Monday, December 31, 2012

Downtown Napa's wine bar, 1313 Main , knows their stuff

As you would expect there are a few wine bars in Napa. Some older and more famous ones , Bounty Hunter, some more modern ones , Carpe Diem ( which has amazing truffle popcorn !) and then a new one 1313. 1313 is because it's at 1313 Main St. , a stone through from the Vinter's Collective for example. Really easy to find.

And while we decided to try some wines last night , little did we expect that their wine menu by the glass was amazing. And I really mean it. We had their Hometown Heroes Cab Sauv flight. And each was better then the last. We had their recommended Pinot Noir (best one by the glass) , we had their Zinfandel. Really outstanding, and we tried a few wines lately so we have what to compare to. Also sometimes they could be good but just not our taste. Well, in this case, it was spot on.

And then I had an idea: if they serve it by ($10) glasses , how much is a bottle ?
Want to take a guess ?
Here are the 2 cabs we tried last night that we loved :

Hometown Heroes 1313 selection in their order :

2009 Franciscan Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley  (glass for $6)
2009 Hilary Goldschmidt ' Charming Creek' Cabernet Sauvignon  Oakville  (glass for $8)
2009 Cru 32 Cabernet Sauvignon Howell Mountain California ( glass for $10) 

And the bottles are ? Guess ?

In the same order :

For the Cru 32 it's probably this one , but we are not sure:

(you can see it in this trio too: 

I'll save you some clicking, the bottles are $22, $28 and $60 .

Oh and the 2 other ones we tried from 1313, also amazing (but the Cabs stood out really !) : 

2010 CRU 32 Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast, California

And the

2010 GAMBA, ‘FAMILY RANCHES’ Zinfandel, Russian River Valley, California

And last but not least, if you want to see their entire wine menu list (at this point I assume that anything they serve by the glass we should drink by the bottle ) :

Enjoy !

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Turnbull, overall, best winery in Napa !

And as we were driving from Rubicon to Inglenook , on highway 29, about 2 doors down is a winery called Turnbull.
You would think that being 2 doors down from Opus One, on the main highway, with a lot of traffic, the winery's real estate is worth a lot of money. But it's not up for sale ! Therefore it must be really profitable. Now, given we never heard of it ( unlike Chandon, Opus , Mondavi and a few other similar ones) the wine MUST be good and popular otherwise ... it will be up for sale for its real estate value.

In short : Turnbull is not up for sale, THEREFORE it must be amazing wine !

We had to walk in. And what would you guess ? Not only were the wine connoisseurs behind the counter really nice, but over all ( and we tried all their wines) we found that nearly all their wines were amazing. And I mean all , at $30, at 45$ , at $50 and even $75.  We loved it.

So by unanimity we really decided it was the best winery in Napa (for their wine , but also for everything else). All their wines were amazing.

And while I can recommend all their wines, we at least felt we couldn't leave without these 3 bottles (despite the price of one of them !) :

The Turnbull Syrah , the ladies' favorite : 

2009 Syrah Turnbull Estate Grown Napa Valley at $30
(yeah, they run out of the '08 !! at $30 ...)

Our favorite Merlot (and in fact only good one we tasted on this trip) :

2008 Fortuna Merlot at $55
This Merlot is made from 1 single vineyard, Fortuna. And the bouquet is amazing, the aromas keep on going, smooth, not too many tannins .... amazing !

And last, but certainly the best, and to us at least, the best Cabernet Sauvignon we had in this entire trip  :

The Turnbull Fortuna Cabernet Sauvignon :

2008 Fortuna Cabernet Sauvignon at $75
This of the Merlot, and then think this one is twice as good.

Now you may notice that they sell 100% of their wine through their wine club. This says something no ? Also that one gets 20% discount if in wine club. That means from $75 to 55$ for the Cab. So we are seriously thinking of becoming members :) We'll see how these bottles taste at home.

Enjoy !

More on famous wines (Opus and Rubicon)

We have a friend who offered us absolutely amazing wines every single time we had dinner together. We never know of course how much the bottles costs but we have some assumptions.
Next time he invites us I will for sure ask him for the info and put it up here.
But in the meantime, we just asked him to recommend to us what to visit today in Napa.
And guess what he recommended ?
Opus One (the winery is named the same as the wine and it is pretty much their only wine) and Inglenook ( the Coppolla-estate that changed name , again).

We have a ($40) glass of 2009 Opus One which was for sale at $220 per bottle. They also had a 2005 for sale at $260 per bottle. The 2009 was definitively interesting and smooth but we didn't feel much aromas. So I certainly would like to try the 2005 which of course was not possible. So another wine on the "I would like to try" list.

On the other side we also went to Inglewood , whom, because they do not allow to share tastings, and because it is $50 per tasting of 4 wines, felt disenchanting. Luckily, and I really recommend trying it, they have a wine bar/cafe on the premisses (in the castle itself !) and there a 2 Oz pour (tasting is usually 1Oz) is $15, and you can try all their wines, and... share them !! Isn't it amazing ? So we tried their Zinfandel, their main Rubicon brand ( 2009 vintage) and 2 whites, the Blanc de Blanc and the Riesling. Honestly the 2009 Rubicon tasted better then the Opus One to me but once again I wish we could try a 2005 or older Rubicon. And I have good reasons to believe that next time we see our friend we will be able to try the '05 :)

So what do we recommend in all of this ?
The Inglewood Riesling. It's not a unheard of, i won't win competitions, but it's a nice balance, not too sweet, drinks easily and for $19 can't go wrong.

The Inglenook Riesling called Sofia ( from Sofia Coppola we would expect) :

2010 Sofia Riesling Monterey County at $19

As you can see it can be found for cheaper elsewhere but it was $19 on the estate. I would say really easy to drink, nice, with a not-too-strong taste desert . Enjoy !

A cave for wine (and man and women)

Also driving around Sonoma yesterday we saw a road sign : Winery, in Cave tasting. We didn't care much about it. However just below it said: 95 points Old Vine Zinfandel. We missed the entrance, did some risque turns on the road, ended up on the gravel side of a vineyard, and managed to turn around and drive into the winery's parking lot.
So , we entered the cave at the Deerfield winery.

And yes, the tasting is in a cave, quite a walk inside the cave in fact. But it's a nice comfortable environment, nice couches, tables, seats, it was definitively pleasant ( and warmer then outside without exactly being warm, it is a wine storage after all).

And they had quite a few good wines !
We tried a few, they are not exactly cheap, so I would say it's a Napa Valley winery , lost in Sonoma Valley :)
But we left with a 2008 Zinfandel which we really liked and was reasonable priced at $38.

Deerfield's Zinfandel ( reasonably priced) :

2008 Deerfield Zinfandel Sonoma Valley at $38

And for the story :

Note that you can start your own wine line by buying a barrel of wine from Deerfield, making your own label, and they will bottle and label it for you :) It's between $5000 and $13,000 a barrel ( for that you get 24 cases or 288 bottles) :

And last but not least , I think this other wine deserves a special mention , I particularly enjoyed and I think it's woth buying , and if it was $10 cheaper I would have certainly bought a few more bottle :)

The "didn't end up buying and maybe I'll regret" wine :

2011 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition at $49

Oh yes, and they are known for this wine but we couldn't try it ( but looks really promising !)

The expensive wine Zine that I would really like to try :

2007 Zinfandel, Old Vine, Buchignani Vineyard at $85

(Can't recommended at that price nor could we taste it , but given what we got for $38 it is tempting to give it a try for sure !)

Kaz's unique Petit Verdot from the barrel

Yesterday we decided that given the quality to price we will try going back to Sonoma and see what should be seen outside of the Sonoma town center square.
We wandered around, going somehow up valley. Tried a 1st winery, that had decent wines for a very reasonable price but nothing worth shipping accross the country.
There they recommended that we actually go see a unique winery, the smallest one in the valley of Sonoma, called Kaz. We were told that they make some original wines worth trying..

And indeed, it was quite fun to visit. They had some wine making tools around, certainly small, a few barrels around, and they do have some original wines. We tried a 100% Petit Verdot, 2 different vintages, and the 2nd one from the barrel directly.  It was quite interesting and we did leave with a bottle( which we purred in the bottle ourselves, corked ourselves and even chose the label for, fun to do it , I wander why not more wineries do so !).

So here is a unique varietal, but to drink not to keep, and while this particular barrel we tried was very good , others may not be , so ....just try it :)

Kaz's unique 100% Petit Verdot (from the barrel):

2009 "From the Barrel" Dilly Dally for $30

It had some nice upfront flavours, and a cute bouquet and aromas. ( Careful, other vintages did finish on a strong yeast taste which I don't care much for, this one didn't have any at this time).

Saturday, December 29, 2012

no-port-Port and why ?

When one says Port , one actually means the Portuguese Port made in Port in Portugal, which is of course copyrighted.
So when Sonoma valley takes Old Zin, adds some spirit of some sort to it to fortify it, and sells it they call it no-port-Port , obviously :)

We tried a few. Of course they are all sweet , they are all good, they all go with chocolate. But we tried one, that was not overpowering, that wasn't too strong, that didn't taste artificial, and that actually probably took some skill to make.

So here was our favorite (from what we tasted of course, so far of course..)

no-port-Port from Sonoma's Old Vine Zinfandels :

2010  Old Vine Zinfandel Port  from Eric Ross winery ( Dry Creek Valley)  at $50

The vines are 90 years old... Yes, wine making in California apparently started more or less in Sonoma, and with Zinfandels. Hence you have tons of old-Zinfandel vines in Sonoma :)
We'll talk more about that when I tell you what we bought today ( yes, more Zinfandel, lots more !).

An interesting variety : Roussanne

Also yesterday in Sonoma we stumbled upon a small winery which had 2 labels : GlenLyon and Two Amigos.  Put apart the humor of one of the owners who was presenting the wines, we also noted some very different wines among which one caught our attention.

I particularly noticed it's Honey taste. We will see if once shipped home and once we had more then one sip we will still like it as much but we certainly hope so :)
They vinter describes it as a Vino Bianco ( Italian name) made out of Roussanne ( a French Rhone varietal).

Here it is :


2009 Vito's Vino Bianco at $20

We noticed the unusual grapes, aromas and flavors and especially the honey and lemon. And at that price it was certainly worth it !
The other part we found very interesting was more information about their business. This (micro?) winery is run by the 2 partners. I think I heard that they do 3,000 to 4,000 cases a year or maybe 30-40,000 bottles a year, and they employ 1 vineyard manager full time. The harvest takes 1 day ( I think they only have 10 acres of vineyard) so it only takes a few part time hands to do it. And they employ a few part time hands every now and then and maybe an intern. So all in all at 40,000 bottles a year, that means about $800,000 in revenue  and given they sell everything themselves (at high margin) they probably end up with about $100,000  a year in revenue each of the 2 partners. Note that they do have to pay for a tasting room downtown Sonoma, salaries, taxes, cost of goods sold... So this should give you an idea on how a small little winery and vineyard works.

Enjoy !

Sonoma 1st day

We already had a hint that Sonoma is more price effective then Napa. Well, from the 5 wineries we visited it seems true. The most expensive wine we found was about $55. Now, we haven't tried any famous ones (yet?) but it certainly confirms the expectations. On the other side the quality of the wines is also really good. We haven't run into any Cabernet Sauvignons of the Napa quality yet , but most other wines seemed a fair competitor.

So what stood out in Sonoma ?
It seems that there are a lot of 100 year old Zinfandel vines around. So nearly each winery had a Old Vine Zinfandel. We picked of course the one we liked the most by far, at the Eric Ross winery.

And what was by far our favorite ? We in fact have 3 , and all 3 happen to be Zinfandels.

Here is what I think really stood out :

The Zinfandels from Sonoma :

2008 Zinfandel Dry Creek Valley from Adobe Road winery at $35

And it seems on sale here. Great flavor in the nose. Great bouquet, great aromas, flavorful , no strong tannins. Red fruits... I loved it.

2007 Manzanita Creek Stealth Zinfandel from Alexander Valley $55

(this one had a lot of grape flavor in it !!)

2007 Manzanita Creek Carreras Old Vine Zin from Russian Valley $42

Both amazing Zinfandels !! Can only recommend. However much less subtle then the Adobe Road one. They are what you expect they would be from the label on the bottle and the price. With one small exception, the Stealth one has a lot of grape flavor in it, I loved it but my wife hated it.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Rutherford Grill recommended to us by a vegetarian

A vegetarian friend of course advised us to try the Rutherford Grill. Strange no ? She meant it for the corn bread. But what a gem ! The corn bread is good, I won't say the contrary. But what we discovered there was their wine selection and most importantly the prices.

$500 Chateau D'Yquem. $220 Opus One.. and on and on and on ....
And they had the Caymus Zinfandel by the glass. Guess what was the waitress' favorite wine ? The Caymus Zinfandel ( which they get probably by walking to the winery at the end of the street by the way).

So if you want to try exceptional wines, if you want to make sure they come with the guarantee of being well stored , well selected and that if there is anything wrong with the bottle it will be changed, go to the Rutherford Grill in Rutherford on Rutherford Road ( doesn't get more Rutherford then that !) .

Oh yeah, and the food is amazing too :)

Old people know good wine

As you saw in the previous post, I was quite disappointed with the popular wines ( Shafer, Joseph Phelps, Caymus...). With 2 exceptions.

You probably noted that we really liked the Eisrebe desert wine from Joseph Phelps ( $30 !).
The other exception is the Zinfandel Napa Valley from Caymus.
I had done some research on the Caymus family and I had read on their website "In 1971 Charles F. (Charlie) Wagner and his wife Lorna Belle Glos Wagner asked their son Charles J. (Chuck) Wagner, who had just graduated from high school, if he would be interested in joining them in starting up a winery. If Chuck declined the offer, Charlie and Lorna were planning to sell out of their ranch in Napa Valley and move to Australia. Chuck accepted his parents’ offer to launch the winery, Caymus Vineyards.

The Wagners produced their first vintage in 1972, consisting of 240 cases of Cabernet Sauvignon. Since then, Caymus has focused their efforts in the production of quality Cabernet Sauvignon. Today’s production is 65,000 cases."
Quite a success story, and they nearly become cowboys in Australia, quite a different path that would have been. ( If you haven't seen the movie Australia , check it out to see what I mean).

Anyway, I was told at the winery that the Patriarch, Charlie Wagner, had passed away 11 years ago. I was really sad to hear as I admire his decision in 1971 and the choices he had to make.
But more importantly, I wanted to try their Zinfandel. After some negotiations ( it was of course another one of those bonuses, hard to get, not for the public... bad attitude again !) I did get to try a sip and what a surprise :)
They apparently keep making it, even though they think it's less good then their Special Selection, just because it was Patriarch Charlie's favorite. And I can see why, it liked it so much better then the Special Selection myself :) We quickly bought some :)

So I can only recommend :

Caymus Zinfandel :

2009 Caymus Napa Valley Zinfandel $30,%20P.ProductName%20ASC&ShippingState=CA

It has that ton of flavor I like in wines, smooth, not harsh with of course a little spices and pepper. Really amazing and worth every penny.

So , once again, don't trust what the critics say, don't trust the price, don't trust was experts say, just try the wines you want with an open. I would certainly hope that Caymus will continue to honor Charles Wagner's memory, it would be a mistake to stop this Zinfandel.

What about the most popular wines in Napa

The first reflex is to look at the most popular wines in Napa and go try them.
I used to see which are the 100 most searched for wines, find their wineries and identify the wines we HAVE to try.

Here is what I got as the wineries that go with the most popular wines in Napa:

Joseph Phelps
Dominus estate  
Screaming Eagle,
the Harlan empire (Harlan itself but also inclusive of  Bond and Maiden )
and of course Opus One (from Mondavi).

Opus One I had already heard about it so I decided to focus on the other ones.
Screaming Eagle goes for $1,500 or more per bottle, so I realistically decided I will never pay with my own money that much for wine ( I know how hard it is to earn it !).
So this brings it down to :

Joseph Phelps
Dominus estate  
and some of the Harlan empire (Harlan itself maybe but at least some Bond or Maiden )

So, so far, we tried Shafer, Joseph Phelps and Caymus :) 3 out of (reachable) 5, not bad I would say. 2 more to go though !

Shafer Winery

Shafer was impossible to get in , however we found that the St. Helena Culinary Institue of America ( CIA) did a flight of Shafer for tasting. So we tried 4 different ones. 
We had the Chardonnay, the Merlot, the Relentless and the One point five.
I had already tried the Merlot the night before at a restaurant, and was really disappointed. The bartender at the CIA insisted it was amazing. So I gave it a honest 2nd try. 
And honesty, while I think the Relentless is maybe worth $20 , the rest really didn't seem of any interest to me and especially the Merlot which had no scent, no aromas, no bouquet... It was like water. Very disapointed. And it wasn't the bottle, I had tried it twice. So I don't understand why is Shafer so popular !

And this should give you a good idea of what to expect from the other popular expensive wines.

Joseph Phelps Winery

At Joseph Phelps ( very pretty winery by the way) , for $60 we tried about 7 wines, among which 2 of their most popular one, the Insignia. We tried the 2009 and the 2006. And once again, the 2009 ... honestly, I'll drink it if there is nothing else available but there is plenty of better wine out there for $30. On the 2006 however I would certainly say that it's interesting and pleasant, so I would certainly be willing to pay $40-50 for it, but certainly not $225. So if you really have to buy some Insignia , make sure you get the 2006 ( or maybe older, who knows...).

Caymus Winery

Caymus winery was really small and pleasant, it did give the image of a family business for sure. They are known for their Special Selection Cabernet Sauvignon. So we made it clear from the beginning that we would like to try that. They did give some attitude and we were told that maybe , as a bonus, we may get some if we behave. I guess next time I should show up with a coke can in my hand and a baseball hat in reverse to see what attitude I get then ... 
Anyway, once again, honestly disappointing ( we did get our bonus :) ). But I do have to mention their Zinfandel (I'll post about it in the next post !!) . So another popular wine doesn't hold it's reputation.

Harlan Winery 

Now this one has been harder to try. They are very nice on the phone and very polite. Megg was very helpful. They don't have a tasting room at the winery but they organize them at the Founder's room. However that's booked solid for the next 10 days and they are closed on the weekends. So I'll try to have some in a downtown Napa wine bar/tasting bar. And while we are at it, wasn't I surprised when I call for the Bond winery and I get Megg again who told me the same thing again. Not to mention the Maiden... So I guess more downtown Napa search to do. I really hope I won't be disapointed.

Dominus Winery and Colgin Winery

Well, these ones are quite simple, they don't do tastings at all. So ...good luck. Back to your favorite wine bar/tasting and pray that they carry some. And for Colgin , you can't even buy it unless you are on the waiting list, so it certainly plays tough to get ( like Harlan in fact..). 

Thursday, December 27, 2012

2 Cabs sauv

And also to illustrate what I said earlier, 2 Cab Sauv, one at $60 , one at $100.
I feel that the $100 should be more like $50, and the $60 is much better :)
Here they are :

Honig Cab Sauv Napa Valleu from 2006

2006 Honig Cab Sauv Napa Valley  $60

( The winery has it for 60$ so this is much cheaper in this shop, a little strange, needs trying 1st before buying too much of it, hence I list it at $60)

And the LumpJack Cab :

2010 PlumpJack Estate Cab Sauv  $98

Really really good, but honestly, we can find (with a lot of research !) similar or better ones around $60.

Both Cabernets have amazing bouquet at the beginning, long finish, a lot of flavor, a lot of interesting flavors, fruits and really light tannins like I like them. No coarseness at the end at all. And every mouthful you will really fill the richness of their contents.

I am still a little surprised we haven't found any amazing Pinot Noirs yet, the research continues....
Enjoy !

Visiting Napa , a few wines

As I am right now visiting Napa , I've tasted so far in the 1st 2 days about 70 wines (yes, seventy, I am not here often and I intend to put my trip to good usage).

Here is what I would buy without any hesitation and drink all day long :

The Nobel Red
2007 Stonehedge Terroir Select Napa Valley The Nobel Red
For $30 , a real deal :)
I absolutely loved this wine. Rich to start, long finish, red fruits, smooth, no strong tanins, and while not sweet it does have a certain sweetness in it.

My favorite Chardonnay so far :

2010 Diamond Ridge Chardonnay
We loved the butter , the smoothness, the really long finish and the complete lack of acidity. A real pleasure. And for the price, a steal !

Our favorite desert wine so far:

2010 Joseph Phelps Eisrebe White Wine
$30 (for 1/2 bottle)

Yes, strange grape, they actually collect the grapes and send it away to be frozen, and then they make the wine. The sweetness is of course present but it doesn't overpower everything.

Our favorite pink wine so far :

2011 Honig Cab Sauv pink

Really noted the strawberries and really no acidity

Why this blog

Honestly, I realized that the wine I like is more often $30 then $300 or $3. But the only way to find the wines I like is to try them. Most wines in fact are only good to add to a roast recipe. I learned that I can't chose based on the price. After spending some money to try $200 bottles I learned the expensive way that I can't chose wine based on grades or what other wine experts liked and graded. I am not criticizing the experts, I am just noticing that my taste and their taste differ.
How is my taste like ?
Here is what I noticed:

Usually all wines below $20 are horrible.
Usually my favorite wines are between $30 and $60.
And most wines above $60 are not at my taste with some exceptions which I usually appreciate as much as a $30 wine.

Therefore expect me to most post about wines I like in the $30-$60 range. Those are to me the best cost to value. And I've tried amazing wines at $30.

Sometimes I'll put up a bottle at $100 or maybe more, and I'll clearly point out that if it was $40 I'll love to buy a case, but at $100, I'll drink it if somebody else pays for it :)

So , in a few words, don't trust the price, don't trust the experts, try and find the wines you like.