Category Archives: California

Villa Stellaria 2014 Petit Verdot

Alexander Valley 14.1% ABV
100% Petit Verdot
Cellared and bottled by Fitch Mountain Vineyards in Healdsburg, CA
$7.99 at the San Diego, CA (Downtown), store on 3 June

JoelA and Zoel so nicely and accurately described the wine in their posts from a few days ago. The last Petit I can recall at Grocery Outlet was from 2014 or 2015 when they had a small lot of Stelzner on offer.  Petit Verdot is one of those blending grapes, like Cabernet Franc and Petite Sirah, that I can’t pass on when I come across what appears to be (or is) a well made offering. I find their inky, darker colors in the glass seductive and it brings me back to an old EOS Petit Sirah offering for $7 from 4-5 years ago that first got me interested in the typically blended varietals and at bargain basement price points.

20170623_183718I’m in full agreement that this is a nice bottling using quality fruit at the hands of a winemaker who knows what he or she is doing. I get deep, dark fruits and spice on the nose with a medium bodied wine and pretty overt alcohol but there is enough tannin and acid here to balance things out. The palate, for me, is pretty monolithic but the fruit is juicy and delicious like a mixed grape-watermelon Jolly Rancher you don’t want to dissolve. Even though I think the Jolly Rancher wine comparison is a bit played out, questionable and/or laughable, I could not put my finger on what it is I like about the wine’s flavor specifically and this is the best comparison I can offer. It presents its fruit without apology. This wine lingers and kept begging me for more.

For an $8 Petit Verdot with this much to offer, and enjoyable from first nose through the entire tasting and finish, even given that it isn’t super complicated, it’s a big Thumbs Up from me.

 

Auburn James 2013 ‘Diablo Rosso’ Red Blend

Livermore Valley 15.2% ABV
Malbec – 66%, Tannat – 30%, Cabernet Franc – 4%
Produced and bottled by Auburn James in St. Helena, CA
$14.99 at the San Diego, CA (Downtown), store on 3 June

20170618_180242Due to the unusually high price point for Grocery Outlet, having lived in the Bay Area 10 minutes from their tasting room in Danville and having even played gigs there, but never having purchased anything (retail pricing is too rich for my blood), I had to pick this one up and taste it for the blog. I’m very glad I did. (In regards to Grocery Outlet allocation, I believe most stores have very limited allocations. I can’t say whether this wine is still available. And, from what I can find online, this wine may only be sold through Auburn James’ tasting rooms. I guess even folks who live in or tour through areas with >$1.3mill average home values do not want to pay the $60 retail for this wine.)

Were you to blindly ask me what varietal this wine were solely from the nose, I would swear it’s a big, bold quality Napa Cab from Rutherford or Stags Leap, and that’s a compliment. It is nice and inviting and draws you in and back with dark, toasty oak, tobacco, dark cherry, touch of dark chocolate, and there’s a floral component I’m having a hard time identifying that brings things together, trying to cut through that 15.2% Livermore-driven ABV.

The wine poured into the opposite side of the glass leaves nice, long legs almost immediately. This is a pretty heavily tannic wine that dries the mouth nicely but also offers a velvety mouthfeel despite the alcohol. I think there is some nice winemaking going on here. It tells a nice story beginning to end, with the riper portion of the fruit shining up front and through the mid palate with those tannins lingering lengthily on the finish.

Decanting for 2 hours, shockingly, had little effect on the wine. It rounded out a touch and the fruit showed through a bit more but again, that predominant alcohol and tannin do not decrease much. This is a very enjoyable, well made wine and definitely appears, smells and drinks as a sum of its parts in a pretty integrated way. Were I to be pressed, I’d admit that it fails most for me in body where I find it a touch hollow. However, this is hard to pick apart, both because those tannins are ever present and the mouthfeel is pretty silky even though it is high in ABV. Is the wine betrayed by its body? Nope. It’s just something I kept circling back to.

On Day 2, the body and that high ABV remained my two biggest distractions to enjoyment. I thought with the wine dulling on night 2 that the ABV may be even more present. I don’t see this wine getting better on Days 2 and 3.

If $15 is in your budget and you see it, I would recommend picking up a bottle if you’re a meat eater and have a nice rib eye or other richer piece of meat with which to pair it. It stands up to a lot of bottles in the $30-40 price range if not higher these days, but I’ve also had some stunners from Spain as well as better Argentine Malbecs that deliver 85% of this wine’s experience for the same cost as this bottle at GO.

Auburn James 2008 Meritage

59% Merlot, 26% Cabernet Sauvignon, 13% Cabernet Franc, 2% Petite Verdot; 15.4% ABV
Napa Valley, CA
$10 at the Richmond, CA, store on 7 June

A number of Auburn James wines arrived together, most $10 and one $15, somewhat expensive for the GO.  I thought this looked like one of the most promising.

Immediately after being decanted, the wine showed fairly simple, very ripe, red cherry fruit.  After about an hour, the wine started to open up, and after 90 minutes, nice darker complexities had developed: blackberry, blackcurrant, medium  purple cherry, dark chocolate / prune, finishing with some balancing flavor and tannin of sappy / stemmy / roasted wood.  However, this wine is way too soft, unstructured and sweet for my taste.  It’s not dessert wine-level sweet, but even when drinking this with fresh red cherries (delightfully in season now), this wine tastes sweet.  It’s a pity, because otherwise the wine tastes pretty good.

A couple days later, the saved 275ml screwcap bottle was worse.  The complexity was largely gone, and it was just sweet red fruit with a roughly woody finish.  As you probably gather, I didn’t like this wine very much.  If you’re looking for a sweet red wine with a lot more complexity than most such wines, this could be a good choice, but for me at this price, it was a Thumbs Down.

Riaza 2014 Tempranillo “The Outsider”

100% Tempranillo; 14.7% ABV; screw-cap
California, about 1/3 each from three vineyards:
“one from the valley, one from the delta, and the last from the foothills”
$5 (I think) at the Richmond, CA, store. Long gone.

I was intrigued by the vineyard blend in this wine, and there were only positive comments on it during the fall sale, so I got one back then.  I finally opened it recently and was disappointed by my bottle.

On the first night, I found the wine hot, ripe, with rough acid and a tinge of spoiled grape.  After being decanted a couple hours, the red cherry fruit flavors darkened to dark cherry and purple grape, but the wine never became especially more agreeable overall.

The next day, the wine smoothed out and became more complex, showing red / purple cherry, raspberry, orange, stem / wood, but more of the spoiled grape / raisin character.  I moved on to something else.

Bodkin 2013 Sauvignon Blanc Reserve “The Albino”

Sandy Bend Vineyard, Lake County, CA; 13.5% ABV
“Fermented upon the skins.  Bottled without fining or filtration”
“Christopher Reid Christensen, Winesmith”
Produced and bottled by Wefew Vintners, Healdsburg, CA
$7 (or maybe $6) at the Oakland, CA, store about a month ago.  Almost certainly no longer there.

This label struck me as unusual and interesting and, indeed, the wine is one of the most unusual and interesting Sauvignon Blancs I have ever tasted.

The aromatic profile resembles that of a Riesling: perfume-like white / yellow flowers and light yellow fruit.  On the palate, I tasted lightly lemony yellow peach, yellow melon, cherimoya / light gardenia, green lime, some balancing minerally grape skin bitterness, and a hint of fresh herbs on the finish.  The wine had a pleasantly viscous mouthfeel.  Good on its own, it was spectacular with food.

The next day, the wine was a little softer and more forward, but overall it was very similar.

Gauthier 2014 Chardonnay

Rockin’ H Ranch Vineyards, Sonoma Coast, CA; 13.9% ABV
$7 at the Richmond, CA, store many weeks ago.  No longer there.

Some folks may have liked this wine, but to me this was a weird Chardonnay.  It tastes intensely of assertive, even abrasive, ripe or over-ripe tropical yellow fruit (starfruit (Carambola), maybe mango), caramelized yellow apple, with perhaps even a slightly spoiled character, and slight green apple.  I don’t like it, and my suspicion is that it will be worse the next day.

Indeed, the next day it’s just awful: sour and abrasive.  I would be glad to hear from anyone who had a better experience with this wine, since I have generally liked the Gauthier selection wines, but my bottle definitely gets a Thumbs Down.  I won’t even cook with this.

Magnolia Court 2013 Chardonnay

Central Coast, CA; 13.5% ABV
Cellared and bottled by Turn Key Wine Brands
$7 at the Richmond, CA, store on 12 April.  A small amount still there.

I was very intrigued by this wine because the back label reads, in part, “Our Chardonnay combines the structure and minerality often associated with coastal Chardonnay, with a seductive, measured oak profile.  It has generous notes of sub-tropical fruit, toasted hazelnut, and crushed wet stones.”  At one point, I urged Seedboy to try this wine if he saw it, because the above sounded up his alley.  However, now that I try it, it’s almost certainly not.

On the first night, I wondered what those notes meant by “structure and minerality,” since the wine struck me as soft and sweet.  I thought it had a rich and smooth, fairly complex and delineated taste of ripe white and yellow pear, yellow apple, slight yellow tropical fruit, with a creamy, oak / vanilla finish.  There was some minerality, but it was rather soft or even oily.  I conceded it was pretty tasty wine, if not in a style I prefer.

On the second night, however, the wine gained some more acid and, to my taste, became much more balanced.  The flavors were all still there without degradation, and I tasted the “toasted hazelnut” in the label notes.  It’s very Central Coast, and, to me, quite good.

JoelA noted recently that there is a Magnolia Court Pinot Noir, also $7, available at the Oakland, CA, store.  I’d be curious about the reactions of anyone who has tasted it.

Goodnow 2015 Tempranillo

California; 13.9% ABV
Vinted and bottled by J. L. Giguiere, Zamora, CA
$5 at the Richmond, CA, store on 13 Apr

This wine intrigued me for a couple reasons.  First, the back label touts “loads of black fruit,” which is something I like (especially something akin to licorice) but don’t taste in Tempranillo very often.  Second, it appears to be from the same operation that made this interesting and tasty Musqué clone Chardonnay.  After I bought this bottle, a customer said he found it rather young and grapey, but thought it had good stuffing to last for a while.  I agree!

The wine is pretty fresh- and grapey-tasting, but with subtle complexities of dark cherry, red and black raspberries, tobacco, slight prune, and, indeed, blackberry / licorice, finishing with a layer of stemmy / woody tannin that seems to promise further evolution.  I find that a little odd for a wine called “good now,” but so it is.  After a couple hours’ air, the wine has a nice elegance to it, but I expect it will develop well for the next year or two.

The next day, the second half (stored in a 375ml bottle and stoppered with very little air) was softer, with the flavors less delineated and more integrated, still pretty fresh and purple-grapey, but otherwise much the same.  Highly Drinkable.

2012 Bohème “Stuller Vineyard” Pinot Noir

Sonoma Coast AVA; 14.1% ABV
Purchased March 24th at Palo Alto; $14.99

IMG_0151I was really excited to see these come in. This winery is a project started by the former Belle Glos vineyard manager who also happens to be part of the Wagner family (Caymus and many others). The website has a ton of great technical data on this particular vineyard (link here) with high points being that it sits at 1200 feet of elevation about 6 miles inland form the Pacific Ocean and is farmed in two blocks, one hillside the other hilltop. This particular wine spent 21 months in neutral French oak. If you like the brooding, almost cocktail-like style of Pinot Noir, I think you’ll like this one.

The wine poured a dark ruby garnet and was all blackberries and cream on the nose. I would have guessed zinfandel confidently had this been a blind tasting. On the palate, it’s a full-bodied wine with an almost viscous mouthfeel. I got black cherry, cinnamon, orange peel with some underbrush or cooking herbs as well with a long 8-10 second finish. Structure doesn’t really emerge until about an hour in the glass, and even at that it’s a softly built wine but surprisingly held up well over 3 days of consumption. A nice bottle that tastes expensive but just doesn’t have what I look for in a pinot.  Definitely drinkable and enjoyable, but at it’s higher price point there are likely better options out there.

Pull 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon

Paso Robles, CA; ABV probably about 14.5% (recycled before I wrote it down)
$6 at the Richmond, CA, store on 23 Feb

pull_2010_cabsThis wine shows typical Paso Robles ripe fruit of dark purple / red cherry, grape, and blackberry, slightly herbal / earthy, balanced by strongish acid of blackberry / raspberry, with a slight tinge of spoiledness / not quite vinegar that makes me think this is past its prime.  It’s reasonably Drinkable, but drink it up ASAP.

The saved, single-glass, screw-cap bottle reinforces this conclusion.  It’s much redder and a bit more lean than on the first night, although still softly fruity, and tasting of an unusual herbaceous flavor which strikes me as cilantro.  So, I guess this wine is okay, maybe even good, if it’s consumed in one night, but I wouldn’t get it to consume over more than one night.