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How long should I age this red wine?

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I was asked recently that question by a friend who purchased four cases of a very nice red wine how long will it last before hitting its apex (begin turning bad). To answer this question requires a deeper dive into chemistry, viticulture, history/precedence, storage and a little luck! My initial response after tasting it was between six to eight years from now or eleven to thirteen years from vintage date. But that is based on having years of experience tasting and cellaring wine. So now I was researching the “why” behind it to provide more definitive guidance to my friend.  The wine in question was a 2016 Madorom Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa Valley.

While these comments are based on science and experience nothing is for certain! So a quick refresher: drinking wine too young you are left with it being too fruit forward. Drinking it too late, it is a flat red tasteless liquid.  But if you hit it just before its apex of full maturity, you will unleashed the miracle of that vintage.

The four key variables for red wine that can be aged are: chemistry, viticulture (vineyard management and terroir), the winemaker and storage. First chemistry which involves various facets of knowledge including the interaction of oxygen with polyphenols (tannins, color pigments and flavor compounds), acids and alcohol. All have a role in wine development and maturity. The phenolic elements in red wine come from “the grapes anthocyanins (color pigments) from the skins, and tannins (structure) from the skins, pips and stalks” to quote Rupert Joy, wine writer. A wine of deep coloration usually will have a longer life. So the first thing to notice is the color of wine in a crystal wine glass as a solid indication. The reason for understanding the color is from length of skin contact which produces concentration of polyphenols.

The second variable is viticulture or what happens in the vineyard. The “terroir” may have the ability to produce quality tannins. Yields are also critical during the maturation process stemming from the vineyard. Vines and grapes are each struggling to get the appropriate amount of nutrition, minerals and water. Too much fruit and you are left with less than optimum grapes on the vine. That is often why winery’s in their vineyard management state “they dropped a percentage of fruit” off the vine. If wineries were allowed to let the vineyards grow unchecked they could have 7-10 tons of fruit on the vines. Higher yields but undesirable fruit for winemaker with reduced phenolic content. Similar also with old verses new vines. New vines produce bigger grapes (juice) and thinner skins. With shallower roots this allows the vines to suck up more water and thus lower in phenolic compounds.

The third is the history of a wine/vineyard over time. That is key with old world wines as they have history on their side. New world wines have limited history and precedence in comparison. Also the “magical dust” bestowed by the winemaker. This comes from the length and temperature of maturation (grapes giving up their polyphenols). Additionally items such as amount sulfur dioxide, filtration, yeasts, barrel choices (new vs used) and type of barrels (French, American, Hungarian, etc.). The interaction of the barrel allowing tannins to be added but keeping out unwanted excessive oxygen is a very tight waltz between the two. It is needed to get the desire tannins and anthocyanins and the process helps to stabilize the wine’s color and structure. Key is the alcohol level and acidity level that they purpose in their skills of a varietal.

So once the pedigree of the wine is understood, chemistry, viticulture, history and the winemaker, the next portion that is critical, “laying down” wine for future consumption. Here again the gains are worthwhile, but can be totally lost by miscalculating the wine. Key for storing wine are: constant temperature, limited UV rays (even by lighting), limiting bottle movement, laying it on its side, keeping the cork moist and correct humidity levels.  The Holy Grail of storage is knowing when the wine is about to hit its apex from the initial bottling.

So how is the consumer to know all this? When purchasing a “good quality wine” it is helpful to get the winemakers notes which talk about its ability to be aged. Normally acidity, pH levels and phenolic intensity are not listed on the bottle! Nor is the age of the vineyard and yeasts. So take the age ability from the winemaker, pour a glass to see the color, smell the wine for fruit and then taste the wine for the aromas/flavors and on the finish understand the acidity and tannins levels. So if a winemaker states this wine is good for 15 to 20 years and you buy 4 cases, I typically “guard band” their view by 10%. I would then put it into the cellar for 13 to 18 years as an expiration date. Additionally, I would taste a bottle every 6-9 months to understand the changes and how it is maturing. You can always change the expiration date (pulling in or pushing out) based upon your tasting experience.

Some additional suggested reading material:

https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fmicb.2019.02679/full

https://www.winemag.com/2018/10/09/what-happens-wine-ages/

https://www.decanter.com/features/unearthing-the-secrets-of-ageing-247501/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aging_of_wine

The final comments are from a conversation with Mike Blom who is the winemaker at Madorom. Hopefully these comments will help confirm some of the information above:

  1. The grapes for the 2016 vintage came from two vineyards. One off the Silverado Trail and the other from Pope Valley.  Clones were mostly #4 and #337.
  2. The vineyards were both 10 years of age.
  3. They age the wine for 3 years in barrel. They use 26-28% new oak and the balance used/neutral oak. 70% are French oak and 30% American oak.
  4. The 2016 harvest was a wet year with a late rain, which required a longer hang time for the grapes to ripen.
  5. The 2016 harvest was the 16th harvest for Mike at Madorom.
  6. Mike has 40 harvests to his credit and is extremely knowledgeable.
  7. BTW, I called Mike after I had written the article and asked how long to hold the wine. He was in complete agreement with initial assessment.

Previously had never tasted Madorom wine before but it is on my radar going forward as it was delicious and age worthy for a cellar. Hope this brief article is helpful for you getting the most out of your wine.

Sláinte,

Michael

https://californiawinesandwineries.com

https://madorom.com/

An Alternative Perspective on Rosé Wine as a Trend

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Stemming from a recent article by Bloomberg News and a subsequent discussion amongst several wine writers this last week about Rosé and Rosé Sparkling being a new trend in the wine industry. I took a different perspective and have tried to clarify my comments for you the reader in this article. Many of my comments are “tongue and cheek” as I am not convince Rosé and Rosé Sparkling are a real trend. Instead, I see this as a short lived marketing story. While Provence Rosé is the epicenter and notable exception, many wineries in America are rabid and over the top with Rosé.

While not believing everything you hear or read, the esteemed Board of Directors of California Wines and Wineries have initiated a nationwide movement call Winelovers Against Rosé, W.A.R. It also includes a Rosé being made into Sparkling wines or W.A.R.’s.

To understand this apparent mis-guided conception stating it is a trend I would like to offer some counterpoints in the discussion. They include marketing, consumer age demographics, historical significance (or insignificance) and simply missing the greater picture.

Marketing: Wineries today are struggling for existence amidst fires, smoke tainted vineyards, economic and the pandemic culture. If winemakers are looking to make a wine that is unique with Rosé or Rosé Sparkling, why not do pickle flavored Rosé or pickle flavored Rosé Sparkling. Being unique does not make it “correct”. 

Demographics: Most of the true wine aficionados (old farts, me included) still prefer their wines with corks and will age their wine. The Millennials, Gen X, Gen Y and all the alphabet generations (whiners) consider instant gratification, easy buzz, and “cheap” as the hallmarks of wine consumption. The art and sophistication of appreciation of the time it takes to make and experience good wine is lost on these upcoming generations. So is this Rosé movement a trend or a proclamation of young adults? Perhaps the cultural stigma of “wine language” is too difficult for the younger generations to comprehend? Again, it requires reading and studying, not looking at pictures on Instagram or whatever watered down social media flavor of the day is in vogue. Please don’t even start me on wine in a can (be it Rosé), another so called “trend” for these alphabet generations.

Historical Significance:  Great wine varietals will continue to be the banner of the wine industry. Can you imagine Napoleon with his famous quote of “in victory, you deserve Champagne. In defeat you need it”.  Or Winston Churchill stating “remember gentlemen, it’s not just France we are fighting for, it’s Champagne”.  Can you imagine Napoleon if this “trend” was in his time? The quote would read like “ in victory, I really need a watered down, sparkling orange, pink, or pretty colored wine as the army who has fought hard and needs something to enjoy chilling in our lounge chairs”!!  Or Winston Churchill, stating “folks we need to fight hard because we are after all trying to save the seltzer market and like companies of the world”!!  The historical significance of wine from ancient Mesopotamia to Greece, to Italy to France and the New World, has no footnotes on trendy fashions or marketing schemes. They are all lost as insignificant blips on the Richter scale as “wine is wine”. While techniques from cisterns to barrels and corks have evolved, they evolved to make more consistent and better wine. Not to present to consumers a “cheaper method or socially acceptable product”.

The Bigger Picture:  The bigger picture of trends or movements escapes the confines of culture. The ones purported in the Bloomberg article and follow up discussion the other evening are all based on the time sensitive culture of ROI, transportation costs, marketing segmentation and survival. All while pandering to the “next generation” of wine consumers.

Conclusion:  Whilst not really going to W.A.R. (so please don’t attack with Rosé justification) as it has its place for many,  for me this “trend” is brushed off as a mosquito or an annoying bug while enjoying a glass of an aged Cabernet Sauvignon with a nice meal. The bigger picture is one of survival of the wine industry which is both over crowded, corporate driven and one driven by ROI. In fact while writing this, wine was never an “industry” it was a part of culture and survived civilization to civilization as a local product by villages near and far.

Self-confession:  I actually went into the cellar this morning to see what “Rosé and Sparkling Rosés” were there. In the inventory book, none showed up. I did find three bottles in the special section of wines given to me from friends and to be opened typically on Thanksgiving or Christmas dinners on unsuspecting family and guests.  Since my tour of the Champagne region, I always have some wonderful chalky Champagnes, both aged and NV at the ready. Ditto for Prosecco.  Today, I have two bottles of  Rosés in the cellar.

I checked with our local “wine society” community after the discussion to get additional findings on their consumption and inventory levels of Rosé and here are their responses verbatim:

“We rarely purchase Rosé wines, not a big fan and its’ actually difficult to find a really good one.  I can’t put a number on it, maybe one or two a year in summer months, although we didn’t purchase any this year.  We have none in our current inventory.  We have brut rose from Schramsberg and it is really good.  Hope this helps.”

“We have no Rosé wine in our cooler.  That being said, we recently enjoyed a bottle of sparkling Rosé wine and I would be very tempted to purchase this low cost wine.  It was very refreshing on those hot evenings.”

“Zero”

“Occasionally we buy a Rosé. We have 1 or 2 in inventory.”

“No we don’t buy Rosé wines.”

“I buy Rosé wine, probably a dozen times a year. My problem is finding one I really enjoy and I have tried different price points. I would definitely try a Sparkling Rosé.”

These are only a few that I received feedback on. That said, this limited empirical data, plus mine, shows this far from being a trend. I am actually going to do a post on my website, Facebook account and Blog account to see what kind of response on who and how much Rosé is consumed, in their inventory and regularly purchased.

Hope you enjoyed my response, as I am not convinced Rosé and Rosé Sparkling is a real trend, but rather a short lived marketing and survival story.

Sláinte,

Michael

https://californiawinesandwineries.com

2018 Tenbrink Chardonnay and A Light Stir-Fried Chicken

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Pulled of the cellar a 2018 Tenbrink Chardonnay from Suisun Valley. When I first tasted this wine in January 2019, I immediately rated it as one of the Best of Year wines on the nose alone without even tasting it. I can’t recall giving a “score” to any wine before tasting it! When I first sipped the wine it was inspirational. The pale straw coloring provided an array of honeysuckle, pear and apple on nose and later on the palate. It had a touch of citrus on the finish and was clearly going to be a winner! All the kudos for this wine still ring true! For sure it will be on my List of Top Wines of 2021. I am so pleased I continued to purchase this wine. A tremendous bargain now at $32 retail price for the 2020 release. See a previously written stories on all their wines at:

https://californiawinesandwineries.com/2020/01/09/tenbrink-vineyards-and-tolenas-winery-a-family-story/

https://californiawinesandwineries.com/2020/01/18/tenbrink-2016-petite-sirah-bold-brawny-and-yet-graceful/

https://californiawinesandwineries.com/2020/01/09/tenbrink-vineyards-and-tolenas-winery-a-family-story/

The Food and Wine Pairing

Last evening paired with a stir-fried chicken with Bok Choy. The ingredients included cornstarch, canola oil, dark sesame oil, uncooked onions, grated ginger root, minced garlic and low sodium soy sauce. White rice and an Asian salad accompanied the meal. The stir fried chicken and Bok Choy were a “lighter touch” meal and was a great pairing with the flavorful Tenbrink Chardonnay.

Suisun Valley is definitely on my list to visit shortly to get a better understanding of this often overlooked and underappreciated wine region!

Sláinte,

Michael

https://californiawinesandwineries.com

http://tenbrinkvineyards.com/

2020 Wood Family Vineyards Albariño – A Great Wine With Shrimp

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Background

The Wood Family Vineyards recently introduced their second white wine — an Albariño! Rhonda Wood received a call from the Las Positas College in Livermore, which besides being a local junior college, has a program for winemaking and viticulturists. They had grown some Albariño grapes on their property and asked Rhonda if she would be interested in purchasing them. Rhonda agreed and went one step further in donating 10% of all Albariño sales back to the Viticulture and Winery Technology program at Las Positas College.  A wonderful cooperative venture for both parties.

The Albariño Grape

Albariño is a well-known Spanish grape grown in Galicia in northwest Spain along the coast. It is also known as Alvarinho in Portugal. It was thought to have been introduced by the Romans in the 12th century. Key is its proximity to the Atlantic Ocean or water ways reaching the ocean.

(Map from Rias Baixas Wines)

Typical Albariño grapes from the region have aromas of nectarine, lime with traces of honeysuckle and beeswax. The taste profile is mouth filling which is a heavier than expected in a white wine. It is known as a seafood lovers wine to enhance any meal with fish.

Wood Family Vineyards Albariño

The first thing one notices is that this label is different than their traditional label.  With the cooperative nature with Las Positas College, they used the college mascot, the Hawk, embossed on the label.  The second think you thing about with this Albariño, it is not grown on the coast nor near any river leading to the coast as previously mentioned by its heritage in Spain. Livermore Valley (with its west to east geography) is located just over a gap in the East Bay Hills from the San Francisco Bay. The Bay gets the cool ocean breezes almost daily. So while not directly on the coast, the ocean and bay bodies have tremendous impact. Albariño is also grown in California on the San Luis Obispo coast and Lodi (climate from the north SF Bay and delta) both of which are similar with geography and climate of Albariño’s homeland.

Here is where this wine is both unique and has many amazing characteristics. First on the eyes this is a light yellow to golden straw coloring. In the glass it possess a medium heavy viscosity. On the nose, a truly powerful aromatic freshness of flowers apricot, peach and honeysuckle. Stone fruit, salinity and minerality lurk in the background. On the palate, honeydew melon, extremely soft citrus of lemon and lime round out the profile. The finish is refined and clean beckoning yet another sip. They produced only 90 cases and it is listed for $32 per bottle on their website.

Food and Wine Pairing

The food pairing was a garlicy lemon shrimp dish with broccoli and topped with toasted bread crumbs. The ingredients were extra-virgin olive oil, panko breadcrumbs, lemon zest, salt, minced garlic cloves, canned chicken broth, crushed red pepper flakes and fresh lemon juice. The food with citrus, enhanced the citrus of the wine. The wine also was contrasting with the mouth filling viscosity and fruit, which wrapped the spice and flavors of the shrimp dish.

If you have never experienced tasting Albariño, this one is surely a great treat especially with shrimp!

Sláinte,


Michael

https://californiawinesandwineries.com

https://woodfamilyvineyards.com

2017 Summit Lake Vineyards Zinfandel

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The Winery

Photo from Summit Lake Vineyards

The story of Summit Lake Vineyards is not a straight forward story of starting a winery. Rather it is a culmination of having a vision, being disappointed, having a solid work ethic and abounding creativity to arrive at their end destination of having a family winery.

The Vision

It started with an interest in wine by Bob and Sue Brakesman who after graduation took a trip to South America. They spent many hours sipping wine and enjoying small family wineries throughout Peru, Chili and Argentina. The hook was set as Bob began dreaming of owning a vineyard and winery.

On November 12, 1971, Sue’s birthday, she returned home to find Bob there asking her to open her birthday card. Inside was a deed to Summit Lake Vineyards. It outlined the 28 acres of land, eight of which were planted pre-prohibition with Zinfandel, fruit trees, a chicken house, walnut groves and a house built in the 1880’s.

Disappointment

That Christmas Eve, they left San Jose and made their way to Howell Mountain. Upon arriving at the muddy driveway entrance, they realized that the property had been abandoned for over thirty years and was overtaken by manzanita, poison oak and assorted weeds. Even the house had fallen into total disrepair and was filthy. That evening, it was freezing cold with the fireplace barely working. They strategically placed pots and pans to catch the leaks from the roof/ceiling. That next morning with a fresh dusting of snow, their enthusiasm was restored viewing the beauty and tranquility of the snow covered property.

Work Ethic

Bob and Sue took on the challenge and began the transformation of the property and the house. Bob found a pre-world war II tractor in the overgrown brush. He finally got it working and began to clear the land. Mind you this took two years!! He first brought the old eight acres of Zinfandel back to life. After their day time jobs, they worked tirelessly from 6 pm to midnight daily grafting their own vines. With help of friends who ventured up to the ranch, they completed row after row. It took three years to plant thirteen acres of new vines!! That culminated in eleven being Zinfandel and two of Cabernet Sauvignon.

Creativity

When the vines needed water Bob went to work for a company that installed irrigation systems to acquire practical knowledge. That company had a policy of burying leftover pipes and fitting because it was too costly to dig up and return to the warehouse. An opportunity arose for Bob to bring home daily on the back of a flatbed truck all the irrigation needed to run the vineyard. As the vineyard matured Bob needed to get some practical experience honing his winemaking skills. He took a position as cellar foreman at Freekmark Abbey. He spent six years soaking up knowledge and techniques that would come into play in the future.

A Family Winery Is Finally Established

During the crush of 1975, their first son was born. Three years later their first commercial release was a 1978 Zinfandel. The wine won a Double Gold Medal at the California State Fair. It sold out in a mere eight days! The dream took more time and energy than initially anticipated but their vision and goal never wavered and they were on their way. They erected a full winery operation a few years later that was finished in 1985. Thus bonded winery #5255 was realized.

The complete, longer story, worth reading, is at:

https://www.summitlakevineyards.com/Our-Story

Photo from Summit Lake Vineyards

2021 is their 50th year of Summit Lake Vineyards. It is still today a family run business with Brian Brakesman as the winemaker. Brian’s career started at Beringer and Domain Chandon. In 2005 he was the assistant winemaker at Duckhorn Wine’s Paraduxx and Golden Eye. In 2007 Brian moved to Ledson Winery as their winemaker. All top notch wineries in Sonoma and Napa Valleys. Brian returned to Summit Lake in 2010 to join the family winery. Bob still assists in the winery and does most of the farming. Heather, the daughter manages the wine business after the wine is bottled.

Today they are producing Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel Port, Petite Sirah and a couple of Rosés. Being a family run business, most of the wines are named for Bob and Sue’s granddaughters: Emily Kestrel, Clair Riley, Sophia Lynn, Blythe Susan and grandson Ben and Shane.

The 2017 Summit Lake Vineyards Zinfandel

This wine comes from vines that Bob first planted in 1973. They are old gnarly vines reaching far into the earth to extract beautiful flavors and aromas. While perhaps short on fruit output, the qualitative grapes far outshine your typical tonnage per acre. Brian usually uses French oak at approximately 50% being new. Aging is dependent on the year but runs between 18-24 months. Brian believes that this Zinfandel will last ten or more years. On the eyes, a lush purple coloring and medium viscosity. On the nose, fruits of raspberry and blueberry provide a beautiful aroma. On the palate, not your “Amador fruit bomb” but a restrained soft sweetness followed by an earthiness of dust and minerality (due to age of vines), followed by spicy notes of espresso, faint vanilla and cinnamon. The finish was strangely unique with tannins and structure not commonly found in Zinfandel. This is probably the reason Brian believes it will age for ten plus years. The wine lists for $42 on their website.

The Food and Wine Pairing

Paired with slow cooked red wine braised bone-in beef short ribs. Ingredients included olive oil, yellow onions, baby mushrooms, minced garlic, Cabernet Sauvignon, beef broth, dried oregano, dried thyme, dried rosemary, dried marjoram and bay leaves. Slow cooked for 8-10 hours. The meat literally fell off the bone and was delicious. Accompanied with mashed potatoes and a fresh garden salad with red green tomatoes. The Zinfandel added a touch of spice to the food pairing but did not overwhelm the meat.

Looking forward to tasting some of their other wines in the near future!

Sláinte,

Michael

https://californiawinesandwineries.com

https://www.summitlakevineyards.com/

Mineral Wines – Finally Visited!

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The Winery

Brett Keller and his wife Andrea own Mineral Wines in Murphys, California. Brett started out in Hospitality Management but eventually went back to school earning his degree in Viticulture and Enology in 2003. When Brett and Andrea moved back to Angels Camp (Calaveras County), Brett took over management of Andrea’s family 4 acre Cherokee Creek Vineyard. Initially this property grew exclusively Merlot, but subsequently Brett grafted three acres of vineyard to Roussanne, Viognier and Petite Sirah. These are the main stay and define Mineral Wines today. In addition, they produce a Zinfandel, Malbec, and various Meritage blends, Barbera, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon. Their tasting room is located at 419 B Main St. Murphys, CA.

I met Brett through the 2nd Annual Cabernet Franc Celebration in late 2020. However due to Covid and various other commitments, I have never had the chance to taste a lot of his wines. His Cabernet Franc won Silver Medals from the Professional Judges and People’s Choice Judges with his first entry.  Over this past weekend and without an appointment, stopped by and was able to complete a quick tasting on his wines. Recently he was awarded a Double Gold for his 2016 Meritage from the Calaveras Foothill Wine Competition. While being a judge at the event, our table did not have the privilege of tasting this wine. Thus this was the focus of my visit and I was not only impressed with Meritage winning but walked out purchasing three bottles!

But that was just the start of tasting many of the wines including his Merlot, Syrah, Cabernet Franc and Malbec. All winners for my taste buds! Walked out with another three of his exquisite Malbec one for our upcoming dinner.

2017 Malbec

This wine on eyes was a deep purple coloration and medium heavy body. On the nose, distinct blackberry aromas arose to awaken the drinker. Once on the palate, the dark black fruits were included black cherry, black pepper and a light smokiness. On the finish oak and a hint of mocha were present along with the mid-level tannins. The wine immediately brought one to an open campfire on the plains of Mendoza with a beef on the BBQ pit. Current release is the 2017 and it goes for $34/per bottle. Only 100 cases were produced using 100% French oak barrels that were used two years.

The Food and Wine Pairing

This wine was chosen for dinner as a flank steak had been marinating for twenty-four hours. The steak similar to a Carne Asada was seared and BBQ’ed quickly to produce a grilled outside and medium rare finish inside. It was accompanied with Mexican corn that was pan roasted and green Polamba Chili peppers flame roasted on the BBQ.  A perfectly matched meal with this wonderful wine with the fruit calming down the heat of the peppers and strong enough to break down the meat.

Sláinte,

Michael

https://californiawinesandwineries.com

https://mineralwines.com

Eureka!! 2017 VJB Cellars Estate Aglianico

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Eureka is Latin for “I have found it”. While it has been on the California state seal since 1849, referring to the great gold rush, I shouted out Eureka when I tasted this fabulous wine this week. I was introduced to it a friend’s home. Immediately I experienced and was hooked on one of the best Aglianico I have tasted. While I have a few different ones in the cellar from Italy, this just became the pinnacle and the Holy Grail of Aglianico and surprisingly from California.

Aglianico is a black grape originally from the southern regions of Italy, Basilicata and Campania. It is considered one of the three greatest Italian varietals along with Sangiovese and Nebbiolo (Italian wine writer Ian D’Agata). On the eyes and deep almost blackish red/purple coloring and a medium heavy viscosity. On the nose blueberry and black cherry resonated immediately. On the palate a symphony of flavors provided flavors of distinction. They ranged from black fruits, soft leather, cracked peppercorns and black cherries. Secondary flavors arose of chocolate, rustic old world wine and licorice.  On the finish, there was no doubt that you were experiencing a high acid and high tannins, both of which were non-offensive showing character and resilience of the wine. Their pricing on the website shows $50/a bottle.

If you like Cabernet Sauvignon or Cabernet Franc, this is one stellar wine. We were going to try some other wines and our hosts and us were so excited about this wine, another bottle was opened! This wine just made my list of Best Wines of 2021 hands down!

We are now in the planning stages to head to Sonoma to purchase some of this wine!

Sláinte,

Michael

https://californiawinesandwineries.com

https://vjbcellars.com/our-portfolio/

2017 Maritana Chardonnay, Sonoma County, LA RIVIÈRE 

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The Wine

Pulled a magical 2017 Maritana Chardonnay Sonoma County Russian River LA RIVIÈRE (meaning the river, Russian River) from the cellar for dinner last night. While Donald Patz had many years ago produced Chardonnay’s he has been known as an industry leader for his Pinot Noir’s (Dr. Pinot!). I have come to enjoy his solid Chardonnay’s as they are “totally astonishing”. First on the eyes, a bright clarity and ethereal straw golden yellow color. It was a refined and delicate Chardonnay with hints of soft lemon custard and a Red Delicious apple, mildly sweet with a caramel finish. As the wine settles in the back of mouth, a minerality of a babbling brook or creek came to mind. This wine was of another spectrum of quality found only in wines in a much higher in price range ($100). LA RIVIÈRE is a blend of 55% Dutton Ranch Shop Block, 22% Martinelli River Road Vineyard and 18% Susanna’s Vineyard and finally 5% Ritchie Vineyard for the 2017. It uses 90% once and twice used French oak barrels and 10% new French oak barrels. It is sur lies aged and goes through 100% malolactic fermentation. Donald’s Chardonnay’s will continue to develop complexity while aging over 5 to 8 years (stored properly).  This wine reminded me of the higher end Kistler Chardonnay or Peter Michael Chardonnay, specifically La Carriere. The current release and price for LA RIVIÈRE is $55 for the 2018.

The Food and Wine Pairing

I am notorious for just “winging it” in the kitchen. Tonight was one of the rare times I actually followed a recipe! Found a small cut of fresh Swordfish and wanted it make sure it was cooked correctly. Found a recipe in Epicurious and went for it. The recipe included       butter (room temperature), chopped fresh parsley, minced garlic, ground peppercorns, grated lemon peel and olive oil. I also added just a few dried pepper flakes. Salt and pepper to taste. It involved using an ovenproof skillet and cooking one side. Then flipping it over and transferring it to the oven. Once cooked the butter sauce (and ingredients) are browned and poured over the swordfish to be served. The 2017 Maritana Chardonnay with its heavy viscosity and mouth filling flavors paired nicely with fresh flavorful Swordfish.

For a complete story on Donald Patz’s wines see: 

https://californiawinesandwineries.com/2018/12/06/maritana-vineyards-four-aces-on-the-first-vintage/

This wine has made my Best Wines of the Year for the last two years in the $51 and up category. If you like a “high end wine” but don’t want to pay $100, this is wine to get.

Sláinte,

Michael

https://californiawinesandwineries.com

https://maritanavineyards.com

https://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/pan-roasted-swordfish-steaks-with-mixed-peppercorn-butter-232695

Summit Lake Vineyards – A Winding Road Traveled to Paradise

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The Winery

photo by Summit Lake Vineyards

The story of Summit Lake Vineyards is not a straight forward story of starting a winery. Rather it is a culmination of having a vision, being disappointed, having a solid work ethic and abounding creativity to arrive at their end destination of having a family winery.

The Vision

It started with an interest in wine by Bob and Sue Brakesman who after graduation took a trip to South America. They spent many hours sipping wine and enjoying small family wineries throughout Peru, Chili and Argentina. The hook was set as Bob began dreaming of owning a vineyard and winery.

On November 12, 1971, Sue’s birthday, she returned home to find Bob there asking her to open her birthday card. Inside was a deed to Summit Lake Vineyards. It outlined the 28 acres of land, eight of which were planted pre-prohibition with Zinfandel, fruit trees, a chicken house, walnut groves and a house built in the 1880’s.

Disappointment

That Christmas Eve, they left San Jose and made their way to Howell Mountain. Upon arriving at the muddy driveway entrance, they realized that the property had been abandoned for over thirty years and was overtaken by manzanita, poison oak and assorted weeds. Even the house had fallen into total disrepair and was filthy. That evening, it was freezing cold with the fireplace barely working. They strategically placed pots and pans to catch the leaks from the roof/ceiling. That next morning with a fresh dusting of snow, their enthusiasm was restored viewing the beauty and tranquility of the snow covered property.

Work Ethic

Bob and Sue took on the challenge and began the transformation of the property and the house. Bob found a pre-world war II tractor in the overgrown brush. He finally got it working and began to clear the land. Mind you this took two years!! He first brought the old eight acres of Zinfandel back to life. After their day time jobs, they worked tirelessly from 6 pm to midnight daily grafting their own vines. With help of friends who ventured up to the ranch, they completed row after row. It took three years to plant thirteen acres of new vines!! That culminated in eleven being Zinfandel and two of Cabernet Sauvignon.

Creativity

When the vines needed water Bob went to work for a company that installed irrigation systems to acquire practical knowledge. That company had a policy of burying leftover pipes and fitting because it was too costly to dig up and return to the warehouse. An opportunity arose for Bob to bring home daily on the back of a flatbed truck all the irrigation needed to run the vineyard. As the vineyard matured Bob needed to get some practical experience honing his winemaking skills. He took a position as cellar foreman at Freekmark Abbey. He spent six years soaking up knowledge and techniques that would come into play in the future.

A Family Winery Is Finally Established

During the crush of 1975, their first son was born. Three years later their first commercial release was a 1978 Zinfandel. The wine won a Double Gold Medal at the California State Fair. It sold out in a mere eight days! The dream took more time and energy than initially anticipated but their vision and goal never wavered and they were on their way. They erected a full winery operation a few years later that was finished in 1985. Thus bonded winery #5255 was realized.

The complete, longer story, worth reading, is at:

https://www.summitlakevineyards.com/Our-Story

2021 is their 50th year of Summit Lake Vineyards. It is still today a family run business with Brian Brakesman as the winemaker. Brian’s career started at Beringer and Domain Chandon. In 2005 he was the assistant winemaker at Duckhorn Wine’s Paraduxx and Golden Eye. In 2007 Brian moved to Ledson Winery as their winemaker. All top notch wineries in Sonoma and Napa Valleys. Brian returned to Summit Lake in 2010 to join the family winery. Bob still assists in the winery and does most of the farming. Heather, the daughter manages the wine business after the wine is bottled.

Today they are producing Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel Port, Petite Sirah and a couple of Rosés. Being a family run business, all the wines are named for Bob and Sue’s granddaughters: Emily Kestrel, Clair Riley, Sophia Lynn, Blythe Susan and grandson Ben and Shane.

The 2017 Summit Lake Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon, Emily Kestrel

This wine comes from vines that Bob first planted in 1973. They are old gnarly vines reaching far into the earth to extract beautiful flavors and aromas. While perhaps short on fruit output, the qualitative grapes far outshine your typical tonnage per acre. Brian usually uses French oak at approximately 50% being new. Aging is dependent on the year but runs between 18-24 months. On the eyes, a deep ruby color with blackish notes and a heavy viscosity in the glass. On the nose aromas of blackberry with traces of vanilla and a “skosh” of caramel coming across. Once on the palate it opens up to a fresh red cherry fruit, a briarwood note, and distinct Howell Mountain minerality with a gentle campfire smokiness. Floral and spicy accents are in the background. The tannins are present but rounded and soft making for a beautiful finish with a distinct soft chocolate. The wine is a blend 95 of 95% Cabernet Sauvignon, 3% Petite Sirah and 2% Petit Verdot.  The wine lists for $89 on their website.

The Food and Wine Pairing

Paired with an aged beef filet mignon, seared and BBQ’ed to medium rare. Accompanied by a baked potato and fresh garden salad with Blue cheese dressing. The wine was perfect in complimenting the meal and lifting both to new heights.

Looking forward to tasting some of their other wines!

Sláinte,

Michael

https://californiawinesandwineries.com

https://www.summitlakevineyards.com/

2014 Arkenstone NVD Cabernet Sauvignon

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Pulled this out of the cellar the other evening, a 2014 Arkenstone NVD Cabernet Sauvignon from Howell Mountain (Napa Valley). Intense purple coloring, the aroma of black cherry burst into the nose. Black cherry, chocolate, blueberries and red cherries in the palate. A very solid and enjoyable wine with a great mid long finish, structured and beautiful tannins. An average of 92 points and today the bottle runs approximately $85 to $110.

A previous story on this unique Arkenstone Winery can read at:

https://californiawinesandwineries.com/2016/01/18/arkenstone/

Sláinte,

Michael

https://californiawinesandwineries.com

http://www.arkenstone.com/