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Congratulations to Calistoga!

It’s been a long and messy haul but Calistoga finally was granted full AVA status by our friends at the Tax and Trade Bureau. As the article in the St. Helena Star points out, this is a win for all the Calistoga wineries and a big lose for the two wineries that used the word “Calistoga” in their brand names and hoped to prevent everyone else from showing where the grapes are really grown.

The original application for a Calistoga AVA was filed by Chateau Montelena in September, 2006. Initially, it seemed like it would sail through without a hitch. I wrote at the time, “Napa Valley could have a new appellation in as little as a year from now, with the likely approval by the Federal government of a Calistoga American Viticultural Area.”

But that was before the two wineries, Calistoga Cellars and Calistoga Estate Vineyards — neither of which was actually located in Calistoga — challenged the application. Once the lawyers got involved, everything ground to a halt. A year later, in September, 2007, TTB spokesperson Art Resnick, explaining that the agency temporarily suspended consideration of all applications for new AVAs, told me, “TTB needs to take a second look” at the Calistoga brouhaha.

Well, this at least is one wine story with a happy ending. Calistoga now joins its sister communes along Highway 29 — Yountville, Oakville, Rutherford and St. Helena — to make it an even five “jewels in the crown,” just like in the Médoc. (Oak Knoll, you have your work cut out.)

Congratulations to Cambria!

Cambria’s 2006 Julia’s Vineyard Pinot Noir is Wine Enthusiast’s 2009 Wine of the Year, and I’m happy to say I reviewed that wine and gave it its score of 93 points.

When I first tasted the wine, on Sept. 20, 2008 in a flight of other Pinot Noirs, I was immediately dumbstruck by how good it was. “Picture-perfect cool climate,” I wrote of the Santa Maria-grown wine, “absolutely dry and silky, with complex flavors of cherries, Mandarin orange, cola, pomegranates, licorice and cinnamon spice, made even richer by smoky oak.” A few sips later, I added, “Just lovely, and gets even better as it breathes in the glass.” There aren’t that many wines I taste that I linger over, but this one forced me to. When I took note of the price — $21 — I had to gush, “This is the best Pinot Noir at this price on the market.”

Just shows to go that you don’t have to pay an arm and a leg for great California wine.

Congratulations to Merlot!

I was never a Merlot basher, like Miles from Sideways. Not that I didn’t call a spade a spade; Merlots, particularly from the 1990s, could be boring and muddy. But I always hoped California vintners would find their footing with this finicky variety, which is much harder to get right than Cabernet Sauvignon.

So I was glad to read this article in the San Francisco Chronicle (reprinted from the St. Helena Star) that praised Merlot for finally “showing its true nature in Napa Valley.” Sonoma County, too, I might add; it’s not just Napa that can make great Merlot. I would describe Merlot’s Napa-Sonoma nature as slightly softer and red-fruitier than Cabernet and more floral — violets, anyone? — and, at its best, decadent. Here are some of the best Merlots I’ve had lately, with their appellations: Duckhorn 2006 (Napa Valley), Kendall-Jackson 2006 Highland Estates Napa Mountain (Howell Mountain), Pride Mountain 2006 Vintner Select Cuvée (Sonoma County), Chalk Hill 2006 Estate (Chalk Hill), Whitehall Lane 2006 (Napa Valley), Switchback Ridge 2006 Peterson Family Vineyard (Napa Valley) and Wente 2006 Small Lot (Arroyo Seco). It was a pleasure seeing a return to form from Wente, now under the able leadership of fifth-generation Karl, so congrats to Wente, too.


Karl, a good-looking dude

  1. Carl is a very good-looking dude. Congratulations to all, these are great recognitions!

  2. Congrats to Camria and their 2006 Julia’s Vineyard Pinot Noir.

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