Napa Valley

WineSpeak USA Fab 50 of 2012

From the kick off of this blog on January 17, 2012 through tonight, I have reviewed approximately 250 wines. I would like to give special recognition to 50 of those wines, along with one winery that has really stood out this year.

WINE OF THE YEAR/RED WINE OF THE YEAR: Groth Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2008
Napa Valley’s Groth Vineyards Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon is an unforgettable, regal wine that electrifies the senses and does the highly lauded Oakville AVA proud.

WHITE WINE OF THE YEAR: aMaurice Cellars Columbia Valley Viognier 2010
aMaurice Cellars features a flat-out impressive lineup of both white and red wines. Their Columbia Valley Viognier is a delicate, beautiful, and exciting wine that is quite obviously made with care.

$20 BELOW RED WINE OF THE YEAR: Gifford-Hirlinger Stateline Red 2009
With their 2009 Stateline Red, a Cabernet Sauvignon dominated blend, Gifford-Hirlinger proves that there are age and cellar-worthy Cabs available for under $20.00. Retailing at a mind-boggling $16.00, I have purchased more individual bottles of this wine than any other this year.

$20 BELOW WHITE WINE OF THE YEAR: Tempus Cellars Evergreen Vineyard Riesling 2011
Of all of the high quality, low-priced Rieslings that I tasted this year, the Evergreen Vineyard Riesling from Walla Walla up-and-comer Tempus Cellars led the pack. Wine consumers everywhere should rejoice that wines like this one are available for $16.00!

Winemaker/owner Sean Boyd is doing some amazing things with Rhone varietals at Rotie Cellars in Walla Walla. I had the opportunity to sample six of Rotie’s current releases, highlighted by the 2010 Southern Blend, and I simply can’t recommend their wines enough (if you can find them).

FAB 50 OF 2012

  1. Groth Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2008 ($125.00)
  2. Woodward Canyon “Artist Series” Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 ($54.00)
  3. Long Shadows Wineries Pirouette 2007 ($50.00)
  4. Rotie Cellars Southern Blend 2010 ($40.00)
  5. Rasa Principia Reserve Syrah 2008 ($85.00)
  6. Ridge Geyserville 2009 ($35.00)
  7. Carlisle Montafi Ranch Zinfandel 2009 ($45.00)
  8. Rotie Cellars “Little G” 2010 ($45.00)
  9. Long Shadows Wineries Sequel Syrah 2007 ($50.00)
  10. Buty Columbia Rediviva Phinny Hill Vineyard 2008 ($48.00)
  11. aMaurice Cellars Columbia Valley Viognier 2010 ($25.00)
  12. Maison Bleue Graviere Upland Vineyard 2010 ($45.00)
  13. Gramercy Cellars Third Man GSM 2009 ($45.00)
  14. Rasa Doctrina Perpetua Syrah Block 5 Bacchus Vineyard 2009 ($60.00)
  15. Betz La Cote Rousse Syrah 2007 ($55.00)
  16. Kistler Sonoma Mountain Chardonnay 2010 ($65.00)
  17. aMaurice Cellars Columbia Valley Chardonnay 2009 ($28.00)
  18. Buty Connor Lee Vineyard Chardonnay 2010 ($32.00)
  19. Proper Syrah 2010 ($36.00)
  20. Ravenswood Teldeschi Vineyard Zinfandel 2008 ($35.00)
  21. J “Barrel 16″ Pinot Noir 2010 ($75.00)
  22. Wild Horse Cheval Sauvage Pinot Noir 2008 ($60.00)
  23. L’Ecole 41 Estate Merlot 2008 ($36.00)
  24. L’Ecole 41 Apogee Pepper Bridge Vineyard 2008 ($49.00)
  25. Saviah Cellars Une Valee Walla Walla Valley 2009 ($32.00)
  26. Ravenswood Barricia Vineyard Zinfandel 2008 ($35.00)
  27. Ridge Lytton Springs 2009 ($35.00)
  28. Girard Artistry 2008 ($40.00)
  29. MacPhail Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir 2010 ($39.00)
  30. Trio Vintners Plaisir 2009 ($26.00)
  31. Stolpman Estate Syrah 2009 ($34.00)
  32. Gifford-Hirlinger Stateline Red 2009 ($16.00)
  33. Erath Pinot Noir Estate Collection 2009 ($34.00)
  34. Trefethen Dry Riesling 2010 ($22.00)
  35. Frank Family Vineyards Zinfandel 2009 ($36.75)
  36. Walla Walla Vintners Cabernet Franc Columbia Valley 2010 ($28.00)
  37. Aberrant Cellars Confero Pinot Noir 2009 ($35.00)
  38. Reininger Syrah Walla Walla Valley 2008 ($42.00)
  39. Seghesio Rockpile Zinfandel 2010 ($38.00)
  40. Mackey Vineyards Concordia 2009 ($38.00)
  41. Tempus Cellars Evergreen Vineyard Riesling 2011 ($16.00)
  42. Syncline Mourvedre 2010 ($30.00)
  43. Sokol Blosser Dundee Hills Pinot Noir 2009 ($38.00)
  44. K Syrah “Pheasant Vineyard” Wahluke Slope 2010 ($35.00)
  45. Mackey Vineyards Merlot 2009 ($36.00)
  46. Tamarack Cellars Merlot Columbia Valley 2008 ($28.00)
  47. Kontos Cellars Merlot 2009 ($32.00)
  48. Sequoia Grove Carneros Chardonnay 2009 ($28.00)
  49. Amavi Cellars Syrah Walla Walla Valley 2010 ($29.00)
  50. Kung Fu Girl Riesling 2011 ($12.00)
**Please note that detailed reviews and tasting notes for these wines can be located via the “Search” feature in the right column.
Posted on by Nick in $20 Above, $20 Below, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, California, Chardonnay, Grenache, Merlot, Mourvedre, Oregon, Pinot Noir, Red Blends, Riesling, Syrah, Viognier, Washington, Wine Column, Zinfandel 4 Comments

$20 Above: Buehler Vineyards Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2009

Buehler Vineyards Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2009

Date Tasted: 10/20/12

Price: Suggested Retail is $25.00 (Purchased for $19.00)

From The Winery: 14.6% alcohol. Napa Valley AVA. Fruit sources- 30% estate hillside vineyards, with remainder from vineyards on the Napa Valley floor. 15,000 cases produced.

Impressions/Notes: Buehler Vineyards 2009 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon can best be described by two very non-technical descriptors–fruity and oaky. On the “fruity” side, there’s an abundance of black cherry, blackberry, and plum aromas and flavors. A heavy “oaky” presence imparts a distinct macaroon aroma, which is also a prevalent part of the wine’s aftertaste. There’s also a bit of eucalyptus in the background adding an interesting component. The wine’s acidity was on the low side, with moderate plus heat hitting the back palate. Stylistically, Buehler’s Cab reminded me a lot of the Beringer 2009 Knight’s Valley Cab.

Rating: Recommended (86-89), 3/5 Value

Posted on by Nick in $20 Above, Cabernet Sauvignon, California 2 Comments

$20 Above: Franciscan Estate Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2009

Franciscan Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, 2009

Price: Suggested retail is $27.00 (purchased for $20.00)

Date Tasted: 7/29/2012

From The Winery: 13.5% alcohol, 101,500 cases produced (83% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Merlot, 6% Syrah, 1% Malbec)

Impressions/Notes: I sampled Franciscan Estate’s 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon at a winemaker’s dinner earlier this year and really enjoyed it. Being three glasses in by the time that I reached this one, any chance at a focused evaluation was out the window. Luckily, I found it on sale for $20.00 a couple of weeks ago and got a second chance to retry it. Medium-to-dark purple in color, with a nose that’s loaded with black cherry, dried herbs, tobacco, and menthol. Oak flavors and aromas compliment the fruit nicely and bring a pleasant sweet spiciness to the wine. I noticed some moderately powdery tannins this time on the back palate, while the alcohol and acidity were well-integrated. Sturdy, concentrated, and focused, this Cab is an impressive bargain and a real pleaser.


Rating: Recommended/Highly Recommended (88-92), 4/5 Value 

Posted on by Nick in $20 Above, Cabernet Sauvignon, California 2 Comments

5 Recommended Wine Blogs

Since the start of WineSpeak USA this past January, I’ve become more immersed in wine blogs than ever before. Not just my own, mind you. I’ve really enjoyed the interactions that I’ve had with other bloggers and the valuable information that they have provided on their various blogs. This week, I would like to recognize five other wine blogs that I frequently haunt. I highly recommend these blogs to any wine lover. In no particular order, they are as follows:

New Hampshire Wine-man

Dennis Tsiorbas posts thorough reviews for a wide variety of wines each week. I’ve purchased a handful of the wines that he has favorably reviewed and have yet to be disappointed.  One of his recommendations, the J Vineyards Pinot Gris 2010, has been among my favorite white wines of this young summer.

The Thirsty Kitten

Kip and Lucy post once a week, focusing on their latest wine adventures. Whether it be a night out with friends or a dinner party at home, their accounts never fail to entertain.

Bach to Bacchus

TJ Jones, a retired Napa resident, writes detailed accounts of the various wineries (mostly in the Napa Valley) that he and his wife have visited. Napa sure looks like a great place to be a retiree!

Washington Wine Report

Sean Sullivan has been writing about all things Washington wine in his Washington Wine Report since 2005. With my love for Washington wines cemented following my recent trip to Walla Walla, Washington, I visit this blog a lot.


Alder Yarrow’s Vinography, started in 2004, continues to be one of the top (if not the top) wine blogs out there. It’s chock-full of great information. Reading Yarrow’s accounts of the various tasting events that he has attended leaves me both well-informed and a bit jealous!

Posted on by Nick in Wine Column 6 Comments

Adventures in Charity Wine Tasting

A few weeks ago, I was perusing a small Denver area newspaper and saw an ad for a charity wine tasting featuring hundreds of wines exclusively from the Napa Valley. The combination of the words/phrases “charity”, “wine tasting”, “hundreds of wines”, “Napa Valley”, and “$30.00″ was a quick sell to me, so I purchased a couple of tickets.

Denver’s Argonaut Liquors sponsors several of these tastings throughout the year, each with different themes, such as Napa Valley wines, Sonoma County wines, and Colorado/Oregon/Washington wines. This past Tuesday, my wife and I attended the Napa Valley tasting.

I have been to a similar tasting before, although hosted by a different sponsor, so I was able to utilize the most important lesson that I have picked up: bring something to spit your wine into. Most of the tables at these tastings have one dump bucket, but unless you’re lucky enough to see an opening right next to it, it’s out of reach. So you swallow a little bit here and a little bit there. Pretty soon, you’ve got a nice buzz going on and any hope of evaluating the wines that you’re drinking is lost.

The perfect spit bottle (L) and the not-so-perfect spit bottle (R).

My intention for the Napa tasting was to evaluate fifty wines, with the help of my trusty notebook and pen and spit bottle. A lot of thought went into selecting the right spitting vessel for such an event. If it was too flimsy, such as a Dixie cup, it could easily be spilled amongst the crowd. I also didn’t want it to be clear, as I’m sure that people wouldn’t be too happy seeing my wine spit sloshing around in the container. After much searching, I located the perfect spit bottle–a solid-colored Nalgene with a wide mouth.

Shortly after leaving the house for the tasting and amongst thick traffic, I realized that I had left both my notebook and spit bottle. The tasting was scheduled for only two hours, so after a minor (or my wife might say major) meltdown, I decided that we would stop at Target along the way and buy replacements. The traffic became thicker and by the time we reached Target, I was in serious rush mode. I ran in and made a beeline for the sporting goods section to find a water bottle. There was a miniature version of the bottle that I had recently purchased, so I quickly grabbed it, grabbed a notebook, paid, and ran back to the car.

The tasting was held at a golf club near downtown in a smallish room with sixteen tables full of wine. My strategy was to start with the whites and finish with the reds. Unfortunately, the whites and reds were mixed within the tables so much table-hopping was required. It was crowded and it became difficult to lug my pen, notebook, spit bottle, wine list, and tasting glass from table to table while trying to make my way through the crowds to get a pour. I simply did not have enough hands!

Going in, I didn’t have any grand visions of getting detailed notes for all of these wines. I did hope to get abbreviated notes for each one that I tasted. With a lesser crowd and with the wines organized by varietal, I may have had a shot of accomplishing that goal. As it was, I decided to write notes for a few of the thirty or so wines that we tasted that really impressed me. In order to increase my luck at the next tasting event, I’ve decided to list reviews for a lucky number seven of the wines tasted.


1. Groth Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon Oakville 2008–Wine of the night. Tantalizing dark berry aromas, sultry in the mouth, with a finish that went on and on. Suggested Retail Price: $125.00, Rating: Stellar

2. Joseph Phelps Sauvignon Blanc 2010–Could be the best Sauvignon Blanc I’ve had this year (along with the Duckhorn). Pure of fruit, zesty, with a zap of acidity. Suggested Retail Price: $32.00, Rating: Highly Recommended

3. Trefethen Dry Riesling 2010–Would have sworn this was German. Bright and loaded with slate, minerality, and green apple. Suggested Retail Price: $22.00, Rating: Highly Recommended

4. Girard Artistry 2008–Mouth-watering cherry aromas, with a strong acid backbone and wonderfully smooth texture. Suggested Retail Price: $40.00, Rating: Highly Recommended

5. Frank Family Vineyards Zinfandel 2009–A regal zin with rich aromas and a velvety texture. Suggested Retail Price: $36.75, Rating: Highly Recommended

6. Sequoia Grove Carneros Chardonnay 2009–Gorgeous honeydew and smoke aromas, well-balanced, and just the right amount of oak. Suggested Retail Price: $28.00, Rating: Highly Recommended

7. Stags’ Leap Winery Petite Sirah 2009–Mouth-coating blueberry, pepper, and a bit of tea leaf. Suggested Retail Price $38.00, Rating: Highly Recommended

I would guess that these stains were 75% Cab Sauv., 15% Merlot, 5% Zinfandel, and 5% Petite Sirah.

I mentioned earlier that the replacement spit bottle was a miniature version of the bottle that I had so carefully selected and then forgotten at home. The mouth of the mini bottle was very narrow and difficult to spit in. Engrossed with the tasting, I failed to notice that periodically a little bead of wine would stick to the outside of the rim or trickle down the side. Further, I failed to notice that I had touched the spit bottle to my shirt several times, so that it had stained my shirt in several places. The stains weren’t to the degree of Miles in Sideways (after chugging the spit bucket) but highly noticeable nonetheless. It also didn’t help that I was sweating like a mad man in the crowded room.

The wine list became an effective tool to shield my stained shirt but I was slightly embarrassed. My wife joked that I was probably the most sober guy there (due to spitting out the wine) but looked the sloppiest. I did learn another important lesson for the next marathon tasting–wear a dark colored shirt rather than baby blue.

Did the evening go exactly as planned? Not at all. Am I going to go back? Of course. There aren’t a plethora of tastings of this magnitude in the area. The next tasting in the series is in late June and features Colorado/Oregon/Washington wines. I’m looking forward to seeing how the wines of my adopted state stand up to those of Oregon and Washington.

Posted on by Nick in $20 Above, Cabernet Sauvignon, California, Chardonnay, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Tasting Events, Zinfandel 3 Comments