Author Archives: Lyle W. Norton

About Lyle W. Norton

Lyle is a freelance writer who specializes in “lifestyle” issues like wine, food, travel, music, film and memoir. He currently writes “On The Vine,” a weekly wine column for the San Francisco Examiner.

The Limerick Lane Cellars story is one of stewardship

 

Jake Bilbro is only the third owner in Limerick Lane Cellars’ 106-year history.  After the 2012 Limerick Lane Zinfandel Russian River Valley (94-pt/$32) was named the #12 wine among Wine Spectator magazine’s Top 100 Wines of 2015, the winery, under his direction, has become synonymous, vintage to vintage, with extraordinary zinfandel and syrah blends. 

The history of Limerick Lane is defined by people who believed in its potential and became stewards of the land that sits in a small

Limerick Lane Estate Vineyard

unique microclimate, south of the town of Healdsburg.

The Del Fava family were the original owners and planted the first vineyards in 1910. They farmed and managed the vines for over sixty years before selling, in the mid-1970s, to the Collins brothers, Michael and Tom.

For the next thirty-five years, they assumed stewardship of the property, adding new vineyards and investing in the existing ones.  In 2009, determined to not let the land fall into uncaring corporate hands, Collins sought out a new caretaker and found Jake, who was raised among his family’s vineyards.  His father, Chris, started Marietta Cellars in 1978.

The Limerick Lane Estate totals thirty acres of vines, separated into fourteen blocks, extending from the hillside vineyard due west of the winery to the Chalk Hill appellation that begins a few hundred yards to the east.

These old vines that produce high quality fruit are planted to southern and eastern exposure in soil that has layers of clay and rock.  

Winery and tasting room

During the growing season, the nights are still cold in this part of the Russian River Valley appellation and the vines sit within the fogline. While the cold and fog preserves that vibrant acidity in the wines, the consistently warm afternoons add a restrained intensity to the flavors. 

I appreciate that the vines are field blended, with zinfandel planted side by side with old world varietals like mourvedre, syrah, alicante bouschet and petite sirah. They are together from the first budding, through fermentation, barrel and bottle aging and on the palate

Starting with the 2011 vintage, Jake, his wife Alexa and brother Scott have taken Limerick Lane to a higher level.  Since the 2015 Wine Spectator recognition of their 2012 zinfandel, they have produced, with each vintage, about 4,000 cases of critically acclaimed  blends.

Host Andy Tester guided me through some of Limerick Lanes’s current releases and library wines beginning with the 2018 Rosé ($28), a purposeful blend of three traditional Rhone varietals:  syrah, grenache and mourvedre  Recently bottled, it is still tight but expressing floral notes in the bouquet, flavors that were both austere and fully present with a mineral element on the finish. Highly recommended

2018 Limerick Lane Rose’

In 2011, the stress of dealing simultaneously with a closing escrow, an overwhelming harvest and a broken destemmer resulted in Bilbro throwing caution to the wind with a new blend, a Hail Mary if you will.  As with earlier vintages, I was drawn to the rich texture and soft mouthful of the 2015 Hail Mary ($60), a luscious blend of 98% syrah and 2% grenache, from Limerick Lanes’ Rhone program. 

A descendant of the renown 2012 vintage, the flagship 2016 Estate Zinfandel Russian River Valley ($42), awarded 93-pts by Wine Spectator, is actually a field blend of zinfandel, peloursin, négrette, syrah, petite sirah and carignan.  Acid driven and opulent, this vintage seamlessly adds spice and mineral notes to balance the dark berry flavors.

The 2014 1910 Block Zinfandel ($68) pays homage to the first planting and is yet another wine that is field blended, harvested together and co-fermented. This vintage is robust and concentrated, layered with the flavors of stone fruits, blueberries and spice.

The zinfandel grape seems to strive when stressed in poor, rocky soil and the 2014 Rocky Knoll Zinfandel ($60), at the fogline, survives the worst soil and develops the smallest clusters.  The lush zinfandel is blended with mourvedre and petite sirah, giving it solid structure.

The varietals can vary each vintage with their cuvee, determined only by the most compelling fruit. The 2016 1023 Zinfandel ($72) boasting many ratings in the mid-nineties, blends 52% zinfandel, 45% syrah and 3% grenache to achieve concerted rich berry flavors and herbal notes throughout a long, soft finish. 

Limerick Lane wines are primarily distributed through a direct allocation list that can be accessed on their website.

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Pinot noir comes of age as a pink wine

 

While it is now something we enjoy year-round, good rose’ is still associated with the arrival of Spring.  In recent years, many of its stereotypes have been put aside as rose’ has become more of a pink designer wine and not an afterthought use for the remaining, less desirable juice.

Statistics show that women drink more rose’ but the gender pendulum is shifting as the complex flavors casts an image that is less threatening to men.  Many are adopting a “real men drink pink” attitude. 

Although rose’ has its own identity, it reflects the characteristics of the grape varietals used.  While pinot noir is one of my favorite

2018 Gran Moraine Rose’ of Pinot Noir Yamhill-Carlton, 2018 Copain Tous Ensemble Rose’ of Pinot Noir, 2018 La Crema Pinot Noir Rose’

wines, it has taken some time for me to warm up to rose’ of pinot noir, especially when it is too dry and the acidity overpowers the true flavors and aromas. 

The pinot noir grape is thin-skinned and temperamental, but proper care before and after harvest can result in unmatched finesse and elegance.  In rose’, pinot noir is crisp and dry with a firm acidity, but with time I have found releases that also express a true flavor profile of the grape with limited skin contact.

One such wine, the readily available 2018 La Crema Pinot Noir Rose’ ($25) from Monterey County expresses balanced flavors of watermelon, strawberry and grapefruit with mineral elements and a vibrant acidity.

Aside from the brief maceration (contact with the skins), most rose’ of pinot noir come from grapes that are generally picked early, then slow-pressed and cold fermented in stainless steel tanks.  Some are pressed whole-cluster and others fermented on the lees.  Old stereotypes are diminished by this new diversity in style.

Most of the finest rose’ of pinot noir comes from the same appellations in California, Oregon and France’s Burgundy region that produces pinot noir.  Two acclaimed exceptions originate from South America and the Pfalz region in Germany.

Vineyards in the Pfalz region of Germany

Rising temperatures have enabled Pfalz a region in western Germany to successfully produce spätburgunder (pinot noir), known as the “heartbreak grape” because of its delicate temperament. Founded in 1849, Reichsrat von Buhl is one of the oldest and largest wine estates in Germany, specializing in Riesling, sekt (sparkling wine) and now, spätburgunder.  The 2016 Reichsrat von Buhl “Bone Dry” Spätburgunder Rosé Pfalz($17), available online and at various local outlets, has distinguished, subtle cherry aromas and spice on the palate.

Well-balance with intense aromas define the Bodega Garzon Uruguay Reserve Pinot Noir Rose 2018 ($18) from South America’s fourth largest wine region. While awarding this pink wine 91-points, James Suckling described “Rose petals, watermelon, strawberries

Bodega Garzon Uruguay Reserve Pinot Noir Rose’ 2018

and cream.  Bright and fresh on the palate with razor-sharp acidity and a fresh finish.”

Made from a variety of estate-grown fruit in Burgundy, France, the 2005 Bourgogne Pinot Noir Rosé, Chateau de Puligny Montrachet ($17)is a good value, available locally, and provides an opportunity to enjoy a true wine from the region that gave birth to pinot noir.

Warmer temperatures in Oregon’s Willamette Valley allowed the grapes to fully ripen, resulting in a nice balance of brix (sugar) and acidity in the whole-cluster pressed 2018 Gran Moraine Rose’ of Pinot Noir Yamhill-Carlton ($28). Very pale salmon in color with floral and pineapple aromas, the flavors are well-integrated and the mouthfeel is both dry and creamy.

The Tous Ensemble is a series of approachable, everyday releases from Sonoma County’s Copain Wines.  A cooler growing season in Mendocino County to the north allowed the harvest to occur over a time, resulting in a diversity of ripeness and flavor development in the 2018 Copain Tous Ensemble Rose’ of Pinot Noir

($20). I found a vibrant nose combining floral notes with hints of grapefruit.  The crisp, dry mouthfeel delivered flavors of melon and cherry with a spice element on the finish.

Eugenia Rose’ of Pinot Noir “The Motley” 2018 from Ernest Vineyards

Utilizing fruit from five vineyards within the cooler Sonoma Coast appellation, Ernest Vineyards produced the Rose’ of Pinot Noir 2018 “The Motley” ($18) in the saignée method that, after limited skin contact, “bleeds off” some juice before the rest goes through complete maceration and fermentation.  Released under their Eugenia label, this rose’ has herbal notes that go with traditional flavors and a vibrant acidity.

When the rain stops and the sun emerges, rose’ of pinot noir belongs on your patio table aside those made from Rhone varietals like syrah and grenache.  


Paso Robles is ripe with good quality sauvignon

 

The Paso Robles wine region was built on zinfandel and, in the last decade, has secured it standing as one of the world’s premier producers of Rhone-style blends with the likes of Saxum, TH Cellars, Denner, Tablas Creek and others.

However, somewhat overshadowed is the production of fine, reasonably priced cabernet sauvignon has been engrained in the region since the 1970s when Dr. Stanley Hoffman first planted the varietal in the Adelaida Hills, west of town. 

Similar to appellations in Napa Valley and northern Sonoma County’s Alexander Valley, Paso Robles experiences major temperature shifts most days of up to fifty degrees.  During the growing season, hot days and nights cooled by the Pacific Ocean provides the ideal terroir for fruit-forward Bordeaux-style wines, succulent with typically softer tannins than their northern neighbors.

Good quality cabernet sauvignon releases from Paso Robles are available within a broad cost range.  I recently tasted the 2016 Four Vines “The Kinker” Cabernet Sauvignon Paso Robles ($20), sourced from east side vineyards and found full-bodied flavors of

2016 Four Vines “The Kinker” Cabernet Sauvignon

ripened fruit and spice with a spirited finish indicative of a more expensive wine.

Gary Eberle is considered a pioneer in the Paso Robles wine region.  After college football and some advanced science degrees, he landed in Paso Robles in the late-1970s with a mindset to produce cabernet sauvignon. Settling on sixty-four acres in the east side, he released his first cabernet sauvignon in 1979 and continues through today, along with syrah, zinfandel and various Rhone varietals, to produce fine cabs that exceed expectations associated with the price.

The Eberle 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon ‘Vineyard Selection’ ($25) consists of 100% cabernet sauvignon sourced from multiple vineyards within the Paso Robles AVA (American Viticultural Area). The juice is blended before eighteen months barrel aging so the nuances of each are well-integrated with rich flavors and mouthfeel.

The Eberle 2016 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon ($45), as with earlier vintages, is an elegant wine that remains one of the best of the varietal in the $50 range.  Great stock and twenty-two month aging in 30% new French oak results in complex, layered flavors of dark fruit, herbs and spice.

The Hoffman Mountain Ranch vineyard, set at 2,200 feet elevation, is where it all started after winemaking icon André Tchelistcheff convinced Dr. Hoffman that the Adelaida Hills site was “a jewel of ecological elements” destined to produce great Bordeaux varietals.

Daou Estate Vineyard

Today, the Daou brothers, Georges and Daniel, are stewards of the historic land intent on sustaining its legacy.  Amid production of Bordeaux, Rhone Valley and Burgundian-style wines is the highly rated and elegantly described 2016 Daou Paso Robles Cabernet Sauvignon ($85).  Of note, I have found the 2017 vintage of this wine, with equally high ratings, at K&L Wines in San Francisco under $25.

Ever since the 1997 Justin “Isosceles” was served with lemon garlic-crusted lamb by the Clintons at a White House event hosting the King of Morocco, the full-bodied cabernet sauvignon-dominant Bordeaux blend has maintained consistently high acclaim.  The 2016 Justin “Isosceles” ($76) showcases the high regional fruit-driven standard with herb and spice notes.  

The 2016 Justin Cabernet Sauvignon ($27) and Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon ($58) are two fine wines that originate from local

Eberle Estate Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon

limestone-laden soil and, once again, have a high quality/cost ratio.

The Just Inn, located in the Justin Estate vineyards offers a few stylish rooms that can accommodate from two to ten guests who can also enjoy brunch, lunch and wine-paired dinners at the on-site Restaurant at Justin. I spent an anniversary there years ago and loved it.

Among a large palate of wines produced by Adelaida Cellars winemaker Jeremy Weintrab, each vintage of his Viking Estate Vineyard Signature Cabernet Sauvignon ($90-100) stands among the best in the entire region.

When discussing good value cabernet sauvignon, the Le P’tit Paysan 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon Central Coast, with small amounts of petit verdot added, deserves a mention, boasting ratings in the nineties and available for under $20.

Le P’tit Paysan Cabernet Sauvignon

Despite that cabernet sauvignon from Napa Valley and north Sonoma County is world-class, the Paso Robles region tenders extraordinary releases, many at a lower fare. Known for zinfandel and Rhone-style blends, lovers of Bordeaux wines will also be impressed with what’s available there.


Cartograph Wines map a path to your palate

Serena Lourie and Alan Baker

 

Serena Lourie and Alan Baker had interesting backstories before 2009, when they became partners in Cartograph Wines and, more recently, partners in life.

Serena grew up in a bicultural household, splitting time between France and the US, with college and the beginning of her career in the Washington DC area.  Her calling as a mental health professional led her to San Francisco where she later worked in the tech industry while developing a passion for wine.

In 2005, Alan left a successful public broadcasting career in St. Paul and came to San Francisco to learn the wine business from bottom to top.  He met Serena at the start-up urban winery, Crushpad in San Francisco where he was a person of many tasks and launched his first commercial brand, Cellar Rat Cellars, that featured pinot noir.

In 2009, the map of their lives made a stop in Healdsburg and they began the process of creating Cartograph Wines, currently producing about 2,300 cases with a business plan that takes it to a comfortable 5,000-5,500 per year. 

Cartograph Wines in Healdsburg

While continuing to source from established vineyards in the region, Cartograph recently purchased their estate vineyard in Cotati near the Petaluma Gap in the southern Russian River Valley appellation and are now releasing the first vintages from that site.

The Cartograph Estate Vineyard falls within the Russian River Valley Neighborhood Initiative, a project that will explore the vast diversity within the prodigious appellation to determine if the distinctions between the various microclimates are worthy of official designation.

Cartograph Wines modern tasting room on Main Street in Healdsburg literally shares a wall with Valette, one of the finest restaurants in town.  Starting at Cartograph, we began with a glass of 2013 Cartograph Brut Zero ($68), their first sparkling wine.  Self-described “acid freaks,” Alan and Serena like their wines bone dry and this crisp sparkler has no additions or dosage(the addition of sugar before

2013 Cartograph Bret Zero and Brut Rose’

corking).

We then moved next door and assembled around a large, beautifully set table in Valette Healdsburg to pair new Cartograph releases with dishes curated by Chef Dustin Valette. 

Valette, the restaurant and the person were raised in Healdsburg and enjoy showcasing local farmers and winemakers through a variety of collaborative efforts. Today, he was challenged with creating perfect food pairings with six new Cartograph releases. 

The first course paired the 2018 Cartograph Rose’ of Pinot Noir and Hawaiian Ahi Poke’ with partially roasted strawberries and young estate onions, garnished with dried strawberry chips, borrowed from Dustin’s daughter snack drawer.

The crisp, dry pink wine, from the estate vineyard and aged in 100% stainless steel, was the right choice for the melded flavor profile of the visually stunning poke’.

Hawaiian Poke with Mi Cuit Strawberries, estate onions and strawberry chips by Chef Dustin Valette

The next course matched two Cartograph dry whites, the 2017 Starscape Vineyard Gewürztraminer ($26) and the 2016 Green Ranch Riesling ($29) from the Mendocino Ridge appellation with a Diver Scallop & American Caviar Duo featuring one seared with passion fruit and fennel and another formed into a “ravioli” with pickled watermelon rind and seaweed.

Cooler vineyards tend to make dry fruit and these wines are fermented in Alsace yeast with no malolactic fermentation (higher acid) and controlled brix (sugar) of 22.5%.

The third course featured two new red Cartograph releases, the 2016 Estate Vineyard Pinot Noir($68) and 2016 Starscape Vineyard ($54)Pinot Noir, paired with a Liberty Farms Duck Confit “Candy Bar,” a coriander crusted breast with toasted oats and Goji berries, full and in a purée.

While both wines had luscious mouthfeel, the 2016 Estate Vineyard exuded intense but elegant aromas balanced by more subtle savory flavors that lingered.

The pairing concluded with the 2013 Brut Rose ($68), their other sparkling wine served with roasted quince jam, toasted brioche and salted brown butter ice cream. Dustin called the dish “Bread, Butter and Jam” and I renamed it “Heaven of Earth.”

Similar to the Brut Zero, the Brut Rose’ is made from chardonnay, but some pinot noir and dosage (sugar)is added at gorging to give it an arresting floral quality.

For Alan, it was a 1998 Alsace Riesling in Wisconsin, for Serena, a Shafer Napa Valley Cabernet in Washington DC and for Dustin it was a love for bountiful Sonoma County.  A confluence of journeys that were fueled by guts, passion and a desire to share their gifts. Fortunately, they landed in Healdsburg.


Tasting wines from Bordeaux’s Two Banks

 

I recently had the opportunity to attend the Tour des Deux Rives (Two Banks) tasting event held at Wine and Wall in San Francisco that showcased imports from the Bordeaux region.

Bordeaux, in southwest France, is home to centuries old vineyards that create some of the world’s most iconic wines. The Garonne and Dordogne Rivers merge north of the city of Bordeaux to form a broad estuary known as the Gironde that flows to the Atlantic Ocean.

Vineyards in St. Emilion

  Strewn along both banks of the Gironde, regions like St. Estephe, Pauillac, Sauternes, St. Emilion and others are known for producing extraordinary cabernet sauvignon, merlot, cabernet franc, petit verdot and other grape varietals that contribute to the prodigious Bordeaux blends. 

Bordeaux wines originating from Rive Gauche, or Left Bank of the Gironde are cabernet sauvignon-dominant and those from Rive Droite, or Right Bank, are merlot-dominant.  One might say that Bordeaux is the Napa Valley of France except that they started making wine hundreds of years earlier. 

There were nearly twenty different Bordeaux blends poured at the event which was a bit overwhelming.  However, a few wines stood out.

Pastourelle Clerc Milon Pauillac 2009

From the Pauillac appellation on the left bank, north of Bordeaux, the Pastourelle de Clerc Milon 2009 is a blend of cabernet sauvignon, merlot, cabernet franc, petit verdot and carmenere.  After expressing herbal aromas, the flavors were rich and concentrated with peppery notes, soft tannins and a lingering finish.

 

Baron Philippe de Rothschild acquired Chateau Clerc Milon in 2011 and oversees all production.

Baron Nathaniel de Rothschild purchased Chateau Brane-Mouton in 1853 and renamed the estate Chateau Mouton Rothschild.  The Chateau Mouton Rothschild 2010, a cabernet sauvignon-dominant blend with merlot, cabernet franc and petit verdot is a true first growth Premier Grand Cru Classe release.  Since 1945, the estate has commissioned artists to create original artwork for each label.  The 2010 vintage label art was created by Jeff Koons who is known for his inflatable stainless steel rabbits and Puppy, the flower-covered sitting dog sculpture outside of the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain.

This Premiere Grand Cru Classe Bordeaux blend with label art by an international artist is not cheap. On some sites, the price for this wine exceeds one thousand dollars.

In a quality ranking system of first to fifth, second-growth refers to the second level of the grapes importance. Described as a “first class second-growth,” the Reserve de la Comtesse 2011 from Chateau Pichon Lalande is primarily a merlot and cabernet sauvignon blend that comes from the same terroir as the Grand Vin release.  Full flavored and perfectly balanced, this wine is a good value at $35.

Located south of Bordeaux, the terroir in Sauternes, along with Botrytis Cinerea, the “noble rot,” produce the world’s greatest and most expensive dessert wines.  Beginning in 1593, no one has done it better, vintage to vintage than Chateau d’Yquem.  The Chateau d’Yquem 2005, a Premier Cru Superieur blend of  semillon (75%) and sauvignon blanc (25%) is a treat to the senses with fresh vanilla

Chateau d’Yquem 2005

aromas and rich flavors of crème brûlée and gingerbread.  

The 2005 vintage received rating in the range of 98-100 points by three major periodicals which helps justify its price of nearly $700 per bottle.

The Chateau Certan de May has produced wine on Pomerol’s prestigious plateau since its beginnings as an appellation.  With 65% merlot and added cabernet franc and cabernet sauvignon, the Chateau Certan de May 2011 expressed earth on the nose with rich, complex flavors of plum, currants and coffee throughout the finish

In 2016, we visited the stately grounds of Chateau Magdelaine, just outside the walls of St Emilion village. The nearly 30 acres of vineyards were meticulously maintained and the production buildings had undergone significant renovation.  Heavily limestone-laden soils produced the merlot-dominant Chateau Magdelaine 2006 which was lush and layered

Chateau Magdelaine 2006

with balanced dark berry flavors that expressed the unique terroir of the appellation.

Blends from the Bordeaux region, both current and futures, are readily available on-line or in fine Bay Area wine shops.  Whether preferring left or right bank wines, I recommended some research on the history of the producing Chateau, its appellation and classification.  While Premiere Grand Cru is extraordinary, better values can be found among second and third growth Bordeaux wines.


Pairing wines with legendary olive oil born of tragedy

 

Last week in San Francisco, a small group assembled for lunch at Perbacco Ristorante and Bar on California Street, between Front and Battery, to celebrate the 30th harvest of Laudemio Frescobaldi, one of the world’s finest olive oils.

2018 Laudemio Frescobaldi

Italian cuisine, fine wines from Frescobaldi’s Tuscan estates and olive oil were featured throughout, including dessert.  Post holiday dieting was temporarily overridden by the temptation of Chocolate Gelato with sea salt, served in olive oil, something worthy of an interruption.

The Frescobaldi family began producing Tuscan olive oil and wines in the year 1300 and is now celebrating its 30th generation in the business that manages all facets of farming and production.  The family owns vineyards and nearly 750 acres of olive groves spread among seven estates throughout the Tuscany region. 

The birth of Laudemio, which translates to “best of the harvest,” actually resulted from a catastrophic winter frost that destroyed 90% of olive trees in the region. Laudemio Brand Manager, Matteo Frescobaldi described stories of his parents listening to the trees break in the middle of the night.

From that tragedy emerged a family decision, in 1986, to use the very best of the remaining trees and select only the finest extra virgin olive oil for Laudemio, a proprietary project with lofty expectations.  One important factor in their success, Frescobaldi operates an olive mill at their Castello Nipozzano estate that allows for immediate milling within 24 hours of harvest. 

Each of the nearly twenty wines releases from the  Frescobaldi Group identify with the terroir of a specific estate and include reds, whites and rose’. Three current releases and plenty of Laudemio were paired with an extraordinary Italian lunch prepared by Chef Staffan Terje.

Pomino Benefizio Reserva 2017

The first course included Ribollita, an authentic Tuscan bread and vegetable soup and Pinzimonio, a local tradition of dipping raw vegetables into olive oil, paired with Pomino Benefizio Reserva 2017 ($50), a chardonnay-based white wine from the Castello di Pomino.

The wine, from sandy, rocky soils, expressed delicate, yet complex flavors with a minerality that fit with both the hearty soup and raw vegetables.

Both the second course, pappardelle pasta with beef ragu, and the main courses of milk braised pork shoulder with caramelized fennel, called Maile Al Latte and seared flatiron steak, served rare on a bed of arugula, were all paired with Laudemio and Nipozzano Vecchie Viti 2015 ($35), a Chianti Rufina Reserva DOCG from the Castello Nipozzano estate that blends sangiovese with local grapes, malvasia nera, colorino and canaiolo.

Aged 24 months in oak barrels and an extra three in the bottle, the Viti, with ratings in the mid-nineties, had deep fruit and spice aromas and soft, accessible flavors delivered with a rich mouthfeel.

Prior to dessert, our palates were refreshed by a rose’ from the Tenuta Ammiraglia estate in the southern coast of Tuscany.  Syrah-dominant with a touch of vermentino, the crisp ALÌE 2017 ($25) had an alluring light ruby color with hints of strawberries, citrus and a nice minerality along the finish.

ALÌE 2017

Native to Italy and commonly grown in Sardinia, vermentino is a grape known to thrive when grown near the sea and is a perfect addition to a wine named after “a fabled sea-nymph, a symbol of sensuality and beauty.”

What followed was the aforementioned decadent chocolate gelato in a sea of fragrant Laudemio, paired with the rose’.  It was a small piece of heaven that need not be repeated often.  Pinzimonio, a variety of raw vegetables dipped in Laudemio, is a healthier choice.

The Frescobaldi family is hands-on in all aspects of Laudemio production from cultivation, milling, bottling and packaging, ensuring that it all meets their high standards.  To celebrate its 30th anniversary, the recognizable green bottle of Laudemio Frescobaldi is replaced for the vintage 2018 by one with a sleek gold finish.

Tenuta Ammiraglia estate

Thirty generations speak to the sustainability of the Frescobaldi business model and its commitment to flavor and texture is revealed through the result. 

Frescobaldi estate wines are available in many local Bay Area wine shops and on-line while Frescobaldi Laudemio extra virgin olive oil can be found in many gourmet food stores and small markets.

 


Seghesio Family Vineyards: An Immigrant’s Legacy

 

Today, Sonoma County’s Seghesio Family Vineyards is well-known for the production of fine zinfandel and other Italian varietals and enjoy a large following who appreciate exemplary crafted releases, vintage to vintage.

However, Seghesio has been entwined into the fabric of Sonoma wine culture for nearly 125 years, since Italian immigrant Edoardo

Seghesio settled in the Alexander Valley and began producing grapes and bulk wine for large wineries.

Seghesio is among a select few of today’s California wineries that successfully persevered through Prohibition. Surviving a Century and

reaching their current status required an ongoing philosophy that avoided complacency by continually striving for something new and better.

Seghesio’s watershed moment began in the 1980s when fourth generation family winemaker Ted Seghesio began bottling wine under the Seghesio Family label.  In the early

Home Ranch Vineyard in the Alexander Valley

1990s, the family decided to lower their annual production and focus solely on the grapes from their estate vineyards.

With the transformation from bulk to fine wines complete, the only goal was to get better with each vintage.  Currently, Seghesio produces wine from nine estate vineyards on over 300 acres in north Sonoma County.

Recently, I entered the beautiful grounds of their tasting room near downtown Healdsburg intent to discover new current releases from winemaker Andy Robinson.

We began with an Italian white varietal, the 2017 Vermentino ($22) from a Russian River Valley vineyard, that was crisp, well-structured, bone dry with expressive fruit flavors.  Seghesio also produces another rare Italian white, the 2017 Arneis ($22)

From this country’s oldest Sangiovese vineyard in Rattlesnake Hill, the pure 2015 Venom Sangiovese($50) is aged in new French oak, concrete eggs and lengthy time in the bottle resulting in flavors that are rich and integrated.

A flight of four zinfandel releases clearly revealed the impact of terroir beginning with my favorite, the spicy 2015 Dry Creek “Cortina” Zinfandel ($40), from vines planted over three decades, that exudes pepper and eloquent red fruit on the palate.

The Rockpile appellation consists of a series of higher elevation vineyards separated by rugged terrain and known for wonderfully stressed zinfandel vines. Although the flavors of the 2015 Rockpile Zinfandel($50) are more savory, the mouthfeel is lavish and uninhibited.

Seghesio’s designation of “old vines” begins at fifty years and the highly rated 2015 Old Vine Zinfandel($40) blends grapes from vineyards in three different appellations on vines planted 50 to 125 years ago. With small amounts of petite sirah added, this release is well-structured with more restrained flavors than the last zinfandel.

The “old vines” for the 2015 Home Ranch Zinfandel($58) were planted in 1895 by Edoardo Seghesio on his original property. They were combined with grapes from younger vines that are, surprisingly, credited with pushing flavor to the forefront in this highly praised wine. 

People consume and enjoy wine at varying levels, but petite sirah is universally acclaimed because of its structure and accessibility to most palates. The full-bodied 2012 IL Cinghiale Petite Sirah ($38), dubbed the “wild boar,” has a opulent bouquet and demonstrative deep, dark berry flavors. A true value. 

Native to southern Italy, aglianico is a grape that develops highly tannic and complex wines that need time to mature. The tasting concluded with the full-bodied 2010 Aglianico($38)that delivered savory spice, mushroom and red fruit flavors.  This wine can need a decade to fully open.  Although the current release is a 2010 vintage, our host suggested decanting for 24-36 hours before serving. 

Seghesio provides a beautiful setting and amenities like picnic facilities and bocce ball courts designed to enhance the tasting experience.  They boast that their wines are food-driven and have developed a wine pairing kitchen where Executive Chef Peter Janiak prepares regular weekend pairing programs as well as many seasonal special event dinners throughout the year.

In 2011, Seghesio was sold to a large investment company that owns other wineries in the Napa-Sonoma region.  However, family members are still involved daily in all facets of production and operations.

While the history and sustainability of Seghesio Family Vineyards is impressive, the real story is their diverse estate vineyards and the ability to consistently produce well-crafted, complex wines.  Their zinfandel releases are among the best in California.