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*This post was originally published on April 15, 2022. 

Brianne Cohen, certified sommelier and wine expert, is the principal in a lifestyle brand and business based out of Los Angeles, offering her services as an event producer, wine educator, and wine writer. She was recently asked by Pix to share one of her favorite California Black-owned wineries. 

“Theodora Lee was a senior partner and trial lawyer in San Francisco for many years before becoming a winemaker and opening up her winery Theopolis Vineyards in Yorkville Highlands, near the border of Mendocino and Sonoma, in 2003. Working with Petite Sirah may be Lee’s true calling, according to Brianne Cohen, a sommelier and wine educator in Los Angeles. Theopolis’ Petite Sirah comes highly recommended as it is a multi-award winner and has consistently received high scores from critics since its first vintage in 2006. “Serving dried herbal notes and velvety tannins, this exceptional wine has racked up more medals than Theodora can count,” Cohen says.”

Since COVID hit, Brianne has educated and entertained over 6,000 people through her “Virtual Vino” online wine classes, both public and private. Brianne regularly judges at international wine competitions and holds the WSET Diploma certificate, which is one of the most coveted and difficult wine certifications. She also holds a Master of Business Administration from Loyola Marymount University and has been quoted in outlets such as Wine Enthusiast, Vinepair, HuffPost, Forbes, and Eating Well. In her virtual and in-person wine experiences, Brianne strives to highlight Black-owned wineries and other diverse owned (BIPOC, LGBT, minority, and female) wineries, chocolatiers, and cheese mongers. 

Read the full article, including other pioneering Black-owned wineries and winemakers at the link here.

I just returned from the Wine Media Conference in Eugene, OR (the southern Willamette Valley). Or as I like to call it: Wine Summer Camp! Normally the conference hosts close to 300 wine communicators (serious journalists, bloggers, influencers, podcast hosts, and everyone in between). This year due to COVID, the event had about half the number of attendees, but we had no shortage of fun. 

Speaking of fun, one of the highlights of the conference is the “Live Wine Social” event. Attendees sit at round tables as winemakers and winery reps circle around the room, pour their wines and talk about them, while we tweet and post on socials “live” and in real time. It’s a bit of a speed dating (or tasting) situation and it’s a blast. Below are my speed tasting notes/tweets on each wine. 



Brooks 2017 Rastaban Pinot Noir $65 (Eola-Amity Hills, Oregon)

Troon Vineyard 2019 Siskiyou Syrah (Applegate Valley, Oregon)

Benton Lane 2018 Pinot Noir $30 (Willamette Valley, Oregon)

Knotty Vines 2018 Cabernet Sauvignon $15 (California)

Pfeiffer Winery 2017 Blue Line Barrel Select Pinot Noir $65 (Willamette Valley, Oregon)

Brooks 2019 Ara Riesling $38 (Eola-Amity Hills, Oregon)

Longevity 2019 Pink Pinot Grigio (Livermore, California)

Troon Vineyard 2020 Kubli Bench Amber $35 (Applegate Valley, Oregon)

Benton Lane 2019 First Class Chardonnay $40 (Willamette Valley, Oregon)

I have not been lucky enough to step foot on the Vega Sicilia property, considered to be one of the top luxury wineries in the world. Situated in the Ribero del Duero DO in Spain, Vega Sicilia is a gem among gems.

About a year ago I was invited to an exclusive collectors’ dinner at Jean-Georges in the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in Beverly Hills featuring the wines of Tempos Vega Sicilia paired with an exquisite meal. Now I am not a collector of Vega Sicilia wines or of any wines for that matter. But as a member of the wine press/media, I was granted a coveted invite. This evening feels like a distant memory. A time when invitations to wine pairing dinners and winemaker interviews were frequent. This certainly was a standout evening as I would otherwise likely never have the opportunity to try Vega Sicilia wines, as they are hard to come by and priced WAY outside of my price range!

Rooftop Views at the Waldorf Astoria, Beverly Hills

The meal was so good, that I only have a shot of dessert! I was so enveloped by the food and wine, breaking out a camera for each course felt inappropriate. I was also lucky enough to sit right next to Pablo Alvarez, owner and CEO. This was a meal and experience meant to be enjoyed and not documented. 

Bodegas Vega Sicilia was founded in 1864, and it’s been said that if there were First Growths in Spain (as we have in Bordeaux), then Vega Sicilia would be on the list, if not the top of the list. They are one of the most well-recognized and luxury Spanish wines on the market. Their wines are scare, expensive, and in high demand. I felt honored to get to enjoy them that evening. 

Below is a recap of the meal and highlights of the wines we enjoyed, with the notes I was able to jot down without taking away from the experience.

Tokaj Oremus 2018 Tokaji Furmint Dry Mandolas (SRP $20)

Tokaj Oremus is a Hungary-based sister winery of Vega Sicilia. Dry Furmint, when I get to enjoy it, always knocks my socks off. This wine has bracing acid and is hyper austere. Exactly what I want in a Dry Furmint.

Vega Sicilia Bodegas Benjamin de Rothschild 2016 Macán Clasico (SRP $50)

From their joint effort with Rothschild, this is BR-VS (Bodegas Rothschild Vega Sicilia). A monstrous wine; in a good way. 100% Tempranillo. Crazy ass tannins. Wowzas.

Bodegas Pintia 2015 Pintia (SRP $60)

Bodegas Pintia is another Spanish sister winery of Vega Sicilia. This wine is concentrated, complex. A pensive wine that feels like it’s thinking and causing us to think. Yet a bit rustic. Quite a juxtaposition here.

Bodegas Alion 2016 Alion (SRP $80)

Another sister winery of Vega Sicilia (there are 4 in total). This Bodegas Alion wine is dripping with tertiary notes: leather, dirt/earth, and toasted nuts. If you’re into savory, this wine is for you! 

Vega Sicilia 2010 Unico (SRP $400)

The Unico wine undergoes at least a decade of aging, hence this is their current release. Always at least 80% Tempranillo then a blend of Bordeaux varieties. I have no tasting notes from this wine. Literally none. I think I was in a trance and trying to enjoy/savor what was in front of me. Sitting next to Pablo Alvarez with a glass of Unico and a Jean-Georges Beef Bourguignon. No review. But if you have a chance to do any of these things in your life, please do.

Vega Sicilia Reserva Especial R.20 (SRP $500)

Also, no review. If you can get a sip in your glass, please savor it. The Reserva Especial line is always a blend of 2-3 vintages, hearkening back to old Spain where wine was not vintaged. This wine is a blend of ’08, ’09, and ’10.

Passionfruit Glazed Pear, Rose Mascarpone, Toasted Nuts

Wishing you all a happy new year as we move into 2021. Also, seems like Spain has been a popular topic as of late on the blog. Last month we explored Spanish Albariño.

Ricasoli Chianti Classico Wine

In January I had the privilege to participate in the WineStudio program featuring Chianti Classico wine from Ricasoli 1141. WineStudio is an online Twitter-based educational program produced by Tina Morey, a Certified Sommelier who’s been in the food and wine industry for over twenty years. Each month a different producer is selected, along with a lineup of wines from their portfolio. Anyone can participate in the weekly Twitter chats, but only a select few are chosen to receive samples to accompany the conversation.

Every Tuesday at 6 pm (Pacific time), Tina hosts the group on Twitter at the WineStudio hashtag. Usually accompanying her is someone who works along with the producer, such as the winemaker, owner, salesperson, etc. Tina describes it as part instruction and part wine tasting. Discussion topics, for example, include: the producer history, the grapes, tourism, terroir, regional culture, food, etc.

What is Chianti Classico Wine?

Chianti Classico wine comes from the heartland of Chianti. The Classico regions in Italy are the historic centers of the region that are said to make higher quality wines than in the larger, general regions (i.e. Chianti). 

What Makes Ricasoli 1141 So Classic?

Brolio has been making wine continuously since 1141. Yep, for over 850 years. The man currently at the helm is Francesco Ricasoli and he is responsible for the name change to Ricasoli 1141. In addition, he is the great-grandson of Bettino Ricasoli who invented the Chianti Classico recipe in the 1800s. The property lies in Gaiole Chianti Classico, and at 600 acres, is the largest estate in Chianti Classico. 


Let’s try the Chianti Classico wine!

Casalferro 2008 Toscana IGT (SRP $70)

Casalferro is one of the Ricasoli vineyards, providing 100% Merlot from a single plot of land and ages 18 months in oak barrels. Intense and bright ruby red color and ripe red fruit both on the nose and palate. Balsamic, cocoa, and spicy hints (pepper and cinnamon) on the nose. 

Casalferro 2011 Toscana IGT (SRP $70)

Casalferro is one of the Ricasoli vineyards. This wine is 100% Merlot from a single plot of land, and similarly to the above, aged 18 months in oak barrels. A combination of red and black fruit on the nose/palate, moving into balsamic and spicy notes. 

Brolio 2016 Chianti Classico DOCG (SRP $22)

These grapes are from five specific vineyard areas that produce the grapes for the Brolio label, providing intense ruby red color, which is classic for a Chianti. Also present are Chianti markers of red fruit, balsamic, and floral violet notes. Smooth tannins, good acid, and a long finish give a classic Chianti Classico wine feel. 80% Sangiovese, 15% Merlot, and 5% Cabernet Sauvignon. Stainless steel fermented plus 9 months in large neutral oak barrels.

Brolio Riserva 2016 Chianti Classico DOCG Riserva (SRP $30)

The grapes for this wine also come from the Brolio vineyards. Ruby red color with red fruit notes of wild strawberry and sour cherries, plus soft, smooth tannins. 80% Sangiovese, 15% Merlot, and 5% Cabernet Sauvignon. In addition, stainless steel fermented plus 18 months in large oak barrels (some new, some used).

In early 2014 the Chianti Classico Consorzio unveiled a new addition to the denomination’s quality pyramid above the Riserva level called: Gran Selezione. The grapes need to be estate grown with an additional 6 months aging requirement (over what is required for Riserva). There are also stricter technical and sensory parameters. The jury is still out if this new level is beneficial at all to consumers or just adds to the confusion.

Colledilà 2015 Chianti Classico DOCG Gran Selezione (SRP $70)

The Sangiovese grapes for this wine come from the Colledilà vineyard. Only the finest hand-picked clusters are selected for this wine. 100% Sangiovese with the classic ruby color, giving red fruit (plums and cherries) plus fresh floral notes. 18 months in large oak barrels (30% new, 70% used)

Castello di Brolio 2015 Chianti Classico DOCG Gran Selezione (SRP $70)

Castello di Brolio is created by a meticulous selection of the best Sangiovese (90%), Cabernet Sauvignon (5%), and Petit Verdot (5%) grapes from estate vineyards. Intense ruby color, red fruits, balsamic, and floral notes. Plus, vanilla from the oak treatment. This is certainly the “grand vin” of Brolio.

With the deficiency of travel in my life, Italy has been at the top of my mind. Certainly, this is evident in my recent blog posts covering both the Langhe and Gattinara in Piemonte. Enjoy these reads, and cheers!

The history of Fontanafredda (and Langhe Nebbiolo) is a noble one and began in 1858 after the unification of Italy, when the country’s first king, Vittorio Emanuele II, purchased this beautiful estate in Piedmont’s Langhe region for his mistress. Quite the scandal! Here he started producing wine from local varieties, Dolcetto, Barbera and Nebbiolo, which later developed into a commercial business under the direction of the King’s son, Count Mirafiori. Fontanafredda released their first Nebbiolo labeled as Barolo with the 1878 vintage.

Since 2008, Fontanafredda has been owned by visionary businessman and Piedmont native, Oscar Farinetti (co-owner of Eataly), who has brought new life to one of Italy’s most heralded properties. They’re doing something right, as Fontanafredda was awarded European Winery of the Year by Wine Enthusiast in 2017. In 2018, the Fontanafredda vines were certified organic and they are now the largest certified organic company in Piemonte. 

Fontanafredda is a 250-acre property in Serralunga d’Alba, a cru site of Barolo, the single largest contiguous wine estate in the Langhe. They also work with 400 local grower partners in sourcing grapes for their wines. Speaking of wines, let’s get to tasting these Langhe Nebbiolo wines!

I enjoyed these wines as part of a lovely luncheon at Spago Restaurant in Beverly Hills, where we tasted Fontanafredda’s current Barolo releases, as well as a selection of special library gems going back 20+ years. Enjoy!

Langhe Nebbiolo (and other) Tasting Notes


Alta Langa DOCG Contessa Rosa Rosé 2012 $57.99

Dry, delicious, and lively describes this Metodo Classico sparkling made of 80% Pinot Nero and 20% Chardonnay. What makes this special is that their 1967 Barolo is the liqueur d’éxpedition.

Alta Langa DOCG Contessa Rosa Rosé 2012

Barolo DOCG Del Comune Di Serralunga d’Alba 2015 $53.99

This was Fontanafredda’s first single-village Barolo ever produced since 1988 and this bottle (and label) is the icon of the estate. I get balsamic and meaty notes and, as expected, prevalent tannins, plus Serralunga trademarks of roses and underbrush.

Barolo DOCG Del Comune Di Serralunga d’Alba 2015

Barolo DOCG Fontanafredda 2013 $107.99

My first impression is that this is a pretty wine, but then it opens up and get sturdier on the nose. Moderate acid, lots of savory/underbrush notes on the palate, and prevalent tannins. 

Langhe Nebbiolo Barolo DOCG Fontanafredda 2013

Barolo DOCG Vigna la Rosa 2011 $124.99

Oh my….come to momma. This wine shows Barolo typicity of tar and roses. Lovely. Reminds me of the elegance of Pino Noir, but distinctly Italian and distinctly Nebbiolo and with no Italian rusticity. 

Barolo DOCG Vigna la Rosa 2011

Barolo DOCG Vigna la Rosa 1996 (n/p)

This wine is showing graceful age, in the same way as Helen Mirren. The fruit is fading beautifully, and I’m ok with it. Quite stunning; showing both savory and tertiary notes. Beautifully subtle aromas and flavors that you’d expect for a 24-year old wine. 

Barolo DOCG Vigna la Rosa 1996

Barolo 2010 Riserva $164.99

The Riserva level gets an additional two more years of aging, while this wine is only made in the best years. The official tasting notes say “a fresh sour note”. I LOVE that descriptor. I have been using “sour” as a tasting note for a while, but I’ve never seen in print!

Barolo 2010 Riserva

Barolo 2000 Riserva (n/p)

This wine was first made in 1964 (hence the year on the label). Deep, dark fruit plus a faint florality with super, duper woody tannins.

Langhe Nebbiolo Barolo 2000 Riserva

For more great Italian content, check out my blog post on Travaglini Gattinara, also a study of Nebbiolo.

Conor Brasier and Hunter Valley Wine
Today we go down under to Tamburlaine Organic Wines, Australia’s largest independent organic producer with over 300 hectares of organic wines in the Orange and Hunter Valley wine sub-regions of New South Wales. Independent meaning that they don’t sell to big-box retailers. Quite impressive for a 120,000 annual case production.

Cheese plate and Hunter Valley Wine

Tamburlaine’s Entry into Hunter Valley Wine

Tamburlaine started over 50 years ago when a small group of friends, led by Mark Davidson, purchased the winery and started making Hunter Valley wine. At Tamburlaine, they believe in low-intervention winemaking and strive to leave their spot on the Earth in better shape than how they found it. While at the Wine Media Conference in October 2019, I toured Tamburlaine with my old wine pal Liz of What’s In That Bottle, and my new wine pal, Conrad of The Wine Wankers. Tamburlaine assistant winemaker Conor Brasier guided us through the property and through a flight of wines for a lovely afternoon!

Hunter Valley Wine in Action

Conor is a breath of fresh air. I always appreciate a young winemaker and their ability to embrace change and innovation. He knows the place inside and out….it felt like he gave us a tour of his living room!

Hunter Valley Wine coming out of barrel

Tasting Hunter Valley Wine at Tamburlaine


Preservative Free Au Naturel Premium Cuvée

An all-natural, sulfur-free blanc de blanc made in the Charmant method (the same method used with Prosecco). All fruit from Orange. A nice, easy sparkling clocking in at a low 11.5% ABV.

Wine Lovers Verdelho-Semillon (current vintage 2020 $24)

Conor described this as a “session wine”. Not too serious, yet crisp and refreshing. “Crushable” as the kids say!

Reserve Orange Riesling (current vintage 2019 $33)

Tamburlaine makes 4 Rieslings, all from the same biodynamic vineyard in Orange. Green apple, citrus (grapefruit), and floral notes of white jasmine.

Mark Davidson Riesling (current vintage 2020 $18)

This wine is off-dry showing notes of citrus (lime), plus a floral note of orange blossom. Bracing acid.

Wine Lovers Sweet Phoebe ($24)

A NV late harvest Riesling. Great with Asian/Indian food!

Reserve Noble Riesling (current vintage 2017 $39)

A late harvest Riesling, with a portion of botrytised grapes. I get citrus (lime), plus a honeyed note, and lots of tropical fruits. Though sweet, this wine has great acid to counterbalance.

Single Vineyard Pinot Noir (current vintage 2018 $30)

Fruit comes from their Orange vineyard. 70% of Australia’s Pinot Noir clonal material comes from this vineyard. The wine is quite pretty; beautiful, in fact. Uniquely Aussie.

Barrel Tasting: 2019 Reserve Malbec

This is Conor’s favorite wine at the moment. I got an herbaceous note I don’t generally get from an Argentinian Malbec. Not over-oaked, like some Malbecs from Argentina. The vines in Orange are at about the same altitude as many Malbec vines in Uco Valley, Argentina, approx. 2,700 feet.

Hunter Valley Wine views

Since our visit, Tamburlaine announced that they bought former Cumulus Winery to expand its production capacity. Consequently, this helps cement them as an even bigger player in Australian organic winemaking. They plan to open a cellar door in Orange. However, I do not know the status of that since COVID hit. Tamburlaine is a solar-powered, energy-saving sustainable property, recycling its wastewater and turning solid wastes into vine mulch and compost.

This all sounds like good stuff to me! Certainly, I can attest, the wines were lovely. I highly recommend a visit to Tamburlaine if you ever find yourself in need of some Hunter Valley wine while visiting Australia! In the same vein of Hunter Valley Wine, a visit to Tyrrell’s, is definitely in order. In short, Tyrrell’s is considered the first family of Hunter Valley Wine and makes the best Semillon in the region!

Ground zero for Hunter Valley Wine


Travaglini Gattinara: Cinzia & Alessia Travaglini

Driven by a passion for exceptional Nebbiolo, the Travaglini family has been producing remarkable, limited-production wines from their estate in Gattinara for four generations.

They are the foremost producer and largest vineyard owner in this northern region of Piemonte, Italy.

Travaglini Gattinara: The Bottle 

Travaglini Gattinara wines have a distinctive bottle shape, featuring a unique curve that fits naturally in the palm of the hand and serves to catch sediment during decanting. The bottle is now their trademark. Some of the images below highlight this special bottle shape.

Travaglini Gattinara: The Vines

Gattinara vineyards were almost all destroyed in the early 1900s due to phylloxera and a devastating hail storm in 1905. The family replanted vines in the 1920s and pioneered research into improving viticulture in the area. Today there are about 100 hectares in total of Gattinara vines, and Travaglini farms 59 of those hectares. Essentially, they produce over 50% of Gattinara wines. Exports make up 65% of Travaglini’s production. The United States is the #1 export market.

Last year I had the pleasure of attending an afternoon luncheon with Cinzia and Alessia Travaglini as they showcased their wines against the backdrop of a wonderful meal from Angelini Osteria in Los Angeles. 

Travaglini Gattinara: The Wine


Nebolè 2013 (Wine not distributed)

Top vineyards on the Travaglini estate are where the grapes for this wine are sourced. A zero dosage sparkling wine made from 100% Nebbiolo grapes. 

Nebbiolo Coste Della Sesia DOC 2017 ($20.99)

Crunchy red fruit on the nose (cherry and cranberry) plus a hint of sweet oak. Precise fruit and bright acid. I also get a minerality to this wine plus some delicate rose petal notes, classic to Nebbiolo. 


Gattinara DOCG 2015 ($32.99)

A very savory wine. I get sweet spice (from the oak treatment-2 years in Slavonian oak) and a stemmy herbaceous quality. A strong tannic background due to longer skin contact.

Gattinara Tre Vigne DOCG 2013 ($49.99)

This wine is a blend of three single-vineyard “cru” sites on the Travaglini estate. The wine is aged for 4 years in Slavonian oak casks. During the final year in cask, 20% of the wine is removed and aged separately in barrique before being blended back with the balance of the wine. The final blend then rests in the bottle for 10 months.

Gattinara Riserva DOCG 2013 ($59.99)

Deep, dark, concentrated red fruit. Medium + smooth, well-integrated tannins. I get a little funk in my glass, which is a good thing.

Gattinara Riserva DOCG 2009 (no price as limited availability)

Bright, juicy red fruit, sweet spice, and pepper note. Complex yet elegant. Earthiness abounds. 

Gattinara Tre Vigne DOCG 2006 (no price as limited availability)

A slight bricking in the glass, indicating the age. An elegantly aged red wine, with savory notes (i.e. underbrush) starting to emerge. So understated. Almost a whisper of a wine. 

Il Sogno 2014 ($127.99)

Grapes are hand-harvested and then dried for 100 days in a naturally ventilated storage area. Really ripe, almost sweet fruit on the palate plus sweet baking spices.


Many of these wines are available in the US.

Today we virtually travel to the la Rioja wine region of Spain. Although I have never been there, I’d love to visit. Last fall I participated in a month of Wine Studio Twitter chats featuring the wines of Bodegas LAN in Rioja. While we can’t engage in wine country travel at the moment….alas we can dream through the glass.

What is Wine Studio?

#WineStudio is an online, Twitter-based educational program produced by Tina Morey, Certified Sommelier who’s been in the food and wine industry for over twenty years. Each month a different producer is selected, as well as a lineup of wines from their portfolio. Anyone can participate in the weekly Twitter chats, but only a select few are chosen to receive samples to accompany the conversation.

Every Tuesday at 6pm (Pacific time), Tina hosts the group on Twitter at the WineStudio hashtag as the group does the wine tasting together. Usually accompanying her is someone affiliated with the producer, such as the winemaker, owner, salesperson, etc. Above all, Tina describes it as part instruction and part wine tasting. Discussion topics include: the producer history, the grapes, tourism, terroir, regional culture, food, etc. For each new topic Tina has consequently seen dozens of original content pieces created, thousands of interactions via social media and millions of impressions created on our specific topic.

Meanwhile, for the Bodegas LAN edition of #WineStudio we were joined by Lyn Farmer. Lyn is a James Beard Award-winning wine and food writer and WSET Certified Educator.  He was the perfect fit to guide us through these wines!

Rioja Wine Region: Bodegas LAN

Bodegas LAN was “born” in 1972 and is named after the initials of the three political provinces in the DOCa Rioja wine region: Logroño (now La Rioja), Álava, and Navarra. LAN blends the best of Rioja tradition with modern winemaking and an innovative approach to oak use. They own 20,000 barrels, so there are a lot of oak options. Signature handling of oak includes the use of Russian oak, hybrid oak barrels with American staves, and French oak tops and bottoms.  Yes, they use Russian barrels, and they admit it! Overall LAN has evolved into a more modern winery versus a traditionalist. They make wines of a more international style, which helps the international market understand what you do.  This helps move bottles……which is the ultimate goal!! Check out my previous post about Bodegas LAN HERE.

Enjoy tasting notes from the wines we savored throughout the month of November.

LAN Crianza 2016 ($14 retail)

95% Tempranillo and 5% Mazuelo. Aged for 14 months in combined American and French oak barrels followed by 9 months in bottle before release. RED RED RED fruit notes + sweet spice + vanilla. A classic Rioja nose. This wine stands alone, in my opinion; no food necessary.

LAN Reserva 2012 ($20 retail)

92% Tempranillo and 8% Mazuelo. 18 months in hybrid American/French barrels followed by 20 months in bottle prior to release. Very deep red fruit plus blue fruit. I also get notes of red hots….yup I said red hots….spicy cinnamon notes. This red is perfect for a Fall evening. Not quite a warming winter red…..enjoying a glass of this in the Fall would be exquisite.

LAN Gran Reserva 2011 ($25 retail)

96% Tempranillo plus 4% Mazuelo and Graciano. 26 months in hybrid American/French barrels followed by 36 months in bottle prior to release. A full-bodied and dark red, as you’d expect from a Gran Reserva. Notes of dark red and black fruit, including cherries and blackberries. Plus a warm baking spices from the oak treatment.

Rioja wine Region LAN Gran Reserva 2011

LAN D-12 2016 ($20 retail)

Vat number 12 used to the reserved for wines that stood out after fermentation for their great aromatic intensity. D-12 is a homage to this vat.  This is the 10th edition of this release. 100% Tempranillo. Aged 12 months in hybrid American/French barrels. Deep garnet color plus red fruit aromas of cranberries plus prunes. Vanilla plus cinnamon notes.

Viña Lanciano Reserva 2012 ($30 retail)

90% Tempranillo, 8% Granciano, and 2% Mazuelo. From a selection of 30-year-old vines located in LAN’s Viña Lanciano estate. Aging in French and Russian oak plus 20 months in bottle. Winery notes: Elegant aromas of red fruits in liqueur and black fruits (blackberry/blackcurrant) plus spiced notes of clove, cinnamon, and vanilla. Perfumed hints of violets.

LAN a Mano 2016 ($50 retail)

85% Tempranillo, 10% Graciano, and 5% Mazuelo. Aged in French plus Caucasian oak barrels.  This is my favorite of the bunch. Complex and layered…just how I like my reds. Bright red fruit (cherries and plums) quickly moving into dark, ripe, black fruit, including blackberry and black currant). Tertiary notes of chocolate and coffee, plus tobacco. All the structural elements strike a stunning balance.

LAN Xtrème Ecológico Crianza 2015 ($20 retail)

100% organic Tempranillo grapes. Aged 14 months in new French oak. From the tech sheet: LAN Xtrème is the extreme manifestation of the LAN philosophy in terms of respect for the raw materials. Minimal intervention from the start to preserve the essence of the terroir. No additives to the must or the wine, except for a small quantity of Sulphur to avoid oxidation and the development of undesirable microorganisms.

To sum up, we are all home and we are all getting a bit stir crazy. But we can still drink wine, connect with people virtually, and dream of wine country travel in our future.

Learn About Virtual Wine Tasting →

Zak Miller, Domaine Carneros Winemaker

Last year I was invited to a wine pairing dinner at Avra Estiatorio in Beverly Hills featuring the wines of Domaine Carneros. Joining us for dinner was no other than winemaker, Zak Miller. I have only ever tried the widely distributed opening pricepoint sparkling from Domaine Carneros, so I jumped at the chance to taste other selections from their portfolio.

Zak has been at Domaine Carneros for 11 years. Fun fact: His wife is also a winemaker and they met in college while both studying forestry. What are the odds of that?!? Before landing in Carneros, Zak made wine in both Chile and New Zealand to hone his craft.

How do I know Zak is a good fit for Domaine Carneros? Well, at dinner Zak proclaimed “bubbles go with everything except toothpaste and coffee”. That, my friends, is a good fit.

Domaine Carneros was founded in 1987 by the prestigious family behind Champagne Taittinger. Their founding winemaker Eileen Crane created a classic California expression of the Taittinger style that they describe as “noble French heritage with pure Carnero’s verve”. Domaine Carneros is a “grower-producer” or what we’d call Récoltant-Manipulant (RM) in Champagne.  This means that the wine is made from a grower who produces wine made from their own estate grapes.

At Domaine Carneros, all wines are from the Carneros AVA with 95% classified as estate fruit. But there is a movement towards all estate fruit starting this year, 2020. Their estate vineyards total 400 acres across six sites. In fact, only the wines in distribution use bought fruit and that is because they’re fulfilling on long-term contracts.

With a Champagne house as your parent, does Domaine Carneros have to follow the direction of said parent?  Nope, Taittinger gives no influence on winemaking to Domaine Carneros. They can do as they please. With that said, let’s taste!

Wines Tasted

Le Rêve Blanc de Blancs 2012 ($120)

100% estate-grown Chardonnay. This is the “tête de cuvee”, their finest sparkling wine, and is frequently named “America’s best sparkling”. 3000 cases made a year. I get beautiful leesy notes and grilled pineapple 4sho on the nose and palate, as outlined in their tasting notes below.

Winery Notes: Lovely notes of white flowers, Meyer lemon, poached pear, and a hint of grilled pineapple. The palate opens up to honeysuckle and crème brûlée. The full mouth feel leads to a very round and long finish.

Brut Cuvée 2015 ($36)

51% Chardonnay, 47% Pinot Noir, and 2% Pinot Gris

Creamy and less leesy than the La Rêve. Smooth and very easy to drink.

Winery Notes: This very focused and elegant wine displays lovely notes of key lime, honeycomb, and lemon curd. This round wine displays a palate with hints of lime blossom, baked pear, and lemon meringue, resulting in a creamy texture and a long finish.

Estate Pinot Noir 2016 ($44)

100% Pinot Noir

Raspberry and cherry notes. Duh. Plus, what Zak called “Carneros baking spice”.

Winery Notes: Packs a full range of red and darker berry flavors. Beginning with the nose, one encounters bright raspberry and cooked cherry notes along with hints of sassafras and freshly turned earth. 10 months of barrel age lends a sweetness that balances the supple tannin. Of particular note is the juicy and sweet-fruited entry upon the palate, backed up by delicate spice notes that lead to a lengthy, warming finish. The hallmark of Domaine Carneros Pinot Noir is the texture, and this wine delivers with a supple and silky mouth-feel.

Cuvée de la Pompadour ($40)

59% Pinot Noir and 41% Chardonnay

Beautiful rosé notes of rose petal, peach, and strawberry. Quite a nice for it being non-vintage (NV). And for the nerds, 9.5g/L of residual sugar, so a true Brut.

Winery Notes: This wine’s aroma, delivered on a delicate mousse, hints at raspberry, apricot, and rose petal. The palate displays peach, raspberry jam, tangerine, and orange for a soft, delicate mouthfeel and a smooth long finish.

This was a lovely rosé color, but the bottle went quick!

At the Wine Bloggers Conference in Walla Walla last October, I attended a seminar about the wines of Bodegas LAN, led by Doug Frost, one of only four people in the world with both the MW and the MS certification. The thought of that seriously makes my head hurt. I digress……

Bodegas LAN was “born” in 1972 and is named after the initials of the three political provinces in the DOCa Rioja: Logroño (now La Rioja), Álava, and Navarra. LAN blends the best of Rioja tradition with modern winemaking and an innovative approach to oak use. They own 20,000 barrels, so there are a lot of oak options. Signature handling of oak includes the use of Russian oak, hybrid oak barrels with American staves, and French oak tops and bottoms. Yes, they use Russian barrels, and they admit it! Overall LAN has evolved into a more modern winery versus a traditionalist. They make wines in the international style. This helps the international market understand what they do and helps move bottles…the ultimate goal!!

In Rioja there is a good number of women winemakers and oenologists. According to Doug, women are making more “exciting” wines in the Rioja, such as María Barua at the helm of winemaking at Bodegas LAN. Though we all know that good winemaking actually begins in the vineyard. The 72-hectare (178 acre) estate vineyard is named Viña Lanciano and is situated between the sub-regions of Rioja Alta and Rioja Alavesa. Bodegas LAN subscribes to sustainable viticulture with no mineral or chemical fertilizer (only organic solutions, as needed) use. And no herbicides or pesticides.

Credit: Bodegas LAN

At the vineyard, the continental climate is moderated by the Cierzo and Solano winds. The vineyard is nestled between the Cantabrian mountain range and a loop of the River Ebro, which both shield the vines from extreme frosts and summers. Many think that Rioja is just HOT. It can be, but it is not a one-trick pony. It is close to the Atlantic and also has Mediterranean influences.

Viña Lanciano offers well-drained soils of sandy loam (including pebbles, gravel, and sand). Consequently, the vines dig their roots deep into the soil for nutrients. The vines (planted to: Tempranillo, Mazuelo, Graciano, and Garnacha) are old, low-yielding and between 40-60 years of age.

Credit: Bodegas LAN

LAN Classic Range

Grapes sourced from long-standing suppliers in the Rioja Alta and Rioja Alavesa.

LAN Crianza 2014 $14 (95% Tempranillo, 5% Mazuelo)

Young, fresh fruit on this value-priced, everyday red wine. Bright, juicy red fruit plus black cherries. Medium, well-integrated tannins plus a whisper of tertiary notes (coffee and chocolate).

LAN Reserva 2011 $20 (92% Tempranillo, 8% Graciano)

A nice interplay of lovely fruit plus some savory notes. The oak influence is starting to show here. This wine tells a beautiful Old World story in the glass…..and that whole story is a bargain at $20. Compare that to the sea of shitty, commercial $20 wines out there. The best wine tip (as far as finding a good value), is to go to the Old World!

LAN Gran Reserva 2010 $25 (90% Tempranillo, 10% Mazuelo)

In order to meet the “Gran Reserva” category in Rioja, the wine must have a minimum of 5 years aging: at least 24 months in oak plus at least 24 months in bottle. This wine sees 24 months in barrel plus 36 months in bottle before release. If this wine was a music style, it would be an R&B slow jam…..some baby makin’ music! It’s slow…..smooth……and warm. Notes of cigar box (smoke) plus spice box moves into licorice and coffee bean on the back palate. Also some garrigue notes (fennel/cumin). Will continue to age for 20+ years.

LAN D-12 2014 $20 (100% Tempranillo)

The winemaker’s favorite tank (#12). Produced with select wines from small parcels in the Rioja Alta and Alavesa. Vignerons choosing their favorite tank to keep and drink themselves is a tradition in Rioja.

LAN Estate Range

Reflects the unique identity of Viña Lanciano, the estate vineyard.

Viña Lanciano Reserva $30 (87% Tempranillo, 8% Graciano, 5% Mazuelo)

Named in homage to the vineyard, and is the flagship wine. Oh yeah……big ass tannins. But very well-integrated. Give me some food here, and I’m a happy girl!

LAN Edición Limitada $50 (87% Tempranillo, 9% Mazuelo, 4% Graciano)

All grapes come from carefully hand-selected vines of very low production in the “Pago El Rincón” area of the vineyard.

Culmen Reserva $65 (88% Tempranillo, 12% Graciano)

All grapes come from carefully hand-selected vines of very low production in the “Pago El Rincón” area of the vineyard. This wine is only produced in excellent vintages. A perfumed note makes this wine very special. Especially tannic plus a savory/garrigue note.

*These wines were received as samples for review

If you have read this blog before, then you know I am a BIG fan of the Lodi wine region. Lodi wines are quality, terroir-driven, and the value is unmatched! Your dollar certainly goes far when visiting and buying wine in Lodi.

Did you know that Lodi is the Zinfandel capital of the world? Over 40% of the state’s Zinfandel comes from the Lodi AVA. There are over 125 winegrape varieties grown here, but Zinfandel is the true stand out. Zinfandel thrives in Lodi’s Mediterranean climate. The warm, sunny days and cool evenings (in other words, a wide diurnal range) help the grapes to ripen fully, yet not get too ripe, as can happen in places where the temps don’t cool down at night.

Lodi is most commonly known for their Old Vine Zinfandel. In fact, Lodi has more acres of old vines than any region in California. While there is no exact definition of “Old Vine”, many vines are 50 years old, or more. When I visited for the Wine Bloggers Conference in 2016, I visited vineyards that had 100+ year old vines. Gnarly, old vines are fascinating to look at. There’s lots of twists and dark, old-looking wood. The yields tend to shrink the older the vines are, so each vine is precious, as more vines are needed to make a single bottle of wine.

Lodi Zin thrives in the deep sandy loam soils common to the Mokelumne and Clements Hills appellations, and most of the older plantings are own-rooted. Below are a couple of Old Vine Zinfandels I was sent for review:

Mettler 2014 Epicenter Old Vine Zinfandel 15.5% ABV ($25)

This wine is 85% Zinfandel with some Petit Sirah, Cabernet Franc, and Cabernet Sauvignon blended in for good measure. The Mettler family has been farming in Lodi for six generations. Their vineyard lies in the “Epicenter” of Lodi’s old vine Zinfandel district, hence the name. The grapes are organically grown. This wine is delightfully purple in color. The nose shows red plus black fruit (plums and prunes), black pepper, cedar, sweet vanilla, and molasses. There is an interesting earthy, smokey note. The palate: WOAH! Chocolate and coffee reign here. So much so that it almost feels like you are eating some sort of mocha dessert. Speaking of dessert, sometimes I opt to drink my dessert rather than eat it. I am not a huge dessert wine fan, so my dessert sometimes ends up being a nice, full, ripe dry red. This would be my “dessert” wine of choice. Oh and the finish on this wine….it never ends. A stellar showing for Old Vine Lodi Zin.

Mettler 2014 Epicenter Old Vine Zinfandel

Vintage tasted was 2014

Fields Family Wines 2013 Old Vine Zinfandel 14.5% ABV ($28)

The grapes for this wine are from 60-70 year old vines in the Family Vineyard in the Mokelumne River AVA of Lodi. This wine is medium garnet in color. So. Many. Raisins. Both on the nose and on the palate. Raisins almost always bring me to Old Vine Zin. Also, spice box (cinnamon, clove, nutmeg), vanilla, leather/saddle, plus cocoa/mocha. This is a special wine to be enjoyed slowly.


Disclaimer: These wines were received as samples for review.

My family is from Argentina. I spent many summers and school breaks there as a child/teenager and one thing I remember is how there were always tumblers of wine on the table for lunch and dinner. Soda water and “cubitos” (ice) are generally added to red wines, especially at lunchtime. Argentina has a very European culture/mentality towards wine. It’s free-flowing, it’s inexpensive, and it’s to be enjoyed daily. Such a healthy way to think about alcohol, versus in the US how we view alcohol as a bad thing (a vice), something to be controlled, and less of a daily enjoyment. We moderate most of the time, yet when we get our hands on it, we tend to drink more at one sitting (binge) and suffer the effects later. I propose we all enjoy 1 glass of wine a day and get in tune with the “healthy” Europeans/Argentines!

When people think of wine in South America, they think of Malbec from Argentina. In South America, Malbec is as ubiquitous as water, generally inexpensive, and flows freely at most lunches and dinners. In the Mendoza wine region of Argentina, Malbec is KING. But did you know that many other grapes are grown there? The major wine-producing countries in South America are Argentina and Chile. Uruguay is making a name for itself. And we can even find wines from both Brazil and Bolivia.

With the diversity of wine-producing countries and their respective regions with different altitudes, climates, and soils, we have some very diverse grape growing in South America.

One grape that you can find in many wine-producing regions of South America is Cabernet Sauvignon: the king of all red grapes. With a grape-like Cabernet Sauvignon comes marketability and consumer familiarity. If you’re a wine drinker you have probably heard of Cabernet Sauvignon and feel comfortable ordering it at a restaurant or picking it up in bottle at a wine shop. Cabernet Sauvignon is also known to command higher prices than regional grapes. It is the most well-known international red variety, and for that reason more is planted and prices skew higher.

One of the most well-known winemaking families in South America is the Montes family. In 1987 Aurelio Montes Sr. (and partners) started Viña Montes with the goal of producing wines of a quality far superior to what was coming out of Chile. Their Montes Alpha “M” Cabernet Sauvignon became that first super-premium wine to come out of Chile.

Aurelio Montes founded Kaiken in 2002 in the Uco Valley of Mendoza. The name comes from the “caiquén” which is a Patagonian wild goose that is found in both Chile and Argentina. A nod to Montes’ Chilean heritage. The vineyards are biodynamically farmed with over 3 million cases produced annually.

We will now taste three very different expressions of South American Cabernet Sauvignon.

Montes Alpha M Red Wine 2012 $90 (current vintage: 2015)

Directly from the website: Production of Montes Alpha M is extremely limited and vintages are only released if our head winemaker, Aurelio Montes considers that the quality of the wine is up to demanding standards. Production starts by selecting individual grapes at harvest time. This wine, from Colchagua Valley, it´s one of the best and most awarded wine from Chile.

My notes: This wine is a Bordeaux-style blend (80% Cab Sauv, 10% Cab Franc, 5% Merlot and 5% Petit Verdot). I get red fruit (plum and raspberry), black fruit (black currant), and vanilla. On the palate, I also get licorice and caramel/toast. A beautifully made, balanced wine.

Kaiken Terroir Series Cabernet Sauvignon 2014 $17

Boy has this wine got bang for your buck. At $17 this wine feels and tastes much more expensive. The wine is deep ruby in color with garnet hues. Aromatic notes include: red fruit (plum, raspberry), black fruit (blackberry), fresh cracked black pepper, spice box (cinnamon, clove), vanilla, and cedar closet. On the palate, I get a stronger presence of black fruit, including blackberry and cassis. Mocha fo sho (that perfect combination of chocolate and coffee). As the wine opens up the black fruit softens and spice comes to the forefront, particularly black pepper.

Kaiken Ultra Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 $20

This wine is medium ruby in color with a perfumed/floral nose. There is a full bouquet of aromas and flavors on this wine: red berries, vanilla (from the French oak), tobacco, spice, and bitter dark chocolate. The tannins are soft and well-integrated.

Pinot Noir, for many serious wine lovers, is “lo maximo” (which in my homeland of Argentina means: the maximum/best) when it comes to red wine, with Burgundy, being the pinnacle or the most pure expression of the grape. To be transparent, I have not enjoyed as much Burgundy as I’d like. Newsflash: good Burgundy is expensive, and that’s just not how I roll. I tried a couple pricey Burgundies in my WSET Diploma class, but other than that, my Burgundy exposure has been basic Bourgogne Rouge and maybe a handful of Village level selections.

At the Wine Bloggers Conference last year in Sonoma, I attended a Wine Discovery Session on Pinot Noir with Jon Priest, head winemaker at Etude Wines since 2005. Priest’s winemaking is not heavy-handed, as he wants the fruit and the region to shine. This session did not feature any Burgindies, but I was eager to explore a grape that is not readily on my “go to” list.

“Etude was founded on the philosophy that winemaking begins in the vineyard long before harvest, and that superior grape growing allows our winemakers to craft wines of exceptional varietal expression and finesse. This remains our approach today as we continue to build the Etude legacy.”

– Jon Priest

Grace Benoist Ranch which spans 600 acres and several vineyards is Etude’s estate flagship property in the Los Carneros AVA of Sonoma. It was developed in 2000 with seven Chardonnay clones and 17 Pinot Noir clones. The first harvest was in 2003 and since 2004, all Pinot Noir for their wines is sourced from these estate vineyards. Sustainability is an important part of Etude Wines. Native Oak and Bay trees onsite protect nearby waterways, 12 miles of wildlife corridors were incorporated in the vineyard to preserve the natural migration of wildlife, wetlands are protected, and an erosion control plan was implemented. In the winery, solar panels supply about a third of Etude’s energy needs, recycled water is used for landscape irrigation and employees manage a composting and recycling program which diverts a large percentage of waste away from landfills. The Etude team also manages an onsite garden, with a portion of the produce donated to the Napa Food Bank.

Grace Benoist is at a higher elevation and close to the Petaluma Gap in a cooler growing region. The fog and maritime breezes off the Pacific Ocean and the Bay keep daytime temperatures low, creating the perfect environment for growing Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. The property has three distinct soil types: the Petaluma Formation (coarse sand and gravel deposited through moving water), the Sonoma Volcanics (rocky), and QTU (young bedrock; volcanic pebbles and boulders).

Wines Tasted

Let’s get to the wines! Pinot Noir is well-known for expressing the place and terroir in which it was grown to a degree that no other wine varietal can. Here we will explore seven Etude Wines, all Pinot Noir.

2015 Etude Grace Benoist Ranch Estate Grown Pinot Noir Carneros $47

Jon’s notes include: turned earth, dark fruit, with quenching acid. My notes: This wine is medium ruby in color, with strong notes of earth and forest floor (VERY Pinot Noir), red/blue fruit (cherry, blueberry), baking spice, pepper, medium + acid, and medium – smooth tannins. This wine is a bit earthier than the next wine coming up.

2015 Etude Heirloom Grace Benoist Ranch Estate Grown Pinot Noir Carneros $95

These grapes are not certified “heirloom” or “heritage” but they do know that the vine has been passed down from vigneron to vigneron. This wine is more delicate (floral/perfumed) on the nose than the first one. It is a baby at the moment and will only improve in the bottle.

2014 Etude Yamhela Vineyard Pinot Noir Yamhill-Carlton District Willamette Valley $65 (current vintage 2015)

This is a youthful wine with red fruit (cherry, plum), though this fruit presentation is a bit more demure than the Carneros fruit. Grainy/powdery medium tannins.

2015 Etude Ellenbach Vineyard Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast $65

This vineyard is 4.5 miles from the ocean with the vines sitting just above the fog line, meaning they see vibrant, bright sun and also get the cool ocean breeze. Red fruit jumps out of the glass with this wine.

2014 Etude North Canyon Vineyard Pinot Noir Santa Maria Valley $55 (current vintage 2015)

Deeper, darker fruit than the others, though the fruit is not quite black. A slight perfume with a higher alcohol than the others at 14.1%. These vines are in Santa Barbara County in an area cooler than some of the other expressions presented here. Santa Maria Valley is a transverse valley with long arroyos that run E/W versus the more common N/S. This wine is soft and delicate on the palate.

2014 Etude Fiddlestix Vineyard Pinot Noir Sta. Rita Hills $50

This wine is nervy! It has youthful fruit with a graphite/minerality note. The soils are on ancient seabeds in the Santa Ynez Valley between Buellton and Lompoc. This is a cooler area that is defined by the ocean influence.

2014 Etude Bannockburn Pinot Noir Central Otago, New Zealand $60

Central Otago is unique in that it is the only continental climate in New Zealand. It is very dry there with flinty, loess soil. Funk prevails with this wine. Savory, umami notes and a meatiness with minerality/iron due to the soil.

Chateau Montelena in Napa Valley is most famous for winning the white wine category of the Judgement of Paris tasting in 1976. The Judgment of Paris was a blind tasting organized by Steven Spurrier, a British wine merchant, in which classic French wines from Bordeaux and Burgundy were competitively tasted next to wines being made in little-known Napa Valley, California. To everyone’s surprise, the Napa wines took home first place in two categories. Chateau Montelena won the white wine category with their 1973 Chardonnay and Stag’s Leap won the red wine category with their 1973 S.L.V. Cabernet Sauvignon. Check out the movie, Bottle Shock, which tells the story of this tasting and shows how Napa got put on the map.

And now, for a tasting of two Chateau Montelena wines

Chateau Montelena 2015 Calistoga Zinfandel 14.5% ABV $39

This wine is from Calistoga, which is one of the warmest sub-regions in Napa and also the northernmost. Those who were here remember 2015 as the driest year on California record. This coupled with warm weather produces dense and ripe fruit.

Tasting Notes: This wine has stewed black fruit on the nose (perhaps blackberry jam) and dark chocolate/cocoa. On the palate I get the same stewed black fruit (including bramble), plus a slight raisined note, as well as cedar/toast, vanilla, and sweet baking spices (cinnamon and clove). This wine is big, juicy and in yo’ face. BUT it is very well-balanced. I love this wine. This is everything I want a California Zinfandel to be.

Chateau Montelena 2013 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 14.1% ABV $58

According to the tech sheet, this wine shows Napa Valley greatness without the wait, as it is intended to drink now. The 2013 vintage had a dry and mild Spring, which stresses the vines early on. Summer brought lots of sunlight plus wide diurnal shifts (difference in temperatures between day and night) which helps the grapes retain acidity.

Tasting Notes: On the nose I get predominantly black fruit (blackberry), but also a bit of red fruit (plum) plus vanilla. There is an ever so slight pyrazine (green) note that gives away the fact that we are drinking Cabernet Sauvignon. On the palate I also get black and red fruit as well as strong tannins and acidity. This wine delivers classic Cab flavors and is ready for immediate consumption. 2015 is the current release. The 2015 retails at $61.

In late Spring I was honored to be invited to a Cabernet Sauvignon Masterclass. The event was hosted by Louis M. Martini Wines and our fearless leader for the day was Christy Canterbury, MW. The backdrop was the lovely Redbird restaurant in the heart of downtown Los Angeles.

Cabernet Sauvignon is a grape we all know a lot about.  It is, perhaps, the most popular and ubiquitous grape on the planet.  Ask any wine-drinking novice about Cab, and they’ll have something to say.  Whereas if you ask them about Aglianico del Vulture……crickets.
This was a wonderful Masterclass for me to participate in, as I was preparing for my final WSET Diploma exams.  Cabernet Sauvignon is a grape I can get cocky about.  I know about the actual varietal, I know about how it expresses itself in classical growing regions, and I know what I do and don’t like about it. But sometimes it behooves us all to take a step back and go back to the basics.  This is exactly what I did at this event and it proved VERY helpful to my understanding of this grape.  And very helpful as I prepared for my final exams.

Louis M. Martini: A Bit of History

Louis M. Martini founded the winery in 1933 (the day after Prohibition was repealed) in St. Helena in the Napa Valley. Martini grew Cabernet Sauvignon and also tended Zinfandel vines planted onsite as early as 1890. He was one of the founders of the Napa Valley Vintners Association in 1943, which sought to promote Napa Valley wines around the globe. Louis M. passed the winemaking torch to his son, Louis P. in 1954. Next in line was Mike Martini who took over in 1977. Louis M. Martini now has many holdings in California and makes wines from Sonoma Valley, Alexander Valley, and Napa Valley.
It was awesome to taste these wines as I rarely get to taste iconic or benchmark wines. I’m not a somm on a restaurant floor with access to these wines and I certainly don’t have the budget to buy them on my own. To have the opportunity to taste these wines that I have read/studied about was a real treat. Note that the Louis M. Martini Lot 1 Cabernet Sauvignon was used as the first wine in each flight.  That way we could compare and contrast this wine to other benchmark wines from classic regions.   It allowed me to ground myself in a Napa Cab and then take off wherever we were going: staying in Napa, through the rest of the US, or across the globe.

Global Cabernet Sauvignon Flight

2013 Louis M. Martini Lot 1 Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, CA $145

This is clearly a New World wine because the fruit takes a major lead. No supporting role here. Bold black fruit, which signifies to me a warmer climate. Medium + well-integrated tannins.

2013 Chateau Palmer, Margaux, Bordeaux $250

This wine has an Old World nose, that included fruit plus earth. More understated, a bit dusty and older feeling, though it was the same vintage as the others. This felt like cooler-climate black fruit, with some red fruit as well. Medium – dusty tannins. This was my favorite wine of the flight for its austerity and restraint. Truly a distinct wine. 49% Merlot, 51% Cab

2013 Almaviva, Puente Alto, Chile 15% ABV $100 (72% Cab Sauv, 19% Carmenere, 6% Cab Franc, 2% Petit Verdot, 1% Merlot)

This wine screams Chile on the nose: capsicum, pyrazines, green bell pepper. As it turns out, I have a very strong nose for the “green” notes, so this stood out for me, though the wine was in no means unripe or subpar. A joint venture between Rothschild and Concha y Toro. I also credit this wine with helping me on my Diploma Unit 3 tasting exam 1 month later. On the exam we had a flight of 3 wines presented to us that were all the same predominant variety. With my tasting flights, I always search for the marker. Which wine in this flight is a sure thing (meaning I know what I am drinking)? If I can find and ID the marker, then I can start deducing what the others could be. The flight is in front of me and I smell all three. One has heavy pyrazines. From there it all came together. One was Napa, one was Bordeaux, and the “green” one was Chile. I incorrectly called the flight predominantly Cabernet Sauvignon, when it was in fact predominantly Merlot, but I still think I acquired enough points in the appearance, nose, and palate to “pass” this flight. Note: I did pass this flight on the exam!  And I give partial credit to having tasted this wine!

2013 Tenuta San Guido Sassicaia, Bolgheri, Tuscany $170 (85% Cab Sauv, 15% Cab Franc)

I was in my own little hog heaven with this wine. To finally taste a Sassicaia was so awesome! These guys have been credited with starting the Super Tuscan craze. The wine has a much more restrained nose than I thought it would have. There is a beautiful, sweet spice nose and young, juicy red fruit on the palate.

2013 Vina Cobos Volturno, Lujan de Cuyo, Mendoza $200

Lujan de Cuyo has a slightly higher elevation than the rest of Mendoza, at about 3300 feet. Red and blue fruit plus smooth, integrated medium tannins. Has a bit of Malbec blended in.

Iconic US Flight

2013 Louis M. Martini Lot 1 Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, CA $145

Hello Napa!

2012 Silver Oak, Alexander Valley, Sonoma $70

Some green notes here, including pine/dill from the American oak.

2014 Ridge Estate, Santa Cruz Mountains $55

This fruit is from an extremely coastal and cool climate. Lots of berry fruit here (both red and black). A medium to medium – finish.

2013 JUSTIN, Isosceles Reserve, Paso Robles $70

Black fruit (almost sunburned). Medium – aroma intensity. 16.5% ABV on this bad boy, but did not feel that hot.

2014 Peter Michael, Les Pavots, Knights Valley $230

This was my favorite wine of the flight. Knights Valley is between Napa and Sonoma, yet this wine shows more Napa because it’s warmer/riper. Concentrated “mountain” fruit from very low-yielding vines. Juicy red/black fruit (plum and cherry) that is a bit jammy, almost preserve-like. A savory note that Christy says comes from the volcanic soil.

2012 Leonetti Reserve, Walla Walla Valley $170

The Cascade Mountains create a desert in Washington, which give burning hot days and freezing nights (translation=wide diurnal range), which makes for very dramatic wines. The nose in this wine was very unusual, so much so that I didn’t have any good descriptors! Blueberries on the palate. In my opinion, this wine needs 5-6 years before it’s truly ready for drinking.

Napa Flight

2013 Louis M. Martini Lot 1 Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, CA $145

Hello again Napa!

2013 Dumn Vineyards, Howell Mountain, Napa Valley $150

This was my favorite wine of the flight (actually I had 2). Howell Mountain is the highest AVA in Napa at 1500 feet. Everything is grown over the inversion layer (which is where the temperature begins to increase past a certain altitude). It’s a warm AVA that does not have a wide diurnal range. Savory notes almost make me think this is an Old World wine, BUT the fruit is quite prevalent, so it takes me to the New World. Tannins here are mind-blowing. My tannin note was: woah.

2013 Robert Mondavi, To Kalon, Oakville $140

This is “valley floor” fruit. Red berries and sweet spice on the nose and palate.

2013 Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars, Cask 23, Stag’s Leap, CA $240

A masculine wine. Serious (grainy) tannins with an herbaceous/eucalyptus note on the back palate. This wine is the “densest” of the flight. A big boy.

2013 Krupp Brothers Winery, M5, Napa Valley $200

Wow. Lovely, mouth-pleasing fruit with drying tannins. A meal in and of itself!

2013 Chappellet, Pritchard Hill, Napa Valley $180

Volcanic soils lend minerality to this wine. A perfect combination of rocks and fruit. One of the best wines I tried today.

Side note: I’m convinced that once you become am MW/MS, you are required to use RIDICULOUS nose/palate descriptors. And I don’t mean this as a criticism! It actually cracks me up. My favorite tasting note used at this seminar was “fallen branch”.  Not the branch ON the tree, but the branch after if fell! Seriously. Is there a difference? All kidding aside, Christy was right. There definitely was a twigginess to one of the Cab Sauv/Cab Franc blends!
In addition to these incredible wines, lunch was delicious.  A well put together event (from the event planner in me!).

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