Wednesday, January 26, 2011

In Vino Unitas

The only way to stay on top of the game it to taste. Constantly. There’s nothing like getting acquainted with the goods to see who is doing what and where the next great discovery is likely to appear. And one of the best forums to taste a lot of wine in one setting is an event like the one the collective marketing group “In Vino Unitas” put on at the Westin Verasa in Napa. It’s a chance to get some face time with suppliers and knock out a lot of sniff and swirl sessions in one afternoon. Here are a few thoughts and highlights:

- The quiet renaissance of “Bonny’s Vineyard” made legendary by Silver Oak is worth noting for fans of that house. The Meyer family kept the property when the winery was sold some years ago, and are once again making brawny Cabernet from that site. What was unofficially “Reserve” Silver Oak last seen in the ’91 vintage is back in play.

- Ann Kraemer’s Shake Ridge Vineyard continues to distance itself from the pack in Amador. A charming woman and serious farmer – she used to tend to the precious plants at Cain, Calera and Shafer – it’s a Secretariat at the ’73 Belmont situation relative to her neighbors. She’s just doing things on another level up in Gold Country.

- Gargiulo Vineyards “Aprile” continues to be one of the finest Sangiovese-based wines made in California. It flies in the face of conventional wisdom that the famous Italian varietal can’t succeed in the U.S. Take a sip of their ’07 and tell me that it can’t be done well.

- The second label for Gemstone Vineyard known as “Facets” may have been the star of the show (and at $75 a relative bargain compared to a lot of the wine on display). The ’08 was unreal. The depth, concentration and texture are off the charts, a real testament to the winemaking skill of Philippe Melka. We are definitely going to take a position on it before the press gets it.

- Heidi Barrett’s “Moscato d’Azul” (made from Muscat Canelli) under the La Sirena label remains one of the most fun and unique whites in Napa Valley. Crisp and delicious with just a little hit of sugar, this is a guilty pleasure that seems to appeal to the wine geek and novice alike. I have visions of mermaids and hot tubs…

- There was a newbie in the room called Quill that was getting some buzz. Their Cabernets from Howell and Diamond Mountains have a lot going on. They’re not cheap at $95, but in fairness, they taste expensive. With Ehren Jordan of Turley Cellars fame taking the helm in the cellar, we suspect good things are in store for this house.

- Perhaps the biggest surprise was Team Bounty Hunter’s favorite white in the room… the ’07 Mayacamas Sauvignon Blanc. Don’t let the vintage fool you – it’s a current release. It’s incredibly clean and enjoyable. They make very little, but if you see it, try it. It’s well worth a cork pull.

Stay tuned on the tasting front as we’re gearing up next week for Frederick Wildman’s 2009 Burgundy showcase in San Francisco. It should be a seriously enjoyable afternoon. We continue to suffer for your benefit…

--Rhett Gadke, Wine Director

Thursday, January 13, 2011

How Do You Like It - Bold or Blah?

We came across an interesting article yesterday by Dan Berger, a well known local wine writer, regarding what he calls “The Blanding of American Wine.”

Dan decries what many of us in the wine industry see as a move towards making wines that “fit” a formulaic style that seems geared towards a mass-produced “flavor” profile of high alcohol, highly-extracted massive wines with little sense of place or individuality. Many previously great wines have become caricatures of their former selves, and seem aimed at garnering scores and press-driven marketing hoopla rather than being authentic expressions of terroir, varietal, clone and winemaker.

We tend to agree somewhat with Dan’s position. After tasting thousands of wines each year for our customers’ benefit (research is SO difficult), we have seen our share of over-the-top, amorphous juice that all seems to taste pretty much the same after a while. That’s why we are always on the lookout for something new, different, and, above all, great tasting wines that deliver value-per-dollar.

But, we also recognize that sometimes some folks will chase wines based on press and what they are told they SHOULD like. And, in this final point, we agree with Dan Berger: “About matters of taste there is no debate.”

What do you think?

Friday, January 7, 2011

Fisher Vineyards 'UNITY'

The next generation of Fisher Vineyards – siblings Rob, Whitney and Cameron – have taken the inspiration from their parents’ lofty standards for quality Cabernet and set out to create another echelon in the wine industry. Following the premise that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, UNITY is blended from small family growers in Napa Valley committed to sustainable farming practices, thus producing a wine that draws on the individual strengths of each site to create a single harmonious effect that reflects the strengths of each Napa Valley vintage.

With the overall mission to promote independent family farms in local communities, fresh local foods and sustainable farming practices, the Fishers’ donate a portion of sales from each vintage and support selected, national, nonprofit organizations that share these similar values and work to develop local practices consistent with their mission.

UNITY is the result of the entire family working together with the community to support a noble cause; all the while producing wine that demonstrates their continued dedication to quality from one generation to the next.