger in the finish. Fine grained tannins and good acidity. 90 cases made. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $38. click to buy.

2014 Poggio Lucina Brunello di Montalcino, Tuscany, Italy
Medium ruby in the glass, this wine smells of orange peel, berries and dried flowers. In the mouth floral flavors mix with cherry and dusty roads. Fine grained tannins and very good acidity. 740 cases made. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $??

2013 Poggio Lucina Brunello di Montalcino, Tuscany, Italy
Light to medium ruby in color, this wine smells of raisins and dried flowers. In the mouth, floral notes mix with sour cherry, cedar and dust under a gauzy blanket of tannins. Very good acidity. 2200 cases made. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $??

2015 San Polo Brunello di Montalcino, Tuscany, Italy
Medium ruby in the glass, this wine smells of cherry and sweet cedar. In the mouth, cherry and cedar flavors are shot through with zingy acidity and dusted with fine tannins. Citrus notes linger in the finish. 3400 cases made. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $46. click to buy.

2015 San Polo "Podernovi" Brunello di Montalcino, Tuscany, Italy
Medium ruby in color, this wine smells of sweet cherry and cedary. In the mouth, cherry and cedar notes are gripped in a tight fist of tannins with dusty notes that linger with cherry and citrus in the finish. 740 cases made. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $??

2015 Tenute Silvio Nardi Brunello di Montalcino, Tuscany, Italy
Medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of earthy cherries. In the mouth, the wine is equally earthy, with dark brooding depths wrapped around by tight muscular tannins. Good acidity. 14,100 cases made. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $55. click to buy.

2015 Uccelliera "Voliero" Brunello di Montalcino, Tuscany, Italy
Medium brick red in color, this wine smells of barnyard and bacon fat with a hint of red fruit underneath. In the mouth, sour cherry flavors are meaty with the umami of miso and with dusty tannins. Good acidity and length. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $65. click to buy.

2015 Val di Suga Brunello di Montalcino, Tuscany, Italy
Medium garnet in color, this wine smells of cherry and sandalwood. In the mouth, classic flavors of cherry and sandalwood are wrapped in a tight fist of tannins but remain juicy and bright thanks to excellent acidity 10,000 cases made. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $40. click to buy.

2015 Val di Suga "Vigna Spuntali" Brunello di Montalcino, Tuscany, Italy
Light to medium ruby in color, this wine smells of anise and cherry. In the mouth, distinct anise seed flavors mix with cherry and leather under a thick blanket of tannins. Decent acidity. 800 cases made. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $55. click to buy.


WINES WITH A SCORE AROUND 8.5

2015 Castello Banfi Brunello di Montalcino, Tuscany, Italy
Medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of cherry and cedar. In the mouth tight tannins wrap around a core of cherry cedar and citrus notes. Long finish. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $54. click to buy.

2015 Castello Banfi "Poggio Alle Mura" Brunello di Montalcino, Tuscany, Italy
Medium garnet in color, this wine smells of cherry and citrus peel. In the mouth, tight, muscular tannins wrap around a core of cherry and leather. Good acidity. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $60. click to buy.

2015 Fattoria dei Barbi Brunello di Montalcino, Tuscany, Italy
Medium ruby in the glass with some brick color at the rim, this wine smells of earthy cedar and citrus peel. In the mouth, dusty and earthy flavors of leather licorice root and red berries turn bitter towards the finish. Leathery tannins. Decent acidity. 12,400 cases made. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $50. click to buy.

2014 Carpineto Brunello di Montalcino, Tuscany, Italy
Medium garnet in color, this wine smells of espresso, cherry and leather. In the mouth, flavors of leather and cherry are creamy and wrapped in a sheaf of muscular tannins that have a putty-like texture. Good acidity. 3000 cases made. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $39. click to buy.

2015 Casisano Brunello di Montalcino, Tuscany, Italy
Medium garnet in color, this wine has a floral quality along with aromas of cherries. In the mouth the wine is fruity and ripe with flavors of cherry and dried flowers. Polished and glossy on the palate, the tight tannins squeeze the fruit and linger through the finish. Good acidity but missing some complexity. 3800 cases made. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $42. click to buy.

2015 Col d'Orcia Brunello di Montalcino, Tuscany, Italy
Medium ruby in color, this wine smells of cherry and dried herbs. In the mouth, dried herbs and cherry mix with leather underneath the gauze of dusty tannins. Decent acidity. 16,600 cases made. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $85. click to buy.

2015 Cortonesi "La Mannella" Brunello di Montalcino, Tuscany, Italy
Medium ruby in the glass, this wine smells of sweet cherry fruit. In the mouth, the fruit remains somewhat sweet, with cherry dominating, touched by leather and wrapped in a fist of tight tannins. Good acidity. 2000 cases made. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $60. click to buy.

2015 Fanti Brunello di Montalcino, Tuscany, Italy
Medium garnet in color, this wine smells...well...funky. Like old socks and cherry. In the mouth, cherry and earth flavors mix under a throw of fleecy tannins. Decent acidity. 4300 cases made. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $45. click to buy.

2015 La Fortuna Brunello di Montalcino, Tuscany, Italy
Medium ruby with a hint of brick at the rim, this wine smells of cherry, flowers and sour cherry. In the mouth, sour cherry and cherry flavors are wrapped in fine tannins. Good acidity but there's some heat in the finish. 2800 cases made. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $35. click to buy.

2015 La Fortuna "Giobi" Brunello di Montalcino, Tuscany, Italy
Medium ruby with some orange seeping in at the edges, this wine smells of sour cherry, raisins, and chocolate. In the mouth sour cherry fruit is draped in gauzy, fine-grained tannins. Good acidity. But a bit tired. 180 cases made. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $??

2015 La Magia Brunello di Montalcino, Tuscany, Italy
Medium ruby in the glass, this wine smells of cedar and cherry. In the mouth, intense flavors of cedar and cherry are shot through with the exotic woods of incense. Dusty tannin and notes of bitter herbs linger in the finish. Decent acidity. 3600 cases made. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $38. click to buy.

2015 Le Chiuse Brunello di Montalcino, Tuscany, Italy
Medium ruby in the glass, this wine smells of cherry and river mud. In the mouth, flavors of earth and cherry recall that same river mud. Deep and loamy. 1100 cases made. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $72. click to buy.

2015 Tenute Silvio Nardi "Poggio Doria" Brunello di Montalcino, Tuscany, Italy
Medium to dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of earth, red fruits and dried flowers. In the mouth, earthy, dusty flavors of cherry and dried cherry mix with a touch of leather. Peanut-butter-thick tannins. Decent acidity. 250 cases made. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $90. click to buy.


WINES WITH A SCORE BETWEEN 7.5 AND 8

2015 Caparzo Brunello di Montalcino, Tuscany, Italy
Medium ruby in the glass, this wine smells of heavily ripe cherry and raisins. In the mouth the wine is fruity and rather plain with cherry and raisin flavors that don't excite. 13,000 cases made. Score: between 7.5 and 8.

2013 Col d'Orcia "Poggio al Vento Riserva" Brunello di Montalcino, Tuscany, Italy
Light to medium ruby in color, this wine smells meaty and bacon-like. In the mouth, it seems heavily Brettanomyces driven, with barnyard and leather dominating the palate. Notes of earth bury the fruit and make it a bit hard to take. 1300 cases made. Score: between 7.5 and 8.


WINES WITH A SCORE AROUND 7.5

2015 Pian delle Querci Brunello di Montalcino, Tuscany, Italy
Light ruby in the glass, this wine smells of fruity berry aromas. In the mouth, the wine is quite thin and limp, offering berry flavors of cherry and not much more. Not exciting. 3100 cases made Score: around 7.5.



Napa’s Royal Cabernets: The Wines of Oakville

While often considered a single "place" when it comes to wine, Napa is hardly a monolithic growing region. Each of its 16 established AVAs (American Viticultural Areas) lays claim to a separate identity, characterized by geology, microclimate, and different histories of production.

The Oakville AVA has one of the most storied of such histories. It is home to the famed To Kalon Vineyard, purchased by H.W. Crabb in 1868, shortly after the installation of a railroad stop made the tiny village of Oakville spring to life. In 1876 Crabb's neighbor John Benson bottled his inaugural vintage of Far Niente wine just down the road.

By the year 1880 the Oakville area had 430 acres under production, and these would nearly triple to more than 1000 acres in the next 10 years and continue to grow until Prohibition turned off the spigot in the 1920's.

In 1965 Heitz Vineyards made the first vintage of Martha's Vineyard Cabernet, a wine that Robert Mondavi probably tasted around about the time he established his own winery a year later. Over the next thirty years, Oakville would gradually become home to some of the best wines on the planet. Acre for acre, the Oakville appellation may be the heaviest hitting single wine region in the western hemisphere. It is home to many of the highest scoring and highest priced wines in America, including Harlan Estate, Screaming Eagle, and Dalla Valle, to name just a few.

Oakville is ground zero for Napa Cabernet, and with good reason. Year over year it produces some of the most tremendous wines in the valley. It's hard to say that one particular area of Napa truly produces the best Cabernet, but it's also hard to find someplace that has more claim to that title than the Oakville AVA.

Napa's Royal Cabernets: The Wines of Oakville

A few weeks ago the Oakville Winegrowers Association put on its annual Taste of Oakville event, which gives members of the wine trade and the press an opportunity to sample wines from its members. This meant an opportunity to taste through a lot of excellent 2015 and 2016 Cabernets (as well as a few other reds and a few random whites).

There were a few wines at the tasting which I didn't get a chance to taste, as they had run out of wine by the time I got there, but the list below represents all but about 20 of the wines poured. The tasting took place on the upper level catwalks of the Robert Mondavi Winery surrounding their large oak fermentation tanks.

Napa's Royal Cabernets: The Wines of Oakville

Both the 2015 and 2016 vintages continue to show extremely well. I'm a fan of both years, with the 2016 having perhaps a slight brighter edge of acidity and more consistent balance than the 2015s if one had to make broad generalities. 2015 suffered from some pretty hot days during the end of the growing season, and offered more challenges to vintners.

As is often the case with such tastings, I did not make full tasting notes on many of the wines, and offer my notes and scores as recorded in the moment. Take them for what they are.


WINES WITH A SCORE BETWEEN 9.5 AND 10

2015 BOND "Vecina" Proprietary Red Wine
Smells of green herbs. Gorgeous cassis and cherry fruit, powdery tannins, great acidity, delicious even at this young age. $700. click to buy.

2016 Dalla Valle Vineyards "Collina" Red Wine
Bright cherry mocha, juicy, plush and utterly delicious. Great acidity. Supposed to be their more early-drinking wine but it's a knockout. $125. click to buy.

2016 TEXTBOOK "Page-Turner" Proprietary Red
Bright, light, juicy cherry, not massive, just fantastic. 14.1%. A real stunner. $75. click to buy.


WINES WITH A SCORE AROUND 9.5

2015 Dalla Valle Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon
Tight cherry, tobacco, mocha, hint of bitter earth. Intense and delicious. $240. click to buy.

2015 Dalla Valle Vineyards "Maya" Proprietary Red Wine
Bright cherry, tobacco, green herbs, great acid, tight tannins, dried herbs and oak that is nicely integrated. $499. click to buy.

2015 Favia Wines "Napa Valley Ranch" Cabernet Sauvignon
Juicy, bright cherry, plummy, cola, great acid, super fine structure, long, weightless. $199. click to buy.

2016 Macdonald Cabernet Sauvignon
Nutty, cherry, mocha, cola, tight tannins, long, great acid. $499. click to buy.

2015 Rudd Oakville Estate Proprietary Red
Cola, cherry, tight tannins, muscular, dusty, powdery, nice balance. $250. click to buy.

2016 TEXTBOOK "Mise en Place" Cabernet Sauvignon
Bright juicy cherry, cola, raspberry, bright, fine tannins, great acid. Long. $75. click to buy.

WINES WITH A SCORE BETWEEN 9 AND 9.5

2016 Detert Family Vineyards "East Block" Cabernet Franc. Somewhat reduced? Juicy cherry, bright, plummy, floral. Nice fine tannins. $??

2002 Detert Family Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon. Cloudy, plummy, red miso, earth, juicy. Yum. A beauty aging beautifully. $n/a

2016 Far Niente Cabernet Sauvignon. Bright juicy cherry, earth, tobacco, leather, long. Great acid, nice integrated wood. $160. click to buy.

2015 Favia Wines "La Magdalena" Red Wine. Tight lack cherry, very floral, long, needs time, muscular. Hint of bitterness on finish. $185. click to buy.

2015 Futo "Oakville Estate" Red Wine. Bright, even sharp, cherry, berry, earth, mocha, great acid. $425. click to buy.

2014 Gamble Family Vineyards "G. Thomas" Cabernet Sauvignon. Juicy bright tasty, earthy tea and cherry and earth. $??

2014 Gamble Family Vineyards "Cairo" Cabernet Sauvignon. Cherry, medium bodied, tight tannins, juicy, nice balance. $100 click to buy.

2016 Gargiulo Vineyards "Money Road Ranch" Cabernet Sauvignon. Cherry, bright hint of herbs. $111 click to buy.

2016 Gargiulo Vineyards "OVX G Major 7 Study" Cabernet. Cherry cola, juicy, hint of vanilla and wood. Fine. $180. click to buy.

2015 Groth Vineyards & Winery "Reserve" Cabernet Sauvignon. Tight, minty, cherry, herbs, fine tannins, long, good acid. $150 click to buy.

2015 Harbison Estate Cabernet Sauvignon. Juicy, bright, great acid, retrained oak, nice length, touch of heat. $120 click to buy.

2016 Peter Michael Winery "Au Paradis" Cabernet Sauvignon. Oak, cherry, nutty, tight, great acid, a bit volatile. $208. click to buy.

2015 Rudd Oakville Estate "Samantha's" Cabernet Sauvignon. Tight smooth, balanced, well integrated wood. Slightly drying tannins. Cherry and cocoa powder and oak. $175. click to buy.

2015 Saddleback Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon. Juicy, tight, nice cola notes. $65. click to buy.

2016 Tierra Roja Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon. Cherry cola, bluer fruits, tight tannins, better integrated oak. Good length - muscle. $170 click to buy.

2015 Tierra Roja Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon. Cherry, more subdued oak, bright, great acid. Touch of heat on finish. $170 click to buy.

2014 Vine Cliff Winery "Private Stock - 16 Rows" Cabernet Sauvignon. Cherry, tobacco, licorice, cola, Good acidity, good length. Tight tannins. $185 click to buy.

2012 Vine Cliff Winery Cabernet Sauvignon. Bright cherry cola, putty-like tannins, fine grained, nice balance. Juicy. $70 click to buy.

2016 Vine Hill Ranch "VHR" Cabernet Sauvignon. Smells of struck match, cherry, tobacco, great acid, nice balance, well integrated wood. $499. click to buy.



WINES WITH A SCORE AROUND 9

2016 Detert Family Vineyards Cabernet Franc. Juicy, bright, plummy cherry, hint of earthiness. $110 click to buy.

2012 Far Niente "Estate Bottled" Cabernet Sauvignon. Earth, cherry, tight tannins, somewhat compressed. $180 click to buy.

2011 Favia Wines "La Magdalena" Red Wine. Sweet nose, bright juicy, cherry herbs, great length. Touch of heat on finish. $170 click to buy.

2014 Gamble Family Vineyards "Home" Cabernet Sauvignon. Tight, cherry, plummy. $60 click to buy.

2015 Groth Vineyards & Winery Cabernet Sauvignon. Tight minty, cherry, earth. Good acid. $65 click to buy.

2014 Harbison Estate "The Trail" Cabernet Sauvignon. Bright but a bit bitter, juicy, long. $??

2012 Harlan Estate Proprietary Red Wine. Cherry, tobacco, tight, drying tannins, bitter finish. $925 click to buy.

2014 Hoopes Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon. Cherry, herbs, tight, bitter finish. $65 click to buy.

2015 Nemerever Vineyards "Complement" Cabernet Sauvignon. Bright plummy and juicy. Putty-like tannins. $75 click to buy.

2016 Nickel & Nickel "Branding Iron Vineyard" Cabernet Sauvignon. Bright, herbal, leaner, tight tannins. $99 click to buy.

2014 Oakville East "Exposure" Cabernet. Juicy, cherry, bright, nice acid. $89 click to buy.

2016 PlumpJack Estate Cabernet Sauvignon. Putty-like tannins, thick. Cherry. $140 click to buy.

2014 Saddleback Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon. Juicy, medium-bodied, bright. $75 click to buy.

2014 Tierra Roja Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon. Sweet oak, cherry, bright, leather, oak. Too much. Touch of sunscreen. $170 click to buy.

2013 Vine Cliff Winery Cabernet Sauvignon. Cherry, cassis, darker smokier notes, tight tannins. $75 click to buy.

WINES WITH A SCORE BETWEEN 8.5 AND 9

2016 Bevan Cellars "Tench Vineyard" Cabernet Sauvignon. Primary. Jammy. Sweet. Cassis, black cherry.
2016 Ghost Block "Oakville Estate" Cabernet Sauvignon. Smoky, cherry, medium bodied.
2014 Kelleher Family "Brix Vineyard" Cabernet Sauvignon
2014 Meyer Cellars "Le Bon Bon" Cabernet Sauvignon. Tight, oak tannins, cherry, good acid.
2015 Nemerever Vineyards "Estate" Cabernet Sauvignon. Creamy, cherry, hint of bitterness.
2016 Oakville East "Harter Family, Double H Ranch" Cabernet. Creamy, cherry, plush.
2010 Oakville East "Exposure" Cabernet Sauvignon. Cherry, great acid. Youthful.
2016 Robert Mondavi Winery "The Reserve To Kalon Vineyard" Cabernet Sauvignon. Tight, cherry, fine grained, long. Savory notes.
2016 Round Pond Estate "The Secret Garden" Cabernet Sauvignon. Smoky, struck match, bright, juicy, cherry.
2015 Stanton Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon. Rich, lush, cherry, somewhat simple.
2016 Turnbull Cellars "Reserve" Cabernet Sauvignon. Sweetish, chocolate and prunes, black cherry, not enough acid.

WINES WITH A SCORE AROUND 8.5

2016 Flora Springs "Holy Smoke Vineyard" Cabernet. Creamy, jammy, black cherry, cassis, extracted. Thick.
2015 Goldschmidt Vineyards "Hilary Goldschmidt Charming Creek" Cabernet Sauvignon. Jammy.
2010 Kelham Vineyards "Tribute to Rawson" Cabernet Sauvignon
2015 Meyer Cellars "Spitfire" Cabernet Sauvignon. Oaky.
2017 O'Shaughnessy Estate Winery Chardonnay
2016 Oakville Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon. Too much oak.
2015 Paradigm Winery Cabernet Sauvignon. Cherry, plum, tight
2016 Saddleback Cellars "Penny Lane Vineyard" Sangiovese
2013 Teaderman Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon. Tight nutty, cherry and tobacco. Drying tannins, parched.

WINES WITH A SCORE BETWEEN 8 AND 8.5

2015 Tamber Bey Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon. Jammy, plush, one dimensional, not enough acid.

WINES WITH A SCORE AROUND 8

2007 Kelham Vineyards Merlot
2014 Oakville Cross Cabernet Sauvignon. Jam.



Get in Early on Oregon Tempranillo

Abacela Vineyards, Umpqua Valley, Oregon

While everyone and their wine-loving aunt Jeannie are busy going gaga for Oregon Pinot Noir and, increasingly Chardonnay (both deserving to be sure), another grape has slowly been building a track record that is now too good to ignore. Oregon Tempranillo deserves your attention, but give it quietly please -- it's generally still an amazing bargain, thanks to being largely off the radar for most wine lovers, even those who live in Oregon.

Oregon Tempranillo languishes in obscurity primarily due to the fact that with a couple of notable exceptions, it's largely been planted in the wine growing areas of Oregon that are not the superstar successful Willamette Valley. But in places like the Umpqua Valley and Rogue Valley and Applegate Valley, this Spanish grape variety has convinced many a winemaker of its virtues. Now it simply has to convince consumers -- no mean feat when most of the airtime for Oregon Wine is sucked up by its Burgundian cousins.

I first tasted Oregon Tempranillo when a bottle arrived on my doorstep perhaps 7 years ago. Unlooked for and unannounced, bearing the name of a winery I had never heard of, this bottled did what I hope for whenever I pull out an unsolicited wine sample and pop the cork: it amazed me. The wine was true to its varietal character, balanced, and tasty. Epic? No. But good enough for me to ask under my breath, "who the heck is Abacela Vineyards and what on earth are they doing growing Tempranillo in Oregon."

Back then, a lot of people were probably asking Earl Jones that question. Maybe even Earl himself. In 1993, he moved his family to Southern Oregon and planted 12 acres of Tempranillo, having convinced himself that the climate was perfect for growing the grape that, in his opinion, no one had ever gotten right in America.

"At the time, California had 535 acres of Tempranillo, and all but one were in the Central Valley,' says Jones. "There was one acre in Napa. I tasted that wine in barrel, and said, 'Hmm, thats pretty good,' but then I said to myself 'I believe I can do better.'


Get in Early on Oregon Tempranillo

Tempranillo ready for harvest, Weisinger Vineyards


Tempranillo, from the Spanish temprano which means early, is one of the world's most planted grape varieties, hovering somewhere in the 4th to 6th range in terms of global acreage. It lives up to its name by ripening a full 2 weeks or more earlier than many of its red cousins -- most notably Grenache -- with which it is often paired in several famous wine regions of Spain, including Rioja, Ribera del Duero, and Toro. It has been cultivated in these areas, as well as in Portugal for several hundred years, but recent DNA evidence also shows that it has had a somewhat long foothold in southern Italy (Toscana and Baslicata) under the name Malvasia Nera. It was formally introduced to California in 1905 by Frederic Bioletti, but it may have arrived earlier, mixed with various Spanish and Italian varieties planted by early Italian immigrants in the Sierra Foothills. It has since spread to Washington State and Idaho, though quite possibly this is due entirely to Jones' success with the grape.

In the late 80s, after a long academic and research career in cellular biology and immunology, Jones saw the proverbial writing on the wall when it came to the future of the healthcare system and the academic world that fed it. At 52, and not yet ready to retire, he decided to set himself to solving what he felt was the mysterious lack of decent American Tempranillo, by then his favorite grape.

"I thought I had some decent insights from the time I spent in Spain,' says Jones who managed several visits for business and pleasure while still teaching and doing research. "All the books say soil is most important in determining terroir, but I believe that's largely bullshit. Climate is the obvious dominant feature. Soil plays a role, no doubt, but it is not the most important thing. When I saw Alejandro Fernandez making arguably a better Tempranillo in alluvial deposits on a river 150 miles from Rioja, and then saw the weather station data from there and from La Granja showing the same growing degree days and six month season, I said to myself it's environmental, and that's that.'

Armed with this insight, Jones researched regions from South Africa to South America to the West Coast, where he felt there was strong potential. After dismissing Walla Walla, Washington and Idaho for their winter freezes -- 'More than 10 days below ten degrees and you'll kill Tempranillo vines" says Jones -- he settled on Oregon's Umpqua River Valley.


Get in Early on Oregon Tempranillo

Vineyards in the Umpqua Valley (Courtesy of Umpqua Valley Winegrowers)

"There were six wineries in the Umpqua at that time, and before I made the trip out, I bought all their wines and had them shipped to me and I was really disappointed,' recalls Jones. "I didn't know much about winemaking but I knew good wine, and they weren't very good. But on one of my exploratory trips to the Northwest, I bought every local wine I found in a grocery store and one of them, a Merlot was good, and that told me it was possible."

Two years after that Merlot, and having found a farmer willing to unload 500 acres at the price Jones was willing to pay for 50, he moved to the region and planted vines armed with the best ideas his own research and theories would permit. At the time, the roughly 20 vineyards and six wineries operating in the region were focused on the big five international varieties -- Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Riesling, Cabernet and Merlot. Jones likes to tell the story of attending a local wine group meeting and telling one inquisitive woman what he was planting.

"At the end of the evening, some guy came up to me and said, 'Mr. Jones, you do realize that wine grapes are permanent plantings -- you can't temporarily plant them.' it was like a kids game of telephone among people who hadn't really ever heard of Tempranillo."

Jones is proud to have pioneered a grape that has become something of a signature for the region, albeit a quiet one. Roughly fifty wineries now produce Tempranillo across several different growing regions across the state: Applegate Valley, Columbia Gorge, Columbia Valley, Rogue Valley, Umpqua Valley, Walla Walla, and even the Willamette Valley. Most producers farm less than 5 acres, and only ten or so of those make more than 1000 cases of the grape per year.

Over the years, Abacela has continued to send me samples now and again, and I've watched the wines mature into self-assured deliciousness, thanks to the efforts of winemaker Andrew Wenzl and his partner in farming, Greg Jones, Earl's son.

So when the Oregon Tempranillo Alliance asked me to come up and taste through their wines to both educate myself and give feedback to the winemakers, I was very pleased to accept. I spent an afternoon tasting through many flights of wines along with my fellow visiting critics, wine writer Mike Dunne and Bree Boskov, MW.

What does Oregon Tempranillo taste like, you ask? I have a couple of ways of answering that question. I made tasting notes on the forty-some-odd wines that I tasted while I was there and have posted those below. For fun, I also dumped my tasting notes into a word cloud generator to see what kinds of themes emerged. After deleting a lot of common words and tweaking some variables, it was interesting to see how things sorted out.
Get in Early on Oregon Tempranillo

My tasting notes

I showed my cloud to the organizers and they got kind of excited about it, so with the permission of my fellow critics, I also made word clouds from their notes, as well as a combined cloud that integrated all three of our notes.
Get in Early on Oregon Tempranillo

Mike Dunne's notes

Get in Early on Oregon Tempranillo
Bree Boskov's notes

Get in Early on Oregon Tempranillo
A combined cloud of all three of our notes

I don't find these clouds particularly profound, nor surprising in their similarities and differences across three professional tasters, but they're a fun little exercise that can reveal some interesting traits.

More deliberately, let me say that Oregon Tempranillo seems to have quickly moved through or altogether avoided the trap that snares many burgeoning wine regions in their early days. The state of Idaho provides an unusually interesting comparison by way of illustrating this point. Idaho's Snake River AVA has also found that Tempranillo may be a very suitable, even successful grape in that region.

My own tastings have led me to share that opinion. However I have also found that Idaho Tempranillos (and indeed most of the wines I've tasted from Idaho) suffer from too heavy a hand in their making. The wines are often slaked in oak, over-extracted, sometimes picked too ripe, and show generally disjointed characteristics.

The causes of these shortcomings are likely myriad, ranging from inexperienced winemaking, a lack of understanding of the site or grape, or simply people just trying too hard to match their notions of what makes for "fine" wine. I've seen such issues in many up-and-coming regions such as Colorado, Texas, Arizona and more, to the point that I consider them pretty typical growing pains for a new region.

The Tempranillos of Southern Oregon occasionally show some of these mistakes, to be sure, but on the whole, I was very impressed with the balance, ripeness, use of oak, acidity levels, and overall character of these wines. Many of the best wines had a lovely black tea or smoky character that I enjoyed greatly (and which appears somewhat prominently in the word clouds above), along with their cherry fruit. In a brief survey conducted at the event, more than 72% of the winemakers present reported using 25% or less new oak for their wines, 84% of them age their wines for more than 12 months in barrel, and 38% age their wines for more than 18 months in barrel. Most use commercial yeasts and almost every winemaker adds acid to their wines.

In our discussions, my colleague Bree Boskov noted that many of the Tempranillos we tasted were 100% varietal bottlings. She rightly suggested that more winemakers could consider bolstering acidity with some of the grapes used for just such a purpose in Spain. I would also love to see more winemakers using native yeast fermentations instead of commercial yeasts.

But these are often the luxuries of self-assured winemakers resting upon a foundation of solid market demand, something that Oregon Tempranillo may not yet fully have. Which means you have a chance to get in on the secret early.


TASTING NOTES

Below are the tasting notes for every Oregon Tempranillo I had the pleasure of tasting a few weeks ago at the Oregon Tempranillo Alliance tasting. They were tasted blind in flights of five or so wines over the course of several hours. Alcohol levels, along with other identifying information, were provided after the fact. Other than editing my notes for grammar, and grouping the wines by ratings, I have made no changes to the thoughts I recorded while tasting.


WINES WITH A SCORE AROUND 9

2015 Abacela - Reserve Tempranillo, Umpqua Valley, Oregon
Very dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of cherry and black cherry. In the mouth, muscular tannins surround a core of cherry and black cherry fruit that is bright with excellent acidity. Nice black tea notes swirl in the background as a faint citrus hint touches the finish. Excellent. 14.9% alcohol. Cost: $49. click to buy.

2015 2Hawk Tempranillo, Rogue Valley, Oregon
Medium to dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of slightly grapey cherry and black fruits. In the mouth, very faint tannins surround a core of bright cherry fruit that is tinged Get in Early on Oregon Tempranillowith sweet black tea. Very pretty, with excellent acidity and nice length. A touch of mocha on the finish. Delicious. 13.8% alcohol.

2014 Castillo de Feliciana Tempranillo, Walla Walla Valley, Oregon
Very dark garnet in color, this wine smells of cherry and cedar and black tea. In the mouth, flavors of black tea and cherry and mocha are wrapped in a fleecy blanket of tannins. Good acidity keeps the wine bright and fresh as mocha and oak flavors linger in the finish. The wood is present here but pretty well integrated. Is this Abacela? 14.0% alcohol.

2014 Red Lily "Life of Riley" Tempranillo, Rogue Valley, Oregon
Dark garnet in color, this wine smells of black cherry and black tea. In the mouth, juicy black cherry and black tea notes are draped in a thick fleecy blanket of tannins. Excellent acidity makes for a bouncy mouthful and faint notes of mocha in the finish speak to particularly well integrated wood. Very nice. Includes 12% Cabernet Sauvignon. 14.3% alcohol. Cost: $30. click to buy.

2014 Schmidt Family Tempranillo, Rogue Valley, Oregon
Dark garnet in color, this wine smells of cherry and cedar and a touch of leather. In the mouth, aromatically sweet flavors of cherry and cedar and herbs have a wonderful texture that adds a rustic honesty to this wine. Perhaps unfined and unfiltered? Fine grained, powdery tannins, excellent acidity and the merciful absence of overt oak influence make me like this wine a great deal. 14.4% alcohol. Cost: $42. click to buy.

2014 Red Lily "Red Blanket" Tempranillo, Rogue Valley, Oregon
Dark garnet in color, this wine smells of black cherry and tea and a touch of herbs. In the mouth, black cherry and black tea flavors mix with a hint of cedar and leather. Muscular tannins buff the edges of the palate and linger with a hint of citrus peel in the finish. Very nice. Includes 19% Cabernet Sauvignon. 14.0% alcohol. Cost: $22. click to buy.

2013 Foon Estate Vineyard Tempranillo, Umpqua Valley, Oregon
Dark ruby in the glass, with a hint of purple still lingering, this wine smells of forest floor and dried flowers and cherry. In the mouth, flavors of cherry and leather and herbs and forest floor have a nice powdery tannic backbone and excellent acidity. This wine tastes like it has some bottle age to it, and is quite pretty for it. 13.5% alcohol.

2015 Stone Griffon Tempranillo, Willamette Valley, Oregon
Medium ruby in the glass with some purple still remaining at the core, this wine smells of sandalwood and red fruits and dried flowers. In the mouth, the wine is quite lithe and light on its feet, with more ethereal flavors of cherry and sandalwood and dried herbs. But the tannins grow in strength as the wine passes over the palate and linger with suede texture and notes of bergamot in the finish. Pretty. Excellent acidity. 14.0% alcohol.

NV EdenVale Tempranillo, Rogue Valley, Oregon
Very dark garnet in the glass, but headed towards ruby, this wine smells of cherry and tea and cedar. In the mouth, cherry and cedar flavors are quite smooth and velvety, with powdery, ethereal tannins that buff the edges of the mouth. Good acidity and very nice balance. I wonder if this wine has a bit of age on it. 15.5% alcohol.

2016 Belle Fiore Tempranillo, Rogue Valley, Oregon
Inky, opaque garnet in color, this wine smells of black cherry and black tea with hints of flowers. In the mouth, dark and powerful flavors of black cherry and black tea are wrapped in a skein of muscular tannins with a fine, powdery texture. Broad shouldered and powerful, this wine nonetheless has the acidity to be very drinkable. Notes of tea and citrus peel linger in the finish. Unknown alcohol. Cost: $49.


WINES WITH A SCORE BETWEEN 8.5 AND 9

2015 Coventina Tempranillo, Rogue Valley, Oregon
Medium to dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of oak and cherry. In the mouth, juicy cherry and berry flavors mix with a coffee and mocha note. Good acidity and a sense of slightly elevated alcohol, but quite tasty. Get in Early on Oregon TempranilloWell integrated wood. 13.7% alcohol. .

2015 Weisinger - Reserve Tempranillo, Rogue Valley, Oregon
Medium to dark garnet in color, this wine smells of cherry and mocha. In the mouth, flavors of cherry and mocha and a touch of coconut have very faint powdery tannins and a medium-bodied, lithe character. Light on its feet. Very pretty, but with a distinct American oak signature that somewhat upstages the fruit. Nonetheless, tasty. 14.0% alcohol. .

2015 Coventina - Reserve Tempranillo, Rogue Valley, Oregon
Very dark garnet in color, this wine smells of cherry and cola and cedar. In the mouth, bright cherry and cedar flavors have a dusting of powdery tannins, and a nice bounce thanks to excellent acidity. Good length and very nice balance, with a mocha finish that even leans a little minty. 13.5% alcohol. .

2009 EdenVale Tempranillo, Rogue Valley, Oregon
Dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of cherry and plum and grapey cedar. In the mouth, particularly juicy flavors of cherry and plum and boysenberry have a sweet oak note that lingers through the finish as the tannins gain stiffness. Excellent acidity. The fruit is slightly candied, but overall this is an excellent and tasty mouthful. 16.0% alcohol. . Cost: $65. click to buy.

2016 Triple Oak Tempranillo, Umpqua Valley, Oregon
Dark garnet in color, this wine smells of cherry and plum and a bit of cedar. In the mouth, bright cherry and cedar flavors have a light cola and mocha note to them and are bouncy with excellent acidity. A nice cola note lingers in the finish. Faint tannins gain strength as the wine lingers on the palate. This is very easy to drink. Well-integrated oak stays very unobtrusive in the wine. 13.9% alcohol. .

2017 Triple Oak Tempranillo, Umpqua Valley, Oregon
Dark garnet in color, this wine smells of cherry and dried herbs and tea. In the mouth, bright cherry and black tea flavors have a nice floral note to them, wrapped as they are in suede-like tannins that gain muscle as the wine finishes with cherry and cola notes. Excellent acidity. 13.5% alcohol. .

2016 Plaisance Ranch Tempranillo, Applegate Valley, Oregon
Very dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of black cherry and violets. In the mouth, rich black cherry flavors mix with a touch of tea and herbs. Thick fleecy tannins flex their muscles as the wine finishes with a bit of a citrus note. Powerful, and needs a little time. Includes 8% Merlot. 13.5% alcohol. .

2016 Weisinger Tempranillo, Rogue Valley, Oregon
Dark purple in the glass, this wine smells of oak and dark fruit. In the mouth, juicy black cherry and black tea flavors have a wonderful silky texture to them, and are backed by fine-grained muscular tannins. Nice floral notes linger in the finish. There's a distinct oak signature to this wine, but it does not overpower the fruit, despite being more prominent than I would like. Less wood, more of that beautiful fruit please. Still, a very tasty mouthful. 14.2% alcohol. .

2015 Belle Fiore Tempranillo, Rogue Valley, Oregon
Inky, opaque garnet in the glass, this wine smells of boysenberries and blueberry pie. In the mouth, rich blueberry and black cherry fruit has a nice brightness to it thanks to excellent acidity. Powdery tannins flex their muscles in the background with the scent of graphite lingering a bit in the finish, but definitely letting the dark, powerful fruit take the stage. Unknown alcohol. . Cost: $49.


WINES WITH A SCORE AROUND 8.5

2015 Pebbleston Cellars Tempranillo, Rogue Valley, Oregon
Medium garnet in the glass, this wine has a shy nose. In the mouth, bright red fruits have a faint tangy funkiness. In the mouth, bright cherry and sandalwood fruit has an increasing grip on the palate. Faint cedar notes linger in the finish with a hint of mocha. Excellent acidity. 14.1% alcohol.

2015 Stone Griffon - Reserve Tempranillo, Willamette Valley, Oregon
Medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of bright cherry fruit and a touch of wet leaves. In Get in Early on Oregon Tempranillothe mouth, bright cherry and cedar notes are draped in a sneaky blanket of tannins that gain strength as the wine finishes. Lively and light on its feet, but the tannins add some seriousness. 14.0% alcohol.

2015 Plaisance Ranch Tempranillo, Applegate Valley, Oregon
Very dark garnet in color, this wine smells of grapey boysenberry and black cherry. In the mouth, black cherry fruit has a faint vegetal quality that hangs in the background. Faint tannins wrap around the core of fruit. There's a brightness to the finish that is nice. Good acidity. Includes 10% Syrah. 14.0% alcohol.

2014 Red Lily Tempranillo, Rogue Valley, Oregon
Medium to dark garnet in color, this wine smells of cherry and earth and wood. In the mouth, fine grained tannins wrap around a core of cherry fruit that is tinged with oak. Though a bit strong, the wood is well integrated and smooth, and leaves a slight bourbon quality in the finish. American oak? 14.6% alcohol. Cost: $35. click to buy.


WINES WITH A SCORE BETWEEN 8 AND 8.5

2016 Holloran - Stafford Hill Tempranillo, Eola-Amity Hills, Willamette Valley, Oregon
Medium to dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of wet felt and red fruit. In the mouth, mellow flavors of cherry and other red fruits have a subdued and earthy touch. Good acidity and a medium-bodied feel, but missing some intensity and complexity. 13.8% alcohol. . Cost: $ . click to buy.

2016 Naked Winery "Oh! Orgasmic" Tempranillo, Columbia Gorge, Oregon
Medium garnet in the glass this wine smells of wet wood and red fruit. In the mouth, wet wood and cherry fruit is somewhat subdued but has a nice earthy aspect. Good acidity and length but missing some dynamism. Includes 10% Cabernet Sauvignon. 14.4% alcohol. . Cost: $80. click to buy.

2016 Holloran Tempranillo, Eola-Amity Hills, Willamette Valley, Oregon
Medium to dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of sweet oak and red fruits. In the mouth, sweetish flavors of mocha and cherry have a bright acidity and surprising lack of tannic backbone. Rare for me to want tannins but this needs more. Excellent acidity. Lacking in complexity and a bit too much wood. 14.3% alcohol. .


WINES WITH A SCORE AROUND 8

2016 Nicole Reese Tempranillo, Rogue Valley, Oregon Medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of red fruit and a touch of mocha. In the mouth, bright cherry and cocoa powder flavors are nicely non-oak-inflected character, with hints of peanut butter. Missing some complexity and depth. 12.3% alcohol.

2014 Foon Estate Tempranillo, Umpqua Valley, Oregon
Very dark garnet in color, this wine smells of cherry and wet wood and a hint of earth and raisins. In the mouth, flavors of dried fruit and cherries and raisins have a bright and bouncy acidity to them, wrapped as they are in a gauzy blanket of tannins. Somewhat dried out. 13.7% alcohol.


WINES WITH A SCORE BETWEEN 7 AND 7.5

2015 Kriselle Tempranillo, Rogue Valley, Oregon
Medium to dark garnet in color, this wine smells of struck match and red fruits. In the mouth, red fruit flavors are somewhat pinched between tight tannins. Decent acidity but slightly narrow in character. 14.9 alcohol. .


WINES WITH A SCORE AROUND 7

2012 South Stage Cellars Tempranillo, Rogue Valley, Oregon
Dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of cherry and grapey boysenberry. In the mouth, grapey boysenberry flavors have too much jamminess for my taste. Low typicity. 14.4% alcohol.

2016 Schultz Tempranillo, Applegate Valley, Oregon
Inky, opaque garnet in color, this wine smells of grapey black cherry and boysenberry. In the mouth, lush black and red fruits have a light tannic grip to them and a more simplistic grapey character that is pleasant but not compelling. Good acidity. 13.5% alcohol.

2015 Abacela - Fiesta Tempranillo, Umpqua Valley, Oregon
Very dark garnet in color, this wine has somewhat muted aromas of cherry and sawdust. In the mouth, cherry fruit flavors are bright and even a little lean, but wrapped tightly in a skein of muscular tannins. Good acidity but somewhat compressed and narrow. 14.2% alcohol.

2015 Weisinger Tempranillo, Rogue Valley, Oregon
Dark garnet in color, this wine smells of mocha and sweet oak. In the mouth, what would likely be very pretty cherry fruit is mostly overshadowed by the sweet mocha and vanilla notes of oak, which also lends its drying tannins to the overall impression of just too much wood on this wine. Decent acidity and length. 14.0% alcohol.


WINES WITH A SCORE BETWEEN 6.5 AND 7

2015 Schmidt Family Tempranillo, Rogue Valley, Oregon
Very dark garnet in color, this wine smells of boysenberry and blueberries. In the mouth, the wine is very grape-soda in flavor with hints of cherry. Good acidity, and faint tannins but not much typicity or complexity. 14.8% alcohol. .

2016 Ryan Rose Tempranillo, Rogue Valley, Oregon
Medium garnet in the glass, this wine has a slightly shy nose of wood and red fruits. In the mouth, the wine is light on its feet, with faint tannins and good acidity but unfortunately the dominant flavor in the wine seems to be wood. Faint red fruits poke through sweet oak flavors a little, but this is all sweet vanilla oak. 14.0% alcohol.

2017 Silvan Ridge #3 Tempranillo, Rogue Valley, Oregon
Inky garnet in the glass, this wine smells of lots of new oak. In the mouth, the wine is basically in an oak straightjacket. What would clearly be pretty cherry fruit is obliterated by new French oak. Good acidity, but c'mon! Stop abusing your fruit!!! Alcohol unknown.

2013 South Stage Cellars Tempranillo, Rogue Valley, Oregon
Dark garnet in color, this wine smells of grapes and prunes and raisins. In the mouth, flavors of dried red and black fruit have a vegetal and herbal edge that turns slightly menthol in the finish. Odd. Decent acidity. 14.5% alcohol.


WINES WITH A SCORE AROUND 6

2017 Silvan Ridge #1 Tempranillo, Rogue Valley, Oregon
Dark garnet in color, this wine smells of slightly vegetal aromas. In the mouth, vegetal flavors and red fruits take on a slightly bitter edge. Faint tannins grab the edges of the mouth.

2017 Silvan Ridge #2 Tempranillo, Rogue Valley, Oregon
Dark, cloudy garnet in color, this wine smells of oak and red and black fruits. In the mouth, the dominant flavor is oak, which all but obliterates the fruit with sweet mocha flavors. Overdone. Not great acidity either.

2016 Naumes Family Tempranillo, Rogue Valley, Oregon
Medium to dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of new oak and basically nothing but. In the mouth, it's a New French Oak cocktail with the pretensions of fruit. Decent acidity. Mouth-drying tannins that clearly come from the barrel. Ugh. 13.8% alcohol.

2016 2Hawk Tempranillo, Rogue Valley, Oregon
Dark garnet in color, this wine smells of oak and black cherry. In the mouth, black cherry flavors have a hard time surfacing in the sea of new oak, whose tannins dry out the mouth and leave it parched. Too much wood. Can't taste the fruit, really. Decent acidity 13.2% alcohol.

2009 Abacela Tempranillo, Umpqua Valley, Oregon
Very dark, almost inky garnet in the glass, this wine smells of stewed prunes and raisins. In the mouth, dried black cherry fruit is matched with slightly drying tannins for a flat, dried out feeling with a hole in the middle palate. Overdone and not recommended. Picked too late, I suspect. 14.3% alcohol.



An Infrequent Encounter with Bordeaux

The World Atlas of Wine describes it as the "largest fine-wine district on earth," and while we make a big deal in the wine world about the link between geography and flavor, in Bordeaux the Atlas notes that "no where else in the wine world is the link between geography and finance so evident."

Bordeaux is certainly the most famous wine region on earth, having captivated everyone from poets to politicians for centuries. But for many wine lovers, especially Americans, it remains one of the most difficult wine regions to understand and enjoy.

The Cabernet and Merlot dominated wines of the region have long been benchmarks for the grape variety, but if your first taste of these varieties came from California, chances are that the more savory and tannic renditions from Bordeaux might seem fierce and unforgiving. While the region's wines have become more approachable over the past few decades, thanks to the influence of Robert Parker and global warming, among other factors, they are still often built around an acid and tannic profile that seems austere compared to the plush ripeness of California wines. The wines of Bordeaux are still made to age, which means they can be very tight and narrow-seeming in their youth.

Bordeaux's accessibility also suffers from its sheer size and the dizzying number of producers, appellations and hierarchical classifications of which wine drinkers must make some sense as they begin to explore. The lack of varietal labeling adds to the difficulties in remembering what is what for anyone weaned on bottles that clearly display the name of a grape.

Nonetheless, once upon a time, it was relatively easy for an intrepid wine drinker to attempt an understanding of the regions wines simply by purchasing bottles at their local fine wine merchant. As recently as 25 years ago, buying top-quality Bordeaux was still within the reach of a middle-class lifestyle. This is sadly no longer true. Even the second growths have become so prohibitively expensive that they practically make more sense as investment vehicles than beverages to drink with dinner.

The financial realities of the Bordeaux market mean that the opportunities to taste top wines are all but non-existent for most wine lovers. Even the chance to taste well-aged versions of lesser wines now comes at such a premium that most young American wine enthusiasts mature into savvy wine drinkers these days without really having experienced or understood Bordeaux.

And of course, that's saying nothing about Bordeaux's brand image, which remains, well... stuffy. Bordeaux is the land of immense Chateaux owned by the wealthy elite, to whom one must apply in order to visit their meticulously groomed estates.

While I personally can still remember in my very early days of exploring wine paying roughly $50 for Pontet-Canet, a Grand Cru from the Pauillac appellation, my own experiences with Bordeaux as a burgeoning wine geek 20 years ago were largely marked by the difficulties I describe above.

Having now tasted many of Bordeaux's top wines in their youth and across many decades of age, I feel like I have a general sense of the wines and the region, though I'm far from being truly competent.

My problem is that I just don't want to be competent. Bordeaux doesn't excite me nearly as much as other wine regions. I think this lack of enthusiasm stems from both the wines themselves and their pricey inaccessibility. I like a well-aged Bordeaux just fine, but even the finest of the wines, those that I would rate at 9.5 or higher on my rating scale, don't send a thrill through my bones in the same way that say, older Burgundy does. I've stood side-by-side with knowledgeable Bordeaux lovers, tasting Cos d'Estournel (one of my favorite estates) back into the 1960s and, despite thoroughly enjoying the wines, have not swooned to near the extent as have my companions.

Perhaps it simply may be that the flavors of Bordeaux just aren't among my favorites, and thus I don't seek them out. In search of a robust red wine, I'm much more likely to pick up a Châteauneuf-du-Pape or Bandol than a Bordeaux.

Despite this fact, I do enjoy reminding myself what good Bordeaux tastes like, and so when a group of estates came to San Francisco recently under the banner of Tour des Deux Rives (Tour of the Two Riverbanks), I dropped in to walk around the tasting with a number of other members of the press and trade. My notes on the wines I tasted are grouped together below.


THE LEFT BANK


Bordeaux as a region surrounds the confluence of two rivers, the Dordogne and the Garonne, which flow together into the estuary of Gironde (as seen in the satellite photo above) before exiting to the Atlantic ocean on the west coast of France. The region has traditionally been divided into the Left Bank, or all the wine regions to the left (west and south) of the Garonne river, and the Right Bank, or all the wine regions to the right (north and east) of the Dordogne river.

Of the two areas, the Left Bank holds more, and more storied, appellations. It begins near the sea with the large appellation known as the Medoc that tracks south along the Garonne River encompassing the well known sub-appellations of Saint-Estephe, Pauillac, Saint-Julien and Margaux (collectively known as the Haut-Medoc), followed by the appellations of Pessac-Leognan, Graves, and finally Sauternes as you move south of the City of Bordeaux.

An Infrequent Encounter with Bordeaux

A view of the city of Bordeaux on the banks of the Garonne river.

The land on the Left Bank varies considerably from North to south, but generally features well drained, gravelly soils with some clay. The Gironde estuary helps regulate temperatures and the Atlantic influence is tempered by coastal forests, leading to relatively mild winters and warm summers.


ST-ESTEPHE
The northernmost (and most downstream) appellation of the Haut-Medoc, St-Estephe has heavier, more clay-influenced soils than the other appellations further south, leading to more water retention, a handy trait in hot, dry summers. While it is difficult to generalize, especially in an age of ambitious winemaking, the wines of St-Estephe have a reputation for being more robust and brawny than their southern cousins. The best wines of the region are often found to be made on those parcels that have a higher proportion of the gravelly soils that mark the best plots of the more famous appellations such as Margaux and Pauillac.

An Infrequent Encounter with Bordeaux2009 Chateau de Pez Bordeaux Blend, Saint-Estèphe, Bordeaux, France
Medium to dark garnet in the glass with a hint of brick beginning to show, this wine smells of cassis, truffles and pencil shavings. In the mouth, bright cherry fruit is still vibrant, with notes of cedar, pencil shavings and tight, muscular tannins wrapped around the core of fruit. Citrus notes linger in the finish with dried herbs. A blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Aged in 40% new oak, with the balance being split between 1st and second use barrels. Unfiltered. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $65. click to buy.


An Infrequent Encounter with Bordeaux2015 Chateau Haut-Beauséjour Bordeaux Blend, Saint-Estèphe, Bordeaux, France
Medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of cherry, dried herbs and dried flowers. In the mouth, bright cherry fruit is tart and tightly wedged in a fist of fine-grained tannins. Excellent acidity and length. Aged in 40% new oak. The blend is higher in Merlot than most other estates in the region. Score: around 9. Cost: $40. click to buy.



PAUILLAC
The superstar sub-appellation of the Medoc, Pauillac plays host to three of the five so-called "First Growths," that were classed as Premiere Grand Cru during the 1855 classification of the region that largely cemented the hierarchy (and pricing) of wineries ever since. Marked by pockets of deep river gravel, washed down from millennia of flooding, the soils are about as perfect as can be for growing Cabernet Sauvignon, which finds its apotheosis in many of the vaunted and ridiculously expensive wines that call this appellation home.

An Infrequent Encounter with Bordeaux2010 Chateau Mouton Rothschild "Le Petite Mouton" Bordeaux Blend, Pauillac, Bordeaux, France
Medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of black cherry and oak. In the mouth, tight, drying tannins instantly coat the mouth and seem to squeeze flavors of cherry, cedar and pencil lead. Good acidity and length. A blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Petit Verdot. This is the estate's second label. Score: around 9. Cost: $229. click to buy.

2010 Chateau Mouton Rothschild Bordeaux Blend, Pauillac Premiere Grand Cru, Bordeaux, France
Medium to dark ruby in the glass with some garnet highlights, this wine smells of dried flowers, cedar and pencil lead. In the mouth, juicy cherry still predominates, backed by cedar and graphite wrapped tightly in a suede blanket of tannins that are smooth and very well integrated into the wine. Extremely long finish and excellent balance and poise. A blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Petit Verdot. Average vine age of 44 years. Score: around 9.5. Cost: $999. click to buy.

2014 Chateau Mouton Rothschild Bordeaux Blend, Pauillac Premiere Grand Cru, Bordeaux, France
Medium to dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells gamey, with cherry and floral notes backing up the meaty notes. In the mouth, cedar, iodine, cherry and some bright citrus notes are juicy and linger even as a muscular fist of tannins closes onto the wine, powdery and fine. Still too young. Give it 5 to 10 years. A blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Petit Verdot. Average vine age of 44 years. Score: around 9.5. Cost: $529. click to buy.




An Infrequent Encounter with Bordeaux2012 Chateau d'Armailhac Bordeaux Blend, Pauillac Cinquième Cru, Bordeaux, France
Medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells berry bright with black cherry and boysenberry aromas. In the mouth, cassis and black cherry fruit is boisterous with juicy acidity and wrapped in cloud of powdery tannins. Missing some depth but still tasty. A blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot. Average vine age of 46 years with some plantings exceeding 100 years old. Score: around 9. Cost: $50. click to buy.

2010 Chateau d'Armailhac Bordeaux Blend, Pauillac Cinquième Cru, Bordeaux, France Medium
garnet in the glass, this wine smells of cedar and forest floor. In the mouth, citrusy notes of cedar, dried cherry and herbs mix prettily with decent acidity. A blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot. Average vine age of 46 years with some plantings exceeding 100 years old. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $85. click to buy.




An Infrequent Encounter with Bordeaux2009 Chateau Clerc Milon "Pastourelle" Bordeaux Blend, Pauillac, Bordeaux, France
Medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of cherry, cedar and graphite. In the mouth, cherry, cedar and forest floor aromas swirl and bounce with excellent acidity. Light, tacky tannins. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $55. click to buy.

2012 Chateau Clerc Milon Bordeaux Blend, Pauillac Cinquième Cru, Bordeaux, France
Dark garnet in the glass, this wine has an extremely strong graphite aroma backed by cherry fruit. In the mouth, the wine is juicy and smooth, with cherry, cedar and spice box flavors. Very pretty citrus notes linger in the finish. The tannins are powdery and fine grained, coating the mouth and lingering with the cedar and citrus in the finish. Tasty. A blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Carmenere. Average vine age is 53 years old. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $150. click to buy.

2010 Chateau Clerc Milon Bordeaux Blend, Pauillac Cinquième Cru, Bordeaux, France
Medium garnet in the glass, but headed towards ruby, this wine smells of wet chalkboard, dried flowers and turned earth. In the mouth, cherry and citrus flavors have a beautiful brightness to them thanks to excellent acidity and a surprising purity given the earthiness of the nose. Muscular tannins still have a lot of strength but don't overpower the fruit. Delicious. A blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Carmenere. Average vine age is 53 years old. Score: around 9.5. Cost: $100. click to buy.




An Infrequent Encounter with Bordeaux2011 Chateau Pichon Longeueville Comtesse de Lalande "Reserve de la Comtesse" Bordeaux Blend, Pauillac Deuxième Cru, Bordeaux, France
Dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of pencil lead and darker cherry and plum fruit. In the mouth, black cherry and cedar flavors are wrapped in sandpaper-like tannins that compete with a very silky texture to the wine and wrap the fruit tightly. Cola nut lingers on the finish. Great acidity. Quite complex and delicious. Mostly a blend of Cabernet and Merlot. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $65. click to buy.

2011 Chateau Pichon Longeueville Comtesse de Lalande Bordeaux Blend, Pauillac Deuxième Cru, Bordeaux, France
Medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of wet chalkboard and earth, pencil shavings, cigar box and cocoa powder. In the mouth, juicy cherry and cedar flavors take on citrus notes and aromas of Pu-erh tea through the finish. Powdery, fine grained tannins. Excellent acidity and length. Mostly a blend of Cabernet and Merlot with an average vine age of 35 years. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $165. click to buy.

2010 Chateau Pichon Longeueville Comtesse de Lalande Bordeaux Blend, Pauillac Deuxième Cru, Bordeaux, France
Medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of cherry fruit and cedar. In the mouth, the wine is exceedingly silky, almost creamy in texture with cherry, cedar, graphite and a hint of herbs. Wonderfully seamless with fine-grained tannins and excellent acidity, the wine has a citrus aroma that lingers through a very long finish. Outstanding. Mostly a blend of Cabernet and Merlot with an average vine age of 35 years. Score: around 9.5. Cost: $230. click to buy.




ST-JULIEN
While it may not be home to as many First Growths as Pauillac, St-Julien can boast the highest proportion of classed growths of any commune in the region. Its mix of clay and gravel is similar to Pauillac allowing the estates in this smallest of the famous four Medoc to produce wines of finesse and power.

An Infrequent Encounter with Bordeaux2010 Chateau Ducru-Beaucaillou "Croix du Beaucaillou" Bordeaux Blend, Saint-Julien Deuxième Cru, Bordeaux, France
Medium to dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of pencil lead, cassis, dried herbs and cedar. In the mouth, tight powdery tannins offer a cloud through which flavors of cedar and hints of citrus emerge. Juicy with excellent acidity and a long finish. A blend of roughly 80% Cabernet and 20% Merlot. Croix du Beaucaillou is a single-vineyard site, rather than a "second wine" from the Chateau. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $70. click to buy.

2015 Chateau Ducru-Beaucaillou Bordeaux Blend, Saint-Julien Deuxième Cru, Bordeaux, France
Medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells earthy, with notes of cigar box and miso paste. In the mouth, it is tight and citrusy, with cherry and cedar and dried herb flavors. Somewhat stiff, with a bitter finish. Good acidity. A blend of roughly 80% Cabernet and 20% Merlot. Score: around 9. Cost: $185. click to buy.

1989 Chateau Ducru-Beaucaillou Bordeaux Blend, Saint-Julien Deuxième Cru, Bordeaux, France
Medium ruby in the glass headed towards brick, this wine smells of cedar and pencil shavings, leather and barnyard. In the mouth, cedar, leather and barnyard flavors mix with a touch of mushroom and citrus. Powdery tannins linger with the citrus and dried mushroom in the finish. A blend of roughly 80% Cabernet and 20% Merlot. Score: around 9. Cost: $280. click to buy.



An Infrequent Encounter with Bordeaux2014 Chateau Lalande-Borie Bordeaux Blend, Saint-Julien, Bordeaux, France
Medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of cedar, graphite and berries. In the mouth, the fruit is bright and juicy with notes of cherry, cedar and with citrus lingering in the finish. Tight but not overpowering tannins. A blend of roughly 65% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Merlot, and 10% Cabernet Franc. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $45. click to buy.



PESSAC-LEOGNAN
Overlapping with the southern part of the city of Bordeaux, Pessac-Leognan (really a combination of the two appellations Pessac and Leognan) was made, and remains, famous thanks to Chateau Haut-Brion, perhaps the most historical estate in Bordeaux, and one whose owner is thought to be responsible for the concept of red Bordeaux wine in its modern form. Known for pine trees before wine, the region's sandy, gravelly clay soils host at least as many trees as vines, but equally as many houses, as suburban sprawl continues to encroach on the region.

An Infrequent Encounter with Bordeaux2015 La Parde de Haut-Bailly Bordeaux Blend, Graves, Bordeaux, France
Medium garnet in the glass, this wine has a somewhat shy nose of red fruits and earth. In the mouth cherry fruit is wrapped in tight tannins and has a rather short character on the palate. Decent acidity. A rough blend of 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 34% Merlot, 3% Cabernet Franc and 3% Petit Verdot. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $45 click to buy.

2011 Chateau Haut-Bailly Bordeaux Blend, Graves Grand Cru, Pessac-Leognan, Bordeaux, France
Dark garnet in the glass this wine smells of dark cassis and pencil shavings. In the mouth, dark cherry fruit has a tremendous citrus kick and is wrapped in putty like tannins that lay thick on the tongue. Cedar notes emerge over tine. A serious mouthful. A rough blend of 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 34% Merlot, 3% Cabernet Franc and 3% Petit Verdot. Score: around 9. Cost: $120. click to buy.

2010 Chateau Haut-Bailly Bordeaux Blend, Graves Grand Cru, Pessac-Leognan, Bordeaux, France
Dark garnet in the glass, this wine has a citrusy floral aroma that is very charming. In the mouth, earthy notes mix with bright cherry and cedar amidst a gauzy haze of very fine-grained tannins. Great acidity makes the fruit quite juicy still. A rough blend of 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 34% Merlot, 3% Cabernet Franc and 3% Petit Verdot. Score: around 9. Cost: $180. click to buy.



SAUTERNES
The journey of many wine lovers is marked by two eras: the time before they've ever had a Sauternes, and the time after. Unlike the rest of Bordeaux, Sauternes and its neighbor Barsac focus on making primarily white, and generally sweet wines. These wines, made with grapes affected by the so-called Noble Rot, botrytis cinerea, are among the most exceptional and long lived dessert wines in the world. When the 1855 classification was made of the top wines in Bordeaux, Sauternes was the only appellation outside of the Medoc to be be classified, and its superstar estate, Chateau d'Yquem was given its own special rank of Premiere Cru Superieur, placing it effectively on the same playing field as the First Growths of the Medoc.

An Infrequent Encounter with Bordeaux2016 Chateau d'Yquem Sauternes Blend, Sauternes Premier Cru Supérieur, Bordeaux, France
Pale gold in the glass this wine smells of honeysuckle and apricot. In the mouth, the wine is voluminous and cloud-like, its characteristic mouth-filling cloud of silky texture delivering flavors of orange blossom, honeysuckle, and white peaches with incredible acidity and finesse. Moderately to very sweet, and stunning. A blend of Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc. Score: around 9.5. Cost: $400. click to buy.

2005 Chateau d'Yquem Sauternes Blend, Sauternes Premier Cru Supérieur, Bordeaux, France
Medium gold in the glass, with aromas of apricot and orange peel, this wine tastes of orange marmalade, honey, and white flowers. Silky and bright and very sweet, with hints of dried citrus in the finish. A blend of Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $330. click to buy.

2017 Chateau d'Yquem "Y" Sauternes Blend, Sauternes, Bordeaux, France
Near colorless in the glass with a faint greenish gold tinge, this wine smells of passionfruit and white flowers. In the mouth, explosively bright passionfruit and green apple flavors have a crystalline purity and electric resonance thanks to outstanding acidity, with little trace of botrytis influenced flavors. A light sweetness pervades the wine which combined with the mouthwatering acidity makes for an utterly gulpable, delicious elixir of floral freshness. Score: around 9.5. Cost: $175. click to buy.




THE RIGHT BANK


The French refer to this region as the Libornais, after the town of Libourne which has long governed the region surrounding the Eastern bank of the Dordogne river. It has many sub-regions ranging from the famous Pomerol and St-Emilion, to the much less well known appellations of Canon-Fronsac or Castillon Cotes de Bordeaux. The soils of the Right Bank will often contain a lower proportion of gravels in their clay than the Left Bank, but unlike the Left Bank, the soils can also include primary rock, especially in the limestone inflected region of St-Emilion. Unlike the mostly flat Medoc region, the right bank also gives way to more hills, resulting in vineyards with different slopes and sun orientations.

An Infrequent Encounter with Bordeaux

A view of St-Emilion, the UNESCO World Heritage Site on the Right Bank.


POMEROL
A wide, flat gravel bed mixed with clay, not unlike many of the best growing regions in Bordeaux, Pomerol lacks one thing that clearly marks the other top appellations of Bordeaux: big Chateaux. Instead of massive gated estates, Pomerol is mostly just a bunch of vineyards interspersed with houses and a small church or two. Left out of the famous 1855 classification, Pomerol is the place where the superstar vineyards of Petrus and Le Pin sit alongside names few have ever heard of. Merlot finds one of its greatest expressions on the soils of Pomerol, along with Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc.

An Infrequent Encounter with Bordeaux2008 Chateau Hosanna Bordeaux Blend, Pomerol, Bordeaux, France Medium
ruby in the glass with a very mature orange at the rim, this wine smells of licorice and dried flowers. In the mouth, juicy cherry and plum flavors mix with cedar notes. Incredibly silky and gorgeously textured, with fine-grained tannins and a minutes-long finish. Delicate and outstanding. A blend of Cabernet Franc and Merlot. Score: around 9.5. Cost: $200. click to buy.

2014 Chateau Hosanna Bordeaux Blend, Pomerol, Bordeaux, France
Medium to dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells slightly gamey, with slightly sappy floral and cherry aromas. In the mouth, that sappiness continues with sour cherry and plum and dried herb flavors transitioning to a meaty, olive-like savoriness. Fine tannins float in a haze through the wine and coat the mouth. Good acidity and length. A blend of Cabernet Franc and Merlot. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $180. click to buy.


An Infrequent Encounter with Bordeaux2011 Chateau Certain de May Bordeaux Blend, Pomerol, Bordeaux, France
Dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of barnyard, cherry and earth. In the mouth, rich, powdery and mouth-coating tannins are the first impression, followed by leather and barnyard flavors that suggest a modicum of brett? Herbs and earth and dark fruit give the wine a powerful aspect. Despite the funkiness, this is an appealing wine. A blend of Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Cabernet Sauvignon. Score: around 9. Cost: $130. click to buy.

2010 Chateau Certain de May Bordeaux Blend, Pomerol, Bordeaux, France
Dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of cedar, earth and meat. In the mouth, rich mouth-coating tannins surround cherry and cedar flavors that modulate towards citrus in the finish. The tannins become dusty and fill every nook and cranny of the mouth. Good acidity. A blend of Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Cabernet Sauvignon. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $210. click to buy.




An Infrequent Encounter with Bordeaux2009 Chateau Bourgneuf Bordeaux Blend, Pomerol, Bordeaux, France
A cloudy, very dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells gamey, with earth and mushroom leading the cherry fruit aromas. In the mouth, the wine is rich and dark with cherry, black cherry and earth flavors tinged by a hint of sweetness. Juicy with excellent acidity. 90% Merlot and 10% Cabernet Franc. Score: around 9. Cost: $80. click to buy.


An Infrequent Encounter with Bordeaux2008 Chateau Lafleur-Gazin Bordeaux Blend, Pomerol, Bordeaux, France
Medium to dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of cherry and cedar. In the mouth, cherry, cedar, licorice, and cola flavors are dusted with faint tannins. Excellent acidity. Notes of dried flowers linger in the finish. Mostly Merlot, with about 20% Cabernet Franc. Score: around 9. Cost: $60. click to buy.


An Infrequent Encounter with Bordeaux2009 Chateau de Sales Bordeaux Blend, Pomerol, Bordeaux, France
Medium to dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of...my notes read quite clearly: funky leather. In the mouth, flavors of cherry and old socks definitely have a funky aspect to them, but don't let that keep you from trying this wine, which has appealing characteristics, if only because the bright fruit wins in any contest with the funk. A blend of roughly 70% Merlot, 15% Cabernet Franc, and 15% Cabernet Sauvignon. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $60. click to buy.



ST-EMILION
Situated on something of an plateau above the Dordogne, St-Emilion is somewhat unique in the world of Bordeaux, both for its limestone slopes and the fact that it has a (much contested and litigated) classification of its own, in which hundreds of Grand Crus exist alongside 18 First Growths and 64 Second Growths. This large growing region has little urban structure outside of the picturesque village of St-Emilion, a UNESCO World Heritage site. St-Emilion is where the garagistes movement truly began -- small producers making super expensive, modern-style wines that captured the attention and pocketbook of collectors worldwide, at least for a time.

An Infrequent Encounter with Bordeaux2006 Chateau Magdelaine Bordeaux Blend, Saint-Émilion Premiere Grand Cru Classe, Bordeaux, France
Medium ruby with brick highlights at the rim, this wine smells of dried flowers and mushrooms. In the mouth, red apple skin, and dried cherries are ethereal and silky across the palate as extremely bright acidity elevates citrus notes and dried herbs in the finish. Very pretty and vibrant. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $80. click to buy.


An Infrequent Encounter with Bordeaux2009 Chateau Puy-Blanquet Bordeaux Blend, Bordeaux, France
Medium to dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells grapey and cherry-like. In the mouth, that grapey character continues with cherry notes and tight tannins. Smooth but somewhat undeveloped. A blend of Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $50. click to buy.

* * *

Well, there you have it. A brief tasting tour through Bordeaux, which was a nice refresher for me personally on the charms of the region, and the jaw-dropping pricing of some of the wines. Of course, there's a lot more to Bordeaux than just its most famous appellations, but I'm afraid I'm not qualified to be a guide in those regions yet. I hope to have the opportunity to update my knowledge of the so-called Cru Bourgeois in time.



Do You Know Petit Verdot?

Primarily used as a component in Bordeaux-style blends, Petit Verdot could use a champion or three. I found a trio of winemakers who take this grape beyond the blend, making it the star of the show.

My first article for SevenFifty Daily takes a look at Petit Verdot through three winemakers:

I not only explore the difficulty of making wine from this thick-skinned, tannic grape, but also consider how the heck you sell it.

Take a look:

The Challenges and Rewards of Making Petit Verdot

Vineyard image courtesy Virginia Wine.

The post Do You Know Petit Verdot? appeared first on Jameson Fink.

Two Wines That Prove Colorado Is The Next Wine Region to Watch

I grew up in Colorado. If you had told me as a high schooler that Colorado would one day be making fine wine, I would have laughed in your face. High quality beef? Sure. Beer? of course. Fantastic weed? Plausible. But wine? Never. But that was before I understood the origins of the vitis vinifera in the arid plateaus and of central Asia. That was before I visited Chile and Argentina and Turkey and Sicily and before I tasted wines from the high deserts and scrubby foothills of snow capped mountain ranges.

Now the idea of Colorado wine is not only plausible, it's quite intriguing. Which is why, two years ago, I jumped at the chance to be a judge at the Colorado Governor's Cup wine competition. Wine judging is thankless work. It's tedious and difficult, and usually yields a splitting headache for me at the end of the day. But it also remains the single best way to take a crash course on an unknown or less familiar region or wine style. So I've had something of a short education in Colorado wine, and since then, I've been watching it close enough to be able to confidently say that it has crossed the line from regional novelty to serious potential.

Two Wines That Prove Colorado Is The Next Wine Region to Watch

You see, wine is now made in every one of the fifty united states. But in many states, it remains a largely local fascination -- something that the locals enjoy because it is theirs, but not worthy of much attention by wine aficionados, let alone the major critics. In recent years, several states have broken out of the cottage industry territory by making wines that were simply too good to ignore. Virginia, New Mexico, Arizona, Michigan, Texas and New Jersey have all proven that they can make wines capable of holding their own against wines from America's much better known wine regions such as California, Oregon, Washington, and New York.

Colorado now belongs in that company. Though there are some who have been making that case for decades.

Chief amongst the believers in Colorado's potential you'll find a surprisingly famous name: Warren Winiarski, the Stag's Leap Wine Cellars winemaker responsible for the winning Cabernet Sauvignon at the legendary 1976 Paris Tasting. In perhaps the least known episode of the famed winemaker's professional history, Winiarski left his position at Robert Mondavi Winery in 1968, and accepted a winemaking position at Ivancie Cellars, a pioneering winery founded by a wine loving dentist that would close six years later after having made wine primarily from grapes trucked in from California. But along with making wine from Napa fruit, Winiarski helped to put some vines in the ground that would literally be the seeds of an idea that encouraged other adventurous, enterprising and risk-tolerant wine lovers to try their hands at more local production. The knowledge that grapes had been cultivated in the state as far back as the late 1800s helped Winiarski and others that followed imagine the possibilities, and beginning in 1978 commercial wineries began to pop-up around the state.

Two Wines That Prove Colorado Is The Next Wine Region to Watch

Today, Colorado boasts more than 120 vineyards with 1000 acres of vines spread across several key winemaking regions and two official American Viticultural Areas (AVAs). More than 88% of the vines are in the high plateaus of Mesa County, which borders Utah in the western part of the state, but wine is now made in more than 9 different areas of the state.

Winemakers have experimented with many different grapes in Colorado over the years, and they continue to do so. The local winemakers seem particularly excited about aromatic white wines such as Riesling, Gewürztraminer, Viognier, and Muscat, but while I've had reasonably competent examples, I've yet to have one of these that really excites me from Colorado. Instead my tastings have led me to believe that the most promising grapes in the state are Syrah, Cabernet Franc, and other Bordeaux blends. I've also tasted a couple of really excellent Chardonnays and Petit Verdots.

Colorado is on its way up, and as with most up-and-coming regions, that means there's still a lot of value to be had in the region. While there are some winemakers using very expensive barrels and charging $40+ a bottle, some of the best wines can still be had for under $20. Unfortunately, the flip side of this equation is that outside of Colorado these wines can be a little tougher to locate. But there's always Wine Searcher.

So, if you're a curious wine lover (and you should be, as that is a virtue) then I suggest you get a taste of what the Rocky Mountains have to offer. Here are two wines that truly demonstrate Colorado's potential.

2015 Guy Drew Vineyards Syrah, Colorado
Very dark garnet in color, this wine smells of blackberry and, curiously, strawberry fruit. In the mouth, ripe flavors of blackberry and boysenberry have a wonderful cool stony aspect to them with just a faint hint of aromatic sweetness. Excellent acidity and balance, this is a beautifully poised wine that will please most Syrah lovers. 14.9% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $18. click to buy.

2015 Holy Cross Abbey Reserve Merlot, Colorado
Medium to dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of plum and cherry fruit. In the mouth, slightly nutty flavors of cherry and plum are juicy and bright thanks to excellent acidity. There's clearly wood present, and more wood flavor than I would like, but it is nicely integrated into the wine and delivers a mocha sweetness to the finish. Very well made. 14.1% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $28.

Images courtesy of the Colorado Wine Industry Development Board.