Month: June 2021
At the National Cabernet Franc Wine Competition held December 2nd, 2020, Constant-Diamond Mountain Vineyard won just about every award for their 2017 Cabernet Franc!!! They earned a Double Gold Medal Award from both the Professional Judges and People’s Choice Judges. In addition, they won Best of Class from both set of Judges in their category ($101 and up). The Professional Judges also awarded them Best of Show across all categories! That is an unprecedented achievement and this was their first year participating. You can read more about the event at:
(From Constant-Diamond Mountain Website)
The winery sits on top of Diamond Mountain in the northwest corner of Napa Valley. It was first settled in 1895 by Andras Rasmussen. After studying viticulture at UC Davis, Andras purchased 120 forested acres on the top of Diamond Mountain. He cleared 30 acres and planted the grapevines at the summit.
When prohibition came it was let go to be natural. Then in 1993 Fred and Mary Constant purchased the vineyard with the land overgrown and wild. The first wine under Philippe Melka came in 1995. The current consulting winemaker is Paul Hobbs with his first vintage being the 2009.
The next change was in 2016 when Aries Liu and Sai You became the property’s caretakers. This beautiful piece of property produces some of the most elegant, rich and powerful Bordeaux varietals Napa has to offer as well as other varietals. The wines offered today are: Rose, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, Claret and their Cabernet Franc.
The 2017 Cabernet Franc
This wine from the mountain top of Diamond Mountain is a “beast” like none other! With being above the fog, the growing season produces luscious, dark and rich fruit. First on the eyes, it is so dark, almost a reddish black coloring with a medium heavy viscosity. On the nose a fragrant but soft lavender fills the senses with cherry coming in as a secondary aroma. Once on the palate, it bursts with plum, blackberry and a forest mountain earthiness. The finish is long with silky smooth tannins and a strong structure is present. The only thing missing was a pyrazine characteristic, but that was easily overlooked by the sheer enjoyment of the wine. Only 70 cases were produced and it sells for $175/bottle.
The Food and Wine Pairing
Paired with a 24 hour marinated tri-tip aged steak, then seared on the BBQ to both a medium and medium rare levels. Accompanying the meal were garlic, butter and chili pepper shrimp, cheesy potatoes, stir fried garlic asparagus, a freshly tossed garden salad and fresh sourdough bread. The beef and wine were heavenly together and made such a fabulous meal, it lasted for a couple of hours!
If you are looking for a scrumptious wine for a special occasion, look no further than this Cabernet Franc!
Had a great opportunity to spend time with Jeff Stai, owner of Twisted Oak this week. Before exploring the title, the winery in Vallecito started with the purchase of the land in January 2002 by Jeff and his wife Mary. Jeff, previously an electrical engineer in Southern California had spent a lot of time in the Calaveras and Alpine foothills. Jeff’s idea of building his own winery, with his detailed background, merged the two disciplines rather easily. This is the beginning of the paradox. Wine is a creative and an experiment at best coupled with science and the whims of a farmer at the beckon of Mother Nature.
Jeff designed and cleverly implemented a gravity fed winery with four separate tiers. The grape harvest come in bins on the first level and is fed into the de-stemmer and crusher on level two. From there the juice is feed to the holding tanks on level three for soaking and punch downs. (Writer’s note: Jeff designed a “trolley” system coupled with hydraulic punch down capability over each tank! See picture). The fourth level is the underground cave that is some 300 feet in length for barrel storage and aging. In the late summer and early fall, special events are held in the cave before the barrels are filled with the current harvest so they can move the “unfilled barrels” outside for a day for their wine club members.
They use the cave for various events and have adopted a “pirates theme” for one club member (members are called the “Twisted Few”) event and is decorated in a pirate theme including “loot” usually in August. Another theme is the “twisted chicken”. Rubber twisted chickens adorn the tasting rooms – both in Murphys and at Vallecito. Again a paradox of being fun and lighthearted yet a very real business! This statue greets you upon arriving. It is a combination of the historical “Jumping Frog” made famous in the area by Mark Twain combined with the “chicken theme” called the Fricken.
Today they have about fifteen different offerings from Chicken Bubbles (méthode champenois), Calaveras Rosa to solid reds like River of Skulls (Mourvedre), Tempranillo, Touriga Nacional and many red blends with some unusual names. Those names include their 2017 *%#&@! (Yes that is the correct spelling), 2016 Murgatroyd, 2016 Pig Stai, etc. Again while making some serious varietals that are exceptional, Jeff with his creativity and light heartiness, has ample wiggle room for humor!
Without going into too much detail, he also provides a custom crush service, has one of the best winery gift shops (Mary is in charge of merchandizing), a free delivery to the local counties for wine delivery and has developed a flexible and imaginative wine club program. Today they produce approximately 4500 cases per year. You will find their wines without a heavy hand on the oak as 70% are neutral and the new barrels are a combination of French, Hungarian and American oak. The lightest wines like Garnacha are aged one and two to three years for their Spaniard.
The wines I tasted were extremely well produced and true to their varietal heritage. The “twisted chickens” had made me previously think this was a light hearted and not serious winery, but the reality, is that Twisted Oak Winery is a serious wine making operation with a light hearted approached to making their customers and wine clubs members feel welcome. Perhaps the real paradox is that it is working extremely well for all!
Stories forthcoming on a couple of the wines. Stay tuned…….
Tonight’s wine was an unusual and beautiful white wine, 2018 Acquiesce Picpoul Blanc produced by winemaker/owner Susan Tipton. Visually this varietal is faint in color and almost translucent with a pale yellow hue. On the nose pineapple was the predominate scent coupled with minerality. Picpoul means to “sting the lips” yet this wine was much more embracing and had a disguised light sweetness. The finish produced a full mouthful of wonderment. This wine was made to pair with oysters in Europe. Susan Tipton also believes in the New World, it is excellent with spicy Thai food and dishes with cilantro. In 2017 only 220 cases were produced and all going to wine club members. In 2018 based upon expected yields, she increased that number to approximately 350 cases. As an aside, only 40 acres were planted with this grape varietal in the USA in 2017!
Treated to a nice dinner at Baldi’s at Copper Valley in the Town Square. Had three tacos of breaded shrimp stuffed into double tortillas, loaded with spicy slaw and garnished with cilantro.
Another excellent wine by Susan Tipton of Acquiesce. These wine has made my Best of the Year Wines two years in a row and again will appear in 2021!!
Some other stories on Acquiesce and their unique wines:
At the National Cabernet Franc Wine Competition held December 2nd, 2020, Ciccone Vineyard and Winery earned a Silver Medal Award from the Professional Judges. This was for their 2017 Cabernet Franc. This was their first year participating and expect even higher awards in their future! You can read more about the event at:
The winery is located on the Leelanau Peninsula in the upper portion of Michigan (#2) on the map.
(Picture from Michigan Wine Country)
Tony and Joan Ciccone are the co-owners and founders of the winery. After a career in Detroit, Tony in his previous homes always had a few rows of grapes in his yard and made wine by hand. He had the notion to build a winery after he retired. The land was purchased in 1995 and the following year, Tony planted 5 acres in Cabernet Franc, Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio and Gewürztraminer. Today, his son Mario and daughter Paula are now tending the vineyard and making the wines respectively. Today besides the original varietals, they also offer Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Riesling, Pinot Blanc and various blends.
The 2017 Ciccone Cabernet Franc
As mentioned earlier, this was one of the original varietals planted in 1996 and is considered one of their signature wines. On the eyes and enticing but a bit lighter than some Cabernet Francs. On nose, dark berry fruits of blackberry and cherries arouse the senses. On the palate, mild oak and black peppercorns make this a mild but still “spicy” Cabernet Franc. The finish is medium long and can be consumed with or without food as it is very enjoyable. The price on their web shows the wine going for $27.
The Food and Wine Pairing
The meal was a Carne Asada dish. It was seasoned for 36 hours, seared briefly and then BBQ’ed for a few minutes. The Carne Asada was a recipe from Damn Delicious (with a couple of modifications) and included in the marinate: fresh chopped cilantro leaves, olive oil, reduced sodium soy sauce, juice from one orange and one lime, minced garlic cloves, 2 minced jalapeno’s (one with seeds and one without seeds), cumin, Kosher salt, ground black pepper and a flank steak. It was then drizzled with lime juice before being plated. Accompanied the dinner was a Spanish rice with chopped tomatoes and chili peppers along with some baby asparagus.
Perhaps one of the best meals of the year. Unfortunately the citrus characteristics took the wine to a different dimension. So we stopped drinking the wine with the meal. Had some bread to neutralize the palate and the wine was delightful after the evening meal. The individual wine and meal were excellent, but together they were non-compatible.
(picture from Consortium website)
First, this bottle had been cellared for three and an half years. It was recommended in article I read. So what is the Band of Vintners? It is a group of Napa Valley friends with over four decades of winemaking and wine knowledge. They created a wine due to one simple fact, that high quality wines can be both delicious and affordable. They banded their resources and formed the resulting company of Consortium, Band of Vintners. Knowing a couple of the members and having tasted their wines, I figured it was a sure bet to purchase a couple of bottles!
The 2015 vintage was dark red on the eyes and medium to medium heavy viscosity. On the nose and palate, black licorice, caramel pipe tobacco and blueberries abounded. The structure and finish was more than acceptable and long lasting. The winemakers’ comments stated it could be cellared for 5 to 10 years. This being the 5th year, it popped up to be tasted. The wine is comprised of 93% Cabernet, 4% Merlot and 3% Cabernet Franc. It was aged 15 months in French oak barrels (no mention of new verses old). Now the kicker: The list price is $40 and wineaccess.com has the current vintage (2017) for $33! Their vintages get typically 91 to 93 points.
I think this is a solid wine for newbies to cut their teeth into good quality wine from Napa Valley. It has some of the key components of wine two and three times the cost. It is also a wonderful price point wine for everyday consumption. The Band of Vintners have achieved their goal in making their wine delicious and affordable. Wish I had purchased more than two bottles.
One thing I just notice is the cork! I will dig in to find out more information but thought it extremely interesting.
At the National Cabernet Franc Wine Competition held December 2nd, 2020, Cathedral Ridge Reserve earned a Silver Medal Award from the Professional Judges. This was for their 2017 Cabernet Franc Reserve. The grapes are sourced from Moody Vineyard overlooking the mouth of the Deschutes River in Oregon. This was their first year participating and expect even higher awards in their future! You can read more about the event at:
(Picture from Britannica of Columbia River Gorge)
Key to Cathedral Ridge Winery is their use of the land surrounding the Columbia Gorge. For readers not familiar to this area, I will use their description on their website as it is everything they state and more! “One of the most beautiful and historic geographic regions in the United States is the Columbia River Gorge. The stunning scenery features a dramatic climate shift from the temperate rainforest of Cascade Locks to the high desert at The Dalles, all occurring in about 50 miles. Fir and spruce give way to pines and scrub oak, and eventually to nothing but tall grass as one continues to move eastward. Microclimates arise throughout. This unique growing region allows us to embrace a trinity of different growing region varietals including grapes from Bordeaux, Burgundy, and Alsace. Along with the microclimates is a unique and constantly changing terroir. Prehistoric lava flows, repeated cataclysmic floods and glaciers have carved the bones of the Columbia River Gorge into the breathtaking scenery you see today. Using the highest quality fruit grown from one of the most unique growing regions in the world, we proudly offer our distinctive and elegant wines”.
While many people are involved at the winery two key people stand out. First is Robb Bell who is the owner. Robb had a long career in consumer package goods and strategic business consulting before he saw an opportunity for change and bought a very small winery from his neighbor Don Flerchinger in 2003. The other is Michael Sebastiani, Master Winemaker. He is the fourth generation winemaker from the famed Sebastiani family of Sonoma. While winemaking is in his blood, he graduated from UC Davis in winemaking. He became the youngest Head Winemaker at the beautiful Viansa Winery in Sonoma County and currently owns and operates the Generations of Sonoma Winery in Sonoma, California.
The winery offers a variety of wines reminiscent of France. The Columbia Gorge and the surrounding area with various microclimates allow them to produce wines similar to Bordeaux, Burgundy, Rhone and Rhine areas. Their offerings include: Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve, Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Petit Verdot, Bangsund Pinot Noir, Dampier Pinot Noir, Pinot Noir Reserves, Chardonnay, Chardonnay Reserve, Riesling, Pinot Gris, Halbtrocken, Syrah, Syrah Reserve and a few other blends.
The 2017 Cabernet Franc Reserve Wine
The wine from the Moody Vineyard has two essential characters for Cabernet Franc-long sunny days and cool nightly breezes from the Deschutes River. First on the eyes, a brownish/red hue comes across. Once given a few swirls, it becomes a beautiful soft crimson color. On the nose some unique characteristics with herbs and an earthiness. On the palate, strawberries and red plums dominate but also a light “dustiness” and with abundant fruit provides an enjoying sips. This is not your “classical Cabernet Franc” with strong pyrazines and angular tannins, but soft and rounded to be enjoyed with or without food. Currently listed on the website at $44 and only 275 cases produced.
The Food and Wine Pairing
Last evening the wine was paired with a spicy Linguica sausage and bowtie pasta with broccoli. Multi-colored bell peppers, onions, garlic and seasoned with salt & pepper to taste. It was topped off with shredded Parmesan cheese. Accompanied by a fresh garden salad topped with Blue cheese dressing. Not your “normal Cabernet Franc food pairing” but it worked magnificently with the softer, rounder and drinkable Cabernet Franc.
While their Cabernet Franc was a solid Silver Medal winner, now what I am interested in is tasting their Pinot Noir Reserves and Halbtrocken!!
When I grabbed this Rapp Ranch Cutter’s Reserve from the cellar, it had been a year since I tasted it. Those not familiar with Rapp Ranch Wines and Shadybrook Estate Winery, co-located are also the home of Alko Equestrian Center and Napa Valley Trail Rides in Coombsville (Napa Valley). The owners, the Alkosser’s purchased the property in February 2016 and have combined two of their favorite interests, wines and horses to form Rapp Ranch. They have also hired one of the top winemakers in Napa Valley to produce their wines for both Rapp Ranch and Shadybrook Estate, Rudy Zuidema. You can read a previous story on Rudy and Rapp Ranch/Shadybrook Estate at:
The 2013 Rapp Ranch is a powerful stallion for the wine world! The alcohol level is 15.2%, but the flavor provides a remarkable depth of taste. It is comprised of 42% Petit Verdot, 33% Malbec, 18% Cabernet Sauvignon and 7% Merlot. It is aged for 23 months in 55% new French oak and 45% used French oak. Here the strong and edges of Petit Verdot and Cabernet Sauvignon are subdued by Merlot and Malbec. But do not be misled, this is a wild ride while enjoying this wine!
On the eyes this startlingly deep purple with medium to medium heavy viscosity, visually awakens the wine drinker. It is only the beginning. With these four varietals, on the nose and palate, a complex and layered profiles come into perfect proportion. Oak, vanilla, pipe tobacco, leather, plum and blackberries converge in the mouth. Licorice both red and black, along with cherries swirl about intermingling with some of the stronger notes. The finish is complex, with the round tannins of Merlot combined with the spiciness and edges of Petit Verdot and Cabernet Sauvignon. The current vintage is 2017 and is listed at $70 and each year provides a different mix and percentage of Bordeaux varietals.
Recently brought this bottle to a friends house to enjoy a glass on his patio. Not an everyday household varietal but perhaps it should be! Firstly, this wine is indigenous to Santorini and was the wine of choice from 3500 BC to 1620 BC as the wine center in the Aegean Sea. In 1620 BC, one of the largest volcanic eruptions occurred in the last 10,000 years on Santorini. It covered the island in volcanic ash which provides a unique soil for Assyrtiko grapes to grow. Secondly, the pronunciation is “ase-ry-tiko”.
The island with its volcanic soil, the Assyrtiko vines can go down as far as 60 meters! This depth is one of the key components in giving this grape a minerality like no other grapes. Assyrtiko vines comprise 70% of the production wines of Santorini. Also some of the vines go 60-200 years in age. But perhaps one of the unique things is the training of vines in a circular basket/wreath formation. With the grapes growing on the inside, it provides shade from the hot summer sun and protects the grapes from the fierce winds of the island. The basket is called a “kouloura”.
The grape varietal is known besides its minerality, to have citrus, apple, honeysuckle, passion fruit, pear, lime and beeswax. This 2017 Flowers Assyrtiko which I tasted had the heavy presence of minerality, citrus, hint of lime and beeswax. This wine with high acid begs for oysters, salmon, trout, etc. Even shrimp and shell fish would do well. This afternoon it was paired with smoked salmon, cream cheese and capers which was delicious!
Pulled this out of the cellar the other night and the wine continues to be astonishing!! Cabernet Franc is part of Larry Dino’s (winemaker/owner) Bordeaux Collection. He has two other “wine labels” called the Black Label and Reserve Collection. His Bordeaux Collection as imagined has besides Cabernet Franc, the other key varietals of Malbec, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Cabernet Sauvignon and most recently added Carmenere.
This 2017 Cabernet Franc showed some “old world characteristics” as well as unique Livermore Valley traits. The coloring of this wine was so dark and alluring with a medium heavy viscosity. On the nose, blueberry, cherry and a hint of plum and floral notes abounded. On the palate, the naturally higher acidity was milder for a Cabernet Franc as well as the tannins subdued as expected. In the mouth, the blueberries and dark cherry were prominent along with a modicum of your typical bell pepper, black pepper and sage qualities. Soft leather, a dry rockiness and sweet pipe tobacco lingered to make the finish long lasting and inquisitive.
Specifically his Cabernet Franc over the years has won the following awards and distinctions:
- 2018 Double Gold, 2021 TVC Uncorked Wine Competition, Gold Medal 2021 SF Chronicle Wine Competition
- 2017 Wine Enthusiast 91 points; Silver Medal at 2020 SF Chronicle Wine Competition
- 2016 Wine Enthusiast 90 points: Silver Medal at 2019 SF Chronicle Wine Competition and Silver Medal at TVC Uncorked
- 2014 Best Livermore Cabernet Franc; Silver Medal 2017 SF Chronicle Wine Competition and 90 point from Wine Enthusiast
- And many more awards going back to 2008 including more Silver Medals, high ratings from Wine Enthusiast and a Gold Medal from SF Chronicle Wine Competition
Keep up the great winemaking Larry your Cabernet Franc is absolutely superb!
Last week enjoyed two Cabernet Franc’s from 6th generation winemaker, Steven Kent Mirassou. The first wine was the 2018 L’Autre Côte Cabernet Franc. I previously wrote a story on his two single vineyard Cabernet Franc’s. One being the Ghielmetti Vineyard and the other Sachau Vineyard. You can read the previous story at: https://californiawinesandwineries.com/2021/04/15/lautre-cote-cabernet-franc-a-tale-of-two-vineyards-ghielmetti-and-sachau-vineyards/ . In that story it is outlined why Livermore Valley is ideally suited to grow Cabernet Franc. Thus Steven introduced a new label L’Autre Côte Wines with a focus on single vineyard production. This wine comes in a two pack for $98/per bottle. From that tasting with friends, the winner was Sachau Vineyards by a “nose”. Both wines received an “A” for quality.
What I tasted last week was his 2018 L’Autre Côte Cabernet Franc which is a blend of both vineyards with 67% Ghielmetti Vineyard and 33% Sachau Vineyard both in Livermore Valley. This Cabernet Franc will be taking over from his previous vintages of Cabernet Franc Small Lot series. The good news is that this wine sells for $45/per bottle! While not showcasing each vineyards merits it does provide a solid glimpse into the flavors, structure and finish of an eloquent wine.
The other wine was Steven Kent Winery 2016 Small Lot Cabernet Franc. This wine was aged in 20% new French oak barrels for 18-20 months with only 3 barrels being produced. On the eyes a beautiful crimson and royal purple coloring. With only a light touch of oak, Steven allowed the pyrazines to show through (herbal aromatics qualities) and allowing the interplay between red and dark fruits to shine on the palate and finish. Combining two vineyards, he was able to also extract different fruit and levels of acidity, to blend to a desirable level. A lot of thought and effort went into this vintage. On the eyes, a purple and red brick hue with a vivid clarity. On the nose, blackberry, blueberry, fig and prunes were present along with floral notes of violets. On the palate, the key herbal quality of bell peppers and herbal qualities were interlaced with the sweetness of vanilla and caramel. Additionally, minerality and soft leather came through in the finish. A complete story can be found at: https://californiawinesandwineries.com/2020/06/18/2016-steven-kent-cabernet-franc-a-mistaken-identity-by-me/ .
The lucky consumer now has three excellent Cabernet Franc’s to choose from the L’Autre Côte portfolio going forward!