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.

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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.

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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.

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Louis Roederer Collection 242 Champagne

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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.

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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.

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Glee Euphoria Blanc de Noir California Sparkling Wine

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For reasons I don’t understand, the producer of this sparkling wine, Sapphire Hill, decided to hide behind the Glee moniker.  There is nothing on the bottle to link Glee and Sapphire Hill, but it was easy enough to locate them.

Sapphire Hill Winery, a family-run boutique winery, has been operating in Sonoma County since 1989. It is located on the original homestead of Lucy and Levi Grove who acquired 120 acres in 1869 from Captain John Cooper, a sea captain, merchant, and cattle rancher who originally hailed from New England. He was granted the El Molino Ranchero by General Vallejo, his father in law, who founded Sonoma and is remembered today as a great American who contributed a great deal to California both before and after statehood. His life is essentially the history of 19th century Sonoma and his influence is still evident in 21st century Sonoma.

The only remaining original structure on the property is the homestead chimney made from rocks taken from the Russian River.

Initially, Sapphire Hill began as a 38-acre vineyard located just outside of Sebastopol.  Original winery partners Tim Meinken (winemaker), Anne Giere, John Hall. and Denice Engstrom planted Chardonnay and Pinot Noir and later Syrah. At first, the grapes were sold to Rodney Strong, Sonoma-Cutrer, La Crema, and Murphy Good Estate Winery. The partners launched their own label in 1997 using estate-grown grapes, and in 2002 built the actual winery and opened a tasting room in Healdsburg, a charming town situated at the convergence of three renowned grape-growing regions: Alexander Valley, Dry Creek Valley, and the Russian River Valley. This strategic location allowed the winery to procure grapes from these esteemed valleys and establish a reputation for crafting award-winning Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Zinfandel.

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Smith & Hook Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2019

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Located in California’s Central Coast, the Smith Ranch was a horse ranch for generations, while to the south, the Hooks raised cattle. Swiss-born Nicolaus “Nicky” and Gaby Hahn discovered these  ranches near Paso Robles in 1974 as they searched for the ideal place to grow Cabernet Sauvignon. They decided that the climate along the western slopes of the Santa Lucias was just what they were looking for, so in 1974 they purchased the two ranches and established the Smith & Hook Winery on the old Smith Ranch. The first Cabernet Sauvignon was made in 1979, released in 1980, and quickly developed a reputation for excellence.

Or, here’s an alternate story of the name of the winery: Nicky Hahn named the winery after his mother’s side of the family. His mother’s maiden name was Smith, and his maternal grandmother’s maiden name was Hook. By combining the two names, he created the moniker “Smith & Hook.”

Initially, the winery focused on producing Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Chardonnay. The first vineyards were planted in the Highlands District of Paso Robles, where the combination of warm days and cool nights fostered the development of grapes with rich flavors and balanced acidity.

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Odonata Boekenoogen Vineyard Chardonnay 2021

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Odonata is a small boutique winery near Salinas, California.  It is owned and operated by Denis Hoey, who traveled a winding road from business management, to would-be firefighter, to brewery worker, and finally to winemaker.

Hoey is a native of Sacramento, and grew up in a family that enjoyed wines of all kinds.  In 2004 he graduated from the University of California at Santa Cruz with a degree in Business Management.  But before he did any work in that field, he landed a job at Bison Organic Brewery in San Jose, where he learned sanitizing protocols and how to run a bottling line.

More profoundly, he soon met Jeff Emery, who had just taken over as owner and winemaker at Santa Cruz Mountain Vineyard.  SCMV was started in 1975 by Ken Burnap, who based his winemaking on Old World approaches such as moderate levels of alcohol and oak, with the goal that the true characteristics of the grape varieties are expressed.  Burnap passed that philosophy down to Emery, who in turn guided Hoey in that direction.  Once Hoey began his apprenticeship, his life course was permanently altered.  He became the production manager for SCMV before starting Odonata Wines in Santa Cruz in 2005. That year production was a mere 65 cases.  By 2008 that was up to a still modest 150 cases, mostly Petite Sirah.  Production is now about 6,000 cases, of which 1,000 are bubblies.

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Case Paolin Pietra Fine Asolo Prosecco DOCG

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The ancient town of Asolo sits about 40 miles northwest of Venice in Italy’s province of Trevino.  The Museo Canoviano is situated here, home to some of the works by  Antonio Canova (1757-1822).  Canova was the son of a stonecutter and grandson of a stone mason, and was an Italian Neoclassical sculptor famous for his marble sculptures. Indeed, he is often regarded as the greatest of the Neoclassical artists.  Pietra Fine is Italian for Fine Stone, an homage to the work of Canova housed in Asolo, as well as the grey stones of one of Paolin’s vineyards that was once a riverbed.

In the early 1970s, Emillio Pozzobon, a farmer from a long ling of farmers, bought the estate where his father and his grandfather had worked as sharecroppers. Although the property had largely been used for the cultivation of  silkworms, he devoted himself entirely to growing grapes there. Continue reading “Case Paolin Pietra Fine Asolo Prosecco DOCG”

Langtry Brut Rosé

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The Guenoc Valley in California is east of San Francisco, and just south of the far eastern edge of the East Bay.  Situated in Lake County, grapes were planted there in 1854, and as soon as 1884 it hosted 600 acres under vine.  Its fertile fields attracted a number of individuals who dabbled in wine to a greater or lesser extent, including the legendary actress Lillie Langtry.

The 23,000 acre (9,300 ha) Guenoc Valley is a small inland alluvial fan of Arroyo Seco and Conejo loam soils which are isolated from surrounding areas by rocky ridges. Hot days are common in the region and over-ripening is a constant concern. The area also has very cool nights, making it a Climate Region III.  The Guenoc Valley AVA was approved in 1981.

Lillie Langtry was born Emilie Charlotte Le Breton in 1853 to William Le Breton, a Church of England minister and his wife, Emilie Davis Martin Le Breton.  Lillie was the only daughter in the family of six sons. Her father was a very handsome and cultured man; her mother as beautiful as her daughter would become. They lived on the on the Isle of Jersey, one of the islands that lie in the English Channel . Continue reading “Langtry Brut Rosé”