Wine Reviews

April 25, 2008

Ceago Vinegarden - A Little Green Heaven on Earth

Since I'm still in Earth Day mode, I decided to incorporate one of my favorite biodynamic producers into this week's swanky post. When Jim Fetzer sold his eponymous winery in the early 1990's he decided to go green. He founded Ceago Vinegarden with the intent of making superior quality hand crafted, limited production wines that are pure expressions of their varietal make-up and terroir. The family's philosophy on farming and winemaking and history, for me, is the ideal. But really, I continue to buy because they continue to produce wines that are outstanding.

It was tough for me to choose a single wine to review here so I chose three. I give you my notes on all three, but also the technical specs from Ceago's website. You try to find them at your local wine shop, but if you have a tough time, you can also buy through Ceago's online store (depending, of course, on whether or not your state allows shipping).

2006SauvignonBlanc.jpg2006 "Kathleen's Vineyard" Sauvignon Blanc $20
The beautiful golden hue of this wine just hints at the deluge of bright aromas emanating from the glass. I get a nose full of ripe grapefruit, casaba melon and bosc pear. These scents ring true at first taste and mingle with juicy golden delicious apple and just a twinge of creamy pineapple. A whole fruit salad in one sip. And though it is incredibly layered and wonderfully fruity, it is also subtly herbaceous which gives it a super clean, crisp finish.
100% estate grown, "Kathleen's Vineyard" on our Biodynamic® farm in Lake County, California. The grapes were hand-harvested from September 12th-22nd, 2006 at 23.4° Brix. The grapes were grown and certified Biodynamic® by Demeter and Organic by Stellar. Our Sauvignon Blanc pairs well with most spring and summer foods including salads, vegetable dishes, light pasts and seafood. (from Ceago Vinegarden)

2006SyrahRose.jpg2007 "Del Lago" Syrah Rose $20
So, it is no secret (or at least it won't be for long since summer is almost here) that I am a big fan of roses. Sometimes you require a little something more substantial that a white, but really want the refreshment of a chilled wine. Enter the incredibly food flexible and palate friendly rose. And the Ceago syrah has just about everything that I love and then some. Bright summer berry fruits, without cloying sweetness, and a bit of structure and body and even a hint of the creaminess that you might get in a red syrah. It is dry and crisp and full flavored enough to enjoy on its own or to serve with just about anything.
Our Syrah Rose was 100 % estate grown and hand harvested from our Biodynamic® farm in Lake County, California from September 28th to October 7th, 2006 at 24.8° Brix. The grapes were grown and certified Biodynamic by Demeter and Organic by Stellar. Our Syrah Rose pairs well sliced meats, cheeses, spring salads, and spicy summer dishes. (from Ceago Vinegarden)

2002Merlot.jpg2002 "Camp Masut" Merlot $30
This is one of those wines that satisfies all of my senses. Super dark and inky with voluptuous viscosity and intoxicating scents of black cherry and damson plum with a subtle whiff of saddle leather. It is ripe, rich and chewy with cherry-chocolate undertones accentuated by a creamy vein of vanilla and shots of spice. Good golly, I have died and gone to heaven.
The grapes used in this wine were 100% estate grown "Camp Masut" Merlot. Camp Masut, located on the headwaters west of the Russian River in Redwood Valley, once was home to a tribe of Pomo Indians. The grapes were hand harvested on October 10th, 2002 at 25 Brix, and were grown and certified Biodynamic by Demeter. (from Ceago Vinegarden)

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April 1, 2008

Simonsig Chenin Blanc 2007

VARIETAL: Chenin Blanc
REGION: Stellenbosch, South Africa
PRICE: $11

It has been a while since I've brought home a South African wine. I don't know why that is. I adore South African wines and this one is the perfect example of a great value new-world wine. Over the past five or six years the vintages have been pretty consistent so I pretty much know what I'm getting myself into with the Simonsig Chenin Blanc
icon It is just an easy-going, no-brainer white. The lovely golden yellow hue is a sunny introduction to all of the summer fruit sensations you get with this wine, beginning with the sweet bosc pear and melon on the nose. It seems pretty fresh and light and crisp at first but rounds out with lush tropical fruit, bright apple and a touch of honey on the palate. You could serve this with shellfish for a great match, but tonight I'm enjoying it with a grilled vegetable salad.

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March 31, 2008

Hugel Gentil 2006

VARIETAL: Gewurztraminer, Pinot Gris, Riesling, Muscat & Sylvaner
REGION: Alsace, France
PRICE: $14

Aside from being an interesting blend, I did have another reason for selecting this wine. I am currently completely engrossed in Wine and War: The French, the Nazis, and the Battle for France's Greatest Treasure, a fascinating historical account of how the French protected their wine during the Nazi occupation. And the Hugel family is just one of the many French wine families whose cellars were pillaged by the Germans. What makes their story even more interesting, like all Alsatians they were forced to change their citizenship to German, as Alsace was annexed to Germany during World War I and then relinquished back to France when the Germans lost that war. Of course as soon as the Germans invaded France in WWII, they reclaimed the territory and the Alsatians were forced to become German again.

So needless to say, when I saw the Hugel label I just had to give it a shot. I love Alsatian wine and this particular one follows the tradition that wines blended from "noble" grape varietals (Gewurztraminer, Pinot Gris, Reisling, and Muscat) are called Gentil. And it is as delicate and enchanting as its name implies. The bouquet is lovely and just that--quite floral with notes of honeysuckle, jasmine, orange blossom and lime blossom. On the palate the floral undertones are punctuated by the nectar of juicy apricot, nectarine and apple flavors. But don't worry, this does not mean it is sweet. In fact, it is quite crisp and dry with lilting acidity. I enjoyed it with sushi, but I think it would pair perfectly with sauteed scallops or seared halibut.

I found mine at a local wine shop, but you can also find the 2005 online, Hugel Gentil 2005

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March 26, 2008

Jean-Luc Colombo Les Abeilles Cotes du Rhone Rouge 2005

JLClesabeilles.jpgVARIETAL: Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre
REGION: Cotes du Rhone, France
PRICE: $11

Sometimes I just need to try things in pairs. Thus, my decision to review an actual Rhone red right on the heels of the Aussie version. I find that tasting similar wines in groups gives me perspective, and a deeper appreciation of the similarities and differences. But to the point, if you have never tried a Jean-Luc Colombo wine, please do. As soon as possible. His passion for winemaking and love of his land are evident in every bottle. In fact, you'll find quite a few red and white selections in the $10-$20 range that are all remarkable for the money. The Les Abeilles Cotes du Rhone is an intense blend of 50% Grenache, 30% Syrah and 20% Mourvedre. It looks like purple ink in the glass and differs from yesterday's Australian Rhone blend in that it is much more earthy, and a significantly spicier pick. You get wafts of saddle leather and spice mingling with currants, plums, dried blueberries and raspberries and shots of anise. It is a no brainer in the winter with braised lamb shanks, but will just as easily pair with any number of grilled meats in the warmer months. I know I'll never decide if I prefer old-world to new, stylistically speaking. For me, deciding what wine to open is entirely based on mood and food. But you should try for yourself. Are you old-world or new-world?
Check it out, s'il vous plait: Jean-Luc Colombo Les Abeilles Cotes du Rhone Red

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March 25, 2008

d'Arenberg Stump Jump Red 2006

VARIETAL: Grenache, Shiraz, Mourvedre
REGION: McClaren Vale, Australia
PRICE: $11

37017.jpgLeave it to the Aussies to come up with the crazy, catchy names. The Stump Jump may sound a little weird, but it comes from quite an esteemed winemaking family in Australia. d'Arenberg wines generally fall into our swanky category, but this red blend is the ultimate in value. I bet if you tasted this one blind, you'd probably give it a price tag in the $25-$30 range. And you might mistake it for a Rhone blend - which except for geography, it is. This 70% Grenache, 20% Shiraz and 10% Mourvedre blend is the perfect Rhone knockoff. Beautiful deep ruby coloring is the one thing that sets this wine apart from its Rhone counterpart (which often has more bricky coloring). Otherwise you get the same earthy intensity balanced out with rich, dried fruits on the nose followed by a mouthful of ripe blueberry, black cherry and mulberry laced with clove and cardamom and just a hint of freshly chopped herbs. It is an impressive wine for the price - not fussy, but definitely interesting and lushly layered. This is a wine that is a staple in our house. Drink it with pleasure . . . and if you like, serve it with a mustard-crusted pork loin over roasted carrots and lentils.
Check it out: d'Arenberg Stump Jump 2006

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March 21, 2008

Rocket Science 2004 Proprietary Red

Rocket science btl shot detail.jpgWhen John Caldwell arrived in Napa Valley in the early 1980's, his intent was to make his mark as a real estate developer, but when the Napa bureaucracy crushed that dream, he decided that his land might just be the ideal spot for growing grapes. And so Caldwell Vineyard was conceived.

Caldwell Vineyard; the confluence of superlative soils, an ideal climate, and the passion to produce delicious wines. We are so fortunate to live and work in a place where Mother Nature conspires with us to make magic.

Now I've had my share of swanky wines but I must say, there are not too many that I've enjoyed as much as this one. No, for me the Caldwell 2004 Rocket Science is in a category all its own. The deep, dark garnet juice is a jewel in the glass. At first whiff, the sweet tobacco and spice and rich macerated berry are mind-blowing and totally hypnotic. This wine is so rich and layered that my mind and my palate can hardly keep up. My heart is racing. The Rocket Science teases with layers of black cherry and berry fruits that remain on your palate but at the same time give way to clove and cedar and sagebrush. It is reverent and refined, yet completely unpretentious. I am in love. And why shouldn't I be? This Proprietary Red blend is composed of some of my favorite varietals. It is 32% Syrah, 32% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, 3% Cabernet Franc, 3% Petit Verdot. You can find the current release (2005) on the Caldwell Vineyard site for $40. And it is worth every red cent.

P.S. If you are interested in learning more about the what Napa was like before it became a tourist destination and while it was struggling to become one, check out James Conaway's, Napa: The Story of an American Eden. It is a truly engaging account of Napa's storied past starring a fascinating cast of characters that you come to love or love to hate.
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March 19, 2008

Nobilo Sauvignon Blanc 2007

nobilo.jpgVARIETAL: Sauvignon Blanc
REGION: Marlborough, New Zealand
PRICE: $11

Zippity-do-da. This white has enough zest and zing to propel you into spring head-first. It is a stunningly clear pale green-gold that looks like sunshine in a glass. And on the nose you get fresh cut grass mingling with notes of white grapefruit, lime and lemon zest. Once you get past the formalities, you'll probably find yourself slurping a bit. Slow down. Take a minute to appreciate the full spectrum of taste sensations. Tropical fruit and melon flavors are full and round on your tongue, but balanced by shots of citrusy acidity and a super clean mineral finish. This wine is a great pairing with a salad course, or if you're feeling a little more adventurous, with ceviche. Or if you are more of a traditionalist, try it with broiled sole with lemon, butter and capers. Just try it: Nobilo Sauvignon Blanc 2007

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March 17, 2008

Castle Rock Monterey Pinot Noir 2006

castlerockpn.jpgVARIETAL: Pinot Noir
REGION: Central Coast, California
PRICE: $13

It is no easy task to make good, cheap pinot noir. It can be watery or too acidic, or just plain dull. The folks at Castle Rock rise above the skepticism and the mediocre juice with this fantastic little number from Monterey. The climate along the central coast of California provides a longer growing season for the grapes which means they stay on the vine a little longer, resulting in a more intense and concentrated wine. So what you get is a nose full of black cherry, dried flowers and spiced tea which is followed by ripe plum and spice on the palate. The Castle Rock is medium bodied and super smooth and quite frankly it is a whole lot of wine for not lot of money. You just have to try it. And what to serve it with you ask? Well, just about anything. Roast chicken, Salmon, pasta, lamb. . . it is so flexible you can serve it with just about anything and it will shine.

Check it out: Castle Rock Monterey Pinot Noir

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March 12, 2008

Edna Valley Vineyard Paragon Chardonnay 2006

EVVChardlabel_med.jpgVARIETAL: Chardonnay
REGION: San Luis Obispo, California
PRICE: $14

Let me start by mentioning that I am usually wary of $12-$16 California chardonnay. I like to go cheaper or more expensive because in this range they are often too creamy, too fat, too manipulated with oak chips and god knows what else. Good grief! I like buttered popcorn and marshmallows, but I certainly do not want my chardonnay to exhibit hints of either one.
That said, I was quite pleasantly surprised by the Edna Valley Chardonnay. This is a superb pick if you enjoy subtle oak balanced out by vibrant fruit--peaches, pineapple, grapefruit--and a touch of minerality. It feels full in your mouth, without being knocked on the noggin with toasted oak. I enjoyed it with grilled salmon with basil cream, but I bet it would pair quite nicely with a roast chicken or shrimp and grits.

Check it out: Edna Valley Chardonnay 2006

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March 10, 2008

Vinum Cellars "Pets" Petite Sirah 2005

vinumpets05.jpgVARIETAL: Petite Sirah
REGION: Clarksburg, California
PRICE: $13

Mondays warrant a special bottle. I don't mean expensive... just knock-your-socks-off good because you still have the rest of the week to get through. Or maybe you're tired of the long, cold drawn-out winter. Whatever your predicament, the Vinum Cellars Petite Sirah is sure to make you smile from the inside out. This wine seduces you with its intense plum hue and languid viscosity.
Swirl it, swirl it... now inhale. You'll be blown away by intoxicating scents of rich fig, cassis, deep berry and a twinge of pomegranate. This big chewy red is lush with jammy plum and blueberry balanced with a blast of cranberry, dusty sage and a hint of smoke. This is everything a petite sirah should be. You may not want to stop sniffing and sipping long enough to serve this with food. But if you do, it pairs beautifully with roasted racks of lamb - or any other roast for that matter. And as an added bonus, Vinum donates a portion of the profits from this wine to their local animal shelter.

Give it a shot: Vinum Cellars "Pets" Petite Sirah 2005

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March 5, 2008

Sokol Blosser NV Evolution

evolutionlabel.jpgVARIETAL(S): White Riesling, Pinot Gris, Muller-Thurgau, Semillon, Gewurztraminer, Muscat, Pinot Blanc, Sylvaner, Chardonnay
REGION: Dundee Hills (Willamette Valley), Oregon
PRICE: $11-$16

There are so many oddities about this wine that make it quite an interesting selection. . . where to begin? I'm sure you are curious about the big NV up in the header so why don't we address that as well as the nine grape varietals involved since they are certainly linked. Each of the above mentioned varietals is pressed independently and when blended together to create Evolution, each brings unique character traits. Since the juice, before it is blended, is not necessarily from the same vintage year, this wine gets the NV (non-vintage) designation. But back to the juice. The first time I tried this wine I wasn't crazy about it. I found the muscat and semillon overpowering which added cloying sweetness to the blend without balancing it out. I was drinking it with Thai which helped, but it took me a while to get back on the horse. Now here we are. New bottling, new attitude, still pairing it with Asian fare (this time Chinese). Now the Evolution really seems to have evolved. It maintains lush fruit characteristics both on the nose and palate but is nicely balanced with crisp acidity. Think nectarine and pear colliding with white grapefruit and orange blossom. I think you could easily serve this with planked salmon or seared scallops and it would be a lovely complement. Go ahead. Give it a shot: Sokol Blosser NV Evolution - White Wine

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March 4, 2008

St. Hallet Faith Shiraz 2005

faithshirazlabel.jpgVARIETAL: Shiraz
REGION: Barossa Valley, Australia
PRICE: $16

Well, I admit this wine is a bit pricier than my typical mid-week selections. But it is still winter and the St. Hallet's gives me faith that spring will return again. Crafted from premium Barossa Valley fruit and nothing but, this shiraz looks like smashed berry ink in the glass. Warm spicy cherry and berry scents are just the prelude. Rich and dense, the St. Hallet's really lingers on your palate with smooth juicy cherry, ripe black raspberry interspersed with shots of spice and subtle black pepper from a 12-18 month stint in American and French oak. Sometimes Aussie shiraz can be a bit too jammy, like the fruit is overripe. Not so with the St. Hallet's. I love this wine - and have for about 8 years - because it is incredibly balanced, always impressive for the money and never ceases to make me feel warm and fuzzy all over. This wine is the perfect complement to just about any red meat and most hard cheeses. Or slurp it up with nothing at all.

Check it out: St. Hallet Faith Shiraz 2005

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February 26, 2008

L. A. Cetto Petite Sirah 2005

Thumbnail image for LACetto_Petite_Sirah.jpgVARIETAL: Petite Sirah
REGION: Baja, California/Mexico
PRICE: $10

I must admit I was a bit intrigued by the origins of this wine. I had never tasted a wine from the Baja peninsula and after closer inspection of the label I was a bit confused about whether or not the wine is considered a Mexican or California wine. Research only led to more confusion so I just had to crack it open and see what it was all about.

At first whiff the L.A. Cetto Petite Sirah is quite appealing. Lots of jammy fruit on the nose and a hint of spice. But the romance stopped there. I don't know if this bottle was a little cooked, or just past its prime, but there was nothing appealing about the taste. I found the fruit to be a bit bitter on the palate and for a Petite Sirah, it lacked lushness and any sort of finish. No kidding, I mean there was NO finish, zero taste in your mouth after the first few bitter sips. Weird . . . and disappointing after reading so many glowing reviews of previous vintages. Perhaps I'll give it another shot down the road. . . way down the road.

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February 25, 2008

Van Duzer 2006 Estate Pinot Gris

vanduzerpg.jpgVARIETAL: Pinot Gris
REGION: Willamette Valley, Oregon
PRICE: $17
For some reason the Van Duzer Estate Pinot Gris always awakens in me the hope of the spring and summer to come. Soft ripe summer fruits like melon, apricot and peach linger, liltingly on the palate. While the delicate floral aromas mingle with bursts of citrus, peach and pineapple. But do not be afraid, there is nothing syrupy about this wine. It is perfectly balanced with a crisp acidity and finishes clean with striking minerality. I highly recommend it with pan-seared scallops, but really it pairs well with most seafood dished and quite an array of Asian fare.

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