Casa Castillo Las Gravas 2020

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The Jumilla DO [Denomination of Origin] is located in the Levante region of eastern Spain, about 60 miles west of the coastal town  of Alicante. With over 100,00 vineyard acres, the area has long been associated with big, high alcohol red wines.  The sun-baked landscape sees 300 days of sunshine per year and a low amount of rainfall. But the soils are very good: deep, not very compact, and with great water retention potential.

Since 1991 José María Vicente has been the third-generation owner and operator of the Casa Castillo winery. When his grandfather bought the estate in 1941, situated on the slopes of the Sierra del Molar, the property had an existing winery, a cellar built by Frenchmen fleeing the phylloxera plague in 1870, and a few scattered vineyards.

Originally Casa Castillo was a farm growing wild rosemary, and became an estate producing rather ordinary grapes for local wineries. On his first visit to France, including the whole area of the southern Rhone,  Vicente was surprised to see that Monastrell, called Mourvedre there, was considered a very noble variety with great aging potential. This led him to reconsider the supposed “improving varieties” that he was planning on planting to help give a supposed complexity to the Monastrell at Casa Castillo, and instead focus entirely on the study and development of that varietal as the true protagonist of his wines. Continue reading “Casa Castillo Las Gravas 2020”

Frank Family Carneros Chardonnay 2020

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Nestled amid the picturesque landscapes around Calistoga in Napa Valley lies a story that spans generations. It all began in 1993 when Rich and Leslie Frank embarked on a journey to establish Frank Family Vineyards, unaware of the rich tapestry of tales woven into the very soil they tread upon. Little did they know that they were about to become stewards of a legacy that stretches back to the late 19th century.

Larkmead Lane, where the Frank Family Vineyards stand today, has a storied history. It was once graced by the presence of Lillie “Firebelle” Hitchcock Coit, who was a patron of San Francisco’s volunteer firefighters and the benefactor for the construction of Coit Tower in San Francisco for whom it  was named.

Lillie Hitchcock Coit

In 1948, the property was purchased by one of Napa’s pioneering winemakers, John Solari. It next passed to a German-born sekt (sparkling wine) maker named Hanns Kornell, who established Kornell Champagne Cellars in 1958 (not to be confused with Korbel California Champagne). The following year, Kornell’s daughter Paula was born, and the winery continues to this day as the Paula Kornell Winery in a different, and undisclosed, location. (Stories have been told of Marilyn Monroe making annual visits to Kornell to stock up on the bubbly.) Continue reading “Frank Family Carneros Chardonnay 2020”

Genora Skin Fermented White Wine 2022

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Among the picturesque vines of the Château de Villemajou, nestled in the heart of the Corbières in 1975, a young Gérard Bertrand harvested his first grapes, unknowingly embarking on a lifelong passion for wine. Under the guidance of his father, Georges Bertrand, Gérard honed his skills and absorbed the values of performance and excellence instilled in him through his years on the rugby fields of his first vocation.

Gérard Bertrand (born January 27, 1965) represented France, RC Narbonne, and the Stade Français. But before and during his rugby career, he apprenticed in his father’s vineyards for twelve years.

“In 1975, when I turned 10 years old, I discovered winemaking and my family’s estate for the first time. I really fell in love with this part of my father’s business. Even though I didn’t know it was going to be my journey in life, I really enjoyed it. My father taught me, coached me. And every summer, I spent 45 days taking care of the vineyard with my sister, then two weeks working on the cellar,” ” he reminisced.

Tragically, in 1987, fate ihttp://taste#ntervened as Gérard’s father passed away in an accident, thrusting him into the role of stewardship over the family estate, Domaine de Villemajou. Undeterred by adversity, Gérard forged ahead, founding the Gérard Bertrand wine company in 1992, with a vision to showcase the wines of the South of France. With a dedication reminiscent of his sporting days, he set out on a mission to unearth the finest terroirs of his region. Continue reading “Genora Skin Fermented White Wine 2022”

Roederer Estate L’Ermitage Brut 2015

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Louis Roederer [Road-ur-ur], a distinguished champagne producer situated in Reims, France, traces its origins back to 1776, when it began as Dubois Père & Fils. While its early days were marked by still wine production, the focus soon evolved to embrace the art of crafting fine champagnes. The business underwent a transformation under the stewardship of Louis Roederer in 1833 when he not only inherited but also renamed the company for himself.  He boldly ventured into international markets, focusing particularly on Russia. This endeavor gained him immense recognition, including from Tsar Nicolas II, who appointed Louis Roederer as the official wine provider to the Imperial Court of Russia.

Created in 1876, the wine made for Nicolas’ grandfather, Alexander II, was the first Cuvée de Prestige (Prestige Cuvée) of Champagne and is called Cristal, referring to the unusual clear glass of the bottle. The Tsar had pointed out to his sommelier that the design of a standard champagne bottle made the beautiful color and effervescence of champagne invisible to the eye. He therefore instructed Roederer that his personal cuvée be served in bottles made of transparent crystal glass with a flat bottom (allegedly to foil the insertion of explosives in the indentation by would-be assassins) to remedy this defect. Thus was Cristal born, and the first notion of a premium cuvée. For more than a century, the appearance of the patented Cristal bottle has remained unchanged. After the fall of the Russian monarchy in 1917, Roederer decided to continue producing Cristal and to market it internationally, and it remains one of the world’s most sought-after champagnes in the world.

Continue reading “Roederer Estate L’Ermitage Brut 2015”

Cava de Oro Tequila Extra Anejo

You could spend $100 on this incredibly sweet tequila.  Or, you could buy a bottle of agave syrup for $5 and a mid-range Blanco tequila for $20, mix them, and get basically the same result.  I got through the bottle by making Millionaire’s Margaritas, which were actually pretty tasty.

Millionaire’s Margarita

3 oz. absurdly sweet and expensive tequila, such as Cava de Oro Extra Anejo  or Clase Azul Reposado

1 oz. Grand Marnier

2 oz. Rose’s Lime Juice

Serve over ice in glass with salted rim.

Cost for a single margarita: For the Cava de Oro: $15 at home, $45 in a bar (at least).  For the Clase Azul, $23 at home, $70 in a bar.

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Eight Years in the Desert 2022

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Orin Swift Cellars was a relative newcomer on the California wine scene, having been established in 1998, but not by “Orin Swift,” as I had long assumed. Rather, it was by the now iconic, and iconoclastic, winemaker David Phinney. Orin is Phinney’s father’s middle name and Swift is his mother’s maiden name.

Phinney, a native Californian, was born in Gilroy (the “Garlic Capitol of the World”), the son of a botanist and a college professor. However, within a week he was in Los Angeles, where he spent his childhood, and finally an adolescence in Squaw Valley. He enrolled in the Political Science program at the University of Arizona, with an eye towards a law degree, but before long became disillusioned with both. At this juncture, a friend invited him on a trip to Italy, and while in Florence he was introduced to the joys of wine, and soon became obsessed.

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Penfolds Bin 704 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2018

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Until Yellow Tail precipitated the boom in “critter wines” in 2000, it can be argued that Penfolds was just about synonymous with Australian wine in the U.S.  The label is ubiquitous here, in both grocery stores and fine wine shops. Prices range from about $12 per bottle for the Koonunga Hill Shiraz-Cabernet, to $850 for the legendary Grange, and everything in between.  (That $850 is doubly amazing, because just five or six years ago Grange was “only” about $200.) The selections are mostly reds plus a few whites and even a tawny Port.

Founders Dr Christopher and Mary Penfold immigrated to Australia from England in 1844, bringing their own French vine cuttings. Not long after, their fledgling vineyard was officially established as the Penfolds wine company at the 500-acre Magill Estate in Adelaide.

The Penfolds were believers in the medicinal benefits of wine, and they planned to concoct a wine tonic for the treatment of anemia.  Initially, they produced fortified wines in the style of Sherry and Port for Dr Penfold’s patients. The operation enjoyed early growth, and since Dr Penfold was focused on his medical practice, much of the running of the winery was delegated to Mary Penfold, including the cultivation of the vines and wine blending. On Christopher’s death in 1870, Mary assumed total responsibility for the winery. According to one historical account, by that time the business had “grown to over 60 acres with several different grape varieties including Grenache, Vverdelho, Mataro (aka Mourvedre), Frontignac and Pedro Ximenez,” and the estate was “producing both sweet and dry red and white table wines with a growing market in the eastern Australian colonies of Victoria and New South Wales.” Clarets and Rieslings were especially popular. Continue reading “Penfolds Bin 704 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2018”

Whitehall Lane Leonardini Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2018

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In the heart of Napa Valley’s historic Rutherford appellation lies Whitehall Lane Winery, with a rich history dating back to the mid-1800s. Established in 1979 by Art Finklestein and Alan Stein, the winery has evolved through the hands of different owners, each contributing to its legacy. Today, under the stewardship of the Leonardini Family, Whitehall Lane continues to produce world-class wines, garnering accolades and awards for its dedication to excellence.

Napa Valley settlers were drawn to the gravelly loam soils and ideal climate over 150 years ago, planting high-quality grapevines at what is now the Whitehall Lane Winery site. The estate vineyards, located in the Rutherford Appellation, stand testament to the enduring allure of the region’s quality soils.

Control of the property has been transferred numerous times. Guiseppe and Rosalie Baranzini owned it in the 1940s and ’50s. Davis Bynum held the land in the 1970s, but failed to secure a winery permit (although not long after he would become the first vintner to produce single-vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir), and sold to Howard Allen. He also was unsuccessful at establishing a winery, and sold to Art and Bunnie Finklestein and Art’s business partner and brother, plastic surgeon Alan Steen, and his wife Charlene in 1979. It was they who finally successfully founded Whitehall Lane on the 25-acre vineyard, setting the stage for the winery’s future.  (Allen went on to be a long-time grower for Williams Selyem, starting in 1980.)

Their first vintage was in 1981. Seven years later, the Finklesteins sold the winery to Japanese-based real estate investor Hideaki Ando. (The Finklesteins remain a well-known winemaking family in Napa, currently operating Judds Hill Winery. Continue reading “Whitehall Lane Leonardini Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2018”

Louis Roederer Champagne 2015

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Louis Roederer [Road-ur-ur], a distinguished champagne producer situated in Reims, France, traces its origins back to 1776, when it began as Dubois Père & Fils. While its early days were marked by still wine production, the focus soon evolved to embrace the art of crafting fine champagnes. The business underwent a transformation under the stewardship of Louis Roederer in 1833 when he not only inherited but also renamed the company for himself.  He boldly ventured into international markets, focusing particularly on Russia. This endeavor gained him immense recognition, including from Tsar Nicolas II, who appointed Louis Roederer as the official wine provider to the Imperial Court of Russia.

Created in 1876, the wine made for Nicolas’ grandfather, Alexander II, was the first Cuvée de Prestige (Prestige Cuvée) of Champagne and is called Cristal, referring to the unusual clear glass of the bottle. The Tsar had pointed out to his sommelier that the design of a standard champagne bottle made the beautiful color and effervescence of champagne invisible to the eye. He therefore instructed Roederer that his personal cuvée be served in bottles made of transparent crystal glass with a flat bottom (allegedly to foil the insertion of explosives in the indentation by would-be assassins) to remedy this defect. Thus was Cristal born, and the first notion of a premium cuvée. For more than a century, the appearance of the patented Cristal bottle has remained unchanged. After the fall of the Russian monarchy in 1917, Roederer decided to continue producing Cristal and to market it internationally, and it remains one of the world’s most sought-after champagnes in the world.

Continue reading “Louis Roederer Champagne 2015”

Le Vigne Cuvee Speciale Blanc de Blancs

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Le Vigne Winery, translating to “The Vineyard” in Italian, stands as a testament to the Filippini family’s rich heritage and commitment to traditional winemaking. For close to a century, Le Vigne has dedicated itself to crafting exceptional wines that reflect the distinct characteristics of both the vineyard and the vintage.

The Filippini family’s connection to the Paso Robles region dates back to the early 1960s, when Sylvia Filippini’s family acquired the property that would later become Le Vigne Winery. Initially focused on hay and cattle farming, the landscape underwent a significant transformation in 1982 with the planting of the first grapevines. This marked the beginning of Paso Robles’ evolution into a prominent wine region, driven by its unique soils, climate, and coastal influences.

Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon were among the initial varietals planted. The grapes from the estate quickly gained acclaim among local producers, prompting the Filippini family to venture into winemaking in 1989. A state-of-the-art winery was established in 1995, accompanied by additional vineyards in 1998. The winery expanded its portfolio to include Merlot, Syrah, Sangiovese, and Cabernet Franc, alongside the original plantings of Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay. Small blocks of Grenache, Petite Sirah, Malbec, and Tannat were also introduced.

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Sequentis Reserve Merlot 2020

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In the vast tapestry of California’s wine country, the story of Daou Family Estates stands out as a unique and compelling chapter. Born from the dreams of brothers Daniel and Georges Daou, this family-owned winery in Paso Robles has become a force to be reckoned with in the world of Cabernet Sauvignon and Bordeaux-style wines.

The Daou journey begins with a twist of fate—Daniel and Georges, originally from war-torn Lebanon, found themselves in France before making their way to the United States to pursue education. After a successful stint in the tech industry, the brothers decided to embark on a new adventure, channeling their passion for wine into creating a winery that would redefine the possibilities of Paso Robles.

What sets Daou apart is not just their winemaking expertise but their audacious decision to focus on Cabernet Sauvignon in an area known for Rhône-style blends and zinfandel. Choosing the West Paso Robles region over Napa, the brothers identified French soils and a Napa-like climate as the perfect combination to cultivate what they believed could be some of the world’s best wine. Continue reading “Sequentis Reserve Merlot 2020”

Hardys Tintara Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2019

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Nestled within the picturesque McLaren Vale wine region in South Australia, Hardys Tintara winery stands as a testament to the rich history and enduring legacy of Australian winemaking. Established in 1861 by the visionary Dr. Alexander Charles Kelly, Tintara has weathered the test of time, producing wines that have not only earned global acclaim but have also become an integral part of Australia’s winemaking narrative.

Dr. Alexander Kelly, a physician and winemaker, laid the foundation for Tintara in 1861, incorporating it the following year as the Tintara Vineyard Company. A man of diverse talents, Kelly authored seminal texts on Australian winemaking and viticulture, solidifying his place in the annals of wine history. Notable figures in the early history of South Australia, such as Walter Watson Hughes, Samuel Davenport, and Thomas Elder, invested in Tintara, recognizing its potential to become a cornerstone of the burgeoning Australian wine industry.

Continue reading “Hardys Tintara Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2019”

Hardys Tintara Reserve Shiraz 2019

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Nestled within the picturesque McLaren Vale wine region in South Australia, Hardys Tintara winery stands as a testament to the rich history and enduring legacy of Australian winemaking. Established in 1861 by the visionary Dr. Alexander Charles Kelly, Tintara has weathered the test of time, producing wines that have not only earned global acclaim but have also become an integral part of Australia’s winemaking narrative.

Dr. Alexander Kelly, a physician and winemaker, laid the foundation for Tintara in 1861, incorporating it the following year as the Tintara Vineyard Company. A man of diverse talents, Kelly authored seminal texts on Australian winemaking and viticulture, solidifying his place in the annals of wine history. Notable figures in the early history of South Australia, such as Walter Watson Hughes, Samuel Davenport, and Thomas Elder, invested in Tintara, recognizing its potential to become a cornerstone of the burgeoning Australian wine industry.

Continue reading “Hardys Tintara Reserve Shiraz 2019”

Louis Roederer Collection 242 Champagne

Click here for tasting notes.

Louis Roederer [Road-ur-ur], a distinguished champagne producer situated in Reims, France, traces its origins back to 1776, when it began as Dubois Père & Fils. While its early days were marked by still wine production, the focus soon evolved to embrace the art of crafting fine champagnes. The business underwent a transformation under the stewardship of Louis Roederer in 1833 when he not only inherited but also renamed the company for himself.  He boldly ventured into international markets, focusing particularly on Russia. This endeavor gained him immense recognition, including from Tsar Nicolas II, who appointed Louis Roederer as the official wine provider to the Imperial Court of Russia.

Created in 1876, the wine made for Nicolas’ grandfather, Alexander II, was the first Cuvée de Prestige (Prestige Cuvée) of Champagne and is called Cristal, referring to the unusual clear glass of the bottle. The Tsar had pointed out to his sommelier that the design of a standard champagne bottle made the beautiful color and effervescence of champagne invisible to the eye. He therefore instructed Roederer that his personal cuvée be served in bottles made of transparent crystal glass with a flat bottom (allegedly to foil the insertion of explosives in the indentation by would-be assassins) to remedy this defect. Thus was Cristal born, and the first notion of a premium cuvée. For more than a century, the appearance of the patented Cristal bottle has remained unchanged. After the fall of the Russian monarchy in 1917, Roederer decided to continue producing Cristal and to market it internationally, and it remains one of the world’s most sought-after champagnes in the world.

Continue reading “Louis Roederer Collection 242 Champagne”

Quinta da Fonte Souto Alicante Bouschet 2018

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In the 1970s, Portugese rosés such as Lancers and Mateus were the height of sophistication to many young wine drinkers: “It’s imported, and comes in a fun bottle!” With age comes wisdom, and these wines were eventually abandoned for the justifiably famous fortified wines of Portugal, Port and Madeira, produced by many ancient and famous houses.

Much less well-known is Portugal’s status as a producer of both red and white table wine, ranking in the world’s top ten in production.  With a population of just 10 million, but top five in per capita consumption, much of that wine is sipped by the thirsty Portuguese.

Quinta da Fonte Souto is a producer in Portalegre, a sub-region of the Alto Alentejo in southern Portugal.  It is owned by the Symington family, well-known for their premium Port wines, who acquired the winery in 2017.

Quinta is Portuguese for estate. Fonte translates as “source,” denoting the springs that provide an abundance of fresh water to the vineyard. Souto, or “chestnut grove,” recalls the considerable area of chestnut trees and cork oaks that cover the estate.  There are 511 acres on the property, of which 106 are planted with vines.  Fonte Souto is the Symington’s first property outside the Douro region, and includes a tasting room and a traditional manor house.

Continue reading “Quinta da Fonte Souto Alicante Bouschet 2018”