Michael PozzanAnother long hiatus! So much has been going on that updates are proving difficult. But I will persevere and continue to post the fine wine bargains until circumstances allow this blog to return to a normal schedule. With marriage imminent, and excitement growing beyond my ability to readily process or contain it, I thought it would be nice to get grounded with my steadfast favorite wine in the whole repertoire: Cabernet Sauvignon. Yep, once again, I’m goin’ Cab.

So many reasons to keep coming back to this noble grape. First off, it’s one of the primary blending grapes in Bordeaux, that most prestigious appellation, and has what I consider an ideal blend of structural potential in its tannins and delicious, dark fruit character. Cabernet Sauvignon is the king of red grapes; all others are mere barons or dukes. And California makes wines from Cabernet that are generally my unabashed favorites; probably something to do with my background.

So today’s wine, the 2008 Michael Pozzan Knights Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, is exactly and ideally typical of Cabernet from the Sonoma region. Knights Valley is one of the original five American Viticultural Areas (AVAs) in Sonoma, and has the warmest climate in the county. All of the fruit sourced for this wine is Knights Valley fruit, and while I wouldn’t say this is a wine of terroir, expressing a unique sense of place, it definitely does show great varietal character with Californian exuberance. 18 months of aging in French oak helps, too. A rich plum color with red brick edges, this bursts with aromas of plum, black cherry, and mocha in the glass. Smooth as silk on the palate, with great tannins buttressing juicy cherry, raspberry, cassis, vanilla and caramel flavors. Long finish; again, smooth as silk. Not flabby at all, this wine has enough acid to pair with food (think T-bone steak, or Beef Wellington), and could age for 3-5 years if you’re of a mind to cellar a bottle or twelve. $15.

Another Thanksgiving has come and gone, this one featuring many changes. New locations, new faces, and of course (my favorite), new wines at the table. For this post-turkey post, I thought it would be fun to do a brief write-up of the Pinot Noir wines we chose for our family dinner. Some serious contenders here, in terms of both raw deliciousness and good value. These included:

  • Galante Vineyards Carmel Valley Pinot Noir, 2004
  • Domaine Prieur-Brunet “Cuvee Saint-Jean de Naross, 2009
  • Luminous Hills Yamhill-Carlton District Pinot Noir, 2010

So! Let’s cover each in turn, and see what we can say about why any of these three Pinots should have graced your table this Thanksgiving…

Galante Vineyards Carmel Valley Pinot Noir, 2004

Galante Vineyards is a small family-owned estate producing varietal wines in the upper Carmel Valley, in California. Their winemaking emphasizes the expression of terroir; they prefer to let the vine speak through the grapes, and the land through the vine. While they specialize in Cabernet Sauvignon, other varietals are produced in minute quantities, such as Zinfandel, Merlot and Pinot Noir. This Thanksgiving, I happened to have a bottle of the 2004 Estate Pinot Noir, bought directly in their tasting room in Carmel-by-the-Sea. Glorious ruby color in the glass. After the first pour, soft notes of dark cherry and earth drift heavenwards. More fresh-tilled loam and spice form the backdrop, and red fruit gushes around a silky mouthfeel. A little hot, however, at 14.6% alcohol. Delicious overall at $24.


Domaine Prieur-Brunet “Cuvee Saint-Jean de Naross, 2009

Nothing too much to say here except: beautifully typical entry-range Burgundy. And entry-range Burgundy is not normally this affordable, not by any means. This is a Pinot Noir with grace, finesse and just enough tannic texture to mesh with the easygoing red berry fruit and snappy acidity. Light-bodied, flowery and a bit funky, this is a steal at $20.







Luminous Hills Yamhill-Carlton District Pinot Noir, 2010

For a seriously delicate wine in this line-up, however, we must turn to the 2009 Luminous Hills Pinot Noir, from their Yamhill-Carlton estate in Oregon. A long growing season with a cool stretch led to even ripening, but low yields. Blended from grapes based on four distinct clones of Pinot Noir, this is a lovely wine, rosy, pale and shimmering with elegant fruit, minerality, and harmony in all its parts. I’d almost drink this on its own, before food arrives to puncture the experience. $35. Lovely.

The wine discussed in this post for me represents keeping the love of wine simple. Most of us, most of the time, want wines we don’t need to think too hard about to drink and enjoy. Perhaps too much condescension is leveled against pure enjoyment of a glass of fermented grape juice, whatever its actual quality. I am guilty of cuvée snobbery on occasion, thumbing my nose at perfectly decent wines because… they’re just decent. As if everything in this life needs to be spectacular to satisfy. Too much pretense remains in the wine world. It’s just juice, folks. And with that, I present to you a bottle of fun, fruity simplicity.

Located in California’s Central Coast, Clayhouse Vineyard produces a fine set of delicious reds, but the first wine of theirs I ever tried was the 2005 “Adobe Red.” I was hooked. Fruit-driven but not overly lush, with some tannic backbone giving it a firm feel, and a nice medium finish, my first sip of this blend reminded me why I keep going back to the U.S. and its AVA’s (American Viticultural Areas) – the wines are straightforward and tasty. If you’re really cerebral about your wine, you’ll lay down some handsome dollars to get yours, but folksy wine lovers like myself get by just fine on buying mid-priced American. I like my wines the way I like my trucks: except I don’t like trucks. Simile fail. Anyway, I was hooked on Clayhouse Vineyard from the first sip. And nothing about that has changed from 2005 to 2007.

The 2007 Clayhouse Vineyard “Adobe Red” boasts fruit from their estate Red Cedar vineyard, near Paso Robles (a personal favorite for California AVA’s). As mentioned before, it is a blend of the following grape varietals: 41% Zinfandel, 32% Petit Sirah, 16% Syrah, 5% Malbec, 4% Grenache and 2% Mourvèdre. According to the winemaker, yields were a bit lower in 2007, with small berries, leading to excellent concentration of flavor. All varietals were fermented separately, 15% aged in French and American oak for just over a year, then were blended and bottled in 2009.

What results is a wine that appears vibrant red in the glass. On the nose, I found loads of ripe cherry and plum, a bit jammy but not overwhelmingly so, with some vanilla notes from the oak. The mouthfeel was supple, with good tannic structure, and enough acidity to keep it interesting, showing juicy cherry and blackberry flavors with more vanilla bean and spice. Medium finish; delicious. I would pair the “Adobe Red” with mushroom and cheddar cheeseburgers, strip steaks and scalloped potatoes, or possibly a slice of humble pie. $15.

I just love Zinfandel, as a proper Californian, and frequently linger over both the black pepper raspberry jam of lush Lodi to the anise and blackberry of a Primitivo from Apulia in Italy; whatever Zin my glass holds, my glass is full. So why the total lack of write-ups on here? My camera was never handy; my hand was shaky; my memory gone. Excuses, excuses.

Whatever the reason, my hiatus ends with this wine, the 2007 Cline Ancient Vines Zinfandel. The soul of California liquified and bottled. Bold claim? I don’t care. Deep inky red with hints of purple in the glass, showing extremely punchy fruit on the nose: juicy raspberries, blackberries, backed by notes of mocha and white pepper, with vanilla and other spicy hints. Nice dose of new American oak in this one. It reveals more ripe dark fruits in the mouth, with big tannins that cloak your teeth; well-balanced, but a bit lush, this wine ambles in a very satisfactory manner to a long finish. Pairs with almost anything red you would put on a grill. $13.

So, the New Year came and went: memories of giant warehouse parties and dancing and flaming fans and chains and fizz finally went dim. Groggily we pulled ourselves forward into the next decade. A cup of coffee later, we faced the first hours of our first new day and somehow, we pulled through into the first dinner party.

Immediately we considered the first hard choice of 2010: what should we pair with cheeseburgers that evening? Perhaps our guests were nice people but with unsophisticated palates; perhaps we only had a few bottles left in the cellar, including the 2005 Bordeaux that was really meant for something more special. In any case, it would have been wildly inappropriate to open it to drink with a cheeseburger, even for our undoubtedly excellent guests.

Conundrums like the one outlined above have given me cause to seek out the perfect “house” wine, a bottle that is crowd-pleasing yet inoffensive, tasty yet inexpensive, food-worthy yet highly quaffable. Two idiosyncratic candidates have been brought to my attention: House Wine and Big House Red. A tasting was held. A winner was declared. Or is that even true? Do these wines deserve the recognition I am affording them here? Well, sort of; let us continue on with the tasting notes.

The 2008 House Wine Red, produced by The Magnificent Wine Company, is a Cabernet Sauvignon blend showing a nice ruby color in the glass, and featuring aromas of dark cherries, blackcurrants, and toasty oak. Blah blah blah, this is followed by a nice round mouthfeel with supple tannins, broad dark fruit, and a short, dry finish, blah blah blah. Rustic, unpretentious, and merely decent. $9.

The 2007 Big House Red, from Big House Wines, was a red hot mess. Featured varietals in the blend included Syrah, Tannat, and Grenache, Monastrell, Sangiovese, and Barbera. This wine definitely presents itself as a burger wine, and does achieve this standing – but barely so. Dark garnet in the glass, with aromas of red berries backed by hints of chocolate, the wine simply fails to deliver in terms of complexity or structure, although it does have some good acidity. Medium finish. $9.

All in all? Go with the House Wine, and step away from the Big House, at least for these vintages. Either one would serve in a casual setting with lots of people, especially a dinner party oriented towards grilled food – hot dogs, burgers, steak tips, etc. Perhaps new vintages will lead to higher quality, as these winemakers continue to get their feet wet. My last piece of advice is to brave up and spend $5 more per bottle on some delicious Curious Beagle.

Most fine wine shops are full of snobs who declare American wine a waste of time, pointing you instead to the most recent bottle in from Chinon, Bourgueil, Naousa, Campania, Bierzo, et cetera. To them I reply: stuff some cheese in that pretentious whine, sir/madam. Now what could inspire me to say such a thing?

Why, the 2007 Bogle Petit Sirah, of course. According to Bogle, this wine is considered their “heritage” varietal. They have been producing it for over 30 years, and a single taste convinced me that popular opinion wins on this one. These days it feels like we need reminding that wines from the United States deserve critical acclaim, that they are not all just flabby fruit bombs lacking finesse. Now by critical acclaim I don’t mean the Bubbatown Farmer’s Market Gold Harvest Medal or some such, but true glowing reviews in the international literature, such as those I find for Ridge’s single-vineyard or Sonoma showings.

Why does Bogle fit the bill? Simple: the wine itself is a brooding, inky reddish purple in the glass, and struts its stuff when swirled. Ripe, juicy aromas of blackberries and plum fruit jump out of the glass, along with hints of spice. In the mouth, this wine is a full-bodied flavor masterpiece, with layers of dark jammy fruit and toasty vanilla oak melding to hints of leather and spice. A bedrock of mouth-coating tannin marches you to a long finish. Pair this with roasted wild game – boar sausages, huge hunks of venison, buffalo steaks, or dry-aged grilled meats. $11.

Today’s post concerns the single best American Chardonnay I have ever tasted. Better than Morgan, better than Heitz, easily the match for Kistler. This Chardonnay is the 2006 Ramey Wine Cellars Chardonnay, produced from grapes grown in the Russian River Valley, California. Beautiful. Just beautiful wine, comparable to almost any white Burgundy in its price point.

A gorgeous yellow gold in the glass, with flinty citrus and green apple aromas combining with hints of spice, flowers and honey on the nose. The mouthfeel is supple, silky, with tangerine and grapefruit bursting into ripe peach and mineral flavors, the body definitely showing some extended lees contact in barrel. It is moderately oaked, has vibrant acidity for a Chardonnay so rich, and ends with an unctuously long finish. This wine can be purchased by the half-bottle (375 mL) for the middling price of $22.

Zinfandel stands alongside Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon as my red grape of choice. Its flavors range from juicy and bold raspberry fruits to darker fruit accented by leather and black or white pepper. It pairs perfectly with grilled steaks and burgers. Summers in California mean summers filled with barbecue nights and glasses of Zinfandel by the beach, or the pool, or the yard. There is every reason to love this wine. In a very visceral way, Zinfandel symbolizes California for me.

That said, everyone should have the opportunity to try a good one. Lolonis was the first organic producer in the United States; over 50 years ago they were using fully organic farming methods, before the idea was even being described in agriculture journals. The grape berries are hand-picked, and the wines are all handcrafted in keeping with a tradition that started in the 1920’s, and in fact, the Culinary Institute of America uses the Lolonis Zinfandel as the textbook example of what this varietal can achieve.

Forget Ravenswood. Forget Cline. The 2007 Lolonis Zinfandel was, first of all, beautiful in the glass, pure garnet red. Heady aromas of blackberry and dusty leather, with a glorious hint of pepper at the end. In the mouth the wine has bracing acidity, but perfectly balanced to the dark fruit, with just enough oak toast and supple tannin to complete the package. This is wine meant for marbled meat, grilled, seasoned, hearty. The finish was long and glorious. $20.

Some nights I cannot help but roast a chicken in our clay pot, particularly in fall. While the leaves are turning amber and orange, root vegetables are fresh and in profusion, and the air is starting to have a bite, roast chicken with garlic, butter and herbs is the most comforting food I can imagine. We usually pair it with a medley of potatoes, onions, parsnips, carrots, and Brussels sprouts. Roasting these in a clay pot infuses each element of the meal with the flavors of every other element, and adds a tender juiciness to the chicken that is unparalleled.

Only one wine should be paired with this meal, in my mind: Chardonnay. It does not have to be Burgundian, nor does it need to have excessive oak aging. Preferably, it should be fruity and have hints of creamy butter, with that toastiness provided by time in barrel. Chardonnay paired with roast chicken should also be suede-soft, and there should be just enough acidity to maintain its role as a food wine.

Thus the 2007 Edna Valley “Paragon” Chardonnay, from the San Luis Obispo County in California, perhaps the coolest mesoclimate around their AVA. A pale gold in the glass, with good clarity, this wine presents a nose of pure fresh pear and vanilla, with a healthy dose of oak, and notes of guava and other tropical fruit. In the mouth it is lush and opulent, viscous and soft, with more pear and green apple balanced to buttery oak. There is definitely some acid backbone here, just enough to keep it from falling into the “flabby domestic Chardonnay” category. Decent balance, and a great long finish. Pair this with roast chicken or Cornish game hen, or pasta dishes with shrimp or chicken in cream sauces. $15.

Sauvignon Blanc is my choice summer beverage: bright acidity, fresh and crisp, with delicious citrus and herbaceous notes, it is a picnic wine with the backbone to stand up to various types of shellfish, while also able to stand on its own. The Geyser Peak winery, founded in 1880 in the Alexander Valley in Sonoma County, is one of California’s oldest wineries. Here the emphasis is on ecologically responsible wine production: they use a significant portion of recycled glass for their bottles, compost by-products of their harvests, and are certified by the Fish Friendly Farming organization in recognition of their practices for waste water redistribution.

Wine and vinicultural practice go hand in hand: Geyser Peak’s techniques are green, and the wine matches this in its essence. The 2007 Geyser Peak Sauvignon Blanc is a beautiful straw color in the glass, showing a nose of pungent grass, lime and lemon zest, and notes of guava. Glorious, lip-smacking acidity balances the forward juiciness of the fruit on the palate, including green apple, tangerine, and a slight tinge of other tropical fruits. It also has a nice long finish for a wine at this price point. $9.