Archive for August, 2016

A History of the California Barrel Tastings: Part 1 “[N]o one will be able to hold California back”

August 17, 2016 2 comments

This is the first in a series of posts surveying the history behind the MacArthur Beverages California Barrel Tasting and its predecessor Gerald Asher’s California Vintners Barrel Tasting


This spring I tasted the 2015 Ridge, Monte Bello, thus marking my seventh year tasting barrel samples of the famed Cabernet Sauvignon from the Santa Cruz Mountains. Ridge’s history with the MacArthur Beverages California Barrel Tasting runs back to the first tasting held in Washington, DC, on June 6, 1986. They were one of 15 Californian producers showcasing their 1984 vintages. This was the very first tasting where the Californian barrel samples were offered as futures. It was not, however, the first California barrel tasting held on the east coast. Some ten year earlier 17 Californian wineries each poured a pair of wines in New York City. Amongst the wines poured was the 1975 and 1974 Ridge, Lytton Springs, Cabernet Sauvignon.

Not only did the first California barrel tasting take place in 1976 but so did the Judgment of Paris. This French versus California tasting has long been held as the pivotal point in the post-Prohibition history of Californian wine. This year marks the 40th anniversary of the famous tasting held in Paris by Steven Spurrier. In celebration, a wealth of articles were published that continued the claim that this was the turning or launching point that forever changed the world of wine.

The Judgement in Paris certainly helped change the world of Californian wine on an international level. But as Steve Heimhoff notes, California had been building an “identity and momentum” for decades prior. We can be more specific than that. A particular momentum began in 1969 and was described at the time as the “wine boom”. This boom was fueled by an increasing population of coming of age baby-boomers who were interested in drinking wine. Not only were foreign wines consumed in greater quantities so were those of California. The resultant increase in California vineyard area and the creation of new wineries was only accelerated by sky-rocketing French wine prices that left consumers looking for alternatives.

The wine boom is what enabled the first California barrel tasting and the Judgment of Paris to take place in 1976. They occurred during a pivotal year in Californian history because newly planted vineyards were finally bearing fruit and new markets for the wine were needed outside of the state. Incredibly, 40 years later the barrel tasting still provide a constant platform for the general public to taste these wines.

The New York City Years

The First Annual California Vintners Barrel Tasting Dinner took place at the Four Seasons Restaurant in New York City during March 1976. Nearly 200 wine enthusiasts paid $50 each to taste 34 wines over a 17 course dinner. Each winery brought both the 1975 vintage and an old vintage of the same wine. This selection resulted in 600 bottles of wine requiring 3,000 wine glasses. The glasses were used at least twice.

The dinner began at 7:30pm. Each wine was discussed by the winery owner or winemaker. These speeches overran the allotted times and table hopping guests clogged the aisles preventing timely table service. Attendees were instructed to remain sitting for the third intermission but the delays had already racked up. When Louis Martini introduced the crowd to his 1975 and 1970 vintages he began, “Good Morning.”

The tasting was organized by Gerald Asher, the English wine writer and wine distributor, who worked closely with Paul Kovi and Tom Margittai, co-owners of The Four Seasons. Seated at the high table with these three men were Joseph Baum, creator of The Four Seasons in 1959, James Beard, and Alexis Lichine. The original Four Seasons wine cellar was created by Joseph Baum, James Beard, and Alexis Lichine.

Alexis Lichine and James Beard were instrumental in the post-World War II development of the wine market in America. Together with Sam Aaron and Frank Schoonmaker, this group imported and educated the American public on European wines during the 1950s and 1960s. At the time of the Barrel Tasting the Four Seasons wine cellar reflected its classic beginnings as it was still deep on 1952 and 1953 Bordeaux vintages.

Paul Kovi loved wine, maintaining a staff of eight captains to help manage the 30,000 bottle cellar. The rise in popularity of Californian wines began in the late 1960s and Paul Kovi was one fan. American wine was a particular pride of his wine list, having stocked 80 different selections including 1968 and 1969 Heitz, Cabernet Sauvignon. It was a perfect that Gerald Asher would pair with The Four Seasons to host his Californian barrel tasting.

That the Californian barrel tasting was held in New York City was not solely the result of the natural curiosity of East Coast wine lovers. It was the result of a boom in wine consumption in America that began in 1969. This boom drove a year after year increase in Californian vineyard planting simultaneous with a run up in Bordeaux and Burgundy wine prices. When the Bordeaux market collapsed, the new Californian vineyards happened to begin yielding wine. There was battle for the American wine consumers by Californian and French interests which led to two French wine scandals.

Up next: The Wine Boom and Winegate

The 2016 MacArthur Beverages 31st California Barrel Tasting

MacArthur Beverages. 31st California Barrel Tasting. © James Finch. Rights owned by MacArthur Beverages. Used with permission.

MacArthur Beverages. 31st California Barrel Tasting. © James Finch. Rights owned by MacArthur Beverages. Used with permission.

This May I attended the 31st California Futures Tasting organized by Andy Creemer of MacArthur Beverages. This event is sponsored by MacArthur Beverages for the benefit of The Addy and Bruce Bassin Memorial Cancer Research Fund.  This year some some three dozen wineries poured 100 different wines at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel.  Each winery generally brought a Cabernet Sauvignon based wine from the 2014 vintage, still aging in wood, and an older vintage such as 2013.  There are exceptions as each year there is an increasing selection of Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and other blends.

This year I attended both the afternoon and evening sessions.  Despite spending a large amount of time tasting wine, it is impossible to get through everything in a meaningful fashion.  I tried to balance new wineries and rotate through the veterans.  The 2014 vintage was largely positive throughout California.  The wines I tasted are not tannic monsters.  Instead most of the wines offer plenty of flavor and supportive acidity.  This made for the least palate fatiguing tasting of the last few years.   You will find my tasting notes below.  Please note that most wines tasted were samples.   To order these and other wines please check out the California Futures page at MacArthur Beverages.

MacArthur Beverages. 31st California Barrel Tasting. © James Finch. Rights owned by MacArthur Beverages. Used with permission.

MacArthur Beverages. 31st California Barrel Tasting. © James Finch. Rights owned by MacArthur Beverages. Used with permission.

Arns Winery is located within a 160 acre estate of which only a small portion is planted with vines.

2012 Arns, Syrah
The nose is subtle with dark aromas yet leaves a fresh sensation. The creamy start moves to a core of racy, dark red and purple fruit. The wine is infused with glycerin and spice, seductive, and nice.

2012 Arns, Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
A familiar seduction but with more greenhouse and more grip. In a sense the wine is lighter but well framed by fine, ripe tannic texture. It mixes in some baking spices and leaves a cool aftertaste.

2014 Arns, Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
The subtle, dark nose is a touch rugged. The fruit is redder, mixing with vanilla, black tea, and a spicy finish. It is attractive but really needs time to integrate.

Banshee was started in 2009 by three friends who to make distinct wines. Katy Wilson is part of the winemaker team.

2014 Banshee, Pinot Noir, Marine Layer, Sonoma
This wine is tart with tightly rounded flavors supported by a lighter framed structure. Despite the youth there is a perfumed flavor towards the finish.

2014 Banshee, Pinot Noir, Tina Marie Vineyard, Russian River
The nose remained subtle and tight. The bright start brings dense, clean, red fruit flavors that take on a creamy edge as the wine expands. It becomes almost savory with some spice and supportive structure.

MacArthur Beverages. 31st California Barrel Tasting. © James Finch. Rights owned by MacArthur Beverages. Used with permission.

MacArthur Beverages. 31st California Barrel Tasting. © James Finch. Rights owned by MacArthur Beverages. Used with permission.

Barnett Vineyards was created by Fiona and Hal Barnet in 1983. Originally focusing on Cabernet Sauvignon wines the estate vineyards are located on steep terraces at the top of Spring Mountain located at 2,000 feet. Today they produce a variety of white and red wines with fruit sourced from estate and single-vineyard fruit.

2014 Barnett, Merlot, Spring Mountain
Ample fruit on the nose. In the mouth the savory, ripe fruit has no hard edges as it moves to a spicy middle. The weighty fruit persists through the end as does plenty of texture.

2014 Barnett, Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa
The wine is rich and spiced but bears a touch more of a grapey, purple personality. The wine is rather ripe and forward with less obvious acidity. This wine is all about seduction topped off with creamy flavors.

2014 Barnett, Cabernet Sauvignon, Rattlesnake, Napa
There is a touch more red fruit mixing with the core of ripe, black fruit. Though seductive and enveloping in flavor there is tang and spiciness to keep it balanced.

Russell Bevan and Victoria de Crescenzo were inspired to produce wine after meeting Philip Togni, Bob Foley, Greg La Follette, and Kal Showket.

2014 Bevan Cellars, Chardonnay, Ritchie Vineyard, Russian River
The wine is aromatic with tart yellow fruit and toast. In the mouth is a creamy, rounded start with toast and some citrus notes. This is all about the seductive mouthfeel.

2014 Bevan Cellars, Pinot Noir, Petaluma Gap, Sonoma Coast
Rich varietal aromas. This is a very fruity wine of red then black fruit which shows grip and has a vein of acidity. The finish continues the ample fruit with baking spices and ripe tannins.


Chateau Boswell has been releasing wine since the 1979 vintage when Andre Tchelistcheff was the winemaker. Today they focus on Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon.

2013 Boswell, Chardonnay, Ritchie Vineyard, Russian River
The nose is slightly nutty with both yellow and white fruit aromas. The creamy, rounded, toasty start is seductive. This wine is all about the body with glycerin and fat. There is a hint of yeast and baking spices as well.

MacArthur Beverages. 31st California Barrel Tasting. © James Finch. Rights owned by MacArthur Beverages. Used with permission.

MacArthur Beverages. 31st California Barrel Tasting. © James Finch. Rights owned by MacArthur Beverages. Used with permission.

Donelan is a small family winery in Sonoma County which aims to express the terroir of their vineyard sites.

2014 Donelan, Two Brothers, Pinot Noir
Varietal aromas. There is a cool start of red and black fruit, a rich middle, acidity, and texture tannins. A core of tasty flavors carries through the end.

2013 Donelan, Syrah, Cuvee Christine, Sonoma County
A rounded start moves on to tart fruit then this youthful wine becomes inky and dense. The structure is supportive for aging.

2014 Donelan, Syrah, Cuvee Christine, Sonoma County
The nose is a little grapey. The rich flavors of ripe red and blue fruit have a lighter frame with less structure.

2014 Donelan, Syrah, Obsidian Vineyard, Knights Valley
There are tight flavors of blue and black fruit with fine grained tannins which make for a spicy, stone-flavored finish.

EMH Vineyards originated in 1999 when Merrill Lindquist purchased her estate. The Special Selection is produced using just a portion of the wine from the various barrels. This maintains the quality of the base wine.

2014 EMH Vineyards, Cabernet Sauvignon, Black Cat, Napa
The good aromas of cassis make way to flavors of licorice and herbs.

2014 EMH Vineyards, Cabernet Sauvignon, Special Selection, Napa
This wine stands up right away with dense flavors of tart red fruit, puckering acidity, and a touch of ink.

2012 EMH Vineyards, Cabernet Sauvignon, Black Cat, Napa
The tart red fruit takes on some black fruit in this tangy wine. I particularly like the grip. This is showing well in its youth.

2013 EMH Vineyards, Cabernet Sauvignon, Black Cat, Napa
The nose is perfumed. In the mouth are dense, lower-lying flavors of dark red fruit and black fruit. With good texture and a seductive nature, this wine is drinking well.

MacArthur Beverages. 31st California Barrel Tasting. © James Finch. Rights owned by MacArthur Beverages. Used with permission.

MacArthur Beverages. 31st California Barrel Tasting. © James Finch. Rights owned by MacArthur Beverages. Used with permission.

Mark Herold started working in the wine business as a Research Oenologist at Joseph Phelps Vineyard. After his own 1998 Merus he started a consulting business where he has worked with Kamen, Kobalt, and others. Amongst other vessels he employs concrete cubes and not eggs.

2012 Mark Herold Wines, Flux
The dense, tart red flavors of strawberry come to a tangy middle. The good fruit persists with the structure.

2012 Mark Herold Wines, Collide
A youthful, rugged nose is followed by tangy, drying berries in the mouth. The uncrushable fruit expands by the finish where the integrated structure bears out.

2013 Mark Herold Wines, Cabernet Sauvignon
The nose is pure and aromatic. With a cool profile, there is an ample core of fruit. It is showing well with the structure and acidity in balance.

2013 Mark Herold Wines, White Label
The brighter start soon makes way to some good, inky fruit, all framed by structure. Needs age.

2014 Mark Herold Wines, Flux
Young oak aromas on the nose. There are flavors of tart, red fruit and very fine tannins as the wine becomes drier towards the finish. Tight.

2014 Mark Herold Wines, Collide
The red fruit is clean and deep, standing up to the good dose of fine tannins. It takes on spices and leaves a dry, red fruit fruited finish.

2014 Mark Herold Wines, Brown Label
The nose sports herbs. This savory, herb infused wine leaves textured fruit on the tongue. It has an attractive mouthfeel.

MacArthur Beverages. 31st California Barrel Tasting. © James Finch. Rights owned by MacArthur Beverages. Used with permission.

MacArthur Beverages. 31st California Barrel Tasting. © James Finch. Rights owned by MacArthur Beverages. Used with permission.

Paul Hobbs Wines was founded in 1991 and produces small production wines from fruit sourced from the highest quality vineyards. Today he also produces wine in Argentina under the Vina Cobos label and additionally imports wines.

2014 Paul Hobbs, Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
Youthful fruit aromas make way to dense, similar fruit in the mouth. This savory wine has seamlessly integrated structure and the right amount of supportive acidity.

2014 Paul Hobbs, Cabernet Sauvignon, Nathan Coombs Estate
With more fruit on the nose there are flavorful, racy, purple flavors in the mouth which persist through the aftertaste. There is a slightly salty aspect. The lovely structure is firm but not overbearing as the wine wraps up with a spicy finish.

Keever Vineyards is a family winery located in Yountville.

2014 Keever, Cabernet Sauvignon Estate, Napa
Ripe fruit aromas mix with attractive, sweet greenhouse notes. In the mouth are rich, racy, mineral flavors that turn blacker towards the finish. This flavorful wine is supple at first before it firms up from the structure.

2011 Keever, Cabernet Sauvignon Blend, Inspirado
There are good aromas of mixed herbs and greenhouse. The wine is surprisingly mouthfilling with ripe and spicy flavors that are in no way heavy. The somewhat savory wine continues to expand with thick texture, ripe spices, and some softening structure.

The Jack Larkin estate is named after Sean Larkin’s son. The Cabernet Sauvignon is sourced from Pritchard Hills Melanson Vineyard which is farmed by John Arns. The Cabernet Franc is sourced from a family vineyard just north of Napa.

2014 Jack Larkin, Cabernet Franc
There is a subtle, grapey nose. In the mouth is enveloped with ripe blue fruit and strawberries. This sexy wine sports a lot of baking spices, less obvious acidity, and spicy finish of drying tannins.

2014 Jack Larkin, Larkin Red
The flavors are tautly coiled with spiced blue and black fruit, the right amount of acidity, and a black stony finish. A big wine.

Miner Family Wines was founded in 1996. They produce a wide range of wines using many vineyards. The wines are aged in underground caves.

2012 Miner, Oracle, Napa
This wine is linear, tight, and well-focused. Right now it is less forgiving and more structured.

2014 Miner, Oracle, Napa
The muted nose does not hint at the sweeter, fruity start. The spicy structure soon comes out as the wine fills the mouth with flavor and very fine tannins. There is acidity moving it along with an aftertaste of cocoa.

Pahlmeyer history begins when Jayson Pahlmeyer and his friend John Caldwell traveled to Bordeaux in 1972 where they acquired cuttings from five varietals. The Caldwell family owned a 55-acre parcel where they set about creating a vineyard. It took six years for the vineyard to be productive. The history is marked by amazing connections such as Randy Dunn’s period as winemaker, Bob Levy work with Chardonnay, and Helen Turley’s period as winemaker. Today Helen’s assistant Erin Green is now the winemaker.

2013 Pahlmeyer, Proprietary Red, Napa
The nose is subtle, not yielding much. In the mouth are tart, red fruit flavors that become puckering with a spicy, inky finish.

This wine is produced from vines on a ~6 acre vineyard located at 1,000 feet in elevation. The vineyard is west-facing so it receives the afternoon sun. There is only one tank so everything is blended in then fermented with indigenous yeasts.

2014 Peacock, Cabernet Sauvignon, Spring Mountain
This aromatic wine is accessible in the mouth with its almost inky, ripe black fruit. The fruit mixes with spices, both good acidity and structure, and an attractive herbal/spiced note. Quite approachable.

Priest Ranch wines are produced by Craig Becker of Somerstone Winery, drawing fruit from vineyards located throughout the 1,600 acre estate.

2014 Priest Ranch, Sauvignon Blanc
The nose is grassy with floral pastille aromas. The good acidity on the start brings a floral middle with tart flavor and more acidity on the sides of the tongue. There is a good mouthfeel with tart white fruit and a textured finish.

2014 Priest Ranch, Grenache Blanc
The brighter nose leads to an almost piercing start before the fruit comes out in the mouth. There are rounded edges to the wine with both weight and texture leading to peach flavors in the finish. It wraps up with some tang and tannins.

2013 Priest Ranch, Cabernet Sauvignon, Celestial Block
This tangy wine has a dense start with slowly building power and flavor through the finish. It culminates with salty, minerally, black fruit.

2014 Priest Ranch, Cabernet Sauvignon, Celestial Block
The cranberry accented nose makes way to a good tart flavors and fuzzily textured red fruit. The watering acidity moves the wine towards a finish of nice, coating ripe tannins.

2012 Priest Ranch, Coach Gun, Napa
This wine quickly builds a punch of flavor. With mouth coating tannins this young wine brings forth blacker fruit by the finish which pairs well with the cream and spiced aftertaste. This is a sense of minerality in this taut wine.

2014 Priest Ranch, Coach Gun, Napa
A more approachable wine with an herbal hint, cocoa notes, and a powerful, very fine structure. The dense black fruit is there for the structure to integrate with over time.

Ravenswood was founded in the 1970s by Joel Peterson.  Though he began with Zinfandel he soon expanded to use Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.  Today he also produces blends reminiscent of wines from before Prohibition.

2014 Ravenswood, Icon, Sonoma
There are darkish aromas of rich fruit. In the mouth the good acidity moves the blue and red fruit flavors. The oak is supportive, coming out as fine dry tannins at the end.

2014 Ravenswood, Pickberry, Sonoma
The nose is subtle but the medium weight flavors are forward and mouthfilling. The good dark flavors exist with good acidity and gobs of tannin.

Relic began in 2001 by making a few barrels of Pinot Noir. Today they produce wine from many different varietals sourced from Napa Valley and the Sonoma Coast.

2015 Relic, Pinot Noir, Putnam Vineyard
Good nose with spices. The flavors are quick to expand in the mouth but are not heavy and supported by tart acidity. The fruit has good depth and a citric hint in the finish. Spicy aftertaste.

2014 Relic, The Prior, Cabernet Franc
Good fruit aromas mix with herbs and black tea. The dense fruit mixes with herbs before weaving in ripe texture in this savory wine. The herbs come back in the finish along with a mineral streak. It exhibits good power and eventually some creamy black notes.

2014 Relic, Artefact, Cabernet Sauvignon, Sonoma
Savory, herbal aromas move on to low-lying, dense, sweet fruit in the mouth. This seductive wine has blacker ripe fruit with good, seductive texture. Though there is a strong dose of fine ripe tannins but the wine packs deep flavor to match it.

MacArthur Beverages. 31st California Barrel Tasting. © James Finch. Rights owned by MacArthur Beverages. Used with permission.

MacArthur Beverages. 31st California Barrel Tasting. © James Finch. Rights owned by MacArthur Beverages. Used with permission.

The Monte Bello vineyard was originally planted in 1886 in the Santa Cruz mountains. The vineyard fell into disrepair during Prohibition and was essentially abandoned in the 1940s. In 1949 eight acres of Cabernet Sauvignon were replanted with the rest of the vineyard following suit. Ridge continued the tradition of presenting two barrels samples.

2015 Ridge, Monte Bello, Santa Cruz Mountain
Aromas of cassis, florals, some greenhouse, and perhaps oak. This is a lively wine with great integration of the acidity. The textured purplish fruit builds towards the black fruited finish which then leaves persistent red fruit in the mouth. Fine drying tannins.

2014 Ridge, Monte Bello, Santa Cruz Mountain
Rather aromatic with flavors that follow the nose. The deep fruit and citric grip is a good match for the dose of tannins. The core of flavors shows good potential for the future.

2013 Ridge, Monte Bello, Santa Cruz Mountain
The dense, flavors of tart red fruit mix with some herbs. The flavors become deeper with extended air, showing fine harmony, good fruit and acidity.

La Rue was founded in 2009 by winemaker Katy Wilson. She produces Chardonnay and Pinot Noir sourced from vineyards on the Sonoma Coast. She also makes wine at Banshee.

2013 La Rue, Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast
Great varietal nose. The fruit weighs on the tongue with clean flavors that take on good acidity. There wine is lighter in weight with some toasty tannins. Needs time to open up.

2013 La Rue, Pinot Noir, Rice-Spivak Vineyard, Sonoma Coast
The nose bears low-lying, attractive musky red fruit. There is a more electric start of tart cranberry fruit and a creamy middle. There is a sense of lightness with more structure evident through the finish. Will certainly age.

Sanguis is the result of Matthias Pippig’s farming and winemaking efforts. His Loner series of wines are all single-varietal wines, two of which are sourced from the John Sebastiano Vineyard. This vineyard spans over 1200 feet in elevation. It is cool and always windy, so much so that rye grass is planted between the rows to control the wind. The vines were planted in 2007 and though they are only pruned 20-25% the yields are very low. For the Loner series of Chardonnay the fruit from the different vineyards is treated the same.

2013 Sanguis, Chardonnay Loner W-13a, Bien Nacido
A yeasty nose moves on to an effortless and ethereal start before roundted and subtly textured flavors drape the tongue. The acidity is there as the wine picks up interest from biking spices and lees. There is some dryness and good structure.

2013 Sanguis, Chardonnay/Roussanne Borrowed, Santa Barbara
Higher-toned aromas with a touch of rich, botrytis like influence. The dense start brings racy, complex, tropical fruit in the middle and white nuts in the end. It is gentle in a sense.

2013 Sanguis, Pinot Noir Loner R-13 Santa Barbara
The scented nose has tart aromas of berry punch. A softer start brings low-lying, complex red fruit, black tea, then blacker fruit flavors. The black tea and mixed herbs bring interest. It wraps up with drying structure for aging.

2013 Sanguis, Grenache Verve, Santa Barbara
This fruit forward wine is rounded with sweet strawberries and cream accented by spices. It is salty in the midpalate with dense textured fruit, perfumed finish, and spices galore. Very drinkable.

2013 Sanguis, Syrah Pilgrim, Santa Barbara
A good clean nose entices before the blue and black fruit. This is a rich wine with baking spices and structure packed in there. The fruit can handle it but there is a sense of heat. The spicy aftertaste climbs up the nose.

The fruit for the Esprit de Tablas is sourced from vines propagated from budwood cutting from the Chateau de Beaucastel estate in the Rhone. The 120 acre vineyard is certified organic. The fruit is fermented in open and closed stainless steel fermenters using native yeasts. The wines go into barrel then are blended and aged in 1200-gallon French oak foudres.

2014 Tablas Creek, Espirit de Beaucastel, San Luis Obispo
There is plenty of berry fruit on the nose. The rounded, tart red start is followed by pastilles and lots of strawberry flavor. There is texture, a good mouth feel, and very fine structure before the spicy aftertaste.

MacArthur Beverages. 31st California Barrel Tasting. © James Finch. Rights owned by MacArthur Beverages. Used with permission.

MacArthur Beverages. 31st California Barrel Tasting. © James Finch. Rights owned by MacArthur Beverages. Used with permission.

David Tate is the winemaker at Barnette yet produces small lots of wine under his own label using fruit from micro-vineyards.

2014 Tate, Cabernet Sauvignon, St Helena
There is a good nose of cassis and licorice. There is a ripe start but the acidity and structure are immediately supportive. This enveloping and generous wine finishes with baking spices and textured, ripe tannins.

Three Clicks is named on account of the first journalist, Harry Allen Smith, to legally drink alcohol after the repeal of Prohibition. He allegedly received a “three click” telegraph notifying him of repeal. The Grenache Blanc is sourced from Gary Branham’s vines at Rockpile. This area is known for its red wines so it took some convincing to get these vines planted. As such they were only planted several years ago and this is the first bottling from them.

2015 Three Clicks, Grenache Blanc, Rockpile Vineyard, Napa
Aromas of fruit punch on the nose. A tangy, tart start of citrus fruit comes off the tongue tip to bring a creamy, textured midpalate of tropical fruit. There is a good cut of dryness, texture, and acidity at the end.

MacArthur Beverages. 31st California Barrel Tasting. © James Finch. Rights owned by MacArthur Beverages. Used with permission.

MacArthur Beverages. 31st California Barrel Tasting. © James Finch. Rights owned by MacArthur Beverages. Used with permission.

Wayfarer Vineyard is the project of Jayson Pahlmeyer. The vineyard was planted in 2002 with the fruit originally blended under the Pahlmeyer label. It was in 2012 that the fruit was produced under the Wayfarer label.

2013 Wayfarer Vineyard, Fort Ross Seaview
The nose is aromatic with mulberries. In the mouth is a compact, darker start that soon fills the mouth with red fruit, stones, and black fruit all bound together. It takes on some cocoa, sweet tannins, and a mineral hint. This is a fruity, forward wine.

MacArthur Beverages. 31st California Barrel Tasting. © James Finch. Rights owned by MacArthur Beverages. Used with permission.

MacArthur Beverages. 31st California Barrel Tasting. © James Finch. Rights owned by MacArthur Beverages. Used with permission.

The deLeuze family have been producing wine since the first vintage of Pinot Noir in 1969. Since 1987, the winery has focused in on Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Cabernet Sauvignon.

2014 ZD Wines, Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa
The acidity driven black fruit is well matched by the structure. There are hints of cocoa in the tannic finish. Quite a nice wine for aging.

2013 ZD Wines, Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve, Napa
The nose is a little deeper and meaty leading to a savory, dense wine. It exhibits good play between the black fruit and structure.

2013 ZD Wines, Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa
This dense, black flavored wine becomes savory with great structure that is well integrated. There is a sense of electricity making this a compelling wine.

MacArthur Beverages. 31st California Barrel Tasting. © James Finch. Rights owned by MacArthur Beverages. Used with permission.

MacArthur Beverages. 31st California Barrel Tasting. © James Finch. Rights owned by MacArthur Beverages. Used with permission.

The 2016 MacArthur Beverages 31st Annual California Futures Tasting Notes Are Coming!

The notes are typed up and the pictures are selected.  My post on the 2016 MacArthur Beverages 31st Annual California Futures Tasting will come out next week.  In the meantime please enjoy this gallery of barrel sample labels.

The 2013 Vaglio Aggie, another fine import by Brazos

After trying the lovely 2013 Rogue Vine, Super Itata Tinto I decided to try another wine from the Brazos Wine Imports portfolio. This time I went from Chile to Argentina.  Vaglio is a “micro-winery” run by José LoVaglio Balbo who is the son of Susanna Balbo.   You might recognize the Balbo name because she has a well known winery in Argentina.  There are four wines produced at Vaglio, each of which focuses in on a single vineyard with a different micro-climate.  The 2013 Vaglio, Aggie, Valle de Uco is made using fruit from vines located at nearly 4,000 feet in elevation!  What you get is a forward wine that engages all of your mouth.  There is tasty fruit, ripe gum-coating tannins, and acidity that causes you to salivate.  Check it out!  This wine is available at MacArthur Beverages.


2013 Vaglio, Aggie, Valle de Uco – $18
Imported by Brazos Wine Imports.  This wine is 100% Malbec.  Alcohol 13.9%.  The herbaceous nose builts ripeness with air.  In the mouth are ripe red and black fruit, well integrated with an herbaceous flavor.  The wine is almost inky, coating the gums with flavor and moderately ripe tannins.  The structure give some firm support as does the firm acidity.  The later builds until the salivating and puckering finish.  The aftertaste leaves an herbal perfumed mixture in the mouth.  *** Now – 2019.


Domaine Rimbert in Top Form

The wines of Jean-Marie Rimbert continue to provide moving examples of old-vine Carignan farmed predominantly on soils of schiste.  I have drunk a few bottles of 2013 Domaine Rimbert, Les Travers de Marceau, Saint-Chinian that have shown some variability.  When in top form, this wine will compel you to drink the earthy, red fruit.  It is a rounded wine with fine tannins and integrated acidity that should drink well for a few more years.  Though I do not see any reason to hold back.  The 2012 Domaine Rimbert, Le Mas au Schiste, Saint-Chinian adds Grenache into the mix.  This is a thicker, coating wine with flavors in the kirsch and garrigue spectrum.  It has a bit more stuffing so I would recommend you cellar it a year or two with the goal of the nose becoming more expressive.  Priced at $15 and $18 these are well priced for their uniqueness.  These wines are available at MacArthur Beverages.


2013 Domaine Rimbert, Les Travers de Marceau, Saint-Chinian – $15
Imported by Dionysos Imports.  This wine is a blend of 50% Syrah and 50% Carignan. Alcohol 12.5%.  The earthy nose bears the slightest yeast hint and develops a green pepper scent with air.  In the mouth is a rounded start that fills the mouth with earthy flavors.  The fine tannins build as earth mixes with fuzzy red fruit.  The acidity keeps the wine fresh but is completely integrated.  This earthy wine continues to have a berry core that eventually morphs into a ripe, strawberry finish with a dry aftertaste.  Nice wine.  *** Now – 2018.


2012 Domaine Rimbert, Le Mas au Schiste, Saint-Chinian – $18
Imported by Dionysos Imports.  This wine is a blend of 33% Carignan, 33% Syrah, and 33% Grenache with 33% aged in old barrels.  Alcohol 13%.  The slightly shy nose reveals kirsch which is soon joined by fruit.  There is a thicker start with slightly savory flavors of kirsch and black minerals.  With air the wine adds garrigue to the mix and seemingly becomes thicker as it takes on more black minerality.  The dry finish evokes the stone soils just before the wine coats the entire mouth. *** Now – 2025.

Mature Champagne from a traditional Bristol merchant

Bristol, England is a major port that has a rich, long history of importing wine.  It is no surprise then that wine merchants founded centuries ago still exist today.  My familiarity with the wine merchant Avery’s of Bristol dates back to the eve of their 200th anniversary in 1993. For centuries past, wine was imported in barrel then bottled by British merchant such as Avery’s.  This practice continued until the mid to late 20th century.  Though British bottling died out due to the rise of domaine bottling, the tradition of these merchants selling wine under their own label still exists today.  The NV Avery’s, Special Cuvee, Champagne Brut is one such example.  For over 50 years the Boizel Champagne house has produced a special Pinot Noir based cuvee for Avery’s.

The Boizel Champagne house was founded in 1834 but it was with the great 1961 vintage that Rene Boizel created the first cuvée spéciale for France.  It is from this period that the Avery’s cuvee was created.  This cuvee is available online at the Avery’s website but the bottle which Mannie Berk recently shared with me is no current release.  Instead it dates to the 1980s and speaks to another great British tradition, that of aging Champagne.  The three decades of age have given the wine a golden color, taken the firm edges off the bubbles, and developed a lovely mature flavor.  With air this Avery’s Champagne shows its strength yet never loses the balance between effervescence, mature flavors, and integrated acidity.  I think it is drinking great right now, just be sure to follow it over a couple hours as it breaths.  I just checked and it appears on The Rare Wine Co website.  If you cannot wait three decades for the current release to mature then snag a few bottles while you can.


NV Avery’s, Special Cuvee, Champagne Brut
Imported by The Rare Wine Co.  Alcohol 12%.  An attractive golden toast color greets the eye.  In the mouth this mature Champagne is almost inky with a good amount of bubbles at the start.  Flavors of dark, yellow fruit mixes with baking spices that come out with the prickles on the tongue.  The mature fruit is eventually replaced by a chalky, finely textured finish.  With air the wine builds attractive spice and toast notes.  **** Now but will last.

A Casual Tasting Involving 2013 Finger Lakes Riesling to 1979 Sonoma Valley Cabernet Sauvignon

Earlier this week my brother-in-law and I went over to Lou’s house to taste a selection of primarily American wines.  Lou recently brought back a bunch of wine purchased during his vacation in the Finger Lakes.  The 2013 Forge Cellars, Riesling, Finger Lakes is the first bottle he has shared with me from this new stash.  It is a collaborative project involving Louis Barruol of Chateau Ste Cosme in the Rhone.  It is also interesting because Louis Barruol decided to use old oak when making the Riesling.  This version is crisp and tart but it remained mostly closed throughout the evening.  I would revisit it a few years from now.  Our second white is the $6 dump bin selection of 2006 Barnett Vineyards, Chardonnay, Sangiacomo Vineyard, Carneros.  This is a barrel fermented and sur lie aged Chardonnay which exudes the richness you can obtain in California.  Lovers of this style of wine will gush over it more than I do but I can write that with air it is an enjoyable fully mature wine.

As for the red wines we started with and promptly moved over the 1979 Chateau Prieure-Lichine, Margaux.  The 1982 vintage of this wine still provides pleasure but this 1979 is past any enjoyable drinking window.  We opened it as a vintage pair to the 1979 Gundlach Bundschu Winery, Cabernet Sauvignon, 125th Anniversary Selection, Rhine Farm Vineyards, Sonoma Valley.  The 1979 is admittedly not the best Californian vintage and it reflects in the aromatic hints that this wine is moving past maturity.  It came from the Earthquake Cellar hence the label arrived stained and is not a reflection of us spilling wine everywhere.  The wine is pretty tasty in the mouth and was not frail.  It really is just the nose holding this one back.  Completely different is the very youthful 1989 Clos du Val, Cabernet Sauvignon, Stags Leap District, Napa Valley.  It is slightly herbaceous in a good way, bright, acidic, and structured.  I like the floral aspect and believe you should drink this up now.

We required one more bottle of wine to finish up our sous-vide then grilled flank steak so the cork came out of the 1999 Ravenswood, Pickberry Vineyard, Sonoma.  It offered up flavorful black, bramble berries with some added complexity from age.  This dump bin find is drinking at its top form right now and would make an interesting alternative as a daily drinker.  In the end, none of the wines blew me away or really captivated my attention but that is fine as I spent a good amount of time talking and not taking notes.


2013 Forge Cellars, Riesling, Finger Lakes
Alcohol 12.8%.  The color is a lighter, yellow green.  The Riesling aromas moves to a richer note of petrol flavor in the mouth that exists in a tart and crisp wine.  There is some body but the fruit is largely closed down.  The wine is very fresh and tart with a chalky finish.  It does round out a bit with air but it really needs several years of age to integrate and open up.  **(*) 2018-2022.


2006 Barnett Vineyards, Chardonnay, Sangiacomo Vineyard, Carneros
This wine is 100% Chardonnay which was barrel fermented then aged sur lie.  Alcohol 14.8%.  The nose is of yeast and toast that speaks to the winemaking.  In the mouth is a round, glycerin loaded, ripe fruit start.  This wine bears a lot of wine with some green apple flavors and just enough acidity.  It actually brightens up with air and reveals its mature flavors.  ** Now.


1979 Chateau Prieure-Lichine, Margaux
Imported by Woodley Wine & Liquor.  Alcohol 13%.  There are advanced aromas and roast on the nose.  In the mouth there is a bright start but the wine is too advanced with thin flavors and structure still around.  Past! Not Rated.


1979 Gundlach Bundschu Winery, Cabernet Sauvignon, 125th Anniversary Selection, Rhine Farm Vineyards, Sonoma Valley
Alcohol 13.0%.  The nose speaks of its age and there is a roast hint.  In the mouth this wine has good body and red fruit flavors.  The sweet, powdery fruit coats the mouth leaving ripe tannins on the gums.  Attractive.  ** Now.


1989 Clos du Val, Cabernet Sauvignon, Stags Leap District, Napa Valley
Alcohol 13.1%.  The nose is fresh and  slightly herbaceous.  There is still fresh red fruit in the mouth with a balance between fresh floral flavors and an inky hint.  It is a nice wine that becomes a little shy with air.  I believe the structure will ultimately outlive the fruit.  Why not just drink it now?  *** Now but will easily last.


1999 Ravenswood, Pickberry Vineyard, Sonoma
This wine is a blend of 72% Merlot, 25% Cabernet Sauvigon, and 3% Cabernet Franc. Alcohol 13.6%.  There are plummy, black fruit and bramble berries.  Rather flavorful but the acidity and structure balance make for a good feeling in the mouth.  There is a good balance between bottle aged complexity and fruit.  *** Now.