Latest Event Updates
One of those evening where wines other than California were grabbed from the cellar. Opened two very different wines from Italy. The first being a 2012 La Quercia Montepulciano d’ Abruzzo Colline Teramane DOCG Riserva. Wine from this area overlooking the Adriatic Sea have ample sunlight, fog and ocean breezes to produce some highly developed and well-structured wines. This Riserva is aged two years in oak barrels creating spice and aromas with dark fruits and briarwood flavors. Always a favorite wine! Price per bottle was $35/bottle.
The other wine was a rather young 2019 Langhe Padrun DOC from Poderie Elia in Neive, Italy. This is the highest altitude vineyard in Barbaresco appellation. A soft and drinkable Nebbiolo without food. The radiant light red coloring is hypnotizing to view in the wine glass. The first smell and sip of the wine is one of strong red cherries. Also nuances of minerality and dried herbs are present. It is aged two years in French and Slavonian oak barrels to create a richer more robust flavor than the color! Price was $25.29/per bottle.
Both wines were recently added to the cellar from an Italian presentation evening event at The Wine Steward, Pleasanton, California. Look forward to enjoying these wines with Italian meals in the near future.
Smith-Madrone Vineyards is located on 200 acres on top of Spring Mountain west of St. Helena with 38 acres planted in vineyards. The vineyard elevation ranges from 1,300 to 2,000 feet. The Founder, managing partner and enologist is Stuart Smith, Charles Smith is the winemaker and Sam Smith is the assistant winemaker. Truly a family affair! All the wines are estate and dry-farmed on top of the mountain. Annual production is between 3,000 to 4,000 cases a year. Currently they are producing Chardonnay, Riesling, Cabernet Sauvignon and their iconic Cooks Flat (blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc).
(Photo taken by Matthew Denny)
The 2016 Riesling is extremely aromatic with floral notes and green apple on the nose. A light golden yellow straw color and medium viscosity. On the palate, strong lime, mixed with stone fruits (white peach and apricots) tame the lime citrus. On the finish, the minerality comes through strong and pure from either the volcanic soil, or sandstone, limestone or the general rocky soil found on the property. The minerality and acidity is jovial and enticing with a semi-sweet crescendo. Smith-Madrone Vineyards produced 1,199 cases and the current release is 2017 and listed on their website for $34/bottle.
The Wine & Food Pairing
The Smith-Madrone 2016 Estate Riesling was pulled from the cellar for last night’s meal due to the spiciness of the dish called Pad Thai Shrimp. We had tried another recipe a few weeks back and it was a light and enjoyable dish. Last evening went with a much more flavorful and spicy recipe. The ingredients were flat rice noodles, virgin oil, minced garlic, uncooked shrimp, eggs, bean sprouts, red bell pepper, green onions, peanuts, chopped cilantro and lime juice. The Pad Thai sauce included fish sauce, soy sauce, brown sugar, rice vinegar, Sriracha and creamy peanut butter! Limes were plated to squeeze the juice over the top of the dish. Accompanied the meal was a fresh garden salad with an Asian dressing. The meal packed a punch of flavor and warmth! The 2016 Smith-Madrone Riesling was a godsend. The wine was refreshing and quenched the palate. The semi-sweet finish was spot on for this meal!
The definition of hindsight is “understanding of a situation or event, only after it has happened or developed”. Last Saturday evening, with the help of two longtime friends (Mark & Candy Strubbe), we tried the 2017 Cabernet Sauvignon by Hindsight Wines in Calistoga, Napa Valley. Specifically their Howell Mountain from Bella Vetta Vineyard. The collective hindsight is how wonderful Hindsight Wines are!!
The 2017 Hindsight Wine from Howell Mountain is 100% Cabernet Sauvignon from Bella Vetta Vineyard, on Howell Mountain. This small vineyard of 1.9 acres vineyard is located on Howell Mountain at 2,000 foot elevation along the La Jota Ridge. Sitting above the fog line this allows almost continual warmth to ripen the grapes yet cool in the evening to help neutralize the acidity. This combination makes the vines produce grapes that provided intense flavor. On the eyes, a darker red/blackish coloring in the glass due to a long extraction by the winemaker. Medium to medium heavy viscosity. On the nose, distinct blackberries and raspberries waft into the nose. On the palate, some dark cocoa, soft pipe tobacco, lush juicy plum and a hint of licorice. The tannins are present but are soft and rounded. The multi-layered structure provides a finish of delight and quality with an oak presence. Almost two years of aging in 100% French oak barrels, 50% new and 50% neutral. This is Howell Mountain fruit at its best! This again rated a high mark in “my book” of wines tasted in 2021. This wine retails for $95/bottle per their website.
The Food Pairing
We tasted the wine with a twenty-four hour marinated tri-tip steak in a Chaka sauce. It was seared and BBQ’ed and served medium to medium rare. Additionally served with pan roasted Brussel sprouts with olive oil and drizzled balsamic vinegar and twice baked cheese potatoes. Followed up by a peach pie a la mode. The tri-tip and wine pairing was as always stunning and simply simpatico with each other. The Hindsight Howell Mountain with the nose, rounded tannins, layered structure and mid long fisnish was a delightful food and wine pairing.
Hindsight also recently released their 2020 Sauvignon Blanc and their 2017 Cabernet Sauvignon 20/20. Both of these wines have made my Best Wines of 2021!
I have for years recognized the parallelisms between wines/the winemaker and art/the artist. Winemakers and artists are more similar than you might first consider. It is more than left brain verses right brain and more the core personality and values held by each. Each typically strives to express the essence of an object/idea or grape varietal, in a dynamic form to showcase the expansive breath of their subject.
Wine reflects in the time & space continuum that which society deems “permissible and provides a solid ROI” for the endeavor at hand. History repeats itself but always with a new nuance or twist making both winemaker and artist with their works truly an existential endeavor. So while the winemaker harvests the grapes from the same vineyard year after year, each is unique and reflects it unique “terroir”. Artists have painted for centuries if not millenniums, mirroring the values and norms of society or revolting against them. Both the artists and winemakers are trying to provide a completeness and wholeness of the varietal or subject without blemish and bring satisfaction to their admiring public.
Five of the core schools of art can better be understood and their association with the winemakers’ perspective or presuppositions. They are Realism, Expressionism, Modern Art, Baroque and Romanticism.
Sometimes also referred to as Naturalism. This discipline tries to represent without artificial encumbrances or supernatural elements. More it depicts the ordinary and harsh environment of everyday and ordinary people from middle and lower class society. Manual labor is a hallmark of realism. This art is accurate and of unadorned, simple subjects of the 19th century. The Realistic often tackled social issues.
A winemaker who associates with this artistic discipline lets the “terrior” of the vineyards speak to and develop the wine without outside intervention. So in a good year the winemaker is hands off in the production scheme, but in a bad year financial consideration like ROI and profitability may leave him/her no choice to abandon this position.
The artists of this group paint people, places and objects with exaggerated proportions. Their perspective is highly subjective and personal. Negative even sinister feeling and aggressive behavior is recognized by amplified brush strokes and colors. These ideas can be seen in Starry Nights by Van Gough or Scream by Edward Munch. Much of this discipline was brought about from the reaction of Europe to the quickening industrialization and intended as well as unintended social consequences in society. Alienation and anxiety are parents which begat expressionism.
An expressionism winemaker who has a dispensation toward a varietal or final product, while often good, his or her perspective is extremely subjective and personal. If your tastes align with one, that is great, but odds are only a few will be simpatico.
This discipline is rejection of history and conservative values. The USA is more familiar with this art as it is more prevalent here but Europe obviously had a strong hand in Modern Art. The works here include abstract, surrealism, pop art, art deco, etc. Pollack and Salvador Dali are two key figures of this movement.
A winemaker related to this artistic discipline may interpret and reject standard practices in lieu of new technologies or processes. Perhaps this may apply to the can wine movement, Seltzer craze or even unconventional methods of winemaking.
A few of the key characteristics of Baroque painters include rich colors, grandeur, big round human subjects, serene or tranquil setting and pensive self-portraits. Ruben, Caravaggio and Rembrandt are some that come to mind.
A “baroque style” winemaker here may incorporate grandeur or drama combining two or more varietals. Perhaps even adding Mega Purple or other ingredients (egg whites, milk products, fish bladders, bovine pancreas, water, cultured yeasts, acidification, powered tannins, oak chips, etc.) to extreme measures or simply always making a “manufactured wine” for the consumers altering what nature has provided in the natural state of the varietal.
This represents a return to nature, organic in nature, green and bio friendly. This too was a reaction to the Industrial Revolution and highlighted emotion and individualism. It also held tightly and glorified all the past and nature. Moods and feelings depict and can be seen in the art. Subjects of romanticism were religion, revolution and landscapes. Artists in this group include William Black, Thomas Jones, Eugene Delacroix, Francisco Goya and many others.
The winemaker here may return to the tried and true processes like hand harvesting and biological/environmental friendly vineyards. Many winemakers and wineries are getting certified green/organic and even going solar/turbine to be off the grid. The bottom line here is all of this producing a “better wine” or mirroring social norms to sell more wine or being better stewards of the land?
So with the basic outline of various schools or disciplines of the art world, do you see the concepts/ideals that a winemaker or winery emulate? While not wanting to “pigeonhole” anyone in particular, perhaps a winemaker cross pollenates various artistic disciplines.
While these concepts and ideas/ideals between winemakers and artists are not mutually isolated or strictly adhered to, it provides a perspective as to the presuppositions which may direct a winemaker either consciously or subconsciously in his/her winemaking direction and abilities. Perhaps a blending of many of these disciplines come into play reflecting both societal norms as well as individual creativity and thought.
Two of my favorite quotes on art are:
“Art is not what you see, but what you make others see”- Edgar Degas French Impressionist, 1834-1917. The winemakers’ corollary is “Wine is not what you see, but what you make others taste”.
“A picture is a poem without words” – Horace 65 BC to 8 BC. The winemakers’ corollary is “a bottle is simply a bottle with liquid, but a winemaker makes it come to life and sing as wine”.
Perhaps a bottle of wine is for a remembrance of a specific time with energy and creativity sprinkled by the winemaker.
Examining the cork is always the first task when opening a bottle of wine. What you notice with this bottle is how perfect the cork preserved this exquisite wine! A high quality cork allows approximately 1 milligram of oxygen to enter the bottle each year. Why is this important? Air allows the sulfites to be removed that are added in the bottling process to keep the wine fresh and not have harming effects from oxidation. The wine being fourteen years old, it was bottled for approximately eleven years in the cellar. The corollary is that a good cork can keep a good wine good, but a bad cork can spoil any wine.
Another facet of a bad cork is called “cork taint” which is a specific compound called Tricholoroanisole (TCA) that makes a wine taste and smell horrible. It is often compared to the fragrance of wet dog or sweaty gym socks. This is a whole other topic for another story.
In sharp contrast, I recently opened up this wine and you can see the trail of wine on the cork exiting the top of the bottle! The wine had turned bad and this had only been bottled a relatively short time of two to three years. Cork quality makes a difference! This vintner was aware of a “bottling glitch” on the line and thought they had caught all of them. He readily provided a new bottle.
I never have experienced a “bad cork” or any leakage from an O’Shaughnessy wine over fifteen years. O’Shaughnessy is one of my all-time top 30 wines!!! Two nights ago opened a 2007 O’Shaughnessy Cabernet Sauvignon Mount Veeder from the cellar to accompany dinner. The 2007 O’Shaughnessy Cabernet Sauvignon is from the west side of the Napa Valley, Mount Veeder. On the eyes, a dark ruby coloring with medium viscosity. On the nose, a woody but sweet briar, with red fruits waffling into the nose. On the palate, extremely concentrated fruits, licorice and black cherry exploded in the mouth. The finish had some strong tannins, but without any “edginess” which provided for a long velvety crescendo. Currently release price is $140/bottle and is typically on allocation.
For more information on corks, see a previous story at:
“One Acre, One Guy, One Wine” slogan is the quintessential meaning behind their wines and success. It started in 2002 with Dave Becker, who founded the One Acre label with just one acre of Cabernet Sauvignon planted at his family home in the Oak Knoll region of the Napa Valley. The success of One Acre led to the launch of Acre Wines, a portfolio of classic wines from sustainably farmed, family-owned estate vineyards in Napa Valley.
Industry veterans, Mike and Talley Henry purchased the winery in 2017. Together with well-known consulting winemaker Richard Bruno, they continue to carry on the One Acre and Acre Wines legacy that Dave created nearly two decades ago. Today, the One Acre portfolio includes an Oak Knoll Cabernet sourced from Dave’s original one acre vineyard, and a Yountville Cabernet Sauvignon, planted on one acre with identical clones, varietal, spacing and row orientation as the Oak Knoll Cabernet to be able to understand and appreciate the differences of “terroir”. The highly acclaimed Acre portfolio includes a Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Zinfandel and Sauvignon Blanc sourced from family-owned vineyards within the stellar AVA’s of Oakville, Yountville, Calistoga, and Stags Leap.
The 2017 Acre Zinfandel was a deep purple and ruby red coloring on the eyes. The aromas of red and black fruit engulfed the olfactory senses. On the palate, one juicy Zinfandel opened up with raspberry, blackberry and most pronounced blueberry tastes. Secondary notes of vanilla and cinnamon were present. This was no Amador “fruit bomb” Zinfandel, but rather a well-balanced fruit wine with restrained tannins and acidity providing a “mouthful experience”. The finish was “juicy and long lasting” with a tinge of earthiness and herbal qualities which made for such an enjoyable wine. The grapes came from two separate vineyards and is 90% Zinfandel with 10% Syrah grapes. The wine was aged 15 months using both American and European barrels, with 70% being new. The wine alcohol percentage is 14.9%. It also won Best in Class for Zinfandel at the American Fine Wine Competition in 2020 (right before the shutdown) with 94 points the winery website shows this selling for $29.
The Food and Wine Pairing
I wrote an article five or six months ago mentioning that Acre Zinfandel would provide some great food pairings and I would be trying many in the near future. So two nights ago a fantastically prepared Andouille Cajun Rice Skillet dish was chosen to pair with the wine. This was a “warm temperature flavor” dish with spiciness and far reaching textual appeal in the mouth. The recipe called for Andouille Cajun sausage, yellow onion, red & yellow bell peppers, minced garlic, Tony Chachere’s Original Creole Seasoning, kosher salt, tomato paste, fresh sliced Roma tomatoes, crushed red peppers and brown rice. The counterbalance of the dark fruit of the Acre Zinfandel rose to the occasion to provide a lovely experience. I usually don’t comment on wine bottle labels, but this bottle is as beautiful as the wine!
Saw a beautiful picture of shrimp Pad Thai that Janette Marie Klevan posted the other day and it caught my eye. That was the impetus for the meal last night. Decided to grab a bottle of 2019 Wood Family Vineyards from the cellar to accompany the meal.
On the eyes a deep golden color and medium heavy viscosity. On the nose green apple, toasted almonds and soft lemon fragrance. This wine, different from her iconic past vintages with “crackerjack flavors”, added a citrus note. The finish was long and with complex layers of intrigue. This Chardonnay has many of the familiar characteristics of previous years. The wine has lingering tropical fruits, with peach and pear on the palate. In a recent conversation, Rhonda stated she blended her Chardonnay from both “tightly grained barrels and loosely grained barrels” into the final production wine. For the 2019 Chardonnay, she incorporated a higher mix of new French oak barrels, which imparted a new twist on an already exquisite wine. A little bit less “buttery” but the same big mouthful feel/texture and imparting some mild “Sauvignon Blanc type” lemon citrus for enjoyment. The previous three years this wine made “The Best of the Year” on my annual report. It will again make it for 2021!
Thai, Pad Thai or Phad Thai, is commonly served as a street food and at restaurants in Thailand. Tonight’s dish was a shrimp Phad Thai on the lighter side with flat rice noodles, egg, garlic, tofu, bean sprouts, Chinese chives and crushed peanuts. Seasoning include fish sauce, sugar, water rice vinegar and chili powder Served with lime wedges to be drizzled over the meal with dried chili peppers. Served with a fresh side salad. While the “safe choice” of wine could have been a Riesling, the 2019 Wood Family Vineyards Chardonnay proved to work wonderfully with the food. Truly the sum of the two (food and wine) brought it to a new dimension. A winning combination for sure!
I have been a fan of Keenan wines for over twenty years. Keenan winery is located on Spring Mountain which is one of the unique areas for Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot wines. Michael Keenan’s 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley is grown primarily from grapes on the Spring Mountain estate at 1700 foot elevation. The balance of fruit is from Pope Valley, to the east of Napa Valley.
One of the hallmarks of Keenan wines is his year to year consistency. This is due in part to the viticulture of the estate and the artistry of wine maker Nils Venge. I have enjoyed every wine he has made or acted as the consulting winemaker! The 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon was fermented for ten to fourteen days and presents a beautifully deep robust color. The wine was aged for twenty months, with thirty-three percent being new French and American oak.
The wine offered on the eyes an intensely deep color on the eyes and medium heavy viscosity. On the nose, both beautiful aromatics and blend of flowers and old world rustic dust/bramble. Additionally, raspberry provide sufficient fruit to entice one to take the first sip. In the mouth, the layers of complexity from both the estate and Pope Valley intermix to provide a mouthful flavor and mid lasting finish, with structure and defined but rounded tannins. It is currently still available at the winery for $84.
This story originally published in 2019 and it still rang true last evening. 2018 While sitting on patio enjoying the unusually clear skies (from all the raging California fires), pulled from the cellar a 2018 Tenbrink Chardonnay from Suisun Valley. When I first tasted this wine, I immediately rated it as a Best of Year wine on the nose alone without even tasting it. I can’t recall giving a “score” to any wine before and then only on the nose! As I sipped the wine 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! This evening opening it, the wine still continues to surpass my high expectations set at the winery two years ago! 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:
Suisun Valley is definitely on my list to visit shortly to get a better understanding of this often overlooked and underappreciated wine region!
Previously I have written about the Hindsight Winery in Calistoga and their excellent red wines, especially their Cabernet Sauvignon’s. About six months ago their long time winemaker, Jac Cole retired. Now some excellent news—they hired Michael Weis, who was the head winemaker at Groth. He is well known for making spectacular wines and I believe he received 100 points from Wine Spectator for one of his Sauvignon Blanc vintages. Additional reading on the winery and ownership can be found at:
The Hindsight 2020 Sauvignon Blanc
Their inaugural Sauvignon Blanc release under Michael Weis was handcrafted with an artisan touch. First on the eyes it is a golden straw color and medium viscosity. On the nose, floral aromas waft into the senses, along with green apple which is most prominent. On the palate, citrus accents of lime and lemon come into play and are kept in check with flavor but not overpowering. The finish provides a mouthful feeling of a much heavier wine rather than a “light Sauvignon Blanc”. This is most likely due to the addition of nine percent Viognier. This also helps lower the acidity. This wine goes for only $25.99!
The Food and Wine Pairing
This evening meal was fresh halibut picked up by my wife. (Editor’s note: my wife detests fish and she was kind enough to bring this back in an ice chest for me to cook—and very much appreciated!). When I returned home she mentioned “the purchase” in the refrigerator. I immediately thought of the 2020 Hindsight Sauvignon Blanc. Prepared as a Pacific Islander theme, cooked in a sauce of Chardonnay wine, a dab of butter, wasabi, ginger, mango slices, pineapple slices, a few purple onion slices, pineapple juice and salt & pepper. The Halibut was served over rice pilaf and topped with diced mango, pineapple and a modicum of purple onion. This dish sang an operetta in the mouth with flavors of enjoyment with this Hindsight Sauvignon Blanc. A wonderful food pairing this evening!