You must be kidding me… DuMOL Cabernet?

DuMOL has been synonymous  with great Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Syrah.  As you might (not) know, Andy Smith (winemaker and partner) made the wines at Larkmead in the Napa Valley for years.  That said, after 20+ vintages, DuMOL decided to add some Cabernet to its portfolio.

The 2016 Cabernet is a blend of some well-known and highly regarded Napa Valley vineyards – Meteor (59%), True Dog Knoll (30%)  and the balance Ballard on Spring Mountain.  The 2016 Cabernet is a blend of 93% Cabernet Sauvignon and 7% Petite Verdot.

DuMOL 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
GGWC 104.99
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A ripe, friendly style, with a creamy-textured core of cassis and cherry preserve flavors underscored by anise and apple wood notes that stay nicely melded with the fruit on the finish. 

Winemaker Notes: “With its harmonious layers and textures, this wine reminds me of the 2012 Napa Valley vintage. Dark, inky and opaque, it presents aromas of plum, violets and graphite. Beautiful fruit cascades almost immediately to more savory flavors: crushed rock dustiness, cocoa and cedar. A good, firm mineral spine runs through to the long, bittersweet finish. Ever-evolving in the glass, this wine is poised now and will age beautifully over the next 10+ years.”  

Also check out the latest DuMOL “Designated” Pinots, Chardonnays & Syrah:

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Value & Quality in a bottle

I just received three new Walter Hansel (2017) wines, all of them received a 94 Point rating!

Walter Hansel has been synonymous with great quality at a great price!  Year after year these wines impress me and my clientele alike.  The first vines were planted in 1978 just a up the block from Kistler!  The first vintage they produced 3 barrels of Pinot Noir and 10 barrels of Chardonnay, and the rest as they say, is history!  Stephen Hansel (Walter’s son) had one of the best winemakers as his tutor (Tom Rochiolli) so it is no surprise that they are still putting out great wines decades later.  Year after year this winery produces amazing “Dollar Cost Average” under priced over delivered in quality wines!

Walter Hansel 2017 North Slope Pinot Noir
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Vinous 94 Points: “The 2017 Pinot Noir The North Slope Vineyard is one of the more voluptuous, racy wines in this range. Ample and creamy, with tremendous resonance, the 2017 has a lot to offer. Plush fruit and silky tannins add to the wine’s considerable immediacy and overall appeal.”

Walter Hansel 2017 Estate Pinot Noir
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The 2017 Pinot Noir Estate has an extra gear to it because of the tiny yields. It exhibits loads of rich black raspberry and blackcurrant fruit, a lush, sweet, spicy mouthfeel with full-bodied, intense concentration and a long finish that has energy from the vibrant acidity. Drink it over the next decade or more. Dark ruby/purple, the wine offers plenty of spring flower garden notes intermixed with blueberry and blackcurrant fruit. It is rich, textured, builds incrementally on the palate and finishes after a good 35-40+ seconds. This is a beauty and should drink well up to a decade or more.

Vinous 94 Points: “The 2017 Pinot Noir The Estate Vineyard offers an intriguing combination of the raciness of the vintage, but with plenty of underlying structure and more than enough freshness to keep things in balance. Dark cherry, plum, spice and floral notes are all nicely delineated in this vibrant, super-expressive Pinot Noir from Hansel. I really like the energy here.”

Walter Hansel 2017 Estate Chardonnay
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The 2017 Walter Hansel “Estate” Chardonnay is pretty, understated and polished, with all of the signatures that make these wines distinctive.  Medium to full in body and very gracious, with lovely aromatic lift and balanced from start to finish.  The grapes from the estate part that was planted between 1976 and 1988 and is a blend of Dijon Clones 95 & 97 and a Hanzell clone.

Vinous 94 Points:  “The 2017 Chardonnay The Estate Vineyard is fabulous, and also one of the very finest values in California wine. In 2017, I am especially impressed by the wine’s energy and tension, both of which are remarkable given the hot, dry conditions that marked so much of the year. Dried apricot, flowers and mint are all nicely delineated in this vibrant, super-expressive Chardonnay from Hansel.”

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Blind Tasting Winner (95 Points)

In a recent blind  Sauvignon Blanc tasting a small Santa Barbara winery surprised us against some big guns!

The Line-up:

  • Jonata “Flor” 95 Points
  • Peter Michael “l’Apres Midi” 94 Points
  • Kamen 94 Points
  • Spottswoode “Mary’s Block” 95 Points
  • Bevan “Dry Stack” 95 Points
  • Arkenstone 94 Points
  • Dragonette “Vogelzang” 95 Points

The Winner among our 15 tasters – Dragonette with 9 First, 3 Second and 3 Third place votes
Second was Spottswoode with 3 First, 5 Second and 3 Third place votes
Third was Peter Michael with 3 First, 2 Second and 2 Third place votes

Dragonette 2017 Sauvignon Blanc “Vogelzang” Santa Barbara
GGWC 53.99
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Vogelzang is situated on a gently sloping bed of well drained, gravelly loam soil with serpentinite in the heart of Happy Canyon. We’ve leased several acres here for a decade now, taking full responsibility for pruning choices, canopy and crop management and deficit-irrigation strategies. Fruit from Vogelzang is of the highest possible quality, meticulously farmed for low yields. We harvest these blocks in multiple passes to ensure ideal ripeness levels. The wine is immediately whole cluster pressed, briefly settled and then transferred to 90% French oak barrels (228L, 350L, 500L, 276L “cigars”(10% new) and 10% stainless steel for fermentation and aging. After one year in barrels, the wine is racked to tank where it harmonized for approximately 6 months before bottling.

Vinous 95 Points: “The 2017 Sauvignon Blanc Vogelzang Vineyard is the most aromatically intense and tropical of the Dragonette Sauvignon Blancs, which is attributable to the 30% Sauvignon Musque in the blend. Yellow orchard fruit, dried flowers, mint and apricot add to the wine’s extroverted personality. This is such a gorgeous, inviting wine.”

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Isn’t it time to embrace Merlot again?

Isn’t it time to embrace Merlot again?

By Bob Highfill

Actor Paul Giamatti appeared as a guest on “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert” and admitted something surprising.  “I don’t know (bleep!) about wine,” Giamatti said. “I don’t know jack (bleep!) about wine.”  He could have fooled me and, apparently, many others.

Giamatti’s performance as an angst-ridden, wine-obsessed divorcé, Miles Raymond, in the movie “Sideways,” in which he emphatically exclaimed detest for Merlot and in a later scene exalted the beauty and mystery of Pinot noir, was so convincing, sales of both varieties were impacted.

According to an article by National Public Radio’s Kristen Hartke, Steven Cuellar, an economics professor at California State University, Sonoma, found sales of Merlot declined 2 percent from January 2005 (roughly three months after “Sideways” was released) through 2008, while Pinot noir increased 16 percent. In the same article, industry analyst Gabriel Froymovich of Vineyard Financial Associates said Pinot noir production in California has increased some 170 percent since “Sideways.”

The phenomenon known as the “Sideways Effect” originated from a talented actor who in real life knows next to nothing about wine. Go figure.

“Boy, I’ve never seen a wine take a tank like Merlot did because of a movie,” said Dave Dart, owner of D’art Wines in Lodi. “And do you know why (Miles) wouldn’t drink Merlot in the movie? It says it in the book only. He doesn’t drink Merlot because that was his ex-wife’s favorite wine.”

If only that tidbit had been in the movie, maybe Merlot wouldn’t have suffered a fall from grace.

Isn’t it time to shrug off the “Sideways Effect” and embrace Merlot again? There’s no better time to hop back on the bandwagon with the fall season upon us. Need convincing?

Consider the following:

  • Merlot is one of the six noble grape varieties, along with Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot noir, Chardonnay, Riesling and Sauvignon blanc, and is a major player in some of the world’s most renowned wines.
  • Merlot has black cherry, raspberry and plum flavors and is less austere than Cabernet Sauvignon, its main partner, along with Cabernet Franc, in the great blends of Bordeaux.
  • Merlot is a terrific entry-point red wine and versatile with food, as it pairs beautifully with fall dishes, such as mushroom risotto, stews, roasted meats and even spaghetti and meatballs.

There is a movement afoot to help Merlot regain respect and market share. This month, an online social media group, #MerlotMe, is encouraging Merlot lovers to profess their affection to the world. Some 100 wineries, mostly in Napa, have partnered in the effort.

Paul Marsh, certified sommelier and former owner of Mile Wine Co. in Stockton, doesn’t need convincing. He’s a big-time Merlot fan and had been long before Virginia Madsen, who also starred in “Sideways,” visited Mile Wine Co. back in the day.

“Big, plush, juicy, it’s ‘Jessica Rabbit’ in a glass,” said Marsh, referring to the character in the movie “Who Framed Roger Rabbit.” “I love Merlot. It’s like the skinny black dress and blue blazer, it works no matter what.”

Dart began working with Merlot because he wanted to craft a Bordeaux blend. But each time he tried, it didn’t quite work, so he has bottled standalone Merlots from the 2017 vintage, available now, and 2018, which has yet to be released. To have some fun with his guests in the tasting room, Dart obscures the identity of his Merlot on the menu with the letter “M” followed by symbols.

“We normally pour it in a carafe and we pour it without telling people what it is until after they’ve had it,” he said. “And then they go, ‘Oh, I didn’t think I liked Merlot.’
“No, you just didn’t like the movie.”

Here are a few stunning Merlot Suggestions:
1.    Paloma
2.    Trespass
3.    Switchback Ridge
4.    Ilaria
5.    Arietta
6.    Coho
7.    Paradigm
8.    Leonetti

Click here or on the links above to order!

How, When, and Why It’s Okay to Send Back a Bottle of Wine

How, When, and Why
It’s Okay to Send Back a Bottle of Wine

By Zach Geballe

Outside of being handed the check, few moments at a restaurant are more daunting than immediately after a sommelier or server pours the wine you’ve ordered and stands there expectantly, awaiting your judgment. The vast majority of patrons will accept it whether they like the wine or not, perhaps scared of looking silly or getting drawn into an uncomfortable conversation.

It’s an understandable impulse, but it puts both drinkers and conscientious wine professionals at a disadvantage. When you order wine in a restaurant, you are quite literally putting your money where your mouth is. A good sommelier wants you to be happy with your choice. Fortunately, there’s an art to speaking up.

A lot depends on why you’re refusing the wine. It almost goes without saying that if something is glaringly wrong with the wine, that’s a perfectly fine reason to send it back. Cork taint, which has a cardboard-y taste, is the most common flaw. If you detect any sort of wet newspaper notes, or suspect the wine might have cork taint, you should absolutely request a different bottle.

“If you are given the wine to taste, what are you looking for? You are looking for an obvious wine fault, and usually this means cork taint,” Jamie Goode, award-winning author and VinePair contributor, recently wrote. He notes that a variety of other, less obvious wine flaws like mousiness, excessive brett, or oxidation might also merit sending a bottle back, but can be difficult for many consumers to identify.

“What you are not doing is tasting the wine to see if it is just right for you tonight. The only acceptable reason to reject a wine is faultiness. Full stop,” Goode adds.

Others in the industry have a different, more democratic approach. Many working sommeliers have opened bottles with faulty corks that had, as a result, turned the wine to vinegar, or that had obviously oxidized far before their time. Other, older bottles might have foreign solids such as crumbly cork bits floating in them. Most restaurant professionals believe those bottles can and should be returned.

The stickier point comes when for whatever reason a guest or table is unsatisfied with a technically correct bottle. There are those who, like Goode, who operate from a “buyer beware” mindset. They believe that if you ordered it and don’t like it, that’s on you.

Cassandra Felix, head sommelier and beverage manager for Flagler’s Steakhouse at the Breakers in Palm Beach, Fla., feels differently. “We do not argue with the guest, ever,” she says. “If they’re unhappy or unsure, then I’ll taste the wine. I’ll inform them if I think the wine is fine, and if so, I’ll steer them towards another wine on the list. With a more expensive bottle, I’ll sometimes offer to double-decant it or to give it extra time to open up.”

Even in cases where the bottle costs upwards of $1,000 or more, Felix won’t make a guest pay for a wine they don’t want. After all, that unwanted bottle of wine can still be put to good use. A thoughtful sommelier might use it as an education tool for their staff, or pour it by the glass in an attempt to recoup the purchase cost. They might even offer tastes as a treat to valued regulars or other noteworthy guests.

If for any reason you suspect something is wrong with the wine, ask your server or sommelier to smell and taste it for themselves. If the wine is indeed flawed, they should open another bottle for you, no questions asked. In almost all cases, when a wine has a flaw, the restaurant will be reimbursed by the producer or distributor.

Of course, even if there’s nothing technically wrong with the wine, it might not suit you. This presents an opportunity for you to explain why the wine doesn’t meet your needs. Politeness counts, as does clarity.

In cases where the server or sommelier made a recommendation, they should graciously offer you a different wine that suits your tastes. Good wine professionals will make a note of how their suggestion and your tastes failed to line up, and will use it to better their service going forward. They will hopefully offer another recommendation that better takes your tastes into account.

On the other hand, if you ordered something on your own, you should still feel comfortable expressing your dissatisfaction. In this case, however, be prepared for a bit more resistance, especially if your server or somm offered to help you make a selection. If you’re respectful, staff at a quality restaurant will almost always take the bottle back. They will prefer you leave happy, even if that means wasting some wine.

The last thing to do as a wine consumer is to spend a bit of time thinking about your own tastes and preferences. One of the most powerful questions a sommelier might ask is, “What do you usually like to drink?” Those who can answer that question with specifics tend to get better, or at least more personalized recommendations than those who can’t. So, “Pinot Noir from Oregon or Burgundy” is a much clearer answer than “Pinot Noir.”

Similarly, spend a moment or two considering your price range, and how interested you are in trying something new. There’s zero shame in wanting a wine that fits your budget, or to have an old standby. Communicating that ahead of time will help avoid unpleasant moments.

If the dreaded moment does occur, however, and you truly dislike the bottle you’re tasting, stop fretting. Send back the wine. Do it gracefully and politely, and you’ll not only have a better drinking experience, but you’ll help remove some of the tension that surrounds the tableside tasting ritual.

And of course, if you’d like some hands-on practice tasting wine and learning what to look for, please join us every Saturday from 1-5pm at our in-store tasting room where we will sample and discuss some of Napa’s finest wines!

Thomas Rivers Brown’s Stunning Pinot Noir


Senses is the story of three childhood friends who reunited after many years to make small-batch Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.  Max Thieriot (actor – Bates Motel, SealTeam and others)  is also a descedent of M.H De Young (The “The Young Museum in San Francisco and founder of the SF Chronicle).  His other two partners are Chris Strieter (Thomas Rivers Brown’s assistant and day-to-day at the winery) and Myles Lawrence Briggs (a writer). Together they created Senses (SENS3S).

The wines are made by ace = winemaker Mr. 100 Point – Thomas Rivers Brown!   TRB does not need any intro, as in the past 15+ years he has made more than 25 wines that have received perfect scores from various publications! He oversees a total of 40 wineries, making multiple cuvées for most, at five different facilities. His current roster includes Chiarello, Outpost, Schrader, Aston Estate, Boars’ View, Maybach, Rivers-Marie, Seaver, Hestan, Casa Piena, Saunter, Wallis, Black Sears, Harris Estate, Kinsella, Jones Family, Travail, Stone the Crows, Pulido-Walker, Post Parade, Riverain, Shibumi Knoll, Hobel, Revana, Ampère, The Grade 4 Winds, Round Pond, Theorem, Senses, Mending Wall, Sodhani, Vermeil, Gemstone, and QTR.

MCM = Max, Chris & Myles. 88 is their birth year (1988) the rest is history…

Senses 2017 Pinot Noir MCM88, Sonoma Coast
GGWC 84.99
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Robert Parker 95 Points: “The 2017 Pinot Noir MCM88 is medium ruby-purple in color with appealing aromas of baked blueberries, warm black cherries and boysenberry with nuances of bergamot, moss-covered bark and a hint of laurel. Medium-bodied and silky, there’s a good balance of earth and fruit in the mouth, and it’s framed by very finely grained tannins and juicy freshness, finishing earthy.” 

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“UNADULTERATED” Chardonnay by (former) Turley’s Winemaker

The 2017 Failla Sonoma Coast Chardonnay is sourced from the Olivet, Keefer Ranch and Flood Gate vineyards. The Fruit is whole-cluster-pressed into 20% Concrete Egg, 10% New French Oak, 15% Foudre, 5% Amphora, 20% Stainless Steel, and 30% Neutral Puncheon.  Ehren Jordan uses native yeasts for primary fermentation, and the wine naturally completes malolactic fermentation. The wine rests sur lie for 9 months before bottling. The wine is brooding, intense, elegant and deeply textural. Offering up style and grace and will provide years of growing, fascinating complexity. An incredible reminder of how precious the relationships between the vineyards are

Failla 2017 Sonoma Coast Chardonnay
GGWC 37.99
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The 2017 Failla Chardonnay Sonoma Coast is a beautiful, medium-bodied, charming effort that’s loaded with notions of apple blossom, honeysuckle, spice, and just a touch of minerality. It has terrific purity of fruit and is a gem of a wine to enjoy over the coming 4-6 years or so. It’s also a great introduction to the style of the estate.

Winemaker Notes: With its spine of sappy brightness and crystalline salinity, this wine displays all the dense, bright, and savory appeal of the Sonoma Coast. At once textural and filigreed, this is a laser-focused expression showing citrus, coastal bay and textural depth to carry the mid-palate to a refreshing finish.

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A Gorgeous 96 Point Beauty that won’t break your heart or wallet!

I love the new Syrah Colson Canyon, a classic Tensley Syrah with its plum and darker fruits, peppery herbs, olive, and savory meatiness. Possessing full-bodied richness, impressive purity of fruit, and a big finish, it’s another winner that will keep for 10-15 years.

Tensley 2018 Syrah Colson Canyon, Santa Barbara
GGWC 44.99
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Vinous 96 Points: “The 2018 Syrah Colson Canyon Vineyard is a flat-out gorgeous beauty. Vibrant, nuanced and beautifully delineated, the 2018 is an absolute stunner. Inky blue/purplish fruit, lavender, spice, and menthol are all beautifully delineated. Brisk, nuanced and full of class, the 2018 is positively stellar, not to mention incredibly promising.”

Winemaker Notes: “With three years of us controlling farming, this is one of the best vintages from Colson to date. This cool vintage gave the grapes plenty of time to hang on the vine and develop flavor and texture. This year’s Colson delivers the up-front fruit that we expect year after year, along with spicy, meaty, and peppery qualities that beautifully balance it out. This wine has the ability to age 10 plus years but is also approachable in its youth.”

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BEAUX FRERES (winemaker’s hot new wine) AT ½ the PRICE

This is the third release from this hot little winery that will dazzle you both in taste as well as cost!  The “Hundred Suns” winery is still very much under the “horizon” but not for long.  Grant Coulter, a Califonia native traveled the world after receiving his enology degree.  He worked harvest with the best of the best in California, France & Australia, eventually settling in Oregon.  After a few stints as Assistant winemaker in a few wineries, he landed at Beaux Freres, where he soon became the Head Winemaker.  Grant is responsible for the amazing 2013, 14 & 15 vintages at Beaux Freres (all high 90’s, Top 2 wine of the year, etc.).   With his wife he created his own label “Hundred Suns”, a tiny Pinot Noir and Syrah venture.

Hundred Suns 2017 Pinot Noir “Sequitur Vineyard” Ribbon Ridge AVA, Oregon
Retail 47.00 – GGWC 44.99
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The ‘17 Sequitur Vineyard (Mike Etzel, Beaux Freres’ private vineyard) is a  50 case gem!   This single vineyard Sequitur bottling is a two barrels composite. Half of the composition was Clone 943, 100% destemmed and fermented in a terracotta amphora. This produced a luscious wine with ripe blue fruit and sweet earthy tones mixed with just a hint of red terracotta texture.  This was blended with a  50% whole cluster fermented barrel. The wine offers up a great nose of bright red fruit and berries – hints of cherry aromas are  supported by a hint of spice and a touch of sweet vanilla. Purity and finesse from start to finish. This youngster is medium to medium full in body with silky grained sweet tannins.

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Coffee is more like wine than you think!

Coffee is more like wine than you think!

A parallel can easily be drawn between the worlds of wine and coffee. The cheaper versions of each are widely available and economical, and can easily be separated due to their lack of quality. At some point, people tend to evolve from “it all tastes the same” to “I’m craving that same flavor experience”, and finally “I can’t ever go back, and now I’m ruined”. It’s hopeless when you reach this last point, and each day without what you crave is like a day without sunshine. But it’s not all subjective and trivial—there are discernible differences and tangible reasons for the variances in taste and quality.

The flavors of properly roasted coffees do not hide behind a smoky mask. All roasts can taste like burnt ash when pushed too far, aka over-roasted. But the beans can also show off their true flavors when prepared properly. As specialty coffee becomes more mainstream, everyday drinkers are being overwhelmed with fruit bomb full natural Ethiopians, sparkling jasmine Latin Americans, and pencil lead and leathery Sumatrans. Once one has a taste of the other side, it is depressing to settle for a lesser experience. Wine from the bargain bin will have a physiological effect, just like cheap coffee—but you’re missing out on a huge component of the experience!

There are around 10,000 varieties of wine grapes grown around the world. Each yields a certain flavor and behaves a particular way during processing and fermentation. In the same way, coffee plant varieties number at around 100 different species. Add in the crucial step of processing, the possible flavor profiles are nearly endless. Processing is essentially how you choose to remove coffee seeds from the fruit, an optional fermentation step, and drying. These parameters can be manipulated to deliver unbelievably diverse results. There are similar steps in the winemaking process.

An Ethiopian coffee given the chance to ferment for weeks inside the fruit yields a heavy-bodied “fruit bomb”, often reminiscent of a Napa Valley cabernet sauvignon. This process also mirrors some aspects of sweeter wine production, and the all-important noble rot, or Botrytis. But that same Ethiopian coffee given the faster, washed method of processing will provide a light-bodied, almost tea-like brew with less pronounced fruit notes and flavors of honey. When communicating these flavors, both in wine and coffee, certain rules need to apply.

Tasting notes should be simple, communicable, and specific. Three nouns are plenty, and they should be able to be discussed openly and without judgment. If I say I taste “wild blackberry grown from acre number four at my grandmother’s farm in October”, it doesn’t do anyone much good. Don’t be overly complex when simplicity will do. Instead, try “blackberry jam, dried leaves, floral”.

Finally, when tasting for the first time, incorporate oxygen in your mouth. This goes for wine and coffee. Slurp, swirl, and savor! Think about what you are consuming, and try to describe it. Paint a picture in your mind and translate that as best you can to compare with what others taste. This contemplation is what elevates the experience beyond the mundane, and we should savor these opportunities every chance we get.