Event Report: Wagner Family of Wines at the Boston Wine Festival

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

The Boston Wine Festival at the Boston Harbor Hotel featured the Wagner Family of Wines this past week. A seminar with six Caymus Special Selection Cabernet Sauvignons from 1990-2009 proceeded a paired dinner featuring other Wagner Family wines.

Representing the winery was Joseph Wagner, son of Chuck Wagner of Caymus fame. Along with his three siblings, Joe represents the next generation of Wagner winemakers and is responsible for the current direction of their Pinot Noirs (Belle Glos and Meiomi) and the future direction of their red wines.

Unlike Mondavi, which chooses to market all of their wines under lines bearing the family name, the Wagner Family of Wines contains a fleet of individual brands: Caymus (Cabernet), Belle Glos (single vineyard Pinot Noir) and Meiomi (appellation Pinot Noir), Mer Soleil (Chardonnay), and Conundrum (entry level white and recently red blends).

Recent campaigns seek to tie these brands together. For me, having enjoyed their wines over the years and after this tasting, the common thread is delicious fruit forward wine that delivers value and enjoyment at each price point they compete at.

I'd never been to an event at the Boston Wine Festival before. This is not to be confused with the Boston Wine Expo which is (primarily) a large tasting that occurs in January. The Wine Festival is a series of paired wine dinners at the five-star Boston Harbor Hotel prepared by chef Daniel Bruce.

The evening started off with a sit-down seminar moderated by Joe Wagner featuring six vintages of Caymus Special Selection from 1990-2009. Two Caymus Special Selection Cabernet Sauvignons have been named Wine Spectator Wine of the Year: The 1990 ($75 release price) and the 1984 ($38 release price - doesn't that sound nice?).

Wagner described a style shift in Napa Cab in the late '80s/early '90s where many producers stopped trying to emulate Bordeaux in California - Caymus included. Perhaps the most notable difference between Caymus and Bordeaux is how enjoyable Caymus is immediately upon release. A question from attendees along these lines asked what the optimal age for enjoying Caymus Special Selection is. Joe said it was a matter of personal preference. Their wines are meant to be enjoyable on release and to evolve and develop over time. His preference is to enjoy Special Selection at 7 years after vintage.

Caymus has been one of the most reliably outstanding producers of Napa Cab over the past twenty years. Here is a chart showing the ratings Wine Spectator gave their Napa Valley and Special Selection bottlings since 1990 (click to enlarge):

These days the Special Selection carries a retail price of $130 (29,000 cases produced) and the Napa Valley retails for $68 (71,000 cases produced). With these higher production levels they're definitely available at retail outlets - including your favorite deep discounters. The Special Selection seems to bottom out around $99 and the Napa Valley around $59. If you can find them for less, buy 'em!

According to Wagner, the difference between the Napa Valley and Special Selection is that the special selection comes from the best lots, has a more substantial oak regiment, and is intended to be a classier wine.

At the seminar we tasted through six Caymus Special Selection Cabernets from 1990-2009. Here are my notes on the wines:

1990 Caymus Special Selection Cabernet Sauvignon
Wine Spectator Wine of the Year 1994

Perfume, florals, caramel, toasty oak, super-well integrated. Slightly skunky - strange. Reminds me of the smell of oak in a cellar. Aged in 100% French Oak 2-3 years.

90/100 WWP: Outstanding

1994 Caymus Special Selection Cabernet Sauvignon

Sour cherry, plum. Easy drinking. Cellar oak. Lots of sediment.

90/100 WWP: Outstanding

1997 Caymus Special Selection Cabernet Sauvignon

Huge jump in style here from the 1994. "A stellar year in Napa." Cinnamon. Pleasant. Right in the middle of the age spectrum.

92/100 WWP: Outstanding

2002 Caymus Special Selection Cabernet Sauvignon

Nice initially but falls off a bit on the mid-palate. Pretty nose, but I don't know if I like it enough to see how it's a $100 wine. Substantial sediment.

90/100 WWP: Outstanding

2005 Caymus Special Selection Cabernet Sauvignon

Cola, black currant, vanilla, and dark fruit. Really nice stuff. Like this one a lot. This is at the 7 year mark Wagner mentioned and I love it. 

94/100 WWP: Outstanding

2009 Caymus Special Selection Cabernet Sauvignon

Fresh and inviting. Lively young primary fruit. Cream soda. Quite sweet. Absolutely delicious but this is pushing it even for me. Wow - it's tasty though. This is so utterly different from the 1990 it's almost hard to compare. 

92/100 WWP: Outstanding

The trend here for me is similar to what I've experienced as I've tasted other aged Napa Cabs: There are diminishing returns after 10 years. I agreed with Joe Wagner's preference that the wine was showing at its best 7 years post-vintage. The wines are good upon release. They change substantially in the next couple years. Then they begin a slow progression into a very soft and less substantial presence than they had on release.

I discovered something interested as I was pulling the Spectator ratings for the plot above. I found that James Laube had re-tasted these wines with regularity as part of retrospective tastings.

Notice in the plot below how all of the re-tastings were lower than the wines were rated on release. It makes me think twice before saving this style of wine for special occasions in the distant future in hopes that the wines improve significantly with age.
Conclusions and Next Steps

It was a treat to taste through these wines and get a feel for how they've evolved stylistically and aged. They're reliably delicious special occasion wines. I brought a bottle of 2008 Special Selection on a recent Disney Cruise we went on. It was gorgeous. Couldn't believe how quickly that bottle was drained. (Full review of the cruise here if you're interested)

The Caymus brand is a staple at nicer restaurants, regularly featured alongside Cakebread and Silver Oak. See how it fared in this Steakhouse Cab Blind Tasting.

Further Reading: The second half of this evening where we tasted the rest of the Wagner Family of Wines paired with dishes from Chef Daniel Bruce.

I'd love it if you subscribed to the Wellesley Wine Press to keep in touch.

Disclosure: I attended the event on a complimentary blogger pass.

Question of the Day: What do you think of Caymus Cabernet Sauvignon? What's your rule of thumb in terms of aging Napa Cab for maximum enjoyment?


Deal Alert: 2009 Sanford Pinot Noir

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Sanford's entry level Pinot Noir is a wine I've enjoyed tremendously and reliably over the years. They're one of the wineries featured in Sideways and although Rick Sanford departed long ago, the wines continue to remind me why I still like them each time I taste them. After being purchased by Terlato, Rick Sanford evidently didn't like the lack of commitment shown towards organic farming and started Alma Rosa. His name remains on the label and as with a lot of things prices have risen noticeably over the last 10 years.

Over the holidays I had a bunch of nice wines out to share with family. None drew more praise than a bottle of 2007 Sanford Pinot Noir.

Here are my notes on the 2007:

For me, this wine finds that elusive intersection between tasting really good and being high quality. Slightly darker than your average Pinot Noir. I get rich dark cherries, ripe strawberries, and slightly sweet baking spices on the nose. A really enjoyable mouth feel - ample presence but silky smooth. Higher than average viscosity: It's rich but has tremendous finesse. Never gets heavy. A real beauty. At 5 years of age, this is showing very nicely.

I liked it a lot. Guests went so gonzo for it I don't see how I could score it any lower. I don't think I've ever heard so many collective raves for a wine from this crowd [that appreciates wine].

93/100 WWP: Outstanding

It's hard to find this wine south of $30 regardless of vintage. In looking around a bit I found an amazing price on the 2009 vintage. 2009 is a great vintage for California Pinot and given the track record of this producer I'm willing to take a chance on buying some without tasting it first.

The price is $20.99/bottle at Esquin Wines, eligible for 5% off a straight 12 bottle case. Some retailers sell half bottles for more! (they assure me these are full bottles) Shipping costs vary depending on your location but top out at $44 for a case shipped to the east coast (they don't ship to MA, that would be illegal). $23.60 fully loaded or less depending on where you're located.

Esquin is based in Seattle and has a sister e-commerce site at MadWine.com. This wine is a newsletter special and isn't available online. The best way to order is old school over the phone:

Esquin Wine Merchants at 888-682-9463

Deal hound friends will note that this wine doesn't show up on wine-searcher.com without Wine Searcher Pro. Pro adds listings for retailers who don't sponsor their listings on Wine-Searcher and the ability to create email alerts for wines matching your desired criteria. For example you can create a listing for "2009 Kosta Browne Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir that ships to MA for less than $60". That search might never turn up anything but it's worth a shot!

I'd love if you subscribed to The Wellesley Wine Press if you like hearing about wine deals like this.

Question of the Day: What do you think of this deal? Find any other good ones lately?


Short term wine storage: How warm is too warm?

Friday, March 23, 2012

Weather-wise this past week in Boston has been gorgeous. The high temperatures topped 80F yesterday and I started to get concerned about the boxes of wine I have sitting around that don't fit into my wine fridge. The room where I tend to keep wine got up to 76F yesterday afternoon so I decided to take the wine down to the basement where it's in the low 60Fs.

With quite a bit of wine in-flight across the country as spring shipping season is in full swing I've also been wondering whether those shipments might be exposed to more heat than we'd like.

It got me thinking I might be overreacting a bit.

The wine sitting on a retailer's shelf has, in some cases, been through much worse. Who knows what weather that wine was subject to when it was shipped? And how long as it been sitting on the retailer's shelf in a room that's usually air conditioned but likely hits the mid-70Fs during the warmer months?

And what about my friends who live in warmer climates? Wines stored on the counter spend most of their life in the high 70Fs. How long until those wines are spent?

I know first hand how extreme heat can destroy wine. When we were moving from Arizona to Massachusetts a few years back I had a couple boxes of wine in the $30-$60/bottle range. It wasn't enough to warrant exploring separate climate controlled transport - or so I thought - so I just shipped it with the rest of our household goods. The wine was totally cooked. Some wine seeped out of the corks as I could see on the capsules. The wine tasted lifeless; like stewed vegetables. After popping 2 or 3 spoiled Sterling SVRs (that blew me away at the winery) I was thirsting for anything fresh and clean. Anything!

So, for short term storage, how critical is it to keep wine cool? Here's Wine Spectator's Dr. Vinny weighing in on a similar question:

Is it OK that a bottle of wine was exposed to a temperature of 70-75 degrees for 24 hours? Answer: http://bit.ly/GH5HXo
My take is that I'm comfortable keeping wine in the mid-70Fs for a month or two. But if it's going to be longer than that I'd seek out some way to keep the wine cooler. Especially for nicer bottles that merit mid-term aging. Fridge Freezer Direct provides many different wine coolers from major brands such as Blizzard, LEC and Infrico.

Question of the Day: What's your take on this?


Amazon Local: $20 for $40 from Wine.com

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Amazon Local is offering $40 to spend on wine and other merchandise for $20 at Wine.com.

Prior purchasers of these social coupons will recall the main restrictions:

  • Can't be used to pay for shipping/tax
  • Can't be used for wine in MA
Shipping the first bottle generally costs about $12.95 so these deals are more appealing for those who have subscribed to Wine.com's Steward Ship program which covers all Wine.com shipments for a year for a flat fee of $49.

Some of my favorite affordable picks for this time of year:
  • 2010 King Estate Signature Pinot Gris ($14.99 in MA)
  • Marquis de la Tour Loire Sparkling White ($9.99 - discovered at The Capital Grille)
  • 2008 Glen Carlou Grand Classique ($14.99 reader tip)
  • 2010 Belle Glos Meiomi Pinot Noir ($19.99 can't miss with this one)
  • 2009 Byron Santa Barbara Pinot Noir ($12.99 in MA)
Check out the offer on Amazon Local:


Visit and Tasting Report: Vaughn Duffy Wines

Friday, March 16, 2012

I spent half a day tasting in Sonoma last week and I've got a lot of thoughts to share. I've visited Napa a dozen times, but this was just my third time tasting in Sonoma. A mistake I made the first time I visited - and maybe others have too - is expecting Sonoma to be a more affordable but otherwise just as good place to taste Cabernet Sauvignon. Sonoma is a cooler climate than Napa and therefore a better place to taste Pinot Noir and other cool climate varieties. If they're the varieties you're into then Sonoma may be a better place to visit than Napa.

As I was looking at potential wineries to visit I was like a kid in a candy store. There are so many tremendous Pinot Noir producers to visit in Sonoma. Of all the wineries I visited, the one I'm most excited to write about is this one: Vaughn Duffy Wines

The name comes from a young couple that relocated to Sonoma from San Francisco:  Matt Duffy & Sara Vaughn. I met with Matt at Vinify Wine Services - a custom crush facility for emerging winemakers where he works as a cellar master - to taste the two wines he produces: A Pinot Noir and a rosé.

I first heard of Vaughn Duffy from @tgutting on Twitter. He seems to always be drinking wines from California Pinot Noir producers I enjoy like Siduri, Zepaltas, and Joseph Swan. I pinged him to ask what he thought were some up and coming producers I should check out. Vaughn Duffy was his recommendation.

The wines I tasted were just the second produced by Vaughn Duffy Wines so we're definitely getting in on the ground floor here.

Matt, as earnest and enthusiastic and kind as you can imagine, worked as an intern at Siduri so he follows a similar lineage as Ryan Zepaltas in that respect. While tasting his two current releases - a 2010 Pinot Noir and a 2011 Rosé - I asked about his winemaking philosophy. Although he enjoys leaner Pinot Noir for personal consumption he wants to make wines his family and friends will enjoy. That they'll love.

And enjoy them I did.

The prior vintage of Vaughn Duffy rosé landed on the San Francisco Chronicle's Top 100 list of 2011. Quite an accomplishment for the first wines ever released under this label. Matt makes this wine from juice bled from premium Pinot Noir grapes from clients he works with at Vinify. To pay their generosity forward he donates $1 from every bottle sold to Sonoma charities. No two vintages are exactly the same - Matt says the 2011 vintage took longer for fermentation to begin - but many of the same crowd pleasing characteristics found in the 2010 rosé are also found in the 2011.

All of the winemakers I spoke with agreed that 2010 was a tough vintage for Pinot Noir. The growing season was extremely cool and grapes were slow to ripen. To assist ripening, leaves were removed late in the season. Then a rogue heat spike late in the season with temperatures well over 100F came along and fried exposed grapes.

When I hear that a vintage is "challenging" I tend to treat that as an indicator I should buy selectively. I asked each of the winemakers I spoke with about this and they said that good producers won't put out bad wines. If the grapes were truly fried they wouldn't have been picked. So what we'll see with 2010 Pinot Noir is reduced yields but good wines from good producers.

Although the 2010 Vaughn Duffy Pinot Noir is labeled "just" Russian River Valley, it could technically be labeled as a single vineyard wine. The grape source for the prior vintage was the Suacci vineyard (where Zepaltas and others have produced single vineyard Pinot Noirs in the past). However, in 2010 a fire near the Suacci vineyard imparted smoke taint on the Vaughn Duffy rows within the vineyard. As if the challenging overall weather conditions weren't enough!

So Matt sourced grapes from the Desmond vineyard which is southwest of Windsor in the Russian River Valley. This is traditionally a warmer site so Matt thought the cooler growing season would be a good one for Pinot Noir. Based on what I tasted in the bottle, I think he was right.

Here are my notes on the wines:

2011 Vaughn Duffy Pinot Noir Rosé
14.1% Alcohol
259  Cases Produced

The innocent light peach color did little to prepare me for how electric this wine is. Made using the Saignée method - juice bled from pressed Pinot Noir. Peaches, watermelon, and floral aromatics. Slight residual sugar is balanced wonderfully with sharp acidity. It's hard to imagine this bottle of wine at a deck party going unfinished. Terrific.

92/100 WWP: Outstanding

2010 Vaughn Duffy Pinot Noir
13.7% Alcohol
99 Cases Produced

For my palate, this is a delicious wine. Ripe strawberries, cherries, and a round voluptuous personality. Fresh. Pure. Friendly. Hard to stop tasting. Just the second vintage from Vaughn Duffy. I like the style here.

92/100 WWP: Outstanding

Next Steps:
  • Visit VaughnDuffyWines.com and sign up for their mailing list.
  • If you're a New England friend and would like to go in on a mixed case with me drop me an email (wellesleywinepress@gmail.com) and let me know. I'd prefer to amortize shipping costs across a larger order.
Lots more to come. Littorai, Kosta Browne, Zeptaltas, and more. I'd love it if you subscribed to the WWP to get regular updates.


Winners, Losers, Surprises and Upsets: Tasting 2009 Pinot Noir Blind

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

I had mixed emotions as I was driving to a blind tasting of 2009 Pinot Noir this past weekend. When Wine Zag blogger Adam Japko announced the tasting I was thrilled because I've been enjoying so many 2009 California Pinot Noirs lately. But as the night was upon us I looked at it differently than other tastings I'd been to.

Would I be able to pick my favorites out of the line-up? Would I be able to differentiate California from Oregon and elsewhere? Would my favorite be a cheap wine - and make me feel like a fool for spending so much energy chasing after and exploring increasingly obscure producers the past few years?

The line-up included producers I'm familiar with and enjoy like Sojourn, Belle Glos, and Loring. Familiar names like Patricia Green, Melville, and Calera. Some I was looking forward to trying for the first time - especially Kutch. Some old world Pinot Noirs, including a few Burgundies, were thrown into the mix as well. And a low-priced ringer: Castle Rock.

All of the wines in the tasting were 2009s, and the focus was primarily on California. Wine Spectator has called 2009 California Pinot Noir the best vintage ever. 2009 red Burgundy is said to be an amazingly fruit forward vintage. A perfect time for folks like me to explore the region. 2009 Oregon Pinot Noir hasn't received the accolades 2008 did, but 2009 is a warmer vintage and the wines are more generous on release as a result. More like 2006 Oregon Pinot Noir - which I liked.

The wines were tasted blind in 3 flights with the wines assorted randomly. We knew the wines being tasted and their price points but we didn't know which of the 17 wines was which.

Flight 1

Patricia Green Estate Pinot Noir (Oregon)  $35
Kutch Savoy Vineyard Pinot Noir (Anderson Valley, CA)  $68
Montinore Estate Pinot Noir (Oregon)  $28
Friedrich Becker Estate Spatburgunder (Pfalz, Germany)  $25
Sojourn Sangiacomo Vineyard Vineyard Pinot Noir (Sonoma Coast, CA)  $50
Brewer-Clifton Clos Pepe Vineyard Pinot Noir (Santa Rita Hills, CA)  $60

Thoughts on the flight: Tons of stylistic diversity here. Guessing a lot of these aren't from California. Probably a couple are from Burgundy or Oregon.
Flight 2

Calera Pinot Noir (Central Coast, CA)  $26
Belle Glos Clark & Telephone Vineyard (Santa Maria Valley, CA)  $43
A Tribute to Grace Santa Barbara Highlands Vineyards Grenache (CA)  $42
Domaine Eden Pinot Noir (Santa Cruz Mountains, CA)  $32
Loring Graham Family Vineyard Pinot Noir (Russian River Valley, CA)  $48

Not as much diversity here. Thinking all of these are from California. Good wines but no huge standouts.

Flight 3

Lignier-Michelot Cuvee Bertin Gevrey-Chambertin (Burgundy)  $70
Castle Rock California Cuvee Pinot Noir (CA)  $11
Sojourn Wohler Vineyard Pinot Noir (Sonoma Coast, CA)  $50
2010 Calatroni Pinot Nero (Italy)  $18
Melville Terraces Pinot Noir (Santa Rita Hills, CA)  $56
Bouvier Bourgogne Le Chapitre Gevrey-Chambertin (Burgundy)  $23

Best flight of the night. Diverse and a couple of standout what I'm guessing are California Pinot Noirs.


The wines from Sojourn, Brewer-Clifton, and Melville showed well for me personally. And Sojourn and Brewer-Clifton showed well according to the group at large.


Belle Glos caught my eye on the list going in. I though it would be a benchmark wine of sorts that I might even be able to pick out having tried several bottles of their single vineyard wines and detecting a consistent stylistic pattern. But, speaking in March Madness terms, it was upset in the first round. The wines from Oregon (Patricia Green and Montinore Estate) didn't do particularly well either.


A late entry - an $18 Italian Pinot Nero - tied the Brewer-Clifton for wine of the night. Quite an accomplishment for such an affordable wine. And who says bigger wines always show better in this kind of tasting?


I'd never tried Kutch but finishing near the back of the pack - and weighing in at $68 - has me spooked. Also, the most expensive wine in the tasting - a $70 Burgundy - didn't do much to impress either.

Tasting Notes (sorted from my favorite to least favorite)

2009 Sojourn Wohler Vineyard Pinot Noir (Sonoma Coast, CA) $50 94 WWP: Oustanding

Tasting Note:

Powerful with ripe strawberry and fresh produce aromas. Caramel notes remain in the glass after a couple sips, but it's balanced with fresh fruit and layers of more serious structure. Complex. Love it.


Tied for 2nd amongst the group, this was my favorite wine of the night, and just a bit better than the Melville Terraces in the same flight. The Sojourn showed a purity of fruit and balance that others were lacking. Pleased to see this producer come out on top.

2009 Melville Terraces Pinot Noir (Santa Rita Hills, CA) $56 93 WWP: Outstanding

Tasting Note:

Ooo - pretty. Pure California. Round. A little heat. Is this Melville or Belle Glos perhaps?


I've enjoyed Melville's entry level bottling (~$30) even though they occasionally have some rough edges and a little heat. This one was very nice. Edged out by the Sojourn because I thought the Melville's fruit was obscured just a touch behind what seemed like a fairly substantial oak regiment.

2009 Brewer-Clifton Clos Pepe Vineyard Pinot Noir (Santa Rita Hills, CA) $60 92 WWP: Outstanding

Tasting Note:

Powerful flavors but balanced nicely with a good amount of acidity. Really nice. With a touch of heat it clings to the glass. But it's vibrant. This could be Sojourn. Or Belle Glos?


I had no experience with Brewer-Clifton prior to this tasting. I hear the winemaker is the same as Melville so maybe it's not surprising to see them near each other in my rank order. A little on the spendy side but I'd buy more of this if I could find it in the $40s retail.

2009 Domaine Eden Pinot Noir (Santa Cruz Mountains, CA) $32 91 WWP: Outstanding

Tasting Note:

Limited aromatically but radiant and flavorful. Elegant. Pretty. If this is California, it's doing it in a restrained style. Kutch?


A nice surprise here from an affordable producer I'd never heard of. And from the Santa Cruz Mountains too. If this is what I think Kutch would taste like after reading about Kutch, and this wine is quite a bit more affordable, I'll definitely be seeking this one out.

2009 Sojourn Sangiacomo Vineyard Vineyard Pinot Noir (Sonoma Coast, CA) $50 90 WWP: Outstanding

Tasting Note:

Happy magenta color but the flavors are melancholy. Beautiful nose of black cherry, raspberries, and mushrooms. Secondary flavors of cola and coconut. Long finish. Like it.


Another winner for Sojourn and looking back on the notes it sounds like one of the most compelling wines of the night. Would definitely buy again and recommend others check out Sojourn. They've got one of the most consumer-friendly mailing lists I've come across.

2009 Loring Graham Family Vineyard Pinot Noir (Russian River Valley, CA) $48 90 WWP: Outstanding

Tasting Note:

Dark in color. Caramel, then strawberries and cranberries. Some rough edges. Is this Sojourn? Might be a little much, but it tastes really good. Could this be Belle Glos?


A solid showing here for Loring and the tasting notes are not too surprising having tried a number of their wines from this and recent vintages. Along with Siduri I consider Loring to be a bell weather value-priced high quality California Pinot Noir producer. The single vineyard bottlings climb up a bit in price. As with many single vineyard wines I'm not sure they're always worth it. Another consumer-friendly mailing list to check out.

2010 Calatroni Pinot Nero (Italy) $18 89 WWP: Very Good

Tasting Note:

Oregon? Bubble gum. Don't think it's got that California Pinot Noir flavor profile. Nice, but not my favorite.


Tied for 1st among the group. That's saying something for an Italian wine in a line-up of stacked California wines costing many times more. At $18 I'd try this one again if I could find it. Very interesting. Try to find it on Wine-Searcher

2009 Calera Pinot Noir (Central Coast, CA) $26 88 WWP: Very Good

Tasting Note:

Lively fresh fruit. Highish viscosity. Probably California. Straightforward. Tasty.


Tied for 3rd in the group. Pretty much in line with what I wrote when I tasted this non-blind for the first time a couple weeks ago. I like this around $20 and my enthusiasm would increase more closer to $15. Can't see my way to the 92 point rating and accolades Robert Parker bestowed on this one but it is very good in my opinion.

2009 Friedrich Becker Estate Spatburgunder (Pfalz, Germany) $25 88 WWP: Very Good

Tasting Note:

Think this one is from Oregon. A little green and twangy. Low viscosity. Pretty, but not my favorite.


Affordable and interesting to try a Pinot Noir from Germany.

2009 Castle Rock California Cuvee Pinot Noir (CA) $11 88 WWP: Very Good

Tasting Note:

Very enjoyable and surely from California. Liked it a lot but it lacks some markings I look for in California Pinot Noir flavor-wise. A little dusty and quirky.


Pretty strong showing here for a widely available wine that can be found significantly south of $10 if you look around.

Bouvier Bourgogne Le Chapitre Gevrey-Chambertin (Burgundy) $23 88 WWP: Very Good

Tasting Note:

Leuden's cherry cough drops which I tend to like, along with some vegetal components that knocked it down a bit. Is this Grenache?


Tied for 2nd in the group. An affordable Burgundy with some things I liked and others I didn't.

A Tribute to Grace Santa Barbara Highlands Vineyards Grenache (CA) $42 87 WWP: Very Good

Tasting Note:

Tied for 3rd in the group. Light in color. Muted nose. Some quirky notes. Germany? Not California.


Well this one confused me. I was surprised to see a California Grenache so light in color compared to Pinot Noirs. Interesting.

Lignier-Michelot Cuvee Bertin Gevrey-Chambertin (Burgundy) $70 86 WWP: Very Good

Tasting Note:

Flinty with quirky bubble gum notes. Not bad but quite a few off notes.


I think I said at the time, "typical Burgundy: An expensive wine nobody really cares much for". Nobody at the tasting had anything nice to say about this one and it was the most expensive wine tasted. I know it's a far reaching generalization to bag on Burgundy and some day I'll come back and laugh at myself for being resistant to Burgundy's charms, but this one did little to compel me to go deeper into Burgundy. The Wine Advocate rated this wine 90-92 points.

Belle Glos Clark & Telephone Vineyard (Santa Maria Valley, CA) $43 85 WWP: Very Good

Tasting Notes:

Smoky. Some slight nail polish notes distract. A really nice wine but too many off notes. Definitely California.


Wow. What a huge surprise to see a single vineyard Belle Glos show so poorly blind when I've found their wines to be so utterly (and reliably) delicious. I will say that the Clark & Telephone is my least favorite of the 3 single vineyard Pinot Noirs they produce (Las Alturas being the favorite, and Taylor Lane being the second favorite).

I was disturbed by this result so I opened another bottle of it the next night at home. While I can see why I wrote the things I did, when tasting on its own there's no way I would have rated it this low. This wine has a unique style. It's bold and yes some of the notes are a little less than pure fruit. I'd probably rate the bottle I tasted from at home 90 points. Blind tasting is humbling once again.

Kutch Savoy Vineyard Pinot Noir (Anderson Valley, CA) $68 85 WWP: Very Good

Tasting Note:

For a moment I thought this wine might be corked but it wasn't. Pungent with fruit that's muted and dominated by menthol (spearmint?) aromas. Low viscosity. Don't think this is from California. Quirky.


Perhaps more of a disappointment than the Belle Glos. I'd never tried Kutch before and I just finished a month-long search to acquire some. Now I'm wishing I'd shown more restraint. I've read that their wines used to be bigger but were showing more restraint in a Rhys-like manner lately. Come to think of it I wasn't too thrilled with a bottle of Rhys I opened recently either. Definitely interested in trying more but will try my best not to fall under the spell of the pretty label.

Patricia Green Estate Pinot Noir (Oregon) $35 84 WWP: Good

Tasting Note:

Perfume nose. Falls a little flat on the palate. Kind of fake-tasting. Tastes like California but not high quality?


Totally missed the mark here. I had a bottle of this ('08 vintage) and thought it was good but typical Oregon Pinot Noir. My tasting note makes it sound like I thought maybe this was the Castle Rock.

Montinore Estate Pinot Noir (Oregon) $28 78 WWP: Average

Tasting Note:

Not from California and possibly flawed. Smells of damp cellar floor or Home Depot near the fertilizer.


Well, it wasn't from California. I didn't hear anyone else say TCA so I don't think it was flawed. But it was funky.

Conclusions and Recommendations

What a tasting - full of winners and losers, surprises and shockers. Once again blind tasting proves to be a valuable tool for removing bias and analyzing wines without preconceived notions.

It was reassuring to see the Sojourn wines show well in this blind format. But not just for their brawn (some call them a Cab-drinker's Pinot Noir) but for the diversity they showed. They're definitely allowing the personality of each site to be reflected in their wines, but showing them in their best possible light. Like a portrait photographer.

The wines from Brewer-Clifton and Melville, along with some other recent favorable experiences from the region renew my enthusiasm for exploring Pinot Noir from Southern California. They're often plush and forward but when done well like these they can be quite enjoyable.

Both the Sojourn Wohler and the Brewer-Clifton Clos Pepe showed well with the group.

The $18 Italian Pinot Noir tying for 1st in the group was quite an accomplishment. I liked it (but didn't love it) and would be open to trying more Italian wine made from this grape.

The Domaine Eden (91 Wine Advocate, 91 WWP) is an intriguing play. I'd like to learn more about them.

If you like California Pinot Noir I'll be writing up a trip report from a recent trip to Sonoma. I'd love it if you subscribed to the Wellesley Wine Press to hear about those visits.

Question of the Day: What do you think about these results? Or blind tasting in general?


Elk Cove Wine Dinner at Sprigs Restaurant in Acton, MA

Friday, March 9, 2012

Sprigs Restaurant in Acton, MA is offering what appears to be a fantastic dinner featuring wines from Elk Cove Vineyard. $63 per person gets you a 5 course meal paired with wines from Elk Cove, many of which we don't see available at retail in Massachusetts.

I've found Elk Cove to be a reliable producer, vintage after vintage, of reasonably priced delicious Oregon Pinot Noir. Their wines always seem to deliver ample fruit while respectfully reflecting where they come from.

Click the menu image below to visit the Sprigs website and learn more.
Thanks to friend and reader A.L. for the heads up.


Value Alert: 2007 Atlas Peak Napa Cab

Friday, March 2, 2012

I stopped in to pick up some wine at The Wine Cellar of Stoneham today. Before going I spoke with Mike Reardon on the phone and asked him if he had anything new or interesting I should check out. He mentioned this wine - the 2007 Atlas Peak Cabernet Sauvignon.

There is an ocean of wine looking to get our attention at any given moment. After a while the names start to blur together. Avalon. Geyser Peak. Atlas Peak. Without knowing any better I start to assume they'll all be servicable but otherwise non-descript juicy red wines. But this one was special.

Atlas Peak is all about producing wine from mountainside sites in Napa Valley: Howell Mountain, Mount Veeder, and Spring Mountain. They produce bottlings from each of these sites in the $60 range. The Napa Valley wine retails for $38.

Here are my thoughts on their 2007 Napa Cab. I think it could do really well in a blind tasting with wines costing up to $60.

2007 Atlas Peak Napa Valley Cabernet
$38 Release Price
14.5% Alcohol
$19.99 at the Wine Cellar of Stoneham

What a beautifully balanced, flavorful, and enjoyable Napa Cab. Very aromatic right upon opening. On the nose I get dried blackberries, supporting savory notes and a little perfume in the background. Mouth-filling with slightly sweet chalky tannins and a milk chocolate after taste. Good grip, a touch of a acid, and nice length. An impressive accomplishment at or around $20. If you like Honig Cab (which I do) I think you'll like this too.

92/100 WWP: Outstanding

Next Steps:
I've been tasting a lot of wines lately I'm looking forward to writing about. I'd love it if you subscribed to The Wellesley Wine Press so we can keep in touch.



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