Glorious Mountain-Top California Cabernet Sauvignon

Tuesday, January 9, 2018 5:35 PM

Arbios Cellars

Arbios Vineyard View

Glorious Mountain-Top California Cabernet Sauvignon!

Bill Arbios began winemaking over 40 years ago! He has achieved a level of expertise in his field that few ever have the opportunity to reach. After working for several influential wineries in the 70's and 80's, Bill was finally able to fulfill his dream of making wine from his own vineyard. Bill planted a 21-acre hilltop vineyard in Alexander Valley to his specifications using 6 different clones of Cabernet Sauvignon on soil that is essentially rock. The vineyard struggles each year to produce. The stress of the vines limits yields and concentrates flavors.

We’ve carried this outstanding Cabernet Sauvignon for over a decade. It is pretty much a staple here at TWH for several reasons, not the least of which is that in an era of super-pricey California Cabernets (think $200 plus a bottle), this estate-grown, balanced red is a steal at $30. It really is almost unheard of to have this level of quality (small production; sustainably-grown fruit; family-run winery; prime growing region) so fairly priced. The 2013 Arbios Cabernet Sauvignon spent almost three years in French oak barrel of which only a third of it was new. It has rich dark fruit flavors, plum and black currant,  with warm spice notes. The oak stands in the background, giving texture to the tannins. Overall this is a very elegant Cabernet Sauvignon. Truly yummy!
Arbios vineyard worker
So whether you are looking for a giftable red for your long list of clients or want to stock up this winter with a full-bodied Cabernet to go with prime rib roast on Christmas or steaks on New Year's Eve, consider Arbios to fill those needs.

Only a week in to December and I am feeling the pressure. It's as if I'm standing in front of several tennis ball machines swatting at balls coming at me from all directions. The name of the game is survival.  In a span of six days my daughter was in seven musical theater performances; 4 on stage, 3 behind the scenes. There were a lot of high energy moments, so I was not surprised when she called from school, complaining of a headache and promptly fell asleep after coming home early. She needed it. It's all about pacing yourself. So eliminate the stress of finding the right bottle of wine. Come on by or give us a call and we'll help select the right wine for you. The 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon from Arbios is certainly one I recommend for the reasons I mentioned above and for one other: Susan and Bill Arbios are some of the kindest people you'll ever meet! Good people; good wine. ~ Anya Balistreri


Bedrock Rocks!

Tuesday, January 9, 2018 4:56 PM

Bedrock Wine Co.

Congratulations Morgan Twain-Peterson!

Morgan Twain-Peterson, proprietor of Bedrock Wine Co., recently became the first winemaker from California to become a Master of Wine. He is one of only 45 MWs from the United States. That is quite an achievement in and of itself, and yet consider the fact that during the time he was working towards becoming a Master of Wine, he was also building Bedrock Wine Co. - Wow!   I jumped on the Bedrock Wine Co. bandwagon from the start. My admiration was instantaneous and The Wine House has been rewarded for our support of Bedrock wines in the way of allocations. We are proud to carry a wide selection of Bedrock wines,from the vineyard-designated reds to the experimental blends. 

What I recognized early on, was Morgan's devotion to the vineyard. Morgan seeks out to use, but also essentially to preserve, old-vine vineyards. I too have a respect and affinity for the unique character of Zinfandel-based field blends.Without advocates like Morgan, these special, historic vineyards would undoubtedly be lost. I understand that what I am about to write is scientifically unprovable, but in 
Morgan's wines, I can taste that, well, love for the vineyard.


 Bedrock Vineyard: photo courtesy of BWC website

Their flagship wine (or at least that's how I see it) at Bedrock is The Bedrock Heritage. The Bedrock Vineyard has a long and storied history that can trace its grape growing roots well over a hundred years. It is a sizeable vineyard that sits in the heart of the Sonoma Valley. There are well over 30 different varieties growing at Bedrock Vineyard. In the 2015 Bedrock Heritage there are 19 different varieties (perhaps even more) that go into the wine, dominated by Zinfandel, Carignane, Mourvedre, Petite Sirah and Alicante Bouchet. A true, classic Californian field blend. Morgan writes that "Bedrock Vineyard is always going to have orange-scented perfume and rooted tannins". It's a full-scale red that is tasty in all its exuberant youth, but can also rest in the cellar. It really is a taste of California's wine history.

Words fail me to describe the emotions felt since fires ravaged Northern California. I am certain that we all know at least someone touched by this catastrophe.Living here in Northern California all my life, I am aware of the dangers of wildfire, but this was like nothing imaginable. As I learned about the losses to wineries and vineyards, I reflected on what I value most about being in the wine business. It comes down to the people and the land. It is indeed, people like Morgan who pursue winemaking, not just as commerce, but as a way of honoring the past and preserving our heritage, that inspires me. There are fewer and fewer of these precious old vines in California. I am grateful to those who champion these agricultural treasures.  Check out our full line-up of Bedrock wines to explore and taste these historic sites. - Anya Balistreri

From the Winery:

"The 2015 is a svelte lumberjack but a true lumberjack—not the soft-handed, urbane, hipster type, nor the Monty Python cross-dresser (though if that is what it wants to be when it grows up, that is just fine with me!).  A wine that is well-built, a little gruff at first, but full of nuance, soft eyes, and a well-hewn heart."


From the Winery:

"This wine, a field blend of Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, Negrette, Carignan, Grenache, Trousseau Noir and many more, is dark and lovely stuff.  Definitely give it some time- either in the cellar or the decanter as time and/or air will help it to unfold."

Juicy Rebound

Tuesday, January 9, 2018 4:41 PM

Juicy Rebound

Douglas Danielak In Vineyard

Cuvée Unique - one white, one red!

Douglas Danielak is a veteran winemaker who has worked primarily for small premium wineries in the Napa Valley. Under the label Juicy Rebound, Douglas makes wines for himself, focusing on Rhône varietals. Towards that end, Douglas makes quintessential California wine through a French lens. Douglas studied winemaking and worked harvest in France before getting his enology degree from UC Davis. In the late 80's, Douglas teamed up with Jim Paras to form Jade Mountain Winery, one of the wineries associated with the Rhone Rangers movement. I still remember (and can almost taste) their Mourvedre and a blend they called La Provençale. Those wines were delicious and affordable - just like Juicy Rebound.


The 2016 Juicy Villages Cuvee Unique No. 34 is a blend of Roussanne, Viognier and Grenache Blanc. Much of the fruit for this blend was acquired from a very high profile grower who wishes to remain nameless. This is a gorgeous, sumptuous white that teases out all the exotic goodness of these varietals while still keeping the balance of flavors tightly corralled. Surprisingly, no oak was used. Surprisingly – yes, because there is so much texture to the wine. The finish has terrific freshness. Only 100 cases were produced.


The 2014 Juicy Villages Cuvee Unique No. 84 is 65% Syrah and 35% Grenache from grapes grown in the Russian River Valley. Juicy is the key word here, as the fruit is supple, open-armed and berry-driven. There are herb-inflected notes lurking in the background that reveal Douglas’ penchant for French wine. Slightly more of the No. 84 is produced than the No. 34, but it is still very limited.


These mild pepperoncini came courtesy of a neighbor who knows I love to pickle veggies. I reused brine I had made from a previous batch: a shortcut that made certain I didn't end up throwing these beauties into the compost. For you see, this week was jam packed. Besides normal work/life schedule, my volunteer hours were to capacity. I participated in a Challenge Day activity for 7th graders at my daughter's middle school. I signed up last week and found the experience so rewarding, I went for a second day. My Church and School District's fundraisers all needed baked goods. I am not a baker, but with my daughter's assistance, I gave it my best shot. Let's just say, the kitchen needs a scrubbing from floor to ceiling. When that finally happens (or before), I am going to need a glass of wine to unwind. I will reward myself with Juicy Rebound. Full of ripe fruit goodness and a balanced finished - both the white and red from Juicy Rebound allow entry to a high echelon of quality without having to pay exorbitant prices for the privilege. These wines are really something! - Anya Balistreri

From the winery:

"Light, pale straw-colored and frosty, we dove into the wine noses first.Nectarine, lychee, fresh citrus blossoms and Asian pear gave the wine an exotic nose balanced with fine minerality. The rich, creamy Viognier was perfectly offset by the aromatic Roussanne with its fresh acidity and complex flavors of chamomile tea, honey and spiced pears."


From the winery:

"65% Syrah and 35% Grenache. Every August we spend our Sundays picking wild blackberries as we prepare for harvest. This Rhone blend captures that experience. Grenache leads the way with cassis and aromatic herbal notes while Syrah adds juicy blueberry, blackberry flavors, a supple texture and a satisfying richness in the finish."

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2014 Bedrock Zinfandel

Monday, August 8, 2016 6:15 PM

“The coldest winter I ever spent was summer in San Francisco” is famously attributed to Mark Twain, yet there is no evidence he ever wrote or muttered these words. Nonetheless, the quote holds true. San Francisco has been blanketed by a deep and chilling marine layer. It’s Summer in the City! Driving to the store this morning, I had to turn on my windshield wipers just as I passed through the Robin Williams Tunnel and could see the towers of the Golden Gate Bridge. Oh, how I love this view!
Pagani Ranch
Shifting over to wine, there happens to be a winemaker, also named Twain, or more accurately, Morgan TWAINPeterson, who has been delivering some of the finest Zinfandel in the state. I’ve been singing his praises from his very first vintage, and like a proud mother (Morgan and my daughter happen to share the same birthday – how sweet is that!), have been telling anyone who would listen to try his Bedrock Wine Co. wines. The series of wines he makes from old vine, field blend vineyards are not just delicious but are a way of honoring these historic sites.Regrettably, the economics of producing wine has all too often led folks to rip out old vineyards containing Zinfandel, and who knows what else, that were planted by immigrants wanting to create a taste of home. Morgan has worked diligently to identify, restore and preserve these sites by founding the Historic Vineyard Society.
2014 Old Vine Zinfandel
Lucky for us, Morgan makes an Old Vine Zinfandel that is on par with his heritage vineyard wines in quality, but is more budget friendly. Morgan writes that the Old Vine Zinfandel is “perhaps the most important wine we make” because there is more of it than the limited production and highly allocated, single-vineyard Zinfandels, and therefore acts as an introduction to the winery. The Old Vine Zinfandel is also “an invaluable tool” because a few of the vineyards that go into this cuveé were neglected, old vineyards that Morgan has nursed back to life that are not quite ready for individual designation. The multiple vineyard sources that go into the 2014 Old Vine Zinfandel include Bedrock, Papera and Pagani Ranch. Aged in French oak barrels, the 2014 Old Vine is a tremendous value for full-throttle, well-balanced Zinfandel. Though I think most people will end up drinking this wine sooner than later, Morgan writes that he is pretty convinced “that it will age gracefully for over a decade”.
Naked Ladies along the fence

Without looking at a calendar, I know August has arrived.The night-filling sound of chirping crickets that lull me to sleep is my first clue. The second clue are the naked ladies that line up along my driveway. Naked ladies? Yes, naked ladies, aka Belladonna Amaryllis, those gorgeous, lightly-scented pink flowers that erupt from the ground, unadorned by foliage. And the third clue is the market arrival of my favorite apples, Gravensteins – tangy, sweet and crunchy! I’ll be heading north this weekend to escape the marine layer and get a little wine country action under my belt. For Sunday’s dinner on the deck, I am contemplating grilled tri tip with the 2014 Old Vine Zinfandel. Now doesn’t that sound like a proper summer meal! – Anya Balistreri

Lacuna 2011: A Red Blend for Summer

Tuesday, July 15, 2014 7:31 PM

It is often not enough for wine to be good, I like a wine to have a good story behind it too. Believe me when I say there is a lot of wine out there! I do my best to taste through as much of it as I physically can so that I can make an informed decision as to what to buy for the store, but I have my limits. And besides, when I look over my tasting notes and think back on the wines that made the biggest impression on me, it usually comes down to the people behind the wine. It also follows that the passionate souls that I gravitate towards are rooted in a sense of place. Sometimes that place is a physical one – a vineyard, an estate, a region – and sometimes, the place is more of a sensibility. I know, that last part is rather vague, but work with me here. Lacuna is not a winery nor a vineyard, but what is in the bottle of their proprietary red speaks volumes about character and quality. They source sought-after, highly regarded vineyards, choosing only the best each vintage, and because of this all you will read on the label is “Red Wine, California”. That is only the beginning of the story.


The first vintage to hit the shelves was the 2007 Lacuna. The Wine House was the first to promote the 2007 Lacuna with unabashed enthusiasm. That enthusiasm continues with the 2011 Lacuna. Lacuna began as a partnership between three veteran wine guys who worked primarily on the distribution side of the wine business. They wanted to take their wine point of view to market by making their own wine. A stroke of genius lead them to ask rising-star winemaker Morgan Twain-Peterson of Bedrock Wine Co. fame to make their first vintage and then subsequently invited him to join the team. Twain-Peterson has made every vintage of Lacuna. Because of their collective connections within the wine business, the Lacuna team is able to source impeccable fruit but in return for getting access to these famed vineyards at favorable prices, they are asked not to reveal the vineyard names.



For the 2011 Lacuna, 85% of the blend is Syrah. Various vineyards sites for Syrah were used, including one planted primarily to the Alban clone. The fruit from this vineyard is responsible for lending the distinct bacon and smoke component to the wine. Some of the other Syrah components were co-fermented with Viognier, just like they do in Cote Rotie, to offer an aromatic counterpoint to the broodier Alban-clone site. In addition to Syrah, there are small smatterings of Zinfandel, Petite Sirah and Carignan, all sourced from a vineyard originally planted before the turn of the century. Pretty cool stuff! In the end, the various pieces to the puzzle fit together seamlessly to produce a wine of great depth, vigor and a dark edge. Meaty, sanguine and black berry notes dominate. This is not a jump in your lap, lick your face kinda Syrah, but one with deeply satisfying, savory fruit fortified by an ample, forceful structure.


A vacation spent at my family’s dacha among the Redwoods along the glorious Russian River last week gave me opportunity to drink some tasty wine. Coincidently, one of the Lacuna guys is also a fan of this area, having grown up there and is now caretaker of the family home. We like to compare notes about where to go and what to do. Inevitably though, I tell him that other than a day spent on the beach, my motivation to go anywhere lately is low! Watching for ospreys and river otters or my daughter’s hilarious attempts at landing on a floaty in the water is entertainment enough. As is relishing a glass of something yummy with dinner in the evening. Take the 2011 Lacuna and a grilled piece of aged beef and you have yourself a feast. The Lacuna’s structure begs for something substantial to pair with it. Other than animal protein, I would suggest serving a hearty grain like a barley risotto with mushrooms. That smokey, bacon quality of the 2011 Lacuna makes you want to sink your teeth into something; it is a sophisticated choice for serving with bold flavors off the grill. Get out and play! – Anya Balistreri

Tendu: New from Matthiasson

Monday, May 12, 2014 11:56 PM

Judging from the liter-sized bottle and crown cap closure, you might think Tendu wines are from Austria or Germany. That’s what many folks assume when they first see bottles of Tendu. The stated alcohol on the labels, 12.5% for the red and 12.2% for the white, does not help to clear up this confusion of provenance and neither does tasting the wine. Tendu wines are part of a whole new breed of California wine that are gaining popularity and acceptance – fresh, young wines that are light and easy, made from unlikely varietals.


Winemaker Steve Matthiasson, in collaboration with his wine broker, set out to make a wine that would be affordable, versatile, and minimally handled in production. Sourcing the fruit for this project was key. To that end, grapes were harvested from a single vineyard in the Dunnigan Hills in Yolo County. The 2013 Tendu White is 100% Vermentino, a Mediterranean varietal that is famously grown on the island of Sardinia and in southern France where it is known as Rolle. The grapes for the 2013 Tendu were harvested in early August with the intention of getting vibrant fruit that has plenty of acidity still intact. The 2013 Tendu White is strikingly zippy and racy with very clean, steely flavors. Not sharp, but taunt – not your typical big fruit, high impact California wine. It has that lightweight freshness reminiscent of crisp southern French whites. Apart from enjoying this as an aperitif, I can imagine serving this with raw oysters or fish poke. For the 2013 Tendu Red, a blend of Montepulciano, Barbera, and Aglianico were used. These three Italian varietals can be rugged and robust, but what you taste is a light-bodied, juicy, slurpy red that is not at all jammy. The red fruit flavors lean towards cranberry and sour cherry, and the slight earthiness of the grapes appears on the finish. You could easily give it a quick chill on a sweltering hot day to better enjoy its low alcohol freshness. 


I recently re-tasted the 2013 Tendu White and Tendu Red at an event that featured only less-known grape varietals. In northern California roughly 93% of vineyard acreage is planted to eight grape varieties. The remaining 7% are comprised of less known grape varieties, like the ones in the Tendu wines. The tasting showcased twenty-two wineries who champion these lesser-known varietals. Not surprisingly, The Wine House consistently stocks many of these alternative grape varietals from California. In our opinion, these wines can offer tasty, value-driven options that intrigue and delight.


So what is this mother doing for Mother’s Day? Putting on Mother’s Day brunch for the lovely moms in my life, obviously, though this is looking to change for I went to bed last night with a banging headache and a chill. Am I really going to be sick for Mother’s Day? At present, I am trying to will myself well and failing. I hate to miss a good party, especially one I am supposed to be throwing. Now go call your Mother! Anya Balistreri 

2010 Lacuna: A Passion Project

Sunday, January 27, 2013 2:21 AM


As anyone who has visited our store over the last couple weeks can attest to, it’s cold in here, baby! And looking over a map of current US temperatures, it appears to be cold everywhere. Nothing like a simmering pot on the stove and a bottle of rugged red to cozy up to on days like these.My rugged red of choice for January’s chill is the 2010 Lacuna. Many of you probably remember the 2007 Lacuna, which made our Top Ten of 2010 list, and was easily one of the best-valued Syrahs from the vintage. Now along comes the 2010 which in composition and flavor profile is completely different from the 2007 but shares the same over-delivered quality to price ratio. Again as with the 2007, the 2010 Lacuna offers much more than the $24.98 price tag would suggest when compared to the general market.


The partnership that began Lacuna is intact though one tactical addition has been made and that is to hire on winemaker Morgan Twain-Peterson from Bedrock Wine Company permanently. A wise, shrewd move boys! It’s not just Morgan’s skill as a winemaker that is so crucial to the success of Lacuna, but his sleuthhound skills at seeking out interesting, and often under-appreciated, old vineyards to source the fruit is key. The team at Lacuna all share a common vision and that is to make wine that is layered, revealing, and able to evolve. The 2010 Lacuna is comprised of 58% Syrah and 42% Petite Sirah. The Syrah comes from two sites: one planted to the Alban clone that gives off a smokey, meaty flavor and the other a windy spot that adds a component of blueberry and violets to offset the broodiness of the former. The Petite Sirah comes from a single ancient vineyard that was originally planted well over a century ago. The Petite Sirah is not the dominant component in this splendid-blended, but it certainly provides the surprise element and the overall framework for the wine. It is an established fact that while Wine House customers may favor wines with a European twist, they also gravitate towards the robustness of Petite Sirah. I have tasted the 2010 Lacuna over the course of a year now and I have been pleased at how the wine is developing in bottle. I can only surmise that it is the Petite Sirah which is doing a lot of the changing. Early on the wine was grippy and tight-fisted. Now the structure has expanded and the aromatics and fruit of the Syrah are taking center stage. There are fascinating, contrasting forces at play with the 2010 Lacuna, between the polish of the Syrah and the ruggedness of the Petite Sirah…just when you think that the smokey, blueberry fruit needs to kick into low gear, the Petite Sirah begins to rumble down the palate. Wow!



It is my belief that micro-sized wineries, like Lacunaand Juicy Rebound, who essentially make wine for themselves, to not only be the source for California’s best wine values, but also the most interesting and plain ole’ tastiest wines.There is heart and passion in the making of these wines that directly translates into the bottle.


On the Twelfth Day of Christmas my true love gave to me…a beautiful, big brown-eyed girl! The gift that keeps on giving is turning nine and with that, our celebrating has neither ceased nor waned. The family is getting together once again for a traditional Russian Christmas Eve dinner. Champagne will be served and (shhh) maybe a shot or two of vodka, but then when life goes back to the old routine, I hope to be at the stove making something warm and soothing and I’ll be testing out my theory that the 2010 Lacuna is the wine to reach for during the cold days of winter. Happy New Year everyone! —Anya Balistreri

Miro’s Cellars Floodgate Vineyard Pinot Noir

Friday, November 23, 2012 10:25 PM

I am not exactly sure why a single-vineyard, 200 case production, Russian River Valley Pinot Noir would be offered for under $25 when Pinot Noir from the same exact vineyard, Floodgate Vineyard, can command bottle prices twice as much.Floodgate Vineyard, at the southern end of the Russian River Valley in an area known as the “Middle Reach”, was first planted decades ago and has been the source for numerous award-winning wines. I suppose the reason why winemaker/proprietor Miro Tcholakov offers this lovely, jubilant cherry-infused Pinot Noir at the low, low price of $22.98 (at The Wine House) is because he can. I have not personally met him (yet), but I’m going to go out on the limb here and conclude that Miro is probably a bit of a rebel who bucks convention to make wines that outperform expectations given their modest sticker price. We get inundated with wholesale books, dropped off regularly by hopeful wine salespeople. Time allowing, I will peruse the pages, hoping to find a gem among the crowded field. When I came across Miro’s Cellars in a small boutique portfolio, I thought the prices listed were a typo. I quickly emailed my rep and asked to taste the wines…only after confirming that the prices were indeed correct. I tasted the Floodgate Pinot Noir with Tom who when asked what he thought of it said something to the effect of “what are you waiting for?” Yeah, really, how often am I going to find a balanced, approachable, Russian River Valley Pinot Noir from a famed vineyard for $22.98? Not nearly often enough; back up the truck!


Miro Tcholakov, a Bulgarian native, came to the U.S. on a student exchange program offered through the Future Farmers of America. He landed in Napa and quickly thereafter came to Dry Creek Vineyards where he worked up the ladder from harvest intern to winemaker. Now that is an American success story. These days he is winemaker for Trentadue Winery in Alexander Valley and as a side gig, makes wines for himself under Miro’s Cellars. Everything I’ve tasted from Miro to date has been wonderful and along with the Floodgate Vineyard Pinot Noir, we are carrying a Grist Vineyard Zinfandel and a GSM blend called “Cuvee Sasha”. Most of what I am sharing with you is information gathered from the Miro’s Cellar website where I found it revealing and refreshing that to read about Mr. Tcholakov, you have to scroll down to the very bottom of the homepage and click on a link. Obviously he is a modest winemaker who wants his wines to take center stage.


Miro’s 2010 Floodgate Vineyard Pinot Noir is indicative of the intense cherry fruit you look for in Russian River Valley Pinot Noir. Though relatively low in alcohol, labeled at 13.5%, for a red from this area, and with time in new oak, about 11 months, this Pinot Noir is expressive of place and is reigned in nicely. It’s a wine to consider for the Thanksgiving table or to bring along to your next dinner party.

The warehouse has been reloaded with a container from France. We’ll be unveiling the new arrivals in upcoming newsletters and once pallets have been broken down and wine counted in, many of you will soon be getting emails for wines purchased on pre-arrival. I’ve been having a major clean-up at home as I no longer can take refuge from the mess by staying outside. I made my first pot of stew of the season and have been on a roasted vegetable kick. Have you tried roasting Brussels Sprouts? My daughter scoffs them down! She told me the other night as she stabbed the tiny cruciferous morsel, “Do you know that some kids at school think these are yucky? I don’t…I love them!” Put that in the win column for mom. —Anya Balistreri

2011 Juicy Villages from Juicy Rebound

Tuesday, November 6, 2012 11:44 PM


The 2011 Juicy Villages from Juicy Rebound is fun, delicious, and quite a remarkable wine value when you consider the quality of grapes that go into the blend.Winemaker Douglas Danielak took 120+ year old Mourvedre from the famed Evanghelo Vineyard in Contra Costa County and added a bit of Sonoma County Syrah and Grenache for the Southern Rhone-inspired Juicy Villages. You would think that fruit from any one of these sources would command a higher price tag, but Douglas was looking to make an entry-level orvillages level, if you would, wine that could be enjoyed immediately.



As is so often the case, Douglas Danielak is not only a winemaker who we have been following for many, many years starting with his pioneering years at Jade Mountain and then at White Rock and now with Paras Vineyards, but is a customer of The Wine House, having a penchant for French wines. Currently, Douglas makes wine for a number of micro-boutique wineries. It is only recently that he has started his own labels, Juicy Rebound and Pont Neuf, with his wife Mary. Douglas’ hobbies extend beyond wine; he is an avid fan of hockey and also plays in local leagues. This seems incongruous to his friendly demeanor and encyclopedic knowledge of wine. When Douglas came by the store last, we got on the subject of premature oxidation in White Burgundy. Douglas gave a quick lecture citing several theories, explaining them in easy-to-understand language, quoting sources from the many French winemakers he personally knows and visits frequently. This AND the fact that he makes fabulous wines and can skate on ice while swinging a stick at a fast moving puck, is impressive, I’d say.


The 2011 Juicy Villages, though approachable and well… JUICY, is not devoid of that dark brooding fruit you’d expect of a wine dominated by Mourvedre.The Mourvedre from Evanghelo Vineyard, which was planted in 1880, grows in sand. Yes, sand. I’ve included a photo, courtesy of Douglas, that puts this fact into vivid view. This sand bank was created where the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers merge. The vines are all head-pruned, non-irrigated and on their original rootstock – Douglas calls them “little trees”. All this contributes to lush aromatics, beautiful violet aromas and tangy acidity. Douglas has worked with fruit from Evanghelo Vineyard for 20 years. You can tell how special Evanghelo is to Douglas not only by the deliciousness of the finished wine but by how intimately he describes this unique vineyard site. A strong connection between winemaker and vineyard makes for very interesting wine. The Syrah and Grenache are not afterthoughts but rather intentional components that add richness and sweet fruit. The 2011 Juicy Villages is an example of the exciting and noteworthy wines being made in California that buck the trend of massive, oaky, Cab-centric reds at a budget-friendly price. —Anya Balistreri

2 Cabs and a Zin

Thursday, October 11, 2012 7:40 PM

California Cabernet Sauvignons in the $15-$30 category is a tough slot to fill especially if you expect the grapes to come from a premium wine growing region and also be from a small production bottling. Tough yes, but not impossible. I just discovered two terrific Cabernets, one from Paso Robles and the other from Napa Valley that fit the criteria beautifully. And because I can’t seem to settle on just one wine to write about this week, I have also included a Russian River Valley Zinfandel, an old favorite, that has started a new chapter in its long history.

End Post is produced by Adelaida Cellars who established themselves on the west side of Paso Robles in 1981. Their vineyards are at 2000 feet elevation and only 15 miles from the Pacific Ocean. The Cabernet Sauvignon for the 2009 End Post comes from their famed Viking Vineyard, which lies on ancient calcareous soils of limestone and chalk. I was blown away by the deeply concentrated, expansive fruit-it is all plump, juicy black cherry and plum fruit, teetering on the brink of too juicy but stays anchored with chewy tannins, pleasant acidity and judicious use of oak. This is an amazing value for those looking for fruit impact. The End Post Cabernet was introduced to me by a broker for whom I have great admiration and who represents some very high end/prestigious California wineries. As I was tasting the End Post and listening to him describe the vineyard, I couldn’t help but wonder to myself,“how is he going to sell any of the expensive stuff, if he’s pouring something this good at this price?” I guess not everyone is looking for a bargain like myself, but seriously this tastes far more opulent than the $17.98 price suggests. This unabashedly Cali Cab is quite the delicious drink and at under 400 cases produced, it is not likely to stay on the shelves for long.
2009 Adelaida Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon End Post Paso Robles

Red Wine; Cabernet Sauvignon; Central Coast;
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Sensorium was created by two Silicon Valley electrical engineers, Lee Ritchie and John Zasio, in 2002. They hired Lee’s son Jeff, a UC Davis alum, to be their winemaker. Sensorium’s 2007 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon comes from two vineyard sources, one in warmer Pope Valley and the other from the cooler Coombsville district. What drew me to this wine is the balance of ripe cassis and pomegranate to the silky tannins- the overall elegance, really. This Napa Cab is approachable and drinkable now, so no cellaring required. And despite the boutique production level of 189 cases, it can be purchased for under $30. This is truly a rarity these days as my experience shows that most Cabernet Sauvignons from Napa start at $50, even from large-scaled wineries. And frankly, not all of them are worth the price of admission. Sure, most of California’s greatest Cabernet Sauvignons come from the Napa Valley but being from Napa in and of itself doesn’t always equate to quality. I’m confident you’ll find much to be pleased with Sensorium’s fair-priced, elegant 2007 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon…it’s a beauty!
2007 Sensorium Cabernet Napa Valley

Red Wine; Cabernet Sauvignon; Napa;
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I was re-introduced to Limerick Lane’s Zinfandel recently and it truly felt like bumping into an old friend. Limerick Lane is a 30-acre estate that has vines dating back to 1910. The estate was purchased by the Collin’s brothers in the mid-70’s , who produced their first estate bottling of Zinfandel in 1986. Last year, right before harvest, Mike Collins sold his beloved property to Jake Bilbro, whose family runs Marietta Cellars. Apparently, Mike didn’t want to sell his estate to just anyone or even to the highest bidder. He had approached Jake in 2009, proposing the offer to sell Limerick Lane to him. Two years later Jake was finally able to arrange the finances and is now the proud owner of Limerick Lane. Though Limerick Lane’s reputation as a premium producer of Zinfandel has remained intact over the years, I think we’re going to see a new infusion of passion and enthusiasm into this estate. I’m expecting some terrific Zinfandels to be released from this new, old producer. The 2010 Limerick Lane Zinfandel is a charmer. On the nose there is blackberry patch aromas and dried late-summer grass and dustiness. On the palate, vivacious berry compote flavors linger warm and cozy and then finish with an unexpected burst of acidity. This tangy finish gives off a real savory-ness and gets the mouth juices flowing. I’d love to pair this with a Moroccan lamb tagine dappled with prunes. Yum!
2010 Limerick Lane Zinfandel Sonoma County

Red Wine; Zinfandel; Sonoma;
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“Expectation is the harbinger of disappointment”, a classic Pete-ism, that pretty much sums up my week. Each day was tightly scheduled and planned for both work and pleasure but alas my daughter fell ill with the flu and that was that; we stayed home and nothing got done (expect the laundry!). At least the dog was grateful for the company. Thankfully Sascha is on the mend, but our weekend plans have been scrapped and our post-anniversary celebration has to be put off (yet again!) for another day.Wine, yes wine, will have to be the remedy for my let-down…which reminds me of an interesting article I read recently that asked women to write in on the topic of why they drink wine. There are many, many reasons why I drink wine, but high on my list is the pleasure that a glass of fermented grape juice will inflect on my mood. So here’s to pouring your self a glass of Sensorium, End Post, Limerick Lane or other such goodie and START FEELING GOOD!Anya Balistreri

Red, White and Rose

Tuesday, July 10, 2012 7:45 PM

Whether you are taking a long weekend, having a short work-week, or it is business as usual, the Fourth of July lands mid-week and it signalsSummerSummertime drinkin’ time. Here are three wines that I’ll be enjoying over the next few days at the beach, on the deck, by the grill, with family, with friends, by myself:


An urban winery movement is happening in San Francisco; a lot of them are sprouting up around The Wine House. We are proud to offer wine from these local artisans. One such new producer on the scene is Qualia, whose young, talented winemaker, Jason Kivelstadt, also runs a successful business providing wine kegs from premium wineries to restaurants and bars. Jason began his wine career at Copain and Donum Estate with the long view goal of making wine from his family’s vineyard in Bennett Valley.The 2009 Qualia Syrah-Grenache is comprised of 60% Syrah from Kivelstadt Vineyard, the family vineyard, and 40% Grenache from Kick Ranch, a vineyard used most notably by Bedrock Wine Co. It’s a super tasty amalgamation of raspberry fruit with notes of black pepper and spice. Fruit-driven and plush, for me, this is a wine that is unequivocally Californian and one that I can bring along to share with my domestic wine-drinking crowd, impress them and enjoy the wine myself.
2009 Qualia Wines Syrah Grenache Sonoma County

Red Wine; Red Blend; Sonoma;
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Ernesto Picollo

If there exists someone who doesn’t love Ernesto Picollo’s Gavi, I haven’t yet met that person. We’ve been sold out of Picollo’s Gavi for months as our Italian container took a little longer to arrive than expected-so what else is new-and I thought there might be a riot. Truly. At $8.92 per bottle when purchased by the case, it really is one of the best deals in town, as the saying goes. Made entirely from the Cortese grape grown in south-eastern Piedmont where the influence of the Mediterranean can be felt, this Italian white is not only delicious, light in alcohol and refreshing, but the interplay of fruit and acidity is so satisfying that it’s a wine hard to tire of. It’s got what I call the“potato-chip syndrome” because one sip isn’t enough…you’ve got to have more!
2011 Picollo Ernesto Gavi

White Wine; other white varietal; Piedmont;
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Domaine Bart

The 2011 Marsannay Rose from Domaine Bart is simply gorgeous: a pale-hued pink laden with wild strawberry and Crenshaw melon fruit, it finishes dry, as one would hope, and has a rich texture, which makes it perfect to serve with firm-fleshed fish as well as four-legged critters. Marsannay is the closest appellation to the city of Dijon and the only village allowed to be named on a bottle of Burgundian Rose. Domaine Bart’s winemaker, Martin Bart, uses 1/3 saignee and 2/3 pressed wine for this cuvee. The Pinot Noir fruit is expressive and unmistakable. When temperatures rise, a well-chilled glass of Rose is what I begin to crave. We’ll be grilling over the Fourth and if temperatures don’t dive below 85 by the time we sit down to dine, I’m serving this Marsannay Rose instead of a red. And here is why: when it is hot outside, no matter if you chill it down, a red will sit clumsy on the palate and show heat. If you serve a structured Rose that has a bit of grip like the 2011 Marsannay Rose from Domaine Bart, you’ll be amazed at how well it drinks throughout the meal.
2011 Domaine Martin Bart Marsannay Rose

Rose; Pinot Noir; Burgundy;
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It has been three weeks straight of sports camps for my daughter and husband (he runs the camp, my daughter goes along). And we are ALL exhausted! We are heading off for a bit of R & R. Can sleeping in past 8am be close at hand? Oh, I hope so. We’re packed and ready, including the dog and the 3 wine selections above. Apart from a fireworks show, no plans have been set in stone and I’m relishing the thought of unstructured time and plenty of rest. Wishing all of you a safe, relaxing, and fun-filled Fourth of July!Anya Balistreri

2009 Millworks Sonoma Coast Chardonnay

Monday, February 27, 2012 5:49 PM

You know the saying, “it is not what you know but who you know“. This aptly describes how we acquired the 2009 Sonoma Coast Chardonnay from Millworks. Millworks could be termed a pop-up label; there is no traceable link to its winery origins. It’s a one-off of sorts by an ultra-premium producer who is so sensitive to preserving its reputation of exclusivity that they chose to forgo a second label and created a totally new one to maintain anonymity. The wine came to us from a wine broker with whom we have had a long-standing friendship and working relationship, so we trusted him when he vowed thatMillworks’ 2009 Sonoma Coast Chardonnay comes from a pedigreed source. What he was able to disclose to us is that rather than bulk off the juice, which is common practice, this undisclosed producer felt the wine was just too good to let go and why they opted to create Millworks. So that’s the nuts and bolts of the business end of things. For the wine drinker what is important here to make obviously clear is that you get a wine made with grapes from a producer who sells their own Chardonnnay at upwards of $50 for $15.98!!!! Now that is what I call a screaming bargain. 60% barrel fermented in French Oak for 12 months so the creamy rich texture is there but then the balance is fermented in stainless-steel tanks so a freshness and brightness is retained on the palate. A supercharged burst of citrus and ripe apples glide along the finish. You may not mistake this for Batard Montrachet, but there is deftness and elegance here that can only come from quality grapes and skilled winemaking.


After an eleven and a half month house remodel, my family finally moved back in! I can’t begin to express how grateful I am. This truly has been a dream come true and one that could never have materialized without the help, encouragement and support of my parents, in-laws, siblings, friends, co-workers, neighbors and a bevy of building professionals like Cameron over at Belmont Hardware a block over from The Wine House (the bath and kitchen knobs look gorgeous, thank you!). The anticipation and adrenaline of moving home took its toll on our immune system; my husband, daughter and I spent our first week home sick. No pity party here…if you’re gonna be feeling ill, wellthere’s no place like home, there’s no place like home!

Anya Balistreri

Dunn Vineyards’ 2007 Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon

Wednesday, February 1, 2012 9:59 PM

Having tasted a lot of wine lately from wineries I had never heard of before got me to thinking about the explosion of new California wine producers over the last decade or so. I’ve been working wine retail for about, oh gosh I’m about to age myself, twenty years, and though I do my darnedest to keep up, whenCalifornia had at last count over 3,000 bonded wineries how can you possibly know (let alone taste) it all?!? It is because of this that I am all the more thankful for the tried and true, the old guard, the legacy wineries like Dunn Vineyards. When Dunn Vineyards released their first vintage back in 1981 there were only 576 bonded wineries in California and Randy Dunn was finishing up his tenure at Caymus Vineyards. Randy moved his family up to Howell Mountain where he bought property that had 14 acres of planted vineyards. Howell Mountain was the first sub-appellation in the Napa Valley to be granted its own AVA (American Viticultural Appellation) in 1983. And unlike most AVAs that are often defined by waterways and property lines, Howell Mountain boundaries are defined by a 1400 ft. elevation contour line. When I came to work at The Wine House, all those years ago, Dunn Vineyards was one of those regaled Napa wineries that I had heard of but had never seen in shops. The red wax-dipped top and the sepia colored label draped across the bottle like a beauty queen’s sash has since come to symbolize for me quality, integrity and distinctiveness. I can’t argue with the prevailing opinion that Dunn’s Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon needs ageing but having tried recent vintages at release, I still find the wine far more enjoyable to drink now for its layers of flavor, structure and depth, much like I can find pleasure in a young Bordeaux that I know will have a long life ahead of it, than most gushy, juicy fruit-forward Napa Cabs. Just make sure you uncork a bottle when at the table with a proper meal-the civilized way to drink wine, or so I am told.

Below I have included the full tasting note from The Wine Advocates’ whopping 97-point score review.

Anya Balistreri
“The 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon Howell Mountain is unlike any wine I have ever tasted from Dunn. Layer after layer of flavor saturates the palate in this opulent, full-throttle Cabernet Sauvignon. The 2007 possesses dazzling textural richness, depth and sheer intensity. Purists may prefer more structured vintages, but for a producer known for such slow maturing wines, the 2007 is a huge pleasure to taste today. Anticipated maturity: 2017-2037.

I tasted a large number of wines with Randy Dunn this year. These are some of the most powerful, age worthy Cabernets being made in Napa Valley today. Dunn is very much an iconoclast who follows his own convictions. Picking is a bit earlier here than elsewhere throughout the valley. Dunn isn’t too concerned if stems occasionally make it into the fermenter. A fervent advocate of lower-alcohol wines, Dunn makes no apologies for removing alcohol from his wines if they come in above 14%. Personally, that strikes me as a totally unnecessary intervention, but it’s hard to argue with the quality of what is in the bottle, and ultimately that is what counts most. The Napa Valley bottling includes purchased fruit from the valley floor and is typically a slightly more accessible wine, while the Howell Mountain is a much tougher wine that typically demands 20 years to enter its early peak. These Cabernets are for the patient, but make no mistake about it, in top vintages the Howell Mountain is one of the great wines, not just of California, but of the world. Readers who want to explore these wines without waiting several decades may want to start with the 2005 or 2007 Napa Valley bottlings, both of which are somewhat accessible at this stage.”

Owl House Red from Ledgewood Creek Winery

Monday, January 23, 2012 4:36 PM

If I were to recommend a wine to you that had a screw cap and a picture of a cute owl on it, was non-vintage AND, here’s the kicker, cost less than $10 would you think that I lost my marbles? I probably would but then again in my defense, as I’ve been known to repeat ad nauseam, finding a fabulous bottle of wine for $100 is a lot easier to do than to find a wine worth recommending that costs well under $10! The NV Owl House Red from Ledgewood Creek Winery is a simple table wine made from a whole bunch of different grape varieties, but it is the smattering of Counoise that in my opinion gives it its character.Counoise is a dark-skinned Rhone varietal known for tempering the alcohol and tannin of Syrah and Grenache. When vinified alone flavors of soft plum and juicy cherry dominate with light tannins and medium acidity; it’s a wine meant to be drunk young. This too aptly describes the Owl House Red which is medium-bodied with soft tannins and a juicy core of plum and cherry. (As an aside, I just learned that Tablas Creek was the first to put Counoise on their front label in the States. But before that happened, Tablas Creek had to submit a full dossier of material to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms so that Counoise could be recognized as a legitimate grape. This process took two years!!!) When the Owl House Red arrived at the shop, I took a bottle home to get to know it better. I remember it was a particularly hectic day so I opted to forgo making dinner and ordered take-out from our favorite pizza place conveniently located down the street. We ordered pepperoni pizza – yeah, I caved – fortunately it turned out to be one of the best pepperoni pizzas I’ve ever had and with it easily siphoned off (with my husband of course!) a bottle of the Owl House Red. A simple red with a simple pie, nothing could have tasted better at that moment…truly.

Managing to shirk off my weekend write-up duties for the last couple weeks (thank you Pete for covering for me without even having to ask!), I felt I wanted to ease into 2012 with an honest serviceable wine that can deliver simple pleasure as we move away from the craziness (and excesses?) of end-of-year festivities and celebrations. I predict I’ll be grabbing several bottles of Owl House Red over the next few weeks while I recover from shopping like a rock star last month. Luckily it’ll be less painful tightening the belt as long as I’ve got a glass of this charming, juicy red on hand.
Anya Balistreri

CA Cabs: 3 Under $20

Tuesday, December 20, 2011 4:51 PM

Tis’ the season when one should have stock of that reliable Cabernet Sauvignon that you grab and tie with a ribbon as you run out the door to your next party. This Cabernet Sauvignon should be of exceptional value, this goes without saying, but it should also have an attractive outside appearance (I know this is a consideration when it comes to gift giving, so why pretend it’s not), and it shouldn’t have to cost a small fortune. I have a few favorites that meet these criteria that I’d like to share with you. BUT before I do, I’d like to boast that along with our vast budget-friendly offerings, we have in stock many hard-to-find, high-scoring California wines for those wine lovers on your list that are tough to WOW…to that end check out our offerings fromBedrock Wine Company, Carlisle and Varner. Ok, back to the task at hand, here are my recommendations for that last-minute gift for your neighbor who looks after your cat while you are away on vacation, the “within your budget” red for your legendary Boxing Day party, or that tasty boost needed to make wrapping gifts until 2am all the merrier…



At Humanitas, “Drink Charitably” is the motto. Proceeds from the sale of every bottle of Humanitas go to charity. Judd Wallenbreck, who moonlights as GM for Michel-Schlumberger in the Dry Creek Valley, began this new concept winery in the late ’90s. His thirty plus years of experience in the wine business has uniquely positioned him to be able create this charitable winery. Of course this concept wouldn’t go anywhere if the wines weren’t any good. The 2009 Dry Creek Valley Cabernet Sauvignon is marvelous; mountain fruit from the western part of the valley with a small percentage of Malbec and Merlot blended in for complexity.Because we’re in San Francisco, every time we sell a bottle of the 2009 Dry Creek Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, a donation is made to the San Francisco Food Bank. What a brilliant concept: you buy a stunning Dry Creek Valley Cabernet Sauvignon that has been aged in French oak and tastes of crushed blueberries and tart dried cherries, pay far less then what you would expect to pay for a comparable wine AND in the process do something good for someone else!
2009 Humanitas Cabernet Sauvignon Dry Creek Valley

Red Wine; Cabernet Sauvignon; Sonoma;
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Twenty Rows

This gem of a wine comes from Lori and Brian Nuss who also own Vinoce atop Mt. Veeder. The 2009 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon is primarily made up of fruit from Mt. Veeder and Yountville, so power and structure are its hallmarks. Lots of dark red cherry fruit, hints of chocolate and vanilla bean spice greet the palate. Like Humanitas, you get more (pedigree, quality, winemaking) than what you pay for. Plus, this isn’t some large-scaled, faceless operation with a big marketing budget to promote their wine. Twenty Rows is simply about a winemaking couple who understand that not everyone can, or will, pay top dollar for a Napa Cabernet, and are able, with skill and know-how, to fashion a wine that can bottle up all the pleasure of a top-notch Napa Valley Cabernet into a sub $20 bottle. Kudos to Lori and Bill!
2009 Twenty Rows Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley

Red Wine; Cabernet Sauvignon; Napa;
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The 2009 Margarita Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon is Chris Broc’s fourth vintage. This single-vineyard Cabernet outperforms its price range by a wide margin. Margarita Vineyard is the southernmost vineyard in the Paso Robles appellation, is only 14 miles from the ocean and has limestone soils, making this a Cabernet Sauvignon that along with supple rich fruit has a mineral thread that adds energy to the finish. Each time I drink Broadside’s Margarita Vineyard Cabernet, I am struck by this thing…this other thing that makes this Cabernet way more interesting than 99% of what I taste in this price category. Is it the limestone soil, the natural fermentation, the judicious use of oak (only 2% new in this vintage), or just magic? You be the judge.
2009 Broadside Cabernet Sauvignon Margarita Vineyard

Red Wine; Cabernet Sauvignon; Central Coast;
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I went from humbug to ho-ho-ho overnight. I haven’t yet started Christmas shopping (if you are over 21 and on my list, this year you’re all getting wine!), but strangely I’m not panicking. It’ll get done, it always does. And besides it isn’t about that anyway, right? Sunday I’ll be having dinner with my “adoptive” parents for our annual “before Christmas get-together”. It is all the more special this year because last year my other father was at Stanford hospital recovering from heart-transplant surgery. I’m relieved and thankful to report, he’s going great! The menu is set for magret de canard, so I’m bringing Burgundy! Some occasions call for the good stuff! I’d like to wish all of you good health and plenty of time with loved ones, Cheers

Anya Balistreri

Anthill Farms’ 2009 Sonoma Coast Syrah

Tuesday, November 22, 2011 9:29 PM

Thanksgiving Day is fast approaching and I’m starting to feel a bit peckish. I loves me some turkey and all the fixins’. If I plan my day just right, I might be able to hit TWO family dinners on Thursday. It’s been done before and, miraculously, there is always room for just one more bite! When it comes to pairing wine with the traditional Thanksgiving mealmy advice is that anything goes; drink what you like. I have my own personal preferences and if you ask me I’ll likely suggest staying away from tannic reds, especially big structured Cabernet Sauvignons, but that said over the years I’ve known many sophisticated wine drinkers who have uncorked a special Bordeaux at Thanksgiving and enjoyed the pairing, so there goes that theory. A typical Thanksgiving table has so many flavors going on that you might as well drink what you like best be it white, red, pink or bubbly. For my contribution to the Harvest Festival table I’ll be bringing a bottle of 2009 Sonoma Coast Syrah from Anthill Farms. I opened up a bottle a week ago and was bowled over by the unmistakable note of freshly cracked black pepper making me question if I was indeed drinking a wine from California and not from the Northern Rhone. The finish did not betray its origins for a savory, bright acid thread weaved through all that sumptuous fruit again making me think: Northern Rhone. What a pleasure to smell, drink and taste this vibrant Syrah.


Anthill Farms, a collaboration between three guys who met while working at Williams Selyem in the Russian River Valley, made its debut with the 2004 vintage. These like-minded young winemakers (Anthony Filiberti, Webster Marquez, and David Low) quickly garnered a reputation for making elegant, refined Pinot Noir from cool climate, unique North Coast vineyards. Though TWH got in early with the winery, as is so often the case with small production, highly lauded operations, we can never get our hands on enough wine to fill demand. We currently have a full range of single-vineyard Pinot Noir from Anthill Farms in stock, but the quantities are all under a case. So imagine my delight when I asked to increase my allocation of the 2009 Sonoma Coast Syrah expecting a “no” for an answer but instead got a “yes”. Thankfully with a little more wine in stock, I can wholeheartedly recommend the 2009 Sonoma Coast Syrah from Anthill Farms as the perfect Thanksgiving Day/Holiday wine and at $20.98 per bottle let me just say, this is a SCREAMING deal, plain and simple. The 2009 Sonoma Coast Syrah comes from three vineyards: Peters, Campbell Ranch and Windsor Oaks. The Peters Vineyards sits right outside Sebastopol in western Sonoma County, Campbell Ranch is in Annapolis and at 750ft elevation sits right at the marine layer, and Windsor Oaks Vineyards is in the Russian River Valley. The dark purple fruit, though rich, does not sit on the palate at all heavy or flabby, but is expressive and keeps you digging your nose back down deep into the glass again and again for another whiff of that black pepper spice.Just gorgeous.


I took this past Friday off so that I could attend my daughter’s second grade class performance of “The Turkey’s Go On Strike!”. In my biased opinion, I think she gave a tour de force performance as a turkey, holding her picket sign “Rice is Nice” up higher than any of the other turkeys. Afterwards I held a reception for family, serving snacks and Lambrusco (another good option for T-Day by the way). And if that weren’t enough turkey references, just today as I was driving to work I encountered this nervous little fellow hiding in a parking lot median. I just had to take a picture. Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Anya Balistreri

Adventures Of Wine Girl: A Prologue

Monday, October 10, 2011 3:04 PM

One afternoon my daughter created a series of girl characters with super powers, like “Dog Girl” or “Fairy Girl”. In my honor,she drew “Wine Girl”.When she finished drawing, she wanted to staple the pages into a book to bring to school and show her teacher. I begged her not to include “Wine Girl”, thinking that her teacher might not get the right impression seeing a likeness of her mother with a wine bottle sticking out of her head.Once again, I’ve been called out by my daughter. Without further ado, this here “Wine Girl” would like to highlight a few wines that get relegated to our California Weird White section (all this really means is that they aren’t Chardonnay): 2009 Arbe Garbe, Matthiasson’s 2010 Napa White, 2010 Spottswoode Sauvignon Blanc and Sean Thackrey’s 2010 “Lyra” Viognier. These four wines exemplify the exciting trend towards blending high intensity flavor balanced out with texture and bright finishes. My inspiration for these four picks was an article written by SF Chronicle wine writer Jon Bonné titled “A New Age for California White Wines”. It’s a great read for sure with 3 of my 4 picks reviewed in depth. Here’s my spin on them:


2009 Arbe Garbe Bianco Russian River Valley

White Wine; other white varietal; Sonoma;
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Arbe Garbe’s inaugral release was selected for TWH’s Top Ten Picks of 2009. I’ve been a fan from the start and with each vintage you see the evolution of a confident winemaker who knows they are on to something. The ’09 is primarily Pinot Grigio with a small smattering of two lesser-known varietals, Ribolla Giallo and Tocai Friulano. I just love the engaging floral aromas, broad mid-palate and creamy texture.Though the composition for this wine has changed vintage to vintage, what hasn’t changed is the perfect interplay of vivid aromatics that carry over on to the palate without feeling heavy or overdone.


2010 Matthiasson Napa Valley White

White Wine; White Blend; Napa;
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Matthiasson’s 2009 Napa White was chosen for TWH’s Top Ten Pick of 2010…do you see a pattern here? The blend for the 2010 is identical to 2009, Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, Tocai Friulano and Ribolla Giallo, but it’s a whole other animal. I think the difference really comes down to vintage with 2010 being a cool weather vintage. The 2010 has crackly minerality and bracing acidity. At this stage, a hint of oak hovers in the background, giving of a more Bordelais feel to the flavor profile.Don’t expect this wine to taste like last year’s. This winery is not a brand; a brand is something that is manufactured and consistent. Steve Matthiasson is a winemaker who works directly with the fruit and makes wines that are representative of what Nature bestows. No hocus-pocus here. Oh yeah, and for those folks who follow such matters, the 2010 Napa White comes in with an alcohol content of 12.5%.


2010 Spottswoode Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc Napa County/Sonoma County

White Wine; Sauvignon Blanc; Other California;
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I think TWH has been buying Spottswoode Cabernet Sauvignons since their first release in the early 80’s, yet this is the first time we’ve been offered their Sauvignon Blanc! Oh joy! I’ve always loved their Sauvignon Blanc and have been only able to enjoy it off of restaurant wine lists (I fondly recall sharing a bottle with my husband during our honeymoon at a fish house on Maui). A blend of Napa and Sonoma County fruit, I love the citrus notes, the faint spice flavors of the integrated oak, and the weighty mouthfeel. So perfectly elegant and refined, much like their heralded Cabernets.


2010 Sean Thackrey Viognier Lyra Noble Vineyard Knights Valley

White Wine; Viognier; Sonoma;
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If my facts are correct, this is Sean Thackrey’s first commercial release of a white wine. I know he has made whites over the years, Viognier is often a component of his Pleiades blend, but he has never been satisfied enough to release one until now. Once again, Sean Thackrey proves to be unconventional and single-minded in his drive to make wines that are alive and real. The 2010 Lyra is 100% Viognier from Noble Vineyard in Knights Valley. The Knights Valley AVA essentially separates Sonoma County from Napa County and is the warmest of Sonoma’s Viticultural Areas. The soil is mostly volcanic and there are some gravel deposits from ancient rivers that once meandered through this area. I have read that my beloved Russian River once flowed this direction but was diverted westward after a St. Helena eruption. Thackrey’s 2010 Viognier blew me away; while it contains exotic flavors and an oily texturetypical of Viognier, it has none of that hideous canned peach flavor so common to California Viogniers. It is expansive and rich, and goes long on the finish. A true showstopper.

New Domestic Arrivals: Spotlight on Carlisle

Thursday, September 1, 2011 6:05 PM

Mike Officer’s Zinfandels and Syrahs are powerful reds that though delicious young, reward those patient enough to lay them down for a bit. The structure and intensity that Mike coaxes out of the grapes produces wines that can age. No longer known just as a master of Zinfandel, Mike Officer has earned a reputation for making some of California’s most coveted Syrahs. In a recent WA review, Parker summed up Carlisle with this declaration, “these are artisanal, world-class reds that remain among California’s most fairly priced high quality wines.” We couldn’t agree more. – Anya Balistreri

*Notes from Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate, Feb 2011

It is amazing to think that fifteen years ago no one had ever heard of Carlisle Winery and Vineyards or Mike Officer. Moreover, what Officer has done to preserve old vine Zinfandel vineyards in Sonoma is nothing short of astonishing. Add to that success story his sensational line-up of Syrahs, Petite Sirahs and Rhone Ranger blends and it is undeniable that this man and his winery are at the top of their game. These are artisanal, world-class reds that remain among California’s most fairly priced high quality wines… Mike Officer says 2009 is a strong year for his wines, but since he has done nearly everything right, it is hard for me to say his 2009s are better than previous vintages… Readers who love these wines are advised to stock up on what is left of the 2008s as well as the upcoming 2009s. – Robert Parker

2009 Russian River Valley Carlisle Vineyard Zinfandel93-95 POINTS
The 2009 Zinfandel Carlisle Vineyard (93% Zinfandel and 7% mixed blacks) is equal to the Montafi and just a notch behind the prodigious Monte Rosso. A sexy, heady wine, its dark plum/purple color is followed by a big, sweet kiss of blueberries, blackberries, wild, briery, mountain berries, spice box, pepper, roasted herb and forest floor. This chewy, thick, rich beauty will drink well for 7-8 years.

2009 Russian River Valley Papera Ranch Zinfandel92-95 POINTS
Another classic in the making, the 2009 Zinfandel Papera Ranchdemonstrates just how elegant Zinfandel can be with its kirsch and raspberry notes that resemble Grenache more than Zinfandel. There is terrific fruit on the attack and mid-palate, full body and good purity. Moreover, the wood component is pushed to the background. This 2009 should be delicious young and last 4-5 years.

2009 Bennett Valley Cardiac Hill Syrah92-94 POINTS
From the famed Cardiac Hill, the 2009 Syrah Cardiac Hill will not make anyone forget the 2008, but it is another great effort. Forty percent whole clusters were used and the crop size was significantly larger than in 2008. The 2009 displays a blue/purple color along with copious aromas of graphite, ink, black currants, crushed rocks and a hint of spring flowers. Full-bodied with surprisingly modest alcohol (14.5%) for this vineyard, it offers a beautiful combination of power and elegance and should age effortlessly for a decade.

New Domestic Arrivals: Spotlight on Bedrock Wine Company

Thursday, September 1, 2011 5:26 PM

Bedrock Wine Company is no longer some little known, up and coming winery.  Quite the contrary, winemaker Morgan Twain-Peterson is clearly a leading force in the making of California’s most intriguing wines from unique, often historical vineyards along the North Coast.  Only a few hundred cases made of this and a few of that, so nothing stays on the shelf for long.  Any self-describing Zinfandel lover must try the Bedrock and the Lorenzo’s… You owe it to yourself! – Anya Balistreri

*Notes from Stephen Tanzer’s International Wine Cellar, May/June 2011:

2010 Sonoma Coast Syrah

2009 Sonoma County Cuvée Caritas90 POINTS
(A 55/45 blend of semillon and sauvignon blanc): Bright yellow-gold. High-pitched aromas of grapefruit rind, green apple and white flowers, with musky lees and smoky nuances adding complexity. Concentrated and tactile, with very good cut to its intense citrus and floral flavors. Has a firm backbone and closes with very good, chewy persistence.

2009 Old Lakeville Vineyard Syrah92 POINTS
(vinified with 40% whole clusters): Bright violet. Intense scents of blackberry, cherry-cola and candied violet, with strong mineral and spicecake accents. Shows energetic, peppery, very pure flavors of dark berries and candied flowers. Picks up a wild herb note on the back, finishing sweet and impressively long, with lingering suggestions of tangy minerals and allspice.

2010 The Bedrock Heirloom Vineyard, Sonoma Valley

2009 Lorenzo’s Heirloom, Dry Creek Valley90 POINTS
(A blend based on 50% zinfandel and 25% carignane): Opaque purple. Powerful, ripe cherry and blackcurrant aromas are deepened by strong mineral and violet tones. A rich, rather brooding style, with chewy texture and deep, liqueur-like dark fruit flavors. Finishes ripe and very long, with powerful tannins; this could use some time to loosen up.

2009 Kick Ranch Syrah92 POINTS
Inky purple. Rich, pungent aromas of singed plum, blackberry, cherry compote and espresso, plus a hint of licorice. Full and weighty but lively as well, with strong cherry and plum flavors accented by dark chocolate, espresso and candied violet. Finishes with pliant, harmonious tannins and excellent persistence. This decidedly rich, powerful wine would work well with grilled meats or strong cheeses. There’s 5% viognier in here and all of the grapes were destemmed; it’s carrying 15.1% alcohol but I get no heat.

2009 Rebecca’s Vineyard Pinot Noir90 POINTS
Bright red. Vibrant redcurrant and cherry aromas are enlivened by fresh rose, Indian spices and zesty minerality. Bright red berry and bitter cherry flavors are framed by silky tannins and given lift by a hint of tangy blood orange. Puts on weight with air and picks up a darker blackberry note, finishing with very good clarity and nervy cut.

2010 Monte Rosso Vineyard Zinfandel

New Domestic Arrivals: Spotlight on Varner

Thursday, September 1, 2011 4:24 PM

95 points. 96 points. These are not Parker scores for First Growth Bordeaux,these are the scores garnered by the dynamic duo Jim and Bob Varner for their impeccable single-block Chardonnays from the Spring Ridge Vineyard, located along the slopes of the Santa Cruz Mountains. Varner Chardonnays are unquestionably among the very best that California has to offer. One sip and you’ll instantly grasp why Varner Chardonnays are so adored. –Anya Balistreri

*Notes from Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate, Aug 2011:

(The) Chardonnays from Jim and Bob Varner are made from three blocks the Varners planted in the early 1980s in the Portola Valley. They are fairly large-scaled wines that at the same time retain considerable minerality and structure in a style that is distinctive of the Santa Cruz Mountains, but that stands apart from the lusher, oakier style of wine many people associate as typical California Chardonnay… Readers should do whatever they can to taste these majestic Chardonnays – Robert Parker.

2009 Amphitheater Block Chardonnay96 POINTS
Emerges from the glass with layers of fruit. It shows gorgeous up-front richness, then finds its center of minerality on the mid-palate. It is a large-scaled, beautifully balanced wine loaded with personality. Smoke, minerals, and citrus linger on the multi-dimensional, saline finish.

2009 Bee Block Chardonnay96 POINTS
The Bee Block is the most overt of these 2009 Chardonnays from Varner. Here the fruit moves toward the tropical end of the spectrum, perhaps owing to a richer layer of topsoil. Nevertheless, this is the closest wine to what readers are likely to identify as California Chardonnay. Once again, theintegration of French oak is nothing short of masterful. The long, textured finish is striking.

2009 Home Block Chardonnay95 POINTS
Home Block is fabulous. It is rather inward and reticent, but the wine’s personality is impossible to miss. Ash, minerals, earthiness are some of the notes that add complexity to the intense fruit. This is another sweeping, totally elegant wine from Varner.

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