california wine

Bright new packaging for Girasole Vineyards

california organic wineGirasole Vineyards unveiled new packaging for their 2010 vintage on May 1st.  Girasole, along with Barra of Mendocino are owned by Barra Family Wines. The Barra family has been growing grapes in the area since 1955.

“My family has been farming without the use of synthetic fertilizers or pesticides since the 1950’s” says Shelley Maly, VP of Sales & Marketing and daughter of founders Charlie and Martha Barra.  The family owns and farms more than 200 acres of CCOF certified organically grown grapes. All grapes are Estate Grown and hand picked.

The latest vintage (2010) includes a Pinot Noir and a Chardonnay.

The 2010 Pinot Noir has a nice ruby hue, reminiscent of cranberry juice.  The nose has hints of strawberry and spice. The palate is solid, while not terribly complex it is solid, strawberry bright red cherry and a little earthiness and the finish.  Alcohol weighs in at 13.5%, suggested retail price is $16

Weekly Wine Journal rating: 87 points

california organic wineThe 2010 Chardonnay is a light straw color.  The nose is a little difficult to detect at first, but after the wine opens up and warms up a little there are hints of tropical fruit and lemon.  The palate is light and creamy and fruit driven.  There is a bit of toasty oak on the back end.  There is a decent amount of acidity which really helps lift this wine, I think this could end up being a great value summer sipper this year.  Alcohol is 13.5% and suggested retail is $13

Weekly Wine Journal rating 87 points.

Affordable California Cult Wines | Shulz Cellars

California cult wineThis is the third installment in a five part series featuring some Affordable California Cult wines. Their track record, quality, and small production make these collector’s items, but their price tags are what really differentiate them in a sea of overpriced California wines.

Along the west side border of Napa, just off of the Mayacamas mountain region, is the Mt. Veeder region. Responsible for a small fraction of the Valley’s wines, Mt. Veeder doesn’t receive the love and attention that some better known counterpart regions, like Oakville and St. Helena, but it is quietly turning out world class wines from its high elevations. It should come as no surprise, since people have been growing grapes on Mt. Veeder since the 1860’s. Despite the rich history, it wasn’t until 1993 that Mt. Veeder became a formally recognized AVA (American Viticultural Area).
Located north of Carneros and west of Oak Knoll, Yountville and Oakville, the mountain is rugged, steep, and faces the cool Pacific currents. The berries of Mt. Veeder are relatively small due to the cool fog and high elevations, which results in wines of intense fruit flavor and smoother tannins. Of the 15,000 acres that make up the Mt. Veeder, only 1,000 acres are planted to vineyards.  Some of the vineyards are on slopes as steep as 30 Degrees – you could ski down these bad boys!
Though few people know much about Mt. Veeder, it has quietly produced many well known wines, including Hess and Mayacamas Vineyards. Add to that list Schulz Cellars, which was formed in 2005 by John and Michelle Schluz.  Their path to owning a wine company includes significant sales background rather than just a pure wine making background.  John spent 10 years in sales with Franciscan and Michelle spent 5 years in sales with up-and-coming Cliff Lede.  Currently John does sales consulting for a number of ultra premium Napa wineries and Michelle is the Direct to Consumer marketing manager for Arrowood winery and Matanzas Creek Winery.
This winning combination of sales and wine making experience was a recipe for success. The Schulz’s were lucky enough to befriend John and Ashely Derr who own Lampyridae Vineyard, located at about 2,500 feet, near the summit of Mt Veeder. The highest vineyard in the entire Mayacamas range, Lampyridae is Latin for firefly, which is what the lights of San Fransisco look like at night from the vineyard.  This vineyard doesn’t have a shabby background, as it is also a contributing component for Beringer’s (legendary) Private Reserve Cabernet.  The high elevation vineyard produces smaller even more intense fruit with bolder tannins.
So with those two backgrounds in mind, I present to you:
2007 Shulz Cellars Mt. Veeder Zinfandel
This is 100% Zinfandel, aged in 50% French and 50% American Oak (50% of which was new oak) for a total of 18 months.  The alcohol rings in at a tolerable 14.7%, not nearly as high as many neighboring zinfandels out there.  In my last post I talked about the Venge Scout’s Honor.  This wine is almost the polar opposite.  If you don’t like the ripe Lodi style of Zinfandel then you will probably love this wine.  It has a formidable nose of clove and spices, and an intense palate full of cherry, blackberry, and big, chewy tannins. Available for under $30, this wine tastes that much sweeter. And with only 175 cases produced, it’s justified its title as an affordable California Cult selection.

Affordable California Cult Wines | Venge Vineyards

“California Cult Wines” usually connote images of big wigs spending massive amounts of money, bidding on wines at auction. I was lucky enough to attend a tasting that made me rethink the definition of Cult Wine. This is the second installment of a five part series, where I profile wineries making small amounts of incredible quality wines, at very reasonable prices.

Venge Vineyards was founded in 1992 by Nils Venge, who is known as “The King of Cabernet”.  After graduating UC Davis with a Bachelor of Science in Grape Vine Viticulture, Nils took a job at well known Sterling Vineyards. In 1971 he was hired by Villa Mount Eden as their first wine maker.  While there he made the 1974 and 1978 vintages of Cabernet which put Villa Mount Eden on the map. While at Villa Mount Eden, Nils and his father in law bought a 17 acre Cabernet Vineyard right in the heart of Oakville.  The vineyard supplied Villa Mount Eden with its grapes and is now surrounded by other big names such as Silver Oak, Opus One and Groth.  In 1982 Nils Venge became a minority partner with Dennis Groth, and helped form Groth Vineyard.  His skills as a wine maker became well known while he was at Groth, and in 1985 the Cabernet Sauvignon received a 100 point rating from Robert Parker, making it the first Californian wine to receive 100 points. In 1992, Nils took his amazing track record and formed his namesake vineyard, Venge Vineyards.
In 2008 Venge moved operations to the newly acquired Rossini Ranch, a 12 acre cabernet ranch.  Over the years Venge Vineyards has consistently attained amazing ratings.  Check the last 3 vintages of the Family Reserve Cabernet for example:
2005: 94 points, Wine Enthusiast,
2006: 95 points, Robert Parker
2007: 95-98 points Robert Parker.
Only 150 six-bottle cases of the 2007 vintage were produced and at $125 it would seem like a good investment. Not everyone can afford to drop 100+ dollars on a bottle of wine, and luckily Venge produces much more affordable, Cult-quality wines. These are some labels to look out for.
2009 Venge, Champs de Fleur Proprietary White:
The name comes from the French term “field of flowers”, which is what the aromatics of this wine are like.  There are slight lemon grass accents and solid tropical fruit flavors on the palate.  A little bit of passion fruit and lemon drop in the mix, and you’re in for a treat.
The blend is 55% Sauvignon Blanc, 34% Chardonnay, and 11% Viognier, with the alcohol weighing in at 14.5%. This wine was whole cluster pressed and each varietal was fermented in separate stainless steel tanks before being moved to neutral French oak for 8 months. 25% of the wine underwent Malolactic fermentation which adds a nice softness to the finish. With only 675 cases produced and retail price of $25 a bottle, this certainly constitutes as a California Cult wine.
The second extremely good value Venge has to offer is called “Scout’s Honor’ named after Nils’ his dog.  Robert Parker raves about this wine calling it a “superb value” and states that the 2007 vintage is the best yet, awarding it 92 points. The 2008 vintage is currently in pre-release and you can only buy 2 bottles at a time from the website. Again, if this isn’t cult wine, I don’t know what is.
The 2008 Scout’s Honor blend is 66% Zinfandel, 15% Petite Sirah, 15% Charbono, and 4% Syrah. Charbono is not common in California, however it is the 2nd most popular varietal in Argentina where it is called Bonarda.  It was aged for 16 months in 60% new American Oak from Missouri. The alcohol is a knock you on your butt 15.2% – wow!  The beauty of this wine is that there is absolutely no heat present; the alcohol is very well integrated. The nose is full of red cherry and licorice while the palate is rich and very ripe with peppery accents. There is also a bit of minerality from the Charbono; very interesting, complex with a nice long finish.  Just over 1,000 cases were produced, and it’s priced at $38 on the Venge website. Thankfully, my favorite local wine merchant has it for $23.99!  If you like the more ripe, Lodi style of Zinfandel but want something with more complexity, you will definitely want to get your hands on a case of this wine.
Stay tuned for three more names to watch for, producing Cult-like quality at prices that won’t break the bank.

Women in Wine | Janet Myers | Franciscan Magnificat

wine label

Franciscan Magnificat 2005

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

Chardonnay Smackdown #1 | J Vineyards | Cupcake Vineyards | Catena

In this review: J Vineyards 2008 Russian River Valley Chardonnay, Cupcake Vineyards 2009 Central Coast Chardonnay, Catena 2008 Chardonnay Mendoza Argentina.

I received the J Vineyards and Cupcake vineyards wines as samples and I decided to purchase the Catena and batch taste all three, to get a relative sense of how they compare.  I tasted all three wines over a six day period tasting a half bottle each night, starting with J Vineyards  and finishing with Catena.

J Vineyards 2008 Russian River Valley Chardonnay

Production: 6,000 cases

wine bottle picture

J Vineyards 2008 Russian River valley Chardonnay

Alcohol: 14.3%

Aging:  100% barrel fermented in 60 gallon Burgundian Oak, 40% new. 6 months of malolactic fermentation. 1 year of rest between bottling and release.

Lemon and honey on the nose, the palate is smooth and creamy almost like Creme Brule.  There is a hint of toasted oak, or almond on the back-end.  I was quite surprised with how well-balanced this wine was.  Not that I was expecting it to be out of balance, but it was just really nice to have a great balance of fruit, oak, acidity, all the aspects that need to come together to make a wine enjoyable.  The retail price of $28 might be a little steep when compared to equally great wines from other regions of the world, but compared within the Russian River Valley and Burgundy it is quite reasonable.  I would purchase this wine for a special occasion.

Cupcake Vineyards 2009 Central Coast Chardonnay

cupcake wine bottle

Cupcake Vineyards 2009 Central Coast Chardonnay

Production: 100,000 cases

Alcohol: 14%

Aging: 9 months in American Oak

I think of myself as generally a nice guy and so I find it difficult to be critical, having met wine makers and knowing how much of their heart and soul they put into their work.  However, this wine fell far short of what I could call enjoyable.  I could barely pick up anything on the nose, maybe citrus and oak?  The palate was weak, one dimensional and thin.  There can be no missing the oak, if you like lots of oak and butter this might be more your style.  I don’t know what’s going on here but I far prefered the Cupcake Sauvignon Blanc.

Catena 2008 Chardonnay, Mendoza Argentina

Catena Chardonnay wine bottle

Catena 2008 Chardonnay

Production: N/A

Alcohol: 14.2%

Aging: 9 months sur la lies in 100% French Oak, 35% new

On the nose this wine is very aromatic.  Almost explosively floral with spicy green apple citrus aroma that you can actually feel attacking your nostrils (in a good way) and even on the second day.  On the palate this wine is deliciously juicy, rich and complex.  Weighty in texture like cream, with a nice long smooth finish.  Definitely the clear winner out of the three and at $13.99 it is an insane value.  Interesting to note that the fruit for this wine comes from 3 vineyards ranging in elevation from 3,000 to 5,000 feet. I would like to try more high elevation Chardonnay and see if it is all this impressive!

Conclusion:  Catena was the clear winner because of its richness and complexity and great value.  Not far behind was J Vineyards.  If you like your Chards a little less over the top, lighter on the oak and butter then you might even place this wine above the Catena.  Cupcake Vineyards has a bit of work to do for the 2010 vintage in order to compete.

Wine Review | Quivira Vineyards 2008 Zinfandel, Dry Creek Valley

Quivira Vineyards 2008 Zinfandel, Dry Creek Valley2008 Zinfandel

The Blend:  95% Zinfandel, 5% Syrah

Alcohol: 14.8%

Production: 4,200 cases

Suggested Retail Price: $20

Unlike the sweeter jammier versions of Zinfandel from Lodi this wine is quite acidic and a little rough around the edges right now.  Which normally might be considered not such a good thing, but in my books its just enough to set this wine apart.  The addition of the Syrah adds some earthy spiciness to the fruit which is predominantly plum and raspberry.  This wine will age nicely over the next 4 years.

The verdict: Decent, 3 out of 5

*disclaimer, this wine was received as sample

Wine Review: Clif Family Winery | The Climber | 2009

In this review: The Climber 2009 Sauvignon blanc and 2009 Red wine

The climber red white

Clif Family Winery, The Climber 2009 Sauvignon Blanc, California.

The  blend: 80% Sauvignon Blanc, 13% Pinot Gris, 5% Riesling, 1% Pinot Meunier and 1% Muscat.

Alcohol: 13.7%

Production: 3,000 cases

Suggested Retail Price: $12

According to the winery the fruit is sourced from Organic and sustainably farmed vineyards in Lake County, Mendocino County and Lodi.  The juice was fermented in 100% stainless steel and did not undergo malolactic fermentation.

The nose is quite pretty, with sweet floral and tropical fruit notes.  The palate is more complex than the $12 retail price would suggest, yet still within the parameters of a California Style Sauvignon Blanc.  The palate is predominantly melon and citrus.  The Riesling and Muscat add a slight sweet acidity to the Sauvignon blanc.

Clif Family Winery, The Climber, 2009 Red Wine California

The Blend: 63% Zinfandel, 21% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Syrah, 2% Merlot and 2% Petite Sirah

Alcohol: 14.1%

Production: 3,500 cases

Suggested Retail Price: $12

According to Clif Family Winery the fruit comes from sustainably farmed vineyards in Mendocino and Lodi.  Each component was fermented separately and then blended prior to bottling.

This wine taste like an uncomplicated Zinfandel from Lodi.  Fruit forward, jammy with a little black pepper spice. Hidden in the mix is a hint of smokey Syrah as well. This wine was not as interesting or palatable as its white counterpart.  I would suggest pairing this with frozen pizza on a weekday.

Clif Family Winery & Farm Website

*Disclaimer* These wines were received as samples

Wine Review: Lang and Reed 2007, Cabernet Franc, North Coast California

Alcohol: 13.5%

Lang & Reed 2007 Cabernet Franc

Price: $22 online, $15-$20 retail. In Arizona it’s available at AZ Wine Company

100% Cabernet Franc

The nose:   Pretty floral notes, sweet almost marshmallow like…  it’s true!  Smell a freshly opened bag of marshmallows sometime…

The Palate: Slightly creamy texture, bright acidity, not a heavy long lasting acidity.  It’s more of a youthful acidity.  The fruit is a sweet and sour cherry. Sweet like a ripe dark cherry but quickly transitions into a tart unripe fruit center.  Like you are eating the center of the fruit.  Chewy Wooly tannins which make your mouth pucker up a bit, squeaky teeth tannins I like to say.

The Finish: Pleasant and light little touch of herbs.

Conclusion:  For the price ($15-$20) it is a very decent Cabernet Franc.  I’m not blown away to the point of buying several cases of it, but I think I will buy several more bottles and lay them down to see how it ages of the next year or two.  I paired this wine with a nice big New York Steak, and a twice baked potato with loads of melted extra sharp Tillamook cheddar on top.  And finished with a big piece of chocolate brownie cheesecake.  The wine went great with all three. And speaking of a nice big steak why not check out my super awesome steak recipe here

Lang and Reed Website Here