No Reservations Wine Tasting – Smith Madrone Vineyard and Winery

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 and 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 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 to anyone who is looking for a great wine tasting experience!

The latest in this series features Smith Madrone Vineyard and Winery in the Spring Mountain District of the  Napa Valley. 

My complete review of Smith-Madrone, including history, a recap of the tasting experience – including reviews of wines tasted may be found at the American Winery Guide’s website.

From the winery…At Smith-Madrone our goal is to make artisanal wines which are distinctive and are an expression of both the vintage and us, as vintners, but above all else, are wines which bring pleasure to the senses. Every year our wine is made from the same vineyards, pruned by the same people in the same way, cultivated in exactly the same manner and harvested at similar levels of maturity, yet Mother Nature stamps each vintage with a unique set of flavors, senses and character. Vintage dating is a celebration of that uniqueness and diversity.

 All wines made entirely from the winery’s estate vineyards surrounding the winery on top of Spring Mountain in the Napa Valley. Stuart Smith chose specific slopes with different exposures for specific varietals when planting the vineyards: eastern exposure for Riesling, southern and western exposures across flat stretches for the Cabernet Sauvignon and the coolest north-facing slopes for the Chardonnay. There are numerous historical sights on the ranch, as well as the huge array of natural beauty and wildlife.

The vineyards sit at elevations between 1,300  and 2,000 feet, on steep slopes which range up to 34%.

Current Releases

The current releases and my tasting notes follow:

2011 Smith Madrone Cabernet Sauvignon

A blend of Cabernet Sauvignon 83%, Merlot 7% & Cabernet franc 10% from 39 year-old vines. Aged 19 months in French oak barrels; 1,070 cases produced; 14.3% alcohol

No Reservations Wine Tasting - Smith Madrone Vineyard and WineryDark Ruby color with exuberant cassis, tobacco, cedar, plum, spiced black cherry, and a bit of eucalyptus aromas. On the palate it’s medium-bodied and well-structured with ample cassis, black cherry, tobacco, and a bit of mineral flavors. Medium-Long finish  Outstanding; 92-95 pts

 2012 Smith Madrone Chardonnay

100% Chardonnay from 40 year-old vines.  Aged 8 months in 100% new French Oak.  779 cases produced; 14.2% alcohol

No Reservations Wine Tasting - Smith Madrone Vineyard and Winery

Pale lemon yellow color with promising green apple, pear. lemon cream, and limestone aromas. On the palate it’s medium-bodied, fresh and harmonious with a creamy texture, and apple, pear, lemon zest, vanilla, a kiss of tropical fruit, and subtle spice flavors. Lingering finish  Outstanding; 92-95 pts

2013 Smith Madrone Riesling

100% Riesling from 41 year-old vines; 1,288 cases produced; 12.6% alcohol

No Reservations Wine Tasting - Smith Madrone Vineyard and Winery

Very pale green color with wet stone. lime, stone fruit, quince and a hint of lychee aromas. On the palate medium-bodied, elegant, and harmonious with mouth-watering acidity and a great texture with very appealing white peach, lime, melon, a bit of lemon and apricot flavors and a complementary minerality. Lingering finish.Very Good to Outstanding; 89-91 pts

I highly recommend these wines and a visit to Smith-Madrone!

Samples provided for review. Many thank to Julie Ann Kodmur!

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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, and 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 Blog.com. Copyright 2015 ENOFYLZ Wine BlogAll rights reserved.

 

Top 25 IPOB San Francisco Tasting Favorites

Last week I attended the In Pursuit of Balance (“IPOB”) San Francisco consumer tasting held at City View at Metreon.  IPOB is a non-profit organization founded in 2011 to promote dialogue around the meaning of balance in California pinot noir and chardonnay.

This growing group of producers is seeking a different direction with their wines, both in the vineyard and the winery. This direction focuses on balance, non-manipulation in the cellar, and the promotion of the fundamental varietal characteristics which make pinot noir and chardonnay great – subtlety, poise and the ability of these grapes to serve as profound vehicles for the expression of terroir.” (You can check out their manifesto here)

This tasting came to my attention a couple of years ago. At the time, I was on the verge of becoming an ABCer (Anything But Chardonnay).

Then I was invited to a Chablis tasting that change the way I viewed Chardonnay.  And Burgundy.

I loved the wines, and have since purchased a few bottles here and there. But, generally prefer supporting local (California) wineries.

As I began to research stellar California producers that vinified Chardonnay in stainless steel and/or take a more light-handed approach to use of oak, I keep coming across names like Failla, Littorai, HanzellMount Eden, and Varner (plus some newer kids on the block like Liquid Farm,and Knez)  

The same could be said for Pinot Noir.

I soon discovered the challenge with buying the wines of  most of the aforementioned producers is that their sold wines exclusively through mailing lists.  And most of the mailing list have wait lists.

Since I tend to be a “try before I buy” kind of guy, IPOB was the perfect opportunity to taste wines from the “rock stars” of California Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.

Would they live up to the hype?

Here’s a list of the wineries that poured:

Au Bon Climat – Big Basin - Calera – Ceritas – Chanin – Cobb – Copain – Domaine de la Cote – Drew – Failla – Flowers – Hanzell – Hirsch – Knez – Kutch – LaRue – LIOCO – Liquid Farm – Littorai – Lutum - Matthiasson – Mindego Ridge - Mount Eden – Native9 – Ojai – Peay – Red Car – Sandhi – Twomey – Tyler – Varner – Wenzlau - Wind Gap 

According to the top-notch tasting booklet provided when I checked in, there were over 135 wines available for tasting.

I knew there was no way I was going to be able to taste them all in the 3 hours allotted for the tasting.

I decided to focus on Chardonnay first, then taste the Pinots if I had time and/or my palate wasn’t too fatigued.

IMG_1876

I tasted 46 Chardonnays.  My favorites (in alphabetical order) were:

  • 2013 Copain Chardonnay Dupratt Vineyard
  • 2013 Failla Chardonnay Fort Ross – Seaview
  • 2013 Failla Chardonnay Haynes Vineyard
  • 2013 Hanzell Chardonnay Sebella
  • 2013 Liquid Farm Chardonnay Golden Slope
  • 2013 Lutum Chardonnay Durell Vineyard
  • 2011 Mount Eden Vineyards Chardonnay Santa Cruz Mountains
  • 2012 Ojai Chardonnay Solomon Hills Vineyard
  • 2012 Tyler Chardonnay Sanford & Benedict
  • 2013 Varner Chardonnay Spring Ridge Vineyard Home Block
  • 2012 Wenzlau Chardonnay Estate
  • 2013 Wind Gap Wines Chardonnay Gap’s Crown

After powering through the Chards, it was time to take a break and grab a bit of food and water before diving into the Pinots.

The list of food vendors was nearly as impressive as the wines! More than a few of my favorite upscale restaurants were serving small bites. Check it!

Aziza – Bar Tartine – Cavallo Point – Nopa – Passionfish –RN74 – Scopa – SPQR –St. Vincent Tavern & Wine Merchant

Yowza!

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Nom, nom, nom…Wish I didn’t have to choose between noshing on a few more of these but the Pinots were calling me! (sorry didn’t get the name, or who made them, but trust me they were delicious!)

I came for the wine, but the food was quite delectable, and on par with the wines!

And as food friendly wines go…well I was in heaven!

IMG_1877

Porchetta Sandwiches with shaved fennel, arugula

After a short break, where I seriously considered not rating and tasting the Pinots (I certainly never considered not tasting the Pinots…are you effin’ kiddin me?)

I would have been quite content to put down my pen, hit more food tables, and simply savoring the plethora of fine wines.

Alas, my inner wine geek prevailed, and I willed myself onward to the Pinots!

IMG_1887

I tasted 32 Pinots.  My favorites (in alphabetical order) were:

  • 2012 Copain Pinot Noir Monument Tree
  • 2012 Drew Family Cellars Pinot Noir Valenti Vineyard
  • 2005 Drew Family Cellars Pinot Noir Ashley’s Vineyard
  • 2013 Failla Pinot Noir Keefer Ranch
  • 2013 Failla Pinot Noir Savoy Vineyard
  • 2013 Hanzell Pinot Noir Sebella
  • 2012 Hirsch Vineyards Pinot Noir Reserve
  • 2012 Knez Winery Pinot Noir Cerise Vineyard
  • 2013 Kutch Pinot Noir McDougall Ranch
  • 2012 Neely Pinot Noir Spring Ridge Vineyard Hidden Block
  • 2012 Neely Pinot Noir Spring Ridge Vineyard Picnic Block
  • 2012 Neely Pinot Noir Spring Ridge Vineyard Upper Picnic Block
  • 2012 Wenzlau Pinot Noir Estate

In my previous “favorites” recaps of events like this, I’ve listed my “top twenty” wines.  However, this tasting boasted a such a multitude of stellar producers, I added five more to my usual format.

Simply put, the wines lived up to the hype for me.  IPOB is the best wine tasting I’ve been to in terms of the overall quality of the wines.  Nary a dud among the wines I tasted. Though admittedly, there were a few wines I found to be elegant and complex that were a bit too austere for my palate.  Of course, as the saying goes ” your mileage may vary”.

Cheers!

Follow my reviews on Vivino 

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Martin Redmond is a Financial Executive by day, and a 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, and 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 Blog.com. Copyright 2015 ENOFYLZ Wine BlogAll rights reserved.

 

Wine Tasting Club Blind Tastes 18 Merlots!

I can barely believe it, but the Pacific Pointe Wine Tasting Club (“PPWTC”) is 5 years old!  When my wife and I started the community-based wine-tasting club in 2010, there were only 3 folks who showed up for our first tasting – a neighborhood couple and a friend. The PPWTC has since blossomed into vibrant community of wine-loving friends with a strong core of 20, and probably another 20 folks who attend from time to time.

We celebrated our 5 year anniversary by choosing Merlot for the tasting, since that was the theme for our very first meeting!

Here’s how our tasting went down:

  • Merlot priced between $10-$35
  • All wines are tasted blind
  • Tasters are required to score all wines
  • The wines are scored based on 4 criteria (aromabody, taste, and finish) - each on a scale of 1-5 (1-low; 5-high). Therefore minimum score = 4 points and maximum = 20 points
  • Both average and median scores are calculated.  The winner determined by highest average score.  The median score used as tie breaker.

We tasted a total of 18 Merlots  Most (11) were from California, with France (4) and Washington State (3) rounding out the lineup.

This was our biggest tasting yet! There were 30 tasters.  Since a bottle of wine only holds 25 ounces, we split the tasters into two groups.  Each group tasted 9 bottles of wine.

Group 1 included 18 tasters with a diverse blend of “newbies”, sporadic tasters and “hardcore” tasters.

Group 2 included 12 tasters, and was heavily skewed toward more “hardcore” experienced tasters.

 The Group 1 winner was...

1. 2010 Guardian Cellars Confidential Source - $35

Guardian Cellars is a Washington State based winery owned by the husband and wife team of Jerry Riener and Jennifer Sullivan, a police-officer and reporter respectively.  The winery is based in Woodinville. Most of the wines have law enforcement inspired names like Confidential Source, Entrapment and Gun Metal. 

IMG_1462Here are the runner’s up….
2. 2011 Wente Vineyards Merlot Sandstone - $14
3. 2012 Markham Merlot>Napa Valley - $24
4. 2011 L’Ecole No. 41 Merlot Columbia Valley - $24
5. 2010 Hall Merlot - $20
6. 2009 Château Arnauton - $19
7. 2010 Mauvais Garçon (Bad Boy) - $14
8. 2010 Château Haut-Mazeris - $20
9. 2010 Jean-Louis Denois “Chloé” Limoux - $14

  The Group 2 winner was..

1. 2011 Cafaro Merlot - $35

Cafaro Cellars is located in St. Helena in the Napa Valley.  It was  founded in 1986 and is owned and run by Joe Cafaro. He has a long history in Napa Valley (since 1969) of making wine at select well-known wineries including Chappellet, Keenan & Dalla Valle, among others. Initially he made wine from purchased fruit but in the mid 90’s he acquired a 15-acre hillside vineyard right next to the southern boundary of the famous Stag’s Leap District. All fruit for Cafaro’s wines come from this vineyard. It is in a beautiful location slightly elevated over the valley floor set among rolling hills. He planted this with several varietals and manages all aspects of the growing and winemaking. His total production is about 3000 cases.(Source)

IMG_1471Here are the runner’s up….
2. 2012 Francis Ford Coppola Merlot Director’s Cut - $27
3. 2006 Turning Leaf Merlot Reserve - N/A
4. 2000 Markham Merlot Reserve - N/A
5. 2013 Hobo Wine Company Merlot Camp - $16
6. 2012 Charles Smith Merlot The Velvet Devil - $10
7. 2010 Curvare Merlot Carneros - $17
8. 2012 Chateau Ste. Michelle Merlot - $15
9. 2012 Duckhorn Vineyards Merlot Decoy Sonoma County - $35

The tasting was was a rare victory (well actually double victory) for the most expensive wine in each group.  That’s the exception rather than the rule for our blind-tastings.  The winner of Group 1 – Guardian Confidential Source edged the 2nd place wine, Wente Sandstone Merlot, which offers very good value at $14.  One the other hand, the Cafaro Merlot scored a solid victory in Group 2.  There were two surprises in Group 2 for me.  The first was that the  2006 Turning Leaf Merlot Reserve came in third. Turning Leaf is a value brand and I was surprised it did as well as it did with the more experienced tasters. The other is that that Decoy Merlot came in last.

After the scores were tabulated and winners revealed each group had a chance to taste most of the wines from the other group. The Cafaro and Guardian didn’t last long…

It was an exciting night full of fun, food, fellowship and a bit of wine education! And isn’t that what a wine tasting club should be about!

Cheers!

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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, and 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 Blog.com. Copyright 2015 ENOFYLZ Wine BlogAll rights reserved.

 

 

 

2015 Slow Wine Tour Coming to San Francisco

You’ve probably heard of the “Slow Food” movement, which was emerged from Italy’s Piedmont region more than 25 years ago in 1989. The slow food movement’s mission is… good, clean and fair food for all.

What you may not know, at least I didn’t until recently, is that there’s also a “Slow Wine” movement.

Slow Wine Logo

In 2010, Slow Food International began its independent Slow Wine project with the release of a Slow Wine Guide(1)The guide adopts a new approach to wine criticism and looks at a variety of factors to evaluate wineries in their entirety, taking into consideration the wine quality, typicity and adherence to terroir, value for money, environmental sensitivity and ecologically sustainable viticultural practices.

“We have abandoned the very easy-to-understand, but ultimately also trivializing, method of awarding points and sought to look beyond the glass…What matters is a wine’s soul” – Giancarlo Gariglio and Fabio Giavedoni

Next week more than 50 winemakers from 15 Italian wine regions will bring their bottles across the pond for the annual Slow Wine tasting in San Francisco. An afternoon trade tasting will be followed by an evening consumer walk around tasting where you’ll have the chance to taste the wines about 100 wines!  Admission includes a copy of the 2015 Slow Wine Guide .  Here are the details!

When: January 29, 2015 – San Francisco

WhereTerra Gallery 511 Harrison St. - San Francisco, CA 94105

Times:

12.30 pm – 4.30 pm: open to industry Register here

6 pm – 8.30 pm: open to the public Get your ticket here

Discounts: Enter promotion Code ENOFYLZ for a $15 discount! 

Remember, in order to maximize your enjoyment and learning at public tastings:

  • Wear dark, comfortable clothes
  • Hydrate
  • Spit
  • Skip the perfume and cologne

Hope to see you there!

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(1) About Slow Wine
The Slow Wine Guide, published by Slow Food Editore (the publishing arm of Slow Food Italy**) adopts a new approach to wine criticism and looks at a variety of factors to evaluate wineries in their entirety, taking into consideration the wine quality, typicity and adherence to terroir, value for money, environmental sensitivity and ecologically sustainable viticultural practices. Slow Wine was conceived to give a realistic snapshot of the current Italian wine landscape. The guide features reviews of 400 different wineries, each one visited by Slow Food experts. It is available for purchase on Amazon.com as well as in select bookstores.

Related Post You Might Enjoy:

The Slow Wine Way – The Washington Post

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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, and 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 Blog.com. Copyright 2015 ENOFYLZ Wine BlogAll rights reserved.  

Wine of the Week; 2012 Sandlands Chenin Blanc

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.  This week’s wine the 2012 Sandlands Chenin Blanc is all of the above.

From The Winery

Sandlands is the personal project of Tegan and Olivia Passalacqua. The line-up encompasses the forgotten classic California varieties, primarily grown in decomposed granite (sand), from regions and vineyards that have been farmed for many generations but have remained the outliers of California viticulture. 

Primarily head-trained, dry-farmed and own rooted, the vineyards we work with harken back to California’s roots of exploration, wonder, and hard work.

“…Sandlands, which debuted to the sort of demand about which Napa viscounts only dream. For that, he focused on wines that offer other prisms into California: Carignane from Contra Costa County, Grenache from Placer County and his personal cause celebre, Chenin Blanc”. – Jon Bonne

Passalacqua’s “day job” is winemaker and viticulturist  for Turley Wine Cellars. He, along with Morgan Twain-Peterson of Bedrock Wine Co., were just honored as Winemakers of the Year by San Francisco Chronicle Wine Editor, Jon Bonné.  He was also featured prominently in Bonné’sThe New California Wine – A Guide to the Producers and Wines Behind a Revolution in Taste. 

Sandlands wines are available via a mailing list

The Wine

Planted in 1979 and grown at 1500 feet in a mixture of iron rich volcanic, quartz and decomposed granite soils, this vineyard is head-trained, dry-farmed and own rooted. The wine is barrel fermented with native yeasts in 3-5 year old Burgundy barrels and aged on its lees for 15 months with no stirring or racking prior to being bottled unfined and unfiltered.

12.8% alcohol; Retail – $24.00

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My tasting notes follow:
Pale yellow color. Initially opens with wet wool aromas that give way to white peach, apple, Meyer lemon and a bit of wet stone aromas. On the palate its medium-bodied, and dry with wonderful acidity and texture with green apple, white peach, baked apricot, citrus, and a hint of spice flavors. Lingering satisfying finish with a bit of minerality. 12.8% alcohol. Wonderful at the table!
Rating: A-This is a wonderful wine that’s food friendly.  
Pair with: Grilled or pan-fried Paiche, Lemony Quinoa Salad with Pine Nuts, or Sweet and Sour Chicken or Shrimp!

Ratings Key

(A+) – 95-100/Extraordinary
(A) – 92-95/Outstanding
(A-) – 89-91/Very Good to Outstanding
(B+) – 86-88/Very good
(B) – 80-85/Good
(C) – 70-79/Bleh
(D) – 50-69/#Fail
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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, and 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 Blog.com. Copyright 2015 ENOFYLZ Wine BlogAll rights reserved.  

Wine of the Week; 2010 Cantele Salice Salentino Riserva

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 2010 Cantele Salice Salentino Riserva.

The Winery

Cantele is a family run winery founded by Giovanni (“Gianni”) Battista Cantele, and his two sons Augusto and Domenico in 1979.  The winery is located between the villages of Fra Guagnano and Salice Salentino.

Today, the Cantele family owns 50 hectares planted to vine and the family’s current winemaker Gianni (one of Augusto’s sons) and agronomist Cataldo Ferrari manage another 150 hectares owned by other growers. Augusto’s other son Paolo is the winery’s brand manager and Domenico’s son Umberto is head of sales. Domenico’s daughter Luisa also works in the estate’s corporate offices together with Gianni’s wife Gabriella. The business remains to this day a true “family affair.”

Cantele produces about 2 million bottles/year, including indigenous Pugliese grapes such as Primitive and Negroamaro, along with international grape varieties like Chardonnay, Merlot and Syrah.

The Wine

Cantele produces wine in Salice Salentino DOC of Puglia, which is located in “the heel” of the boot in peninsular Italy.  Puglia has had a reputation for producing mostly low-quality bulk wines (a.k.a. “plonk”).  In the 21st century though, a growing number of winemakers are more focused on quality rather than quantity.  For example, Puglia is the second largest producer (after Sicily) of organic wines.  And there have been substantial investments by the iconic Italian producer Antinori.

The flagship red grape of the Salice Salentino DOC is Negroamaro , which translated to English means dark (negro), and bitter (amaro).

This wine is made from 100% Negroamaro fermented in stainless steel and aged in 1-2 year old barrique for 6 months.

13% alcohol Retail – $9.99

Wine of the Week; 2010 Cantele Salice Salentino

My tasting notes follow:

Ruby color with inviting black and red fruits, bramble, and spice aromas. On the palate, it’s medium-bodied, vibrant, and deliciously spicy with plum, dried cherry, black raspberry flavors, dusty tannins and a supple texture. Medium+ finish. >>Find this wine<<

Rating: A-; Fabulous QPR on this wine!  And if you’re looking to try a different grape variety – give Negroamaro a try!

Pair with: Carne alla pizzaiola, meat lovers pizza, roast veal and beef, game, lamb, and ripe aged cheeses.

Sample purchased for review

Related post you might enjoy:

Ratings Key:
(A+) – 95-100/Extraordinary
(A) – 92-95/Outstanding
(A-) – 89-91/Very Good to Outstanding
(B+) – 86-88/Very good
(B) – 80-85/Good
(C) – 70-79/Bleh
(D) – 50-69/#Fail
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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, and 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 Blog.com. Copyright 2014 ENOFYLZ Wine BlogAll rights reserved.

Family Winemakers Recap – Best of the Newbies!

I attended the Family Winemakers of California (“FWC”) Grand Tasting at the San Mateo County Event Center on August 17th.  The FWC is the trade advocate for California’s “small family” wineries (although behemoth wineries like Kendall Jackson and Gallo are also considered family wineries most are in fact smaller family run wineries ). And a huge tasting like this brings in trade, media, and wine lovers from across the country.

Family Winemakers Tasting - The Best of the Newbies

After twenty-three years in San Francisco, I wondered what was behind the change in venue.   According to the FWC the change in venue was driven by “a reflection of our vintners’ desire to reach the broader wine market on the Peninsula and in Silicon Valley”.

Family Winemakers Tasting; The Best Of The Newbies

With 160 wineries pouring over 450 wines, it’s the single largest tasting of California wines in the world!

It’s my favorite big event because it’s a chance to taste so many different types and styles of wines from throughout California, from so many producers, large and small, old and new.  If you’ve ever wanted to taste wines back to back, this event is a great opportunity to do so.

Artistry and passion are the hallmark of FWC wineries at these tastings…

If ever there was a time the vinous cliché “So many wines, so little time” is true, it’s at a huge event like this.  With so many wineries pouring, I needed a plan to maximize my time at the tasting.

My initial thought was to check out the 32 wineries that were pouring at the event for the first time.  But when I checked out the Tasting Program, that yielded about 130 different wines…

Clearly, that wasn’t going to work.  Not if I intended to drive home!

So I narrowed my focus and decided to taste Chardonnay, and Cabernet (both Sauvignon and Franc) from the first-timers.

Family Winemakers Tasting; The Best of the Newbies

Nate and Lauren Belden of Belden Barns

I tasted around 50 wines from the first-timers.  My favorites (which I rated 90+ points – wines that I considered distinctive and memorable) were:

Whites and Rose

  • 2012 Belden Barns Grüner Veltliner
  • 2013 Belden Barns Sauvignon Blanc
  • 2012 Cuvee Wine Cellars Rosé of Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast
  • 2013 Pence Ranch Chardonnay
  • 2012 Pellegrini Family Vineyard Chardonnay
  • 2013 Xurus Sauvignon Blanc

Reds

  • 2012 Belden Barns Serendipity Block Pinot Noir
  • 2011 Chaix Wines Cabernet Sauvignon Chaix Vineyard
  • 2010 Encanto Estate Cabernet Sauvignon
  • 2010 Madrigal Red Wine Sonnet 63
  • 2009 Madrigal Cabernet Sauvignon
  • 2007 Martin Ranch Winery Cabernet Sauvignon Thérèse Vineyards
  • 2011 Vineyard 511 Cabernet Sauvignon
  • 2008 Xurus Cabernet Sauvignon Sonatina Vineyard
  • 2009 Xurus Cabernet Sauvignon Sonatina Vineyard

After tasting through the first-timers,  it was time for “Taster’s Choice…Um..basically, I’m “off the clock” and taste whatever strikes my fancy.  I tasted another 40 wines.  My favorites from were:

Whites and Rose

  • 2011 Robert Young Estate Winery Chardonnay
  • 2011 Tablas Creek Esprit de Tablas Blanc
  • 2012 Tablas Creek Grenache Blanc
IMG_0134

The “wine-up” at Tablas Creek. You can’t go wrong!

Reds

  • 2007 Corté Riva Cabernet Franc
  • 2007 Corté Riva Cabernet Sauvignon
  • 2011 Frank Family Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon
  • 2009 Hawk and Horse Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon
  • 2009 Hawk and Horse Vineyards Block Three Cabernet Sauvignon
  • 2009 Hawk and Horse Vineyards Latigo
  • 2010 Smith Madrone Cabernet Sauvignon
  • 2010 Smith Madrone Cabernet Sauvignon Cook’s Flat Reserve
  • 2011 Tablas Creek Esprit de Tablas
  • 2012 Tablas Creek Mourvedre
  • 2009 Taplin Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon Terra 9
  • 2012 Siduri Pinot Noir Clos Pepe Vineyard

It was a fabulous tasting.  It’s always such a thrill to discover new to me wineries, and of course revisit some always favorites.

On balance, I was pleased with the change in venue.  Parking is easier, it’s closer to home for me, and the crowd (though attendance seemed down compared to prior years) seemed more well-behaved.  I hope the event continues at the San Mateo location.

If you haven’t had a chance to attend a FWC tasting, I highly recommend checking it out! Your next opportunity is schedule for March 15, 2015 at Fairplex in Pomona.

2014 Rhone Rangers Grand Tasting- The Best of Grenache

Last weekend I attended the 17th Annual Rhone Rangers San Francisco Bay Area
Weekend Celebration of American Rhones at The Craneway Pavilion, Ford Point, Richmond CA.  Rhone Rangers is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to promoting the Rhone varietal wines produced in the U.S.

2014 Rhone Rangers Grand Tasting

The Rhone Ranger’s new digs for 2014 – Craneway Pavillion

The two-day event featured a Winemaker Dinner on Saturday at The General’s Residence, Fort Mason, San Francisco.  The evening began with a walk-around tasting reception featuring 16 wineries, followed by a four-course meal catered by the Girl & the Fig, and concluded with a live auction of wines and wine-country travel experiences with proceeds used to fund the Rhone Rangers Scholarship Fund. After dinner, Robert Haas, partner and founder, Tablas Creek Vineyard was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award for his contribution to the American Rhone movement.

Sunday featured a  two course Seminar Series and the Grand Tasting. I attended both.

It was my first time attending the Seminar Series, which I found both informative and entertaining.  For great recap of the seminars check out  Elaine Chukan Brown’s Hawk Wakawaka Wine Review’s -  Drinking Small Production Rhone Wines: Rhone Rangers 2014, and Tasting Grenache with the Rhone Rangers.

And did I mention there was wine at the seminars?

2014 Rhone Rangers Grand Tasting - The Best of Grenache

Wines poured for “Grenache; The World’s Most Widely Planted Rhone Grape Variety” seminar

The Grand Tasting is the LARGEST Rhone tasting held in the US – 90 wineries (For a list of participating wineries-click here), and around 400 wines to try.

This year, the Grand Tasting moved from San Francisco to Point Richmond in the East Bay. I was thrilled with the new location.  Parking was plentiful and easily accessible for drivers.  But  what I really appreciated the new location is that was BART-able by taking the train to the El Cerrito del Norte BART station, the taking the free shuttle provided by Rhone Rangers to the venue.  Glorious views the Bay too!

2014 Rhone Rangers Grand Tasting -The Best of Grenache

The calm before the Rhone Rangers storm!

Grenache Deep-Dive

If there ever there is a time the vinous cliché “So many wines, so little time” is true, it’s at a huge event like this!

Last year I focused on Rosé.  This year, I decided to do a deep dive on Grenache Noir ( as opposed to Grenache Blanc, which also seems to be gaining in popularity or Grenache Gris – a rare pinkish gray mutation of Grenache Noir)

Perhaps you …believe California wines can walk en pointe, evincing both power and delicacy.  At its best, Grenache here can do both with grace and charm. More than that: It can be a grape to reconcile those two often warring sets of taste. It rewards all who seek. It is a Rorschach test for flavor. - Jon Bonné

Why?  Well mostly because I dig Grenache.  It’s vinified in a variety of styles.  It can be almost a Pinot Noir-ish wine or a big fat juicy wine.  And in its lighter iterations, it’s a chillable red that is a versatile wine at the table – particularly in the Spring and Summer.

On to the wines I sniffed, sipped and  (mostly) spit!

Of the 33 Grenache I tasted, favorites I rated at least 90 points were:

  • 2011 Qupé Grenache Sawyer Lindquist Vineyard - Central Coast, Edna Valley - Brilliant dark ruby color with appealing cherry, strawberry and floral aromas. On the palate, it’s elegant and well structured with cherry, strawberry, and spice flavors. Long finish. 87% grenache and 13% Syrah $35
  • 2011 Eric Kent Wine Cellars Grenache The Barrel Climber - Sonoma County, Sonoma Coast;  Perfumed cherry, pomegranate, spice and a hint of floral aromas. On the palate, it’s medium-bodied, concentrated, a with a supple texture with soft well-integrated tannins and cherry, pomegranate, and spice flavors. Long finish. 91% Grenache from Greywacke Vineyard, and 9% Syrah from Las Madras Vineyard. $40
  • 2010 Law Estate Wines Beguiling - Paso Robles; Ruby-violet color with raspberry, strawberry, spice and a hint of floral aromas. On the palate, its between light and medium-bodied, and balanced with surprising acidity and raspberry, strawberry, spice and mineral flavors. Lengthy finish. 94% Grenache, 6% Syrah $65
  • 2010 Le Cuvier Winery Grenache, Single Vineyard (Barrel Sample)Paso Robles; Ruby red color with aromatic strawberry, red currant, and dark cherry aromas. On the palate, it’s medium bodied with wonderful acidity, and strawberry, red currant,  and brown spice flavors.  Long finish. – $50
  • 2011 Carica Grenache Eaglepoint Ranch - Mendocino County; Light red color with appealing cherry, red currant, and spice aromas. On the palate, it approaches medium bodied, and is well-balanced and persistent with cherry, cranberry, and spice flavor. Lingering finish. $30
  • 2011 McCay Cellars Grenache - Lodi; Ruby color with aromatic appealing spiced cherry, cranberry, and a bit of pepper aromas. On the palate, it’s medium-bodied with medium acidity, and an appealing grip from soft tannins. It show cherry, cranberry, and spice flavors. Medium long finish. $32

Taster’s Choice

After tasting through the available Grenache, it was time for what I call “Taster’s Choice”.

Yup..it’s just what it sounds like.  I’m off “the clock”, and on to whatever I strikes my fancy. After all, this is gathering of the best Rhone wines America has to offerand I wasn’t about to leave without tasting some other wines too!  I didn’t have as much time as I’d like (time does truly fly when you’re having fun), but I was tasted another to 25 or so wines after my Grenache deep dive.  Favorites  from my post-Grenache walk about that I rated at least 90 points were:

  • 2011 Bonny Doon Vineyard Le Cigare Blanc Reserve En Bonbonne - Central Coast, Arroyo Seco
    Slightly cloudy pale gold color with intriguing peach, apple, and lanolin aromas. On the palate, it’s fresh with ample weight and peach, tart apple, spice and mineral flavors. Lingering satisfying finish. Blend of co-fermented 62% Grenache Blanc, 38% Roussanne. $50
  • 2013 Campovida Viognier Estate Grown - USA, California, North Coast, Mendocino County - Pale golden-yellow color with appealing white peach, apricot, and honey aromas. On the palate it’s medium-bodied, fresh, and persistent with focused peach, melon, apricot, and honey flavors. Lingering finish $36
  • 2011 Tablas Creek Esprit de Tablas Blanc - USA, California, Central Coast, Paso Robles - Light yellow color with penetrating honeysuckle, mineral, spiced hazelnut, pear aromas. On the palate, it’s medium-bodied, well structured and focused with a great mouth feel.  It shows pear, green apple, spice and mineral flavors. Long finish. Blend of 64% Roussanne, 26% Grenache Blanc, and 10% Picpoul Blanc. $40
  • 2012 Two Shepherds Pastoral Blanc Saralee’s Vineyard - Sonoma County, Russian River Valley - Pale yellow gold color with restrained peach, melon, and honeysuckle aromas. On the palate, it approaches medium-bodied, is well structured and fresh with an alluring creamy texture. It shows peach, apricot, spice and a hint of tropical flavors and a lingering finish.  Blend of 50% Roussanne, 35% Marsanne, 10% Viognier and 5% Grenache Blanc. $28

Rhone Rangers TCV

  • 2011 Ridge Carignane Triangle - USA, California, Sonoma County
    Dark ruby color with aromatic blackberry, black cherry raspberry, spice and a hint of roast meat aromas. On the palate, it’s medium-bodied, and well structed with wonderful acidity. It shows focused mixed berry, black cherry, and spiced vanilla flavors. Lingering finish. $26
  • 2011 Kukkula Noir - USA, California, Central Coast, Paso Robles
    Dark ruby color with appealing black cherry, strawberry, black currant and white pepper aromas. On the palate, it’s medium bodied, and fresh with dusty tannins. It shows black cherry, plum, black currant, with a bit of bittersweet chocolate flavors and a lingering finish. Blend of 86% Syrah 14% Counoise $45
  • 2011 L’Aventure Estate Cuvée - USA, California, Central Coast, Paso Robles
    Nearly opaque purple color with exuberant, layered cassis, spice, sandalwood, and spiced aromas. On the palate, it’s rich and concentrated with lush mixed dark berry, and spice flavors, sweet tannins and a subtle mineral undertone. Long finish. Blend of 48% Syrah, 28% Cabernet Sauvignon and 24% Petit Verdot. $85
2014 Rhone Rangers - Best of Grenache

Chloe Asseo – Sales, Marketing and Communications Director for L’Aventure Winery

  • 2010 Big Basin Vineyards Grizzly - Santa Cruz Mountains
    Carmine color with expansive mixed berry, licorice, dried herb and pepper aromas. On the palate, it’s medium-bodied and vibrant with dusty tannins and dark cherry, raspberry, plum, and spice flavors. Blend of 56% Grenache, 31% Syrah & 13% Mourvedre. $48
Rhone Rangers Big Basin

Bradley Brown – Big Basin Owner and Winemaker (far right) and the Big Basin Rhone Ranger team

Miscellaneous Musings

  • I was a bit surprised at the prices of some of the Grenache.  In fact, the average price for the wines I tasted was $33.50.  I wonder if demand for Grenache is on the rise, and how well  those $35-$45 and up bottles are selling?
  • Coincidence that my three favorite Grenache were not 100% Grenache, but had some Syrah in the blend?  I think not.
  • At last year’s Grand Tasting one was able to purchase wines on the spot.  It’s convenient to have that option, and I took advantage of it and purchased a couple of bottles I liked.  We were unable to do that this year.  I’m sure it’s a licensing issue. That’s an opportunity for improvement for an otherwise awesome event.
  • The event seemed less crowded than last year. While that certainly made for (mostly) shorter lines and higher quality interaction with winery folk, if true, that would be a shame because this is such a great event.
  • Note to self – Plan to go to the Winemaker Dinner next year!

Rhone Rangers Glass

All in all, what a great event!  And if you’re in L.A or Washington D.C., the Rhone Rangers will be riding into your town later this year!  

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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, and 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 Blog.com. Copyright 2014 ENOFYLZ Wine Blog. All rights reserved.

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Wine of the Week: 2010 Breggo Cellars Gewürztraminer Ferrington Vineyard

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.  For this week, my Wine Of The Week is the 2010 Breggo Cellars Gewürztraminer Ferrington Vineyard.

The Winery

Breggo Cellars is located in the City of Booneville in Anderson Valley AVA, which is north (about 70 miles) of Napa Valley in Mendocino County.  It is owned by Cliff Lede (pronounced “LAY-dee”) of the Cliff Lede Vineyards and Poetry Inn in Napa Valley, where Lede has been very successful producing Bordeaux varietal wines.

As the saying goes “Great wine starts in the vineyard”.  And a great vineyard, start with having the grape varietal best suited for the location of the vineyard.  Breggo is focused on varietals that do well in cool climate Anderson Valley – Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, and Syrah.

The Wine

Gewürztraminer (pronounced as “guh-Verts-trah-Meen-er”) literally means “spicy grape” due to its gobs of exotic, spicy (clove and allspice) fruit flavors including lychee, citrus and peach.  It can be made in dry or sweet styles.  It’s typically best drank within 3-5 year of vintage.   The grape thrives in cooler climate locations, so the Anderson Valley is a great place to grow the grape.

The fruit for this wine is sourced from the Ferrington Vineyard, owned by Kurt and Heather Schoeneman, who purchased the vineyard in 1997.

This wine underwent whole cluster pressing to tank and settled for 24 hours. Two-thirds was fermented in neutral French oak barrels, while one-third was tank fermented in stainless steel. No malolactic fermentation was permitted.

photo (49)

My tasting notes follow:

Light pale yellow color with intensely aromatic exotic aromas of lychee, stone fruits, lemon peel, and spices. On the palate, it’s medium-bodied with apricot, white peach, citrus, and spice flavors. Surprisingly vibrant acidity. Long finish. 13.1% abv.| SRP – $25

Rating: A-; A wonderfully refreshing, dry, yet exotic Gewürztraminer that I’d purchase again!

Sample purchased for review

Ratings Key:

(A+) – 98-100/Extraordinary
(A) – 94-97/Outstanding
(A-) – 90-93/Excellent
(B+) – 86-89/Very good
(B) – 80-85/Good
(C) – 70-79/Bleh
(D) – 50-69/#Fail

Follow me on Twitter @martindredmond for all things wine, and 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 Blog.com. Copyright 2014 ENOFYLZ Wine Blog. All rights reserved.

No Reservations Wine Tasting: Joseph Phelps Freestone

From time to time, I have a wine tasting experience that stands above the rest, and is everything I’m looking for – great wine and commendable service in a relaxed 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.This installation of No Reservations features Joseph Phelps Freestone

JPFreestone Front View

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This article was previously featured on the American Winery Guide and is republished, by the author Martin Redmond

My wife and I do more than our fair share of wine tasting. More often than not, especially when visiting wine country, we plan to visit at least a few wineries. However, we it find equally satisfying when we visit one or two wineries, as part of a larger experience. Whenever we seek such an experience, we head west to the beautiful Sonoma Coast. Aside from some great Sonoma wineries, its beautifully rugged coastline, beaches, hiking trails and proximity to redwood forests offer a multitude of opportunities for Pacific Ocean sightseeing, strolls on the beach, picnicking, and hiking among other things. Whenever we venture out to West Sonoma County, one of our favorite wineries is Joseph Phelps Vineyard (“JPF”) in Freestone.

Read more…

The wines available for tasting include both Napa Valley and Sonoma Coast selections. My detailed tasting notes on the wines we tasted follow:

The Napa Valley selections included:

2012 Sauvignon Blanc – Floral and citrus aromatic with lively acidity, a creamy texture and citrus, melon and a hint of pineapple flavor Aged 7 months in French Oak. – 89pts

2010 Cabernet Sauvignon – Still young, but with aromatic tobacco, black and blue fruit, and spiced vanilla, flavors. Slightly tannic with a long finish. – 91pts

photo (27) (1)

2011 Eisrébe - a delightful Eiswein-style dessert wine made from a grape you don’t see much outside of Germany and Austria, Scheurebe. The grapes were picked at 23 brix and flash-frozen (we don’t get freezing weather in Napa Valley often). It shows expansive honey, citrus aromas, and was sweet without being cloying thanks to its very good acidity. – 91pts

The Sonoma Coast selections included:

2011 Fogdog Chardonnay – Entry level wine with apple, pear, vanilla, mineral and a kiss of spice aromatics and flavor with firm acidity. – 90pts

2011 Freestone Chardonnay – Apple, pear, floral, and spice aromatics. It’s fresh, with a creamy texture, and apple, pear, citrus, and melon flavors and a long finish. – 90pts

2010 Pinot Noir – Entry level wine with cherry, cola, and earth with a kiss of spice aroma. It’s shows bright acidity and cherry, and spice flavors and a lengthy finish. – 88pts

photo (26) (1)

2010 Pinot Noir, Quarter Moon – Single vineyard wine estate wine with billowing cherry, cranberry, and Asian spice aromas. Silky smooth with cherry, raspberry, spice and vanilla flavors. Long finish. My WOTD. – 92pts

We had a great experience at Joseph Phelps Freestone – Highly Recommended!