3 New Releases from Paul Dolan Vineyards

Paul Dolan Vineyards

paul-dolan-wine-bottles

Have you ever had any wines from Mendocino County?  Until recently when I took San Francisco Wine School’s CWAS program I had not been exposed to a lot of wine from Mendocino.  At many retail wine outlets the selection from California consists mostly of Central Coast and Napa/Sonoma, with very little from Mendocino.  The area has a rich wine history and if you’re looking to expand your palate, this is the first place I would recommend you start.

Paul Dolan Vineyards 2013 Sauvignon Blanc, Mendocino County

paul dolan sauvignon blanc bottle

Vineyards:  100% Potter Valley, Mendocino County

Aging: 100% stainless steel fermented and aged

Alcohol: 13.5%

Certified Organic by C.C.O.F.

This wine is an almost perfect blend of the Californian and New Zealand styles of Sauvignon Blanc.  The nose has distinct lemongrass notes while the palate is a blend of kiwi and grapefruit.  This wine has a very solid backbone of acidity, and just enough ripeness to dial that acidity back a notch.  Suggested retail is $18.  Weekly Wine Journal rating 96 points

Paul Dolan Vineyards 2012 Pinot Noir, Mendocino County

paul dolan pinot noir bottle

Vineyards:  100% Potter Valley, Mendocino County

Aging: 16 months in new and seasoned oak barrels (currently no additional information, I’ll update when I learn more)

Alcohol: 13.5%

Production: 2,000 cases

Certified Organic by C.C.O.F.

This wine has some nice notes of leather and red fruit on the nose.  The palate consists of crisp strawberry and cocoa.  This is a medium/light bodied wine with low tannins and a medium/low level of acidity.  Suggested retail is $30.  Weekly Wine Journal rating 88 points.

Paul Dolan Vineyards 2012 Zinfandel, Mendocino County

paul dolan zinfandel bottle

Vineyards: 100% Mendocino County

Aging: 16 months in new and seasoned oak barrels (currently no additional information I’ll update when I learn more)

Alcohol: 14.5%

Production: 4,000 cases

Certified Organic by C.C.O.F.

I really enjoyed this wine as it was a welcome departure from the overly ripe simplistic fruit bombs I’ve been running into lately.   Blackberry, black pepper, full bodied, medium/high tannins and medium acidity.  The wine evolved quite nicely over my 24 hour tasting period.  I recommend decanting for at least an hour or two on this wine as of right now (Oct 2014)  Suggested retail is $25.  Weekly Wine Journal rating 92 points.

 

I was pleasantly surprised by all three wines. Why?  I didn’t know what to expect, I had no pre conceived opinions of what these wines might be.  I know I’m supposed to do that with all wines, but if you put a $100 Napa Cabernet in front of me I can’t help it – I just know it’s going to be pretty good. More often than not, it is.   But with these wines I just didn’t know and now that I do, I have a new standard with which to measure all wines from the region.  The wines were interesting, a departure from the standard fare.  But not such a radical departure as to be weird and off putting.  Just enough to be interesting and delicious.

Another thing to note as that Paul Dolan Vineyards doesn’t seem to be making a big deal about their Certified Organic credentials by plastering it on the front label of the bottle.  The stewardship of the environment doesn’t just stop with being organic.  Special attention is paid to water reclamation and waste.  Tim Thornhill, chief operating officer and owner talks about changes he made at his other project, Parducci Wine Cellars in an upcoming PBS series titled Quest for Water.

Paul Dolan Vineyards website

 

 

 

Scottsdale’s Palm Court Restaurant receives Wine Spectator honors

scottsdale-palm-court

Wine Spectator’s 2014 dining guide is a list of over 3,700 “restaurants for wine lovers”

I was recently invited to experience the Scottsdale Resort & Conference Center’s Palm Court Restaurant in light of their recent inclusion on the Wine Spectator list.  In addition to receiving the basic award for having a good wine list Palm Court was noted for having a relatively inexpensive pricing structure. I was interested to see this first hand as one of my pet peeves (besides cheap stemware at a nice restaurant) is paying excessive wine markup at a nice restaurant.

scottsdale-palm-court-restaurant-3The first thing you’ll notice about Palm Court, is that it can be a little bit tricky to find.  It’s located on the 3rd floor of the Scottsdale Resort and Conference Center, which is itself easy to miss.  After turning down a small unassuming side street in central Scottsdale, suddenly there it is.  This majestic little gem with the circular drive way, with valet service, a big ornamental fountain and palm trees with white Christmas lights.

I wandered around the property for a few minutes before heading to the restaurant.  It felt a little like a time machine taking me back to the late ’70’s early ’80’s when I used to visit my grandparents at McCormick Ranch.  There’s quite a few interesting architectural features to explore, I recommend spending a few minutes doing that before heading up to the restaurant.

The restaurant has a nice traditional feel to it, and open and airy atmosphere with nice big windows that allow diners to look out over the golf course and catch a sunset.

I had a chance to talk quite extensively with Ahdy Youssef, the assistant Maitre’D and Wine Steward.  He’s a very friendly and warm guy who got his start 17 years ago as a bus boy in the restaurant.  He worked his way up over the years and started getting very interested in wine some years back.  He studied through the Society of Wine Educators program and achieved CWE (Certified Wine Educator) status about 5 years ago.  He was hired by Mr Kwan, who has been working at The Palm Court for 21 years.  The two of them together make a great team and compliment each other very well.   Ahdy also studied with The San Francisco Wine school taking their CWAS course (which I completed this past August)

scottsdale-palm-court-restaurant-6I asked Ahdy what his favorite wines were and he thought about it for a few seconds and then came back with a suggestion: Lancaster Estate Cabernet from Alexander Valley.  He brought out the wine popped the cork and decanted it while Mr Kwan wheeled in a portable cooking station and prepared some gigantic prawns in a Reggiano parmesan risotto with parsley and diced tomato and Chardonnay sauce.  Ahdy asked me what my all time favorite wine was and I replied “Chateau d’Yquem”

“We have that, by the glass”  he smiled.

I don’t think I can recall any restaurant in Phoenix service Chateau d’Yquem by the glass.  Priced at $38 a glass, that is very reasonable considering a half bottle (375ml) of the ’02 vintage they serve goes for $162 at Total Wine in Phoenix

scottsdale-palm-court-restaurant-5I quickly looked up Lancaster on my phone and if you can get it, the ’09 cab will run you at least $75 a bottle.  Palm Court price…$110.  This is why they received that award from Wine Spectator.   One of my pet peeves is paying excessive markup for wine in a fancy restaurant.  It utterly ruins the evening for me.  I always feel like I could have just stayed home grilled up a prime steak from Costco and spent the savings on some killer wine.

 

For dessert: Flourless chocolate cake

For dessert: Flourless chocolate cake

For dinner I chose the lamb, which was done quite well. Not too gamey.  Although I don’t mind gamey lamb either.  One thing to note about the menu:  You’re not going to find the more chef driven style of food here.  You’re going to find more of the French style of cuisine.  The beef tenderloin is carved in half and drizzled with a red wine and béarnaise sauce.  The potatoes are mashed with Gouda.  You’re going to find a more traditional menu.   Appetizers run in the $12-$15 range and main courses are in the $25-$40 range, which is quite reasonable for an establishment with AAA’s four diamond award.

chateau-d'yquem-2002

After dinner I indulged in a glass of d’Yquem and I wasn’t disappointed.  There’s a reason why Chateau d’Yqeum is nicknamed “Nectar of the Gods”, and Palm Court is the only place that I know of in the Phoenix area where you can find out why without having to buy a whole bottle.

Palm Court Website

Lancaster Estate website

 

 

 

Greg Gauthier Select Vineyards

Gauthier-wine

Greg Gauthier is an amazing wine maker that you may never have heard of.  For over 30 years Greg Gauthier’s passion has been wine making.  He’s worked closely with a number of well known wine makers, including Rodney Strong and Ted Seghesio.  He’s also worked with Mike Richmond at Acacia vineyards for many years, and Mike helped out on this very personal project.

I had dinner at a steakhouse in Scottsdale, Arizona this past summer.  We spent 3 hours sipping wine, filling our bellies with steak and desserts, and did I mention..wine?  We talked a lot about Greg’s history in the wine business, how he worked at Acacia and how he came to work at Bouchaine Vineyards in Carneros.  Over the course of the evening I was able to pick up on Greg’s vibe and this is it.  He’s a funny guy, though not clownish.  He has an understated dead pan sense of humor.  He’s a thoughtful and deliberate man, pragmatic and also very aware of detail.  These are very useful traits to have in the wine business, if you know anything about all that can go wrong and right during the wine making process.   Listed below are the four wines Greg brought to the dinner for me to take home and sample at my own leisure.

 

G-Squared  – Riesling 2012, Santa Lucia Highlands g squared wine

The grapes for this wine come from the Hillside Vineyard which was originally planted by Robert Mondavi in 1970.  The Santa Lucia Highlands are located in the Salinas valley southeast of Monterey Bay.  The region achieved A.V.A. status in 1991.  Although it is considered a cool region, the area does have a relatively dry climate and offers a long growing season with bud break starting in late February early March and harvest occurring mid September through late October.

This wine is nice and crisp with lots of green apple notes with minerality on the back end.  Nice floral aroma.  Alcohol is 11% and the retail price is $18.  This is a good deal for $18

 

G Squared 2013 Sauvignon Blanc, Yountville Napa Valley

Gauthier-wine-3

This wine is a great combination of two very different styles.  The wine blends the lemon grass style of New Zealand with the ripe smoothness of Napa Valley.  Not just a summer sipper, this wine is a bit too refined to merely gulp down in the afternoon.  This wine should be treated more like a weekend reward!  Retail price is $18, and it is a great value.

G Squared, 2012 Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast “Rockin’ H Ranch Vineyards”

Rockin’ H Ranch is a 150 acre ranch located about 8 miles south east of Petaluma.  If you don’t know where that is, think of the southern end of Sonoma Valley right near San Pablo Bay.   The Rockin’ H Ranch has about 50 acres under vine, including Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Syrah.

This Pinot is a big meaty Pinot with loads of spice and firm tannins.  If you like Syrah and Grenache, you’ll probably like this wine. Cranberry, cinnamon and cherry.  Retail price $35.

Gauthier-wine-4

 G – Squared 2012 Grenache, Sonoma Coast “Rockin’ H Ranch Vineyard”

I really loved this wine!  Again, big and bold, with loads of fruit on the front end.  Dark and rich, but with only 13.9% alcohol none of the alcoholic heat that can come from hot climate Grenache.

Gauthier-wine-5

 

Unlimited Constructive Criticism: The New Olive Garden Policy

By now you might have seen the news about Olive Garden and the bread stick policy.  If you haven’t here’s a quick run down:  Starboard Value, which owns 8.8% of Olive Garden’s parent company, Darden Restaurants released a very critical 294 page document to the public detailing the short comings of the Olive Garden brand and practices.  The part that everyone seems to be focused on is the part about “No more unlimited bread sticks”.  While this is partially true, if you read the report, what it actually says is something more like: “Don’t bring all the unlimited bread sticks out at the same time, they tend to not taste as good after they’ve been sitting for 7 minutes.  Bring them out one or two at a time and then keep them coming as requested.”   So it’s not about being stingy, it’s about serving quality food.  Another choice quote was critical of the Olive Garden practice of not adding salt to the water while boiling the pasta noodles: “If you Google how to make pasta 101, the first step is to salt the water”  the Starboard Value report said.

Another key point (of many) was the alcohol and wine in particular.  Olive Garden alcohol sales amount to only 8% of sales while other chain restaurants like Macaroni Grill are significantly higher – in the 15-20% range.  Alcohol is profitable.  There’s no getting around that. Sell more alcohol, make more money.

My insight on the low alcohol sales:  The wine list is not good.  I’ve been there and tasted the wine, and it’s almost undrinkable.  Not that Olive Garden needs to start stocking high end wine, but just a few labels that people recognize and flavor profiles that lend themselves to being paired with the food they serve would be good.  The wines I tried a few years back were terribly astringent, flat and generally very unpleasant.  There are a lot of wines out there that are rated 90 points plus which retail for under $10 a bottle.  They need not limit themselves to Italian wines, just wines that go with the food.

One last thing I wish Olive Garden, and chain restaurants in general, had more of is Gluten Free options.  It’s not like its 1999 and these products are super pricey and hard to come by.  I can get gluten free corn based pasta in Super Target, so Olive Garden and others should have the ability to prepare gluten free pasta.  Think PF Chang’s.

See the report for yourself: http://shareholdersfordarden.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/Transforming-Darden.pdf

 

 

A visit to Pride Mountain Vineyards

A Visit to Pride Mountain Vineyards

pride-mountain-vineyards-barrels

I survived the drive to Pride!  reads the caption on the back of the black T shirt I bought in the Pride Mountain Vineyards gift shop.  If you know anything about this vineyard it is well worth the tiny winding road to the summit of Spring Mountain in Napa Valley.  And if you don’t…

Pride Mountain Vineyards is the only American winery to have it’s wines served in 3 different White Houses under Presidents Clinton, Bush and Obama.  The greatness of Pride Mountain Vineyards wines is possibly the only thing the 3 of them can agree on!  Pride has received wide spread critical acclaim over the years including four ratings of 96 points or higher for their Reserve Cabernet from Robert Parker since 2001 – two of those were 99 points!

99.5% Cab .5% Petit Verdot 14.8% alc.  1,365 cases made with a retail of $135 a bottle at release.  The wine is now sold out at the winery.

Pride Mountain Vineyards 2010 Reserve Cabernet: 83% Sonoma, 17% Napa | 99.5% Cab .5% Petit Verdot | 14.8% alc. 1,365 cases made with a retail of $135 a bottle at release. The wine is now sold out at the winery.

Pride is also well known for their Claret, which is usually a blend of about two thirds Merlot and one third Cabernet Sauvignon all estate fruit.  Since 2001 the Claret has also received two 99 point scores.

As nice as points and great ratings are, these days there seems to be far less emphasis than there used to be.  To use an analogy from film…the wine could be the greatest romance movie ever made, but if you like action adventure movies you won’t like it much.  These wines, more than just ratings are some of the truest representations of what the New World has to offer and in particular what Napa/Sonoma mountain fruit can be.

I say Napa and Sonoma because this brings us to a very interesting geographical fact about Pride Mountain Vineyards.  The Napa/Sonoma county line runs right through the middle of the vineyards and actually right through the middle of their bottling facility.  In a strange bit of Kafka-esque bureaucracy,  they actually have to fill out paper work to transfer wine bottles within their own bottling facility.

pride mountain county line

The Napa/Sonoma county line runs right through the middle of the vineyard and production facility

On my tour I visited the cave system and tried tasted current offerings including some barrel samples.  Although the Merlot, Claret and Reserve Cabernet were what I came for, I was most surprised by the Viognier.  The tour is more than just a quick walk through, it’s a nice long tour which lasts at least an hour.  There are tasting stations set up in the cave system where guests sample current offerings and learn about the history and the story behind the vintages.  The tour wraps up back in the main entrance and wine shop where the urge to purchase a case of the Reserve cabernet was very very difficult.  I bought the t-shirt instead.

See more pictures from this visit on Facebook

 

 

 

San Francisco Wine School offers online classes

San Francisco Wine School online CWAS program

San Francisco Wine School

Back in May I was approached by the San Francisco Wine School and asked if I’d be interested in participating in their online California Wine Appellation Specialist (CWAS) specialist program and I jumped at the opportunity.

At first I was skeptical, I mean how can you learn about wine online? How can you do taste testing online?  I was as interested in the mechanics of the course as the content itself.

After signing up I did my research, who runs the school, who founded it?  I was pleasantly surprised to learn that there are some highly credentialed people involved, not the least of which is Mr David Glancy.

San Francisco Wine School founder and CEO David Glancy

San Francisco Wine School founder and CEO David Glancy

From the website: David Glancy is one of only 135 in North America, and 211 in the world, to earn the title Master Sommelier (MS). He sits on the board of Society of Wine Educators and is one of only 12 MS in the world to also pass their Certified Wine Educator exam (CWE). In addition, Glancy passed the Certified Specialist of Spririts exam (CSS) and French Wine Scholar exam (FWS).

The San Fransisco Wine School’s online CWAS course uses the Instructure Canvas online learning platform.  This platform was founded in 2008 and launched in 2011.  Over 800 universities and colleges use Instructure.

The first thing I noticed is how easy the system is to use.  Learning how to use it was not difficult because an orientation module was provided, which explained everything.  There was also a short quiz on the orientation which a student must pass in order to proceed.  This ensures that when it comes time to learn the real content you’re prepared.

The real content is multi faceted and consists of reading content, commenting on content and other students comments, tasting wine, and of course testing.

The content is presented in a very easy to understand and consume format: video.  David Glancy talks the student through each and every section.  Each subject is broken into its own short video and you can skip between videos.  However, you cannot skip ahead to next weeks content until you have passed the weekly quiz, and until he opens that module, on Mondays.

The content is broken down by region.  Napa, Sonoma, Mendocino, Monterey, San Luis Obispo etc etc.  And each region is further broken down into its sub regions.  The course covers the history of each region, the pioneers, the developers and the major players.  Also covered is the history of the geography, why the land is shaped the way it is.  The defining features of the wines from each region are explained.  The climate, what makes the climate, the soil, how that soil affects the wine.  By the end of the course I knew an awful lot more about California wine than I did before.  Sure this is stuff I could have learned on my own, but not in 7 weeks.

Each week there was a writing assignment.  David would pose a question such as “How would you market such and such region, given that it is relatively unknown”  Or “What are the 3 most important sub regions of Napa Valley and why”   After completing your writing assignment you are to comment on 2 other classmates assignments and respond to people who comment on yours.  That was one of the things I really liked about the class is that you get to interact with other students and bounce ideas off each other.  Seeing other viewpoints and defending your own is a really great way to learn more.

Each week there was also a tasting assignment.  You’re required to taste 2 wines each week, then write about the wines in a standard wine critic format.  I found this very helpful.  A lot of times in tasting and writing about wines, I’ve sort of bounced all over in describing the wine.  Standardizing the way the reviewing and writing is done is helpful not only in my own mind but to you the reader of this AWESOME website ( wink wink)

I learned to start with the color. That is not always obvious.  I really had to stop my self from pouring my glass and immediately taking a sip and saying AAAHHH, and then bla bla bla.  Start with the color, and the clarity. The next section is broken down into a helpful acronym so it’s easy to remember and stay on task.  We start with the aroma.  Describe the fruit elements and the non fruit elements.  Then the taste, again the fruit elements, the non fruit elements and the wood – if any.  Finally we were to add our thoughts and give the wine a simple rating out of 5 points.  Now I suppose a person could just submit the tasting notes from the winery website, but really if you did that you’d only be fooling yourself.

Lastly, there was a weekly quiz based on the content of the videos.  Though not terribly difficult you need to watch those videos with flash cards and make notes.  You need to get 7 out of 10 multiple choice questions correct in order to pass that section and move on to the next.

Finally, the final exam consists of 100 multiple choice questions based on all the content.  You need to score 75 to pass, and you have 1 hour to complete the test.  This I found to be difficult.  Although I passed, there is a lot of content.  Without taking notes on flash cards and studying throughout the final week I would not have passed.  I suggest taking the time and care to make sure you take good notes on each section and commit the larger points to memory.  That’s what this is all about right?  Learning, so that when someone needs your expertise you can be useful.

To sum it all up it was an exciting and informative experience.  One thing that I was pleasantly surprised by is that David’s personality came through a little bit.  Sometimes people rely too much on the education and credentials and it can come across as very dry and boring.  Not that David was a stand up comedian, but there were points in the videos where I actually chuckled.  A sense of humor is an awesome trait to have especially in a world that can be all to serious.

http://sanfranciscowineschool.com/

 

2 great value white Bordeaux wines

Usually when I hear “great value”  I think “That’s what nice people say about crappy wine”   But I’ve found myself being pleasantly surprised more often than not these days.  Although the economy seems to have improved since the low point several years back, the wine market seems to have taken a longer time to recover.  From various articles and stories I’ve read recently it appears that people are still in a very strong value centric frame of mind.

With that in mind I present to you, dear reader.  Two white Bordeaux’s that will please your palate as well as your wallet!

white bordeaux bottleChateau Timberlay, 2012 Bordeaux

I had no idea at the time I was tasting this what the history of Chateau Timberlay was.  I posted a pic on Instagram saying that this must be Justin Timberlake’s favorite wine.  But it turns out that this is one of the oldest Chateaus in Bordeaux and dates back to 1366!  Currently the wine falls under the Robert Giraud family of wines. The Giraud family still lives in the Chateau in the middle of the 300+ acre vineyard.  The 2012 vintage is a blend of 60% Sauvignon blanc and 40% Semillon.  The wine was fermented in stainless steel and weighs in at 13% alcohol.

Yellow straw in color, with hints of white peach and lemon.  Medium acidity and a lingering finish.  If you’re a fan of New Zealand style sauv blanc, but want a toned down version this is the wine for you.  Same complexity, just less loud.  The wine retails for about $20.  Weekly Wine Journal Rating 88 points

 

Chateau-de-chantegriveChateau de Chantegrive, 2011 Graves.

Graves is a sub region of Bordeaux and is well known for red wine production.  Personally, I’ve been really impressed with the whites from this region.  The name Graves comes from “Gravelly” which is what the soil is.  Left over glacial gravel from the last ice age.  Chateau de Chantegrive was founded by the Leveque family in 1966 and today the estate has grown to about 230 acres with about 45 acres dedicated to the production of this wine.

The Blend:  50% Sauvignon Blanc, 50% Semillon

This wine is crisp.  Really crisp.  Sharp.  In a good way.  Think Grapefruit with loads of cool mineral notes.  There is a hint of ripeness of the peach variety that plays into it later on, but it’s barely noticeable.  This wine also retails for about $20.  If you’re like me and like your white wines to be on the bigger bolder more tart and crisp side this is the wine for you.

Weekly Wine Journal rating 91 points

* disclaimer.  I received both of these wines as review samples.

 

 

 

A taste of Bouchaine

A taste of Bouchaine

Bouchaine-wines

It’s always an interesting thing for me to meet a wine maker or wine personality for the first time.  You never know what to expect, the personalities are as varied as wine itself.

Recently, I had the pleasure of dining and talking with Greg Gauthier of Bouchaine Vineyards.  I walked into the dimly lit steakhouse and in the back at a table by himself sat a man with a table of wine bottles and a few boxes of wine by his side.  He greeted me warmly and said they were still getting the private room ready, and would I like to grab a beer while we wait.  So we went over to the bar which allowed us to begin our conversation.

We sat and drank water instead of beer.  It was at least 110F outside in the Phoenix summer heat.  I asked him how he was enjoying the weather.  He smiled and chuckled.  The private room became ready a few minutes later and we continued our 3 hour conversation there.

Greg brought some of the current line up of Bouchaine Vineyards wines out including several Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs.  As we began sipping he asked me to hold off for a minute, he summoned the wait staff and ask them to bring an olive, a piece of lemon skin, some salt and a few other morsels.  He carried out a little sensory experiment for me that was quite fascinating.  Try the unoaked chardonnay, then drop a piece of lemon skin the size of a small nail head in the glass.  After only having been in the glass for a few seconds, the wine was completely changed and overpowered by lemon citrus, yet it still tasted quite nice.  It tasted just like a New Zealand style sauvignon blanc.

These taste experiments lead into a discussion about the current marketing strategy of Bouchaine.   It’s not really a strategy like one hatched up by Don Draper, more like an approach to explaining the wines.   It’s Greg’s job to travel the country with his wines and talk with chef’s and restauranteurs and try to get them to see these wines as companions to food.  Not just companions but soul mates.  Just as the lemon skin changed the Chardonnay, I could now imagine that wine pairing very nicely with a salmon ( Pacific, NOT farmed) with lemon juice dressing.  Or something along those lines.

When the waitress came back we inquired about the salmon on the menu.  Is it Pacific or Atlantic salmon?  This is a question that you should really ask any time Salmon is on the menu and a huge pet peeve of mine.  But that’s a topic for another article.  After the waitress explained that it was special organic Atlantic salmon, Greg and I both said almost in unison “I think I’ll have a steak”

We tasted through the wines while Greg gave me a brief history of the Bouchaine operation.  Bouchaine is the oldest continuously operating winery in the Carneros District.   The Carneros District is one of only a few American Viticultural Areas (A.V.A’s) located in two counties.  The Carneros district is located in both Napa Valley and Sonoma Valley at the edge of San Pablo bay.  The area is prone to fog and cool ocean breezes and is really ideal for Chardonnay and Pinot noir.

The wines

Bouchaine, 2011 “Chene d’Agent” Chardonnay, Carneros Napa Valley

Bouchaine-Chardonnay-bottle

This is a crisply acidic and refreshing wine, loads of citrus some nice mineral notes.  Fermented in stainless steel and weighing at 13% alc, this is really a very refreshing take on the typical massive alcoholic butterbombs that are all too common in California wine these days.  Only 246 cases produced.

Bouchaine, 2011 Estate Vineyard Chardonnay, Carneros Napa Valley

Bouchaine-estate-chardonnay-bottleThis wine is a completely different style than the last, and equally interesting.  The wine was aged in 15% new French, American and Hungarian oak, with 50% undergoing malolactic fermentation.  With a production run of just over 6,000 cases this wine should be readily available in most fine wine stores and dining establishments.  “You probably won’t find it on your local grocery shelf though”  Greg said.    The wine has a much softer mouth feel than the previous wine, a nice hint of butterscotch.

Bouchaine, 2012 Estate Vineyard Pinot Meunier.  Carneros, Napa Valley

Bouchaine-pinot-meunier-jpgThis wine saw 11 months in 33% new French oak barrels and weighs in at 13.85% alcohol.  A little over 400 cases were made. First, a little about Pinot Meunier…  one of 3 noble grapes used in the production of Champagne,  very rarely used in the production of dry red wine.  Closely related to Pinot Noir.

This wine really reminded me of South African Pinotage.  A really robust backbone of tannins, black plums, pine forest, smokey oak, cinnamon.  Very complex. This was definitely my favorite of the night

Bouchaine, 2010 Pinot Noir, Carneros.

Bouchaine-pinot-noir

I forgot to ask Greg why the labeling was different on this bottle, no mention of Napa there.  This wine also saw 11 months in 33% new French oak with alcohol almost identical to the Pinot Meunier at 13.8% With production at a little under 10,000 cases this wine should be available at most wine shops and restaurants.  This is a good solid cool climate Pinot Noir that Carneros is so well known for.  Flavors of strawberry, red cherry with a little spice and earth.  Robust acidity and tannins.

The rest of the night was spent just talking about a wide range of subjects, a lot to do with wine, but also a lot to do with life.  Greg’s humor really started to come out a little later on.  He has a very understated sense of humor.  We had talked about the weather with the manager briefly and she mentioned that our waitress had a mild case of heat stroke a few days before whilst riding her bike in the midday Phoenix summer heat (115F).   When the waitress returned Greg very casually mentioned: “I hear you enjoy riding your bike…”

“Not in this heat”  she said.

On my next trip to Napa I will definitely be taking a side trip to Carneros and Bouchaine vineyards. It’s really very close, literally about 15 minutes from downtown Napa.  Hopefully Greg will be there to show me around!

http://www.bouchaine.com/Home

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s Playtime in Lake County!

It’s Playtime in Lake County!

The Playtime label is part of the Shannon Ridge family of wines, based out of Lake County.  The label produces only two wines, a red blend and a Chardonnay.  The fun labels are a tribute to pin-up stars from the World War II era, and each bottle features either red hair for the red wine or blonde hair for the Chardonnay.  I’m not normally sold on wines that rely on nifty labels, so I was a little skeptical but once I tasted the wines I was pleasantly surprised.

2012 Playtime, Red Wine, Lake County

playtime-redBlend: 61% Zinfandel, 20% Grenache, 11% Petite Verdot, 8% Barbera

Alcohol: 14.2%

Production: 1,250 cases

Retail price: $15.99

This is pretty interesting blend, and it works quite well together.  The nose is predominantly cherries with a hint of vanilla oak.  On the palate there’s decent ripe fruit, but enough tannins to stop this wine from being a flabby jammy run of the mill wine.  The mouth feel is silky and there’s a hint of peppery spice on the back end.

This would make a decent wine to serve with summer bbq fare, especially ribs or pizza or even a good meaty tomato based pasta dish.

 

 

 

 

 

 

playtime-blonde2012 Playtime Blonde, Chardonnay, Lake County

Blend: 100% Chardonnay

Alcohol: 13.9%

Production: 2,500 cases

Retail price: $13

Playtime Blonde is a straight forward easy drinking Chardonnay.  A citrus based aroma and palate with toasty vanilla oak and a little minerality make it more complex than I was expecting for a $13 Chardonnay.  Pleasantly surprised.

*disclaimer this wine was received as a sample review

Shannon Ridge Wines

Playtimewine.com

 

 

napa valley view

A Visit to Keever Vineyards

A Visit to Keever Vineyards

I was first introduced to Keever Vineyards by a gentleman named Chilli Davis at a wine tasting in Scottsdale, Arizona and was immediately hooked, the wine was incredible.  This past June while visiting Napa for the Taste of Howell Mountain Christine Piccin with Mackenzie Agency (PR) was kind enough to set me up with a private tasting (actually all the Keever tastings are private) on VERY short notice.  Because of intermittent cell service I missed the confirmation of my appointment but Olga Keever was nice enough to leave me a phone message.  I called back and a guy named Bill answered. He said he would wait for me.

Keever Vineyards, adding the personal touch

Keever Vineyards, adding the personal touch

I arrived an hour and a half past the original appointment time and was greeted by Bill.  Bill Keever, owner.  When I walked in the tasting room, which is actually a massive two story architectural marvel I noticed some wines set on the counter.  Then I noticed a big card which read “Welcome Tim!”

Bill took me on an extended tour of the building, the production facilities, the cave, the vineyard and back to the tasting room for more wine.  All along the tour I was able to ask questions and Bill answered freely.

Keever-vineyards-19One of the things I learned is that Bill graduated from Napa Valley high school and ended up becoming the CEO of Vodafone Asia region.  His base of operations for most of his time overseas was Germany and the Netherlands and it was during this time that his exposure to wine occurred in a big way.  They moved back to Napa in 1999 and Bill finally retired in 2003.  Eventually they came across some property right next to the Veterans Hospital right near Yountville.  If you’ve ever driven north on Highway 29 from Napa to St Helena, on the left hand side of the road just as you’re getting into Yountville there’s a big white building on the west side of the road, nestled up against the foothills of the Mayacamas range.  The property was actually a horse training facility complete with a small outdoor arena.  Bill said this was really convenient because all of the surrounding area has massive rocks in and on the ground that need to be removed prior to planting a vineyard.  Luckily this had already been completed and also the land had been leveled out nicely as well.

stunning view from the tasting room

stunning view from the tasting room

The next step in pursuing the dream was to find a wine maker.  Bill enlisted the help of a friend and well known Napa Valley consultant to find a top notch wine maker and eventually Celia Welch agreed to be their wine maker.  For those of you not familiar with Celia Welch she was named Food & Wine Magazine’s winemaker of the year for 2008.  She has been a consulting wine maker rock star for over 25 years.  She stated with Staglin and currently works with Kelly Flemming, Scarecrow, Barbour, Hollywood & Vine and others.   Celia has her own label, Corra wines as well.  Celia helped the Keevers with more than just the wine making, she was instrumental in the layout and design of the facilities as well.  In effect Celia manages them, not the other way around.

Inside the tasting room/house

Inside the tasting room/house

Bill poured me a glass of the Keever Sauvignon Blanc and we took a tour of the production facilities, which is one of the most pristine, clean and organized facilities I’ve ever seen.  It’s as if there has never been any wine made there, spotless.  This, in large part is Celia’s influence.  She is a stickler for sanitary wine making conditions.  This interesting interview from Wines and Vines goes into more depth on that subject: ( winesandvines.com )  The wine production area is gravity fed an interesting and unique feature.  All of the open top stainless steel fermentation tanks are not bolted to the floor.  They are movable.  The fruit comes in on a mezzanine level above the tank room and goes thru the de-stemmer and is sorted and all the good fruit is then dropped through a hole into a waiting tank beneath.  The tanks are switched out by forklift.  Rather than bring the fruit to the tank, they do it the other way around, by bringing the tank to the fruit.

production facilities

production facilities

Room for 100 of your closest friends

Room for 100 of your closest friends

Next, we headed into the wine cave.  Although not the biggest by any means, it extremely clean, and the tunnel itself is actually pretty wide.  In the middle it opens up into a big room where there is enough room for a table and 100 of your closest friends.  There’s even a wine vault at the end, with a little table for two behind the glass wall.

After the cave we walked back around the front of the property and took a look at progress of the grapes.  Bill laughed that his granddaughter loves to eat the little grapes, especially as they become ripe.

The vault

The vault

We ended up back in the tasting house and I sampled through the Keever Vineyards current offerings ( I’ll be posting these reviews in future updates).

If you’re into high quality Napa wines and cabernets in particular you should definitely look into Keever.  If you’re in Napa and want to visit be sure to make arrangements ahead of time as the vineyard is protected by a large gate, so you can’t just show up, all tastings are by appointment only.

Keever Vineyards Website