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Pulled this out of the cellar two days ago after drinking a “weaker Cabernet Sauvignon wine” and did this hit the spot! The grapes came mostly from Spring Mountain AVA in the western hills of Napa Valley and a smaller quantity from Pope Valley. This win was rated 93 points by Robert Parker and was a true winner.
On the eyes, a deep ruby red coloring and medium heavy viscosity. On the nose dark fruits and exotic spices entice you take that first sip. Once in the mouth swirling dark fruits (blackberry and raspberry) intermix with vanilla infused pipe tobacco and licorice to provide a mouth filling plush wine on the palate. The finish is long with a plum essence, dustiness and herbal qualities. 4,175 cases were produced. A very good bargain compared to many others with this much to offer as I think at the time I paid about $59.
This was an absolute delight to finish off the evening! I have previously listed this vintage in my Best Wines Tasted during the year.
One thing to notice the cork! For a wine that has been laying down for approximately 10 years, the cork was perfectly matched for the bottle with hardly a trace of wine “inching up” the cork.
Pulled this six nights ago just to have as a standalone wine. While all the Napa Valley mountain fruit (Mt Veeder, Spring Mountain, Diamond Mountain and Howell Mountain) are amongst my favorite Cabernet Sauvignon’s this one was delicious but just lacked that final punch for me. Duckhorn Vineyards has historically made exceptional wines, specifically Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlots (Three Palms Vineyard). This had some great qualities of dark crimson coloring on the eyes and medium heavy viscosity in the glass. On the nose, the aromas of dark fruit, especially blackberries, with a sweet vanilla wafted into the senses. On the mouth licorice, leather and black tea filled the palate. All producing a medium and extremely smooth silky finish. So thus far all the makings of a “great wine from Howell Mountain”. This was an extremely smooth wine for a Howell Mountain vintage. Where it fell a bit short was in the structure and tannins providing a more typical Howell Mountain wine. It was like a stoic comedian, as you keep waiting for the knockout punch line, but it never happened. In other words it was just too reserved and mild. This wine consisted of 88% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Merlot and 2% Petit Verdot. It was barrel aged 18 months in 100% French oak, with 85% being new. Then it spent another 6 months in 100% neutral barrels. While typically less expensive than some of the premium Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon’s at $125 it was still a good wine but fell short of a great wine which I was expecting. It was in the cellar almost 6 years.
Their name Dracaena (pronounced druh-see-nuh) is a longer story, but suffice it to say, it started off as a memory of their beloved Weimaraner, which they had named Draco. You can read the complete story on their website. Draco’s hand drawn image appears on all their bottles.
Michael and Lori Budd are the owners who “fell in love with Cabernet Franc”. While today still working full time jobs, they are planning their future in the wine business down the road. They purchased property in Arroyo Grande, near Pismo Beach, and use a custom crush house to produce their wine. Their grapes come from The Plummer Vineyard in Paso Robles. Mike and Lori’s backgrounds are primarily in Food Science and they originally met back on the East Coast while working. Lori who has since continued her education as a WSET II with distinction, is a regular blogger, holds various certifications on wine and is an award winning writer and podcaster on a variety of wine subjects. Both Michael and Lori are co-founders of International Cabernet Franc Day, December 4th. Today besides producing their Reserve Cabernet Franc, they produce a Rosé (Grenache & Tempranillo) and just released their 2020 Chenin Blanc. Their wines have won a tremendous number of awards including the 2017 Reserve Cabernet Franc receiving a Double Gold Medal at the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition.
See a previous written story on Dracaena Wines at: https://californiawinesandwineries.com/2020/01/14/dracaena-wines-a-david-verses-goliath-story/
2020 Dracaena Wines Chenin Blanc
The grapes come from the Wilson Vineyards, located in Clarksburg AVA (just north of Lodi/Acampo). The soil conditions of the delta are similar to Loire Valley in France where some of the best Chenin Blancs are produced. Dracaena uses a blend of stainless steel and neutral oak barrels in their production.
This wine on the eyes is a very pale straw color and medium viscosity. On the nose, green apple and a light lemon citrus waft into the senses. On the palate, besides the lemon, honeydew and peach embrace your continuing sips. This lip smacking wine from the acidity also provided a soft minerality finish. This is a very dry Chenin Blanc with high acidity and great with “delicate foods”. This was paired with a lemon broccoli chicken and a fresh garden salad with chunky Blue cheese dressing. The price on their website shows $26.00/per bottle.
At the National Cabernet Franc Wine Competition held December 2nd, 2020, 12 Corners Vineyards earned a Silver Medal Award from the Professional Judges. This was 12 Corners Vineyards first year entering the wine competition. You can read more about the event at:
12 Corners Vineyards was started with a group of friends who grew up in Michigan and understood the uniqueness of a piece of property just four miles off Michigan’s Gold Coast. They named it appropriately for the neighborhood of Twelve Corners near the vineyard. The winery is a 115 parcel planted with various grapes including Riesling, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Chardonnay and Traminette.
Western Michigan has always produced excellent and productive fruit farms for the Midwest. Lake Michigan’s “lake effect” blankets the vineyards with snow and keeps it slightly warmer. The local multi-soil characteristics allow for various grapes to be planted.
Michigan wines continue to surprise me with quality and moderate pricing. This 2018 12 Corners Cabernet Franc on the eyes was a ruby red color and with medium viscosity. On the nose and palate both fresh raspberries and blackberries come to the party immediately with layers of spices as secondary flavors. . On the finish soft and creamy vanilla provided an enjoyable conclusion along with an “earthiness quality”. The wine was aged 13 months in oak. The typical pyrazines were faint and perhaps why this wine did not win a gold medal from the judges. Other than that, this was a truly wonderful sipping wine with or without food. This wine goes for $24.99 and is a “steal” for those liking Cabernet Franc.
Fairly recent wine industry friends Andy and Kristy Harris kept posting about Bella Grace wines. After some good hearty jousting with Andy, he invited me to join him for a tasting last Sunday. Kristy and my wife, Susan joined for an enjoyable two hours of tasting wines both on and off the “line up”. Bella Grace has a tasting room in Sutter Creek and the vineyards and caves with another tasting area in Plymouth. By the way, the winery is named in honor of both their grandmothers, Bella and Grace.
The winery was started in 2006 with the husband and wife team of Charlie and Michael Havill purchasing some 50 acres in Amador County. With just 20 acres planted in vines they began cultivating Primitivo, Zinfandel, Grenache, Vermentino, Grenache Blanc, Syrah, Petite Sirah and Mourvedre without the use of pesticides or inorganic materials. They have beautiful caves and award winning wines. While we were tasting Charlie came by and spoke about his passion with Primitivo and his award winning Vermentino from the recent San Francisco Wine Competition.
The Notable Wines Tasted Sunday
We only tasted a few of the wines Sunday as their list of wines is extensive with eight white/sparkling wines offered and eighteen red wines highlighted by varietal and year. In addition they offer California grown olive oil and Balsamic vinegar imported from Italy. The two standout wines tasted were the 2017 Primitivo Estate Grown and the Reserve Chardonnay.
The Primitivo gave off a light purplish coloring and was medium viscosity. The aromatics on the nose were powerful and once on the palate, a combination of blackberries and a hint of pepper provided both a sweet and mouth filling wine along with a subtle tartness of spice. The finish was enduring and enjoyable. This retailed for $35.
The next wine being highlighted was their 2018 Reserve Chardonnay. This was the wine which Andy had many posts on and I wanted to taste first hand. Sure enough Andy was spot on for his high praise of this wine. First a light golden color on the eyes and medium viscosity was tantalizing. I was pleasantly shocked that the grapes came from the Los Carneros region of Sonoma County AVA. On the nose, it was a combination of Old World meets New World Chardonnay, you had the lemony flavoring and brightness combined with the crispiness of the Old World. Yet while in the palate honey and just a slight soft and sweet butter appeared showing its New World traits. Due to the fires in California this Chardonnay spent 15 months in 30% new French oak barrels, 50% in one year French barrels and 20% in stainless steel. This produced a crème brûlée and lovely vanilla notes in the mouth and finish. 324 cases were produced and it sells for $36 a bottle. This was worthy find and I purchased a bottle for further analysis.
Charlie and I spoke about getting together once he gets back in town. Looking forward to getting more insights into the wines of Bella Grace. Thank you Andy and Kristy for the recommendation!
For dinner last evening with friends we initially chose Rudy Zuidema’s 2017 Grenache. Four years in a row Rudy continues to make an excellent and intriguing Grenache. His 2017 Grenache combines delicate finesse with the subtle power of Grenache. Rudy describes it as having aromas of cut violets and earthiness. The strawberry and black cherry flavors burst out immediately on the nose. Once on the palate, soft herbal notes are detectable along with ripe plums and minerality. The finish continues to provide the dustiness, along with an old world rustic style in this spicy and drinkable wine. Rudy’s Clone 515 Grenache from Chateauneuf du Pape heritage continues to produce a delightful summer and fall wine. The wine is 100% Grenache and boasts a 15.2% alcohol. Only 78 cases were produced and this will go quickly. It sells for $42 a bottle.
More on Rudy can be found at: https://californiawinesandwineries.com/2019/09/23/rudy-zuidema-a-look-at-the-extraordinary-winemaker-golfer-husband-father/ .
The Food and Wine Pairing
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. A fresh garden salad with chunky Blue cheese dressing on the side and garlic shrimp with Portuguese peppers were also served. The Grenache having its own soft spiciness still possessed enough calming influence of the cherries, plums and strawberries to temper the meal.
Additionally selected other wines were offered and while all three have made my Best Wines of Year previously (and one costing more than $200), they were booked ended with the delicious Zuidema 2017 Grenache.
We were simply driving about Amador County Wine Country killing some time before an appointment and looked up the hill and saw a beautiful structure, not seen before. Drove up the steep incline to find Iron Hub Winery and Vineyards. Never heard of it, but noticed some old vines along the road while ascending up to the winery building sitting on top the hill with all glass windows viewing eastward towards the Sierra’s.
Walked in and was accommodated for a tasting table on the patio. Our hostess began with the fact that it was founded by Tom Jones (and family) from Lava Cap Winery fame in the Apple Hill area near Placerville. Tom completed his Master Degree in Viticulture & Enology from UC Davis, and for almost 30 years developed award-winning wines. His new endeavor in 2014 was purchasing a 33 acre property that had been known as Amador Foothill Winery, thus the older vines. Having control of the grapes from vineyard to bottle was key in his quest for quality control.
The name came about from Tom’s mountain sojourns in the area. On an adventure he discovered an antique, hand-forged wagon wheel hub in a remote area. So thus this small winery on Steiner Road drew a parallel with his goal of making small lot artisan wines similar to the craftsmanship of the found “iron hub”. The beautiful new tasting room was opened in December 2017.
While not having a tremendous amount of time, tasting was limited to two wines. The first wine was a Chardonnay which typically does not do well in the warmer climate of Amador County, so I was intrigued and anxious to taste it. It was explained that the vineyard for this wine is in Amador County but located at a much higher elevation called Spanish Creek vineyard in the Sierras. The cooler climate is ideal for producing exquisite Chardonnay grapes.
The small lot 2018 Chardonnay on the eyes was a golden straw color with medium viscosity. The first aromas on the nose, was like a lightning strike! Fruits of apple, apricot and pear shouted out their presence in the glass. On the first sip a creamy textual wine with previous mentioned fruits came together like a well-orchestrated symphony. Added to the mix was vanilla which was just slightly present on nose and became infused in the glass with gentle oak overtones. The finish was long, poised and glamorous like a royal family event. This was unexpected and so very pleasing! 285 cases were produced and spent 13 months in the barrel. It sells for $34 a bottle. This wine just made my list of Best Wines Tasted in 2021!
Before getting into the second wine we were presented with their Artisan Deli menu if we wished for some food or appetizer. This list was ideal for the wine(s) and the quality and prices were so affordable. The two appetizers chosen were Genoa Salami (Garlic & Black Pepper) and a natural Gouda cheese smoked with apple and hardwood.
We then tasted their 2017 Esola Zinfandel. First on the eyes a lighter red than anticipated but on the nose, blackberry and fresh juicy plums roared out of glass like a magical transformation. On the palate, the fruits along with the mild coffee beans and flavorful toffee shouted out while in the mouth as well as on the finish. It was aged in French oak, 30% being new, for 24 months. A modicum of 6% Barbera and 2% Mourvèdre were added to the mix of 125 year old Zinfandel vineyard grapes. This sells for $39.
Two wines that I would have enjoyed tasting they were unfortunately sold out: The 2017 Grenache and 2016 Petite Sirah. I can only imagine how good these two wines must be!!
Our informal “Wine & Dine” group made reservations last Friday for dinner at Vine18. It had been closed for a week while a new Chef and new Food & Beverage Manager were hired. We really had no idea how “opening night” would turn out. As it came to pass, the new chef did an amazing job with the dishes that were served.
Everyone brought a wine to share, but we really had not pre-selected from the menu as we were waiting to see the food brought out to others to make a final decision. So the food and wine pairing were a bit secondary this evening. Just before we order to our amazement and enjoyment was the excellent bread service with olive oil and butter. This had disappeared a few months ago, and we as a group were so appreciative of having this reinstated.
First up for myself was an appetizer of shrimp tempura with a sweet chili and ponzu dipping sauce. The texture and presentation while not the quantity of previous presentations, was unique with it “breaded look” and taste was exceptional.
Next up was the entrée called Salmon en Papillote, salmon wrapped in parchment, cooked in white wine, Rosemary, shallots, thyme, lemons and confit garlic served over saffron rice and seasonal vegetables. One of the “old-timers” of our group who has been living up here for sixteen years claimed it was the best meal he had ever eaten at the club. While I have had many meals at the club with the Wine Society, that were elegant, this for a stable on the new menu was a true winner. The salmon was tender, moist and the flavors were light, delicate and heavenly.
Others that evening raved about two other dishes that were served. First was the Basa stuffed crab filet, a seared 6 ounce Basa filet topped with crab stuffing, champagne béarnaise served with saffron rice and seasonal vegetables. The second dish which several individuals chose was the special this evening of grilled Cajun chicken with penne pasta with caramelized onions, Cajun cream sauce, mixed with jack cheese and served with garlic toast.
We had an assortment of wine to accompany the meal including 2013 Leal Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon (Hollister), 2018 Allegorie Tempranillo (Murphys), 2018 Dracaena Wines Cabernet Franc Reserve (Paso Robles), 2016 Toulouse Zinfandel (Redwood Valley), 2018 Terra d’ Oro Zinfandel (Amador County), 2016 Frog’s Tooth Cabernet Franc, two homemade wines (old vine Zin and a blend) and a few others not shown.
Overall our impressions of the new chef were absolutely solid and new and different weekly special offerings will send this over the top to be a destination restaurant!
Pulled this out of the cellar last night for a special friend. It had been laying down for over 8 years. This is a blend of 40% of Cabernet Franc, 38% of Cabernet Sauvignon and 22% of Merlot. Combining these three varietals allowed renown winemaker Phillipe Melka to bring forth some of the best qualities and depth of character for these Alexander Valley (California) grapes.
An interesting story on how the owner Fahri Diner came to own this remarkable vineyard. Recounting the story told to me by him eight years ago, he was undecided on purchasing the property. Located on the property was an irrigation pond. Perplexed, he told his wife, if he could skip a stone from one side to the other, he would buy the property. So not only the decision to move forward with the vineyard and winery, but the name seemed appropriate. He then convinced Phillipe Melka to be the winemaker and it was his sole winemaking venture in Alexander Valley at the time.
Faultline Vineyard is their interpretation of a Right-Bank Bordeaux blend. All three varietals come together with their own views but mesh like a well conducted symphony. On the nose soft fragrances of blueberries, dark fruit, cinnamon, and Cuban cigars. On the palate, the berries (Blue & Black) and herbal qualities meshed seamlessly to provide a mellow taste. The Merlot inserted a juicy plum into the mix. No hard edges considering the two Cabernets in the same bottle. It was smooth and tannins were sufficiently tamed to provide a balanced and enjoyable wine. The finish provided hints of chocolate and roasted light coffee. An exquisite wine for special occasions and food pairings. The current vintages goes for $165.
An absolutely marvelous bottle of wine and it will make my Best Wines Tasted in 2021 list for sure!
Had a couple from our local Wine Society over last evening. It was a typical warm evening and thought a nice rosé would be appropriate. Had recently done a story on 2020 Wood Family Rosé called the Pearl produced from Grenache grapes. (Read the story at: https://californiawinesandwineries.com/2016/02/10/wood-family-vineyards-2/ ).
As I was pulling this out of the cellar, thought about a wonderful Grenache that has made my “Best of the Year” wines for the last two years. Grabbed a bottle of 2016 Zuidema Grenache to see similarities in the grape essential characteristics and profile while being produced entirely different.
Review of Wood Family Vineyards Rosé Pearl
Let me begin by saying that the color was extremely eye catching with its uniqueness. It is somewhere between salmon and copper color with light viscosity. On the nose, a strong floral characteristic came forth but we could not initially determine a specific flower. Rhonda in her description calls it a “delicate rosé”. In the mouth is where this wine shone brightly with spices and stone fruit. What stood out was the dryness of the wine, with no sweetness, and tastes of a refined new world Grenache. The finish revealed a spiced apple flavor, minerality and then just a modicum of sweetness.
The acidity was almost not present, but an underlying structure was apparent! Rhonda purposed to pick the grapes in the cool night, then go directly to a gentle press with whole clusters. The wine is allowed to ferment slowly in a cool temperature in stainless steel tanks.
Review of Zuidema Grenache
This is his third release of Grenache which combines delicate finesse with the subtle power of Grenache. Rudy describes it as “the aromas are made up of white pepper, bright rhubarb, strawberry and blood orange peel. The bright acidity in the mid palate bursts with mixed berries, holiday spice and layers of anise and tarragon”. Even the finish gives a hint of the Old World with it being rustic and not perfectly polished. The color being ruby to brick red, with cranberry fruit, having a spicy oak flavoring, yet showing the minerality of dry farming. Minerality and a rustic flare still persists in the wine, but the 2016 is aromatic with black cherry and as Rudy states “notes of cocoa and fig newton”. Add to this plum and soft tannins it surrounds the spicy edginess of the wine. Rudy’s Clone 515 Grenache from Chateauneuf du Pape heritage continues to produce a delightful summer and fall wine. (More on Rudy can be found at: https://californiawinesandwineries.com/2019/09/23/rudy-zuidema-a-look-at-the-extraordinary-winemaker-golfer-husband-father/ )
Both wines were extremely enjoyable and spot on for a warm summer evening.