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MORE CALIFORNIA CABERNETS
LANG & REED
- This smallish enterprise is a family owned & operated endeavor which
features Cabernet Franc rather than Cabernet Sauvignon. John &
Tracy Skupny named the brand after their two sons, Lang and Reed.
We believe they launched this project in 1993 and being fans of the Loire
Valley, they chose to make Cabernet Franc (and a bit of Chenin
Blanc). This has routinely been our "go to" California
version of Cabernet Franc as it tips its chapeau to the Loire,
while so many seem to attempt to replicate bigger, oakier wines from
John worked in the restaurant business in the Midwest before the couple
moved to California. He took a job for a wine-marketing company and
then worked for a handful of interesting wineries and vintners.
Caymus, Clos du Val and Coppola are on his resume. But having worked
for a marketing company he also dealt with a bunch of famous and
pioneering Napa wineries. Tracy had worked for Spottswoode, so they
pretty much knew everyone in the Napa Valley Wine World.
These days their son Reed and his wife Megan (who worked for Long Meadow
Ranch) are involved. Reed and John share production
The Cabernet Franc carries a "North Coast" appellation, coming
mostly from Lake County fruit with a bit from Sonoma County and a small
amount of Napa fruit. It's typically entirely Cabernet Franc and is
matured in seasoned oak cooperage, so you won't find much in the way of
wood. It's a shade or two bigger than our Loire Valley Cabernet
Franc wines from Chinon, Bourgueil and Saumur-Champigny.
The 2017 is currently in stock. There's a nice bit of red fruit here
with a faint note of a vegetal or "green" element. Add to
this a touch of an earthy note or forest-floor sort of character.
It's medium-bodied and immediately drinkable.
Currently in stock: 2017 LANG & REED North
Coast CABERNET FRANC $27.99
- MARIO PERELLI-MINETTI WINERY
2017 Cabernet Sauvignon SALE
2001 "MIRIAM" Napa Valley
CABERNET (Was $75) Sold Out
- The winery has a small sign out in front noting "American Owned".
Old Uncle Mario's family had been in the California wine business for years.
Look in any book covering the wine scene in the early part of the 1900s. The history
Mario, who passed away at the age of a hundred-and-something in late 2010, lived up the street from the shop and
he'd had a small cellar
in Napa making Cabernet. It's 100% varietal.
Oak is not a
big part of his wines. They feature the grape. The quality is good and the
pricing is imminently fair.
Mario was a friendly old fellow who was even more of a
dinosaur than are we!
His wines are not going to win tastings, but enough
restaurants around here have his Cabernet on their wine list that the wine is rather
popular. People like the Cabernet because it tastes good with food and doesn't cost
The 2017 vintage is a medium-full bodied Cabernet and is drinkable now and should remain in good shape for 4-6 more years, maybe
more. It's a bit of an old-school California red wine, not the
currently-fashionable fruit bomb with noticeable (and bothersome) levels of
Still, it's an impressive Cabernet for twenty-two bucks.
And it has the Napa Valley appellation.
made a reserve wine and named it in honor of his late wife, Miriam. I
think she was an avid swimmer and so there's a small icon representing her
on the label.
The wine is quite different than Mario's regular Cabernet. It was
matured for about two and a half years in French oak, all the cooperage
being brand new. The resulting wine is deep and dark. It's from
the 2001 vintage, so it's had considerable bottle aging.
The 2001 Miriam is now "history" and we thoroughly
enjoyed that wine...lovely work!
And we'll miss Uncle Mario...he was a character and a treasure.
- His grandson Andrew now runs the business and we hope he's
got big feet, because Mario had big shoes.
MEYER FAMILY CELLARS
may not be familiar with the Meyer Family Cellars wine, but it's likely
you've tasted wine from their "old" winery.
Justin Meyer was a founding partner with Raymond Duncan in a winery called
Silver Oak. Meyer had been working at the Christian Brothers winery
way back and Duncan was able to fund their launching of a new brand of
wine called Silver Oak. They also collaborated in starting a winery
called Franciscan Vineyards. a tip of the cap to the Christian Brothers
Meyer retired from Silver Oak in 1994 and sold his share of that winery to
the Duncans in 2001.
He had bottled a dessert wine under the Meyer Family label and we can't
recall precisely when the first bottling hit the market, but it was in the
late 1980s or early 1990s we believe.
Justin Meyer passed away in 2002 at the age of 63, but his son is at the
helm of the Meyer Family Cellars winery.
The Meyer Family Cabernets are a bit different from the Silver Oak
style. Meyer Cabernet is matured in French, not American oak.
The main perfume of Silver Oak Cabernet comes from their lavish use of
American oak barrels.
We like the 2017 "Fluffy Billows" Cabernet, a wine from the
Oakville appellation in the Napa Valley.
The wine shows dark fruit notes with a touch of ripeness, but it's not
jammy. The blend features all of five-percent Merlot and two-percent
of Cabernet Franc.
There's a mildly woodsy quality from the wood aging (half the
French oak barrels were brand new).
It's quite enjoyable presently and you could cellar this if you like for
another 5-10 years.
There's a 2016 vintage of a wine called "Bon Bon."
This is from their famed Bonny's Vineyard and it's a less-pricey option and
quite a good bottle of Oakville Cabernet. Medium-bodied, mildly oaked
and showing beautifully now, though it can go another 5 to 10 years.
Currently in stock: MEYER FAMILY 2017 Oakville "Fluffy
Billows" CABERNET SAUVIGNON $49.99
MEYER FAMILY 2016 "Bon Bon" CABERNET SAUVIGNON Sale $104.99
O'SHAUGHNESSY ESTATE WINERY
- The O'Shaughnessy winery is located near the town of Angwin, just less
than 7 miles north of the town of St. Helena. That's
"north" on a map, not north on the St. Helena Highway which
heads north, but in a slightly westerly direction. From downtown
Calistoga, this place is less than 5-and-a-half miles east.
The place was founded by Betty and Paul Woolls. Her maiden name is
O'Shaughnessy. He's from Indiana and she's originally from
Minnesota. His day job has been as a lawyer, while Betty was in real
estate and then a cooking school. In 1990 she took the plunge,
buying a get-away home in the Napa Valley which also had some vines.
Today they have 32 acres in Oakville where they grow Cabernet, but also
Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc.
Then there's a large property up on Howell Mountain where the winery is
located. They have 35 acres of grapes there, mostly Cabernet
Sauvignon. But they also cultivate other "Bordeaux
varieties," including Saint Macaire, Gros Verdot (this is possibly
the Fer Servadou or Mansois grape grown in the south of France appellation
of Marcillac and since 1946 new plantings are not permitted in Bordeaux),
Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Malbec, Carmenere and Petit Verdot (not likely
related to Gros Verdot, by the way).
They also have a couple of properties on Mount Veeder. Some 17 acres
of the 55 acre Betty's Vineyard are under vines, while the 265 acres
Woolls Ranch now has 32 acres of vineyards. Remember, she's a real
The 2000 vintage saw the first O'Shaughnessy wine made. These days
they have Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and three Cabernet Sauvignon
The winemaker is a fellow named Sean Capiaux and you may have seen his
name on bottles of Pinot Noir from vineyards in Monterey and Sonoma.
As marketing people typically recite various credentials or winemaking
neighbors in presenting wines, maybe it's worth mentioning Capiaux has
been affiliated with the Houghton winery in Australia and here in
California he'd spent time at Jordan, Pine Ridge and Peter
- The O'Shaughnessy wines are not hugely well-known as they seem to prefer
letting the wines do the talking rather than tooting their own horn.
We've found the wines to be pretty good.
A Napa Valley vintner who visits our shop in search of interesting,
well-priced wines was delighted to see we had some bottles of
O'Shaughnessy Cabernet and confided that in a recent blind-tasting of
their own wine alongside other Napa bottlings, they ranked O'Shaughnessy
as their top wine!
We have a couple of wines from O'Shaughnessy.
The 2018 Howell Mountain Cabernet really nails its terroir
displaying lots of black fruit notes and a moderate level of tannin,
typical of the rugged terroir in them thar hills. It's not
off-the-charts in terms of astringency and it's less tannic than Dunn's
great Howell Mountain wines of the 1990s, for example. (Today the
Dunn Howell Mountain Cabernets are more harmonious in their youth, by the
There's a hint of cedary oak, but front-and-center you'll find the brambly
notes of Howell Mountain Cabernet.
Taste the darned good 2018 O'Shaughnessy Napa Valley Cabernet which is a
blend of fruit from Howell Mountain, Mount Veeder and their Oakville
vineyards and you'll find it's a rather robust red with good balance and
dark berry notes with a touch of wood in the back. You can certainly
enjoy it with a steak on tonight's dinner table. But this can be
held 5-10 years, too, if you prefer the complexities conferred on a wine
with a bit of bottle aging.
Currently in stock: 2018 O'SHAUGHNESSY Napa Valley
CABERNET SAUVIGNON $79.99
2018 O'SHAUGHNESSY Howell Mountain CABERNET SAUVIGNON $99.99
- JOSEPH PHELPS VINEYARDS
- 2016 Insignia SALE $249.99
2018 Napa Cabernet Sauvignon $69.99
- We were one of Mr. Phelps' first customers back when they released their 1973
vintage wines. This was the "new, cool" winery in Napa and
the wines were "must haves" back in the day.
Joe Phelps owned a construction company with an office here in Burlingame,
so he was well-known to us from the start. Mr. Phelps was a home-winemaker back in
Colorado. What with being in the Bay Area, it made sense that he might
take the plunge and try making wine under his own label on a professional
basis. Back in the early 1970s there were only a few wineries in Napa
and vineyards were interspersed between fruit orchards and cattle ranches.
The property Phelps had his eye on was near Heitz Cellar on Taplin
Road. It was owned by an old cattle rancher and he was not much
interested in selling the property and having someone come along and
bulldoze the place to plant a lot of concrete and cement.
Phelps appreciated the fellow being somewhat of an environmentalist and he
promised that he'd build a winery which respected the nature of the
property. The fellow eventually said "okay" and in the early
1970s Joseph Phelps Vineyards became a reality.
the outset, Riesling was a specialty, as the winemaker back then was of German
origins, Walter Schug.
He was most interested in producing Pinot Noir. The winery also made a
name for itself with some Rieslings.
Phelps discontinued Pinot Noir in the late 1970s, so Schug started making
his own with Phelps' permission.
In the early 1980s, though, Schug departed to launch his own winery in
Sonoma and Pinot Noir was a specialty. Curiously though, he didn't
continue making Riesling.
Phelps made some pleasant Cabernets in those early days, but these were not
viewed as especially outstanding.
We recall those early vintages were not consistent as Phelps was purchasing
fruit from growers around the Napa Valley and these farmers may have been
more interested in tonnage than anything else. Some of the first
vintages were a bit herbal and maybe under-ripe.
In 1975, though, they launched a wine called "Insignia." It
was a blend of whatever the best barrels in the cellar were. The blend
varied from vintage to vintage, but it was a pretty good bottle of wine and
one of the first "Bordeaux Blends."
Back in the 1970s, we would get in the van and drive to Napa to pick up some
wines and taste out of barrel, as well as previewing new and upcoming
had called and ordered a couple of cases of Phelps' Pinot Noir from the
Heinemann Mountain Vineyard.
Computers were new-fangled gizmos back then and when we arrived at the
winery, the only guy who knew how to operate that device was away from the
cellar. His name was Bruce Neyers. Yes, the same Bruce Neyers
who launched the Neyers brand of wine and who has been associated with
Kermit Lynch Wine Imports as its sale manager.
We were a bit frustrated when the would not part with a couple of dozen
bottles of this wine because nobody in the office could figure out how to
use the computer.
A few weeks later were were planning to go pick up wines again in "The
Valley" and called Phelps to order the Heinemann Mountain Pinot
We made some remark to whomever was answering the phone that we'd appreciate
if they'd have the order ready for us as the last time they could let us
take the cases due to the computer issue and we were a bit pissed off over
A day or two later the phone rang and the voice said "Mister Weisl,
this is Bruce Neyers from Joseph Phelps Vineyards. Mr. Phelps is
listening on the other phone here. Say, we wanted to ask you a
question. Did you say you'd be 'pissed off' if the wine order wasn't
"Yes, I think that's pretty accurate."
- "Well Mr. Weisl, how'd you like it if we called your
store and used such language with your wife?"
I said that sort of talk was fairly tame.
"Mr. Weisl, I'm afraid we don't want to sell you any of our wines if
you're going to speak like that."
Wow...stunning. I'm sorry Mrs. Phelps had such tender ears.
You'd think people who owned a construction company and had big, strapping
builders would be accustomed to hearing their employees using far worse
language when whacking their thumb with a hammer as they're nailing
We wondered if Phelps insisted they refrain from any sort of profanity and exclaim
something like "Oh Sugar!" when missing the nail and hitting a
Of course, in those days there was a slightly more gentile protocol for
language on the radio and TV. These days you'll hear people say
"A-hole" and "D-bag in so-called polite company.
A few weeks later we were driving around Napa and stopped at the Oakville
Grocery store to use the pay phone (another sign of the times). A call
cost ten cents in those days. (Phelps, by the way, had owned the
We dialed the Phelps winery and asked to speak with Bruce
"Bruce, are you still pissed off at me or can I come pick up some Pinot
We were able to buy the wine.
And Bruce, who is an ex-Marine we believe and who has a way with words said
he thought we were "More nuts than a f#@%ing bunny."
Mr. Phelps, bless his tender heart, passed away in 2015. But he was
quite an innovator.
Aside from creating the Insignia wine, Phelps was a leader in dabbling with
Syrah and other Rhône varieties.
In 2022 the winery was sold by the Phelps family to LVMH Moët-Hennessy.
That company highly prizes luxury and so if you think Phelps wines are
expensive now, just wait! We are sad to have learned this news, as
there has been (and continues to be) so much consolidation of wineries and
Early Cabernets were promising but not stellar. They were buying
grapes from vineyards around the Napa Valley. As a result the
character of the wines varied quite a bit from vintage to vintage.
But Phelps did latch on to fruit from some top vineyard sites.
- Phelps was able to get fruit for a few vintages from the Eisele Vineyard
in Calistoga. We first became aware of this vineyard with the 1971
Ridge Vineyards bottling...what an impressive wine!
Phelps launched something called Insignia back with the 1975 vintage.
The wine was going to represent the best barrels in the cellar and some
early vintages were predominantly Merlot and others were mostly Cabernet
These days it's a Cabernet-dominated blend. And it's now
established as a benchmark for Napa Valley Cabernets and Bordeaux-styled
blends. Insignia is a wine showing lots of dark fruit and plenty of
wood. Some vintages may even have a tiny bit of residual sugar.
The "regular" bottling of Phelps' Cabernets have become more
interesting and these days it's a good bottle of Napa Cabernet.
Apparently they're making less wine these days than a decade, or so, ago and
this allows them to be more selective.
We currently have the 2018...very dark in color and lots of plummy notes and
blackberry fruit. There's a fair bit of new oak here, too and we like
the showy, woodsy fragrances and flavors.
Phelps has bought fruit from the Backus Vineyard since the 1977 vintage. When
the Backus family wanted to sell the entire vineyard site, Phelps stepped up to the plate.
This is a special vineyard in Oakville along the Silverado Trail. The
original vineyard covers less than seven acres, but Phelps says there are about 21 acres
which can (and are) being cultivated. Neighbors to this vineyard include
Screaming Eagle and Dalla Valle, amongst others.
We had a mid-1980s bottle of this
at the Vino Fino holiday dinner in December of 2000 and this was a sensational bottle of
wine! Very exotically-perfumed. The flavors were amazingly deep and lengthy.
It's been great to see this producer emerge in the past decade, or two as a truly serious
PETER MICHAEL WINERY
Peter Michael is a royal subject of the Queen of England and he's got a nice
little winery and vineyard here in California. A venture capitalist,
this fellow has his fingers in the operation of radio stations around the
planet, along with a couple of luxury hotels (they refer to these as
"restaurants with a room"), a golf course and, oh, by the way, a
little winery in Sonoma.
The first winemaker here was Helen Turley. She's one who has strong
ideas about winemaking and viticulture. Typically she is affiliated
with a winery for several years and then moves on, leaving a disciple in her
stead. The Turley-ite here was Mark Aubert, who departed to start his
own winery, but has since returned on a consulting basis.
The winemaker today (they've had a bunch of people) is a French fellow,
Nicolas Morlet, whose family owns
vineyards and makes sparkling wine in the region of Champagne.
The Cabernet here is sold as a proprietary vineyard blend called "Les
Pavots." This vineyard site was dubbed "Les Pavots," by
Sir Pete's wife, Lady Maggie. This refers to the wild California
poppies growing around the vineyard. It comprises some 23 acres
and is predominantly Cabernet Sauvignon along with Cabernet Franc and
Merlot. We've long been fans of this wine (since before it acquired
its somewhat cult-like following).
The wines through the 1990s have been really good, but with 2001 and now
2002 the use of oak gives the wine a sweeter fragrance and flavor. It
scored a high numerical rating from various point-scoring critics and this
has increased the demand significantly. As a result, the winery has
raised its price in hopes of either separating "the men from the boys" or you
from your money.
The winery then decided that it needs to be even more profitable
that it already is (might they consider abiding by the laws in Sonoma and
reduce the amount of fines they're paying to the government there as a
result of doing some non-permitted development?).
As a result, the 2003 vintage brought a temporary end to retail wine shops
carrying Peter Michael wines.
Sir Peter issued a statement saying the winery would no longer
be selling wine to some of its original customers, in favor of selling
directly to consumers.
"For the present time," according to
the letter. If consumers don't flock to the winery to buy $150 bottles
of Les Pavots, Peter Michael may choose to stoop to selling wine to the likes of a
shop such as Weimax.
UPDATE: With the
release of the 2008 vintage coinciding with a 'down cycle' in the economy,
Sir Peter's wine once again became available to us. We may still have
a few bottles of the 2009 in the shop...it's a nice, big, robust,
With shorter crops in succeeding vintages, Peter Michael cut back
drastically on the sale of its wines to their distributors. We
understand they may have 60 bottles of a particular vintage with which to
accommodate more than a hundred accounts. Good luck.
- They will need eye-droppers to make such allocations
- Official Peter Michael Winery
- Currently in stock:
2018 PETER MICHAEL "Les Pavots" Sale $229.99
PIED À TERRE
is a new label for us.
Pied à Terre is a term with a few definitions...it literally means having
a "foot on the ground" and certainly this vintner is
You'll also find this term used to describe a small apartment or flat in a
big city...or it could be someone's home-away-from-home when they're at
work. There are some flight attendants who come and go from here in
Burlingame and they maintain an apartment over at Northpark so they have a
comfortable place to stay when they've land at SFO.
A New York sommelier of note, Richard Luftig, was bothered by the lack of
good quality and affordably-priced California Cabernet Sauvignon, so he
embarked on a winemaking adventure with Napa Valley vintner Steve
Matthiason. These days his winemaker is Dry Creek's Clay
As a wine guru at Gramercy Tavern in New York and, these days, at
Cookshop, Luftig wanted to be able to serve a sensibly-priced wine which
offered good quality. Yes, you can find plenty of relatively
modestly-priced California Cabernets, but there are not many worth
So, Pied à Terre was born a few years ago.
We tasted the new release, a 2015 vintage. This is quite charming
and a bit more reminiscent of old-school California Cabernets than today's
hit-you-over-the-head, punch-you-in-the-nose sorts of wine. It's one
of those wines which transports us old-timers back to the days when
California Cabernet was an elegant wine and perhaps even a bit
The Cabernet is primarily from Sonoma's Alexander Valley, though there's a
bit of Dry Creek Valley fruit here, too. You'll get a hint of wood
on the nose, but it's not a heavily-oaked wine. The tannin level is
modest, so the wine is quite drinkable now and will even blossom a bit
more with several years of aging. It's a shade deeper than the
previous vintages, in our view.
And you don't need to speak with a mortgage lender or finance agent to buy
Currently in stock: 2015 PIED À TERRE Sonoma
County CABERNET SAUVIGNON $28.99
MORE CALIFORNIA CABERNETS
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