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Tag Archives: Wine Review

Review: Dow’s 2012 Late Bottled Vintage Porto

Our exploration and appreciate of Port wines continues. Recently we reviewed a Reserve Port, that we enjoyed as the late summer evenings started to cool. That one was a non-vintage, as most Ports are. Yet many Port makers also produce a Late Bottled Vintage, or LBV Port. As luck would have it, not long ago, we received a sample bottle of Dow’s 2012 LBV Porto for tasting and review.

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When I posted a picture of the bottle on Instagram, one of the most common questions I received is: “what does it mean to be ‘Late Bottled?’” Frankly, I wasn’t sure myself, so I consulted my trusty wine research expert…Google. According to Wine Enthusiast magazine, the official definition is “a ruby Port from a single year, chosen for its high quality and bottled after aging for four to six years in wood.” So LBV is a high quality Port, vinted from a single year’s harvest, and aged prior to release. As such, they are ready to drink upon release and do not require additional aging to be enjoyed.

Dow’s Port house has been in operation since 1798. Unlike most Port merchants, who exported their products to the thirsty masses, founder Bruno da Silva emigrated to England and set up shop importing his wines from Portugal. He assimilated into London society, marrying an Englishwoman, and established a thriving business. During the Napoleonic wars, da Silva was granted permission to arm his merchant ships, and thus became the first and only Port producer to ship its wines under their own armed protection.

da Silva’s son, John, took over the business, and through several partnerships and mergers – including one with George Acheson Warre, of Warre’s Port, built the success and reputation of the company. In 1877, John and his partners merged with Dow & Co. Although Dow & Co. was smaller they had built a strong reputation with quality vintage ports, so the decision was made to use the Dow name, and Dow’s Port brand was established. Since 1961, Dow’s has been a part of the Symingtons Family of Port producers.

Now that you know the story, let’s find out about the wine. Many Port houses release LBV every year, but Dow’s only produces LBV Porto in the best vintages. With the bar set with high expectations, what did we think

The following wine was provided as a media sample for review. All review, descriptions, and opinions are our own. We received no additional compensation.

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Deep, inky purple. Aromas of bramble, blackberry, vanilla, and smoke. Flavors of ripe blackberry, black cherry, mocha, caramel, vanilla, and smoke. Mellow, smooth, and soft, with a luscious, round mouthfeel. Long, dry, smoky finish with black fruit. Less chocolate than many ports, and distinctive in its drier profile. Definitely a dessert wine, but not as sweet as others. Elegance in a bottle.

With an SRP of $24.00, and available at major retailers for less, you owe it to yourself to grab a bottle, settle into your favorite, comfortable chair, and enjoy a glass.

Cheers!

  • By Kent Reynolds
  • Artistic and content inspiration by Robyn Raphael
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Review: Graham’s Six Grapes Reserve Port

As the days grow shorter, and temperatures begin to cool, our thoughts turn from crisp, refreshing whites and rosés to bigger, heartier reds. The foods we enjoy in the cooler weather match these wine preferences, too. Fewer salads and grilling (though we grill year-round…don’t hate, we are in NorCal, afterall) and more stews and roasts. And once you’ve completed your rich, filling, autumnal meal, there are fewer things more regal; more elegant; than sipping a glass of Port.

Whether your thing is ruby or tawny, or maybe a white Port, the fortified elixir is warming, soothing, and immensely satisfying. We tend to favor ruby Port, be it a “Port-style” domestic wine, or a genuine Porto from Portugal, we love the rich flavors, the full, round mouthfeel, the smooth, velvety tannins, and the long, juicy finish. It’s literally dessert in a glass.

We recently received a sample bottle of Graham’s Six Grapes Reserve Port. W & J Graham has been making Port since 1820. After 198 years, they really know what they’re doing! William and John Graham originally set up shop as textile traders. In 1820, they accepted 27 barrels of Port as payment for a debt. They must have been impressed with the product, because they decided to change their business direction and produce Port.

I found it interesting to learn, with the American fascination with all things British Royalty, that W & J Graham was commissioned to produce a special Vintage Port for the marriage of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle back in May of 2018. While we weren’t able to have a taste of that special wine, we did thoroughly enjoy this bottle as a reasonable alternative for we commoners.

Port is a fortified wine. What does it mean to be “fortified?” Great question. Port starts out like any other wine. Grapes are harvested and fermentation started. However, before the yeast can finish eating all the sugar, fermentation is intentionally stopped by adding a high-proof spirit, typically brandy. This stops the fermentation process, and the wine retains a higher level of sugar. This process was originally developed to preserve the wine during shipping – back in those days everything was transported by ship, and traditional wine often spoiled in transit. The brandy also increases the alcohol content; fortifying the wine. This process gives Port its distinctive sweet, rich flavor profile.

The Graham’s Six Grapes Reserve Port is always a solid performer. Made from grapes harvested from the same vineyards that result in their Vintage Ports, the Six Grapes Reserve is often compared to those pricier bottles. How good is it?

The following wine was provided as a media sample for review. All review, descriptions, and opinions are our own. We received no additional compensation.

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Wow! This is dark! Inky purple color. There are aromas of black currant, stewed blackberry and cherry, and blueberry. As the wine glides over the lips, silky smooth tannins deliver rich flavors of spicy blackberry, cassis, blueberry, and cherry…lots of cherry! There are notes of black pepper and spice mid-palate. Decadent full body and mouthfeel. The finish goes on and on with chocolate covered cherry, blackberry, and soft spice.

Graham’s Six Grapes Reserve Port has a Suggested Retail Price of $24, but it is available at larger retailers (think Total Wine & More) for as little as $16. For a wine this good, at such an affordable price, you should go get some. Now.

Cheers!

  • By Kent Reynolds and Robyn Raphael

Exploring the Rhône through a Wine Glass

During the 2017 Wine Bloggers Conference, we were introduced to the wines of Cariñena, Spain. Predominantly Garnahca based wines, we were instantly in love. As we enjoyed the flavors of these wines, we began to yearn to explore other regions noted for their Garnacha wines. Perhaps the most famous of these regions is the Rhône Valley in France. There, as in most of the wine world, this fantastic and versatile red grape is known as Grenache.

The Rhône Valley is in the southeast of France. It is one of the oldest grape growing regions in the world, with viticulture documented as early as the 4th century B.C. The valley runs some 150 miles in a north-south direction, and as such, encompassess a wide variety of soil and growing conditions. The Rhône Valley can generally be divided into the Northern and the Southern. In the Northern Rhône, Syrah is king, with the wines generally dominated by this grape. Village (and wine) names such as Côte-Rôtie, Condrieu, Crozes-Hermitage, and Hermitage may be familiar to you, as these are some of the more famous Syrah regions in France.

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Credit: WineFolly.com

In the Southern Rhône Valley, the wines are most often blends, with Grenache playing the lead role, usually supported by such cast of characters as Syrah and Mourvèdre. These wines are commonly known as GSM. In addition to reds, the Rhone Valley also produces some stunning white wines, from Viognier, Marsanne, and Roussanne grapes. While we’ve had Grenache and Viognier wines before, including GSM and Viognier from the Rhône Valley, we wanted to deliberately dive into some fine Southern Rhône Valley wines to explore and get to know the region as well as the wine.

The more well-known villages in the Southern Rhône are Côtes du Rhône, a rather generic term for wines from this area, Côtes du Rhône Villages – denoting a more specific identity of place and quality, Gigondas, Vacqueyras, and what is arguably the most famous and best quality Southern Rhône region, Châteauneuf-du-Pape. There are many other villages worth exploring, but we wanted to focus on the most famous and prolific for now.

The Southern Rhône is a Mediterranean climate, as one might expect in the South of France. Long, warm summers and mild winters provide ideal growing conditions for Grenache. In addition, the Mistral winds, blowing up to 60 miles per hour, some 150 days per year, provide cooling and drying to the tight, fungus-prone Grenache grape clusters. Hold on to your hat, to be sure, but appreciate those high winds for the effect they have on this cherished wine!

Before we dive into the wines, allow us to share another little tidbit from history. The famous Châteauneuf-du-Pape is roughly translated to “New Castle of the Pope.” In 14th century, the papacy moved from Rome to Avignon, a village along the Rhône River near the southern end of the valley. Apparently the Popes enjoyed the tranquility of French countryside! In 1317, Pope John XXII had a summer residence built at what is now Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Although construction was not completed until 1333, a year before Pope John XXII’s death, the name remains and the wines from this region remain coveted for their quality.

With our interest in Southern Rhône wines, we were pleased to receive the following bottles as media samples. Tasting through these wines, we were transported to the South of France in each glass. Though we have not yet been in person, the Rhône Valley is definitely high on our list of places to visit.

Now, on to the wines!

The wines below are media samples. All thoughts, opinions, and notes are our own. No other compensation was received.

Ogier Côtes du Rhône Artesis Blanc 2016


Golden color in the glass. Aromas of white flower, light straw, and tropical fruit. In the palate, there are flavors of lemon and grapefruit, with hints of mango, and soft floral and herbal notes rounding out the mouth. Soft, full mouthfeel with vibrant acidity. The finish is medium with pleasing notes of citrus, tropical fruit, and floral. Excellent pairing with grilled sea bass and rosemary quinoa.

Ogier Côtes du Rhône Artesis 2016

Deep, rich purple color. We decanted for about an hour before serving. On the nose, luscious aromas of blueberry, raspberry, and plum with spicy notes. On the palate, blackberry, black cherry, blueberry, and plum, with black pepper, baking spice, and vanilla. Notes of milk chocolate as the finish develops, ending with spicy black fruit. The mouthfeel and tannins are incredibly soft, round, and smooth, with medium acidity. We paired this with, of all things, carne asada tacos with a radish-cilantro salsa, and it was sublime. A truly amazing Côtes du Rhône.

Ogier Gigondas Dentellis 2014

Deep ruby color. Decanted for about an hour and pleasing aromas of raspberry, bramble, and black pepper. On the palate, there are flavors of cherry, red currant, cranberry, raspberry, and spice. At mid palate mineral and crushed granite notes emerge, along with hints of milk chocolate and black pepper. Medium body with mild tannins and acidity. We paired this with grilled Ahi tuna steaks, and the combination was amazing! The spice in the wine really enhanced the flavor of the tuna. This is a truly amazing wine!

Ogier Châteauneuf-du-Pape Reine Jeanne 2014

They call this the wine of kings, king of wines for a very good reason. Rich, complex, and delicious. Cherry red color with brick rim. Aromas of chocolate covered cherry, licorice, and smoke. On the palate there are flavors of black cherry, ripe raspberry, tobacco, licorice, cloves and other baking spice, and smoky notes. Tannins are firm but smooth, and ample acidity perfect for food pairing. We had this with grilled rib eye cooked medium rare, and it was heavenly perfection. Long, spicy finish with abundant red fruit and milk chocolate. Please may I have another?

As you can tell, we were very impressed with the wines of the Southern Rhône Valley. If you’d like to travel to the Rhône in a wine glass, head to your local wine shop and get yourself some of these amazing wines today!

Cheers

  • By Kent Reynolds and Robyn Raphael
  • Photo Credits, unless otherwise noted: Kent Reynolds

References:

Wine Tasting in Paradise at MauiWine

Nestled on the southwestern slopes of the Haleakala volcano, just past a stretch of white-knuckle switchbacks, near the community of Ulupalakua, lies an oasis. A wine oasis. Yes, a wine oasis in Paradise!

We had been planning a trip to Hawaii, to include a few days on Oahu, then a week on Maui. Knowing that there are now wineries in all 50 states, we turned to Google to find out where might be the Hawaiian wineries. As luck would have it, right there on Maui, there is MauiWine. We contacted them in advance to arrange a tour and tasting, and General Manager Joe Hegele graciously offered to be our personal tour guide.

MauiWine’s story is rich in history and culture. The winery lies on a property formerly owned by Captain Makee, a whaling captain in the mid-1800’s. The story goes that Captain Makee spotted the land while passing by the south side of Maui on the way to Oahu. He committed to himself that one day he would live there.

Prior to Captain Makee owning the land, however, King Kamehameha III leased it to a rancher,  L.L. Torbet, who established a plantation and ranch. Torbet raised potatoes, and during the California Gold Rush, bought a boat to carry his crop to hungry gold miners on the mainland. Unfortunately, his boat sank, and he lost everything.

Meanwhile, Captain Makee was having his own challenges. A crewman aboard ship, upset at being denied leave, snuck into Captain Makee’s cabin at night, and attacked him with a hatchet. The attack failed, the crewman escaped, and Captain Makee decided it was time to retire. After settling in Honolulu, he eventually followed through on his commitment to settle on the land he had seen on Maui. In January 1856, he purchased the Torbetsville plantation, establishing a home and cattle ranch.

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Having survived the attempt on his life, Captain Makee came to understand that life is a gift, and devoted his days to celebrating life. He loved the local roses, Lokelani, and dubbed the property Rose Ranch. He soon became known for his hospitality and day’s long parties. Dignitaries, including Hawaiian King Kalakaua and Queen Kapiolani would visit for hula dancing, poker games, and relaxation.

Even today, the property is considered sacred ground. As you enter, in front of the King’s Cottage, you pass a hula circle, carved from cypress trees planted in the 1870’s for King Kalakaua, known as “the Merrie Monarch”, who would sit and watch hula dancers on that spot. The cypress trees stood for nearly 150 years, until a storm in 2012 brought two of them down. Local artist Tim Garcia, was brought in to carve the remaining trunks into representations of King Kalakaua, hula dancers, and vessels. Joe said that even to this day, ōlapa (hula dancers) from around the world will visit the MauiWine Hula Circle to perform their dances.

Joe has a long-standing connection to Rose Ranch. He was raised here from the age of five. Though he did head to the mainland to attend college and gain some work experience, he returned to Rose Ranch five years ago to manage winery operations.

Once known only for their pineapple wines, under Joe’s direction, MauiWine has undergone renaming, rebranding, and the expansion of their grape wine program. Though they do source juice from the mainland, their 16 acre vineyard is planted to several varieties, including Syrah, Grenache, Viognier, and Chenin Blanc.

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Unlike most vineyards, where sun exposure is paramount to encourage ripening, the MauiWine vineyards biggest threat is fruit rot. With the humid climate in Hawaii, the vines and grape clusters here are pruned to encourage air flow. This includes a canopy management program focused on leafing, rather than shade, and fruit drop to open up the clusters. From flower to fruit set, they have about a 40% conversion rate. They have also been experimenting with grape shattering, which further reduces rot risk. All of the vineyards are harvested, then field sorted to ensure only the best fruit comes in. No sorting tables are used in the winery.

At about 2,000 feet elevation, and relatively short sun exposure; just 11 to 12 hours per day, despite to the tropical location, MauiWine is considered a cool climate vineyard, with average temperatures in the mid-70’s. The grape growing season on Maui runs from about January through August. The early season helps to avoid hurricanes, which could – and have – damaged crops.

On August 8, 2014, Hurricane Iselle made landfall on Maui. Harvest had begun, but the entire 6 acre Syrah crop remained in the vine. Winds from the hurricane blew the vines over and there was fear the crop would be lost. However, MauiWine put out a call on Social Media, and volunteers arrived to help. The harvest came in, and production went on as normal. It turned out the the vines were not severely damaged, and they continue to produce today.

When most people think of wine from Hawaii, they think of pineapple wine. And they’re not necessarily wrong. Pineapple is a year-round crop, which enables MauiWIne to run it’s production year-round as well. More than 84,000 pounds of Maui Gold pineapple is processed at MauiWine each month, and turned into three different styles of wine. 

This may come as a surprise, MauiWine pineapple wine is NOT the syrupy sweet wine you may be expecting!We had the opportunity to sample all three pineapple wines offerings:

Hula o Maui – Pineapple Sparkling Wine

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A brut sparkling wine made entirely of Maui Gold pineapple. Pale straw color, with vigorous streams of bubbles. Dry and fruity, and quite tasty. Produced in the traditional champagne method, this is a serious bottle of bubbles, that also doubles as a playful mixer for mimosas!

Maui Blanc – Off-dry Still Wine

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Here’s a wine sure to please the Mosacto lovers in your party. Semi-dry but with plenty of character and depth. Also produced from 100% Maui Gold pineapple, this wine would pair nicely with spicy foods. This was the first wine produced by MauiWine, back in 1977, while waiting for their grape vineyards to mature. Don’t miss this one of a kind wine!

Maui Splash – Pineapple Wine infused with Passion Fruit

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The sweetest of the trio, and perhaps the most popular. It retains the pineapple character, but adds a splash of tropical sweetness on the palate and finish. It’s like a day at the beach, in a glass. Great on it’s own, or add a splash of soda for a refreshing spritzer. In production since 1992.

As good, and intriguing, as the pineapple wines were, the real treat of our visit was the personal tasting of the Rose Ranch Wine and Estate Wine lines. MauiWine is proud of their pineapple wine, and as we learned, there is good reason for that. Still, the vineyard is the passion project, and the one that intrigued us most. Joe hosted us in The Old Jail; an historic building on the property that was once, well, the local jail. MauiWine has updated the space nicely – no dank cells and bread & water here – this is as upscale a tasting venue as we’ve ever visited. While most guests enjoy tastings in the King’s Cottage tasting rooms, club members and others looking for a deeper experience may reserve personalized tastings in the Old Jail. Here, Joe poured us samples of the best that MauiWine has to offer.

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No. 001 – Traditional Method Sparkling Wine

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From the Estate Collection. A crisp, delicious wine, made from 60% Chardonnay and 40% Pinot Noir. The juice is sourced from California, from a well known Napa producer (but who cannot be named for proprietary reasons.) Vigorous streams of fine bubbles rise in the glass. Flavors of almond, yeast, and fresh-baked bread, with apple and pear, and a nutty finish. If I didn’t know this was a MauiWIne, I’d swear it was from Champagne!  

LoKelani – Sparkling Rosé

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A Rose Ranch Wine Collection wine. A brut sparkling wine made from Syrah and Pinot Noir. Very pale pink. Honestly, neither of us would have known it was a Rosé if Joe hadn’t said so before pouring. Flavors of strawberry, cranberry, and some citrus notes. Quite a delight!

2017 Ulupalakua Vineyards Viognier

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Another from the Estate Wines collection. We are big fans of well-made Viognier. And we’re now big fans of the Ulupalakua Vineyards Viognier! Dry, with floral aromas and flavors of apricot, citrus, and mineral notes, with a spicy finish.

2017 Ulupalakua Vineyards Rosé

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Estate Collection. A blend of 90% Syrah and 10% Grenache, and an interesting blend it is. The Syrah from Block 2 is farmed specifically to be vinified into Rosé, in the maceration method; harvested early to preserve acidity, and left on the skins after harvest for a very short time, just to add some color. Meanwhile, the Grenache portion is made in the Saignée method, in which the grapes are pressed for red wine production, and a small portion is bled off (saignée in French) to intensify the color of the red wine. The bled off portion is then made into a Rosé wine, and in this case, added to the Syrah Rosé. The result is a delightful, dry, crisp Rosé wine with flavors of strawberry, cherry, raspberry, and tropical fruit.

2017 Ulupalakua Vineyards Grenache

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Estate Collection. You might think of Grenache as a full-throttle, big red. In this case, you couldn’t be more wrong. This Grenache is as elegant and restrained as we have ever had. Pale ruby color; crystal clear (look at that color in the photo!) But don’t let the pale color fool you. This beauty is bursting with flavors of black cherry, plum, licorice, and earthy notes. It is bone dry, with zippy acidity and a spicy finish. Joe recommends serving slightly chilled, and since that is how he served it to us, we absolutely agree!

2016  Ulupalakua Vineyards Syrah

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Estate Collection. This is the big, bold, meaty red you’ve been looking for! Inky purple color. Big flavors of crushed blackberry, chocolate-covered cherry, licorice, and earth. Big, chewy tannins balanced with medium acidity, On the finish there is kirsch and mineral. A stunning wine, indeed!

After we wrapped up our Old Jail tasting, Joe escorted us on a walking tour of the winery production area. MauiWine is a study in contrast; the vintage, plantation-style buildings housing the facility and cellar are juxtaposed with state-of-the-art winemaking equipment. Joe pointed out their new bottling line; a shiny stainless steel workhorse that has the capability to seal bottles with all four major wine closures: traditional cork, screwcap, crown caps (part of the sparkling wine production, for secondary fermentation), and the familiar sparkling wine cork, secured with a wire cage. The facility, view, and surroundings are all very impressive, and well worth a visit! Tours are complimentary, so come on up!

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Before delivering us into the capable hands of the tasting room staff, Joe had one more surprise for us. We followed him a couple of miles back up the road to the vineyards. Joe mentioned to us that the vineyard is greatly protected and generally reserved for staff and family. The views here are spectacular, and the photos we took simply cannot do them justice! On the slope of Haleakala, overlooking the Pacific Ocean, the Kaho’olawe island, and the U-shaped volcanic crater that is Molokini, the views literally took our breath away. Rather than try to describe it, just enjoy the photos.

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With Hurricane Lane approaching, we asked Joe if any special precautions were necessary. Not very many vineyards or wineries have to contend with hurricanes! Joe said that all of this years’ harvest is in, so there is no worry about the fruit. The only concern is loss of power from winds and falling trees.

After we returned to the King’s Cottage tasting room, Joe introduced us to Denae and Tamara, two of the friendly and knowledgeable staff members. There, we sampled Pineapple Wines (described above), the rest of the Rose Ranch Collection, and a taste of the 2012 Syrah – the hurricane wine!

Kula – White Blend

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Photo Credit: MauiWine.com (not sure what happened to our photo!)

An enticing and delicious blend of 44% Sauvignon Blanc, 44% Viognier, and 12% Muscat. Lots of citrus and tropical fruit flavors. Dry, yet fruity with zesty acidity.

Mele – Red Blend

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Racy and delicious, this is a blend of 40% Syrah, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Merlot, and 10% Sangiovese. Medium body with smooth tannins, flavors of blackberry, raspberry, and cherry, with hints of green bell pepper and black pepper spice.

Sway & Stride Blend

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An Aussie style blend with 80% Syrah (or Shiraz, if you prefer!) and 20% Viognier. Nicely balanced and delicious, with blackberry, cherry, and spice.

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Cool embossed label!

Ulupalakua Vineyards GSMV

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Photo Credit: MauiWine.com (another one we were so into we forgot to take a picture.)

Not your typical GSM! Grenache, Syrah, Malbec, and Viognier. Big and bold, yet elegant, with violet, blackberry, cranberry, and tobacco notes.

2014 Ulupalakua Vineyards Syrah

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The hurricane wine! Very few bottles remain, and are available only in the tasting room. This is an amazing wine of deep character and flavor. RIpe blackberry and plum, earth and tobacco. Big, bold tannins, with a long, satisfying finish.

We were honored that Joe hosted us as guests of MauiWine. Relatively small in production, with about 30,000 total cases annually, and their estate wine releases range from about 100 to 400 cases each, they are mighty and impressive. Although available for purchase online, they are well worth a visit if you happen to be in Hawaii.

In conclusion, Robyn would like to share her personal impressions:

As we planned for our trip to Maui and our visit to MauiWine, I envisioned that it would be beautiful and unlike any winery I had experienced thus far. I had no idea how understated my vision was. I may be back on the mainland, but I can assure you that my experience has left a lasting impression.

The rich legacy of culture, the majestic grounds, the sense of value for close relationships with staff and customers, and the passion behind how MauiWine came to be, is a hidden treasure.

When Joe explained how the climate is unlike any other traditional grape growing region and that even all the “experts” truly can’t predict the outcome of a crop, I said, “it’s like a big experiment every year?” To which he replied, “exactly”, with a smile on his face!

Like a biography, Joe described the triumph, heartbreak, and thrill, that is MauiWine. The common thread connecting all of them is passion!   

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Mahalo, MauiWine!

  • By Kent Reynolds and Robyn Raphael
  • Photo Credits, unless otherwise noted: Kent Reynolds and Robyn Raphael

Review: Famille Sadel Vacqueyras 2015

The Sadel family is passionate about fine wine. Famille Sadel founder and president Alexandre Sadel established Vin Sadel in Bordeaux in 2014, and has since expanded to the Rhône Valley in southern France. The first family estate is located in Saint Émilion, the famous right bank village in Bordeaux, known for world class Merlot-based red blends. Moving south, the Sadel family chose Vacqueyras, in the Rhône Valley, to produce their next line of wines. This multi-generation wine producing family believes that making great wine takes skill, but is also an art form. We couldn’t agree more! The family approach to wine making is based on three fundamental principles:

“First, we select each plot and each grape variety. Then, our Cellar Manager collaborates for each cuvée at the birth of a new masterpiece, the assembly of which guarantees the complexity. Finally, each vintage is vinified, then elevated with patience and compassion.” – Vin Sadel Website

Understanding the importance of terroir in the winemaking process, and the unique identity of each plot of vines, the family selects the finest grapes each year for use in their wines. Their goal is to achieve excellence in each vintage, that is consistent year after year. This is achieved by the knowledge of each vineyard plot, and the great care that goes into tending those vines.

The Vin Sadel portfolio is broad and impressive. They range from bold Bordeaux Rouge wines, like the Montagne Saint-Émilion, composed of 60% Cabernet Franc and 40% Merlot, to a crisp Bordeaux Blanc, a 100% Sauvignon Blanc white wine. There are Rhône Valley reds and whites from Côtes du Rhône,  and reds from Vacqueyras, and Gigondas. Rounding out the selections are a Rosé de Provence and, in collaboration with a Burgundian winegrower, a Macon-Villages Chardonnay.

With an impressive lineup like this, when we were given the opportunity to sample the Famille Sadel Vacqueyras, there was no hesitation in our gladly accepting!

The wine presented here is a media sample, offered for review. All thoughts and opinions are my own. No other compensation was received.

Famille Sadel Vacqueyras 2015

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A traditional GSM (Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre) Rhône blend. Pours brick red, then fills the decanter with a deep, rich, burgundy color. Initial aromas burst from the bottle with ripe blackberry, black cherry, with a bouquet of fresh cut lavender. As it opens up in the decanter, raspberry and mineral notes emerge. On the palate, bright flavors of raspberry, bing cherry, and blueberry, with licorice, tobacco, smoke, and mineral. Layers of depth and structure mingle with medium, firm tannins and bright, lively acidity. The finish lingers long with red fruit, spice, and chocolate. Excellent food-pairing wine, great with grilled chicken thighs and corn on the cob.

Though relatively young, especially in French winemaking terms, Famille Sadel in making a very positive impression and is gaining in popularity. Their Vacqueyras certainly impressed us! Not widely available yet in the United States – they only recently began distribution here – be sure to look for their labels. If you just can’t wait, and happen to be in Paris, you can stop by their wine shop, Maison Givas, located at 6 rue Vauvilliers, 75001 Paris.

Cheers!

  • By Kent Reynolds, with creative inspiration from Robyn Raphael

Experience Alexander Valley, Day 2 – Clos du Bois, Trione, and Alexander Valley Vineyards

If life is full of disappointments, Alexander Valley is a refreshing breath of fresh air. Robyn and I had been invited to attend Experience Alexander Valley, and we were looking forward to our Sunday Experiences; Yoga in the Vineyard for both of us in the morning, and a Spa Treatment in the afternoon for Robyn. Alas, a few days before the event, Rosie, from Alexander Valley Winegrowers contacted us to let us know that, because not enough guests had signed up for those two Experiences, the host wineries were forced to cancel them. Fortunately, however, there were plenty of exciting Experiences available from which we could choose.

So, Sunday morning we headed to Clos du Bois winery for an exploration of Marlstone Through the Years. When we arrived, our host, Chris, greeted us in the tasting room with a chilled glass of Lightly Bubbled Chardonnay; a delightful and refreshing unoaked, frizzante wine, perfect for the warm day. Thankfully, the previous day’s record heat had abated, and Sunday was more seasonal in the mid-80’s, so our tour of the demonstration vineyard, with chilled Chardonnay in hand, was quite pleasant.

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You may know Clos du Bois; their “Classics” series wines are widely distributed in wine stores and supermarkets across the country. What I didn’t know, and you may not either, is that in 1978, Clos du Bois was the first winery in Sonoma County, and only the second in California, to produce a Meritage wine. Contrary to popular belief, the word Meritage is not French, and is not pronounced as a French word. Meritage is a term coined by a group of American vintners to identify American made, Bordeaux-style blends. The term is a conjunction, representing Wines of Merit, Vines of Heritage. The pronunciation rhymes with Heritage – as “Meri-tidge.”

Clos du Bois’ Meritage wine is called Marlstone. As Alexander Valley is a prime Cabernet Sauvignon region, Marlstone is dominantly Cabernet Sauvignon, with Merlot as the secondary component. However, in any given year, the blend can include some or all of the other five noble grapes; Malbec, Petit Verdot, and Cabernet Franc. Here’s where the real fun began!

After the vineyard tour and some barrel tasting, Chris escorted us into a private tasting room where we got to taste through all five components, and the finished Marlstone 2014. Once we had our baseline, we got to create our own blend to see how close we could come to the winemaker’s version. Each component was spectacular on its own, and it was amazing to experience the changes as we blended them in the glass. I don’t know how the others did, but my blend was nowhere near as good as the Marlstone!

After lunch, Robyn and I parted ways again so we could cover more Experiences for you. (You’re welcome!) Robyn spent the afternoon at Trione Vineyards & Winery for a Bocce Ball Tournament, while I enjoyed a mountain-top Cabernet Sauvignon tasting at Alexander Valley Vineyards. Here’s Robyn to tell you about her Experience:

When I arrived at Trione, anticipating the Bocce Ball Tournament, they welcomed me outside with a glass of their tasty 2017 Sauvignon Blanc. I sipped on the cool, crisp Sauv Blanc under the trellis, parallel to two Bocce courts. I sat with Henry Trione, son of the founders, and learned about the family and winery history. Trione Vineyards & Winery was established in 2005. The winery building was completed in 2008. The winery is located next to an historic 1908, beautiful stone building, which the family restored and is now an event center.

As the Bocce Ball Tournament got started, since Kent was across the valley, I needed a partner. Luckily, as promoted, there was a handsome instructor to teach me the rules. I was quickly “adopted” by wine club member, Meredith, and her husband. For a while, we were in the lead. Although not a Bocce veteran, I do enjoy a good game of corn hole, and my accuracy is not too bad. I think my dead-eye aim came in handy on the Bocce court!

Adding to the friendly vibe, throughout the tournament, we sipped on Trione Rosé of Pinot Noir 2017. It was so good; I had to bring a bottle home to share with Kent. It’s a crisp and refreshing wine, and the perfect thirst quencher on the Bocce court. Sadly, our luck didn’t hold, and we lost the round. No worries, it was super fun and it’s always all about the company. Oh, and the wine! Cheers!

While Robyn was getting her Bocce on at Trione, one of Alexander Valley’s newer wineries, I headed across the valley to one of the older wineries, Alexander Valley Vineyards. There, Head of Operations and Family Partner Harry Wetzel met us for a history lesson and Cabernet Sauvignon tasting. Alexander Valley is named after Cyrus Alexander, who settled in the area in 1840. Fast forward to 1962, when Harry and Maggie Wetzel (our host’s grandparents) bought a portion of Cyrus’ original homestead. In time, they planted a small vineyard, and in 1975, their son Hank produced the first vintage of Alexander Valley Vineyards wine.

As we toured the property, Harry took us to The Adobe, the oldest structure in Sonoma County, and one-time home to young Cyrus Alexander. We also saw the old, 1868 Alexander School, a one-room schoolhouse, moved from its original location, just down the road, in 1972. Finally, Harry drove us up to a mountaintop picnic bench, set with a flight of Alexander Valley Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon. We tasted through the 2016 Estate, the 2015 Organic, the 2014 Reserve, the 2012 Single Barrel, and the 1999 Wetzel Family Estate. I normally gravitate to slightly younger wines, but the 18 year old 1999 was amazing; mature, soft and subdued, yet still retaining juicy fruit notes. (Yea, I bought some.) I don’t know which was more amazing; the fantastic wines, the breathtaking view, or having 45 minutes to visit with the family partner of such an historic and wonderful winery.

As we headed down the mountain back to reality, I got Robyn’s text that her Experience was winding down. Back across the valley, I picked up Robyn and we reluctantly headed home. We enjoyed our time at Experience Alexander Valley, and have a new love for the region. We will definitely be back!

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Be on the lookout for next year’s event. We encourage you to come and Experience Alexander Valley for yourselves. Please. We really want to do Yoga in the Vineyard next year!

Cheers!

  • By Kent Reynolds and Robyn Raphael
  • Photos by Kent Reynolds and Robyn Raphael

Experience Alexander Valley, Day 1 – Medlock Ames and Stonestreet

It was with eager anticipation that we set off on our journey to the first annual Experience Alexander Valley. We’d been invited as guests of Alexander Valley Winegrowers*, and based on all we’d heard about this new event, we knew we were in for something special. We wrote a couple of preview pieces, which if you missed them and want to catch up, you can read here, and here. But the previews don’t come close to capturing the magic and adventure that Experience Alexander Valley delivered.

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* As guests, our event admission was complimentary. We received no other compensation or incentive. All descriptions, opinions, and reviews are our own.

Like many wine country events, this was a two-day adventure. Unlike many wine country events, rather than racing from winery to winery, guests got to choose two Experiences per day. Since we were invited as bloggers, to cover and promote the event, Robyn and I wanted to participate in as many Experiences as possible…to a point – we do enjoy each other’s company! So we decided “divide and conquer”, at least for a couple of Experiences. We each selected one Experience per day to fly solo, and one to attend together.

Saturday dawned clear and bright. And warm.  Weather forecasters predicted highs near 103F, and they weren’t far off. This meant that many outdoor Experiences had to be canceled or at least modified. Nevertheless, we were undaunted and headed from our hotel to Robyn’s first destination, deLorimier Winery. I’ll let Robyn tell the story of her Experience herself. Watch for her blog post in a few days.

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I had a bit of a drive to get to my first Experience, at the Medlock Ames Winery. Though they have a tasting room on the valley floor, they wanted to treat guests to a Sustainable Winemaking Experience at their vineyards and production facility. The drive was beautiful, along the east side of the valley, then up Chalk Hill Road. The thing that struck me most: No Traffic! I was virtually alone on a Saturday morning in Wine Country.

Turning onto a single lane road, I started to get a little nervous that my trusty Google Maps might have failed me. It was a paved, single lane road, so that was hopeful. Alas, my trust in Google ran out two hilly ridges in. I turned around, beginning what would be a 30 minute detour that ended up taking me right back where I was. Around a curve about 100 yards beyond where I’d turned around was the entrance to Medlock Ames. Sigh. I’d done it to myself, and was almost 45 minutes late!

Fortunately, friendly Isabella saw my plight and left her post in the tasting room to rescue me. She came out into the already 90+ degree day, and caught me up with the small group on the outdoor tour. Isabella handed me off to Chelsea, who was leading the two other guests, Jimmy and Maryanne, on a tour of the grounds.

Medlock Ames is a sustainable, organic winery, and includes a one-acre vegetable garden, and a one-acre fruit garden. Due to the heat, we were not able to walk to those gardens, but still got a brief overview of the property and history. Chelsea led us to the shade of a large tree at the edge of a vineyard. There she told us that the two acres of vines were looking at were nearly ripped out when owners Chris Medlock James and Ames Morison purchased the property in 1998. The vineyard had been planted by the previous owner, a sheep rancher, and nobody knew what variety they were. Ames, the head winemaker, was hesitant, however, and decided to walk the vines before excavation. He found a tag on a vine, from a nursery in New York. After a call to the nursery and some research, and they found the answer: Merlot. But not just any Merlot. These vines are Jefferson clones; descendants of vines that Founding Father Thomas Jefferson brought from France to his Virginia estate! With that kind of pedigree, the former Tulane University roommates decided to leave the vines in.

All Medlock Ames are made from 100% organic, estate grown fruit. The winery is fully solar powered. Of the 338 acres on the estate, only about 55 acres are farmed, leaving the rest of the land to its native flora and fauna. There are more than 800 olive trees, five retention ponds for irrigation, and at least 50 barn owl boxes on the property. To help conserve energy, the barrel room is underground, below the production facility.

Speaking of the barrel room, where better to continue the tour on such a hot day? After a brief visit among the fermentation tanks upstairs, we ventured down into the 55 degree cellar to meet Ames, and enjoy some barrel tasting.

The beauty of the Experience Alexander Valley event is that the three of us had about 30-45 minutes of interrupted time with the head winemaker. (I was enjoying myself too much to keep track of time.) We could ask whatever questions we wanted, and he took the time to answer in a way we could all understand. You don’t get that on a party bus tour!

Ames is clearly passionate about what he does, and is very knowledgeable. He thieved us samples of their 2017 Lower Slope Chardonnay, the 2017 50 Tons Cabernet Sauvignon, the 2017 Kate’s & B’s Cabernet Sauvignon, and the 2017 Secret Ingredient Malbec. Each of the wines has a nick-name, and a story. The Kate’s and B’s is named after Chris and Ames’ wives; Kate is Ames’ wife, and B (stands for Bradley) is Chris’ wife. They chose the very best grapes from the very best vineyards to make the wine with their wives’ names on it. Smart men!

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From the cellar, we walked back up to the tasting room where Chelsea hosted us in a wine and cheese pairing. The cheeses are all local, Sonoma County artisan cheeses, and paired each of the wine amazingly! I’ll let the pictures tell the story here.

As we were finishing up, I got Robyn’s text letting me know her Experience was over, and she was ready for me to come get her. So I didn’t have time to explore the preserves, marmalades, and olive oils they make with estate fruit. No worries though; that gives me something to look forward to when I bring Robyn on our next visit!

After a quick lunch break, we headed to our next Experience, this time together. Turning up the tree-lined drive to Stonestreet Estate Vineyards, we were taken with the beauty of the property. Here, we were to enjoy a chocolate and Cabernet Sauvignon tasting. Originally scheduled outdoors on their beautiful patio overlooking the valley and nearby Mayacamas Mountain range, they thankfully relocated the tasting indoors, in their air conditioned tasting room.

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We were greeted by DTC (Direct to Consumer) Manager, Michelle, and our host and guide for the day, Tasting Room Manager, Samantha. Having never heard of Stonestreet before, we were in for a bit of a surprise.

Video credit: Stonestreet Estate Vineyards

Stonestreet Estate Vineyards owns a large chunk of the Mayacamas Mountains we had admired as we entered the property. 5500 acres, to be more specific. Yet of those 5500 acres, only 800 acres are planted to vines. Committed to sustainable and environmentally friendly winemaking, when the owners purchased the land in 1995, they conducted wildlife studies; migration patterns, breeding grounds, etc. and planted around those areas so as to not disturb the native wildlife. This also helps to keep the critters out of the vineyards. But that wasn’t the biggest surprise. Stonestreet Estate Vineyards is part of Stonestreet Farms, located in Kentucky. Stonestreet Farms breeds thoroughbred race horses, very successfully, including such standouts as Rachel Alexandra (depicted in the beautiful statue on the grounds.) The founder of Stonestreet Farms was Jess Stonestreet Jackson. Jess Jackson. Yes, the Kendall-Jackson Jess Jackson! Surprise! Who knew?

Now on to the chocolate and Cabernet pairing. Some might think that it is difficult to pair chocolate with Cabernet Sauvignon, and it can be. The wine is often too tannic to work well with the creaminess of the chocolate. But Stonestreet sent samples of the wines for the pairing to the local pastry chef they’d commissioned for the event. She, in turn, created the chocolate confections to match each of the wines. It was exquisite! While it was hard to select a favorite, if forced, I’d say mine was third from the left, the Chocolate Budino with huckleberry compote. Robyn fell in love with the Opera Cake (second from left) made with dark chocolate genoise, espresso cream, and topped with a sprig of lemon thyme. Each of the single vineyard Cabernet Sauvignons paired perfectly with the chocolates.

Running a little ahead of schedule allowed Samantha to give us a brief tour of the barrel room, and some photo ops. We also had a chance to sample their Meritage, Bordeaux-style red blend. Made from all five of the noble grapes, it was amazing!

 

And that’s it. Just two Experiences per day. I’ve prattled on long enough for now, and we’ll cover Sunday later. Robyn will write about her solo Experiences in separate post, too. Oh sure, there was the fantastic blues concert at deLorimier Saturday evening, but Robyn will write about that in her first Experience post.

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The biggest takeaways for us on Saturday were these: One, Alexander Valley is a hidden gem; a peaceful wine oasis mere minutes from the crowds and bustle of Napa. There was virtually no traffic all weekend, and no crowds, either. Sure, the heat may have kept some away, but Sunday was much cooler and yet no more crowded.

The other takeaway was this: though the lack of crowds was nice, Experience Alexander Valley was noticeably under-attended. Experiences had capacity for up to 24 guests. Of the four I attended, two had only three guests, one had four, and one had seven. Intimate to be sure, but really, folks, come out next year and let’s make this an event, an Experience, worth repeating! You’ll remember your Experiences forever.

Cheers!

  • By Kent Reynolds, with Robyn Raphael
  • Photos by Kent Reynolds and Robyn Raphael, unless otherwise noted.