grenache

Les Secrets de Pignan is the first Châteauneuf-du-Pape that Hegui and I tried and really noticed, if you know what I mean. It was the 2004. We were with these lovely friends who grew up in a French speaking part of Africa, so to show off a bit, we went to a little French bistro near our house, and randomly ordered off the wine menu. I don’t quite know how we settled on the 2004 Pignan, but I do know that I didn’t like it one bit; yet Hegui was in raptures. The waiter exclaimed that we made a good choice, though have you ever heard a waiter say otherwise? Me, neither.

2007 La Bastide Saint-Dominique Châteauneuf-du-Pape Les Secrets de Pignan

2007 La Bastide Saint-Dominique Châteauneuf-du-Pape Les Secrets de Pignan

To me then, it was way to tannic and drying. Hegui seemed to perceive something else. I was just getting excited about wine then, so looked around and bought three or four bottles, which I cellared for a year or so. Wow! What a difference a day makes! When we brought out the next one it literally blew both of us away: loaded with fruit, elegantly textured and with that curious Secrets de Pignan terroir, for lack of a better word, we were floored.

So we’ve become fans of the wine.

I’ve been wondering a lot about wine quality lately, ever since I read that Robert Parker biography. He’s the famous American wine critic who put the 100-point wine rating scale on the map and is so looked to for wine reviews that supposedly Bordeaux producers are reluctant to release their wines until he’s had a chance to taste and score them. Apparently the price changes so much with a favorable number that his comments are worth their weight in gold.

The book has this one anecdote in which Manfred Krankl sent his first ever bottle of what became the cult-winery Sine Qua Non to Parker in Maryland. The critic liked the wine. Allegedly he called Krankl to praise it and recommended that he get a business number and address before the next edition of the Wine Advocate was released, as he suspected that he’d be bombarded by requests and telephone calls. Krankl did, and was, and now is famous. He even appeared on the cover of Wine Spectator, that other wine magazine, last year.

Beyond the idea that people are influenced by numbers and famous critics, is another part of the wine-lovers story. Parker liked Krankl’s and in effect promoted it. He did this with modern styled Bordeaux, especially certain winemakers from St. Emilion, the so-called garagistes. He’s a huge fan of Northern Rhône, particularly the fairly-obscure-until-Parker-started-writing-about-it-like-crazy Guigal Côte Rôtie wines, like La Mouline, La Landonne and La Turque. Never produced in large volumes, the prices of these wines sky-rocketed once Americans listened to Parker’s advice. But my point here is that according to the book, Parker likes the Guigals, buys them for his own cellar and drinks them with pleasure year after year. So these wines are good, but also seem to have an emotional resonance with him.

And that is how we feel about Secrets de Pignan. We’ve learned with the 2004, been dismayed by the 2005, and have begun to enjoy the voluptuous 2007. The wine is good. But in addition to that, it seems to play a role in our vinous emotional lives.

We had a bottle of the 2007 last Saturday as a celebration for the completion of the semi-annual “heavy cleaning.” Hegui and I take the beds apart, move all the furniture out of the way and he steam-cleans all the carpets. We’ve wall-to-wall in most rooms plus about five medium to largish oriental rugs. It is a real ordeal deserving of a medal and a night on the town, though we’re always too tired for anything more than a simple meal and some wine.

This bottle opened with a funky aroma that, thankfully, dissipated. It was slightly fizzy right form the bottle but settled down with decanting. It had a good aroma of ripe berry, cherry. These carried over to the taste, with the addition of some juicy pomegranate notes. I read on Cellartracker some commentator describing the end of the mid-palate taste like ruby red grapefruit—which I sort of get. This wine consistently has an unusual taste that is hard to pin down. Full bodied, and almost thick, with a good finish, I’m glad that we ordered a case of this to watch it develop.

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Linne Calodo, Paso Robles

by Stevie on April 27, 2011

We went to Linne Calodo on our wine tasting, zinfandel festival weekend in Paso Robles with our great friend, Whitney. If you’ve been following our blog lately, then you’ve been reading a lot about Paso Robles wines. Linne Calodo used to by co-owned by Justin Smith, now of Saxum fame. Former partner, Matt Trevisan, retained Linne Calodo, which has been quite a success, too.

outside Linne Calodo tasting room

outside Linne Calodo tasting room

welcome to Linne Calodo

welcome to Linne Calodo


I wanted to research it a bit more for this story but the LC site is maddeningly vague about details. What is clear is that they want any potential visitors to make an appointment first, that the wines are sold out right now and that if you want them, then you should probably sign up for their club. This seems to be the Paso Robles story these days. Booker and Denner had almost no juice left and forget about Saxum. I’ve been on that waiting list for three years already and still get charming e-mails from them every four to six months humbly apologizing to me about the continued wait, but alas, I must continue to wait. Of course, Andy Warhol is right: “The idea of waiting for something makes it more exciting.” But by golly, it sure is exasperating, too.

Linne Calodo has a super attractive ultra modern tasting room that is only a couple years old. Their wines are primarily zinfandel and Rhône style blends. Each has an incredible name, and like kukkula, a story behind it. The labels for the Linne Calodo bottles could out-compete most wineries for style and chic. We enjoyed pretty much everything that we tasted. Compared to other good producers, like Caliza or Tablas Creek, for example, LC’s prices seemed a bit higher. I guess that makes everyone happy, since they’re essentially sold-out.

inside Linne Calodo tasting room

inside Linne Calodo tasting room

2009 Linne Calodo Rising Tides

2009 Linne Calodo Rising Tides

2009 Rising Tides: a blend of mourvèdre, syrah and Grenache. This is translucent purple with medium body. We detected tar, earth, rhubarb and red fruit, with mineral and pepper bringing up the good finish.

2008 Screwball: a blend of syrah, Grenache and mourvèdre. This is named in homage to Eric Jensen of Booker. It was opaque purple with a nose of over-ripe veggies, red fruit and cabbage. It tasted round and full with lots of fruit, some pepper and fine tannins.

2009 Problem Child: zinfandel, syrah and mourvèdre. The name comes from the first vintage of this wine. There was a stuck fermentation, which caused some difficulty. Translucent purple with red currant, dry California forest on the nose leading to fresh red and purple fruit, some spice and earth with excellent balance. We liked this one a lot.

2009 Sticks and Stones: Grenache, mourvèdre and syrah. Translucent purple with herbal notes and rosepetal had refined tannins on a smooth medium body that featured lots of juicy red fruit.

2009 Outsider: zinfandel, syrah and mourvèdre. Also translucent purple with exciting leather, dried herb and fruit notes leading to a very full bodied, rounder than Problem Child, earthy peppery wine that reminded us of good Super-Tuscans.

2009 Linne Calodo Sticks and Stones

2009 Linne Calodo Sticks and Stones


2008 Linne Calodo Screwball

2008 Linne Calodo Screwball

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welcome to Brian Benson Cellars

welcome to Brian Benson Cellars

We’ve been itching to get to Brian Benson at least since 2009. We tasted his wines at the Paso Robles wine festival that summer and were sold. I enjoyed his 2005 Denner Vineyard Syrah so well that I ordered a case.

Like Caliza and Booker, Brian Benson recently enjoyed high praise in the pages of Wine Spectator. The three also happen to have their tasting rooms quite near one-another, which makes a fun visit that much easier.

The magazine refers to BB as “the Mechanic” apparently due to his fascination with hot rods. The wine tasting room definitely had an adolescent-fantasy auto mechanic feel: sort of dark, painted in a solid deep red; with lots of posters of cars and various peculiar images that you could imagine as templates for pimping your car. It was not my style, though I could see the appeal for some.

Brian was there on our visit but we didn’t really get the chance to talk to him. Instead we were helped by a lovely young woman who I have to assume is romantically involved with him, as they were snuggling and making out behind the bar at various times during our visit. It was sort of cute though after a while I felt like I was intruding on something personal, which seemed awkward.

At any rate, many of the wines were good. Unfortunately they had sold out of the 2007 S & M, a blend of syrah and mourvedre, hence the name. I know that was good since I ordered a couple bottles for a friend over the holidays.

inside Brian Benson Cellars

inside Brian Benson Cellars


I wouldn't mind a car like this

I wouldn't mind a car like this


look at the wall color

look at the wall color

Kandy Red: This wine comes in candy-striped bottles reminiscent of race cars. A blend of zinfandel, Grenache and mourvedre, it is candy in a glass: sort of strawberry Twizzler like.

2007 cabernet sauvignon: This opaque reddish purple had a nose of camphor and cherry, medium body, berry flavors and some spice on the finish.

flashy bottles of Brian Benson Kandy Red

flashy bottles of Brian Benson Kandy Red

is this how you might feel after too much 2007 Brian Benson S and M

is this how you might feel after too much 2007 Brian Benson S and M?

2005 Syrah Denner Vineyard: This is the wine that we had a case of. It had lost some of its leathery qualities with a bit of age. This was smooth with interesting berry, tobacco, coffee and toffee notes.

2006 Syrah Denner Vineyard: This one was an opaque purple with candied blueberries and sawdust, medium body, mulberry, plum, red fruit, a hint of leather and some brisk acidity.

2007 Syrah Denner Vineyard: Also an opaque purple with dried herbs, vanilla, red fruit esp. cherry and coffee notes. This is more fruit-forward in style with interesting complexity.

2007 Syrah Glenrose Vineyard: This is an opaque purple black with red fruit and subtle mineral notes. We tasted earth, stone fruit and sarsaparilla. It has a creamy texture and a pleasing somewhat bitter finish. I really liked it and got a couple bottles to take.

this is sort of cool, isn't it

this is sort of cool, isn't it?

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kukkula, Paso Robles

by Stevie on April 20, 2011

welcome to kukkula

welcome to kukkula


Well, we’ve finally made it to kukkula! I’ve been looking forward to this day for ages, ever since we tasted their wines at the Paso Robles wine festival in 2009 and 2010. Our good friends, Aime and Whitney, knowing my admiration for all things kukkula, even sent me a couple bottles of their delicious Lothario, a southern Rhône blend.

They’d been building a tasting room for a while, which finally opened last year. It was worth the wait as the building is really beautiful.

“Kukkula” means “high place” in Finnish. It is an apt name, as the winemaker/owner, Kevin Jussila, comes from a Finnish background, and like most of West Paso, the place is really hilly. It was a bit hectic the day that we visited. They’ve only been open a short time, so it could be that they’re still getting the kinks out of the procedures in the tasting room. Plus it was Paso Zinfandel Festival weekend, so it might have been more crowded than normally.

a steep vineyard at kukkula

a steep vineyard at kukkula


I just can't get over these wavy hills

I just can't get over these wavy hills

kukkula owner Kevin Jussila

kukkula owner Kevin Jussila


In any event, it was a bit loud and disorganized: I wrote “frenetic” in my tasting notes. And really it was an almost carnival atmosphere. This didn’t meet my fantasy of a sedate, spare and elegant Scandinavian wine experience, but no matter. And it is naughty to stereotype: bad boy!

There is a tasting fee, which they waive with a purchase. They were super nice about letting us re-try things and allowed us to sample wines not on the official menu.

2009 vaalea: This is a blend of viognier, roussanne and Grenache blanc. This was a very pale transparent yellow with orange blossom, green apple and floral notes with sharp Granny Smith and mineral flavors.

2006 i. p. o.: This amusing wine is named “initial public offering” as it was the first blend that kukkula produced. Made of cabernet sauvignon, syrah and zinfandel, it was purplish red with lots of mineral, dried herbs and earth on the nose, full bodied and luscious with red fruit and pepper at the end.

2006 in the red: another commentary on the wine business, this wine was named before the profits started coming into the winery. A blend of cabernet sauvignon and syrah, it was a purple red color with dried herbs and garrigue, mushrooms and more earth on the nose. Full bodied with red and purple fruit and lots of mineral notes. I liked it a lot.

Pas de deux: a non-vintage blend of Grenache and syrah, was a purple red with a nose of warm clay and dry herbs. It tasted round with lots of fruit and caramel, with hints of coffee and a long warm finish.

2007 kukkula sisu

2007 kukkula sisu

2007 kukkula in the red

2007 kukkula in the red


2006 sisu: “Sisu” means “tenacity” or “patience and perseverance.” A syrah, Grenache and morvedre blend, it was purplish red. This had a peculiar nose of V8 juice or perhaps over ripe tomato with white pepper. It had a lot of berry flavors, earth and more pepper. Full bodied with a good finish, this was creamy and smooth with supple tannins.

2008 Lothario: This is a blend of Grenache, mourvedre and zinfandel. It was a transparent brownish red with cherry, toast and dried herbs that led to a medium bodied wine with supple tannins, red fruit, and some peppery notes on a good finish.

2007 lagniappe: This is a blend of Grenache, mourvedre, zinfandel and syrah: translucent purple red with dry herbs, thyme, and a hint of raspberry that led to more red fruit, lots of pepper, candied berries and vanilla.

2008 lagniappe: Translucent purplish red with a bright raspberry and tobacco nose, red fruit and berries like cherry and raspberry. It was creamy and finished with coconut flavors. This was more fruit-forward than the 2007.

subtle advertizing

subtle advertizing

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Caliza Winery, Paso Robles

by Stevie on April 13, 2011

Caliza is one of the lucky few Paso Robles wineries to be mentioned with high praise recently in the pages of Wine Spectator. The magazine referred to the winemakers/owners, Pam and Carl Bowker, as the “new kids on the block.” Pam alluded to that on our recent tasting visit. Comfortably past childhood (husband Carl is 53 according to the magazine. Of course I’d never ask a lady her age, but WS is shameless and published hers. You’ll have to look for the article, as I remain a gentleman.) Pam quipped that “old kids” might be more like it.

welcome to Caliza

welcome to Caliza

a hilly Caliza vineyard on an overcast day

a hilly Caliza vineyard on an overcast day


We trooped over to Caliza after our picnic lunch at Booker. They’re quite nearby and we walked comfortably, even with little Jake in tow.

Pam says that, like Booker, the glowing review has significantly increased traffic to their tasting room. Certainly it had an exciting hum that day. (It happened to be Zinfandel weekend, too.)

we really enjoyed the Caliza Azimuth

we really enjoyed the Caliza Azimuth

Caliza, which means “limestone” in Spanish, practices sustainable agriculture. The web site gives a host of interesting details for true wine geeks about the soil types, various clones of syrah, Grenache, roussanne, etc. as well as info on the climate and area of West Paso. I loved the details.

Pam was wonderfully charming and chatty. We were so lucky to meet and taste wine with her.

The wines were really good, just like they said in the article. If you haven’t gone for a visit already, then you definitely should consider one on your next Central Coast excursion.

2008 Kissin’ Cousins: This is a blend of viognier, Grenache blanc and roussanne. It was a super pale transparent yellow with exciting crisp green apple, green grape, musk, white pepper notes with a long finish.

2007 Azimuth: We asked Pam about the name. She gave us three definitions: 1. the most direct route from A to B, 2. to deviate from the horizon (which has personal meaning for the Bowkers as they left their previous careers to pursue winemaking) and 3. ascend to heaven.

Caliza 2007 Azimuth

yummy Caliza 2007 Azimuth

This is a blend of Grenache, syrah and mourvedre.

This opaque purple red wine full of fresh berries, warm baking spices, red fruit, pepper with a balancing acidity lived up to its name. We were transported.

2006 Azimuth: Also a blend, with more syrah than Grenache, mourvedre, tannat and alicante bouchet. This was darker than the 2007, more fruit-forward and easier drinking than the first.

2008 Cohort: The day that we tasted this was its first day of release. This blend that includes Primitivo, a cousin to Zinfandel, seemed very appropriate for the festival theme.

Mostly Syrah, it has Grenache, Primitivo and Petite Sirah: so this is a California blend if there ever was one.

Unsurprisingly this was an opaque purple to black with red fruit, chewy tannins and bitter earthiness that made it quite interesting.

2007 Companion: This is a 50-50 blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah. Opaque purple, supple and smooth with medium to full body, we enjoyed the dried herbs, red fruit and spicy finish. This screamed “Paso Robles” to us.

We did try a few more wines from other vintages but I can’t interpret my notes. I think that I was having too much fun that day. You will too, so get to Caliza ASAP.

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Booker Vineyard, Paso Robles

by Stevie on April 6, 2011

The weirdcombos were super excited about Booker Vineyard after that incredibly flattering piece in Wine Spectator came out in March. Apparently we weren’t alone, for when we arrived at their chic tasting room over Paso Robles Zinfandel Fest weekend, almost all the wines had been poured and sold. Good for Eric Jensen but not so good for us. Boo-hoo!

welcome to Booker

welcome to Booker

this place is stunningly beautiful in its elegant simplicity

this place is stunningly beautiful in its elegant simplicity

Actually, we might have been lucky, as I’m looking at the Booker website a week later to write this story and I see at the bottom of the home page that the tasting room is closed. It appears that they’ve sold out of wine. No further explanation of possible re-opening date gets indicated. Huh.

Booker, apparently named after two brothers, Claude and Dick, who owned and farmed a lot of acreage in the West Paso area in the early Twentieth Century, is one of the new darlings of the Paso Robles wine universe. They’re a by-subscription winery, though right now, you can sign up immediately, instead of waiting forever, like you might for Saxum, Carlisle, or Kosta Brown. I did right after reading the piece in Wine Spectator (I’m such a wine-sheep), so I’m hopeful that I’ll be able to acquire and enjoy some Booker wines later this year. If you haven’t already, then click on over to their site and register.

Booker Vineyard tasting room

Booker Vineyard tasting room


the Jensen bullie

the Jensen bullie

Booker Tempranillo

Booker Tempranillo

Like much of Paso, Booker is celebrated for its Rhône style wines. While we visited, we had some exciting white Rhônes, which really is saying something since we’re rarely that thrilled by pale drink.

The tasting room (if it is open) is located quite near Caliza, Brian Benson and Darkstar. You could probably walk between them in good weather (which is what we did, going to Caliza directly after our picnic lunch.) The contemporary and soothing building is nestled at the foot of a fairly steep hill covered in vines. They were playing fabulous alternative rock through their speaker system the day that we visited. Groups like Linkin Park, Muse, Franz Ferdinand, etc. It really put me in an excellent mood.

The tasting room only had three wines to try, but the staff pouring them was so cute and charming that we weren’t upset about it in the least. Eric Jensen and his cute bulldog made a brief appearance. What a great afternoon! After our tasting, we had a picnic lunch, and watched Whit’s son, Jake, play with the Jensen dog in the sun. Perfect.

2009 Pink: This rosé from unfiltered Grenache and syrah was a cloudy salmon pink. Exuding ripe cherry, pepper, hot rocks and hints of raisin with a creamy almost oily mouthfeel. Yum.

2009 White: A blend of roussanne and viognier, exhibited a hazy golden yellow color full of floral notes, tropical fruit, peaches, mineral and earth with a long, stimulating finish.

2008 Tempranillo: This is the first Booker tempranillo. An opaque purple with dried herbs, plum, red fruit; this is round, juicy and opulent.

gorgeous rock gardens at Booker

gorgeous rock gardens at Booker


Jake at Booker

Jake at Booker


vines at Booker

vines at Booker

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2007 Adelaida Version

by Stevie on March 23, 2011

2007 Adelaida Version

2007 Adelaida Version

To me, this is the most special wine that Adelaida produces. It’s a Paso Robles Rhône style blend that we’ve been enjoying for several years over a few vintages. It sells out quickly, according to their web site, so I guess the secret is starting to become common knowledge.

Paso Robles is about a four-hour car ride from San Francisco, so doable but not really a day-trip kind of event. We’re lucky to have great friends whose parents retired to Cambria, a quaint coastal town just over the mountains from Paso. The folks have a very large, elegant home with extra guest rooms. We just stayed with them for the Paso Robles Zinfandel Festival last weekend. Thanks again, Linda and Ken! That was an incredible time, so more to come.

Today, I’m pouring Version to get your taste buds stimulated for more Paso-liciousness:

This is an opaque purple with a nose of red fruit, tar, coffee, dried herbs and blood. Luxurious, in a bold, take-no-prisoners-style with a long exciting finish; this is chock-full of jammy red and black fruit, chocolate, and leather. It has classic Paso Robles terroir. If you’re unfamiliar with the region, or an old hand, this is worth seeking out.

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2006 Domaine de la Charbonnière Châteauneuf du Pape Les Hautes Brusquières

2006 Domaine de la Charbonnière Châteauneuf du Pape Les Hautes Brusquières

I started researching the Domaine de la Charbonnière just now for this story and I’m already enchanted. Look what it says on their home page:

Domaine de la Charbonnière was purchased by Eugène Maret in 1912 as a gift for his wife. She was native of Châteauneuf du Pape and a winemaker’s daughter of the appellation.

I don’t know what could be more romantic than buying your missus a winery in Châteauneuf du Pape, do you?

That was a while back. These days it seems that the grandson and great-granddaughters run the show. That’s fine by me. Better, really, than some nameless corporate giant from Nowhereville, Anyplace. I suspect that our photographer buddy, DBL would agree wholeheartedly.

It is so easy to drift from romance to politics!

Hegui and I are real fans of this producer and this wine in particular. We had a half-case of the 2006 Les Hautes Brusquières. Sadly this is the last bottle. It was good, real good.

This is a blend of about 70% Grenache and 30% syrah. It was a rich transparent red with an exciting nose of wet ocean rocks and black cherry. Medium-bodied, it had abundant mineral with hints of red rust on a core of red and purple stone fruit. We tried it a few years ago at which time it exhibited more leather. That seems somewhat tamed now, leaving the wine more elegant. Wow!

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2009 Comte Louis de Clermont-Tonnerre (Alain Corcia) Châteauneuf du Pape Cuvée Hervé

February 16, 2011

Alain Corcia is a family-run negotiant wine firm, Prestige des Grand Vins de France (international) and La Cave (French), based in Burgundy, according to this wonderfully informative site, chateauneuf.dk. The Comte Louis de Clermont-Tonnerre is an administrator of the firm who has inherited the French title. This particular CdP, Hervé, is named after one of […]

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2007 Domaine de la Mordorée Lirac La Dame Rousse

February 9, 2011

Heguiberto picked out this bottle of La Dame Rousse or “the Redheaded Lady” last week while we were tasting Rhônes at K and L. I tried to learn a bit more about Domaine de la Mordorée after we enjoyed this quite delicious red. According to their site, “mordorée” means “woodcock.” Apparently woodcocks migrate over the […]

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