Chappellet Winery on Pritchard Hill: Come for the Wine and Stay for the View

Just recently, I visited Chappellet Winery. Chappellet is located high on Pritchard Hill and was the second winery to make its home there. This winery is truly a family affair, as the Chappellets have resided and grown vines here since 1967. They are most known for their cabernets, which have great depth and concentration.

Pritchard Hill is situated in the Vaca Mountains, which are on the eastern side of Napa Valley and have elevations of 700-2,000 feet. This height allows the vines early morning sun with more moderate temperatures. For the grapes, it provides a wonderful environment to develop deep flavors. For us – it is a setting that provides great views.

The Chappellets have been real stewards of Pritchard Hill. They were certified organic in 2012, they have installed solar panels for electricity to sustain the property, and they established a gray water process for irrigation, and more. They value the land, and it has provided them with wines of depth and finesse.

When I visited, it was a clear day after the rain. The view was glorious and in keeping with the wine. I had the distinct pleasure of a private tour of the winery and vineyards. We started inside the winery with Chenin Blanc – very little is grown in the valley. We walked the vineyards with a Chardonnay in hand. This was an opportunity to learn about the plantings and the evolution of the winery itself. Back inside, I tasted the ’11 Cab Franc and was blown away by the ’09 Pritchard Hill Cabernet. This is their flagship wine – a real beauty! It was open and fragrant with real richness and a long finish. The ’12 Pritchard Hill has already been rated by Robert Parker and been given 99 points – near perfect. I cannot wait to taste that. This is a winery worth the trip, and the wine is wonderful.

For details, check out their website. Like many wineries, you need an appointment to do a tasting here.



Wine Spectator’s Top 100 Wines of 2014

It is that time of the year again when Wine Spectator announces and lists its top 100 wines of the year! Movies have their Emmys, sports have their Espys, music has its Grammys, and so on. Such is the “case” for wine (pun intended). Remember that this is not an industry announcement, but an evaluation of a magazine with seasoned and experienced tasters making their judgments – so there is some credence to their assessments. This is what Wine Spectator states about their list:

“Each year since 1988, Wine Spectator has released its Top 100 list, where our editors select the most exciting wines from the thousands we reviewed during the course of the year.

Vintage showed its trump card in this year’s wine releases, influencing key shifts in the makeup of the 2014 Top 100 list, which includes wines from 14 foreign countries and three U.S. states. California, France and Italy play major roles as in years past, but with an atypical mix of grape varieties and regions. Meanwhile, some countries saw big upticks in their numbers on the list, due to magnificent vintages and continued improvements in the vineyards and wineries.

Our editors found dozens of thought-provoking wines among the 18,000 we tasted in 2014. Whether from emerging labels and regions or historic estates upholding tradition, these wines turned our heads for a singularity and authenticity we call the X-factor.

Our selection also prioritizes quality (based on score), value (based on price) and availability (based on the volume of cases either made or imported). These criteria were applied to determine the Top 100 from among the more than 5,400 wines that rated outstanding (90 points or higher on Wine Spectator’s 100-point scale) this year.”

At this time of the year, the magazine allows everyone access to their website to view the list. Otherwise, you need a subscription to the magazine, which can also afford you access to the on-line edition. Here is where to go to peruse the list: Top 100 Wines of 2014.  If you click on the plus signs next to the wine on the list, you will get a descriptor of the wine.

Obtaining these wines may pose a challenge, yet it’s worth the try. For Chardonnay fans, you will see that Rombauer 2012 made the list. Also a notable wine was the Amavi Cabernet, which is quite a value. Turley made the list again, this time with their Zinfandel called Juvenile, a wine that is $20 from the winery. Herman Story won a spot with their Grenache, On the Road 2011. Notable is the presence of Mollydooker with two offerings – Carnival of Love and Bella’s Garden – both rich Shirazes.

One of the opportunities that the Top 100 list offers us all is the opportunity to explore. With this recommendation in hand, we can feel comfortable trying wines from other countries and see what gems there are to taste. This listing contains wines from Italy, France, Argentina, Australia, Spain, Germany, and Austria – the world is yours to choose from and experiment. The list can serve as an entrée to explore other wine varietals.

What you will notice is the small number of California wines that gained recognition on this list this year. 2011was a challenging growing season in California, and I believe you can see the impact by the absence of many California wines in the Top 100. Nonetheless, it is always fun to see the “reveal” each year and to see wines that I may have tasted or purchased get some accolades. Remember though, what is most important in the end is what pleases your palate.



Biale’s Black Chicken: This Bird Can Party!

Zinfandel can be many things; yet, for me, it was once a little known varietal. I did not appreciate its multitude of expressions. Well, that was before Biale’s Black Chicken. I remember the bottle and that vintage where I first met this party animal, and I’ve been a fan ever since.

It was the 2004 Biale Black Chicken. Previously, I had dismissed Zinfandel as a big fruity wine with a single note. It all changed when I met this bird. It was amazingly fresh; there was depth of flavor and a degree of complexity and richness I had not discovered before in this varietal. I kept buying it vintage after vintage and sharing the gem with my friends. Trust me, I sold a lot of this wine – no commission – just the pleasure of knowing my friends were enjoying a great wine with a modest price.

Yet that was over 10 years ago – and the Biale winery is still a keeper. It is located in the southern part of the valley in Napa itself. The tastings are by appointment only, and you can expect your line-up to include five wines. Vineyards surround the winery and tasting room. You can sit outside on the porch and enjoy a clear view of the vines. Biale makes Zinfandel and Petit Sirah from single vineyards in Sonoma and Napa. Each bottle represents a specific vineyard with clearly a different expression. Part of the fun here is to sip through different wines and discern the differences of the vineyard from whence it came.

Fun should be a part of your visit. This is a winery that has a sense of humor. The mailers that they send out represent that sense of lightheartedness, and you will see it in the tasting. Just recently, on our visit, we were hosted by “Coach” who has been with the winery for many years and enjoys sharing the quality and caliber of Biale Wines with visitors. I highly recommend a visit when you are in the area or try a bottle if you can’t get to the area. Biale’s production is such that they have distribution across the country. Check their website to find a location near you!


Buccella: Industrial on the Outside, Luxurious on the Inside

The Buccella tasting room can be found in the southern tip of Napa Valley, located in an industrial setting. It was only recently that the tasting room has been open to visit. This is an appointment-only tasting and well worth the effort and time. Do not go looking for vineyard or mountain views — this is a stop to experience the wine, learn about Buccella’s wine making philosophy, and taste through some beautiful wines hosted by Gwen who leads their hospitality team. She is knowledgeable about the winery and will walk you through the richness of the experience. The tasting room itself is lovely and well appointed. Check out the pictures for an up close and personal view.

Since the winery is located on the same property as the tasting room, and with the activity of harvest happening on our visit, it was quite the experience. The grapes where being brought in, de-stemmed, and moved to the sorting table. Several ladies were sorting as the grapes were prepared for crush, pulling grapes that did not make the cut. Winemaker Rebekah Wineburg was checking the sugar and overseeing the lots. Rebekah has been the winemaker since 2009 and holds a Masters Degree in Enology and Viticulture from the University of California at Davis. She has great experience from Italy, New Zealand, and Napa Valley, all of which she brings to Buccella. All around us, there was a flurry of activity and purpose as they prepared the grapes for their evolution to wine.

For our tasting that day, we started out with the 2013 Sauvignon Blanc. This wine is only sold at the tasting room, and it was a standout. I could not stop coming back to the glass, sip after sip. The wine had a bright lively acidity, stone fruit, and a soft, round mouth feel. This is truly an outstanding value for only $35 a bottle. We then were presented with three luxurious cabernets. All were big, textured wines with rich flavors. The nose alone on all three was captivating with flowers and dark red/black fruit. We tasted through the 2010 Cuvee Katrina Eileen, 2011 Cabernet, and the 2011 Cuvee Katrina Eileen. These all were big wines with layers of flavor. The flagship cabernet has been one I have enjoyed for years, as it is silky, textured and complex. They are big flavors that sail on and beg for another sip.

Buccella makes Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Sauvignon Blanc, and a new Rhone wine with grapes from Shake Ridge in Amador County called Mixed Blacks. These wines are graceful in the glass and silky expressions of their varietals. For many, these are special occasion wines that you deserve to afford yourself the opportunity to experience.


Good Cabernet for $15??

Most people say that it is easy to buy a good bottle of cabernet for $50. The real challenge is finding the good bottle for much less. Well, given the challenge, I had to post this for your palate and pocket experience. This comes from Wine Spectator Advance; and, after reading about it, I had to share it with you.

Columbia Crest
Cabernet Sauvignon Horse Heaven Hills H3 2012
92 points | $15 | 162,000 cases made | Red
“Dark and spicy, billowing with plum, currant and white chocolate flavors, picking up pear and white tea notes as the finish lingers with refinement. The tannins are submerged. Drink now through 2018.” —H.S.

Horse Heaven Hills is dry, warm and windy. It is planted to about 12,000 acres of wine grapes (4,000 to cabernet sauvignon) in the southern Columbia Valley of Washington state. This AVA has garnered perfect scores with wines in the past. I am not touting a perfect experience with this wine; yet, for the price, it is worth a try. The production is large enough that it should be available in your area.

Let me know your thoughts.