February 28, 2007

I received an advance look at "A Good Year," a new movie from Ridley Scott, based on Peter Mayle's book, starring Russell Crowe - and now out in DVD. While I've enjoyed Russell Crowe movies in the past, the main hook here for me was the wine angle - the movie takes place largely in Provence, in the south of France.

Just to spare you the suspense, I'll cut to the chase - I liked the movie very much. In wine parlayance, although it's not particularily complex, it has plenty of interesting attributes and a nice finish. The light-hearted comedic turns were a welcome addition, and the scenery was gorgeous. Finally, I thought they got the 'wine thing' right. The terminology, the descriptions - it all seemed to come together. The only issue I would take with wine lingo in the script, was a response to an allegation that "...they don't make [real] wine in California." The response was "I think Robert Mondavi would take exception to that." Rather than select a person that might have been more cutting edge for use in the retort, it seemed more like the script was seeking safer ground, and in that vein it made things seem less "authentic" to me. I know, I know, one could argue that as the 'Godfather' of the California wine scene, it made plenty of sense to use someone more recognizable. I just thought pulling out a name like Randy Dunn or Tony Soter might have made it more real - well, at least to wine geeks. Other than that, I was listening intently to all of the wine-geek-speak, and thoroughly enjoyed it all.

The movie opens with a young boy named Max playing chess with and older Uncle Henry (Albert Finney) on the patio of his uncle's château and vineyard. At mid-game, Henry is inside fetching a bottle of wine, while stealing glances at Max - presumably to see if he's cheating. Well, Max is doing just that, and has moved a piece into a perfect position to win. Henry re-emerges with two bottles and lets Max chose between them. Approving Max's choice of a '69 Tempier Bandol as a good choice, Henry pops the cork, and proceeds to pour himself a full glass and Max a half glass - to which he adds some water. Nice touch, I thought at the time, as I was familiar with the fact that Europeans have served wine to their children this way for many decades. Henry then shares a few moments of wine wisdom with Max, after which he confronts his nephew with, "and do you have something to tell me," pointedly asking Max to own up to the fact that he moved one of his chess pieces out of turn. "Yes," says Max, moving the piece once more. "Check Mate," he says with a grin. "You little shit," mutters Henry with a wry smile. And with this, we have an early look into Max's personality.

Fast forward to present day, the plot seems faintly familiar, with Crowe playing the part of Max, a London investment banker with a penchant for bending the rules for his own gain. He seems a bit of a prodigy - savvy and smart, and although it's evident that he's in charge of his crew of "lab rats," we immediately see a benevolent side as well. As is often pre-ordained, the wise affable uncle dies and Max appears to be the only living relative to inherit the château and vineyard. Add a local woman as a love interest, and the arrival of a young American girl claiming to be Henry's daughter, and you have the plot.

Those with pre-conceived conclusions about the outcome, should put them aside, relax, and take in the visual of the surrounding Provençale countryside. There are some genuinely funny moments with Max and the other characters, notably Duflot, the vigneron who is also hiding a wine secret. Duflot's wife, and Max's love interest, Marion Cotillard are wonderful, and Abbie Cornish as the American interloper is fascinating - just because you're not sure if she's telling the truth or not.

My wife and both found a lot to like in this movie. Like a nice wine, you don't have to over-analyze things, just enjoy it for what it is - and we did.

February 22, 2007

Attended a packed tasting at the Wine Gallery, in Corona Del Mar. Winegrower/ winemaker/ philosopher Peter Cargasacchi was on a mini-tour of the southland, and I wanted to re-taste the lineup, as well as visit a bit with Peter.

  • 2004 Point Conception 'Santa Barbara' Chardonnay - nice fruit, clean, crisp and very nicely balanced - and only $12! What's not to like?
  • 2005 Point Conception 'Esplandia' Rose - supple, with lots of nice meaty background qualities would make this stand up to plenty of dishes - including pasta and shellfish. Blend of 50% each of Syrah Rose and Viognier.
  • 2005 Point Conception 'Celestina' Pinot Grigio - hey, this is pink! I figured I'd been poured the wrong wine, but Peter left this 'pinot gris' on the skins for awhile to pick up some color and nuances - and it worked! Nice full mouthfeel, non-intrusive acids and tasty finish.
  • 2003 Point Conception 'Salsipuedes' Pinot Noir - a lighter-styled Pinot, with nice cherry-scented nose and ample flavors. Good food wine, but if you want to get more serious, you could try the next two.
  • 2005 Cargasacchi 'Santa Barbara County' Pinot Noir - very nice dark cherry and light earth in the nose, very good balance and nice fruity mouthfeel.
  • 2005 Cargasacchi 'Santa Rita Hills' Pinot Noir - IMO, this one-ups the SBC bottling, with a little denser aroma and mouthfeel, a more interesting floral and earthy aromas. Rich on the palate and delicious right now, this should be something really nice with a few years of bottle age.
  • 2003 Point Conception 'Cuvee Jalama' Syrah - dark berry in both nose and mouth, with interesting floral and herb notes along with bright fruit -- all of which would seem to make this an ideal combo with food. I'd had this wine a couple of years ago, and the difference is amazing. This wine has picked up weight and seemingly volume in mouthfeel, and the flavors are more more expansive from mid-to-latter palate. I hope you saved some of this!
  • 2003 Point Conception 'Encantado' Syrah - somewhat darker in color and profile than the Cuvee, with excellent balance, lots of chewy fruit, and very long tasty finish. I asked Peter about these two '03 Syrahs - what happened in the last two years to make this so appealing? He basically said, 'Rookie mistake - I thought I screwed up when I bled off a lot of juice before frementation.' From the outcome, it turns out it's better to be lucky, than good.
  • 2004 Point Conception 'Encantado' Syrah - coming on the heels of the previous '03s, I expected a bit of a bigger riper wine - especially given the hot vintage. Wrong. In fact, this was quite understated, with dark berry fruit, vague hints of herb and floral notes, nice mouthfeel and balance, and moderate ripeness. Given how the '03 turned out, this was probably just too early a debut to judge critically.
February 15, 2007

A bunch of us gathered at a local restaurant in Laguna Niguel for our monthly cork-pulling. The theme this time out was any wine from the Santa Lucia Highlands, in Monterey County. So, here's the good, the bad, and the ugly of the situation.

Chardonnay -

  • 2002 Arcadian Sleepy Hollow Vineyard Chardonnay - Slight oxidized or burnt scent to the nose here, otherwise lemony fruit, decent balance and finish. Has definitely showed better on other occasions.
  • 2005 Joullian Chardonnay - Seemingly out-Arcadianed the Arcadian with fresher lemon flavors and good acidity.

Pinot Noir -

  • 2000 Arcadian Sleepy Hollow Vineyard Pinot Noir - The herbal, stewed tomato thing here was pretty strong initially, but the wine came around nicely, shedding a lot of the funky aroma and it all seemed to integrate very nicely by the end of the evening.
  • 2004 Lucia Garys' Vineyard Pinot Noir - Dark berry in nose and mouth, good mouthfeel, spicy finish.
  • 2004 August West Rosella's Pinot Noir - Corked! Too bad too, because it was the only Rosella's in attendance.
  • 2003 Kosta Browne SLH Pinot Noir - Dark fruit and cake spices in both nose and mouth. The fruit profile seemed more obviously warmer climate, with a sweeter riper presence and finish.
  • 2004 AP Vin Garys' Vineyard - Funky initially, I'd hoped this would come around - but didn't show signs of becomming all it could be. Sort of restrained and muted, but with background notes of dark berry and black cherry, nice enought balance and finish.
  • 2001 Loring Wine Company Garys' Vineyard Pinot Noir - Nice dark cherry with a touch of citrus and spice. Good balance and finish. Last of the wines to be finisihed with cork?

Syrah -

  • 2004 Lucia Susan's Hill Syrah - Reaching way down, I foundsome nice tarry and spicy notes to the light licorice-infused dark berry fruit. A little tight on the palate, good mouthfeel, flavors and finish. Could have shown me more - probably a ittle young right now. (As I understand it, this is Pisoni Vnyd stuff - though they don't use the name for anything but Pinot Noir.)
  • 2004 Copain Garys' Vineyard Syrah - Not the least bit shy, the Franco-like nose and mouthfeel had me at "hi." Nicely done - not too sweet, not too big - just right dark berry, touch of herb and meat and perfectly balanced finish.
  • 2004 Lucia Garys' Vineyard Syrah - It's always Garys', Garys', Garys', Garys'! this seemed to be packed pretty tight and not too forthcoming with aromas or flavors. Dense, that's what I'd have to call it.
  • 2005 Leigh Cellars Sleepy Hollow Vineyard Syrah - Okay, now were talking. Lots of background notes to the fascinating wine. Leather, meat, blackberry, blueberry, cake spices - just lovely!
  • 2004 (Rhys) Alesia Fairview Ranch Vineyard SLH Syrah - Even better! Beautiful nose of dark berry compote and spice. Rich and chewy mouthfeel, excellent balance and finish. Yowsa!
  • 2002 Arcadian Sleepy Hollow Vineyard Syrah - Somewhat funky - bordering on barnyard, yet not too much, this seemed to adda nice dimension or garrigue to this wine, and I'd like to have sat with this a bit longer to compare to the less-funky Copain in a side-by-side.

Cabernet -

  • 2003 Lucia Cabernet Savignon - Slight veggie quality in the nose, but not too much IMO, bordering on Cabernet Franc herbaceousness. Nice cassis scent, good fruit throughout, nice balance and finish. Didn't appeal to the Pinotphiles in the room - or many of the Syrahphiles either, for that matter.


February 5, 2007

The GrapeRadio guys had the opportunity to sit down with Michael Trujillo of Karl Lawrence for a very nice interview. Mike talked about his roles with the nearly iconic Sequoia Grove winery, as well as his own label, Karl Lawrence. We're not sure when this will run, but stay tuned to GrapeRadio for this in-depth interview.

February 3, 2007

As part of the "pay it forward" concept (those on a mailing list supply wines for an open tasting), Rick Joyer and Ryan Johnson organized a Kosta Browne dinner and tasting at Sage restaurang in Newport Beach. Thirty sat down to go through several flights of Kosta Browne Pinots, thanks to the donations of several in attendance.

First Flight

  • 2004 Konsgaard Chardonnay - Wow! Gorgeous tropical fruits on the nose, and equally so on the palate that seem to lightly melt away in the mouth. Nice touches of lemon-lime-ginger throughout.
  • 2005 Kosta Browne Pinot Noir Rose - Interesting light stem note on the fruit-forward nose. Quite sweet in mouthfeel - almost excessively so, and there almost seemed to be a residual sugar quality.
  • 2006 Kosta Browne Pinot Noir Rose - Much better - fresher fruit and more balanced than the '05, this seemed to carry a nearly perfect level of sweetness, and a bit more complexity as well.

Second Flight

  • 2001 Kosta Browne Cohn Vineyard Pinot Noir - Tons of cake spices (clove, cinnamon, nutmeg). Smooth, very nice cherry and black cherry fruit, excellent balance and nice long finish.
  • 2002 Kosta Browne Cohn Vineyard Pinot Noir - Similar to '01, but a touch fleshier in both nose and mouth. Some cinnamon/candied apple coating, with a nice citrus hit on back end.
  • 2003 Kosta Browne Cohn Vineyard Pinot Noir - Fabulous nose of dark cherry, citrus, and a sappy whole cluster scent. Very juicy mouthfeel with a nice sweet-sour fruit quality, and very long finish.
  • 2004 Kosta Browne Cohn Vineyard Pinot Noir - Slightly dumbstruck nose, but wonderful mouthfeel. Lots of dark fruit, backed up by spice and nearly perfect balance.

Third Flight

  • 2003 Kosta Browne Russian River Valley Pinot Noir - This wine has to be the poster child for gluttony. Brimming with beautiful strawberry and cherry fruit, perfect balance and smooth long finish, it carried a sign saying drink me now - you won't regret it. I didn't - regret it, that it. Just beautiful right now.
  • 2004 Kosta Browne Russian River Valley Pinot Noir - Lovely strawberry-infused nose - if a bit on the ripe side. Nice enough, but it seemed to bear some of the burden of the vintage.
  • 2002 Kosta Browne Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir - Lovely clove-infused dark cherry nose. Lots of fruit, soice, and excellent balance.
  • 2003 Kosta Browne Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir - Similar to the '03 RRV in overall qualities, but packs much darker fruit profile.
  • 2004 Kosta Browne Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir - Slightly restrained nose. Somewhat soft in mouthfeel, and obviously a bit on the ripe side. Again, somewhat characteristic of the vintage.

Fourth Flight

  • 2003 Kosta Browne Koplen Vineyard Pinot Noir - Slightly riper in nose than the rest of the flight. Quite juicy on the palate, with excellent balance, and lots of fruit. Seemed to pick up some Kool-Aid astringency/tannins from mid-to-latter palate, on the way to an extremely long finish
  • 2004 Kosta Browne Amber Ridge Vineyard Pinot Noir - Wow! Lovely profile of strawberry, cherry and touches of rhubarb and orange zest. Lightly sweet citrus enhances the cherry and strawberry fruit; excellent balance and very long finish.
  • 2004 Kosta Browne Kanzler Vineyard Pinot Noir - Lots of black cherry fruit on the nose, with a pungent hit of spice. Juicy mouthfeel, mouthwatering fruit, very long finish.

Bonus Flight

Andrew Nielsen brought a few surprises directly from Kosta Browne:

  • 2005 Kosta Browne Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir - this is where is started to get strange. I was certain that I'd mixed up my SC and RRV pours of the '05, because this seemd to be classic RRV style. Lots of strawberry and cherry, beautiful balance, lovely mouthfeel and finish.
  • 2005 Kosta Browne Russian River Valley Pinot Noir - similar to the SC version, but with darker fruit. Amazingly, this seemed to bear the Sonoma Coast signature.
  • 2004 Kosta Browne Amber Ridge Vineyard Syrah - This first Syrah from KB is fascinating. Stylistically, this was moderate to big in framework, with a somewhat monolithic quality in the nose, but obviously packed with dense dark fruit on the palate. Shoud be a real winner in a few years.

Dessert Flight

  • 1983 Chateau Rieussec - Beautiful stone fruits, great mouthfeel - soft, yet crisp, wonderfully full finish.
February 3, 2007

I was able to pay a visit to Jeff Dobkin, who along with his wife Julie Thompson, own Thompkin Cellars, a small urban 1,000 case production winery located in a small industrial center in Costa Mesa, CA.

All of the wines here are from the well-known (but, no relation) Thompson Vineyard in Los Alamos. Jeff destems everything, and uses natural yeasts. And apparently, thanks to Jeff's determination to continue to make Cab Franc, David Thompson is keeping planted what little Cab Franc there is.

Barrel Samples:

  • 2005 Thompkin Cabernet Franc - light herbal infusion (not the green type) in this lovely nose of cassis and earthy notes. Rich mouthfeel, lots of chewy fruit, and delicious finish.
  • 2006 Thompkin Grenache - bright raspberry nose, very nice balance on the palate, very good acids and fruit, and long slightly gripping finish.
  • 2006 Thompkin Cabernet Franc - interesting minerality to the dark fruit, with lighter touches of chocolate. Full and rich on the palate, nice fine-grained tannins through the long finish.
  • 2006 Thompkin Mourvedre - gorgeous floral background note to the dark brooding, yet bright fruit. Full on the palate, the fruit has a rich ripe feel to it, though not too ripe. Nice balance of acids,and there's ahit of chocolate on the long finish.
  • 2006 Thompkin Cabernet Franc - interesting minerality to the dark fruit, with lighter touches of chocolate. Full and rich on the palate, nice fine-grained tannins and excellent balance through the long finish. This barrel was all "press juice," (rather than "free run").
  • 2006 Thompkin Syrah - mouthwatering nose of spicy black fruit, with a light mocha touch. Smooth and juicy o the palate, very good balance and tasty long finish.
  • 2003 Thompkin Syrah - (from bottle) Big, ripe and in-your-face, this is the way Jeff made the '03 -- and it sounds like the people who bought it kept coming back for more. Full throttle - 100% new oak and 16% alc. Chewy and rich, but also very heady and while a bit over-the-top, this was quite delicious.

I have to admit, tasting the '03 certainly gave me a jolt - both because it was so much obviously bigger than any of the others, but also because it hailed a change in Jeff's winemaking. Goodbye to the gobs of new oak, and hello to the neutral barrels he's using now, because this current crop of wines are much more structured and very nicely balanced.

February 3, 2007

I sat in with with Rusty Gaffney (the Prince of Pinot) for a tasting of 17 Pinot Noirs from Oregon.

By the time I arrived, Rusty had all of the bottles hidden in numbered bags. From there, it was just of matter of going through them in 3 flights, jotting down notes and preferences along the way.


  • 2004 Dusky Goose - somewhat sweet and ripe in the nose, with a nice cake-spice scent mingling with a bit of earth. Somewhat sweet in mouthfeel, too, with a decided brown sugar quality to the otherwise dark cherry fruit.
  • 2004 Le Cadeau Rocheux - lots of earth and a bit of stem and mineral in the nose. Balanced a bit more to acid side of things, but carries ample fruit and good finish.
  • 2004 Le Cadeau Diversite - light whole cluster quality to the cherry nose, with intriguing floral notes. Very good mouthfeel, lots of fruit, touch of black pepper and spice, and very long finish. Nice! 2nd favorite of the flight.
  • 2004 Daedalus Labyrinth - lighter in color than several of the others, there was a nice floral and spice quality to the cheryr fruit, but the mouthfeel seemed a bit weak - especially on the back end.
  • 2004 J.K. Carriere - very nice nose of earthy-scented dark cherry, spice and black pepper. Smooth and seductive on the palate, with very good balance and a nice long finish. Very nice! 1st favorite of the flight.
  • 2004 Argyle Reserve - nice loamy and sappy nose of dark cherry. Just a touch candied on the palate, but overall the fruit and balance are very nice. 3rd favorite of the flight.


  • 2004 Van Duzer Dijon Blocks - nice, if slightly sweet nose of dark fruit and equal touches of earth and spice. Very good balance and nice full mouthfeel. I wanted to like this wine more, but something about it felt almost over-manipulated.
  • 2004 Le Cadeau Cote Estate - ripe dark cherry with just a hint of strawberry in the nose. good balance and mouthfeel, slightly sappy in flavor, but a somewhat light finish.
  • 2004 Antica Terra - very light in color, with a lovely sweet-sour cherry scent. Excellent balance, very nice dark fruit, and long tasty finish. Nice! 1st favorite of the flight.
  • 2004 Bella Vallee - nice floral and cake spice nose, with just a hint of earthiness. Very good balance of fruit and acids and very long finish. 3rd favorite of the flight.
  • 2004 Domaine Drouhin - earthy, mushroom-scented and loam mingle with the dark cherry fruit in the nose. Slightly sweet initially, but gets a bit more sweet-sour flavor at mid-palate, and continues through latter palate. I'd have liked this even more, but as time passed, there seemed to be a hole developing at the mid-palate. 2nd favorite of the flight.
  • 2004 Van Duzer Homestead Block - very dark in color, almost Syrah-like nose of dark fruit and berry compote, with an overriding chocolate and Worchestershire sauce aroma. Reversing this on the palate, was the sense of underripe fruit through the the long finish. Very weird!


  • 2004 Cherry Hill Estate - nice nose of light floral and earth, with lightly spiced citrus note. Spicy dark cherry flavors, with a dollop of cake spice. Long balanced finish. 3rd favorite of the flight.
  • 2004 Winter's Hill Vineyard Reserve - spicy red and bing cherry in the nose. Lots of clove and nutmeg flavors, very nice balance and finish. 2nd favorite of the flight.
  • 2004 Carabella - dense, gorgeous, complex meld of aromas, and a nice sweet sawdusty-espresso scent that smelled of Francois Ferrer barrels. The espresso and roasted notes seem to come through on the palate, blending nicely with the dark cherry fruit and spice.
  • 2004 Stevenson-Barrie Freedom Hill Vineyard - initially a bit stemmy and funky in the nose, but this seemed to blow off with time in the glass. Good balance and flavors, but there seemed to be a bit of spritziness on the palate, and a somewhat angular finish.
  • 2004 Van Duzer Flagpole Block - as if to bookend the last wine from the previous flight, the nose carried an overriding scent of A-1 sauce's dill and caper. Good balance, but much of the aroma carried through on the palate, and there was a hint of VA starting to appear.

Well, this was certainly a mixed bag - some very nice wines, and some very nice table sauces. This was probably my largest exposure at one sitting to Oregon Pinot Noir. I'd like to try more.

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