Review: 2012 Forward Kidd Red Wine

forwardI’m going to start by noting that “Forward Kidd” is a terrible name for a wine. (Forward and Kidd both refer to types of loamy soil common in the mountains of Napa, neither of which any wine drinker has heard of.) And this wine also has an even worse label. (“Forward” and “Kidd” are in different fonts, and none of this is explained on the back.) But Forward Kidd — a Merryvale-owned wine in its inaugural release — is a fantastic wine. So, as the saying goes, don’t judge a book by its cover.

The blend is an intriguing one: 30% Petit Verdot, 25% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot, 20% Malbec, 3% Syrah, 2% Petite Sirah.

Somehow this works out really well.

Pretty florals on the nose lead things off, violets and lavender, hinting at some lush fruit underneath. On the palate, the floral notes add nuance to a panoply of richly layered fruits — cherries and plums, strawberry, currants, and a bit of lychee. The wine is soft and fruit-forward, but neither sweet nor jammy, with a gentle but lasting finish. All seduction. No pandering.

A / $50 /

Review: Wines of Brazil’s Salton, 2015 Releases

Salton Intenso Cabernet Franc 2013Yes Virginia, it’s not all cachaca. They also make wine in Brazil. Vinicola Salton is my first exposure to Brazilian wine, via this trio of bottlings that span a range of styles from classic Old World expressions to oddball blends I’ve never seen before.

Thoughts on all three follow.

2012 Salton Intenso Cabernet Franc – 100% cabernet franc. Slightly lean, with a nose of red berries, leather, and some smoke. The body offers more structure, with more of a tobacco character, strawberry fruit, and a pleasantly floral, vaguely sweet finish. Not what I was expecting from a 100% cab franc wine, but interesting in its own right. B+ / $15

2013 Salton Classic Tannat – 100% tannat. Best known as a tannic blending grape in France, tannat has become quite international and has made its way to Brazil in this 100% varietal wine. Woody and slightly dusty with a somewhat leathery core. Some green vegetation on the nose. Some dried fruits peek through here and there, but overall this is a better match with food. B- / $15

NV Salton Intenso Sparkling Brut – A sparkling wine from 70% chardonnay, 30% riesling. Quite an enjoyable tipple, with gentle sweetness, clear honey/tropical riesling notes, and a floral bouquet. The finish is just a touch muddy, but this would make for a great wine — and quite a conversation starter — on a hot summer day. B+ / $17

Review: 2013 Wines of Les Dauphins, Cotes du Rhones Reserve

dauphinsLes Dauphins is a new label being produced by the Union des Vignerons des Cotes du Rhone, a 1920s bistro-inspired brand that’s priced to move. The Cotes du Rhones wines — all heavily grenache-based — all share the same name, so you’ll have to rely on your eyes to figure out which one’s which. (You can do it!)

While the “Reserve” moniker might be pushing things, these are all drinkable wines with price tags that are tough not to like. Thoughts follow.

2013 Les Dauphins Cotes du Rhones Reserve (White) – A simple, entry-level table white wine composed of 65% grenache, 15% marsanne, 10% clairette, and 10% viognier. Somewhat green, with notes of old wood. Fair enough with food but otherwise undistinguished. B-

2013 Les Dauphins Cotes du Rhones Reserve (Rose) – 80% grenache, 10% syrah, 10% cinsault. The best of the Les Dauphins line, this is a fresh, mildly fruity rose with notes of strawberry and rose petals. Lightly sweet, but balanced with gentle herbs and some perfume. Pretty and well-balanced. B+

2013 Les Dauphins Cotes du Rhones Reserve (Red) – 70% grenache, 25% syrah, 5% mourvedre. This is ultra-ripe, super-fruity juice that’s loaded with notes of strawberry jam, plump raisins, and some black pepper — particularly on the finish. Overbearing at first, but it settles down with time, particularly when accompanying food. B-

each about $10 /

Review: NV Fizz56 Brachetto Spumante

fizfizz56-bottlev1300dpiMost of us (myself included) can probably count on one hand the number of sparkling red wines we’ve consumed. If you’ve never given one a try, the oddly-named Fizz56 is a good place to start.

This is a sparkling Brachetto, a grape grown predominantly in the Piedmont region of Italy, and which is usually used in the production of (still) table wines there. It’s also used to make this frizzante wine, a light-bodied but quite sweet sparkler that will undoubtedly generate plenty of conversation.

Fizz56 is definitely a pre-dinner drink, sweet with fresh berry notes (particularly strawberry) plus perfumy floral elements, including rose petals and a bit of violets. The finish is candylike, with notes of maraschino cherry, sweet and unforgiving as it has its way with your palate. Thankfully, the light fizziness lifts away that sugar-coating, though, giving Fizz56 more of a refreshing quality than you otherwise might expect.

Definitely worth a taste.


Review: 2008 Kaiken Mai Malbec Mendoza

KaikenMai10This 2008 wine from Argentina’s Kaiken is 100% malbec and is definitely starting to show its age. The fruit is extracted and dense, loaded with black pepper, cedar, and tar notes on the nose. The body is rich with currants and fresh herbs, but it also has some Madeira characteristics starting to emerge. This is offset by some incredibly thick tannins plus a smoky, almost meaty element. Based on the tannins it needs more time in the bottle, but the fruit won’t last long enough for them to catch up. (2010 bottling pictured.)

B / $60 /

Review: 2010 Montes Alpha M

MontesAlphaM11Here’s a gorgeous release from Montes, the (almost) top of the line of the well-regarded Alpha line, Montes Alpha M. This 2010 bottling is a blend of 80% cabernet sauvignon, 10% cabernet franc, 5% merlot, and 5% petit verdot. A “Chilean first growth,” this wine has all the hallmarks of a Bordeaux blend, offering dense currants up front, then spicy black pepper, a touch of sour cherry, and a bit of mushroomy earth at the back end. Deep and complex, it’s got notes of black tea, rhubarb, dark chocolate, gooseberry… it goes on and on. Enjoyable at first pour, it only gets better and opens up as it evolves with exposure to air.


Tasting Report: In Pursuit of Balance, 2015

If you like good pinot noir, there’s one wine tasting experience you don’t want to miss: In Pursuit of Balance, a consortium of producers who eschew overblown, extracted wines in favor of more delicate, nuanced wines that show off what pinot (and its Burgundian cousin, chardonnay) can really taste like. Only pinot and chardonnay are allowed to be poured at the IPOB event, so cabernet lovers need not apply.

I recently attended IPOB’s 2015 stopover in San Francisco and had the luxury of sampling wines from some of the brightest names in wine today. Special shout-outs to Coapin, Ojai, and Peay (always on fire), all of which were pouring some amazingly expressive bottlings at the event.  Thoughts on everything sampled follow. If you have a chance to attend an IPOB event, do so!

Tasting Report: In Pursuit of Balance, San Francisco, 2015

2009 Au Bon Climat Clendenen Family “Le Bon Climat” Chardonnay Santa Maria Valley / A- / bright, slight mustard note; clear with acidity and fruit
2011 Au Bon Climat “Nuits-Blanches au Bouge” Chardonnay Santa Maria Valley / A- / bright, melon and tropical notes
2013 Calera Chardonnay Central Coast / B / very fruity, quite sweet
2013 Calera Chardonnay Mt. Harlan / B+ / a little thin, steely
2013 Ceritas Peter Martin Ray Chardonnay Santa Cruz Mountains / A- / lots of acid; a bit buttery
2013 Ceritas Charles Heintz Vineyard Chardonnay Sonoma Coast / A / a beauty – fruity, with especially fresh apples
2013 Copain DuPratt Vineyard Chardonnay Anderson Valley / B+ / edging too far into butter and oak
2013 Copain Brosseau Vineyard Chardonnay Anderson Valley / A / racy, lots of minerals and baking spices
2012 Drew Family Cellars Weir Vineyard Pinot Noir Yorkville Highlands / A- / big and hush, deep with blackberry notes
2013 Drew Family Cellars Fog Eater Pinot Noir Anderson Valley / B+ / a sugar bomb, cocoa notes
2013 Drew Family Cellars Morning Dew Ranch Pinot Noir Anderson Valley / A- / lush with fruit and tea leaf
2012 Drew Family Cellars Valenti Vineyard Pinot Noir Mendocino Ridge / B+ / lovely fruit up front, pushes into sweetness
2005 Drew Family Cellars Ashley’s Vineyard Pinot Noir Santa Rita Hills / B / oxidizing; some vinegar notes developing amid stewed fruit
2013 Failla Chardonnay Sonoma Coast / B+ / some butter, lots of vanilla, good minerality
2013 Failla Estate Vineyard Chardonnay Fort Ross-Seaview / B+ / more oak, vanilla, good balance
2013 Failla Haynes Vineyard Chardonnay Coombsville / A- / nice balance, very rich, tropical and coconut notes
2012 Flowers Camp Meeting Ridge Estate Chardonnay Sonoma Coast / B+ / quite tropical, butterscotch notes, nice acidity on the back
2012 Flowers Camp Meeting Ridge Estate Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast / A- / vanilla touches, then baking spices; lush and fruit forward
2011 Flowers Sea View Ridge Estate Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast / A- / lighter body, fresh fruit and herb notes
2013 Hanzell Sebella Chardonnay Sonoma Valley / B+ / some coconut; lemony, nougat notes
2012 Hanzell Chardonnay Sonoma Valley / B+ / richer, bigger body; more vanilla
2012 Hirsch San Andreas Fault Estate Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast / B- / considerable barnyard here; big earth for days
2012 Hirsch East Ridge Estate Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast / A- / very bright, some balsamic and savory spice notes
2012 Hirsch Reserve Fault Estate Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast / B+ / touch of barnyard, lots of barrel influence
2013 Liquid Farm La Hermana Chardonnay Santa Maria / A- / very pretty, lovely citrus and lime notes
2013 Liquid Farm White Hill Chardonnay Santa Maria Hills / A- / some candied flowers, more citrus
2013 Liquid Farm Golden Slope Chardonnay Santa Maria Hills / A- / bigger vanilla character, some tropical notes
2013 Liquid Farm FOUR Chardonnay Santa Maria Hills / B+ / even more vanilla, woodier
2013 Liquid Farm Bien Nacido Bien Bien Chardonnay Santa Maria Hills / B / pushing heavy into wood, some bitter elements emerging
2013 Littorai Charles Heintz Vineyard Chardonnay Sonoma Coast / B+ / some bigger wood notes here; vanilla and coconut
2013 Littorai Thieriot Vineyard Chardonnay Sonoma Coast / B / balance is a bit off
2011 Native9 Rancho Ontiveros Vineyard Pinot Noir Santa Maria Valley / B / some barnyard on the nose; lots of frest fruit on the body; canned veg on the finish
2012 Native9 Rancho Ontiveros Vineyard Pinot Noir Santa Maria Valley / A- / fresher, some baking spice with fresh herbs
2013 Ojai Solomon Hills Chardonnay Santa Maria Valley / A / elegant structure, tropical and mineral notes together
2013 Ojai Bien Nacido Chardonnay Santa Maria Valley / A- / bolder with some coconut elements
2012 Ojai Solomon Hills Pinot Noir Santa Maria Valley / A- / fleshy, quite bright raspberry
2013 Ojai Bien Nacido Clone 22 Pinot Noir Santa Maria Valley / B- / slightly flabby, huge jammy notes
2012 Peay Estate Chardonnay Sonoma Coast / A / very delicate, flowers and gentle citrus
2013 Peay Chardonnay Sonoma Coast / A- / creamier, bolder
2012 Peay Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast / A / raspberry tea notes, well balanced
2012 Peay Scallop Shelf Estate Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast / A / lots of depth, dense fruit with a long finish
2013 Peay Pomarium Estate Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast / A / very big, dense jammy fruit with a long finish
2013 Peay Savoy Estate Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast / B+ / more sweetness here, lots of fresh red berries; not as well balanced
2013 Peay “Cep” Pinot Noir / A- / chocolate and violets, cherry notes; great value wine
2013 Twomey Pinot Noir Russian River Valley / A- / quite lush, dense fruit with a gentle finish
2013 Twomey Pinot Noir Anderson Valley / A- / slightly bolder, bit of chocolate influence
2013 Wind Gap Gap’s Crown Vineyard Chardonnay Sonoma Coast / A- / woody, with fruit notes; bright and ripe finish
2013 Wind Gap Woodruff Vineyard Pinot Noir Santa Cruz Mountains / B / strawberry, tea leaf, too sweet
2013 Wind Gap Sun Chase Vineyard Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast / B+ / brighter structure, touch of licorice
2012 Wind Gap Gap’s Crown Vineyard Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast / B+ / simple nose, nice blackberry and some herbs

Tasting the Wines of Round Pond, 2015 Releases


The brother-sister team of Miles and Ryan MacDonnell have grown grapes at their Rutherford property in Napa as part of their family’s business since 1983 and began running the Round Pond Estate together in 2003. In 2002, Round Pond branched out from growing grapes into making its own wine, and today the family continues to expand its winemaking operation as well as selling grapes to some of the region’s blue chip wineries.

Round Pond grows primarily Cabernet Sauvignon but also cultivates a smattering of other wines, a number of which we tried at a recent lunch at the Gotham Clubhouse, a private club located in the outfield of San Francisco’s AT&T Park. Round Pond also offers a lunch called Il Pranzo at its winery, where you can experience its wines paired with a meal as well as its estate-made olive oils and vinegars.

Miles led us through the afternoon, with Gotham’s chef pairing each of these wines with a small plate. The food was uniformly excellent. More detailed thoughts on the wines tasted follow.

2014 Round Pond Rosato di Nebbiolo – One doesn’t find a lot of Nebbiolo in Napa, much less Nebbiolo rose. This wine is so pretty and lush, with fresh berries, peaches, and floral notes, that I wish you could get it somewhere besides Round Pond’s winery. A-

2014 Round Pond Rutherford Sauvignon Blanc – A crisp and herbal Sauvignon Blanc, nice acidity and a bracing finish; great pairing with a smoked salmon dish. A-

2012 Round Pond Kith & Kin Cabernet Sauvignon – Round Pond’s entry level Cabernet (priced at $30), powerful and dense with notes of chocolate and tons of jam. A straightforward wine, but quite a delight. A-

2012 Round Pond Rutherford Cabernet Sauvignon – This mid-level wine offers more nuance, with some pepper notes amidst the currants. Silky and lush. A-

2012 Round Pond Proprietary Red – A red blend, and surprisingly light on its feet, with its silky tannins pairing nicely with a small filet of beef. Raspberry on the finish. A-

2010 Round Pond Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon – The top of the line, but this was the only wine in the lineup that wasn’t quite on fire for me. Dense with lots of tannin and menthol notes, it offers opulence but needs several more years in the bottle before it hits prime time. B+  [BUY THEM NOW FROM WINE.COM]

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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