Tasting Report: Family Winemakers of California 2016

It’s been a few years since I’ve attended Family Winemakers of California, and event that once billed itself as the largest wine event in America, with hundreds of wineries showing off their wares.

Things have settled down a bit in more recent years, but with 125 wineries showcasing some 500-plus wines, there’s still far more wine than you could possibly sample in a full day here.

I spent some time checking out both some old favorites while seeking out many that were new to me. The experience did not disappoint, with a high proportion of really exceptional wines standing out above the crowd.

Who’s got great juice right now? Take a spin through my limited ratings and tasting notes below.

Family Winemakers 2016 Full Tasting Report

2012 Angwin Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Howell Mountain The Kissing Trees / A- / classic, tart fruit, cherry and herbs
2012 Angwin Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Estate / B+ / more sweetness here, a bit jammy on the finish
2013 Arrowood Chardonnay Carneros / B- / quite woody, some vegetal notes
2013 Belden Barns Pinot Noir Estate Vineyard / A- / very fruit forward, lots of depth
2014 Belden Barns Pinot Noir Serendipity Block / A / more earthy, balanced by earth, licorice, and spice
2013 Belden Barns Syrah / A- / heavy blackberry
2015 Belden Barns Rose / B / very heavy strawberry
2015 Belden Barns Sauvignon Blanc / B+ / lychee, pineapple notes; NZ style
2014 Belden Barns Gruner Veltliner / A- / bright, with mineral notes and lots of acid
2013 Belden Barns Chardonnay / B+ / better balance of fruit and butter/oak notes than most
2013 De Novo Wines Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve / B / very jammy, slight baking spice edge
2014 De Novo Wines Pinot Noir / B / interesting jam/spice combo
2011 De Novo Wines Merlot / B+ / pretty violet notes, long fruit finish
2014 De Novo Wines Cabernet Sauvignon / B+ / very fruit forward, some surprising strawberry notes
2009 Delectus Cabernet Franc / B / dark chocolate notes, lots of density, very tannic
2008 Delectus Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley / B+ / settling down a bit, tart fruit on the back end
2010 Delectus Cabernet Sauvignon Knights Valley / A / really supple, rounded and fruity; balanced
2011 Delectus Cuvee Julian / B+ / a blend of cab/petite sirah/cab franc; fruit is dialed back to let heavy earth notes show; needs time
2012 Frostwatch Merlot / A- / elegant; notes of pencil lead, florals, ample fruit, and chocolate
2013 Frostwatch Merlot / A- / more fruit here, violets on the finish
2013 Jon Nathaniel Windfall Merlot / B+ / heavy florals, very dense for merlot
2013 Jon Nathaniel Windfall Cabernet Sauvignon / A / licorice and tea notes; big but balanced
2013 Jon Nathaniel Bodacious / A- / heavy blackberry, nice balance on the whole
2013 Jon Nathaniel Fabulist / B+ / lots of fruit, a bit overblown
2012 Krutz Family Cellars Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir / A- / heavy fruit; bold and big; lots of baking spice
2014 Krutz Family Cellars Magnolia Pinot Noir / B+ / subtle and gentle, a fresh “everyday” wine
2014 Krutz Family Cellars Anderson Valley Pinot Noir / A- / meaty nose, some acidity, modest baking spice
2013 Laird Family Estate Pinot Noir / B / some barnyard, black fruit, dense tobacco
2012 Laird Family Estate Cabernet Sauvignon / B+ / still developing, young and spicy
2013 Macauley Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley / A- / bold, graphite notes and a big finish
2013 Macauley Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve / B+ / overdone, lots of dusty earthiness
2013 Macauley Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon To Kalon Vineyard / A / domaintes the palate in full; spice, licorice, and coffee; needs cellar time
2013 Martinelli Chardonnay Martinelli Road / A- / bold and buttery; notes of figs
2012 Oakville East Exposure Cabernet Sauvignon / B+ / fruity up front; segues into earth
2013 Oakville East Exposure Cabernet Sauvignon / A- / denser and younger, a touch bitter but a more subtle wine
2013 Pride Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon / A- / classic Napa, but dialed back to show restrained fruit
2012 Sullivan Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon / B+ / slightly acidic, quite herbal
2012 Sullivan Vineyards Coeur de Vigne / B+ / intense tannin, dark and stony, coal dust
2012 The Crane Assembly Cabernet Sauvignon / A / intense and dense, fruit opens up to herbs and floral notes; $225 a bottle!
2014 The Crane Assembly Disciples / B / zinfandel; lush and chocolaty, with Port wine notes
2013 The Crane Assembly el Coco / B+ / a blend of zin/petite sirah/merlot/cab; more restrained than the Disciples; some bitterness
2013 The Withers Mr. Burgess / A- / GSM blend, heavy on the syrah; a stellar wine, dense chocolate, leather, great depth
2013 The Withers Bel Canto / B+ / GSM, heavy on the grenache; bitter notes that are balanced by spice
2013 The Withers Ruben / A- / GSM, heavy on the mourvedre; quite tart, but floral
2015 The Withers Rose / A / herbal, with fun gingerbread notes
2014 The Withers Pinot Noir Peters Vineyard / A / peppery, exotic, with dense fruit
2014 The Withers Pinot Noir English Hill / A / gentle and lighter in style; lovely
2013 The Withers Pinot Noir Charles Vineyard / A- / also quite light, but less fruit forward
2012 Vineyard 511 Cabernet Sauvignon Diamond Mountain / A / lush and gorgeous, slight florals with a cherry bent

Review: Coravin Model One Wine Preservation System


Since I reviewed the first Coravin wine preservation system in 2013 — the first review of the device ever published #humblebrag — the company has been up to a lot of work. The Coravin Model 1000 is now known as the Coravin Model Eight. A luxe edition called the Coravin Model Two has been released, and now there is a third version: A less expensive system called the Coravin Model One.

The Model One is designed to be millennial-friendly, clad in more Ikea-friendly white and blue plastic instead of black and silver. Other than that, slightly lighter materials, and some very minor design tweaks, I can tell you that after experimenting with both the Model One and the original Model 1000/Model Eight side by side, they are functionally identical.

Both devices work the same way: A needle goes down through the cork, wine comes out, and argon gas goes in. Argon canisters are replaceable (each handles about 3 bottles of wine) at a price of roughly $10 a canister, so figure a bit under $1 per glass for expendables. Both use the same needle (the Model Two has a slightly “faster” needle) and work exactly the same way.

So, if you’re considering a Coravin, should you spend $200 on the Model One or $300 on the Model Eight? Well, the blue and white color scheme isn’t the most attractive, but the Coravin isn’t all that handsome of a device to start with, no matter what color it is. If you’re choosing to keep the device in a drawer instead of on display (and since the Model One doesn’t come with a stand, you pretty much have to), I wouldn’t hesitate to save the hundred bucks and put that toward wine instead of gadgetry.

A / $200 / coravin.com  [BUY IT NOW FROM AMAZON]

Review: 2015 Boen Pinot Noir Russian River Valley


Joe Wagner is not one to shy away from bold and fruit-forward winemaking, and with his latest release, Boen, he is continuing the traditions of Belle Glos and the other wines in the Copper Cane collection.

Bold vanilla and fresh raspberry and strawberry notes lead the way into a creamy palate, uncharacteristic for pinot (even bold Russian River-style pinot) but at least drinkable and friendly on their own. Notes of tea leaf and cafe au lait add a dessert-like quality to the finish.

B / $27 / coppercane.com

Review: NV Segura Viudas Brut Reserva Heredad Cava

There’s no question that venerable Segura Viudas spends more money on this elaborate, pewter-based bottle than it does on the wine inside it, but that doesn’t mean that this Spanish cava isn’t good stuff (in fact, it’s aged on the lees in bottle for a full 30 months before releasing). In fact, at just $21 a bottle, it’s a rare value play that makes quite a striking impression on the table or when presented as a gift.

How’s Segura Viudas Reserva coming across in 2016? Let’s have a taste of a fresh (but still nonvintage) bottling.

The nose is brisk — very lightly yeasty with a modest amount of apple and lemon behind it. On the palate, it’s lightly effervescent — one of the selling points of less-bubbly cava — with ample fruit to offer, predominantly notes of buttered apples (even applesauce) and figs. The finish is on the tart side, greener than the sweeter start has to offer, which helps to tie the wine together and ends things on a cleansing note.

A- / $21 / seguraviudasusa.com

Tasting Chenin Blanc – Vouvray vs. South Africa, 2016 Releases


Chenin blanc is not a grape that people ooh and ahh over. Typically it’s the cheap wine on the by-the-glass list that you select only because you don’t drink chardonnay and you just don’t trust that New Zealand sauvignon blanc to be dry enough before dinner.

Chenin blanc is best known in its home in the Loire Valley, but it is also the most widely planted grape in South Africa. Once used exclusively to make semi-sweet wines, chenin blanc today is primarily a dry wine style, though the finished product can be quite variable… as we’ll find out in just a moment, as we explore both the Loire’s Vouvray region and South Africa, to see how chenin blanc styles have evolved in both of these areas. (Spoiler: It’s incredibly random.)

2015 Clos du Gaimont Vouvray AOP – A fresh and lively wine, offering notes of pineapple, mango, and coconut, all atop a brisk, moderate-to-highly acidic and vaguely floral base. The finish evokes clementine oranges, with hints of fresh peaches. A / $20

2013 Domaine Vincent Carême Vouvray Le Peu Morier – A very pungent wine, perhaps the opposite of the Paul Buisse above. This one showcases a sour face, with notes of white wine vinegar, green grass, and wilting flowers. The finish is tart and reminiscent of sherry. While there are elements of this wine that are enjoyable due to their uniqueness, on the whole it’s too overpowering for my palate. An extreme example of “old world” winemaking. C+ / $38

2015 Terre Brulee Le Blanc Swartland South Africa – Immediately flabby on the palate, with dominant notes of melon, green pepper, and some baking spice elements. It’s a bit of a hodgepodge of flavors, which might not be so bad, but the lack of any noteworthy acidity takes things out on a muddy note. C- / $16

2015 Indaba Chenin Blanc – A Western Cape wine, and an improvement over the Terre Brulee — better acid, with more interesting notes of grapefruit, mango, and white flowers. Altogether it’s a more classic chenin in structure that feels like it could be a lower-tier Vouvray. B+ / $11

Review: 2015 Left Coast Cellars Truffle Hill Chardonnay and White Pinot Noir


left coast

This is our second spin through Oregon’s Left Coast Cellars’ offerings, and today we look at two white wines, a chardonnay and Left Coast’s signature white pinot noir. Let’s taste them both.

2015 Left Coast Cellars Truffle Hill Chardonnay Willamette Valley – A very dry style of chardonnay, harvested from a vineyard adjacent to a truffle farm and aged in French oak puncheons and stainless steel. Restrained apple fruit finds a rough companion in the form of heavy herbs and rather musty oak notes. The finish offers a curious note of cocoa powder, which I’m still trying to decide whether or not I like. B- / $18

2015 Left Coast Cellars White Pinot Noir Willamette Valley – Quite acidic up front, with a somewhat heavy vegetal undertone. While some notes of orange blossoms and figs add some interest, the earthy elements ultimately detract, particularly on the finish. Again, this is a curious novelty but not something I’d seek out on a regular basis. B- / $22


Review: 2014 Sequoia Grove Chardonnay Napa Valley

Sequoia Grove’s latest chardonnay release offers no real surprises, an oaky-buttery wine with equal emphasis on both oak and butter. This year’s offering finds some tropical and golden fig elements bubbling up late in the game (let the wine warm a bit to find more fruit in the mix), with a finish that evokes notes of brioche. That said, if vanilla and lumber-heavy notes aren’t your bag, take a pass on this one.

B / $28 / sequoiagrove.com