Monday, December 31, 2007

2003 Mountain River Pinotage/Shiraz Reserve

SaraGrace bought this bottle over the summer when we first discovered the joys of Pinotage.

The presentation is good. The rear label gives some decent info. It comes in a Zin bottle.

I didn't get to see the cork as SGK popped it open before I came home and disposed of it.

It had a bright lively colour.

Lots of earth and brandy on the nose.

After a completely and utterly legless swirl, I got berries and leather.

It tasted dirty and full bodied. I liked it. The body reminded me of a Rhône blend.

I put it through the Vinturi and it brought purple and blood to the colour and more berries on the nose. It also removed the dirt from the flavour and replaced it with prunes. I prefer the dirt, so even though it improved the colour, the rest of the bottle got swilled sans vinturi. SG didn't like it because she thought it tasted tart.

The Verdict:

I liked it
Style: Afrikaner
Varietals: Pinotage, Sirah
Appellation/Terrior: WO Western Cape, South Africa
Vintage: 2004
Vintner: Mountain River
Alcohol: 14% by Volume

Sunday, December 30, 2007

2004 Schramsberg Blanc De Noir Brut

SaraGrace bought this bottle for the holidays. With the yumminess of the Malvasia Bianca in mind she wanted to try something new.

The presentation is great. The tasting notes are excellent. It comes in a clear Champagne bottle. The label gives more than the legal minimum with details on production (Méthode Champenoise, barrel fermented, etc.) and grape mixture. There is appellation listed as this cuvée comes from several appellations. It is distressing though that they did not at least list California - leads one to believe that more than 15% of the grapes come from elsewhere.

It had an composite cork typical of sparkling wines. The cork showed 1/8 inch penetration.

It had a colour reminiscent of a Chardonay with a like nose. Teensey bubbles.

It had a crisp slightly sweet anise flavour. After pouring a full flute, I got an almost cheesy taste on inhaling the CO2; but that could have been the pizza in the oven.

The Verdict:

OK, but I'm not a bubbly fan
Style: Champagne
Varietals: Pinot Noir, Chardonay
Appellation/Terrior: None
Vintage: 2004
Vintner: Schramsberg
Alcohol: 15% by Volume

Saturday, December 29, 2007

NV Stony Ridge California Malvasia Bianca

We bought this bottle of bubbly at the Crooked Vine tasting room which is co-located with Stony Ridge. It was an unusual purchase as we don't usually buy bubblies, but it was unusual in that the grape Malvasia Bianca is not a normal component in a sparkling wine, and it tasted wonderful.

The presentation is OK. It comes in a Champagne bottle. The label gives the legal minimum. There is no indication anywhere on the bottle of when either the grapes were grown or when it was put bottled. With a non-vintage wine you typically will see the range of years "hidden" on the label somewhere indicating when the grapes were grown to differentiate it from the non-vintage bottlings of other years. This is not so with his particular wine. The only way to tell is to see the tasting notes. The cherub on the label is nice, but doesn't do the original (carved in a giant cask in their tasting room) justice.

It had an composite cork typical of sparkling wines.

It had a golden colour and cinnamon on the nose.

The Verdict:

My favorite sparkling wine.
Style: Champagne
Varietals: Malvasia Bianca
Appellation/Terrior: California
Vintage: NV (2005)
Vintner: Stony Ridge
Alcohol: 12% by Volume

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

1993 Stag's Leap Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon

I bought this bottle in 1998 as a gift to my mother. She decided to crack it open Christmas eve.

The presentation is good. It comes in a Bordeaux bottle. The label gives the legal minimum and an explanation of Stag's leaps different Cabernets. The atypical rack on the eponymous stag shown on the label is quite attractive.

It had a real cork with ¼ inch penetration. The wet end of the cork was black and it broke with the pressure from the corkscrew. It left a shit brown tattoo. The condition of the cork is indicative of the storage conditions for this bottle. It was only last year that my mother got a proper cellar, so it's not surprising that this bottle is showing more than its 14 years. The ullage (fill level; indicative of air exchange through the cork) was still at a respectable base neck level, so I was not too worried that the wine had spoiled.

The wine itself had a rich tawney colour and brandy like aromas. I smelled tea. A legless swirl brings sweetness to the nose, not unlike a port.

It tasted like a rich beef stew. There was some sediment in my glass, and around the neck of the bottle were small flecks of tannin. Phyliss smelled chocolate.

The Verdict:

Given the storage conditions we should have opened this wine a few years ago, but it was still very drinkable.
Style: Bordeaux
Varietals: Cabernet Sauvignon
Appellation/Terrior: Napa Valley, California
Vintage: 2004
Vintner: Stag's Leap
Alcohol: 13.8% by Volume
Price: Don't remember

Monday, December 24, 2007

2004 Bridlewood Syrah Port

We bought this wine on our annual pilgrimage to the Santa Barbara wine country. We went into the beautiful winery with high expectations, but this single bottle was our only purchase.

Since Kristin was over, it was a double dessert wine night; we Drank this wine to follow the Van Halen Concert (after the Mole dinner of the previous post.)

The presentation is poor. It comes in a Rhône style split bottle. The label gives only the legal minimum and the meaningless words "Winner's Circle Selection". Given that the winery has an equestrian theme, the "Winner's Circle" is the name of their wine club. (Note that the grammatically incorrect use of apostrophes is that of the winery and not this author's). The Tasting notes are OK, but both the notes and the label itself show that the wine marketer did not pay attention in class. This is an estate wine - yet the label does not show that. It is also incorrectly labeled a "Port" - which it cannot be because it is made from an inappropriate grape for a "Port". In reality it is Fortified Dessert wine made from Syrah grapes.

It had a real cork with no penetration, and it left only a wet tattoo.

It did have a thick red port colour with the aroma of Blackberries and chocolate. The legs were slow to form.

It was a thick, full wine that left a burning alcohol taste on the pallate.

The Verdict:

Style: Dessert
Varietals: Syrah
Appellation/Terrior: Santa Ynez Valley, California
Vintage: 2004
Vintner: Bridlewood
Alcohol: 18.1% by Volume
Price: Don't remember

Sunday, December 23, 2007

2003 Barón Balché Dulché

We bought this wine on our annual pilgrimage to the Valle de Guadeloupe. Balché is one of the few wineries in this region that you do not have to make an appointment to taste. We had great hopes when our host led us 10Mts underground to thiner cask aging cellar where we tasted their purveyance. We selected several wines, and were led back upstairs where our hopes were dashed when the bottles we wished to purchaced were pulled out of a tin shed on the desert floor where it was currently 100ºf.

We Drank this wine to follow the Mole dinner of the previous post.

The presentation is OK. It comes in a clear split bottle. The label is printed on clear plastic and is all in Spanish. The real cork was penetrated about ¼ inch, left the faintest tattoo and smelled of vinegar. Really shows the poor storage of the vintner.

It was a pale blush brandy colour, with lots of sugar on the nose and the faintest scent of Botrytis. I would expect a desert wine to be as leggy as Marilyn Monroe, but it took 2 swirls to get 4 faint legs to show. All of that swirling rewarded us with sweet raisins on the nose.

Drinking it was like drinking liquid sultanas. Brilliant. Our friend Kris who is very partial to Ports got a hint of walnut.

The Verdict:

I loved it, but do to the poor storage techniques of the vintner, I would be careful to inspect closely any bottles I purchased in the future.
Style: Dessert
Varietals: Syrah, Ruby Red
Appellation/Terrior: Valle De Guapeloupe, Baja California
Vintage: 2003
Vintner: Balché
Alcohol: 13.5% by Volume
Price: Pricey for a Mexican wine

Saturday, December 22, 2007

2006 Shooting Star Blue Franc

This wine came in my Steelehead wine club shipment. Shooting Star is Jed Steele's "Bargain" label.

SaraGrace really wanted a wine with dinner, but she had prepared chicken mole; makes it hard to pull a red out of the cellar to accompany it, so I was looking for something unusual. The Lemberger (Known as Blaufränkisch in it's native Austria) that Steele sent us was right up that alley.

The presentation is OK. It comes in a Bordeaux bottle. 2005's rear label had all sorts of great information, but that was lacking on the 2006. The Tasting notes on Steele's website are less informative about this instance of Lemberger but interesting on Lemberger as a whole. I love the cinc franc note for a label.

It had a capped agglomerated cork. There was no penetration to the cork, and no tattoo. It's colour was like a dark tea, and had no nose to speak of.
After the swirl we did get some berry aromas, and no legs.

This wine was a smooth, easy drinker with a Pinot like body. Given that it is a rather young vintage, we ran it through the Vinturi - which gave it a fresh berry aroma and believe it or not improved the colour as well.

The Verdict:

Smooth Easy Drinker. Serviced the Mole sauce.
Style: Germanic
Varietals: Lemberger
Appellation/Terrior: Washington State
Vintage: 2006
Vintner: Steele
Alcohol: 13.5% by Volume
Price: Came in a wine shipment with 3 other bottles

Friday, December 21, 2007

2004 Mayo Alexander Valley Stone Ranch Carignane

This wine was bought on Easter Sunday 2007 at one of the few open tasting rooms in Glenn Ellen.

I opened it after returning from a Rosenblum tasting; I had my mind set on a Rhône for dinner. SGK had cooked up some Shrimp; a Syrah just would not do, but a much lighter Carignane just might. It took some searching through the cellar, but I turned up just the bottle I was looking for.

The presentation is OK. It comes in a Zin bottle (Why???) But the rear label gives lots of info on this not so common varietal. By not so common, I mean as a single varietal; Carignane is a common wine in Rhône style blends as well as a minor (less than 15%) in Napa Zins; but you don't find it too often bottled on it's own. It had an Amalgamated cork capped by true cork.

There was no penetration to the cork, but it left a good tattoo. It had a light, almost Pinot colour. There was a sweet nose, and faint late legs.
After the swirl it had an almost Balsamic aroma, and a faint light chocolate taste.

After an hour, more earth was added to the flavour, but the wine was still slightly too acidic. It would be a good summer wine.

The Verdict:

It does not look like Mayo is still bottling this grape; but it might make a good summer wine if you can find it.
Style: Rhône
Varietals: Carignane
Appellation/Terrior: Stone Ranch Vineyard, Alexander Valley AVA, California
Vintage: 2004
Vintner: Mayo
Alcohol: 14.8% by Volume
Price: I don't remember

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

2003 Windsor California Merlot

This bottle of wine was given to us last year by our realtor, Deborah Lopez as a thank you for her business. It's a vanity label from Windsor Vineyards.

I opened this bottle at 7:00am to add to a beef stew as a cooking wine, and then saved the last glass to accompany it.

The presentation was OK. It came in a traditional Bordeaux style bottle. The label has the minimum required information.

It had an amalgamated cork tipped with real cork. There was penetration only through the real cork, and it left no tattoo.

The wine was deeper that I would expect from a Merlot; more like a Cab.

It had a very light nose, but alot of the aroma could have dissipated since I didn't get around to evaluating it until it had been open almost 12 hours.

I had to over-swirl it to get any legs at all, and the post-swirl nose was still lame.

It has a slight wet sponge to the taste, but not enough to make me pour it down the drain.

Stew is about the only meal that I prefer a Bordeaux to accompany, and this Merlot worked fine with it.

The Verdict:

On a par with a Charles Shaw or Gato Negro. (this is not a bad thing)
Style: Bordeaux
Varietals: Merlot
Appellation/Terrior: California
Vintage: 2003
Vintner: Windsor Vineyards
Alcohol: 15.3% by Volume
Price: Gift

Thursday, May 3, 2007

Volunteering at Lost Canyon

I have a couple of friends who have volunteered to help out at wineries, and I always thought it would be a good way to learn something. When I was last at Lost Canyon, they asked if I would be interested in volunteering, so I said yes. They have since emailed me twice, asking for help. The first time was to help pour in the tasting room. That did not strike me as a learning experience, so I declined. The second time was to help rack the wine.
When you rack a fermenting beverage, you are simply taking the must/wine/wort/beer/cider from one container and putting it in another. You do this for a variety of reasons, the most common one being to remove it from the lees (sludge). This is a fancy way of saying that you don't want all of the dead yeast and other solids that are rotting at the bottom of your container to flavour your end product.
Other reasons could be that you want to blend the beverage, or introduce oxygen to help a stalled fermentation.
The reason that Lost Canyon was racking was for none of the above. This was the 2006 harvest, and the Pinot Noir was not the best quality in fruit that year, and the wine maker felt that the Pinot would benefit from some additional colour. The way that he decided to add colour was to swap casks with the much darker Syrah. This caused a pre-mature blending of the Syrah, but he was ok with that.
My job was to help siphon the casks into the stainless steel tanks, and then back again into the opposite casks. SG got the glamorous job of washing the casks.
There were 46 casks in total that we were working with that day, and the winemaker wanted to make sure that there were no "bad" casks getting blended with the rest, so he handed me a turkey baster and a wine glass and told me to taste them all. Good work if you can get it :-)
I was amazed that the same wine could taste so different out of different casks. Not only the toasting, but the age of the cask and the type of wood all made a difference. It's one thing to read about it, but quite another to taste two wines that are identical but for one of these variables, and have it stand out so sharply.
All in all I learned a lot. I had some fun too. It would have been nice for the Lost Canyon folks to offer a bottle to take home in appreciation for 16 hours of work (8 by me and 8 by SG) but they didn't.

The Verdict:

I would volunteer there again only if the task was different, as it would give me a chance to learn some more.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Changing habits

It's been a whole week since my last post. This is because there's been some changes in our wine habits at home.
My wife is on a diet, and I am very proud of her for sticking with it. The side effect of her diet is that we are drinking less wine. Sure, I'm not on a diet; but I don't drink alone (generally) so this translates into "Since SG is on a diet; Michael isn't drinking unless there are guests over" which translates into less wine to review here.
Our cellar is full. Now that we have moved to Alameda, we no longer have the 1000 sq foot passive cellar that we had in San Francisco that could hold a virtually unlimited amount of wine. Summer is coming. This means that we need to drink our current holdings down to the point where they will fit in our new Viking wine cellar before we make any new purchases. This means that when I do have guests over (see earlier point) and therefore get to drink some wine, that is always something we already hold, and therefore likely to be something I already talked about here, and as much as I loved the 2005 Rosenblum Heritage clones Pettite Sirah from the San Francisco Bay AVA, I do not see the need to write about it 3 times in as many months.
So this dear reader is my apologies for the week long drought of wine stuff. I'll fix that as yesterday I volunteered at Lost Canyon and helped them rack some wine and learned quite a bit in the process. I'll talk about that tomorow.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

2005 Cline Ancient Vines Contra Costa Zinfandel

This wine was one of the mixed case we picked up at Costco about a year ago. We chose it because Matt Cline is the winemaker at our favorite house of Zin - Trinitas.

This was the 1st bottle of the 3 I had with Mandy when she came to visit. An '05 is a little on the young side, but I was scraping for something to drink that would not upset my wife. That damn diet again! I figured that if this was outstanding that being a Cline it would be easy to replace.

The presentation was excellent. It came in a traditional Zinfandel bottle. I'm not sure what the 3¢ stamp on the label is supposed to signify, but as it's canceled with an Oakley postmark my guess would be that it has something to do with the acquisition of Cline's Oakley vineyards. The front label has the legals, and the rear contains some good supporting info like Cline's definition of Ancient (80-100 years), why you should care that the grapes are that old, tasting notes, and terrior. They even declare where the minority of the grapes come from (Lodi) which they do not have to do with a County designated wine like this one.

Cline's website is excellent. It gives great info on their vineyards, practices, and history. The tasting notes are also similarly detailed.

It was stoppered with a real cork that left no tattoo. Given the youth of the wine, I was not surprised at the lack of sediment that this implies.

It had a good colour, but was more translucent than I would expect given the varietal and age of the vines.

Initial nose was charcoal and anise.

The swirl yielded a single leg; unusual as with the 14½% ABV I would expect more. The swirl also brought dark fruit to the nose, but none at all on the taste.

After a few minutes open, I did get a hint of fruit. More with every sip, but I don't think It will ever yield any Jam.

I decided to decant it, and we all headed out to Rosenblum for a tasting whilst the Cline breathed in the decanter. Upon our return, it had indeed opened up better, gaining a meaty texture like a mushroom. More fruit. SaraGrace got Cherry's and Plums, and Mandy said it was "Yummy".

I do have another bottle, and I will hold it for at least a year, if not more and probably decant it the morning of the day I plan on drinking it.

The Verdict:

Not as full flavoured as an old vine zin should be. This wine also suffers from being sold to young. It will age to be at least a good wine, but by the time I can tell if it will be outstanding, there will no longer be any available for purchase.
Style: Zinfandel
Varietals: Zinfandel, Alicante Bouschet, Carignane
Appellation/Terrior: Contra Costa County, California
Vintage: 2005
Vintner: Cline
Alcohol: 14.5% by Volume
Price: $18.00SRP

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

2002 Danzānte Della Sicilia Merlot

I do not remember where I picked up this bottle of Sicilian Merlot, given the appearance of Robert Mondavi's name on the label, it is likely that it was a gift rather than something that I purchased myself. If indeed it was a gift, and if the giver is reading, then my sincerest apologies for forgetting, and my thanks for the gift.

The presentation was excellent. It came in a traditional Bordeaux style bottle. Given that this is an Italian wine, the labeling requirements are different than most of the wines that I talk about here. The minimums are here, EU quality (IGT) and geographic indicator (Della Sicilia), vintage, and booze content. This wine could never be granted the more prestigious DOC or DOCG indicators as it is made with grapes not traditional to the region where they are grown. IGT (Indicazione Geografica Tipica) is more like an American AVA in that it indicates that the overwhelming majority of the grapes that make up this wine were grown in the region specified, and that the region has a history of winemaking and the expectation that the region is beneficial to the craft. (DOC and DOCG carry varietal requirements as well).
The label is also marked with the names of the owners of the winery - Bob Mondavi and "Marchesi De' Frescobaldi" (Italian for "The Marquis of cool-self confidence"). You should be familiar with Mondavi; Frescobaldi is an Italian winery of like size.
The rear label gives some tidbits as well; tasting notes, harvesting info, and history of the IGT as well as the names of the actual wine makers - Tim Mondavi and Lamberto Frescobaldi.

There are extensive tasting notes on the Danzante website add quite a bit of value when choosing this wine.

It had an amalgamated cork. There was no penetration and it left no tattoo.

The wine was more translucent that I would expect from a Merlot; almost like a Pinot. It did have a good red colour, reminicent of a checkered tablecloth at a pizza resturant.

It had blueberries on the nose and a hint of smoke - but since I had just fired up the BBQ; the smoke could have been on my hands.

The swirl left 4 legs on one side of the glass, and more fruit on the nose. Perhaps pomegranate, and believe it or not grapes. It was light and sweet tasting; but the sweetness was an illusion as at 13% it's fairly dry. That's a neat trick; to give the illusion of sweetness. Some vintners (Rosenblum) do that by overwhelming the wine with fruit; it was more delicate here.

After the full pour I got more of the classical Bordeaux on the nose; it should go well with Beef (which coincidentally is what I was having for dinner).

I like it. I wish I could remember where I acquired it.

After about 1½ hours I got boysenberries and apples on the tongue, and yes it did go well with the tri-tip that I was smoking with lavender.

The Verdict:

My predjudice against the Mondavi's was overcome by this wine. If all Merlot's were this good then I would not have a bias against Bordeaux style wine. Must be the Italian influence :-)
Style: Bordeaux
Varietals: Merlot
Appellation/Terrior: Della Sicilia IGT, Italy,
Vintage: 2002
Vintner: Danzānte
Alcohol: 13% by Volume
Price: Gift

Monday, April 23, 2007

2000 Ciardella Santa Cruz Mt Pinot Noir

I have not written about any wine recently because my wife is on a grape-free diet and I dislike drinking alone. I was able to break this Bacchus free streak with the arrival from England of a dear friend of mine, Mandy. On Friday night we opened three wines, (two previously un-reviewed) and on Saturday, a Pinot with my dad's girl friend (my dad does not drink reds), and Sunday for dinner a bottle from the old world.

Today's wine is from a friend of mine from my days at Borland in Santa Cruz, Randy of the Redwoods. Randy, no longer lives amongst the redwoods, but instead he's trying to open a winery just south of the Willammette valley and over the CA border north of Shasta. When Randy did live in the redwoods, he volunteered at some of the mountain wineries and I believe that this wine was a gift from him.

The presentation was good. It came in a traditional Burgundy style bottle with an attractive pen and ink of grapes on the label. The front label has the legals, and the back covers some of the history of the vintner as well as a blurb about the climate in the AVA.

The winery has no website, but a quick Google on them returns a list of awards that their Burgundy style wines have won.

When I went to remove the stopper, I was disappointed to find a plastic capsule and an amalgamated cork. A plastic capsule does not detract from the flavour of the wine, but appears cheap. The cork was penetrated about 1/8 in and left a very light tattoo.

The wine was the colour of dried blood , but translucent as you would expect in a Pinot. There was vinegar on the nose - which along with the colour worried me, as this wine spent at least 12 months in questionable storage at our ski cabin rather than in my cellar.

After a legless swirl, the vinegar nose dissipated, and the initial taste was tangy - almost like it was still fermenting which it should not have been doing.

Despite this, the wine still went down easy (as most Pinots do).

The Verdict:

Any conclusion would be unfair, as I was lax on it's storage conditions.
Style: Burgundy
Varietals: Pinot Noir
Appellation/Terrior: Santa Cruz Mt. AVA, California
Vintage: 2000
Vintner: Ciardella Vineyards
Alcohol: 12.5% by Volume
Price: Gift

Friday, April 20, 2007

Mayo Family Winery Valley Hospitality Center

On Easter Sunday we were driving through Sonoma county on our way home from Safari West. We chose this route so as to allow us to stop at Kunde, where I was looking forward to tasting some row designated Zins. Alas, it was Easter and there was a dearth of tasting rooms that were open. The first open tasting room that we came across was the attractive Mayo Family Winery.

When they sat "Family Winery" they really mean it. Every member of the Mayo family, up to and including distant cousins work at the winery. Our pourer was Courtney, who is some sort of a cousin to the founders on what she called "The Family Internship".

The tasting room was in a glorious setting. Set amid the vineyards in a new barn-like structure at the intersection of two country roads. The atmosphere inside was conducive to a pleasant tasting experience (even if it was a bit crowded; which I will forgive them for being the only open tasting room for miles). Courtney was very accommodating by allowing us to substitute reds from the regular tasting list for the whites on the reserve list. She also told us some good stories about the vineyard and the Mayo family.

The wines were nice. Although they produce some purportedly good Zins, we didn't get to try any as they had sold out; however Courtney did sell us some pre-release Zin on the promise that we would cellar it. They did have a varietal that you do not see very often outside of a blend: Carignane. That was refreshing. I always like to see an unusual bottling every once in a while. It shows that the vintner is not afraid to experiment.

There was a tasting fee, but I don't remember how much as it was waived with my purchase.

The Verdict:

If I am in Glenn Ellen when they have some of their Zins on hand, I will stop in again.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Wine for Dummies

I bought this book a while back because we found that we were buying and tasting so much wine that we thought we should educate ourselves a little bit. It was not actually the first book we bought for this purpose, but the first book assumed that you were familiar with French wines, and we weren't, so we picked this guy up.

It makes a good bathroom read. It does not provide any real details on the differences between different AVA's or even varietals; but it does introduce some terminology and practices that should be useful to a newbie.

It was especially good at explaining why the French systems are in place, and what they really mean, and why you should care that a grape is a Bordeaux varietal or not.

What I did not like about it was it's winery recommendations. Each chapter had a recommended producer list associated with it, and they were all the supermarket wine producers (but then again; what can you expect from a book endorsed by Robert Mondavi himself)

The Verdict:

If you read my posts and don't know what I'm talking about, then it's a good buy. If you do know what i'm talking about, then it could still be an interesting browse.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Rosenblum Red Rangers

Rosenblum has two tasting rooms - one in wine country and the other at the winery in Alameda CA, less than 2 miles as the crow flies from my front door. It was founded by a hobbiest, Veterinarian Kent Rosenblum and has evolved into a good sized operation with about 50 single vineyard wines. Rosenblums wines are what is refered to as "Fruit Bombs" by most aficianados. It's a style well adapted to Mataro, Petite Syrah and Zinfandel but IMHO less well adapted to the other Rhône, Burgundy, and Bordeaux varietals that the good Dr. makes.

Rosenblum's wine club is slightly different in their wine club memberships; most winery's offer a Whites only, a Reds only or a mixed club. Rosenblum offers 3 clubs as well; Premier, Red Rangers, Explorer's Club. The difference primarily lies in your commitment: Monthly, Bimonthly or Quarterly.

The club gives a less than stellar 10% discount and complimentary tastings.

They also promise admission to the annual club party and BBQ.

We joined this club for two reasons:

  • They are close - Every time Rosenblum changes what they pour in the tasting room we can easily drop by and taste it for free. And when you like The Good Doctor's style of wines, that's a big deal.
  • The party - The wine club BBQ is a much heralded Alameda event.

The Verdict:

We like their wine enough for reason #1 to be almost enough to keep us as members; and as they have not had the BBQ since we've become members; we'll see if reason #2 is enough to throw it over the top come June.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Trinitas Wine Society

The Trinitas Winery is unvisitable. But it has some of the best wines that I have ever tasted. I initially found them because I was looking for the holy grail of old-growth zins - I wanted to find the oldest zinfandel vineyard in the world and drink it down. What I found was Matt Cline and Erin Jacuzzi's hobby winery. Both the Clines and the Jacuzzi's have been in the California wine business since the days of redwood barrels. The Cline family has huge holdings and makes oceans of wine. Trinitas is what they do for fun, and the Zin I mentioned is from a little vineyard in Oakley that frikkin rocks.

The club gives the usual 20% discount and complimentary tastings at the Meritage resort in Napa.

Shipments are 2 wines each 3 times a year, targeted to cost $65.00 plus tax and shipping a shipment.

They also promise "Special release wines not offered to the public" and "Large format bottles" as well as "Invitation to winemaker dinners in Northern and Southern California and Invitation to our annual barrel tasting"

When I joined the Trinitas Wine Society, it was literally the only way to purchase their wine, and even now most of the wine offered to me as a member is not available from their website to non members. The absolute best Cabernet Sauvignon I ever had came from a Trinitas shipment. It was part of a 47 case production of ancient vine cab. I have also tasted several varietals and cuvées that I would not have tried from anyone else including an old vine Mataro and Black Malvoisie.

I have yet to be offered large format bottles or invitations to anything; but I have only been a member for 2 shipments - lets wait and see what happens at harvest time.

The Verdict:

I love their wine so much that you would have to pry my membership from my cold dead fingers. Since I like their wine this much, and it is not really available to non-members then the membership is completely worth having.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Steelehead Wine Club

The Steele Winery is located in downtown Kelseyville in the The Clear Lake AVA, but they both own vineyards in, and source grapes from, many different locals.
Jed Steele, for whom the winery is named is a wine industry veteran; having worked in the industry since the '60s and being the original winemaker for Kendall-Jackson.

We stopped in at the Steele winery one cold spring day during a camping trip that we were on, and had such a good time at the tasting room, that we bought a couple cases of wine. We joined the club for the discount.

The club gives the usual 20% discount and complimentary tastings. They go a little farther and extend the free tasting to your guests. Other than appearing in person at the winery, it also appears to be the only way to purchase special bottlings and library wines.

They also claim to give members "Invitations to special events for members-only at the winery" but in the last 16 months I have yet to receive a single one.

Shipments are 3 wines each 4 times a year, priced a reasonable $45.00 a shipment. This is a deal price wise ($15 a bottle including shipping cost!). The winery produces over 40 different wines under 4 different labels; Stymie, Steele, Shooting Star, and Writer's Block.
I have never received a Stymie in my shipments, but that can be explained by the pricing limit that they set for themselves.
We joined this club for the discount, and have since appreciated the access to the library wines (in particular the Pacini Zins) and the exposure to a couple of varietals and regions that we would not ordinarily purchase. Blaufrankisch and Barbera are two varietals that Steele introduced us to. Washington State is is a region I would not have tried without being a "Steelehead".

The Verdict:

A good beginner's wine club. We remain members for the economical pricing.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Wine Clubs From A Consumer's Point Of View

Yesterday I talked about what a winery gets out of having a wine club. Today I'm going to talk about the other half of that question: What a consumer gets out of a wine club. Next time, I'll start on some of the wine clubs I have belonged to and thier benefits and drawbacks.

From the consumer's perspective, a wine club gains them several things -

  • Cheaper Wine - All wine clubs grant discounts over the SRP of their wines. The de-facto standard for winery sponsored wine clubs is 20%. This is usually on all wine, not just the regular shipment, and is also usually in addition to volume discounts. Upon occasion, I have joined wine clubs strictly for this discount.
  • Better Wine - Most wine clubs at smaller winerys will have wines that are only available to wine club members. These are usually very small batches that were the pet project of the wine maker, or from vineyards that produced a limited amount of fruit. I have also joined wine clubs strictly for access to these wines.
  • Futures Access - Winery's sell futures. Some only sell futures to wine club members. What a wine future is, is you get to buy today a wine that is not yet released. Usually at a discount above and beyond your club discount. Why would you want to do this? Well, some wines sell out before they are released; so the only way you can get them is to buy a future. Another reason is cost; most wines will sell at a multiple of the future price upon release. If you can pay $25 today for a $75.00 wine next year, it can really save you some cash.
  • Saved Effort - Not everyone lives conveniently close to a winery that they can easily drop by and taste the new wines as they are released. A wine club guarantees that you will receive the new wines for your tasting pleasure without having to visit the winery.
  • Access To Old Wine - Winery's typically hold back a portion of each release in the "library" these wines are usually offered first to wine club members when they have peaked.
  • Exposure To Different Wines - Since you do not choose the wines that get shipped to you, you will get exposed to wines or styles (or even winery's in some cases) that you have not tried before
  • Special Events - Some winery's have barrel tastings, food pairing seminars, customer appreciation events, etc. that are only available to wine club members.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Wine Clubs From A Winery's Point Of View

Over the next few days I am going to talk about wine clubs. What are their benefits and what are their drawbacks. What I look for in the ones I join.

From the winery's perspective, a wine club gains them several things -

  • Bigger profit margins - The biggest per bottle profit on a sale for a winery is the bottle that you buy directly from them. The reason for this is that they have to steeply discount the wine that is sold to their distributors.
  • Guaranteed sale - A wine club membership is a commitment by the consumer to purchase n number of bottles on a regular basis
  • Test market - The winery chooses which wine to send you. They can choose to send you a wine that you might not ordinarily try on your own, thereby exposing you to a new product in an attempt to build demand for that product
  • Disposal of library wines - Wine improves over time before finally spoiling. This leaves winery's in a quandary - should I hold the wine until it's peak when it will command a greater price? And therefore risk not being able to sell it before it starts to sour? The answer is to sell most of your wine upon release, but hold some back. Now, how do you rid yourself of too much wine that you have held back? Your members!
  • The ability to discount their wine - Winery's would love to sell more wine directly to consumers (go back to item #1 - bigger profit). One way to encourage consumers to buy directly from the winery is to sell the wine at a discount relative to retail price. Any discount they give you is paltry to what their distributors are getting, yet may be significant enough to you to encourage you to buy more wine than you would otherwise.
    Under normal circumstances it is a bad idea for a winery (or any manufacturer for that matter) to sell their products at a price lower than their retailers can afford to sell it at, because if they do, then they are put in the position of competing with their partners and thusly alienating them.
    As a matter of fact, many distribution contracts disallow you to sell your products to consumers at a discount. This market protection scheme is not unreasonable to expect. The creation of a class of consumer called a member allows a winery to sell their products at a discount without breaching their distribution contracts.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

2004 Lost Canyon Stage Gulch Syrah

Our friendly Rosenblum pourer and oenology student Pam had been dying to take us across the estuary to Lost Canyon for a while, and when we did this was one of the wines I bought.

SaraGrace and I opened it in our tent-cabin at Safari West after dinner, when the kids were down and we could relax on the porch.

This wine was not accompanied by food, but rather by starlight and the sounds of the African savannah at night. Downright romantic if you ask me :-)

The presentation is OK. It comes in a traditional Rhône bottle and while the rear label gives no additional information, the sell notes and vineyard notes do.

This wine had a deap, rich colour and cherry blossoms and apricots on the nose.
The initial taste was smokey and reminiscent of pomegranate. It even left legs on a plastic glass!

After the swirl I got cherries. Definately cherries. While not the fruit bomb of a Rosenblum, definately more fruit than a Carina or Rusak.

The Verdict:

Yum. I liked it. at $35.00 I probably won't have it often.
Style: Rhône
Varietals: Syrah
Appellation/Terrior: Sonoma Coast, California
Vintage: 2004
Vintner: Lost Canyon
Alcohol: 14.2% by Volume
Price: $36.07

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

2004 Rosenblum Redwood Valley Annette's Reserve Zin

We bought this wine when we dropped by the vineyard to pick up our club shipment. Pam was working the tasting room and as usual knew exactly what I like.

This Zin is more transparent in colour than most of the good Doctor's wines, with a browner tinge than you would expect from a young wine like this one, with a hint of sediment. It had legs even before the swirl, so it promised to be big!

This wine had the aroma of pluots that I have come to associate with Rosenblum. There were also hints of cinnamon. It tasted of plums, apricots, chocolate, chocolate and chocolate some more. Very tasty. There is a pucker of tannin that follows a full mouth gargle, and nutmegs on the finish.

We had this wine with left-over Indian food (dahl bhat and chicken makanwala). Who says that whites go better with Asian food? This Zin held up to the complex flavours of an Indian curry with bells on. I would say that it went better with this curry than the '99 Pacini went with the Kobe beef.

The presentation was good. It came in a Bordeaux bottle with an agglomerated synthetic cork. The back label gives some info, and the tasting notes give more.

The Verdict:

Yum. Glad I bought two. Want more.

Varietals:Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, Carignane
Appellation/Terrior:Redwood Valley, California
Alcohol:15.5% by Volume

Monday, April 9, 2007

Rios-Lovell Tasting Room

Rios-Lovell is the last winery that SG and I visited in Livermore. We thought that we were on our way home, when we passed it on Tesla Rd. We decided to stop because it's a winery that's a favorite of SG's friend Meg, and we have a bottle, untasted in our cellar and we would be bummed if we tasted that wine and then wished we'd stopped.

The building the tasting room was in was an attractive Mission style adobe. The pours were good size and they had 12 wines on the tasting list.

The goodness stops there.
The tasting glasses were tiny mouthed vessels that you couldn't fit your nose in.
During the first pour (A sparkling wine that the pourer called "Champagne") we were forced to listen to a pitch on their wine club. In case you are interested, their wine club sucks - only a 10% discount for a 24 bottle a year commitment.
The next bad sign was their wine list - they were all over the map. Rhone; Burgundy; Bordeaux, Zinfandel, Italian, Spanish, Port, Sherry, Sparkling. Jack of all styles master of none.
Then they switched pourers on us midway through.
All of this would be acceptable if there wine was any good. Which it wasn't. Some were not bad, and one was OK. We bought the OK one, and then they still charged us a tasting fee.

The Verdict

Not worth the stop.

Sunday, April 8, 2007

2005 Kenwood Russian River Pinot Noir

This is a restaurant wine. We bought it at a restaurant, and indeed, it's part of Kenwood's Sonoma Series made specifically for the restaurant trade.

We were staying at Safari West (Highly recommended BTW) and the dinner that night was BBQ Chicken. We bought this wine because $30 for a bottle of Kenwood was better than $6 for a glass of wine-from-a-box. It's a pinot because BBQ Chicken was what was on the menu.

The colour was highly transparent (to be expected) and reminiscent of watermelon juice. It was sweet on the nose, and went down like Kool-Aide. It had a charcoal finish. As the evening progressed, it got cooler out which in turn chilled the bottle, and it actually improved the wine.

The presentation was fair. It came in a Burgundy style bottle with a real cork. The labeling was poor. The front label had nothing on it but the legals, and the rear stated two facts:

  • "Grapes for this years pinot were grown..." - Indicating that they do not use the same vineyards year after year, making a verticle tasting meaningless.
  • Aged in French oak for one year
Not a lot to go on. The tasting notes are a little better.

The Verdict:

It was a restaurant wine at a zoo. It was as good as could be expected.
Varietals:Pinot Noir
Appellation/Terrior:Russian River, California
Alcohol:14.5% by Volume

Saturday, April 7, 2007

Cedar Mountain Tasting Room

SG and I returned to Livermore last week. We were checking out a camping spot at De Valle Reservoir, and of course couldn't resist stopping at a tasting room (or 3).

Cedar Mt was the first we stopped at. Actually it was the second; the first, Garre, also had a deli, and since it was lunch time we thought a tasting and lunch would go well together. But Garre's tasting room and their deli are not open at the same hours. What a shame; as even if their wines sucked, it would have been worth the stop since so few winerys serve food. Due to the proprietors bad planning we deigned to patronize the place and moved on down the road. Garre's loss was Cedar Mountain's gain since we bought wine (we always buy wine).

Bad first:
The tasting room at Cedar Mt. was reminiscent of a double-wide. The restrooms were porta-potties. Not looking good. The lighting inside was poor, so I had to approach a lamp to properly judge the colour of my pour.

Now the good:
The interior had photos of the winemaker as a little girl in New York's Finger Lakes. This was the only attempt at history. The vines surrounding the tasting room were young, but in a few years will provide a nice surrounding to taste in. There was a picinic area with Bocce courts. Too bad they didn't have a deli :-( The barn where they make the wine was picturesque (and one of the reasons we stopped).

The Verdict

Out of the 4 wineries in Livermore that I have stopped at, Cedar Mountain's tasting room ranks second. This isn't saying much though, as I would not make a trip out to the end of Tesla Rd to specifically visit them.

Friday, April 6, 2007

Murrieta's Well Tasting Room

Given the proximity of the Livermore Valley to the Bay Area, it's actually pretty amazing that it's not a more touristed wine region. Indeed, until recently I had never been tasting in the region. Our visit to Murrieta's Well coincided with a look at some property out on Mines road in the Livermore AVA. The property turned out to not be what we wanted, but rather than waste the trip we thought we would stop in at a winery, and Murrieta's Well was the first one we stumbled across on our way out of the canyon that Mines Road runs up.

Murrieta's Well is actually a Wente property. Now, I'm not a fan of Wente (best known for their White Zin), and had I known that Murrieta's Well was a Wente property, I probably would have driven past. That said, Murrieta's Well is Wente's premium label and the wines are not what you would expect from a bulk producer like Wente.

The tasting room is great. There is lots of history surrounding the site (They named it for the artesian well where the legendary Joaquin Murrieta and his band of desperados watered their horses), and the setting is glorious. A new rustic building built into a hillside surrounded by vines.

The pourer we had was knowledgeable about the wines he poured for us, and even was familiar with the European regions that the grapes originated in. Unfortunately on the day we arrived, they were not pouring their Zin, which comes from an 85 year old vineyard, nor their "Zarzuela" Which is an Iberian grape blend that would have proved interesting.

There was a $5.00 tasting fee, but it was waived upon purchase.

The Verdict:

Out of the 3 Livermore wineries that I have visited, this tasting room was the best.

Thursday, April 5, 2007

2002 Lincort La Cuesta Cab

Last Labor day we loaded the kids in the Yukon and drove them down to Legoland for their birthdays. An ulterior motive was that we would be passing through some superior wine regions. So, whilst the kiddies napped; Mom and Dad would taste.

One of the winery's in Solvang that we tried was Lincourt. They only had one red on for tasting that day, but since the overall experience at their tasting room was excellent, I bought a single bottle. That would be their vineyard designated Santa Ynez Cab.

If you have been reading me for any length of time you will have figured out that I simply tolerate Bordeaux grapes - They are neither my favorite nor my least favorite. Now, because of this I tend to buy them and not drink them, causing my cellar to accumulate about 100 bottles of Bordeaux based wine (Cab Franc, Cab Sauv, Merlot, Petite Verdot, etc). I'd like to make room for more Zins, Petite's and Cal-Itals so I need to make an effort to drink some of the Bordeaux's. A couple of years ago this would not have bin a big deal as I had a passive cellar of almost 1000 square ft, but now I have a much smaller Viking wine cellar and space is at a premium.

The cork left me with a spotty tattoo, and there were some legs. The wine was a good, rich burgundy colour. I got strawberries on the nose and no pucker on the tongue, but could taste the tannins of a cab. This is a good example of a classic cab. It had a slightly sour finish at first, but later opened up to finish with fine white pepper and course ground black pepper.
SG said it was heavy and spicy with booze on the nose. I didn't get that. I did get strawberries on the palate though.

We later took paper cups of the Lincourt for a walk around the block, and damned if it didn't look good against the white cup. The colour was superb.

The presentation was good. It came in a proper Bordeaux bottle, stoppered with a real cork. The front label has the windmill that sits prominently in the center of their vineyard on it and looks nice. The rear label gives some info, and the tasting notes give you a bit about the vineyard.

The Verdict:

I am still not a Bordeaux bigot, but I liked it. I didn't like it fourty bucks worth though; $20 would be fairer.

Varietals:Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot
Appellation/Terrior:Santa Ynez, California
Alcohol:13.9% by Volume

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

1999 Steele Pacini Zin

The 1998 Pacini Zin is the wine that got me hooked on Zin. We were at the Steele tasting room, and it wasn't even on the menu; it was a library wine that was close to being lost, so they were pouring it to see if they could sell some. I bought a case. A few months later I called the winery to ask if I could get any more; and they only had 8, so I rounded out the case with '99's. That was a year ago. At the time I had a vertical tasting of the '98 and the '99 and found the '98 superior; so I laid down the rest of the '99's until now.

Jed calls the Pacini "Old Vines"; the oldest vines in his vineyard are 67; with the median age probably slightly lower. Since "Old Vines" is not a regulated term, it's open to interpretation. I would call 50-80 year old vines "Mature" and 80-100 "Old" and anything older than a century "Ancient" - but again it's relative. The reason Older vines are sought after is that their lower yields concentrate flavour - and since the Pacini vineyard cannot be irrigated, the yields are closer to those you would get from 80 year old vines.

Now, most people would say an 8 year old Zin is pretty long in the tooth; and you would be right - except that Jed aquired this vineyard in '96 and the first few vintages by any winemaker tend to be overly tannic. The Pacini is no exception; and we all know the cure for too much tannin - let 'em age.

Enough of that. Let's open the wine.

The cork was chock full of sediment (as you would expect from a wine this old) but there was no slippage on the neck of the bottle, so it should have held up well. The tattoo that the cork left me was as dark and persistent as henna. The colour of the wine was that of dried blood - to be expected in an older wine, but a warning that I might have let it age too long.
The nose was of cassis - that's (currants in English but since it's French that makes it more posh). The swirl left twisted legs on my glass.
On the first taste there was toast and the pucker of tannin. If this was a Bordeaux grape I would say there's enough tannin to let it lie a couple more years.
At this point a slight toothache I'm having is distracting me from my sensory inputs - particularly taste and smell, but I did get rich berries on the finish.
I poured a glass to accompany dinner - cherry smoked Kobe ribs. I generally like Zins with bar-b-que, but I'm not sure if this was the best pairing, as it brought out an almost chemical taste, almost like lighter fluid, which is odd as I did not use lighter fluid to start the coals (but then again it could be that darn toothache).
Saragrace got a Bourbon taste - could be related to the toast I got initially.
Later that night I had a second glass, and my daughter popped a dot in my mouth (the candy) and wierdly - I got a smoked salmon taste. I found that interesting, so I stole a watermellon flavoured jelly-belly from my son and hot dogs on the palette. Again I'm suspect as between the fact that the kids had hot dogs for dinner and my toothache I don't trust it.

The presentation was ok. It came in a proper Zin bottle, stoppered with a real cork. The rear label gives no info, but the tasting notes give you a bit about the vineyard.

The Verdict:

I will drink my remaining bottles now, as each day from here on out is killing this wine.

Appellation/Terrior:Mendocino, California
Alcohol:13% by Volume

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Corey Creek Tasting Room

Corey Creek was the second and last winery that my father and I stopped in at on our recent funereal trip to Long Island.

Corey Creek was a small wine maker that was purchased by the larger Bedell. I don't have a problem with that, or that they have their own tasting room. I'd prefer it if they didn't try and hide that fact though; it's a bit like being suckered in to Charles Shaw, not knowing it's really Franzia.
The tasting room was in a glorious setting. A gravel parking lot surrounded by vineyards. The building itself while new, was built in a rustic style that went well with the surroundings. It features a back deck overlooking the vineyards that would be simply awesome in the summertime.
At the late hour, we were the only ones in the tasting room. They had a couple of the Bedells on the menu, as well as a raspberry wine (my first).

There was a tasting fee, but I don't remember how much as it was waived.

The Verdict:

I wasn't impressed enough that I would make it a "Gotta stop here" if I was in The North Fork again; but there was nothing wrong with it.

Monday, April 2, 2007

2004 St. Francis Sonoma Old Vines Zinfandel

This is the third bottle we opened up on Friday night. It was one of the Costco mixed case bunch.

This wine had a rich burgundy colour with peaches on the nose. The fruit smell was not strong enough to hide the alcohol smell from the 15.5% in this bad boy. As the high booze content would suggest, this wine was anything but legless.
On the tongue I got plums and chocolate. I was surprised again that this "Costco special" would be as pleasing as it was; but then again perhaps I'm just addicted to zins...
Later on in the evening a distinct buzz had been achieved and a second glass gave me a nose that was close to the burnt rubber you get in a syrah - and I thought I could taste it too. Another tasting the next evening banished that note as a delusional drunk thought as it was as good on the second day as it was on the first.

The presentation was good. It came in a proper Zin bottle with a synthetic cork. The back label gives some info, and the tasting notes, while for a previous vintage, at least give what they mean by "old vines".

The Verdict:

I would buy more, and would like to try their other Zins.
Varietals:Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, Alicante Bouschet
Appellation/Terrior:Sonoma, California
Vintner:St. Francis
Alcohol:15.5% by Volume

Sunday, April 1, 2007

2004 Rodney Strong Knotty Vines Sonoma Zinfandel

This is the second bottle we opened up on Friday night. We had bought this about a year and a half ago at Costco as a part of a mixed case; most of which were Zinfandels that the vintners had claimed were "old vine". As there is no governance over the use of "old vine" you have to take any vintners claim to old vines with some sceptiscism. Old to one vintner may mean 20 years, whilst anything under 80 to another is young. Fortunately, Mr. Strong dates his vines on the rear label - at least some of them come from 100 year old vines.

Mr. Strong also claims "Estate" on the label - in this case it's a meaningless claim because Mr. Strong's estate is non-contiguous and in several different AVA's.

I was very pleasantly surprised by this wine as I usually don't expect an excellent wine from a vintner of this size.

The colour was almost as purple as a Petite Sirah (but then again it could be that my glass was still stained from the Petite we had just finished). The nose had white pepper on it and the first taste was of black currants. MMMmmmm.

My wife got citrus on the nose and apples on the tongue. I couldn't get the citrus even after an additional swirl, but after she mentioned it I got both apples and pears on the palette.
By the end of the bottle, I was getting concord grapes sans-fox and SaraGrace was getting lemons.

The presentation was good. It came in a Bordeaux bottle with a real cork. The back label gives some info, and the tasting notes give more.

The Verdict:

I would buy more and drink it now.
Appellation/Terrior:Sonoma, California
Vintner:Rodney Strong
Alcohol:14.5% by Volume

Saturday, March 31, 2007

2004 Rosenblum Rockpile Petite Sirah

We bought this wine the day before my wife left for Florida and she's been bugging me to drink it since. I wanted to cellar it up for a while; but she won :-) and last night we hickory smoked a tri-tip and opened her up.

This wine has a colour reminiscent of Welch's grape juice; indeed after the swirl you even get the persistent bubbles in the meniscus just like you do with Welch's, and my glass acquired a purplish pink colour from the swirl.
The initial nose was of apricots. After the swirl the nose opened up to cherries.
My first taste was thick and dry. Typical of Rosenblum, it was jammy (how do you get dry jam?).

After a half hour, the cherries joined the apricots on the palate. I suspect this wine is unfiltered because of the little cinnamon-like sparkles of sediment that collected in the bottom of my glass.

This was a fun wine to drink - leaving my wife with a purple clown smile from the rim of her glass.

The presentation was good. It came in a traditional Rhône bottle with an agglomerated synthetic cork. The back label gives some info, and the tasting notes give more.

The Verdict:

It wasn't quite ready. This wine would benefit with more time in the cellar.

Varietals:Petite Sirah
Appellation/Terrior:Rockpile, California
Alcohol:16.0% by Volume

Friday, March 30, 2007

The Old Field Tasting Room

My father and I were in New York for less than happy reasons; my cousin who is also my god-father had died and I was attending his funeral. I had been reading a lot lately about the wine industry on Long Island; and the North Fork in particular, so after the funeral my father and I went out Orient Point and stopped at a couple of places at random on the way back to the pine barrens. The Old Field was the first place we stopped.

The tasting room was in a glorious setting. A gravel parking lot surrounded by vineyards and the rustic old hen-house converted into a tasting room was perfect. The pourer was the winemaker. He is proud of his sparkling wine, claiming it to be "The best in America". He also makes three Bordeaux style wines - a Cab Franc, A Merlot, and a blend. The reds were OK. This winery had it all - history; atmosphere; good wines. Too bad the winemaker was a pompous ass. He spent more time chatting his friends than his customers. This ruined what would otherwise have been a great tasting experience.

There is a $5 tasting fee.

The Verdict:

So-so reds combined with a mostly rude winemaker/pourer don't overcome the wonderful atmosphere and good sparkling wines. I'll give it a pass.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

2003 Firefly Ridge Central Coast Syrah

This was another Safeway deal. I was attracted to the Central Coast appellation, year, and price ($7.99). I initially thought it was slightly young in taste; but my wife liked it. Upon further research it turns out to be Safeway's private label. Congrats to Safeway's buyer.

The nose on this wine was of burnt rubber, followed by figs. Now, burnt rubber? Many people freak about this; but it is a typical characteristic of a Syrah and no; it does not taste of Burnt rubber. I take it a sign of quality; If this aroma is present, then the winemaker really knows how to make a Syrah.

I liked the deep burgundy colour. The taste was tannic, lemony and slightly sour. Where did my figs disappear to? But there was more to it than that - there was something there that I can't quite put my finger onto; but it was a taste that I liked.

The presentation was OK. Traditional Rhône bottle with an agglomerated cork. The label lacked info - even a website; but then again this is a private label wine OEM'd by Safeway - you wouldn't expect much to tie it back to the original vintner.

The Verdict:

My wife liked it enough that I bought more.

Appellation/Terrior:Central Coast, California
Vintner:Firefly Ridge
Alcohol:13.5% by Volume

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

2001 Villa Encantado Sonoma Dolcetto

This was yet another Wine Shop at Home wine. Villa Encantado (Spanish for enchanted villa) is actually a private label produced by Viansa in Sonoma (not to be confused with the vintner in Solvang).

Dolcetto is Italian for sweetling. And this wine is indeed sweet. It had a cherry nose and a light red colour more reminiscent of a rosé than a red; indeed this wine might even taste good <aghast>chilled</aghast>. No; seriously this Dolcetto is so light and fruity that it goes down like Kool-Aide on a hot summer day. It's as smooth as a wine cooler.

The presentation was good. It came with a real cork in a traditional bottle. While the label was weak in the information they give; they get bonus points for the bottle as it's unusual. The cork was literally encrusted with crystals.

The Verdict:

I bought more.

Appellation/Terrior:Sonoma, California
Alcohol:11.2% by Volume

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Lost Canyon Tasting Room

Lost Canyon is one of the 4 winerys that you can visit during a lunch break if you work in Alameda. It is also probably the most obscure of the three, and has very limited tasting hours.

The tasting room is in the lobby of the winery, and because it is such a small winery, the gentleman pouring our wine was no other than Jack States himself; the vintner behind Lost Canyon's wines.

Jack gave us a tour, and led a good discussion on barrel choices and the different types of Oak trees used in their manufacture. I learned more about this subject in the hour and a half we were there than I have anywhere else. This is what visiting a winery is all about.

There is no tasting fee.

The Verdict

It's a good tasting room. I will go again; as a matter of fact I signed up to be a winery volunteer.

Monday, March 26, 2007

2002 Pura Vida Howell Mountain Zin

Like the last wine was an example of the good side of wine clubs; this wine is an example of the downside. It was part of our Wine Shop at Home shipment for March, and turns out to be a custom label second.

Custom labels, or vanity labels make popular gifts; frequently real estate agents or other personal service professionals will have some made up to give as thanks to their clients. Or perhaps you got married at a winery and wanted to give your guest a gift of your own "personal" wine. There's really nothing wrong with custom labels, except that they are rarely better than average.

What makes me believe that this is a custom label wine is that:

  1. There is no URL on the bottle
  2. Googling for Pura Vida returns no winery
  3. On the bottle it says "Cellared and Bottled by Terroir Napa Valley Wines"
  4. On the Terroir Napa Valley Wines web site they do not list the Pura Vida Label
  5. And the Wine Shop at Home resells custom labels straight from their web site.

I opened this bottle to accompany some BBQ venison tenderloin steaks. It had a light colour, like a pinot. First sniff gave me charcoal, shortly followed by fruit. very skinny legs only presented themselves at the end of the drain. Then a re-sniff gave me apricots and cherries.
The taste was light with definite oak. It had a boozy finish.
After the first 1/2 glass, I let it sit while I attended to the steaks.

The wine improved slightly with the accompanying meat. It aquired a smokey flavour.
The glass I had after dinner showed the spice and oak I expect from a cab. Why ruin a Zin with Bordeaux flavours???? It also did not open well as it acquired a slightly sour if not bitter taste after breathing in the bottle for a couple of hours.

The presentation was ok. It came with a real cork in a Bordeaux bottle, with no extra data on the label. The tasting notes that accompanied it gave good information about an AVA that I am not familiar with (Howell Mountain), but little about this wine in particular.

The Verdict:

Not so bad I wouldn't cook with it. Should be a $7 bottle of wine.

Appellation/Terrior:Howell Mt., California
Vintner:Terroir Napa Valley Wines
Alcohol:15.2% by Volume

Sunday, March 25, 2007

2004 Trinitas Napa Cab

This is why I like wine clubs. This cab showed up in the mail (with it's twin) and there is no mention of it on Trinitas's web site. Not even when you log in as a member to buy wine. This is a wine I never would have gotten to taste if I was not a member of the "Trinitas Wine Society" And let me tell you, I would have missed a fantastic wine.

This is the third of three bottles that we opened up for the Venison BBQ on Wednesday. Yes it's a little young for a cab; but I had two of them so I could lay one down and taste one now; and boy am I glad I did because even though I am not partial to Bordeaux varietals; this wine knocked my socks off.

It was legless (but then again so was I by the time I finished it) and a deep (but not bright) purple. Inhaling it's aroma got me high on apricots or perhaps even pluots. There was a charcoal taste on top of the fruit; but hey; cabs are not supposed to have this much fruit.

Since there was an oaky bite in the finish, we let the wine open up a bit and poured some more. Now we get legs; and inhaling it's aroma was like a wake up call of goodness.

The presentation was ok. It came with a real cork in a Bordeaux bottle, with no extra data on the label.

The Verdict:

I will buy more if Trinitas ever releases this one. I'm not sure that the other bottle that I have will last long in my cellar, simply because I want to drink it now.

Varietals:Cabernet Sauvingnon
Appellation/Terrior:Napa Valley, California
Alcohol:14.5% by Volume

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Dashe and JC Cellars Tasting Room

Dashe Cellars and JC Cellars are co-located in Oakland's Jack London Square. They used to be co-located in Alameda with Rosenblum; but Rosenblum grew too big and needed the space. At first ear, Jack London Square should be a great place for a tasting room - it's Oakland's only tourist stop after all; but the winery is located off the main path so to speak; so you won't just stumble across it.
We were the only ones there at lunchtime.
Co-located tasting rooms are a mixed bag; on one hand you get more than one winery without having to worry about driving. On the other, they are not usually located at the winery, so the chances of running into someone who actually knows how the wine is made is slim. I figured that since this co-located tasting room is in the co-located winery that we would have the best of both worlds; but alas, we didn't. The girl pouring for JC wasn't bad; but the Kiwi they hired at Dashe, while a nice guy, didn't know anything about the wines he was pouring. They lose points for that one.
The tasting room itself is in their receiving dock, so you do get to see some winery happenings whilst sipping.

They both have a $5.00 tasting fee. That's EACH. That's uncalled for. Other co-located tasting rooms that I have been to shared a tasting fee. The money is credited back to you if you purchase.

The Verdict

I will probably return; if only because my wife has not yet tasted here and it's so close to home; but I certainly won't hurry back.

Friday, March 23, 2007

2002 Kunde Estate Zin

This is the second of three bottles that we opened up for the Venison BBQ on Wednesday. It is a wine that I picked up at Safeway earlier this year. What attracted me to it was again the 2002 year - wines at Safeway don't usually get that old, and 2002 was a bitchin' year for zin.

This is an estate wine, which legally only means that the vintner owns the vineyard and fermented and aged the wine on the premises. Since the perceived value of estate (amongst those that do not know what it means) is high, plonk makers over use it. On the flip side, at a family run vineyard (as the photo of the Kunde family on the label attests to) this usually means wine from their house, so they are more careful with it (which was the original point of the estate designation on American labels).

The presentation was good. It came with a real cork in a Rhône coloured Bordeaux bottle, with no data on the label. The reason this rates better than an OK is the tasting notes are fantastically detailed.

The wine opened to a big fruity jammy nose full of raspberries. Mmm mmm. The first sip gave a fruit taste with a hint of charcoal. Subsequent sips were predominantly blackberries. There were legs all over the place.
Doug called it big but not monster and claimed a smokey finish.

The Verdict:

Oh Yea. Loved it. Bought the last 14 bottles at Safeway. Liked it enough that I would like to visit Kunde and taste some of their block designated wines.

Varietals:Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, Grenache, Mourvèdre
Appellation/Terrior:Sonoma, California
Alcohol:14.1% by Volume

Thursday, March 22, 2007

2004 Steele Catfish Zin

The wife and kids left for Florida on Tuesday, which gives me the chance to BBQ up some venison that I've had in the freezer for a while now (The wife won't eat Bambi), so I had my friend Doug bring over some salad and jerk sauce for the deer and popped open a bottle of Catfish to sip on while the coals got hot.

Catfish is Steele's signature Zin. It's a field blend of century old Zinfandel and whatever else was planted to replace dying vines in the last 100 years. This particular Catfish came in my wine club shipment. When I was last in Kelseyville I bought the 2003 Catfish so was eager to try this one.

The 2004 Catfish is superior to the 2003. It had a much better balance. Thick legs with a beet red colour. The nose was weak enough that I actually snorted some before I could smell it. There was no presence of jam. The great balance in this wine overcame all of this, and it was very enjoyable.

The presentation was great. It came in a proper Zin bottle, stoppered with a real cork. The catfish intertwined into Steele's regular stained glass logo is nice. The rear label gives a great overview of the wine, and the tasting notes give you even more.

The Verdict:

I enjoyed it. Doug really liked it. $20 is a very fair price for this wine.

Varietals:Zinfandel, Merlot, Carignane, Alicante Bouschet, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, others
Appellation/Terrior:Clear Lake, California
Alcohol:13.5% by Volume

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

2004 Steele Shooting Star Barbera

I first had a Shooting Star Barbera when it came in my Steele wine club shipment; it was a 2003. I enjoyed it as a light pizza accompanying wine, so I ordered more, but alas All they had by the time I got around to ordering it was a 2004; but hey how different could it be?

Well, it turns out quite a bit different. This Barbera, while having the same light and bright colour as the 2003 had more of a Bordeaux flavour to it than the Cal-Ital I was expecting. There was Bordeaux on the nose too; I can only surmise that Jed chose a different vineyard for this vintage, and that vineyard had some Cab Franc or Merlot vines interspersed. I cannot believe that the blending would have been done intentionally, as a Barbera isn't strong enough to be included in a Super-Tuscan.

The wine was legless; but with the low alcohol, that was to be expected. True to form, this Barbera tasted like the house red at a Pizza restaurant (and as Barbera is the wine for the masses in Italy), and since this is what I was expecting it went well with my supper of leftover spaghetti and re-heated panini. There were no fruit flavours.

After 45 minutes, I re-tasted and it was light and airy, with only the lingering reminder of the Bordeaux taste, so I decanted it and waited another 1/2 hour and it opened up quite a bit.

The presentation was OK. It came in a Bordeaux bottle; which is an improvement over the traditional jug (think Carlos Rossi). It had an agglomerated cork, which given that this is Steele's budget label is to be expected. The label was poor, listing only the legal requirements.

The Verdict:

Barbera is a good Pizza wine. This vintage did not stand up to the 2003, so I am unlikely to buy more, but as I liked the 2003 I would have tried the 2005 if Jed had made one, but it does not appear that he did.

Appellation/Terrior:Lake County, California
Alcohol:13.5% by Volume

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Rosenblum Cellars' Alameda Tasting Room

I like tasting rooms. You can drink a little wine, get a feel for the style of the vintner, and learn more about how the wines you are drinking were affected by the methods of the winemaker. You can also usually get vintages not available elsewhere; indeed some winerys only sell their wine at their tasting rooms or to their club members.
There are 4 winerys that are easy to visit during a lunch break if you work in Alameda; with one in Alameda proper (there used to be 4 in Alameda itself; but they were co-located with Rosenblum and eventually had to move due to space restrictions). The one I'm going to write about today is the one in Alameda, Rosenblum Cellars.
Urban winerys like Rosenblum are at a disadvantage to those located amongst the vineyards in that most people don't go looking for a tasting room located in an industrial complex, (and they also can't produce estate wines; but that's a different topic) And Rosenblum is no different; you would never expect it to be where it is.
The tasting room itself is upstairs overlooking the big receiving area, and is open to it. It simultaneously feels cozy and airy - a difficult thing to do. I have been there twice now; once midweek at lunch time and then again on a Saturday. The weekday tasting was definitely the better of the two; we were the only ones in the tasting room and therefore got to monopolize the time of the pourer. It also helped that we came on a day when they were changing the wines available in the tasting room; as we got to taste twice as much wine.
I returned on the Saturday because Rosenblum's website said that they offer tours at 1:00 and 3:00. Upon arrival, the tasting room was filled to overflowing with people spilled into the receiving area (with additional tables set up to service them). And no tours. They should remove the mention of a tour from their website as the lady pouring our wine said that they do not do tours when it's crowded; which is every weekend.
My other negative comment is that their weekday tastings hours are 11:00-6:00; this does not leave much time to drop in after work. You would think given their location at the ferry terminal, that staying open after work would attract a few commuters?

The $5.00 tasting fee is free to club members.

The Verdict

It's a good tasting room. There is a larger number of wines being poured than most; and you can look at thier website to see what is being poured before you even go in.

Monday, March 19, 2007

2002 Voss Napa Syrah

This wine was one of what I call a "Safeway Bargin" I was at Safeway, and noticed it at the checkout. It was cheap, so I took a chance. After all the fruit that I've been having in my wines recently (thank you Rosenblum), I was welcoming the chance to return to a more traditionally flavoured wine.

The presentation was good. It came in a typical Rhône bottle. It had a real cork, and an outstanding label (even if the tasting notes contradict the label). The front label had the legal requirements, and the rear, in addition to the standard tasting notes gives real info about the decisions made in the making of this wine. The inclusion of viognier in the blend may sound unusual, but it's true to the style of a Côte Rôtie and improves this particular vintage greatly.

It had slight legs. The cork left me a light tattoo, with next to no penetration. The colour and nose were both light for a syrah, but then again I've been drinking lots of Rosenblums' lately so I may just be too used to the over fruitiness of the good doctors wines. It was nice and smooth. I drank it with a BBQ'd pork loin that I had for dinner, and it neither added to nor detracted from the meal. After the bottle had been opened for a couple of hours, I had a sip following a piece of licorice and boom it exploded with a mouth full of richness.

The Verdict:

For $10???!!!! I returned to Safeway and bought every bottle they had on display. This tastes like a $20.00 bottle of wine.

Varietals:Syrah, Viognier
Appellation/Terrior:Napa, California
Vintner:Voss Vineyards
Alcohol:14.9% by Volume

Sunday, March 18, 2007


Since I always mention the type of the bottle, you might be thinking that it's some sort of pet peeve of mine. I mean why should you give a rat's about the bottle the wine comes in? It doesn't affect the way it tastes after all? Or does it?
For the most part, no it doesn't. There are exceptions -

Exceptions to bottle taste

  • Jugs - A draw back about a large bottles in general is that since wine does not do well once opened, you should plan on drinking it right away, but with the quantity of wine in a jug, you will end up getting good and sloshed by the time it's empty (although; maybee that's what the customers of Jug wine have in mind anyway). On the plus side for large format bottles (but not jugs) is that if you plan on cellaring your wine for any significant length of time, a large format bottle will do a better job. The reason for this is in a large format bottle (like a magnum), less wine is exposed to oxidation than in two regular bottles. A jug, on the other hand, is not designed with this in mind. In a jug, more wine is exposed to the oxidizing effects of the air in the bottle. And lastly, There is no serious wine maker currently bottling wine in a jug. Every jug I have seen is rot gut plonk.; so its also a good indicator of poor quality.
  • Boxes - Now, box wine is not really "Wine in a Box" it's wine in a bag; with the bag in a box. The upside of box wine is that you can take several days to consume the wine without worrying about oxidation. The reason for this is that there is no air in the bag to cause oxidation. The downsides are:
    1. Can't age your wine - Wines in a bag don't breath; so they are poor for aging.
    2. Plastic - The plastic bag can impart a plastic or "New Car Smell" taste to your wine
    3. Quality - No serious wine maker that I know of currently distributes their product in a box; so the likelihood of obtaining a quality wine in a box is low
  • Colour - Wine bottles are dark in colour for a reason - Sunlight affects the taste of wine. I don't need to say much here, because only Bum Wines come in clear bottles (and if you are drinking them then you are probably not reading my blog)

And here are the reasons for choosing a traditional bottle:

  • Serving size - a 750ml bottle is the perfect size for two people to drink with a meal
  • Tradition - As I have said before; Wine is a luxury item. Part of the enjoyment of luxury items comes from the tradtions and rituals associated with them.
  • Indicators - If I am finding it difficult to choose between two wines I have not had before, the one in the correct style bottle for the type of wine will always be the one I choose. Why? well, if the vintner paid attention to that level of detail, than chances are he or she paid close attention to all the other levels of detail that it takes to produce a good wine.

The Verdict:

Your likelihood of finding a good quality wine is highest if the wine comes in the proper style bottle for the wine; least likely if the bottle is made of clear glass (but you knew that). The rest fall in the middle in this order:
  1. Proper style of bottle
  2. Improper style of bottle
  3. Much further down the scale: Box
  4. Jug
  5. Clear bottle