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The 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon Lineup from Kinsella Estates

Kevin Kinsella founded Kinsella Estates in 2008. Kinsella Estates is an organically farmed vineyard situated in a private valley in the foothills of the western edge of Sonoma’s Dry Creek Valley. Thomas Rivers Brown, of Schrader, Rivers Marie and Outpost fame, has been the winemaker from the start. Kinsella makes several Cabernet Sauvignons and a Zinfandel.

All of these wines will be released on March 1st.

2013 Kinsella Estates Cabernet Sauvignon Spencer Vineyard – Opaque purple in color. 14.4% ABV. Subdued nose of blue fruits, violets and milk chocolate. Immensely concentrated and plush. Layers upon layers of blueberries, cassis liqueur and cocoa. Incredibly silky tannins on an exceptional finish. Drink over the next 5-7 years. $95 at the winery. My rating: 94 points.

2013 Kinsella Estates Cabernet Sauvignon Tamara Vineyard – Pitch black in color. 14.5% ABV. Showstopping nose of graphite, mint and black fruits. Big and powerful with coarse tannins. Blackberry, blueberry, charcoal and leather on the palate. Tons of structure. This wine needs 6-8 years in the cellar. $125 at the winery. My rating: 93 points.

2013 Kinsella Estates Cabernet Sauvignon Jersey Boys Vineyard – Opaque purple in color. 14.9% ABV. Savory nose of blue fruits, flowers and herbs. Rich, lush and mouth coating. Blueberry liqueur, cassis, dark chocolate and currants on the palate. The finish is perfect with fine grained tannins. Decadent, hedonistic Cabernet Sauvignon. Follow this wine over the next decade. The real standout in the lineup. $125 at the winery. My rating: 96 points.

Reviews based on samples provided by the winery.

I have followed Thomas Rivers Brown for over a decade now yet somehow Kinsella Estates was not on my radar. If you find yourself on the long waiting list at Schrader, Rivers Marie and Outpost you should strongly consider the wines of Kinsella Estates.

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The 2015 Zinfandel Chronicles Power Rankings

Welcome to the 4th, annual installment, of the Zinfandel Chronicles Power Rankings. The intent behind the list was to rank wineries based on the buzz and excitement they create in the wine collecting crowd. The rankings are entirely subjective based on my observations on sites like Twitter, Facebook, Wine Spectator, Wine Berserkers, WineBid and Cellartracker. Factors such as demand for mailing list wines and results at auction are also considered.

I’ve ranked the wineries below and indicated whether they’ve moved up the list or down. I’ve also highlighted wineries new to the list and those that have been dropped from the list. For the second year now I have also included my bubble wineries. The bubble wineries might find a spot on the list in the years to come.

Without further ado here is the 2015 version of the Zinfandel Chronicles Power Rankings.

  1. Sine Qua Non – Pricing for obscure bottles of Sine Qua Non absolutely exploded this year. Collectors with more money than common sense are paying upwards of $10,000 for decade old bottles of Rosé. Knowing this dynamic the recent release of Pearl Clutcher Chardonnay had collectors clamoring to secure a bottle. Meanwhile I continue to get my postcard every year. Up 1 spot from 2014.
  2. Screaming Eagle – As expected, demand for the 2012 version of Screaming Eagle was extremely strong. That will clearly be the case with the 2013 as well. The wines are in such demand that the winery will kick you off the list if they catch you flipping the most recent release. I am fortunate to try the wine once or twice a year and whether you think it is worth the price, the wine is about as good as Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon gets. Down 1 spot from 2014.
  3. Carlisle – The winery epitomizes everything you want in a mailing list. Exceptional wines, diversity of wines, fair pricing and second to none customer service. At the forefront of saving California’s historic vineyards. If I had to nitpick…the bi-annual mailers offer so many good wines that it is truly hard to pick and choose what you want. No change from 2014.
  4. Rivers-Marie – Thomas Rivers Brown is without question one of most acclaimed winemakers in California. Great fruit sources, pricing and customer service are the calling card at Rivers Marie. The wine lineup is expanding on all fronts with new Cabernet, Pinot and Chardonnay additions this year alone. Worth monitoring is an announced price increase for the Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. No change from 2014.
  5. Bedrock – Morgan Twain-Peterson has to be one of the hardest working winemakers in California. By my count he made 22 different wines under the Bedrock label in 2013. Last year also saw the launch of the Sparkling Wine project, Under the Wire. No secrets here, just high quality wine sold at very fair prices and sourced from the very best old vine vineyards. Up 1 spot from 2014.
  6. Schrader – Demand for the 2013 Schrader release was as strong as ever. Schrader has managed to stay relevant by making world class Cabernet Sauvignon and maintaining pricing at $175 per bottle. In a day in age where comparable cult Cabernets like Bryant, Araujo and Harlan are priced at well over $400 per bottle most collectors consider Schrader to be a bargain. Allocations seem to be on the rise as well. Up 2 spots from 2014.
  7. Saxum – The price increase last year from $89 to $98 caused a very small portion of the mailing list to look for alternatives in Paso Robles. That being said, the wine has very few peers for domestic Syrah and Grenache based blends, and still sells out in a heartbeat. Demand is also strong in the secondary market. I continue to be a buyer in small quantities but do hope Justin Smith keeps his wines out of the three digit price range for the foreseeable future.  Down 2 spots from 2014.
  8. Scarecrow – The 2013 M. Etain and Scarecrow will both be released in the next 9 months and once again demand will far exceed supply despite the $275 price tag for the flagship Scarecrow. In fact, the 2012 Scarecrow was being sold for $400 per bottle in the aftermarket shortly after release. Owner Bret Lopez was even featured in a Liquid Assets piece on CNBC earlier this year. Up 1 spot from 2014.
  9. Cayuse – Christophe Baron has things completely dialed in at Cayuse. His highly acclaimed vineyards, like Armada and En Chamberlin, are maturing and the wines are simply better than ever. Even with aggressive pricing, his new project, Horsepower, launched late last year with tremendous success. The annual release party in early April is hands down one of my favorite wine events of the year. I have wish listed Bionic Frog for 5 years now to no avail. Down 2 spots from 2014.
  10. Turley – With all due respect to Carlisle, Ridge and Bedrock these are arguably the best Zinfandels in California. Impeccable vineyard sources including the likes of Ueberroth and Hayne. Tegan Passalacqua has breathed new life into an already great winery. The wines are fresh, vibrant and full of energy. The tasting rooms in Paso Robles and Amador are a fantastic opportunity for those not on the mailing list. The bi annual struggle of fitting the bottles in the cellar wine racks is a rite of passage for Turley fans. Up 3 spots from 2014.
  11. Kosta Browne – Kosta Browne belongs on a short list of the very best domestic Pinot Noir producers. Despite a polarizing style, the wait list for the single vineyard wines is still over 5 years long. I’ve been on the mailing list for over a decade and I sincerely doubt I’ll ever get an opportunity to buy the coveted 4 Barrel bottling. The new facility at The Barlow in Sebastopol is one of the best winery visits you will ever go on. Trust me. Down 1 spot from 2014.
  12. Rochioli – It is hard to believe Rochioli is closing in on their 30th year in business. These are some of the very best Pinot Noir’s in the world and the Chardonnay program should not be overlooked. The tasting room, located in the heart of the Russian River Valley on Westside Road is worth a visit. Use the opportunity to picnic on their back deck overlooking the beautiful Rochioli Vineyard. Rochioli is not resting on their laurels with new bottlings of Syrah and a Sparkling wine this past year. Worth monitoring is the recent replanting of both East and West Block Vineyards. Down 1 spot from 2014.
  13. Williams Selyem – All eyes are on Williams Selyem as Winemaker Bob Cabral left after the 2014 vintage and the Jeff Mangahas era is underway. Jeff is the third Winemaker since the founding of Williams Selyem. Not to downplay the roll of the winemaker but Williams Selyem has always been about sourcing fruit from the very best vineyards in the Russian River Valley and Sonoma Coast. That has not changed. Do yourself a favor and add a bottle of Chardonnay and Zinfandel to your next order. Up 1 spot from 2014.
  14. Myriad – Mike Smith started his winemaking career under the direction of Thomas Rivers Brown in 2001. Like TRB he has his own label, Myriad, and works with many other clients including Quivet and Carter Cellars. His newest client, Becklyn, has garnered big support on WineBerserkers. The Myriad wines are exceptionally well made and fairly priced. Up 2 spots from 2014.
  15. Thomas – Oregon’s first cult winery. John Thomas makes exceptional Pinot Noir from the Dundee Hills in Oregon’s Willamette Valley. The wines drink well young but cruise to 10 years of age. Incredibly well priced at under $45 per bottle. If you want to sign up for the mailing list you will need to send John a letter or try to track down his phone number. Thomas is a one man show but I do understand he takes guests at the winery every so often. A visit is on my bucket list. New to the Power Rankings this year.
  16. Ridge – Old vine Zinfandel is going through a revolution and wines like Geyserville and Lytton Springs are leading the charge. Monte Bello is one of the true blue chips of California and if you buy on futures the pricing is incredible. The Estate Cabernet is an amazing value at around $50 per bottle. The winery is very active on social media and the Ridge Blog is a great read. The big winner this year. Up 4 spots from 2014.
  17. Rhys – Old world Pinot Noir that continues to be a big topic on the various wine bulletin boards. The founder, Kevin Harvey, is very accessible and transparent in how he runs his business. I sense pricing might become an issue here in years to come although the Rhys fans seem very devoted. Down 5 spots from 2014.
  18. Quilceda Creek – After a decade long series of price increases demand for the wine have leveled out. The Palengat and Galitzine Single Vineyard offerings, priced at $95 and $115 respectively, are the real values in the lineup. I’m still a buyer and the release party in late March is always a blast. Down 3 spots from 2014.
  19.  Dehlinger – The Pinot Noir from Dehlinger is about as good as it gets in the Russian River Valley. The secret is out that the real values in the Dehlinger lineup are the Cabernet Sauvignon, Claret, Syrah and Chardonnay. If you are on the mailing list you should be thankful that Dehlinger still manages to fly under the radar. Down 2 spots from 2014.
  20. Leonetti – Leonetti is the flagship wine of the Figgins family portfolio which also includes FIGGINS and Toil of Oregon. Washington’s original cult winery. The waiting list at Leonetti is 3-4 years before you can expect to receive an allocation. Given pricing in the Napa Valley, the Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot represent value at $85 and $75 respectively. I’ve been on the mailing list for 20 years and look forward to my allocation letter every March. Down 1 spot from 2014.

On the bubble but not quite on the list: FairchildVine Hill Ranch and Liquid Farm.

Dropped from the list: Arnot Roberts.

There you have it! The 2015 version of the Zinfandel Chronicles Power Rankings. As always, I welcome your feedback.

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2007 Outpost Zinfandel Howell Mountain – Bottle Notes

Outpost Wines was established in 1998 and sits on a pristine piece of land atop Howell Mountain 2200 feet above Napa Valley. Thomas Rivers-Brown has been the winemaker from the start and has gained further acclaim making highly sought after wines for Schrader, Rivers-Marie and many others. Besides Zinfandel, Outpost also produces Cabernet Sauvignon and Grenache.

Served without decanting. Deep red in color. 16.2% ABV. Raspberry liqueur, flowers and chalk on the nose. Medium body with medium acidity and a nice sense of balance. Raspberry compote, juicy blackberries and cracked black pepper on the palate. The finish is long and creamy with mellowing tannins. Drink over the next 1-2 years.

My rating: 93 points.

Outpost wines are only available via the mailing list and sell out quickly. Highly recommended.

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CIRQ and Schrader Releases and Why I’m Buying Both

Earlier this week on Tuesday the 3rd of December the much anticipated Fall releases for CIRQ and Schrader arrived in my inbox.

CIRQ is a single vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir from Michael Browne. Browne is of course the winemaker and co owner of Kosta Browne. The vineyard, known as Treehouse, is farmed by Charlie Chenoweth. Word of this project came out last year and the mailing list quickly filled up.

The single vineyard wines from Kosta Browne cost $78 when released several months ago. Given the demand for CIRQ and the pedigree of Michael Browne I don’t think anyone anticipated CIRQ would be inexpensive. The initial release this week was for a 3 bottle allocation at $100 per bottle. The wine will ship on March 1st. I was somewhat surprised that you have the option of buying less than 3 bottles. There is also a wish list option.

I’m a huge fan of the Kosta Browne style. Ripe, lush, rich, decadent Russian River Valley and Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir. I had an opportunity to try CIRQ this past summer. The wine is made in the same vein and is perhaps even slightly more concentrated.

CIRQ Pinot Noir will likely be highly sought after and most certainly collectible. I have little doubt that James Laube will bestow a high score on the initial release. For me though, that is of little matter. Whether a 93 or a 97 I will be drinking my bottles and can’t wait to follow this project over the coming years.

The 2012 Schrader portfolio is perhaps the most anticipated release ever from one of the finest Cabernet producers in all of Napa Valley. 2012 is already drawing comparisons to other legendary vintages like 1991 and 2007. The growing season was nearly perfect.

Yields were up across the valley and Schrader used the opportunity to reward long term customers by increasing their allocations. My allocation doubled from 3 to 6 bottles (1 CCS, 2 RBS, 1 T6, 1 Schrader and 1 LPV). Barrel samples on 3 of the wines (Schrader, RBS and CCS) scored in the 100 point range according to Robert Parker. The other 3 bottlings are not far behind.

Price for the wines stayed constant at $175 per bottle. This is the same price as at least the previous few vintages. When wines like Bryant and Harlan go up in price every vintage, credit needs to be given to Schrader for holding steady.

On top of all that, Schrader is a collector’s dream. Wines can frequently be sold for well above release price if one chose to do so. The ’07 CCS has been known to gavel for upwards of $1000 per bottle. There are very few wines at this price point that still interest me. For the time being I will continue to buy everything Schrader offers me.

Finally, if anyone from Schrader or CIRQ is reading this, I think all of us are of the opinion that Fred Schrader and Michael Browne need to hop on a phone call so that they can agree to send out the offers at least a week apart…instead of on the same day!

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Schrader 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon Offer

The long awaited offer for the Schrader lineup of 2011 Cabernet Sauvignons arrived this morning. Schrader has once again held the line on pricing at $175 bottle. Admittedly this is not an inexpensive wine but given what the wine sells for in the aftermarket, Schrader should be commended for not raising prices. Below is the offer letter from Schrader.


“I tasted the 2011s twice from barrel, once in April and second time in October of this year. The Schrader 2011s are some of the best wines of the year.”

— Antonio Galloni, The Wine Advocate, 11/18/12

Dear Friends of Wine,

It is our immense pleasure to let you know that the amazing Thomas Brown and his rock star team produced another exquisite line up of Schrader Cabernets in the 2011 vintage. Now resting in barrel, these intensely rich wines show incredible power and depth, and are loaded with dark fruit flavors and classic Cabernet character. Ultra-concentrated, their massive structure and exquisite balance make them a phenomenal representation of the vintage.

Exciting news — we are thrilled to announce the introduction of the Schrader LPV Cabernet Sauvignon to our portfolio. This monumental wine is made from grapes grown in the finest blocks of the Beckstoffer Las Piedras Vineyard in St. Helena, an estate renowned for its exceptional terroir. In this vineyard, the vines contour the gentle slope and live in a rocky soil that creates a perfectly stressed environment, ideal for Cabernet. The resulting fruit is remarkably dense and wonderfully concentrated, abundant with a provocative and elegant minerality, and bursting with deep, lush blue and black fruit flavors.

 We feel this gorgeous wine is a truly compelling addition to our family.

We are thrilled about this release, yet want to mention that a couple of friends are absent from our portfolio. The extreme weather conditions of the season took particular aim at two vineyard blocks and as such we are not able to offer our Schrader flagship or Schrader GIII Cabernets for this release.

I don’t have much more to add, but I’m curious: What do you think?

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