Sunday, November 27, 2011

Cellarmistress Does The Napa Valley Film Festival -Part Three: Tasting Napa

The final part of the blogger tasting took place on the Saturday evening of the Inaugural Napa Valley Film Festival. Samples of the four wines were sent to us by the individual wineries. As much as I had enjoyed the three previous installments of the live blogging, I felt a bit disconnected from this particular session. Perhaps it was because there was a lot of silent time between tasting and the live feed we were following. Quite a bit of shuffling when it came to the order in which we were going to sample these wines also. Not enough time for much Q & A either so my questions went unanswered. Considering how busy the festival was and how anything can go wrong at any given time, I still think they did a great job with what they had to work with. We did try some really nice wines on this installment and I am here to share those with you.

The first of these wines was the 2009 Saintsbury Lee Vineyard Pinot Noir. Saintsbury Vineyard is located in my favorite area of Napa, Los Carneros. Carneros is the scenic (almost majestic as far as I'm concerned) area in the southern end of Napa as you drive in from the bay area. The rolling hills sweep you away. It is just beautiful! (Note to self: pull over sometime if you can and take photos!) Because of its proximity to the San Pablo Bay, it is an ideal area to grow Pinot Noir grapes and thus the only area in the Napa Valley that produces Pinot Noir. Saintsbury has been around for a very long time, and Pinot Noir is their specialty. They produce many. The 2009 Lee Vineyard is a new release (or at least I think it is...I couldn't get my question answered!) and it is young. I think I would've enjoyed it more had I opened it a year from now. It was very tight with dark cherries, cedar and almost a flinty minerality. A lot darker in color than some of the Carneros Pinot Noir I've experienced in the past. But, hey, I am a novice when it comes to Carneros Pinot Noir and I am willing to learn. Bring it on! $45.

Next we did the 2007 Pine Ridge Stags Leap District Cabernet Sauvignon. Pine Ridge Vineyards is one of those wineries whose wines you sometimes see at wine shops around the country but did you know they make a lot of unique, single vineyard wines? This one was huge and powerful with loads of plum, chocolate, coffee, caramel and toasty vanilla on the finish. This wine has a firm tannin backbone making the capacity for aging into the 15-20 year mark. I don't have that much willpower!! This wine contains all five Bordeaux varietals in it: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec, Petit Verdot and Cabernet Franc. It's gooood!!! Veteran winemaker, Michael Beaulac made wines for Markham Vineyards and St. Supery before landing here. www.pineridgewinery $80.

And now for my two favorites of the evening, offerings from Swanson Vineyards, located in Rutherford. I first learned of Swanson Vineyards after seeing my friend Rudy McClain's acclaimed film, "Merlove" several years ago. ("Merlove" is a film about Merlot and its unfortunate demise...) Swanson Vineyards' winemaker, Chris Phelps, was interviewed in the film... (On a side note, Rudy says I am the "Mayor of Merlove" on Foursquare because everywhere I go, I meet someone who was in the film! Ha!) I was super excited when I found out Chris was going to be joining us on the feed but alas, he did not...Bummer...Anyhow, the two offerings were the 2009 Swanson Vineyards Pinot Grigio and the 2007 Swanson Vineyards Oakville Merlot. When they came on, the hashtag they used was their Twitter handle, OhHelloSwanson! I thought that was hilarious but really for this winery it is completely appropriate! One sip of these wines is enough to make you say, "Oh Hello Swanson!!! Where have you been all my life???" The Merlot will make a believer out of the non-believers. People who stopped drinking Merlot because of the movie "Sideways" don't realize what they are missing out on. This wine is a full berry explosion with smooth chocolate and a little bit of anise thrown in the mix. It's heavenly! $38. The Pinot Grigio is lemony, refreshing and commands a lot of salty snacks. $21. Love these wines and recommend them wholeheartedly!

Next time you are visiting Napa Valley, please consider visiting these three wineries. All three offer an insider's look into something unique and special.

Now that this is all over I am going through some withdrawal symptoms but at the same time, I am looking forward to next year's Napa Valley Film Festival and also looking forward to attending the festivities in real life after my move out there! Cheers!

"You Saw It Here First"...This post was created solely for "Cellarmistress' Cellar Talk" by Grace Hoffman. Grace is an Italian-born, American-bred wine blogger/educator with an all-consuming passion for wine and all it encompasses.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Cellarmistress Does The Napa Valley Film Festival--Part Three Continued: Tasting Yountville

Saturday afternoon, we bloggers had the opportunity to taste wines in conjunction with the Yountville Pavilion, TasteLive, CellarPass and Mutineer Magazine. The Yountville tasting was interesting as I was able to sample wines from wineries I'd never visited before. Each winery sent a sample bottle of what we were going to taste. Wineries featured were John Anthony Vineyards, Jessup Cellars and Chiarello Family Vineyards!

John Anthony Vineyards offered up two wines, the 2007 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon and the 2010 Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc. The winery sources its Cabernet Sauvignon from vineyards in the Oak Knoll district of Napa, which is just north of the town of Napa. This wine is 100% Cabernet, nothing else was blended into it. Like a lot of the 2007 vintage in Napa in general, it packed a lot of fruit up front and I was pleasantly surprised that the finish was a lot longer than some I had tried. The $56 price point is well-worth it. This wine would age very nicely. The Sauvignon Blanc, in my opinion, had a much higher perceived value than its price tag of $20 would suggest. It was all citrus and very elegant. And I have to commend their winemaker for sticking to a style that's very typical of Napa Valley. So many Napa producers are starting to shy away from the California style opting for a style that mimics New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc and I hate that. I enjoy both styles but the last thing we need is our tried and true California style changing so drastically. After the tasting was over, a fellow blogger brought up the alcohol level of this wine. At over 15%, I agree it is a bit much. But the point is to savor this wine with a meal. It's not a "sit on your patio sipper." There are plenty of other wines out there that fall into that category!

The 2009 Jessup Cellars Juel was interesting! I felt kind of special being one of the first people out here to sample it. The wine won't be released to the public until sometime next Spring! The wine is huge, young, and definitely commands a great meal to go along with it. It is Merlot-based and each year, they change up the blend just a hair. During the tasting, I enjoyed the intense flavors but unfortunately when I went back to it several hours later, the wine had sort of fallen apart. It wasn't nearly as huge and the finish disappeared. Even capped with a rubber stopper with the air pumped out of it. I truly hope that a few more months of bottle aging will prevent this from happening in the future or maybe I received a bad bottle? The winemaker suggested the retail price on this bottle would be somewhere in the $85 range and that's a lot of money to spend on something that may not age well. Let's hope this is not the case because this wine was packing a lot of flavor!

The 2008 Chiarello Family Vineyards Roux is an old vine Petite Sirah (from 99 year old vines) and it was my favorite of the tasting! It was hearty, meaty, had a huge backbone and was completely in your face. It rocked!! This was the first of any Chiarello Family wine I'd had proving that not only is Michael Chiarello a great chef and businessman but he certainly knows a little about wine! If you tasted this wine, you would ask yourselves why more producers don't make a Petite Sirah. I wanted short ribs with this---the short ribs I tasted at Michael's Yountville restaurant, Bottega on my birthday! This wine could age for the next ten years but you wouldn't want to wait that long! The next time you're in Yountville, stop by NapaStyle and pick up a bottle or if you dine at Bottega, order it by the glass. $46 is pricey for Petite Sirah but guess what? It's worth every penny!

"You Saw It Here First"...This post was created solely for "Cellarmistress' Cellar Talk" by Grace Hoffman. Grace is an Italian-born, American-bred wine blogger/educator with an all-consuming passion for wine and all it encompasses.

Cellarmistress Does The Napa Valley Film Festival--Part Three: 11 Wines In 24 Hours!

What a whirlwind that was!! I literally didn't leave my house for twenty-four hours so I could partake in this little venture! Eleven more wines to savor and sample. Some were great, others good and all in all it was a great time! On Friday afternoon, we bloggers took part in the Taste Live tasting in conjunction with the Napa Valley Film Festival, CellarPass and Mutineer Magazine. This time, we were tasting along with the folks at the St. Helena Pavilion. The tasting featured three wines and a multitude of guests speaking on their behalf.

The first of these three was the 2008 Ramian Canard Vineyard Merlot. The bottle was sent to me as a sample from Savour St. Helena, a tasting room located on Main Street in St. Helena. Winemaker Brian Graham was on hand to give us feedback on the wine. This wine helped me coin my new signature phrase, "Hello Lover!" in the same fashion that Carrie Bradshaw uses the term when she sees a pair of shoes on "Sex And the City". The moment I took a sip it was like biting into a delicious chocolate covered cherry. Big cherry mid-palate! I was swooning! The winery is located in Calistoga, the most northern end of the Napa Valley and the wines are very small production. For $45, this Merlot would make a non-Merlot lover change their mind. Outside of purchasing the wine at the tasting room, the winery has an allocation list and wine club to choose from.

The next wine was the 2007 Clif Family Winery Kit's Killer Cab. I recently spent several hours in St. Helena at the Velo Vino tasting room where the Clif Family holds court. What a fun place and what fun, unpretentious wines! (Yes, this is the same Clif Family who does the famous Clif Bars and sells biking and sporting goods!) My friend, Efrain Barragan who does their media and marketing, was on hand as well as the winemaker Bruce Regalia. Efrain sent me the bottle for this event and at $38, this wine is definitely a Napa Valley bargain! Tough to find a nicer drinking Cabernet at this price out there! Blackberries and mocha. I encourage everyone to visit this fun little tasting room. It's on the left hand side of HWY 29 as you enter St. Helena. You can't miss it!

The third of the bunch was the 2008 Raymond Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon. Most people who drink wine have heard of Raymond. They're pretty big out there and widely distributed. This particular wine is their flagship wine, the first of the samples I received from the winery. I've tasted many vintages of this wine and found it to be consistently pleasant to my palate. I also think this wine is a good bargain as well. Recently, the winery went through an overhaul of sorts, a remodel and I simply cannot wait to visit. I have heard wonderful things about the place. I'm looking forward to meeting Jean Charles Boisset, whose company, Boisset Family Estates, oversees the winery. The wine is medium-bodied with a very juicy mid-palate of plums and dark cherries, and a smooth finish. Another $35 value and ready to drink now. If you're in town, visit them in St. Helena. They are located on Zinfandel Lane.

Stay tuned as I head south to Yountville for the next installment...I need a breather first!!!

"You Saw It Here First"...This post was created solely for "Cellarmistress' Cellar Talk" by Grace Hoffman. Grace is an Italian-born, American-bred wine blogger/educator with an all-consuming passion for wine and all it encompasses.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Cellarmistress Does The Napa Valley Film Festival: Part Two--The Robert Mondavi Gala

Opening night of the Inaugural Napa Valley Film Festival, I was all abuzz getting ready for the first of many tastings of the weekend. 17 wines in 48 hours! Whew, that's a lot when you're doing it all on your own! As a participant in these events, sponsored by TasteLive, CellarPass and Mutineer Magazine, I couldn't wait to get started. Living in the midwest, the first of these events, The Robert Mondavi Gala, started at 8 PM Pacific Time--in other words 10 PM Central Time in my world. But no matter, I was ready to rock this party!! The two wines for this event, the 2009 Robert Mondavi To Kalon Vineyard Reserve Fume Blanc and the 2008 Robert Mondavi Napa Valley Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon were shipped to me as samples from the winery. I popped them open way ahead of time knowing they would be huge!

The Fume Blanc was a surprise. I had tasted the two previous vintages before and was expecting some sort of "pineapple-bomb". What I got instead was a grassy, herbaceous nose, followed by huge fruit--still tropical (no pineapple this time), lots of citrus notes and a creamy finish. At $45 it is pricey for a Fume Blanc but guess what? I'd pay this because it sets a wonderful standard and you won't find another wine out there like this. I promise!

The Reserve Cabernet is made up of fruit mostly from the prized To Kalon Vineyard in Oakville. The vineyard is situated behind the winery. Made up of primarily Cabernet Sauvignon with a bit of Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot blended with it, this lush, dense powerhouse is luxury at its finest. If you love your Cabs big and bold with finesse, this one is definitely for you! Dark fruit, blackberries and a ribbon of velvety spice--it's hot. 15.5% A.B.V. But it stands up to the alcohol level. I wish I had another one so I could open it up in a few years and see how it evolves. It's definitely a nice investment at $135.

These wines are available in limited distribution or at If you're visiting the Napa Valley, a stop at this winery in Oakville (situated on the left hand side as you travel up Highway 29--you can't miss it!) is a MUST! It's a big piece of Napa Valley history. I visited in 2008 and took a lot of photos. Enjoy!

"You Saw It Here First"...This post was created solely for "Cellarmistress' Cellar Talk" by Grace Hoffman. Grace is an Italian-born, American-bred wine blogger/educator with an all-consuming passion for wine and all it encompasses.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Cellarmistress Does The Inaugural Napa Valley Film Festival: Part One--Tasting Calistoga

I am not actually in Napa Valley at the moment, though I would love to claim that I am! No matter! I was recently invited to participate in some live tasting sessions in conjunction with Taste Live, CellarPass and Mutineer Magazine, as part of the Inaugural Napa Valley Film Festival!

In a rare departure from my usual wordy and lengthy blog posts, I am going to report on my events and tastings here at "Cellarmistress' Cellar Talk". The first of these tastings is happening NOW because unfortunately, in real life, I have a non wine-tasting occupation that pays my bills and allows me to visit the beautiful Napa Valley as often as I like. I am unable to partake in this particular tasting in real time, so I am leaving my thoughts and comments here! And boy did I enjoy doing this!!

The three wines I am discussing were sent to me as samples from each participating winery. The first of the three is the Mumm Napa Napa Valley Brut Reserve Rosé, a winery exclusive. (Yes, this means you have to make a pilgrimage to Napa Valley and visit the winery and no you won't be finding this at your local wine shop.) Everyone who knows me knows this about me...I love my bubbles. Especially when they are rosé. I was jumping for joy when I received this bottle. It's a blend of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, a delicate coral tint. Their team carefully assembled grapes from 20 vineyards and 30 different blending components and I commend them. It is so tasty!! WOOT!! Cherries, raspberries, cranberries--robust with a lovely long finish! I am so into this!! $36. If you visit them, you need one of these! Go get several!! It's always a party when there's bubbles!!

Now I tried to find information on this next one. Didn't find much, but as I've learned on my latest travels to Napa Valley, some folks just like to be a good secret. They're hidden amongst the valley floor and it takes some doing to find them. When you do, you won't ever let them go again! Tedeschi Family Winery is one of those rare little gems you find hidden away...

They're located in Calistoga, the northern end of Napa Valley. They are an appointment-only winery and Emil Tedeschi handcrafts his wines using everything he knows of his Italian heritage. Awesome. The 2005 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon is just that. A little bit rustic, homey, old world style. A little more earthy and less fruit forward like most Napa Cabs. It actually surprised me, pleasantly that is. I couldn't tell you if there's anything else in it other than Cabernet Sauvignon, but the winemaker's heart went into it that's for sure. This is the kind of wine I want to drink in my front yard some day--that is, when my front yard is overlooking a vineyard. That's what it reminds me of. Wine that memories are made of. I'm Italian too. I know what that is all about! $58.

Phew! The next one is the complete opposite... Elegant but racy, and dark dark dark. 2007 Merryvale Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. WOW! I really should've popped this one open and decanted it a long time before now because it is a young stallion!! It needs taming. Even open for several hours, it has a ways to go. 99% Cabernet Sauvignon from several vineyards (including Stagecoach) unfined and unfiltered. And 1% Cabernet Franc. This wine commands filet mignon now!! I need another bottle so I can open it five years from now and see how it evolved. This is the stuff Napa Cabs are famous for. I'm sitting here with a grin as huge as Texas on my face! I hope you enjoy this one as much I have! $65.

So there you have it... Have fun and be safe this weekend as you enjoy the films and the wines of the Napa Valley Film Festival! If you're in the Napa Valley anytime soon, please visit these wineries...Cheers!

"You Saw It Here First"...This post was created solely for "Cellarmistress' Cellar Talk" by Grace Hoffman. Grace is an Italian-born, American-bred wine blogger/educator with an all-consuming passion for wine and all it encompasses.


Sunday, November 6, 2011

Cellarmistress Tastes Live With Davis Family Vineyards

I wasn't actually at this location but I had been there before. In September of 2006, as a matter of fact. I was overly excited to visit this little hidden gem in the town of Healdsburg, California. Why you ask? Winemaker Guy Davis makes some extraordinary wines! As a fledgling in-home wine educator, I knew I was onto something special back then. I was pitching some of his "outside" projects to new wine drinkers in Iowa! Fast forward to 2011, I received an e-mail from TasteLive asking me if I wanted to participate in a live tasting event with Davis Family Vineyards. Of course I would! It would be an amazing evening!

Winemaker Guy Davis came into his winemaking through a degree in finance and a penchant for fine French wine. He had tasted and traveled. And he always had a soft spot for the small family wineries. (A man after my own heart!) He ventured into the wine business as a wine buyer, working with these small wineries and eventually making his own first commercial vintage of Zinfandel in 1995. Guy reinforces my belief that when you put your mind to it and find something you are truly passionate about, anything is possible. It is with this philosophy and all the caring that goes into his winemaking that the proof is here. Just try these wines. You will agree.

When the wine samples arrived, I was overjoyed! Like a kid in a candy store! I couldn't wait to get started. However, my day that day was a little crazy. I arrived home from work in the nick of time to get the session started. No time for photos! (I want to thank my good friend Amy Corron Power for providing the photo of that evening's line-up.)

The first bottle to be opened was the 2009 Cuvee Luke (a blend of 49% Roussanne, 37% Marsanne and 14% Viognier from the Sierra Foothills). I knew right away something was amiss. The dreaded cork taint had infected my bottle! With as much wine as I sample, it was bound to happen sometime. Not to worry though. Everyone else enjoyed theirs and their descriptions of the wine: stone fruits, white flowers, aromatic etc. had me wanting to try it. Guy was nice enough to invite me back to the tasting room on my next visit so I cannot wait to do this! $26.

Next came the 2008 Russian River Valley Chardonnay. This luscious, creamy Chardonnay was so rich and gorgeous, it was completely unfair. It was like drinking candy. I liken it to love at first sight. You are literally walking into walls afterwards. None of that cloying butter or oak. Just creamy vanilla and pear. Nutty and toasty on the finish. Pretty close to perfection I think. $36.

The first of the red wines came next. 2008 Russian River Valley Pinot Noir. Some of my co-tasters thought this wine lacked acidity. I didn't think so. I thought it was well-balanced. I was getting a lot of berries and cinnamon in it and none of that bacon fat funk that gives some Pinot more edge. Very smooth and elegant. $40.

The next wine was the complete opposite. The 2009 Russian River Valley Soul Patch Pinot Noir, a single vineyard wine. This wine was young and rustic and needed a lot more bottle time. Darker in color, more earthy and Burgundian, it had a lot of aging potential. Can't wait to try it again in a couple of years and see how it evolves. It would be a great investment. $42.

So Guy makes a Napa Valley Cab, huh? Interesting. I couldn't find much information about where the grapes come from exactly, but I will tell you it is delicious!! The 2007 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon--lots of chocolate flavor in this one. I mean lots! And those smooth dark berry flavors are integrated so nicely right up to the lingering finish. I had a steak with the remainder of it the next day and wow, was it ever a nice pairing! $50.

So does it get any better than this?? Surprisingly yes!! My favorite of the the reds, the 2008 Russian River Valley Guyzer Block Syrah. Yes, I said Syrah. Stop the presses! This Syrah rocked! With Syrah you just never know what you're going to get. It has pretty much lost its lustre in the U.S. and this one could change all of that. No funk, no earth (although it is a little meaty) it's full of huge plum flavor and that's what I like. You will too! This wine is actually co-fermented with a little bit of Viognier--it adds a little extra zing by binding to the color, aroma and flavor of the Syrah. $38.

Please, if you're in Northern California, visit the tasting room in Healdsburg (Sonoma County). They are located at 52 Front Street and are open Thursday through Sunday from 11-4:30 PM.

Davis Family Vineyards' wines may also be purchased on their website at

I would like to thank Davis Family Vineyards and the team at TasteLive for putting on such an awesome event!

"You Saw It Here First"...This post was created solely for "Cellarmistress' Cellar Talk" by Grace Hoffman. Grace is an Italian-born, American-bred wine blogger/educator with an all-consuming passion for wine and all it encompasses.