Posts belonging to Category Russian River Valley



Napa 2013: Land ‘O Cab Discovers… Pinot Noir??

2000 ft above the Napa floor

2000 ft above the Napa floor

The Napa Valley is where the greatest Cabernet wines in the world are grown and produced. Move over Bordeaux. Lafite, Petrus and Mouton do not command any greater prices than Shrying Eagle or Harlan Estate or a host of ever newer Napa grown ultra-exclusive collectors’ labels. Napa is home to The French Laundromat where a meal for $600 is considered fair market among the 1%ers that populate the valley. Napa has all the excess to match the best that Bordeaux and Michelin have. Robert Mondavi, godblesshim, realized his dream with a vengeance.

Imagine our surprise when we learned that a new wave of non-Cabernet wines has swept through quite a few of the valley’s better know and longer established wineries. We realize that the legacy grapes, i.e., Charbono, Petite Sirah, Zinafandel, planted by the original international farmers have always had a warm spot somewhere in the back of the cellars. And Carneros still grows and produces pretty darn good Pinot Noir. But who knew that Viognier, Sangiovese and Chardonnay were back in the Valley. Or even moreso, that Pinot Noir and Alsatian style white wines are being sourced from the cooler Anderson Valley to the north? Oh yeah. And these wines are very good.

FionaHalCROPWEBLet’s begin with Barnett Vineyards. You will not find a nicer couple atop Spring Mountain than Fiona and Hal Barnett. And you will not find a more spectacular view from their “tasting patio.” They selected their vineyard home in the 1980s, cleared rocks the size of small tractors, and planted Cab and Merlot. The first vintage of Rattlesnake Hill [ed. they encountered 33 rattlers clearing the land] was awarded 96 points by Parker and their maillist filled up. Maybe they got bored with Cab blends. Maybe they figured it was a good winery idea to offer Pinot Noir. I think Fiona and Hal like Pinot Noir. Sometime in the 1990s they started sourcing juice from Donnelly Creek and  Savoy Vineyards in the Anderson Valley and Tina Marie Vineyard in Green Valley. They make between 6,000 and 8,000 cases a year. David Tate is the winemaker.

2011 Barnett Vineyards Tina Marie Vineyard Green Valley Pinot Noir $45: Technically this is Russian River Valley although it is at the northernmost end. Lots of cherry fruit, definitely New World style. But fruit is not so ripe. Sweetness like baked yams. Best of all is the alcohol level is 13.2%.

tasting "patio"

tasting “patio”

2011 Barnett Vineyards Anderson Valley Savoy Vineyard Pinot Noir $45: More lean, brighter acid, charcoal toughness. Great style for Pinot. 13.5%

Pride Mountain Vineyards is 500 feet further up the road form Barnett. No winding single-lane driveway here as the winery straddles the main drag on the Sonoma/Napa County line. Pride Cabernets are highly collectible. The place is less haimish than Barnett. They also have a strong maillist. Barnett and Pride are highly “collectible” earning mid-90 scores from whoever awards these vintage after vintage [ed. in the trophy wine world today’s 90 is yesterday’s 87]. And on that score they are downright cheap at $60 and up. However, we found a white wine to be the most seductive.

2011 Pride Mountain Vineyard Mistrelle de Viognier $42: Served chilled. Bright yellow color with a slight spritz. Quince flavors from free-run Viognier juice. The wine is sweet and refreshing given the solid acid spine. But it is NOT late harvest. What a delight. This could give any summer Moscato a run except you could buy 4 bottles of Moscato for the price! I think it may only be available at the winery. You need a collectible mentality to seek this out… and pay for it! 14.1%

anne_grapesWEBAnne Moller-Racke [ed. pronounced ahna molar rake] is the winemaker for three labels: Donum Cellars, Stemmler Vineyards and her own Blue Farm label. Driving out to the Donum estate is a bit like driving through that Wyeth painting Christina’s World. Rolling hills of grass and vineyards. We passed a guy outside his car who was watching a very large snake on the roadside. Wish I had  stopped and taken a picture! It was all forgotten as Anne told us about herself and poured tastes from five bottles of Donum Gold Label Pinot Noir [ed. black label less costly and presumably for earlier drinking]. She is a farmer who manages the vineyards for several clients including those mentioned. She grows and cooks her own produce and raises cheep. Vigneron, farmer, gardener, cook. Think Renaissance Woman.

These Donum wines were highly extracted and very intense. They were all light to middle weight and dark red. The last domestic Pinot Noir wines I can recall like these were the East and West Block vineyards from Rochioli. I was a bit embarrassed when she finally asked me after I commented once again “so intense” whether I liked the wines.  I told her if I had these wines I would not touch them for 5 years. They all tasted like Pinot Noir which is not the case for similarly structured Central Coast Pinot Noir wines which almost uniformly taste like Syrah [ed, Jim Clendenen’s Pinot Noir wines being the exception]. Donum Estate produces about 2500 cases a year. Usually sold out by now.
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2010 Donum Estate Carneros Pinot Noir ~$70: Earthy, spicy character. Dark chocolate color and flavors. Blockbuster. 14.5%

2010 Donum Estate Russian River Valley Pinot Noir ~$72: Intense flavors, dark color. Needs aging. Reminds me of Bergstrom from Ribbon Ridge in the Willamette Valley. If the Carneros is dark choco with the softer fruit this is milk chocolate. 14.5%

2010 Donum Estate Carneros East Slope ~$80: Extracted. I have never tasted a Pinot Noir this s-e-r-i-o-u-s from Carneros. The antithesis of Sainstbury. If McKenzie-Mueller is rustic this is regal. Both need time to mature. Bob Mueller’s Pinot Noirs always pay off after 8 to 10 years. I am certain these will as well. 14.5%

2010 Donum Estate Carneros West Slope Pinot Noir ~$85: The MOST intense and extracted wine yet. Dark, brooding. Rhubarb and red beet flavors. She says they dropped a lot of fruit for this batch. My fave. 14.5%

2010 Donum Estate 10th Anniversary Pinot Noir ~$90: A blend of the best three barrels from the vintage. Anise on the nose and in the mouth.  Maple syrup and pancakes. Yummy good. The most approachable wine form the top fruit. Two barrels came from West Block parcels. 14.5%

Napa is where you can count on finding great wines and Big Reds. It is also still a wine region where things are still changing. Kirk Venge told us there is a “changing  of the guard” taking place in Napa. We visited Charles Krug and you do not get more old-school-stuck-in-their-ways than that. However, the brothers Mark and Peter Jr. have assumed the reins and have made several big moves including building a new storage facility/tasting center. Most importantly, they hired Stacy Clark away from Pine Ridge Vineyards. She had been there for 30 years.

Napa felt more settled this visit. Do not go to Napa for value. Go for the unexpected. Now there’s a change.

in memoriam: tBoW webmeister Al Stone has moved on to a better place. I came across a cartoon he sent me once with the recommendation to use it at an appropriate time. No time like now.

physician-bloggersWEB

Roller Girl Skates thru Fog of Summer

We know it’s the thick of summer when cognitive haze from the PM seems indistinguishable from the typical cloudy overcast in the AM. Looking back is easier than being there if we glide like Roller Girl does in the outstanding Burt Reynolds comeback film [ed. tBoW has Le Large cinematic hangover, do scrutinize the trailer above and Heather Graham’s debut couch scene below]. Summer IS presently in full stride and we are not always able to describe all the wines we are sampling. Here are some of what has been left on the bar with a cork in it next to the detritus of night work. Quite a haul, too, with some really nice wines from Paso, Provence and Israel just to tease your curiosity. And there will be even more next week with the Field Mouse in town. (more…)

Tortured Wine and Fan Appreciation

The Sins of Wine and Truth in Tasting was never more apparent than recently when we pulled the corks on two big tickets and a super cheapie. Fall cellar purging is in full force as Dotoré realizes he is in danger of ending up in Wine Hell for his many sins. Here is the down low. (more…)

Vegas! Elvis!! Other almost forgotten pleasures.

Desert Kings

Somebody else is always getting married in Las Vegas. As good a reason as any to visit this forsaken cultural desert in a desert. There used to be two primary distractions in Vegas: gambling, aka gaming, and S-E-X. From a distance we observed that both industries are still alive and thriving. We could have used more distance at the poker table where we learned our game is more rusty than the Minnow on Gilligans Island. In fact, I channeled the doofus deck hand for hours as sharper minds ran roughshod over my pathetic attempts at winning hands. No matter. Once Internet poker is legal again I will be able to play at a table with similarly unskilled altacockers. (more…)

End of an Era: Williams Selyem Sells to a Discounter

There it was. The Williams Selyem 2008 Russian River Valley Pinot Noir; three bottles for $150. I’m not saying this was the same as walking up to a Vegas casino and having Willie Mays or Joe Louis greet you. But…not far from it either. More like walking over to the jewelry counter at Target and wondering how the Tiffany earrings ended up there at half off. In case you did not get the significance of having Williams Selyem wine offered on the cheap there was a TIP: “California’s first cult Pinot Noir producer, WS is one of the most awarded PN producer in CA history.” The offer was only available to the first 150 “members” of Lot 18; an invitation only discount wine website. The development of discount wine websites is a topic in itself. Consider the fine differences between WinesTilSoldOut and Lot 18. (more…)