Two amazing blends from Napa | part two

In my first post (here) I explained that I have started to see more higher end wines in the wine department at Costco.  I decided to give a couple of them a try and was blown away!  The first wine I reviewed was Kapcsandy Family Vineyard’s “Endre”.

Anderson's Conn Valley Vineyards 2008 Eloge

Anderson’s Conn Valley Vineyards 2008 Eloge

The second amazing blend comes from Anderson’s Conn Valley Vineyards, also in Napa.  Conn Valley is located about 4 miles east of St Helena at the southern base of Howell Mountain in north eastern Napa Valley.  Anderson’s 40 acre estate first vintage was in 1987 and over the years built a reputation for quality.  They’ve also picked up a little bit of critical acclaim along the way. Robert Parker has rated their “Eloge” consistently between 95 and 98 points since the 2005 vintage

Anderson’s Conn Valley Vineyards 2008 Eloge, Napa Valley

This wine is a blend of 55% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Cabernet Franc, 10% Petit Verdot and 10% Merlot.  In comparison to the Endre’s relatively light 13.5%  the Eloge weighs in at a robust 14.6% alcohol.

wine corkThis wine is quite different than the Endre.   The nose is more searing, but not unpleasantly searing, just more.  The nose also has a distinct smokey gaminess to it along with cedar and cassis.  The palate is where this wine really shines, and even now (mid 2013) this wine really showed a lot more of itself after 24 hours of decanting.  This is a big BIG, serious wine.  This is not a wine for the faint of heart.  But it’s not big as in big fruit bomb, or big oak bomb.  Its big in intensity and complexity.  Brawn and brains.

The retail price price on this wine is around $110 online, but I found it for $69 at Costco.  Even at $110 its a pretty good deal, but for $69 its a steal.  You just can’t find a wine from Napa rated 96-98 points by Robert Parker for anything close to that price, except Altamura.  Not that I’m ALL about ratings, but they do have an effect on demand and price.

Having said that…Weekly Wine Journal Rating: 97 Points

Two amazing blends from Napa | Part one

When you think of Napa, what do you think of?  Cabernet? Chardonnay? Most people think of those two, how about Merlot, Pinot Noir and Zinfandel?  Those five varietals wrap up the five most popular.   If you dig a little deeper or search deeper in the wine department where you buy wine you might get into the blended wines, also known as Meritage.

I recently picked up two of the finest wines I’ve had in a long time from my local Costco of all places.  Due to the economic situation, which has been a little more acute in the Phoenix area than most, the supply of higher end wine at a place like Costco has been rather limited.  But on my last visit I noticed two wines that I hadn’t seen there before and well, I made an impulse purchase.

Napa wine

Kapcsandy 2009 Endre
1,700 cases produced
$60-$75 retail

The first wine on the list is from Kapcsandy Family Winery in Yountville. Kapcsandy is much better known for its Merlot, having received near perfect scores from a wide range of critics for their Roberta’s Reserve.  But with a production of just under 200 cases and an average auction price of just under $400, its more likely I’ll see a unicorn in my backyard than a bottle of this wine in my decanter.

Kapcsandy, 2009 Endre, Napa Valley red table wine

From the same 16 acre State Lane Vineyard in Yountville as Roberta’s Reserve,  this wine is a blend of 51% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Merlot, 6% Cabernet Franc and 3% Petit Verdot.  The Kapcsandy family actually purchased the historic State Lane Vineyard from Beringer in 2000.  Beringer had used the vineyard to produce its flagship Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon for 25 years.  The vineyard was replanted in 2002 with help from Helen Turley and with the varietals that make up this wine.  The family brought on consulting wine maker, Denis Malbec, from Chateau Latour no less, and the debut vintage came out in 2005

I popped the cork and let the wine sit for a few minutes before pouring a smallish amount.  I put my nose in and gave it a big sniff and WOW!  The aromatics practically punched me in the face.  Or more like gave me a playful slap on cheek.

The nose is intense, bright and complex.  Dry herbs, flowers and cigar tobacco.  Ripe fruit on the palate,  intense red cherries with a long mouth watering finish. All around, not what I expected, but in a very good way.

Weekly Wine Journal rating: 94 points

Production: 1,700 cases

Price: about $60-$75 retail.  I bought it at Costco for $49.97

Alcohol: 13.5%

Cameron Hughes Wines | A Revolutionary Wine Business Model

Wine bottlesThose of you that read my blog know that Cameron Hughes wines are nothing new to me.  For those of you unfamiliar with the Cameron Hughes label, do yourself a favor and read the recent Wall Street Journal article titled Taking advantage of the wine glut.

Cameron Hughes has undertaken an innovative business model, buying up the excess supply of high-end winery’s wine at a bargain basement price. The Cameron Hughes label is then slapped on the bottle and sold for a fraction of the price to retailers across the states. Hughes has taken advantage of the current over supply in California to build a reputation for quality, affordability, and entrepreneurial prowess.  The 2008 Cameron Hughes Lot 200 Napa Valley Cabernet really takes his business model to the next level.

Lot 200 Label

Lot 200, $200 Juice?

The fruit for this monster Napa Cab comes from three of Napa’s most prestigious sub appellations: Stag’s Leap, Rutherford and Oakville. On his website Cameron gives just a glimpse of who’s juice this maybe.  He had to sign a 3 page Non-Disclosure Agreement which left very little left to say except that the people he acquired this wine from do not sell a bottle of wine for under $200 and have multiple 100 point scores under their belts.  This wine was available for $27 on the website but sold out in a matter of weeks when Costco bought almost ALL of the 4,000 cases produced!

lot 182 label

Lot 182, 4 years in shiners

Another outstanding value is Lot 182 Atlas Peak Meritage.  As the story goes there was a mix up in this deal and the labels had already been printed when Cameron discovered that this Meritage was actually 90% Cabernet and could have been sold as an Atlas Peak Cab, but c’est la vie!  This wine was purchased in shiners and had been minding its own business in a cellar for 4 years before being released.  It is drinking really well right now, and I use it as my go to “pop and pour” wine.

The Cameron Hughes production model has been able to thrive in a time when California wines have suffered, becoming less fashionable during the shaky economic climate of the past couple years. California 2009 retail wine sales were down about 3%.  Have you tried any Cameron Hughes Wines or any American wine negociants?

More Reviews:

Lot 200

Lot 182

Wine Review | Cameron Hughes Lot 182, 2005 Meritage, Atlas Peak

Cameron Hughes Lot 182, 2005 Meritage, Atlas Peak

2005 Atlas Peak Cameron Hughes Meritage

90% Cabernet

There is a kind of funny, unofficial story behind the labeling on this wine.  The blend is 90% Cabernet, 5% Cabernet Franc and 5% Petit Verdot.  Technically this wine could have been called a Cabernet.  But as the story goes, there was a mix up and the labels had already been made.

Total production for Lot 182 is only 1,700 cases, and rather unusual to this acquisition is the fact that the wine was purchased in shiners (unlabeled bottles) that had been cellar aged for 4 years.  And speaking of the bottles, these bottles are taller and heavier in weight than most.  The extra aging has an amazing effect on this mountain fruit.  It is ripe and rich with loads of Blueberry, Cassis and Blackberry.  The tannins are firm and fine, and the finish is rich and chocolaty.  According to Cameron this wine was aged in 40% new French Oak.  Alcohol comes in at 14.5%  At $15 this is a ridiculously low price for a wine that is really starting to reach is prime right now.

Rating: 93 points.

Women in Wine | Janet Myers | Franciscan Magnificat

wine label

Franciscan Magnificat 2005

The phenomenon of women in wine is not as recent as you might think, nor is it limited to a few famous wine makers such as Heidi Barrett.  While most casual wine drinkers might not have heard of Janet Myers, they most surely will be familiar with Napa Valley producer Franciscan Estates.  Franciscan Estates started back in 1972 but now boasts 240 acres under vine in the prime Oakville District of Napa Valley. Franciscan Estates began its rise to prominence in the mid ’70’s by making wine in small lots and then blending them together to get the desired result.  Franciscan adopted the Bordeaux style of wine making 1985 with the launch of its flagship wine, Magnifcat..   Magnificat is a rich powerful full bodied wine using the traditional Bordeaux varieties of grape. Janet Myer’s joined the team at Franciscan in 2003 but her first job was working harvest at Robert Mondavi when she was still a student at UC Davis.  Is it just me or am I seeing a lot of great wine makers coming out of UC Davis?   Janet has travelled to Italy and Australia to work with leading vinters to improve her skills and  has been director of wine at Franciscan since 2005, the same vintage that I tasted recently at a Women & Wine dinner.
The 2005 Magnificat is a blend of 73% Cabernet Sauvignon, 23% Merlot, 2% Malbec, 1% Petit Verdot and 1% Cabernet Franc.  I put my nose deep in the glass and took a big “sniffy sniff” and was met with the quintessential Napa nose; Cassis, Vanilla and cedary oak.  The palate was plummy with black cherry and Anise and was a superb match for the New York strip steak grilled medium rare. The alcohol is 14.5% which may be a little higher than the wines of Bordeaux, but I did not find the wine to be overly alcoholic or hot. Production was a little over 24,000 cases so consumer’s shouldn’t have any trouble finding this vintage or more recent vintages. At $50 a bottle this wine is more than I would spend on a daily drinker, but quite reasonable as a monthly treat.

Wine Smackdown #2 | BC Wine


In December 2010 I took a trip to British Columbia, Canada to visit friends and family.

desolate highway

1,700 miles in a day and a half

While I was there my friend suggested we pay a visit to a special wine shop located in White Rock called Mud Bay Wines.  This wine shop carries only VQA certified British Columbia wines.  The shop is fairly small, but it is well laid out and has a huge selection of BC wines.  The staff was friendly and helpful as well.  I found the purchasing process unusual in that I knew nothing of the wineries or  viticultural areas.  And very few of the wines had shelf talkers.  It was like being transported back in time to my first wine purchase.  So after much deliberation, we made our choices and headed home to critique. The wines are in the order that we consumed them.  I thought I would be able to find the technical information about each wine online, so I did not include them in my notes.  However, upon sitting down to write this post I have discovered that this information is hard to find! Note to less well known wine producers:  Consumers like to know as much as possible about your wines, the process and the technical information.

The first wine we popped open was Volcanic Hills, 2009 Gamay Noir from British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley.

BC Wine

Volcanic Hills Gamay Noir

After a quick decant we were restless and ready for a drink.  On the nose this wine came across  light with aromas of red fruit.  The palate was predominantly raspberry and cranberry. The finish was crisp and clean.  While this is not a complex wine,  it is a decent effort.  It’s a light and fruity, easy sipper and for only $15 it’s well worth it. 84 points

Next up was Domaine de Chaberton 2008 Pinot Gris, Okanagan Valley.

BC wine

Domaine de Chaberton Pinot Gris

This wine was nice enough, but I had a tough time discerning the aromas on the nose and the flavors on the palate.  It is a very light wine, although the alcohol clocks in at 13%.  I detected a little citrus on the nose. The palate displayed a very slight lemon profile with a hint of nutty butterscotch on the finish.  Once again, at $15, a decent wine, decent value but nothing to get too excited about. 82 points

Wine number three was Summerhill Pyramid Winery’s 2006 Riesling, Okanagan Valley.

BC Wine

Summerhill Pyramid Riesling

The nose was not as aromatic as I had hoped, I could detect minerals, but little in the way of fruit.  The palate consisted of  Grapefruit and Granny Smith Apple surrounded by a rather searing tartaric acidity.  Alcohol weighs in at 9% and the wine retails for  $22. A decent effort, however this wine is an acquired taste. I would only recommend this wine to wine drinkers who are looking for a Riesling which is not sweet. 83 points

Wine number four:  Church & State Wines, 2006 Quintessential red blend.


Church and State Quintessential

This wine is a blend of all 5 Bordeaux varietals, however I cannot find any information on the % breakdown.  The nose was pleasant enough, and displayed aromas of Cherries and leather. However, the palate is where this wine fell far short.   Immediately I was hit with an overwhelming unpleasant sweetness.  I was expecting something vaguely Bordeaux like but this wine did not deliver.  I thought maybe it was me and did not say anything, instead I had the other guests give it a whirl and they came to the same conclusion without my influence. At $50 a bottle I expected a lot more.  And even more confusing to me is how this wine could have won “Best Red Wine” at the All Canadian Wine Championships in 2009.  75 points

A couple of nights later my friends and I visited Salt Tasting Room in downtown Vancouver.  Upon being seated I asked our server, who also happened to be the inventory manager, for the best Bordeaux blend he had.

Wine number five:  Clos du Soleil Red 2007 Similkameen, British Columbia.

Clos du Soleil Red

This wine is a blend of 60% Cabernet, 22% Merlot and 18% Cabernet Franc aged for 18 months in 80% French Oak, 20% American Oak. The alcohol comes in at 13.3%. Production for the Clos du Soleil Red 2007 was only 450 cases.

This wine was by far the best wine of my trip.  It displayed a pleasantly aromatic nose of cassis and vanilla with floral notes.  The palate featured chewy plummy tannins, great structure and a nice long finish.  A well balanced wine with all of its components in check.  This wine retails for around $40 a bottle which may be a little pricey but considering the comparative quality, it is worth it.  88 points.

I hope to get back to British Columbia again in 2011 and to sample more of what British Columbia has to offer in terms of wine.  I will have to be a little more discerning in my selections in the future, maybe to a little more research ahead of time.  The Canadian dollar is currently at par with the U.S. dollar which can put a lot of pressure on the budget when buying multiple bottles of wine purely for review.  Have you tried any wines from British Columbia, have you tried any of the wines reviewed here?

Wine Review | Blackstone Winery | 2007 Sonoma Reserve | Merlot Rubric Cabernet

Blackstone Winery Sonoma Reserve Merlot 2007, Sonoma Countywine label

The blend: 85% Merlot, 7% Cabernet Sauvignon, 6% Ruby Cabernet and 2% Petite Verdot

Alcohol: 14.5%

Production: 27,000 cases

Suggested Retail Price: $20

The grapes for this wine were sourced from vineyards in 6 out of the 13 A.V.A’s in Sonoma County, predominantly Alexander Valley and Dry Creek Valley.  This wine is a powerful representation of what Merlot can be.  It’s a big Merlot, not for the faint of heart.  The fruit is decent but it takes significant decanting to really be enjoyed.   After only an hour of decanting I found the alcohol to be quite dominant.  The next day after some of the alcohol had evaporated off I was able to enjoy the fruity side of this wine.  The fruit is predominantly Cherry enveloped in a layer of toasty oak.

Blackstone Winery  Sonoma Reserve, Rubric 2007Rubric label

The Blend: 55% Cabernet Sauvignon, 14% Malbec, 8% Cabernet Franc, 8% Petit Verdot, 7% Tannat, 5% Merlot and 3% Petite Sirah.

Alcohol: 14.5%

Production: 7,000 cases

Suggested Retail Price: $22

The fruit for this wine was sourced from 4 vineyards located in Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma Coast, Sonoma Valley and Alexander Valley.  The wine was aged in seasoned French Oak for 20 months.

On the nose I detected a light tobacco aroma, the palate was quite interesting with a mix of caramel and coffee.  Although the blend is reminiscent of Bordeaux blends, the wine is definitely more of the California Meritage style.  Higher alcohol and riper fruit dominate this wine once again and I would recommend decanting.

Blackstone Winery Sonoma Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2007, Sonoma County2007 Sonoma reserve Cabernet

The Blend: 87% Cabernet Sauvignon, 7% Cabernet Franc, 4% Petit Verdot, 2% Malbec

Alcohol: 14.5%

Production: 17,000 cases

Suggested Retail Price: $20

This wine was by far my favorite of the three.  The nose is subdued but you will find hints of spicy oak and chocolate.  The palate is where this wine really shines.  Classic Sonoma Cabernet fruit.  This wine reminds me a lot of Cameron Hughes Lot 140 from Chalk Hill Sonoma.  Plummy and juicy with lighter tannins than many Napa valley Cabernet’s.  I decanted this wine for an hour before tasting which was sufficient, unlike the other two wines this one does not need significant decanting.  Of the three wines tasted here I would put this one as the best value and worthy of spending the $20 on.

*disclaimer* These wines were received as samples

Wine Tasting at the Phoenix Public Market

Inside the Phoenix Public Market

Inside the Phoenix Public Market

I recently attended a free wine tasting at the Phoenix Public Market in downtown Phoenix, Arizona.  Every Wednesday starting at 5pm the Public market pours local Arizona wines for the public to sample.  The wines being offered this particular night were Oak Creek Vineyards 2008 Chardonnay, Rancho Rossa 2006 CSM and Canelo Hills 2009 Sauvignon Blanc.

3 arizona wines

Oak Creek Winery, Rancho Rossa and Canelo Hills

First up was the Canelo Hills 2009 Sauvignon Blanc.  The first thing I noticed was a very crisp acidity and tartness.  This wine is not for people who can only drink the ripe fruit forward styles of Sauv Blanc.  Personally I thought the crispness and tartness were quite welcome considering it was at least 106F outside!  The tart fruit is along the lines of green or Granny Smith apples mixed with a bit of lemon.  There is a hint of grassiness along the lines of what is commonly produced in New Zealand.  The alcohol came in at 13.7% which was pleasant, no heat on the finish. This is a dry Sauvignon blanc.  $22 a bottle retail.  Canelo Hills was one of the vineyards almost completely destroyed by a violent wind and hail storm this summer.  So there might some sort of collectability to this vintage as their 2010 vintage will most likely have to be sourced from alternate growers.

Red Yellow and Purple pepper

Interesting Purple Peppers

Next up was the Oak Creek Vineyards and Winery 2008 Chardonnay.  This wine is made in the Burgundian style with no oak.  It underwent malolactic fermentation.  Unfortunately I found this wine to be a little on the flat side.  The fruit was lacking in something that I could really grasp and say “Ah thats it!”  To be honest I would say Chardonnay is the wine of which I am most critical, it takes a lot for me to be wowed by a Chardonnay.  This Chardonnay did not wow me.

Barrel wine sign

Signs made from old barrels

Last but not least was the Rancho Rossa 2006 CSM.  This wine is a blend of Cabernet, Syrah and Merlot.  This wine was the most interesting of the three.  Full-bodied with solid tannins throughout.  There is a predominant smokiness that I think could use a little toning down, but there is a decent complexity to make up for that.  The fruit is along the lines of blackberry and cherry, and plum.  Standard fare for red wine.

After the tasting I enjoyed a fabulous sample platter paired with a brand new wine from Dick Erath…

Sample Platter

Delicious sample platter

Click here to see a quick video tour of the Phoenix Public Market

Canelo Hills website

Oak Creek Vineyard and Winery website

Rancho Rossa website

Wine Review: Kendall Jackson Stature, 2003 Oakville, Napa Valley

Kendall Jackson Stature 2003

Kendall jackson Stature, 2003

80% Cabernet Sauvignon

10% Cabernet Franc

5% Merlot

5% Petit Verdot

14.6% alcohol

Oakville, Napa Valley


395 cases made

I know what some of you are probably thinking – Kendall Jackson produces a $100 bottle of wine?! Yes they do, and it’s perennially rated and regarded very highly (the current 2004 release is priced at $120, and this 2003 vintage scored between 94 and 98 points by numerous sources). I found it hard to believe myself when I first wandered into KJ’s tasting room in Healdsburg, CA a few years back. The guy behind the counter comped us a reserve tasting, and eventually gave us a pour of this red bordeaux blend. We were all impressed, it was great. I just had to pick up a bottle of this very limitedly produced wine.

Well, here I am nearly two years later ready to see how this wine held up, and if it would wow me again. The wine is deep red, nearly purple in the glass with a crimson rim. I popped this bottle open just 20 minutes before heading out to make a dinner reservation and decided to get an early taste of what was to come. The nose revealed classic Napa dark fruit dominated by cherries, floral notes, and a little coco. The wine was clearly very tight at first, and offered up complex flavors of cherries, mocha, and spice.

After 4 hours in the decanter, the wine was still opening up. Despite a 2003 vintage, this wine is drinking like a baby right now. Without question it could benefit from another 5 to 10 years in the bottle. The nose had not altered much, but the flavors were really starting to reveal themselves now. Gobs of cherries intermingled with mocha/chocolate. Some nice plum fruit was now apparent with a touch of spice. This is a very complex wine with well-balanced tannins and a quite dry, lingering finish. Clearly a bottle you want to open up with a big steak.

Overall, a superb wine. I can see why it was rated so high, and much enjoyed when tasted on both occasions. My only complaint would be the overly dry finish. It was more a finish that one would expect out of a Merlot forward blend – not Cabernet. I would also prefer another 2 years of age minimum before opening this particular bottle, but that is hardly the wine’s fault. This wine is a 94 pointer to me. For its incredible complexity and well-balanced tannins, the finish just isn’t there to justify a 95 plus point “classic” rating.

Ryan O’Connor

Wine Review: Orofino 2007 Beleza, Similkameen Valley, British Columbia

The Blend:  68% Merlot, 15% Cabernet Sauvignon, 13% Cabernet Franc, and 2% Petite Verdot

Great Wine, Bad Photo

Aging: 16 months in new French and American oak.

Alcohol: 14.3%

Price: $34 from the winery which is sold out.  I sampled it at The Salt Tasting Room, a wine bar for $75 a bottle/ $15 a glass

On the nose: Blackberry, Pepper, Vanilla

The palate:  Amazing rich dark fruit, blackberry, cherry.  Solid tannins with a cocoa, espresso vanilla finish.

I was very surprised by this wine.  It actually blew me away.  Complex and rich, solid tannins, good fruit structure without being too fruit forward or ripe.  Nice oak, without being over 0aked.  Very well balanced.  As a 2007 right now, it’s a little young and tight, but it opens up nicely in a relatively short period of time, you could probably hold on to this wine for 10 years, but as it tastes so good I doubt whether anyone will do that!  It paired well with my peppered salami and aged Parmesan Reggiano.  For those of you into points, I give it 92 points.  I really look forward to trying it if I can find it again next time I am in Vancouver.