Thursday, January 8, 2015

Martini Winery and Monte Rosso Vineyard

                                                       ENTRANCE TO CELLAR #254

Recently I was able to visit Louis M. Martini winery and see their small scale winery built within the larger Napa facility.  Cellar 254 is the place where all Monte Rosso and Lot 1 Cabernet are made.  Tasting the array of wines made by one of the original  Napa wineries was a special treat. We were able to talk with Kori Butler the head winemaker at Cellar 254.  She told us the name 254 is actually the address of the winery along Highway 29. I will give you my impressions of the wines tasted and and hopefully help you find and enjoy the classic reds produced by this state of the art producer.

Mike Martini is the head winemaker and last current member of the family to be fully involved in daily production and decision making issues. He has a long history of participation and innovation at Martini as well as in Napa.  The winery has been owned by Gallo since 2002. Since there were no family members who wanted to continue in the business Gallo offered to continue the style and  reputation and maintain the family name in wine.

The real story here is the Monte Rosso vineyard on the Sonoma side of the Mayacamas mountains. This vineyard of almost 250 acres has significant parcels  of Zinfandel and Semillon which are over 100 years in age. Much of the fruit is sold to other wineries  such as  Baile, Rosenblum, Spragia, Bedrock, Ravenswood as well as from time to time Cameron Hughes.  What separates Monte Rosso from other vineyards is the iron red soils and proximity it has which is frost free with warm days and cool nights. Taste is the ultimate signature of a vineyard and Monte Rosso has it in spades.  Deep rich and ripe fruit that has aromatics of earth, berries, stone and solid acidity and tannins. Planted in the 1880's there is still the shell of the original winery on the site. In my opinion no other vineyard has  this    unique quality produced year in and year out. Priced between $30-$85 these are reds to savor and sip with others who want an experience that is unique and  profound.

                                             LOUIS M.  MARTINI WINES TASTED

2011 SONOMA  -   one of the best deals in quality Cabernet at a price all can afford. Made in large quantities with superior winemaking

2011 ALEXANDER VALLEY CABERNET--- this is a stunning bottle of wine. I found a huge nose of wild berries and a distinctive cedar/pine aroma that was worth the price of the experience. This was a huge eye opener for me and I brought home some bottles for future consumption.  OUTSTANDING.

2011 LOT 1  CABERNET--   made from select parcels of Cabernet grown in the Napa appellation. Two to four ton lots are fermented separately then blended for the optimum expression of the vintage. This is their flagship wine to rival wines like Mondavi Reserve, B.V. Private Reserve or other top flight   wineries.  Excellent quality.

2011 MONTE ROSSO BLEND---   a mix of Cabernet, Zin, Petite Syrah, Malbec and Cabernet Franc.  This bottling shows the intense flavors and sense of place that is Monte Rosso.  Alcohol in the 15% area with huge fruit that  flows over the palate and fills your mouth with rich flavors and persistent mineral tones. This wine shows what sense of place there is from this classic vineyard.

2011  GNARLY VINES ZINFANDEL--- This is Zinfandel like no other due to old vine limited production (one ton +). This four acre vineyard was planted in the early 1900's and is dry farmed.  Zinfandel lovers must try this ample example of historic wine from a great source.   Rosenblum,  Baile, Bedrock, Sbragia, Rockwall and Rancho Zabaco make similar wines but not the same intensity. Stunning

2010  MALBEC----  tastes like Monte Rosso red wine period.  Does not show the aromas and flavors of the typical Argentine wines sold at $20 price point.   This shows the fact that it is more the vineyard than the varietal that  drives the fruit and aromas of each wine.  Very good especially with typical meats and cheeses that absorb and compliment red wine.  Really fine for the expression of the vineyard.

                                                       LAST IMPRESSION

If you are interested in tasting California history look for and experience any Monte Rosso wine. Better yet compare a few wines made by other producers and decide for yourself.  So many wines sold as Old Vine are about 25 years old which is when production begins to decline.  Monte Rosso is true old vine fruit that does not have to be pruned as it regulates itself and provides intense fruit on a limited basis. As the old saying goes "some things do get better with age"

Thanks to the staff  at Gallo for their help in putting this event together.

Friday, November 8, 2013


                                                    The southern shore of Lake Chelan

 I attended the 2013 Wine Bloggers Convention in Pentictin British Columbia. The day prior to the start of the convention a group of about 40 visited the Lake Chelan wine region of Washington. It was a real eye opener with respect to landscape and observing the early growth of wine cultivation in Northern Washington.  As you can see from the picture above taken at the Campbell Resort Inn, there is beautiful Lake Chelan and the hillsides which are being groomed for vineyards.

                                                        WHAT HAS CHANGED?

Lake Chelan has been a recreation and farming area for many many years. In the past 20 years the idea of growing grapes and not the famous Chelan apples has taken over. The total acreage of Lake Chelan viticultural region is 247 acres! Also, much of the land near the border of the lake has been converted to housing. Imagine having a home on lake front property with vineyards in the neighborhood. From this visit it is obvious that white grapes, Gewurztraminer, Riesling, Gruner Veltner, Sauvignon Blanc and Viognier to name a few, are the highlights of Chelan. Each of these varietals shows bright clean fruit with solid acidity providing a mouth watering and refreshing drink. The production facilities in the region range from small producers of two to three barrels per varietal to larger ones which produce a few thousand cases.

                                            LACK OF RAIN AND LOTS OF WATER?

Eastern Washington has about 10 to 12 inches of rain a year. There is snow and a lot of recreational winter sports in the fall. The water source for vineyard and other agricultural ventures comes from the lake which is a 50 mile glacier-fed lake which is 1.5 miles at its widest and more than 1,400 feet at its deepest point. Vineyards can get measured amounts of water when most needed in the middle of their  hot summers. Another growth advantage is the diurnal shift of temperature from day to night. Highs in the 90's are followed by cool evenings in the 60's and lower. This combination of heat allows fruit to ripen and gain flavor and sugar. The cool evenings support the retention of acidity and keep the fruit in balance. This combination is also found in Argentina where the Andes provide a water source and altitude to what is essentially a desert, and the cool nights retain acidity.

                                                     CHELAN WINE MARKET

Due to the limited size of established vineyards (247 acres) the vast majority of wine produced is sold in the physical area of the lake. Quality is at a very high level and it appears that more land will be planted in the future as word of the wines spreads across the wine reading public. After our visit it makes good sense to incorporate a vacation and explore the wineries of Lake Chelan. Water sports, hiking and fresh air allow the visitor an opportunity to visit life at a slower pace and people who are intent on providing  the public with a fresh perspective of life in Eastern Washington.

                                                              WHO TO VISIT

KARMA VINEYARDS AND CAVE  making one of the few sparkling wines in the area.  They only make a few thousand cases but devote total attention to vineyard health and their desire to make high quality sparkling wine.  Wine Spectator has rated their sparkling wines:  '09 Estate Rose 89 pts, '09 Brut de Brut 88 pts.

NEFARIOUS CELLARS make a limited amount of very high quality wine.  They are an example of a group of people who have found their niche and are producing reds with a sense of place and white wines that sing true to their varietal. Wine Enthusiast has rated their '09 Rocky Mother Syrah 95pts, Defiance Syrah 92 pts and Stone's Throw Riesling top 100.

TSILLAN CELLARS  is one of the largest producers of wine in the lake area.  They have a range of red and whites which are crafted by a Shane Collins who has a wide range of experience in wine production.  The winery is home to one of the stellar restaurants at the lake side.  Their Estate Sangiovese, Syrah and Sempre Amore were all double gold winners at the Seattle wine awards in 2013.

HARD ROW TO HOE VINEYARDS  Judy Phelps crafts a wide array of wines which all show strong varietal character and clean aromatics.  My favorite red wine was their award winning Cabernet Franc and their Primitivo was also top class.  They make a rich Rose as well as a Sparkling Rose that has a berry rose aroma.  They also produce a very fine Riesling.  A fun winery and place to visit.

MELLISONI VINEYARDS  This is a must stop for anyone visiting the area. They produce a top quality line of both red and white wines. Their Syrah, Merlot and Cabernet sourced from other Washington AVA's  are well extracted and quite rich.  White wines may be the  top of their list for consistent quality and price. Their Riesling  and white blend are Double Gold winners in recent competitions. Pinot Grigio and Gewurtztraminer also crash the palate with fresh fruit and a clean finish. This is one of the top producers in Lake Chelan.


Should you visit or vacation in the Lake Chelan area the above wineries will provide you with ample opportunity to taste wines which will only mature and gain more complexity as the years go on.  Most of the wineries will ship to locals in the United States.  This is a trip well worth you time if you enjoy the outdoors and water recreation.  You might even find some of the famous Chelan Apples as part of your adventure.


Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Italian Family Wine Makers Tasting

                                 Italian Wine Institute Tasting San Francisco October 2013

                                              Jose Rallo of  DONNAFUGATA

I  attended the 2013 Institute of Wine and Italian Quality.  There were 19 producers from all regions of Italy producing wines of the highest quality with in their Domination of Quality Controlle which is located on all bottles of Italian wines as DCOG. This is the consumer guarantee of wines produced within the growing area.  This insignia is specific to each area of Italy that has been granted its own DCOG.

                                                    WHO WAS THERE?
The producers who were present are some of the top line families not only in Italy but Europe as well.  Some of those families are:  Antinori, Gaja, Donnafugata, Lungarotti, Mastrobernadino, Alois Ladeger, Umani Rochi, Michele Chiarlo, Pio Ceasare, Folonari, Biondi Santi and Masi to name those most well known in the American market.  A point was made that other than France the largest market of imported wine in the United States is Italy.

                              WHY DID THEY COME TO THE UNITED STATES?
The producers were very candid in the fact that they understand what France has done and why it is such a force in the world wine market.  This group has seen what the French do with respect to how they show their wines.  Every year the Bordeaux Syndicate of wines travels across the major cities of Europe, North America and Asia and presents the wines of classified Bordeaux to the world market.  This introduction not only gave the press and public a chance to evaluate the wines but also generates publicity that as individuals they could not have  access to.  This group of 19 producers have evolved over more than a decade. Their current rule of thumb is to keep membership limited and the only way a new member winery can be admitted is by a vote of 100%.  This was greeted with many laughs as it was suggested that getting total vote was very difficult.

                                                          THE WINES
We came to taste and understand the process of how these wines come to the market.  Each family member told stories of how their families dedicated themselves to vitculture and production. Here is a list of highlights of what was tasted and why they merit your time.

Ca' del Bosco Cuvee ANNAMARIA CLEMENTE 2005  Here they have produced a Pinot Noir which is vinified to make a Blanc de Noir. The Pinot Noir is aged seven years on its lees and the end result is a stunning pink colored lightly bubbly 12% alcohol wine of total finesse.  Light in flavors and quite complex in aroma. This wine demands all your attention and critical senses.  Retail $120

Sassicia Bolgheri DOC 2010  This wine is the king of Cabernet Sauvignon. I was amazed to find that total production was only a few thousand bottles per vintage.  This in my mind was one of the top wines presented. Aged for two years in French oak and held for another six to twelve months before release.  Sassicaia means Stony ground which is the basis of the name.  This is great Cabernet, your next choice is to determine if it meets your needs at about $225 a bottle.

Antinori Tignanello Toscana  2010  This Sangiovese based red is the flagship wine of the Antinori Estates.  Piero Antinori addressed the fact that this wine is what is best about Sangiovese and Italian wines overall. Since the first vintage in 1971 the wines have gone from strength to strength.  The vineyards are from 1200 to 1300 feet in altitude.  The wine undergoes full malolatic fermentation in small oak barrels.  Very high quality.  Retails price $85

Angelo Gaja Barbaresco 2010  Made from 100% nebbiolo grapes from fourteen parcels of land in the DCOG.  This wine is of a lighter color and has more finesse rather than power. The parcels are kept separate and tasted a year or so after harvest to determine which go into the final bottling.  Family members and the winemaker gather and taste to determine what the final wine will be.  This is a wine that provides ample flavors for those who are looking for complexity rather than power.  Retail $220

Pio Cesare  Barolo "Ornato" Serralunga  2009 100% Nebbiolo that has been aged for 36 months in mostly new oak.  This wine qualifies as a reserva and is very bold and forward. The years in barrel have not made this wine soft and it will require a few more years to open up and express the fruit that is at present not showing itself.  This is an old world type of wine that is meant to be cellared which is not part of the current trend in drink me now wines. That being said it is very good.  Retail $110

Folonari " La Fuga"  Brunello di Mantalcino 2008  This was one of the outstanding wines of thez day.  Full red color with high aromatics of berry, cherry and roses.  Tannins are integrated and make this wine easy to enjoy but with the backbone to age. They use Hungarian, Slovenian and French oak in the aging process. It is only a 7 hectare vineyard and produces just 30,000 bottles.  Three years in oak and one year in bottle before release.  This is fantastic Brunello!!!  Retail $66

Biondi Santi  Brunello di Montalcino 'Greppo" 2008 This estate is the King of Brunello. They have in their cellar wines up to 100 years in age.  They are the only estate with their own clone of Sangiovese Grosso.  The wine ages for three years in large barrels and then one year in bottle prior to release. This wine is elegant rather than powerful.  The most well known estate in Tuscany. This gem of a wine will retail for  $170

DONNAFUFATA Mille e Una Notte Rosso Contesse  2008  Jose Rallo (above) presented this great example of Sicilian wine. Mostly Nervo d'Avola that shows depth and great red color.  There are very heavy berry aromatics and solid tannins to keep the wine in balance.  Aged in new french oak for more than a year and then held in bottle for more than two years.  This is not a lighweight wine but it has layers of fruit and aroma that keep you coming back for more. It smells and tastes like more than the 13.% alcohol on the label but it carries itself well.  Retail $80

Masi Osar Rosso Del Veronses  2006  This wine is an experience in itself as the grape variety is rarely ever seen.  Oseleta is a vitis vinifera found by the Masi family. Its roots are from the period when Greeks were in Italy and grew grapes.  The Masi label tells you the grape variety, vintage, alcohol, vineyard and bottle production.  This wine comes from a small 8 hectare vineyard and produced under 5,000 bottles.  This is a great experience is tasting a clone of red wine I have never seen or heard of before.  Retail $70


This was an outstanding event and it provided an understanding of the different areas and their challenge to grow world class wines.  It also underscored the Italian ideal of wines which match with food and give pleasure on their own. The wines above are names and labels you may well see in retail or restaurant lists. They produce other bottlings which are also of the highest quality. Try one with friends over a nice dinner and experience some of the sun of Italy