2009 Merry Edwards Meredith Estate Pinot Noir

This post is by Steve Paulo from Notes From The Cellar

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Pinot Revels In Its Roots

Is there anything better than a single-vineyard Pinot Noir?

I feel like Pinot is the grape perhaps most-benefitted by the single vineyard wine. Chardonnay tastes a lot like Chardonnay from vineyard to vineyard in the same region, and style is more a product of winemaker intervention than terroir.

Cabernet Sauvignon? Better when blended, in my opinion. Sure, all wine is different from vineyard to vineyard, at least to some extent. But it is in Pinot Noir that I personally feel those differences most stand out.

There’s maybe no place in the United States where this fact is more obvious than in Sonoma County’s magnificent Russian River Valley. Here, wineries like Merry Edwards (and many others) make a half-dozen or more different Pinot Noirs. Why? Because the individual vineyards they have access to produce such different fruit that it’s worth it to produce a wine from each one.

Sure, these wineries also produce blends. Merry Edwards, in fact, makes a Russian River Valley-designated Pinot Noir, along with a Sonoma Coast designate. But the six different single vineyard Pinot Noirs are what the winery is perhaps most known for. And this, in my opinion, is one of the best.

The Meredith Estate vineyard is the southernmost of Merry Edwards’ properties, located just southwest of the city of Sebastopol. A heavily-fogged 24-acre parcel, wine from Meredith Estate is complex, yet subtle.

The wine is gorgeous in the glass. A ruby red core that lightens only slightly to the edges. On the nose, hints of berry mingle with a dose of earthiness. No alcohol heat, here.

Take a sip, and the first thing that pops out to you is the velvet texture of the wine. Smooth, silky, but with a robustness to its body. This isn’t a simple wine. There are dimensions here. Palate notes include strawberries, dark red stone fruits, a hint of plum and a dash of welcome earthy richness.

It’s delicious. It’s not simple, but neither is it unapproachable. The 2009 Meredith is a wine that longs to be drunk, and I assure you, you’ll be ecstatic to oblige.

I recommend this wine without an associated pairing. Drink it on its own, with friends, and celebrate something. You won’t regret it.

Price Point: $70
Verdict: A-

2010 24 Knots Monterey County Pinot Noir

This post is by Steve Paulo from Notes From The Cellar

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Bargain-Priced Pinot Noir Won’t Blow You Away

My wife and I spent a weekend in Monterey, California recently. While there, we tasted some local wine, and found several bottles that really impressed us. I’ll be writing about some of those wines in the coming days or weeks.


2010 24 Knots Monterey County Pinot Noir

When we got home, I realized I had just received a couple sample bottles of a Monterey County Pinot Noir. One of the wines we particularly loved while in Monterey was a Pinot, albeit labelled with the more specific Arroyo Seco AVA.

So I figured, “Awesome! Maybe I’ll fall in love with the whole way the area does Pinot Noir!”

Yeah. Well, to be fair, the $17 price point on 24 Knots means it’s cheaper than almost any Pinot Noir you’re going to find. And it isn’t bad, per se, it’s just… it’s just not much of anything, I’m afraid.

A very pretty light ruby in the glass, the color of the wine doesn’t change much at the edges, owing in part to its young age.

On the nose are a hint of chocolate, a little barnyard, and a sort of twiggy underbrush that reminds me, in the way a bad impersonation only reminds you of the original, of the Burgundian style.

The wine is light-to-medium bodied, and while it shows some slight berry notes, and features the label’s promised long finish, there just isn’t much here.

And I have to say, given the appellation and the price point, I can’t imagine that time is going to do 24 Knots any favors. I can’t really recommend this wine, unles you are dying for a Pinot Noir (and it does exhibit some classic Pinot style) and want to spend less than $20.

Price Point: $17

Verdict: C

2009 Sequoia Grove Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon

This post is by Steve Paulo from Notes From The Cellar

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A Subtle Napa Valley Cab

It’s common for Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon to have a reputation for bombast, for explosive fruitiness. Fruit-bombiness, if you will. With their 2009 Napa Valley Cabernet, Sequoia Grove Winery brings you something less common in Napa: subtlety.


2009 Sequoia Grove Winery Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon

Nestled among its namesake sequoia trees, Sequoia Grove Winery prides itself on an “atmosphere of unassuming sophistication.”

That seems like a reasonable thing to be proud of. Probably something lots of wineries strive for, and don’t quite hit. But it’s also a reasonably-accurate way to describe this, the 2009 vintage of their flagship Napa Valley Cabernet.

In the glass, the 2009 Sequoia Grove Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon is dark purple at its core, lush and inviting. It lightens to a brick red edge, maintaining its gravitas.

On the nose, the fruit you’ll notice is primarily blackberry and black cherry. After that are less fruity notes, I picked out cedar, white pepper, and a cooking or baking spice, perhaps nutmeg. A very well-balanced nose, that should give every Cab drinker something to like.

On the palate, more cooking spices, more dark fruit, a bit of a cigar box, cedar/tobacco element. Similar to the nose: balanced, and subtle. As I hinted above, there is no bombast here; no mortars fly forth. The wine features soft tannins, and a finish shorter than I would have liked.

Despite the short finish, this is a very nice wine. It’s not massively remarkable. It’s not something I can say oh my! Go out, now, drop what you’re doing, go get some! But I can recommend it, especially to those who prefer a less-fruit-forward cabernet that still “feels” like California.

Price Point: $28-$40

Verdict: B

Top 10 Movie Quotes About Wine, Part II

This post is by Steve Paulo from Notes From The Cellar

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The Sequel

I have decided that, like basically everything Hollywood-related, ever, my post of the Top Ten Movie Quotes About Wine is getting a sequel. Deservedly, or otherwise.


a reel of film

Sure, there will be some more Sideways and Bottle Shock quotes, but I’m including a few different films, as well.

Well, without further ado…

Lloyd, Dumb and Dumber (1994)

I’ll tell you where. Someplace warm. A place where the beer flows like wine. Where beautiful women instinctively flock like the salmon of Capistrano. I’m talking about a little place called Aspen.

Miles, Sideways (2004)

Stick your nose in it. Don’t be shy, really get your nose in there. A little citrus, maybe some strawberry… passion fruit… and there’s the faintest soupçon of like… asparagus… and just a… a flutter of a nutty Edam cheese.

Steven Spurrier, Bottle Shock (2008)

“Wine is sunlight, held together by water.” The poetic wisdom of the Italian physicist, philosopher, and stargazer, Galileo Galilei. It all begins with the soil, the vine, the grape. The smell of the vineyard — like inhaling birth. It awakens some ancestral, some primordial… anyway, some deeply imprinted, and probably subconscious place in my soul.

Waiter, The Muppet Movie (1979)

Sparkling Muscatel. One of the finest wines of Idaho.

Miles, Sideways (2004)

It tastes like the back of a fucking L.A. school bus. Now they probably didn’t de-stem, hoping for some semblance of concentration, crushed it up with leaves and mice, and then wound up with this rancid tar and turpentine bullshit. Fuckin’ Raid.

James Bond, From Russia With Love (1963)

Red wine with fish. Well, that should have told me something.

Chet, Kicking and Screaming (1995)

If Plato is a fine red wine, then Aristotle is a dry martini.

Maya, Sideways (2004)

You know, the day you open a ’61 Cheval Blanc… that’s the special occasion.

Porthos, The Three Musketeers (1993)

The picnic was delicious, the wine was excellent, remind me to send the Cardinal a note.

Brennan, Step Brothers (2008)

It’s the fucking Catalina Wine Mixer!

And, like last time, a bonus quote from television…

Homer Simpson, The Simpsons: “Homer vs. The Eighteenth Amendment”, (1997)

To alcohol! The cause of, and solution to, all of life’s problems!

2010 Artesa Limited Release Alexander Valley Cabernet Franc

This post is by Steve Paulo from Notes From The Cellar

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Where Dark and Spicy Meets Lush and Round

In Los Carneros there sits a bunker atop a hill. Really, it looks like a bunker, but it’s a tasting room. This avant-garde hilltop compound is a sight to behold, and one you shouldn’t miss. Welcome to Artesa.


2010 Artesa Limited Release Alexander Valley Cabernet Franc

I find Cabernet Franc to be pretty hit-or-miss. I’ve had some I really like, from France, California, and Washington. And I’ve had some I really didn’t like, from all those places as well.

On the Sonoma trip I’ve referenced in recent pieces about wine from Ledson, VJB, and Nicholson Ranch, we actually began our day at Artesa Vineyards and Winery in Carneros.

It’s a ridiculous place.

Ridiculous in its uniqueness, in its view, in its architecture. But quite serious about its wine. Which is a good thing; while we who drink it should keep wine lighthearted, those who make it should treat it like a serious thing indeed.

A wine that is both serious and fun is this, an Alexander Valley Cabernet Franc that is part of Artesa’s Limited Release selection. The wine is 98% cabernet franc with a 2% blend of cabernet sauvignon for balance and complexity.

The grapes are crushed whole cluster, and the juice spends 18 months in just 35% new French oak, so the wine definitely shows off more of the grape itself than a lot of hands-on winemaking.

In the glass, the wine has a purple core that lightens to pink at the edges. On the nose is a bit of that almost-vegetal “bell pepper” scent I’ve gotten used to from Cab Franc, along with some cooking spices, clove, and pepper.

Luckily, the vegetation does not follow through on the palate. This wine bursts with dark stone fruits, plum, black and red cherries, blackberry, and pepper. The wine is big, it is bold, and it finishes strong and long.

The finish, especially, is impressive. I’m not sure how much I would want this wine with dinner, trying to pair its level of bombast with my food. But as a wine to drink with friends, conversation, and good times, you would be hard pressed to do better.

Fantastic, and easily recommended.

Price Point: $40

Verdict: A-

The Champion of the 2013 Meritage Madness Tournament Is…

This post is by Steve Paulo from Notes From The Cellar

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Cabernet Sauvignon!

Congratulations to the King of Bordeaux, the Emperor of Napa, the Champion of Chile– really, the most popular red grape on the planet– Cabernet Sauvignon, for winning the 2013 Meritage Madness Tournament!

cabernet sauvignon grapes

And it wasn’t even close.

In a mud-stomping blowout, Cabernet Sauvignon beat up on its own mother (in a sense), Sauvignon Blanc, to the tune of 91-9 to take the title.

Here’s the final bracket as it played out.

Well, that was fun! That wraps up this little experiment, and I think in general it was a success. People voted, seemed to enjoy the concept, and I’ll be sure to bring it back next year.

Rather than go red-vs-white like this year, I’m thinking that the 2014 Tournament will be an expanded affair, with 32 grapes from 4 geographically-aligned regions duking it out. I’m thinking the four Regions will be France, Spain, Italy, and Elsewhere. But then, I also have until next March to figure it all out.

Thanks to everyone who voted!

Tomorrow we will return to your regularly-scheduled Notes From The Cellar programming with a review of our champion’s father (in a sense), as I profile a Cabernet Franc from Sonoma.

2013 Meritage Madness: The Championship

This post is by Steve Paulo from Notes From The Cellar

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There Can Be Only One

Well, folks, it all comes down to this. In the real world, the 2013 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament has inched its way into April (can it still be called March Madness?) and has its Final Four. Here in fantasy wineblogland, we have our Championship Matchup set in the 2013 Meritage Madness Tournament.


take the shot!

Let’s cut straight to the chase, shall we? In the Red Region, the #1 seed, Cabernet Sauvignon, has never really seemed threatened during this whole tournament, and that includes its 75-25 victory over third-seeded Zinfandel. Not surprisingly, Cab Sauv storms through the Red Region and will be the red grape in the Championship matchup.

On the other side of the bracket, things have not looked so easy for Chardonnay. And, in fact, it just took a beating in this Regional Final. By a more-than-convincing 82-19 margin, Sauvignon Blanc has beaten Chardonnay, and will represent the White Region in the first-ever final matchup.

So there you have it. The weeks-long process of narrowing down our favorite wine grapes has come down to this: Cabernet Sauvignon vs. Sauvignon Blanc. A pair of Bordeaux grapes, although Sauvignon Blanc perhaps finds its greatest individual expression on the islands of New Zealand. So, in that sense, this is also (a bit) of a New World vs Old World matchup.

So who will it be? Voting ends Wednesday evening, so get your opinion in! (Sorry, voting has closed)

2013 Meritage Madness: The Final Four!

This post is by Steve Paulo from Notes From The Cellar

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16 Grapes Entered, Only Four Remain

As the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament enters its second weekend (and the fabled “Sweet Sixteen”), our little Tournament of Berries steps ever-closer to naming a winner. Here, then, without (much) further ado, are your Final Four!


basketball and hoop

Well, when all is said and done, Cinderellas rarely move far in the Big Dance. They’ll surprise the bigger teams early, but as they progress, the talent they face just gets too much. Such was the case when plucky little Grenache came up against the King of the Old Vines, the closest thing America can call to “its own” vitis vinifera, Zinfandel.

None of the battles were very close, and 3 of the 4 favorites won. The lone exception? Three-seed Sauvignon Blanc, whose 75-25 victory over two-seed Pinot Grigio/Gris was actually the most lopsided decision of the round.

Here’s the bracket as it stands.

So there’s your Final Four, folks!

In the Red Region, top seed Cabernet Sauvignon squares off with three-seed Zinfandel!

And in the White Region, top seed Chardonnay takes on three-seed Sauvignon Blanc!

I think I know which one of these will be the closer battle, but I can’t wait to find out! Will the favorites win the day in the end? Will a pair of cult-favorite middle-seeded grapes topple the two French giants? Only you can decide! Vote on the Final Four below! (Sorry, voting is closed)

2013 Meritage Madness Tournament: Regional Semifinals

This post is by Steve Paulo from Notes From The Cellar

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Say Hello To Your Elite Eight!

The first weekend of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament is in the books, as is the first round of the Meritage Madness Tournament! How did your favorites do?



What would a tournament held in March with the word “Madness” in its popular nickname (not sure where I stand on copyright grounds around here, so lightly I’ll tread) be without upsets? Without the fabled “Cinderella”? No where.

It is therefore my great pleasure to announce not one, but two upsets in the first round of the Tournament! While our top seeded favorites, Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon, had no problem with their competition, and have moved on handily, Red Region 2-seed Merlot was upended in spectacular fashion by 7-seed Grenache! A battle won by the Rhône Valley!

In the White Region, while not quite as spectacular, another Rhône variety overachieved, if only a bit, as 5-seed Viognier toppled 4-seed Riesling in a 60-40 battle that didn’t ever seem to be in the Noble Grape From Germany’s grasp.

In other matchups, the favorites prevailed, as Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio/Gris, Zinfandel, and Pinot Noir round out the Elite Eight.

Here is a link to the bracket as it stands after Round One!

Will Grenache continue its Cinderella run and take out heavy favorite Zinfandel? Will Chardonnay survive its latest challenger on its run to the crown? And what about that 1 vs 4 matchup in the Red Region? Cabernet Sauvignon vs Pinot Noir could be the toughest matchup in the Tournament, and the winner may be the prohibitive favorite moving forward. Exciting stuff, be sure to vote on the Regional Semifinal matchups below! (sorry, voting is closed)

Welcome to the 2013 Meritage Madness Tournament

This post is by Steve Paulo from Notes From The Cellar

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Where Your Favorites Go Head-to-Head

Welcome, sports fans! Welcome, wine fans! I wanted to find out what the most popular varietal wine is (at least among people I could get to participate), so I created Meritage Madness! In this inaugural tournament, I’m pitting top seeds Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon against a field of other popular wine grapes in White and Red regions, to see who comes out on top!


It’s that time of year, when everyone ignores their job to watch 64 teams worth of college athletes play 63 games over the course of 18 days to determine a true and indisputable champion. We’re going to do the same, but with wine grapes.

Click to see the bracket match ups

I’ve linked up an image of the bracket to the right, so you can click it to see how the tournament is laid out. In addition, here are the seedings:

White Region

  1. Chardonnay
  2. Pinot Grigio/Gris
  3. Sauvignon Blanc
  4. Riesling
  5. Viognier
  6. Chenin Blanc
  7. Gewurtztraminer
  8. Semillon

Red Region

  1. Cabernet Sauvignon
  2. Merlot
  3. Zinfandel
  4. Pinot Noir
  5. Syrah/Shiraz
  6. Petite Sirah
  7. Grenache
  8. Malbec

How did I pick the seedings? I based it on California tonnage-crushed reports from 2012. Is this fair? I don’t know, but I think the seedings pass the sniff test. And any way, this is just supposed to be fun!

Now, I want to make something clear: this is a popularity contest. In the event you have had wine made from both grapes competing, I’d like you to pick your favorite. If you have had wine from one grape, but not the other, please vote for the one you’ve had. If you’ve had neither, you can leave it blank, flip a coin, or pick the one you’ve heard of / want to try / have a friend who loves, whatever.

Just have fun.

We’ll have the Regional Semifinals next week. Here’s the survey to pick the First Round winners (sorry, voting is now closed):

Enjoy the Tournament! (I mean the real one, on TV, with the hardwood and sneakers and backboards and stuff)

2011 Ledson Winery & Vineyards Russian River Valley Chardonnay

This post is by Steve Paulo from Notes From The Cellar

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Lightly-Oaked Sonoma Darling

Just off Highway 12, at the northern point of Sonoma Valley, lies a castle. Really, it’s a huge home, but Ledson calls it a castle, and I’m inclined to let them have it; it’s really quite stunning. Some of the wines you can taste inside, however, are the real showstoppers.


Ledson Winery & Vineyards' Castle in northern Sonoma Valley

Designed initially as the home of the Ledson family, the 16,000 square foot French Normandy-style chatêau now houses their tasting facilities. Multiple tasting bars spread throughout the home offer guests plenty of space to experience Ledson’s numerous (and there are multitudes) different wines available at any given time.

Certified Sommelier Anthony was our host on our trip to Ledson’s Castle, and he was a knowledgeable, funny, and friendly guide to the wines of Ledson Winery & Vineyards.

One of the wines that particularly stood out to me was this Russian River Valley Chardonnay. It would appear that the trend among California winemakers to bombard their chard with oak and secondary malolactic fermentation until the cows come home–literally, if the cream and butter flavor profile of such wines is to be drawn to its logical conclusion–is finally dying off. This wine is an example of neither that extreme, nor the extreme of oakless steel tank fermentation, a truly lightly oaked chardonnay.

The 2011 Russian River Valley Chardonnay from Ledson spent 9 months in 40% new French oak, and this light oaking is evident in the notes present here, but they in no way overpower either the nose or the palate.

In the glass, the 2011 RRV Chardonnay is a bright, but light gold. Lighter than many chardonnays, but a much more brilliant gold than a sauvignon blanc or pinot gris.

On the nose is a bright, clean minerality. Notes of pear and apple–granny smith, or perhaps golden delicious–mingle with the minerals here. At first whiff, this wine comes across a bit like the steel-fermented Old World wines of Chablis.

But that similarity goes out the window once you take a sip. There is a fullness, a roundness here that the unoaked wines of Chablis tend not to have (and I say this, loving Chablis). The wine is bright and well-balanced, with a lingering finish of bright apple and pear, and more of the minerality from the nose.

But it’s here that the oaking really shines through. Just a brief amount of time in mostly-used oak barrels gives this Russian River Valley chardonnay a wonderful round fullness, without any of the cloying cream-and-butter elements that too many oaked California chardonnays have–even very recently–suffered from.

Price Point: $36

Verdict: A-

Photo courtesy Flickr user darylmitchell, CC BY-NC-SA-2.0_

2009 VJB Estate Sangiovese

This post is by Steve Paulo from Notes From The Cellar

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Italy Comes to Sonoma Valley

During my recent jaunt through Sonoma Valley, a winery on the side of Highway 12 caught my eye. A large Italian-style palazzo stood out from its neighbors and beckoned us in. Several Italian varietal wines, including this Tower of Tuscany, this Count of Chianti, this Sangiovese, was our reward.


A vineyard in sangiovese's ancestral home, Chianti

I’m a huge fan of Italian wine. Two of my favorite Old World wines are Italy’s Barolo and Brunello di Montalcino; my favorite-ever rosé is a Rosé of Sangiovese from Pithy Little Wine Company; I root for Juventus F.C. (not sure how that ties in here, but there it is).

So discovering wineries focusing on Italian varieties grown in California is always exciting for me. Just like when I first discovered Livermore Valley’s Tamas Estates for myself, I feel like I’ve made a new friend in VJB Vineyards and Cellars.

Founded in 1999 by brothers Henry and Vittorio Belmonte to provide wine for their Santa Rosa restaurant, the winery project has grown to the point where it’s now a force in the world of Sonoma-Italian wine. VJB focuses on varieties like sangiovese, montepulciano, primitivo, aglianico, and barbera; putting them right alongside more common Sonoma varieties like chardonnay, cabernet sauvignon, and zinfandel. They also import a private-label Prosecco from Italy, made just for them.

This is the 2009 Estate Sangiovese, from the winery’s Sonoma Valley vineyards. It’s a very good, very typical sangio: in the glass, it shows a vermilion edge to a brilliant ruby core. On the nose are cherry fruit and cherry blossom, but light hints of chocolate, blueberry, and raspberry.

On the palate, the 2009 VJB Estate Sangiovese is soft, round, and lush, without being sticky or overbearing. A hint of orange zest mingles with the same wonderful berry notes from the nose here, a decadent yet refreshing combination. Everything ends with a luscious finish, that, while not overlong, does not disappoint.

All in all, this is a wonderful example of sangiovese. It’s not something that can compare to the expressions of the grape from its own homeland–though little can compare to Chianti Classico and Brunello di Montalcino–but it’s a solid expression of the grape, filtered through the soil and spirit of California.

Price Point: $32

Verdict: A-

2009 Nicholson Ranch Cuvee Natalie Estate Reserve Chardonnay

This post is by Steve Paulo from Notes From The Cellar

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A Bread-and-Butter Sonoma Valley Chardonnay

I spent some time in Sonoma Valley this last weekend, for the first time. To atone for the sin of not sooner exploring this excellent region, which lies a hop and a skip (no jump necessary) from my front door, let me share with you one of the gems I found while there.


grapes in a bucket.

I’ve grown fond of Chardonnay. Far too many California Chardonnays are boring, one-note affairs that people still seem to buy in droves, but which I just can’t get excited about. This is fine; to each their own. But that’s why I get so giddy when I do find a Chardonnay I really like.

Nicholson Ranch Winery lies along the Carneros Highway, smack between the Sonoma and Napa Valleys. It seems to this impartial observer that, like a lot of the wineries operating in the Carneros area, Nicholson Ranch identifies more with Sonoma, and less with Napa.

It works for them, that’s for sure. As much as I love the Napa Valley–and I do–I have always felt it was a little more corporate, a little more polished, and frankly, a little more snobby than its sister to the west. Sonoma winemakers have always come off to more like farmers than their Napa counterparts.

This isn’t bagging on Napa–in fact, I more regularly prefer their style of juice to Sonoma–but it does speak to the look, feel, and attitude of Nicholson Ranch Winery. There are horses here; there are llamas there. On entering the tasting room, you feel like you’re stepping into the welcoming living room of a farmhouse.

To sum up: you should go. It’s a beautiful little place, nestled up against the southern end of the Mayacamas. But enough about the winery. How’s the wine?

Splendid. Really quite good. Tasty.

In the glass, the 2009 Cuvee Natalie has a relatively dark, golden center, though it clears completely to the edge. On the nose is a beautiful combination of fruit and non-fruit white wine notes: pear, apple, the dry summer scent of straw, a hint of oak, and baking spices. A touch of golden delicious here, a soupçon of cinnamon there.

On the palate, there is more of the same. There’s also a wonderful balance to everything, with enough complexity to not bore me. A final note: I wrote in my notebook that this tasted like bread and butter, and I think that holds true. Silky, buttery, but also with a yeasty, shortbread quality to it.

It’s quite tasty, and while not perfect, it is easy to recommend.

Price Point: $48

Verdict: B+

2008 Bonny Doon Vineyard Le Cigare Volant en demi-muid

This post is by Steve Paulo from Notes From The Cellar

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One of Two Special Release Versions of Le Cigare Volant

Bonny Doon Vineyard is one of my favorite wineries in California. And since most of my favorite wineries are in California, that makes this one of the tip top in the world for this humble quaffer.


2008 Bonny Doon Vineyard Le Cigare Volant en demi-muid

The flagship wine of Bonny Doon is, and has always been, the Châteauneuf-du-Pape-style blend Le Cigare Volant, and while the blend of Rhône Valley grape varieties changes based on the will of the growing season and the quality of the vintage, one element of the winemaking process never does: the standard Volant barrel-aging process involves some proportion of puncheons (about twice the size of a “normal” oak wine barrel) and large upright wood tanks.

Because Bonny Doon winemaker Randall Grahm is a cheeky bugger, and because the members of Bonny Doon’s offbeat DEWN wine club demand the exotic, the winery has been reserving some of the wine from the puncheons, and some from the uprights, before blending the final wine, for release on their own. The en demi-muid is one of these two special releases.

This one is the puncheons, described as:

500 and 600 liter barrels (this is a little more than twice the size of a conventional barrel).

So this ought to be the more “normative” version of Le Cigare Volant, then, yes? Closer to the “standard” process of using regular barrels and not BOUSs? Perhaps.

I’m not really in a position to tell you what this wine isn’t, nor am I particularly interested in comparing it to the more common version of this wine. I’m like Chili Palmer. I’m the guy who’s telling you the way it is.

Like the other 2008 Le Cigare Volant releases, the en demi-muid features 45% grenache, 30% syrah, 13% mourvedre, 7% cinsault, and 5% carignane, culled from Bonny Doon’s vineyards across the Central Coast: from San Luis Obispo, Santa Maria Valley, Paso Robles, and Contra Costa.

In the glass, the ’08 LCV en d-m–that is NOT easy to shorthand!–shows off very pretty scarlet edges and a more purple, perhaps very dark ruby, core.

On the nose, the wine smells of red cherry, herbs, and leather. I even think I may have noticed a bit of lavender in there. The nose is inviting and bright, in general.

On the palate, the 2008 Le Cigare Volant en demi-muid doesn’t quite live up to my expectations of LCV. And I’m not surprised, given the cellaring style on display here. But it’s still a very good wine!

It’s light bodied, with a medium finish. Elements of minerality mingle with dark stone fruits, like black cherry and plum. It drinks very well right now, though by its very nature, I have to assume it will age well over at least the next decade.

I’d suggest drinking now through 2022.

Price Point: $45

Verdict: B+

Disclosure: I received this wine as a sample from Bonny Doon Vineyard

2008 Reversanti Barolo

This post is by Steve Paulo from Notes From The Cellar

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Young, Bold, Big… But Young

I’m a big fan of Barolo, having written reviews of several previous Barolos, and when my wife and I sat down at Ca’ Momi in Napa’s Oxbow Public Market to enjoy some traditional Napoletana-style pizza, I jumped at the chance to add a Barolo to my lunch.


2008 Reversanti Barolo bottle

First off, let me say that the Reversanti is a fine Barolo. It has all the classic characteristics, including big acid and tannin. But, as a 2008, it’s a relatively young wine for the style, which usually longs for extra time in the bottle to mature and mellow.

The 2008 Reversanti is a blend of nebbiolo grapes from three Barolo producers: Macarini from La Morra, Bongiovani of Castiglione Falletto, and Einaudi from Barolo. The blend from these three different villages are then handled by the winemakers of Marcarini. It’s an interesting take, and either gives the wine an additional balance, thanks to the varied inclusion of vineyards, or it confuses a wine that is famous for being a single expression of a single grape.

The 2008 Reversanti Barolo is beautiful in the glass. It is classicly Barolo in that it’s not completely opaque (a cabernet sauvignon, for instance, usually is). It has a warm salmon-to-vermilion shade at the edge of the wine, that darkens to a sort of purple brick at the center.

On the nose are smoke and oak, along with some root and fruit (rhubarb and plum, most prominently). And on the palate we see the wine’s youth: it’s big, it’s acidic, it’s tannic. There are already some nice elements of red and black fruit here, but this wine needs time. It has to age to truly drink to its capacity.

Drink this Barolo between 2016-2022 if you buy now.

Price Point: $25-$28

Verdict: B (as it drinks today)

☆ 2009 The Federalist Visionary Zinfandel

This post is by Steve from Notes From The Cellar

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A Patriotic Dry Creek Zin

Not sure who does or doesn’t know this about me,1 but I earned a B.A. in Political Science. I’m a bit of a political junkie, an armchair pundit, and a student of American history. So while dining at the Napa Rose restaurant in Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel at Disneyland, upon spying a bottle of Dry Creek Valley zinfandel with the name “The Federalist Visionary,” I had to give it a shot.

The Federalist Visionary Zinfandel

I’m normally a fan of Dry Creek zin, and when the bottle arrived at the table with a shot of Alexander Hamilton’s mug plastered on the side, I really hoped I would like the wine. As modern poet Ben Folds says, “There’ll be times you like the cover, and that’s precisely why you’ll love the book.”2

Luckily for me,3 as much as I liked the cover, I loved the wine for what was in the bottle, and not what was attached to the outside.

I find that people tend to be one of two types of zin drinkers, assuming first that they like zin at all. There are the central valley, Lodi zins, exemplified by the former Bonny Doon bestseller, Cardinal Zin, and the vintner’s blend from the Lodi area, 7 Deadly Zins.

These are high alcohol, very spicy, big bold wines. They’re awesome in their way, and go great with spiced pork and barbecue dishes in a way other wins simply wouldn’t.

The other zin, in my opinion, is the Sonoma zin, found mostly in the Dry Creek Valley and the Russian River Valley. A bit subtler, quite a bit fruitier, with less spice and less alcohol, usually. This is my kind of zin. I’ll drink either, and I’ll enjoy both, but given my druthers I’ll take DCV over Lodi in a heartbeat.

The 2009 Federalist Visionary Zinfandel lives right up to my expectations for a Dry Creek Valley zin. In the glass, it’s very dark, sort of a violet overall, but upon close inspection, you get a lilac element as the wine thins to the edges, and a blood-black center that is more than a little enticing.

On the nose, there is a hint of smoke, subtle, but immediately shunted aside for fruit notes of raspberry, cherry, and black cherry. The smoke doesn’t leave entirely, hanging out on your olfactory bulbs as more of a cedar note after its initial impression.

This zin is smooth. Sooooo smooth. It feels full in the mouth, with just enough acid to keep from falling over. The wine is clean on the palate, and the dominant notes are not unfamiliar after the nose, but altered slightly: raspberry, strawberry, and a cherry jam element sit up front, but our old friend smoke is there in a bright way, an outdoorsy, clean forest campfire kind of element, that just sits partially hidden under the surface of all that fruit.

It’s delicious. Not particularly complex, but delicious. It’s a great wine at the price, and I can highly recommend it.

Price Point: $18-$23
Verdict: B+


  1. Also not sure it could possibly have mattered to anyone, ever
  2. “Do It Anyway,” from the Ben Folds Five album The Sound of The Life of The Mind
  3. And, I suppose, you

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☆ The Things I’m Learning Studying For The CSW Exam

This post is by Steve from Notes From The Cellar

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I can’t pronounce German words

The Wine Regions of Germany

Anbaugbiete? Trockenbeerenauslese? Spätburgunder?

Knock it off, Germany. Your language is frightening to me.

Luckily for me, the Certified Specialist of Wine exam, put on by the Society of Wine Educators, doesn’t have an oral component, so my complete inability to pronounce anything German1 won’t factor in one way or the other.

I first took a stab at the CSW Exam back in the summer of 2011, full of piss and vinegar, and with my superego firing on all cylinders. I was deep in the midst of writing this blog with shocking regularity, and figured I could use some crib notes, half ass my study, and pass with flying colors.


I didn’t miss by much, scoring a 73 out of 100.2 I’m trying again, and I’m not even 100% sure why. I don’t know if being able to put “CSW” behind my name is going to open any doors or lift any skirts, but one thing is certain: I’m interested in wine, again.

It’s been a while.

I’ve had a few good wines recently. A Ridge,3 something called The Federalist that tickled my undercarriage, some good Dry Creek reds. The usual, for the most part, but awesome because I’m getting back to that being “the usual”.

I find myself regaling friends with the differences between Port and Madeira, how rotted grapes can make the best wine you’ll ever taste, and why they call it “ice wine,” whether they asked or not. Maybe they want me drawn and quartered, but people seem to listen and don’t immediately book it for the nearest hill. I take this as a positive.

I think I’m coming back. Possibly not until I take the Exam,4 and I need to figure out what to do with the different rating systems5 in existence here, and how I want to move forward. I feel like the whole “Badges” thing never caught on, even if there were certifiable geniuses with great hair and sunny dispositions behind the project.

So there will be housecleaning. But just as grapes are being harvested and crushed as we speak, and in the upcoming weeks, I’m feeling a new vintage coming together.

I promise nothing. Keep your expectations low, and I just might fulfill them.

Now, if you’ll excuse me I need to go study the Austrian system of label laws.

Yes, really.


  1. Prädikatswein? Fuck off
  2. Passing grade is a 75. Ouch
  3. Always a favorite
  4. October 11
  5. At least three

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☆ 2010 Coppola Moscato

This post is by Steve from Notes From The Cellar

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Budget Rosé Pleases Palates

Bear with me. It’s been a while.

2010 Coppola Moscato

When did I drink this wine? I’m not entirely sure how long ago that was. But that’s why we take notes. Well, at least, that’s why I take notes. So that I can resurrect a months-dead wine blog for one, single, solitary return post: a review of a mediocre rosé you can get at your local Safeway for something in the neighborhood of twelve bucks.

Toes. Dipping. Shallow end. Et cetera.

The funny thing is, this is a pretty good wine. Yes it’s from Coppola, who regularly disappoints me like my friend Mike disappoints his dad because he only got in to Brown— expectations, such as they are, can be unreasonable— yes, this is a rosé, far too commonly screwed up in my opinion; and yes, this is marked with the region “California,” which screeches loudly the kind of geographic unspecificity that usually has me running for the hills, or the nearest bottle of Thunderbird (at least it’s honest).

But no, seriously. Not bad. A good summer sipper, for sure. Nothing here is mind-blowing. Nothing here is revolutionary. Nothing here is spectacular. But what you do get is a pretty solid barbecue or summer dinner wine for less than three Lincolns. The wine is 96% moscato, 4% alicante bouschet.

So what’s it like? The 2010 Coppola Moscato is very light in the glass. The core is a light pink, while the edges are damn near clear. Some rosés will hover in a dark pink, or even a salmon type color range, but not the Coppola. On the nose, you’re treated to some fairly righteous rose petal, strawberry, and pink grapefruit notes. All bright and cheery, though the rose petal— while pretty— is a touch too sickly to be perfect.

The wine is very light bodied, and has a clean finish. Dominant notes on the palate are strawberry, peach, and the slightest hint of raspberry. Quite good, though nothing you’ll probably remember outright.

If you’re hosting a barbecue this summer with a bunch of winos, you could do a helluva lot worse than this wine, especially at the price point.

Price Point: $12


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☆ This Is Now An Archive

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It Was Fun While It Lasted There will no longer be new reviews posted here. Notes From The Cellar will remain in this form, as an archive. Thank you to everyone who ever stopped by, and liked what they saw. —Steve Hi! If you’re seeing this message in your RSS feed reader or email, then […]

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