Category Archives: Sonoma County

1984/1985 Napa Vintages: Comparative Blind Tasting

Recently, I attended a single-blind* tasting with a group of wine collectors whom I regularly meet to share interesting wine. While it has lately become popular to bash the direction of Napa reds and the influence of Robert Parker on the Napa wine industry, here was a chance to evaluate the longevity of Napa wines, BEFORE the wine style began to change. I will try to walk you thru the mindset of a single-blind tasting and wine evaluation. Hopefully, you will find it interesting. Hitch-up your britches, pour a glass of wine and let’s git after it…

(*”Single-blind” is the term used when you are provided with only general information, say: growing region and vintage, or Bordeaux blend and cool climate vineyard. With a minimum of information for context, you must then determine as much about the wine as possible, such as: grape varietal(s), winery – maybe even winemaker, etc. “Double-blind” tasting would include no information about the wine prior to tasting.)

Starter

I always enjoy starting a wine evening off with bubbly, but 1983 Dom Perignon? What a start to a great evening. The Dom still had medium+ acidity, was well balanced, but had moved beyond nutty to more of a brown butter component. The age on the wine gave it a beautiful texture. For those who have not drunk aged Champagne, the texture can be so gorgeous, it is worth tasting for the mouthfeel alone. The young Veuve Clicquot was bright and bracing as it should be.

The Cat (Wine) is Out of the Bag

Out of the bag quite literally… Here are the pics of the bottles out of their paper bags, after we wrote our tasting notes and had attempted to select which bottles matched which producer. Our host served charcuterie, bread and some beautiful pate I really enjoyed to clear/accompany the palate.

1974 Robert Mondavi Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon

Very balanced wine, but reaching its limit. Still with medium acidity and medium-minus tannins, this drank reasonably well, but the oxidation had taken over the fruit and was a few years beyond its drinking window. The fruit had moved to more prune and raisin, than fresh fruit flavors. This would have drunk better at around 35 years of age, around 10 years ago. The brownish color around the rim and prune flavors gave it away, almost all of us identified this wine correctly.

1984 Diamond Creek Vineyard Volcanic Hill Cabernet Sauvignon

This wine still had strong tannins. It was a little watery with a very restrained nose and palate. Diamond Mountain region wines in the past have tasted big, tannic, with subdued fruit and without much nuance (IMO)… but with age, developed great mouthfeel. Exactly how this wine tasted. This was an easy tell, with some tasting history to reference.

1985 Silver Oak Alexander Valley (Sonoma) Cabernet Sauvignon

This was the fruitiest of the bunch and had the most obvious oak.  This was the surprise of the evening (IMO). Recent vintages of Silver Oak Cab Sauv are not generally viewed as being able to stand up to extended aging, but this 80’s era vintage was balanced and still fruity. A nice wine with tremendous character for 30+ years of age. With the most obvious oak on the nose and palate, this fit the Silver Oak tasting profile, making for a high probability of accuracy.

1984 Beaulieu Vineyard Georges de Latour Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon

I mistook the next two for each other. I have always had an odd relationship with BV as a producer. I have not really cared for their lower priced wines, having only a minimum of value (IMO), while their famous Georges de Latour release every year is good, but over-priced. They also seem to develop complex flavors in their higher priced wine, some flavors of which I don’t care for. So, I may have gone into this tasting with preconceived notions… which is always an interesting aspect of blind tasting. I guessed this wine was the Joseph Phelps, mostly because I enjoyed this wine as having the most balanced profile of the wines tasted and having the most gorgeous mouthfeel. Frankly, I didn’t think a BV wine could be this good. (buzzer sound) Well, I blew that one! Chalk one up for having a closed mind.

1985 Joseph Phelps Backus Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon

I described this one in my notes with the typical wine industry generic term, “food friendly”. The kiss of the death for uninteresting wine in a tasting note in the U.S. This was the most acidic of the bunch. Which was amazing, since this wine was 33 years old. It was a little vegetal with a touch of tomato, but no green bell pepper… both characteristics of under-ripe Cab Sauv. Hard to believe this wine was from a warm vintage. This could only happen in a Napa vintage before 1995. No self-respecting Napa producer would ever harvest Cab this early in a warm year today. I enjoyed this wine the least of the bunch. Poor balance and “interesting”, but not particularly pleasant flavor profile.

1988 Lynch Bages Bordeaux Blend

This was smokey, with medium+ acidity and medium tannin. This was another example of an aged Bordeaux showing balance after extended aging. The flavor profile included an earthiness, that when you taste enough of 1st-5th growth Bordeaux wine, you come to recognize. Still with fresh fruit (blackberry) and stewed currants, the fruit was forward on the palate. I am not a huge fan of Pauillac region wines. I prefer the St. Estephe and Margaux regions in Bordeaux, but this was drinking nicely at 30 years and was a strong representative of Left Bank Bordeaux.

The Finish

IMG Port Btl

Just WOW!

This aged, vintage port was exceptional! The fruit had lasted very well. Not too sweet, tasting like a more recent vintage… but for a port, this wine was so balanced… integrated alcohol, good acidity, soft & full mouthfeel. All of us agreed, this was the outstanding wine of the evening. I wish I could hold on to ports this long. This one was worth the wait.

Recap

Well, there you have it. A great evening! I hope you enjoyed the personal perspective and found insight into blind tasting methodology. I think you can see, blind tasting accuracy is mostly: having tasted a lot of wine labels and being able to hold them in your memory. These were all exceptional wines, wines I would score from 90-99 on the Parker scale. We definitely proved the point, most collectors can easily identify Bordeaux in a line-up of Napa Cabs. All of us guessed the Lynch Bages correctly.

Napa Cab Sauv: Now & Back Then

Not many are allowed the opportunity to taste a selection of Napa Cabs from the 70’s & 80’s. This was a great experience. I will reiterate comments made before about Napa in the last 30+ years… Prior to 1995 Napa made true Bordeaux style wines: structured, leaner, lower alcohol and well-suited for extended aging. 1995 to 2003 was an interim period, where Napa Cabs were fruitier and more ripe than before, but still able to handle 10-20 years in the bottle. 2004 and after, most of the wine was produced for optimum drinking windows in the 5-10 year range. This is just a gross generality. There are individual exceptions with both shorter and longer aging windows, but in general, I have found this evaluation to hold true.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

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Filed under Alexander Valley, Bordeaux, Bordeaux/Meritage Blend, French Wine, Napa Valley, Sonoma County, U.S. Wines by Region, Wine by Varietal, Wine Collecting, Wine Education, Wine Tasting, Wine Tasting Notes

The Zinfandel Dilemma

I attended a presentation today at the 2017 Wine Bloggers Conference by a group of four Zin winery owners sponsored by ZAP (Zin Advocates & Producers) and heard this plea: we are serious winemakers producing serious wine, we deserve to be taken seriously! The session was titled “Zinfandel: Old and New.” I was expecting a serious discussion about old and new wine styles, but instead we heard the usual tired Zin topic: comparing old vs. young vine Zin. Not that this isn’t a viable topic, it has just been covered many times in many places and not really what these winemakers were passionate about. The ZAP moderator had to focus the discussion back on promoting the vineyards several times. This brings me to the reason for this commentary. I have seen it many times, when a winery doesn’t understand how best to develop a coordinated marketing plan, the focus is put on expression of place (terroir). There are definitely worse ideas, but Zinfandel in particular is a special case. Zinfandel has an identity problem first and foremost and if that isn’t addressed, all discussion of place is lost in the noise.

Red Zinfandel Wine & Consumer Perception

Zinfandel is the most manipulated wine grape on the planet. It is made in so many styles, you really have no idea what to expect every time you open a bottle from an unfamiliar producer. In contrast, when I pop Bordeaux/Meritage, Burgundy, or Rhône style wines, regardless of where they are made, I have a rough idea of what I will be tasting. That is a serious problem. If ZAP is trying to bring Zin into the premium space, they should be focusing on this issue. Collectors and restarauteurs need to have a point of reference. It must be quite difficult to build a marketing plan around a wine profile that is not generally familiar. Does the marketplace need some sort of generally accepted Zin style indicators?

So, here we go… my attempt to address this challenge:

RICH Zinfandel – Characterized by winemaking technique aimed at broad general appeal and high volume production. Usually driven by ideas like: whole cluster vacuum fermentation to add extraction and big fruit flavors, extended cold soak for more extraction, late harvest to accentuate over-ripe and raisiny fruit flavors and optical sorting to isolate late harvest raisins to make a concentrated must used to fortify larger batch production. Good examples would be Lodi and Paso Robles producers chasing the jammy Zin profile.

WARM CLIMATE Zinfandel – These would be producers in warm climate areas with a fine wine sensibility. Using Guyot trellising and vertical shoot positioning to build a Bordeaux style approach to Zin. This type of winemaking in these locations makes what I would call Zin with finesse. Not overly fruit-forward with low tannins and medium to medium-high acidity, often shooting for soft wines with good mouthfeel. Napa and Dry Creek Zin producers would be the example here.

COOL CLIMATE Zinfandel – These producers are trying to build a leaner style Zin with medium to high tannins and high to very high acidity. Often traditionalists, these estate vineyards are usually head-trained and laid out with more space 8’x8’ or 8’x12’ between the vines building a large cluster approach to fruit production. Zin tends to always drive fruity flavor profiles, so growing in a location with just enough sun and warmth to ripen the fruit seems to work. This is probably a “truer” expression of Zin for you purists and builds a wine much better for pairing with food. Producers from Amador and El Dorado Counties and Russian River are examples in this category.

Zinfandel BLEND – This is the newest idea in the industry and popularized by the very successful release of “The Prisoner” by Orin Swift orginally. Zinfandel as a varietal has broken through the stigma and become a more common blending grape. Several producers in Paso Robles have begun using Zin to add a fruit-forward and aromatic character in lieu of the traditional Grenache found in most Rhone blends. I find the result quite interesting. Try an example of a red blend with Zinfandel in the mix. When done well, these wines can be fruit-forward, acidic, tannic and have great mouthfeel all at once.

 Wine Tasting Session

2015 Terra d’Oro Deaver Vineyard – Mildly fruit-forward and slightly sour. Much like a Chianti without the structure. Some complexity would add interest. Medium acidity and tannins.

2015 Cedarville Vineyard Zinfandel – A fruit-forward nose and palate with black cherry and strawberry. A light mid-palate and finish of bitter dark chocolate. Medium-high acidity and medium-high tannins. This had a nice aromatic nose. Nice effort that maintains the integrity of the Zin profile, while offering a structured food-friendly approach.

2015 Proulx Zinfandel – A strong red fruit profile with a brambly note and a dominating nail polish character on the nose. Medium-high acidity and medium tannins.

2015 Limerick Lane Wines 1910 Block – This is loosely a Zinfandel “field blend”. More blackberry than the other wines tasted here (more black vs. red fruit). The enhanced black fruit is likely due to the other red varietals planted in this vineyard. There was a brambly character that added a pleasant complexity. High acidity and medium tannins.

Cool Climate Zinfandel

These four wines were grown in areas where at least the evenings are quite cool and the fruit is often picked a little earlier than other California Zin producers. These wine profiles were deliberately built to offer a more classic style of red wine with good structure and to pair well with food. Think food pairings like poultry, or pork – in particular, a Thanksgiving meal sort of sensibility.

Zinfandel Marketing

How do YOU feel about Zinfandel? It can be made in a very serious wine style, but is not often thought of this way. Marketing is critical for the producers in this style. It was mentioned in the session that these producers were not successfully selling into the Midwest and East Coast markets. The answer has to be an organization like ZAP that could develop a product identity well understood by the wine community.

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Filed under Cool Climate Wine, Lodi, Napa Valley, Paso Robles, Sonoma County, U.S. Wines by Region, Wine by Varietal, Wine Industry, Wine Tasting, Wine Tasting Notes, Zinfandel

Winemaker Interview – David Ramey of Ramey Cellars

Winemaking Aristocracy

Please follow my winemaker interview series! You can find this and other interviews at the following link:

http://winemakerinterviewseries.net/2015/01/05/winemaker-interview-david-ramey-of-ramey-cellars/

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Filed under Bordeaux/Meritage Blend, Chardonnay, Napa Valley, Sonoma County, U.S. Wines by Region, Wine by Varietal, Wine Education, Wine Tasting, Wine Tasting Notes, Winemaker Interview

2007 Inman Family Pinot Noir Olivet Grange Vineyard

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Inman Family Pinot Noir Olivet Grange Vineyard

California, Sonoma County, Russian River Valley

Wine Tasting Note:

The 2006 was a prettier vintage. It was a bit more fruit forward and a little more balanced, but this is still a wonderful effort. The nose has aromas of sour black cherries, dark chocolate, minerality and a minor floral note. The color has picked up a brownish tinge showing some age and the freshness is gone, but the palate is still showing strong acidity – making the wine still very lively in the mouth. The tannins are very subdued and the alcohol is very well integrated. The texture is gorgeous – very soft and pleasant. More old world style, focusing on balance and complexity, but not quite hitting the mark. The fruit is in front but subtle, moving to a mid-palate with vanilla, oak, leather and some mineral aspects with a medium-long finish of bitter chocolate. I enjoyed this California Pinot that didn’t follow the crowd.

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Filed under Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley, U.S. Wines by Region, Wine by Varietal, Wine Tasting, Wine Tasting Notes

Chappellet Vineyards and Sonoma Loeb Tasting Streamed to 45 Total Wine Stores

Chappellet Live! A Virtual Tasting from Napa Valley’s Pritchard Hill

Saturday, April 19, 2014
Tempe, AZ

Featured Wines:
Sonoma Loeb Chardonnay Reserve – $29.99
Sonoma Loeb Chardonnay Envoy – $39.99
Sonoma Loeb Sonoma Pinot Noir – $24.99
Sonoma Loeb Pinot Noir Russian River Valley Reserve – $39.99
Chappellet Napa Chardonnay – $34.99
Chappellet Cervantes Mountain Cuvee – $34.99
Chappellet Napa Signature Cabernet – $49.99
2008 Chappellet Pritchard Hill Cabernet – $119.99

WINE EVENT INTRODUCTION

Fabulous idea! This is a great way for a medium size winery (under 40K cases?) to reach a broad audience. Technology provides opportunities, if we know how to leverage it. Unfortunately, the technology had its challenges. The audio had a terrible echo, which could have been eliminated by muting all the sites other than the point of origin. The message was a bit scattered, but the mother of the host family was awesome! She was interesting enough to host her own wine talk show… all in all, for a first effort at internet marketing – a gallant one, and they will get better over time. Keep it up guys! Good Luck!

WINE FLIGHT #1 – WHITE WINES (3 NOTES)

I liked the lower cost Sonoma Loeb on its own, but the Chappellet chard would be best accompanying food.

  • 2012 Chappellet Vineyard Chardonnay

USA, California, Napa Valley

This was a VERY traditional Napa style chardonnay specifically made for accompanying food. The color was a very pale straw and extremely clear. The nose was very weak, but bright, with notes of grapefruit, lemon curd and oak. The palate was a touch sweet, light-bodied with very high acidity. The flavors on the palate matched the nose with a short finish. This is not an easy drinking aperitif. It would be much better with a nice seafood, or pork dish.

  • 2012 Sonoma-Loeb Chardonnay Private Reserve Carneros

USA, California, Napa / Sonoma, Carneros

This is an attempt at a classic Burgundian oaked chardonnay. Very weak nose, showing nail polish initially, then aromas of lemon curd, vanilla and oak. Medium bodied and very dry with high acidity. Palate was soft, but had a minimum of depth to the flavors. I sort of enjoyed this for an easy drinking chard at a wine bar kind of beverage. It resides somewhere between a food wine and an aperitif. Over-priced at $30/btl, but decent enough.

  • 2011 Sonoma-Loeb Chardonnay Envoy

USA, California, Napa / Sonoma, Russian River Valley

The winemaker tried so hard here, but missed the mark. I guess if you were looking for a Rombauer chard you might find this appealing, but they do over-the-top chards much better. Big nose of lemon curd, butterscotch and pineapple with a strong presence of oak. There is some minerality, but it does not come through to the palate. The wine coats the mouth with rich textures. The palate simply brings the nose through with no mid-palate and there is a medium finish of pineapple. Only medium acidity… so food pairing options would be limited. There is too much oak and the freshness is lost because of it. I didn’t care for this wine.

WINE FLIGHT #2 – RED WINES (5 NOTES)

Regarding the Pinot Noir, the lower priced Sonoma Loeb again was superior to the higher-priced wine. Of Cab Sauv and blends, the Pritchard Hill Cab stood out by far as superior, but at $120/btl… my goodness!

  • 2011 Sonoma-Loeb Pinot Noir

USA, California, Sonoma County

The nose is full of cherry cough syrup, browned butter, oak and medicinal overtones. High acidity and medium tannins provide a fair amount of structure. The texture is very light. The palate is full of red cherry and oak. It also has a smokey flavor with a light spice character. This is too fruity and the oak is not integrated. There is enough structure and complexity present to elevate it a bit.

  • 2012 Sonoma-Loeb Pinot Noir

USA, California, Sonoma County, Russian River Valley

A strong oak character. The nose is full of sweet red cherry, butter and oak. The acidity is very high with low tannins. Not very well balanced. The texture is very light. This could have been very good with more freshness to the fruit. On its own, the acidity bites… but paired with the right foods, this wine would be awesome. The flavor profile is a bit simple.

  • 2011 Chappellet Vineyard Cervantes Mountain Cuvee

USA, California, Napa Valley

Powerful nose of alcohol that did not blow off dominates. This is a light bodied wine, with high acidity and high tannins. Good structure with reasonable balance. The palate is fruit forward with sweet cherry and black raspberry moving to a mid-palate of bitter dark chocolate and a long slightly bitter finish with earthy undertones. This would be a very good table wine, pairing well with richer food dishes, but I would expect it to cost under $30/btl.

  • 2011 Chappellet Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon Signature Reserve

USA, California, Napa Valley

Very dark extracted looking wine with an intense nose of alcohol, plum and blackberry. High acidity and high tannins – very young. This has a light mouth-feel, offering more of a food wine approach. The palate is fruit forward with sweet plum, blackberry and white pepper. The fruit is very concentrated. The mid-palate brings in oak and toffee and then finishes with vanilla. A middle of the road Napa cab.

  • 2008 Chappellet Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon Pritchard Hill Estate Vineyard

USA, California, Napa Valley

A beautiful wine. The nose is full of rich black plum with a pretty floral character, moving to menthol and alcohol. High acidity and high tannins with a nice mouth-feel. The palate is fruit forward with extracted plum and blackberry with a mid-palate of tobacco, tar, oak and vanilla. The finish is long with a mildly bitter dark chocolate flavor. This wine is balanced and has good structure, but it is still young and would benefit from another 3-5 years in the bottle.

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Filed under Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Napa Valley, Pinot Noir, Sonoma County, U.S. Wines by Region, Wine Tasting, Wine Tasting Notes

2007 Geyser Peak Winery Cabernet Sauvignon Walking Tree Vineyard

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Geyser Peak Winery

California, Alexander Valley

Wine Tasting Note:

Powerful aromatic nose of black fruit, spice and vanilla. Fruit forward palate of blackberry, red plum and black currant. High acidity with medium tannins. Tasted this last year. Still the same big fruit, but the tannins are beginning to soften and it is developing some texture. Needed a little time for the alcohol to blow off. The complexity is improving with the addition of more bitter chocolate in the mid-palate and a short finish with some graphite coming through. The tannins are starting to moderate and I like a red wine with some backbone, so I am going to say this wine is in its optimum drinking window. Drink now and the next couple of years, at most. At $18/btl, this wine has my vote for the best value cab sauv in California. I would expect a wine of this caliber to be in the $30-35 range in Sonoma County. I prefer not to put a number to wines if I can, but in this case I will put that aside and give it an 89. It needs more minerality, the mid-palate and finish could be stronger and the texture wasn’t there to be rated higher, but for that kind of price… this is impressive!

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Filed under Alexander Valley, Cabernet Sauvignon, Wine Tasting, Wine Tasting Notes