zinfandel

This was a first: we went to a Williams Selyem pick up event and it didn’t rain. It wasn’t cold either. In fact, it was so sunny and warm that I wore shorts and sandals comfortably. The car said that the ambient temperature at the winery was 91 degrees. Ah, miracle! I love Indian summer.

Jasmine standing at the vineyard's edge with two empty Williams Selyem wine glasses

Jasmine standing at the vineyard's edge with two empty Williams Selyem wine glasses--it's almost too sad--empty glasses!

If you’ve been following us at all, then you know that I’m a little pinot noir crazy, at least in the past few years. Strangely, I didn’t really enjoy the stuff before. It seemed so watered down and sharp compared to hearty zinfandels, syrahs or even cabs. I guess I’ve changed. So often I feel overwhelmed by powerful zins and cabs these days. Don’t get me wrong. They’re fun to drink, sort of like having a big slice of cherry pie à la mode. But I can’t eat big desserts too often and, in any event, they don’t usually work as a side dish to the main course. Pinot noir shines with food, and they’re even tasty all by themselves.

Jasmine and I went last Friday. It was way less crowded than the usual Saturday scene. The volunteer staff kept remarking how “Friday’s the day” and urged us to come on future Fridays. One even said while he poured us some of the vin gris that Wms Selyem has trouble getting volunteers for Saturdays due to the throngs of thirsty people.

Williams Selyem estate vineyard with mountains in the background

Williams Selyem estate vineyard with mountains in the background

Like previous visits, several current releases were available for tasting. Plus there were a number of local vendors of other artisanal food products on hand, offering tastes and things for purchase. Since Hegui couldn’t come (he worked instead—poor thing!), I got a bottle of Dry Creek olive oil for him, as he really enjoys it. After we sampled the wines once or twice, Jasmine selected a lovely sour dough round which we had with cheese in the shade. We talked, sipped a bit more wine, and really enjoyed the marvelous sunny warm day in wine country. What could be better than that?

Wine Spectator poo-pooed the 2010 pinot vintage and it’s true that these wines were less “wow” compared to last year. Nevertheless, we enjoyed them all and a few, like the Central Coast and Westside Road Neighbors pinots were memorable. Jasmine is particularly creative in her wine descriptions, which made tasting even more delightful.

we saw several of these warning poison oak rattlesanke signs thorughout the winery

we saw several of these absurdly unwelcoming warning poison oak rattlesanke signs thorughout the winery

2010 unoaked chardonnay: a transparent yellow diamond color with a nose of dried apricot and tropical fruit that led to more apricot with a citrusy finish.

2011 vin gris: this is a rosé of pinot noir. A transparent salmon pink with aromatic strawberries and Maraschino cherry, it tasted of sour cherry and mineral with a lovely pink grapefruit finish. Mmmm!

2010 Central Coast pinot noir: ruby with plum, smoked bacon, and eucalyptus leading to rich, plum filled peppery flavors. Jasmine says, “Kinda elegant.”

2010 Sonoma County pinot noir: a darker ruby with raspberries and blackberries and was that a hint of sage? It was fruity but less focused than the Central Coast. The finish was long and creamy. Comparing the two, we preferred the Central Coast overall. J: “It was drama all the way. If it was a woman, she’d have long black hair and be very dramatic.”

2010 Sonoma Coast pinot noir: ruby with some earth and fruit—sort of like “straw with berries underneath.” Full bodied with red fruit, Jasmine thought it was “very good like grape juice.” “It’s a party wine,” not too complicated but fun.

enjoying the Friday crowd at Williams Selyem

enjoying the Friday "crowd" at Williams Selyem

2010 Russian River Valley pinot noir: deep ruby with a subtle nose of berries, floral and smoky notes. Richer still, smooth and with more depth, this full bodied wine has ample red fruit, lots of pepper, hints of caramel and a nice finish.

2010 Westside Road Neighbors pinot noir: ruby with rich fruit and floral notes, some eucalyptus and a bit of vanilla. This was delicious! It grabs hold of your mouth and won’t let go. We detected red and blue fruit esp. sour cherry and plum, with a great mineral earthy component.

2009 Forchini Vineyard “South Knoll” zinfandel: opaque reddish purple. The nose was blackberry and fruit compote. This was “over the top jammy” “something that you’d put on waffles.” It overwhelms your senses before you even take a sip. Fat, it was so full and rich, with loads of fruit and a mild peppery finish. This was a “stand alone” wine, perhaps best suited for grilled beef or maybe breakfast.

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I adore the wines from Carlisle. Aside from my delight with the name (see previous Carlisle post here for more info on that) I like how their wines taste—and I have to admit that I’m a bit tickled to finally be on their purchasing list after waiting what seemed like, well, a while. I’m sure that there’s a story there somewhere. Perhaps more to come on that…

2010 Carlisle Sierra Mar Vnd Syrah

2010 Carlisle Sierra Mar Vnd Syrah

The mailing list pick-up event is held in Santa Rosa at the facility where Mike Officer creates these luscious wines. So it’s not exactly easy-on-the-eyes. Think industrial park here, but not one of those downtown Manhattan-style places with tons of glitz. Mainly this place is functional. Even so, and this is only our second visit so it’s hard to generalize, the event is an extremely nice experience. We went in sometimes heavy rain last Saturday, so the crowds that we noticed the first time were largely absent. I suppose that they’re hoping that next Saturday will be sunnier. Already that was pleasant for us, as we didn’t get jostled around that much by the many other also-excited Carlisle patrons.

a cold and rainy day at the Carlisle winemaking facility in Santa Rosa

a cold and rainy day at the Carlisle winemaking facility in Santa Rosa

the less-than-optimal weather seemed to keep people at home

the less-than-optimal weather seemed to keep people at home: we liked it

We’re always greeted in a very friendly way by the folks who run the event. They offer gourmet pizza gratis as part of it, also nibbles of dark chocolate. These go well with the lovely syrah and zinfandels that we were able to taste on the premises. Two were in bottle and two were barrel samples. The latter were both extremely exciting though not nearly as polished as the bottled wines, much as you’d expect.

2010 Santa Lucia Highlands Sierra Mar Vineyard Syrah: This was a purple black color with aromas of blue fruit that carried over to the rich taste with mineral, some spice with a long finish and very refined tannins.

2010 Sonoma Valley Monte Rosso Vineyard Zinfandel: Deep red with cherry and moss on the nose, this had ample red fruit and full body. It seemed more accessible now compared to the syrah, but that’s no surprise.

daffodils and chocolate surely mean springtime at Carlisle

daffodils and chocolate surely mean springtime at Carlisle

2011 Russian River Valley Montafi Ranch Zinfandel barrel sample: This was purple black in color. Hegui thought it had “an astringent smell of a barrel” but he was quick to add “the taste is good.” I liked it too. Certainly there’s a lot happening here: loads of fruit, spice, some lovely acidic sourness and some chalky flavors makes us think that this is a wine to look forward to sometime down the road.

2011 Napa Valley Hayne Vineyard Zinfandel barrel sample: If I understood right, this is a new source of grapes for the winemaker. I looked just now on their web site but it does not seem to have been updated yet.

Similar color to the Montafi Ranch, it had a more “twizzler” nose and could this one be even more rich? It was loaded with red and black fruit, and almost fizzed in our glass. Very exciting!

We can’t wait to come back this fall for more!

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It seems quite appropriate to be writing about Carlisle the day after an eight-hour Twilight marathon with my BFF, Jasmine. We met at a local movie theatre to see Breaking Dawn Part 1 (for her, the second time; for me, the fourth) then walked to my place where we happily sat through Twilight, New Moon and Eclipse on DVD. I served some wine and between flicks made penne in vodka sauce and roasted cauliflower. What a great time!

welcome to Carlisle Winery and Vineyards

welcome to Carlisle Winery and Vineyards

Of course, not everyone is as Twilight-obsessed as I am, so if you don’t get the Carlisle reference, let me fill you in: that’s the name of Edward Cullen’s adoptive vampire father in the Twilight series. (And if you’re über-obsessed like I, then perhaps you’re already familiar with Bella Winery in Dry Creek Valley, Twilight Cellars in Paso Robles and I’ve recently learned that there’s a Jasper Hill winery somewhere in Australia. Wouldn’t it be super-fun to have a Twilight themed wine tasting party where all the labels come from names of characters in the series?)

Of course, the winery, Carlisle, has nothing whatsoever to do with the series on vampires, werewolves and the teen girl that loves them. The web site says that the name comes from owner/winemaker, Mike Officer’s wife’s name, Kendall Carlisle. Nevertheless, excellent choice!

Carlisle is popular. This is one of those small-ish production boutique wineries with a long waiting list. I think that I signed up a couple of years ago and would periodically get these charming e-mails thanking me so much for waiting on the list, but that I’d have to please continue to wait. Very frustrating, and no, I don’t like it. But then a miracle, I was contacted a couple months back and asked to buy some of the wine. If I did, then my name was to be moved from the wait list to the active list. Yippie!!!

So of course I bought the wine ASAP.

I think that these stainless steel vats are really awesome

I think that these stainless steel vats are really awesome

the barrel racks are like abstract art

the barrel racks are like abstract art

Carlisle produces zinfandels and Rhône style wines: syrah, Grenache, mourvèdre, and petite sirah. It sounds like they pretty much sell out to the list members, though I’ve seen bottles in shops occasionally. I often hear high praise for Carlisle wines in the pages of Wine Spectator and this year, maybe it was the edition on zinfandels, one of their bottles was on the cover.

After I ordered some wine, I received another charming note that invited us to visit the winery for their pick-up weekend. I love those, so immediately agreed. Looking back on it now, I had this complicated fantasy about what the Carlisle facility might be like: sort of a combination Williams Selyem meets the smooth modernism of the Cullens’ home as depicted in the movies. Well, it wasn’t quite like that. If anything, you might characterize the place as the opposite. This was coolly industrial and functional, though not without charm. The Copain Custom Crush facility is the same as where Eric Kent wines are made. Small world.

Hegui wasn’t thirsty the day of our visit, so I tasted alone. We couldn’t help but notice that many of the other clients visiting seemed to know one-another. It was quite intimate really. A catering company served slices of gourmet pizza as we wandered around a bit and I sampled.

admiring the intimate setting and company at Carlisle

admiring the intimate setting and company at Carlisle

2002 Dry Creek Zinfandel: A black purple color with a mossy nose, it was full bodied and smooth, sort of like a good cabernet, with rich fruit and depth that still retained some pepper at the end. I liked it a lot.

2009 Russian River Valley Zinfandel: The gentleman pouring the wine said it was from the “home ranch” though I didn’t think to ask what he meant. A ruby red with lots of red fruit and pepper on the long finish it had a wonderful texture. This seemed fresher than the 2002.

2010 Sonoma Valley Bedrock Vineyard Zinfandel from barrel: I really enjoyed tasting this and the next barrel samples, in part because they were both delicious, but also because they were presented in Erlenmeyer flasks. The science-geek in me was tickled.

A ruby red with a faint nose that led to lots of fruit and pepper throughout, this had supple tannins and seems somewhat fizzy.

2010 Russian River Valley Paba’s Block Syrah from barrel: Looking at my sloppy handwriting now, I feel sure that I’ve mis-spelled the name of this excellent syrah. If you know the correct one, please contact me!

A ruby purple color, I detected lots of eucalyptus on the nose that led to red fruit, licorice with a long finish. I wrote “very exciting” in my notes.

Carlisle is amazing. Look for it, or better yet, get on the list.

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Stephen & Walker Trust Winery Limited is a totally different kind of wine country excursion. Located on the Plaza in downtown Healdsburg, this is more like visiting a bar/shop than “wine country” per se. In that sense, it is less romantic and visually stunning than the typical weirdcombos tasting adventure. Nevertheless, this is a place worth checking out for the delicious wine and lively, cheery atmosphere.

welcome to Stephen & Walker Trust Winery Limited

welcome to Stephen & Walker Trust Winery Limited

Founded in 2004 by partners, Nancy Walker, Tony Stephen and Irv Bush, these folks make wines grown from grapes cultivated in vineyards across northern California. The Trust Wine site indicates they work with growers in Napa, Sonoma, Mendocino and Monterey Counties. Nancy Walker is winemaker; Tony Stephen sounds like he works with grape growers and manages marketing. Oddly Irv Bush’s role in the company isn’t indicated. I e-mailed Nancy and Tony about that for clarification but have yet to hear more.

I like the name of the winery and how they’ve gotten the lettering to look: sort of like an old fashioned bank bond or something. Very cool. I don’t quite understand what the name’s supposed to mean exactly, though whatever it is, to me, it suggests confidence in their products. In the section of their web site on the Healdsburg tasting room, they suggest that you go and “taste our cult wines.” That sounds a bit funny bordering on pretentious, though they are pretty good, so perhaps the trio are planning for the future.

One last note before describing the numerous wines that we tried: I’ve a feeling that we’d be soul-mates with Nancy, Tony, et al. after reading their recipes for Grilled Bruschetta with Rosemary-White Bean Puree & Heirloom Tomatoes and Tapenade. Those with red wine are right up the weirdcombos alley.

some to the tasting crew chlling at Stephen & Walker Trust Winery Limited

some to the tasting crew chlling at Stephen & Walker Trust Winery Limited

some Stephen & Walker Trust Winery Limited zinfandels

some Stephen & Walker Trust Winery Limited zinfandels

2008 Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast: A reddish purple with a nose of cherry and other red fruit as well as tobacco. Hegui thought it was “a good smell.” It followed through on red fruit and some pepper. I thought it just okay though the other three all admired it.

2009 Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast: As above, a reddish purple with some green pepper, smoke, and hints of lemon verbena led to red fruit and a peppery finish.

2008 Zinfandel, Dry Creek Valley: Purple black in color with lots of earthy mineral notes with red fruit, mineral and a peppery finish on a medium frame.

2009 Zinfandel, Russian River Valley: Purple black with a barnyard-like nose with some banana, this had a lovely creamy texture full of fruit and mineral flavors.

2010 Petite Sirah, Dry Creek Valley: Purple to black with pomegranate, lettuce and leather notes with chewy tannins, red fruit and some peppery heat.

2006 Cabernet Sauvignon, Howell Mountain, Napa Valley: A deep purple with blue fruit and forest floor, this was smooth with supple tannins and a long finish. We all enjoyed this one.

2008 Cabernet Sauvignon, Howell Mountain, Napa Valley: Purple black with a greener smell and a more luscious and creamy texture. Here the tannins bit harder.

2004 Portentous California: This wine with the fun name is a California version of Port. Purple in color with a nose of ultra ripe stone fruit and spice box, this tasted of jammy fruit, vanilla and chocolate. Yum.

2009 Patrona, Muscat Canelli, Alexander Valley: A transparent wine with a nose of sweet ripe peach, it was sweet, rich with yellow stone fruit and a hint of mineral. We thought of it as “summer cool-aid” for adults.

2010 Chardonnay, Botrytis, Mendocino Ridge: A pale golden yellow with sweet over ripe fruit.

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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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DeLoach Vineyards, Sonoma County

by Stevie on November 23, 2011

DeLoach was our first stop on our Sonoma County wine tasting weekend in late October. I’ve been holding off publishing the story for Thanksgiving week in particular for various reasons—mostly we’ve been distracted by all the wine-tasting private events that we’ve had the pleasure to enjoy lately. But this week seems particularly apt as the winery prides itself on fine pinot noir production, a very food-friendly red that is perfect for the traditional T-day meal.

welcome to DeLoach Vineyards

welcome to DeLoach Vineyards

What are you having for Thanksgiving this year?

We’re cooking with our dear friend and fellow pescatarian, John. We’ve agreed to have herb stuffed roasted whole fish with potatoes and clams, some TBD French green bean dish, Tartine bread with two dips: edamame miso party dip and artichoke dip, mixed olives, leafy salad in vinaigrette, classic pecan pie and Barbara’s cranberry upside down cake. Along with a selection of wines, of course, pinot included. If the fish cannot be caught, then we’re going with Tofurkey as a standby. So all of you reading this, pray with me for good fishing without complications!

DeLoach Vineyards

DeLoach Vineyards

DeLoach is converting all their viticulture to organic and biodynamic practices

DeLoach is converting all their viticulture to organic and biodynamic practices

But back to DeLoach. The winery was founded in 1973 when Cecil DeLoach planted his first vineyard. It was purchased by a French family from Burgundy, the Boissets, in 2003. Right now they’re in the process of converting all of their production to organic, biodynamic and sustainable practices according to their web site. That site is really informative and kind of fun. I love it that the sub title for the place is “The Russian River Original.” It sounds like a classic. Though I wonder exactly what they mean with the expression?

The tasting room and surrounding property is quite lovely. The gardens are also organic and biodynamic. They’ve a wonderful map of it on their site, which shows where they’ve planted various things. It sounds like the garden is both ornamental and used for food production. That’s really cool.

DeLoach tasting room

DeLoach tasting room

We went on a sunny relatively warm day. There’s an incredible sculpture out front of a female figure holding her arms up to the sky with a smaller perhaps child or baby in one of them. It is very striking. I sort of felt warmly greeted in her elegant embrace. It was a fine way to begin.

They’ve a conventional and quite pleasant tasting room with an attentive staff. “Debbie” poured our tastes. She was a riot and we felt very comfortable. She even let me stand behind the bar for a picture. Amazing! My friends Karen and Veronica enjoyed the experience so well that they joined the winery on the spot.

me standing behind the DeLoach tasting room bar

me standing behind the DeLoach tasting room bar

2008 Pennacchio Vineyard Pinot Noir: A transparent red with aromas of raspberry and tobacco, this was medium bodied with a long finish. We detected lots of interesting earthy notes that were almost bitter.

2008 Thornton Vineyard Pinot Noir: A transparent ruby red with a delightfully musky smoky aroma, this was richer and even creamier than the first with a good finish. I liked it a lot.

2007 Masút Vineyard Pinot Noir: Apparently “masút” is a local Indian term meaning “good earth.” This had wonderful aromas of raspberry, eucalyptus, and pine with caramel and sour cherry flavors predominating, ending smoothly with some white pepper notes.

2008 Maboroshi Vineyard Pinot Noir: “Maboroshi” means “whimsical dream.” A transparent deep red with a nose of smoke, bergamot, orange peel, candied ginger and licorice, this was smooth with ample red fruit and earthy notes.

2008 Durell Vineyard Pinot Noir: Another dark transparent red, this had a smoky mushroomy nose. It is a huge wine! Full bodied all the way with lots of red fruit, mineral and creamy smoothness leading to a complex delightful finish. The wine seemed to open up for miles.

2008 Forgotten Vines Zinfandel: If I wrote this right, the grapes for this zin are all sourced from pre-Prohibition vines. That’s old. A purple red, it was jammy, spicy with a long finish. Good.

NV tawny port: My friends are really into port and they loved this one. It had a lot of fruit and spice though not really my thing.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone! And if you do happen by DeLoach, tell them that you heard about it on weirdcombinations.

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Okay, I admit it: I’m a Williams Selyem fan.

some gorgeous grapevines in fall colors at Williams Selyem

some gorgeous grapevines in fall colors at Williams Selyem

I first heard of them from a dear friend, Kathleen. She’s a real estate agent to the stars, collects tons of fabulous local art and best of all, buys entire wine cellars off Craig’s List for fun. We love her! I’ll never forget that stunning champagne party that she threw a few years back. Apparently the seller only had sparklers—hundreds of them. She invited about 50 people to her flat for a champagne only cocktail party. Wow. Until then, I’d never really appreciated the stuff.

I could probably write the same about pinot noir. It’s so easy to get cheap, bad quality pinot, I’d begun to think that that was all there was in the world. But Kathleen opened my eyes one evening. We were attending a private party that she hosted at a local restaurant. She had decorated the place with select pieces of her already mentioned fabo art collection and among other treasures, poured a bottle of Williams Selyem pinot noir.

I can’t remember the year or vineyard—it was a single vineyard pinot, I’m sure of that at least. What I do recall was that the wine was breathtaking! I’d never considered such a thing possible. The tastes swirled in my mouth in a kind of vinous ecstasy. That was the beginning for me. Since, I’ve been writing about Williams Selyem a bit obsessively on our blog. Look here, here, here, here, here, here and here to see what I mean. These folks really are good!

it really feels like fall with the drizzle, chill and reds and yellows on the vines

it really feels like fall with the drizzle, chill and reds and yellows on the vines

Williams Selyem is one of those lucky few wineries that have a wait list to join. I signed up immediately and waited about 18 months or a bit more before I got on the purchasing member list. But it was worth it. Every spring and fall they offer the latest vintage for sale to members of the list. Then you have a month to frantically buy, before someone else on the list does. I always order the full allotment of reds the first day. VISA be damned!

Then, as part of the fun, you go pick up the wine at their new winery facility in the Russian River Valley of Sonoma County. And that’s what Hegui and I with a few dear friends, both old and new, did the other week.

The weather was uncooperative—rainy and cold. Too bad, really, as the vineyards were all so beautiful, decked out in autumn yellows. With a clear sky and bright sun, our pictures would have been out-of-this world. Oh well.

Usually on one of these pick-up weekend visits you can try some of the current releases, occasionally a barrel sample from the following year’s vintage and once in a while buy a bit more wine right there on sight, including library wines. That’s especially inviting for guests who may not yet be members. We arrived too late for all the magnums, which I found tremendously disappointing. I’d love to have one or two of those in my cellar. You Williams Selyem guys should offer large formats more regularly to your faithful customers (like me!)

Anyway we were thrilled to taste some of the new wines and excited to introduce our friends to that Williams Selyem magic.

sipping the 2009 Williams Selyem Drake Estate chardonnay with friends

sipping the 2009 Williams Selyem Drake Estate chardonnay with friends

2009 Drake Estate Vineyard Chardonnay: A pale greenish yellow with a pleasantly grassy and vanilla nose, led to tart apple and green grapes with a somewhat creamy texture and long oaky finish.

2009 Bucher Vineyard Pinot Noir: This was poured by John Bucher himself, which I thought really cool. To me, it was showing best of all the 2009 pinots that day. A raspberry red color with a jammy aroma of strawberries, loam, mulch and musk; led to cranberry, sour cherry, an ashy mineral quality with medium body and a lingering finish.

2009 Hirsch Vineyard Pinot Noir: A purple red color with a nose of dark currant, paraffin and barnyard, this was bolder and smoother, with caramel, red fruits, and a fuller minerally body.

2009 Eastside Road Neighbors: This is a blended pinot made from grapes from several vineyards along Eastside Road. Purple red with a nose of Morello cherry, cherry jam and molasses, this was more full bodied yet, with rich fruit, mineral, bitter chocolate and hickory notes with a long finish.

2009 Papera Vineyard Zinfandel: A dark purple with ultra ripe plum, cracked pepper, and chicken feathers leading the way to olallieberry pie, with really rich bright fruit and mineral notes. This was full bodied, jammy and excellent now.

it seems so serene here

it seems so serene here

2007 Sonoma County Pinot Noir: A pale transparent red with a nose of horseshit, gum Arabic, straw with medium body, pleasant red fruit and mineral notes leading to a peppery finish. We all enjoyed this and I bought a couple bottles right there.

2007 Weir Vineyard Pinot Noir: A pale transparent red with an earthy, even leathery nose, this was much fuller than the Sonoma County, with a smoother texture, raspberry fruit, mineral and medium to full body with good heft. I got a couple of these for good measure too.

So that’s it for now. Look for the spring 2012 update sometime soon!

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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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