Browsing the archives for the Napa Valley tag

Varietal Voyage No.22 – 2006 Rosenblum Cellars Pickett Road Petite Sirah

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Varietal Voyage

VV22 marks the final leg of the Varietal Voyage where Sue and I will explore the last grape variety on our tick-list…petite sirah!

Petite sirah is often mistaken for other varieties and has a rich and interesting history.  Petite sirah is actually a synonym for a variety called Durif, a cross between peloursin and syrah, discovered by a French botantist, Francois Durif, in 1880.  The word ‘petite‘ comes from the fact that the berries are very small giving a higher ratio of grape skins to juice.  The result is anything but petite, yielding powerful, inky wines with an aggressive tannic structure.

The 2006 Pickett Road Petite Sirah is the second wine from Rosenblum Cellars we have tasted on this journey.  The first was the 2008 vintage of Kathy’s Cuvée (viognier) tasted for VV10.  The Pickett Road Petite Sirah is one of Rosenblum’s seventeen “Vineyard Designates”, wines produced from distinct vineyards intended to showcase the uniqueness of their terroir.  As the name suggests, the fruit for this wine comes from the Kenefick Ranch, just off Pickett Road, near Calistoga. Of the 125 acres at the Kenefick Ranch, a little over 10 precious hillside acres are planted with petite sirah specifically for Rosenblum Cellars.  Sheltered by the Palisades at the northern tip of Napa Valley, this vineyard’s warm weather and rocky, volcanic soils are well-suited for petite sirah.

This is probably the second or third petite sirah that I have tasted in my lifetime, but this is the first that I have given any real attention.  Knowing from past experience that these wines are quite tannic, I opened the bottle several hours ahead of time to help soften it a bit (decanting wouldn’t hurt either).  This vintage has an extremely dark, almost opaque ruby hue with intense dark berries aromas and layers of musky spice.  The full-bodied flavors are chewy and echo the aromas with the addition of some dark cherry and vanilla.  But this wine isn’t just about the fruit.  There is plenty of acid to stand up to the ripe fruit and the round tannins build up as it fades off into a soft chocolaty finish.  Over the course of the evening, the tannins continued to soften, allowing more of the peppery spice to show through.

Just a few words of warning. If you are on a first date, do not order this wine unless you think your significant other can deal with stained lips, teeth, and tongue!  Fortunately Sue and I have been married long enough that something like purple teeth only elicits the occasional awkward snicker!

2006 Rosenblum Cellars Pickett Road Petite Sirah ($30)

Varietal Voyage – See how it started…

Ramey Wine Cellars – 2005 Pedregal Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon

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Tasting Note

A few weeks ago, Sue and I shared a bottle of David Ramey’s Pedregal Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon in tribute to a close friend who recently passed away.  We don’t normally drink wines of this caliber, mainly because of their rarity and price, but every once in awhile you need drink something extra special, even if it is for a somber occasion.  Sue and I looked at sharing this bottle as an enjoyable and memorable celebration of our friend’s life.

David Ramey is considered to be one of vanguards of the American wine industry.  For the past three decades he has used old-world techniques that emphasize terroir and applied them to new-world ideas helping elevate the quality and distinction of today’s California wines.

After graduating from UC Davis he worked for Château Pétrus where he learned the time-honored methods of winemaking from France’s top vignerons.  After returning from France, David helped establish some of California’s most well-known wineries including:  Chalk Hill, Matanzas Creek, Dominus Estate, and Rudd Estate.  In 1996, David and his wife Carla started Ramey Wine Cellars with the goal of creating great, terroir-specific wines using David’s unique blend of old and new-world methods.

Located in the town of Healdsburg in north-central Sonoma County, David Ramey and his team make a small variety of high quality, single-vineyard and appellation specific wines including several cabernet sauvignon blends, chardonnays, and a few syrahs.  The 2005 Pedregal Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon (a blend of 85% cabernet sauvignon and 15% petit verdot) is one of Ramey’s single-vineyard blends from the Pedregal Vineyard, on the stony slopes of Napa Valley’s Oakville district.  Through a long-term lease, Ramey Wine Cellars now has complete control over the vineyard and can make all of the critical management and harvesting decisions in order to get the best possible fruit for this unique wine.

Tasting Notes

It’s deep ruby, almost opaque color exudes a perfume of violets, cassis and dark cherries followed by aromas of coffee and bitter chocolate.  The succulent flavors of currants and ripe cherries are quite pronounced with just a touch of sweetness.  Undertones of cocoa, coffee, and earthy truffles add amazing complexity with a full-bodied richness that is intense but not overwhelming to the palate.  Even at this young age the tannins are silky and very approachable with plenty of aging potential.  Paired with a juicy, bone-in rib eye steak, this wine makes a great partner, but there is so much going on here that I would suggest drinking this wine on its own to fully appreciate every little nuance.

Varietal Voyage No.16 – 2006 Charles Krug Napa Valley Merlot

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Varietal Voyage

Varietal Voyage No.16 represents the sixteenth wine on our journey and the first wine made primarily from merlot. Charles Krug’s 2006 Napa Valley Merlot ($16) seemed like the perfect choice to represent the American leg of our voyage.

Charles Krug founded Napa Valley’s first winery in 1861. As a young winemaker, he quickly became a leading figure in the development of California wines. His foresight in viticulture and technological skill laid the groundwork for America’s budding young wine industry.  After his death in 1892, Krug’s winery was sold to James Moffitt who carried it successfully though the turbluent years of Prohibition.  Moffitt would later pass the winery to Cesare and Rosa Mondavi, the parents of Robert and Peter Mondavi, in 1943.  Eventually the two brothers, Robert and Peter, would have their turn running the winery.  After their father’s death in 1959, Rosa became president and assigned Robert as the general manager and gave Peter the position as vice president.  The relationship between the two brothers was always a little stormy, and in 1965 Robert would leave Charles Krug to start his own winery.  Today, Peter, along with his two sons, Peter, Jr. and Marc Mondavi continue with the same innovative spirit started by Charles Krug almost 150 years earlier.

The Charles Krug Winery is located in St. Helena, in the northern portion of Napa Valley. The grapes used in the 2006 Napa Valley Merlot come from several of the Mondavi family’s vineyards located within the region.  The climate in Napa Valley is a little warmer and drier than its neighbor, Sonoma County, to the east.  The Mayacamas Mountains separate the two regions, preventing some of the rain and cool, Pacific ocean breezes from reaching Napa’s vineyards.  The southern areas, near Carneros, tend to be cooler than the northern parts of the valley because of the cooling influence of San Pablo Bay.  Cabernet sauvignon is the primary grape grown here, but merlot runs a close second. The red wines made here have rich, intense fruit flavors with riper, fuller tannins as you move further up the valley.

This definitely is not a “wimpy” merlot.  This deep ruby colored wine is full of intense black cherry and currant flavors wrapped in fragrant aromas of blackberries and boysenberries with the subtle spicy character of pepper and anise.  The addition of cabernet sauvignon, bolsters supple tannins and supports the spiciness resulting in a rich, velvety texture.  A light, but lively level of acidity keeps the flavors alive and nuanced hints of vanilla and spice linger on through a long finish.

2006 Charles Krug Napa Valley Merlot ($16)

  •  93% Merlot, 6% Cabernet Sauvignon, o.5% Petit Verdot, o.5% Cabernet Franc (you can really taste CF ;))
  • Napa Valley, California
  • Charles Krug Information Sheet

Varietal Voyage – See how it started…

2006 Chateau Montelena Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon

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Tasting Note

This past Wednesday I had the opportunity to taste Chateau Montelena’s 2006 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon ($49).  It was included in a flight of wines that I tasted during the WSET class being taught at WineStyles in Brookfield. Sue bought a bottle of the 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon last year and is still resting in the cellar waiting for that perfect meal or occasion.  Although the 2006 harvest wasn’t as good as the one in 2005, I think this wine offered a good preview of things to come.

Chateau Montelena is at the northern tip of Napa Valley, in the heart of the recently christened Calistoga AVA, a region known for the quality its red wines.  All of Chateau Montelena’s vineyards for this wine are located close to the banks of the Napa River and share similar soil characteristics to those found in Bordeaux.  It is these characteristics and the hot dry California climate that deliver a complex and concentrated cabernet sauvignon.  Much like the winemakers of Bordeaux, Chateau Montelena has chosen to blend in small amounts of merlot and cabernet franc to soften the otherwise aggressive tannins of the youthful cabernet sauvignon and create additional layers of complexity.

Tasting Notes:

The experience of tasting this wine started off a little rough.  The first bottle we opened was “corked”, a notable flaw in the wine caused by tainted cork.  Rendell Thomas, the owner of WineStyles, was observing the class and offered to supply another bottle so we could fully appreciate what this wine had to offer.  The new bottle was much better, with no sign of cork taint. In the glass the ’06 has an intense ruby color with just a touch of purple round the edges.  Rich aromas of ripe black cherries and currants are laced with layers of spicy pepper and cedar.  The aromas carry through into the palate with lots of ripe black fruit at the forefront.  The acidity is well balanced making the ripe fruit seem juicier. Notes of vanilla and chocolaty spice are accompanied by the grip of young, ripe tannins that continue to build throughout the long finish.

Stealing Time For Some Great Wine

Tasting Note

After running a few errands in downtown Milwaukee, I found that I had a little time on my hands.  It had been a while since I visited the Public Market so I decided to stop in at the Thief Wine Shop & Bar and sample a few wines.  With several hours before the start of Gallery Night (our local quarterly art review), the owners, Phil and Aimee were already busy serving patrons. Once I found a spot to settle down, I selected a few interesting wines from their wide assortment of wines by the glass, flight, or bottle.

The first wine I tried was a young, but elegant  pinot noir from New Zealand’s Marlborough region.  The 2008 Oyster Bay Pinot Noir ($17.50) has everything you would expect from a cool climate pinot noir with its bright acidity and tart red fruit flavors.  Hidden in the pale ruby color are fragrant flavors of ripe cranberries, cherries and pomegranate with the softest hints of tannin.  Don’t let the light color fool you.  This pinot noir has a pleasant body and mouthfeel with a generous backbone of crisp acidity.

Next up was a Chilean carménère born in the foothills of the Andes mountains.  The 2007 Terra Andina Reserva Carménère ($11.50) was a world apart from the delicate kiwi pinot noir. Terra Andina makes this wine from 100% carménère grown in the Rapel Valley near Santiago.  With deep red and violet hues, its aromas are alive with plums, black currants and blackberries, backed up with layers of cedar and spice.  Its balanced flavors and rich body are enhanced by soft tannins that build throughout the lengthy finish.

The third wine on the list is from Napa Valley.  Madrigal’s 2006 Zinfandel ($17.50) is even bigger and bolder than the previous two wines.  Located in Calistoga at the northern tip of Napa Valley, the winemakers at Madrigal get their grapes from some of the best zinfandel vineyards in the valley. In true zinfandel style, this is a juicy, fruit-forward powerhouse!  Heady aromas of black raspberries and dark cherries fold into rich layers of vanilla and spice.  The flavors are full-bodied, delivering a punch of spicy red berries wrapped in vanilla and caramel following up with a generous finish of pepper and cocoa.

To finish out the quartet, I selected a Spanish sherry from González Byass.  “Solera 1847″ Oloroso Dulce ($11.95) is a sweet sherry made from Palomino and Pedro Ximénez (sometimes called “PX”).  The name of this sherry comes from original solera laid down in 1847 by González and Byass in Jerez, Spain. Within its golden brown, coffee-like tones are alluring scents of raisins, figs, and orange peel blended with a myriad of woody spices.  Creamy flavors of toffee, vanilla and dried fruits are balanced with soft acidity that ties it all together.  Perfect for a cold January afternoon!

Varietal Voyage No.7 – 2006 Grgich Hills Estate Napa Valley Chardonnay

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Varietal Voyage

This week we leave behind our final chenin blanc and move on to the next varietal on the list: Chardonnay! For this particular wine we are travelling south from Mendocino to the Grgich Hills Estate near the southern tip of Napa Valley.

Grgich Hills Estate is an interesting venture that began in 1977 between master winemaker, Mike Grgich and Austin Hills of the Hills Brothers Coffee conglomerate. Today they own 366 acres spanning across five top quality vineyards. To keep quality high, they concentrate on just six different types of wines (Fumé Blanc, Chardonnay, Zinfandel, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Violetta). Another interesting fact is that all of the Grgich Hills vineyards are sustainable and “biodynamically” farmed. Think “organic” on steroids! Biodynamic farming is a philosophy that treats the Earth as a living organism. Only natural preparations, cosmic rhythms, and nature’s own basic elements are used to create a harmonious balance between vineyard and Earth.

If you have ever heard of the “Judgment of Paris” then you probably have heard of Mike Grgich. He is the winemaker (then working for Chateau Montelena), that was responsible for creating the award winning chardonnay (1973 Chateau Montelena) that beat out all of the French wines in a 1976 blind tasting. This was arguably the watershed event that put California on the map as force to be reckoned with in the wine making world. One could go on talking about this event for hours. If you want to know more, I would suggest reading George Taber’s book, Judgment of Paris.

The 2006 Napa Valley Chardonnay is created from grapes grown at the Grgich Hills Estate’s Carneros and American Canyon vineyards. These two properties are nestled in the valley near the San Pablo Bay where the cool ocean breezes and fog help maintain the grapes’ natural fruit character and crisp acidity. 2006 also happens to be the first vintage from these vineyards that was certified as “biodynamic.”

This Chardonnay was quite different from many of the other’s we have tried over the years. In the past, many were over oaked and many saw some malolactic fermentation. The resulting wines were usually very buttery, masking much of the natural fruit character of the grapes. The 2006 NV was nothing like those earlier wines. It was clear from the first taste that the winemakers chose not to use any malolactic fermentation, allowing the bright acidity and complex flavors of apples, lemon, and pineapples to shine through. The winemakers also chose to ferment and age the wine carefully in a mix of old and new oak barrels, imparting very pleasant toasty, vanilla flavors. A little pricey at $40, but worth every penny!

Knowing that we’ll never be able to afford a ’73 Chateau Montelena, I wonder how this one compares?

2006 Grgich Hills Estate Napa Valley Chardonnay ($40)

Varietal Voyage – See how it started…