Chateau Montelena Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay

Chateau Montelena Cabernet Sauvignon and ChardonnayAn American in Paris

Steven Spurrier is an Englishman who once owned a wine shop in Paris that catered to the English-speaking expatriate community. In 1976, in order to drum up interest in his business, he hit upon the idea of holding a blind tasting pitting ten of France’s and California’s best producers against one another. He was able to enlist nine esteemed French wine experts as judges, among them Odette Kahn, editor of the influential Revue du Vin de France; and Christian Vannequé, sommelier of the three-star Parisian restaurant La Tour d’Argent. The French wines included the 1970 Haut-Brion, the 1970 Mouton Rothschild, and the 1973 Domaine Leflaive Puligny-Montrachet Les Pucelles.

The famous tasting, held May 24, 1976, at Paris’ InterContinental Hotel, has come to be known as The Judgement of Paris. Neither Spurrier, a Francophile to the core, nor anyone else expected the upstart Yanks to really put up a fight against the French heavyweights. However, when the votes were tallied, the judges were shocked to discover they had awarded the top prize for the red to the 1973 Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon, and top prize for the white to Chateau Montelena Chardonnay, both from Napa Valley. It was the shock heard ‘round the world, and legitimized California as a world-class wine-making region.

George M. Taber, the Time magazine correspondent present at the time, details the event in Judgment of Paris: California vs. France and the Historic 1976 Paris Tasting That Revolutionized Wine. The story was also dramatized in the 2008 film Bottle Shock.

Thirty years later, in May of 2006, as a celebration of the original Judgement, the same wines were retasted to gauge their aging potential. The French were confident that here the weak Californians would stumble. Instead, mon dieu, they placed first through fifth. Boo Ya!

Chateau Montelena has seen three cycles of family stewardship. The first began in 1882 when the winery was founded by Alfred L. Tubbs, a European immigrant and San Fransciso entrepreneur. The original property was 254 acres of rugged, well drained, stony, and loose land just two miles north of Calistoga at the base of Mount Saint Helena. (Montelena is a contracted form of Mount Saint Helena.) By 1896 Tubbs’ winery was the seventh largest in the Napa Valley.

The Tubbs family sold the winery in 1958, at which time the Chateau and its overgrown grounds passed into the hands of Yort and Jeanie Frank, who were looking for a peaceful spot to retire. The setting inspired Frank to excavate a lake and add landscaping to reflect the Chinese gardens of his homeland.

The modern renaissance of Chateau Montelena started under the leadership of Jim Barrett, who purchased the winery in 1972. The vineyard was cleared and replanted, and the winery was renovated and outfitted with modern winemaking equipment, complemented by the highest-quality grapes from the Napa Valley. In 1972 wines were made for the first time, and shortly thereafter Chateau Montelena stunned the wine world with its win at the 1976 Paris Tasting. The winery continues today with Jim Barrett at the helm.

Napa Valley Chardonnay 2008

This Chardonnay started by being harvested at night in order to preserve delicate flavors and aromas. The wine is brilliantly clear with a golden-straw color. The nose suggests pear and tropical passion fruit. On the palate, there are flavors of juicy peach, citrus notes of pink grapefruit, honey tangerine, and starfruit, conveyed by an appealing softness. The mid-palate features an understated, nutty, oak tone which segues into an interesting long and spicy finish. The wine was aged for 10 months in 100% French barrels, 11% of which were new.

Serve this legendary wine with Morroccan Lemon Chicken, Sea Bass with Gingered Broth, Risotto with Scallops, or, if your dinner guests are French, Crow.

Napa Valley Cabernet 2006

Although famous for their Chardonnay, Montelena makes a number of reds as well, including this Cabernet Sauvignon. The blend is 88% Cabernet Sauvignon, 8% Merlot, and 4% Cabernet Franc.

Dark ruby in color, this wine offers rich, complex aromas of ripe dark cherry, plum, cinnamon, and tobacco, with top notes of earth and forest floor. In the mouth, this wine makes a full soft round entry, after which the acid builds nicely, supporting the dominant flavor of black currant, plus licorice and spice. Plenty of fine-grain tannin completes the mouthfeel. Nice notes of toasted oak round out the tremendous long finish. This is a very well-balanced wine that will age for ten to twelve years, if you have the patience.

Pair this Cabernet with Tenderloin of Beef with Blue Cheese, Cider-Braised Pork Medallions, or Broiled Lamb Chops.

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Charles Krug Winery

Charles Krug WineryStart It Up

After stints as a teacher, political activist, newspaper editor, U.S. Treasury employee, and inventor, in 1861 the restless German immigrant Charles Krug established the very first commercial winery in Napa Valley.

Krug was not only a pioneer, but was innovative and inspirational as well. He became the major local winery figure of his era. He introduced the cider press for winemaking (no more foot stomping!), and carefully selected rootstocks, varietals, and vineyards, a novel approach to winemaking at the time.

Upon Krug’s death in 1892, James Moffitt became proprietor of the winery, and succeeded in keeping it open during the dark days of Prohibition. In 1943, Robert Mondavi persuaded his parents, Cesare and Rosa, to purchase the winery from Moffitt for $75,000. Robert Mondavi developed his wine career there, until he founded his own winery in 1966 and went on to become one of the greatest legends in all of California’s wine industry.

Cesare rejuvinated the winery, and reestablished it as one of Napa’s premier producers. Following Cesare’s death in 1959, Rosa ran the winery until 1976 when it was inherited by Peter Mondavi, Sr.

Innovation continued under Peter, who introduced vintage dating, cold fermentation, cold filtration, and fermentation in small French oak barrels. He was active in the affairs of the winery nearly up until his death in 2016 at the age of 101.  The operation continues under the guidance of his sons Mark and Peter Jr.

Carneros Chardonnay 2010

The color of this 100% chardonnay in the glass is bright yellow with a hint of green. The nose features aromas of tropical fruit, particularly lime, and fermenting bread dough. On the palate, the citrus and peach flavors are balanced with a lively acidity. There is a surprisingly creamy mouthfeel, complemented by a lingering finish. Fermentation was 70% stainless steel and 30% barrel, so the oak is present but not overbearing.

Please your guests and yourself by serving this wine with Chicken ala Kiev, Sea Bass Stuffed with Crabmeat, or Scallops Sauteed in Garlic Butter.

Yountville Cabernet Sauvignon 2010

This cabernet sauvignon favors elegance and finesse over power. The dark purple color is more transparent than inky. Black cherry dominates the nose. The taste displays the same dark fruit, abetted with cocoa and hints of tobacco and vanilla. The supple tannins help to support a relatively long finish. The blend includes 84% cabernet sauvignon, 10% merlot, 4% petit verdot, and 2% cabernet franc. Fermentation was for 20 months in French and American oak.

Enjoy this wine with Steak Diane, Ragout of Lamb, Herb-stuffed Pork Chops with Wine Sauce, or just with some honest bread and artisanal cheeses.

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Justin Vineyards and Winery

Justin Vineyards and WineryJustin Time

Justin Vineyards and Winery is located in Paso Robles in California’s Central Coast region. William Randolph Hearst’s famous “castle,” San Simeon, is due west over the Sierra Madre mountains.

Justin was founded in 1981 by Justin Baldwin when he planted the 160-acre property with the major grapes of Bordeaux, and the emphasis on Bordeaux-style blends and single varietals remains to this day. In addition to the estate vineyard, Justin sources grapes from thirteen affiliated growers in the area.

The winery’s three prime areas of focus are: a “left bank” Bordeaux-style blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc, named Isosceles, Justin’s flagship and most well-known offering; Justification, its “right bank” Merlot and Cabernet Franc cousin; and varietal bottlings of Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah. They also produce limited amounts of Tempranillo, Zinfandel, Malbec, Petit Verdot, Port, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, and Viognier.

For these varietals, each year Justin commissions a different artist to execute the art portion of the label. The winery buildings and their surrounding vineyards are always the subject matter, the idea being that the artists’ interpretation of the winery is like the winemaker’s interpretation of the vineyard’s grapes.

In addition to the tasting room, there is also an inn and restaurant on the property.

Sauvignon Blanc 2010

This unoaked wine spent five and a half months in stainless steel before bottling. It is almost colorless, with hints of pale straw and delicate green.
The nose offers aromas of fresh peach, citrus notes dominated by ruby grapefruit, and a hint of coconut.

On the palate the wine is dry, with bright acidity, and some of the peach flavor carries over from the nose. The body has very good structure for a sauvignon blanc.

Pair this wine with Rosemary-Lemon Chicken, Crab and Shrimp Etouffee, or Broiled Scallops.

Cabernet Sauvignon 2009

After a balanced growing season and unchallenging harvest, Justin’s ‘09 Cabernet was matured for 16 months in French and American oak, 33% of it new.

In the glass, this wine is a not-quite opaque ruby red. It features aromas of black fruits, with a vanilla note from the oak. Surprisingly, there were almost no legs.

Its taste offers up red and black cherries and red currents, although the fruit is somewhat recessive, and is reflective of Justin’s preference for an old-world style, rather than what one might usually expect from the Central Coast. The wine is nicely tannic, with a medium finish.

This food-friendly wine would work well with Yankee Pot Roast, Creole Pork Chops, or Chicken Cacciatore.

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Amapola Creek Winery

Born in San Francisco and raised in Santa Rosa, Richard Arrowood started his winemaking career in 1965 at Korbel Champagne Cellars, after earning a degree in organic chemistry at California State University, Sacramento, and completing graduate work in enology at California State University, Fresno.

From Korbel he moved on, first to United Vintners, then Sonoma Vineyards, and in 1974 was chosen by the founders of Chateau St. Jean Winery to become their first employee and winemaker.

Arrowood Winery opened in 1986 while he was still at Chateau St. Jean, and for the first three years his wife Alis ran the winery as Richard fulfilled his obligations at Chateau St. Jean. In April 1990 Richard joined Alis to devote himself full-time to Arrowood Winery.

The peripatetic Arrowood then moved on once again; he opened his newest winery, Amapola Creek, in June, 2010. The 120-acre ranch (purchased in 2001) that is home to Amapola Creek is situated on the western slope of the Mayacamas Mountains, which rise between and separate the Sonoma and Napa valleys. Although Alis envisioned the site as the place for a peaceful retirement, Richard had other ideas, and immediately set about selecting the best 20 acres of the property for use as the foundation for Amapola Creek Winery.

Arrowood claims he’s “saved the best for last.” Perhaps he’s right; after making quality wine for over 45 years, he says his quest now is to make his greatest wines ever.

In early December 2019, Richard Arrowood announced his retirement.

Amapola Zinfandel 2007

The grapes for this Zinfandel were sourced from ‘ancient’ 115-year old vines of Sonoma’s historic Monte Rosso vineyard. This high-elevation site features mineral-rich volcanic soils and cooling breezes from San Pablo Bay.

The gnarly old vines made for a truly distinctive Zinfandel. It is dark plum in color, befitting its nicely balanced flavors of dark stone fruits, black cherry, and blackberry. The taste is supported by supple tannins and good acid, as well as just a hint of sweetness. And, there is no pepper on the palate, which is just the way I like my Zins.

Serve this wine with Sweet Potatoes Topped With Black Bean Chili, Grilled Spareribs with Cherry Cola Glaze, or Apricot Glazed Chicken.

Amapola Cabernet Sauvignon 2006

The organically-farmed estate vineyard for this Cabernet borders the one from which comes the Zinfandel, so the soils and climate are nearly identical.

This is just the second Cabernet released by Amapola. The grapes were hand-picked, and pressed after fermentation. The wine was then aged for 26 months in new and seasoned French and American oak. It is neither fined nor filtered.

This elegant wine shows excellent harmony and structure. The taste features ripe blackberry, plum, and currant. The fruit is offset by a pleasing dustiness, and supported by restrained tannins.

This wine would pair nicely with Rib Roast with Thyme-Mustard Jus, Pork Sauté with Apples and Calvados Cream Sauce, or Herb Roasted Turkey with Shallot Pan Gravy.

Here’s another look at Amapola Creek:

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Carmel Winery Private Collection

Carmel Winery Private Selection

The first mention of wine in the Bible appears in Genesis, chapter 9, verse 20, “And Noah began to be an husbandman, and he planted a vineyard.” The story goes on to recount some unpleasantness after Noah overimbibes, but there is no reason to go into that here. The point is, wine is as old as history itself, with some of its earliest beginnings in the Middle East. Indeed, references to wine appear hundreds of times in Scripture, through both the Old and New Testaments.

Wine production flourished in the eastern Mediterranean until the rise of Islamic prohibitionists suppressed it in the 8th century. However, there has been a modern renaissance in Turkey, Cyprus, and Lebanon, as well as Israel, from which these Carmel Winery Private Collection wines come.

Sweet red kiddush wines, consumed on the Shabbat (the Jewish day of rest) and other Jewish holidays, were for years the standard output of the original cooperative wineries of Carmel at Rishon le Zion and Zichron Yaacov in the coastal regions of Samaria and Samson, a gift to Israel from French wine magnate Baron Edmond de Rothschild, owner of the famous Chateau Lafite in Bordeaux. They still control just under half of all grapes in the most traditional wine-growing areas.

Starting in the 1980s with the introduction of technology and expertise from California, Israeli wines began to move from primarily sacramental use to products intended to compete on the international stage.

Carmel Winery, one of the first and largest winemakers in Israel, was founded in 1882 by the aforementioned Baron Rothschild. It sits on the eastern shore of the Mediterranean, about 14 miles south of Haifa. The Zichron Yaakov wine cellars were built in 1890, and are still active to this day. Carmel Winery works with 108 families of wine growers to nurture some 3,500 acres of vineyards in Israel from the Galilee and the Golan Heights in the North, to the Negev in the South. Carmel uses state-of-the-art technology to produce an array of wines from entry-level offerings to premium bottlings.

This new Private Collection series showcases the country’s most prized growing regions and Carmel Winery’s 137 years of winemaking expertise.

The 2018 Winemakers Blend is an easy-drinking mix of 50% Cabernet and 50% Merlot, made by Carmel’s Chief Winemaker Yiftach Peretz. It has fragrant aromas of blueberry and vanilla on the nose. The taste features suggestions of plums with hints of spices and cocoa abetted by soft tannins. The finish is relatively short.

The 2018 Cabernet Sauvignon, perhaps predictably, is much like the Winemakers Blend. It has rich aromas of blackberry and chocolate, with a similar flavor profile. The well-balanced tannins are more prominent, and the finish rather longer.

The 2018 Shiraz is deep purple in the glass, with a medium-bodied palate of dark stone fruit, a hint of green pepper, and good supporting tannins. It offers the longest finish of this trio.

All three of these Carmel Winery expressions are worthy of your consideration, but the Shiraz was the standout for me.

These wines are “kosher for Passover” and “mevushal.” Both certifications require 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.

Mevushal is a subclass of kosher wine that can be handled by non-Jewish or non-observant waiters, and is consequently frequently used in kosher restaurants and by kosher caterers. To be classified as mevushal, kosher wine is cooked or boiled, after which it will keep the status of kosher wine even if subsequently touched by a non-Jew.

The process of fully boiling a wine can greatly alter the tannins and flavors. Therefore, much care is taken to satisfy the legal requirements while exposing the wine to as little heat as necessary.  Surprisingly, there is significant disagreement as to the precise temperature a wine must reach to be considered mevushal, ranging from 165°F (74°C) to 194°F (90°C). Heating at the minimum required temperature reduces some of the damage done to the wine, but still has a substantial effect on quality and aging potential.

Alternatively, flash pasteurization rapidly heats the wine to the desired temperature and immediately chills it back to room temperature. This process is said to have much less impact on flavor, at least compared to actual cooking or boiling.  I assume Carmel Winery uses the flash pasteurization method to achieve mevushal status, as none of these wines display any obvious damage from overheating.

Regardless of the heating method, 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.

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Rietvallei Wine Estate

Rietvallei Wine EstateRosés Are Red, My Love…

…Cabernets are too. These two cabs come from the Rietvallei Wine Estate, located in the Robertson region of South Africa, outside of Johannesburg. This warm, low-rainfall area has excellent lime-rich soils, and is usually known for white wine, sherry, and brandy.

The Rietvallei Estate was founded in 1864 by the Burger family, and for many decades only produced red muscadel (also known as muscat), a sweet dessert wine. The estate’s house style was based on a recipe still to be found nailed behind the cellar door.

Today overseen by sixth generation winemaker Kobus Burger, Rietvallei began to expand its offerings a few years ago. A Chardonnay was first released in 1987, followed by a Sauvignon Blanc in 2001. The selections now include a number of other whites and reds as well.

Rietvallei Cabernet Sauvignon 2005

This easy-drinking cabernet will appeal most to those who like a lighter style of wine. Although the wine is very dark, the flavor is soft, more like a merlot than a cab. There is also a hint of sweetness as well as tartness. The aroma in the glass, or “nose,” is quite delicate. The finish is short, reflecting the low level of tannins. Enjoy this with a wide range of not too assertive foods, including fish and ‘burgers.

Rietvallei Juanita Rosé 2005

A fruity but quite dry rosé made from 100% cabernet sauvignon. A nice tart refreshing taste. Should pair well with any food where sauvignon blanc would be the more usual choice.

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Lot 25 Wine

Lot 25 Wine
Secret Agent, Man

Lot 205 is the undercover label of the well-regarded Cartlidge and Browne winery. Although they acknowledge their Rabid, Manzanita Canyon, and Stratford sub-brands, Lot 205 is their secret agent, for reasons known only to them (the price points of all of these labels are approximately the same).

The name is taken from C&B’s former street address in American Canyon at the southern end of Napa Valley. The fruit, however, is sourced from growers throughout California.

Winemaker Paul Moser leans toward the French style, with an emphasis on the correct expression of the grape variety; the predominance of fruit over oak; making the wines dry and food-friendly; keeping the alcohol levels in check; and offering good value in table wines meant for everyday consumption.

Lot 205 Cabernet Sauvignon 2006

This wine is primarily Paso Robles Cabernet (82%) and Merlot (12%). The taste is fruit-forward, with dominant cherry supported by tobacco and mocha notes. It has a medium body and color, and is well-balanced by smooth, restrained tannins.

Partner this cab with jerk-rubbed chicken thighs, balsamic-marinated flank steak, and grilled lamb chops.

Lot 205 Chardonnay 2006

Although present, oak is a supporting player in this chardonnay, letting the apple, citrus, and pineapple come to the fore. It’s a bit sweeter than I expected, with a hint of butterscotch.

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Jack Nicklaus Cabernet Sauvignon and Private Reserve White

Jack Nicklaus Wine
Golden Bear Meets the Golden State

Even among non-players, two names in golf are widely recognized: Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus, aka the Golden Bear. Nicklaus has been a wine collector for many years, but only recently decided to pursue the production of wines carrying his name, although he had been urged to do so for quite some time.

Since Nicklaus obviously knows a lot more about golf than making fine wine, after five years pondering and researching a possible wine project, he decided to partner with Terlato Wines International for support and assistance in his wine program. The Terlato family was a natural fit. Scion Bill Terlato is a member and former club champion at the Nicklaus-run Bear’s Club in Jupiter, Florida, and the Terlato empire includes extensive vineyard holdings in northern California. Nicklaus was particulary impressed by the Terlato-owned Chimney Rock and Rutherford Hill wineries in the heart of Napa Valley during an early visit as the joint venture was being established.

Nicklaus selected from barrel the wines for his signature label. They are crafted by the Terlato winemaking team, with day-to-day winemaking being handled by Marisa Taylor-Huffaker. The fruit is sourced primarily from vineyards in the famous Rutherford and Stags Leap District appellations of Napa.

 Private Reserve White 2011

This proprietary white blend is “based on sauvignon blanc,” with no further information available. It was barrel fermented, with a portion of the wine in French oak, and the balance fermented in stainless steel barriques.
It is pale gold, bordering on colorless. The nose features stone fruit, particularly peach, and green apple. The taste is surprisingly delicate, with a hint of grapefruit. The mouthfeel is nicely textured.

With only 541 cases made, distribution is limited, and, frankly, the price reflects exclusivity more than taste.

Pair this up with Clams Steamed in Sauvignon Blanc with Apples, Shallots, and Chervil, or Linguine with Halibut, Tomato-Basil Purée, Squash, and Garlic.

Cabernet Sauvignon 2009

This cabernet shows garnet in the glass, with a somewhat lighter density than one might expect. The nose features red fruit (i.e .cherry and raspberry), with hints of dark chocolate.

The taste follows through with suggestions of dark stone fruit, toasted spices, and cedar, although the fruit is rather recessive. The flavor is balanced by well-structured tannins which deliver a medium finish. If you normally prefer merlot, I suggest you give this medium-bodied cabernet sauvignon a try.

Serve this wine with Pizza with Pesto, Tomatoes, and Fresh Mozzarella, Grilled Pork Tenderloin with Merlot and Molasses, or Fried Chicken with Buttermilk and Cornmeal Crust.

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Dakota Shy Cabernet Sauvignon

Dakota Shy Cabernet SauvignonThere’s Nothing Shy About
This Cabernet

Dakota Shy was founded by industry veterans Todd Newman and Tom Garrett in 2008, determined to ultimately create a world-class estate of their own. They began by sourcing Cabernet Sauvignon grapes from a range of vineyards throughout Napa Valley.

Dakota Shy purchased its estate in 2014. It dates back to the 1850s, when George Yount took possession via the Spanish Land Grant. Along side the vines, there are 1.2 acres of Italian and Spanish olives from which Dakota Shy presses their own oil.

In addition to the estate, Dakota Shy continues to source grapes from all over Napa Valley. These sites offer unique and varied characteristics that Dakota Shy relies on in the creation of their Cabernets.

This wine opens with notes of stone and spice on the nose. Flavors of grass, oak, dried cherry, cocoa and minerals follow. The medium body is supported by well integrated oak and tannin. If you don’t want to cellar it, decant for three to four hours before serving. Available only by allocation.

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Chimney Rock Winery

Chimney Rock
Like a Rock

The Stags Leap District AVA is in the very heart of Napa Valley. It runs from north to south for about three miles along the Silverado Trail, and its 1,350 [very prized] acres were first planted with Cabernet Sauvignon in 1961, for which it would soon become renowned. The name comes from an outcropping of red rocks at the area’s eastern boundary, where a stag supposedly escaped his pursuers by leaping across the treacherous gap.

The Stags Leap District’s reputation was assured in 1976, when the 1973 Stag’s Leap Wine Cellar’s S.L.V. Cabernet Sauvignon won the famous (some would say infamous) “Judgement of Paris” International Wine Competition, besting the likes of First Growths Mouton-Rothschild and Haut-Brion. This now-legendary growing region received AVA [American Viticultural Area] status in 1989.

Situated at the far southern end of Stags Leap, the Chimney Rock estate was started on a 180-acre parcel (which originally included a golf course, but that was turned over to vines long ago). Initially, 59 acres were planted with a combination of red and white grapes, and the first vintage of Chimney Rock estate wines was produced in 1989. In the mid-1990s, after a phylloxera infestation necessitated the replanting of the entire property, only red Bordeaux-variety grapes were used in recognition of the unique characteristics and potential of the Stags Leap District.

In 2004, the Terlato Family empire acquired sole ownership of Chimney Rock, and they have diligently worked to steadily improve this already excellent winery.

Chimney Rock Elevage Blanc 2008

Seeing the very pale straw color of this wine in the glass you might think, “well, this is a lightweight.” But, you would be wrong. There is much to like in this unusual blend of Sauvignon Blanc [70%] and the rarely used Sauvignon Gris [30%]. The nose shows aromas of mango, pineapple, and vanilla, and there is a hint of coconut on the finish. Even so, this wine is strictly dry, with a full, rich mouthfeel. The fruit is nicely balanced with the proper amount of acidity.

Pair Elevage Blanc with Quail Stuffed with Ricotta, Bacon, and Greens, or Soft-Shell Crabs with Vegetable Slaw.

Chimney Rock Cabernet Sauvignon 2009

I strive to be coolly unbiased in this blog, but I have to be honest: this is one of my all-time favorite wines. The color is deep garnet red. The bouquet features black currant and vanilla. Although a classic Big Cab (with support from Merlot and Cabernet Franc), this wine is completely approachable. The dark fruit flavors are supported by smooth tannins and just the right amount of acidity for balance and liveliness. Aging was 18 months in 50/50 new/used French oak. 100% sourced from the Stags Leap District, this wine will easily cellar for ten years; ten days is more like it in mine. And although expensive, this Chimney Rock will easily compete with Cabernet Sauvignons costing twice as much.

Serve with Filets of Beef Stuffed with Roast Garlic and Herbs, or Goat Cheese-Stuffed Roasted Chicken.

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Arrowood Vineyards

Me and My Arrowood

This eponymous winery was founded by Richard and Alis Arrowood, the culmination of what up until then had been twenty-one years of winemaking.

Born in San Francisco and raised in Santa Rosa, Arrowood started his winemaking career in 1965 at Korbel Champagne Cellars, after earning a degree in organic chemistry at California State University, Sacramento and completing graduate work in enology at California State University, Fresno.

From Korbel he moved on, first to United Vintners, then Sonoma Vineyards, and in 1974 was chosen by the founders of Chateau St. Jean Winery to become their first employee and winemaker.

Arrowood Winery opened in 1986 while he was still at Chateau St. Jean, and for the first three years Alis ran the winery as Richard fulfilled his obligations at Chateau St. Jean. In April 1990 Richard joined Alis to devote himself full-time to Arrowood Winery.

Arrowood is located just ouside of Glen Ellen, California, in Sonoma County, and sources all of its grapes from the county’s diverse viticultural areas, such as Russian River Valley, Alexander and Dry Creek Valleys, and Sonoma-Carneros. Sonoma has some of the most varied and complex terroir in the world, with soils that include marine deposits, clay, loam, and volcanic rock.This unusual variety allows a skilled winemaker to match the grape variety he is working with to the most appropiate soil.

Sonoma County Cabernet Sauvignon

Sourced primarily from organic or sustainably-farmed vineyards on the western slopes of the Mayacama Mountain Range, this deep, dense Cabernet opens on the nose with vanilla, earth, and toast. The flavor is intense but wonderfully balanced, featuring plum, cassis, currant, and a hint of unsweetened cocoa, all supported by nicely integrated tannins. The wine is certainly drinkable now in its youthful exuberance, and should cellar well for ten more years, also. Pair this excellent Cabernet with Beef Tenderloin with Bordelaise Sauce, Steak Diane, or Pork Chops with Onion Marmalade. If you can afford it, buy it by the case.

Sonoma County Chardonnay

This Chardonnay is another balanced and harmonious wine, with an elegant structure and body. The color is quite pale, but the mouthfeel is pleasingly unctious. The taste is crisp and fresh, with notes of apple, peach, and just a hint of sweetness. There is plenty of oak, too, from nine months in French barrels; sadly, this is becoming ever less common. Serve this with Seared Salmon with Balsamic Glaze, Mussels with Garlic and White Wine, or Paprika Chicken.

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Simi Wines from Alexander Valley

Although Napa Valley is considered by many to be California’s preeminent winemaking region, Sonoma County just to the north offers many pleasures as well, particularly the wines from Alexander Valley, which is one of my personal favorites.

The Simi brothers immigrated from Tuscany, Italy, to California during the Gold Rush of 1876. They soon discovered the rolling hills of Sonoma County near San Francisco, which reminded them of home. In 1881 they established their winemaking operations in Healdsburg, where they completed construction of Simi’s first stone cellar in 1890. The winery has been in continuous operation ever since, giving it the distinction as California’s oldest.

Early success led to doubling the size of the winery by 1904, and it continued to grow until the disaster of Prohibition in 1920. Forbidden to sell their wine, Simi continued to make and store wine for the 15 years that Prohibition lasted. (They were able to sell “sacramental” wine during this time, which provided a much-needed income to barely keep the winery in operation.)
With Repeal in 1933, Simi was ready with a large supply of perfectly cellared wine to sell, and with their survival we are able to enjoy their products today.

Simi Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2005

If you are a fan of Cabernet Sauvignon, the Simi Alexander Valley is an excellent choice for everyday drinking (the $26 list price is often discounted).
Simi sources the grapes for this wine from the nearly 600 acres they own devoted to red wine production. The diverse soils of these vineyards are a result of eons of geologic activity, including a catastrophic landslide which changed the course of the Russian River.

The color is the usual dense, dark red purple. The nose offers blackberry, cassis, and plum. It serves up ripe black cherry and blackberry on the tongue. This Cabernet is medium-bodied, with moderate tannins and a touch of vanilla and oak for structure. The wine shows good legs, and the 13.5% alcohol level is right in line with current winemaking style.

Enjoy this Cabernet Sauvignon with grilled skirt steak sandwiches on rye with horseradish mayonnaise, roast prime rib au poivre, and grilled Tuscan pork rib roast with rosemary coating and red bell pepper relish.

Simi Sonoma County Chardonnay 2007

This very pale gold Chardonnay features nicely balanced notes of lemon and citrus paired with a crisp, lively acidity. The nose is ripe melon and slight white peach. The fruit flavors are supported by an unassuming oak floor.
Pair this creamy smooth wine with richer foods such as baked salmon filled with mascarpone spinach, baked cod with tarragon butter, or pork sauté with caramelized pears.

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