Dining with Sammy Hagar at El Paseo’s Wine Collectors’ Dinner


What’s better than bringing a bottle of wine to dinner? Bringing about 30 of them, then passing them around so everyone can try a bit of each.

Such is the idea behind the monthly Wine Collectors’ Dinner at Mill Valley, California’s El Paseo, a fine dining establishment perhaps best known for its celebrity ownership, local luminary and legendary rocker Sammy Hagar.

Hagar’s brainchild is organized around themes in the wine world. Each month guests are instructed to bring wines of a particular variety. In March it was pre-2003 Howell Mountain reds. In February, Right Bank Bordeaux. This month, Sonoma Coast and Central Coast pinot noir.

Hagar’s wine collection is legendary, and he always brings exotic offerings to the party. This month was no exception, as he poured a splash of 1980 Chalone for me, which utterly surprised with its amazing longevity and plenty of fruit. Later, he uncorked a magnum of 2012 Williams Selyem Allen Vineyard, which was fun to compare against the 2012 Williams Selyem Peay Vineyard that I brought, both from the Sonoma Coast. Of course, all the guests had wine to share, too — the rule is one bottle per person — which meant ample opportunity to try both classics and obscurities, like a gorgeous pinot from Occidental and an opulent new wine called The Prestige, made by a negociant who was in attendance.

Of course, this is a dinner, and the $125 entry fee gets you a four course meal that I’d describe as rustic French in style. A Wellington-style scallop was a unique highlight, but the tender, roasted veal chop that came after was probably the standout of the night.

Sadly, my picture-taking skills failed me and I forgot to snap a selfie while Hagar and I talked not just wine but also his upcoming spirits projects, which include a spiced rum to round out the Sammy’s Beach Bar line and a hybrid mezcal-tequila he’s calling Mezquila. Both are arriving this fall, so stay tuned… or visit El Paseo during one of the upcoming Wine Collectors’ Dinners and ask him about them yourself.


Tasting the Wines of Roussillon, 2016 Releases


Banyuls rimage Tour vieille

The Roussillon is France’s southernmost wine region, nestled into the wedge formed between Catalonia, Spain and the Mediterranean Sea. Within this region there are dozens of sub-regions, including some well-known ones like Minervois, Corbieres,, Fitou, and Banyuls. The Roussillon is but a small part of the broader Languedoc-Roussillon region, and is often simply lumped into the sprawling Languedoc province.

This hot climate is home to both table wines and dessert wines. Rose is common here, made largely from Rhone-style grapes, as are sweet wines, including muscat (and lots of it) and the dessert wines from Banyuls, which are made much like Port with the addition of fortifying spirit, a unique process not seen elsewhere in France.

Below you’ll find reviews of four Roussillon bottlings, including two dry roses and two dessert offerings, all of which are affordable buys. Thoughts follow.

2015 Penya Rosé Côtes Catalanes – A simple rose, made from 96% grenache and 4% syrah, this wine balances heavy floral elements with lively strawberry and some citrus notes, plus a healthy smattering of dried herbs, which become heavy on the finish. The finish is quiet and lightly sweet, with hints of lavender. B / $9

2015 Domaine Lafage Miraflors Rosé Côtes du Roussillon – 50% mourvèdre, 30% grenache, and 20% grenache gris. Fragrant and balanced, this rose offers classic strawberry notes complemented by gentle florals and a touch of brown sugar. This is all layered atop a surprisingly rich body that shows off a density rarely seen in rose. A- / $15

2014 Domaine La Tour Vieille Banyuls Rimage – A classic, dense-ruby Banyuls made of grenache noir and carignan. Fresh red berries and tart cherries, with overtones of chocolate syrup and a surprising toasted almond-hazelnut character. Notes of hickory wood and some licorice give this a rustic character you won’t find in ruby Port, but that seems to add to the wine’s uniqueness and charm. 15.5% abv. A- / $22 (500ml)

2014 Domaine de la Coume du Roy Muscat de Rivesaltes – An extremely sweet muscat dessert wine (16% abv), it offers ample aromatics of the orange blossom variety, followed by a dense body of orange-mango-peach-apricot notes. The finish is sugary to the point of being cloying, with moderate to heavy notes of fresh, green herbs. All told, it’s a bit much to handle after a big meal. B- / $22

Review: Louis Jadot 2014 Macon-Villages and Beaujolais-Villages


louis jadot

I can’t remember the last time I had Louis Jadot’s iconic French wines — clearly I’m long overdue to take a quick trip through the Maconnais and Beaujolais regions with good old Louis. Here’s a look at two new low-cost releases, both easy summer sippers.

2014 Louis Jadot Macon-Villages Chardonnay – This is classic, unoaked French Chardonnay, lush with fruit and unfiltered through the lens of woody vanilla notes. Gently floral, the wine offers solid notes of fresh apple, lemon, and honeysuckle on the back end. Fine on its own, but it shines more brightly when those floral notes can find a companion with food. B+ / $13

2014 Louis Jadot Beaujolais-Villages – Beaujolais Nouveau gives this region a bad name, but bottlings like this prove there’s plenty of nuance in the gamay grape. This wine offers lots of young fruit, but tempers that with notes of fresh rosemary and hints of black pepper. The finish has some earthiness to it, along with clear vanilla notes, but the conclusion ends on straight-up fresh red berries that any Beaujolais drinker will instantly find familiar. Drink slightly chilled. B / $14


Review: 2013 Resonance Pinot Noir Resonance Vineyard


Resonance Vineyard is a sleepy property in the Yamhill-Carlton AVA in Oregon’s Willamette Valley, where it’s been selling fruit to various local vintners for decades. That changed in 2013, when the property was sold to famed French wine operation Maison Louis Jadot with the intent of making an estate pinot out of it — the company’s first project outside of France. And now it’s here: the first Oregon pinot noir produced by French winemaker Jacques Lardière, appropriately named Resonance.

The results are quite good, if a bit short of what one would expect from a wine of this pedigree and price. The nose is initially a bit closed off, but time and air help the wine’s aromas evolve. There’s ample herbaceousness here, notes of fresh herbs mingling with fresh licorice and a significant amount of oak, particularly heavy for a pinot.

On the palate, notes of spearmint come immediately to the fore, backed up by gentle cherry and mixed red berry fruits, some orange peel, and more herbal notes, particularly thyme. The finish is tart, heavy with raspberry notes but also fresh, a little sweet, and, again, minty. The modest body and curious structure are both a departure from the typical profile of Oregon pinot noir, and that’s both a good and a bad thing. Good in the sense that it showcases what Oregon fruit can do; bad in the sense that it ultimately doesn’t fit in well with the regional style.

That said, this is clearly a wine that will evolve with time in bottle — I’d like to see where it goes in the next 3 to 4 years.

B+ / $65 / kobrandwineandspirits.com

Review: Garzon Sauvignon Blanc and Albarino Uruguay, 2015 Vintage


Uruguay? Uruguay. The country you probably can’t even find on a map turns out to make some surprisingly good wine.

But first, a little info from the company:

Officially opened to the public in March 2016, Bodega Garzón is an emergent family estate in the idyllic country of Uruguay, pioneered by Alejandro P. Bulgheroni, an Argentinian and Uruguayan-based international vintner. Unique to the region, Bodega Garzón is leading the charge in winemaking innovation, varietal experimentation, and sustainability.

Thoughts on the first releases available in the U.S. follow.

2015 Garzon Sauvignon Blanc Uruguay – A crisp yet fruity wine, Garzon’s sauvignon blanc takes its apple core and laces it with pineapple and a very light touch of ammonia — enough to ensure you know this is sauvignon blanc right from the start. The finish is fruit-forward and lightly lemony, bright with acidity. It’s a simple wine, but quite a delightful sipper on a hot summer day. A- / $17

2015 Garzon Albarino Uruguay – Unoaked and 100% albarino, this wine exudes peaches and apricots at the start, with secondary notes of white flowers. There’s lots of acidity here, which is good, because it needs it to balance the mountain of fruit that it’s packing, but ultimately the finish veers a touch heavily on the sweet side. B / $17


Tasting Sicilian Grillo: 2014 Tasca and 2013 Firriato


Grillo is a Sicilian grape variety (thought to be a cross between moscato and catarratto) known best as one of the varietals used for the production of Marsala — but it can also be used to produce a lively table wine that echoes pinot grigio, but with a bolder and rounder body.

Recently we sampled two grillo bottlings, both from the Sicilia DOC. Thoughts follow.

2014 Tasca Tenuta Regaleali Grillo Cavallo delle Fate Sicilia DOC – Bold in body and chewy at times, but loaded with notes of fresh lemon, sweetened grapefruit, and mild apricot. At the back of the palate, the wine offers brightness and acidity — slightly floral. Some lightly meaty notes, touched with sweet marshmallow fluff, come along on a gently woody finish with recalls a gentler expression of American chardonnay. (While this is 100% grillo, grillo-chardonnay blends (and other grillo blends) are common.) B+ / $18

2013 Firriato Altavilla della Corte Grillo Sicilia DOC – Also 100% grillo. A somewhat similar wine, though here we find a stronger fresh fruit component — with more distinct tropical notes — plus a touch of vanilla-scented wood influence. This wine would be easier to confuse with a pinot grigio than the Tasca, but on the whole I find it just a touch more enjoyable thanks to a higher level of acidity. A- / $17

Exploring Port Wine: Touring Porto and the Douro Valley


Port is unlike any other wine you’ve tasted, and as such it’s only fitting that the place the make it — Porto and the adjacent Douro Valley — is unlike any wine region you’ve visited, either.

For those unfamiliar with Port wine, a brief primer is in order. All Port is made here in northern Portugal, and though over 100 varieties of grapes are certified for use in Port production, only five of these are common: tinta barroca, tinta cão, tempranillo, touriga francesa, and touriga nacional. Few Port makers keep tabs on what grapes go into any given bottle of Port. Most Douro vineyards harvest and vinify field blends.

099Enter the Douro

The grapes for Port are exclusively grown in the Douro — an unending series of breathtaking, beautifully-stepped mountainside vineyards that wind along the path of the Douro River. The factory farm era has yet to reach the Douro, and it probably never will. Nearly 40,000 farmers work this land, some with parcels as small as an acre or less. Anyone making Port must work with a patchwork of dozens or hundreds of growers in order to obtain fruit, after which the grapes move from the vineyards to various wineries in the region, which are here called quintas. This is where the wine is actually made.

Our friends at Taylor Fladgate graciously spent a day driving us around the Douro, where we visited the company’s three properties at the namesake Taylor Fladgate, Croft, and Fonseca. Each quinta has its own DNA and sense of style, from the crowd-pleasing scene at Croft to the brutally hot and quaint Fonseca. You can taste the stylistic differences in the wines, too, but more on that in a bit.

113Port Styles 101

The process of making Port is wildly different than that of table wine. While the juice for dry table wine can ferment for a month, Port grapes ferment for only two or three days, after which time the fermentation, still low in alcohol and high in sugar, is arrested by the introduction of fresh grape brandy (about 77% alcohol) or another very high-alcohol spirit, roughly 4 parts wine to 1 part spirit. The alcohol kills the yeast and preserves the sugar remaining in the wine, bringing the abv down to about 20%. This is all done with surprisingly old-school production, and in the Port world, tradition reigns supreme to this day: Most quintas actually still foot-tread their grapes instead of relying on machinery to crush grapes into juice (those are empty lagares above; here’s a video of the crushing in practice). Treading is done in silence and takes hours and hours to complete.

From here, the winemaking process diverges quickly depending on what type of Port you’re making. Once a relatively simple drink, Port innovators (led by Taylor Fladgate) have expanded the varieties and styles of Port on the market considerably. Ruby Port is the most basic: Fresh wine is put into enormous vats (often made of chestnut) that hold thousands of gallons of juice. It slumbers here for about two years until bottling, bright red and alive with sugar.

Tawny Port is the other primary variety. Tawnies are stored in smaller casks called pipes, each about 550 to 620 liters in size. Tawnies take on some wood influence but, critically, oxidize much more quickly in the smaller barrels. These are then blended and bottled as 10, 20, 30, or 40 year old wines — though this, paradoxically, does not refer to the actual age of the wine but of the general “style” of what’s inside. Drink a 30 year old Tawny and you are assured of getting “30 year old quality” — not necessarily any wine that is really 30 years old.


White Port is a relatively recent addition to the lineup; it’s made with white grapes (namely malvasia) instead of red and can work wonderfully as a cocktail mixer. The most recent addition to the industry is Rose Port, which is a fresh, “pink” style that has a lot in common with rose table wine.

Vintage Port is simply Ruby Port that comes from a single vintage. It’s only made in the best years, 2 or 3 times per decade. Vintage Ports command the highest prices of all Port wines, and they can be aged in bottle for many, many decades. Late Bottled Vintage Port is a bit confusing, because it has a vintage date on it, but it is not Vintage Port. LBV Ports come from quintas other than those used for Vintage Port, and are aged in cask much longer than the typical Ruby (5 to 6 years is common), which often gives it a deeper and more raisiny, almost Zinfandel-like character. It’s not as ageworthy as Vintage Port (LBV can usually be consumed right away), but can be considerably less expensive than Vintage Port.

Single Quinta Vintage Port also adds to the confusion because it is Vintage Port released from single wineries, as the name suggests, usually in years that a Vintage Port is not declared. They age in bottle just like Vintage Ports but can be purchased for much less. Lastly there are Colheita Ports, which are vintage-dated Tawny Ports. While regular Tawnies are blends of a wide range of vintages, Colheitas come from a single one.


065From the Douro to Porto

All of this aging takes place not in the Douro Valley quintas but rather in the city of Porto — or rather, in the Villa Nova de Gaia, which is the part of Porto that is on the east side of the Douro River. Nothing involving Port wine happens on the western Porto side (which features the old city center and most of the town’s industry). In Gaia, it is seemingly nothing but Port houses, which are called lodges in the local parlance. Why “lodge?” Simply because it sounds better than “warehouse,” of which there are dozens in Gaia, each of which is often emblazoned with a huge sign bearing the name of the owner in monstrous letters, making for a truly unique skyline. Wine is aged here instead of in the Douro exclusively because of the heat. In Porto it can easily be 20 degrees cooler than in the Douro — though modern air conditioning is starting to change this for a few producers.

Visitors to Porto can walk along the waterfront and visit any number of these Port producers, most of which have tasting rooms and visitors’ centers, just like you’d see in any highly touristed wine region. Some, like Taylor Fladgate, are incredibly modern, including such up-to-the-minute touches as a “selfie station” next to a giant barrel of Ruby Port. Some, like Niepoort, are exactly the opposite. Niepoort isn’t open to the public and doesn’t even have a sign on the door — in fact, the building doesn’t even have a proper floor. At Niepoort’s lodge, the ground is simply made of packed earth that can be hosed down to cool things off on hot days. Spiders are encouraged to roost in the windows; their webs help block out the sunlight. (Many thanks to Niepoort for giving us access and a private tour of the facility.)

045Most visitors to this area never leave Porto, and that’s fine. You can taste dozens of Port wines here and get the full scoop on understanding how Port is made if you never leave Gaia, but visiting the Douro itself is a day trip that’s really worth it — not just for the wine but for the unforgettable scenery, too. (Taylor Fladgate operates luxury hotels in both Porto (The Yeatman) and the Douro (The Vintage House), so you can easily spend a day in both locations if you’re game.)

Before we move on to some Port wine reviews, here’s one pro tip for drinking Port. Everywhere in Portugal, Port — no matter what the variety — is served at least slightly chilled. (White Port and Rose Port are typically served well-chilled.) Having Ruby and Tawny Ports about 10 degrees colder really makes a difference. In America, we tend to see these wines poured at room temperature, which puts a heavy focus on the brandy rather than the fruit, making Port taste “hot” with alcohol. By chilling things down, you’ll often find that the wine showcases a whole new dimension of character.

Many thanks to Taylor Fladgate for taking the time to give Team Drinkhacker a tour of the Douro and the Taylor Fladgate lodge in Porto. Taylor’s tasting center in Gaia is absolutely not to be missed if you visit.

Port Wine Reviews, 2016

And now, a catalog of the many Port wines we encountered during our time in the Porto and the Douro.

Niepoort Ruby Port – Fresh, mint notes, strong cherry and raspberry, vanilla and licorice. A big crowd-pleaser. A-

Niepoort Tawny Port – A sweeter style of tawny than usual. Dark tea, brown sugar, cloves, and ginger notes. A bit tarry on the finish. B+

Niepoort 10 Years Old Tawny Port – Intriguing strawberry notes, vanilla frosting; quite sweet for a tawny. B

2012 Niepoort Late Bottled Vintage Port – Chocolatey and dense, almost whiskey-like at times, showing dark cherries, tea leaf, fresh herbs, and some elderflower notes. A-

2005 Niepoort Tawny Colheita – Strawberry and mint start things off on a wine that showcases lots of depth. The finish evokes figs and dates. Very rich and lovely. A

2005 Niepoort Vintage Port – Very dense, with intense chocolate, dark raisin and prune character, and some honey on the finish. Still needs years of time to mature. A-

Caves Vasconcellos 10 Years Old White Port – Unusual to see a white port with an age attached; this one offers a sherry nose, orange peels, flowers, and golden raisins. A-

Caves Vasconcellos 10 Years Old Tawny Port – A little thin and rather plain. Leathery with subtle coffee notes and touches of figs. B

Caves Vasconcellos 20 Years Old Tawny Port – Quite smoky, with strong wood influence. I’m reminded a lot of Amontillado sherry. B-

Taylor Fladgate Chip Dry White Port – Extra dry style, spends three years in wood. Fragrant and lightly nutty. Not sold in the U.S., it was the first White Port ever marketed. B+

2011 Taylor Fladgate Late Bottled Vintage – Very dark and brooding, with blackcurrants, leather, and tobacco notes. The finish offers chocolate galore. A-

Taylor Fladgate 10 Years Old Tawny Port – Red berries and some chocolate notes, lightly oxidized with gentle balsamic character. Pretty but mild. B

Taylor Fladgate 20 Years Old Tawny Port – Heavily oxidized on the nose, with notes of orange peel, nuts, and a touch of coffee. B+

0941966 Taylor Fladgate Very Old Single Harvest Port – This is essentially a Colheita style port, a Tawny that is 50 years old. A knockout, with mint, intense nuttiness, coffee, and quiet raisin and baking spice character. Despite the age, it has a sunny finish. Opulent yet easily drinkable. Best Port I tried on the entire trip. A+

Croft Pink – The original rose Port, made from 100% red grapes that spend 6 hours on the skins; it never sees wood. Notes of strawberries and some tea leaf lead to a simple and fruity wine. We reviewed this years ago; it was more recently reformulated to reduce the total sugar level.) B+

Croft 10 Years Old Tawny Port – A nose of mocha and baking spice lead to a significantly more fruit-focused body, with notes of fruit tea and a jammy finish. B+

Fonseca Siroco White Port – Quite dry and herbal, with some astringency and floral notes. B-

Fonseca Terra Prima – Sold as Terra Bella in the U.S. Fonseca’s organic Ruby Port is fresh with fruit, mint, and offers a long, sweet finish. Quite luscious. B+

Fonseca 20 Years Old Tawny Port – Butterscotch heavy, with lots of acidity. Some herbs meld well with marzipan notes and a burnt sugar finish. A-

2012 Fonseca Guimaraens Vintage Port – Fonseca releases vintage-dated Port in non-vintage declared years under the Guimaraens sub-label. A big, dark chocolate nose leads to an explosive body, heavy with fruit and tannins. Long finish. A-

Ramos Pinto White Port Reserva – Fresh, lightly sweet, with some lemon notes. A little vegetal on the finish. B

Ramos Pinto 10 Years Old Tawny Port – Classic tawny, with lots of nuts, leather, and some Madeirized fruit. Coffee and tea on the finish. B+

2005 Ramos Pinto Vintage Port – Dense with dark chocolate and heavy cassis. Long finish with considerable life left in it. B+