2006 Bartholomew Park Winery Desnudos Vineyard Merlot

Posted in California, Merlot with tags , , , on August 9, 2012 by thewinespies

Mission Codename: The King’s Bounty

Operative: Agent Red

Objective: Infiltrate Bartholomew Park Winery in Sonoma, California. There procure their sought-after Single Vineyard Desnudos Merlot for our Merlot-loving Operatives

Mission Status: Accomplished!

Current Winery: Bartholomew Park Winery

Wine Subject: 2006 Desnudos Vineyard Merlot

Winemaker: Keith Emerson

Associate Winemaker: Jessica Koga

Backgrounder: To true wine lovers, Merlot is one of the finest wine varietals in the world. Today, Merlot continues to sell in record numbers across the US, outpacing most other varietals. Merlot is a sincere, food-fabulous wine for serious wine drinkers. Today’s wine raises the bar for Sonoma Merlot, by delivering a delicious, complex, fruit-forward wine with plenty of complexity

The Sonoma Valley AVA is one of the oldest wine growing regions in California with the first vines being planted in the early 1800s. The AVA is located along California Route 12 and its eastern boundary are the southern end of the Mayacama mountains. The unique micro-climate with less rainfall and fog than other parts of the region along with its unique soil provides ideal growing conditions for Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandel.

Wine Spies Tasting Profile:

Look – Darkest garnet hues, with a deep, inky heart. Color is evenly concentrated, but at the edge of the wine, a lovely ring of brickish red runs a wide ring around the wine. After swirling, chubby, slow-moving, wine-stained tears move very slowly down the glass.

Smell – Lush and heady, with layers of fruit, spice and savory character. At first, a bold rush a jammy blackberry, black cherry and raspberry leap from the glass. Black currant, black plum, braised fig and spiced blueberry follow on. As the wine breathes, it begins to reveal additional aromas of leather, cigar box, cocoa and dried fall leaves.

Feel – Soft and lightweight at the tip of the tongue. Then, the wine slowly digs in, spreading a dark, mineral-laden dryness to the far corners of the palate. Plush tannins and a dark acidity combine to frame the fruit, driving flavors to the far corners of the palate.

Taste – Dark black cherry, blackberry, black plum, braised fig and black currant take lead, here. After a moment, when the wine settles onto the palate, it reveals softly spiced cherry candy, dark leather, dried fall leaves, toasty oak, sweet brown spice and a hint of slate minerality.

Finish – Very long and filled with dark fruit. Slowly, the fruit fades, eventually replaced by spice and earthy characteristics. At the very end, a soft, slate-mineral dryness is ushered in by a hint of black pepper.

Conclusion – Keith Emerson once again impresses us with his winemaking prowess. Not only is his skill reflected in today’s 2006 Bartholomew Park Desnudos Vineyard Merlot, but the vineyard and the fruit should also receive equal credit. Today’s Merlot is a terrific example of how, when everything works, this varietal can really shine. Plush and delicious, the dark fruit balances just perfectly against the wines more earthy characteristics. Slate, dried leaves, leather and spice are such a lovely counterpoint to the juicy dark berries and stonefruit. Merlot is almost always a great compliment to a fine meal and this wine is a delightful example of this quality. We paired ours with Moroccan stew, served with spiced lamb kabobs. Each sip complimented the meal while providing a delicious cleanse of the palate, between bites. Enjoy this highly recommended wine now and lay a few bottles down for the next several years.

Mission Report:


SUBJECT: Keith Emerson

WINE EDUCATION: University of California at Davis

CALIFORNIA WINE JOB BRIEF: Cakebread Cellars before joining Gundlach Bundschu. In 2004, worked a harvest at Palliser Estate in Martinborough, New Zealand

WINEMAKER QUOTE: “My goal as a winemaker is to tell the story of each vineyard site”

Wine Spies Vineyard Check:

The location of the Bartholomew Park Winery winery can be seen in this satellite photo.

2009 Schug Carneros Estate Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir

Posted in California, Pinot Noir with tags , , , on August 8, 2012 by thewinespies

Mission Codename: The Pinot King

Operative: Agent Red

Objective: Revisit our friends at Schug Carneros Estate and secure an allocation of their newly released Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir.

Mission Status: Accomplished!

Current Winery: Schug Carneros Estate

Wine Subject: 2009 Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir

Winemaker: Michael Cox

Backgrounder: The Sonoma Coast AVA is the 750 square mile area with the Pacific ocean on its western boundary, the San Pablo Bay to the south and Mendocino County to the north, headed inland to the other designated AVAs in Sonoma County. The region is heavily influenced by the cooler ocean climate, increased rainfall and fog that lingers long on the coastal mountains. The specific climate suits the demanding Burgundian varietals of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir very well.

Wine Spies Tasting Profile:

Look – When viewed from the side, the wine show off a deep ruby red. Viewed from the top, it shows a tad lighter, with a lovely band of pink at the edge of the glass. After you swirl the wine, tall, thin legs move swiftly down the glass to the wine below.

Smell – Lush and very aromatic, with layers of red fruit, spice and earthy goodness. Out in front, spiced cherry, wild strawberry and raspberry lead the way. These are followed by young blackberry, dried cranberry, flinty gunpowder, subtle cedar, soft oak and a hint of subtle dried brown tobacco leaf.

Feel – Soft and plush on entry, the wine settles easily onto the mid-palate, where it gains some weight, giving the wine a more complex feel. As the wine settles onto the entire palate, a flinty dryness spreads to the far corners of the mouth. Bright acids and soft tannins frame the fruit perfectly.

Taste – Balanced and delicious, with red fruit, earth and spice all working together in perfect harmony. This wine leads with spiced cherry, young strawberry, tart dried cranberry and red plum skin. The delicious fruit is balanced against earthy dried violets, flint, subtle dried herbs and cigar box. At the tail end, soft white pepper appears, driving red fruit and earthy flavors to the corners of the palate.

Finish – Very long, juicy and lingering red fruit. This tasty fruit gives way to earthy flavors. As these begin to tail off, white pepper and cigar box remain behind for a long time.

Conclusion – With all of the excellence that we have come to expect from Schug, today’s 2009 Schug Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir today’s delicious wine was no surprise. We were very pleased, however, to discover that this vintage was even better than the 2008 vintage that we featured nearly two years ago. This 2009 has bolder, more delicious fruit, making it even more of a tasty delight. The characteristic Sonoma Coast earthiness is more pronounced, as well. This gives the wine richness and a complexity, without sacrificing any of its elegance. Delicious and full-bodied, this wine has an easy drinking elegance. That is to say that this is an approachable wine with a serious side – without taking itself too seriously. Enjoy this food-friendly wine with a grilled chicken dish, a grilled pork loin or a lovely pepper crusted Ahi steak.

Mission Report:


SUBJECT: Michael Cox

WINE EDUCATION: Started working in Sonoma wineries out of high school. Graduated form UC Davis in 1991

CALIFORNIA WINE JOB BRIEF: Winemaker for Schug Winery since 1995

Don’t get to fancy, let the vines and the yeast do their stuff. Just don’t mess up what mother nature intended.

WINEMAKER QUOTE: From Tao Te Ching: “The hard and stiff will be broken, the soft and supple will prevail.”

FIRST COMMERCIAL WINE RELEASE: 1993 Napa Valley Chardonnay from DeMoor (Napa Cellars)


AGENT RED: Greetings, Mike. We are thrilled to be showing your great 2008 Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir today. The wine is really wonderful. Thanks so much for the wine, and for taking some time to answer questions for our Operatives today.

MICHAEL: Thanks Red, we are so happy that you continue to love our wines. We always enjoy your detail reviews – and these sit-downs!

RED: The pleasure is all ours, I assure you. How long have you been making wine?

MICHAEL: My first job in a wine cellar was when I was 19. I got a summer job working at Hacienda Wine Cellars (pre Bronco – then family owned by the Cooleys).

RED: Was there a specific experience in your life that inspired your love of wine?

MICHAEL: Not sure if it is specific, but that summer of 1987, working on the bottling line, cleaning barrels, driving all over Sonoma County sampling vineyards, long wide ranging conversations on music and farming with the winemaker, Eric Laumann all combined to sell me on the idea that growing and making wine would afford me the ability to continue to live in Sonoma Valley.

RED: And where did you learn the most about winemaking?

MICHAEL: Hmmmm. Tough one. I spent my formative years from 1987 -1991 at Hacienda, a year at Dry Creek Vineyards, got my first‘Winemaker’ job at Napa Cellars/DeMoor, and have spent coming on 14 years here at Schug with Walter.
IÂ’d probably have to say my time at Napa Cellars. I was 25 and they gave me the keys and said ‘drive’. I learned to get things done, not to waste time or money, and how to pull together a wine from vineyard to bottle. For all the talk of art, it is also a big logistics game.

RED: What is your winemaking style or philosophy?

MICHAEL: I’ll happily steal from Robert Mondavi here:‘The first glass of wine should invite the second.’ I don’t like flabby, heavy, ponderous wines. I want brightness and zip. Elegance is foremost.

RED: Walter Schug is a legend in the wine business. How has he influenced you?

MICHAEL: Walter has been, and continues to be a mentor. I am very fortunate that Walter saw in me someone with the kernel of his own winemaking style that he could nurture and develop. He is a font of knowledge that I can tap into at any time. With just about any situation he’s seen it in his own experience here, at Gallo, or as consultant, at least twice.

RED: What wine or winemaker has most influenced your winemaking style?

MICHAEL: We already talked about Walter being a mentor, but Eric Laumann, who gave me my first job was also very important. He certainly instilled a confidence in myself and the wines that make. He also is a reminder to not
take yourself too seriously, just the wine.

RED: Who do you make wine for?

MICHAEL: Myself foremost. Plan D is always to just drink it all ourselves, so it better be good.

AGENT RED: Please tell me a little bit about the wine we are featuring today.

MICHAEL: What we have here is our 2008 Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir. A big chunk of this comes from the Sonoma Carneros portion of the coast appellation, but the core is really a nice vineyard from the Petaluma Gap. Mostly raised in stainless steel, the focus here is on the fruity nature of pinot noir. Great cherry flavors with the dark spices from oak way in the background.

RED: What is your favorite pairing with today’s wine?

MICHAEL: Well, if I am eating meat, wild boar pasta, if not pasta with mushrooms. The earthiness of both those dishes complements the bright fruit well.

RED: Tell me, what makes the Sonoma Coast so special?

MICHAEL: Where we pull our fruit from is the southern tip of the Sonoma Coast. Closer to the water so a bit warmer in winter, giving us a jump on bud break. It is also a very windy area which retards the summer growth, extending the growing season. The net effect of that is more hangtime without massive sugar (readALCOHOL) accumulation. I hate hot, alcoholic, oppressive wines. Our Sonoma Coast wines are most definitely not. They are all sweetness and light.

RED: What is one piece of advice that you would give to someone that is considering a career as a winemaker?

MICHAEL: Trust yourself and your palette. Don’t chase a style or someone else’s opinion. Be ready to work and get down and dirty. Don’t expect a lot other than the reward of the wine itself.

RED: What is occupying your time at the winery these days?

MICHAEL: Getting our act together for the summer bottling season. I have been doing a lot of tasting and blending. Tuning up the machines. In the vineyard, we are just watching the vines grow, protecting the shoots. We were finally able to get in and disc after a bit of a late, wet winter. .

RED: Please share one thing about yourself that few people know

MICHAEL: Considering how much I enjoyed NASCAR, I may well be a closet redneck.

RED: Nice. What is your favorite ‘everyday’ or table wine?

MICHAEL: Well until recently it had been Laurenz V.’s Gruener Veltliner, either the Singing or the Charming, but I have been drinking a lot of our dry Rose of Pinot Noir of late.

RED: How would you recommend that people approach your wines, or wine in general?

MICHAEL: Well wine is for sharing with friends so have some people you like around and start opening bottles. Schug wines always get better of the course of a meal as the layers start to unveil themselves. Don’t rush into it. Relax and enjoy.

RED: If you could choose any one wine to drink (regardless of price or availability), what would it be?

MICHAEL: The Holy Trinity from E. Guigal – La Turque, La Mouline, La Landonne. Odd for a Pinot maker, but I could drink those all night.

RED: What is the one question that I should have asked you, and what is your answer to that question?

MICHAEL: Hmmmm. How about: ‘If you couldn’t make wine, what would you do?’ And to be honest, I am not sure of the answer… I always say that my retirement plan is to move to Hawaii (Kauai – westside) and make rum, but that’s a bit close to winemaking… So perhaps a historian and author. 18th and 19th century European to be a bit more precise.

RED: Very cool. Thank you so much for your time. We learned a lot about you – and about your wine. Keep up the great work, we are big fans!

MICHAEL: No problem. Thanks again for having me. I hope I covered what you wanted to know. Glad you like the wine, I hope your Operatives do, too.

And here is a recap of Agent Red’s original interview with Walter Schug:

I had the incredible great fortune to meet with one of the wine industry’s most respected and renowned wine craftsmen in California wine history.

Walter Schug, owner and winemaster at Schug Carneros Estate, was born into wine in Germany in 1936, where his father was winemaker for one of Germany’s top Pinot Noir Producers.

As a young man, Walter worked throughout Europe, honing his craft. In 1966 Julio Gallo asked Walter to oversee all grapegrowing and quality control for the company. Seven years later, after Walter’s reputation had grown, Joseph Phelps asked Walter to become Phelps’ winemaker at his new Napa Valley winery.

Walter helped to create the Insignia label and some of the finest and most sought after Bordeaux-style blends in the country. Walter crafted wines that set the high water mark for excellence in winemaking.

To this day, Walter Schug’s early influence on the industry lives on, with wineries across California and around the world emulating his winemaking style.

With Phelps, Walter Schug’s goal was to make the best Bordeaux-style blend possible. Today, Walter Schug’s philosophy remains largely unchanged. There is one big difference, however; Where a bottle of Insignia may cost you $200 or more, a Schug wine of comparable quality with cost you less than $60.

On arriving at the Schug winery last week, I am greeted by Axel Schug, Director of Marketing for the winery and the son of Walter Schug. Axel, with whom I had met previously, introduces me to his father, and then escorts me through the bowels of the winery, to a tasting room buried in a wine cave. The long table the stretches down the tunnel is surrounded on both sides by seemingly every vintage from Schug’s history.

As I am escorted to my seat, I notice several magnums of Insignia wine and I spot one bottle in a special wooden display. Walter Schug sees me looking at it and he takes it from the display and shows it to me. The bottle is from Joseph Phelps himself, and a touching tribute to Walter Schug, from Phelps, is engraved on the back.

What follows is a partial transcript of our conversation:

AGENT RED: Mr. Schug, thank you so much for making yourself available today. It is an honor to meet you!

WALTER SCHUG: Welcome, Agent Red.

AGENT RED: Let me first say that your wines blow me away. The winery is beautiful as well. I love Carneros and wines from the region. You are really a pioneer of the region. When it came time to build your own winery, how did you come to settle here?

WALTER SCHUG: When I was with Gallo, I sourced fruit from Carneros. I recognized the region as having great potential for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Given my passion for Pinot, settling in Carneros was a natural.

AGENT RED: And, when you did settle, you produced a fair amount of Chardonnay, did you not?

WALTER SCHUG: Yes, and it was excellent, too. It still is. Back then, Chardonnay subsidized my passion for Pinot Noir! It allowed me to perfect Pinot here.

AGENT RED: This Cabernet Sauvignon we are drinking [today’s 2003 Heritage CS] is incredible. How has your philosophy changed from your Insignia days?

WALTER SCHUG: Very little. The goal now, as it was with Phelps back then, is to create the very best wine that we possibly can. And, to do so without recipe orformula.

AGENT RED: Ahh. Whereas I have heard that Insignia is more formulaic in its approach to winemaking today. Instead, your proportions or even fruit sources may change a good deal – if it means making wines that are that much better. Am I correct?

WALTER SCHUG: Yes, this is true. This Cabernet isstreamlined and far more European in character. This is a wine that has elegance, delicacy, finesse – this is what I strive for in all of my wines!

AGENT RED: Again, this is a great wine and I am sure that our Operatives will love it. I also look forward to bringing them your Pinot Noir, during a future mission.

WALTER SCHUG: If they appreciate wines that are made for the best enjoyment, they will love this wine. In the end this wine is not made by going to the vineyard and knowing what you are going to get. Rather, it is the result of meticulous blending of wines made from the best fruit. Again, it is my mission to create wines that are the best expressions of place. It is my mission to make wines that are to be enjoyed.

AGENT RED: Mission accomplished, Mr. Schug, Mission accomplished!

WALTER SCHUG: Thank you, Agent Red.

We talked a great deal about Walter Schug’s history and his influence and impact on the wine industry. While I was certainly impressed by his incredible history, I must say that what impressed me the most – what seemed to matter to me the most – was what the Schug Carneros Estate winery was doing today. Today, Schug is crafting remarkably beautiful wines that are a true delight to drink and enjoy!

Wine Spies Vineyard Check:

The location of the Schug Carneros Estate can be seen in this satellite photo.

2009 Swanson Vineyards 101 Points Red Wine

Posted in California, Red Blend with tags , , , on August 7, 2012 by thewinespies

Mission Codename: Lucky in Love

Operative: Agent Red

Objective: Return to Swanson Vineyards and secure an allocation of their Modern House Wines, “101 Points”, a budget-minded wine from their new sister label.

Mission Status: Accomplished!

Current Winery: Modern House Wines, vinted by Swanson Vineyards

Wine Subject: “101 Points” 2009 California Proprietary Red Wine

Winemaker: Chris Phelps

Backgrounder: Swanson Vineyards is located in Napa Valley’s Oakville AVA. The Oakville AVA, centrally located and adjacent to Napa Valley’s famous Rutherford AVA, was established in July 1993. Oakville is considered on of the most diverse AVA’s in the Napa area and grows some of the best Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon in California.

Wine Spies Tasting Profile:

Look – Dark magenta hues, with a darker core of deep ruby. Coloration is evenly concentrated, right out to the very edge of the wine. Swirl the wine and witness a the steady march of thin, wine-stained tears.

Smell – Ripe blackberry, black cherry, blueberry jam, raspberry and bramble combine with sweet spice, hard leather, tobacco leaf, toasty vanilla oak, wild fennel, black pepper and a hint of cured meats.

Feel – Medium-bodied at the outset, the wine then surprises the drinker by gliding swiftly and smoothly across the mid-palate. Once past, plush tannins introduce a softly grippy feeling that ushers in a mineral laden, slowly spreading dryness. After a few moments, the wine takes on an intriguing chewy feel.

Taste – Dark, ripe and concentrated, with ripe blackberry, dark plum skin, black cherry and tobacco leaf. As the wine opens up, dried cherry, dark chocolate, blueberry jam, cracked leather, black pepper, subtle dried orange peel, subtle clove and dark flinty minerals follow on.

Finish – Very long, lead by rich dark fruit that slowly yields to rich, earthy flavors. As flavors fade, a chewy feel persists, coating the mouth with delicious pepper, spice, leather and minerals.

Conclusion – Fans of Swanson Vineyards rejoice!! Today’s wine, from Swanson’s sister label, Modern House Wines is a delectable, approachable and surprisingly complex treat – at a budget-minded price. This wine drinks beautifully, right out of the bottle, but spin it for just a few minutes and it really comes to life. Delicious, extracted and wonderfully balanced this wine is a very easy choice, dear Operative. A perfect daily drinker , you’ll want to stock up on this wine. Pair this food-friendly wine as you would a Cabernet or a Syrah. That is to say, pair it with something bold and flavorful, like a juicy grilled burger or a thick grilled Porterhouse steak. Quantities are limited so act quickly. We recommend stocking up on this fun, fantastic, wonderful wine.

2009 Arroba Winery Santa Maria Chardonnay

Posted in California, Chardonnay with tags , , , on August 6, 2012 by thewinespies

Mission Codename: That’s where it’s @

Operative: Agent Red

Objective: Infiltrate our friends at Rex Family Wines (of Deerfield Ranch fame), whose covert sister label,Arroba is causing a stir. Their fantastic new line delivers real value without sacrificing on quality. Send Agent Red to investigate. If the wine is a great as reports indicate, secure an ample cache of their newest Chardonnay for our deserving Operatives.

Mission Status: Accomplished!

Current Winery: Arroba Winery

Wine Subject: 2009 Napa Valley Chardonnay

Winemaker: Robert Rex

Backgrounder: Chardonnay is arguably the greatest of all white grape varietals, showing its influence in the legendary sparkling wines of Champagne, the great whites of Burgundy and of course its expression as’the’ white wine of California. Chardonnay represents over 50% of the planted white grapes in California with nearly 100,000 acres planted. With such a great number of wines made from this grape, it stands to reason that finding wines of immense quality would be hard, but look no further. Today’s delicious, value-minded selection from the Napa Valley is a delicious wine with a tender mouthfeel and plenty of flavor.

Wine Spies Tasting Profile:

Look – Light golden yellow hues, with glinting edges that catch the light as you spin the wine in the glass. As the wine settles, long, skinny legs move slowly down the glass wall.

Smell – Green apple, white peach, apricot and citrus lead the way. As the wine warms, just a little bit, it opens up and reveals sweet pineapple, softly toasty oak.

Feel – Very soft and smooth on entry, the wine glides easily across the front and mid palates. After a moment, the wine settles onto the mid-palate where a very soft dryness appears. This spreads from edges of the palate, slowly moving inward, eventually spreading to the lips and cheeks.

Taste – Zesty citrus mixes with bright pineapple, Granny Smith apple, dried apricot, dried white flower petals, white peach, key lime mix with soft white spice, oak and a hint of white pepper.

Finish – Medium long, with tart fruit yielding to sweet fruit, soft spice and subtle white pepper. At the very end, a lovely dryness encroaches, ushering in flint, white flowers and a hint of oak.

Conclusion – This delicious, sweetly complex, easy-drinking 2009 Arroba Napa Valley Chardonnay may be a budget-minded wine, but it drinks like a more expensive one, as well. A wonderful Summertime sipper, with or without food (this IS a very food-friendly wine), we’ll also be stocking up for the Fall holidays. At today’s price, you should consider picking up enough to last you. Our friends at Deerfield Ranch Winery have created a really wonderful sister label with their Arroba lineup. Each one that we’ve tasted has been really excellent – and a really excellent value. Enjoy this wine with hard cheeses, fresh seafood or all on its own.

Wine Spies Vineyard Check:

The approximate location of the Deerfield Ranch Winery, where today’s great wine was born, can be seen in this satellite photo.

2006 Fratelli Alessandria Barolo San Lorenzo DOCG

Posted in Barolo, Italy, Nebbiolo with tags , , , , on August 5, 2012 by thewinespies

Mission Codename: Since 1870

Operative: Agent White

Objective: Secure an exceptional single vineyard Barolo with an amazing history.

Mission Status: Accomplished!

Current Winery: Fratelli Alessandria

Wine Subject: 2006 Barolo San Lorenzo DOCG

Winemaker: Vittore Alessandria


The greatest of all Italian wines are arguably made with from the Nebbiolo grape. Barolo, from the Piedmont made this grape famous, and for good reason. Most people don’t give Barolo enough time and drink them young, but those patient enough to wait at least 7 – 8 years, and often as much as 20 plus years are handsomely rewarded with a wine that is the ultimate expression of the grape. The most prized bottlings of Barolo are those from an exceptional single vineyard such as today’s from the San Lorenzo.

Wine Spies Tasting Profile:

Look – Dark purple and deep ruby red with very slight brick and orange hues along the edges and a dark clear core. Clusters of slow fat legs ring the glass that are followed by thinner legs hang for an extended time before slowly descending to the wine below.

Smell – This wine has an initially tight nose that once open shows rich and fresh aromas of spiced tangy ripe blackberry, plum and raspberry fruit are layered over a solid licorice base. Deep and complex with savory notes, some floral violets, herbs, mushrooms and earth, zesty Italian tar, and toasted oak.

Feel – Full-bodied, bold and dry, with firm and textured, almost etched tannins (softens as it breathes) that reaches the far corners of the palate. Exceptional acidity and a solid spice and minerality that lingers long into the finish.

Taste – Old world in character but also fresh and lively, this classic wine balances its complex spice and licorice over its plump, tangy and tart black and red fruit. Licorice, savory and earthy flavors blend with zesty tar, floral, fresh herbs and a touch of tobacco emerge and linger framing the fruit perfectly.

Finish – Extremely long with rich, fresh with its tangy plum, blackberry and raspberry fruit fading gently as this wine’s textured tannins, spice minerality and acidity linger with slowly fading.

Conclusion – The 2006 Fratelli Alessandria Barolo San Lorenzo DOCG is a classic old-world wine that is both fresh and lively but at the same time elegant, showing why we love Barolo so much. This wine’s tightly textured tannins hold on tight and don’t let go. The epitome of Barolo is its bold elegant power. An exceptional wine that is a bit on the young side now (open this bottle and let it sit for an hour before you enjoy it). Pair this bold classic with everything simple buttered tagliatelle noodles and shaved truffles to Osso Buco. If enjoying this wine now, be sure to give it plenty of time or decant, otherwise cellar it for up to ten or more years. Buona sera & cin cin!

Mission Report:


SUBJECT: Vittore Alessandria

WINEMAKING PHILOSOPHY: Show through the wine the elegance and the balance of my territory: the hills of the Langhe area.

WINEMAKER QUOTE: “Wine is the poetry of the Earth.” (Mario Soldati)

FIRST COMMERCIAL WINE RELEASE: The first Barolo produced by our cellar was a 1870 Barolo!

Below is a copy of our interview with Vittore when we featured the previous vintage of this fantastic Cru.


AGENT WHITE: Greetings, Vittore, We are thrilled to be showing your 2005 Barolo San Lorenzo DOCGtoday. Thanks so much for taking some time to answer questions for our Operatives today.

VITTORE: I’m excited to be featured today on The Wine Spies, thanks for giving this opportunity.

WHITE: Was there a specific experience in your life that inspired your love of wine?

VITTORE: I born and I lived in a small village: Verduno in the middle of the Barolo area surrounded by Nebbiolo vineyards. For my family making wine it’s a tradition that has gone on for 150 years.

WHITE: What wine or winemaker has most influenced your winemaking style?

VITTORE: All the wines and the winemakers that are able to give emotions, showing the “terroir” of origin and also stimulating the knowledge of this world.

WHITE: Who do you make wine for?

VITTORE: For wine consumers that love wine.

WHITE: Please tell me a little bit about the wine we are featuring today.

VITTORE: San Lorenzo is an important single vineyard/cru in Verduno, our first bottling of San Lorenzo was in 1997 (we waited that the vines was at least 20 years old, before to start to produce San Lorenzo as single vineyard, before it was a vineyard for the regular Barolo). Our Barolo San Lorenzo is a “traditional style” Barolo. We do the same vinification/maceration and the same ageing for all the 3 crus we produce: after a quite long fermentation/maceration of 18-20 days, it was aged for 8 months in Tonneaux (500 liters) and for 2 years in big oak (botti).

WHITE: What is your favorite pairing with today’s wine?

VITTORE: I think that it could be delicious with a stew of veal. But in any case the best pairing is with a good company!!

WHITE: In your opinion, what makes the Langhe and Barolo region so special?

VITTORE: There are many reasons that make the Langhe so lucky: for example the personal relationship between the producer and its vineyards, its casks and its customers. That it’s possible because, generally, in our region the cellars are family owned ! An other very special feature is the beautiful landscape – very charming-!

WHITE: What is occupying your time at the winery these days?

VITTORE: We have just finished the harvest! It seems a good vintage, the grapes were healthy and the potentiality of the musts seem good! Now we have to pay a lot of attention in cellar to try not loose it!!

WHITE: How would you recommend people approach your wines and wine in general?

VITTORE: First of all with the glass!🙂 Then I think that the best way is going deeper, to the origin, for example visiting the winery, meeting the wine producer and knowing the territory in which the grape is grown, discovering traditions, old recipes and different flavors.

WHITE: Is there anything else you’d like to share with our readers?

VITTORE: Verduno is unique: it’s one of the eleven villages where you can produce Barolo and the only one where you can produce Verduno Pelaverga, one of the smallest and most particular DOC of Italy. I would suggest to try it!

WHITE: Thank you so much for your time. We learned a lot about you – and your wine. Keep up the great work, we are big fans!

Wine Spies Vineyard Check:

The location of the approximate location of Fratelli Alessandria can be seen in this satellite photo.

2009 Troubadour Cellars Knights Valley Cabernet Sauvignon

Posted in Cabernet Sauvignon, California with tags , , , , on August 4, 2012 by thewinespies

Mission Codename: The Wandering Minstrel

Operative: Agent Red

Objective: For our special Elite Operative Saturday, return to Troubadour Cellars, in the Napa Valley. Extract an allocation of their Knights Valley Cabernet Sauvignon – a true California gem – and make it available to our Operatives at an extraordinary Secret price.

Mission Status: Accomplished!

Current Winery: Troubadour Cellars

Wine Subject: 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon – Knights Valley

Winemakers: Jason Moore & Andy Byers

Backgrounder: Sonoma County’s Knight’s Valley sits at the easternmost edge of the County, far from the cooling of the Pacific Ocean. The fact that this high benchland AVA (American Viticultural Area) gets so much hot sun during the growing season makes it the perfect region for growing richly extracted Cabernet Sauvignon. Delicious, concentrated, elegant and approachable, today’s wine shows off the winemaking skills of our long-time friend, Jason Moore. All at price that is hard to resist. Read Agent Red’s tasting notes and mission report to learn more about this fantastic Cabernet.

Wine Spies Tasting Profile:

Look – Darkest black plum, with inky dark core. With perfect concentration of color from core to edge, the wine shows the thinnest band of garnet where wine meets glass. After swirling, skinny, wine-stained tears run slowly down the glass.

Smell – Bold and very dark, this wine leads off with intense black cherry, pronounced blueberry, blackberry, braised black fig and dusty bramble. Just behind these wonderful aromatics of dark chocolate, dark cured meats, cigar box, sweet brown spice, sweet tobacco and black pepper.

Feel – Soft and round, at first, the wine becomes quickly grippy and weighty. A spreading dryness is accompanied by flinty minerals. Medium tannins give the wine a mouthcoating and almost chewy feel.

Taste – Bold and concentrated, the darkly juicy wine leads with black cherry, blackberry, black plum, braised plum and dark chocolate. After some swirling, the wine really opens up, revealing additional flavors of leather, toasty oak, subtle brown tobacco leaf, subtle anise and black pepper.

Finish – Ultra long, with sustained black fruit that very gradually gives way to spice, leather, chocolate and flinty black pepper.

Conclusion – Very highly recommended, this rich, concentrated, dark wine a remarkable and delicious expression of fruit from Sonoma County’s Knights Valley. Winemaker, Jason Moore, is one of our very favorite young winemakers. His work for Troubadour has always been exemplary; the 2009 Napa Valley Cab that we featured earlier this year was an instant hit. Todays 2009 Troubadour Cellars Knights Valley Cabernet Sauvignon is even better! This richly layered wine is a true delight that we cannot recommend highly enough. Pair with braised ribs or a nicely charred t-bone steak. Drinking beautifully now, this wine will continue to improve with age. Drink now, but be certain cellar a few bottles for the next several years.

2009 Ty Caton Upper Bench Merlot

Posted in California, Merlot with tags , , , , on August 3, 2012 by thewinespies

Mission Codename: The Ty that binds

Operative: Agent Red

Objective: We’ve featured past vintages of Ty Caton’s Upper Bench Merlot, but with reports pouring in about Ty’s 2009, send Agent Red back to the winery to secure an ample allocation of this food-fantastic wine, for our demanding, Merlot-loving Operatives.

Mission Status: Accomplished!

Current Winery: Ty Caton Vineyards

Wine Subject: 2009 Upper Bench Merlot, Sonoma Valley, Caton Vineyard

Winemaker: Ty Caton


The Sonoma Valley AVA is one of the oldest wine growing regions in California with the first vines being planted in the early 1800s. The AVA is located along California Route 12 and its eastern boundary are the southern end of the Mayacama mountains. The unique micro-climate with less rainfall and fog than other parts of the region along with its unique soil provides ideal growing conditions for Merlot, Zinfandel and Cabernet Sauvignon.

Wine Spies Tasting Profile:

Look – Beautiful, iridescent maroon, with a thin ring of bright ruby, at the edge of the glass. Skinny, wine-colored tears fall slowly after swirling.

Smell – Lush and layered, with dark cherry, wild strawberry, dark raspberry, leather, dried meats and dark chocolate. Dark tobacco leaf, cigar box and dark leather follow on, as the wine opens up.

Feel – Soft across the front of the palate, then softly grippy as a medium body reveals itself, slowly drying the palate.

Taste – Complex, concentrated and darkly foreboding, flavors begin with ripe blackberry, black cherry, red plum and cassis. These give way to sweet spice, black pepper, dark cocoa powder, soft oak, leather, tobacco and subtle, delicious pencil shavings (graphite and cedar).

Finish – Very long and lingering with black and red fruit gradually yielding to the earthen characteristics of spice, cedar and leather.

Conclusion – Recommended! We absolutely love this wine! Today’s 2009 Ty Caton Upper Bench Merlot is the best we have sampled from Ty Caton. Loaded with juicy, dark fruit this wine finds its balance against fantastic earthy flavors. The soft, elegant feel transforms on the palate, eventually becoming softly dry and slightly grippy as minerals, oak, leather and spice remain behind. As the palate drys, one is encouraged to take another flavor-packed sip. Balanced acidity and great fruit make this wine an obvious food companion. Pair with nearly anything. We paired ours with a wild mushroom risotto and a side of spicy hard chorizo sausage. Absolute perfection!

Wine Spies Vineyard Check:

The location of the Ty Caton Vineyards & winery can be seen in this satellite photo.