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6th annual Festival on the farm

The 6th Annual Arizona Wine Grower’s Association “Festival on the Farm”

Festival on the farm

Saturday November 15th, 2014.
Wine in the desert? You Bet!

Set amongst the 100+ year old pecan groves on The Farm at South Mountain, the event will feature over 30 Arizona wineries, wine education seminars, and a live auction.  The idyllic setting is the legacy of Dwight Heard (yes, from the Heard Museum).   In addition to tasting Arizona wines, guests get a chance to meet and greet the wine makers and principals of the various wineries.  The intimate and casually relaxed atmosphere is a great way to really get to know the wines, the people and new friends!

In addition to the tastings, the festival offers educational seminars and tastings.  You might get to taste some rare wines, as the wine makers often bring wine from their personal collection, not available to the public.  Last year Maynard James Keenan of Caduceus Cellars brought a few bottles of his ’08 Judith, which had long since sold out even at it’s initial offering of $100 a bottle.

Later in the afternoon the live auction becomes the center of attention.  The real live auctioneers are very entertaining even if you’re not bidding.  If you’re bidding you could walk away with some truly amazing steals.  In years past wine maker dinners, wine collections, and amazing vacations have fetched top dollar.

If you’re looking for something more intimate you should check out the Arizona Wine Grower’s Association Awards Banquet.  This event is held the Friday night before the festival.  For $75 you’ll get to taste this year’s Arizona Republic Wine Competition winners paired with amazing dishes at Stone Grove at the Farm at South Mountain.  Stone Grove is located right next to Quiessence restaurant, nestled in  very back of the farm.  Arizona wine makers will be on hand for guests to mingle with throughout the night.  Only 100 tickets are available for the Friday night event.

Whether you’re a sommelier or just getting into wine, there is no better event than this to experience what Arizona wine has to offer.

Visit azwinefestivalatthefarm.com for more information and tickets

Altovinum 2012 Evodia Garnacha Old Vines

photo(151)I  picked up this wine at Costco for about $7.  Doing a little online research I came up empty handed.  There is almost no information on the winery or vineyard.  Except that it is high elevation Garnacha (Grenache) and aged in steel tanks.I generally like the concentrated flavors and tartness of high elevation wines, and this wine is no exception.

The only thing I have to go off of is the wine experience, with no context.  I usually like a little context some back story when enjoying wine. Oh well.

I was actually blown away by this wine, especially on the second day.  This is a big bold, fruit forward wine with kick ass tannins and a nice supple mouth feel.  After decanting for 24 hours the wine showed no signs of weakening and actually the mid palate opened up to reveal more complexity,  a nice mineral component.

This is a straight forward, well made wine.  Not terribly complex but for less than $10 this is a ridiculous deal.

Weekly Wine Journal Rating: 93 points

A Taste of Howell Mountain Wines | 2013

A Taste of Howell Mountain Wines, 2013

charles krug property

The setting for the Taste of Howell Mountain 2013

If you’ve paid even a perfunctory attention to wine over the last 30-40 years you’ve noticed that wine is produced in Napa Valley and you’ve heard of Robert Mondavi.  And if you’ve taken a liking to wine you might know a dozen or more wine names and you might have seen the movie “Sideways”. The more you interested you become the deeper you dig until eventually (hopefully) you discover the taste of Howell Mountain wines.

These mountain fruit wines are not for everyone.  They’re big, they’re tannic, they need time to unwind, but given patience they can develop into something unique and mind blowing.

Throughout the year the Howell Mountain Vintners & Growers Association holds tasting events in the San Fransisco area.  The main event, however, is held every June on the grounds of the historic Charles Krug Winery in St. Helena.

Guests pay $125 to sample wines from over 40 wineries, all of which have wines made from Howell Mountain fruit.  $125 may seem like a lot, but when you consider than many of these wines cost $100-$200 a bottle, its actually a great deal.  In fact, you’ll probably even sample wines that are just not for sale!

At this year’s event I visited as many of the participating wineries as possible, but just like Disneyland, it’s just not possible to experience it all in a day.

Robert Craig wine-maker Stephen Tebb and director of retail sales Rachel Miller

Robert Craig wine-maker Stephen Tebb and director of retail sales Rachel Miller

My first stop was Robert Craig’s table.  I sampled the 2010 Howell Mountain Cabernet from his estate vineyard and the 2010 Howell Mountain Zinfandel which is made from fruit from the neighboring Black Sears Vineyard.  Robert “Bob” was also pouring an unreleased Rose which was really amazing.  The rose was dry and crisp with good floral aromatics.

rose wine bottle

Robert Craig Rose

I managed to get a quick video interview with Stephen Tebb, which you can see here. I also got to chat with Bob a little bit, which is always nice as he’s one of the nicest people you’ll ever meet. Check back for an upcoming article on Robert & Lynn Craig’s 50th wedding anniversary…

Next up was Robert Foley. I sampled the ’09 Howell Mountain Cabernet. “Bob” wasn’t in town, so new assistant wine-maker Eric Reichenbach and Bob’s wife,

Eric and Kelly

Eric and Kelly

Kelly Kehoe were on hand pouring the wine.  Both were a little camera shy, so I couldn’t get them to agree to an outrageous YouTube interview about fine wine.  But I picked up the vibe that they had something to say or announce, something to do with an upcoming new release perhaps?  hmmm…  There will be an article in the near future on my visit to the Robert Foley Estate on Howell Mountain.

Tom Altemus, owner-Red Cap Vineyards

Tom Altemus – Red Cap

On the other side of Robert Craig was Red Cap Vineyards.  I’d heard about them through Instagram and noticed a number of people commenting on how great the wine was so I was eager to try it out.  Owner and grower, Tom Altemus was on hand pouring wines and giving a brief history of Red Cap’s brief history. I sampled both the 2009 Howell Mountain Cab and 2011 Rutherford Sauvignon Blanc. Red Cap’s production levels are also low, even by Howell Mountain standards.  Only 260 cases of the ’08 Cab were produced and only 150 cases of the ’11 Sauv Blanc were produced!  $65 for the Cab and only $22 for Sauv blanc, you’d better get some shipped to you before its all gone!

Napa wine maker

Alejandro Alfaro – Rutherford Grove, Pestoni Family

I ran into wine maker for Rutherford Grove and Pestoni Family Wines, Alejandro Alfaro, whom I’d met the day before at the winery.  I tried out the ’08 Pestoni Estate Reserve Howell Mountain Cab and was really pleasantly surprised. This is a REALLY nice wine.  With only 350 cases made and $65, this wine also won’t last.  I have to say Alejandro is also a very nice and friendly fellow, if ever you’re in Napa, stop by the Rutherford Grove (not to be confused with Rutherford Hill) tasting room and say hi.  Future article on that visit also coming up…

During my happy wandering it was suggested to me that I head over to the Aloft table.  I was filled in that there was quite a bit of buzz surround the new project.  And when I arrived at the table I knew why.  It was there I met and had a long conversation the Marc Mondavi.  He explained that they wanted to create a new project of exceptional quality, and not have it associated with the Charles Krug brand in any way.  So they went with a totally hands off approach.  The grapes come from the 21 acre Cold Springs Vineyard, the Mondavi’s hired Jim Barbour as vineyard manager and Thomas Rivers Brown as wine-maker!

If you don’t know Thomas Rivers Brown, just consider this feat:  In 2008 he scored two 100 point wines from the same vintage from Robert Parker and then in 2010 he scored another two 100 point wines from The Wine Spectator!  He is the youngest wine maker to receive a 100 point rating and also the first American wine maker to receive 100 points from Wine Spectator.  But wait, there’s more!  He received 3 consecutive 100 point scores for both the Shrader CCS and Shrader “Old Sparky”.  Ok, so the critics like him, what’s the wine like?Its remarkably approachable for a mountain wine.  It’s definitely big, but exceptionally smooth and complex.  Nice dark fruit and a hint of earth.  That’s what I wrote down on the back of a business card.  A third of a glass of wine is really not enough to give this or any of these wines a fair taste, I prefer bottle tasting.

The elusive Randy Dunn

The elusive Randy Dunn

Another highlight was when I spotted the elusive Randy Dunn!  Dunn Vineyards has been producing exceptional Howell Mountain Cabernet since 1981.  His wines are some of the most age worthy wines you’ll find in Napa.  Randy was pouring his ’05 Howell Mountain Cab.  This wine is still a baby and will evolve for many years to come.  I asked Randy: “How did you have the foresight to make and save magnums from every vintage so that you..”

He finished my sentence: “So I could give them away to charity?”

“yes”

“Heh” he answered and continued pouring.

18 Magnums

18 Magnums of Dunn Vineyards wine

Randy donates verticals from every vintage he’s released so far to be auctioned at the Taste of Howell mountain every year.  This year he donated 18 magnums of his cab ’83 thru ’99 with a just a few years missing.  In 2011 he donated an 18 year vertical ’89 thru ’07.

Retro Cellars - Kara Dunn

Retro Cellars – Kara Dunn

Randy’s son Mike has his own label – Retro Cellars.  Mike’s wife Kara was on hand pouring and talking about the wines.  I tried out their 09 Howell Mountain Petite Sirah, and it was amazing!  Only 100 cases of this wine were produced, so this was a real treat for me to be able to try it out.  Look out for this wine in the future I think they’re really going to make a name for themselves

Some of the live auction lots

Some of the live auction lots

With all the talking and sipping time really flew by at this years event.  Before I knew it the clock struck 3 and the tasting wrapped up, and guests moved indoors, into the beautifully renovated upstairs dining room of the Charles Krug carriage house.  The live auction of some really amazing wines, wine dinners, and private tastings helped raise a lot of money for Howell Mountain schools and charities.  This year over $110,000 was raised with $73,000 of that coming from the live auction.  Live auction highlights:

Lot#5  Outpost Wine,Dine and Dance.  Table for 10 sold twice at $4000 each

Lot#9 Spence dinner and fine wine: 10 couples, $400/couple

Lot#15  18 Magnums of Dunn Vineyards wine: $7400 (assorted vintages ’83-’09)

Charles Krug carriage house

Inside the Charles Krug carriage house where the live auction was held

All in all, this was a great event.  It was nice to see more wineries and guests than in previous years.  It was also nice to meet Samuel Peters, executive director of the Howell Mountain Vintners and Growers association who was kind enough to petition the board on my behalf and secure a media pass for me.  (FCC disclaimer-I received a ticket to this event)

Next time you see a bottle of wine labelled Howell Mountain, give it a try!

See more photos from the event on the Weekly Wine Journal Facebook Page

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%

http://www.kapcsandywines.com

Wine Review | Cline Cellars | 2012 Viognier, North Coast

Wine Review | Cline Cellars | 2012 Viognier, North Coast

cline celars bottle

Cline Cellars 2012 Viognier

Before I get into the wine review, the history of how Cline Cellars came to be is worth noting.  Current vineyard owner Fred Cline’s maternal grandfather was Valeriano Jacuzzi.  If the name doesn’t ring a bell maybe just the name Jacuzzi does.  Yes, the hot tub/spa/whirlpool.  Fred’s grandfather and six brothers started out as machinists and then pump builders before they finally became synonymous with the whirlpool spa industry.

Fred graduated from U.C. Davies and in 1982 he started Cline Cellars.  Originally his operation was located near Oakley, then in 1991 he relocated to a 350 acre piece of land in Carneros

I recently received several wines for review from the Cline Cellars portfolio and of particular distinction was the 2012 Viognier. This wine was actually very nice.   And at a suggested retail price of only $12 it’s a real bargain.

Most of the grapes for this wine come from the Mendocino region.  This area is prone to cool coastal fog overnight and even into midday.  Ideal for this varietal.

What did I find particularly pleasant about this wine?  The wine is particularly weighty, if that makes sense.  I find most Viogniers to be pleasantly light, whereas this wine came in as a bit of a heavy weight.  And that is a good thing, because the alcohol content is 14%.  If there wasn’t enough deep, intense fruit the alcohol would have really been hot and unpleasant.  As it is now, the alcohol actually added a bit of ripeness to the mix.  The fruit is tropical in nature, with a pretty, flowery/rose like nose.

On the finish, the wine was ripe, rich and delicious.  The acidity is just right, just enough to create a slight zing to smooth and supple mouthfeel.

Weekly Wine Journal Rating: 95 points

Restaurant review | Cork! Chandler, Arizona

Restaurant review | Cork! Chandler, Arizona

About 25 miles south-east of downtown Phoenix, lies a hidden gem in the Sun Lakes area of Chandler.
The glass walled wine cellar

The glass walled wine cellar

At first I was a little skeptical of the location, being that it’s not in the CenPho corridor or Old Town.   But I decided to give it a whirl and I’m glad I did.

Immediately upon entering I knew that this was not just a wine place in a strip mall.  The large glass wall featuring a fully functional wine cellar was one clue.  Another was the wine glasses.  I totally judge a restaurant by its wine glasses.  The bigger the better.

Also, the wine list is all on an iPad.  This is quite interesting.  A few years back I would have preferred a book, but now that better interfaces have improved functionality dramatically I quite like the interactive approach.  It probably makes updating the list a lot more efficient than reprinting the wine book.Cork! Chandler

Cork!’s cuisine is can be described as European.  What this means to hungry Americans is that you should order a starter as well as a main dish, because the portions are reasonable, not super sized.

What you will also find is some more unusual but non the less tasty offerings such as Wild Boar, and braised rabbit, and venison.

Wild Boar

Wild Boar

As far as the wine list goes, I found the list to be pleasantly extensive, but not so big that it was hard to decide what to get.  One wine really popped out at an exceptional value:  Beaulieu Vineyards 2004 Georges DeLatour.  This is a $100-$120 bottle in the grocery store.

Flourless chocolate cake

Flourless chocolate cake

I was just in Las Vegas last week and this wine was $350 a bottle at the steak house I was eating at.  At Cork! it is priced at $160.  If you were celebrating a special occasion that would be a deal that’s hard to pass up.

One last interesting thing to note, and this was passed on to me by the waitress is that the sous chef is gluten intolerant (celiac) — allergic to wheat.  So there are quite a few options on the menu sans gluten.  Including a flourless chocolate cake for dessert which was really and I mean really yummy

Tarbell’s wine experience

Most fine dining establishments will have someone on staff to answer specific wine questions.  Some places will even have a Society of Wine Educators (CWE) “Certified Specialist of Wine” or a Court of Master Sommeliers “Level 1” on hand to help customers with their wine choices.  On a recent Wine about Town trip I learned of a Phoenix based restaurant that is sending ALL of its wait staff to the CWE “Certified Specialist of Wine” training.  A couple of years ago I was invited to the CWE exams held  in Phoenix and I got a first hand look at how difficult the certification process is.  Lets just say that if you pass, you’ll know more than enough to get you through dinner rush at most fine dining establishments.

wine decanter photo

Proper decanting is essential to the enjoyment of wine

The restaurant I am talking about is non other than Phoenix acclaimed Tarbell’s.  Located at 32 street and Camelback in the heart of the Biltmore district, Tarbell’s has been serving customers for over 18 years.  Which is quite an achievement in and of itself.
Owner and chef, Mark Tarbell joined us at the dinner table and we seized the opportunity to pick his brain a little.  One of the foundational elements of his restaurant concept is to provide an opportunity to explore wine and food, together.  Tarbell’s wine list is not the biggest in town, its not large magical leather bound book.  Rather, it is an opportunity to excite the palate, without overwhelming the decision making process.
Chef Tarbell pointed out that if you look at the wine list you will see that there are several different styles of the same wine.  There will be a couple of names you recognise and then there are wines that you don’t -but should!  His carefully selected wine list allows you to experience everything that each varietal has to offer.

Tarbell's phoenix

Angus aged 35 days NY Strip with Pommes Frites

To start I decided to try something completely different.  If you’ve read my blog or this column you’ve probably noticed a tendency toward California cabernets (and a soft spot for ARIZONA wines)  So I went with an inexpensive white wine 2008 Picpoul de Pinet Coteaux Du Languedoc.  I have enjoyed reds from Languedoc in the past and thought I’d try a white. It was a nice, light and refreshing wine that went well the starter salad.  And at $7 a glass it was an exceptional value
For the dinner wine, I decided to enlist the help of General Manager, Matt Lockwood.  I explained what I’d been drinking lately, and wanted to try something a little outside the box, yet still have something that was going to pair well with the red meat we were going to order.
After several suggestions that I had already tried, he suddenly remembered something.  “You have to try this, you’ll LOVE it”

arizona wine blog

2009 Arietta “Quartet”

He suggested the 2009 Arietta “Quartet”.  This was a fantastic suggestion. The wine was different enough to be interesting, and yet still within the bounds of what I thought would be palatable with steak.  The wine is a Bordeaux style blend of 62% Cabernet Sauvignon, 17% Cabernet Franc, 17% Merlot and 4% Petit Verdot.  Only 1,100 cases of this wine were produced, so it was a real treat to get a chance to try it.
For dessert I had Tarbell’s “Beloved Chocolate Mouse” paired with a Taylor Fladgate port.  This was another amazing pairing, that is impossible to describe in words–you’ll just have to try it for yourself!

Wine Review | Robert Mondavi 2009 Fume Blanc

2009 fume blancRobert Mondavi 2009 Fume Blanc, Napa Valley

The Blend: 90% Sauvignon Blanc, 10% Semillon

Alcohol: 13.8%

Grape sourcing: 49% Stag’s Leap district (46% Wappo Hill Vineyard)

33% Oakville(30% To Kalon Vineyard) 13% Napa Valley, 5% Northern Cal

Winemaking:  Hand harvested were whole cluster pressed, 60% barrel fermented in 60 gallon French oak barrels, 40% stainless steel.  Stirred and aged sur lie

Suggested retail: $20

One thing that the Robert Mondavi Winery is good at is consistency.  It’s not the only thing that they’re good at, but it’s good to know that which ever wine you purchase from them will at least be as consistent as the last, and consistently decent.

This wine has a nice flowery nose with a hint of sweet tropical fruit.  The palate consists of white peach and nectarine.  There is a nice amount of crisp acidity on this wine considering the nose would have you believe it is a sweeter wine.  The retail is $20, but if you can find it for $10-$15 you will have yourself an outstanding summer sipper, a crowd pleaser.

Weekly Wine Journal rating: 87 points

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