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So why is the 2012 Ladera Cabernet—made from almost entirely from Howell Mountain fruit, from an incredible vintage—sitting pretty at $34.99? I honestly can't tell you. Maybe it's because no one knows how good the Ladera holdings in Howell Mountain are. Or maybe it's the pride that winemaker Jade Barrett takes in making a serious wine for a reasonable price. Or maybe it's because Ladera is an overlooked gem in a sea of Napa alternatives. For whatever the reason, I'm not going to complain. We tasted the 2012 vintage at our staff training yesterday and I was just floored by the quality of this wine. Dark, fleshy fruit cloaked in fine tannins, bits of earth, and in total balance, with enough gusto to go the long haul in your cellar. It's a whole lotta wine for $34.99, and it's made primarily from Howell Mountain grapes, harvested during a great vintage. 

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Bastille Day Special! A 3rd growth Splurge at the new French local

Editor's notes: This is a restaurant review taken from a recent entry of Joe Manekin's personal blog Last Saturday night my girlfriend and I headed to San Francisco's L’Ardoise, with a recently purchased bottle of ’99 Chateau Lagrange, St-Julien in hand (well, in backpack to be more precise). Conveniently located on Noe Street, between the Castro and Hayes Valley, L’Ardoise is a small, cozy, classic, neighborhood bistro. Since there are only about 40 seats and the warm, congenial atmosphere occasional encourages lingering over a leisurely meal, you may need to wait 10-15 minutes for an open table, even with a reservation. Another couple who was waiting ahead of us left. Unfortunate, as they probably would have eaten very well if our meal was any indication. While we waited for a table, we were given a glass of sparkling wine and some complimentary frites at the bar. Everyone was friendly and apologized for the wait: our hostess, the owner, our server to-be. We enjoyed the fries with a very mild aioli (which seemed all the more tame compared with the head-of-garlic-version I made earlier in the week). The sparkling wine, however, was cheap cava that we probably would have been better without—we both suffered minor headaches later in the night, which I am tracing back to the bubbly. Which brings up my major gripe with the otherwise spot-on L’Ardoise: the wine list. There is very little wine of interest, especially by the glass. We followed our comped glass of headache-inducing caca with a so-so ’06 chablis and a strangely medicinal Bordeaux Blanc (sorry—uninspiring wine and no note taking means that I forgot the produers for both). Their wines by the bottle mainly consisted of mediocre French and industrial, boring California wines. The exceptions were the ’05 Tempier Bandol, ’04 Jasmin Cote-Rotie and ’04 d’Epire Savennieres, which are all fine, but not exactly things I’d want to drink now, even with food; they’re too young. Oh, ’01 Chateau Meyney, St-Estephe is good, but not exactly a value at $78. Hopefully, a wine rep in the SF area is reading this and will help L’Ardoise to re-tool their list with Muscadet, chenin, cru Beaujolais, etc. Dinner was delicious. I ordered a succulent, petite filet mignon, cooked rare, accompanied by an intense red wine reduction, and served with crisp, thinly sliced, fried potato rounds drizzled with white truffle oil. The intermingling of truffled potato and juicy, cooked-to-perfection beef is just a ridiculousy delicious, classy flavor combo. I know, it all sounds a bit decadent but at $27 it’s a steal to me. Some people like BMWs and Diesel jeans…I like eating and drinking well, you know? We also had some haricots verts and sautéed baby spinach, both tasty and adding some necessary nutrients to this beef and potatoes dinner. As for the wine I brought? It showed young, but very well. St-Julien, along with St-Estephe and Moulis-en-Medoc, is generally among my favorite communes. Third, fourth and fifth growths are usually more to my liking than second growths (as of yet I do not know from the first growths, I hear they’re a bit expensive these days). So the 1999 Lagrange, a third growth from St- Julien, was very enjoyable. Left Bank Bordeaux from the 1999 vintage are generally very juicy, fruity wines, and the Lagrange proved no exception. It showed lots of savory dark cherry fruit on the nose and palate, with a bit of noticeable development— a touch of wet tobacco on the nose, some roasted and raw meat on the palate. Its tannins are smoothing out and it's fairly well balanced with fruit, but could use another several years to soften and integrate just a bit more. Overall, though, this is a tasty drink. At $40 plus $15 corkage, it was a good deal. And I feel the same way about L’Ardoise. What it lacks in exciting wines it more than delivers in the quality of food, service and typical neighborhood French bistro ambiance. Stop by and celebrate Bastille Day, the continuation of the Tour, or finishing another day at the office. You’ll be in good hands. —Joe Manekin

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