Posts Tagged ‘robert biale’

2009: A Good Time for Wine

December 24, 2009

With the economy on the way back up this year, the wine business is awash in unsold bottles and discounts are making great wines more accessible to more people.

We are blessed in the Bay Area with access to world-class wines grown within an easy drive from where we live. Napa and Sonoma are home to hundreds of small, medium and large winemaking operations, but they are not the only sources of award-winning wines.

We also find great wines coming from Mendocino as well as the Livermore Valley, Lodi and the Santa Cruz mountains plus Suisun Valley, the Claksburg region and the foothills of the Sierra Nevada. The choices sometimes seem endless.

I’ve been fortunate to taste hundreds of California wines over the past year from all of these wine-growing regions. Most have been good. A few have been awful. And, a few have been wonderful. Here are some of my personal favorites:

Superlative Sparkler

With New Year’s coming up fast, I’d better start this list with something festive. The creamy Royal Cuvee from Gloria Ferrer fits the bill perfectly. The 2002 vintage, a blend of 65 percent pinot noir and 35 percent chardonnay, is a $35 bargain. This wine tastes of apple and baking spice, caressed by a fine stream of tiny bubbles.

Zesty Zinfandels

Make no bones about it. I’m a big fan of zinfandel.

Each year, I look forward to the annual ZAP (Zinfandel Advocates and Producers) tasting in San Francisco. Fort Mason is transformed into a zinfandel lovers paradise with hundreds of wineries putting out their best bottles for sampling. Mark January 30, 2010 on your calendar if you love zinfandel or want to find a reason to fall in love with this versatile red wine grape at the 19th ZAP Grand Zinfandel Tasting.

It was too hard to pick the best zin from everything I tasted in 2009, so I’m going to mention two.

First, the 2007 Robert Biale Vineyards Napa zinfandel ($35) was spicy, vibrant and vivacious —  a winning combo.

Biale may be the only family owned winery operating within the city limits of Napa, but what makes it special is access to great zinfandel grapes and an ability to get the most interesting flavors out of the vines. I found this bottle earlier this month on the list at Teatro Zinzanni, the circus-themed  dinner show/restaurant in San Francisco.

The second top zinfandel was the 2003 Rockpile Road from Rosenblum Cellars. This wine, long since sold out at the winery, earned a 94 rating from Wine Spectator and was the No. 3 entry on the WS Top 100 Wines of 2005. Poured from magnum, the wine was all about jammy blackberry fruit with a long finish and a briary note in the bouquet that made it hard to resist a second glass.

Mauritson Winery in Dry Creek Valley also makes several good wines from Rockpile vineyards fruit. Check out the 2006 Cemetery Vineyard ($39) or just click on my blog about Mauritson.

Cabernet — California’s King

There are lots of good  cabernets in the marketplace today, making it hard to choose a clear winner.

I really enjoyed visiting three iconic cabernet-producing wineries in Napa Valley — Beaulieu Vineyards (BV), Silver Oak and Far Niente. Each winery provides an impressive backdrop for tasting some exceptional red wines.

The Georges de Latour cabernet is the top of the line offering from BV. The 2005 ($115) is a delightful wine featuring mocha overtones with rich black cherry fruit. Click here for more bout BV.

Silver Oak makes just one wine at its Napa winery– all cabernet and almost always great. The current release, 2005 ($100), is no exception. I liked the brambly berry taste with some mocha highlights. The tannins are smooth and it’s ready to drink now.

Far Niente’s cabernet is another perennial favorite. Expensive, yes, but a real value based on the quality of fruit and the commitment to quality. The current vintage (2006, $100) is the 24th in the winery’s history and it’s another winner, tasting of black fruits and chocolate with a long, sweet finish.

Little Wines, Big Tastes

I stumbled by accident on Jocelyn Lonen’s wines at my local wine store, where the wines were featured at a tasting. Lonen produced a terrific 2006 cabernet sauvignon, ($35) with a large portion of the grapes coming from the prestigious Stagecoach vineyard on Atlas Peak. Click here to read more about Lonen.

Last week, I mentioned a nice little cabernet that I’d tasted but couldn’t recall details of who made it. I found my notes and reconfirmed the wine in question was a 2004 Napa cab from Clos Valmi.

This wine, from a small  hillside vineyard owned by the Astorian family in Yountville,  is on the less expensive end of the price spectrum ($24) but it had all the characteristics of a much pricier bottle — smooth cherry fruit, integrated tannins and a long, delicious finish.

Only 59 cases of Clos Valmi  was produced and it’s in limited distribution. I bought my bottle at V Wine Cellar in Yountville, which offers a treasure trove of desirable Napa cabs along with a wide selection of other wines.

Here’s hoping the holiday season and the new year provide you with lots of opportunities to explore new wines and wineries in Wine Country. Drop me a line with suggestions about your favorite wines and wineries and I’ll do my best to check them out in the weeks and months ahead.


Good News, Bad News, Good News

November 25, 2009

First, the good news.

The holiday season is in full swing and there will be lots of opportunities to celebrate with some excellent values from all over the wine country.

The bad news?

The economic crisis has hit the wine business squarely in the bank account. There’s a surplus of wine available  — from here and abroad — and the 2009 vintage is bubbling along in preparation for joining the already crowded marketplace.

Mike Grgich, founder, Grgich Hills Estate

Mike Grgich

In a recent Napa Valley Register article, Mike Grgich, founder of celebrated Grgich Cellars, bemoaned the backlog of unsold wines in his warehouse. He’s not alone. Many wineries are scrambling to reduce inventories any way they can.

Now, some good news.

Wine prices are melting down across all categories — from vin ordinaire to formerly triple-digit  “collector” cabernet sauvignon from Napa and Sonoma.

There will always be exceptions, but the laws of supply and demand will dictate an almost unstoppable craving for any exceedingly rare, miniscule production wines that have developed cult status among deep-pockets collectors.

You won’t find Screaming Eagle in anybody’s discount bin.

An empty (yes, empty) Screaming Eagle wooden wine box is offered on eBay for $75. A single bottle of this highly-allocated cabernet-based wine from Napa, depending on vintage, commands four-digit and even five-digit prices.

That kind of mad pricing scheme won’t stop, no matter what the general economic climate, is, but any winery without sold-out inventory is definitely looking for ways to attract attention from a skittery consumer and the simplest way to do that is with price.

Clearing Out the Cellar

I’ve noticed several wineries across the region are clearing out their cellars and offering bargains on even older wines.

If you belong to any winery-sponsored wine clubs, check your mailbox for special offers that include even greater discounts.

A good example is a recent mailer from Rosenblum Cellars in Alameda, offering 30 percent discounts to wine club members during the holidays. Rosenblum is owned by Diaego Brands, a multi-billion-dollar wine and spirits corporation.

But much smaller operations, like zinfandel specialist Robert Biale Vinyeards in Napa, are also reaching out with special offers.

A holiday mailing from Biale offered special sets of library wines and pre-release pricing for the 2006 Hill Climber  Monte Ross Vineyard syrah ($36 for wine club members, $55 to non-members).

Budget Wine Country Destination

Heringer Estates, a family-owned winery in Clarksburg, is offering a two-for-one special on wines purchased at its tasting room on Black Friday (Nov. 27). Go early because the sale price is only good from 9 a.m. to Noon!

Heringer’s main business is farming 105 acres of  their own vineyards and managing another 350 acres for customers.  Most of Heringer’s crop goes to other wineries, but the family keeps some of the fruit to make a few thousand cases of its own brand.

Mike Heringer, winemaker, Heringer Estates

Mike Heringer

I met Mike Heringer, a sixth generation member of his California farming family, at a recent wine event. The talented winemaker told me they grafted over about 25 acres of chardonnay vines to eight more unusual strains of grapes to supply the family winery with fruit that will help differentiate their wines from the competition.

We tasted a 2005 Heringer petite sirah and, after a little airing out in the glass, it shed its rustic tannins enough to expose a vibrant core of rich, black and red  fruit. I’d call it a bargain at $21.

I’m also a big fan of the “bargain” wines produced by Bogle, another Clarksburg winery with a strong petite sirah program, including the latest release (2007) in a string of vintages going back 31 years. This wine is all about juicy blackberry fruit with a spicy edge. You can find it at grocery stores for less than $10.

Bogle’s holiday schedule includes daily tastings at the winery’s light and airy tasting room overlooking the Home Ranch Vineyard — about a 90-minute drive from San Francisco.