Wines over $20

Wine Review | Robert Foley Vineyards | 2007 Petite Sirah, Napa

wine blog

2007 Robert Foley Petite Sirah

Robert Foley is  well known for his critically acclaimed Claret, a Bordeaux style red wine. Robert Foley’s Claret has received 94+ points every year since 2001 from both The Wine Advocate and Wine Spectator.  At $110 a bottle most people will find this too steep a price to pay for perfection.  Luckily Robert Foley does make other varietals, which are equally perfect and less than half the price.

The 2007 Petite Sirah from Napa Valley is one such wine.  At roughly $60 retail this wine can be enjoyed by a slightly bigger group of “wine enthusiasts”.

I say “wine enthusiasts” because this is a serious wine. By serious I mean powerful, full bodied, rich, opulent and dark.  This wine is a tannic monster with a minimum of 20 years aging potential.  Don’t let the word tannic fool you though, it’s not an overly acidic wine, in fact it is exceptionally smooth and supple.

The thing that blows me away the most about this wine is the 16.5% alcohol content!  I didn’t check the % before drinking the wine, I rarely do.  Near the end of the bottle on the 2nd night I check and was amazed.  There is no heat whatsoever and just a hint of ripeness.  An overly ripe almost raisin like flavor is the hallmark of overly alcoholic poorly made fruit bombs. The ripeness in this wine is so faint as to be barely noticeable and is perfectly balanced by the tannins.

Robert Foley vineyards produce relatively small quantities of wine (less than 100 cases of their Howell Mountain Cabernet are produced every year)  there is still some 2007 Petite Sirah available, my advice is:

If you are a wine nerd/enthusiast like me, you will want to have this wine in your collection.

Weekly Wine Journal rating: 98 points

2007 Robert Foley Petite Sirah

Review | Taste of Howell Mountain 2011

Charles Krug Carriage house

Taste of Howell Mountain 2011, at the Charles Krug winery

There comes a time in every wine drinkers “career” that they experience wine at a whole new level.  The experience is not a singularity, and the wine lover will begin a new journey in search of repeat adventures on this new plateau.   For me, The Taste of Howell Mountain was one of these events.

The Taste of Howell Mountain was held on June 18th in the carriage house and on the stunningly beautiful and lush grounds of the Charles Krug winery in St. Helena, Napa Valley.  The Charles Krug Winery’s 850 acre estate surrounded the grove of massive oak trees which provided much needed shade.

Charles Krug winery

View from the balcony

Guests paid $125 a ticket to attend the event to raise money for the Howell Mountain elementary school.  There were silent auction items, and even a pinata worth about $400 in wine prizes.  But the real money raiser was the live auction which got underway at 3pm in the grand ballroom upstairs in the carriage house.  Randy Dunn Vineyards had two stunning lots up for auction: a 27 year vertical of 750ml bottles and a 19 year vertical of magnums, both from his Howell Mountain Estate.

In all, 32 Howell Mountain Wineries were pouring including Outpost, O’Shaughnessy, Robert Craig, Robert Foley, Black Sears, Lamborn and Cade.

Outpost winery

Outpost Winery

I experienced a taste overload shortly after visiting my first table, Outpost.  They were pouring  2008 Howell Mountain Grenache, Zinfandel and Cabernet.  All three were absolutely outstanding and are sold out!

One of the things I noticed about a lot of the wines I was drinking was how incredibly rare they were.  Most producers produced less than 1,000 cases of the wines they were offering.  Many producers produce less than 500 cases.  These wines are simply not available in most specialty wine shops let alone a grocery store.  Most are sold exclusively through mailing lists and prices start at around $75 a bottle

carriage house charles krug

The live auction

In addition, the Howell Mountain AVA is quite remote and private.  Most of the vineyards are not open to the public and tastings if done at all, are by appointment only.

Over a wine lovers lifetime they will experience many pivotal moments in wine.  For me a recent moment was ’83 Chateau d’Yquem.  The taste of Howell Mountain was not unlike that life changing event.  Simply amazing wines, beautiful setting, and to benefit children?  It couldn’t have been a better day

Check out my Facebook Page for more photos of the event!

Wine Review | Robert Mondavi 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley

Robert Mondavi, 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley

Blend: 85% Cabernet, 7% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Franc, 2% Syrah, 1% Petit Verdot

Alcohol: 15.3%

Residual Sugar: .14 g/L

Total acid: .6 g/L

Final pH: 3.69

Grape Sourcing: 100% Napa Valley (40% To Kalon Vineyard)

Price: suggested retail $28

Robert Mondavi’s Napa Cab is usually a safe bet when you’re at a restaurant and don’t recognize the other brands on the wine list.  This wine can be found on most wine lists across the country and usually at a fair price, considering the quality.

I’ve had this wine in many different restaurants and also had many different vintages of this wine.  While the wine is not mind blowing amazing, it is good and consistently good.  Year after year this wine delivers, and considering it’s actually a large production wine, the consistency is an achievement.

So, how does this vintage fair?  The nose consists of a mix of cherries and plums, not explosive but it is noticeable.  The palate transitions into a standard Napa Valley fair of ripe fruit.  Blackberry and black cherry dominate with a bit of oak and spice in the back ground.  A smooth finish, well balanced.  If you can find this wine for around $15-$20 it will be a good find.

Weekly Wine Journal rating 88 points

Wine review | d’Arenberg 2005 “The Dead Arm”

shiraz

95 Points Robert Parker $50-$75

d’Arenberg 2005 “The Dead Arm” McLaren Vale,  South Australia

Varietal:  100% McLaren Vale Shiraz

Alcohol: 14.5%

Production: ? d’Arenberg does not disclose production levels of its wines

Aging: 21 months new and used French Oak.

Price: $50-$75

If you haven’t heard of d’Arenberg, then you are missing out on some of the best Australian wine available.  d’Arenberg was founded in 1912, and is one of Australia’s most renowned producers.  The Dead Arm is their flagship wine.

The name Dead Arm actually comes from a fungal disease that effects vines all over the world.  The disease effects one half of the wine, basically reducing it to dead wood, The Dead Arm is that side of the vine.  Most vineyards dig up these vines and start over.  However d’Arenberg decided to harvest the fruit left on the other side, the side not destroyed.  The vines are very low yield and the fruit is tiny and super concentrated.  The vines are 80-120 years old and the grapes are harvested by hand.

98 Points Weekly Wine Journal

The production:  open top fermentation, the must is not plunged or pumped while fermentation takes place. Only after primary fermentation is the must pressed, and it is done so in the traditional way; by foot!  After foot pressing, the wine is basket pressed and then transferred to oak barrels for over 20 months.  Finally each barrel is assessed for its quality and only the best barrels are used to make the wine.

The Dead Arm has received a ton of critical acclaim. In fact between 1996 and 2006 Robert Parker awarded this wine four 95 point ratings, three 96 point ratings and one 98 point rating.

So how does the 2005 vintage stack up.  At this point the only other vintage I have to compare it against is the 2003.  I have to say that the ’05 is superior, even though they both received 95 points from Parker.

First off the wine is BLACK. and I mean black.  There is a fair amount of sediment present, nothing that a bit of decanting or a strainer can’t remedy.  I think the prescense of sediment is actually a good thing, a foreshadowing.

The nose is intense, full of black fruit, peppery, almost a tar or creosote like burn in the nostrils.  Followed by hints of star anise.

The palate is explosive.  The first sip seemed to excite every single taste bud on my tongue, seemed to electrify my palate.  I literally said “WOW!” out loud. Hands down the best Shiraz I’ve ever had.  Not that I’ve had thousands, but I’ve been enjoying Australian Shiraz at different price points for over 20 years now and this is the creme de la creme.

The palate consists of a subtle sour cherry liqueur which is then vaporized by a dark chocolate pepper and cigar smoke finish.  The wine is not sweet, but there is a tiny element of ripe fruit intermingled in the palate.  Parker in his review in 2007 said that this wine could benefit from 3-5 years of cellaring.  Well it is 2011 now, 4 year later and the wine is still fairly astringent.  This becomes noticeable later on after you have had a few glasses.  It is such a concentrated powerful wine it almost hurts, almost, but it doesn’t.  Another feature that is thankfully absent is the “Aussie fruit bomb” characteristic.  It’s not a sweet jammy syrupy wine.  It is dry, concentrated, complex and tannic, and extremely well balanced.

If you are a pinot noir drinker, this wine will punish you, however if you are a fan of the bigger bolder, and drier wines I think this will be exactly what you are looking for.

Weekly Wine Journal rating: 98 points

Taste of Howell Mountain 2011 | June 18th | St. Helena

Napa wine tastingTaste of Howell Mountain 2011
I will be attending the Taste of Howell Mountain 2011 this year as a guest of the Howell Mountain Vintners and Growers Association.  I just received the press release on the event and have posted it below.  I will be posting a review of the event and will be tweeting live from the event. Follow The Weekly Wine Journal on Twitter for live updates
Angwin, CA – HMVGA President Frank Dotzler of Outpost Winery announced today that a special consumer wine tasting, Taste of Howell Mountain, will be held in conjunction with a charity silent and live auction on Saturday, June 18th at the Charles Krug Winery, 2800 Main St. in St. Helena.  Currently available  wines will be showcased by 32 wineries who are members of the association.

Aside from being the first sub-appellation within Napa Valley to be officially recognized by the federal government, Howell Mountain is also one of the most exclusive and sometimes elusive of appellations.  Production from primarily family-owned wineries is quite small, though of notoriously high quality, and the wines are sometimes hard to find on store shelves.  That circumstance renders this once-a-year only consumer tasting even more special as guests will be able to sample current release wines from nearly all the mountain’s producers.

During the wine tasting from noon to 5 pm, there will also be a silent auction of dozens of wines and other interesting items for bid from noon to 3 pm.  This will be followed by a live auction upstairs in the Carriage House at 3 pm.  The live auction includes a line-up of 29 auction lots featuring many “wine lifestyle events” such as weekends in wine country and special, private events at member wineries, an fly fishing trip at Mammoth Lake, not one but two library vertical collections from Randy Dunn going back to 1982, a great farmer’s-market-to-table Julia/Julie day for foodies, large format wine bottles, etc.

Short List of Auction Items

Proceeds from both the silent and live auction go to the Howell Mountain Education Foundation which benefits the Howell Mountain Elementary School in Angwin where the student population has doubled in recent years.  A major renovation of this tiny school founded in 1886 was completed three years ago, only to find that enrollment filled the new school to overflowing!

Now in its 15th year, the Taste of Howell Mountain will be held in the newly remodeled historic Carriage House at the Charles Krug Winery hosted by the Peter Mondavi family.    With its sweeping lawn and gracious Carriage House building, it is a natural and enjoyable setting for this casual event which includes gourmet appetizers as well as an amazing slate of wines.  This year’s theme is Fiesta! and it promises to carry on the tradition of casual elegance, great wine, and good company.

A full list of the wineries pouring is below.  Tickets are $125 per person and are available now online at www.howellmountain.org or you can order by phone at 707-965-2665.

Wineries Pouring at 2011 Taste of Howell Mountain

Arkenstone Vienyards Black Sears Blue Hall Vineyard Beringer Wine Estate

Bremer Family Winery Cade Winery Charles Krug Winery Cimarossa Vineyards

Cornerstone Cellars D-Cubed Duckhorn Vineyards Dunn Vineyards

Haber Vineyards Highlands Winery Howell at the Moon La Jota Winery

Lamborn Family Vineyards Notre Vin Winery O’Shaughnessy Winery

Outpost Winery Pina Napa Valley Red Cap Vineyards Retro Cellars

Robert Craig Wine Robert Foley Vineyards Roberts + Rogers

Rutherford Grove Spence\ St. Clement Winery

Summit Lake Vineyards & Winery W.H. Smith Wines

White Cottage Ranch Winery

Taste of Howell Mountain 2011 | Auction catalog

This is a short list of the items up for auction at the Taste of Howell Mountain 2011.  Tickets to the event are $125, and can be purchased at www.howellmountain.org or by calling 707 965 2665

1 – Spend the day with La Jota winemaker, Chris Carpenter.  Tasting of La Jota’s wines with Chris and he will select 12 bottles for you to take home.  Dinner with Chris at a premier Napa restaurant with a show at one of Napa’s musical venues to wrap up the evening.  Take home a magnum of 2007 La Jota HM Cabernet tonight.  For 4 people.

2 – Two days and two nights of guided fly fishing at Mammoth Lakes, accommodations provided.  Includes a case of Black Sears wine.  For 4 people.

3 – 3 magnums from Araujo, Bressler, & Cain. From HL Vineyards, a 750 ml, 1.5L, and 3L.

4 – Private tour & tasting at St. Clement Winery with winemaker Danielle Cyrot, includes a magnum of Oroppas.  Then, go up Howell Mountain for a “learn to blend” experience at Bremer Family Vineyards.  For 8 people.

5 – Lunch, an ATV ride and a vertical tasting at Cimarossa Vineyards with owner, Dino Dina.  Also, a vertical of 3 magnums from O’Shaughnessy signed by winemaker Sean Capiaux.  For 4 people.

 6 – Dinner with Marc & Janice Mondavi at their home on Howell Mountain with wines from Charles Krug and Rocky Ridge.  Includes a magnum of Krug to take home tonight.  For 8 people.

7 – Three 3 litre bottles of HM Cabernet Sauvignon – Notre Vin, Robert Foley, & Robert Craig.

8 – Robert Craig vertical – 10 bottles of Howell Mountain Cabernet from 1999-2008.  Lunch or dinner for 2 people at the Wine Spectator Greystone Restaurant in the Culinary Institute in St. Helena.

9 – Hands-on cooking class and luncheon at Spence.  Start at the Farmer’s market with Jackie Spence (Spence Vineyards) and Kara Dunn (Retro Cellars) and choose your ingredients.  Go back to Spence for a cooking lesson followed by lunch with wines from Spence, Dunn, and Retro.  Take home tonight a library magnum of Spence HM Cabernet and 3 750ml bottles of Beringer Steinhauser Ranch HM Cabernet.  For 8 people.

10 – Tour at Arkenstone, then a picnic at Blue Hall Vineyards and vertical tasting with the winemaker.  Take home tonight a (three-year vertical ’06 ’07 ’08 of Arkenstone Obsidian magnums and three 750ml bottles of ’08 Arkenstone Sauvignon Blanc.  For 4 people

11 – Steak dinner with the 4 Pina brothers in the Pina Napa Valley cellars. Take home tonight one magnum of 2007 Pina Cabernet Sauvignon Howell Mtn. Buckeye Vineyard.  For 8 people

 12 – Lunch and golf at Meadowood.  Private tour & tasting at White cottage Ranch.  Take home tonight from White Cottage – three 750ml bottles, a 3L and a 6L – all HM Cabernet.  For 2 people.

13 – 25 bottles of library wines from Randy Dunn.  1982 through 2007 – all Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon.

14 – Picnic lunch and tour at W. H. Smith with WH Smith wines.  For 10 people

 15 – 4 wheeling adventure with the Dunn Family to their special place in the Howell Mountain back country for a Mexican picnic and killer margaritas.  Take home tonight 6 bottles (750 ml) from Retro Cellars (Petite Syrah) and a magnum of Dunn (2006), HM Cabernet Sauvignon.  For 6 people.

 16 – Argentinian BBQ for 20 at Red Cap Vineyards.  Multiple winner lot.  Each ticket is $200 – bid on one or more.  Dinner with winemaker Tom Altemus.  Taste his brand new HM Sauvignon Blanc.  Will occur on Saturday, August 20, 2011.

17 – Two 6L bottles from Duckhorn – 1996 Merlot & 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon

18 – Lunch at Redd in Yountville and a tasting at Cornerstone Cellars featuring 5 pre-2000 vintages.  For 4 people.  Take home tonight a 3L of 2005 Cornerstone HM Cabernet.

 19 – A table for 8 at Summit Lake’s annual pig roast.  Winner takes home tonight a full, mixed case of Summit Lake wines.

20 – Three 750’s (Diamond Terrace).  Two magnums (D-Cubed & Del Dotto + cave tour). One 3L (D-Cubed).  One 5L (Dunn Vineyards).

 21 – Tour & picnic for 6 at Lamborn Family Vineyards & a giclee painting of Napa Valley by famed winemaker Heidi Barrett.  Also includes a 3L of Lamborn HM Cabernet & a magnum of Heidi’s La Sirena Santa Ynez Syrah.

22 – One 6L (Shafer Merlot) and six magnums (Abreu, Carver Sutro, Dalle Valle, Gemstone, Jones, & Turley)

 23 – A picnic in the vineyards for 4 at Rutherford Grove Winery plus 8 bottles (750 ml) from Rutherford Grove, Black Sears & Atlas Peak, a magnum from Rutherford Grove, and a 3L from Highlands.

 24 – Dinner for 6 in San Francisco at Up Country restaurant with wines from Cakebread and Howell at the Moon (owner Marc Cohen also owns Up Country restaurant).

25 – 18 magnums from Randy Dunn.  1989 through 2007 of HM Cabernet Sauvignon.

26

 Part A – Wine, Dine, & Dance at Outpost Winery.  Multiple winner lot.  30 seats available at $200 each.    Will occur on Saturday, September 10, 2011.  A wonderful evening of food by Richard Haake and wines by Thomas Rivers Brown.

Part B – One couple can bid on staying at the winery the weekend of the dinner.  Includes 2 night’s accommodations in the winery guest house, a harvest experience, a private tour & tasting, lunch prepared by the evening’s chef and four 3L bottles from Outpost.

27 – Lunch and wine for 4 at Beringer’s Hudson House.  Take home tonight a 3L bottle of Beringer Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon.

28 – Limousine and private picnic lunch at Chappellet meadow overlooking Lake Hennessey.  Vineyard tour and private tasting.  Limousine service to dinner at any of Cindy Pawlcyn’s restaurants in St. Helena (Go Fish, Cindy’s Backstreet Kitchen, or Mustard’s) paired with Chapellet wine.  One night’s accommodation at Hotel Yountville.  For 2 people.

29 – Squaw Valley 2-night stay for 2 people with wine from CADE.  Includes wine with dinner at the Plumpjack Café Squaw Valley.  Additionally, winner is invited to a complimentary tour & tasting at Plumpjack in Oakville and CADE Winery on Howell Mountain.  Take home a 6L of CADE HM Cabernet Sauvignon.

Two amazing wines from Pomerol, France

You may  have heard of Bordeaux, but what about Pomerol?  Where is it? What is it?  For the average American wine consumer French wine remains a mystery, with classifications, and first growth and Chateau’s and regions.  Not to mention the wine is not labelled as Cabernet or Merlot.

First, lets locate Pomerol.  There it is!  Not far from the city of Bordeaux, the tiny commune is less than 3 square miles.  Pomerol is a sub-region of the “right bank” of Bordeaus but Pomerol differs from Bordeaux in that there is no official classification system. Read this Wikipedia article about wine classification in France if you don’t already know what it is.

The wines of Pomerol are typically less tannic and rely more heavily on Merlot.  The other two varieties of grape used are Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon.

Over the past year I have managed to get my hands on some hard to find, and amazing examples of Pomerol produced wine.  First let me say that these wines are not cheap.  If you are looking for an affordable summer sipper these are not them.  But if you are looking for a serious wine for a special occaision these two wines are worth considering.  I have tried several bottles of each wine.

$90 93 points

Chateau Nenin 2005 Pomerol

Blend: 74% Merlot, 26% Cabernet Franc

Alcohol: 14.2%

Most reviews of this wine suggest big fat tannins, monster tannins and a rich concentration of black fruit.  I didn’t taste this earlier on, and in fact the wine had a few years in the bottle by the time I tried it.  I found the tannins to be a lot more subtle than I expected.  The fruit was deliciously integrated with a Thyme like spice to it.  Very smooth. Pair this wine with Prime Filet Mignon (tenderloin) Wine Enthusiast 91 points, Wine Advocate 92 points, Wine Spectator 93 points. Weekly Wine Journal rating…93 points

Price: $90.  Pricing on this wine is all over the map, but generally if you were to walk into a retail store you could expect to pay around $90.  Online prices vary.

$125 91-93 points "La Reserve"

Clos l’Eglise 2006 “La Reserve”

Blend: 80% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Franc

Price: $140.  Once again prices vary, generally between $90-$150 online

Production: 2,300 cases

Vinification:
“The wine is made according to traditional methods. It is for this reason that Sylviane Garcin-Cathiard chose wooden vats for Clos L’Eglise. Each batch is treated separately in a thermostat-regulated vat of 60 hl. Manual pigeage has been re-introduced; the pulp and mass of skins, known as chapeau, floats to the top during fermentation and is punched down manually several times a day. The wine is left in fermenting vats for a long time, and malolactic fermentation is carried out in 100% new barrels. Ageing lasts between 16 to 18 months depending on the vintage.” -Winemaker

VERY interesting thing to note about this particular wine:  This wine is the result of a collaboration between the winery and Gary Vaynerchuk.  He helped with the blending and as a result wine library is the exclusive retailer of this wine in the United States. This is not the exact same wine as the regular Clos l’Eglise Pomerol as evidenced by the difference in labelling.

"Regular Clos l'eglise pomerol"

This wine is the bigger and bolder of the two.  Right now, it is still fairly young.  The tannins are edgy and grippy, like cinnamon but there is definitely a great concentration of fruit and terroir to pull it through.  Cedar spice and black currants and the finish goes on forever.  Pair this wine with a Prime New York Strip.  The tannins will work well with the texture of this particular cut of meat. Weekly Wine Journal rating: 93 points

While both of these wines are well out of the budget for the average casual consumer of wine, I think that once you make the decision to go deep, to spend some big bucks and take your wine to the next level, these are two wines that won’t disappoint.


Affordable California Cult Wines | Robert Craig

Robert Craig Wine label

96 points, Robert Parker

The 5th and final (for now) installment of my Affordable Cult California Wines series brings us to the Howell Mountain District of Napa.  At $50 and up per bottle, this wine is by far the most expensive of series and a lot of people would consider it to be profoundly unaffordable.  However, if you put the price in the context of its appellation, total production, and ratings, it is one of the best values coming out of California.

Let’s start with a quick look at the Howell Mountain A.V.A.  It is home to well known brands like Cakebread, Duckhorn, and Robert Foley.  Robert Foley produces a Howell Mountain Cabernet (available only through lottery) and a Claret.  The 2001 Robert Foley Claret received 99 points from Robert Parker and the 2007 vintage received 98 points.  Unfortunately, these wines only start at $110 a bottle, giving them “Cult” status, but not “affordable cult” status. There is however another Robert in the Howell Mountain district whose wines are more affordable and equally legendary.
Before we get to him, let’s take a closer look at the area.  Howell Mountain became an A.V.A back in 1983, making it the first sub appellation of Napa. The history of vines on Howell Mountain date back to the 1880’s.  Howell Mountain is located in the northeast corner of Napa in the Vaca mountains with the elevation of its vineyards ranging between 1,400 and 2,200 feet above sea level. The elevation means that the vines are located above the fog line, allowing ample access to sunlight, as well as cooler days and warmer nights. There are two types of soil in the Howell Mountain A.V.A: volcanic ash, also known as “Tuff’ and a dry red clay, both of which are not nutrient rich.  As if that is not enough, the terrain is rocky and porous.  This environment places stress on its vines, which fits right in with the “High Risk, High Reward” philosophy of viticulture.  Stressing the vines produces smaller harvests and smaller berries, but the fruit that is produced is considered superior, more concentrated, intense and complex.
Which other Robert am I talking about?  Robert Craig.  The Robert Craig Winery is located in the very north end of the Howell Mountain District. Robert Craig has been making wine for the better part of 30 years.  Craig was actually in real estate-asset managment in the ’70’s and in 1978 he formed a group and purchased a 300 acre vineyard on Mt. Veeder. Three years later they sold the vineyard to Donald Hess. Hess asked Craig to stay on and he became the general manager of the brand new, well-known Hess Collection Winery.  In 1991 Craig also established the Pym Rae Vineyard, and in 1992, with the help of friends, he finally established his very own vineyard.
Robert Craig Winery has recently been receiving rave reviews.  In 2006, Wine Spectator ranked Robert Craig one of the top 50 Napa producers based on the last 15 years of ratings.  Speaking of ratings, how about the ratings from Robert Parker on the 2007 vintage?  Mt. Veeder Cabernet Sauvignon: 93 points. Spring Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon: 94 points. Affinity: 96 points. Finally, Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon: 96 points!  The ‘07 Howell Mountain Cabernet is not yet available on the website, so instead, why not try the ‘06 vintage while you wait?
The blend is 84% Cabernet, 12% Merlot and 4% Cabernet Franc.  The wine saw 20 months in French oak, 75% new.  The alcohol comes in at 14.8% and production was a minute 1,240 cases.

Robert Craig and I

If the $70 price tag is too rich for your blood, you could pick up a bottle of the 2007 Affinity for only $48!  The Affinity should be much more widely available, with a more accessible but still small 5,700 cases produced.

Want to read about my prior four Affordable Cult California Wines? They can be found below. Let me know if you have had the chance to taste any of these, and if you’d agree with me. Also, do you have any wines that you consider to be “Affordable California Cult” wines? I’d love to know about ‘em!

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 Chwine.com 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

Affordable California Cult Wines | Von Strasser

Von Strasser Diamond Mountain Reserve

The "Reserve" labels will cost you $150+ a bottle, but you can pick up the DMD labels for around $50

The fourth installment of “Affordable California Cult Wines” takes us to the Diamond Mountain District of Napa. Most everyone who follows Napa wines has heard of Oakville, Stag’s Leap and Rutherford Districts but what about the districts that make up the Eastern Vaca Mountain Range in the Mayacamas?  There are five: Atlas Peak, Mt. Veeder, Howell Mountain, Spring Mountain and the newest of the 5, Diamond Mountain District (DMD) which became an AVA in 2001. Although the AVA is 5,000 acres, only 500 acres are planted with vines, most of which is Cabernet, making it the smallest of the Napa sub appellations.   Diamond Mountain itself is named after the volcanic glass crystals found in its soil. With a climate that is moderately warm, it is significantly cooler than the Napa Valley floor during the day, but slightly warmer at night.  As the name suggests, this is a higher elevation region, starting at 400 feet all the way up to 2,200 feet. The wines are generally more tannic than the wines produced on the valley floor. Some of the more well known wineries and vineyards from DMD include Sterling Vineyards and Schramsberg Vineyards. They have great structure and aging potential. Cabernet Sauvignon is the predominant variety but according to The Wine News it is also home to the greatest concentration of Petit Verdot in Napa.

The Von Strasser vineyard is home to the second largest planting of Petit Verdot in the Diamond Mountain District. The winery is known for using high doses of Petite Verdot in their blends, sometimes upwards of 44%. While it may seem like a wacky blend to some, Rudy Von Strasser has plenty of wine making credentials to put your mind at ease. His wine career began after graduating UC Davis in 1985 and working as an intern at none other than Chateau Lafite-Rothschild.  Rudy returned to Napa a year later and was hired by Trefethen Wines. From there he went to Newton, and by 1990 he managed to purchase the Roddis Estate Winery located on Diamond Mountain. The Von Strasser brand has a 3 tier system: “Reserve” which is only made in great vintages, “Single Vineyard”, and “DMD”, or Diamond Mountain District.  While the first two tiers can run upwards of $100+ a bottle, the Diamond Mountain District Cabernet is available at a very reasonable $50, direct from the winery website.
The 2006 Von Strasser Cabernet Diamond Mountain District is a blend of 85% Cabernet, 6% Malbec, 5% Petit Verdot, 2% Zinfandel and 2% Merlot. The alcohol is a moderate 13.5%, with a Bordeaux-like structure, along with tart blackberry and cherry fruit encompassed by smoky oak. The tannins are more intense than most Napa Cabs, yet the wine is still wonderfully balanced and has a nice lush mouth-feel.  Wine Enthusiast gave this wine 91 points and they estimate that the wine should continue to develop through 2012, which is just around the corner.  You won’t have to wait too long for this wine to reach its peak.  The wine was aged for 22 months in 100% French oak, 30% of which were new barrels. A miniscule but attainable 2,465 cases produced, making this wine the most accessible in my ‘Affordable California Cults’ series wines. Von Strasser is starting to get some rave reviews and was recently crowned Value Winery of the year (2009) by Wine & Spirits magazine, to go alongside their Wine & Spirits Winery of the Year award, received in 2005. Get your hands on Von Strasser’s wines now, before more wine publication awards send its prices high and its availability low!
Edited by Jon Troutman