Tuesday, April 29, 2008

The 2004 Sequia Grove Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley

This bottle was sent to me by the Kobrand Corporation, the wine and spirit importer and distributor. When I received it, I became curious about the wine as I realized that I had never visited the Sequoia Grove winery, although it is right on Highway 29, just 1 mile north of Rutherford.

Family-founded in 1980 on the site of an 1850 farmhouse, Sequoia Grove is named for the grove of giant redwood trees that surround the winery. Today, this boutique winery produces small quantities of premium wines and specializes in Cabernet Sauvignon.

Michael Trujillo is the winery’s longtime winemaker. “In my winemaking I strive for balance and varietal character to come through,” says Michael of his winemaking philosophy on the winery website. “I don’t get carried away with the big, high-alcohol wine trend that influences much of the industry today. I strive for richness and balance from start to finish. This is the way I make wine.”

Under new ownership, the winery has recently upgraded its winemaking facility with state-of-the-art fermenters and processing equipment. A completely subterranean cellar —the first in the Valley— maintains a year-round temperature of 58°F. The fruit is sourced from the winery's estate vineyard in Rutherford as well as from renowned Napa growers such as Gary Morisoli, Andy Beckstoffer, and others.

The grapes for the 2004 Sequoia Grove Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley were sourced from Rutherford (50%), Oakville (30%), Atlas Peak (15%), and Napa (5%). The wine is pure Cabernet Sauvignon, aged in American oak (38% new) for 18 months. It has a deep inky color and an engaging nose of black fruit and licorice. On the palate, it is concentrated without being jammy, with substantial tannins, some good acidity, and notes of vanilla and mint on the finish. Overall, I find it rather well balanced for such a young wine, although I would cellar it for at least 5 more years, but that's my personal taste. In the meantime, decant it for at least 1 hour and enjoy it with grilled ribeye steaks with Mediterranean rub and oven wedge fries.

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Thursday, April 17, 2008

Russian River Pinot Gris: a fresh alternative to Chardonnay

Summer is on the horizon and the white wine season is approaching. So why not trying to seriously explore California alternatives to Chardonnay? Take Pinot Gris for example. It is a mutant clone of Pinot Noir that originated in Burgundy in the middle ages. Nowadays, it is a major grape in Alsace producing full-bodied, rich white wines. It is also prominent in Italy's northeast regions of Veneto and Friuli where it is called Pinot Grigio. The Italian version is usually lighter and crispier than in Alsace.

Although Pinot Gris is a relatively newcomer to the Russian River Valley, it seems particularly well suited to the region's cool climate. Already, over 140 acres of Pinot Gris are planted in the area, which produces wines more in the Alsatian style than in the Italian Pinot Grigio style.

I recently had the opportunity to taste the 2005 J Pinot Gris Russian River Valley. The wine is produced by J Vineyards & Winery, a winery offering top-rated Sparkling Wine, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Gris from the Russian River Valley. Showing a pale straw color, it had a fresh and citrusy nose. On the palate, it was lively, slightly creamy, with notes of apple, honey and caramel. Try it, it should work really well with a dish of Pacific Island Fish in Coconut Sauce.

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Thursday, April 10, 2008

Blind Tasting of Pinot Noir from Los Carneros and Anderson Valley

From time to time, we get together with three other couples for a blind wine tasting party. These parties are always a lot of fun and easy to organize. The hosting couple cooks while the rest of the group brings bottles according to a chosen theme. Before the tasting, we hide the bottles in homemade purple velvet bags and randomly pin letters to them so that nobody can guess their identity. At the end of the dinner, the wines are ranked and then unveiled, with sometimes some surprising results!

The theme of our last gathering was Pinot Noir from Los Carneros and Anderson Valley, two of California's coolest wine regions and well renowned for their Pinot Noirs. Here are the wines that we tasted:

• 2004 Ancien Pinot Noir Mink Vineyard Napa Valley: Ancien Wines is a winery dedicated to Burgundian varietals that produces small lots of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Mink Vineyard is actually not in Carneros but in Napa, an appellation better known for Cabernet than Pinot. But according to the winery's release notes, the climate in this relatively unknown area east of the city of Napa is similar to Carneros and the soil is unique — made up of a rocky/cobbly alluvial with underlying volcanic tufa. Our notes: dark color, sweet nose of cherry, strawberry, vanilla, and herbs. On the palate, liquorish, spicy, with some acidity. Medium finish. Overall, we enjoyed the wine and ranked it third with 15 points.

• 2005 Saintsbury Pinot Noir Los Carneros: Saintsbury Vineyard is a California Pinot Noir pioneer. With the release in 1981 of 2000 cases of Carneros Pinot Noir, the winery's mission has been to demonstrate that world-class Pinot Noir could made in California, especially in the Carneros District. Because it is bordered by the San Pablo Bay at the Southernmost end of the Napa and Sonoma valleys, Los Carneros is much cooler than the rest of Napa and Sonoma. In terms of wine style, Saintsbury emphasizes balance of tannin and acidity, as well as power and elegance without leaning toward the burnt jam style of Pinot that is sometimes found in California. Our notes: medium red, fresh cherry nose, notes of brown sugar, buttered toast, blueberry, and fig. One the palate, lively, earthy, smoky, Burgundian with a good mineral finish. The wine was everybody's favorite and came first with 10 points.

• 2004 Fotinos Pinot Noir Los Carneros: founded by a Greek family, Fotinos Vineyards is located in the heart of the Carneros District of Napa Valley. Since 1969, it is dedicated to growing Pinot Noir grapes exclusively. The greek coin on the label dates back to 480 B.C. with an engraving of Artemis, the twin sister of Apollo and the Greek goddess of the forests and the moon. For the Fotinos family, she represents the beauty of nature. Our notes: medium color, nose a bit closed with notes of fresh cherries. On the palate, young, some acidity, a bit green, mineral, hints of sardines, tannins on the finish. We gave 18 points to this wine, which finished in fifth position.

• 2005 Adrian Fog Pinot Noir Savoy Vineyard Anderson Valley: Adrian Fog is an exclusive producer of single vineyard Pinot Noir. It selects vineyards based on their cool climate, orientation to the sun, clonal differences, and age of the vines. Clones and blocks are picked, fermented, and aged separately. Picking, racking, and bottling are scheduled as close to the night of the full moon as possible and the winery recommends to drink Adrian Fog wine on the night of a full moon to enjoy it's full seductive essence. Unfortunately, maybe the night of our tasting was only a new moon, maybe the bottle was flawed for some reason, but we didn't like it at all. Our notes: dark color a bit cloudy, subdued, herbal nose. On the palate, acidic, green notes of cucumber pickles and sand gravel. The wine got 30 points, which placed it far behind the others.

• 2004 Londer Estate Grown Pinot Noir Anderson Valley: Londer Vineyards is located in the southwestern corner of Mendocino County, one of California's coolest areas. Adjacent to the Pacific Ocean, the vineyards are covered with a blanket of fog most summer nights. Then later during the day, the fog burns off and it becomes sunny and dry. With these conditions, the grapes slowly develop and ripen, which is ideal for growing varietals such as Pinot Noir, Gewurztraminer, and Chardonnay. The winery has 15 acres of Pinot Noir and an acre of Gewurztraminer mostly on south facing hills. Our notes: dark color, sweet fruity nose with notes of vanilla and burnt sugar. On the palate, some tasters found it nicely balanced, while for others it was tannic, alcoholic, aggressive. The wine finished in fourth place with 16 points.

• 2004 ZD Reserve Pinot Noir Los Carneros: founded in 1969, ZD Wines is owned by the deLeuze family. The ZD style is to craft rich, flavorful wines that reflect the varietal character of the grape. This wine comes from ZD's own deLeuze Family Vineyard in Los Carneros. The vineyard is dry farmed and has been farmed organically since 1996. It was officially certified in 1999. Prior to its release, the wine was aged for 15 months in small French oak barrels with minimal racking. Our notes: dark color, fragrant nose of sweet currant, notes of caramel, chocolate and clove. On the palate, rich, full-bodied, although not too pinot-ish, medium finish. Overall, the wine was very well received and was placed in second position with 12 points.

Previous blind tastings:
•  Blind Tasting of Grenache-based wines
•  Chardonnay Blind Tasting
•  Pinot Noir Blind Tasting

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Wednesday, April 02, 2008

WBW #44: can Chinon wines age?

Our friend Pierre, who is originally from the Loire Valley, often tells us great stories about how he would drink old red wines from the Loire with his family, and how delicious they were.

So for the 44th edition of Wine Blogging Wednesday (the theme is French Cabernet Franc), hosted this month by Gary Vaynerchuk from Wine Library, I decided to taste a 1995 Chinon from Couly-Dutheil that had been laying in my cellar for a while. Additionally, I opened a 2002 from the same producer, just to compare the two wines.

Couly-Dutheil is a major Loire producer that has been making wine in Chinon since 1921. Over the time, the domaine has aquired several different vineyards mostly planted with Cabernet Franc with only a few hectares of Chenin Blanc. While most growers in Chinon make blends from several lots, Couly Dutheil prefers to vinify each vineyard seperately in order to produce wines with a distinctive character.

My 2002 was from the Clos de l'Echo, one of the most famous vineyards in Chinon that was purchased by the Couly-Dutheil family in 1925. The land used to belong to Antoine Rabelais, the father of François Rabelais, the famed 15th Century writer. It is a south-facing vineyard located just behind Chinon's large ruined castle. The soil is clay and quartz with limestone (called tuffeau in the Loire Valley) underneath. It is a unique terroir that produces concentrated and complex wines.

The 1995 was from the Clos de l'Olive, which was bought by the domaine in 1951. It is also a great terroir with a southern exposure, soils of clay and limestone, and planted with old vines, the oldest being 100 years old.

The 1995 Clos de l'Olive had a brick-orange color and a sweet fruity nose with peppery notes. On the palate, it was rather light-bodied with distinctive smoky flavors. Tasted blind, I think I would have mistook it for an old Burgundy.

The 2002 Clos de l'Echo had a deeper garnet color. The nose was more assertive with sweet berry flavors and notes of bell pepper. On the palate, the wine was medium-bodied, juicy with good tannins, followed by a persistent mineral finish.

So can Chinon wines age? I have to say that the 2002 was my favorite but the 1995 was charming. I know I should have invited my friend Pierre to taste the wines, he would have been delighted, but tonight is Wednesday, it is not really party time, and everybody has to work tomorrow!

Previous WBW posts:
•  WBW #43: 2004 Chinon Domaine de la Noblaie Les Chiens-Chiens, a comfort wine
•  WBW #42: a Rosso Conero in just seven words
•  WBW #41: the exciting wines of Friuli-Venezia Giulia region

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