Travel & Tasting Notes From A Couple of Wine Lovers

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Nickel & Nickel Redux

In a recent post I did a quick review of Nickel & Nickel’s John C. Sullenger Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2007. I noted the Napa Cab was “Very well made, complex, silky tannins with syrupy dark fruits on the palate followed by long, dry finish.” While the 2007 Sullenger is no longer available, we had the opportunity to sample a more recent vintage in March 2018 at an all-Nickel & Nickel tasting at a great wine shop, Lower Falls Wine in Newton, Mass. The shop sold each bottle for $85 that day; a steep discount off the usual $120+ list price.

A 2015 Horizontal Tasting: All Nickel & Nickel Cabs


Lower Falls Wine Guy and Gary’s Hand/Phone

Lower Falls Wine poured eight 2015 releases of Nickel & Nickel’s single-vineyard Cabs in a fascinating horizontal tasting. All Cabernet Sauvignon. All 2015. All Napa Valley. But 4 different Napa appellations: St. Helena, Rutherford, Oakville, and Yountville. Even slight variations in soil, climate, and exposure to the elements can have an impact on grapes grown, harvested, and bottled within a few miles of each other. And we did find differences among the Nickel & Nickel Cabs.

What Was Memorable/What We Boughtnapa_valley_appellation_map_page_1-e1529016951119.jpg

Hayne Vineyard, St. Helena
Tons of oak on the nose and palate, followed by concentrated blackberry and plum notes. Great start, but tannins were too “grippy” and needs a lot of time to smooth out.

Quarry Vineyard, Rutherford
A little too bold, fruit-forward, and fruit bomb-y for me.

Quicksilver Vineyard, Rutherford
Light- to medium-bodied wine with pronounced red fruit…a bit dusty and notable tannins. Good mouthfeel but not sure of its long-term promise.

Rock Cairn Vineyard, Oakville
Did not taste

Branding Iron Vineyard, Oakville
Sweet fruit notes on palate with dense body; finishing with dry, tannin-laden aftertaste. Pleasant but not worth the $.

John C. Sullenger Vineyard, Oakville
Tannins were so overpowering I would need to cellar for 10 years before opening. Maybe I’m too old or impatient, but I want wine to be available on my schedule.

BottleGlass_2015_CS_StateRanchState Ranch, Yountville BOUGHT
This won VinoDuo’s best in show.  Medium- to full-bodied with notable tannins make this Cab both chewy and delicious. Hint of sweetness, but not sweet; Notes of blueberry and clove, and a long finish. So nice, we tasted twice!

C. C. Ranch, Rutherford BOUGHT
 Black berry fruits with notes of cedar, tobacco, and allspice. Full-bodied wine, like drinking liquid velvet, with a terrific long finish. Look up “Napa Cab” in your Funk & Wagnalls [if you’re younger than 55, ask your parents] and you’ll find C.C. Ranch 2015 there.


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Tiny Bits of Red, Part 2: Port, Priorat, Cab

A few weeks back I shared some of the “short and sweet” reviews of red wines I’ve posted on the popular app Vivino over the years.  Following are three more quickies from Spain, Portugal, and Oakville, CA.

Barros-PortoBarros Colheita Tawny Porto 1996
Average Vivino user rating — 4.2
Gary “wino 55” rating — 4.5
Average price: $50/bottle
“At first pour, this tawny caramel-colored beauty is heavy on the alcohol (22%). After 15 minutes in the glass, the alco-fog clears and the true character shines through. With flourless chocolate cake, this port has a velvety finish. Patience pays off.”

La Perla del Priorat
Noster Templari 2007priorat copy
Priorat, Spain

Average Vivino user rating — 4.2
Gary “wino 55” rating — 4.5
Average price: $30/bottle
“Beautiful nose with cigar box, smoky oak and black fruit notes. Cassis, black plum, black cherry compote notes on the palate with silky tannins make this a smooth companion for any meal. Enjoyed this with bison burgers on the grill. Outstanding value! Paid $30 for an obviously $50+ wine.” Note: May be extremely hard to find but worth the hunt.

Sullenger copyNickel & Nickel, John C. Sullenger Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2007
Oakville, CA
Average Vivino user rating — 4.6
Gary “wino 55” rating — 4.8
Average price: $85/bottle
“Very well made, complex, silky tannins with syrupy dark fruits on the palate followed by long, dry finish. This could have cellared another 10 years.” Note: The 2007 is no longer available but later vintages are very highly rated.

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Tiny Bits of Red, Part 1

Vivino bills itself as “the world’s most popular wine community” and with 29 million users (a tad more than our own VinoDuo) the app makes a strong case for its claim. I’ve been a Vivino customer and contributing reviewer for a few years now. Its most valuable offering is a “facial” recognition feature–shoot a picture of a label and Vivino shoots back everything you need to know about that wine, from provenance to price. So when you’re in a wine shop wondering if the bottle’s worth the price or what the consensus is on taste profile, the Vivino app is truly a Godsend.

My Vivino reviews are short and sweet, (based on a simple 1 to 5 star rating) and red. Following is the first in a series of some wines I heartily recommend to VinoDuo readers.

 barbarescoMoccagatta Basarin Barbaresco 2012
Average Vivino user rating — 3.8
Gary “wino 55” rating — 4.5
Average price: $55/bottle
“Perfect tobacco box and black fruit on the nose; finesse! Palate is strawberry, cherry pie with smooth tannins. This wine’s been underrated by many but it’s a solid 4.5 out of 5.”

Stags LeapStags’ Leap Merlot, Napa 2014
Average Vivino user rating — 4.0
Gary “wino 55” rating — 4.5
Average price: $30/bottle
“Very old world style with dry cherries and chalk on the nose and currant/blueberry/sour cherries on the palate. Nice long finish but I’d stick with their Cabernet as it’s their standout.”

BordeauxClos des Menuts Saint-Émilion Grand Cru 2014
Average Vivino user rating — 3.8
Gary “wino 55” rating — 4.0
Average price: $28/bottle
“Classic Bordeaux blend with good mineral backbone. Some graphite notes nicely integrated with cherry/plum stew. This wine likely needs more time in the cellar.”






Next up: Pinot, Priorat, and Port

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Masterpiece Theatre Meets La Dolce Vita at WGBH Wine Event


This article was originally posted in March 2014 then lost to a Go Daddy cluster *%%#. We just found a few articles in cyberspace and re-post them here.

slideshow1.jpgThe impressive studios of WGBH were the ideal backdrop for a mid-winter sampling of Italian wine and local cheeses. The stunning conference room was packed; no servants from Downton Abbey, no Muppets from Sesame Street but plenty of freeloading wine writers and trade reps were on hand to sample wines from four regions of Italy. Our tasting tour guide was wine columnist Michael Apstein, who led the group through an uneven selection of three white wines and six reds from Apulia (Southeastern Italy), Marche (Central, on the Adriatic), Tuscany (you know where that is), and Lombardy (North, on the Swiss border.) VinoDuo’s knowledge of Italian wines is also uneven: we go deep in a few areas (Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, Chianti, Brunello), wide in others, like Prosecco. And then there’s a big blank. So we were excited to sample wines made from varietals we had never heard of (Pecorino, Marzemino) let alone tasted.

Pecorino Offida DOC 2010; Cantina Offida, Marche (100% Pecorino grapes)
A split decision from VinoDuo. GaryLe-Marche.png thought it had a pleasant floral character on the nose with hints of nectarine and fresh melon. He found the taste “Surprisingly lively with a good balance of melon fruits, acidity and minerality.” Lisa detected pineapple and coconut on the nose; would a Pina Colada be in the offering? Alas, no. “Highly acidic; undrinkable,” read her tasting notes. Gary immediately thought of the Pecorino being served ice cold with cocktail shrimp, Alaskan crab legs or even a cold lobster salad. Lisa thought of pouring it in the spit jar and moving on. $8-$10 retail but no US distribution yet. [2018 update: Still no US distribution]

Vermentino Toscana, Tuscany (100% Vermentino)
The Duo was Uno on the Vermentino: nope. This was more like what Gary remembered about Italian white wines that he had tasted in the past. Beautiful on the nose…Lisa picked up lychee and apricot, with a very clean scent. Then, bam! Gary said the overpowering mineral taste made it “more like an astringent than a consumable beverage.” [2018 update: No US distribution]

Selva Bianco Locorotondo DOC 2010; Albea, Apulia
(60% Verdeca, 35% Bianco d’Alessano, 5% Fiano)

Another split decision. This very pale, almost clear wine had a honeysuckle nose and, to Lisa, an acceptable acidity that made it the ideal deck wine. Gary said the nose reminded him of Welch’s White Grape juice and the palate delivered the polar opposite—full of sour minerality. [2018 update: No US distribution]

Primitivo Puglia IGP 2010 Amastuola, ApPuglia+wine+regionsulia
Our first red was a Primitivo (the clone/kin of American Zinfandel) from Apulia. We’ve enjoyed many lovely Primitivos and were charmed by this wine’s nose of dark caramelized plums, blackberry, and vanilla. But the spicy black fruit flavors and a nice acidity/tannin balance were overpowered by an abrupt mineral finish. $15/bottle.

Chianti Classico DOCG 2009 90% Sangiovese, 10% Merlot   MUST BUY
With its outstanding cherry-vanilla nose and food-friendly palate, this classic Chianti is a must-have-on-the-shelf buy at $17 – $20

Vigneto della Rana Chianti DOCG 2009 Castella di San Sano, Tuscany
(90% Sangiovese, 10% Ciliegiolo)

A “hot” nose with hints of blackberries, currants, and prunes. Presented well at first taste but the flavor did not hold up to the alcohol or the ever-present minerality. Gary called it “overbearing.”

Le Sincette Garda Classico Rosso DOC 2007, Le Sincette, Lombardy   MUST BUY
This wine was the hit of the tasting! A smooth blend of Gropello Gentile, Marzemino, Barbera, and Sangiovese grapes. Velvety tannins coupled with notes of caramel, dried bing cherries, and butterscotch. The long finish goes on and on! At $35-$40, it’s outside of our usual “Must-Buy” limit, but we’ll make an exception here.

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The Urban Wineries of Dogpatch

This article was originally posted in March 2014 then lost to a Go Daddy cluster *%%#. We just found a few articles in cyberspace and re-post them here.

Dogpatch was the place Li’l Abner and his hillbilly comic strip pals lazed their life away. For VinoDuo, Dogpatch is now the little-known San Francisco neighborhood that boasts artisan coffee, gritty shipyard remnants, funky shops, and fabulous restaurants. Dubbed a “perennial up-and-coming neighborhood” by one San Francisco guide, Dogpatch has seen good times and bad and today is flourishing with the influx of artists, artisans, and the people who trail them.

IMG_20130316_171330_360 copy   IMG_20130316_163156_742 copy

Now, VinoDuo likes great restaurants and killer coffee as much as the next yuppie couple. In fact, we had a lovely lunch at Dogpatch Café and devoured the outstanding flatbread-style pizza at Piccino Café. But what drove us to visit was Dogpatch WineWorks, a boutique winemaker’s collective and tasting room. Urban winemaking has caught our fancy of late and this no-frills winery–housed in a former warehouse—was smack dab in the middle of a resurgent Dogpatch. The venue hosts several small commercial producers in a “custom crush” arrangement, where artisan winemakers source their own grapes and bring the fruit to WineWorks for production. During our visit to the tasting room, we were fortunate to sample the wine of two winemakers: Seamus wines and Jazz Cellars. [Note: Jazz Cellars Winery is now located in the historic gold rush town of Murphys, CA at 380 Main Street.]

Seamus is a family-owned business, with a twist. Father and son winemakers James Foley Sr. and Jr. live in Georgia, but in 2014 they produced 900 cases of California wine in Dogpatch. Jazz Cellars was founded in 2005 by two friends who shared a love of good wine and great music. Jazz’s small-batch producers focus on Rhone-style wines, Zinfandel, and Pinot Noir. In tandem, Seamus and Jazz Cellars presented Lisa and Gary with a literal Vino Duo wine tasting experience.

Seamus Olde Sonoma Cabernet 2009
Toasty oak nose with some cedar and cigar box. This is a big wine with good tannic structure, super concentrated black current fruit. Winemaker Jim Foley is a true craftsman. While drinkable at this point, the wine would benefit from additional cellaring. The 2010 Olde Sonoma Reserve selling online for $99.

Jazz Cellars sources its grapes from regions across California including Russian River Valley, Dry Creek Valley, Carneros, Amador, Santa Lucia Highlands, and San Benito.

Jazz Cellars Las Madres 2007 Syrah
Amazingly fragrant nose and deep black and cherry fruit flavors. Short finish, but delicious. The 2014 Las Madres sells for $39 on the winery’s website.

Shake Ridge Ranch Vineyard, Amador County Zinfandel
A juicy Zinfandel featuring hints of raspberry, cherry and blackberry over a silky smooth tannin backbone. The 2010 Shake Ridge Zin sells for $22 on the website.

Jazz Petite Sirah Eaglepoint Ranch 2007
Purchased without tasting. Tasting notes from home: This is a big, inky-dark Petite Sirah with classic black fruit and spice flavoring. One of the best of this varietal that VinoDuo has tasted – no longer produced in 2018.

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Plonk Plonk Fizz Fizz Part 2 – The Reds

IMG_20170417_203400373Our journey into red plonk territory wasn’t nearly as successful as the whites were. Of the four wines we tasted, just one was worth buying– the Brigaldara Valpolicella Classico 2014. But even there, the vote was a split decision. Gary liked it enough to buy again, Lisa would drink it again if placed directly in front of her. 

Can anyone out there in VinoDuo land recommend an under $12 red worth drinking?  Drop us a line and we’ll do a taste test and report back.