Cult Reds: Start ‘Em Up!

The term “cult wine” gets thrown around oten so it got me to wondering what makes a cult wine. Is it prices further out than the Edge of Space jump? Is it minuscule production levels? Is it a superstar winemaker? Is it a 90+ score? Well… yes and no. Which made me also wonder what wines B-21 has that qualify as Cali Cults. No simple task, but one that has its own rewards, like tasting through and picking out some seriously rockin’ juice that is worthy of Cult status. All the wines here offer up sublime nectar that even the most deferential connoisseurs would find intriguing and enjoyable. I did and think you will too! Before getting too worked up about these wines being priced out of orbit, though, let’s note that none are over the two Franklin mark – and more than a few are under a Grant! With wines from stars like Bob Foley of Switchback, Brooks Painter of Coho, Frenchman Luc Morlet of Morlet, as well as Carte Blanche, and Favia’s team of Annie Favia and Andy Erickson, who used to work at stratospheric wineries like Screaming Eagle, you’ll be swept up into the Cult of Cali Cab after the first sip! These folks are the new high priests and priestess of the Cult of Cali Cab, but the only thing leaving earth’s gravitational pull will be your palate as it rides the Cult of Cali rocket of pure delight!


2009 Coho Cabernet,SummitVine Ranch

A first-class Cabernet, this is dry, richly tannic and mouthwateringly tart in acidity. It shows savory blackberry and cherry flavors, while the oak gives it an umami tang of smoke….

2009 Switchback Ridge Merlot,
Peterson Family Vineyard

Rich, layered and well-structured, with floral red currant aromas and complex flavors of black cherry, anise and toasty spice that lead to big but ripe tannins. Drink now through 2018…..

2009 Switchback Ridge Cabernet,
Peterson Family Vineyard

Firm and muscular, with dense, rich dark berry, currant and blackberry fruit that’s complex, layered and tannic, yet with a supple edge and a long finish of melted black licorice….

2009 Carte Blanche Proprietary Red,
Napa Valley

This is a very rich wine that’s made in the modern style of soft ripeness and upfront deliciousness…. shows flashy blackberry, cherry, cassis and chocolate flavors…. sheer luxurious taste.

2009 Carte Blanche Cabernet,
Napa Valley

The 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon caresses the palate with deep layers of dark red fruit, rose petals, smoke and espresso. …All of the elements flow gracefully to the huge, textured finish…

2009 Morlet Family Vineyards
“Coeur de Vallee” Cabernet

…caresses the palate with dark plums, dark cherries, spices, licorice and tobacco. …gorgeous mid-palate fleshiness and tons of character… Waves of fruit gain volume through to the structured elegant finish…


Michael Chiarello: Cookin’ Up Killer Reds!

Stopped by Bottega in St. Helena, the hottest restaurant in Napa owned and run by famed Food Network star (and chef) Michael Chiarello. In the ’90s he bought 20 acres in St. Helena, where he built his home amid 10 acres of darn near ancient (94 yr old) Zinfandel and Petite Sirah vines. With tutelage from greats like Turley and Tom Brown (consults for Outpost and Schrader), Michael and staff have fashioned exciting new releases that keep right up with his culinary achievements. The Giana Zinfandel has loads of black cherries, raspberries, mint, vanilla, honeysuckle and chocolate; textbook Napa zin in every way. The Bambino Cabernet is a pure Napa expression, full throttled juice and a silky landing. You will love these. Limited quantities.


2009 Chiarello Zinfandel Giana

…loads of black cherries, raspberries, mint, vanilla, honeysuckle and chocolate; textbook Napa zin in every way….

2009 Chiarello Cabernet Bambino

…a pure Napa expression, full throttled juice and a silky landing….

Cali Chardonnay: Farrell, Neyers, Antica


These are as good as chardonnay gets in California for the bucks. A hat trick from all over – Russian River, Carneros and Atlas Peak – rich, bright and refined. Each very different. Antica’s more lemony, the Neyers long on stone fruit, the Farrell apples and pears dusted with spice and so creamy. Each with a refined sense of cool and very dfferent roots. Antica is rare mountain-top Napa chard planted by Sig. Antinori in his first U.S. venture. Neyers comes from high-clay Carneros in the opposite end of Napa; founders are Barbara and Bruce Neyers. Gary Farrell’s is a blend of the prime Russian River vineyards he has championed for years. All are made by people, who demand European elegance and reflection of terroir in their chardonnay with the acidity to keep them lively for years.

Gallo And Parker Together Again: Bob Loves Gina’s Signature Cab!

Yep, our most famous wine critic says our most famous American wine label is on very fine wines these days. Especially this 2008 cab made by Gina Gallo (Julio Gallo’s granddaughter), a star in her own right. I concur. We spent a morning back in the A-21 warehouse going through recent cabernets and other reds. This was the one that got me, so I made Gina’s cab the centerfold cuvee 2008 Gallo Signature Series Cabernet Sauvignonof the current Buzz. Napa fruit, controlled use of oak, and layer after layer of flavors. Smoothly made but not a softball. This has character and stout tannins that will hold in the cellar for a decade or more. By the way, if you follow wine social news, you know she married French Burgundy vintner Jean Charles Boisset in 2009, the wine wedding of the century; she had twins last year and just bought Robert Mondavi’s house in Yountville. This ’08 cab makes a fine toast to the new royal couple. The wine deserves Parker’s salute too. You oughta raise a glass, especially since I reduced the price to a ridiculous bargain. This is Gallo at its best.

2008 Gallo Signature Series Cabernet Sauvignon

91-93 Points, Robert Parker’s WA


Best Buzz Ever: 250+ Wines!

We have once again improved The Buzz. It’s 30 years old this month, better looking than ever and jam-packed with hundreds of beautiful wines I’ve found around the world. That includes winter-warming amarones, icewines and ports plus terrific new still wines from Portugal. Our French wine expert Rhett Beiletti guides you to the best buys in Bordeaux’s Right Bank while Mark Stitt lines up the world-class reds emerging from Washington state. Plus the buyers’ recommendations from my staff and the Big World Small Budget sampler offer you dozens more delicious buys at all prices. Don’t forget to check out the centerfold, the best new cabernet from one of the most famous old names in Callfornia. See what the youngest generation is up to. You’ll want to keep this edition of the Buzz on your coffee table and a couple of cases from this issue in your cellar.
















Trinchero Cabs Fly High: Chicken Ranch To Cloud’s Nest On Sale

The Trinchero family has been in St. Helena for generations; they know the territory and they know California cab. Valley deep and mountain high they have found the right vineyards. In ’07 they brought in the killer Cloud’s Nest up on Mt. Veeder, a big and wild 95-pt mountain-climbing cab. Their first three cabs from 08 are very impressive too, whether you spend $25 or $45. Chicken Ranch is a rich Old World style cab grown from an old chicken farm on the valley, organic soil (very organic thanks to those chickens, farmed bio-dynamically) quite round and earthy. Central Park West, despite its New York name, is very friendly and probably the most welcoming to open right now, although it can keep 10 years or more like all the Trinchero cabs. Got the first batch of ’08 single vineyard cabs from Haystack vineyard on Atlas Peak. Big, deep and ready and built for two decades in the cellar with espresso, chocolate and roasted spices. These are cabernets built for the long haul, and worthy of the heritage of the Trinchero family of Napa Valley.

2007 Trinchero Cabernet Sauvignon, Cloud's Nest Vineyard2007 Trinchero Cabernet Sauvignon, Cloud’s Nest 2008 Trinchero Cabernet Sauvignon Chicken Ranch VineyardVineyard

…brimming with complex blackberry, cherry, mineral, tobacco and cedar flavors that impress for their sheer power….95 Points, Wine Enthusiast

2008 Trinchero Cabernet Sauvignon, Chicken Ranch Vineyard

91 Points, Robert Parker’s WA


2008 Trinchero Cabernet Sauvignon, Central Park West Vineyard2008 Trinchero Cabernet Sauvignon, Central Park 2008 Trinchero Cabernet Sauvignon, Haystack VineyardWest Vineyard

…dense ruby/purple color is followed by earthy, Provencal garrigue-like notes intermixed with high quality unsmoked cigar tobacco…90 Points, Robert Parker’s WA

2008 Trinchero Cabernet Sauvignon, Haystack Vineyard

…dense ruby/purple-colored …exhibits more earth and minerality as well as intense cassis and blackberry notes…91 Points, Robert Parker’s WA

Mondavi Madness: Advocate Calls Newest Cab An “Oustanding Bargain”!

Year-in, year-out Robert Mondavi turns out terrific reds at price points from $25 to $100. I’ve got gems from each recent vintage (07, 08 and 09): all top quality and remarkable values, especially at my prices. In fact when Parker’s crew called the 2008 Napa Valley Mondavi cab a steal, they figured it would sell in the low $20s. Not my price to you.  It’s quite the grown-up cabernet, black fruit shaded with dried herbs and mint, and built to keep for 15 years. The 2009 pinot noir is already shining, juicy, gentle and easy drink, full of cherries, berries and licorice and stout hearted enough for a thick slab of beef. That’s all on top of the magnificent ’07s. I still have the premium Oakville and the phenomenal Reserve from that vintage. All three vintages are a credit to the team that took up Mondavi’s legacy after the great man passed in 2007. Open any one of these and toast old Bob and the crew that came after.  Run-n-tell that.

2008 Robert Mondavi Napa Cabernet Sauvignon2008 Robert Mondavi Napa Cabernet Sauvignon

…a pleasant nose of black fruits intermixed with hints of charcoal and spice, delicious, sweet fruit, medium body, and nice suppleness and flesh….89 Points, Robert Parker’s WA

2009 Robert Mondavi Pinot Noir Carneros2009 Robert Mondavi Pinot Noir Carneros

…emerges from the glass with layers of perfumed red fruit and sweet spices. This fleshy, generous Pinot is best enjoyed over the next few years, while the fruit retains its juicy exuberance….88+ Points, Robert Parker’s WA




Shafer’s 96-pt Syrah: As Relentless As Hillside Select!

2008 Shafer RelentlessJohn and Doug Shafer and winemaker Elias Fernandez are as demanding on Napa syrah as they are on their Stags Leap cabernet. That’s what makes the 2008 Relentless 96-points so gorgeous. Fernandez calls it “midnight in a glass”. You bet. It’s dark purple, almost black, and packed with licorice, fruit and smoke, voluptuous and muscular. It started decades ago when John was buying land for what are now premier vineyard sites. He left one rocky chunk sitting still, just over the Stags Leap line. About 25 years ago Doug and Elias gave it a second look, decided it could be perfect for syrah and slowly started clearing. By 1995 or so they found it had good rocks and drainage and cool breezy nights. They were very particular about clones, some they found in the Rhone, some in Australia and some from pure, ripsnortin’ California petite sirah. You can call it an old field blend, but once it’s been through careful crushing and aging in the barrels that Fernandez hand-picks it is labeled “Relentless.” That’s a tribute to Fernandez’s patience and obsessiveness, my kind of stickler. Btw, the Shafers are old friends of Florida and regulars at Naples mega-million wine auction festival. Just last weekend a fan popped $220,000 for a big haul of 2007 Hillside Select in salmanazars and magnums and three nights in Napa. That’s mighty big spending, but you can get in on the phenomenal Relentless here, just as stellar, for a lot less. ’08 is the best vintage yet and maybe the best American syrah there is. Wine Spectator says 96, Parker says 95.  You should be an early collector of the next great Shafer and have it to enjoy years from now. Run-n-tell that.

2008 Shafer Relentness

…aromatics are full and distinct, with loads of dark berry and charcoal, then this unfolds touches of black cherry, raspberry and red and black licorice on the palate, sailing along and firming nicely on the finish…. 96 Points, Wine Spectator


Antinori Takes Napa Chard To Mountain High 94 Pts!

This luscious, nervy chardonnay caught me by surprise. This has a clean freshness, elegant polish and savory minerals. And it should. Antica has noble breeding, human and geologic. I know and you know that Piero Antinori has maintained his family’s great old wine making and Antica reds high up on Atlas Peak. Now he proves that mountain fruit makes superb chardonnay, a whole new breed of Napa chard. This is cool-climate, high altitude chardonnay, with high attitude. Grown in in six carefully chosen blocks of rocky soil 1,400 feet up in the Vaca range on the east side of the valley. Wow! The Antica has crisp tastes of citrus, mineral and smoke wrapped in creamy texture. Part of that is oak, which you don’t taste, but feel in the body. Perfectly balanced, as an Italian on top of Napa has to be. You’ll want a lot of this at our special e-price.  Run-n-tell that.

2009 Antica Napa Chardonnay2009 Antica Napa Chardonnay

…shows gorgeous textural finesse and fabulous overall balance. The signature Napa Valley richness is there, but in a cooler, more mineral-driven style. Smoke, crushed rocks and citrus are layered into the vibrant finish…. 94 Points, Robert Parker’s WA




Hidden In Plain Sight: Michael Martini’s 90-point ’08 Napa cab.

2008 Louis Martini Napa Cabernet SauvignonI know you love the 2007s, but don’t miss the beautiful 2008s in California. Many got overlooked, including this terrific effort from Michael Martini. Granted, it’s a muscular wine with sturdy tannins, not as easy and ripe for the pickin’ as the ’07s. This is a serious cab that takes time. And rewards it. Which is why I like it, the kind of California cabernet I’d stick in the cellar but you could open tomorrow also. Martini’s 2008 is dry, dark and deep, and not shy on tannin. There’s ample cherries and plums, the darker the better, but it is the grown-up smoke, cedar and herbs that carry the day for me. Lucky for you I’m so diligent or else you could have missed this gem! This is cabernet for adults at a childish price. Enjoy me now and enjoy me later. And thank Louis and Michael. Run-n-tell that.

2008 Louis Martini Napa Cabernet Sauvignon

“The 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon is a big wine and an absolutely fabulous value in Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. It bursts onto the palate with expressive dark fruit, sweet spices and licorice, showing marvelous depth all the way through to the creamy, generous finish….”  90 Points, Robert Parker’s WA

2009 Chappellet Climbs The Mountain Again: 92 points!

2009 Chappellet Mt. Cuvee, NapaYou loved the 2007 Mountain Cuvee and and bought me out and I understood it. That cuvee was a stunning “meritage” made entirely of mountaintop fruit. I say the 2009 is its match, an exceptional Napa cab (and more), 92 points in my book! Cyril, his mother Molly, and the rest of the Chappellet team have brought Bordeaux to the mountain again. Hard to call it Left Bank or Right; they grow all five Bordeaux grapes up on Pritchard Hill, and this vintage has a heap of merlot and cab franc. The Chappellet sites sit high on the east side of the valley. The coolness and fog make for a blend that is complex, everything here from cherries and plums to cedar and savory spices. It has both body and elegance, a rare combination. The 2009 has high style and a price that’s as low as can be for the fabulous taste of Napa. Run-n-tell that.

2009 Chappellet Mt. Cuvee, Napa

92 Points, Bob Sprentall

Calfiornia’s ’11 vintage looks scarce and dear

US WineThats the word from one outfit that watches the crush with pencils sharpened to a very fine point: Bulk wine buyers. Brokers at the Ciatti Co., the global leader in arranging deals on grapes and juice, said  2011 was a challenge. The wine lake dried up long ago.  Here’s what reports:

California – Buyers are looking to secure longer term contracts to protect against shortages. Most European buyers will not pay this year’s higher prices and most California suppliers believe that the market is going into a short position for the next few years. The bottom line is there are not enough grapes in the ground to cover demand.

Washington – Nothing should be bought before samples have been approved. The harvest came very late due to cold weather, and when the wine came in, storage and fermentation space were in limited supply. Botrytis,mildew, rot and low brix (<20°) were all problems throughout this year’s harvest.

Oregon – A long cool spring and a cool late summer gave way to measured temperature increases at exactly the right time prior to harvest 2011. This saved what could have been a challenging vintage for Oregon growers. The previous year’s non-bearing acres are starting to come on line and the volumes of bulk wines already available from this vintage reflect an increase in yielding acreage.

Btw, better news in for winegrowers in Italy, where Ciatti reports rising demand and prices for generic Italian varietals.


“Freakishly Good”: Keenan’s ’08 Cab Franc At Its 94-pt Best.

2008 Keenan Cabernet Franc, Spring Mountain (750ml)That’s language anyone can understand from Michael Keenan about his killer Cab Franc. Perfectly franc! Sorry, couldn’t resist. But my friend Mike’s Cabernet Franc is close to perfect, 94 from Parker. As dense, sexy and energetic as this grape has gotten so far. Keenan knows Cab Franc is more than a supporting character and Merlot surrogate in Cab blends. Sure, he makes muscular Merlot and ripping good Cabernet Sauvignon but he’s just as proud of his Cabernet Franc. And he should be. B-21 diners loved them all when he was here for a rollicking dinner this spring. The Cab Franc is all estate fruit from high on Spring Mountain and it has that big mountain-climbing power plus plenty of perfume. Mike approaches all his wines like the hardest working guy on the Right Bank in Bordeaux. He grows by the rocky terroir he has and keeps the winemaking invisible for pure, well-structured drinking. Yet elegant and charming in glass now and in your cellar for years to come. You’re gonna want that.

2008 Keenan Cabernet Franc Spring Mountain

“This dense purple-hued wine is richly fruity with a beautiful floral, blueberry, raspberry and black currant-scented nose, good underlying minerality and a gorgeous fruit intensity without any sense of heaviness (14.3% alcohol). Elegant, pure and well-textured, this is a stunning Cabernet Franc…”  94 Points, The Wine Advocate


Napa’s First Growth: Joseph Phelps Insignia 2008, 95 to 97 Points

2008 Joseph Phelps Insignia, NapaPhelps Insignia would have to be a first growth if the U.S. wine trade ever put together a Bordeaux-style classification. Heck, it’s in the top reds of the world. I don’t know any Napa Cabernet that’s so consistently at such a high level. Since 1974! You couldn’t even spell Meritage then. Me neither. Yet year after year it was stellar, averaging over 94 by Parker and Wine Spectator’s #1 in 2005.The 2008 is “Glamorous,” “fabulous,” ”wonderful,” the critics agree. I think it’s the seductive aroma and silky texture, dark coffee,cassis, and licorice. What makes it great in my mind is not the blend of the grapes (almost 90% Cab plus Merlot and Petite Verdot), but the blend of terroirs. Joe collected a half dozen of the best vineyards in Napa: Stag’s Leap, Oak Knoll, you name it. Phelps and its history have the pick of the best of them. Is the 2008 as good as 2007? Judge for yourself. Parker says it’s the best back-to-back Insignia duo since ’94 and ’95. You’d pay $200 at the winery for the ’08 and $160 if you’re a club member, but the price at my place is far less. You’re gonna want that.

2008 Joseph Phelps Insignia Napa

“…The color is an inky/purple and the wine shows lots of cassis, blueberry, graphite and floral notes, good acidity, stunning concentration and purity, and a long finish. Another great success for Phelps, the 2007 and 2008 Insignias may be the best back-to-back vintages they have produced since 1995 and 1994…” 95-97 Points, The Wine Advocate



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