Thursday, September 10, 2009
Wednesday, September 9, 2009
My Favorite California Wine
This kind of question is almost impossible for me to answer because of all the amazing wines I have been lucky enough to encounter over the years. But if you put my feet to the fire I would have say to say Ridge Cabernet Sauvignon from the Monte Bello Vineyard.
Do I consider it the very greatest of all California wines? No, but I wouldn’t make that statement about any other wine either, there are just too many great wines. It is my favorite for more personal reasons than just how transcendentally rich, powerful, elegant, and distinctive it can be.
You see when I was growing up I could see Monte Bello Ridge above the town of Cupertino from my bedroom window. As I grew into adolescence and became interested in wine it was so exciting to think of great wine being produced that close to home. Then I grew old enough that they would actually serve me in the tasting room, and the excitement only increased!
To be honest I don’t remember the first vintage of Monte Bello I ever tasted, but I do remember that I have tasted every vintage ever produced commercially. The first vintage of Monte Bello was the 1962 and at the time I tried it, it was the oldest California wine I had ever tasted.
The vintages at the top of the list for me would be the 1966, 1967, 1985, 1991, and 1999, but don’t make me pick between those. My favorite Monte Bello memory (maybe my favorite wine memory period) is drinking the 1977 on its 15th birthday while sitting in the vineyard leaning against a vine.
The 1982 vintage actually taught me a lesson about great wine. Nobody would call it a great Monte Bello (they lowered the price from $50 to $15), but when you drank it (which we did plenty of) you could tell it was a Monte Bello. And that for me defines greatness in wine, not only that it is delicious, but that it is unmistakable in its character and singularity.
Funny that’s a pretty good way to define Ridge Monte Bello Cabernet Sauvignon, no wonder I dig it so much!
Tuesday, September 8, 2009
2005 Gemstone Proprietary Red
James Laube, a noted expert on Napa Valley wines, described the 2005 Gemstone:
"An absolutely gorgeous wine is the blend of 92% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Merlot, and 3% Petit Verdot, the 2005 Proprietary Red. Pure, vivid notes of black currants, crushed rocks, acacia flowers, and some subtle barrique smells are followed by a wine with hints of hot stones and a gravelly character. The wine has superb intensity, beautiful purity, and full-bodied power, but uncanny elegance and symmetry. This wine needs 2-3 years of bottle age, and should drink well for 25 years."
I don't know what crushed rocks taste like, whether I should want my wine to taste like acacia flowers, or what "barrique smells" are. What I do know is that the first time I tasted Gemstone, I was blown away. I had heard about the wine and the stories about how difficult it was to find because of the limited production and high demand.
Usually I chalk up such rumors to clever marketing, and a feeding frenzy by rare-wine collectors to obtain the most scarce offerings out there. In this case, I could not have been more wrong. For a friend's birthday, I offered to cook some steaks, and my friend's step father brought a bottle of Gemstone.
As soon as I watched it poured into the glass, I could tell it was something different. It was dark -- almost inky. The smell -- what oenephiles would call the "nose" -- was different. To me, most wines smell like, well, wine. This was different; it was complex in a way I typically am unable to discern. The flavors were even more complex, as even I could detect different flavors in the wine. I'm still not certain what they were, but they were there.
But the real magic came when the wine accompanied a slice of medium-rare prime beef. Delicious.
Monday, September 7, 2009
During a wine tasting trip to Napa about a year ago, out party stopped at Dean & Deluca for lunch. While waiting for our sandwiches to be made, I wondered over to their wine area, where I quickly became lost in the in the seemingly endless rows of reds.
While I recognized a few of the larger wineries, quite honestly virtually all of the bottles seemed to be simply variations on a theme – same size bottle, semi-interesting label and price points that were a little on the high side for me take a chance on.
However, all of that changed in an instant, when I came across a bottle that simply had a black and white picture of a man’s hands as its label. The name of the name of the wine – “Papillon” appeared to have been tattooed (hopefully temporarily!) on each of his visible fingers.
Two things struck me immediately – first “Papillon” brought to mind the movie by the same name which stared a very young Dustin Hoffman, and one of my all time favorite actors, Steve McQueen. Second, the man’s hands were filthy! I wondered why on earth would a winery choose to make dirty hands its selling point?
Whatever it was, their marketing ploy worked on me, as I picked up this one bottle out of literally thousands to choose from for a closer examination. After examining the hands a little bit closer, I turned the bottle over and immediately smiled – there was a familiar name – Orin Swift! Their marketing of first release – “The Prisoner” (which was the subject of an previous guest blogger) also featured a unique picture of a man in chains.
Without even checking the price, I headed to the cash register. I simply had to share this bottle with my friends who were with me. Of course I did get a another little surprise at the register – the price was only in the $50 range – not bad at all for a Napa Valley Red Wine that contains over 50% Cabernet Sauvignon.
Returning to our limo, I proudly showed off my purchase, and before the bottle came back my way, it was nearly gone as we simply enjoyed it with our sandwiches as we headed off to our next winery.
This wine is still one of my favorites – I especially like its finish, which seems to last forever, which is about as long as I hope to remember the how, why and when I first picked up a bottle of this wine. (PS - the dirty hands? I later learned that they were the hands of a field worker who had picked some of the grapes that went into Papillon - and yes, the tattoo was temporary).
Sunday, September 6, 2009
A New Friend
As I only recently moved to this great state, my knowledge of California wines was actually pretty much limited to the well known producers, especially the big and bold Cabs that California is renowned for. However, now that I live here, I am struck by all the varieties of grapes that are grown throughout Northern California.
That is why it was extremely hard for me to choose just one wine for this review.
However, after narrowing done my selections, I choose a wine that I associated with a unexpected but yet wonderful experience. Here is the story.
About two months ago, I was working in Napa on a Wednesday afternoon when I looked at my watch and realized that traffic was going to get the better of me so I stopped at a local restaurant off Hwy 29 called Press.
Being a first time diner, I didn’t know what to expect but as luck would have it, Wednesday is the night that Press features a “Blue Plate Special” for only $10 and wines at half price!
The “Special” that Wednesday was Chicken Milanese topped with micro greens and fresh tomato. The Milanese breading was perfectly crunchy with a hint of Italian spices, the chicken extremely tender and the tomatoes garden fresh.
Since I still had to drive back to Sacramento, I consulted with the bartender regarding their half bottle selections. Since I was having chicken, we decided on a half bottle of Robert Sinskey Pinot Blanc.
Now, I’ve had my share of Pinot Blancs but this particular style was bright and had enough sugar to tame the Italian spice on the breading so that each bite was enjoyable. The acidity was low so it didn’t attack my mouth after a bite of tomato while still allowing the micro greens to burst with minerals. It was a smooth wine and could easily have gone with Thai food - which I find can be one of the most troublesome of foods to pair wine with.
I don’t particularly like dining alone but this wine has now become my friend and I thoroughly enjoyed its company. I think you will too!
Saturday, September 5, 2009
Just the other night I picked up a bottle of CA Zinfandel by the name of Quackenbush. I admit that the name made me laugh and that is why I picked up the bottle, but after reading the back I decided to give it a shot.
Friday, September 4, 2009
A Memorable Wine and Memorable Moment
I have a soft spot for WORK VINEYARD 2003 NAPA CABERNET SAUVIGNON. A true Bordeaux Blend - 90% Cabernet, 5% Merlot, 3% Syrah and 2% Malbec. Only 170 cases were made. The wine is exceptional with a complex character. This deep, dark and profoundly concentrated wine boasts a dense ruby/purple-tinged color as well as a gorgeous nose similar to that of a French Bordeaux that is intermixed with notions of crushed blueberries and violets. Full bodied and unctuously-textured wine with flavors of dust, leather and chocolate, it is a terrific, full throttle, palate staining, impeccably well balanced wine that can be drunk for the next 10-15 years. But the reason I love this wine has a little to do with its full bodied taste and more to do with my family. Here is our story...
One evening, Lamya (my wife), Zina (our daughter) and myself were dining at the Calistoga Inn in downtown Calistoga. Our son, John and his girlfriend Jackie arrived and started screaming "Dad I did it".....Mom I did it." When we asked what, he replied that he proposed to Jackie! It was "yes" and he had given her a beautiful 3.5 karat diamond ring.
During the happy news, Lamya stood up from our table and addressed all the people in the restaurant by knocking on the rim of the glass and saying "Hello everybody. My name is Lamya and I have happy news to celebrate with you! Our son John proposed to his girlfriend Jackie and they are going to marry next year and I want all of you to know that the wine is on the house.”
Meanwhile, I am kicking Lamya's foot trying to tell her that we only had one bottle of wine on our table and how are we going to serve 60 plus people? All of a sudden I saw the restaurant manager approaching us and asking what kind of wine we were going to serve and I replied 2003 Work Vineyard Reserve Cabernet which we produce at our Vineyard. I sent our son to the vineyard, which was next door to the restaurant, to bring a case of wine to share with our fellow diners. John was there and back in the 15 minutes and brought a whole case of wine which we shared with everyone! Everybody enjoyed the wine and we encouraged them to visit our Vineyard and family the next day. The restaurant was filled with hugs and blessing to John and Jackie. It was a simple dinner that turned into a big celebration...and a wine to remember.
Editors note: Work Vineyard Reserve Cabernet is exclusively available at Lakeside Beverages, and is priced at a very reasonable $44.95 per bottle.
Thursday, September 3, 2009
Wednesday, September 2, 2009
For those of you who missed it, the next crawl is scheduled for the Roseville area on October 14th.
Luxury Limousines is proud to have chosen as the exclusive transportation provider for these fun events.
Tuesday, September 1, 2009
When my friend Bill Murray at Luxury Limousines asked me to write a blog about wine, I askedmyself what could I possibly contribute?
I had a gnawing sense of wine ignorance magnified by minimal understanding of the wine language...horticulture?, enology? Malolectic Fermentation?...yikes... and thus a lack of confidence about what to write.
And then it dawned on me like the moment a strong mountain cab explodes on your tongue...rippling a squadron of flavors across your mouth. I like wine. I really like it. And more importantly I know why I like it.
Wine in my life has become a connective force. Whether it's having a post-work glass of The Prisoner with Kimberly while watching Top Chef Masters, a bottle at dinner (Jarvis maybe) with close friends selected to enhance the brilliance of Patrick Mulvaney's menu (or a Morton's Steak) or a Luxury Limousines journey to Napa to see old friends (Hello Ralph at Krug!!) and make some new ones (Hello Collin at Larkmead), wine sharing is a comfortable, centering method of life enhancement. It's a social endeavor with no rights, no wrongs...just opinions, tastes which leads to discussions, which leads to friendships...and isn't that what life is about?
So with that as a backdrop...no wine has been a deeper connective force for me than "The Prisoner" by Orin Swift Cellars. During one of my many tastings some less than sober cat once blabbed every wine should have a story...even BE a story. For me The Prisoner is that wine...that story.
So here's the story.
Picture if you will, sitting with a group of friends at Auberge du Soleil. Outside patio. Scent of flowers and great conversation permeating the perfect 73 degree afternoon. The current bottle of BV reserve is running dry and by your internal calculations you're next to order/purchase. The wallet is a little thinner than you wish it was and worse the wine list of over 1500 carefully selected bottles is beyond intimidating. It's considered by many to be the finest wine list in the country.
So I do what my old hockey coach told me. KISS theory. Keep It Simple Stupid.
1. Recognize that everyone at the table had been enjoying the red blends.
2. Assume there are red blends somewhere in their book (crazy wine list).
3. Pray there's one under $100.
4. Hope that the server doesn't laugh at you when you order.
As you may know 'assume', 'pray' and 'hope' are all bad strategies....but it was all I had.
So halfway down the page, amidst the Hills, the Cellars, the Reserves, and the Vineyards I came across "The Prisoner". Seriously, who names their wine "THE PRISONER". A little Goth, a little morbid. A little crazy.....hmmmm...I like that. I also like the $66 price tag.
Let's take a chance on a wine that took a chance. Maybe I'm stumbling onto a new generation of rogue winemakers who don't spend their time and money on decorating their tasting room but rather on good old fashion R&D. At this point, in my head I already had a story. I ordered a wine with the most ludicrous name I had ever seen.
Six to seven minutes later, our server emerged from the cellar and stood by me with a strange smirk that only I had spotted through the glass tilting conversation that distracted the others. The table silenced as I inquired, "why the wry smile?"
"The servers here taste almost all the wines, it's part of the job", she said. "This one has become a cult favorite amongst the staff...and when I was making my way back from the cellar, the other servers were giving me head nods and finger points...We're big fans". So for the one AND only time in my life, I felt like a wine connoisseur.
The best part of the story and the real magic of the experience though is that THE PRISONER delivered. Layers and layers of flavors with the strength of a pure cabernet, a tobacco, blackberry spice with a slender, plush, multi-flavored finish. We all loved it.
Quick note here...The Prisoner is a featured wine on the Auberge du Soleil Private Menu.
THE PRISONER (and it's story) has now become local legend amongst my friends, a connective force if you will, as we have all shared it with others on birthdays, holidays, special dinners and gifts as well (think MAGNUM!).
Craig Amazeen is a frequent client of Luxury Limousines when in need of some Prisoner.