2013 Aristocrat, Buena Vista Winery

If you’ve followed Notes to any real extent over the past 6 or 7 years, you’ll know the special place that Buena Vista wines have for me. Buena Vista has a great tasting room and was the very first wine club I joined—their bottles are braided throughout these posts and have a prominent role in the Notes Top Ten Reds list. 

2013 Aristocrat, Buena Vista Winery, Calistoga AVA, California, USA.

The Aristocrat I’ve had once previously, and it was flat-out great. That 2012 vintage (the inaugural) was fantastic, and from this 2013 I had similar expectations. I’ve held onto this bottle for several years, looking for the right situation or celebration to break out the red blend. This Friday was the exact right occasion—the company, the accomplishment, the week survived—but the 2013 Aristocrat didn’t really live up to my expectations. 

We had the right glasses, a pair of stemless Reidel reds, and right mood to appreciate these grapes. They’re harvested from the Calistoga AVA of Napa Valley, and I believe the final blend includes both charbono and petite syrah fruit. That’s more from a bit of research, though, because the wine itself was a little underwhelming. This bottle was a safe shot down the fairway. It didn’t have the subtle structure or layered nuances that I so often detect in my favorite wines, including the dozens of Buena Vistas that I’ve covered here in Notes. It was a red with an easy, smooth finish—but was otherwise just ‘meh’ overall. 

I know the 2013 is just the second vintage of the Aristocrat, however, so perhaps they just skipped a beat after the first batch? I have not tasted subsequent vintages so don’t know if this is a blip on the radar or was perhaps just a rare miss at the bottle level. I’ve shared feedback on more than 400 wines over the years (most reds), and just 2 Aristocrats so perhaps I just hit an outlier. If you’ve tried the Aristocrat of any vintage, would you perhaps share your findings or notes here so we can paint a fuller picture for Notes readers? Thanks for your continued readership and have a great day.

2016 Thorn, Prisoner Wine Company

Let’s just start here—I’m “in” on anything from The Prisoner Wine Company. There’s of course the flagship wine and my obvious fandom of that great red bend, plus the Cuttings and Saldo that have been often chronicled in Notes too. And now I’m adding Thorn to the same list of PWC treats.

2016 Thorn, The Prisoner Wine Company, California, USA.

On this trip to Las Vegas I had occasion to spend a dinner (and this great wine!) with friends that go back all the way to my youth. We have reconnected frequently in recent years, and have been lucky enough to share a fun bottle of wine or two together on these gatherings. The setting—a quaint little restaurant situated beside a lake (yes, man made, CW!) and just a hint of holiday lights yet to come. You get to your table by walking through a wine store (“Marche Bacchus”) with a robust selection of imports and domestic bottles. I wasn’t quite sure what to pull but then stopped dead in my tracks upon seeing Thorn in a PWC box. 

Cool thing about this spot? There’s one price if you’re buying on the go, and a second rate if you’re going to uncork and consume your bottle at the restaurant. Bingo. So we’re in on Thorn, splitting it among four glasses that were absolutely gone too soon. Yes we followed Thorn with other grape treats but this Merlot blend was (at least for me…sorry Tony!) the hit of my evening. A lot of welcome character in the Thorn!

Thorn is a combination of merlot (80%) and other grapes—syrah, petite syrah, and white malbec. You can definitely taste that as you work your way through the wine, the layering of black cherry, dark chocolate, and maybe a bit of loam. You’ll stop and ponder your sip, because there’s clearly more than just merlot in play with the Thorn. Exceeded my expectations and had plenty of eager nods among our circle. For me, this 2016 accompanied a delicIous lobster risotto that was the perfect easy meal before a cross-country, red-eye flight home. 

Thanks so much for coming out to visit, friends, and special thanks to TW for treating us to the great dinner (and this wine)! Can’t wait to see you all again soon, and can’t wait to have another Thorn!   

2017 Papillon, Orin Swift Cellars

Nearly two summers ago I had my first exposure to the Orin Swift Papillon. While Notes did not fully profile the wine at that time, it did make the Top 10–high praise given the 400+ bottles covered in these pages. I’m here to say the 2017 vintage continues that standard of excellence.

2017 Papillon, Orin Swift Wines, Napa Valley, California, USA.

It’s a bordeaux-style blend, a new release that mixes five different grapes (cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, petit verdot, malbec, and merlot) sourced from throughout Napa Valley. After pulling the cork you’ll be greeted by big, rich scents of blackberry and pepper, and an inky reddish purple that’s probably the color of blood before it hits oxygen. My first sip was too soon–the wine had not yet had a chance to breathe and was slightly tart. After sitting for 15-20 minutes during a late-night dinner prep, the Papillon settled into a deep, flavorful dark fruit medley. Definite blackberry or black cherry scents wafting (maybe cedar or spice box?) heavenly from the glass…lip-smacking goodness.

This is from our winemaker friends at Orin Swift: “Intensely layered and decadent on entry, the wine exudes characteristics of black plum, boysenberry, kirsch and dark chocolate with a silky soft yet weighty texture. A prolonged finish of Provençal lavender, fig leaf and ripe currants close out the wine.

The 2017, a very special gift that I appreciated on multiple levels, is aged for 15 months in French oak (43% new) barrels to very good effect. It delivers a nice, easy finish for a wine with so much gravitas. Special shout out for the great photo and my favorite company. The Phinney magic touch continues again for another year…

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.