Archive for the '3.5 stars' Category

Napa/Sonoma trip – Day 1 in Napa Valley

Candace and I headed into the Napa Valley last Friday and I was really looking forward to the appointments I had set up. The weather was spring-warm perfect, the traffic was light and I was looking forward to tasting some of Napa’s Cabernet. First in line was the venerable Beaulieu Vineyard, located in Rutherford. The second appointment was set for 2pm at Whitehall Lane Winery and we were penciled in at Cuvaison Estate Wines in Calistoga for 4pm. It was going to be an afternoon full of (hopefully) good wine.

Beaulieu Vineyard:
I had only visited Beaulieu once before – way back in 1991. That was also my first visit to Napa Valley. What I really remember about the visit was that, back then, like many guys in their early 20’s I was into the whole Seattle music scene and had the hair to match. It was halfway down my back. I know… I know, but hey – it was the early 90’s. The point of mentioning this was that many of the wineries, upon seeing 4 long-haired musician-looking types headed their way, lived up to the much-feared wine snob stereotype – they treated us like crap. We were there to learn, sample and buy. They made that much less pleasant than it should have been.

Not Beaulieu. To this day, I have a soft spot for them because of the open and friendly way we were greeted and led through a wine sampling education. It was what a visit to a winery should be – FUN. They helped send me down the road to being the wine geek I am today. I don’t remember the names of the nice folks from that visit, but will fondly remember our tasting with Robert last Friday.

We were greeted at the door with a sample of their 2007 Sauvignon Blanc and then made our way to their tasting bar and through their Maestro Collection and their Napa Valley Cabernets. Here’s a list and quick rating of what we tasted:

  • 2006 Maestro Petite Sirah ($32) – 3.5 – 4 stars
  • 2005 Maestro Ensemble Red ($27) – 4 stars
  • 2006 Maestro Zinfandel ($30) – 4 stars
  • (Unsure of the vintage) Tempranillo ($?) – 4 stars

The Cabernets:

  • 2006 Rutherford Cabernet Sauvignon ($30) – 4 – 4.5 stars
  • 2005 Reserve Maestro Cabernet No. 1 ($65) – 4.5 stars
  • 2005 Reserve Maestro Cabernet No. 2 ($65) – 4.5 stars (my favourite of this flight)
  • 2006 Reserve Maestro Cabernet No. 2 ($65) – 4.5 stars

After tasting these, Robert took us down to the members’ tasting lounge and seated us in front of 4 glasses. Into those he poured:

  • 2006 Reserve Carneros Pinot Noir ($45)
    Beautiful colour with elegant ripe plum and cherry flavours.
    4 stars
  • 2003 Tapestry Reserve ($? – a classic blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Malbec)
    Balanced ripe fruit with firm yet silky mineral-laced tannins.
    4 stars
  • 2006 Tapestry Reserve ($60)
    Bigger and earthier with a toasty edge to the dark cherry, black currant and dark chocolate flavours. Lots of tannin. Very tasty.
    4.5 stars
  • 2006 Beaulieu Vineyard Georges de Latour Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon ($115)
    Really good. Lots of complexity. I got licorice, blackberry, black currant and vanilla spice on the nose. The flavours showed all that along with some coffee. The finish lasted minutes and was very firm. It has the structure to last for quite a while and will be best in a few years.
    4.5 stars

Whitehall Lane Winery:
Next up was our 2pm appointment with Katie. This is a much smaller family operation compared to Beaulieu. It was bought by Tom Leonardini Sr. in 1993 and has seen extensive changes to the winery and the equipment since that time. The winery owns roughly 110 acres of vineyards in the Napa Valley including the Leonardini Vineyard in St. Helena and the Rutherford West Vineyard in, you guessed it, Rutherford.

Katie poured us a sample of their Chardonnay and led us out of the tasting room and into the winery. We watched them bottling their 2009 Sauvignon Blanc and had a quick tour of the member’s lounge and a beautiful view of the surrounding vineyards from its deck. We then headed back to the tasting room to sample their wines. Here’s what we tasted:

  • 2008 Sauvignon Blanc, Napa Valley ($16)
    Crisp acidity and nice citrus and melon fruit.
    3.5 – 4 stars
  • 2007 Chardonnay, Carneros ($28)
    Again – nice and crisp with pear and citrus with some vanilla from the oak.
    3.5 – 4 stars
  • 2007 Pinot Noir, Carneros ($28)
    Very light with nice red cherry and a bit of citrus and spice.
    3.5 stars
  • 2006 Merlot, Napa Valley ($28)
    Black cherry and berry with a floral edge lead to nice vanilla and spice on the finish.
    4 stars
  • 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley ($40)
    Nice tannins edge the ripe blackberry and black currant fruit with earth and spice on the finish.
    4 – 4.5 stars
  • 2006 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley ($60)
    This is a blend of fruit from both of their Cabernet vineyard sites in the Napa Valley. It really grabbed my taste buds with its ripe fruit and elegant balance. Flavours of black currant, dark cherry and berry led to a spicy vanilla-tinged finish from the oak. It’s still quite young and will be best in a year or so (or more).
    4.5 stars
  • 2006 St. Helena Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley ($60)
    This was Candace’s favourite wine of the day, with a really nice nose that hinted at the ripe fruit to come. A sip literally explodes in the mouth with jammy back currant and berry fruit, followed by a long and elegant finish with very firm tannins.
    4.5 stars
  • 2006 Rutherford Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley ($60)
    This wine was a very interesting counterpart to the St. Helena Cab. It tasted of the “Rutherford Dust” the area is known for. This also had really elegant fruit and a long spicy finish. I really liked this one.
    4.5 stars

All in all, I’d have to say that I really liked the Cabs we tasted. As a matter of fact, I liked them enough that I took a few with me when we left.

Cuvaison Estate Wines:
Last July when I was down in Napa and Sonoma for the Wine Blogger’s Conference, a mix-up left Graham, Shea and I standing in Cuvaison’s Calistoga parking lot wondering where the rest of the crew had disappeared to… only to realize that they had been bused down to Cuvaison’s newer Carneros facility. Well, I made a mental note to return to the cozy Calistoga tasting room the next time I was in the area – so with an appointment set up by my friend Paul Watkin of Seacove Wines (who represent Cuvaison in BC), here we were.

After a recent re-vamp, the room was not only cozy, but modern as well. We settled in at one of the tables and Gabe brought around the samples and filled us in on the geographical and winemaking facts for each wine. I was really impressed with what he poured:

  • 2007 S Block Chardonnay ($38)
    This had really gorgeous fruit – orange peel, melon and pineapple that led to a balanced and crisp finish. Very tasty.
    4.5 stars
  • 2007 ATS Chardonnay ($54)
    Wow. There was an explosion of flavour on the finish of this wine – crème brulée, nut, apple and mineral-edged lemon. Initially, a sip gave peach, and citrus flavours, but man… that finish. Very good.
    4.5 stars
  • 2008 Mariafield Pinot Noir ($32)
    This Swiss clone gives bright purple cherry and cola flavours, with tonnes of spice and cherry cola on the finish.
    4 – 4.5 stars
  • 2007 Block F5 Pinot Noir ($45)
    I really liked this wine. It was darker in colour than the Mariafield and struck me as having more going on. On the nose, there was blackberry and ripe red cherry. A sip gave me silky tannins that edged the black cherry cola, spice and floral flavours.
    4.5 stars
  • 2007 Zinfandel, Bald Mountain ($35)
    This wine surprised me. I know Cuvaison is known for its Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, but they also turn out a tasty Zinfandel. It had nice dark plum and berry on the nose. Flavours of ripe plum, dark berry led out to bramble spice and cracked pepper on the finish.
    4 – 4.5 stars
  • 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon, Mount Veeder ($45)
    Black pepper and ripe currant on the nose led to black pepper, currant and licorice flavours and a long finish.
    4 – 4.5 stars
  • 2006 Brandlin Cabernet Sauvignon, Mount Veeder ($85)
    This really caught me off guard. Its’ delicious! The nose showed purple berry, vanilla and licorice spice. The flavours were big and balanced – ripe dark berry, black currant, licorice and spice on the long, long finish. Wow.
    4.5 stars

I have to say that this is the way to spend a day in Napa Valley. Make a few appointments and really spend the time going through each winery’s wines. There are a lot of great wineries in the valley, so take some time to check them out.


Movie review: Blood into Wine

Sunday night, I checked out  Blood Into Wine, the movie documenting Maynard James Keenan’s Arizona-based quest to make great wine. It’s fairly well known (at least in wine geek circles) that he’s the singer for Tool, A Perfect Circle and Puscifer… and that he has chosen to make wine in northern Arizona. What’s perhaps not as widely known is the fact that he has been guided through his wine-making nascence by mentor and business partner, Eric Glomski who is a relative veteran at making wine in the area.

I guess I went into the theatre hoping it would be something with which I could identify – passionate wine guy sets out to make wine… albeit a passionate wine guy with millions of dollars in the bank from his more-lucrative-than-mine regular job. He’s living the dream. Instead, a good part of the film focused on Maynard’s regular gig… and the wide-eyed groupies associated with the rock star thing. There was also an extremely annoying supposed-to-be-funny running “interview” by alt-comedy guys, Tim and Eric (of “Tim and Eric Awesome Show“). Wow, those bits got OLD quickly.

Somewhere around the half-way point, the film turned a corner and started to focus on the wine instead of the rock singer behind it. From that point, the film became much more of the movie that I had hoped it would be. There’s a surprisingly touching scene during which Maynard tells how the 100% Cabernet Sauvignon bottling, Nagual del Judith got its name – a nod to his deceased mother, who spent half her life disabled by a series of aneurysms and whose ashes are spread across the small vineyard.

Was it a great wine movie? Not really. Was it an interesting flick. Sure. It’s a decent documentary that just tries to do a few too many things at once. It’s a worthy watch for wine geeks and fans of Maynard James Kennan though. Both will be equally rewarded.

There are brief appearances by a few of Maynard’s friends, such as comedian Patton Oswalt, Primus drummer Tim Alexander and Milla Jovovich. Wine Spectator‘s James Sucking also drops by and seems pleasantly surprised by the wines he tastes.

Check out their site for screenings – or if you live in Vancouver, it’s showing at the Rio Theatre until Thursday, March 18.

3 1/2 stars

1 comment

2003 Campo Alto Crianza, Rioja

Next up in the under $30 challenge is the Campo Alto Crianza. I picked this one up last week, being struck that is always nice to find a reasonably priced bottle that has a few years on it, particularly one from Rioja.

I popped this one, poured and gave it a swirl. Initially the nose was full of dusty violet, dried cranberry and a bit of vanilla. I gave it some time to sit and came back some felt marker had joined the fray. Pretty appealing to me! At that point I figured it was time for a swirl and slurp and I got much more of the vanilla on the palate, perhaps a little too much wood, mixed with tart red currant, a bit of veg. In general this was a nice wine for the money. The finish showed more tart red fruit and a really nice acidity, and was for me the best part.

I enjoy this wine. It’s good value Spanish sip that would certainly please the masses at a dinner or gathering.

$23.99 @ Liberty Wine Merchants here in Vancouver.

3 1/2 stars

No comments

2007 Joseph Faiveley Bourgogne Paul̩e РA Nuits-Saint Georges

So, we’ve started the under-$30 challenge. I’ve decided that I’m going to embrace the challenge, and begin my search with the heartbreaking Pinot Noir. To be honest, I’m not sure it’s possible given my growing love for the beautiful arts of Burgundy.

That said, we promise to keep an open mind and I will endeavor to explore the breadth of the pinot world.

Tonight I cracked open the Joseph Faiveley 2007 Bourgogne to give it a whirl. A few swirls of the Pinot glass gave me loads of barnyard, and a bit of floral and brine – nice and interesting to start. I let it sit for a while and some tart cranberry and red currant started to show on the nose.

A few sips bring a blend of green stalk veg and tart red fruit. Rhubarb and more red currant on the palate with some really solid acidity. The finish has more veg and some soft violet. As the evening went on, the currant was joined by some tart cranberry, but consistently backed by the consistent tight acidity that characterizes this wine.

This wine would rock with some mushroom risotto or some hard goat cheese given the tight acidic backbone. I liked this wine for it’s rustic nature but didn’t love it. I still believe that finding a solid pinot under $30 will be a challenge, but this one inspires me to keep searching…

$22.99 at LDB stores here in BC.

3 1/2 stars

1 comment

2007 Tenuta del Portale Starsa Aglianico, Basilicata IGT

blankI’m a big fan of Southern Italy’s native Aglianico grape. One of the more enjoyable wines in recent memory for me was an Aglianico from Mastroberardino. This is a rustic grape, that when done up right, can make everything from a decent table wine to a truly memorable bottle of juice with dark fruit and grippy tannins.

This falls closer to the former in that category, but is a tasty bottle of juice nonetheless. On the nose, there’s dusty cherry, dark plum and licorice spice. The silky tannins accompany full flavours of dark plum and cherry with a distinctly rustic and earthy edge. The medium finish has a nice plummy thing going on.

I know I have an Italian fixation, but this is a value wine with a capital “V”. At $22 CDN here in Vancouver, I can’t think of many reds at or below this price I’d rather drink. If you come across it, give it a go.

I couldn’t find an updated image of this wine’s new label, so the bottle you see to the right is just a blank placeholder. If you come across (or take) an updated pic of the bottle feel free to let me know.

* Full disclosure – I received this bottle as a sample from the Seacove Group.

$22.00 specialty listing here in BC.

3 1/2 stars


2008 Bodegas Renacer Punto Final Malbec

10082009It’s been a while since I’d had a Malbec. My barbeque choices have centered on Cabs, Zins and the like. I picked this one up a while back – the value of Argentinean reds being pretty good and at about $6 off, worth a go.

I had a nice peppercorn steak grilling, so I popped this open and gave it a swirl. Right off the first sniff, it was not what I was expecting. 98% Malbec with 2% Cab Franc, it has some of the earthy Malbec I knew, but some nice tar and black cherry, maybe even a bit cranberry as well. A couple of sips brought some nice meaty cherry, and earthy mineral but also a bit of heat and anise for good measure. The steak really balanced this off, and the pairing really worked for me.

The finish was nice, medium length with some more mineral and pretty tight tannins. I would definitely decant this one next time for that and the unfiltered aspect. It definitely got me thinking it’s time for a few more Malbecs. I’d buy it again – a good value at its regular price – a great deal at $15.99.

$15.99 at LDB stores here in BC.

3 1/2 stars


2006 Masi Campofiorin Ripasso

10012009Due to the outrageous liquor taxes in our fair province of British Columbia, this wine falls solidly into the value category. Yep, $20 for a decent bottle of wine is considered a value here in British Columbia. Don’t even get me started. Well, I will get started, but that’s another post.

OK, back to the wine. I’ve had it many times in previous vintages and thought it might pair fairly well with the home-made pizzas I was putting together tonight. The last vintage I tasted (2003) was a bit of a disappointment, but this one makes up for it. It’s a solid bottle for the money. The 2006 vintage has been declared by Masi as a 5-star vintage, the first since 1997 and only one of seven since 1964.

For the Veneto region, this is a pretty common blend  – it’s comprised of 60% Corvina, 25% Rondinella, 10% Molinara, and 5% Rossignola. Up front, when you take a sniff, there’s a bunch of ripe cherry and herbs. A sip shows dark cherries with a bit of a stewed edge, along with dusty earth and an herbal edge to its lingering and pleasantly tannic finish.

Yep, I’ll buy this again sometime soon. It makes a great sipper for when company drops by or for during the week.

$18.99 at LDB stores here in BC.

3 1/2 stars


2004 Paitin Nebbiolo d’Alba, Ca Veja

09122009This past weekend, Candace and I were in Portland, right near the Willamette Valley, which is home to some of my favourite Pinots… so what do I do? I head to Vinopolis Wine Shop and grab an Italian wine. Hey, they had a sale on and I always like a good Piemontese wine. I did bring back 5 bottles of Pinot  – all destined for write-ups on the site over the next while.

A bit later in the afternoon, when we were back at the Hotel Lucia for a bit of a break, I popped it open and stuffed my nose in the glass. What did I smell? Rose petals in cherry juice with a touch of your next-door neighbour tarring their roof, with an edge of felt tip marker. ‘Nuff said. It smelled pretty good. I like those smells from Nebbiolo.

I took a sip and tasted walnuts dipped in cherry syrup followed up with a gnaw on a leather bootstrap… with a long and very tannic finish. The flavours are good, and certainly reflective of what I’ve come to expect from a Nebbiolo-based wine, but it lacked the build and linger of the good stuff. The middle gets lost somewhere. It’s wandered away in search of its big brother, Barbaresco and the better grapes.

Don’t get me wrong I do like this wine. I just don’t love it. After having the Barbaresco from these folks, I was just expecting more.

$18.99 (on sale from $21.95) at Vinopolis in Portland.

3 1/2 stars

No comments

2008 Rigamarole Winery Rosé

08162009Both Graham and I received bottles of this wine as agent’s samples, so I thought we’d put our reviews together and get them on the site. I think this bottle surprised both of us… pleasantly. It was both tastier and better than we thought it would be.

It’s got a cool nose that is all about the cranberry, mandarin orange and flinty stone. The flavours are pretty interesting as well. There’s the juicy cranberry, sour cherry, some lemony citrus and a crisp, lightly mineral-edged finish. There’s a bit of a boozy edge, but it’s not out of balance.

You know I’m a rosé fan and all in all, I’d have to say that I would buy this wine. It goes really well with the warm weather we’re having in Vancouver this summer. It’s a nice little aperitif wine to sit and sip on the patio and would also pair well with various things grilled (think chicken, veggies and pork).

It’s a great deal for the money.

With the Hades-esque heat wave we’ve had of late in Vancouver, the wine consumption has been limited. The search for a few crisp whites and some nice rosés has been a common theme in recent weeks.

To be honest, I generally default to French Rosés for fear of encountering an overly sweet homage to the blasphemy that is white zin. I cracked this open the other night and must confess that was a tasty patio sip.

A blend of Gamay, Pinot Noir and Merlot, it has nice ruby cranberry color in the glass It has a zingy nose of some pine notes with strawberry jam and a bit of cotton candy- things I like in a Rosé. A few sips and the strawberry continued on with some cranberry and rhubarb in the middle. Generally this wine was light on the palate and had some nice soft red fruit on the finish with a bit of white pepper to top it off.

This is a tasty local rosé. The price point makes it a great choice to share with a mixed crowd (Wine geeks and non). Would I buy it? Absolutely, especially if our weather continues as it is.

$14.99 at LDB stores here in BC.

3 1/2 stars

No comments

2006 Bodegas Valcarlos Fortius Tempranillo, Navarra

08052009Well now, here’s a bit of a find. When I received this bottle I wrote it off as a sub-$15 bottle of plonk. It’s a happy surprise to find that’s not the case at all.

Navarra is a Basque region in the North of Spain. The region extends from the Pyrenees Mountains to the edge of Rioja Baja. In the case of this wine, it has produced juice that has got that New World/Old World thing going on. It’s rustic, but also has modern soft fruit.

The colour is a bit different – it’s a pale cherry red in the glass. On the nose, it’s got dark cherries, licorice, clove and black pepper. A soft and juicy sip gives up warm ripe berry fruit, cherry and a lingering floral and softly syrupy edge to the medium-length finish.

I’m liking it. It’s a bit on the rustic side, but it’s  heckuva’ deal for the money. I’d buy it.

*Note: I received this as an agent’s sample.

$13.95 at LDB stores here in BC.

3 1/2 stars

No comments

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