“One of the disadvantages of wine is that it makes a man mistake words for thoughts.”
-  Samuel Johnson

I recall tasting a Zinfandel aged in Gambia barrels. It was an interesting experience, mostly so because no one at the dinner party could identify the varietal.  Among other things, the wood had so changed the natural character of the grape that identifying it was impossible without a DNA kit.  Was it a Petite Sirah?  Yes, you would think so, but that’s not what Zinfandel should taste like.  Delicious?  Actually, it was. But what’s the point?  What other Zin could you contrast this bottle against fairly?  It was not representative of the grape.  What it was was so unique as to become a variety of one.

Maybe I need to be more open minded. All wine is manipulated after all. Just tasting free run juice will convince you how essential vinification is to the flavor of unvinified juice.   But it does seem that wine can be over manipulated and, in the process, lose its varietal character, its natural essences. I have long felt that way about Sauvignon Blanc.  It’s naturally acidic and fresh. A perfect summer refresher. Oaking it just seems wrong. Would you oak Riesling? To quote a great New Yorker cartoon, “Is Nothing Sacred?” But then I tasted an oaked version made by someone more famous for making Pinot Noir in Sonoma than Sauvignon Blanc.  It worked. Very well. With that lesson under my belt, I was willing to try another; ergo the Chilean Gran Reserva!

First thing to know is that unlike Spain, Chile has no legal definition for applying the term “Grand Reserva”. Affixing that term to the label is left to the discretion of the estate. It may or may not be applied due to better barrels being used, or a selection of superior grapes from their best vineyards being selected.  But it is not associated with aging length. The only requirement is that oak be used.

I also have to admit my inherent preferences
(call them base-line prejudices). In Sauvignon Blanc, I prefer Sancerre or Pouilly Fume. But I’ve had Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand (of course, it’s the law here), various states in the U.S., in white Bordeaux, and others from South Africa, Australia and parts elsewhere.  Despite this background, I wasn’t prepared at all for this experience.  A wine so totally different, yet remaining true to the grape’s character. The grapefruit is there, but not in the concentration of New Zealand's style. There was a cooked herbaceous quality to the wine’s aroma (asparagus?) that cousined the green tint to the wine’s otherwise lemon color.  But the taste was lively; bright even, though veiled through a sheeting of gun flint and quinine.

Somehow, fruit got through all this: lime and honeysuckle. Some passionfruit. guava and kiwi, but again veiled, this time through whispers of smoke. Not obstructive. Not intrusive. Interesting. Throw in some gooseberry. If you can imagine this, you’ll understand why I was intrigued. And somehow, the finish ends brightly on an acidic freshness with salinity.

Grapes are from Casa del Bosque’s own vineyards, about 70 kilometers (43.4 miles) from Santiago, the capital of Chile, and from their vineyards in the coolest, westernmost reaches of the Casablanca Valley.   While my opinion, or that of anyone is not, nor should be, a deciding factor, I’ll be buying more of this wine again just to better appreciate the rendition.  You may have read Hamlet, and seen it acted a dozen times, even seen it on the screen. But you’ll still pick up a nuance in a different production that makes the experience new. That’s how I felt with this Sauvignon Blanc from Casa del Bosque.  Vinous awarded it 91 points; Stephen Tanzer 91. And I? I plan to re-live the experience for the sheer interest of it.

…………………… Jim
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Grapes were destemmed, crushed to stainless via a chiller and kept at 4c/39f, then cold soaked 74 hours. Free run juice then drained by gravity. Remaining skins and juice then pneumatic pressed and left to cold settle at 10c/50f for 4 days. Following this, 26% was racked to stainless and inoculated with selected yeasts and ultra-cool fermented (6.5c/44f). After fermentation, this was aged 2 months on gross lees (without stirring) before being blended. The remaining 74% was fermented with selected yeasts in 2nd and 3rd use French oak with temps peaking at 22c/72f. Post fermentation, the barrels were stirred weekly, after which (two months later) the barrel and tank components were blended, cold stabilized and filtered.

Variety :                               Sauvignon Blanc, 64% clone 107, 36% clone 242.
Avg. Age of Vines               9 Yrs.
Soil Comp.                           Hillside, red clay and decomposed granite
Alc:                                      14%
pH:                                        3.24
TA (Total Acidity):               6.3 g/L (grams per Liter)
RS (Residual Sugar):            2.2 g/L
Volatile Acidity                    0.39 g/L
ARP:                                    <$15.00 U.S.



“The discovery of a good wine is increasingly better for mankind than the discovery of a new star.” – Leonardo da Vinci

If I tell people that I’m writing another piece about Chardonnay, I can almost hear the yawn over my internet connection. But someone is not being truthful. Chardonnay is the largest planting in California. It was not always so.  And Chardonnay is more widely distributed worldwide than any other variety.  It’s malleable, more so I think than any other grape. Dry, oaked, unoaked, classic in Champagne and used in sweet wine, it’s a grape for all palates.

Making good Chardonnay is a rite of passage for vintners, and so many offerings are delicious. But every so often, one is offered – a particular vintage from a particular winery that goes over the mark and is exceptional, surprising and memorable: A wine both for summer enjoyment by itself and also enjoyable with food.  One versatile, delicious bottle that travels from the table on the deck to the table in the dining room.

My most recent experience of this came with tasting Lynfred’s 2015 Chardonnay. Grapes are sourced from Heringer Vineyards in Clarksburg, California and are planted specifically for Lynfred by the vineyard. On the nose, I enjoyed expected citrus, but also a hint of peach, pear and apricot pit.  Most inviting, however, was its clean, fresh scent. Everything about this wine said “fresh” and was sip inviting while at the same time making a taste at the expense of continued enjoyment of the aroma a sacrifice.

There’s a slight caramel-butter taste in the wine that softens the citrusy acid. It’s a pleasing push-pull of sensation enhanced by the creamy lanolin mouthfeel of the wine on the palate. Citrus peel carries into the taste along with key lime and (most enjoyable for me) jasmine.

I paired this wine with numerous dishes. Lynfred suggests a Watercress, Endive & Grilled Peach Salad (see their website for recipe). I made halibut with a butter-lemon-caper sauce and enjoyed the wine’s acidity cutting through the sauce and cleansing the palate. It worked equally well with shrimp burgers I made. Grilled scallops with orange segments were fun too. A green salad with grilled chicken dressed in a raspberry vinaigrette? No problem. The wine wasn’t put off by the vinaigrette. Its artistry is in its versatility; chameleon like, it seems lighter weighted when necessary and fuller bodied as needed; one wine.

No, one bottle didn’t do all this. I so enjoyed the wine, I went back to the winery several times, and piecemealed together a case bottle by bottle. The winery also recommends pairing this wine with grilled trout, pork loin, stuffed mushrooms and glazed turkey. I can see all these working very well because the wine’s strong point is its balance.  While there’s enough acid, for sure, it’s not out front.  While the wine is aged in oak, it’s not out front.  Texture is enhanced by oak, but the resulting wine is not a vanilla one act play and there are no overdosing traces of charred wood smoke.  In fact, the wood is muted and, I suspect, only a small percentage used is new. *

While fresh, the wine has body. The finish is crisp and medium-length but so inviting you will want another sip, starting again the cycle of aroma-taste confliction.  I tasted Lynfred’s 2015 Chardonnay against two well regarded Saint-Veran. Saint Veran is an AOC requiring its wine be 100% Chardonnay and it borders its famous neighbor, Pouilly-Fuisse, in fact sharing soil type.  In the Maconnais sub-region, these wines are white Burgundies. I enjoy many styles of Chardonnay in the summer because the wines  lend themselves nicely against the lighter foods I seem to prefer in warm weather. And Saint Veran, lighter in style than some famous and oakier White Burgundies from other areas, seemed a fair comparison.  In each tasting against the two Saint-Veran (which will go unnamed), I (and my guest) preferred the Lynfred.  Fresher, clean, with lively acidity, it presented a balance of fruit to acid that made the wine refreshing, light and zippy but without being so acidic as to pose a hazard to your teeth enamel, yet presenting a delicious taste of balanced fruit.    

The team of Andres Basso (Director of Winemaking) and Rodrigo Gonzalez (Head Winemaker) at Lynfred have become a dynamic duo. Each has impressive education credentials and international experience, but Andre previously at Concha y Toro and Rodrigo at Casa Lapostolle bring to memory wines I’ve enjoyed that perhaps they made while they were there. For sure, they’ve given me one with their 2015 Chardonnay.

At prices between $20 and $22 (club price differentiation), you’ll find this wine a workhorse, being able to use it across varied terrains of cuisine.  And who am I to argue with da Vinci anyway?  From my perspective, a really good bottle of wine is perhaps more relevant to the moment than what happened ten millennia ago in a galaxy far, far away to a distant star. Either way, it seems the stars were aligned with this wine.

……………….. Jim

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·         I since learned my instinct was spot on. Only 38% of the wine was aged in wood (American) and that being with second and third use barrels.  Batonnage twice monthly.

Variety :                               Chardonnay, 100%
Brix:                                    23  
Released:                             July 1, 2016
Total Cases:                         431
Aging:                                  8 months, 38% in American Oak 2nd & 3rd Use
RS                                        0.1%
Alc:                                     13.7%
Ph:                                        3.43
TA:                                       7.8 g/L
Drinkable Thru:                   3-5 years, potentially

Lynfred Winery
15 S Roselle Rd
Roselle, IL 60172
(630) 529-9463


Wine makes daily living easier, less hurried, with fewer tensions and more tolerance.” Benjamin Franklin

Black Ink Wines and TGIC Importers Inc introduced a red blend of Syrah, Merlot, Malbec and Zinfandel with the simple California appellation that earned 83 points from Wine Enthusiast upon its release. The label, allegedly, displays a squid (although I couldn’t see it) but the name is appropriate enough.  I’ve occasionally used the term “squid ink” in describing a wine’s color and the term here may be a little enthusiastically applied, although the wine is certainly medium to deep ruby.  More importantly: the wine is another crowd pleaser and, priced at $10 U.S., deserves the interest it has been drawing in the trade.

In the glass, Black Ink (2014) wafts a strong aroma of blackberry preserves with whispered notes of white pepper along with mashed blackberry and black plum. Straight to the point, these notes carry into the taste. The winemaker’s notes refer to smoky licorice. The licorice (not the smoke, more like smoked paprika for me) eluded my aged taste buds, though some cherry developed in the glass with air. The wine has a glycerin feel on the palate and finishes warmly in the back taste, blending some heat along with some sweetness that I found interesting.  At 13.5% ABV, the heat was surprising, but worked nicely against both the wine’s texture and sweetness.

One professional review referred to …”robust, dark, inky, tannin-rich…”  I found the tannins as rounded and soft as to be almost imperceptible: not a fault in a crowd pleasing, “safe” wine (see previous review for definition of “safe.”). There’s a reason why red blends are a dominant segment in the wine industry, and Black Ink serves as an example. Not made to be complex and analyzed over philosophically, it is a fruit forward, but not jammy wine that pleases the mass senses and does so at budget friendly prices. In fact, releases from TGIC refer frankly to Black Ink as a “juicy new red wine blend from California”.
TGIC Global Fine Wine Company (aka Guarachi Wine Partners) was founded in 1985 by Alex Guarachi of Chili and includes Black Ink of California in their portfolio of many fine wines including Bodega Norton and Pascual Toso. Guarachi Wine Partners has since become the #1 importer of South American wines priced over $10 and works with both international and domestic partners.
……………………. Jim

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“Most of the guests who stay here wouldn't know the difference between Bordeaux and Claret.” -----  John Cleese(Basil Fawlty) Fawlty Towers

Red wine, orange, rose and white; dry wine and sweet, sparkling wine – each adds to the buffet of our lifestyles that rotates with the occasion and season and the meal being served. Fruit forward or reserved and earthy, these styles too await the matching circumstance to show themselves at their best. And then, another category: from what I call “safe” wines.  These are not wines to contemplate analytically. They are simply enjoyable. They’re safe because they fit a  niche that requires easy drinking and socialization.  “Safe” wines are those that are the best choice for serving at a mixed group get together.  “Safe” wines are pleasurable to drink and serious enough so that advanced wine consumers won’t be against having a glass. Any large get together folds in people with different palates, but what is commonly shared is that they would like to spend time with you.  That can’t be done if you spend all your time hidden away opening bottles after looking through your racks wondering what to open next, and then next and then…

And then there’s the economics. Do you really want to open a Romanee-Conti for a mixed group that’s certain to include those who wouldn’t understand it?  Save those bottles for when they fit the required circumstance.  On the other hand, showing your guests what you think of them with a $5 bottle is showing them what you think of them.

I tasted Donati’s 2012 red blend and immediately thought it would fit nicely into both the everyday drinking and the “safe” wine category. With an ARP of $17, (found at $14.99) it’s affordable, one of the criteria for inclusion into this class.  It’s also well made. A blend of 47% Cabernet Sauvignon, 23% Merlot, 14% Malbec, 14% Cabernet Franc and 2% Petit Verdot, it is a classic “old world” blend from “new world” California vines.  Medium bodied and fruit forward, the wine presents a pleasing taste of blackberry, plum and black cherry fruit that is enjoyable by itself.  Not jammy and not cloying, the fruit is balanced nicely against acidity and picks up secondary character from 19 months aging (19% new French, 3% new American and 78% neutral oak).  With hints of earth, chocolate, cassis, violet and spice, the wine offers enough substance for “serious” wine drinkers to be able to enjoy it.

Grapes are from their vineyards in the Paicines AVA within the larger San Benito County AVA in the center of Coastal California.  This area has been under cultivation since its Mission Days, giving way later to wine giant Almaden which was sold and split up in the 1980s. Although several vineyards border the Paicines, the Donati Family Vineyards are, so far, the only winery-vineyard brand contained within this sub-appellation. South of San Jose and east of
Monteray, the AVA is located within Davis Class II where acreage is less costly than their neighbors more coastal. And while warmer than nearby regions within San Benito County, the Paicines appellation enjoys cooling breezes of ocean air from the cold Monterrey Bay which serves to cool temperatures overnight and extend hang time. (U of Davis classifies regional climates from 1 [the coolest] to 5, with zones 1-3 considered most suitable for production of premium wines).  

I was attracted to this bottle by its unpretentious use of the term “Claret” on the label.  In fact the winemaker’s own notes state, “Fruit forward and easy drinking by design….” Tannins are soft and rounded, fruit is forward and evident, but not syrupy and is presented in balance. Easy drinking, it’s a crowd pleaser.  91 points from Wine Enthusiast and awarded an “Editor’s Choice,” it also took GOLD at the 2015 San Francisco Chronical Wine Competition.  And your kids won’t need to go barefoot because at prices under $17, you can buy them shoes and some DFW Claret and still have some money left over for the get together.

……………… Jim
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Fermentation:                         Stainless, 100%
Twice daily punch downs & pump overs
Alc:                                          13.8% ABV
Bottled:                                   May 5-7, 2014
Cases:                                      9490

Donati Family Vineyard
2720 Oakview Rd
Templeton CA 93465


"Wine... the intellectual part of the meal." --- Alexandre Dumas, 1873

I’ve come across this grape before and each time, it seemed to present a chameleon like character: very unique as a varietal, sharing characteristics from label to label, but different in presentation from each vineyard.  What made me think about it again was recently tasting and writing about a Macedonian Pinot Noir that was blended 5% with Vranec.  VranEc is the Macedonian, and in Serbian, it has the “ac” ending. Whichever language, the grape itself goes back to the Middle Ages and has been cultivated since then in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Montenegro, Macedonia and, generally, throughout the southwestern Balkans.

Vranac is somewhat vigorous, and high yielding. It produces thin-skinned, black grapes in small bunches and with large berries and is sensitive to both frost and botrytis. But I’m unfamiliar with Vranac being made in a sweet style having been affected by “Noble Rot.”   The berries’ high sugar content can result in wines with high alcohol content (think Zinfandel).  In fact, it was often confused with Primitivo (think Zinfandel again) and modern DNA research shows they are closely related. Primitivo is sometimes blended with Vranac, through the wine of Monastery Tvrdos is not.  The bottle I enjoyed was 100% Vranac.

Monastery Tvrdos, I should explain, is the winery. Vines have been cultivated there (on and off) since the 15th century. The monastery was rebuilt in 1924 but the original stone cellar remained and is still used by the Orthodox Monks in conjunction with a newer one, built above, and allowing for gravitational transport of wine during processing.

Monastery Tvrdos is in Herzegovina, 15 miles from the Adriatic Sea. Conditions here are dry and Vranac, being best suited to warm soil, thrives here. In fact, it has been a Protected Geographical Indication in Montenegro since 1977 and is considered the most important variety, and one of the most important in Macedonia.

It can produce wines with some bitterness, though I’ve always found this character pleasant in the finish of the various Vranac I’ve tasted and it has never been overbearing. Regardless of the producer, Vranac wines will be dark ruby in the glass. From there, you will generally have a wine of moderate aroma but with flavors that may include fresh berries, forest berries, sour cherry, blackberry, blackcurrant, chocolate, cinnamon, mint and vanilla (barrel imparted).

Vranac wines are ageable due to the variety’s high tannin content and levels of acidity, and wines can improve with age, becoming rounder with tannins softened and more integrated. Like Sangiovese and others, Vranac is an autochthonous variety. It does seem to be the product of natural cross breeding and mutations over the years within this particular area. I’ll leave the specifics of that horticulture to experts, but Vranacs share a character and unique taste that, once experienced, is not forgotten.  These grapes are not grown elsewhere. The wine truly is unique.
So, given what makes Vranac all the same, what is it that separates one label from the other, specifically the Vranac of Monastery Tvrdos?  Look again at the descriptors two paragraphs above. Most, though not all will be present, in varying layers of dominance.  I didn’t get mint and vanilla, for example.  Monastery Tvrdos ages in old, neutral wood. And all palates are personal but what I did get (as did another taster) was fig – in the aromatics. That seemed unique to this label. Red fruit? Yes. But dominant was dried cranberry.  With the wine recently opened, in fact, the dried cranberry was rather assertive, though not displeasing.  Over the course of an hour, the cranberry became less sharp as red cherry notes developed to compete. Overall, the wine of Monastery Tvrdos had smoother tannins than other Vranacs I’ve tasted. It seemed slightly more “new world” in style, more fruit forward and less bitter.

Although this wine seems a natural pairing to grilled meats and sausages, goulash or stuffed peppers, I’m thinking this label – with the wine’s unusual cranberry notes – would be particularly delicious against ribs in barbeque sauce.  At the very least, thinking so gives me an opportunity to enjoy another bottle.

………………. Jim

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Varietal:                              Vranac, 100% (pronounced vra nats)
Producer:                            Monastery Tvrdos
Vintage:                              2012
Region:                               Bosnia-Herzegovina
Aging:                                24 Months, Old Monastic Oak Barrels
Filtered:                              Minimally
Alc:                                     13.7 -  14.5%

Terraneo Merchants


“No thing more excellent nor more valuable than wine was ever granted mankind by God”.
---  Plato, Greek philosopher, (c. 427-347 BC)

Alpha Estate’s Xinomavro (the grape is Xinomavro), is from the Amyndeon (a PDO) region in northern Greece.  Grapes for this wine are from a single vineyard (called “Hedgehog”) and grown on a plateau at elevation of 690 meters (about 2264 ft) with a northwest exposure, and face both Petron Lake and the Voras Mountain. Winters here are cold and the proximity of a body of water moderates the continental climate. With poor soil of sand and clay, but with excellent drainage, vines are water stressed. Berries are small with intense red color and concentrated flavor. As is so often the rule, good wines come from marginal areas.

Xinomavro is the predominant grape of northern Greece. Alpha Estates also makes a blended wine using it along with 40% Syrah, but I wanted to try an unblended “Xino”.  This is seriously good wine and an education for anyone having an interest in indigenous grapes of the world.

In the glass, its core is pale garnet falling to pale ruby with a thin iridescent rim and producing tinted tears.  Opened and poured, the nose offers cranberry and red licorice in a glycerin mouthfeel of tart cherry. My first thought was that this would be an interesting alternative to Zinfandel with any BBQ.  But more interest is solicited from this wine with air over the course of just two hours. Black plum, black cherry and raspberry become apparent with strong notes of cola.  Tannins are evident, but not harsh despite the “Xino” grape having that characteristic. The mouthfeel remained rich with strong notes of cherry cola, but the nose became more complex adding aromas of chocolate plum and brambled forest berries. The finish was long with notes of dark cocoa.

A powerful wine made so by the grape itself, I was impressed at the restraint and balance of tannin, acid and fruit in Alpha Estates’ Xinomavro.  In fact, the name Xinomavro translates to “acid-black”. But Alpha Estates‘ rendering of this grape into wine is a testament to the winemaker’s art and craft. It’s a harmonious composition.  Rather than BBQ and Zinfandel, I began thinking of this wine as a Nebbiolo and, indeed, the tannins inherent In “Xino” make it a wine suitable for aging, though it’s certainly enjoyable now. This is classic food wine offering notes too of leather and clove once properly aired.  

Or enjoy with some baked Greek cheese!
Vacuumed pumped and sealed overnight, fruit became more evident and the wine (though dry) exhibited a deceptive sweetness of candied cherry. A wine of a “thousand faces” (all enjoyable) from a country that has been making wine for thousands of years. Don’t deny yourself this experience because you’re not Greek (neither am I). So you won’t serve it with stuffed grape leaves. O.K., but stuffed peppers? Why not?  Try it with any BBQ or red sauced pasta and eggplant; grilled red meats and sausages.  In fact, the most fun could be trying a bottle or two over a period of time to see for yourself how the wine develops.  After all, Greece didn’t just develop Democracy. They’ve been developing wine grapes for thousands of years.

……………….. Jim
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Varietal:          Xinomavro   (Ksee no ma vro) 100%
PDO:                Amyndeon
Producer:        Alpha Estate
Vintage:           2011
Yield:               4200 kg grapes per hectare / 3,747 lbs per acre
Alc:                  14%
Vinification:     Sur lIes 8 months
Aging:              12 months French oak 50% new/50% second year, light 
.                        12 months additional in bottle. 
Robert Parker: 92 Points
ARP:                 About $20. (Found for $18 locally).
Importer:         US: Diamond Importers
                        528 Wrightwood
                        Chicago IL 60614
                        Tel: 773-549-6211

Alpha Estate   
2nd Km Amyndeon - St. Panteleimon
Tel. +30 23860 20111
Fax. +30 23860 20132


“Wine is sunlight held together by water.”  …. Galileo Galilei

If you love wine, if you’re passionate about it, read about it, want to know how it’s made and more, and if you have lived long enough to have tasted many bottles, there will be moments in memory that occasionally flash forward to you today.  One such, for me, was a 1947 port my sweetie gave me as a birthday gift.  Matured in wood 50 years before bottling, it was spiritually healing.  Another came along with another birthday as my brother gifted me with a single-vintage port from my birth year.  There were tastings and meetings with wine makers that still bring a smile of fond recognition.  But for the wines themselves, such experiences are rare by definition and, therefore, very special.

The most recent such was my experience with a Mount Eden Vineyards Pinot Noir (2010). As the label mentions, grapes are grown, fermented and estate bottled 2000 feet above the floor of the Santa Clara Valley on a peak of the Chaine d’Or in the Santa Cruz Mountains (an AVA in California). 
While the wines (Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon included) of Mount Eden Vineyards are consistently rated highly, 2010 was unusually cold.  Vines for Mount Eden’s pinot noir, grown on a soil of shale, enjoy cool and sunny conditions above the fog line. But with the particularly cool conditions for the 2010 vintage, hang time was extended. Maturation was slow and steady with exceptional phenolic development.  It was perfect for growing Pinot Noir.

And the vines themselves are among the oldest in California, brought to California and propagated by French winemaker Paul Masson. Martin Ray, of Mount Eden, planted them in 1945. Masson was friends with the family of Louis Latour (Burgundy) and it’s likely the selection came from the family’s finest vineyards and were brought to California by Masson in the 1880’s.

Moving ahead, fermentation at Mount Eden incorporates a large percentage of whole cluster, including stems. The vines themselves benefit from vertical shoot positioning, keeping the canopy well aerated and shade free as possible, maximizing sun exposure and providing circulation between leaves (particularly important for thin-skinned pinot noir). Already “old vines”, they are even thinned, as necessary, to providing for yields not exceeding two tons per acre; typically one to one to one-and-a half tons per acre.
Coq-Au-Vin, purple carrots. Simple. Elegant and so
Perfectly Complimented by the Wine

All wine begins in the vineyard and the vineyard here produces excellent grapes.  But what you do with those grapes is the partner to how they are grown.  Whole cluster fermentation … classic. Using natural yeasts, fermenting in small, open-top fermenters ten to fourteen days, with hand punch downs. Wine is matured in 75% new French oak (25% one year old wood) then aged 18 months. Not filtered. Not fined. This is as close to Burgundy as California can get without a major shift in our earth’s tectonic plates. (Not something anyone in California wants to hear).   

The wine is complex and balanced from first sniff to last taste. Dark fruit. Deep, rich, mashed black plum on the nose, black cherry, black pepper and sandalwood carry into the taste. The mouthfeel is rich. Tannins are soft but develop nicely in a warm finish that seems to never end.
If you can discipline yourself and refrain from drinking this wine too quickly, magic begins in the glass. Air opens the wine to whispered notes of strawberry, raspberry, earth and blueberry. Still dominant with black fruit, this balanced menage continues to promote sandalwood complexity and black fruit but now adding red notes.

I had been making Coq-au-Vin and knew I wanted a Pinot Noir. Mount Eden’s was highly rated, but new to me. My only regret is that I purchased only one bottle as a sample. From its original price of $55, it now is available on line for $125.  Fortunately, the 2011 vintage is still on the shelves. With an average score of 93.5 from Wine & Spirits Magazine, Vinous, Tanzer and Wine Advocate, this vintage too is certain to impress.  History speaks very well of Mount Eden: Its 2009 vintage earned an average score of 92.67.

But, as noted, these wines are classic and made for aging.  I’ll be buying several of the 2011 and cellaring them in the good faith I’ll be here to enjoy them. As for the 2010, I’ll be having another birthday soon. Maybe I should drop some hints.   

………………. Jim
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Yield:                           1.8 tons per acre
Harvest:                       SEPT 1-26th
Brix (at Harvest)         23.5
pH:                               3.45
Acidity:                        8.5g
Alc:                              13.5%
Bottled:                       Sept. 2011   (804 Cases)                                

Mount Eden Vineyards
22020 Mt Eden Rd
Saratoga CA 95070
PH: (408) 867-5832
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“The discovery of a good wine is increasingly better for mankind than the discovery of a new star.” – Leonardo da Vinci

I enjoyed this wine before, on my second visit to Sonoma; the tasting at Stonestreet graciously arranged by some wonderful people at Kendall-Jackson (another story).  That was in October of 2014. I tasted the wine, (a 2011) bought it and others and tasted them again at home almost immediately upon arriving. I remember being so impressed by the balance and finesse of “Broken Road” that I later brought it as my partner to a dinner party.  It was voted the most important person at the party. That was last year, 2015.

Today, cooking (wild caught, Copper River, Alaskan) salmon, my reflex is Sancerre (Sauvignon Blanc, Loire Valley, France).  It’s my preference for salmon; a “go-to” reflex.  But cooking the salmon on the grill and sheathing it in cedar wraps, I thought it may be better to go with a wine of more weight. I pulled out my last bottle of Stonestreet’s 2011 “Broken Road” Chardonnay from the Alexander Valley AVA.
Cedar wrapped salmon on the grill.
Not much to say. Generally, you like
fish or you don't like fish.

It was a good choice.                                                                   

And proof again that wine is a living thing, which develops both in the bottle and, with air, in the glass.

At the time, I wasn’t aware of all the reviews: Tanzer, Advocate, and Spectator. I’ve seen them since and certainly Stonestreet doesn’t need my humble opinion. But not to put it out here would be remiss and disrespectful to the winemaker’s art and craft.  It is, quite simply, a beautiful Chardonnay.

Unlike the previous two bottles, this – just opened – put out some smoky notes.  Enough that I wondered if the barrel for this had been over charred. Then again, all palates and preferences are personal and there are those who prefer this character over everything.  But it seemed an anomaly
Salmon, flourless gnocchi,and (yes) asparagus with
and without jamon serrano. Delicious. But the wine
was the star. and elevated everything (even asparagus!).
because my recollection of that characteristic didn’t come to mind from the previous bottles.  It wasn’t offensive. Just different from memory.  Disciplined writers keep better notes. Then again, here you get the pure experience of the moment.  Either way, with air, the smoke diminished and allowed the fruit to resurface.   

But fruit is handled with finesse. Subtly hinted, melded, it draws you in instead of clubbing you. Oak is deft; there is no overload of vanilla. In fact, one of the most enjoyable aspects of this wine is its push-pull interplay of notes. The nose offers orange blossom. Its flavor includes notes of butterscotch that change to tart citrus toward its finish. There’s a soft lime opening than morphs to tangy citrus. In-between this concert is lemon verbena, hazelnut, and unsweet tropical fruit, with pineapple mildly forward. The wine is an education: a high-low of fun notes in the mouth. Somehow, Graham Weerts (winemaker) composes this symphony of tastes in a balance that peaks interests and invites you to take another sip and explore what’s going on. Despite all this fruit, the wine is elegantly austere, southern Burgundian like, but not shy. It doesn’t scream California, but it whispers it with classic notes of sea breeze and sea shell and finishes with enough acidity and tannin to be a Burgundy step child.  Weerts has every reason to be a proud father.

………………. Jim
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Galloni                         94 Points
Parker Points                93
Tanzer                          92

AVA:                            Alexander Valley, Sonoma County
Mountain Range:        Mayacamas Mountains
Region:                        North Coast, California
Elevation of Vineyard: 1800 ft.
Slope’s Exposure:        Southwest
Rootstock:                   110R
Clone:                          4
Avg. Ripeness:             22.8
Fermentation:              100% barrel, lees stirred monthly, native yeasts(!)
Aging:                          10 months, 47% new French
Alc:                              14%
TA:                               .59      

Since all wine begins in the vineyard, credit goes also to Gabriel Valencia, Vineyard Manager.