Advertisements

Tag Archives: Wine Geeks

Review: Chateau Montelena Calistoga Zinfandel 2015

Most wine geeks know the name Chateau Montelena. For those who don’t, allow me to inform you. Chateau Montelena is the Calistoga, California, winery that produced the Chardonnay that beat out Burgundy, France, in the famous Judgement of Paris in 1976. The Chateau Montelena 1973 Chardonnay put Napa on the wine map, and forever changed the landscape of California wine, both literally and figuratively. (Been to Napa lately?)

Would it surprise you to learn that Chateau Montelena is more than world class Chardonnay? Of course being in the Napa Valley, they produce a stunning Cabernet Sauvignon. But did you know they also make a spectacular Zinfandel?

Zinfandel is often thought of as “America’s grape” although genetic testing has determined that the grape originated in Croatia. Nevertheless, Zinfandel is associated with California due to its historical roots to the Gold Rush. Most people associate Zinfandel with Lodi, Russian River Valley in Sonoma County, or perhaps the Sierra Foothills (some of my favorites), but many forget that Napa Valley produces some impressive Zinfandel.

Zinfandel is a hearty grape; a survivor. The vines can live much longer than many other vines, and still produce stunning fruit. Some would say Old Vine Zinfandel is better, softer, and smoother than wine from younger vines. From my tasting experience, I’d have to agree. Zinfandel is also drought tolerant, and thrives in warmer climates, where some other grapes would suffer.

I had never really thought of Napa Valley or Calistoga for Zinfandel, much less Chateau Montelena, known for its Chardonnay and Cabernet. So I was intrigued when I received a sample bottle of Chateau Montelena Calistoga Zinfandel 2015. Winemaker Matt Crafton says of this wine: “…the 2015 vintage showcases [the survivor] quality beautifully. There’s something hallowed in the old, war-torn vines that have endured many challenging growing seasons coupled with the vitality and exuberance of younger plantings that allow us to create this truly compelling wine.”

The 2015 is crafted from fruit harvested from Estate vines that were among the first planted the year Jim Barrett founded Chateau Montelena, 1972, blended with grapes from younger vines. This blend provides the best of both worlds; the soft, smooth qualities of Old Vine Zin, with the youthful fruit and zip of newer vines. 2015 was a very dry year, as California suffered through one of the worst droughts on record. Trees and other vegetation suffered, but the sturdy Zinfandel vines took it in stride, producing rich, intense fruit resulting in an exquisite wine.

This wine was submitted to me as a media sample for review. I received no other compensation. All thoughts, opinions, and tasting notes are my own.

Chateau Montelena Calistoga Zinfandel 2015

img_1369

Medium purple color with ruby rim. On the nose, more earthy than other Zinfandels I’ve had, but all the fresh blackberry bramble and fruit aromas I expected. On the palate, fresh blackberry, blueberry, cherry, and spice, with dusty chocolate notes, and secondary flavors of vanilla and leather, with smoky notes on the finish. Tannins are bold and chewy; balanced with light acidity. Served with grilled pork chops, the food tames the tannins and really brings out the character. The finish lingers, enticing yet another sip. Perhaps another bottle.

SRP $39.00

img_1371

This Zinfandel is truly one of a kind. I’ve tasted dozens of Zinfandels over the years; it is one of my favorite varietals; and this one is definitely unique. It’s bigger, earthier, and with more structure and tannin than many other Zinfandels. If you get the opportunity to try this spectacular wine, take it!

​Cheers!

  • By Kent Reynolds
  • Photo staging by Robyn Raphael
Advertisements

El Dorado Passport Weekend 2018

Off again on another exciting wine tasting weekend! This time we were headed to El Dorado County, for the El Dorado Passport Weekend. El Dorado County is right in our back yard, just about an hour from home. As guests of the El Dorado Winery Association, who provided us with complimentary VIP passes to the event, we were looking forward to a deeper exploration of the region. While we’ve lived nearby for many years, quite honestly, our ventures to the land of gold discovery had been few.

 

El Dorado Winery Association represents nearly 50 wineries. About half were participating in the annual Passport Weekend. With so many wineries to choose from, we had to map out our strategy. Compounding the mathematical quandary was the fact that we had only Saturday to attend. We had other commitments on Sunday! Clearly, we needed a plan.

El Dorado County is located east of Sacramento, and runs from the valley floor all the way to the peaks of the Sierra Nevada mountains. In fact, the town of South Lake Tahoe is in El Dorado County. The highway that one travels from Sacramento to South Lake Tahoe is U.S. Highway 50, part of the historic Lincoln Highway. As it happens, Highway 50 bisects El Dorado wine country, with the Apple Hill area wineries on the north side, and Pleasant Valley, Mount Aukum, and Fair Play regions to the south. Of these regions, Fair Play is perhaps the most well-known, at least in the area, and is the part of El Dorado County we’ve explored the most. With that realization, our plan was established. We would delve into the Apple Hill area, on the north side of Highway 50, and visit wineries that were completely new to us! Well, mostly, as you will read.

Passport-2018

Image Credit: El Dorado Winery Association

The El Dorado Passport Weekend actually spans two weekends. We attended the second. The first weekend was met with sunshine and unseasonably warm temperatures. The second weekend was, well, more seasonable. It was overcast and chilly, with an often biting wind at outdoor venues. Nevertheless, even cold weather would not prevent us from enjoying the day and sampling some fantastic El Dorado County wines.

High elevation wines are what sets El Dorado Wine Country apart from other California regions. The growing region varies from 1,200 to more than 3,500 feet above sea level! That’s some serious altitude! Some 50 grape varieties thrive here, from Gewürztraminer to Cabernet Sauvignon, to Barbera, to Chardonnay, to Zinfandel, and many others. Rhône and Bordeaux varietals do especially well here. There are many soil types, including volcanic rock, decomposed granite, and fine shale, each providing its own influence to the terroir.

El Dorado Grape Varieties

Image Credit: El Dorado Winery Association

From here, please enjoy the photo montage along with brief descriptions of each winery we visited. We quickly learned that El Dorado Winery Association knows how to host a party, as each winery had food pairings for almost all of their wines. We did not go hungry!

Our first stop was Fenton Herriot Vineyards. Perched atop a hillside with spectacular views, Fenton Herriot is located just outside Placerville, a quaint Gold Rush era town. The wines were as amazing as the views, and we enjoyed the catered food pairings as well. As part of the VIP experience we were invited to a three-vintage vertical tasting of their Sangiovese.

 

 

Next was Lava Cap Winery. This is the one I intimated above; we’ve been familiar with Lava Cap for years, because their production is such that they can be found in Sacramento area restaurants and even grocery stores. Don’t let this dissuade you, however, their wines are first-class! As part of our VIP experience, we tasted a flight of library wines, including a 12 year old, oak aged Viognier. Yes, you read that right – a 12 year old Viognier! It was spectacular!

img_2717

 

Moving on, we stopped at Madroña. Established in 1973, Madroña is one of the oldest El Dorado County wineries. I even remember them being there when I visited Apple Hill as a child! Here was tasted a flight of Cabernet Sauvignon including a 1985. That’s the year my daughter was born! The wine has aged and mellowed as much as my daughter has. Amazing! They also have a red blend, El Tinto, composed of 25 different grape varieties. Delicious!

 

 

Next we stopped at Via Romano Vineyards. Via Romano specializes in Italian varietals, and they do them exceptionally well. Check out the Pinot Grigio paired with mango, peach, and apple bruschetta! Simply ethereal!

From there, we stopped at Bumgarner Winery. Any San Francisco Giants fans in the audience? Owner Brian Bumgarner did some genealogical research, and found at least a distant relation to starting pitcher and future Hall of Famer, Madison Bumgarner. Even if baseball is not your thing, stop on by their rustic tasting room for some rich, full-bodied red wines.

At the recommendation of one of the staff at Bumgarner, we next ventured just south of Highway 50 to Chateau Davell. There we were reunited with owner and winemaker, Eric Hayes, who we had met at the Wine Bloggers Conference a few months earlier. Eric is a skilled winemaker, and also an accomplished painter. Each label is adorned with a portrait of a family member, lovingly painted by Eric himself.

As you can imagine if you’re keeping score, by now we were getting palate fatigued. Nevertheless, we had some time to kill before we would be meeting friends in Placerville. So we forged on to one last winery, Sierra Vista Vineyards and Winery. Another early pioneer in El Dorado Wine Country, established in 1979, Sierra Vista was also on the forefront of the Rhône movement in the area. Their dedication to the craft is evident in each sip.

img_1191

With a renewed fascination and enthusiasm for our backyard wine region, we are determined to return soon and continue our adventure of discovery. If you are planning a trip to Northern California, perhaps to the more famous wine regions like Napa, Sonoma, or Lodi, you owe it to yourself to plan a little detour to the east, and come discover the fantastic wines of El Dorado County.

Cheers!

  • By Kent Reynolds and Robyn Raphael
  • Unless otherwise credited, all photos by Kent Reynolds and Robyn Raphael

Review: Dracaena Wines Cabernet Franc 2015 and RANGE Kitchen & Tap

When you live in suburbia, surrounded by big-box chain eateries, you get rather excited when a quality, independent restaurant opens up. And you do all you can to support them, hoping to ensure their success and longevity. So it was a couple of weeks ago, when bored with all the same old, same old places for a Friday evening happy hour, that I checked Yelp (love it or hate it, it still serves a purpose) and spotted a “Hot and New” listing for RANGE Kitchen & Tap.

858509_94e7e5fc0e8c4cdda7a08ff6a6d24f7d_mv2_d_1500_1467_s_2

We headed there directly, excited about the prospect of a new place that might suit our needs. We were not disappointed. Our first time in, we really only wanted a glass of wine and some small plates. When we scanned the menu, and saw the plethora of delicious-sounding salads and entrees, we decided to go all in. We were sitting at the bar, which overlooks the prep-kitchen, so we could see everything coming out of the back, and we were amazed at what we saw. We also got to talk with the prep cooks, and Chef Kevin for a few minutes when he emerged from the main kitchen. We learned that RANGE Kitchen & Tap specializes in farm fresh, local ingredients, prepared on site, to create comfort food with a twist. Everything is made there, from fresh ground beef all the way down to the homemade salad dressings and even mayonnaise. That night we split a Ceasar salad (homemade dressing, yum!) and Mom’s Meatloaf. Sliced, then seared on the flat-top for a crispy crust, it was amazing!

Determined to share the wealth, we invited friends Jason and Heather Thomson, to join us for the full meal deal. And although RANGE Kitchen & Tap has put together a very impressive wine list, we decided to bring our own, and open a bottle we’ve been holding onto for a while: Dracaena Wines Cabernet Franc 2015, made by friends and fellow wine bloggers, Mike and Lori Budd.

img_1061

If you haven’t tried bringing your own wine to a restaurant, give it a go. Just make sure it’s not something that’s already on their wine list. Most places charge a nominal corkage fee (the charge for the server/somm/owner to pull the cork) although some restaurants don’t charge for corkage at all. I’ve often wondered, and have yet to get a straight answer, but with the increasing popularity of screwcap wines, when you bring your own wine closed by screwcap, do they charge you a “screwage fee”? Anyway, not only does BYOW save money, but it’s a great way to share a special bottle with friends.

But I digress…we met Jason and Heather and set about perusing the menu. We decided to start with the Charcuterie Board. The meat selection changes frequently, and each day the offerings are listed on a chalkboard near the kitchen. Tonight’s board was delicious, though I can’t remember all of the meats that our server described.

img_1065-1

Onto the mains, where were delighted with the selections. The catch of the day, which Robyn ordered, was fresh halibut over asparagus and peas. Heather got the fried chicken over garlic mashed potatoes, Jason The Range pizza, featuring daily market fresh ingredients, and I ordered The Shorty flatbread, made with short rib meat that had been cooked sous vide for 36 hours. As you can see, the food looked amazing, and I can assure you it tasted even better! But how would this wide variety of foods stand up to our big, bold red wine?

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The Dracaena Wines Cabernet Franc 2015 paired magnificently with each and every dish. A well-crafted and food friendly wine, Dracaena is definitely a crowd pleaser. Bold enough to stand up to short ribs or steak, yet restrained and elegant so it complements lighter dishes like grilled halibut just as well.

 

Mike and Lori Budd have a passion for Cabernet Franc. So much so, that they were the driving force behind the annual Cabernet Franc Day, celebrated on December 4th each year. As one would expect, when someone has a passion, their product is going to be sensational. Dracaena Wines Cabernet Franc 2015 definitely is that. Here’s my review:

img_1063

A truly spectacular gem! Deep, inky purple color. Aromas of ripe blackberry, black cherry, and vanilla. On the palate, there are big, both flavors of blackberry pie, black currant, and chocolate covered cherries, mingled with soft oak and vanilla notes. With a rich, full mouthfeel, velvety smooth tannins, balanced acidity, and a long, juicy finish of black fruit and spice, this is an exquisite wine that pairs well with a wide range of foods, from grilled halibut to a thick steak.

You really should give Dracaena Wines Cabernet Franc 2015 a try. It’s available direct from the winery on their website. You won’t be disappointed.

Oh, I almost left out dessert. Silly me. We love crème brûlée. Do you know what’s better than crème brûlée? Espresso crème brûlée! Oh, yes! This stuff is rich, decadent, and delicious. We’d come back in just for dessert!

img_1070

If you happen to be in the Sacramento area, I encourage you to make the trek out to the ‘burbs of Roseville and check out RANGE Kitchen & Tap. But before you do, make sure you order a bottle or three of Dracaena Wines Cabernet Franc, and bring it with you.

Cheers!

  • Content and photos by Kent Reynolds and Robyn Raphael