Archive for the 'California Wine' Category

2005 Ridge Chardonnay Santa Cruz Mountains Santa Cruz Mountain Estate

01242009One of the best wines I’ve had in the last few years is… *gasp*.. a California Chardonnay. This wine. I was lucky enough to have tasted it a while ago and loved it then. It just blew me away with its layers of flavours and finish that lasted a week. So, when I had the chance to grab a bottle, I was all over it. Graham was there as well and grabbed one of his own (there were only a couple of bottles left).

Well, after Graham opened his a week or so ago, I was thinking it was time to pop the cork on my bottle. Tonight was the night.

Last year, the Wine Dictator named it their #2 wine for 2007 and rated it at 95 points. That’s some pedigree. 100% of the grapes come from Ridge’s vineyards in the mountains near Santa Cruz, South of San Francisco.

It carries 14.6% booze, but couldn’t be much more in tune. There’s no heat to it, just an incredibly balanced bunch of fruit and mineral.

What do I think? Well, it’s just as good, if not better than I remember it being. In the glass, it’s a golden yellow – it looks like apple juice. Initially, the nose is all about the hazelnuts… and then has honey and an earthy minerality to it. Flavours of candied pineapple, figs, almonds, honey and mineral-edged hazelnuts dominate. It’s amazing in its complexity and length. Its finish lasts minutes. If all Chardonnay tasted this good, I’d probably never drink anything else. It’s incredibly sexy in that “I would marry you”, sort of way. This is a wine you want to spend some time with.

This is seriously good stuff. Amazing, actually. Wow.

~$50 when I bought it at a BC LDB store.

4 1/2 stars


2007 Orin Swift Cellars The Prisoner

01172009I’m always up for trying a vintage of The Prisoner. I’ve loved the last 2 vintages (the 2006 made my list for top wines of 2008), so when I came across the 2007 on Friday, I grabbed one to test it out.

One thing I should point out – this is a young wine and really benefits from some time in the decanter. I’ve grabbed a couple to put away for a while (if I can keep my hands off them).

So, I decanted this for a couple of hours last night before taking a sip and that really helped it out. When I first popped the cork, the wine had that bright and youthful fruit thing going on… as the air mellowed it, that evolved into dark jammy blackberry fruit with chocolate.

That really became evident when I took a sip. This blend of 50% Zinfandel, 24% Cabernet Sauvignon, 14% Syrah, 9% Petite Sirah, 2% Charbono and 1% Grenache made for a concentrated dark fruit explosion with a beautifully balanced chocolate edge to the long finish. Imagine a big handful of ripe blackberries mixed with chocolate covered cherries. Yep, that’s this wine.

Another score for Dave Phinney and the gang down in St. Helena. Tasty stuff.

$52.99 at LDB stores here in BC.

4 1/2 stars


2008 – My Favourites in Wine and Music

It’s the time of year that the “best of” lists make their appearances. Despite what some folks may say, these lists are pretty fun to put together and it’s always good to hear what others liked the most in the past year. What better thing to do on a snowy Saturday than to sit down and make my list? 🙂

Music and wine are a natural match. I’m a music freak/I’m a wine geek. Almost every memorable bottle of wine I’ve had over the years was drunk while music was playing. With that bond in mind, I thought for fun that I’d put together a list of my most memorable albums of the year and pair them with the wines I loved most in 2008 (in no particular order and based only on full bottle samples).

mgmt12000 Paitin Barbaresco, Sori Paitin paired with Oracular Spectacular” by MGMT
I’ll lead off with this one because they were both my top choices for the year. The wine was memorable in a way no other matched and the album still gets regular play. There’s more going on with both than you get at first taste or listen. They both just get better as you go. The wine was, in a word, stellar. The album had standout tracks such as “Time to Pretend”, “Kids” and “Electric Feel” – great stuff.

tvontheradio2001 Yalumba The Octavius, Barossa Old Vine Shiraz paired with Dear Science,” by TV on the Radio
What can I say about these two?.. This was what I popped open on my fortieth birthday and TV on the Radio have put out three of my favourite albums. Both have layers and layers and make you think as much as they are just plain good. The more you taste the wine, the more it comes alive – the same goes for the album. It requires multiple listens to worm its way into your consciousness… and I’m glad it did. Standout tracks include “Halfway Home”, “Golden Age” and “Dancing Choose”.

boniver2003 Russell Creek Winemakers Select Cabernet Sauvignon, Walla Walla Valley paired with For Emma, Forever Ago” by Bon Iver
This is one of my favourite Washington State wineries, owned by a cantankerous and interesting guy, Larry Krivoshein. I bought this wine at his tasting room in Walla Walla and really liked talking and tasting with him. Both the album and the wine are the work of solitary guys in relatively remote locations – Justin Vernon in a remote Wisconsin cabin during a cold winter and Larry down in Walla Walla (seriously, do the drive some time). Both of them doing it their way. In 2008 they both put out products worthy of praise and enjoyment. Standout tracks on the intimate and beautiful album are “Skinny Love”, “The Wolves (Act I And II)” and “Blindsided”.

m831997 Bertani Amarone della Valpolicella Classico paired with Saturdays = Youth” by m83
Both the wine and the album had many layers… Hell, the wine was in the running for my wine of the year. Everyone who knows me knows that I love the Amarone.. and this is a helluva’ bottle of the Amarone. The wine was absolutely seductive – with raisins, plums, cherries, brandy and spice in its flavours. The album? Amazing. m83, aka Anthony Gonzalez, pulls off stuff you wouldn’t think anyone is trying these days. It’s symphonic in parts, with a sense of pop melody that leaves many of the songs in your head long after you’ve given it a listen. It’s also a “grower”, which is a good thing – it’s one of those albums you like more with each listen because you’re getting more from it. Strong stuff. I’d say it’s in my top 3 albums of the year. Tracks such as “Graveyard Girl”, “Kim & Jessie” and “Couleurs” help show why this album made my list.

elbow1999 H. Billiot Millésime Champagne paired with The Seldom Seen Kid” by Elbow
Classics… that’s what both of the wine and the album strike me as. The Billiot is amazing… and to me, is what a Champagne should be – toasty, complex and sexy, with an everlasting finish. The flavours were all about baked apples, along with some peach, honey and ginger spice. Onto the album – Elbow is one of those bands about whom I constantly marvel they’re not more popular. The singer, Guy Garver has an amazing voice that sounds like Peter Gabriel on a bender… and they consistently record strong albums. Great songs on the album are “Grounds For Divorce”, the cheery, hopeful and amazing “One Day Like This” and “The Fix” which just begs to open a British gangster film. I may have listened to this more than any other album this year.

fleetfoxes1998 Castello di Verduno Barolo, Massara paired with Fleet Foxes” by Fleet Foxes
Both of these choices were unexpected finds in 2008. I stumbled on the wine while having lunch in Verduno, Italy. It may have been the setting, but I loved this wine. The Marsala sherry, nuts, leather, cherry and flowers led to a sexy cherry brandy finish. Likewise for the album. At first it struck me as too softly harmonic and folksy (very Simon & Garfunkel-y)… but the more I listened to it, the beauty of the music won me over. It’s a mellow-day album that will leave you in a better mood for having heard it. I can’t say there are standout tracks. It’s a complete and round achievement that stands as an album.

hercules2005 Mazzocco Sonoma Zinfandel Pony, Dry Creek Valley & 2004 Mazzocco Stone Ranch Zinfandel, Alexander Valley paired with Hercules and Love Affair” by Hercules and Love Affair
These choices represent the good-times party choices of the year. If you’re at a party and drag these wines out, anyone who likes wine (especially a great Zin) will love them… and the album will get their booties moving. Both the Mazzocco Zins are made in that crushed blackberry syrup and briar style with balanced structures and finishes. Winemaker Antoine Favero does a great job there. I think they were my favourite Zins of the year – and that’s saying a lot. The Hercules album has the fantastic tune “Blind” that Pitchfork chose as their track of the year. I have to admit, it is pretty bloody good.

neonneon2006 Orin Swift Cellars “The Prisoner” paired with Stainless Style” by Neon Neon
Both of these choices are just plain unique and rock n’ roll. Dave Phinney heads a small (when we visited last January, there were 4 people doing it all) operation that turns out phenomenal wines. I first tried this wine in their offices and then gladly took one to enjoy that night. Graham’s review noted, “the Prisoner has a vibrant blackberry and ripe plum on the bouquet, which opens into briar and with some dark chocolate in the mix.” Loved it. Neon Neon grab you right away with their brand of tense early-80’s musical nostalgia and take it from there. It’s a lot of fun for someone who actually became an adult in the 80’s. I loved the tracks “Dream Cars”, “Belfast” and “Michael Douglas”.

lykkeli2001 Damilano Barolo paired with Youth Novel” by Lykke Li
I loved this wine… it was one of my finds at the Vancouver Wine Fest and was helping me set up for my forthcoming trip to Piedmont at the end of March. Like I wrote back then “…it’s a complex mix of brandied cherry, plums, leather, tar, and spice along with a violet-floral thing going on.” This family-owned winery located near the town of Barolo consistently turns out some of the best values (and wines) from the Langhe. Production on the album is provided by by Bjorn Yttling of Peter Björn and John and are just plain catchy – with Lykke’s sexily fragile voice. Standout tracks are “Dance Dance Dance”, and “Let it Fall”.

cutcopy2007 Seghesio Zinfandel, Sonoma County paired with In Ghost Colors” by Cut/Copy
An amazing wine and an equally impressive album. The Seghesio Zin was tapped by the Wine Dictator as their #10 wine of the year and given a hefty 93 points. I can’t disagree with them much. Personally, I enjoyed the Mazzocco Zins more, but I also loved this wine. We’ve gone through 6 bottles in the last while. It’s got ripe and juicy blackberry fruit long with a form and tannic backbone showing a brambly and spicy finish. Wow. The album is also a “Wow”. I loved it the first time I heard it and have listened to it countless times since then. It’s another 80’s-influenced wonder, is funky as Hell and makes you want to shake your ass. I’m still digging tracks such as “So Haunted”, “Far Away” and “Hearts On Fire”.

frenchkicks2007 Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough paired with Swimming” by French Kicks
I’ve drunk a helluva’ lot of this wine this year. It’s amazingly diverse in its food pairings and is mouth-wateringly tasty… and it’s the wine I ordered on my first date with Candace in 2008. We still drink it regularly. It’s got lots of tropical and citrus fruit, with a crisp backbone of acidity. It’s also a pretty amazing deal at $21.99 here in BC making it my value wine of the year. The album. I loved it. It’s one of those albums you put on and like pretty much every track. I’ve listened to it a tonne this year while preparing dinner, driving and working. It stands pretty strongly as an album, but also has great tracks with chiming guitar like “Sex Tourists”, “Abandon” and “Love in the Ruins”.

lsp2005 Lange Estate Winery and Vineyards “Three Hills Cuvée” Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley paired with The Age of the Understatement” by The Last Shadow Puppets
OK, last on the list, but certainly not least… I grabbed this bottle on a trip down to the Willamette Valley last year and had been saving it… for a Pinot craving. I popped it open after Candace and I visited Portland in October and it was all it should have been – blackberry, dark cherry, dark chocolate and earthy spice. The album? Again, I loved it. It’s a very stylish side project from the Arctic Monkey’s singer, Alex Turner and  good friend of his, Miles Kane, the guitarist of the Rascals. What they came up with is a stylish and catchy sound that’s like a 60’s garage band that has developed a sudden taste for martinis. I personally think it’s a crime that the amazing tune “My Mistakes Were Made for You” wasn’t the theme for the latest Bond film, “Quantum of Solace”. Other good tracks are “The Age Of The Understatement”, “Standing Next To Me” and “I Don’t Like You Anymore”.

Honourable mentions for wines in 2008 (based on me just really likin’ them):


2007 Seghesio Zinfandel Sonoma County

This is a first for the site – one vintage following another as consecutive posts on the site… but after the #10 rating for 2008 by the Wine Dictator, I had to try it as soon as I could.

I finally happened on the 2007 at an LDB outlet next to where I was buying my groceries tonight and promptly bought a bunch. I AM a Zin fan, after all.

I brought it home, opened it while cooking and promptly offered up the following post on Twitter, “…Holy crap it’s tasty.”.. and it is. The nose has all sorts of berry goodness followed up by flavours that eloquently yell berry, cherry, briar and spice!.. and finish it all up with firm tannins that mean business – and business is good. Very, very good.

It’s complex, tasty and a bit slutty at the same time. It’s like running into your hot doctor (if you have one) out at a club in a sexy black dress.

If you’re  Zin fan, or if you love a great, spicy and seriously tasty red wine, you should search this out. I like the folks at the winery… and I obviously love the wines. It’s not TOO much of the Zin fruit and at the same time, it doesn’t lack that dark fruity goodness.

Go Zin!

$34.99 at LDB stores here in BC.

4 1/2 stars


2006 Seghesio Zinfandel Sonoma County

I was out doing some Christmas shopping today (for me) when I found a good deal on Reidel’s Vinum Zinfandel glasses, so I grabbed ’em… and went looking for a Zin to break one in.

When Graham and I visited San Fran in January for ZAP, we also did a quick tour of Napa and Sonoma and had a great meeting with the folks at Seghesio. Not only were the folks plenty nice, but their wines rocked… and the Sonoma Zin pretty much rules the roost in this price range. I haven’t found one in this price range (under $35 CDN) that beats it.

The nose gives me all that briary blackberry fruit I look for in a Zin and the flavours give up a mouthful of ripe blackberries, licorice and vanilla-edged all-spice. It also has enough tannins on the finish that this wine has structure. You could definitely pair it with food – think ribs, gourmet burgers or even some pizza. Tasty stuff. Give it up for the Zinfandel, folks and don’t confuse this with that pink crap.


$34.99 at LDB stores here in BC.

4 stars
(but kinda’ knocking on 4.5)


Time for some ZINS! 2005 Seghesio Cortina Zinfandel, Dry Creek Valley & 2004 Mazzocco Stone Ranch Zinfandel, Alexander Valley

Approaching the 500th post on, Sean ventured out to the ‘burbs this past weekend to enjoy some slow-smoked ribs and some amazing Zinfandel. The theme for the evening could be summed up with his words “F**k I love Zinfandel.”

After seven plus hours on the grill, the ribs were ready and the zins stood by. The first wine we chose was the 2005 Seghesio Cortina Zinfandel, Dry Creek Valley. On our last trip to Sonoma we had a great visit there and tasted the full gamut of their wines. It’s always nice to have a wine along with which you can reminisce about the great people who make ’em.

The Cortina had great mineral and raspberry on the nose with some red plum and a hint of fumes from the booze. A few slurps as we tucked into the ribs brought jammy red fruit that was an amazing match with the spicy rub and light sauce. The finish was really interesting, lots of savory, pepper with medium tannins and a nice refined length. A superb complement to dinner and what a start! 4 Stars ($54.99 at Liberty Wine Cellars).

The second wine was the 2004 Mazzocco Stone Ranch Zinfandel, Alexander Valley. I picked this up when I was in Seattle at Esquin Wine Merchants. They have a great selection and excellent staffers who will help you find some gems. Check ’em out if you’re down there.

We met the winemaker, Antoine Favero at ZAP back in January. He enthusiastically took us through all of his outstanding wines, impressing the hell out of us with each one. We were definitely looking forward to this one.

As this one was poured, it was all deep purple velvet. A few sniffs gave us rich cedar and sweet blackberry that quickly knocked out any spice left over from the ribs. The minute this one hit our tongues; it was blueberry/blackberry goodness that went on and on. After a while, some briar and pepper joined the mix as we sat and slowly savored this gem. So balanced despite the rather intimidating 16.9% booze. Sure it was big, but not over the top at all. 4.5 stars ($25.99 USD).

Plain and simple, some Zinfandel bliss as the sun went down.


1 comment

Mumm Brut Prestige NV

So while on holidays, (as if I needed an excuse for the bubble), and I picked this up at the Safeway (Oregon) for $14.99. Now I love the Gloria Ferrer and figured that this one would be in the same ballpark.

This is darn tasty. Nice nose of some lemon and almost sourdough bread. That might seem a little strange, but there’s that little bit of a sweet yeast tang on the edge when you smell fresh bread. But it doesn’t carry on with a sip. The palate is full of tart apples and some citrus and some hints of sweet almond towards the back. (think amaretto in a good way) The finish is crisp and tart and a bit short with a lemon lime zest goin’ on.

This one is a refreshing, crisp and fruity – a nice change from the creamy Gloria Ferrer.

All together now, love the bubbly… love the bubbly… Yum.

$25.95 at LDB stores here in BC.

4 stars

No comments

2004 Ridge Vineyards Santa Cruz Mountains, California

I picked this wine up a while ago and had been holding it for the right meal to crack it open. After an 80km road bike ride today that included about 4,000 feet of climbing I felt pretty justified in grabbing a Canada Prime New York steak and firing up the grill.

Wow, I have to say that this matched up pretty bloody well. The Wine Dictator gave it a modest 84 points, but I’d rate it  bit above that. Not tonnes, but this wine came alive with a grilled piece of meat.

It’s a blend of 51% Cabernet Sauvignon, 47% Merlot, 1% Petit Verdot and 1% Cabernet Franc and comes in at a very balanced 13% booze.

I really tasted the Merlot in this blend, especially with the meat. The wine took on a slightly aged flavour, with black tea and dark berry/cherry fruit. The nose was all about the black tea, black cherry and tobacco, with a bit of bell pepper. A juicy sip gave up a nice mix of blackberry and black cherry juice along with an edge of that tannic black tea and licorice. Tasty.

It’s a very well-blanced bottle of wine, which would drink well on its own… and paired bloody well with the steak. Yum.

Amazing? No. Very good? Yes. If you, like me, are a fan of Ridge wines, you’ll think this is pretty damned good.

$49.99 at LDB stores here in BC.

4 1/2 stars

No comments

2005 Paul Dolan Cabernet Sauvignon, Mendocino County

I had tasted this wine and liked it at the 2008 Vancouver Playhouse International Wine Festival, so when I saw it at the main LDB store here in Vancouver on the weekend I grabbed a bottle.

All the grapes used to make this wine are organically grown, so y’all can feel good about that. The wine is a blend of 85.5% Cabernet Sauvignon, 9% Zinfandel and 5.5% Syrah, 91% of which is grown in Mendocino County while the other 9% comes from vineyards in Amador County. The booze on the wine is a relatively high 14.5%.

What this all means when juice hits the glass is that the wine is pretty big and dark, though not as much so as you would think from the blend. The nose gives up a bunch of black currants, mint, cherry candy and some vanilla from the oak. A slurp gave me a juicy, but balanced bunch of ripe black cherry fruit, along with pepper and a definite (though nice) edge of oak. The tannins on the medium-long finish give the wine some nice structure.

I liked this wine and have to say it (for now) wins my award for the best Cabernet-based wine out there in Vancouver in that important under-$30 category. It’s pretty yummy stuff, especially at the price.

$24.99 at LDB stores here in BC.

4 stars

No comments

2005 Walter Hansel Chardonnay, Russian River Valley, Cuvée Alyce

I had this wine a couple of weeks ago on the same night we tasted the Montelena Chardonnay. When I first tried it, I wasn’t sure what to think… After the crisp subtlety of the Montelena wine, this one hit me over the head with its flavours in comparison.

The more I tasted of it though, the more it grew on me. It’s an amazingly complex bottle of wine, tossing up more flavours per sip than just about any wine I’ve had in recent memory.

It all starts with the nose… and what a nose it is. It has toasty oak, which gives a big dose of vanilla… and then the fruit. What it made me think of were honey toasted oats with pear slices and hazelnuts.

A thick and juicy sip gives honey, melon, hazelnut, and a lightly lemony mineral-edged finish… and that finish goes on for minutes. It’s a memorably tropical Chardonnay. I really liked it.

This is one for the New World Chard fans. If that’s you, I’m sure you’ll love this wine.

$70 at Kitsilano Wine Cellars.

4 1/2 stars

1 comment

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