Archive for the ‘in the cellar’ Category

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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mumu's 2010 Eagle Point Ranch grenache

Behold the moment that you’ve all been waiting for! Well, at least what I have been waiting for. Last weekend I decided it was go time. Time to bottle my 13 gallons of 2010 Eagle Point Grenache wine and let the chips fall where they may.

But before sealing the deal with a cork, there were a few final steps that I needed to perform. First, a final racking and assemblage were in order. Now you might ask, why are you blending all 3 carboys since they consist of the same varietal?

Very good question. First, upon tasting, I noticed that the wine in my 3 gallon carboy seemed a bit more reductive than the two 5 gallon carboys. Second, when I performed my tests on free sulfur, I wanted to make sure that all 3 vessels were essentially reading the same ppm.  Basically, I did not want to perform this test 3 times. And finally I wanted to rack as much of the wine off its lees, as you can see at the bottom of the carboys.

about as scientific as I'll ever get... testing free SO2 by aeration oxidation

After I racked and blended my 3 glass carboys, it was time to test for how much free SO2 I had left protecting the wine. The test, and the resulting number or parts per million (ppm), would allow me to make calculations toward adding the requisite amount of sulfur to protect the wine once it was bottled.

test beaker # 1 acidic

I purchased this eration-oxidation kit from an online wine supply site called More Wine!. In addition to providing just about anything a home winemaker could need, More Wine! Also provides fantastic videos, wine making manuals and step by step instructions for certain tests and procedures. It is truly a fantastic winemaking resource, and I highly recommend it to anyone of you out there interested in making wine for the first time.

test beaker # 2 alkali

Measuring free SO2 by aeration-oxidation is a relatively easy and painless test which takes about 20-30 minutes to perform.  If you are interested in the specific materials needed and how to perform the test, please click here.

My test results indicated that I had 16ppm free SO2 in my wine. Since my pH was quite high I decided to bottle with approximately 40ppm free SO2.  I wanted my wine to be enjoyed soon and over the next year or so, however with a pH of 3.9 I wanted the wine to be sufficiently protected against premature oxidation.

So I made the necessary adjustments and added just enough SO2 to equal 24 ppm.This 24ppm + the 16ppm already existant would bring me right up to where I wanted to be. Ultimately, at bottling time I would be closer to around 30 ppm anyway.

They don't make 'em like they used to: the indestructible Sanbri hand corker

The following day my good friend Wes came over to help me get the bottling underway. After picking up corks, bottles and a good ol’ fashioned hand corker (thank you Homer!) at Oak Barrel Winecraft we were cookin’ with gas!

Will work for wine: assistant winemaker Wes

Wes started by rinsing out our bottles with distilled water, while I set up our “bottling line”.  The goal was to work as quickly as possible in order to mitigate the amount of time that this young Grenache was exposed to oxygen.

feeling pretty good about life! mumu bottling

I was responsible for filling the clean bottles, using a plastic hose, and a nifty bottle filler that shuts off when the desired fill level of a wine bottle is reached. Here I am in the zone and showing how it’s done about 24 bottles into it.

Once the bottle was filled, Wes grabbed a cork, and with a one, two punch inserted the cork snuggly into the wine bottle.

The finish line

And voila! Like an artisanal assembly line, Wes and I bottled 60 bottles of wine in just a couple of hours and change. It was really great to have a friend help out with these final steps. Not only was it more fun, but it cut my bottling time in half.

Gallego's and Grenache!

After all of our hard work, and to enjoy the fruits of our labor, Wes and I celebrated with a super Mexican lunch from Gallego’s in Berkeley.

gamay meets grenache??

I chilled down our bottle for about 15 minutes in the fridge, as I wanted to mitigate the sensation of alcohol (close to 15%) with the spicier qualities of our lunch. The lush cherry nuances and subtle rose hip aromatics worked great though.  Stylistically, Wes said it reminded him of a fresh beaujolais. I found it to be akin to a Jurassien Trousseau that got lost, wandered south, and set down roots in the southern Rhone! Regardless, the fact that I made this wine myself and with the help of my friends made drinking this first glass very special to me.


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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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It’s Friday morning and a few minutes shy of 10 am.  Susan and I have just made the beautiful drive on Napa Valley’s famed “road less traveled”, a.k.a. the Silverado trail.  As we drive north past winery legends like Clos du Val, Stag’s Leap Winery, and Joseph Phelps, Susan reminds me that we need to keep a keen eye out for Deer Park Road, which could prove to be difficult due to the heavy morning fog blanketing the valley.

a sea of fog..Howell Mountain

Well, we find it. At the well marked intersection of Deer Park Road and the Silverado Trail, we hang a right and begin our climb up, into and through the fog and into another vinous dimension. At around 1400 ft. above sea level, which is just about where the limit of the Howell Mountain AVA begins, we cut through the soupy mess and find ourselves bathed in a bright, crisp winter light.

We continue through the town of Angwin,  take a couple more lefts, rights and arrive at O’Shaughnessy Estate Winery right on the dot. From the gated entrance up to the winery itself, it’s another three quarters of a mile of so, which is the perfect opportunity to take in the beautiful scenery: Madrone oaks, pines and cypress.

Cabernet Sauvignon @ O'Shaughnessy


And of course vines, and lots of them.  As we were soon to learn, O’Shaughnessy encompasses approximately 100 acres of Howell Mountain hillside set on two vineyard sites.  The Del Oso and Ampitheater vineyards, which were planted between 1997-2002, include 29 acres of Cabernet Sauvignon, and 6 acres are planted to the following blending varietals:

Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, Merlot, Malbec, Carmenere and St. Macaire (a traditional Bordeaux varietal no longer cultivated in the region, but adopted in small measure in the US.)


21st century winemaking..

At the cellar door we’re met by Sean Capiaux, who is the head winemaker and COO at O’Shaughnessy.  A quick tour of the cellars, as well as a breakdown of the winemaking practices at O’Shaughnessy primed us for the tasting that was to follow.

Old world or New world? Bascially, the O’Shaughnessy winemaking ethos can be distilled or tweeted something like this: Neo-classic, using modern tools and analysis to make non-interventionist wine that is fermented naturally and bottled unfiltered and un-fined.

In addition to the modern stainless steel tanks, temperature control and automated pigeage, O’Shaughnessy boasts its own in house lab, which is ideal when timely decisions need to be made regarding the vinification and elevage process.

step back in time...

However state of the art is only one part of the larger picture at O’Shaughnessy. Make a sharp exit out the backside of the chai, and step back in time, to winemaking the way it’s been done for centuries..

to centuries old elevage techniques..

This 11,000 square foot cavern was dug out of the hillside directly behind the winery. 26 foot ceilings,  as well as the perfect ambient temperature for ageing red wine is where the O’Shaughnessy reds spend the better part of 2 years  in French oak barriques undisturbed as they mature.


amphora..oeuf or avocado?

Now what’s that? Along the wall, and tucked away within a separate little grotto we spotted this imposing concrete egg. I had seen these amphor-esque “oeufs” in France, and was curious to know what vinous project the O’Shaughnessy egg was incubating.

This concrete “avocado” (“..afterall, we are in California.” Sean states) contained 150 gallons (approx. 560 liters) of Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc that had been vinified and was presently undergoing elevage in this vessel.

Sean pulled out the ladder, climbed up and retrieved a sample for us to taste.  Bright and crisp citrus flavors, along with that requisite SB juicy bite of acid were matched by atypical minerality.  Atypical for California SB at any rate. This avocado SB took me closer to the Touraine in France’s Loire Valley, where I a more often find a more flinty or chalky quality to their sauvignon blancs. I suspect a bit has to do with the unlined concrete interacting with the wine.


With a tour of the winery and caves behind us, it was now time to taste some wine!

First up, the 2007 O’Shaughnessy Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon.

Composed mostly of Cabernet Sauvignon (83%) with smaller amounts of Merlot (6%), Malbec (4%), 4% Petit Verdot and St. Macaire (3%) from largely volcanic soils.

Lovely crushed red berry fruits..raspberry..dark cherry, damson plum, vanilla and black tea notes, along with fine medium+ tannins make for a rich, yet balanced “neo-classical” wine. I suspect that a beef tenderloin would be a great food/wine pairing.

Across the valley and some 15 miles to the south, O’Shaughnessy’s Mt. Veeder vineyard turns out a slightly more dense and strapping rendition of 100% Cabernet Sauvignon. The 2007 vintage comes from vines grown on “Betty’s Vineyard” (named after co-proprietor Betty O’Shaughnessy Woolls), a steeply terraced site composed of largely sedimentary (ancient riverbed) soils.

Deep, black cherry, blackberry and smoked meat and a brambly quality along with coarser tannins make for a more rough hewn and less elegant wine (right now) than its more refined cousin to the north. Ideally, I would wait 3-4 years before enjoying this with grilled ribeye (more rustic and hearty than tenderloin).

We rounded out the tasting with this rich pinot noir from Capiaux Cellars.

Sean Capiaux established his eponymous winery back in 1994.  Single vineyard bottlings of pinot noir throughout California are the focus here.  Sean’s “neo-classical” winemaking ethos remains in play with the Capiaux wines as well. Indigenous yeast fermentations, no fining or filtering at bottling.

The 2008 Capiaux Pinot Noir from the Pisoni Vineyard (Santa Lucia Highlands) is big indeed, but in no way a bruiser. Admittedly, the 15.2% abv had me more wondering if this pinot would taste more like cough syrup than fine wine.

However my fears were more than assuaged upon tasting. Deep cherry notes, spice, cinnamon stick, a touch of black tea and a lushness that envelopes the mouth without seeming hot or syrupy.  I suspect that this king size pinot noir would be pretty awesome with say roasted duck, filet mignon or a hearty mushroom risotto.

Many thanks to Sean Capiaux and O’Shaughnessy for such a great introduction to the wines of Howell Mountain and then some!


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Here is the latest news flash on my harvest 2010!

look at the gross lees!

When this picture was snapped, my grenache was 6 weeks into malolactic fermentation. As you might recall from an earlier post, I had conducted a paper chromatography test, which indicated that the process was only a little more than half way done.

Well, it’s about time to check again, but before I do, I am going to rack and separate the wine from the gross lees or deposit that has settled at the bottom of the carboy over the last 6 weeks.

my grenache transfusion

As seen above, the process is quite strait forward. Wine from the carboy above is siphoned though a hose to the empty vessel below, with great care taken to stop/pull the hose before any of the lees is transferred to the new vessel.

So what is the purpose of racking? Well, there are two pretty important reasons to rack a wine in progress. The first is stabilization. Leaving the wine too long on the lees can lead to the formation of off flavors, for instance the rotten egg smell that is often an indicator of hydrogen sulfide.

The second reason to rack wine is for clarification. By the time a wine is ready to be bottled, a clear and relatively bright wine is generally desired..i.e.. from an aesthetic viewpoint you don’t want a murky product with particles floating throughout the bottle.

crushed roses..

Once the wine has been racked from the carboy, this is what is left at the bottom. Lots of dead yeast cells as well as grape seeds, pulp, stem fragments and insoluble tartrates that collect and are deposited during the vinification an aging process.

What a brilliant pink-lavender hue! And guess what, the stuff smells like crushed roses with a whiff of cocoa. Casey Hartilp, the grower who supplied me with this Grenache from Eaglepoint Ranch, says that Eaglepoint lees often smells like chocolate covered cherries.

In the next several days I will conduct a second paper chromatography test to determine whether or not the malolactic fermentation is complete. More to come!

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En route to the Tablas Creek tasting room

After our tour of the Tablas Creek vineyards and nursery, it was time to taste some wine! Robert led us back to the Tablas Creek tasting room and past this beautiful olivier, lavender and herb garden directly outside the winery entrance. Our tasting would be comprised of a selection of wines, all of which were grown and vinfied here at the domain. If there could be one tag line to describe the winemaking process at Tablas Creek, it would be “minimal intervention“. This term is sometimes used pretty loosely, but here at Tablas Creek it indicates strict adherence the following practices:

Hand harvesting of all organically grown grapes (picking is afterall when the winemaking practice officially begins)

Native yeast fermentations

Separate vinification for each varietal

Use of stainless steel and/or neutral oak barrels


We began the tasting with a selection of white wines from Tablas Creek. First, the 2008 Grenache Blanc, which is 100% estate grown and certified organic.

Most often, the majority of this varietal is used to produce Tablas’ Esprit de Beaucastel Blanc or the Cotes de Tablas. However in exceptional vintages the winery bottles a bit of the wine as a single varietal. With good acidity, medium + bodied and nuances of green apple, and peach, this Grenache is a perfect complement to a wide variety of mediterranean inspired cuisine.


Next, Robert poured a taste of the 2008 Tablas Creek Roussanne.  Like Grenache Blanc, Roussanne is a second white wine varietal that is widely planted throughout the Rhone Valley. However stateside it is perhaps less well known than even Grenache Blanc. While Grenache Blanc often provides in terms of exhuerance, body and juiciness, Roussanne often adopts a more structured and deliberate approach. Medium bodied, and generally displaying a richer mouthfeel than most Grenache Blanc, Roussanne does lend itself to a bit of judicious oak interplay and can age very gracefully too. After several years, those primary fruit notes often give way to nuances of roasted nuts, paraffin and honey.


Tasting through the first two white cuvées was an interesting exercise in terms of isolating and understanding the respective qualities of Grenache Blanc and Roussanne. Now we had the opportunity to taste what I think makes Tablas Creek so special. Their masterful blends! The 2008 Côtes de Tablas Blanc is in fact a blend of 4 different varietals: Viognier, Roussanne, Marsanne and Grenache Blanc. Weighing in at 13.5% abv, this Rhone inspired white is incredibly food friendly and so fun to imbibe! For inspiration, Tablas Creek recommends the following possibilities: Mussels Marinière Green salads with avocado and citrus dressing Scallops Ceviche, Light fish (halibut, sole) with tropical salsa.


Next, we attacked the reds. As with the whites, Robert introduced us to and poured samples of the following three single varietal G (Grenache Noir) S (Syrah) and M (Mourvèdre) bottlings from the domain:

The 2007 Grenache Rouge, which represents only the second varietal bottling for the domain. Grenache noir is the most widely planted varietal in the Rhone Valley. From entry level Côtes du Rhône, to legendary Châteauneuf-du-Pape, grenache noir provides much of the body, red fruits and inherent juiciness that differentiate a Rhone red from say, one from Bordeaux or Burgundy.

Now on to what is perhaps my favorite Rhone varietal, Syrah! The 2007 Tablas Creek Syrah displays everything that I appreciate so much in syrah, and I imagine that over the next several years it will continue to impress me. Whereas young Grenache Noir generally displays more red fruit and spice box qualities, syrah, (if grown in not too warm a climate) elicits more dark fruit notes, cracked pepper, sometimes a bit of mineral smoke and savory qualities too. I would really like to revisit this youngster in a few years time to see what interesting nuances develop.

Of the  southern Rhones “Big 3”, Mourvèdre is arguably the least known and understood varietal. Whereas Syrah has proven itself to be an international globetrotter (for example the Rhone, Australia, California, Washington), and young Grenache is so inherently is often so gulpable and  easy to drink (how many young Côtes du Rhônes get emptied all too quickly?), Mourvèdre is a bit of a dark horse.

In its youth, the varietal often displays a bit more musculature and brawn than its two rhone cousins. Black olive, a certain mineral salt, and at times a certain “sauvage” funk that one not so familiar with the varietal might conclude as the onset of a wine spoilage yeast known as brettanomyces. However, with time, I believe that these noble reds find their way and can evolve into some of the most long-lived and stately reds of southern France. Case in point, a 1990 Bandol from Châteaux Pradeaux which I had the opportunity to enjoy several years back.

The 2007 Tablas Creek Mourvèdre is definitely a more elegant rendition of the varietal than some of its vinous cousins in Bandol. Perhaps 100% de-stemming and a light filtration has something to do with this. The advantage to these more modern winemaking practices is a mouvedre that in its youth is refined and approachable, while still displaying the textbook (black plum, leather, moist earth) qualities of Mourvèdre.


Tablas Creeks flagship wine is the Esprit de Beaucastel. Composed of Mourvèdre, Grenache, Syrah and Counoise, this classic Rhone style blend is made in the spirit of Château de Beaucastel’s  Châteauneuf-du-Pape.

In the southern Rhone tradition of blending several (and in the case of Beaucastel 13) different varietals, the Esprit de Beaucastel aims to capture the thumbprint or terroir of Tablas Creek. And like the iconic Beaucastel Châteauneuf-du-Pape, the Esprit de Beaucastel contains a higher percentage of the mighty Mourvèdre than most other traditionally styled Rhone blends.


After our comprehensive tasting of the Tablas Creek current releases, Robert, Nicolas, Emmanuel and myself headed to the cellars to sample several cuvées which were still works in progress. Among them was the 2008 Esprit de Beaucastel, as well as a most special cuvée that is only produced in outstanding vintages..


Tablas Creek’s Panoplie is a Mourvèdre based red that is vinified from carefully selected grapes of outstanding quality. The Panoplie is crafted in the esprit of Château de Beaucastel’s Hommage à Jacques Perrin and sees only a limited production. The 500 cases of the 2007 Panoplie will in most cases find homes in the cellars of wine connoisseurs and collectors for enjoyment 5-15 years down the road.


What a fantastic tour and tasting! As we headed back out into the bright central California sun, Nicolas presented Robert with several parting tokens of appreciation. As I mentioned in a previous post, Nicolas is involved with the Perrin family in a north/south rhone venture known as Maison Nicolas Perrin. This “boutique negociant” specializes in sourcing the very best wines from reputable growers throughout the northern Rhone. The wines are then (in most cases) blended by the Maison Nicolas Perrin and then further aged before being released.

Nicolas provided a brief explanation on each of the four cuvees which included:

2007 Maison Nicolas Perrin St. Joseph

2007 Maison Nicolas Perrin Cote Rotie

2007 Maison Nicolas Perrin Ermitage

2008 Maison Nicolas Perrin Hermitage Blanc

A big Thank You to Robert Haas for spending the afternoon with us on this great tour and tasting of Tablas Creek!




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After our tour of the vineyards and estate grounds, Svetlana and I headed over to Renaissance’s lakeside tasting room. As the winter light streamed in through the large windows, Svetlana began lining up the bottles.

winter's light @ Renaissance

But before we get started, let me provide a bit of winemaking backstory. Current winemaker Gideon Beinstock has been involved with Renaissance since its inception back in the late 1970s when he helped plant the fledgling domaine’s vineyards.

After wine travels and study in Europe, Gideon returned to Renaissance in 1994 and became the winery’s chief winemaker. The formative time and experience spent abroad inspired Gideon to affect a new beginning or “Renaissance” in the cellar.

Prior to Gideon’s arrival, the Renaissance wine style was one of considerable extraction, weight and tannic structure. The new spirit at Renaissance was going to employ different techniques. Gentle extractions, no inoculations for primary or secondary fermentations, no acid or must corrections, no fining or filtering, and only minimal use of sulfur dioxide.

The results are in the bottle. Elegant, ageworthy wines that at 5-10 years of age still had a lot to say. Moreover, I was grateful to see alcohol levels hovering around a modest 12.5-14%, the likes of which I rarely seen on comparable domestic wines of the same varietal since the early 1980’s.

In addition to his winemaking responsibilities at Renaissance, Gideon and his wife Saron are the owners of Clos Saron, their small familial domaine dedicated primarily to pinot noir.

large format bottles @ Renaissance


Below you’ll find a brief list and description of the range of wines produced at Renaissance.


Estate: The blue/gray Renaissance label denotes Renaissance’s Estate level wines and exemplify the overall quality and thumbprint  if you will of the domaine. Balanced and  ageworthy 100% estate grown wines.

Vin de Terroir: these wines hail from specific vineyard sites planted on the estate. The object here is to showcase the potential of a particular terroir (soil, site, micro-climate) as and its relationship to a particular varietal(s).

Reserve: Wines given the Reserve designation can either come from specially selected vineyard sites noted for producing exceptional grapes, or from a lot of grapes that are specifically triaged (selected) from a particular harvest. Regardless of the selection process, Reserve wines are produced with long term ageing in mind.

Premier Cuvee: Represents almost exclusively a barrel selection of what Renaissance considers wines of the highest quality and ageing potential.


We began our tasting with a selection of estate whites whose grapes are grown on some of the cooler vineyard slopes of the property. The 2007 Carte d’Or (a newer addition to the selections listed above) is a blend of 60% Semillon and 40% sauvignon blanc. It is fermented in stainless steel and does not undergo malolactic fermentation.

Although this is a classic Bordeaux blanc blend, to me the Carte d’Or evokes more of an Alsace meets Provence esprit. Squarely medium bodied, but with a fresh, almost pungent herb nuance and bright minerality. Very interesting, and I suspect a winner with a farmhouse cheese such as Banon or Picodon.

Next, Sveltana cracked open 2 estate syrah releases which are currently being offered by the winery. The 2002 and the 2005 offered textbook examples as to the significance of vintage variation.

The 2002 displayed subtle darker fruit berry notes, with hints of savory-beef notes. The tannins were a bit more pronounced, and there was a distinct bramley-ness to the wine. Really delicious and exhibiting lots of classic rough-hewn syrah character.

In contrast, the 2005 was a decidedly fleshier and more forward rendition of syrah. More red-berry notes, less bramble, a more round and ample texture, and with finer tannins than its older sibling. Keep in mind that this “weightier” 2005 still comes in at a modest 14% abv. So it was by no means a bruiser.

Renaissance’s Granite Crown is 50/50 cabernet sauvignon and syrah blend, and comprises part the the estate’s “Vin de Terroir” selection. I have always loved this combination, and feel like it is a truly under appreciated and overlooked style of wine with awesome potential.

Dark berry fruits, smoky tea, roasted herbs.. the cabernet provides structure, while syrah provides a bit of fruit and floral nuance. Yalumba’s FDR1A, Domaine de Trevallon, and Renaissance’s Granite Crown should all occupy top spots in this category as all three age are built for the long haul and do it so gracefully.


Renaissance’s 2001 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon was a revelation for me. With all of power, press and hoo ha about Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, who would think that such a stunning (and appropriately aged) example would come from Oregon House California?

First of all, the 2001 Reserve comes in at a modest 13.6% abv. No excess heat on the finish or up my nose. And certainly all of the textbook characteristics that I am looking for when I drink Cabernet Sauvignon. Black current, hints of tobacco, eucalyptus, mineral, smoke.

Fine tannins and acid to boot, this cabernet should easily hold its own for another 8-10 years if stored properly. This is the cabernet sauvignon that I will open at my next dinner party, or open to “show off” California wines to my french wine friends. At $45 a bottle, this (soon to be) ten year old bottle of red is an absolute steal.

Svetlana Sladkova of Renaissance Vineyard & Winery

We capped off the tasting with Renaissance’s 1999 late harvest Semillon. Produced in a style similar to Sauternes, these botrytis affected grapes were harvested at 28.3 brix and completed fermentation with 9% residual sugar (or 90g/l). A bit lighter and with less viscosity and sweetness than most sauternes, this unusual late harvest would be a great match with an Epoisses (from Burgundy) or Roquefort (Aveyron).

Thank you Svetlana, and thank you Renaissance  for showcasing such unique and expressive wines from California’s Sierra Foothills. A visit and tasting here is truly something to write home about.

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