cabernet franc

Clos du Val, Napa Valley

by Stevie on April 11, 2012

the Three Graces

the Three Graces

We’ve been to Clos du Val in Napa Valley many times over the years and always had fun. Most recently we had a lovely wine tasting and picnic event with some marvelous fellow bloggers from the Bay Area and Sacramento. Actually, Hegui selected this place for our picnic as we have such fond memories.

The facility is gorgeous Napa. A huge ivy covered building surrounded by vineyards with the romantic mountain range in the background boasting stunning rocky escarpments. This visit I had time to really look at the display vineyard in front where they demonstrate numerous styles of vine training: spur, head, cane and cordon spur all with various spacing. It was quite interesting though I wonder how one actually decides which training style works for their vineyard? With so many options available, it must be an art.

Inside the tasting room is spacious and elegant. We had called ahead so had a large table in the adjoining “Pinot Room,” at least I think that’s what our charming host, Linden, called the place.

The winery has what for Napa is a long and prestigious history. Founded in 1970 by John Portet, they had a bottle of their 1972 cabernet sauvignon (their first wine ever released) selected for what became that famous Paris Tasting in 1976. The web site is splashy and to me at least seemed a bit over-the-top with the various oversized fonts, blinking images and statements with all the intense bullet points. Certainly it doesn’t reflect how I feel about Clos du Val, which is more elegant and almost homey. That is if my family lived in an opulent mansion in wine country. Here’s an example of what I mean from their “vision” page:

It has been said that we at Clos Du Val ‘march to the beat of our own drum’, and if our founding principles of individuality, independence and expressionism are a bad thing, we respectfully disagree.

To someone like me visiting this winery, who is not an expert on cabernet of any stripe, identifying the “individuality, independence and expressionism” is tough, as the place seems like grand old-school Napa to my naïve eyes. But ultimately I have to agree with them, that’s not “a bad thing.”

a lovely garden wraps around the trellis demonstration at Clos du Val

a lovely garden wraps around the trellis demonstration at Clos du Val

Clos du Val trellis demonstration

Clos du Val trellis demonstration guide

the grand vine-covered tasting room

the grand vine-covered tasting room

We tried two tastings, a mix of reds and whites and another red-only reserve tasting. Overall the group really liked these wines. I bought a couple bottles and even impulsively joined their club when Linden gave me a discount and waived all of our tasting fees. Since I liked the wines, it seemed to make sense at the time.

another group of three graces

another group of three graces

2010 Sauvignon Blanc, Napa Valley: Very pale yellow with a citrusy nose, esp. grapefruit. It was crisp, had good body and as expected lovely citrus and even some tropical flavors.

2009 Reserve Chardonnay: A transparent golden color with green apple leading to lovely yellow fruit and mineral notes with a good finish.

2009 Pinot Noir, Carneros: Ruby red with rich spices leading to red fruit, loam and minerals, well balanced with good body and finish. This is quite different from the Russian River Valley, but delightful just the same.

2008 Reserve Pinot Noir, Carneros: This one spent 14 months in oak. Also ruby with vanilla, spice, red fruit. This is smooth, with medium body and a long finish. If I understand correctly, this wine is not made every year.

2009 Merlot, Napa Valley: Black color with rich red fruit, good body and finish, everyone enjoyed it.

2008 Three Graces: A Bordeaux style blend of Cabernet Sauvignon (90%), Merlot (6%) and the rest split between petit verdot and cabernet franc. Linden claimed that it is his favorite in the line-up. These three daughters of Zeus are sort of the mascots for the winery and appear on all their labels. They’re supposed to represent independence of mind, body and spirit.

The wine itself was a dark red with a rich nose of red stone fruit, tobacco, forest floor, and toffee. It had ample fruit and exciting spicy notes on the good finish. Only 10 barrels were produced.

2007 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, Stags Leap District: This is 94% cab with the rest, merlot. This was my favorite. An almost black color with lots of dark fruit, vanilla and spice with supple tannins and bursting with flavor on the long finish, it doesn’t get any better than this.

2007 Clos du Val Stags Leap District Cabernet Sauvignon

2007 Clos du Val Stags Leap District Cabernet Sauvignon

2000 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon: 88% cab, the rest, merlot and is it cabernet franc? This one was offered to get a sense of how the wines age. It was black in color. The nose had green bell pepper, dirt and tobacco, spice and perhaps that V-8 juice quality that I sometimes detect. This led to red fruit, full body with supple texture and a long finish.

1997 Cabernet Sauvignon: this is 100% cab. Red to black in color, Hegui thought that it smelled of “dirty socks.” Certainly it did have that green pepper and earth nose. The fruit’s still detectable with a good finish. The wine had an interesting mineral/metallic flavor we enjoyed.

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We were originally turned onto Robert Young by our good friend, Ben. We went for a wine country excursion there about six or seven years ago. He recommended them as it was our first trip ever to Healdsburg and Anderson Valley and we didn’t know what to expect. Robert Young really made an impression. Sadly, we hadn’t the chance to return until the past couple months when our great friends, Karen and Veronica, visited from Reno. We had three days of Sonoma wine country, so we mixed it up with the Russian River Valley, Healdsburg area and Anderson Valley. Naturally I suggested Robert Young.

welcome to Robert Young Estate Winery

welcome to Robert Young Estate Winery

The first thing that I always notice on the curvy ride to this fine winery is its sheer beauty. I know that I’m frequently telling our readers about the loveliness of wine country, but here it isn’t hyperbole. The views of the valley, the hillside and the charming Young home are post-card perfect. Our pictures don’t do the place justice at all.

Alexander Valley view

Alexander Valley view

the Young home with some gardens

the Young home with some gardens

The Youngs still own the winery and surrounding property. It has been in the family for five generations and has seen a number of changes: they used to produce cattle, grow wheat and even prunes before Robert Young was persuaded to plant grapes in the early sixties. It is the classic California story.
Best known for cabernet sauvignon and Bordeaux style blends, they also have a number of enchanting chardonnays—can you believe I’m even writing that?!?

The tasting room is tiny and pleasantly intimate. Since we were in a group of four, we shared the regular and the small lot tastings between us. Pat Warren, the current winemaker, Kevin Warren’s wife, was our tasting room guide. She’s a real fan and her enthusiasm was contagious.

some grapes on the vine at Robert Young

some grapes on the vine at Robert Young

I’ll list the chards first followed by the reds:

2008 Alexander Valley Chardonnay: A transparent golden yellow with a lovely creamy texture that bordered on buttery but wasn’t quite there. Lots of yellow fruit.

2009 Alexander Valley Chardonnay: A pale transparent yellow with really nice tropical fruit and green apple notes.

2009 Area 27 Chardonnay: A pale transparent yellow with a green grape nose, this was crisp, fresh and full of delightful fruit.

2009 Barrel Select Chardonnay: More richly colored than the Area 27 with ultraripe apricot and peach, and some vanilla, this was rich and creamy with a long finish.

Robert Young merlot

Robert Young merlot

Robert Young winery interior

Robert Young winery interior


2007 Alexander Valley Merlot: Red to purple with highlights of scorched earth and overripe tomatoes, it had medium body, refined tannins and a somewhat bitter finish.

2008 Alexander Valley Merlot: Deep red with a subtle nose, it had medium body, refined tannins.

2008 Alexander Valley Petit Verdot: This 100% Petit Verdot was a purple to black with a caramel nose, chewy tannins and a long finish. This had all the stuffing!

2008 Big Block Cabernet Franc: A dark red to purple with an exciting smoky aromatic nose full of red berries, plum with rich tannins and a good finish.

2006 Scion Cabernet Sauvignon: This is a blend of 80% cab, 10% merlot, 7% cab franc and the rest, petit verdot. Purple black in color with a V8-juice nose we detected rich fruit, mineral with a long finish. This is good drinks.

Robert Young Scion

Robert Young Scion

2007 Scion Cabernet Sauvignon: Red to purple with lots of ripe red fruit, chewy tannins, this was delish.

2008 Bob’s Burn Pile Cabernet Sauvignon: 100% cab, this was a dark red to purple with eucalyptus, V8, vanilla, clove on the nose with great fruit, smooth rich supple tannins and a long finish. Mmmm.

So that’s it for our wine country excursions in 2011. It’s been a great year for us, and we hope for you, too. Can’t wait to see where we’ll visit in 2012. Happy New Year!!!

winery humor

winery humor

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welcome to Hanna Winery and Vineyards

welcome to Hanna Winery and Vineyards

Founded by Dr. Elias S. Hanna, a cardiologist, in the 1970’s, Hanna is truly a magnificent wine country experience. Located in Alexander Valley quite near the charming town of Healdsburg, this place has everything: stunning views, great wine, marvelous hospitality and that wow-factor which all combine for an amazing experience.

see the gentle vine-covered  slopes at Hanna Winery and Vineyards

see the gentle vine-covered slopes at Hanna Winery and Vineyards

more steeply terraced vineyard at Hanna

more steeply terraced vineyard at Hanna

is this a Sound-of-Music moment or what

is this a Sound-of-Music moment or what?

We on the weirdcombos tasting crew have been fans for ages. We first tasted at Hanna about a half-decade ago on a Healdsburg visit ending with a fabo meal at Cyrus. We were thrilled to be back recently. And if anything, Hanna has gotten even better in the interim, if that’s even possible.

The first thing that anyone ever notices at Hanna is the breathtaking hills and views of the valley. They are truly picture perfect. We visited on a gorgeously sunny day that wasn’t too hot—always a perfect mix. Inside, the tasting room is spacious with lovely high ceilings. There’s a bit of that wineries-like-shopping-malls thing going on here but I sort of liked it. The delightful Carol assisted us with our tasting. Since we were a group of four, we tried both Flagship and Reserve wines while sharing. As per our usual, we skipped the whites, which now I regret after reading that the current Hanna President, Christine Hanna, has spent a large part of her career developing and promoting their sauvignon blanc. Oh well, maybe Santa Claus will think of me and forward a bottle or two.

Hanna tasting room

Hanna tasting room

gorgeous view from the picnic area

gorgeous view from the picnic area

cheery flowers

cheery flowers

perhaps if those agave do well, then Hanna can branch out into tequila

perhaps if those agave do well, then Hanna can branch out into tequila

Hanna tasting room interior

Hanna tasting room interior

2009 Pinot Noir: rusty red in color with lots of cherry on the nose, leading to more luscious sour cherry fruit, black tea with medium body. Good.

Two Ranch Red: I’m not certain but believe this blend that Carol characterized as having everything but “the kitchen sink” might be non-vintage. It does have a wild mix of grapes, apparently the leftovers from the Reserve wines. Per their site, it includes: zinfandel, cabernet sauvignon, merlot, cabernet franc, syrah, petit sirah, pinot noir and malbec. That’s nuts! We all enjoyed the wine.

A brownish red color with a beautiful toasty nose of red fruit and toffee, led to a powerful tasting red fruit rich wine with a pleasant peppery and mineral finish. Yum.

2007 Bismark Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon: An opaque purple to black, we all loved this wine. Tobacco notes led to lovely blackberry, refined tannins and a silken texture.

2007 Hanna Bismark Mountain Titan

2007 Hanna Bismark Mountain Titan

2007 Petit Sirah: This one wasn’t on our tasting menu, but since it was open already, Carol gracefully offered it us. Opaque red to purple with lovely sour metallic and minerally nose, we detected rich red fruit, vanilla, smoke and a hint of pepper with supple tannins.

2006 Bismark Mountain Syrah: Opaque purple with a hint of green pepper, red and blue stone fruit, leather, shoe polish and mineral with supple tannins and a good finish.

2006 Bismark Mountain Cabernet Franc: A deep rusty red, full of red cherry and other jammy berries and pepper, this tasted almost fizzy.

2007 Bismark Mountain Titan: This is a blend of malbec 29%, petit verdot, cabernet franc, cabernet sauvignon and merlot. I loved it. Carol called it “our Bordeaux.”

An opaque black, it had a beautiful smell with hints of menthol. This wine was very rich with wonderful tannins, lots of blue fruit and a bit of a chalky drying finish which suggested that it could benefit from more time in cellar.

2007 Bismark Mountain Zinfandel: Rusty red with the aroma of red berries, this was full of red fruit, vanilla with that lovely and long peppery finish that one expects in a zin.

Late Harvest Sauvignon Blanc: So I was mistaken above, we did try some Hanna sauvignon blanc, the sweet version. A cloudy pale orange color with a nose of over-ripe peaches, nectarines and jammy guava paste, it was only mildly sweet, full of yellow stone fruits and a hint of fig paste with a good finish.

So that’s it. If you have only one place to visit in Alexander Valley, then Hanna should be at the top of your list.

these vineyards almost look like the makings of an abstract painting

these vineyards almost look like the makings of an abstract painting

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welcome to Denner

welcome to Denner


Denner, like Booker, Caliza, Brian Benson and a few others, has been in the spotlight lately. As a result, it was a must-see while we visited Paso Robles last month, though since everyone else had the same idea, they were nearly tapped out of wine to try. Boo-hoo!

The Denner vineyards were planted in 1999. They’ve an excellent map and description of the property, grape varieties, etc. here. According to their site, about 45 of the 108 total planted acres ends up in Denner Estate wines. They sell the rest to other “ultra-premium producers” in the area, like Linne Calodo and JUSTIN. They’ve a whole range of Rhône and Bordeaux whites and reds on the vine.

The Denner winery, completed in 2005, is gorgeous. Apparently it uses gravity flow along the hillside to process grapes, and is one of the few in California that does. Visually stunning, too, it made our visit that much more enjoyable.

scenic view from the Denner winery

scenic view from the Denner winery

some of the Denner Vineyards

some of the Denner Vineyards

Denner tasting room interior

Denner tasting room interior


another view of the Denner tasting room

another view of the Denner tasting room

2008 Denner Mother of Exiles

2008 Denner Mother of Exiles

The tasting room is large and expansive. The staff was quite friendly and almost apologetic, for there were only two wines left to try:

2010 Viognier: This was a very pale clear yellow with lots of tropical fruit aromas, complex and full bodied, it opens up dramatically with lots of mineral, yellow fruit, peach and slight pepper notes. This was excellent.

2008 Mother of Exiles: The 2008 is the first release of this Bordeaux style blend of cabernet sauvignon, petit verdot and cabernet franc. An opaque deep purple red, it had a striking nose, rich velvety mouth-feel chock full of red fruit with medium body and a long finish. Good if not extraordinary.

I am a bit vexed about not being able to taste the syrah, so I’m flirting with joining their wine club to lay my hands on some. What do you think?

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The first thing that ever comes to mind when considering JUSTIN is why one always seems to see it written like that, in all-caps: J-U-S-T-I-N. That’s so loud and unnecessary. This place is JUSTI-fiably famous in Paso and elsewhere. The lettering is too in your face for my taste.

look at the Disney-style buildings on the JUSTIN campus

look at the Disney-style buildings on the JUSTIN campus

The next thing that I always think of is that my good friends, Whitney, and his father, Ken, are both members of the wine club here. That’s excellent both because these are generous friends who have let us try aged JUSTIN wines on more than one occasion, and since it let some of the weirdcombos go tasting in the exclusive members-only tasting room over the Paso Robles Zinfandel Festival weekend. What a double-treat!

no wonder the Baldwins moved here!  It is so lovely

no wonder the Baldwins moved here! It is so lovely

beautiful even in the rain

beautiful even in the rain


barrel room at JUSTIN

barrel room at JUSTIN


inside the members-only tasting room at JUSTIN.  Look at the incredible ceiling

inside the members-only tasting room at JUSTIN. Look at the incredible ceiling

JUSTIN (this is the last time for me in all-caps) specializes in Bordeaux blends of cabernet sauvignon, merlot and cabernet franc. Their flagship wine, Isosceles, is a blend of the three (hence the stylish name). According to William Ausmus, Deborah and Justin Baldwin purchased the land in the early Eighties and by the Nineties, their Isosceles was winning awards worldwide. The Baldwin story seems like an elegant fairytale, though of course, this isn’t fiction.

Whit was telling us that the winery etc. had recently been sold to a larger corporation but the Baldwins retain the opulent mansion on the property and continue to have a prominent role in the function of the place, sort of like what happened with Stag’s Leap in Napa. I don’t know the details beyond this report. If you know more, please write in and educate us.

For the wine tourist, this is a must-see destination. The Cadillac of Paso Robles wineries, Justin has everything: gorgeous tasting rooms, wine cellars and caves, an inn, a high-end restaurant, stunning scenery, you name it. We had such a great time on our visit. This is at the fancy end of the winery spectrum, so watch your credit cards, drive safely and have fun!

Triangles feature prominently in the décor, which I thought was cool bordering on Disneyland-ish. The members tasting room was buzzing on our visit. It has a massive fireplace, super-high ceilings with intricately carved decorations, access to the caves, and lots of interesting wines to try. The mob of members made things a little bit slow, but in a good way, since we were on vacation and had plenty of time.

2005 JUSTIN Isosceles reserve

2005 JUSTIN Isosceles reserve

We tried everything on the tasting menu, some of them a couple times each. I splurged and bought a magnum of the 2008 SAVANT (yup, all caps again) on Whitney’s membership, so I saved. I have seen Isosceles, Justification and some of these others in wine shops and on restaurant wine lists in San Francisco. Ausmes writes “Justin wines quite possibly enjoy the widest distribution of all Paso Robles wines” so perhaps you can look for these yourselves in your own backyard, though a visit here is a grand idea.

2009 Reserve Chardonnay: This transparent pale yellow was loaded with Bosch pear, floral notes, mineral, green apple with a creamy, full texture.

2008 Cabernet Sauvignon: Opaque red stuffed with dried herbs, red berries, vanilla and toast, it opened beautifully to reveal more red and black fruit, earth and spice with supple tannins.

2008 Zinfandel: Opaque purple with red highlights, this had caramel and dried herbs, blueberries, currants and pepper. Rich and full, with supple tannins, two thumbs up.

2008 JUSTIFICATION: a merlot and cabernet franc blend. Translucent purplish red. We noted fire, cedar, eucalyptus, herbs, currants, caramel, toffee, and red berries. Lots of chewy tannins.

2008 SAVANT: a syrah, cabernet sauvignon blend. Opaque purple, with tobacco, tar, leather, chocolate, red fruit, raspberry, blackberry; this one had a velvety texture that went on and on.

2008 ISOSCELES: This is the classic blend of cabernet sauvignon, merlot, cab franc and a could there really be petite verdot this vintage? Translucent red to purple, this had mossy, wet tree bark aromas. Full, smooth like cashmere, with a very long finish, it was rich in red fruit with some backbone.

some more enchanting vineyards at JUSTIN

some more enchanting vineyards at JUSTIN


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2005 Château d’Aiguilhe Côtes de Castillon

2005 Château d’Aiguilhe Côtes de Castillon

I bought a case of this red a few years ago in the heat of the 2005 vintage Bordeaux shopping frenzy. I was even more naïve about wine from that region then than I am now. That was the same year that I started taking Wine Spectator. They recommended the Château d’Aiguilhe from the somewhat obscure Côtes de Castillon.

The history of Château d’Aiguilhe is incredibly fascinating. According to their web site, there may have been a Gallo-Roman villa there originally. For a time the Knights Templar had a commandery at the same location. It was near the front of the Hundred Years War fought between the English and the French. It goes on and on! Amazing! I sometimes wish that we had such a long written history in California, though I suppose the down side is a lot of potential extra baggage. Oh well.

The von Neipperg family currently owns the place, and if anything, their family history is more complex and more illustrious than that of Château d’Aiguilhe. The family owns several properties in Saint Emilion and elsewhere as well, so know their stuff in terms of Bordeaux.

So that’s it: they’re rich in history, like lots of Bordeaux.

We tried a bottle of this wine a few years ago, but it was obviously too early. The tannins were impossible! I saved the helpful notes that were assembled by K&L when I bought it. They quote Robert Parker who recommended at that time to “Enjoy this superb bargain-priced claret over the next 8-10 years.” Wine Spectator took a longer view, recommending it at its “Best after 2016.” Confusing.

It was still highly tannic, so maybe we didn’t wait quite long enough yet.

2005 Château d’Aiguilhe Côtes de Castillon: 80% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Franc. Opaque purple black, the wine stained the glass. We noted powerful aromas of cedar or even freshly cut wood and forest floor. This medium bodied wine had chocolate and black cherry notes with a somewhat short finish. It is delicate yet fills your mouth with flavor. Hegui didn’t appreciate this at all and accused me of the same. I thought it was interesting. Luc, visiting with his family from San Jose that evening, said, “I like it though.”

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Trefethen, Napa County

by Stevie on November 22, 2010

It has been about seven years since the WC tasting crew has visited beautiful Trefethen Family Vineyards in the Oak Knoll AVA of Napa Valley. We waited too long!

welcome to Trefethen

welcome to Trefethen


some Trefethen vineyards in fall

some Trefethen vineyards in fall

The winery, on Oak Knoll Avenue between Highway 29 and Silverado Trail, is a magnificently lovely property in the fall. You enter through a handsome set of iron gates then pass down a long sycamore tree-lined drive past numerous vineyards all showing their autumn colors. There is a complex of buildings that you eventually arrive at surrounded by more vineyards and some elegant gardens. We were especially enchanted by the large cork tree that seemed to have grown many feet since our last visit. I always enjoy looking at the unusual antique farm/vineyard equipment that they have littered about the gardens, sort of like you would see modern sculpture at other places.

We couldn’t help but notice little signs here and there that said picnicking was not allowed. That was unfortunate since we brought a wonderful picnic with us. And it seemed a bit mean since the property was so grand and clearly had the room and enough lawn furniture to easily accommodate picnickers. Napa!

orignial Eschol Winery restored by the Trefethen family

orignial Eschol Winery restored by the Trefethen family

sculptural farm equipment at Trefethen

sculptural farm equipment at Trefethen


more colorful grapevines at Trefethen

more colorful grapevines at Trefethen

The tasting room and visitors center is housed in the first floor of the historic Eschol winery building that was placed on the National Register of Historic Places as the only 19th-century, wooden, gravity-flow winery surviving in Napa County in 1988.

Since Thanksgiving is just around the corner, the winery was decorated with a whole series of dramatic pumpkins and squash both inside and out. The interior that we were able to see was divided into at least three sections: one with the wine tasting area itself, another sort of greeting area and a third that was enclosed which contained numerous barrels for aging wine. I understand that it is possible to arrange a tour, though we didn’t that day.

They offer two kinds of tastings: the Estate and the Reserve. We tried both but drank only reds. There’s a fee for each ($10 for Estate, $25 for Reserve) that does not get waived unless you’re a wine club member.

Double T and 2003 Trefethen Cabernet Sauvignon

Double T and 2003 Trefethen Cabernet Sauvignon

The place was a bit crowded that Saturday afternoon. I think that there were about two or three-dozen visitors but only two staff offering tastings. Hegui and I were both a little cross about the lack of TLC. He likened it to a “factory.” We did like the wine, despite the crowd and flagrant picnic-unfriendliness.

2007 Cabernet Franc: This was a purple red color with a nose of chocolate, coffee and caramel. It had medium body with metallic notes on the fairly flat mid-palate followed by coffee and caramel on the lingering finish.

2006 Merlot: This one was purple black with a nose of tar and hints of green bell pepper. This was full-bodied. The texture was like cashmere with a long finish. It was fruity and really good.

2007 Double T Red Wine: This is a Bordeaux Blend “casual occasion wine” per Trefethen literature. It was deep purple. Hegui found the nose chalky and a little pinot noir barnyard like. This was full-bodied, fruity with some firm tannins. Hegui thought that the tannin was like “baking soda.” It could probably use some aging.

2006 Cabernet Sauvignon: This was deep purple. We noted scorched earth and maybe cedar on the nose. It had flavors of forest floor and dried herbs. It was full bodied with a long finish and supple tannins. Good.

2008 Pinot Noir: This was a brownish red color. Hegui thought that it smelled like South African pinotage with hints of banana leaf. It had medium body with a more full finish that highlighted the red fruit and a robust burst of pepper at the end.

2002 Library Cabernet Sauvignon: This wine was served from magnum. It was a deep red color with a nose of burnt coffee, dried plum and raisin. It had a rich taste that filled the mouth with an explosion of earth and fruit. The finish was very long. Neither of us would object if someone brought us a bottle or two sometime.

Trefethen cabernet and O-K-D Five

Trefethen cabernet and O-K-D Five

2003 Cabernet Sauvignon: This was poured from magnum and was only available in that format. It was deep purple with aromas of forest floor and cedar. This was full bodied but more reserved, structured and taught than the flamboyant 2002. We really liked this one. I purchased a magnum for later.

2007 O-K-D Five: This is 65% petit verdot, 21% malbec with other varieties blended in for the remainder. It was a purple black color with a nose of coffee, tar, tobacco, banana leaf, dirty socks and maybe armpit? It is deliciously good! We thought that it was very mellow and voluptuous. It had some metallic notes and a decent finish.

2006 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon: This wine was purple black in color. It comes from grapes grown on the hillside and is aged 20 months in French oak. We noted toffee, caramel and tar on the nose. It is full-bodied, supple with a long finish. Good!

do these vines produce red grapes?

do these vines produce red grapes?

what a perfect view from Trefethen!

what a perfect view from Trefethen!

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welcome to Inniskillin

welcome to Inniskillin

Hegui and I would never be satisfied with a vacation without finding an opportunity to go wine tasting. We had a real adventure last fall at Tarara Winery in Northern Virginia when we went to visit family in the D.C area. So why not in Ontario? My colleague and friend, Suma, grew up in Buffalo, so was all over the plan long before we departed.

Niagara-on-the-Lake is most famous for Ice wine, a rare and extremely unusual sweet ambrosia that originates in Germany. Owen Bird sings poetically of this drink in his German Riesling manifesto, Rheingold. Of course, we didn’t need a book to get us to Inniskillin: Suma was already in the know.

I didn’t realize this but the Niagara peninsula has a long history of fine wine production. Inniskillin was started in the Seventies, which is right around the time things started really happening in Napa Valley. The wine region is situated quite close to Niagara Falls, so a trip to one could obviously become a visit to both. That’s what we did, at any rate: wine tasting last Tuesday followed by a visit to the Falls on Wednesday.

charming Inniskillin property with tasting room in the background

charming Inniskillin property with tasting room in the background

glorious vineyards at Inniskillin

glorious vineyards at Inniskillin


Inniskillin tasting room

Inniskillin tasting room

The winery itself is lovely. They’ve a collection of beautifully remodeled and new buildings all clustered near one another surrounded by fields of grapes. It seemed especially exciting seeing the red and white Canadian flag waving in the wind as we drove up. You really felt that you’d gone somewhere new!

We didn’t take the tour though that did look a lot of fun. They also have an elegant restaurant, which we skipped as well. Instead we tasted a selection of both the still wines and Ice wines. Inniskillin offers tastings of the still wines for one Canadian dollar each. The Ice wines must be purchased as a group tasting and was a bit more expensive. Since we figured we wouldn’t be back anytime soon as we’re based in San Francisco, we splurged on the library Ice wine tasting flight for $35 Canadian.

2009 Winemakers Series Two Vineyards Riesling: This wine was a very pale transparent yellow with a nose of sweet peach and nectarine. It tasted of tart green apple, unripe peach with a minerally finish.

2008 Legacy Series Riesling: This was a transparent pale yellow that had tart yellow stone fruit, like peach and nectarine on the nose. It had a sweeter (though not really “sweet”) and more creamy texture than the first Riesling. This wine tasted almost “fizzy” with nectarine, sour apple, pepper and mineral notes.

Inniskillin 2007 Legacy Cabernet Franc

Inniskillin 2007 Legacy Cabernet Franc

2007 Winemakers Series Two Vineyards Merlot: This wine was a dense purple black. Hegui unflatteringly found the nose to be of “chicken pooh.” The thick tannins puckered our lips. The wine was smooth and very earthy full of dark red fruit. We liked this one and had it on several occasions while in Toronto.

2007 Reserve Series Cabernet Franc: This was a transparent brownish red with a mocha and tobacco nose. The wine had a pleasing supple mouth-feel with medium body. We noted lots of red berries. It had a creamy finish with supple tannins.

2008 Winemakers Series Two Vineyard Cabernet Franc: This was a transparent purple red. We noted cedar and dried herbs with medium body that was smooth. Was there a hint of sour cherry? The wine was pleasant.

2007 Legacy Series Cabernet Franc: This one was a dark brownish purple with a nose full of berry, ginger root, baking spice and dried herbs. The wine seemed a little rustic compared to the others. Hegui thought there was a distinctly “baking soda aftertaste.” This was our least favorite.

behold the Ice Wine grapes

behold the Ice Wine grapes

Now for the Ice wines! Not all of these were based on Riesling. One was a cabernet franc ice wine and two were based on vidal blanc, a hybrid of ugni blanc (AKA trebbiano) and seibel. “Matthew” served us these wines. He told us that they can sometimes successfully age up to thirty years!

1998 Riesling Ice Wine: This was transparent with a beautiful golden color. It had a dark brooding aroma of aging wood. The flavor was quite complex with ultra-ripe stewed apricot. It had beautiful structure. This is an exciting wine.

Inniskillin library ice wine tasting

Inniskillin library ice wine tasting

1986 Vidal Ice Wine: This was an opaque pale brown to caramel colored wine. We smelled ash, cooked prune, Italian plum, clove and nutmeg. The wine had notes of prune, sour cherry and spicebox.

1996 Oak Aged Vidal Ice Wine: This was a transparent caramel color. We noted apricot, very ripe guava and peach jam on the nose. This had a smooth long finish with caramel on the attack followed peach and apricots.

1995 Cabernet Franc Ice Wine: This was a cloudy brownish caramel color. It smelled of very ripe grape. The wine tasted sweeter than the other three. It had a creamy texture that was also thick and almost syrupy. We noted applesauce and some caramel.

Inniskillin was a great winery to visit, especially if you don’t have a lot of time and want to make the most of your experience. They offer a full range of wines, some of which are available for purchase in Toronto through LCBO. For the more rare ones, a visit to Niagara-on-the-Lake is a must!

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