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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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Entries in Pinot Noir (80)

Monday
Jul202009

Staff Tasting: Domestic Wines

 

Some customers are amazed that we can remember the aromatic and flavor profiles of so many different bottles of wine. “How do you guys know so much about so many different wines?” they ask us. The short answer is: we taste...a lot. Every Tuesday is staff tasting day and we have a cyclical schedule that goes by region. We hit the tasting bar in shifts and take as many notes as we can in the allotted time given to us. We make an effort to remember what we like and we pass that information on to our customers. For those of you who are not able to visit us locally, or who prefer to shop online, you can find many of those notes on the Staff Review page. I also thought blogging about these tastings to help highlight some of the wines that we are currently excited about. I hope I will be able to convey the excitement that I usually exude in person.

Our last tasting was a test in endurance as our domestic buyers delivered a flight of nearly 50 different products. Here are some of the standouts:

2007 Cesar Toxqui Cellars North Coast Pinot Noir ($14.99) Rich aromas with hints of wood and earth. A smooth, medium-bodied palate with vanilla notes. Supple and silky. A very good deal for the price.

2007 Joseph Swan “Cuvee de Trois” Russian River Pinot Noir ($26.99) A smooth entry, far less gritty and rustic than Swan’s other pinots, with soft cherry fruit and very subtle earthy flavors. This should be a slam dunk favorite with just about everyone.

2007 Willowbrook Mendocino Pinot Noir ($16.99) Soft, juicy, cherried-wine with depth and complexity. It really opens up on the palate after some time. A real bargain that gives the under-$20 Pinot category another great bottle to offer.

2007 Morgan “Twelve Clones” Santa Lucia Pinot Noir ($26.99) Always a great wine and this vintage is no different. Cherry and strawberry aromas are followed by more red fruit on the palate that balances with perfect acidity, weight, and structure. One of the best California Pinots from the vintage I have yet tasted.

2006 Thorne “Rio Vista” Santa Rita Hills Pinot Noir ($29.9930) My new favorite Pinot that we carry. It has a classic Burgundian nose with red berries, clove, baking spices and earth, with juicy cherry fruit on the palate. Firm acidity and a long, long finish. I can’t decide if I want to drink it all now or save some for later. What to do?

2007 Lang & Reed North Coast Cabernet Franc ($19.99) Bell pepper aromas let you know that this is real Cab Franc. Supple red berry fruit on the palate with black pepper notes and tannins that grip. More Loire-like in style but with riper fruit. Very nice.

2006 Tamarack Cellars Columbia Valley Merlot ($23.99) This is the bottle that will help to revive Merlot’s tarnished reputation. Toasty aromas, juicy fruit, a luscious full-bodied palate and a restrained use of oak. Structured, but showing beautifully. I can’t wait to tell everyone how good it is.

1999 Mayacamas Napa Merlot ($49.99) The most interesting bottle I’ve tasted in some time, and maybe the best older pure Merlot I’ve ever had. Tangy, earthy, but still showing some fruit. Perfectly balanced and wonderfully aged. This should impress the hell out of Old World drinkers.

2007 Waters “Interlude” Walla Walla Red Blend ($26.99) Washington is the source of practically every great red blend I have tasted recently. The Waters displays rich black fruit with that classic violet tinge on the palate. Structured, but still very smooth and graceful. This wine is outstanding and should please just about anyone who likes anything red.

2006 Ridge Santa Cruz Mountains Red ($34.99) I would buy this wine every year without tasting it because it has never failed me. The 2006 is more tightly wound, however, than the ’05 and should be decanted for a few hours or stored away for a few years. All the flavor is still there - the black currant, the earth and the chewy tannins. It just needs a little air to reveal itself.

2005 Mount Eden “Saratoga Cuvee” Santa Cruz Mountains Cabernet Sauvignon ($24.99) Like the Ridge, I’ve found that this wine is 100% dependable, even though the vintages are very different from one another. This year’s offering is more earthy and mineral, but it tastes exactly like Mt. Eden made it. It’s that classic gravel and earth that I tasted in the 1995 Estate bottle I had last week. Delicious.

2002 Joseph Swan “Lone Redwood” Russian River Zinfandel ($15.99) Rustic, gritty and tangy with underlying earth. Just what you expect from Swan’s unfiltered Zins. Delicious. Always a deal.

2007 Mauritson Dry Creek Zinfandel ($22.99) Big, thick and tannic Zinfandel that’s still showing plenty of rich red fruit. I was expecting a big Port-like monster and instead I got really well-made wine. This is the most interesting Zin I’ve had in some time and I will make sure to point it out to everyone.

2008 Palmina Pinot Gris ($14.99) Solid wine with firm acidity and citrus fruit that is perfectly balanced. Crisp, clean and refreshing with depth and complexity. A very good domestic option for PG.

2007 Mount Eden “Wolff Vineyard” Chardonnay ($17.99) Once again, Mount Eden makes great wine. A wonderful balance of barrel aging, honeyed fruit, and crisp acidity makes for tasty Chardonnay that doesn’t overpower or bore. This is the California style that I want to show out-of-towners. Don’t miss out.

2008 Seven Hills Columbia Valley Riesling ($11.99) Bursting with apricot, this off-dry Riesling is fresh with crisp acidity and more cocktail fruit on the palate. Perfect for Asian dishes or other spicy foods. Load up. At this price it rivals its German counterparts.

David Driscoll

 

Wednesday
Oct222008

K&L Seeks Redemption

Redemption

Editor's Note: We here at K&L pride ourselves on having the inside track on great new wines coming to market, particularly small production wines like this new project: Redemption. Interested in learning more about their tasty new addition to our inventory, the 2007 Redemption Monterey County Pinot Noir, we put together some questions from proprietor Chris Cutler. Here is what he had to say. K&L: How did you decide on the name Redemption for your new label? How does the concept of redemption inform the winemaking decisions you make? Chris Cutler: Redemption is a term that I hold near and dear. To me, it signifies new beginnings, persistence, hard work, focus and victory. It's a positive thing--a chance to prove your worth. I don't view Redemption as a type of punishment, or in the negative light, like "revenge" or "vengeance." What I have learned is that Redemption means something personal to everyone I speak with. To some, it has a very spiritual, biblical connotation. To others, it is the liberating feeling of getting even. To others, it is simply the nickel you get back when you return an aluminum can. That's ok with me. In fact, it is exactly how I think people should feel about wine. It is a personal thing. Colors, smells, and tastes of wine conjure up completely different images and descriptions based on an individual's own personal experiences. There is no right or wrong answer--only subjective interpretations. The artists I work with are given full creative authority to express how they view Redemption. It has been really fun seeing what they come up with and I look forward to future releases so I can continue to include new artists in the creative process. In the actual winemaking process, "Redemption" has to do with discipline, commitment to the best quality product and to constantly try and make a better wine. Each year at harvest new batches of grapes are picked, which will have similar characteristics as their predecessors due to consistent soil and climate (terroir) conditions. However, each new vintage "redeems" itself with personal character traits that belong entirely to that particular place and time. It's a beautiful cycle that keeps us coming back year after year to explore the nuances of each wine we drink. K&L: Your website and the materials you sent talk about the confluence of art and culture and wine; how do these things come together for you? How do you choose the artists you'd like to represent the wines. CC: This is discussed briefly above. I think the bottom line is that art, culture and wine are all forms of artistic expression. Small changes to a painting, sculpture, song, movie, or barrel of wine will tremendously affect the outcome of each. They all represent a time and place and take on different meanings to the observer. I select the artists involved in the Redemption project based on their design sensibility as well as their ability to work with different mediums. For instance, Gary Taxali, who designed the first label for the '07 Monterey Pinot, did so by first silk-screening onto a dusty book he found in an antique store in Rome. He is a master at taking distressed materials (paper, canvas, book covers, etc) and bringing them to life with different textures and whimsical images. He then brought in icons, the "simple formula" for victory and his own personality to create a design that people can gather around and discuss over an intimate evening. My next artist, Thomas Campbell, is a self-taught photographer, filmmaker, music producer, sculptor, painter, surfer and doodler. I was thrilled to receive his support for the project and eager to see what he would come up with for his label. The finished result is a sewn-together collage of Chinese currency, symbolic stamps and clips from his own paintings, which achieve a balance indicative of our wines at Redemption. K&L: Describe the winemaking philosophy at Redemption. Do you use native yeasts? What is the barrel program like? Do you fine and filter? CC: Our goal is to strike a balance between "Old World," food-friendly wines with finesse but in a "New World" style, meaning deeper color and slightly bigger mouthfeel. In order to retain acidity, we pick at the crack of dawn, we then hand-sort, leaving some full berry clusters, then use 25% new oak (75% "neutral") so as to show off the varietal characteristics of our wines. There is a slight amount of filtering at the beginning of our production process, but so far we have not found the need to fine before bottling. K&L: What did you do before you got into the wine business? CC: I spent two years after college living and working around the world. I taught English in Korea, I opened a hostel in Malaysia, I surfed in Peru and sailed home from Costa Rica. I think I spent a lot of time avoiding the inevitable, which was the next five years of working in technology systems and sales for start-ups and established firms here in Northern California. Seeking Redemption, I entered the MBA program at Stanford GSB in 2002. I studied various business models, industries and professional options. It seemed to me that most people at business school were tired of investment banking or management consulting and looking to switch to private equity or venture capital. I wanted nothing to do with any of these things. I was drawn to the wine business and wanted to find a way to own a winery without the usual $10M needed to buy land, grow grapes and compete for shelf space. I left business school the summer between my first and second year and started a boutique private label business called Canvas Wines. As a "negociant," I would gather requirements from clients, deal with compliance issues, then bottle and deliver a finished product, thus making it possible for hotels, restaurants and corporate gift buyers to create their own brand of wine without all the hassles of winery ownership. The business went well and I ultimately sold rights to the brand which enabled me to focus efforts on my passions, which are art and Pinot Noir... Redemption. K&L: How did your experience living abroad influence the style of wine you seek to make? CC: I guess the one thing I strive to achieve with my wines is balance. I want the wine to be food-friendly, which means nice acidity, not too much alcohol or over-bearing fruit. This is consistent with the Old World mentality and wines I have tasted throughout France, Italy and Spain. That said, I would be lying if I didn't also want the wine to stand out, show-off a little bit, in a Robert Parker, New World sort-of way. This is most likely due to the exposure I have had to wines from Chile, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand and right here in Northern California. K&L: Do you plan to branch out to other varietals? CC: Presently, we are focusing on Pinot Noir from the best appellations in California. I do not see usbranching out any time soon. K&L: What are your production goals? How many different wines and how many cases of each? CC: We only bottled 392 cases in 2008. We will do 1,000 cases in 2009--half from Mission Ranch Vineyard in Arroyo Seco (Monterey), and the other half from one other vineyard source in Northern California (cannot disclose yet). Our goal is to have 3,000 cases by 2010 from 3-5 vineyards. We will continue to best represent the earth and elements of the appellation we are bottling, continue to support innovative artists and continue to have as much fun as possible in the meantime.

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