Return To Forever (Immortal Estate’s Inaugural Release)

The steep slopes at Hidden Ridge, back in 2010

Sometimes, the wine business is a very, very small place. Also, I am about to talk about jellyfish. You’ve been warned…

While in San Francisco recently for the SF International Wine Competition (more on the results of that in a couple of weeks), I caught up with wine marketing maven Tim Martin. Longtime 1WD readers might recognize Tim’s name from way back in 2012, when apparently (according to Tim, anyway) I was the first person to write about Tim’s Napa Valley project, Tusk. “We’ve got a ten year waiting list on Tusk now,” Tim mentioned, which I suppose is much more a tribute to that brand’s cult status, and the prowess of winemaker Philippe Melka than it is to my influence. I mean, as far as I know, even my mom doesn’t read 1WD.


Return To Forever (Immortal Estate’s Inaugural Release)

The late Lynn Hofacket (photographed in 2010)

It turns out that in the five-plus years since we last met, Martin has been busy lining up another potential cult classic, and this one already has some connection to previous 1WD coverage – it happens to be the next iteration of Hidden Ridge, which even longer-time 1WD readers might recall from when I visited that stunning Sonoma estate, on the very edge of the Napa Valley border, back in 2010. At the time, I marveled at why the prices for their reds were so low.

After Hidden Ridge patriarch Lynn Hofacket – who planted the vineyards on the steep hills of that estate (some of which literally match the great pyramids in slope percentage) – passed away, his wife Casidy ward eventually (though not without some trepidation, as I’ve been told) sold the vineyards to what would become the team behind what would become Immortal Estate (Hidden Ridge winemaker Timothy Milos remains a part of the team).

It was Hofacket’s passing, which nearly coincided with the death of Martin’s father, that became the genesis of Immortal’s brand name. “I started to think about legacy, and what we leave behind” Martin told me, and he noticed that Wine Advocate’s 100-point review of the 2013 Hidden Ridge Impassable Mountain Cabernet included the phrase “This wine is nearly Immortal.” And thus, a brand (or, at least, the idea of one) was born.

Which brings us to the jellyfish…

Immortal Estate’s flagship Cabernet Sauvignon has a jellyfish on the label. Not just any jellyfish, of course, but the small Turritopsis dohrnii, which possesses the Medusozoa equivalency of near immortality. There’s no good way of explaining this, so I’ll point you to an excerpt from

Turritopsis dohrnii is now officially known as the only immortal creature. The secret to eternal life, as it turns out, is not just living a really, really long time. It’s all about maturity, or rather, the lack of it. The immortal jellyfish (as it is better known popularly) propagate and then, faced with the normal career path of dying, they opt instead to revert to a sexually immature stage.

Sexual immaturity? Forever? That’s not exactly a wine marketer’s wet dream, but check out how the innards of this nigh-undying look to the human eye; namely, almost exactly as if it’s carrying a wee little glass of red wine:

Return To Forever (Immortal Estate’s Inaugural Release)

Turritopsis dohrnii (image:

Now, that kind of is a wine marketer’s wet dream right there.

One of my first questions to Martin, because this is the kind of guy I am, is why, if the vineyard site and winemaker are the same, should anyone feel compelled to pay three-to-four times the Hidden Ridge asking prices for Immortal Estate. Martin’s answer was obviously well-considered, and just as obviously wasn’t marketing fluff: “Lynn just didn’t have the same resources to elevate the farming practices as we do.”

Return To Forever (Immortal Estate’s Inaugural Release)In other words, Immortal’s Randy Nichols has the funds to farm their unique vineyard site to its fullest potential. And personally, I think you can already taste it.

Return To Forever (Immortal Estate’s Inaugural Release)2014 Immortal Estate Cabernet Sauvignon (Sonoma County, $303)

Available by acquisition only because, well, cult wine. Densely packed, in terms of palate weight, complexity or aromas, and intensity of mouthfeel, this is immediately identifiable as a Napa Valley styled classic, but of course in a blind tasting we’d all get it wrong since it’s technically from Sonoma. Cassis, pencil lead, cocoa, dried herbs, black and red plums… the stuff just keeps coming and coming.

Interestingly, while this is drinkable stuff now, the palate has hints of reservation. There are nice laces of acidity through the leather of the tannins and the density of the fruit, but it’s the tannin action that has the most depth to it. Deceptively so, however; those tannin chains are nice and long, so you’re getting a silky experience now, and so it’s easy to miss just how much structural scaffolding is built into this puppy. The tannin Force is, indeed, strong with this one; and it has many, many, many years of excellent drinking ahead of it.


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Paul Hobbs : A Farmboy at Heart


Photograph Copyright Mitch Tobias

Paul Hobbs is one of the most respected and influential winemakers in the world. Paul started his career in 1977 and over the last 40 years has worked with Robert Mondavi, Opus One, Simi and most famously in Argentina with the Catena family and was the first winemaker bottle varietal labeled Malbec. He founded Paul Hobbs Winery in 1991 and Vina Cobos in 1999. Twice named Wine Personality of the Year by Robert Parker, Jr., he continues to be a leading consultant winemaker around the globe. He has made wines everywhere from Hungary to Uruguay.

Paul Hobbs : A Farmboy at Heart
Photograph Copyright Mitch Tobias

Paul is highly regarded as winemaker and has inspired a number of nicknames among the press, from “Trendsetter” to “Prospector”. Forbes recently called him “The Steve Jobs of winemaking”.

In 2004, Paul Hobbs Winery 2002 To Kalon Cabernet Sauvignon earned 100 pt score in Wine Advocate and Hobbs was named “Most Important Winemaker in California” by Robert Parker

Paul Hobbs : A Farmboy at Heart


Paul Hobbs Winery focuses on single vineyard varietal wines sourced from some of the best sites in Northern California – Hyde, Beckstoffer, Stagecoach to name just a few. A farmer at heart, Paul is a true vigneron. They have put together a solid team of vineyards and growers. It is these strong relationships that the winery is built on. The focus is small production, vineyard designated wines. Meticulous vineyard management, hand harvested, low intervention winemaking, all native ferment, aged in French oak, all unfiltered and un-fined mean that these wines taste of place.

“Terroir- driven chardonnay, pinot noir, and cabernet are the focus at Paul Hobbs Winery.” –Paul Hobbs

Paul Hobbs : A Farmboy at Heart

In addition to his eponymous winery his second label CrossBarn is not so much a lesser wine but a place to put all that fruit that he finds. CrossBarn began as just one small lot of Cabernet Sauvignon from the 2000 vintage but its popularity has inspired the introduction of chardonnay, pinot noir, sauvignon blanc and more.  With CrossBarn, Paul ventures beyond the vineyards sourced for Paul Hobbs wines while holding to his ideals of sustainable vineyard practices and gentle winemaking techniques, to bring you wines of stunning quality and exceptional value.

With as much as Paul has going on it is not surprising that he needs a little help.

Paul Hobbs : A Farmboy at Heart

Greg Urmini a Sonoma native and graduate of Cal Poly came to work as a summer intern in 2007. Greg progressed up the ranks from Cellar Worker to Production Assistant then to Assistant Winemaker. In 2014, he was promoted to Winemaker at CrossBarn. Then in 2016, Greg was promoted to Director of Winemaking.

“Working for Paul Hobbs has been a true honor and blessing. To learn and grow with an organization makes me feel like I’m part of a family. Paul’s winemaking and personal philosophies coincide with my own. Care and nurture for the fruit from vine to bottle which then turns that great fruit into a beautiful glass of wine. I enjoy waking up each morning with a burning passion for the industry as well as curiosity of how we can make our wines great,” said Greg.

Paul Hobbs : A Farmboy at HeartCrossBarn is named for the Family farm in upstate New York. His father grew apples, as well as few table grapes. He and his father always talked about planting Vinfera and making wine. He tells the story of tasting Chateau Yquem with father at an early age, and how he was transported by the experience. Seems poetic that would name the winery after his Father’s farm. Goes to show you can take the boy out of the farm but you can’t take farm out of the boy.

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Golden Years (Tasting Fifty Harvests Of Mondavi Reserve Cabernet)

Know how to get a cavalcade of seasoned (read: potentially jaded) wine writers, winemakers, wine growers, and wine industry insiders to go as quiet as mice (I’m talking pin-drop-sounds-like-a-jet-engine-on-fire quiet), and as stupefied as deer in the headlights?

I do.

I saw Robert Mondavi Winery pull it off a few weeks ago in Napa Valley.

You tell the crowd that you’ve just tapped the keg on the remaining bottles of the winery’s inaugural Reserve-level Cabernet Sauvignon bottling (in this case, the 1966), and that wine is now in everyone’s glasses. Oh, yeah, then you have the creator of that wine stand up and say “I’m Warren Winiarski, and I made this wine.”

As once-in-a-lifetime wine tasting events go, that one ranks pretty highly, even for those of us who have already had outsized amounts of once-in-a-lifetime wine tasting event opportunities (this was helped by the genuine combination of pride, awe, and shock in Winarski’s voice as he described that he never expected to be speaking about the 1966 Cab fifty years later).

During the course of the multi-day Mondavi event at the Napa Valley winery (which I attended as a media guest), we ended up going through a sizeable portion of the last fifty vintages of Robert Mondavi Winery’s Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon.

What became clear as we were lead through the various tasting proceedings and events by RMW educator Mark de Vere, and winemaking team Genevieve Janssens, Joe Harden, and Megan Schofield, was that this iconic wine is impossible to separate from its equally iconic winery, and its arguably much more iconic namesake.

I half expected the ghost of Robert Mondavi to waltz in on us like a whirling dervish at some point during our tastings, and I don’t at all mean that flippantly; at this point, his presence and influence is as firmly embedded in the superstructure of RMW as the material in its literal foundation…

Golden Years (Tasting Fifty Harvests Of Mondavi Reserve Cabernet)

While Robert Mondavi’s impact on Napa Valley, the U.S. wine business, and the emergence of America’s wine culture in general need not be recounted yet again for most of you,  a handful of quotes from those who gathered to taste, eat, and celebrate the RMW’s golden anniversary are all that’s needed to bolster the sentiment of the iconic in this case, considering their sources:

“[Robert Mondavi] was gound-zero for winemaking; he is still more important today than even his brand.” – winemaker Paul Hobbs

“[Robert Mondavi] wanted to create a place where a customer could become part of… a visual experience that they could carry away with them.” – Warren Winiarski

“This winery… re-energized the wine business in Napa Valley.” – Mark de Vere

“[Robert Mondavi] was always looking forward.” – Napa Valley vintner Zelma Long

“The style [of RMW Cabernet] is consistent; to us, the style is a philosophy… we have the DNA of Mr. Mondavi.” – RMW Director of Winemaking Genevieve Janssens

It’s that last quote in particular that will carry us through to my thoughts on the wines themselves. No, you’re not getting a run-down on all fifty vintages (I’m going to highlight twenty). Yes, Janssens’s statement on style holds true. We cannot – and should not – expect that, in five decades of time, that the RMW Reserve Cabernet would remain static. So much “material” (as she put it) has evolved in that time-frame that it would have been impossible to do so even if they’d wanted to repeat the same wine over and over. Climate has changed; vineyard planting has changed; rootstocks have changed; winery equipment has changed.

That sense of Mondavi’s DNA, however? That certainly has not changed.

Golden Years (Tasting Fifty Harvests Of Mondavi Reserve Cabernet)1966 Robert Mondavi Winery Cabernet Reserve (Napa Valley, $NA)

While clearly entering its swan song, this tart, red-fruited, spicy little number is, amazingly, astonishingly, beautifully drinkable. In fact, it’s downright elegant. Even considering the talents involved in making this wine at the time, they were flying by the seats of their collective pants (as viticulturist Phil Freese described working with Mondavi, “we were making things up back then that common practice today”), it is stunning how well it has held up. You’re unlikely to ever encounter this wine, unfortunately, even at the winery (who, thanks to this celebration, are just about out of it).

1968 Robert Mondavi Winery Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve ($NA)

Plummy, pruney, and short of finish, this wine is otherwise a delight. Balsamic, black licorice, nuts, wood spices; there’s a lot still going on here. And it’s definitely still alive, and in fact vibrant enough to conjure up food pairing ideas.

1969 Robert Mondavi Winery Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve ($NA)

Mondavi would have worked with the now also iconic Mike Grgich on this one. The wine is, in a word, exceptional. It’s probably one of the Earth, cigar ash, funk, granite, red currants, violets, balsamic… it’s quite a complex nose for such an old soul. The mouthfeel is exceptionally youthful given its age; there’s so much vibrancy here. The finish is full of earth, cloves, and currants, and goes on, and on, and on… At 47, it can most definitely still kick your scrawny ass. Our tasting went through one of the last bottles that the winery has in its library. Which means that, with a skilled enough team, one could theoretically break into the place and steal what they have left… just sayin’…

Golden Years (Tasting Fifty Harvests Of Mondavi Reserve Cabernet)

1971 Robert Mondavi Winery Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve ($NA)

Now my second favorite RMW Reserve Cab release (courtesy of the 1969), I’ve actually had the pleasure of encountering this wine before (courtesy of Michael Mondavi). Technically, this vintage is the first official “reserve” designated Cab for RMW, and is actually forty percent Cabernet Franc, predating the current labeling laws that would prevent it from being labeled as Cabernet Sauvignon today. The vintage was deemed average, but there’s nothing average about this wine. Cherries, cola, baking spices, violets on the nose, currants, nuts, cigar, walnut shell, vibrant juciness, and total joy in the mouth. It’s still lithe, alive, and stunning. 12.7% abv. Also, I was in utero when the grapes were harvested.

1976 Robert Mondavi Winery Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve ($NA)

Uniquely, this is 100% Cabernet Sauvignon, as Robert Mondavi felt that the wine wouldn’t benefit from blending in anything else in that vintage. The words “holy f*ck” appear in my tasting notes; there are plenty of spices, red fruits, and acids jumping around in this wine. The aromas of red currant, wood, and even orange peel are immediately, incredibly enticing. This wine instantly made me ravenously hungry, by the way. 13.3% abv

1978 Robert Mondavi Winery Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve ($185)

Apparently, this release (which includes a smattering of Cab Franc and Merlot) is one of Tim Mondavi‘s faves. He has good taste. Weather was unsettled during the vintage, but things worked out well enough that the overall fruit quality was excellent. Now, it’s sporting walnut shell, truffle, smoked meat, and wood spice aromas, with a delightfully juicy and mineral palate, with a bit of red fruits still left. The finish is taking its sweet time, full of dried herbs and toast. I loved it. 13% abv.

Golden Years (Tasting Fifty Harvests Of Mondavi Reserve Cabernet)

1980 Robert Mondavi Winery Reserve Cabernet ($NA)

A blend of Cab, Merlot, and a bit of Cabernet Franc, from a rather cool year by Napa Valley standards. Above all, the wine is delicious and in a very, very drinkable spot right now. I actually found it rather bold in its currant and cassis fruits, which was a nice surprise. There’s also nothing shy about its black tea and spice aromas, either. 13% abv.

1981 Robert Mondavi Winery Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve ($110)

If you like them oaky, then this is your huckleberry. Harvest came early that year, and the wines were generally pretty lush, which is reflected in the big, plummy, juicy, vanilla-laden presentation of this very tasty blend of mostly Cab and Merlot. A mere 12.7% abv, which, when you drink this wine, makes no sense (but won’t stop you from drinking it).

1983 Robert Mondavi Winery Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve ($120)

There’s some Cab Franc and Merlot in the mix on this one, which was a nose offering earthiness and little else. The palate, however, is exciting; pithy, with red fruits and great acidity. Smoke ’em if you got ’em on this one, but just make sure that you do it with some grilled lamb. 12.2% abv.

1989 Robert Mondavi Winery Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve ($100)

A challenging vintage (again, by Napa standards) with cool temperatures, rain, but conditions that favored thick grapes skins. The result is a darker – and very interesting – wine in its leather, tar, black olive, earth, plum, and funk aromas. Cassis, spice, and elegance mark the velvety palate. It’d be pretty difficult to stop drinking this. 9% Merlot, 13.1% abv.

Golden Years (Tasting Fifty Harvests Of Mondavi Reserve Cabernet)

RMW educator Mark de Vere at the To Kalon vineyard

1991 Robert Mondavi Winery Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve ($150)

10% Merlot, 3% Cab Franc, and 80% funkaaaay. An ideal vintage weather-wise, though this isn’t my personal ideal of RMW Reserve. Barnyard, earth, cloves, cigar ash on the nose, and the palate is solid, and alive. Personally, I couldn’t get past the funk to call this one a great release, but fans of Old World Cabs will likely enjoy its undoubtedly excellent craftsmanship. 13.4% abv.

1994 Robert Mondavi Winery Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve ($170)

I would have been old enough to legally drink this one. Only 4% Merlot and 4% Cab Franc were added, which is probably a testament to how god this vintage was for Cabernet Sauvignon overall. And the wine is, pretty much, a classic Napa Cab: truffle, earth, cigar box, vanilla, and lots of dense, dark, plummy fruit on hand across a broad and generous palate. 13.4% abv.

1998 Robert Mondavi Winery Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve ($125)

The much-maligned El Niño vintage. And yet, this wine is lovely, poised, and very spicy, and a delight to drink, just like 90% of the 1998 Napa Valley Cabs that the Wine Spectator probably told everyone not to buy. While it loses some balance due towards the finish due to noticeable heat, there’s plenty to love here: cedar spice, licorice, and sinewy, chewy tannins. 14.1% abv.

1999 Robert Mondavi Winery Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve ($125)

A much easier vintage than its predecessor, this one takes time to unfold, but when it does it sees out the `90s with quite the fanfare. Dried herbs, earth, red currants on the nose, juicy, vibrant plummy fruit on the palate. It develops increasing amounts of poise as it goes along. As in 1998, this release saw Cab Franc, Merlot, and Petit Verdot blended in, but also includes a touch of Malbec. 14% abv.

Golden Years (Tasting Fifty Harvests Of Mondavi Reserve Cabernet)

Tasting with the RMW winemaking team

2000 Robert Mondavi Winery Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve ($125)

Maybe it was the hefty (14%) addition of Cabernet Franc, but I loved this wine. Ripe, juicy, powerful red fruits, dusty tannins, black olive and dried herb aromas, violets, truffle, mineral, cassis, oak spice… there’s a sh*t-ton going on here, people. This comes off as big, but also elegantly dressed, and keeps a nice sense of freshness all the way through a fairly long finish. Damn, I want to go back to this just writing about it… 14.1% abv.

2007 Robert Mondavi Winery Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve ($135)

Generally, the 2000s aren’t my favorite run of RMW Reserve Cab vintages, as the wines saw pretty sharp increases in the perceptible heat (presumably due to the rising abv – this one is 15.9%, by the way). This one is hot, no doubt, but it’s also lovely in its minerality and cedar notes. It’s lush, aristocratic in presentation, and dark of fruit. I wouldn’t hesitate to order it at the steakhouse, though the tannins are so velvety that I’m not sure it’s built for much more long-haul aging (note that I could very well be wrong here).

2010 Robert Mondavi Winery Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve ($135)

The nose is smokey, the finish long and spicy, the fruits dark and deep, the palate grippy, chalky, and mineral (all in good ways). For me, this is what happens when you go big, bold, and beautiful all at the same time, which is kind of what Napa Cab does best when it’s done really well. Everything is dialed up here, and this vintage is not playing any games. 15% abv.

2011 Robert Mondavi Winery Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve ($145)

To me, this is the most stunning of the recent Reserve Cab releases (there’s abit of Cab Franc and Petit Verdot in the mix). It’s a delicious, poised effort, that I suspect will sneak up on us all later as a classic. Fresh and dried herbs on the nose, along with red and black currants and elegant wood spices, violets, and stones. Pure dark berry fruits on the palate, overshadowed somewhat by incredible elegance and Alaskan-pipeline length in the finish. 14% abv.

2012 Robert Mondavi Winery Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve ($145)

If you like them spicy, this vintage puts on a clinic: cinnamon, tobacco, coriander, cedar, what-have-you. The fruits are dark and ripe, the mouthfeel muscular and grippy. Picture James Bond driving a muscle car. A well-crafted, but very, very big boy, it will get the hedonists out the swooning. 15% abv.

2013 Robert Mondavi Winery Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve ($155)

Like the 2012, this has a bit Cab Franc and Petit Verdot action, and it’s slated for an August release. It’s a complex wine, both in aromas and on the palate. Violets, cocoa, tons of spices, dried herbs, dusty wild berries, and earthiness all give way to what becomes a textural, fascinating mouthfeel. It’s ripe and grippy, and quite big, but also quite balanced, with more compelling tension than a really well-executed psychological thriller. 15% abv.


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Working Hard To Change Nothing (Williams Selyem Recent Releases)

There was so much that I didn’t want to like about Sonoma’s storied Williams Seylem.

  • The too-cool-for-school exclusivity of their mailing list.
  • The imposing fortress-like facade of their “barrel-evoking” tasting room and its “wall of bottles.”
  • The fact that they used terms like “barrel-evoking.”
  • That current owners John and Kathe Dyson were former mailing list members (how cute!).
  • That the label typeface they use was so old that it had to be recreated from scratch when their printing went digital.
  • The way that their wines get collectors all google-eyed, shooting prices up on the secondary market.
  • The friggin’ goats.
Working Hard To Change Nothing (Williams Selyem Recent Releases) Working Hard To Change Nothing (Williams Selyem Recent Releases)

The problem with trying to be a Williams Seylem hater, though, is that when it comes to their affable, knowledgeable staff, and their consistently excellent wines, there’s just not enough bad there to hate…

And so, just like that, after sampling the first wine in the lineup, my stupid little agenda during my tasting room visit was all blown to hell.

John Dyson has stated that, after purchasing Williams Seylem from its original owners in 1997, “I’ve never worked harder to change nothing.” The bottom line is that Williams Seylem formula (their mission statement: “Make the Best Wines, from the Best Grapes, from the Best Growers”) isn’t broken. It works for just about everyone with the arguable exception of budget-minded wine lovers, who are unlikely to encounter the wines without some effort (and even more cash outlay).

By the numbers, Williams Seylem now produces about 30,000 cases across 36 wines, using fewer than 10 grape varieties, farming 80 acres on 4 estate vineyards and utilizing 19 sources of purchased fruit. That’s a little bit on the complicated side of things, from a winemaking perspective, but I’ve yet to really encounter an example of their wines where things aren’t working. Well. Usually very, very well.

Working Hard To Change Nothing (Williams Selyem Recent Releases)

Working Hard To Change Nothing (Williams Selyem Recent Releases)2014 Williams Seylem Limestone Ridge at Vista Verde Vineyard Chenin Blanc (San Benito County, $35)

If you didn’t expect a Chenin to kick off the tasting notes for a WS visit, that’s understandable, and it’s by design; I didn’t expect to kick off my tasting there with a Chenin, either. But I’m happy that they decided to lead with this perky little number for my visit. The soils at Limestone Ridge are, predictably, limestone, and the wine sees some time in concrete eggs and about eleven months on the lees. With all of its crisp verve, it needs some of that creaminess. Tropical fruits, and flowers on the nose, but the mineral, juicy, focused texture steals the show here.

Working Hard To Change Nothing (Williams Selyem Recent Releases)

Working Hard To Change Nothing (Williams Selyem Recent Releases)2013 Williams Seylem Unoaked Chardonnay (Russian River Valley, $40)

For being unoaked, this Chard isn’t lacking in rich, leesy yeastiness. It’s also not lacking in citrus, yellow apple fruit, white floral aromas, or Dr.-No-levels of laser-like acidity. The wine finishes with a hint of toastiness that’s actually welcome because of how lovely it is. If you like your Chablis, this is one of the closest U.S.-based impersonations that you’re likely to find.

Working Hard To Change Nothing (Williams Selyem Recent Releases)2013 Williams Seylem Drake Estate Vineyard Chardonnay (Russian River Valley, $70)

White flowers, white peaches, and white-hot-bright purity. This is intense in its youthfulness, balancing opaque power with transparent energy. I’m not really sure what that means, either, I just know that i wanted to sit for a good long while in its lemon-rind-filled gaze.

Working Hard To Change Nothing (Williams Selyem Recent Releases)

Working Hard To Change Nothing (Williams Selyem Recent Releases)2013 Williams Seylem Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir (Sonoma County, $60)

My least fave of the lineup that I tasted at WS, but only because it was so closed off, young, and reticient right now. There are dark cherry fruit, leather, earth, and tea aromas working there way out of this, however, and in the mouth it’s substantial, structured, and grippy. Give it time, people, give it time…

Working Hard To Change Nothing (Williams Selyem Recent Releases)2013 Williams Seylem Westside Road Neighbors Pinot Noir (Russian River Valley, $70)

Maybe if a cadre of super-powerful ninjas lived next door to you would you have neighbors that rival the grapes that made this chewy, spicy, leathery, and deeply aromatic Pinot. Sweet dark plums, violets, and structure for days.

Working Hard To Change Nothing (Williams Selyem Recent Releases)

Working Hard To Change Nothing (Williams Selyem Recent Releases)2012 Williams Seylem Ferrington Vineyard Pinot Noir (Anderson Valley, $70)

Cola? Earth? Deep, dark, plum and berry fruits and notable spice? Yeah, you’d expect that from really good Anderson Pinot. What you might not expect is how lithe this wine feels on the tongue, rather than coming up all powerhouse on you like so many AV Pinots. Overall, excellent and enticing; a heavyweight, but one that can move with deceptive rapidity.

Working Hard To Change Nothing (Williams Selyem Recent Releases)2012 Williams Seylem Rochioli Riverblock Vineyard Pinot Noir (Sonoma County, $80)

Daaaaaaaammmmnnnnn. Red plums, funky earth, perfumed florals… this is serious, seriously delicious stuff. The mouthfeel is just as gorgeous, fantastic, and take-no-prisoners as the nose; structured, with great scaffolding for aging, both in tannic framework and lively acids.

Working Hard To Change Nothing (Williams Selyem Recent Releases)

Working Hard To Change Nothing (Williams Selyem Recent Releases)2013 Williams Seylem Papera Vineyard Zinfandel (Russian River Valley, $60)

Quite a fun way to end things. While this is, for sure, an intellectual take on Sonoma Zin, there isn’t so much overthinking going here as to detract from its potential sexiness. Juicy black plums, tea leaf, spice, cherries, and even some bergamot… who’d have thought this 93-year-old vineyard could look so hot?


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California Melon from Lieu Dit: Muscadet Fans Take Note

If you love Muscadet as much as I do, here’s a wine to hoard. Or purchase and share, whatevs. It’s California Melon. The former being the state (duh) and the later being the name of the grape.

Muscadet from the Loire Valley is a wine made from the Melon (de Bourgogne) grape. Outside of this (my favorite) wine region in France, one place domestically you can find the grape is Oregon. And, as this wine demonstrates, Melon is also in California. (Back in the day, a lot of what was thought to be Pinot Blanc in that state was actually Melon de Bourgogne.)

California Melon: 2015 Lieu Dit Santa Maria Valley

As an enormous Muscadet fan, I was a quite curious about how the grape would work in California. Not only was my inquisitive nature rewarded, but so were my taste buds. Super-delicious. The Lieu Dit compares favorably to any top wine from Muscadet I’ve had. And, taking a look at the bottle, it certainly fills me with #LabelLust.

No doubt you and I can use our immense deductive powers of reasoning to figure this is a wine tailor-made for oysters. I actually enjoyed it with potato and spinach pierogis. Which would probably look pretty cool on a label, too. But not as evocative as an oyster in its shell.

So what’s it like on the inside? Well this is a wine with an initial bracing quality that chills out into a more textured savory delight. It’s certainly great on it’s own, seafood and shellfish an obv match, and you could probably get away with pairing the Lieu Dit with lighter chicken and pork preparations.

Or chug it with a steak, who cares? It’s your life and your wine to do with as you please.

(I could see it being nice with a skirt steak slathered in chimichurri, BTW.)

Average retail price: $22.

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Lights, Camera, Non-Douchebaggery (Ehlers Estate Recent Releases)

“I was delayed, I was way-laid
An emergency stop
I smelt the last ten seconds of life…”

– The Smiths, “Stop Me If You Think You’ve Heard This One Before

Sometimes getting a late start can be a good thing.

At least, that’s the kind of thing that I like to tell myself when I finally get around to writing up a tasting almost five months after it happened.

Take Ehlers Estate winemaker Kevin Morrisey’s foray into Napa Valley viticulture as an example.

Originally from Media, PA, he began his winemaking career at the age of thirty-five, when he enrolled at UC Davis to study oenology. Prior to that, Morrisey was a junior Hollywood cameraman, slugging out a living behind the lens in Paris and Los Angeles.

Kevin Morrisey (image:

When I met him for a tasting lunch in NYC late in 2015, he struck me as the kind of Napa Valley personality that isn’t attempting to hide any douchebaggery, simply because he doesn’t seem to have any douchebaggery to hide. That might come from his Media childhood, or the fact that he’s now making wine with “relative autonomy” (though Ehler’s owners, Leducq Foundation, does require them to “be profitable”), or that he’s still just tickled pink to work for a winery in the Valley that has a real backstory to it (Sacremento grocer Bernard Ehlers founded the winery in 1886, after paying for its 42 acres in gold coin).

“It’s nice in Napa to have a stone barn that’s actually, you know, real stone!” he told me.

And that, to me, kind of sums up the sense of genuine pride and confidence and non-douchey-moxie with which Morrisey presents himself; it’s a sense that also permeates the Ehlers wines that he has made since coming on board in 2009.

To wit…

Lights, Camera, Non-Douchebaggery (Ehlers Estate Recent Releases)2014 Ehlers Estate Sauvignon Blanc (Napa Valley, $28)

“I hang my hat on this wine,” Morrisey boasted when we tasted it. “A chef can throw so much butter and fat at this!”

While the (now organic) vineyard source for this wine is in a relatively warm spot in the Valley, the fruit is picked “super-early” according to Morrisey, and my impression was that you could pick a lot worse of a hat rack wine. While the warmer-climate melon flavors are all over this SB, there’s also no shortage of pithy lime, with intriguing flint and grapefruit notes thrown in for good measure. It’s authentic, maybe even a touch brash, but undoubtedly deliciously zesty (the latter being something that I’d not call a hallmark of the majority of Napa SBs).

Oh, we drank it with this (highly recommended, if you can manage it):

Lights, Camera, Non-Douchebaggery (Ehlers Estate Recent Releases)

Lights, Camera, Non-Douchebaggery (Ehlers Estate Recent Releases)2013 Ehlers Estate Cabernet Franc (Napa Valley, $60)

I’m a bit of a stickler when it comes to my Cab Franc (hello, geek here!), so my shields were up and waiting on this one. Happily, it didn’t disappoint. Yes, this is on the plusher, vanilla-laden side of things (hello, Napa!), but this is a Franc that was clearly in the hands of someone who gave a crap about Franc: textbook black cherry fruit, spices, dried herbs, and an underpinning structure that is serious, giving not only support, but also some gravitas to the rich, dark fruits above it.


Lights, Camera, Non-Douchebaggery (Ehlers Estate Recent Releases)2013 Ehlers Estate “1886” Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley, $110)

Because, well, you have to have a sub-3000 case, expensive Cab release from your Napa Valley estate, or you will get arrested or something, right? The good news (aside from this having 8% of that compelling Cab Franc in it, I mean), is that this doesn’t come off as an obligation-fulfilling red. At least, I don’t think that one releases a pricey wine that is this angular and awkward-seeming now without having serious confidence in its potential.

This one needs only time; the best Napa elements are all in place. Lovely spices, powerful structure, freshness, focus, earthiness, black currant fruits to spare… and enviable length once those elements start to peeeeeeeeeek out there little heads, ever so tentatively.



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Mama Don’t Take No Mess (Livermore Valley, Reconsidered at Palate Press)

Mama Don’t Take No Mess (Livermore Valley, Reconsidered at Palate Press)

image: Palate Press

Mama Don’t Take No Mess (Livermore Valley, Reconsidered at Palate Press)

Steve Mirassou, pretending to take a photo (or, sharing his opinions on the state of Livermore Valley juice)

One of my media tours this year had me returning to California’s perennially underrated Livermore Valley, where I’d not been for a few years, and reconnecting with the likes of local vintners Karl Wente and Steve Mirassou, neither of whom I’d seen (or, more importantly, tasted with) lately.

The tour was very well executed, with comprehensive tastings dedicated mostly to varietal wines from Cabernet, Petite Sirah, and Chardonnay. Generally, I remain impressed with the combination of gumption, quality, history, and irony coming out of the region.

It’s the latter two aspects that really got my pseudo-journalistic juices flowing, and they’re the focus of a feature I penned about the trip (titled The Mother Vine: Livermore Reconsidered) that’s now available over at Palate Press. Both words and pics are by me, so you can come back here and flame me if you hate either. Lots of vino was tasted that didn’t make it into the final article, much of which I’ll be trickling out in the form of mini-reviews in the coming weeks.

So… this is the part where you go on over there and read it.

Mama Don’t Take No Mess (Livermore Valley, Reconsidered at Palate Press)

Unless you don’t like irony, history (and this one is about as deep into the history of California winemaking as one can get, as the area is home to the mother vine clones of Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon that now dominate the state’s plantings), or exciting developments in U.S. wine… in which case, I’m not sure that I can help you… hell, I’m not sure that anyone can help you… have you sought out the assistance of a professional for that condition? Because, seriously, I am starting to worry about you. Just sayin’…


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Copyright © 2015. Originally at Mama Don’t Take No Mess (Livermore Valley, Reconsidered at Palate Press) from - for personal, non-commercial use only. Cheers!