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!

2012 Conundrum, Wagner Family

I enjoyed a great bottle of Conundrum earlier this year and uncorked this one to share the experience with family. We have just returned from watching the new Star Wars (good flick) and are prepping a light dinner–a “must do” after all the rich eating on Christmas. This deep ruby red is now in the glass, so let’s touch on some details:

2012 Conundrum

2012 Conundrum, Wagner Family, Napa Valley, California, USA.

This 2012 red blend is going to accompany a Romaine salad, tossed with Buffalo-style chicken, and accented with a crumble of Gorgonzola. It’s luscious fruits, harvested from grapes in California’s Napa Valley, are presented evenly. In the Conundrum you have less spice than a Syrah and less tannins than a Cabernet Sauvignon, but both probably contribute to this proprietary blend.  In the 2012 vintage, I taste a little bit of cherry, blueberry, and even want to bite into it a bit–that’s an accent I usually attribute to a chocolatey profile of a wine. The actual blend is not disclosed by the Wagners but works to good effect in the Conundrum.

I know that the Wagner family would suggest this Conundrum be consumed not at room temperature but slightly colder; we’ll have to give that a shot next time instead. Would that have been a good contrast to the spicy Buffalo sauce? Interesting to consider. I’ll keep you posted and thanks again for following Notes here.

 

2012 North Coast Chardonnay, William Hill Estate Winery

This was a multiple­-night Chardonnay, and that usually means one of two things: 1) either the white didn’t have enough time to breathe, or 2) the accompanying food disappeared faster than the vino. In our house, whites are consumed infrequently and even less often once the fish or chicken is gone.

2012 North Coast Chardonnay, William Hill Estate Winery, Napa Valley, California, USA.

2012 North Coast Chardonnay, William Hill Estate Winery, Napa Valley, California, USA.

The William Hill North Coast has good branding, and a label that is not unlike a Mondavi. The embossing is a nice touch too, but I didn’t think this white quite lived up to this appearance. It was not sweet (which gets no love whatsoever in Notes) at all, and had some light floral and citrus (definitely pear) notes to it­­–but so do practically all whites. So how did this 2012 differentiate itself?

Said plainly, it really didn’t. I have yet to research this vintage of the William Hill, and I don’t know its cooperage­­, but I’m betting this was not aged in oak. I’m thinking stainless steel instead. Some of the warmth (what I often hear described as “buttery”) I equate with an oak barrel was not present here. This is not to say it was metallic tasting, but it was just uneven.*

Enjoyed the chance to try something new here, in the 2012 William Hill North Coast Chardonnay, but I am satisfied and file now under “been there, done that.”

*Postscript. The winemaker described, “This well-balanced wine has a robust fruit finish.” And they also state that a “portion” of this wine is aged in stainless steel at a maximum temperature of 62°F and the rest fermented in barrels at “an ambient cellar temperature of approximately 65°F.” Bingo!

2012 William Hill Estate Winery Cabernet Sauvignon; 2012 Novy Zinfandel

This is the rare entry, the double down of road vino, and one I completed earlier this week in the Windy City. I’m attending a yearly trade show in Chicago and trying to fight off the deep February cold with a couple of warm reds and good acquaintances.

2012 William Hill Estate Winery, Cabernet Sauvignon, Central Coast, California, USA.

2012 William Hill Estate Winery, Cabernet Sauvignon, Central Coast, California, USA.

The first is the 2012 William Hill Estate Winery Cabernet Sauvignon. It’s an average red from the heart of Napa Valley, one with a decent jam-like start and easy finish. Since it was served with dinner at the Oral Health America charity fundraiser, I’m uncertain how long the William Hill was allowed to breathe prior to service. It also followed a cocktail hour and thus my palate came to the Cab with Pinot Noir as a precursor…so I trust my questionable tastes less than normal. The dinner was about far more than the banquet food or the California reds, though, but a great cause.

2012 Novy Family Winery Zinfandel, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County, California, USA.

2012 Novy Family Winery Zinfandel, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County, California, USA.

The Novy was recommended to me by a waitress at Rebar, a cool little hotspot located in the Trump International Hotel and Tower. It was spicy, it was lively, and matched the fun vibe at the heart of the bar. Tasted in conjunction with some popcorn that was kicked up with chili powder or something cajun-style, the Novy was a punch in the nose. Purple fruit flavors, votive candle ambiance that included great views out the side of the building, and a calm after the storm of the trade show day. Russian River Valley one of my favorites within the Sonoma AVA and the bias really held up well in this 2012 vintage. Looking forward to trying this one again in the future.

2012 Red Blend, Bell Canyon Napa Reserve

It’s the profile of the winemaker that originally drew me to the first reserve–the 2012 Red Blend–from Bell Canyon in Napa. We’ll revisit that idea in a later post on the 2012. For the time being, let’s focus instead on the wine itself.

2012 Red Blend, Bell Canyon Cellars Napa Reserve, Napa, California, USA.

2012 Red Blend, Bell Canyon Cellars Napa Reserve, Napa, California, USA.

You have some big, juicy grapes in play here. It’s easy to think cherries in some dominant way, with other dark berries in the mix, and just a hint of vanilla (less desired by this taster) too. I detect some spice accents, particularly as you swirl it in red waves around the glass, that come through in the taste too. It’s yards from a Pinot Noir, and more seasoned than a Merlot. The 2012 Red Blend Bell Canyon Napa Reserve is probably described by experts as a ‘Bordeaux-style’ red; I think of it more like a Cabernet Sauvignon that has a shallower tone to it. Is it wrong to talk about wine as a tone? I just mean a true Cabernet can have similar accents but is somehow deeper in its profile.

I’d also offer the analogy that the 2012 Red Blend is to (just one recent example) the 2012 Carnivore Cab as a tenor is to a bass. Does that make sense to you now?

Additional context–I’m having the Bell Canyon tonight during the cocktail hour but opened it earlier this week when having ground beef, a cheeeesy macaroni and cheese, and some broccoli. I was caught in some work-related time constraints at that time, but this evening it’s more about relaxing and mulling over this fine red wine from the country’s best known region. More on this bottle in the future!