Archive for the '4.5 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.


2005 Domaine Courbis St.-Joseph, “Les Royes”

I’m going to detour from the under-$30 wine challenge for a day. I had this wine a couple of weekends ago and I liked it so much that I had to get it on the site. It comes from the France’s Saint-Joseph Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée (AOC) in the northern Rhône and like many wines from that area is comprised of 100% Syrah.

Holy crap. I haven’t enjoyed a wine in this price range so much in so long. The nose is INTENSE – with bacon, cracked black pepper, blackberry, herbs and dust. It smells so GOOD. Look at me using the caps. This wine calls for it.

The flavours? It’s jam-packed with concentrated, yet polished blackberry, plum, meaty-like-bacon mineral and herbs. Yowza. It builds in the mouth unlike many wines I’ve had recently. This is the full-meal deal. It’s the wine equivalent of a beret-wearing macho man walking up to an Aussie (Shiraz) and knocking him out. It’s much better than any Shiraz I’ve had in a long time. So much better.

This is a kick-ass bottle of wine – especially for $50. If you can find it, grab a couple. Hell, grab a few. You’ll be glad you did.

$50 at Marquis Wine Cellars.

4  1/2 stars


2006 Mazzocco Zinfandel “Antoine Philippe” Reserve, Dry Creek Valley

My first post of the year is a review of what is possibly the best Zinfandel I’ve ever tasted… A big claim, I know, but it’s my palate and you can pick your own favourites. 🙂

Graham, Shea and I came across this bottle while visiting the Mazzocco Winery during 2009’s Wine Bloggers’ Conference. We dropped in and tasted everything they had on hand with their exceptionally friendly staff, before being offered a special tasting of a few of their Reserve wines. Having fallen in love with their wines at ZAP, we weren’t about to turn that chance down. The result? I thought they were all standouts, but this one really grabbed our interest (and money).

I forget the exact story of how this and their other Reserve wines came into being, but the story is something along the lines of “owner of the winery thinks he (Kenneth Carl), the winemaker (Antoine Favero) and the vineyard manager (Juan Rodriguez) should peek at how the current vintages were developing and select small amounts of what they thought were the best of what they found  – and each of them would make their own blend”. The results are the Kenneth Carl Reserve, the Juan Rodriguez Reserve and the subject of this post – the Antoine Philippe Reserve.

It goes without saying that I was looking forward to popping the cork and savouring a few glasses. Graham had his in late 2009 – I enjoyed my bottle on the last night of my recent holiday.

I’ve never gotten this much from the nose on a Zin… there’s just SO much going on – I get maple-brown sugar, red licorice, brambles and so much ripe blackberry that my mouth started watering. It’s not overwhelming or boozy at all. The nose is surprisingly balanced for a wine with 16.2% ABV.

The flavours? My initial reaction was, “Wow.” It’s just so full and complex. Initially there’s a mouthful of ripe blackberries and plum fruit, which is then followed by an incredibly balanced mix of licorice, brown sugar (with that maple edge) and a lingering bit of violet on the velvety-tannic finish – which lasts minutes.

Graham had this to add:
I too was taken in by the breadth of the nose on this wine.  I found the beautiful fruit and sweetness on the nose balanced by some nice leather and floral notes.  So appealing and elegant for a Zin of this magnitude.

It is completely mouth-filling with a nice dark plum backbone under the beautiful berries that mix over top.  The real “wow” here is how this wine is concentrated and structured but not at all over the top or cloying in anyway.  At 16.2% this is some seriously ripe fruit, but Antoine Favero has maintained an incredible finesse in this wine.”

How can you not love this wine?? Don’t like Zin? Try something this complex and balanced. It’s not just a Zinfandel. It’s a memorable and exceptional bottle of wine.

Only 100 cases were made.

$120 USD at the winery.

4 1/2 stars


2006 Domaine André et Mireille Tissot Chardonnay “Les Graviers”, Arbois

The Jura. I’ve already written about this fantastic area – and you can easily do some reading when you have the time. I’ve been on  kick with the region lately, thanks to the folks at Kitsilano Wine Cellars here in Vancouver. They received an impressive selection of wines from the Tissot winery a few weeks ago and I’ve been trying to make my way through them one at a time.

The nose on this wine is really piquing my interest. The first thing that came to mind with my initial sniff  – apart from the word, “Wow” – was slightly burned buttered popcorn. That’s exactly what I was smelling. Initially the flavours reflected that – like it had been liquefied and poured over a flinty stone before my sip.

10 minutes later, I’m getting vegetable stock on the nose, with a really approachable sweet citrus fruit edge to the flavours. With even more time, I’m starting to get warmed orange rind added to the nose… with candied orange peel going on in the flavours. Insane. I love it. It’s complex, yet forward and just plain fun at the same time. This is a swirl, sniff, taste, swirl, taste and smile wine. One that I want to last all night. I’m sure it would continue to change.

The truly remarkable thing about this wine is how alive the flavours are. It changes every five minutes. Essentially this is alive. Remember that conversation in “Sideways” when Virginia Madsen’s character explains why she loves wine? It went something like “… when you taste that wine, it tastes unlike it will at any other time. It’s alive and constantly changing.” The screenwriter was clearly thinking about wines like this. It evolves in the glass and decanter unlike many other white wines I’ve had; save for Tissot’s own 2006 “En Barberon” that I reviewed last month.

Shea over at Just Grapes Wine recently named this his #2 wine for the year. I can’t disagree with him. I’m thinking this will make my top 5 as well.

$65 at Kitsilano Wine Cellars.

4 1/2 stars

PS: If you’re going to take this wine home, just give it 20 minutes in the fridge – no more. It just needs to be slightly cooler than room temperature (if that) to let its dictionary of flavours loose.

1 comment

2006 Brown Estate Vineyards Chaos Theory, Napa Valley

Chaos. The holiday season seems to breed it in various forms, and today for me it was in the form of my youngest daughter’s 5th birthday and a bowling party for 21 five year olds. Chaos sometimes comes lovely and adorable ways.

To celebrate the success of this event, I decided to open the last of my gems from our journey to Brown Estate Vineyards in July. We have detailed the stunning nature of the visit and the wines previously (including this one, however it is worthy of mention repeatedly). Again, it lives up to all the others.

The Chaos Theory is blend of the various blocks of zinfandel, and some of their tasty cabernet. When we visited, we had the chance to savor a barrel sample of the upcoming Cabernet (to be blended with Syrah I believe) and it had a beautiful dark fruit and graphite character. This offering makes the blend a seamless silky goodness.

The nose has beautiful blueberry with some cedar and nettle the builds into what I can only describe as “Christmas Spice” that continues on throughout every gorgeous sip. The palate has delicious dark fruit, plum, currant, and more blueberry in all it’s viscous goodness. The finish brings some clove, orange zest, and just superb balance that characterize Brown Estate wines in my experience.

This is another in the series of Brown Estate offerings that speak to the honesty, integrity, and genuine passion that are hallmarks of their wines. Love it. Plain and simple.

$36 USD at the Winery (a great deal).

4 1/2 stars

No comments

2006 Belle Pente Pinot Noir, Murto Vineyard, Dundee Hills

12212009I just can’t understand why some folks out there don’t give Oregon Pinot its due… The stuff really rocks when it’s done right. Like this bottle – it’s done in a way that if you say you don’t like it, I’m going to shoot right back with, “You just don’t like good Pinot Noir.” ‘Nuff said.

The grapes for this bottle came from Belle Pente’s own Murto vineyard, which was planted back in 1978. It results in a wine that some have apparently called “sublimely Burgundian”, but for me it shows a clarity of brairy red fruit shown in the better Pinots from Oregon’s Willamette Valley. It made my taste buds cheer.

The nose is all about the bright and ripe red cherry and strawberry fruit along with rhubarb, spice and a bit of earth. The flavours? The first word that comes to mind is “burst”. There’s a burst of fresh and briary ripe red cherries and strawberry fruit that widens the eyes and makes you want to say to the person next to you, “Wow.” That’s followed up by floral, mineral and even light orange citrus flavours that set up shop in your mouth and hang out for a while. The finish has tannins that are smooth, but firm enough to let you know that they’re there.

For what it’s worth, Stephen Tanzer gave this wine a 92 rating and I’d pretty much agree with him on the ballpark. I loved it.

Yep, I’d happily drink it again. If you find some, give it a try.

Bought for $34.95 USD at my favourite wine shop in Portland – Vinopolis Wine Shop.

4 1/2 stars

1 comment

2007 Brown Estate Westside Zinfandel, Napa Valley

12022009Well now. I think we have a candidate for a top 5 wine of the year, at least in my books (or bytes in this case). This is one of the wines I brought back from my visit with Deneen and Coral Brown at Brown Estate Vineyards with Graham and Shea while we were attending the 2009 Wine Bloggers’ Conference. We all loved it then… and I’m liking it even better this time around.

The nose is insane. It’s a pure expression of Napa Zinfandel fruit. There’s a nettle edge to the brown sugar, allspice and straight-ahead ripe blackberry fruit. I just want to sit here and take sniff after sniff of my glass. I would if I didn’t know that the wine tastes even better than it smells.

Oh my God! The flavours. It’s like a beautifully balanced (even at 15.8% booze) Zinfandel concentrate. There’s so much going on. They start out with a burst of cranberry, rhubarb and ripe blackberry. The fruit blends seamlessly with vanilla, allspice, and a brown sugar-like edge to the LONG finish.

This is a seriously tasty bottle of wine. I dare any of you out there to taste it and not love it. I don’t think it can be done.

$48 USD at the winery (sold out).

4 1/2 stars


2006 Domaine André et Mireille Tissot Chardonnay “En Barberon”, Côtes du Jura

11272009Thanks to Jake over at Cherries & Clay and Matt at Kitsilano Wine Cellars, I’ve been drinking some mighty fine grape juice from France’s Jura region in the last couple of weeks. It started with the Tissot non-vintage Crémant, carried on with their very (very!) tasty Trousseau along with their beautiful Rosé Crémant (check out what the folks at Kitsilano Wine Cellars had to say about it on Twitter). The latest one to make its way to my glass is this tremendous Chardonnay from the Côtes du Jura Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée (AOC).

The nose is very unique. I mean its unlike anything I had ever smelled in a white wine. I got sweet buttery melon and smoky popcorn with an herbal (dill?) earthy edge. The flavours are intense and again, very interesting, There’s a big burst of slightly sweet melon followed up by what I can only describe as pickled popcorn, especially when the wine is first opened. Have you ever had that powdered dill pickle flavouring for your popcorn?… I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it, but I’m getting some of those flavours. That powdered stuff is pretty crappy, but this wine isn’t.

The wine kept evolving. I decanted it and a couple of hours later the dill edge was pretty much gone, but other flavours emerged. Caramel, more melon, lanolin and a vegetal edge. Those flavours are followed by a balanced light citrus and mineral-edged finish – that went on for minutes. Seriously.

How simply can I put it? The taste is big and made me very happy. What more can I ask? It also made me think of what I would pair with it. A baked white fish with capers maybe?

If you live in Vancouver and are a wine fan, you really should make the trek to Kitsilano Wine Cellars to check out their selection of wines from Jura. If they’re all this good (and they seem to be – check out what Shea over at had to say about their Chardonnay “Les Graviers”), they won’t last long.

$65 at Kitsilano Wine Cellars.

4 1/2 stars

1 comment

2007 Domaine André et Mireille Tissot Trousseau “Singulier”, Jura

11201009Wow, what a cool bottle of grape juice. First off, let’s talk about the grape. Along with Poulsard, Trousseau is the principle red wine grape of France’s Jura region. From what I can find, it’s also known as the Bastardo grape and makes a red wine fairly light in colour with a lot of fruit on the nose and definite complexity on the palate.

Now onto the wine. The grapes for it are grown in low-yielding vineyards in Jura’s Montigny-Les-Arsures and are taken through a bio-dynamic vineyard-to-bottle process by winemaker Stéphane Tissot, using no chemicals or synthetic pesticides.

I tasted it at Kitsilano Wine Cellars yesterday night and immediately grabbed a bottle to bring home. It didn’t last long. Like many of the unique bottles I buy, it was on my mind and I couldn’t resist for long. I popped it open tonight to sip while we made a 4 cheese macaroni.

In the glass it’s a light, but kinda’ rich red in colour – as if a young Cab had been watered down. You’d almost mistake it for a Burgundy – though for me, it’s more along the lines of a good Gamay from Beaujolais.

The nose gives a big whiff of ripe red berry fruit, along with black pepper and an earthy edge. Wow, it really comes alive with a sip. The flavours are a juicy mix of that almost candied ripe red berry fruit along with pepper and a rustic earthy edge. It finishes with nice acidity and fine tannins. It’s ready to drink now, though I’d be interested to see how it ages.

I loved it… and if you have a bit of the wine gee in you, I’m sure you will as well. To quote Shea from, “Man it’s so good – I could drink a case of this stuff.” I agree. Completely.

$58 at Kitsilano Wine Cellars.

4 1/2 stars


2008 M. Lapierre Morgon

11032009Oh my. Because of the whole Beaujolias Nouveau thing, I’ve avoided wines from Beaujolias for years. What the Hell was I thinking?? If many of them taste like this, I’ve been missing out. I’m sure I have.

What can I say? This wine rocks. It’s hitting all the right notes with the food I’m having (grilled pork) and is making me want to explore the region with my palate.

Marcel Lapierre is known as one of the most influential vigneron of the region and, according to Jake and Kurtis over at Cherries & Clay, he… “farms 11 hectares biodynamically in Morgon and owns some of the most impeccably tended vineyards anywhere.”

A nose of brambly red berry/cherry fruit shows up as gorgeous red candy with a finish that’s all bright red ripe cherry and cracked pepper when sipped. It’s the kind of wine that you just want to sip again and again… and what does that add up to? A bloody good wine – a pretty one, even. Pretty sexy that is (that might be my “Movember” mustache talking).

If you like wine, you need to try this bottle. ‘Nuff said.

$44 at Kitsilano Wine Cellars.

4 1/2 stars


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