Bordeaux Style – Two Ways

2010 Chateau Peyfaures
2013 Nadia Cabernet Sauvignon

– Pipe and Pint Grape Notes – Vol.1/Ch.7

It’s hard to believe that we are already on review number seven and while we have covered quite a few wine growing regions and grape varieties, no mention yet of what many still rightfully consider to be the mecca of wine. And no, I am not talking about Napa Valley! Let’s try that one again, shall we. With about 300,000 acres of vineyards, around 10,000 wineries and a total annual production of close to a billion bottles, the Bordeaux region in France is still the big player in the wine world. No other wine region in the world draws as much regular attention from press, collectors and wine drinkers, particularly around the time when the new vintages are first tasted in the barrels by critics in what the Bordeaux marketing machinery has titled its “en primeur” campaign. In fact, the 2015 tastings have just concluded which is why I thought it would only be appropriate to spend some time talking about Bordeaux today.

Now, if you paid attention to the two wines we are reviewing today, you might or might not have noticed that only one of them is actually from Bordeaux – the other one being a Cabernet Sauvignon from Santa Barbara County. If you did notice, good catch! I’ll explain why that is the case later on.

Now that we have established the fact that Bordeaux is indeed a wine powerhouse, let’s take a closer look because to a lot of people not familiar with the region, the sheer size, variety and let’s not forget, cost of some of the wines, can be quite intimidating. We’ll start with the fact that wines from Bordeaux are actually subdivided into many regions and depending what region they are from determines the style of wine you can expect. There are 38 sub-regions and a total of 57 appellations within those sub-regions. That’s a lot but don’t worry, you don’t have to memorize all of them because the most important distinction to keep in mind when looking at red Bordeaux wines is whether the Chateau is located on the left bank or right bank of the Gironde river which flows right through the center of the Bordeaux region.

Bordeaux-River-Gironde

The left bank which hosts all of the famous first growth Bordeaux chateau (Chateau Lafite Rothschild, Chateau Margaux, Chateau Mouton Rothschild, Chateau Latour and Chateau Haut Brion) is home to the Medoc region and within that the Saint Estephe, Pauillac, Saint Julien, Margaux, Haut Medoc, Graves, Pessac Leognan and Listrac Moulis appellations. While every appellation and Chateau naturally produce their own unique wines, there is a combining element. All of the left bank wines tend to be dominated by the Cabernet Sauvignon grape, usually blended with smaller percentages of Cabernet Franc, Merlot and sometimes Petit Verdot and Malbec. All of these grapes are referred to as typical Bordeaux varieties and a combination of two or more of these make up a Bordeaux blend. Hence, if you are out shopping for a red Bordeaux and encounter a wine from one of these left bank appellations, you are most likely going to get a Cabernet Sauvignon heavy wine with all of the associated aromas and taste characteristics.

That picture changes however when you travel over to the other side of the Gironde river. Merlot is the name of the game on the right bank. Most of the wines from the Pomerol and Saint Emilion appellations tend to be centered around Merlot with smaller percentages of Cabernet Franc and some Cabernet Sauvignon blended in. Because of the Merlot dominance the wines from these regions are usually a little smoother and show more subtle tannins compared to their left bank counterparts. This is a pretty important distinction to remember since unlike the wines from US producers, Bordeaux wines are never identified by the grape varieties but rather by the Chateau (producer) and the appellation (i.e. Chateau Lafite Rothschild from Pauillac).

Unfortunately, there are a few more things to keep in mind when buying Bordeaux wines. Those of you who read my post on Southern Rhone may remember the different quality classification levels of the AOC (Controlled designation of origin) system. While quite simple in the Rhone, it is much more complex in Bordeaux. For one, the different Bordeaux appellations all have their own unique historic hierarchical system for defining quality levels which makes it a little difficult to compare wines across the different Bordeaux regions. I am not going to go into the details now as the complexity of the systems warrants its own post. However, for now do keep in mind that most Chateaux from the famous left and right bank appellations I mentioned above generally produce very high quality wines that consequently sport pretty hefty price tags. Try finding a high quality Saint Emilion wine at the lower end of the price spectrum…

There are however ways of finding high quality Bordeaux wines that won’t break the bank and the key to that is looking outside of the famous regions since just like in the Rhone, Bordeaux has a category for wines that don’t exclusively originate from one of the specifically designated appellations. Hence, any wine that isn’t exclusively grown in Pauillac or Saint Emilion for example, can’t use that designation. Those wines could be grown just outside of a designated geographic appellation but still be within the vast Bordeaux region. The AOC system refers to those wines as either Appellation Bordeaux Controlee or Appellation Bordeaux Superior Controllee.

Chateau-Peyfaures-2010

Chateau Peyfaures, a Bordeaux Superior, is a great example of a right bank style Bordeaux that is actually grown right across from the Saint Emilion appellation in the Entre-deux-Mers area. It’s the area that lies right below the point where the Gironde river splits, hence its name which translates to “between two seas”. Chateau Peyfaures is a small, family-owned producer that focuses on making wine which really showcases the 34 acres of beautiful terroir on which it is grown. The iron rich chalk and clay based soil produces wine that while very drinkable in its youth also ensures a nice aging potential. I was just recently introduced to Chateau Peyfaures which consists of 80% Merlot, 12% Cabernet Sauvignon and 8% Cabernet Franc through their consulting oenologist Virginie Rolland. Some of you might be familiar with Michel Rolland who acts as a winemaking consultant for some of the most famous and spectacular wines in the world such as Chateau Ausone, Screaming Eagle and Harlan Estate just to name a few. Virginie is his niece and having studied with her uncle, she clearly learned a thing or two about making great wines.

Chateau Peyfaures is a very approachable, fresh yet astonishingly layered wine that is meant to be enjoyed in an uncomplicated manner. On the nose it reveals a lush, fruity character driven by blackcurrant, blackberry and dark cherry aromas. These aromas are well balanced, by no means overpowering and are complemented nicely by hints of violet, bay leaf and some subtle cedar notes. Being Merlot heavy, it drinks beautifully smooth and the tannins are noticeable enough to give it some grip without ever jumping to the front. This makes it a very versatile food companion. While clearly not as complex and layered as some of its more famous “counterparts” from across the river in Saint Emilion, Chateau Peyfaures is a great example of what right bank Bordeaux wines are so well known for…at a very affordable price point.

Nadia-2013-Cabernet-Sauvignon

The left bank Bordeaux example I picked today as a comparison is actually not even from that region. We’ll cover a “true” left bank in an upcoming post. Instead, I chose one of the many wines from around the world that so closely resemble the classic Bordeaux style. Laetitia Winery’s Nadia Cabernet Sauvignon is one of those examples. A blend of primarily Cabernet Sauvignon accompanied by Merlot and Cabernet Franc, it mimics the Bordeaux style very nicely. It is grown in the Santa Barbara Highlands in California where the climatic conditions are very favorable to this type of wine. As a result, Nadia delivers a lovely combination of dark fruit and herbal aromas. Blueberries notes are accompanied by hints of oregano and basil, all held together by a nice earthiness and minerality. On the palate the fruit gets lifted by subtle dark chocolate flavors and an interesting leather tone. The mouthfeel is a little more distinct and grippy than Chateau Peyfaures but that is to be expected from this Cabernet-dominated wine. It helps to provide a nice long finish, leaving me wanting another sip.

Let me conclude this already long post by reiterating that both of these wines represent tremendous value for both left and right bank Bordeaux style wines. Treat yourself to a bottle of both and discover the differences and unique characteristics of the left and right bank Bordeaux regions.

Cheers,

Christian

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Napa Icons at The Pipe and Pint – Paul Hobbs Winery Cabernet Sauvignon Beckstoffer To Kalon Vineyard 2012

(Originally published for The Pipe and Pint)

Today we are going to vary it up a bit in our regular Napa Icon Series. While we have focused entirely on cult wines so far, in this post we are actually going to have a look at a specific vineyard instead (and a wine that is sourced exclusively from that vineyard). But not just any vineyard. The To Kalon vineyard in the Oakville District in Napa Valley is rightfully considered to be the most iconic source of grapes in California, consistently producing some of Napa’s most phenomenal and critically acclaimed wines. Named for the Greek to kalon “the beautiful”, the vineyard was first established in the late 1860s by Henry W. Crabb. Once consisting of around 360 acres of vines, today it is owned by three parties, Robert Mondavi Winery, Opus One and grower Andy Beckstoffer. While Mondavi and Opus One source the To Kalon grapes primarily for their own wines, it is the roughly 89 acres that are owned by Andy Beckstoffer that have truly reached cult status since some of Napa’s most prestigious wineries such as Paul Hobbs, Schrader and Alpha Omega buy grapes from Andy and produce a single vineyard Beckstoffer To Kalon designated wine.

There is something very magical about the predominantly Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc grapes sourced from To Kalon. Naturally, the select few producers that buy To Kalon fruit know how to make excellent wines but the fact that no other vineyard regularly produces as many perfect scoring wines as To Kalon speaks for the location at least as much as it does for the producers. The 2014 vintage alone featured four wines rated 100 points by critic Robert Parker. But as with everything, quality and cult status has a price. While wineries buy high-quality Cabernet Sauvignon grapes on average for about $6000 per ton, Andy Beckstoffer is able to charge at least 10 times as much and more. But oh, it is so worth it.

A great example is the 2012 Paul Hobbs Winery Beckstoffer To Kalon Cabernet Sauvignon. Paul Hobbs Winery is actually one of the first producers to have made a single vineyard Cabernet sourced exclusively from To Kalon and the wine consistently ranks among the best and rarest Cabernet Sauvignons from all of California. It’s a beautiful wine that really showcases the incredible characteristics of the vineyard. Opulent, intense yet incredibly balanced and velvety smooth with Cabernet Sauvignon typical aromas of blueberry, blackberry and graphite accompanied by beautiful vanilla and lavender undertones. Paul Hobbs really knows how to make the best of the To Kalon grapes. Only about 600 cases of this wine are produced annually and you are lucky if you can get your hands on a bottle. See for yourself what the magic of Beckstoffer To Kalon is all about.

Paul Hobbs Winery Cabernet Sauvignon Beckstoffer To Kalon Vineyard 2012

2012 Beringer Quantum – Gorgeous Napa Red

Pipe and Pint Grape Notes – Vol.1/Ch.6

Let’s take a breather today after the southern Rhone tour and have a sip of something that brings us back to the heart of Napa Valley. Beringer Vineyards is a winery that many of us are probably familiar with and that has been rooted in Napa for a long time. Now the question is whether or not our familiarity is driven by Beringer’s long heritage or by the fact that their selection of wines spans a very, very large range. Does that matter you ask? Well, I recently had someone approach me and ask about a bottle of Beringer Quantum Red that we currently have on display with a small poster above the bottles, advertising a 92 Point rating. “How is it possible that a Beringer wine can get 92 points?” was the question, followed by “I’m familiar with Beringer wines but all the stuff I see is usually sold in grocery stores or sometimes even gas stations for much less than $10”. I proceeded to explain that while Beringer does indeed sport a large retail presence predominantly with its lower-end products, it also produces and in fact built its foundation with many phenomenal and high-quality wines. If you have ever had the chance to taste a Beringer Private Reserve or one of their single vineyard bottles, you will probably agree with me that these wines are about as far away from the $3.99 White Zinfandels that so commonly occupy retail shelves as a Corvette ZR1 is from a base-model Chevy Cruze.

Rhine house at Beringer vineyards

The Rhine House at Beringer Vineyards

Now just like the Chevy Cruze gets you from point A to point B reliably, the entry-level wines from the big wineries like Beringer (there are plenty of other examples out there such as Mondavi and Kendall Jackson) serve a purpose as low-cost dinner companions for everyday drinking. Granted, these wines are mass produced and won’t wow you with infinite layers of aromas and complexity but keep in mind, they weren’t designed to do that either. While it is debatable whether or not having such a large selection and plenty of low-cost wines is beneficial for the wineries from a branding perspective, don’t let that fact ever hold you back from trying some of the higher quality wines from these producers. Trust me, when I say they definitely know how to make those as well, just like Chevy can make an iconic Corvette.

And that brings me to today’s wine. The Quantum Red Blend is part of Beringer’s Distinction Series of wines which in terms of hierarchy is situated below their top-of-the-line Private Reserve and Single Vineyard wines. It’s a relatively new series of wines that unlike the very traditionally produced Private Reserves and Single Vineyard varieties, grants the winemakers Mark Beringer and Laurie Hook a certain level of, let’s call it, creative expression. In the case of Quantum it is the ability to blend different grape varieties from a variety of Beringer’s different vineyards, with the goal of showcasing the uniqueness of each while at the same time creating something that is bigger than the sum of its parts. Hence the name Quantum! Were they successful at doing so you ask?

Beringer-2012-Quantum

The short answer to that question is yes, very much so but let’s take a look at why that is the case. Antonio Galloni of Vinous, the aforementioned wine critic who scored Quantum with 92 points describes it as “a gorgeous wine…silky, nuanced and expressive” and I find “gorgeous” to be an extremely suitable descriptor. Quantum is primarily Cabernet Sauvignon from Beringer’s Howell Mountain vineyards and the core aromas of dark fruits, cherry, raspberry and plum clearly showcase that. Once you get past the fruit, you are treated to a mix of subtle leather, spice and mild tobacco along with some herbal/earthy notes which really add a nice layer of depth. What really wowed me though was the way all of these aromas came together as a whole which made the wine incredibly easy to drink. If you want to pick it apart you can but it will treat you with a balance and completeness even if you don’t. The Tannins are present but the Merlot grapes in the blend really provide a smooth, silky mouthfeel which again is carefully counteracted by a slight hint of minerality and pepperiness (careful use of Petit Sirah). I tasted this both on its own and as a companion to a nice steak dinner and it was able to shine in both settings. There’s just something about a dark ruby wine to go along with a nice piece of meat.

Quantum is definitely not an entry-level priced wine and it shouldn’t be. It’s a higher end wine and  a great example of careful grape selection and skillful winemaking techniques that result in a gorgeous, easy to drink wine that you really can’t go wrong with if you are looking for something big and bold with balance. It definitely does the Beringer name justice, in fact much more so than the white Zins and I encourage everyone not to let those ever discourage you from picking up a bottle of Quantum. After all, would you turn down a drive in a Corvette just because of all the Cruze’s on the road? I didn’t think so! 

Cheers,

Christian

Cotes Du Rhone – Two more stars of the southern Rhone

2013 Domaine Chateaumar Cuvee Bastien
2014 Domaine Chateaumar Cuvee Vincent

Pipe and Pint Grape Notes – Vol.1/Ch.5

For this week’s review, we are literally going to cross the road from where we were last week. That little walk across the road takes us just outside of the Chateauneuf Du Pape area in the southern Rhone. The emphasis here is on the “just outside” because the way the traditional quality classification system is set up in France – and most of the Old World regions, in fact – allows you to be standing in a row of vines in one region such as Chateauneuf Du Pape in our case, only to take a few steps back and find ourselves standing in a different region. In today’s example, we’ll be taking that step thus moving into the Cote Du Rhone. But, before we get into today’s wines let’s begin with a little theory that will hopefully shed some light on this (sometimes a little confusing) regional classification system. If that sounds boring, I’ll promise to keep it brief. Let me also add a little side note: This classification system also explains why there can be significant price differences between wines that are literally grown a few feet apart from each other.

The French AOC (Appelations D’Origine Contrôlée, which translates to “Controlled designation of origin) system currently encompasses over 300 geographic wine regions. Primarily, the system focuses on geographic origin but as if that wasn’t complicated enough, there are various hierarchical quality levels embedded into that system which varies depending on where you are in France. For example, Bordeaux has a different way of differentiating quality levels than the Burgundy region which again varies from the Rhone region. Despite being different, there is a general rule of thumb when it comes to the quality levels. As you move up the quality ladder the geographic regions tend to get smaller and more narrowly specified, hence guaranteeing a more indicative representation of the specific geographic and microclimatic qualities (referred to as “terroir”) of that region. But since we are focusing on the Rhone region, let’s get back to that.

 

Southern_Rhone

Courtesy of Wine Folly

 

There are four distinctive quality levels in the Rhone region. It starts with the general classification of Cote Du Rhone. Next up the ladder are the Cote Du Rhone Villages wines, followed by the more distinct Cote Du Rhone (named) Villages of which there are 18 in total. At the peak you will find the 18 so-called “Crus” regions. The wines from Chateauneuf Du Pape we covered last week fall into that category – the highest if you will. Today’s wines from the Domaine Chateaumar are both Cote Du Rhone wines (lowest in the classification system) even though the vineyards of that particular producer are, as I pointed out earlier, almost directly adjacent to the Chateauneuf Du Pape area. In fact, Domaine Chateaumar also produces a Chateauneuf Du Pape classified wine. This begs the question of how today’s two wines from Cote Du Rhone hold up against their significantly higher priced next door neighbors from Chateauneuf Du Pape. Without jumping too far ahead, I can already say that they do in fact hold up quite well indeed.

Both the 2014 Cuvee Vincent and the 2013 Cuvee Bastien from Domaine Chateaumar are single varietal wines. Cuvee Vincent is 100% Syrah and Cuvee Bastien consists exclusively of Grenache grapes. We actually tasted these two wines right after the two Chateauneufs that were featured in last week’s review and which are both blends of primarily Grenache and Syrah. Being able to compare the two single varietal Cote Du Rhones with the Chateauneuf Du Pape blends back-to-back was interesting because it refined the qualities of each variety even more, both when blended together and consequently individually. And it also revealed an advantage that we enjoy as wine consumers today…almost infinite choices!

domaine-de-chateaumar

While both the Cuvee Bastien and the Cuvee Vincent are distinctly Rhone style wines, they really highlight the individual characteristics of the Grenache and Syrah grapes. The Grenache-based Cuvee Bastien starts off on the lighter side. Don’t get me wrong though, by light I don’t mean flimsy or lacking body. It’s got plenty of delicious raspberry and blueberry aroma notes with lots of fruity sweetness, reminding me of a freshly opened jar of raspberry or blueberry jam. But it’s not all fruit either and you do get treated to some of the Grenache typical light smokiness with hints of tobacco and full-bodied English Breakfast Tea. All of it in moderation though and in a very well balanced manner. On the palate you get a nice silky texture, yet enough structure and body to prevent it from being one dimensional.

Cuvee Vincent steps it up a notch in terms of aromas. Not better, just a little bolder. The fruits are a little darker, with black cherries and ripe plums leading the way. There is a Syrah typical gamey note that is enhanced by some pepper and a distinct herbal character which also continues on the palate, giving it a bigger and more complex mouthfeel than its Grenache counterpart. I also encountered a nice level of minerality and just enough tannins to complement the full-bodiedness.

Time for a short conclusion of our southern Rhone adventure. Let’s recap. Last week we looked at two examples of wines from the highest quality classification within the Rhone region. Two Chateauneuf Du Pape wines that both fall into the $40+ category (which is still in the lower end of what you can find in Chateauneuf Du Pape, by the way). If you read my review last week, you will recall that I truly enjoyed both of these wines since they were both blends that really demonstrated the finesse, complexity and broad aroma spectrum of what this region can offer. The wines in today’s review both retail for less than $20 and part of that price difference can be attributed to the fact that they are Cotes Du Rhone wines, not Chateauneuf Du Pape and are hence in the “lowest” classification. But does that reflect in the drinking quality? Absolutely not. They may not be as complex and certainly won’t age as well as the Chateauneuf but they are both great wines that allow you to experience the qualities and distinct style of the southern Rhone at a truly great value. Now, does that mean I would recommend them over the two Chateauneufs? Again, absolutely not! But what I am recommending is that you don’t limit yourself to the restraints of the traditional classification systems and try for yourself. All four wines will reward you for doing that.

Cheers,

Christian

Chateauneuf Du Pape – Two stars of the southern Rhone

2013 Domaine Giraud Chateauneuf Du Pape Tradition
2013 Domaine Jerome Gradassi Chateauneuf Du Pape

-Pipe and Pint Grape Notes – Vol.1/ Ch.4

Let’s take a trip to Europe today, specifically to the southern Rhone region of France and one its most famous wine growing regions, Chateauneuf Du Pape. In fact I can already let you know that we will be staying in Europe for the next couple of reviews which, despite being somewhat coincidental, is a nice change from the California-heavy theme of my first three write-ups. In addition to staying in Europe, we will also be focusing on wines that are primarily composed of two major grape varietals, Grenache and Syrah which also happen to be the two most common varieties used in making Chateauneuf Du Pape wines.

For those of you not familiar with Chateauneuf Du Pape, let me start off by saying that if you like medium to full-bodied, rich and silky smooth wines with great character and complexity, you can rarely go wrong when picking up a bottle from this region. Just looking at these bottles which usually sport a fancy/old-school label and embossed logo on the actual bottle gives you a sense of tradition and conveys the history of this place. Not surprising, considering that Chateauneuf Du Pape is actually France’s oldest classified wine growing region, having been named an Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée (controlled designation of origin) in 1932. And it is the largest wine growing area in the southern Rhone region of France. The wines are usually blends and for a wine to be sold under the Chateauneuf Du Pape classification it has to consist of one of 13 specified grape varieties, which apart from the predominant Grenache and Syrah grapes, also include Carignan, Cinsault and Mourvèdre. Usually Grenache is the “star” or “dominant player” in the Chateauneuf blends though and it leaves its mark with a beautifully balanced mix of fruit (strawberry, black cherry) and herbal/spice (cinnamon, tobacco) aromas which make this variety so easy to recognize on its own. Pair those aromas with the darker fruits and peppery notes of the full-bodied Syrah grape or the complexity of a Mourvèdre and you’ll get an idea why the Chateauneuf blends are so incredibly appealing. There is just so much variety and our two wines today are actually a great example of that.

Chateauneuf-Du Pape-Two Stars-PartOne

The 2013 vintage of Marie and Francois Giraud’s Chateauneuf Du Pape Tradition is a typical fleshy and chewy mix of sweet red fruit with a slight herbal undertone. The strawberry and black cherry fruit is definitely at the core of this wine which is a mix of 80% Grenache and 20% Syrah. Only the Syrah is aged in oak barrels (the Grenache in cement vats) but that does give it a silky smoothness and even some hints of vanilla and Syrah-pepperiness which complements the sweet fruit very well. The tannins are present and hold it together well without getting in the way. Overall, a very pure example of Chateauneuf style and a great, easy-to-drink bottle.

Now we’ll turn to the other Chateauneuf, one that really reminded me of walking down the aisles of an Asian or oriental spice market, picking up new and interesting scents left and right. Winemaker Jerome Gradassi, a former chef at a Michelin starred restaurant and a rising star in the Rhone valley seems to be able to make wines that reflect the whole gamut of flavors and spices available to a good chef. His 2013 Chateauneuf Du Pape is no exception to this. It’s a very elegant wine that when first opened doesn’t hide its sweet raspberry aroma but with some air quickly starts to envelop those fruity aromas into a wealth of herbs and spices. Cinnamon, black tea, herb mix and hints of liquorice hit the nose. With even more time, I sensed a nice peppery finish. A real joy to explore and supported by a smooth texture in the mouth and similar to its counterpart from Giraud, backed by enough tannins to give it structure.

Let me wrap up by saying that both of today’s wines are a joy to drink and they demonstrate the breadth of aromas and flavors to be explored from within this single region. Depending on your mood, either one can be the perfect companion. I guess that’s reason enough to have at least a bottle of each on the wine rack.

Stay tuned for part two where we will be looking at two more wines from the southern Rhone region, this time outside of Chateauneuf Du Pape.

Cheers,

Christian

2013 Talbott Sleepy Hollow Pinot Noir

Pipe and Pint Grape Notes – Vol.1/Ch.3

Today we are going to move away a little from the bold and powerful wines of the first two reviews to a grape variety that is actually among my favorites. But don’t get me wrong. This doesn’t mean I am going to write a biased review. Well, somewhat biased based on my personal taste, yes, but no more biased than all other reviews and tasting you will find. In fact, the Pinot Noir grape actually makes it quite easy to be somewhat objective since it is quite a unique variety. Pinot Noir is what I like to call a temperamental little thing. In the right micro climate and treated well it can produce some of the most outstanding and complex wines you will likely ever taste. Just look at the world’s most sought after (and hence also most expensive wine) from the Domaine Romanee Conti, a Pinot Noir from Burgundy. But if it is grown in a place it doesn’t like and not given the care it demands, don’t expect any greatness! It is in fact this characteristic which gives it a certain sense of personality and also makes it so incredibly appealing.

Tabott-Vineyards

Talbott Vineyards

Being so “picky” about where it is grown and handled has also resulted in some quite hefty price tags for a lot of the good Pinots out there. Which is why it is always refreshing to come across a great example of Pinot Noir at a reasonable price. I recently tasted three of the different lines of Pinot Noir from Talbott Vineyards, a producer located in the Santa Lucia Hills close to Monterey, California that specializes in growing both Chardonays and Pinot Noirs. And mind you, they do it very well indeed. Aided by the cool but sunny climate and the gravelly soil of the Sleepy Hollow vineyard, Robb Talbott and winemaker Dan Karlsen consistently produce a line of Pinots that play to the unique character of the variety.

Talbott-Sleepy-Hollow-Pinot-Noir-2013The Sleepy Hollow Pinot Noir stood out to me the most since it managed to really showcase some of the qualities that are so enjoyable and distinct in Pinot Noirs. It’s one of those wines that presents itself with a nice fruit forward character, showing a nice mix of dark berries, blackcurrant and black cherry but manages to keep it interesting by wrapping this fruit in a nice earthy and herbal note which gives the fruit a distinct but very pleasant slightly bitter undertone.  There is even some notes of pepper and cedar wood on the finish. It’s a precise wine with plenty of finesse and a nice soft texture on the palate which is very well balanced, showing that it’s been aged in oak but not in an overpowering kind of way. It has a nice level of acidity and minerality to always keep you interested.

This is a lovely wine that is by no means on the lighter scale of the Pinots, showing off its heritage well. It’s distinctly Californian in a good way! While the 2013 vintage is obviously still on the younger side, it is very drinkable already at this point. I am curiously looking forward to trying this again in a few years since it will probably develop nicely as it ages. I for one will definitely be stocking a few bottles to find out more. Overall, a great value Pinot!

Cheers,

Christian

Pipe and Pint Grape Notes – Vol.1/ Ch.2

2012 Stags’ Leap Winery Petite Sirah Napa Valley

For our second review, I am following up on the theme of trying to find wines that bridge the gap between the new and old world. Petite Sirah in general and this staple wine from the Stags’ Leap Winery in particular does this very well. For those of you who are not too familiar with the grape variety, Petite Sirah is in fact not, as the name might suggest, a “smaller” version of Syrah. Mind you, there is nothing small about it whatsoever but I’ll get to that later. Petite Sirah is a distinct grape variety, also known as Durif. It is not entirely unrelated to Syrah however, being that it is a cross between that and Peloursin, a nearly extinct variety that can only be found in a few areas in the French Alps. And just like Syrah, Petite Sirah usually makes wines that are quite big and bold, yet doing so with a distinct sense of elegance. One of the best analogies I have ever read was comparing it to a guy who wears a tuxedo with cowboy boots.

Petite_Sirah_in_bloom

Petite Sirah in Bloom

Despite having its origins in France, Petite Sirah is actually quite a rare variety and today is mostly grown in California (more than 90%). Some of the winemakers there have really embraced it though and as a result consistently make some tremendously good wines with it. Stags’ Leap Winery located in the Yountville, in the Stags Leap District of Napa Valley is a great example of a producer that embraces Petite Sirah. Its top-of-the-line Ne Cede Malis Petite Sirah continues to gather amazing reviews from the critics but it also has the price tag to go along with those reviews. And that heritage also shows in the 2012 Napa Valley Petite Sirah, wine we are looking at today.

Stag's-Leap-2012-Petite-SyrahThose who have read my first review might remember that I very much enjoy powerful wines that also shows a certain level of finesse and elegance. Well, this falls right into that category. It’s a fabulous example of a Rhone-Style blend that offers so much of what I find appealing. I say Rhone-Style blend because despite being made up of mostly Petite Sirah, it actually includes small percentages of other grape varieties as well which only enhances its character. Syrah, Grenache, Carignan and Viognier are all grape varieties that are commonly used in wines that originate from the Rhone region in France. So here we have a wine that is based on a grape variety which is predominantly grown in California yet produces a wine that closely resembles a distinct region in France. Do you see what I meant when I opened up by saying this wine continues our theme of bridging the gap between new and old world?

The 2012 Stags Leap Petite Sirah is a lovely wine which opens up with incredibly balanced aromas of blueberry and sugary, ripe plums. In fact there is almost a faint hint of a port-like character to the nose which is nicely rounded out by a touch of vanilla and pepper. Once you get past the fruit, there are also some leather and tobacco notes which complement the softer, sweeter aromas very well and give the wine its complexity and richness. It also drinks beautifully and the soft tannins give it structure, yet again in a well balanced and never overpowering kind of way. In fact the mouthfeel and texture of the wine support its flavor complexity and give it structure and backbone and also guarantee that you can put this wine into your cellar and even if you forget about it for a decade, you will be treated to a beautifully aged surprise with probably even more complexity in 2026. That’s not to say though that this wine can’t be enjoyed now. I for one enjoyed it tremendously despite its relatively young age and I am pretty certain you’d agree if you pick up and open a bottle of it right now.

Cheers,

Christian

Pipe and Pint Grape Notes – Vol.1/ Ch.1

2013 Croze Cabernet Sauvignon Oakville

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For our first Grape note we wanted to pick a wine that has character, is meaningful and also represents a certain connection to the wine selection at Pipe and Pint. The 2013 Croze Cabernet Sauvignon seemed like a perfect fit. To start things off, winemaker Daniel Benton is originally from North Carolina and a friend of Larry’s and Pete’s. Also, Daniel is a great fan of Bordeaux style wines which as I will talk more about later, clearly shows in this particular wine and definitely appeals to me personally.

Let me say this up front, I love wines that apart from being powerful and bold, also show finesse and a somewhat classic style and this wine definitely matches those criteria. I quote the great wine writer Jancis Robinson in saying that “wine is geography in a bottle” and with a bit of experience it’s usually quite easy to at least somewhat narrow down the region where a wine is from. For example, Cabernet Sauvignons from Napa Valley tend to be big, bold wines that are not afraid to hide the sun they have received in the vineyards and the new oak barrels they were aged in during the wine making process. Lots of dark fruit (blackberry and black cherry come to mind) and maybe some spice and wooden notes paired with smooth vanilla aromas and a rich smooth finish are common descriptors. Open up a bottle of high quality Bordeaux on the other hand and while showing similar aromas both on the nose and palate, the overall characteristic and texture of the wine tends to be a little more edgy and not as quick to reveal everything up front which makes it quite intriguing. The best analogy I can think of is comparing the general easy-going way of Americans with the sometimes a little more, let’s call it eccentric personality of the French. The wines from these respective origins seem to follow those traits somewhat.

Croze-2013-Cabernet-Sauvignon-Oakville(2)

Daniel Benton’s 2013 Croze Cabernet Sauvignon is a great wine because it doesn’t necessarily reveal its origins right away. It sort of keeps you guessing for a little. Is it a Napa Cab? Could it be a Bordeaux from the left bank? And that’s exactly what makes it so incredibly appealing. Think of it as combining the best of both worlds. Yes, it does open up with powerful and bold aromas of fresh blackberry, a little cassis and plum notes and continues with mellow spice and a hint of chocolate and mild tobacco flavors on the palate but it does so in an incredibly balanced and almost subtle way. The aromas don’t overpower and it becomes clear that the wine was never overexposed to too much new oak (in fact only 30%) which preserves the fruit, a nice acidity and finesse along with a soft but definitely present tannin structure. With a little air there was further development in the glass with hints of freshly cut cedar wood and the balance of dark and red fruit became even more integrated, leaving me wanting to pour a second and third glass to find out what else it would reveal to me.

So, this is definitely a Napa Cabernet, in fact it is grown in one of Napa’s most outstanding vineyards in the Oakville district, often referred to as Money Road because of the density of high quality vineyards. When drinking it you will feel the attention to detail and origin for sure but if you close your eyes this wine can also take you on a journey to the old world which in combination with its overall excellent structure, makes it a true gem for me. It definitely drinks bigger than it is and represents great value for money. It can be enjoyed now or age another decade. Congrats on a great wine, Daniel Benton!

Cheers,

Christian