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Wine Reviews


Here are my latest reviews. The wineries are Butter, Cattleya, District 4, Furthermore, House Family, Jarvis, Kenefick Ranch, Krupp Brothers and Prime. None of these wineries paid me. These are purely my professional opinions. If you’d like to send me wines for review, I’m happy to oblige. If you use one of my reviews in your promos, please credit to


Krupp Brothers 2009 Stagecoach Vineyard “Veraison” Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley): $85. I’ve always liked Krupp’s red wines from their Stagecoach Vineyard, which is one of the best in Napa Valley. It sort of straddles a plateau between Atlas Peak and Pritchard Hill, a high-rent district where the grapes get nice and ripe, yet maintain beautiful balance and acidity. This 2009, at the age of nearly six years, is ideal for drinking now, although it has a long road ahead. Dry and softly tannic, with a bite of tartness, its primary fruit blackberry and plum flavors are beginning to pick up secondary notes of dried fruits, herbs, roasted coffee and spices. The alcohol, officially 15.3%, gives the wine a pleasantly warming heat. Score: 92.

Kenefick Ranch 2012 Pickett Road Red (Calistoga): $50. Pickett Road is Kenefick Ranch’s best red wine, although it’s not their most expensive. Always based on some Bordeaux variety other than Cabernet Sauvignon, it seems somehow more generous, complex and interesting than their Chris’s Cuvée Cabernet, although both wines are fine. This 2012 is mainly Petit Verdot, with Cabernet Franc and Merlot and just 8 percent Cabernet Sauvignon. The black currant fruit, which can get intense in Calistoga’s high summer heat, is tempered with notes of violets, blueberries, cherries and sweet olive tapenade, leading to a wonderfully long, ripe, spicy finish. The tannins, as always, are thick and complex, but sweet. This is a delicious wine, with a bit of heat from alcohol (14.9%) and a generous jacket of smoky oak. I can’t imagine anyone not liking it, not even a confirmed Bordeauxphile. I would drink it now, although it’s still very young, because it’s so tantalizing, but if you have a bottle in, say, 2024, please let me know. Score: 93.

Kenefick Ranch 2012 Caitlin’s Select Cabernet Franc (Calistoga): $50. This wine contains some Petit Verdot and Cabernet Sauvignon, which give it a darker profile and more solid tannins than Cabernet Franc alone can provide. But it’s still 85% Cab Franc, and that makes it sensual and sexy—a voluptuous, instantly appealing wine marked mainly by ripe red cherry pie, red currants, red licorice and dusty Asian spices. You’ll find none of the herbal, green pea notes that can accompany (pleasantly) Cabernet Franc, although there is something suggesting the green olives that float on a martini. It’s a soft, round, supple, mellow wine, entirely pleasurable to drink now. Seared sirloin steak or filet mignon will be magnificent: char the outside but let the inside be red and juicy. Score: 92.

Kenefick Ranch 2012 Chris’s Cuvée Cabernet Sauvignon (Calistoga): $65. I’ve always liked, and given high scores to, Kenefick Ranch’s red wines. In general I prefer the Picket Road red, which is a Bordeaux blend without Cabernet Sauvignon, or very little. But Chris’s Cuvée, based mostly on Cabernet Sauvignon, always was a very good and interesting wine. To judge by the 2012, which contains a few drops of Petit Verdot and Malbec, it still is. It’s big wine, rich, opulent and softly tannic; the blackberry jam and black currant fruit approaches—but does not enter into—overripe prune territory. Yes, the alcohol officially clocks in at 15.1%, but I have no problem with that, and neither should you. This is Calistoga we’re talking about, and Kenefick’s winemaker has consistently shown a deft ability to handle fruit from a hot growing region. I would give this wine some time in the cellar, to let the slight bitterness subside, and to allow the oak to integrate as the fruit begins to shed its primary character and enter into bottle-aged territory. Keep it until, say, 2018; not much longer, please. It seems best suited to slightly rustic beef stews, or barbecue. But use your imagination: I tasted it with Thai noodles in a spicy peanut sauce and it was great. Score: 91.

Prime 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon (Coombsville); $68. This is a very proper Napa Valley Cabernet. By that, I mean no disrespect, simply to suggest that, if you like your California Cabernet Sauvignon big and rich in fruit and oak, luxuriously ripe, and slightly sweet, you’ll love this. It’s a big gulp of blackberry jam and blueberry preserves, smeared onto buttered toast, with a sprinkle of cinnamon and brown sugar, and a few flakes of freshly-squeezed black pepper. Doesn’t that sound yummy? This is a yummy wine. It’s quite similar to the 2010, to which I gave 93 points. The winemaker is Ted Henry, from Jarvis, whose estate Cabs—grown not that far from Coombsville—I have long loved; and Ted says he specializes in these cool-climate Cabs from the southern part of the valley. (Take that, Calistoga and St. Helena!) This 100% Cabernet is adorable, in the richly baroque way of Napa Valley, fancy enough for an expensive restaurant meal—say, a great Porterhouse steak, properly grilled, served simply. Is it an ager? Sure. It will last for a decade or longer, but I don’t see the point of holding it. Decant and drink now. Score: 92.

House Family Vineyards 2009 Old Oak Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon (Santa Cruz Mountains): $52. This Cabernet, like the winery’s 2011 Merlot I liked so much, also comes from the estate vineyard, in the hills above Saratoga and Silicon Valley. However, the Cab is now nearly six years old, and has evolved beyond its primary stages. It shows true bottle-aged characteristics, in a most positive way. Everything’s drying out—the blackberries, blueberries and currants, turning earthier, mulchier, more tobaccoey, smoother, more seamless. The oak is now fully integrated, providing a pleasant layer of toast and smoke. The tannins, while mountain-thick and chewy, are softly sweet. The finish is long in black licorice, cinnamon spice and mocha. The complexity of the mouthfeel comes not just from age but from the varietal blend, which included Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot. With just 14% alcohol, the wine feels balanced, with no heat, just a pleasing warmth. And it will continue to mature for the next 8-10 years. It’s impossible to imagine this wine coming from Napa Valley, or Paso Robles. Possibly the best analogy is the mountainous eastern ridge of the Alexander Valley. But why make comparisons? It’s a terrific exemplar of Santa Cruz Mountains Bordeaux-style wine, and at this price, a terrific value, especially for a restaurant wine list. But only 133 cases were produced. Score: 94.



2014 Chardonnay (California); $16. For sixteen bucks, whaddya want? Montrachet? It’s pretty much what you’d expect for a California Chard of this price—and for a wine called Butter. It’s soft and creamy, with orange, vanilla, honey and buttered toast flavors. End of story. Score: 84.

House Family Vineyards 2012 Chardonnay (Santa Cruz Mountains); $45. I give credit to the winery for producing a dry, firm, minerally Chardonnay that’s not a fruit and oak bomb. The wine has golden mango, pineapple, smoky cream and new oak flavors, and a complexity that lets it evolve in the glass. It feels a bit angular in the mouth, and the sur lie yeastiness sticks out. But it possesses a savory elegance. May benefit from time in the bottle to settle down. Try early in 2016. Score: 90.

Jarvis 2013 Estate Grown Cave Fermented Chardonnay (Napa Valley); $TK. I don’t know the retail price on this wine: they didn’t tell me, and I couldn’t find it online. My highest scores for Jarvis’s Chardonnays have been for their very expensive, reserve-style Finch Hollow bottling, which this is not; this is less costly, although still from their estate vineyard, 1,000 feet up in the southern Vacas, on Napa’s eastern side. The wine is first and foremost oaky, courtesy of aging in 100% new French barrels. Buttered toast and sweet caramel dominate. It went through 100% malolactic fermentation, which adds to the butteriness. Sur lie aging contributes a yeasty, sweet-sourdough note. Underneath you’ll find some tropical fruits. The acidity is fine. This is a flashy Chardonnay, designed to dazzle, but it quickly palls. Score: 87.


Kenefick Ranch 2012 Estate Merlot (Calistoga): $50. Merlot is not Kenefick Ranch’s strongest suit, just as it is not from almost every other Napa Valley Cabernet house. So peculiar are Merlot’s needs for success that few wineries anywhere can rise to the occasion. This 2012 is a solid, drinkable wine, with some enjoyable features, but it does have flaws. For one, the alcohol, at 15.5%, is very high and noticeable, giving the wine a jalapeño pepper heat that’s hard to ignore despite deliciously ripe cherry-berry fruit. Another problem is an awkward acid-tannin balance that makes the wine feel jiggly-jaggly in the mouth. Score: 85.

House Family Vineyards 2011 Merlot (Santa Cruz Mountains): $48. I happened to taste this Merlot, which contains the two Cabernets, Sauvignon and Franc, as well as Petit Verdot in the blend, right after a high-end Bordeaux blend from Tuscany that impressed me for its dry, structural complexity. The House Family Merlot stood up well. Of course, it’s richer and riper in sunshiney fruit, with a core of sweet licorice and cinnamon, but the structure is just as fine. Great acidity and firm tannins frame the fruit and spices, while 50% new French oak barrel aging brings enriching but balanced notes of toast. As the wine warms in the glass, it grows more seductive. Only 110 cases were produced, with an elegantly low alcohol level of 13.8%. The estate vineyard is above the foothills town of Saratoga. This is definitely a Merlot that’s a cut above most in California, from a winery worth watching. Score: 92.


District 4 2014 White Blend (Napa Valley); $20. District 4 is the California Dept. of Food and Agriculture’s designation for Napa County, meaning this wine could come from anywhere within that vast region. As it turns out, the grapes hail from Atlas Peak, Oak Knoll and Coombsville—in other words, cooler, southern areas. The varietal blend is Sauvignon Blanc, Marsanne and Chardonnay. There’s a tiny bit of oak, just enough to give it some fatness. It’s a clean, crisp wine, with fruity, spicy, herb, white pepper and mineral notes, not particularly complex but super-drinkable and interesting. Easy to drink with almost anything that wants a dry, low alcohol (13.7%) white wine. The parent company is Prime Cellars, and the winemaker is Ted Henry, who is Jarvis’s winemaker. Score: 86.


Furthermore 2012 Gap’s Crown Vineyard Pinot Noir (Sonoma Coast); $50. Gap’s Crown has emerged in recent years as a pre-eminent source of Pinot Noir. Located near Cotati, well south of the traditional Russian River Valley, it’s been source to outstanding wines from Fulcrum, Trombetta, Guarachi Family, Sojourn and others, as well as Furthermore, whose 2009 Gap’s Crown I gave 95 points. Here’s a wine in the same style. Pale in color and crisp in acidity, it offers intense and complex flavors of raspberries and cherries, with a leathery edge and the same mushroominess as that wonderful ’09. It’s a bit hot, with an official alcohol reading of 14.5%, but you won’t notice it with a salted-and-peppered filet mignon or T-bone. Score: 91.

Furthermore 2012 Nevina’s Vineyard Pinot Noir (Sonoma Coast); $50. I’d never tasted a wine from Nevina’s vineyard, although my former Wine Enthusiast colleague, Virginie Boone, gave Furthermore’s 2011 Nevina’s 90 points. The vineyard is near Occidental, a cool-climate area, and is at a remarkable 1,300 feet in elevation in the coastal hills. It was planted to Dijon clones in 2002, and only 126 cases of this wine were made. It’s fairly pale in color, but quite weighty in the mouth, with intensely ripe raspberry, cherry and red licorice flavors, as well as a balancing earth-and-mushroom complexity. The tannin-acid balance is just fine, while the oak is perfect. This is a very good wine, immediately likeable, although a bit too immature right now. Give it at least four years, and then enjoy a classic Pinot Noir that might still be enticing in 2022. Score: 92.

Furthermore 2012 La Encantada Vineyard Pinot Noir (Sta. Rita Hills); $40. This is one of the winery’s bigger, more ponderous releases from the 2012 vintage. It seems clumsy in youth, although the component parts are quite fine. You have good acidity and softly gooey tannins, with jammy raspberry and cherry flavors, but it’s harder to put into words why the wine feels so heavy now. Maybe it’s a certain plummy, raisiny overripeness. I re-examined my Encantada reviews from multiple wineries over many years, looking for some clue, but there was none. Sometimes Encantada Pinots are ravishing; sometimes they’re not. Furthermore’s 2007 was a gorgeous wine; I gave it 93 points. I’d give this 2012 something lower, say 88.

Furthermore 2012 Gloria Vineyard Pinot Noir (Russian River Valley); $40. Lots of acidity in this tart, somewhat arch young wine. The grapes are from Freeman Winery’s estate vineyard, in the Green Valley area near Sebastopol. The grapes were planted in 2006, which is comparatively young, and may account for a certain toughness. The clones vary from Swan and Pommard to newer Dijons. There’s a rich, deep core of pomegranates, persimmons and red plums, with a dusting of sandalwood and a fancy coating of smoky oak, but the tartness is somewhat inhibiting. Give it until 2020 and see what’s up. Score: 88.

Furthermore 2012 Sierra Mar Vineyard Pinot Noir (Santa Lucia Highlands); $40. This is one of those coastal Pinot Noirs that combines a pale, translucent color with intensely concentrated flavors, which is probably the highest praise I can give Pinot. The color anticipates the weight, which is delicate and silky, despite a fairly hefty alcohol level of 14.7%. I instantly think of a charbroiled steak; the smoky edge of the wine will echo the caramelized sear, while its acids and mild tannins will grapple beautifully with the meat-fat. Flavors? Glad you asked. Raspberries, cherries, cola and Christmas persimmons, with an earthy, mushroomy spiciness. Drink this glorious wine now and over the next four years. Score: 93.

Furthermore 2012 Weir Vineyard Pinot Noir (Yorkville Highlands); $50. My impressions of this vineyard, located in the Mendocino mountains as you make your way from inland to the Anderson Valley, were shaped over many years by Williams Selyem’s bottlings. I sometimes found the Pinots heavy and soft, although Bob Cabral assured me that the winery’s legions of fans loved it. The wines seemed to get better after 2007 or so; I loved Williams Selyem’s 2011, which led me to believe that a cooler vintage was kinder to the vineyard. The 2012 vintage was not exactly cool. It represented a restoration of normality after decidedly chilly 2010 and 2011. This resulting Furthermore wine is tasty and ripe, but still seems a bit soft and rustic to me. The flavors, of raspberries and cherries, orange zest, red licorice, smoke and vanilla, are frankly delicious, if a bit obvious. It may simply be that this is a wine that needs bottle age. I may be being a little ornery here, and I hope I’m wrong. Try stashing it in your cellar until 2017 or so and see what it does. Score: 89.

Furthermore 2012 Rosella’s Vineyard Pinot Noir (Santa Lucia Highlands); $50. Rosella’s Vineyard, which has been the source of so many fine Pinot Noirs from so many wineries, is in some respects the quintessential Santa Lucia Highlands vineyard. It’s located just northwest of the appellation’s center—not too warm, not too cold, just right. Furthermore is one of those wineries, like Siduri and Testarossa, that sources fruit from multiple Pinot Noir vineyards. This is clearly their best Rosella’s to date. The alcohol is a respectable 14.8%; you can taste the ripeness in the vast array of raspberries and cherries, with a slight heat of liqueur and a long, deliciously spicy finish. The mouthfeel is silky and elegant, just what Pinot Noir should be. It’s a delightful wine. Despite the immediately appealing flavors, it has a thoughtful quality, the kind of wine that’s a little brooding at first, and then slowly unfolds as it breathes. I would drink it now and over the next four years with anything made from lamb: roasted leg, chops, rosemary-braised shanks. The crisp acidity and ultra-fine tannins will cut right through the fat. But just 151 cases were produced. Score: 92.

Cattleya 2012 Donum Vineyard Pinot Noir (Carneros); $85. Alc.14.5%. I’ve long had an affection for Pinot Noirs from Donum’s estate vineyard. It seemed like they had to work hard to get a score below 90 points! They’ve sold coveted fruit to a handful of wineries, and now, Cattelya is among them. The winery was unfamiliar to me until recently; the owner/winemaker, Bibiana Rave, previously worked at Lynmar, Peay, La Crema, Pahlmeyer, Au Bon Climat and Qupé. In other words, this Columbia-born, French-trained winemaker knows her Pinot Noir! The Donum vineyard, in the heart of Carneros, on the Sonoma side of the appellation, south of the Carneros Highway, on Ramal Road, was planted by the great Anne Moller-Racke in 1989-1990. It was part of the historic Buena Vista estate vineyard. These wines always show similar characteristics in youth: mouthwatering acidity, a scour of tannins, absolute dryness, and, in a good vintage, deeply concentrated, but juvenile, fruit flavors of cherries and black raspberries. There’s a corresponding spicy, tobacco, mushroom and black pepper note that gives it a fine earthiness. This is a very good wine, juicy, complex and delicious, but it’s so tart and unevolved that it’s clearly too young to drink. It will no dou t show up on plenty of restaurant wine lists, recommended by somms for steak, lamb, ahi tuna and the like, but I would strongly advise drinking it now. Give it six to eight more years in a good cellar. Score: 93.


Prime 2013 Syrah (Coombsville); $42. This is for those who like their Syrahs Northern Rhône style. It’s absolutely dry, with brisk acidity and furry tannins framing flavors of blackberries, blueberries, white pepper, tobacco, olive tapenade and something Asian-meaty, like seared beef teriaki. If that sounds delicious, it is. The wine feels smooth and elegant in the mouth, and has a long, spicy (cinnamon, pepper, clove, star anise) finish. Only 101 cases were produced, and while the alcohol level, 15.1 percent, is hefty, there’s very little heat, only a blood-warming headiness. There’s just enough oak to bring suggestions of smoke, although the oak tannins are firm. I would drink this wine now, after a generous period of decanting, with anything that wants a full-bodied, robust red wine. Lamb comes to mind, as chops, as roasted leg, as stew, with pork a close second. If you want to age it for six years, go right ahead. It’ll be just fine. Coombsville is best known for Bordeaux-style wines, but this is a sophisticated Syrah, from a great vintage. Score: 93.

  1. Dan Fishman says:

    Hey Steve,

    Obviously I am probably reading the Donum tasting notes more closely than most (and thanks for the high praise of the 2012 West Slope!! – such a great site), but I have to ask: It looks like you scored the Cattleya a 90 in the Carneros flight, but it seems the same wine got a 93 when tasted in some other context. Was this in fact the same wine? And if so, do you think its fairly typical for a wine to score that differently in different settings?


  2. doug wilder says:

    What Donum’s winemaker said. It is not so much the variance that is notable, but why the need to review the same wine on consecutive days? Also in reference to Cattleya, Bibiana is still at Pahlmeyer (Wayfarer) where the 2013 vintage is exceptional. And it is Colombia, not Columbia.

  3. Bob Henry says:

    I discovered Kenefick about a decade ago while attending Family Winemakers of California.

    I thoroughly enjoyed jawboning with the good doctor.

    Enjoyed even more sampling his Cabernet Franc, a grape variety that I consider to be a “sleeper” in the North Coast — the type of experience most consumers have in mind when they ask for “a glass of Cabernet, please.”

  4. Bob Henry says:


    “It looks like you scored the Cattleya a 90 in the Carneros flight, but it seems the same wine got a 93 when tasted in some other context. Was this in fact the same wine?”


    Are the two different scores a reflection of conducting winetasting “single blind”?


    Recall Caltech professor Leonard Mlodinow’s Wall Street Journal essay on wine competition judging, in which he observed:

    “The judges’ wine ratings typically varied by ±4 points on a standard ratings scale running from 80 to 100. . . . that a 91 and a 96 rating are interchangeable.”

    “A Hint of Hype, A Taste of Illusion”


  5. doug wilder says:

    Bob Henry,

    I agree variability exists in wine (according to Cabral), I regularly allow myself up to 2 or 3 points repeatability when tasting the same wine in different settings, However, from a critical assessment I find the decision to address the same wine in consecutive posts is pointless. The evaluative process is validated by measurable changes in criteria, I learn nothing (beyond bottle variation?) from reading about the same wine in such an interval as this. Should we expect daily updates?

  6. Dan Fishman says:

    I like the idea of daily updates! Maybe someone should do a blog where they taste the same wine everyday for a year. With coravin you’d probably only need a couple cases. Sort of an extended wine misogi… hmmm….

    On a more serious note, as a producer those few points make a big difference. I guess I will assume that when Steve did the carneros flight it was a “-3” day, so that 94 was really a 97…

  7. Bob Henry says:


    Unlike someone like you who holds a BA in Philosophy and Psychology and a MA in Social Psychology, I believe most blog readers would be disappointed in daily review updates on sampling the same wine.

    The notes would comprise too many “Ibid.” notations for the non-academic crowd.

    Play out like “Groundhog Day.”


    (Anecdote. I acquired upon release a case of 1990 Mt. Eden “Reserve” Cabernet Sauvignon — comprising sequentially serial numbered bottles 1201 through 1212.

    As an experiment, I poured bottles 1201 and 1202 and 1203 for my wine group. Each bottle wrapped in a brown paper bag to look as anonymous as possible. Each bottle poured in numerical sequence.

    And I asked the assembled one question: “Are these wines the same or different?”

    The unanimous response: “They are California Cabernet Sauvignons, but three different ones.”

    I tasted last after eliciting the replies, so as not to influence the voice voice. And sure enough, they did taste slightly different from each other in very subtle ways.

    As far as I know, they were bottled from the same barrel and came down the bottling production line in numerical sequence.

    Imagine the variation of the perception of the same wine tasted daily over the course of a year.)

  8. Bob Henry says:


    The correct identity was 1990 Mt. Eden “Old Vine Reserve” Cabernet Sauvignon — the vines dating back to the days of Martin Ray.

  9. Bob Henry says:


    Are Jackson Family Wines such as Lokoya . . .

    “a collection of four distinct Cabernet Sauvignons from four of Napa Valley’s most renowned mountain appellations: Mount Veeder, Howell Mountain, Diamond Mountain District, and Spring Mountain District. These single-vineyard wines, made in very limited quantities, are 100% Cabernet Sauvignon, fermented with native yeast, and bottled unfined and unfiltered — resulting in the purest expression of place. They are powerful wines that reflect the intense individuality of each mountain.”

    . . . bottled from one master blend, or from individual barrels?


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