Sunday, December 4, 2016

How to buy Chateauneuf-du-Pape

In the US and in fact in many places around the world you just can't find Chateauneuf-du-Pape wine below $45 and in fact often even $60.
I have not visited the region and the wineries. From the price one would think that the wine is amazing. So waiting to actually go visit, I've been tasting some Chateauneufs on different wine fairs, mostly around Paris when I happen to be in Paris at the right lucky date. The bottles though still start at 25EUR at least.

Luckily for me, and I hope for you too, my friend Francois' father is a wine investor and has therefore acquired a significant amount of knowledge about what to buy and specifically how.

He strongly recommended this website : http://www.vinadea.com/
It is an organization of the wine makers in Chateauneuf, and you can buy the bottles straight from the wineries at the winery price. They will ship it directly to you as well.

I looked at the Guide Hachette des Vins and picked 6 bottles of the CH├éTEAU LA NERTHE as they strongly recommended it. And I also picked 6 bottles of Bosquet des Papers which he strongly recommended. I couldn't find any of the "Gastaldi" , assuming I am spelling it right.

I will report on the quality, most likely on Vivino. However a case of , apparently, outstanding Chateauneuf for 372EUR including shipping (to France) I think can't go wrong. Compare this to a $65 wine from Napa for example. So exciting ... !

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Oct 2016 Napa Valley trip (the birthday trip !)

Hi,

This trip was short, just 2 days and more relaxing than usual. A lot of fun none the less.

Thursday

1. Jam/ Butter

When we arrived to our hotel we were offered a glass of cabernet sauvignon. I was very surprised how soft it was with sweet tannins and jammy flavors. The wine came from the tasting room next door.
Yes, I had heard of Butter, the Chardonnay. And I really appreciated how direct the wine was, cost effective at $16 or so and straight to the point. I didn't know about Jam though, their red wine line.

So on Thursday morning, being ready earlier , as usual, I went next door to the hotel to taste their entire range. I tried their Butter Chardonnay and their Napa Butter Chardonnay and was very pleased with the difference. I knew their cab from the day before, confirmed again of course. And the other wine that stood out to me was their Russian River Pinot Noir. A good start of the day.

2. Madrigal

After having the usual lunch at Rutherford grill ( you really can't miss that !) we were too early for our Larkmead appointment. Driving around randomly I usually find beautiful new gems. We stopped, down the road from Larkmead , to Madrigal. And I was very pleasantly surprised to discover yet another gem.
The Madrigal family has been in the vine management business for many years. They have planted and managed many famous vineyards.
As hey started making wine they seem to specialize in all kind of unique and interesting grape varieties.
We started with a Fume Blanc. And unlike what the name suggest, it has nothing to do with smoke. It reminded me a lot of a Chardonnay fermented on the skins, dark practically amber color, thick and flavourful. An amazing wine.
They are also known for their Petit Sirah (nothing to do with Shiraz also spelled Syrah, as we are often told and I shall repeat yet again). Thick and fairly tannic. Already amazing and I can only guess what it would feel like after a few more years. I also particularly loved their Cabernet Sauvignons. They had a large selection, all of them were complex and beautiful but a few of them, in my eyes, were outstanding !
Madrigal, at least for this visit, was by far my favorite experience. It is small, fun, diverse and the tasting room team was extremely welcoming. Please do visit !

3. Larkmead

Remembering how outstanding was my last visit to Larkmead I wanted to come back and try their latest wines. We tried their Dr Olmo, Solari and The Lark.
Solari was our favorite here and while Dr Olmo was really good, we were really exciting to taste The Lark. The Lark we tried was apparently rated 99/100 by Robert Parker and the next year one (2015 ?) which we haven't tried was rated 100/100. I am not Robert Parker, obviously. I have a lot more to learn about wine and I noticed that the palet changes over time. At my level I preferred the jamier cabernet sauvignons from Madrigal though.

4. 1996 Caymus Cabernet Sauvignon

On Thursday evening I was treated to an outstanding , stunning and exquisite dinner at the 3 Michelin start restaurant in Napa At Meadowood. The food was exceptional. The best part though were the 2 red wines in the wine pairings. (The 2 white wines in the pairing were very discreet and delicate, and realistically nothing to write about for me).
We had a Rhys San Mateo Countyu Pinot Noir 2013 which was stunning with the flavors and the equilibrium. I added it to my wish list ($75 apparently).
And, le clou du spectacle, we had a 1996 Caymus Cabernet Sauvignon. Caymus wasn't making their special reserve yet back then. It came from those same vines apparently. And the flavors in this wine were unbelievable. Apparently we can buy it online for about $120. I am excited to try some again at the 1st occasion.

Day 2

4. Rombauer

I have now clearly established that the Rombauer Zins are my favorite. We have therefore once again setup a tasting at Rombauer. They continue to be very strict and despite running a blog and writing about them regularly there was no way to be treated as industry. Which is fine. And yet once again we tried their amazing Zins. This time around, probably later in the season, they only had their normal Zin and their special Zin (Sierra) for tasting. Their normal was just ok, but their Sierra was jammy, sweet, thick, rich... Too bad it was $65. I wanted to leave with a case of the Fiddletown , perhaps next time.

5. Tulocay

And last but not least we visited probably the smallest winery in Napa, Tulocay. Bill, the founder, welcomed us as usual with a lot of character, humor and of course wine. Their dark Pinot Noir stands out as usual for me.
Bill also explained why the economic pressure of the price per acre for the vines in Napa, and the price per bottle of the different grapes, is forcing everybody to replace all vineyards with Cabernet Sauvignon. A good bottle of Cab gets $100 , while a good bottle of Zin $50-$60. And it became so hard to get Napa Zin grapes that he unfortunately hasn't been able to get any in the last few years. Does this mean the end of the Napa Zins ? Perhaps not. There are fashions. Do we need to look forward to the next wine crisis in Napa (yes, crisis happen, like with real estate in 2008) and for the overproduction of Cab and the price of Cab to drop in order get more Napa Zin ? I hope not.

And what's next ?

My friends have now recommended to me an amazing Zin winery in Sonoma, the Hamel Family Wines. I am very curious. Zins are still going strong in Sonoma luckily for me apparently.

I read that the Livermore wine region was the 1st US region to win a prize in a French wine contest in 1890. And that Livermore had as much vineyard as Napa in the 1960s before Napa become world famous.

And I am really curious to try some more wines in the Santa Cruz dry and difficult mountains. I loved Cooper Garod and Pichetti. What else is to discover there ?

So much more to try and learn from. More wines :)

Friday, September 9, 2016

Dry Creek Valley - you must visit !

To me Dry Creek Valley is worth Napa , or even better, is much better than Napa considering it's much less busy and the wine is of comparable quality while being more accessible.


1. La Crema

While driving , as usual randomly, I landed in Healdburg. And across from the parking lot was the tasting room for La Crema. Quite a famous and commercial winery, I was still tempted to give it a chance.

And lucky me : they had an amazing selection of wines from different regions, sold only at the tasting room.

To me La Crema is a must visit . Why ? Because they have a very smart selection and a great region overview : for each grape type they make a wine from Carneros, Russian River, Alexander Valley and sometimes even other regions.

What does this mean ? It means you can try next to each other Pinot Noirs ( and Chardonnays) from Carneros, Russian River, Alexander Valley and sometimes even single vineyards. Same grape which is expressed extremely differently, and the wine maker knows how to express the exact differences and strenghts of each region.

I personally preferred Alexander Valley terroir and wine making style. But this was probably the best way to learn about wine. Stop by and have fun.

2. Simi

I continued with a visit of Simi winery. If  La Crema was so good and commercial perhaps Simi will be similar.
The tasting team was certainly fun. The atmosphere was great. They had snacks you could buy, and good ones too. But honestly I couldn't tell the difference between the $35 ones ( nothing cheaper ?) and the $100 ones.

I then decided to focus on Zins and I followd the recommendation of the tasting room team at La Crema and went to :

3. Limerick

Limerick Lane Vineyard, on Limerick Lane of course.
A wonderful little winery. Their wine maker being from Hungary they imported the grapes to make Tokaj but they make a dry wine out of them. Really interesting.

Tiny winery, family owned. The family lives in the house next door , with 3 ( or 4 ?) kids , and apparently a dozen pets of all species.
I particularly appreciated the tasting room manager who was both fun and knowledgeable. I am embarrassed to say that I appreciated it so much I forgot to take notes and I forgot what I tried.
I will have to go back :)

As I was set to find the famous Zins Dry Creek Valley is supposedly known for I googled : best Zins in Dry Creek Valley. And guess what came up ?


4. Papapietro's Winery


I walked into Papapietro's winery ready to try their apparently famous Zin. And guess what ? They make 10 Pinot Noirs and only 1 Zin. And the Zin is kind of a side wine for them. I am not the first customer to walk in to try their Zin and love their Pinot Noirs.
Prices vary, of course, from about $35 to a very reasonable top range of around $75. If you look at their wine ratings on Vivino they get as close to perfect as I ever found.
And rightfully so. I think they are an underrated winery, comparable to the $300 wines from Napa. A great kept secret. A fun staff, a great wine tasting room ...
One has to go and try their Pinots.
On the way out of Papapietro's I drove, yet again, by a sign saying "Old Vine Zin and Cab" .
I drove past. I stopped and turn around to finally, at the 3rd time I drove by, drive into:

5. Nalle Winery


On the way in I took this wonderful picture inspiring and calm thinking how much I wish I had a place like this to calm down sometimes for a little while.
I than walked in the it was the best visit of the day.
The wine maker, Andrew, and his wife , were doing the tasting.
They have a 5 months old daughter, named Lina. Mine is 6 months and called Mina.
And I talked to them about my Amarone project and... they brought out their own Amarone experiment Andrew had made especially for his wife for their wedding.

The winery has been in the same family for 4 or 5 generations. And they express their grapes in a  traditional way. Wines with a lot of aromas, perhaps nost the most elegant, the way I like them. Brut
 aromas of fruits and loaded with fun.

Left with a case, I think. If not I should have. I hope to stay in touch.


Russian River Valley


While I am staying in San Francisco for a few months I decided to explore off the usual path of Napa and Sonoma.
I spent 1 weekend around Russian River Valley and Dry Creek Valley.
Saturday was around Russian River Valley and it was a short day with only 3 wineries.


As usual I got there before the wineries were even open. And I randomly drove around and drove into a random winery. This has never failed me and it always led to fun places made even fun by the surprise and the adventure.



1. Battaglini

I started with Battaglini. The winery was bought by a couple of Italian origin more than 20 years ago. They were looking for a small 1/2 acre winery. But they found this 30 acres winery with really old vines who's grapes were being sold and they fell in love.
The owner has been making the wine ever since.
They have very interesting wines, made in the traditional style ( read: to be aged before you drink it , and with wild yeast off the grapes).

They have received quite a few prizes for their Zins. The most concentrated ones come off the slopy part of the vineyard where water is scarcer because it accumulates on the flat part. They therefore make 3 qualities of Zin : no slope (cheapest), medium slope  ( medium price) and steepest slope and most expensive. The prices are around $40. The slope combined with the extremely old vineyard ( grown in the old round shape vs the modern straight lines cuts) makes the Zins certainly unique and worth a detour.

What I retained even more in fact was the $18 2003 Chardonnay. Yes, you read well, 2003 Chardonnay that has the color of honey and a surprisingly low price. The price is low because most likely nobody buys aged Chardonnay. And personally I loved it. Everybody has difference taste in wine, and lucky me, I strongly prefer to be in the minority.  I left with a few bottles.

2. Hook and Ladder

We than randomly , of course, drove into Hook and Ladder. Not too far in fact from the quite famous DeLoach , of which I used to be a club member until I couldn't drink their wine fast enough.

What attracted us to drive in ? The red fire truck parked by the road in front of the vineyard.

Walking in I could tell they didn't have a lot of pretention.
And lucky I was.

They had a very impressive selection of grapes, among the most diverse I've seen in the region: Sangiovese, Merlot, Cab Sauv, Pinot Noirs,  Cab Franc etc. And in most of them multiple qualities of course. Quite a menu. And my favorite part ? The prices were in the $15 to $30 range.

I really think that keeping the wine below $30 makes it much more accessible and fun.
So many wines everybody had a different favorite. I left with the Sangiovese mostly, but also had a few other ones.

This business (or wine ?) strategy reminded me DeLoach's reasonable prices and great quality, at least for their entry level wines. ( I personally think the best quality to price for wineries like DeLoach and La Crema are their entry level wines which are typically $15 or so and I think have 80% of their $40 wines).

And guess what ? The owners of Hook and Ladder used to own DeLoach until they sold it to the French family. And they are at it again. I would certainly like to keep Hook and Ladder in sight.

And bonus points :  As great price to quality think alike on wine , they recommended Al's Place restaurant for a Michelin star restaurant at reasonable prices  in San Francisco. We went a few weeks later and Al's Place is probably among the top 3 most innovatives restaurants I've been at an unbeatable $75 per person ( very reasonable I think !). A must visit !

3. Russian River Vineyard



Do not be confused : there is a vineyard called Russian River Vineyard, in the region called Russian River. Somehow the name was not taken and they took it.
The best part : they have a great restaurant on the property. You MUST try the burger.
The wines ? Great , very good. But a little sad that they didn't have much under $65 except a "Beaujaulais style" Pinot Noir. And you know what ? I personally don't care much for the French Beaujolais , but I loved this one. But for $35.... I still feel it was a little steep.


Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Larkmead, Leap Frog and Caymus

I returned to Napa for day-trip on August 7th 2016. And as planned I started with Larkmead winery.

1. Larkmead

I have to say that Larkmead's reputation is fully entitled. The wines are of course expensive, but nowhere close other winery's crazy prices. They tend to be in the $100-$150. The price is however entire worth it as they are , at least in my opinion and for the ones I tried, really outstanding.

I tried Firebelle and their white wine and I was very impressed.

And I also have to mention that while the winery itself is very pleasant the staff, and especially Jessica, have been extremely welcoming. She is born and raised in Napa Valley and one can tell.

The wine tasting was a real pleasure, it was non commercial, the wine quality was among the best I ever had , both flavorful but also elegant. And the site is also extremely pleasant. I become wine club member as well.

2. Frog's Leap

Jessica from Larkmead recommended we visit Frog's Leap as a small-ish and more reasonably priced commercial winery.
The wine prices are indeed very reasonable with the most expensive wine being the Napa Cab at $55.
The wine tasting price is also reasonable.
We were visiting on Sunday which did mean that there was a huge crowd at the winery.
So overall I would just say just another winery if it wasn't for their garden. They had ripe raspberries, strawberries, tomatoes, and many more things you could just taste on the vine. I am not certain if you are welcome to try them or it is frowned upon, but they tasted amazing.

Worth a visit even if it's just for the garden.

3. Caymus

A staple in our visits to Napa. Caymus made the choice to raise the tasting price to a hot $50 per person, ouch ! The good news is that it's still completely full and everybody, given the price, gets to try their Reserve Cabernet (at $160 per bottle otherwise) which is entirely worth the try.
We also had their Mer Soleil Chardonnay which I liked a lot. And of course one of my favorites : their Emmolo Merlot. I am still well stocked on their wines since my last visit in January otherwise I would have left with more.

Next visit : Dry Creek Valley and Russian River.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Plans for next visits ( Larkmead, DryCreek and Russian River )

Returning back to Manhattan after spending a few days in Napa is mildly depressing. Noisy, craziness, dirty, stinky, gray and cold.
Compare this to Napa early in the morning in February :
Caymus Winery at 9am on Saturday

Driving back to Napa from St. Helena on Silverado Trail at 9:45am on Sunday morning



But I am already making plans for my next trip to the region. Maybe in April.

Friend of mine strongly recommended Larkmead winery.  https://www.larkmead.com/ . As they are also wine knowledgeable and have a certain passion for wine I took this very seriously. While checking their website I read the following about Larkmead:

"This  splendid estate situated in the heart of Napa Valley has enjoyed a reputation for high quality for well over a century. Tasting with Larkmead's proprietor Cam Baker demonstrated once again just what brilliant wines these can be."
~ Robert Parker, Wine Advocate, October 31, 2013


And after further research I read that they "sell" their wine based on allocation , which I assume is random. I was scared that it was another $1000 per bottle wine again. However I was very pleasantly surprised that it is priced around $80-100 per bottle.  My hopes are really up and I will certainly go visit it during my next trip. I really hope I will not be disappointed. Also I've been to Napa many times but I think it's time for me to go visit beyond Napa and Sonoma. I hope next trip I can take 2-3 days in Russian River Valley and Dry Creek. If only I knew when my next trip is...

Saturday, February 6, 2016

WORST experience in Napa : Back Room wine store downtown Napa

Bad experiences happen but I think we reached a new level.

On the way back from Calistoga I stopped downtown Napa at the Back Room wine store at 1000 Main Street.

I was beyond disappointed by the experience there. They were serving at $5 a taste from a $60 bottle of wine with a Coravin. Is a $60 bottle of wine now so high end that it needs to be Coravined ? But the real shock was that the $60 wine was clearly corked. Wet cardboard nose, wet cardboard body and ... they kept serving it. I asked if they felt it was corked. They guy serving it clearly had no idea, he hadn't even tasted it !! Really ?? And what did he do ? Did he taste it then ? Nope. He declared it was fine.

Oh, I thought maybe as a wine store at least they will have supplies. I asked if they sold airplane packaging. Same guy then spent at least 5 minutes telling me  that checking wine on a plane is a no-no and it ALWAYS breaks. Did he ever fly on the plane ever ? Probably not. Somehow, miraculously, I've been flying with wines for more then 15 years and guess what ? NOT A SINGLE bottle ever broke. At least if their wines they had selected were any good or the people were interesting or knowledgeable.

Expensive tasting at $20 (tax was not included too !) . They probably need to change the team there.