Special Feature: Products Sally Recommends

new finds, a fun you tube, tallulah, and ballentine

by Monty and Sara Preiser


Following up our August 20th and September 2nd columns, we remind you this is part three of our series highlighting new wineries we have discovered and recommend during our summer spent in California. For purposes of this article we use the term “wineries” in the broadest possible sense, meaning that while we include the traditional facility, we also include wines that have an independent label and are custom produced at a facility not owned by the wine’s producer. In other words, the vintner owns a wine, but not a brick and mortar winery. S/he merely rents the winemaking facility.

This year we have found some real beauties we will mention below, along with a word or two about some of our favorite bottles of wine from each.

Specializing in small lots (meaning there is not a great deal of this wine), owners Bruce Ahnfeldt and Celeste Carducci have not only opened a beautiful new tasting room downtown, but they smartly obtained a permit for a barrel room on premises where they are now aging three lovely wines. So here you can taste both current and future releases. Take a half day to enjoy all the tasting rooms in the Oxbow area, and don’t miss this one.
-2005 Ahnfeldt Merlot ($45): A powerful Merlot, cherries and vanilla are prominently displayed from mid palate to finish. Aromas of raspberries will first entice you.
-2006 Ahnfeldt Cabernet Franc ($39): A lovely representative of the varietal with red cherries and structure.
-2005 Ahnfeldt Quid Pro Quo ($65): One of the few Napa Bordeaux blends based on Merlot (Bruce can do this successfully given the quality of his Merlot), here you will appreciate the structure from the Petit Verdot, and enjoy the black fruit from the Cabs, and the red fruits from the Cabernet Franc.
www.ahnfeldtwines.com 707-253-1139
www.uncorked-at-oxbow.com 707-927-5864

Chances are you have not heard of this Sonoma located winery (named after an ancient Sumerian literary character) with its tasting room in Kenwood. But don’t let that stop you from finding the wines. Phillip Staehle is concentrating primarily on Burgundian and Rhone varietals, and he knows how to make them.
-2007 Enkidu Humbaba ($25): This Rhone blend is made of Russian River and Rincon Valley Syrah, and Napa and Lake County Petite Sirah. Herbs, pepper, and spices prevail.
-2008 Enkidu Sauvignon Blanc Kick Ranch ($25): We like the complexity that barrel fermentation brings to this Sauvignon Blanc. Flavors are stone, green apple, anise, and more.
-2006 Enkidu Syrah Odyssey ($34): Smoked meat, orange zest, and tar integrate well on the front and mid palates, while the finish is long and cries for game.
www.enkiduwines.com 707-939-3930

The partnership that now owns this soon-to-be-winery-of-note purchased the property in 2007. Paul and Heath Dolan, and Phil and Sylvia Hurst had the vision. They soon brought in Mark De Meulanaere and viticulturalist extraordinaire turned winemaker Virginia (Ginny) Lambrix to complete the team. All six have created a beautiful property where world class wines are being produced through the use of biodynamic principles.
-2007 Truett-Hurst GPS Dark Horse Vineyard ($40): A bold and elegant Rhone blend (45% Mourvedre, 25% Grenache, and 25% Syrah) with a surprising finish of ginger bread spice.
-2006 Truett-Hurst Red Rooster Dry Creek Zinfandel ($29): One of the best anywhere, it is beautifully balanced with succulent up front fruit, perfect acidity, and lively tannins. A real “strutter.”
-2006 Truett-Hurst Burning Man Petite Sirah ($33): There is nothing petite about this wine. It is a real teeth coater.
-2004 Stonegate Reserve Napa Petit Verdot ($60): Though the winery is in Sonoma, the partners own the Napa label Stonegate. Under that label they will make Bordeaux style wines. If you like Petit Verdot, order this inky dark and layered one before it is gone.
www.truetthurst.com 707-433-9545

William Hill Estates
It’s nice to say this winery sits on the Silverado Bench, but what is a “bench” in this context? Benchlands are slopes that rise from the valley floor. The Napa Valley “floor” is dominated by sandy loam, while benchland soils tend to be rocky and nutrient deprived. Since it is difficult for vines to penetrate the rocks, the vines that successfully do so produce smaller berries of intense flavor and color concentration. William Hill is fortunate to sit in a prime location on the bench, and also offer an attractive tasting room with knowledgeable staff.
-2006 William Hill Reserve Chardonnay ($30): Malolactic fermentation and aging on the lees give this wine a smooth and buttery feel. Good minerality assures that it is refreshing.
-2006 William Hill Estate Petit Verdot ($40): Big blackberry taste follows a lavender nose and survives excellent structure. Buy now and wait a year.
-2006 William Hill Atlas Peak Cabernet Sauvignon ($55): It may well be that the Atlas Peak appellation has produced Napa’s best Cabs in 2006. Chocolate on the nose and a lingering finish of black fruit are the highlights.
-2006 William Hill Estate Meritage ($85): Aged in barrel for 19 months and using all five of the major Bordeaux grapes, it is enough to say that this wine is huge at every phase.
www.williamhillestate.com 707-265-3024

Engelskirger on the Net

Sometimes we in the wine industry take ourselves too seriously and can use a reminder that this should be fun. “Man about Wine” JonEVino (also known as master winemaker Jon Engelskirger) and Rudy McClain (producer of Merlove) have created a series that will make us all smile. Designed to make wine even more attractive, and thus hoping we will drink more, The Quest for JonEVino is a story about a guy in the business who thinks that, while wine is indeed nice, the people who make it are also worthy of study. So the “Quest” is to find winemakers with the JonEVino spirit and discover what is “behind the wine.”

This will be an ongoing web-based series, and the trailer is available for viewing on YouTube. Go to http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RjEB9sRah9E. Future episodes will find their home at JonEVino.com, currently under construction.

The Drashes Purchase Tallulah

Outstanding winemaker Mike Drash (previously at Far Niente and presently at Luna) and his wife Tracy (in the management team at Constellation) have purchased Tallulah Wines, a Healdsburg winery that has focused on vineyard designated Sauvignon Blanc, Syrah, Grenache, and Mourvedre from northern California and Oregon. The name Tallulah is near and dear to Mike and Tracy’s hearts in that their 3 year old daughter carries the same name. Also, Hollywood’s Tallulah Bankhead is a distant cousin of Mike's.

With the 2009 harvest, Tallulah will add some vineyards that Mike has used well during his career. The goal is to also work with single vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Syrah, and Marsanne from organic and sustainable vineyards in Napa and Sonoma. He already has signed up coveted vineyards on Howell Mountain, Bald Mountain, and in Coombsville.

Mike will stay on at Luna through this harvest, and Tracy will maintain her present employment. The wines will be made at the Cuvaison custom crush facility in Carneros. Mike’s departure from Luna will be difficult for both winemaker and winery, but that is the way of the world out here. “We have appreciated Mike's contributions to winemaking at Luna vineyards over the years,” says Luna President MaryAnn Tsai. “He will be with us through harvest, and we will announce our new winemaker at the beginning of the year. We wish Mike well in his new endeavors.”

We Told You About Ballentine

We have faith in our own evaluation skills, so rarely cite scores from magazines or other critics. With that said, we wanted to congratulate Ballentine Vineyards, about which we have written on several occasions, for the nationwide notices being given to their 2008 Chenin Blanc ($15) and 2008 Malvasia Bianca ($24).

You don’t see many Chenin Blancs around, and almost no Malvasia Biancas. The former is fresh and clean with all sorts of fruit (peaches, pears, and lemons) and a vanilla finish. The latter combines flavors and aromas of tropical fruits and flowers (think Hawaii). We do think these other writers have missed honoring one of the best Petit Verdots in the Valley, the 2006 at $38.
www.ballentinevineyards.com 707-963-7919

Wine writers and educators Monty and Sara Preiser divide their time between Palm Beach County, Florida and the Napa Valley in California. They publish the world's most comprehensive guide to Napa Valley wineries and restaurants titled, appropriately, The Preiser Key to Napa Valley.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the businesses in question before making your plans.

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