Saturday, October 25, 2014

Grilled lamb in good company!



Great dinner last weekend at Chris & Molly's (our dear friends) - Chris is a master griller and he impressed once again with his lamb chops! (pun intended). Serious winos in attendance contributed a tasty array of wines. While most of the wines delivered, the consensus seemed to be that the 1996 Clape Cornas stole the show with the lamb. I especially liked the 2002 Beaune-Greves 1er Cru burgundy from Michel Lafarge, even though it was perhaps a bit too bright and delicate for the lamb, but so satisfying, complex and charming like only an aged burgundy can!



Here are the wines and dishes to salivate over:


Champagne starter.


Fascinating wine - a 1987 Corton-Charlemange white burgundy from Mommessin, the producer of the famous Clos de Tart grand cru - who knew he had a white grand cru! Silky texture, copper tones (color and palate), unfortunately over the hill, with oxidized notes. Still a rare treat.


The '97 Brunello Poggio Alle Mura from Castello Banfi was in good shape. On its own, it would have been attention grabber. Nicely mature, it seemed it should continue to drink well for at least a few more years.


Oh the mouthwatering, perfectly medium-rare, herb-crusted lamb - probably the best, tender-most grilled lamb I had ever had - what a treat! The Ottolenghi rack of lamb recipe can be found here. The exquisite quality fresh Napa lamb came from Draeger's Market in Menlo Park.

 
Sides to go with the lamb. The ham and gruyere cheese seeded brioche from Manresa Bread Project was a special treat.


This 1996 Cornas from Clape was the crowd favorite - a wine with tons of character and complexity. Brown sugar / tree bark and porridge notes, iron, savory meat, olives, exotic (green) peppercorns, relatively lean, briny acidity went well with the lamb. Tasted prior to the lamb, it seemed quite austere. But with the lamb, it sang!


Pavillon Rouge 2000 Bordeaux - a very good second wine from Chateau Margaux. This would make a great dinner all on its own!


Bruno Giacosa Barbaresco 2008. Young but already elegant, red fruited, near silky, great acidity, with great potential. I really like the 2008's and this Giacosa Barbaresco was a knock-out. Similar to Lafarge though, perhaps too light and elegant of a match for the lamb, but a great great treat!


And here we go - 2002 Beaune-Greves 1er Cru was like coming home - this wine made me smile and relax - Burgundy - there is just nothing like it! Elegant red berries, perfectly mature, great acidity, silky and charming. From the master of Cote de Beaune - Michel Lafarge.


Dehlinger has got to be one of the most satisfying new world producers of Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon. Maybe it's because it's one with the most old-world sensibilities in their wines. Russian River Valley based, they make wines that taste real, unforced, from the land. Claret is the second wine of their Cabernet Sauvignon, made in a slightly lighter style than their top Cab. No fancy facade, just vivid wine with good acidity, inky, sleek, with earthy elements. It is perhaps because of their absence of flamboyance or flash, that they don't seem to get very high critics' scores, but the wines are highly respected among wine geeks, and I highly recommend them if you can find them. At 14 years of age, this claret was dense and very youthful.


Both the 2006 Raveneau Chablis Monts Mains and the 2006 Beaucastel Chateauneuf-du-Pape blanc were in great shape!  The Raveneau was quite substantial for a Chablis. The Beaucastel blanc was weighy and dense, with notes of honey and hazelnuts.


Top sparkling rosé from Italy - Ca'del Bosco Franciacorta 2004 "Annamaria Clementi". 100% Pinot Nero (Noir). Very serious wine - hints of citrus, raspberries and grass. Definitely a worthy Italian answer to Champagne. Great way to cleanse the palate at the end of the meal.



Great dinner!

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Zola - excellent French restaurant debuts in Palo Alto



Zola just opened in downtown Palo Alto. Finally, I hoped, a foodie French place, worthy of taking my burgundies to, by the chef and wine connoisseur Guillaume Bienaime, previously of Marche in Menlo Park, a restaurant that was renowned among wine geeks for hosting great wine dinners.

After 3 hours at Zola and sampling a dozen dishes, I am thoroughly satisfied. It was creative seasonal French cooking, comfort food, I'd say, taken to the next level. Not fancy gastronomic, but rather very very tasty. The style of food gave me a feeling like Pizzeria Delfina (of course, that's Italian) and Marlowe (California cuisine), in San Francisco, but with more selection, and it's French - my favorite! This will be my go-to place in Palo Alto, thank goodness, finally! It's not cheap, but not too expensive either, for the quality you get.

Here are some quick snapshots of what we had. Everything was delicious, and paired with wine very well!



We sampled a variety of appetizers with a great bottle of 2010 Domaine des Comtes Lafon Meursault Clos de la Barre - the wine was a little tight at the beginning, as expected for the structured 2010 vintage of white burgundy, but continued to flesh out throughout the meal, a most excellent bottle of white burgundy, one of the best I've had all year, and to think - this was just a village level wine. This is of course a famous monopole of Domaine des Comtes Lafon. The master of Meursault showed his chops - elegance, balance of fruit, stone, cream, acid, spice - all there, in a very aristocratic package. It has a long long life ahead. I wish I had a 6-pack (alas, I only have one more bottle).


Beef tartar, whole grain, chive, black truffle, fingerling chips


Terrine de Campagne, chicken & pork, pickled mushrooms


Seafood special


Bone marrow


Roasted Button Mushrooms, “Escargot Butter & Crumb”


Short Rib “Bourguignon”, garniture traditionel, parsley bread crumb


Charred Brassicas (cauliflower), french curry, golden raisins


Ricotta Gnocchi - slow egg, mushrooms, brown butter, green onion


Roasted Pork Loin & Belly, piperade, crispy fingerlings, garlic confit, smoked paprika


The pork was a superb pairing with the 2005 Corton-Perrieres, which had been opened for 4 days, finally showing its best on day 4, indicating, not surprisingly, that 2005 grand crus are still much too young. Nevertheless, after sufficient aeration, the wine was on, with tons of deep material (typical of 2005) and game. Even though Vincent Girardin is not my favorite producer, this was a solid showing. I had had this wine one year ago and it was disappointing then. What a difference a year makes, and once again this is a reminder that Burgundies, especially at higher rungs of the hierarchy and from strong vintages, need time. Somewhat surprisingly, the Meursault was also quite a good match to the pork, very different obviously, but intriguing and pleasing. By this point of the meal, the Meursault had opened up, broadened, filled out and revealed more spice, all good things to accompany the pork dish.

I'll be back!

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Top Champagne Tasting of 2014



The 10th annual Institute of Masters of Wine (IMW) North America Champagne event roared through San Francisco at the end of September. Held in the gorgeous Ferry Building at Market One, with the largest concentration of venerable masters of wine (MW's) in one room that I'd ever seen, this continues to be my favorite champagne tasting of the year in the Bay Area, and an incredible bargain at $65. Once again, this time it did not disappoint. The quantity and quality of the champagnes seemed as high as ever, and generous selection of cheeses didn't hurt either. Hardly any surprises among the tasted wines, vintage champagnes were the most impressive group, as they should be. I wholeheartedly recommend this event to everyone who is interested in champagne. For more info on IMW events, check here.

Here are my quick notes.



Vintage champagnes were impressive.


All four of the big boys showed well - Bollinger "La Grand Annee" 2004, Dom Perignon 2004, Henriot Enchenteleurs 1999 (out of magnum), and Gosset 2000 Grand Millesime. Perhaps Bollinger and Gosset had slightly more exotic flavors, and Henriot with powerful crystalline minty expression. DP was good and dependable, as always.


Despite the gaudy packaging, Piper-Heidsieck "Rare" (2002) always impresses with what's inside. As did the very reliable Pol Roger with their Pinot Noir dominated powerful "Extra Cuvee de Reserve" (2004, 60% Pinot Noir / 40% Chardonnay), even if this is not their top-of-the-line cuvee Sir Winston Churchill. I have come to expect very high quality at every level of Pol Roger's champagnes, including their non-vintage and the various vintage cuvees. If in doubt, you cannot go wrong with this producer. But the other two - Nicolas Feuillatte "Palmes d'Or" 2002 and Mousse Fils Millesime Brut 2008 were pleasant surprises. Generally, Feuillatte is not mentioned in the same league with other top champagnes, but this top wine stood out with intriguing brown sugar notes. But an even bigger discovery was Mousse Fils. I had never even heard of Champagne Mousse Fils, but I was thoroughly impressed by the complexity and richness of flavor, along with super fine and creamy mousse. This is a relatively unknown grower champagne house with prices below other top wines in Champagnes. This was also my first 2008 vintage champagne, a vintage that is much heralded in Champagne as the best after 2002. Impressed, I proceeded to order several bottles immediately from my favorite wine merchant, for a more "thorough" evaluation later on. This definitely deserves a closer look.



Among the four vintage Blanc de Blanc's, I was particularly impressed with Christian Coquillette Champagne Saint-Chamant BdB 2005 - powerful, flavorful champagne. Dom Ruinart BdB 2004 and Pol Roger BdB 2002 were more steely and classical, seemingly coming from more structured vintages and in need of more time.



Oh, this Perrier-Jouet "Belle Epoque" 2004 Rose is always a beauty - I've tasted it several times with consistent notes - gentle strawberries seduce every time. I know this is a very widely available champagne - you can see it at Costco, etc...  - so maybe it doesn't possess a coolness factor, but it is very very good Rose, and one of my favorites every year.




Another note on Krug - though vintage Krug was not present at this tasting, I just recently tasted the 2000 Krug, and as good as the NV grand cuvee is, the vintage (2000) is a step up in intensity, with powerful, grippy texture and concentrated, lingering flavors. Both are just beginning to hint at their potential, and will benefit from a lot more time. I would not hesitate to stock up, if you can afford.





All in all, Champagne continues to dazzle my palate, and I find that with a few additional years of cellaring post-release, these wines hardly ever disappoint, and with prices of other top regions continuing to climb sharply (Burgundy, Barolo), Champagne prices have remained relatively stable. While there are a myriad of options to choose from, from trendy small grower producers to established big brand houses, I find quality in all camps high, and I think big houses are doing a great job, despite large production. Your good old Dom P, Cristal, Krug, Bolliger, Taittinger, Heidsieck, Dom Ruinart, Perrier-Jouet, Henriot, Gosset and so on, are as good as ever, as are cool growers such as Egly-Ouriet, Henri Goutorbe, and Mousse Fils.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Krug, Yquem, Sassicaia, and more! - Epic 5-year anniversary tasting at Tango



September 2014 marks the fifth anniversary of Tango, the mobile tech company in Mountain View, where I am the VP of Engineering.



As mentioned previously, besides my main job, I also run the "Tango Winos" wine tasting club there as an extracurricular activity and as a management "thank you" to employees. We do this quarterly, paid 100% by the company, with focus on higher-end great wines of the world, something that employees will not usually (perhaps ever) drink. Forty people attended the latest one, which is a lot for barely a 200 person start-up. The tasting, served with catered dinner, was a ton of fun for everyone, and is the only corporate wine tasting event of such caliber anywhere in the Valley, AFAIK, which makes me particularly proud to do this at Tango. What made this tasting even more special was the 5th anniversary of the company, so we upped the ante with famous bottles at $200-$500 each!

I prepared a venerable array of 7 wines, 3 bottles each, with the exception of d'Yquem which we "only" had two bottles of, poured to the top-scorers of the wine quiz at the end of the tasting (yes, there is a quiz! :) All the bottles were in perfect condition without flaws.



Tasting impressions

2000 Krug Champagne - nose and palate: incredible power, bubbles going strong for 2 hours in the glass, toasted brioche, almost tannic and grippy on the tongue, so much material in there, candied lemon peel, ginger, my wine of the night. ($200/btl)

2011 Domaine Trapet Pere & Fils Chambertin Grand Cru - Trapet family are the second largest land-owner of the grand cru vineyard of Chambertin with 1.9 ha (closely following Armand Rousseau's 2.15 ha) - one of the greatest vineyards in the whole world. Usually the larger the holding one has within a vineyard, the higher the chances of making a better wine, as the producer can pick and choose from more supply, while declassifying imperfect material into lesser cuvees. Trapet has a very solid reputation for wines that are supposed to be less approachable in their youth and blossom over the long haul. In recent years, Trapet is known to have further cut down on new oak and the quality has been on the rise. I was quite excited in anticipation of tasting this wine for the first time. Nose: stems, very fragrant with hints of flowers, I am nearly certain that with time it will turn into roses. Palate: inevitably silky but currently marked by gritty tannins. Long finish, red fruits, earthy / floral / stemmy / root veggies, intense and focused. Right now, it comes across as more flowers and vegetables than fruits, but the sap, intensity and purity bode well for the evolution in the bottle. I can imagine how a riper vintage ('09, '10, or '12) should produce an even better wine. ($250/btl)

2011 Maison Ilan Chambertin Tete de Cuvee Grand Cru - riper nose, darker color. Palate: sexy ripe cherries and raspberries, some earth and roasted beets, hints of chocolate. Riper, richer, sweeter, darker than Trapet, comes across as more modern, a bit more plummy. A touch of roasted beets really balances out the richness of the fruit. The crowd favorite. For me, Trapet was leaner and more earthy / floral,  more fragrant and pure, but both wines had impact, intensity and promise. This is a very trendy producer right now among Burgundy geeks, due to limited production and the exciting story of the owner - Ray Walker - the only Californian to have ever established a winery in Burgundy and the only American to have ever made Chambertin, impressively having secured contracts for grapes from some of the most prestigious appellations, of which Chambertin is at the top of the list. While there is no new oak used in any of Ray's wines, the Chambertin was aged in used oak for over two years, which rounded it out. We were privileged to taste this wine - a very respectable, even impressive effort. ($300/btl)


It's interesting to see the obvious color difference between the two Chambertin's. Just from that, one can deduce some of the flavor profile characteristics mentioned above.

2009 Arnaud Ente "La Seve du Clos" Meursault - nose: lemon brulee. Palate: rich, spicy, classy oak, medium acid, intense and weighty, but not enough acid for me to make this exciting or lively, a bit heavy and flabby, which makes sense for the vintage. This is an expensive ($160-200/btl) culty village level burgundy from 100-yr old vines. I could taste the intensity, but this should be much better in a better vintage (for whites, probably any vintage after 2006, except 2009).

2011 Sassicaia - love it! deep inky tannic, full-bodied but elegant, great Italian acidity, deep berries, blueberries, blackcurrants and olive/rosemary/herb-inflected nose and palate, more intense than I recall 2010. Tasted the 2011 four times in the last 1.5 months, it has progressively shown more intensity and tannins, which I like because I am going to put it aside for 20-30 years (in a magnum) for my son's birth-year collection. This was my second favorite wine of the night, after Krug. ($180/btl)

2009 Joseph Phelps Insignia - typical high-end Napa cab, this is weighty, full-bodied, sweet fruit compote (compared to sleeker Sassicaia), dark-red/blue fruits, rather than blacker fruits of Sassicaia, medium-to-low acidity, plums, very clear (enjoyable) note of tobacco, tannins. I had enjoyed the 2010 and 2011 that I have tasted in the last year slightly more, particularly 2011 which due to a cooler year, had more focus and acidity. ($160)

1990 Chateau d'Yquem - nose: apricot marmalade. Palate: silky toffee, vanilla, honey, apricot. Beautiful amber color. Delicious. That said, this $500 wine didn't strike me as significantly better than the 2005 Chateau Guiraud or Suduiraut ($50-$100 wines) I had recently. Perhaps the silky texture of d'Yquem was more extra-ordinary, but it could have been due to age as much as quality or pedigree. Overall, this was very nice, but not worth the $$ premium, IMO. A privilege to taste, nonetheless.

Indeed, it was a special tasting, and of the several annual Tango wine tastings, I hope to have an excuse for this level of connoisseurship at least a couple of times per year. Work hard, play hard, right?! Enrollment to the Tango Winos club is open to everyone in the company. And yes, we are hiring! :)

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

2011 Joseph Phelps Insignia and Diamond Creek Cabs



For my 3-day birthday weekend in September, Rona and I decided to take Evan to Napa Valley. At 3.5, he is of the age when he would hopefully enjoy running through vineyards, pick grapes hanging in full glorious ripeness, and last through gourmet restaurants (while watching iPad, thank god for that!) I had a bit of extra motivation for Napa this time, because 2011's are just coming out, affording me an opportunity to evaluate something special for Evan's birth-year collection (he was born in 2011).

On my short list were Dunn, Phelps, Diamond Creek, Mayacamas, and Harlan. And Ridge of course, but that's another trip, not Napa. I was able to book Joseph Phelps and Diamond Creek this time, while the others requested to follow up later in the year, after the harvest. Visiting two major wineries with a kid in a 3-day weekend was perfect. One winery per day (2-3 hrs) is more than enough, and in the day in between, we drove to the very cool African Safari (Safari West) in Santa Rosa. Keep in mind that many wineries don't take appointments on weekends, so one has to plan for a weekday. Phelps accommodated on a Saturday, while Diamond Creek worked out for Monday.


Joseph Phelps

Joseph Phelps is in my opinion one of the best wineries to visit in Napa Valley. Not only are the wines good and historic, but also there is a fantastic visitor center overlooking Napa Valley, and you can book a picnic table and bring lunch while sipping their wines. Right now they are in the middle of a major renovation, so the old visitor center built out of the original winery (which has since been re-located lower down the hill) has been gutted and is being re-built from ground up. It will be an impressive, expansive space with room for classes, private and public tastings, etc., accommodating more visitors. In the meantime, a temporary visitor center was erected down the slope, in a vineyard, after some 20-year old Cabernet vines had been sacrificially ripped out. Once the new center is up next Spring (hopefully), the temporary one will be demolished, and the vineyard replanted. So it's an expensive operation, but obviously Joseph Phelps can afford it!

Considering the quality and the price of the wines, the winery has relatively large production. On average 12,000 cases of Insignia in a normal year (varying from 10,000 to 15,000, depending on the vintage), it was 12,000 in 2011. While most quality-oriented wineries in Napa had to reduce output in 2011 due to very difficult growing season, Phelps has six estate vineyards to draw on for the flagship Insignia, and therefore they were able to maintain their annual production level for this wine without sacrificing quality. Overall Phelps volume is ~65,000 cases (i.e. close to 800,000 bottles.)



2011 Insignia is also noteworthy as the first vintage composed from all 5 major Bordeaux grape varieties sourced from estate vineyards. First vintage with all estate fruit was 2004.

We went through the solid line-up of Phelps' wines, obviously my focus and anticipation were on the Insignia.



2011 Insignia is a very polished wine, classic deep dark-berry Cabernet flavors, with smooth tannins, perfumey herbs and tobacco. Even though 2011 is supposed to be a cooler vintage, the wine certainly has plenty of deep palate-staining fruit, full body and 14.5% alc. Acidity is good by Napa standards (i.e. still a bit lower than what I seek in old world wines) and the wine comes across as very refined and quite balanced. The slightly more pronounced tobacco, herbs and spices (a good thing!) betray a cooler vintage. While by Napa standards, perhaps this wine may be considered "shy" by some, to me this is the direction I like and wish they went even farther. Their regular Cabernet is no slouch either - has similar flavor profile, just less of everything, and certainly less refined. At about 1/3 of the price, it is worth considering. Note to self: buy cooler Napa vintages from good producers. We also tasted a 2006 Insignia from super hot vintage, and it showed pretty well, though not as balanced and polished as 2011.

One Chardonnay and two Pinot Noir are from their Sonoma Coast property called Freestone. Nicely balanced for California. Chardonnay shows some oak but not excessively. We enjoyed the 2012 Pinot Noir blend of all their Sonoma Coast vineyards and the 2010 "Quarter Moon" single vineyard higher-end bottling - more complex, with cooler fruit, medium body, hints of fermented dried prunes, complex whiffs of stems and spices, the extra year of age also helped I think. The 2011 was more fruit forward, but still not a fruit bomb. Nicely done for Cali, though certainly not for burg palates, although 2010 is quite interesting, needing just a touch more acidity.

On my way out I was happy to purchase a magnum of the 2011 Insignia for Evan's birth-year collection. In cold storage, I am optimistic, it will see Evan's 30th birthday in fine shape!


Diamond Creek



Took me three years to set this one up, ever since I ran into them at Wine & Spirits Top 100 Wineries, and loved their 2007's.

They don't see much general public, and this relatively small (12-employee) family winery has a long-standing reputation among wine connoisseurs. The property is not easy to find, there isn't even a sign on the road. They host two big events per year for their members, and otherwise it's a fairly exclusive property to get a visit to. So I was happy when Phil Ross agreed to receive us.

Diamond Creek was the first winery in California to focus exclusively on Cabernet-based wines. They were also a pioneer in bottling single-vineyards, with the goal to express individual and distinct terroirs of their three main vineyards - Red Rock Terrace (7 acres), Volcanic Hill (8 acres), and Gravely Meadow (5 acres). Occasionally, in an exceptional vintage a fourth vineyard - Lake (3/4 acre) - gets bottled, but not in 2011. Lake vineyard (on the far shore of the man-made lake) was planted in 1972 - it is the coolest, slowest ripening vineyard, that has only been bottled 14 times. Gravely Meadow is the next coolest vineyard, located on a relatively flat ground, lower than Red Rock and Volcanic Hill. There is one more (unnamed) vineyard that grows 100% Petit Verdot used as a blending grape for their cabs. The special micro-climate of the property with little to no fog in the morning provides for early morning sun warming up the vines, while the cool breeze coming through a cut in the Mayacamas mountain range from the Pacific ocean and Russian river cools the vines in the afternoon. This results in longer and cooler growing season (which is good for grapes). Special care is taken during harvest to pick only mature grapes, which means multiple passes through the vineyard. In 2011, due to cooler, rainier season, about 1200 cases (30% less than normal) were produced as the winery decided early to drop much fruit to assure ripeness. Average annual production is under 2000 cases. While the winery certainly has the opportunity to expand their vineyards and their production, they have decided against, in order to focus on quality rather than quantity. There are fewer than 100 magnums of each vineyard, and I was excited to snag a mag of Volcanic Hill for Evan's birth-year collection, hand-signed and dedicated to Evan by Phil Ross.





Diamond Creek Vineyards was founded by Al Brounstein and his wife Boots in 1968. The first vintage that was released was 1972. Al passed away in 2006 at the age of 86, while Boots (now 87) is still actively involved. A visionary and renaissance man, Al created a beautiful property out of foresty hillside on Diamond Mountain, west of Calistoga. He envisioned a lake, vineyards, waterfalls, island, and never hired any landscape architects. It took years of clearing the terrain, building and landscaping to make this incredibly natural looking oasis. This area had had some history of grape growing of indigenous varieties by native Indians. But Al was the first modern man to cultivate here using European varieties.


Man-made lake, with the Lake vineyard seen on the far shore.

His step-son (Boots' son) Phil Ross - director of Sales & Marketing - conducted the tour and tasting. Now 65, Phil has been working on the property for 25 yrs. He was very gracious and knowledgeable. Evan loved running through the vineyard, tasting grapes, and riding in a golf cart trough the breathtaking territory.



And so the story goes...



Al studied art in France at the University of Sorbonne art school and spoke French fluently, along with several other languages. In 1950 at the age of 30, he moved from Minnesota to Los Angeles and started a proprietary drug distributorship called Standard Brand Company which became successful. In 1960, on a whim he took a French wine class at UCLA instead of French literature that he was interested in, since they only had one French related class and it was on wine appreciation. And loved it! With that, Al caught the wine bug and started looking how we can change his lifestyle in that direction. A winery he paid close attention was Ridge (in Santa Cruz Mountains). Al started visiting his friends at Ridge, and even worked several harvests there, which eventually led him to finding a mountain property in Napa Valley in mid-sixties. With encouragement from the famous Louis Martini and Andre Tchelistcheff, he bought 80 acres on Diamond Mountain for $100k, planted 20 acres of it with St. George root-stock (phylloxera resistant variety, which proved fortuitous in the 80's when Napa got hit by phylloxera, thus to-date Diamond Creek has some of the oldest surviving Cabernet vines in California). A lover of French wine, particularly Bordeaux and Burgundy, and a pilot, he smuggled vine cuttings from Bordeaux via Mexico. The vines were acquired from three of the four original Bordeaux first growths (it's a secret which three), and planted in all the vineyards. The vineyards are field blends of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc, harvested and vinified together. After he had started clearing the terrain, he discovered three distinct soil types, which naturally yielded themselves to three different vineyards. In a pioneering move, Al decided to vinify and bottle separately, as per great domaines of Burgundy. While he loved both Bordeaux and Burgundy, he correctly thought Napa was more suited to Bordeaux varieties. In the 46 year history of the estate, there have only been two winemakers - Jerry Luper, who was there for 20 years, and the current winemaker Phil Steinschriber.

[Note: for additional information about Diamond Creek, I found Al Brounstein's interview with Wine Spectator, published in 2006, very illuminating. As well as another article here.]


Tasting impressions



2011 Diamond Creek Red Rock Terrace - Similar to Volcanic Hill but less stony. Cool, with perceptible tannins, black cherries, forest and dark berries, almost silky (once you get past the tannins). Should be very silky eventually. Super drinkable.

2011 Diamond Creek Gravely Meadow - Much more open, fruit forward, creamier nose (almost cheese and liqueur). Beautiful palate, redder fruit, plush and inviting but cool, definitely riper, some dry plum coming through (a hint of raisin), very tasty although the cheese/milky aspect is a little distracting right now.

2011 Diamond Creek Volcanic Hill - Stone and dark deep fruit. Slightly more tannic than Red Rock, but the tannins are not massive, dark berries, forest trees, no chocolate, long finish. This is the most intense of the bunch. Delicious.




Tasting Joseph Phelps and Diamond Creek gave me insight into the much-maligned 2011 vintage in Napa Valley, and fascinating stylistic contrast between the flagship wines of these two esteemed estates.

First, on 2011, supposedly the worst vintage in Napa in years if not decades...
All I can say, based on this very small sample, is if this is a "bad" vintage, bring it on! I recognize that in a challenging vintage like this, a winery has to do more work, stricter selection, cutting down yields, and perhaps not making as much profit. But it seems to me that it is perhaps the price to pay to make more balanced wines in the hot California climate. Mind you, these 2011's are by no means shy or lacking, in my opinion. They are rich, suave, deep, and well balanced, and unmistakenly California. The cooler year imprinted slightly better acidity, lower alcohol, and more complexity, which is manifested in nuances of herbs, spices and minerals un-clobbered by fruit. In a typical Napa vintage, the richness and chocolatiness will dominate the wine. Certainly over the years, California wineries have perfected that style to a very high bar of quality. However, in 2011, I see more balance. The Insignia is still a rich full-bodied wine at 14.15% alcohol (note: a Robert Parker review stated 14.1%), and comes across complex, polished and refined. The fact that Parker gave Insignia a slightly lower than usual score (90-93) is further indication that this wine is quite up my sleeve more so than a product of a "typical" high-scoring "blockbuster" year. Diamond Creek's wines are more rugged, darker, stonier, cooler, and at lower 13.5% alcohol, a little leaner and easier to drink with food. Diamond Creek's mountain expression and restrained sensibility reminds me of my favorites Dunn and Ridge - the old-school California classics, whereas Joseph Phelps occupies a spot somewhere in between the old school and the cult cabs, reminding me of Opus, Dominus, etc., certainly not reaching the concentration of Bond or Harlan.

In the end, I am quite intrigued and excited by the 2011 vintage in Napa, and will certainly continue to look for opportunities to taste and drink more of them.

Related Posts with Thumbnails