Mount Veeder spring wine tasting

Mount Veeder is a subappellation in Napa, large in size but small in production. Only 1.3% of the wines produced in Napa are from Mount Veeder, but small production does not mean low quality. On the contrary, Mount Veeder is home to many excellent wines, as the Mount Veeder spring wine tasting proved.

Tasting notes (in alphabetical order):

  • Chateau Potelle: an extra smile seeing “VGS” on their labels. 2010 Zinfandel, $65, blueberry, chocolate, anise, cinnamon and blackberry jelly, juicy, 12/13/16/91. 2009 Syrah, $75, tangerine and orange peel, beefy, olive, blackberry, big tannins, 13/13/16/92. 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon, $95, bell pepper, blackberry, good finish but young, 13/13/15/91.
  • Fontanella Family Winery: 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon, $54, bell pepper, unripe black currant, vanilla, chocolate, smooth but a bit stemmy, 13/11/16/90.
  • The Hess Collection: 2012 Gruner Veltliner, $28, apple cider, honey, mineral and floral, vanilla, bright acidity and good finish, 13/13/16/92. 2012 Chardonnay, $40, caramelized apple, vanilla, butter, pear, big but balanced with good acidity, 13/13/16/92. 2010 19 Block Cuvee, $38, bell pepper, blackberry, earthy, vanilla, 12/13/16/91. 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon, $55, blackberry, cassis, dark chocolate, bell pepper, juicy, smooth and balanced, 14/13/16/93.
  • Lagier Meredith: 2012 Zinfandel Tribidrag, $45, Tribidrag is the ancient name for Zinfandel, red currant and blackberry, white pepper, grapefruit, vanilla, wheatgrass, eucalyptus, mild menthol, great finish, interesting flavors though I did not find them all pleasant, 14/11/17/92.
  • Lampyridae Vineyards: 2010 Syrah Communication Block, $50, deep ruby, blueberry, vanilla, chocolate, black currant, olive, black tea, good acidity and finish, 13/13/17/93.
  • Marketta Winery: 2010 Chardonnay, $49, caramelized pear, candied pineapple, vanilla, butter, 14/13/16/93.
  • Mayacamas Vineyards: 2011 Chardonnay, $40, apple and lemon, a bit weak, 11/12/15/88. 2009 Merlot, $45, bell pepper, plum, vanilla, dark chocolate, 12/13/16/91. 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon, $75, herbs, black currant, bell pepper, vanilla, smooth, 13/13/16/92.
  • Mithra Winery: 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon, $230, beautiful nose, cassis, herb, vanilla, subtle pine, dark chocolate, silky, juicy with long finish, excellent, 14/14/17/95.
  • Mt. Brave: 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon, $75, deep ruby, sweet vanilla, black currant, dusty, bell pepper, 13/13/16/92.
  • Mount Veeder Winery: 2010 Cabernet Franc, $50, black pepper, vanilla, blackberry, black cherry, mineral finish, 12/13/16/91. 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon Elevation 1550, $60, herbal and juicy, black currant, vanilla, 13/13/16/92. 2010 Reserve, $80, black cherry, cassis, herbal, pine, mild vanilla, young, juicy, balanced, good finish, 13/13/17/93.
  • Random Ridge: 2011 Sangiovese Fortunata, $30, chocolate, vanilla, licorice, forest floor, black cherry, leather, 12/13/17/92. 2009 Cabernet Blend, $32, bell pepper, blackberry, mild vanilla, very ripe, 12/13/16/91. 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon, $60, dark chocolate, vanilla, cedar, cassis, leather, smooth with great balance, 14/13/17/94.
  • Rubissow Wines: 2010 Merlot, $40, chocolate, plum, blackberry, juicy with good finish, 13/13/16/92. 2007 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, $125, silky, dark, cassis, chocolate, vanilla, good acidity and finish, 14/14/16/94.
  • Rudd Winery: 2012 Sauvignon Blanc Rudd, $68, grass, lemon, melon, mineral, cream, vanilla, peach, creamy and long, wonderful white, 14/14/17/95.
  • Sky Vineyards: 2011 Zinfandel, $38, red currant, grassy, spicy, smoky, a bit jammy, 13/12/17/92. 2010 Syrah, $25, strawberry jam, white pepper, grapefruit, spice, still very young, 13/13/16/92. 2008 Half’n, blueberry, olive, spice, 12/13/16/91.
  • Trinchero Napa Valley: 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon Cloud’s Nest Vineyard, $70, inky, juicy, black currant, blackberry, bell pepper, herbal, mineral, 13/13/16/92.
  • Vinoce Vineyards: 2010 Cabernet Franc Blend, $60, strawberry, black cherry, red currant, bell pepper, mineral, 13/13/16/92. 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve, $75, vanilla, bell pepper, black currant, 13/13/16/92.
  • Yates Family Vineyards: 2012 Viognier, $38, peach, lemon, honey, sweet, rich and creamy, 13/14/16/93.
  • Y. Rousseau Wines: 2010 Chardonnay, $36, apple, vanilla, mineral, 12/13/16/91.

So many wonderful wines from such a small production appellation! They may only be 1.3% of the Napa Valley production, but they certainly have more than 1.3% of my love to Napa Valley wines.

Many thanks to Sam Peters and the Mount Veeder Appellation Council for organizing this great event and providing a rare opportunity to taste so many excellent wines from this special appellation, in a single location. I had a great time, and I hope we’ll see more wine coming from Mount Veeder in the coming years!

San Francisco Vintners Market

The San Francisco Vintners Market is a unique wine event which brings together wineries and consumers to a huge wine tasting where consumers can immediately buy wine on location. I had the pleasure of attending the Spring 2014 event, where there are so many good wines at good prices that it is a recipe for overflowing your wine cellar at home. Many thanks to Bridget and everyone else who helped put together this great event.

Some tasting notes follow (alphabetical order by winery):

  • Alpha Omega: 2011 Chardonnay, $52, vanilla, butter, baked apple, 12/13/15/90. 2010 Petit Verdot, herbal, earthy, blackberry, young, 12/13/16/91. 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon, $92, black currant, vanilla, mild herbal, 12/13/16/91.
  • Black Stallion: 2013 Sauvignon Blanc, $26, very grassy, peach, overripe pineapple, lemon, nice finish, 13/13/16/92. 2011 Zinfandel, blackberry jelly, strawberry jam, chocolate, blueberry, pepper, 12/13/15/90. 2009 Bucephalus, $140, sweet vanilla, black currant, bell pepper, earthy, 13/13/16/92. 2007 Bucephalus, $140, big, tanninc, chocolate, high alcohol, 12/13/15/90.
  • JCB: No. 21, $25, lots of peach, lemon, melon, yeast, mild mineral, short finish, 12/13/15/90. No. 65, $60, lemon, yeast, mineral, dry, elegant, 13/13/17/93. 2009 Chardonnay No. 81, $30, honey, floral, vanilla, very big, good acidity, rich, 13/13/15/91. 2011 Pinot Noir No. 7, $50, cherry, cola, raspberry, smoky, good structure and great finish, 14/13/17/94.
  • Jeff Hill: 2012 Chardonnay, $50, mineral, vanilla, good acidity, green apple, lemon, great balance, 13/13/16/92. 2012 Pinot Noir, $60, cherry, cola, rhubarb, light, bright, strawberry, good finish with good aging potential, 14/13/16/93. 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon, $95, beautiful purple color, strong bell pepper, high acidity, a bit hot, young, 13/12/16/91.
  • Linked: 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon, $96, strong cabby nose, bell pepper, black currant, very earthy and mineral, juicy, but hot, a lot of alcohol on the finish, 12/13/16/91.
  • Omerta: 2010 Omerta, $60, spicy, jammy, herbal, long finish. 14/13/16/93. 2008 Omerta Reserve, $135, bell pepper, black currant, very smooth, long finish, good balance. 14/13/16/93.
  • Stormy Weather: 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon, $100, vanilla, black currant, lots of chocolate, herbal, big and yummy, 13/14/16/93.
  • Wicker: 2012 Chardonnay, vanilla, melon, green apple, balanced, 13/13/16/92. 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon, $85, blackberry, herbs, cocoa powder, bell pepper, soft, vegetal, earthy finish, smooth, 14/12/17/93. 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon, $85, cedar, tobacco, herbal, vegetal, dried cherry, a bit low on acidity, don’t hold, drink now, 13/12/16/91. 2006 Port 975, beautiful finish, long, smooth, chocolate and a tad herbal, 14/14/16/94.
  • Silkwood: 2010 Chardonnay, $20. Gooseberry, earth, mineral, lemon rind, mild vanilla, Granny Smith apple, bright, great finish, 14/13/17/93.
  • Spirit Horse: 2007 Zinfandel, $40, massive chocolate, vanilla, pepper, long finish, peppery and hot, 13/12/15/90. 2009 Cabernet Franc, green bell pepper, black currant, very high tannins and acidity, very young, needs several years of aging, 12/12/17/91. 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon, earthy, herbal, green, very big, 13/13/16/92. 2009 Petite Sirah, very hot, huge, young, needs many years of aging, 12/12/16/90.
  • Venteux: 2012 Fleur Blanc, floral, rich, long finish, 13/13/16/92.

This is a great event for anyone who wants to taste plenty of good wines and buy them on the spot, all in one place. I don’t know of any other opportunity to taste everything and buy without going to many different wineries, one by one. Great job, SF Vintners Market team!

Rhone Rangers grand tasting

The 22 Rhone Ranger grapes (whose ancestral home is in the Rhone Valley) include:

  • Red grapes: Syrah, Grenache, Mourvedre, Cinsault, Carignan, Petite Sirah, Counoise, Muscardin, Picpoul Noir, Vaccarese, Terret Noir.
  • White grapes: Viognier, Roussanne, Marsanne, Grenache Blanc, Bourboulenc, Clairette Blanc, Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains, Picardin, Picpoul, Ugni Blanc.

I love wines made from the Rhone grapes, and the Rhone Rangers grand tasting was a wonderful opportunity to taste some of the best wines made from Rhone grapes in California. As usual with so many great producers, I only had time to taste a small fraction of the wines, but I preferred to be comprehensive with few producers rather than superficial with many. And I actually got to taste a Mondeuse!


Tasting notes follow – ratings are structure (out of 15) / flavors (out of 15) / balance and complexity and other (out of 20) / total score (out of 100).

  • Carica Wines: 2013 Rose, $19, earth and wet forest floor with red plum and green pluot, 13/14/15/92. 2010 Red blend, $32, cherry, plum, bright acidity, 12/12/16/90. 2010 Syrah, Kick Ranch, $36, olive, blackberry, plum, herbs, juicy, 13/13/17/93.
  • Cornerstone Cellars: 2013 Rose of Syrah, $20, peach, strong vanilla, strawberry, bright acidity, creamy, 13/13/14/90. 2011 Syrah “Stepping Stone” Napa Valley, $35, vanilla, plum, black cherry, blueberry, savory, spicy, licorice, big, 12/13/15/90.
  • Lagier Meredith: 2012 Roussanne, “Chester’s Anvil”, Gretna Green, Napa Valley, $30, peach, honey, floral, 13/14/16/93. 2013 Rose, Mount Veeder, $20, watermelon, peach, mineral, juicy, rich, 13/13/16/92. 2011 Syrah, Mount Veeder, $48, grapefruit, very mineral, 13/12/15/90. 2011 Mondeuse, $42, earth, grapefruit, vanilla, very young, 12/12/16/90.
  • L’Aventure: 2011 Cote a Cote, $85, deep purple, ripe plum, cherry, strawberry, wet forest floor, 14/14/16/94. 2011 Cuvee Chloe, $85, very ripe, earthy, mineral, wet forest floor, plum, cherry, mild vanilla, 14/14/17/95. 2011 Estate Cuvee, $85, deep purple, bell pepper, herbs, vanilla, cassis, earth, young but will probably be amazing in five years and even more so in 10-20 years, 13/13/17/93.


  • Le Cuvier Winery: 2010 Viognier, $46, a huge white wine that drinks like a red, deep gold, floral and tropical, honeysuckle, jasmine, melon, honey, 14/14/16/94. 2011 Grenache, $50, barnyard, wet forest floor, floral, earth, very French, 13/13/17/93. 2010 L’Enfant du Pape, $48, mushroom, cherry, raspberry, 13/14/17/94. 2010 Syrah, $48, bright and young, plum, strawberry, 13/14/16/93.
  • Peterson Winery: 2012 Rose “Donna Bella”, $17, crisp, juicy, raspberry, cranberry, 11/12/15/88. 2011 “Zero Manipulation”, $16, forest floor, earth, raspberry, blackberry, 11/12/14/87. 2010 Old Vine Carignan Forchini Vineyard, $36, vanilla and strong strawberry jam, juicy, 11/13/15/89. 2009 Syrah Gravity Flow Block, Bradford Mountain Vineyard, $48, barnyard, nice swampy, very French in style, 12/13/16/91. 2010 Petite Sirah, $32, black currant, black cherry, wet forest floor, mild chocolate, earth, 12/13/16/91.
  • Quivira Vineyards and Winery: 2013 Rose Estate, $22, crisp, peach, raspberry, earth, watermelon, juicy, 12/13/15/90. 2011 Elusive, $34, forest floor, cherry, acidic, 11/13/15/89. 2012 Grenache Certified Biodynamic, $32, ripe, floral, juicy, 11/12/15/88.
  • Ridge Vineyards: 2012 Carignan Buchignani Ranch, $26, black cherry, pepper, 12/12/15/89. 2011 Carignan Triangle, $26, vanilla, cherry, strawberry jam, creamy, 13/13/15/91. 2010 Syrah-Grenache Lytton Estate, $30, ripe, juicy, plum, blueberry jam, 12/13/15/90. 2009 Syrah Lytton Estate, $33, wet forest floor, mushroom, blueberry, jammy, vanilla, earthy, 12/13/16/91. 2012 Petite Sirah Lytton Estate, $30, vanilla, blueberry, very young, 12/12/15/89.


  • Tablas Creek Vineyard: 2012 Patelin de Tablas Blanc, $20, floral, cantaloupe, lemon, peach, bright acidity, 12/13/16/91. 2012 Cotes de Tablas Blanc, $27, lemon, floral, bright acidity, mineral, rich and complex, 13/13/16/92. 2012 Grenache Blanc, $27, lemon and plenty of mineral, 13/13/15/91. 2012 Roussanne, $35, green-gold, earth, mushroom, mild vanilla, honeysuckle, peach, mineral, 13/13/17/93. 2011 Esprit de Tablas Blanc, $40, golden green, earth, mineral, jasmine, mushroom, gooseberry, nectarine, mango, rich, soft and complex, 14/13/17/94. 2013 Patelin de Tablas Rose, $20, beige, crisp, peach, 13/13/14/90. 2013 Dianthus Rose, $27, salmon color, earth, raspberry, cranberry, peach, mineral, 13/13/17/93. 2012 Patelin de Tablas Red, $20, cherry, earth, rose, 12/12/15/89. 2012 Cotes de Tablas Red, $35, ruby, wet forest floor, cherry, raspberry, juicy, 12/13/16/91. 2011 Mourvedre, $40, vanilla, strawberry, mild forest floor, raspberry, young, 13/14/16/93. 2011 En Gobelet, $45, deep purple, earth, plum, cherry, dusty, vanilla, blackberry, tannic and acidic , 12/12/16/90. 2011 Esprit de Tablas Red, $55, deep ruby, vanilla, plum, black cherry, forest floor, young, 12/12/16/90.
  • Domaine de la Terre Rouge: 2004 Syrah “Ascent”, $90, black currant, mint, plum, mildly jammy, savory and spicy, silky, 14/14/16/94.
  • Two Shepherds: 2012 Grenache Blanc, Saarloos Vineyard, Santa Ynez, $25, deep white, lemon, mineral, creamy, 13/12/15/90. 2012 Pastoral Blanc, Saralee’s Vineyard, Russian River Valley, $28, pineapple, bright acidity, mineral, lemon, 13/12/15/90. 2013 Rose of Grenache Gris “Gris Rose”, $24, pale pink, raspberry, crisp, good finish, 13/13/15/91. 2012 Grenache, $38, pale ruby, raspberry, rose, cola, cherry, creamy, balanced, good finish, 13/13/17/93. 2011 Syrah-Mourvedre, $38, cherry, strawberry, earth, wet forest floor, 13/14/16/93. 2011 Pastoral Rouge, $38, strawberry, raspberry, cherry, wet forest floor, vanilla, 13/13/17/93.

As usual, here is a plot of rating vs. price. The Pearson correlations are 0.69 for red, 0.64 for rose, 0.82 for white. Of course, this is not really scientific since this tasting was not blind.


Special thanks to Neil Collins of Tablas Creek for all the attention and a great conversation despite the hordes of people at their tables.

Many thanks to Rhone Rangers for a wonderful tasting with an overwhelming amount of wonderful wines. I am delighted to have had the opportunity to taste so many fine Rhone-grape wines and look forward to catching up with the ones I missed, next time around!

Howell Mountain spring tasting

Howell Mountain, a well-known AVA within Napa Valley with its boundaries set at the 1,400 feet level, was originally designated as an AVA in 1983. I had the pleasure to attend the Howell Mountain Spring Wine Tasting, organized by the Howell Mountain Vintners and Growers Association.

Cabernet Sauvignon was the king at this tasting, with other Bordeaux varietals (mostly Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Bordeaux blends) supporting, and I also enjoyed Sauvignon Blanc from Arkenstone, Rosé from Bravante Vineyards (Merlot) and Notre Vin (Cabernet Sauvignon), and Zinfandel from Black Sears and Outpost.

The Bordeaux varietals in this tasting featured excellent balance of a strong ripe black currant fruit backbone with a rich savory layer of bell pepper and fresh herbs, subtle earth notes and well-integrated oak. Typically elegant with medium body, lively acidity and silky tannins, these are excellent wines to enjoy now (even 2011, although they were noticeably young) or age for many years and enjoy even more layers of complexity.

In a tasting featuring so many good wines it feels almost unjust to select a few favorites, but nevertheless I would like to mention a few wines that stood out to me even among their excellent neighbors. Going by increasing vintage:

  • Atlas Peak: 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon Howell Mountain, $85. Oak and cedar, black currant, blackberry, hints of cherry, silky.
  • Bremer Family Winery: 2007 Merlot Howell Mountain, $75. Black currant, black plum, black cherry, chocolate, hints of earth. Another taster commented about this wine, “finally a Merlot I can drink”. That is a bit too extreme for me, but I agree that this is a lovely Merlot.
  • Cornerstone Cellars: 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon Howell Mountain, $75. Beautiful nose, well balanced, black currant, mild bell pepper, mild earth.
  • Notre Vin: 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon Howell Mountain, $150. Wonderful nose, powerful, rich, still very young but already complex. Vanilla, black cherry, earth, fresh herbs. Great aging potential.
  • Cakebread Cellars: 2010 Dancing Bear Ranch Blend, $115. Blackberry, vanilla, chocolate, earth and mineral. Rich and velvety with a long finish.

Hindsight Wines poured a young bargain: their 2012 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon offering vanilla, cherry, oak and even floral notes at only $25. They also poured a very good 2010 Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon, also very reasonably priced at $60.

The full list of excellent wines I tasted from so many producers is too long to include here. As always, I tried to take notes without paying attention to price (filling in that information later). I found a correlation of 0.37 between my ratings and price, so I would carefully suggest that price does reflect a certain notion of quality. Of course, every taster has different preferences on how much they like to spend on wine. I would say that Howell Mountain wines are not typically cheap, but they consistently offer very high quality.

Many thanks to Sam Peters, executive director of the Howell Mountain Vintners and Growers Association, for his skillful organization of this excellent tasting.

BevMo five-cent blind tasting

The BevMo tastings are fun for the very diverse crowd one meets there, and the equally diverse wines, which often include surprises both good and bad, especially for the rare blind spectator.

This week they really blew it away with no less than nine wines to taste. I salute BevMo for having the balls to allow completely random shoppers to try so many wines, especially considering that the majority of BevMo shoppers are not known for spitting.

Peter, who was pouring for BevMo, was nothing short of awesome, and not only did he gladly do it all blind for me, he also made sure not to have any information leaked to me through the other tasters, making sure to point at bottles and say “this is the next wine, please don’t say the name out loud since this guy is tasting blind”. He also mixed up the order for me, and kept all the identities hidden until I was finished taking all tasting notes, and only then did we “reveal” the wines. Major respect to Peter!

We started with two whites which completely puzzled me and I did not have any good guess for them. For lack of any guess, I said “statistically I’ll have to guess Chardonnay”, but of course this was wrong, on both occasions.

  • 2012 Buscado Blanco ($5). Clear deep yellow. Medium nose, yellow apple, vanilla. Medium body, medium acidity, medium-plus finish, medium-plus alcohol, a bit chalky. Flavors of lemon, green apple, mild vanilla, mild mineral. Structure 12, flavors 12, other 14, score 88. I could not believe this is a $5 bottle of wine, really great for that price.
  • 2012 Condes de Albarei Albarino ($9). Clear deep yellow. Medium nose, lemon, green apple. Medium body, medium acidity, medium-plus finish, chalky. Flavors of lemon, mild green apple, mild mineral. Structure 12, flavors 12, other 15, score 89. Again, very nice for the price.

We proceeded to taste no less than six red wines:

  • 2011 Buscado Garnacha ($5). Clear deep ruby, low rim variation. Medium nose, earthy, graphite, black currant, leather, earth. Medium body, medium acidity, medium-plus dry tannins, medium finish. Flavors of earth, charcoal, black currant, mushroom, graphite. Structure 11, flavors 10, other 15, score 86. I did not know what it was, guessed a South American Bordeaux blend.
  • 2007 Luna Negra Tempranillo Reserva ($10). Clear garnet, medium rim variation, orange rim. Medium nose, fruity and a bit floral, vanilla, earthy. Medium to full body, medium-plus acidity, medium-plus grippy tannins, medium-plus finish. Flavors of black currant, bell pepper, cocoa powder, earth. Structure 12, flavors 12, other 15, score 89. Another great QPR. I guessed it was a California Bordeaux blend.
  • 2009 Beaulieu Vineyard Red Wine North Coast ($10). Clear ruby, low rim variation, brown rim. Medium nose, bell pepper, black currant, vanilla. Medium body, medium acidity, medium-plus round tannins, medium-plus finish, medium alcohol. Flavors of black currant, bell pepper, vanilla. Structure 12, flavors 12, other 15, score 89. I guessed it was a California Cab – close enough.
  • 2012 Ray’s Creek Cabernet Sauvignon ($8.5). Clear ruby, low rim variation. Medium nose, fruity, a bit unripe, medicinal. Medium body, medium-plus acidity, medium finish, medium dry tannins, dry. Flavors of bell pepper, cough syrup, medicinal. Structure 11, flavors 10, other 13, score 84. I guessed it was a cheap, unripe Cab.
  • 2011 Ravenswood Zinfandel Lodi ($8). Clear ruby, low rim variation, white rim. Medium nose, ripe, floral, rose, cherry, strawberry, earthy. Medium body, medium acidity, medium-plus tannins, medium finish. Flavors of plum, strawberry jam, super zinny. Structure 12, flavors 12, other 14, score 88. I immediately guessed it was a California Zin.
  • 2011 Four Vines Petite Sirah Skeptic ($12.5). Clear deep ruby, low rim variation, orange rim. Medium nose, sweet, vanilla, chocolate, blackberry, blueberry, olive. Medium body, medium acidity, off-dry, medium-plus finish, strong puckering grippy tannins, medium-plus alcohol. Flavors of blueberry, chocolate. Structure 11, flavors 13, other 14, score 88. I guessed Petite Sirah.

Overall, I was pretty much right on all California wine, and wrong on all non-California wine. Shows you that it’s all about training.

Last on the line-up was a bubbly:

  • Campo Viejo Brut Rose Cava ($9). Clear pale copper, small bubbles. Strong nose, yeast, mud, barnyard. Medium body, chalky, medium-plus finish. Flavors of raspberry, earth, barnyard, apricot, peach. Structure 11, flavors 12, other 15, score 88.

I was surprised by the great QPR of some of these wines. It’s definitely possible to find decent wines that are even quite varietally correct at $10 and under. My favorites from this tasting were the 2007 Luna Negra Tempranillo Reserva and the 2009 Beaulieu Vineyards North Coast Red. At $10 a bottle, totally worth it.

Big Basin tasting

A wine geek’s dream: I walk in the tasting room, take out my note taking device, position myself next to the spit bucket, ask to do a blind tasting, expecting at this point to draw everyone’s attention for being so weird and unusual, as always, and… nothing. I’m not unusual. Because everyone there is taking notes. And spitting. And talking about the wine. When I commented that this is the best tasting room crowd ever, Matt said that this is what Big Basin is going for: serious wine folks only, please. No live music here. If you want a party with food and music, better try your luck next door. But for seriously good wine, Big Basin Vineyards is the right place.

Tasting notes follow.

  • 2013 GSM Rose, $22. Pale clear salmon. Medium nose, raspberry, mild watermelon. Light to medium body, medium-plus acidity, medium-plus dry tannins, medium-plus finish, dry, medium-plus alcohol. Flavors of sour cherry, red currant, raspberry, mild cranberry, tart and refreshing. Structure 12, flavors 13, other 14, score 89. Crisp, tart, fresh. I guessed grenache. This is a blend of 33% grenache, 58% syrah, 9% mourvedre. 14.1% alcohol.
  • 2011 Santa Cruz Mountains Pinot Noir, $36. Pale clear day-bright ruby, low rim variation. Medium nose, medium fruit, mild floral, strawberry, rose, hints of earth, mushroom. Medium body, medium-plus acidity, medium round tannins, dry, medium alcohol, medium finish. Flavors of rose petal, sour cherry, plum, hints of earth, mushroom. Structure 11, flavors 13, other 15, score 89. I guessed Pinot Noir. 13.5% alcohol.
  • 2011 Coastview Vineyard Pinot Noir, $44. Pale clear ruby, medium rim variation. Medium nose, super fruity, raspberry, mild savory hint, maybe olive, mild earth. Medium body, medium acidity, medium finish, medium-plus dry tannins, medium alcohol, dry. Flavors of mild olive, raspberry, hint of earth. Structure 12, flavors 13, other 15, score 90. 13% alcohol.
  • 2010 Coastview Vineyard Syrah, $48. Clear bright medium purple, medium rim variation, white rim. Intense nose, fruity, strawberry, raspberry, plum, vanilla. Medium body, medium-plus acidity, medium round tannins, medium-plus finish, medium-plus alcohol. Flavors of strawberry, plum, blueberry, vanilla. Structure 13, flavors 13, other 14, score 90. This will be wonderful with a few years of aging.
  • 2009 Old Corral Syrah, $55. Clear purple, low rim variation. Intense nose, vanilla, blueberry, olive, strawberry, mild ethanol. Medium to full body, medium acidity, long finish, medium-plus alcohol, medium silky tannins. Flavors of blueberry, hints of earthy, strawberry, black currant, vanilla. Structure 13, flavors 13, other 17, score 93. Awesome.
  • 2011 Santa Cruz Mountains Cabernet Sauvignon, $39. Deep ruby, low rim variation. Medium nose, medium bell pepper, black currant, mild vanilla. Medium body, medium-plus acidity, medium-plus dry tannins, medium-plus finish, medium-plus alcohol, dry. Flavors of vanilla, bell pepper, black currant. Structure 12, flavors 13, other 15, score 90.

A tasting room full of wine geeks, and excellent age-worthy wine. Big Basin Vineyards are clearly serious about what they’re doing.

J Lohr wine tasting

Four of us did a private tasting at J Lohr a few days ago. Had a great time with our host who was more than happy to do everything blind. My tasting notes follow:

  • 2012 J Lohr Chardonnay Arroyo Seco Dijon Clone 809 (14.9%). Deep yellow, star bright, medium viscosity. Weak nose, yellow apple, not much. Medium body, medium-minus acidity, medium finish, medium-plus alcohol. Flavors of vanilla, pear. Structure 11, flavors 12, other 14. Score 87. My conclusion: 2012 Chardonnay, oaked, warm climate.
  • 2011 J Lohr Pinot Noir Arroyo Seco ($35). Clear dark ruby, pale white rim, low viscosity. Medium nose, black currants, mild bell pepper, a bit earth, floral, mild vanilla. Medium body, medium acidity, soft tannins, medium-plus finish. Flavors of vanilla, licorice, black currants, thyme, bell pepper, cocoa powder. Structure 12, flavors 13, other 16. Score 91. My conclusion: 2010 Merlot, moderate climate. Oops! How could I totally miss a Pinot?
  • 2011 J Lohr Pinot Noir Highlands Bench ($35). Dark clear ruby. Black cherries, floral, lavender, vanilla. Medium body, medium acidity, soft silky tannins, medium-plus finish. Flavors of coffee, cherries, floral, vanilla. Structure 13, flavors 13, other 17. Score 93. That one was not tasted blind.
  • 2011 J Lohr Syrah Southridge Paso Robles ($15). Dark ruby-purple, medium viscosity, inky, purple rim. Savory nose, olives, spicy, vanilla, prunes. Light body, medium acidity, medium finish, soft silky tannins. Flavors of olives, blueberries, vanilla, coffee on the finish. Structure 12, flavors 13, score 16. Score 91. My conclusion: Syrah.
  • 2011 J Lohr Cabernet Sauvignon Hilltop Paso Robles ($40). Totally inky ruby-purple, pale white purple rim. Medium nose of bell pepper, black currants, vanilla. Medium body, medium-plus acidity, medium-plus finish, a bit hot, velvety tannins. Flavors of black currants, vanilla, chocolate, mild herbal, eucalyptus. Structure 13, flavors 13, other 16. Score 92. Conclusion: Cabernet Sauvignon.
  • 2009 J Lohr Cabernet Sauvignon St. E ($50). Dark, inky, pale purple rim. Medium sexy nose, chocolate, vanilla, black currants. Medium body, medium-plus acidity, medium-plus grippy tannins, medium-plus finish. Flavors of chocolate, blueberries, bell pepper, vanilla. Structure 13, flavors 14, other 16. Score 93. Conclusion: another Cab, must be very expensive since it’s so awesome.

Midweek blind tasting

Did a blind tasting of four wines with some friends. Tasting notes:

  • 2012 Long Meadow Ranch Sauvignon Blanc. Star bright, clear, pale straw, medium viscosity. Nose is clean, medium intensity, youthful, medium fruit (stone fruit), medium nonfruit (floral). Aromas of floral, jasmine, peach, nectarine. Medium body, medium-plus alcohol, medium-plus finish, high fruit (citrus), no other flavors. Flavors of lemon. Guess 1-3 years, cold climate Sauvignon Blanc, Sonoma, California, 2012, medium quality, alcohol 14%. Structure 12, flavors 12, other 14, score 88. Real region is Rutherford, Napa, real alcohol is 12.9%.
  • 2011 Four Vines Petite Sirah Skeptic. Bright, clear, dark purple, medium rim variation, pale purple rim, medium viscosity. Clean nose, medium intensity, medium fruit, vegetal, spice and oak, medium youth. Aromas of blackberry, almonds, black cherry, clove. Medium body, dry, medium-plus acidity, medium-plus alcohol, medium-plus round tannins, medium finish. Medium fruit, medium herbal / vegetal, high oak. Flavors of cloves, pepper, blackberries, plums, licorice. Guess: 5-10 years, around 2008, warm climate, California, perhaps Paso Robles, medium quality, around 14.5% alcohol, Zinfandel or Petite Sirah. Structure 11, flavors 12, other 15. Score 88. Real alcohol is 14.3%, real region Paso Robles.
  • 2007 Chumeia Barbera Partridge-Leigh Vineyard. Bright, clear, deep garnet, medium viscosity. Nose is clean, medium intensity, medium fruit, fresh and dried, high nonfruit (vegetal, spice), medium oak, medium youthfulness. Aromas of prunes, raisins, black currants, olives, black pepper, cinnamon, some earth. Medium body, dry, medium-minus acidity, light soft tannins, medium-plus alcohol. Medium earth, medium fruit, high non-fruit (vegetal, spicy), medium oak. Flavors of olives, blueberries, blackberries, black currants, black pepper, vanilla, allspice, earthy finish. Guess 5-10 years, 14.5% alcohol, around 2007, California, moderate climate, Syrah, medium-plus quality. Structure 11, flavors 13, other 17. Score 91. Real alcohol is 14%, region is Paso Robles.
  • 2008 Picchetti Cabernet Sauvignon Leslie’s Estate. Bright, clear, dark ruby, medium rim variation with pale purple rim, high viscosity. Nose is clean, medium intensity, medium youthfulness, medium fruit (fresh), medium non-fruit (herbal), high oak. Aromas of vanilla, blackberries, black currants, fresh herbs, wet forest floor. Medium body, dry, medium-plus acidity, medium-plus alcohol, medium finish, medium-plus dry tannins. Medium earth, medium fruit, medium non-fruit (herbs), medium oak. Flavors of blackberries, vanilla, fresh herbs, mild earth. Guess moderate climate, California, Napa Valley, Cabernet Sauvignon or Bordeaux blend, 3-5 years, around 2009, medium-plus quality. Structure 11, flavors 13, other 16, score 90. Real alcohol 14.3%, real region Santa Cruz Mountains.

What a great evening of blind tasting in good company!

Spanish wine tasting

Had the pleasure of attending a tasting of Spanish wines focused on Ribera del Duero and Priorat, but also including one Rioja and one California Tempranillo (from Lodi). The wines were not tasted blind but I tried to be as uninformed as possible (not know prices, not pay attention to what they are, unless people were telling me in my face).

Tasting notes:

  • 2006 Herederos del Marqués de Riscal Rioja Reserva. Clear dark garnet. On the nose, dried cherries, cedar, vanilla, some barnyard. Medium body, medium-plus acidity, long finish, silky tannins. Flavors of woody oak, barnyard, cedar, plums, tobacco, leather, cherries, prunes. Structure 13, flavors 12, other 15. Score 90.
  • 2009 Clos de Tafall Priorat. Dark clear ruby-garnet, pale rim. On the nose, blackberry jam, vanilla, prunes. Medium body, medium-plus acidity, medium-plus finish, velvety tannins. Flavors of blueberries, blackberry jam, prunes, spicy, black pepper, some sweet spice like licorice or cinnamon. Structure 13, flavors 13, other 14. Score 90.
  • 2009 Bodegas Alejandro Fernández Ribera del Duero Tinto Pesquera. Very dark purple with brighter rim. On the nose, black currants, blackberries, licorice, vanilla. Medium body, medium acidity, medium-plus finish, medium integrated tannins. Flavors of blueberries, blackberries, olives, allspice. Structure 13, flavors 13, other 16. Score 92.
  • 2008 Ripken Tempranillo El Matador Lodi. Clear dark ruby-garnet. Intense nose of ethanol, blackberries, plums, olives. Medium to full body, hot, medium-plus acidity, medium-plus finish, medium-plus integrated tannins. Big, alcoholic, sweet, fruity, plums, blueberries, some vanilla, mocha finish. Very new world in style. Structure 12, flavors 13, other 14. Score 89. Delicious but hot and super fruity.
  • 2005 Bodegas Protos Ribera del Duero Gran Reserva. Totally inky ruby, opaque. Complex nose, plums, black cherries, olives, leather, allspice. Medium body, medium-plus acidity, medium-plus tannins, long finish. Flavors of blackberries, allspice, olives, blueberries, chocolate, tobacco. Great balance of fruit, spice, oak, structure. Big, delicious and wonderful with food. Structure 14, flavors 13, other 17. Score 94.
  • 2001 Bodegas Balbas Ribera del Duero Gran Reserva. Dark clear ruby with orange rim. On the nose, cedar, leather, barnyard, swamp, black cherries, black pepper. Medium body, medium acidity, big tannins, medium-plus finish. Flavors of swamp, leather, prunes, black cherries, tobacco, black pepper. Complex. Structure 13, flavors 13, other 17. Score 93.
  • 2001 Arzuaga Crianza. Very dark garnet, almost inky. Lovely mature nose, cedar, musky, leather, dried cherries, prunes, tobacco, beautiful. Light to medium body, medium-plus acidity, medium-plus tannins, medium-plus to long finish. Flavors of cedar, prunes, leather, tobacco, dried cherries, figs, lovely and mature. Structure 13, flavors 14, other 17. Score 94.
  • 2011 Camins del Priorat. Dark, inky, no rim variation. Strong young fruity nose, big blueberries, plums, almost jammy blackberry, ethanol. Full body, medium-plus acidity, medium-plus tannins, medium finish, hot. Flavors of plums, pepper, olives, a bit like a big Zin. Too young. Structure 11, flavors 12, other 14. Score 87.
  • 2006 Lambuena Reserva Ribera del Duero. Very dark, inky, purple rim. Medium nose of olives, allspice, black cherries, pepper. Medium to full body, medium-plus acidity, juicy, strong but well integrated tannins, medium-plus to long finish. Flavors of black cherries, cinnamon, blueberries, blackberries, black currants, leather. Lovely, rich, complex. Structure 14, flavors 13, other 17. Score 94.
  • 2011 Flores de Callejo Ribera del Duero. Very inky ruby-purple, no rim variation. Vegetal nose, unripe, pepper and some plums. Medium body, strong grippy tannins, medium acidity, medium-plus finish. Flavors of synthetic vanilla, peppers, plums, cherries. Structure 12, flavors 11, other 14. Score 87.
  • 2008 Font de la Figuera Priorat. Dark, inky, purple rim, sweet and mature. Vanilla, black currants, sweet cedar, earth, mushrooms. Awesome nose. Medium body, medium-plus acidity, medium-plus to long finish, medium-plus tannins, perfectly integrated. Flavors of mushrooms, black cherries, cassis, chocolate, licorice, cigar box. Lovely, rich, long, big, complex, awesome. Structure 13, flavors 14, other 17. Score 94.
  • 2011 Grifoll Declara Priorat Predicat. Very dark ruby, medium rim variation. Funky nose, sweaty socks, corked? Medium body, strong tannins, medium finish. Flavors of mud, sweaty socks, some dark fruit, perhaps corked although not extremely. Score 84.
  • 2011 Barco de Piedra Ribera del Duero. Clear dark ruby-purple. Medium nose, strong vanilla, pepper, unripe, plums. Medium to full body, medium-minus acidity, medium-plus tannins, medium to medium-plus finish. Flavors of vanilla, plums, pepper, kind of synthetic. Structure 11, flavors 11, other 14. Score 86.

Vinavanti tasting

Vinavanti is a small urban winery in San Diego, making modern natural wine, meaning that modern technology and understanding of the chemistry are used in totally natural winemaking, with minimal intervention, unfiltered, unoaked and unsulfited (if that’s even a word).

I had the pleasure of doing a tasting with Eric, the winemaker, whose physics background shows in his analytical problem solving skills, and I highly recommend visiting if only to chat with him and hear some fun winemaking adventure stories.


In addition to a great conversation, Eric also led me through a fun blind tasting of some Vinavanti wine. Tasting notes below.

  • 2013 Vinavanti Sparkling Viognier L’Héritier ($22). Hazy grapefruit-like off white. Medium nose of pears. Medium body, medium-plus acidity, medium-minus finish, lightly fizzy. Flavors of pears, lime, yeast. 2013 sparkling viognier. L’heritier. Structure 9, flavors 10, other 13. Score 82.
  • 2011 Vinavanti Grenache Temecula Valley ($23). Pale clear garnet. Medium nose of rose petals, sour cherries, cranberries. Medium to full body, medium acidity, velvety tannins, medium finish. Flavors of rose petals, raspberries, mild smoke. Structure 10, flavors 12, other 14. Score 86.
  • 2011 Vinavanti Mourvedre Temecula Valley ($27). Clear ruby. Medium nose of cherries, plums, mild grapefruit. Medium body, medium acidity, medium tannins, medium finish. Flavors of raspberries, cherries, mild strawberries. Very fruit forward. Structure 11, flavors 12, other 13. Score 86.
  • 2011 Vinavanti Syrah Temecula Valley ($25). Dark clear ruby-purple. Medium nose of wet forest floor, mushrooms, black cherries. Full body, medium acidity, ripe tannins, medium finish. Flavors of earth, mushrooms, black cherries, smoke. Structure 12, flavors 12, other 15. Score 89.
  • 2011 Vinavanti GSM Temecula Valley ($25). Hazy ruby, pale rim. Medium nose, wet forest floor, cherries, mushrooms, smoke. Medium to full body, medium acidity, young strong tannins, medium-plus finish. Flavors of earth, smoke, cherries. Structure 12, flavors 12, other 15. Score 89.
  • 2012 Vinavanti Mourvedre DS9 Temecula Valley ($29). Hazy dark ruby. Medium nose of chocolate, orange. Medium body, medium-plus acidity, young tannins, medium-plus finish. Flavors of minerals (graphite?), orange, cocoa powder, mild hops, sage. Structure 12, flavors 12, other 16. Score 90.

If you get the chance, I highly recommend visiting for a chance to taste some very well made natural wine and to meet Eric.