2013 The Vault Red Blend, Banknote Wine Company

Birthday wine – this year’s answer is 2013 The Vault Red Blend, from the Banknote Wine Company of Napa, California. It didn’t quite go with dinner so I just sampled a glass or two before holding it over for today. Love the numbered bottles each and every time I sample one! Great gimmick…and the second I’ve tasted from Banknote specifically.

2013 The Vault Red Blend, Banknote Wine Company, Nap Valley, California, USA.

2013 The Vault Red Blend, Banknote Wine Company, Napa Valley, California, USA.

Yes I have a soft spot in my heart for red blends, and this one was pretty enjoyable. Easy, grooved-down-the-heart-of-the-plate cherry and blackberry mix here. Softer than a Cabernet, and reminiscent of the Michael David blends that Notes has covered with some recurring frequency throughout the years. Or even the Sheriff produced by my favorite winery. Just a little spice to it that I presume comes from a Syrah or Petite Sirah? Bottle #2501 accompanied pork chops seasoned with garlic salt and pepper, white rice, and a green side salad. Oh yeah, a chocolate bundt cake with chocolate chips too!

Says the winemaker, “The rich, smooth palate follows with a dense core of rip blackberry, cherry preserves, vanilla, and espresso. The long, persistent finish and mellow tannins make this wine extremely versatile in food.” 

Thanks for all the birthday wishes; I raised a glass of thanks to each of you who made for the special day.

2015 Willowlake Cabernet Sauvignon, Willowlake Wines

The 2015 Willowlake Cabernet Sauvignon was recently featured at my favorite wine shop and, as a birthday present to myself, I picked up a bottle several weeks ago. Tonight I decided was the occasion to break it out. I had high expectations given the emphasis winestore placed on it, and I was interested to share my findings with all who follow Notes here.

Important comment: I did not taste the Willowlake prior to purchasing, which is somewhat unusual for me when buying from that shop because they do a great job of giving consumer access through their sampling machines. No, this time I bought based on the description of the wine (Only 84 cases produced! “I would really challenge any of you who are Cabernet lovers to find something of this caliber at this price. The wine is INSANE.”), the bottle design, and the overall reputation of the Howell Mountain AVA in Napa Valley. Okay, a little bit based on price, too. How could I go wrong with all those factors lined up in my favor?

The 2015 Willowlake Cabernet Sauvignon has some heft, its sturdy glass and cork covered not with foil but actual wax. Not sure any of the 350+ bottles covered in Notes to date has had this treatment, so that was a first for this taster. Such presentation seemed promising too and, as the wine tumbled into my Reidel Cab glassware, my interest in the Willowlake peaked. My brain was thinking “Hey this was a $135 release that I got for less than half that price!” and was already trying to interpret the vanilla and oaky notes I detected rising up from my first big pour.

2015 Willowlake Cabernet Sauvignon, Willowlake Wines, Napa Valley, California, USA.

2015 Willowlake Cabernet Sauvignon, Willowlake Wines, Napa Valley, California, USA.

And here’s the thing. It just didn’t measure up. Man, that never happens to me, and never with a bottle that should have so many things going for it. I have read others comparing the 2015 Willowlake Cabernet Sauvignon to Caymus, and I do not think they are evenly remotely similar. I’ve previously remarked of the fruit bomb that I find the Wagner offering to be, and this is not really like that in flavor at all. The vanilla I found a bit too far forward, and it took my taste buds away from any layering or earthiness that I expected in the Willowlake wine. Don’t misunderstand me; the 2015 Willowlake Cabernet Sauvignon is really good stuff–but it is not the GREAT wine that I had in mind.

Part of me went, “Dude, you should have just tried the Disciples or grabbed another bottle of the Cuttings or the Palermo instead…” But that’s the whole point of wine tasting, right? You identify some favorites, sample new options, make some notes, and compare bottles as best you can with those from your memories. There is no wrong answer as long as the vino is flowing! Thanks for your interest in Notes and the 2015 Willowlake Cabernet Sauvignon–share both with a friend.

CA5, Locations Wine

Winemaker Dave Phinney is in his #5 vintage of this California Locations wine, and this is the first of two CA5 bottles I picked up prior to the holidays.  California always offers a wide variety of grapes, tastes, and AVAs for consumers, and it feels incredibly ambitious to bring together all of these tastes into one single bottling that captures the essence of the region. Phinney has a long track record of doing this successfully, however, particularly in his Prisoner series and other related blends, so if anyone deserves the benefit of the doubt it’s him.

CA5, Locations Wine, Napa, California, USA.

CA5, Locations Wine, Napa, California, USA.

I’m still mulling over some of the subtleties at play in the CA5. Let me mention this wine includes fruit from Napa, Sonoma, Mendocino, and the Sierra foothills. I’m not sure how Locations networked with growers for the international Locations fruit, but it stands to reason he knew who to call in California for good grapes. In the CA5, there is an obvious cherry and blackberry foundation. The wine is smooth and fruit-forward–not as direct as a Michael David wine–and easy on the palate. The Locations people tell you it’s a blend of Petite Sirah, Barbera, Tempranillo, Syrah, and Grenache, and the grapes are nicely combined. A big red feel that is very much in keeping with the Bordeaux-style California Cabernet Sauvignons.

CA5, Locations Wine, Napa, California, USA.

CA5, Locations Wine, Napa, California, USA.

This to me is less Syrah, less peppery, but stacks of red and black berries. A hint of smoky spice too. The CA5 is barrel aged for 10 months in French oak, and it has a 15.5% alcohol content that sneaks up on you. I had it tonight with a pork and broccoli dinner, and the wine was a nice contrast to the roasted flavors in my meal. I’m considering pulling the cork on the second CA5 next weekend while this taste is fresh on my palate–if you have tasted this vintage perhaps you would share your thoughts here too for Notes readers?

Thanks for your consideration and your readership, and best in 2018.

2012 Napa Merlot, Beaulieu Vineyard

Ushering in a festive family weekend is this 2012 Beaulieu Vineyard Napa Merlot, a gentle red from one of California’s best-known wine makers. It had an opportunity to breathe and ultimately came out for the cocktail hour and hors de oeuvres on the back patio. The sun’s out, the company is good, and the food is here too–game on.

2012 Merlot Beaulieu Vineyard Coastal Estates, California, USA.

2012 Merlot Beaulieu Vineyard Coastal Estates, Napa Valley, California, USA.

The 2012 Napa BV is a nice fruity red, with strong cherry vibes to it and of course a tad of blackberry. We sampled the BV with a cheese plate, crackers, and strawberry halves complemented with some dipping yogurt. I sort of avoided the strawberries, not sure how their flavors would mix with the Merlot (I might have had some if drinking a Pinot Noir), but in hindsight wonder if I missed an opportunity to bring out some other nuances of the BV. The 2012 had a mild finish and was very approachable.

Of the 2012, the winemaker offers, “Bing cherry, plum and raspberry mingle with chocolate-cherry truffle and red rose petal in this wine’s sensual aromas and flavors. Silky tannins and beautifully balanced acidity gently support the expansive flavors through the delicious, lingering finish.

Tomorrow we’ve got an early curtain call for my cousin’s wedding, so we’re opting for discretion over valor – but yet moving onto a La Mer red blend shortly. Good decisions on both!