2017 Red Wine, Napa Bridge Vineyards

For this guy, usually it’s the wine that makes the memories. The wine that marks time, shines a light on special occasions. And while wine was part of this year’s holiday celebrations, it was more about the unusual circumstances that makes the 2017 Napa Bridge Red Wine stand out from many Napa reds I sampled in ‘22.

We’re in Brockport, having snuck into town among the unfriendly swells of a big rainstorm that accompanied Cara and I all the way up the 95 corridor. We started our trip in the unfriendly “green” radar of RDU and flew with the storm all the way up to Washington and then again to the ROC. Good pilots and friendly attendants balanced out rolling turbulence until we were on the ground and headed for family and Christmas treats. As the temperatures plummeted and precipitation picked up last night, flight cancellations were suddenly national news and made us feel lucky to beat the storm into town.

This morning we woke early and did a walking tour of the neighborhood before the storm really took hold. The pavement was wet and skies ominous, but that was all just prologue to the real weather events of Christmas weekend in western New York. We had just started clearing breakfast dishes when the power flickered for a few hesitant moments and then died. Looking out through the snowflakes to the neighbors’ houses it was obvious the entire ‘hood was impacted.

2017 Red Wine, Napa Bridge Vineyards, Napa Valley, California, USA.

Early afternoon, I bet the power would be restored by 4:05pm (it wasn’t!). We checked the local power company websites (not by WiFi obviously!) and saw the confirmed outages affecting much of the area, and many others. The snowfall didn’t seem to be the chief factor, but rather the howling gusts that bent limb and landscape to their will. At that point, I was pleased Mom’s recent siding and window project was complete, as you could almost see the house bleeding heat to the elements.

Funny moments? Those were the times you checked an appliance for the time, or when you automatically flicked a light switch when entering a room. Those moments when great neighbors called to check in on us, or when we reflected back on the last time (1991ish?) power was lost for an extended period. Less fun was reading that power crews are not able to get up poles and bucket loaders when winds exceeded 35mph, readings I was positive we exceeded several times each minute, or when your brain wondered how long the outrage would really last.

We broke out a puzzle and then cards, throwing hearts and that queen of spades hammer until it was so dark that we were calling out our discards to one another. Then it was Parcheesi by candlelight, wrapped in blankets and warm hats, until finally this guy had to break out the Napa Bridge. Maybe this was to fight through the doldrums of the powerless afternoon, maybe an appeal for warmth, or just because I knew several were ready, willing, and able?

At first taste, I was not overly impressed with this 2017 Red Wine from Napa Bridge Vineyards. Vanilla notes (not always my favorite) were definitely present, and the wine was slightly dry, tannic, and acidic. Red fruit flavors of cherry, and maybe blackberry were notable. Having ordered this online several weeks prior to Christmas I had anticipated a welcome treat that could be shared with the entire family. Check…ish? I would have bet it a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and maybe Cabernet Franc—at least upon initial sampling? Generally I found it “meh” but, since our entertainment options were limited by Mother Nature’s fury, I sunk into this reality and enjoyed it with the great family time.

Once the wine had an opportunity to breathe, it was much more enjoyable. Since a powerless afternoon zapped us of stove or appliances, we opted for local pizza dinner (thanks Steve!) and carried the Bridge into the evening hours. The house was a balmy 51 degrees when power was finally restored around 730pm. Phew! Special thanks to all the dudes braving the swirling snow and icy winds to get back our comforts of home.

Later on, I discovered that Napa Bridge Vineyards combined nearly equal parts Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Petit Verdot for this fruit-driven 2017 Red Wine. Other reviewers described its plum and cherry notes as well as “cedar and herbal inflections in this mouth-watering, velvety blend.” I would not use “velvety” in my recap but warmed to this vintage over several subsequent tastings over the weekend.

Be assured, I know the day was nothing like Buffalo residents faced, nor those traveling by Southwest Airlines during Christmas 2022. It was inconvenient at times, to be sure, but somehow melded us all together more closely. It’ll be a Christmas that we’ll be talking about well into the future, and that’ll always be the place I keep too the 2017 Red Wine from Napa Bridge Vineyards. Happy holidays, friends!

2018 Alexander Valley Merlot, Buena Vista Winery

Good stuff in the mix here – firstly the 2018 Alexander Valley Merlot from Buena Vista Winery, and secondly a pan-roasted lemon garlic butter salmon with feta and olives—so delicious!

2018 Alexander Valley Merlot, Buena Vista Winery, Sonoma County, California, USA.
2018 Alexander Valley Merlot, Buena Vista Winery, Sonoma County, California, USA.

Yes this one’s an individually numbered bottle (mine is 7,242) and this wine deserves special attention. The 2018 Alexander Valley has all the marks of a great merlot. As it hits your glass, there are clear aromas of plum and dark cherry. It’s colored nearly purple in your glass, and concentrated, dark fruit notes are plentiful. The 2018 Alexander Valley Merlot has a really easy, silky finish.

What of the accompanying dinner? Salmon is always a great treat, and this was nice, fresh, and savory—accented with lemon, smoky paprika, and just a hint of crushed red pepper. There’s a kicked up olive dressing that drops a hint of salt and garlic into your ideal bite, too. The foodstuffs turned out about as well as I could have hoped, and kudos to Half-Baked Harvest for the helpful recipe and my very kind “sous chef” for her timely knife skills and unending encouragement.

Overall, this 2018 Alexander Valley Merlot made for a relaxing and satisfying Saturday night—and just in time after long work weeks for us both and exhausting business travel. 

2006 Proximus Pinot Noir, Adastra Wines

This is the second occasion I’ve been treated to a Proximus Pinot from Adastra, this one a 2006 magnum. Big thanks to the GDog for breaking this one out for Draft Weekend 2022 with the fellas. It’s an annual tradition spanning nearly 10 years, and great wine has often marked these gatherings as any follower of Notes may know.

2006 Proximus Pinot Noir, Adastra Wines, Carneros Napa Valley, California, USA.
2006 Proximus Pinot Noir, Adastra Wines, Carneros Napa Valley, California, USA.

Adastra is derived from the Latin phrase per aspera ad astra (through striving to the stars) and the history of this family-owned estate is easily accessible so I’ll spend less time on that here. Most important to you is the great Pinot created by this Carneros winery, and that Adastra prioritizes environmentally conscious farming practices for all four wines (Chardonnay, Merlot, Syrah, and Pinot Noir) they produce.*  The 2006 Proximus Pinot Noir is ruby colored and is a weightier Pinot. We busted this out around a table fire and a host of jokes, some older than this bottling and others as fresh as this pour. 

Knowing my fandom of all things wine, the guys asked how I tasted the 2006 Proximus Pinot Noir. It almost felt like a challenge, from these lifelong friends who have seen me drink crappy keg beer more memorably than fine wine. Hoping I answered the call, I gauged it dark cherry to taste, with notes of burnt matches or charcoal on the nose. Very fruit-filled and substantive. They pushed further (of course!) and asked if there was “earth” to the wine. Lots of laughs as we swirled the wine in our glasses and debated terroir for a few moments. I mulled this over and stuck to my original tasting notes—not earthy or peat moss but rather charcoal or maybe pepper. And tannins more like a Cab than I’d usually equate to a Pinot.

Adastra has produced two different Pinot Noirs, a Regulus and Proximus; the latter made only in very small quantities as the “best of the best”. In Latin, Proximus means “closer” and the winery uses the term to mean “closer to the stars”. The 2006 Proximus Pinot Noir was developed by Pam Starr, the winemaker for many years at Adastra (and now a consultant, I think), and was quite exceptional. Our only gaffe was setting the bottle too close to the flames but that was far overshadowed by our clear enjoyment of gathering together again after all these years.

I’m so thankful for the brotherhood, for friendships that span miles and decades. I appreciate too great wine like Adastra’s 2006 Proximus Pinot Noir and George for sharing it with us all. Looking forward to the next gathering and next Adastra too! 

*Adastra has been a California-certified organic farmer for more than 15 years and eschews burning practices often used to curb vineyard growth, instead processing old vines with chipping machines to process yearly cuttings. 

2019 The Count’s Selection Carignane, Buena Vista Winery

There was a time in Notes history when I scrambled to capture every bottle, every wine tasting adventure, seemingly every random thought about wine. Several hundred bottles later, that pattern has slowly changed with opportunity (and to some extent, taste). These days I always find time for a glass and a thought, but not always for sharing feedback in this modest column. 

2019 The Count’s Selection Carignane, Buena Vista Winery, Mendocino County, California, USA.
2019 The Count’s Selection Carignane, Buena Vista Winery, Mendocino County, California, USA.

The photos? Yes, those I have for sure. Like many oenophiles I assuredly have all the labels recorded. Like others, I have a few notes and thoughts that are half-discernible in various apps and scraps of paper…and on a few rare occasions I even get ‘em down here where others can read and sample. That’s no excuse – just reality, and perhaps even a forecast of the pending “Ones that got away” Q2 2022 that is on its way soon. Here in the meantime is my take on the 2019 The Count’s Selection Carignane, from Buena Vista Winery in Sonoma, California. 

I bumped into Buena Vista’s Carignane several years ago, having cracked a bottle for friends who were in town for a quick visit. The Carignane surprised me at that time (was it my first with this grape? Think so…) and quickly found its way into my recurring order from Buena Vista Winery. This 2019 I drank a tad early…perhaps I should have left it on the rack for one more year? It’s quite good, but the tannins here felt a bit grippy. 

There is plenty of blackberry on the nose, with other red fruits in the mix too. The 2019 Carignane has the blackberry taking a lead role, but there are other subtleties involved too. It is dark, dark purple in the glass and very rich on your palate. The wine starts a little dry but the blackberry notes fill that space pretty quickly.

The winemaker notes, “Ripe, juicy flavors of red cherry and blackberry cover the palate with a hint of licorice and a touch of black pepper that lead to a long, savory finish.

According to the Buena Vista team, these are old vine grapes (an 80-year-old site known for Carignane), sourced from vines that are dry-farmed in the Ukiah region. Buena Vista harvested them in September, fermented, and ultimately aged the wine in French oak (13% new) for 15 months prior to bottling. The outcome of that production is the 2019 vintage of The Count’s Selection Carignane—I enjoyed this very much and know you will too. 

2016 Cabernet Sauvignon, PureCru Wines

Birthday wine, this gem, one selected specifically for the occasion. Where does a gent go for satisfaction and representation of the Finer Things Club? Yes, the answer is Napa Valley Cab. This one is new for me, a 2016 from PureCru Wines. Let’s break it down.

2016 Cabernet Sauvignon, PureCru Wines, Napa Valley, California, USA.

The date is April 7, 2022. It’s evening, a long workday slowly sliding into the rear view mirror. I’m fatigued, in part from the concentration and in part from the early start of this Thursday. Thankfully this bottle, a dinner of several favorites, and Cara’s good company are there to raise my spirits. Several ‘nifty gifties’ are neatly wrapped and well within my interested gaze…

The 2016 PureCru Cabernet Sauvignon simply caught my eye on a recent trip to the wine store, seeking a bottle worthy of this milestone. Loved the striking bottle design, the raised red lettering both stamped and scrawled over the textured black label. Plus I’m a sucker for anything like the PureCru where there is limited production—there were fewer than 500 cases of this wine produced. 

I think “Napa” is my actual favorite four-letter word? Anyway, the wine is a pleasure. A bright, cheery and cherry wine filled with ripe fruit flavors. It’s all about red fruit and full bodied goodness, but has subtle notes of chocolate or plum just behind the dominant cherry. I’m tired but want to tip my cap to Mitch Cosentino – winemaker – for this 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon, which was barrel-aged for 39 months in French oak. I only purchased one, but additional bottles are in order, yes sir…

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.