January 28, 2008

2005 Siduri "Terra De Promissio" Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir

I think in some little section of their brain, every serious wine lover has the dream of dropping everything, moving to wine country and becoming a successful winemaker. For some, this dream becomes a reality, and for Adam and Dianna Lee, I guess you could say it's a dream come true. Back in the early 90's, the two had a passion for Pinot Noir and took a chance by moving from Texas to California, with no prior winemaking experience to succeed in making some of the best single vineyard Pinot around.

After moving to California, the Lee's decided to take their life's savings, and make a little wine. Lo and behold, the first vintage in 1994 turned out to be pretty damn good. So good, in fact, they drunkenly decided to drop a bottle off on Robert Parkers doorstep at the Meadowood Resort, like a gift wrapped present from the stork. Upon sobering up, they realized what they had done and frantically tried to get the bottle back, to no avail. Well, old boy Parker ended up hailing it as "terrific," and gave it a score of 90+. As novice winemakers, what better publicity can you ask for?

This was just the beginning of their good fortune. For the next vintage, they scored top grapes from Hirsch Vineyard, who sold to Kistler and Williams Selyem, among others. For two new winemakers in California, this must have seemed like a gift sent down from the gods. Even if you take away the scores and reviews, the quality of Siduri wines will continue to speak for themselves. Throughout the years they've focused solely on single vineyard Pinot Noir, letting the terroir of the vineyard express itself with great results, as well as branching off to include a second label, Novy, which focuses on Syrah.

One thing that I love about the Lee's is that they're genuinely nice people... Family oriented folk that wanted to make wine because they had a true passion for it. They have a large production with prices ranging from $19 to the mid 50's, and with the skyrocket price of some Pinot Noir, who can be mad at that? Producing single vineyard Pinot Noir from 27 different vineyards and countless 90+ scores from wine critics, Siduri is not going anywhere, and they still don't even own their own vines, which is amazing. Combine that, two children, and their other Novy, and you'll see that the Lee's are very, very busy.

Tasting Notes:
Dark ruby red in the glass, I've had this wine 3 separate times now and on each occasion there is some degree of a burnt rubber aroma. I can't say I'm a huge fan of that but after opening up a bit, there's a nice mix of dark fruit and nice ripe cherry, along with a funky core of earth and dirt on the nose. Slightly hot, there's an abundance of nice red fruit in the mouth, ending with a bit of spice. Pleasant finish on the medium- short side. Unfortunately, I tasted this wine way too young, and I think it should have at least another year in the bottle. Should you open one soon, definitely decant.

Price: $44

Score: 85-88


January 27, 2008

2006 Lang & Reed Cabernet Franc

"Pick one or two varietals you make well and stick with it" is the old adage typically given to winemakers. Well, Lang & Reed have done just that and have been producing some of the best Cabernet Franc this side of the Loire Valley. I love seeing winemakers so passionate about one varietal, especially one from a grape that's barely acknowledged here in California. And what that means for the savvy consumer, is a great wine at a bargain price.

Cab Franc is typically used as a blending grape, first and foremost in some of the finest Bordeaux (think Cheval-Blanc, Ausone) and is used to either tone down Cab Suav or add some power to Merlot, providing finesse and nice aromatics. There's not a huge number of wineries that offer Cab Franc in California, and if they do it's usually either blended with other grapes or offered at a price tag similar to Cab Sauv, neither of which really make me particularly excited. It's kind of a niche market and will probably never gain the same type of popularity that other grapes such as Pinot Noir or Syrah have in the past decade or so, but if passionate winemakers such as Lang & Reed keep making quality juice, I'm pretty happy about that.

Lang & Reed was founded by Tracey and John Skupny in 1993, and they haven't looked back since. The two became enamored with the wines coming out of the Loire Valley and took it upon themselves to produce some of the best Cabernet Franc in Napa Valley. A noble task and one that does not go unappreciated in my book. Lang & Reed currently offers three wines:

Lang Reed North Coast - The current wine under review. 100% Cab Franc and an assemblage of fruit from four vineyards.

Premier Etage - Mostly Cab Franc with a dollop of Petite Verdot mixed in. A wine that provides a bit more complexity than the North Coast.

Right Bank - Tailored after the wines of St. Emilion, Right Bank is a blend of Cab Franc, Merlot, Petite Verdot, and Cab Sauv. A wine with a bit more ageability.

One of the things that appeals to me so much about Cab Franc is that it can be enjoyed young and is so big and juicy. When grown in cooler climates, it also carries a flavor profile that I enjoy - one bordering on the herbaceous, green side but still carrying nice ripe fruit. This wine benefits from a bit of decanting that will really bring the aromatics out after some time. If I had to choose a dish to pair it with, I might pick some braised short ribs or a nice lamb stew.

Tasting Notes:
In the glass there is an inky black core with a brilliant red/ purple color to the rim. An ever changing nose that consists of cherries, herbs, light flowers, violets and a wet stone/ minerally aspect that I adore. Hinting at a bit of a coffee component at times, this wine conjures images of a light, breezy summer day outside. In the mouth it's not terribly complex but thoroughly enjoyable with red berry fruit, soft tannins and nice acidity easing into an elegant finish.

Price: $22

Score: 87 - 92.

Alcohol: 14.5%
Oak: 8 months in used French Oak
Production: 2,600 cases


January 22, 2008

Wine Country Inn, St. Helena, California

Nestled between Highway 29 and the Silverado Trail in St Helena lies a little gem I've come to know and love over the years aptly named the Wine Country Inn. When I think about time spent in Wine Country I think about peaceful, cozy, romantic settings, and the Inn does a fantastic job of providing just that and then some. We have a yearly tradition of staying here for 3 or 4 nights and have never left unsatisfied. Staying here seems like a trip into a different time and place... One a little simpler, full of antiques, handmade quilts and great hospitality as well as central A/C and a Bose stereo system. The feel and d├ęcor is definitely country and walks the fine line between old school/ new school, so if you're looking for ultra-modern, plasma TV's flush in the bathroom mirror, this is not the place for you. In fact, there are no TV's at all, which I think is awesome.

The Inn was founded by Ned and Marge Smith in the early 70's after they had spent time at some of the classic inns of the east coast and discovered what they wanted to build here in California: a place with comfort, charm, and an idyllic setting while including the modern luxuries of plumbing and electricity. The result? A place that manages to seamlessly mix old world charm with modern touches at an affordable price in a picturesque location. The whole family has done an outstanding job while making continuous upgrades each year, such as wireless internet and cosmetic fixes in various rooms. Ned and Marge don't run the inn anymore, they've left that up to their son Jim, who's hoping his children will follow the family tradition in a few years.

After a prompt check in, walking down the cobblestone path and stairs my better half could barely contain herself. And once the door opened to the "Vintners" cottage she was literally jumping up and down with joy. With a total of 20 rooms, 4 suites, and 5 luxury cottages, the rates run anywhere from $300 - 650 a night at the top end. We haven't stayed in any of the smaller rooms, but I'm pretty sure the cottages are your best bet and worth the extra $200 or so a night. They're large and attractive with hardwood floors, a sitting area with fireplace, couch, and insanely comfortable king-sized bed. The bathroom alone is almost worth the price, with tiled floors, a huge walk in shower large enough to fit 4 people comfortably (if you're into that sort of thing), and an immaculate jacuzzi tub along with his/ hers sinks and mirrors. The stereo has speakers in every room so if you feel like putting on your favorite CD and slipping into a bubble bath with your loved on and a bottle of wine all while controlling the volume via remote, no problem. Some people would argue that the
money saved from expensive lodging can be put towards more wine, which is a really good point that I've gone back and forth on, but for me sometimes going up there and staying in a great spot is part of what makes the trip so good. Each cottage has it's own private patio with spectacular views of the surrounding mountains, and a vineyard just steps away. Complete with a heating lamp, wrought iron table and lounge chairs, this was our favorite spot for coffee and afternoon relaxation after tasting wines all day.

If you're lucky, you might get a visit from Bob the cat, who is one of the reasons we love to stay here. Bob is part Manx, incredibly soft, and was adopted by the Inn. I think he was the pet of a nearby winery but now he patrols the grounds at night hunting mice and other vineyard rodents, and also likes to greet and stay with visitors, preferably in one of the cottages. I was never a huge cat lover but we both love Bob, and let him snooze on the couch if he wants to. He's incredibly friendly and will fall asleep purring in your lap if you let him.

Breakfast is included, too, and it's quite good. Served buffet style, there's everything from bagels with assorted meats and cheeses to homemade quiche and a wafflemaker. The waffles are my favorite part, deliciously soft with a hint of cinnamon and spice. Mmmm. So good. In the afternoons, staff from local wineries come by for a complimentary tasting, which can be fun if you're not too tired from visiting wineries throughout the day. We usually just go back to the room, pop one of the bottles we bought throughout the day and sit back on the patio watching the sun fall behind the mountains. There's also a complimentary shuttle to and from restaurants which is a godsend since at these long dinners there's usually a few bottles that get put down. Last time we were there the driver and all the staff was amazing, incredibly sincere, and helpful. They really bend over backwards to make sure you enjoy your stay. I can't really think of any negative things to say about the place except it could use some periodic updates, such as the stereo. It would have been nice to plonk the Ipod down instead of having to bring CD's. Aside from those minor nit-picky things, this is a place we will be staying at for many years to come. By the way, the innkeepers brother makes a Cabernet by the name of Hourglass with Bob Foley, so, they sure do know a thing or two about wine and are happy to suggest places for you to visit if you're unfamiliar with the area...

Highly Recommended

What: Wine Country Inn

Where: St Helena, California

Price: $200-650


January 15, 2008

2004 Sequoia Grove Cabernet Sauvignon

The Cabernet from Sequoia Grove has been receiving a lot of attention and making many peoples lists over the past few years. I first tried the 2004 at a tasting a few months back and apparently overlooked it among the the other wines of the night, but since then I bought a few bottles and decided to pop one tonight. Well folks, Sequoia Grove is making quite a comeback.

Surrounded by (surprisingly enough) giant Sequoia trees, the winery is located in Rutherford and was founded in 1980 by the Allen family. Their wines have received many accolades throughout the 80’s, then sort of dwindled throughout the late 90's until a few years ago, when ownership changed hands and the Kopf family began pumping money into the winery. One sudden improvement has been the quality of the wine, and for the time being you can still buy it for a relatively low price. In blind tastings, their Cabernet has outperformed other wines three times the price. One of the main forces driving this recent shift in style is winemaker and president, Michael Trujillo.

Michael worked side by side founder Jim Allen practically since the beginning of Sequoia Grove, but it wasn't until Jim retired that he took over as President/ Head Winemaker and began taking the wine in a new, exciting direction. Instead of Sonoma and Monterey fruit, they now use grapes from Rutherford, among other areas and have spent the money for some necessary upgrades of the tanks, crushers, and other equipment. The result is elegant, concentrated wine with the distinct sense of Rutherford Terroir. As well as making wine for Sequoia Grove, Michael also bottles small production 'cult' wine under his own label, Karl Lawrence, which is highly regarded and has a waiting list to order wine. Karl Lawrence was founded in 1991 and is the realization of Michael and longtime friend Bryan Henry's dream of producing outstanding Napa Valley Cabernet.

Over the past few years lots of changes have been taking place in Sequoia Grove and people have certainly been taking notice. Now the question is just how long will the price stay under $40?

Tasting Notes:
No decanting necessary, this wine drank well out of the bottle but definitely improved with time in the glass. A very nice inky black/ garnet color, the nose is a mix of pepper, oak and cherry with hints of vanilla extract as well as some significant greenish/ bell pepper components. In the mouth the wine is fairly smooth with sour cherry, raspberry and pepper flavors that are big and ripe but manage to avoid becoming heavy and cloying. There’s a certain lightness that I appreciate which makes it easy to have a few glasses in a row. The only thing lacking is the finish, which falls a little short. A definite winner to drink either with food or by itself.

Score: 86-88

Alcohol: 14.2

Price: $30

January 14, 2008

Opus One Vertical Tasting

Whenever I get the chance to taste the original, 'ultra premium wine' at a good price I'm all over it, and once I found out the local wine store was having an Opus One vertical tasting, I couldn't wait.

1984 Opus One:
Very dark, almost brickish color in the glass, the '84 is over the hill. Completely devoid of fruit, there are smoked meat aromas on the nose. Some bacon fat and slight hints of cedar. Would have been nice to taste at it's peak.

1986 Opus One:
Very dark, nice shade of red in the glass, this wine is still excellent but I think it's on the way out. Savory aromas of herbs, oak, licorice and cherry meld together to fill the nose, leading into a pleasing mouthfeel with currant, a bit of leather and cherry. Nicely structured this wine finishes with soft, whispering tannins.

1987 Opus One:
This is one of those enlightening experiences every wine lover lives for. I believe this wine is at it's peak right now and it's amazing. Vibrant dark red in the glass, the nose on this wine had me spellbound. Notes of mint, tobacco, oak, and dark red fruit intertwine together in perfect unity. I could have sat smelling this wine for hours. The mouth is pure velvet, with complex flavors of currant, herbs and plummy, leathery undertones that leave you wanting more. Still a little grip, this might have a few more years left.

2004 Opus One:
In stark contrast to the parents, this wine is such a baby and is very hot and tannic, but it could grow up to be something great. A dark garnet color, there are the usual suspects on the nose- oak, nice berry fruit and hints of herbs. Massive in the mouth with nice structure and balance, the flavors are the same as the nose with a finish that falls a bit short. This has good potential, but at the release price, it's hard to justify the purchase.

All in all it was a great evening, but I don't think I'll be scouring the secondary market for any older vintages. I would love a few bottles of the '87 but I think they're fairly scarce and fetching too much money. With the standard of Opus set so seemingly high, it's a shame they routinely get out-performed by other less expensive wines. What will the future hold for the brainchild of two winemaking legends?


January 9, 2008


The folks over at wine.com have apparently created a their own little Homeland Security Task Force. Of Wine. YOUR wine. Yes, they have performed various undercover stings upon their competition in hopes of catching them breaking statewide shipping laws, then turning them in to the authorities.. They have done this under the guise of 'for the consumer' and 'to level the playing field' when it really seems to be solely in pursuit of monetary gains and elimating the competition. Wine.com has never had any of my business and shall never receive any in the future. What they have done is despicable, underhanded, and will cause more difficulty for consumers in states such as Illinois, Washington, Texas, and so on. Many people have decided to boycott them and I sincerely hope you will as well.

Read the full report on Alder Yarrow's blog Vinography

There is also an awesome group of retailers working furiously to change these laws. They are the SWRA and can be found here SWRA


January 8, 2008

Cook Restaurant, St. Helena CA

Cook is a locals favorite up in St Helena and in a lot of ways I can see why. Why it's a locals favorite, and why it's not a main tourist destination. If you're driving the main highway through downtown St Helena it's easy to miss this cozy little nook. I wasn't quite sure what to expect from Cook since I've heard mixed reviews and after eating here, I think it was one of the stranger dining experiences I've had throughout the years. In a way that's not really a bad thing, although some might disagree.

We arrived 15 minutes early for our reservation to a warm, unpretentious restaurant in the heart of St. Helena with an interesting mix of patrons. When dining at Cook, some choose to wear dinner jackets and dressy attire while others appear to have just finished working in the vineyards. Those must be the locals, we thought to ourselves. I felt quite overdressed in slacks and dress shirt but it was kind of comforting to see the casualness of Cook. Then things began to get a little strange. Greeted by one of the smiling, friendly waitresses, we were informed our table wasn't ready yet. Cook is a very small place with about 10 dining tables and another 10seats at the bar, so we chose to wait outside in the brisk air while they cleaned and prepped the table. We stood there, watching an empty table for two go uncleaned for about 30 min standing outside in plain view of the waitress like two sad puppy dogs tied to a telephone pole, left outside to wait for their owner. We contemplated leaving and walking over to Market where we've had delicious food and wine before but my girlfriend was determined to see what this place was all about and try new restaurants in the area. I couldn't blame, her but I was getting pretty hungry at this point.

Walking back inside I inquired how long the wait would be, and the waitress finally sat us at a table within elbow room of a group of four. I might add this table had been available from the time we first walked in, I just assumed she didn't seat us there because it was slightly cramped. By this time we were definitely ready for a glass of wine and ordered two glasses of Pinot from the small but diverse wine list.

Browsing the menu, we decided on the Calamari appetizer, which quickly arrived as a good sized pile of fried little rings with a light crunchy, delicious golden crust. I could SWEAR to this day, that halfway through the appetizer as our waitress was removing a few finished bread plates, she slyly picked up a piece of calamari and ate it. I must have been imagining things, but I'm 75% sure this really happened. If it did, it would be both awesome and appalling at the same time. Looking over at the table of four next to us, I saw three of them ordered the special of the night, risotto, and that each plate was practically licked clean. Is it really that good? After finishing both the appetizer and our glasses of wine, we ordered a nice bottle of Tuscan, the 2005 Brancaia Tre- a blend of Sangiovese, Cab, and Merlot. A perfect foil for the main courses we ordered- Risotto and a plate of Fettuccine Bolognese.

As we sat sipping our wine, the waitress came by and asked if we would like our main courses to start being cooked. This was an odd question I've never been asked from any restaurant. I figured once we finished the appetizer the only sensible thing to do would be to start on our main dishes. Maybe she thought we wanted to sit and enjoy some time in between the two but in my experience at any semi-fine dining establishment they try and pace out your meal, not ask you when you want things cooked. Very strange, but the wait was worth it, as I'm still haunted by the risotto to this day. I always hesitate to order risotto. How a busy restaurant can tend to the care, love and constant stirring essential to the dish is beyond me and I always find risotto to be either underdone, overdone, or just plain disappointing. At Cook however, the risotto was profound. There's a reason the diners next to us licked their plates clean. I felt like I was eating perfection and I didn't want it to end.

After that delicious meal I sat back full and satisfied and took the last sip of my Brancaia. Dessert would have been too much for us that night but judging from the way other diners were devouring their pastries and assorted cakes the desserts looked great as well. In the end if you're looking for a cozy atmosphere, great food and a well priced wine list, visit Cook on you next stay in the valley. Dinner for two including appetizer, main course, 2 glasses of wine and a bottle ran us $120. Not bad for dining in wine country.

Overall Grade: B

Appetizers: $6 – 11
Salads: $7 – 9
Pastas $13 – 16
Entrees: $18 – 22

Pros: Excellent Italian food with a creative twist. Good pricing.

Cons: Service could use improvement. Small restaurant.

Wine List: Fairly small with focus on California and Italian wines.