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

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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!

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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.

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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

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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
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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
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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
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