Rosenblum Sold

Rosenblum CellarsAnother family-owned winery has been bought out by a mega-conglomerate wine company. Following in the footsteps of other such pioneering family wineries like Mondavi and Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars, Rosenblum Cellars of Alameda has been sold to Diageo for US $105 million. Kent & Kathy Rosenblum founded their winery 30 years ago and then made the move to their current home in Alameda in 1987. The deal was announced 01/25/08.

I first read about this in Jessica Yadegaran’s great Corkheads blog that she writes for the Contra Costa Times. While it is disheartening to hear about yet another legendary private winery being sold to a large corporation, it is heartening to read that the deal intends to keep the current workforce and basically leave the winery, as is. Perhaps the huge financial backing will allow for further and better sources of grapes, but as Jessica points out in the comments…it’s Rosenblum, do they really need that help to get premium Zinfandel grapes.

K&L Wines UGC Bordeaux (2005) Tasting

KL Wine MerchantsOn Saturday 01/19/08, I had the outstanding opportunity to attend the latest K&L Wines Bordeaux tasting, fortuitously all from the very well-regarded 2005 vintage. I have to thank Jason & Kim for the chance to attend and big shout out to my friend Spesh (WL) who first notified me of the event. It was held in the hall of the old Federal Reserve Building in San Francisco. I hopped on BART at 2pm and headed out to the first major French tasting that I’ve ever had the chance to attend.

Union des Grand Crus de BordeauxStepping back a little, I had a bit of confusion when I first heard about the event. I initially saw an email that said it would include all Classified Growths from Bordeaux, which was actually in error. There is an organization of Bordeaux Chateaux separate from the Bordeaux Official Classification of 1855 (Grand Crus Classes en 1855), somewhat misleadingly called Union des Grand Crus de Bordeaux. It is made up of both classified and unclassified growths of Bordeaux vintners.

Regardless of my misinterpretation of which Chateaux would be pouring, I had a brilliant time tasting all of these wines, particularly the ones that I will probably never be able to afford, ever again. Bordeaux, as a regional whole, is probably the best “vintage marketing” region in the whole world. This means that they are kings and queens at seemingly declaring every couple of vintages the “vintage of the decade” or “the century.” This doesn’t mean that they’re just blowing hot air, they’ve actually had a string of outstanding vintages since the millenium, with the classic 2000 (compared qualitatively with the legendary ’82s), and good to great vintages in 2003 and 2004. 2005, however, truly might be even better than the 2000’s and Bordeaux has taken that as their rallying cry, declaring this to be a legendary vintage in the making.

What does this mean to us, the consumer, however? Does it just mean that there are yet more ethereal wines out there that have even higher prices than before? Not necessarily…in fact, it becomes quite a coup for the average consumer, even with the crappy value of the US dollar. All of those cheaper 2005 $8 – $20 Bordeaux that you see in the store right now are filled with phenomenal quality, far beyond the value ratio’s that you’d normally see from the bottom of the Bordeaux market. It’s the same purchasing situation as we saw with the 2000’s back in 2002 through 2004. As an aside, 2005 was also unusual in that it is considered a classic vintage in Burgundy, as well, allowing for the same increases in quality across the board. Go get them!

With all of this information in mind, I was very excited when the event staff finally let us file into the foyer of the old Federal Reserve Building. We each handed our own engraved Riedel Overture Red Wine glass, made of non-lead crystal. Riedel had a display right as we walked in, actually, which (embarrassingly) made me incredibly excited. Ever since I’ve become seriously into wine over the last decade, I’ve somehow become obsessed with crystal stemware and Riedel is my favorite designer and manufacturer. Later on I would have a wonderful conversation with Sylvie, the West Coast Sales Manger for Riedel Crystal of America. I found out about some of the new lines that they have coming out and why they have chosen to produce only varietally correct crystal, instead of regionally correct designs.

The people at the event were from a wide-range of wine expertise. Some were somewhat comfortably knowledgeable about wine and were clearly excited about the opportunity to greatly expand their limited high-end Bordeaux knowledge, much like myself. Others were long-time collectors and/or wine professionals, spitting their way through almost all of the 50+ Chateaus. Still others were novices, happy to be at a prestigious event and perhaps much more visibly “happy” by the end, after a whole lot of great wine!

But onto the wines! As a whole, they did fit into my preconceptions of high-end and high-quality Bordeaux. The wines were not fruit forward, except with some notable exceptions and were in a closed and monstrously tannic phase in their early lives. Incidentally, I only tasted one wine that was corked out of the 30+ that I had time to taste during the event. Black fruit abounded, without that red cherry nose mouth that I’ve come to expect from the much more fruit-forward domestic Bordeaux varietal wines that I also enjoy and of which I have a lot more experience.

I was also pleased to get a chance to appreciate the differences between the various sub-appellations of Bordeaux, as all of the Chateaux were grouped by sub-region. Some differences to note were the lack of a discernible nose in the majority of of the wines coming from Pomerol. This can be expected from these Merlot-dominated blends and it’s traditional less-fragrant nose, but I was still surprised time and again, at how little I could pick up from these wines with my (learning curve) nose. The wines from Margaux were also closed on the nose, but these Cabernet Sauvignon-dominated blends were just too tight right now with their powerful Cab Sauv backbone. Don’t get me wrong, however, I loved almost all of the wines that I tasted that day, but when compared to each other, these differences become clear and very interesting.

Léoville BartonThe stars of the tasting were the wines that came from Saint-Julien, Saint-Émilion and the Sauternes. The two Saints were wonderfully complex with depths of red and black fruit that are still to be enjoyed when more mature. Their tannins were muscular and yet still rounded enough to try now with a nice cut of steak and red wine reduction, but as with virtually all of the wines that day, their true beauty will only be revealed after another decade, at the very earliest. The Sauternes were beautiful dessert wines, truly unique from anything I’ve ever tasted. The mouthfeel was incredibly glycerine and smooth, with a velvet elegance that was just amazing. Their light citrus notes and tastes were very compelling.

The winners for the day for me included the Léoville Barton Saint-Julien (quite happily so, as I blindly bought futures from BevMo last year), the Lynch-Bages Pauillac, the Lascombes Margaux, and the Lafaurie-Peyraguey and Château Guiraud Sauternes.

What an incredible day, just a really special wine experience. Please check out the reviews for all of the wines I tasted that day using the links below. I’ve tagged this group of wines with “UGCB2005” so that you can list them all at once within WineLog. Enjoy!

Margaux:

Moulis-en-Médoc:

Pauillac:

Pessac-Léognan:

Pomerol:

Saint-Émilion:

Saint-Estèphe:

Saint-Julien:

Sauternes:

Wine.com Engenders Major Scorn Amid Shipping Sting

Wine.Com has taken the esoteric and somewhat archaic direct wine shipping laws into their own hands. At the very end of last year Wine.Com, took direct aim at competing online wine retailers by engaging in their own “sting operation” to flush out competing retailers that flout the direct wine shipping laws. Wine.com claims to spend millions in an attempt to satisfy these laws for their own business needs.

This was first reported in the Wine Market Report 12/27/07, where they actually published some of the letters that Wine.Com wrote to state governments detailing these non-law abiding retailers, complete with order confirmations and receipts as evidence of the wine that was shipped illegally to Wine.Com’s “sting operators” in each requisite state. The Wine Market Report was immediately credited and re-told by Alder Yarrow in his venerable Vinography blog on 01/04/08 and the report itself, was archived at the Specialty Wine Retailer’s Association (SWRA) site here.

Since Alder’s post, the issue has exploded across the blogosphere and into more traditional print magazine sites, with both Wine Spectator’s Eric Arnold and Wine Enthusiast’s Jim Gordon reporting on the issue, in their own manner. Jim Gordon had the most interesting take, with an intelligent (and a reluctant) defense of Wine.Com’s tactics and spelled out many of the issues that I have considered while trying to sort out my feelings on this event. Comments have been piling up on the comment section of the post, as well as across other wine discussion outlets across the web.

I initially posted some brief harsh comments about Wine.Com immediately after reading about this story and I still stand by those comments, but have chosen to give my rationale on my blog. Other posters have included Wine.Com executives in rebuttal and many different bloggers around the web as well as wine retailers. Some of the most interesting posts have included a very creative insult/marketing push by Winemonger and a gentleman who canceled an $11,000 order after reading about the the tactics.

While I understand Wine.Com’s frustration with other competing retailers that don’t spend the capital to legally ship to the states where Wine.Com conducted its operation (Gordon’s well-constructed argument and Wine.Com’s angle), these types of “ratting out” activities just do not sit well with my own set of ethics. Rich Bergsund (CEO) and Mike Osborn (Founder) of Wine.Com rationalize that their own activities were necessary to bring the illegal shipping of their competitors to the eyes of state alcohol regulators. Yet, using illegal tactics to point out the illegal tactics of others just strikes me as completely unethical and counter-productive, not to mention just plain asinine.

Feel free to read more about the background on this issue on Vinography, that includes much of the history of this issue since the 2005 US Supreme Court Granholm Decision, or do your own research at SWRA site and Free The Grapes! Perhaps the best silver lining that I can add to this issue is that it has *certainly* re-sparked some major discussion and debate on this important topic and issue facing the wine industry, which can only be a good thing.

New Lifetime Favorite Wine

BV Georges de LatourLast night I had the surreal experience of having a wine that makes my lifetime favorites list. Indeed, this wine must be within the top 3 that I have ever tasted. Last night we went over to the apartment of our new friends Jeff and Andrea, for a night of food, drinks and the fantastically fun Rock Band. Our hosts were incredibly gracious and a very good time was had by us all (and I realized that I’m *terrible* at that game!).

The compassion of our hosts did not end with just some wine and snacks, however. I had brought along a bottle of 2002 Cabernet from a former wine club winery for us, Bartholomew Park. While quite good, that wine was (not surprisingly) blown away by the bottle that he so kindly opened for us all, the 1995 BV Georges de Latour Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon. Oh my God. I couldn’t believe the dark, barely browning color, the huge and thick nose and the sensual mouth of this wine. What a revelation. It was pure liquid beauty. Like I said before, this wine has to rank in the top 3 that I have ever had, alongside the 2001 Georis Clos des Moutons and the 1998 Lafite Rothschild (the wine that made me “get it”). Yum.

A very heartfelt thank you to Jeff and Andrea for such a wonderful night!

Pops & Son 3rd Annual Wine Trip – Napa

Ehler's Estate - St. HelenaMy father and I started a new annual tradition in 2005, the year that I started at Genentech. While not an obsessive like myself, Pops is a wine-guy (kind of hard not to be while living in Napa). We decided back in ’05 that we should start taking a wine-tasting trip every year that I get the week off between Christmas and New Years. The first year we stayed in Glen Ellen and hit much of the Southern region of Sonoma Valley. Last year we stayed in Healdsburg and took care of the Northern regions.

This year we decided to make it a little cheaper and just stay at the house and go to the many places in the Napa Valley that we hadn’t hit yet. Indeed, we stayed very low-profile on Thursday, just taking a taxi downtown and hitting some of the many tasting rooms that have or are about to open up in the city of Napa. Napa Valley Opera HouseThe Napa downtown has (finally) come into its own again over the last 3-4 years, somewhat coinciding with the completion of the Napa Valley Opera House restoration. There are almost no empty storefronts any longer and there is actually some building going on and further restoration work happening in various places. The other part of the resurgence has been the proliferation of tasting rooms. The Napa Valley Register published a list of 17 tasting rooms downtown (15 are currently open already) earlier this year in August (thanks Na!) and we used that list to plan out our day. We heard later that there are supposed to be up to 10 additional tasting rooms that are to open downtown in 2008!

My mom and my sister decided to duplicate this endeavor and they were heading out the same day to Healdsburg to do a similar Northern regional tour of Sonoma. We all met up for a solid starter breakfast at the local joint that we’ve been going to for years, Emmy Lou’s. Fully satiated, we bid farewell and headed out to our respective wine regions.

Vintner's Collective (Wine Country Getaways)Once downtown, Dad and I decided to first hit up a multi-winery tasting room where I had been briefly once before with Jeffro. Vintner’s Collective is an outstanding place to start a trip in Napa. We tasted about 15 wines between the two of us from many of the 15+ wineries represented at the collective. The winery list is quite impressive and includes many rising stars within the Valley, such as Melka, Parallel, Mi Sueño and Buoncristiani. We were well taken care of by Andy and Raul, who were manning the tasting bar for the day. Housed in the beautiful Pfieffer Building, the restored ambience only helps add to the wines’ elegance. Andy and Raul were extremely capable pourers and my Dad and I had quite a few great conversations about the wines and various local going-ons. I also spoke with Andy about some new wine projects that he has up his sleeve and I’m excited to try them once they get closer to bottling. The Mi Sueño Syrah that I purchased was a favorite, as well as the Richard Perry Cab and the Buoncristiani O.P.C (who grew up down the street from me in Browns Valley).

Rocca Family Winery winesOnce we were satiated at the collective we ventured a whole half block away to the Rocca Family Vineyards tasting room. There we met Karen, who was handling the tasting and wine bar for the day. These wines were not only the stars of the day, but were some of my favorites for the entire trip! What a fantastic collection of wines. Rocca is owned by the husband and wife duo of Mary Rocca and Eric Grigsby. Their winemaker is the highly acclaimed Celia Welch Masyczek, of Silverado and Staglin fame. Rocca has been gaining its own critical and cult fame, gaining many 90+ reviews in Wine Spectator and even a star feature article in the same mag. They have also prevailed in some highly competitive wine tastings of late, both in France and in the 2004 SF Chronicle annual wine competition. All that said, it was no surprise that my father and I loved all of their wines. One discontinued backvintage that Karen was pouring that day was some of the last of the 2000 H. Gray Cab. It is almost painful how good this wine was, punctuated by the incredibly low price for such a high-quality back vintage ($29). Rocca & Grigsby must be masochists…I bought two bottles! Karen mentioned that they only had a few cases left of that wine and they were planning on selling out (so call now!). This is, essentially, their Rocca Yountville Estate Cab, but it was under a different label at the time of release. We (reluctantly) finished up our tasting in the beautifully restored building after another great conversation with Karen and decided that some coffee was next on the menu.

Napa Valley Coffee Roasting CompanyI had the expected outstanding shot of espresso at my favorite coffeehouse and roaster on Earth, Napa Valley Coffee Roasting Company (we went to the one on Main in Napa). I might be a bit biased about RoCo, seeing as how I worked there all through high school (Go Crushers!) and my first year at UCD, but so be it…the espresso and coffee are incredible. We saw some friends of my dad’s there so we chatted a bit with them and allowed the coffee to counteract the vino for a little while, then set off for the last stop of the day.

Napa Wine Merchants has been a wine staple downtown for many years. They’ve recently gone through a bit of change and are now focusing more on the wines from GustavoThrace, complemented by some special boutique picks from chosen local and foreign wineries.Napa Wine Merchants Casey and Thrace, herself, were very knowledgeable about the GT wines that they were pouring (not surprisingly) and we had another great conversation exchanging local knowledge with Thrace. The winery was founded in 1996 by winemaker Gustavo Brambila (of 1976 Paris Tasting fame, working under Mike Grgich) and Thrace. One of the wines that really caught our eye (palate?) was the ’02 Signature Zinfandel, made with fruit from Nichelini Ranch in Chiles Valley. Nichelini Winery is the oldest family owned winery in the Valley and one that I’ve been going to for years while growing up in Napa and after I started becoming a wine freak. My parents have been members for years and Beth and I joined their wine club a few years back, as well. I like the fact that GT has retained a great sense of value and humor with their wines, even after 20+ years in the biz. Their 3rd Bottle red and white wines are incredible values with 100% Rutherford and Carneros fruit, respectively, in their non-vintage (NV) blends. These are the wines they’d like for you to reach for once you’ve had two bottles already…something that I can truly understand! Bidding farewell to Casey and Thrace, we caught a taxi back to the homestead in Browns Valley.

Graeser WineryThe next day, after an unexpected detour to Healdsburg overnight, Dad and I headed back over to Calistoga on the back from Sonoma on Mark West Springs Road. Our intent was to start the day at a winery that I’ve been dying to visit the last few years, Graeser Winery on Diamond Mountain. I haven’t been to this winery since I was about 7 years old! Richard Graeser, proprietor and winemaker, has made wine on this property for 22+ years. His family has owned the property for 50 years and they plan on celebrating that momentous interval with a rather large party later this year. I’m a little unsure if I can describe the property and the wines with the proper respect, but I’ll give it a fair shot. Graeser Winery picnic areaThe property sits on pine and oak wooded rolling hills, interspersed by the East-facing estate vineyards of all Bordeaux varietals. Once you turn off Petrified Forest Road and head up the private drive, you quickly feel as if you’re way off in the boonies…good stuff! The first building you see is the old estate house of Richard Beverly Cole, dating back to the 1880’s. Richard (Graeser) has been restoring this house for as long as my dad can remember and we were fortunate enough to get a tour of some of the (almost) finished rooms. The tasting room is situated in another old building on the property and this day was manned by Mr. Graeser, himself. He can actually be found on the property almost every day of the week, unless he’s back making the wine that we were soon enjoying. Tasting RoomBeth and I have been on a big Cabernet Franc kick the last few years and that single-varietal wine is one which Greaser really excels at producing. I was incredibly pleased to find that they have a large selection of back-vintage wines of many of their varietals, dating all the way back to 1990, at some very affordable prices. I decided to go the whole way back and purchased a 1990 Estate Cabernet Franc. I haven’t opened the bottle yet, so I’ll be sure to post the review once I savor that aged Franc. Estate houseI’ve never actually had a single-varietal Franc with that much age (well, I haven’t had many of ANY wines that old!) and I can’t wait to check it out. We shot the manure for quite some time with Richard until we embarked on the short house tour. My Dad and I then walked around the property a little bit more, saying hi to their two huge dogs while gathering some photos until we decided to continue our wine journey South, down 29. We waved goodbye to Richard, his wife and their grandson and headed out.

The next stop on our Viaje de Vino was St. Clement. This is another property that has a long and rich history in the Valley. Though it is now a part of Foster’s Wine Group after a series of buyouts, it still produces some great wine on their historic hilltop location. Abbott's Merlot and myself!The unfortunate part of this tasting, however, was the medium-sized tour bus that pulled up and proceeded to crowd into the small historic tasting room in their restored Victorian mansion. Dad decided to head out to the patio (which has a wonderful view of the Valley North of St. Helena) while I shuttled back and forth with each wine. The star of this tasting was the ’03 Abbott’s Vineyard Merlot, from the Carneros appellation.

Our last stop of the day was at another Napa winery that I hadn’t visited since I was old enough to have wine, Rutherford Grove Winery and Vineyards. Here we were greeted by Karen, who provided a lot of back history about the winery of which I wasn’t aware.Rutherford Grove tasting room door The winery was founded in 1993 by the Pestoni Family, who have resided and worked the land in the Valley for almost as long as it has been called the Napa Valley. We tasted 4 wines from Karen with the star wine actually from an additional wine label that they’ve released this year, the ’06 Quackenbush Mountain Vineyards Zin. This wine was doing incredibly well for being so young. It wasn’t quite wide open yet, but it did show some lovely fruit and a lot more structure that you usually get from that variety. The high altitude of the vines, ~2000′, are probably to thank for such a beautiful, claret-style wine. Their single vineyard Pet was also a welcome taste to my palate. After finishing here, both my dad and I decided that our mouths needed a break. We headed back home and then finished the day tasting with a friend of ours in the Southern part of the Valley.

Done for the day, we headed to Suppertime for a nice down-home meal of beef tenderloin and some amazing mashed potatoes. Luddite VineyardsWe needed wine for the meal, of course, so we stopped by the outstanding local market, Browns Valley Market. This market is within walking distance of where I grew up in Browns Valley and now treads the thin line between a comfy local market and a gourmet grocery destination. They have great values on the huge selection of local wines from both Napa and Sonoma. In honor of the man purchasing the dinner and the wine, we decided on a Merlot taste-off between and ’03 Stags’ Leap Winery and ’05 Luddite Vineyards. The Stags’ won my father over while I preferred the Luddite. We ended the wonderful trip with some good food, good wine, a nice fire and great movie. What a trip!

Please feel free to peruse all of the wines we had during the trip listed below. If you would like to list all of the wines together for your own winelog or to print out the list, I’ve tagged them all with “PS3rdTrip“. Enjoy!

Vintner’s Collective (WL):

2006 Gregory Graham Rolling Knolls Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc

2005 JC Cellars The Imposter

2006 Ancien Toyon Vineyard Pinot Noir

2004 Mi Sueño Napa Valley Syrah

2004 D Cubed Howell Mountain Zinfandel

2004 Buoncristiani Family Napa Valley O.P.C.

2005 Parallel Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon

2003 Richard Perry Napa Valley Estate Cabernet Sauvignon

2004 Clark-Claudon Napa Valley Estate Cabernet Sauvignon

2005 Chiarello Roux Old Vine Estate Petite Sirah

2000 Showket Napa Valley Estate Cabernet Sauvignon

Rocca Family Vineyards:

2000 H. Gray Yountville Estate Cabernet Sauvignon

2005 Rocca Yountville Estate Bad Boy Red

2003 Rocca Yountville Estate Syrah

2004 Rocca Yountville Estate Syrah

2003 Rocca Yountville Estate Cabernet Sauvignon

2004 Rocca Yountville Estate Cabernet Sauvignon

Napa Wine Merchants (WL):

2005 GustavoThrace Lodi Sauvignon Blanc

2003 GustavoThrace Carneros Chardonnay

2002 GustavoThrace Napa Valley Signature Zinfandel

2003 GustavoThrace Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon

NV GustavoThrace The 3rd Bottle White Table Wine

NV GustavoThrace The 3rd Bottle Red Table Wine

Wineries:

2006 Graeser Rebecca’s Rosé

2003 Graeser Simba’s Sinful Zinfandel

2002 Graeser Napa Valley Barrel Select Merlot

2003 Graeser Diamond Mountain District Coeur De Leon Estate

2003 Graeser Diamond Mountain District Estate Cabernet Sauvignon

2006 St. Clement Bale Lane Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc

2006 St. Clement Carneros Chardonnay

2003 St. Clement Napa Valley Merlot

2003 St. Clement Abbott’s Vineyard Estate Merlot

2004 St. Clement Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon

2005 St. Clement Napa Valley Oroppas

2005 Rutherford Grove Rutherford Estate Sauvignon Blanc

2006 Quackenbush Mountain Vineyards Lake County Zinfandel

2003 Rutherford Grove Rutherford Bench Estate Merlot

2004 Rutherford Grove Rutherford Bench Estate Cabernet Sauvignon

2005 Rutherford Grove Spring Creek Vineyard Petite Sirah

Others:

NV Barefoot California Chardonnay

2005 Luddite Vineyards Coster Vineyard Merlot

2003 Stags’ Leap Winery Napa Valley Merlot