Showing posts with label Napa Valley. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Napa Valley. Show all posts

Monday, December 21, 2009

Cornerstone Napa Valley Cab 2006

I've been putting this post off for a few days because I wasn't sure what to say about this wine. I'm still not really sure. One word that comes to mind is 'ass-kicker' (is that a word?) I can also say this is a seriously age-worthy wine. I actually regret having opened it so soon. It was part of a sample I received some time ago already and it was tugging at my mind like little Tommy Bailey in It's a Wonderful Life ("s'cuse me! s'cuse me!"). There were actually two bottles of Cornerstone Cab in the sample. Thank God I only opened the one.

I was a little surprised to read on the Cornerstone Cellars website that this wine is "already approachable and will be drinking well very quickly." Okay, that makes me feel a little less like a baby murderer. I should add that Cornerstone also recommends aging their Napa Valley Cabs for three to five years, and failing that, decanting for two hours. All I did was pour it through a cheapo aerator. This feisty little bruiser certainly didn't take that lying down. It waged an all out assault on my tongue, and inspired me to sing a homophonous take on "O Tannenbaum."

Things in the bottle started to mellow out a bit after a day or two.
The nose is full of things like blackberry, black currant and licorice--anything black. Then, take a sip, and BAM! Juniper bush. Straight up. Oh, then there's some more licorice, and black stuff mid-palate that crescendos into a tart and herbal finish. Don't ask me what herb. It's probably a blend. Emeril's Essence or something. As the days wear on, some blueberry and violet start to emerge on the nose. And, that? Could it be? An actual hint of cherry on the finish? Anyway, definitely a contender for rochambeau champ at this stage.

On the whole, a bold, bad-ass wine. But, is it good? Well, the quality is certainly evident. It also needs a good deal more time in the bottle IMHO. I have no idea what another couple of years will do to the flavors in this wine. I could see it getting really meaty and irony like a bloody Chinon. I don't know what that juniper bush will do as it ages--this is where a vertical tasting would come in handy. Anyone done a vertical at the winery? Please share because I'm woefully lacking in comparisons for this bottle. As for the second bottle of Cornerstone Cab waiting in my mini-cellar, that's staying put for now.


Monday, March 23, 2009

Tulip Hill Petite Sirah

On our recent trip to Palm Springs, CA, we decided to pay a visit to the only local tasting room we saw advertising in the area. Tulip Hill Winery is actually about 90 miles north of Napa, but they have a retail outlet in a suburban shopping center in Rancho Mirage. It was kind of a pain to find because we weren’t expecting it to be tucked between a Cineplex and an Italian chain restaurant but, no matter.

The fruit used at Tulip Hill ranges from Mt. Oso to Napa. Tulip Hill actually petitioned for the Tracy Hills AVA to cover their vineyard on Mt. Oso. They specialize in red varieties but, we did try their Pinot Grigio which was surprisingly dry and mineral with flavors of grapefruit and just a touch of melon.

Most of the reds tend to be slightly bitter (not in a bad way) with a couple of notable exceptions (which we’ll get to in a moment). The 2005 Tracy Hills Merlot was quite interesting with an elegant nose of rose, chocolate, cherry, and almond. The cherry carried through to the palate, with a little blueberry, umami, and a coffee bite which got more concentrated with each sip.

The 2005 Tracy Hills Merlot-Syrah Blend was marked by aromas of kitty nose, blackberry, pomegranate, and vanilla. It had a similar flavor profile to the Merlot but, with more pronounced meat and pepper flavors.

The 2004 Tracy Hills Syrah was a little tougher than what you would find in a Sonoma Syrah but still there were nice aromas of cherry, bramble, pepper, vanilla, prune and cassis. On the palate was cherry, more cassis, plenty of allspice, and just the faintest hint of band-aid. The 2005 Tracy Hills Cab-Syrah was much like the Syrah but with added richness from the Cab and bitter chocolate (cacao) notes.

Now for the fun stuff… The 2006 Tracy Hills “Sangiovignon” is a blend of 60% Sangiovese and 40% Cabernet Sauvignon. Fun because you can entertain yourself for hours pulling out the various characteristics of the two grapes. Missing, was the barnyard funk of a typical Super Tuscan. There was blackberry, cherry, plum and mesquite smoke on the nose. The flavor consisted of a cherry base. There was blueberry essence in the vapor coming off the tongue, and a strawberry finish.

Also huge fun, and most likely to win a gold metal at the county fair, the 2006 Napa Valley Petite Sirah was an epiphany. The color was very extracted deep purple. The flavors and aromas were a well balanced choreography of toffee, blackberry, cherry, almond, blueberry, licorice, allspice, and pansy.

Finally, the 2004 Napa Valley Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon was another winner, and a bargain in Napa Cab terms at $36 a bottle. I had one of those awesome olfactory flashbacks back to a life-changing mole from a little Mexican restaurant in Lake Tahoe…man, that was a good meal… Taster A noted marble dust on this one (he had his own flashback to Proctor, VT). It did indeed have that wet-saw smell, as well as, some juniper berry. This cab was rich, smooth, and mouth coating with layers of chocolate and a blueberry pie finish.


Wednesday, March 4, 2009

What about the Trailside?

That's right! I still have to write a post about the OTBN wine we opened. It was pretty extravagant for us; the 2001 Heitz Cellar Trailside Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon retails in the neighborhood of $120 per bottle. We actually procured ours through a screaming deal from Bin Ends. Screaming. It was so cheap it makes you wonder...

Anyway, back to the wine. I have to admit, it's a bit of an enigma. The nose is sublime. It's all canned bing cherries, and creamy vanilla ice cream, and almond. Wow, that sounds like a sundae. It's actually nothing like a sundae... There are light violet notes as well. On the other hand, take a sip of this bad boy and it's pretty tough. It was only bottled in 2005 (spending 3.5 years barrel-aging) so it could probably stand some more years in the bottle. It's flush with firm tannins but, the balance is there. It's very meaty in flavor with some eucalyptus overtones. I get a hint of raspberry, and cherry on the finish. Oh, by the way, it is not oaky at all despite all that time in oak.

I thought we had tried a 1998 Trailside when we visited the winery, but I guess it was the Martha's Vineyard. I understand Martha's Vineyard to be the flagship vineyard so it's probably not fair to say that the 2001 Trailside isn't quite in the same class as the 1998 Martha's. No matter. This isn't your typical Napa Cab and I appreciate that. A lot of Napa Cabs just taste like a cherry-red Porsche to me. Not literally! I mean in terms of gloss and inanimate flawlessness. This wine tastes real and I like that. I think I'm going to save our second bottle for 2013.


Tuesday, March 25, 2008

What's in a California Cult Cab?

I was fully prepared not to love this wine. I knew there was a good chance it would display evident oak, plush “busty” fruit, and spray-tan perfection…

What did I expect? Deep down, I was secretly hoping to be blown away by this pricey bottle of Napa Cabernet Sauvignon. After all, Cab is my comfort wine. I’m a displaced California girl and California wine is at the heart of my earliest experiences and love for wine. I have certain nostalgia for the full, fruity deliciousness of California wine.

The wine: Nicholls 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon produced and bottled at CrushPad, San Francisco. This is Nicholls’ flagship wine featuring fruit sourced from one of “Super grower” Andy Beckstoffer’s properties: Dr. Crane Vineyard. We ordered this bottle in late January out of curiosity to see what Crushpad’s clients are making. At that time this wine was retailing for $55 but, when I checked back recently it was up to $85$65(*see comments section). The Nicholls 2005 Pinot Noir took gold at the 2008 SF Chronicle Wine Competition.

“Don’t hate me because I’m beautiful.”
To be fair, we should have decanted this bottle. As it is, the first aroma off the first glass was oak. There was other stuff there too: cherry, cassis, vanilla, plum, blackberry, and a little pepper. This wine was certainly perfect right from the start (except for the slightly obtrusive oak). Great balance, yummy fruit, etc, yet, I felt a little like I was having dinner with a starlet: Good bones, perfect nails, hair and make-up, pleasant conversation but, is there anything else there? Are we likely to get a glimpse of the soul of this wine? [Resisting urge to insert photo of Lindsay Lohan here. You're welcome]

Coaxing or Hoaxing?
Craig Camp recently posted a great blog entry: Debating the Points: Spoofulation. The centerpiece of the post is an article by Clark Smith defending (quit deftly) manipulation in wine-making. Among the salient points are A) no wine-maker is going to let a batch go to pot if there is something that can be done to save it, and B) there is ‘spoofulating’ wine, and there is using the tools of the trade to tease out the nuances of the terroir. Ironically, I think the argument made by Clark Smith, Wine Villian could be applied to what was going on with a flight Châteauneuf du Pape we tasted last weekend. Several of the wines had characteristic subtleness of fruit which allowed the minerality to shine, and in order to achieve that result in the face of rising temps and brix in the region, the traditional wine-making technique was tweaked a bit. Conversely, we also tasted some traditionally made Châteauneuf du Pape which was getting closer to a New World style in the glass. That is to say: riper fruit, less minerality, and in some cases more oak.

I Don’t Know How They Did it
So, I tried the Nicholls again a couple of days later (and after tasting 9 Côtes du Rhône wines). Again, I noticed a sort of glossy perfection but, this time my reaction was a little different. The oak overtures had completely dissipated and I no longer felt aware of adjusted acidity, and smoothed edges. Now, there was a cool wet stone aroma and a slight wisp of mustard atop the underlying fruit. Now, on the palate, I began to notice more nuance; the balance and structure is phenomenal; maybe this fruit actually possessed some level of innate perfection to begin with before the wine-maker ever touched it.

New Age Wine
I definitely don’t want to dis this wine. It didn’t rock my world like a Sperino Uvaggio but, it was good, and it benefited me to drink it. It totally balanced my yang. This wine was like getting a dose of Chinese medicinal bark and mushroom tea. I know many of my east coast friends are going “huh?” but, you Californians know what I’m talking about…

California is Like Nowhere Man
This wine definitely brings visions of Lexus SUVs, fashionable restaurant facades, and jazz tunes (Take 5), in other words, it has a sense of place and that place is California. So, I can’t resist the temptation to bring up the question of California ‘terroir’: Has anyone done a flight of Sonoma Cabs next to a flight of Napa Cabs and been able to discern which AVA the Cab was grown and vinified in? To those who argue that California has no terroir, here is a question for you: If there had never been any AOCs, and rules saying “this is how wine will be made in XYZ Village”, would you still be able to distinguish between a wine made in Saint-Emilion and one made in say, Castillion-la-Bataille without a unifying conformity in the wine-making practices? Would these places still possess their own ‘terroir’?


Sunday, October 28, 2007

Heitz Cellar, an Unforgettable Flight

We decided to take a trip over to Napa and find Heitz Cellars, a producer to very fine Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel and Petit Verdot wines. If you wish to explore truly well crafted wines, make the trip to Heitz. We feel that Heitz Cellars was one of the most important stops we made.

The reason for our trip was to experience wines that were not accessible to us because of geographical distribution, wines that do not fit our budget, and wines that have limited production. Above all, we wanted to experience for ourselves the marriage of terroir and craftsmanship. This one stop satisfied all of these points.

Heitz Cellars has a beautiful tasting room with good acoustics with a friendly host. We were made to feel welcome and invited for a tasting. (This sounds like a no-brainer, but this can set the tone of the tasting experience.)

We tasted:
2005 Chardonnay, Napa Valley
2005 Petit Verdot
2002 Cabernet Sauvignon, Trailside Vineyard, Napa Valley
1998 Cabernet Sauvignon, Bella Oaks Vineyard, Rutherford
1998 Cabernet Sauvignon, Martha’s Vineyard, Oakville

The Chardonnay was crisp, and very well balanced between fruit and oak. This is not your Kendall-Jackson type oak bomb. This wine is more a celebration of the Chardonnay grape gracefully flavored with French oak…but with a very light touch. Aromas and flavors of lemon, apple pear, peach, pineapple, slate, mineral and vanilla. Crisp taste with a short to moderate finish. Just Yum.

The Petit Verdot is a nice fruit forward, tart wine with tree fruit flavors with nice soft tannins. I picked up strawberry, blackberry, cherry, plum, current, earthy notes, smoke and chocolate. Our pourer suggests red Italian sauces, French onion soup and Cajun food.

Next were the featured cabs. As I evaluated each cab, I began to understand what a truly unique winery Heitz Cellars is. Heitz cabs are aged in oak for three and one half years, one year in American oak and the remainder in French. This gives the wines an unbelievably smooth wine with structure for aging.

1998 Cabernet Sauvignon “Martha’s Vineyard”
Heitz Cellars

AVA: Oakville
Alcohol: 14.2%
Price: $110

Color: Ruby red
Intensity: Deep
Aromas: Strawberry, blackberry, cherry, violet, smoky
Flavors: Strawberry, blackberry, cherry, current, jam, mint, eucalyptus, anise, black pepper, Allspice, cedar, sandalwood, tobacco
Body: Full, dry
Acidity: Moderate
Tannins: Suede
Finish: Long

Like all Heitz cabs we tried, the oak and toast are subdued. Well aged tannins balanced with fruit and mint. The fruit still shines through as when it was young, but shows great maturity. This was a privilege to be able to taste.