Archive for the 'California Wine' Category

Brown Estate Wine Dinner – 2007 Napa Valley Chardonnay, 2001 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, 2006 Chaos Theory & 2004 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon

On Saturday night Shea and I headed out to Graham and Leah’s place in the ‘burbs with our better halves to cook up our much-anticipated Brown Estate wine dinner. When we visited the Browns back in July while we were in Sonoma and Napa for the Wine Bloggers’ Conference, Deneen and Coral by-passed awesome and went straight to best ever by giving the three us a great tour, taking us through a tasting of pretty much every wine they had on the property (paired with Coral’s selection of cheeses), giving us a tour of their cave along with tastes straight from the barrels and then topped it all off by handing us 4 bottles of wine to take along as we were headed out.

We told them we would get together and share the 4 wines over dinner. So, the past couple of weeks saw a flurry of emails go back and forth as we decided what would be served with each wine. We settled on a couple of nice cheeses from Les Amis du Fromage here in Vancouver with the Chardonnay, lamb kebabs with the 2001 Cabernet, freshly made pizzas with the 2006 Chaos Theory and finally some delicious tenderloin steaks with the 2004 Cabernet. I can’t remember when I’ve enjoyed food and wine more than I did last Saturday.

OK, so the first wine out of the gate was the 2007 Napa Valley Chardonnay. Shea had brought along a couple of cheeses from Les Amis du Fromage that paired beautifully. They each brought out different flavours in the Chardonnay. If you can find it, buy this wine. It’s a gorgeous bottle of Napa Valley Chardonnay that also shows some of the crispness and complexity of a white Burgundy. Wow. Have a look.

$48 USD at the winery.

4 1/2 stars

The 2001 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon (signed by the winemaker, David Brown) was up next. Graham had BBQ’d up some incredibly tasty lamb kebabs to have with the wine. The pairing really worked . The wine had gorgeous round berry and dark cherry fruit that showed a slightly stewed edge to the fruit (very slight) with its age. It was an amazing bottle – and thinking back, possibly my favourite of the night.

Price N/A.

4 1/2 stars

Next up was the 2006 Napa Valley Chaos Theory Cabernet-Zinfandel Blend. I can’t track down the exact percentages in this blend, but WOW, it adds up to a gorgeous bottle of wine. There’s the briary dark fruit from the Zin, with the dark and tannicly fruity edge of the Cab. It’s complex, gorgeous and incredibly fun to sip. It’ simply delicious.

We paired the Chaos Theory with a handmade pizza made up of freshly grilled veggies, a sauce I made when I got out to Graham’s (tomatoes, smoked tomatoes, garlic, olive oil, salt, cracked chilis and freshly ground pepper), mozzarella cheese with a bit of crumbled feta cheese and black pepper.

$45 USD at the winery.

4 1/2 stars

… and finally,  we had the the 2004 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon with grilled tenderloin steaks. Wow, this worked. Thanks to Graham’s deft work on the grill, the meat was incredibly tender – cut with a fork tender. It was simply spiced with a brushing of olive oil (from Napa’s Spring Mountain Vineyards – thanks Ted!), freshly ground pepper and coarse salt.

It was incredible with its youthful tannins, cracked pepper sprinkled blackberry and dark currant flavours. It had a finish that went on as long as we wanted and left us longing for more. Like the others, it was a beautiful bottle of wine.

$65 USD at the winery.

4 1/2 stars

The evening was exactly what we wanted it to be, helped along by wines that were simply unforgettable – as much for their quality as our new-found attachment to the place. Brown Estate Winery is a special place, made so by the family that owns and nurtures it. We all felt a special attachment when we visited and can only hope that if you head down to Napa, you give them a call, drop by and have as much fun as we did.


2005 Mueller Syrah, Russian River Valley, “Block Eleven”

I picked this up at the Bottle Barn when we were down for the Wine Bloggers’ Conference and paired it with a nice steak and grilled veggies.  I have to say it got better and better as the evening went on – beautiful balance, velvety and elegant floral notes came on.  This a great bottle that I would love to find again.

$20.99 at the Bottle Barn in Santa Rosa, CA.

4 stars

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Sean Thackrey Pleiades XVII

Last Saturday night Candace and I headed out to Graham’s for a BBQ dinner and to taste a few wines… and film a few reviews. First up is Sean Thackrey’ delicious Pleiades XVII. It’s a blend of Syrah, Sangiovese, Mourvèdre, Barbera, Carignane, Petite Sirah and Viognier, among others.

Pretty amazing stuff.

$19.99 at the Bottle Barn in Santa Rosa, CA.

4 1/2 stars


Video review of the 2007 Orin Swift Saldo Zinfandel

While Graham and I were down at the 2009 Wine Bloggers’ Conference, we took some time after tasting wine all day on Saturday to sit down with Shea from and try this wine. As you’ll see, we liked it.

$26.99 at the Bottle Barn in Santa Rosa.

4 1/2 stars


Getting ready to head down to the 2009 Wine Bloggers’ Conference

As well as hitting the 2009 ZAP Festival in San Francisco back in January, both Graham and I are heading to Santa Rosa in Sonoma County, California Friday for the 2009 version of the Wine Bloggers’ Conference. It’s being held at the Flamingo Resort from July 24th to the 26th and features lunches with wine, dinners with wine and tastings with more wine… and then parties with, you guessed it – even more wine.

Wineries pouring Friday night at the Grand Tasting of Sonoma Wines include Merry Edwards, Kistler, Joseph Swan Vineyards, Benzinger and many more. We’ll also be taking side trips to the Culinary Institute of America, a mystery Napa winery for lunch, a tasting of Napa Valley wines at Quintessa Winery and much more… It’s going to be so much fun my head just may explode.

Most of the participants are on Twitter and are posting conference-related tweets with the #wbc09 hashtag. It’s going to be a blast and I’ll do my best to post from the events and will probably also have something to say about when I’ve gotten back to Vancouver. You can check out what we’re saying on Twitter while we’re there – I’m @vinifico and Graham is @vino_g. Stay tuned.

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2006 Seghesio “Rockpile” Dry Creek Zinfandel

07062009I picked it up at K & L Wines in San Fran back in January while Graham and I were down there for ZAP. It’s a refined big big boy of a Zin. Its nose is a heady mix of blackberry jam, black licorice and pepper spice along with a bit of heat from the 15.6% booze. A sip lets loose a big mouthful of ripe blackberries along with the spice the nose hinted at and leads to a long mineral-edged finish.

To me, this is like the bigger brother of the 2007 Seghesio Sonoma Zinfandel everyone (including me) made all the fuss over back when Wine Spectator’s Top 100 listed it as the #10 wine of the 2008. Yes, it’s good.

Zin fans who like a bit of refinement with their ripeness should check it out. I’m glad I did.

$29 at K & L Wines in SF – $49.99 at LDB stores here in BC.

4 1/2 stars

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2006 Merry Edwards Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley

06222009This was a wine I picked up thinking I would try it, make my notes and move on. For some reason, I wasn’t expecting to get blown away… and well… I wasn’t. Having said that though – did I like this wine? Hell yeah. It’s just that it was selling up here in booze-pinched BC for ~$90. I grabbed this bottle during an agent’s mark-down sale, which took it down to ~$60. Why? Because I love the Pinot and had had my eye on trying something from the Merry Edwards folks for a while.

So, what’s it like? Well, a big sniff gives up black cherry, raspberry, orange peel and mineral. A juicy sip pretty much shows the same. It’s a refined bunch of the cherry and berry that shows a bit of heat on the finish (it has 14.2% booze) and finishes as smoothly as silk.

It all pretty much adds up to a tasty bottle of wine that still makes me feel pretty gouged – even with the $30 mark-down. I’d love this wine in the $40 range. It was bloody tasty. For the money, I expect more.

~$60 at Kitsilano Wine Cellars.

4 stars


2006 Rodney Strong Knotty Vines Zinfandel

2006 Rodney Strong Knotty Vines ZinfandelI’m throwing my hat into the wine review ring as it were. I’m assuming my appeal to readers might be that I’m “accessible” or “tells it like it is”, for the reason that I’m something of a noob at this. Not the writing part, or even the drinking part, but rather, the writing-about-drinking part. So let’s get started shall we?

It was a pleasant Spring afternoon when I decided to mosey into my local wine shop… no, scratch that. Start over. Ahem, hrm…

Last night I opened up a bottle of said wine. I had had some of this same elixir several days ago, but on the heels of a much inferior libation called Misterio. As such I wanted to dig into this bad boy with a clean palate. Now, as an non-conscientious imbiber, I’m sure the first mistake I may make is to dive into the bottle immediately upon opening. Sorry, but when I pop that cork (or untwist that screw nowadays), I’m usually on a mission. So in this case let’s say I gave it, oh, 2 minutes to breathe before pouring. Sue me.

Now, when I swirl and look at  the wine in my glass my wife will roll her eyes and move slowly away from me. However, I do take pleasure in it and I’m not sure if it’s the whole ritual of it or if I’m actually appreciating its characteristics. Let’s call it both. In this case, Rodney was a rich and ruddy color, leaving nothing but the clearest residual of itself after doing “The Tip”. Nose was really nice, and dammit if I didn’t notice the label on the back used the same adjective I came up with: peppery. But there you have it. There was some berry action happening too, but I’ll need to learn to focus better to further decipher which of the berry family was represented for future entries. Buuuuut… sticking my nose in that glass and drawing in invoked a nice little tingle deep in the ol’ nostrils. Like Alice in Wonderland enticed by a bottle hollering ‘Drink Me’, well, that I did.

So anyway, I’m a newcomer to Zins, but I have to say I’ll be sticking around for a while. I really like this wine. It’s clean, sticks in your mouth just long enough to remind you you want another sip and the finish struck me as… buttery? Can I say that? It had a bit of a buttery finish to me, not sure how else to put it. I mean it in the nicest way because believe me, I had more than the one glass.

At any rate I’ll be picking this one up again. And again. And in the meantime hopefully improving my God-given talents around discussing wine. Or at the very least, appreciating it.

Now go buy a bottle.

Picked up at my nearby Government liquor store for, oh, around 24 bucks.

3 1/2 stars


2005 Neyers Vineyards Zinfandel, High Valley Vineyards, Napa Valley

04082009You all know I like a good Zinfandel, so when Marquis Wine Cellars – the shop with Vancouver’s best selection of Zins – sent out a recent newsletter touting the Neyers Tofanelli and High Valley Zins, I had to pay them a visit. We’re just putting together some homemade pizza, so I figured there’s no time like the present to crack it open and give it a taste.

Wow… what a nose. The initial whiff gives up a big bunch of crushed dark plum, black cherry and a cool spicy edge. Sounds good, right? Well, a sip is even better. It explodes with all that dark plum and cherry fruit and leads into a balanced, spicy and finely tannic finish that lasts a minute. Did I like it? Hell yeah.

It’s funny. This wine really shows how subjective wine reviews can be. I checked with the Wine Dictator and they gave it a lowly 82-point rating, calling it “Lean and a bit austere…“. On the Neyers web site, the other end of the scale is shown in a 91-point rating and glowing review from Robert Parker. Here’s what he had to say: “Displaying both elegance and power, this beauty can be drunk over the next 5-7 years.” I’m going to side with RP on this one.

If you’re a Zin fan and can find it, I would highly recommend this wine.

$42.90 at Marquis Wine Cellars.

4 1/2 stars


2009 Vancouver Playhouse International Wine Festival – Beringer Private Reserve Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon Vertical Tasting

beringer_tastingOn Wednesday, I donned a suit and made my way for the first time into the Vancouver Club for the Beringer Private Reserve Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon Vertical Tasting. I had really been looking forward to this for 2 reasons. Number 1 was that it seemed like a great way to spend a couple of hours on my birthday. Number 2 would be that I’ve always liked Beringer’s high-end wines, but don’t necessarily feel flush enough to lay out the cash to bring them home. So, a tasting like this lets me fill that desire without killing my wine budget.

Ther Beringer Private Reserve Cabs aren’t what you New World nay-sayers out there may picture. There’s an elegance to their dark fruit. It’s like a regular (insanely tasty) Napa Cab, but put through a stone-laced filter and then wrapped in silk. It’s the more fashionably-dressed cousin to the power-suit wearing Napa Cabs we all know.

Upon entering the room, a rich aroma of Cabernet-produced dark cassis gently embraced my nostrils… I took a seat and was happy to see glasses filled with Beringer’s Private Reserve dating from 1993 – 2004. A few vintages were skipped (due to availability in Canada), but the lineup looked promising. There were 9 in total.

Beringer’s very likeable head winemaker, Laurie Hook took over the room and as well as taking us through the wines, filled us in on stories and the history of the winery and its people.

OK, it’s a busy week, so I’m going to get into the wines.

1993 Private Reserve Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon: First out of the gates was the oldest wine they brought. The 1993 was still very youthful, with dark cherry, cassis, mint, cedar and a tobacco-like edge to the very tannic finish. It was chewy. I rated it 4.5 (or a 91 for you folks who like things on a 100-point scale – I did that for this tasting because really, was there a lower wine in the bunch?).

1995 Private Reserve Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon: Next up was the 1995. This was again, very youthful, with black cherry, blackberry, nuts, cocoa, herbs, leather and a bit of a floral edge. I rated it 4.5 (or a slightly higher 92).

1997 Private Reserve Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon: This was a real crowd-pleaser. It had the refinement of the previous 2 with a bit more going on. It came down to whether this or the 2001 was my favourite of the tasting. It was slightly darker in colour and was just plain epic. There was all that dark fruit, cocoa and cherry along with a lasting and balanced finish that reminded me exactly why I love this stuff. Rated 4.5 (or 94).

1998 Private Reserve Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon: This wine came from what is considered a poor vintage, but drinks incredibly well. It was noticeably more austere and smooth in the mouth. It had fruit that just seemed more “red” as opposed to black. In the mouth, it was silky and complex with a nice herbal edge to the red fruit and mineral. Very elegant. Rated 4.5 (or 91).

1999 Private Reserve Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon: This one was probably my least favourite of the tasting. On the nose, there was mint and eucalyptus along with cedar and cherry. The flavours were there, but didn’t make me go, “Yum”. It had a bit of a green edge. Rated 4 (88 points).

2000 Private Reserve Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon: Tight. That’s what this wine was… and I’m not 100% convinced it’s going to be one to evolve into a mind-blower. It was good, but right near the 1999 in my mind. There was the dark fruit, along with some cocoa and cherry leading out to a mineral-laced finish. Don’t get me wrong. I’d happily drink it, but it’s not up to some of the other bottles in the tasting. Rated 4 (88 points).

2001 Private Reserve Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon: Yum. According to Laurie, this was a “Christmas morning vintage” – on one of those Christmases you received everything you wanted. They had perfect fruit and great picking conditions, which leads to a great wine. It’s big without being massive and fit my palate to a “T”.  This was a fave of many folks in the room. It had silky licorice-edged cassis and cherry fruit, along with blackberry, cocoa and brambles. Wow. Tasty stuff. Rated 4.5 (or 95 points).

2002 Private Reserve Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon: After the 2001, I was due for a bit of a coming down, but this held up respectably. The fruit was softer and showed some earthy “red”-ness. The cherry and herbs made for a velvety and elegant wine. Rated 4.5 (or 90 points).

2004 Private Reserve Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon: The last wine of the day was quite a bad boy bit of juice. It was dark, chewy and complex. I loved it. It may have been my #3 wine of the day. Ripe blackberry, dark cherry, cocoa, and herbs all came together for a heckuva’ tasty bit of juice. Rated 4.5 (or 93).

Apparently some of these are in stores, so if you see one (and have the cash in pocket) I’d really recommend giving some of these a go.

~$160 in LDB stores here in BC.


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