Archive for the ‘Carmel Valley’ Category

Raymond – 156

Friday, September 9th, 2005

Raymond_signIn the Napa valley, between Highway 29 and the Silverardo Trail, there are just a few access roads that connect to two main arteries which keep the life blood of America’s most famous wine area flowing. For visitors to the Napa valley, it is exactly those wineries on the 29 and the Silverado Trail which see the majority of the business. But it is those little-travelled access roads which often house worthwhile investigation. Raymond Winery is just such a find.

Raymond_bldgZinfandel Lane is one of the connecting roads and lies just south of the town of St. Helena. There are actually only two or three public wineries on this road, the rest being appointment-only. The surprise is that I had driven past Raymond dozens of times without realizing it was there, being so well hidden by shrubbery and plant life. Driving through a maze of vines from the entrance, the winery complex comes into view, reflecting a 1950s ranch house in its epoch, lying low to the ground. Despite the sense of entering fifty-year old time warp, the landscaping is open, vast, and inviting due to the predominance of colorful flowers.

Raymond_tasting_room_1The tasting room is similarly austere with a touch of non-tangible nostaligia. There is nothing specific in alluding to the age; perhaps it is merely the architecture. The tasting room is not overwhelmed with retail items and the pouring staff is extremely gracious and helpful. The big draw? The wines — truly excellent quality juice at moderately affordable prices. At a production level of 300,000 cases, it is an impressive facility that is producing a LOT of wine worth tasting:

2003 Napa Valley Reserve Sauvignon Blanc – Golden bouquet of melon and tropical fruit. Very smooth, easy mouth feel with a touch of cream and no stridency. Crisp finish that keeps going, finishing with a heightened green apple flavor. $12.50

2003 Napa Valley Reserve Chardonnay – At a caseload production of almost 25,000 cases, this is a  pretty substantial amount of wine. Fresh fruit of pear, mango, and papaya aromas. The smooth, soft entry seems a bit flabby to me, but finishes with a bit more richness than anticipated. $18.00

1995 Merlot Reserve – Port-like dusty floral bouquet. Dark, integrated, toasty flavors of twigs and a faint finish of mint. Reasonable deal if drunk immediately. (On a special sell-off; $90 a case)

2001 Rutherford Reserve Merlot – Relatively small production of only 500 cases. 99% Merlot, 1% Cabernet. Classic Rutherford dust aromas that were slightly sweet with a touch of green pepper. Intense nose that continued into the mouth entry with dark red fruit and a long, balanced finish. $30.00

2001 St. Helena Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon – 97% Cabernet Sauvignon, 3% Merlot. Almost 1,000 cases. Rich dark red wine displaying dark spice and plum in the nose. Easy, smooth mouth entry of rich blackberry and refined spices in the complex finish. 13.8% alcohol! $45.00

2001 Rutherford Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon – 99% Cabernet Sauvignon, 1% Merlot. Almost 1,000 cases. Hugh, spicy aromas that were surprisingly Syrah-like in blackness; dark fruit, blackberry liqueuer, and dark florals. Sweet entry exudes some dusty floral qualities. The wine smelled older and more developed than it tasted. Easy to drink now, but with a developed integration and supple mouthfeel that will only improve with age. $45.00

2000 Generations Cabernet Sauvignon – Dark spicy pepper and Moroccan spices with a touch of earth in its bouquet. Rich, dark flavors with some green bell pepper and mostly complex, dark currant, berry, and tobacco flavors. $65.00

Raymond Vineyard & Cellar ~ 849 Zinfandel Lane ~ St. Helena ~ CA ~ 94574 ~ 800-525-2659

Wente – 119

Monday, July 18th, 2005

Wente_signGundlach Bundschu has always prided itself on being the oldest family-owned winery in North America. However, the Bundschu family had to shut down their winery during Prohibition so the next in line for claim to fame goes to Wente, who is the oldest family-owned continually operating winery, dating back to 1883. Right in the middle of Livermore!

Wente_bldgThere are actually two separate places to visit and taste Wente wines in Livermore. I stumbled on to the one on Tesla, but only later learned there was a "visitor center" on Arroyo Road. From the looks of their website, the Arroyo Road location also provides wine tastings but might be the prettier of the two, as it is available for wedding rentals. There are also signs around for a concert series so I imagine the other location has significantly bigger facilities. This was not an eyesore by any means, however.

Wente_tasting_roomThe Tesla Road set of buildings includes a tasting room that is actually two small octagonal buildings; one being a bar-in-the-round and the other the gift shop. The tasting area is surrounded by stone walls on which artworks are displayed, with exhibits changing in rotation. The folks pouring are pleasant and informative, but choose wisely. This is one of those companies that almost produce too much to taste in one sitting. I cherry-picked my tastings, thus:

NV Reserve Brut, Arroyo Seco and Monterey – 48% Pinot Noir and 52% Pinot Blanc. Hint of yeast and citrus that produced both a clean, dry entry. Easy, but unexceptional. $14.95

2003 Riesling, Vineyard Selection, 78% Arroyo Seco, 22% Monterey – At 2.20% residual sugar, this wine has been tempered with 24% Gewurztraminer. Initial overt aroma of orange blossom which anticipated a sweetness that did not reveal itself in the mouth entry, to my delight. With as much residual sugar as this wine had, this wine had the potential to be a sugar bomb. Instead, while it was definitely sweet, the hint of spiciness and integrated melon, peach, and honeysuckle flavors were quite pleasant. $8.95

2003 The Nth Degree Chardonnay – Clear, bright lemony yellow color. Butter and lemon predominate with a layer of lemon peel and kiwi. Surprisingly sweet entry in the mouth that touches on sweet apple, dairy butter, and a hint of toast. $35.00

2002 Pinot Noir, Reliz Creek Reserve, Arroyo Seco, Monterey – Great fruity nose of raspberry, dark cherry, and a hint of smoky earth. Unfortunately, the bright engaging nose was lost on the mouth entry which was harsh and metallic with a strident finish. $17.95

2002 Merlot, Crane Ridge Reserve – 79% Merlot, 16% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 5% Barbera. Liqueur-like  aromas of dark, elegant plum, exotic wood, and heady spice. Clean, smooth mouth entry with a balanced finish. $17.95

2002 Syrah, Vineyard Selection – 75% Syrah, 19% Barbera, and 6% Cabernet Sauvignon. Stunning pomegranate aromas just barely concealing dark cherry and hints of earth. Port-like entry that was a bit sweet but blossomed to show integration of roasted coffee and black strawberries. $12.95

2002 Small-Lot Cabernet Sauvignon/Syrah – 54% Cabernet Sauvignon and 46% Syrah. Dark, clear purple color with bouquet of dark brambleberry and subtle tones of spice. Very smooth entry that was a tad hot in the mid-palate. I’m confident the heat will subside with aging. Vanilla finish is rich and clean. $45.00

Wente Vineyards Tasting Room ~ 5565 Tesla Road ~ Livermore ~ CA ~ 94550 ~ 925-456-2305
Wente Vineyards Visitor’s Center ~ 5050 Arroyo Road ~ Livermore ~ CA ~ 94550 ~ 925-456-2405

Chateau Sinnet – 15

Saturday, February 12th, 2005

Cs_sign_1Chateau Sinnet is a bit difficult to find — off the main drag of the "village" in Carmel Valley, but contained within a small shopping center.   There was a very nice young man working the tasting room the day of my visit, but I believe I caught him a bit off guard. There was a large area behind the tasting bar where many additional items are sold, but I was here for wine.

A great number of varietals were offered, including Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Chardonnay, Syrah, Petit Syrah, Sangiovese, Touriga, and Zinfandel. Along with these, a number of "California Champagnes" are made as well as some sweet wines, which they market as "Fruit Wine" — wines infused with various fruit juices. These are named after various artists with monikers such as Cranberry Renoir L’Orange, Pomegranate Toulouse, or Peach Monet with Honey. Wanting to touch upon their entire repertoire without going overboard, I tasted just a few of each:

NV California Champagne Grand Cuvee – A bit of tin with an extremely metallic finish.
2002 Chateau Sinnet Cabernet Sauvignon – Apparently opened the previous day and was overly oxidized.
Blackberry Chagall – I should have stopped at the Cabernet.

San Saba – 13

Thursday, February 10th, 2005

San_saba_sign San Saba is another in those line of Monterey wineries who have a small tasting room on the Carmel Valley corridor, but who grow and produce elsewhere. Actually, their tasting room is in a strip mall that is slightly difficult to get into only because you can see it from the road, but is slightly blocked by a large tree. The tasting room is pretty innocuous in that it IS in a strip mall and entering through large, glass doors into a wide open area is a tad unusual. On the adjacent wall, was a stunning huge antique Indian rug which I recall commenting on and am sorry I didn’t photograph.

Tasting_at_san_saba The gentleman pouring for me the day I was there was extremely pleasant and helpful. Not all pouring folks like have their picture taken but an unassuming, laid-back demeanor was prevalent in almost all my Monterey tastings. I didn’t inquire a great deal into the winery, its winemaker, or production level. I just tasted their wine…

2001 Bocage Unoaked Chardonnay – I was actually pretty excited to taste this as I tend to not be a huge fan of over-oaked, heavily malo’d Chardonnay. This wine had an engaging golden color. I was surprised at the complex, round aromas of apple. It was crisp and a bit sharp immediately upon entering the mouth, much like a Sauvignon Blanc.

2003 Bocage Unoaked Chardonnay – Again, a Chardonnay that saw no oak or malo — however this one showed considerable medicinal aromas but produced a richness in the mouth which surprised me again.

2001 San Saba Chardonnay – Now this wine was aged seven months in 100% French oak and definitely had some malo applied to it. Rich vanilla appeared on the nose and I was gratified that little butter was tasted beyond the fruit.

2003 San Saba Chardonnay – A bit paler than the 2001 in color. Less structure and considerably harsher fruit in the mouth. Would definitely smooth out after time.

2000 Bocage Merlot – One-half of this wine saw French oak while the other half saw stainless steel. I had a hard time detecting anything other than green bell pepper on the nose or in the mouth.

2002 Bocage Merlot – As opposed to the 2000, this one was fully oaked and had 15% Syrah added to it. While it showed good, beautiful color, the mouth was incredibly harsh and had little finish.

1999 San Saba Merlot – With 9% Cabernet Sauvignon, again all I could perceive was bell pepper, bell pepper, bell pepper…

San Saba ~ 19 East Carmel Valley Road ~ Carmel Valley ~ CA ~ 831-659-7322

Bernardus – 12

Wednesday, February 9th, 2005

Bernardus_sign Bernardus is big business in the Monterey area. Not only a high-falutin winery, but full on Lodge that has a restaurant I’d be interested in eating in! I didn’t know about the lodge until I was in the tasting room and the lodge’s menu was posted near the cash register. Owner Ben Pon owns vineyards in the Cachagua region of Carmel Valley and has a goal to make red wines that equal those found in Bordeaux. The tasting room is pretty standard as far as design and functionality is concerned, yet the chatter and warmth of the employees makes for a lively and enjoyable visit.

Bernardus_room There are two levels of tastings offered; the Bernardus Tasting at $5.00 for four tastings, or the Mr. Pon Reserve Tasting, all the previous four plus an additional four which includes a Bernardus wine charm. I declined the charm, but managed to taste everything the winery had to offer…

2002 Marsanne – Only 200 cases made of this otherwise rare grape. Clear, crisp, and bright and for $16.00 purchased immediately as look forward to enjoying it alongside some grilled tilapia this summer.

2002 Bernardus Sauvignon Blanc – Blended from four different vineyards on the Sonoma coast, this wine was a blend of 94% Sauvignon Blanc and 6% Semillion. Versus those SBs which can be overwhelmingly acidic, I found the mouthfeel of this wine to be round and full with balanced aromas. A hint of grassiness on the nose.

2002 Griva Sauvignon Blanc – 100% Stainless fermented. Appropriate cat piss on the nose and then green apple. Crisp and sharp in the mouth but with a creamy finish.

2002 Bernardus Chardonnay – Apparently got 92 Enthusiast points. Made from five different yeasts but (sadly for me), 90% ML. Lots of melon on the nose and very buttery and rich in the mouth.

2003 Saignee de Marinus Cabernet Rose – I think I was really lucky to get a taste of this as only 24 cases were made. Surprisingly round, rich nose on the pale rose color. Crisp and inviting.

2000 Bien Nacido Pinot Noir – Bien Nacido vineyards are located in Santa Barbara. Pale in color with heavy mineral aromas. In the mouth, one is greeted with full, heavy fruit which finishes with a peppery sensation. After a bit of swirling, instead of mineral on the nose, I perceived that candy store-like smell. It was close to wanting to be a Syrah, but faded too quickly.

2000 Bernardus Marinus – Their flagship wine, 90% Cabernet Sauvignon, 1% Merlot, 6% Cabernet Franc, and 3% Petit Verdot. Very bright nose that is extremely fruit-forward. Secondary aroma of tobacco. Chewy tannins overpower the fruit but I think it would age extremely well.

1997 Bernardus Marinus – Slightly different makeup; 79% Cabernet Sauvignon, 18% Merlot, 2% Cabernet Franc, and 1% Petit Verdot. This wine was unfiltered and slightly cloudy. Amazing, complex combination on the nose of dark, elegant fruit and cinnamon spice. There was a hint of bell pepper, but only a hint. Tannins are well-balanced and the finish had nice, cherry tones.

Bernardus ~ 5 West Carmel Valley Road ~ Carmel Valley ~ CA ~ 800-223-2533