This year has flown by, and I’ve managed to get out in the field quite a bit to find some real under-the-radar gems to share with you!
First stop: Napa Valley. Cabernet Franc has been making a name for itself in the valley for some time now, but I had yet to taste one like the 2012 Mira, Cabernet Franc, Hyde Vineyard, Carneros, Napa Valley, $65.99. Gustavo Gonzalez is the only recipient of Larry Hyde’s Cabernet Franc, and he crafts an absolutely stunning wine here that just explodes from the glass with fragrant red and black berries, pretty dried rosemary, sage, violet notes, and a hint of soft brown spice on the finish. This medium-plus bodied beauty has been aged in 50% new French oak, and blew my mind while up in Napa at Michael Chiarello’s Bottega paired with the Ravioli di Uovo, Swiss chard, truffled brown butter and fried sage. A perfect Christmas gift for Cab lovers of all persuasions.
Another note on Napa: this year marked the passing of Mary Novak, founder and pioneer of Spottswoode Estate. Passionate and determined, Mary built this winery to its heights as we know today and was one of the first women to run a major winery in the valley after the untimely death of her husband at the beginning of the project. She will be dearly missed by all, and this holiday season is the perfect time to taste the legacy that is the Spottswoode Estate Cabernet Sauvignon. We have the 2012 Spottswoode Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, $159.99 which is drinking perfectly, as well as the newly released, and of course allocated 2013 Spottswoode Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, $179.99, which can certainly be laid down for a few years with its depth and concentration. After tasting so many high end Cabernets this year, Spottswoode is my favorite: seamless, regal, and stately, with no fat, yet plenty of velvet and pristine use of oak. This beauty is pure class.
Willamette Valley, OR: I got to spend a few days up in this gorgeous vineyard area this summer, and was blown away by the quality coming out of the valley. I was expecially excited to meet Veronique Drouhin, winemaker of Domaine Drouhin, as their wines have always impressed. I was just in time to sample the new Rose Rock wines. Wow! Domaine Drouhin does it again: Their inaugural releases of both Pinot Noir and Chardonnay of the recently acquired Rose Rock Vineyard are incredible values, and easily made my top picks for 2016.
2014 Rose Rock by Drouhin, Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, OR, $34.99: This Pinot is all about purity of fruit: perfectly ripened mountain cherry, fresh picked strawberry, and a hint of cranberry jam play nicely with delicate cinnamon and clove notes, and shows satiny on the palate, ending with savory herbs and forest undertones. Superbly crafted and crowd-pleasing, this Pinot will pair with most any holiday dish.
2014 Rose Rock by Drouhin, Chardonnay, Willamette Valley, OR, $34.99: This Chardonnay is also perfect because of its purity of fruit: perfectly ripe yellow apple, fresh meyer lemon, and a hint of Bartlett pear combine with fresh cream, cinnamon, and the slightest touch of jasmine. This Chard is silky on the palate, with juicy acidity and a long, savory finish. Expertly crafted and ‘goldie locks’ in style, this is the perfect dinner party Chardonnay for the holiday season.
Sonoma: my love affair with True Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir will not be cooling off anytime soon after my year of tasting the latest crop from this most marginal Pinot climate. There are some beauties at the top of the price point, but what I must say is most exciting to me at the moment is the value category, the pinnacle of which easily makes the cut for my best of year value Pinot:
2013 Pip, Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast, CA, $29.99: This elegant beauty comes from a single vineyard out in the true Sonoma Coast, just a few miles from the ocean, where the Pinots tend to show such a bright, pure fruit. This is no exception, and is a great way to try this region without breaking the bank! Notes of strawberry, raspberry, and Montmorency cherry brightly contrast with a hint of dried spring flowers and a slight earth component. Zippy and refreshing on the palate, this wine is light bodied and lithe, and pairs well with a King Salmon, Frisee, Spinach, and Chevre salad with walnuts and dried cranberry.
Valle de Guadalupe, Baja, Mexico: Possibly the most exciting region I’ve been working with this year is this historic valley of vineyards in Baja, just northeast of Ensenada. With vinegrowing dating back to the mid 1800’s, this area is no stranger to good wine, but lately the quality has skyrocketed due to a synergy of best technology and a new generation of well-educated professionals. It doesn’t hurt that we’ve got meticulous palates choosing the best wines to import. Here’s two of my favorites:
2015 Casa Magoni, ‘Manaz’, Viognier-Fiano Blend, Valle de Guadalupe, Baja, Mexico, $15.99: I was blown away when I tasted this 80% Viognier, 20% Fiano delightful blend! All the pretty aromatics of Viognier with the zippy acidity and lift from the bright addition of Fiano come together here in perfect harmony. Don’t assume you can’t have a fresh and light-hearted white from such a southern climate, this is crisp AND snappy, as well having hedonistic aromas of soft white peach, delicate citrus blossom, and Marcona almond. This is a crowd-pleaser. Serve this at your holiday Soiree as an alluring aperitif, and with anything fresh from the sea. Ensenada style fish tacos are a perfect match as well.
2012 Fluxus, Tinto, Valle de Guadalupe, Baja, Mexico, $35.99: This delicious and sought-after wine from one of the upcoming stars of Baja is on the menu at the esteemed French Laundry in Napa, but don’t let that dominate as the only selling point, this wine is delicious and very impressive! A blend of 70% Grenache, 20% Syrah, and 10% Mourvedre from very old, dry farmed vines, this blend is made by Alberto Rubio Padilla, considered easily one of the best winemakers in the Valle. He hits the mark here with this ripe and juicy red full of mixed berry, cinnamon, clove, leather, and a touch of forest violet. Mouth-coating and unctuous on the palate with a lasting finish that goes on for minutes, this pairs perfectly with anything off the grill. This is the gateway bottle to the new generation of enchanting Baja wines!