merlot

My aunt Mary Ann, came for a short visit last week. She lives in New Hampshire and has been overwhelmed by the brutal winter they’re having back East this year. Blizzard after blizzard would make anyone long for sunny California.

my aunt and I on the back porch at Michael Mondavi Family Estate

my aunt and I on the back porch at Michael Mondavi Family Estate

She’s only about 13 months older than me, so really we grew up together, almost like brother and sister. Unfortunately until last week, we hadn’t seen one another for about eight years. So this visit was a real treat. Since she had never been to the West Coast, there was a lot to do. In her four day visit we went to the Golden Gate Bridge, Muir Woods, touched the waters of the Pacific, admired the view from Sausalito, wandered through Chinatown, lunched in North Beach, dined at The Slanted Door and many other things. Of course a visit to Napa for wine tasting was de rigueur.

a winery worker pruning the dormant grapevines

a winery worker pruning the dormant grapevines

winemaking apparatus at Michael Mondavi Family Estate

winemaking apparatus at Michael Mondavi Family Estate

We started out at Artesa mainly for its gorgeous modern appeal. Then by chance drove by Michael Mondavi Family Estate, just down the road. The Estate has been there since its founding in 2004. Michael is the famous brother of the famous, now deceased, Robert Mondavi.

I tried learning more about the winery part of the Estate but had some trouble finding specifics. It sounds like it is a family run enterprise with Michael, his wife, Isabel, and two adult children, Rob Jr. and Dina. Aside from wine production, the family operates Folio Fine Wine Partners, an international wine importing concern (follow this link for an interview with Michael and Rob Jr. about Folio)and various members seem to offer winemaking consultation. Again, I’m a bit confused by it all so if any of you readers know more, please write in!

They produce an affordable line called Spellbound which I’ve seen locally in various supermarkets and wine shops, plus various more boutique labels.

do they still use this thing or is it only for show

do they still use this thing or is it only for show?

various wines produced by the Michael Mondavi clan

various wines produced by the Michael Mondavi clan

The winery itself is small and comfortable. We sat inside though they’ve a stunning back porch overlooking one of their estate pinot vineyards. We had perfect weather that day, so it might have been fun, but the porch had a large and somewhat rowdy crowd already. Two different tastings were offered: the Heritage Selection and the Gallery Selection. We tried one of each and shared them all.

Both of us really liked these wines. We impulsively joined two of their wine clubs on the spot, which is always a fun way to remember wine country.

Isabel Mondavi Carneros Chardonnay 2011

Isabel Mondavi Carneros Chardonnay 2011

Isabel Mondavi Carneros Chardonnay 2001: This had a golden color with some oak on the nose. We detected some fruit and vanilla with a mildly buttery finish.

Isabel Mondavi Estate Pinot Noir 2009: This was a gorgeous red color with some red fruit and exciting earthy notes. It was smooth with a lovely almost bitter finish. Very different from the more fruity Russian River Valley pinots, I particularly enjoyed this wine.

Emblem Oso Cabernet Sauvignon 2008: The grapes for this wine come from Howell Mountain in Napa. In a word, delish. This dark wine was rich and lush, with lovely fruit, and a supple texture. Mmmmm.

Oberon Hillside Reserve Napa Cabernet Sauvignon 2008: I understand that this is blended from grapes grown at three nearby vineyards. It had an intense cedar forest floor nose with refined tannins.

Spellbound Petite Sirah Reserve 2007: This is a Napa wine. The nose was rootbeer. It was very tannic and clearly needs a lot more time in bottle. Nevertheless, it too was quite enjoyable.

tasting the white wine at Michael Mondavi Family Estate

tasting the white wine at Michael Mondavi Family Estate

Oberon Sauvignon Blanc 2012: Pale with a citrus nose, it was crisp and good.

Spellbound Chardonnay 2010: Also quite pale with lovely yellow fruit.

Oberon Napa Valley Merlot 2009: Red with blueberry and chocolate, this was supple and very drinkable.

Oberon Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2010: I only wrote “fruit, tannins, chocolate, bitter” in my notes. You get the idea.

Spellbound Petite Sirah 2010: A deep color with a blueberry nose, it tastes like sweet ripe blueberries, too.

Needless to write, we had a great time here. No appoint necessary. If you have the chance to visit Michael Mondavi Family Estate sometime, I would definitely go.

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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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Castello di Amorosa, Napa Valley

by Stevie on November 9, 2011

Castello di Amorosa is one of those Napa Valley wine country excursion places that’s so attractive to tourists that it doesn’t even matter whether or not you enjoy wine. We went with my folks on their recent visit to San Francisco from Virginia. My dad likes wine tasting but mom’s not too into it. That’s perfect here, since the place is completely enchanting either way. This is an honest-to-goodness CASTLE. So strange to be writing that word in the context of American winemaking. Just look at our pictures. Incredible. What’s not to love?

Castello di Amorosa watchtowers across the moat

Castello di Amorosa watchtowers across the moat

Castello di Amorosa

Castello di Amorosa

the grand castle entrance

the grand castle entrance

view of the moat and Napa Valley from the Castello di Amorosa entrance

view of the moat and Napa Valley from the Castello di Amorosa entrance

Designed in the style of 13th to 14th century Tuscan castles, no expense was spared. Henriette, our marvelous tour guide for the Castle of Love experience, says that an estimated $30 million was spent to build the property. Aside from the ultra modern winemaking equipment and caves, there’s a moat with drawbridge, watchtowers, a grand room, a consecrated chapel, some rustic buildings housing sheep and chickens, and even a torture chamber. I suppose if Napa Valley were ever invaded by a marauding hoard of beer-drinkers, this would be the place to hide, though I wonder about all that brick and stonework in case of a severe earthquake?

a small chapel in front of Castello di Amorosa

a small chapel in front of Castello di Amorosa

a donjon in the distance

a donjon in the distance

grapvines along the entryway at Castello di Amorosa

grapvines along the entryway at Castello di Amorosa

the vines in fall colors at Castello di Amorosa

the vines in fall colors at Castello di Amorosa

close up of fall grapevines

close up of fall grapevines

Well anyway, European artisans were hired to design and build the arched ceilings, and paint the glowing frescos. Even the bricks are antiques shipped over from the Old World. We were there the day after their annual Halloween party, so the place was decked out in ghosts, severed limbs, etc. which really added to the medieval vibe.

Hegui and I’d been once before. They had just opened to the public then, so the vines surrounding the castle and the various gardens weren’t especially established. Neither were the wines, which at the time we found thin and rather uninteresting. Well, things have changed. Apparently there’s a new winemaker now and the vines themselves have matured a bit. The quality of the wine was outstanding. Our guide remarked cutely that a “Mr. Robert Parker” keeps giving them high scores. Certainly we can see why.

the Great Room at Castello di Amorosa

the Great Room at Castello di Amorosa

portion of mural in the Great Room

portion of mural in the Great Room

interior courtyard

interior courtyard

modern stainless steel tanks at Castello di Amorosa

modern stainless steel tanks at Castello di Amorosa

this looks like it should be part of the torture chamber, though in fact these devices are for the winemaking

this looks like it should be part of the torture chamber, though in fact these devices are for the winemaking


Following the hour long walking tour, we headed to the private tasting with the other members of our little group. Held in a dungeon-like space at a long bar, we felt that we got personal attention as we sipped our way through the regular and the reserve reds. My one little quibble, if that is the right word, is that the tiny wine order sheets failed to list the vintages of the different wines for sale. I noticed it then so tried to keep track, but by the end I nearly forgot to write what year our delicious Il Barone came from and I only have the date of the delightful La Castellana because my mother bought us a bottle.

2009 Pinot Nero, Santa Lucia Highlands: This wine had a subtitle on the label, “pinot noir” just in case you didn’t recognize the name, I suppose. A cherry red color with lots of strawberries and hints of pepper, it was medium to full bodied. Pleasant.

2008 Sangiovese, Napa: Plum red with flecks of rust colors, this was earthy, rich with cherry fruit, medium body with soft tannins. Frankly this is one of the first California sangioveses that I’ve ever drunk that tasted anything remotely like Chianti Classico. Delish. I bought a bottle for later.

Castello di Amorosa merlot, Zingaro and sangiovese

Castello di Amorosa merlot, Zingaro and sangiovese

a wine cellar at Castello di Amorosa

a wine cellar at Castello di Amorosa

2008 Castello di Amorosa Merlot

2008 Castello di Amorosa Merlot

large underground wine cellar at Castello di Amorosa

large underground wine cellar at Castello di Amorosa

2009 Zingaro, Russian River Valley: “Zingaro” means “Gipsy.” This cool-climate zinfandel primitivo blend was quite a surprise if you’re accustomed to those ultra extracted, peppery fruit bomb zins that California has made famous (or infamous, depending on your perspective.) We liked it a lot though since it defies preconceptions, it might not be for everyone. Purple in color with a caramel, almost briny nose, it had ample red and blue stone fruit highlights with some chalky tannins and pepper with a delicate and quite enjoyable structure.

2008 Merlot, Napa: We always joke in wine tasting rooms about merlot. That movie, Sideways, really did something to it in California: improved them. This one was really pleasant. Opaque purple, Hegui found nail polish and petrol notes on the nose, which doesn’t sound that appetizing, but is. This was a luscious full-bodied red with red stone fruit and a lovely finish.

2007 Il Brigante, “The Thief:” This cabernet, sangiovese, merlot blend is one of Castello di Amorosa’s “super-Tuscans.” This had a powerful cab aroma of forest floor with smooth red fruit, some mineral notes and a long finish.

2006 La Castellana “The Lady of the Castle:” Another “super-Tuscan” this one had 74% cabernet sauvignon. Reddish purple with a nose of tomato and paraffin, this was much fuller, structured and smoother than the admittedly yummy Il Brigante. Full of red fruit and some pepper, we loved it.

2006 Il Barone: This reserve cabernet sauvignon reserve is the top wine of Castello di Amorosa. We loved it. 100% cab, it had a purple red color, with a leathery fruity nose. It was rich and full bodied with lots of red fruit, supple tannins and a long, long finish. This was young and really needs more cellar time, but already it was quite good.

lucky sheep at Castello di Amorosa

lucky sheep at Castello di Amorosa

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Matanzas Creek was the last winery that we visited with my friends, Karen and Veronica from Reno, NV, on our recent three-day Sonoma wine tasting weekend. I’m starting with this one first for the blog simply because to me it was the most lovely and serene of the seven that we visited, and has a vague Halloween appeal, which I’ll explain below.

the magnificent Lavender Garden at Matanzas Creek Winery

the magnificent Lavender Garden at Matanzas Creek Winery

Located a bit off the beaten track in the Bennett Valley east of Santa Rosa, the drive to Matanzas Creek was magnificent: full of rolling hills, breathtaking views and sunshine. The estate is large and full of gorgeous manicured gardens esp. lavender, all snugly surrounded by mountains.

The winery was first established in 1977 and the celebrated lavender gardens in 1991. We were all transfixed by the sheer beauty.

welcome to Matanzas Creek Winery

welcome to Matanzas Creek Winery

here you can see two kinds of lavender

here you can see two kinds of lavender

baby lavender field

baby lavender field

The name “Matanzas” is a curious one. I had assumed that is was a sort of citrus fruit from Spain for some odd reason. Hegui, who knows a lot of Spanish, thought that it meant “massacre” or “slaughter.” I tried learning more on the internet.

Apparently there is a port city in Cuba called Matanzas, which was a home to pirates in the sixteenth century. There’s a Matanzas River near St. Augustine, Florida, thought to mean “river of blood.” It was named following a massacre of a French boat crew by the Spanish in the sixteenth century. Finally a definition for “matanza” was “a place where animals are slaughtered for hides and tallow.” Strange.

a purple parade

a purple parade

a basket of Matanzas Creek merlot

a basket of Matanzas Creek merlot

it almost feels like Provence here at Matanzas Creek

it almost feels like Provence here at Matanzas Creek

We asked about the name in the tasting room and were told in hushed tones that apparently the Native Americans who lived in Bennett Valley around the time of the Spanish colonization of California used to scalp their human victims in the creek, thus turning the water bloody red. The official Matanzas Creek Winery web site doesn’t give the origin of the name so far as I can tell, though this creepiness seems totally perfect for Halloween, don’t you think? I wonder if ghosts roam the stunning grounds and sip the luscious red Journey Cabernet at night to pass the time? Oooooo! Scary.

Of course, no blood was shed on our visit to the winery. And as I’ve already written, we were all taken by the loveliness everywhere.

The wine that we tasted was lovely, too. We tried the regular tasting without an appointment, which was no problem. Our Reno friends liked it so well, that they joined the Matanzas Creek wine club (their fourth this visit). Our charming wine barrista let us try some off the menu library wines and the premiere Journey Red, which aren’t usually offered. That was fun.

2010 Sauvignon Blanc, Sonoma County: This was a very pale yellow that almost looked like clear water. The nose was full of pear and grapefruit, which carried over to the crisp mineral-rich quaffer. It was quite refreshing.

2008 Chardonnay, Sonoma County: Also a very pale yellow, this had a nose of pear and mineral. It was smooth, had a spicy finish with refreshing yellow fruit.

beautiful!

beautiful!

some Matanzas Creek pinot noir

some Matanzas Creek pinot noir

view of Bennett Valley from the Matanzas Creek Winery lavender garden

view of Bennett Valley from the Matanzas Creek Winery lavender garden

2009 Chardonnay, Bennett Valley: A translucent pale yellow with a subtle aroma with honeysuckle, yellow stone fruit with a creamy mouthfeel and long finish.

2008 Journey Chardonnay, Sonoma County: This golden transparent yellow gem had a surprisingly pleasing aroma of nail polish with a rich flavor with yellow stone fruit leading the way to mineral, hot white pepper and a long, delightful finish.

2008 Pinot Noir, Bennett Valley: Translucent red to purple with a nose of tomato, caramel and paraffin, this was rich with a lot of caramel notes, red fruit and full body.

2007 Merlot, Bennett Valley: Purple black in color, this had an herbal nose accented with oak and sassafras, with supple tannins and ample red stone fruit with a decent finish.

2007 Merlot, Jackson Park Vineyard: This 100% merlot (the last has 14% cabernet) was a deep red to purple color with a cola aroma leading to a more full-bodied texture rich with red and purple stone fruit and a good finish.

2001 Merlot, Sonoma County: This off-the-menu merlot was red to purple with some lovely brown colors at the edges. An intense nose of over-ripe tomatoes, V-8 juice led to an incredibly smooth, mineral and metallic taste with a bit of spice with some noticeable tannin at the end.

1997 Estate Merlot, Sonoma Valley: I liked this wine a lot—I even got two bottles that day. A rusted purple with a lovely V-8 juice nose, it was full bodied with rich red fruit, a long finish. Wow! I wrote “jackpot!” on my notes. It had some rich tannins making me think that this beauty had more life in it still.

2006 Syrah, Sonoma County: Purple in color with a nose of blackberry, plum and tar, which carried over to red fruit and a tarry finish.

2007 Cabernet Sauvignon, Helena Montana Vineyard, Knights Valley: This was red to purple in color with eucalyptus and dried cherries with smooth tannin, lots of red fruit and cherries.

2008 Journey Red, Sonoma County: Red to purple with mineral notes, red fruit, fuller in body than the Helena Montana, with a richer, more luscious taste. We noticed some pepper in the long finish. Good wine!

2009 Denouement, White Dessert Wine: This was a transparent pale gold color with a nose of over ripe yellow stone fruit and grapefruit. It tasted of peach, pineapple and grapefruit. Karen and Veronica were especially charmed by this lovely sweet drink.

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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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2003 Stryker Sonoma E1k Sonoma County

2003 Stryker Sonoma E1k Sonoma County

This was our final bottle of Stryker Sonoma wine. We’ve been members of their wine club for ages but, taking my own advice about clubs, it is time to move on. I still enjoy Stryker wines quite well. I’m just cash poor and want to focus on my new darling, pinot noir, with what I’ve got.

I’d been saving this bottle for a few years. The “E1k” is supposed to indicate that the vines were all at an altitude of over a thousand feet. I like the name: it seems futuristic and like a secret code all at once.

This “Bordeaux-blend” is cabernet sauvignon with a touch of merlot. The rear label recommends decanting, which we did. It was reddish purple with a faint ring of brown, showing a bit of age. A nose of vanilla and clay with hints of coffee and tobacco complemented the medium body with blueberries and supple tannin. The finish didn’t linger.

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Michel-Schlumberger Wines, Sonoma County

January 24, 2011

We hadn’t really known anything about Michel-Schlumberger until we were invited for a visit through our blog by Jim Morris, Vice President of Consumer Sales and Marketing for the winery. That’s a first for us. It is flattering to get invited to something, so we arranged to go for a visit and tour. They waived […]

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2005 Château d’Aiguilhe Côtes de Castillon

December 29, 2010

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 […]

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