Sunday, March 1, 2015

March 1, 2015 – My most important wine tools

There are a number of accessories one can accumulate that facilitate the regular enjoyment of good wines.  The number one item to have is a good, hand-operated cork screw.  Along these lines, I would recommend the basic, two-stage cork pull with either a hinge midway down the prop for the bottle lip, or a two piece solution where one slides out of the way for the other.  The fancy “rabbit” cork pull is fun to entertain with and works remarkably well on new corks, but it comes up short (quite literally) when pulling out old corks, often snapping the old cork in two (or more) pieces and leaving the bottle hopelessly plugged.  The number two item that I recommend is a decanter (and a little patience) to let the air soften the wine before serving.
From left: hinged cork screw, Ah So cork pull, and wine screen

When it comes to serving older wines, I have a different set of tools.  To ensure the complete, secure removal of the cork, I prefer the Ah So cork puller, with its two parallel slats that you wedge between the cork and the side of the bottle.  Once fully inserted, you twist the cork, loosening it, before attempting to list it out of the bottle.  Often an older cork will lock in place as crystals and sediment form against its interior surface.  Twisting the cork breaks this lock.  The next most important tool is a fine screen for filtering the wine.  Sediment accumulates in older wines and is unsightly and unpleasant on the palette.  These fine screens are ideally suited to capture nearly all of the sediment in any bottle and rinse clean easily.  Often, in restaurants, the last ounce or two of wine is not poured from an older wine to avoid transferring sediment into the glass, and the screen is a way to enjoy every last drop of your wine.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

December 14, 2014 – 2002 Rubicon Estate Red

When celebrating at a party, you bring a wine that is sure to please all, but not so grand that it would be lost on those who lack any appreciation for what excellence in wine-making can bring to a wine.  So, to honor the birthday celebrator directly, we shared a half-bottle of 2002 Rubicon Estate Red wine.  This wine is one of my top five favorite wines from my collection (and that is saying something).  I originally pursued this wine after noticing that Wine Enthusiast rated it 98 points, and I figured “just how bad can it be?”.  So, I picked up a half-bottle and opened it – wow!  I immediately sought out a case of half-bottles to hold for special occasions (like tonight).  The wine is performing remarkably (as are the best 2002 Napa Valley Cabernets), and is starting to shed a small amount of its power in favor of elegance.  The palette is wonderfully balanced and complex – enough so that describing its flavors would be pointless and might rob you of some of the fun of enjoying this wine.  Suffice it to say that it is developing consistently with other 2002 Napa Valley Cabernets that I have opened so far, only wonderfully so.
2002 Rubicon Estate Proprietary Red

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Twomey Cellars, Napa Valley, November 24, 2014

Tasting Room - 6 / Wines - 7
Range:  1 to 9 (9 is best, 5 is average)
Quiet tasting room south of Calistoga.  Pinot Noirs and Merlot.

When I first discovered Twomey Cellars, they had a Merlot and a Sauvignon Blanc that they poured.  It wasn’t until a while later that I discovered they also make some fantastic Pinot Noir wines from four different wine-growing regions in California.  While the Calistoga tasting room is nice in its own right, it cannot compare to the magnificence of the Russian River tasting room that they also operate.  Luckily, the same wines are poured in both places.  If you are a fan of Pinot Noir (a Pinotphile?), there are only a few options for you in Napa Valley, and even fewer that offer a lineup of Pinot Noir sourced from the best regions in the state of California.  Here at Twomey, you have the opportunity to compare Pinot Noir grown in the Russian River Valley, Anderson Valley, along the Sonoma Coast, and Santa Maria to the south.  You may have to return a few times to experience them all, but they often have two or more open so you can compare them side-by-side.
The cozy tasting room at Twomey Cellars in Calistoga

The Twomey Calistoga tasting room is done in an elegant farm-house style, with large patio surrounding the building like a veranda would.  The exterior of the building, including the framing around the doors and windows, is all white.  The simple gabled roof is a medium gray that lends a richness to the white.  There is a garden with a fountain off to one side where you can take in the fall color.  Inside, the tasting room is modest, though nicely appointed.  A curved tasting counter occupies one side of the tasting room, while a large window exposes some of the cellar operations to guests.  There is also a wine archive which has large windows for peering in and is framed in rich woodwork.  The dark gray floor tiles offset the white walls nicely and tie in the woodwork nicely.  Subdued natural light makes its way inside through a few windows, but there is no direct sunlight because of the porch overhang and the northern orientation of the room.  There are a few tasteful items for sale, including some women’s clothing accessories.
The wine library inside the Twomey Calistoga tasting room

On this visit, I was fortunate to be able to compare three of Twomey’s Pinot Noirs.  (Often you are limited to just two.)  I started with the 2013 Sauvignon Blanc, which shows that 2013 will be nearly as good a vintage for this grape as it was in 2012, albeit a crisper palette for the 2013’s.  This was followed by the three 2012 Pinot Noirs:  Anderson Valley, Bien Nacido (Santa Maria), and Russia River Valley.  Of these, the Anderson Valley Pinot was performing the best.  (The Russian River Valley Pinot may be starting to shut down.)  Finally, I enjoyed the 2010 Merlot.  While the Anderson Valley Pinot Noir was my favorite this time, the 2010 Merlot was remarkable in its own right.

Based on this experience, I would rate the winery as a 6 and the wines offered as a 7.  This is consistent with my previous visit.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

December 12, 2014 – Wines for a surprise party

A dear friend was having a birthday, and unbeknownst to him, he was having a small party to celebrate it.  My contribution was the wine.  Since I was invited about five hours beforehand, this was the best I could pull together after work (plus a card, or course).  We started off with a half-bottle of 2007 Clos du Val Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon and followed with a bottle of 2007 Provenance Vineyards Winemakers Reserve Blend.  Both wines flaunted the vintage characteristics, and both surprised me a little.  The Clos du Val surprised me by finally coming into its pulled-together stage, where good balance, softened edges, and delicious fruit prevail.  (This wine showed much promise when I first tasted it at the winery on release.)  The Provenance surprised me for the development of elegance it was undergoing.  Regrettably, this was my last bottle of the 2007 Provenance blend, but I have newer vintages standing by.  And this is probably the longest that I have aged any screw-cap bottle in my cellar to date (about five years now).  Tom Rinaldi, who was the master winemaker at the time, suggested that a screw cap could easily go about four to six years.  Implicit in his remarks was that he preferred corks for longer aging of red wine.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Saint Clement Vineyards, November 24, 2014

I had two motivations for my prompt return to Napa Valley this week.  First off, I was eager to try out my new SLR on the fall color in Napa Valley before any more weather stripped the foliage from the vines.  Second, I had a pickup at Saint Clement that I had missed by two days during my prior visit.  As I pulled into the valley from the south, I could see that I was nearly too late to capture any decent photographs of the area.  But, the further north I traveled, I soon learned that the weather had been a little more forgiving up this way.  I managed to capture a number of great shots.  (The geek in me took pictures with my point-and-shoot to compare with those from the SLR.)  And, my wine club shipment was ready for pickup as anticipated.  Had I delayed my trip any longer, I might have had to pay shipping so they could get my wine out from underfoot.
Some repurposed wine barrels at the winemaker's studio at Saint Clement Vineyards.

The weather was warm for late November so I opted to try some white wines with my flight.  I started with the new 2013 Bale Lane Sauvignon Blanc (which needs a little time to sweeten and integrate, but shows good promise).  Next I enjoyed the 2012 Abbots Vineyard Chardonnay.  Then it was on to the reds, starting with the 2011 Oroppas, then the 2011 Johanna (a red blend in my pickup), and lastly the 2010 Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon.  Of these, the Johanna was my favorite, but I picked up a bottle each of the Chardonnay, the Oroppas, and the 2010 Star Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon.

A full review was written already about Saint Clement Vineyards during my visit on May 12th, 2012.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

January 12, 2015 – Revisiting Fall Color

My most recent trip to Napa Valley was on November 24, 2014, and while I captured some amazing autumn color, it is clear that I missed the peak colors by several days.  The weekend before my visit had seen some heavy rains and strong winds that stripped the wines of some of their beautiful foliage.  Still, what remained shimmered and gleamed in the brilliant afternoon sun.  Here are some of my favorite pictures from my afternoon there.  I hope they help to warm you as the trees and vines now lie naked awaiting Spring’s next dress rehearsal and bud-break.

Along the Silverado Trail just north of the Yountville Cross

The view from the balcony at Miner Family Winery in Oakville

Behind the offices at Anderson's Conn Valley Vineyards

The driveway leading to Anderson's Conn Valley Vineyards
Conn Valley Road near Howell Mountain Road (looking south-west)

At Charles Krug Winery in Saint Helena

Friday, January 2, 2015

November 18, 2014 – Wine: 2005 Saint Clement Progeny Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon

Tonight was to be a special dinner, so I wanted an impressive wine to serve.  I had narrowed it down to one of two vintages of the same wine:  Saint Clement Progeny Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon (from Mount Veeder).  I had just one bottle of 2002, and a handful of the 2005, but I suspected that the 2005 was not yet ready.  Still, I figured the 2002 had yet to reach its full potential either, so I opted for the more plentiful wine, the 2005 (which I had previewed back in 2008).  My company for dinner was not nearly as patient as I, so we only let the wine decant about 20 minutes before starting to drink it up.  (My initial taste suggested a 90-minute decant would be needed, and nearly two hours later it was about ready.)  At first the wine was off-balance, edgy (fuzzy?), and lemony on the finish, but you could sense the power and complexity lurking beneath the maelstrom.  As the wine mellowed, its true nature emerged.  Indeed powerful, this wine was also balanced, complex, persistent, and delicious with flavors of dark currants, raspberry, dark cherry, dark chocolate, minerals, and black licorice.  It is still robust with tannins and should wait another five years to approach its peak potential.