Appellation Trail

Two Remarkable… But Distinct… Vintages from Wakefield Estate

With all of the advancements in technology — both in the vineyard and in the cellar — some are of the opinion that vintages don’t matter anymore.

But as our tasting of two recent vintages of Wakefield Estate’s “The Visionary” Cabernet Sauvignon reveal, that’s simply not true.

Both wines are exceptional, and built to age. But we found that the younger 2010 vintage actually is drinking better now than the year-older 2009 bottling. There are some similar characteristics, but a careful analysis reveals that these are two very different wines — different because of their vintages.

You can read our reviews of these two Aussie beauties HERE.
And to learn more about Wakefield Estate, read Glen Frederiksen’s blog here.

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Uniquely Austrian: A Heurigen Hike

The Grinzing neighborhood of Vienna is the home of the heuriger — a unique version of a winery tasting room.

The Grinzing neighborhood of Vienna is the home of the heuriger — a unique version of a winery tasting room.

By Bob Johnson

I have a feeling I would have liked Austrian Emperor Joseph II. Among the numerous reforms he enacted, he ended censorship of the press — something a lifelong journalist like myself certainly respects and appreciates. And for wine lovers, August 17, 1784 was a big day. That’s when Joseph issued a decree that permitted all residents to open establishments for selling and serving wine.

Although the laws have changed considerably over the decades, that legacy can be experienced in the Grinzing neighborhood of Vienna, which is home to a uniquely Austrian enterprise known as the heuriger.

Grinzing is easily accessible from downtown Vienna, using the city’s Underground and Tram systems. My fiancée, Michelle, and I were fortunate to have a local tour guide provide us with a detailed set of directions that made the trip a snap (keep this blog in mind in case you decide to go):

  • Board Underground Route 4 (U4) in the direction of Heiligenstadt
  • Exit on the fourth stop: Spittelau
  • Transfer to Underground Route 6 (U6) in the direction of Sievenhirten
  • Exit on the first stop: Nussdorfer Strasse
  • At street level, walk to the stop for Tram 38 in the direction of Grinzing
  • Exit at the tram’s final stop…

…which puts you right in the middle of the neighborhood, with heurigen in every direction. We stopped at two, each of which offered flights of their wines featuring very generous pours.

Check out the size of those pours — a good reason to take public transportation to Grinzing.

Check out the size of those pours — a good reason to take public transportation to Grinzing.

At the first stop, Zum Martin Sepp, I decided to simply soak in the atmosphere. We were given printed placemats complete with in-English descriptions of the five wines we’d be tasting — Gruner Veltliner, Pinot Blanc, Chardonnay, Zweigelt and Pinot Noir. This heuriger had a buffet stocked with hot and cold items, and the place was packed with locals partaking of the various dishes.

From there, we walked down the street to Wein Gartnerei Uhler, where the flight consisted of six wines, accompanied by tasty bread that reminded us of a light pumpernickel. This time, I decided to take notes…

  • 2013 Zweigelt “Monia” Rosé — Bright and refreshing, with notes of strawberry, rhubarb and banana. Would be perfect with pulled pork.
  • 2013 Gruner Veltliner — Apple, baking spice and white pepper notes. Clean and crisp.
  • 2013 Wiener Gemischter Satz — A blend of four varieties, showing apple, pear, peach and brown sugar. Nicely balanced, fruit-sweet and easy drinking.
  • 2013 Riesling — A white flower aroma leads to flavors of apricot, peach and melon, with a kiss of sweetness and a lingering finish.
  • 2013 Gruner Veltliner “Der Jubilar” Reserve — “Bigger” than the “regular” bottling, with luscious fruit impressions of papaya, grapefruit and apricot, framed by caramel and butterscotch notes. Lip-smacking good.
  • 2012 Cuvee Rot “Quartettensatz”— This four-variety blend has a dark purple hue, and offers impressions of lavender, blueberry, boysenberry, mint, bubblegum, vanilla, red cherry and crème brulee. Rich, smooth and delicious.

All six wines in this flight were well made, nicely balanced and exhibited no flaws. Unlike the out-of-balance, high-alcohol, in-your-face wines favored by some vintners, Uhler cuvees are extremely food friendly.

It would be easy to spend a full weekend visiting the heurigen of Grinzing — heaven on Earth for a wine lover.

All of the Uhler wines are well made, beautifully balanced and extremely food friendly.

All of the Uhler wines are well made, beautifully balanced and extremely food friendly.

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Creative Uses for Those Used Corks

By Bob Johnson

If you’re like me, you save the corks that you pull out of wine bottles. In my case, I fill baskets with them and place the baskets around the house.

But if you have some artistic talent, you can put those corks to even better use — either for your own pleasure, or for creative gifts.

Pictured here are two ideas from our recent trip through the winelands of Austria.





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MacPhail Tales: Chasing the Muse of Terroir and Noir

By Glen Frederiksen

In the world of wine, Pinot Noir has a reputation as a fickle grape, capable of sublime complexity and, conversely, sour, vegetal displeasure. The road to Pinot Noir perfection is fraught with missteps and pitfalls, enough to drive a winemaker over the edge. Just a generation ago, the red Burgundies of France and the Pinot Noirs of the New World were hit and miss, more often than not a glass of V-8 or stewed fruit. Yet, even with this spotty record, the best Pinot Noir bottlings, like those from Domaine de la Romanée-Conti in Burgundy, are the most sought-after wines in the world and command the highest prices.

Among the many reasons for this is the sublime drinkability of well-made Pinot Noir. By itself, it can be a seductive pleasure. At the dinner table, it matches with a wide array of foods. Perhaps the only other wine that shows such affinity to food is Champagne – which is often produced from Pinot Noir, or a blend of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. And, like the world’s greatest wines, top-shelf Pinot Noir can age gracefully for decades. I have enjoyed superb 20 year old Pinots from Oregon and California, even older ones from Burgundy, and Champagnes with over two decades aging.

What would drive a winemaker to make it his life’s pursuit to produce Pinot Noir?

James MacPhail, owner, winemaker, and Pinot Noir lover

James MacPhail, owner, winemaker, and Pinot Noir lover

We took this question, and others, to James MacPhail. A winemaker with two decades experience, MacPhail produced more than a dozen different bottlings of Pinot Noir in the 2012 vintage. Most were single vineyard designates from the most acclaimed Pinot Noir growers in California and Oregon.

Wine Lines Online: At this point in time, your MacPhail Family Wines is undoubtedly the most prolific crafter of single vineyard designated Pinot Noir in the United States. Why so much passion for the Pinot Noir grape?
James MacPhail: I would say the intrigue and pure fascination with all aspects of her. It is the variety that resonates the most with me, in both pure enjoyment to drink, yet also with all the challenges she poses in the vineyard and the cellar. I am a winemaker with the belief that you can not ‘perfect’ winemaking in your lifetime, that it is a product that takes generations to figure out vineyards versus style versus matching coopers, etc. So I chose to focus on one variety and do it as well as I could in my lifetime. There are enough challenges among all aspects to keep this cutting edge and interesting for a lifetime. Why try to do too much – or too many varietals? My focus is on the highest quality, not quantity. You just can’t get bored with Pinot.

Wine Lines Online: What is your understanding of terroir? Can you describe some of the unique characteristics of some of the vineyards from which you source grapes?
James MacPhail: I am a true believer in terroir. Especially with Pinot Noir. Pinot Noir is a very transparent variety. She will show her flavor differences between (pick any) two premier appellations. You can’t really say that with Syrah, or Zinfandel, or another red grape. It shows the most with Pinot Noir. Just like Burgundy, where a Grand Cru status can be determined by just one row within the vineyard, the same goes for our Pinot Noir territories. One vineyard growing the same clones as the one across the street or next door, will be completely different. Soil and climate play such a big role, which is why there are only a handful of cool-climate, maritime influenced appellations in CA and OR where Pinot Noir can excel. For example, Pennyroyale from Toulouse (Anderson Valley), the distinct dried rose petal from Pratt (Sonoma Coast), or the volcanic soil influence in our Sangiacomo (Sonoma Coast).

Checking the barrels

Checking the barrels

Wine Lines Online: In 2012, you produced a dozen or more different bottles of Pinot Noir, from vineyard sites all over California and even up in Oregon’s Willamette Valley. Do you have any plans to source from other areas?
James MacPhail: Not at this time. With the amount of vineyard acquisitions happening, we think it is best to hunker down and focus on the great vineyard sources locally that we have been historically working with over the years – and slowly grow from within those. I would love to go back up to Oregon, but right now, with 18 premier vineyard sources, there’s enough on my plate.

Wine Lines Online: OK, we all have our epiphany wine… What was yours?
Jame MacPhail: Actually, I do not have an epiphany wine. Wine in general, yes, that was my epiphany. I grew up with wine on the table, my mother and father enjoyed it as the Europeans do, as another “food” with dinner. From early childhood, I remember my father allowing me and my sister to have a sip of his wine on special occasions. I was always fascinated – from the history of wine, to how you can craft such an enjoyable product “from the earth.” So when I started drinking, it was always wine, when my peers were drinking beer or cocktails. It just resonated with me like nothing else did.

Wine Lines Online: Thank you, James, for your time and thoughtful answers.

For more information, check out the MacPhail Family Wines website:

MacPhail Family Wines now has a tasting room in Sebastopol where the public is invited to try the latest releases:
MacPhail Tasting Lounge
6761 McKinley Street
Sebastopol, CA 95472
(707) 824-8400

Here are our reviews of the current releases from MacPhail Family Wines. All bottlings are unfined and unfiltered. Keep in mind – these are young Pinot Noirs. If you serve them now, give them an hour or two of aeration. Also, these wines will go quickly – most are produced with less than 100 cases total:

2012 MacPhail Family Wines Chardonnay, Gap’s Crown, Sonoma Coast
In the glass, it shimmers a brilliant golden hue. Enticing aromas of smoky oak, buttered toast, lemon curd, granny smith apple, and pear lead to similar flavors in the mouth. The wine has viscosity, coating the palate. Even after the last sip and swallow, the warm buttered fruit lingers a full 30 seconds or more. Winemaker MacPhail describes the wine as having an Old School touch. We at Wine Lines Online would take that a bit further, and say it is reminiscent of older classic white Burgundies.
MSRP: $45 (October 2014)
Wine Lines rating: 91

2012 MacPhail Family Wines Chardonnay, Sonoma Coast
Essentially, this is the same wine as the Gap’s Crown Chardonnay, but with little oak treatment. 91% was stainless steel fermented, while 9% was fermented in neutral oak barrels to add a touch of roundness. It is a brilliant medium straw color. The nose delivers intense impressions of ripe pear, sun-drenched apples, citrus, and fleshy tropical fruit, followed by smoked butter and gunflint minerality. The fruit plumps out on the palate, showing a mouth-coating viscosity rarely seen in unoaked Chardonnay. So often, “naked” Chardonnays are acid bombs but here, all is in harmony. A sublime food pairing would be breast of chicken, whether in a cream sauce, grilled with a lemon glaze, or slathered with a spiced apple compote.
MSRP: $40 (October 2014)
Wine Lines rating: 91

2012 MacPhail Family Wines Pinot Noir, Wildcat, Sonoma Coast
In the glass, the translucent dark coral color picks up brick shades at the rim. Notes of cinnamon spice and cedar frame the floral red fruits – strawberry, red raspberry,and cherry. It is soft and velvety smooth in the mouth; youthful and seductive. The afterflavor evokes palate memories of cherries jubilee. This red is a delight to sip on its own, but would be a welcome addition to the Holiday dinner table.
MSRP: $49 (October 2014)
Wine Lines rating: 92

2012 MacPhail Family Wines Pinot Noir, Gap’s Crown, Sonoma Coast
Translucent medium ruby color. Initial whiffs of menthol, mint, and cinnamon lead to tightly wound sharp and sweet red berry fruit. With time, a note of rose petal makes an appearance. This young Pinot Noir is a demure debutante – only with hours in the glass (or additional years in the cellar) will she unfold to show all of her charms. It cries out to be paired with darker game fowl meats (even the turkey leg at Thanksgiving will do).
MSRP: $49 (October 2014)
Wine Lines rating: 90+

2012 MacPhail Family Wines Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley
In the glass, a nearly opaque deep red/violet hue. Sourced from the Eola-Amity Hills in central Willamette Valley in Oregon, this wine displays the differences between Oregon and California Pinot Noir. It is lighter in alcohol, more floral. The first whiff from the glass shows perfumed lavender, dark flowers, and dried black tea leaves. A tightly wound wine, scents of delicate red fruits pop through now and again. In the mouth, the tannic grip is prominent, especially since the fruit is shy to display itself. Will a few years in the cellar help this wine to blossom? That is the question.
MSRP: $49 (October 2014)
Wine Lines rating: 88

2012 MacPhail Family Wines Pinot Noir, Rita’s Crown, Santa Rita Hills
The Santa Rita Hills, some 30 miles north of Santa Barbara, are known for bold, fruit-forward Pinot Noirs. This one is no exception. It sports a deep purple color that is nearly opaque. Forward aromas of cigar box, menthol, and jammy strawberry and black raspberry fruit burst from the glass, seducing the nose with its voluptuousness. This promise is kept with the first sip, as pretty, cinnamon-laced, sweet, fleshy fruit expand and coat the palate. Some prominent grip towards the back speaks to this red’s youth. The big structure lends itself to heartier fare. Winemaker MacPhail recommends pairing it with a grilled flank steak… Sounds good to us!
MSRP: $49 (October 2014)
Wine Lines rating: 90

2012 MacPhail Family Wines Pinot Noir, Sundawg Ridge, Green Valley
Green Valley is a sub-appellation in the southern part of the Russian River Valley. In the glass, the wine is a translucent, dark ruby color. Pungent aromas of earth, clove, menthol, and sweet/tart dark cherry and red berry fruit promise a complex wine with a hint of mystery. There is a real sense of place – terroir, if you will – upon taking the first smooth sip. Rich loam impressions mingle with the plump sweet-tart fruits in the mouth, evoking thoughts of a serene, bucolic setting. Pack up a basket full of barbecued chicken and sides and go enjoy a bottle while picnicking on a hillock just above some vines. Perfect!
MSRP: $49 (October 2014)
Wine Lines rating: 91

2012 MacPhail Family Wines Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast
Translucent ruby color. The inviting nose offers up ample red berry and cherry fruit, nicely framed by wood notes of cedar, cinnamon/clove, and licorice. In the mouth, there is an initial burst of spiced red fruit, followed by a youthful, tannic grip. Nine clones of Pinot Noir and nine vineyards in the Sonoma Coast were sources to produce this blend. It ably shows off the profile of the area, despite the many micro-climates in the Sonoma Coast appellation. Enjoy this bottling in its fruit-forward youth.
MSRP: $40 (October 2014)
Wine Lines rating: 91

2012 MacPhail Family Wines Pinot Noir, Dutton Ranch, Green Valley
Green Valley is a sub-appellation within the Russian River Valley in Sonoma County. The Pinot Noir bottlings from this region are known for their lush, layered complexity. This is a fine example. In the glass, it has a deep, nearly opaque ruby/purple hue. Rising to the nose, aromas of wood spice nicely frame the basketful of fresh black fruits, including blackberry, black cherry, and black plum. On the palate, it is at once, fleshy and voluptuous, delivering oodles of ripe fruit. With additional aeration, the wine picks up floral notes and a hint of Christmas spices. For those who enjoy the fruit-laden style of Pinot Noir from California, this is a pure pleasure.
MSRP: $49 (October 2014)
Wine Lines rating: 92

2012 MacPhail Family Wines Pinot Noir, Pratt Vineyard, Sonoma Coast
Translucent garnet color. The first impression in the nose is of sharp red cherry, followed by rose petal, subtle clove and cinnamon spice, and crushed herbs. Then it surprises at first sip – there is fat, sweet fruit but also a delicate, feminine sleekness. With two hours of aeration, it fleshes out to a beguiling aroma and flavor of cherry pie filling, framed by scents of French oak. When pairing this with food, keep it pure and simple, such as Chinese barbecued pork or braised duck breast.
MSRP: $49 (October 2014)
Wine Lines rating: 93

2012 MacPhail Family Wines 2012 Pinot Noir, Wightman House, Anderson Valley
In the glass, the dark translucent garnet color hints at the depth of this wine. Prominent aromas of cedar and menthol give way to jammy red berry and cherry fruit. This follows through in the mouth, before leading to medium-grained, earthy tannins at the end. This red is big enough to pair with orange glazed salmon or even duck in a hoisin sauce. Cellar for a few years to bring the elements all together.
MSRP: $55 (October 2014)
Wine Lines rating: 90

2012 MacPhail Family Wines Pinot Noir, Vagon Rouge, Russian River Valley
In the glass, a brilliant translucent ruby color. The nose is instantly seductive, full of rose petal perfume, notes of pencil shavings and, finally, red cherry and strawberry pie filling. Intense and sweet, the spice-tinged fruit cloaks the palate with a velvety hedonism only seen in a handful of the finest Pinot Noirs produced in California. Rightfully proud, winemaker MacPhail calls this “one for the ages.” We could not agree more. Right now, this young red whispers about greater things yet to come over the next decade and beyond.
MSRP: $65 (October 2014)
Wine Lines rating: 95

2012 MacPhail Family Wines Pinot Noir, Sangiacomo, Sonoma Coast
Translucent ruby hue, lightening at the rim. From one of the oldest Pinot Noir vineyards in the Sonoma Coast, this beauty offers up classic varietal aromas and flavors. Lightly spicy French oak frames a mélange of sensory delights, including earthy dark berry, sweet red cherry, orange peel, white pepper, a hint of lavender, and clove/menthol. In the mouth, there is a distinctive earthiness from the Pommard clone in the blend, which parries back and forth with the sweet, spicy, red fruit. For those who like and remember the first great Pinot Noirs that came out of the Sonoma Coast, this is a pleasant sip down palate memory lane.
MSRP: $49 (October 2014)
Wine Lines rating: 91

2012 MacPhail Family Wines Pinot Noir, Toulouse Vineyard, Anderson Valley
Nearly transparent light garnet color. The perfumed, spice-driven nose shows delicate red fruits, clove, and notes of smoked herbs. It is distinctly silky and feminine upon first entry in the mouth, picking up a note of caramel before ending with a youthful tannic grip. The profile id more Burgundian than California, reminiscent of early 1980s bottlings from Oregon’s Willamette Valley. Beware – this wine will seduce you with every sniff and sip.
MSRP: $49 (October 2014)
Wine Lines rating: 91

2012 MacPhail Family Wines Pinot Noir, Anderson Creek, Anderson Valley
Translucent ruby hue, lightening at the rim. In the nose, there is a pungent tartness to the forward cherry and red berry fruit, followed by vanilla and clove/cinnamon woodspice and, finally, fresh earth. There is a varietal silkiness in the mouth, followed by fine-grained tannins in the back. Cellaring this wine may turn this gangly youngster into a beauty. Want to enjoy it now? Give it a few hours aeration to soften the sharp edges.
MSRP: $49 (October 2014)
Wine Lines rating: 90

2012 MacPhail Family Wines Pinot Noir, “The Flyer,” Green Valley in the Russian River Valley
Translucent ruby hue. Initial wood scents of uplifted clove and white pepper lead to jammy red berries, fleshy cherry, and plum. A wisp of charred oak wafts in and out. This is a real mouthful of red – silky, voluptuous, and seductive. Of all the bottlings produced by MacPhail in the 2012 vintage, this one is the most harmonious and ready to enjoy from the first pop of the cork. It will be hard to keep this one in your cellar to see what additional layers of aroma and flavor evolve over the next six to eight years.
MSRP: $59 (October 2014)
Wine Lines rating: 94

The First Vintage of MacPhail Family Vineyards Mardikian Estate Pinot Noir

The First Vintage of MacPhail Family Vineyards Mardikian Estate Pinot Noir

2012 MacPhail Family Wines Pinot Noir, Mardikian Estate, Sonoma Coast
This is the premier release from winemaker MacPhail’s own estate vineyard. With friend and vineyard consultant Jim Pratt, a total of eight clones were selected to provide the texture, depth and complexity that MacPhail prefers. As one might expect from a vineyard that is only in its fourth leaf, the color is lighter, a transparent garnet hue. Ashy smoke and clove are prominent in the nose, followed by green tea, delicate red cherry, light strawberry, and earth. Airy, almost ethereal in texture on the palate, it hints at what the vines will deliver in vintages to come. As the vines reach maturity, the sleekness and refinement of this Estate bottling should be among the best in the New World.
MSRP: $85 (October 2014)
Wine Lines rating: 90

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The Essence of Galerie

By Glen Frederiksen

For me, one of the saddest stories to tell about Napa Valley is the elimination of many varietals initially planted there in favor of the red Bordeaux varietals Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Of course, winemaking is a business, and there is more money to be made by planting these varietals. But the diversity of the initial plantings has been nearly lost in the pursuit of the almighty dollar.

Incredible wines were made from varietals like Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Zinfandel, Riesling, Gewürztraminer, Petite Sirah, Charbono, and Grignolino, among others. A few hardy souls, swimming against the current, continue to make these varietals. But, unlike its neighbor valley, Sonoma, Napa Valley is increasingly planting and replanting to the red varietals of Bordeaux.

Galerie Sauvignon Blanc

Galerie Sauvignon Blanc

So it is a nice breath of fresh air to see a winery trying to make its reputation on Sauvignon Blanc. True, Galerie Winery does make Cabernet Sauvignon, but winemaker Laura Diaz-Muñoz is especially proud of the two Sauvignon Blanc bottlings that she has fashioned. Spanish born and raised, Diaz-Muñoz has a Master’s Degree in Viticulture and Enology from the Polytechnic University of Madrid. She has traveled the world of wine, working in Spain, New Zealand, and Chile prior to her arrival in Napa. She worked under her mentor, Chris Carpenter, on the highly sought-after wines of Cardinale, Lokoya, La Jota, and Mt. Brave prior to striking out on her own with Galerie.

Galerie Winemaker Laura Diaz-Muñoz in the vineyards.

Galerie Winemaker Laura Diaz-Muñoz in the vineyards.

In her bio, it states that “Galerie is a style very much her own.” I couldn’t agree more. These renditions of Sauvignon Blanc have a characteristic femininity and refinement about them rarely seen from other Napa Valley bottlings.

These white are all about pairing with foods at the dinner table. Think light seafood dishes, tapas, pastas in cream sauces.

I look forward to see what future vintages of Galerie have in store for the wine drinking public.

Below are my tasting notes for the Galerie wines:

2013 Galerie ‘Equitem’ Sauvignon Blanc, Knight’s Valley, Sonoma County
Very pale, nearly ghostly color in the glass. Delicate, pretty scents of white flowers, pear, passion fruit, and a touch of vanilla cream waft from the glass. There is some upfront plumpness in the mouth, with a powdery, saline feel at mid-palate. This is a refined, delicate style of Sauvignon Blanc, with no hint of the 14.5% alcohol listed on the bottle. Winemaker Laura Diaz-Muñoz has crafted a white wine reflecting the food-friendly style she grew up with in her native Spain. Pair it with lighter Mediterranean fare.
MSRP: $30 (September 2014)
Wine Lines rating: 88

2013 Galerie ‘Naissance’ Sauvignon Blanc, Napa Valley
A pale straw color. Aromas of vanilla cream, shade the ample ripe grapefruit, sweet lime, and pineapple fruit. In the mouth, this white delivers juicy acidity, shows a round plumpness, and has a crushed limestone thread of minerality. It drinks well as an aperitif and would pair nicely with white fish or shellfish in a cream sauce.
MSRP: $30 (September 2014)
Wine Lines rating: 90

To learn more about the Galerie wines, see recommended food pairings, or arrange to order them, you can visit their website at:

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The Ante Is Upped with Kenwood’s 2010 ‘Artist Series’ Cabernet

We have been fans of Kenwood Vineyards’ “Artist Series” Cabernet Sauvignon for more than a quarter-century. As with all wines that have been around for a while, some years have been better than others, and there were a few vintages when the wine did not live up to the label — but only a few.

In recent years, this special bottling has been on a winning streak. In fact, ever since the outstanding 2007 vintage, it has been getting better and better, gradually moving up on Wine Lines’ 100-point rating scale.

KenwoodAS2010We just had the opportunity to assess the 2010 vintage, and we were impressed — from artist Keith Wicks’ gorgeous “Sonoma Serenity” painting, which adorns the label, to the picture-perfect balance of the wine, which is reminiscent of Hacienda Wine Cellars’ “Clair de Lune” Cabernets and B.R. Cohn Winery’s Cabs of the 1980s.

Before we get to our review of the 2010 “Artist Series” Cabernet, let’s take a look at the three previous vintages…

2007 — Kenwood Vineyards has been producing the “Artist Series” since the 1975 vintage, and the 2007 features the artwork of Dave Kinsey and a piece titled, “Kenwood Rose.” Behind the label… inside the bottle… the wine is just as compelling, as the initial aroma of green and black olives gives way to black licorice, fleshy black fruits, mint, bell pepper, plum, ripe black cherry and polished leather. The wine has layers of flavors, including vanilla and crème de cassis, with earthy tannins deserving of a London broil. Well structured for aging, with a drinking window extending at least another 10 years, it’s showing nicely right now.

MSRP upon release: $70

Wine Lines rating (November 2011): 90

2008 — Orange zest is the first impression one gets when breathing in this wine, followed by fennel, vanilla, black cherry liqueur and cranberry. Supple in the mouth, with little tannic bite, this 34th edition of the “Artist Series” — featuring artwork by Robin F. Williams — is a very approachable Cabernet that exhibits the best characteristics of the Sonoma Valley.

MSRP upon release: $60

Wine Lines rating (November 2012): 91

2009 — This built-to-age beauty — with small, equal portions of Malbec and Petit Verdot in the blend — is a layered and complex wine, with a smooth entry, furry tannins at mid-palate, and a long finish. The aroma and flavor spectrum includes extracted blackberry, black licorice, clove, cedar, a touch of mocha, vanilla and a note of cassis. With all of that going on, one would not expect to describe the wine as “smooth and refined,” yet this bottling is just that. It’s showing beautifully now, but figures to improve with another three to 10 years of aging.

MSRP upon release: $60

Wine Lines rating (November 2013): 91+

As you can see, the wine has been improving steadily — and that’s saying something, considering how good the 2007 vintage was.

But with the 2010 vintage, the ante has been upped, as the “Artist Series” Cab garnered a Wine Lines rating of 93 — rarified air, indeed. The “packaging” is beautiful, as usual, and the wine is sublime, with refined tannins that should accommodate mid-term aging. You can read our full review here.

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Pahrump Valley Winery: Getting Better and Better… and the Best Is Yet to Come

By Bob Johnson

It had been a while — way too long, in fact — since Glen and Mary Frederiksen and I had visited Pahrump Valley Winery, which is located about an hour from the Las Vegas Strip in the southern Nevada city of Pahrump.

Can grapevines find happiness in the middle of the southern Nevada desert?

Can grapevines find happiness in the middle of the southern Nevada desert?

We’ve visited several times since the winery’s founding in 1990, witnessing the gradual evolution of its product line and the improvement in overall quality. With Bill and Gretchen Loken at the helm, the winery has won dozens of awards and established a unique niche — drawing visitors not only from Vegas, but also from Southern California and beyond.

True, some make the trek because of the winery’s unusual location — in the middle of a desert, not exactly the kind of climate one equates with world-class winegrape growing. Others visit for the opportunity to sample under-the-radar varietals, such as Viognier, Barbera, Petite Sirah and Symphony.

And still others — including many Pahrump locals — visit primarily to enjoy a meal at Symphony’s Restaurant, a fine-dining jewel and home to the best beef barley soup I’ve ever had.

On our recent visit, we enjoyed a meal at Symphony’s — including a bowl of that marvelous, hearty soup — before settling in at a table adjacent to the tasting room bar and sampling eight current releases.

Today, the winery is producing three distinct product lines, or labels:

Gretchen and Bill Loken have worked hard to up the quality ante at Pahrump Pvalley Winery.

Gretchen and Bill Loken have worked hard to up the quality ante at Pahrump Valley Winery.

Pahrump Valley Winery — White, red, blush and dessert wines, all made from California grapes, described by the Lokens as “fun, fruity and friendly.”

Charleston Peak — More California wines, generally costing a few dollars more, described as “hand-crafted classics.”

Nevada Ridge — Made exclusively from estate-grown grapes or fruit from other Nevada vineyards.

How is Nevada doing in terms of growing high-quality winegrapes? Well, of the eight wines we sampled, a Nevada Ridge wine — the 2011 Tempranillo — was our favorite, earning a score of 88 on Wine Lines’ 100-point rating scale.

And the best is yet to come, according to Bill Loken.

“We can make red wine here,” Loken says emphatically. “As we become more and more familiar with the [Nevada] vineyards, I like to tell people that the best wines are in the barrels.”

At present, about 75 percent of Pahrump Valley Winery’s bottlings carry “California” or more specific Golden State geographic designations. But with each vintage, the Nevada-grown wines are cutting into that percentage, further cementing the winery’s unique “sense of place.”

Inside the winery building, one finds a fairly typical tasting room, plus as nice surprise: a great restaurant called Symphony's.

Inside the winery building, one finds a fairly typical tasting room, plus a nice surprise: a great restaurant called Symphony’s.

It has been fun watching (and smelling and tasting) Pahrump Valley Winery’s offerings evolve, and we look forward to tasting many of the wines currently in barrels over the next few years.

Here are tasting notes from our recent visit…

2012 Charleston Peak ‘Barrel Reserve’ Viognier, Tumbas Vineyards, Sierra Foothills

This elegantly perfumed wine presents initial impressions of honeysuckle and peach, leading to flavors of Mandarin orange, peach and orange Creamsicle. Moderately unctuous but not at all cloying, this nicely balanced elixir finishes with citrus and cream notes.

MSRP: $19.95 (August 2014)

Wine Lines rating: 88/89

2012 Pahrump Valley Winery Symphony, Lodi

Symphony helped put Pahrump on Nevada’s wine map, and it’s nice to see the winery continuing to make this versatile, under-appreciated variety from Lodi-grown grapes. While Symphony can be made in an array of styles — just like Riesling and Gewurztraminer — Pahrump Valley Winery opts for sweetness, with a residual sugar percentage of 6. The honeysuckle and rose geranium nose gives way to peach and apricot flavors, making this wine a nice pairing partner for fruit-based desserts.

MSRP: $13.95 (August 2014)

Wine Lines rating: 83

2011 Charleston Peak ‘Old Vine’ Zinfandel, Amador County

Delicately perfumed with candied black cherry and raspberry liqueur notes. In the mouth, earthy and chocolate qualities emerge, leading to a tart cherry finish.

MSRP: $19.95 (August 2014)

Wine Lines rating: 84

2011 Nevada Ridge ‘Estate Vineyard’ Zinfandel, Nevada

There’s a petroleum-like quality on first sniff, which provides no clue to the flavors that reveal themselves in the mouth: sweet fruit,

Gretchen Loken draws wine from a barrel — wine that her husband Bill says will be some of the best that the winery has produced.

Gretchen Loken draws wine from a barrel — wine that her husband Bill says will be some of the best that the winery has produced.

dark chocolate, coffee and some sort of fleshy fruit (perhaps apricot?). The flavor is better than the aroma, but the disconnect between the two is unusual.

MSRP: $25.95 (August 2014)

Wine Lines rating: 80

2010 Charleston Peak Barbera, Amador County

This wine has a floral, fresh dark berry aroma and a piquant quality, with a hint of leather. Balanced and fully dry, the finish echoes the dark berry fruit.

MSRP: $19.95 (August 2014)

Wine Lines rating: 87

2011 Nevada Ridge ‘School Lane Vineyard’ Tempranillo, Nevada

Sweet aromas of black plum, brown sugar and spice make this the most inviting wine in Pahrump Valley Winery’s current portfolio. Mellow in the mouth and easy drinking, it finishes smooth; perfect for sipping while soaking in a desert sunset.

MSRP: $21.95 (August 2014)

Wine Lines rating: 88

2011 Nevada Ridge ‘Silver State Red,’ Nevada

Think of this wine as a Chianti Classico, only crafted in Nevada instead of Italy. Medium in body, it possesses a saline minerality and a light perfume, evoking an impression of a chocolate-covered cherry. Perfect for accompanying spaghetti and meatballs, burgers, or barbecue fare.

MSRP: $25.95 (August 2014)

Wine Lines rating: 87

NV Charleston Peak Port, California

Menthol, earth, chocolate and molasses aromas jump from the glass, leading to flavors of burnt sugar (think: the top of crème brulee) and golden raisin. Similar to a Ruby Port, this is a nice dessert wine or a tasty companion to salted nuts.

MSRP: $23.95 (August 2014)

Wine Lines rating: 86

– – – – –

Pahrump Valley Winery  is located at 3810 Winery Road in Pahrump, Nevada. Tours are offered most days at 11:30 a.m., 1:30 and 3:30 p.m., and Symphony’s Restaurant is open daily for lunch and dinner. For further information, call 775-751-7800.

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A Pleasant Surprise in the O.C.’s South County

By Bob Johnson

I have to be honest: When I dropped by Rancho Capistrano Winery, located just steps from the historic mission founded by Father Junipero Serra in San Juan Capistrano, Calif., in 1776, I wasn’t expecting much.

A winery in the O.C.?

Well, it turns out there are at least 10 wineries in Orange County, and they’ve pooled their marketing resources to found “The Orange County Wine Trail.” Two of the 10 are in San Juan Capistrano, but only Rancho Capistrano was open on the day of our visit.

Rancho Capistrano is one of two wineries in San Juan Capistrano, and the only one open seven days a week.

Rancho Capistrano is one of two wineries in San Juan Capistrano, and the only one open seven days a week.

Yes, there was a time when quite a few vineyards could be found in Orange County. These days, however, wine grapes are as rare as the fruit for which the county was named. So I wasn’t surprised to learn that owner Kyle Franson and winemaker Collin Mitzenmacher were sourcing grapes from other areas.

Modern technology makes possible the transport of grape skins and juice (must), which can then be fermented and transformed into wine at a far-off site. That’s exactly what Franson, who had spent nearly three decades in finance and management before founding the winery, and the 25-year-old Mitzenmacher are doing.

Twenty-five? Isn’t that a little young for a winemaker?

“I’ve had people tell me exactly that,” says Mitzenmacher before beaming a Tom Cruise-like smile. “Really? Do I have to be a certain age in order to listen to our customers and learn what they like?”

Franson echoes that sentiment, and has said that the goal is to provide customers “with as many wines as possible.” By constantly rolling out new products, he believes, area residents will stay engaged and come back often.

Collin Mitzenmacher makes a wide array of bottlings, from bone dry to ultra sweet.

Collin Mitzenmacher makes a wide array of bottlings, from bone dry to ultra sweet.

“Fanciful” names are used for the various bottlings, and because of the winemaking process involved, vintages are not included on the labels. Mitzenmacher crafts a wide range of wines, from totally dry to ultra sweet. Although he has no control over the grape-growing process, he still can put his personal stamp on the wines through the sugar level selected, the make-up of the blends, and the types of oak staves used (if any). He also infuses some wines, such as the “Little Green Apples” Riesling, with flavor concentrates.

Some would label such bottlings as “gimmick wines,” just a step above Bartles & Jaymes. Mitzenmacher doesn’t care. He says his job is to sell wine, and that means making wine that can be sold.

So, for every perfectly balanced, off-dry Riesling from Washington’s Columbia Valley, there’s a “Sweet Caroline,” a White Shiraz infused with raspberry and dragon fruit flavors.

And that’s why the Merlot from Napa Valley’s Stags Leap District is named “Prancer,” and a sublime G-S-M (Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre) blend from Australia is dubbed “Waltzing Matilda.”

Australia? Yes, Rancho Capistrano procures “raw materials” from that country, as well as from France, Italy, Portugal, South Africa, Chile and New Zealand, in addition to up and down America’s Pacific Coast.

“So many winemakers are focused on just a single region and just a few varietals,” Mitzenmacher notes. “We can make wine, literally, from anywhere in the world. It’s so much fun.”

This is the sign that greets travelers arriving in San Juan Capistrano by train. Walk across the street, and you'll find the entrance to Rancho Capistrano Winery.

This is the sign that greets travelers arriving in San Juan Capistrano by train. Walk across the street, and you’ll find the entrance to Rancho Capistrano Winery.

Just getting to Rancho Capistrano Winery also can be fun. Situated in a nearly 100-year-old building, it’s just a few strides from San Juan Capistrano’s train station, which is served by Amtrak’s Pacific Surfliner and California Coastal lines, as well as Metrolink’s Orange County and Inland Empire-Orange County lines.

Just across the street, adjacent to the train station, is a garage that offers three hours of free parking — plenty of time to sample Rancho Capistrano’s wines (most available by the glass) and sample the winery’s café menu. There are appetizers (a cheese plate, triple hummus, guacamole, calamari), salads (summer mixed, chopped Italian, Caprese), and entrees (muffaletta sandwich, Hawaiian sliders, pasta Bolognese, and three types of pizza).

If you ask nicely, Mitzenmacher might even concoct a glass of his special sangria for you. It consists mainly of “Little Green Apples” Riesling, along with dashes of “Sweet Caroline,” the peach and apricot-flavored Chardonnay known as “Savannah,” Sprite and sparkling wine.

And if you seek something unique, try Rancho Capistrano’s “Mexican Coffee” wine, made from Sangiovese grapes, decaffeinated Mexican coffee beans and cinnamon stick. If you’re a wine drinker who starts each day at Starbucks, prepare to be pleasantly surprised.

Just as you’re likely to be after tasting most of Rancho Capistrano Winery’s bottlings.

– – – – –

Rancho Capistrano Winery is located at 26755 Verdugo Street in San Juan Capistrano, Calif. It opens daily at 11 a.m., closing at 9 p.m. on Sundays, 10 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays, and 11 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. There’s plenty of indoor and outdoor seating. For more information, call 949-307-7736, or visit

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A Benchmark Celebration: Fiddlehead Cellars 728

By Glen Frederiksen

You may recall my discussion of this event, now in its third year, HERE.
It just so happened that the Happy Cooker and Your Humble Scribe were in the Central Coast at the time of the event, and decided to cruise in.

Welcome to the 728 Party!

Welcome to the 728 Party!

A confession: in all of my trips to the Central Coast appellation over the past three decades, I had never once visited Fiddlehead Cellars. Or, for that matter, the Wine Ghetto in Lompoc. The Wine Ghetto, home to over two dozen wineries, is also the home of Fiddlehead Cellars. Generally, the wineries there are only open to the public Thursday through Sunday – some even less than that. Still, you can’t ask for a better one-stop slurping sipping of world-class Central Coast wines.

Anyhoo, my previous experiences with Fiddlehead Cellars wines were as a consumer and then retailer. Long before the movie Sideways hit the big screen in 2004 extolling the virtue of Pinot Noir (and disparaging the quality of Merlot, then the go-to red in the United States wine market), I had been seduced by the slinky Red Lady of the vineyard. Beginning with the 2002 vintage, I became a fan of Fiddlehead Cellars, especially their flagship bottling branded 728, a tip of the hat to the mile marker located right outside the vineyard.

Fiddlehead Staff Preparing for the Party to Come...

Fiddlehead Staff Preparing for the Party to Come…

At its best, Pinot Noir is, among all the red varietals in the marketplace, uniquely silky and feminine, a joy to drink. It is no surprise that DRC reds from Burgundy are among the most expensive and sought-after wines in the world. In the past 20 years, many microclimates in California, as well as the Willamette Valley in Oregon, have also been producing world-class bottlings. The Fiddlehead Cellars 728 is silkier and more elegant than most.

To celebrate their famous bottling, the winery throws a party every July 28, and welcomes wine lovers to toast the day with a sip of the wine. This year, the celebration was on Saturday, July 26 – but you can bet the party kept going through the 28th and beyond!

Partygoers Enjoying the Festivities

Partygoers Enjoying the Festivities

On hand to lead the 728 festivities was Kathy Joseph, a sociable lady who is the self-described “Proprietor, winemaker, grape herder, and Head Fiddle.” In a short chat with her, it was clear that she brings a lot of passion to her winemaking. A student of UC Davis’s Enology program, she spent a decade learning from some icons in the California wine industry (Walter Schug, Craig Williams, Bob and Zelma Long, and Robert Pecota) before founding Fiddlehead Cellars in 1989.

As we were early to the party, the pics that accompany this blog do not reflect the crush of humanity that partook of the barbecue and wine later as we were leaving. Go to the winery website to see the full effects of the 728 experience.

Here are my sip’n’scribble notes on the wines opened during the festivities. Those in attendance were eligible for substantial price reductions for on-the-spot purchases.

2010 Fiddlehead Pinot Noir 728, Fiddlestix Vineyard, Santa Rita Hills
Briary raspberry with a note of cherry, charred oak scents, earth, orange oil, and woodspice.
MSRP: $42 (July 2014)
Wine Lines rating: 91

2009 Fiddlehead Pinot Noir 728, Fiddlestix Vineyard, Santa Rita Hills
A real chameleon of a wine. At first pour, the color was a bricking light orange/ruby – an hour later, much darker in the glass. Initial scents of smoke, flowers and herbs led to distinctly feminine spiced red fruits. Want to fool a Frenchman? Put this in a fine Burgundy tasting. The longer I waited, the better the wine became. It is no wonder that the staff refer to this as their ‘forever” wine, one that will age gracefully for a decade and much more.
MSRP: $42 (July 2014)
Wine Lines rating: 92

2008 Fiddlehead Pinot Noir 728, Fiddlestix Vineyard, Santa Rita Hills
Approaching maturity now. Some citrus and spice, and everything feminine and nice.
MSRP: $48 (July 2014)
Wine Lines rating: 90

2007 Fiddlehead Pinot Noir 728, Fiddlestix Vineyard, Santa Rita Hills
Still young and racy, flashing raspberry fruit.
MSRP: $50 (July 2014)
Wine Lines rating: 91

2006 Fiddlehead Pinot Noir 728, Fiddlestix Vineyard, Santa Rita Hills
Charred oak is prominent in the nose. Light and feminine in the mouth.
MSRP: $50 (July 2014)
Wine Lines rating: 85

2010 Fiddlehead Pinot Noir ‘Doyle,’ Fiddlestix Vineyard, Santa Rita Hills
A reserve bottling, they brought this out as I had one foot out the door. Thankfully, I dragged the foot back in. Wow! Incredibly deep and layered, with rich, black spiced fruit. This bottling has a long life ahead of it. They only make this in the best vintages, and the quality is there.
MSRP: $176 (July 2014)
Wine Lines rating: 94

2013 Fiddlehead Pink Fiddle Rosé, Santa Rita Hills
Made in a dry style, yet showing focused field strawberry fruit and a crisp minerality.
MSRP: $22 (July 2014)
Wine lines rating: 88

2011 Fiddlehead Sauvignon Blanc ‘Happy Canyon,’ Santa Barbera County
I sensed melon and tropical fruit. The pourer thought it had peach and yellow apple. Either way, a delight to drink, with noticeable minerality. The Happy Canyon vineyard is about 15 to 20 miles inland from the Fiddlestix Vineyard, in a microclimate that gets very warm in the daytime, yet cools off significantly at night.
MSRP: $25 (July 2014)
Wine Lines rating: 89

Fiddlehead Cellars
1597 East Chestnut Avenue
Lompoc, CA 93436
(800) 251-1225

Map of the Lompoc Wine Ghetto:

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In Conversation with Victor Gallegos of Sea Smoke Cellars

By Glen Frederiksen

One of the most anticipated highlights of our annual summer escape to the cool climes of California’s Central Coast is visiting with Victor Gallegos, General Manager of Sea Smoke Cellars in Santa Rita Hills.

We met up at the Sea Smoke Cellars winery complex and chatted for 45 minutes, occasionally discussing the world of wine.

One thing I have been hearing from other Santa Rita Hills winery people is that the 2014 harvest is coming in earlier than normal.

Gallegos confirmed that was the case at Sea Smoke. “We are about to harvest the grapes for our sparkling wine. In July! That is a good three weeks ahead of our normal picking time.”

Curious moi wanted to know if he had an explanation for the early arrival of this year’s harvest.

After a moment’s reflection, Gallegos responded. “I hesitate to attribute this to Global Warming. But the drought that is ongoing in California must certainly be a factor. That, and a noticeable lessening of morning fog layers. We have to monitor the vines vigilantly to prevent possible desiccation of the grapes from heat spikes.”

Still, the grapes look to be at their expected maturity and concentration. It should be another solid vintage.

2011 Sea Smoke Pinot Noir

2011 Sea Smoke Pinot Noir

Of course, we had to try the latest releases while we chatted. Here are my on-the-fly tasting notes from our get-together:

2011 Sea Smoke Pinot Noir ‘Southing,’ Santa Rita Hills
A bright, translucent ruby hue. This wine shows a mélange of aromas and flavors in the glass and on the palate. Each sniff and sip brings something new. Among the ever-changing impressions were fleshy cherry, cranberry, raspberry, tea, light tar, dark flowers, and notes of cinnamon. This is a good example of the concentration of fruit that the Santa Rita Hills appellation was able to generate in a decidedly difficult vintage, especially in the North Coast growing regions.
MSRP: $59 (July 2014)
Wine Lines rating: 91

2011 Sea Smoke Pinot Noir ‘Ten,’ Santa Rita Hills
In the glass, it is a nearly opaque dark ruby color. Fairly closed upon opening, the initial impression is one of deep, dark, concentrated fruit cloaked in woodspice. A full 24 hours after opening, the wine was drinking nicely, still full of fleshy black fruit, yet showing a nice sense of elegance. At this point, the oak was fully integrated. This is a big mouthful of wine, showing firm, mature tannins that indicate those who cellar this red for 8 to 12 years will be pleasantly rewarded.
MSRP: $82 (July 2014)
Wine Lines rating: 93

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