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Wines Worth Searching For and Walter Schug
We are not always at wineries for large tastings, so we don’t always have a full line of wines from which to select our favorites for you. Sometimes we visit a winery to try a single wine we have heard about, or stop by a winery to find only one wine worth writing about. Often we taste one great wine at a function with rules limiting the type of wine that can be shown, and occasionally we discover a gem in a restaurant or at someone’s home. Below we focus not on particular wineries, but on a few individual and special wines that have enthralled us, and about which we have not recently written or plan to write in the context of a larger story.
-2007 Barrister Cabernet Franc ($27): Don’t let the low price fool you. Maybe because it comes from the state of Washington it does not command the sky high price points we see in Napa Cab Francs, but this one rivals any of them. Rich spices and berries accompanied by soft tannins are its hallmark. 88% Cab Franc and 12% Cabernet Sauvignon.
-2005 Atlas Peak Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon ($85): A powerful wine with black fruit, pepper, and some cocoa powder at the finish. It’s worthy of note that winemaker Darren Procsal is making superior appellation wine from four Napa cornerstone mountains – Howell Mountain, Spring Mountain, Mount Veeder, and Atlas Peak. 2005 seems to be (and has already been with other wines) a Howell Mountain year.
-2006 Cade Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon ($68): Layer upon layer of black cherries, plums, and baking spices, with dark chocolate, black olives and cassis at the finish. The tannins give this wins a backbone that will allow it to lay down for more than a decade, but it is “yummy” now.
-2006 Marston Family Cabernet Sauvignon ($100): Year in and year out one of the world’s great Cabs. Black fruits are prominent, and hints of anise abound. This Spring Mountain wine is full on the palate, complex and intense throughout, and finishes fabulously long and earthy.
-2005 Roberts and Rogers Cabernet Sauvignon ($75): Only the second vintage from this Howell Mountain property, this wine is already earning high scores from well know “raters.” A huge mouthful of lush dark fruits finely balanced with tannins.
-2006 Spottswoode Lyndenhurst Cabernet Sauvignon ($60): Not Spottswoode’s signature wine but its second label, it just goes to show you that good wineries (especially in good vintage years) produce good wines even at lesser prices. Granted, $60 is not cheap, but it’s on the lower side of many of the best Napa Cabs. This one is on the dark fruit side to begin, and finishes with caramelized sugar and some elegant cocoa dust.
-2006 Regusci Estate Merlot ($40): The nose is huge plum, while chocolate, dark cherries, and lavender complete the journey for this velvety Merlot. Though a bit short on the finish, that does not detract from the overall quality of this wine.
-2008 Breggo Savoy Pinot Noir Anderson Valley (N/A): No price yet as this won’t be released for 5-6 months, but watch for this earthy, structured wine with interesting spices surrounding a finish of cherries.
-2007 Papapietro Perry Pommard Clones Russian River Valley Pinot Noir ($70): This is a hot winery, and this, we believe, is not only the winery’s best effort, but a candidate for the best Pinot Noir of the year. It is unusual for a Pinot Noir these days to be made from a single clone, but here we have one. Aged for a year in an oak that imparts a bit of sweetness, the wine alternates between complex ripe fruit and spices, and a touch of forest floor. The finish is super long and leaves you with bright cherries that fade into plums.
-2007 Toulouse “The Drippings” Anderson Valley Pinot Noir ($50$-60): Located in the blink-and-you-will-miss-it Mendocino County village of Philo, Toulouse Vineyards is evidence of the tremendous evolution of that area’s wines. Just a few years ago we were unable to find many to recommend at all, and now we want this one at $55. But all the Pinot Noirs at Toulouse deserve high scores no matter the competition. Deep cherries on the nose, a nice smoky character throughout, and wonderful structure are the hallmarks of “The Drippings.”
-2004 and 2005 Spring Mountain Vineyard Elivette ($125 and $100): The 2005 is the current release, but the 04 is not far ahead, and is available. Fortunately the winery has an inventory of Elivette that goes back a number of years. Sara preferred the 2005, with its lush espresso and full fruit profile (cherry, raspberry, currant), while Monty loved the more settled 04 and its showing of chocolate and earthy characteristics. Both wines have at least 80% Cabernet Sauvignon, plus three of the other major Bordeaux varietals (no Malbec).
-2006 Skipstone Oliver’s Blend ($95): Here is more proof that wineries employing sustainable and organic farming practices can make serious wine that equals the best. Such was not always demonstrable. To be released in October, the 06 was shepherded to greatness by winemaker Andrew Levi and consultant Philippe Melka when they allowed it to ripen late into the season following a long heat wave. The wine is 65% Cab, with generous helpings of Malbec and Cab Franc, and two kisses of Merlot, blended in. Distinctive aromatics and concentrated red berries integrated with the oak take you to a dusty and mocha-like finish. Excellent structure.
-2005 VinRoc Signature Blend ($100): Michael Parmenter and Kiki Lee are the team here, and they are producing small lot wines in an old European style. Harvesting only one ton at a time and carrying the grapes into the caves in small boxes aids in the production of a stunning wine with vanilla on the nose, a velvety lush mid palate, a black fruit and cassis back palate, and a cedar/cigar box finish.
-2006 D-cubed Cellars Howell Mountain Zinfandel ($37): Winemaker/owner Duane Dappen has been in the forefront setting the standard for great Zins since he began his winery in the early nineties. He makes wonderful Zinfandels from all over the area, but his best may be this one from Howell Mountain with the characteristic body and tannins from that appellation. Deep cherries, mushrooms, and pepper complete the picture.
Don’t Forget Walter Schug and Schug Estate
More than a couple of people wrote us following our article on September 21st about Joseph Phelps’ Burgundian wine project under the Freestone label in Sonoma. Friends of pioneer Walter Schug pointed out that he made premium Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays at Joseph Phelps Vineyards in the 1970's and 1980's, and still crafts them at his and son Axel’s winery in Carneros (Schug Carneros Estate). It is interesting to note that Phelps actually stopped making Pinot Noir in 1980, leading Walter to the decision to take up the banner for the varietal.
We are now seeing the 30th vintage of Schug Pinot Noir, which has always been one (or really two, since they make both a Carneros and Sonoma Coast label) we can rely on in any circumstance. The Carneros ($28) is the more complex of the two, with deep cherry and strawberries highlighted by spice from new oak. But the Sonoma Coast is a medal winner itself, with bright raspberries and a startling good price at $24. Just considering the cost is a pleasure.
As we see the early movers and shakers of Napa and Sonoma passing on their crafts to their children or others in the next generation, we should be vigilant in not forgetting what the elders accomplished. Walter, for example, also made America’s first Syrah, late harvest Riesling, and Bordeaux blend while he was at Joseph Phelps. Congratulation and long term thanks are due winery and winemaker, which made history when together, and continue at the top of their games.
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.