Saturday, October 31, 2009

2003 Galante Red Rose Hill Cabernet


"Never follow good wine with water...unless you're out of good wine." Jack Galante's cowboy philosophy says a lot about this winery's laid back approach. But don't confuse laid back with lackadaisical.

Rancho Galante, named after the Galante family's 700 acre cattle ranch in the Carmel Valley, has been making wine exclusively from estate fruit for about 15 years. Specializing primarily in Cabernet, which Galante bottles several versions of, the winery also produces limited quantities of Pinot, Petit Verdot, and Petit Sirah. And quality is a common thread throughout.

The Red Rose Hill is yet another example of how lesser-known AVA's are quietly producing attention-commanding wine with unique character.

The solid core of dark fruit delivers backbone with restraint and tannins so perfectly integrated you'd have to think about what you're drinking to identify them. Which is hard, because this wine has an unexpected surprise that vault this wine into its own league: an almost floral flavor component.

No doubt this is a reflection of the vineyard site as this wine is unquestionably Cabernet (100%, in fact), but the aromatics of this wine bring high end Barolo to mind - if only briefly. The mouthfeel shouts refinement - a feat considering the wine's age and that it is neither fined or filtered.

This is a very, very good wine that is drinking very well right now.

But how hard is it to put your hands on a six year old single vineyard Cab? Not too hard as it turns out.

We originally discovered this wine on a 2007 visit to their cozy tasting room nestled in the tiny burg of Carmel By The Sea. A half bottle of this same vintage sat in the Winethropology cellar for two and a half years before recently being uncorked. The excitement was enough to place a call to the winery the next day to determine whether they, by chance, had any more of the 2003.

A week later UPS delivered a half case. We paid $30 per bottle and consider this to be a fair price. In fact, considering that the 07 vintage is selling for $35 a bottle, it's a deal.

Update: We received word from the winery that they are now totally sold out at the winery, except for a small library collection. Stay tuned for a review of the 2007 vintage of this same wine.

Rating: Damn! Special, attention-getting, get some if you can.

In response to this review, Jack Galante, President of Galante Vineyards wrote this:
Thanks so much for reviewing our 2003 Red Rose Hill. I think you hit the nail right on the head with your description. The 2003 was the last year that we made our Red Rose hill out of 100% Cabernet grapes. Since then we are using 8% Malbec, 8% Merlot and 8% Petite Syrah in the blend and it really has been exceptional. Our current release is the 2007 and I would be happy to send you a sample if you would like. Just let me know where to send it. Everything is correct regarding your description except the availability. We are totally sold out at the winery, except for a small library collection.

Please let me know if you need anything from me and, again, thanks for your writing.

That is a damn fine wine and a pleasure to review, Jack

Thursday, October 29, 2009

2007 Moon Mountain Sonoma County Chardonnay


My wife and I have a secret hangover prevention system. Here's how it works. (How's that for lead in?)

Sometimes we feel badly when we review a wine. At times it's because we feel badly we paid so much. Other times we feel badly (quite literally) we drank it so much. But this time we feel badly because we were sure it would be so much better.

Heck, we were sure it was going to at least be drinkable.

Moon Mountain has a pretty good track record of quality wines at value prices. The 2004 Cabernet blend was likable enough to buy more. And so was the 2005 Cabernet. Both wines were in the neighborhood of $15.99. So when the 07 Chardonnay went on sale for $6.99, something strange was clearly afoot. And this is supposedly Russian River Valley fruit? Really?

Sometimes there's a reason for the discount. And this is one of those times.

Who knows what went wrong. Was there a mishap during blending? Did someone fall into a fermentation vat? Did a barrel somehow get de-sanitized? This wine is so off base, it's hard to imagine that this is how they planned for it to go. It simply can't be the result of the vineyard.

We felt badly because we know they can do better because they have done better. Is it a coincidence that the winery, previously owned by Chalone, was acquired by beverage giant Diageo in 2005? One data point does not make a trend, but we'll be checking in on this previously hopeful property again.

We paid $6.99 and have seen it for upwards of $11.99. But we wouldn't pay $3.99 to give this to the dog on a Friday night. Not even for kicks.

Rating: Ouch.

Monday, October 26, 2009

2006 Tobin James Chateau Le Cacheflo Paso Robles

Leftovers never tasted so good.

Typically when a winery puts out a blend of oddball grapes, it's an attempt to clear out the spice rack inventory and make a few bucks in the process. And when they give it a funny name like Chateau Le Cacheflo, well, you'd think they'd just confirmed that theory.

Not so at Tobin James.

Appropriately named for these times, this blend of Mediterranean grapes bucks the norm that "leftover" wines are quirky, disjointed, and thin. This wine is integrated, medium-to-full bodied, and down-right enjoyable. Syrah gives it some good heft, Sangiovese lends a slightly spicy nose and finish, and Barbera rounds it out with a wild card. Darker, richer, and more intense than expected. Not a serious, brooding wine, rather a rocking, fun wine. A nice surprise, especially at this price point. What's more surprising is that 3 days after opening it was even better - a sign that it might not suffer from a time in the cellar.

Monica Martin, GM at Tobin James tells us that the grapes, all from surrounding Paso Robles vineyards, were aged for 14 months in small French and American oak. - not the kind of treatment most leftovers get.

3800 cases were made in this vintage mean you might still find some in your areas. We paid $11.99 for it and haven't seen it for much more - or less.

Rating: Lip-smacking, fun, tasty. Definitely worth a try.

PS- Tobin James is worth a visit (as is all of Paso Robles). Walking into their tasting room is like walking into an old western saloon. Staff are clad in loud, colorful shirts and make visitors feel very welcome. Clearly these folks make having fun a priority. Though the wine labels are just as loud as the shirts, their wines deliver respectable quality across the board. Cheers!

Sunday, October 25, 2009

2006 Canard Napa Valley Estate Cabernet

A value at $27? You bet.

Once upon a time, Napa Valley Cabernet was a connoisseur’s wine. A secret. But by the mid-nineties, curious circumstances converged: A string of incredible vintages blessed California, the dot com bubble was still inflating, and flashy press coverage expanded beyond the wine trade and into grocery store magazine racks everywhere.

By the turn of the millennium, the number of wineries in Napa seemed to be expanding geometrically. Back then it appeared that owning a winery was the status symbol of an era. Everyone from professional athletes to rock stars were buying or starting vineyards. Demand, prices, and production simultaneously increased - something economists call an anomaly. Pretty soon the legendary Napa Cab was lost in a sea of mediocrity. Expensive mediocrity. Unsustainable expensive mediocrity.

Since then there have certainly been safe havens of quality and small pockets of value, but overall the price increases have been relentless. So when this wine came across the radar screen, skepticism was in full effect. Another $30 Napa Cab. Great.

Well, one pour at a tasting wiped the slate clean.  Respect. This is the King of the Valley from back in the day. The 2006 Canard is a classy, classy wine. A quality product that won't disappoint special occasions. Deep in color and aromatics, it's almost as much fun to smell as to taste.

Made entirely of sustainably grown estate Cabernet, it's got lots of text book quality cabernet fruit and enough integrated tannins to suggest this wine will go some distance in the cellar. No doubt five years of bottle age will do wonders for this, but it will probably continue improving for ten or more. Good luck on exercising patience.

And get this: This is proprietors Rich and Carolyn Czapleski's first vintage on the open market. Word is that they've set a goal to produce the best estate Napa Cab for under $30. Well, bravo.

Now, thirty bucks buys a lot of groceries and experimenting in that price range is a stretch for most folks these days. But this is a risk-free endeavor that might well be worth every penny to a romantic in search of a walk down memory lane - with a terrific drink in hand.

We paid $26.99, but have seen it priced as low as $19.99 and as high as $29.00. Only 927 cases were produced, so if you're going to move on this, move fast.

Rating: Fantastic, special occasion, get it if/while you can.  Tasted (sadly, just) twice.

In response to this, Winemaker Brian Graham sent this note:

On Behalf of Rich, Candi and myself, I would like to thank you for a wonderful write up.

I sincerely hope that in the future if you are ever traveling our way you will allow us the privilege to show you our "little slice of heaven".

Thank you again, I sincerely appreciate the help, support and am really happy you liked the wine!



Your slice of heaven sounds lovely. In the meantime, this wine is a little slice of heaven.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

2006 La Crema Sonoma Coast Chardonnay - Revisited

Everything it should be, nothing it shouldn't. Still?

Back when it was originally released a couple of years ago, we tasted the 2006 La Crema Chardonnay. We liked it. Really liked it. So when we recently saw a stash of it at a local retailer, we decided to revisit it to see if we're still as excited about it now as we were then.

When it was first released our impressions were that it was a classic California Chardonnay. And when we think of classic California Chard, we think plenty of fruit body, buttery, creamy, oaked, balanced with light spice notes and a lingering taste.

Elements of this model have been exaggerated over the past two decades, flooding the market with homogenized wines of no particular character and in the process feeding a minor revolution. So, in certain circles, Chardonnay gets a bad rap.

But let's be clear, there is nothing quite like a good California Chardonnay anywhere else in the world. And La Crema has become fairly consistent in its production of this wine.

On revisiting this wine, the 06 seems to have lost its magic, its umph, and there are a number of potential reasons for that. But it ain't what it used to be. Still, overall it's holding up nicely. A week after opening, it still drank well from the fridge.

With fame comes fortune.
On release we originally paid $13.99 on sale for the 2006. However, the price we paid recently (which is the going price for the current 2008 vintage) was $21.99 - and that was on sale. In fairness we've seen it on sale in other markets for sale between $16.99 and $23.99. Regardless, this is a substintial jump in just a couple of years. One might even say it's an audacious jump during these economic times. But, hey, if they can get it, good for them.

We hope to review the 2007 and/or 2008 here in the coming weeks, so this review shouldn't cast a shadow over those vintages. But our ranking of this retropective speaks for itself.

Rating: Very drinkable, enjoyable even, but won't be buying more at this price.

In response to this review, Kelly Keagy, Senior Public Relations Manager at Jackson Family Wines sent us this note:

It's hard to comment on your findings without knowing how the wine has been stored over the last couple of years. The 2006 is only two vintages behind current release and should still be showing quite well. We would love to hear your opinions on the 2008 Sonoma Coast Chardonnay. Have you tried any of our other Chards? We have two new Chards in our line-up - The 2007 Monterey Chardonnay and the 2007 Los Carneros Chardonnay (which was Winemaker Melissa Stackhouse's favorites from that vintage).

Thanks for the email and for your support. Let me know if you ever have any questions about the wines. Always happy to assist.


Kelly Keagy

Can't disagree with you at all, Kelly. Who knows how the wine was shipped, stored, or treated otherwise in the time since it left your bottling facility. But it's representative of what the average consumer might likely encounter on the shelves of their local retailer.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

2006 Bogle Phantom

Just in time for Halloween.
Year in, year out, we wait for this wine to hit the market. Then, just as quickly as it appears - and like it's name would have you believe - it's gone again.

Last year we managed to put our hands on a half case before seeing supply dry up. And fast. This year delighted retailers have several cases on hand and, no surprise, they're moving quickly. Not sure why it appears to be more available. It could be the loud complaining many smaller shops did when last year's paltry allocations were redirected to larger outlets.


Known predominately for respectable quality at reasonable prices (think $9-12), Bogle steps out with this flagship product. The quality is head and shoulders above any of their regular bottlings - and that's saying something.

Bogle winemaker Chris Smith tells us that 2006 was a bigger vintage than 05, tipping the scales at upwards of 10,000 cases. Quality has not suffered as a result of the increase. Fruit was sourced from a combination of estate fruit and from growers in Clarksburg, Lodi, and Amador.

Though the 2005 was rounder in its fruit flavor and immediately accessible in a candy-for-adults kind of way, the 06 does not disappoint. It's still got tons of body, structure, and in-your-face personality. Made of Petite Sirah, Zinfandel, and Mourvèdre, the 06 is built with a slightly restrained exuberance and a bit more finess than the 05. And it will likely age better than the 05, if you can control yourself for that long.

Good luck with that.

We paid $19.99 for this bottle and haven't seen it for less than $17.99 anywhere. You really can't go wrong with pretty much anything these guys turn out, but this one really stands out. (So does this one.)

Rating: Yummy, buy at least a few, act quickly.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

2007 Edna Valley Vineyards Chardonnay Paragon

Surprise, surprise, surprise.

It can get hot in the valley. Real hot. July 2007 found us in Paso Robles and it was a scorcher. A few winemakers there quietly shook there heads over the heat spikes, muttering under their breath about a lost vintage.

But California is a varied place. And a short distance can mean the difference between heat rash and smiling faces.

Situated about five miles south of San Luis Obispo, the Paragon Vineyard is not closed-in by a mountain range. Instead, it's breezes have a clear shot coming in from the Pacific thanks to the Los Osos Valley. So even though the vineyard is a nine iron from a hot valley floor, it has a terrific microclimate advantage over other nearby areas.

Given that, it's no surprise that Edna Valley Vineyards, which has exclusive access through a partnership to the Paragon Vineyard, has the capicity to turn out respectable wine. But what is surprising is the consistency and value of the wines being produced here.

We originally sampled the 2007 Paragon Chardonnay shortly after release and were impressed enough to think it was a $20 bottle. Possessing all the attributes of a quality California Chardonnay - medium body, balance, nuanced spice, and a warm, lingering taste - this wine represents the potential for this lesser known AVA. The wine has an intensity of flavor that's easy to find yourself infatuated with. And it doesn't get bogged down by cloying residual sugars or overstated oak. Very well done.

Planted in the early 70's by Jack and Catherine Niven, the 1100 acre Paragon Vineyard is predominately Chardonnay, but also has some Pinot, Syrah, and other assorted varietals. Run as a joint venture between Paragon Vineyard and Diageo, Edna Valley Vineyard was originally established as a partnership between the Niven Family and Chalone back in 1980.

When we saw the 07 Paragon Chard on sale at a local retailer for $9.99 we decided to revisit it and found ourselves liking it even more. How could you not? A few weeks later the price took another dive to - get this - $6.99.

Despite our beliefs, we were sure this was a clerical error and picked up a case without hesitation. And to be fair, this is a wine worth stocking up even if it isn't on that kind of a sale. We've seen it as high as $15.50, but more often than not at around $11.99.

Rating: Terrific, zero risk, crowd pleaser. Unbelievable value.

In response to this review, Director of Winemaking Harry Hansen sent us this note:

Your facts are essentially correct except to say that Edna Valley Vineyard is still a joint venture between Paragon Vineyard and Diageo, which bought Chalone Wine Group's share in 2005.


Harry Hansen
Duly noted, Harry.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

2007 Bogle Pinot Noir Russian River Valley

Honesty. It's a great policy.

These days it's darn near impossible to find a drinkable Pinot for under $20. Finding a tasty one for under $30 is equally challenging.

Thank God for Bogle.

With a well-deserved reputation for respectable quality at reasonable prices, Bogle scores again with this bottling. Made of 92% Russian River Valley and 5% Anderson Valley fruit, this is what California Pinot should taste like. Plenty of fruit, good structure, and nice spice. It doesn't attempt to be anything it isn't and you've got to love it for that. Good, honest Pinot Noir.

Give it time open to let the slight funk give way to aromas bordering on serious. A 3% dash of Chardonnay (yeah, Chardonnay) gives it that nose. We can't go so far as to say that our knees went wobbly with this one, but, damn, we made sure to squeeze the last drop out of the bottle (and there was some sip-stealing going on, too.). And at this price, that's an experience worth repeating.

We paid $15.99 for this bottle, but you might find it for as low as $11.99 where you live. Chris Smith, winemaker at Bogle, tells us that 40,000 cases of this stuff was produced, meaning that you should be able to find it close by. And you should.

You really can't go wrong with pretty much anything these guys turn out, but this one really stands out. (So does this one.)

Rating: Yummy, stock up.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

2007 Descendientes de José Palacios Petalos Bierzo

What's all the fuss about?

Mencia is a grape not too many of us are familiar with. There isn't a ton of it on the market, so there isn't a lot to compare this one to. Is this what Mencia is supposed to taste like? If so, why all the hype?

In fariness and full disclosure, this is clearly a well made wine. It's texture and mouth feel give you a sense that it's a quality product, especially after a few hours of breathing. You've got to give it that. But that's pretty much it. The nose is nice and the flavor's fine, but nothing about this wine even hints at remarkable. It's almost forgettable.

But at $24.99, it's likely to be remembered as one not to buy again.

But here's the puzzler: other reviews of this wine are positively gushing. Gushing.
How can a quality product be forgettable? Maybe it's a question of stylistic compatibility. Taste.

Gracias a dios, the market is flush with quality wines at terrific prices from all over the world. Stiff competition for wines like this at prices like this.

Rating: Quality wine that's fine but doesn't live up to the hype or price tag