The Ones That Got Away – Summer 2021

Life often gets in the way of a timely Notes review, and I look up and see several bottles that have passed by my table without getting their due review. I try to share a “quarterly update” of sorts…perhaps it is of no value whatsoever, but I take this step in part so you as visitors have better context for those wines I do ultimately review.

  • 2019 Karoly's Selection Petite Sirah, Buena Vista Winery, Sonoma, California, USA.
  • 2012 Old Vine Grenache, Quo Ono, Campo de Borja, Spain.

Without any further preamble, let me share the July/August/September bottles that are described thusly:

  • 2019 Karoly’s Selection Petite Sirah, Buena Vista Winery, Sonoma, California, USA.
  • 2012 Old Vine Grenache, Quo Ono, Campo de Borja, Spain.
  • 2019 Cabernet Sauvignon, The Dreaming Tree, Acampo, California, USA.
  • 2017 Cabernet Sauvignon, Meander Wines, Napa, California, USA.
  • 2019 Austin Cabernet Sauvignon, Austin Hope Winery, Paso Robles, California, USA.
  • 2018 Highland Falls Red Wine, Estate of the Art, Middletown, California, USA.
  • 2015 Finca Rio Negro Red Wine, Vino de la Tierra de Castillo, Spain.
  • 2019 Conundrum Red Wine, Wagner Family Wines, Fairfield, California, USA.
  • 2018 Cabernet Sauvignon, Anderson Family Vineyards, Napa, California, USA.
  • 2018 Cabernet Sauvignon, Justin Vineyards & Winery, Paso Robles, California, USA.

Yes, I acknowledge that certain patterns and tendencies do emerge–both in this snapshot of Q3 2021 as well as throughout Notes. Any time you’re seeking a good gift, or you’re a winemaker looking for advocates, you know where to find me. -R

2018 No.8 Proprietary Red, Verdon Estate Blue Vineyards

The 2018 No. 8 Proprietary Red is smokin’ hot. Love this limited production wine (courtesy of Rutherford-based Verdon Estate Winery) and so very glad that my cellar has a few more of this well-crafted big red. 

2018 Verdon Estate Blue Vineyards No. 8 Proprietary Red, Napa, California, USA.
2018 Verdon Estate Blue Vineyards No. 8 Proprietary Red, Napa, California, USA.

Let’s start with the particulars. First, the fruit is produced in two small, rocky vineyard sites near Duckhorn and the Napa River. Those grapes—a combination of Cabernet Sauvignon (50%), Malbec (30%), and Merlot (20%)—are then managed by winemaker Kevin Morrisey of Petrus, Etude, Stags Leap, and Ehlers fame. 

That pedigree makes for a stunning wine, one that tonight accompanied a pan-seared ribeye, perfectly seasoned with just salt and pepper. The meat paired well with the No. 8 Proprietary Red, handling its tannins and dark cherry notes nicely. This 2018 bottle has the cherry and pepper hints of the Cab, and the soft underbelly of the Merlot. 

“Reminiscent of a top Amarone, the blend is ethereal with divine balance, a gentle grip, a deep berry richness that carries through to the finish.”

—Verdon Estate

In the near term, Notes will have a follow-up to this first post on the 2018 Verdon Estate Blue Vineyards No. 8 Proprietary Red, and I hope you’ll check back again for further thoughts this amazing bottle engenders. In the meantime, enjoy your wine and your weekend. 

2019 Ser Passo Super Tuscan, Barbanera

This Italian red blend was a great surprise and packed with dark cherry notes. It’s the type of wine I enjoy finding: a mix of dark berry fruits, hint of spice, and unexpectedly affordable too.

2019 Ser Passo Super Tuscan, Barbanera, Toscana, Italy.
2019 Ser Passo Super Tuscan, Barbanera, Toscana, Italy.

The 2019 Ser Passo is obviously produced in Tuscany and was offered to me from WTSO.com; I am not sure what resonated for me in that promotion but pleased I snatched up a foursome of these bad boys. It’s made in the ripasso method, in which winemakers use the grape skins in a second fermentation step (mostly in Valpolicella) in hopes of infusing more complexity to the wine. 

The result is a rich, even red wine. I’m not saying color (which is also a deep, enticing red) but rather a velvety, smooth, and even mouthfeel. You’ll find yourself looking back at your glass between sips, working to identify the various aromas and tastes at play, and thinking about your next.

That’s what I’m doing too. On this occasion my notes have nothing to do with the accompanying food but rather keeping you focused on the wine itself. Without researching further, I’d suggest this is a Sangiovese/Cabernet blend at the minimum…maybe a Merlot or similar to offer a bit of the sweetness you’ll sample in the Ser Passo? Even in a young vintage there’s a fine, blended vibe to this wine…not artificial but well-founded in the (re?)fermentation or pressing processes.

I’m reminded of Amarone, and at a far different price point. Again, the 2019 Ser Passo is a fun Friday wine and suggesting you pick up a few yourself. Thanks as always for your readership and cheers.

2015 Prelude Francs, Chateau Marsau

Always intriguing when you’re drifting back to older vintages, those that are perhaps less available than selections more readily available on the shelves of your wine store. The 2015 Prelude grabbed my attention—partly because of its catchy label, and partly because it goes back a few years before the recent 2018s I’ve been sampling.

2015 Prelude Francs, Chateau Marsau, Cotes de Bordeaux, France.
2015 Prelude Francs, Chateau Marsau, Cotes de Bordeaux, France.

Unfortunately, this 2015 fell short of my expectations.  It’s Bordeaux profile should have lined up well with many recent bottles covered (with admiration, I might add) in Notes, but the Prelude was just underwhelming. It was very dry, even more tannic, and did not work either solo or with foodstuffs. The 2015 does have aspects of cherry and smoke—which are positives—but it’s just way harsher on the finish.

I don’t usually compare my thoughts to other reviewers, but did on this occasion to see what I missed. Others raved. One crazy guy called a “poor man’s Petrus” and, though I have yet to sample Petrus among these more than 500 tastings, I imagine it has a richer flavor profile by far than the Prelude. A less severe mouthfeel. 

“Coming from the youngest vines of the estate, it is also made of 100% Merlot”

Says the winemakers at Chateau Marsau

Maybe we chalk it up to an over-exuberance of youth? This reviewer is a Gen-Xer, so yes I understand that not everyone is a winner. Not every bottle gets a ribbon or a medal. The Prelude is okay, but only okay. My table has lots of favorites, and more repeat bottles than I have time to write about here…but this one needs no such repeat performance. Thanks for reading and enjoy your vino!

2017 Papillon, Orin Swift Cellars

Birthday celebrations for loved ones–yes, that’s how you do wine. Especially great wine, like the 2017 Papillon from Orin Swift Cellars (yes, you all know I’m a massive fan). We uncorked this bottle after a long work week, allowing it to decant and really open up before tearing into it.

2017 Papillon Red Wine, Orin Swift Cellars, St. Helena, California, USA.
2017 Papillon Red Wine, Orin Swift Cellars, St. Helena, California, USA.

I’ve had the good fortune to enjoy Papillon on several prior occasions, including a 2017 and through various tasting banks at my favorite wine store. This one was, in fact, a gift from Cara (the sibling to the 2017 referenced previously), so no better way to enjoy than in celebration of her trip around the sun. 

It’s a powerhouse wine, a big red in the Bordeaux style but with new world traits. The 2017 Papillon is a mix of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Petite Verdot, and Malbec grapes, and yet it has a smooth, even finish. The mouthfeel is luscious and full, with black berry fruits and just a hint of oak and pepper (is that the Verdot?) in the nose. It’s velvety and fruitful to the point you almost want to try chewing it. This is superb wine (aged in French oak for 15 months) that makes any event into a special occasion. 

Says our winemaker, “Powerful aromatics escape the glass with rich notes of ripe blackcurrant, blackberry, peppercorn, and a touch of chaparral supported by a frame of sweet oak.

Cara and I had this bottle of 2017 Papillon with New York strip steaks, pan-seared with butter and rosemary, baked potatoes, and roasted broccolini. The steaks were a little thinner than we’d have liked, but cooked to the right temps and their flavors paired well with the wine. I was so very pleased by the opportunity to share in the festivities and this great bottle of wine! Looking forward to so many more of both… 

2015 Pinot Noir, Kosta Browne and 2018 Machete, Orin Swift Cellars

Yes, fellas, it’s Draft Weekend 2021, and time to enjoy brotherhood that is decades in the making. Friendships cemented in laughter, tears, triumph–and more trash talk than time can count. Our once-yearly tradition continues, this time from the sands and shores of the Atlantic.

2015 Pinot Noir, Keefer Ranch, Kosta Browne; 2015 Pinot Noir, Gap's Crown Vineyard, Costa Browne; 2018 Machete Red Wine, Orin Swift Cellars
2015 Pinot Noir, Keefer Ranch, Kosta Browne, Russian River Valley, California, USA; 2015 Pinot Noir, Gap’s Crown Vineyard, Costa Browne, Sonoma Coast, California, USA; 2018 Machete Red Wine, Orin Swift Cellars, St. Helena, California, USA.

These are among the many gems of the weekend. Yes, we have cellar defenders for the afternoon and the various competitions underway (and certainly no shortage of other adult beverages), but for me this is one of the highlights. This group knows serious wine, and brings plenty to share.

Yes, Saeger, I’m chuckling over box wine breakfast, but it’s the 2015 Kosta Browne combo and the 2018 Machete that headline the event. The Machete came out first–rich, purple-red goodness with plum and pepper flavors–and this Petite Sirah-Syrah-Grenache blend stepped up the evening for a time. The Pinots followed shortly after, but they were unfortunately part of the downward spiral of debauchery that still often marks our happy occasions together. All of us enjoying the fruits of our labors had spent long hours sipping other drinks and probably no longer held the palate for these sophisticated wines.

The 2021 Auction will long have its place in our memories, but this time because of the friendships rather than these wines. I’d gladly have another go at any one of them on a day where the wine is a centerpiece rather than a hapless accessory.

2018 The Count’s Selection Cabernet Sauvignon, Buena Vista Winery

If you know me, or had occasion to visit Notes in the past, you know that I often think of wine as a way to celebrate special occasions. Or, for that matter, to make an occasion. This bottle of the Count’s Selection I picked up earlier this year and held it…not long by a collector’s standards but certainly by mine, fan of Buena Vista wines as I am. At that time I didn’t know why, or for how long I’d sit on it, but I really do now.

2018 The Count's Selection Cabernet Sauvignon, Buena Vista Winery, Moon Mountain District, Sonoma County, California, USA.
2018 The Count’s Selection Cabernet Sauvignon, Buena Vista Winery, Moon Mountain District, Sonoma County, California, USA.

The 2018 Count’s Selection Cabernet Sauvignon, produced with fruit from the Moon Mountain District of Sonoma Valley, is the bottle I selected to commemorate the passing of my dear, dear friend Ridley. This hound-retriever mix has been my constant companion for over a decade, a loyal and lovable dog that has seen me through many of the happiest and most challenging times in my life.

I still recall the exciting morning when I met Rid for the first time, a rescue dog who’d been transported all the way to NJ from the south. With a shake of his tags and a lolling tongue, he made me a huge fan right from moment one. There’s a great clip I took of Ridley that early May morning, video showing him cruising around his new yard, sniffing and checking things out, before he comes bounding across the grass and crashes right into my camera. That memory always makes me smile.

Those gifts, those fond memories, those images…they come easily to me now. There are too many to count. On a very sad, solitary walk I started thinking, “Could you name a Top 100 things you loved about this dog?” My list was more than 20 before I even crossed the street. He was so expressive—those eyes, that smile, and his brow—but it was his ears that often told you most about how he was doing. That’s also what makes his passing all the more painful. Ridley was showing me clues but I just didn’t interpret the signs or fully appreciate what he was going through.

We had been to two different vets in this last month, each time seeking answers to the gastrointestinal issues I was seeing in Rid. I was recording frequency, consistency, and color of his distress, and I was sure this diligence would assist the veterinarians with the right course of action. Both vets had similar approaches to his diarrhetic symptoms, prescribing a bland diet that would go easy on his GI tract, in combination with anti-nausea or anti-bacterial meds, to alleviate his issues. Sadly, that was not enough. 

Ridley was not just sick with a stomach bug, had not eaten something unhealthy on one of our many walks. On this unhappy Monday, my vet called back to say further exam had indicated the prescience of a large mass in his abdomen, and that x-rays had revealed aggressive spreading throughout his abdomen and lungs. Ridley was not a candidate for surgery and would not be able to come home one last time. “It’s time,” said the vet, and I reprocessed her words and finally understood my poor dog was wracked by rampant cancer and had been bravely taking it on for several weeks.

Cara and I climbed into the car immediately and raced to him. Ridley came into the special little goodbye room a little nervously. I’ll never forget his eyes and how soft and sweet he looked in that moment. I was devastated for my guy and simply tried to be there with him and for him in that last hour of his life. We both were. Ridley received tons of petting and rested as comfortably as possible. The word rampant thundered in my head over and over as he pressed against my leg, and I was appreciative the vet was adamant that he should not go another day with this burden. 

We cried. It was unimaginably heartbreaking, and it’ll continue to be so in the days and weeks and months to come. I know he felt comforted to have such love surrounding him in these moments. The rest of our final visit is personal, but know Ridley went bravely yet quietly into his next adventure—and I’ll look forward to seeing him there.

So that’s the reason for the Count’s Selection. Ridley has seen me pour many bottle of Buena Vista in our time together, but this one is special. The 2018 Count’s Selection Cabernet Sauvignon is the one we’re sipping this evening to celebrate Rid’s life. To think back on the good life he received, the way he returned the love tenfold. I miss him terribly already and always will. The wine is great to be sure, a red cherry treat, but for me it’ll always be the bottle we selected to toast my friend one last time. Thanks for reading, and for (hopefully!) thinking good thoughts of Rid or your own furry friends. Love to you all.

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