Tag: cabernet sauvignon

Top 10 Ways To Show Off At Wine Tasting

Wine tasting trips can be fun and exciting, especially if the destination is a superior winery located in a renowned wine region such as Napa Valley, Tuscany, Bordeaux, Rioja or any of the New World regions (Australia, New Zealand, Chile, Argentina).  These trips can also be intimidating given the massive amount of science that gets shared at a wine tasting – chemistry, botany, enology, viticulture, meteorology, soil science, and so much more.  Like all disciplines, grape growing and winemaking have their own lexicons and the jargon of the business can be overwhelming to say the least.  Next time you go wine tasting with your friends, we want you to stand out from the rest, but in a good way.  Go forth armed with these 10 suggestions and leave your friends stunned with your knowledge, sophistication and charm …

  1. Follow the Five S’s.  Yes we know that when you and your friends were in college you gulped the $5 chardonnay down like it was water.  You must leave that in the past and from now on you must learn to savor the wine and faithfully follow the Five S’s of wine tasting:  See, Swirl, Sniff, Sip and Savor.  Yes, you’re eager to taste the wine, that’s natural. But wine tasting requires a bit of foreplay and you’re just going to have to wait before you get the wine in your mouth.
  2. Have something interesting to say about the wine.  The whole point of the Five S’s is to make observations about the wine.  So when you’re in the “See” mode, tell your group what you see, and try to be more descriptive than “it’s white” or  “it’s red.”  At most wineries you’ll taste both white and red wines and you should pay attention to the different levels of clarity, viscosity, brightness and color.  If you’re tasting a Sauvignon Blanc, for example, you’ll be sure to impress if you use “pale straw” as a descriptor.  For extra points, you might identify the appearance of green as a secondary color.  When you have moved on to the red wines use words like “garnet” and, if you are tasting a very dark wine, “inky.”  Okay, once you’ve seen and swirled, it’s time to sniff, the step considered by many sommeliers and wine experts to be the most important part of the wine tasting experience.  So stick your nose in that glass and come up with something better than “it smells like alcohol” or “it smells like grape juice.”  Yes, there is fruit juice in your glass, but come on, you can do better than that.  When tasting white wines, there are some basic flavor profiles that you can build your comments around:  citrus, tree fruit, stone fruit, and tropical.  Try these phrases on for size:  “I’m definitely getting citrus on the nose.”  If you want to push it a bit more, get more specific:  maybe you’re picking up hints of lemon.  The truly ambitious show-off might be so bold as to identify grapefruit …or even pink grapefruit!  At a wine tasting for Chardonnay (especially one made in the “French” style) or a Pinot Grigio, identifying citrus is a safe bet.  For other whites, the predominant aroma might be apple, pear or one of the stone fruits (peach, apricot, nectarine).   Some white wines, including those that have been aged in 100% new oak, will present tropical fruit aromas (pineapple, mango, papaya, banana).   In truth, it is not uncommon for a white wine to have aromas of several flavor profiles. You might throw out to the group something like “I’m definitely getting citrus but is anyone getting stone fruit as well?”  You can then debate whether it’s more like peach or nectarine, and whether it’s ripe or unripe.

When you move to the red wine part of the tasting you’ll have two basic profiles to choose between:  dark fruits (blackberry, plum, blueberry, dark cherry, black raisins, fig) and red fruits (red cherry, raspberry, strawberry, currant, cranberry, pomegranate).  When tasting a Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Malbec or Tempranillo, stick with the dark fruits:  “Lots of blackberry and blueberry on the nose.”  Red fruit aromas should be expected with Pinot Noir, Merlot, Sangiovese and Nebbiolo:  “I’m picking up a strong cherry aroma.”  Of course, fruit is just one of the aroma profiles that a dedicated show-off will need to be able to share with his friends.  Red wines have so many secondary aromas that need to be identified; it’s simply not good enough to focus on the fruit.  When tasting a wine from the old world, “earth” is always a good bet, or more specific descriptors such as “mushroom” or “forest floor” or “dirt.”  There are too many secondary aromas to list here but a brilliant professor from U.C. Davis invented a wine aroma wheel that the dedicated tasting show-off will want to buy or at least study online before going out with friends.  Here’s the wheel:

wine flavor wheel

 

One of the keys to showing off is to not appear to be showing off.  This is tricky, we know.  Most people fail at this because they act and sound like they are giving a lecture on wine.  That’s an amateur move. The professional show-off has a more nonchalant style:  all comments and observations will be offered as if talking to himself or herself.  “Hmmm, I think I’m getting vanilla and tobacco on the nose.”

3.  Oak.  When your wine tasting guide tells you that the wine was aged in oak, you must ask “was it new oak or neutral oak?”

4.  Fermentation.  For white wines, ask if the wine was fermented in stainless steel or oak.  When this question has been answered, ask whether the wine went through malolactic fermentation.  If the wine guide beat you to it and already told the group that the wine did in fact go through malolactic fermentation, ask “do you know that percent?”  Many wines go through the entire malolactic fermentation process (100% malo) but wine makers can and often do mix wine that went through malo with wine that did not to yield a 50% malolactic fermented wine (or higher or lower percentages).

5.  Rosè.  When tasting this wine, ask your server how long the grapes were “on the skins.”

6.  Harvest conditions.  Sound very interested in the conditions that existed for the vintage you tasted.  Was it a cold or warm year?  Lots of rain vs. drought.  Did they pick early or late?

7.  Terroir.  If you get to ask about terroir you’re sure to impress – after all, it’s a French word, and who isn’t impressed with a bit of French? Terroir refers to the place the grapes are grown – the weather, soil, microclimate, elevation, sun exposure, etc.  A beginner show-off could start off with a question about soil.  Intermediate and advanced show-offs will delve deeper and ask questions about, for example, which way the vineyard faces or what impact the local topography or geography (e.g., mountains, rivers, valleys) has on the vineyards.

8.  Farming practices.  The discriminating show-off will definitely want to know more about how the grapes are grown and how the vineyards are tended.  Does the winery irrigate or are the vineyards dry-farmed?  Are the vineyards organic or managed biodynamically?  What kind of canopy management system is employed in the vineyard (yes, “canopy management” really is a thing).

9.  Brix.  As you progress to PhD-level of showing off, you will want to start asking some very technical questions about the wine-making process.  You might consider asking your tasting guide:  “At what Brix level were the grapes picked?”  He or she likely won’t know but you’ll look like quite the stud with this question.

10.  Food pairing.  Now you’re ready to mix your knowledge of wine with your knowledge of food.  “This Sauvignon Blanc would go beautifully with Italian Sea Bass.”  “This Cabernet needs a thick, juicy steak to stand up to it.”  The more you taste the more specific you’ll be comfortable getting:  “This Moscato would go great with cheese – blue cheese that is.”

Okay you’re ready now to go out and impress your friends.  To avoid being overly annoying or coming across as a complete and utter snob, do not ask all 10 questions at every winery you go to. Spread them around over a few days of wine tasting. Pick your spots and use as much subtlety as you possess.  Good luck!

 

John & Irene Ingersoll

July 5, 2017

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See, Sniff, Swirl, Sip, Spit. Repeat.

See, Sniff, Swirl, Sip, Spit. Repeat.

When you live in Napa Valley it is common for other locals to ask “have you been to [fill in the name of a winery].”  Sometimes we answer in the affirmative but often we have to admit we are unfamiliar with the winery in question.  Over the past month we got “the question” twice about the same winery:  “Have you been to Davis Estates?”  Both times we answered no, but by the second time the question was asked we started to wonder, “why haven’t we?”  Both questions came from people who are very knowledgeable about wines and winery experiences and  they had many positive things to say about Davis Estates.  We made an appointment for our first available day and made the beautiful drive to Davis Estates, located on Silverado Trail between Saint Helena and Calistoga.   It was a trip well worth taking; so good, in fact, that our second visit was the same weekend.  While it is not uncommon for us to visit a winery multiple times over the course of months or years, it is certainly uncommon for our second visit to be two days after the first.  We could not resist, however, drawn back by the quality of the wine, the people, and the setting.  So yes, we did see, sniff, swirl, sip, spit …and REPEAT all in the same weekend.

After parking the car we headed over to the tasting room building, a beautiful barn-like structure that was somehow both rustic and modern.

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View of Davis Estates tasting room and visitor center from front of property

We were greeted at the door by the incomparable Holly who was going to be our wine guide not just that day but also for our second trip to Davis Estates with our good friends Tracy and Marty.  Holly quickly got us settled and let us know that we were going to be in for a paired tasting with Davis Estate wines and dishes not only selected by their chef but cooked to order during the tasting!

Our tasting began with a glass of the 2014 Davis Estates Viognier, a lovely representation of this wine made the way we prefer it:  crisp and dry, with floral and fruit elements balanced nicely by firm acidity.

 

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2014 Davis Estates Viognier

To accompany the Viognier the chef selected a spicy carrot  soup that was the perfect complement to the wine.  We then turned to Davis Estates’ red wines – Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Zephyr (a Cab blend) – which were paired with vegetable tempura, pork belly and steak.  Because we visited twice in the span of a couple of days we had a chance to revisit each of the Davis Estates wines as well as taste them with and without pairing (we opted for a non-food tasting on our second visit).  On both visits we enjoyed the red wines immensely, although our preferences shifted between tastings and our friends had their own favorite among the reds on visit #2.  On our first tasting (paired with food) one of us favored the Merlot, which we understand is the favorite wine of Davis Estates wine maker Cary Gott, while the other of us favored the Cabernet Franc. The 2013 Davis Estates Merlot was structured, its fruit flavors balanced by medium to strong tannins, with a nice long, lush finish.  We were equally impressed by the Cabernet Franc which had lovely fruit aromas (and none of the “green” or peppery aroma sometimes associated with this varietal) and a smooth, oak-influenced flavor on the palate.  This wine also had a nice long finish with a texture that was almost silky.

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2013 Davis Estates Merlot
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Davis Estates Cabernet Franc

The final wine in our tasting was the 2013 Davis Estates Zephyr, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon (92%), Cabernet Franc (5%), and Petit Verdot (3%).  This wine spent two full years in barrel but did not emerge over-oaked or unbalanced.  The Zephyr had plenty of structure, strong tannins, and a nice balance between the fruit flavors and acidity.

Although the four wines above rounded out our official tasting, we were having such a good time that Holly offered to let us try another Davis Estates wine as well as a couple of wines from proprietor Mike Davis’ other wine label, Phase V, whose winemaker is Philippe Melka, another wine maker in Napa who is a legend in the making. (Read about our visit to Melka Winery).    From the Davis Estates label we tasted the Petit Verdot, a deep, ink-colored wine with a delicate set of aromas, dark fruits mixed with violets, and on the palate exotic spices with an earthy backbone and strong tannins.

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Davis Estates Petit Verdot

We then moved on to the Phase V wines and tasted the Petite Sirah and the Cabernet Sauvignon.  We are always drawn to Petite Sirah when we can find it in Napa as it is only available from a small number of wineries.  (Read our review of a winery that considers itself a “Petite Sirah house” – Que Sirah Sirah).

The Petit Sirah was our friend Tracy’s favorite wine of all the ones we tasted.  We also were wowed by the Phase V Cabernet which was incredibly complex with aromas and flavors that demand attention but can in no way be lumped in to the category of “big Napa Cabs.”  We intend no disrespect to the ripe and bold Napa Cabs – we eagerly consume many of them – but the Phase V Cabernet is more than just a mouthful of fruit and high alcohol content.  Each sip displayed more subtle aromas and flavors – chocolate, coffee, spices, and leather.  Made only in small quantities and made available to Phase V wine club only, the Cabernet is a wine that will stand up to a couple of decades of aging.

With the exception of the Phase V Cabernet, which fetches upwards of $200 per bottle, we were pleasantly surprised by the cost of many of the Davis Estate wines.  Our expectation was for much higher prices, driven by the quality of the wine but also the beauty of the Davis Estates property.  When Mike and Sandy Davis purchased the 155 acre parcel that their winery sits on today, the main building on the property was an old barn close to Silverado Trail.  Soon after selling the technology company that he founded, the Davis’s came to Napa Valley with a vision to build a world-class winery and deliver a superior tasting experience.  To help them build the desired physical environment to pay off their vision, the Davis’s hired Howard Backen as the architectural partner on their project.  Clearly, Mike Davis has learned from his many years in business that you are only as good as the people you surround yourself with.  This is evident in his choice of star wine makers (Gott and Melka) as well as his choice of Backen to design the main visitor center and complete a stunning overhaul of the dilapidated barn.  Over the past couple of decades, Bracken has put his imprint on Napa Valley and Sonoma wine country by designing some of the best-known Napa wineries including Harlan Estate, Ram’s Gate, Kenzo, Larkmead, and many more.  In addition, Bracken and his wife are the founders and owners of Archetype restaurant in Saint Helena (formerly French Blue).

Visitors to the Davis Estates visitor center/tasting room will likely be stunned by the scale of the building – high ceilings, wide room – all set up to give guests views out of floor-to-ceiling windows to the vineyards below.  On sunny days, guests will want to taste on the terrace overlooking the vineyards and enjoy the views.  We also encourage visitors to take a tour of the barn (with glass in hand of course), which has been restored beautifully to create an intimate and family-friendly tasting space.

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Inside the barn at Davis Estates
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A couple days later with friends

 

There are several separate areas for groups to sit and taste wines including this spot by the fire.

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Modern meets rustic
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This really is a big ass fan
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Okay now it feels like a barn
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These are the “swinging couches” on the terrace in the main tasting room

On our way out (on the first of our two visits) we ran into Mike Davis and Holly was gracious enough to introduce us to him.  He struck us as a genuinely nice guy and from everything we saw at Davis Estates, we embrace his vision for the wine and the winery.

John & Irene Ingersoll

June 21, 2017

 

 

Great people making great wines

Great people making great wines

We enjoyed a wine recently at a local Napa Valley tasting room from a producer with which we were previously unfamiliar:  Lamborn Family Vineyards.  The quality of the wine compelled us to visit the producer’s website and try to set up a tasting appointment.  We could not find an option for scheduling a tasting but were not deterred: we visited the site’s “contact us” page and sent a message expressing our enthusiastic wish to visit and taste their wines.  Very soon thereafter we received a reply thanking us for our interest but letting us know that the winery was not open to the public.

Although there are over 525 wineries in Napa Valley, many of them – and perhaps even the majority – are not open for business for a variety of reasons.  Some wine producers lack the production levels to justify building a winery or tasting room or hiring hospitality staff.  Others do not have sufficient acreage to receive approval to operate a winery (generally new applicants for a winery must own at least 10 contiguous acres).  Yet another category are those producers and wineries that do meet the minimum property size and have sufficient wine production to fund a tasting room and staff but do not have a permit to accept visitors.

Even though I could not visit Lamborn and taste their wines, I asked their founder, Mike Lamborn, if he would be open to my coming up to meet him and learn more about their wines and the story of their family wine business.  Mike graciously agreed and we picked a time for me to come up.  A few days later I made the trek from our house in Napa to the Lamborn’s property in Angwin – about thirty miles north.  Lamborn Family Vineyards is located in the Howell Mountain region, one of Napa Valley’s highest-elevation grape-growing areas and home to unique microclimates and soil types.  We have been to wineries in Howell Mountain before and had a vague sense of how long the trip might take and how complicated the route would be. This vague sense was clarified when Mike Lamborn emailed us an old-school map with written directions and a warning that most navigation systems cannot accurately deliver visitors to the right location.

It turns out that the Lamborn property was at least another 15 to 20 minutes driving time beyond any place we had been in Howell Mountain, but well worth the drive. As I drove down the long driveway past the vineyards I saw a woman tending to some vines next to the road.  I would soon learn that this was Mike’s wife Terry and the image of her in the vineyard reinforced a key takeaway from my conversation with the Lamborn’s – they are hands-on farmers.

After driving down the Lamborn’s long driveway and parking the car near the house I could see unobstructed views into the valley below for dozens of miles.  It felt as if I was standing at the very top of Napa Valley.  Mike came out to greet me and we settled down on their outdoor patio and Mike told me the story of Lamborn Family Vineyards.  It all started in 1969 when Mike’s father bought land up in Howell Mountain – first one acre, and then a 20 acre parcel that is now home to Outpost Wines.  A couple of years later Mike and Terry purchased their own parcel of Howell Mountain land at one of the highest elevations (2200 feet).   Because the land required significant work – clearing, grading, building – they did not plant until 1979; the first Zinfandel grapes were harvested in 1982. Cabernet Sauvignon was planted later with the first harvest in 2003.  Annually, Lamborn produces about 1,000 cases of Zinfandel and 550 of Cabernet Sauvignon.  In addition, they make about 100 cases of Rosè of Zinfandel.

People that really know Napa Valley wines will tell you that Howell Mountain fruit is not just different, but special.  Because of its extreme elevation compared to the Valley floor, Howell Mountain has cooler days but also warmer nights resulting in a long and steady growing season.  In addition, the unique soil in Howell Mountain – volcanic ash and red clay – creates the perfect environment for grapes to grow.  Vineyards on Howell Mountain sit on ground that is very rocky which provides excellent drainage.  However, the soils are nutrient-poor, causing the grape vines to struggle; it is from this struggle that the most intense wine is produced.  The Lamborn vineyards sit on Red Aiken Loam atop a water table that is 500 feet below the property.

As I can attest from seeing Terry in the vines as I drove up, the Lamborn’s do their own vineyard management for their ten planted acres.  Since the end of 2015, they have been fully organic, a choice they made not for marketing purposes but for reasons much more personal.  As Mike Lamborn put it, “We did it for the health of the land and the health of our grandchildren who come here.”  Many wineries stick the word “family” in their name but many of them no longer have anyone from the family involved.  At Lamborn, in addition to Mike and Terry their sons are both involved in the winery business and there is a fourth generation of Lamborn’s coming of age.

If there were any surprises during my conversation with Mike and Terry it was their perspective on the wine making part of the business.  “We’re Farmers,” they said repeatedly, “we don’t get too involved in the making of the wine.”  This is a refreshing approach – stick to what you’re good at.  Of course, this is easier to do when your winemaker is Heidi Barrett, one of the stars of Napa Valley known for her stint at cult winery Screaming Eagle and as the winemaker for over a dozen wineries in the Valley.  As Mike described it, their goal was to make balanced wines that can age, with no particular characteristic standing out above any other.  This approach meshes nicely with Heidi’s style which is to make balanced wines that are expressions of where the grapes were grown.  If you taste Lamborn wine and say “This is a Howell Mountain wine,” then the Lamborn’s and Heidi would be pleased.

Because Lamborn Family Vineyards does not have a permit to taste wines I did not enjoy either the Zin or the Cab while I was there (although I had several glasses of delicious well water!).  When I left, though, Mike and Terry were nice enough to gift me a bottle each of Zin and Cab.  They did not provide any instructions as to how long to age the wine or when to consume it, so both wines have been enjoyed with friends already.   Both wines had strong dark fruit characteristics balanced by spice notes and strong tannins and finished nice and long.  The Zinfandel had strong pepper notes while the Cab had a wonderfully dusty aroma and strong minerality.   The 2013 Cab is sold out but the 2014 vintage will be released in November.  The 2013 Zin is still available and wonderfully priced at $45 per bottle.  Although we have not tasted it yet we just ordered two bottles of the Zinfandel Rosè for a very exciting price of $34 per bottle.  The best and easiest place to find Lamborn Family Wines is their website:  Buy Lamborn Wines.  For those that are in Napa Valley and want to pick up a bottle, Lamborn sells its wine at Maisonry Napa Valley, a wine tasting room in Yountville:  Maisonry.  Finally, for those that are in Napa Valley Father’s Day weekend, many of the Howell Mountain wineries are participating in a fantastic event, Taste of Howell Mountain:  Taste of Howell Mountain.

John Ingersoll

June 3, 2017

I can’t make “pun” of this winery’s name

I can’t make “pun” of this winery’s name

For every one of our blog posts we have an important introductory step that takes place before we write a single word:  brainstorm a headline.  For reasons even we do not fully understand, we cannot get started before the headline has been cast in stone.  Usually, the headline is a play on words or a pun; for example, when we visited Duckhorn Vineyards last year our headline was “Wine that fits the bill.”  Get it? Bill?  Ducks have bills.  If you want to check out that review, here it is:  Wine that fits the bill.  Last week we visited one of Duckhorn’s sister wineries and guess what?  They made a pun out of their own name in such a way that we simply couldn’t top it:  Paraduxx Vineyards.  What do you find on every bottle?  Two ducks.  A pair of ducks.  Paraduxx.  Get it? For this post, then, we gave up on finding a clever title and decided to just get to the wine.

For those unfamiliar with the Duck family of wineries, the “grandfather” of them all is the previously mentioned Duckhorn Vineyards.  Today, there are several different brands under the Duckhorn umbrella, each with a different varietal or geographic focus: Goldeneye – primarily Pinot Noir and Chardonnay sourced from Anderson Valley in Mendocino County; Migration – excellent Pinot Noir offerings from Sonoma’s Russian River region; Decoy – producing Napa and Sonoma wines at prices that are surprisingly affordable ($25 for their 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon); and finally, Canvasback – producing wine from vineyards in Washington state.  Each of the brands has some sort of duck reference in the name, although some of them we had to Google to understand (we did not know that Goldeneye and Canvasback are species of ducks).

Okay, enough about ducks.  Let’s talk about Paraduxx wines.  If Duckhorn is well-known for being a “Merlot house,” Paraduxx is a “blend” house:  most of their wines are blends of red varietals.  However, the blends were not the typical Bordeaux or Napa blend (Cab + Merlot) but more creative and inventive blends we have not seen in our other winery visits.  Many wineries in Napa Valley and Sonoma County have multiple labels and often there is a clear quality distinction between the wines sold under each label.  The winery’s main wine is considered the “A” brand and the others are “B,” “C,” etc.  It is important to stress that Paraduxx is not a “B” brand to Duckhorn, rather it is a sister winery with a different wine making approach.

When we arrived at the winery they placed a glass of the 2015 Paraduxx Proprietary Napa Valley White.  While it is not uncommon in Napa to find a proprietary red wine, proprietary white wines are not something we recall coming across.  We were told that the concept of a proprietary white was established in order to create a sense of quality and gravity to the white wine.  Often, white wines are the “throwaway” wine in Napa – something to ease visitors into the wine tasting before the serious (meaning: red) wines are poured.  We enjoyed the Paraduxx proprietary white which is composed of white varietals with Viognier making up about 2/3 of the blend.  Although it was aged in oak it was nicely tart and crisp – the perfect wine for the hot Spring day.

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A white wine that wants to be taken seriously

Once we were seated out in the gorgeous Paraduxx back patio, our host Miguel Hurtado came out and gave us a quick overview of the winery and helped us understand the connection with (and differences from) Duckhorn.  Despite his youth Miguel turned out to be really knowledgeable about the wines and a fantastic ambassador for the wines and the brand.  He was also very generous in offering us tastes of wines that were not part of a regular tasting.  After we finished the Proprietary White, Miguel brought out the entire red wine tasting at once, which is the way Paraduxx prefers to introduce its wines to guests.  Rather than tasting one wine at a time, four reds are poured simultaneously, allowing tasters to jump back and forth between the wines and make comparisons and also revisit wines after they have had a chance to open up.  In addition, each wine is in its own glass, thereby avoiding the inevitable mixing of wines (and aromas and flavors) that occurs when you use a single glass to taste.  We prefer this type of tasting and wonder why more wineries do not follow this practice.

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Wines delivered together so they can be tasted together

From the picture above it may look as if 8 different wines were delivered; please do not get overly excited, these are two sets of the same four wines, one for each of us.  Our first Paraduxx red wine was the 2013 Cork Tree Red Wine, a blend of Malbec (43%), Cabernet Sauvignon (38%), and Merlot (19%).  The four of us tried the Malbec and I believe we all were expecting the wine to be very spicy and bold, similar to the Malbec wines we have tasted from Argentina.  This blend, however, was mellower than South American Malbec, perhaps because of the other varietals in the blend and the 18 months in French oak.  We found this wine to be smooth, lightly tannic, silky and soft compared to some of the wines that followed.

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Lush wine with a mellow finish

Our second red wine was another unique blend – at least unique to us – 50% Cabernet Franc with 47% Zinfandel and 3% Cabernet Sauvignon.  Compared to the Cork Tree blend, the 2013 Rector Creek – Block 5 Red wine had stronger aromas and on the palate boasted much higher tannins and more acidity.  We all agreed that this wine would pair well with a thick juicy steak.

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Perfect wine for pairing with grilled meat

Our third red blend was the 2013 Paraduxx Atlas Peak Red Wine, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon (51%), Zinfandel (31%), and Sangiovese (18%).  This was the favorite wine of our grouping, although not everyone picked it as their favorite the first time through the four wines.  One of the benefits of having the wines served at the same time and in their own glass is the ability to come back and taste each again.

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Wine Enthusiast gave this wine 90 points

The final wine in our red blend tasting (but far from the final wine of the afternoon) was the 2014 Paraduxx Pintail Napa Valley Red Wine, a blend of Zinfandel (63%) and Cabernet Sauvignon (37%).  The youngest of the four wines, the Pintail blend had bold fruit, strong tannins and a nice long finish.  We look forward to trying this wine again when it has aged a bit and see how the flavors progress.

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This is one of Paraduxx’s new releases

 

Miguel let us work our way through the four red blends at our own pace and when he saw that most of us had empty glasses he asked if we would like to try any more wines.  We enthusiastically accepted and Miguel proceeded to bring out a taste of 2013 Anderson Valley Pinot Noir from their sister winery Goldeneye, followed by a 2010 Paraduxx Rector Creek Red Wine (to compare to the 2013 we had tried during the tasting).  We were already familiar with the Goldeneye Pinot Noir, having visited the winery last summer; we enjoyed it as much as we had the previous bottles consumed at home.  The 2010 Rector Creek was luscious, smooth, fruity with a nice long and balanced finish.

But wait, there’s more.  We asked if there was any Duckhorn Merlot open and, thankfully, Miguel answered in the affirmative.  Several of the tasters in our party are big fans of the Duckhorn Merlot, truly one of the best in the country.  As we were preparing to go, Miguel twisted our arm and asked if we wanted to try another Duckhorn wine.  Because we are pleasers, we said “yes, if you like” and accepted one finally taste:  2013 Duckhorn “The Discussion.”  Unusual for Duckhorn, The Discussion is a blend – 64% Cab, 31% Merlot, and small percentages of Cab Franc and Petit Verdot.  This was Duckhorn’s version of a Bordeaux blend, a good old-fashioned cuvee.  Aged for two years in 60 gallon Chateau-style barrels made of 100% French oak, The Discussion is a complex, sophisticated and elegant wine.  Definitely the right wine with which to end our day.

Before leaving the table I looked down and thought “I must document the immensity of today’s efforts by taking a picture of the battlefield.”  This is the carnage that we left behind.

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THIS is how you taste wine

We should mention that in addition to the strong wines Paraduxx offers visitors a beautiful and comfortable setting for tastings.

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She’s not holding me up
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Lovely company in a lovely setting

With a summer of family and friends visiting we expect we’ll make it back to Paraduxx (and hopefully Duckhorn as well) soon enough.

John & Irene Ingersoll

May 13, 2017

 

 

Honey Tasting in Napa Valley

Honey Tasting in Napa Valley

Who would come to Napa Valley for honey tastings? No one!  We did not really taste honey, but we did taste wine at a winery whose name means “honey” in German.  What is “honey” in German, you ask?  Honig.  And that’s where we found ourselves a few days ago, at Honig Vineyard & Winery in the town of Rutherford.  It was not our first visit (or even second) to Honig, but friends from out of town had never been and we knew they would enjoy the beautiful outdoor patio, the friendly staff and the wine.

One of the things that we really enjoy about Honig is that there is in fact a real-life Honig at the winery.  Owner Michael, the third-generation Honig at the helm, can often be seen at the winery talking to guests and, as was the case when we visited, trying to herd a couple of his smaller children as they ran around the winery property.  In a valley where more and more wineries are being established or acquired by giant global beverage mega-firms, it is most definitely quaint and encouraging when we encounter family owned wineries.

When we sat down for our tasting, we had a pretty good sense of what we would be tasting from our prior visits. Our friends, though, were making their first visit to Honig and were expecting to start with Chardonnay, the typical starter for many of the Valley’s tasting menus.  At Honig, though, you will not find any Chardonnay; it’s actually a point of pride for them and perhaps even a motto.

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Honig Winery’s cheeky slogan

 

Soon after moving to Napa Valley, we became members at Honig and started receiving shipments of their wine. Perhaps our favorite part of becoming a member was getting the hat in the picture above. It was definitely a conversation starter everywhere we went, ranging from supportive agreement to bitter and vehement opposition.  Personally, we do not have any thing against Chardonnay and drink it often and at home, restaurants, and other wineries.  Buy we also understand the thought behind the slogan:,there is enough Chardonnay in Napa Valley already,  let’s focus on some other white varietals.  In Honig’s case, this would be Sauvignon Blanc.  Owner Michael Honig is a tireless advocate for his wines and travels far and wide to get the word out about them and support sales and distribution.  Their Sauvignon Blanc can be found in many restaurants, wine stores and supermarkets across the United States, a quality wine at a very affordable price.

At Honig we started with the Sauvignon Blanc and proceeded to a couple of reds and ended with one of our all-time favorite dessert wines.

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A well-rounded tasting

After the Sauvignon Blanc we tasted two Honig Cabernet Sauvignon offerings:  their 2014 Napa Valley Cabernet and their 2012 Vyborny Vineyard Cab.  If you look closely at the tasting menu above you can see that the first Cab is half the price of the second.  This should not, however, lead anyone to conclude that the Honig Napa Valley Cab is not worthy of attention or tasting.  On the contrary, the 2014 offering was a nice example of Napa Cabernet with balance and texture.  The 2012 Vyborny Vineyard offering also lived up to expectations and a notch or two above the 2014 Napa Cab due to its silky texture and greater richness on the palate.

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Our friend Kelly seems to approve of the wines

Like all previous Honig tastings, our most recent ended with the 2015 Late Harvest Sauvignon Blanc.  This wine lives up to the meaning of “Honig” – honey.

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Look closely, you can see honey in this glass

Many dessert wines end up being overly sweet and simply taste like syrup.  Don’t get us wrong, the Honig Late Harvest Sauvignon Blanc is certainly sweet – that’s why we think of it as honey.  Complementing the sweet, though, are multiple layers of flavor that you will get with each sip.  This is a wine that either one of us could easily consume in a single sitting …and regret it quickly, given the high sugar content (over 25%).

Over three years had passed since our first visit to Honig and our understanding of wines and our palates have developed considerably.  Nevertheless, we enjoyed Honig as much on this most recent visit as the first time due in large part to the wine but also to the service and culture at the winery:  laid-back, friendly, open and genuinely interested in their guests.  As he has on previous visits, Michael Honig came by the table for a brief chat and then corralled his two youngest kids and wrangled them towards their house.  The Honigs live on the estate right behind the winery, which we imagine contributes to their desire to create a hospitable and harmonious vibe for their guests.

As summer approaches and the flood of friends and family to Napa Valley intensifies, we anticipate more trips to Honig this year.

John & Irene Ingersoll

May 1, 2017

Puncutation Matters in Napa Valley

Puncutation Matters in Napa Valley

Visitors to Paradise (aka Napa Valley) expect to immerse themselves in the beauty of nature, the decadence of fine cuisine, and the poetry of the region’s wines.  Left behind are the pressures and rules of “real life,” right?  Surely something as mundane and constricting as grammar doesn’t matter in this world-famous wine region.  Well, this is what we thought until this past weekend when we were arranging to meet an old friend at a winery in the highly regarded Stags Leap District.  The night before our visit we decided it would be nice to send her a note with the name and location of the winery.  Each of us, though, came up with a different address – they were a couple of miles apart. “You looked up Stags Leap, right,” she asked.  “Yes, he replied.”  We shared our phones with each other and one of us said:  “Your winery is s-apostrophe,” while the other said “Your winery is apostrophe-s.”  Huh?  There are two wineries in the Stags (no apostrophe) Leap District that have “Stags Leap” in their name.  One of them is Stag’s Leap, the other is Stags’ Leap.  Seriously.  This really happened.

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Apostrophes Matter

It turns out that the place we were going was apostrophe-s (Stag’s Leap), and once we cleared up this confusion we sent confirming details to our friend. What difference does it make which side of the “s” the apostrophe sits?  A lot!  Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars is one of the wineries that put Napa Valley on the map as a legitimate global region.  We have written before about the 1976 Judgement of Paris, a tasting where Napa red and white wines competed against some of the most famous and expensive French wines.  (For a refresher on the man who made the Chardonnay that bested the French, read this post:  A Pair of Aces for Father’s Day.)  On that particular day in Paris in 1976, Stag’s Leap 1973 Cabernet Sauvignon was judged the best, beating out not only five other California entrants but also scoring higher than the royalty of Bordeaux:  Haut-Brion, Mouton-Rothschild, Montrose, and Leoville Las Cases.  This is not to say that the s-apostrophe winery (Stags’ Leap) is bad, as they do make quality wines; but we wanted to take our friend and her discriminating palate to one of Napa’s historical spots.

Thankfully, Stag’s Leap did not disappoint on any measure – location and ambience, service, or the wine.  We were fortunate to be seated outside on the patio just a few feet away from the vineyards.  The winery is nestled in what is often called a “valley within a valley.”

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Gorgeous location – Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars

The Stag’s Leap property is surrounded immediately by vineyards and farther out by mountains and the Napa River.  From our table we overlooked Stag’s Leap’s two estate vineyards – Fay Vineyard and SLD Vineyard.

After settling in we took a look at the tasting menu and opted for the Estate Collection Tasting Flight.  This tasting is comprised 100% of wines made from grapes grown on Stag’s Leap property and offered both white and red options.

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Cab, Cab and more Cab!

As most tastings do, our Stag’s Leap adventure started with a white wine: the 2014 Arcadia Chardonnay.  This wine is sourced from the Arcadia Vineyard, a large property on Napa Valley’s Mount George.  This wine was not a “California chardonnay”:  creamy, almost buttery texture with hints of oak and low acidity; instead, what we tasted was a wine resembling a more traditional French approach:  higher acidity and more balance.  We were surprised to find out that the Stag’s Leap Chardonnay had been aged in French oak and had also undergone malolactic (secondary) fermentation, which often result in the more buttery wine. However, the use of only 20% new oak likely accounts for the balanced outcome.

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A lovely chardonnay

Moving on to the reds, we did not have to make any tough choices – there were three Cabernet Sauvignon offerings to try.  We started with the 2011 Fay Cabernet Sauvignon and proceeded to try the 2011 S.L.D. Cab and then the 2010 Cask 23 Cabernet.  All three wines were excellent representations of Cab from the Stags Leap District but also different as a result of their different soil types and winemaking approaches.  In our group of five there were different opinions as to which of the Cabernet offerings was the best but we all agreed that all three are among the best we have tasted in Napa Valley.  None of the three would be considered a classic Napa Valley “fruit bomb” Cabernet, even though they each had strong presence of dark fruits in the aroma and on the palate.  However, due to the unique soil of the Stags Leap District, each of the red wines had elements of earthiness and minerality that provided structure and depth to the wines.  One of the Cabs – the S.L.D. – was the wine that won in Paris in 1976 and it was easy to see why.  The 2010 Cask 23 Cab – a blend of the best Cab grapes from each of the vineyards – was by far the most sophisticated, intense and powerful of the Cabs, at least to our taste.   We went to another winery later that day and we should have reversed the order and started at the other winery, which also produced a Cabernet Sauvignon.  This other winery’s Cab offering was solid, perfectly drinkable, but, alas, not at the level of the Stag’s Leap Cabs (any of them).

We thoroughly enjoyed our time at Stag’s Leap and cannot review our experience without mentioning the great service.  Our host was attentive, knowledgeable and, in the end, very generous.  When he overheard us talking about where we live in Napa, he realized we were neighbors and comped one of our tastings even though it was  a weekend.  Normally Napa Valley residents can get a complimentary tasting but only during the week; we appreciated the courtesy and have already planned a return visit.

John & Irene Ingersoll

April 27, 2017

Did Napa Need Another Tasting Room?

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Outland Wines tasting room in downtown Napa

The answer is yes.  Napa does in fact need another tasting room.  This might be a surprising conclusion in a Valley with nearly 500 wineries and a downtown that already has many wine bars and tasting rooms.  However, many of Napa Valley’s wineries are not open to the public, in many cases because the artisanal, low-production nature of the business makes it virtually impossible to sustain a winery tasting room and staff.  Outland Wines, the newest spot to taste wines, is an important addition to the local scene because it provides a place where three separate wine makers and wine labels can showcase themselves to the public.

This past weekend was Outland’s grand opening which we learned about through the best local source we have.  No, not Facebook or Twitter or even the local paper. Our source is the uber-connected Darcy who seems to know everyone and everything in town, including that Outland was opening.  We met Darcy and her beau at the new tasting room to taste wines from the three producers whose wines are presented at Outland Wines:  Poe Wines, Farella Vineyards, and Forlorn Hope.

When we arrived the place was already hopping – wall-to-wall people, every table and chair occupied, and more than a few people chilling in front of the wine bar.

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Enthusiastic turnout for grand opening of Outland Wine tasting room

We love the idea of wine cooperatives, which harken back to the early days of Napa Valley when wineries and wine makers worked together to achieve success for themselves individually with the understanding that it would enable success for all  (See our post on another Napa wine cooperative:  Holman Cellars).  Once we got our bearings we realized we were facing a daunting problem (yes, definitely a First World problem, or more precisely, a Napa Valley problem):  which wines to taste.  Because there are three wineries at Outland, and each makes wine from multiple varietals, trying one of everything would have been fun …until it wasn’t.

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Too many wines to try in one sitting?

We debated between two approaches:  stick with a single winery and taste all or most of their offering; or, pick a few wines from each label to taste.  Because we had no prior experience with any of the wines, we opted to try different wines from each of the wine makers.  One of us tried the 2015 Forlorn Hope Chenin Blanc and the other the 2013 Forlorn Hope Gewürztraminer.

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Side-by-side comparison

The Gewürztraminer (on the left) fermented on its skins for a period of time which accounts for that lovely orange complexion.  While its typical aromas of honey and lychee seemed to promise a sweet finish, the wine was in fact dry with zero residual sugar – a lovely, crisp and balanced finish.  The Chenin Blanc was also balanced and a nice wine but did not have the character and uniqueness of the Gewürztraminer.

As part of our agreed-upon plan to try each of the wineries’ offerings, we moved to Farella where we tasted their Merlot and Malbec, both of which were solid wines, structured and balanced.  The price for these wines is far below the Napa Valley average, making them a bargain based on their quality. We also had the opportunity to taste  Farella’s 2002 proprietary red blend, Alta, poured out of a magnum; this was a fantastic wine with the type of depth, sophistication and character you would hope for from a 15-year-old red blend.

Before leaving we tried two of the Poe Winery Pinot Noir offerings – the 2013 Van Der Kamp Vineyard Pinot Noir (Sonoma) and the 2013 Manchester Ridge Vineyard Pinot Noir (Mendocino).  We enjoyed the aroma on both wines; on the palate, we found the finish to be delicate and muted, certainly not the strong, heavy finish generally found with Sonoma Pinot. The two Poe Pinot Noir offerings were more reminiscent of traditional Burgundain-style Pinot and the subtle finish could result from the fact that the wine is unfined and unfiltered.

While the three wineries produce a wide range of different wines, there is an overall philosophy that binds them together:  minimal intervention in the making of the wines and letting the varietals show their true aroma, flavor and character.  Our recent visit to Outland leaves us wanting to try more wines from each of the three producers and, of course, return to the wine bar soon.

To find out more about Outland or to schedule a time to taste, visit their website:  Outland Wine Bar.

John & Irene Ingersoll

March 14, 2017

Got Melka?

Got Melka?

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Who needs milk when you can have Melka?

According to a famous 1990’s advertising campaign,”milk does a  body good.”  We subscribe to the philosophy that wine –  good wine – also does a body good.  We recently met Sylvie Laly, the wonderful Sales and Wine Director for Napa Valley winery Melka Wines, who was gracious enough to share some of their wines with us.  After tasting one of their white wines and four reds, we can say that “Melka does a body good” as well.

We first heard about Melka wines through a recommendation from a sommelier at one of our favorite Napa Valley restaurants (Torc in downtown Napa) and enjoyed a bottle or two there.  We also were pleased to learn that some of their wines can be purchased at select Total Wine & More stores (with one conveniently located just 100 yards from work).

In total, Sylvie shared five wines with us, starting with the 2014 CJ Cabernet Sauvignon, named after Philippe and Cherie Melka’s children, Chloe and Jeremy.

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When in Napa …you have to make a great Cab

The CJ Cabernet is the most mass-produced of the Melka wines – if 1,800 cases counts as “mass production.”  This wine is 76% Cab with Petit Verdot, Cab Franc and Merlot blended in as well.  This wine is way too good to be anyone’s “Tuesday night wine” – it was luscious and bold, with a fine balance of fruit, acidity, minerality and tannins.  But at a $75.00 price point the wine is quite a value as it priced far less than Napa Cabs of similar quality that cost 50-100% more.

 

After finishing the CJ Cabernet, we moved on to the 2014 Melka Majestique – a 100% Syrah from the Paderewski vineyard in Paso Robles.

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Que Syrah, Syrah

Only the fourth vintage from this vineyard, the Majestique Syrah was one of the better California Syrahs that we have consumed:  complex with many layers, both in terms of aroma and flavor.  The Majestique had strong blackberry and blueberry notes but also was bursting with pepper and spice to deliver a balanced finish with surprisingly restrained tannins.  This is not a wine to sip while sitting by the pool or even reading a book on a rainy day – it will be better paired with food that can stand up to its bold flavor.

Sylvie followed the Syrah with the 2013 Proprietary Red from La Mekerra Vineyard in Knights Valley.

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An unusual Proprietary Blend that is unusually good!

Each year, winemaker Phillipe Melka strives to achieve as close to a 50/50 combination of Cabernet Franc and Merlot as he can.  For the 2013 vintage, the wine was 53% Cab Franc and 47% Merlot.  Like most of the Melka wines, the production quantities are small – only 400 total cases produced.  In our opinion, the Melka Proprietary Blend was their best wine – luscious, velvety, powerful, spicy with a strong tannic finish.  A more common blend in both Bordeaux and Napa would be Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, rather than Cabernet Franc and Merlot. Nevertheless, we think this wine holds its own against some of the most famous Napa Cabernet Sauvignon-anchored red blends at any price.

Our next wine was the 2013 Metisse from Napa Valley’s Jumping Goat Vineyard – a Cabernet Sauvignon with 13% Petit Verdot and 5% Merlot.

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When in Napa …you must make a Big Cab

This is Philippe Melka’s “Big Napa Cab” – 15.8% alcohol, aged 23 months in 80% new French oak barrels.  However, we don’t want to leave our readers with the impression that this wine was a typical Napa Cab “fruit bomb.”  For sure, the aroma and flavor of the wine are driven by dark fruit – blackberry and plum; but the wine is also complex, layered, sophisticated and nuanced and we imagine that over the course of an entire bottle the flavors would continue to unravel.

Too quickly we arrived at our last wine to taste – the 2014 Mekerra Proprietary White, Knights Valley, which is 97% Sauvignon Blanc and 3% Muscadelle.

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A lovely wine made from grapes grown at nearly 2,500 feet elevation

When Sylvie told us that the wine had undergone 100% secondary (malolactic) fermentation and had been in French oak barrels for nearly two years, we were not sure what to expect.  What we found in the glass, however, was a splendidly balanced white wine with none of the over-oaked aroma or flavor that you often find in California white wines.  There was plenty of fruit on the palate – citrus and melon – but the wine was also crisp and had enough acidity to provide a long finish.  We learned that the grapes for the Melka Sauvignon Blanc are sourced from Knights Valley, a vineyard location in Sonoma County with an elevation of over 2,300 feet.

If you pick up some Melka wine, make sure to take a close look at the label, each of which contains a close-up photo of the eyes of co-owner Philippe.  For each series of wine (Mekerra, Majestique, Metisse), his eyes change color.  For instance, on the label for the wines from Mekerra Vineyard, his eyes are blue (because Mekerra is the name of a river).

We look forward to tasting wines with Sylvie again when Melka’s winery opens.  Be sure to check out Melka wines at their website:  Melka Wines.

John & Irene Ingersoll

February 14, 2017

A Wine Rating System That Makes Sense To Us

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A wine rating legend – Robert Parker

We recently visited VGS Chateau Potelle in Napa Valley’s quaint town of Saint Helena and encountered a wine rating scale that we think has some appeal:  VGS.  Even casual wine buyers are familiar with the more common 100-point wine rating scale that Robert Parker first introduced in the 1980’s in The Wine Advocate.  Since Parker introduced this scale, it has been adopted by virtually all wine publications.  This rating scale has some appeal, especially in the United States where most schools and universities grade on a scale of 0 to 100.  A zero equates to total failure and a 100 suggests perfection.

While we find the 100 point scale to be useful, the “VGS” designation that we learned about at Chateau Potelle is one that we think could have broad appeal to the full gamut of wine consumers – snobs and novices alike.  When we sat down last week at VGS Chateau Potelle for our tasting with Shelby, we figured “VGS” stood for the name of a corporate parent or ownership group.  In our defense, it was our first visit to the winery and we knew little about them other than we had tasted a luscious bottle of their 1996 Zinfandel at Alice Water’s famous Chez Panisse in Berkeley the week before.  “So,” we asked, “who or what is ‘VGS’?”  “That stands for ‘very good shit,’ she explained.  At first we thought this was a gag but it turns out that the letters do in fact stand for those descriptive words.  As the story goes, some visitors to the winery many years ago described the Chateau Potelle wines as “very good shit” to the winemaker, Jean-Noel Fourmeaux. Apparently, he was not offended by this designation and latched onto the letters “VGS.”  Over the years, VGS has become a more prominent feature in the winery’s branding to the point where, today, both the tasting room and the bottles are branded “VGS Chateau Potelle.”

Without reservation, we can say that the 1996 Zinfandel that we had at Chez Panisse was VGS. We decided to taste the current Chateau Potelle Vintages to see how they ranked on the scale.

We sat down for a paired tasting – four wines overall with a small bite to complement the wine. We started with the 2014 Chardonnay, which was paired with Vichyssoise with Dungeness crab.  We have to say, the bites were delicious, not surprising when we found out that they are provided by one of Napa’s highest-rated restaurants, Michelin-starred La Toque.  Given that Chateau Potelle’s winemaker is from France, we were expecting more of a French-style Chardonnay – crisp, bone dry, no oak, and very light in appearance.  Instead, the Chardonnay turned out to be very yellow, similar to the Chardonnays made in Napa in the “California style.”  However, the flavor was not buttery like a typical California Chard – it was a mix of both styles both in terms of color, aroma and flavor.  Overall, a nice wine.

Our second wine was the 2014 Zinfandel – nearly 20 years younger than the wine we enjoyed the previous weekend – paired with bacon rillette.  We found the 2014 Zin to be a very nice wine – balanced fruit, spice, smooth tannins and a nice silky texture.  It was difficult not to compare it to the 1996, and in that comparison it could not hold up as the older wine had such intriguing texture and flavor.

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Our third wine was the 2014 Potelle Two – a quasi-Bordeaux blend; we say “quasi” because in addition to the traditional Bordeaux blend varietals of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot, the winemaker has blended Syrah and Zinfandel.  This wine was very balanced and drinkable for such a young red wine and paired nicely with a Spanish Idiazabal cheese.

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The fourth and final wine was Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa’s Mount Veeder appellation, paired with Niman Ranch beef.  With just over 75% of its grapes coming from Cabernet Sauvignon, the wine is labelled a Cab but could easily be considered a proprietary blend as it includes Petit Verdot, Merlot, Cab Franc and Malbec. The wine was very balanced but more powerful than the Potelle Two, with a stronger and longer finish and stronger tannins.  Also, there were more layers of flavor in the Cab – something that can be cellared and enjoyed for years to come.

We enjoyed the wines and had the good fortune to be attended by Shelby who not only shared her deep knowledge of the wines with us but also engaged us in a lively conversation about her Armenian family and the current state of U.S. politics.  We also enjoyed the tasting room which is cozy and arranged in away that allows groups to enjoy sit-down tastings with a fair amount of privacy and personal attention.  There is also a lovely outdoor area that felt very much like a French garden that we would have loved to enjoy had it not been raining for what felt like the 100th consecutive day in 2017.  When we get back to Chateau Potelle to try some more VGS, we will choose a sunny day and have our tasting outside.

We’re not sure a new rating scale for wine will catch on, but we would like to propose three levels for wine quality:
“S” – for truly shit wine, the one that you regift as soon as you get it, or use it for cooking.  Not even good enough to be a “Tuesday night wine.”

“GS” – for wines that are good shit; not very good, just good.  Definitely worthy of Tuesday night but also good enough to take to a restaurant for date night.

“VGS” – for the very good shit wines that you drink for special occasions and hide from  friends or family that can’t tell the different between S, GS, or VGS.

What do you think – can this rating scale catch on?

John & Irene Ingersoll

February 10, 2017

Wine Pairs With Football in Napa

The Oakland Raiders are one of America’s most successful franchises:  owners of three National Football league championships and a team that has placed twelve players, one coach and their owner into the NFL Hall of Fame.  Over the course of their history, the Raiders have developed the reputation as one of the fiercest teams in the country.  So what comes to mind when we think of the Raiders?

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For many of us, the Raiders’ logo is the first thing that comes to mind:  the pirate or “raider” with the eye patch wearing a football helmet dressed in the team’s sliver and black colors.  For others, what comes to mind is an image of the players themselves, either as a unit …

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Raider players at practice

…or perhaps a favorite individual player.

As much as the players are celebrities, the Raider fans have also become notorious for their intense love for their team, their elaborate costumes, and the inhospitable nature of the Raiders’ home stadium, the Oakland Coliseum.

These are the images and ideas that we conjure up when we hear the words “Oakland Raiders.”  What we do not conjure up are …Cabernet Sauvignon, fine wine, Sauvignon Blanc, Napa Valley.  Nevertheless, American football and the Oakland Raiders do in fact have a strong connection to Napa Valley, wine and great Cabernet Sauvignon.  This past week at a local Italian restaurant (thanks, Pasta Prego!) we ordered wine from a label that was new to us: Twenty Four Wines.  Our waitress explained that “Twenty Four” was a reference to the uniform number worn by previous NFL football player Charles Woodson, a member of the Oakland Raiders (retired in 2016).

The wine had a lovely aroma of dark fruits (blackberry, blueberry) as well as some spice and a hint of oak.  Based on the bold aroma, we were expecting a very fruit-forward, high-alcohol wine that jumped out of the glass. Instead, our first couple of sips revealed a very restrained wine; it almost seemed like it was holding itself back.  Initially, the fruit was muted by the acidity and dryness of the wine and there was not much to the finish.  We decided to let it open up more and a few minutes later the fruit flavors become more prominent as did the tannins, leading to a much longer finish and more satisfying balance of fruit and acidity.

You might wonder how Charles Woodson went from this …

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Two future Hall of Famers meeting

…to this:

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Charles Woodson courtesy of charleswoodsonwines.com

Charles Woodson was drafted by the Raiders in 1998 and attended his first training camp that year in the city of Napa, where we live.  Through his annual visits to training camp and exposure to the Napa Valley, Woodson became more and more interested in wine and became friends with some knowledgeable wine people along the way.  After leasing a property in Calistoga in 2001, he planted vines and made his first wine in 2005, a Cabernet Sauvignon. Today, he bottles Cab as well as Sauvignon Blanc, which we also had a chance to taste at Pasta Prego.  We were impressed with the aroma and flavor of the Sav Blanc as well – a nice balance of fruit and acidity.

Like many of our favorite wineries in Napa Valley, Twenty Four Wines is still a small production operation compared to the “big fish” in the Valley.  But with the quality of the wines, the energy of its owner, and the interesting story behind the brand, we anticipate that growth is in their future.  Next time you’re going to a Raider game, forget about that flask of whiskey, case of beer, or bottles of tequila.  Get yourself a bottle (or six) of Twenty Four Wines and tailgate like a Hall of Famer.  And don’t forget your wine glasses, good Cab does not taste good in a plastic cup.

You can find Charles Woodson’s wines here:  http://www.charleswoodsonwines.com/

John & Irene Ingersoll

January 27, 2017