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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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One of Montalcino's Greatest Producers makes great Rosso as well!

I’ve known Caroline Pobitzer and Jan Erbach since 2003 when their tiny winery was more of a Garage than anything else. I remember Jan climbing through an impossibly arranged stack of barrels in an incredibly small cellar under their house and just being stunned at how anyone could work like this and still create really good wine. Much has changed over the years and they now have an incredible winery building that Jan designed and they’ve added vineyards as well, they’re still tiny, just shy of 15 acres.  Pian dell’Orino, is perched on a little plateau just above Biondi Santi just 2.5 kilometers from the town of Montalcino while the other 3 vineyards they have are another few kilometers away but still in the south-eastern corner of Montalcino near the Abbey of Sant’Antimo.


Jan would be upset if I portrayed him as a “winemaker” because the major portion of his work is in the vineyards, nature is his true passion (other than Champagne and Vinyl) he’s an ardent certified Organic (certified by ICEA) and Bio-Dynamic (certified by Demeter) farmer, if you’d like the whole story check out their website The wines are all 100% Sangiovese, all natural yeasts and unfiltered while the Brunello are all aged in 15-25hl barrels, the Rosso is aged in barrique (.25hl) and tonneaux (.5hl).


Mike “Guido” Parres and I tasted the 2012 Pian dell’Orino Rosso di Montalcino $39.99

in February while Guido and I were hanging in Jan’s “Man Cave” listening to his vinyl recordings of Frank Zappa, OK, that may not been what you thought our “work” was about, but one has to be flexible.  We were struck by how incredibly delicious the 2012 Pian dell’Orino Rosso di Montalcino is, but it wasn’t the incredible “deliciousness” that makes this wine so special is its’ purity. Sangiovese when grown in the right soil and best methods is truly an eye into the soil, and Jan’s wines truly speak of their origins, the dirt, the yeast, the air, slope so many things that make each little vineyard site so different. The nose is full of a complex blend of earth, spice, plum, wild cherry, wild herbs, smoke, and shows a particularly savory side to it. On the palate the wine is true to its Sangiovese core with a long, central structure that stretches out the plum and wild cherry and intertwines the two with a mix of depth and tannic structure and then the spice shows up. So complex, building slowly, not jumping out, just a long, ever growing flavor…Stupendous. This wine will age easily for a decade but it is so good to drink now it’s OK to pop one tonight! I would decant the wine for 1-2 hours; Sangiovese always does better with air. This is a profound wine, and really a jewel only 441 cases were made, we’ve sewed up almost all that came to California, but don’t wait it will go in a hurry!

 Ciao, Greg St.Clair K&L Italian Wine Buyer


*NEW* 2010 Brunello Producer - Albatreti

Thank you Ryan for posting this for me...I’ll get my own login soon! - Greg St.Clair

The moment I put my nose in this wine I knew it was extraordinary, effortless, graceful, and classic, everything you’d want in a Brunello and more…and well…without being “More”. My colleague Mike “Guido” Parres and I tasted the wine simultaneously and both had the same reaction “WOW” who is this? We’ve been travelling to Montalcino together for more than 20 years and have tasted a veritable ocean of Brunello. We’d never even heard of this producer, the first vintage was the 2009 and we hadn’t seen it in the market at all. We re-tasted another bottle just to make sure we didn’t get mis-poured, and the second time we had a “Double Wow”!

So we went out to meet the producer, Gaetano Salvioni and found a self proclaimed “Hobbyist”. He makes 5300 bottles of Brunello, that’s not cases that’s bottles. He ages the wine for 12 months in barrels not bigger than 5HL then 2 years in botte, that’s a really big barrel. His vineyards are about 30 years old and just southwest of the town of Montalcino in a rocky outcrop in some of the highest elevations in Montalcino.

The nose on this wine is scintillating, so pure it is hard to put into words to, yet it seems like waves of aromas of wild cherry, Tuscan brush, leather, rosemary and Middle Eastern spices. On the palate the wine is so graceful, respectful and calm it reminded me of Gaetano himself.

Sangiovese’s long core of acidic structure gives this wine just incredible length and around this foundation the wild cherry flavors seem to wrap themselves around this center and then peel back into the flow of the wine.

On the palate the wine has real body, weight and a richness that is so texturally pleasing it’s hard to believe it seems so delicate at the same time. In the mouth the wine has so much flavor or so many flavors it would seem to be a Bulldozer but this wine’s great charm and character is its delicacy, it’s no Bulldozer it’s a Symphony.

The fruit is so well integrated into the wine it doesn’t seem to have layers or waves it is just one very complex flavor that includes wild cherry, leather, porcini, earth, oyster shells, smoke, rosemary, dried meats, spice and that wild Tuscan brush. Great balance as well, you can drink this wine now or age for another decade plus, it is a real steal!


2010 Albatreti Brunello di Montalcino (Pre-Arrival) $34.99

Ciao, Greg St.Clair K&L Italian Wine Buyer




Paillard Rose and Grilled Trout!

The potential for Champagne and food pairing is nearly limitless. That being said, sometimes I am struck by particularly synergistic pairings. Last week, Cinnamon bought a McFarland’s Spring Trout and prepared some mesquite for our Lodge Hibachi and I brought home a bottle of the Pierre Paillard Grand Cru Brut Rosé Champagne ($57.99). It turned out to be one of my top wine and food experiences so far this year.

The Paillard rose is very special Champagne. It is made entirely from estate fruit from the grand cru of Bouzy, which is the most famous village in all of Champagne for the red wine that is used in rose production. In Bouzy, Pinot Noir is the king, but the Paillard family has been plated more Chardonnay than any of their neighbors- it makes up about 40% of their vineyard. This rose is composed of 70% Chardonnay, and this gives the Champagne its dry, refined character as well as its fine minerality. Pinot Noir that is vinified without skin contact, and thus without any color represents 23% of the blend. The color and rose flavor comes from 7% Pinot Noir that is made into “Bouzy Rouge” and added to the blend. This Bouzy Rouge is very special wine indeed.

The courtyard of the Paillard family home and winery is in fact a walled vineyard or clos. This tiny parcel of less than one acre cannot be accessed by any farm equipment, so all the work is done by hand. It is this magic piece of grand cru that gives this rose its completely unique ability to have near red Burgundy power when called upon by food, yet show restrained elegance and only subtle haunting fruit on its own. It is unusual to find wines that have this chameleon attribute, and more unusual when all the different guises are so incredibly good.

When I returned home from work, I headed to our little hibachi to cook the fish. Cinnamon has fired a half load of lump mesquite in our coal chimney, and this turned out to be the perfect amount. After I had heated the grill top and given it a little oil, I put the fish which had been rubbed with Dijon salt and pepper on skin side down. A little less heat allowed us to keep the fish on the grill for nearly 10 minutes, adding smoky intrigue to the almost salmon flavor. I separated the fillet from its skin (leaving the skin on the grill) with our fish spatula and flipped it over, back onto the skin. This skin ended up being unbelievably delicious after crisping and picking up the mesquite flavors.

Cinnamon also prepared some top of the season artichokes and mayonnaise for our meal, and I grilled up some good sourdough for our starch. Artichokes are famous wine wreckers, and while I wouldn’t say that the rose went with them, it did not have the trouble that most wines do sharing a table with them. The meal turned out very nicely. After a bite of bread, the Champagne was as dry and subtle as any you could imagine, and was only haunted by the most subtle of black cherry fruit. With the trout, the power of the Bouzy rouge showed itself; this is authoritative and loaded with savory bass notes.

Cinnamon was moved to say that this was her favorite Champagne in a long time, and I am sure this bottle will end up on my list of top experiences for 2015. Looking back, I see that it made my list in 2012 with oysters… It is nothing if not flexible! If you haven’t yet tried this, it is a must for rose fans and anyone that loves a great pairing!

A toast to you!

Gary Westby


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