Tag Archives: california

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….

93 points, Bob Sprentall, B-21 Proprietor

2009 Chiarello Cabernet Bambino

…a pure Napa expression, full throttled juice and a silky landing….
93 points, Bob Sprentall, B-21 Proprietor

One of Wine Spectator’s Top 30 CA Chard Producers

Parker says 92. 

The wine-making career of Ed Sbragia spans 30+ years at Beringer, recalling those memorable Sbragia chardonnays and Private Reserve cabernets that were at the top of the charts for years. The experience is now shared at his family winery with son Adam. Looking for chardonnay that rivals the great Beringer Sbragia chardonnays of the ’90s at a fraction of the cost? No wonder the Wine Spectator has elevated their chardonnays to the top 30 of California. Home Ranch chardonnay is a beauty, but don’t overlook the old vine Zinfandel, named after Adam’s grandfather Gino, a Sonoma native. Nice to work with a great family operation!

 

2009 Sbragia Home Ranch Chard

…impresses for its layered fruit and elegant personality. This is a laid-back Chardonnay from Sbragia, but it all works, and beautifully. a striking showing. …aged in French oak barrels …with full malolactic fermentation….

California’s New Best Chardonnay

Varner’s Latest

The estate block chardonnays of brothers Jim and Bob Varner are rare beauties, each made from a tiny vineyard of two or three acres in Santa Cruz. Call it Burgundian precision. They are beautiful wines, rich with fruit and as lean, mineral and fresh from their maritime clime, the critics swoon regularly. Wine Advocate said 96 in 2009, and Decanter gave five of five stars. The way the Varners farm, hoeing by hand and foregoing irrigation, they make barely 500 cases from each vineyard and they sell out fast. I got in line early to make sure you’d get some. You already love Foxglove, their large bottling brand under $12, but you’ll be thrilled by the top label with their name on it. You have three choices. In the past, Bee Block has been the most open and tropical, Amphitheatre Block more saline and smoky, the Home Block the most reserved and subtle, but all are extraordinary and elegant. Can’t go wrong with any of them, but the best choice at my $40 price is all! If you love great chardonnay under any flag you’ll want to meet Varner.

(’09 review) …emerges from the glass with layers of fruit. It shows gorgeous up-front richness… center of minerality on the mid-palate. …Smoke, minerals and citrus linger on the multi-dimensional, saline finish..

(’09 review) …the wine’s personality is impossible to miss. Ash, minerals, earthiness are some of the notes that add complexity to the intense fruit. This is another sweeping, totally elegant wine…

(’09 review) …the fruit moves toward the tropical end of the spectrum, perhaps owing to a richer layer of topsoil. …the integration of French oak is nothing short of masterful. The long, textured, finish is striking….

Thrilling Cold Creek Buys: Washington’s 93pt Cab & 94pt Merlot

One of the dark secrets of American wine: I find some of the most classic Bordeaux-styled reds and best values come from Washington state, not Napa or Sonoma. Cabernet and merlot from Cold Creek are serious, deep in color, tightly packed, very sturdy of tannin, built for the ages, decades at least. Big but not overripe, with cherry-blackberry fruit, the Cold Creekers from Chateau Ste. Michelle are laced with exotic hints of coffee, tobacco and spice of the Orient. These are cru vineyards in Washington, old-vines planted nearly 40 years ago. That was when we looked to the Northwest for cool whites. But the Washington guys said they were on the same latitude as Bordeaux and would make great reds. Maybe it is the latitude (my bet is the poor soils and the dry summers), but the end result is that Cold Creek wines are the real deal, elegant and firm hardballers. They could easily stand on the left or right bank. You can sock away a case for the cellar and show up those French and California chauvinists for years to come.

2007 Cold Creek Merlot

2007 Cold Creek Merlot

2008 Cold Creek Cabernet

2008 Cold Creek Cabernet

WA Rates Foxglove: Mind-Boggling CA Value, 90 pts!

Yep. Parker’s buddy Antonio Galloni was blown away by Foxglove’s wines. I’m offering these gems from brothers Bob and Jim Varner way below big-box prices, great buys in high-quality cab, zin and chardonnay from the Central Coast. The Varners are Edna Valley heroes everywhere, from Parker to Decanter to Food & Wine for their estate wines (the Varner and Neely labels), and the new Foxglove line sourced from the best winegrowers they know. “The Varners clearly have the magic touch. These are among the finest values readers will find anywhere in the world.” You bet, Antonio. These guys have always done great with chard and I think the Paso Robles reds are as good. A lush cab and a very earthy zin are here too. You don’t have to pay that much at B-21. Load up on Foxglove today!

2010 Foxglove Chardonnay

2010 Foxglove Chardonnay

2010 Foxglove Cabernet Sauvignon

2010 Foxglove Cabernet Sauvignon

2009 Foxglove Zinfandel

2009 Foxglove Zinfandel

It Never Rains in Southern California. But Girl, Don’t They Warn Ya?

tablas-esprit-blanc-lWeather’s boring and easy for winemakers in the U.S., foreigners and other critics say. Sunny and ripe all the time, the argument goes.

Not in the central mountains and far down the coast last year. The AP added it together, killer snow in the Sierra Nevada (May 15! [2011]) and a hard freeze in Paso Robles, then cold and rain all through what should have been a warm and dry May.

“This weather is causing all kinds of problems, but it’s not the first time and not the last,” Santa Barbara County Vintner’s Association Executive Director Jim Fiolek said. “Other products have a more ephemeral lifetime, but ours goes on and on and tells the story of the weather pattern.”

Tablas Creek reported a warm March followed by two all-night freezes in April, very bad news for Jason Haas whose dad founded the place as an American Beaucastel. Last year Haas already lost all grenache, grenache blanc, viognier and marsanne. What plants survived are behind schedule and pushing the prospect of harvests in late October and early November.

Mike Waller at Calera thinks he may pick pinot noir in November. Fiolek took it all in stride, “That’s what makes this business so damned interesting.” Sure there are problems “but it’s not the first time and not the last.”

Not a cheap answer, but I’ll lift a glass of 2011 to that with you, Jim. In the meantime, B-21 has a good stock of that 94-point Esprit de Beaucastel from 2008, grand for both red and white.

A Napa Secret: “Drop-Dead Gorgeous” Snowden Cab (94+WA)

The Snowden cabernets are beautiful and explosive packages of red fruit, licorice and tobacco delivering as much flavor and style as you can get for a buck in Napa. Not surprising, since the Snowden wines have exceptional breeding. Their property is high above Rutherford and St. Helena, by Conn Valley and Howell Mountain, and has grown grapes for 140 years. If the name is new to you, I’m sure you’ve tasted their grapes in Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars, Silver Oak, Ramey and others over the years. Their lineage extends to Burgundy for winemaker Diana Snowden, who worked for such nobility as Araujo and LeFlaive, is married to Jeremy Seysses of Domaine Dujac where she works as enologist and cellar master. So much for back story; the wines will grab you up front and hold on for a beautiful finish. Two of the most polished cabernets in California and an exceptional value especially at B-21. Snowden will be your new favorite Napa cab.

2009 Snowden Cabernet Sauvignon The Ranch

2009 Snowden Cabernet Sauvignon The Ranch

2009 Snowden Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve

2009 Snowden Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve

Cream Of The California Chard Crop: ’09 Antica & ’10 Neyers

These are a couple of the highest scoring Napa chardonnays I have under $40. Antica’s more lemony and the Neyers is long on stone fruit. Both are rich with a refined sense of cool. …Their roots are so very different, though. The Antica is mountain-top stuff from Atlas Peak, a rare site for Napa chard, planted by Signor Antinori (who’s better known for his Tuscan reds). Neyers comes from high-clay content Carneros in the opposite end of Napa. Bruce Neyers wears a couple of hats in the wine business, also working for Kermit Lynch Wine Merchant as the national sales manager. The similarity is that both wines made by people who demand European elegance and terroir in chardonnay. They also deliver more than can expect for the price. I get in on helping there too offering added value to these wines that already taste like they cost twenty to thirty bucks more.

2009 Antica Chardonnay

2009 Antica Chardonnay

2010 Neyers Chardonnay

2010 Neyers Chardonnay

What Were We Drinking …with Grilled Pork Tenderloin?

2009 Rodney Strong Pinot Noir, Russian River

2009 Rodney Strong Pinot Noir, Russian River

Most wine-foodies talk about pork. The pig still trots a fine line between nutritional demon and meat of the moment. Count me on the side of pork (spare me another boneless, skinless chicken breast). Is pork white meat or red? Such rules are beside the point.

When I grilled one of those long-herbed tenderloins (twenty minutes or so to just shy of medium) it had a taste of flame and was bursting with juice; it called for a medium-bodied red with cherries, berries, and a bit of spice. A little turkey-cranberry action.

Pinot noir, says I, but a tad sweeter than Burgundy so I turned to California. Rodney Strong’s Russian River (91 points, Wine Enthusiast) fills the bill perfectly.

I must qualify that I am talking about modern pork, so lean it could run a triathlon. I dream of fattier days and wish we had an appellation system that would certify old-fashioned pork, the kind with a crust of crispy fat. Then I’d break out the petite sirah.

Best Buy In ’09 Russian River Chard: 93pt Walter Hansel

2009 Walter Hansel Chardonnay Cuvee Alyce

2009 Walter Hansel Chardonnay Cuvee Alyce

I don’t find such superlative chardonnay as Hansel’s intense and complex Cuvee Alyce at my price on either side of the pond. You know that Burgundy sets my standards high, and Hansel has met them repeatedly. There is lemon and smoke, pear and crushed rocks that the French would admire, plus a buttery opulence and juicy acidity from the Golden State. The elegant single-block chardonnay is the accomplishment of Steven Hansel and his family’s dedication to terroir. They respect the precise attributes of each vineyard in their corner of Russian River Valley. Hansel hand-picks, sorts and crushes by whole cluster to get the full natural character in each cuvee. His Cuvee Alyce is a particular favorite of mine, the most structured and restrained in his portfolio. It could last 10 years. I wish more California chards were in the same vein. More remarkable is Hansel’s modesty; he doesn’t brag big or demand cult prices. Doesn’t need to. The ’09 Cuvee Alyce speaks for itself.

Napa’s Ed Sbragia Wins In Dry Creek!

2010 Sbragia Dry Creek Sauvignon Blanc

2010 Sbragia Dry Creek Sauvignon Blanc

I’ve known Ed and his wines for so long I can almost pronounce his last name (suh-BRAH-juh). Knew him as you did from Beringer where he was the guy behind the best stuff. His heart’s always been in Sonoma where he grew up, raised his own family and has his own label and winery. Family vineyards too: Zin comes from vineyards named for his dad, Gino; the cab grows at Doc Andolsen’s, the family doctor. I like family stories, but the wines are the point. Pure Dry Creek, extremely fresh and juicy cabernet, remarkably elegant zinfandel, crisp sauv blanc. That’s a happy family right there. I salute them.

2009 Sbragia Gino's Vineyard Zinfandel

2009 Sbragia Gino

2009 Sbragia Andolsen Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon

2009 Sbragia Andolsen Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon

Bad Boy Cabernet: Chateau Smith

2009 Chateau Smith Cabernet Sauvignon

2009 Chateau Smith Cabernet Sauvignon

That’s Smith as in Charles Smith, the wild winemaker of Washington State and maverick marketer. The mastermind behind those in-your-face black and white labels like Boom Boom, Kung Fu Girl, Velvet Devil… I gotta admit that what’s in the bottles is bold stuff and darn smooth too.

The name sounds like a gag, a dig at both Bordeaux and Chateau Ste. Michelle. Chateau Smith Cabernet sure is big and ripe, meaty and spicy around the edge, quite polished and easy to drink. More sophisticated than Charles wants to admit when he’s playing the kick-butt long-haired rocker.

This 2009 cab from Columbia Valley displays his serious devotion to the terroir and varietals of Washington state, where cabernets like his are showing strong. It also displays Smith‘s commitment to wine ready to drink in the here and now at affordable prices.

12 on 21: Today, Free Shipping by the Dozens …Everywhere!

12 on 21

Yes, it’s the 21st again. Do you know where your orders are? In case you forgot, we celebrate the 21st of every month as a birthday, anniversary or name day here at B-21. Once a year is not good enough for us. We have our cake and eat it 12 times a year, and on this day when ordering online we give you the present of free shipping! That’s a big deal, could be $30 to $40 if you live out west or up in the frostbite zone. We pay the shipping for every order of 12 bottles purchased online on the 21st. You get the same FedEx Ground service: proud purple and trackable, too.

What goes in the box is more important, and it’s your choice. I’ve got more than 5,000 labels on hand. Whatever you want, whether you’re a frugal shopper or an aggressive collector. Heck, B-21 has more than 1,200 wines from France alone, including a huge selection of Burgundies and Rhones. Napa? More than 200. You don’t have to spend big money! I have almost 300 wines under $20 scoring 90 points and up. If you can’t find 12 bottles online to get free shipping, you’re not trying! What you save on shipping could pay for a couple of those bottles. Can’t say that our shipping crew looks forward to the 21st of each month. But you should! Place your order online today and it’s free shipping everywhere in the United States! It only comes once a month!

Chardonnay Showdown: Big ratings, great prices! I love it!

Golden Gun Duel from "The Man With The Golden Gun" (1974)

Tough competition, very tough in my book. Five superior chardonnays, all at very high scores — and very low prices for sought-after labels. They’re not all the same ol’ chard, don’t let anyone tell you that. Nothing sloppy here! Like the white burgundies I love, each one sings of precise terroir from the high seaside of South Africa to four corners of California. I demand character in chardonnay and each of these has its own. Antinori’s Antica comes from cool, rocky Atlas Peak high in Napa, while Hamilton Russell’s Walker Bay vineyards are in stony clay and shale within two miles of the sea. Shafer’s soaring Red Shoulder Ranch is pure Carneros grown in sight of San Pablo Bay, the lush Mt. Eden is from the Santa Cruz Mountains and the Gallo Signature is from the chard-loving Russian River Valley. Five styles of delicious, four vintages, scores from 90-92 on up. Any way you go, these are terrific wines at prices hard to beat anywhere else.