California Wine Advisors Tasted Blind, No Advertising Mon, 14 Aug 2017 22:33:50 +0000 en-US hourly 1 The Unique History of Bordeaux’s Saint Emilion Wed, 09 Aug 2017 22:49:12 +0000 Saint Emilion is renowned for producing some of the finest wines in Bordeaux. This small AOC on the Right Bank is home to iconic producers like Chateaux Cheval Blanc, Ausone, and Angelus (and so many more), with existing testaments to its quality dating as far back as the 5th century. But who is this Emilion from which this ancient city takes its name? This legend is so fascinating that it warrants retelling. There are several different versions out there; here is one of them.

Emilion was a house-servant and the employee of a landlord in Brittany, in the northwest of France (now more famous for its chicken, coming from Brest). While working, Emilion took pity on the peasantry working the land who were impoverished and starving. He soon took to smuggling out loaves of bread out of his master’s pantry to distribute to the poor by concealing them in his cloak. His master, no fool himself, soon caught on to Emilion’s activities and confronted him. When asked what he was hiding in his robes, Emilion lied and said it was fire wood. He was then asked to open his cloak…and the bread had miraculously turned into firewood! Allowed to go on his way, when he came to the poor, the firewood had been turned back into bread. This miracle quickly spread among the peasantry and they began to follow and pray to Emilion. This drew unwanted attention from the landlord, so Emilion left on his own accord to become a monk.

His reputation preceded him, however, and soon there were masses of followers petitioning him at the monastery. This drew the ire of the other monks to who sought to punish him and quash any notion that he was capable of performing miracles. Since his task at the monastery was to remove the baked bread from the oven, the other monks hid his wooden paddle from him that was used to take out the bread, all but assuring that it would be destroyed. Not seeing an alternative, Emilion climbed into the oven to save the loaves and found that he was unharmed. This second miracle only increased his reputation and he once again opted to leave to avoid the petitioners and crowds wanting to see another miracle.

He at last found refuge far to the south in one of limestone caves in a place called Ascum Bas. Even here, living the solitary life of a hermit, disciples found him and he became famous in the region. Among many purported miracles at this time, there is one specific one worth mentioning that is attributed to him. If a woman was trying to conceive, she could visit Emilion and, after sitting in a chair in his chambers and praying, she would become pregnant. For centuries after his death, people would still come to this place and pray in effort to conceive.

After his death his followers carried on his legacy and even called the town after him: Saint-Emilion. It is a very special place indeed.

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Silver Oak’s New Alexander Valley Winery Fri, 16 Jun 2017 18:40:32 +0000 I recently enjoyed a sneak preview tour of the monumental new Silver Oak Alexander Valley winery, scheduled to open at the end of this year. David Duncan, the genial owner of Silver Oak, was my host and his winemaker, Nate Weis, joined us for the new vineyard portion of our expedition.


The spectacular winery and hospitality center is located on a prominent bluff with a panoramic vista of Alexander Valley (Sonoma County). Next year, Silver Oak’s fervent following will savor the opportunity to sample new releases and relax on the terraces overlooking the new vineyards. The modern winery is truly breathtaking, displaying a unique balance of state-of-the-art technology along with sensibilities to history (e.g. century old fermentation tanks re-purposed as striking redwood paneling) and sustainability as they aspire to become just the second “LEED Platinum” certified production winery (the first being the Silver Oak Napa Valley winery). I’ve toured more than one thousand wineries worldwide and can easily say I’ve never witnessed such a boundless pursuit of the highest quality Cabernet on such an impressive scale!

SO AV Cellar

Windy Oaks Estate – A Gem in the Santa Cruz Mountains Thu, 15 Jun 2017 22:23:25 +0000 We cease to be amazed by the vast amount of wine and various wine styles being produced in California. We recently ventured to the Santa Cruz Mountains to learn more about the appellation that is often overlooked. It turns out, the Santa Cruz Mountains are one of the oldest wine growing regions in the United States, dating back to the late 1880’s. The region now boasts over 70 boutique, family-owned wineries.

One of the most admirable things about the wine community here is that they have not been commercialized, as many other areas of California wine country have. Wineries in Santa Cruz are mostly run by families with an ‘all hands on deck’ mentality, taking great pride in their craft. The wines in this region rank among the best in the country due to a unique microclimate, with warm, sunny days and cool foggy nights and mineral-rich soil. A couple members of our team recently visited Windy Oaks Estate and were very impressed with what we discovered.

WINDY OAKS ESTATE – Corralitos, CA. – Drive 19 miles east of downtown Santa Cruz into the hills of Corralitos and you’ll find yourself at Windy Oaks Estate. Their premium wines are grown in unique and carefully selected terroirs in Monterey and the Santa Cruz Mountains. The extraordinary 30 acre property is perched amongst the rolling hills of Corralitos at 1000 feet elevation. This family owned winery was founded in 1996 by Jim and Judy Schultz who along with their two sons, continue to farm the land with care, make the wine and run the tasting room. We had the pleasure of being hosted by Jim Schultz and learning about his philosophy, which is very straight forward, “I do the most I can in the vineyard and the least I can in the winery.”

Jim & Judy Schultz

The Schultz’ are true wine lovers, have traveled extensively and have a broad understanding of both old and new world winemaking techniques. Their son, Spencer, spent time working in a wine cellar in Burgundy and the Windy Oaks wines clearly reflect that same finesse and balance that you find in well crafted French wines. There are no compromises made with these wines and all wines are aged on their lees in French Oak and bottled without fining or filtering. The vineyard has to be one of the most well maintained and environmentally sustainable we’ve ever seen, utilizing organic farming methods whenever possible. The French Oak barrels are custom made for the Schultz’ by their cooperage in France that they visit annually. Bottom line is these wines are fantastic and clearly reflect the integrity and passion of the people making them. The tasting room is laid back and has a lovely patio where you could easily sip away the afternoon while being entertained by a gorgeous wild Peacock that roams the property.

Windy Oaks Patio

In addition to the Corralitos winery, they have opened a tasting room in Carmel! Our team highly recommends these wines as they’re extraordinary quality at a very fair price point. They’re producing a nice array of varietals from Viognier to Pinot Grigio as well and often made with extremely old and rare vines. You can purchase direct from the winery here.

Tasting Notes:

Windy Oaks Santa Cruz Mountains Pinot Noir 2014– 96 Points

Windy Oaks Chardonnay Old vines Chardonnay 2014 – 96 Points

Windy Oaks Estate Santa Cruz Mountains Syrah 2013 – 95 Points

J Vineyards – Tasting the Current Releases. Mon, 05 Jun 2017 21:49:22 +0000 For just over 30 years, J Vineyards has been working to establish themselves as one of the most recognized American wineries primarily focused on sparkling wines. We recently visited the winery anonymously to taste through their portfolio of current releases.

NOTE: In addition to the wines listed below, J Vineyards also produces several wines that have wide distribution and, thus, can be found easily by consumers across the USA. In particular, the J Vineyards Chardonnay Russian River Valley (appellation-designate) is typically a superb value.

J Vineyards Chardonnay STRATA 2013
94 points – Classic “butter”-driven in style. Nice balance, very new world and “mainstream” in its appeal.

J Vineyards Bow Toe Vineyard 2014
95 points – The Bow Tie builds on the STRATA’s successes with more brightness and freshness.

J Vineyards Pinot Noir Bow Tie Vineyard 2013
94 points – Dark fruit enrobed in caramel. Light, glassy texture. Background earth and mushroom. Classic Russian River.

J Vineyards Pinot Noir STRATA 2013
95 points – Intense, brambly blackberry. Pristine finish that refreshes the palate.

J Vineyards Pinot Noir Freestone 2013
95 points – Raspberry and Pomegranate aril. Hints of Gevery Chambertin. Orange rind on the clean finish.

J Vineyards Vintage Brut 2010
93 points – Classic notes of hazelnut and vanilla.

J Vineyards Vintage Brut 2009 (Magnum)
95 points – Vanilla, lemon custard and a patisserie’s worth of flaky pastries. Clean and refreshing, yet rich in flavor.

J Vineyards Cuvee XB
89 points – Pleasant, but feels abbreviated.

Attention Collectors, Meet Favia Wines… Fri, 02 Jun 2017 17:31:08 +0000 New wine labels come and go with great frequency in Napa Valley. Every now and then, we come across a producer who we know is putting down roots, literally. Favia is a collaboration between husband and wife team Annie (Favia) Erickson and Andy Erickson. The two are highly respected across the valley for their experience working with Napa’s most elite vineyards and wineries. Annie launched her career working as a viticulturist with John Kongsgaard, Kathy Corison and David Abreau. While Andy has been making wine for some of the most highly prized “cult” producers in Napa Valley, including; Dalla Valle, Screaming Eagle, Arietta, Dancing Hares and Ovid.

Annie and Andy

Over the past decade Annie and Andy have been producing wines under Annie’s maiden name, Favia. Despite receiving lofty ratings in the high 90’s from critics such as Robert Parker, you may not have heard of the Favia label, which is still somewhat under the radar. With only 300 cases or less normally produced for each wine, they’re only available to list members and a few carefully selected high end restaurants. I was fortunate enough to experience a tasting at their Estate recently which was one of my most enjoyable Napa Valley experiences to date.

The Estate is located on a historic property first planted by pioneer, Antonio Carbone in 1886 in Napa’s Coombsville appellation. Antonio Carbone and his brothers were the first Italian immigrants to move to Napa Valley. With their newly found 5 acre property, they founded Carbone Winery. The bottom floor of the house was crafted into a wine cellar with thick stone walls with the main farmhouse style living space resting above it. The Erickson’s have refurbished the space while staying true to its origin. The stone walled once winery, now functioning barrel room, is an intimate space with a rustic ambiance. The property is saturated with decades of winemaking history and is a refreshing change from the flashy Napa Valley tasting rooms we’re all familiar with.

Carbone Winery

The Erickson’s tend to their land with great care including an estate vineyard and a thriving vegetable garden large enough to feed a small army. As well as various vegetation that is native to the area and what is likely to have been grown in the 19th century. The wine tasting is held in a cozy “tasting lab” that overlooks the creek. The ‘lab’ is stocked with various artifacts and historical documents paying homage to the property.

It goes without saying that the wines are absolutely stunning. They possess all of Napa’s rich fruit and minerality, but also have a classic elegance that can often be lacking in flashier wines. They’re currently producing Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah as well as a few blends. I can confidently say that myself and my fellow tasting panel members at CWA consider Favia to be one of our top recommendation for connoisseurs collecting domestic wines. If given the opportunity to taste or acquire these wines, you will not be disappointed. To view the CWA team rating for Favia’s latest release, please see below.

Favia Carbone Cabernet Blend – 96 Points

Favia Cerro Sur Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 – 98 Points

Navigating Restaurant Corkage Thu, 01 Jun 2017 17:28:13 +0000 For avid wine collectors, few thrills surpass the pleasure of savoring a favorite bottle perfectly aged and skillfully paired with delectable restaurant cuisine. I treasure memories of legendary Napa Cabernets I’ve enjoyed at renowned steak houses and favorite Brunello di Montalcino paired with pasta at our local trattoria to name a few. Living in California offers a plethora of benefits for wine lovers including the most obvious (proximity to Napa and Sonoma!) and the less-well known-advantage of a state law requiring all restaurants to offer corkage. Several other culinary destinations offer corkage (notably, many top restaurants in NYC) to attract spendy wine collectors. Even in states such as Texas and Florida that do not have a strong corkage tradition, many restaurants will bend “official policy” if you call prior to petition for a special occasion exception or reserve a private dining room.

For avid collectors – – and even casual wine lovers – – The benefits of corkage are substantial and always surpass the perceived negatives. Here are the top 3:


· Drinking special wine from your cellar with perfectly paired cuisine! For truly food-obsessed wine lovers (or vice versa) I highly recommend perusing the restaurant website prior to your meal to look at the latest menu items. Then, select the bottle(s) from your cellar that will match your intended meal choices. This can be especially beneficial at local restaurants that have lackluster wine lists or none at all. For example, one of my favorite nearby Italian restaurants doesn’t offer anything from Tuscany or Piedmont so I carry a Barolo or Brunello from my cellar. Similarly, a preferred Thai restaurant only has sparse offerings and I’ve learned their curries are outstanding with a zesty Sauvignon Blanc or white from the Rhone Valley of France.

· Savoring perfectly aged wine. For collectors with a substantial cellar for aging this is a major benefit. Most restaurants focus on relatively new vintages for financial reasons. That’s fine with me when I’m in the mood for a new release Chardonnay or Pinot from California but can be problematic when looking for Cabernet, French or Italian favorites. White Burgundy and Barolos are two personal obsessions that often require 7 – 10 years of cellar time to peak so I especially enjoy opening cellar favorites of these at restaurants.

· Price Savings = Many collectors focus exclusively on this benefit but I rank it lower than the aforementioned. That said, the math works in the favor of collectors 99%** of the time as you’ll be paying far less for the same wine compared to a restaurant’s hefty mark-up. Typically, a bottle that costs $100 at a reputable retailer will set you back around $300 at a restaurant, meaning even if you are charged an exorbitant corkage of $50 you’ll still come out ahead. Plus, many restaurants waive the corkage fee if you buy one from their list and/or share a sip of a celebrated wine with the sommelier.

A few thoughts on potential negatives:

· Embarrassing? Some collectors feel like a cheapskate bringing their own wine to a restaurant. However, the truth is virtually every avid oenophile and vigneron I know frequently brings special bottles when dining on the town. Hence, restaurants will likely judge you to be an epicurean instead of parsimonious. One important bit if etiquette to note is most restaurants do frown upon asking them to uncork a bottle of widely distributed wine (e.g. Rombaur Chardonnay or Caymus Cabernet) that is already on their wine list.

· Diminished sales? Another concern may be disappointing your server since the overall bill will be lower compared to purchasing a pricey bottle. In this case, I often leave an additional tip of 10% – 20% more than usual, particularly if no corkage is charged.
· Hassle of carrying and coordinating? I agree this is true but I feel the satisfaction of drinking the ‘perfect’ wine with a delicious meal makes this feel negligible at the end of the night!

**The exception would be the rare restaurant that has invested in older vintage wines and chooses to feature them at below-normal prices to attract oenophiles.

Sonoma County Barrel Auction Mon, 01 May 2017 18:42:31 +0000 The Sonoma County Vintners held their third annual Barrel Auction this April with record setting results, raising over $794,500. That is $100,000 more than the previous auction in 2016. All of money raised supports the marketing initiatives of the Sonoma County Vintners and their AVA partners. This trade-only event, showcases Sonoma’s finest one-of-a-kind lots from more than 90 growers and producers. The exclusive, invite-only auction, has become a must-attend event for elite wine industry members, wine buyers and sommeliers from around the world.Tasting Outdoor

The day commenced with the tasting in two ballrooms as well the patio at the Vintners Inn in Santa Rosa, California. Wine buyers eagerly shuffle from one table to the next tasting and analyzing the lots they plan to bid on. The lots were crafted by Sonoma’s top Vintners from 17 very distinct AVA’s within Sonoma and offered in lot quantities of 5, 10 or 20 cases. These featured wines were crafted strictly for the auction and will be available by resale only for the customers of the winning bidders. The stylistic range of Sonoma County wines is vast yet there is a common thread of seriousness among them all. Sonoma has risen to the same level of prestige among wine professionals around the world as its neighbor to the east, Napa Valley. Indoor Tasting

A well-timed lunch followed the tasting. Beautifully arranged tables overflowing with champagne, wine and hors d’oeuvres preceeded an exquisite meal. The room was jovial as legendary Sonoma wine growers, producers and retailers came together full circle to enjoy each other’s company. The highly anticipated live auction wrapped up the afternoon in a stunning display of energy. This auctioneer is one of the best we’ve seen, somehow making it through all 90 lots, maintaining enthusiasm until every last drop of wine was sold. Auctioneer Table

For the second consecutive year, Kosta Browne had the top earning lot with “The Shire of Freestone,” a 20 case Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir lot that set a new record at $60,000. The second highest seller was the 20 case Silver Oak Cellars 2015 Alexander Valley lot which closed the auction on a high note at $50,000. Rolling in third was Williams Selyem Winery’s 20 case Pinot Noir lot that went for $26,000. Ramey Wine Cellars had the top white wine bid at $12,500 for 10 cases of their “Ramey’s Heart of the Russian River Valley” Chardonnay.

The top five lots by case were as follows:
Pride Mountain Vineyards “25th Anniversary Summit Cuvee” – $4000 per case
Kosta Browne “The Shire of Freestone” – $3000 per case
Silver Oak Cellars “Silver Oak 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon”- $2500 per case
Mauritson Family Winery “Sonoma’s Own Everest”- $2500 per case
Laurel Glen Vineyard “Randall’s Favorite Barrel of 2015” – $2000 per case

Top 5 Napa Cabernets from the 2013 Vintage Mon, 24 Apr 2017 22:56:57 +0000 Savvy collectors worldwide recognize that the 2013 Napa Cabernet vintage is one of the finest in history. In fact, at least one noteworthy critic famously proclaimed the 2013 vintage Napa’s best-ever. After judging literally hundreds of 2013 Napa Cabernet contenders over the past few years, the California Wine Advisors are pleased to announce our highest rated winners. We will be revealing these Cabernets with additional editorial in three parts based upon price categories in the coming weeks. Today, we’re featuring the Top 5 rated selections between $150-$300. We applaud each winery and hope you will discover new favorites for your cellar.

Category 1: Under $150 = CLICK HERE
Category 2: $150 – $300 (below listed alphabetically)
Category 3: $300+ (coming soon)

Chateau Boswell Cabernet Sauvignon Oakville 2013 ($235) Rated 99 points in April, 2016
This provocative Cabernet was supremely satisfying when we last sampled. The various vineyard sources are a well-guarded secret but the style is 100% hedonistic, reflective of flamboyant winemaker Russel Bevan. Boutique production was merely a few barrels (less than 10) so collectors fortunate to find a bottle of this jam should savor every drop!

Continuum Cabernet Blend Napa 2013 ($225) Rated 99 points in March, 2016
“We have been fortunate to sample every vintage of Continuum since its inception over a decade ago. This 2013 is one of the first vintages composed exclusively from Estate fruit on Pritchard Hill (early vintages included fruit from To-Kalon) and winemaker Tim Mondavi’s ample flair shines through. The texture is silky but not overbearing with the balance laser focused, reminiscent of the finest Bordeaux 2000 First Growth. The mountain fruit produces a fresh experience that will reward patient collectors for at least the next decade to come! Bravo”

Fait Main Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Las Piedras 2013 ($190) Rated 98 points in May, 2016
One of the best facets of our job here is getting to share ‘Cult’ quality Cabernets BEFORE they are discovered by mainstream critics and collectors. Crafted by perhaps the #1 undiscovered talent in Napa today: winemaker Benoit Touquette was Andy Erickson’s right hand man managing day-to-day wine production at Screaming Eagle during the 2005 / 2006 vintages (both 98 points) and the legendary 2007 vintage (100 points). Benoit also happens to be the French protégé of world-famous winemaker Michel Rolland and assisted him (+ Andy Erickson) launching 100 point Ovid. Nice resume, right!?! Today, Benoit is leveraging his substantial talent and connections in Napa to craft just a few barrels of a glorious micro-production Cabernet under his new personal label he calls Fait Main which means “hand-crafted” in French. The fruit is sourced from the renowned Las Piedras vineyards (multiple R. Parker 97 – 98 point ratings). The lead editor of our panel oved this sample so much he snagged the rest of the bottle home to sip with a steak and confirm the sky-high rating.

Gargiulo Cabernet Sauvignon G Major 7OVX Vineyard 2013 ($159 ) Rated 99 points in November, 2016
Simply stated this under-the-radar treasure is one of our favorite Screaming Eagle doppelgangers, not big surprise given the location of the Estate vines next door to that celebrated vineyard. Big difference is this relative bargain is available (albeit in very, very limited amounts) for about 5% the going rate for Screaming E!

Marciano Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Estate 2013 ($245) Rated 98 points in March, 2017
The inaugural public release of Marciano has ‘Pre-Cult’ Cabernet written all over it and the best part is the actual wine delivers upon lofty expectations. This project combines the skills of perhaps the two most renowned Cabernet influencers in Napa today: ‘Cult’ Cabernet king Andy Erickson and viticulturist to the stars David Abreau! This choice property is located next to the famed Lewelling vineyard and across from the historic Beckstoffer Bourne vineyard – essentially the heart of good Cabernet country!

Wine Pairing 101: Salads + My Favorite Dressing Thu, 30 Mar 2017 17:35:49 +0000 I’m frequently commissioned to craft multi-course food and wine pairing menus for our VIP wine collector clients’ celebration dinners. I relish this opportunity because I firmly believe the “perfect” pairing is one of the most dazzling culinary pleasures in life. Favorites such as seafood (Dungeness crab or lobster) with white Burgundy or filet mignon with Napa Cabernet are the gold standards. Conversely, the most challenging pairing is always the salad course, particularly when a creative chef insists on including flavorful ingredients that clash with the complex flavors and subtleties of collector-level wines. For example, a classic Caesar Salad should be avoided at all costs since the traditional garlic dressing and croutons will numb your palate, severely impairing the enjoyment of any subsequent wine tastings. Other popular ingredients to avoid would be most types of fruit, cheeses, or pickled vegetables. In fact, the salad course is definitely the best opportunity to go with the “less is more” adage since most ingredients will diminish the enjoyment of fine wine.

That said, I have successfully vetted several delicious salad options and recommend the following dressing (at bottom) and wine-friendly ingredients. This salad should pair well with virtually any red wine, particularly younger Pinot Noir, Cabernet, or Rhone blends. Note: For evenings that featured rare wines with 10+ years of cellar age, I recommend skipping the salad course altogether or keeping the ingredients to a minimum (e.g. only lettuce + lightly marinated mushrooms)

Recommended Ingredients:
· Any non-bitter lettuces
· Beets
· Nuts (not candied or spicy!)
· Mushrooms ok if marinated in dressing (not garlic)
· Note: Avocado is neutral

My favorite Salad Dressing to pair with red wine:
· 75% fancy (viscous) olive oil
· 20% aged balsamic vinegar
· 5% soy sauce (I use Bragg’s for wife’s allergies)
· And a dash of favorite mustard (Dijon is fine)

Ingredients to Avoid:
· Garlic in dressing or croutons
· Tomatoes,
· Cured vegetable such as sun dried tomatoes or artichoke hearts,
· Peppers or chilies
· Pickled vegetables,
· Raw asparagus (BIG no-no!)
· Any cheese except maybe buffalo mozzarella or light parmesan cheese,
· Any fruit except beets,

5 Wine Films We Salute Fri, 24 Mar 2017 22:02:35 +0000 We thought it was spring here in Napa Valley, but the rains returned and hibernation weather is upon us once again. These chilly evenings call for hunkering down with an epic bottle of wine and a classic film. Here are our Top 5 wine movie recommendations that will stand the test of time!

1) Sour Grapes

A fascinating glimpse into the world of high end wine collecting, auctioning and fraud. This documentary chronicles the deceitful path of an unassuming wine con, Rudy Kurniawan. This story is captivating as it makes you realize how complex and corrupt the wine world can be.

2) A Year in Burgundy
A Year in Burgundy

Craving a French getaway? Kick back with a bottle of Burgundy and take a tour through the world famous wine region. This beautifully paced film follows well known importer, Martine Saunier, through Burgundy as she visits with some of her favorite producers. You’ll get a rare inside look into many of the worlds greatest wine producers.

3) Red Obsession
Red Obsession

Anyone needing a crash course in Bordeaux (don’t we all) needs to watch this documentary. This will educate you on not only the top players in the Bordeaux world, but the Chinese demand for the region which has caused prices to skyrocket over the pasty decade. An awe inspiring analysis of the serious wine business in Bordeaux.

4) Somm
Somm Film

The life of a sommelier is often a mysterious one to the average consumer. This documentary follows a group of thirsty young friends as they prepare to take what they claim is “the hardest exam you’ve never heard of”, for the prestigous Master Sommelier Exam. A path full of passion and dedication for the art of the craft and the elusive accomplishment of becoming one of the world’s few Master Somms.

5) Somm: Into the Bottle
Into the Bottle

A sequel to “Somm”, this documentary follows sommeliers on a journey to wine regions across the world. With stunning cinematography, you’ll be educated on the history of wine, the various facets of the winemaking process and what ultimately determines quality. With an in-depth look at topography, soil, climate and culture, you’ll walk away with a new found appreciation for your next glass.

Auction Day at Premier Napa Valley 2017 Fri, 17 Mar 2017 22:35:13 +0000 The Premiere Napa Valley Wine Auction is one of the most magical, intense and bewildering events that takes place in Napa each February. It is preceded by a week of swanky dinners at wineries, casual parties, and trade tastings for each of Napa Valley’s sub-appelations. This all culminates in a barrel auction, held at the historic Culinary Institute of America at Greystone (CIA), where lots of five cases (60 bottles) are sold off for anywhere between $9000 to $200,000 each. After a morning of tasting the lots, it is followed by a lunch catered by the CIA where participants can stop pretending to taste and instead start pouring off large glasses of wine from the literally hundreds of bottles that have been opened for just this occasion. In this atmosphere of Dionysian madness, it’s easy to get caught up and accidentally spend an insane amount of money on an auction lot.

The true magic of the event though is the tasting of each lot just prior to the auction. It is singularly the best way to meet with many of the major players in the valley and get an overall sense of the vintage that is being shown. Perhaps even more importantly, it offers an opportunity to chat with the winemakers and learn about their upcoming projects that are so small that they would otherwise completely escape notice. For example, a few years ago I was able to speak with Massimo di Costanza (at that time, winemaker at Farella and previously was at Screaming Eagle), who was just introducing his own label to the market. Since then, his annual release has been something that I routinely look forward to.

The 2015 vintage, which is what was on display at PNV, is yet another winner for Napa Valley. The quality of wine produced is on the whole top notch. Some of the highlights were Continuum, owned by Tim Mondavi and up in the high rent district of Pritchard Hill; Vineyard 7&8, made by Martha McClellan who also crafts ‘Cult’ Cabs Checkerboard, SLOAN and her own, Levy & McClellan, made with her husband (winemaker at Harlan) Bob Levy; and, surprisingly, a Sauvignon Blanc made by Dana Estates that held its own in what was otherwise a room filled with Cabernet Sauvignon. The only major downside to the vintage is that, due to some early shatter in the vineyards, most wineries only produced HALF of what they normally do. While what made it into the bottle is of superior quality, there just won’t be as much to go around when it starts hitting the market in 2018. The long and the short of it is that if you have a favorite wine from Napa, get in line early for your allocation of 2015s and buy what you can as there likely won’t be a second chance.

With the final gavel drop, an exhausted audience says their good byes and files out; some, quite a bit poorer than when they entered. Even still, everyone is all smiles. It’s been another good event and we’ll start saving our pennies to go at it again next year.

ITALY WINS – 2010 Top Rated Wine Competition Wed, 15 Mar 2017 23:58:24 +0000 I recently gathered with an intimate group of avid wine lovers to sample 6 of the highest rated collector reds from the celebrated 2010 vintage. Below, please find each selection, including the retail release price and most recent rating. This tasting was particularly exciting because 2010 is one of the rare years that each of the top regions in the northern hemisphere delivered superb quality. This set a relatively level playing field for our festive competition. Each selection had been previously rated 97 – 100 points by a leading source and was just entering its prime drinking window according to our judges. Per the normal process, each competitor was sampled blind to remove any risk of bias due to brand or price recognition. Finally, each participant was allowed to sample each of these red wine treasures twice to remove any bias due to order.

The surprise winner was the Canalicchio Brunello di Montalcino Riserva 2010, which also happened to be one of the least expensive bottles. This was particularly unexpected since most of the oenophiles participating are primarily focused on Napa reds. I personally rated this majestic Brunello “perfect 100” points (also rated 99 points by Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate) noting the immaculate balance, majestic balance of dark fruit, plush oak, and velvety tannins. When I revealed the results, our audience was unanimously astounded racing to grab another sip of the Canalicchio before we commenced our hearty steak dinner. Several members of our thirsty group proclaimed this Brunello the finest Italian wine they had ever sampled. For the record, the second and third place finishers were Colgin and Angelus. Given the worldwide acclaim and ‘Cult’ collector status of both of those legendary wines (particularly for 2010 releases) our sampling panel was less surprised by this announcement (but equally eager to re-sample!).

I hope this will inspire all curious collectors to organize their own multi-region tasting focused on favorites from a single vintage. Regardless of the price or rating of the selections I believe this is a unique methodology to identify regional distinctions and have great fun!

NAPA (United States)
Colgin Cabernet Blend Tychson Hill 2010 $500 99 points CWA
OVID 2010 $250 98 points RP / 100 points CWA

Chateau Angelus St. Emilion Grand Cru Classe A 2010 $499 – 99 points CWA
Chateau Leoville Las Cases St. Julien 2010 $315 – 99 WS

Canalicchio Brunello di Montalcino Riserva 2010 $139 99 RP
Fontodi Flaccianello Tuscany 2010 $129 97 RP

Premier Napa Valley 2017: Spottswoode Estate Fri, 03 Mar 2017 23:51:31 +0000 Each year we look forward to the prestigious Premier Napa Valley wine event hosted by the Napa Valley Vintners Association. This invite-only fundraising event is attended by industry members in various capacities: distributors, retailers, media members and winery staff. It’s a busy week, chock full of tastings and extravagant dinners hosted by various wineries to reveal, for the first time, their upcoming vintage. The weekend wraps up with a barrel auction of the showcased wines. Typically, retailers are bidding in the auction and are then able to offer these superb lots of very rare and high end wines to their top collectors.

This is an incredible opportunity for trade members to learn about the wines being produced in the Valley, get a sense of the vintage, and of course indulge in tasting some library vintages as well! It was thrilling to taste another knockout vintage from Napa Valley. We’ve now had 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015 all reflecting impeccable quality despite battling through the drought years. As we know, drought often leads to high quality fruit, terroir driven and age-worthy wines, a collector’s dream. The CWA panel attended quite a few events and we’ll be sharing our thoughts on the wines with you in the coming days.

One of the most memorable tastings was held at the historic Spottswoode Estate. Owned by the Novak family and situated on the western edge of St. Helena at the foot of the Mayacamas mountains, the Spottswoode Estate terroir is ideal for growing fine wine grapes. Their reputation is one of elegance and grace which is reflected in both the wine, the Estate and the Novak family. The vineyard consists of alluvial clay loam from the Sulphur Creek fan and provides superb drainage. While cool maritime breezes passing through the gap between Spring Mountain and the Mayacamas range, allow berries to ripen slowly. The location of the 40 acre Estate is unsuspecting as you drive down a quaint neighborhood street, only to arrive at the beautiful stone pillared entry gates of Spottswoode.


The property boasts three historic Victorian buildings that were built circa 1884-1885. The luxurious and welcoming grounds are covered in beautifully manicured foliage, trees and gardens that date back to 1884 as well. The tasting was invitation only, intimate and comfortable. Eight wineries were present, pouring their auction lot wine as well as a previous vintage or two. Familiar faces and industry moguls tasted the wines and conversed in the stunning setting of the Spottswoode Estate. It’s hard to choose a favorite, but the Dalla Valle and Spottswoode definitely made a lasting impression. We can confidently relay that we’re all in for yet another incredible vintage from Napa Valley and we look forward to sharing the experience of these wines with you all.

Spottswoode Estate

Dalla Valle Vineyards
2016 Cabernet Sauvignon (Premier Napa Valley Lot #86) *5 cases sold at auction for $42,000
2014 Collina Dalla Valle napa Valley Red Wine
2013 Dalla Valle Cabernet Sauvignon
2011 Collina Dalla Valle Napa Valley Red Wine

Dominus Estate
2006 Dominus

2015 Hourglass Alt-Cab Cabernet Franc Napa Valley (Premier Napa Valley Lot 110)

Lang & Reed Wine Company
2016 “Lost but Found Again” Chenin Blanc Oak Knoll District (Premier Napa Valley Lot 195)
1997 Premier Etage Cabernet Franc Napa Valley
2013 Two-Fourteen Cabernet France Napa Valley

2015 Oakville Chardonnay
2014 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon
2015 Howell Mountain Cabernet Franc (Premier Napa Valley Lot 81) *5 cases sold at auction for $14,000

Spottswoode Estate Vineyard & Winery
2015 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon (Premier Napa Valley Lot 99) *5 cases sold at auction for $25,000
2014 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon
2000 Cabernet Sauvignon (Premier Napa Valley Blends)
2015 Sauvignon Blanc

Stalin Family Vineyard
2014 Chardonnay
2013 Cabernet Sauvignon
2013 Booth Bella Oaks Cabernet Sauvignon
2015 Booth Bella Oaks Cabernet Sauvignon (Premier Napa Valley Lot 165)

Vineyard 7&8
2015 Homestaed Cabernet Sauvignon (Premier Napa Valley Lot 101)
2013 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon

A Visit to Lokoya Estate Wed, 01 Mar 2017 22:08:13 +0000 For sheer luxury on a grand scale, Lokoya Estate is the most spectacular new winery experience in Napa Valley today. I recently enjoyed dinner in the impressive tasting salon with the charming proprietress Barbara Banke. Our evening was a celebration of the completion of a monumental upgrade to the original Terra Valentine winery, perched atop Spring Mountain overlooking a picturesque swath of Napa Valley. The kitschy Alpine vibe and rustic wines of Terra Valentine are long gone, replaced by a supremely well-appointed experience featuring the majestic, age-worthy Cabernets of Lokoya.

Lokoya Cellar

Established in 1995, Lokoya is a collection of four distinct Cabernet Sauvignons from four of Napa Valley’s most celebrated mountain appellations: Mount Veeder, Howell Mountain, Spring Mountain and Diamond Mountain. These micro-production Cabernets are true thoroughbreds, coveted by avid collectors thanks to their age-ability and lofty ratings by wine critics worldwide. The inaugural vintage of Lokoya was our first sample and the crescendo was the recently released 2013 Lokoya Mt. Veeder bottling, rated “Perfect 100” points by Robert Parker. I savored every sip of the 1995 Lokoya, noting the deceptively ‘young’ tasting fruit and savory notes of balsamic plus olive tapenade reminiscent of a perfectly aged Barolo. This was the third time I had sampled the 2013 Lokoya and each tasting has been a thrill. This distinguished release delivers prodigious dark fruit deftly balanced by profound tannins and a velvety texture to be savored now (after decanting) or anytime for the next two decades.

Restaurant El Paseo’s Unique Wine Collector Dinners Thu, 23 Feb 2017 22:07:31 +0000 The restaurant El Paseo sits slightly south of wine country in Mill Valley, where it is both a local favorite and a destination for visitors hoping to catch a glimpse of co-owner Sammy Hagar (formerly of Van Halen and Montrose). The Spanish-influenced steakhouse is very wine-friendly since Hagar is quite a collector himself. Each month, Hagar hosts a ‘Wine Collectors Dinner’ where diners are encouraged to bring a bottle to share that fits that month’s parameters (a recent dinner focused on 1990-1999 Left Bank Bordeaux). $125 per person gets you (and your bottle) into the family-style dinner where bottles are opened immediately and conversations among wine lovers are overheard in every corner of the restaurant. The events have a charming, intimate vibe even though the headcount can reach forty people or more. Hagar himself has made an appearance at every event I’ve been to and has been incredibly generous with his own collection. The famous musician often brings rare large-format bottles of older vintages and thrillis his customers with many wines they would not likely get to enjoy otherwise.

Sammy Hagar and family at El Paseo.

Vineyard Focus: Three Palms Thu, 23 Feb 2017 21:32:57 +0000 The Three Palms Vineyard is one of the most prestigious sources for Merlot in all of Napa Valley, and has been a source for a single-vineyard bottling by Duckhorn since their first vintage in 1978. Just recently, Duckhorn purchased the vineyard and they are now the only winery making wine from the grapes grown at Three Palms.

Three Palms Poster

Commemorative poster celebrating Duckhorn’s 15th harvest from the Three Palms vineyard.

Originally the site of the residence of Lillie Hitchcock Coit, a noted San Francisco socialite, the vineyard takes its name from the trees that remain from before her death in 1929. The site was first planted to vines in 1968 after being acquired by the Upton brothers who, over the years, focused the vineyard on the Bordeaux varietals: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, and a tiny bit of Malbec. After its debut in 1978, Duckhorn’s Three Palms bottling gradually found a following across the USA and it continues to be featured on the wine lists of many of the top restaurants in the country.

The vineyard sits just across the road from Larkmead, who have gained a similar reputation for the wines from their estate. The famous Eisele vineyard, formerly the home of Araujo Estate, sits just a little further north into Calistoga. These three vineyards are some of the most historic in the valley since they have produced wines of very high quality for several decades.

Three Palms Map

Three Palms Map

The wines from Three Palms are typically intense, yet elegant. They are famous for aging gracefully for many years, much like the wines made by their famous neighbors. It is certainly worth the effort to seek these wines out, or to enjoy a bottle at a favorite restaurant.

We have recently tasted the 2012 and 2013 vintages of Duckhorn’s Three Palms Merlot. Links to the full reviews are below.

Duckhorn Cabernet Sauvignon Three Palms Vineyard 2012 | 97 points

Duckhorn Merlot Three Palms Vineyard 2013 | 97 points

Top 5 Napa Cabernets of 2013 Thu, 23 Feb 2017 18:36:23 +0000 Savvy collectors worldwide recognize that the 2013 Napa Cabernet vintage is one of the finest in history. In fact, at least one noteworthy critic famously proclaimed the 2013 vintage Napa’s best-ever. After judging literally hundreds of 2013 Napa Cabernet contenders over the past few years, the California Wine Advisors are pleased to announce our highest rated winners. We will be revealing these Cabernets with additional editorial in three parts based upon price categories in the coming weeks. Today, we’re featuring the Top 5 rated selections under $150 per bottle. We applaud each winery and hope you will discover new favorites for your cellar.

TOP 5 NAPA CABERNETS 2013 – Category 1: Under $150 (listed alphabetically)
(Categories 2 and 3 Coming Soon)

Araujo Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Altagracia 2013 ($135) Rated 97 points in April, 2016.
We admire this winner because it reminds us of many ‘Cult’ Cabernets, but sells for dramatically less. Intensely delicious and unabashedly age-worthy. Collectors love this bottling since it is the ‘little brother’ label to Araujo’s Eisele estate Cabernet which Robert Parker rated 100 points this same vintage. Interesting trivia is that this was the last-ever “Araujo” label since, shortly after the release, the winey name was officially changed to “Eisele Estate” by the French ownership.

Barbour Cabernet Sauvignon Napa 2013 ($129) Rated 98 points in February, 2016.
Barbour is an annual favorite and contender for ‘under the radar’ Cabernet of the Year most vintages. Due to boutique production limitations, these bottles rarely see distribution beyond Wine Country which is a shame. The quality is absolutely spectacular which isn’t a big surprise considering the proprietor, Jim Barbour, is one of the most respected viticulturists in Napa. The winemaker, Celia Welch, is one of the most celebrated in the world!

Lewis Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Reserve 2013 ($149) Rated 98 points in January, 2016
This special reserve bottling often garners lofty accolades for the deftly balanced, deeply delicious full throttle flavors. Interesting trivia is that the “little brother” Napa Cabernet (non-reserve) bottling of this wine was named Wine Spectator’s ‘Wine of the Year’ a few months after we released our rating.

Michel Rolland Cabernet Sauvignon Napa 2013 ($145)
Rated 97 points in December, 2016
We were delighted by the first public release of rock-star winemaker Michel Rolland’s personal Cabernet, which combines his personal favorite vineyard sources across Napa. In addition to hailing from the “best vintage in 30 years”, and as you’d expect from a man of this stature, this Cabernet is sourced from the finest First Growth vineyards in Napa; BECKSTOFFER’s To Kalon, Dr. Crane, Missouri Hopper and Stagecoach!

Textbook Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve du Dumas 2013 ($89)
Rated 97 points in July, 2015
No doubt the smallest production Cabernet on our list (merely two barrels crafted), this distinguished Cabernet is a blend of fruit from vines next to Screaming Eagle and vines next to Harlan. We admire the relatively conservative price considering that pedigree.

Wine in The White House – A Glimpse into a President’s Glass Tue, 21 Feb 2017 19:50:58 +0000 One might imagine that the White House would have a pretty impressive wine cellar. Apparently, that is not the case. The White House wine cellar is rumored to be the size of a walk in closet at best. Due to the overwhelming number of events they host they only keep wines on site for immediate use.

This wasn’t always the case as Thomas Jefferson will always be known as the “First Father of Wine”. Naturally, he built a wine cellar in the West Wing that held up to 20,000 bottles from his personal collection. That impressive cellar has since been repurposed. His diplomatic travels in 1787 to Italy and France instilled in him a lifelong passion for European fine wine. Jefferson’s favorite wines appear to have been top-quality vintages of Bordeaux, Burgundy and Sauternes. The third president also had high praise for white Hermitage, reportedly naming it ‘the first wine in the the world without single exception’. Jefferson ordered vast amounts of wine from Hungary. In 1801 he bought 240 bottles to be precise, along with more than 100 gallons of Madeira wine, according to sources. Unfortunately, Jefferson’s wine obsession sank him into crippling debts, leaving him near bankruptcy by the time of his death.

During the Prohibition period, 1920-1933, President Hoover did not serve any alcohol in the White House, despite not being a supporter of Prohibition. It wasn’t until President Roosevelt entered the picture, and Prohibition was repealed, that alcohol was reintroduced into the House. Former President Jimmy Carter turned Vintner after his presidency and continues to make wine mostly for friends and family in Georgia from Scuppernong and Muscadine grapes

The Obama administration reinstated the tradition of publishing their State Dinner Menus and wine pairings. President Obama is a known beer enthusiast, but entertained with wine. The wines surprisingly runs the gamut, from “expensive” Boutique California Pinot to grocery store aisle staples. The wines are typically chosen by the White House sommelier, David Shanks, and the First Lady. Mr. Shanks prefers to serve aromatic wines with youth and vigor “that carry a strong impression of their presence, yet balance and purity on the palate,” for state dinners where meals are not the primary focus of the evening. Shanks cited Pinot Noir, Syrah, Zinfandel, Viognier, Riesling and Pinot Gris as having a “wine presence” above the glass.

Most recently, three wines were served at President Trump’s Inauguration event. President Trump is a known “tee-totaler” despite having a winery of his own. We are going to refrain from sharing our thoughts on their choices…
-J. Lohr 2013 Arroyo Vista Chardonnay from Monterey County
-Black Stallion 2012 Limited Release Napa Valley cabernet Sauvignon
-Korbel Natural “Special Inaugural Cuvée” California Sparkling

WINES PAST PRESIDENTS HAVE SERVED (Prices/values are approximate and change over time)

Chateau Lafite Rothschild

President: Thomas Jefferson

Price: $1,500

Chateau Haut-Brion Blanc

President: John F. Kennedy

Price: $1,000

Chateau Haut-Brion

Presidents: Harry S. Truman & Woodrow Wilson

Price: $560

Shafer Cabernet Sauvignon “Hillside Select”

President: George W. Bush

Price: $245

Quilceda Creek Cabernet Sauvignon

President: Barack Obama

Price: $150

Mi Sueno Cabernet Sauvignon “Herren Selecion Rebecca”

President: Barack Obama

Price: $125

Chimney Rock Reserve Cabernet

President: George W. Bush

Price: $90

Morlet Family Vineyards “La Proportion Dorée”

Price: $64

President: Barack Obama

Inglenook Pinot-Chardonnay (now called “Chablis”)

President: Harry S. Truman

Price: $6

Fetzer Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon

President: George W. Bush

Price: $7

Sterling Chenin Blanc

President: Gerald Ford

Price: $8

Duckhorn Sauvignon Blanc

President: Barack Obama

Price: $11

Charles Krug Gamay Beaujolais

President: Jimmy Carter

Price: $14

Korbel Natural Brut N.V.

President: George W. Bush

Price: $14

Beaulieu Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon

President: Gerald Ford, 1973

Price: $16

Trivia: Syrah = #1 Most Popular ‘Continental’ Wine for Collector Thu, 16 Feb 2017 00:48:26 +0000 One of my favorites aspects of collecting wine is the seemingly never ending opportunity for sensational exploration + trivia! In the ‘trivia’ department, I recently realized that the Syrah grape has a legitimate claim to the title of “Most Inter-Continental Collector Wine” of all. Yes, I’m very aware that most passionate oneophiles typically refer to Cabernet as the “King of Grapes” and the fact that the most expensive grapes on Earth hail from Domaine de la Romanée-Conti’s coveted Pinot Noir vines in Burgundy. Syrah’s unique claim is that it is the only grape that consistently produces highly prized + highly priced bottlings on three different continents. Working with the most avid private wine collectors in America, I’ve had the chance to visit many of their cellars. Virtually all of these top-tier cellars (5,000+ bottles) contain a selection of Cabernets/blends from two regions (Bordeaux + Napa) as well as Pinots from both California and Burgundy. Syrah is the only grape represented by bottlings from three distinct countries – – America, Australia, and France – – that I’ve noticed in the majority of these cellars. Below is a short list of the top 2 most highly prized and priced Syrah from each country that I’ve seen most frequently featured in these prolific collections. All have received numerous 99 – 100 point ratings from CWA as well as other leading critics such as Robert Parker. For perspective, I’ve also listed their most recent release prices per bottle.

Penfolds Grange 2012 ($723)
Henschke Hill of Grace 2010 ($696)

Sine Qua Non 2013 ($304)
Cayuse 2014 ($125)

J.L. Chave Hermitage 2013 ($299)
Guigal ‘La La’s’ 2012 ($315)

Our Top 5 2014 White Burgundy Picks Wed, 08 Feb 2017 00:01:05 +0000 Both the Wine Spectator magazine and Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate, concur that 2014 marks the best-ever white wines from Burgundy. Today, I’m taking a break from our regularly-scheduled musings on California’s finest to shed the spotlight on another wine obsession: White Burgundy. My profession allows me the opportunity to sample hundreds of top tier Burgundy annually. The most recent vintages (2011 – 2013) have all offered many stand-out bottlings worthy of 95 – 97 point ratings but the quality has been inconsistent across the region.

While I’ve judged many recent Burgundy that command more than $300 per bottle, I have not personally rated any recent releases higher than 98 points. This trend came to a delightful halt when I visited the hallowed grounds of Burgundy last Summer to sample the 2014 bottlings and the 2015 vintage in barrel. I sampled hundreds of Premier Cru and Grand Cru offerings and judged most of them quite favorable. See below for my list of the Top 5 new arrivals sampled with the CWA team here as well as during my trip to Burgundy last year.

This includes two selections from my #1 favorite boutique vigneron from Chassagne Montrachet: Domaine Morey Coffinet. Good news is as we continue to sample the 2014 white Burgundy the quality level is noticeably superior to the last three vintages across the board. These new arrivals are both exuberant and elegant, featuring a cornucopia of complex flavors balanced to thrill now (decanting recommended) through 2025 – 2030. Savvy Burgundy buyers know to jump aboard swiftly when the best-of-the-best vintages arrive and I highly recommend you join the party for 2014! P.S. my Burgundy importer friends tell me that the 2014 acclaim is disseminating swiftly so prices are soaring and allocations are disappearing. Hence, don’t delay when given the opportunity to add these to your collection.

TOP 5 White Burgundy 2014 New Arrivals (Part 1 – Under $300)

Domaine Morey Coffinet Batard-Montrachet Grand Cru 2014
$275 | I rated 99 points. Early candidate for ‘wine of vintage (under $500)’

Louis Latour Corton Charlemagne Grand Cru 2014
$175 | I vote ‘best-ever’ from this iconic producer! “Classic 98” points.

Domaine Morey Coffinet Meursault 1er Perrieres 2014
$125 | A gem from this famous vineyard (Coche Dury sells for $900!)

Domaine Henri Germain Chassagne Montrachet 1er Morgeot 2014
$99 | Exquisite ‘bargain’ from my #1 favorite vineyard under $100

Domaine Boyer-Martenot Meursault En l’Ormeau 2014
$72.99 | A delightful ‘bargain’ with gorgeous fruit

The Corner Napa Mon, 06 Feb 2017 19:59:47 +0000 As we know, the competition for new restaurants in Napa Valley is steep. In a town offering what feels like endless food and drink options, a new restaurant venture requires risk and a focused vision.  I was pleasantly surprised to discover one of downtown Napa’s newest additions is making an incredible impression on its customers.

Napa residents, Trevor and Stephanie Sheehan, opened The Corner on the downtown waterfront in August.  The Corner features an eclectic food menu and a serious selection of wine and spirits.  Despite the name suggesting that it might be a casual spot, there is nothing ordinary about the space.  The large airy room is fresh and inviting, a combination of industrial design with modern comfort.  Exposed brick walls and a living wall with beautiful succulents are warmly lit by chandeliers.  You can stop in for a drink and small bites at the bar, relax in their comfortable lounge area or have a classic dining experience at a table.

With a 26 page wine list consisting of over 4000 wines, they have something that appeals to everyone.  For the collectors, they offer an impressive selection of old and rare wines including a 1919 Chateau Siran.  The Sheehans are clearly Burgundy lovers and the list reflects their knowledge.  There is also plenty of local wine featured from both classic Napa and boutique producers in the area. With an extensive offering of rare spirits, including the largest selection of rare whiskey and single malts in the region, The Corner has quickly garnered the reputation as the go to hand-crafted cocktail spot downtown.

Executive Chef, Dustin Falcon, boasts an impressive resume including experience working in Italy, New York City and both of Thomas Keller’s legendary Napa locations, AdHoc and The French Laundry.  As the Corner’s Executive Chef, Falcon has designed his menu to reflect his Italian heritage and seasonally driven modern American cuisine. Sourcing ingredients from local growers and purveyors, including Five Dot Ranch, his passion for the venture is undeniable. The Corner is setting the bar high for its future neighbors on the ever expanding downtown waterfront.

Napa 2012, ’13 and ’14 = Embarrassment of Riches! Thu, 02 Feb 2017 18:59:37 +0000 Cabernet collectors worldwide continue to rejoice because we’re in the heart of the new release schedule for Napa’s three finest consecutive vintages in history. The 2012, 2013, and 2014 vintages are all superb with an array of highly rated winners and a typical production quantity for most vintners. (Warning: 2015 supply will be miniscule due to the drought that year).

As the Wine Spectator’s longtime editor James Suckling proclaimed, “I am sure we will debate which vintage is the best for a long time, and this itself adds to the attraction of the three vintages.” Suckling rated the 2012 vintage the most luscious, 2013 the most age-worthy, and 2014 the most “bright and sophisticated” offering approachability sooner than 2013.

Overall, I would tend to agree with his analysis but some of my favorite boutique producers (TOR, Ovid, Favia among the top tier boutiques) have attained an unparalleled level of quality with their 2014 vintages thanks to learnings gleaned from three such distinguished vintages. Below, I’ve posted my list of Top 10 Cabernets (Part 1) featuring the initial releases from the 2014 vintage.

My favorite bit of trivia regarding the 2014 vintage is it will likely go down in history as Napa’s best-ever “Earthquake” vintage due to the massive tremors that struck on August 24, 2014, a couple of weeks prior to harvest. While the earthquake caused significant property damage to many older buildings (including wine storage facilities), some winemakers believe it had an almost magical effect on the ultimate quality of the Napa Cabernets. The theory is that the tremors released groundwater deep below some vineyards that hadn’t experienced hydration in decades. According to Suckling, “Many of the vineyards had green leafs through the harvest” and formerly dry creeks suddenly ran with water.

Napa 2014 Top 10 Cabernets (Part 1 – – initial releases)

Schrader Cabernet Sauvignon To Kalon RBS 2014 $475 99

Tuck Beckstoffer Cabernet Mockingbird Blue 2014 $240 98+

PerUs Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Kyla 2014 $299 98

TOR Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Herb Lamb 2014 $180 98

Chateau Boswell Cabernet Sauvignon At Anchor 2014 $155 98

Textbook Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve du Dumas 2014 $99 97

Boich Family Cabernet Howell Mtn Selection 2014 $150 96+

Arietta Cabernet Blend Napa Quartet 2014 $73 96

Joseph Phelps Cabernet Sauvignon Napa 2014 $83 96

TOR Family Cabernet Sauvignon Napa 2014 $85 96

CADET Wine and Beer Bar in Napa Sat, 28 Jan 2017 00:48:49 +0000 “Buy a bottle, pick a record” is the motto at downtown Napa’s beloved watering hole, Cadet.  Owners Colleen Fleming, from the family who founded Kelly Fleming Wines, and Aubrey Bailey, a former sommelier at the French Laundry, have created the coziest, modern bar we’ve seen in the Valley, well ever. Adored for its eclectic selection of old and new vinyl as well as unique wines and beers from around the globe, this is where you’ll find the locals of Napa Valley on any given evening.  The offerings have been thoughtfully curated and feature a selection of rare Champagnes, wines and beers celebrating producers from California and beyond. The atmosphere is inviting, with the perfect balance of vintage and modern decor.

Cadet has become a community gathering spot with unique events held weekly and winemaker tastings every Wednesday night.  Featuring over 100 wines by the bottle, at the fairest prices in town, it’s quickly gaining the reputation as having the most intriguing wine list in Napa. Also legendary for having what many consider the only cheese and salumi plate in the valley that can also pass for a meal, we highly recommend making this a stop when you find yourself in downtown Napa.



Top 10 Cheese & Wine pairings Wed, 25 Jan 2017 19:38:34 +0000 Most wine lovers would agree that the perfect cheese pairing is a match made in Heaven! Working at my ‘day job’ (judging and recommending rare collector wines) for the last 15 years I’ve learned that the right cheese can dramatically enhance a very good wine and, conversely, the wrong cheese can make an otherwise great wine taste pretty mediocre. Scientifically, cheese is the perfect antidote to a young, tannic red wine or acidic white wine as the fatty elements (of the cheese) literally coat the taste buds making your mouth more receptive to a wine that might seem a little harsh on its own. While I partially agree with some generally accepted rules of thumb (e.g. ‘soft cheeses with white wines and hard cheeses with red wines’) the exploration for ideal cheese and wine pairings is actually magnificently complicated!

For starters, I’ve penned my Top 10 Cheese & Wine pairings below listed alphabetically, featuring the most popular collector-level wines in the world. For the full list of our Top 50 Wine and Cheese Pairings please Contact US.

ABOUT THIS LIST: I developed this recently after searching for ideal cheese & wine pairing websites. In my search, I found a veritable plethora (literally hundreds!) of sites with opinions and advice but few were helpful. Many websites focused on such obscure cheeses from various regions of France or England that no American epicurean could ever source these at home. Others, focused on stretching universally accepted axioms and only provided edgy recommendations which I believe is unhelpful for most novices simply looking for ideal pairings to savor at happy hour with friends. An example of that is virtually any connoisseur would accept that creamy French cheeses pair perfectly with Chardonnay but many website recommended Swiss Gruyere. At first, I thought that was a typo and then I realize several sites recommended the same. I understand the possible reasons behind this ‘edgy’ recommendation (‘nuttiness’ of the cheese combined with the oak flavors in the Chardonnay?) but it’s simply wrong (sorry!).

Please note that this list is not intended to be exhaustive as it doesn’t include several classic combinations (e.g. Port + Stilton) and no mention of Champagne since I believe other appetizers such as smoked salmon are more ideal than any single cheese. Finally, white wine lovers might lament the conspicuous absence of Brie as a recommendation for any wine. This is an intended omission given my opinion that the plastic, cheese-like substance imported into the U.S. and sold as ‘Brie’ in grocery stores across America is only slightly more palatable than Velveeta.

Wine & Cheese Pairing Recommendations:

Cabernet & blends from California — Aged Gouda (orange color)

Cabernet & Blends from Bordeaux — Comte (French)

California / Burgundy Pinot Noir — St.Andre (French)

Syrah and other red (California) — Piave (Italian)

Rhone Red — Emmenthal (French )

Italian Red (Tuscany, Piedmont) — Pecorino (Italian)

California / Burgundy Chardonnay — Aux Delice (French)

California other white — Goat Cheese (semi-soft)

Rhone White — St. Andres (French)

Alsation / German Whites — Cambozola (French)

California’s Unknown Chardonnay Superstar Mon, 23 Jan 2017 20:58:17 +0000 Since receiving a lofty 97 point rating from Wine Spectator for their 2005 Chardonnay, Shibumi Knoll captured the attention of the wine world. At just $45, it boasted a score normally reserved for wines by legends like Marcassin, Aubert, and Kongsgaard – all of which were nearly double the price upon release (if you could secure a spot on the private mailing lists of those wineries to have a shot at actually purchasing the wines). Despite the press surrounding the rating, and the likely rush to join the winery’s mailing list in the wake of the article, few collectors recognize the name Shibumi Knoll and still fewer have tasted the wines.

Shibumi Knoll began in 2003 when Don and Joann Ross bought a small plot just north of St Helena and focused their early efforts on Cabernet Sauvignon. Through a winemaker friend, Don discovered the Buena Tierra vineyard in the Russian River Valley of Sonoma County. From this relatively unknown site, Shibumi Knoll would craft the Chardonnay that thrust the small winery into the spotlight. Since the 97 point-scoring 2005 vintage, the Buena Tierra Chardonnay has twice received a 96 point score from the Spectator, signaling that the big score was not a fluke and that collectors will likely have to take notice sooner or later.

We sampled two vintages in our tasting, the 2012 and the 2013. While both years are considered to be very good for California Chardonnay, the 2012 stands head and shoulders above the 2013. The 2013 (93 points) is a flashy, round and satisfying white wine that would thrill nearly anyone who enjoys fruit-driven California Chardonnay. However, the 2012 (96 points) features a balance and poise that is notably missing from the newer bottle. At $45, the 2013 would no doubt be a huge bargain but, now that the price has gone up to $90, it is a bit of a disappointment. In years such as 2012 when the winery is able to capture such magic, the Shibumi Knoll Buena Tierra Chardonnay should lay proudly next to the best white wines from California in any cellar.

Our Top 10 Wines of 2016! Thu, 05 Jan 2017 21:30:15 +0000 After judging more than 1,000 collector-level wines this year, the California Wine Advisors is pleased to announce the Top 10 highest scoring wines of 2016. The California Wine Advisors is distinguished for providing honest, unbiased opinions since we do not accept advertising and all wines are tasted blind by our panel of experts. Congratulations to these ten wineries for the superb craftsmanship exhibited in these monumental new releases.

1. Levy & McClellan Cabernet Reserve 2012 – 100 Points

2. Torbreck RunRig Shiraz 2013 – 99 Points

3. PerUs Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 – 99 Points

4. Continuum Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 – 99 Points

5. Buccella Cabernet Cuvee Katrina Eileen 2013 – 99 Points

6. Maison Louis Jadot Montrachet Grand Cru 2012 – 99 Points

7. Verite 2010 – 99 Points (La Joie, La Muse, La Desir)

8. Chateau Boswell Ritchie Chardonnay 2012 – 99 Points

9. Dalla Valle Maya Proprietary Blend 2013 – 99 Points

10. Fait Main Cabernet Napa Las Piedras 2013 -98 Points

“SOMM” = Wine Documentary recommendations Fri, 04 Nov 2016 22:04:49 +0000 I have to confess that I’m not a fan of many wine themed films. There seems to be an inverse correlation between box office popularity and accuracy of actual wine information to be gleaned (e.g. Sideways, Bottle Shock). When our audience asks me for pleasurable recommendations I now mention two relatively new documentaries, both titled SOMM. I enjoyed both immensely for distinct reasons. The first edition focuses on the highly involved process towards becoming an official Sommelier. Yes, it’s sometimes a little heavy on ‘reality TV’ type melodrama but I believe any wine lover will enjoy learning about the process and knowledge necessary for this accreditation. The second edition, called “Somm: In the Bottle” is an even higher recommendation because the quality is superior (bigger budget I assume due to the success of #1) and it’s more informative about a wider range of topics. In fact, if you’re only going to watch one wine ‘educational’ film, I strongly encourage you to start with this documentary. It is very informative and offers the chance to meet some of the most renowned winemakers on earth, including the vigneron of the priciest wine sold today (Domaine de la Romanèe Conti in France). In particular, I enjoyed the “history” segment of this documentary and the outstanding cinematography.

(Revealing) My Favorite Wines – Beyond ‘The Usual Suspects’ Thu, 08 Sep 2016 22:33:29 +0000 It’s no secret that the best aspects of my job are, sampling over a thousand collector-level wines annually and sharing the best-of-the-best recommendations with many of America’s most avid private collectors as they build their personal cellars.

I’ve learned that most oenophiles with ‘average’ size cellars (1,000 bottles) typically limit their collection to what I refer to as, ‘The Usual Suspects’. From California this would be Cabernet and Chardonnay. Yes, you might find a smattering of Pinot Noir and maybe even a few bottles of Zinfandel and Syrah but 90% of most collections I see focus on the two Big “C’s”.

I’d like to share six types of wines that I’ve added to my personal collection since diversifying beyond Cabernet, Chardonnay, and Pinot Noir in recent years. I highly encourage you to consider at least sampling a few of these categories to experience the sheer delight of a new food and wine adventure. Trust me, the pleasures can be every bit as satisfying as the first time you experienced the thrill of a glass of wine that wasn’t poured out of a box!

WHITE WINES: California Sauvignon Blanc- While many American collectors consider Chardonnay and ‘white wine’ to be synonymous, I adore a few of the very best Sauvignon Blanc as a delightfully exotic and refreshing alternative. I savor S.B. with a wide variety of cuisine including spicy Asian, seafood, goat cheese salads, or even Southern fried chicken! Preferred labels include Joseph Phelps or Duckhorn (both below $40) or collector-level bottlings from Arietta, Kenzo, and Lail.

The village of Chateauneuf du Pape in France (southern Rhone region) offers “the best white wines in the World that you’re not drinking” according to the Wine Spectator magazine and I agree 100%. These whites are normally blends of obscure grapes rarely found in America such as Roussanne, Marsanne, and Grenache Blanc. The best examples of these bottlings feature luscious notes of bright tropical fruit plus hazelnuts balanced with spicy acidity for a refreshing + breath-taking experience that must be tested to believe. Personal favorites include Chateau Vaudieu ‘Belvedere’ (#1 in my book), Chateau Beaucastel ‘V.V.’, Domaine Clos des Pape, and Chateau La Nerthe.

I believe Viognier, from the picturesque village of Condrieu in France (northern Rhone region), is the most deliciously exotic white wine on Earth. The finest Condrieu offer a unique combination of honeysuckle, fresh peaches, bleu cheese, and pear. This flavor combination may sound weird to read but can be divine to sip when paired with spicy seafood or creamy cheeses. Personal favorites include Alban (California) and Julien Pilon or Domaine Georges Vernay from France.

RED WINES: The exotic reds from the village of Chateauneuf du Pape (CdP) in the Southern Rhone region of France are my ‘first love’ among French red wines because they offer a core of sumptuous fruit. These red blends are also the most perfect wines to pair with a variety of menus because they combine the bright fruit of Pinot Noir with the weight and substance and tannic structure of Cabernet to enhance menus as varied as sushi, steak, lamb or grilled chicken. With a few noteworthy exceptions, the pinnacle of CdP quality may be obtained for less than $200 per bottle which ranks these reds well above Napa, Burgundy, or Bordeaux on the bargain scale. Personal favorites include Chateau La Nerthe, Chateau Vaudieu, Domaine de la Barroche and Clos du Caillou.

Tuscan reds offer enjoyment with classic Italian recipes, including pizza and pasta Bolognese. My personal ‘ah-hah’ moment occurred the second time I visited this historic and hospitable region in central Italy, as I sipped an aged Sangiovese with lamb that had been marinated with herbs, wine, and licorice for 24 hours. I realized that the best Italian wines are uniquely delicious with locale fare because the core flavors match, savory olives, prosciutto, truffles, etc. My personal favorites are Fontodi and Castello di Ama (both in Chianti) plus the Brunello di Montalcino by Canalicchio di Sopra, Casanova di Neri, and Valdicava.

Spanish Tempranillo blends are my newest obsession because they provide a dazzling thrill ride that combines many of my favorite characteristics found in Napa Cabernet, Italian Sangiovese, and a dash of opulent Syrah. These deep, dark and sultry reds also enhance a wide variety of meals including grilled meats and Italian cuisine. Favorites that I collect include Vega Sicilia and Bodegas El Nido from the Ribera del Duero region and El Corteo (Jumilla) which are all available for less than $200.

I also collect Pingus because I believe it rivals any Bordeaux for consistent quality and age-worthiness but, the prices now also rival Bordeaux topping out above $1,000 per bottle. Finally, one clarification that this list is not intended to be ‘comprehensive’ as there is an array of other types of cellar-worthy wines (e.g. Australian Shiraz, Piedmont reds, Champagne, etc.). For now, I hope this list will serve as an encouragement for inquisitive readers to consider any of the aforementioned types of wine that are unfamiliar. Also, I’ve specifically excluded Bordeaux and Burgundy as they merit separate investigations and of course, are primarily Cabernet and Chardonnay based wines…or leather pouch (a.k.a. bota bag) which is how I enjoyed my first bottle of wine at a bullfight while studying in Madrid, Spain that cost me about one dollar!

The Highest Rated Shiraz on Earth Wed, 31 Aug 2016 18:58:29 +0000 Yesterday, I attended a private luncheon with a few local sommelier and the team from Australia’s acclaimed Torbreck Estate, home of the highest rated Shiraz on earth. Our select assembly had the pleasure of sampling the U.S. debut of this esteemed winery’s most sought-after Shiraz, the Run Rig, as well as library vintages. We also judged the collector-level portfolio of Torbreck’s new 2013 releases. I’ve posted my 96 – 99 point ratings in our ratings section. My biggest take-away is that this winery’s flagship Run Rig bottling does indeed deserve to be ranked alongside the world’s most iconic and unique bottlings I’m fortunate to examine (annually) from other countries such as France’s Guigal and Chave or Spain’s Vega Sicilia. The quality of Run Rig consistently displays an exotic decadence I normally only enjoy in the top tier Amarone from Italy combined with an ethereal element typically found in the most distinctive Chateauneuf du Pape. Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate seems to agree having awarded Run Rig more 98 – 100 point ratings than any other Shiraz, including the legendary Penfold’s Grange which now sells for more than double the price.

Full disclosure: we were not sampling ‘blind’ (i.e. normal protocol for California Wine Advisors) and I’ve been a personal collector of these wines for more than a decade.

Chateau Pichon Lalande – The Connoisseur’s Choice Wed, 22 Jun 2016 17:36:19 +0000 We recently had the opportunity to taste through a selection of vintages from Chateau Pichon Lalande in Pauillac. Pichon Lalande has a long and storied history, but there are really two main elements to keep in mind: 1) it is literally next door to Chateau Latour (as in, Latour’s vines abut the Pichon Lalande salons) and 2) this is truly a connoisseur’s Bordeaux.

The first point requires little more explanation apart than to say that the shared soils and local history to Latour suggest that there’s always the potential for the greatness in Pichon Lalande’s wines.

The second point, however, is at least debatable. To say that it’s a connoisseur’s wine, or put more contentiously, “smart people’s wine”, I mean that it represents tremendous quality for the relatively low price it commands in relation to it’s more prestigious neighbor. Not only that, but while the professional press might not demonstrate it, Pichon Lalande performs it’s best in what are technically difficult vintages. We had the opportunity to taste a smattering of vintages from the the past 25 years: 2011, 2009, 2008, 2005, and adding historical context, 1989. There is no doubt that the 2009 is going to evolve into a great wine one day. The 2005 was also showing brilliantly. That said, it was the 2008 that caught my attention. This little discussed vintage offers tremendous values for the smart shopper. One can purchase 5 cases of Pichon Lalande for what a single case of Chateau Latour costs from the same vintage.

All this is to say, if you are interested in Bordeaux, Pichon Lalande offers a relatively affordable gateway to both currant library vintages.