No Reservations Wine Tasting – Heitz Wine Cellars

My wife and I do more than our fair share of wine tasting.  We’ve hit all the major wine regions in California (and a few minor ones too;-), along with some tasting in Oregon, Spain and Champagne.  From time to time we have a wine tasting experience that stands above the rest, and is everything we’re looking for – great wine and commendable service in a relaxed unpretentious environment. It’s those such experiences that are the focus of this “No Reservations” series.  Why “No Reservations”? Because I can honesty say I have “No Reservations”  about recommending the winery anyone who is looking for a great wine tasting experience.

The latest in this series features Napa Valley icon Heitz Wine Cellars.  My complete review of Heitz Cellar, including history, a recap of the tasting experience, reviews of wines tasted, and insider tipes may be found on the American Winery Guide’s website

Here are a five things to you need to know about Heitz

1. Believe it or not…The tasting is free……zero!

heitz pic_trade_tall

© Bill Tucker; Heitz Wine Cellars

2. It all starts at Gallo

Joe Heitz got his start in industrial winemaking. During World War II, he was an army mechanic at a base near Fresno, and he got a part-time job at Italian Swiss Colony, a maker of bulk wines. He then went to UC Davis and got bachelor’s and master’s degrees in winemaking, which scored him a job at E&J Gallo. In 1951, he moved to California’s best-regarded quality winery, Beaulieu Vineyards, working for André Tchelistcheff. “They wanted Joe to replace Tchelistcheff when he retired,” his daughter Kathleen Heitz Myers says. “Joe realized that wasn’t going to happen for a while.” (Tchelistcheff didn’t retire until 1973.) Heitz left to set up the enology program at Fresno State until he got restless to make wine again. (Source)

Heitz Tasting Room Food and wine

Image courtesy of

3. A piece of the dream

In 1961, Heitz bought an eight-acre (3.25-ha) vineyard south of St. Helena on Napa Valley’s main drag, State Route 29. That land is incredibly valuable now, but then it was planted mostly to Grignolino and Heitz estimated he could earn $4500 a year from it. Joe and his wife Alice put in a lot of sweat equity in the small winery on the property, where Heitz’s tasting room is today. The winery still makes a red wine and a rosé from the Grignolino. Alice Heitz, now 90, loves the rosé. “It’s my mother’s favorite,” says Myers, now president and chief executive. “Sure, we’d make more money if we replanted with Cabernet. But if we just produced Cabernet, life wouldn’t be as interesting. It’s not all driven by the money. It’s keeping a variety alive.” (Source)

Heitz Winery

© Heitz Wine Cellars; Bill Tucker

4. Underselling the dust

Heitz is quietly one of the largest certified organic grapegrowers in Napa Valley. “Three-quarters of our vineyards are certified organic,” Myers says. But the labels don’t reflect that, nor do they all reflect prestigious sub-appellations. Trailside Vineyard, for example, is in Rutherford, but the label just says “Napa Valley”. (Source)

David Heitz is the winemaker; the tasting room is at the original Heitz vineyard on Highway 29.

© Heitz Wine Cellars; Bill Tucker | David Heitz is the winemaker; the tasting room is at the original Heitz vineyard on Highway 29.

5. Buy an instant vertical!

Heitz Cabernets are older than others in the market. “Joe always wanted it to be a finished product, so you can see what it is,” Myers says. Most wineries introduce a vintage, sell it until it’s gone, then sell the next vintage. Heitz keeps five vintages on sale at one time for Martha’s Vineyard and Trailside Vineyard Cabernet. The most recent vintage of both wines is 2009, but restaurants and wine shops can also buy the previous four vintages. “Restaurants love it because they can have an instant vertical,” Myers says. Heitz raises the price for older vintages, but seemingly not enough to make up for the cost of storage. “I don’t care, because it builds the brand,” Myers says. “It’s our belief that wines age.” (Source)


Martin Redmond is a Financial Executive by day, and a certified wine geek with latent foodie tendencies the rest of the time. In addition to the wine lifestyle and food he enjoys family, fitness and traveling. He likes to get thoughts of wine off his mind by sharing experiences on his ENOFYLZ Wine blog, which features wine reviews, wine country travel, and wine and food pairings.

Follow me on Twitter @martindredmond for all things wine. Since I’m a wino with latent foodie tendencies, you’ll also find food and wine pairings, and food related stuff! Become a fan and join ENOFYLZ Wine Blog on Facebook. Cheers! This article is original to ENOFYLZ Wine Copyright 2015 ENOFYLZ Wine BlogAll rights reserved.


2013 ZAP Zinfandel Festival Recap!

Last week I attended the 22nd Annual Zinfandel Festival.  It’s hosted by the Zinfandel Advocates & Producers (“ZAP”).  This was my second year attending this mother of all things Zinfandel event.

I attended two of the four events – Epicuria Food & Zin Pairings on Thursday, and the Grand Tasting on Saturday.


Epicuria, a “gourmet adventure”, is a walk around tasting offering samples of diverse culinary delights prepared by a cadre of restaurants and other food purveyors paired with Zinfandel.  What I appreciate about it is that it expands one’s perception of Zinfandel’s affinity for a variety of foods.  In other words, Zinfandel can be so much more than a BBQ, and burger wine!

Embark on a gourmet adventure as you explore the versatile flavors of Zinfandel at ZAP’s informal dine-around event. You have the opportunity to sample sophisticated and whimsical culinary creations from master chefs, perfectly paired with 50 top Zinfandel wines.

I came to the event hungry. Very hungry.  But I knew there would be plenty of food. Top notch food.  And plenty of Zinfandel! Top notch Zinfandel!  You would have had to roll me out of the Concourse Exhibition Center if I’d tried everything, even half of everything offered!

Zinfandel Festival - Epicuria crowd

The epicurean highlights for me were:

  • Harris’ signature steak tartare beautifully paired with Ridge Vineyards 2005 Lytton Springs, and 2007 Lytton Springs.
  • Smoked duck, apple compote, fennel crepe from Taste in Plymouth (fabulous restaurant – highly recommend) paired with 2010 Terra d’Oro Deaver Vineyard Zinfandel.
  • Spicy Thai curry pulled pork on candied jalapeno rafts garnished with cilantro and lime from Le Truc, paired with Rock Wall Wine Company 2010 Hendry Reserve.
  • Lamb merguez and wild boar sausage with mango chutney and sauerkraut from Rosamunde Sausage Grill.
  • Soleil’s African Cuisine; Moroccan Carmoula seafood with couscous Tanzanian coconut fish; plus beans stew (slow garbanzo, red beans in spiced coconut sauce).
  • Chicken croquette with chipotle paired with m2 2010 Old Vine, Soucie Vineyard
  • The little bit of carnivorous heaven on earth pictured below is a “lamb lollipop” courtesy of Ruth’s Chris Steak House.  I’ve never had one before, but let’s just say it was the most delicious, delectable, and delightful lamb that I have ever had the pleasure of consuming! It was paired with 2009 Bonneau Rockpile Zinfandel.

Zinfandel Festival Epicuria - lamb lollipop

Oh and for my sweet tooth, I capped off my Epicuria experience at Healdsburg Toffee Company which had a fabulous selection of sweet treats including chocolate drizzled candied cayenne pecans; cinnamon and nutmeg spice in milk chocolate, dark chocolate cherry bomb; and the peanut butter crisps pictured below:

Zinfandel Festival Epicuria -dessert

But the best of the bunch for me was the bacon-dipped chocolate bites! My sweet goodness!

Grand Tasting

ZAP’s Zinfest is very well-organized.  I especially appreciated the Tasting Program and Tasting Map.  In addition to tasting hundreds of Zinfandels and Zinfandel blends, Saturday activities also featured Winemaker Workshops, ZinKitchen Seminars, and new for 2013, a Terroir Tasting area.  One thing I did miss from last year was the Media Lounge – a quiet area set aside for media and trade folks lined with bottles almost every producer.  It was great to be able to adjourn to the Media Lounge  and taste at one’s own pace once the main floor got crowded mid-afternoon when the general public is admitted (there is a 4 hour window between 10 am-2 pm for media and trade). Once the general public is added to the mix, the event turns into a writhing sea of humanity.

Zinfandel Festival - ZAP barrels

And speaking of bodies of water…check out the young man on bucket brigade below emptying dump buckets from the ocean of Zinfandel!


The Grand Testing featured 193 wineries scheduled to participate (probably 400 wines).  Since it was impossible for me to taste all the wines, my strategy was to try 25 producers that were new to me. That strategy creates a dilemma for me.  That’s because on one hand, it means skipping some of my favorite perennial top-notch Zinfandel producers like Bedrock Wine Co.Black SearsCarlisleCarol SheltonDashe CellarsJC CellarsRidge VineyardsRobert BialeSeghesioTurley and Valdez Family.  On the other hand, I dig uncovering new gems.  Of course the “right” answer for me was do both.  I tasted wines from 25 new to me producers.  Then at the end of the day did my “taster’s choice” when I stop by some favorites to do a little tasting!

I ended up tasting 75 wines before tapping out mid-afternoon,and doing my “taster’ choice”.

My favorite new to me wines, which I rated “outstanding” – 90 points or higher were (in alphabetical order):

  • 2011 Brown Estate Vineyards Zinfandel Chiles Valley ($50)
  • 2011 Brown Estate Vineyards Zinfandel Napa Valley ($42)
  • 2010 Charter Oak Winery Guido Ragghianti Old World Field Blend ($58)
  • 2010 Charter Oak Old Vine Monte Rosso, Sonoma County ($48)
  • 2009 Grgich Hills Zinfandel Estate Grown ($35)
  • 2010 Klinker Brick Zinfandel Old Vine Old Ghost ($37)
  • 2010 Limerick Lane Zinfandel Dry Creek Valley ($40)
  • 2010 Limerick Lane Zinfandel Russian River Valley ($44)
  • 2010 Ottimino Zinfandel Biglieri Vineyard ($38)
  • 2009 Ottimino Zinfandel Rancho Bello ($30)
  • 2010 Puccioni Zinfandel ($29)
  • 2011 Ravenswood Zinfandel Teldeschi $35) (barrel sample)
  • 2009 Scott Harvey Vineyard 1869, Napa Valley ($45)
  • 2010 St. Anne’s Crossing Serracino, Dry Creek Valley ($50)
  • 2010 St. Anne’s Crossing Zinfandel King City ($36)
  • 2010 Storybrook Mountain Zinfandel Mayacamas Range ($36)
  • 2010 Talty Winery Zinfandel Dwight Family ($30)
  • 2009 Talty Winery Zinfandel Estate William Talty Vineyards ($38)
  • 2010 Three Wine Company Zinfandel Evangelho Vineyard ($32)
  • 2009 Vino Noceto Zinfandel OGP Grandpère Vineyard ($29)
  • 2009 Woodenhead Zinfandel Guido Venturi Vineyard ($34)
  • 2010 Woodenhead Zinfandel Leras Ranches Bertoli ($30)

In terms of my favorite perennial top-notch producers, I was only able to get to a few because it got to be too crowded.  The wines from that bunch that stood out for me were:

  • 2010 Black Sears Estate, Napa Valley
  • 2011 Carlisle Winery Monte Rosso Vineyard, Sonoma Valley ($45) 
  • 2010 Dashe Cellars Florence Vineyard, Dry Creek ($35)
  • 2011 Ridge Vineyards Primitvo (barrel sample)
  • 2010 Valdez Family St. Peter’s Church Zinfandel

Whenever I go to ZAP’s Zinfest, I’m reminded of my epiphany wine.  It was 1999 Lolonis Redwood Valley Zinfandel.  So my old friend Zinfandel…until our next reunion…I’ll drink of you often! Cheers!

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Wine of the Week; 2005 Domaine Carneros Le Rêve

Every Thursday I feature a wine I particularly enjoy, whether it’s something new and different, is a great value, or from a producer worth checking out.  My Wine Of The Week is the 2005 Domaine Carneros Le Rêve

The Winery

Domaine Carneros was founded in 1987 by Champagne Taittinger of France in partnership with Kobrand Corporation. It is located in the heart of Carneros in Napa Valley, along with Gloria Ferrer. The Carneros terroir is ideally suited to producing Chardonnay,and Pinot Noir, typically the backbone of both Champagne, and California Sparkling wine.  That’s because Carneros offers cool nights, foggy mornings, and sunny, breezy days offering fruit of extraordinary elegance, complexity, and intensity.

Domaine Carneros is a beautiful Chateau that was built in 1988. The building was inspired by historic Chateau de la Marquetterie in Champagne France, which is the estate home of the Taittinger family.


The Wine

Domaine Carneros sources 95% of their fruit from organic estate vineyards, and all of their wines are labeled with the Carneros appellation.  Eileen Crane is CEO/Founding Winemaker.

This wine is a Blanc de Blancs,  which means the wine is produced from all white grapes. Le Rêve, which translates to “the dream” in French, is considered to be the tête du cuvee  (flagship wine) of the winery.  The wine is aged 6 years in Domaine Carneros’ cellars, carved into the hillside beneath the winery, before release.

2005 Domaine Carneros Le Reve

2005 Domaine Carneros Le Reve

My tasting notes follow

Light straw color with persistent bead of tiny bubbles, with brioche baked pear, tropical fruit, and a touch of mineral aromas. On the palate it shows a soft creamy mousse, and is elegant, balanced, and complex with stone fruit, apple, tropical fruit, and mineral flavors. Long finish – 93pts.

Rating: Highly recommended!

Pair with: It makes a great apéritif, but is also fantastic with fresh oysters and other shellfish, crab cakes,  and ceviche.  Try with an aged Gouda or other hard cheeses. And it makes a delicious counterpoint with triple cream cheeses.

The Wine Geek Stuff:

Alcohol: 12% alcohol.

Closure: Cork

AVA: > CaliforniaNapa / SonomaCarneros

Varietal(s): 99%% Chardonnay, 1% Pinot Blanc

Cooperage: Aged on lees in the bottle for five and one-half years

Retail: $95

Cases produced: 4,450

Purchased for review

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T.G.I.F. Champagne and the like…2007 Schramsberg Crémant Demi-Sec

This week’s bubbly is from Schramsberg. Schramsberg is Napa’s second oldest winery (Charles Krug, established in 1861 was the first winery in Napa) according to Keith Hock, the winemaker.  It was established in 1862.

Schramsberg produced California’s first Crémant in 40 years ago.   Crémant is French for “creamy” and traditionally referred to a wine with light effervescence (less carbon dioxide equals fewer bubbles), and lower bottle pressure.  Traditional Champagne, and other sparkling wines are bottled at 5-6 atmospheres, whereas this wine is bottled at 2-3 atmospheres. The lower pressure results in the wine having a creamier, softer feel in your mouth.  Crémant, in the traditional sense, made with less carbon dioxide and bottle pressure is relatively rare these days.  Nowadays crémant refers to a French sparkling wine made outside of the Champagne region (Loire, Burgundy, Languedoc-Roussillon, etc.).

Aside from the fact that this wine is intentionally produced at less pressure to create a creamy mouthfeel, the other thing I found interesting about it, is that it was produced using the Flora grape, a unique grape which is a cross of Semillon and Gewürztraminer developed at UC Davis.

2007 Schramsberg Cremant Demi-Sec

2007 Schramsberg Crémant Demi-Sec

Where its from: California>; North Coast (66% Napa, 17% Mendocino, 16% Sonoma, 1% Marin)

The grape(s) 67% Flora, 18% Chardonnay, 15% Gewürztraminer

Production method: Méthode Champenoise; Aged about 2 years on lees

Alcohol: 13%

Retail: $38 (Paid $30)

My tasting notes follow:

Pale gold color with a nice bead of tiny bubbles with fruity stone fruit aromas. On the palate it’s creamy, medium-bodied with zesty acidity, and white peach, apricot, mango, and baking spice note flavors. Medium finish

Pair with: The beauty of sparkling wines is their versatility with food, because of their palate cleansing quality (think scrubbing bubbles;-). I enjoyed this with a couple of different desserts. It worked well with a plain cheesecake, but I thought it was even better with apple strudel. It would also be a good match for fruit tarts, light cakes, panna cotta, or crème brûlée. While the first thing that comes to mind for me is dessert, it would also work well with spicy Asian food, bleu cheeses or foie gras.

I heartily recommend! 89pts (Click here to find this wine)

Wine Country Estate Wishes and Cab Dreams..

From Tom Wank’s Fermentation Wine Blog comes this post, “Top Ten Napa Valley Properties Now On The Market”.  Why am I not surprised the most expensive is actually on “Money Road”?!  Dream on my friends, dream on…

Can “Better” and “Best” wines be found at “Destination” Wineries?

My brother-in-law was in town from Vancouver, B.C. (he lives about 2 hours from Vancouver’s wine country in Okanagan), and he and my wife were chatting about going wine tasting.  It became obvious pretty quickly that Napa is held in high esteem in Vancouver.  And with over 3 million tourists a year, there’s no denying Napa’s cachet.  After all Napa invented high-quality wine tourism.

We decided to go to a couple of “destination” wineries, Sterling, and Castello di Amorosa (click here for video) before taking a break for lunch.

We picked up a great lunch some at The Model Bakery in St. Helena, then headed to an“anti-destination” winery Ehlers Estate (easily the best wines of the day!) for a picnic.  After lunch, our final stop of the day was at what I’d call a “quasi-destination” winery, Artesa, owned by the Codorniu Group of Spain.  Why quasi? Even though our motivation for going to Artesa was to see the property, I’d really enjoyed some of their wines on a previous visit.

It was a fun day, though I must confess, I’m not a big fan of “Destination” wineries, mostly because I’ve “been there, and done that”, and I’m all about the wine these days.  What do I consider to be a “destination” winery?  For me it’s a winery where the primary attraction is something other than their wines.  At Sterling, it’s the gondola ride up the hillside to the beautiful Greek inspired architecture of the property, and the awe-inspiring views of the Napa Valley.  It’d been 10-15 years since I’d been to Sterling, and I must say I was impressed by the property and the views.  In the case of Castello di Amoroso, it’s the castle (click here for video).

Of course good wine, and an attraction don’t have to be mutually exclusive, but in my experience, better, and best wines generally aren’t found at “destination” wineries.

My brother-in-law, Melvin Yulo, took some great photos of our day trip.  Click on the pics to enlarge.

What do you think of destination wineries?  Have you been to a destination winery with great wines?   Leave a comment and let me know!  Cheers!

Valentine’s Day Weekend Starter – A Taste of Schramsberg Sparkling Wines!

Bubbles of rose sparkling wine.

Image via Wikipedia

My wife and I decided to have bubbly each Friday night last week.  As fate and a bit of planning would have it my favorite wine store K&L Wine Merchants was hosting Schramsberg Vineyards for a Friday Night tasting (the fate) to start the V-Day weekend, and we’d planned to take do a tour of the Schramsberg caves and tasting on Valentine’s Day.

Schramsberg is Napa’s second oldest winery (Charles Krug, established in 1861 was the first winery in Napa) according to Keith Hock, the winemaker.  It was established in 1862 (click here for a complete historical time line).

Overall impression

What struck me about all the wines was the creamy lingering mouth feel of the mousse (the bubbly foam). All the wines had medium to long finishes, and we dryish, if not dry with low Residual Sugar (“RS”), yet all were  fruity on the palate. The lasting impressions were the elegance of all the wines, and the diverse aromas of the wines which seem to be dominated by wonderful yeast, bread dough notes. With the exception of the NV (non-vintage) “Mirabelle” all are vintage sparklers.  I’m a fan!

Bubbly Tasting Tip: There are two things I look for when tasting sparkling wines as opposed to still wines, the first is visual.  I look for a steady stream of tiny bubbles.  The second is how does the mousse feel in my mouth (i.e., how effervescent is it) – Does it feel course or fine?  Is it voluminous, or meager? How long does it take to dissipate?

My tasting notes are as follows:

2006 Schramsberg Blanc de Noir Sparkling Wine – $29.99

90% Pinot Noir, 10% Chardonnay. Nose offers plenty of yeast, citrus, and bit of mustiness.  On the palate fantastic creamy mousse, with apple, and citrus flavors, very good acidity, a touch of minerality and a long finish. I’m a sucker for Blanc de Noir – My third favorite – but just barely! (1.17 g/100mL)

NV Schramsberg “Mirabelle” North Coast Rosé $19.99

53% Chardonnay, 47% Pinot Noir. On the nose red fruit, citrus, and yeast. On the palate strawberries, cherry, and zippy acidity. Medium finish.  I’ll definitely picking up a bottle or three of this one! (1.09 g/100mL)

2007 Schramsberg Brut Rosé Sparkling Wine $32.99

68% Pinot Noir, 32% Chardonnay. On the nose, yeast, bread dough, citrus and faint rose notes.  On the palate, creamy delicate mousse with, citrus, strawberries, and peach flavors.  Well balanced with crisp acidity. My favorite! (1.06 g/100mL).

2007 Schramsberg Blanc de Blancs Sparkling Wine $27.99

100% Chardonnay.  On the nose yeast with citrus, and apple notes.  On the palate citrus, and apple with touch of minerality, very good acidity.  Medium finish. (1.15 g/100mL)
2003 J Scram Brut Sparkling Wine $99.99

85% Chardonnay, 15% Pinot Noir.  Nose offers yeast,  honey, and citrus aromas.  On the palate citrus, and green apple. More full bodied than the previous 4 sparklers, with lengthy finish.  My second favorite! (1.2 g/100mL)
2006 Schramsberg Crémant Demi-Sec Sparkling Wine $29.99.

85% Flora, 15% Chardonnay.  Nose offers tropical fruit aromas, and banana bread dough.  On the palate orange, and peach flavors.  On the upper end of off-dry, with a pleasant clean sweetness. Rich, with a clean finish.  I really liked this one.  My mind immediately went to thoughts of what would I pair it with. The first thought that came to mind is spicy Asian food (Thai, or maybe Indian) But, it would work well on own after a meal if you want a touch of sweetness, or  paired with a not too sweet dessert like a panna cotta, it would be marvelous. (3.56 g/100mL)

Note: I wasn’t at all familiar with the Flora grape.  According to Schramsberg:

“Schramsberg made California’s first Crémant (French for “creamy”) in 1972. After rigorous study, our winemaking team chose the unique California grape named Flora (a cross of Sémillon and Gewürztraminer developed at UC Davis) to be the core component of this sparkling wine. Flora unites the fruit-forward character of Gewürztraminer with the strength and depth of Sémillon.”

The good news is that this is a great way to start our weekly bubbly pact! The bad news is that it’s going to be a challenge to top it;-)!

Look for more bubbly tasting notes in the coming weeks…Cheers, and Happy V-Day!