Tasting Report: Wines of Duckhorn, 2015 Releases


Noted California winery Duckhorn has become quite an empire of late, with operations under a number of brand names spanning all over California and stretching up to Washington state. The winery recently put together a tasting of virtually every wine it has now in current release, almost all of which we sampled — poured by the winemakers themselves. Tasting notes on the full Duckhorn slate (plus a few older rarities — including a gem of a cabernet from 2003) follow forthwith.

Tasting Report: Wines of Duckhorn, 2015 Releases

2013 Decoy Chardonnay Sonoma County / A- / buttery with some acid, too; touch of nougat
2013 Decoy Pinot Noir Sonoma County / B+ / simple; on the tannic side with notes of dried herbs
2013 Decoy Zinfandel Sonoma County / B- / roasted meats, chewy and funky; damp earth
2013 Decoy Merlot Sonoma County / B- / dried, crushed flowers; some vegetal notes
2013 Decoy Cabernet Sauvignon Sonoma County / B / lots of meaty character, heavy tannin, coconuts on the finish
2012 Decoy Red Wine Sonoma County / B / very dry and tart, cherry notes and tea leaf
2013 Migration Chardonnay Russian River Valley / B+ / dialed back but still showing some apple tart character
2012 Migration Chardonnay Sonoma Coast / B+ / puchy with vanilla and coconuts, light fruit
2011 Goldeneye Pinot Noir Anderson Valley / B+ / dense tea and coffee notes, dark blackberries
2012 Goldeneye Pinot Noir Anderson Valley Estate / B / lots of tannin here, dark fruit, tea, coffee
2012 Goldeneye Pinot Noir Anderson Valley Ten Degrees Estate / A / gorgeous, balanced fruit with notes of tea, cinnamon, some flint; quite supple
2012 Canvasback Cabernet Sauvignon Red Mountain Washington State / B+ / lush and fruit forward, dense red berries
2013 Duckhorn Sauvignon Blanc Napa Valley / A- / huge tropical notes, vanilla kicker
2013 Duckhorn Chardonnay Napa Valley / A- / easygoing chardonnay, buttery but balanced
2012 Duckhorn Late Harvest Sauvignon Blanc Knights Valley / A- / rich honey, marshmallow, nougat, and almonds
2012 Duckhorn Merlot Napa Valley / B+ / nice balance, chewy with vanilla and a little root beer character
2012 Duckhorn Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley / B+ / drinking young but well, big tannic profile
2011 Duckhorn Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley Rutherford / A- / punchy, lots of acitidy, peppery notes
2012 Duckhorn Merlot Napa Valley Three Palms Vineyard / A+ / gorgeous violet notes, lush blueberries, lengthy finish
2011 Duckhorn The Discussion Estate Napa Valley Red Wine / A / baking spices, floral notes, and fruit, well balanced all around
2007 Duckhorn Merlot Napa Valley Rutherford / A / some violets, nice structure with dialed-back vanilla and restrained tannin
2003 Duckhorn Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley / A+ / so pretty, lush and floral and loaded with red fruit, vanilla, and cocoa; perfectly balanced
2011 Paraduxx Proprietary Napa Valley Red Wine / B+ / very dry, easy fruit notes, some fresh herbs
2011 Paraduxx Howell Mountain Napa Valley Red Wine / B- / smoky on the nose, wet earth, some greenery


Review: 2013 Kalfu Chardonnay and Pinot Noir

kalfuKalfu is a new Chilean wine brand hailing from the Leyda Yalley on the country’s coast. Here’s a look at two of the winery’s inaugural releases.

2013 Kalfu “Kuda” Chardonnay Unoaked Leyda Valley Chile – Engaging, tastes expensive. Quite neutral, apple notes on the nose, with light creme brulee, kumquat, and some light tropical character on the back end. Really easy to enjoy. A- / $19

2013 Kalfu “Sumpai” Pinot Noir Leyda Valley Chile – Meaty, with notes of figs and prunes, touched with notes of tobacco, pencil lead, and leather oil. Not much Pinot varietal character here, but fans of flavors that run to sour cherry and spiced meat may find something here. C- / $24

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Review: 2010 Mesa Cantina Buio Buio Isola dei Nurachi IGT

Buio Buio2010 Mesa Cantina Buio Buio Isola dei Nurachi is produced in Sulcis, on the southwestern tip of Sardinia. Produced from 100% carignano (the Italian name for carignane), it’s part of a vanguard of wines from Sulcis that are just now making their way to the U.S. Buio Buio is restrained and almost floral on the nose, but the body is lush with notes of juicy Port, balsamic vinegar, cocoa powder, and cinnamon. The palate stretches on for quite awhile, leading to a slightly sweet and supple finish with modest tannins. Worth exploring.

A- / $25 / cantinamesa.it

Review: 2010 Tenuta di Arceno Il Fauno di Arcanum Toscana IGT

il fauno di Arcanum Bottle ShotThis Tuscan winery is owned by the enormous Jackson Family of Wines operation, and it’s only the company’s second Italian brand under its umbrella. Tenuta di Arceno’s Il Fauno di Arcanum bottling (not the same as Arcanum) is a Bordeaux-style blend of 56% merlot, 23% cabernet franc, 20% cabernet sauvignon, and 1% petit verdot.

It’s a complex little number, with a nose that kicks off some menthol, dense wood, licorice, and a touch of coal. On the body, more fruit comes through — though restraint is the name of the game — as notes of blackberry and currant emerge, plus a backbone of dark chocolate and a bit of coffee grounds. Some fresh tobacco leaf pops in on the finish. A restrained wine, but one with a lot of charm.

A- / $30 / arcanumwine.com

Tasting Report: Wines of Howell Mountain 2015

The annual “Above the Fog” tasting of wines from Napa’s decidedly inhospitable Howell Mountain region is a showcase for some of the most luxurious — and expensive — wines produced in California. This year producers showed off a wide range of bottlings ranging from 2009 to 2012 releases — with some library wines thrown in for good measure. While most are cabernets — in general, showing a little on the over-extracted side this year — a few other varietals can be found, including the first Howell Mountain pinot noir I’ve ever experienced. (And it was surprisingly good!)

Brief thoughts on all wines tasted at the event follow.

Tasting Report: Wines of Howell Mountain 2015

2010 Arkenstone Vineyards Obsidian / $135 / B+ / pushy, some spice and jam notes
2011 Black Sears Estate Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon / $95 / B / not quite ripe; surprisingly tart
2009 Bravante Cabernet Sauvignon Estate Howell Mountain / $75 / B / lots of oak and silky tannins with a chalky, earthy finish
2009 Bremer Family Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon / $90 / B / a bit thin, lots of chocolate, licorice, tart berries
2011 CADE Cabernet Sauvignon Howell Mountain / $80 / B / complex, herbal notes and some wet earth
2012 CADE Cabernet Sauvignon Howell Mountain Reserve / $180 / A- / mushrooms, then leather and a touch of vanilla; very long tannic structure
2011 Cimarossa Rive Di Cimarossa Vineyard Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon / $70 / B / some floral character, a bit of balsamic
2011 Cimarossa Riva Di Ponente Vineyard Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon / $90 / B+ / broader berry and wood-heavy structure
2012 Clif Family Winery Howell Mountain Kit’s Killer Cab / $75 / B- / heavy earth, lots of tannin
2012 Clif Family Winery Croquet Vineyard Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon / $110 / B+ / more lush and pretty, some violets
2011 Cornerstone Cellars Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon White Label / $80 / B / lots of fruit on the nose, strawberry especially; very light body
2001 Cornerstone Cellars Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon White Label / $300 / A / amazing right now, soft as a pillow with florals and fruit in harmony
2012 Cresta Velia Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon / $65 / B+ / chocolate and caramel notes, dark black fruit jam, some flabbiness on the body
2011 Haber Family Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon / $120 / B+ / big fruit profile, lightly tart; easy drinking with modest tannin
2012 Hindsight Wines Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon Bella Vetta Vineyards / $65 / B / some vegetal notes on the nose; caramel sauce on a slightly sweet body
2011 Howell at the Moon Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon / $85 / B- / intensely vegetal, tawny Port character
2009 Howell at the Moon Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon Knoll Vineyard / $125 / B- / similar to above
2011 Howell Mountain Vineyards Howell Mountain Petite Verdot / $65 / A- / fresh and fragrant; lots of florals
2011 Howell Mountain Vineyards Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon / $75 / B+ / chewy cedar box notes; leather oil
2011 La Jota Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon / $75 / A- / licorice notes; chocolate; still drinking young
2003 La Jota Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon / $95 / A- / still fresh, well softened, some sweetness
2011 La Jota Howell Mountain Merlot W.S. Keyes / $150 / B+ / hugely floral with right fruit; a bit tart (24% cabernet)
2011 Lamborn Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon / $100 / A- / lush and almost sweet with tons of fruit; silky and developing nicely
2010 Neal Family Vineyards Howell Mountain Estate Cabernet Sauvignon / $150 / B+ / densely earthy nose; lots of tannin, slight herbal edge
2012 Outpost Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon / $75 / B / overbearing chocolate notes, big vanilla finish
2011 Pestoni Family Rutherford Grove Winery Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon / $75 / A- / lively fruit, some perfume notes; soft back end
2011 Pina Cellars Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon Buckeye Vineyard / $85 / A- / chewy with chocolate notes, big currants, tobacco leaf
2010 Press Cellars Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon / $60 / B- / some earth and funk here; licorice, coffee bean
2012 Prim Family Vineyard Howell Mountain Pinot Noir / $60 / A- / a real surprise; dense chocolate, exotic, baking spices and vanilla
2010 Prim Family Vineyard Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon / $80 / A- / somewhat softer than the ’09, nice balance
2009 Prim Family Vineyard Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon / $80 / B+ / lots of fresh fruit notes, big jam, overpowered on the finish though
2010 Retro Cellars Howell Mountain Petite Sirah / $45 / B / menthol, some citrus notes; very fragrant
2012 Roberts + Rogers Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon / $100 / B+ / primarily a grape grower, not a winemaker (prices have been skyrocketing); intense, with deep tannins… give this one time
2010 SPENCE Howell Mountain 100% Estate Cabernet Sauvignon / $80 / A- / currants, cocoa powder; deep char notes
2010 Summit Lake Emily Kestrel Howell Mountain Cabernet / $60 / B / blue and blackberry notes; a little portlike; develops in time
2011 W.H. Smith Bronze Label Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon / $48 / B / quite herbal; slight Madeira notes
2011 W.H. Smith Purple Label Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon / $64 / B+ / softer, with blueberry fruit developing; some fig notes


Review: Wines of La Merika, 2015 Releases

La Merika Cab bottle 001All of a sudden these La Merika wines are everywhere I look. Bottled by Delicato, these are affordable, bulk wines produced primarily in the California Central Coast region. You probably won’t pick one up at Ruth’s Chris, but with a couple of these bottlings, you could do worse.

2013 La Merika Pinot Grigio Monterey – As pale a wine as I’ve ever seen, this Pinot Grigio offers a nose of canned pears, with a touch of ammonia. The body is lightly tropical with more old/canned fruit notes, and a heavily bittersweet finish that recalls dried, faded herbs that have been sitting in the cupboard for the last decade. Largely unpleasant. D+ / $13

2013 La Merika Chardonnay Central Coast – A standard-grade Chardonnay with reasonable fruit and modest oak, a perfectly acceptable everyday/party wine that will excite no one but offend none, either. Mild citrus and a touch of tropical character add at least some nuance. B- / $13

2012 La Merika Pinot Noir Central Coast – Traditional cherries on the nose, plus some vanilla — this leads to a slightly oversweet but also surprisingly smoky palate, which ultimately fades away to a bittersweet note on the finish. Notes of cola add something to the otherwise somewhat watery palate. C / $15

2012 La Merika Cabernet Sauvignon Central Coast – Surprisingly not at all bad. Ample fruit, with currents and raspberries, with a little dusting of chocolate underneath. Vanilla notes emerge with time, but the wine manages to stay out of jam territory while still keeping the tannins very lean. There’s no real complexity, but there’s nothing offensive about it at all. Again, a surprisingly great value. B+ / $15


Review: 2013 The Federalist Zinfandel Lodi

federalistAh, at last — a Zinfandel with balance! This lively blend starts with red berries and some cherry notes, then pushes into some notes of tea leaf, cinnamon, and touches of blueberry. Nice balance, with pleasant acidity and some oakiness on the back end. Very easy drinking on its own, and it pairs beautifully with food — something few Zinfandels can lay claim to. A great bargain, to boot.

A- / $14 / terlatowines.com

Tasting the Wines of Gerard Bertrand, 2015 Releases


Gerard Bertrand is a producer in the Roussillon region of France… just next door to the Languedoc, nestled between the Pyrennes mountains (and Spain) and the Mediterranean Sea. But Gerard Bertrand is also a man, an imposing Frenchman who was eye to eye with me at a solid 6’4″ and with the uncanny resemblance of Vincent Cassel. But rather than screaming at ballerinas to “Attack it!” Bertrand makes a number of highly regarded wines (dozens of them) in his mountain commune. He’s also written a book about it: Wine, Moon and Stars, where he talks about biodynamics and a life in winemaking in the south of France. We recently had lunch in San Francisco to talk about the book and taste his wines, both new and (very) old. Thoughts on Betrand’s latest wines follow.

NV Gerard Bertrand Code Rouge Cremant de Limoux AOP – A stellar sparkler that is not rouge at all but rather blanc, very fresh, lively, and bright, with notes of apples, some pears, and toffee. A- / $27

2012 Gerard Bertrand Cigalus Blanc Aude Hauterive IGP – A blend of chardonnay/viognier/sauvignon blanc. Bold and gold in color, it offers honey and mint notes with some almost bready notes on the palate. Food friendly, with an herbal kick and some notes of furniture polish on the nose. B / $36

2014 Gerard Bertrand Chateau La Sauvageonne GMVV Rose Coteaux du Languedoc AOP – Grenache/mourvedre/viognier/vermentino. An interesting rose, with a mild nose and notes of grapefruit, lime zest, and candied flower petals. Some herbal character emerges alongside the slightly chalky finish. B+ / $20

2012 Gerard Bertrand Clos d’Ora Minervois La Liviniere AOP – A new release. A Rhone-ish blend of syrah, grenache, mourvedre, and carignan. A wine designed to “deliver a mission of peace, love, and harmony.” That’s effective, given this wine’s lovely nose of violets and caramel, and youthful body that exhibits floral notes, and some coconut and chocolate in the finish. Mineral notes perk up with air, too. A- / $NA

0121951 Gerard Bertrand Legend Vintage Banyuls Rivesaltes AOP – Gorgeous old Banyuls, dessert wine made of 100% grenache. Lovely port notes have mellowed into a glorious blend of raisin and fig, chocolate and nuts in perfect harmony. At once gentle, elegent, and rich with dense dessert flavors. A knockout. A+ / $165

I also brought some wines home for tasting later…

2014 Gerard Bertrand Cote des Roses – A grenache/cinsault/syrah rose blend. Very fresh and, indeed, floral, with notes of strawberries, peaches, rose petals, and a significant tropical influence. Significant acidity keeps things lively on the palate, but also fruit forward. Brisk and fragrant, quite summery. Note the bottle, the base of which is cast into the impression of a full rose flower. Cute. B+ / $15

2014 Gerard Bertrand Gris Blanc – A rose blend of grenache gris and grenache noir, a very pale, light-bodied wine with overtones of fresh herbs, white flowers, and light tropical elements. Very fresh and fragrant, it’s a classic summer rose through and through. B+ / $16

2011 Gerard Bertrand Grand Terroir Tautavel – A blend of grenache/syrah/carignan. Herbal, with overtones of roasted meats on the nose, with touches of licorice and raspberry jam. The body gets going with restrained fruit and some fresh thyme and rosemary, but the fruit becomes more prominent as it gets some air. Ultimately it’s quite lively, with touches of vanilla and coconut, more of that thyme, and a slightly smoky, leathery back end. Let this one breathe a bit and its depth will surprise you. A- / $15


Review: 2009 Dow’s Late Bottled Vintage Porto

Dows LBV 2009With this 2009, Dow has crafted an affordable late bottled vintage port that’s perfectly quaffable right from the gate. Pure raisins on the nose, with just a touch of baking spice — particularly cloves — laced in. On the tongue, there’s pure dried berries, some caramel and chocolate sauce, and a strawberry glaze. It’s lacking the brooding depth of a vintage port, but that’s kind of the point, isn’t it? A terrific value.

A- / $24 / dows-port.com

Review: 2013 Vineyard 29 Cru Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc

wn-web-image-cru-sb-2013A pair of new wines from Vineyard 29 under the “Cru” label, one a Napa Sauvignon Blanc from V29’s backyard, the other a pinot brought in from Oregon’s Willamette Valley. Both are excellent. Thoughts, as always, follow.

2013 Vineyard 29 Cru Pinot Noir Willamette Valley – Initially this comes across as a slightly tough pinot, with a root-laden/woody edge on the nose. On the palate, there’s lots of cherry fruit up front, then lingering notes of licorice, fruit tea, and a touch of lychee. Ultimately the wine comes together quite well, offering a rounded balance, bold flavors on the body, and a cohesive finish. A- / $54

2013 Vineyard 29 Cru Sauvignon Blanc Napa Valley – Tons of fruit here, with citrus and apple notes dueling it out with coconut and vanilla. Crisp and acidic on the finish, this little delight uses its rich palate to suck you in, then spits you out clean with mineral notes and a hint of flowers. A- / $54