Engaging Wine Writers Invitational in Lake County

Tasting Notes

Strolling through vineyards, caves and wineries, and enlightening discussions with vintners and winemakers in Lake County reminded me once again that a prize of a wine region has blossomed here.  Our first stop at Gregory Graham Wines tasting room began the unveiling of noteworthy sips.  Their 2013 Bartolucci Vineyard Viognier is superb.  Apple blossom and stone fruit aromas get the juices flowing.  Apricots, honey-drizzled apples and spiced peach pie flavors glimmer on the palate.  Fermenting in neutral oak barrels and stainless-steel tanks gives this complex Viognier further depth and definition.  Their 2012 Red Hills Syrah, 2014 Chardonnay, 2012 Cab Sauvignon, and 2013 Magma Red (Bordeaux blend of Cab Franc, Petit Verdot, Malbec and Cab Sauv) are also luscious.

A visit to Boatique Winery Kelseyville followed.  Not only are there nice wines to be appreciated, but the eye is treated to an extraordinary display of rare wooden boats.  One of my favorite wines here is the 2014 Red Hills AVA Cabernet Sauvignon.  Dark fruits and tobacco on the nose set the stage for the lush mouthful of elderberry jam, blackberries, tobacco and vanilla custard, accented by underlying oak nuances.  I also appreciate their beautifully crafted 2016 Sauvignon Blanc Musqué from the Big Valley AVA, aged in concrete egg tanks, with its tropical fruit, subtle herbs, citrus accents, and smooth texture.

A leisurely drive to the other side of the lake took us to Clearlake Oaks for our check-in at Stonehouse Cellars. There, we were greeted warmly by Stonehouse Cellars’ COO Tamara Richmond, and local Sommelier Stephanie Cruz-Green (who organized the event).  This historic property boasts a vineyard, ranch, agricultural homestay and a savvy, new upscale Bed and Breakfast with a modern, open and fully equipped kitchen that flows to a spacious dining/living area, where a tasty array of wines, cheeses and fresh fruits awaited us upon our arrival.  Touring the acreage gave us the opportunity to take in the beguiling historic guest house, carefully-tended-to vineyards, and four-legged friends including sheep, llamas, and a family of squirrels dashing in and around the stone walls crafted of stones from the property.  Also located on site is their winery, from which the first estate wine, a 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon, will soon be bottled and released.  The barrel taste was lovely, looking forward to tasting the finished wine later this year!

Our next stop took us to the stately Brassfield Estate Winery, where we were welcomed by Director of Winemaking Matt Hughes, and attentive staff members, who prepared a gorgeous evening repast.  The scrumptious fresh fish tacos and additional delights paired nicely with their lineup of well-crafted wines. The vast estate encompasses 2,500 acres, with vineyards sitting at elevations from 1,800 feet on the valley floor up to nearly 3,000 feet at the peak of the property.  The acreage spans across sections of High Valley, Lake Serenity and the Round Mountain Volcano. The trip up to the top of the 256-acre property and down to their expansive caves, in a four-wheel drive vehicle, was an experience not to be forgotten!  The wild, exhilarating ride revealed exquisite views of the towering Mt. Konocti, serene Clear Lake and its surrounds. Their miles of caves support the winery’s commitment to growth for years to come.

Brassfield Estate treated us to a compelling Lake County Sauvignon Blanc, their 2016 vintage from the High Valley AVA.  Bright and minerally up front, with an alluring aroma that wakes up the senses.  Crisp melon, stone fruit, lemon verbena, grapefruit and fresh squeezed lime flavors enliven the palate, and the texture is divine.  Their 2016 dry Rosé, a blend of Syrah and Grenache, is equally lovely.  Notes of watermelon, a touch of spice, raspberry gelato, and citrusy accents flow across the palate with perfect balancing acidity. It’s vibrant and mouthwatering through the long finish.  Their intense and well-structured 2014 Cab Sauvignon from the High Valley AVA delivers a solid core of pretty fruit, skillful oak management, and firm tannins.  When you visit, don’t miss their impressive 2016 Grenache, 2014 Eruption (blend of Malbec, Syrah and Petite Sirah), and 2014 Petite Sirah, as well.

Back to Stone House Cellars for a nightcap and a good night’s sleep, before heading out the next morning to Shannon Ridge Family of Wines.  Joy Merrilees, Director of Winemaking and Production, and Production Assistant Ben Neyman met us in the winery’s lively tasting room, offering views of their precisely manicured, certified sustainable vineyards.   We thoroughly enjoyed the tasting of their three 2016 Sauvignon Blancs, which clearly showcased the unique terroir expression of different AVAs in Lake County.  Their 2016 High Valley Vineyards SB with its loamy soils is linear and mineral driven, with layers of citrus, nectarine, and fresh herb elements.  Their 2016 Vigilance SB from the crushed pumice, volcanic soils of the Red Hills AVA, is rounder in the mouth, with ripe tropical fruit flavors of pineapple and guava joining hands with crisp green apple and subtle spice.  Their 2016 Shannon Ridge High Elevation SB crafted of fruit from the High Valley, Red Hills and Big Valley appellations, is crisp and vibrant with fresh summer grass notes playing off Bosch pear, peach, kiwi and citrusy accents, sleek and minerally with brisk acidity.  Each are well balanced, wonderfully bright and fresh; an extraordinary showing of the depth and high quality of Sauv Blancs coming from Lake County.   Don’t miss their remarkable Vigilance 2014 Red Hills Cab Sauvignon, 2014 Shannon Reserve Home Ranch Cab Sauvignon, and 2015 High Valley Petite Sirah, too.

Our next stop was Fore Family Vineyards, where we enjoyed their expressive, deep, dark and velvety 2015 Mourvedre, and elegant 2012 Cobb Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon, revealing wild berry fruits and just the right touch of oak (aged in neutral French barrels).  Both wines crafted from grapes grown in the Red Hills AVA.  Another easy to quaff wine is their 2013 Cobb Mountain Vineyard GSM, a plush, richly fruited, vanilla spiced blend of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre, also crafted from Red Hills AVA fruit.

On to our picturesque lunch setting among the super rocky vineyards of Obsidian Ridge, perched at an elevation of 2,640 feet, where we gained a true sense of place among the high altitude vines.  Their intense and complex Cabernet Sauvs are firmly structured, deeply fruited and ageworthy.  In addition to the current vintage (2014, noted below), we tasted a few earlier vintages with our delectable lunch.  Fresh air and cool breezes prevailed, as Co-Founder Arpad Molnar and Marketing/Sales Manager Jennifer La Rosa shared more about the wines, and the history of their 105-acre Obsidian Ridge Vineyard along the Mayacamas Mountains.  The 2011 Cab Sauv is drinking exquisitely, with an intense structure, dark fruit, tobacco, and a thread of minerality adding to its complexity.  The 2007 Half Mile Block (Cab Sauv and Petit Verdot blend) offers a deep hue, and fragrant violets on the nose.  In the mouth, it sings with bright red and black fruits, tea spice, and savory notes, all supported by a solid spine of firm tannins.  Meticulously integrated oak and hints of tobacco linger though the memorable finish.

Obsidian Ridge 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon (Red Hills AVA) is a charismatic wine, starting with the aromas of earth, shale, spice, and black fruit.  The palate displays tremendous depth, with blackberry, black currant and dark plum fruit melding with savory spice, leathery notes, and well placed oak nuances.  Multilayered and complex with a solid backbone of firm tannins foretelling its cellar worthiness.

Time to freshen up, and imbibe additional Lake County wines with our sumptuous dinner of lamb, salad and roasted root vegetables, back at Stonehouse Cellars.  Wines included Steele Wines 2012 Stymie Founder’s Reserve Merlot, that showcases a bowlful of fresh blueberries on the nose.  The fine aromatics are followed by juicy blueberry, fresh raspberry, and red currant fruits with accents of cinnamon, vanilla bean and oak spice elements titillating the palate.  R Vineyards expressive and vivacious 2015 Viognier offers up aromas of jasmine and sweet fruit, broadening in the mouth with honeysuckle, juicy guava, mango and clingstone peach flavors wrapped around a nice spine of acidity; brilliant.  The 2013 Six Sigma Ranch Tempranillo wows the palate with plum preserves, blackberries, crushed pink peppercorns, a touch of herbs and tobacco notes.  Mouthcoating and finely balanced.  Noggle Vineyards & Winery’s impressive 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon opens with stunning scents of cinnamon and clove, and blossoms on the palate with cherry, black raspberry, currants, tobacco, earthy notes, cocoa, and toasty oak spice; impeccably balanced with a persistent finish.  Another striking wine is the 2011 Hawk & Horse Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon from the Red Hills AVA.  Dark and delicious with layers of cassis, loganberries, black cherries, tobacco leaf, earth, cocoa and a hint of pencil shavings filling the palate.  Complex with firm tannins, it promises more years of enjoyment ahead.

Our final stop, engaging with Nick Buttitta at family owned Rosa d’Oro Vineyards, was delightful.   The family has been growing wine grapes in California since 1953.  In 2001, they founded Rosa d’Oro Vineyards, focused on crafting Italian varietal wines. The Buttittas have 14 acres of grapes planted in the Kelsey Bench AVA.  The charming tasting room is housed in an old bank building from the early 1900’s.  Nick’s stories are captivating, and the wines are varietally spot on and delicious. Their 2014 Nebbiolo is divine, starting with the heavenly berry, cherry aromas.  Rich and juicy on entry, it coats the palate with layers of raspberry, black cherry, and wild berries, hints of oak, and earthiness, and vibrant acidity carries the wine to a savory finish.  Other wines not to miss here are the lively, raspberry and herb-scented 2013 Aglianico, savory and well balanced 2014 Refosco, intensely aromatic and juicy 2014 Barbera, and jammy, boysenberry and spice-accented 2014 Primitivo.  A fitting finish to our gratifying trip, was Rosa d’Oro’s 2013 Carmen Dessert Wine, a gem crafted of 50% Refosco and 50% Tinta Roriz.   A rich, spiced plum, berry, toffee and dark chocolate accented wine to keep in mind when you are ready for a blissful nightcap!

From the Depths of the Cellar

Gems in MY Glass . . .

Notable wine journalist Dan Berger, his wife Juliann, fellow wine judge Tom Bohr, his partner Etha, and I recently dug into our wine cellars and pulled out a few aged bottles to share with friends over dinner at Ca’Bianca restaurant in Santa Rosa.  Admittedly, my cellar is not nearly as deep as Dan’s, nor Tom’s, but each bottle represented had been stored in ideal conditions, a must for properly aging wines.  The wines selected from the cellars of Dan and Tom, aged for decades, included a 1970 Napa Cab Sauv, a 1975 Napa Cab Sauv, a 1970 Margaux Bordeaux, and a 1976 Mosel-Saar-Ruwer (Germany) Riesling, among others.  My mature wine contribution was a 1998 Napa Cab (a mere 18.5 years aged).  Travel vicariously with me through the years:

Freemark Abbey 1987 Chardonnay; Napa Valley, California:  If you are one who thinks new world Chardonnay isn’t ageworthy; think again.  This elegant ~30-year-aged Chard displayed the color of a golden sunrise, and a bouquet that captured notes of honey-drizzled baked apples.  In the mouth it was velvety smooth, as layers of buttered toast, nuttiness, hints of earth, applesauce, creamy pears and citrusy accents were revealed.  The delightful finish was persistent.

Van Loben Sels 1970 Cabernet Sauvignon; Napa Valley, California:  Dan recalled this wine released at ~$12, and BV Reserve in those days was selling for ~$9 per bottle.  Imagine that!  The grapes were grown on the property across from Robert Mondavi Winery, which the Van Loben Sels’ then owned (now the site of Opus One Winery).  A pleasing earthy aroma set the stage for aged leather, spice box notes, tobacco leaf and dried currants on the palate.  Resolved tannins and nice oak nuances added further dimension.

Beaulieu Vineyard 1983 Georges de Latour Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon; Napa Valley, California:  Opened with an herbaceous aroma that led to harmonious notes of dried cherry, underbrush, orange peel, savory spice, cassis, a thread of minerality and subtle dark chocolate gracing the palate.  Fully integrated tannins and slight acids held up the mature fruit, and the pleasing finish boasted notes of toffee.

Chateau Brane-Cantenac 1970 Grand Cru Classé Bordeaux; Margaux, France:  This beautifully composed Grand Cru Classé exhibited an inviting bouquet, and incredible brightness considering its age.  Cherry, currant and dried earth melded with secondary notes of smoke and well-integrated oak, followed by tertiary flavors of saddle leather, baking spice and tobacco.  The wine finished gracefully with a touch of herbs and plenty of length.

Trimbach 1979 Cuvée Des Seigneurs De Ribeaupierre Gewurztraminer; Alsace, France:  The hue presented hints of age, and the nose offered nuttiness.  In the glass, this Gewurz showcased lovely fruit elements of lychee, honeysuckle and citrus, with a drop of honey and roasted almonds, all supported by a dynamic backbone of acidity.  The mouthfeel was silky, and the wine was nicely weighted.

Wehlener Sonnenuhr 1976 Riesling Spatlese; Mosel-Saar-Ruwer, Germany:  Wow.  A testament to the ageworthiness of this noble grape, this vivacious Riesling was wildly expressive with floral, slate and stone fruit aromas.  Sleek with a fine acid backbone, it delivered consistent flavors of peach and apricot accented by lime zest on the palate.  Minerally with remarkable liveliness through the memorable finish.

Inglenook Winery Reserve Cask 1983 Reunion Cabernet Sauvignon; Napa Valley, California:  This engaging Cab Sauv was sourced from Napa Valley vineyards, including plantings at the JJ Cohn Ranch.  It showcased earthiness, dried cherry, cassis, eucalyptus, cedar and savory spice elements from the satisfying aroma, through the palate, to the lifted finish.  This wine was holding its own, with the fruit at the core enveloped by soft tannins and still present acidity.

Caymus Vineyards 1975 Cabernet Sauvignon; Napa Valley, California: (Dan shared that this wine was crafted by Randy Dunn, who later, in 1979, founded Dunn Vineyards). This nicely aged wine opened with smoky overtones, worn leather notes, spicy nuances of French and American oak, tobacco, cassis, plummy fruit, and dusty earth accents.  Well defined with soft tannins, nice acids, and a finish that lingered on and on.

Robert Mondavi Winery 1998 Stags Leap District Cabernet Sauvignon; Napa Valley, California:  Fresh and bright, this appealing Cab Sauv enticed me into the glass with dark fruit and spice on the nose.  Full bodied with a beautiful texture, layers of cassis, plum jam, tobacco, boysenberry, anise, and underlying oak nuances filled the palate.  Supple tannins and nice acids support the pretty fruit; still youthful.

Wendouree 2003 Shiraz Mataro; Clare Valley, South Australia:  The minty, berry aroma clearly identified sense of place with this tasty, full bodied Australian red blend.  Layers of blackberry liqueur, dark cherries, red plums, oak spice and eucalyptus flowing onto the palate were buoyed by bracing acidity.  Well-structured and velvety smooth with precise balance and a vivid finish.

These gems, some of which had been bottled before some of us reached legal drinking age, were enlightening, eye opening, and a delight to sip and pair with Ca’Bianca’s delicious cuisine.  I look forward to exploring additional ageworthy wines in years ahead.  With patience over the next decade or two, perhaps some of the bottles in my cellar will still be resting, awaiting the right time to pop the cork for tasting, reviewing and sharing!

Gems in My Glass . . . May 2017

Gems in MY Glass . . .

Moët & Chandon 2006 Dom Pérignon; Epernay, France:  Wow, the yeasty, floral aroma draws me in; easy to figure out just where in the world this came from!  Rich and complex with layers of brioche, creamy pear, apricot, notes of licorice, orange zest, minerals, a touch of spice and earthiness.  Composed of 52% Pinot Noir and 48% Chardonnay, this Champagne is precise and immaculate in balance, and the tiny bubbles are everlasting.  SRP:  $180 www.domperignon.com

Weingut Prager 2012 Riesling Smaragd Wachstum Bodenstein; Wachau, Austria:  Wet stone, florality and peach notes on the nose clearly speak Riesling.  This divine Riesling is equally compelling on the palate, as green apples, peaches and apricots highlighted by bright citrus elements meld with a solid thread of minerality.  Complex, vivacious, ageworthy and simply delicious.  SRP:  ~$62  www.weingutprager.at

Fratelli Revello 2011 Vigna Giachini Barolo DOCG; Piedmont, Italy:  Dusty earth, heady flowers and dried cherries on the nose open to a beautifully distinctive and flavorful classic Barolo.  Intense and extracted as bands of blackberries, tobacco leaf, anise, dark cherries, leather and earthiness are unveiled on the palate.  Full bodied, fine-tuned and deep in structure with herbs and spice lingering on the memorable finish.  SRP:  ~$55 www.revellofratelli.com

Justin Vineyards & Winery 2016 Sauvignon Blanc; Central Coast, California:  Demonstrative on the nose with delightful grassy, citrus aromas.  Juicy and vibrant as grapefruit, honeydew melon and lemon verbena notes enliven the palate.   Pristinely balanced with lively acidity, this Sauvignon Blanc is as pure and refreshing as it gets!  SRP: $14.50   www.justinwine.com

Dillon Vineyards 2014 Chardonnay; Yountville, Napa Valley, California:   Here is an easy to quaff Chardonnay (aged in 33% new, 67% seasoned French oak barrels) that shows off tropical notes on the nose.  Fresh and elegant with a lovely mouth feel, it exhibits notes of warm apple tarte tartin, vanilla bean, nutmeg, cinnamon, pineapple and spiced oak nuances.  Lively acidity offers good balance to the generous fruit.   SRP: ~$24 www.dillonvineyards.com

Dominus Estate 2012 Dominus; Napa Valley, California:  Clearly still in its youth, here is one for the cellar.  Dense, dark and complex with firm tannins, decant to open the wine up (if you choose to pop the cork now).  Multilayered with black currant, dark cherry, fresh tobacco, spice box, leather, hints of earth, savory dried herbs, and underlying oak weaving a highly-structured pattern on the palate. I envision this gem aging well for decades. SRP:  $~200 www.dominusestate.com

Dominus Estate 2014 Napanook; Napa Valley, California:  This “baby” Dominus is not to be overlooked, nor underrated.  The expressive aroma proclaims look at ME!  Approachable, yet promises to age nicely as well, it engages the senses as it rolls onto the palate with confidence and grace.  Spicy and richly textured with cassis, hints of olive paste and dark plum fruit at the core, braced by a pretty backbone of tannins and lively acidity.   SRP: ~$70 www.dominusestate.com

Concha y Toro 2011 Don Melchor Cabernet Sauvignon; Puente Alto, Chile:  Expressive berry aromas set the stage for this delightful, well balanced Cab Sauvignon.  Boysenberry, blueberry and raspberry candy flavors join savory spice and leathery notes with a nice accent of oak.  Juicy and medium bodied with silky tannins and a nice finish that lingers beyond the final drop.  SRP:  ~$70  www.conchaytoro.com

Chateau Rieussec 2009 Premier Grand Cru Classé Sauternes; Bordeaux, France:  This Sauternes is rich and concentrated while boasting a splendid level of balancing acidity.  Interlacing flavors of fresh honey, tropical fruit, roasted pecans, caramel corn and butterscotch are lifted by tangerine highlights, and the dreamy finish keeps on going; heavenly!  SRP:  ~$75   www.lafite.com/en/the-chateaus/chateau-rieussec/

Ageworthy, Bold, Captivating and Delicious – Petite Sirah! 

Gems in MY Glass . . ., Petite Sirah, Tasting Notes

I recently attended the 5th Annual Napa Valley Petite Sirah Breakfast at Robert Biale Vineyards. Talk about a wakeup call!  A delicious spread of savory quiche, breakfast potatoes, fresh baked biscuits and multiple selections of the finest bacon around was paired with this bold, intense wine. Good Morning indeed!

Petite Sirah, also known as Durif, originated in France.  It is a cross of Syrah and the lesser known French variety, Peloursin.  I’ve been a devotee of Petite Sirah for several years, and in my opinion, it is one of the most ageworthy varieties.  I recall tasting a 1967 Foppiano Vineyards (Sonoma County) Petite Sirah in the late 90’s, and it was showing incredibly well.  Yes, that’s right – at 30 years of age!

Many of the fascinating Napa Valley Petite Sirahs I had the pleasure of sampling at this tasty event also promise years of enjoyment, into the next decade and beyond.  Here are my impressions:

Robert Biale Vineyards 2014 Palisades Petite Sirah; Calistoga, Napa Valley, California:  Floral and dark fruit aromas captivate, as this assertive, cellarworthy Petite Sirah approaches the nose.  On the palate, the wine exhibits impressive complexity and balance, with layers of blackberry, bittersweet chocolate, blueberry compote, anise seed, and underlying spice notes from French oak aging. It boasts a firm structure, supple tannins, and a long and memorable finish.   SRP:  $55 www.biale.com

Calder Wine Company 2014 Petite Sirah; Rutherford, Napa Valley, California:  From organically grown vines comes this delightful, expressive Petite Sirah.  Inky in hue, it is lush, juicy and bright in the mouth, with blackberries, plums, spice, a splash of citrus, and underlying oak nuances.  Broad and intense yet elegant at the same time, with meticulous balance and fine grained tannins.  SRP:  $30  www.calderwine.com

Chase Cellars 2014 Barberis Vineyard Petite Sirah; Napa Valley, California:  This fragrant and ageworthy Petite Sirah opens with gusto!  Well defined layers of black cherry, cranberry chutney, plum and black raspberry fruit interlace with licorice, oak spice and pleasing earthy accents.  Luxurious and round yet immaculately balanced, as approachable tannins and rockin’ acidity carry the dense fruit to an everlasting finish.  SRP:  $75 www.chasecellars.com

Frog’s Leap Winery 2014 Petite Sirah; Rutherford, Napa Valley, California: Fresh berry fruit on the nose leads the way to a powerful display of blueberry, spiced plums, sweet huckleberries, earthiness and a subtle touch of herbs on the palate.  Oak spice (from 20% new oak) adds dimension, while firm tannins and nice acids offset the concentrated fruit; full bodied and nicely crafted.  SRP: $40  www.frogsleap.com

Switchback Ridge 2013 Peterson Family Vineyard Petite Sirah; Calistoga, Napa Valley, California:  The black-purple hue sets the stage for the power and intensity of this mouth filling Petite Sirah. Enticing and confident on the nose and palate, delivering aromas and flavors of cassis, elderberry liqueur, orange-scented blackberry marmalade, mocha and savory spice. Firm tannins, depth of fruit and bright acids speak clearly about its ageworthiness.  SRP:  $60 www.switchbackridge.com

Titus Vineyards 2014 Petite Sirah; Napa Valley, California:  Hints of earth and spiced berry compote rise from the glass.  This wine is smoothly textured and succulent, with flavors of marionberries, warm cherry pie, ripe plums, blackberries, spice cake, a hint of cocoa, and attractive oak accents coating the mouth.  Rich and tasty from the pleasing entry to the plush finish.   SRP:  $38 www.titusvineyards.com

Tres Sabores Winery 2012 Guarino Vineyard Petite Sirah; Calistoga, Napa Valley, California:  Here is a fruit driven Petite Sirah that is far from shy.  Engaging at first whiff with red and black fruits, this on point wine expands deliciously, as spiced blackberry jam, succulent purple plums, huckleberries and hints of toast unwind on the palate.  Concentrated and deep through the persistent aftertaste.   SRP:  $45 www.tressabores.com

Stanton Vineyards 2014 Petite Sirah; St. Helena, Napa Valley, California:  Deep and complex, this powerhouse opens with dark berries and floral scents.  In the mouth, layers of black plums, wild berries, a twist of fresh cracked peppercorns, and oak nuances (aged 21 months in French and American oak) join energetic acidity.  Full bodied and muscular, with a backbone of firm tannins; drink now or hold.  SRP:  $45  www.stantonvineyards.com

Salvestrin Winery 2014 Estate Vineyard Petite Sirah; St. Helena, Napa Valley, California:  This 100% Petite Sirah offers up gorgeous dark fruit aromatics.  Intense and juicy from first sip, as blackberries, melted chocolate, plum preserves, savory spice, and well-integrated oak meld in harmony.  Deftly balanced and structured with a subtle suggestion of mint on the extended finish; appealing now, with years to go.  SRP:  $49  www.salvestrinwinery.com

Neal Family Vineyards 2011 Rutherford Dust Vineyards Petite Sirah; Rutherford, Napa Valley, California:  From certified organic vineyards comes this pure, fruit driven wine that arouses the senses.  Well composed, with a velvety texture on the palate, where boysenberry, ripe plums, black cherries, vanilla bean and spiced olive tapenade interlace gloriously.  Graceful and vibrant with refined tannins. SRP:  $35 www.nealvineyards.com

Kenefick Ranch 2012 Petite Sirah; Calistoga, Napa Valley, California:  Forest fruit aromas capture the senses.  This vivid and balanced Petite Sirah, blended with 10% Merlot, broadcasts blackberries, Bing cherries, blueberries, spice, and almond paste notes. Oak treatment is perfectly managed (aged 18 months in 10% new, 90% seasoned French barrels), and the texture is satin smooth.  A long finish completes the lovely package.  SRP:  $45  www.kenefickranch.com

Priest Ranch Winery 2011 Petite Sirah; Napa Valley, California:  Bright and flavorsome, this wine offers up black fruit aromas, followed by sun-kissed blackberries, raspberry jam, licorice and savory spices filling the palate.  Luscious and pure, with silky tannins, a firm structure, and finely integrated tannins.   The lively thread of acidity provides a perfect complement to the lip-smacking, dense and long-lasting fruit.  SRP:  $40  www.priestranchwines.com

Patland Estate Vineyards 2014 “D’Oro” Port style Petite Sirah; Napa Valley, California:  Here is a decadent way to cap off an evening. Concentrated flavors of boysenberry jam, roasted pecans, caramel, Kirsch, brown spices, orange zest and a trace of crushed spearmint weave a heavenly fabric across the palate.  Fortified with Germain-Robin Alambic Brandy and aged 20 months in French oak, it is opulent, multi-layered and skillfully balanced through the remarkable finish.  SRP:  $80 (375ml) www.patlandvineyards.com

Petite Sirah is grown in many appellations in California, Washington, Oregon and Idaho, among other areas across the country.  It is also grown outside of the USA, in countries including Australia, Canada, Chile, Israel, Mexico, and South Africa.  Visit the above noted websites, schedule a visit, or check with your favorite wine merchants to pick up a few bottles to sip or cellar, and discover which wines suit your palate. Gain further information about this bold and beautiful variety, and learn about other fine producers, by visiting the Petite Sirah Advocacy Organization, P.S. I Love You website at www.psiloveyou.org.




Judgment of Geyserville IV – An Impressive Round of Grenache

Judgment of Geyserville, Tasting Notes

 Wine writers, Eric Degerman, Mike Dunne, Dan Berger, Bill Ward, and I met for our fourth annual Judgment of Geyserville, with Grenache taking center stage.  This year we also welcomed Stag’s Hollow Winemaker Dwight Sick, and April Reddout, Wine Director of the Walter Clore Wine & Culinary Center.  Wines from Australia, British Columbia, Idaho, California, Oregon and Washington were represented in this blind tasting.  I see a growing trend for Grenache rising among consumers.  This is attributable in part, I believe, to how well this wine pairs with food.  Give it a try with balsamic glazed salmon, smoked trout, chicken gumbo, pork tenderloin, ribs off the grill, tofu stir-fry, caramelized roasted beets, and vegetarian lasagna; it is quite versatile!   The judges agreed that the overall quality of the flight was remarkable, with nearly every entry securing a Silver Medal or higher.  The winery capturing the only Bronze medal, Andis Wines (2012 Grenache), went on to capture GOLD and Best of Class honors for its 2014 Grenache at the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition in January.  Here are my impressions for the Judgment of Geyserville IV wines (with the overall group score noted in parentheses):


Abacela 2014 Barrel Select Estate Garnacha; Umpqua Valley, Oregon:  Full bodied with a deep, dark hue, this concentrated Grenache is tightly wound.  With aeration, enticing aromas of wild raspberries and savory spice waft from the glass.  Layers of black cherries, plums, pomegranate seeds, raspberries, a dash of white pepper and sandalwood unravel onto the palate and lead to a sumptuous, long-lasting finish.  (GOLD) SRP: $29  www.abacela.com

Reustle Prayer Rock Vineyards 2014 Hebron Bloc Estate Grenache; Umpqua Valley, Oregon:  The brilliant hue catches your eye, and the aroma is engaging and expressive.  Pure and well balanced on the palate, with black raspberry, pomegranate, citrus and mineral notes interlacing with a touch of fresh cracked peppercorns, and immaculate oak integration. Finishes with elegance and plenty of length.  (SILVER) SRP: $27 www.reustlevineyards.com

Folin Cellars 2014 Estate Grenache; Rogue Valley, Oregon:  Lush and rich from the sun-kissed berry scents that pave the way, to the cohesive, mouth filling flavors of spice-dusted raspberry compote and Santa Rosa plums, accented by minerality and underlying oak.  Fruit, acids and tannins are exactly balanced, and the finish is vivacious and persistent.  (SILVER) SRP: $35 www.folincellars.com


A Tribute to Grace 2014 Highlands Vineyard Grenache; Santa Barbara, California:   Delicate floral notes and a basket full of fresh mixed berries greet the nose.  Aerate this well-structured wine to fully unleash layers of cranberries, red cherries, huckleberries, orange zest and spicy oak nuances.  The refreshing finale is upbeat and clean.  (SILVER) SRP: $45 www.gracewinecompany.com

Bonny Doon Vineyard 2014 Rancho Solo Vineyard Cuvee R Grenache; Monterey County, California:  Energizing scents of a walk in the forest rise from the glass.  Fresh spiced cranberry sauce, subtle earthiness, and juicy raspberries join savory notes and a thread of minerality creating a burst of flavors on the palate.  The mouthfeel is silky and the wine remains lively through the extended finish.  (SILVER) SRP: $48  www.bonnydoonvineyard.com

Andis Wines 2012 Grenache; Amador County, California:  Highly aromatic, this wine tempts the senses with floral and spice notes.  In the mouth, pleasing flavors of cherry and raspberry compote, a hint of toast, and tangerine accents entwine.  A nice level of acidity keeps the wine balanced and energetic.  (BRONZE) SRP: $26 www.andiswines.com


Sawtooth Winery 2013 Classic Fly Series Grenache; Snake River Valley, Idaho:   Floral notes and hand-picked berries fully engage the senses.  Richly fruited with red raspberries, huckleberries, and juicy loganberries at the core, highlighted by blood orange accents and a touch of clove spice.  Pure and spirited with racy acidity balancing the juicy fruit.  Bright and perky through the lingering aftertaste.  (GOLD) SRP: $32 www.sawtoothwinery.com


Stag’s Hollow Winery 2013 Grenache; Okanagan Valley, British Columbia: Ripe black fruits open the door to this opulent Grenache.  Black cherries, black plums and black raspberries intertwine on the palate, with anise and a nice smoky note adding depth. Full bodied, velvety smooth and well balanced, with plenty of verve.  (GOLD) SRP:  $30 www.stagshollowwinery.com

Stag’s Hollow Winery 2014 Renaissance Grenache; Okanagan Valley, British Columbia:  Perfumed aromas of berries and a hint of earth at first whiff.  Deliciously fruity, multi-layered and complex, with pomegranate juice, ripe raspberries, tangerine, minerality, and a dusting of sweet herbs interlacing in harmony.  Lacy and ethereal with a silky texture and an everlasting finish.  (DOUBLE GOLD) SRP: $40 www.stagshollowwinery.com

Stag’s Hollow Winery 2015 Grenache; Okanagan Valley, British Columbia:  The fruity aroma sets the stage for this gem.  Tightly knit, the wine broadens with aeration, unveiling spiced plum pudding, black cherries, and cranberry notes on the palate. Bracing acids, good depth of fruit, and firm tannins speak to years of enjoyment ahead.  (GOLD) SRP: $30 www.stagshollowwinery.com


Palencia Wine Company 2013 Grenache; Yakima Valley, Washington:  This intensely aromatic Grenache shows off gobs of ripe berry fruit.  Robust on the palate as layers of juicy boysenberry, raspberry, Bing cherry, black licorice and spice elements unwind.  Brisk acidity offsets the lush fruit, and the tannins are firm, creating a lovely balance.  (GOLD) SRP: $36 www.palenciawine.com

Columbia Crest 2013 Reserve Grenache; Horse Heaven Hills, Washington:  The alluring toasty, vanilla scented nose draws you in.  Black raspberry, Black Splendor plum and loganberry fruit spiked with licorice and a splash of fresh squeezed orange juice enliven the palate.  Succulent and well balanced from first sip to lip-smacking finale.  (GOLD) SRP: $35 www.columbiacrest.com

Maison Bleue Family Winery 2012 “Bourgeois” Grenache; Columbia Valley, Washington:  Here is a Grenache that struts out with raspberry coulis and herbs on the nose.  Streamlined and zesty on the palate, with cranberry relish, raspberries, blueberries and subtle hints of spice and forest floor notes.  A firm backbone of acidity keeps it bright and lively. (GOLD) SRP:  $30 www.mbwinery.com


Kilikanoon Wines 2012 Prodigal Grenache; Clare Valley, Australia:  This wildly expressive Grenache shouts out deep black fruit on the nose.  Powerful from the get go, with blackberry, black plum, and pomegranate seeds marrying with chocolaty notes and impressive oak management.  Fruit, acids and tannins are perfectly balanced.  (GOLD) SRP:  $33 www.kilikanoon.com.au

Yalumba Family Vignerons 2014 Samuel’s Garden Collection Old Bush Vine Grenache; Barossa Valley, Australia:   This lighter style Grenache offers up pretty scents of red fruit.  Flowing onto the palate are flavors of strawberries and cream, fresh raspberries, cranberry soda and a sprinkling of fresh cut herbs.  Elegant, nicely balanced, and easy to quaff.  (SILVER) SRP: $20  www.yalumba.com

d’Arenberg 2013 The Derelict Vineyard Grenache; McLaren Vale, Australia: Take a good whiff and enjoy the essence of a plum orchard ready to be harvested. This intense Grenache broadcasts succulent purple plums, black raspberries, a touch of earth and savory spice wrapped around firm tannins.  Nicely structured with a velvety texture.  (SILVER) SRP: $29 www.darenberg.com.au

My hope is that this variety continues gaining well deserved accolades and upward traction in the marketplace.  Why not gather up a few bottles and discover which suits your palate?  I think you’ll find Grenache to be a very nice addition to your cellar, and your next dinner party.

Gems in My Glass . . . February 2017

Gems in MY Glass . . ., Tasting Notes

Reustle Prayer Rock Vineyards 2006 Gruner Veltliner; Umpqua Valley, Oregon:  Seeking an ageworthy white wine?  Look no further!  I have found Reustle Prayer Rock wines to age gracefully over many years, and this is one outstanding example.  Stephen Reustle crafted this gem more than ten years ago, and it simply could not be more stunning.  Mouthwatering aromas get the juices flowing.  Elegant layers of Chamomile tea, flinty notes, honeysuckle, salinity, oyster shell minerality and subtle white pepper accents wow the palate, and the flavors linger heavenly on the persistent finish.

Garrison Creek Cellars 2011 Syrah; Walla Walla Valley, Washington:  Here is a blockbuster Syrah!  Still in its youth, it is tightly wound with firmly structured tannins.  Cassis, blackberry and plum fruit meld with meaty elements, savory spice and well placed oak.  Full bodied and complex, decant if you pop the cork now, or cellar; this complex wine promises many years of enjoyment ahead.

Nicolas Feuillatte 2006 Palmes d’Or Brut; Champagne, France:  Alluring floral and citrus aromas set the stage for this gorgeous Champagne.  Titillating aromatics of brioche and fresh cut lemons waft from the glass. This complex bubble shows off a creamy mousse and flavors of fresh baked bread, citrus, quince paste and crisp apple flavors.  Exactly balanced and lively, with a pinpoint tiny bead that lasts until the final lip-smacking drop.

Dehlinger Winery 2011 Chardonnay; Russian River, California:  I’ve been drawn to Dehlinger wines for decades, and here again is a prime example of what keeps me coming back for more; the consistency and quality shows through year after year.   This is a mouth filling Chardonnay, chock full of crisp pear, spice-dusted baked apple, and Meyer lemon flavors cascading onto the palate.  A thread of minerality and precise oak management cap off the lovely package.

Concha y Toro 2004 Don Melchor Cabernet Sauvignon; Puente Alto, Chile:  Aromas of earth and leather are entirely engaging. Gorgeous vibrancy in the mouth, with just ripe berries, wild mushrooms, roasted coffee bean, licorice and baking spices joining the earthiness that remains consistent on the palate.  Exquisite balance and depth, with beautifully resolved tannins, and the finish, well, doesn’t!

Domaine Desertaux Ferrand 2013 Cote de Nuits-Villages Les Perrieres; Burgundy, France: Flinty, earth driven aromas send you jumping into the glass.  Ethereal and flavorsome as exotic spice, fresh earth, underlying red cherry, and soft suggestions of oak unfold on the palate.  Pure, pretty and elegant with a racy spine of acidity.

Silkwood Wines 2007 Vintners Select “Satin & Silk” Petite Sirah; Stanislaus County, California; This expressive red wine is opulent and finely structured.   Aged 48 months in brand new Mireau oak (crafted in Burgundy France), it showcases magnificent oak spice. Blackberry, boysenberry, mocha, and plum jam flavors coat the mouth with highlights of orange zest, a tinge of vanilla and tobacco spice.  Deep, dark, dense and delicious.

Kosta Browne 2008 Pinot Noir; Russian River Valley, California: Aroma of dried rose petals and cherries delight the senses. Firmly structured, this PN is brimming with lively layers of black raspberry, wild cherry, cola, a pinch of sage, and sassafras from first sip, to mid palate, through the back palate. Full bodied and nicely structured with a touch of oak adding dimension to the long finish.

Spring Valley Vineyard 2010 Uriah Estate Bottled Red Wine; Walla Walla Valley, Washington:   Here is a spunky blend crafted of 46% Merlot, 40% Cabernet Franc, 6% Petit Verdot, 5% Cabernet Sauvignon and 3% Malbec.  Black cherry and blackberry fruit at the core, with black licorice drop and nutmeg accents.  Oak spice from 18 months in 60% new French oak adds depth, yet stays perfectly in the background.

Spit Take – Breaking the Tie

Spit Take, Tasting Notes

“Gold, Gold, Silver, Silver—let’s discuss!”  This is a typical around-the-table call out on a panel of four professional judges at a wine competition. The tie must be broken. What happens next can change the fortunes of an unheralded winemaker, or end a hot streak for a top-end winery. Wines awarded Gold or Double Gold (unanimous Gold from all judges on that panel), not only gain kudos and shiny medals to display, but can provide vintners a direct route to increased exposure, publicity, and sales.

A good judge will have given each wine thoughtful consideration—each wine on its own merits, regardless of their personal variety or style preference.   A good judge, who may taste 50-125 wines that day, will have been spitting—the first step to maintaining a clear head and palate—and being invited back to judge. And a good judge will be ready to explain and debate their case when ties occur. Communication is key. The most important element of the tie breaker is about to begin: it’s time to lobby. Each judge presents a case for his or her rating.  The judges who called out Gold hope to talk up one, or both of the judges who ranked it Silver, to a Gold rating.  A consensus must be reached before the panel moves on to the next flight of wines.

I appreciate wine competition directors who, when assigning flights of wines, take into consideration judges’ expertise with certain varieties.  It allows judges with particular expertise to share knowledge about lesser known varieties during the discussion portion of the judging.  This gives those who may not have much (if any) experience judging that variety a better idea of what to expect.  Take for example, Gruner Veltliner, a wine I understand very well. In a recent competition, I provided in-depth information to judges who lacked experience with that variety and who under-rated the wine on its true varietal merits. After further discussion and retasting the wine, a Silver medal was elevated to Gold.

Breaking the tie is one of the most exciting parts of any competition. It presents a fun opportunity to share perspectives and knowledge, and become a better judge and co-panelist by understanding what other judges experience in the wines. As I often say, every palate is unique. The discussion that follows—during which passions can show—is part of what has energized my interest in wine, and judging over the past 16 years across vastly different competitions. There is always more to learn…and plenty of wine and conversation to fuel a passionate judge on the way to deciding which wines deserve “Gold!”

Extraordinary Wines, and the Beauty of Nature in Yosemite!

Tasting Notes

Moderating the Grand Grape Celebration again this year, at the historic Majestic Hotel (aka Ahwahnee Hotel) in Yosemite, was an honor and a pleasure.  The vintners for this session, “The Goddesses of the Grape” included Beth Nickel, Far Niente; Mia Klein, Selene Wines; Susie Selby, Selby Winery and Shauna Rosenblum, Rock Wall Wine Company.  Under the top-notch direction of Special Events Manager, Kathy Langley, and the entirely competent staff, this is one of the most spectacular wine events on the planet.  Imagine combining extraordinary wines, fine dining, and the splendor of nature surrounding you in Yosemite, it doesn’t get much better than that!

The noteworthy wines below were among the gems presented by this esteemed panel of women vintners:


En Route 2014 “Les Pommiers” Pinot Noir; Russian River Valley, California:  Aromas of a walk in the woods arouse the senses.  Lively and pure as the first taste crosses your lips, with red cherry, raspberry compote, a touch of oak and savory spice box notes tantalizing the palate.  A thread of minerality holds firm throughout, adding depth and complexity.  The wine is precisely balanced and elegant, with a silky, lingering finish that seems to go on forever. SRP:  $67  www.farniente.com

Nickel & Nickel 2013 John C. Sullenger Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon; Napa Valley, California:  Scents of cassis and black cherry segue to complementary flavors of spiced plum jam, boysenberries, dark cherries, cassis, black licorice and fresh tobacco.  Hints of oak are nicely placed in the background (aged 18 months in French oak barrels), adding further dimension.  Focused and complex with concentrated fruit, a solid backbone of tannins, immaculate balance and plenty of length; an ageworthy selection. SRP: $110 www.nickelandnickel.com

Bella Union 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon; Napa Valley, California:  Dark fruit aromas are enticing, and in the mouth this wine really delivers, with flavors of ripe blackberries, plum pudding and Bing cherries accented by nutmeg and well-integrated oak spices from French oak aging.  This Cab is ultra smooth with velvety tannins and fine balance.  This is the second vintage of Bella Union Cab Sauv; the 25-acre Cabernet Sauvignon vineyard along Bella Oaks Lane shows magnificent promise for years to come.  SRP:  $85 www.bellaunionwinery.com

Far Niente 2010 Dolce; Napa Valley, California:  Perfumed aromas draw you into this exquisite late harvest dessert wine.  Composed of late harvest Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc, it is reminiscent of a fine Sauternes. Decadent layers of apricot, orange zest, butterscotch candy, fresh guava and a dollop of honey saturate the palate.  The lively acidity and bright citrus accents keep the wine beautifully balanced, and the finish will put you in a dream-like state.  SRP:  $85 (375 ml) www.farniente.com


Selene Wines 2014 Hyde Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc; Carneros, Napa, California:  The first vibrant sip puts you in a celebratory mood; more please!  This wine is fresh and juicy with Honeydew melon and Asian pear at the center, surrounded by generous lemon and lime citrus notes and a touch of lemongrass tea.  The balance is spot on, and the wine remains upbeat and energetic through the bright and lasting aftertaste.  SRP:  $22.50 www.selenewines.com

Selene Wines 2004 Chesler; Napa Valley, California:  This red blend, crafted of 60% Cab Franc, 22% Merlot and 18% Cabernet Sauvignon presents a stunning bouquet, which may convince you to stay there enjoying the fragrance for a long while.  On the palate, red raspberries, loganberries and blueberries join hands with savory spice, graphite, a hint of smoke and underlying oak notes.  The tannins, fruit and acids are in perfect balance through the lasting finish.  SRP:  $50  www.selenewines.com

Selene Wines 2005 Chesler; Napa Valley, California:  For the 2005 vintage of Chesler, the blend is 50% Cab Franc and 50% Merlot.  Violets on the nose lead to a core of dense blueberries and red plums, marrying seamlessly with pipe tobacco, tarragon spice, a pinch of fresh mint, and chocolate overtones.  Marvelously textured and focused with refined tannins, it keeps your attention through the finish, that lingers with subtle oak and lovely savory notes. SRP:  $50 www.selenewines.com

Selene Wines 2006 Chesler; Napa Valley, California:  The 2006 vintage, a blend of 62% Cab Franc and 38% Merlot, offers up floral notes, dark fruits and spices that tempt the senses.  Complex and well balanced with blackberry, blueberry, and wild berry fruits entwining with graphite, hints of tar, and a very slight suggestion of roasted green bell peppers peeking through on the back of the palate.  Well structured, this wine shows pristine balance, purity of fruit, well-integrated oak and good length.  SRP:  $40 www.selenewines.com


Selby Winery 2014 Old Vine Zinfandel; Sonoma County, California:  This is a delightful example of old vine Zinfandel, America’s sweetheart grape, crafted from vines that range from 40 to 110 years of age.  Welcoming aromas of ripe berries and spice elements carry over to the juicy expression on the palate.  Bing cherries, olallieberries and raspberry preserves take center stage, entwining with fresh ground multi-colored peppercorns and hints of oak; jammy and delicious.  SRP:  $26  www.selbywinery.com

Selby Winery 2015 Chardonnay; Russian River Valley, California:  Here is a zesty Chardonnay broadcasting lemon blossom and orchard fruit on the nose.  Creamy and elegant on the palate with layers of Bosc pear, Crenshaw melon, fresh snipped herbs, citrus and oak nuances (from French oak aging).   There is an appealing richness to this Chard, and the level of acidity beautifully balances the succulent fruit.  Finishes with verve and persistence.  SRP:  $32  www.selbywinery.com

Selby Winery 2014 Sangiovese; Russian River Valley, California:  Cherries and a touch of earth start the ball rolling at first whiff with this exceptional Sangiovese.  The fruit comes from a steep hillside vineyard in the Russian River Valley. Vanilla bean, cinnamon and nutmeg spice accent the red cherry and raspberry flavors that are carried across the palate with a nice level of acidity, keeping the wine impeccably balanced. The finish lingers, with savory herbs and spice.   SRP:  $26 www.selbywinery.com

Selby Winery 2014 Azevedo Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon; Russian River Valley, California:  Highly aromatic, this delectable Cabernet Sauvignon opens with inviting scents of dark fruit and eucalyptus.  Flavors of cassis, Black Beauty plums, fresh spearmint, leather, mocha and tobacco spices meld in harmony on the palate.  The toasty oak (from 22 months in French oak), is well integrated.  Solidly structured, with refined tannins and good length.   SRP:  $42  www.selbywinery.com


Rock Wall Wine Company 2015 Sparkling Grenache Rosé; Yolo County, California:  This vibrant sparkling wine engages the senses with floral notes and fresh strawberries on the nose.  The wine dances on the palate, with a lively bead transporting delicious flavors of cranberry, red apple skin and lemon zest framing the juicy strawberry fruit.  Hints of allspice and blood orange chime in as this shimmering bubbly makes its way to a lifted finish.  SRP: $24 www.rockwallwines.com

Rock Wall Wine Company 2015 Fiano; Sutter County, California:  Dive in and enjoy this refreshing white wine crafted from the Fiano grape (more widely grown in Southern Italy). From first whiff, it is bright and clean with a melon and roasted hazelnut aroma.  Tropical fruit, honeyed almonds, hints of banana bread and a generous splash of tangerine fill the mouth. I love the high acids and strong personality.  This wine is sleek and dynamic, finishing with energy.  SRP:  $18  www.rockwallwines.com

Rock Wall Wine Company 2015 Montepulciano; Contra Costa County, California:  This Montepulciano (a grape widely grown in the Abruzzo region of Italy), shows off floral notes on the nose.  This wine reminds me of my father’s favorite pie (strawberry rhubarb), as it broadcasts rhubarb and sweet juicy strawberries accented by brown baking spices and vanilla bean.  Intriguing and lively, with licorice drops and a strong mineral card adding complexity throughout; simply scrumptious.  SRP:  $30  www.rockwallwines.com

Rock Wall Wine Company 2013 Tannat “The Palindrome”; Sonoma and Solano County, California:  What a pleasure to taste this well-crafted new world Tannat.  It’s the national grape of Uruguay, and having visited there recently, I applaud winemaker Shauna Rosenblum for her delicious interpretation of this savvy grape.  Hints of smoke and black raspberry on the nose expand broadly on the palate to lush blackberry, plums and vanilla, with mushroom and spice box highlights.  Concentrated and far from shy, it finishes with a kick of cocoa and cinnamon toast. SRP:  $30 www.rockwallwines.com

Take a moment to visit the websites of these wineries, and order a bottle or more.  You’ll be missing out if you lose the opportunity to place some of these gems on your table, and/or in your cellar!









Gems in My Glass . . . November 2016

Tasting Notes

Mara Wines 2011 Laughlin Road Ranch Pinot Noir; Russian River Valley, California:   This exquisite Pinot Noir showcases provocative scents of earth and a warm cherry pie.  Red raspberries, black cherries, exotic spice, cranberries, sandalwood and forest floor notes fill the palate, uplifted by beautiful acidity.   Satin smooth with refined tannins, precise balance, and a finish that goes on and on.  SRP:  $50 www.marawines.com

Gregory Graham Wines 2014 Bartolucci Vineyard Viognier; Lake County, California: Aromas of citrus blossom, sweet tree-ripened peaches and apricots capture the senses. This satin smooth Viognier is rich and viscous, with good offsetting acidity. Juicy flavors of fresh peaches, sweet nectarines, honeysuckle, lemon drops and a touch of spice simply bathe the palate in luxury.  SRP: $22 www.ggwines.com

Ken Wright Cellars 2013 Shea Vineyard Pinot Noir; Yamhill-Carlton, Willamette Valley, Oregon:  This seductive Pinot Noir offers up roasted coffee bean and earthy aromas. Showing remarkable complexity on the palate, this wine displays layers of dried cherry, allspice, and cherry cola joining earthy notes and lovely oak integration; focused and finely balanced. SRP: ~ $49  www.kenwrightcellars.com

Trojak~Knier 2013 The Blend; Napa Valley/Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma, California: This elegant blend, composed of 35% Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel, 33% Sangiovese and 32% Cabernet Sauvignon from the Napa Valley, opens with aromas of red and black fruits. Smooth as silk as it unfolds onto the palate with flavors of cherry, black currant, and marionberry fruit underscored by fresh ground black pepper.  SRP: $40 www.trojakknier.com

Patz & Hall 2014 Jenkins Ranch Pinot Noir; Sonoma Coast, California:  Here is a deeply hued Pinot Noir with scents of violets, raspberry jam and red fruits rising from the glass.   Rich and expressive from first sip, with black cherry, plum, raspberry, exotic spice and dried strawberry notes unfolding on the palate.  Intense and chewy, yet bright acidity keeps it balanced through the lingering finish. SRP:  $60  www.patzhall.com

Long Meadow Ranch 2015 Rose of Pinot Noir; Anderson Valley, California:  Fresh strawberries fill the senses with this lively dry Rose of Pinot Noir.  Delicious in the mouth with red cherry, strawberry preserves, watermelon and citrus accents melding in harmony.  Bright and energetic with a touch of herbs adding another dimension on the back palate. SRP: $25 www.longmeadowranch.com

J & J Vintners 2012 Les Collines Vineyard Malbec; Walla Walla Valley, Washington:  Dark berry aromas capture your attention with this powerful Malbec.  Delicious in the mouth with a nice backbone of tannins.  Flavors of blackberries, boysenberries, loganberries and currants meld with hints of spice, well integrated oak, cocoa powder and a suggestion of caramel on the decadent finale.   SRP:  $35 www.jandjvintners.com

Brush Creek Winery NV It’s a Dog’s Life (Sweet White Blend); Iowa:  It’s not just the name of this wine that will make you smile!  Take in the charm of this sassy, sweet blend of 50% LaCrosse and 50% Niagara.   Aromas of honeysuckle and tropical fruits lead to creamy pear, ripe pineapple, and juicy melon flavors on the palate.  If you are a Moscato fan, this wine too will win you over!  SRP:  $12 www.brushcreekwinery.com

Prosser – the Birthplace of Washington Wine

Gems in MY Glass . . ., Great Northwest, Tasting Notes

Prosser – The Birthplace of Washington Wine

Washington’s south-central city of Prosser, endearingly known as the state’s birthplace of wine, is within the American Viticultural Area (AVA) of Yakima Valley.  This AVA, established in 1983, was the very first AVA to be recognized in Washington state.  Later recognized sub AVAs, Red Mountain (2001), Rattlesnake Hills (2006) and Snipes Mountain (2009), and are contained within the Yakima Valley AVA.

Nearby Horse Heaven Hills AVA (awarded the first 100-point rating for a Washington wine), established in 2005, sits just south of Yakima Valley and North of the Columbia River.  North of the Yakima Valley AVA you’ll find the Wahluke Slope AVA (gaining AVA designation in 2006), one of the warmest regions in the state.   Further north in the central part of the state is the Ancient Lakes AVA (established in 2012), one of the cooler Washington wine growing regions.   The Yakima Valley, Horse Heaven Hills, Wahluke Slope and Ancient Lakes AVAs (along with Walla Walla Valley, Lake Chelan and Naches Heights AVAs) are entirely within the larger Columbia Valley AVA (established in 1984).

Three additional AVAs (wholly or partly) located in Washington are Puget Sound (located west of the Cascade Mountains, established in 1995), Columbia Gorge (located in a National Scenic Area east of Portland, Oregon and Vancouver, Washington, established in 2004), and Lewis-Clark Valley (situated on the border of Washington and Idaho, established in 2016).

The knowledgeable guides for Prosser Wine Network’s recent media tour created an informative excursion through this growing wine region.  Vintners, grapegrowers and winemakers exuded passion as they led us through vineyards and barrel rooms, sharing history, experiences and fine examples of their crafts.  Among noteworthy wines, my favorites included:

Daven Lore Winery 2013 Tempranillo; Snipes Mountain, Washington:   Aromas of blackberry and crème de cassis pave the way for this well-balanced Tempranillo.  Dense black fruits unwind on the palate with accents of allspice, saddle leather and hints of fresh tobacco.   Plush and tasty, it warms you right up!    SRP:  $28.50 www.davenlore.com

Daven Lore Winery 2012 Newhouse Vineyard Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon; Snipes Mountain, Washington:  Oodles of black cherries on the nose entwine with Damson plums, wild berries, black currants, roasted coffee bean, and savory spice, creating a cornucopia of flavors on the palate.  Beautifully textured with silky tannins and sweet oak nuances peeking through on the finish.    SRP:  $40  www.davenlore.com

Domanico Cellars 2013 Carmenere; Yakima Valley, Washington:  This expressive Carmenere opens with aromas of wild berries and spice.  Rich and savory on entry, it gains momentum on the palate as scrumptious flavors of clove, pepper spice and hints of toast join the lush blackberry, blueberry and red berry fruits.  Mouth filling and well balanced through the persistent aftertaste.  SRP: $40 www.domanicocellars.com

Domanico Cellars 2013 Lemberger; Yakima Valley, Washington:  Deep, dark and delicious is this spunky, full flavored Lemberger.  Generous layers of huckleberries, marionberries, fresh boysenberry jam, savory spice and shades of oak interlace and richly coat the palate.  The fine balance and smooth tannins carry the wine to a long, satisfying finish.  SRP:  $21 www.domanicocellars.com

WIT Cellars 2015 Chardonnay; Ancient Lakes, Washington:  Beautiful expression of the variety; purity of fruit in the glass!  This elegant Chardonnay is fermented in stainless steel and aged ~8 months in neutral oak.  Showcasing crisp green apple, mineral notes, lemon curd, and fresh pea shoots, it is juicy on the palate with a lovely mouth feel and vibrant finish.   SRP:  $22 www.witcellars.com

WIT Cellars 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon; 98% Rattlesnake Hills/2% Wahluke Slope, Washington:  This nicely structured Cabernet (blended with 2% Petit Verdot) opens with enticing aromatics and packs a punch on the palate.  Deep and complex, with focused flavors of cassis, black plum, tobacco spice, black cherry and hints of earth melding in harmony.  Approachable now with refined tannins, and promises years of ageability ahead, too.   SRP:  $50 www.witcellars.com

Alexandria Nicole Cellars 2014 Destiny Ridge Vineyard Shepherds Mark; Horse Heaven Hills, Washington:  This well composed blend of 60% Roussanne, 20% Marsanne and 20% Viognier opens with a beckoning scent of white flowers and stone fruit.  Wildly expressive on the palate with nectarine and crisp pears, lemon blossom and a striking thread of minerality.  Vibrant and refreshing with spot on acids, it finishes long, with a kick of lime zest.   SRP:  $24 www.alexandrianicolecellars.com

Alexandria Nicole Cellars 2014 Destiny Ridge Vineyard Jet Black Syrah; Horse Heaven Hills, Washington:   Scents of earthiness and cherry cordial drive you into the glass.  Fully engaging on the palate with layer upon layer of black cherry, loganberry, cocoa bean, anise, black pepper and dried herbs.  The underlying oak (35% new French/65% one year French barrels) adds complexity as the wine makes its way to the extended finish.    SRP:  $28  www.alexandrianicolecellars.com

Mercer Estates 2015 Culloden Vineyard Viognier; Horse Heaven Hills, Washington:  Alluring tropical fruit aromas lure you into the glass.  Juicy and bright on the palate as flavors of cantaloupe, ripe plantains, summer melon and citrus highlights are unveiled across the palate.  A heavenly satin texture, nice acids and glorious freshness wrap up the delicious package.  SRP: $15 www.mercerwine.com

Chinook Wines 2015 Sauvignon Blanc; Yakima Valley, Washington:  Citrus and fragrant floral scents pave the way to a refreshing mouthful of grapefruit and tropical melon.   Racy acids keep this gem lively, and a pretty stream of fresh picked lemon verbena creates a complementary herbaceous accent across the palate.  Sleek and zesty, with an unforgettable, mouthwatering finish.   SRP:  $18.99 www.chinookwines.com

Chinook Wines 2013 Cabernet Franc; Yakima Valley, Washington:  A radiant hue and perfumed aroma of violets and wild berries engage the senses.  On the palate, well defined flavors of black cherry, red currant, spiced raspberry chutney and an understated note of roasted bell pepper paint a masterpiece on the palate. Vivid and pure with a smooth texture, impeccable balance, and long-lasting finish. SRP:  $24.99  www.chinookwines.com

Milbrandt Vineyards 2015 Traditions Sweet Katherine; Columbia Valley, Washington:  Here is an expressive Riesling that captures the essence of this noble grape in a sweet style (4.2% RS) without being cloying.  A generous level of acidity is ever present, keeping the wine uplifted.  Honeysuckle, juicy sweet peaches and nectarines drive the flavor profile, with a pinch of lemongrass adding a nice accent on the snappy finish.  SRP:  $12.99 www.milbrandtvineyards.com

Milbrandt Vineyards 2012 Vineyard Series Reserve Malbec; Wahluke Slope, Washington:  This powerful Malbec, aged 18 months in 50% new French oak, opens with captivating berry aromas.  Meaty notes interlace with black plums, blueberries, anise seed and savory spice.  Full flavored and complex, the firm tannins and nice acids are in perfect balance with the core of deep fruit.   The underlying oak is well placed and the aftertaste lingers forever; drink now or cellar if you can wait.  SRP:  $50  www.milbrandtvineyards.com

Gamache Vintners 2011 Merlot; Columbia Valley, Washington:  Engaging floral notes waft from the glass.  This lush, well-structured Merlot is chock full of blueberry and boysenberry fruit, milk chocolate and cinnamon spice dazzling the palate from start to finish.  Rich with a beautiful velour-like texture and silky tannins; simply yummy.  SRP: $25 www.gamachevintners.com

Gamache Vineyards 2011 Heritage Collection Nicholas; Columbia Valley, Washington:  This blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Malbec is deep, dense and delectable.   Fruit driven with black cherry, blueberry and plum at the core, it builds on the palate with added elements of fresh tobacco, cassis, vanilla bean notes.  Velvety in texture with a backbone of firm tannins, lively acidity and a long-lasting aftertaste.  SRP:  $40  www.gamachevintners.com

Martinez & Martinez Winery 2015 May Mae Rose of Cabernet Sauvignon; Horse Heaven Hills, Washington:  The jewel toned color is dazzling, and as you raise the glass a lovely scent of fresh roses demands your attention.  Juicy raspberries, sweet strawberries, a hint of watermelon and tangerine notes are wrapped around a brisk spine of acidity.  Pristinely balanced, this Rose simply dances on the tongue.  SRP:  $20  www.martinezwine.com

Martinez & Martinez Winery 2011 Dominio de Martinez Cabernet Sauvignon; Horse Heaven Hills, Washington:  A brilliant hue catches the eye, and dark fruit aromas entice as this well-crafted Cabernet approaches the nose.  Cassis, wild bramble berry and black plums entwine with tobacco, a touch of herbs and minerality. This gem is intense yet elegant, precise in balance, and the oak is nicely understated.  Approachable now, and cellarworthy, too.  SRP: $45 www.martinezwine.com

Chateau St. Michelle 2009 Canoe Ridge Estate Cabernet Sauvignon; Horse Heaven Hills, Washington:  This robust Cabernet Sauvignon displays aromas of dark berries and leather on the nose.  Intensely flavored and complex with Bing cherries, olive tapenade, black currant, mocha and blackberries framed by firm tannins.  Muscular yet lively and expressive on the lingering, toffee scented finish.  SRP:  $32 www.ste-michelle.com

Bunnell Family Cellar 2013 Wine o’Clock Gewurztraminer; Lake Chelan, Washington:  This delectable and varietally spot on dry Gewurz steals the show with its rose petal and tropical fruit aroma!  Bright and perfectly balanced, it electrifies the palate.  Brimming with lychee, hints of grapefruit and passion fruit, and buoyed by a stream of bracing acidity; an irresistible quaff.  SRP:  $18 www.bunnellfamilycellar.com

Bunnell Family Cellar 2013 BDX Painted Hills Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon; Columbia Valley, Washington:  Here is a stellar Cabernet Sauvignon that shows off aromas and flavors of cassis, black cherry, dark plum, tinges of earth, worn leather and tobacco spice.  Multi-faceted with loads of charm, a firm structure, polished tannins and impressive length.  Drink now or hold for future enjoyment.  SRP:  $48 www.bunnellfamilycellar.com

The state of Washington ranks second amidst the highest wine producing states in the USA.  There is much more than what I captured here for me (and you) to explore in Prosser.  Although time did not allow the chance to meet with all the vintners in this region, the personalities I met with, properties I visited, and the wines I tasted gave me ample reason to schedule another visit, and you should treat yourself to the same delightful opportunity!

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