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The Tasting Room is closed
- QUADY WINERY
"ESSENSIA" Orange Muscat $21.99-750ml $14.99-375ml
- "ELYSIUM" Black Muscat
- Andy Quady started his own winery back in the late 1970s, having worked for some large
wine behemoth cranking out a more "industrial" product.
He started as a "port" specialist, having been encouraged to explore the
possibilities of making fortified dessert wine from Amador County-grown fruit.
the time there was the "old time" Ficklin Vineyards and the other
"up-start" was the J.W. Morris Port Works (which, as it turns out, didn't work
In scouting for grapes, Quady ran across a special Muscat variety called
Orange Muscat. He vinified this with great success and has since been known more for
it than for the port-styled wines he originally set out to make. "Essensia," as
it's called, has great citrus blossom and honeyed fruit notes.
The next addition
was "Elysium," a nectar of Black Muscat which has a fragrance reminiscent of
rose petals. It is a great match for chocolate or, even better, chocolate-raspberry
ROBERT MONDAVI "Moscato d'Oro" $15.99 375ml (limited)
- Mondavi used to dabble with late harvest Riesling and late-picked
Sauvignon Blanc. Today they make a perfectly lovely little Muscat wine.
seems to attract the attention of those who virtually never drink wine. It's been so
successful that the wine is difficult to come by and is not available all the time.
The "Moscato d'Oro" is made from Napa Valley fruit, while a "Moscato
Bianco" comes from other parts of California. Vineyard property in Napa is,
these days, planted to more expensive grape varieties than Muscat, so it's
not especially plentiful. We were told, at one point, it would not be
available to us.
Marketing forecasts, it seems, were not accurate and
we currently have a bit of this for sale.
HART'S DESIRE MUSCAT $21.99 (750ml)
- John Hart made a delightful blend of Muscat Canelli and Orange Muscat to
produce this flashy, fruity, mildly citrusy Muscat.
It's sweet but not syrupy. It's wonderfully aromatic, too.
- BEAULIEU VINEYARD "Muscat de Beaulieu"
- This fortified Muscat used to be labeled "Muscat de Frontignan," but as Napa
Valley vintners are more careful about their own appellations, most have stopped using
European appellations on their wines. That explains the name change for this wine.
As Beringer no longer makes a fortified wine of Malvasia Bianca, this is the next
best thing for "old timers" who enjoyed that sherry-like, aromatic wine.
The wine is a blend of a number of Muscat varieties and it's matured for
about 5 years in wood. This contributes some of the honey, apricot and
nutty notes to the wine.
MERRYVALE "ANTIGUA" $34.99 (half bottle)
Merryvale winery bottles this Muscat de Frontignan-styled wine in a fancy
square bottle. The wine has some rather old Muscat in it, the blend
comprising wines as old as 1970. It's a deep golden color and has lots
of nutty and toffee-like aromas and flavors.
In the 1950s on through until about
the 1970s, a few wineries made Malvasia wines in the fashion of fortified Muscats or
Sherry-styled wines. Beringer was famous for its Malvasia Bianca, as was Santa Clara
County's San Martin Winery. Beringer now features dry table wines for the most part
and San Martin has vanished! Bonny Doon Vineyard, Wild Horse and Morgan make dry wines of
We do have a Spanish version of Malvasia Bianca from the Torres winery
near Barcelona. It is nutty, floral and sweet.
- HEITZ CELLAR Napa Valley "Ink Grade" Port
- Heitz has dabbled in dessert wines for years. They used to
offer a marvelous fortified wine called Angelica. More recently they fortified their
own, home-grown Grignolino to produce a wonderful, light, flower-scented dessert wine.
The current Heitz offering is called "Ink Grade" and comes from a small
three or four-acre vineyard in the hills (a favorite bicycling road, apparently).
They've planted Portuguese varieties, including Bastardo, Touriga Francesa, Tinta Amarela,
Tinta Madeira, Alvarelhao, Tinta Cao, Souzao and Tinta Barroca. I read where,
encouraged by the early results, Heitz has planted Tinta Roriz and Touriga Nacional to
augment these other varieties. The current wine is dark in color (maybe Ink Grade is
an appropriate name!) and it has raisiny, chocolate, spicy notes.
- HEITZ CELLAR Napa Valley "Grignolino
- Heitz had been experimenting with making a dessert wine from its
Grignolino for a few years. As noted elsewhere on the site, I'm not
convinced the grape is really Grignolino, finding the wine more similar to a
Brachetto (another Piemontese variety). It's not especially dark in
color and it has a wonderful fruity/floral fragrance...good for raspberry or
light chocolate desserts. Not especially cellar worthy, we like
serving this at cool cellar temp during the warm summer months and closer to
room temp in the winter.
ROBERT MONDAVI'S "WOODBRIDGE" PORTACINCO $13.99-750ml
- I'll bet that 30-something years ago when Robert Mondavi launched his winery in
Oakville, he'd never have imagined he'd be making a fortified dessert wine. He would
probably have wagered he'd not make "jug" wines either, but having received a
wine facility out in Lodi's "Woodbridge" as a settlement in the family dispute
over the Mondavi family's "Charles Krug" winery, they started making "Bob
Red" and "Bob White" (because they were "cheap, cheap, cheap!").
Over the years they've removed the "Robert Mondavi" name off the labels and
replaced it with "Woodbridge" as the brand name. As so much fruit comes from
this hot, hot, hot climate, someone suggested planting Portuguese "Port"
varieties and they've got five of 'em being cultivated on a little more than 4 acres. And,
so far, so good!
The initial wine was labeled as "Portocinco" and this has
recently been changed to "Portacinco." If you're into details, the current
bottling has 49% Touriga, 16% Alvarelho, 15% Bastardo, 11% Souzo and 9% Tinta Co.
It's then matured for about 2 years in small oak cooperage.
Pretty nice. And it's
reasonably priced! Mondavi, who has teamed up with wineries around the world to make
collaborative efforts, has yet to sign up with a Port producer. We suggest the
following pairings and brand names:
- Cockburn + Mondavi=Fumé Port
- Graham + Mondavi=Five Grapes
Warre + Opus One= World Warre Two
- Offley Forrester + Mondavi= Offley Good
- Rozes + R Mondavi=Rozes R Red
- Smith-Woodhouse + Mondavi Woodbridge=Smith-Woodbridge
- Quarles Harris + The Mondavi Brothers=Family Quarles
- FICKLIN VINEYARDS
"Tinta Port" $17.99-750ml
- "Ten Year Old Tawny Port" $24.99
1991 "Vintage" Port $29.99
- The Ficklin family has been in California's Central Valley growing fruit since the early
1900's. It wasn't until 1946 that they set up a winery and began their work as
California's "port specialists." They have about 35 acres of vineyards,
all devoted to "Portuguese Port" varieties. They blend for consistency,
producing wine in a "solera" aging/maturation system. About 60% to 80% of
the blend is Tinta Madeira, 2% to 10% is Tinta Cao with Touriga and Souzao each accounting
for 10% to 25% of the final blend. Their wine is very fairly priced and offers a
really nice alternative to the Douro Valley Port wines.
Ficklin now makes a 10-Year
Tawny Port. This wine shows a more spirituous quality. Whether this ever mellows and becomes a
better balanced wine, I can't predict.
- The late
Justin Meyer was one of the founders of a little winemaking enterprise in
Napa called Silver Oak. He sold his share of Silver Oak to his partner
and embarked on a small wine project in the Yorkville area of Mendocino
They have a Tawny-styled "Port" which is based on Zinfandel and
fortified with Alembic brandy.
Currently in stock: Meyer Family Cellars "Tawny
Port" SALE $34.99 (375ml)
Late Harvest Wines,
- MR. K (KRACHER & KRANKL)
- There's a very
famous and much-admired winemaker in Austria whose wines are held in the
same high esteem as France's Chteau d'Yquem.
That would be Alois Kracher, who makes a remarkable array of sweet
One of his admirers is Manfred Krankl, a local wine geek and winemaker whose
wines are sold under the label "Sine Qua Non." I think
that's a Latin phrase for "Very rare, very artistic, high-point-scoring
wine." Imagine putting together a collaboration
of Kracher and Krankl. Those two very special K's have teamed up to
produce dessert wines called "Mr K."
- Currently in stock: 2000 Noble Man $119.99 (375ml)
2000 Straw Man $119.99 (375ml)
"DOLCE" 2005 Napa Valley (List $81) SALE
- Setting their sights on producing a wine which rivals France's Chateau d'Yquem, the
owners of Far Niente produce but a small amount of this deluxe, rich, vanillin, honeyed,
moderately oily dessert wine. It is made of Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc which have been
barrel-fermented in French oak. The wine spends a fairly lengthy aging period in wood,
too. As with other Far Niente products, attention to the details of packaging are
important. With respect to the wine, comparisons with Chateaux Suduiraut, Climens or
Rieussec are appropriate.
fellow is a graduate of the Bonny Doon Winemaking School, having been a
cellar rat/winemaker at that institution (we can't call it an
"organization", now, can we?).
Andrew learned, amongst other things, the "recipe" for Bonny
Doon's "Vin de Glaciere," having seen the production of various
varietals made as "ice wines." Of course, the U.S.
government prohibits the term "Ice Wine" on dessert wines made
from grapes which have been chilled down in a freezer instead of subjected
to frost-bite temperatures while the grapes are still on the
Andrew makes a delicious "ice wine" (I can call it whatever I
want, but Andrew can't!) from Gewürztraminer. Most of the juice in
this little bottle comes from Oregon, but he augmented with a bit of
Washington-grown fruit as well.
The 2008 is a fine example of this sort of nectar. It's extremely
aromatic, featuring the usual lychee-like fragrances, rose petals and
grapefruit. While quite sweet, the wine is not "heavy" nor
is it cloying. Paired with a bowl of summer fruits or an apple pie,
this is a bit of heaven.
Currently in stock: 2008 Andrew Rich "Les Vigneaux" Gewürztraminer
Dry Creek Valley winery makes a small quantity of "El Dorado Noir"
and "El Dorado Gold."
The Caranos, who also own the El Dorado hotel and casino in Nevada run this
winery. The sweet wines are named after the hotel...
- Black Muscat is the grape in the El Dorado Noir.
Currently in stock: El Dorado Noir $27.99 (375ml)
Hart really makes this wine for himself and Mrs. Hart. It's a
late-picked Zinfandel from Sonoma County vineyards.
"I usually only make it every-other-year." he told us. |
The reason is it's for his own, personal enjoyment.
He sells us a few bottles, too, as we find it to be one of the more
interesting late-harvest Zinfandels.
Usually, late harvest Zinfandel arises when the vintner is asleep during
September/October and forgets to pick the grapes when they're ripe. As
Zinfandel tends to ripen unevenly, sometimes a heat spike for a day or two
is all that's needed to push the sugar to extreme levels. When the
wine won't finish fermenting, the winemaker is "stuck" (and so is
the fermentation!) with a red wine with sugar. When life hands you
lemons, make lemonade. Or late-harvest Zinfandel.
Hart's sweet little Zin avoids the weird and funky notes of many of the
wines made "by mistake." That's the advantage of approaching
this sort of wine "on purpose." It's intentional and a
winemaker can do a better job.
You can pair this with blue-veined cheeses, of course. We like it with
chocolate and a fire in the fireplace.
Currently in stock: Hart's Desire 2003 Late Harvest Zinfandel Sold
- The first
winemaker at the Phelps' winery was Walter Schug, a fellow who's German-born
and who has friends and family back in Deutschland. I remember that he
even helped some wineries arrange for their wines to be sold here in
California way back in the 1970s!
Schug even made Gewürztraminer and Riesling for Phelps and those were nice
wines, though they fell out of favor eventually.
Phelps planted a wonderfully curious German grape variety called
Scheurebe. This variety is a hybrid of Riesling and Silvaner and was
"born" in 1916. Georg Scheu gets the credit for this variety
(or is it the "blame"?). We're fans of drier versions
from the Pfalz, Rheinhessen and Franken regions. Phelps makes a
delightful dessert version of Scheurebe.
The grapes are grown in their Spring Valley Vineyard near St. Helena.
The fruit is harvested at a mature level of ripeness and then they put the
grapes in a deep freeze. This accomplishes something akin to the
German and Austrian practices of picking grapes in the dark days (before
sunrise) of winter when there's a freeze. The frozen-solid fruit
is then pressed, allowing just the sugar and "essence" of the
grape to be extracted. While the old-world method may be more romantic
(unless it's you freezing your tail off while all the neighbors are still
sleeping), the California method is rather practical.
We have Phelps' 2002 is sold out and it went for a list price of $30
per 375ml. The new vintage Phelps is offering is listing at $45 per
half bottle, quite jump in price. We may be able to special order it
Currently in stock: PHELPS 2005 "EISRÉBE" (list $45) Special
Hill is one of the great classic wineries of the Napa Valley.
It was originally the "summer" home for Fred and Eleanor
McCrea. They were advised that they might be able to raise goats there
or, if they preferred, cultivate wine grapes. Having consulted some
U.C. Davis researchers, they chose to plant Chardonnay, despite warnings
that it was a difficult grape to grow. The first vintage was awful and
they threw it out. But eventually, having the advice and suggestions
of some neighboring winemakers, the quality of the wine improved. The
McCreas sold their wine to friends in the Bay Area. I remember
visiting them in the early 1970s. We had a lovely chat and tasted some
good wines, but everything was sold.
Having planted a tiny parcel of Semillon, Stony Hill makes a lovely, curious
wine from grapes which are dried in old, wooden prune-drying trays.
When the fruit arrives at the right point of sugar, the grapes are pressed
and the juice is fermented in old French oak cooperage. This
wine is a bit of a throw-back, so it's quite unlike late-harvest wines which
have some influence from the "noble rot" called Botrytis
Interesting these bottles can age most handsomely, too.
Currently in stock: Stony Hill 2001 Napa "Semillon de
Soleil" $22.49 (375ml)