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.

Top of page:

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.

Top of page:

Hall Craig’s Red Wine 2014

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.

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.

Photo: Mark Buckley

Photo: Urban Daddy

Photo: Jody Resnick

Photo: Vadim Lazar

Hall Craig’s Red Wine 2014

Craig Hall, with his wife Kathryn, is the co-founder of Hall Wines, and this wine is one of his pet projects. It is a blend of 65% Cabernet Sauvignon and 35% Merlot from a number of Hall’s growers throughout Napa Valley. It was aged in 60% new French oak for 22 months.

This big, bold Bordeaux-styled red blend has a nose of black fruits, black cherry, raspberry, earth, and a touch of smoke. It offers a palate of blackberry, cherry, plum, and chocolate. There is good acidity and plenty of tannins. If you like a tannin punch, drink now. If not, wait a year or two. Either way, let it breathe for about an hour after decanting. The finish is long and concentrated.

Top of page:

Parallel 44 Winery

Parallel 44 WineryKewanee, nestled in the heart of Wisconsin beer country, is 40 miles east of Green Bay and on the western shore of Lake Michigan. This is where Parallel 44 Winery calls home.

The story of Parallel 44 Vineyard & Winery began in 2005, when husband and wife team Steve Johnson and Maria Milano planted their first grape vines. Steve grew up in Green Bay, where his father Carl experimented early on with growing grapes. Maria grew up in Stevens Point, Wisconsin, where her Italian-born father continued his tradition of making wine for friends and family celebrations. Steve and Maria met while in school at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, and then attended law school together. While working as attorneys, they attended seminars on grape growing in Wisconsin, with an eye towards getting into the wine business.

Maria and Steve

After years of searching for a location with the soil, sun exposure, and temperatures for growing grapes, they found the location that Parallel 44 now sits on. Originally, it was a simple corn field and former gravel pit. As soon as they purchased the land, they began to plant vines, a novel idea at the time.

A year after the vineyard was planted, in 2006 construction was started on the winery and tasting room. Since opening on Memorial Day weekend in 2007, Parallel 44 has continued to grow and expand. Today, all of the wines produced by Parallel 44 are either made with grapes grown in their own vineyards, or one at one of the vineyards that the winery contracts with throughout the state of Wisconsin and the Upper Midwest.


The winery itself has undergone several remodels. The first major expansion of the winery occurred in 2009, which nearly doubled the size of the original. A second, smaller expansion and remodeling was completed in 2011. To capitalize on the resort trade, Steve and Maria decided in 2013 to open a second location, located in Door County forty miles due north, where tens of thousands of tourists flock each summer. (They like to promote this as a second winery, but it’s really just a tasting room.)

The vineyard and winery are situated on 44° north latitude (hence the name), which is renowned for the world’s finest grape growing and winemaking regions, such as Bordeaux in France, and Tuscany in Italy. Parallel 44 shares many similarities with these regions, such as seasonal growing period, annual rainfall, and length of daylight. But, a big difference from their European counterparts is that Parallel 44 suffers through winters of subzero temperatures, adding the challenge of growing grapes on the “frozen tundra” of Wisconsin.

Photo: Dave Bloedum

Johnson and Milano decided to forgo the classic European varietals we are all familiar with, knowing that the vines would struggle to even survive the harsh northern Wisconsin winters, much less thrive.

So, they turned their attention to cold-climate grape varietals available for commercial planting, of which there were only a few. Most of the varietals were quite new to the world of wine and were less than 20 years old. Undettered, Steve and Maria carried on with their dream and today, 15 years later, there are approximately 7000 vines on 10 acres planted at Parallel 44.

The grape varietals they grow are known as “cool climate grapes.” This means that some of the vines can withstand temperatures as low as -36° F in winter, but as summer approaches they spring back to life!

These cool-climate varietals have the hallmark qualities of bright acidity, fruit forward aromas, and flavors that are unique to the region. Some of these varietals are Marechal Foch, Frontenac, Louise Swenson, St. Pepin, and Petite Pearl. These are the genetic cousins of such well-known varietals such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Moscato, and Riesling.

Parallel 44 La Crescent NV

The La Crescent white grape varietal was, yes, invented by University of Minnesota researchers James Luby and Peter Hemstad as part of the university’s cold hardy-grape breeding program. Since its release to the market in 2002, La Crescent has been planted with success in Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Vermont, and, of course, Wisconsin. The variety is cold-hardy to −36° F (−38° C). Those wishing to propagate La Crescent must obtain a license from the university, as they hold a patent on the grape, awarded in 2004. It has parentage in the Moscato family.

This semi-dry white wine shows pale yellow in the glass. The nose has pleasant orange blossom aromas. Next come flavors of a summer fruit basket, including peach, apricot, and citrus, with a full mouthfeel. It all ends with a refreshing, crisp finish.

Pair this selection with Lobster Bisque, Swordfish Steaks with Mango and Avocado Salsa, or Cornish Hens with Cranberry Sauce.

Parallel 44 Vintner’s Reserve NV

This dry red wine is a blend of 60% Marquette and 40% Petite Pearl.

Marquette is another University of Minnesota offering, introduced in 2006. It is a complex hybrid, one that involves vitis vinifera as well as American species. It is named after Pere Marquette, a Jesuit missionary and 17th century explorer of North America, and has been said by the university to be a cousin of Frontenac and a grandson of Pinot Noir.

Petite Pearl was bred by Tom Plocher, a well-respected northern climate viticulturist and grape breeder; currently, Parallel 44’s is the largest planting.

Winemaker Steve Johnson sees Petite Pearl as “the holy grail, so far” and “to date, the one with the most promise” when it comes to northern red grapes such as Marechal Foch and Marquette that are transforming the quality of wine from the Upper Midwest. As he explains it, compared with other cold-hardy red grapes, Petite Pearl has a more balanced chemical makeup with lower acidity and higher tannin levels.

This medium-bodied red has a nose of bright fruit, especially strawberry and blueberry. Those are complemented on the palate by plum and black cherry, balanced acidity, and light but firm tannins. There is a bit of spice and pepper, as well. The mouth-feel is somewhere between Pinot Noir and Merlot.

Try it with Peppered Salmon with Snow Peas and Ginger, Spinach and Bacon Souffle, or Boned Pork Loin with Apple Cream Sauce.

Parallel 44 Salve NV

Salve is a traditional Italian greeting that comes from the word “to be well.” This unassuming red wine is fresh and easily approachable.

The source grape is primarily Petite Pearl, with a small amount of a white varietal called Prairie Star, bred by Elmer Swenson. It produces a neutral white wine with good mouth feel, and is perhaps even hardier than Frontenac, a widely-planted cool-climate varietal. It can have a strong floral nose. Prairie Star is also consumed as a table grape. The addition of a white varietal during fermentation is a traditional practice in some other countries, including Italy, and is more common than you might expect.

This light red wine has a quite transparent ruby color. The nose shows strawberry and red cherry. That light cherry follows through on the palate, joined by a hint of cola. The finish is short, and without much tannins.

This simple but food-friendly wine would play well with Grilled Butterflied Salmon, Spinach and Bacon Souffle, or Veal Escalopes with Tomato Sauce.

Here’s a post on another northern Wisconsin winery, but this one brings in juice from California rather than growing locally:

Top of page:

Viader Proprietary Red Blend

Viader Vineyards and WineryAlthough I’ve never met Delia Viader, founder of Viader Vineyards and Winery, she is by all accounts quite a remarkable woman.

She was born in 1958, the first child of a wealthy Argentinian engineer, Walter Viader. In addition to his expertise in aerodynamics and telecommunications, he also traveled the world as a diplomatic attaché. As soon as Delia could read, her parents encouraged her to pursue her innate curiosity, recommending a number of books which they could discuss together.

When Delia was five years old, she was sent to a German girl’s boarding school, where she would receive the beginning of her formal education over the next twelve years. It was a thoroughly classical curriculum, including learning ancient Greek and Latin for Mass. She also gained a fluency in English, German, Italian, French, Spanish, and Portugese. And she remained very inquisitive. As she has said about her never-ending questioning, “I guess I had no fear. I always asked, politely, ‘And why is it this way, and not that way?’ I wasn’t being rude; I just had questions, because the nuns only provided beginnings, which led to my many more questions about everything.”

In Latin American cultures, a young girl’s fifteenth birthday is marked by a quinceañera, the traditional celebration (usually a Mass followed by a big party) which symbolizes her transition from childhood to adulthood. Already the shrewd investor, Delia told her father that she had no interest in something so fleeting as a party, but rather wanted to use the money to buy land. “I want to get a piece of dune by the beach with a view of the ocean,” she announced. He was at first taken aback, but her father agreed. When they went to visit the property Delia had in mind, Walter paid for her lot, and purchased the one next to it for himself as well.

After boarding school, Delia was off to Paris. There at the Sorbonne, she took a Ph .D. in philosophy, with a concentration in logic. While still at university, she married her sweetheart of four years. At just 19-years-old, she bore a son, Paul, who was born with Down syndrome. “When Paul was born, that definitely made me realize that there is a purpose in life,” she emphasizes. By the time she graduated, she had two additional children and the marriage had ended.

Casting about for her next act, she asked her father to pay for three more years of education at MIT, where one of her younger brothers, Walter Jr., was already enrolled. Always the doting father, Walter agreed, and Delia was accepted into the Executive Financial program at MIT’s Sloan School of Management.

After MIT, she and Walter Jr. decided to move to California. She immediately fell in love with Napa Valley, but just for the beauty of the area, rather than any winemaking ambition. However, in 1985 Walter Sr. was approached by a local he had met about forming a partnership to develop a parcel of land on Howell Mountain by planting a vineyard and creating a winery. But Delia had another idea. She said, “Dad, if you put up the money, I think I can make this work by myself.” When her father replied, “After all the money I poured into your education, all you want is to become a farmer?” she assured him, “Yes, Dad.”

And so Viader Vineyards and Winery was launched. Delia drew up a comprehensive business plan, as her father’s money was an investment rather than a gift.

Delia soon discovered that preparing the property to become a vineyard was going to be a big challenge. The place was nothing but mottled rock and poison oak, on a steep hillside. Knowing she would need expert help, she quickly assembled a top-notch team. The first task was preparing the soil itself. To make it suitable for planting, “low to the ground” explosives, followed by jackhammers, were used to break up the most stubborn rock outcroppings.

Next came vineyard layout. At that time, most vines grew on the Napa Valley floor. The few hillside vineyards were terraced, running in a north to south orientation. Because of cost, the fear of erosion, and her instinct for the vines from her years in France, Delia rejected terracing. Instead, the rows were planted up and down the mountain, with an east to west orientation, which allows for more even distribution of sunlight. Although quite innovative at the time, this sort of layout has become commonplace for hillside sites in Napa today.

In addition, Delia and her team opted for a high-density planting of 2,200 vines per acre. 1,800 or less is more the norm. There are cover crops between rows. As is done in Burgundy rather than California, the hanging fruit zone is much closer to the ground. Because of this, the grapes have to be hand harvested, with the workers toiling on their knees. This is always done at night, further increasing the effort. But low-hanging grape clusters also mean that the fruit benefits from heat radiated from the volcanic rock in the soil right after sunset. The cumulative effect is that the grapes mature seven to fourteen days ahead of neighboring properties, and well before the late-autumn rains that can ruin a harvest.

As the vineyard was being established, the next task was to build a home for her family, a higher priority than the winery itself. (For her company’s first 11 years, production was at rented space at Rombauer Vineyards.) During the winter of 1989, the house was built just above the vineyard, with views of the vines, the valley, and the lake below. That same year, Delia brought in the first vintage of “Viader,” her signature wine, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. Production was a mere 1,200 cases.



Interestingly, Delia opted to concentrate selling the wine not in the U.S., but in Europe, where she felt more comfortable. Being a polyglot didn’t hurt, either. Every other week throughout the 1990s and 2000s, Delia was on the road, traveling to more than thirty countries and opening accounts in every market by herself. “I wanted to present my wines in the bigger pond of the world rather than what I considered the smaller pond of the United States. It keeps you honest and humble to work side by side with brand owners who have over two hundred years of history over you,” she says. During this time, the winery itself was constructed, as well as a system of interconnected tunnel cellars.

All of the effort paid off at the end of 2000, when Wine Spectator named the 1997 Viader the #2 of their annual Top 100 Wines. The following year, the Spectator ranked the 1998 Viader as the #3 Top 100 wine of 2001. Success seemed assured as people started clamoring for Viader’s products.

As almost all of us eventually learn, life dispenses struggle as well as triumph. In 2005, because of ongoing construction at the winery, Delia was obligated to transfer the entire stock of bottled 2003 vintage wines to an off-site warehouse. This facility was a major storage and distribution center for many other wine and food products vendors as well. It was later learned that a warehouse employee was engaged in fraud and embezzlement. On October 12, 2005, he was in the warehouse attempting to destroy evidence against himself with a propane torch. The fire got out of control, leading to an eight-hour-long five-alarm fire. Viader’s 2003 wines, worth $4.5 million, were totally destroyed. Other companies suffered major losses as well, including a number of other small wineries that were subsequently forced out of business.

Delia rallied the family, and the decision was made to press ahead, almost starting over, really. There was insurance money, but it was slow in coming. Delia began to sell off the winery’s reserve library of wines, going direct to customers instead of through distribution to maximize profit. She continued to travel to restaurants and wine shows, determined to keep Viader in people’s minds. The hard work paid off, and Viader survived to release the 2004 vintage a year later.

The entire family has been actively involved in the business. First, Alan, Delia’s second son. After working the land during summers and completing internships, in 2002 he graduated from UC Davis with a degree in viticulture and became vineyard manager. Next came responsibility as winemaker, with the 2006 his first vintage. He became brand ambassador as well, and in that capacity he followed in his mother’s footsteps by traveling the world to promote the family’s wines. In 2007, daughter Janet joined the company full time, taking over the sales role. She also served as one of the youngest elected members on the Board of Directors of the Napa Valley Vintners Association.

Today, Viader’s estate vineyard is planted to 28 acres of vines and includes Petit Verdot, Syrah, and Malbec, as well as many of the original Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc vines. “We’re not 100 percent organic, but we are mostly organic,” stated Alan. He noted that organic is not always a “silver bullet,” because of potentially nasty organic chemicals. He also finds that strictly following the guidelines of biodynamic certification doesn’t result in quality in line with costs, so he abandoned that after a six-year flirtation. Sustainable practices do include the use of beneficial insects to help eliminate the need for pesticides; raptor roosts and falcon kites to help patrol the property for rodent, snake, and pest bird infestations; and solar paneling to power sensors in the vineyard. The property is carbon negative also, and the soils are never tilled.

Continuing to stay in their separate lots, the unblended wines age in concrete tanks or French oak barrels for 14 to 24 months. During this time, the wine goes through secondary, malolactic fermentation and is racked once, at most, during the aging process. Once final blending occurs, the wine continues to rest in barrel until bottling, which takes place in-house. The wine sees further bottle age for about a year before being released.

Viader Proprietary Red Blend 2014

With just 1811 cases produced, and at the upper end of Napa prices, this is the cult wine you’re looking for. The flagship wine from Viader put this unique mountainside winery on the map as one of the first in Napa to tackle and successfully showcase Cabernet Franc as a deserving companion with Cabernet Sauvignon. This blend has been referred to as “liquid cashmere.”

It is 72% Cabernet Sauvignon and 28% Cabernet Franc. Cabernet Sauvignon provides the backbone, structure, character, and aging potential, while Cabernet Franc instills a balance and early approachability. The wine was aged for two years in 70% new French oak. It shows firm structure influenced by the rocky volcanic soils of the eastern slopes of Howell Mountain, and an elegant yet intensely rich profile. Big, hearty tannins wrap around flavors of succulent dark fruit, clove, and sage, with hints of floral notes. Cellar for up to 12 years.

Top of page:

Altolandon Rayuelo

Altolandon RayueloWine of La Mancha

Bodega Altolandon is located in Landete, Spain, in the country’s east-central region. The estate covers 120 hectares (296 acres), and is at 1100 meters (3600 feet) altitude at its highest point.

It is this altitude that Altolandon believes is crucial to making their   wines  unique and special.  At this height, the temperature range is greater, warmer during the day and cooler at night than lowland vineyards, making for a slow and prolonged maturation.

All  of Altolandon’s plots are grown organically. Prevailing winds clean the air and vegetation is free of pesticides. Soil fertility is maintained only with natural fertilizers.

Altolandon grows a wide selection of grape varieties. Reds include Bobal, Malbec, Syrah, Grenache, Merlot, Tempranillo, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Cabernet Franc. Whites encompass Chardonnay, Muscat, Petit Manseng, Viognier, and Grenache. The planting density is 4,000 plants per hectare (2-1/2 acres), forcing the vines to compete and thus obtain smaller, higher-quality grapes.




The wines are made in stainless steel tanks to extract as much color and flavor as possible. The skins are kept in contact with the must for about two to three weeks under controlled temperature. Fermentation is done spontaneously, without added yeasts. Temperature during fermentation reaches a maximum of 26º C. (79º F.). Once initial fermentation is finished, the wine is pressed and goes into an assortment of new and old 225-liter French oak barrels, where it undergoes a secondary malolactic fermentation. The wine is aged for between eight and 24 months, depending the type. Finally the wine is bottle aged for no less than eight months before distribution.

Altolandon Rayuelo 2008

This Spanish red is 80% Bobal (from 60-year-old vines) and 20% Malbec and Monastrell (from 15-year-old vines). Bobal is a dark-skinned wine-grape variety native to Utiel-Requena in southeast Spain. Despite its relative obscurity, it is one of that country’s most-planted grape varieties behind Tempranillo and Airen.

The wine was fermented in stainless steel using all-natural yeasts, and then aged eight months in French oak. The high-altitude grapes produce a wine with a nose redolent of red fruits, generous blackberry and dried-cherry flavors, and good acidity.

Enjoy this with Spanish Meatballs with Almond Sauce, Pot-poached Spiced Chicken, or Beef Tangine with Prunes.

Top of page:

Tooth and Nail Wines

Tooth and Nail WinesTooth & Nail is one of four brands from Rabble Wine Company, the others being Rabble, Stasis, and Amor Fati. Rabble was founded by Rob Murray, a longtime wine grower with a vineyard-first mindset. The company has relied on four vineyards for more than 10 years, carefully overseeing all aspects of farming.

The Tooth & Nail estate vineyard is in the Willow Creek District of  Paso Robles , California. about halfway between Santa Barbara to the south and Carmel to the north. It occupies rolling slopes at the base of the Santa Lucia mountains. The gravelly soils feature the type of limestone-rich ingredients found in some of the world’s greatest winegrowing regions. The vineyard spans 10 acres, including 20-year-old Cabernet Sauvignon vines and newer plantings of a Tempranillo clone from Rioja; a Malbec clone from Bordeaux; and a head-trained block of Mourvedre. The second vineyard, Murmur, is southwest from the winery and over the mountains, just 13 miles from the Pacific Ocean.  Murray personally planted this vineyard and knows it intimately. The final two vineyards, Mossfire and Armour Ridge, are in the Estrella District, about 10 miles north of Paso Robles on Highway 101.



Winemaker Jeremy Leffert offered, “My approach is to treat everything with such care that it’s almost transparent and you hear this voice from the vineyard.” He is tries to avoid what he calls “the dominance of the winemaker’s hand,” so that vineyard expression must only be accentuated, and never obstructed.

The opportunity to review these three red blends from Tooth & Nail presented an unusual chance to compare and contrast the similarities and differences of three kindred wines from a single producer.

But first, a note about the bottle labels.  Rabble prides itself on striking and extravagant labels, and these are no exception. (There is even an augmented reality app available for smart phones that adds audio to the labels. Radical.) Each one features a reproduction of a drawing from the pen of naturalist James John Audubon, where he captured birds and animals of the early 1800s fighting “tooth and nail” to survive, and a quote from his notebooks that inspired the name of each wine.

All of these selections are an inky brick red, have a nose of dark berries and roast plum, and clock in at about 14.5% ABV. Any of them would pair nicely with Rosemary Marinated Grilled Lamb, Beef Tenderloin with Mediterranean Relish, or Veal Milanese.

Tooth & Nail The Possessor 2016

69% Cabernet Sauvingnon
15% Merlot
10% Petit Syrah
6% Syrah

Here Audubon depicts two red-tailed hawks fighting to become the sole possessor.

The wine presents flavors of those same dark berries and roast plum aromas, coupled with currants and cassis, and a hint of sweet cherry and dust. These are supported by bright acidity, and the wine ends with a firm finish and lingering tannins.

Tooth & Nail The Stand 2017

85% Petit Syrah
14% Syrah
1% Viognier (1%? Really? An interesting and subtle winemaking choice.)

Here Audubon draws a brave boar protecting its den. No matter if one falls, there will always be another to stand sentinel.

This wine offers more acidity than The Possessor, with flavors of tart cherry, , figs, and boysenberry, plus a bit of cocoa and tobacco. The palate finishes with lightly-sweet lingering tannins on the long finish.

Tooth & Nail The Fiend 2017

51% Merlot
32% Petit Syrah
17% Cabernet Sauvignon

Audubon shows the ferociousness of a jaguar, stalking her prey and attacking with the fury of an incarnate fiend.

This is the driest and most tannic of the trio. Flavors of ripe plum, black mission figs and leather predominate, all wrapped up with sturdy but integrated tannins. There is just a hint of bitterness and dust at the end. Even with 51% Merlot in the blend, this is certainly the biggest wine of the three, but the other two are hardly shy.

For my review of two Rabble-brand wines, click here.

Rabble Wine Company

 Rabble Wine CompanyRousing Rabble

If you are looking for affordable, approachable, easy-drinking wines, I suggest you seek out those from Paso Robles. This large but lesser-known appellation was established in 1983 (a mere toddler in wine years), and is located around the town of Paso Robles in the northern part of California’s San Luis Obispo County. Most of the growing area is classified as Region III, equivalent to France’s Rhône region. At last count, there were over 18,000 acres under vine.

Rabble Wine Company encompasses four labels: Rabble, Stasis, Amor Fati, and Tooth & Nail. Rabble’s estate winery and visitor center is regarded as one of the region’s leading destinations, featuring a somewhat kitschy castle-like building that includes an expansive tasting room.

Rabble was founded by Rob and Nancy Murray in 2011. In addition to becoming a vintner, Rob has been a grower and vineyard owner for over 20 years. He continues to own and manage properties from Paso Robles to Santa Maria, with his own brands utilizing roughly five percent of the grapes he farms. He’s obviously doing something right, as Rabble is one of Paso Robles’ fastest-growing labels.

Speaking of labels, I’m almost always more interested in what’s in a wine bottle than what’s on it. However, the iconoclastic labels for Rabble and its sister brands have attracted a lot of attention in the wine press. The Rabble labels are renditions of historical woodblock prints from the Nuremberg Chronicle, dating to the late 1400s. They have been faithfully reproduced, including a full-embossing rarely seen in this context. The images depict nature’s wrath, as a reminder to work in concert with her at all times.

Rabble Red Blend 2015

This disorderly mob member hails from Mossfire Ranch, about three miles southwest of Paso Robles. A mix of 90% merlot and 10% syrah, it greets you with its bright red-purple color and aromas of red cherry and cocoa on the nose, with just a hint of anise. The rich cherry continues on the palate, adding red berries and delicate spice notes. The flavors, lively acidity and firm but sweet tannins are remarkably balanced. An excellent value. The label illustrates the Apocalyptic Comet falling upon Florence with the Unicorn and Phoenix.

Try this wine with cranberry-cheddar brats with bell peppers, New Mexican rubbed pork tenderloin, or grilled chicken with Fresno chile/plum sauce.

Rabble Caberrnet Sauvignon 2016

Another Mossfire offering, on first approach currant, cocoa, and a hint of tobacco drift from the glass. Again, the taste of cherries, but this time of the tart variety, supported by vanilla, dried sage, blueberry, and cassis. These are complemented by woody notes from the French oak, which also supplies lively and supple tannins and a nice long finish. And the label? Mount Vesuvius Erupting over Pompeii.

Enjoy this wine with venison and black bean chili with toasted cumin crema, pan-roasted chicken with blackberry-ancho sauce, or red chile and honey-glazed salmon.

Top of page:

Marius by Michel Chapoutier

Marius by Michel ChapoutierHonor Thy Grandfather

Languedoc-Roussillon (often called “the Languedoc”) is a historical coastal region in southern France, extending from Provence to the Pyrenees Mountains and the border with Spain. It’s now part of Occitanie. The area is a major wine producer, with Vin de Pays d’Oc and sparkling Crémant de Limoux among its best-known varieties. The regional capital, Montpellier, is home to a well-preserved medieval quarter.

It is in the Pays d’Oc that Michel Chapoutier produces his Marius wines, to honor the grandfather (that’s him on the label) that inspired in Michel a passion for quality winemaking.

Marius, son of Polydor Chapoutier who founded the family business in 1879, played a key role in the development of the wine enterprise, acquiring vineyards in the Hermitage area (from which Chapoutier’s most acclaimed wines hail) and constructing a new winery in 1929.

As a young man, Marius’ son Michel left the town of Tain l’Hermitage to study oenology at one of France’s best winemaking schools, and then moved to California for winemaking internships. In 1987, the prodigal son returned home to Tain, and began to improve and upgrade the quality of the wines and vineyards of the business which he by then oversaw.

As part of the Chapoutier commitment to quality and terroir, their vineyards are all managed to produce biodynamic wines. And, Michel is especially keen on the enjoyment of wine with food. “These are honest, deymystified wines—wines that bring people together,” he said.

Marius Blanc 2014

This pale-yellow wine is a blend of 68 percent Vermentino (abundant on the French island of Corsica) and 32 percent Terret (whose home is the Languedoc, and is often used in Vermouth production). On the nose, citrus notes predominate, complemented by hints of peach. These continue on the palate, with flavors of green apple, lime, and pear at the fore. The wine finishes dry, with lingering fruit and lively acidity. Fermentation was carried out at low temperature in French oak.

Pair this easy-going sipper with crostini di pomodoro, braised swordfish in white wine, or Catalan shrimp in sweet red pepper sauce.

Marius Rouge 2014

Marius Rouge is a blend of 56 percent Grenach and 44 percent Syrah (Mourvèdre, which is often paired with these varietals, is MIA here.) Although the nose of this selection features aromas of sweet plum and vanilla, the taste is quite different. It is driven by tart cherry, cigar box, and minerals, and is complimented by robust tannins, good acidity, and a short finish. I suggest you serve it somewhat chilled; 52° F. should be just about right.

Some Mediterranean dishes that would go nicely with this wine include Niçoise chicken with tomatoes and black olives; braised rabbit with wild mushrooms, or veal shanks with artichokes.

Top of page:

Protea Wines

Protea WinesYou Can Bring Me Flowers

Protea [PROH-tee-uh] (sometimes also called sugarbush) is the national flower of South Africa. It was named after the Greek god Proteus, who could change his form at will, because the flowers have such a wide variety of forms.

Taking its inspiration from the flower, Protea the winery is on a mission to make wines that dare to be exotic and beautiful in every way.

The winery is located in the Franschhoek [FRAHNSH-hoook] Valley, about 45 miles due east of Cape Town on South Africa’s western coast. Franschhoek, which translates to “French Corner,” was first settled by French Huguenots in the latter part of the seventeenth century, but quality wine production there is a relatively recent phenomenon. Encircled by the mountains that form the Drakestein Valley, Franschhoek is a highly-regarded, cool-climate wine ward (growing area), which historically has particularly favored white-wine grapes, especially sémillon, chardonnay, and sauvignon blanc.

A popular tourist destination, Franschhoek draws visitors for its many fine-dining restaurants as well as its wines.

Protea is especially proud of their bottles. They were designed by Cape Town native Mark Eisen. An internationally recognized fashion designer, he has now turned his attention to artistic glass. Using an advanced screen-printing process in which nontoxic ink fuses with the glass at a very high temperature, Eisen was able to transfer his evocative designs directly onto and wrapped around the bottle.

Protea encourages their customers to repurpose rather than merely recycle the bottles, using them to hold floral displays, olive oil, candles, etc.

Protea also hosts a blog on their Web site. The blog is for “social, adventurous, and creative women.” It provides accessible wine knowledge, simple entertaining tips, and easy crafting ideas, giving women “the confidence to entertain affordably and sustainably.”

Protea Chenin Blanc 2014

This 100% Chenin Blanc is light-blond in the glass. It shows aromas of fresh, crisp fruit, especially citrus. This continues on to the palate, where you’ll find hints of pear, grapefruit, honeysuckle, and melon. The wine is medium bodied, with well-integrated supporting acidity. An excellent choice for the warm weather just around the corner.

Try this with Citrus Terrine with Orange Coulis, Frisée Salad with Bacon and Poached Egg, or Scallops with Endive.

Protea Red Blend 2012

Happily, pinotage, South Africa’s workhorse red, is not to be found anywhere near this blend of 53% cabernet sauvignon and 47% merlot. This medium-bodied, ruby-hued wine starts out with delicate suggestions of tea and espresso on the nose. The flavor basket of dark stone fruits is augmented by cocoa-like tannins and a medium-length finish.

This wine would like to go with Chicken in Red Wine, Rabbit with Mustard Sauce, or Steak Frites, a truly classic pairing.

Top of page:

Israel’s Yatir Winery

Yatir Winery

The Yatir region in the Judean Hills has produced grapes for winemaking since the ancient days of the Judean kingdom.  A large Jewish settlement existed in this region between the periods of the destruction of the Second Temple to the inception of the Islamic period.

Although the Israeli wine industry is 2,500-years-old, winemakers from this area of the Negev have only relatively recently been drawing critical and commercial acclaim.

David Ben-Gurion was the primary national founder and the first Prime Minister of Israel, which he led from 1948 until 1963 (with a short break in 1954-55).  He had a quixotic dream of making the Negev region in the south bloom and blossom.  When he decided to plant a forest in the area, he consulted with experts to guide him through the process. After numerous discussions and assessments, the agronomists determined that the region, which was predictably dry and warm, was unsuitable for planting trees. Ben-Gurion had other plans in mind however.  “Replace the experts!” he demanded.  A forest was in fact established, and it has gone on to become one of Israel’s largest . It was named after the Levite biblical city of Yatir, whose ruins remain within. The site serves as a “green lung” and a hiking site, as well as an experimental model for innovative methods for combating desertification. The Yatir Winery vineyards were planted as part of that effort.

Yatir Winery was established in 2000 as a joint venture between local growers and the Carmel Winery, who recognized the potential of the Yatir region. The Yatir Winery was built at the foot of the Israelite Tel Arad Fort (an archeological site), 10 minutes away from the vineyards.

Yatir Winery’s first wine was released in 2004, and today the winery produces 150,000 bottles. Over the years, this desert winery has become a symbol of the region.

Yatir’s  growers and winemakers are committed to excellence every step of the way – from growth and cultivation to harvest, fermentation, aging, and bottling – employing the most cutting-edge technology and equipment available to the industry today.

The vineyards of Yatir Winery are planted at an altitude of up to 900 meters [3000 feet] above sea level, and are scattered across various locations in the forest. The plots in these vineyards have varying soil compositions, with different slants and angles. The climate is characterized by cool, breezy mornings, dry days, cold nights (even at the peak of summer) and snowy winters. The soil is well-drained limestone, chalk, and clay that ensures low yields.

“We are proud to be planting in vineyards from an ancient region, where wine presses existed more than 3,000 years ago,” said Yaakov Ben Dor, Yatir Winery’s general manager.

“Although Israel’s winemaking tradition is ancient, the current industry is still young.  Israel has been widely recognized as capable of producing world-class wines, and growth is happening fast. We are pleased by the exciting potential of the region,” reported Etti Edri, Yatir’s export manager.

According to Eran Goldwasser, who oversees Yatir’s vineyards and production, “At Yatir Winery we are integrating state-of-the-art winemaking and technology within a man-made forest in the heart of the desert, to produce award-winning wines.  Though it seems unlikely, this area in Israel provides an excellent environment for wine making.  Due to Israel’s warm Mediterranean climate, the grapes have no trouble ripening.  As the vines age, yields will decrease, and our wines will become more nuanced.”

Yatir Creek 2016

This blend of 76% Syrah, 12% Tannat, and 12% Malbec is plum red in the glass.  The nose offers aromas of rhubarb, cherries, cassis, and a hint of green olives. The palate presents flavors of recessive fruit, coca, and cigar box.  The  tannins feature a slightly salty and pleasantly bitter finish.  The wine was aged  for 12 months in large oak barrels,  and aged in the bottle for two years.

I suggest serving this wine with Moroccan chicken with preserved lemons and olives; souvlakia (skewered lamb) with grilled vegetables; or sghenna (a one pot meal for the Sabbath).

Yatir Mt. Amasa White 2017

With an unusual blend of 52% Chenin Blanc, 39% Viognier, and 9% Roussanne, this  white displays a pale golden-greenish hue.   The aromas hint at grapefruit and actetone (which disappears after chilling).  That grapefruit is joined by peach, and pear on the palate.  There is a soft mouthfeel and balanced acidity.  The wine was fermented and aged for five months in a combination of concrete amphorae (a growing trend internationally), oak barrels, and stainless steel vats.

Yatir Mt. Amasa White would go well with Libyan fish tangine; sea bass with olives and roast tomatoes; or saffron chicken and mussels.

Or, if you’re not an observant Jew, you could do as I did and make a lobster and champagne risotto.

These wines join other Yatir products, including Yatir Mount Masa Red (which is a best seller), Yatir Rose, Yatir Peti Verdo, and the flagship wine, Yatir Forest.


Above: Etti Edri [left], Yatir Winery’s export manager
and Israel’s Ambassador Dani Dayan [right] with bottles
of Yatir wines.


These wines are “kosher for Passover.”  This certification requires handling and processes unique to these types of wine.

Kosher wine is grape wine produced according to Jewish dietary law (kashrut). To be considered kosher, Sabbath-observant Jews must supervise and sometimes handle the entire winemaking process, from the time the grapes are crushed until the wine is bottled. Any ingredients used, including finings, must be kosher as well. Wine that is described as “kosher for Passover” must have been kept free from contact with chametz, such as grain, bread, and dough.

To ensure the kosher status of the wine it must be overseen by a Jewish authority who supervises the kashrut status of the producer. Generally, this supervisor will physically tip the fruit into the crush and operate the equipment. Once the wine emerges from the process, it can be handled in the normal fashion.

Here’s some more information on kosher wines:

Top of page:

Gordon Brothers Tradition

Gordon Brothers TraditionJeff Gordon (no, not that Jeff Gordon) is a fourth-generation farmer, born and raised in Washington state. Although tied to the land, Gordon realized early on that affection wasn’t enough, and was shrewd enough to take a Bachelor’s degree in Agriculture in 1971.

By 1977, Jeff and his brother Bill were growing potatoes on 130 acres of rented farmland. Several years later, Jeff’s attention to the local microclimate and rich volcanic soil of southeastern Washington’s Columbia Valley led the Gordon family to take the then-audacious step of planting wine grapes on a sagebrush-covered slope overlooking the Snake River. Much to the amusement of local fellow farmers, Jeff made a bold decision to plant red grape varietals. “As far as everyone was concerned, the Columbia Valley was Riesling country. That was all there was to it. We thought red grapes would work. We took a chance. It was the right thing to do.”

Gordon Brothers Tradition 2003

This wine is a blend of 47.6% Cabernet Sauvignon, 47.6% Merlot, and 4.8% Syrah (all from estate-grown grapes). After pressing and fermentation, the wine aged in oak for a total of 40 months.

Tradition is a jewel-like ruby in the glass. The nose features hints of cinnamon and clove. The velvety mouth-feel is complimented by restrained flavors of dark cherry and chocolate, and moderate tannins.

This very food-friendly wine will pair well with autumnal meats such as roast duckling with soy sauce and cloves, or braised lamb shanks.


Top of page:

Casa Lapostolle

Casa LapostolleBetween the Mountains
and the Deep Blue Sea

If you’re looking for good value in wine, head for the Chilean section of your local wine shop.

Winemaking was established in Chile in the mid-sixteenth century by Spanish missionaries, and for 300 years wine production was based on the Pais grape they carried. In 1851, French wine experts arrived, and with them the more familiar European grape varieties. And now, even with over 400 years of experience, and free of the twin scourges of Prohibition and phylloxera, Chile has yet to attain its full potential.

This promise continues to attract winemakers from around the world. One of the French concerns is the Marnier Lapostolle family, founders and owners of the famous orange liqueur Grand Marnier, as well as other spirits. Lapostolle was established in 1994, with the goal of creating top-quality wines using French expertise and the unique terroirs of Chile.

Cuvee Alexandre Chardonnay 2009

The home of this wine is the Atalayas vineyard in the Casablanca Valley, in the Coastal Cordillera, 47 miles west of Santiago. Atalayas was originally planted in 1997, and enjoys cool coastal winds and a low annual rainfall. 100% of Atalayas vineyard is under organic and biodynamic agriculture management.

This is the rare white that will benefit from thirty minutes or so of ‘breathing’ before pouring. While you’re waiting, admire its bright lemon-yellow color and nose of citrus and melon. This wine suggests grapefruit on the palate, which is supported by its zippy acidity. There is oak, but it is well integrated and in a secondary role. Look for a hint of crème brûlée on the finish. Fermentation was on 68% new and used French oak, as well as 32% stainless steel. 20% of the total underwent a further malolactic fermentation.

This wine would go nicely with Braised Snapper and Mussels, Shrimp in a Picante Sauce, or Chicken à la Chinita.

Canto de Apalta 2011

The horseshoe-shaped Apalta vineyard is located 124 miles southwest of Santiago, 42 miles away from the Pacific Ocean, between the Andes mountain range and the Coastal Cordillera. The first vines in Apalta were planted in 1920, and some of these were transplants that had originally been brought from France at the end of the 19th century. Apalta is also 100% under organic and biodynamic management.

“Song of Apalta” is a Bordeaux-style red blend that was born from the relationship between Carmenère, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Syrah. All fermentations were made with wild yeasts and minimal intervention on the part of the winemaking team.

Here’s a food-friendly wine that is also good for quaffing. It is rich garnet in the glass, with delicate legs. The nose shows spice and eucalyptus, as well as black and red fruits. The body is light in the mouth, with flavors of ripe red berries and figs. These are backed up by medium tannins and a surprising amount of acidity. The wine has a medium-length finish.

Serve with Roast Beef in a Black Pepper Crust, Leg of Lamb with Pistachios, or Lemon Veal Chops.

Top of page:

Luke Donald Wine

Luke Donald WineThe Donald

No, this month’s wines aren’t associated with Donald Trump (a teetotaler, by the way), but rather, English professional golfer Luke Donald. The Luke Donald Wine Collection is the result of a collaboration between Donald and Bill Terlato, head of the behemoth wine distribution operation, Terlato Wines International.

Terlato first met Donald when the golfer was a student at Northwestern University. Terlato took lessons from Donald’s coach, Pat Goss, who initially suggested the two get together. Along with an interest in golf, the two men shared an interest in sports cars and ultimately, wine.

Golfer-endorsed wines are a growing trend, and already include such players as Ernie Els, Nick Faldo, David Frost, Cristie Kerr, Jack Nicklaus, Greg Norman, and Arnold Palmer. In 2006, Terlato approached Donald with the idea of creating a pair of wines for him under the Luke Donald label. He was adamant, however, that he didn’t want merely a celebrity endorser. Terlato wanted someone who would be involved in the development of the product. The wines that resulted from this partnership are serious wines, rather than a vanity effort (and are priced accordingly).

Chardonnay 2010

This 100% Chardonnay is sourced from vineyards in the Carnaros AVA, which lies at the northern end of San Pablo Bay (the northern section of San Francisco Bay).

The wine is pale yellow in the glass. On entry, it offers a full mouthfeel. That buttery sensation continues to develop on the palate, followed by just the right amount of acidity.

For this wine’s flavor profile, Donald looked to the white Burgundies of France. The flavor is predominantly of tart citrus fruits; the wood (25% new French oak, 75% used French oak) is there, but is nicely balanced.

Enjoy this wine with Summer Vegetable Stir-fry with Couscous, Braised Greek Chicken and Artichokes, or Almond-crusted Sole with Leek-and-lemon Cream.

Claret 2009

Befitting Donald’s background, this red wine blend is a Claret. Although “claret” has no legal definition, it is generally a term used by the English when referring to certain red wines of Bordeaux with a light, refreshing style.

This easy-drinking red blend (mostly Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, 100% Napa Valley) is transparent ruby in color. The taste features wild black berries and subtle spice notes. This is supported by well-integrated tannins.

This Claret would go well with Chicken Simmered with Cream and Onions, Roast Duck with Cherries, or Braised Ham with Mushroom Stuffing.

These wines are limited production, each limited to less than 1000 cases, but are well worth seeking out.


Top of page:

Portugese Red Table Wine

Portugese Red Table WineLeaving Port

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.

Winemaking in Portugal has a long and storied history. It was the first country to implement an appellation system, the Denominação de Origem Controlada, in 1756, almost 180 years before the French established their own similar system. The DOC established early quality-control standards, but because it has been in place for over 350 years much Portuguese winemaking is tightly bound by tradition; even calcified, some would say. However, this has been steadily changing, and many producers are updating their winemaking equipment and methods and are producing good high-quality wines.

The wines of this post come from the Douro [DOO-roh], a wild mountainous region located along the Douro river starting at the Spanish border and extending west into northern Portugal. The grapes for many Ports originate here also, but the vineyards for the table wines are at higher altitudes, where the grapes don’t ripen as fully or produce the higher sugar levels desirable for fortified wines.

All three wines are also the result of a collaboration that began in 1998, a joint project between Bruno Prats, former owner of the famed Château Cos d’Estournel, and the Symington family, world-renowned fourth generation Port producers. A dedicated facility with an underground barrel cellar was built specifically for this partnership. Vinification and élévage (i.e. racking) closely follow the Bordeaux method.

Each of these wines is composed of Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz, Touriga Franca, Tinta Francisca, and/or Tinta Barroca, so right there you can tell these ain’t your everyday quaffs.

Chryseia Douro DOC 2007

The flagship of the Prats and Symington combine, Chryseia (Greek for ‘golden,’ as ‘douro’ is in Portuguese), was first launched in 2001. The fruit is Toriga Nacional [50%] and Touriga Franca [50%]. After fermentation, only 30% of the juice was deemed worthy of Chryseia.

On the nose, the wine opens with aromas of coconut macaroons. The coconut is also evident on the palate, in pleasant concert with black currants and black cherries. There’s even a hint of bacon on the back palate. The wine displays characteristic Douro minerality (wet rocks), here well-balanced by the firm tannins and supporting acidity.

If you’re like me and hate to wait, give Chryseia two hours to breathe in the decanter and serve it with Pork Chops with Apple Filling, Roast Duck with Cherries, or Cholula Spicy Chicken Pizza.

Post Scriptum de Chryseia Douro DOC 2007

Many European houses have a tradition of a ‘second label,’ a wine made from the ‘not quite good enough for prime time’ grapes featured in their most premium wines. Post Scriptum de Chryseia fills that role, and is therefore the little brother to Chryseia. (And, the Post Scriptum name mimics the initials of Prats and Symington. A little wine humor.)

The Post Scriptum is made up of Tinta Roriz [40 %], Touriga Franca [35 %], and Tinta Barocca [20 %]. It spent nine months in French oak, but the influence is subtle. Again, the wine displays characteristic minerality, balanced by dark fruit, leather, and smoke. The understated fruit is complemented by soft tannins and some acidity for structure. The medium finish has a hint of bitterness.

Enjoy this wine with a top-quality Reuben Sandwich, Filets with Mushroom and Madeira Sauce, or Lamb Brochettes.

Prazo de Roriz Douro DOC 2008

The grapes for this Douro were sourced exclusively from Quinta de Roriz, making it comparable to a French estate-grown wine. Quinta [KEEN-tah] is Portugese for “farm,” so this wine literally comes from “Roriz’s Farm.” It is a blend of Touriga Nacional [35%], Tinta Roriz [35%], Touriga Franca [28%], and Tinta Francisca [2%]. The wine was aged in French oak barrels and subsequently in bottle, prior to release.

In the glass, the wine is dark red, a misdirection from its surprisingly light body. There is a slight tartness on entry. The palate displays flavors of mulberries, cedar, unsweetened cocoa, and minerals, which add to the dustiness on the rather short finish. Allow this wine to breath for an hour or so.

Pair it up with Barbequed Salmon, Flank Steak Filled with Spinach and Pistachios, or Roast Chicken with Port, Cream, and Mushrooms.

Top of page: