Graham’s Six Grapes Reserve Port

For tasting notes, click here. This is Six Grapes new, lighter bottle. For why that matters, click here.

True Ports hail from the Douro Valley in Northern Portugal, and have done so for over three hundred years. The region’s predominant soil is schist, composed of various medium-grained to coarse-grained metamorphic rocks with laminated, often flaky parallel layers of micaceous minerals.  The low annual rainfall makes this probably one of the driest regions of the world where grapes are grown without irrigation. This terroir results in very low-yielding vineyards, with vines bearing only a very few small bunches of full-flavored grapes whose thick skins protect them from dehydration.

William & John Graham founded their eponymous company in Porto in 1820.  The Symington family has owned Graham’s since 1970, although their association with the firm goes back as far as 1882.

In addition to Graham’s, Symington owns several brands of Port, Madeira, and Douro DOC wines, including some of the oldest and most well-known Port and Madeira brands. With their extensive vineyard holdings and many Port brands, the Symingtons are often described as ruling over a “Port Empire.”

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Hope Family Wines Treana Cabernet Sauvignon

Treana Cabernet SauvignonChuck Hope and his wife Marlyn come to Paso Robles in California’s Central Coast in 1978 to farm, and eventually to start what would become Hope Family Wines. This early arrival put them on the forefront of the Central Coast becoming a world-class viticultural region. Initially, the Hopes planted apples and grapes in this then sparsely-populated area. Seeing the property’s potential for grape growing, Hope eventually replanted the apple orchards with grapes. Vine density was increased, and each vine was pruned to produce very little fruit.

Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, the Hope family grew grapes for various wine producers. In the 1980s, the Wagner family, owners of Napa Valley’s Caymus Vineyards, turned to the Hope family to source Cabernet Sauvignon grapes for their Liberty School label. Thus began a long-lasting partnership between the two families.

Since that beginning, in Paso Robles specifically and throughout the region generally, Hope Family Wines has built long-standing relationships with over 50 growers. They coordinate with farmers to carefully limit crop yields to ensure concentrated flavors.

In 1996,the Hopes acquired Liberty School from the Wagners. Also in 1996, they launched Treana Winery with Chris Phelps serving as winemaker.

At about this same time, while studying fruit science at California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, the Hope’s son Austin spent some time working in Napa Valley under Caymus winemaker Chuck Wagner. This opportunity solidified his decision to pursue winemaking for his family. He became the head winemaker in 1998, and has held the position ever since. Since taking the lead as president and winemaker, Hope has helped Hope Family Wines grow from producing around 20,000 cases per year to over 300,000 cases per year. Austin’s wife Celeste, a professional photographer, produces all winery-related photography.

Hope shared, “At Hope Family Wines, we believe that it is our job to demystify wine and make it approachable. As a beverage that often accompanies food, we need to get away from the rules and intimidation, and trust our individual preferences. I am excited to see the wine industry becoming more dynamic and approachable as younger generations embrace education through online sources that are right at our fingertips.”

In 2000, the family started a limited-production label, Austin Hope (surprise!), focused exclusively on Rhone varietals grown on the family’s estate vineyard, based on the calcareous loam, marine sediment, and dense clay soil  of the Templeton Gap, which has the coolest microclimate in Paso Robles. It closely matches the climate of the Rhône Valley in France, as well as Napa’s acclaimed Rutherford district. The winery’s now-mature vineyards produce Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Merlot, Mourvedre and Grenache.

In 2008, the winery introduced Candor Wines, a multi-vintage label focusing on Zinfandel and Merlot wines with fruit sourced from family-owned vineyards in Santa Barbara, Paso Robles, and Lodi. It introduced its second multi-vintage blend, named Troublemaker, in 2010.

The winery.

The tasting room.

Hope Family Wines is committed to sustainable growing practices that promote vine health, improve wine quality, and ensure that growers remain profitable. Spraying is only done when necessary, and never after August first. The number of tractor passes is kept to a minimum, protecting the integrity of the root structures and avoiding compacting the soil. The winery works actively to promote best practices in the vineyards of growers they partner with. They use the self-assessment tools put together by the Wine Institute and the California Association of Winegrape Growers to gauge progress and identify areas for improvement over time.

Treana Cabernet Sauvignon 2018

As a tribute to the three men who were early influences, his father Chuck, his uncle Paul, and Chuck Wagner, Austin Hope created Treana Cabernet Sauvignon.

After harvest, vineyard lots were fermented individually in stainless-steel tanks for 10 to 14 days. They were aged separately for eight months in a combination of 75% new barrels and 25% once-used, all 100% French oak. The initial blend was assembled in the summer of 2019 and aged an additional three months in 35% new oak, of which 85% was French and 15% was American. The wine was racked only twice, with the final racking occurring just prior to bottling.

This wine pours an inky red, with a sweet, lush nose of caramel and figs. It’s a little sweeter than I like for a Cabernet Sauvignon, with flavors of plum, black cherry, and blackberry. There was also a hint of smoke that I was not a fan of in this context.  There is a youthful acidity, but it would benefit from more pronounced tannins.

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Domaine Houchart Provence Tradition Rosé

Domaine Houchart Provence Tradition Rosé is produced and bottled by Vignobles Jérôme Quiot, a privately-held family company that has been making wine in the south of France since 1748.

This wine comes to us from Aix-en-Provence, which is just north of Marseille on France’s Mediterranean coast, the area known as Côtes de Provence (coast of Provence). The Mediterraneans have elevated summertime living to an art form, of course, and this wine is very much in that spirit.

Aurélien Houchart (1840 – 1918) studied at school in Aix, where Paul Cézanne and Emile Zola were among his fellow students.

Houchart was interested in agricultural problems as well as art. Toward the end of the 19th century he replanted the family’s vineyard at Puyloubier, which had been destroyed by phylloxera. He also had a winemaking cellar constructed there in 1890. This estate would much later become Domaine Houchart.

Aurélien’s son Hilaire (1885 -1939) served with honor in the French army during World War I.  Following the Armistice, he then dedicated the remainder of  his life to the upkeep of the family’s wine estates. Hilaire had two daughters, one of which was the mother of Geneviève who married Jérôme Quiot.

In 1984, Geneviève acquired the vineyard that had been owned by the Houchart family from 1896 to 1941, and named it after her great grandfather: Domaine Houchart.

In 2002, Domaine Houchart was combined with the Quiot’s Domaine de Verlaqueinto, both located at the foot of Mont Sainte Victoire.  Writing about the property in 1938 a journalist noted, “[It] consists of 60 hectares of which 56 are planted with vines. The vineyard is tended well and is composed of Carignan, Grand Noir, Grenache, white Ugni and Clairette grapes. Large, old cellars that have been transformed in order to adapt to modern winemaking equipment. Very good mechanical equipment, leading to high yields with the use of less manpower.”

Mont Sainte Victoire  Photo: A.M.H.

Once the domaines were joined, an extensive rehabilitation and updating of both the vineyard and winery soon followed.

The Quiots have two children, Jean-Baptiste and Florence. Today, they are the fifth generation of the family to work on the estate.

The Quiot family also owns and manages Domaine du Vieux Lazaret, Domaine Duclaux, Combes d’Arnevels,  and Château du Trignon along with Domaine Houchart.

Domaine Houchart Provence Tradition Rosé  2006

The vines for this wine grow in rough-textured clay and limestone soils formed from the decomposition of the mother rock from the surrounding mountains.

This rosé is a blend of 35% Grenache, 25% Syrah, 20% Cinsault, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Mourvèdre, and 5% other grape varieties. The wine has a very appealing light salmon color. It is fairly dry, with just a hint of sweetness. This is a perfect summer wine: light, uncomplicated, and highly approachable. The red berry and strawberry flavors are complimented by a clean but short finish. A white and a red are also available as part of the Provence Tradition line.

Enjoy this wine on its own as an aperitif before dinner, or pair it with sushi (beer and sake are certainly not the only options), seafoods such as shrimp with saffron rice, or mild cheeses after dinner.

Domaine Houchart Rosé

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7 Deadly Wines

7 DeadlyThe Phillips family has been farming in Lodi since the 1850s, and cultivating wine grapes since the early 20th century. The founders of Michael David Winery are brothers Michael and David Phillips. They released their first commercial wine in 1984 under the Phillips Vineyards label after years of growing grapes for other wineries on over 800 acres of vineyards in the Lodi AVA. The brothers are fifth-generation farmers who “raised their families in the vineyard,” and they have been joined by Mike’s son Kevin and daughter Melissa as the family continues to thrive. “We, more than most, understand the importance of leaving it better than you found it for future generations. Our family legacy and love of Lodi drive our focus on sustainability,” declared Michael Phillips.

7 Deadly Zins was named one of Wine Business Monthly‘s Hottest Small Brands in 2004.  It grew to more than 250,000 cases annually in its first 10 years, and now annually sells some 300,000 cases. “It appealed to all demographics, young people and old people,” David Phillips said. “It was just one of those brands that took off and we got lucky with it.”

The operation was sold to The Wine Group in late 2018. You can learn more about their extensive holdings here.

7 Deadly Wines are sourced from the vineyards near Lodi, located in California’s Central Valley. The soil here is mineral-rich, free-draining, and sandy. The warm days and cool nights of this Mediterranean-like climate are considered ideal for Zinfandel and Cabernet Sauvignon.

Key to their commitment to sustainability, 7 Deadly has met the Lodi Rules™ certification, based on grower farming practices that benefit the environment, community, and local economy. Launched in 2005, this was California’s first third-party-certified sustainable winegrowing program. By 2014, over 20,000 acres were “Certified Green” in the Lodi appellation. Lodi Rules is among the most rigorous and comprehensive sustainable winemaking programs in the country. It dictates over 100 sustainable vineyard farming practices across six areas, including:
• Water Management to conserve water use for the vines’ water needs.
• Integrated Pest Management to maintain a natural habitat for enemies of pests.
• Air Quality Control to minimize dust, reduce air pollution, and conserve energy.
• Soil Fertility to maximize soil nutrition for more concentrated fruit quality.
• Land Stewardship helps to preserve native plants and protect wildlife habitat.
• Human Resources programs provide comprehensive employee training for job safety, efficiency, and advancement opportunities.

7 Deadly Zins Old Vine Zinfandel 2017

This wine, 7 Deadly’s main selection, was first released in 2002, starting with 700 cases of the 2000 harvest.  According to the winery, “7 Deadly was born from a Catholic school upbringing, and our winemaker’s lust for hedonistically seductive wine.  Seven certified-sustainable vineyards were chosen for the inaugural vintage.  The Seven Sins were related to the seven old vine Zinfandels blended to create 7 Deadly Zins, now America’s favorite Zinfandel.”

Clear and dark purple in the glass, this wine starts with aromas of dark stone fruit and leather.  There is plenty of traditional zinfandel pepper on the palate, abetted by tart cherry and racy acidity.  It ends in a medium finish, with a bit of cardamom bitterness.

7 Deadly Cab Cabernet Sauvignon 2018

That “Zins” pun just doesn’t work when you replace it with “Cab,” does it?  A peril of trying to overextend a clever marketing concept.  Regardless, the wine itself works pretty well.  It has the same dark purple color of the Zinfandel, with plum, vanilla, and a bit of marshmallow on the nose.  Flavors of blackberry and bing cherry follow.  It has a rather thin mouthfeel, but well-structured tannins and a moderately long finish. It is an approachable and easy-drinking Cabernet.  The 2020 is the first release of 7 Deadly Cab.

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Teeling Irish Whiskey

Teeling WhiskeyBy Spirits Contributor
Neal Kotlarek

In 1782, Walter Teeling started up a small craft distillery on Marrowbone Lane in the industrial heart of Dublin City.

In 2012, two of Teelings descendants, Jack and Stephen, opened their new Teeling Whiskey Distillery just down the road from where the original family distillery once stood. It is the first new distillery in Dublin in over 125 years.

Alex Chasko is the Master Distiller and Blender. Originally from Portland, Oregon, he started his career working in the emerging craft-brewing scene on the West Coast of the U.S. After marrying in Ireland, he found himself looking to get into the Irish whiskey industry. Once he met Jack Teeling, it became clear that they shared the same vision, and Chasko became Teeling’s first  employee.

“The process of creating our whiskey takes around nine months start to finish, including pilot blends, trade sampling, cask selection, and scaling up to full production,” said Jack Teeling,

Bacardi purchased a minority stake in Teeling in 2017, paving the way for more widespread distribution.  This also gave them access to a huge catalog of spirits to use to experiment with on barrel finishes.


Teeling doesn’t chill filter their whiskies, to leave as much of the body, character, and flavor as possible. Prior to bottling, they are brought from cask strength to an ABV of 46%.

Teeling Single Grain Irish Whiskey

This is one of only a handful of single grain bottlings in the world. Made from 100% malted barley, it is matured in red-wine barrels, resulting in an intensely fruity, amber liquid with tastes of lush berry, dry fruits, citrus, vanilla, and spice.

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WALT Clos Pepe Pinot Noir

WALTWALT Wines, owned by Kathryn Hall and Craig Hall, is dedicated to the production of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay from the Pacific Coast, spanning nearly 1000 miles and including Sta. Rita Hills, Sonoma County, Anderson Valley, Napa Valley, and the Willamette Valley. They strive to source top fruit from the most distinctive vineyards; practice precise, non-interventionist winemaking; and focus on limited production. The goal is to allow the wines to naturally and honestly express the character of the sites where the wines are grown.

WALT Wines are named after Kathryn Hall’s parents, Bob and Dolores Walt. They were dedicated wine-grape growers who produced six different varietals that were sold to several well-known wineries. For the Walts, growing grapes was the satisfaction of a hard day’s work and the feeling of peace walking through the vineyard before sunset. Kathryn Hall managed the vineyard operations herself from 1982 until 1992.

In 2010 WALT expanded from grape farming to wine production. Today, the winemaking team is led by Vice President, Winemaking Steve Leveque (who also crafts the HALL Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon wines), and Winemaker Megan Gunderson Paredes. who work in a state-of-the-art winemaking facility aided by a passionate winery staff, and strong vineyard partners.

WALT’s methodology includes: night harvesting; hand sorting every berry; whole cluster pressing of Chardonnay; native yeast fermentation; barrel aging on lees to create more texture, richness, and complexity; and weekly batonnage and topping during the decidedly long malolactic fermentation. The wines are neither fined nor filtered. This can result in a bit of haze, but it is in keeping with the idea that the wine was made with the least intervention and with the highest-quality intentions. By sourcing fruit from quality growers and by utilizing the state-of-the-art winemaking facilities at HALL Wines, they strive to make the best wine possible, while keeping extremely limited production levels.

WALT’s estate vineyard, Bob’s Ranch, was purchased by the Halls in 2014 and is located in the heart of the Petaluma Wind Gap on highway 116 just south of Sebastapol.

WALT Clos Pepe Pinot Noir 2014

This Pinot Noir hails from Clos Pepe, an estate vineyard located in the Santa Rita Hills in the Central Coast region. This bottling is 100% Pinot Noir, and was barrel aged for 10 months. The dark red color is paired with a nose of strawberries, cherries, and cranberries. The smooth flavor features red berry, cocoa, and black pepper, with supporting warm oak and firm tannins. Although this wine is medium-bodied, it has a surprisingly long finish.

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OK, let me be clear up front: with an MSRP of $250, this is definitely not a bottle for the casual wine drinker.  But my well-healed and generous step-daughter bought it for me, so here it is.

Dominus Estate is owned by Christian Moueix, one of the few winemakers to produce classic wines in both the old and new worlds, and he is also one of the most well-known. The son of Jean-Pierre Moueix, a Bordeaux wine merchant, he  was born in Libourne, France in 1946. After completing his agricultural engineering studies in Paris and graduate studies in viticulture and enology at the University of California at Davis in 1968-69, he joined his father’s company in 1970 to manage the family vineyards, and in 1991 became its president. He oversaw the legendary Chateau Petrus for 38 years, ending with the 2008 vintage.

He remained drawn to Napa Valley as well, and in 1981 he was made aware of the historic Napanook vineyard, a 124-acre site west of Yountville that had been the source of fruit for some of the finest Napa Valley wines of the 1940s and 1950s.

In 1836, George C. Yount, the founder of Yountville, planted the first vines in Napa in this vineyard.  Owners since have included Hugh La Rue, a pioneer in the development of rootstock, and John Daniel Jr., the owner of Inglenook Winery who bought the estate in 1946.

Following Daniel’s death in 1970, Napanook passed to his daughters Robin Lail and Marcia Smith.  They began a partnership with Moueix in 1982, acting on a recommendation by Robert Mondavi.

Christian Moueix

Moueix applied what he had learned both in France and California to the project. His focus has been on dry-farming techniques to sustain a sound ecology, as well as a means to produce grapes of the finest quality. Dry farming relies on a deep root system to take advantage of natural water sources from rain and underground supplies. Electric golf carts are used extensively on the property to conserve gasoline, minimize dust, and reduce soil compaction. Owl boxes and bluebird houses provide homes to natural predators of vine pests and rodents.

Eventually, in 1995, Moueix became the estate’s sole owner, renaming it ‘Dominus’ (Lord of the Estate in Latin) to underscore his longstanding commitment to stewardship of the land.  He expanded Dominus in 2008 with the addition of a 40-acre vineyard in Oakville.

The Winery

The first thirteen vintages of Dominus were crushed and aged at the nearby Rombauer Winery.  However, in 1995 Moueix commissioned the design of a new $5 million, 50,000 sq ft facility by Swiss architects Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron,  Completed in 1997 , the Dominus Estate winery is dramatically low-slung, integrated into its landscape and offering panoramic views of the surrounding vineyard and hillsides.

The winery was Herzog and de Meuron’s first project outside of Europe. The architects have since designed numerous renowned buildings, including the Tate Modern in London, the Allianz Stadium in Munich, the Prada boutique in Tokyo, the de Young Museum in San Francisco, and the “Bird’s Nest” stadium in Beijing. In 2001, they were awarded the Pritzker Prize, contemporary architecture’s highest award.

The Winemaking

Separate fermentation is done on a lot-by-lot basis. Berry clusters are hand-sorted, complemented by an optical berry-sorting system. Gentle pumping-over is done to extract as much aroma, color, and tannins as desired. Racking is barrel-to-barrel in 100% French oak to remove sediment and assure clarification of the wine during aging, and egg-white fining eliminates impurities.

Dominus 2014

2014 in Napa Valley was characterized by a very dry early winter, with heavy rains in February and continued rainfall in March and April.  Average temperatures were higher than historical averages, with minor heat spikes in June and in July. No heat spikes were recorded in August or September.

This wine is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon: 86%, Petit Verdot: 7%, and Cabernet Franc: 7%.  It is an inky deep red/purple, with  cardamom and forest floor aromas.  There are booming flavors of blackberry and cocoa on the tongue., offset by very dry tannins.  Dominus is very much in the European style (predictably, considering Moueix’s experience on both sides of the Atlantic.)  The finish is long and silky.

This Dominus was aged in French oak, 40% new, and 4300 cases were produced.

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Coursey Graves Winery

Coursey Graves


Cabell Coursey

Cabell Coursey is a busy guy these days. In addition to being the winemaker at Lombardi Winery, he is also winemaker and co-owner at Coursey Graves Winery in Santa Rosa, California. He began his career in wine in Burgundy, where he worked his first harvest during an undergraduate semester abroad. After graduation, he returned to the States and pursued the menial but necessary chores of picking grapes, scrubbing tanks and barrels, and learning traditional winegrowing methods. He went on to toil in Oregon’s Willamette Valley, and later traveled to Christchurch, New Zealand, where he earned graduate degrees in Enology and Viticulture from Lincoln University. It was there he developed the passion for cool climate wines that guides his style today. Before starting Coursey Graves in 2015 with partner John Graves, Coursey made wine for Alder Springs Vineyard, DuMol, Flanagan, and Kosta Browne.

He is committed to constantly improving the wines he makes from vintage to vintage by understanding his vineyards and maximizing their quality.  He also feels obligated to mentor young winegrowers by teaching parameters they can use to customize and improve grape farming for better produce.

Coursey stated,  “I am interested in making wines that show the place where they are grown, taste great young, but also age [well]. With most wines, aging means maintaining. I strive to make wines that evolve, not just maintain.
Except for a little bit of Chardonnay, I grow all the grapes I make to wine. It’s important, because my team learns about the vineyard and can change how we grow the grapes to make better wines.”

John GravesJohn Graves began his career in computer technology, and after a decade spent working for others, he left to strike out on his own. Thirty years later he sold a successful B-to-B software business. He and his wife Denise used a portion of the proceeds to establish the Graves Foundation, whose mission is to provide disadvantaged youth in greater Minneapolis with access to the resources, opportunities, and caring relationships that will propel them to a successful life. Specifically, the foundation focuses on K-12 education reform and providing foster kids with support during the transition to adulthood.

Grave’s interest in wine began as a hobby, influenced by a good friend and by Robert Parker’s reviews in the Wine Advocate. At length his interest expanded until the desire to learn became a desire to own a winery. Serendipitously, about the same time his winemaker friend Cabell Coursey began talking about starting a new venture of wines in a style they both loved to drink and share. Graves acquired the existing Bennett Valley Winery, and the first vintage of Coursey Graves was bottled in 2017.

Bennett Valley AVA

In 1862, Santa Rosa winemaker Isaac DeTurk planted a vineyard on land he purchased from valley namesake James Bennett. DeTurk called his winery, the valley’s first, Belle Mount. However, the combination of phylloxera and Prohibition cleared the valley of vineyards. It wasn’t until the late 1970s that vineyards returned to Bennett Valley in a meaningful way at the pioneering Matanzas Creek Winery.

The Bennett Valley AVA is located south of Santa Rosa, on high ground between the Sonoma Valley and Cotati Valley. The AVA begins where the city’s suburban neighborhood known as Bennett Valley abruptly gives way to rolling oak woodland and horse pastures bordered by ancient stone walls.

This tiny appellation is one of the coolest AVAs in Sonoma County. This is because of  the Petaluma Gap, where a break in the higher coastal hills lets in cool winds and fog from the Pacific Ocean. Bennett Valley sits directly in the path of the initial incursion.   The fact that there is fog in all of the photos in this post is testament to that!

Although there are plenty of renowned wineries and vineyards throughout Sonoma, of course, the lesser-known vineyards of Bennett Valley quietly yield some of the area’s most highly concentrated fruit. This is because the well-drained volcanic soils of the area ensure that the vines grow deep root systems in search of hydration. Ultimately this leads to concentrated, complex wines, as the water-stressed vines will focus their attention on grapes, rather than luxurious foliage. The rocky soils coupled with the cool weather mimic the austere conditions of Bordeaux.

There are now 650 vineyard acres and four wineries in Bennett Valley, which was awarded AVA status in 2003.

The Coursey Graves Vineyards

Coursey Graves is located on vineyard sites 800 to 1500 feet above sea level on Bennett Mountain overlooking Sonoma, on the western edge of the ancient, volcanic Mayacamas Range that separates Napa and Sonoma. The winery, estate vineyards, and caves are built into the slope overlooking the Bennett Valley below. Eighteen acres are planted to Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Merlot, Petit Verdot, and Syrah.


In addition to the estate vineyard, Coursey Graves relies on two others as well. Nestled on the sloped edge of an ancient volcano, Coombsville Vineyard is home to sixteen acres of Bordeaux varieties growing between the red and black igneous basalt and the white, ashy volcanic tuff. At two thousand feet above sea level, Cabernet from Howell Mountain Vineyard benefits from much cooler daytime temperatures and slower ripening.

The wines

I have now had the opportunity to try eight of Cabell Coursey’s wines.  They all have a smooth and silky mouthfeel.  Thinking this had to reflect the intervention of the winemaker, I asked him about how he achieves that, and he had this to say,  “First is vineyard work.  I get up-front and mid-palate concentration through diligent effort in the vineyard, by managing fruit load to the amount of vine canopy, and careful applications of irrigation. I have some control over berry size, and therefore juice to skin ratio, by controlling how much water-stress the vines have at various times during the growing season. Extra stress at flowering and fruit set limits berry size, while more water increases berry size. I don’t have a standard plan each vintage, but rather change according to conditions.

“Second is tannin management during the winemaking process. Certain tannins (phenols) extract from grapes at different ranges in temperature. Also, they bind at different temperatures. I manage the temperatures during fermentation very closely and change to either extract, not extract, or bind, depending on taste and mouthfeel. I do use lab numbers to double check what I taste. However, it’s mostly by taste. After working with these vineyards and my cellar for a few years, I’ve started to learn where the wines’ tannins need to be at the end of fermentation to age properly upon the wines’ release and subsequent aging.”

Coursey Graves Chardonnay 2018

The fruit for this wine was sourced from the Durell and Heintz vineyards on the Sonoma coast. It was fermented in oak and stainless-steel barrels. It is light bright lemon yellow in the glass, which is appropriate as it opens with the smell of lemons, paired with a hint of melon and crushed stone. Those flavors continue on the palate, abetted by a zippy acidity and a suggestion of oak.  It wraps up in a brisk finish.  Only 91 cases were made.

Coursey Graves West Slope Syrah 2016

This 100% Syrah  hails from Coursey Graves’ estate vineyard in Bennett Valley. It is an opaque but brilliant purple color. It features aromas of dark red fruits. The rather lean palate offers flavors of blackberry and olive, with a bit of pepper at the end.  It’s all complemented by good  tannins and a moderately long finish. Production was limited to 268 cases.

Coursey Graves Cabernet Sauvignon 2016

This wine is 100% Cabernet Sauvignon (although in some years Coursey adds and just a bit of Merlot). The grapes were  mostly harvested from vineyards in Howell Mountain and Coombsville in Napa, as well as some from Bennett Valley in Sonoma.  The aromatics are of rich, complex dark fruit. On the palate the wine offers tart cherry, black cherry, red licorice, and cocoa. The  oak tannins are well-integrated and bracing.  According to the winery, it will be at its peak performance around 2023 to 2024, by which time those tannins will inevitably round out, if you prefer them softer. .192 cases were produced. 

Coursey Graves Bennett Mountain Estate Red Blend 2016

This elegant wine was my favorite of the quartet. The blend is 60% Cabernet Sauvignon and 40% Merlot, all from the estate vineyard in Bennett Valley.  This deep-red selection displays aromas of crushed rock and currant, with a hint of strawberry.  These are followed by flavors of dark plum, blueberries, crème de cassis, and a touch of vanilla, supported by fine tannins.  It offers an excellent example of Coursey’s super smooth, lush mouthfeel.  There is just a bit of dried herbs on the long finish.  234 cases were made.
Coursey Graves’ tasting room is located in downtown Healdsburg, just off the historic Healdsburg Plaza.

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Momokawa Ruby Fields Saké

Momokawa Ruby FieldsLet’s be clear about this right away: Saké, the national alcoholic beverage of Japan, is often called rice wine, but this is a misnomer.  While it is a beverage made by fermentation, the production process more closely resembles that of beer, and it is made from grain (rice, of course), not fruit.  To make saké, the starch of freshly steamed glutinous rice is converted to sugar and then fermented to alcohol.  Once fermented, the liquid is filtered and usually pasteurized.  Sakés can range from dry to sweet, but even the driest retain a hint of sweetness.

This saké is a domestic product from SakéOne saké brewery in Forest Grove, Oregon.  The company began as a saké importer in 1992, and in 1997 they expanded the operation and began brewing saké.

In premium saké, water composition matters a great deal. SakéOne’s founder chose Oregon because he believed that the best-quality water for saké brewing is in the Northwest.

The other crucial component is rice, and SakéOne sources its Calrose rice from the Sacramento Valley. Calrose is derived from Japanese saké rice and has several qualities that produce saké with more body, higher viscosity, and a long finish.


SakéOne’s modest tasting room.

Momokawa Ruby Fields Saké

Ruby Fields is a rich, full-bodied Junmail* Ginjo**  saké that opens with aromas of Granny Smith apples and bananas.  Those flavors continue on the palate, with the addition of a hint of cantaloupe.  It is moderately dry, with a fairly long finish.It is marketed as an upgrade to Momokawa’s Ruby  The ABV is 16%, and the SMV*** is -1.5. The rice has a polish of 58%, so 42% of the rice has been removed.  Serve chilled.

*Junmai is pure rice wine, with no added alcohol). Until recently, at least 30% of the rice used for Junmai sake had to be milled away, but Junmai no longer requires a specified milling rate.

**Ginjo designates that at least 40% of the rice has been polished away. If a bottle is labeled just Ginjo, distilled alcohol was added; if it is labeled Junmai Ginjo, no alcohol was added.

****An important gauge of saké  is the SMV (Saké Meter Value).  This measures the density of saké relative to water, and is the method for determining the dryness or sweetness of saké. The higher the SMV, the drier the saké. The range is -15 to +15.

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HALL Jack’s Masterpiece Cabernet Sauvignon

HALL Jack's MasterpieceJackson Pollock

Kathryn Walt Hall has a most impressive curriculum vitae. To touch on just a few of the high points, she is the proprietor of HALL Wines and WALT Wines [family businesses she has been involved with for over thirty years], was assistant city attorney in Berkeley, California, worked as an attorney and businesswoman in Dallas, Texas, and has served on numerous non-profit and institutional boards, with an emphasis on issues related to social care and mental health. From 1997 to July 2001, Ms. Hall served as the United States Ambassador to Austria. In the midst of this, together with her husband Craig she has raised four children.

HALL wines hail from five estate vineyards: Sacrashe (Rutherford), Bergfeld (St. Helena), Hardester (Napa Valley), Atlas Peak Estate, (Atlas Peak), and T Bar T Ranch (Alexander Valley). From these 500 acres come classic Bordeaux varietals: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Sauvignon Blanc. In each vineyard, small-vine farming is employed to produce low-yield, high-concentration fruit.

Reflecting Kathryn Hall’s long record of progressive activism, the winery is dedicated to environmental responsibility. Only natural products are used for weed and pest control, and the vineyards are certified organic. The farming operations use 50% bio-diesel fuel to reduce carbon emissions.

The St. Helena winery qualified for the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED®) Green Building Rating System, and was the the first in California to earn LEED Gold Certification.™

Finally, A portion of all business profits is donated to charity via the Craig and Kathryn Hall Foundation.

HALL Jack’s Masterpiece Cabernet Sauvignon

Each year, Hall’s former winemaker and current president, Mike Reynolds, returns to his first love and blends a signature Cabernet Sauvignon known as “Jack’s Masterpiece.” The wine is named for the label artwork created by Mike’s then 18-month-old son Jack as a Father’s Day gift.

This well-structured Cabernet is a blend from various vineyards across the valley. It features savory black cherry, cassis, cranberry, and spices, plus roasted herbs, cocoa, and mocha. There is toasted oak on the lengthy finish. The firm but supple tannins are built for long-term aging; it could cellar for up to 14 years. Those who love big, tannic Napa reds will enjoy this wine.

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Bota Box

Bota BoxThink Inside the Box

Summer’s finally here, and it’s time for all things casual. And nothing says casual like wine out of a box. But, yuck!, you say. Who wants cheap swill like that? Well, you don’t, and neither do I. Even though it delivers the convenience and economy only a boxed wine can offer, Bota is nonetheless a line of first-rate wines.

Delicato Family Wines, a family-owned California winery founded in 1924, launched Bota Box in 2003, taking inspiration from traditional Spanish wine skins known as “botas”, which were used to carry wine for centuries. “Bota Box is now the U.S. category leader in premium wine in alternative packaging, and its strong performance is driving the growth of the premium alt-packaging category as a whole,” commented Jon Guggino, Executive Vice President of Marketing for Delicato.  The brand has expanded by nearly 3 million cases since 2015, and exceeded the 7-million-case mark in 2019.  So, hardly a boutique operation.

The Bota Box design makes it possible to keep the wine fresh for at least 30 days after opening because there is no exposure to wine’s enemies: light and air (The poly bag inside the box collapses as the wine is removed.) The box itself is made from environmentally-friendly packaging consisting of 100% recyclable, unbleached, post-consumer fiber printed with soy-based inks.
And the box is highly portable. Take it camping, boating, poolside, to picnics, to the beach, or to your next barbecue. And, you don’t have to remember to bring a corkscrew.

Each box holds three liters, or the equivalent of four bottles of wine. With a retail price of about $20, that’s equivalent to five bucks per bottle. Hard to beat these days.

Bota Box includes ten wines: Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Malbec, Merlot, Moscato, Pinot Grigio, Old Vine Zinfandel, Riesling, Shiraz, and a red blend called RedVolution.

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LVOV Vodka

By Spirits Contributor Neal KotlarekLVOV Vodka

[FEB 28, 2022] ROYAL WINE TAKES A STAND IN SUPPORT OF UKRAINE. In a show of solidarity with the Ukrainian victims and refugees under attack by Russian forces, Royal Wine Corp. will donate 100% of the proceeds of the sales starting on 2/24/2022 through 3/10/2022 of two of their leading vodka brands – Xdar, which is a Ukrainian vodka, and Lvov, a Polish vodka named after the Ukrainian town Lviv – to Emergency Ukraine. The donation will be at a minimum of $30,000.

“Royal Wine stands with the people of Ukraine and we demonstrate our support for their independence,” said Mordy Herzog CEO of Royal Wine Corp. “While we are all praying and hoping for peace to return to the region we feel compelled to help in a meaningful way. Civilians are putting their own lives on the line to protect democracy and national identity. As a flagship Jewish-American business, we are committed to their material and moral sustenance in their fight for freedom.”

LVOV [Luh-voff] premium Polish vodka offers excellent value for the money. Crafted in the old tradition from potatoes (and thus gluten-free), it is distilled four times, then filtered four times through an activated carbon and candle process for smoothness. It features a hint of mineral taste with a touch of sweetness, and a slightly herbal aroma. This is a refined, mellow sip to add as part of your favorite cocktail or enjoyed on its own.

Because home freezers don’t get cold enough to freeze spirits, many people (us included) like to stash their vodka there for ready-to-go enjoyment.

LVOV Smash
2 oz. LVOV Vodka
5 grapes
1 slice serrano pepper
1 lime wedge
1 sugar cube
Dash orange bitters

Directions: Muddle all the ingredients in a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake well and pour everything into a cocktail glass. Garnish with remaining serrano pepper and lime wedge.

LVOV Sparkling Sea Breeze
1½ oz. LVOV Vodka
1½ oz. cranberry juice
1½ oz. grapefruit juice
1½ cups ice cubes
1½ oz. sparkling water
1 lime wedge

Directions: Fill a cocktail shaker with vodka, juices, and ice cubes. Cover and shake. Fill a glass with sparkling water. Strain vodka mixture into sparkling water and garnish with lime wedge.

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Bartinura Sparkling Moscato Rosé

Bartenura Sparkling Moscato RoséThis estate-bottled Bartinura Sparkling Moscato Rosé is a light refreshing bubbly that maintains a nice balance between the sweetness and the acidity. Perfect to drink while watching the sunset on a summer night, it will also accompany seafood, lighter grilled meats and veggies, and pair especially well with fruits (try grilled peaches or nectarines!) and dessert. Great for parties, too. On warmer days, enjoy it with hors d’ oeuvres on the patio or sipping ice-cold poolside. It has been flash pasteurized for mevushal certification.

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Cline Cellars

Cline CellarsEverything Old is New Again

As you enter Sonoma county from the south on California 121, one of the first wineries you encounter is Cline Cellars, and there could hardly be a better introduction to the Carneros AVA.

Even as a young teenager, Fred Cline learned to make wine from his grandfather, Valeriano Jacuzzi (yes, he of the hydrotherapy tub, as well as many other innovations). With a $9000 inheritance from Valeriano, in 1981 Cline founded the eponymous Cline Cellars in Oakley, California.

The winery was relocated to its current location in 1991. The property is the original site of the Mission San Francisco de Solano, the 21st and final of the historic California missions. Although the mission was moved in 1823, the Cline tasting room is located in a rustic 1850s farmhouse that is original to the property, surrounded by spring-fed ponds and thousands of rose bushes. The vineyards also reflect this history, with vines ranging from 80 to 120 years old.
Cline is one of the first of the pioneering Rhone Rangers, a group dedicated to wines from the grapes of the Côtes du Rhône in France (ironic for a boy with an Italian grandfather, no?)

Cline also has been a pioneer in sustainable farming. It is the second-largest completely solar-powered winery in California. Natural cover crops are used to nourish the soils, sheep and goats roam freely as they graze on weeds, and compost teas are used as fertilizer. “We’d be considered ‘organic’ if we wanted to follow the rules of the government,“ said Cline. “We are actually more sustainable [than the law calls for] by not following their organic rules.“ He calls his methods “beyond organic.”

Cline Cellars Ancient Vines Mourvèdre Rosé 2017

C’mon! Don’t be afraid! Summer’s here, and what could be better than rosé? There are all kinds of dry, crisp expressions available, absolutely none like the dreaded cloying White Zinfandel of days gone by. This selection is an excellent place to start.

Fresh herb and strawberry aromas are followed by tart watermelon and just a hint of lemon peel and thyme flavors in this medium-bodied, smooth, and rather soft-textured wine.

Excellent as a well-chilled aperitif, or pair it with raw oysters, lobster Newburg, or planked salmon.

Cline Cellars Ancient Vines Zinfandel 2017

The grapes for this Zin were planted by Italian and Portuguese immigrants in the sandy, phylloxera-resistant soils of Oakley, California, more than 100 years ago. Ancient, indeed. This dusty-ruby colored wine is lively and supple, with raspberry and baked stone fruit aromas. Tart cherry predominates on the medium-full body, complemented by medium tannins, moderate vanilla oak, and just a hint of pepper.

Serve this up with venison sausage and smoked gouda pizza, Kentucky burgoo, or barbequed duck.

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Codigo 1530 Tequilas

By Spirits Contributor Neal Kotlarek

Anyone keeping abreast of celebrity news knows that tequila is a hot market. In June2017, actor George Clooney and his two partners sold their tequila company, Casamigos, for around $1 billion. Their initial investment was $1.8 million. In May 2007, rock musician Sammy Hagar sold an 80%  stake in tequila company Cabo Wabo for $80 million.

Entrepreneurs Frederico Vaughan and Ron Snyder got the bug—or is it worm?—to start a tequila brand while they played a round of golf together at Cabo San Lucas in Mexico. Vaughan’s favorite local distillery is located in Amatitán where a family has been producing tequila for five generations. The tequila begins with fully-matured agave aged over seven years, which is cooked in stainless steel ovens, fermented utilizing a local organic family baker’s yeast, and distilled twice in stills handmade by the distilling family themselves.

“The secret of Codigo 1530 tequilas begins with the best blue agave in Mexico, the purest water in all of Mexico, and yeast from a local bakery,” confirmed Vaughan. “We then age the tequila in French Oak wine barrels out of Napa Valley.”

The varieties of tequila that come from this process differ based upon the resting time and the charring of the barrels.

Blanco is an unrested tequila that’s clear and pure. Rosa has a pink tint from the aging in the wine barrels and is a delicious sipping tequila. Reposado is aged for six months and serves up a smooth, vanilla and caramel flavor to pair well with food. (An 18 month old Añejo and six year old Origen are also available.)

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