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Zinfandel of the Month – 2011 Ridge Geyserville

Zinfandel of the Month is a new feature on Zinfandel Chronicles. For a little background please see the first installment published six months ago. Keep in mind that although the Zinfandel of the Month might be an older bottle, the current vintage will be one you can find at retail or via the mailing list.

The April Zinfandel of the Month is the 2011 Ridge Geyserville.

Ridge Vineyards was founded in 1959 when three Stanford Research Institute engineers bought an abandoned winery in the Santa Cruz Mountains. The vineyards had been planted in the late 19th century by a San Francisco physician who produced his first vintage in the original winery, called Monte Bello, in 1892. The first Ridge vintage was in 1962. Since 1969 Ridge’s winemaker, and now also its CEO, has been Paul Draper. Ridge makes Cabernet, Chardonnay, Zinfandel, Merlot, Petite Sirah and Rhone style wines.

When I first became interested in Zinfandel the buzz was always around the Three R’s of Zinfandel: Ravenswood, Rosenblum and Ridge. 20 years later Ridge is still at the top of its game, turning out single vineyard Zinfandel from some of California’s most precious vineyards.

Geyserville is a traditional field blend of Zinfandel, Carignane, Petite Sirah, Alicante Bouschet and Mataro. Portions of the vineyard date back 130 years.

Crimson in color. 14% ABV. The 2011 Geyserville is 78% Zinfandel, 16% Carignane, 4% Petite Sirah, 1% Alicante Bouschet and 1% Mataro. Brambly red fruits, pepper, vanilla and lavender on the nose. Medium bodied with nice acidity. Blackberry, raspberry, licorice, menthol and tar on the palate. Chalky, dusty tannins. Perfectly balanced, this wine is approachable now but will no doubt age for upwards of a decade.

My rating: 93 points.

The 2011 Geyserville is still available at retail and is a super buy for $35 or less.

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2012 Efeste Chardonnay Adrienne – Bottle Notes

Efeste, pronounced like the letters “F-S-T” strung together, was named after the last names of founders Helen & Dan Ferrelli, Patrick Smith, and Kevin & Angela Taylor. Efeste is located in the Warehouse District of Woodinville, Washington. Peter Devison took over full-time winemaking duties when Brennon Leighton left to work with Charles Smith in 2012.

Adrienne is sourced from French Creek Vineyard.

Light gold in color. 14.5% ABV. Apple, lemon curd, nutmeg and pears on the nose. Richly textured and creamy with just the right amount of acidity. The palate is alive with vanilla, lemon, minerals and spice. The finish is exceptionally long. Efeste is on a short list of top notch Washington Chardonnay producers with the likes of Woodward Canyon and Abeja.

My rating: 92 points.

Efeste has one of the best white wine programs in the state of Washington and the red wines are also exceptional. The wines are readily available at retail, via the wine club and at the winery.

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2005 Clos Saint Jean Châteauneuf-du-Pape Vieilles Vignes – Bottle Notes

Clos Saint Jean was founded in 1900 in Chateauneuf du Pape and is still a small, family-run operation. The estate produces 12,500 cases annually. Brothers Pascal and Vincent Maurel run the business. Clos Saint Jean produces primarily Chateauneuf du Pape, including the Vieilles Vignes and several special cuvees including the Combe des Fous and Deus-Ex Machina. In 2002, Philippe Cambie was hired as consulting oenologist

Purple in color but starting to lighten at the edge of the glass. 14.5% ABV. The nose is all about raspberry liqueur, minerals and baking spice. The wine is rich and creamy with perfect acidity. Raspberry, kirsch, plums, pepper and garrigue on the palate. The 05′s are in a great spot right now and this wine is no exception.

My rating: 93 points.

The ’10 and ’11 are both available at retail. Both are great buys right around $50 or so.

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2011 Efeste Emmy – Bottle Notes

Efeste, pronounced like the letters “F-S-T” strung together, was named after the last names of founders Helen & Dan Ferrelli, Patrick Smith, and Kevin & Angela Taylor. Efeste is located in the Warehouse District of Woodinville, Washington. Peter Devison took over full-time winemaking duties when Brennon Leighton left to work with Charles Smith in 2012.

Emmy is a Southern Rhone Blend of 71% Mourvèdre, 16% Grenache and 13% Syrah sourced from the Stone Tree Vineyard on the Wahluke Slope.

Purple in color. 15% ABV. The wine slowly opened up to reveal a Rhone like nose of black fruits, blood, flowers and lavender. Full bodied and still somewhat primary on the palate. Flavors of raspberry, kirsch, plum, stones and Herbes de Provence. The finish is exceptionally long. This wine needs at least 3-5 years in the cellar and will age gloriously for at least a decade. I need a few more bottles!

My rating: 91 points.

Efeste has one of the best white wine programs in the state of Washington and the red wines are also exceptional. The wines are readily available at retail, via the wine club and at the winery. The 2011 Emmy will set you back $45.

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Cayuse 2014 Release Party

Cayuse was founded in 1997 by Christophe Baron, a native of France who grew up in family of winemakers in Champagne. Baron studied viticulture in Burgundy and Champagne, and had ambitions to make Pinot Noir in Oregon. However, on a visit to Walla Walla, he found property that he believed would be perfect for growing grapes and decided to purchase the land.

Cayuse Release Weekend is traditionally the first Friday and Saturday of April. I find it worth the 4 hour trek from Seattle because it is a one-of-a-kind opportunity to taste through almost all of the wines that will be released the following year. The doors open on each day at 10am and the line starts forming even earlier. Christophe greeted us at 10am with glass in hand!

Usually when I write up release party notes I try to give impressions and scores on each wine. However, Cayuse was packed, the wines came fast and furious and I was busy catching up with fellow Cayuse devotees. If you really need scores, I’d say all the wines would have scored at least 93 to 94 points. The following wines were being sampled this year:

2011 God Only Know Grenache
2012 Camaspelo (84% Cabernet Sauvignon, 16% Merlot)
2012 Cailloux Vineyard Syrah
2012 En Chamberlin Vineyard Syrah
2012 En Cerise Vineyard Syrah
2012 Bionic Frog Syrah
2011 Armada Vineyard Syrah
2012 Impulsivo Tempranillo

The standout in the Cayuse lineup was the 2012 En Chamberlin. The wine had great floral qualities, amazing purity of fruit and was at the same time supple and savory. I’d ballpark this at 96 points but definitely need to do further research. For that matter the entire Syrah lineup including the Armada, Cailloux, En Cerise and Bionic Frog was exceptional. Note to self: wish list even more wines next year.

The 2012 Syrahs continued the trend of moving away from that Cayuse funk of years past. These are rich, acid driven wines with great purity of fruit and minerality. They will all benefit from many years in the cellar.

It is also worth noting that the 2012 Camaspelo was exceptional. Clearly the best Camaspelo to date and no longer the weak link in the Cayuse lineup.

Although they were not part of the tasting I also had the opportunity to taste the debut Grenache and Syrah from Horsepower Vineyards. This is a new project from Christophe Baron and the mailing list will be opened to existing Cayuse members sometime in the month of May. The Grenache had mind blowing floral characteristics. Both wines had structure and a tannin profile that sets them apart from Cayuse and No Girls. I sincerely hope I am in front of my computer when the release email arrives in my inbox.

If you are on the Cayuse mailing list, I urge you to consider making the pilgrimage to Walla Walla for the 2015 event. Unfortunately, if you’re not on the mailing list, the wait is very long, and you need to be well-connected to get a bottle via retail.

This tasting only confirmed my opinion that Cayuse is one of the best wineries on the planet and current vintages are worth the hunt!

I’ve blogged about Cayuse previously in Winery Mailing Lists: The Fab 5.

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2006 Dehlinger Pinot Noir Goldridge Vineyard – Bottle Notes

Dehlinger Winery is located in the Russian River Valley of Sonoma County and was founded in 1975 by Tom and Carole Dehlinger. Eva Dehlinger took over winemaking duties in 2007. Known for their Pinot Noir, Dehlinger also makes Chardonnay, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Petite Sirah.

The grapes for Dehlinger Wines are largely grown on the Estate Vineyard in the Russian River Valley. The initial vines were planted in 1975 and followed by subsequent plantings through 1989. Goldridge is a reference to a soil type within the Dehlinger Estate Vineyard.

Light garnet in color. 14.8% ABV. Red fruits, cloves, earth and minerals on the nose. Delicate and feminine with medium acidity. Bing cherries, forest floor, cola, flowers and spice on the palate. Atypical Dehlinger. It lacks the great texture I so adore in Dehlinger Pinot’s. Charming and somewhat Burgundian. Drink over the next 1-2 years.

My rating: 91 points.

Dehlinger Winery has a great reputation among wine connoisseurs. Wine writers have consistently given strong reviews while praising the winery for its uniqueness, quality, consistency and value. About 75% of their wine is sold via the mailing list. Amazing wines that are well worth the search.

I wrote about Dehlinger previously in the Zinfandel Chronicles Power Rankings.

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2006 Kosta Browne Pinot Noir Koplen Vineyard – Bottle Notes

Kosta Browne began as a dream shared by Dan Kosta and Michael Browne. In the summer of 1997, while working at John Ash & Co. restaurant in Santa Rosa, California, Dan and Michael decided to pool their tips and venture into winemaking. Fifteen years later, Kosta Browne is one of the most sought after Pinot Noirs in all of California. At present time they produce three appellation Pinot Noirs, eight single vineyard Pinot Noirs and a Chardonnay.

The Koplen Vineyard lies in the Middle Reach of the Russian River appellation, just off Olivet Road. Slightly sloped, this young vineyard is showing bold fruit with complex flavors. Dennis Koplen farms the vineyard and Kosta Browne is the only producer to take fruit from this vineyard.

Crimson in color. 14.8% ABV. Complex nose of red fruits, violets and baking spice. Medium bodied with ample acidity. The palate is alive with strawberries, bing cherries, plums, brown sugar, earth and cloves. Subtle, silky tannins grace a long, sweet finish. Unmistakably a Russian River Valley Pinot Noir from Kosta Browne. Drink over the next year or so.

My rating: 93 points.

The 2012 version will be released this Fall. As I mentioned in the Fab 5 of Mailing Lists, Kosta Browne is one of hardest lists to crack. Maybe so, but you’ve got nothing to lose by putting your name on the waiting list. Good luck!

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Barrel tasting with Chris Figgins

Chris Figgins, son of Leonetti Cellar founder Gary Figgins, assumed full responsibility for winemaking at Leonetti in 2001. For years Leonetti purchased their grapes but over time have moved to using Estate grapes from their own vineyards. The genesis for FIGGINS was the idea of making one wine from a single estate vineyard.

For the second year in a row my wife and I had a tasting appointment at FIGGINS Wine Studio on the Friday of Cayuse Release Weekend. Located just outside of downtown Walla Walla the Studio is the winemaking facility for FIGGINS, Doubleback and Toil Oregon.

We were greeted upon arrival with a glass each of the recently released 2012 Toil Oregon and 2010 FIGGINS.

Toil is a new Pinot Noir project from Chris Figgins using fruit sourced from the Ribbon Ridge AVA in the Willamette Valley. The wine itself was young, fresh and earthy with strong acidity. There were great flavors of tea, blood orange and mandarin on the palate. Our timing was perfect as the first release of Toil to mailing list members happened a little over a week ago. This is a strong first effort and I look forward to following Toil over the coming years.

The 2010 FIGGINS is big and brawny with an explosive nose of chocolate, leather and graphite. The palate was alive with flavors of menthol, red fruits and black currants. This is an exceptional wine that needs upwards of a decade in the cellar.

As we were finishing our pour of the ’10 FIGGINS, Chris Figgins himself arrived to taste some barrel samples with us. Although Chris and I have corresponded in the past year this was my first opportunity to meet him in person. I’ve been on the Leonetti mailing list for 20+ years and vividly recall the first time I met Gary Figgins at a release party in the mid nineties. As with his dad, winemakers don’t come nicer than Chris, who shared stories and gave us some insight into his vision for Leonetti, FIGGINS and Toil.

We tasted through the following barrel samples from FIGGINS and Doubleback:

  • ’13 FIGGINS Cabernet Sauvignon Sunrise Block
  • ’13 FIGGINS Merlot
  • ’13 FIGGINS Cabernet Sauvignon Clone 4
  • ’13 FIGGINS Cabernet Sauvignon Clone 7/8
  • ’13 Doubleback Cabernet Sauvignon McQueen Vineyard
  • ’13 Doubleback Cabernet Sauvignon Lefore Vineyard
  • ’13 Doubleback Cabernet Sauvignon Bob Healey Vineyard
  • ’13 Doubleback Malbec Bob Healey Vineyard
  • ’12 Doubleback Cabernet Sauvignon McQueen Vineyard

The samples were all exceptional but the FIGGINS Merlot and the two McQueen Vineyard Cabs really stood out.

As far as what’s to come? Chris mentioned a new project featuring Washington Aglianico. The vineyard called Serra Pedace is located high up in the SeVein project in the southern section of the valley. More to come on this. It also sounds like there will be new facilities for both FIGGINS and Doubleback in the next few years.

Prior to tasting the FIGGINS and Doubleback wines I figured I had myself covered by buying the Leonetti wines. What I learned is that each winery is distinct, with their own approach to making world class wines. I now find myself on the FIGGINS and Doubleback mailing lists, too.

These are truly some of the most exciting wines being made in the state of Washington (and Oregon if you include Toil). Plan your buying decisions accordingly!

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2011 Carlisle Zinfandel Sonoma County – Bottle Notes

Carlisle Winery & Vineyards was founded in 1998 by Mike and Kendall Officer. Their passion is clear: Small lots of Zinfandel and Syrah from exceptional, historic vineyards.

The 2011 version of the Sonoma County Zinfandel is sourced from Fanucchi Wood Road, Carlisle, Rowe, Rossi Ranch, Lingenfelder and Bedrock Vineyards.

Garnet in color. 14.9% ABV. Red fruits, vanilla and a touch of pepper on the nose. Rich and creamy. Strawberry, raspberry, white pepper and minerals on the palate. Light acidity and soft tannins. Ready to drink. As always a complete bargain for around $22 but a step down from both the ’10 and ’12 versions of this wine.

My rating: 90 points.

Current vintages of the various Carlisle wines are available via the mailing list, which is exceptionally long. Several retail outlets in California stock Carlisle, but you need to check with them at the time the winery releases their wines in the Spring and Fall.

I’ve wrote about Carlisle previously in Winery Mailing Lists: The Fab 5.

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2005 Thomas Pinot Noir Dundee Hills – Bottle Notes

One of the most collectible Pinot Noirs made in all of Oregon is from a winery you’ve probably never heard of: Thomas Winery. Located in Carlton, Oregon, winemaker John Thomas has been releasing small amounts of wine from the Thomas Vineyard since 1988. I don’t recall ever seeing ratings from the Wine Advocate or the Wine Spectator, and I don’t think Thomas has ever hosted a public event. It truly is an undiscovered gem.

The ’05 is a light ruby red in color. Almost translucent. 13.4% ABV. Red fruits, Christmas spice and forest floor on the nose. Light in body with great acidity. Complex and structured. The palate has tart red cherries, blood orange, fruitcake and a great spicy component. The finish literally lasts for a minute or more. Super wine right now but it will clearly age for another 2-3 years. One of the best Oregon Pinot Noirs I have ever had.

My rating: 95 points.

Thomas Pinot Noir makes a brief appearance at Portland-area shops soon after release, and is priced right around $45 per bottle. I’ve had the opportunity to taste bottlings going back to the late 90′s, and think the wine shows best 7-10 years past the vintage date. You may still be able to secure a few bottles of the recently released 2011.

I’ve blogged about Thomas previously in Thomas Winery: The Best Pinot Noir You Have Never Heard Of

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