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Warrior in a Can: Let Him Out

The can is cool again for beer, wine is showing flashes of acceptance in aluminum containers, and now it’s saké’s turn to be enjoyed from a metal cylinder.

In Japan, “cup” saké is popular as a single serving of the wine made from polished wine. Vine Connections, an importer in Sausalito, Calif., now brings Bushido “Way of the Warrior” ginjo genshu saké to the US in a 6-ounce can, and its attributes are many:

Affordable ($6 for 6 ounces). Convenient. Portable. Plastic lid for resealing. Deliciously smooth, with lychee, pear, lime, cherry liqueur and coconut notes and a pleasant grassy finish. It’s a good thing the serving size is small, as this saké – at a typical 18% alcohol content – is all too easy to drink and packs a punch. Be sure to serve it chilled.

Bushida, named for a samurai warrior code, is made at the Kizakura Shuzo brewery in Kyoto, Japan. Bushida’s 2017 release in the US is well-timed: According to the USDA, Japanese saké imports to the US are experiencing a compound annual growth rate of 7.7%, as of April 2017. Canned wine sales are up 125% in the States, according to Nielsen date.

Perhaps Bushida’s finest attribute is that it gives uninitiated consumers the opportunity to try saké at a price they can afford.

New Reviews Sept. 21 2017

WHITE

Alamos 2016 Torrontes Salta Argentina ($13)

This delicious, easy-to-drink wine can be found for $10 or less at chain grocery stores. It’s a fab party wine, with juicy pineapple, Asian pear and grilled peach personality, and enough acidity to keep it refreshing. 87

Ashes & Diamonds 2015 No. 1 Blanc Napa Valley ($45)

Equal parts Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc, this white wine is remarkably vibrant and precise – even though it was 100% barrel fermented in 40% new French oak and aged sur lie (without stirring). It’s full-flavored and mouth-filling, at just 12.7% alcohol. 94.

Kunde Family Winery 2016 Magnolia Lane Sauvignon Blanc Sonoma Valley ($17)

This crowd-pleaser – often discounted at grocery stores — is perfect for picnics and barbecues, with juicy citrus, peach and mango aromas and flavors. Hints of honey and leafy herbs add interest to this refreshing wine. 89

Ladera Vineyards 2016 Sauvignon Blanc Napa Valley ($30)

Howell Mountain and Oak Knoll District grapes, three different clones, and fermentation in a combination of stainless steel and French oak, created this multi-layered wine – one of the most complex and delicious Sauvignon Blancs I’ve tasted from Napa Valley from the 2016 vintage. Layers unfold with each sniff and taste: white flowers, tropical fruit, citrus, sage, green apple and a toasty note on the finish. 94

Martin Ray Winery 2016 Chardonnay Sonoma County ($20)

Subtle oak frames the bright, mouthwatering green apple, melon and Meyer lemon aromas and flavors of this wine. Straightforward and tasty, it comes at a very fair price. 88

Shafer Vineyards 2015 Red Shoulder Ranch Chardonnay Carneros ($52)

Rich and full-bodied, with hints of lees and minerals, this mighty-fine wine offers a complex melange of citrus, pear, apple and peach fruit, backed by racy acidity. It weighs in at 14.9% alcohol, yet there’s no heat on the palate. It’s a big wine that impresses with its elegance and balance. 95.

Stonestreet Estate Vineyards 2015 Sauvignon Blanc Alexander Valley ($35)

Fermentation and aging in a mix of stainless steel and oak gives this wine mouth-filling texture and complexity. Yet it remains refreshing and lively, with crisp Meyer lemon and pear fruit accented by cinnamon and nutmeg spice. 92

Whitehall Lane 2016 Sauvignon Blanc Rutherford Napa Valley ($24)

Simply delicious. Green melon, pear, candied lemon, fig, mango and fennel notes come together in this seamless, complex and utterly refreshing wine. Don’t ponder; just enjoy. 92

ROSÉ

Ashes & Diamonds 2015 No. 1 2015 Rosé Napa Valley ($35)

I’m not often impressed by saignee-method rosés, made from the bleed-off wine/juice from a red-wine fermentation. Many are harsh and tannic, from the time the liquid spends in contact with the grape skins and seeds. Matthiasson employed saignee for this 100% Cabernet France rosé and with striking results. It’s delicate, crisp and seamless, with pretty red berry, cherry and mineral character. 13.2% alcohol. 91

Kokomo Winery 2016 Pauline’s Vineyard Grenache Rosé Dry Creek Valley ($24)

There is a wonderful balance of richness and bright acidity in this single-vineyard rosé. Wild strawberry, Bing cherry, watermelon, tangerine flavors are bold yet fresh, and there’s a pleasantly bitter Luxardo cherry liqueur note on the juicy finish. I no longer have to write “wines for Thanksgiving” columns, yet there is a certain holiday in November for which this wine is well-suited. 90

Presqu’ile Winery 2016 Pinot Noir Rosé Santa Maria Valley ($22)

A savory, salty sea-spray aroma sets this Santa Barbara County wine apart from the pack. It’s also a basketful of juicy strawberry, watermelon and blood orange fruit, with midpalate weight and a long, mouthwatering finish. It’s unmistakably Pinot Noir, and pretty. 91

RED

Alexander Valley Vineyards 2015 Cabernet Franc Alexander Valley ($30)

There are few 100-percent Cabernet Francs from Sonoma County and this is one of them. Medium-full-bodied and lush, it gushes with blackberry, black cherry and plum aromas and flavors, finishing with vibrant acidity. Not to be mistaken for a Chinon, it’s a well-done version of ripe, warm-climate Cab Franc. 93

Argento 2014 Reserva Malbec Valle Uco Mendoza Argentina ($18)

Medium-full-bodied and showing as much savory character as ripe fruit, it offers plum and dark cherry aromas and flavors, accented by black olive and anise. Supple tannins and juicy acidity bring all the elements together in a rewarding, moderately priced wine. 88

Ashes & Diamonds 2014 No. 1 Cabernet Franc Napa Valley ($75)

A splash of Merlot adds complexity to this beautiful Cab Franc, which has the suppleness and refinement of a Pinot Noir, with the savory tobacco, leafy greens and bright dark cherry and plum fruit typical of Cabernet Franc. It’s at once powerful and finessed, with generosity and drink-now smoothness. 13.9% alcohol. 95

Ashes & Diamonds 2015 Rancho Pequeño Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon Oakville Napa Valley ($125)

Dan Petroski made this wine, and Diane Snowden Seysses over Cabernet Sauvignon for A&D Bordeaux varietals production in 2016. Despite being aged in 95% new French oak barrels, this Araujo-grown wine shows very little toastiness, with the fruit absorbing the oak and converting it to texture and mouthfeel. Notes of blackcurrant, dark cherry, forest floor and cedar are classic Cab. 13.5% alcohol. 94

Ashes & Diamonds 2014 Grand Vin A&D Vineyard Oak Knoll District Napa Valley ($95)

This Right Bank-style Merlot (75%) and Cabernet Franc blend comes from Kashy Khaledi’s own vineyard. This is what Merlot-based wines should be in my perfect world: smooth, juicy cherry and red plum fruit and supple tannins, slightly tart acid backbone, and oak framing for structure. 14.5% alcohol. 92

Bogle Vineyards 2015 Essential Red California ($12)

This bargain of Petite Sirah, Zinfandel, Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon offers juicy fruit, soft tannins and a luscious texture. It’s a golden retriever: friendly and reliable. 87

J. Lohr 2015 Gesture Mourvedre Paso Robles ($30)

Mourvedre, a Rhone variety most often used in blends, shines in this stand-alone bottling. It’s not a traditional Mourvedre in the way of France’s Rhone Valley, but rather a deep dive into concentrated black plum, blackberry and blueberry fruit, with woodsy, earthy complexity, supple texture and a generous, rewarding finish. Very New World. 94

MacMurray Estate Vineyards 2015 Pinot Noir Select Russian River Valley ($38)

Cherry cola, raspberry, boysenberry and plum aromas and flavors mark this soft, rounded Pinot with hints of black tea and spice. Straightforward and supple, it could use more complexity, yet is a crowd-pleaser nonetheless. 89

Martin Ray Winery 2015 Pinot Noir Green Valley of Russian River Valley ($35)

Bright, tangy, tart red cherry, cranberry pom. Aged 50% new french oak, though it’s not toasty, just textured. Hints of blueberry, boysenberry, allspice, cola Medium-bodied, crisp, transparent, refreshing. 13.8% alcohol. 90

Ordaz Family Wines 2014 Pinot Noir Placida Vineyard Russian River Valley ($38) 

Chuy Ordaz is another transplanted grape whisperer, based in Sonoma Valley. He and his winemaking son, Eppie, produce wine via a long-term lease with the Placida Vineyard in Sebastopol. This Pinot has cola and woodsy, truffle notes accompanying the luscious red-fruit aromas and flavors. 90

Valdez Family 2014 Pinot Noir Russian River Valley ($45)

Ulises Valdez, an immigrant from Mexico who became a master grapegrower for many of Sonoma’s finest producers, has his own brand, which he runs with his wife, daughters and sons. Their sumptuous Pinot Noir delivers ripe cherry and raspberry fruit, plus hints of sarsaparilla, vanilla and toasty oak. 91.

Ashes, Diamonds & Discovery

The email invited me to preview yet another new Napa Valley winery. Oh, great, more Cabernet. Yawn.

But the sender of the invite is a trusted PR pro, so I kept reading her email until I fixed on the names of Ashes & Diamonds Winery’s co-winemakers: Steve Matthiasson and Diana Snowden Seysses, I immediately accepted the offer to visit the producer, located just east of Bistro Don Giovanni in north Napa.

I love the mannered, lower-alcohol, elegant wines Matthiasson makes for Matthiasson Wines and his consulting clients. Seysses, daughter of longtime Napa County judge Scott Snowden, is a winemaker for her family’s Snowden Vineyards label in Napa and for Domaine Dujac in Morey-Saint-Denis in Burgundy (where she works with her husband, Jeremy Seysses, and his father, Jacques). Diana, too, takes an everything-in-moderation approach to winemaking, making her a perfect partner to work with Matthiasson.

Ashes & Diamonds proprietor Kashy Khaledi was wise to recruit Seysses and Matthiasson as his winemakers. He initially brought in Daniel Petroski of Larkmead and Massican, but Petroski’s workload proved too much to consult for A&D. Seysses filled his spot.

When I met him, Khaledi expressed a love for the restrained, cellar-worthy wines made by Andre Tchelistcheff at Beaulieu Vineyard and John Daniel at Inglenook in the 1960s and 1970s. Those wines will never be replicated, Khaledi knows, though he is convinced that his wines can come close, in the right hands.

“A&D wines are unique and have a point of view,” he says. “Some people might not like them, and that’s the risk we take, but our wines will have a voice.”

That voice speaks softly yet also with authority: That flavor and complexity can come from grapes harvested at lower ripeness levels than is the current fashion in Napa Valley and throughout California. Soft, juicy, sumptuous wines with lavish oak are the antithesis of what Khaledi wants. Matthiasson and Seysses are wired to not produce such wines, instead seeking elegance, varietal character unobscured by ripeness and overt oak, and an acid snap that makes for refreshment and compatibility with meals.

It’s an old-school approach to New World wines, and a welcome one.

You might recognize the Khaledi name. Kashy’s father, Darioush Khaledi, owns Darioush Winery, and the wines from there are as opulent as the Persian-palace-themed facility Darioush built on the Silverado Trail in Napa. Kashy has taken a much different path from his engineer father. Kashy worked as a music editor for Larry Flynt’s Hustler magazine, has been vice president at Capitol Music Group and executive producer at MTV Networks, and other creative, entrepreneurial positions. He and Matthiasson found common ground over rock music – think Pink Floyd – and skateboarding.

Most of the grapes for the launch of Ashes & Diamonds wines come from purchased fruit, including Bart and Daphne Araujo’s Rancho Pequeño Vineyard in Oakville and the Red Hen Vineyard in the Oak Knoll District. The A&D estate vineyard also supplies Cabernet Franc and Merlot.

Count me fan of Khaledi’s early efforts.

Ashes & Diamonds 2015 No. 1 Blanc Napa Valley ($45)

Equal parts Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc, this white wine is remarkably vibrant and precise – even though it was 100% barrel fermented in 40% new French oak and aged sur lie (without stirring). It’s full-flavored and mouth-filling, at just 12.7% alcohol. 94.

 

Ashes & Diamonds 2015 No. 1 2015 Rosé Napa Valley ($35)

I’m not typically impressed by saignee-method rosé, made from the bleed-off wine/juice from a red-wine fermentation. Many are harsh and tannic, from the time the liquid spends in contact with the grape skins and seeds. Matthiasson employed saignee for this 100% Cabernet France rosé and with striking results. It’s delicate, crisp and seamless, with pretty red berry, cherry and mineral character. 13.2% alcohol. 91

 

Ashes & Diamonds 2014 No. 1 Cabernet Franc Napa Valley ($75)

A splash of Merlot adds complexity to this beautiful Cab Franc, which has the suppleness and refinement of a Pinot Noir, with the savory tobacco, leafy greens and bright dark cherry and plum fruit typical of Cabernet Franc. It’s at once powerful and finessed, with generosity and drink-now smoothness. 13.9% alcohol. 95

 

Ashes & Diamonds 2015 Rancho Pequeño Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon Oakville Napa Valley ($125)

Daniel Petroski made this wine and Seysses replaced him with the 2016 vintage. Despite being aged in 95% new French oak barrels, this Araujo-grown wine shows very little toastiness, with the fruit absorbing the oak and converting it to texture and mouthfeel. Notes of blackcurrant, dark cherry, forest floor and cedar are classic Cab. 13.5% alcohol. 94

 

Ashes & Diamonds 2014 Grand Vin A&D Vineyard Oak Knoll District Napa Valley ($95)

This “Right Bank” Merlot (75%) and Cabernet Franc blend comes from Kashy Khaledi’s own vineyard. This is what Merlot-based wines should be in my perfect world: smooth, juicy cherry and red plum fruit and supple tannins, slightly tart acid backbone, and oak framing for structure. 14.5% alcohol. 92

Duckhorn Acquires Calera

Duckhorn Wine Co. announced today its acquisition of Calera Wine Co. from California Pinot Noir pioneer Josh Jensen.

DWC, which includes Duckhorn Vineyards, Goldeneye, Paraduxx, Migration, Decoy and Canvasback, continues its growth, this time in Hollister, in San Benito County. It purchased lock, stock and barrel.

“Like our own founders, Dan and Margaret Duckhorn, Josh is a visionary and pioneer who has spent more than four decades shaping the modern American palate for luxury wines. What he has achieved at Calera has been nothing short of remarkable,” said Alex Ryan, president and CEO of DWC. “Calera is one of the world’s great wineries, and we will ensure that Josh’s legacy of quality and excellence will continue to flourish for decades to come. For us, this is a fantastic opportunity to establish a presence on the Central Coast with one of the region’s most iconic wineries.”

A press release reported that all key personnel, including winemaker Mike Waller, will remain with the winery. Jensen, 73, will remain involved at Calera and will join the DWC board.

“Calera is my life’s work,” Jensen said. “In this era of industry consolidation, it was vital to me that I choose a partner that not only shares the values that have always defined Calera, but that also has the market presence to provide our wines a continued strong and secure route to market. I’m proud to be entrusting Calera to (DWC’s) expert hands.”

 

 

 

oday that it has acquired Calera Wine Company (“Calera”). Founded by Josh Jensen in 1975, Calera played a pivotal role in establishing Pinot Noir as one of North America’s great varietal wines, and helped to establish the Central Coast as one of the New World’s most exciting wine regions. Hailed as a “Pinot Pioneer” on the cover of Wine Spectator, and referred to as “California’s Romanée-Conti” in another premier wine publication, Calera is one of California’s most acclaimed Pinot Noir producers, and has been named a “Top 100 Winery” by Wine & Spirits four times in the past decade. The sale includes the Calera winery, time-honored brand, tasting room, estate vineyards, and all inventory and assets.

 

“Like our own founders, Dan and Margaret Duckhorn, Josh is a visionary and pioneer who has spent more than four decades shaping the modern American palate for luxury wines. What he has achieved at Calera has been nothing short of remarkable,” said Alex Ryan, president and CEO of DWC. “Calera is one of the world’s great wineries, and we will ensure that Josh’s legacy of quality and excellence will continue to flourish for decades to come. For us, this is a fantastic opportunity to establish a presence on the Central Coast with one of the region’s most iconic wineries.”

 

 

Farewell, Dennis Martin

Dennis Martin

Longtime Fetzer Vineyards winemaker Dennis Martin died Aug. 13, and I miss him already.

Denny, who succumbed to cancer at age 69, was a key cog in Fetzer’s winemaking machine for more than three decades, retiring in 2015 as vice president of winemaking. Remarkably delicious wines at prices most could afford … introducing Americans to the joys of off-dry Riesling and Gewurztraminer … organic grapegrowing … Dennis was at the center of it all. In later years of his Fetzer career, he produced lovely Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays for the higher-end Sanctuary label.

Denny and I grew up in California’s Central Valley, though we didn’t meet until years later. My sister worked with him at United Vintners in Madera, though it would take some 15 years for me to cross paths with Dennis, in Healdsburg, where his family and I live.

In addition to his winemaking expertise and achievements, I loved Denny for his gregarious nature, zero ego evident, and quiet patience. I never worked with him, though we judged competitions together many times and I learned so much from his palate interpretations. He was always the same: real, fun and funny (he and wife Carla named their kids Astin and Remy).

The last time I saw Dennis was a few months ago. He wore a broad smile and ballcap with a Fog Line Brewing logo, a dad very proud of Remy’s Santa Rosa beer business. Denny is probably still grinning now.

NZ Geographic Indications

Kia Ora, Kiwi GIs

New Zealand wine producers just got the news they’ve been longing to hear for 11 years: The Geographical Indications Registration Act 2006 has gone into effect, giving wineries in 18 viticultural regions the opportunity to register for GI certification, and thus protect the use of their appellational names on the international market.

Just as the Napa Valley Vintners Association has ferociously fought wine producers who don’t use Napa Valley-grown grapes yet use “Napa” in their branding, Kiwi wineries — once they earn GI certification – will be able to pursue – in court, if cease-and-desist threats are ignored – others that use New Zealand GI names on products that don’t come from those regions.

Parliament’s enactment of the GI scheme last week not only discourages producers worldwide from misusing NZ regional names, it also underscores, in bold black marker, the fact wine that wine is a crucial export product for this country of just 4 million people. New Zealand wine exports were valued at whopping $1.66 billion for the reporting year ending June 2017 (the US is its largest wine market), and the government is keen on protecting the authenticity of its exports to continue its success.

The 18 GI regions:

  • Northland
  • Auckland
  • Matakana
  • Kumeu
  • Waiheke Island
  • Gisborne
  • Hawke’s Bay
  • Central Hawke’s Bay
  • Wairarapa
  • Gladstone
  • Martinborough
  • Nelson
  • Marlborough
  • Canterbury
  • North Canterbury
  • Waipara Valley
  • Waitaki Valley North Otago
  • Central Otago

 

Why my interest in this evolution of the New Zealand wine industry? Because I’ve been keen on the country’s wines for 20 years and marvel at the quality strides made in a mere three decades or so of modern viticulture. NZ’s move to protect its vinous intellectual property is vital to the survival of its industry, and other emerging wine regions of the world would be wise to pay attention.

Disclosure: I’m a consultant to Air New Zealand, recommending wines for its flights based on blind tastings with three other consultants. Anything I write here on NZ is unaffiliated with Air New Zealand’s wine program … er, programme.

Read This Book Now

It was January 2006, in the wine and food department at The San Francisco Chronicle. I picked up my ringing phone and it was a representative of now-famous Napa Valley grapegrower Andy Beckstoffer. And boy, was she mad.

“How could you do this?” she fumed. “This” was a story published in that morning’s wine section, written by W. Blake Gray, on consolidation trends in the California wine industry. Gray retold, briefly, a story of Beckstoffer advising Beaulieu Vineyard winemaster Richard G. Peterson to use cheap Thompson seedless table grapes in BV sparkling wines, rather than the more serious Chenin Blanc Peterson preferred. He and Beckstoffer were employed by Heublein Corp. at the time, 1969.

Peterson told the Thompson seedless story to James Conaway, who published it in his book, “Napa: The Story of an American Eden,” in 2002. So it was out there long before the Chronicle retold it in 2006. The recount added context to Gray’s story.

“Is the story inaccurate?” I asked the rep. “Are you calling Dick Peterson a liar? If so, we’ll investigate and print a retraction if necessary.”

Not a peep was heard thereafter.

So why bring up a decade-old anecdote and perhaps upset Beckstoffer once again? Because Peterson did, in his 2015 book, “The Winemaker” (Meadowlark Publishing, $29.95). I’m late in reading it, but no matter, it’s a fascinating look at the evolution of the modern California wine industry, warts and all. A lot of things were done wrong before they were done right, and Peterson was at the center of many innovations that helped make California the great wine producer it is today.

Beckstoffer comes out on top, as well.

Anyone intrigued by the nuances of growing grapes and converting them to fine wine, and understanding how the business operates, will be enlightened by “The Winemaker.” Peterson’s groundbreaking achievements at E. & J. Gallo, Beaulieu Vineyard, The Monterey Vineyard, Atlas Peak Vineyards and eventually, his own Wrotham Vineyard Pinot Noir in Napa Valley, are all outlined here, with anecdotes that add depth and authenticity.

While Dr. Dick has a Ph.D. in Agricultural Chemistry, and science plays a major role in the book, his explanations are easy to understand, even by chemistry and math dummies like me. Thank goodness eye kan spel.

Better known by some as the father of former Screaming Eagle winemaker Heidi Peterson Barrett (now with her own La Sirena brand), Dick – who worked on this book with his second wife, Sandra Archer — makes few references to his family. It’s a story all his own, about his winemaking experience.

He recounts his 10 years at Gallo in Modesto, where innovation was encouraged and Peterson earned a deep respect from brothers Ernest and Julio Gallo for his scientific work and wine quality improvements.

Peterson describes his years as winemaster at Beaulieu Vineyard in Rutherford, working alongside the legendary Andre Tchelistcheff. Their shared frustrations with Madame Helene des Pins, daughter of BV founder Georges de Latour (she took over after Georges’ death in 1940), are both fascinating and depressing. She saw no need to replant aging and diseased vines, nor to replace antiquated equipment, not even for the hallowed BV Private Reserve. To her, as Peterson tells it, a penny saved was a penny spent on her lifestyle.

Madame sold BV to Heublein in 1969, and its liquor-sales mentality took over. Run out? Just make more. The Gamay grape produces a drinkable red wine, so why use the more expensive Cabernet Sauvignon? Thompson seedless? Well, you get the picture.

It was Beckstoffer’s job at the time to source low-cost grapes to ensure the highest Heublein profit. Peterson and Tchelistcheff sought quality. Eventually, all parted ways, with Beckstoffer acquiring prized BV vineyard blocks.

To demonstrate how tangled the wine biz can be, Heublein was later acquired by RJR Nabisco, which sold to Grand Metropolitan, which became Diageo through a merger with Guinness. Diageo sold Beaulieu Vineyard to Treasury Wine Estates in 2016. Whew.

Beckstoffer now owns some of the best vineyard blocks in Napa Valley, including a portion of the To Kalon Vineyard in Oakville. His grapes command the highest prices for Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, so he has not suffered from any tangible backlash from his Heublein days.

And neither has Dick Peterson. He moved on to The Monterey Vineyard in Salinas, a start-up with business partners who had little understanding of the wine business. He cautioned them that the only things that happen fast with winegrowing and winemaking are mistakes. Many were made, despite Peterson’s counsel, and Seagram eventually took control

Peterson also became involved with Coca-Cola, at Taylor California Cellars, and with UK brewer Whitbread at Atlas Peak Vineyards in Napa Valley. Every turn in his tale is fascinating, unless one believes the wine business is romantic.

The happy finish is that Peterson, the designer of the steel barrel pallet that allows wine barrels to be handled mechanically instead of by hand, and innovator of many other winemaking techniques, has his own gig. In “retirement,” he’s the winemaker for his own Richard G. Peterson wines, with a Napa Valley brut rosé sparkler and a still Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir, made from cuttings Peterson acquired from wild Wrotham vines grown near Kent, England.

This relatively humble man has not received the accolades he so richly deserves. Read this book and find out why.

richardgpeterson.com