Spätburgunder Spotlight (Spätlight?)

Can’t say I’ve had a lot of German Pinot Noir. So when I had the chance to attend a dinner celebrating Spätburgunder (that’s the country’s name for Pinot Noir), there was no way I was missing it. Hearty thanks to Icy Liu for the invitation. (Her IG is full of incredible wines.)

Our Master of Ceremonies was Lyle Fass of the eponymous Fass Selections. He brought most of the wines, along with a final two bottles courtesy of Brad Trent. (Check out his photography.) We were joined by a few wine industry pros.

Overall the wines were excellent. I haven’t had that much good Pinot at one sitting in a long time. These are wines that belong on the table and in the cellar.

One thing I was wondering before we started is, “What is German Pinot Noir?” Does it have a style, a signature?

Of course, that’s not a good place to start. It’s a big country. You have to dive into the regions (Mosel, etc.) and get to know the producers. And probably the vintage. It’s a lot like learning about Burgundy. Dedication, with a touch of obsessiveness/madness, is key.

I’d also advice anyone stymied by German Pinot Noir to flip the bottle over. If you see Fass Selections, it’s going to be something on the elegant, earthy, spicy side. No pumped-up PN here. (This is advice I would give for wine, period. Find an importer you like and if its name is on the back of an unfamiliar bottle, take a flyer.)

One way to think about German Pinot Noir came from Lyle himself. He likes to refer to it as “Red Riesling.” All the things that make Riesling from this part of the world compelling and complex can make an appearance in a fine bottle of Spätburgunder. (Except sweetness. These are totally, completely dry red wines. Also, a ton of German Riesling is now dry. I digress….)

Splendid Spätburgunder

Here are the eight bottles with comments. The wines were arranged in flights of two.

Mosel Flight

Weingut Spater-Veit 2008

We started with the oldest bottle. Very smooth, low tannins, and lots of mushrooms peeking out from forest floor kinda thing going on. Would drink now.

Marbleous 2015 Winniger

Was it marvelous? (Sorry.) Yes. Probably tasting it next to a wine almost a decade older made the Marbleous show noticeably different/better. But I loved the fruit and the intensity. This is from a warmer (lower) part of the Mosel.

Limestone Flight

Ziereisen Jaspis 2014

Earthy and a wine you want to brood over, nice acidity and a little touch of tannin. #ambrooding

Thörle 2015 Probstey

Rich, dark, and juicy. Mellowed the longer it was open/in the glass. Bodes well for a long future. Lyle considers Probstey to be a “Grand Cru” site.

Weingut Josef Walter Flight

2011 Pinot 274 Centgrafenberg 

Lots of twigs and smoky/savory notes on the nose. Wonderful vegetable (I like veg in my red) component, spice, and then you get a nice fruit pop at the end. Intriguing blend of 40% Spatburgunder and 60% Fruhburgunder, the latter a Pinot Noir variant. 

2012 “J” Hundsrück

This wine was peachy, as in peaches. Which is strange when talking about smelling/tasting a red wine, but that what makes wine so dang compelling. Nice richness.

Enderle & Moll Flight

2015 Buntsandstein

Li’l smoky, high acid. Perfect. (Because of the night progressing and darkness descending, my notes got more, ahem, compact.)

2015 Muschelkalk

Fruiter and richer than the B. Hell of an end to the evening’s festivities.


The moral of the story? Above all, seek out Spätburgunder, and from a good importer. Really, there are lots of countries you may not think of for Pinot Noir that may surprise and delight. Add Germany to the list.

Spätburgunder Spotlight (Spätlight?)

Finally, we met for dinner at Riverpark. The patio (where we sat) has marvelous waterfront views. We could even see my home neighborhood of Greenpoint from our table. Of course, being the stupid magnanimous person I am, I chose to sit facing the restaurant. The crab and cornbread dish with peekytoe crab, charred corn, heirloom peppers, lime, onion, and beurre blanc was excellent. I also had a very nice cavatelli dish with smoked chicken, corn, fresno chiles, parmesan, and fines herbes. I love corn in the summertime!

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Thoughts on Chile Inspired by Winemaker Rodrigo Soto

I met Rodrigo Soto back in 2012 when I was visiting the Veramonte winery in Chile. (Sidebar: they have a really cool antique corkscrew collection there.) He’s been at the forefront of converting vineyards to organic farming for the Ritual, Neyen, Primus, and Veramonte labels.

Vineyards at Veramonte / photo courtesy the winery

Recently I had a chance to reconnect with him for an informal chat over some coffee. (We met at 8:30am, not prime wine time.) Before he caught a train to go up to Westchester (which gave me unpleasant commuting flashbacks), he left me with a couple bottles to take home.

Two of the topics covered I’d like to address here. One is the question of price and the other is regionality. And this first bottle points to both.

Ritual Supertuga Block Chardonnay Casablanca Valley 2016 ($50)

Thoughts on Chile Inspired by Winemaker Rodrigo SotoOne of the issues facing the wines of Chile is most people hear “Chilean wine” and only think “value.” Or the dreaded “cheap.” There is no denying that Chile has very high-quality wines at excellent prices. I’ve been a huge fan of its Sauvignon Blanc (and more) for that reason.

While there are some iconic (red) wines that command high prices, like Santa Rita Casa Real, Concha y Toro’s Don Melchor, and Casa Lapostolle’s Clos Apalta, it’s more of a slog for white wines. How do you get people to consider Chile a source for wines that cost $20, $30 and higher? If I gave you $50 and said get any wine you want, would Chile cross your mind?

Consider a wine like the Ritual Supertuga Block Chardonnay. It’s fermented in big ol’ oak barrels but only 18% of them are new. So you get more texture and less oakiness. (Some of the wine is also fermented in concrete eggs, which I’d call hip but they are getting so popular I don’t even know if that’s accurate anymore. Ok, they are still cool.) It’s rich, it’s elegant, it pleases.

The other issue Rodrigo Soto and I discussed is regionality. Everyone knows Chile makes wine, but how many people drill down into its distinct regions? This wine is from the Casablanca Valley and it’s one of many regions of Chilean wine worth exploring. (If you go here and click on the “See Chilean Valleys” tab you get an idea of how far these regions stretch up and down the country.)

Veramonte Pinot Noir 2016 ($11)

Though I’m steering you to think of Chile beyond budget wines, I have to toot its horn for very good Pinot Noir at outstanding prices. In my wine shop I’d have at least a three-case stack of the Veramonte Pinot Noir, with the top box meeting my exacting specifications for how you cut a case of wine with a box knife. Now I’m having flashbacks to sales reps and merchandisers with sloppy cardboard case cutting techniques. (Shudder.)

I always consider finding good Pinot Noir under $15 to be like the quest for the Holy Grail. (Sidebar: I recently saw the 1981 movie “Excalibur” for the first time in decades. The cast is spectacular: Helen Mirren, Gabriel Byrne, Liam Neeson, and Patrick Stewart, to name a few. It’s very weird, moody, and dark. Highly recommend.)

So the Veramonte Pinot Noir (screwcap closure, BTW) has a little bit of oomph. It’s not a light, delicate wine but more medium-bodied. Nice to note it’s 100% Pinot Noir. A lot of cheap Pinot has just enough Pinot Noir to be labeled as such, usually pumped-up with Syrah or whatever other grapes are lying around.

In conclusion: Chile is worth your premium dollars and is a multi-faceted country when it comes to regional wine nuances. You don’t have to spend $50 to experience this but if your ceiling for Chilean wine is, say, $15 and under, don’t hesitate to get into that $25+ range. Thanks to Rodrigo Soto for his time and a thought-provoking conversation. It’s definitely the most consideration I’ve given wine at 8:30 in the morning, and possibly later in the day, too.

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Master Sommelier Larry Stone and Lingua Franca Wines

lin·gua fran·ca noun: “a language that is adopted as a common language between speakers whose native languages are different.”

Lingua Franca Vineyard LSV

The headline for this article could read: “Local Boy Does Good!” Larry Stone is one of the most influential people in the wine industry. (Period). One of the first Americans to pass the Master Sommelier exam (#9 in 1988), the only American ever to win France’s Grand Prix de Sopexa competition (better known as the “Best Sommelier in the World”). Wine director for Charlie Trotters. Founder (With Robert De Niro and Robin Williams) of the legendary Rubicon in San Francisco. Dean of Wine Studies at the International Culinary Center.

In 2006, he left the restaurant business to become the Gérant of the Niebaum-Coppola winery, now Inglenook. He worked with Augustine Huneeus at Quintessa, started his own Napa property Sirita and he also ran a négociant firm, Deux Chapeaux, with Daniel Johnnes. In 2010, Stone became president of Evening Land Vineyards, where he collaborated with Burgundian winemaker Dominique Lafon. Today, Evening Land is in the capable hands of Stone’s Protégé Rajat Parr.

In 2012, Stone started a new winery next door – Lingua Franca.

Master Sommelier Larry Stone and Lingua Franca Wines
Larry Stone tasting at Esquin

Stone brought together a team led by Dominique Lafon. Who is Burgundy’s best-known winemaker, his name is attached to one of its most famous Domaines -Comte Lafon. The Comtes Lafon domaine, contains well over three hectares of premier cru vineyard as well a piece of burgundy’s grand cru Le Montrachet. Lafon Montrachet sells for thousands of dollars a bottle. He has been rightly called “the Wizard of Burgundy.”

He also brought on board winemaker Thomas Savre, who worked with stone and Lafon at Evening Land after working at luminary Burgundian properties as Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, Domaine Dujac, and Maison Nicolas Potel. To manage the vineyards he brought on local viticulturist Mimi Casteel. Mimi is the daughter of Ted Casteel and Pat Dudley, co-founders of Bethel Heights Vineyard. She brings with her a lifetime of living and working in the valley and her families well known reputation for Sustainable and Biodynamic farming.

Master Sommelier Larry Stone and Lingua Franca WinesStone was in negotiations with Evening Land’s neighbors to purchase the land adjacent to the famed Seven Springs Vineyard, even before he left the project. After he left Evening Land the Janzen family approached him with a deal to buy the land. He sold his stake in Sirita Winery, auctioned off his personal wine collection and convinced a few friends to invest.

They cleared the land – removing fruit and Christmas Trees – planted a vineyard and built a winery, designed by Lafon and Savre. Across the road from Seven Springs it is also adjacent Domaine Serene’s Jerusalem Hill Vineyard, Argyle Winery’s Lone Star Vineyard and Domaine Drouhin’s Roserock Vineyard.

A perfect vineyard sight, a remarkably capable team and an astute understanding of the wine business. It is not surprising these wines are already creating a buzz. Lingua Franca is being poured at high-profile Paris restaurants Vitus, Taillevent and Spoon. Impressive for a new minted American Pinot Noir.

Master Sommelier Larry Stone and Lingua Franca Wines

The entire first vintage from Lingua Franca received 90 plus point scores from Wine Spectator! With The Tongue N’ Cheek making it in the

Lingua Franca Avni Pinot Noir Eola-Amity Hills 2015 $36.99 btl

Refined and precise, featuring a structure that’s elegantly complex, with raspberry and cinnamon aromas and sleek cherry and mineral flavors. Drink now through 2022. 772 cases made.

92 Points Wine Spectator

He told me, “We are not trying to make ‘burgundy’, although that is of course an influence. We are making wines of very little intervention, wines of place”. Stone describes it as “exploring Oregon with the mind of Burgundy.” The name Lingua Franca represents the concept of universal language, of bringing people of different worlds to common ground – shared conversation, shared enjoyment. Lingua franca could be described as a conversation between Oregon terroir and years of traditional Burgundian winemaking.

If you were to make a list of what you would need to make a great wine, every box would be checked off on the list.

Not bad for the son of refugees.

His mother was a cheesemaker, and his father was a produce buyer at Seattle’s Pike Place Market. Stone was always enamored with food and even making his own wine at age 14. At the UW, Stone was a National Merit Scholar who studied abroad in Montpellier, France, and Vienna. He pursued a doctorate in comparative literature, earning a Fulbright Scholarship to University of Tübingen in Germany.He never finished his dissertation.

He was one of Seattle’s very first Sommeliers’ at a restaurant called the Red Cabbage. Later working at the Four Seasons Olympic before heading to Chicago and Charlie Trotter’s.Master Sommelier Larry Stone and Lingua Franca Wines

Local boy does good, and then some.


By Lenny Rede

Leonard Redé is the marketing person here at Esquin Wine and Spirits. An instructor in the Wine Technology Program at South Seattle, he wrote the curriculum for the Associate of Arts Degree in Food and Wine Pairing Sommelier Studies. A classically trained chef and pastry chef he was nominated for educator of the year while Chef Instructor at the world renowned Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts. He garnered international attention at his award winning restaurant Sapphire kitchen and bar. A restaurateur, wine steward, chef and educator with over 30 years of industry experience he has a unique blend of culinary and wine expertise. He loves to share his passion for all things gastronomic and he’ll gladly help you navigate the world of wine and is always quick with a wine pairing or recipe.

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The New Best $15 Pinot Noir

Probably/definitely blasphemous, but I liken the task of finding a Pinot Noir 15 bucks or less to that of the quest for the Holy Grail. So when I picked up a bottle of Les Deux Moulins Pinot from the Loire Valley, I had a bit of trepidation.

Though I was cautiously optimistic, because I had enjoyed the Sauv Blanc from this producer. And, I like the label. Which is important to me. Not gonna lie.

Les Deux Moulins Pinot Noir (2016)

This is definitely everything I want in an inexpensive Pinot Noir. I got it from my close-by shop, Grapepoint Wines, for $15. (Wine-Searcher shows it for $12, but with only one seller I imagine there will be some fluctuation between the two prices.)

Since it’s fermented and aged in stainless steel,  this is a Pinot Noir that’s a fresh, easy-drinking delight. If you need a red wine to chill down for the summer, this would fit the bill mightily. (Though you’ll find me drinking it in the shade.) Very tasty stuff.


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Lachini Vineyards: Spring Releases & Lunch at the Vineyard

Lachini Vineyards is having it’s spring release over the next few weekends and also a lunch in their estate vineyards in Oregon. Please RSVP below if you are interested.

Lachini Vineyards: Spring Releases & Lunch at the Vineyard


Our SPRING RELEASE events are nearly here! We’ve been waiting for these events since we first laid eyes on these beautiful wines back in 2015 harvest. We are excited about our 2015 Pinot noirs as they boast big flavors that provide immediate drinking pleasure, yet possess enough stuffing to age! To round out this release, you’ll find our 2014 Prima Pinot Noir (only the 3rd vintage of this marvelous wine), 2015 Chardonnay al di là (meaning…’beyond the beyond’) plus 2016 Pinot Gris – just in time for summer! We still have plenty of our 2016 Rosé and will pour this as well for those of you who missed the awesome events last weekend.

We have several events around our PICK-UP parties including a luncheon in the vineyard on Saturday, May 20th beginning at 10:30am. This is a separate event that is open to wine club members and non-members. These events will be the first opportunity to taste and purchase quantities of these wines, after which we will upload to our website under SPRING 2017 RELEASE for all to purchase for a limited time.

2015 Family Estate Pinot Noir, Chehalem Mountains  2125 cases produced
2015 Pinot Noir, Cuvée Giselle, Chehalem Mountains  300 cases produced
2014 Pinot Noir, Prima, Chehalem Mountains   74 cases produced 
2015 Chardonnay, Chehalem Mountains 196 cases produced
2016 Pinot Gris, Oregon 819 cases produced

For those of you who live out of town or can’t wait for the events, we are taking a limited number of call-in orders whereby we’ll ship any assortment of the above wines for your Spring/Summer pleasure. All shipments are scheduled for the week of May 22nd (wealther permitting). Please call our Woodinville Tasting Room at 425.489.9917 during normal business hours to place your order with one of our associates. Your wine will travel via FedEx ground along the West Coast and via FedEx 2-day Express to the East Coast & Hawaii. We recommend letting your wines ‘settle’ for a few weeks after shipment.

Be one of the first to taste our newest wines & pick up your club shipment. Please RSVP to the event of your choice. Parties & tour groups of six or more, please call for times. If you are unable to attend one of the parties and have indicated a ‘pick up status’ or wish to receive your wines prior to the summer, we are happy to hold through the June 10th at each of our tasting rooms or glad to ship to you.

Club members receive complimentary tastings & up to 3 guests. Event tasting fee will be $20 per person for non-club members. You are certainly welcome to invite additional guests.

WOODINVILLE ~ Lachini Tasting Room
14455A Woodinville Redmond Rd. | Woodinville, WA
Saturday, May 13th, 2016 11:00AM – 5:00PM
Enjoy POMPEI WOODFIRED PIZZAS, prawns and lamb/mushroom bite pairings

OREGON ~ Lachini Estate Vineyard & Tasting Barn
18225 NE Calkins Lane  | Newberg, OR
Saturday, May 20st, 2016  1:00PM – 5:00PM
Enjoy woodfired pizzas & wood-fired bite pairings.

LUNCHEON – Saturday, May 20th 10:30am – 12:30pm at our Estate Vineyard
RSVP now, limited to 40 guests. Will include a multi-course lunch with Champagne, our 2016 Rosé & a mini-vertical of our Cuvee Giselle Pinot noirs. We are still working on pricing, but likely around $50/pp.


Please specify which event in the SUBJECT LINE you are requesting. We will call you to confirm your seat for the luncheon and for credit card deposit once pricing has been finalized.

From our vineyard to your table, your enjoyment is our passion!

Lachini Vineyards: Spring Releases & Lunch at the Vineyard
Lachini Vineyards: Spring Releases & Lunch at the Vineyard

18225 NE Calkins Lane, Newberg, OR 97132  || 14455 Woodinville Redmond Rd. Woodinville, WA 98072
Email: info@lachinivineyards.com  | Phone: 425.489.9917 or 888.703.0007 | www.lachinivineyards.com

Weekend Wine Paring ~ Cedar Plank Salmon with Tarragon Mustard Glaze + Chehalem Wines

Spring seems reluctant. I see the fits and starts, the bud break and blossoms, the first Rosés’ and the first of the seasons’ harvests. This is the time of year that I get the most antsy with anticipation. I just can’t wait to get outside and grill! Growing up in California we would grill year round.  Here, I have to seize the day, and catch the sun when she briefly smiles on me.

Grilled Salmon is just about one of the best dishes to prepare when entertaining guests, especially out of towners. The best part is how little time you actually have to spend in front of the grill. Less cooking equals more partying. Again, plan ahead and have your ingredients ready to grill when your guest arrive.

There are a many great ways to grill. One of the time-honored traditions, in these parts, is Cedar plank salmon. One of the greatest things about a Cedar Plank Salmon is that it works just as well in the oven as it does on the grill, so no matter how fickle mother nature may be you can still have a nice dinner.

Call me a traditionalist, but there are few better wines to serve with Cedar Plank Salmon than a good Oregon Pinot Noir, especially from Chehalem Winery. 

Weekend Wine Paring ~ Cedar Plank Salmon with Tarragon Mustard Glaze + Chehalem Wines

Chehalem Three Vineyard Pinot Noir Willamette Valley 2013 $32.99  

This Three Vineyard Pinot Noir has beautiful ripe black cherry and brambly cassis on the nose, with fresh wet earth and a tea leaf component. White pepper, dusty cocoa, tobacco, sweet loam, and raspberry accentuate the nose, providing a fresh, full, complex package. The palate is lithe and playful, with especially round, pliable acid, and an overarching flavor of rich cranberry sauce and rose hips. The finish is lengthy, yet elegant, with beautiful balance – a perfect partner for salmon.

“Light and sleek, open-textured and appealing, with delicate plum and guava flavors, riding on a glassy frame into a vivid finish.” 91 POINTS, Wine Spectator

Or, if you prefer, few places grow Chardonnay as well as they do in the Willamette Valley.

Weekend Wine Paring ~ Cedar Plank Salmon with Tarragon Mustard Glaze + Chehalem Wines

Chehalem “Inox” Willamette Valley Chardonnay 2014 $19.99 

The fruit shines brightly in this all-stainless cuveé. Ripe golden apples are at the core, with hints of peach and papaya. It’s a lovely, forward, ready to drink style that brings extra concentration and detail that is all too rare in unoaked Chardonnays.  91 Points, Wine Enthusiast

xox, Lenny

Taste these wines, plus other BBQ favorites on April 29th  from 2pm to 5pm

Grab a bottle to take home, and create your own:

Cedar Plank Salmon with Tarragon Mustard Glaze

Weekend Wine Paring ~ Cedar Plank Salmon with Tarragon Mustard Glaze + Chehalem Wines

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Benziger Family Winery: five new reviews


I’ve followed Benziger’s fortunes for decades, and one thing I can say, they’re always striving to boost quality. The Benziger family began with the hugely successful Glen Ellen Winery, which pioneered “fighting varietals,” before launching their boutique Benziger brand, which they sold to The Wine Group in 2015. These five wines are the first I’ve tasted since the sale—although all five of them were made prior to it. We’ll have to see if the winery continues on a quality trajectory under the new ownership. The Cabernets are from the estate vineyard, in Glen Ellen, the heart of Sonoma Valley, on slopes of Sonoma Mountain. The Pinot Noirs hail from the estate de Coelo Vineyard, way out on the coast between Freestone and Bodega Bay. I first visited it years ago when it was being developed. My sneakers sank inches into the deep, seabed-derived Goldridge soil, as fine as moon dust. One of the best soils for Pinot Noir in the world, Goldridge drains readily, and lends the wine an expressive elegance.

Here are the wines, in the order I tasted them.

Benziger 2014 de Coelo “Terra Neuma” Pinot Noir (Sonoma Coast): $75. Alc. 14.0%, 230 cases produced. This is from a higher-elevation block of de Coelo. The color is pale and translucent, hinting at delicacy. As in previous vintages, the alcohol is lowish, giving the wine a light, silky mouthfeel. Dusty tannins give it plenty of grip. The fruit suggests persimmons, with tarter cranberries, highlighted by mouthwatering acidity. There are more exotic notes of green tea, white pepper, Chinese 5 spice, and wild mushroom. The finish is severely dry, which is a compliment. Yet, toasted oak barrel aging lends it a vanilla sweetness. Complex and elegant, and so easy to love, this beauty will age for at least eight years. Score: 94 points.

Benziger 2014 de Coelo “Quintus” Pinot Noir (Sonoma Coast): $75. Alc. 13.5%, 625 cases produced. The family resemblance with the other wines from de Coelo is marked in this block-derived wine, which is lower in alcohol than Terra Neuma. It’s slightly tarter and more delicate, but the same persimmon, raspberry, cranberry, tea, orange peel, mushroom and white pepper notes carry through, as do the silky tannins and magnificent acidity. This is exactly what we look for in Goldridge-derived Pinots: enormous complexity, delicacy undergirded with power, extreme drinkability. If there is ever going to be a Freestone appellation—and there ought to be—this wine could stand as its exemplar. I cannot imagine a better companion for lamb or steak. Score: 94 points.

Benziger 2014 de Coelo “Arbore Sacra” Pinot Noir (Sonoma Coast): $75. Alc. 13.5%, 641 cases produced. Another block bottling from the estate vineyard. Aromatically it’s a little shier than the other two, showing more mineral and earth notes, like tree bark, brittle, dried leaves, cloves and dust. But the fruit is there: raspberry tea, pomegranate, orange peel, tart cranberry. There’s also a crispness that lends vitality to the mouthfeel, but the tannins are as light as air: they give a hint of astringency. The mouthfeel is as silky and delicate as an old tapestry, yet the depth is very great, with complex impressions extending out through a long, spicy finish. Of the three wines, I’d have to say this is my favorite. It is ultra-refined and elegant, a wine that would have been unthinkable in California not that long ago. Score: 95 points.

Benziger 2013 “Signaterra” Obsidian Point Cabernet Sauvignon (Sonoma Valley): $65. Alc. 14.4%, 486 cases produced. This is a very proper Cabernet, by which I mean it is classic, balanced and delicious. It’s one of those wines that you take a sip of and think, Wow, is this going to be easy to like. Bone dry, with thick but fragile tannins and just-in-time acidity, it’s rich in black currants, anise, unsweetened cocoa powder, sweet toasted oak and just a hint of herbaceousness: sweet green olive especially. The grapes are from Benziger’s estate vineyard, in the heart of Sonoma Valley on the slopes of Sonoma Mountain, and were biodynamically-grown. I have not been an ardent supporter of biodynamique, but there is a purity to this wine that is notable. Interestingly, the wine is already throwing some tannins. Drink now-2020. Score: 93 points.

Benziger 2013 “Signaterra” Sunny Slope Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon (Sonoma Valley): $59. Alc. 14.5%, 562 cases produced. The wine is just a little bit less concentrated than Obsidian Point, but it’s also six bucks less. It’s quite lovely, with classic black currant, cassis, cocoa and green olive flavors, enriched by 20 months of aging in French oak. It has an inherent elegance due mainly to the splendid acid-tannin structure. It’s not clear to me that it would be worth aging this wine for any length of time, but it is an enjoyable, complex sipper. Score: 90 points.




(1) New Pinot Noirs, old friends in San Francisco (2) On Fighting Drumpf

Part 1

A Pinot Noir tasting in San Francisco

You can take the boy out of the wine business but you can’t take the love of the business out of the boy.

Or something like that. Anyway, although I formally retired from my career on Sept. 2, I still have “wine in my blood,” so when the invitation came to go to PinotFest, the big annual Pinot Noir tasting held at Farallon, near San Francisco’s Union Square, I doffed my cap and BARTed in on an absolutely splendid Autumn day, and had some excellent Pinots. But I wasn’t there to review, only to sip, see what’s up, and connect with old friends.

Honestly, when you’ve been in the biz as long as I have, you somehow manage to accumulate a lot of friends. Here are a few. John Winthrop Haeger is of course the famous author of North American Pinot Noir, published by my publisher, University of California Press.

John Haeger

It’s always a pleasure to run into John, whose opening lecture at the World of Pinot Noir I always used to look eagerly forward to.

The first thing Diana Novy said to me when I saw her was, “I bet you’re surprised to see me here,” by which she meant that her husband, Adam Lee, who usually does the Siduri pouring at events, had been delayed, so Diana was substituting.

(1) New Pinot Noirs, old friends in San Francisco (2) On Fighting DrumpfDiana Novy

I missed seeing Adam, but Diana more than made up for him not being there. I profiled them in my second book, New Classic Winemakers of California: Conversations with Steve Heimoff, and Siduri is owned by my former employer, Jackson Family Wines, so I got to work closely with Adam.

(1) New Pinot Noirs, old friends in San Francisco (2) On Fighting DrumpfJenne Bonaccorsi

Jenne Lee Bonaccorsi took over Bonaccorsi winery after the unexpected, tragic death of her husband, Michael, in 2007. Jenne makes ardent wines of great delicacy and inner power, just like her. She is one of the gentlewomen of California winemaking.

Jon Priest is at the helm of Etude, the great Pinot Noir house in the Carneros.


(1) New Pinot Noirs, old friends in San Francisco (2) On Fighting DrumpfJon Priest

I can’t even remember how long ago I met him—I think Tony Soter was still running the winery. I told Jon I’d recently opened his 2005 and 2006 “Heirloom” Pinot Noirs, and both were showing well.

Then there’s Josh Jensen.

(1) New Pinot Noirs, old friends in San Francisco (2) On Fighting DrumpfJosh Jensen

My profile of him and his winery, Calera, was among the first I ever wrote as a professional. I well remember when Wine Spectator sent me down to Mount Harlan, around 1993; what a thrill that was for an up-and-coming wine writer! Josh remains a gentleman and a scholar, and can always be counted on to be wearing something colorful. He’s very tall and, as you know, I’m not, so I asked him to crouch down a little bit, so the picture wouldn’t look like an avocado next to a broom.

Jonathan Nagy was another colleague of mine at Jackson Family Wines.

(1) New Pinot Noirs, old friends in San Francisco (2) On Fighting DrumpfJonathan Nagy

He presides over Byron Winery, down in the Santa Maria Valley of Santa Barbara County. When I left J.F.W. I knew Jonathan had embarked on an exciting new project: making single-vineyard Pinot Noirs from purchased grapes grown at some of Santa Barbara’s top vineyards. The wines are now in bottle. We tasted through some of them, and man, Jonathan is at the top of his game. But you know what my favorite was? None other than the Julia’s Vineyard, whose grapes Jonathan shares with sister winery Cambria.

It’s still fun for me to go to these events and taste the wines–if, that is, I’m lucky enough to be invited. If you see me at one, come on up, and say Howdy!

Part 2

Why I Fight Drumpf

Do not hesitate. Fight in this battle and you will conquer your enemies. Fight you will, your nature will make you fight. Your karma will make you fight. You will fight in spite of yourself.”

— Krishna to Arjuna, The Mahabharata

Maybe it was because I was brought up on the mean, hardscrabble streets of the South Bronx, where a skinny little kid had to learn how to fight to survive.

Maybe it was because of my many years of karatedo training, in which we were taught never to initiate a fight, but to resist violently if someone else started.

Maybe it’s the latent Jew in me. We weren’t raised with “Turn the other cheek.” For us, it was “an eye for an eye.”

Whatever the reasons, my inclination is to fight, fight, fight against this monster, this dybbuk, this aberration of a normal man, this drumpf.

In my twenties came a period during which I was a hippie, steeped in that Sixties thing of “love and peace.” I believed it. I studied it and tried to practice it. Loving your enemy seemed the right thing to do. Hadn’t Jesus? Hadn’t Buddha? Isn’t that what the Beatles preached?

But the Sixties was fifty years ago. A lot of water under the bridge.

Among people I know—good liberal-humanists—there is currently a debate going on, in the aftermath of the Nov. 8 results. Option #1: accept this unacceptable President, accept his hateful minions and the awful legislation they will craft, and give him a chance. Option #2: oppose him and his dreadful movement every step of the way. This debate is tearing people apart. They really are not sure which way to go. After all, we criticized Mitch McConnell’s statement of utter opposition to Obama—before the latter was even sworn in—as deplorable. It angered us. “How could you be so against him when you don’t even know what he’s going to propose?” And we were right to take that attitude.

Now, the republicans are turning that argument around and asking us, “How can you oppose trump before he’s even taken the oath of office?”

Well, let me explain the difference. The promises Obama made—to unite the country bipartisanly, to end wars, to get along with foreign countries, to rescue the financial system which was dying due to the Bush Great Recession, to respect the environment and be kinder to gay people, to understand the needs of the poor and of immigrants, to respect science, to be a gentleman, to have a clean administration based on high principles—these spoke to the heart and soul of liberal-humanists. When McConnell issued his belligerent threat, we thought, “How could he be against all that?”

Drumpf on the other hand made other promises. Every one of them was based on hatred of “the other,” except for his promise to “Make America Great,” as banal a platitude as ever issued in any soap commercial. Now that we’ve had a sniff of his appointments, there’s every reason to assume the worst: this awful person will divide the country and is a threat to the things we hold dear. He is a last gasp of male, heterosexual, Anglo-Saxon, lower-middle-class, under-educated, bigoted, resentful white supremacy, the latest incarnation of the Know-Nothings, the McCarthyites, the America Firsters and Father Coughlins and Dixiecrats, all of whose sociopathic unreason did such harm to America (and all of whom have been roundly condemned by History). Therefore, to oppose this drumpf is to stand for the best American values of inclusion, fairness, equality, progress and love.

Yes, love. Not some kind of hippie love. This is not the time to move to the woods and meditate and pray to the Spirit Guide, or Mother Earth, or whatever you wish to call it. Sure, if you want to sit zazen and go Ommm, feel free. It can’t hurt.

But the spirits will not protect you when the shit hits the fan and the government comes under the control of the radical theocrats and paranoid militias that form drumpf’s shock troops. When he reverses Obama’s great work, it will take more than a groovy feeling to keep this nation from sliding into darkness. It will take active resistance.

I was never a protester in the Sixties. I went to one anti-Vietnam march, led by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., in New York, but it wasn’t so much because I was anti-war (although I was, in an inarticulate kind of way), but because my friends wanted to go, and I thought it would be fun. So I’m not really a born street demonstrator.

But the times have changed. This catastrophe, drumpf, is looming over America like a toxic cloud. I’m afraid of him, and I’m more afraid of the evil forces he has unleashed: the anti-semites, the KKK, the Muslim haters, the Mexican haters, the anti-government open-carry crazies, the homophobes, the anti-science types like Pence and Huckabee and Franklin Graham, the crypto-nazis like Steve Bannon, the bullies like Giuliani and Christie. These are the termites that have been allowed to burrow into America’s foundation, and, left unchecked, they will cause dry rot leading to collapse.

So when I suggest that this old guy—me—is a fighter, it’s because that’s what I believe in: fighting for what is good, and against what is bad. I always looked forward to a peaceful retirement, but this is no time for complacency. The future of our country, and the world, is at stake. Look, drumpf ran the dirtiest, sleaziest, most mendacious and vulgar campaign in modern American history; it was an insult to my parents and grandparents, who believed that voting was a sacred duty…an insult to all people of intelligence, to our nation, its history and political legacy. This creature of television and greed does not deserve the title deeds to our proud, progressive country. I urge you not to accept a drumpf presidency. They—the tea party, the white nationalists, the right wing theocrats—do not want to get along with us; they have repeatedly proved that with their deeds. They want their own exclusionary society. If you think you can go along to get along, you are in the same boat as the “good Germans” who allowed Hitler to triumph. And look what happened.




Wine Reviews: California & Oregon Pinot

You’ve likely been bombarded by media about Thanksgiving wine pairings. There’s no right or wrong way to do this. Just open up all sorts of bottles and let the crowd and food sort it out.

But, thinking back over the past few Thanksgiving meals, I can’t remember a dinner that lacked at least one California Pinot Noir. Willamette Valley, and of course Burgundy, will also do. For me, Pinot Noir exudes crisp autumn weather and makes me hunger for warm, hearty foods.

A lot of 2014 California Pinot Noirs are hitting shelves, and they’re tasting darn good — lots of freshness and red fruits but some show serious concentration.

This tasting includes a host of Pinots from Etude, which has been producing vibrant Carneros Pinot Noir for three decades. In recent years, they’ve expanded into a range of Pinot Noirs from other sites in California (and even a Willamette Pinot and a zinger from New Zealand). The wines taste so site-specific, and each stood out as unique in a single-blind tasting, but they maintain a house style focused on crisp acidity, juicy red fruit and lots of spice. This was my first time tasting the Willamette Valley Pinots from Lenne, a producer focused on two estate Pinot Noirs from a site near the town of Yamhill. (I’m impressed.) And we also have some late releases from Clos de La Tech and Holman Ranch.

These wines were received as trade samples and tasted single blind.

Review: 2010 Clos De La Tech Pinot Noir - California, San Francisco Bay, Santa Cruz Mountains
SRP: $42
Dark ruby color. Aromatically bursting with savory and spicy elements, like spiced coffee, old library books and black tea, on top of black cherries and raspberry jam. Full-bodied with some sturdy structure to the tannins, and the wine is framed by vibrant acidity. Dark, concentrated cherry and plum fruit, with dark chocolate, coffee, clove, smashed rocks, and a complex host of herbal and savory spices. Needs time to open up, or time in the cellar, but this is a bold yet complex Pinot. Impressive. Plenty of life ahead. Aged 12 months in 3/4 new French oak. (92 points IJB)

Review: 2014 Etude Pinot Noir Bannockburn - New Zealand, South Island, Otago, Bannockburn
SRP: $60
Vibrant ruby color. Smells like cool raspberries and strawberries with cola, rhubarb, white pepper and sage — complex and gorgeous aromas. Maintains lively acidity and freshness throughout, while sporting structured but smooth tannins. Tart strawberries and wild raspberry fruit is pure and crisp, and laced with complex elements of raspberry leaf tea, savory mushroom, topsoil, rose petals, warm spices. Gorgeous silky texture on the palate. I had no idea a New Zealand Pinot made it into this single-blind tasting, and this had be perplexed as to its origin but totally swooning over its deliciousness and complexity. I’d love to taste this in three to five. (93 points IJB)

Review: 2014 Etude Pinot Noir Grace Benoist Ranch - California, Napa/Sonoma, Carneros
SRP: $45
Light ruby color. Sweet but tart red and black cherry fruit on the nose, along with rhubarb, cola and eucalyptus and pumpkin pie spice. Full-bodied with moderately bright acid, velvety mouthfeel but some grip from the dry tannins. Dark cherry and plum, the fruit is juicy but a bit compact, and needs time to coax out the sweet floral, cinnamon, cocoa and mushroom notes. A sense of graphite and stony minerality lingers on the finish. Very nice but it’ll be better in a few years. Aged 12 months in 1/4 new French oak. (89 points IJB)

Review: 2014 Etude Pinot Noir Ellenbach - California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Coast
SRP: $60
Deep ruby color. Aromas of sweet, chewy cherries and raspberry jam, with tobacco, cola and rooibos tea. Tart acidity, dusty tannins provide enough structure, and there are loads of sweet black cherries and raspberry jam flavors on the palate. Cola, rhubarb, rose petals, lots of other stuff going on, some clove and pine. Rich and chewy but stays fresh. Should evolve nicely over the next few years. (90 points IJB)

Review: 2014 Etude Pinot Noir Fiddlestix Vineyard - California, Central Coast, Sta. Rita Hills
SRP: $45
Deep ruby/light purple color. Smells like a mix of tart cherries and raspberry jam coated in black tea and spicy tobacco. Full-bodied but tart acidity, this is a richer, more extracted Pinot but the acidity keeps it vibrant. Red plums, raspberry jam, some darker cherry fruit, add in some earth, mocha and herbal spice tea. Gets significantly better with air — I’d like to revisit in two or three years. Aged 12 months in 1/4 new French oak. (90 points IJB)

Review: 2014 Etude Pinot Noir North Canyon Vineyard - California, Central Coast, Santa Maria Valley
SRP: $45
Bright ruby color. Aromas of chilled raspberries, juicy strawberries and pomegranate, mixed with rose hips, and some warm cinnamon spices — elegant and deep aromas that take time to fully develop. Medium/full-bodied with a dusty tannic structure, full of tingling acidity. Juicy black cherries and crunchy pomegranates blend with flavors of cherry wood, cedar, tobacco shop and allspice. Finishes long and crisp, more savory spices and mushroom and wet forest come out with air.. Great now but good near-term ager. 10 months in ¼ new French oak. (91 points IJB)

Review: 2014 Etude Pinot Noir Yamhilll Vista Vineyard - Oregon, Willamette Valley, Yamhill-Carlton
SRP: $60
Medium ruby color. Smells of juicy strawberries, tart red currants, dusty earth, leather and rhubarb. Fleshy texture will a full body and moderate acidity and medium tannin. Juicy raspberries and strawberry jams, with rose petals, sweet coffee, rhubarb pie and caramel. Finishes with earthy spice. Delish, ready to go, but could age in the near term. Aged 13 months in 1/3 new French oak. (89 points IJB)

Review: 2014 FEL Pinot Noir Savoy Vineyard - California, North Coast, Anderson Valley
SRP: $70
Deep ruby color. Smells of sweet cherries and strawberries, along with rose hops, tobacco, pickling spices and more savory notes of tilled soil and mushroom. Medium-full-bodied with smooth but structured tannins and moderately crisp acidity for balance. The tart strawberries mix with richer black cherry notes – laced with elements of soy, mushroom, pipe tobacco and earth, along with some intermingled notes of cigar box and light roast coffee. Delicious stuff now but it should evolve nicely over the next few years. Aged 15 months in French oak barrels, 53% new. (91 points IJB)

Review: 2012 Holman Ranch Pinot Noir - California, Central Coast, Carmel Valley
SRP: $35
Light raspberry color. Smells of tart strawberries, cherries, and red apple peel topped with pepper, rhubarb, fennel and cola. Fresh acidity, light-medium-bodied (12.8% alcohol) with fine tannins that still provide structure. A lighter, brisk approach but still plenty of texture and flavors. Sour cherries, watermelon, wild strawberries, the tart fruit is laced with notes of tobacco, pepper and dusty earth, just a hint of cola. Vibrant, fresh, tangy, showing wonderfully right out of the bottle. (89 points IJB)

Review: 2015 Inconceivable Wines Pinot Noir The Fog Prince - California, Central Coast, Santa Barbara County
SRP: $25
Dark ruby color. Aromas of sweet red cherries, raspberry jam, cola, vanilla and sweet pipe tobacco. On the palate this shows light tannins, a slightly chewy texture and some fresh acidity. Sweet/sour cherries and tangy raspberries blend nicely with some cola, roses, toffee and espresso notes. An easy-drinking style but very delicious, and a good value. Aged 10 months in 60% new French oak. (88 points IJB)

Review: 2013 Lenne Pinot Noir LeNez - Oregon, Willamette Valley, Yamhill-Carlton
SRP: $30
Pale ruby. Aromas of sour cherries, tart blueberries and black cherries, along with sage and pepper and mushroom/earth. Medium-bodied, moderate acidity. Bright red fruit gushes across the palate (strawberries, wild raspberries) with notes of herbal tea, rose hips, spiced cranberry sauce, tilled soil and eucalyptus. Tart, vibrant, refreshing finish, yet this has a lot of concentration for the cellar. So pretty, and great value. Aged in about 1/4 new oak, 13% alcohol, this is a blend of each clone planted on Lenne’s estate vineyard. (90 points IJB)

Review: 2013 Lenne Estate Pinot Noir - Oregon, Willamette Valley, Yamhill-Carlton
SRP: $45
Pale ruby. Elegant, vibrant red fruit aromas with lots of rose hips, white pepper and such gorgeous floral complexity. Medium-bodied, so juicy and bright with some moderately grippy tannic structure and lip-smacking acidity. Tart cherries, raspberries, wild strawberry, the fruit is so damned vibrant and delicious, and laced with lots of roses, violets and white mushrooms. Velvety and sporting serious grip, this is also silky and elegant. An exciting Pinot Noir. More tar and cedar on this one (1/3 new oak) but it’s woven in expertly. Gorgeous stuff that will improve for four or five years easily. (92 points IJB)

Review: 2014 Lenne Estate Pinot Noir - Oregon, Willamette Valley, Yamhill-Carlton
SRP: $38
Bright ruby color. Juicy black cherries mix with red currant, topped with lots of violets, soil, hints of leather and cocoa. Medium/full-bodied with structured but accessible tannin and moderate but refreshing acidity. Very cool mix of black and sour red cherries, along with notes of roses, violets, chestnut and savory spice. Some cedar and cocoa from the oak, but it’s balanced nicely. A dusty mineral and soil element comes out with time. Delicious now but built for a solid life in the cellar. (92 points IJB)

Review: 2014 Nielson by Byron Pinot Noir - California, Central Coast, Sta. Rita Hills
SRP: $45
Deep ruby color. Aromas of chilled but juicy red berries (strawberry, cherry, raspberry) along with a complexity of herbal and spice elements (mint, white pepper, rhubarb). Full-bodied but smooth and velvety, the chewy tannins and medium acidity make this pleasant and approachable. Juicy cherries, raspberries and jammy strawberries, the fruit is juicy and ripe but not heavy. I get sage, violets, rhubarb and white pepper notes. Touched with cedar and vanilla, but those elements are woven in nicely. Rich, velvety but also bright and leaves the palate feeling refreshed. Aged 15 months in 40% new oak. (89 points IJB)

Fat Cork goes to IPNC, 2016

Our Champagnes have been consumed and celebrated at the International Pinot Noir Celebration since Bryan first visited in 2011, rolling a cooler around filled with bubbles!

Thibaud Mandet (Winemaker at WillaKenzie), Bryan, Rollin Soles (Winemaker at ROCO Winery)

Fat Cork goes to IPNC, 2016

Pinot Noir from Australia, excellent!

Fat Cork goes to IPNC, 2016

Champagne and sparkling wine fanatics: David Speer (Ambonnay), Rajat Parr (Evening Land, Sandhi Wines, Domaine de la Côte), Bryan

Fat Cork goes to IPNC, 2016

Bryan, Ken Meyer (FC Club Member), Nelson Daquip (Canlis Head Sommelier), Chris Tange (Seattle wine distributor and Master Sommelier)

Fat Cork goes to IPNC, 2016

Bryan, Chris, Carrie (Wine buyer for Sea Creature Restaurants), Renee Erickson (Chef and Owner, Sea Creature Restaurants)

Fat Cork goes to IPNC, 2016

IPNC’s volunteer sommeliers enjoying Fat Cork Champagne with their brunch.

Fat Cork goes to IPNC, 2016

Larry Stone (Master Sommelier, Lingua Franca Wines), Raj, Mimi Castille (Oregon vigneronne and FC Club Member), Bryan

Fat Cork goes to IPNC, 2016

Bryan, Dawn Smith (Sommelier extraordinaire and Fat Cork General Manager)