Archive for February, 2008

images1.jpg Larry Turley and winemaker Ehren Jordan are well known for their Zinfandels from Napa Valley vineyards. Their Zinfandels tend to be made in a big, ripe style. Their 2000 Atlas Peak Zinfandel weighs in at 15.7% alcohol — and I do get some heat (ok, quite a bit of heat, but it softens with decanting and some air time) on the nose as well as some candied fruit and stewed cherries. Very new world in style — dense, extracted, rich and concentrated. Dark berry jam, cherry, some tobacco, oak…impressive balance for its size, silky tannins and a nice finish.

This wine was made from grapes grow organically in red volcanic soil. 500 cases produced.

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thackrey1.jpgWe need more winemakers like Sean Thackrey — and we certainly need more people like him as well.

People often like to pose the question — if you could invite anyone from any point in history to dinner, but could only invite so many people, who would you invite? Sean Thackery is one of my people. Considered by many to be a maverick, a rebel and an eccentric — but also one of the most philosophical, intelligent, soulful and gifted people in the wine industry.

Thackery did not get a degree in viticulture or enology, he studied art history. His wines are made with his intuition, what his palate tells him and tips from his collection of ancient oenological texts (the world’s largest such collection in his opinion).

He has been making wine in a Bolinas eucalyptus grove for more than 20 years. The first wine he produced was a Cabernet Sauvignon, but quickly moved to other varietals. Today, Thackrey says he hasn’t bought a Bordeaux or a Napa Cabernet in 25 years. “They’re just too damn polite for me,” he says. “Why drink a wine that you wouldn’t like if it were a person? It’s like sitting next to someone and everything they say has to be so proper.”

Tastings of his wines reveal consistently powerful, intense flavors and rugged tannins — and there is a signature minty, eucalyptussy component as well. His wines are thought provoking and complex. Unlike almost every wine in the world, Thackrey believes his taste better the day after they are opened — and I actually might agree.

“My wines are like a person,” he says. “They talk, they change, they tell you something different every sip. They taste different from one day to the next, from one hour to the next. That kind of complexity is what makes wine interesting.”

Thackrey certainly has his followers and his critics. There are those that love his wines and others who do not — and many of his thoughts do not find a lot of acceptance from some in the industry.

His operation is quite small (3,000-5,000 cases annually), only recently adding a forklift and a bottling line. He didn’t learn how to make wine by going to UC Davis — and has both feet firmly planted in the art, only sticking his toe into the science (but understands it does have its place in the process). Thackrey often notes that there is no word for “wine-maker” in French, adding that if “chefs were trained the way wine-makers are, you would rarely eat out.”

Thackrey says that each time he gets back from harvest, he turns off the engine, opens the cab, and looks back at the truckbed stacked with grapes, tons of them, in hundreds of boxes. He just looks; and after a very particular moment of silence, says to myself, “OK, Sean, there it is. Do something.”

The first thing he does first is very interesting. After the grapes are picked, he lets them sit and “rest” at least 24 hours outside his home, a technique that one UC Davis professor says nobody else does today. Thackrey says the idea goes back at least to the Greek poet Hesiod’s book “Works and Days” (circa 700 B.C.).

“(Letting the grapes rest) is commonplace in wine literature until the middle of the 19th century,” Thackrey says. “That’s what impressed me about it. It’s a lot of work to do this, so they must have thought it was accomplishing some sort of useful purpose.”

Thackrey does use a machine to crush the grapes, but he pours the juice into open-top vats to ferment beneath the stars and eucalyptus trees — a technique that fell out of fashion more than 200 years ago.

Thackrey reads 7 languages. In addition to making wine, he is also creating an online archive of original texts that document the history of wine and wine making. He has personally transcribed all of these documents and the library currently contains about 100 transcriptions. He hopes this will be one of his huge contributions to the wine world, but his contributions go well beyond — and he is so deserving of more attention, respect and adoration.

Visit his website to learn more about the man, his wines and his online archive of original texts.

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27906.jpgThis wine is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon (60%), Sangiovese (30%) and Petit Verdot (10%). Nice raspberry, cherry and dark berry components with a little graphite, tar — and a bit of damp forest floor. Ample body with lush, silky tannins. 13.5% alcohol. 1,650 cases produced.

96 points and number 29 on the Wine Spectators 100 Top Wines from 2005. Very nice wine, but more along the lines of 91-93 points in my book. Certainly not a great value, but an enjoyable bottle of wine.

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Ash Hollow is a small boutique winery in Washington state. It is an up-and-comer that produces great Syrah, Merlot, Cabernet, Sauvignon Blanc, and Gewurztraminer.

Ash Hollow is headed by managing partner John Turner and consulting winemaker/partner Steve Clifton. great-grandfather homesteaded a farm in Walla Walla County in 1870 which is still in existence and farmed by family today. John’s wife, Jacqui, and her family are also fourth generation farmers in the Walla Walla Valley. Clifton was a brilliant choice as winemaker given his experience and having gained some serious respect from his peers. In the December 2001 issue of The Wine Advocate, Robert M. Parker Jr. named his 18 wine personalities of the year; 3 of them were American; and one of them was Steve Clifton. Parker listed Steve as one of the three great North American winemakers for the year stating, “the Brewer-Clifton offerings were the single greatest revelations of my 2001 tastings.”

I bought this wine after seeing it reviewed on an episode of Wine Library TV. It was also rated 90 points by the Wine Enthusiast.

It’s classic Gewurtz spice and candied fruit on the nose and palate. Lemons predominate on the palate — reminded me of filling my mouth with an entire box of lemonheads — really beautiful citrus. This wine cries for seafood. Great balance, acidity and a nice body with a slightly oily and creamy texture. Crisp and lingering finish. Stunning wine and a great value.

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I have been looking for this for quite a while — yes, it was like $70 a bottle when released — but still the best deal around.

The Wine Exchange just got an allocation — this will probably be the last of it — I am sure it will be sell out very quickly.

You can buy it here.

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18038.jpgThis is indeed from Spain, but could be easily mistaken for a great wine from Southern France. Some berry (a little jammy), a little kirsch, white pepper and chocolate on the nose. Beautiful balance and medium body with raspberry, some graphite, stunning minerality and some white pepper. Great mouthfeel with a clean and solid finish. This is really a lovely wine and great value. Recommended.

Parker notes

The Wine Advocate From a vineyard planted in pure slate, the 2002 Seleccio Vinyes Velles is an unfined/unfiltered blend of 60% old vine Grenache (50-80 years), and the rest Carignan, Tempranillo, Syrah, and Cabernet Sauvignon. An intense, fragrant bouquet of raspberry and blueberry jam intermixed with a liquid minerality jumps from the glass of this deep ruby/purple-colored 2002.

The beautiful aromatics are followed by a medium-bodied, elegant, precise, well-delineated, fresh, lively red. This singular effort demonstrates the potential of this little-known Spanish viticultural region. Drinking well now, it should age nicely for 5-6 years. Wow! What a discovery broker Jorge Ordonez made with these terrific wines from a sub-appellation of Ampurdan in the Costa Brava. Could Costa Brava be the next Priorat?

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randalls_1985_45785899.gifI thought it would be interesting to go back to a 2000 Bordeaux given that it was the last good Bordeaux vintage prior to the 2005.

Old world Bordeaux on the nose, nice fruit though a bit lean — cherry, currant, licorice and a little toast and some vanilla — tannins have started to soften a little — but still quite firm, nice balance and lingering finish.

I think Tanzer rated the 2005 91-93 points (which is quite high for Tanzer) and I think it is also selling for about $60-$75 (and moving hire…) a bottle. I would say the 2000 is a few notches below (88ish….maybe), but I think I paid about $20-$25 a bottle when I bought it.

They say that in 2005 everyone made good wine in Bordeaux — and it might be worth buying some of the wines in the $18-$26 range if you can find them — I expect prices moved up a little this week with the Spectator rating of the Bordeaux vintage. There aren’t many opportunities like the 2005 Bordeaux. Unlike many other parts of the world, they can’t irrigate, it is against the law — so they really are more prone to inconsistency — and while the 2000 vintage was very well received, there was not the depth in quality that marks the 2005 vintage.

About Chateau Lagrange

The vineyards at Chateau Lagrange comprise 157 hectares, although only 113 are actually planted up at present, including four hectares of white varieties. The vineyards are situated on two mounds of Gunzian gravel, which include the highest point in St Julien.

The grape varieties include 65% Cabernet Sauvignon, 28% Merlot and 7% Petit Verdot. Vinification of the fruit, which is harvested by hand, is fairly typical, employing temperature controlled stainless steel equipment. There may be a cuvaison of up to 25 days. The grand vin, Chateau Lagrange, of which there are 23,000 cases produced, sees 60% new oak each vintage.

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Another interesting interview with Parker — he discusses Mondo Vino and Globalization, Sideways, his rating system and Bordeaux. Interesting to listen to him discuss the 2000 vintage and subsequent vintages (01-04) — with the Wine Spectator just having given the 05 Bordeaux vintage 99 points.

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cocodrilo.jpg 90% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Merlot, Petit Verdot and Malbec aged 9 months in French and American oak, 21% new. Beautiful purple in color. Blackberry, cassis with some graphite and mineral notes. Good depth, texture, balance and a lengthy finish. This is quite new world in style — and it’s a great value at about $16 a bottle. I would give a slight edge to the 2006 El Felino Malbec, but that is my own personal preference.

Together they represent another great vintage from Hobbs and are wonderful examples of the quality and value coming out of Argentina — continuing to solidify Argentina’s position as the leader in South America.

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I’m not sure I have ever had a wine for under $5 a bottle that I would recommend, but now I do! This wine is 50 percent Sangiovese and 50 percent Bonarda. Bonarda is truly a grape worthy of more attention.

Not very complex — and confused me a bit with some Pinot characteristics — lots of cherry on the palate — and a hint of green pepper funk on the nose. This is a pretty simple wine that is quite enjoyable. I would serve it with pasta or pizza. I would buy this at 9 bucks a bottle and think I was getting a great value — at under $5 a bottle it is steal (it retails at $7 and I found it on sale for $4.99). It is not without its flaws — and I would recommend serving this at a slight chill. Still, this wine is another reminder of the amazing values to be found in Argentina.

I opened this and thought it was quite good — I didn’t remember what I paid for this and was shocked when I looked at my notes and saw that it was $5. It is a very enjoyable every day wine, a nice food wine — nice medium body, dry with nice fruit and very drinkable at 12.4% alcohol. This isn’t a great wine, but it is quite good and it is an amazing value. Parker rated this wine 86 points just in case you don’t believe me. Recommended.

Any other recommendations under $5 a bottle? $7?

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I worked at Bonny Doon Vineyard when I was in college — it was my dream job — I loved working there and I loved and admired Randall. I had never witnessed anyone throw caution to the wind such ease — and be so consumed with their passion — it was infectious and I thought I was the luckiest person in the world to have that job. It wasn’t much of a paycheck — but it was an experience and I got 50 percent off as much of the wine as I could buy.

Randall has always stayed true to his own vision, his own mad view of the wine world. He didn’t create wines for Parker — he actually mocked Parker — and perhaps paid a price, as Parker has always been less than enthusiastic about Randall’s wines (and not always without reason). But that is just Randall being Randall — and you have to admire him doing things how he wants and being true to his own creative spirit. The guy has some cajones…

My experience at BDV opened my mind and palate to the world of wine — and for that I will always be grateful. To this day, I love all things Bonny Doon — the hits and the misses. There are few sure things with wine — and there is something to find in the hits, near hits, near misses and misses — all have value.

Cigare Volant is usually a hit — though it is hard to pay about $30 a bottle now when there are much better values available. I prefer to drink these wines (all of BDV’s wines for that matter) within 3-4 years of release. A few months ago I had a bottle of 1996 Cigare and was a bit disappointed. Tonight, the 1998 is off to better start, I decanted it a number of times, but is showing some serious funk on the nose and also showing it’s age in the glass. It’s a bit better on the palate — but there just isn’t much fruit. The wine is 14.5% alcohol — and it is quite hot on the nose. It’s shows some cherry, rhubarb and light plum in the mouth — with a nice finish, a little on the thin side. This vintage was 47% Grenache, 37% Syrah and the remainder was Mourvedre.

Le Cigare was also one of the first great California GSMs.

It will be interesting to see how this opens up over the course of the evening — it has been in the bottle for almost 10 years, so it would take a little encouragement to get me to strut my stuff after being put down for that amount of time.

I’ll keep my DEWN membership and keep some BDV wines on hand (at least as long as Randall continues to be involved and/or they stay true to his tune)…..but my experiences tell me that patience doesn’t yield many benefits with these wines. I will drink them while they are in their youth.

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Hugel 2004 Riesling

25899.jpgI love Alsatian wines — they are some of the most interesting, exotic and complex white wines in the world — and wonderful food wines as well. Hugel is one of the largest producers and has been able to maintain high levels of standards as well. Hugel was established in 1639 — and is still producing wonderful wines 13 generations later. Marc Hugel is now winemaker, and the quality at the upper end has been maintained, they have also improved at the lower end. The entry level wines are generally the generic ‘Hugel’ bottlings; these are négoce wines, made using fruit from more than 300 contracted growers who tend over 100 ha of vineyard. If there was a weakness in the Hugel portfolio it was here, but many sources indicate that there has been a great improvement; these were classic examples of the varieties in question.

Then comes the Tradition range, which is often a blend of purchased fruit and some estate-grown fruit. The pinnacle of the dry wines is the Jubilee range, always made from the Hugel’s own vineyards. These include Hugel’s two Grand Cru sites; Sporen (a decent 8 hectares) and Schoenenbourg (3.8 hectares). You will not find the Grand Cru designation on the labels, however, as Jean Hugel found too much fault with the system. He, like some other Alsace vignerons, felt that the classified vineyards had boundaries too extensive, and included a variety of soil types, which significantly devalued the designation.

The Hugel 2004 Riesling is about $14-$18 a bottle. It is a bit muted on the nose, but notes of pear and apple are apparent on the palate with a little jicama and citrus. Great minerality as expected and clean finish — a lot of wine for the price.

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This news was just posted on the message boards of Robert Parker’s website and wanted to pass it along. Act quickly as this bill will be heard on Monday!

Maryland, the home of the Baltimmore Orioles, great crab cakes and Robert Parker, Jr & The Wine Advocate is considering direct shipping legislation that would allow Marylanders to purchase and have shipped to them wine from both in-state and out-of-state wineries and retailers.

The House Economic Matters Committee will hear testimony on HB 1260 on February 18th.


Free the Grapes has created a simple way for Marylanders to send a message to the committee members


Maryland was one of the earliest states to enact felony laws against direct shippers before enacting a purposefully unworkable direct shipping law after the Supreme Court decision. Making lots of noise and getting committee members to notice the will of the people regarding this bill would be quite appropriate given the history of this state on direct shipping.

Wholesalers will come out guns blazing against this bill claiming children will die, the state will lose revenue and the three tier system in in jeapordy. It’s all false. We have free trade with China, Mexico and even Canada!! It’s time to open up the Maryland borders to allow wine. You can buy a gun online and have it shipped to you — but wine is illegal?

If you live in Maryland, let the committee members know you support this bill.

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There are a lot of wines from Bordeaux in this price point from 2005 that are getting a lot of good press. Chateau Le Doyenne is a blend of Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon.

Bright ruby in color. Some cherry, cedar and a little musty on the nose. This wine should be put down for at least 2-3 more years, as it is currently quite closed and tight, but I was interested in trying a bottle to see if it warrants buying some more to put down.

Light to medium body, with some notes of cherry, a little plum and licorice — very dry and structured with good tannins — this might show some more fruit after a few years and does show potential. Currently it is showing a little too much wood and not enough fruit — but that might only be a sign of its youth. Fairly old world in style,  13.9% alcohol and a good food wine to pair with pork and lamb.

I will probably put down a few bottles, but also think there are better 05 Bordeaux options on the market at this price point, such as the Faizeau Montagne St Emilion 2005.

Other suggestions for 2005 Bordeaux values?

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