Giovanni Blason and his consulting enologist Andrea Rossi have turned this 37-acre property into a juggernaut of affordable quality wines. Giovanni and his wife Valentina own this winery in Gradisca d’Inzonzo, 3.75 miles from the Slovenian border and about 20 miles north of Trieste. Isonzo is where Silvio Jermann, one of Italy’s greatest white winemakers, hails from. This is the fourth vintage that we’ve been importing wines from Blason, wines that are getting 1 and 2 glasses from Gambero Rosso, Italy’s leading wine critic, for their quality and the fact that they cost one half of the price of many others that don’t get the same quality reviews. Let’s not even begin to talk about Santa Margherita. Mike Parres (who has not taken over the controls of the Redwood City Italian operations, as I have moved south to work on opening our new Hollywood location) and I visited Gradisca d’Isonzo last February. We were stunned to find out that all this time Blason has been winning awards, making wine that was absolutely delicious, always balanced and fresh. They did it without temperature controlled fermentation! All of the wines in the 2005 vintage benefited from temperature-controlled fermentation, the whites sur lie (that’s French… I’m sorry, you should learn the Italian sui leviti). It means on the lees with the dead yeast cells, which gives the possibility of more complexity. Enough of a preamble, let’s get to the wines! The 2005 Blason Pinot Grigio ($8.99) is the best Pinot Grigio Giovanni and Andrea have made to this day. The vines are maturing, and the addition of the temperature-controlled fermentation has added a level of spice to the already wonderful fruit, with body, freshness, balance, and well... it’s just damned refreshing. Last vintage we sold our 200-case allotment in 10 weeks. This year we’ve ordered 400 cases, but with the addition of our new Hollywood location this wine won’t be around by Christmas. Buy now! Generally I write about the easier-to-sell wines before the more difficult-to-figure-out. This time, I have to write about the 2005 Blason Cabernet Franc ($8.99). This one is so good you won’t believe it! The flavor just bursts out of the glass, spice laden, black pepper, red fruits, vivacious, fresh and curvy all at the same time, and at an unbelievable price. Please try this wine if you haven’t or even if you have had Italian Cabernet Franc. This is really wonderful to drink. Why the ubiquitous Pinot Grigio has become synonymous with white wine for Italy I don’t know. Maybe it sould have been Tocai Friulano instead. The 2005 Blason Tocai Friulano ($8.99) is rich, complex, spicy with hints of tarragon, body and balance. Just a really extraordinary balance of fruit, spice and drinkability. Perfect for your favorite fish dish, I like it with linguine and clams. In this vintage the 2005 Blason Sauvignon ($9.99) showed very well, complex, rich, spicy with wonderful Sauvignon character without going totally gooseberries. Fresh and lively, this shows incredible balance. The 2005 Blason Chardonnay ($9.99) is extremely fresh. Partial barrel fermentation gives it a slightly richer yet not woody character at all, still a delight to drink! —Greg St. Clair
2001 Baricci Brunello di Montalcino “Montosoli” $34.99 This was in my top-ten Brunelli of all the 2001s I tried in February with Greg. I was very fortunate to try this wine next to the 1985 vintage, a hint for what this ’01 would someday become! Not that I would wait that long to drink this wine. Layers of spicy dark fruit, a little Montosoli dust and a touch of leather with great tannin stucture. Would give this at least three hours of decanting (if I were drinking this sooner than later), but be patient with this baby! 2001 Casisano Colombaia Brunello di Montalcino $29.99 I found this Brunello to be the most user friendly of the 2001s. Dark ripe fruit, cassis and strawberries with dark chocolate, and lots of oak and soft tannins on the finish. Still needs an hour or two to open up. Try it with your Mom’s pork roast recipe. Life is good! 2001 Ferrero Brunello di Montalcino $29.99 One of my favorite Brunelli for its spiceness! Lots of cinnamon and clove mingle with rich and ripe black cherries on this full-bodied with soft and easy tannins. This is a wine to drink now and over the next five years. Stock up on this one. 2001 La Fortuna Brunello di Montalcino $34.99 thick, lush yet dazzlingly fresh fruit character is accented with hints of earth, spice and mineral that is wrapped around a powerful foundation. While profoundly concentrated, the silky texture of this wine sends waves of smooth, unctuous texture across your palate. Powerful, complex, drinkable, age worthy, this luscious Brunello shows the great balance inherent in this 2001 vintage. It will age well for another decade plus. Salute! —Mike Parres
Mike Trujillo, winemaker for Karl Lawrence, had full control of Sequoia Grove’s 2002 vintage. Mike’s skill and decision making has given Sequoia Grove a so-called rebirth. This vintage screams, “pay attention!” I was fortunate to be invited to a blind trade tasting where Sequoia Grove’s 2002 and their Rutherford Reserve were up against the likes of Pride Mountain, Opus One, Rudd, Shafer, Groth, Caymus, BV Georges de Latour, Pine Ridge, Whitehall Lane and Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars. Mike has been touring the country putting on these blind tastings for trade folks. And to his credit (and the wines’), Sequoia Grove has gained a new cache. The group of 50 tasters chose the 2002 Sequoia Grove Rutherford Cabernet Sauvignon ($26.99) as their number three choice. Needless to say, the results surprised quite a lot of predisposed tasters. But what really did it was the overwhelming # 1 vote for the 2002 Sequoia Grove Rutherford Reserve (Inquire)! Mike mentioned that it had been the winner at more than 11 of his 18 nationwide tastings, and always in the top three! I’m happy to say that the group’s number one was my number one. Go Mike! You have made a delicious Cabernet. This is a wine that boosts a wealth of balanced fruit as well as hints of lavender and rich dark chocolate. It’s a powerful yet subtle wine that begs to be swirled and smelled, swirled and smelled again. Not to forget the ribbons of elegant tannin that finish off this experience. —Keelyn Healy
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