Subscribe to our mailing list

 

HOURS
Normal Hours:
Mon 9-7
Tues-Sat: 9-7:30

LABOR DAY
September 4, 2017
CLOSED

 

CABERNET VALUE

AMAZING ALBARIÑO

CAB DRIVER'S CARmenere

SOULFUL RED RHÔNE

SURPRISINGLY GOOD TEN BUCK MERLOT

BIGFOOT CABERNET

COOL PORTUGUESE WHITE WINE

2007 VINTAGE CHAMPAGNE 

CIRO' BIANCO!

CHAMPAGNE DE
MERFY

A FIESTA OF A TEMPRANILLO

OBSCURE ITALIAN RED

CIÙ CIÙ
PECORINO

COOL VERDEJO

FLASHY RED BORDEAUX

NEW STONY SANCERRE

MAN, OH MAN, WHAT A WINE!

ELEVEN BUCK
AMADOR ZIN

STYLISH WASHINGTON MERLOT

SLEEPER of A CHARDONNAY

SUSSUDIO ???

SARDINIAN WHITE

REMARKABLE PINOT

LAKE COUNTY ZIN

STELLAR NEW ARTISAN RIOJA

NICE LITTLE PINOT $9.99

STONY RIESLING

MARSELAN...A HYBRID OF CABERNET & GRENACHE

BEST BUYS
Good Wines for $5-$15

CASTELÃO BARGAIN

STELLAR BLAUFRÄNKISCH ESTATE

CAMPANIAN DELIGHTS

COLORFUL ZIN

DOURO DYNAMITE

PORTUGUESE RED BARGAIN

GRAND SYRAH FROM AN UNUSUAL PLACE

WHITE BURGUNDIES OF NOTE

MARSANNE BARGAIN

CHERRYISH TUSCAN RED SALE $12.99

PROSECCO FOR ADULTS

BILLIONAIRE'S WINES UNDER $30!

BARGAIN WHITE BORDEAUX

PIERCINGLY GOOD
WHITE

TOP OF THE LINE
CREMANT

ANOTHER RULLY GOOD WHITE

RESERVE QUALITY RIOJA

BARBERA OF NOTE

SUPER VERONESE SALE $12.99

PIEMONTE'S GRAND VIN BIANCO?

DELICIOUS, FRESH ROSÉS

GREAT GRUNER VELTLINER

GOOD ELEVEN-BUCK CHIANTI

FLOWERY, CURIOUS RED

OLD FAVORITE KIWI SAUVIGNON IS BACK

OLD PATCH RED
ZIN BLEND

MONCUIT'S GRAND CRU CHAMPAGNE

HONEYED MUSCAT

SPICY 
GEWÜRZTRAMINER

Napa Valley Grape Info
2002

2010

Amazing FRENCH CIDERS

FIZZY LAMBRUSCO

 

 

HOME PAGE

AMERICAN WINES

CALIFORNIA PINOT NOIRS

RHONE WANNABEES

ZINFANDELS

SAUVIGNON BLANCS

MERLOTS

OREGON WINES

CALIFORNIA CHARDONNAYS

CALIFORNIA CABERNETS

RIESLING & GEWURZ

WASHINGTON STATE

CANADIAN WINES

Adventuresome  Wines

ROSÉS !!

FRENCH WINES
ALSACE
BEAUJOLAIS
RED BORDEAUX
WHITE BORDEAUX
RED BURGUNDY
WHITE BURGUNDY
RHÔNE VALLEY
THE FRENCH ALPS
SOUTH OF FRANCE

LOIRE


CHAMPAGNE

 

ITALIAN WINES
PIEMONTE

VALLE D'AOSTA

NORTHERN ITALY

CENTRAL ITALIA

TUSCANY

SOUTHERN ITALIA


SPANISH WINES
Spanish Sherry
& Other Delights


PORTUGUESE WINES

SWISS WINES

GERMAN WINES

AUSTRIAN WINES

ARGENTINA

CHILE

AUSTRALIA

NEW ZEALAND

SOUTH AFRICA

OBSCURE WINES

DESSERT WINES

CHAMPAGNES

HALF-BOTTLES

SPIRITS

CIDERS

BEER
Even Real "Bud"!

OTHER STUFF

WINE TASTING

WHAT'S OPEN


UPCOMING TASTINGS

TASTING RESULTS
  
NEWSLETTER

SHIPPING INFO

ETC.

 

TASTING REPORTS

HOW TO ORGANIZE A BLIND-TASTING

BLIND TASTING ARCHIVE

MY 2013 EURO WINE ADVENTURE BOOK

CHATEAU MONTELENA
VERTICAL


ALBA WINES EXHIBITION 2007

ALBA WINES EXHIBITION 2008

SCHRAMSBERG vs THE FAMOUS FRENCH

German Wine "Master Class" Tasting

UNIQUE VERTICAL TASTING OF VOLLRADS RIESLINGS
1945-2015


S & M FOR WINETASTING GEEKS

TEAR-WAH
TASTING

2017 SF
INTERNATIONAL
WINE 
COMPETITION

2016 SF
INTERNATIONAL
WINE COMPETITON

2015 SF INTERNATIONAL WINE COMPETITION

2014 SF INTERNATIONAL WINE COMPETITION

2013 SF INTERNATIONAL WINE COMPETITION

2012 SF INTERNATIONAL WINE COMPETITION

2011 SF INTERNATIONAL WINE COMPETITION

2010 SF INTERNATIONAL WINE COMPETITION

2009 SF INTERNATIONAL WINE COMPETITION

2008 SF INTERNATIONAL WINE COMPETITION
Periodically Amazing

2007 SF INTERNATIONAL WINE COMPETITION
The Nose Knows!

2006 SF INTERNATIONAL  WINE COMPETITION.
SPIT HAPPENS

2005 SF INTERNATIONAL WINE COMPETITION.

2004 SF WINE COMPETITION TASTING

The 2003 SF WINE COMPETITION

2002 SF WINE COMPETITION TASTING 

A Vertical Tasting of Nalle Zinfandels

 

 

ETC.

RANTINGS & RAVINGS

WINE ROADS of EUROPE

Food/Wine/Friends
A Photo Gallery

MASTER OF WINE ESSAY TOPICS

Old Bottles: A TASTE OF HISTORY

Bob's Venetian Diary

Bob's Paris Notes Updated Spring 2007

Wine Writer's Confession

NEW "CULT" WINERY

Some Restaurant Reviews

HOW TO SELL WINE.
Info For Brokers and
Wine Distributors.

HOW TO HOLD A TRADE TASTING

$100,000 WORTH OF WINE MARKETING ADVICE:  FREE!
Mainly for Foreign Vintners

MOLDY CORKS

Study Reveals Experts Taste More Than What's In the Glass!

OKANAGAN VALLEY WINE TOUR-2010

BRIAN'S 2005 SUMMER VACATION WITH UNCLE

Gerald's Tour de France 2006

GERALD'S TOUR DE FRANCE 2008

A TOUR OF PORTUGAL-2009

HOW TO SPEAK BETTER ITALIAN

PEDRONCELLI
90th ANNIVERSARY

PONZI'S 40th
ANNIVERSARY

ROOSEVELT'S 2005 CHILI COOK-OFF

ROOSEVELT'S 2007 CHILI COOK-OFF

Grape Goddess

Ross Bruce Birthday

ALESSIA DALL'U

FRANCESCA & CAROLA
CALLIGARO


CCIV

FAQs

BURLINGAME

Links

More California Cabernets

 

CADE
Former San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom (these days he's Jerry Brown's Lieutenant Governor of the state of California) and his buddy Gordon Getty own some Napa Valley vineyards and wineries.

One of them is called CADE.  These guys are Shakespeare fans and their first enterprise in Napa was, and still is, called Plumpjack after Sir John Falstaff, who was cited as "plump Jack" in one play.

Cade, they'll tell you, is a reference to a barrel which contained wine being shipped from Bordeaux to England.  We thought this was a bit fishy and, it turns out a CADE is a barrel.  And if we're talking seafood, a Cade of herrings contained 500 of those little suckers.  If we're dealing with sprats, a Cade contained a thousand of those.  And in Shakespearian times, you might be familiar with a British rebel named Jack Cade.
Whatever the name refers to in literature or history, in the Napa Valley it refers to a pretty good Cabernet producer.

We've been fans of their Napa Valley Cabernet, though their Howell Mountain bottlings have been good.  The Napa bottling, though, comes from vineyards in Calistoga, Rutherford, Oak Knoll, Pope Valley and St. Helena.  The blend has 15% Petit Verdot and 9% Malbec.  Oak comes from about 9 different cooperages and they buy woods from different forests and have these toasted in a range of intensities.  

All these little nuances, we feel, add to the complexity of the wine.

The 2013 is nicely balanced for fairly immediate enjoyment.  It's a full-bodied, nicely woodsy Napa Cabernet.  There are plenty of dark fruit notes to stand up to the wood.  It ought to cellar well for 5+ years, maybe longer if you've got a cool storage space.

 

Currently in stock:  2013 CADE "Napa Valley" CABERNET SAUVIGNON  SALE $79.99

 

 
 

CAYMUS VINEYARDS

2013 Napa Valley "41st Anniversary" Cabernet Sauvignon List $90  Sold Out

2012 Special Selection "Napa Valley" Cabernet Sauvignon  Sold Out

wpeC.jpg (11157 bytes)The Wagner family has been farming in the Napa Valley for a long time.  We've known Charlie and Chuck since their initial vintage back in 1972!   They've always made good Cabernets and the wines have improved steadily over the years.  

In their first years the winery made quite a range of bottlings.  They were especially proud of their Pinot Noir Blanc, a wine they called "Eye of the Partridge," a term you might find on a light pink wine in France or Switzerland.  There they were, in the middle of prime Cabernet country--and they were fooling around with Pinot Noir.  (The Inglenook winery used to buy fruit from the Wagners in those days.)

I recall stopping in one day with my sister, Ellen, whom you might know if you stop by the shop these days.  Old Charlie, who passed away some years ago, proudly was pouring wine in their tasting room.  He was really angry, as I recall, that the price of a cork had escalated from around a few pennies to a nickel or a dime.  He thought his competitors ought to stop using so many corks and switch to screw caps.  

When I suggested he bottle his little "Eye of the Partridge" Pinot Noir with a screw-cap he groused some more claiming that wine aged well and wouldn't be right with a screw-cap.

And yet, old Charlie was ahead of his time and numerous vintners around the world are embracing screw-capped bottles or those sealed with a glass stopper!  

In those old days, the winemaker was a youngster named Randy Dunn.  He started his own enterprise up on Howell Mountain in the late 1970s and he still makes good, old fashioned Cabernets.  His, though, are quite different from what Caymus makes today.
 
During the decade of the 1990s, their wines have pretty much "kicked butt" in just about every blind-tasting they'd been in.  While they had been slow to increase their prices, they sure caught up in one vintage, moving the 1995 Cabernet to its $68 price, up from $37 the vintage before!  With many people crying about this increase, take a look at the situation from the Wagner's perspective:  Your wine aces out $50-$100 bottles of your neighbor's wines on a routine basis.  People are lined up to buy your product.  You spend a small fortune on fruit and oak barrels.   Why not ask a premium price when you're offering a premium product?

Today's wines, though, are quite different from the Cabernets made in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s.

In the old days, they made classic Napa Cabernet Sauvignon.  

Today they're giving the people (and wine critics, apparently) what they want.




The photo above shows a test tube with a sample of the 40th Anniversary wine and you can see the color chart matches it the 1% level (or 10 grams per liter) of residual sugar.  
This is a little gizmo called Clinitest (or Dextrocheck), a way to measure small amounts of sugar in blood, urine or wine.
You add 5 drops of wine, 10 of water and a little reagent tablet...let the liquid bubble and after 10 to 20 seconds, compare the color of the liquid in the test tube with the color chart...

As you can see, then, the 2012 Anniversary bottling weighs in with about (1%) 10 grams of sugar per liter.  Most palates cannot detect 5 grams, but ten is certainly apparent although these days many California winemakers are leaving a modest level of sweetness in their wines.

Kendall Jackson has made a lot of money producing wines with relatively low levels of sweetness.  Rombauer is famed for its distinctive Chardonnay and Zinfandel, both with a bit of residual sugar.  And now Caymus is entering this arena, producing a pricey Cabernet with some sugar.

The 2013 Napa Cabernet was released in June of 2015.  We were told we'd be allocated something like 25% of the quantity we sold of the 2012 vintage.  

Napa Cabernet crop levels were about 4.4% lower than 2012 according to the Napa Register newspaper.

But Caymus bought loads of extra grapes for their 40th anniversary bottling and did not thing to duplicate that with the fairly bountiful 2013 harvest, according to one winery representative.  

((This, of course, is in the wake of Caymus building a 100,000 square foot winery and cellar/bottling line in neighboring Solano County.  The Wagner family wants to bottle its various brands in one location and the County of Napa was not thrilled with the idea of so much wine being run through the original Caymus' facility.  As a result, Chuck Wagner bought a 260 acre parcel for both vineyards and a winery.))

The young marketing people who work for the Wagners have the idea that the customers who best support ALL their brands (regardless of quality or appropriateness of the wines to a shop or restaurant) deserve the best treatment and biggest allocations.  Of course, an account selling a lot of the sweet blended wines called "Conundrum" might not have customers for Caymus' extravagantly-priced Cabernets.

On the other hand, given that everything seems to be 'sweet', maybe they will!

And so, a shop such as ours, is now viewed as a second-class (or lower) account since we don't recommend wines we don't find to be worthy.  Despite being a supporter of the brand when it made its debut and made a good quality product at an honest price, that counts for very little these days. 
Even though we had been offering the Caymus wines since the very first vintage.

The 2013 Napa Cabernet took a substantial price increase.  The wholesale price increased something like 28% from 2012 to 2013.  

((Maybe some of that increase will be used to pay the one-million dollar fine incurred by Caymus for exceeding the production level ceilings imposed by Napa County?
We understand Caymus didn't view production levels as being out of bounds, since wines were actually being made elsewhere, but being trucked to Rutherford for bottling.  Napa viewed this as exceeding the limits.))

The wine is certainly in the category of "fruit bomb" or "gobs o'fruit" style of California Cabernet.  The crew here found the wine to show "prune juice" sorts of character, meaning the grapes were picked at very light levels of sugar and, possibly, in a state where they're dehydrated a bit.
And the wine shows a touch of sugar, too.  

The sweetness used to be a detraction for critics rating wines on a 20 or 100 point assessment scale.  But it seems few of these people are sensitive to the sugar.

Will consumers pay a premium price for this sort of wine or will Caymus have to return to its old style of Cabernet?  
That chapter remains to be written.





 
We'd sold out of a recent vintage of Special Selection Cabernet...the kid who's the winery marketing guru is, like many "executives," uncaring about past history it seems.  We'd sent numerous missives to the winery (mistakenly thinking the owner, Chuck Wagner, whom we've known since the early 1970s, would read our modest plea)  asking if they'd kindly allow us to buy a dozen bottles...finally we sent a note to the "kid," saying we just woke up to the fact that we've been buying Caymus wines for more years than he's been alive.
The kid called to "reach out to us" and see about twisting our arm to buy some of their other wines.
We had sufficient inventory of their Belle Glos Pinot Noir and a number of leaky bottles of their Conundrum white wine, so he was unwilling to accommodate us.
"We need those remaining cases of Special Selection for corporate chain restaurant accounts." he explained.  

Knock yourself out, kid.






CHAPPELLET
wpe43.jpg (3236 bytes)Chappellet was one of the first "new" wineries in the Napa Valley back in the late 1960s and early 1970s.  At the time there were mostly just the big, famous cellars: BV, Inglenook, Christian Brother, Beringer Brothers, Charles Krug...some guy named Robert Mondavi had started a place in Oakville. 

The Chappellet family had built a triangular-shaped winery way up in the eastern hills of Napa at a place called Pritchard Hill.  Chenin Blanc was popular in those days and Chappellet still makes a lovely dry version of that Loire Valley grape, though today's version is a bit higher in alcohol than the wines made ages ago.
 


Cabernet Sauvignon from this area is special and uniquely flavored.  I remember with great fondness wines from 1973 (stunning!) and 1981.  Now Chappellet has neighbors such as Bryant Family, Ovid, Melanson, Continuum and David Arthur, so the 'hood is getting crowded.  Much of the fruit comes from vineyards on Pritchard Hill where they own more than 600 acres of land.  About 102 of those are planted to grapes, leaving a wonderful natural ambiance in the surrounding areas.  

When we began exploring California wine regions, we noticed most vineyards were planted in the lush, fertile valleys.  Yet in researching European wines, it was routinely noted that grapevines would typically be planted in locations where farming other crops would be difficult, if not impossible.  Napa Valley, back in the 1960s and 1970s, was carpeted on the flatlands.  Chappellet was one of the few newcomers to start planted in a relatively difficult, rugged "mountain" terrain.  

They were also early in cultivating grapes utilizing organic or sustainable methods well before those became a tool to sell wine.  The Chappellets did this because they thought it was simply the right thing to do.  They've been certified by the California Certified Organic Farmers as "organic" since 2012.


Chappellet has always had good winemakers.  Tony Soter and Cathy Corison were associated with Chappellet in previous lifetimes.   So was Philip Togni.  
Phillip Corallo-Titus is the current winemaker. He's been at the helm for 20 years, or so (and makes his own wine under the Titus label).

As with so many Napa wineries, the wines have followed the trend towards bigger and riper.  

We really like Chappellet's 2014 "Signature" Cabernet.  This is dark in color and has intense red and black fruit notes with a touch of wood.
It's showing well in its youth and can cellar for 5-10+ years.



 
 
 
 
 They make a special bottling of Estate Grown Cabernet called Pritchard Hill.  We currently have the 2009 in stock.   It's 15% Petit Verdot and 10% Malbec and the wine spent 20 months in new French oak.  It's a potent, massive bottling, being quite full-bodied and intense.
 
 
 

Our former staffer Kareasa shared a bottle of 2008 Pritchard Hill with us...
 
Aside from being fairly potent, the wine was a rich, full-bodied Cabernet of fine quality.  It was one of those wines which makes you understand that Napa is a special place for Cabernet and even more so: Pritchard Hill is a special place for Cabernet.




In the realm of "budget-priced," Chappellet makes a blend called "Mountain Cuvee."  The 2013 is currently in stock, sale priced at $29.99
(Keep in mind that Napa vintners view $50 as "everyday-priced" wine.)

A few years ago they changed the name from Chappellet to Cervantes.  We sent them a note to suggest this was not a good marketing idea.  They persisted with the Cervantes brand for a couple of vintages before deciding keeping the Chappellet name on the label was a better idea.

The current vintage of Mountain Cuvee is 2014.  The blend is 34% Cabernet Sauvignon, 43% Merlot,11% Petit Verdot, 7% Malbec and 5% Cabernet Franc.   It's matured  in oak and the wine shows some nice brown spice notes from the wood and some dark fruits of the various Bordeaux varieties.  This is drinkable now and it's not intended for lengthy cellaring. 



Currently in stock:  
2009 "PRITCHARD HILL"  CABERNET Sold Out
2014 "SIGNATURE" CABERNET $69.99
2014 "MOUNTAIN CUVEE" 
Sold Out







CHATEAU MONTELENA
wpeA.jpg (14250 bytes)When Chateau Montelena started operating in its current incarnation, Mike Grgich was the winemaker.  Grgich had been affiliated with Lee Stewart at Souverain.  He also worked with the Christian Brothers and then as a protégé of Andre Tchelistcheff at Beaulieu.  A stint at the University of Robert Mondavi at Oakville came next before he started as the winemaker at Chateau Montelena.

The first wine made at Montelena was a lovely Napa Riesling.  This is still made in tiny amounts and you can find it at the winery's tasting room and an occasional wine list in a Bay Area restaurant.  Chardonnay was Grgich's next success, followed by Zinfandel.  Cabernet Sauvignon never really achieved a significant degree of notoriety in the early days.  Mike departed and was followed by Jerry Luper, previously the head winemaker at Freemark Abbey winery.  Bo Barrett, son of the major investor in Montelena, had been somewhat of an "understudy"  (I think he took over with the 1982 vintage).  By the late 1970s, Montelena's Estate vineyard, predominantly planted with Cabernet Sauvignon, became the backbone of what is now a highly-regarded Napa Cabernet.

I should point out that Montelena is at the northern end of the Napa Valley in Calistoga. 

Cabernet Sauvignon from this vineyard tends to display a ripe character which I find reminiscent of blackberry or black cherry.  While they use a percentage of new oak, you won't find Montelena's Cabernets resembling those of Caymus or Silver Oak, for example.  Bo Barrett does a fine job of capturing the fruit and crafting a rather big, intense red wine with a moderately tannic spine.   Older bottles we've opened, from time to time, always seem remarkably well-preserved. 

Montelena offers its Estate Cabernet along with a secondary wine that used to be called "Calistoga Cuvée."  The latter is a more forward, simpler wine with a significantly simpler price tag. It is now simply sold as "Napa" Cabernet.  

The 2013 "Napa" is a very fine bottle, showing plenty of nice dark fruit notes.  It's 85% Cabernet Sauvignon, 14% Merlot and 1% Cabernet Franc. You can drink it now, if you like, and it will cellar well for up to 5-10 years as it has a moderate level of tannin.

The Montelena Estate Cabernet from 2010 is a lovely wine.  For one thing, it's not 14.5% alcohol.  
The wine is showing well in its youth and it seems to hold good promise if you're interested in cellaring it for another 10-20 years.  It's a wine with a bit of backbone and yet it's nicely balanced and enjoyable now with a good steak...
 

An earlier vintage received an absurd score from the Wine Spectator critic, Jim Laube.  This fellow must have had an "off"  to rate this a score of 69 out of a possible 100 points.  The 2007 vintage is the current release, similarly styled and showing nice, dark fruit all the way through the nose to the palate...

Mr. Laube arrived at the same score for Montelena's "Estate" Cabernet from 2001 as well.  We had it in a blind-tasting and the wine was very nice.  I had it highly ranked as did my colleague Bob Gorman.  I was pleasantly surprised by the elegance of the wine, since these are often pretty hefty and brawny.  Not one taster mentioned any of the curious, supposedly "musty" notes Laube finds so prevalent in Montelena's wines.

The Wine Spectator's Laube has, apparently, trained himself to look for notes of a musty character.  It can be detected at really low concentrations if you care to develop this tasting acumen.  Most people are not that sensitive and so, to 98% of wine drinkers, the Montelena Cabernets are fine.  

This reminds me of the comment from a friend who pointed out that dogs can hear things which are inaudible to human beings.  "You know," he said, "The New York Times does not send a dog to critique the symphony."
 
We opened another bottle of the 2001 with a prominent winemaker friend from Italy in July of 2012.  It was paired with a steak and served amongst some other wines and, frankly, the wine was excellent.  

In February of 2008 we opened a bottle of Montelena's 1995 Cabernet and found the wine to be exceptional.  It was clean, showing lovely dark fruits and the oak was well in the background.  At 12+ years of age, this was still youthful and capable of additional cellaring....We had another bottle in May of 2010...dark fruit, mildly woodsy and thoroughly drinkable.


Montelena embarked upon a program of selling its wine on a "futures" basis, asking customers to put their cash on the barrel-head a couple of years in advance of the release of the wine.   They have, apparently, stopped this program and it's probably a good idea.  

In the Spring of 2008 rumor swirled around the industry of the impending sale of Chateau Montelena.  In late July of 2008, the winery announced it was being sold to Michel Reybier, a fellow who acquired Chateau Cos d'Estournel in 2000.  The sale fell through, however, as the exchange rate in favor of the American dollar significantly increased the price for the French buyer.
 
In July of 2010, I was invited to come taste 25 vintages of Montelena's estate Cabernet...Click here for that report.
 
Currently in stock:  2014 Napa Valley Cabernet (list $55) Due in soon
2010 Napa Valley "Montelena Estate" Cabernet SALE $134.99



 




CLIFF LEDE
Cliff Lede (pronounced like "lady") is a Canadian-born fellow who made a few bucks north of the border and is now dabbling in a serious Napa Valley enterprise.   Lede had visited the Valley once or twice on California get-aways and business trips and he enjoyed his jogs in and around vineyards in bucolic Napa.

He purchased the old S. Anderson winery and vineyard and has hired some good folks to run the place in a serious, quality-driven fashion.  Anderson was a retired dentist from Los Angeles who dabbled in winemaking and sparkling wine production.

I have enjoyed some bottles of S. Anderson bubblies over the years, but none has seriously challenged the sparkling wines of France's Champagne region.    The table wines from S. Anderson have been well-made, but not especially compelling (as in "compelling me to buy some").  

Their 2001 was a bit ordinary, but they hit their stride, perhaps, with the 2002 vintage.  We liked the 2003 Cabernet very much, as well.

We had been, then, an early supporter of the Cliff Lede wines, but they made a poor marketing decision in the middle part of that decade when they sent their wines to some wine publications for review.  The wines fared well and suddenly they had requests from all corners of the country for their wines.  They decided to abandon their early supporters such as Weimax, in favor of selling wine to new customers who were in search of high numerical scores.

We stopped carrying the wines.  A decade later, though, the Cliff Lede ambassador stopped by and we tasted a number of really smart wines and decided the wines were good enough to end our little embargo.

Lede is a big fan of rock & roll music and if you visit the place, you'll undoubtedly see evidence of this.
 

Some vintage posters for the Grateful Dead band.
 

Carrying this interest in rock music even farther, Lede has named the various vineyard parcels after classic tunes.
I'm amused that while I'm fairly clueless about today's pop music scene, even I recognize most of these names!

Here's a bird's-eye view of the Cliff Lede vineyard.




We wondered if this parcel was named to honor some numerically-challenged wine critic.

 


Abbey Road in the Napa Valley!


There's interest art scattered around the property, in addition to their "bottled art."

The cellar seemed to be designed for efficiency and during the harvest, it was in good condition (sanitation goes a long way towards making a good bottle of wine, so we were impressed to see the place beautifully clean).


Winemaker Chris Tynan has an impressive résumé, though we prefer not to sell wine based on the affiliations people have had in the wine business.
Suffice it to say he ought to be making good wines and, in fact, he is.

The tasting room and outdoor tasting patio are impressive and comfortable.

We tasted a number of good wines made by Cliff Lede under his Napa label and his "FEL" label from Mendocino.  

The Napa wines include a good Sauvignon Blanc and a rather nice Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon.  We currently have the 2013 Napa Cabernet from the Stags Leap District.  The wine saw extended skin contact and the grapes are fairly ripe, so the resulting wine is deep in color and showing dark, black fruit fragrances.  Some of those same elements transfer to the flavors...and there's a nice bit of oak here, as well.  The final blend is 78% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Petit Verdot, 2% Cabernet Franc, 6% Malbec and 2% Merlot.  Twenty-one months aging in French oak, with half the barrels being brand new.    It's a showy Cabernet...probably best now or for short-term cellaring, this wine can be paired with a good steak or rack of lamb.   
Best to serve the wine lightly cooled to cellar temperature.

Currently in stock: 2013 CLIFF LEDE Stags Leap District CABERNET SAUVIGNON  $79.99

 



CATHY CORISON
We first met Cathy Corison when she was the winemaker at a rather new estate in Napa called Chappellet. 

She made good wine for the Chappellet family eons ago and she's been making wine under her Corison label since 1987.  Over the years Cathy has been affiliated with a flock of good estates, including Staglin, York Creek and Long Meadow Ranch.

The style of her Cabernet, which comes from several vineyards, I believe, may be considered a bit "old school."  We consider it to be a traditional style of Napa Cabernet and one you don't find much these days.  For one thing, it's not pushing 15% alcohol.  For another, it's not a "fruit bomb" with "gobs of fruit."  Another unusual feature:  it will age gracefully.

At a trade tasting I told Cathy "You know, if you'd add gallons of Mega-purple (a grape concentrate) to your wine, your Cabernet would be just like everybody else's!"
We had a good laugh.
It's really great to taste a wine that's not fussed with and tastes distinctively different from the masses.
 
Her wine is always 100% Cabernet Sauvignon.  
It's typically matured in French oak barrels, with 50% of the cooperage being brand new.


Cathy's wines have typically had a firm structure and plenty of tannin.
That's what you get when you're dealing with an "old timer."
Dunn.  Forman.  Togni.  Corison.

The 2004 seems to have brighter fruit, a shade more wood and a sunnier, even smiling disposition than many of her vintages.  The wine now has had time to develop and evolve and it's done so beautifully.
You can enjoy a bottle now paired with a roast or steak, but cellaring this for 5 to ten more years is perfectly okay. 

A bit of a surprise is how approachable Corison's 2013 Napa Valley Cabernet is showing.
It displays beautiful Cabernet fruit. Dark berries. Maybe some black cherry.  Black plums?  Mildly woodsy, too.  Cedar.  Vanilla.  It's got layers of flavors and blossoms quite handsomely on the palate.  Don't miss it.

Currently in stock:  2004 CORISON Napa Valley CABERNET SAUVIGNON  $99.99 
2013 CORISON Napa Valley CABERNET SAUVIGNON  $93.99





 

 

ROBERT CRAIG CELLARS
Robert Craig worked many years as a vineyardist in the Napa Valley before launching his own label in 1990.

He had come to California and enjoyed the Napa Valley when there were but a handful of wineries there.  After obtaining an MBA at the University of Chicago, he returned to California and set out to go work for a winery.  But wineries in Napa were few and far between and the staff positions were typically occupied by family members as these were smallish enterprises.

After working in real estate, Craig and a colleague took the plunge and bought a vineyard property on Mount Veeder.  He ended up selling it to a Swiss guy named Donald Hess who had come to Napa in search of water.  Hess ended up buying the property and asking Robert Craig to stick around and manage the vineyard.  And so Craig worked for Hess for about a decade.

Over the years, though, he helped establish vineyards on Spring Mountain and Howell Mountain.  A prominent entertainer had a new property atop Mount Veeder and Craig was recommended by John Shafer as a good candidate to plant that site.  Hess mostly wanted to sell grapes, but, of course, he ended up establishing a winery and making some wine.  But Craig saw Hess going in a direction he didn't appreciate, so he left after ten years.

The entertainer was a fellow named Robin Williams and he thought planting grapes might help cover some of the costs of having this country get-away property.  It's called Pym Rae and Craig has had a handshake agreement to get the grapes to make his "Mount Veeder" appellation Cabernet.  Now that property was sold, in the wake of Williams' death, to the owners of Chateau Pontet Canet (and Tesseron Cognac)...two really good products in our view.
It's not clear if the Tesserons will continue to sell Craig some of the fruit from Pym Rae.

Craig had been instrumental in the establishment of both the Mount Veeder and Spring Mountain AVA's (American Viticultural Areas).  These days, getting up in years, Craig is said to be semi-retired.  
The winery seems to be in good hand, though, and the wines they make a solid.

We currently have the 2013 Mount Veeder Cabernet from Robert Craig.  It's a fairly high octane red wine, possibly due to the relatively low yields.  Though we read that the 2013 vintage produced a rather abundant crop in Napa, the yields were lower on Mount Veeder and they calculated getting less than two-and-a-half tons to the acre.

The wine offers lots of dark fruit tones...oak is lingering in the background, though.  It's fairly full on the palate and you can certainly pair this with a steak or prime rib tonight.  It ought to cellar nicely for a decade, or so.  Maybe longer if you've got cool storage conditions.
 

Currently in stock: 2013 ROBERT CRAIG Mount Veeder CABERNET SAUVIGNON  $89.99

 


 
 
 
 

DANCING HARES

The story of the Dancing Hares winery is quite remarkable and it has a few elements common to many Napa Valley cellars:  Its owner made a small fortune in the high-tech world.

His name is Robert Cook and he's the son of a US Postal worker, hailing from Pennsylvania.  Dad, apparently, insisted his son take off his welder's mask and head to college to make something of himself.  And, boy, did he ever!
 
 
Cook attended Indiana University of Pennsylvania (this is halfway between Pittsburgh to the west and Altoona to the east) and got a good education before a military stint in Vietnam.  From there he was in high tech and had a company called VM Software which he sold for a bazillion dollars.  

He and Mrs. Cook (Paula Brooks) invested in a small vineyard property in the eastern hills of the Napa Valley.  They're below Howell Mountain and there are two little vineyard parcels.  And to add to the confusion, wouldn't you know there's a "Cook Family Winery" just up the road from the Cooks!?!

In addition to being a gentleman farmer, Mr. Cook is also a writer and he's created a character named Alec Cuchulain who's a hedge fund manager and, imagine this, CIA special-ops warrior!  "Cooch"!!!

So they make this Dancing Hares wine which sells in the triple-digit range.  We're fans of their "entry level" wine (if $59.99 is 'entry level') called Mad Hatter.
 

The 2009 vintage is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon with nearly 60% Merlot and some Petit Verdot and Cabernet Franc.  Sixty percent new French oak cooperage gives a sweetly woodsy note to the wine.  We like the wine for immediate drinking, but it may hold on nicely for a few more years.
 
Currently in stock:  2009 MAD HATTER  Sold Out 

The marketing company representing this brand has a sales rep who stops by on a very sporadic and unreliable basis.  The fellow, whom we suspect is on commission, has not thought to bring by any of the succeeding vintages, so we've filled that spot in the shop with other wines.
 

 

DAOU

The Daou brothers' have a remarkable story and it their little foray in wine takes us back to the 1970s when we visited a little winery in Templeton called Hoffman Mountain Ranch.

We recall visiting the Hoffman family and tasting their first vintage of Pinot Noir from barrel in a make-shift winery in a garage.

The Hoffman Mountain Ranch winery was short-lived, but it did signal a measure of enological potential in a relatively wine-sleepy area.  

Sure, there was some winemaking in Paso Robles and San Luis Obispo, but it was viewed by most as a backwater wine region, despite the relative success of that HMR Pinot Noir.

The Daou brothers, Daniel and Georges, spent their early childhood in Lebanon before the family moved to Paris, France.  

The two brothers came to the US and were whiz-kids in the world of computers and high tech.  They founded Daou Systems and made a fortune in medical-related computer technology.  ((At the time of their IPO, it was the fifth-largest in Wall Street history at that time.))

It was a bottle of 1986 Bordeaux that caused Daniel Daou to be seriously smitten by the wine bug.  The brothers, having retired from their medical computer company, began looking in Napa for a prospective vineyard site.  They thought they were close to finding just the right place in Knights Valley, north of Calistoga.  
Then, in 2007 they found the right spot:  a 600 acre property at the 2,200 foot elevation level in Paso Robles.  They're 20 miles inland, but the property gets a nice maritime breeze which makes it far less hot than vineyards farther inland.  The elevation means they're usually above the fog, too.

While many vineyards in the warm climes of Paso Robles are planted to clones producing profitable levels of tonnage, Daou wanted to match the clonal selection of Cabernet Sauvignon to the terroir and to farm for flavor rather than yields.

We first tasted a remarkable Zinfandel from this estate and that put them on our radar.  Cabernet, especially the reserve, has been pretty good, though at $60 a bottle, we felt some of our Napa selections were a bit more interesting.

We recently tasted Daou's 2013 'regular' bottling of Cabernet and this is a winner.  It's got nicely intense Cabernet fruit and a hefty amount of oak to frame it without going over the top.  The tannins are balanced, so it tastes young, but not harsh or coarse (unless you drink sweet wine all the time).  The other feature we especially like is it's not typical of the fruit bombs coming from Paso Robles which are 15+% and which show aromas reminiscent of jam or cooked fruit.

Currently in stock:  2013 DAOU Paso Robles CABERNET SAUVIGNON  Sold Out

 

 

 

 




DARIOUSH

wpe8.jpg (5489 bytes)Darioush Khaledi is a Persian émigré who left Iran around the time of the Islamic Revolution.   I don't know what bit of insanity caused him to choose to set up a winery and vineyard in the Napa Valley, but perhaps the hot sun in the Middle East had something to do with it.
He had been passionate about wine for much of his adult life and had a fondness for vineyards since they had been so prolific in the winegrowing region of Shiraz (said to be where the Syrah grape was born). 

The winemaker is Steve Devitt, whom we first met eons ago at his folk's winery out in Pope Valley.  Steve has worked at a variety of places since, including Newlan Vineyards & Winery and Signorello Vineyards.  Steve is in charge of the Darioush vineyards as well as the cellar. 

They're developing a rather good track record for Cabernet.  The wines are stylish, nicely oaked, packed with dark fruit notes and balanced enough to be drinkable young, yet structured to have a bit of cellaring potential.  

 
 
 
The 2013 is in stock...and it's showing the usual Darioush character.   French oak. Lots of berry fruit. It has 17% Merlot, 3% Cabernet Franc, 3% Malbec and 2% Petit Verdot.  They do a moderate amount of "whole berries" in the fermentation tank and this may be one key to the fruit fragrance of their wine.  It's a big, fully-oaked Napa Cabernet...

 

 

They make a second-tier wine called Caravan.

The 2012 is quite nice and while it might not be quite as complex as the Darioush-labeled wine, it's still thoroughly charming and well-priced.

This Cabernet has 14% Merlot, 6% Cabernet Franc and 4% Malbec.  It's been matured in a high percentage of brand new French and "European" oak cooperage (that's a fancy way of not saying the barrels might be from Hungarian or Russian forests).

It's a charming bottle of Cabernet and is showing well in its youth.  We don't expect it's a wine for lengthy aging, so drinking it young is probably best.

 

Currently in stock:  2013 Darioush Napa Cabernet Sauvignon  SALE $99.99
2012 Caravan Napa Cabernet Sauvignon SALE $49.99

 

 
 
 


DUNN
We first met Randy Dunn when he was the winemaker for some little place in Rutherford called Caymus.  He's not one for "singing and dancing," so you won't find him pouring wine at "winemaker dinners" or "Meet The Geek" events.  His efforts are solidly on viticulture and winemaking rather than showmanship.

Dunn's first vintage under his own label was the 1979 if I recall correctly.  The wine was well-received and was one of the first "cult" Cabernets in the 1980s version of the Golden Age of Wine in California.  Before that, of course, BV's Private Reserves, Heitz, Ridge and some Louis Martini wines were those chased after by "serious" wine drinkers.
Caymus and Stag's Leap Wine Cellars made the next "must haves" and Dunn was on the scene shortly after that.  And his wine remains a seriously good bottle into the 2010s...


Dunn's wines have been full-throttle, massive Cabernets.  He offers two bottlings, the "Napa" Cabernet and one from vineyards on Howell Mountain.  The latter is typically the bigger of the two and the most costly.  I can't say it's necessarily the better of the two, though, so please don't think of the Napa bottling as a lesser wine than the massive, brawny Howell Mountain bottling.

We have had delicious bottles of Dunn's Cabernets.  The Napa bottling is usually lovely at about 10-15 years of age.  

We've yet to have a Howell Mountain Cabernet from Dunn that's hit a point of maturity where you'd say "Better drink these up right away."  That's because they have a lot of intensity and plenty of tannin and structure for cellaring.  

In February of 2007 I opened a bottle of 1982 Dunn Howell Mountain for a visiting winemaker friend from Italy.  The wine was impressive for about 30 to 40 minutes, just long enough for us to enjoy the grilled slab o' beef we paired with it.  After about an hour the wine was spent, growing tired and old...it was great, though, when first poured.

In March of 2007 we had another visiting European dignitary and we opened a 1994 Howell Mountain...this was a youngster, but beautifully evolved and probably on a plateau.  Deep, dark and with youthful black fruit notes, this was a delight.

The 1999s are showing well these days.
 

One feature of Dunn's winemaking is that he strives for keeping the alcohol to sensible levels.  Instead of making big, flabby, ready-to-drink immediately, sweet, "gobs o' fruit" wines, Dunn makes Cabernets for adult wine drinkers.  

We have the Napa Valley bottling which used to be predominantly from Howell Mountain grapes with a small addition of valley floor vineyard juice.  This vintage is predominantly from fruit grown in the Coombsville area with about one-third from Howell Mountain.  It may not have quite the structure of previous Dunn Napa Cabernets, but it is very good, nonetheless.


 
 
 
The 2011 Howell Mountain is showing well presently and will be a lovely wine if you have a bit of patience and good storage conditions.  The wine offers lots of dark fruit notes with a shading of cassis or an herbal streak and lots of blackberry and stony notes.

The 2012 Howell Mountain is excellent and you'll find the tannins to be more tame than Dunn's wine from a decade ago.  
Mike Dunn says this was a conscious decision to refine the style of the Howell Mountain wine.
  

 


Mike Dunn

 
Currently in stock:  2012 DUNN "Napa Valley" CABERNET SALE $89.99
2011 DUNN "Howell Mountain-Napa" CABERNET Sale $99.99  (magnums available, too)
2012 DUNN "Howell Mountain-Napa" CABERNET SALE $159.99
Some Older Vintages are available...stop by and have a look.




In September of 2013 we opened the 1997 and 1998 Howell Mountain Cabernets, side-by-side.  The 1997 was quite good, but the 1998, on this occasion, was even more showy!
Both had balance and finesse and were stellar with the prime rib roast...



 

MORE CABERNETS

 

Back to Cabernet Home Page

 

winepour.gif (12696 bytes)Wine Tasting Today

TO INQUIRE ABOUT A WINE:  
Copyright © 1999 WEIMAX  August 14, 2017