On the Trail

Thanksgiving Practice

David Driscoll
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On Sunday, we did our first Thanksgiving at home. It is my favorite holiday of the year, and I was excited to do it an extra time—for the sake of wine pairing research of course! Cinnamon removed the back and legs from our turkey, making stock for gravy with the back and mole with the legs. I made Amontillado gravy with the pan drippings, stock and turkey schmaltz and she prepared celery root purée enriched mash potatoes and wild rice stuffing to complete the feast. We wanted to try a new Champagne producer’s rosé and a new Burgundy producers Bourgogne to see how they would go with the feast, and I am happy to report a great success. I can’t recommend these two strongly enough for this Thursday!

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The Le Brun de Neuville "Authentique" Brut Rosé Champagne $39.99 is composed of 67% Chardonnay and 23% Pinot Noir, of which 17% is red wine. It all comes from the super chalky soils of Béthon in the Sezzane, and has been aged for three years on a cork instead of a crown cap, so the cork that you pull is the second that has been in the bottle. While darker than most rosé Champagne, and full of more red wine power, the incredible quality of the Chardonnay makes it extraordinarily refreshing and easy to drink. It is a rare thing to have a wine that can both stand up to gravy and be delicate enough to have on its own. This is that wine.

I was lucky enough to visit with the Parents a few years ago, and often drink their Burgundy when I am in Europe. I was thrilled when we managed to get the wines direct for K&L, and the 2015’s are as spectacular as this vintage has the reputation for. The 2015 Domaine Parent Bourgogne Rouge $29.99 really came alive with the food after about an hour in the decanter. While great red fruit brightness and mineral lift is a given from this careful organic grower, the 2015 offers more than that. It has that excitement and subtle complexity that you can only get from Burgundy. It went tremendously well with the turkey, and was drained faster than we expected!

Happy Thanksgiving! 

-Gary Westby

Pick a Theme for Thanksgiving

David Driscoll
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Thanksgiving is the biggest food holiday of the year for my family and every November I stress myself out trying to tailor the perfect pairings with the most exciting bottles for my aunts and uncles, cousins, friends, and parents. I spend hours putting things in and out of my shopping cart, debating the merit of each wine, wondering if what I've chosen is interesting enough for the big day. Every year I put tons of work into perfecting my lineup and every year I end up being the only person who really cares. That's why, starting this year, I've decided to pick a theme and then stick to it. Since I spent this past February touring through Australia's Yarra Valley (my new favorite place on earth), I decided to do a sampling of wines and spirits solely from that region. That way it's a personal curation, yet one entirely limited in its scope. We only have so many options from the Yarra (especially from the places I visited), so that made choosing the final selection much more manageable: Helen's Hill Pinot Noir, Oakridge Chardonnay, a few selections from Payten & Jones, a bottle of our new Faultline Gin from Four Pillars for Martinis, and a special single malt from a Melbourne distillery called Starward that I brought home in my suitcase for after dinner.

Each time I've done this, I've found choosing the best white, the best red, and the best sparkling wine for each course to be damn near impossible, not to mention disjointed. Moving from Champagne, to Napa Sauvignon Blanc, to Burgundy, and then Oregon Pinot Noir is a fine progression, but there's no real connection there for the guests to follow along. In my experience, parties are more fun when there's a theme. I've done all American or all French menus in the past, but even those specifications were far too broad. That's why I'm getting specific this year: Yarra. Period. End of story. If you're looking for thematic ideas of your own, I'd suggest maybe getting micro-specific as a fun idea. Maybe do just wines from the Rhone like red and white Chateauneuf-du-Pape, or maybe a smattering of German wines: dry Riesling and Spatburgunder. You could pick reds and whites from the Santa Cruz Mountains, or a collection of Willamette Valley selections. We're here to help if you need ideas. 

Sometimes the incredible breadth of the wide wine world is overwhelming in its vastness. Getting specific is a fun way to eliminate that all-encompassing anxiety, while offering a fun experience for your guests.

-David Driscoll

Exploring Châteauneuf-du-Pape

David Driscoll
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Of all of France's major wine regions, I've easily drunk fewer bottles from Châteauneuf-du-Pape than any other locale (and I'm including both the Jura and Savoie!). I don't know why. It has nothing to do with preference or personal taste to be honest. Every time I get the chance to taste the Rhône Valley's most treasured cuvée I wholly enjoy the experience, which is why I brought a bottle of the 2014 Domaine Tourbillon "Vieille Vignes" to a wine class I was teaching last night. I was hosting a comparative tasting between Californian and French wines for newcomers to wine and by the end of the night just about everyone there was asking for thirds and fourths of the Châteauneuf. 

"What is that wine?" they asked with curiosity. No one had ever heard of the name, so I answered.

Châteauneuf-du-Pape is a region in the southeast of France that was named after the seventy-year run of the papacy in Avignon (château = castle; neuf = new, du Pape = of the Pope). It's typically a blend of many grapes including Grenache, Syrah, Cinsault, Mourvèdre, and other regional grapes, but the recipe can vary depending on the stylistic choice of the producer and the vintage. For example, the 2014 Tourbillon "Vieilles Vignes" is a blend of 60% Grenache, 15% Mourvèdre, 15% Syrah, 7% Cinsault, and 3% Muscardin, but the Grand Reserve expression is a straight split of 70% Mourvèdre and 30% Grenache. Planted in stony hills that roll through the valley, the terrain is famous because the rocks heat up as the day goes on and keeps the vineyards warm at night, speeding the ripening process of the growing season. 

What I think newcomers to French wine like (and last night particularly enjoyed) is the ripeness of the style and the approachable fruit flavors that present themselves right when you pull the cork. The Tourbillion was full of fresh berries with savory herbs and a bit of a smoky, peppery note that added complexity. It was tasty and familiar, yet unlike any other wine in the room. It had body and weight, but it was also crafted with delicacy. I think everyone found the style utterly charming. Tourbillion handpicks all the grapes for the wine and sorts through the bunches carefully before the fermentation and vinification occur. You can taste every bit of that care in each sip as the wine is clean, fresh, and lively on the palate. 

I tend to think of Châteauneuf-du-Pape as a ripe and opulent wine (which it can be), but bottles like the Tourbillion VV remind me every now and again that the wines can be quite delicate and finessed at times. There's a lot to explore with CdP and so many different producers making varied styles from a variety of microclimates and vineyard conditions. You can't really pigeonhole Châteauneuf-du-Pape into any one thing. That's why I definitely need to dedicate more time to understanding it. 

-David Driscoll

 

Krug and Mushrooms

Gary Westby
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Last night, I was lucky enough to host Richard Beaumont, Krug Champagne’s US director for dinner at my home. Cinnamon and I cooked, and he was kind enough to bring the wines- and what a lineup he brought! Krug, as fantastic as it is as an aperitif, truly comes alive when paired with food. Local, fresh Chanterelle mushrooms are back in northern California after our first fall rains, and we started off with an onion and mushroom tart with the Krug "Grande Cuvée" 164 Ème Édition Brut Champagne. The youngest wine in this blend is 2008, and the reserves go all the way back to 1990.

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It was fantastic with the rich tart, and the savor of the Chanterelle matched perfectly with the subtle umami of the Krug. We found out from Mr. Beaumont that Krug picks a single ingredient each year to pair with their Champagne, and works with chefs across the world promoting the pairing. This year the ingredient is the mushroom. We were happy to have it on the menu for him! You can learn more about this super interesting program here:

https://www.krug.com/krug-x-mushroom

We served cold foie gras with brioche toast, fleur de sel and pepper with the incomparable 2000 Krug "Clos d'Ambonnay" Brut Champagne. We are working on getting a small allocation of this, the most expensive Champagne in the world, and let me say that it didn’t disappoint. This 100% Pinot Noir Blanc de Noir comes from the mid slope of the Grand Cru of Ambonnay, from a tiny walled vineyard. Less than 6000 bottles were produced. It was shocking how pure of an expression of black cherry Pinot power this profound wine delivered, while at the same having the chalky cut of the brightest of Champagnes. I hope we can get a bottle or two to sell! For our main course, we paired the Krug Brut Rosé Champagne with cofit duck legs on a bed of local salad greens. I thought this was the most successful pairing of all, and the biggest surprise. Usually, we drink red Burgundy with duck confit, and I thought that the Champagne would be too light. How wrong could I be!

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While the rose was still bright and refreshing, it had effortless dark fruit power that meshed fabulously with the meat. We had an opportunity to talk some business, and it looks like a second shot of the 2004 Krug Brut Champagne will be coming our way soon. I would recommend getting on the waiting list if you want some, as the first twelve cases we received lasted only a couple of days. This was a dinner that I won’t soon forget. Thank you Mr. Beaumont and thank you Champagne Krug!

-Gary Westby

True to Form CA Pinot Noir for Burgundy Lovers

David Driscoll
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I was intrigued at first by the latest vintage of Domaine de la Côte not because of it's reviews from the American press, but rather due to its massive 97 point score from the British-based Decanter magazine. The Brits tend to celebrate classic, true-to-form wines rather than big, brash, in-your-face pomposity and I was curious as to why they were lavishing a California Pinot Noir with such praise. Then I realized that Domaine de la Côte was Raj Parr's estate, the former wine director for the Mina Group and renowned sommelier who spearheaded his own old world project in the Santa Rita Hills. The domaine is collection of vineyards that makes up more than 60 acres on a south-facing slope at about 700 feet, roughly seven miles from the Pacific Ocean. The Santa Barbara area has long been a Mecca for California winemakers looking for cooler climates to grow Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Tasting the 2014 Santa Rita Hills expression (a blend of all the estate vineyards), you could tell you were getting serious Pinot Noir just by looking at the color in the glass. Lighter in hue (classic Côte de Beaune rouge), lower in alcohol at 12.5%, and aromatic on the nose, I could have been easily fooled had someone passed this off as French. The wine has tremendous acidity, concentration of crunchy red fruits, and real old world character. Sometimes it's hard to remember that Pinot Noir like this is still being made in California! Those of you looking for a mid-range Thanksgiving dinner option might want to snatch this up while we have it at this price. American made with a nod to the Côte d'Or. 

-David Driscoll

Old Vine Zin with Real Old Vine Character

David Driscoll
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"Old vine" is one of those terms you see on wine bottles that I'm not sure everyone understands, but nevertheless is used as a marketing tool by wineries to tout the quality of their hooch. It's kind of like "small batch" for Bourbon in that it implies something special or unique, but there's no real regulation regarding either term; it's really up to the integrity of the producer when it comes to the usage. What's so special about old vines then? It depends on which winemaker you talk to (as it can be a controversial subject), but old vines often give more concentrated fruit and a better sense of place when it comes to terroir, as the root networks extend deep into the soil, criss-crossing like veins through the heart of their terrain. Some winemakers say that old vines have a better ability to cope with diverse weather conditions because of their life experience—they have wisdom, so to speak. With every vintage, they gain a better understanding of their environment; plus, there's a reason they're still around after decades and decades, right? Someone must think they're pretty special to have left them in place for so long, while other vineyards get ripped up, replaced, and replanted. Nevertheless some winemakers will shrug off their importance, while others like South African superstar Eben Sadie swear by their quality and flavor. I tend to follow Eben's mindset because not only are his wines some of the best I've ever tasted in my ten year career, there's something special when you taste real old vine character.

Here in California, some of the oldest plantings we have are Zinfandel vineyards, as the varietal has been the bread and butter of winemakers and farmers for over a century. If you're interested in tasting an affordable option that showcases that heritage, check out the 2014 Valravn Old Vine Zinfandel: a wine that impressed the hell out of me earlier this week. It's made by the same team behind the Banshee project, focusing on 50 to 105 year old bush-pruned vines in Sonoma County that are all hand-harvested to preserve the varietal's full glory. What you get is concentrated red berry flavors, rich and juicy on the palate, but accented with savory spices, brush, and licorice-like peppery notes. The only thing that impressed me more than the 2014 was the sample bottle I opened of the 2015 vintage earlier today (I placed my order immediately). I could have finished half that bottle had I not restrained myself. It's a lot of old vine experience for your twenty bucks. 

-David Driscoll

On the Trail with Bill Foley

David Driscoll
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As a new home owner in Las Vegas and bi-monthly resident in the desert city, I felt it was important to start off on the right foot and get to know some of the members of the local community. While I've so far met my fair share of bartenders, sommeliers, restaurant owners, and retailers, there was one man in particular I wanted to sit down with, mainly because he's in a similar situation to myself (although I'm short a few billion dollars). American businessman Bill Foley is the principal owner of the new Las Vegas Golden Knights NHL franchise, but he's also the owner of the Foley Family Wines portfolio, an incredible consortium of properties that includes Chalk Hill, Chalone, Lincourt, Roth, and Sebastiani, to name a few. Therefore, he's a man constantly on the move between the heart of California wine country and the bright lights of Sin City (something I'm hoping to do on a more regular basis) managing some of the state's most important wineries, while dealing with the daily requirements of a pro hockey team. Not only did I want to pick Bill's brain about his path to success and for advice on Las Vegas, I wanted our customers to get to know him as well. His accomplishments, even without all the financial success, are staggering both in their scope and their diversity. He's truly a fascinating character and someone who is passionate about wine, community, and adventure. I had quite an enjoyable visit with him. Our recent conversation is below:

David: I think you’ve got to be in the running for the world’s most interesting man. Dos Equis made a big mistake when they hired their new guy. Your biography is unbelievably intimidating. I think it’s the most incredible I’ve ever seen, no joke. Can you talk a little bit about how you got to this point in your life and the road you took to get here?

Bill: I went to West Point as an undergraduate, but I transferred to the Air Force because I wanted to fly jets. However, my eyesight had deteriorated during my last year at West Point, so I ended up being stationed at the Boeing Company in Seattle in what they call the Air Force Plant Representative Office. I started off as an industrial engineer—I had a really good engineering background—and eventually I became a development engineer, so I was working on all these terrific Boeing programs like the short range attack missile, which was the precursor to the cruise missile, Minuteman III, and Burner II—a second stage spy satellite booster rocket. Eventually I became a contracting officer because I helped save the government a lot of money. By the time I left as a captain after four years, I had personal authority to sign a contract up to a billion dollars. I was about twenty five years old at the time.

David: You see what I mean? This is crazy talk!

Bill: So I then went to law school at University of Washington. I had an uncle who was a lawyer and I had admired his career, plus I wanted to learn a different way of thinking. I was an engineer as a undergrad and I got a masters in business at night while I was in the service, but I wanted that different thought process that you get from being a lawyer, using the Socratic method when you go to class. I practiced law for a while, but I had always wanted to be in business. I moved away from law when I did a leveraged buyout of a small title insurance firm back in 1984 and that was the basis of our public companies today. I think we paid twenty-one million—we borrowed seventeen million and we put down about four million. I owned about 51%; I begged and borrowed all the money to make the investment. I got it from my family, we put a mortgage on our house, whatever we could do to raise money, we did it. That group of businesses today now has a market value of about sixty-two billion. 

David: Now when does wine start to enter the picture? Did you get into wine as an investment opportunity, or was it originally a hobby that turned into a business?

Bill: Originally it was a hobby. I got into Pinot Noir and Chardonnay back in the mid-eighties. Once I start getting interested in something I tend to go all in. I went to Burgundy several times, visiting every domaine I could. I went all over Northern California as well, but I was interested in those two varietals in particular. Then in the late nineties after we moved to Santa Barbara from Newport Beach, I saw the opportunity to do something I had been interested in for some time, so I got into the wine business in a small way. We bought the Curtis Winery from the Firestone family and renamed it Lincourt, then I created Foley Estates out in the Santa Rita Hills. We bought a horse farm, planted it with vineyards, then built a production facility. That’s really where it started. Then in 2008 and ’09, I decided to start investing in wineries and vineyards and that’s when I really got serious about it. We got pretty embedded up here in Northern California, buying Chalk Hill and Sebastiani. We created the Roth brands and Lancaster. When I think about it, I’ve never done anything that ended up being small. I always keep building and growing it. 

David: I think it’s simply natural for any company to grow when it creates a product of quality like your wineries do. Chalk Hill is one of my favorite California Chardonnays. That’s a great property with a perfect location. If you’re able to give a place like that the right kind of love, then success is destined to follow, don’t you think?

Bill: That’s a good example of a distressed property and a distress sale. We bought it during the summer of 2010 and I’m only now finished investing in the property. We went in and ripped out a bunch of distressed vines, replanted them, rebuilt the winery and the production facility, rebuilt the tasting room, re-did the pavilion, and then we built the Roth facility across the street, which was originally an old fermentation building. We created a winery inside of that. Now we have two wineries across the street from each other and Lancaster just down the street. So we’ve cornered Chalk Hill Road a bit in terms of winemaking. It’s a great location. Chalk Hill Chardonnay is my favorite, too. If I’m drinking Chardonnay, then I’m drinking Chalk Hill Estate Chardonnay—period. 

David: What do you think brought that wine to the level it is today, besides your investment?

Bill: When I got here, the wine had gotten away from its roots. They had been filtering and fining. When I took control of the winemaking back in 2012, I said: we’re going back to the original model. It’s going to be unfiltered and unfined, we’re going to touch this wine as infrequently as possible, and we’re going to go back to the style that Ramey helped to create in the mid-nineties. I believe we’ve done it. If anything, the vineyards are in far better shape now than when I bought the property. We replanted what was the Founder’s Block parcel, which used the clone developed at UC Davis back when phylloxera was going crazy through Chalk Hill. We are the only location that has this Founder’s Block clone and we’ve just replanted it with resistant root stock and grafted on the clone. It’s going to be beautiful. We started this program about four and a half years ago and we’re just now getting production. I’m telling you: the wine is unbelievable. 

David: So you’re finally getting production on this incredible new project and all of a sudden a series of wildfires threatens to burn it all to the ground. How close were your properties to the recent events?

Bill: We might have some smoke taint on some of the red fruit, but in terms of damage we didn’t have any. The Tubbs fire got to within about a mile of Chalk Hill, but then the firefighters came in and we didn’t have any problem. We were very lucky. Because we wanted to help those who were affected, we contributed $250,000 to the Napa and Sonoma relief fund, but this all came right on the heels of the massacre down in Las Vegas, which we have been involved with raising funds as well.

David: I have a bunch of questions to ask you about Las Vegas seeing that you’re now the owner of the city’s NHL franchise—the Golden Knights—but since we’re moving in that direction now, what was it like there on opening night? I watched that game live on TV with my wife as we’re big fans now that we’re locals. We were pretty choked up. What you guys did having the players walk out for their introductions with the first responders was incredible. 

Bill: Boy, I’ll tell you, there wasn’t a dry eye in the house. I thought it was a good idea to make our players available and they wanted to help. They went to fire stations, police stations, hospitals, the convention center where people were looking for their loved ones; it was pretty tough. These guys went through that whole process. We obviously had a completely different event planned for opening night, but we just reverted to this idea of honoring the first responders and having them escorted by each player to the center of the ice. I thought it was very moving. Deryk Engelland, who we drafted in the expansion draft, made an incredible speech. He’s lived in Las Vegas for the last eight or nine years, his kids were all born there, and he talked about being from Las Vegas and how affected he was. Apparently he was awake all night because he was so nervous about making the speech, but it was fantastic. Every game we now honor a different first responder as a prequel to the National Anthem. 

David: You guys did a big thing this past Friday as well, right? With one of the police chiefs?

Bill: Yes, on Nevada Day we honored the captain who runs the Clark County Sheriff’s Department on the Strip. He was in charge of the response team that went to the concert when the firing started. We gave him a check for a million dollars that our foundation raised. I’m very proud of what we’ve been able to do to help. But then the wildfires started! Can you imagine?

David: I felt bad because I originally made the request for this interview with your assistant right after the home opener when I was in Vegas at the time. But then the fires started and I knew between the shooting and the potential threat to your wineries, you must have been a nervous wreck. 

Bill: It was crazy. We were planning to go to Vegas that Monday after the violence, but I had called down and talked to a few people and every one was under such distress, so we decided to stay in Northern California until that Friday. Then the fires started that Sunday while we were gone. 

David: Were you drinking your own wine during the first game to help get through all the stress?

Bill: We have a suite at center ice where I sit in the first row with the GM George McPhee and the assistant GM Kelly McCrimmon. The people who are in the suite think I’m rather anti-social (laughs) because I’m down there watching the game instead of talking to them. But it’s so intense!

David: Well, you’re not really there to schmooze and booze, right? This is your baby! Your very own team going out there each night.

Bill: Exactly, and then we got off to that great start, so I’ve been really wrapped up in it. 

David: Explain to me how this all came about, will you? Owning a hockey team in Las Vegas…

Bill: I got directed to the idea of hockey in Vegas by the Malouf family. We went through the process of meeting with the league and they told me I needed to put down a fifty million dollar non-refundable deposit and assure them the arena would be ready on time. I told them: “I can’t put down a fifty million dollar non-refundable deposit!” So I called Commissioner Gary Bettman and he told me the league would allow us to have a season ticket drive, to demonstrate the viability of the market. We did that and within thirty days we had taken deposits on over ten thousand season tickets. Eventually we got to 13,500 deposits. The league saw that and allowed us to make our preparations. So far everything has worked out, other than the fact that all of our goalies are getting hurt.

David: Right! First Marc-Andre Fleury gets the concussion, then Subban gets hurt. Now Oskar Dansk is out after the Islanders game! Whose going in for the next game?

Bill: Our goalie’s name is Maxime Lagace. He’s from Quebec. We brought him in originally for a game after Fleury got hurt, but then we picked up Subban off waivers. So we sent him down to our AHL affiliate. We then brought up Dansk to be Subban’s back-up. Fluery and Subban should be back shortly. A concussion’s hard to figure out through. He wants to get back and play. He’s so bummed. Subban might be back first, however. We think we’ll get one of the two back shortly, but probably not on this road trip. We’ve got ten days of desperation ahead of us.

David: Despite all this, you’re at the top of the ESPN NHL power rankings! I always check it to see if they’re going to finally give you the respect you deserve.

Bill: They won’t give us any credit! Isn’t it ridiculous? You listen to the commentators and they say things like: “Well, they haven’t really played anybody yet.” We beat the Blackhawks, the Blues, Dallas, and the Avalanche. We’re beating established teams. These are not pushovers. 

David: It seems like the response in Vegas has been incredible. I see Golden Knights gear all over Summerlin when I go home.

Bill: It’s been incredible. It’s like the team is feeding off of Las Vegas and Las Vegas is feeding off this team. It’s become a symbiotic relationship. The town knows that we’re Vegas born and that we’re the first professional sports team to play here. Every night has been a complete sell out. 

David: So are you having a glass of wine to celebrate all this as you watch each game?

Bill: In the suite, it’s just water. Just water during the game. But immediately after the game it’s Chalk Hill Chardonnay or Lancaster Cab if I want a red. Those are my two go-tos. 

-David Driscoll

The Heart of St. Estèphe Value

David Driscoll
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My favorite Bordeaux writer Steven Brooks recently named Calon Ségur as one of the ten most improved châteaux in Bordeaux after finally transitioning out from under the Capbern-Gasqueton ownership. He notes that much of that progress can be attributed to a man named Dr. Vincent Millet, who came over from Château Margaux as technical director of the property and did a complete investigation into the vineyards on site, retooling the layout of the varietals, eventually resulting in a prettier, more finessed grand vin. Not having an extensive tasting history of Calon Ségur under my belt, I have to take Steven's word for it, but I've tasted every vintage since 2009 and I have indeed noticed that 14/15/16 are remarkable wines in how approachable they are in their youth. Normally you get power and structure in a St. Estèphe claret, but the Calon Ségur expressions have been much more feminine over the years (2015 in particular). 

Where I have really noticed the improvement, however, is with the property's second and third wines, especially after retasting the 2014 Saint-Estèphe de Calon Ségur again yesterday. At a quarter of the price of the 2014 grand vin, the wine is simply breathtaking in its approachability already. In general, 2014 is a classic vintage. The wines have ample fruit, but ample structure simultaneously. Yet, somehow the tannins seem to melt away in this wine, allowing the gorgeous flavors of cherry and blackberry to take center stage. It's exactly what Brooks describes in his summary of Calon Ségur's improvements: "seamless fruit and a light touch in terms of extraction, although it’s far from a light wine." He's talking about the $100 version of Calon Ségur, however. What I'm telling you is that you can enjoy the fruits of the château's advancements for $25, as well. The Saint-Estèphe de Calon Ségur is the best second or third wine value I've yet tasted in 2014 in terms of a wow-factor and a level of complexity. 

It appears the improvements at Calon Ségur are far reaching.

-David Driscoll
 

 

The Second Best Wine in the World

David Driscoll
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In 2016, the Wine Spectator bestowed its number two "Wine of the Year" selection onto Oregon's Domaine Serene for the incredible 2014 "Evenstad Reserve" Dundee Hills Chardonnay. Seeing that the top wine of 2016 was the 2013 Lewis Napa Cabernet, the Domaine Serene Chardonnay was in essence the top white wine in the world according to the Wine Spectator—no small feat, right? The wine was indeed magical. I had it at a special dinner event earlier this Spring and found myself wondering exactly when our neighbors to the north had stolen the domestic Chardonnay crown. Earlier today I tasted through the newest releases with Matt Viotto, the national sales director of the domaine, and was completely caught off guard once again by the majesty of the new 2015 vintage. The wine, while riper than the 2014 from an elongated growing season, was divine. It straddled the line between tropical and cool climate with incredible balance, showcasing creamy textures that were bolstered in places by acidity and drive. What is Domaine Serene doing to make such a great bottle of Chardonnay, one that currently holds the WS mantle for the world's best? I found out more during our meeting. 

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Domaine Serene tracks hundreds of different micro-vineyards, or crus like we know from Burgundy, throughout the winemaking process and have spent years getting to understand the unique qualities of each one. Each of these sites is given its own temperature management, yeast management and fruit handling. After harvest, the Chardonnay grapes go immediately into a press specifically designed for top quality white wines and Champagne production. After pressing, the wine is transferred to closed-top tanks, where it is allowed to settle for a short time before being moved into French oak barrels for fermentation. Multiple yeast strains, chosen specifically for Chardonnay, add nuances of flavor that combine with soil-driven characteristics to provide diversity and complexity for the blending process. The Evensted Estate sits in Oregon's Dundee Hills between 500 - 800 feet of elevation with seven different vineyard sites, each with its own exposure. Originally planted in 1993, the site today has been in the hands of Domaine Serene for over two decades now, and in all that time they've become masters of that terroir. The proof is in the 2015 edition of the Evenstad Chardonnay. 

It remains to be seen if they can pull off the same feat two years running, but there's no doubt that the wine has world class legitimacy. 

-David Driscoll

Bordeaux 2014 Continues to Bring the Goods

David Driscoll
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If we were to feature a Napa red blend with twin 94 point reviews from Antonio Galloni and James Suckling at $29.99, we'd be up to our eyeballs in web orders and we'd likely blow through huge floor stacks of bottles in hours. That's partially because Napa Cabernet isn't known for its great values. I scrolled through Robert Parker's latest Napa report this morning before work and found it difficult to locate wines under $75 among the top candidates. That being said, finding wines with the holy trinity of prestige, press, and price in Bordeaux from 2014 has been relatively easy. Why? Because the entire industry is focused on the subsequent 2015 and 2016 harvests with their bigger fruit flavors, higher scores, and even higher price tags. In the shadow of two gargantuan older brothers, 2014 has completely fallen off the spectrum for most American collectors and that's led to a market with plenty of great options. That's, of course, when we like to strike; especially when we can make a deal with a property and a producer we happen to love. Enter the 2014 Barde Haut, perhaps the best value yet from a vintage that keeps on giving. 

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Barde Haut is usually one of my top five value picks in any vintage, but in 2014 where pretty much the entire harvest itself is a value compared to the higher-priced 15/16 duo, Barde Haut stands out as a supreme deal: a "MUST BUY," if you ask me. I won't bore you with additional tasting notes about how delicious the wine tastes, rather I'll get straight to the bullet points: 1) You can drink this tonight, or a decade from now, or anytime in between. The suppleness of the fruit is enticing right now, but the wine has both the acidity and the tannic structure for long-term maturation and evolution. Few wines in this price point and with this pedigree offer that type of versatility. 2) The scores here don't lie, and there are few 94 pointers in the sub-$30 category. The Barde Haut is true-to-form St. Emilion with chalky, mineral typicity underneath all that fruit, for a slam dunk price. 3) This is the ultimate Bordeaux gateway bottle for California drinkers who want to expand their horizons. You get ample fruit from the Merlot, but it's very much a classic Bordeaux claret in style. If you're intrigued by Bordeaux and want to venture into its waters without emptying your wallet, the 2014 Barde Haut is a great place to start. I bought a case when it landed, and now that I've emptied that case I'm going back in for more.

-David Driscoll