Reviews

Holman Ranch Vineyards|Wine, Weddings and More

holman ranch-2

Holman Ranch Vineyards | Wine, Weddings & More

Sometime in the 1940’s Clarence Holman purchased a 600 acre ranch located about 15 miles south-east of Monterey from financially troubled businessman Gordon Armsby.  But the history of ranching in the area dates back to a time when the land was still part of Mexico.  In the 1950’s the ranch became a kind of gentleman’s retreat and hosted celebrities like Clark Gable, Vincent Price, Joan Crawford and Marlon Brando.  Clarence and his wife Vivian eventually passed away in 1962 and 1981 respectively. Vivian managed to keep the tradition alive but after her passing things stopped.  For a while.  In 1989 there was a rebirth spear headed by a lady named Dorothy McEwen. Dorothy began restoring  the ranch to its former glory and had plans to develop a winery.  But she passed away in 2005 before this could be accomplished.  Finally, Thomas and Jarmen Lowder purchased the property in 2006 and set about a complete restoration and development of the winery.  It took 3 years to complete the transformation.  The ranch is now an award-winning venue for weddings, winning awards from Wedding Wire and Wedding Industry Experts.  Currently there are about 21 acres under vine producing Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Rose of Pinot Noir.  The Ranch also produces a small amount of olive oil from 100 olive trees.

Holman Ranch Vineyards 2011 Chardonnay, Carmel Valley

Hollman Ranch Chardonnay 2011

The 2011 Chardonnay starts out with intense acidity.  If you like your wines soft and buttery this is not the wine for you.  After some decanting the initial searing acidity gives way to a more structured crispness and the fruit starts to reveal itself. Both the nose and palate have notes of green apple, pear and nutty oak.  The wine retails for $28 a bottle, and only 350 cases were made.  Weekly Wine Journal rating: 87 points

Holman Ranch Estate Grown Olive Oil, Carmel Valley, California

Hollman Ranch olive oil

I’m a big fan of olive oil and use it in at least one meal a day if not more.  When my wine review sample arrived from Holman ranch, included in the package was a 375ml Port style bottle of olive oil.  I’ve since used up all the oil inside, but since the bottle is so interesting, I’ve kept it, refilling it with olive oil from Costco!  Instead of a screw cap, this bottle has a cork enclosure, with a cap on it which adds a very nice touch.

But how is the olive oil?  It is fantastic!  Use it in salads with balsamic vinegar, use it for dipping bread in.  The flavors are unique.  I read up on the production and the oil is actually a blend of six varieties of olives all estate grown.  Even more interesting is that olive trees produce olives in an alternate bearing fashion.  This means that every second year a harvestable crop happens.  In the case of Holman ranch the 100 trees produce about 600 of these little bottles one year and only about 50 the next.  The olive oil retails for $25 a bottle, and I would say it’s worth every penny.

Hollman Ranch pinot noirHolman Ranch 2011 Pinot Noir, Heather’s Hill, Carmel Valley

This is a slightly austere wine.  The nose and palate consist of bitter strawberry and red cherry with distinct earthy notes.  I tasted this wine over a 24 hour period and it softened up somewhat over time and the fruit became a little riper.   If you are a fan of Pinot Noir you’ll be more accustomed to this style of wine.  The wine retails for $37 and 444 cases were produced.  The vines for this wine are still relatively young, having been planted in 2008.  It will be interesting to see how future vintages compare.  Weekly Wine Journal rating: 87 points

*review samples provided by the winery

http://www.holmanranch.com/

 

 

3 Amazing Dessert wines for the Holidays

We all know that wines can be enjoyed with or without food.  And we know that wines can be paired with food.  But can wines be considered food?  In the case of dessert wines, I think the case can be made.  Instead of eating a bowl of vanilla ice cream and apple pie, try some or all of the following wines as an after dinner dessert, or as an aperitif(before dinner)- and as a wine!

chateau guiraud 1996.jpg

Chateau Guiraud, Sauternes.

Chateau Guiraud is classified as a Premier Cru or “First Growth” in the Bordeaux classification of 1855.  Normally you can expect to spend part of your children’s inheritance for a chance to taste a Premier Cru, but not so with Chateau Guiraud.  I picked up the 1996 vintage at Costco on mark down for about $15!  But that is a ridiculous price.  The 2009 vintage retails for $60 but even that is a steal.  The ’09 was ranked #5 on Wine Spectator’s Top 100 Wines of 2012 and received 96 points.  A 96 point Premier Cru for $60 a bottle?!

 

muscat de beaumes

Paul Jaboulet Aine “Le Chant des Griolles”

This wine can be enjoyed before dinner.  At about $20 – $40 for a 375ml bottle this wine is also a ridiculous deal.  Other than the wine I am about to review next, this is my favorite dessert/aperitif wine.   Something I’ve really gotten into lately is enjoying these dessert wines at the beginning of the evening and at the end.  “Book-ending” your evening with these wines is a very interesting experience.  By saving half of the bottle for the end of the night, you really get to see how the wine evolves, not only from being open, but because of the interaction with your changing palate.  After you’ve eaten a variety of foods and consumed a variety of beverages, returning to the wine you started with will be a very interesting experience.  You may still recognize the wine, but you’ll definitely notice significant changes.

 

chateau-d'yquem-2002

Chateau d’Yquem

Last, but not least, Chateau d’Yquem,  a.k.a. “The Nectar of the Gods”   This is the most amazing thing I have ever consumed, let alone wine.  And “thing” is a terrible way to describe it, but I’m a blogger not a poet laureate.  The critics including Wine Spectator and Robert Parker consistently rate this wine in the 95+ point range.  In fact Robert Parker gave the 2009 vintage a 100 point rating.  But wait there’s more… Wine Spectator rated the 2001 vintage 100 points, the 2011 vintage 99 points and the 2009 vintage 98 points.  Everyone who’s serious about wine knows that points are not the be all and end all, but these ratings are hard to ignore.  But don’t rush out and buy the wine just yet….get ready for some serious sticker shock.  You can expect to pay well over $500 for a half bottle (375ml) for some of the better vintages.  Or you could pick up the 2002 vintage which was only rated a measly 94 points for a meager $150+ per half bottle!

 

 

 

A Visit to Cain Vineyard and Winery

Cain-vineyard

 Cain Vineyard and Winery

Last June I spent five days in Napa Valley and decided to venture off the beaten path to see what I could find.  I looked at Google Earth as I was planning my trip and came across Cain Vineyard and Winery.  It looked pretty far off the beaten path, so I contacted them for a tour and tasting*

Cain is located in the Spring Mountain district towards the north end of Napa Valley and east of St Helena.  Cain is located about as close to the summit as you can get, although there is no summit and no particular mountain named “Spring Mountain”.  Spring mountain refers to a geographical area in the mountains and hills to the east of St. Helena.

I was greeted by Operations Manager J.J. McCarthy and whisked out the front door on a wonderful walk through the oak trees.  The mottled sunlight played on the path and sparkled through the gaps in the canopy of the trees.  We came out on the other side of the trail to an absolutely spectacular view.  I was looking South East over hundreds of acres of vineyards in blocks on the steep slopes.  Some of which appeared to be close to a mile away.  Far in the distance I could see the valley floor.  If you look at the top of this post, that’s the view I was looking at.  The vineyard ranges in elevation from about 1,400 feet to a little over 2,100 feet above sea level.

The land that Cain Vineyards is on can trace its roots back to the 1870’s.  It was once a ranch that grew to over 3,000 acres.  Unfortunately after over 100 years of farming and grazing the operation was no longer viable and the family was forced to abandon operations.  They donated the majority of the land to create the McCormick Sanctuary which is part of the California Park System.

In 1980, the Cains (Jerry and Joyce) purchased 550 acres of the remaining land and began planting vines.  Their vision was to create wines using the traditional Bordeaux varieties.  5 years later, they released their first vintage.  Eventually the Cains retired in 1991 and sole ownership was passed on to their business partners, Jim and Nancy Meadlock.

During the tour J.J. was able to provide some interesting information.  The men who tend to the vineyard are each given their own blocks, which they are responsible for rather than have the group responsible for the entire vineyard.  This way each block is looked after by a single person, who can focus specifically on the unique aspects of the soil, the slope, the drainage, and any challenges and opportunities.  In the mid 1990’s almost the entire vineyard had to be torn up and replaced due to the risk of phylloxera.  The process took 4 years to complete, however there is still one small block that still remains of original root stock.

After the tour we headed back to the winery and took a quick walk through the production facilities and then headed into the tasting room.  There I tasted through Cain’s current offerings as well as some library selections and had a great conversation with J.J.  We talked about all kinds of things, not just wine.  But mostly wine.  If you’re considering heading up to Cain for a tasting or tour try to get J.J. as your host.  He’s warm and friendly, has a great sense of humor and he really knows everything there is to know about the history of the vineyard and the wines.  But mainly he’s just a down to earth humble guy.

The Wines

cain wine bottles

Cain Cuvée, Non Vintage 10, Napa Valley

I lost no time in asking J.J. about non vintage wines.  Usually the hallmark of cheap wine, he assured me that this was not cheap and what the concept is.   The concept is Cain has been working with the same vineyards and same vines, exact same rows for over 20 years for this wine.  “Each year the vines are a year older…”  according to the Cain website.  The NV10 version is a blend of 51% 2010 and 49% 2009 vintages with a mix of 48% Merlot, 32% Cabernet Sauvignon, 14% Cabernet Franc, 6% Petit Verdot.  The fruit was sourced from Gallegos in Rutherford, Stanton in Oakville, Nord-Trio C in Yountville, York Creek from the Spring Mountain District and Truchard in Los Carneros. The alcohol weighs in at 14.1% and the retail price is $34 a bottle.  11,230 cases were produced, but all of that appears to have already been allocated on the Cain website, you’ll have to track it down through wine retailers.

Cain Five, 2009, Spring Mountain District, Napa Valley

Cain Five has a smaller production run with 4,331 cases produced for the ’09 vintage.  The first interesting thing I learned about this wine is that even though it’s the 2009 vintage, it was only released in 2014.  After aging in oak for an undisclosed period of time, the wine was aged a further 2 years in the bottle before being released.  This would be an incredibly difficult thing for a young winery to accomplish, having wine in the bottle ready to sell but not ready to drink and having the discipline to not sell it right away.  The ’09 vintage is a blend of 74% Cabernet Sauvignon, 8% Malbec, 7% Cabernet Franc, 6% Merlot and 5% Petit Verdot.  All the fruit comes from Cain’s Spring Mountain Estate.  This wine is still young and has at least another 10-15 years left in it.  If you’re drinking it any time soon I suggest decanting for an hour, but more importantly drink it slowly over a longer period to see how it changes after opening up.  It’ll be quite rewarding

Cain Five, 2004,  Napa Valley

The most obvious difference between the ’04 and ’09 is noticeable even before you taste the wine.  The labeling.  For some reason the ’04 does not have the Spring Mountain District sub AVA on it’s label.  The fruit is sourced from Cain’s Spring Mountain Estate, it just wasn’t labeled so at the time.  This wine also saw a release date long after the actual harvest.  The wine saw 22 months in oak and a further 2 years in the bottle before being released in 2008.  4,623 cases were produced but this wine is now considered a “Library release”  meaning it is only available on site at the winery itself.  The blend on this wine is 47% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Merlot, 21% Cabernet Franc, 4% Malbec and 3% Petit Verdot.  It was very interesting to be able to compare this with the ’09 vintage and see how aging works on the wine.  The wine had calmed down considerably.  Very refined, classic Napa mountain fruit.  A quick 10 minute decant is all that’s needed, and if you’re visiting the winery you can rest assured they’ll do that for you.

Cain Concept “The Benchland”, 2009 Napa Valley

According to the folks at Cain, “Concept” is “about Cabernet Sauvignon grown in the classical Benchlands of of Napa Valley”.  The fruit is sourced from Oakville:  Beckstoffer’s Missouri Hopper vineyard, Rutherford: Beckstoffer’s George III, Morisoli Borges and Hudson vineyards, Carneros: Hudson vineyard, Atlas Peak: Stagecoach vineyard and St. Helena’s Stanton vineyard.  The blend is 46% Cabernet, 26% Merlot, 15% Cabernet Franc and 13% Petit Verdot.  Although they just stated that this wine is all about the Benchland cab, there is a significant amount of blending going on here.  The simple purpose of doing this is to add complexity.  They’re going for a concept here, the concept – extremely refined and complex Napa Valley Cabernet based wine.  This wine hits on all marks.

Of all the places I’ve visited in Napa Valley over the last several years, the Cain estate was one of the most interesting.  Not only for the spectacularly beautiful scenery but for my one on one tasting withing J.J.   The thing that we tend to forget when trying to enjoy wine is that it’s made so much more enjoyable by drinking it with interesting people.  If you’re considering taking a visit to Cain I recommend requesting a tour with J.J. (I hope he still works there when you do!)

Visit Cain HERE

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Meiomi | 2013 vintages

Meiomi

Not many people can trace their profession back five generations.  Joseph Wagner, however, is one of those people.  Joseph’s father and grandparents founded a little winery called Caymus back in 1971.   Thirty years later at the ripe old age of nineteen, Joseph started work on creating his own single vineyard Pinot Noir label.  He named it Belle Glos, after his grandmother. You might recognize the distinct wine bottle with loads of red wax running down the side.  Not long after, Joseph and the family created the Meiomi brand.  Meiomi is now “the leading luxury Pinot Noir in the U.S.” according to the winery literature.

Meiomi differs from Belle Glos in several ways.  Most obvious is the sourcing of the fruit.  While Belle Glos focuses on creating single vineyard wines, Meiomi’s wines are a blend of three of California’s most well known coastal AVA’s.  Also, Meiomi recently introduced Chardonnay to the lineup, while Belle Glos continues to focus solely on Pinot. Lastly, the price points are a little different.  Belle Glos retails in the $40-$50 range while Meiomi retails in the $20-$25 range.

The American Viticultural Areas (AVA’s) Meiomi sources their fruit from included Sonoma County, Monterey County and Santa Barbara County. Each area imparts it’s distinct characteristics on the wine and helps to create a consistent wine year after year.  A wine that is suited quite well for restaurant settings: consistent, drink now, great price points.

The Wines:

Meiomi 2013 Pinot Noir

37% Monterey County, 34% Sonoma County, 29% Santa Barbara County

Meiomi-3Deep garnet in color with a nose of strawberry and vanilla oak.  The palate takes on plum, cherry and subtle cinnamon notes, with a medium body and a creamy smooth finish.  This wine is a ripe, fruit forward wine and if you’ve enjoyed previous vintages of Meiomi Pinot Noir you should really like this one.  The wine was aged in 100% French oak with 60% of that being new and the alcohol comes in at 13.8%.  Retail price $21.99. Weekly Wine Journal rating 91 points.

 

 

 

Meiomi 2013 Chardonnay

49% Santa Barbara County, 30% Sonoma County, 21% Monterey County

Meiomi-2Golden straw in color with a nose of tropical fruit.  On the palate, pear, pineapple and a little minerality.  This wine underwent malolactic fermentation which gives it a nice creamy mouthfeel and softness.  Alcohol also comes in at 13.8% and retails for $21.99.  Weekly Wine Journal rating 90 points.

 

 

 

 

 

*review samples provided by Copper Cane Wines & Provisions

40 years of friendship in a bottle

Villa San-Juliette

2012 Cabernet Sauvignon | 2013 Sauvignon Blanc

Villa-San-Juliette-wine

I received a small box containing two bottles of wine one day.  I didn’t know who it was from, the winery didn’t seem familiar and I didn’t remember talking to anyone about these wines recently.  I decided to give them a try, knowing nothing.  I didn’t look up the wines website, just poured and decanted for 30 minutes at 68F, starting with the Cabernet. After tasting both wines, each over a 3 day period and with my tasting notes complete I ventured onto the Villa San-Juliette website.

I was very surprised to see a photo of Nigel Lythgoe laughing, holding a glass of wine, to say the least.  Nigel Lythgoe is an international superstar.  He developed and produced “Pop Idol” which was created by Simon Fuller.  Pop idol became a global television show, and in 2002 Nigel moved to the U.S. to develop and produce “American Idol” and he became a producer and judge on “So You Think You Can Dance”.

40 years ago Nigel met Ken Warwick at school and they became friends. Both ended up in the entertainment industry as producers and both moved to the U.S. in 2002 to work on American Idol.  Ken was a producer of the show from 2002-2013 and more recently he has been producing “America’s got talent”

So according to the info on the website, these two guys were having dinner in Vegas back in 2004 and they asked the sommelier to surprise them with a Cabernet.  The Som brought out something that apparently caused them to purchase a 168 acre vineyard in Paso Robles!  That’s probably not exactly how quickly it happened. In my mind’s eye I can see a hilarious scene where the two super stars and their British Accents sounding like judges on So You Think You Can Dance and getting really excited about the wine suddenly declare “We must buy Paso Robles at once!”

The pair bought the vineyard and immediately set about a major overhaul and renovation.  The 168 acre property now has over 130 acres under vine with 11 varieties.  The vineyard also received SIP certification in 2013.  SIP is a very rigorous “Sustainability In Practice” certification and is much more holistic than simple “Green” or “Organic” certifications.

Also in 2013,Matt Ortman was hired as wine maker.  Matt has a long background in wine that comes from his father, who was wine maker at Spring Mountain Vineyards, and a consultant at Cain, Far Niente and Shafer.  Matt auditioned for the “role” of wine maker at Villa San Juliette.  Nigel and Ken and a bunch of wine makers present their wines for a blind tasting and in a scene rather like one of their TV show’s they picked the top contestant!  Matt’s wines took first and second place.

Villa San Juliette 2013 Sauvignon Blanc, Paso Robles

Villa-San-juliette-sauvignon-blanc-bottlePale straw in color with lychee and a bit of honeysuckle and melon on the nose.  The palate is dominated by citrus and searing acidity with notes of lemon grass.  If you like your Sauvignon Blanc to have some kick to it, then this is the wine for you.  The alcohol weighs in at 14.4% and although not over bearing there is a warm glow from the alcohol that manifested itself more on the 2nd and 3rd day of the bottle being open.  Retail price is $14.  A decent wine though not terribly complex, a basic summer wine.  Weekly Wine Journal rating: 86 points.

 

 

 

 

Villa San Juliette 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon, Paso Robles

Villa-San-Juliette-Cabernet-bottleDeep purple in color, with a nose of blackberry and rose petals.  The palate is nice and smooth, rich with currant and black cherry.  The alcohol comes in at 14.5%.  This wine drank nicely all throughout the 3 day tasting period.  The blend on this wine is quite interesting with 80% Cabernet Sauvignon, 9% Alicante Bouschete, 9% Syrah and 3% Cabernet Franc. There is a texture and mouthfeel to the wine vaguely familiar, a little like “Rutherford dust”.  This fine dust like texture is nice, gives the weight a more weighty feel.  This wine would pair equally well with steak as with a meaty tomato based pasta.  The retail price is about $20 but if you can get the wine for $15 this would be an exceptional value.  Weekly Wine Journal Rating: 88 points

 

 

 

*wines provided by the winery for review

 

OZV | Old Zin Vines

2012 OZV | Old Zin Vines

The oldest continually operating winery in Lodi California was purchased by Rudy Maggio and the Reynolds (Don and Rocky) back in 2001.  Lodi, in case you are unfamiliar, has been referred to as “The Zinfandel capital of the world.”  I found that quote on Wikipedia, but the footnote link is broken.  Even though, the description sounds good to me! Currently there are over 80 wineries and over 100,000 acres of premium grapes planted in the Lodi A.V.A.Old-Zin-Vines-bottle

Lodi received its official American Viticultural Area (A.V.A.) status in 1986, and is located at the east end of Sacramento/San Joaquin delta.  The town of Lodi itself is located about 15 miles north of Stockton.  Now that you know where, here’s the why.  The Lodi AVA’s primary characteristics are:  A long growing season, distinctive sandy soils, and cool ocean breezes coming from the San Francisco area which produce a “Mediterranean” Climate.

After Rudy & the Reynolds purchased the Oak Ridge Winery they set about a major transformation starting in 2002.   They rebuilt the winery and today, in addition to making their own wines they operate, custom crush, bottling, labeling, marketing and wine storage facilities.  Rudy and Rocky didn’t start their adventures in the wine business with the purchase of this winery.  In fact, their family farming histories span 5 generations.  In addition to the Oak Ridge Winery they have an impressive collection of heritage vineyards (more on that in future articles).

OZV-wine-labelSo, how about that wine?  The 2012 OZV Old Zin Vines is a simple straight forward wine.  It’s a big ripe jammy Zinfandel.  The palate is dominated by blackberry jam, blackberry compote and blackberry pie filling.  The wine is pleasantly light on the alcohol (13.95%) and doesn’t show any alcoholic “heat” typical of higher octane wines. Although not terribly complex, the wine is a crowd pleaser and at a suggested retail of under $15 it’s a great deal.  Weekly Wine Journal rating: 89 points

Technical Data:

Ph/Ta 3.52/6.8g/L

Blend: 96% Zinfandel, 4% Petite Sirah.

 

 

2 Great Cabernets from B.R. Cohn

BR-Cohn-Wine

I had a chance to meet Dan Cohn for dinner earlier this fall.  We met for an old school steak dinner at the famous Durant’s steakhouse in Phoenix Arizona and of course to taste some wines.

Dan, is the son of Bruce Cohn, founder of the winery.  Bruce is also the manager of a band called The Doobie Brothers, and has been since 1970.  Bruce founded the B.R. Cohn winery in 1984, but he had already been running a vineyard and selling grapes for 10 years by that time.

I sat down in one of the booths at Durant’s and waited for Dan.  He arrived a few minutes after me and greeted me warmly.  The first thing I noticed about Dan is that he is a straight forward completely un-shy (if that’s even a word) kind of guy. Or at least that is how he comes across.  He gets straight to the point, he’s confident but has a sort of boyish sense of humor.  In talking about how he currently runs the whole show for B.R. Cohn, he almost laughed:

“My office is the bedroom I grew up in, like literally the tasting room and offices is the house I grew up in.”   Suddenly he stood up and walked over to another table and greeted the guests.  They had just ordered a bottle of B.R. Cohen with their dinner and he quickly went over and thanked them personally.  The guests were quite old and I could tell they didn’t quite know what to make of this guy.  He was wearing a purple corduroy type blazer and had a paisley shirt and a fat tie on.  He looked like a rock star.  A little later on at another table a young couple also ordered some of his wine and he raised a glass to them, their waiter let them know who he was and they were definitely interested.

Dan talked a little bit about winery life, but for the most part he was persistent in asking me questions.  While not the greatest for pulling information, I did find it flattering and interesting.  Not a lot of wine makers and people in the business want to know about the details of wine blogging.  His interest was genuine and I appreciated that.

When it came time to order, of course we had steak, and paired it with B.R. Cohn’s Olive Hill Estate Cabernet.

B.R. CohnBR-Cohn-olive-hill-bottle 2010 Olive Hill Estate Cabernet, Sonoma

This wine is 100% Cabernet, aged 24 months in French Oak.  The flavors of anise and mint dominate the palate.  This wine would pair very well with Lamb, although it did go quite nicely with the steak as well.  3,000 cases were produced and the suggested retail is $55.

B.R. Cohn 2012 Gold Label, Cabernet SauvignonBR-Cohn-Gold-Label-Bottle

I was surprised by how different the Gold Label is to the Olive Hill.  This wine is solid, still young and will benefit from several hours of decanting in the near future.  The blend is 67% Napa County and 33% Sonoma County, all Cabernet.  Each lot is aged separately in French Oak.  4,800 cases were produced and the suggested retail is $40.  I was surprised to see the price at only $40. This a really good deal for that price.  The wine is ideally suited to prime cuts of beef grilled over an open flame.

B.R. Cohn Website

Durant’s Steakhouse Website

*These wines were provided as review samples

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.

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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.

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 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.

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