Archived entries for Cabernet Sauvignon

A Tale of Two Cities: A Chat with Margo Van Staaveren and Christophe Paubert

 

Margo Van Staaveren, Winemaker, Chateau St. Jean, and Christophe Paubert, Winemaker and General Manager, Stags’ Leap Winery

Usually it’s the tale of two cities – Napa and Sonoma.  But sometimes there is an exception and that’s where the best stories originate.  I had the wonderful opportunity to meet with Margo Van Staaveren, winemaker for Chateau St Jean, and Christophe Paubert, winemaker and general manager for Stags’ Leap Winery.  I learned quickly that an apostrophe is worth a thousand words when you are waxing poetic about your experience with the wrong, but closely named winery.

Let’s start with the correct history of Stags’ Leap Vineyard, a vineyard with a 100+ year history and more than 240 acres, which was founded by Horace Chase and his wife, Minnie Mizner. The property was named “Stags’ Leap” after an old Indian legend, which talks about a lone stag taking a great leap over the palisades to escape hunters.  During the Chases ownership, a manor house and a winery were built and it became quite the social destination, known for great parties with prominent politicians, artists and writers in attendance.

Fast-forward to a fortune lost, and Mrs. Francis Grange acquired the property in 1913.  She transformed the property into a working ranch and Napa’s top resort.  Again, the property remained a destination for the fun and the famous.  After the Grange legacy ended, the property fell into disrepair until Carl Doumani restored the property in 1971.  Carl’s dream originally was to restore the hotel, but Napa zoning laws kept that from being a reality.  He planted grapes instead.  Today the 80-are vineyard is divided into 23 blocks.

Christope joined Stags’ Leap in 2011 and has worked at some of the world’s most pre-eminent vineyards including Chateau d’Yquem and Gruard-Larose as well as projects in Chile, Spain and Washington State.  He wanted to go to California, but also wanted to make sure he could still produce the wines in the style that he was passionate about creating.  He said he was the only winemaker to actually bring his own wines to the interview.  Once he was hired, first and foremost, he focused on the fruit, the soil and making sure “the transparency is evidence between the consumer.”

Chateau St. Jean was founded in the Sonoma Valley in 1973 and has long been a leader in showcasing vineyard-designated wines with a “small lot mentality.”  In the beginning of its history, the winery made single vineyard cabernet sauvignon, merlot and zinfandel as well as chardonnay.  But, the winery became known for producing award-winning chardonnay and Chateau St Jean stopped making red wine in the early 80s.  In the mid 80’s, the vineyard was replanted and the winery started again to produce red wines.

Margo’s husband, Don, was the assistant winemaker when Cinq Cepages Cabernet, a Bordeaux blend of five varieties of Chateau St Jean was the first Sonoma winery to be awarded the Wine Spectator’s “Wine of the Year.”  I asked Margo if she felt pressure about continuing the award-winning tradition, she said “Absolutely not.  I was part of this team from the beginning.”

The year 2015 will mark Margo’s 36th harvest at the winery, which becomes an even cooler story when she tells you how she started as a lab tech.  We talked a little about some of the women like Merry Edwards who helped to pave the way.  Her perception that she’ll validate in time for a spring keynote is that the percentage of women involved in the winemaking top roles probably remains the same today as it was 35 years ago.  I sure hope that isn’t the case.

In talking with Margo, she is all about capturing what makes each vintage special with the best the fruit can bring to the wine.  I tried the following wines from both winemakers during the tasting:

-       2011 Chateau St Jean, Robert Young Vineyard Chardonnay,

-       2012 Stags’ Leap, Napa Valley Cabernet

-       2012 Stags’ Leap, Napa Valley “The Investor”

-       2012 Stags’ Leap Napa Valley Petite Sirah

-       2010 Chateau St Jean, Cinq Cepages

The philosophies of both winemakers and vineyards are the same.  The wines sampled were all delicious and truly showed this guiding principles of showcasing terroir, blending Old World and New World techniques and making the best and most genuine wine possible.   Both winemakers told me they look to retain their own expressions, but they have the “keys” and the crews behind them who make the wine possible.

 


Mondavi Legacy Continues: My February #ThirstyThursday Wines

After the opportunity to chat with Peter Mondavi last week, I had the chance to experience the wine of another Mondavi – Michael Mondavi.  This was another lesson in heritage as Michael strives to recreate the style of cabernets that the Mondavi family were known for in the late 1960’s and early 70’s.  

I was sent a sample of the 2010 Michael Mondavi Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, a 100 percent Cabernet, which is a rarity in itself. This wine truly reflects timelessness and a family heritage.  “Animo” means spirit in Italian and Michael Mondavi’s grandfather taught him that all great winemakers respect the soil. It is velvet in texture, a deep purple in the glass and has a rich mouthfeel.  It has elements of Old World and New World with lots of earthy, blackberry, plum, minerality, vanilla, cinnamon and caramel.  It was stunning and as my colleagues noted, “I think your eyes just rolled back in your head when you tried it.”

We tried several other wines on this #thirstythursday that made the list including the following:

  • 2013 Amici Sauvignon Blanc – this 50/50 blend of Sauvignon Musque and Sauvignon Blanc was full of tropical fruit, citrus, orange blossom and notes of flowers and flint.  It was mineral and a great afternoon patio wine.
  • 2011 Chateau La Pointe Pomerol Bordeaux – this was a great entry level Bordeaux with truffle, chocolate, terroir and red fruit.

My Conversation with Peter Mondavi from Charles Krug: Family, Sustainability and Tradition

It’s not often I have the opportunity to sit down with one of the reigning members of one of the undisputable first families of wine in Napa.  But I got to do exactly that when Peter Mondavi Jr, co-proprietor of Charles Krug, came to Dallas.  By the way, he also happens to be one hell of a nice guy.

Charles Krug is the oldest winery in Napa Valley and was founded in 1861 by Prussian immigrant Charles Krug.  Since 1943 and over four generations, the winery has been overseen by the Peter Mondavi Sr family. Estate vineyards are located in St Helena, Yountville, Howell Mountain and Carneros.

Cesare Mondavi first came to Minnesota from Italy in 1906 and became a miner.  In 1908, he returned to Italy to marry Rosa Grassi and started a boarding house and saloon.  In 1922, as Prohibition hit, the Mondavi’s and their four children moved to California and started C. Mondavi and Sons, which was a grape shipping business. 

Cesare didn’t set out to be a winemaker – just an accidental entrepreneur who wanted to take care of his family.  After success in the grape shipping business, he decided to purchase the Charles Krug winery.  Cesare Mondavi was an innovator and introduced the cider press for winemaking and many other advanced winemaking techniques that were unheard of during that time.

His son, Peter Sr, attended Stanford and pursued graduate studies in enology.  He then served in the US Army in World War II and returned home to the winery.  Peter has carried on many innovations at Charles Krug including vintage dating varietal wines, cold fermentation of white wines and fermentation in French oak barrels, among others.  Peter Sr had two sons, Marc and Peter Jr, who followed in his footsteps, one attending UC Davis and one attending Stanford.

Fast forward a generation.  You can tell that both sons have the entrepreneurial spirit and understanding of how technology done well can improve key steps of a business and are very involved in the workings of Charles Krug.  Peter Mondavi Sr is still active, and comes to the winery to sign checks at age 100, but has handed the reins to his sons. 

Peter Jr told me about how his role at the winery evolved from working for 50 cents a day at age eight where he was assigned the task of unwrapping tasting glasses.  After returning to the winery with a BS in mechanical engineering and a MS in engineering management followed by a MBA, he handled everything from the capital expansion of the winery to designing the state-of-the-art temperature control system at the winery.

We tried a number of wines and I loved the pride that Peter had as he described each one, which were all delicious.  Here’s my assessment (please note that some of these wines will not be on the market for another few months).  I continued to drink them over a three day timeframe and the evolution was amazing:

  • 2014 Charles Krug Sauvignon Blanc – full of lots of citrus, grapefruit, peach and minerality.  It was the only wine with a twist top and meant to be enjoyed young.
  • 2012 Charles Krug Generations – this wine was designed to celebrate four generations of Mondavi family members.  Peter described it as a wine with “one foot in France, one foot in California.”  It was balanced with lots of cinnamon, All Spice and berry.  He discussed it being one of their cocktail wines that you drink before dinner as it stands alone without needing a food pairing.
  • 2012 Charles Krug Vintage Selection Napa Cabernet Sauvignon – lots of black fruit, mocha and caramel flavors.  This is a wine that is roughly not produced three out of five years and it was incredible.
  • 2012 Charles Krug Family Reserve Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon – this was the second vintage of this wine and I loved the cranberry, cassis and big black fruit.

During my conversation with Peter I never lost track of the fact that Charles Krug Winery is about family, sustainability and keeping a tradition strong.  The Mondavi’s continue to innovate and invest to bring the Charles Krug brand back to its heritage.  The result is a delicious one.


The Best Party that Almost Wasn’t: A Night with Lindsay Hoopes

Me and Lindsay Hoopes

I had the opportunity several years ago to sit down and meet Lindsay Hoopes, the second generation leader of Hoopes Vineyard and Liparita wines as well as a former homicide prosecutor in San Francisco.  Lindsay was scheduled to come back through town and had tentatively scheduled an informal party at our house, but had a pretty bad fall where she broke her leg.  I was impressed by Lindsay’s focus and drive when I first met her and should have known that she’d find a way to make it through a grueling week in Texas, wheelchair and all.

This was almost the party that wasn’t.  Lindsay had sent 20 plus bottles to our home and we kept getting UPS delivery slips while we were at work.  I had a long week at sales kickoff for my paying gig and had to stay a few nights at the hotel where we scheduled the event.  My Friday in the office was crazy with people from all over the world who wanted to meet, so I just made the judgment call that I’d pick up the wine from UPS on Saturday.  I called my husband and he said, “are you sure that UPS will be open Saturday?”  I answered of course they would.  Luckily he checked.  And they weren’t.  So the wild goose chase began against time to grab the wine before UPS closed for the weekend.

I grabbed a very small group of wine lovers, who were up for the task of consuming the 20 plus bottles, because that is the kind of friends I have.   Lindsay told the story about her entry into the wine business and the how she was severely underestimated by many of the distributors.  I loved her quote, “I had to sell prison sentences of 20 years to life – this was nothing.” 

She talked candidly about how she decided to enter the family business when her father, Spencer Hoopes, became ill (the good news is that he recovered).  Spencer originally was a grape grower and decided 15 years later to make his own wine.  The focus has been on classic cabernets that capture the best of old world techniques and the new world of Napa fruit.  “I built a career, but it was time to come home to my family business.” 

Anne Vawter, the former protegee of Heidi Barrett, took over as winemaker with the 2012 vintage.  I also learned that Hoopes Vineyard boasts the oldest surviving set of vines in Oakville.  We drank some amazing wines.  We started with the 2013 Hoopla Chardonnay, which was a lovely white full of citrus, tropical fruits and minerality.  We moved to the 2012 Liparita Cabernet Sauvignon, which boasts a great story and a storyline that dates back to 1900. The winery, which was purchased in 2006 by Hoopes, boasts winning the Judgment of Paris in 1900 until it disappeared due to Prohibition.  We then tried the 2006, 2010 and 2012 Hoopes Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon, which was beyond amazing – each and every one of them.

Our night ended with a very special treat that Lindsay had in store for us.  We became the only consumers in America to try the 2012 Hoopes Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon that was especially bottled for the Napa Valley Premiere Auction (#164 to be exact).  Last year, HEB bought the lot for $1,000 a bottle.  Absolutely gorgeous and what a special experience for Lindsay to share with us.


January Wines Under $25

I was falling way behind on my wine reviews so I gathered the work folks together and it was time to celebrate Wine Wednesday.  This time, we were more successful with the wine selection.  We tried seven wines and I’m going to write about five of them.

Sparking:

  • Sokol Blosser Evolution Sparkling NV – this was a delicious sparkling that could be opened on any night.  It was full of tropical fruit, green apple, baked bread and minerality.  There was a little bit of sweetness, but a very nice balance.

White:

  • 2013 Hanna Chardonnay – full of baked apple, tropical fruit, crème brulee and hazelnut.  This was another well balanced chardonnay that had a nice proportion of oak.
  • 2013 Hahn SLH Chardonnay – also with baked apple, citrus, toffee and lemongrass.  A nice chardonnay for the person who is not a fan of chardonnay.

Red:

  • 2012 Hahn SLH Pinot Noir – lots of deep cherry, black currant, vanilla, spice and cherry cola.  This was both fruity and herbal at the same time.
  • 2012 True Grit Reserve Petite Sirah — this was bold and immense with notes of blackberry, spice, chocolate, mocha, eucalyptus and caramel.  This was a fantastic find.

Twas the Night Before …. A December to Remember? Maybe?

‘Twas the Christmas season and all through the abode, my liver was working overtime to keep up with the load.  Much to my delighted eye did appear, some of the best wines that I’ve seen all year. 

Come Dom, Come Schramsberg, Come Pierre Peters. Come Charles Heidsieck.  As far as the eye can see, there are full tables of delicious bubbly. 

Come Clos Pegase.  Come 24 Vineyards.  Come Terra Valentine.  Come Coquerel. Come Barnett.  Come Caymus Select.  Come Quilceda Creek.  Come Larkmead. Come Tercero.  But I’m not done yet.

The bubbles have sparkled, the magnums shone bright.  The posts have been many – each and every night.  Merry Christmas to all, and in the next year, the added bulge I will fight.


It’s the Holidays: Live a Little

I recently sampled two high-end wines that deserved their own write up.  First, let me say in the spirit of full disclosure, I am not on the Cornerstone Cellars payroll.  I just really like the style and structure of their wines – up and down the value chain.  They are consistently well made, represent the terroir where they are grown and vary from year to year depending on nature.

  • 2011 Cornerstone Cellars Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon – we tried this over a two day period and it really needs a chance for the layers to unravel.  At first sip, it was big and powerful with notes of chassis, mocha and blackberry.  On day two, it was elegant, nuanced and the floral and spice notes really came through.  It was everything a Howell Mountain Cabernet should be.

  • 2010 Concha y Toro Don Melchor Cabernet Sauvignon – a blend of six different Cabernet Sauvignon vineyards and one Cabernet Franc vineyard from the renowned Puente Alto Vineyard in Maipo.  The wine had the juiciness of ripe red fruit, balanced minerality, notes of Asian Spice, plum and chocolate.  Since this was recently named number nine on the Wine Spectator Top 100 list, finding the Don Melchor might become a treasure hunt.  But well worth it. 

Mexican Wines?: What I Found on a Rainy Day in Mexico

A Non-Rain View of Punta Mita

We recently went to Punta Mita where we stayed at the Four Seasons for an awesome family trip.  We were ready for some surf, sea and fun, but the weather decided not to comply with a couple days of torrential downpours.  While our kiddo decided to do fun indoor activities, my husband and I braved the weather and went to hang at the Nunca Pool Bar.  That’s where I started my conversation with Armando, who taught me about wines from the Valle de Guadalupe/Baja California, Mexico, which is located less than two hours away from San Diego.

My uncle, who did a long-stint at Gallo, had talked about this region for years and told me about how it was an “up and coming Napa” in its own right.  Armando was also passionate about the region and we tasted through four wines that were diverse and unique.

Wine has been made in this region for hundreds of years and over the past twenty folks in the industry have taken notice.  The red wines produced here include Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Zinfandel, Nebbiolo, Syrah, Tempranillo, Malbec, Carignan and Grenache.

My line up included:

  • 2012 Tinto Mexicano, a blend of cabernet sauvignon, petit syrah and grenache.  It took a while to open up and was my least favorite of those that I tried that day. 
  • 2102 Santos Brujos Tempranillo, this was a nice expression of tempranillo and matched well with the food we had in front of us.
  • 2012 Monasterio, Sinfonia de Tintos, one of my two favorites. I loved the blend, the balance, the black fruit, the tea, the plum and the earthiness of this wine.
  • 2010 L.A. Cetto Nebbiolo Private Reserve, this was a great first try of Mexico’s Nebbiolo grape.  It had notes of blackberry, earthiness and made me crave something that was tomato based as my entrée.  

This region is definitely one that is worth exploration – especially when you are not paying Four Season’s by the glass bar prices.


 


October Wine Round-Up

Now that the weather has cooled down in Texas, I’ve been lucky enough to get a number of wine shipments coming my way.  Those shipments led us to another #TipsyTuesday with a group of work colleagues.  Sometimes you have to kiss many frogs before you find your prince, but this time we had a great line-up of wines from around the world.  We tried 15 wines, one was corked and one didn’t make the cut, but the rest were solid wines.

White

In the spirit of full disclosure, these wines were supposed to be part of Natural Chardonnay Day #ChardDay and I ended up having to go out of town for work.  I gave notice to the folks coordinating and they were nice enough to tell me to save them for a rainy day.  Favorites are below (as mentioned, one of the Chardonnay’s was corked, so I won’t talk about that wine).

  • 2012 Wente Morning Fog Chardonnay – full of tropical notes, vanilla, orange blossom and floral notes.  This was a great representation of a chardonnay.
  • 2012 Wente Riva Ranch Chardonnay – I also got tropical, but there were some notes of spice to this wine along with honey and vanilla.  A totally different chardonnay but also very nice.

The other favorite whites included:

  • 2013 Domaine Begude Sauvignon Blanc – lots of minerality, citrus, lemongrass and grapefruit.  This was a great everyday wine.
  • 2013 Carmel Road Unoaked Chardonnay – notes of citrus and pear.  This was a very crisp Chardonnay.
  • 2013 Carmel Road Unoaked Riesling – notes of orange blossom, honey, floral and apricot.  It was really interesting and I kept coming back to it.

Red

  • 2009 Cune Reserva 2009 Rioja – definitely one of my favorites of the tasting.  Big notes of rich berry, spice and great terroir. 
  • 2007 Montecilla Gran Reserva Rioja – earthy with notes of smoke, pepper, cedar, raspberry, spice and leather. I thought this opened up nicely over the time of the tasting.
  • 1998 Vina Albina Rioja – this wine was full of dried cherry, spice and vanilla.  It was an interesting expression of aged rioja and I enjoyed it.

I always have to call out Cornerstone Cellars wines whenever I am lucky enough to receive them as there is a line out my door whenever they appear and with good reason.  We tried the 2012 Cornerstone Cellars Syrah, which was full of leather, coffee and notes of blackberry.  You could almost taste the intersection of the fruit of the earth with the skill of the winemaker who brought it all together like a conductor’s crescendo.  The second wine was the 2011 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, which continues to ‘hands down’ be one of my favorite Napa Valley Cabernets (just do a Google search of Cornerstone and Dallas Wine Chick and you can follow my love affair with these wines).

Rose

  • 2013 Anna de Joyeuse, Camas, Pinot Noir Rose – Lots of red cherries, raspeberries and a freshness and minerality that I really enjoyed.

Dessert Wine

  • Cockburn’s Special Reserve Port – this was a treat for the group.  It was balanced with red fruits, cherry and had a nice finish at the end.  

The Wines of San Juan and the Quest for Dallas Distribution

Arturo Guillermo Arias, President, Finca Sierras Azules, and Marcela Nunez, Translator

Recently, I was invited by the producers of the San Juan Province in Argentina to try the wines of approximately 20 of their producers.  The event, which was hosted by the Federal Investment Council of the Argentine Government (CFI) and held at the Intercontinental Hotel, focused on wines produced in the second largest region for wine production in South America.  The mountainous region is known for fertile ground and diverse soils. 

It struck me that every winemaker I had the chance to converse with talked about the terroir doing most of the work due to its diversity, how the wines expressed nature and how the wines are priced to gain visibility and acceptance in the U.S. market.  The producers who attended were currently not imported to Dallas – hence the purpose of the tour.  I didn’t get to try the wines of every attendee, but I was really impressed by the quality of those that I did try.  I’ll highlight some of my favorites. 

  • Bodegas Borbore, 2011 Aya Malbec and 2014 Martin Fierro Chardonnay and Chenin Blanc blend
  • Consorcio ABA S.A., 2014 Bodega y Vinedos Hagmann Bonarda
  • Finca del Enlace, 2012 Tracia Honores Malbec and 2011 Tracia Honores Blend
  • Finca Sierras Azules, 2013 Expresion Blend, which is hand-picked by women due to their meticulous approach.  Insert girl power here – and the winery was nice enough to give me a bottle to share in the future.
  • La Guarda, 2012 El Guardado Malbec and 2013 El Guardado Blend
  • San Juan Juice and Wine S.R.L., 2012 Malbec “7 Vinas,” 2012 Torrontes “7 Vinas,” 2012 Ancellota “7 Vinas”

Very hopeful that these wines will find the distribution channels they need in Dallas so you can taste them too.  Otherwise, this large group of wine lovers will need to share the one bottle of Finca Sierras Azules and that would never be enough once you’ve tried it.  




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