Archive for the ‘Los Carneros’ Category

Simon Levi – Cuttings Wharf – Pour la Vie – 180

Friday, October 14th, 2005

Slc_signSimon Levi Cellars is located on the main road that stretches between Santa Rosa and Sonoma in a community known as Kenwood. It is a small, two-lane road peppered with small tasting rooms, tiny restaurants, and an occasional shop or two. One of the main draws for me, after driving past a number of times, was a sign that said Champagne.   Now I know darn well that Champagne is made in France and that California makes sparkling wine, but vernacular aside, wine with bubbles is a really great thing, whether it is sparkling from California, Prosecco from Italy, Champagne from France, or Cava from Spain. I also tend to forget that there are more and more wineries producing sparkling wine, getting into my own rut of drinking from my personal Big 5 (Chandon, Mumm, Taittinger, J, and Schramsburg).

Slc_bldg The building is very reminiscent of an old-style school house; probably because it was red and shingled and quaint. A few picnic tables on the surrounding wooden deck invite guests to relax and stay a while. While there, taste from four different labels. The three made under the Simon Levi auspices is SLC (Simon Levi Cellars), Cuttings Wharf, and Pour la Vie. (The fourth label will be its own blog entry.)

Slc_tasting_roomThe Pour la Vie label is the name given to the sparkling wines and is made in three flavors; a Grand Cuvee, Almondine, and Framboise. I wanted to get a good cross reference to all the offerings and did not bother tasting the almond or raspberry sparkling, although others in the tasting room seemed to enjoyed it. The tasting room has some lovely things as well — take a look at the suspended model train that runs above the pouring station! Open and spacious with some wonderful discoveries to be had.

2003 Cuttings Wharf Chardonnay – From Carneros fruit. Creamy tropical, kiwi nose with a bright, crisp entry. Not overly buttery or oaky, this fruity, balanced wine is easy to drink. $25.00

2002 Cuttings Wharf Pinot Noir – Light red color belies with intense, fruit-forward, fresh aromas of cherry and strawberry. Substantially more body and structure in the mouth with a defined, sculpted mineral mid-palate. $25.00

2003 Simon Levi Dry Creek Syrah – Dark, plummy colored wine. Smoke and candy dominate the nose. A tad hot on the mouth entry, flavors of spice and earthy mint tease until the slightly dry finish. $28.00

NV Pour la Via Grand Cuvee – 100% Chardonnay. Nutty, creamy, and slightly sweet on entry (probably because I was tasting it after the reds). Hints of light kiwi. $18.00

Simon Levi Cellars ~ 9380 Sonoma Highway ~ Kenwood ~ CA ~ 95452 ~ 707-833-5070
No charge to taste.

Hagafen Cellars – 179

Thursday, October 13th, 2005

Hag_signIn Hebrew, hagafen means "the vine." And I was fascinated to learn that a premiere kosher winery exists in Napa! When people think of kosher in regards to wine, one immediately thinks of Manischevitz, but Hagafen Cellars is Napa-based, certified kosher, and astonishingly great! I am not going to give a whole analysis of how kosher wines are made. There are enough websites that will do that other than to tell you that the wine is briefly flash pasteurized at 185 degrees and blessed by an in-house Rabbi.

Hag_bldgLocated just off the Silverado Trail, Hagafen is owned by Ernie and Irit Weir and by all accounts, they are very hands-on owners with Ernie managing the vineyards AND making the wine. The day of my visit, a large group was expected for lunch and I was told how Irit had prepared an entire Turkish-inspired meal.

Hag_lolaAlthough I did not get an opportunity to meet the Weirs, I was introduced to She Who Really Runs Everything: Lola. We all know that winery cats are true power behind the thrones and Lola certainly held court as stately queen of the tasting room. Another interesting aspect of the tasting room (one you MUST ask about), are the frogs…

Hag_tasting_roomThe tasting room is small and elegant, surrounded with cases of wine and accolades on the walls. You can hear the high-pitched chirps echoing around you. They are there, you see… Small little frogs who like to hang out in the tasting room, mostly behind the framed pictures of the family, articles, and well-deserved ratings. It is charming and disconcerting at the same time and I’m surprised Lola hasn’t had her way with them…

2001 Brut Cuvée Sparkling Wine – Yep, a sparkling kosher! Made from Carneros grapes which are purchased, a mere 500 cases are made. 78% Pinot Noir and 22% Chardonnay, this wine is creamy and nutty with hints of toast and ripe white fruit. $30.00

2004 Chardonnay – 100% malo displays a light, creamy floral nose. Initial flavors are of yellow peach and apricot with a light, toasty oak finish. $18.00

2004 Pinot Noir – 8 month in French oak. Bright cherry and raspberry aromas mirrored in the crisp mouth entry. Engaging terroir is warm and rich in this medium-bodied wine with a soft, mineral finish. $32.00

2002 Merlot – Warm, dark cherry bouquet. Easy spiced tobacco entry with hints of chocolate. Developed and easy to drink. $27.00

2000 Merlot – With 10% Cabernet. Some funky earth terroir blows off to display older brambleberry tones. Medium-bodied with integrated tannins. $39.00

1998 Merlot – Bricky-edged color showing age and earth and leather and a tease of the fruit from days gone by. Probably has six month to a year left in it and great fun to find an affordable library wine! $49.00

2001 Syrah - Terroir-driven earthy wine with a touch of brambleberry. Merlot-like nose and an easy, berry fruit mouth entry that brightens upon opening. Medium bodied makes this another easy-to-drink wine. $27.00

2000 Syrah – Similar to the ’01 with a bit more earth and age. $39.00

2002 Cabernet Sauvignon – With 12% Cabernet Franc. Earthy tobacco and leather nose. Beefy, dark fruit textured flavors with perfectly balanced tannins. $40.00

2004 White Riesling – At 3.9% residual sugar. Engaging nose of white flowers and a hint of bright spice and freshly cut grass. Clean tastes of white fruit; white pear, white grapes, and white melon. Not syrupy or sticky, but crisp and fun. $19.00

Hagafen Cellars ~ 4160 Silverado Trail ~ Napa ~ Ca ~ 94558 ~ 707-252-0791
$5.00 for four current release whites
$5.00 for four current release reds
$10.00 for four library wines

Signorello – 177

Monday, October 10th, 2005

Sig_signAlong the Silverado Trail, there sit a handful of wineries that are located up on the edge of the hillside – making entrance to the facilities up long, stately drive ways. Signorello is just such a vineyard and upon arrival, guests face an elegant, half vine-covered stone building.

Sig_bldgA glance behind the building makes visible a handful of outdoor sculptures, a swimming pool, some patio furniture, and a built-in barbecue. The first thought is that some really great parties must be held here. When you wander into the building, immediately to your left you will see a kitchen. Yeah, REALLY good parties…

Sig_tasting_roomDuring my visit, the single worker manning the tasting station seemed a bit overwhelmed, but managed to keep track of everyone’s pourings. During a quiet moment, I managed to ask him about the kitchen. I was wrong about the parties. The location is classified as a private residence, hence the kitchen, swimming pool, etc. The tasting bar is merely an adjunct to Ray Signorello Jr.’s home – although he lives most of the time in Canada.

2003 Pinot Noir, Las Amigas Vineyard – These are from vineyards that were planted by Louis Martini in 1946. Warm, earthy tones with a candied cherry core. Medium-body mouth entry, the tone finishes a tad hot. $36.00

2002 Zinfandel, Luvisi Vineyard – This 100% Zinfandel has surprisingly light aromas of raspberry. The flavors are a bit heftier, but not a whole lot; some dark fruit and spice with an acidic entry. $34.00

2000 Cabernet Sauvignon, Estate – Green bell pepper and jalapeño aromas. Hot, spicy entry with some purple fruit under the heat showing an unbalanced finish of dryness. $39.00

2002 Syrah, Estate – Dark purple color giving off green, hospital aromas. Hot, hot, hot. $36.00

2001 Cabernet Sauvignon, Estate – 75% Cabernet Sauvignon, 14% Cabernet Franc, 11% Merlot. Green olive and cherry with some dusty, woods twigs in the center with a dry, peppery finish. $48.00

Signorello Vineyards ~ 4500 Silverado Trail ~ Napa ~ CA ~ 94558 ~ 707-255-5990

Madonna Estate – 174

Friday, October 7th, 2005

Madonna_signMadonna Estate is one of those that I have driven by dozens of time, located at the edge of the Napa and Sonoma county lines in the Carneros appellation. It was a pleasant surprise to learn of a history that dates back to the 1920s. I have to claim some surprise however — the story goes that Andrea "Andy" Bartolucci purchased his first vineyard in Oakville in 1922 where "he began crafting wines with his son Louis." This was during Prohibition so one can only assume he was making sacramental wine for the church. But when I asked about this of the winery staff, no one seemed to have a definitive answer.

Madonna_bldgIn 1970 the original Madonna Winery in Oakville was sold and seven years later, the current facilities were constructed by Louis’ son, Andrea. They began organic, European-style dry farming techniques and became certified organic in 1990.

Madonna_tasting_roomThere are some lovely things about Madonna; a private picnic area and some more obscure wine offerings like Gewurztraminer, Riesling, and Dolcetto (none of which were offered to me). The biggest downside that I can see from a driver’s standpoint is that the winery seems to be a main stopping point for tour busses. During my visit, I was in between bus tours. It seems that the tours might be afforded some additional barrel tastes or personalized tour that is not available if you just arrive on your own. I would call and check on this — it may have simply been a happenstance of the timing of my visit.

2003 Estate Chardonnay, Carneros – Light and lemony which darkens to show lemon peel in the nose. Warm, creamy mouthfeel of mostly yellow fruit with a mineral finish. $24.50

2002 Pinot Noir, Carneros – Thin, mineral, herbal aroma. The vegetal entry blossoms to show ripe raspberry, but fails to go anywhere after that. $28.50

2001 Merlot – Overwhelmingly green; nose and mouth is filled with vegetal green onion, green olive, and fresh, leafy tobacco. I think there was some berry flavors in there somewhere. $32.00

2000 Cabernet Sauvignon – Encouraging that they purchase their Cabernet grapes from a grower in the Rutherford appellation. I have yet to taste a Carneros Cabernet worthy of drinking. This Rutherford Cab showed some of the classic Rutherford dust characteristics but with an initial bouquet of green bell pepper and then some faint cherry. Warm spice embraced the tongue finishing with a dark cassis and woodsy twig flavor. $34.00

Madona Estate ~ 5400 Old Sonoma Road ~ Napa ~ CA ~ 94559 ~ 866-RAGAZZE

Buena Vista – 173

Thursday, October 6th, 2005

Bv_sign_1When it comes to historical pedigree, there is a little bit of hair-splitting as to who is the oldest winery in America. It is often touted that Agoston Haraszthy is father of modern viticulture and in 1857 purchased a hunk of property in Sonoma to start Buena Vista Winery. Jacob Gundlach also bought some property in 1857 to open Gundlach Bundschu but apparently it was technically a few months after Agostin started his winery.

Bv_bldg_2To make all this that much more confusing, the original property that Agoston purchased is now home to Bartholomew Park Winery (still the site of Agoston’s home) and the current Buena Vista site was a secondary wine-making facility that was constructed in the 1870s. The modern grounds are stunning and well worth the visit. Guided tours and picnic grounds are available, allowing visitors to sit amidst stately old trees.

Bv_tasting_room_1The tasting room is a stately affair; two stories with the second floor full of historical displays showing some fabulous pictures of Haraszthy’s family, some stunning scenes of the early Chinese workforce. The room is beautifully bedecked in dark wood, hearkening to the stately gradeur of its legacy. The pouring staff are friendly and extremely helpful. While I had a bit of wait before being noticed, the nice man who assisted me insisted on delaying his break to make sure seamless service was proffered.

2004 Pinot Gris – Light and fruity, a sweet nose of honey suckle and white flowers. Clean entry with more sweetness than I usual care for. Crisp acidity comes after the sugar in the medium-bodied wine. $19.00

2003 Carneros Reserve Pinot Noir – Some initial green aromas; leaves or underripe fruit. Light body, red fruit and green olive display in the sharp entry. Young. $25.00

2003 Estate Carneros Pinot Noir, Clone 4 Pommard – Rich, terroir-driven wine. Supple nose shows a whisper of green olive with a core of red cherry. Soft mouth entry showing red fruit and floral qualities. $38.00

2002 Tres – 57% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Sangiovese, 6% Merlot, 3% Cabernet Franc, 2% Petite Verdot, 2% Syrah. Aromas of green tobacco and herbs. Medium-bodied red fruit is fuller than the nose implies. Textured, but young. $29.00

2003 Syrah – Rich, smoky nose showing youth. Blackberry liqueur flavors in the initial taste. Thin on the intial entry which expands to a chewier middle, showing richer brambleberry on the finish. Medium bodied and even texture. $38.00

Buena Vista ~ 18000 Old Winery Road ~ Sonoma ~ CA ~ 95476 ~ 800-926-1266