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.

.

2017 The Mariner, Dry Creek Vineyard

The 2017 Mariner is the second vintage covered here in Notes; the previous entry (written nearly six years to the day) presented the 2012 produced by the Stare family’s Dry Creek Vineyard. Based in Sonoma County, the vineyard has been on-task since 1972 and is known for its single-vineyard wines.

2017 The Mariner, Dry Creek Vineyard, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County, California, USA.
2017 The Mariner, Dry Creek Vineyard, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County, California, USA.

Like the last bottle, this one was a thoughtful birthday gift from my mother and I uncorked it to much delight. On the nose it’s a pleasing blend of blackberry and leather…like unleashing a whiff of history. There’s also a hint of dryness and tannins promised, but that’s diminished when you pour The Mariner in your glass. It is purple-red in its hue, and shows medium legs.

Many winemakers (including several of my favorites) do not disclose their proprietary blends, preferring the mystique and the buzz that accompany their big reds. That’s not the case here, and I think I’m glad—a good wine is more than just the sum of disparate grapes. Having said that, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon (69%), Merlot (15%) Cabernet Franc (6%), Petite Verdot (5%), and Malbec (5%) grapes make up The Mariner and that’s proudly displayed right on the bottle you see before you.

This evening, the 2017 Mariner was served with a delicious garlic-butter chicken and lemon asparagus, and I suggest the food brought out the blackberry fruits in the wine as well as just a kiss of pepper and maybe a little oak barrel goodness. Wine is great for creating memories, and the Mariner does that in spades. Thanks for the gift, Mom, and for making such a positive impact on our evening—we were both enjoying this one!

2015 Cabernet Sauvignon, Stanton Vineyards

The 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon from Stanton Vineyards is the second callout that I selected to celebrate my birthday. This Oakville winemaker harvests grapes from a 33-acre property that features gravelly, sandy clay and loam soils that produce fruit for their own label as well as well-known wineries that include Stag’s Leap, Raymond, Groth, and one of my favorites—Orin Swift.

2015 Cabernet Sauvignon, Stanton Vineyards, Oakville, California, USA.

2015 Cabernet Sauvignon, Stanton Vineyards, Oakville, California, USA.

About six tons of their yearly yield go into Stanton wines, and this one shows all the best marks of the region and its terroir. i purchased this 2015 from my local winestore based on its location (I’m a huge Napa Cab man) and that Dave Phinney made his signature imprint on their portfolio. I’m a fan of his too, and that was enough to motivate me to bring this bottle home for the celebrations.

Okay, so this is black berry and black cherry goodness, with just the right amount of dark fruit blended without being excessively fruity. There is a whiff of mineral or old leather in this Cabernet Sauvignon; it finishes soft and velvety with a very mellow mouth feel. It pours reddish-purple in your glass, great legs and an enticing bouquet to it. Certainly every wine has its pluses and minuses, but I couldn’t help to compare this to the Switchback that I had Wednesday night. The Stanton was by far the more enjoyable wine, and I didn’t regret skipping the decanter and going right to the stemware. 

This 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon from Stanton Vineyards accompanied a really tight, delicious birthday dinner of steaks, broccoli rabe, and wedge salads with all the right accents. Cara showed this cool technique—basting the steaks with butter, rosemary, and thyme—for the meat just before we pulled it from the skillet (you can’t quite do that on your grill, people!). The strips were well seasoned and it was so much fun seeking the perfect bite all evening as we celebrated my latest trip around the sun.

All this made for a memorable evening and one I will not soon forget. Looking forward to more of it all—including this great wine.