Friday, October 29, 2010

State of the Grapes for 2010

There seems to be one common word being used to describe the 2010 vintage by the local growers, vineyard managers, property managers, winemakers and most anyone closely associated with the wine industry - "CHALLENGING".

It has been the perfect storm of weather miscues that has led to many people scrambling to figure out what to do with the grapes still on the vine. And, we just got hit with another weather front of cold & rain that pretty much puts the proverbial "!" stamp on this year.

First we had the coolest summer in over 20 years (uhem, thanks to, uh, Global Warming...). Veraison was VERY late and led to some problems with unbalanced ripening. We had heat spikes at all the wrong times and at improper intervals. Then just not enough heat overall. With "harvest" running 3-4 weeks behind, all we could hope for was 'NO RAIN!' Then, in October...we've had three bouts of rain so far, two heavy, that really put the grapes in peril. Brix really never got to where they needed to be. This will equate in to a lower alcohol year...and that's necessarily a bad thing!

Many have been equating this to a "Bordeaux-style" year. That being said, I've talked to a lot winemakers that are actually excited at the prospect of making a leaner style of wine that will require all their skills. The talented producers have accepted the 'challenge' of the vintage and will still be making exceptional wines...just different than the typical California perfect weather season.

I was talking to an associate about this vintage and we've decided to review the wines down the road based on two key factors - those that picked BEFORE the rains and those that picked AFTER. We've made our notes on who did what/when and even have a few individual vineyards picked out that were picked at both intervals. It will very interesting to see who does what with this "challenging vintage".

All in all, good winemakers will still make good wines. Those that depend on the commercial gathering up of fully ripe grapes en-masse, will struggle. Overall yields will be low (a lot crop was dropped due to the conditions), but the quality could actually shine in certain respects with the grapes being on the vine for so long. Only time will tell. And, as most in the industry know, time is often so crucial and valuable because we will not know what this vintage will truly display until 2012 at the earliest...ahhh, the realities of the wine business.

Until the next sip, swirl ya' later!


Chief Wino

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Back to Local Wino Roots

For a long while now I have turned the Local Wino Whines blog in to more of a business forum for the Local Wino consumer site communicating the latest "news" about the site and customers. Although this seems appropriate and understandable from a business perspective, it is not what the blog was initially intended to do. Plus, it is kind of, well, BORING!

So, I am going back to the roots of why I created the blog in the first place; telling tales about being the 'Local Wino' about town and my experiences as I explore all of wine country and its great personalities. I want to share the 'day in the life' of being in the wine business and give the anecdotal personal insights being in the heart of one of the best wine regions in the world. There are so many fun. cool and exciting things to report on a weekly basis and I want to use this forum to spend the time on the more intriguing aspects of the wine industry.

In the coming weeks, I will be talking about what's happening now in wine country and keep things more relevant, along with being just downright more interesting and fun.

Until the next sip, swirl ya' later!

Chief Wino

Monday, July 26, 2010

Local Wino's Value Proposition

It seems as though everywhere you look these days businesses are making great 'deals' on their goods and services to be "recession friendly" or resigning to the state of the economy. Even in my discussions with colleagues, friends and family, we often seem to end up talking about this subject. And, I'll be the first one to enjoy discovering a great value for a product or service at a better price. I regularly look at to find discount certificates at local establishments and appreciate the value it presents. It's easy, quantifiable and makes an immediate impact on my pocketbook. You buy $25 certificates for $10 and $50 certificates for $20. No problem, I'll take two, three...!

However, when it comes to wine, it becomes an entirely subjective venture with everyone weighing in on the discussion from very wide angles. The challenge is that each person has their own deep rooted opinion about what a great value is and it is SO dependent on what you are comparing. Us groupies here in Napa/Sonoma wine industry are very skewed because we know more of the inside nuances of the business, have access to incredible local wines/winemakers events, and our palates are admittedly very spoiled. But, I still know where the good values are and understand EXACTLY what value means to me...and not opposed to the odd < $10 wine now and again. Many of my close family do not understand much of this unless they have been able to visit me in Napa to know the difference. So, is this lack of experience bliss? Are you better off not knowing the difference? I offer not. Let's explore...

1) What's the actual purpose? I'd much rather fully enjoy drinking an entire $25 bottle of wine than drink half of the $12 "special" deal that left my palate completely flat and/or the other half ended up down the sink (or left to vinegar several days later). Or, on that special occasion of having guests over, popping the $40-$45 bottle and sharing/savoring the experience completely with those that can appreciate the effort. I enjoy selective purposeful drinking these days.

2) Comparable varietals. It is completely unfair to say your $10 Malbec screaming deal from Argentina compares to the $30-$40 Cab from Napa or the delicate $12 Spanish Garnacha (Grenache) should be compared to a nice $35 Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir. Not only the varietals worlds apart (literally), but the experience is not meant to be compared. It would be like saying your all-beef hot dog was so much better priced that the Angus Rib-eye steak...they're both beef and can taste OK, just made differently. At least keep it on the same playing ground when comparing varietals.

3) Wine scores...Ugh! Please see our view on Wine Scores online first. I hate this benchmark and I will give one example as to why. Let's take Chardonnay. If I see a 92 pt. rating on a random brand/label, what does that rating do to take in to account the style of Chardonnay I like? I do not care if it is rated 100 pts. if it is stylistically not what I prefer or does not consider what I may drink it with. For instance, I don't like any oak on my Chardonnay and a pure point scale does not take that in to account. Wine scores are a mediocre starting point at best.

4) Consider the occasion. If you're showing up to a large party where no one is going to notice the bottle you bring and/or it's more of a 'gulp-fest', no need to bring complex wines. Bring one of the 'quaffing' varietals like Grenache, Malbec, Rhone (GSM), or Zin/Primativo or inexpensive blends where you can easily keep the price under $15. However, in one-on-one or more intimate settings where everyone may be sitting around asking, "who brought what?" do your homework not to possibly embarrass yourself (too much). And, find out ahead of time what food if any is being served. Segue...

5) Will the wine be served/paired with food or a main course? This is more of personal item, but it is being paid more attention to of late. Especially if you do some reconnaissance and show up with a "prefect pairing" for the food you'll be the hero. The last thing you want to do is show up with a big complex Cab and find out that it is a lobster/seafood fest where you could have showed up with a nice Riesling or Chard for half the price. See our page on F&W pairings.

6) Do side-by-side or 'blind' tastings. Let your own palate be the judge. Nothing finally hits the message home (i.e. humbling) more than a blind tasting. And, I'm completely OK when the less expensive wines outperform the bigger labels. As long as it is compared as stated in #2 above. Also, keep the vintages within a year of each other as this can make a huge difference unless considering foreign wines. Again, it is not fair to throw a big juicy Zinfandel against a tannic 100% Cab...they serve two completely different purposes.

Lastly, just know that there are few absolutes with wine. One of my favorite winemaker's quotes when asked what kind of "good" wine do they recommend, he said, "A good wine is a wine that you enjoy regardless of price." My former wine teacher's philosophy was that EVERY wine has its occasion and you should not discount the vast selection of varietals/choices to go with each.

All of the wines at Local Wino combine the best overall quality-to-value ratio as we discover wines that normally compare to wines at sometimes twice the price. We specialize in the $20 - $50 category and offer specialty wines rarely found outside Napa. Give us a try...

So, until the next sip, swirl ya' later!


Thursday, June 24, 2010

New Features Introduced

Along with the new phenomenal 'value' lineup of wines, Local Wino has introduced a couple new features to enhance the full experience with our local expertise.

Wino IQ Question of the Day
In an effort to keep our customers both engaged and educated about wines of the world, you can now test your "Wino IQ" daily with our worldly wine questions. The question & answer email comes to you automatically ever day and features a new interesting 'tid-bit' about wine each time. Additionally, it will occasionally highlight certain special wine offers from the Local Wino partners. It's easy, fun, educational and there is no cost to register for this service and you can unsubscribe at any time.
Sign up here

Wino Wednesday W.O.W.
Every Wednesday, we'll be featuring a new Wine of the Week (W.O.W.) with a special offering for one week only or until the small allocation sells out. These special offers are not only at a special price, but will offer wines that are unique, small production and limited allocation. Shipping is included withe the 3-bottle minimum purchase of these specialty wines.
See the current W.O.W.

Ultimate Wino Red Case
We did it again, only this time we've put together one the best overall value red cases of wine you could ever assemble in one place. Encompassing variety, specialty, exclusivity, and incredible quality to value, this 'Ultimate 12' red wine case will keep you well-stocked for any occasion. This is a "must have" to try a great diversity of specialty wines from the best wine country has to offer.
See the details here.

Still in beta development, Wino REWARDS is presenting a platform where persons within the social media circles of wine can get rewarded for their efforts within this channel. By posting information about our wines, sending in reviews or videos, joining our forum, posting on your own forums or just talking about the "world of wine", you can accumulate 'Wino Points' to redeem for free Wino Merchandise or discount on wines directly from Local Wino.
Register here.

We hope to continue to bring you the best of wine country and there's much more to come.

Until the next sip, swirl ya' later!

Chief Wino

Monday, June 14, 2010

Local Wino Announces New Premium Wines

'Best Of' Finalists Set

I guess diligence and determination DOES pay least when it comes to selecting your 'Best Of' wines to debut online. This was no small task as we sifted through hundreds of wines in various categories to come about our final lineup. We also listened to several consumers as they tasted the wines in various environments and got some great feedback on all categories.

We chose these premium wines as the best representation within the following categories:

Sauvignon Blanc
- Astrale e Terra '08 (Napa - $22)
- Salvestrin '08 (St. Helena - $22)

- Hill Family Estate 'Carly's Cuvee' '08 (Napa - $27)
- The Terraces '08 (Napa - $28)
- Sand Hill 'Durell' '07 - (Sonoma - $40)

Pinot Noir
- Bouchaine 'Gee' Vineyard '07 (Carneros/Napa - $45)
- Kindred Wines 'Amber Ridge' '07 (Russian River - $35)
- Sand Hill 'Durell' Vineyard '05 (Carneros/Sonoma - $50)

- Titus '07 (Napa - $25)
- Fontanella '08 (Napa - $36)
- Teresina '07/'08 (Sonoma - $24)
- Hunnicutt '07 (Napa - $34)

Premium Red Blends
- Hill Family Estate 'Barrel Blend' '07 (Napa - $25)
- Falcor Wines 'Le Bijou' '05 (Napa - $45)
- Monticelli Bros. 'Rolando Rosso' NV (Napa - $39)
- Salvestrin Estate 'Retaggio' '07 (St. Helena - $34)
- Monticello 'Jefferson Cuvee' '07 (Napa - $38)

Premium Cabernet Sauvignon Under $50

- Watermark '06 (Napa - $45)
- Fontanella '06 (Napa - $49)
- Hunnicutt '06 (Napa - $48)
- Kindred Wines 'Ascendant' '06 (Napa - $49)
- Kristian Story Wines 'Rhapsodie' '06 (Napa - $49)

Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon
- Yates Family 'Mountain' '06 (Napa/Mt. Veeder - $60)
- Titus Reserve '06 (Napa - $63)
- Corley Family Reserve '06 (Napa - $72)
- MadoraM '05 (Napa - $80)

To shop the new lineup of wines go HERE.

Chief Wino,

Friday, April 30, 2010

What I've Learned...and Still Learning

It has been an interesting process to say the least in evaluating the final choices of wines that Local Wino will be carrying in to the middle of the year. Now that we are just about to announce the full categorical lineup, I thought I'd share a few brief points of what I've learned in both listening to consumers and wine professionals in making some key changes to how we are presenting the wines.

Some recent observations as follows:

1) Consumers love to have a trusted resource and crave good guidance. I know this seems obvious, but I have had numerous encounters lately that continue to point to the fact that once we earn that respect with helping make smart choices, we have customers for life. Whether at a restaurant, out wine tasting, the wine shop, shopping online, or just for everyday wine reference, everyone appreciates a good referral. We are that 'local source' with our ear to ground to the best that wine country has to offer. Everyone loves the "inside scoop" and relishes having access to a trusted referral source.

2) People need a pretty good reason to purchase new or unknown wines. Again, a bit obvious, but the key here is presenting the wines in a manner that is more logical (categorical) that better fits either an occasion, a favorite varietal/type, or palate profile that resonates with the consumer. We've taken the course of organizing our wines in what we consider "Best Of" categories (with the consumer in mind) from all of our diligent tasting processes throughout the year across mainstream varietals and blends. We like to think the best reason to try new wines is that we've become that trusted source for any palate or occasion.

3) People want value. Let me clarify though. Value to us does not mean price or discount. And, value means varying levels of things to different people respectively. The wines we offer present the best overall values above $25 for premium representation within their varietal category. We're in the business of specialty wines that do not reach mass distribution and therefore are in their own category. For everyday value wines below $25, there are numerous outlets to consider and there's nothing wrong with a great perceived find under $20. However, the specialty wine market is its own niche and the overall value point is between $25 - $50 and the higher-end good value point remaining under $100.

4) Working beyond judging wines on ratings. We do not publish wine scores and I am not a wine score buyer, but there are many. Personally, I believe the system is somewhat broken and does not serve the general consumer properly or fairly. Wine scores do nothing to take in to account a person's individual palate, preference profile or several other factors that go in to account properly matching the right wine to the preferred palate. This is much bigger discussion we'll tackle later. Local Wino is going to be extra diligent to do our very best to ask, listen, probe, explore and learn about preferences in matching wines to individual "Personal Palate Profiles" (more on this coming soon...). Persons can then use this discovery with all their wine purchases with us or anywhere.

5) Staying relevant. I believe one of the most valuable benefits (resources) we offer is being in the heart of U.S. wine country and keeping up with the nuances of an ever-changing industry. Winemakers change, vintages (growing seasons) are different, processes and laws vary, new techniques are introduced, new trends with varietals being developed and the wine making art is very dynamic. Being here in Napa, we are dedicated to being everywhere we can to absorb all that the industry has to offer. From one-on-one meetings with some of the most influential people in the business to sitting next to a visitor at the local hangout. This is the core of our business that we bring direct to the consumer through these experiences.

We are very excited about the next phase and lineup of wines. It is the best presentation of value, access, and categorical varietal specialty that wine country has to offer. All you have to do is become a customer once and you'll marvel at the discoveries we consistently offer.

There's nothing like local knowledge...because locals know best.


Thursday, April 8, 2010

A Successful Tasting Evening Indeed

What do you do when you have 52 wines to taste and 10 great palates in the same room? You take your time (6 hours total), savor the moment (literally) and just hang on to enjoy the ride!

(Thanks to Page Wine Cellars for hosting)

That's exactly what we did on the evening of April 2 for the second Local Wino tasting panel where wine experts came together to help us evaluate wines for the next catalog and web phase launch. It was actually hard work and kudos goes out to everyone who participated along with all the wineries that contributed their wines for the event. (See the panel video intros here).

Cutting to the chase, the main purpose of holding a blind tasting like this is to create discussion as we taste through all the wines as to the consumer appeal of each of the wines within their respective categories. We tasted in six distinct categories - 1) Sauvignon Blanc, 2) Chardonnay, 3) Pinot Noir, 4) Red blends, 5) Cabernet Sauvignon < $50, and 6) Cabernet Sauvignon > $50 (under $100). No points ratings per-se, rather open forum discussion about the purpose of each wine.

When you have so many differing palates in the room, it is hard to get too many clear consensus winners, and there were many factors considered in tasting through each category. However, the one primary goal was to make sure we were thinking of things from the consumer point of view of how approachable (i.e. palate friendly) the wines were related to the varietal or category. Additionally, the wines had to be great overall values for the varietal represented. That being said, there we several good discoveries and at least (2) wines in each category that were clear favorites of the group and many others that had above average marks or comments.

We will be zeroing in on the final (24) wines we are going to choose for the next phase in the coming weeks. These wines will be announced here once all the notes are gathered, the wines revisited in some cases (i.e. singly tasted again) and details of each wine discussed directly with the producers to insure proper availability to the consumer.

Make no mistake, all of these are special wines that combine outstanding quality, great values and ideal varietals (or blends) organized categorically for the consumer to enjoy. Now the real work begins in pairing down to the wines best suited for the Local Wino offer wine enthusiasts everywhere.

Stay tuned...

Local Wino Team

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

LW Panel Tasting Stage Set

It's that time...actually, it's later than 'that time'...for the bi-annual Local Wino Panel blind tasting this coming Friday night, April 2 at Page Wine Cellars in Yountville. It is the culmination of many months searching, tasting, discovering and traveling around wine country finding the next great lineup of wines.

This is when I organize local winemakers, Sommeliers, and wine proprietors (mostly much better palates than me) to assist in tasting all of the wines I've gathered to evaluate for the next round of catalogs and website updates. New labels, new discoveries, new vintages, and altogether new wines or categories to present to consumers direct. Make no mistake, it is a lot of work getting through 50 wines in one night...but I've assembled the right group to do it.

What is important here is the actual process that we've come about to narrow the field to these 50 or so from hundreds of wineries and well over a thousand wines tasted to then arrive at the final 24 or so for the catalog.

I first notify about 150 wineries that I have already visited and/or tasted regarding submissions of the wine(s) I feel are a good fit for our consumer offering. Of these, I narrow down to the top 50 overall wines that are represented by around 30 total brands organized by either varietal or wine category such as whites, reds, pinots, zins, blends, cabs, etc. The panelists and my job from here is to pick the top 24 wines that categorically are the best offering to consumers. We do not use a formal "point" scale (nor do we publish any wine scores), rather taste from the consumer point of view of what is approachable now along with its overall quality to value.

The criteria that we taste on involves (5) key consumer metrics:

1) Presentation & Appearance - the presentation of the label, bottle and brand all play an important part of the initial impression to the consumer.

2) Varietal category or group - how the wine fits within either their direct varietal (grape) group or a category (theme) that we've created specifically for certain groupings of wines.

3) Retail price point/value - based on the type of wine we're tasting, we review how that wine fares in direct relation to its consumer price point and the value it presents.

4) Exclusivity and/or availability - we primarily work with very limited production or non-distributed wines that rarely reach outside California and take in to account its specialty.

5) Overall taste quality-to-value and drinkability - in 'winespeak', how approachable is the wine early in its development in relation to the overall value and quality of the wine.

Value, it should be noted, in our case more refers more to how the wine compares to the quality of the wine you are getting in relation (proportion) to the price offered by category rather than just overall price. There are great value wines on the market for $10 and some for $100 and it is very subjective depending on numerous factors or your perception of value.

ALL of the wines we offer are not only good values, they are all great quality wines. We do our diligence to find all levels for people to enjoy from everyday wines to special occasion ones.

Stay tuned as we'll unveil the final choices soon along with video clips and pictures of the whole process for your enjoyment.

Chief Wino

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Local Wino Brand 2010

The Local Wino brand has been around since 2005. Originally started as an information portal, wine forum and resource site, the goal was to eventually grow the brand in to a comprehensive wine site that would encompass "everything wine". I am proud to say that we have finally arrived...well, almost.

In the coming weeks, will re-launch as a more consumer friendly wine commerce site as well as a complete wine information portal, wine forum and social media channel outlet.

The site will include the following key marketing entities:
Working directly with wineries and/or winemaker's personal projects, the site showcases the best 'hidden gems' to purchase from wine country. This is the primary commerce site where we will expose exclusive wine labels and brands that are very limited production or non-distributed wines. We will also put a big emphasis on good 'value' wines, whether a premium brand or just a great new discovery.

Local Wino Print Catalog
Featuring over 20 specialty wines from premium wine partners and winemakers, the 20-page catalog is an ideal direct marketing piece highlighting exclusive wines, utilizing mailings and consumer events, and fulfilling requests for more information about our line up of wines. The catalog can be mailed or downloaded directly from the site.
A new venture built to capitalize on social media chatter directly within the wine channel. Wino Rewards will be designed to track, monetize and reward persons who are legitimately posting in this space. 'Wino Points' will be assigned to various categories of social media activity and can then be redeemed to purchase wine at discounts on, Wino merchandise and/or VIP tasting experiences at any of our wine partners. This creates incentive for rapid growth of social media chatter which highlights our products and partnerships.

Local Wino Forum
A wine discussion forum that is designed to bring locals together in all things wine. Organized globally or by city, the forum is unique in that wine discussions take on a more intimate approach. Locals can not only discuss wine, but have location commonality to bring them together in the vast world of wine.

Wino W.O.W!
As a byproduct of the weekly 'Chief Wino Explores' feature on the blog, LW will showcase a value "Wine Of the Week" revealing the inside-scoop on a great 'wine find' which we will then make available for sale until it sells out or until the next 'find' is posted the following week.

'Wino IQ' Question of the Day
Visitors can sign up to receive a daily emailed wine 'question of the day' to learn more about the world of wine just by checking their in-box at their convenience.

Local 'Wino X-ing' Merchandise
Having some fun along the way, the T-shirts and Hats display the Local Wino and 'Wino X-ing' logos that will allow you to express your true wino side and be the "local wino".

Now that the Local Wino brand is cohesively under one roof, consumers will now have several reasons to visit, shop, learn, explore, share and enjoy the world of wine with invaluable local knowledge and inside scoop at their fingertips.

We look forward to sharing all that wine country has to offer in the coming weeks and months and invite you to enjoy the ride along the way with us.

Till the next sip, swirl ya' later!

Chief Wino

Monday, January 18, 2010

1st Annual 'Local Wino Awards' from 2009

Ok, I'm giving in to the popularity and handing out my version of "Best Of" awards. Although some standard categories are covered, I've done my own personalized 'Local Wino Awards' that will cover my unique travels and observations through wine country over the past year.

Let's get started...

Best New Winery/Tasting Room
Tie - Cuvaison Carneros and CADE Howell Mt.
Both very worthy of this as they combine incredible views and contemporary design with fine wines to back it up. Cuvasion (right) has one of the more unique views looking from South to North with a very special room that is a must see when down south. CADE (part of the Plumpjack wine group) has an equally impressive view from North to South from up on Howell Mt. with a well placed infinity fountain pool that brings it all together so well.
Honorable mention: James Cole - Napa

Best Overall Value Wines
Hill Family Estate - Yountville
This was an easy choice as Hill Family Estate wines in Yountville produces some of the best wines and specialty blends you'll find anywhere. Winemaker Alison Doran continues to progress with her creativeness in putting together a lineup of wines that in these times consistently over-deliver. Match that with a great staff and unique atmosphere within the antique shop that is one of the most welcoming experiences you'll find. Their red Barrel Blend ($25), Carly's Cuvee ($27) and Syrah ($34) alone are worth the visit, but they have a fabulous overall lineup.
Honorable mention: Elyse Winery - Napa

Best Overall Tasting Room Experience
Lynmar Estate - Sebastopol
The minute you walk in to this place, you feel the weight come off your shoulders and the experience continues to delight from there. Very clean, open and somewhat understated, they definitely did their homework on the "feng-shui" presence making you feel comfortable all around. There is a very pleasant table & umbrella patio on one side and an open air porch on the other with big soft comfy couches that both look out over the vineyards. You can stroll through the organic vegetable gardens where they grow almost everything they need for the private dinners they conduct on-premise just down the hill from the tasting room. And oh, by the way, some of the best Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs I tasted all year...hands down favorite all-around tasting day.
Honorable mention: Trefethen Vineyards- Napa

Best Day 'Road Trip'
Alexander Valley
I've done this trek numerous times and I never get tired of it. The stretch up Hwy 128 from North of Calistoga to Geyserville through the valley provides some of the best open spans of road combined with so many great wine stops it is hard to beat. Views at Hanna Winery, entertaining staff at Alexander Valley Vineyards, subdued atmosphere and delicious wines of White Oak, uniqueness of Styker Wines and their tasting room, and the Zins at Sausal Winery all provide for an adventurous day. Not to mention easy side trips along the way to Lancaster Estate and Chalk Hill make this my favorite diversion from Napa.
Honorable mention: Russian River Valley

Best Private Tour/Tasting
Schramsberg Caves
Between the history (they are the 2nd oldest 'winery' in the valley), the grounds, the caves and the bubbly, it is hard not to fall in love with this experience. Just looking at the landmark 1800's picture when you come in of Jacob Schram, Charles Krug and the Beringer brothers, entices you to listen intently on all the stories from the late 1800's to-date. They are touted as "Americas's First House of Sparkling Wine" and so rich in history that it is a must visit for any true wine enthusiast. The great variety and quality sparkling wines make you want to spend the whole day there. Oddly enough though, one of my favorite reds of the year is their J. Davies Red Bordeaux blend as well.
Honorable mention: Crocker & Starr

Best Random & Most Fun Tasting (Tie)
Milat Winery & Del Dotto Caves (St. Helena)
These wines are miles apart in style and costs, but the one thing they have in common is the relentless desire to make sure you have a good time tasting. The Milat brothers usually are manning the post themselves at the small tasting room mid-Hwy 29 and are very entertaining talking about the early days in the valley regardless of your level of wine prowess. We happened to get Dave Del Dotto himself to kidnap up for his barrel tasting in the caves and we were barely able to escape with any brain cells or tooth enamel left after at least 2 hours tasting through 20+ barrels of his special blends. My teeth were never so purple at the end of a tasting day...which by the way, you want to make sure Del Dotto is your LAST stop of any tasting day. They don't call it "Del Blotto" for nothing!
Honorable mention: Fleury Estate - Rutherford

Most Relaxing Wine Tasting
Paraduxx - Yountville
First off, it is the only place to offer almost exclusively Zinfandel blends as their core tasting. The wines are delicious all the way through the lineup and the uber-comfortable outdoor lounging environment under the large oak trees easily make for the most relaxing tasting experience. The staff is very friendly waiting on your every needs as you just sit back and let it all just come to you. They offer a small cheese/cracker accompaniment that just lends to the tastiness of the wines while allowing you to just sit back and enjoy the ride.
Honorable mention: O'Brien Estate - Oak Knoll/Napa

Best "Up And Coming" Winemaker
Massimo Monticelli - Monticelli Brothers
When your dad (Marcello at Gallo) is one of the longest tenured winemakers in all of Napa, your pedigree definitely precedes you to high aspirations/expectations. But, Massimo is making some phenomenal wines while keeping the pricing very reasonable during these times. He has 'M Bros.' (with his brother Mario who is also at Trinchero Winery), Razi Wines, and BURLY Wines to his credits. My every day favorite wine is his non-vintage 'Rolando Rosso' - Cab/Syrah/Malbec blend ($39) that combines up to eight years previous vintages that have been held back in barrel making for one of the most delicious layered 'quaffable' reds you'll find. His '05 BURLY Cab ($60) from Coombsville fruit is one of those Cabs that I ALWAYS have on hand for a guaranteed crowd-pleaser of a wine that shows off a complex well-made Cab that is very drinkable early as well.
Honorable mention: David Yorgensen - KIND cellars

Best "Off the Beaten Track" Wine Experience
Kuleto Estate Winery - St. Helena (Lake Hennessey East)
This wine experience is so multi-faceted, it is hard to fully just need to go and experience it yourself. Everything from the private drive up the super-tight single wind-ey road (we had to back down twice to let vehicles get by) to the sipping view from 3500 ft. above lake Hennessey sitting in Adirondack chairs just takes you completely aback from the valley floor. It is a complete half-day experience, so allow for it, but completely worth the day. The wines were decent and the small artisan food pairing that comes along with it make is special as you sit and listen to stories about the property. Also, stories about founder Pat Kuleto and the special events they've had there are equally enticing making for a very entertaining few hours while touring the grounds/vineyards high above the lake.
Honorable mention: David Arthur Vineyards - St. Helena (east)

Best "Non-traditional Winery" Tasting Room Experience
Falcor Wines - Napa Valley
To clarify, there have been an abundance of tasting rooms crop up in industrial park settings, but that does not take away from the quality of wines being made. One of those would be Falcor wines in So. Napa in the corporate center near the DMV. With well-known winemaker, Ray Coursen of Elyse Winery, as part of the team, they are making some of the most approachable best-value wines around. For all-around "quaffability" the '05 Le Bijou Red ($45) is a must try when down at their facility, but all of the wines tasted well through vintages going back to 2003 right now.
Honorable mention: Robert Craig Wines - Napa

Best Tasting Where I Felt Most Compelled to Purchase Wine
Ehlers Estate - St. Helena
History, tradition, location, friendly staff, charitable cause and beautiful wines all contribute to a tasting experience where I wanted some of everything. Ehlers Estate is unique in so many ways, but their philanthropic activity through the wine channel is very impressive. They are non-profit in that they donate all proceeds to cardiovascular disease research in honor of the Jean Leducq Foundation. They are also a completely organic facility from vineyard to production. All of the the wines are outstanding and my favorite overall wine for the money is their '120 over 80' ($45) red Bordeaux blend that I should (and will) always have on hand.
Honorable mention: Hill Family Estate - Yountville

Best Overall 'WOW! Factor' Wine Tasted
Tie - '06 Brandlin Cab (rt.) & '05 Ehlers Estate '1886' Cab
The Brandlin Vineyard Cab ($85 - Cab/Malbec/Petite Verdot/Cab Franc) from Mt. Veeder is surprisingly approachable early and you can tell this wine will only get better and better with time. I've revisited this wine many times and I get more impressed each time. The Ehlers '1886' Estate Cab ($95 - 100% Cab) is just one of those wines that you want to savor all night long. After about 45 min. in the glass, you realize that you will be finishing the entire bottle. Not for the faint of heart, it is a huge wine that is complex, rich, and many layers of aromas and fruit going on that you get something different on each sip.
Honorable mention: '05 Louis Martini 'One' Cab

Other 'Wino' Honors:

Best Value Wines to Drink Every Day
Rose - Ideaology, '07 Rose of Cabernet ($9)
White - Milat Winery, '08 Chenin Blanc ($18)
Red - Elyse, '06 C'est si Bon Naggiar Vineyard ($28 - Rhone varietals)
Red Blend - Hill Family Estate, '06 Barrel blend ($25)
Sparkling - Schramsberg 'Mirabelle' Rose ($28)

Best Single Varietal/AVA Discovery
'05 BURLY Cabernet, Coombsville - soon to be the newest AVA, great cab fruit coming out of here.

Best Tasting Room to Revisit Over and Over Again (Tie)
Jessup Cellars, Yountville - ALL the wines are great right down to the port at the end with some chocolate...yum!
Hope & Grace, Yountville - nice atmosphere with new art displays, great wines & staff, regular tasting events showcasing new artists

Best New Discovery/Lesser Known Winery
Allora Vineyards, St. Helena - small family owned property where you taste with the owners in their 'basement' cellar and the wines are very solid efforts with an Italian spin.

Best Winery Event
Hill Family Estate 'BLT' Heirloom Tomato Festival - several types of world-class bacon, over 40 types of heirloom tomatoes along with the their delicious wines make for an event I will always look forward to and already marked on the calendar. HUGE kudos here!

That about wraps up 2009 and a true expression of my ventures. I only visited about 130 wineries/tasting rooms with many more to try this year. It is hard to get to them all and sure to have some new discoveries this year. All the more reason to make these awards an annual thing so as to not leave anyone out...lots of work to do, but someone has to do it!

Until the next sip, swirl ya' later!

Chief Wino

Thursday, January 7, 2010

First Outing of 2010

After enjoying the break during the usual holiday activities, I was anxious to get back out and hit the ground running on my first exploration for 2010. It has been one of the most interesting starts of any year that I can remember on several fronts. Hard to put in exact words, but the overall 'vibe' in this first week has revolved around 'Karmic' type activities and experiences. Not to get too spiritually out there, but there has been an odd "cause & effect" type theme that has continually played itself out so far and I am just rolling with it as seemingly negative activity turned to positive results have proven to be 'fruitful', so to speak...this outing did not veer from this.

After putting out the usual fires from the morning, I got a bit of a late start. Strangely, while preparing for the planned direction of the day, I received an email from an acquaintance I had met over the weekend about his new job with a winery and wanted to taste me on the wines. We were able to quickly make a lunch meeting plan at a new local joint called the Norman Rose Tavern here in downtown Napa. I was excited to try the new spot out along with the new wine tasting introduction.

After surveying the room and greeting various recognizable faces, some obviously more receptive than others (see Karmic activity above), we proceeded to wait for our table taking notice of the buzz in the (crowded) room with several other wine industry personnel saying the usual warm "hi and byes". This was definitely THE new hot spot in town and great choice.

I was meeting with Michael Magee, representative of "MadoroM" wines. Michael continues to refer to it as the "best red wine in Napa you've never heard about". Right up my alley! MadoroM is a collaboration between Andy and Melissa Amador and winemaker Mike Blom. As often is the case with "under the radar" wines, their story is unique and interesting...their wines extraordinary. Andy comes from a hunting & fishing background and has come up with one of the most intriguing concepts of creating a red wine called 'Camouflage' that showcases hunters and their 'kills' on the back label and a well-designed subtle camouflage front label.

With their first vintage in 2000, I was amazed I had not come across this wine before. I tasted the 2006 'Camaflouge' Red and the 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon. The Camouflage is a juicy red blend of Cab/Syrah/Cab Franc/Merlot that was outright delicious. And, at $38 retail, I was ready to place an order right there, but the '06 is mostly sold out and '07 just released. We moved on to the '05 Cab ($80), and for a 100% Cabernet, extremely approachable and easy drinking...the 34 months in barrel had been kind to this wine. Almost a bit 'minty' on the nose, but with plenty of good ripe fruit that paired perfectly with our lamb burgers. They also have a Merlot that I did not taste, but surely a winner as well. I look forward to having these wines again with our tasting panel evaluations for the next catalog coming in February.

After a few business stops, I ended up at Patz & Hall winery in the Napa Corporate Center where a few tasting rooms reside that you'd never know to visit. Patz & Hall is a very well-established wine known for their Chardonnays and Pinots. I tasted through several of their '07 single-vineyard Pinots from Sonoma Coast enjoying all of them. My two favorites were the Jenkins Ranch and the Gaps Crown vineyard Pinots. The "tasting salon" as they call it was most impressive with a very well-designed contemporary feel that you'd remiss not to visit.

Although I did not get to taste a great number of wines on this day, it was definitely one of 'quality vs. quantity' and was equally enjoyable.

If you are interested in purchasing any of the featured MadoroM wines mentioned above, I offer the one-week only special Chief Wino Explores discount of 20% and comp shipping good until Jan. 14 with a special coupon code of CWE20 (3 bottle minimum). Contact me directly here.

Until the next sip, swirl ya' later!

Chief Wino