Archive for July 2010

Napa/Sonoma Tasting Report

July 29, 2010

I just returned from my annual long 4th of July weekend trip out to Napa and Sonoma wine country, and was able to visit 15 tasting rooms and sample about 100 wines. Throughout the course of the earlier part of the year, I have had the opportunity to taste about 100 other wines from this region, so I decided to lump all of these tastings together to create one of the most expansive reports I have ever posted. During my trip, I decided to really put an emphasis on tasting Cabernet Sauvignon from the region, as the 2006 and 2007 vintages were truly special in Napa. As a result, you will that notice that I have listed this varietal in two separate groups based on vintage. Also, in order to consolidate for better comparison, I have listed blends containing over 80% Cabernet as Cabernet, while reserving the “Blend” group for wines with a dominant grape of less than 80%, Cabernet or as otherwise listed. Let’s start there, and take a look at some of the best offerings in the region currently, by varietal. An ordinal note: for wines that received the same score, the less expensive wine is given a higher placement.


1. Pride Cabernet Sauvignon Napa-Sonoma Counties, 94 Points, $66-
Perfumey cassis, cedar and vanilla bean aromas lead into a silky body with lots of bursting blackberry and dark plum fruit. A smooth caramel and toffee note creeps in behind as fine tannins hold it all together and powdery mineral notes add complexity through the long, elegant finish. A blockbuster, as refined and structured as can be.

2. St. Clement Oroppas Napa Valley, 93 Points, $55- Elegant nose of mocha, black cherry cola and cassis. Impressively soft and refined on the palate, with layers of black cherry, black tea and cedar above creamy undertones of milk chocolate, maple syrup and mocha. Tannins are silky and surprisingly soft for such a young wine, allowing the fruit and complex chocolate flavors to linger long with a blast of cedary spice.

3. Ghost Block Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley, 93 Points, $60- Deep ruby body with ripe but dark red currant fruit aromas above hints of cedar. Complex and creamy palate with bursting black cherry cola and dark raspberry notes above undertones of mineral, cocoa, mocha and cedar. Very explosive, with a dusty mineral element adding complexity through the long, long finish. Cedar spice and layers of chocolate linger here to balance the firm tannins that should soften with time. Elegant and graceful.

4. Shafer Cabernet Sauvignon One Point Five Napa Valley, 93 Points, $70- Incredibly dark and rich on the nose, with black currants overtaken by dark chocolate, smoke and cedar aromas. Silky, elegant and layered, with bursting blackberry, chocolate covered cherries and mint evolving into undertones of toffee and cedar spice through the long, structured finish.

5. Hall Cabernet Sauvignon Diamond Mountain District, 92 Points, $100- Perfumey cassis and black cherry on the nose. Silky on the palate, with a sudden blast of blackberry, potpourri spice and herbs. Very elegant and deep with undertones of sweet toffee lingering long with fine tannins. Vastly deeper than the Kathryn Hall and Napa Valley vineyards.

6. Caravan by Darioush Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley, 91 Points, $30- Dusty chocolate, red currant fruit and oak on the nose. Typical Darioush mouthfeel, soft and seamless, with black cherry cola and plum fruit exploding into layers of toffee and buttery oak as hints of cedar spice linger beneath. Impressive transition from fruit layers to oak and toffee, with the latter taking over through the super long finish.

7. Garric Cellars GRX Napa Valley, 91 Points, $45- Rich black currant and chocolate above loamy earth on the nose. Incredible mouthfeel, with impressive richness in its concentrated blackberry and dark plum fruit layered above chocolate and tar notes. Gets creamy through the long finish, with black fruit lingering with minerally spice.

8. Clos Pegase Estate Cuvee Napa Valley, 89 Points, $28- Elegant nose of perfumey cassis and chocolate. Smooth on the palate with cocoa powder, cedar and understated black fruit. Dry tannins creep in late, but this shows impressive elegance and structure.

9. Fisticuffs Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley, 89 Points, $30- Lifted red currant fruit aromas of red plum, fig and bing cherry, with earthy notes of mint and olive. Medium-bodied, with blackberry, plum and dark raspberry fruit above earthy tobacco, olive and powdery mocha and cedar spice. Firm tannic grip.

10. St. Clement Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 2007, 89 Points, $36- Ruby body with aromas of black cherry and vanilla bean. Medium-bodied and juicy with lots of bright cherry and dark raspberry fruit that evolves into strong undertones of mocha, cocoa powder and toasty oak. Structured and soft through the long finish, with a hint of dryness lingering.


1. Groth Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley Oakville Reserve, 94 Points, $150- Soft, elegant aromas, with understated mineral notes beneath layers of cassis, wild berry and toasty vanilla. Rich, focused mouthfeel with intense, vivid blackberry, black cherry and dark raspberry fruit combining with layers of earthy cedar, olive, and mocha spice. Long, refined finish with smooth tannins, displaying incredible texture and elegance throughout. Tasted twice with consistent notes.

2. Joseph Phelps Insignia Napa Valley, 94 Points, $170- Very rich, focused aromas of blackberry and plum above cedar notes. Explosive, intense and full-bodied, with dark, elegant plum, black cherry and blackberry fruit above deeper notes of tar and mineral that never detract from the fruit but add impressive depth. A mouthful through the long, refined finish, with a hint of oak lingering.

3. St. Clement Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley Star Vineyard, 93 Points, $80- Elegant black cherry and dark raspberry aromas shaded with notes of milk chocolate. Lovely texture, light on the palate with its gorgeous dark raspberry, blackberry fruit above dusty cocoa powder and vanilla bean notes. Very soft and elegant through the long finish.

4. Sherwin Family Cabernet Sauvignon Estate Napa Valley, 93 Points, $90- Perfumey eucalyptus aromas with dark red currant fruit and maple syrup hints. Seamless texture, with black cherry and dark raspberry fruit notes shaded by complex undertones of eucalyptus sap, mint and molasses. Softened tannins pull together the long, elegant finish.

5. Hall Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley, 92 Points, $40- Green olive earth shades dark red currant aromas. Very unique and earthy initially, with red bell bepper and olive notes that suddenly shift into a blast of rich, focused red cherry and dark raspberry with undertones of mocha. Long finish is still a bit tannic, but this is impressively layered indeed.

6. Frank Family Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley, 92 Points, $45- Perfumey and spicy aromas of elegant red currant fruits. Perfect mouthfeel, with its black cherry notes dominated by exotic spices, milk chocolate and cedar. Long finish of cherry-vanilla crème leaves me begging for more, a uniquely styled Cabernet.

7. Hawkes Cabernet Sauvignon Alexander Valley Red Winery Road, 92 Points, $60- Rich, with toffee, perfumey violet, black cherry and blackberry aromas. Very velvety, with an impressive balance of dark chocolate above its black currant fruit notes and spice hints. The tannins are soft and silky, while baking spice lingers long with chocolate and mocha elements.

8. Mirror Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley, 92 Points, $75- Very floral and violety on the nose with black currant fruit aromas. Silky texture, with exotic floral spice notes running through the black cherry and blackberry fruit flavors. Layers of vanilla bean, exotic spices and dark chocolate linger long under this truly creamy, amazing texture.

9. Altamura Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley, 92 Points, $80- Rich aromas of blackberry preserves and black cherry. Juicy, powerful black fruits on the palate, especially cherry and blackberry with hints of cola, sweet milk chocolate and mocha underneath. The powerful finish carries long with hints of herbal spice and mineral.

10. St. Clement Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley Howell Mountain, 92 Points, $80- Concentrated black cherry cola and milk chocolate on the nose. Delicate but deep body, with blackberry and cola flavors above dark chocolate undertones. This is very deep and lightly spicy through the long finish. Firm tannic grip.

11. Signorello Padrone Napa Valley, 92 Points, $125- Very perfumey with its cassis, milk chocolate and black olive aromas. Silky and complex on the palate, with delicous blackberry, black licorice and black cherry fruit notes above chocolate spice. Very elegant and smooth with a long finish.

12. Hall Cabernet Sauvignon Alexander Valley T Bar Ranch, 91 Points, $45- Red licorice and cherry twizzler aromas. Svelte, with lots of smoky raspberry and cherry flavors with tobacco spice adding additional complexity. Dry and tannic through the finish, but red fruit takes over and lingers long.

13. St. Clement Cabernet Sauvignon Diamond Mountain District Armstrong Ranch, 91 Points, $80- Rich black fruit, coffee bean and earth on the nose. Very toasty with mocha and dark chocolate notes dominating the blackberry and juicy black cherry. This is very tannic still but has impressive balance between elements.

14. Pahylmeyer Proprietary Red Napa Valley, 91 Points, $100- Complex aromas of black cherry, brown sugar and earth. Silky on the palate, with creamy black currants above cedar and mocha notes, deepening and gaining a perfumey quality through the long, refined finish. Cocoa powder creeps in late, lingering with some cedary earth.

15. Downing Family Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley Rutherford, 90 Points, $35- Lots of spicy, red currant fruit on the nose that boasts a cinnamon edge. Medium-bodied with lots of red plum and black cherry fruit above hints of almond and hazelnut that are backed by tons of cinnamon spice and dusty earth. Softened tannins hold this unique style all together.


1. Pride Merlot Napa-Sonoma Counties 2007, 93 Points, $56- Alluring nose of powdery cocoa and rich black and purple fruits. Rich and velvety on the palate, with dark plum and blackberry notes above complex undertones of black tea, mocha and mineral that all combine and linger long with a deep structural elegance. Cocoa and mocha powder pump through the finish and linger for minutes, very smooth and refined.

2. Hall Merlot Napa Valley River Ranch 2006, 90 Points, $50- Toasty, juicy blueberry pie on the nose. Ripe, rich and jammy blueberry and black cherry gain complexity on the back of the palate, as mint and cedar creep in with the slightest hint of cocoa powder. Still a bit tannic, but there is lots going on here.

3. Pahylmeyer Merlot Napa Valley 2006, 90 Points, $75- Dark aromas of mocha and black tea above black currant fruit. Powdery texture with elegant black plum and dark berry fruit above dark notes of tea, tar and dark chocolate. Creamy and dark but very elegant for its overall depth and darkness, delicate and feminine overall. Firm, refined tannins and light cedar spice carry through the long finish.

4. Clos Pegase Merlot Carneros 2006, 89 Points, $25- Juicy black fruits and black olive earth aromas. Incredibly soft on the palate with black olive, dark chocolate and herbs combining above its blackberry and black cherry undertones. Long finish, with firm tannins, but there is an impressive balance of earth, chocolate and understated black fruit here. Dryness lingers a bit, but this is not a fruit bomb Merlot by any means.

5. St. Clement Merlot Napa Valley 2007, 89 Points, $28- Aromas of cedar, mocha and oak combine with black cherry and raspberry notes. Full-bodied and assertive, with juicy black cherry, raspberry and cranapple fruit above layers of soy, mint and coffee bean with ever-present clove and cedary spice lingering. Long, creamy finish with firm tannins and oak carrying beyond the fruit, probably their best multiple vineyard merlot ever.


1. Sherwin Family Syrah Dry Creek Valley 2006, 92 Points, $70- Aromas of black cherry, dark raspberry, vanilla bean and pepper. Soft on the palate, with a streak of cracked black pepper weaving through the dark raspberry and black cherry notes, with subtle vanilla adding softness all the way through. This is extremely refined and laid back in style, with all elements in balance and nothing dominating through the long finish.

2. Novy Syrah Russian River Valley Christensen Vineyard 2007, 91 Points, $30- Lots of black cherry and tar notes make themselves present on the nose. Rich, spicy mouthfeel of wild berry, licorice and black cherry above complex undertones of smoky beef, tar and mineral, lingering long with assertive pepper spice. Another great one from my friends at Novy.

3. Bedrock Syrah Old Lakeville Sonoma Coast 2008, 89 Points, $30- Lots of cool climate influences at work here, with leather, mineral and purple fruit aromas. Velvety body with dark plum, black licorice and peppery spice mingling through the leathery texture. Fine tannins through the long finish.

4. Bella Syrah Alexander Valley Big River Ranch 2007, 89 Points, $40- Aromatic with its black cherry and red plum notes. Lovely texture, with cinnamon notes weaving through its cranberry, wild raspberry and dark plum flavors. White pepper spice lingers long, a feminine style.

5. Signorello Syrah Estate Napa Valley 2006, 89 Points, $40- Lots of leather, beef and black fruit on the nose. This is violety, but evolves into deep leather, tar and beef above its juicy core of blackberry fruit. Medium length, with pepper spice creeping in.

6. Viader Syrah Napa Valley 2006, 89 Points, $50- Lots of loamy earth and mineral on the nose, with black currant undertones. Very terroir-driven, with mineral spice and leather above blackberry and cocoa notes. Smooth and balanced through the medium length, tannins add considerable dryness.

7. Landmark Syrah Steel Plow Sonoma Valley 2008, 88 Points, $30- Lots of ripe purple fruit on the nose. Violet and leather combine above blackberry, plum and fig notes, with a burst of chalky graphite and tons of tannin. All the pieces are here, but this could use some time…and some pepper spice.

8. Acorn Syrah Axiom Alegria Vineyards Russian River Valley 2006, 88 Points, $33- Blackberry, leather and dark plum aromas. Dark fruit flavors of blackberry have complex undertones of leather and smokey game. Chewy and tannic through the medium length, but the fruit carries with a hint of pepper spice and chocolate.

9. Clos Pegase Syrah Napa Valley Mitsuko’s Vineyard 2007, 88 Points, $35- Intriguing nose of dried flowers, leather and black fruit. Deep, velvety and leathery, with complex tobacco spice and chocolate above its black cherry and blackberry notes. Firm tannins carry the smooth, floral dark fruit and tobacco through the finish.

10. Signorello Syrah Estate Napa Valley 2007, 88 Points, $40- Lots of dark berry fruit and pepper spice on the nose. Soft, velvety on the palate with rich, dark plum and raisin notes leading into undertones of brown sugar and green pepper corn. Smooth but short through the medium length, with a bit of dryness creeping it.


1. Orin Swift The Prisoner Napa Valley 2008, 92 Points, $35–  Dark and very ripe, juicy aromas of wild berry and dark plum. Rich, focused mouthfeel with black cherry, licorice and purple fruit flavors above massive layers of pepper spice and mineral underneath. Long finish, with hints of oak and spice carrying and lingering long. 46% Zinfandel, 26% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Syrah, 10% Petite Sirah

2. Girard Artistry Napa Valley 2007, 90 Points, $40- Plump dark fruit aromas of blackberry and dark raspberry with a touch of heat present. Lots of cassis fruit and cherry/ wild berry fruit here, layered with notes of mocha and cedar spice. Still a bit tight but the key elements here linger long. 61% Cabernet Sauvignon, 13% Cabernet Franc, 11% Malbec, 9% Petit Verdot, 6% Merlot

3. Seghesio Ommagio Alexander Valley 2007, 90 Points, $60- Ripe, raisiny and plummy with notes of oak and chocolate. Elegant and ripe, with blackberry and dark plum flavors that are very perfumed through the lovely texture, finishing with dry but silky tannins. 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Sangiovese.

4. Highway 12 Highwayman Sonoma Valley 2006, 90 Points, $75- Perfumey nose, with a body elegantly laced with blackberry, tar and cocoa. Silky and smooth, with subtle olive and currant fruit notes lingering with fine tannins. 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 50% Cabernet Franc.

5. Viader Red Blend 2006, 90 Points, $100- Bright, floral cherry aromas. Impressive structure, with black cherry notes shaded by deep cocoa powder, earthy spice and floral violet nuances. This is still very tight and tannic but benefits from a suave texture and a long, elegant finish. 66% Cabernet Sauvignon, 34% Cabernet Franc.

6. Acorn Medley Alegria Vineyards 2007, 89 Points, $35- Perfumey, with dark raspberry fruit and oak on the nose. Very smooth, with dark raspberry fruit, plum, mocha and oak that are balanced and structured. The fruit is juicy here, and fine tannins carry the fruit through the long finish with hints of floral spice and cooking spice. 29% Zinfandel, 29% Syrah, 22% Cabernet Franc.

7. Sherwin Family Cellar Scraps #4 Napa Valley NV, 89 Points, $55- Dark red fruit aromas with hints of cedar, tar and black tea. The body is balanced between its black cherry and dark raspberry flavors and layers of of uniquely earthy cedar, tea and briar. Firm tannins hold together the flavors as red fruit and tea leaf dominate the finish. 34% Cabernet Sauvignon, 33% Merlot, 33% Syrah.

8. Highway 12 Bordeaux Blend Reserve Sonoma Valley 2005, 88 Points, $55- Lots of cassis and cocoa powder on the nose. Intense body, with violet, blackberry fruit and cocoa and spice undertones. Dry tannins here, but lots of fruit that carries long. 35% Cabernet Franc, 24% Merlot, 17% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Petit Verdot, 12% Malbec.

9. Viader V Napa Valley 2006, 88 Points, $125- Elegant cassis fruit and herbal dill aromas. Soft on the palate, very earthy initially with dill and cedar notes that lead into elusive, understated black licorice, blackberry and game flavors. Delictate and complex, but almost lacking in overall punch, but gets points for innovation. 62% Petit Verdot, 38% Cabernet Sauvignon.

10. Highway 12 Bordeaux Blend Sonoma Valley 2007, 87 Points, $24– Lush nose of black currant, olive and cocoa. Silky texture, with plum, blackberry and earth, but very dry through the medium length. 34% Cabernet Sauvignon, 33% Merlot, 33% Cabernet Franc.


1. Seghesio Zinfandel San Lorenzo 2007, 92 Points, $60- Purple fruit nose of plum and blackberry with undertones of mineral and dried flowers. Amazing mouthfeel with black plum, blackberry and anise notes that lead into layers of cocoa, soy, mocha spice and mineral. Long finish goes on for minutes.

2. Outpost Zinfandel Napa Valley Howell Mountain 2007, 91 Points, $40- Aromatic nose of crushed wild berry and cedary forest floor. Elegant and light on the palate, with bursting flavors of wild raspberry, black cherry and perfumey blackberry above cedar spice and black pepper. This is loaded with dark, juicy fruit lingering long with cedar spice dominating above hints of mineral.

3. Seghesio Zinfandel Cortina Dry Creek Valley 2007, 90 Points, $36- Aromas of creamy black cherry and wild berry shading vanilla bean and herbal spice notes. Juicy and intense, with spicy black cherry, blueberry and plum flavors gliding over notes of herbs, loam and black pepper and tobacco. Long finish like all of these 07 Zins, with a bit more of an intriguing earthy tone.

4. Bella Zinfandel Dy Creek Valley 2008, 89 Points, $25- Juicy blackberry and dark raspberry fruit aromas. Very perfumey and ripe, with floral blackberry, wild berry and plum fruit backed by white pepper spice and chocolate. Long finish with fine tannins adding grip.

5. Seghesio Zinfandel Rockpile 2008, 89 Points, $36- Bright red plum and cherry aromas with undertones of cinnamon apple. Smooth on the palate, with a cinnamon streak running through its juicy red plum, wild raspberry and red cherry fruit, finishing with a blast of vanilla bean and a hint of chalky mineral. Fruit lingers long with a lot of dryness.

6. Seghesio Zinfandel Alexander Valley Home Ranch 2008, 89 Points, $36- Ripe fruit and hints of smoke on the nose. Fleshy body of ripe boysenberry, wild raspberry, blackberry and bready graham cracker notes lead into strong layers of smoke, black pepper spice and mineral. The fruit gives way to smoked rosemary and briar elements through the medium finish, dry tannins creep in. Campfire wine.

7. Seghesio Zinfandel Sonoma Valley 2008, 88 Points, $24- Juicy nose of raspberry and blueberry jam above hints of vanilla. Fruit forward and ripe, with a strong core of vivid, juicy dark raspberry, plumcake and blackberry above sweet oak, a blast of exotic white pepper spice and mineral notes through the long finish.

8. Bella Zinfandel Late Harvest 2009, 88 Points, $25- Not overly sugary but very ripe, with raisin and dark plum notes linginering long with subtle undertones of chocolate.

9. Ridge Geyserville Sonoma County 2008, 88 Points, $35- Purple, inky aromas with a hint of jamminess. Lots of blueberry fruit present with complex hints of apricot jam that lead into darker notes of mocha. Medium length and an interesting flavor profile, firm tannic grip.

10. Dashe Zinfandel Dry Creek Valley 2007, 87 Points, $25- Juicy dark plum and blackberry jam aromas. Up-front and fruity with its dark plum, blueberry and wild berry notes. Deep and velvety, with a silky tannin finish through the medium length.


1. Landmark Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast Kanzler Vineyard 2008, 93 Points, $65- Floral aromas with lots of strawberry, plum, blackberry and hints of chocolate. Incredibly rich yet delicate mouthfeel of perfumed blackberry, plum and black cherry, with a backbone of steely mineral and light chocolate undertones. Dry tannins here through the long finish, but the texture itself borders on perfection.

2. Roessler Pinot Noir La Brisa Sonoma Coast 2008, 91 Points, $32- Floral rose petal, mineral and red cherry on the nose. A subtle smoked game nuance leads into raspberry, strawberry, and white pepper spice elements, all above a leathery note. Long finish with silky tannins.

3. Landmark Pinot Noir Grand Detour Sonoma Coast 2008, 91 Points, $40- Ripe black cherry, blueberry, violet and smoke on the nose. Delicate body with perfumey violet and floral notes weaving through the complex dark plum, blueberry fruit and hints of smoked game. Soft on the finish, very elegant.

4. Loring Pinot Noir Brosseau Chalone 2007, 90 Points, $50- Red cherry and red plum notes run through this very elegant texture, with rose petal notes leading into some darker black currant flavors. Hints of cocoa and mineral spice linger with firm tannins, but this shows a lot of balance and depth.

5. Loring Pinot Noir Russian River Valley 2008, 88 Points, $30- Lightly perfumed red cherry, plum and allspice aromas. Silky body, with plump, juicy red currant fruit gliding over an underbelly of mineral and tobacco spice through the long finish.

6. Domaine Carneros Pinot Noir Carneros 2007, 88 Points, $35- Ripe wild berry aromas with notes of white chocolate and medicinal components. Delicate mouthfeel with rose, raspberry and strawberry fruit evolving into layers of mocha, toffee and mint through the refined finish. Showing well and not overly ripe, impressively textured.

7. Clos Pegase Pinot Noir Napa Valley-Carneros Mitsuko’s Vineyard 2007, 88 Points, $35- Red currant fruit aromas with hints of clovey spice. Smooth and silky, with a distinct clove note running through the red plum, raspberry and cherry, with hints of cinnamon and undertones of vanilla bean. Light, delicate and not overripe through the medium length.

8. Seghesio Pinot Noir Costeria Russian River Valley 2006, 88 Points, $42- Dried berry and cherry aromas  with floral notes and hints of toasty mocha. Delicate body with rose petal and tea leaf notes above its soft strawberry and raspberry fruit. Soft and elegant, with silky tannins that have clearly softened with time.

9. Paul Hobbs Pinot Noir Russian River 2008, 88 Points, $45- Dark jam aromas of juicy blackberry of dark plum, shaded by light oak nuances. Soft and vibrant fruit on the palate, as light-bodied blackberry and red cherry flavors develop into layers of toasty oak and tobacco spice, finishing with silky tannins and a long, pleasant length.

10. Roessler Pinot Noir La Encantada Santa Rita Hills 2007, 88 Points, $46- Delicate, with complex flavors of cranberry, dark raspberry, milk chocolate and tobacco spice. Silky through the long finish with hints of cigar box lingering.


1. Landmark Chardonnay Damaris Sonoma County 2007, 91 Points, $40- Aromas of honey dew and canteloupe melon above buttery oak notes. Creamy and rich texture of pear, tropical melon fruit and smoky oak undertones. Great balance of acidity and fruit through the long finish.

2. Landmark Chardonnay Overlook Sonoma-Monterey-Santa Barbara Counties 2007, 90 Points, $30- Lots of toasty almond and pear citrus on the nose. Green apple and lemon-lime flavors combine on the crisp palate with vibrant acidity and understated oak notes. This is really all about the fruit and not tart at all through the long finish.

3. Roessler Chardonnay Mendocino Alder Springs Vineyard 2006, 90 Points, $38- Golden body, with lemon rind, pear, peach and honey spice on the nose. Very light on the palate, with intense and concentrated lemon and pear citrus above a creamy honey note. Understated vanilla bean spice creeps in through the long finish, with all elements in balance.

4. Landmark Chardonnay Lorenzo Sonoma County 2007, 90 Points, $53- Lots of lemon, vanilla and tropical fruit on the nose. Very creamy with pineapple and lemon fruit above understated vanilla. Medium to long finish, with a soft, warm mouthfeel.

5. Pahylmeyer Chardonnay Sonoma County 2007, 90 Points, $60- Soft aromas of toasty oak and toffee above golden apple and pear citrus. Creamy texture, with an impressive balance between the toffee and spiced pear notes, with citrus winning the battle before finishing with a blast of toffee. Complex and smooth.


1. Hall Sauvignon Blanc Napa Valley 2009, 90 Points, $22- Lots of tropical fruit, grapefruit and peach blossom on the nose. Very clean and delicate, with loads of pineapple, grapefruit, white peach and lemon above very understated grass and mineral, with vibrant acidity pumping. Long, smooth finish.

2. Pride Viognier Sonoma County 2009, 90 Points, $42- Crisp and clean aromas of honey, peach and mandarin orange. Creamy on the palate with floral spice above strong citrus notes of peach and apricot. Long finish with subtle mineral undertones, lingering long with exotic spice notes.

3. Cliff Lede Sauvignon Blanc Napa Valley 2008, 89 Points, $22- Tons of tropical fruit, passion fruit and kiwi on the nose above hints of grass and almond. Crisp, creamy and fruity with its spicy tropical fruits- guava, passion fruit, pineapple and orange blossom. Impressive balance between its heavy grassiness and juicy tropical fruit notes, a bit overly acidic but there is lots of fruit here, and ginger spice lingers.

4. St. Clement Sauvignon Blanc Bale Lane Napa Valley 2009, $21- Enticing aromas of tropical pineapple and guava on the nose above green apple and lemon notes. Crisp and acidic yet quite creamy on the palate, with layers of tart green apple citrus above tropical fruit, melon and undertones of white peach. All fruit, with very little hint of a grassy edge, and spiced pear lingering long.

5. Hall Sauvignon Blanc T Bar Ranch Alexander Valley 2009, 89 Points, $22- Lots of oak, honey dew and melon on the nose. Creamy on the palate, with melon citrus and lots of vanilla bean spice and a hint banana fruit lingering.

6. Highway 12 Sauvignon Blanc Sonoma Valley 2008, 88 Points, $15- Lots of green apple and tropical fruit on the nose with grassy notes. Creamy yet crisp, with lots of green apple, honey dew and lemon fruit carrying above the subtle grassy notes. Crisp, balanced acidity, very refreshing, long finish.

7. Heitz Sauvignon Blanc Napa Valley 2008, 88 Points, $20- Green apple, kiwi and melon aromas turn tart and crisp on the palate, as lime and tropical fruits mingle with a juicy pear note that lingers long with vibrant acidity and exotic spices.

8. Miner Viognier Napa Valley Simpson Vineyard 2008, 88 Points, $20- Aromas of floral banana, pineapple and peach fill into the medium-bodied, soft citrus flavors. Strong peach undertones dominate the body, but this isn’t overdone or overly thick as it glides through the long finish.

9. Signorello Seta Estate Napa Valley 2008, 88 Points, $32- Aromas of peach, melon and buttery oak. Crisp, refreshing and creamy body, with lots of floral peach, honey dew, lemon and light mineral undertones. Medium length. Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon.

10. Pride Late Harvest Viognier Mistrelle 2009, 88 Points, $50- Straddles the line between dessert wine and fruit bomb, with notes of apple juice and residual sugar intertwining with elegance. Not overly rich, and very refreshing.

Pitchfork Fest 2010 Recap

July 20, 2010

It was certainly a scorcher for three straight days, but those of us who are serious about our music made the sacrifice. Pitchfork put on yet another fantastic festival over the weekend, and really showed how much they care about their fan base, placing hydration and heath above all else by handing out free waters, bringing in air-conditioned buses, and slashing prices as the weekend wore on. You have to believe that these actions saved a lot of people from having to make trips to the First Aid tent. So, thumbs up to Pitchfork for this. I have to give a big thumbs down to the replacement of Goose Island beer with Heineken, but it certainly didn’t break the deal for me. Here were some of my thoughts on the bands that I had the opportunity to watch over the course of the festival.


Highlight: ROBYN

Of all the performances at this year’s festival, no artist understood his or her purpose any better than Robyn did. As she strutted out into the blazing hot late afternoon sun to “Fembot”, she conveyed a positive, fun-loving energy without the slightest hint of diva pretentiousness. The Swedish dance pop queen made an immediate connection with her audience as she danced vigorously while demonstrating her impressive vocal range, all the while wearing a big smile. Early in the set, songs like “Cry When You Get Older” and a groovy version of “Cobrastyle” were quickly engaging, but the set really hit its stride towards its center, as Robyn nailed upbeat renditions of her two best songs, “With Every Heartbeat” and “Dancing On My Own”, the latter of which resulted in a full blown dance party. Robyn left it all on stage as her hour ended too soon, but after leaving us with a powerfully charged version of “Be Mine”, she had absolutely and surprisingly stolen the show, revving up the energy to a level that the festival would have difficulty maintaining for the rest of the evening, or the weekend for that matter.


I’ve seen Modest Mouse a number of times, and while their catalog is vast and deep, I’ve always come away with the same impression: this band, while admittedly great, has no idea how to use these songs to connect to its audience. Every time they seem to hit their stride, they play a new song or an obscure older one, and often seem take a pass on playing their better material for the sake of their own artistic narcissism. Case in point, after getting the set off to a strong start with “Tiny Cities Made of Ashes”, we had to wait until the encore to get even a single other song from Moon and Antarctica. This is their undisputed masterpiece, so it is indeed curious that the scattered set list didn’t have more focus. I’m not one who believes that a band has to play their most famous song at every concert, which is why I’ve never been upset that Radiohead refuses to play “Creep” or that U2 skipped out on “Pride” at Soldier Field last fall. Sometimes artists no longer identify with songs like these that have given them such success with the mainstream, so I wasn’t the one crying the blues Saturday morning that Modest Mouse didn’t play “Float On.” Still, when headlining a major festival, it wouldn’t hurt to spice up the set list with some minute element of familiarity. Even the Flaming Lips understand that (see last year’s recap).

Other Friday notes:

The afternoon got off to a pleasantly gentle start with the crooning vocals of Sharon Van Ettan and the crisp acoustic guitar style of another Swede, The Tallest Man on Earth, who entered pounding away on “The Wild Hunt” before hitting high points on an energized “King of Spain” and unapologetically gorgeous “Love Is All.” Liars (above) played a scattered but haunting and powerful set combining songs from each of their unique albums, while focusing on their most recent release, Sisterworld. At times, the stylistic differences between different eras of their challenging work seemed to bleed and lack a certain cohesiveness. Most of their songs seem to make more sense conceptually as a unit, but what we got was as close to a greatest hits collection as I suppose you could ask for from a band that has been so musically provocative over the years. Highlights included pitch-perfect opener “I Can Still See The Outside World”, beat-heavy oldie “The Garden Was Crowded and Outside”, and a supercharged finale of “Plastercasts of Everything”, “Clear Island” and “Proud Evolution.” Broken Social Scene delivered as they always do, this time taking stage with recent release Forgiveness Rock Record in their arsenal. The band worked its way through that album without forgetting to play old favorites like “Stars and Sons”, “Cause=Time” and “Superconnected.” The anthemic “Meet Me In The Basement” closed the set on a sustained, energetic note.



James Murphy closed out Saturday’s show on a ferocious high note, blasting through beats, synths and emotionally charged vocals and covering most of the highlights of his exquisite catalog. The swirling rumors that LCD Soundsystem will no longer tour after this year made the performance all the more powerful. With enough quality material to fill three sets of this length, Murphy balanced his work effortlessly, opening with “Us vs. Them” before escalating into longer, drawn out tracks like “Pow Pow”, “Yeah” and “Losing My Edge” that never lost intensity despite their length. Murphy paid homage to his beginnings, playing fantastic versions of “Daft Punk is Playing in My House” and “Tribulations” while still piling on the sentimentality on songs like “All My Friends” and “Someone Great”, the former of which was easily the day’s finest moment. If this was indeed the last LCD Soundsystem performance I will ever see, it certainly didn’t disappoint.

Lowlight: PANDA BEAR

Ugh. I’m actually a huge fan of Animal Collective and of Noah Lennox’s solo work, but if this wasn’t the most exasperating example of pretentious artistic excess than I don’t know what it was. It certainly didn’t help that Lennox, as always, featured for the most part new material that casual fans have never heard before (Person Pitch closer “Ponytail” being the lone exception), but the set list itself was only part of the problem. As Animal Collective often does, Lennox played a trippy kaleidoscope/video montage over the projector rather than letting the audience get any sort of visual impression of his actual performance, and exacerbated this cold, distant persona by failing to address the audience on a single occasion. I understand that for Panda Bear as a performer, this is all part of the mystique, but it didn’t play well at all with a crowd that was all but exhausted after enduring a day’s worth of scorching temperatures and humidity. I for one could barely stay awake through it.

Other Saturday notes:

Saturday began much in the same manner as Friday, with lots of heat and a relaxed tone, as Real Estate played a pleasant but middling set early on. The day’s strength began to manifest as Basque synth-rockers Delorean took the stage at the height of the day’s temperatures and transported the festival to a massive Ibiza beach party, piling it on with amped-up, extremely loud beats and dreamy pop vocals. The chorus of the rollicking “Endless Sunset” (Sun, Sun, Sun!”) rang out with appropriate simplicity, and by the time the set ended with album highlight “Grow”, the mood was extremely upbeat. A major highlight on Saturday was New Jersey angst-rockers Titus Andronicus (above), who featured an American flag both on stage and tied around lead singer Patrick Stickles’ guitar. For a band seemingly so full of cynicism and discontent, they sure did appear to be having a blast out there (constant smiling and laughter from lead guitarist Amy Klein), and the effect of this positive energy was contagious even over such lyrically dark material. Stickles offered a humorous shot at the audience after surfing through the crowd performing the band’s raucous self-titled song, the chorus of which states “Your life is over!” again and again, as he joked, “I’m sorry. But it is.” The band showed its evolution since playing here two years ago on layered epics like “Battle of Hampton Roads”, which at 15 minutes in length found a comfortable spot in the middle of the performance, while closer “Four Score and Seven” really demonstrated the band’s balance between soft, emotional rock and massive, swirling guitars. Wu-Tang alum Raekwon took the stage about 20 minutes late due to some technical difficulties, which I feel like always occur to these east coast rap acts. Once he finally got on stage, the crowd had become restless, but the Chef managed to weave his way through some of the Wu’s classic early material, while saving some time for his solo efforts as well, “Surgical Gloves” being a highlight. It was a rushed, predictable, but overall enjoyable set, as Raekwon seemed legitimately honored to be there in front of this almost entirely white audience, and surely gave his all despite the sound issues. Wolf Parade has the feel of a band that, like many bands in their situation, doesn’t realize that after making one great album (Apologies to the Queen Mary), it has been in a freefall ever since. As expected, the band concentrated largely on their middling new album Expo 86 and failed to take this performance to the next level due to the lack of strength of that material, as well as the decision to close with the laboriously punch-less “Kissing the Beehive.” Still, the set was not without highlights, all from the aforementioned album, but especially the classics “I’ll Believe in Anything” and “This Heart’s on Fire.”



The festival’s strongest day was dominated by two female-driven bands with vastly different sounds. Early in the day, Beach House was a revelation, as Victoria Legrand’s musky, echoey vocals radiated through the sweat-soaked crowd behind the intense reverb of the band’s electric organ and guitar notes. It took a lot for me to get goosebumps at 3 pm on a humid, 92 degree there, but Beach House was able to do it as they pushed steadily and seamlessly through brilliant new tracks like “Walk In The Park”, “Silver Soul” and “Zebra”. The band mixed in the best of their earlier work as well, soaring on “Master of None” and “Gila”, but saved the best for last, closing with a powerful, emotionally invested version of “10 Mile Stereo.” Every track glistened in the afternoon sunshine, and I couldn’t have been more pleased. Later in the day, I found myself about 10 feet away from the Balance Stage awaiting the highly anticipated Sleigh Bells performance, and they surpassed my already high expectations. Enigmatic lead singer Alexis Krauss was absolutely dominating despite some considerable sound issues, connecting with the audience in a manner that I didn’t see all weekend and basically challenging the crowd to get rowdier as she teetered and gyrated on the edges of the stage and ended up diving in on more than one occasion. “Do you want it louder?” she asked mischievously before slamming into a combo of “Tell ‘Em” and “Infinity Drums”, by the end of which I had voluntarily shuffled myself back from my initial spot for the sake of my own welfare. It was a crazy scene of pure power, and people we going insane for it as the raw energy kept coming with force on tracks like “Riot Rhythm”, “Rill Rill” and closer “Crown on the Ground.” The crowd never wanted it to end as the stage was simply bursting with energy, and cried out with disdain as the band left the stage. Krauss walked back on to add, “How many of you have our record? It’s thirty two minutes long. We don’t have any other songs. Go watch Pavement!” I’d enjoy having some drinks with this chick.

Lowlight: NONE

Aside from the third straight day of debilitating heat and the barbaric reality of yet another day in which the consumption of Heineken was the only option to achieve any sort of buzz, the music itself on Sunday didn’t have a single letdown from where I stood. But again, Pitchfork, what do I have to do to get Goose Island back here next year? It was greatly missed, and I couldn’t have hand-picked a worse beer to replace it. Come on guys, get to know your audience.

Other Sunday notes:

I was able to watch the Girls set from my front-row camp out spot for Beach House, and was generally impressed. The band had its sparse moments of disconnect from the audience, but I thought it went over well for the most part. Opening with standout “Laura” was great, and the feedback heavy transition from “Hellhole Ratrace” into “Morning Light” was nothing short of spectacular. The Balance Stage picked up steam on Sunday, as Local Natives sounded pretty sharp on closing numbers “Who Knows, Who Cares” and “Sun Hands”, while the fresh-faced rockers from Surfer Blood put on an enjoyable, if rookie-ish performance featuring solid renditions of “Floating Vibes”, “Harmonix” and “Swim.” Perhaps the biggest surprise over the course of Sunday came for those who skipped Big Boi entirely in order to get a good spot for Sleigh Bells, and were instead treated to an extremely lively and focused set from Neon Indian (above). Backed by a drummer, a guitarist and a keyboardist, lead singer Alan Palamo was able to concentrate on his uniquely styled sampling techniques while putting on quite a show, running the gamut through 2009’s Psychic Chasms and setting up perfectly for the chaos that followed. Speaking of chaos, the DJ Switch/ Diplo team of Major Lazer brought the ruckus in the early evening, combining hard-hitting dance beats with an on stage-spectacle of Chinese lion costumes and other such things. Annie Clark, aka St. Vincent, continued the trend of female domination by delivering a strong set full of lush tracks from her most recent album Actor, and connected to the audience a bit more later in the set after removing her sunglasses and offering an apology, “Hello. I didn’t mean to be standoffish before.” Dressed in a red sun dress and looking like a porcelain doll, Clark certainly had a confident stage presence, as she beat the hell out of her guitar on more than one occasion to achieve the desired effect. The stars of the show, Pavement, closed the festival out on a mellow note, but longtime fans had to be pleased with their set. It wasn’t a mind-blowing performance, but the band hit highlights like “Cut Your Hair”, “Two States”, “Shady Lane”, “Range Life” and “Gold Sounds”, demonstrating an awareness of its fan base and their long wait for this show. Other bands that played here could benefit from taking note of this strategy.


July 13, 2010

The weather has finally begun to get really, really hot here in Chicago, so in typical fashion I find myself turning more and more towards white wine this time of year. I haven’t featured a white wine yet in 2010, and I figured that it was long overdue. I just returned from a (way too short) trip out to Napa and Sonoma Valley and tasted as much wine as I could (more on that coming soon!) While in the Sonoma area, I found myself at one of my very favorite tasting rooms, Landmark Vineyards. If you are ever in the region, I consider Landmark to be a can’t miss stop on your tasting tour. It simply has everything that you could ever want in a winery stop, including friendly, informative hospitality behind the counter, gorgeous scenery that is pulled together by a fountain (below), plenty of tables for a mid-day picnic, and most importantly, killer wines. What actually makes Landmark’s wines so impressive is their across the board quality over so many different varietals, and their approachable price points. The winery produced a $30 bottle of Syrah in 2006 called Steel Plow that I will never forget, and continues to do a great job with that wine, and also succeeds admirably with Grenache, while also producing some of the most stunning Pinot Noir in the Sonoma Valley. Still, the house claims to specialize in Chardonnay, and on that front they perform just as well, producing several examples that all show off different characteristics of their terroir and offer something for everyone. This widely available and affordable offering from Landmark demonstrates a crisp, fruity style of Chardonnay that isn’t overly oaked and should be a perfect match for your picnic on those warm summer days ahead. Cheers!

LANDMARK CHARDONNAY OVERLOOK SONOMA-SANTA BARBARA-MONTEREY COUNTIES 2007, 90 Points, $30, 18,000 Cases Produced- Lots of toasty almond and pear citrus on the nose. Green apple and lemon-lime flavors combine on the crisp palate with vibrant acidity and understated oak notes. This is really all about the fruit and not tart at all through the long finish.