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.
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
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
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.
…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…
…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….
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!
…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….
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.
…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….
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.
…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.
…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….
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.
…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…
…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….
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.
…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….
…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….
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.
…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…
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….
When I first visited Iron Horse back in 1994, in search of tiny bubbles, they’d already been putting stars in wine for nearly 14 years. In fact, I fashioned a B-21 Cuvee while there, some of you might recall? Their sparklers gracing the White House table for the past five administrations, you could say Iron Horse has the Presidential seal of approval. Heck, it’s not too far of a stretch to say Iron Horse helped end the Cold War when “The Gipper” served Gorby American’s best fizz during their historic summit meetings! 1980 was the kickoff of Iron Horse bottling wines from their own vineyards in what became Green Valley AVA in the Russian River Valley. The coolness here shows in the precise, smacking and zingy wines that come from grapes struggling to ripen – perfect for sparkling wine. Racy, with lines of acidity stream to a super rich and smooth mousse with those toasty notes associated with bubbles from that spot in France. This is legendary wine that will add more than a little pomp to your circumstance, no matter the occasion. Because you want to sip some stars and fly away, make sure you’ve got either a bottle of 2007 Classic Vintage Brut or 2008 Wedding Cuvee, or both, cold-chilling in your fridge.
Leave it to former Indy driver Randy Lewis to give the juice to the cool 2010 vintage. After years in the cockpit, smoking tires with a deft hand on the wheel to keep it straight, he took to the back roads of Napa Valley’s revved up juice. He understands how to handle the power with Cali Cab too. Without energy and vibrancy, they’re just bruisers that crash the palate. Not so with Lewis. This is a big boy at 15.5%, but it has it all, layers of blackberry, plum, and currants and sweet mocha spice, balanced with earth elements–pencil shavings, tobacco, and a touch of mineral. Muscular and nuanced with savory tannins and a long, dusty finish, this is a complete and classic Napa cab. Sourced from prime, warmer valley floor vineyards in Calistoga, Oak Knoll, and Rutherford areas, the 2010 Lewis Cabernet is all about the rush to the finish …and a long-lasting winner.
Meiomi (pronounced may-OH-mee) means “coast” in the language of the Native American Wappo and Yuki tribes. A benchmark under-$20 fruit-forward California Pinot Noir if ever there was one. With its screw cap and reliably delicious personality, Joe Wagner (son of Charlie, founder of Caymus Vineyards) has found a groove with this bottling that’s been consistent over the last five years. While Caymus specializes in Cabernet only, the Belle Glos winery (a family name) was founded in 2001 and specializes, making only Pinot Noir. Meiomi came about in 2007 to fill the void in quality Pinot at a bargain basement price. The 2011 is its best to date. Full bodied, exuberant and distinctively Pinot in character. The true Wagner family style. Why should we expect less?
Founded in 1998 by Ron and Jamie Coleman, Tamarack’s first vintage consisted solely of 300 cases of Merlot. The goal was to make elegant, balanced, delicious wines and offer them at a fair price. Years later, and now up to 20,000 cases each year, the focus remains the same…outstanding quality for unbelievable prices!
Named after the tamarack, a coniferous North American larch tree that surrounds the area, they don’t have a foo-foo looking chateau and no, they do not sit on a hill overlooking pristine and perfect movie set vineyards. Located in the old World War II Army Airbase fire station at the Walla Walla Airport, this winery is all about expression, passion and character – with no pretense. The 2009 vintage rivals the ’07 as the greatest growing season in the short history of Washington wine and it shows in this meticulously made Cab. Composed of portions of fabulous vineyard sites like Ciel du Cheval and Tapteil on Red Mountain, Seven Hills in Walla Walla Valley and DuBrul in Rattlesnake Hills, aged 22 months in new French allier, delivering one of the best Cabernets Washington state has to offer. Full of high toned herbal notes, cherry, and pepper, the palate is loaded with sweet cherry flavors and a firm backbone of tannins. A tremendous value in top notch Cabernet.
More than half of Tamarack’s production is the Firehouse Red which features multiple grape varieties, including cabernet sauvignon, syrah, merlot, cabernet franc, among others. A symphony of flavors with no one variety dominating the flavor profile, the 2010 is a real steal.
Tamarack’s no nonsense approach has been a simple philosophy that I wish more wineries would follow… making great wines that everyone can afford.
2009 Tamarack Cabernet Sauvignon…Carob, cocoa powder, pistachio and almond extracts, cassis and cherry dominate… hints of fruit pit bitterness and skin tartness enhancing the stimulation derived from a long, luscious finish….
2010 Tamarack Firehouse RedFresh and inviting, with vibrant dark berry, guava and floral flavors that keep dancing through the long and peppery finish. Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Merlot and others….
Leave it to the Zin master, Paul Draper (and team) to pull a rabbit out of a hat! 2010 was a wickedly fickle year. For most of the growing season, Mother Nature couldn’t decide if a particularly cold spring was ever going to give way to summer. This led to some canopy thinning by some growers so that the shivering grapes could catch the ripening caress of the sun’s rays. Textbook. Then things went wild during a three day August heat spike that massively reduced yields. Some vineyards were complete losses, but not Draper’s. He’s been in this too long to be caught completely pants down. Leaving more canopy than others, Ridge’s sites, while sustaining loss, were left with riper fruit, and owing to the overall cool season, racy acids. These are fresh, elegant Zin blends with lots of zip. Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate gave consistent 90+ points to Ridge’s 2010s, and having tasted them too, they are some of the most supple and subtly complex Zins of the season.
…Sweet red cherries, freshly cut flowers and spices waft… The tannins are still quite firm, but this will be a great wine once the tannins soften. Crystalline notes add a fabulous element of purity on the finish….
…concentrated, intense Meyer-lemon tart, mineral and honeysuckle flavors, yet it’s elegant, with streamlined acidity. Oak adds the perfect touch of buttered toast. This showcases the opulence of Chardonnay…