Author Archives: Lyle W. Norton

About Lyle W. Norton

Free-lance writer specializing if wine, food, travel and jazz reviews.

Lyle’s Totally Subjective Top Ten Films Of 2014

 

This past year in film was filled with high expectations.  There were some disappointments, a few good biographical films from England, exceptional ensemble casts, and a film twelve years in the making. The word, “subjective” is proudly displayed in the title because, by nature, I am a very impressionable person, guided by who I am with, what I had to eat or drink and whatever mood that results.  Sitting in a dark theater watching credits, trying to embrace what I just watched, Karen’s interpretation of the film, Calvary confirmed what I was feeling.  Released in August, no other stood up to the power of this film.

#1 – Calvary (John Michael McDonagh)

Maybe it was the modern, intimate Volant Theater in Austin, Texas, maybe the spring rolls and beer that I carried into the

"Calvary"

“Calvary”

small house, but the little heralded Irish film, Calvary moved me like no other film in 2014.  From the startling opening line to the last scene, this is a bold film delivered by Brendan Gleeson’s brilliant portrayal of a priest in remote northern Ireland,  A creatively aberrant screenplay and a topical issue of these times, the plot is unveiled in the opening scene with a threat that is consuming throughout as the story reveals a wave of eccentric characters that could all be the ultimate antagonist.  The priest’s connection with his confused daughter reveals much depth and integrity to Gleeson’s innocent character as he confronts peril connected to the issue of child abuse within the Catholic church.  It may not be for the timid, but Calvary delivers realism through good writing, exceptional film-making and deserves to be called one of the best films of 2014.

#2 – Birdman or the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance (Alejandro Inarritu)

My expectations for Birdman were high.  A dark comedy and Michael Keaton always seems to be a good marriage.  The

"Birdman"

“Birdman”

cast, with names like Edward Norton, Naomi Watts, Emma Stone and Zack Galifianakis begs the question, “Why did so many fine actors choose this film?”  because it clearly could not be for the money.  Lastly, director Alejandro Inarritu usually rides the fence between mysticism and reality.  In a biographical twist, Keaton portrays yesterday’s celebrity superhero who puts his heart, soul and legend into producing his own play, based on an obscure novel.  The future of his career, his relationships, his self-worth is on the line while he fights off the pressures of a scattered past.  Norton delivers an Oscar-worthy performance as the obnoxious, narcissistic co-star and Emma Stone’s character balances compassion and confusion.  So, just throw caution in the wind and enjoy the film that would get my vote.

#3-A Most Wanted Man (Anton Corbijn)

From a John Carre’ novel on international espionage, A Most Wanted Man features Philip Seymour Hoffman, in his

"A Most Wanted Man"

“A Most Wanted Man”

last role, as a crusty, veteran German spy obsessed with the capture of an illegal with ties to a terrorist organization.  A reluctant collaboration with an American CIA agent, played by Robin Wright leads to much intrigue and suspense with an unexpected twist at the end.  Philip Seymour Hoffman’s performance was so seamless that I fully foresaw an Oscar nomination.  Unfortunately, an early release date may have resulted in the film and performance being overlooked.

#4-Boyhood (Richard Linklater) 

There has never been another film like Boyhood.  Taking 12 years to make a film with two

"Boyhood"

“Boyhood”

important child characters is always a risk.  However, I was most intrigued with the physical, emotional and maturational changes in the adult characters, namely Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke, both deserving of their nominations.  Overall, this is a story of survival and, in my two-hour snapshot, I felt like a 12-year friend of the family.  Director Richard Linklater created the groundbreaking experiment and it worked.  It would be unfortunate to make him wait another 12 years for an Oscar.

#5-The Grand Budapest Hotel (Wes Anderson)

What’s not to like about Wes Anderson films, quirky stories developed around quirky characters that seem to attract the best actors in the world.  Although The Grand Budapest Hotel boasts a

brilliant screenplay and great performances, led by Ralph Fiennes, what sets it apart, for me, was the extraordinary

"The Grand Budapest Hotel"

“The Grand Budapest Hotel”

cinematography.  This was a beautiful film to watch and, not since the French film, Amelie, have colors played such a significant role in the enjoyment of a movie. Let’s all root for cinematographer Robert Yeoman to win Oscar.

#6 – The Imitation Game (Morten Tyldum)

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“The Theory of Everything”

The idea of a mathematician developing a machine that breaks the German “enigma” code, literally ending WWII, later to be persecuted by the same government he served for being homosexual would make a compelling screenplay.  Actually, it is a true story that needed to be told.   Benedict Cumberbatch does indeed deliver a gifted performance as Alan Turing, the man who actually did break the code and was later prosecuted for his sexuality.  Kiera Knightly’s character as a young female mathematician living with the glass ceiling for woman in the 40’s, added good chemistry.

#7 – The Theory of Everything (James Marsh)

The second big British biopic featured Eddie Redmayne’s staggering portrayal of acclaimed physicist Stephen Hawking during his famous research and struggles with the onset of ALS disease.  While

"The Theory of Everything"

“The Theory of Everything”

Redmayne’s performance makes him an Oscar frontrunner, I found Felicity Jone’s role of Jane Wilde Hawking to be a major force in the film and she deserves her nomination.  The Theory of Everything had everything from beautiful cinematography to compelling drama.

#8 – American Sniper (Clint Eastwood)

The focus of this film was the man, the human being that was Chris Kyle and what led to his role

"American Sniper"

“American Sniper”

and legend as a famous sniper.  That being said, Bradley Cooper does an admiral job delineating the man who saw himself as a protector.  The film contains realism that is, at times, hard to watch, but any judgements on the controversial subject were left to the viewer, as it should be. Clint Eastwood’s low-key, efficient style makes this film work.

#9 – Gone Girl (David Fincher)

I liked Gone Girl, I even liked the ending.  Having not read the book, I found it to be a classic thriller, unique in its own way, with a rememberable performance by Rosamund Pike as Amy Dunne, the lovely young wife who becomes something else.  Who would have thought.

"Gone Girl"

“Gone Girl”

#10 - Rosewater (John Stewart)

I give the nod to Rosewater, John Stewart’s first venture into film, due to the timely topic and Gael Garcia Bernal’s riveting performance as Maziar Bahari, an Iranian-Canadian journalist who

"Rosewater"

“Rosewater”

was detained for over 100 days in an Iranian prison because of a satirical  interview on Stewart’s, “The Daily Show.”  The film has some flaws, but the interchange between the Bahari character and the interrogator was worth the price of admission.

If you can find them, “Me And My Moulton” and “Boogaloo and Graham” are highly recommended in the Animated Short and Live Short categories.  Enjoy the movies!

 


The Auteur of Sonoma

 

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Winemaker Kenneth Juhasz

The French word for author, “auteur” is used in the film industry to describe when a film fully reflects the creative and imaginative perceptions of one person.  Auteur Winery, home to some of the truly fine wines available for tasting on the Sonoma Square, reflects the passion and meticulous energy of Kenneth Juhasz, whose efforts in creating high quality cool-climate chardonnay and pinot noir has earned him recognition as a “winemaker who has made a difference” from Wine Spectator magazine.  Kenneth owns Auteur with his wife, Laura, sourcing grapes from some of Sonoma and Napa County’s outstanding vineyards to create his exceptional wines.

Juhasz has a hands-on approach at all stages of winemaking resulting in a prodigious collection of low production, high quality wines that are becoming more recognized.  I was introduced to Auteur a few years ago and enjoyed the wines tasted, but with the expanding market and choices, lost contact.  Eager to re-visit the experience, we made arrangements for a tasting of 2012 releases.

Among many options near the Sonoma Square, Auteur Winery and Sojourn Cellars offer the best environment for an informative and personalized tasting, all for $25.00 per person.  Located in a quaint cottage on First Street, a few doors from Sondra Bernstein’s “The Girl and the Fig” restaurant, the Auteur tasting room provides a very comfortable setting for a comprehensive tasting that leaves one with the impression of a more refined wine acumen.  Today, we are joined by my son, his fiancee and our host, Bobbi Cohen, to discover the different nuances of each vineyard producing the fruit for their chardonnay and pinot noir.

We began tasting the coastal influenced chardonnay, some from Napa County’s Carneros region and the others from the Sonoma Coast.  Like many modern auteur_greenacres_chard_12winemakers, Juhasz does not own a vineyard, so selection of those from which to source grapes is an essential part of the production process.  The 2012 Auteur Carneros Green Acres Chardonnay ($42), receiving a 90-point rating from Wine Spectator, lived up to its reviews with expressive fruit and a crisp acidity. Stone fruit and green apple flavors with an extended finish will definitely get your attention.

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Auteur cottage tasting room

Once again from the Carneros region, the 2012 Auteur Carneros Hyde Vineyard Chardonnay ($45)closely resembled a Burgundian wine with crisp, complex flavors and a nice, rich minerality. Robert Parker labeled it a “California grand cru,” reviewing the wine at 94-points.

I have, in my cellar, at least three different wines from the Durell Vineyard at the Sonoma coast, all of them standing out, all with a similar opulence. The 2012 Auteur Durell Vineyard Chardonnay ($45) is no exception. A rich, creamy mouthfeel with ripe flavors of peach, pear, melon and spice has led to ratings in the mid-nineties.  For me, this was the one to take home.

Actually originating from vineyards in Green Valley, Carneros and Sonoma Coastauteur_durell_chard_12 appellations, the 2012 Auteur Sonoma Coast Chardonnay ($32) is a terrific wine and outstanding value. The Durell, Dutton and Green Acre Vineyards all contribute to fresh fruit-forward flavors, a rich minerality, a lingering finish and a 90-point rating from Wine Spectator.

The warm, relaxed setting of the cottage made the perfect environs to discover the nuances of this varietal from different micro-climates.  There is truly a chardonnay here for all palates.  With ideal climate conditions for the 2012 vintage, many experts feel these white wines can age several years in the bottle.

We anticipate that repetition of this process with Auteur’s pinot noir releases will be equally rewarding. Having previously tasted a past vintage of the Manchester Ridge, we were prepared to compare the subtleties  of four diverse pinot noir vineyards. Autuer’s pinot vineyards are a bit more eclectic in that they are represented by Oregon’s Willamette Valley, Mendocino County’s Anderson Valley as well as the Sonoma Coast.

A popular wine, the 2012 Auteur Manchester Ridge Pinot Noir ($45) comes auteur_manchesterridgepn_12from a coastal vineyard 2,000 feet above sea level.  Described as a “discontinuous AVA,” it is composed of varying ridges and pinnacles overlooking the Sonoma coast.  This wine can be simply summed up as a flavorful combination of berries, herbs and spice.  Consisting of two Dijon clones, it is co-fermented in 50% new French oak for added richness.  After receiving a 91-point rating, demand increased and the 2012 vintage is sold out. I suggest you put a reminder of future vintages in your “tickler file.”

Organically farmed and clearly the most savory of the current releases, the 2012 Auteur Savoy Pinot Noir ($45) comes from an Anderson Valley vineyard, acclaimed for the past two decades.  An exceptional bouquet and concentrated, layered flavors result in a special wine, limited only by small production and high demand.  Another 90-point rating, another sell-out leads to anticipation of the spring release.

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Host Bobbi Cohen led the tasting

There has been much written about the 2012 vintage of Oregon pinot noir, describing it as the best in years.  Add the Yamhill Carlton AVA Shea Vineyard that has produced many luscious pinot’s over the years and the 2012 Auteur Shea Vineyard Pinot Noir ($60) is a wine that deserves attention.  Wonderfully aromatic and balancing a multitude of flavors, it warrants the accolades it has garnered and can be cellared for a few years to fully blossom.

Our last wine, the only multi-vineyard pinot noir of the tasting, was blessed with inviting aromas and a surprisingly complex array of savory and concentrated fruit flavors.  The 2012 Auteur Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir ($42) offers an eloquent bouquet and complex fruit and spice on the palate. An excellent wine for the price and boasting mid-nineties ratings, it became the one for me.

With no shortage of high quality chardonnay and pinot noir in Sonoma County, Auteur Winery is a pleasant find and their wines can stand up to any, deserving the attention of those who are serious.  The winery establishes a mailing list to inform interested consumers of new releases that are all available on-line.  With growing popularity, four of the fall wines that we tasted are now sold out, emphasizing the need to network.

1613859_697451380316478_6471096889845669972_nWith an abundance of vineyards and wineries in Sonoma County, some care must be taken when selecting wines.  Auteur wines has the accolades and will soon to be discovered by fine palates everywhere.


Wine Spectator’s Top 100 Wines of 2014

 

In the world of wine, 2014 will forever be remembered as a premier year for Portuguese releases.  In fact, it is not about the year 2014, but the 2011 vintage in northern Portugal’s Douro River Valley.  Exceptionally warm, dry temperatures in 2011 pushed the fruit forward, resulting in robust, yet pristine ports and tables wines, so much so that it landed three wines in the top five, averaging 98pts on Wine Spectator magazine’s most exciting wines of 2014 list including the Dow’s Vintage Port 2011 (99pt/$89)as the top wine of the year.

2014 WS Wine of the Year

2014 WS Wine of the Year

I always anticipate Wine Spectator’s annual list that emerges from a  laborious process beginning with some 20,000 wines tasted by their staff throughout the year, hard work but someone has to do it. Their criteria are quality (only wines rate 90+ are considered), cost ( is it a reasonable value for the price) and accessibility (how many cases were produced).

From the wines tasted throughout the year, approximately 5,000 met the 90pt+ criteria and moved on to the blind taste test. Next, those extremely high-priced or low produced wines are eliminated.  Finally, numerous votes are taken after and during intense discussion, allowing the panel to be subjective in defending their wine’s special characteristics such as unique region, varietal, etc.  The final product is a list of the year’s Top 100 exciting releases.

Dow’s Vintage Port 2011 is no stranger to the list, slipping into the top twenty in 2010 with the perfect 100 pt rating for the 2007 vintage. It originates from the Cima Corgo region along the Douro River near the village of Pinhão, known for

Portugal's Douro Valley

Portugal’s Douro Valley

higher temperatures, lower rainfall and premier grapes.  The Symington family, the region’s largest land owner with 2,400 acres, oversees all vineyards and production including the 2011 vintage of native varietals, touriga franca (40%), touriga nacional (36%), souzão (10%) and a few mixed-grape plantings.

Wine writer Jancis Robinson compared the relationship of the main varietals with that of Bordeaux’s Cabernet Franc to Cabernet Sauvignon.  Touriga franca adds the exceptional flavor, touriga nacional the power and souzão the color.  Managing Editor Kim Marcus chronicles the Dow’s Vintage Port 2011 as simply “the best of the best of a great vintage,” with a reference to the other fine Douro River Valley wines on the 2014 list.

At the cusp of yet another top rated release, the Symington family, in partnership with Bruno Prats, created the #2 Prats and Symington Douro Chyseia 2011 (97pt/$55), another red wine hailed for the flair and capacity of Douro’s 2011

Prats & Symington Douro Chryseia 2011

Prats & Symington Douro Chryseia 2011

vintage.  From the upper Douro valley, the #4 Qunita Do Vale Meao Douro 2011 (97pt/$76) continues the regions dominance with a red table wine with, as Marcus described, “plenty of cream and spice notes.”

Aside from the strong showing from Portugal, the “Big 3,” Italy (19), France (14) and California (19) contributed 52% of the wines. California was represented by nine different varietals, with pinot noir and chardonnay topping the list including the #11 Mount Eden Vineyards Chardonnay Santa Cruz Mountains 2011 (95pt/$60), a perennial addition and always one of the best among the varietal. Fermented in mostly new oak with full mall-lactic fermentation, sur lie for 10 months makes my mouth water for this creamy, California classic.  There has been much discussion this year 134876lregarding chardonnay from Napa’s Peter Michael. His #20 Peter Michael Chardonnay Knights Valley Ma Belle-Fille 2012 (95pt/$90)remains one of 2014’s best although at a bit higher price.

Among the California pinot noir, I was pleased to see current releases of two favorites make the list, especially the #8 Brewer-Clifton Pinot Noir Santa Rita Hills 2012 (94pt/$40) The Greg Brewer-Steve Clifton partnership has produced pinot noir from this appellation for two decades.  As Brewer also serves as the winemaker at Melville Winery, I has recently enjoyed wines from his distinctive style of whole-cluster fermentation sans new oak.  This wine is competitively priced and, from

Brewer-Clifton Pinot Noir Sta. Rita Hills 2012

Brewer-Clifton Pinot Noir Sta. Rita Hills 2012

all accounts, is deserving of its new status.

I have enjoyed, over the years, pinot noir from winemakers statewide who have sourced their grapes from Garys’ and Rosella’s Vineyard in the highly regarded Santa Lucia Highlands appellation of Monterey County. Roar Wines is a special project of Gary and Rosella Franscioni to produce limited amounts of fine pinot noir, syrah and cool-climate chardonnay in their “Highlands” vineyards.  There is much excitement at ROAR these days with the #71 ROAR Pinot Noir Santa Lucia Highlands Rosella’s Vineyard 2012 (93pt/$52), earning deserved recognition as they have produced fine wines like this for years. My friend, David, a long-time ROAR aficionado, has two bottles, one of which will be shared at our next fork ’n cork gathering.

Launched by ideal weather, the 2012 Oregon vintage was excellent and #17 Soter Pinot Noir Yamhill-Carlton District Mineral Springs Ranch 2012 was the highest ranked pinot noir on the list.  If you have a preference for pinot noir, pay close attention to the 2012 vintage in Oregon.

Three special California wines should be noted, first for their accomplishments and also for their story. The magazine

The Bedrock Heritage Sonoma Valley 2012

The Bedrock Heritage Sonoma Valley 2012

recognized a blend from 120-year old vines in the Sonoma Valley, done in an old-style of winemaking.  The #15 The Bedrock Heritage Sonoma Valley 2012 (95pt/$42), a blend primarily of zinfandel and carignane has a “yummy” review and releases at a reasonable price.  As one who enjoys the juice of grenache, the #52 Herman Story Grenache California On the Road 2011 (93 pt/$42), from north Santa Barbara County sounds intriguing.

Finally, as a sports fan, I have delighted in watching the skills of former Heisman Trophy winner, current

all-Pro NFL defensive back Charles Woodson. I have also heard some buzz about the #58 Twenty-four Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 2010 (93pt/$112), but did not make the connection.  It seems that Mr. Woodson has

Twenty-four Cabernet Sauvignon 2010

Twenty-four Cabernet Sauvignon 2010

secured a vineyard in north Napa Valley, found the right partners/winemakers and turned a hobby into one of the highest ranked California cabernet sauvignon on this year’s list.

Internationally, 15% of the wine’s on the 2014 list were produced below the equator. Australia contributed six wines, two in the top five.  The #2 Mollydocker Shiraz McLaren Vale Carnival of Love 2012 (95pt/$75), no stranger to the list, is defined for the same richness as past vintages I have tasted. Chardonnay from the westerly Margaret River appellation is renown, but the magazine was most impressed with the #5Leeuwin Chardonnay Margaret River Arts Series 2011 (96pt/$89), making it the highest ranked in the varietal.  The #16 Two Hands

Mollydocker Shiraz McLaren Vale Carnival of Love 2012

Mollydocker Shiraz McLaren Vale Carnival of Love 2012

Shiraz Barossa Valley Bella’s Garden 2012 (95pt/$69), once again made the list, confirming it’s place as one of the fine wines produced by the Aussies with a superb 2014 release.

Ten percent of the 2014 list are wines from South America, namely malbec from the Uco Valley/Mendoza region of Argentina and red wines from the Colchaqua Valley in Chile.  On my radar since the 2005 vintage was named Wine Spectator’s 2008 wine of the year, the #42 Lapostolle Clos Apalta Limited Release Colchagua Valley 2010 (94/$89) has remained a first-class wine since Alexandra Marnier-Lapostolle began the project in the late nineties.  This wine has a fascinating story and it’s own state-of-the-art facilities.  The #19 Luca Malbec Uco Valley 2012 (93pt/$32) seems to be a wine that is available and at a moderate price.

Of course, we could not discuss any list without acknowledging the wonderful wines from Italy and France, who contributed 19 and 14 wines respectively, mostly from the famed Tuscany, Piedmont, Bordeaux and Rhone Valley regions.

When the region has a good vintage, the #7 Clos Des Papes Chateaunef-du-Pape 2012 (97pt/$135), from the

Clos des Papes Chateau-du-Pape 2012

Clos des Papes Chateau-du-Pape 2012

Rhone Valley, is usually ranked in the top ten.  Likewise with the #14 Fontodi Colli della Toscana Centrale Falccianello 2011 (95pt/$120) Having had the pleasure of tasting earlier vintages of each, assuredly, they are very special wines, though a bit above my pay-grade.  For the money and based upon the magazines descriptions, let me discover a bottle of #6 Castello Di Ama Chianti Classico San Lorenzo Gran Selezione 2010 (95pt/$52).

So, congratulations to Portugal, Australia, Chile and Argentina for helping to define the unique 2014 list.  Their wines, including releases from South Africa, will continue to emerge and, when a vintage comes together, will compete with all great wines throughout the world.  As for California, we continue our place among the world’s great appellations and, from Santa Barbara to Mendocino, great wines are ours to explore.

 

 

 


Sojourn Cellars of Sonoma

 

I was first introduced to wines from Sonoma’s Sojourn Cellars a few years ago at a 2013 “Pinotfest” event in Pasadena. After tasting pinot noir selections, a representative asked, in a soft voice, if I was ready to try their “dark pinot,”  which turned out to be my introduction the 2009 Sojourn Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon Home Ranch Vineyard($48)that I described to be as opulent and complex as many of the $100 Napa Valley cabernets. I have continued to participate with Sojourn Cellars and they have since added chardonnay 5260fb3d201bed141bf51ae469e98f84to their menu of pinot noir and cabernet sauvignon. While picking up my Fall order at the quaint tasting224b9c459364583836464098455c8656 room off the historic Sonoma Square, I arranged to taste the new releases and discover more of their history.

Sojourn Cellars literally emerged from two men who met playing tennis, bonding over the game and fine Burgundy. Former Dot-Com exec Craig Haserot and winemaker Erich Bradley, formerly of

Arrowhead Winery, partnered to pursue their passion for pinot noir and, more interestingly, their desire to produce small bottling of cabernet sauvignon through sources at a few of Napa Valley’s prestigious vineyards.  Their first cabernet sauvignon release was 2001, followed by the 2003 Sojourn Cellars Pinot Noir Sangiacamo Vineyard.  They now produce nine different single-vineyard pinot noir wines, four img_sojourn cabernet sauvignon and, in 2011, released their first chardonnay.  Today, their annual total production ranges from 6,000-8,000 cases, concentrating on new vineyards to expand their profile with the three varietals.

Sojourn has “by appointment only” tastings most days and it is an ideal setting and format for small groups serious (or not) about good wine.  Today, I met up with Tasting Salon Manager Sarah Congress to taste new wines, including some that I was picking up.

Having concentrated on their pinot noir and cabernet sauvignon, my first opportunity to taste some of their chardonnay releases was at hand, a varietal that has recently grown in my modest inventory. All four wines are cool-climate “chards” from the Sonoma coast appellation.

Carefully chosen clones from three prominent Sonoma Coast vineyards contribute to the crispy 2012 Sojourn Chardonnay Sonoma Coast ($38), spending eight months in oak barrels, 30% new.  Pressed 2009sojurnwhole cluster, this vintage has soft stone fruit and apple flavors with a nice acidity that earned a 90 pt. rating from Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate.

From the same vineyard as their outstanding pinot noir, the 2012 Sojourn Chardonnay Sangiacamo Vineyard ($45), also pressed whole cluster, delivers pleasant melon and citrus on the nose and a splendid minerality to the palate.  It has a rich fruit character and mouthfeel and a 91 pt. rating from Parker.

Based upon the reputation of the vineyards, I purchased two new single-vineyard chardonnay in my Fall allotment. About to taste them, I can now determine if my instincts were true.

 

The Durrell Vineyard, in the Sonoma Coast appellation, has sourced grapes to some of the finest chardonnay producers in California. The inaugural release 2012 Sojourn Chardonnay Durrell Vineyard ($48) was pressed whole-cluster with full malolactic fermentation before resting sir lie in 40% new French oak barrels, bearing the opulent touch of a classic California chardonnay.

With only 175 cases produced, the début 2012 Sojourn Chardonnay Campbell Ranch Vineyard ($45) has all the fine qualities expected from this cool-climate, low-yield vineyard that manages large variations in temperature that produce complex aromas and flavors of melon, tropical fruit through a lush texture.  I savored both wines and I’m feeling good about my instincts.17881b5f9beb8f4338cd7bd8f0e20caa

Much of Sojourn’s pinot noir comes from cool-climate vineyards along the Sonoma Coast that, along with the Russian River Valley, constantly yield some of the world’s best. The next four wines of our tasting were from vineyards within these appellations that turns out so many world-class pinot noir releases.

The most classic, and possibly my favorite, the 2012 Sojourn Pinot Noir Rogers Creek Vineyard ($59),comes from an elevated vineyard in the Sonoma coastal hills above the Petaluma Gap.  Nice vanilla and cinnamon on the nose foreshadowed dark fruit and hints of spice through the finish.

In the remote hills, above the Sonoma coastline lies a low-yield vineyard, known for years of quality farming that is the source for the 2012 Sojourn Pinot Noir Ridgetop Vineyard ($59), a wine with pepper on the nose, concentrated fruit flavors and a silky texture that extends throughout the finish.  The grapes are di-stemmed prior to open-top fermentation and are highly influenced by thirsty new oak.

A right turn at the intersection of River and Wohler Roads drops you into the heart of the renown Russian 105299994c0c65f4e63f2ef883ab6845River Valley appellation near Forestville.  Less than one-half mile ahead is the origin vineyard for the 2012 Sojourn Pinot Noir Wohler Vineyard ($48). A bit austere, this wine has more earthy qualities with nice expressions of fruit and spice that should “open-up” with an hour or more decanting.

Yet another vineyard in the coastal hills, surrounded by redwoods, produces, according to winemaker Erich Bradley, “The best fruit I have ever tasted.” Since I was taking home a bottle of the 2012 Sojourn Pinot Noir Campbell Ranch Vineyard ($59), his 17881b5f9beb8f4338cd7bd8f0e20caa statement caught my attention.  As advertised, I found it to be the most aromatic of the pinots with nice tannins, cherry dominant flavors and texture, drinkable today, yet rewarding patience.  Not being able to taste the 2012 Sojourn Pinot Noir Sangiacamo Vineyard ($54), their original, most elegant and highly rated wine, was a disappointment, but left me someone to discover on our next visit.

Enthusiasm for Sojourn Cellars Pinot Noir is also shared by the experts.  The PinotReport, a Sonoma-based newsletter has consistently rated Sojourn’s pinot’s from 92-96 points. In a crowded arena of big high-end pinot producers, Sojourn can certainly compete in both quality and cost.

Next, we moved to a couple of reasonably priced Napa Valley cabernet sauvignon wines including the sold-photo_springmountainout 2012 Sojourn Cabernet Sauvignon Georges III Rutherford that was fruit-forward  with hints of blueberry and cocoa on the finish.

The 2012 Sojourn Cabernet Sauvignon Spring Mountain District ($59), from the hills above the town of St. Helena, was a very nice surprise with complex aromas and flavors of vanilla, cassis to accompany the dark fruit that has, to employ an overused term, a nice, long finish.

All and all, the Sojourn Cellars tasting experience is extraordinary.  A picture perfect setting, a personalized Sojourn-Cellars-Sonoma-Tasting-Salon2tasting, at tables with proper glasses and, of course, the previously described fine wines are in store for any group of wine lover’s. The opportunity to add a nice meal on the Square makes the day a sojourn not to be missed.


“Spark of Life”: Marcin Wasilewski Trio & Joakim Milder

The new ECM release, “Spark of Life” is the second extraordinary project for the Marcin Wasilewski Trio this year, showcased earlier with lead guitarist Jacob Young on the multi-dimensional recording, “Forever Young”.   The new recording, their fourth,  continues the trio’s evolution while maintaining the alluring

"Spark of Life"

“Spark of Life”

melodic stories that began with the first “Trio” CD.   Here, on several pieces, they collaborate with tenor saxophonist Joakim Milder, who gained recognition in his work at ECM with the late trumpet player, Tomaz Stanko.  Admittedly a fan of their musical style,  this current release is nearly flawless, especially the empowering percussion of  Michal Miskiewicz.

The album opens with “Austin,” a beautiful tribute to the late young prodigy, Austin Peralta where Wasilewski’s haunting melody is precisely  augmented, showcasing their skills in the trio format.  Marcin’s soulful finish is exquisitely  enhanced by the percussive work of Miskiewicz, foreshadowing his brilliance.  Wasilewski contributed five other original compositions, with “Three Reflections”and the alternate version of the title tune continuing to exhibit the trio.

Milder’s deft integration with the group is first presented on “Sudovian Dance”…his solos seem effortlessly woven within the trio, allowing for individual expression but often syncopated.  Listen carefully d43fd9d24bd22fd5019d7ab7035129ef38cf1adaas the piano brilliantly interplays with the other instruments.

Two disparate versions of “Spark of Life” are presented in both quartet and trio format.   It would have been a mistake to choose  one.  While Milder’s tenor adds a dimension to the composition, the interplay of Wasilewski, Kurkiewicz and Miskiewicz always binds this beautifully melodic, yet evocative free composition.

No better way to showcase the trio’s intensity than a brisk version of Sting’s castaway tale, “Message in a Bottle.”  This is straight ahead, uptempo jazz as bassist Slavomir Kurkiewicz delivers an impressive transition to some highly energetic interplay between Wasilewski and Miskiewicz.  Enjoy this ride!

"January"

“January”

The most alluring quartet piece is a ballad from a Polish grunge-rock band named “Hey.”     I will not attempt to interpret, just know that  “Do Rycerzy, do Szalchty, do Mieszcan”  is probably the most accessible piece of the recording, melodically delicate, but featuring some fine improv work by all.

Krzysztof Komeda, the revered Polish jazz musician/composer, is known for composing the music for Roman Polanski’s 1968 film, “Rosemary’s Baby.”   Komeda who died in 1969 at age 38, is also credited with bridging US and European jazz during that time period.

The groups rendition of  Komeda’s “Sleep, Safe and Warm,” from the film, leads with the trio before Milder’s tenor sound transports us to the seashore in a 1960s black and white European film.  Beautiful piano-tenor interplay, a notable bass solo, all driven by Miskiewicz who controls the tempo (or tempos).

"Faithful"

“Faithful”

There are two pieces reminiscent of past Herbie Hancock groups, the later composed by the piano master.   “Still” has the appearance of a modern take on music from the quintessential Blue Note recordings like  “Maiden Voyage,” an anthem of my early exploration of jazz.  Herbie’s distinctive style is evident on “Actual Proof” with Miskiewicz’s skillful performance seemingly paying homage to drummer Tony William’s great work with those early groups.

Each release of this group has explored new, innovative territory and it has been a joy to experience their musical evolution, including their extensive work with

"Forever Young"

“Forever Young”

Manu Katche’.  To my viewpoint, “Spark of Life” and  “Forever Young” are two of the most significant jazz releases from ECM or any other label in 2014,  though I am nothing more than an expert in my own taste.


The Anatomy Of A Wine

Having recently received a fine bottle of wine as a part of my D.E.W.N. (Distinguished Esoteric Wine Network) membership with Bonny Doon Vineyards near Santa Cruz, I am always eager to read

2010 Bonny Doon Le Cigare Volant Reserve

2010 Bonny Doon Le Cigare Volant Reserve

Founder/Winemaker Randall Grahm’s esoteric wine descriptions.  He has a colorful, yet informative writing style that compliments his inventive style of winemaking.  My grand idea is to share Randall’s knowledge and rendition of his very distinctive, flagship wine and offer my own interpretations to help you understand wine descriptions and make more educated choices in the future. Randall’s comments on this 2010 vintage was typically rarefied, yet told me everything I need to know to become intrigued or not with drinking the wine.  His descriptions are in bold. 

2010 Le Cigare Volant Reserve ($79)

28% syrah, 22% grenache, 17% cinsault, 17% mourvedre,  16% carignane

His signature, aged Rhone-style blend with varietals used in the famous Chateaunef-du-Pape appellation in France’s Rhone Valley.

Appellation:  Central Coast Santa Cruz, Monterey, San Luis Obispo Co.

Production:  511 cases Slightly over 6,000 bottles

Alcohol by Volume:  13.3%  Average

Cellaring: Ideally hold for a year or two. 15-20+years ageability

This wine already has some age on it, but can handle as much time as you want to give it.

“This special cuvee’ of Le Cigare Volant is identical to our normal bottling but, owing to its unorthodox elevage, appears quite different in presentation.  After a short tenure in barrel, assemblage and completion of malolactic fermentation, the wine was removed to 5-gallon glass carboys (boubonnes)where it reposed sur lie for 20 months.  This practice yields a fare degree of integration and complexity plus a preternatural degree of savoriness.”

The French word “elevage” is literally defined as “upbringing the wine,” but also describes the art of maturing a wine which begins with the crush and ends in the glass.  Here, Randall tells us that after the

5-gallon carboy or "boubonnes"

5-gallon carboy or “boubonnes”

varietals spend a short time in the barrel alone, they are blended by formula before the malolactic fermentation process is initiated through the introduction of bacteria that consumes the harsh, astringent “malic” acid, leaving more of the softer “lactic” acid.  This technique is used with many varietals, most prevalent in California pinot noir and chardonnay. The word cuvee’ has several meanings, but is used here to simply reference a blend of several varietals.  A carboy or “boubonne” is a rigid glass container ranging in size from 5 to 15 gallons. Here, Randall uses

Aging wine "sur lie" with layer of yeast at bottom

Aging wine “sur lie” with layer of yeast at bottom

smaller 5-gallon glass containers where he allows the wine to rest “sur lie” for nearly two years; clearly unorthodox. Lees are deposits of residual yeast that forms on the bottom and sides of oak barrel during the early fermentation process.  Often, the juice is filtered, called racking, and transferred to clean barrels.  In many wines, notably those great ones from Burgundy in France,  the juice and yeast are left together described as “sur lie,” which tends to give a creaminess to the finished product.  Randall tempts us to crave an aged Rhone blend with very creamy texture and mouthfeel by informing us that he has left the wine “sur lie” for 20 months, not in oak barrels rather glass containers.  While “sur lie” tends to minimize the impacts of oak, glass containers is a new concept to me.  He also informs us that this wine is not fruit-dominant, developing its structure around more savory herb flavors.

“On the nose, tobacco, cherry wood ash, wild blackberry, bramble, cigar box, leather and garrigue.  Ia that a note of brandy?  Raw ginger?  Definitely a sweet spice layer.”

Firstly, Randall is not referring to the stench of someone smoking in a public place, more like the smell that permeates a cigar factory in the French Quarter in New Orleans.  The bouquet has some fruit but is clearly dominated by hearty, pleasant cedar wood aromas often found in cabernet sauvignon from the Bordeaux region of France.  Notes of leather signify that the wine has healthy tannins and will age exceptionally well, but can be harsh in young wines.  Drinking a young tannic wine can often fashion the sensation of sucking on a piece of raw leather. References to brandy, used to fortify sweet wines and raw ginger signifies that Randall is preparing us for a hearty or “earthy” wine, that has enough time in the bottle to drink now, but will improve significantly as it ages.  Apparently, garrigue is an aromatic shrub that grows in the Mediterranean region and heightens herbaceous elements to the bouquet, courtesy of the dominant syrah in this blend.

“Cinsault lends the Montmorency cherry, one of the flavor elements typically associated with Cigare (and also, coincidentally seems to get the final word in over the protestations of the vocal syrah).  But, don;t let that fool you – this is no fruit bomb.  There are strong suggestions of iodine – meaty and bloody.  This wine is all about elegance, and seems to disarmingly suggest a Burgundian take on Chateauneuf, if such a notion can be fashioned.  This is not an ordinary wine.  What is most noteworthy about it is its amazing silky texture, savoriness and infinite length.

Here, Randall references this particular cherry that, according to my research, is noted for its tartness, slightly sour on the palate which will add to the spicy profile of the wine, a role normally reserved solely for the syrah varietal.  However, he quickly reminds us that, in spite of the enhanced bouquet and soft fruit flavors, the cinsault cannot overcome the strong earthy aspects derived from the other varietals and the fermentation process. References to iodine flavors are most typically associated with wines that are grown near the sea.  Hints of

2012 Bollig-Lehnert Piesporter Goldtropfchen Riesling Spatlese

2012 Bollig-Lehnert Piesporter Goldtropfchen Riesling Spatlese

iodine, petrol and other mineral elements in wines are soft and subtle, often influenced by large deposits of limestone in the soil.  I was skeptical of these flavor references until I tasted a 1996 Bollig Lehnert Piespoter Goldtropfchen Riesling Spatlese ($20) at Cava Restaurant in San Francisco. When our sommelier used the word “petrol” in describing the wine’s superb minerality, I finally understood what the excitement was all about. Comparing great Burgundian to great Rhone Valley (Chateaunef-du-Pape) wines is risky.  They are two of

Chateauneuf-du-Pape vineyard in Rhone Valley

Chateauneuf-du-Pape vineyard in Rhone Valley

the world’s finest wine regions and consumers are passionately loyal for each.  Le Cigare Volant is actually a blend of southern Rhone grapes, but here Randall is referring to its significant spice elements that are the cornerstone of pinot noir from the Burgundy region.  For what its worth, these comparisons make the wine sound very intriguing.  Again emphasizing the savory over fruit elements, Randall reminds us that the wine is also silky smooth with a very long finish.

“The 2010 Le Cigare Reserve’ is wine to be savored and studied over a long meal with friends.  Will benefit enormously from a gentle decanting or even sitting in large glass for 30 minutes, especially when consumed young,  This bodes well for the wine’s great aging potential”.

All noted wine makers believe that good wine is not for thirsty people, but to be enjoyed slowly while in discussions with others.  It is always better for wines such as the Le Cigare Volant to be decanted for an hour or two and a few minutes more in the glass before imbibing, allowing the exposed juice to “open up” to your palate. Wines that require the most effort before consuming are the ones that are improving while they age. For many of the features illustrated by Randall, Wine Enthusiasts magazine awarded this wine 92 points, the highest of any Le Cigare Volant

Epoisses cheese

Epoisses cheese

vintage.  While descriptions such as “earthy,” “spicy” or “savory” can help us match features to our palates, the word “elegance” makes it an easy choice for me. Although we have enough information to determine that the 2010 is a bold, hearty wine, we can also surmise that the additional time in the bottle will enhance its soft side and make it more accessible With the proper decanting outlined above, pairing this wine with tri-tip or rack of lamb will compliment the wine and help the flavors of each to reach their potential.  For us “pescatarians,” pairing it with Epoisses cheese, an odiferous, silky cheese from the Burgundy region in France is highly desirable.

Le Cigare Volant

Le Cigare Volant

I have tasted most vintages of Le Cigare Volant since 1990, each unique on to itself. Though I have not yet tasted this vintage, preferring to let it age longer, I would recommend it based on my interpretations of Randall’s comments and knowing that he has taken steps to create a distinctive wine from the 2010 harvest. Despite the fact that D.E.W.N. members do not pay the retail price, this will be a special occasion wine to be shared with family and good friends.


Sweet Dessert Wines

 

With the holidays just a few months away, we may want to include some dessert wines in our entertaining plans.  People are beginning to substitute a big piece of apple or pumpkin pie for fruit, cheeses and a nice sweet wine.  The most famous, and most expensive, dessert wines on the planet are called Sauternes, from France.  More specifically, they hail from the Sauternes region of Bordeaux and consist of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon, the

2001 Guirard Sauternes

2001 Guirard Sauternes

same varietals used in the classic Bordeaux white wines.  The difference lies in something nicknamed the “noble rot.”

Mold is a natural enemy in the vineyards, something that can quickly destroy plants.  However, the renowned Sauternes are among those “botrytized” wines, that oddly benefit from a mold called Botrytis cinerea.  High humidity make the plant susceptible to the rot which, primarily late in the growing season, turns the grapes to raisins, enhancing the ripened flavors that sweeten the wine.  Botrytis can sugar-coat the Sauternes, but cannot change that fact that these are old vines from the Bordeaux region, known for producing complex flavors.  Sauternes have all the attributes of white wines from this region, but sweeter.

SE-Fall2010vineyards

Sobon Estate Vineyards

Although the Sauternes I have tasted are unmatched by any other sweet wine, with price points beginning in the $50 range, they are beyond my and many wine budgets. The same stands true with the mighty Portuguese “ports”, the Italian Moscato d’Asti and the German late-harvest Riesling Spatlese, so special that they command an exceedingly high tariff.  Though I would never dissuade someone from the opportunity to experience the world’s greatest dessert wines, common sense suggests that we look for other available choices that can still meet high standards at a more reasonable cost.  The following are the current vintages of some of my favorite dessert wines from California and the Pacific Northwest.

Sobon Estate has been a leading winery along the Shenandoah Trail in Amador County for several years, producing primarily zinfandel in the hills of Gold Rush country.  Sobon could provide one-stop shopping for all your dessert wine needs with their orange muscat, zinfandel port and a distinct white port consisting of Rhone grapes, roussanne and viognier.  The 2012 Sobon Estate Zinfandel Port ($13), like earlier vintages, is a wonderful port-style wine that includes the rich, fruitiness of good zinfandel.  This wine is perfect for discovering the complexities of modern dessert wines, moderately priced and high on quality.

One of the most unique California port-style wines available is the 2012 Sobon Estate Amador County White Port ($14) in which three Rhone

Sobon Estate Amador County Zinfandel Port

Sobon Estate Amador County Zinfandel Port

grapes are combined with orange muscat.  In that the grand white grapes from Portugal are not available, the French roussanne, viognier and marsanne are able substitutes, providing a rich, luscious wine that requires no other dessert.  The new 2012 ReZeerve Orange Muscat ($12) rounds out Sobon’s big three with the caution that they are all above 18% alcohol.

CSM-Ethos-Late-Harvest-Riesling.png_store

2011 Chateau Ste. Michelle Ethos Reserve Late-Harvest Riesling

As previously mentioned, late-harvest rieslings, mostly from Germany and the Alsace region of France, are among the most beautiful, aromatic and rich dessert wines anywhere.  Rated 92 pts by Wine Spectator magazine and still somewhat available at a few suburban outlets, the 2011 Chateau St. Michelle Ethos Reserve Late-Harvest Riesling ($35), from the Columbia Valley in Washington State is simply elegant throughout and the best finish to any meal.  A bit pricy, but bottles can be found and high ratings for dessert wines are not common.

Vincent Arroyo Winery in north Napa Valley has produced their petite sirah port-style wine for over twenty years in the authentic method of using grapes from one vintage only.  Petite sirah is accessible to many palates and some of the best comes from this region.  Clearly identified by a striking silver embossed label, 2012 Vincent Arroyo Port ($25) is fortified with wine spirits and, as most dessert wines, has rich, age-worthy flavors and a high alcohol content.

Visiting the winery years ago, I acquired two bottles of the 2009 vintage and one remains in my cellar.  We can only imagine how good it will be.

Bonny Doon Vineyards has released many creative and excellent dessert wines over the years. The latest 2013 Bonny Doon “Vinferno” ($24), made from 100% grenache blanc grapes, will certainly sustain their reputation.  From the Arroyo Seco appellation in Monterey County, these grapes were planted with the “botrytis rot” in mind, but our drought has not yet allowed that to happen.  It has extended the growing season enough that the “Vinferno” drinks like a late-harvest wine, perfect with after dinner cheeses.

2013 Bonny Doon "Vinferno"

2013 Bonny Doon “Vinferno”

A few months ago I wrote of a dessert wine discovery from the Santa Ynez Valley in Santa Barbara County.  I first tasted the full-bodied 2010 Richard Longoria “Vino Dulce” Syrah Santa Barbara County ($23) paired with fine chocolate and all self-control immediately dissipated.  I have since shared the experience with others at the conclusion of a syrah and cheese tasting.  What I love about these new port-style, single-varietal wines is that, although they are fortified, one can smell and taste the complexities of the zinfandel, syrah and other grapes as well as the rich sweetness.  In nose and on palate, the  “Vino Dulce,”  spices are protuberant and the cherries are baked; balanced yet expressive.

Tobin James Late-Harvest Zinfandel "Liquid Love"

Tobin James Late-Harvest Zinfandel “Liquid Love”

The best place to shop for any type of dessert wine under one roof is still Tobin James Cellars in Paso Robles.  Aside from their classic 2010 Tobin James Late-Harvest Zinfandel ($14), dubbed “Liquid Love”, they produce a late-harvest Riesling, a muscat, a sparkling muscat, a port and the 2012 Tobin James “Charisma ($20), a zinfandel dessert blend that I have enjoyed for years.

While most of the Tobin James dessert wines are moderately priced at $12, the 2011 Tobin James Port, “James Gang Reserve” ($25) is a bit more expensive but worth pursuing.

The now defunct Martin & Weyrich Winery, formerly in Paso Robles, for years, produced an award-winning dessert wine called “Muscato Allegro.”  Apparently there are still some older vintages of the Martin & Weyrich Muscato Allegro that have recently appeared on shelves of some suburban outlets.  Look for a distinctively shaped bottle in the dessert wine section and, if you find some, it may be very competitively priced.

2010 Longoria Syrah "Vino Dulce" Santa Barbara County

2010 Longoria Syrah “Vino Dulce” Santa Barbara County

For those curious about Sauternes, I did a quick net search of K&L Wines in both San Francisco and Hollywood and found several Sauternes priced in the $20-$30 range.  The top-rated wine was the 2001 Guiraud Sauternes ($65), which

received a 96 pt rating from Wine Spectator and was actually #23 on their Top 100 Wines of 2004 list describing flavors of “butterscotch and vanilla with hints of ripe apples.”  It’s there for the taking, but, as you have discovered, there are many delectable options.


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