Holidays, Favorite Wines, and Memories

Wednesday, December 28, 2016 10:45 AM

Twas the night before Christmas … and the first night of Hanukkah too! Pretty cool, if you ask me, as I’m all for celebrations. Considering the timing of my fortnightly ramble, I’m not expecting as wide an audience to be reading this evening. That takes all the pressure off, as there’s really no need to speak of any specific wine tonight. I figure that we’ve all got our wines for the holiday weekend in place, ready to be shared and enjoyed. So, for the sake of exercise, and since it’s the time of year to break out the good stuff, I will reminisce about some of my very favorite wines.

*I will go on the record here and declare any 1982 red Bordeaux ineligible from this list; much like the Beatles’ exclusion from favorite musical acts lists.

1985 Mouton Rothschild, Pauillac

This wine was served as the final act of a dinner/tasting with some very good friends, and we formed a Bordeaux tasting group that evening. The concept was a good one. Back in the days when one could purchase First Growth Bordeaux for less than $200 per bottle, I was thinking out loud to a couple of friends. “I would love to try a bottle of Mouton, but wouldn’t necessarily want to splurge and just have the one bottle. But if you chipped in $200, and you chipped in $200, and we got a couple more friends to do the same, we could taste 6 bottles of great Bordeaux, and that would be worth it!” This idea caught fire and Carsten and I were in charge of acquiring the special bottles. The evening’s lineup, in order: 1978 Pontet Canet, 1985 Pichon Lalande, 1985 Margaux, 1982 Leoville Las Cases, 1978 Lafite Rothschild, and 1985 Mouton Rothschild. Such a memorable evening with close friends, great food, and amazing wine. The 1985 Mouton took the blue ribbon for its amazing complexity and sublime mouth feel. I hope to taste this wine again someday.

1985 Heitz Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon Martha’s Vineyard

My all-time favorite California wine. I have been lucky enough to have tasted ’85 Martha’s a handful of times. The very first was with some trader buddies back in my days as a NASDAQ marketmaker at The Little Nell in Aspen. But the most memorable tasting was at “A Taste For Life,” which was a charity tasting put on by Wine Commune in 2001. Due to the generosity of a good friend, I found myself seated at the 1982 Bordeaux table with several Bordeaux enthusiasts. Our conversations were free-flowing and full of passionate stories about Bordeaux. The lineup at our table was: Lafite, Margaux, Mouton, Latour, Petrus, Cheval Blanc, Pichon Lalande, and La Mission Haut Brion. At some point after I tasted the aforementioned, I caught Shaun Bishop walking through the crowd with a bottle sporting that unmistakeable 1985 Heitz Martha’s label (well, it could have been the 1974). You don’t get what you don’t ask for, so I asked if I could possibly have a taste. Not only did he oblige, he was quite generous about the pour. I took the glass back to the table and shared it with the rest of those seated. Not only did the Heitz hold its own, it stood out with its abundance of cassis, earth, spice, and that quintessential Martha’s Vineyard menthol/mint/eucalyptus. I didn’t think a wine from California could stand up to some of Bordeaux’s legendary wines from a legendary vintage. I was wrong.

1988 Chateau Margaux

Back to my trader days here. A trader buddy (and one of the boys from the ski trip) from New York recommended I stay at the Eden Hotel when I visited Rome. He strongly advised me to eat in the hotel’s top floor restaurant, which sported a panoramic view of Rome’s skyline. The Colosseum, the Vittorio Emanuele Monument, and St. Peter’s were all visible from the dining room. My guest and I dined there the very first night and had such a blast during and after dinner that I tracked down the maitre d’ and asked if we could eat there again on our last night in town. “For you, Mr. Zavialoff, the finest table in Rome.” That’s what he said; no kidding. Two nights later, that’s what we got. That special table in the corner window with the view. Wow. So I decided to go for it and get the Margaux. This experience had a lot to do with why I’m here typing today. It was my first Bordeaux epiphany. Never, at that time, had I tasted such a complex red wine. It had depth, richness, silky tannins, and aromas galore. Our server was wise to keep the decanter out of arm’s reach. This way it lasted all through dinner. It was more spectacular than the finest table in Rome.

1985 Leoville Las Cases

I consider myself very lucky to have tasted 1985 Leoville Las Cases. I was given a bottle as a gift several years ago, and I was saving it for a special occasion. In 2014, my boyhood baseball team won its third World Series in five years, so that was special enough to pop the ’85. (I’ve got a thing for 1985 red Bordeaux.) I brought the bottle to Restaurant Picco in Larkspur, where I pop in fairly regularly. The complexity, mouth feel, and aromatic sensations that I experienced with the 1985 Las Cases, I would put up against anything I’ve ever tasted. My friends and I shared tastes with the manager, assistant manager, several servers, and Chef de Cuisine, Jared Rogers. Every single one of us were completely blown away. 30 year old Bordeaux, still tasting rather fresh, yet showing layers and layers of Bordeaux goodness which comes from time in the cellar. We collectively shed a tear when the bottle came up empty. All we had was a memory. A very happy memory. And the good news is that the generous gent who gave me that bottle has given me another. Thank you! I look forward to that special occasion.

2005 Chateau Coutet, Barsac

Not even a short list of favorite wines would be complete without the 2005 Coutet. It all started when someone came to our shop on Carolina Street and spent a long time in our Sauternes section. I engaged him in conversation and it turned out he was with Chateau La Tour Blanche. He was in town for a 2005 Sauternes tasting at Fort Mason. David made a couple of phone calls, and I went to the tasting. The lineup included Doisy Vedrines, Doisy Daene, Rayne Vigneau, Clos Haut Peyraguey, La Tour Blanche, Coutet, Guiraud, Suduiraut, and Climens. Each wine was tasted by the group at the same time, and all the wines were showing very well. I will never forget what happened when we all tasted the ’05 Coutet. The noise level in the room erupted and smiles and praise beamed from all the tasters. It was quite incredible. My own notes concluded with “Cover off the ball.” It gets better. I put my staff pick sign on this wine and somehow it got back to Chateau Coutet – to Aline Baly specifically. Together, we have hosted three awesome all-Sauternes tasting dinners, and Aline and her uncle Philippe have treated me like family ever since. Having grown up in the Boston area, Aline suggested I try it with lobster. What a great idea. I have very fond memories of 2005 Coutet and lobster shared with my sister for several years. This will always be a special wine for me.

Well, if you made it this far, I thank you. Without reason to flog a wine, I thought it fun to remember some of the great wines I’ve tasted. I don’t mean this to appear as a brag of any sort; but in writing this, I’ve come to remember the people and occasions which got these bottles open in the first place. For me, the most important thing about a good bottle of wine is sharing it. 2016 has been a tumultuous year; we can all agree with that. As I grow older, I become painfully aware that life is short. Some of the people with whom I shared the above wines are no longer with us. Well, we’ve all still got each other, so let me raise a glass and toast: To all of us, may we enjoy the company of friends and loved ones, share some good times, wonderful meals and fine wine, may we live in good health and in peace. Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah! – Peter Zavialoff

Brick & Mortar – In On The Ground Floor

Tuesday, March 17, 2015 8:29 PM


Brick & Mortar is an exciting new wine project we are betting will be getting more and more attention once theirminiscule production levels increase for wider distribution. But for now, only a few select places, mostly top Bay Area restaurants, are able to offer their wines –and we’re one of the lucky ones!


We were introduced to Brick & Mortar by way of one of David’s tasting groups. The winemaker, Matthew Iaconis, met with us at the store to share his story and pour his wines. By the time he left the building, David and I were conspiring to figure out how much we should buy! The wines are compelling and Matthew’s confidence and enthusiasm convinced us that he is a winemaker we want to get in with on the ground floor, so to speak.



Matthew, a native Californian, played football for UC Davis where he was studying Atmospheric Science – he wanted to be an astronaut! It was also at UC Davis that he took an introductory course on winemaking; this changed everything for him. After college, Matthew worked at wineries here and abroad. Most recently, he has worked with the Antinori family in Napa Valley. It is through this connection that he was able to acquire the fruit he needed to start his own project. Working with fruit from Cougar Rock Vineyard, a high elevation vineyard in the Atlas Peak appellation, Matthew achieves balance and finesse with Pinot Noir and Chardonnay in what is typically thought of as Cab Country. The elevation and exposition of the vineyard allows for daytime sun and cool nights, perfectly suited for these Burgundian varietals. In addition, Matthew sources Pinot Noir from a vineyard on the other side of the Valley up on Spring Mountain.


The 2014 Rosé of Pinot Noir is superb. It is quite delicate and subtle in the fruit department, yet the strawberry flavors of Pinot Noir come across. Using the saignée method of bleeding juice off of his two Napa Valley Pinot Noirs, Matthew then places half in stainless steel and the other in neutral barrel. It is a smart approach, preserving both texture and freshness in the wine. The pale, pale pink color, by the way, is divine. (55 cases produced)



The 2013 Chardonnay combines texturally rich fruit with a lifted palate feel. Neither overblown nor heavy,this is a composed Chardonnay that showcases sun-kissed fruit in a more discreet fashion. Barrel-aged, but only in a third new oak, this is a citrus-laden Chardonnay that accentuates acidity and stoniness on the finish. (260 cases produced)



Rounding out the trio of Brick & Mortar wines is the 2012 Pinot Noir. Put aside any pre-existing notions of Napa Valley Pinot Noir. This is mountain fruit – it has depth and reveals layers of flavors. The 2012 Pinot Noir is reflective of the character of Cougar Rock Vineyard. Matthew uses two blocks within the vineyard that run east/west. The soils are a mixture of gravelly loam and dusty red clay with extensive granite rock strewn about the parcel. For this wine Matthew put the grapes through an extended cold-soak with native yeast fermentation and then aged the wine in once used French oak barrels. His intention was to let the vineyard shine through the wine. We appreciated the soft, rounded texture and savored the deep, red berry fruit that was framed by earthier notes. Like the other two wines of Brick & Mortar, the 2012 Pinot Noircombines a pleasurable fruit presence with elegance. All of the wines sit lively on the palate. (110 cases produced) – Anya Balistreri

2013 Matthiasson Linda Vista Chardonnay

Wednesday, September 3, 2014 9:29 PM

Last Sunday morning, I was awakened by an earthquake that caused serious damage to Napa and Vallejo, about 20 miles from where I live. After being certain that my daughter, husband, dog, and house were safe, I grabbed my phone to fire up Twitter.It didn’t take long for me to understand that many of the small, independent producers I follow (and I don’t mean just on Twitter, but as a wine drinker and wine buyer), were going to be hit hard.Matthiasson wines always have a presence on our shelves. Crafted with passion and with an adventurous spirit, it’s easy to understand why people quickly attach themselves to Matthiasson wines. The 105 year old farmhouse Steve and Jill Matthiasson share with their sons suffered structural damage … they lost a chimney. The house had been lovingly brought back to life by the couple and the surrounding land has been an important source for their winery and organic farm business. Their farmhouse, gotten to by way of a long driveway, is tucked in among tract homes along the Valley floor in what is known as the Oak Knoll District. What looks like their back yard, but is an adjacent property, is the Linda Vista Vineyard. On it grows Chardonnay, and in 2011 Steve leased the vineyard, allowing him to farm it as he sees fit thereby making a stand-out wine.


The 2013 Linda Vista Chardonnay from Matthiasson is styled for freshness and crispness. Only a small portion of the wine went through malolactic fermentation, something they opted out of doing in past vintages, but felt it needed to temper the sharp acidity of 2013. Aged and fermented in neutral barrel,this is an A-typical California Chardonnay in that it pushes forth vivacious citrus notes that don’t get muddled with too much oak, lees-stirring or other winemaking techniques that are implemented to bolster a full-bodied final wine. Instead, the 2013 Linda Vista Chardonnay is more comfortable as a pairing for oysters or light poultry dishes. I may cringe after I write this, but I do believe it is a fair analogy to make – think more Premier Cru Chablis and less big buttery Cali Chardonnay. At under 13% abv, Matthiasson’s 2013 Linda Vista Chardonnay is a welcome change.


My husband, a PE teacher, and my daughter, a 5th grader (yikes!) are sick with a cold … welcome back to school! Rather than heading north as is tradition, or visiting with friends at backyard cookouts, we’ll be staying home. No, no violins here needed because I am thinking ahead, making sure I return home today with supplies from The Wine House, including the dynamite 2013 Linda Vista Chardonnay. The plan is to serve it with some juicy prawns that will be grilled and doused with home-grown herb vinaigrette. If I can’t go to the party, the party will have to come to me. Here is to those that labor and to those that enjoy time with friends and family when not laboring! – Anya Balistreri
Storybook Mountain Vineyards’ Zinfandels are my kind of Zinfandels. I like to be able to taste the fruit.  All too often in the attempt to extract as much power as possible, Zinfandels are pushed overboard so that alcohol and structure mask the intrinsic charm of Zinfandel – its fruit. A Zinfandel that doesn’t bowl you over isn’t necessarily a wimpy wine or one lacking in concentration. A balanced Zinfandel will, however, reward the wine drinker with nuance, layers of flavors and compatibility with food. The 2009 Mayacamas Range from Storybook Mountain is such a Zinfandel. A welcoming floral note greets the senses and moves on to cool dark raspberry fruit, hints of soil and juicy acidity on the palate. It is a silky Zinfandel that glides on and on. 
Owner/winemaker Jerry Seps explained to me that the unique soil of his vineyards along with their eastern exposure and location in the coolest part of the Napa Valley, in the hillsides north of Calistoga, all contribute to the retention of vivid aromatics and the snappy fruit of his wines. The Aiken series clay soil that is found at Storybook Mountain Vineyards is quite rare in Napa and has a distinctive red color. The clay is volcanic in origin and rich in magnesium and iron. The Seps farm without herbicides or insecticides and are certified organic. Dr. Seps’ approach to winemaking, just like others whom I admire that work intimately with the vineyard, is to preserve the freshness of the fruit by basically standing out of the way. I was overcome by a feeling of familiarity when I last tasted the 2009 Mayacamas Range Zinfandel, like I was catching up with an old friend I haven’t seen in years – quickly falling back into laughter, inside jokes and intimacy. I think this emotional response comes from tasting a wine – one I’ve tasted many times over the years – that is sight specific and expressive of place. It tasted familiar because the Mayacamas Range Zinfandel from Storybook Mountain Vineyards will always have a constant at its core despite vintage variations. It’s no wonder Wine & Spirits Magazine has named Storybook Mountain Vineyards one of the Top 100 Wineries in the World nine times! 
School’s out in a few days, summer is just around the corner and I’m starting to plan my next patio party. I’ll likely have my hubby grill something up, while I’ll handle the salads and sides. To complete my summer dinner party, a bottle of Zinfandel must grace the table. I won’t want one that will assault my senses. No way! That’s why I’ll be taking home a bottle of the 2009 Mayacamas Range Zinfandel from Storybook Mountain Vineyards. Sounds heavenly! —Anya Balistreri
Napa Valley Chardonnay has come a long way since the San Francisco 49ers tasted their first Super Bowl win and 49er fans were lambasted as Chardonnay-drinking, Brie-eating elitists.Napa Valley Chardonnay has had an image problem in contrast to Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon which continues to attract cult-like devotion and adulation. My hopes are high though, pleased with the direction some producers are taking in preserving freshness and retaining acidity in their Chardonnay. I point to the 2011 Linda Vista Vineyard Chardonnay from Matthiasson as an example of a Napa Valley white that doesn’t sacrifice on fruit yet maintains a prominent acid profile. On the palate, I taste an abundance of crunchy green-apple fruit flavors that finish with a loud snap. It’s remarkably Old-World in style, as the oak regimen is only texturally noticeable. So for those who crave that toasty, vanillan oak on their Chardonnay, Matthiasson’s 2011 Linda Vista Vineyard Chardonnay is probably not going to do it for you. On the other hand, if you delight in the crackly fruit crunch of just-picked tree fruit and want those flavors to persist unobstructed, than this Chardonnay from Matthiasson is just the ticket.



Steve Matthiasson is a highly sought-after viticulturist who has parlayed his love of the grape to include making his own wine.Steve makes a white blend called simply Napa Valley White Wine that has held a permanent spot on our shelves as each vintage brings something unique and delicious. Over the years, along with his wife Jill, Steve has been experimenting with varietals and making one-offs from fruit he farms. I had been desperate to find a Chardonnay in the sub-$25 range that doesn’t come from a faceless, mass-production winery – not as easy to find as you’d think. So when I stumbled upon Steve’s Napa Valley Chardonnay I was obviously overjoyed. Linda Vista Vineyard is located literally behind their home and is farmed by Steve. To retain the freshness and zest of the cool 2011 harvest, Steve fermented the Chardonnay in neutral barrel and opted to prevent malolactic fermentation. He also left half the wine undisturbed in barrel and the other half got stirred only once for creaminess. Included in San Francisco Chronicle’s Top 100 Wines of 2012, The 2011 Linda Vista Chardonnay is a must with succulent sea creatures. Is it still crab season ’cause I’d love to wash down some cracked crab with this crackly Chardonnay? Way high on the Yum-meter!



I don’t know where I’ll be watching the Super Bowl yet, lots of fun options to consider. I am surprised to find myself feeling deeply nostalgic the last few weeks as I fondly remember the first 49er Super Bowl win.I’ll never forget the way strangers were embracing each other on the street, high-fiving everyone in sight. Just barely a teenager, I along with my brother and some friends ended up cheering with the mass of humanity that congregated on Broadway in North Beach. It never felt threatening or unsafe, though we did high tail it out of there when the police arrived in riot gear. Fun times indeed. So whether I decide to watch with friends or end up staying home, mark my words, I’ll be swirling Chardonnay and noshing on Brie. Anya Balistreri

The Wine House SF Top Ten Wines Of 2012

Wednesday, January 30, 2013 3:06 PM

Now that we’ve all settled into 2013, we have to say with excitement that this is going to be a great year! We are anxiously looking forward to all of the good things and the many great wines coming our way in 2013. But before we get too far into it, let’s have a look back as we reveal our Top Ten Wines of 2012!

The concept may sound simple … the top wines, right? Well, not so fast. We could tap into the multitude of reviews from wine writers and critics and fashion a list of highly rated, don’t drink until 2025, keep in a bank vault wines, butthat’s not how we roll here at TWH. In years past, our Top Ten lists are comprised of wines we all love. Wines that deliver. Wines that outshine their respective price points. Wines that provide pleasure, because really, isn’t that what wine is all about? We taste a whole lot of wine throughout the year, both here and abroad, and only bring in the ones we deem worthy to be on our shelves for you, our customers. Choosing a Top Ten out of all of the wines we’ve said yes to is a fun albeit difficult exercise. It’s fun because we get to relive our tasting experiences, remembering the meals, the ambiance, and the company that went along with each wine. Remember, some of the wines have sold out, but we list them here based on their merits … So without further ado, here is The Wine House San Francisco’s Top Ten wines of 2012!!!

Please use these links to view our Top Ten from last year, 2010, or 2009.

20NV Pascal Doquet Extra Brut Premier Crus Blancs de Blanc

With New Year’s memories slowly fading, let’s begin with some bubbles. TWH mainstay Pascal Doquet makes some of the best Grower Champagne that we’ve encountered. He sure has been garnering praise recently from the likes of James Molesworth of The Wine Spectator and The Wine Advocate’s Antonio Galloni. Why wouldn’t he? His artisanal Champagnes have been wowing our staff for over a decade! When this Extra Brut landed here in our shop this year, it instantly became a favorite of our staff and all customers who have tried it.Here’s what Mr. Galloni had to say about it, “Doquet’s NV Extra Brut Premier Crus Blanc de Blancs is pretty, soft and enveloping. Dried pears, spices, crushed flowers and almonds wrap around the palate in this expressive, layered Champagne. This is one of the more open Extra Brut Champagnes readers will come across, likely because of the high presence of 2005 juice and full malolactic fermentation. Technical details aside, the wine is flat out delicious. 91 points”
NV Pascal Doquet Premiers Crus Extra Brut Blanc de Blancs

Sparkling; Champagne Blend; Champagne;
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19Michel-Andreotti Montagny les Guignottes

White Burgundy. Honestly, we don’t really have to say much more than that. It is special wine. Unfortunately, supply and demand do what they do, and a great amount of it is priced in the ‘special wine’ echelon. Well, David’s trips to Burgundy have paid off yet again, as we are now importing the Montagny “Les Guignottes” from Michel-Andreotti. From the slightly off-the-beaten-path appellation of Montagny in Côte Chalonnaise, “Les Guignottes” outperforms its price point by far and reminds us that there is good White Burgundy out there for a fair price. First came the 2010. It’s an understatement to say that it sold out quickly. Then along came the 2011, it sold out too, but we just re-loaded and it’s back in stock. Which one made our Top Ten of 2012? It’s a dead heat. They both belong!
2011 Domaine Michel-Andreotti Montagny Les Guignottes

White Wine; Chardonnay; Burgundy;
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182011 Juicy Villages From Juicy Rebound

Now for some local representation. You’ve got to love old-vine Mourvèdre. It’s rare to find a blend from California that showcases the grape in the leading role. Winemaker and hockey fanatic Douglas Danielak took 120+ year old Mourvèdre from the Evanghelo Vineyard in Contra Costa where the vines look like “little trees” and blended it with Syrah and Grenache to create a mouth-filling berry bomb bestowing it with the catchy name, Juicy Villages. There’s plenty of grip and tang to give Juicy Villages a well-balanced flavor experience. A whopping 100 cases were produced of this unique and delicious Côtes du Rhône-esque red. All that for a price that’s more than fair on your pocketbook. Bravo!
2011 Juicy Rebound Juicy Villages California

Red Wine; Rhone Blend; Other California;
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172009 Domaine Martin Bart Marsannay

2012 was the year of containers. It seemed all throughout the year, we were simultaneously in the process of consolidating one overseas, anticipating the arrival of the one already on the water, and unloading the container at our dock! That just means we found lots of goodies on our trips overseas. The 2009 vintage was a phenomenal one in France (more on that later), and we tasted a lot of great wines that now have “Imported by Wine House Limited” on their labels.So 2009 was great in Burgundy, especially for the red wines. So again, we’re sure the top names of the region produced formidable wines, but we like to kick tires and look under rocks to find value! David is on a roll bringing some amazing, new-for-us, high-quality producers to join TWH family! Another feather in his cap in 2012 were the wines from Domaine Bart in Marsannay. Their Les Champs Salomon was a home run of a Red Burgundy. It smelled fancy. It tasted fancy. Its price tag? Not so fancy. That all explains its sold out status. Welcome to TWH top 10, Domaine Bart!


16Ravan From Kabaj

We’ve got our eyes open for great wines from all corners of the wine world. Like Slovenia. Wines from Slovenia are catching favor with consumers and critics alike, popping up on restaurant wine lists and profiled in thoughtful wine publications. Just one whiff, just one taste was enough for us to throw caution to the wind and stack the Ravan from Kabaj high and proud. Were we concerned whether TWH customers would shy away from an unknown producer from an unfamiliar wine region? Not. The staff were all in for sure, but when a wine is this delightful, exotic and complex, we knew our adventurous clientele would embrace the Ravan from Kabaj just as passionately. The 2009 has sold out, but we find the 2010 a worthy successor!
2010 Kabaj Ravan White Wine Goriska Brda

White Wine; other white varietal; Slovenia;
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152009 Châteauneuf-du-Pape – Tour de l’Isle

Imagine attending a traveling French wine trade show in Chicago in the middle of January … brrrrr! Seriously, at some point you have to ask yourself why? Well, part of our service to you all is to indeed kick tires, look under rocks, kiss some toads, and every now and then, we get lucky. Here goes your proof. Last January David braved the elements and flew into 6 degree Farenheit Chi-town. He met a lot of people and tasted a lot of wine. When he met the folks representing the Tour de l’Isle brand,he was gaga over their Châteauneuf-du-Pape! A sample bottle was shipped to the shop the following week, and now we all sing the praises of this rich, powerful (yet friendly), stone mineral driven, Grenachey Grenache! The 2009 was already in the US, courtesy of another importer. Well, we all love it so much that we made ’em an offer they couldn’t refuse. We bought their entire stock and are now the proud importer of their wines! Boo Yah!
2009 Tour de l’Isle Chateauneuf-du-Pape

Red Wine; Rhone Blend; Rhone;
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142009 Spottswoode Cabernet Sauvignon

One of the advantages, and pleasures, of being in business for over 35 years (!) is the long-standing relationships we’ve forged with both customers and vendors. One of David’s first discoveries working at The Wine House was the debut vintage of Spottswoode’s estate grown 1982 Cabernet Sauvignon.The Wine House has been proudly offering their Cabernet Sauvignon every vintage thereafter.The 2009 Spottswoode Cabernet Sauvignon is a standout among a very long line of outstanding efforts; it has that unmistakable thread of Spottsberry fruit pushing through with the signature silky tannins wrapping around it. It is a true collectable California Cabernet and we are happy and proud to include this monumental effort among our Top Ten Wines of the year!
2009 Spottswoode Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon Estate Napa Valley

Red Wine; Cabernet Sauvignon; Napa;
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132011 Gavi di Gavi

We’ve been directly importing the Ernesto Picollo line of Gavi wines for 5 vintages now, and though we have always felt they smash the quality for price ratio, their 2011 Gavi di Gavi Roveretohas that extra umph that propels it into 2012’s Top Ten! Anya swears that it is the fact that Picollo’s top cuvée Rughe wasn’t made this year, so that special older-vine fruit made its way into the Rovereto. Whatever it was, there’s no denying the quality of this wine. Crisp, mineral driven, and precise, you would swear that the bottle cost would be twice or even three times as much as it is! It is that special. It’s very likely THE best white wine deal in the house!
2011 Picollo Ernesto Gavi di Gavi Roverto

White Wine; other white varietal; Piedmont;
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122001 La Rioja Alta Viña Ardanza Reserva Especial

Chances are if you’ve been in our shop in the latter part of 2012, and perhaps overheard a customer request for a “special wine” or a “gift wine”, you would have heard a member of TWH staff gush over the merits of the 2001 Reserva Especial Rioja Viña Ardanza by La Rioja Alta.Whew, that’s a mouthful; but so is the wine! This well known Rioja producer has only thought it appropriate to make this special bottling in two other vintages: 1964 and 1973! Space limitations will keep us from gushing too much over this in writing, but let’s just say that if it were twice the price, it would still be a bargain. With 11 years of age, it can be enjoyed anytime from now until your 3 year old graduates from college … and then some!
2001 La Rioja Alta Vina Ardanza Reserva Especial Rioja

Red Wine; Red Blend; Rioja;
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11Bet you didn’t see this one coming. Of course it had to be a 2009 Bordeaux. I only wrote about this vintage and its wines umpteen times. But which one? Seriously, this was the toughest point of this exercise. But when you take everything into consideration, we’ve got to give the big tip of the cap to the 2009 Château Larrivaux, Haut-Médoc. I loved it out of barrel. Then, when the first 2009’s arrived in early 2012, it was on the first container. Chris and I grabbed a few of the new arrivals and taste tested them. His overwhelming favorite of the bunch was the Larrivaux. We opened another bottle the following week for Anya, Tom, and David to taste, and it was unanimous! Now that everyone was on board, we went back to the marketplace and loaded up. It is certainly not the only success story from the 2009 vintage, but that kind of quality for less than $25 resonates big time! Ignore at your own peril.
2009 Chateau Larrivaux Haut Medoc

Red Wine; Bordeaux Blend; Bordeaux;
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So there you have it, our Top Ten Wines of 2012! We’ve already begun tasting new wines in the new year, and we’re taking good notes, so we’ll have plenty of candidates for this list this time next year! Wishing you all the best in 2013!Anya Balistreri & Peter Zavialoff

Spottswoode’s 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon

Wednesday, November 28, 2012 1:12 AM

As we cruise into Week Two of our 35th Anniversary Sale my nostalgic nature prods me to contemplate about the wineries that have been with The Wine House since the early years. Napa Valley’s Spottswoode Winery produced its first estate bottled wine in 1982 and was sold at The Wine House. Spottswoode quickly became a favorite. David had stumbled upon them while searching out new California wines, asking around as to where to taste and Spottswoode’s first winemaker’s name, Tony Soter, popped up. The story of Spottswoode Winery is a compelling and inspirational one that captures the innovative spirit of the Valley’s early beginnings. In 1972, Dr. Jack and Mary Novak purchased a historic 31-acre estate and moved their family of five children to live a more rural life. They planned on making wine, but Jack’s unexpected death in 1977, left Mary in the seemingly impossible position of running a farm, starting a winery and raising five children on her own. Mary wouldn’t give up on the dream she shared with her husband and pushed forward. Now realize this was in the 70’s and though the Napa Valley was beginning to be recognized for making world-class wines, there still were but 400 wineries in the state as compared to over 3000 today. In other words, there were no guarantees that this was going to work out well. Fast-forward 30 years and what you have now is a prestigious winery with a proven track record of making impeccable, classy, note-worthy Cabernet Sauvignons. The 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon is the latest release and is redolent of cassis, silky plum and perfumed aromatics. Spottswoode Cabernet Sauvignons exemplify the elegant, balanced potential of Napa Cabernets.


Today, two of Mary’s daughters work for the winery and are the driving force behind the winery’s continued success. I have the pleasure of working with Lindy Novak who makes it a point to come visit our store regularly and taste our staff on new releases. This may seem commonplace, but it isn’t, especially for a winery that must allocate their wine. My sense is that they do this because 1) they know it is important for those who sell their wine to know what it tastes like (duh!?!), 2) they enjoy the connections and relationships they’ve made over the years and this is a way to “check-in” and “catch up”, and 3) they are confident in the quality of their wine and are unafraid to talk candidly about the vintage variations. I’ve had two occasions to taste the 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon; once at the store and another time at a grand tasting celebrating Spottswoode’s 30th Anniversary where the Novak family was in attendance making what could have been a stuffy event into a family affair. The Novaks are gracious people. I took notes, I was probably the only one doing so, but I wasn’t going to squander my opportunity tasting ’91, ’94, ’02 and ’09 side-by-side. Each vintage had a familiar berry note for which I have coined the term Spottsberry to describe. It’s a bright berry but enveloped with cedar and tangy acidity.


At The Wine House I’ve positioned myself as the Queen of Bargains (after all I drive a 10-year old American automobile), but rest assured I can recognize value whether you are looking for a mid-week quaffer or are looking to drink only the Best of the Best. Spottswoode Winery is my pick for consistently outstanding Estate grown Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. Just read the glowing reviews from two of the most influential wine critics (see below), for more tasting notes.


My Thanksgiving Day meal had an international flair to it as there were friends and family from Siberia, Germany and Africa all seated around my sister’s gargantuan dining table partaking in the feast. Everything was delicious, but the highlights were a mushroom sauté of locally foraged porcini mushrooms executed by my 17-year old niece (thumbs up TasTas!) and the succulent, juicy smoked turkey my 18-year old nephew made (great job D-Money!). It’s so wonderful to see the next generation stepping up and carrying on with the culinary traditions. So much to be thankful for!

Anya Balistreri


“The 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon is a huge wine bursting with class and personality. It shows gorgeous delineation in its dark fruit, camphor, tar and licorice, with striking finesse and breathtaking balance. All of the aromas and flavors build effortlessly to the round, sensual finish. Despite its size, the 2009 is a relatively accessible wine, especially when tasted next to the 2008. This is a dazzling effort and easily one of the wines of the vintage. Wow. In 2009 the Cabernet Sauvignon includes 4% Cabernet Franc and 1% Petit Verdot. Anticipated maturity: 2014-2029.” Wine Advocate 96+ points


“Full ruby-red. Cassis, dark chocolate and violet on the lively nose. Seamless and lush in the style of the year, showing the roundness and finesse of the best Spottswoode vintages. Finishes with toothcoating sweet tannins and a complete absence of rough edges. This doesn’t show the tannic mass of the more backward and powerful 2008 but it’s suaver and has plenty of structure for a graceful evolution in bottle.” Steven Tanzer 94 points.

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

April 2012 Dirty Dozen

Tuesday, April 3, 2012 9:02 PM

Days get longer, the nights grow short, our Easter baskets are getting filled up, and what’s this? Baseball season? Yep, it’s April and it’s time for opening the windows and doors, getting some fresh air, and maybe a picnic or four. However you like to spend your time this spring, consider this: Twelve bottles, one low price.

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2010 Orvieto, Cardèto
Big on our list of springtime wines are dry, crisp, easy quaffers that deliver in the quality department, yet keep the big bills in your wallet. This Orvieto is just the ticket! Lean and crisp with a citrusy freshness, this blend of Trebbiano and Grechetto is a great refresher should a warm spring afternoon come your way. Pairs great with a bowl o’mussels.

2010 Chardonnay, Viano Vineyards
Is it us, or do you ever see Cali Chardonnay in the sub $10 category anymore? At least quality, sub $10 Cali Chardonnay? Sales reps visit us and pour and pour, but we keep saying no until the right one comes along. Well, here it is! From Contra Costa county, no less; halfway between the Napa and Livermore Valleys comes the Viano. Pair with a crab salad.

2010 Vino Valpredo Bianca Mia, Fritz Winery
Rather than choose between Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc, why not blend them? At least that’s what our friends at Sonoma’s Fritz Winery thought. You know what? This is some quality juice. Aromas of stone fruits and citrus blossoms give way to a zesty citrus palate. Anya says grill up some shrimp and serve it with mango salsa … and this, of course.

NV Prosecco Superiore, Giavi
Talk to any of us about our new D.O.C.G. Prosecco Superiore, the Giavi, and prepare yourself for an enthusiastic reply! Seriously, this Prosecco has it all: tiny bubbles, a pale, frosty appearance, depth, and crispness. Crostini with caviar?

2010 Blanc de Domaine de la Petite Cassagne
Her name is Diane de Puymorin. We adore her wines … all of them. Diane purchased the Petite Cassagne estate back in 1998, renamed it Château d’Or et des Gueules, yet still pays homage to the old guard with a Rouge, Rosé, and this Blanc. Diane blends 40% Rolle (Vermentino) with Grenache Blanc and the result is a bright, citrus infused aromatic showpiece.

2009 Fernão Pires, Quinta do Alqueve
Dare we try to get wine geeky on you, but here’s Portugal’s Fernão Pires blended with a smidge of Arinto. Geeky? Maybe. But the stone fruity aromas and crisp mouthfeel will make wine geeks out of us all! Great with sardines.

2009 Garnacha Two Rows, Odisea
As we switch to the reds, let’s point out that our friends at Odisea have another hit on their hands. Mostly Grenache with small parts Syrah and Tempranillo, the Two Rows is a plump palate pleaser. Ripe cherries and raspberries mingle with vanilla spice and herbs resulting in ethereal harmony. If it’s burgers on the grill; sorry, these Two Rows are taken.

2010 Tempranillo, Enanzo
Yummy Tempranillo from Spain’s Navarra region! The philosophy at Enanzo is simple. To quote them, “this Tempranillo is made by applying the only true winemaking criterion: intimate, permanent, progressive harmony between man and his environment.” It works here, the herb infused fruit is braced by dusty tannins and spirited acidity. Great with pizza.

2009 Château de Bouchet La Rentiere
What a vintage 2009 was for the wines of Bordeaux! The Wine Advocate’s Robert Parker likened the vintage to the legendary 1982 noting one exception: in 1982 there weren’t many small, inexpensive producers taking advantage of the perfect weather to make great affordable Bordeaux. That’s different now. Pair this beauty with your prime rib.

2008 Les Cimels, Château d’Or et des Gueules
If there’s a better $15 red wine here at TWH, I haven’t seen it. The aforementioned Diane de Puymorin blends some old vine Carignan with Grenache and Syrah, and the result is an herbal masterpiece. Forest floor, Kalamata olives, and black tea dominate the aromas, and the palate is more savory than fruity. The perfect wine for pasta with an herbal sauce.

2009 Côtes du Rhône les Boissières, Vignobles Boudinaud
New to us is Veronique and Thierry Boudinaud’s les Boissières Côtes du Rhône. It’s an exciting story as 100% of what’s imported to the US is imported for us! Think honest, old-school Côtes du Rhône here. It shows plenty of fruit, but without going overboard. Toss in some cracked pepper and herbs Provençal, and you get the drift. This is yet another versatile bottle in what can be called The Versatile Dozen. Great on its own, or paired with cassoulet.

2006 Syrah, Alberto Furque
Ever popular with our staff and customers, the Alberto Furque line crushes it when it comes to quality for price. Grown at altitudes of over 3000 feet, the vineyards of Mendoza’s Bodega Aconquija (we call them Alberto Furque) get just the right amount of warm days and cool nights to produce wines with dazzling structure. This Syrah sings of balance and harmony. If you find yourself dreaming about some thinly sliced Argentine beef with Chimichurri sauce, pour this.

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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.”

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.

September 2011 Dirty Dozen

Friday, September 2, 2011 9:11 PM

Heading out to San Francisco, for the Labor Day weekend show … whether or not you have your Hush Puppies on, you know it’s September and that means the kids are back in school, baseball season is entering its ‘pennant race’ phase, and in New Zealand, the Rugby World Cup is kicking off. No matter your distraction, the Dirty Dozen packs a wallop of value! 12 different wines packed into a box for $109? Just say yes.

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2009 Unico, Tierra de Castilla, Casa Gualda – $9.98 net price, $8.98 reorder
Unico, or unique if you will, is a great way to describe this blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Moscatel from España. The floral nature of the Moscatel is just the right counter to round out the richness of the Sauvignon Blanc and the result is magic. Think blossoms and herbs on the aromatics, and a bright crispness on the palate. Grill up some halibut for this.

2010 Rosé, Grange des Rouquette – $11.99, $9.59 reorder
It’s 100% Syrah Rosé from the south of France. Though deep pink in color, the palate offers a surprise; it is vibrant, crisp, and DRY. This is truly a Rosé that can pair with just about anything. If you miss the south of France, one taste of this will transport you there.

2009 Bourgogne Aligoté, Domaine Paul Pernot – $18.99, $15.19 reorder
Affectionately referred to as Burgundy’s “other” white grape, Aligoté may not have the notoriety of Burgundian Chardonnay but in the hands of the right vigneron (ahem, Paul Pernot!), it shines with bracing minerality and dazzling citrus and green apple flavors. Try alongside poached white fish or semi-soft cheeses.

2009 Sauvignon Blanc, MSH – $9.98 net price, $8.98 reorder
MSH Cellars is one of those hidden treasures of Napa that make us wine geeks all giddy. This wine isn’t resting on its Napa laurels, though … It brings the goods too, smooth and creamy through the mid-palate with a bright, citrus finish. Pair this Yountville Sauvignon Blanc with a sunny afternoon and a drumstick.

2009 Marsanne/Viognier, Vignobles Boudinaud – $11.99, $9.59 reorder
Thierry and Véronique Boudinaud have been turning our heads lately with a wealth of high-class wines at very fair prices. This blend has all the makings of a fancy-pants white Rhône without the pretense. Crisp minerality, round Asian pear flavors, perfectly balanced acidity, and a long, dry floral finish make this tough to beat. Friday fish fry is a callin’…

2008 Pinot Gris ‘Im Berg’, Domaine Ehrhart – $19.99, $15.99 reorder
Longtime TWH friends, Corinne and Philippe Ehrhart continue to churn out great juice for a great price! They farm organically (2nd generation to do so), and the results are spot on. 2008 was a great vintage in Alsace, and this single-vineyard Pinot Gris has an abundance of complexity. Amazingly versatile, you can pop one with your fish tacos.

2007 Monastrell ‘Hécula’, Bodegas Castaño – $9.98 net price, $8.98 reorder
This is a steal! Seriously, we know you all shop at TWH because we find great value wines at all price points, but this one is not to be believed. We’re not alone in our praise, Steven Tanzer tasted it and said, “This could be a Bandol”. That’s saying a lot. Think deep, rich purple fruit with hints of smoky meat and earth. Pop it with a pork roast.

2009 Baron des Chartrons, Bordeaux – $9.98 net price, $8.98 reorder
Here’s yet another sneak-peak into the hugely successful 2009 vintage in Bordeaux. This blend of 60% Merlot and 40% Cabernet Sauvignon is true to its vintage, showing rich, expressive fruit, great weight and dazzling structure. Goes to show that you don’t need to plop down multiple Benjamins to get a great taste of Bordeaux. A nice T-Bone works here.

2009 Rouge de la Domaine de la Petite Cassagne – $12.98 net price, $11.68 reorder
Superstar winemaker Diane Puymorin has won our hearts yet again with her Rhône-style blend which includes some old-vine Carignane. Keep in mind that this is very young wine, so decanting is highly recommended. Got cassoulet?

2009 Plavac, Dingac – $12.98 net price, $11.68 reorder
New for us this month is a red wine from Croatia! Plavac Mali is one of several indigenous grape varieties, combining the spicy red berries of a Zin with the body of a Beaujolais. It’s fantastically uncomplicated. Enjoy with your cheeseburger.

2009 Morgon Côte du Py, Domaine Pierre Savoye – $18.99, $15.19 reorder
Speaking of Beaujolais, have you heard about the 2009 vintage? Coupled with the fact that this is CRU BEAUJOLAIS, this has to be the trump card of this month’s DD. Highly complex, the aromas are of forest floor, bright red berry fruit, and earthy minerals. Its palate is light and fresh with very fine tannins. A bowl of olives and a baguette will work.

2010 Côtes de Ventoux ‘Fayard’, Domaine Fondrèche – $16.99, $13.59 reorder
Wünderkind Sébastien Vincenti continues to dazzle us with his Ventoux blends. Sébastien honed his skills under the tutelage of legendary Rhône master André Brunel, and his amazing string of vintage successes is astounding. The Fayard is a blend of Grenache and Syrah (with a little Mourvèdre and Carignane), and it shows rich, ripe fruit, herbs and earth.

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Retro Cellars: 2007 Napa Valley Petite Sirah

Monday, June 13, 2011 3:31 PM

I caught a glimpse of the sun this morning and still I need to don my puffy down vest. It’s chilly inside TWH. No worries, I’ll be fine, this won’t put a damper on my mood ’cause school’s out and the promise of summer is in the air! I declare it’s time for outside grillin’ and time to imbibe in big bold reds. To that end, I’d like to suggest the 2007 Petite Sirah from Retro Cellars. It is big, bold, red and remarkably plush for what is typically a rough and tannic grape variety. Petite Sirah has its loyal fans and when seeking out a gutsy red from California, it is hard to outdo a Petite Sirah. Petite Sirah is commonly found in vineyards with a mixture of different varieties, think old vine field blends, and is mentioned as far back as the 1880’s in California wine literature. Perhaps it’s this long connection to the history of grape growing in California that attracted Mike and Kara Dunn, Retro Cellars’ proprietors, to it. After all why else would you make Petite Sirah when you could be making Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa Valley? Well, I suppose for one reason Mike already does for his family’s winery with his father, Randy Dunn (ever heard of him?!!) at Dunn Vineyards. Kara also has a bit of Napa Valley wine history in her background too; her family owns Robert Pecota Winery. Sounds like the making of an epic novel set in the Napa Valley or better yetthe makings of a great collaboration for making some tasty wine!


Not to be confused with their Old Vine Howell Mountain bottling from the historic Park Muscatine vineyard, this first release, 195 case production, Retro Cellars’ 2007 Napa Valley Petite Sirah comes from a vineyard located in Napa’s Pope Valley. Lower elevations, more alluvial soil and a strong influence of fog all help to make a slightly more “friendly” version of Petite Sirah. By no means am I suggesting anything wimpy here; I am, after all, talking Petite Sirah. I enjoyed a bottle over three days and the fruit never waned. Also, what I often run into with big gun wines like this didn’t happen and that is this: the oak never became dominant even as the initial rush of fruit subsided. Even on day three, the oak supported the fruit, not overwhelming it. I like that about this wine.Despite being full-bodied and a real tooth stainer, it didn’t feel heavy and saturated on the palate after a few sips. It’s got lots of luscious blueberry and plum fruit and a finish of chocolatey-liciousness. Not surprising that this Petite Sirah should make it onto to French Laundry’s list. A dear friend (hi Nurit!) who speaks of food with even more flourish and waving arms than I, suggests pairing the 2007 Retro Petite Sirah with Moroccan-spiced chicken or a pork chop seasoned with coriander and cumin. The deep fruit of the 2007 Napa Valley Petite Sirah from Retro Cellars will be able to absorb and stand up to heavily seasoned food. That’s why I suggest it for summer grillin’ time.


It’s been a banner week in the Balistreri household, culminating with a magical moment when my daughter became a reader with only two days left of school. It happened just like that! One moment we were checking out books at the library and the next, rather than asking me to read to her the easy read chapter books she likes, she was silently reading to herself! First in the library, then in the car, and not being able to put the book down, continued reading inside the grocery store. The next morning I woke up to find her snuggling next to me with her nose in a book! Awesome. Here’s to a summer full of magical moments! —Anya Balistreri

Paras Vineyards

Saturday, January 8, 2011 9:13 PM


James Paras has been a passionate collector of fine wines for 40+ years
so it is no wonder that he would parlay his love of Bordeaux and Rhone wines into creating something of his own closer to home. No Johnny-come-lately, Paras’ successful foray into wine production came in the late 80’s with Jade Mountain Winery. Dedicated to Rhone varietals, Jade Mountain was at the forefront of Syrah production in California. A decade or so later, in a fortuitous move, Paras sold Jade Mountain Winery, the brand and the inventory, but wisely kept his prized vineyard property high atop Mount Veeder for himself. Thus began Paras Vineyard. Together with his longtime winemaker Douglas Danielak,they determined that the soil content of his Mount Veeder vineyard was particularly well suited for Rhone varietals and not just Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.



Paras Vineyard takes the promise of mountain fruit to its logical conclusion by producing wines of great scale with concentrated flavors that can, without a doubt, be long lived. This hillside vineyard ranges between 1200 and 1400 feet above sea level and is comprised mostly of sedimentary shale. The majority of fruit for Paras Vineyard’s 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon comes from Mount Veeder, save for a tiny bit of Petite Verdot which is not Estate grown. It is a majestic red that displays intense berry fruit, as well as spice, bittersweet chocolate and plum flavors, contained along a firm spine. With mouth-coating tannins, this is a big Cab, yet it remains balanced and focused. Rated the top California Cabernet of the vintage by Decanter Magazine, it is no surprise here that the Brits find this wine so alluring and in step with fine Bordeaux. The 2005 Merlot continues the interplay of rich fruit coupled with serious structure. As the pendulum swings back to appreciating fine Merlot, it is precisely wines such as Paras’ that will win back the public’s adoration. One taste of this bold, layered, highly aromatic red and you immediately understand that given the right place, the right environment, great Merlot from California is indeed possible and must not be overlooked. A common thread to Paras’ Merlot is a note of cocoa – the 2005 is especially endowed with it. Superb!



As alluded to earlier, Paras was an early pioneer of Rhone varietals on Mount Veeder, planting Syrah, Grenache and Viognier. The 2005 Syrah is, dare we say, Hermitage-like, with black fruit and sanguine, meaty notes. Chewy and dense, you will find a few grindings of black pepper and Asian spice helping to create of full medley of flavors and scent sensations. Requiring 24 months in barrel before bottling, the tannins are full and present in this Syrah, yet the finish is silky smooth. San Francisco wine writer Steve Pitcher, writing in Wine News, noted it as the ‘Syrah of the Year’ from among all the wines they tasted in 2008. Cult wine, anyone? Moving on, the 2007 Grenache is bold, juicy and wonderfully plush. Wild strawberries, white pepper, dusty tannins all wrapped up in fully ripened fleshy fruit. This one is easy to love; it is pure, heart-stirringly yummy. We conclude this tour de force of Paras Vineyard wines with their sole white, the 2007 Viognier. Paras’ ardent commitment to this rare varietal is reflected in the quality of the finished wine. Super low yields make way for a highly concentrated flavor profile. Fermented in neutral barrels, it exudes the classic Viognier notes of lychee nut and ripe peach. The texture is seamless and its unctuous mid-palate makes one heck of a showstopper with rich seafood dishes. Although Viognier can be a shy producer in the vineyard, in the glass Paras’ 2007 Viognier is anything but…!

With the full range of varieties Paras Vineyard masters, the wine lover has the opportunity to experience the delicate partnership of site with grape. Whether this is an introduction to Paras Vineyard or whether you’ve been following them for years, you will be truly dazzled once you get your hands on these wines from one of Napa’s top producers from the truly unique viticultural appellation of Mount Veeder. As they say, this is a no-brainer!


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