• Santa Cruz Late Release:  Ahlgren Bates' Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon & Merlot

    Santa Cruz Late Release: Ahlgren Bates' Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon & Merlot

    My fondness for the old school winemaking mentality that can be regularly found in pockets of the Santa Cruz Mountains is no surprise. Names like RidgeMount Eden, and more recently Arnot-Roberts have proved emblematic of Cabernet Sauvignon's ability to show a more nuanced and earth-inflected tone in this ultra-cool zone of California. This is where my excitement for the variety reaches its fever pitch in America. There's always an element of mystery to these vineyards that have remained way off the radar as compared to Napa counterparts. Among the mysteries residing in the Santa Cruz Mountains, no winery elicits the same intrigue as that of the former Ahlgren Vineyards and their Bates Ranch bottlings.

    Today, I'm happy to offer the late release direct from the winery of Ahlgren's 1992 Cabernet Sauvignon for $68, and their 2005 Merlot for $39. I've also created special 6-pack pricing to sharpen up this rare back-vintage offer even more.

    Val and Dexter Ahlgren had been producing wines from this Boulder Creek zone of the Santa Cruz Mountains since the 70's. Upon their relatively recent retirement they had sold all of their library stock to a favorite distributor of mine whom I've long turned to for everything from Soldera Brunello to Foradori Teroldgeo to Cedric Bouchard champagne. When they announced these Ahlgren wines would be poured at their portfolio tasting I was very excited to taste. The results in bottle were so impressive I took every bottle available.

    Now, I've painted the Santa Cruz Mountains with a broad brush in the past, describing a middle ground between Napa and Bordeaux for the Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot-based wines. When we talk about Ahlgren we need to pull away from this simple analogy a bit. Ahlgren produces wines from these two varieties with a transparency and light extraction that actually bears little resemblance to either Napa or Bordeaux. Ahlgren exists in its own category of style, and pointing to similar references wouldn't do these wines justice or accurately explain what you'll find in bottle.

    For me, these late releases impress first and foremost in their soundness of fruit. These had been resting at the winery since initial bottling until their recent purchase.There's a singular sweet brown spice found in both the 1992 Cabernet Sauvignon and 2005 Merlot that's simply Bates Ranch. Tannin was never the basis of structure for these wines, interestingly enough from two varieties that rarely have a shortage in that department. Instead, it's the acidity and sense of freshness that serves as the wines' foundation today with bright red and black fruits pulsating with energy. Each has a soft and utterly drinkable quality that's at once fun and playful, yet lingers with dead-serious tertiary development that makes terroir the prime feature.

    Late releases from wineries always offer something that's worthy of getting excited about. Especially in these more delicately constructed wines the provenance is so critical in enjoying them at their apogee. Today's final release from Ahlgren Vineyards Bates' Ranch is one that sums up why this ultra old school zone of California warrants so much attention.
    Posted by Alexander Rosen
  • Overachierver Baby Monte Bello: 2014 Ridge Estate Cabernet Sauvignon

    Overachierver Baby Monte Bello: 2014 Ridge Estate Cabernet Sauvignon

    Last night, a stunning 1999 Ridge Monte Bello reaffirmed that within the discussion of What is California Grand Cru, this is where the argument should end.

    Today, we're taking a look back at an earlier offer on the best value California Cabernet Sauvignon, a "Baby Monte Bello", Ridge's 2014 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon. Also offered are a range of back-vintage Monte Bello, including one of the most prized American wines from the last 50 years, the epic 1991.

    Monte Bello Estate vineyard atop the Santa Cruz Mountains needs little introduction. The Monte Bello designate Cabernet Sauvignon releases around $200 per bottle. What's still somewhat under-the-radar is their Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, comprised of 15 to 20 parcels on the Monte Bello vineyard that have historically shown a more approachable and softer fruit profile.

    Each vintage the Estate Cabernet is a favorite of mine, still displaying the magic that Paul Draper started here in 1969. The drought conditions of 2014 gave an added element of concentration and weight to this Baby Monte Bello cuvée. For lovers of old school California Cabernet Sauvignon from the coolest, Pacific-influenced mountain terrain, this is a moment to take notice.

    Monte Bello's black fruit, racy mint and graphite tones always impress, but the experiences also come at the expense of long bottle aging. The Estate Cabernet has all of these same inherent Monte Bello vineyard characteristics, only showing them through a softer focus. In all years this is the case, but 2014 was immediately recognized as something quite special:

    "Readers who are looking for a more affordable alternative to Ridge's iconic Monte Bello should consider the 2014 Estate. Look for the Estate to be a real overachiever in 2014 as well as one of the best - possibly the best - California Cabernet in its price range."
    The history of Monte Bello extends as far back as 1885 when the 180 acres was purchased and planted by San Francisco doctor, Osea Perrone. Through a tumultuous series including prohibition, multiple sales, and re-planting, the Monte Bello estate really comes into its own with Paul Draper's arrival in 1969. Draper's insistence on producing "Pre-Industrial" wines has received a lot of attention, as he challenged winemakers to put the full list of ingredients on their labels. Draper's end goal is producing wines that reflect site, relying on native yeast ferments and strictly opposing modern manipulations such as Ultra/Mega purple concentrate, reverse osmosis, and the like.

    Ridge also stands out from much of California Cabernet Sauvignon in their deft use of American oak. The limestone soils of Monte Bello have long stood up to the new oak regimen (here 70%), providing more silken texture and elegance without obscuring terroir - easy to say, not so easy to execute. Along with the fabulously open-knit 2014 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, today's list features perfectly stored, back-vintage Monte Bello.
    Purchase Here.

    2014 Ridge Estate Cabernet Sauvignon
    $65 per bottle.

    "Sustainably farmed, hand-harvested, estate-grown grapes; destemmed and sorted; fermented on the native yeasts; full malolactic on the naturally occurring bacteria; 0.25g/L calcium carbonate to moderate high natural acidity in four of twenty distinct parcels; 1.7% water addition to twelve of the twenty lots; minimum effective sulfur (25ppm at crush, 120 ppm during aging); a fining of 5 fresh, egg whites per barrel for the press wine; pad filtered at bottling. In keeping with our philosophy of minimal intervention, this is the sum of our actions." - Ridge 

    3x 2001 Ridge Monte Bello Cabernet Sauvignon
    $399 per bottle.

    1x 1999 Ridge Monte Bello Cabernet Sauvignon (not online)
    $199 per bottle.

    5x 1997 Ridge Monte Bello Cabernet Sauvignon
    $319 per bottle.

    8x 1991 Ridge Monte Bello Cabernet Sauvignon
    $679 per bottle.

    1x 1991 Ridge Monte Bello Cabernet Sauvignon 1.5L
    $1,379 per bottle.

    1x 1980 Ridge Monte Bello Cabernet Sauvignon
    $384 per bottle.
    Posted by Max Kogod
  • Turning Back the Clock: 2015 Di Costanzo Farell Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon

    Turning Back the Clock: 2015 Di Costanzo Farell Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon

    "Rich, sumptuous and explosive, the 2015 possesses terrific density from start to finish. Even with all of its intensity, the 2015 still captures plenty of the Farella signatures, namely graphite, gravel and savory-infused overtones galore...Massimo di Costanzo remains one of Napa Valley's most promising young producers "
    - Antonio Galloni of Vinous (3/18)

    New California Wine, as was appropriately dubbed by Jon Bonné in his excellent book, has brought to the forefront so many talented winemakers throughout the state who are working to express terroir through more minimal intervention and a scrupulous eye on balance. While so many exciting projects are coming from every corner of the state, Napa Valley as a region has been more tied to its recent history of bombastic wines than others. Today, there's no project more dynamic than what Massimo Di Costanzo is producing from the Cabernet Sauvignon grown in Coombville's Farella Vineyard.

    I'm very happy to offer Di Costanzo's new 2015 Farella Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, complete with special pricing on a very rare vertical 4-Pack covering 2012-2015.

    Di Costanzo's Cabernet Sauvignon captures everything that's so thrilling about the variety when coming at it from a very sensitive and thoughtful approach. It's at once dark and savory with smoke, graphite, and scorched earth notes reminiscent of the volcanic ash scattered throughout the vineyard. And, at the same time the wine is supremely elegant and speaks to Massimo's travels throughout the world working with the tannic variety and getting accustomed to taming its burly predisposition.

    Coombsville is perhaps the coolest AVA within all of Napa, thanks to moderating influences from the nearby San Pablo Bay. Before launching his label Massimo spent years working with the Farella winery getting intimately familiar with the nuances of the red gravel-dominant vineyard. 

    After receiving his Enology and Viticulture degrees from UC Davis in 2002, Massimo worked with wineries in Tuscany (Tignanello), Stellenbosch, Mendoza, ending at Ovidand then Screaming Eagle in Napa working as the winemaker alongside Andy Erickson. Massimo's extensive familiarity with old-school Napa Valley has greatly shaped his approach to production. It's these wines from the 1960's and 1970's that are the ultimate inspiration for what's being achieved today from this epic Coombsville site.

    2015 Di Costanzo Farella Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon
    $95 per bottle.

    Special E-mail Vertical 4-Pack: $379 (Regularly $410)
    One bottle of each: 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015

    2014 Di Costanzo Farella Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon
    $105 per bottle.

    2013 Di Costanzo Farella Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon
    $105 per bottle.

    2012 Di Costanzo Farella Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon
    $105 per bottle.
    Posted by Max Kogod
  • Return to Diamond Mountain: Back-Vintage Diamond Creek Spectacular

    Return to Diamond Mountain: Back-Vintage Diamond Creek Spectacular

    January's special offer on 1986 Diamond Creek sold out in a flash. Today, I'm very happy to offer a brand new parcel from Diamond Mountain's iconic estate. Featured are standout vintages with a strong focus on my personal favorite bottling, Gravelly Meadow. The highlight of the list may very well be the 1978 Gravelly Meadow, but some may see the rarely produced "Lake" bottling from 1996 as the standout.Wherever your preferences may lie, one thing is certain, these wines are in peak form today.

    If Spottswoode personifies Napa Cabernet's most graceful side, then Diamond Creek is surely the greatest ambassador for the darker, wilder side of the valley's mountain sites. The smoke, gravel, menthol, and blue fruits of Diamond Mountain are the stuff of legends, and Diamond Creek started it all.

    Al and Boots Brounstein were trailblazers in Napa Valley by everyone's standards. An all-time favorite inception story traces Al back to two First Growth Bordeaux estates where he shipped vine cuttings to Mexico, then flying them to Napa on his private plane. Avoiding the long quarantine process the US required for vine material he was able to plant his vineyard immediately. And became the first ever estate-bottled 100% Cabernet Sauvignon in California.

    Initially, Al was worried the undeveloped Diamond Mountain would be too cool to ripen Cabernet Sauvignon sufficiently. But, touring the property with Napa icons, Louis Martini and Andre Tchelistcheff, he was convinced it was the variety to excel here. In 1968 he planted, and Diamond Creek's inaugural vintage followed in 1972. The wines of this era in the 70's and 80's, where alcohol levels were very modest (12.5% for the 1986's), sit at the pinnacle of the greatest California wine experiences I've been fortunate enough to share.

    Red Rock Terrace is a steep 7-acre, north-facing vineyard composed of iron-rich red soil. It's always the most approachable of the estate's wines, with the softest tannin profile and a powerful, more dark red-fruited expression.

    Volcanic Hill is a 8-acre, south-facing vineyard composed of gray volcanic ash, the remnants of 
     Mt. Konocti's eruption 8 million years ago. Volcanic Hill is regarded by many as the very most age-worthy of the trio. It contains a small amount of Petit Verdot, adding extra backbone and accentuating the site's smokey character. The warmest of the three vineyards.

    Gravelly Meadow is a 5-acre, pre-historic riverbed composed of stony, alluvial and gravel soils. Always the closest in profile to the Pauillac wines of Bordeaux where this First Growth original vine material derives from. Classic Pauillac notes of graphite always stand out here. The coolest of the three vineyards.

    "Lake" is a .75 acre vineyard at the estate's coolest microclimate, located adjacent to the small lake on the property. This is only produced in the most ideal vintages for the site. In all, there have been 16 vintages produced since 1972.

    The hunt for perfectly stored back-vintage bottles of Diamond Creek is always a top priority of mine. This is a rare collection that covers so many terrific vintages and offers prime drinking now. These should not be missed!

    3x 1978 Diamond Creek Gravelly Meadow Cabernet Sauvignon
    $899 per bottle.

    1x 1982 Diamond Creek Gravelly Meadow Cabernet Sauvignon
    $264 per bottle.

    1x 1983 Diamond Creek Gravelly Meadow Cabernet Sauvignon
    $229 per bottle.

    2x 1985 Diamond Creek Gravelly Meadow Cabernet Sauvignon
    $269 per bottle.

    1x 1986 Diamond Creek Gravelly Meadow Cabernet Sauvignon
    $269 per bottle.

    6x 1986 Diamond Creek Red Rock Terrace Cabernet Sauvignon
    $199 per bottle.

    5x 1986 Diamond Creek Volcanic Hill Cabernet Sauvignon
    $199 per bottle.

    2x 1987 Diamond Creek Volcanic Hill Cabernet Sauvignon
    $199 per bottle.

    3x 1988 Diamond Creek Volcanic Hill Cabernet Sauvignon
    $199 per bottle.

    2x 1990 Diamond Creek Volcanic Hill Cabernet Sauvignon
    $199 per bottle.

    2x 1991 Diamond Creek Volcanic Hill Cabernet Sauvignon
    $189 per bottle.

    2x 1991 Diamond Creek Volcanic Hill Cabernet Sauvignon
    $229 per bottle.

    1x 1996 Diamond Creek Lake Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon
    $749 per bottle.

    1x 1999 Diamond Creek Gravelly Meadow Cabernet Sauvignon 1.5L
    $399 per bottle.

    1x 2001 Diamond Creek Volcanic Hill Cabernet Sauvignon
    $164 per bottle.

    Posted by Max Kogod
  • Rutherford Bench Whisperer: Cathy Corison's Napa Cabernet Sauvignons

    Rutherford Bench Whisperer: Cathy Corison's Napa Cabernet Sauvignons

    "One of the things that is so remarkable about Cathy Corison’s cabernets is how cool and classic they are in profile, harkening back stylistically to the great Rutherford Bench wines made on the valley floor in the 1960s and 1970s, when so many other winemakers in Napa will tell you today that it is simply not possible in an era of global warming to make wines in that style anymore! "

    - John Gilman, View from the Cellar (05/17)

    When asked to name favorite Napa Caberenet Sauvignon my mind goes two places instantly: Cathy Corison in the valley and Philip Togni on the mountain. Not to take anything away from the brilliant wines produced elsewhere in Napa, but these two icons simply sit at a different table, as I see things. If Togni is famous for his rugged and dark fruit-inflected Spring Mountain wines, then Cathy Corison is the standard bearer for Napa's most restrained and finessed style. 

    Terroir-driven Napa Cabernet has become a bit of a selling point over the last decade, but Cathy Corison has been on this path since she founded her winery in 1987. Or course, the real story of Corison began many years before. After graduating from UC Davis with a Masters degree in Enology, Cathy began working in 1978 at Freemark Abbey and then was the winemaker at Chappellet throughout the 80's. As stylistic tides shifted in Napa she was resolute in telling her own story, one emphasizing a sense of place without aritifice. And so, Corison was born, sourcing grapes from the famed 7-mile long, 2-mile wide Rutherford Bench, located just west of Highway 29.

    The Corison Cabernets always strike me for their more ethereal, yet concentrated, elements of black cherry, violets, cigar box, and graphite. The surprising feature in how these wines are characterized vs. Napa neighbors is they age beautifully despite being lauded for their "grace" and "elegance". Today, bottles from the early 90's are still totally fresh and vibrant.

    The Corison Napa Valley designate bottling is sourced from vineyards that span that Rutherford Bench. The Kronos Vineyard comes from Kathy's home winery in Saint Helena, old vines planted on that famed phyloxera resistant St. George rootstock. The Kronos bottling may not be dubbed "Cult California" like some of the behemoth 100-pointers, but it is still among the rarest and, as far as I'm concerned, one of the very greatest wines of California.

    2014 Corison Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 
    $99 per bottle.

    2013 Corison Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 
    $99 per bottle.

    2010 Corison Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 
    $119 per bottle.

    2003 Corison Kronos Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 
    $176 per bottle.

    2002 Corison Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 1.5L
    $369 per bottle.

    2001 Corison Kronos Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 
    $247 per bottle.

    Posted by Max Kogod