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A funghi only a mother could love..morels

Check out this beautiful funghi! Admittedly, what looks like a couple of shriveled up baby pine cones might only be something that only a funghi forager (like myself) would get excited about.  Well believe me, when I found this lovely pair (after 45 minutes of foraging) I was jumping up and down!

Gateway to funghi fun..Camp Mather

My first ever mushroom foray took place several weeks ago right outside the gates of Yosemite National Park.  The idea for the trip was spearheaded by my good friend Keelyn, an experienced mushroom forager, who has foraged and found many a morel, chanterelle and porcini in the woods of Northern California and Washington. Also along for the ride were my SF friends Kirk W. and Tara P.

Camp Mather, which is owned by the City of San Francisco Parks and Recreation department,  was our headquarters that weekend. The historic camp was located just south of the Yosemite National Park’s Hetch Hetchy entrance and just several miles from where we were set to forage.

Springtime is generally when morels start to make their appearance in these parts..often in areas that have experienced either a burn several years prior, or where there’s lots of brush or undergrowth for them to hide under.

don't worry..we know what we're doing.. The San Francisco Mycological Society

Our weekend mushroom trip (which coincided with Kee’s birthday) was organized by the San Francisco Mycological Society, an organization which helps educate and promote the appreciation and enjoyment of mushrooms throughout the Bay Area.

Several times during the year, the MSSF organizes weekend trips to various locations around northern California in order to collect, enjoy and (hopefully) consume the non-poisonous delicacies that the group finds.

way over mumu's head: the MSSF funghi slideshow

After getting settled in our cabins, the four of us headed over to the cafeteria for a spaghetti dinner and then a post prandial slideshow of, yes mushrooms. Slide after slide after slide of beautifully drawn mushrooms, but oddly enough, not a single slide was shown illuminating what I was to be foraging for the next day. Nonetheless, it was really pretty awesome seeing this group so passionate and into their shrooms..

morel mushroom maestro: Norm

The following morning the four of us (fortified with coffee, oatmeal and powdered eggs) headed for the hills with several other eager to find funghi folk, and Norm, our group leader. Luckily for us, Norm was considered one of the best, and has lead such expeditions for the past 26 years. This, mes amis, is man who knows how to find les champignons.

the journey begins.. foraging for morels

Before traipsing off into the woods,  Norm instructed our group on what to look for when foraging for morels. More specifically, morels seem to love decay. Areas that contain a considerable amount of dead or decomposing organic material were good places to look.

Also, morels seemed to thrive in areas that had experienced burns (i.e. forest fires) a year or two prior. The exact reason for this is not really known, however given Norm’s vast experience on the subject, I took this information as a given.

leave no log unturned..Tara foraging for morels

Dead or decaying organic matter includes places under and around felled trees, under (vast piles of) pine needles, and in moist deep dirt. Here is Tara, demonstrating the lost art of morel foraging. This picture is pretty typical of how we spent most of the eight hours out “in the field” that day.  And apart from having to squint all day and a sore back, there are hazards to foraging. Five minutes after taking this picture, Tara and I turned over a log and found an impressive scorpion!

Where's Waldo?

And did I mention that these buggers are hard to see! One of our fellow foragers compared morel foraging to looking at a Where’s Waldo picture. You really have to look hard, and sometimes you’ll still miss the morel pretty much directly under your feet.

Unlike Chanterelles, which are a bright golden yellow and easily visible, or porcinis with their round reddish caps, morels just “disappear” into their surroundings., and as such they really do an excellent job at eluding capture.

The first is always the sweetest: Kirk's morel find

Which is pretty much what happened to Kirk the first hour out. Zippo, nada..but when he did find his first set, victory was oh so sweet! Once Kirk was officially initiated, he was cooking with gas and there was no looking back. And with all of our mushroom eagle eyes in focus and our foraging baskets, the four of us found about 5 lbs of morels!

Keelyn examining additional funghi finds..

Back at Camp Mather that evening, our crew unloaded our bounty, along with a slew of other non morels that we had discovered along the way. The senior taxonomists of the MSSF were on hand to identify each specimen and indicate whether or not they were edible.

Also on hand were several bottles of Navarro Vineyards Chenin Blanc to enjoy after a long day of foraging. I certainly have a new found appreciation for foraging and the delicacy of the morel mushroom. What a rewarding day it was looking for these little morsels of earth’s buried treasure!

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The following morning had us up early and out the door at 8:30.  Our focus today was on the appellation of Margaux, so we piled into the van and headed south, approximately 25 minutes to our 9 a.m. appointment at Château Margaux.

Steve G. and Mumu visit Chateaux Margaux

Rated as one of four first classed growths awarded in 1855, Château Margaux is the stuff of legend. The domaine produces its first wine or Grand Vin known simply as Château Margaux.  It also produces a second wine known as le Pavillon Rouge du Château Margaux. A white wine, called Pavillon Blanc is also produced.

The domaine is rather large, encompassing approximately 650 acres. 200 acres are planted to (mostly) cabernet sauvignon, merlot, cabernet france and petit verdot. 12 acres are devoted to sauvignon blanc, which is used to produce the Pavillon Blanc.

tasting at Chateaux Margaux

Our group was led into the central chai where we tasted through the 2010 vintage of all three wines.  Lots of note taking, scribbling..along with a few oohs and ahhs emitted from our group to be sure.

Bordeaux big guns: the MWB and Ralph S.

At one point I snapped this pic of K&L’s Bordeaux big guns, Clyde Beffa and Ralph Sands. 2011 marked Ralphs 41st trip to Bordeaux. Clyde has been coming and tasting the each new vintage in Bordeaux even longer than Ralph. Unbelievable. If anyone knows Bordeaux wine in terms of what to look and taste for it’s these two veterans.

Bordeaux over achieving Chateau Palmer

Our next tasting appointment brought us to Château Palmer.  Located in the communes of Margaux and Cantenac, this “super” third growth rated domaine is generally considered among the vinous elite of the left bank..right up there with the super seconds like Cos d’estournel, Pichon Lalande and Montrose.

The property’s approximately 125 acres of vineyards include 47% planted to cabernet sauvignon, 47% planted to merlot and 6% to petit verdot. And in rather atypical fashion, Château Palmer utilizes at least 40% (and sometimes as much as 60%) merlot in the final blends. Along with the meticulous vinification procedures one might expect in the production of a super premium wine like Palmer (hand harvesting, triage, temperature controlled fermentation, regular pigeage and (4)rackings) the wine spends 21 months in 45% new barriques.

Chateau Palmers' 2010s

In addition to the estate’s eponymous Grand Vin, Château Palmer produces a second wine known as the Alter Ego de Palmer. The first release of this second wine was in 1998. Like its big brother, it is comprised of a considerable portion of merlot, and sees around 17 months of elevage in 25-40% new barrique.

The annual production at Château Palmer stands at approximately 20,000 total cases.  The Grand Vin accounts for around 12,000 cases, while the Alter Ego de Palmer tops out at approximately 8,000 cases.

Jean-Luc Zuger of Malescot St. Exupery pours his 2010s

Another excellent third growth is Malescot St. Exupery, which is where we were headed next. Owner and winemaker Jean-Luc Zuger tasted us on both the 2009 and 2010 vintages.

Note: amongst the classed growths in Bordeaux, it seems almost atypical to have the owner of a domaine also be responsible for the vineyards and all vinification as Jean-Luc is. What is commonplace in just about every region in France seems to be the exception to the rule amongst the elite Bordeaux estates.

pick a vintage, any vintage...

Our final tasting appointment in Margaux included Château d’Angludet. We met up with James Sichel, on of five siblings who represent the sixth generation of the famille Sichel to be involved in the business of wine.

The estate is comprised of 81 hectares (197 acres), of which 32 (78 acres) are planted to Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Petit Verdot. There are approximately 10,000 cases of the estate wine produced annually, and 3100 cases of the Angludet’s second wine, Moulin d’Angludet.

I have always had a real liking for the wines from d’Angludet. This domaine, rated a Cru Bourgeois Exceptionnel, is never the biggest or the flashiest of the bunch, however to me they always exude elegance and refinement. Perhaps the Grace Kelly of Bordeaux. Pick a vintage..any vintage..and your sure to get a flash of old world elegance and finesse.

NEXT: the wines of St. Julien and lunch with Anthony Barton!

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gravel..gravel..gravel @ Chateau La Mission Haut-Brion

After lunch Clyde, Mark, Kerri, Ali and myself set off for an afternoon of tastings in the Graves region. We arrived at Château la Mission Haut-Brion just in time to meet up with the rest of the party fresh K&L Bordeaux contingent (Ralph, Trey, Alex and Steve) who had just flown in from Paris.

Originally constructed in the early 16th century amongst a pastoral setting, today the grand domaine of Château la Mission Haut-Brion is surrounded by the city of Bordeaux suburban sprawl.

On stony, gravelly soils, its approximately 21 hectares, (52 acres) are planted to Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc in the A.O.C. of Pessac Leognan.

The afternoon lineup..

Directly up the road from La Mission is the entrance to Château Haut-Brion, which is one of the 5 first class growths anointed in the 1855 classification. Similar to La Mission, the Château Haut-Brion vineyards also lie on gravelly soils interspersed with mounds of clay.  Approximately 48 hectares (119 acres) are planted to Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot,Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot.  Just under 3 hectares (7.1 acres) are planted to white varietals, which include Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc.

As both Château Haut-Brion and Château la Mission Haut-Brion are presently owned by Domaine Clarence Dillon, our tasting that afternoon included the 2010 releases of wine from both of these domaines.

Clyde, Kerri, Mumu, Ali and Mark..

Here is a rundown of the wines that we tasted:

Château La Mission Haut-Brion

2010 La Chapelle de la Mission Haut-Brion

2010 La Mission Haut-Brion

2010 La Mission Haut-Brion Blanc    (formerly known as Laville Haut-Brion Blanc)

 

Château Haut-Brion

2010 Le Clarence de Haut-Brion (formerly known as Bahans Haut-Brion)

2010 Haut Brion

2010 La Clarté de Haut-Brion

2010 Haut-Brion Blanc (only 500 cases made!)

For a complete vintage report as well as tasting notes of all the 2010 Bordeaux that our team tasted, check out the 2010 K&L Bordeaux report!

Elevage at La Mission Haut-Brion

Our visit concluded with a brief tour of the grounds and chai, which includes this magnificent barrel room., which along with the formal tasting room, was completely renovated in 2007.

Team K&L strike a pose at Chateau Pape Clement

Our next scheduled tasting that afternoon was at Château Pape Clément . In addition to being ranked as a Premier Cru in the 1959 Classification of Graves, this venerable domaine also holds the title as the oldest wine estate in Bordeaux.

Le Pape des Vignes: Pope Clement V

Its vineyards were first planted in the year 1300, by Bertrand de Goth and perhaps more famously known as Pope Clement V. At the time, only red wine grapes were planted to the vineyards. In case you are wondering, this is the same (of French origin) pope who moved the papal court from Rome (actually he never left France) to Avignon for a period spanning 67 years (1309-1378).

During this period, also known as the “Babylonian Captivity”,  Pape Clement V’s successor John XXII erected the famous castle in the winegrowing region known as Chateauneuf-du-Pape (the pope’s new castle).

Tasting at Chateau Pape Clement

Fast forward about 8 centuries and Château Pape Clément is still going strong, this time under the ownership of Bernard Magrez, the French wine magnate who also owns also owns Château La Tour Carnet in the Haut-Médoc. In the photo above, Monsieur Magrez can be seen tasting wine in the far left corner of the room. The gentleman in the blue shirt next to him is the domaine’s consulting oenologist, Michel Rolland.

Our tasting here included not only the 2010 releases of Pape Clement but an introduction to many of the estates that Magrez has developed and owns across the globe which include Spain, Chile, Argentina and California.

For more photos of Château Pape Clément’s beautiful grounds and glorious past please check out Les Photos to the right.

Is there room at the inn? Chateau Ormes de Pez

As our first tasting day wound down, it was time to head north to our “crash pad” for the next several evenings.  About 45 minutes north of the Graves in the A.O.C. of Saint-Estèphe we arrived at Château Ormes de Pez.  This illustrious domaine is presently owned by the Cazes famille, who also own Château Lynch-Bages.

A toast to Bordeaux 2010!

This beautiful estate and its grounds are where we unpacked our bags, changed into something more comfortable, and toasted to our first day in Bordeaux!


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Bordeaux 2010 begins at Château Malartic- Lagravière

Over the river, through the woods, and across a roundabout is how myself and team K&L arrived in Bordeaux not too long ago.  The occasion? The Union des Grand Cru des Bordeaux was holding its annual en primeur week, where wine professionals and press from around the world descend upon the region to taste the newest vintage before the wine or prices are released.

From April 5-7th, tastings were held throughout the region and included the communes of Graves,  Pessac-Leognan, Listrac-Medoc, Haut-Medoc, Margaux, Pauillac, Saint-Estèphe, Sauternes & Barsac, Saint-Emilion and Pomerol. As you can already imagine, a lot of young, full-bodied 2010 Bordeaux was going to be tasted. And we were ready for it!

Bordeaux 2010: I will be filling you in on some of the highlights of this amazing, once in a lifetime trip. It was my first time to Bordeaux, and I am grateful to have been invited to participate with and learn from the best (this is a shout out to Clyde B. and Ralph S.).

Here is my tweet on the 2010 vintage: Bold, rich fruit, with a rich mid-palate. Ripe, yet tannic structure with impressive acidity. Built for the long haul. Prices will be off the hook for classed growths.

Let the tasting begin!

Our first stop was at Château Malartic-Lagravière, located in the commune of Pessac-Léognan.  Just beyond the magnificent chateau and estate vineyards, the tasting hall was in full swing with paticipants lining up to sign in and grab their i.d. badges.

Once inside, the best of Graves and Pessac-Leognan were in attendance.  At this first tasting I had the opportunity to taste approximately 40+ wines from throughout the region.

The vineyards of Château Malartic-Lagravière

Domaine de Chevalier, Château La Louviere, Château Haut-Bailly; these were several of my top picks for the region in 2010.  In the next few days and fresh off the press, K&L Wine Merchants  will release its annual Bordeaux vintage and tasting report which will include a detailed vintage report as well as tasting notes on the hundreds of wines that were tasted throughout this trip. I will be sure to include a link when it becomes available!

Hospitality by Barry Flanagan at Chateau Smith Haut-Lafitte

After knocking out this first tasting, our stomachs were grumbling. One cannot live on wine alone! So we hopped back into our 8 person passenger van and high-tailed it over to Château Smith Haut-Lafitte.

Displayed amongst the vines and throughout the estate are wonderfully evocative sculptures from artists around the world.  The gigantic rabbit/hare seen above and named “Hospitality” is the work of Welsh sculptor Barry Flanagan.

Clyde Beffa a.k.a. the MWB contemplating a stay at Les Sources de Caudalie..

In addition to a world winery, the grounds are home to Les Sources de Caudalie, a first class spa and retreat.  Les Sources also boasts two delicious dining venues. La Grand’Vigne, which presents the ultimate in fine dining spa cuisine, and La Table du Lavoir, a more casual bistro style restaurant where Clyde had reserved a table for lunch that day.

Enjoying a break in the action @ La Table du Lavoir

Clyde, Kerri, Mark, Alison sat down to casual an oh so civilized lunch before heading back out for a second round of tasting that afternoon.

And what to drink with such a delicious lunch? (I ordered the beef carpaccio with vegetables and hazelnut and the sea bream a la plancha). How about a bottle each of 2006 Château Malartic-Lagravière Blanc and 2007 Smith Haut Lafitte Rouge?

Believe it or not, our group tried to keep our lunch and wine consumption on the light side as a) we had to drive to our next destination b) there was indeed some great wine to be tasted, and we needed to be “on point” to do so. Our plan was to meet up with a second group of K&L folk who had just arrived from Paris.

We finished lunch with a delicious lemon tart, a couple of canelé. I fortified myself with a shot of espresso and then we were off to an afternoon of tastings at Château Pape Clement and Château Haut-Brion.

For more photos of lunch at La Table du Lavoir, please check out Les Photos on the right hand side bar.

 

More to come from Bordeaux 2010!

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California dreamin: Yosemites majestic Half Dome

It’s a winter wonderland out here in the mountains of California! This picture that I recently snapped of Yosemite’s Half Dome is, as you can see, was covered in snow on a recent trip that I took to the mountains with my friends Keelyn, Kelly and Kirk.

The 3 Ks: Kelly -Kirk- Keelyn

What was on the agenda for that weekend? Snowshoeing, cooking, and appropriate wine pairings with one of my favorite styles of wine. I affectionately call them, those Bitey mountain wines!

Why bitey? Because wines in this category hail almost exclusively from cool climate and (yes) mountainous regions, that often provide them with a solid spine of bracing acidity and snap so to speak.

A portal to a winter whites and wines...

Generally lighter in body and alcohol than wines whose vines are grown at lower altitudes and in warmer climates, these brisk wines (especially the whites) are a refreshing way to wind down “après ski” or a full day running around and soaking up all that great mountain air.

Kee & Mumu @ Crane Flat (foreshadowing: mushroom hat)

Each of us was responsible for preparing one main dish a night, and to supply a (certainly) delicious and (hopefully) appropriate wine pairing to boot. Most of you who check in regulary already know Keelyn. She is a great friend and a fantastic cook.

Well, Keelyn were the first up to bat on day 1, and true to form, did not disappoint!

While Kirk,, Kelly and I sucked down this bottle of Sorelle Bronca Prosecco, (don’t worry, kee was in on it too) Keelyn prepared her delicious Pasta di Tonno alla Manu.  Bascially, a tomato sauce with tuna, capers, onion, anchovies and hot peppers served over pasta. ..should have snapped a picture, but we were so hungry that I totally lost focus..next time!

This sparkling wine made from the prosecco grape, hails from Valdobbiadene Italy’s Veneto, a hilly region just below the Italian Alps.

It’s vibrant, crisp, and of course fizzy, but without the richer, more evolved flavors of say champagne. Think instead of hazelnuts or brioche, white peach and fuji apple.  If, après ski, I was stranded on a snowing mountain and had to pick one wine, it would definitely be prosecco.

from the mountains and valleys of the Val dAosta

While Kee was busy in the kitchen, Kelly prepared a fantastic salumi and cheese plate for us to snack on.  Fra’Mani  salumi, assorted cheeses and (my favorite) potato chips worked great with our crisp bubbly.

What? No more prosecco? No problem, Kirk opened this delicious petite rouge, from the Val d’Aosta, located in the NW corner of Piedmonte Italy. It’s crunchy blackberry fruits and cracked pepper notes in particular worked great with our savory salumi and cheeses.

Incidently, both of these Italian wines are imported and available locally by Oliver McCrum.

On day 2, after an afternoon of snowshoeing (about 6miles!) it was my turn to prepare dinner.  Who got off the easiest on this culinary trip? Me!  In the French Alps, a classic dish to prepare après ski and with the local wines is none other than fondue.

So here is an action shot of Kee enjoying the fruits of my hard work in the kitchen.  Yep, my fondue was delicious and it did not last long!

Along with the classic boiled potatos, and bread accompaniments, I also blanched some broccoli spears for fondue dunking. Afterall, it’s good to eat your vegees.

This crisp, dry, low alchohol (around 11%) Savoie white from the Cellier des Cray is the prefect wine to pair with rich, cheesy fondue.  This particular rendition, which hails from the cru of Chignin and is made with an indigenous grape called Jacquère, did not disappoint.

Fast forward to evening 3, and it was time for Kirk’s tour in the kitchen. Actually, Kirk probably spent the least amount of time cooking because, being the careful planner that he is, decided to bring up a crock pot and maximize his time and efficiency.

I’m glad someone was thinking like this! Look what we got to enjoy! A hearty beef stew… a la Daniel Boone is what we christened it. Why? Kirk is in fact a descendant of Daniel Boone (he told me this before his 3rd glass of wine), and as this dish was created up here in the mountains, it seemed really fitting!

The Goth looking black label that you see in the background is a delicious red from none other than Bugey which is located in the Savoie region of France. Thanks to local importer Charles Neal, this vibrant, cool climate mountain red made from the local Mondeuse grape is the perfect match to this rich stew.

For more pictures of our Yosemite trip, please check out Les Photos on the blog sidebar.

In the next several weeks, we’ll be heading back up to Yosemite to forage for morels..  STAY TUNED!

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The original gangsta: Dunn Vineyards

When I first asked my colleague Mike Jordan, our domestic wine specialist at K&L, for advice regarding whom I should visit up on Howell Mountain, Dunn Vineyards were the first words out of MJs mouth.

Along with Philip Togni across the way on Spring Mountain, MJ described Dunn as an “old school” family run winery that year in year out produces ageworthy and distinct wines that totally reflect the soils and environment from which they come.

No two vintages taste or age alike, and experiencing wines from Dunn is more akin to tasting through a retrospective of grand red burgundy (an exercise in vintage variation and terroir) than many Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon.

Mike Dunn, Susan, Mumu and Randy Dunn

Mike, Susan and I were met by Randy and Mike Dunn for a tour of the vineyards, winery and a retrospective tasting of cabernet sauvignon. Randy Dunn, who is also a UC Davis alum (1975), established the winery in 1979 with is wife Lori. 30 years later, Dunn Vineyards is very much a family affair, with son Mike coming on as cellar master and the assistant winemaker.

In 2003 Mike Dunn and his wife Kara also started their own project, Retro Cellars, which features petite sirah grown on the volcanic soils of Howell Mountain.

Enter at your own risk!

But before we dipped into the winery cave (literally, as you’ll see), Mike took us on a quick tour of the vineyards, located just a stone’s throw from the cellar door. Perhaps more effective than a no trespassing sign, this vineyard mascot (wild boar anyone?) captured my attention!

Way up and above the fogline: the vineyards of Dunn

In 1981 Dunn released it’s first vintage, which amounted to 660 cases of 100% Howell Mountain cabernet sauvignon. A year later, the winery released its first Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. Today, Dunn farms 24 acres of cabernet sauvignon vineyards and an additional 6 acres of several other varietals, including these petite sirah vines shown above.

Currently Dunn produces around 2500 cases of Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon and 1500 cases of Napa Valley bottling, which includes up to 15% cabernet sauvignon from the Napa Valley floor.

The Napa Valley Cabernet is generally considered more user friendly and approachable sooner than the more structured and tanninc 100% Howell Mountain bottling. However both wines can definitely stand several years in the cellar and then some before they really hit their stride.

Red wax for the Dunn Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvigon

Although both wines are robed in a no nonsense, no frill sash like label, the most obvious way to tell them apart is by their respective closures. The Napa Valley bottling is finished with a foil seal, while the Howell Mountain bottling is finished in red wax.  Mike provided us with a quick demo of how the waxing is done. When it’s time to wax the new release of Howell Mountain cabernet, about 100 cases worth (1200 bottles) can be hand dipped a day.

 

step into the Dunn wine portal..

Next we were off to Dunn’s winery cave, which was completed in 1989 and is used for wine storage and elevage. This cave, along with numerous others like it found on Howell Mountain, provide excellent natural temperature and humidity control for wine.

Dunn’s elevage regime includes approximately 75% new French oak every vintage, and over a period of 30 months. Ageing these bottles in a conventional above ground and temperature controlled cellar for 2.5 years would cost a small fortune in heating/cooling bills.

The ultimate earthwork at Dunn

At the end of the long cellar corridor, I spotted what appeared to be a relic of or portal to an ancient world. Mesopotamia? The Mayan Empire? This formidable relief was also seeping some type of primordial looking ooze.  Turns out, this end of the line marked the point where the enormous drill bit used to carve out these cave stopped and pulled out. Stumbling upon this dramatic earthwork is one of the coolest things I have ever seen at a winery.

After a tour of the vineyards and cellar, it was now time to taste some wine! Randy Dunn led us through the tasting and provided additional commentary on each wine. Additional wine tasting notes for each wine are available on the Dunn website too.

True to the varietal, this young 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon exhibits lots of deep, rich blackcurrant and blackberry fruit, along with notes of bittersweet chocolate and mineral notes. Full bodied and fairly tannic,  with a rich and lush mid palate that finishes with formidable tannins, I would give the wine a 3 year head start before opening.  Then try it with grilled steak or pork roast. 13.9% abv.

Bump up the structure and intensity one notch and you’ll arrive at the 2007 Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon. Along with black berried fruits, a distinct earthy minerality prevails, along with toasty nuances courtesy of barrel ageing in French oak. The tannins here are a bit more strident as well, providing the opportunity to age this mountain wine a good 5-7 years before enjoying. 13.9% abv.

Ah, now we’re talking! Open and let this 1997 take in a bit of air and stretch its vinous legs so to speak. Medium + bodied, this 13+ year old red is growing up just fine. Dried berry fruits, notes of violets, crushed autumn leaves and toasted nuts are still supported by a good spine of acidity and a fine tannic structure. 13.0% abv.

At 23+ years of age, this stately and mature Howell Mountain red is drinking beautifully.

The dark blackcurrant fruits of the young 2007 have over time given way to deep and spicy red fruit nuances. Dried hibiscus flowers, along with light dash of cedar make for a Howell Mountain red that exudes finesse and elegance. I would try this with some sort of game bird..perhaps squab or pigeon? What a lovely wine! 13.0% abv.

Many thanks to Randy and Mike Dunn for the tour and tasting of one of Howell Mountain’s true originals!

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Team K&L: Melissa, Mumu, Susan & (Theo)bromine

By the time Susan and I wrapped up our visit at O’Shaughnessy, lunch was calling..as was our friend Melissa, who was to meet us down the mountain in St. Helena. Melissa, who also works at K&L Wine Merchants, was up for the day visiting several wineries too.

After a quick lunch “in town”, the 3 of us headed back up Deer Park Road for our afternoon appointment at Ladera Vineyards.

After our initial photo op in front of the winery, we were greeted by Jerry Baker, Ladera’s Vice President of Sales and Marketing. Jerry’s 30+ years in the wine business, including 15+ here in Napa definitely qualified him as a resource and authority on the wines and history of Napa Valley.

The chai of Nouveau Medoc Vineyard: est. 1886

Speaking of history, this particular winery certainly has an illustrious one.  In 1877, two Frenchmen, Jean Brun and Jean V. Chaix, found themselves enchanted with the land and potential of Howell Mountain.  Brun & Chaix quickly set about planting Bordeaux varietals and named their winery Nouveau Medoc Vineyard. With approximately 115 acres under vine, Brun & Chaix became California’s 13th licensed winery.

Yes, the engraved stone above reads: 1886.. the year that the beautiful stone winery of Brun & Chaix was completed. By California / Napa Valley standards this domaine definitely qualifies as “Old School”.

A 19th century gravity flow winery in action

An Italian stonesman by the name of Frank Guigni, along with a team of Chinese workers (most of whom had immigrated to California during the state’s gold rush of the mid 19th century) built the Brun & Chaix winery with rock from a quarry located on Howell Mountain.

The sweat, determination and ingenuity that went in to completing the stone structure is very evident as we toured the building.  Not only are the stone walls a formidable 30 inches thick, (how’s that for sweat and determination) but the entire winery was constructed such that the entire winemaking process would utilize gravity flow.

More specifically, grapes would arrive by horse on the top level of the building. Vinification would take place on the second, or middle floor, and ageing would take place on the lower or first floor.  At every step of the winemaking process, the wine would naturally flow downwards to the next level, thereby avoiding the use of pumps to transfer wine from one vessel to another. Not only was this less damaging to the wine, but gravity flow also proved to more cost effective.

Same as it ever was: The Ladera chai in the 21st Century

Fast forward to 1980, when the property (which endured a tumultuous 100 years of social, viticultural and political history) was purchased by Francis and Francoise DeWavrin. As former owners of Bordeaux’s Chateau La Mission Haut-Brion, the DeWavrin’s knew a thing or two about wine.

They renamed the property Chateau Woltner, replanted much of the acreage, this time including Chardonnay, and released their first vintage in 1985. When the DeWavrin’s decided to retire at the turn of the century, the domaine was sold to it’s present day owners, Pat and Anne Stotesbery.

ENTER THE NEW SCHOOL:

Under this new ownership, the Stotesbery’s made several significant changes. First, the chardonnay vines were replaced with traditional Bordeaux varietals, most of which included cabernet sauvignon, along with merlot, petit verdot and malbec.

Second, the Stotesbery’s decided to both preserve and continue the tradition of the Howell Mountain property by giving the original Jean & Chaix cellar a complete renovation.  Today the building as been rightfully restored to its former magnificence, and looks pretty much just as it did 100+ years ago.

Third property was to be re-named Ladera, which translates to hillside or slope..naturally in reference to the topography of Howell Mountain itself.

 

Enlightened with this detailed history of the winery,  it was now time to taste some wine! Jerry took us through a selection of Ladera’s current releases.

First, Ladera’s 2009 Howell Mountain Sauvignon Blanc, which is grown on several of the cooler sites on the property, where red varietals such as cabernet sauvignon, merlot and petit verdot will not ripe adequately.

However these cooler sites are perfect for the production of crisp and brisk whites like this SB. Ladera practices about 15% barrel fermentation (the rest in stainless steel) in order to impart a bit of mid-palate richness to the wine.

Grapefruit, a bit of green melon and a hint of vanilla spice make this a great choice for folks in want of a crisp white that is not as stridently mineral or grassy as a Sancerre of New Zealand SB. $25

Next, Ladera’s entrée du gamme, or entry level so to speak, is their 2007 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. Although comprised of 100% estate grown fruit, the vineyard sources include the property’s Howell Mountain (57%) as well as their Lone Mountain (43%) vineyard down at the foot of Mt. Veeder.

Lots of rich dark berried fruits and plum shine here, along with hints of dark chocolate and spice. Fine, ripe tannins and only a modest amount of noticeable oak make this cuvee ideal for enjoyment now and over the next 4-5 years. At under $40 a bottle, I think that it represents on the top values in Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. .not trying to be too big for its britches (not over ripe, over oaked), just a delicious and balanced representation of Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon.

 

 

Ladera’s two flagship wines come from two distinct locations at opposite ends of the Napa Valley. Tasted together, they represent a great exercise in the subtle differences that location or terroir will often impart to a finished wine.

The 2006 Ladera Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon comes from volcanic rich soils grown on gently sloping hillsides at an elevation of 1,600-1,800 feet above sea level. As they vineyards sit well above the fog line, the growing season is (relative to Napa Valley floor) a relatively long one. Fruit for the 2006 was harvested between late September and the first of November.

Ladera’s rendition of Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon is big, deep and full-bodied. Described as such, I still found it to possess a fine elegance..perhaps even gracefulness about it.  Dark berried fruits, black tea, dried lavender and a very fine mineral note running through the wine are for me characteristics point to a mountain wine grown on igneous soils like volcanic or granitic rock. (like the northern Rhone). $70.

In contrast, the 2006 Ladera Lone Canyon Cabernet Sauvignon hails from a steep vineyard site approximately 15 miles south Howell Mountain. Here, largely sedimentary soils composed of clay and loam provide the backdrop for Lone Canyon’s 75 acres of vineyards. In addition, the steep vineyards lie at an elevation of 1,100 feet above seal level.

Bigger, broader and a bit brawnier than its Howell Mountain cousin is how I would describe the 2006 Lone Canyon. In addition to blackberries and plums galore, there’s a dried fig nuance to this wine as well. In addition, it’s structure is definitely more rough and tumble.  The texture/mouthfeel is not as refined as the Howell Mountain, and the tannins are more strident to boot. $65

I would suggest hanging on to both of these wines for several years before enjoying them. I suspect that at point the subtle differences that I picked up will be even more evident and enjoyable..hopefully with a beautiful herb grilled steak or roasted leg of lamb!

Thanks to Jerry Baker and Ladera Vineyards for the great tour and tasting!

NEXT: A visit to Dunn Vineyards

 

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