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A Wine Lover's Diary, part 379: California Dreaming (January 30, 2012)

Sunday, January 22: Deborah dropped me at the airport to catch an 8:30 am flight to Los Angeles. I'm joining a group of wine writers and sommeliers for a tour of Californian wineries. Our first stop is Paso Robles, which means another flight to San Luis Obispo. A bus picks us up and delivers us to La Bellasera in the town of Paso Robles. Dinner at McPhee's grill with representatives from three Paso Robles wineries – Halter Ranch, Justin and Peachy Canyon. The menu: tempura shrimp in peanut sauce, pulled duck quesadillas, garlic goat's cheese; scallops on mango salsa and pork bello on black bean cake; filet mignon with green beans; flourless chocolate cake. The wines:

  • Vina Robles White 4 (Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier, Vermentino, Verdelho): medium straw colour; dry, peachy flavour; elegant, fresh and clean, quite full on the palate. (88).
  • Peachy Canyon Incredible Red 2009 (Zinfandel and Petite Sirah): deep ruby; leather, plum, vanilla oak nose; fruity, plum and raspberry flavours with a floral note; lively acidity. (87)
  • Halter Ranch Syrah 2009: dense purple-black; herby, smoky, licorice nose with a floral grace note; full-bodied, richly extracted sweet fruit that finishes savoury; beautifully balanced. (91)
  • Justin Isosceles 2008 (Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Petit Verdot): deep ruby colour; cedar, blackcurrant with a floral note on the nose; elegant, beautifully balanced, great mouth feel. (90)
  • Vina Robles Red 4 (Petite Sirah, Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre): dense purple colour; floral, blackberry nose; dry, savoury flavour – good concentration of flavour. (88)
  • Peachy Canyon Petite Sirah 2003 (10% Syrah): dense purple; savoury nose, blackberry, violets; sweet fruit, nicely balanced with good acidity. (88)
  • Justin Savant 2009 (68% Syrah, 32% Cabernet Sauvignon): dense purple; cedar, blackcurrant, blackberry nose; spicy, richly extracted fruit, full on the palate, spicy, well balanced and firmly structured with lively avidity. (89)
  • Halter Ranch Ancestor 2007 (Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Petit Verdot, Syrah): dense purple; high toned, blackcurrant and cedar nose; spicy, fresh acidity fairly tannic with a dry finish. (89)

Monday, January 23: After a huge breakfast of French toast with maple syrup and maple butter, we drive to Eberle Winery for a seminar with Ben Mayo, Eberle's winemaker; Jason Haas, General Manager, Tablas Creek Vineyard; Terry Culton, Adelaida Cellars' winemaker; and Vic Roberts, owner-winemaker at Victor Hugo Winery. Tasted two wines from each winery to show the ageability of Paso Robles wines. (During the tasting I spat but unfortunately my computer swallowed because I lost all my tasting notes that I entered for the rest of the day.)

  Poodle memorials at Eberle
Poodle memorials at Eberle

The owners of Eberle have two black Standard Poodles and obviously love the breed because at the tasting room entrance are three plaques remembering three of their previous dogs. After Eberle we drove to J. Lohr. Steve Lohr gave a presentation about the region, followed by lunch (salad, pasta, and Mediterranean chicken and a chocolate dessert), then a tour of the solar installation that moves with the angle of the sun. The wines at lunch I wrote up by hand:

  • J. Lohr Arroya Vista Chardonnay 2009: straw colour; spicy pineapple nose; full on the palate with lemony acidity (88)
  • J. Lohr Los Osos Merlot 2009: deeply coloured; richly extracted blueberry and black cherry flavours; chunky on the palate with a creamy texture; ripe tannins with a chocolate finish. (91)

The tasting following the tour of the solar installation:

  • J. Lohr South Ridge Syrah 2009: dense purple-ruby; a nose of black cherries and blueberries; savoury, herbal, white pepper and licorice flavours; soft middle palate. (89)
  • J. Lohr Seven Oaks Cabernet Sauvignon 2009: deep purple colour; spicy, medicinal, blackcurrant with a note of violets on the nose; full-bodied and firm, richly extracted with supple tannins. (90)
  • J. Lohr Gesture GSM 2009 (50% Grenache, Syrah, Mouvèdre): deep ruby colour; leafy, salty, savoury black fruit flavours; tannic with a taste of crushed aspirins on the finish. (87)
  • J. Lohr Tower Road Petite Sirah 2008: dense purple-black colour; coconut oil, black cherry nose; earthy, spicy flavour of black stone fruits with a tannic bite on the finish. (88)
  • J. Lohr Cuvée St. E 2005 (Merlot, Cabernet Franc): deep ruby colour; oyster shell and blackcurrant nose; dry, elegant, Bordeaux style with a bitter chocolate finish. Ageable. (89)

L'Aventure's façade
L'Aventure's façade

Purple tongues post L'Aventure tasting
Purple tongues post L'Aventure tasting

  Stephan Asseo of L'Aventure
Stephan Asseo of L'Aventure

Next stop, L'Aventure. Sick at heart that I could not retrieve my tasting notes at Stephan Asseo's winery, as it was the highlight of the day. Known locally as "Mr. Low Yield," his wines are amazingly concentrated. He told us he gets one bottle of wine per vine and that he treats his vineyards likes First Growth Bordeaux. We all left with black tongues. I recall giving 94 points to L'Aventure Estate Cuvèe 2006 and all his wines I scored at 90 or above.

Drove to Treana & Hope for a tour and tasting.

  • LibertySchool Chardonnay 2009: medium straw colour; vanilla oak, tropical fruit with grapefruit zest flavour; medium-bodied, spft, easy drinking. (87)
  • Treanna White 2001 (Viognier and Marsanne): mature, nutty, citrus and peach flavours with a woody note; still alive with good acidity. (87)

Then into the cellar for a barrel tasting. Dinner at Villa Creek with the Hope Family Winery.

  • Liberty School Zinfandel 2009: deep ruby colour; plum nose and tgaste with lively acidity, sweetish and fruity; easy drinking. (87)
  • Liberty School Syrah 2009: deep ruby colour; firmly structured herby, raspberry flavour. (88)
  • Austin Hope Grenache 2009: ruby colour; black raspberry flavour, simple, fruity and firm. (87)

Dinner menu: charcuterie plate – rabbit terrine, chicken liver pâté, chorizo palacios. First course – cream of stinging nettle soup, seared scallop, black trumpet mushroom. Entrée – roasted rack of venison, winter mole, farro, delicata squash risotto, sautéed Swiss chard. Dessert – artisan cheeses with confiture.

  • Austin Hope Syrah 2009: deep ruby; leather, herbs, blackberry; sweet, smoky, vanilla oak nose; nicely balanced and firm with sweet blackberry fruit and a white pepper and cinnamon finish. (89)

Tuesday, January 24: A three-hour drive to Livermore to visit Wente Family Estates. The first winery to plant Chardonnay in California in the early 1900s. The Wente clone is now the most widely planted clone in the state. Eric Wente conducted the tasting in the Cresta Blanca Event Centre.

  • Wente Vineyards Eric's Chardonnay 2010 (stainless steel – Livermore Valley): straw colour; apple, citrus nose; fresh and lively, apple and pear, like a Chablis on steroids. (89)
  • entwine Chardonnay 2010 (co-production with The Food Network, California appellation – Livermore and Monterey): straw colour; apple and pear with a whisper of oak; soft mouth feel, green pineapple flavour, light on the palate. (88)
  • Wente Vineyards Morning Fog Chardonnay 2010 (longest-running Chardonnay in California; 2% Gewurztraminer): straw colour; vanilla oak, tropical fruit; spicy, crisp with a lemony finish. (88+)
  • Wente Vineyards Riva Ranch Chardonnay 2010 (Arroyo Seco, Monterey; 2% Gewurztraminer): bright straw; oaky, lime and apple nose; sweet core with a toasty oak note; melon and apple flavours with a spicy note. (89)
  • Wente Vineyards Nth Degree Chardonnay 2010: straw colour; forest floor, vanilla oak, tropical fruit; rich, toasty, nutty, orange and tropical fruit flavours; full-bodied, lots of energy, classic California style.
  Wente's Annika Sorenstam wine
Wente's Annika Sorenstam wine

A table-top tasting in the winery's Rotunda Room of TAMAS Estates, entwine, Wente Vineyards Vineyard Selection and Heritage Black, Murrieta's Well, Nth Degree and Annika. Really enjoyed TAMAS Double Decker Red 2010. Annika 59, a blend of Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petite Sirah and Barbera, celebrated Annika Sorenstam's 59-stroke record round of the 2001 Standard Register PING in Phoenix.

Lunch at Wente's Veranda Room: Lamb pastrami with coriander aïoli, pickled onion and rye crisps, with Wente Sauvignon Blanc Louis Mel Livermore Valley 2010 and Wente Chardonnay Riva Ranch Arroyo Seco Monterey 2010. Smoked natural Hampshire pork chop with braised cabbage and pickled apple, with Wente Pinot Noir Reliz Creek Reserve Livermore Valley, Murrieta's Well The Spur Livermore Valley 2008 and Wente Cabernet Sauvignon Charles Wetmore Reserve 2009. Dessert: Chocolate ganache tart with dulce cocoa nibs and whipped cream.

Next stop: Concannon Vineyards, where the first Petite Sirah was planted in California by John Concannon in 1906. They also developed Cabernet Sauvignon and 60% of this variety planted in California is Concannon Clone 8. They use sheep in the vineyard to keep down the cover crop but this year they had to feed them for the first time because of the lack of rain and therefore lack of vegetation in the vineyard. The tasting, after the winery tour, was conducted in the tasting room by the estate manager, Jim Ryan.

  • Concannon Assemblage 2010 (Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon): pale straw; herbaceous, grapefruit, green plum; dry, grassy, medium-bodied. (86)
  • Cupcake Chardonnay 2010 (Monterey fruit): medium straw; sweetish, peachy, popcorn flavour, oaky, easy drinking, Good value. (86)
  • Concannon Conservancy Chardonnay 2010 (Livermore): straw colour; buttery, spicy, oaky; sweet melon, pineapple, easy drinking. Well made. Good value. (88)
  • Concannon Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 1984 (fermented and aged in redwood): cedar, mushroom, soy, coffee bean, sweet fruit; smoky, dried redcurrant, red licorice still alive, woody, tarry finish. (89)
  • Concannon Conservancy Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 (Livermore Valley): deep ruby; smoky, black cherry, blackcurrant; sweet fruit, nicely balanced, fruity but firm; ends on a licorice note. Good value. (87)
  • Concannon Conservancy Petite Sirah 2008 (Livermore Valley): deep ruby colour; high toned, floral, cherry; fresh and lively, black cherry, firm finish. (86)
  • Concannon Heritage Petite Sirah 2006: deep purple-ruby; cedar, plum with a light floral note; soft and fruity, plum and chocolate flavours, soft powdery tannins. (88)

Drove to Yountville to check into the Napa Valley Lodge. Checked in quickly and then back on the bus for an evening at Trinchero Family Estates in St. Helena. We are welcomed with a glass of Trinchero Mary's Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2010 (grassy, pink grapefruit and peach flavour, soft mouth feel – 88) and Napa Cellars Pinot Noir 2010 (ruby colour; high toned, raspberry, spicy, cedary note; velvety mouth feel, dry, elegant, soft on the palate; medium-bodied, enough tannin structure to give the wine a lift on the finish – 90).

Dinner at Trinchero, who hosted Blackvird Vineyards, Cornerstone Cellars, Grgich Hills, Salvestrin and Waterstone in an "anything but Cabernet" evening.

Lobster risotto, trumpet mushrooms with roasted chili oil, with Cornerstone Sauvignon Blanc 2010 (pale straw colour; dry, grapefruit and guava flavour, lovely mouth feel, great balance – 90) and Waterstone Chardonnay Carneros 2009 (light straw colour; evident oak on the apple and tangerine nose; creamy sweet peachy fruit finishing with a smoky, toasty note – 89).

Pan-seared moulard duck breast, Parmesan budino, fig gastrique with celery root oil, with Salvestrin Retaggio 2009 (50% Sangiovese, 30% Merlot, 15% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Cabernet Franc – deep ruby colour; plum and blueberry nose; velvety mouth feel, sweet fruit, creamy oak; easy drinking – 88) and Grgich Hills Zindandel 2008 (deep ruby colour; a nose of leather and plum; funky, candied raspberry flavour with a spicy finish – 88).

Smoked-braised beef short rib, vanilla mashed Japanese sweet potatoes, Brussels sprouts with tangerine gremolata, with Blackbird Vineyards Illustration 2006 (86% Merlot, 11% Cabernet Franc, 3%Cabernet Sauvignon - deep ruby-purple colour; floral nose of blackberries and blueberries; richly extracted, chunky mouth feel, spicy oak. Very elegant, dry and firm with great length – 92) and Trinchero Napa Valley Meritage 2008 (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot – dep ruby colour; vanilla oak, black fruits on the nose; very firm, dry, austere and majestic, nicely balanced with a floral note in mid palate – 90).

Dessert: Chocolate soufflé.

Wednesday, January 25: This morning to Cliff Lede Vineyards. Napa accounts for only 4% of California harvest. The valley floor is only 5 miles at its widest and 30 miles long with 16 AVAs. Produces 4/10 of one percent of the world's wine. One quarter the size of the Cote d'Or, one eighth the size of Bordeaux. 33 soil series, over 100 soil variations. Mediterranean climate zone. Cooling effect of the fog coming off the ocean.

Morning fog over the Cliff Lede vineyard
Morning fog over the Cliff Lede vineyard

A tasting of Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon featuring the wines of six wineries.

  • Robert Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve 1988 (Napa Valley): (14% Cabernet Franc, 3% Merlot): mature ruby; cedar, tobacco, sweet blackcurrant; dry, elegant, lean, sinewy, beginning to dry out. (90)
  • Silver Oak Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon 1992 (Napa Valley): mature ruby; meaty, iodine note, blackcurrant; elegant, dark chocolate, lovely mouth feel. (Aged in American oak) (92)
  • Staglin Family Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon 1996 (Rutherford, 3% Cabernet Franc): deep ruby; cedar, blackcurrant; dry, elegant, beautifully balanced, mature, herbaceous, very Margaux in style. Delicate. (93)
  • Clos du Val Cabernet Sauvignon 1992 (Stags Leap District - 9% Cabernet Franc, 8% Merlot): deep ruby; sweet oak, dried herbs, blackcurrant, lovely fruit nose; dry, elegant, lively acidic spine, firm with a tannic lift on the finish. (91)
  • Silverado Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon 1999 (Stags Leap District): deep ruby; cedar, tobacco leaf, blackcurrant, dried herbs; soft mouth feel, firmly structured, elegant with velvety tannins. Great balance. (91)
  • Cliff Lede Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Poetry 2001 (Stags Leap District – first vintage, 7% Merlot, 6% Cabernet Franc, 4% Petit Verdot): deep ruby; minerally, vanilla oak, cedar brambleberry and plum nose; sweet fruit, well extracted, lush and hedonistic but firm, elegant, fleshy and fresh. Evident oak. (90)
  • Clos du Val Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 (Stags Leap District): dense ruby; cedar, blackcurrant, vanilla oak; fruity and dry, firm structure, still tight but tannins are ripe. (89+)
  • Silver Oak Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 (Napa Valley, 1% Cabernet Franc, 6% Merlot, 3% Petit Verdot): deep ruby; vanilla oak, floral, black fruits; evident oak, firm, not yet together, dry, dark chocolate and orange peel finish, soft tannins. (90)
  • Silverado Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Solo 2008 (Stags Leap District): deep ruby, stains the glass; cedar, blackcurrant, vanilla oak; spicy, ripe, black fruit flavours; mouth-filling, soft mouth feel, sweet fruit; firm structure. (91)
  • Cliff Lede Cabernet Sauvignon Poetry 2008 (Stags Leap District – 11% Cabernet Franc): dense purple-ruby; vanilla oak, blackcurrant, herbaceous note; sweet, spicy fruit, full on the palate, tobacco, sweet fruit, firm structure. (92)
  • Staglin Family Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon 2008 (Rutherford - 8% Cabernet Franc, 4% Petit Verdot): dense ruby-purple; cedar, currants, vanilla oak; lovely balance, sweet fruit, spicy, well integrated oak. Great length. (93)
  • Robert Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve 2008 (Napa Valley – 8% Cabernet Franc. 7% Petit Verdot): dense ruby; cedar, licorice, oak, fruit somewhat muted at the moment; sweet blackcurrant, earthy, firm, nicely balanced. (91)

Old Sauvignon vine in To Kalon's I Block vineyard
Old Sauvignon vine in To Kalon's I Block vineyard

After this tasting we drove to Robert Mondavi where Dana Andrus, Mondavi's senior wine educator, showed us around the To Kalon vineyard – first planted in 1868. 500 acres, of which Mondavi owns 350 acres. Here we taste Robert Mondavi Fumé Blanc Reserve 2009 (10% Semillon - pale colour; grassy, green plum nose with a gooseberry and citrus flavour, crisp yet round on the palate with nicely integrated oak (88)). Back at the winery, a soil seminar by Mondavi's head winemaker Genevieve Janssens and another tasting.

  • Robert Mondavi I Block Fumé Blanc 2008 (5 acre Sauvignon block): straw colour; cut grass, grapefruit, vanilla oak; elegant, beautifully balanced with a fine thread of acidity and minerality; lovely mouth feel, gaprefruit and elderberry flavours with well integrated oak; great length. (92)
  • Robert Mondavi To Kalon Cabernet Sauvignon 2008: deep purple-ruby; leather, cedar, blackcurrant; concentrated, sweet blackcurrant, raisiny; full on the palate, bold but supple tannins. (92)
Mondavi's head winemaker Genevieve Janssens with Margrit Mondavi
Mondavi's head winemaker Genevieve Janssens with Margrit Mondavi
Margrit Mondavi's menu design
Margrit Mondavi's menu design

Lunch in the dining room with Margrit Mondavi, who designed the menu with its maple leaf front and centre.

Seared dayboat scallops. Pork belly, garden sunchoke purée and tangerines, with Robert Mondavi Fumé Blanc Reserve 2009.

Sonoma duck duo (seared breast, confit leg), forbidden rice, broccoli rabe, baby turnips, garden persimmon, with Robert Mondavi Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve 1998 (mature ruby colour; a nose of tobacco, vanilla oak, plum and blackberry; sweet mouth-filling fruit with notes of licorice and white pepper; soft, polished cocoa powder tannins, good length with a pencil lead finish (92)).

Poached quince and huckleberry bread pudding with sage crème anglaise, with Robert Mondavi Napa Valley Moscato d'Oro 2010 (light, grapey, fresh and clean). Served like a frappé with ice in the glass. Apparently this is the way Robert Modavi liked to drink it. He learned this from Baron Guy de Rothschild, who served Yquem this way!

Drove to Black Stallion Winery, the latest acquisition by the Delicato family, formerly an equestrian centre. Ran in to Scott Montgomery, who is the Canadian Director for Delicato.

  • Black Stallion Chardonnay 2009: straw colour; warm hay, tropical fruit nose; spicy, apparent oak with a hard finish. (86)
  • Black Stallion Cabernet Sauvignon 2009: deep ruby; cedar, jammy currant fruit; concentrated, over extracted red berry fruit; firm finish. (86)
  • Irony Merlot 2009: deep ruby; earthy cherry nose; sweet fruit, acetic, tannic. (85)
  • Irony Cabernet Sauvignon 2009: deep ruby; high toned, red berry nose; robust, red berry flavours, earthy, herbaceous flavour. (86)
  • First Press Cabernet Sauvignon 2009: deep ruby; cedar, redcurrant; fruit-driven, plum and currant flavours, firm tannic backing. (87)
  • Black Stallion Bucephalus 2008 (89% Cabernet Sauvignon, 6% Merlot, 2% Cabernet Franc, 2% Syrah, 1% Malbec): deep ruby colour; cedar, blackcurrant, dark chocolate; spicy, sweet plum and currant flavour; earthy, off-dry with a firm finish. Mellow tannins. (89)
  • HandCraft Artisan Collection Petite Sirah 2009: deep ruby-purple; vanilla oak, blackberry; sweet fruit, earthy and thick on the palate with a dry tannic finish. (86)
  • Fog Head Hillside Pinot Noir 2008: ruby; high toned, cherry with an oaky background; sweet cherry with a smoky oaky note; firm tannic finish. (86)
  • 667 Pinot Noir Reserve 2008 (Monterey): ruby; toasty, roasted nose of red berry fruit; firmly structured, sweet, jammy fruit. (86)
  • 446 Chardonnay 2010 (Monterey): buttered popcorn, apple; sweetish, pineapple and citrus flavours. Commercial. (86)
  • HandCraft Artisan Collection 2010: straw; sweet tropical fruit, simple fruit flavour with lemony acidity. (85)
  • Gnarly Head Old Vine Zin 2010 (Lodi): deep ruby; smoky, blackberry, candied note; sweet black cherry flavour, fruity, chocolate with a smoky note; firm finish. (87)
  • Gnarly Head Authentic Red 2010 (Lodi – Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot): deep ruby; smoky, leather, red berry nose; sweet fruit with a charred note, smoked meat flavour. (87)
  • Brazin Old Vine Zinfandel 2009: deep ruby; minty, earthy, plum; sweet fruit, raisiny note, firmly structured, roasted note. Tannic finish. (87+)
  • Noble Vines 181 Merlot 2009: deep ruby; cedar, sweet plum, firm with a light floral note. (86)
  • Noble Vines 337 Cabernet Sauvignon 2009: deep ruby; cedar, oak note, earthy; sweet black fruit flavours, firmly structured, chunky mouth feel. (86)

With appetizers in the wine shop we tasted Ghost Pines Chardonnay 2010 (straw colour; sweet, corn and butter nose; melon flavour backed by oak – 87) and Ghost Pines Merlot 2008 (fruit from Napa and Sonoma – spicy, creamy blueberry flavour; soft and full on the palate, well extracted fruit with a chocolate note on the finish – 88).

Dinner in the cellars of Louis Martini:

Local porcini & chestnut soup, with Laguna Chardonnay 2009 (straw colour; spicy, toasty nose of buttery pineapple; full-bodied with a nutty finish (91)).

Roasted prawn on Meyer lemon risotto with Laura Chenel goat cheese sauce, with Ghost Pines Winemaker's Red Blend 2009 (Napa/Sonoma/San Joaquin Counties – Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, Syrah, Merlot: deep purple; creamy vanilla and red berry nose sweet jammy, plummy flavour, soft mouth feel, easy drinking. (88)).

Roasted bone-in pork chop (huge), cannellini beans, escarole, apple and smoked pork hocks, with Louis M. Martini Cabernet Sauvignon Monte Rosso Vineyard 2008 (Sonoma Valley – deep ruby; vanilla oak, cedar, red berry, firmly structured with lively acidity; sweet blackcurrant flavour, lean, good mouth feel with cocoa-like tannins on the finish (89)).

Warm Anjou pear crostata with rosemary caramel sauce, with Louis M. Martini Amabile (Muscat of Alexandria) (Muscat nose of orange and lavender, cardamom and honey; light-bodied and spritzy, medium-sweet, fresh with lively acidity (89)).

Back at the hotel I dropped into Pancha's in Yountville, a biker bar where everybody is smoking, even the barman. The owner named the place after his grandmother, an American Indian named Francis. Pancha was her nickname. Her face graces the sign above the door of this nondescript one-storey building painted an anonymous taupe colour. Inside the walls are decorated with beer mirrors and the ceiling plastered with counterfeit bills. There are two pool tables. The linoleum is worn through to the chipboard floor. I had a beer and left with my clothes stinking of cigarette smoke.

Pancha's bar, Yountville
Pancha's bar, Yountville

Thursday, January 26: Drive to Chateau St. Jean in Sonoma. Tasting of Chardonnay conducted by winemaker Bob Coleman.

  • Chateau St. Jean Chardonnay Sonoma County 2010: straw colour; spicy, vanilla, nutty nose; ripe peachy fruit with balancing acidity, nicely integrated oak with good length. (89)
  • Chateau St. Jean Chardonnay Robert Young Vineyard 2009 (Alexander Valley): golden straw colour; forest floor nose, spicy apple notes; rich, spicy, toasty oak, nutty, tropical fruit notes with a smoky, lemony edge. (90)
  • Chateau St. Jean Chardonnay Belle Terre Vineyard 2009 (Alexander Valley): deep golden straw colour; crisp, apple and oak nose; soft mouth feel, broad, sweet peach and pear flavour backed by oak. (89)
  • Chateau St. Jean Chardonnay Durell Vineyard 2009 (Carneros): old gold colour; vanilla, pineapple nose; rich, mouth-filling, spicy melon flavour; toasty oak and caramel. A big fleshy, creamy wine with a nutty finish. (91)
  • Chateau St. Jean Cinq Cepages 2001 (Sonoma County – Bordeaux blend – 75% Cabernet Sauvignon then Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Petit Verdot): dense ruby colour; cedar, inky, blackcurrant; medium-bodied, elegant, claret-like; firmly structured with ripe, silky tannins. (91)
  • Chateau St. Jean Cinq Cepages 2006: dense ruby; tobacco, vanilla oak, dark chocolate; lovely mouth feel, richly extracted, firm and fleshy on the palate with supple tannins; dry and savoury with a roasted herb note. Warm alcoholic finish. (90)
  • Chateau St. Jean Cinq Cepages 2007: dense ruby; cedar, cigar box, blackcurrant; dry, elegant, firmly structured, loads of fruit. Needs time. (89+)
  • Chateau St. Jean Cinq Cepages 2008: dense ruby-purple; oaky, cedar, currants, vegetal note; sweet black fruits, firm structure, soft mouth feel, broad on the palate. (88)
  Etude's winemaker, Jon Priest
Etude's winemaker, Jon Priest

We move into another room to have an Etude (southern Carneros) tasting of wines from the Grace Benoist Ranch, conducted by Jon Priest.

  • Etude Carneros Chardonnay 2009: bright straw colour; minerally, citrus, apple; lively and fresh with underpinnings of minerality through the creaminess. Good length, restrained and elegant, floral with a lovely mouth feel. (92)
  • Etude Carneros Pinot Noir 2009: purple-ruby colour; minerally, black cherry nose; sweet, spicy fruit black fruit flavours, soft mouth feel, well balanced, easy drinking. 15,000 cases! (90)
  • Etude Deer Camp Pinot Noir 2008: deep purple-ruby; high toned, spicy, leather, black cherry with a light floral note; sweet mulberry flavour, full on the palate, soft mouth feel, beautifully balanced. Lots of extract. (91)
  • Etude Heirloom Pinot Noir 2008: deep ruby-purple colour; minerally, black raspberry, forest floor nose; elegant, more Burgundian in style; rich, sweet fruit, beautifully balanced with great length. (93)
  • Etude Heirloom Pinot Noir 2003: mature ruby; high toned, spicy blackcurrant and earthy nose; very elegant and soft, sweet rhubarb and blackberry-mulberry flavour. (92)
  Jeff Kunde, owner Kunde Family Estate
Jeff Kunde, owner Kunde Family Estate

Next stop Kunde Family Estate for a Sonoma County Chardonnay tasting, in the founder's house dating back to the 1930s. The panel: David Ramey of Ramey Wine Cellars, James Hall of Patz & Hall and Zach Long who recently joined Kunde as winemaker.

  • Flowers Vineyard & Winery Chardonnay 2009 (Sonoma County): straw colour; minerally, leafy, tropical fruit; ripe pineapple with a floral note, lively acidity, good length. (89)
  • Buena Vista Carneros Chardonnay 2009: straw colour; earthy, minerally, spicy apple and pineapple; soft mouth feel. Easy drinking. (88)
  • MacRostie Winery Chardonnay 2009 (Sonoma Coast): straw; high toned, minerally, melon, vanilla oak; spicy, sweet melon and pineapple flavours; full on the palate, good length with a toasty finish. (89)
  • Kunde Family Estate Chardonnay 2010 (Sonoma Valley): straw; minerally, sweet pineapple fruit; soft mouth feel, easy drinking. (87)
  • Patz & Hall Dutton Ranch Chardonnay 2009 (Russian River Valley): straw colour; minerally, barnyard note, Burgundian style; sweet rhubarb, lemon and apple flavours; lively acidity with great length. (90)
  • Gary Farrell Vineyards Westside Farms Chardonnay 2008 (Russian River Valley): straw; smoky, toasty nose; ripe orange and pineapple flavours balanced by lively acidity; great mouth feel with a toasty oak note on the finish. (91)
  • Ramey Wine Cellars Chardonnay Ritchie Vineyard 2009 (Russian River Valley): straw; spicy, minerally, citrus and apple with forest floor notes; driving acidity, fresh and zesty, grapefruit and toasty oak finish. (89)
  • Stonestreet Upper Barn Chardonnay 2009 (Alexander Valley): straw colour; citrus nose with an note of iodine and minerality; soft mouth feel, sweet macadamia nut flavour; mouth-filling and broad on the palate, Full-bodied. (89)

Jeff Kunde gives us a tour of the property – 1850 acres, 700 acres of which are planted. At a high point we can see vast stretches of the Sonoma Valley. Up here we have a glass of Kunde Magnolia Lane Sauvignon Blanc 2010 and Kunde Zinfandel 2008.

Lunch at the winery house – salad and sandwiches. A relief from all the big meals we've been having.

  Julia Jackson, Jess Jackson's daughter
Julia Jackson, Jess Jackson's daughter

Then we drove to Stonestreet in Healdsburg for a tasting, "The Diversity of Sonoma" with winemaker Jeff Stewart, Julia Jackson (the daughter of Jess Jackson) and Master Sommelier Brian Cronin of Hartford Court.

  • Stonestreet Alexander Mountain Estate Gravel Bench Chardonnay 2008: deep golden with a green tint; rich, spicy, tropical fruit; sweet, spicy pineapple flavour with lively acidity with a caramel note and creamy notes from lees stirring. (89)
  • Hartford Court Russian River Chardonnay 2010: deep straw colour; forest floor, spicy, minerally, peachy nose; soft mouth feel, tropical fruit flavours, fat but enough acidity to give structure. (89)
  • Hartford Court Russian River Pinot Noir 2010: purple-ruby colour; rose petal, black cherry; sweet cherry fruit, soft mouth feel with just a touch of oak – a seamless wine with ripe tannins. (90)
  • Champ de Rèves Anderson Valley Pinot Noir 2010: deep ruby; briary, black raspberry nose; dry, fleshy, cherry flavour with vanilla oak, peppery, orange zest notes; supple tannins. (89)
  • Murphy-Goode Alexander Valley Liars Dice Zinfandel 2009: deep ruby-purple colour; new leather, plum; spicy plum flavour and licorice flavours; firm structure with a tannic lift on the finish. (88)
  • Matanzas Creek Winery Bennett Valley Merlot 2006: dense ruby colour; blueberry pie nose; dry, elegant, fruity but firm; fruit is exciting at first but fades a little on the palate. Very youthful still. (89+)
  • Arrowood Sonoma County Cabernet Sauvignon 2008: dense purple; cedar, blackcurrant, vanilla oak; tight, greenish tannins. Difficult to say how this will develop with age. Disjointed at the moment but the elements are all there. (88–90+?)
  • Stonestreet Monument Ridge Cabernet Sauvignon 2007: dense purple-ruby; intense blackcurrant, cedar, cigar box; elegant, blackcurrant, lively acidity, firm, Bordeaux style. Youthful and tight. (92)
  • Stonestreet Christopher's Cabernet Sauvignon 2006: dense ruby-black colour; cigar box, blackcurrant, vanilla oak; chunky mouth feel, firmly structured, richly extracted, dry, minerally; tight, needs time. (90–92)
  • Vérité Sonoma County Le Désir 2008 (61% Cabernet Franc, 20% Merlot, equal proportions Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbec): dense purple-black; cedar, sweet vanilla oak, blackberry; firmly structured, lively acidity, elegant, well balanced, very Bordeaux in style. (93+)
  Lees stirring Chardonnay at Clos du Bois
Lees stirring Chardonnay at Clos du Bois

Next stop: Clos du Bois Winery in Geyserville, just enough time to drop our suitcases at H2 Hotel in Healdsburg. A California Appellation Comparative Tasting led by Peter Marks MW.

  • Dreaming Tree Central Coast Chardonnay 2010: straw colour; pear and citrus nose; nicely balanced, crisp, good mid-palate fruit with a touch of sweetness. Fresh finish. (86)
  • Estancia Pinnacles Ranch Chardonnay 2010: straw colour; spicy apple and pear nose; ripe fruit, nicely balanced with oak. Easy drinking with some sweetness in mid palate. Good value. (87)
  • Robert Mondavi Carneros Chardonnay 2009: medium straw colour; citrus, green apple and pear nose with a touch of oak; good mouth feel, lively acidity, fresh with a toasty finish. (89)
  • Franciscan Carneros Napa Valley Chardonnay Cuvée Sauvage 2009: medium straw colour; minerally, pear with vanilla oak nose; fresh and lively with a green pear flavour and a nutty finish. Good length. (89)
  • Simi Russian River Valley Chardonnay Reserve 2009: straw colour; citrus, apple nose; ripe fruit, nutty flavour; good mouth feel, full on the palate with a toasty oak finish (90).
  • Clos du Bois Russian River Valley Calcaire 2009: medium straw colour; caramel and citrus nose; elegant, fresh, very Burgundian in style; pear flavour with a hazelnut and citrus finish. (90)

Then into the cellar for a tasting of Clos du Bois Chardonnay from different coopers before sitting down to dinner.

Dungeness crab and citrus salad, with Clos du Bois Sonoma Reserve Chardonnay Russian River Valley 2010 (medium straw colour; citrus and pear nose; elegant, lemony and nicely balanced; very fresh with a pleasant sweetness in mid palate (89)).

Slow roasted rib eye, Valley Ford fingerling potatoes, "crispy creamed" Brussels & bacon, with Cls du Bois Marlstone Meritage Alexander Valley 2007 (88% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Petit Verdot, 5% Merlot, 2% Malbec – dense purple-black colour; vanilla oak, plum, chocolate and cedar nose; dry savoury flavour of currants and blueberries with lively acidity and a firm structure (92)).

Dessert: Apple tart tatin, ginger ice cream, spiced caramel.

Friday, January 27: Up at 6 am to catch the plane from San Francisco back to Toronto. Great welcome from Pinot the Wonder Dog. A great trip and many thanks to Paula Oreskovitch and the California Wine Institute for arranging it.

 

 

 

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