Review: 2015 Pinot Noir (Orchestral) by Hahn

Tonight’s occasion: 2015 Pinot Noir (Orchestral) by Hahn Wines, Santa Lucia Highlands, Central Coast, California.

Deep Ruby-Burgundy color. Big rich nose out of the bottle with bold floral aromas, berries and damp wood forrest floor with hints of cedarwood and black licorice. As it opens up and the heat dissipates, notes of citrus make an appearance over a pleasant leather.

Body is smooth, mildly acidic. It is characterized by buttery creamy tannins and spice from front to back. This is after all a big California Pinot at 14.5% ABV. It has a fairly lush silky mouth feel which can be deceiving as this wine is fairly dry. Very little, if any fruit is carried over. The leather and wood notes conspire to trick the palate into sensing otherwise. Finish is rather subdued as it quickly fades away leaving more than a healthy tingle of spice. Faint suggestion of black currants accompanies the finale.

Hahn is a pretty big estate with many offerings through most mass market distribution. However when visiting such a winery, you have to know what to ask for. See, every winemaker no matter how big, has a passion project. One they pride themselves in. A work of personal craftsmanship which is typically never on the menu. This is what I am most interested in with any winemaker. Only 73 cases of this lovely Pinot were produced. The layering, character and complexity shows. This is the type of wine I seek out wherever I go.

Nicely done Hahn!

Thanks to wine.com and their extensive library, you can now access most of the wines I review on here. You can use the link below to have Hahn wines delivered to your doorstep.

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Reserve: 2017 Cabernet Sauvignon (Sonoma County) by Louis Martini

Tonight’s occasion: 2017 Cabernet Sauvignon (Sonoma County) by Louis Martini, Napa, California.

Not all wines have to be an intense, even sometimes laborious exercise for the senses. There are times when one just needs an honest wine. Not every bottle has to be an occasion. Sometimes I just want to contemplate other matters and not necessarily have to focus so intently on the wine. These are the moments that I resort to the unsung heroes of my cellar – The Pleaser. A wine that doesn’t overwhelm your senses or demand your attention. A wine that hits a few key notes and maybe offers an interesting suggestion or two. A clean, well made, honest wine, most importantly, for a great price. These wines I stock by the case.

This Louis Martini Sonoma Cabernet Sauvignon is just that. A winner. It embodies the value proposition. A hint of that Sonoma dirt, good fruit, dry plum and blackberry, a touch of cedarwood, balanced body, a finish characterized by a moderately dry tannic grip and a touch of spice. It is always available and for a good price that makes a case an approachable proposition for most.

This is the wine that draws you in and draws your interest towards their signature wines such as their Napa Cab and Monte Rosso Cab Franc, both of which are noteworthy and in my reserve.

I love a winery that not only puts out great signature wines, but also makes a good flagship wine I can enjoy on any given day.

Nice work!

Thanks to wine.com and their extensive library, you can now access most of the wines I review on here. You can use the link below to have Louis Martini wines delivered to your doorstep.

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Reserve: 2008 Sangiovese (La Tarantella) by Hitching Post

Tonight’s occasion: 2008 Sangiovese (La Tarantella) by Hitching Post, Happy Canyon, Santa Barbara, California.

Deep dark color. Warm intense nose with a tart plum up front. Swirl vigorously to unlock secondary notes of caramel and ripe dark cherries. Terroir appears neutral but closer inspection reveals a touch of minerality. This is already big next to most Sangiovese I’ve had.

On the body, the attack is mildly acidic but quickly tempered by tart plum which midway through, introduces a good balance of tannic structure. The caramel notes step further back and add great accompaniment to the overall slightly silky, jammy mouth feel. Once opened, tannins develop a fine grained texture towards the back. The finish is abrupt as the body quickly vanishes, leaving your palate dry, lips tacked shut and a gentle but ever increasing spice warms the palate down to the chest.

I can’t imagine what this wine was like at bottling. It must have been barely approachable because 12 years later it is still standing tall and strong. This bottle is a real treat. I had no idea they made a Sangiovese, let alone one like this. My good friend brought this back from the central valley. Thank you Jill for your generosity and kindness.

Nicely done!

Thanks to wine.com and their extensive library, you can now access most of the wines I review on here. You can use the link below to have Hitching Post wines delivered to your doorstep.

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Reserve: 2017 Cabernet Sauvignon by Prolific Vines

Tonight’s occasion: 2017 Cabernet Sauvignon by Prolific Vines Vineyard, Santa Cruz Mountains.

Deep, dark, rich color. Slightly warm, restrained nose with notes of blackberries, and subtle dark plum. Terroir is subtle and in the form of a slight sandy, loamy leather. Oak is very measured, and makes its presence known through a very distant licorice and cedarwood. You would likely miss it.

Body is precise. Balanced front to back. Fruit is carried over as a slightly dry dark plum. Crisp, measured tannins provide clean structure, creating a classic foundation from attack to finish. Transition to finish is seamless, culminating in a subtle back and forth between creamy and dry tannic grip, ultimately leaving the palate parched. A reminder of its youth. A hint of spice caps the experience. This is more of a nuanced Cab than most people might be accustomed to. I suspect this ultimately has to do with the climate. It does not have the typical overpowering characteristics of say a Northern California Cab (aggressively acidic, tannic, spice).

This is a great Cabernet Sauvignon. It is showing surprisingly well for its relatively young age. It should age quite nicely, given more time to further integrate. I would pick up a few bottles. Enjoy one now and revisit this vintage in about 5 years. This is a pre-release look at this vintage. I previously reviewed the 2016 and looking at my notes, the 2017 is very reminiscent of it, surprisingly consistent if not a tad more mature.

It was nice to finally visit this little estate tucked away in the Santa Cruz Mountains (see photos from my visit below). I especially want to thank Dr. Julie and her husband Albert for being to kind and gracious for hosting me and giving me an extended tour of the property and the vineyard. It was a real treat. It was inspiring to see the amount of work they have put into making this passion of theirs become a reality. This is what I love most about being off the beaten path.

I very much look forward to visiting them again soon. If you do decide to attend one of their tastings, don’t forget to ask Dr Julie if she has any of her Tomato Jam on hand. It is simply sublime and unlike anything you’ve had. You won’t be disappointed. Join their club to secure your annual allotment of this very limited and unique wine.

Review: 2018 Pinot Noir (Sonoma Coast) by Martin Ray

Tonight’s occasion: 2018 Pinot Noir (Sonoma Coast) by Martin Ray.

Bright rich ruby color. Beautiful nose out of the bottle characterized by wet sandy loamy leather. This quickly pulls to the back and gives way to berries and sweet cherries. There are faint tertiary herbal notes as well as a touch of sweet cola and the faintest hint of warm cedarwood. Swirl vigorously to revisit the whole affair. Nice!!!

Body shows good balance up front with a slightly milder acidity. Oak quickly moves to the front, as tannins introduce good structure. The oak is just enough to tease out a velvety, buttery, mouth feel. Berries and sweet cherries play secondary notes. It is fairly dry but this is initially masked by the oak play and fruit notes. A graceful transition to finish culminates in slightly dry tannic grip and a noticeable dose of spice.

This is a well made wine. My favorite part is the nose. I absolutely love that Sonoma dirt, and it shines through in this Pinot. I’m not the least surprised coming from this winemaker. At this price point (currently listed for $19.99 on wine.com) it punches above its weight and presents good value. It is a pleasant (and slightly playful) wine to sip and should appeal to a broad spectrum of palates. For the advanced palate, the nose and finish should tickle your fancy. Buy 6, buy a case. You can’t go wrong having a solid every day Pinot on hand. Nicely done Martin Ray.! 🍷😁👌🏽

Thanks to wine.com and their extensive library, you can now access most of the wines I review on here. You can use the link below to have Martin Ray wines delivered to your doorstep.

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Reserve: 2012 Many Hands Cuvée Rouge by Bumgarner

Tonight’s occasion: 2012 Many Hands Cuvée Rouge (Bordeaux style blend) by Bumgarner, El Dorado, California.

Deep, dark, opaque, almost inky color. Warm shy almost neutral nose out of the bottle. Swirl vigorously to unlock notes of dark plum and cherry. Secondary oak introduces a very subtle vanilla caramel occasionally punctuated by faint cedarwood. Terroir is fairly neutral up front in what feels like a rocky granite sand.

Body is fairly balanced, starting off mildly acidic in the form flesh from green tart plums. Firm, persistent fine grained tannins quickly take over, introducing robust structure. Towards the back, faint vanilla softens the edges ever so subtly, giving a good mouth feel. This marks the transition to finish which is dominated by dry, ultra fine grained tannins. The palate is left parched and tingling with spice notes. I’m thirsty! Now wondering if I should have let this bottle lay down another 5 years at least.

I have been following this winemaker’s work for well over a decade now and I absolutely love his more traditional style and unwavering adherence to fundamental principles. I highly recommend his wines for the intermediate-to-advanced palate. This Bordeaux style blend really showcases his mastery of big varietals. When I think of wines off the beaten path, Brian Bumgarner is one of the first that come to mind. Pick up any of his wines now and forget about them. Thank me 10-15yrs from now. Oh, and save me a glass! 😁🍷

Reserve: 2014 Pinot Noir (Sanford & Benedict Vineyard) by Sanford

Tonight’s occasion: 2014 Pinot Noir (Sanford & Benedict Vineyard) by Sanford of the legendary Sanford and Benedict Vineyard, Santa Rita Hills, Santa Barbara California.

Subtle aromatic nose characterized by rich fine leather of slightly damp loamy terroir intertwined with faint sweet berries, touch of dark cherries and vanilla. This wine commands a clean palate and clear mind.

Body is balanced right down the middle, front to back. An attack with suggestion of acidity is quickly counterbalanced by subtle tannin in the form of dark cherries. This creates just the right amount of background structure and foundation for a silky, whispy mouth feel. Oak vanilla and berries continue their gentle interplay as they carry over from the nose, introducing yet more whispers of musical harmony. Body and finish appear as one through a seamless transition culminating with gentle whispers of dry tannic grip and faint spice.

This is a terroir driven wine. An exercise in restraint and balance. A strict adherence to core principles. It reads like a thesis in Pinot Noir excellence. You cannot explore wines from the California central coast without indulging in this specific Pinot Noir by this storied founders’ vineyard. I keep this particular Pinot Noir on hand in my cellar as a benchmark and reference.

This wine is currently in stock and available for order. To support our work off the beaten path, you can use the link below. Thank you for your support and for stopping by.

Thanks to wine.com and their extensive library, you can now access most of the wines I review on here. You can use the link below to have Sanford wines delivered to your doorstep.

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Dawn’s Dream Winery, Carmel-By-The-Sea

Earlier this year I was presented with an opportunity to take a look at a couple wines from a little winery I had never heard of before. It was Dawn’s Dream Winery, situated in Carmel by the Sea, just south of Monterey, CA.

Without knowing much more I of course jumped at the opportunity. A quick lookup of the winery, suggested this was right up my alley – a small batch production, artisan winery off the beaten path. The bulk of their offerings were Pinot Noirs for which this region – California Central Coast – is known for. It also told me there was a certain level of maturity in their craft as Pinot Noir can be one of the most unforgiving varietals to work with at every step of the wine making process.

A week later I received two bottles. One was their entry Pinot Noir (Rechael) which I reviewed here – Wine Review: 2017 Pinot Noir (Rachael) by Dawn’s Dream. The other was their Signature Pinot Noir (Bel Sogno) which sits at the top of their lineup and which I reviewed here – Wine Review: 2017 Pinot Noir (Bel Sogno) by Dawn’s Dream. This gave me a great perspective and appreciation for the dynamic range of this winemaker’s skill. I was delighted to find that both wines were very well made, especially the Ben Sogno which had a unique expression all by it’s own. I found it most interesting and intriguing.

COVID-19 and the Lockdown

Just as I was wrapping up my reviews, I began planning a trip down to Carmel, to learn more about this winery, do a deeper dive into their wines and an overall appreciation for what they do. Unfortunately COVID-19 and the ensuing Lockdown put all my plans on hold indefinitely.

A good ending

No sooner than wineries were allowed to reopen (under new health and safety guidelines), a new opportunity presented itself in the form of an invitation to come down and spend the weekend exploring Dawn’s Dream wines. Determined to not let this one slip away, I immediately checked my calendar and booked the next available weekend!

I left early Saturday morning and made the drive down from Sacramento in good time. Arriving about an hour before the noon opening time, I took some time to explore the local scene in Carmel by the Sea. It is a beautiful, quaint, little community with lots of texture, color, interesting architecture. It feels almost out of a fairy-tale with lots of small independently owned boutiques, coffee shops, restaurants and bistros.

Finally! I found it!

Tucked away behind a corner building, and set back with two narrow entryways, I finally found Dawn’s Dream Winery. You’ll probably miss it on your first pass but will surely find it on second glance or after checking your google maps. I arrived just before the Tasting Room opened. It was outdoor seating only and the weather was perfect! I found a cozy spot and my host immediately began walking me through the wines (see tasting menu below).

I found the atmosphere at Dawn’s Dream Winery Tasting Room to be calm, quiet and reflective. The decor and presentation was impeccable, deliberate and somewhat minimalist if not uncluttered. This was very much in harmony with their wines which I found to be all about subtle nuance. The service was professional, prompt and no more than was necessary. The wines were allowed to speak for themselves.

Intermediate-to-Advanced Palate

This leads me to my next point. I think their wines should appeal nicely to the Intermediate-to-Advanced palate. I can see a beginner or a less mature palate finding themselves a little lost here, primarily because their wines resemble more the traditional old world Burgundian style. They fall on the dryer side of the spectrum. Being primarily Pinot Noir, their expressions are delicate and nuanced with characteristics only a more experienced palate would be able to discern, recognize and appreciate. I thoroughly enjoyed myself, exploring the whispering notes in relative calm and tranquility.

In a part of the world where the “Big California Pinot” reigns supreme, I highly recommend Dawn’s wines, if for nothing else, to gain a good reference point for what I think Pinot Noir was really meant to look like. I was able to take tasting notes as I worked my way down the menu. Below are my notes (and some of Dawn’s notes) for each of their offerings.

2019 Pinot Noir Rosé

We agree. Light, crisp, refreshing. Complex for a Rosé. This is not surprising as it is in fact a Pinot Noir. Interesting. Tart white plum and stone fruits, Good earthy leather. Haha You don’t see that in a rose. Great concept. I obviously haven’t been paying attention to Rosé of Pinot Noir. I love the subtle nuance the grape brings. See Dawn’s notes below.

The new vintage of our award-winning Rosé draws you in with its delicate hue of peachy pink and introduces itself with lively hints of tangerine, lemon zest, and ripe apricot. Your mouth is flooded with a supple texture and notes of ripe strawberry and watermelon. This wine is best described as precise with its crisp acidity leaving your mouth watering, craving another

2019 Chardonnay

Very aromatic. Crisp. Clean. Just the right amount of acidity. See notes. Of whites, chardonnay tends to be my least favorite as most seem to be off balance but this one walks that fine line surprisingly well. This is a Chardonnay I can get behind. Nicely done! See Dawn’s notes below.

Our golden “Nugget” delights with characteristics of tropical fruit and a hint of lemon zest on the nose highlighted by refreshing and off-dry notes of pineapple and guava. With only 2 months on 75% new French oak and no malolactic fermentation, this wine is rich while still maintaining a crisp and playful acidity. It would be the perfect aperitif with oysters or aged Gouda.

2018 Rachael Pinot Noir

Fairly consistent across vintages. Echoes my notes on the 2017. Great pleaser for the advanced palate. Light, crisp, aloof, fun, easy. See Dawn’s notes below.

This beautiful vintage starts with a wonderful aroma of rich plum and dark cherry. An essence of fresh cedar is on display with a touch of cinnamon and clove. Your mouth is filled with flavors of bright, wild raspberry and it finishes with soft acidity, making this wine very approachable. Our Rachael Pinot is consistently a crowd favorite!

2018 Alyssa Pinot Noir

Deeper color, slightly bigger nose. More intense berries and a little plum. Feels rich. Fuller, rounder mouth feel. A touch more structure and more pronounced spice finish. A little more layered. More of a sipper. Subtle dry tannic grip on finish. Classic medium bodied Pinot. Nicely done. See Dawn’s notes below.

Ripe pomegranate and violet tickle your nose while candied orange peel dazzles the tip of your tongue with a sumptuous acidity. The finish is silk-soft and swift with touches of black cherry and spice, making this 2018 vintage a most promising release of our beloved “Alyssa” Pinot Noir!

2018 Nicole Pinot Noir

Love the color on this one. Vibrant ruby red. Great intensity on the nose. Good oak and caramel, touch of plum. Creamy body. Great tannic structure and balance. Long gentle but intense finish with lots of grip. Touch of spice. Right up my alley. Nicole demands your attention. Love it! See Dawn’s notes below.

Named after Dawn’s oldest daughter, the 2018 vintage of Nicole makes a bold statement right at the nose with aromas of intense cooking spices and a sweet touch of sugarplum. Hints of bright red cherries and violet on the palate roll into brown sugar and cardamom with daring tannins at the finish. An incredibly food friendly wine that will age extremely well for several years in your wine cellar.

2017 Bel Sogno Pinot Noir

See my in depth review of this wine here. See Dawn’s notes below.

“Bel Sogno” means Beautiful Dream, and this proprietary red blend is exactly that! This exclusive wine begins with dark, blue fruits and adds complexity with wet slate, anise, and vanilla. A rich textured mouth feel reveals notable chalky but balanced tannin giving power and length. This wine displays elegance and restraint despite this being a very substantial Pinot Noir.

2018 Eliza Jane Sangiovese

Dark rich color. off the bat. Nose with heavy punch of leather. Trying to pinpoint what spices I’m picking up but they are very present in the earthy leather, intense and unmistakable. Unlike your typical Sangiovese, this one is a touch jammy/chewy but dry (without being sweet). Lots of dark plum, bark cherry and black berries all most expressed in solid, imposing tannic structure (unlike the typical Sangiovese). This certainly is an interesting, unorthodox take on a Sangiovese. I like it. I would lay this down for a while. I keep drifting back to that earthy nose.

The 2018 Eliza Jane is our inaugural Sangiovese named after Dawn’s first granddaughter. This big, bold and beautiful wine expresses deep aromas of ripe strawberry and cherry which develop into darker fruits of blueberry and blackberry over light characteristics of coffee, dried earth, and thyme. This wine is lush and giving with fine silky tannins.

Meeting Dawn Herself

I did not expect to meet the woman behind this understated winery but at the end of my visit it was great to finally meet the mind behind it all and bring my experience full circle. I could see how it all came to be. I found Dawn to be a bit reserved, deliberate, measured and thoughtful in her delivery. She is clearly passionate about her vision for the winery and giving back to her community, specifically women and children in need. I found her conviction and passion for leaving the world a better place refreshing. The world needs more people like Dawn, especially in these times.

Meet Jack, Dawn’s husband, photo-bombing our shot…LOL

Great Wines for a Great Cause

Dawn’s dream has always been to help create dreams for others by donating her product, money or time to support nonprofit organizations both locally and globally.  Dawn’s passion for helping women and children equals her passion for making wine. Dawn has produced award-winning wines of exceptional quality and elegance while maintaining a business model that allows for the opportunity to give back… [Read more here].

I look forward to checking on Dawn’s Dream Winery regularly and following their future releases. Thank you for sharing your dream with me Dawn!

 

Wine Review: 2019 Grenache Blanc by Skinner Vineyards

Tonight’s occasion: 2019 Grenache Blanc by Skinner Vineyards, El Dorado, California.

Clear light color. Out of the bottle a gentle burst of floral notes, a touch of honey. This slowly dissipates to suggestions of tart stone fruits and a slate-like minerality punctuated by a touch of leather and citrus notes. Swirl vigorously to unlock the whole experience all over again. Very cool!

Body is very nicely balanced retaining moderate acidity while presenting a smooth, creamy and rounded mouth feel. The winemaker struck a perfect balance here. Stone fruits pull forward as floral notes fall back. You could almost miss the faint mineral leather. Transition to finish is seamless, only briefly punctuated by subtle dry tannic grip and a touch of spice which leaves the lips tingling. At 12.8% ABV, the palate can really explore this nuanced wine without being overwhelmed or fatigued. I like that.

I have been tasting some amazing white wines this summer from this region. This Grenache Blanc exposes the palate to new levels of excellence. There has been a clear attention to detail and forethought put into this wine. It is showing well now and should further integrate nicely over the next few years. I’d get a few, have some now and save some for later. Very nicely done Skinner!

Thanks to wine.com and their extensive library, you can now access most of the wines I review on here. You can use the link below to have Skinner wines delivered to your doorstep.

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Astral Cabernet Sauvignon

In 1868 something begins to ravage France’s vines. After some digging—pun intended—it is discovered that a plant louse/ aphid known as phylloxera (phyl·lox·e·ra) was enjoying the roots instead of the wines in which they produced.

Although it is somewhat debated, the phylloxera mite is thought to have come from America sometime in the 1850’s. Back in Missouri Charles Valentine Riley, Missouri’s entomologist recognized the affliction in Frances plantings and wrote French botanist Jules Émile Planchon in 1870 to inform him that he too had observed this louse, feasting on the leaves of American vines, and not on the roots—his letter was quickly dismissed.

After some persistence, Riley visited France in 1871 and a argued that American rootstock was resistant to the aphid since the two had evolved together. He was correct! Then in the winter of 1872 George Husmann—The Father of the Missouri Grape Industry in Herman, Missouri—also a scientist, educator, and writer—sent nearly 400,000 cuttings to Montpellier, France. In spite of some French resistance to using American root stock the project was successful and the so-called la défense began.

To this day, all vines with few exceptions are planted on this Missouri bred rootstock in France and America with a local exception—our Astral Cabernet Sauvignon. To this day Astral remains one of the few California Cabernet’s not reliant on disease resistant stock, due in large part to Happy Canyon’s lack of humidity, and the presence of sandy soil!

~ Dierberg * Star Lane


Not long ago I reviewed the Astral Cabernet Sauvignon by Dierberg * Star Lane. I had been wanting to explore this wine since my visit a few years ago and it did not disappoint (see link to my post just above). Shortly after, Dierberg shared the story behind this vineyard. I found it very interesting and thought you might enjoy reading (posted with permission).