Category Archives: California Dreamin’

Everything you ever want to know about California wines. From cabernet and cabernet blends to great estates and of course your favorite California cult wines.

Superb Cab From Todd Again! Pure & Powerful 2010 Conn Valley, 93-96WA!

Only in America could a first growth like the fabulous Anderson’s Conn Valley Vineyards be on a first name basis with its devotees: it’s plain Todd to any of you who have met the long tall Anderson on his trips here. I’m especially partial to his rock smarts; Todd was a geologist before he started grapes near Howell Mountain 30 years back. Friendly giant of a guy. Same goes for his Bordeaux reds: Big, powerful, and worth taking time to get to know. The 2010 estate reserve cabernet is another exceptional wine of great purity with all those adult flavors of dark fruits, anise and tobacco. Give it five years and the black magic in this bottle will thrill. Lay down a couple for a long-term relationship that will last decades.

Buy 2010 Conn Valley Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve, Napa2010 Conn Valley Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve
…Layers of blue and black fruit, smoke, tobacco and licorice are woven together beautifully. …creamy, layered finish laced with expressive blue and black fruits rounds things out in style….
93-96 points, R. Parker’s Wine Advocate

Montrachet by the Sea: Pure Coastal Chard is 92 Points Cool

Sonoma Coast is a new Burgundy in America for me. Cool breeze and Pacific fog makes clear, precise chardonnay I don’t often find in California. These are not creamy pop wines, but structured and built for food, and in summer that means seafood. I have great luck in this young appellation especially from smart new growers like Flowers and Failla who follow European standards. Helps that Flowers got his start as a nurseryman and that Failla has roots in Turley; they both care about grapes and winemaking that puts wine before winemaking. Very elegant chardonnay; wish there were more. So when I get chards like these I want a lobster roast or scallops and shrimp, a big slab of white fish grilled with lime and just a touch of butter. Put some fruit on the grill too. The Flowers is more delicate and subtle, full of apples and pears, while Failla is richer and peachy. Take your pick, or order both, and have a special dinner with your new friends from California.

Buy 2011 Failla Chardonnay, Sonoma Coast

Buy 2010 Flowers Chardonnay, Sonoma Coast

 

2010 Flowers Chardonnay
…Apricots, peaches, lemon, mint and savory herbs wrap around the textured, broad-shouldered finish. A vivid, striking wine, the 2010 is loaded with personality….
92 points, R. Parker’s Wine Advocate

2011 Failla Chardonnay
Pure, clean scents of ripe apple, melon, pear and subtle citrus form the core of this bright, elegant, delicate version. Subtle oak comes through on the finish….
92 points, Wine Spectator

Corton Charlemagne in California: Ramey’s Platt Vineyard Chard, 95WA

Buy 2010 Ramey Chardonnay Platt Vineyard, Sonoma CoastFew New World vintners make chardonnay to age 10 years, or worth 95 points. David Ramey (photoed below) does because he’s a Burgundian at heart with an American eye for innovation and precision in terroir. Of his three vineyard-designated chards, the Platt is the one closest to the Cote d’Or for me – and Wine Advocate, too. Best chard in America from 2010 at this price. It’s from Ramey’s coolest site in the Sonoma Coast just a few miles from the Pacific, and the grapes age sur lie for almost two years. So the wine has grand cru breadth, mineral drive and tart salty whiffs of citrus and the sea. And like fine white Burgundy, a keeper. If you know David’s fab cabs and syrahs, you’ve got to taste his brilliance with chardonnay. You’ll want several to cellar. Thank me later.

David Ramey, proprietor of Ramey Vineyards in California.
David Ramey, proprietor of Ramey Vineyards in California.

2010 Ramey Chardonnay Platt Vineyard
The 2010 Chardonnay Platt Vineyard stands out in this range. A big, broad-shouldered wine, the Platt is actually reminiscent of a red wine in its structure. Lemon, oyster shells, salt and all sorts of citrus notes are woven throughout in this intense, saline finish. Think of the Platt as a California version of Corton-Charlemagne. Anticipated maturity: 2014-2020. 95 points, R. Parker’s Wine Advocate

Todd Terrific: Conn Valley Vineyards Shines in 2010 (93-96WA)

Todd Anderson, owner of Anderson’s Conn Valley Vineyards.
Todd Anderson, owner of Anderson’s Conn Valley Vineyards.

Only in America could a first growth like the fabulous Anderson’s Conn Valley Vineyards be on a first name basis with its devotees: it’s plain Todd to any of you who have met the long tall Anderson on his trips here. I’m especially partial to his rock smarts; Todd was a geologist before he started grapes near Howell Mountain 30 years back. Friendly giant of a guy. Same goes for his Bordeaux reds: Big, powerful, and worth taking time to get to know. The 2010 estate reserve cabernet is another exceptional wine, of great purity with all those adult flavors of dark fruits, anise and tobacco. Give it five years and the black magic in this bottle will thrill. Lay down a couple for a long-term relationship that will last decades.

Buy 2010 Conn Valley Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve, Napa

 

2010 Conn Valley Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve
…serious power and depth. Layers of blue and black fruit, smoke, tobacco and licorice are woven together beautifully. Vivid yet rich and resonant… creamy, layered finish laced with expressive blue and black fruits…
93-96 points, R. Parker’s Wine Advocate

 

Joel’s Best: ’10 Ravenswood Teldeschi, 96 Points Again!

Joel Peterson, Owner of Ravenswood Winery
Joel Peterson, Owner of Ravenswood Winery

You know zin and you know Joel Peterson. And the “godfather of zinfandel” knows that the old Teldeschi planting is one of the best vineyards there is for the black grape the early immigrants loved. It was one of the first places he found in his campaign to revive Califonia’s heritage wine years ago. He’s found a dozen ancient zin sites all over the state, but Teldeschi still rules in my book. In 2010 like so many years before, it makes a righteously pure zin with a punch of petite sirah. Purple and almost blue black, it’s got blackberries, brambles, anise, spice, fire and smoke all in a sophisticated drink that you’ll want to keep.

2010 Ravenswood Zin Teldeschi
…full-bodied, noticeably tannic composition that is lifted by its deep and keenly focused blackberry fruit, and by the way it manages to exude power and inner strength yet is never the least bit overdone… 96 points, Connoisseurs’ Guide

Three-Alarm Beauty From Washington: Tamarack’s 2011 Firehouse Red

Columbia Valley grows rousing good reds and daring vintners like Ron Coleman. He makes beautiful, stylish single-vineyard cabs and merlots, yet it’s his mad, brilliant blends like Firehouse Red at everyday prices that stir my heart. Wine Spectator made the juicy 2009 a Top 100 pick and this 2011 matches it. Coleman can teach Bordeaux and the Rhone new tricks. Tamarack buys grapes from the best vineyards all over Columbia Valley for varietals and cuvees which are mixed with genius. For 2011 Firehouse he plucked the full Bordeaux Five plus carmenere and the Rhone’s syrah, grenache and counoise, plus a chunk of sangiovese and zin. This is no childish crowd-pleaser or a lucky pot of leftovers, but a careful first blend that winds up having it all. Big bites of cherries, plums, and blackberries, whiffs of flowers and fruit, chocolate and coffee, leather and smoke and licorice. It’s powered by grown-up mineral energy that can drive a hook-and-ladder all night. Jump on it.

 

 

 

2011 Tamarack Firehouse Red

This is on par with the 2008 Firehouse which was a Wine Spectator Top 100. A blend of several varietals, the 2011 sings. Rich, ripe, dense and long. Impressive.

Going Bam Bam for Bedrock!

Tasting these spectacular offerings from Ravenswood creator Joel Peterson’s über-talented son, Morgan, will give you a sense of his respect for California’s historic vineyards. It borders on a devoutness that is nearly evangelical. His is a quest not only to save our collective vineyard heritage, but to do so by crafting wines that are seductive, serious, approachable and sublime. According to Robert Parker, these aren’t simply good, they are “wines that deliver phenomenal quality for the money.” His “Heritage” labels are pretty much a classic, old-school California field blend of grapes (22 to be exact) that were planted ages ago, most predating Prohibition. Much like the U.S. it’s a tapestry yielding a distinctive whole with layers and layers of dark fruit, hints of herbs, and touches of silk. When Joel visited at the end of last year, he was shocked to see a bottle of 2010 Heirloom at the store and bought a bottle for us to try. The proud father gave his approval.

 

2011 Bedrock Pagani Ranch
Heritage Proprietary Red

…Black fruit, tar, smoke, licorice and asphalt burst from this deep, muscular, Zinfandel-based wine. Imposing and intense, the Pagani boasts stunning depth and richness for the year. This is a serious red…

 

2011 Bedrock Kick Ranch Syrah

…bursts from the glass with a rush of expressive dark fruit. Creamy and resonant… Savory herb and floral notes develop in the glass, but the Kick Ranch is really an immediate wine built on fruit….

 

 
2011 Bedrock Saitone Ranch
Zinfandel

…jumps from the glass with juicy dark cherries, violets and cloves. A rich, sumptuous wine, the Saitone Ranch boasts stunning depth and richness, but no excess weight at all….

 

2010 Bedrock Heirloom
Proprietary Red

…Dark black cherries, plums, graphite, mint, wild herbs and licorice are woven together in this gorgeous, finely sculpted wine. Layers of sweet, perfumed fruit develop in the glass, adding lift and freshness….

 

Carneros Pinot – Donum is World-Class!

Donum (meaning “gift of the land” in Latin) was created in 2001 when Buena Vista Winery was sold to Allied Domecq… but retained 120 acres of vines that had been meticulously replanted by Anne Moller-Racke, vineyard manager at Buena Vista for 15 years, for a special Pinot noir project she had been working on while at the winery. She took over the winemaking responsibilties and started touting the Carneros region as a premium site for Pinot Noir. The 2010 estate, comprised of the best of 4 different lots, is a tremendous effort considering the challenging vintage so only a limited supply of 589 cases were produced. Anne has been at the forefront of putting Carneros on the map as a serious Pinot Noir producing area and has she ever succeeded!

 

2010 Donum Estate Pinot Noir

…raspberry and black cherry flavors that are ripe and seductive, with spice, loam and sandalwood details. Notes of cassis, raspberry jam and red licorice crescendo on the long finish, with very refined tannins….

Peter Michael’s Big-Name Neighbor Scores Big!

Picking the best grapes from some of the 30 year old Cabernet vines in their Knights Valley vineyards, Beringer decided to release a “Reserve” bottling in 2008 to complement its regular KV release. The 2009, which was Wine Spectator’s #8 on the Top 100 of 2012, and according to senior writer James Laube “…the best Beringer Knights Valley wine I can recall and one of winemaker Laurie Hook’s best efforts,” is already starting to reach cult status. The 2010 takes it up a notch as both Wine Spectator and Robert Parker score it 94 points. Amazingly rich and elegant, it definitely approaches Peter Michael’s bottlings (the vineyards are right next door) at half the price. Only 5,000 cases were produced and the buzz surrounding this release has been overwhelming. Beringer continues to produce high quality wines at every price level and really shines on this new effort.

 

2010 Beringer Cabernet
Knight’s Valley Reserve

…Blue and black fruit, grilled herbs, tobacco, sage and rosemary are all layered into this relatively succulent, round Cabernet… Sweet floral notes along with a hint of tar and violets add complexity on the finish….

Best Syrahs In America – Reynvaan Reigns!

Matt Reynvaan’s trio of syrahs serve notice that this young producer has a knack for the variety: all three display their share of power and dense flavor, with plenty of savory attributes coaxed from the 17-acre, cobblestone-laced “In the Rocks Vineyard” at the base of the Blue Mountains known around Walla Walla for the soil’s similarity to Châteauneuf-du-Pape. The rocks absorb sun and radiate warmth to the vines through the cool nights. The Reynvaans have entrusted their entire operation to neighbor and Washington cult star Christophe Baron of Cayuse Vineyards. It is the only winery with which he consults because he has been given carte blanche to go for the best, and it shows in the Syrah-based wines’ vibrancy and unmistakable minerality. In less than 10 years, Reynvaan has already reached cult status. The winery is already sold out of its current vintage. No need to say anymore. It will be your only chance to grab these classics. World-class Syrah in Washington!

 

 
2010 Reynvaan In The Rocks

Polished, open-textured and compelling, with roasted beet, licorice, crushed rock and smoke accents surrounding a core of pulsing cherry and plum fruit, lingering intensely on the impeccably balanced finish….

 
2010 Reynvaan The Contender

Firm in texture, showing dense tobacco and brown sugar accents to the blackberry and licorice flavors, which linger against lightly crunchy tannins on the intense, deftly balanced finish….

 

 
2010 Reynvaan The Unnamed Syrah

Vibrant and crisp, with ripe currant and dark plum flavors washing over the crinkly tannins as the expressive finish takes hold. Hints of licorice and black olive lurk in the background….

 

Insignia Trifecta! 2008, 2009 & Presale 2010

Proudly wearing its own insignia since 1974, Joseph Phelps Insignia was the first proprietary Bordeaux blend wine produced in California. Nearly four decades later, the flagship wine is recognized as one of the world’s greatest wines. Since 2008, when Ashley Hepworth was promoted to winemaker after the retirement of Craig Williams, quality has not taken a step down but we see a more consistent blend. The trifecta of vintages share an average blend of 87% Cabernet, 10% Petit Verdot, 4% Merlot and remainder Malbec, verging towards the more savory, earthy “Bordeaux-esque” style of the first growths. These iconic wines are available at unbelievable prices for a short period and don’t forget to reserve your 2010 which should arrive in September. Insignia is truly a representative of great American wine that stands the test of time.

 

 
2008 Joseph Phelps Insignia

…a towering, statuesque wine bursting with blackberry jam, tar, spices, leather and licorice. It shows fabulous depth and richness backed up by serious, imposing tannins that suggest it has a long life….

 
2009 Joseph Phelps Insignia
…tannic wine that’s rich in blackberry jam, black currant, blueberry, raspberry, dark chocolate and spice flavors. …Just gorgeous now, and it should develop bottle complexity for at least the next 10 years.

 

 
2010 Joseph Phelps Insignia

…core of blue and black fruit, licorice, spices, smoke, and melted road tar as this stunning wine opens up in the glass. …Hints of menthol, violets and crushed rocks all flow through to the incisive, vibrant finish….

 

Life Beyond Beringer – Ed Sbragia Scores High!

Ed Sbragia, iconic winemaker for Beringer’s Private Reserve Chardonnays in the 80s and 90s, has always been a country boy from Sonoma. As he was producing world-class chardonnay in Napa, his heart’s always been in Dry Creek where he grew up, raised his own family and has his own label and winery. Family vineyards, too: Home Ranch is exactly that, where he grew up and where his father made wines; the cab grows at Doc Andolsen’s, the family doctor. And the chance to make wines with his son Adam was his dream. I like family stories, but the wines are the point. Pure Dry Creek, extremely fresh and juicy cabernet, remarkably elegant and sophisticated merlot and chardonnay that is full and rich. His latest release of Home Ranch Chardonnay and Merlot are tremendously outrageous values; the chard is expressive but not showy, the merlot is rustic, but elegant and spicy.

That’s a happy family right there. So salute them and we’ll let you in on one of Sonoma’s best small wineries.

 

2011 Sbragia Chardonnay
Home Ranch

…drop-dead gorgeous. Crushed rocks, butter. white orchard fruit and spices meld together in this harmonious, beautifully crafted Chardonnay… very 2011, which is to say focused and energetic…

 

2010 Sbragia Merlot
Home Ranch

An impressive wine. Ed Sbragia wrestles that famously briary Dry Creek rusticity to the ground, forcing it into refined elegance. With straightforward blackberry, cherry, mocha and cedar flavors…

 

 
2010 Sbragia Cabernet
Andolsen Vineyard

…utterly impeccable from start to finish. Firm mountain tannins… Iron, tobacco and licorice notes dominate, while the fruit takes a little longer to become evident. With time in the glass, the wine gets better and better…

 

 
2009 Sbragia Cabernet
Monte Rosso Vineyard

…hits the palate with juicy dark berries, grilled herbs, cedar and tobacco. There is lovely purity to the fruit backed up by pure, distinctive Monte Rosso tannins. A big, powerful finish rounds things out in style….

 

Big Bad Cabs – California’s First Growth Gems

During the course of the year, we get offered a lot of great wines but some in very limited quantities. Basically take what we can get. Many cult wines stopped offering us an allocation years ago but now we can get our hands on a few. So here are some of big bad California Cabs that really can be compared to Bordeaux’s classification of first growths. When I’ve had the rare chance to taste these in the past, they were memorable experiences that were never forgotten. But beware, they are very limited. So hurry up and treat yourself to one or two of these big bad gems. You will never forget.

 

2010 Caymus Cabernet
Special Selection

…plum and black cherry notes, with floral scents and spices, turning creamy and gaining a mocha-espresso-vanilla scent that’s enticing. Finishes with a smooth texture, fine-grained tannins…

 

2009 Araujo Estate Cabernet
Eisele Vineyard

…brings together gorgeous aromatics, juicy, expressive red fruit and silky tannins. …totally sexy Cabernet endowed with stunning depth and a rich, enveloping personality….

 

 
2009 Altagracia
by Araujo Estate

…rich, textured wine layered with perfumed red fruit. Ripe, silky tannins frame the long, exceptional finish. The 2009 impresses for its breadth and volume, all while maintaining a very classic profile….

 

 
2010 Paul Hobbs Cabernet
Beckstoffer Dr. Crane Vineyard

…rich, sumptuous and totally striking. …expressive aromatics, silky tannins and voluptuous fruit… Juicy dark cherries, roses, sweet spices and crushed rocks are layered into the expressive finish….

 

 
2009 Peter Michael Winery
“Les Pavots”

…absolutely fabulous. Mocha, espresso, spices, plums and blackberries are just some of the many notes that jump from the glass in this seamless, striking wine. …textural finesse and tremendous class….

 

 
2009 Schrader Cellars Cabernet
RBS Beckstoffer To Kalon Vineyard

…dark, plush and inviting, but with greater inner focus and minerality than some of the other wines here. Graphite, smoke, tar and licorice are some of the notes that wrap around the intense, juicy finish….

 

96pt Cote Rotie and 95pt Pomerol – Made in America!

Where is this country would you be apt to find a world class syrah and merlot? Napa or Russian River? You wouldn’t believe me if I told you… Santa Barbara and Columbia Valley. Well, Columbia Valley is not that much of a surprise as Merlot put Washington State on the map, but consumers still don’t realize that it’s probably the best this country has to offer for the varietal. But Syrah from Santa Barbara? Ojai has been churning out top notch syrah for 3 decades now, and the 2008 Roll Ranch is what American syrah is all about – rich and ripe, with the right balance of fruit and power. Even though Pedestal has only been around for 10 years, the pedigree behind it indicates world class. Pomerol vintner and international consultant Michel Rolland partners with Washington State wine visionary Allen Shoup to produce what in my humble opinion is the best Merlot made in America. This wine hit Wine Spectator’s Top 100 list last year at #11 and we were able to secure the last bit of the vintage. Both these wines are very limited but the rewards are immense.

 

2008 Ojai Syrah Roll Ranch Vineyard

…rich and remarkably composed Syrah of keen focus and real sophistication. It is at once substantial and exceptionally well-balanced with incisively fruity flavors and layers of interest even at this early age…

 

2009 Long Shadows Pedestal Merlot

This red is round, generous and expressive, offering plum, loganberry, cherry and clove flavors that pick up hints of loam and floral character as the finish tightens its focus. Impressive for its length and deft balance….