Category Archives: Staff Picks

A Deal on Napa Valley Cabernets

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You may be skeptical of this, but not all Napa Cabernets require securing a loan. While some bottles may fetch upwards of $300.00 or more and consumers have been trained to spend at least $50.00 on a Cabernet with a Napa Valley AVA, there are still a few wineries that know their customers are still hoping to buy Napa cabs under $30.00. While they are not easy to find, they can be had. There still exists parts of the valley that are not considered the high rent district and at least a few companies have the wisdom of producing Napa Valley Cabernets in this price range. In my recent tasting journeys I have found a trio perfect for the bargain hunter.

First on the board is the Educated Guess. Almost fat and plump, this pretty wine always drinks well upon release. The 2012 version is sappy fine and just keeps on giving. I’d like this one with a juicy, rare slab of rib eye of beef. Coming up fast but certainly not behind is the succulent and mouth-watering 2012 Napa Cellars. A seemingly more serious wine, this cab shows a bit more weight and oak on the palate. The wine is very true to its Napa Valley heritage of bold fruit and firm, yet sweet tannins. The last wine of this trio is the 2011 Mount Veeder. Perhaps the most industrious of the group, there is just a little more to this one. Shows similar elements to the others, but it stays on the palate even longer. A solid cab in a decidedly difficult vintage, this one plays up the savory aspects of this varietal that is sometimes forgotten by the more expensive, highly-oaked wines from this this valley.

One can always spend a lot and acquire the best wines in the marketplace and I certainly encourage wine lovers to splurge when they can, but a little value shopping could yield some really fine “everyday” or more often enjoyment from this beautiful valley a couple of hours north of San Francisco. These three Napa Valley deals say that this valley has more than just the highest priced wines in the land.

The hunt for California’s Holy Grail

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You think you need to travel to The Mecca of Pinot Noir to satisfy your appetite for the variety? Well, I have news for all of you starving wine lovers. Though it is hard to deny that a week in Beaune, France would do wonders for the wine soul, I can point to so many places in California where Pinot Noir has gone to the next level. Where? Could it be the Russian River Valley, the Anderson Valley, Sonoma Coast? While those places do indeed have some of America’s very best Pinots, today I’d like to talk about the Santa Lucia Highlands.

History tells us that the earliest plantings in this AVA took place in the 1790’s, but it was not until the 1980’s and 1990’s that the area was re-discovered by farming families: Pisoni, Franscioni, Manzoni, Boekenoogen and others. Today there are many artisan productions proving this area’s potential for greatness. At the forefront of the movement is Bernardus, whose single vineyard Pinot Noirs are nothing short of spectacular. While Proprietor Ben Pon had been known for developing a strong case for Bordeaux blends (Marinus) out of Carmel Valley, his more recent launch of Pinot Noir is grabbing  attention from the top critics in the wine world. Wine publications such as the Wine Spectator, The Wine Advocate and the Wine Enthusiast, have given the wines superb accolades and high scores.

In my recent tastings I was really wowed by the 2011 single vineyard offerings. The  Soberanes shows great balance and trueness to the varietal. The Sierra Mar takes the varietal on a darker fruit journey and is pretty delicious. The Pisoni is scary good and so young that it could take a year of two before it is ready, though one could roast a leg of lamb and be pretty happy with this wine. The Garys’ is complete and distinctive as it offers a more savory personality. My very favorite is the Rosella’s. This wine is so spectacular that I could easily turn away a fine Gevrey-Chambertin and pour this one in its place. Gentle and bright, yet deceptively powerful, the wine just stays, stays and stays on the palate. It may now be the time to invoke a new saying, “Can Burgundy rival America’s best single vineyard Pinot Noir?”

Kicking off California Wine Month with Zin!

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Though Zinfandel is often called the “California grape,” its origins are slightly further away. Where is origin of Zinfandel? In 2000, Carole Meredith, co-proprietor of Lagier-Meredith and American grape geneticist, published findings that suggested Croatia was the origin of this varietal.  Before this, many in the industry believed Zinfandel was possibly a descendant of Primitivo, the Southern Italian grape. It’s true that Zinfandel and Primitivo are related, but they are both clones of Crljenak,  a native variety of Croatia.

Zinfandel has become “California’s own.” Since the early 1970’s the state’s wineries have produced some of the world’s finest red wines from our beloved Zinfandel. While the research continues, it is clear that California producers have made a stake in the Zinfandel sweepstakes. Whether it is called Primitivo or Crljenak Kaštelanski, California Zinfandel is the prize that is finding itself more often at the dinner table.

“The name Zinfandel was first used in 1832 and established a separate identity for the grape and one unique to America.” (Source: Zinfandel, Producers and Advocates, April 2002). It was not until the early 1970’s that Zinfandel emerged to become the superstar varietal that it is today. Ushered into the limelight by the 1968 Sutter Home Deaver Ranch, a flood of marquee players from the outstanding class of 1973 Chateau Montelena, Ridge Geyserville, Dry Creek Vineyard and others changed the varietal’s place in history forever. Zinfandel was now becoming one of the prizes on the runway.

I drink Zin all the time. My favorite match is pairing it with grilled pork chops. Pork tenderloin with a wine sauce reduction has been one another go to combination. But the ever popular grilled steak with fries works well too. Celebrate 10th Annual California Wine Month and pop the cork on the delicious 2012 Seghesio Sonoma County Zinfandel. The golden state, family and friends will be happy you did.

Baseball and Wine: The race to the pennant

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There is a saying every spring when it comes to the boys of summer: “Hope springs eternal.” Doubtful that 18th century English poet, Alex Pope, imagined that his words would be immortalized in baseball “hall of fame” expressions, but we hope he’d be proud. Baseball, the great American pastime, runs from the beginning of March to early October. Most teams have World Series dreams that begin early and  fade or grow as the season heads into the home stretch.

While many turn to beer and other beverages, more and more sports fans are taking the wine route as they root, root, root their teams to their pennant berths. I had a friend of mine, a San Francisco Giants fan, who always broke out a bottle of Sonoma County zinfandel for good luck. As the season came to its crescendo, she would go for the more expensive stuff. Baseball and wine, like any good match, goes together quite well. Here are my picks for the best wines with baseball that I will be pouring as my team heads into October.

I’d like to start with a bubbly, not too expensive but plenty good to whet the appetite and get the rooting lungs going. Just imagine watching the pre-game warm up with a glass of Domaine Chandon Brut from California. Elegant and tasteful, with sharp crisp acidity, this one would match well with sashimi, raw oysters, caviar and the like. Of course, one could just drink it by itself at the sound of the National Anthem. The first pitch is a strike. “What, the ump called it a ball!!!” Let the games begin. Real fans know that the first three innings are a dance between the pitchers and opposing lineups.  As more food comes to the buffet table,  I always make sure to have Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon on hand. You may say, “Wilfred, you are so boring.” Well, I just want to be pragmatic and if I don’t have these two on the back bar, someone will ask for them, I can guarantee that!

Dollars play a part in what I choose and this is the kind of event that I don’t really want to overspend.  Everyone will pour their beverages and plate their food with their eyes glued to the tube or, more likely, there will be a baseball argument of some sort. Food and wine play a supporting role here. My Chardonnay choice: The 2012 Veramonte Chardonnay from the cool Casablanca Valley in Chile. This wine is very good and quite affordable. You can even buy a few bottles extra, in case the game goes into extra innings. Cabernet needs to be easy to drink, yet definitive in its flavors. For this season I recommend the pert and clearly defined 2011 Penley Estate Cabernet Sauvignon from the Coonawarra area of Australia. Now get ready for the final leg of the pennant chase. May the best team win!

Jordan Cabernet Sauvignon: Elegant, Wonderful and Timeless

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My first cab? I think it was a mid-1960’s Beaulieu Vineyard Georges de Latour Private Reserve. My dad always enjoyed a glass of BV Georges on special occasions and somewhere around the age of 15 I must have taken a sip or two when he wasn’t looking. When I started drinking wine on my own, I discovered the 1968 BV Georges and the 1967 Heitz Martha’s Vineyard. Like all top wines of that era, they were elegant and stately. Over the next three decades California  ratcheted up of the power in this varietal. By the mid 1990’s, California Cabernet Sauvignon had evolved into monsters of the midway. Decidedly full bodied and tannic, they commanded attention and could overpower meals they were supposed to support.  Only the finest producers knew how to tame the new-age Cabernet Sauvignon, which leads me to Jordan Vineyards & Winery.
The winery comments, “When the first vintage (1976) of Jordan Cabernet Sauvignon debuted, it was an immediate success due to its elegance and early approachability, as well as its affinity for food.” As a retailer in San Francisco, I saw the first-hand reactions by my customers as they told me how much they loved this wine. The winery knew the style of wine that this area was destined to make and never wavered in their efforts to be true. While some wineries went bigger and bigger, Jordan maintained its balance. This is why I have always been a big fan of the Jordan Cabernets.

In a recent staff tasting at Wine.com, I poured the 2010 Jordan Cabernet Sauvignon. I found the wine elegant and full of finely-tuned red fruit aromas and flavors. Aside from breaking the wine down into its components, the most important aspect of the wine was its completeness. It was not imposing or over-the-top. Isn’t providing pleasure one of the goals of a wine? As with this moment in time, I have never poured a Jordan Cabernet that was not appreciated by all. I had been drinking California Cabernet for more than a decade before the 1976 debuted in 1980, and while it may not have been my first Cabernet, it is what I am drinking and serving as often as I can. The Jordan Cabernet is elegant, wonderful and timeless.