New Releases from David Ramey’s Sidebar Cellars

sidebarSidebar Cellars is a new venture by David Ramey, one of California’s finest winemakers.  Ramey Wine Cellars is best known for its outstanding  hand-crafted  premium wines (Chardonnays, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Syrah).  These wines are in the medium-price range and consist of diverse varieties:  two Sauvignon Blancs, a Syrah rosé, a Kerner, and two red blends, one a Zinfandel-based field blend, the other a Rhone-style blend of Mourvedre, Grenache and Syrah. These wines are all well-made, as one would expect from David Ramey, and primarily sourced from high-altitude and densely planted vineyards.  They are fresh and fruit forward, mouth filling,  California in style, and fun to drink.  We recommend them to our readers. Continue reading

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Stunning New Releases from Sicily’s Passopisciaro

Andrea Franchetti at Passopisciaro

Andrea Franchetti at Passopisciaro

Located on the volcanic slopes of Mt. Etna, Passopisciaro is an ancient vineyard which produces some of Sicily’s finest wines.   It is owned by Andrea Franchetti, who pioneered the development of wine on Mt. Etna at the turn of the century.  His high altitude estate consists of  distinct terraces of volcanic soils planted with indigenous grape varieties of late-ripening Nerello Mascalese and Nerello Cappuccio,  He follows organic viticultural practices with no herbicides or fertilizers. Continue reading

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Gary Farrell Winery: More New 2014 Releases: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Zinfandel

GFW_CREST_HIRES__2_This is the second installment of our reviews of Gary Farrell’s new 2014 releases of single-vineyard Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs and two single vineyard Zinfandels.  Readers who missed the previous reviews can find them here.  The wines reviewed here are mainly from the Russian River Valley, Dry Creek Valley, and the Far Sonoma Coast.   They are more stunning examples of the very high quality of single vineyard winemaking  taking place in Sonoma County these days. Continue reading

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Major New Releases from California’s Blue Rock Vineyard 2012-2014

blue-rockOver the years we have observed enthusiastically  the steady development of this small winery in Alexander Valley.   Under the guidance of its founder and owner, Kenny Kahn, Blue Rock Vineyard has gone from strength to strength and today is among the finest artisanal wineries in the valley.    Beginning with its first commercial vintage in 1999 Blue Rock has shown steady improvements in the crafting of high quality estate-bottled premium Bordeaux varieties and Syrah from its 46-acre hillside vineyards.

This year Blue Rock celebrates the release of three new wines,  two stunning white wines, Baby Blue White, a fragrant and delicious Bordeaux blend, a rich barrel-fermented Chardonnay, Burgundian in character,  and a cool climate Pinot Noir.   The grapes for these wines are sourced from some of Sonoma County’s finest coastal vineyards, such as Sangiacomo.   Kent Humphry,  a new winemaker with winemaking experience in Burgundy, has joined Blue Rock’s winemaking team to produce these new wines.   He joins Miro Tcholakov who craft’s Blue Rock’s red wines.  Miro also makes the wine for Trentadue and his own label.

Blue Rock produces 5,000 to 6,000 cases annually which are distributed in 22 U.S. markets and abroad.  In view of the small quantities, these wines sell out quickly. If readers can’t find them at their local wine shop, they can buy them directly from the winery

Wine Reviews

Blue Rock 2014 Baby Blue Sonoma County ($28) 91   The 2014 Baby Blue is an attractive blend of five Bordeaux varietals and Syrah. It offers rich spicy aromas of red and black fruit and pure ripe concentrated fruit flavors on the palate with a touch of earthiness. It has a lovely texture, excellent balance and acidity, ripe round tannins and a long finish. This is the eighth vintage of this wine and it is showing better than ever, probably  due  in large measure, to the maturity of the vines.
Blue Rock 2015 Baby Blue Blanc Sonoma Coast ($24) 90+   The Baby Blue Blanc, a new release, is a fragrant Bordeaux blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon with a touch of Viognier. It reveals appealing flavors of apple, stone fruit and herbs with good ripeness and acidity. It has a light creamy mouth feel, purity of flavor and a long finish.  Very nice, but more acidity might make it even better.  

Blue Rock 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon ” Best Barrels” Alexander Valley ($70) 93+  The Cabernet Sauvignon “Best Barrels” is sourced from Blue Rock’s oldest vines planted in 1987. It is an attractive wine displaying aromas of black currants and sweet French oak.  It is elegant and refined on the palate with a silky texture, rich concentrated fruit and soft round tannins. A wine ready to drink now but has good aging potential of up to 10 years.  Only 380 cases produced.

Blue Rock 2014 Chardonnay Alexander Valley ($48) 92   The 2014 Chardonnay, another new release, is a barrl-fermented blend of grapes from two of the outstanding Sangiacomo vineyards in Los Carneros and the Petaluma Gap, and the Stiling Vineyard in Russian River Valley.  It is a gorgeous wine with rich tropical and stone fruit flavors and rich toasted oak. It is beautifully balanced and elegant on the palate, with a lovely finish. A terrific first Chardonnay release for Blue Rock.   Only 97 cases produced.

Blue Rock 2014 Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast ($60) 90   This is Blue Rock’s first release of a cool climate Pinot Noir and it is a very good one. Crafted by winemaker, Kent Humphry, it is a blend of grapes from Freestone and Russian River Valley.  Aged 14 months in barrel, it is ripe and mouth filling in style with dark cherry flavors and hints of light toast. It has good acidity and balance, nice purity and a persistent finish.  97 cases produced.

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Zenato Wine Dinner at Assaggi Osteria

img_1962Last evening we participated in a magnificent wine dinner with Zenato wines at Assaggi  Osteria  in McLean, Va.   Zenato is one of Italy’s finest Amarone producers and one which we highly rated in our Report #41 The Amarones of Valpolicella.  The dinner was attended by wine enthusiasts of Northern VA and Christian Comito, Italian Portfolio Specialist, The Winebow Group, Zenato’s importer.  Pictured here with Christian Comito is  Assaggi Osteria’s talented chef/proprietor, Domenico Cornacchia and chef/proprietor Driss Zaidi of EVO Bistro in McLean.

squareZenato is a family estate founded in 1960 by Sergio Zenato.  His children Alberto and Nadia have managed the estate since his death in 2008.  While it started as a negociant winery, it now has its own vineyards for producing Amarone in Sant’ Ambrogio.   In our reviews of Zenato wines in Report #41, we were impressed with their power, richness and elegance and our wine dinner at Assaggi more than confirmed our previous assessment. Continue reading

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Testarossa Winery: New Chardonnay and Pinot Noir Releases

logobuildingnobackgroundThese new releases confirm once again that Testarossa Winery  is among California’s finest producers of premium Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.   As in previous years, it has released a bevy of outstanding handcrafted terroir-based wines from some of the top growers in the Santa Lucia Highlands, Sta Rita Hills, Chalone and neighboring AVAs.


rick-and-diana-jensen1Started in a garage in 1993 by Rob and Diana Jensen, Testarossa is a Los Gatos-based family winery that has grown rapidly and today produces more than 30,000 cases.  Its long-time Director of Winemaking is Bill Brosseau,  a viticulturist and winemaker par excellence. Bill works closely with Testarossa’s partner-growers and also directly manages his own vineyard in the  Chalone AVA.

Testarossa is located in the old Novitiate Winery that was constructed by Jesuits from Santa Clara University in the 19th century.  As a means to financially support the former seminary college they built on the winery property in 1888, seminary students volunteered their labor in the vineyards and winery.  Rob and Diana met while studying at Santa Clara University, where their children were also students. Continue reading

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Wente: New Chardonnay Releases from Livermore Valley and Arroyo Seco

wenteWente Vineyards is the oldest continuously-operated family-owned winery in the country. Founded in 1883, the winery is now owned and managed by the fourth and fifth generations of the Wente family. The winery produces premium wines sourced from nearly 3,000 acres of estate vineyards in the Livermore Valley (located within the larger San Francisco Bay appellation), and Arroyo Seco (located in Monterey County) winegrowing regions.  Wente Vineyards is perhaps most renowned for having brought cuttings from Montpelier to California in the 19th century, including the Wente clone of Chardonnay, the most widely planted in California today. Continue reading

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Schug Carneros Estate Winery: New Releases of Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir, and Cabernet Sauvignon

schug_color_logoThe Schug Carneros Estate Winery was founded by Walter and Gertrud Schug, originally from Germany.  Prior to establishing their family winery in the early 1980s, Walter worked for E&J Gallo and Joseph Phelps. During his tenure at Phelps, Walter made Insignia and the single vineyard Eisele and Backus wines. In 1989 the Schugs purchased about 50 acres of land in Carneros and planted the vineyards that became the cornerstone of their estate, mainly producing Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.

Schug wines are well made and cool climate in character, sourced from the Sonoma Coast and Carneros. The 2015 Sauvignon Blanc is very good, but the  2013 Pinot Noir is excellent with noteworthy elegance and refinement. The 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon is quite drinkable too.

With the passing of Walter Schug in 2015, Michael Cox took over responsibilities for wine making at the estate.

Schug Carneros Estate Winery 2015 Sauvignon Blanc Sonoma Coast ($20) 89 The 2015 Sauvignon Blanc is sourced from cooler vineyards in the southern end of the Sonoma Coast AVA. It is bright and crisp with aromas of citrus and herbs. On the palate it is ripe and mouth filling with mineral notes, good density of flavor, excellent balance and a long finish.

Schug Carneros Estate Winery 2013 Pinot Noir  “Schug Estate” ($45) 91 The 2013 Pinot Noir is typical of Schug’s delicate touch.   A very limited production wine,  it displays a medium ruby color and offers fresh cherry fruit aromas.  It has a lovely silky mouth feel, and a refined palate of concentrated red berries. Nicely balanced with good acidity and freshness, it finishes long and flavorful.

 Schug Carneros Estate Winery 2012 Cabernert Sauvignon Sonoma County ($30) 89+  The 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon displays a dark ruby color and aromas of black currant. Cassis and spice. It reveals pleasant flavors of black berries on the palate with a soft texture and good overall balance. Aged 24 months in 20% new French oak, it is not a blockbuster, but a pleasant drinking wine with soft round tannins and a pleasant finish.

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Morgan: New Chardonnay and Pinot Noir Releases 2014


These wines are among Morgan’s finest.  They are also from a very fine 2014 vintage which offered a relatively long growing season for both Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.  The wines are beautifully crafted and reveal the  purity of fruit and elegant style we associate with winemaker, Dan Lee and his team. The grapes for these wines are sourced from the magnificent Morgan Double L Vineyard and neighboring vineyards and all are first-class.

Morgan 2014 Highland Chardonnay Santa Lucia Highlands ($28) 90
The Highland Chardonnay is a blend of grapes from Morgan’s Double L Vineyard and top vineyards from the the Santa Lucia Highlands. It offers attractive aromas of melon and citrus with hints of toasted oak. On the palate it reveals ripe flavors, excellent balance, a creamy texture, and persistent finish. The grapes are hand-picked, barrel fermented in French oak, new and used, and goes through partial malolactic fermentation.

Morgan 2014 Chardonnay Double L Vineyard Santa Lucia Highlands ($60) 91
The 2014 Chardonnay Double L Vineyard is sourced from Morgan’s organic estate vineyard in the Santa Lucia Highlands, The Double L is this producer’s signature wine revealing a rich combination of ripe fruit and toasted oak. On the palate it has tropical and stone fruit and a creamy mouth feel with excellent acidity and balance. A delicious California-style Chardonnay with lush fruit and big oak flavors.

Morgan 2014 Twelve Clones Pinot Noir California ($34) 90
The Twelve Clones Pinot Noir displays a medium ruby color and offers aromas of dried cherry and mulberry with a hint of herbs. It is soft on the attack with lovely texture and intensity of flavor. It has mild tannins, good acidity and a long finish.

Morgan 2014 Double L Vineyard Pinot Noir California ($60) 92
Opaque ruby in color, the Double L Vineyard Pinot Noir offers a palate of lush and earthy dark cherry fruit. Aged 10 months in French oak 16% new, it is densely flavored on the palate with spicy dark red fruit, cedar, round tannins and a long finish.




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New Releases from Santa Clara Valley: Sarah’s Vineyard and Jason Stephens

The Santa Clara Valley  is  located in northern California at the south eastern end of  San Francisco Bay.  It is  famous for its electronics research and manufacturing  area,  Silicon Valley.   However, it is also known as the Valley of the Heart’s Delight a rich agricultural area of fruit orchards, canaries, and  vineyards . Officially approved as an AVA in 1989 the Valley is today home to over two-dozen wineries many family owned and operated.    The two Santa Clara Valley wineries reviewed here,  Saraha’s Vineyard and Jason Stephens, are small scale operations whose owners ventured into the  wine industry from other businesses.

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