“Talent perceives differences; genius, unity”….. William Butler Yeats

Recently, I had an opportunity to meet with Neil McGuigan of McGuigan Wines from Hunter Valley, Australia.  In addition to the “Mc” prefix of his last name, I was drawn to his wine being from Australia because it was from Australia.  Fact is, with such famed areas as Margaret River, Yarra Valley, McLaren Vale, Barossa Valley, Adelaide Hills, Coonawarra, Clare Valley, Eden Valley, Hunter and others, what’s not to like about the potential of Australian wine?

But it can be found. A sufficient amount of head busting plop became popular here from that country (and no, I will not mention label or labels).  Enough so, that it turned me off to the wines in general, though I should know better and do.  Some of the best Cabs and Syrah (Shiraz) in the world have come from there. So has some delightful Riesling. But I’m not alone in that experience.

Then too is the reality that I’m an “old world” guy.  That’s not to be admitted by wine reviewers, but I value truth over popularity and maintain that we all suffer, to some degree, by that benchmark that first impressed us as to what constitutes the makings for “quality” wine (see  Australia is the innovative capital of wine production after all.  From viticulture, to closures, to label design, Australia is the current “first” in things. Enough said.  Hopefully, intellect and reason triumph over emotion and I can freely admit that it did so upon tasting this 2016 Chardonnay “The Plan”.

I feel compassion for any winemaker who takes on Chardonnay to begin with.  After all, with people so divided over and absolute about their preferences, I don’t feel much guilt over those of mine already admitted.  Oaked, not oaked? All stainless with no malolactic?   Stop it!  Chardonnay itself is rather a neutral grape and benefits from some degree of coaxing. Besides, there should be room for different styles because you will undoubtably be required to match different styles with different meals. 

McGuigan hit a bullseye on the balance target with his Chardonnay. It works, for me, as a versatile wine that can be enjoyed on so many different occasions. The wine shows elegant stone fruit and a touch of creaminess, or as McGuigan says, “all part of the plan”.  Without knowing the price point, I tasted the wine and was impressed by its aromatic complexity: quince, kiwi, lime crème. Tropical and floral aromatics, lemony acidity ….. a creamy palate, and all in one glass.  Just a touch of vanilla oak, more like a grace note, in the background balancing the citrus.

Some of the wines sampled at the tasting.
Oh, the sacrifice!
100% Chardonnay, about 25% undergoes malolactic fermentation.  Extended lees contact contributes creaminess. And “light use of oak” means the use of staves, not new French oak barrels. But before the snobs among us recoil, I suggest they taste this wine because, ultimately, it’s what’s produced, what is in the glass that matters.  My take is that McGuigan has zeroed in on preferences for balance, but not via compromise.  Everything about this wine bespeaks finesse, delicacy and subtlety.  McGuigan explains that it’s all about “oxidizing sulfur.”  I get his point, but it’s simpler to just trust my taste buds. They told me the wine is fresh, but not overly acidic.  Among us older folk, that means you won’t get “reflux” after a second glass.  And a second glass is easy to want.  It’s creamy but not heavy.  It’s offers fruit and texture but is not too weighty or forward.    

Apparently, I’m in good company in this assessment.  “The Plan”
Neil McGuigan (l) and The Mizer
wines are among the best-selling wines in Australia with four expressions: Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz and a Red Blend.  McGuigan has been awarded “International Winemaker of the Year” four times (a record) by the International Wine & Spirits Competition in London. Additionally, McGuigan Wines has been awarded the “Australian Producer of the Year” in 2009, 2011 and 2012.  A red, produced by McGuigan, is the #1 selling wine in Australia.  And now, McGuigan wines has come to the States.

Many a good Chardonnay is made around the world and I wouldn’t purport to opine which is “best.”  All palates, as I have often said, are personal and right for the owner of that palate.  But I can say that not many a Chardonnay offers all that McGuigan’s “The Plan” does and certainly not at a suggested retail price of $11.99.  Perhaps Yates would approve. The “Plan” Chardonnay has found a common ground that just might be able to unite the Chardonnay camps.


Follow and like Wine Mizer on Facebook for mini-reviews, industry news and more.

McGuigan Wines:                   
ALC:                                                      12.5%
TA:                                                         5.5g/L
pH:                                                         3.35
RS:                                                         9 g/L

Suggested Pairing:  Creamy pasta or risotto, roast or creamy sauced chicken, shellfish and salmon, cheese or ham-based salads, macadamia nuts, crab cakes and scallops (or chowders). 

Stay tuned for a review or reviews of other McGuigan wines landing ashore here.


“Wine lives and should be respected as a living thing.  It develops in the bottle, and opens in the glass.”…. James McMillan

The more wine I enjoy from cooler climate Monterey County (California), the more I enjoy wine that shows typicity.  And the more wines I enjoy from Scheid Family Vineyards, with estate vineyards in Monterey County, the more I enjoy wines that offer value.  Uncork and pour, this “Metz Road” Pinot Noir shows “old world” character of forest floor, brandied berries and mushroom compost.  If that’s what tingles your taste buds: enjoy. You won’t be disappointed.  But I recommend you decant after tasting from the bottle, or at the least, vacuum pump and enjoy the next day.

That’s when it opens in the glass. Floral notes of lilac, delicate and haunting, red licorice and a meld of brandied cherries. It’s one of those wines whose aromas are so enjoyable, it makes you put off tasting it for the joy of continuing to whiff the aromas.  It morphs in the glass as moments pass.  Initially, a tad sweet, then lots of brown spice with a hint of nutmeg and cinnamon (unusual for this varietal) and black plum. The spice carries into its long finish.  Its nose offers cherry and blackberry. Its texture, with air in the glass, continues to get creamier. “Old world” notes of woodruff and forest floor meet “new world” cherry and liquid smoke in this medium bodied wine that is yet fruit rich with cherry and cola and develops some heat which remains throughout a long finish.

Metz Road is single vineyard juice from the Riverview Vineyard and named for the road (Metz) running alongside Riverview Vineyard. The vineyard is nestled on a bench high above the Salinas River and near Monterey Bay.  Cold afternoons and lingering coastal fogs make for a cool growing micro-climate so beneficial for Pinot Noir.  Grapes are hand picked in early morning, pressed to temperature controlled stainless steel tanks, then racked 100% to French oak (60% new) for twenty months before bottling.

None of this routine is exclusive. But what may be exclusive is the price to quality ratio of this wine from Scheid Family Wines. With an ARP of $30, Metz Road combines old and new world style with no jarring overtones to diminish its balance.  Tannin, acidity and fruit work in partnership balance. I tasted vintages from 2013 (from their Mesa del Rio vineyard, also in Monterey) and 2015 and found them consistent in quality and style.
Attention to detail even includes useful info on
the label instead of  the all too common foo-fo.

Scheid Family Wines is one of the region’s largest growers and one you may never have heard of. But it’s likely you have enjoyed their wines.  Like other wineries, Scheid produces wine under many labels (Andover Estate, Aristotle, District 7, Pareto’s Estate and others) and sometimes without the Scheid name prominent.  And, as with most wineries, they offer different levels within the same varietal, so there is more than one Pinot Noir, for example, with levels of quality being branded differently.  I’ve enjoyed several of Scheid’s varietals including Chardonnay, Riesling, Petite Sirah and a blend of Petite Sirah and Petit Verdot and others.  Consistent throughout has been a price to quality ratio bespeaking value. 

………………. Jim
Follow and like Wine Mizer on Facebook for mini-reviews, industry news, pairing suggestions and more.

TECH SPECS   (For 2015 Vintage)
Scheid Wines:          
Metz Road Wines:   
ALC:                                 14%
Brix (at harvest):               25.7
PH:                                    3.72
TA:                                    0.64 g/L
Clones:                              Pommard, 667, 777
Soil:                                  Well-drained decomposed granite          
Points:                               91 Wine Enthusiast
Juice is fermented in open top fermenters with a punch down three times daily to gently extract color and tannins.


“Battles, unlike bargains, are rarely discussed in society.”….. James Fenimore Cooper

How times have changed since I first read The Last of the Mohicans in high school.  Today, it seems everything is fit for discussion or even viewing on the airwaves.  But on the plus side, given this lack of reservation today, it’s OK now for me to review this wine with an ARP of just $11. I can be a certified “snob” and a Mizer at the same time!  That’s a good thing because the story of this wine is an interesting one.

It begins in 1946 when Santa Cristina was introduced as a Chianti Classico by Niccolo Antinori.  Instrumental in the renaissance of Chianti, the Antinori family was involved in the famous Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc blend (“Tignanello”) that was influential in the “Super Tuscan” movement and “Solaia”, also from the Tignanello Estate.

Santa Cristina is a blend of Sangiovese (60%), with the remaining 40% coming from Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah and was never meant to be the others.    In 1987, with the passage of the DOCG laws (surprisingly spearheaded by Niccolo’s son, Piero), lower yields were mandated for classified vineyards. Among other things, more aging would also be necessary and doing this would alter the style and character of Cristina.

Interesting because one of the first things that struck me upon tasting this wine was its “new world” character.  Its taste is a tad sweet - attributable to rich, ripe, juicy fruit.  The nose is of mashed berry preserves. On the palate, the wine coats; thick, rich and juicy with ultra-ripe berry. A hint of cherry cola and a whispered hint of cardamom-like spice.

With the 1987 vintage, Santa Cristina moved away from the Chianti Classico designation and began adding Merlot in 1994 (10%) to the blend to make it softer and add more nuances of fruit.  The wine now is classified IGT (as were Super Tuscans anyway). While some may lament this “declassification”, I’ll opine that Niccolo Antinori knew where he wanted to go with this wine and arrived successfully where he intended.

That doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy Chianti Classico or even the Chianti from the DOCG’s 6 other sub-zones.  It doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy the dry and tannic Nebbiolo of Barolo. It does mean that there is room for all styles.  And, as I write this, I’m thinking of people whose only experience with Italian wine (other than Prosecco) has been with one of the Nebbiolo grape, maybe a Gattinara, and assumed that was representational of Italian wine.  Or maybe they found Chianti too acidic.

Italy is the land of over 900 grapes, but that doesn’t even matter in this example because – other than Sangiovese which is so widely accepted it might as well be an “international variety – the rest of the grapes are!  For those people wanting to branch out and taste the wines of the “old world,” this is your introduction.  For “old world” wine aficionados that want a “daily red’ and are in the mood to lighten the load on their palate, this is your wine also. 

With an ARP of $11 U.S., this wine is Antinori’s best value Tuscan red. I found it at $8.99 making it taste even better.  Grapes are grown on their estate hillside vineyards in Cortona, near Montalcino. Varieties are picked at different times favoring each variety’s most opportune time, then   de-stemmed and soft pressed. The must is fermented on the skins for one week (may vary) in stainless, then racked before undergoing malolactic fermentation. The result, after blending, is a “user friendly,” easy drinking red wine with red fruit and very gentle tannins. Other tasters note hints of black pepper, eucalyptus, blackberry, mint and cranberry. A wine for all seasons most definitely suitable for discussion in society.

………….. Jim

Follow Wine Mizer on Facebook for mini-reviews, industry news and happenings.

Santa Cristina:   
ALC:                             13%
Imported By:               Ste Michelle Wine Estates
                                    Woodinville, WA


“Only the unimaginative can fail to find a reason for drinking champagne.”Oscar Wilde, Irish playwright and novelist

I’ll admit to stating that most don’t enjoy Champagne in a way as to be fair to it. We drink it too cold. Pop, Pour, Fix and Gulp. And if it foams out of the bottle, even better!  I’m not suggesting that it be enjoyed in a white wine glass and that the mousse be allowed to settle a bit in the glass so as to enjoy the wine as a wine with the benefit of some air and without the freshly bubbling  mousse over stimulating and clouding the palate (well, actually, I am).

But I have to concede that Champagne does make every occasion special.  It needn’t be a special occasion. It’s the Champagne itself that elevates the occasion.  Certainly now that the long road of labor has ended in your successful completion of the university’s requirements for a PhD – sure: open the Champagne.  The repair shop calls you to advise the problem with your car is not as serious as what they thought and it will cost much less than what they estimated – sure: wake up from that dream and enjoy a glass.  Or, it’s Sunday. And you’re looking forward to time with the newspaper and making something to eat without you having to eat it behind the steering wheel of your car on your way to work.  Brunch anyone?

I love Champagne.  Its acidity makes it a trusted companion to many foods. A brut can go nicely with oysters on the half shell or just as well with potato chips on movie night at home and you in your pajamas.  Or poached eggs and salmon toast. Or wasabi deviled eggs, or actually so many styles of deviled eggs. Or smoked trout, salmon or other roe over cream cheese and horseradish filled Belgian endive cups. Sushi, sashimi, oh my!

A previous Sunday was so lazy, I used whatever I had. No trips to the grocery. Brunch made from what was on hand and wine from the “cellar”.  That meant quiche Lorraine, fresh fruit, steamed asparagus. That meant Champagne Bollinger special cuvee brut.  On the nose, it’s all clean and fresh. There’s a whisper of clean sea breeze and a note of kelp. The Kimmergian shelf extending into Champagne, comprised of the shells of marine micro-organisms, contributes to a sub-soil of chalk, marl and limestone that gives the wines from Champagne their unique minerality and (for me) salinity on the nose.  On the palate: a meld of citrus-orange and brioche.  Minerality is strong and commanding attention while yet being part of a whole. Apple is dominant. Notes of toasted walnut.

The wine is 60% Pinot Noir, 25% Chardonnay and 15% Pinot Meunier. 30% of the juice is aged in used oak barrels of 228-liter size (60.2 gallons) and some (40-year-old) 400 liter casks before blending. It’s rich with no jagged edges; a nice roundness that can only be appreciated by slowing its consumption down after pouring it into your glass.  Bollinger’s own vineyards are the source of over 60% of their production which emphasizes Pinot Noir. And while vintage conditions change with weather, these estate vineyards provide for consistency in location at least, and in the management and harvesting of the vineyards. The wine is matured for 30-36 months on the lees with the final blend consisting of 40% to 50% of reserve wines and 5-10% of those reserve wines being 5-15 years in age and having been kept in magnums, instead of stainless or cask, under cork. Bollinger has more than 750,000 reserve magnums stored and it is this reserve wine that contributes to notes of dried fruit (apricot) that adds to the complexity of their Special Cuvee. Of the Chardonnay used in their Special Cuvee, 90% comes from premier and grand cru vineyards in the Cotes des Blancs.

This is labor intensive made Champagne with other tasters commenting on notes of peaches and pear, crème brulee and candied Meyer lemon zest and hazel nuts. It is the purest expression of Bollinger’s house style and, I think, will even get better with 1-2 years aging in your cellar. Its balance of creaminess and tart-crisp acidity is Wallenda-like.  What a pity to Pop, Pour, Fizz and Gulp. But with a little time in the glass, what a reward!  Be imaginative and think of your own reason to pair it with something – and make that something something special.

……... Jim

Follow and like Wine Mizer on Facebook for mini-reviews, industry news and more.

Imported By:               Terlato Wines International
ALC:                           12%
Style:                           Brut
Dosage:                       8-9 grams per liter
ARP                            $57. (U.S.)
James Suckling:          92 Points
Wine & Spirits Mag:  93 Points
Wine Spectator:          93 Points

Note:   Full disclosure requires I admit to having a built-in, incontrollable preference for Blanc de Blanc, 100% Chardonnay.  You too will have a preference and that may include Blanc de Noir or sparkling wines, or Champagne other than a brut style, or Prosecco or still another form of “bubbly”.    


"Work is love made visible. And if you cannot work with love but only with distaste, it is better that you should leave your work and sit at the gate of the temple and take alms of those who work with joy. For if you bake bread with indifference, you bake a bitter bread that feeds but half man's hunger. And if you grudge the crushing of the grapes, your grudge distils a poison in the wine.” …..   Khalil Gibran

Imagine a world in which, one by one, pigments began mysteriously disappearing and eventually, artists could paint using just one color.  And every musical instrument could only play one note: “C”.  Roses came in only one type: shrub and in orange.  And every street, everywhere, was “one way” and going in the same direction!

Front Label
If you love wine, you must love grapes. They can’t all be your favorite.  But they should all be  respected.  Many were here, the gift of nature, before we were.  And when we learned all the fun things we could do with them, some became our favorites, what are known as the “international varieties” of the wine trade.  Problem is, production follows demand.  And when demand becomes too narrowly focused, production of some wines suffers.  It becomes a spiral downward and then ….

And then there is no more.

So thanks go out to Emilio Buffon who has invested his life’s passion and resources to the revival of indigenous vines such as Cividin, Sciaglin and Ucelut (for white wine) and Forgiarin, Cjanorie, Cordenossa, Fumat and Piculit Neri (for the reds).  He discovered some of these varietals, in a state of abandon, more than thirty-five years ago, at his winery in northeast Italy. They had long been neglected, overgrown by undergrowth. Not pruned and not tended.  With government assistance, he worked to identify these vines. He worked the earth to restore it to health and propagated the vines, replanted them and eventually made wine from the varietals. Most were indigenous to this area within Italy and close to becoming extinct. At a time when “international varietals were increasingly being blended with the popularly accepted grapes of their home countries, there was little interest in this and great financial risk.  Long since forgotten, there was no “play book” for making these wines.  No taste standard.  Just trial and hopefully no errors. You poured the finished wine and a new play book opened.
But the thought that these gifts of nature (which were and are unique to this area at the foothills of the province of Pordenone on the banks of the Tagliamento river) were doomed to extinction in his own lifetime, that was a loss Bulfon could not be party to.  Currently, 11 of his almost 16 hectares are devoted to the cultivation of native Friulan recovered varieties. And on May 6, 1991 the Minister for Agriculture included the Forgiarin, Sciaglin, Ucelut and Piculit  Neri varieties in the National Catalogue of Vines.  

For me, it offered up an aroma of woodsy brambled berries. On the palate, a very bright tart cherry taste.  Others pick up herbaceous and smoky vanilla notes, red berries and pomegranate. One taster commentated about the wine’s “strong” (another “mild”) minerality, and a hint of blackberry and blackcurrant.  Another referenced a “milk chocolatey mocha” character. We all agreed that tannins were noticeable, but didn’t agree on the level, with me stating they were mild-plus to moderate.

Rear Label
Not having had this wine for many years and not remembering the experience, I was concerned with noting its “markers” --- those dominant characters I would remember if blind tasting this wine again and then challenged to identify it.  Good for me. Not fair to the wine, perhaps, when writing about it.  It finished crisply with a good balance of fruit to acidity.

There’s something else we can agree about and it’s that without Emilio Bulfon our world would be even more “grape franchised” than it is, and without the opportunity to explore those areas of our palate that we yet may not know can be so enjoyable. Emelio Bulfon’s work was love made visible, and we can be the beneficiaries.

………….. Jim
Follow Wine Mizer on Facebook for mini-reviews, industry news, food pairing suggestions and more.

Emelio Bulfon Winery:
Production Area:                     Friuli Gave, Western Foothills
Vineyard Location:                 Colle;Pinzano al Tagliamento
                                                Valeriano; Castelnovo del Friuli
Classification:                         IGT
Training:                                 Double & Simple Guyot
Density:                                  4000 Vines Per Hectare
Number of Buds:                    12-14 Per Vine
Yield:                                      70-80 Quintals per Hectare   
ALC:                                       13%
ARP:                                       $20.
Imported By:                           Imports In., Chicago IL.
Note: 1 Quintal equals .1102 Tons and 1 Hectare equals 2.471 acres.        

Recommended (by the vineyard) Pairings: Meat dishes, game or fowl.  With its crisp acidity and bright, clean fruit, I would enjoy this, however, with an Italian style charcuterie with dry salami, hard cheese and vegetable


“If you really want to make a friend, go to someone’s house and eat with them…the people who give you their food give you their heart.”….. Cesar Chavez

This one was easy.  I went to their house and brought the food.  To cinch the deal, I also brought the wine and cooked the food. But we were already long-time friends.  In retrospect, I think the wine assured we would remain so. This is Napa juice in that rich, lusciously decadent style that earned Napa Cabernet Sauvignon international attention.

The entree plate served up thick slices of sweet onion baked in beef broth and coconut aminos, drained then broiled quickly with Gruyere cheese.  Oven roasted beets (red, golden and Chioggia) with goat cheese, fresh thyme and sage and, finally, grass-fed filet mignon over a bed of Shitake mushrooms finished in a light sherry cream sauce.

Cabernet Sauvignon is to steak as the magician is to your kid’s party.  Its tannins transform the steak’s protein and it’s magically symbiotic; the steak elevating the wine and the wine returning the compliment, eliciting oohs, aahs and wows from the “audience”.  Putting a meal together for five by one’s self and in someone else’s kitchen guarantees that some things will not go well, especially for just an average cook, rushed, and with less than acceptable plating skills.  But as I’ve often said, if the wine is good, really good, some errors will go unnoticed. And yes, this wine is that good.

The juice is 97% Cabernet Sauvignon and 3% Petit Verdot, aged 80% in NEW French Oak and comes from their estate vines grown on the eastern side of sun drenched Oakville. All that sun creates rich, fully ripened fruit and all that new oak adds luxurious secondary notes.  The nose is rich with blackberry, currant, black cherry and cedar woven together in a fine tapestry with a hint of sage.  Blackberry carries onto the palate, joined by cassis, bell pepper, black olive, graphite, oak and vanilla.  Fruit is rich, but offset by the cedar and notes of leather, herbs and spice.  Other tasters note anise, mocha, mint, licorice and charcoal.

Despite its rich fruit, creamy, silky and gliding across the palate, Plumpjack is concentrated and focused and should age well, becoming more complex, through 2029.  It has a medium plus finish that will probably extend itself with aging but is a delicious experience now.  Tannins are perfectly integrated.  And there’s no “heat” on the finish, allowing the fruit and secondary notes to dissipate naturally without being cut short or obscured by alcohol burn. 

The Plumpjack Winery and Vineyard dates back to 1881 when it was then known as Mount Eden Winery.  Multiple shifts and changes to 1995 when it became Plumpjack.   In 2000 (because of cork taint damaging the wine industry across the board) Plumjack boldly moved to twist-off closures on 50% of their Reserve 1997 Cabernet Sauvignon, demonstrating a commitment to quality at the risk of market perception. Forward to 2016, Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate awarded 100 points to Plumpjack’s 2013 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon. 

Back now to this 2009: Despite its ARP of $130, supplies of Plumpjack sell out quickly with bottles of this vintage now being sold on auction at prices above $210. At either price, this is not your “daily red” but a special occasion bottle or gift bottle for lovers of Cabernet Sauvignon.   Look for current vintages.  2009 was rated (as a vintage) 96, but so was 2008, 2010, 2012, 2013 and 2014 and can you some money on that “once in a lifetime” experience.

………………… Jim

Follow and like Wine Mizer on Facebook for industry news and mini reviews.

PlumpJack Winery
620 Oakville Cross Rd
Oakville CA 94562

ALC:                                                  14.8%
Robert Parker                                     94 Points
Wine Enthusiast                                 93 Points


“Drinking good wine in good company is one of life’s most civilized pleasures.”… Michael Broadbent

Every time I enjoy Sauvignon Blanc, I’m still surprised that this grape, along with Cabernet Franc, is responsible for creating Cabernet Sauvignon: a red wine grape more structured than either of its parents, tannic and with concentrated phenolics.  But DNA profiling took this from suspicion to fact back in 1997.  Now the only suspicion remaining is when (not how) this occurred. The “how” is that the crossing was spontaneous, an act of Mother Nature in the field.  The “when” is guessed to be in the 18th century, and the “where” is in the Loire Valley of France.

That brings me to surprise number two.  The Loire Valley is home to Sancerre.  It is home to Pouilly-Fume and their eastern satellites: Quincy, Reuilly, and Menetou-Salon.  The climate here and the porous limestone soil argue intelligently for matching the variety to terroir.  And when it comes to enjoying Sauvignon Blanc, this is the juice I have always drank.  It is the spiritual home of this varietal.  Despite New Zealand catapulting into the U.S. market “big time” with its Marlborough style in the mid-1980s, Sauvignon Blanc from the Loire is still my “reflex” option.   All palates are personal and mine prefers the more subtle, mineral notes from France.

Problem is, this Sauvignon Blanc is from California. Vines are estate grown in the Russian River Valley in Sonoma County.  I had tasted Rochioli’s “Estate” (blend) Sauvignon Blanc before. (see ).   The blend is not of varietals, but separate plots (all estate) and 55% of that blend is harvested from the original 1959 plot from which this single vineyard (“Old Vines”) Sauv Blanc is exclusively made.   As a life long Francophile, I shouldn’t like it as much as I do.   But three generations and over seventy-five years of wine making and grape growing experience by the Rochioli family in the Russian River Valley AVA have won me over.

I served this wine with the first course of a dinner I prepared for some very dear friends.  Best wines should always be shared with friends.  And with the first course being asparagus soup, Sauvignon Blanc was a given. It’s the wine that can pair with this challenging vegetable.    My original concern was “How much better could this single vineyard Sauvignon Blanc be?”  As I said, 55% of the estate blend is comprised of juice from this same plot.  I ordered just two bottles.  That’s two too bad!  While the estate blend is seductively delicious, this “Old Vines” (list) wine takes it up a notch.

Somehow, Tom Rochioli has managed in the “new world” to repress yet express fruit. His wine serves as a definition of “balance”, a see-saw of “old world” terroir and “new world” fruit melded with nuance. In the glass, it’s suggestion rather than dominance.  Stronger on the nose than a comparable Sancerre it weaves together that region’s minerality with a hint of New Zealand’s grapefruit and South Africa’s savory qualities.  It’s all there, but each note is reserved; working in harmony as an essential contribution to the balanced whole.

I understand you’re looking for traditional tasting notes. But that’s the beauty of Rochioli’s single vineyard Sauvignon Blanc.  Using them - the crib notes of wine reviewers - would be a disservice. If you appreciate seduction, hint, nuance – you will appreciate this wine for its complex mystery. The challenge in tasting and talking about this magnificent Sauvignon Blanc is dissecting its flavors. The wine is a woven texture of intermingled tastes.  Vegetative/herbal (grass, green herbs, tomato leaf, sage) against tree fruit & melon (green melon) and citrus (lime, grapefruit). Gooseberry vs. rounder, softer notes. Lime leaves against lavender. It’s the seamless melding of characters in Rochioli’s Sauvignon Blanc that amazed me. Nothing to excess. Everything in balance, playing against its opposite. It plays in the glass and on the palate as a symphony, not a concerto. No one note is dominant, each coming in at seemingly the right moment and with just the correct volume to work for the taster's enjoyment.  The five of us at dinner (all wine aficionados, and two of us committed Francophiles) were impressed.  That’s a consensus and a recommendation for a wine you may want to enjoy at your own table.

……………… Jim
Follow and “like” Wine Mizer on Facebook for mini-reviews, industry news and more.

(1)    Asparagus soup just needs some onion, celery, carrot and garlic, all diced, softened stove top and made smooth in the food processor then simmered in chicken broth with just a touch of half & half added later. Recipe upon request (if I can remember).

(2)    The estate blend is available retail and at the winery (or through its website).  “List” wines are available, because of their limited production, only to those individuals who have registered to be included on the “list”.  Visit the website, if interested, and sign in to be included.  Many people, like me, on the list are old and won’t be on the list forever – thereby making room.

(3)    Coming up:  Part III: The Main Course!

J. Rochioli Vineyards & Winery:        
6192 Westside Rd, Healdsburg, CA 95448

ARP                                                               N/A  ($48.00 “list” price)
ALC:                                                             14.5%


“You are the butter to my bread and the breath to my life.” … Julia Child
Despite that this bubbly is of the house of famed Moet Chandon and Dom Perignon, it is not champagne.  Only the twice fermented-in-the-bottle juice that is produced within the Champagne region of France can be so labeled.  Other such wines produced, albeit within France, are most often labeled as cremant  (d’alsace, de Bourgogne, du Jura, de Limoux, de Loire, etc.),  some of which may even be produced exactly according to the same strict requirements of Champagne, but they are not champagne.  Other countries too have their own names such as Metodo Classico (Italy), Cava (Spain) or Sekt (Germany) and others.  So too is it with Domaine Chandon’s etoile, which is produced in California and known as sparkling wine.

Domaine Chandon produces several labels, including a rose in the etoile signature bottle and was the first (1973) French owned sparkling wine venture in the United States. Etoile may be referred to as their “prestige cuvee.”  They also produce a “tete de cru” etoile, but that is a vintage (2008).   While this cuvee is not a vintage sparkling wine, it is the top of their “house style” using the best grapes from the best lots of current and past vintages and a unique blend of reserve wines.  And, for me, it’s value exceeds it price point and is a sparkling wine that, while domestic, speaks French fluently.

The blend is 48% Chardonnay, 46% Pinot Noir and 6% Pinot Meunier (classic) from the Carneros sub-AVA straddling both Napa and Sonoma Valley. 72% is from the Sonoma side and 21% from Napa - with 7% Monterey. Carneros is kept cool by the bay breezes and thick fog making it excellent for growing sparkling wine grapes with good acidity. But this is California: warmer still and sunnier than Champaign.  Fruit is more developed and ripe with flavor that is more fruit forward, but not too much. Maybe better stated as making it more approachable.   For my palate and pocketbook, it’s a domestic that tastes French and is the best value to be had.

Bubbles are indeed fine and persistent bringing aromas of ginger and brown spice, toasted almonds, honey, and buttered toast offset by citrus notes that keep it all fresh and tantalizing.  If there is any “fault” to this creamy textured wine, it is that is SO versatile. Sure, it’s great with oysters on the half shell.  Seared scallops with a lemony beurre blanc sauce? Exquisite.

But I was making a simple, easy and casual brunch.  Something that wouldn’t take me away from the table for long, that could be served family style and enjoyed with options  So it became fresh, organic fruit with muffin cups made from hash brown organic Yukon Gold potatoes filled with egg and choice of three fillings: (1) bacon and 7 year sharp cheddar (2) dry salami, spinach and Parmesan Reggiano and (3) diced ham steak and Gruyere with fresh basil.   The fruit was perfectly ripe and delicious. Some was left.  The egg cups were just done. Not over, not under. Just right. Several were left.  The Chandon etoile?  Not a drop remained.

No wonder. On the palate, this refined and creamy sparkling wine rewards with tastes of hazel nuts, Fuji apple, hints of candied ginger and toasted almond and caramel.  The extended sur lie aging (minimum 5 years then six months in bottle before release) contributes nuttiness, texture and brioche notes, but this is all balanced and offset harmoniously by a zesty and lively citrus acidity.  This is “American” sparkling wine classically made using centuries-old winemaking techniques that results in a sparkling wine that is layered, complex, refined and refreshing, dry but not tart; richer than Chandon’s brut classic and a sparkling wine the grand dame herself (Julia Child) would serve happily.

………………. Jim
Follow and “like” Wine Mizer on Facebook for mini reviews, suggested food pairings, industry news and more.

Domaine Chandon            
ALC:                                13%
ARP                                 $32 (I’ve seen it priced between $29 - $50)
Wine Enthusiast               93 Points
Wine Spectator                91 Points
Wine Mizer                      A Staple at my House

** This is Part I of III Parts of a “dinner day” I recently prepared for dear friends.  The food was alright. The wines, however, were outstanding and need to be recognized. Join me on the adventure.