2017 Walt’s Old Vines Red Blend, Judd’s Hill

Red blends recently caught my eye while buying online, and the 2017 Walt’s Old Vines from Judd’s Hill was one of the batch. Now, I’m an easy sell for any ‘old wines’ grapes, and that bias generally serves me well—just as it did here with this Napa Valley bottle.

The winery is family run, and proud of it. Judd’s Hill produces not only well-known California treats like Cab Sauvignon and Pinot Noir, but also less-frequent AVA guests like Viognier and Grenache. They’re also sharing prominently the Judd’s Hill focus on small lot wines, and all that gears one up for a great tasting experience. That’s exactly what I enjoyed here with the 2017 Walt’s Old Vines Red Blend.

2017 Walt's Old Vines Red Blend, Judd's Hill, Napa, California, USA.
2017 Walt’s Old Vines Red Blend, Judd’s Hill, Napa, California, USA.

This 2017 growls softly at you. The wine is replete with berry goodness, an explosion of blueberry and blackberry on your palate. Those are the obvious notes, but others are at play too. The winery’s website indicates “marionberry, huckleberry, and lingonberry” are also conveyed in Walt’s Old Vines, but I simply don’t have the palate or previous taste for any of those more subtle hints. Check it out and let me know? I do get a gentle whiff of pepper, but it is very faint—not as pronounced as a Syrah or Zin. The aftertaste has slightly less rounded notes, a bitterer profile that I’d think more like a cranberry vibe. All in all, it’s really quite enjoyable!

If you’re trying to find the 2017 Walt’s Old Vines Red Blend from Judd’s Hill, you might see results including the Cuttings (The Prisoner Wine Company), Machete (Orin Swift Wines), or even Scout’s Honor (Venge Vineyards) in your search feed. Each of these Napa Valley greats has a profile similar to Walt’s and would serve you and your guests very well. I bought two the first time out and encourage you to better that score when you make your buy. You’re welcome—and thanks for reading.

2018 Roma River Rock Vineyard Red Blend, K Vintners

This black-cherry treat was an upgrade on a recent online order. The 2018 Roma River Rock Vineyard is a red blend, a mix of Syrah (31%) and Cabernet Sauvignon (69%)—two of my favorite grapes and combined to excellent effect here.

2018 Roma River Rock Vineyard Red Blend, K Vintners, House of Smith, Walla Walla, Washington, USA.

Winemaker Charles Smith maintains his vineyards in Walla Walla Valley, Washington, and opened for the first time in 2001. Most of his operation features small lots of single-vineyard Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Grenache, Tempranillo, and Sangiovese. Though he reportedly sold his first wines from the back of a truck, they’ve come a long way over the past two decades. This bottle is named for his mother (Roma-Jean) and those who read Notes know I have long enjoyed bottles that tie in a family connection. 

Smith is proud of his “Rhône-centric winery” and, tasing this 2018 Roma, I understand why. It’s full bodied and infuses a little something subtle under the black cherry notes that lead the band here. It’s not quite cedar, but definitely something earthy like perhaps peat moss? Tannins are present but pretty mild…

It’s easy drinking and feels like this wine is punching all the right buttons. Most K Vintners wines are hand picked, fermented with naturally occurring yeasts, and basket-pressed—this one too. I only had one 2018 Roma River Rock Vineyard Red Blend in my order, and I wish I had another. You will too—score one when you can and thank me later. 

2017 Ryan’s Reserve, Tertulia Cellars

The 2017 Ryan’s Reserve red blend is a real pleasure. Formerly produced by Tertulia Cellars in Walla Walla, Washington, it’s a supple wine, one of those great drinks proven to be greater than the sum of its parts.

2017 Ryan’s Reserve, Tertulia Cellars, Walla Walla, Washington, USA.

The wine is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon (50%), Merlot (21%), Cabernet Franc (21%), and Malbec (8%) grapes. Tertulia apparently gets its name from the Spanish word for a “social gathering of friends” and that’s a nice inference, even if a hokey label design. (Look it up—you’ll see that plus “bull session.”) Additionally, both the vineyard manager and winemaker were named “Ryan” so they doubled-down on the branding at Tertulia. 

Lots of great tastes here, and the fruit must be contributing to the rich flavor realized in the 2017 Ryan’s Reserve. It is not too sweet and is certainly distinct from the fruit bombs often covered in Notes. The wine pours fragrant, an even black cherry or plum, and earthy while avoiding a peat moss type of fragrance. Structure or undertones conveyed from the Merlot, perhaps? 

I bought the 2017 Ryan’s Reserve from Underground Cellar, one of my first experiences with the online retailer. Their value proposition has intrigued me and I’m still in the process of evaluating—more on that to follow. In the meantime, enjoy your vino responsibly and make the 2017 Ryan’s Reserve one of your next tastings. Unfortunately, the winery went out of business in 2021 so this is part of a shrinking inventory…step lively, people! 

2019 Conundrum 10th Anniversary Red Blend, Wagner Family of Wine

Conundrum is always a great option for your vino fix, a proprietary red blend that Notes has covered many times and in many ways over the years. This site has covered bottles going back nearly a decade, and be sure to cruise notes on the 2012, 2013 (there are several) and even the 2014, or others at your convenience. I am not sure how I missed a vintage in this vertical but looking to make up for that here.

2019 Conundrum 10th Anniversary Red Blend, Wagner Family of Wine, Napa Valley, California, USA.
2019 Conundrum 10th Anniversary Red Blend, Wagner Family of Wine, Napa Valley, California, USA.

It’s a flavor bomb, a tooth-stainer of a red that has fans all over the world. As with previous vintages, the 2019 Conundrum is jammy and packs in the dark berry goodness. Sampling Conundrum for the first time or the 100th you’ll surely detect the dark cherry or plum notes, the leggy red tumbling full and inky into your glass. I have occasionally whiffed a little hint of vanilla in the mix, but this particular bottle had more of the fruit than the spice as defining characteristics. It had a few minutes to breathe but was essentially ready to enjoy right away without decanting, filtering, or similar preparation.

Yes the label is eye-catching, but less so than the Wagner name (Notes covers many of those, too) for most oenophiles. On the other hand, I’ve missed recent vintages of Conundrum so the silver did work as a marketing tool.

Polished off this 2019 tonight with a healthy tilapia (white wine, butter, garlic/caper goodness), broccoli, and apple sauce dinner. Trying to make good decisions early and often in 2022, and hoping your new year is off to a similar good start. Thanks for reading and best in the year ahead.

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.

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…