Monthly Archives: August 2014

Ridge & Kistler: the icing on the California cake

If you’ve read any of my posts regarding the recent trip to California wine country (sorry, there have been a few!) then you’ve probably detected just a hint of love for the place, the people and the wine. But, believe it or not, I have saved the best ‘til last… Before heading out west there were two wineries that I knew I had to visit, these two wineries were the only ones at which I booked the appointment before leaving these shores.

One of the destinations will be on most wine lovers’ list when they visit California, but before I rave about the wines of Ridge let’s first focus on the small but perfectly formed operation that is Kistler.

Welcome to Kistler

Kistler is a boutique winery based in Sonoma County, adored by wine lovers around the world for their fantastic Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs. Steve Kistler founded the winery in 1978 after two years as Assistant Winemaker at Ridge (the article wasn’t planed this way as I didn’t know this before the visit!), and to this day he continues to serve as Winemaker and oversees all vineyard operations.

In the 80s and 90s Kistler set the quality standard for Californian Chardonnay, utilising Burgundian techniques to produce voluptuous, buttery and powerful wines. These received huge scores from critics and achieved cult status; the only way to get hold of the bottles was through the winery’s mailing list, a model that is de-rigueur these days in California. But Steve has never been one to stand still for too long and the style of wines has become finer and more elegant over the years, while maintaining the concentration and complexity.

TYrenton vineyard

Today, Kistler produces ten different Chardonnays, which are all vinified in exactly the same way, the only difference being the site on which they are grown. The wines are barrel fermented in French oak and aged sur-lie in the same barrels for between eleven and eighteen month, depending on the vintage. The Pinots are fermented in open top fermenters with the free run juice aged in French oak barrels for between fourteen and eighteen months. All of the wines are bottled un-filtered and un-fined, and what lies inside these bottles is pure and utter bliss.

Trenton fruit

Everything about the visit at the newly refurbished Trenton Roadhouse, just outside Sebastopol, was pure class. Our host Brittany was welcoming, approachable, knowledgeable and so passionate; we enjoyed a glass of the current release of “Les Noisetiers” Chardonnay as she talked us through the winery history, introduced the different vineyards and (literally) walked us through the Trenton vines. Then it was onto the main event, a tasting of three single vineyard Chardonnays and a Pinot… and what a tasting it turned out to be:

Kistler wines

Kistler Les Noisetiers Chardonnay 2012, Sonoma County

A blend of juice from Trenton Roadhouse, Vine Hill and Dutton Ranch vineyards; not distributed to retail, only to a small selection of restaurants.

Wonderful aromas of citrus, peach and toasted hazelnuts suggest there is nothing but great things to come from this glass. The nose opens the door to flavours of peaches and nectarines with a dash of citrus, a touch of buttered toast and delightful whiff of roasted hazelnuts. The texture is rich ands opulent without being heavy and a wonderful acidic bit and tension. The finish is peachy and long; a very distinguished wine. 93 points


Kistler Trenton Roadhouse Vineyard Chardonnay 2011, Sonoma Coast

In production since 1994 and vineyard designated since 2009, the vineyard straddles a south facing hilltop and comprised of the finest grained gold ridge soils.

The wine has a fairly muted nose in the glass initially; when the aromas come through I get peaches and honeydew melon, very retrained and ever so elegant. The palate is ever so juicy with restrained notes of apple, citrus and faint hint of peach and delicious sweet spice. The acidity dances along the tongue and around all part of the mouth as the fruit opens up slowly and gracefully. Wonderful balance and delightful weight. Great wine. 94+ points


Kistler Vine Hill Vineyard Chardonnay 2011, Russian River Valley

Produced since 1991 the 23-year-old dry farmed vines surround the winery.

Richer and fuller on the nose with peaches, toast and warm sweet spice. The palate is rich and voluptuous but extremely graceful, with peaches apples and a clean and cooling minerality. The palate is rich and full but retains its elegance, a very nice wine that needs a bit of time to fully come around. 93+ points


Kistler Stone Flat Vineyard 2011, Sonoma Coast

Located in the western portion of Carneros and a source of grapes since 2002.

The nose gives up little of what is to come, with some apples, peaches and just a hint of wet stones coming through. But the palate is extraordinary; ripe peaches, nectarines and a citrus acid blast paves the way for some nutty hints and smoky undertones. The layers of fruit and then the savoury notes are almost ridiculous – my mouth was still watering two minutes later; the finesse and balance is truly outstanding. This could well be the best Chardonnay I have ever tasted. 96 points

Best Chardonnay

Kistler Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir 2012

Made with fruit from the Kistler and Silver Belt vineyards.

Very pretty aromas of cherries, plums and even a touch of red currant, all wrapped in in lots of warm spice; cinnamon and all-spice. The palate is warm and smoky with bundles of cherry fruit, delicate spice, earth and minerality. An elegant Pinot but from still young vines; fresh and delicious and one day will develop the complexity that will turn this blend into a great wine. 93 points


Ridge Welcome

What could follow that? Well luckily for me, the following day I had booked an appointment at Ridge’s Lytton Springs vineyard and tasting room. There isn’t much that hasn’t already been written or said about Ridge; one of California’s “first growths”, Cabernet blends that stand up to anything Bordeaux has to offer, Chardonnay that’s a match for Montrachet and Zinfandels that have no peers. Ridge Vineyards was formed in 1962 and Paul Draper was appointed as winemaker in 1969; today he still oversees all of the winemaking operations. Like many Californian wineries, Ridge shot to fame when their Monte Bello 1971 showed well in The Judgement of Paris and neither the winery or Paul Draper has looked back since.

As well as producing fine Bordeaux blends and Chardonnays, the winery is renowned for the Zinfandels produced from the Lytton Springs and Geyserville vineyards. Zinfandel is often under-appreciated but at Ridge they believe that Zinfandel can bring to the glass the characteristics of each growing site and has the ability to age as well as Cabernet Sauvignon. It’s simple ethos at Ridge; 100% dedication in the vineyards to grow the most concentrated and flavoursome grapes followed by 100% dedication in the winery with minimum intervention to draw all the fruit’s natural richness into the wine.

Lytton Springs

Our visit, led by the brilliantly entertaining and knowledgeable Dave, began with a golf buggy drive around the Lytton Springs vineyard, visiting the gnarly hundred-year old vines that provide the juice for this famous field blend. When we got back to the eco-sustainable premises we were swept around the winery and barrel room before heading up to the tasting room to sip the nectar of dreams…

Ridge tasting room

Ridge Estate Chardonnay 2011

Estate-grown Monte Bello vineyard grapes, hand harvested, whole-cluster pressed. 19% new, 11% one year old, 7% two year old, 63% three, four and five years old (95% air-dried American, 5% French oak).

Another one of these fantastic clean and crisp Californian Chardonnays. Apples and citrus with a touch of tropical pineapple. The palate is rich, without being heavy with enough acidity to cut through and clear the way for the apple-pear finish. A wine that rarely gets written about but is very good indeed. 93 points

Ridge Chard

Ridge Paso Robles Zinfandel 2012

100% Zinfandel 100% aged 11 months in American air-dried oak (25% new).

Wonderful nose of blackberries and raspberries with just a hint of smoky spice; very pure and very elegant. The palate is bursting with tart red fruit on the attack before the blackberries and blueberries come through. Silky smooth with bracing acidity and oh so drinkable! 91 points


Ridge Geyserville 2012

Not designated as Zin as there is not always the required 75% in the blend – in 2012 the assemblage was 71% Zinfandel, 19% Carignane , 7% Petite Sirah, 2% Mataro, 1% Alicante Bouschet. Aged for thirteen months in American oak, 24% new.

Very tight and closed nose, but hidden in there somewhere is blackberry, blueberry and some sweet baking spice. The fruit on entry is dark and brooding before the fresh, tart red fruit jumps up whack you around the face. The tannins are big and bold and give the wine a great length; super young right now but with a great balance of fruit, tannin and acid that means a great life ahead of it. 93+ points


Ridge Lytton Springs Zinfandel 2008

74% Zinfandel, 21% Petite Sirah, 5% Carignane. 15 months in American oak, 20% new.

Of the perfume of red fruit, some dried wild herbs, touches of lavender and hints of leather… taste it, taste it! Juicy cherries and blackberries with amazing freshness, fine tannins and a warm pepper finish. Everything just falls into place; so round, so balanced, so beautiful. 94 points

(I bought a bottle of the 2006 while I was there… it was even better!)


Ridge Estate Merlot 2011

100% Merlot, aged fro 19.5 month is American oak, 41% new.

Attractive strawberries and red currants lace the nostrils, backed up with a savoury note and just a touch of wild hedgerow. Unctuous and smooth texture with luscious tannin and fine acidity. Very fine, very ripe and lip-smackingly good. 92 points


Ridge Monte Bello 2011

88% Cabernet Sauvignon, 8% Merlot, 4% Cabernet Franc, aged for 16 months in new oak (99% American, 1% French – for comparison!)

Wow. Smoky blackberry and blackcurrant fruit along with some sweet spice, something herbal and then more fruit; cassis, yes, concentrated pure cassis. The fruit on the palate is luscious, sweet and concentrated, and oh so graceful. The balance is astounding and at 3 years old the wine is already so rounded; layers of fruit and spice and so much more. So drinkable now but it scares me how good this is going to be in 10 years time. Wow. 95+ points

Ridge wines


Believe me when I tell you that you MUST visit both of these wonderful wineries if you are planning a trip to California; they truly were the icing on the best cake I have ever had the pleasure to devour!




Wine Geek Newsletter #82

News 82

Hi Winos

Another weekend, another newsletter! I hope you guys have had a good weekend. Unfortunately it started off badly with the earthquake in Napa causing horrific damage to places we were sat outside only a couple of weeks back – some of the photos are very upsetting indeed. But the folk of Napa won’t let this stop them and neither can we… so onward we go!

Wine helmet

New post

Most of you will know about the Judgement of Paris in 1976, many of you will have enjoyed the movie adaptation Bottle Shock… well I went and visited both of the winners… and one was a much bigger winner in my eyes:

Write drunk


It’s the final week of the #NWTW summer tour… and we’re investigating one of Italy’s most famous whites, Gavi!


Supermarket wine

I was a bit uninspired by the supermarket shelves this week but then realised that the Majestic summer offers come to an end this Sunday, so get in quick and fill your boots with these beauties, all 33% off!

Viña Eguía Rioja Reserva 2009 (Majestic £6.66 was £9.99)
Louis Jadot Mâcon-Villages ‘Les Roches Blanches’ 2013 (Majestic £8.99 was £13.49)
La Toledana Gavi 2013 (Majestic £7.99 was £11.99)
Pouilly-Fumé 2012 Jean Vincent (Majestic £9.99 was £14.99)
Luis Felipe Edwards Gran Reserva Chardonnay 2013 Casablanca Valley (Majestic £7.32 was £10.99)
Errazuriz Estate Series Carmenère 2013 Aconcagua Valley (Majestic £6.99 was £10.49)
Waimea Estate Pinot Gris 2013 Nelson (Majestic £9.99 was £14.99)
Lo Zoccolaio Barbera d’Alba Sucule 2011 (Majestic £7.99 was £11.99)
Chapel Down Brut NV England (Majestic £15.98 was £23.99)


Wine in the news

Only two weeks ago we were having a great time in Napa so it was so saddening to hear about the earthquake on Sunday morning:


Napa 2

More sad news with the death of Baroness Philippine de Rothschild

Better news – head over to Tesco’s website for some great deals!

And is the Rhone is finally coming together as one?


Light relief

In honour of Sunday’s Scottish referendum debate here are some Jock-jokes… Sorry Ave & Al!!

Jock and a Englishman were flying from Edinburgh when the stewardess approached. “May I get you something?” she asked.
” Aye, a whusky” Jock replied.
She poured him a drink then asked the Englishman if he’d like one.
” Never!” he said sternly. “I’d rather be raped and ravished by whores all the way to America than drink whisky!”
Jock hurriedly passed the drink back, saying “Och, Ah didna ken there wuz a choice!”

A Scotsman, an Englishman and an Irishman were in a bar and had just started on a new round when a fly landed in each glass of beer. The Englishman took his out on the blade of his Swiss Army knife. The Irishman blew his away in a cloud of froth. The Scotsman lifted his one up carefully by the wings and held it above his glass. “Go on, spit it out, ye wee devil,” he growled.

How do you recognize a left-handed Scotsman?
He keeps all his money in his right-hand pocket.

After discovering they had won ten million pounds on the National Lottery, Mr and Mrs McKenzie sat down to discuss their future. “After twenty years of washing other people’s stairs to earn money,” said Mrs McKenzie, “At last I can throw away my old scrubbing brush.”
” Of course you can,” said her husband. “We can easily afford to buy you a new one now.”

Did you hear about the generous Scotsman who offered a million pounds to the first person to swim non-stop across the Atlantic ocean?

How do you disperse an angry Scottish mob?
Take up a collection.

Walter went on a date with his new girlfriend and they reached the door of her flat just before midnight. When she kissed him goodnight she said, “be careful on your way home or someone might rob you of all the money you’ve saved this evening.

When Sandy MacGillivray came back from his first trip to London, everyone in the village was keen to find out how he had got on.
” Did you like it?”
” Oh, it was no’ bad.”
” As good as that, Was it?”
” Well, there was just the one thing wrong. The other guests in my hotel just would not go to their beds. They were in the corridor ouside my room shouting and banging on my door untill three o’clock in the morning.” So what did you do, Sandy?”
” Och, I just kept on playing my bagpipes.”

Why do all Scots have a sense of humour?
Because it’s free.

Last night there was a big argument in a Glasgow cinema. Two men were trying to get in using one ticket – they said they half-brothers.

What did one highland cow say to the other?
Och, aye the moo!

To show I’m not a bad button, how about some jokes only our Northern neighbours will understand… Ave?? Al??

1. A Glasgow woman goes to the dentist and settles down in the chair.
“Comfy?” asks the dentist.
“Govan,” she replies.

2. How many Spanish guys does it take to change a light bulb?
Just Juan.

3.Did you hear about the lonely prisoner?
He was in his cell.

4. After announcing he was getting married, a boy tells his pal he will be wearing the kilt.
“And what’s the tartan?” asks his mate.
“Oh, she’ll be wearing a white dress,” he replies.

5. Ten cows in a field. Which one is closest to Iraq?
Coo eight.

6. A teenage girl phones her dad at midnight and says: “Can you come and get me? I’ve missed the last bus and it’s pouring with rain.”
“Okay,” says her dad. “Where are you ringing from?”
The girl replies: “From the top of my head right down to my knickers”.

7. What did the Siamese twins from Glasgow call their autobiography?
Oor Wullie.

8. A man takes a pair of shoes back to the shop and complains that there is a lace missing.
“No”, argues the assistant, “look at that – it says Taiwan”.


The boring stuff

Please let me know if you would rather not receive this excellent weekly email and I will take you off the list.
Remember you can register on the site to receive email as soon as new articles are published.
If you know someone else who might enjoy the newsletter and blog then please forward this email or drop me a mail with his or her email and I will gladly add to the list.
If there is anything you would like me to write about please drop me a mail and I will do my best to oblige.

Cheers and have a great weekend

Wine Geek

#newwinethisweek Week 34 – Gavi, Piedmont

For the final week of #newwinethisweek’s summer tour and the second nomination from Italy, Mike has gone for a real crowd favourite and one of my go-to Italian whites… It’s Gavi folks!

Gavi map

Like most Italian wines, the name on the label refers to the region rather than the grape; so the town is Gavi, the grape is Cortese. If you see Gavi di Gavi on the label, meaning “Gavi from Gavi”, it will be grown in or around the town itself but this in itself is not a is not necessarily better than simply Gavi; this is similar to when you see Classico attached to Soave or Chianti, for example.

What you can expect from Gavi is a crisp, floral, peachy, aromatic wine, mostly made to be enjoyed young. The wines are great with most seafood and works equally well as an aperitif or just a glugger on a summer afternoon… unfortunately I think the summer of 2014 is in the rear-view mirror!

The great news is there is a ton of the stuff on the supermarket shelves and the quality is pretty consistent for this very easy-going white wine. So here are a few options to help you along; I think you’ll have fun this week… especially given the promotions that are running!


Tesco Finest Gavi 2012 (Tesco £5.99, usually £7.99)

La Monetta Gavi del Comune di Gavi 2013 (Waitrose £7.49, usually £9.99)

Castelvero Gavi 2012 (M&S £9.99)

Exquisite Collection Gavi 2013 (Aldi £5.49)


Have a great week!




The Judgement of Paris – the 1976 winners in 2014

California has a long wine-making history dating back to 1769 when the first vineyards were planted by Spanish missionaries. Since then, the state has twice recovered from phylloxera as well as Prohibition, at the end of which there were only 140 wineries still in operation. Today California accounts for nearly 90% of American wine production, produces more wine than Australia and has more than 1,200 wine producers plying their trade in the Golden State.

The real watershed moment for Californian wine came in 1976 when British wine merchant Stephen Spurrier organised a blind tasting in Paris, pitting the best of Californian Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon against their French powerhouse equivalents from Burgundy and Bordeaux. Chateau Montelena’s 1973 Chardonnay and Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars’ 1973 Cab Sauv came out top in each category at “The Judgement of Paris” and I wasn’t going to miss out on the opportunity to taste at both wineries on my recent trip to California.

If you are unaware of The Judgement of Paris then watch the move Bottle Shock; it may not be accurate and Stephen Spurrier may not be a fan but it’s a great watch and Alan Rickman (as usual) is superb!

I will admit upfront that one of the visits was ten times more enjoyable than the other but I have not let this cloud my judgement of the wines, which were of a very high standard. The one striking similarity between the two however, was the fact that the wines that came in first position at The Judgement of Paris almost 40 years ago are no longer the premier cuvee from either winery…



Alfred Loving Tubbs bought 254 acres of land just north of Calistoga at the foot of Mount Saint Helena (Montelena is a shortened version of this) in 1882 and by 1896 Montelena was the seventh largest winery in the Napa Valley. After a few changes in ownership, the winery was bought by Helen Paschich in 1968, who brought in Jim Barrett as partner and winemaker. Jim made his first wines from the 1972 vintage, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Mont chateau

The ivy-clad chateau that welcomes you as you enter the ground is one of the most beautiful buildings I have come across on any of my wine tours. The grounds themselves are beautifully manicured, complete with lake and dramatic Chinese garden. The tasting room is plush and elegant, with plenty of buzz from the large number of visitors, the walls lined with the chateau’s history; a bottle of the 1973 Chardonnay taking pride of place… and that is where the fun ended…

Mont tasting room

You can book a number of “experiences” in advance but I liked the fact that you could just turn up, pay your $25 and enjoy a few of the current releases. The staff in the tasting room are courteous enough but there is no individuality, no flair. Everything comes across like a learned script; it’s as if nothing exists outside of the Chateau Montelena confines. Everywhere else I went in California, tasting room staff were full of recommendations of where else to go, what else to drink; in the Montelena tasting room there was an air of arrogance, a feeling that now you’ve been here why on earth would you want to go anywhere else. I felt a bit cheated to be perfectly honest. As I said earlier, it was busy when we arrived but still, if you are going to create a Disneyland-like experience then you need the customer service to match.

Anyway, enough about that, what is really important in the wine. The tasting almost apologetically included the (very good!) 2012 vintage of the famous Chardonnay; these days the winery is really pushing its Cabernet, the ultimate badge for Napa Valley winery:

73 Mont

Chateau Montelena Sauvignon Blanc 2013 ($35)

Lemons and limes on the nose with plenty of the same citrus fruit and sharp citrus acidity on the palate. A simple and refreshing wine, perfectly suited to summer glugging, but $35?? 88 points

Chateau Montelena Chardonnay 2012 ($50)

Really light straw colour in the glass but plenty of punch on the nose. Traditional aromas of apples, peaches and that lovely nutty buttered toast. I love the striking acidity and the touches of vanilla and other sweet spices from the oak and lees ageing. Fresh, crisp and ever so modern – my gums were still tingling from the acidity a couple of minutes later! Very different to the 1973 version I have no doubt! 93 points

Chateau Montelena Zinfandel 2011 ($39)

Spicy and smoky on the nose with plenty of brambly fruit inviting you in. On the palate the wild strawberry and cheery fruit is amply supported by smoky Asian five-spice. The texture is silky smooth and the balance is delightful – plenty of complexity but also very easy drinking. Thumbs up. 92 points

Chateau Montelena Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2006 ($170)

Blackberry and blackcurrant nose with a savoury, sage edge as well as some well-worn leather coming through. On the palate there is a sumptuous mix of red and black berry fruit, some cedar, leather, a nice touch of graphite and warming spice. The tannins are smooth and the acidity is good – drinking very well right now. 93 points

Chateau Montelena Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 ($150)

The fruit on the nose is reserved and elegant with some sweet spice and a note of cocoa and eucalyptus starting to show through. The fruit on the palate is concentrated but retains its elegance. The balance is nearly there, a few m ore years for the tannins to round out and this will be a belter. 93+ points

I also enjoyed a bottle of 2012 Riesling with dinner a few days before the visit – I didn’t make any notes but there was lots of lime fruit and a warm, toasty note and just a hint of residual sugar – went very well with my fried chicken and waffles!


Chicken and waffles


The winery was formed in 1970 when Warren Winiarski purchased a 44 acre prune orchard, producing its very first wines in 1972. Amazingly, as with Jim Barrett at Montelena, the second vintage of Stag’s Leap Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, and the first made in their own winery, won the Judgement of Paris and a legend was born.

Be careful when planning a visit not to confuse Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars with Stags’ Leap Winery; in 1986 a court decided that as both wineries were founded in the same year and named after the area, both were allowed to use the name… although the apostrophes had to appear in different places!

SL entrance

The stylish and modern tasting room at Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars is hidden up a few steps, behind a beautiful canopy of green. There is a real buzz as you enter with visitors sitting on chairs and comfy sofas on the outside terrace as well as those hovering around the counter area and indoor seating spaces. I had more fun here than anywhere else in Napa, our server was a real wine-nerd (in the most positive way!) and danced us from glass to glass, with great humour and bags of personality.

SL tasting room

There was a choice of two tastings available (no appointment required), the Napa Valley Collection Tasting Flight at $25 or the Estate Collection Tasting Flight for $40. We opted for the Estate Collection, as I was so eager to try the latest vintage of the wine that won in Paris, but in fact we got to try everything as “you’ve travelled too far not to try all this stuff”!

Stag’s Leap Sauvignon Blanc 2012 ($26)

Very drinkable SM with plenty of citrus, nice dash of grapefruit and just the right amount of gooseberry on the nose. All of the fruit is present on the palate and there is a nice tropical richness balancing the wonderful acidity. Really reminded me of a quality Sancerre. 92 points

Stag’s Leap Arcadia Vineyard Chardonnay 2012 ($50)

This is a pretty simple wine, but no less enjoyable because of it. Fresh and crisp with a ton of apples on the nose and palate and just a hint of pear. Fresh, clean and very gluggable, if a touch on the expensive side. 91 points

Before moving on the the  main event we tasted a number of other wines but I just find my notes – so sorry!

SL wines

Stag’s Leap FAY Cabernet Sauvignon 2011 ($110)

The Fay vineyard was planted by Nathan Fay in 1961 and was the first planting of cabernet Sauvignon in the Stag’s Leap district. The nose is big and super-ripe fruit with a touch of green pepper and a hint of liquorice. I’m expecting a blockbuster on the palate but what I get are like feathers of black fruit brushing my tongue. The lightness of touch and fine tannins are remarkable – so much flavor but such elegance, grace and poise. The fruit keeps on coming and subtle hints of baking spice and young oak. Very complete and so enjoyable. 93+ points

Stag’s Leap SLV Cabernet Sauvignon 2011 ($110)

From the Stag’s Leap vineyard, this is the 2011 version of the winning wine from 1976. The fruit is sweeter and more forward than the wine from Fay, with sumptuous cherry notes backing up the blackcurrant and blackberry foundation and power. But again the power is kept in check with remarkable acidity, fine tannin and an elegance that is reminiscent of Cabernets from Margaux. 93+ points

Stag’s Leap Cask 23 Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 ($225)

The Fay is great; the SLV is sumptuous… what happens when you blend the best of the two vineyards together? Basically you get 1+1=3! The brooding deep black fruit of the Fay and sweeter, cherry scented fruit from SLV combine together in a cornucopia of sumptuousness that makes you wonder why anyone would consider drinking a liquid that smells this good. I know I’ve used elegance a lot to describe the Cabs of Napa but this is ridiculous – how the wine manages to combine such concentration and poise is beyond me – it messes with my mind but I absolutely love it. Silky smooth with hints of chocolate, a touch of coffee, some sweet baking spice and something savoury and delicious – bay perhaps. This is up there with some of the very wines I have had the pleasure to try… I just wish I had the deep pockets to enjoy it at home! 97 points


Two very different experiences, both with fantastic wine, but only one with the personality to match.





Wine Geek newsletter #81

Hi Winos!

Well its back to earth with a bump this week. I’m missing California, the jet-lag is killing me and I haven’t had a glass of wine since I got home! That will change very soon, although I won’t be spending a great deal of money as I’m going to be a tad short for a couple of months methinks! I hope you enjoyed the USA coverage – if you get a chance then get yourselves out there – but its back to the grindstone and back to what you know and love…. Welcome back to the Wine Geek newsletter!

Every day

New posts

I have an admission to make. There aren’t any new posts this week! I’m working on the last couple of California-inspired articles, which will be coming your way in the next week, so for now, here’s a re-cap of the posts I wrote out west (just click on the links):







I may be back but the #newwinethisweek tour rolls on with Mike sunning himself (and working bloody hard by the sound of it!) in Northern Italy. This week’s wine is Barbaresco and I was very happy to find some reasonably priced wines available in the UK supermarkets. But if you’ve got money to throw around then obviously you’ll be cracking open a 20 year old Gaja!



Supermarket wine

After a couple of weeks living it up in the States I’m on a rather tight budget for the next few months so I have given special attention to the deals available in the supermarkets this week!

Finest Grechetto 2013, Umbria, Italy (Tesco £5.99 was £6.99)

Finest Domaine Fitou 2012, Languedoc, France (Tesco £5.99 was £7.99)

Taste the Difference Wild Ferment Chardonnay 2012, Yarra Valley, Australia (Sainsbury’s £8.00 was £9.00)

Taste the Difference Vinedos Barrihuelo Rioja Crianza 2009, Rioja, Spain (Sainsbury’s £6.00 was £8.00)

Quinta de Azevedo Vinho Verde 2012, Vinho Verde, Portugal (Waitrose £6.63 was £8.29) MY DEAL OF THE WEEK

First Press Chardonnay 2012, Napa Valley, USA (Waitrose £13.49 was £16.99)

Brazin Old Vine Zinfandel 2011, Lodi, USA (Waitrose £9.74 was £12.99)

Wirra Wirra Church Block Cabernet Sauvignon/Shiraz/Merlot 2012, McLaren Vale, Australia (Waitrose £9.99 was £13.49)

Piccini Winemaker’s Choice Tuscany Chianti Riserva 2008, Tuscany, Italy (Morrisons £5.99 was £8.99)

Villa Maria Private Bin Sauvignon Blanc 2012, Marlborough, NZ (Morrisons £7.99 was £10.99)


Wine in the news

Plenty to go around this week:

I’m not theonly one getting excited about Californian wines, Decanter are at it too!

Bordeaux’s2014 crop is looking good:

The World’s50 most expensive wines:

The 10 mostmemorable drinking scenes from the movies:

Rockers dropsex-and-drugs for a nice glass of wine:

Roundup ofwines in the weekend press:


Light relief

Hot off the press, here are the 10 funniest jokes from the Edinburgh Fringe 2014:

  1. “I’ve decided to sell my Hoover … well, it was just collecting dust” – Tim Vine.
  2. “I’ve written a joke about a fat badger, but I couldn’t fit it into my set” – Masai Graham.
  3. “Always leave them wanting more, my uncle used to say to me. Which is why he lost his job in disaster relief” – Mark Watson.
  4. “I was given some Sudoku toilet paper. It didn’t work. You could only fill it in with number 1s and number 2s” – Bec Hill.
  5. “I wanted to do a show about feminism. But my husband wouldn’t let me” – Ria Lina.
  6. “Money can’t buy you happiness? Well, check this out, I bought myself a Happy Meal” – Paul F Taylor.
  7. “Scotland had oil, but it’s running out thanks to all that deep frying” – Scott Capurro.

=8. “I forgot my inflatable Michael Gove, which is a shame ’cause halfway through he disappears up his own a***hole” – Kevin Day.

=8. “I’ve been married for 10 years, I haven’t made a decision for seven” – Jason Cook.

  1. “This show is about perception and perspective. But it depends how you look at it” – Felicity Ward.


And in honour of Tim Vine being the first comedian to win the award twice, s a few more from his vast back-catalogue (although I’m sure some of these are stolen from the great TC!):

I phoned the local gym and I asked if they could teach me how to do the splits. He said, “How flexible are you?” I said, “I can’t make Tuesdays.”

“He said ‘I’m going to chop off the bottom of one of your trouser legs and put it in a library’. I thought ‘That’s a turn-up for the books.'”

“And the back of his anorak was leaping up and down, and people were chucking money to him. I said ‘Do you earn a living doing that?’ He said ‘Yes, this is my livelihood.’

“So I went down my local ice-cream shop, and said ‘I want to buy an ice-cream’. He said Hundreds & thousands?’ I said ‘We’ll start with one.’ He said ‘Knickerbocker glory?’ I said ‘I do get a certain amount of freedom in these trousers, yes.’

I’m so lazy I’ve got a smoke alarm with a snooze button.

I went into a shop and I said, “Can someone sell me a kettle.” The bloke said “Kenwood” I said, “Where is he?”

So I went in to a pet shop. I said, “Can I buy a goldfish?” The guy said, “Do you want an aquarium?” I said, “I don’t care what star sign it is.”

So I went down the local supermarket, I said “I want to make a complaint, this vinegar’s got lumps in it”, he said “Those are pickled onions”.

I was having dinner with my boss and his wife and she said to me, “How many potatoes would you like Tim?”. I said “Ooh, I’ll just have one please”. She said “It’s OK, you don’t have to be polite” “Alright” I said “I’ll just have one then, you stupid cow”

So Batman came up to me & he hit me over the head with a vase & he went T’PAU! I said “Don’t you mean KAPOW?? He said “No, I’ve got china in my hand.”


The boring stuff

Please let me know if you would rather not receive this excellent weekly email and I will take you off the list.

Remember you can register on the site to receive email as soon as new articles are published.

If you know someone else who might enjoy the newsletter and blog then please forward this email or drop me a mail with his or her email and I will gladly add to the list.

If there is anything you would like me to write about please drop me a mail and I will do my best to oblige.


Cheers and have a great weekend


Wine Geek








#newwinethisweek Week 33 – Barbaresco, Italy #NWTW on tour!

I wish I could say it’s nice to back after an amazing couple of weeks on the US West Coast… but I can’t! I miss being on tour, but luckily for you #newwinethisweek is still out and about, with Mike calling the plays from beautiful Piedmont in northern Italy. What a great place to be and what a great wine he’s gone for, the magnificent Barbaresco:


Barbaresco is a town in Piedmont, just down the road from its more famous cousin Barolo. Both of these wines are made from the Nebbiolo grape, which produces lightly coloured red wines which can be highly tannic when young and are often said to smell of tar and roses. In order to qualify under the Barbaresco DOCG, the wines must have an alcohol content above 12.5% and be aged for a minimum of 2 years, with at least 1 year in oak.

Most of the best wines of Barbaresco need to be aged for a minimum of 5 years, often a great deal more to show at their best, with harsh tannins making the young wines almost undrinkable. Once the wines have had enough time however they reveal beauty and grace, with aromas of roses and violets, and flavours of cherries, truffles, fennel and leather. These wines also come with hefty price tags, the most famous and expensive of all from the great domain of Gaja.


The good news is that many wines in the region are being made to drink earlier these days and although never cheap, are available at realistic prices to everyday drinkers, so there are options for the #newwinethisweek follower!


Here is a selection of wines readily available in the UK:

Araldica Corsini Barbaresco 2011 (Waitrose £11.99)

M&S Barbaresco 2011 (M&S £11.99)


I also have to include Mike’s choice from Sainsbury’s… Barbaresco at £8?? I’ll be giving it a try for sure!

Taste the Difference Barbaresco 2011 (Sainsbury’s £8.00 was £10.00)


And if it’s your birthday… how about a bottle from Gaja??

Gaja Barbaresco Costa Russi 1999 (Roberson £210.00)


Grab a bottle and head over to PleaseBringMeMyWine to cast your vote and leave your comments this week:


Ciao for now!!





Wine Geek USA postcard #2

Hi Winos!

It’s with a heavy heart I write the final postcard from California, as we ait for our departure gate to be called at LAX. It has been an incredible couple of weeks; we’ve been to some astonishing places, met some fabulous people, eaten some incredible food and drunk some of the best wine on the planet.

Eat crab

It’s these positive experiences I want to focus on… especially the wines of Napa and Sonoma. I knew they were good before we got here… I just didn’t realise how good! Less than a half hour drive from one another, yet worlds apart in everything but quality. If you do get the chance, come on out here and taste; you will not be disappointed!

Oh go on then!

Oh go on then!

We also have 2 new rules:

Rule #1 – be more Californian – just say something nice to someone everyday!

Rule #2 – drink more Californian – and here are a few reasons why…


New posts

First off, the munificent Cabernets of Napa… and a few great Chardonnays and a couple of other varieties too:

The tasting room at Cakebread

The tasting room at Cakebread

Secondly, the daring and exciting wines of Sonoma… I’ve rarely had more fun with a glass in my hand!

Welcome to Red Car

Welcome to Red Car


Californian Chardonnay was a huge success; now you’ve read about the Cabernets of Napa, why not give one a go this week??

Dogs at the game

Light relief

We arrived in San Francisco on Monday to learn about the death of Robin Williams in the same city. A true maverick and comedy genius, here are some quotes to remember him by:

“When you have a great audience, you can just keep going and finding new things.”

“Do you think God gets stoned? I think so … look at the platypus.”

“See, the problem is that God gives men a brain and a penis, and only enough blood to run one at a time.”

“A woman would never make a nuclear bomb. They would never make a weapon that kills. They’d make a weapon that makes you feel bad for a while.”

“Everyone has these two visions when they hold their child for the first time. The first is your child as an adult saying ‘I want to thank the Nobel Committee for this award.’ The other is ‘You want fries with that?'”

“You could talk about same-sex marriage, but people who have been married say ‘It’s the same sex all the time.'”

“When in doubt, go for the dick joke.”

“Most of all, I want to thank my father, up there, the man who when I said I wanted to be an actor, he said, ‘Wonderful. Just have a back-up profession like welding’.”

On his mentor, Jonathan Winters: “Jonathan taught me that the world is open for play, that everything and everybody is mockable, in a wonderful way.”

“Never fight with an ugly person, they’ve got nothing to lose.”

“I love kids, but they are a tough audience.”

“Comedy is acting out optimism.”


The boring stuff

Please let me know if you would rather not receive this excellent weekly email and I will take you off the list.

Remember you can register on the site to receive email as soon as new articles are published.

If you know someone else who might enjoy the newsletter and blog then please forward this email or drop me a mail with his or her email and I will gladly add to the list.

If there is anything you would like me to write about please drop me a mail and I will do my best to oblige.


Have a great weekend… The Wine Geek newsletter will be back next week! 

Wine Geek



Sonoma – the most exciting wine region in the world?

I make no apologies for the length of this post; there was so much great stuff going on that I couldn’t leave anything out!

From the land of Cabernet in Napa, we arrived in Sonoma a couple of days ago to check out some great Pinot Noir. And find it we did, along with magnificent Syrah, Grenache, Zinfandel, Chardonnay… even Trousseau, Arinto and Nebbiolo; the latter made into rosé! There is wonderful feeling that the old and new live in perfect harmony in Sonoma; there is respect and love for each other’s wine, at every tasting room the servers tell you about another great place to visit or a funky wine they had with dinner just last night. It’s refreshing and a real pleasure to be here.

Whereas Napa Valley is a pretty easy area to understand, the Sonoma County appellation is vast at 1,786 square miles and is home to around 60,000 acres of vines. The big appellation also houses 16 sub-regions, or AVA’s (American Viticultural Areas), including Anderson Valley, Russian River Valley, Dry Creek Valley, Los Carneros and Sonoma Coast. Few of the wineries own all, or any, of their own vineyards and purchase grapes from throughout the appellation. It feels much more like Burgundy with each winery producing small amounts of lots of different wines from all over the county.

We visited six wineries and I have to admit that there wasn’t a single wine I tasted that I didn’t enjoy (apart from the Gewürztraminers… but that wasn’t the fault of the winemakers!). Below are my notes from four of the tasting rooms we visited; there will be a separate post for Kistler and Ridge.


Wind Gap Wines

I had a glass of Wind Gap Pinot at Sager + Wilde the week before we left for the states and was told in no uncertain terms that I had to pay them a visit… what a piece of advice that turned out to be! This could be the most fun to taste wine anywhere in California, located in one of the new warehouse/barn units at “The Barlow” in Sebastopol. The Barlow describes itself as “a place for the community to conduct business, share food and enjoy art, wine and time together” and they do it with a smile on their face!

Wind Gap room

The label was started by sommelier-turned winemaker Pax Mahle, the name refers to the geological breaks in the coastal hills where many of the vineyards are planted, which funnel wind inland and strongly influence the growing and ripening of the grapes. According to Pax, “Wind Gap is all about classically styled wines that represent the new California.”

Wind Gap wine

Wind Gap Pierce Ranch Arinto 2013

This is a grape that is mostly found in Vinho Verde – at Wind Gap it is only available in a growler (a refillable glass bottle) to encourage everyone to drink it immediately! The wine is all lemons and grapes, grassy and zesty, and dry as a bone. Crisp. Bright, delicious and fun! 88 points

Wind Gap Trousseau Gris 2013, Russian River Valley ($24)

There is very little of this variety planted anywhere in the world so this was of great interst. Grapefruit and very floral nose with just a touch of apple. On the palate the apple and white flowers shine through with restrained acidity and great balance. It’s alike a slightly less acidic Riesling… and very good! 90 points

Wind Gap North Coast Rosé 2013 ($19)

This oone they call their GSN… Grenache (small amounts), Syrah and Nebbiolo… and they make a rosé with it! The palate is strawberries and red apples and the palate reveals the same fruit; the sweet strawberries dissolve into dry apply fruit, which in turn reveal a cherry and apple skin finish. I love it! 91 points

Wind Gap Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir 2012 ($36)

This is the wine I tried an Sager + Wilde – it didn’t disappoint. The nose is delightful with notes of strawberry, cranberry and orange peel as well as fragrant sweet vanilla. The cranberry freshness and orange peel stands out of the palate but there is also a distinct earthiness and great structure, with a sweet red fruit sign-off. A super-cool and modern wine. 93 points

Wind Gap Sceales Vineyard Grenache 2012 ($36)

What a ripe and wild nose! Cherries and blackberries are in the mix but the star turn is the big whiff of herbs de Provence, especially the dried fennel. The fruit explodes on the tongue and the freshness is spectacular – no wood, just Grenache grown in sand – like nothing I’ve ever tasted before. I have no idea how to score this one! 91… ish!!

Wind Gap Sonoma Coat Syrah 2010 ($36)

Plums, blackberries and black pepper invite you to take a sip, and when you do you are greeted with all of the same flavours plus amazingly fresh acidity and a big spicy pepper finish, great cool climate Syrah. 92 points

Wind Gap Nelessen Syrah 2012 ($36)

The aromas are reminiscent of Ribena, with spikes of blackberry and just a nuance of black spice. Ripe, juicy and fresh on the palate with hefty tannin and searing acidity. This baby needs some time but it is a wow wine! 93+ points

Wind Gap Russian River Syrah 2008 ($40)

Ripe plums and a touch of raspberry freshness with delicious hints of leather and spice now really coming through. Fresh and sweet fruit – this is amazingly rounded and complete. The tannins are like feathers and the length is wonderful. Concentration, balance and elegance. Great, great wine. 94 points


Red Car Wine

The Red Car tasting rooms have a small winery feel but these guys are making some serious wines… but definitely having fun at the same time. They describe themselves as a winery specializing in cold climate Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Syrah with small production lots and a winemaking style that embraces wild yeasts, natural acidity and gravity flow to produce aromatic wines of complexity, finesse and balance.

Red Car room

The tasting room is also home to an antique record player and a collection of LPs you can choose from to accompany your tasting experience (Wind Gap do this too – I think I know where they got the idea!). Red Car also have the best labels I have come across, featuring a visualisation of the mountains where their grapes are grown, each label with an arrow showing precisely the spot from whence the grapes originated.

Red Car Label

Red Car Sonoma Coast Chardonnay 2012 ($35)

What is it with this place and Chardonnay? It’s enough to convert the biggest denier! All apples, lemons and cool minerality on the nose, which carries onto the palate. Then there is a delightfully creamy mid-palate moment, like a lemon meringue pie, before the crisp finish takes your breath away. Awesome! 93 points

Red Car Pinot Noir Rosé 2012, Sonoma Coast ($25)

Such a pale colour that belies the red apple and red fruit… and the pink grapefruit finish. Wonderfully dry and wonderfully fresh. These guys make ace rosé! 91 points

Red Car Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir 2012 ($40)

This smells of summer pudding! Lots of red berries and just a touch of smoky, warming spice. The palate is super fresh and fruity; bright acidity and a fruit salad of flavor… Slurp! 92 points

Red Car Platt Vineyard Pinot Noir 2012, Sonoma Coast ($68)

Deep and warm with aromas of crushed strawberries and balsamic vinegar… so enticing. The palate is ripe and concentrated with pomegranate and red berries holding the long finish, underpinned by smoky, toasted spice. This is THE BOMB! 94 points

Red Car Falstaff Vineyard Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast ($68)

Darker, more concentrated fruit than the Platt on the nose; silky smooth texture with a sweet super-ripe (but now way jammy) concoction of red and black berries… this is fruit all of the ay with just a dash of well-judged oak. Very sexy. 94 points

Red Car Sonoma County Syrah 2010 ($35)

Blackberries, raspberries and black spice get you salivating before you tuck into the clean, cool, silky wine in the glass. This is just pure drinkability, pretty good a touch chilled too I reckon. 91 points

Red Car Estate Vineyard Syrah 2011 ($50)

What a wild and funky nose! Black and red fruit but the standout is the white pepper. On the palate there is a ton of concentrated, elegant, fresh fruit but there is a touch of leather and just a hint of smoked meat in the background. The acidity is incredible and the finish is long, fruit, peppery and oh so cooling. Wonderful stuff. 93 points

Red car record player

Joseph Swan Winery

The tasting room at Joseph Swan is only open on a Saturday and Sunday… that’s because they’re so busy making wine at the same location the rest of the time. Their annual production is around 5,000 cases and split across 20+ different wines and have “been having a party since 1968” as one of the guys in the tasting room so eloquently put it!

Swan room

The winery is constantly finding new grapes to turn into bright and fresh wines but they are most famous for their Pinot Noir, heck these guys even have their own Pinot clone named after them!

Swan wines

Joseph Swan “The Vineyard Nextdoor” Rosé 2012 ($18)

Literally from the vineyard outside the tasting room, this 100% Pinot Noir has a wild berry nose and a ton of red fruit on the palate with a layered and spicy, complex finish. This is a serious rosé and a brilliant price – not sure it’ll make it across the pond though! 92 points

Joseph Swan Pinot Gris “Orange Wine” Saralee’s Vineyard 2012 ($24)

I can’t believe it took this long for someone to bring out an orange wine! It plays tricks with you… is it red or is it white?? I can tell you there’s a whole load of red apple at the end but I found this so hard to work out the fruit at the start and middle! I got some very light red berries and the texture was delightful. Confusing but delicious. 90 points

Joseph Swan Saralee’s Vineyard Pinot Noir 2011 ($39)

A ton of red fruit that explodes on the nose and the palate – so pure and clean. The acid is a delight and the fruit just keeps coming on the long finish, with just a delicate touch of spicy oak. 92 points

Joseph Swan Trenton View Vineyard Pinot Noir 2011 ($38)

Fuller, deeper and richer than the Saralee with layer upon layer of fruit; dark cherry, touch of plum, wild strawberry. The body is bigger without every being claggy or jammy as the bright acidity cuts through. This is an awesome wine and the best value of the entire trip… I’m sipping a glass right now! 95 points

Joseph Swan Cuve de Trois Pinot Noir 2012 ($29)

This will only be released in the next couple of weeks – a blend from 3 vineyards that seems to bring the best of each. Smoky, dark berry fruit is zingy and smooth on the palate – there is a lot going and and just needsa bit of time to meld together, 92+ points

Joseph Swan Great Oak Vineyard Pinot Noir 2010 ($36)

More of the fruit-forward style with a beautifully concentrated palate of cherries, plums and blackberries. There are touches of smoke and earth, even hints of smoked meat. The great minerality gives a delicious cooling finish. Great stuff. 93 points

Joseph Swan Cotes du Rosa 2012 ($24)

Made from 90 year old Carignan vines and foot trodden! A huge blast of red fruit, almost bubblegum like on the palate; funky delicious and great fun. 89 points

Joseph Swan Syrah Great Oak Vineyard 2008 ($34)

This is magnificent! Cherries, plums and blackberries on the nose and palate with incredible concentration and incredible finesse. The black pepper undertones provide complexity and round the wine out beautifully; the finish is long and lavish, this is an exquisite wine. 94 points

Joseph Swan Ziegler Vineyard Zinfandel 2009 ($30)

Wow, these guys make awesome Zin too! Bright red fruit, a touch of smoke and spice, silky smooth and so long. We arrived at JS after visiting Ridge, and the best compliment I can give this wine is that it would not be out of place next to Lytton Springs or Geyserville. 93 posts

Joseph Swan Ziegler Matthew’s Station Tannat 2010 ($28)

Another first from me, Tannat from California. Deep and broody but retains great freshness. So, well, drinkable! 90 points


Copain Wine

Not only does Copain lay claim to some of the best wines around but they have a view overlooking the Russian River Valley that beats the rest hands down! Winemaker Wells Guthrie is a lover of European wine, even spending time under the tutelage of Michel Chapoutier in the Northern Rhone. He is committed to crafting elegant, nuanced wines that are firmly rooted in California, yet with the sensibilities of the European wines.

Copain room

I also love the experimentation here; the vineyard at the front of the tasting room used to be planted to Pinot Noir but has since been replanted to Trousseau… and what a fun wine that makes! Oh, and remember to put the correct email address when you book your visit… or like me you won’t have the access number to open the gate!

Copain view

Copain Estate P2 2013, Anderson Valley ($25)

A rosé co-fermented with 50% Pinot Noir and 50% Pinot Gris, first developed for super-chef Thomas Keller to serve to guests as an aperitif. Soft red fruit, very fresh and easy, a great summer wine. 88 points

Copain Estate Les Voisons Pinot Noir 2011, Anderson Valley ($42)

Fruity, earthy and funky on the nose. The palate is very clean and pure, nice earthiness and great acidity – a touch light on the palate, but a very nice wine. 91 points

Copain Estate Wetzel Pinot Noir 2011, Anderson Valley ($65)

Lots of red fruit and a great luxurious edge from the new oak – this has real class. The palate has fruit, sweet spice, wonderful earthiness – its integrated, balanced and complex – a huge jump in quality. 94 points

Copain Estate Les Voisons Syrah 2010, Yorkville Highlands ($36)

Blueberry and blackcurrant with a touch of chocolate and tapenade. Super acidity and a delicious spicy, then mineral finish. Top notch stuff. 93 points

Copain Estate Brousseau Syrah 2010, Chalon ($45)

It gets even better! There may be less on the nose initially than the “Les Voions” but the concentration of flavor on the palate is incredible. A ton of black fruit with a great tannic structure and that fresh, clean acidity that is everywhere in California. The finish is spicy and long, with hints of chocolate and just a touch of roasted meat. Awesome stuff! 94+ points

Copain Estate Trousseau 2010, Russian River Valley ($42)

I was so glad when this one came out after the main tasting – I bloomin love Trousseau and they’re making a great go of it in California now too. Red currants, cranberry and earth – really funky and pops on the tongue and has a party in your mouth. Love it! 91 points


That is a lot of fantastic wine and some of it is available in the UK – it’s also worth signing up for all of the newsletters as they are full of interesting stuff and get to know what’s going on in this fantastic and exciting wine region:


If that wasn’t fun enough, then how about 38 tasting rooms in one place? Well that’s what Healdsburg has to offer! I had been driving around and doing far too much spitting so we spent Sunday playing a bit of tasting room tag – asking the current venue to pick the next… it was a long day, an enjoyable day, a no notes day… and one hell of a hangover! What I can do however, is recommend each of these places to visit if you are in the area; most of these guys are making about 150 cases of each wine – I hope they get the chance to make more so we can get some over in the UK!

How about that for a wine route??

How about that for a wine route??

Sean, the direct to consumer guy at Longboard, was my favourite guy of the whole holiday – a recovering attorney, scuba teacher and all-round super cool dude!

This is one super-cool, super-excisting region… don’t miss out!





#newwinethisweek Week 32 – Californian Cabernet Sauvignon #NWTW on tour!

It looks like the first week of #newwinethisweek on tour has been a big hit, with Californian Chardonnay making a move towards the top of the #newwinethiseeek charts. This week we’re staying in California and going for something red. I though about Pinot, and wanted to go for Pinot, but its just not that easy to get hold of in the UK; so were going for Cabernet Sauvignon this week (we did Zin back in Week 16).

Stagg's Leap; winner of the 1976 Judgement of Paris

Stagg’s Leap; winner of the 1976 Judgement of Paris

I’m not going to repeat myself too much as I wrote a lullaby to Californian Cab earlier this week; but seriously you lot, give it a go and see how elegant and brilliant Cabernet Sauvignon from California can be. It will also be interesting to see how Cali Cab fares against Aussie Coonawarra Cab, which we did back in week 14 and is the best performing red wine so far!

Here’s the link to my recent article on Cali Cab, and a few recommendations from the UK – it may cost a few quid more than usual, but seriously, it will be worth it…


Napa Cab – Forget everything you think you know!


Mondavi Private Selection Cabernet 2012, Napa Valley (Tesco £12.99)

First Press Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Napa Valley (Waitrose £16.99)

Sand Point Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Napa Valley (M&S £10.99)

Pedroncelli Dry Creek Valley Three Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2011 (The Wine Society £9.95)

Viano Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Contra Costa County (Roberson £14.95)

And if you really fancy spoiling yourself (Mr Stevens go for the real thing!)

Corison Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 (Roberson £59.95)

I will never get bored of that photo of me with Cathy Corison!

I will never get bored of that photo of me with Cathy Corison!

Go wild and let us know your thoughts… And be a bit Californian and say something nice this week!

PS. Hemmingway once said its best to write drunk and edit sober… I was battered when I wrote this last night after a game of Tasting Room-Tag in Healdburg!





Napa Cab – forget everything you think you know

Balanced, elegant, finesse, graceful… these are the recurring themes in my tasting notes. No, I’m not in Burgundy, I’m not even writing about Pinot Noir. These are all notes for Cabernet Sauvignon. Californian Cabernet Sauvignon. Forget what you think you already know and start all over again (if you’re a 90’s guitar-band fan you’ll get the Mega City Four reference!)

I’ve never made any secret of my preference for Pinot over any other grape on the planet but I am never averse to glass of quality Cabernet Sauvignon, from anywhere in the wine world. I’ve tasted great Cabs from Bordeaux, Tuscany, Australia and South Africa but until now I haven’t found the Cabs of California so appetising. The three things I look for in wine are concentration, balance and elegance; my experience of Napa Cab has been concentration, concentration, concentration. Until now. Over the past week I have been blown away by the quality and restraint on offer in this larger than life state; the wines have ticked all of my boxes and I am a convert.

A few weeks ago Tim Atkin spewed out one of his “controversial” claims on Twitter, stating that California was the most over-priced region in the wine world; well Mr Atkin, get yourself over here and try the bounty, compared to Tuscany and Bordeaux, I think it’s a great bet.

Some of my highlights… and there are many!

I have also included some notes I made on wines other than Cab Sav as the principles of less is more seem to be prevalent across the board in Napa (all prices are direct from winery):

We started in grand style with a tasting at Inglenook, one of the most famous names in Napa, now 100% in the hands of Frances Ford Coppola. The movie memorabilia has now been moved Coppola’s other location in Sonoma (although there is still an Oscar and Golden Globe on display!) so Inglenook can concentrate 100% on the wines. Having said that, the buildings and grounds at Inglenook are worth a look by themselves.

Inglenook house

Inglenook Blancaneaux 2012, Rutherford ($65)

A white Rhone blend of 50% Marsanne, 25% Roussane, 25% Viognier that spends 8 months sur lie in stainless steel. I’m never a big of fan of Rhone whites but the Blancaneaux is all apples and white flowers on the nose and has a very fresh palate with good acidity (which I often find missing in wines of this style) and a creamy finish from the time on lees. A very pleasant surprise. 91 points

Inglenook Cask Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Napa Valley ($75)

95% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Cabernet Franc; 18 months in French and American oak, 35% new. Hugely concentrated nose of blackcurrant and just a hint of green herb, partly from youth, partly from the Cab Franc. The attack is a little bit thin in texture but the wine unravels beautifully in fruity tones, a touch of warm spice and just a hint of green pepper. The wine just needs a few years to come together. 91+ points

Inglenook wines

Edizione Pennino Zinfandel 2011, Rutherford ($48)

The wine also contains a small proportion of Petit Sirah and is aged for 18 months in new and old French and American oak. Edizione Pennino Zinfandel pays tribute to Francis Ford Coppola’s maternal grandfather, Francesco Pennino. Massive nose of blackberry and blueberry and a lovely whaft of smoke. Big concentration of black fruit on the palate then the delightful acidity cleanses the palate and clears the way for cherry and raspberry as well as the smoky finish. The tannins are smooth and velvety; on of the best Zins I’ve tasted. 93 points

Inglenook Rubicon 2010, Rutherford ($205)

One of Napa’s true icon wines, a blend of 85% Cabernet Sauvignon and the remainder of Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Merlot. 20 months ageing in new French oak. Such a pure fruit nose with masses of black fruit and classy, yet understated oak – vanilla, cigar and clove. The texture coats every millimetre of the mouth with ripe and concentrated black fruit, followed by layer upon layer of flavour; red fruit, smoke and a multitude of spices and the length is truly phenomenal. I was expecting a super-extracted fruit bomb but what I’m getting is pure elegance and sheer pleasure. Brilliant, brilliant… I would love the chance to try this again in 10 years time. 96+ points

(amazingly we were offered a re-fill – I was driving but The Fish leapt at the chance… I was gutted to say the least!)



Next up was family owned and run Cakebread Cellars, about whom I read lots of great things while doing some pre-holiday research. The winery produced it’s first vintage in 1973 and is now run by the second generation of the Cakebread family.

Cakebread room

Cakebread Cellars Chardonnay Reserve 2012, Carneros ($55)

The 2012 was released to the public on the day we visited the winery and the staff in the Reserve room enjoyed their first taste of the new vintage in our company! This is a pure and precise Chardaonnay with a ton of fruit, mainly crisp golden delicious apple and lemon. There is a hint of spice and the creaminess of lemon cud on the finish but this is clean, crunchy and very classy. 92 points

Cakebread Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Napa Valley ($85)

75% Cabernet Sauvignon, 13% Merlot, 8% Cabernet Franc, 3% Petit Verdot, spends 18 months in barrel, 53% of which is new. There’s plenty of fruit and just a hint of leather on the nose – very inviting indeed. The fruit on the palate are ripe plums and blackberries; great concentration with a smoky, cedar finish and a so a touch of violet. A touch warm perhaps but very satisfying. 92 points

Cakebread Cellars Benchland Select Cabernet Sauvignon 2008, Napa Valley ($130)

100% Cabernet Sauvignon (60% Rutherford, 40% Oakville), 22 months in French oak, 48% new. Really fruit driven nose with blackcurrant, blackberry, plum and even hints of refreshing red fruit – like an autumn basket of fruit – all wrapped up in a cloak of classy baking spice and a touch of smoke. The fruit on the palate has huge concentration but retains a great elegance, never appearing jammy. The body is robust with delightful fine, dusty tannins that carries the long, slightly savoury finish. Very good wine with a good few years ahead of it. 93+ points

Cakebread Cellars Dancing Bear Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Howell Mountain ($115)

93% Cabernet Sauvignon, 6% Cabernet Franc, 1% Merlot (apparently there isn’t much Merlot left on Howell Mountain as the bears love it so much!); 19 months in French oak, 39% new. A spicy nose with coffee and chocolate hitting the nostrils before the concentrated dark fruit. The palate is like a warm autumnal hug of concentrated fruit and spice. Lovely if a touch clipped on the finish. 92 points

Cakebread wines

Our third visit of day 1 in Napa was Stagg’s Leap but I’ll be covering that off in another post – watch this space, it was spectacular!


We started our second day at Heitz, which was started back in 1961 by Joe and Alice Heitz. Today the operation is still run by the family to the same exacting and sympathetic standards and principles.

Heits Tasting room

Heitz Wine Cellars Chardonnay 2013, Napa Valley ($25)

Very fresh and bright nose of apples, a touch of rich peach and just a hit of a buttery note – the wine doesn’t go through malo so the flavours and texture all comes from the aging is used aged oak and the time it spends on the lees. The palate is crisp and clean with fresh apples, that bit of peachy ripeness and a tense minerality. This was another bottle only released this week, given 12 months or so it will be very satisfying. 92+ points

Heitz Wine Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Napa Valley ($49)

100% Cabernet Sauvignon, aged for 3 years before release, 1 year in American oak tanks, 2 years in new French Limousin oak. The most blackcurrant focused wine I have come across yet in Napa – very fruit focused with hints of dried herbs. The palate is beautifully balanced with bright fruit, acidity and fine tannin. 92 points

Heitz Wine Cellars Trailside Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Rutherford ($85)

100% Cabernet Sauvignon, aged for 3 ½ years before release, 1 year in American oak tanks, 2 ½ years in new French Limousin oak. As well as blackcurrant and redcurrant fruit there’s a whole host of secondary flavours coming through. Beautiful balance and poise with classy cedar and Asian spice gliding across the palate. The texture is silky smooth and the fresh acidity would put the wine closer to 6 than 12 years old. Wonderful. 94 points

Heitz Wine Cellars Martha’s Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 1998, Oakville ($110)

100% Cabernet Sauvignon, aged for 3 ½ years before release, 1 year in American oak tanks, 2 ½ years in new French Limousin oak. Martha’s vineyars is the site that has made Heitz a famous name in the wine worls and it was an honour to try one of the wines. At 16 years old the nose is earthy and spicy, with a touch of mint supporting the slightly drying fruit. The weight and balance on the palate is almost ethereal and there is still enough acidity to make this a very enjoyable glass of wine. If you have any, drink it up! 92 points

There was also a very zippy, Loire-like Sauvignon Blanc and a delicious “port” wine but I can’t find my notes so sorry about that.

Heitz back


Next stop was Beringer vineyards in St Helena. Founded in 1875, Beringer Vineyards is the oldest continuously operating winery in the Napa Valley, and is listed in the National Register of Historical Places and as a California Historical Landmark. These days it is owned by Treasury Wine Estates and they have spent money on making the grounds a tourist’s dream. Fortunately the wines stand up on their own right and the tasting was a very enjoyable one.

The impressive Rhine House tasting room

The impressive Rhine House tasting room

We started the tasting with 2 very different but very delicious Chardonnays:

eringer Chards

Beringer Luminus Chardonay 2012, Napa Valley ($35)

Very crisp and fresh with bright citrus with a real acidic bite. This is a very modern Californian take on Chardonnay and has real tension and nerve – like a fine Chablis. There is a deliciously buttery finish (the wine goes through 35% malolactic fermentation). 92 points

Beringer Private Reserve Chardonnay 2012, Napa Valley ($44)

After the Luminus I was expecting this one to be a real butter-bomb… but wait… the attack is all peaches and apples with just a gentle hint of buttered toast and just a delightful nuance of toasted nut. This is really enjoyable, fresh and beautifully balanced. 92 points

Beringer Home Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, St Helena ($100)

Blackcurrants, red currants and blackberries provide great concentration and lots of fruit purity to the initial smell and taste of the wine. The tannins are big and need some time to melt – this is still a baby and the lashings of acidity will provide this delicious fruit-laden (not fruit bomb!) number with years of life. 92+ points

Beringer Steinhauer Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon 2005, Howell Mountain ($140)

If this is anything to go by then it will certainly be worth waiting for the Home Vineyard to mature. This has so much elegance and poise with a delicious combination of blackcurrants, blackberries and minerality with background flourishes of vanilla and Chinese five-spice. The tannins are silky and the minerality cooling – I actually thought I was drinking a Leoville Barton for a while! 94 points

Beringer Private Reserve cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Napa Valley ($160)

Like many Napa winemakers, the top of the range “Private Reserve” is made from the best barrels across the different vineyards in great years. The 2009 is still a youngster but I love the wild nature of the nose – blackcurrants, blackberries jump out of a wild autumnal hedgerow; it actually has the “garrigue” character you expect from quality wines from the Southern Rhone. There are big tannins upfront but these are cut though with rapier-like acidity that will preserve this baby for years to come. 93+ points

Beringer Cabs


And then there was Corison. Wow! Cathy Corison is Napa’s First Lady and has been making wines since the 1970’s, when she would sell them from the boot of a battered old Saab. Cathy’s philosophy has always been to make complex but elegant wines; she refused to buckle under the pressure of “big wine” in the previous decades and now everyone is trying to make wines the way Cathy always has. Probably the highlight of the trip so far was the chance to talk to her about this for ten minutes and then get my photo taken with her… a true meet your heroes moment!


The wines were also extraordinary.

Corazon Rosé 2013, Napa Valley ($28)

100% Cabernet Sauvignon Pale, immediately “bled” as the Cabernet Sauvignon grapes were crushed for the red wine, fermented in small French and aged sur lie for 6 months. The colour is such a pale pink and has so much crisp red apple fruit you would probably guess it was a white wine if it was served in a dark glass. So much freshness and zing – one of the best rosé wines I’ve come across. 92 points

Corison Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 05 ($100)

Such a pure nose of blackcurrant and cassis with great concentration of sweet fruit on the attack. But the fruit stays with you and carries the layers of Asian spice to an incredibly long finish. So stylish. 93 points

Corison Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2006 ($95)

More concentrated fruit but this time it’s a bit deeper with hints of blueberries as well as blackcurrants. The fruit is supported by swathes of cedar and smoke – not quite as together as the 2005 but still very enjoyable. 92 points

Corison Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 ($95)

The fruit is very bright and for the first time I get a hint of redcurrant underneath the blackcurrant and blackberry spine. There is a touch of greenness on the palate but this is more to do with youth and just needs some time. The tannins are big upfront but classy and there is plenty of acidity to lave this one alne for a few more years. Will be a belter. 93+ points

Corison Kronos Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2008 ($145)

The concentration of fruit on the nose is spectacular; from blackcurrant and blackberry to raspberry and red cherry, you could just keep naming fruit after fruit and it is in there somewhere. The palate is super smooth and lays the way for dark spices a touch of liquorice and even a hint of worn leather. The finish goes on forever and the balance is incredible. I said I was looking for concentrating, balance and elegance; this ticks all of the boxes. 96 points

Corison Kronos Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 1998 ($175)

1998 was considered a bad vintage in Napa – one of Cathy’s strengths is her ability to make great wines in difficult vintages – buy the winemaker not the vintage! The 1998 is still fresh with plenty of fleshy black fruit, but the dried fruit tones are now also settling in along with notes of cedar, earth and leather, still plenty of time ahead. 94 points

The Kronos Vineyard

The Kronos Vineyard

So there you go. Well done if you got this far but the tastings were spectacular and I need to find some room (and some cash!) to get a few of these babies into my collection; it will be incomplete without these gems.






%d bloggers like this: