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Ten Wicked Wines for Halloween

Halloween party planning is in the works and if you’re scouting for some spooky sips to serve friends and fiends at Halloween happenings, then look no further! From wicked reds to a ghostly white, these wines vow to take a creepy spin on the fruit of the vine.

besiegedbottleRavenswood Besieged Red Blend 2014 (CA)

A blood-red blend of plush Sonoma fruit, Besieged gives a dubious nod to the day winemaker, Joel Peterson, harvested grapes under thunderous skies and circling ravens, the notorious bird of ill omen. Happily, the day’s dark clouds rolled by and Ravenswood wines shine brighter than ever with intensity, power, and rich berry-driven flavors. Besieged is no exception, built on the blood red blend of Petite Sirah, Carignane, Zinfandel, Syrah, Alicante Bouschet, and Barbera, this limited-edition, Sonoma-county carrying bottle rocks the palate with dark fruit, a full body and a tangle of well-integrated tannins.

velvetdevilbottle1The Velvet Devil Merlot 2014 (WA)

If the devil’s in the details, then this lip-smacking, pitchfork-wielding Washington State Merlot has them covered. Columbia Valley, through and through, showing off whole berry fermentation that gives aromatics a leg up and tannins a smoothing out, 10 months of barrel aging (30% new oak), and going for gutsy by utilizing some native yeast influences during fermentation, the Velvet Devil delivers black plum, Bing cherry and a dash of cocoa in a medium-bodied, easy to drink style.


chronic_purpleparadiseChronic Cellars Purple Paradise Red Blend 2014 (CA)

From the heart of Paso Robles, brothers Josh and Jake Beckett have given voice to regional wines that speak volumes in term of quality fruit and easy-going style. Expect this Zinfandel-dominated blend to bring the beat to a heady mix of blackberry, cherry and raspberry driven fruit themes. The loud, eye-catching label leans heavily into Mexico’s Day of the Dead holiday themes, making this bottle a go-to grab for all sorts of Halloween gatherings.



sinisterhandbtlOwen Roe “Sinister Hand” 2012 (WA)

This is a classic Rhone-inspired blend delivering Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre, and Cinsaut, but with an ominous name like “Sinister Hand” – you know there’s got to be a haunting backstory. And there is. Legend has it that back in the 17th century two Irish families, the O’neills and O’Reillys (of course), decided to test their water prowess in a rowing race, with the winning team laying claim to a particularly prized plot of land. The straightforward agreement was that whichever team touched the land first won. Fair enough. However, when O’Neill’s boat began trailing behind, a member of the crew, reached for his own sword, chopped off his hand and tossed it to shore – going to great lengths to secure the land for the O’Neills. Rumor has it the land remains in the O’Neill family today.

plungerheadredbottlePlungerhead Lodi Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 (CA)

Not all Halloween wines need to be devious and dark, some may inspire last minute costume designs: enter Lodi’s Plungerhead Cab. A light-hearted Cab that is as affordable as it is drinkable. Perfect for pairing with tricks and treats, making the most of mini milk chocolate candy bars, malted milk balls, and more, this Lodi red is fun and flexible with plenty of blackberries and raspberries up front and center well-supported by slices of chocolate, a sprinkle of pumpkin pie spice and a smidge of smoke.



faust4Faust Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 (CA)

For the more cerebral Halloween imbiber, Faust is a deeply concentrated Napa Cabernet deriving its name from Goethe’s tragic play whereby Dr. Faust sells his soul to the Devil in exchange for power, pleasure, enduring youth and infinite knowledge. While this richly textured Cabernet Sauvignon doesn’t make any such promises it does deliver, mystery and intrigue, brooding dark fruit, a full body, stunning structure and an ongoing finish.


alma_negra_m_blendbottleAlma Negra M Blend 2013 (Argentina)

What does the “M” stand for? Mendoza, moon, mystery, Malbec, magic. Well, Alma Negra says, it’s up to the drinker. Whatever, the meaning, this mysterious red wine features a healthy blend of Bonarda and Malbec in the mix, and pours almost as inky black as the label itself. Dark fruit and black pepper spice make way for black licorice and dense layers. The M Blend label, a foreboding enigma, promises to dazzle and delight on Halloween night.



Ghost Pines Chardonnay 2013 (CA)

Named for the willowy, free-spirited pines that border the Ghost Pines Vineyard along the eastern ridge of Napa Valley, this ethereal Chardonnay is an adventurous blend of fruit from two Cab-loving counties: Sonoma and Napa. Expect to go bobbing for apples with this one as Granny Smith meets Gala and tart mingles with sweet, medium-bodied, with creamy textures and an enduring finish.




poizin2Armida Poizin Zinfandel 2014 (CA)

Poizin, dubbed the “wine to die for,” is a Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel that’s made for Halloween.  Adorned with blood-red labeling, complete with creepy font and a haunting skull and crossbones graphic, this wine is the one to sip while passing out Halloween candy.  And it’s delicious with both milk and dark chocolate, that may or may not make it into the candy bowl this year. What’s not to love?




apothicdarkApothic Dark Red Blend 2014 (CA)

From the makers of Apothic Red and dripping with Gothic intrigue, the Apothic dark delivers a haunting blend of Petite Sirah, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Petit Verdot. No need for candy, this one carries its own stash of ripe berry fruit flavors wrapped up in dark chocolate decadence.

Best Bets for Budget Wedding Bubbly

When it comes to wedding day wine picks, many couples are scouting for good (cheap) bubbles to raise their glasses in the traditional toast. There’s no doubt that Champagne is often the first stop on the wedding wine train, but for savvy, budget-bound folks, there are plenty of solid sparkling wine options that cost significantly less than classic French Champagne. Enter, Crémant, Cava, and domestic sparkling wines.

Crémant: Beyond Champagne, Best Bets for Well-priced French Bubbly

Crémant wines are regionally-inspired French sparkling wines made (way) outside of the strict delineated boundaries of Champagne. Crafted in the same traditional, time-consuming method as Champagne (dubbed “méthode champenoise“), with both bottle fermentation and lees-aging, these sparkling wines may stray well beyond the conventional grapes used to make Champagne (Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier). Crémants offer a lively glimpse of a particular growing region’s given grapes all wrapped up in a sparkling, celebratory twist. For couples interested in toasting their vows with a classy crémant, bottle labels offer key clues as to which region a wine represents. Take Alsace for example, carrying front label terms like “Crémant d’Alsace,” essentially communicating that this particular bubbly hails from the tasty growing region of Alsace, in northeast France, and may very well carry Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, or even regional Riesling within. The same is true for bubbles from Burgundy (“Bourgogne” in French and on the label), which will spotlight “Cremant de Bourgogne” front and center, or lively Chenin Blanc ambassadors from the Loire Valley, dubbed “Cremant d’Loire.”

Crémant Producers to Try:  Gerard Bertrand, Chateau Gaudrelle, Jean-Baptiste Adam, Louis Bouillot, Lucien Albrecht, JCB, Pierre Sparr, Simonnet-Febvre

Cava: Spain’s Snazzy Sparkling Wine

Shining bright as Spain’s signature sparkling wine, Cava courts many couples with well-priced, fresh-faced, food-friendly bubbly that is made in the same traditional method as Champagne, where the second, bubble-capturing fermentation takes place in the bottle (not a tank). Built on the back of three local, Spanish white wine grapes: Macabeo, Xarel-lo, and Parellada, Cava hails predominately from the Penedès region of northeast Spain (just west of Barcelona), and accounts for a significant 10% of Spain’s total wine production. Cava’s consistent claim to sparkling wine fame lies in its outstanding quality to price ratio. Couples looking to cash in on Cava savings will find remarkable bottles readily available for well under $20 (and often under $10).

Cava Producers to Try:  Bodegas Codorniu, Freixenet, Jaume Serra Cristalino, Bodegas Muga, Poema, Segura Viudas

American Sparkling Wines: Bringing Serious Bubbles to the New World

While many couples say they want Champagne to toast their nuptials, most mean they want festive (persistent) bubbles rocking the flute, but don’t necessarily want to pay premium prices. Keep in mind, Champagne is only Champagne if it’s made within the strict geographical boundaries of Champagne, France. Champagne is a place. It lies about an hour and a half east of Paris. Every other bottle of bubbly made outside of this small growing region is categorically considered sparkling wine. At its cheapest, Champagne still commands right around $40 a bottle. The good news is that many of the top Champagne houses have extended their inspiration and influence to vineyards around the globe to make some serious sparkling wine from regional grapes, at considerably lower price points.

Today, most wine regions offer at least one rendition of sparkling wine. However, the U.S. has taken its sparkling wine endeavors to new heights, with many domestic producers finding their funding and future in Old World Champagne houses. For example, as the name implies California’s Domaine Chandon shares its heritage and sassy style with French Champagne idol Moët & Chandon. Or take Mumm Napa, whose prestigious roots trace back to parent company G.H. Mumm, the largest producer of Champagne in the Reims region, and today Mumm Napa leads Napa’s sparkling wine initiatives with innovative style and ongoing accolades. Last, but certainly not least, take Louis Roederer, premium producer of the highly exalted Cristal Champagne, quietly and audaciously esteemed by royalty and rappers alike, which has significant investment in the cool climate of Mendocino’s Anderson Valley for all estate grown grapes that make their way into Roederer Estate’s renowned sparkling wine renditions. While California bubbly often bares more forward fruit character than its classic, counterpart, the method and tradition remain very much the same as Champagne.

Domestic Sparkling Wine Producers to Try:  Domaine Chandon, Domaine Carneros, Gloria Ferrer, Gruet, Iron Horse, J Vineyards, Mumm Napa, Roederer Estate, Schramsberg


Nebbiolo Prima


A showcase of just-released Barolo, Barbaresco, and Roero wines

Every BaroloBottlesBlindMay Albeisa, the Unione Produttori Vini Albesi (Union of Producers of wines from the Alba area), hosts journalists from all over the world for an event called, Nebbiolo Prima, one of the most important Italian wine summits of the year. This year over 250 wineries submitted a total of nearly 500 of their just-released Barolo, Barbaresco, and Roero wines as part of this blind tasting and pre-marketing event.

Up for examination were the following wines: Barolo (2012 and 2010 Riserva), Barbaresco (2013 and 2011 Riserva), Roero (2013 and 2012 Riserva).

While the entire tasting is done blind (producer names are not given until the end of each tasting day), the village denominations are grouped and revealed to the journalists beforehand.

With over 100 wines to assess each morning, there isn’t time to deeply analyze each and every one. Having done the event many times, I focus on getting an overall impression of each vintage for each denomination and villages, while noting obvious standouts. I make brief tasting notes for each wine and score top wines with three stars down to 2.5, and so on to 0.5 stars. I don’t give any stars to wines that are acceptable, however not spectacular in any way.

The 2012 growing season started with a very wet winter and spring. Warm temperatures and continued precipitation in June contributed to vegetative growth but reduced berry set. Neither was a huge concern as less compact clusters help prevent disease and the soil’s water reserves helped the vines survive a very hot late summer. Though results for 2012 Barolo were mixed, some villages—and wines—clearly outshone their counterparts.

Barolo vineyards Sep 2012 fogWithin the 2012 vintage, I awarded the most points to wines in the Barolo “più communi” (many villages) category. These are often labeled as “Classico” or simply state “Barolo” on the label. They show big, sweet, dense, red cherry, cinnamon, marzipan, potpourri, chalky but ripe tannins, and are quite balanced overall with integrated floral notes. (39 wines; 18 total stars for the category)

Barolo from the village of La Morra scored highest of all of the single villages. The best 2012 La Morra Barolo reveal pretty mint and rose, sweet aromas of wild strawberry, and a polished texture; others are huge in structure with tannins that need to resolve. But even some of the more challenged samples retain enough fruit and non-fruit characters to support the power. One particularly striking example of the potential of this vintage was Renato Ratti’s Barolo from the Conca cru. Intense and gorgeous aromas of rose, licorice, and fresh herbs pop out of the glass. This complex young wine is already in balance, showing potential for a long life ahead. (57 wines; 32.5 stars)

Ripe red cherries, smoke, dark earth, and sweet tannins characterize the best Barolos from the Verduno village. One of my favorites was Alessandria Fratelli’s San Lorenzo Barolo. Its aromas of red cherry, cologne, spice and forest floor lead to a full, lush mouthfeel and that is still a bit tight but pleasant. (14 wines; 6 stars)

The Castiglione Barolos show a concentration of ripe unctuous black cherry; they have bold structure and sweet perfume. One of the most representative samples of the best from the village was Cascina Bongiovanni’s Pernanno Barolo, which is full of heightened black cherry, sweet rose, and fine-grained tannins. (18 wines; 7.5 stars)

The best 2012 Barolos from the Barolo village are identified by smoke, tar, earth, and rose with ripe red and blackberry, marked aromatics, a juicy mid-palate, and polished tannins. Two single vineyard Barolos from Borgogno, the Cannubi and Fossati, were among my favorites. The Cannubi shows lovely aromatics of mint and cherry whereas the Fossati, while also pretty on the nose, shows a bitter spice quality that isn’t unpleasant—both still prominently showing their youth. (41 wines; 16.5 stars)

The Serralunga Barolos are profoundly structured with distinct aromas of tobacco and fireplace. The best ones integrate rose petal, potpourri, and forest aromatics with ripe red cherry fruit and refined tannins; on the other hand, some are thwarted by oak. Standouts included GD Vajra’s Baudana, which is a gorgeous wine with mixed berry compote in the mid-palate, scents of perfume and ash, and a linear, powerful finish. Another extraordinary Barolo from the village was the Pio Cesare Ornato, which gives off the canonical tar and roses, with a hint of fireplace. It is clean, pure, on point, and balanced. (46 wines; 16.5 stars)

The Monforte wines in general had aromas of candied fruit and cocoa, were concentrated with super ripe blackberry, raspberry, and black plum on the palate, and the tannins were strong and rough in many cases. Sorì Ginestra from Conterno Fantino was an outstanding example of the best from the village in 2012; while fleshy and certainly in its adolescence, it isn’t coarse like some. The Pecchenino was the prettiest with currant, blackberry, eukalyptus, and silky tannins. (43 wines; 9.5 stars)

The 2013 growing season in Piemonte was a funny one in that everything was delayed by about two weeks. Low temperatues slowed the vegetative cycle in the spring and while cool weather can lead to good acidity levels in resultant wines, it also necessitated longer hang time in the fall, which led to a vintage with mixed results. While aromatics could be lovely, some wines were herbal and thin. Some examples seemed too advanced or were thick with bitter tannins. The best 2013 Barbarescos find a nice balance in range of aromas and flavors. The wines came in all over the board.

barbarescoAlbino Rocca’s single cru Angelo Barbaresco was my highest scoring 2013 Barbaresco from the Barbaresco village. Its engaging bouquet of ripe, red cherry, smoke, dried violets, and sweet rose surprised me and stood out among the other 100 wines that Tuesday; the palate is juicy and finish, long and fine-tuned. (33 wines; 16.5 stars)

Among the 2013s from Treiso, many were smoky, tight and rustic with some problems of over-oakiness. But some of the better ones showed elegance. (19 wines; 11stars)

One of the best examples among the 2013 Neive Barbarescos was Moccagatta’s Basarin. Scents of camp fire, cinnamon, black cherry, and fresh herbs reveal themselves, leading to a wine that is both delightful and supple on the palate. (39 wines; 19.5 stars)

The Barbaresco “più communi” (many villages) category didn’t show so well overall. Though the Produttori del Barbaresco’s 2013 Barbaresco comes forward a little too bold, it shows consistency and balance of ripe fruit through to the finish. (12 wines; 3 stars)

The 2013 vintage of Roero (23 wines; 19 stars) and 2012 Roero Riserva (24 wines; 16 stars), as a whole, were the best I’ve ever tasted! Normally as a category Roero can be a mixed bag but not in these vintages; overall they were some of the best wines of the week. The besbarolosheett 2013s did an amazing job showing off pretty Roero aromatics, redolent of orange peel, strawberry candy, and mint or sometimes a mix of dark fruit, forest and cocoa. Either way the wines are perfumed, lush and charming. One of the best examples of the latter style was Malvirà’s 2013 Roero Classico. Their 2012 Riservas showed amazingly well too; my favorite was the Vigna Trinità. Powerful aromas of violets and roses lead to a refined integration throughout the palate of bold and juicy fruit as well as cocoa-powdery tannins. Other notable bottlings from the 2012 Malvira Riservas were the Vigna Mombeltramo and Vigna Renesio.

There were 66 wines in the Barolo 2010 Riserva and Barbaresco 2011 Riserva categories, though overall I scored them low in stars. The same can be said for the Barolos from Novello (14 wines) and Barbarescos from Alba (4 wines).

Find more information about the event and the Albeisa organization at these links.





Somm things I think about: The Reds of Southern Rhône

Most people have some degree of familiarity with the Rhône wines of Southern France. They have typically heard of Grenache, Châteauneuf-du-Pape, or Côtes du Rhône. However, many people  may not be aware of some of the other red wine regions, such as Vacqueyras, that can produce amazing reds for great value. This blog will try to explain a little about the history and basics of the southern Rhône and the wines that come from the Southern Rhône Valley region. Hopefully this will inspire you to discover and enjoy the Rhône as much as I do!

The Rhône Valley is a wine region in southeast France and is named for the Rhône River that runs through the region on its way to the Mediterranean Sea. The Rhône River separates the Alps from the Massif Central, an elevated and mountainous part of southern France. The north is mountainous ancient granitic rock. The south is partially an ancient seabed with calcareous clay and limestone. The river has deposited sand, flinty pebbles, and clay silt as well.  This gives growers a wide variety of different soils and terroir to choose from in the Rhône.  And given the range of soils as well as the variance of elevations in the region and the diversity of available grape varieties, styles of wine vary greatly from big, long-aged Syrahs to bright and cheery rosés.

Rhône wines are some of the most ancient in France. Evidence has suggested that the Greeks were growing grapes in the fourth century BCE in Marseille and in the first century BCE in the northern part of the Rhône Valley. A good deal of the success was due to the presence of sandstone clay deposits allowing the Greeks and Romans to easily make their earthenware jars, amphorae or dolia, which were used to transport wines as well as the famous roman fish sauce.

The Romans had a lasting impression on the area. They established many of the towns and vineyard sites that still exist today. At the height of the Roman Empire, the Rhône Valley wines were rivaling those from Italy in terms of quality and production. Yet after the fall of the empire, the export markets for Rhône wines dried up and great interest wasn’t renewed again until the Catholic Church rediscovered the amazing wines of the Rhône in the middle ages.

As with many wine regions in France, the Catholic Church has had a role in forming the wines made in the present day and establishing some of the best vineyards. In the late 13th century, the French king Louis VIII granted a parcel of land to the Catholic church around the town of Avignon called Comtat Venaissin.

Also in the late 13th century, riots and general unrest ushered in a chaotic time for Rome.  Politically speaking, the church had lost the respect and control of the nobles around Rome to the point where they no longer granted military protection. Following the election of French bishop Clement V to the papacy, he moved the papacy to the Southern Rhône region around the town of Avignon. A general rumor at the time was that the goal was to cozy up to the King Philip of France for political power. Regardless of the explanation, this ushered in the Avignon Papacy that lasted from 1305 until 1378. While this blog is not about Châteauneuf-du-Pape (French for “new castle of the Pope”), it is worth noting that the church ushered in a renaissance of Rhône wines and invigorated the region. The quality summarily increased, vineyard sites were replanted, and the export markets began to grow again.

Even though the popes eventually moved back to Rome, the Rhône was on the map and the wines were firmly established. Trade was flourishing due to the high reputation of the wines, and local ports were busy. Due to increased popularity, local wine regulations were introduced in 1650 to guarantee provenance and quality. First known as Côste du Rhône, the famous name of Côtes du Rhône was established in the mid-18th century and validated by the courts in 1936.

Baron Le Roy, a grower in Châteauneuf-du-Pape, championed the establishment of a governing body to maintain and regiment wine appellations. The Baron also successfully lobbied for the first AOC in the Rhône in 1933. The terms and limits he set forth became the standard for all subsequent AOC regions (appellation d’origine contrôlée, or controlled area of origin). To this day, the entrants follow limits on growing area, grape varieties, local practices, cultivation methods, minimum alcohol content, and harvest periods. Baron Le Roy later became involved in the founding of the INAO (Institut National de l’Origine et de la Qualité), the governing body that eventually took over the governing of all AOC regions and entrants, and presided over it from 1947 to 1967.

The Southern Rhône accounts for nearly 95% of the total Rhône wine production, and the majority of that is red. Most of those are wines based on blends with Grenache as the star player. The popular blend is called a GSM, as it consists of Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvedre, and Cinsault is frequently included as well.

Côtes du Rhône

The Côtes du Rhône is the largest appellation and the base designation for wines for the entire Rhône. While it’s possible that a Northern Rhône Syrah could be de-classified down to the Côtes du Rhône level, it is more than likely to be a Grenache-based wine from around one of 17 different villages or a blend of all the villages intended to achieve a certain style. Usually lower in price than the more prestigious regions, the quality for the price is very high.

A great example that we like is:

Guigal Cotes du Rhône Rouge 2011

90 Points. “A perennial favorite, it’s reassuring to see that the quality continues to remain high even from Guigal’s least expensive cuvee. Red fruits—cherries and raspberries—marry easily with hints of clove, cracked pepper, black olive and espresso. It’s round on the mid-palate, showing more focus and ample length on the finish.”

Wine Enthusiast

90 Points. “Deep ruby. Smoky cherry and blueberry aromas display very good clarity and a touch of cracked pepper. Showing its Syrah component, with sappy black and blue fruit flavors sharpened by a spicy nuance. A sexy floral note comes up on a gently tannic finish that lingers with very good persistence. As usual, this wine punches well above its category and should reward at least another four or five years of patience.”

– Antonio Galloni’s Vinous

Côtes du Rhône-Villages

Imagine a large pyramid: at the bottom of the pyramid is the base (and obviously the largest part)—this is the space reserved for Côtes du Rhône. The next level up is referred to as the village level. As of 2016, there are 17 villages or communes, and the label must bear the name of the village as well as the title Côtes du Rhône. In this case, Seguret is that village. If it is a blend from more than one village, the village names will be left off and just “Villages” will be present.

A great example we like is:

Domaine de Mourchon Côtes du Rhône Villages Seguret Grande Reserve 2011

93 Points. “In the same ball park and another incredible effort from this producer, the 2011  Côtes du Rhône Villages Grand Reserve is a blend of two-thirds Grenache and one-third Syrah that was aged in 60% barrel and 40% tank. Awesome on all accounts, with a thrilling bouquet of raspberry liqueur, crushed flowers, spice, licorice and herbs de Provence, this medium to full-bodied beauty has no hard edges, beautiful purity of fruit and a heady, lengthy finish that pumps out loads of fruit while staying fresh and clean. It’s a superb effort that should not be missed.”

– Robert Parker’s The Wine Advocate

90 Points. “This is solid, with a nice core of crushed plum, blackberry and boysenberry fruit, lined with lightly briary tannins and framed by a graphite note on the finish.”

Wine Spectator


Some of the communes and villages have been awarded their own AOC designations or named areas, and these make up the next-highest level in the quality pyramid. Gigondas is made from at least 50% Grenache, and compares to its more famous cousin Châteauneuf-du-Pape in a lot of ways including soil type, ageing, and winemaking.

A great example we like is:

Famille Perrin Gigondas Clos des Tourelles 2012

94 Points: “Ratcheting the quality level up a notch, the 2012 Gigondas Domaine du Clos des Tourelles comes from a property, purchased in 2008, that’s located just outside the village of Gigondas and that’s completely enclosed by a stone wall (hence the use of Clos in the name). It’s also the only wine not vinified at the Famille Perrin winery (which is located just north of Beaucastel) and is vinified in Gigondas. Serious on all accounts, with stunning aromas of sweet black and red fruits, bouquet garni, dried flowers and dusty soil notes, it hits the palate with medium to full-bodied richness, loads of textured and chewy tannin. Improving in the glass, this beautiful Gigondas will benefit from short-term cellaring and have 12-15 years of total evolution. Drink 2016-2027.”

– Robert Parker’s The Wine Advocate

92 Points:  “A ripe, silky style, with lush boysenberry and plum confiture notes that glide along, maintaining definition as hints of fruitcake, anise and chocolate move throughout. Drink now through 2022.”

Wine Spectator


Larger than Gigondas and known to be a bit more rustic, the same rules apply, as does the similarity to more famous regions with better value. This region can have more variable quality due to its size but if you look carefully, you can find some great wines.

A great example we like is:

Dom. La Garrigue Vacqueyras La Canterelle 2012

92 Points  “Bright violet color. Sexy aromas of black raspberry, cherry compote, potpourri and incense. Supple, pliant and focused on the palate, offering intense red and dark berry fruit and floral pastille flavors that deepen with air. The long, sweet, intensely spicy finish features silky tannins and a suave, lingering suggestion of candied flowers. These vines reportedly range from 80 to over 100 years of age.”

–  Antonio Galloni’s Vinous

Lirac & Cairanne

Similar to Gigondas and Vacqueyras in that Grenache is the star but not as well-known, these regions produce great value wines (but not necessarily cheap). They sit above the village level and are a great choice for lovers of richer, new-world-style wines.

A great Lirac we like is:

Domaine de la Mordoree Lirac La Reine des Bois 2012

93 Points  “Even better, and a smoking Lirac that vies for the top wine of the appellation, the 2012 Lirac La Reine des Bois has gorgeous crème de cassis, licorice, pan drippings, wood spice and hints of graphite. Offering knockout purity, full-bodied richness and ultra-fine tannin, it tastes like a top flight  Châteauneuf-du-Pape and will drink nicely for over a decade.”

– Robert Parker’s The Wine Advocate

A great Cairanne we like is:

Domaine Roche Cairanne 2012

90 Points:  “A sexy wine made under the auspices of globe-trotting oenologist Philippe Cambie, this 2012 Côtes du Rhône-Villages Cairanne was produced from 40 to 105-year-old vines. The blend was 70% Grenache (aged in concrete) and 30% Syrah (aged in barrique) from yields of 20 to 30 hectoliters per hectare. It exhibits a delicious, up-front, front end-loaded, richly fruity style with lots of raspberry, black cherry, roasted herb, loamy soil and underbrush notes. This corpulent, fleshy red can be enjoyed over the next 4-5 years.”  – Robert Parker’s The Wine Advocate

I hope you enjoy your wine travels through the Rhône. There is so much more still that has not been mentioned here, including the amazing whites, rosés and dessert wines to try. Cheers!

Niven Family Wine Estates Winery Focus

Niven with brands

Somm Things I Think About:
A Winery Focus

Niven Family Wine Estates
Recently Christian Roguenant, the famed winemaker of Niven Family Wine Estates, visited and led a Master Class on Albariño. Not only did I learn a lot about Albariño, I was humbled by the amount I didn’t know, and the differences in terroir and subregions within the larger Rias Baixas DO(Spanish wine region). He then compared his Albariño to the the Spanish styles to show that Tangent Edna Valley Albariño was a true balance between California fruit and Spanish soul.

Niven Family Wine Estates is a truly unique winery. They have several labels, each with a focus on purity. They use different labels, but not for lower quality, rather for differentiation. Most larger wineries have 2nd labels for lower price options for the grapes that don’t classify for their reserve or Grand Cru offerings. Niven Family Wine Estates currently has 6 labels, yet none are lesser than the others, they each have a unique offering and design, some even pay homage to the traditional homeland where the grape originates. Though price range differs, each label is special and unique for its own specific qualities, vineyard block, appellation or grape.

Niven Family Wine Estates started over 40 years ago by Jack Niven, who pioneered Chardonnay grape-growing n the Edna Valley at Paragon Vineyard. Now, the family boasts 6 appellation-specific wine labels and each with their own focus. Jack Niven unfortunately has passed away but the next generation has ensured that the Niven Family Estates will continue to be family run and even SIP certified sustainable, so that future generations can continue with their success. In the late 90’s they brought in world-renowned winemaker Christian Roguenant and gave him carte blanche to construct the winery of his dreams. With the family running the day to day operations, and a Burgundian winemaker in the cellar, they have started to set the world of wine on fire!

Here are all the offerings we currently carry, Enjoy!

True Myth
Representing a tightly focused modern option for the famous Chardonnay and Cabernet grapes, these wines celebrate the Central Coast. The Chardonnay fruit comes from the the Edna valley, the coolest wine region in the state, while the Cabernet comes the warmer Paso Robles region about 30 miles to the north. Both wines are rich and delicious, representative of each of their appellations, and show the diversity in San Luis Obispo County.

2014 True Myth Chardonnay – Edna Valley, Paragon Vineyard $14.99

A classically styled Chardonnay from the Edna Valley showcasing aromas of pear, white peach, pineapple and wet stone. Flavors of beautiful tropical fruit with mineral undertones and textured creaminess are balanced with refreshing acidity, a hallmark of Paragon Vineyard, that keeps the wine lively and fresh from start to finish. All topped off with the perfect complement of vanilla bean and toasted oak.

2013 True Myth Cabernet Sauvignon – Paso Robles $19.99

Sourced from 20+ year old vines grown on calcareous soils in a region with the greatest temperature swing from day to night in California comes a bold and rich Cabernet, loaded with blackberry jam, cherry, black currant, exotic spices and cola, with notes of caramelized oak…classic, yet individual.

A true Chardonnay-free zone, this label focuses on alternative white grapes and Sauvignon Blanc, all grown in the cool Edna Valley. A project developed to be food driven, these clean, lively wines are fresh, crisp and vibrant. Sauvignon Blanc, Grenache Blanc, Albariño, Pinot Gris, and Viognier.

2014 Tangent Pinot Gris – Edna Valley, Paragon Vineyard $16.99

Aromatics of orange blossom, pineapple, grapefruit and a hint of pepper are followed by concentrated flavors of ripe peaches, tangerine and green apple. Medium-bodied with crisp acidity and a creamy mouth feel, it pairs well with a wide range of foods including seafood, pasta with light sauces, even grilled sausage.

2014 Tangent Albariño – Edna Valley, Paragon Vineyard $13.99

90 Points “An excellent example of New World Albariño, the 2014 Tangent has keep the wine’s purity just as one would expect a first-class vintner would do. One can close their eyes and imagine themselves in Galicia while enjoy a glass this one. Medium straw in color; bright aromas of ripe citrus and a hint of mineral; medium bodied, smooth on the palate; dry, medium acidity, well balanced; bright citrus peel and core fruit flavors; medium finish, lively, smooth aftertaste. – Wilfred Wong of

2014 Tangent Sauvignon Blanc – Edna Valley, Paragon Vineyard$12.99

90 Points “Classic and yet distinctive in aromatics, this bottling from the Niven family’s cool-climate vineyard shows cut grass, wet cement and a touch of struck match on the narrowly focused nose. The palate intrigues, with fresh-cut thyme and oregano lifted by a white pepper element” – Wine Enthusiast

2013 Tangent Viognier – Edna Valley, Paragon Vineyard $13.99

92 Points: “This wine has renewed my faith that California vintners can make a superior Viognier, the very exciting 2013 Tangent Viognier makes it way past most others as it gives the palate plenty of rewards; aromas and flavors of apple and peaches are joined with light flowers and mineral; finish with an almost pixy straw/lime citrus note. Since I am a big lover of
Vietnamese cuisine, I thought of The Slanted Door Charles Phan and his Clams with Butter-Lime Sauce. Now doesn’t that make your mouth water?” – Wilfred Wong of

2012 Tangent Grenache Blanc – Edna Valley, Paragon Vineyard $13.99

90 Points: “More juicy and fresh, with better acidity and overall integration, the 2012 Grenache Blanc is well done. Offering up big crushed stone-like minerality, green herbs and citrus aromas and flavors, it’s a medium-bodied, lively and pure white that’s perfect for a hot summer day. It’s also a superb value and should be purchased in multiple bottle lots.”
– Robert Parker’s The Wine Advocate

In the late 70’s Catharine Niven, Jack’s wife, planted her own 3 acre vineyard on their home property in the Edna Valley, she dove head first into the male-dominated wine world. Named for a place that she met her husband. It produces cool climate Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. They are rich, complex, beautifully balanced and refined. 30 years later they have moved out of the project phase and has become the family’s legacy wines!

2013 Baileyana Firepeak Chardonnay – Edna Valley $20.99

90 Points: “A classic, rich San Luis Obispo County Chardonnay, the 2013 Baileyana Firepeak Chardonnay is rich with tropical and core fruit flavors, nicely balanced with sweet French oak. Stays steady and cohesive with all of its elements creating a fine aromatic, textural and full experience. This wine stands up well with richly sauced seafood dishes.” Wilfred Wong of
90 Points: “Smooth and juicy with minerals, pineapple and rich pear; soft, lush and showing a core of crisp acidity; long and balanced. Sustainable.” – Tasting Panel

Baileyana Firepeak Pinot Noir 2013 – Edna Valley $22.99

91 Points: “The 2013 Baileyana Firepeak Pinot Noir drinks so well. Yes this is yum wine that is sure to please a wide range of wine drinkers (Old World-New World, wine aficionados and wine novices alike. Just grill some lamb and see how quickly the wine is imbibed. Medium to deep garnet in color; aromatic, red fruit aromas, light note of flower; medium bodied and nicely textured on the palate; medium acidity, fine balance; pleasing and delicate red fruit flavors; medium to long finish, supple aftertaste.” – Wilfred Wong of

92 Points: “Juicy and lush with bright, ripe cherry and tangy Burgundian style; round and fresh with sweet oak, balance and a long, elegant finish.” – Tasting Panel

90 Points: “The Niven family winemaker, Christian Roguenant, teases smoked meats, blackberry paste, dark slate, aromatic red cherries and concentrated hibiscus from the nose of this wine. The palate shows plenty of ripe, red fruit, but is made interesting by woody herbs, including oregano and marjoram” – Wine Enthusiast

It means the gambler in German and this label is one of their biggest gambles yet – but it payed off big! The Zocker label captures the central european wine styles with two very distinctive varieties; Gruner Veltliner and Riesling. This is just another example of how the Niven Family is breaking the molds and showing that they are up for a bit of a risk, or in this case, a gamble!

2014 Zocker Gruner Veltliner – Edna Valley, Paragon Vineyard $21.99

Rich and round but with great acid structure, this wine is steely with pronounced minerality. It has a bit of an earthy characteristic, a strong white pepper note, and flavors of ripe melon and fruit cocktail.

2012 Zocker Riesling – Edna Valley, Paragon Vineyard $19.99

90 Points: “A riesling with style and character, the well-defined 2012 Zocker Riesling exhibits a hint of fusel along with its green apple aromas and flavors; firm and well built on the palate, the wine sails nicely into a crisp and well defined finish. A generous riesling, a fine choice with shellfish, perhaps a bouillabaisse with a glass or two of this wine in your future! Yes, why not?” – Wilfred Wong of

91 Points: “This shows petrol, honey and brie cheese rind notes on the nose, and is quite creamy once sipped, yet the edges are punctuated with orange peel bitterness. The tartness ensures cellaring potential, so drink 2018–2025.” – Wine Enthusiast

90 Points: “Even better, with beautiful lychee, citrus blossom and floral notes, the 2012 Riesling is medium-bodied, balanced, fresh and clean, with a hard-to-resist quality that will have the glass empty before you know it. It’s worthy of a multi-bottle purchase and should drink nicely for a couple years.” – Robert Parker’s The Wine Advocate

I hope you have a chance to explore the wines and visit their tasting room!
Niven Family Wines