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Visiting Chez Mondavi, and Top 10 Wines of the Week


I go today (Thursday, when I posted this) to Rob Mondavi’s place, up in the Carneros, for dinner. He invited me to meet some of his friends, none of whom is older than 45. They represent a new, upcoming generation in Napa Valley. Some have familiar last names (Burgess, Gott, Mondavi, Steltzner, Truchard, Viader) but, as the sons and daughters of veterans, are establishing their own reputations. Others are not known to me.

In the case of a younger winemaker taking the helm in Napa Valley, think of the weight they must feel pressing down on their shoulders. Tradition. Expectations. Quality. And, yes, reviews. When you make wine in Napa Valley you are playing in the NFL, the NBA, Major League Baseball. Especially in these perilous economic times, they have got to experience some angst every once in a while. Can you keep the family tradition going forward into the second decade of the 21st century? Can you make a success from the career you’ve chosen, and upon which you’re risking a great deal? Will you let your parents down?

I’m looking forward to this event with a keener anticipation than many other things I’ve gone to lately. I’ll let you know how it went.

Meanwhile, here are the top 10 wines of this past week.

Bartalotti 2005 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, Rutherford. $60, 144 cases, 15.2%.

Robert Mondavi 2008 I Block Fume Blanc, Oakville. $75, case production not revealed, 14.7%.

Robert Mondavi 2008 Reserve Chardonnay, Napa Valley. $40, case production not revealed, 14.2%.

Chime 2009 Pinot Noir, Sonoma County. $19, 1,100 cases, 14.4%.

Sean Thackrey 2008 Devil’s Gulch Ranch “Andromeda” Pinot Noir, Marin County. $45, 700 cases, 14.4%.

Calera 2008 Ryan Pinot Noir, Mt. Harlan. $40, 2,856 cases, 14.9%.

Laird 2009 Sauvignon Blanc, Napa Valley. $16, case production not revealed, 13.8%.

Volker Eisele 2007 Terzetto Bordeaux blend, Napa Valley. $75, 450 cases, 14.7%.

Cambria 2008 Katherine’s Vineyard Chardonnay, Santa Maria Valley. $22, case production not revealed, 14.5%.

Vine Cliff 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley. $55, 1,200 cases, 14.3%.

Top 10 Wines of the Week


Five Syrahs make this week’s list, a first for my Top Ten Wines of the Week. The Valley of the Moon and Bianchi are good values.

Later today, I’m going up to the Napa Valley Vintners for the second in a series of large blind tastings they’re setting up for me. I’m looking forward to 4 or 5 hours “in the zone.” Will spend the night up there because, even though I’ll be spitting, enough alcohol gets into the bloodstream that I don’t want to drive back to Oakland, especially on a Friday getaway afternoon. I’m never very hungry after a big tasting, so I’ll probably head over to ZuZu for dinner and have a couple little plates of tapas, with some soul-refreshing Sherry.

Donelan 2008 Richards Family Syrah, Sonoma Valley. $90, 140 cases, 14.2%. This is the winery formerly known as Pax, owned by Joe Donelan. The wines are crafted by Tyler Thomas. Also their 2009 Kobler Family Vineyard Syrah, from Green Valley, and the 2008 Cuvée Keltier Syrah, with a Sonoma County appellation. Serious Syrahs.

Marimar Estate 2008 Doña Margarita Vineyard Chico’s Run Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast. $49, 146 cases, 14.9%. Also Marimar’s 2008 Don Miguel Vineyard La Masia Pinot Noir. Marimar Torres strikes gold with her new ‘08s.

Thomas Fogarty 2008 Rapley Trail Vineyard Block M Pinot Noir, Santa Cruz Mountains. $70, 71 cases, 13.5%. What interesting things Fogarty is doing these days. They are producing some of the best Pinot Noirs in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Also their Block B Pinot, from the same vineyard, and the Windy Hill Vineyard.

Highway 12 2007 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, Sonoma Valley. $38, 175 cases, 15.1%. A big, warming wine, made by Michael Sebastiani, of the famous family.

White Oak 2006 Syrah, Napa Valley. $26, 2,046 cases, 14.9%. Good price for a Syrah this good, and easy to find.

Maclaren 2008 Dry Stack Vineyard Syrah, Bennett Valley. $35, 173 cases, 14.5%.

Windstream 2009 Sarmento Vineyard Pinot Noir, Santa Lucia Highlands. $40, 250 cases, 14.9%. The vineyard has been source of good Pinots from Sequana, Tudor, Windbreak and others.

Calcareous 2008 Viognier-Marsanne, Paso Robles. $28, 437 cases, 14.5%.

Bianchi 2006 Heritage Selection Syrah, Paso Robles. $18, 825 cases, 14.3%.

Valley of the Moon 2008 Syrah, Sonoma County. $16, 3,600 cases, 13.5%.

Top 10 wines of the week


Some incredible wines this week. The predominance of Jackson Family brands is because I did a blind tasting of nearly 50 of their wines. As usual, you’ll find my complete scores and reviews in upcoming issues of Wine Enthusiast.

Stonestreet 2007 Rockfall Cabernet Sauvignon (Alexander Valley); $90, 212 cases, 14.5%. Also the winery’s Cougar Ridge, Monument and Christopher’s Cabs. All these vineyards are from Jackson’s extensive holdings in the high Mayacamas. It’s stupid to have to call them “Alexander Valley” but at this time the Feds have not recognized new appellations up there. The historic place name is Black Mountain; Jackson wants to call it Alexander Mountain; things are stalled.

Williams Selyem 2008 Litton Estate Vineyard Pinot Noir (Russian River Valley); $100. Case production not revealed, 14.2%. Last year’s bottling earned a perfect 100 points. Starting this year the wine will be known as Estate, not Litton, because Ridge sent Williams Selyem a cease-and-desist request based on their ownership of the Lytton Springs name for their Zinfandel blend.

Testarossa 2009 Doctor’s Vineyard Pinot Noir (Santa Lucia Highlands); $56, 198 cases, 14.5%. Also their Sierra Madre Vineyard Pinot, from the Santa Maria Valley. I wish Testarossa would hold their Pinots back a little longer before release, but there’s no question they’re at the top of their game, and they have access to some of the greatest vineyards in California.

Rodney Strong 2007 Rockaway Cabernet Sauvignon (Alexander Valley); $75, 1,723 cases, 15.4%. Good for the winery, which has tried so hard with this bottling. Glad they’re not just sending it to bloggers anymore!

Benziger 2008 de Coelo Terra Neuma Vineyard Pinot Noir (Sonoma Coast); $69, 546 cases, 13.5%. I first visited Mike Benziger’s experimental Pinot Noir project when he was tearing up the land. It was a moonscape of white dust, Goldridge soil I believe. This is his third vintage and the wine shows a low-alcohol finesse.

La Crema 2009 Pinot Noir (Russian River Valley); $40, 4,800 cases, 14.5%. Good buy, even at forty bucks. Elegant and classy.

Stephen Ross 2007 Stone Corral Vineyard Pinot Noir (Edna Valley); $50, 86 cases, 15.2%. The vineyard is in the heart of Edna Valley, co-owned, I understand, by the Talleys. The wine shows Edna Valley raciness but is very complex. See also Ross’s Bien Nacido Pinot.

Freemark Abbey 2007 Bosché Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley); $70, 689 cases, 14.5%. When I first visited Freemark Abbey, many years ago, as a novice wine lover, I was prepared to spend some money for a Cabernet to lay down. The lady in the tasting room urged me to buy the Bosché; the label then read Cabernet Bosché. I told her I wanted a Cabernet Sauvignon, not a Cabernet Bosché. I ended up buying their regular Cab, not the ageworthy Bosché. Oh well…

Matanzas Creek 2009 Chardonnay (Bennett Valley); $40, 7,379 cases, 14.4%. Excellent, crisp Chardonnay from this little-known cool region, at the base of Sonoma Mountain.

Thomas Fogarty 2007 Damiana Chardonnay (Santa Cruz Mountains); $48, 93 cases, 14.1%. Solid Chardonnay, from 30-plus year old vines grown 1,900 feet up in the mountains south of San Francisco.

Top 10 wines of the week


Two Zins, two Chards, two Cabs, and one each of Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc, Merlot and a dessert wine. And four of the wines are $20 and under. Sounds like the makings of a ten-course dinner. Create the best food pairing menu, and win a year’s free subscription to As usual, you’ll find my complete reviews and scores in upcoming issues of Wine Enthusiast.

Tres Vinicultores 2008 The Industrial Zinfandel. From grapes in Santa Rosa comes this classic, wild berry and spice high-octane Zinfandel. 70 cases, 15.8%, $40

Envy 2007 Late Harvest White Blend. From Napa Valley comes this sweet Semillon-Sauvignon Blanc blend. Rich and crisp. 100 cases, 12%, $45/375 ml.

Suacci Carciere Wines 2008 Heintz Vineyard Chardonnay. Another great Chard, a worthy followup to the ‘07. From Russian River Valley. 200 cases, 13.8%, $45

Zichichi Family 2008 Estate Old Vine Zinfandel. Made from century-old vines in western Dry Creek Valley. Intense and spicy. 973 cases, 15.5%; $36

Bruliam 2009 Doctor’s Vineyard Pinot Noir. Plenty of ripe fruit and full-bodied Santa Lucia character in this ageable wine. 300 cases, 14.3%, $52

Bernardus 2009 Griva Sauvignon Blanc. Just enough green pepper stuff going on to give this Arroyo Seco wine a subtle hint of gooseberry. 2,851 cases, 13.5%, $20

Grove Street 2008 Healdsburg Ridge Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon. From this revitalized house, a rich Cabernet with a Sonoma County appellation. Case production not revealed, 13.9%, $28

Katherine Goldschmidt 2008 Crazy Creek Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon. Another crazy value from veteran Nick Goldschmidt, from primo Alexander Valley fruit. 2,723 cases, 14.5%, $20

Kopriva 2009 Cassidy Ranch Chardonnay. Lots of crisp, crunchy green apple acidity in this fresh, unoaked Carneros Chard. 598 cases, 13.7%, $15

Chelsea Goldschmidt 2009 Merlot. Even Miles Raymond will be drinking Merlot if he gets his hands on this dry, softly tannic wine, made from Dry Creek Valley fruit. 1,460 cases, 14.4%, $15

Top 10 wines of the week


Five Pinots head the Top 10 list this week. Two are from the Sonoma Coast, two from the Russian River, and the Santa Barbara interloper is from, not surprisingly, Bien Nacido. Twin Napa Cabernets follow up, from Diamond Mountain and Oakville. A single Chardonnay drops in all the way from Napa-Carneros, while both Syrah representatives are up from Santa Barbara County. As usual, you’ll find my scores and complete reviews in upcoming issues of Wine Enthusiast.

Keller Estate 2007 Precioso Pinot Noir. Only 96 cases of this rich, balanced and ageworthy Pinot from the Sonoma Coast appellation were produced. Alcohol is 14.1%, $75

Diamond Creek 2007 Volcanic Hill Cabernet Sauvignon. From the estate vineyard on Diamond Mountain. Firm in tannins, will age for many years. 675 cases, 14.1%, $175

Fog Crest 2008 Estate Bottled Pinot Noir. This acidic and fruity wine gets better as it breathes in the glass. A Russian River charmer. 75 cases, 14.5%, $45

Freestone 2008 Quarter Moon Vineyard Pinot Noir. Put this Sonoma Coast beauty in the cellar. It’s young and fresh now. 120 cases, 13.5%, $100

Clos Pegase 2007 Hommage Mitsuko’s Vineyard Chardonnay. From the Carneros estate comes this vibrantly crisp, rich Chardonnay, still gaining traction at the age of three-plus years. 792 cases, 14.5%, $40

La Fenêtre 2008 Alisos Vineyard Syrah. One of the more sumptuous and appealing Syrahs out of Santa Barbara, and will take a little bottle age. 132 cases, 13.9, $36

2008 O’Neel Vineyard Pinot Noir. Shows real Russian River, cool-climate delicacy of structure, but dazzes with richness. 387 cases, 14%, $48

Michael James 2008 White Hawk Vineyard Syrah. From a top Santa Barbara vineyard comes this fruity, spicy Syrah. 60 cases, 14.5%, $38

Foggy Bridge 2008 Bien Nacido Vineyards Pinot Noir. Shows lots of those dusty Asian spices that Santa Maria Pinot is known for. Rich and harmonious. 552 cases, 14.5%, $38

Kirkland Signature 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon. Classic Oakville Cab, rich, dry and tannic. And look at that price. 1,400 cases, 14.1%, $19

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