euro scribbles on the cutest place on earth: eguisheim, alsace.

french wine, French Wine Travel, organic wine, Wine Blog, Wine Travel

I have taught classes on Alsace many times, explaining this magical place from what I had read in books, seen in pictures and learned from others’ experiences. Never could I have prepared myself for what I saw with my own eyes.

The Haut-Rhin department of Alsace, south of Strasbourg and certainly the best area for grapegrowing, is stacked with cute then cuter villages, one after the next. Not a mile goes by before you enter another enchanted little town. They love their flowers! You feel immersed in them as they drip from each window box, dangle from street posts and erupt from hundreds of pots around town. The uneven two story houses glue together were off all shapes and colors, held together by hand hewn logs. As though a community of munchkins or oomp loompas conspired to create a paradise to call home, it felt I was walking through a candyland dream.

Every step inspired a genuine need to shout ‘cute!’ or ‘adorable!’. Even I was sick of me after an hour or so. We walked around the town of Colmar to get our bearings. Everyday townspeople and tourists alike filled the streets, strolled past the markets, took boats down the canal and dipped into shops. There was a terrific energy to this second largest town in Alsace. We had a little tarte flambee and continued our tour. We noticed the time, and worked our way back to the car to make our appointment with Emile Beyer in Eguisheim, not 15 minutes away.

When I say Christian Beyer was one of the more gracious and generous people to walk the earth, I fear I still underestimate him. He greeted us in his home and presented to us an itinerary of sorts. “First, I take you around the village? It’s okay? Then a walk through the winery? Then into my vineyards for a look at the various vines? Then we will come back to taste? Finally, my wife and I want to take you to dinner? It’s okay?”

Yes. Yes, that is okay. It truly is above and beyond anything I have had a winemaker offer to do. Especially when he doesn’t really know us at all.

So we were off. He took us through this old village of Eguisheim and discussed its history. He has carried the torch of a winery that has been in the Beyer family for 14 generations. You can tell this is something he values very much. Being the youngest of 4 children, it is a wonder that he was so fortunate to end up with this estate. And curious, too. Why didn’t his two older brothers or sister take it over themselves? It is a question I don’t ask, but I suspect it is to do with the French law/tax that doesn’t make inheritance so glamourous. You have to want it. And that, Christian does.

He walks us through the old church and steeple. He explains the significance of the medieval decor and preserved relics, one that depicts a picture of the fortunate souls who wait for the second coming.. and those of the less fortunate who are impatient and therefore left with empty goblets.

As we continue down the windy, cobbly roads, it is all I can do to laugh outloud. Everything appears perfect in this village. Elder women swing open their colorful windows to wash between the woodwork and shout a friendly ‘bonjour!’ Children giggle as they play hide and go seek. I even catch a teenage boy wink at a young girl as he hops on his bicycle. Seriously people. That’s the land I was in for 24 hours.

Christian points out thinks I would never have noticed–old German sayings etched in the brick, the dates of establishment above each doorway, and even the massive nest that are wedged into chimney shoots beneath large storks that represent mascots in their land. Yep. Storks.

The smiley sausage girl bids us good day, the girl next door sweetly motions to her fromage. My senses are tickled and beyond overstimulated. But sensory stimulation is a drug to me. There is a reason I went into wine, you see.

As I hear the church bells sound and observe a peaceful fountain in the town square, I go to pinch myself, but it makes no difference. It all is still there after I mentally utter: ow. This is a place where people live. I have set a new goal in my mind: move to Eguisheim one day, even if for only a few months.

After a tour of his winery, his incredibly variant vineyard sites (that are managed organically) and a sampling of his wines (all of which are far above their price in terms of quality and length), we head back to our simple, lovely hotel: Auberge Alsacienne, just up the road from the winery. We change quickly and walk with him to a little brasserie in the town square. Here at Restaurant Caveau Heuhaus you can see Chuck Berry’s old companion, Jimmy Bock, playing up a storm in their cabaret.

The menu is very traditional, the food is good, and our hosts crack open a Riesling from their Pfersigberg vineyard. The acid was incredibly fresh– a youth entering its teens, this Riesling has a way to go. Most of their single vineyard Rieslings, in a good vintage, can go well beyond 20 years. The other day we visited Zind Humbrecht, one of the region’s best (if not BEST) producers, and although we didn’t get a chance for a formal tour, it was still very apparent in their lineup that this longevity is not so surprisingly uncommon in Alsace from great growers.

Our jolly old times had to come to a close eventually, which was probably good as a little too much eau de vie ended in a colleague terribly mixing his French with Spanish–shouting ‘señor’ at the waiter… as I nearly died. Our (‘amigo’) hosts were only to quick to understand our American shortcomings when attempting a second language. I admit, it can be difficult to recall words well when your brain has been wired with one second language already. It seems I know more Spanish now than a few years ago, merely because I am exercising it to understand a third one.

In the morning I wake, breathe in the wet cobble stones on my run, and take in the scent of the dew that clings stubbornly to the vines on the the hillside vineyards underneath the threatening glare of the rising sun. I am definitely sad to leave this wonderland. Thankfully, next on the plate is a another day or two with my guy followed by the most amazing wine region on the planet: Burgundy. After an aperitif of Champagne to begin this trip, followed by remarkable whites, I am craving a little red…

By the time I am back from my run, the ever more stubborn sun consumes the remaining dew, takes the rose glass effect down a notch, and I am ready to press onward with this unbelievable ride.

euro scribbles: a final day in Champagne…

Bubbles, french wine, French Wine Travel, organic wine, travel, Wine Travel

Where terroir is written in the wine when it comes to Burgundy–each parcel of land portraying its life with meticulous accuracy–Champagne’s terroir can be a little more difficult to decipher. At least for me. That is why it became so important to pay attention to each individual winemaker’s passion here. Each emphasized particular philosophies and sources for inspiration in their ‘artisinal’ work (a common word each used to describe themselves). For Goeffroy, there was a point to discuss native yeast fermentation, with Pehu-Simonet a shift towards biodynamics, both insisting upon blocked malolactic for cleaner execution of flavor. For Chartogne-Taillet, preservation of history but very progressive in his approach to find terroir in single vineyard bottlings.

The third day, we had only one appointment with one of my favorite producers: Marc Hebrart. There was no tour, rather a seat at a very cozy table and a focused tasting. Though Jean-Paul Herbrart, the current vigneron, spoke a little less English, he communicated so much in his wines and his conversation of them. For him, blending was the way to achieve complexity. He alone owned about 85 different parcels of land, each with its own personality. To keep single might drive him mad, he laughed. A good looking gentleman, you could read laughter in his face over the years. It suited him and made us all so comfortable around him. Jean-Paul explained that for him, pieces of wine are so much greater together than the sum of its parts. Having just been on the other side of the tracks with Alexandre Chartogne, we appreciated another perspective, but nevertheless remained Switzerland in our opinion, grateful for so many styles!

Here, I really finally understood the great differences between Champagne’s Pinot Noir and Chardonnay on the tongue. The former brought me back to raspberry La Croix water when I was young (only infinitely better!). The bramble fruit of raspberry, blackberry, blueberry and even black cherry dominated the flavors. Yeastier notes were to be found on the nose. For Chardonnay, elegance was centerstage. Lemon curd, yogurt and citrus peel were the reliable traits I kept meeting. The palate carried more acid and less body. They are sort of like hearing a child with a resounding singing voice. You don’t expect power on first glance… or taste. It is felt and understood by way of experiencing it. I am a sucker for Blancs de Blanc (100% Chardonnay) Champagne. They have won me over with ease. Not the least of which, Hebrart’s 1er Cru. 

I snuck away for a night and spent a night with my guy in Reims. His race has seen very unfortunate times this past week, but it cannot be helped. These things happen. This epic, historical race sees heights and depths that range so great along the way for everyone. Sadly, their team has been given a healthy dose of misfortune so far. If there is one thing I have learned, though, about Garmin-Sharp-Barricuda, they never cease to surprise. In these coming weeks, I am certain they will come out with their heads high and their results respectful and unexpected.

We took Terry Theise up on a recommendation nearby: Le Grand Cerf for dinner. We were thrown back maybe 50 years and given very traditional service, though it seems they are attempting to modernize their cuisine. I laughed when I looked at the menu.Your choice was an 8 course meal for 75 Euro or a small appetizer and entree for nearly 100 euro to start. I guess we were to have 8 courses. Gotta love how the French make the ‘right’ decision for you if you let them. Thankfully they were a series of very small, 2 to 3 bite sensations. It gave us time to talk, catch up and enjoy a few moments in this incredible setting.

The next morning I rejoined my group and we visited Goutorbe before leaving town. They were the same folks who owned the hotel where we stayed. What we found so remarkable about this family estate was how central they were to the community itself. They had a large space where one could imagine village events taking place, weddings, lectures, seminars and community functions. They had a large movie screen where even we sat to watch a film on the history of their estate and how it began with selling rootstock and vines. The operated a lovely hotel, obviously. They seemed very involved with the local government and community happenings. We were all quite impressed!

This was certainly the most traditional of the estates we saw. Their production was a bit larger. Their formula pretty consistent from year to year: 60/40 Pinot Noir/Chard blend, 9 grams sugar dosage, malolactic fermentation. But formulas work for good reason. Tasting though the selection, I was struck by its textbook elocution of ‘traditional’ Champagne. It is precisely the kind I would use to illustrate the classical characteristics to my customers. The prices were great, too. For those trying to break out of the obvious Veuve or Moet, this would be a natural step into discovering Recolant-Manipulants, or small grower farmer fizz.

TetraPak: Not only for camping anymore.

Kermit Lynch, organic wine, Wine Education

Why didn’t I think of that?

It is a question I ask myself anytime I meet someone new and brilliant. It is a question I couldn’t stop asking myself over two separate dinners at Frasca and Twelve with Matthew Cain, founder of Yellow + Blue, a wine label that is created with the concept that good wine can come in cleaner packaging. Cain has a long history in the wine industry. Most notably before Y+B, he worked alongside Kermit Lynch for nearly a decade. After one particular trip across seas, he cleared his head and heard his calling. It came to fruition upon return when he read an article on alternative wine packaging. Everyone else around the world was waking up and going ‘green’. Why in so many states are so many boxed wines and those in Tetra Pak so mediocre? Can we not have good 100% organic wine, be better to the earth and save some money all at the same time? Simple. But brilliant.

As I started to tell him how great it was to have a glass-less wine that I could whole-heartedly recommend to campers, concert-goers and park dwellers, when he kinda laughed. That actually never crossed his mind at the beginning. But within a few months of its release, it was clear that this was a major, underserved demographic. Why should outdoor activities compromise quality? Why should the fact that is less expensive have to mean that it will lack any sort of complexity and character? I explained to him that in a state like Colorado, this product has been a God-send. Intentional or not, these alternative products are sold to serious wine drinkers only in times that force them to walk away from the bottle—times that do not allow glass in the picture. Y+B has the ability to really change these consumers’ perspectives. In the meantime, those who already get it and subscribe to wine of any race, shape or size now have something a little more interesting to sip!

What struck me about Cain was his genuine, humble nature. He was soft-spoken and had a very serious, intense demeanor, but not so much that you couldn’t strike up conversation with ease. He was driven, focused, and had all the makings of a natural born entrepreneur. His confidence was effortlessly transparent during conversation—a comfortable confidence. It was contagious, as I was inspired to start about nine different businesses over the course of a two-hour discussion. That energy is the kind that makes selling his wine even easier. Without knowing him at all, you can tell in one taste that these wines were selected and shaped by someone with pride and integrity.

Y+B uses Tetra Pak to contain their wine. At a liter, you get about 30% more wine than a standard 750 ml bottle. With the packaging, you are looking at 93% wine and only 7% packaging, whereas standard glass wine packages are closer to 50/50. Y+B takes everything into consideration: production, materials, gas, transport, printing, pesticides, chemicals… According to Dr. Tyler Colman (also known as Dr. Vino), Y+B produces about 54% less of a carbon footprint than the average wine production. A lot of people don’t think about it, but sheer weight and materials that are involved with wine production, shipment and marketing make it one of the more environmentally straining industries.*

I could go on with statistics and figures, but that’s a little more involved than this entry wants to get. At the end of the day, the story is this: we all know alternative packaging is better for the earth. We all know that if we want good wine, our chances for a great box wine is slim (at least in the state of Colorado). If this all sounds familiar, go to your local shop and ask for Y+B–particularly the Torrontes and the Select Red. They distribute to over 40 states, so there is a good chance if your store doesn’t have it, they can get it!

Drinking for a good cause doesn’t have to suck.


*All facts and figures here are found on their website:

Wines with a Reason to Give for the Season: The Ultimate Wine Gift Guide

Holiday Pairing, organic wine

That’s it. You give up. Another year rolls by and yet again you are finding yourself searching for gifts for your [insert dad, friend, sister, boss here] who seriously has everything. You shamefully type in the google search for ‘gift ideas’. You inevitably resort to booze.

Lift your head a little higher. What follows is a guide that allows you to get your shopping done in minutes, while still giving a gift that says more than ‘have a drink, grandma.’ These are thoughtfully selected, unique wines that won’t have your friends and family thinking you just popped your head in the local liquor shop 1 block from the party. All these wines are available at my shop, Little’s Wine & Spirits, and we gladly ship to most states!

For the Holiday Party: 2010 Allamand Malbec ($12) or 2010 Le Grand Ballon Sauvignon Blanc ($13)These inexpensive picks will have people thinking you spent at least $15-20 a bottle on your selections. They may be on opposite ends of the earth (Mendoza, Argentina and Loire, France), but they share a few things in common: small, hand-crafted family production, pure expression of the land they come from, both over-deliver for the price, and both are universally loved by all who taste them!  Favorites in my shop!

For the Camper: Yellow + Blue Malbec or Sauv Blanc ($13)The Tetra-pak’ed sippers make it easy to bring along any backpacking trip. They are light, eco-friendly, and give you a whole Liter of liquid to get you through those chilly alpine nights.

For the Brown-Noser: 2009 Ass Kisser Red ($12)–I refuse to bring in gimicky wines, unless they got a good thing going for them. With good reason this Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre blend made it to the Top 100 Wine Enthusiast Best Buy list this year. Smooth, easy and a hilarious, an inexpensive addition to any present.

For the Cryptic type: 2009 Sinister Hand Syrah ($23)–Owen Roe is a producer every wine enthusiast should try at some point. He has a bit of a cult following, and with one sip of this decadent Syrah, you will likely know why. The graphic bloody hand on the label tells a most peculiar, haunting story for those who are into that sort of thing…

For those who play it safe: 2008 Ghostwriter Pinot Noir ($42)–A little pricey, sure. But I will bet you that if you try it once, you will again with no hesitation. This is hands down the most gorgeous Pinot Noir under $50 coming out of California! No hyperbole. Just the facts. The best gift for that Pinot person you need to buy for.

For those who like a gamble: For those who are more adventurous, pick something with a little age on it, like an old vintage port. It’s not really making a huge gamble, as they can age for decades, but it would certainly impress anyone on your list who has possibly never had an one. At Little’s we can go back to the 80’s. In fact, if you want to try something really different, go for a Primitivo Quiles Fondillon Gran Reserva Monastrell ($50) from Alicante drawn from soleras dating back to 1948.

For those who swear they only like red wine: 2010 Arndorfer Gruner Veltliner ($20)– Really, any Gruner will do, but this is one of the best for the money out there. This dry white has a lot going for it. It works perfectly with hard to pair food such as artichokes and asparagus, plus it has a mysterious way of gaining the trust of those who thought they’d never like white wine again. And, come on… it’s fun to say.

For those who enjoy the narrative of wine: 2000 Lopez de Heredia Tondonia Reserva ($43)– The story of a man who sought out Rioja in the 1870’s and fell in love with the land. Four generations later, this family hardly changes a thing about how these wines are made. They make their own barrels. They have moved writers, critics and sommeliers in ways that no other producer ever has. Give a wine that is truly capable of transporting one back in time.

For the farmer in your life: NV Chartogne-Taillet 1er Cru ($44)–Go with farmer fizz all the way. This is the cute term for serious, grower Champagne. In a land where over 80% of the wine made is by those who only own about 12% of the land, it is refereshing to taste the difference in quality by those who make bubbles starting with the vine all they way through the production in the bottle. Plus, you are getting Premier Cru at about the same price as the ever-variable Yellow Label Veuve.

For the uber eco-friendly friend: 2010 Nikolaihoff Gruner Veltliner ($24)– I know, I already discussed one Gruner. But seriously, it’s worth it to have two on the list. This wine comes from the oldest European winery–almost 2,000 years old! Nikolaihoff was also the first to be certified biodynamic by Demeter. All things considered, this is a smoking deal for what’s inside. A beautful, linear, elegant white that will surely keep you guessing at the unusual, terroir-driven aromatics on the nose.

For the KJ Chard person you want to convert: 2009 Cannonball Chardonnay ($14)– Don’t let the general label of ‘Sonoma Coast’ deceive you. In 2009, over 80% of this fruit was sourced from the Russian River, making this the steal of the century. Great for that Chard drinker who is trying to find something new, but has trouble with change.

For the Future Wine Collector who still has no money: 2009 Chateau Courroneau Bordeaux ($17)– It’s no lie, 2009 has proven itself to be one of the best in years, possibly even several decades. Some are comparing it to ’82, ’61 and ’47. This is perfect for someone who is just getting into collecting, but doesn’t want to spend a ton. It will easily age a good 6-10 years.

For the know-it-all who has tried every grape on earth: You’ve had it with the comments, the criticisms, the commentary. For once, you wish you’d just shut that person up who has something to say about every wine under the sun! Or do they? Here are a few curve balls you could throw your smart aleck’s way this season:

2005 Movia Pinot Nero ($40)– Sure they’ve have Pinot Noir, but have they ever tasted one from this highly respected Slovenian producer?

2008 Wild Hog Carignane ($23)– A popular choice varietal in the south of France, but one of the only of its kind in Cali. Perfect for anyone who prefers big burly Cabs, Malbecs or Bordeaux.

1996 Kalin Cellars Chardonnay ($35)– For the money, you are staring down the barrel of one of the best tasting, aged Chards from Sonoma Coast on the market. This is perfect if your gift recipient hasn’t much experience with mature California Chardonnay. A true gem.

2008 IBY Zweigelt  or Blaufrankish ($19)– Watch the omnicient try and wrap their head around this one. These are the freshest reds to come onto the market out of Austria. Zippy, peppery and somewhat related to Pinot Noir, these take it up a notch in weight and spunk. Great if said recipient is really into grilling.

For the socially responsible: 2008 Walden Cotes de Roussillon ($15)– A fair trade collaboration by several small farms in the Roussillon region of south France, Walden is a project under the leadership of former sommelier Herve Bezeul who is motivate by the ethical project Mr. Thoreau used as guidance in his writings at Walden Pond. He uses those inspirational words as a compass in his own career. There are a lot of easy-drinking, smooth reds on the market, but few with such personality as this. Youthful and mischevious, this spicy, zesty red is up to something. It breathes new life into a region that I typically am drawn to for the old, rustic style of reds. Bright fruit, fun and playful.

For the coupon cutter: 2007 Domaine le Sang des Cailloux Blanc ($30)– Everybody loves a deal. But for those who are particularly passionate about savings, consider this curvy, voluptuous white blend from Vacqueryas. Typically selling for $50-70, this is an incredible deal for a wine that is made on a mere hectare of land. It has the potential to age for years to come.

For the Wall Street type: 2006 Rivetto Serralunga Barolo ($55)–Stick to the Speculator Top 100 to appease this aficionado by having him or her try a beautiful Barolo on for size. Collectors are quick to grab Bordeaux, Burgundy and Napa for the cellar, but they overlook the most bombproof varietal of all: Nebbiolo, which has no better home to thrive than Barolo in Piedmont, Italy. Dried roses are a classic aromatic people associate with this hardy little grape. I’d say that’s just the beginning of a lifelong friendship between Nebbiolo and your nose.

For the Literary type: 2009 Chateau d’Issan Margaux Bordeaux ($75-100)– Sipping this wine, you might understand why Ernest Hemingway’s protagonist Jake in The Sun Also Rises was so infatuated: “I drank a bottle of wine for company. It was a Chateau Margaux. It was pleasant to be drinking slowly and to be tasting the wine and to be drinking alone. A bottle of wine was good company.” By all means, if you have a few extra hundred bucks, really wow your bookworm with the first growth Chateau Margaux, but if you are looking to stay under a $100, this is your guy. It has years to go until it’s really ready to drink (in fact, it should age a good 25 years no problem). Only one tip… perhaps have your bookworm share it with someone (preferably you.)

more bootcamp diaries on spring mountain: day 2

Biodynamic, california wine, organic wine, Wine Travel

It’s been a few days now since my return from Spring Mountain… but I just can’t stop thinking about my short time there. It was actually more idyllic than I imagined it could be. Rolling vineyards, clear afternoon skies that relentlessly pushed past the contemplative morning fog, a slight breeze to raise the hair on my arm and remind me it was real. Incredible this was all just a quick plane ride away. No jumping across ponds and walking with a French translation handbook. I could ask whatever I wanted and be answered in Fahrenheit, acres and tons.

Thankfully, every hour of our day was pretty well planned out, or I y have curled up on the nearest hammock and become compost in a few months time. That second day—really my first ‘in the field’—began with a seminar atCain Vineyards with the entire group. The vineyard managers at both Cain and Spring Mountain Vineyard were there to discuss the history, climate and general viticulture of the AVA.

It was a very chilly morning, but already I sensed the sunny, warm forecast would pull through. My caffeine-free host dug through a few now probably petrified pieces of meat at the base of his freezer to retrieve some forlorn beans (thank God!), and I could fulfill my wish of having a cup in hand while my warm breath cut through the morning air.

We heard again what we had already heard so many times since arriving to this mountain: 2011 has been a cool, rainy season since the start, and the grapes just aren’t where they typically should be at this point. Many Cabs are barely breaking 21 brix, and they have several weeks, maybe even months until they can achieve their desired sugars and phenolic ripeness. And it only gets rainier as we exit summer in Cali.


Rain in June during budbreak. Rain in the past couple weeks. The two times that rain is the last thing you wish for: the beginning during fruit set and harvest. Alas, the theme of the week: Mother Nature has her own plan. All you can do is work with her and hope for the best.

So what is a farmer to do?

These were not your average farmers. That’s one thing I learned real fast. They made a cognitive decision to move up the road from the Napa Valley floor—a place that grows world class fruit just by spitting out a seed—up to the hills. A place that has much shallower soils ( a few feet vs nearly 40 feet on the floor), twice as much rain (60 vs 30 inches), erosion, mildew, not to mention lower yields due to problems at budbreak and harvest. Paloma, for example, loses half their crop every 2-3 years to shatter—a problem that occurs when a vine is not self-pollinating and blossoming when it should be due to rain or other stress.

Spring Mountain may be a terrific environment for grapes to grow…but it’s not the easiest to place to be a grower. In order to get the grapes to where you want them to be, you have to understand a lot more than just giving the plant some water and praying that the sun shines. You must learn how to manipulate the canopy, when to drop fruit (in order to concentrate more energy on the still hanging clusters), how to deal with lethal pests without highly toxic chemicals, how to taste a grape’s ‘doneness’, how to keep the soil not too wet and not too dry, but also sometimes the most important? How to leave it all alone. Sure, this is something any quality winegrower must know. But some places are just more challenging than others…consistently.

After discussing all the ways they different in management, they did manage to come together on one thing: organic farming. Though Spring Mountain Vineyards is less likely to take it all the way to certification (though they could), Cain is well underway. Both feel they have gleaned more ‘terroir’ through highly sustainable methods and their grapes and soils seem healthier and happier than ever.

Pests are a problem in any garden, and certainly no exception here. Dealing with it organically was fascinating to learn about. My favorite was hearing about how they have dealt with mealy bugs by unleashing another similar looking pest to lay larvae in the female mealy bug. Before long, the eggs hatch inside her, and she is eaten by her own offspring. Lovely. They have also been combating sharpshooters with bluebirds! Spring Mountain Vineyards have specifically tackled this problem head on by building over 800 boxes in the past couple years due the dramatic decrease they have witnessed.

Organic and responsible sustainable farming demands patience, money and a commitment, for sure, but rarely do growers go back when he or she sees the results of being a good steward to the land, as both vineyard managers agreed.

My next stop was the impressive Vineyards 7 & 8—a very stunning winey with a polished, modern tasting room. After entering the grand doors, I was immediately in an open room complete with a wrap-around panoramic window overlooking the valley. A long wooden table with nearly 25 chairs sat in the center with a path of water stones traveling up the middle. We clanked our glasses of Pierre Morlet Champagne (a distant relative of Luc Morlet—their winemaker at 7& 8), threw on some rain boots and headed to the vineyards. We learned how to taste the grapes for ripeness (Chardonnay was possibly harvested the day after I left!), and we actually pulled grape samples for the lab. When we got to the lab, we learned how to test the pH and brix levels.

We then toured the caves and barrel sampled. It was really interesting to try the same clones of Cab from the same plot of land treated in different barrels. I could finally wrap my head around the influence of barrel toasts. Medium toast allowed more fruit, floral and pepper to come through while heavier toasts provoked a smoky, chewy, cedary side.

We then ended our day at Paloma, where we learned about the history of this hard-working estate that has made it now for almost 30 years on not much more than a few people. For a long time, it was just Barbera Richards tending 6,000 vines alone from January through October, while her husband Jim made sure to keep his day job and pay the bills back in Texas. I wanted to meet her so much, but I didn’t get the chance. Understandably, she had a lot going on with harvest, visitors, the ’09 release, shipments, etc. After all, it’s still a two-person show for the most part.

In their second vintage, they were at the top of Wine Spectator’s annual top 100 list—their 2001 Merlot was Wine of the Year. An incredible feat to say the least. They pick in small lots and make wine in small lots, a detail that is palpable on the palate. They don’t mess around much with the formula, as each vintage shows notable consistency, even in mediocre years. In the vineyards, my group gets a good look at Paloma’s unique way of trellising—a Geneva Double Curtain that has been revised 4 times over the years in order to get it right. While the majority of his neighbors stick mainly to Vertical Shoot Positioning, this is what works at Paloma. So, as Sheldon points out, why mess with it? I couldn’t agree more with this down to earth operation.

We headed back and made some dinner with a few other participants. Sheldon is a terrific cook and has clearly passed it on to his son who is climbing fast up the ladder in Canada as an aspiring chef. We had smoked chicken, roasted squash with egg and parmesan, bacon wrapped green onions and watermelon salad. Along with this delicious meal, we enjoyed 4 vintages of Paloma Merlot (2006-2009). Right now, my favorite is 2008—so open and eager to engage with my taste buds. It had finesse, minerality and a very integrated, supple mouthfeel. Though 2007 may have shown the most promise from its heralded vintage, it was still quite buttoned up even after a long decant. That puppy is for ageing. 2006 showed wet leaves, mustiness, ripe plums and a savory note. I loved the nose. And as for the 2009, it was just a baby—promising but just too young to get it to say much more than ‘I have a lot of potential, I swear!’

And so, I ramble on… This was such a loaded trip, and I hope to get one more out to summarize my final day there in the next week. It was phenomenal. Every estate tasted so damn different from the next. I just couldn’t believe it. Phenomenal. Stay tuned, and I will do my best to wrap this up!

Sulfites: My newfound nemesis.

Biodynamic, health, organic wine, sulfites, Wine Blog, wine news

January has long since been my least favorite month of the year. In fact, I begin to fear its arrival just as I am clearing my Christmas dinner plate into the garbage. My stomach notes that familiar drop, that uneasy turn… then memories begin to flood.

I have come to associate January with loss, having seen the closest people in my life slip from me this cold, dark month. And no matter how much I set my mind to embrace this wintry month each year–booking plans, dinners and parties sure to get me through–the other shoe always manages to drop.

Today I said goodbye to my cat. I know. It’s just a cat. He didn’t even die. But I learned recently that I have developed some intense allergy-induced asthma. Sure enough, she was a constant component.

How, you might wonder, does this tie into wine? Well, I shall tell you. In just a week, I have learned more than I ever thought I would about this annoying disease. For one, allergens are the enemy.

I wasn’t quick to turn myself in to the doctor’s office. For about ten months, I have been enduring many sleepless nights up coughing, sniffling and sometimes drugging myself to sleep with Benadryl. I reviewed the control factor in my life, realizing the only daily control factors were my cat… and my wine. Neither of which I wanted them to confirm.

And then there’s that one night… the night every asthmatic can relate to, when you are sitting straight up, coughing without stop, literally gasping for oxygen and wheezing with every inhalation. The thought dawns on you that you are actually scared to fall asleep, for what if you don’t get up? You swear you will see the doctor if some force beyond this world will let you wake up. You make a deal. You fall asleep. You wake up and keep that promise, and call the doctor.

I got my answer pretty quickly: ragweed and cat. I asked about wine, and they reassured me that I wasn’t allergic. However, the next part intrigued me. Though I wasn’t allergic to wine, sulfites are a well-known allergen and asthma irritant. Like scented candles, chemical cleanign products and dust, I am not ‘allergic’ so to speak, but I am sensitive to a plethora of allergens now.

I began to panic. How does one carry on a career with wine? Will it get worse? What does it mean to be reactive to sulfites? Suddenly, it occurred to me how many customers constantly came in and told me they were ‘allergic’ to sulfites. I didn’t believe so many people could possibly share that intolerance. When people asked me if I had sulfite-free wine, I simply said few if any exist… and of the rare wines that see no sulfites added, they’re not all that exciting.

So call it karmic retribution, I am now forced to research it more. And what I am learning is fascinating.

Perhaps a definition is needed first. Sulfites are compounds that are naturally produced from yeast during fermentation, but they can also be added to arrest fermentation and more importantly preserve the wine (it is, after all, a living fruit that will spoil) and its aromatics. Most winemakers also add sulfites to prevent oxidization and insure some degree of ageability without the threat of turning the wine into vinegar or promoting bacterial growth. Aside from ‘organic’ wine, which does not see added sulfites, most wine gets a dose.

What people don’t realize is that the levels are relatively low at roughly 10 mg per glass. Compare this to 2 oz of many dried fruits at a concentrated 112 mg per serving. White wines actually contain slightly more than red, another interesting fact I learned. Also, while sulfites are linked with headaches, this is still not proven so. In fact, it is almost certain to be a urban wine legend. However, what is true is that some people are sensitive, even allergic to, sulfites. Actually, I discovered that women are significantly more reactive to sulfites (definitely true with my customers, as no man has EVER had this issue).

It has also been noted that steroid dependency (inhalers, oral tablets, shots), also increases one’s sensitivity to sulfites. In fact, most people who struggle with sulfites also use a steroid of some sort regularly. Another reason I really want to try and kick this naturally.

When sulfites are ingested, sulfur dioxide is formed in the airways, triggering bronchospasm. Sulfites are found in so many foods: condiments, jams, dried fruits & vegetables, hard cider, soup mixes, and of course wine. Sensitivity does not always mean stop altogether. From what I have learned it means to choose your battles. Minimize overall intake and if you have to have that glass, just cut back on that days’ other sources of sulfites. Some people do, however, have dangerous reactions, even fatal, and must know their limits. See a doctor if you fear you are one of the 5-10% that has a severe allergy.

This has been a lot to take in, however, I am learning that there are so many things, even outside of sulfite ingestion that I can do to treat asthma drug-free. First things first, remove known allergens. Sadly, that was my buddy– a big, chubby Siamese cat. Got a sneak peak at her new home today, and I think she’ll have a good life with her new siblings– another cat and dog. I also turned my apartment upside down and cleaned like mad today, which is critical for keeping allergens low. I am buying an air purifier tomorrow, taking a ton of Vitamin C and trying to cut down to ice cream only once or twice a week (from about five days), in order to keep to mucous down. This goes for all dairy… even cheese (sniffle). I have also turned to dark side and bought, yes… a neti pot. I have yet to really figure it out. I swear I keep getting salt water stuck in my head. But the theory is that it will keep my sinuses clear, prevent post nasal, minimize coughing, but most importantly, allow me to analyse wine better with a healthy, clear nose.

Am I nervous this could develop into a more serious problem? You bet. But I’m not only an optimist, I have never been one to beat those kind of odds. Luckily, I am pretty average. I mean, heck, 20 million people are reported to suffer from asthma. And that’s just who is reported. So of course I have it. Only 5-10% of those, however, are really allergic to sulfites. The day I make those odds is the day I guess I’ll need to seek out my other hidden talents.

Until then, Salud! And thank God for February…

Sources used:


And the many people I know who deal with it daily and have found many natural ways to cope just fine.

Make me a match: South African wine, part four.

cheese, food pairing, organic wine, south african wine

And so, the cheese and wine tasting.

Both last and this year I attended this seminar.  I must admit, it is always my favorite part of the whole weekend.  The winemakers (or, in this case, ambassadors) form a panel at the front of the room.  Whole Foods are given samples of the wines to pair beforehand.  The ‘fromallier’, as I have heard such cheese experts called, did an incredible job.  She supplied each of the six wines with two very different cheeses in order to illustrate just how much it changed the flavor profile.

We were instructed to taste the wine first—without dairy interference (taking bread and water between wines to reset our palates).  Then, we were to observe the effect of cheeses in the nose, palate, and over texture/structure of the wine.  The results were so interesting.

The first was the 2008 Edgebaston Sauvignon Blanc ($14).  On its own, it was akin to Chilean SB—bright, acid, and not without the likely culprits of herbs, grass, and grapefruit, but it wasn’t quite so aggressive as New Zealand.  Nor was it melon-driven like so many in California.  Tropical notes were evident, and it was even a little fuller bodied than many I am used to.  The Dubliner Irish Cheddar was yummy on it’s own—aged and salty.  It brought out the apple notes in the nose of this wine.  However, it stole the stage when it came to the palate.  The wine was left in a watery, thin state.

With the Campo de Montablar (a Spanish cheese, sort of like Manchego), the SB faired quite well.  The cheese itself was quite nutty, really bringing out some nutty characteristics in the wine whilst enhancing some of the citrus tones.

The next was the 2008 Savanha Chenin Blanc ($10), or ‘steen’ as they refer to this grape in South Africa.  The nose was oozing with honey with a hint of white flowers.  Often, I get honeysuckle, but this was much more rich honey with some floral and earthy (almost fungal) components lingering in the background.  It actually smelled a bit like Brie, which happened to be our first pairing—a triple crème (so good).  This really gave the wine a facelift.  It seemed more youthful and vibrant.  Honey spread across the tongue, but a deeper minerality surfaced, giving it an fascinating depth of personality for a $10 wine.

When paired with 3 year aged Tillamook Cheddar, the Chenin was certainly not distasteful, rather it was neutralized to how it showed on its own.  The cheese did not hurt or harm it.

The first of our reds, the 2008 Paul Cluer Pinot Noir ($20), comes from Elgin—the coolest and highest winegrowing region in South Africa (3,000 feet above sea level).  It reminded me of New Zealand Pinot, as it wasn’t quite earthy enough to be Oregon, nor full-bodied and fruity enough to be Cali.  And it certainly lacked the seriousness and minerality of Burgundy.  It was cheerful and straightforward.  Clean and controlled.

The Pinot was paired with a Danish Blue Castello and a French Comte (pronounced ‘Kompt’).  I don’t like blue, so that was already doomed (I know—what’s wrong with me?!), and the Comte amazingly brought out this wine’s flaws.  Namely, a sulfur imbalance, as in, too much.  Sometimes winemakers add a bit more to disguise the flaws in their wines.  It can be quite obvious, displaying loud scents of matchstick.  Or, it can be subtle—almost unnoticed, such as this one was until it married poorly.  Even with cheese and wine, divorce is sometimes the best option.  They are both fine and well on their own.  But together…

The 2008 Savanha Pinotage/Shiraz ($10) was nasty on the nose.  For me, that is.  It smelled like stinky feet having just walked through a field of smoky fruit.  Ick.  Ah, but then, you see… sometimes a lonely hunter really does just need a mate.  For this wine, it was the Perrano Aged Dutch Gouda.  This cheese was much like a Robusto or Parmesan—aged, salty, delicioso.  Suddenly, a rush of fresh fruit was released and the palate was smooth.  Gone were stinky feet.  Hooray!  It was very yummy.

With the Fontina cheese that followed, this Pinotage/Shiraz blend returned to a more earthy, dirty state of being, but it wasn’t off-putting as it was without the cheese altogether.  In fact, in emanated a nice ‘terroir-ish’ personality…if you’re into that sorta thing.

Okay, I’m moving.  Stay with me!

We then tried the 2008 Edgebaston Pepper Pot ($12), and what a hit that was!  This blend of Syrah (58%), Mourvedre (32%), and Tenat (10%) did a wonderful job integrating new world fruit with an old world earthy style.  With a porcini mushroom Brie, this wine was packed with mushroomy flavors, which I loved… Other people, however, had different opinions on this match.  Just like that intense couple in high school who always made out in the hallway between class periods, this wine and cheese pairing were super hot and heavy.  The Killaree Cheddar, on the other hand, expanded the mouthfeel and enhanced the fruit.  Both were fine pairings.

Finally, the 2005 Sadie Family Winery ‘Sequillo’ ($30) concluded the match-maker.  This wine was fantastic—a blend of Syrah (60%), Mourvedre (30%) and Grenache (10%), a classic trio that is often referred to simply as a ‘GSM.’  Oodles of raspberries, spices, pepper and dried violets fell from the nose and translated well on the palate.  It had a generous mouthfeel.  It was a serious wine.  A great synergy of new world and old, as it maintained a brightness of fruit with the grounded wisdom of minerals, dried herbs and tea leaves.  It was dense but somehow not heavy.  Layered and elegantly smooth.

The Truffle Tremor cheese killed it.  Holy truffle.  After I resurrected my palate with some bread, I tried it with a handcrafted Spanish goat cheese with South African red peppers.  That was a nice pairing.  Not remarkable (actually quite noteworthy with the Pepper Pot), but very solid.  To end on a sweet note, we gave it a go with dark chocolate.  As suspected, it muted the nose.  But both were so darn tasty on their own.

If you can, try and participate in a local wine & cheese pairing.  You will be surprised at how much you learn!  Check out  That’s a great source for events such as these.

Next up:  The South African wine that blew me away.


organic wine, Wine Education

I’m that person.  The one who excitedly sticks her nose in the wine glass, expecting a beautiful bouquet and somehow always manages to get the one bottle of every twelve that smells like wet cardboard.  Musty, damp cork.  And I must send it away.  I still have trouble making that call, or, at least, I have trouble calling it out, even when I know that smell all too well.  It’s nobody’s fault, but it still feels, well…snobby.  Once you identify that corky stink, though, there’s no turning back…

Trichloroanisole, otherwise known as TCA (and even more simply as ‘cork taint’), is a chemical flaw found in roughly 8% of all wine.  It commonly comes from or through the cork itself (making the screw-cap argument all the stronger), though it can also be transferred from the barrel, ruining hundreds of bottles (shame on the winemaker for releasing the plonk).

In short, what happens is that airborne fungi glom on to chlorophenol compounds, which in turn produce chloroanisole in the wine.  Chlorophenol compounds are otherwise known as industrial pollutants, which cork trees just love to soak up.  Therefore, a correlation has been drawn between the rise in cork taint with greater amounts of pesticides and pollution in the environment.  Kind of creepy…

So, if your wine smells like musty old books, the Sunday paper dragged in from the rain, or even nothing—like it’s muted—you make be experiencing TCA.  It completely destroys the lovely fruit, earth, and spices you might normally get in the nose.  And if you are ever uncertain, just ask your local wine shop clerk or restaurant sommelier.  It’s a good thing to know.  You are always entitled to return or send back a tainted wine.  They won’t think you’re too much of a snob.

Champagne that’s worth it: the importance of small growers

Bubbles, french wine, organic wine

Champagne.  The word alone inspires a sense of pedigree, prestige and nobility.  Its history runs long, dating back to the first century.  It wasn’t until the seventeenth century, though, when, by accident, these still wines went through secondary fermentation during a journey to Spain and Portugal. Alas, the bliss of bubbles was born.

No matter the century, Champagne’s allure and acknowledged exceptional status has wavered little.  It was the choice juice for the Eucharist in the early part of the millennium, the privileged liquid to anoint and initiate royalty, and it danced in the glasses of Hemingway, Fitzgerald, and fellow ex-pats during the American prohibition years as they sipped their way through Europe.  No other bubbly has ever been held in such universal high regard.

Even so, this pricey piece of perfection has recently been losing favor in hard times.  Cava, Prosecco, and domestic sparkling sales are gaining strength, and less people can afford to taste the difference.  This is not so much an argument against alternative bubbles.  There are some incredible buys out there for everyday sipping or if you’re on a party budget, such as Gruet Blanc de Noirs ($15), Il Follo Prosecco ($12), Marques de Gelida Cava ($16), Schramsberg Mirabelle ($20), Vigna Dogarina Prosecco ($20) and the Bortolomiol Proseccos ($15-50).  Unfortunately, the high price of Champagne has kept this elite wine exclusively in the glasses of the elite now arguably moreso than ever.  And as a result, sales have plummeted.

Let’s face it.  The unnecessary expenses are the first thing to go during economic crisis.  Fifty to one-hundred dollar bubbles are hard to justify.  Especially when the quality of Champagne has grown more questionable…

I recently took a seminar on ‘recoltant-manipulants’, or ‘small grower’ Champagnes, particularly those coming from the importer Terry Theise.  I was fascinated to learn that maybe people were right—most Champagne is overpriced.  Not because good Champagne isn’t worth a few extra bucks, rather because well-made bubbles are getting harder to find.

To put it in perspective, 80% of the Champagne produced comes from negociants or cooperatives (this includes many big houses like Dom, Krug, Moet, and Veuve).  This 80%, however, only owns 12% of Champagne’s vineyards.  How then, you might wonder, does this work?  Well, the majority of these houses buy their juice ‘sur latte,’ meaning they purchase the wine once the process is almost complete.  They alter a couple things, maybe add some sugar, acid, or yeast strains, disgorge it, bottle it, slap on a label, and sell it as their own.  The goal is mass production (and reproduction of a formulaic style year after year in order to make their wine distinctive from the others).

Small growers, conversely, are made in individual villages, from local parcels of land.  As such, they taste of that land and are handled in a more delicate, meticulous way.  Yields are kept low, allowing each grape to receive the attention it deserves to be worth the price you pay.  It becomes a work of art for the grower, and although they are not the wealthiest of farmers, they are proud to be creating one of the most intellectual, fascinating wines in the world.

At this seminar, we were challenged to a blind tasting.  Six Champagnes lined up.  Three were recoltant-manipulant (small grower) wines, and three were negociant.  Not only did I peg them accurately, but the majority of those in my seminar were able to taste the difference.  The negociant wines had too much sulfur, imbalanced sugars and acids, and an emptiness about them.  They lacked character.  These included Veuve, Moet, and Nicolas Feullat.  It wasn’t even that they were ghastly, but I never would have wanted to pay $40-50 for any of them.  The small grower Champagnes, on the other hand, were layered and complex.  They shimmered with minerality and kicked up flavors and aromas that I have had little experience with in other wines.  They were memorable.

I was fortunate to try many small grower wines that day.  There were a range of prices, but none were over-priced.  My favorite was probably quiet, elegant Vilmart & Cie ‘Grand Cellier’ Brut NV ($75).  However, it was not far ahead of the Gaston Chiquet ‘Tradition’ Brut NV ($47), which displayed bright raspberry and blueberry notes, as well as the mustier, mineral-kissed Geoffrey Expression Brut ($55).  For a more affordable holiday option, we began the seminar with the Aubry Brut NV ($40), which carried a heavy amount of Pinot Meunier and gave off a lovely aroma of apples, pear, and light citrus tones.  There is also the Chartogne Taillet Cuvee St. Anne ($43), a wonderful bubbly for the price.  In this selection, you will find a certain mustiness to it along with dried apple skins and a touch of hazelnuts.  It is incredibly focused and well structured.

Don’t give up on Champagne, undoubtedly still the most complex, age worthy, thought-provoking form of bubbles.  Just be sure to try one from a smaller grower (look for ‘RM’ on the front labels near all the confusing numbers—negociants are indicated by ‘NM’).  In fact, try one alongside a big house bubbly.  Your pennies are valuable.  So is your palate.  Let economic downturn teach you something.  Namely, how to spend wisely.

getting to know…charbono.

california wine, organic wine

Recently wrote this for a local distributor.  It was fascinating what I learned about this lesser known varietal, Charbono.  I thought I would share the findings…

Many people, in fact many wine connoisseurs even, might wrinkle their foreheads and cup their ears for a second try if they heard the term ‘Charbono’.  And that is understandably so.  This obscure, black-skinned varietal is nearly extinct, though it has found security in a very small, devoted population of growers, sellers, and consumers who salute its unique style and will do everything they can to ensure that the enchanting Charbono grape will not be laid to rest.

In fact, this varietal has been taken under the protective wing of the Slow Foods movement’s ‘Ark of Taste’ program, which is designed to promote awareness and the continued production of select endangered foods that meet a specific criterion.  These foods must be ‘outstanding in terms of taste,’ ‘at risk,’ ‘sustainably produced,’ ‘culturally or historically linked,’ and ‘produced in limited quantities’[1].  The Slow Foods movement began in 1986 by an Italian named Carlo Petrini who took a stand against fast food by protesting the opening of a McDonalds in Rome.  Since then, chapters have blossomed around the world and include over 100,000 members.  They are built on ethical and ecological standards that systematically work to preserve and instill better health, nutrition, and sustainable lifestyle choices through food.

In times like these, education is in order.  Oftentimes, it is simply lack of knowledge, production, and availability that widdles a wine into extinction.  Trends taint taste and lesser-known varietals begin to fade on the radar.  Higher acid, tannic grapes like Charbono that can stand to use a little time in the bottle quickly fall to the wayside for more accessible, ‘drink now’ reds.  In a fast-paced world, the art of ageing is growing obsolete.  But Charbono has a fascinating history, a truly compelling story to tell.  So take a moment…and listen.

A very American grape, the ‘immigrant’ Charbono varietal travelled from Italy in the late 1800’s, which it was then thought to be the Barbera variety.  After a rather prolonged identity crisis, DNA testing finally confirmed that the Charbono was not interchangeable with Barbera, Dolcetto, or (yes, wince) even Pinot Noir (which it so mistakenly was one year in the ‘30’s by the Parducci winery).  Though Charbono was deemed independent of these other grapes in the ‘30’s, it wasn’t until 1999 when Carole Meredith of UC-Davis found its heritage to be in the Corbeau varietal of the alpine Savoie region in France, though here it is predominantly used for blending only.

Charbono has always been a ‘cult’ grape, a specialty wine that has seen production in limited quantities.  It is a varietal that was really taken in by Inglenook in the ‘70’s, which consequently influenced several other producers as well.  Inglenook was responsible for about half the production of Charbono—35 acres.  This was Charbono’s heyday.  Unfortunately, when Inglenook sold their properties, these vines were replaced with more profitable varieties that spoke to the current trends.  Charbono has since-then been in danger.

Charbono needs time—it is a slow-ripening, late harvest varietal.  Its sure-handed acidity and tough tannins allow for the wine to exhibit remarkable structure and age-worthiness.  Very traditional styles would even propose waiting 10-20 years before consumption.  It is held together by an austere, muscular framework, but the execution of its song is undeniably elegant, silky, and more feminine in style.  It has an unmatchable knack for pairing well with a variety of food, from game and beef to chicken and seafood.

The most ideal location for growing Charbono is Calistoga—the sweet spot of Napa Valley.  In Calistoga, the microclimates and soils are optimal for this tough little grape.  It’s about 10 degrees warmer here compared to the lower parts of Napa Valley.  Also, Calistoga benefits from the fog that comes from the Russian River, making the day and nighttime temperature differential significantly pronounced, allowing for the fruit to maintain its signature acidity.  Calistoga’s Charbono grapes come off more concentrated and focused.

Currently there are less than 100 acres of production.  About half are in the Napa Valley while the rest are scattered to the north in Mendocino, Monterey, and Madera.  Roughly 6,500 cases are released to market each year.  Seldom, if ever, can one find Charbono on a wine list.  Most wine shops haven’t even heard of it.  And it’s a shame.  For all its food pairing potential, intriguing history, and incomparable flavor profile, Charbono is like a great classic that gathers dust and sits abandoned on a quiet shelf, waiting to be read.

In Colorado, one of the top Charbonos left in this country from Shypoke Vineyards.  They have some of the oldest vines, planted back in 1904 by Michael Heitz, an immigrant from the German region of Alsace, which is now considered France.  He planted several ‘suitcase cuttings,’ including Charbono.  They were almost totally wiped out during Prohibition, but fortunately a few acres remained.  It wasn’t really until the late ‘80’s when Gary Heitz and his wife Ginny inherited the property, striving to bring back the Charbono before it was too late.  The family tradition continues today.  Since 2001, their son, Peter Heitz, has taken over winemaking at Shypoke, where he and his wife, Meg, now have 12 acres of Charbono, which is hand-picked, de-stemmed, and cold soaked for about 2 days.  Shypoke utilizes top fermentation methods and manual punch-downs, allowing for a Charbono that is extremely accessible in its youth, but still possesses impeccable ageing capacities due its acid and tannin levels.  It is aged for 8 months in both American and French oak.

The 2006 Shypoke Charbono wears a dark, inky outfit giving off notes of black cherries and plum in the nose.  On the palate, these aromas are confirmed along with savory spices and the essence of chocolate.  The mouthfeel is surprisingly silky and soft for its age, though incredibly full.  A lovely, lasting finish will have you pining for the next sip just to experience Charbono all over again.  This is the wine to try if you gravitate towards big, California reds.  Only 630 cases made.