Highlights from Napa and Sonoma Trip

Over the course of four days, I was able to taste at several wineries in Napa and Sonoma. I was only able to take very general notes during the tastings but they give you a good idea of my thoughts towards the wines.

Thursday August 17th

Ramey Wine Cellars

Ramey Wine Cellars Tasting

I started off in Sonoma on Day 1 and bounced in and out of the Russian River Valley. The day started off with a 10AM tasting at Ramey Wine Cellars. We here at Oxford Liquor Shoppe have been carrying the Ramey wines for years, big fans of the Chardonnays, the Caret and Cabernet Sauvignon. David Ramey tries to achieve a very balanced style and is not trying for a heavy handed wines. It proved to be a very enjoyable tasting.

2014 Chardonnay Sonoma Coast **2010 is in stock $33.99

This wine was light and crisp with a nice acidity. A good introduction to the house style for the white wines. 91 points

2014 Chardonnay Russian River Valley *available

This was a touch fatter but still done in a very restrained style that Ramey is famous for. Got some tropical fruit on this. 92 points

2014 Chardonnay Woolsey Road *available

From a vineyard specifically allocated for Ramey by Martinelli, this was bigger than the regional blends and ended with a longer finish. 93 points

2014 Chardonnay Hyde Vineyard *available

My favorite of the four Chardonnay’s. Was the biggest but provided great depth of flavor and still not overpowering. Excellent. 94 points

2014 Syrah Sonoma Coast *available

This wine was dark with notes of coffee and dark berry. 91 points.

2015 Claret Napa Valley *2014 available

Always well done, this had notes of blackberry, currant and a long finish with a touch of iron. 93 points

2013 Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley **2012 in stock for $77.99

This Cab was quite silky compared to the other cabs I tasted on the trip with soft tannins. Ended with a nice dark berry finish. 92 points

2013 Cabernet Sauvignon Annum *available

Big but nuanced. Provided the longest finish of the four reds. Can probably use a little more time in bottle. 94 points

Hartford Family Winery

I then headed over to Hartford Family and it was the first time I have ever had their wines. I came away very impressed. They make Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Zinfandel and were strong across the board!

2015 Chardonnay Four Hearts Vineyard *available

This was bigger than the Ramey but was beautiful and not overpowering. More traditional in style but had some finesse to it. 93 points

2014 Chardonnay Stone Cote

This was even bigger than the Four Hearts and very buttery. But for all it’s size, it’s style was quite refined for a bigger wine. 94 Points

2015 Chardonnay Russian River Valley *available

A step down from the first two wines but also a lower price point. Solid and delicious. A nice introduction to their style. 92 points

2014 Pinot Noir Land’s Edge *available

This is beautiful with a lot of Pinot character. Again, a bigger style but balanced and not overpowering. 94 points

2014 Pinot Noir Velvet Sisters *available

More similar than different compared to the first two Chardonnays but very awesome wine with a long finish. 94 points

2014 Pinot Noir Warrior Princess Block *available

From Oregon, there was a clear difference here compared to the first two Pinot Noir’s. It definitely showed that Oregon terrior. 94 points

2015 Pinot Noir Russian River Valley

Some bing cherry on this and actually got some tannins. A clear step down but again a lower price point wine. 91 points

2015 Zinfandel Russian River Valley *available

This was extremely impressive. Made like a Pinot, has that silkiness to it. Not your typical Zin fruit bomb. 94 points

2014 Zinfandel Dina’s

This was just awesome. Lots of fruit but refined like their Pinot’s. Shocked to see over 15% alcohol on here because it felt much lower. 96 points.

2014 Zinfandel Hartford

Another excellent bottle but bigger and heavier than the others. More fruit explosion on this. 95 points.

2012 Syrah Outer Limits

A nice effort. Not heavy and dark like a typical Syrah that can be a little too much sometimes. 93 points

2014 Zinfandel Port

I usually don’t go for “ports” outside of Portugal but this was quite nice. Not very heavy for a port style wine. Silky. 93


Have come onto my radar the last few years for their entry level Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon, which are really good values for the money. They also do several higher end bottlings that are right up there with the tops wines in California.

Stonestreet Winery

This is a photo in the front of the winery looking at their mountain vineyards way off in the distance.

2015 Sauvignon Blanc Estate Cuvee

This Sauvignon Blanc had lots of grapefruit on the nose along with kiwi and grapefruit on palate. Ended with a nice finish. No oak on this. 90 points

2014 Sauvignon Blanc Aurora Point

The oak influence shows on the nose of this but the palate has flavors of kiwi and lime. 90 points

2014 Chardonnay Estate Cuvee *available

This is a very nice Chardonnay for the money with notes of lemon meringue and done more in a classic California style. 91 points

2014 Chardonnay Upper Barn *available

This proved to be more elegant than the estate. Where the estate could be a little raw around the edges, this provided a more refined option with greater depth of flavor. Nice long finish. 95 points

2014 Chardonnay Gravel Bench

The biggest of the three Chardonnays. Lots of toast and butter on this one. Probably could use some short term cellaring. 95 points

2014 Cabernet Sauvignon Estate Cuvee *available

Like the 2012, just a wonderful Cabernet Sauvignon for the money. This has big berry aromas with some dark fruit on the palate. A fine introduction to the Stonestreet style. 93 points

2013 Cabernet Sauvignon Rockfall *available

The Rockfall was a real crowd pleaser with some bigger tannins but a longer finish than the estate. 95 points

2012 Cabernet Sauvignon Christopher

The oak on the nose of this wine was very noticeable but provided wonderful notes of blackberry, currant and chocolate. A bit of a style change from the Rockfall but a nice contrast. 95 points

Alpha Omega

Visited here the last time I was in Napa and they really have top notch wine. The winery is beautiful and was shocked to see they now offer valet parking. Pretty fancy! That aside, the wines were just as good as I remember them.

Alpha Omega Chardonnay

2014 Chardonnay Reserve **2012 Regular Chardonnay in stock $65.99

A fine Chardonnay with notes of pineapple, mango and citrus. Honestly don’t recall a big difference between this and the regular bottling. 93 points

2015 Chardonnay Toyon

Very similar in style and quality to the Reserve but just a hair behind in my opinion. 92 points

Alpha Omega Red Wines

2012 Proprietary Red

This was a big tannic wine still with notes of cassis, chocolate and plum. 94 points

2013 Proprietary Red *available

The most backward of all the red wines with very drying tannins. Notes of currant, blackberry and cherry. 93

2014 Cabernet Sauvignon *available

Again, very tannic but fruit was open for business for a 2014. Notes of herb, cherry blackberry and plum. 94 points

2015 Cabernet Sauvignon To Kalon Barrel Sample

Drinking pretty awesome right now for such a young wine. Note even as tannic as the other red wines but could have seen more air. A clear step up from the other 3. 96-98 points

2011 Late Harvest

Notes a honey, peach and apricot. Close to the Honig Late Harvest. 93 points

Robert Mondavi

Robert Mondavi Winery Statue in Front

First time visiting even though I’ve been to Napa twice before. Went mainly to try the I Block, which is only available at the winery. Beautiful winery and by far the biggest tourist attraction as far as wineries are concerned.

Robert Mondavi Winery

2014 Fume Blanc To Kalon I Block

From the oldest Sauvignon Blanc grapes planted in North America. This is beautiful with no sight of grapefruit. So balanced and refreshing. Think this will improve with age. History says it will. 94 points

2015 Sauvignon Blanc Stag’s Leap District

Tons of grapefruit on this. Not nearly on the level as the I Block. 89 points

2014 Fume Blanc Oakville

Enjoyed this more than the Stag’s Leap. No grapefruit. Like the oak influence here. 91

2013 Maestro

Solid wine but expected a bit more from this. Not near the level of the reserve. 91 points

2013 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve

Really nice. Balanced. More old world but still definitely California. An often overlooked wine in this day and age but most of it still comes from To Kalon vineyard. 95


Robert Mondavi 2003 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve $99.99

Robert Mondavi 2004 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve $102.99


Have always admired Honig for their quality wines and affordable prices. Their Cabernet Sauvignon is one of the best values in all of Napa Valley.

Honig Birdbox and Fan

We took a tour of the entire vineyard which was a great experience. Above shows a birdbox that they have throughout their vineyards and wind machine to prevent frost.

2015 Sauvignon Blanc Rutherford *available

Always enjoy Honig’s Rutherford bottling. Touch more refined than the regular Sauvignon Blanc and you can really see the quality. 91 points

Honig Cabernet Sauvignon Grapes

2014 Cabernet Sauvignon *available

Another fine vintage for this Cabernet. Notes of blackberry, mocha and cherry throughout. 92 points

2013 Cabernet Sauvignon Campbell

First time having this wine. Slight step up in quality from the regular Cab bottling. 93 points

2013 Cabernet Sauvignon Bartolucci *available

The Bartolucci is just like the Sauvignon Blanc in the respect that I can always see the bump up in quality, although the difference between this and the 2014 regular Cab is a lot smaller this time. 93 points

2015 Late Harvest

Always been a fan of the Late Harvest although it seems to have crept up in price. Very refined and more balanced than the 2016 with flavors of honey and apricot. 93 points

2016 Late Harvest

Still a well made dessert wine but this just needs time to settle down in the bottle. 91 points

Joseph Phelps

Could say we saved the best for last? We did a pretty comprehensive tasting at Phelps. We tasted through their latest releases but then did something I had never done before. Every year Phelps does experiments with different barrels of their wines. So we had the chance to taste their 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon that was aged in 4 different types of oak barrels. The first was neutral oak, the second was French oak (medium toast), the third was American oak (medium toast) and the fourth was French oak (heavy toast). It provided quite an interesting education on the effects of oak on the wine.

Joseph Phelps same wine aged in 4 differnent oak barrels

Below are the notes from their current releases. Phelps Cabernet Sauvignon has always been good but they have done a lot of work to improve their other wines.

2016 Sauvignon Blanc *available

Always been a fan of their Sauvignon Blanc’s but this needs some time. Little too spry at the moment. 91 points

2014 Chardonnay Pastorale

A well made Chard done in a very classic style. Not overdone. 92 points

2014 Pinot Noir Pastorale

Although a nice wine, this was definitely overshadowed by the Pinot’s we had in Sonoma. 90 points

2014 Cabernet Sauvignon *available

Their regular Cab can be really nice in good vintages and this was one of those vintages. Still has some tannins to resolve but can be drunk now with a long decant. 93 points.

2013 Insignia *available

Just a classic vintage of this great wine. I have always been a fan of this and when it hits it really hits. Right up their with the top wines of the trip. 98 points.


Joseph Phelps Vineyards

Nebbiolo: An Unsung Hero

Four times a year I belong to a wine club that gets together to have a blind tasting. For those unfamiliar with this, it’s where you taste wines blind.  In our case, we brown bag all the bottles and take turns pouring the wines. Sometimes everyone just brings whatever they want or we have a theme. We score all the wines using the 100 point scale. At the end we tally all the scores and then remove the bags to reveal what was poured. This past weekend we got together and the theme was the Nebbiolo grape, our first time having a dedicated meeting to wines made from this grape.

For those of you unfamiliar with the grape, let me fill you in. Nebbiolo was made famous in the Piedmont region of Italy. Although not the most widely planted grape in the region (the workhorse Barbara grape has that claim), it is by far the most famous. It makes the distinctive wines of Barolo and Barbaresco, which some people actually think are the grape names but they would be wrong. Unlike the United States, old world grape producing countries like France, Italy and Spain categorize their wines by region instead of the grape. So a Red Bordeaux from France, for example, could be Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc or any other grapes used to make red wine. The Barolo and Barbaresco regions are only allowed to make red wines from Nebbiolo, so we always know what the grape is. The same can’t be said for the rest of the Piedmont region though. The grape is grown in other regions outside of Italy but unlike other grapes that have found popularity in other parts of the world, this one has not.

The Nebbiolo grape produces very distinct wines. These red wines are typically lighter in color but get more orange as they age. Nebbiolo has a very pronounced tar scent and flavor, which evolves as it ages. Typically they don’t even start getting good until about 10 years of age but these are some of the longest lived red wines in the world because they can be very tannic. Drinking a 30 year old Barolo is an unforgettable experience because there really is nothing out there like it because Nebbiolo is so distinctive. It is often compared to Burgundy but not because of the aromas or flavors but because of structure of the wine and the region.

Now that I’ve given you some background information onto the wines! We tasted 5 wines that night. All wines below are in the order tasted.


Wine 1 – 1998 Vallana Gattinara – Off to a good start. For an 18 year old wine this wasn’t showing any obvious signs of aging. The nose on this was very nice with the classic tar aroma along with roses and cherry. For flavors, this had some nice raspberry, tar, tomato and tobacco with again no real signs of aging. Had a lot of fruit but a tad more elegant than the other wines that night. Maybe that was a sign? The wines ended with a nice finish of about 25 seconds that played on the fruit and tar theme. Tannins were there but not overwhelming, probably because I decanted this for 4 hours. Yes this was the wine I brought and Gattinara is located in Northern Piedmont. I gave it 92 points and it finished tied for last place.

Wine 2 – 2009 Villadoria Barolo – This wine’s nose was a touch bigger than the last wine and more complex. Had some nice aromas of cherry (more intense than the last wine), tomato leaf, roses and earth. I found this to be more tannic than Wine 1 but was still showing quite nicely. Flavors of earth, tobacco and cherry really stood out here. Like the first wine, the finish was about 25 seconds. I gave this an extra point because the nose was a touch more complex. So 93 points and it finished tied for last.

Wine 3 – 2011 Produttori del Barbaresco Barbaresco – What immediately struck me about this wine was the biggest nose yet. A big aroma of cherry just jumped out of the glass with secondary aromas of lavender and cedar. The funny thing on this was besides the big blast of cherry, Wine 2 still had the more complex nose for me. Once tasted, it was easy to see that this wine was just a baby. Flavors of tar, cherry earth and a touch of spice danced across my palate. My wife brought this wine and it was also decanted for 4 hours. Definitely tasted good but only just starting to realize its potential. I gave it 92 points and it finished in 3rd on the night.

Wine 4 – 2005 Cascina Bruciata Barbaresco – This wine changed things up a bit on the nose with a very prominent matchstick aroma but familiar cherry, tar and roses. It’s tough when you have all the same grape and basically the same region because they share a lot of similarities. You could tell that this was starting to tie things together on the palate with again cherry and tar but more raspberry flavors as well as game mixed in. It ended with a 30 second finish that just eclipsed all the other wines. This was well structured and edges the other wines out along with Wine 2 as my favorites of the night. I gave this 93 points and it finished tied for 1st.

Wine 5 – 2010 Massolino Barolo – The final wine of the night was another strong showing. More aromas of cherry, tar, game and roses danced across the nose. Similar to the last wine, this had some nice cherry, raspberry, game and tar flavors. The finish was a touch shorter than Wine 4 but this was a excellent wine. Massolino is a very strong name in Barolo and it’s not surprising to see this wine finish strong. 2010 was one of the best vintages in probably the last 15 years in Barolo. The other 4 wines were all over the place in other members scores but this wine was consistent which is why it finished tied for 1st. I gave it 92 points.

Overall, this was one of our strongest meetings in recent memory. Typically we usually have one wine that shines above the rest with a few outliers people don’t like as much. The average score for each wine was over 90 points and I can’t remember that ever happening. Nebbiolo tends to be on the more expensive side with the average price to entry around $30, which is more expensive than most other grapes. On the flip side, for $50-$75 you can really get some top wines from the grape/region where you would be spending well over $100 or even $200 in places like Napa Valley or Bordeaux. If you have never had a chance to try this grape now is the time with a lot of 2010’s still widely available and if you see anything older make sure to jump on it.

For Wine, Temperature is Everything

You’ve just selected that delicious special occasion bottle out at one of your favorite restaurants. The bottle is going to go perfectly with the appetizers you’ve selected. You have had this bottle before so your no stranger to it. The server comes by with the bottle, runs through the usual ceremony of presenting the bottle and let’s you try the wine to insure it is sound. You quickly give the glass a quick swirl and test the nose but your not getting anything. Not usual but by no means a sign of a flawed wine. You then take a sip. The big lively flavors of this California Chardonnay seem sound but muted. The wine is not exploding on your mouth with the pineapple, mango and marshmallow that you’ve had in the past. Your left scratching your head as to what is wrong. Finally, the last few sips it starts tasting like how you remembered it.

Has anyone had this happen to them? Then you are a victim of someone serving you a wine at the wrong temperature. Unfortunately this is something that happens all too often and a lot of people don’t realize what the problem is. Temperature in wine might seem like a trivial thing, but if you spend good money on a bottle of wine you don’t want anything but an enjoyable wine drinking experience when you open it.

I have especially found this issue to be the case with Chardonnay where wine drinkers commonly drink it too cold. Now the unoaked versions are ok to drink colder. They typically aren’t as fat as their oaked counterparts and they have a lighter body. So if they are served a little colder it doesn’t effect the wine. But oaked Chardonnay needs that warmer temperature to really express itself. When served colder the nose can shut down and the flavors can be muted.  On the flip side, the wine served too warm can seem flabby and more alcoholic. So you can see how important it is to get temperature right.

Now if your at home and cognizant of the issue, the problem is an easy fix. Either stick the bottle in the fridge or give it time to warm up. If your a dedicated wine drinker, you can look to invest in something like this. But let’s say your getting wine by the glass in a restaurant. Then you have a problem. Everyone wants an optimal glass of wine when your suppose to be enjoying yourself. A step to the prevent this is just simple awareness on the restaurants part. The easy solution to the problem is keeping different coolers at different temperatures. The last resort is pouring any wine that needs to warm up first and letting it sit while getting other things for the table. It would be similar if the wine needs a chill to bring the temperature down.

Here is some guidelines from my experience for the most popular grapes:

Riesling 43°-47°
Sparkling Wine 45°
Sauvignon Blanc 47°-52° Unoaked versions I like closer to 47°, oaked versions 52°.
Chardonnay 50°-55° Unoaked versions I like closer to 50°, oaked versions 55°.

Pinot Noir  55°-61° Almost always on the warmer side of this range but a nice chill can be refreshing in the Summer.
Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot 63°-64°
Syrah 64°

A tool I use at home and find helpful is a digital thermometer. Here is a link to one that I have used before that is inexpensive.

Finally, these are typically the norm but everyone has there personal preferences. While you can’t make everyone happy, sticking to the above guidelines should cater to most wine drinkers.

Notes on 4 Wines from a Weekend Dinner

Over the weekend I got together with some friends who I see ever once in a while to drink some wine and have dinner. It’s nice to shoot the breeze for a few hours, relax, and talk about old times. I usually bring a bottle or two and I have another friend that works in a restaurant that brings a bottle or two depending on the situation. This time we started off with a little bread and oil, Italian sausage, and manchego cheese.  I had opened up a bottle of wine two days before and I had a little left over so I figured we can finish that off to start things.

2008 Grayson Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon Lot 10

Dave brought this into the store about a year ago and we have since moved onto the 2009 vintage but this was my last remaining bottle of the 2008. Robert Parker called this one of the best values from California and gave it 89 points. This was very nice the first day I tried it, didn’t lose anything on the second day I tried it, and was stilling going strong on day three. The wine has a medium body and very soft tannins but packs a lot of flavor. I got a lot of raspberry, vanilla and dark fruits from this. I have had $25 bottles that have died the next day so it really is impressive to me that this was still going strong.  Unbelievable value for $10! I gave it 89 points.

2009 In Stock

2005 Kosta Browne Sonoma Coast

I wanted to share something special with my friends so I grabbed a bottle of my favorite Pinot Noir producer, Kosta Browne. I was looking through the drinking windows and I wanted to make sure I didn’t miss them on these. The 2005’s are drinking great now so drink up! The first time I went to Napa we took a day trip to San Fransisco. While there, we visited Alcatraz but we also stopped into this wine shop a friend recommended, California Wine Merchant. It was there I purchased my first bottle of Kosta Browne, a 2005 Sonoma Coast. I bought more after that but this bottle always held a special place with me because it really opened my eyes to California Pinot Noir. This 2005 wasn’t was fresh as it was a year or two ago but it was still very good. A lighter body, it had a wonderful nose of dried cherry, cinnamon, and cola. Th palate was equally impressive with some licorice, sour cherry and other red fruits. Has a fantastic 25-30 second finish as well. I definitely prefer these younger but I have to say that they also do age. I gave it 92 points.

Limited availablity in Connecticut.

2004 Scuola Toscano IGT

My friend brought this bottle and to be honest I really don’t know that much about it. I tried to look it up online and there isn’t too much information out there on it. From what I can get, it’s a Sangiovese blend, although I’m unsure how many grapes it is blended with. One I think is Merlot. Regardless, we let this decant while we were drinking the Kosta Browne. It had a little funkiness on the nose when we first poured it but it blew off after a few minutes. This had a very earthly taste with a touch of cherry and blackberry. It wasn’t bad but at this point we had moved onto the rib eyes my friend grilled and I don’t think this held up to the meat like a Cabernet would. I gave this 87 points.

Available – inquire

2009 Nik Weis Selection Urban Riesling QbA Mosel

We tried this in the store on Saturday and I decided to pick up a bottle myself. Dave was saying supposedly the producer is somehow connected to St. Urbans-of, the producer of some great value Riesling over the last few years. The bottle even kind of resembles one of theirs. This is simply fantastic for the money! Has a great apple flavor with hints of minerality and melon.You can’t find anything at this price point and quality level outside of Germany, Alsace or maybe the Finger Lakes. This was a nice way to end the day and I gave this 90 points.


In Stock $9.99