Taking a Pulse with Thumbprint

After a week of heavy lifting, moving my son into a new apartment in a strange town and a flight home with rough connections, it was time for a steak dinner.  My husband requested a nice red for both sautéing mushrooms and a dinner beverage.  If you’ve read my past blogs, you will know my wine cooler has  been on the fritz with a slow upward trend in temperature.  Outside 86 F.  Cooler 66F.  So it’s been time to pick out the older fruit. 

I brought out the Thumbprint Alexander Valley, Schneider Vineyard, 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon.   I was hesitant. Unsure.   An eleven year old Cabernet from a new world vineyard.  Would it still be good??  The first sip was uninspiring–as often first sips are.  However, we were on an inspiring ride from there.  Dark plums, cassis, tobacco, sweet hot cigar and vanilla lit up my night!!   A perfect pair with my steak (what Cab isn’t?) and mushrooms.  Gorgeous wine completed a gorgeous full moon night. 

We bought this wine during a visit to Napa in 2007 or 2008 with a great group of new friends. The wine is still good and so are the friends.  Price–Unknown. 

Cuvaison:  First Words? Butter Bomb!!

Standing in the grocery store looking for a Chardonnay to go with my chicken breasts browned in butter with spices and a little lemon.   And thinking, “Huh?!  I never drink Chardonnay any more.”  So I looked at the selection and discovered I am truly a top shelf girl…at least at this store, anyway!

I chose Cuvaison because I’m thinking, “Carneros.   A cooler climate.  They grow grapes for sparkling wine there.   Shouldn’t be too oaky.”   Well, I was wrong there!!  It’s oaky.  It’s buttery.  It’s bursting with flavors of crisp fresh pineapple , lemon juice, vanilla.  It has enough crisp acidity to give the wine a good backbone so it’s not just a flabby, buttery, pineapple sledgehammer.  This has slightly more restraint!

The wine comes from 44 separate vineyards, harvested and vinified separately.   Then the wines are blended together to make a sum greater than its parts.  The wines are aged in oak barrels for eight months, with 25% of the wine aged in New French Oak.   About 66% of the wine undergoes malolactic fermentation .  This is a second fermentation that introduces a special bacteria (think good bacteria!!)  that converts crisp tartaric acid to softer  lactic acid.   Lactic acid is found in milk and sour cream.  This fermentation also creates a organic chemical compound called diacetyl.  This is the compound that makes butter taste like butter!!  If you love buttery wines…malolactic fermentation is your friend.  Malolactic fermentation is used in virtually all red wines  but it is sometimes used in white wines to make the  pH less acidic, make the body of the wine fuller, and impart buttery or butterscotch flavor.

So although I find this wine to be a butter bomb, those of you who like buttery Chardonnays will LOVE IT!  I don’t love it because I am the girl who enjoys tartaric acid in my white wines, but I appreciate how it Cuvaison is crafted and the crispness that still shows through.  You don’t have to always love something to appreciate it.    $18-20.

A Serious California Cab (Seriously Good!)


My friend, Chuck Caldwell, introduced me to Altamura wines.  Chuck is one of those rare people from Texas who was visiting and enjoying Napa wines during their early Renaissance in the 1970’s.  He has many wonderful stories about some of the valley’s iconic wine makers.  I only wish I could have traveled on those old, quiet, Napa Valley roads with Chuck…preferably in a little convertible.  Chuck has been a wine mentor for me.  He has great recollections of meals eaten and wines consumed with them.  His treasured friendships with people like Frank Altamura are just pleasant chapters in Chuck’s storied life. I always tell Chuck, “I can’t wait to hear the story about when you raced in the Iditarod.”   To me, Chuck’s done EVERYTHING, so running dogs in the Iditarod doesn’t seem too far-fetched.   Of course, there would be wine. It’s Chuck’s wine stories that have made me eager to reach out and pluck the grapes of all these beautiful wines and learn about the vineyards from whence they came.

So back to my serious Red.  I was introduced to Altamura wines by Chuck.    And on my last trip to Napa we visited Altamura vineyards.  The visit, of course, being arranged by Chuck.  He’s such a nice guy and we love his wife, Jane, too.   The Altamura estate is in Wooden Valley, located down an 11  mile woodsy, hair-pin-curve road running northeast out of Napa proper.  Altamura is the only winery in Wooden Valley that is within the Napa Valley AVA.  A word of advice, try to avoid this drive with a hangover or sitting in the back seat of the automobile.  Trust me.  All of us were slightly green on arrival… but we made a splendid recovery!!

The winery  is much further away from Napa in spirit.  The estate and surrounding area is very quiet and pastoral.  It truly is a road less traveled.    The recently built winery appears as though it was transported from Italy. The building is faced with stones ‘harvested’ from the estate.  The big wood doors have an old Italian feel while concealing  a very modern wine making facility inside.    I didn’t see it  completely finished.  I think the construction was done over several years… perhaps dictated by  the success of their harvests.   How very old school!!  Luckily, Napa has fairly predicable harvests.   During our visiting 2014, we arranged the details of our wine shipment of our  wine  in a modest, but very practical, portable trailer next door to the winery.  It was air-conditioned!  No one cared!

Altamura Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2008.  A big, cocoa and coffee infused Cabernet.  Nice structure.  Still with acidity despite its ripeness.  Sublime with my Grass Fed ribeye, mashed Cauliflower ‘potatoes’ and steamed broccoli.  This Cab is lush, sensual, , and a joy to drink.  Soft tannins and polite acidity.     I am glad I have a few more bottles in the cellar.  This Altamura Cabernet has aged well .   Although this vintage is no longer available,  recent Altamura Cabernet Sauvignon vintages run $85-ish.

Altamura also produces several Italian varietal wines such as Sangiovese, Nebbiolo, and Negroamaro.  I have been so pleased with all of them.   I have also tried their Sauvignon Blanc which is Fume Blanc in style.  Well crafted and well praised… as long as you like yours oaked.

If you are out in Napa Valley, consider a stop in to Ciccio, the Altamura family restaurant in Yountville.   Inside this old Italian grocery store, we delighted in the casual atmosphere, excellent pizza and salads.  The menu offers everything from pasta,  wood grilled artichokes, to steak.  If you live to have a Negroni, the bar offers seven variations.  Additionally, all of the Altamura wines are available… and they are very, very nicely priced.

Thanks Chuck!!

Inaugural Wines

Whether you love him, hate him (Why hate anyone?  It’s sooo taxing!) or don’t even think about Donald Trump, you have to wonder what the inauguration committee served at lunch!!   I did!

A relatively inexpensive line-up for the inaugural lunch today as reported by Decanter Magazine.  

Korbel’s Special Inaugural Cuvée of ‘California Champagne’.  

J. Lohr Arroyo Vista 2013 Chardonnay

Delicato Family Vineyard’Black Stallion’ 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon.  

Decanter Magazine mentioned that serving ‘California Champagne’ may not endear our relationship with France… but President Trump did say he will put America First!

Viva for Vietti Wines

img_5519I went to a wine tasting today and I knew I was in for a rare treat because A) it was an Italian wine maker B) hit included Barolo and C) when I went to do a little research in my stack of wine books, I found accolades for Vietti wines.  You know the winery is held in high regard when Karen MacNeil includes a multigenerational photo of the Vietti family in her recent edition of The Wine Bible.  Honestly, she could have chosen a  photo of a Vietti wine label, but instead she has a photo of the whole family.  To me, that says something!  The Wine Bible also lists Vietta on the list of best producers for both Barolo and Barbaresco (both wines are made from Nebbiolo… in case you were asking) and Barbera (just to confuse you with all these B words).

Luca Currado is the current generation of Vietti’s long history of family  wine makers .  As he spoke, his passion for grape growing, wine making and wine drinking is front and center.  He says he was born to make wine and is convinced he was conceived in the wine cellar of the Vietti estate.  He is an educated enologist and has tended to his personal and professional wine growth in France and California before taking the reigns at the Vietti estate.

We tasted six wines today.  One white and five reds.  All were excellent.  The hardest thing for me to do was dump the remaining wine from my first three glasses so that they could be refilled again.  I really would have liked to continue to revisit them throughout the afternoon.  So I will revisit a few of them in my mind as follows:

Our first wine was 2015 Vietti Roero Arneis.  This is a white wine.  You COULD think of it as an ugly step sister to the tremendous red wines produced in this area, but you would be foolish.  Take another look at this not-so-shy beauty with dry wit and a full body.  She carries a gorgeous floral aroma and gives up hints of pear.  And all of that body is achieved without the use of oak aging, so her freshness shines through.  Arneis plantings were in serious decline, but she is a bit of a come back kid as people have discovered all her attributes!!

The next wine to make me really happy was the 2011  Vietta Barbera d’Asti ‘La Crena’. Barbera historically has been the wine of the locals.  It is considered simpler than Barolo and Barbaresco, but sometimes simple is pretty darn smart.  Barbera grapes have naturally high acidity.  The acid helps preserve the wine for aging, helps keep its fresh fruit flavors, and allows the wine to go with almost any dish you want to put on your table.  If Barolo is the Wine of Kings and we must prepare a meal worthy of a king, than Barbera is your best friend coming over to join you for a casual meal.  ‘La Crena’ is no slouch, however.  ‘La Crena’ is a single vineyard Barbera from vines greater than 80 years old.   Both French oak and Slovanian oak are used for aging and this Barbera has a richer mouth feel than most I’ve experienced.  Delicious.  I’m ready for some winter beef stew and root vegetables.

Along the lines of  Burgundy, the Barolo region is working to determine the best vineyards for its world reknowned Barolo wines.  Unofficially, there are about 20 vineyards worthy of being “Grand Cru” and about 40 worthy of being “Premier Cru”. Vietti owns part of 15 top vineyards. Officially?  Well, I would imagine making an official determination would be a political nightmare.  However, it could happen eventually.

The 2012 Vietti Barolo Castiglion is a blend of 11 single vineyards (cru).  High tannins and good acidity make for a beautfully balanced wine with flavors and aromas of tea, violets and balsalmic.  This wine is a fine example of Barolo.  Each cru was fermented separately and aged in Slovanian Oak.  Then 5 or 6 are chosen to make the ‘Castiglion’.  The other 5 or 6 are blended to make Vietto Nebbiolo ‘Perbacco’, which was not included in the tasting.

Our final wine was the 2009 Vietti Barolo “Roccha di Castiglione”.  This beautifully perfumed wine had full body and a smooth expression.  The tannins were high but they were nicely integrated into the wine so the result was quite harmonious.  I was humming!!!  Only 300 caes of this single vineyard wine were made from 2009.  I felt quite honored to be able to taste it!!

These wines are not available at your grocery store or big box wine store.  But if you ask Jim Veal about these wines, he has tried them, remembers what they taste like and likely has a few bottles at his house.  Yea Jim!

I am so grateful that Luca Currado came to share his wine and his passion with us. I hope I have shared his infomation accurately!   And, although we didn’t discuss the wine labels, I have to say, I really like them!!  Almost as much as the wine… but not quite!

T for Texas, T for…Twomey

Lining them up this New Years Eve. Silver Oak Cellers hits a good note with this Twomey 2009 Merlot.  $50-ish.  I’m not sure.  It’s been in the cellar a few.  

Complex blackberry, black tea, dried herbs, cola, dill and tobacco.  

Not on the EveryDay list…but splurge worthy for New Years Eve and football. 

Have a safe evening.  I’m not driving anywhere!!

Wine meets Whiskey!

1000 Stories Bourbon Barrel Aged Zinfandel 2014

Picked this up at Trader Joes for $17.  Everyone loves a story and storytelling comes up often in wine marketing.  So this wine quickly found its way into my grocery cart.  

I’m sitting here sharing this with friends as we watch Alabama whip up on Washington State.  Laura says, ” Roll Tide!!”  (She brought Pom-poms.) Everyone has found this to be an easy drinker….and the bottle is GONE!!  

If I wanted to buy a ruby, I would want it this beautiful crimson color.  Nice tears, barely stained.  Aromas of Blackberry, Smoke and Maple Syrup.   Flavors of the same plus dark cherry, coffee, black pepper and more maple.  

1000 Stories is Aged in French and American oak and batches are then put in used Bourbon barrels.  

Plenty of happy people here.  Fred, I hope they have it in your Trader Joe’s.  

Happy New Year All.  

Tinsel, Pine and a Nice (Cheap!)Red Blend

Christmas has waned and the post-Christmas blues are waxing.  What to do.  My answer is to try something new!!

img_0001The 18th Man Red Blend vinted and bottled by Familia Nueva Vineyards just might do the trick!!  This 2013 Red Blend of Syrah 60%, Petit Verdot 19%, Malbec 19% and Cabernet Sauvignon 2% seems to hit the spot.  This blend comes from Paso Robles (which means BIG WINES!!) and seems fill up the post-Christmas void.  I get a total and complete Blackberry pie or cobbler which means you can just drink the wine and skip the dessert.  There is also a nice waft of cigar box– which I was happy to identify prior to reading the label.  Yea me!!

You don’t need to pair this with a meal.  This wine is heavy enough and rich enough to stand on its own.  It has the weight of some residual sugar to fill up those spaces in between your ribs.    But if you feel you need a little something…. the label recommends “aggressive appetizers in the form of nachos, corn dogs or even bacon wrapped jalapenos.”

For all my folks that contacted me about the Apothic wines, I would tell you to give this one a try!!!  I found it at Trader Joes and it was < $10.  Enjoy.   And be sure to let me know what you think!   I love your feedback.

Just to keep you in the loop, we drank Altamura, Caymus, Schafer, & Thumbprint for Christmas… but I couldn’t stop to talk.    They were all pretty big, too.

 Time to catch a Cab

I recently stepped out to have lunch at Ruggles Black with my good friend, Kaylina, a wine rep.  I arrived at the restaurant first!  The blustery cold weather screamed hearty Cabernet!!  First option was a little weak and insipid (but I won’t name names!). Second option appeared pricy, as I don’t normally plunk down $60 for lunch wine.  But my tasting pour said “Yes!”   Perfect for winter weather and NOT so big and over oaked to be…well, boring.   Chateau Montelena 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon from Calistoga was my choice to enjoy while waiting on my friend.  I sent her a text to let her know what wine I had ordered for lunch.  I think it may have hurried her along.

Although this wine had a big blackberry presence, it had both sour and baked pie flavors. The sour acidity kept the oak in check and made every sip a pleasure.  The wine was smooth without being flabby.  I enjoyed teasing out notes of blueberry,  vanilla, eucalyptus, licorice and tobacco.   Perhaps because I had time to sit and relax, I found it to be a wine worthy of contemplation versus mindless consumption.  It kept me in good company until my friend arrived to enjoy it with me.

This solid performing wine can be picked up at your wine or liquor store for $40-50.  So $60 out for lunch is still a bargain.