Thursday, June 30, 2016



by Fred Swan

Kurt Amman, GM of Melville winery in the Sta. Rita Hills AVA, leans down to show me their new under-vine weeder. Not every winery tour begins this way. But Melville is serious about organic growing and, especially, about avoiding stuff like Round-Up. Cover crop is necessary to do organic right in this sandy soil. The new machine makes that easier to manage.

Later, as we walk toward the winery, Amman says simply, “We grow all our flavors.” We grow all our flavors. Melville wines are about purity. There is only stainless steel or neutral oak—genuinely neutral, eight-to-twelve years old. There’s no manipulation either. It’s all about the grapes and, occasionally, dry stems.

Melville wines tell you about the vineyard and the vintage. They express the Sta. Rita Hills AVA clearly and without artifice. And they tell you to buy them. Because they are really, really good wines and excellent values too.

The winery and its estate vineyards are located at about the mid-point of Hwy 246 as it passes through the northern part of the Sta. Rita Hills AVA. The estate vineyards aren’t quite contiguous, divided by Babcock. Some blocks, even if side-by-side, show remarkably divergent characteristics due to varying altitudes, soils and facings. Sta. Rita Hills is complex like that. So, too, these wines.
Not just pure and complex, the wines seem effortless. Comfortable in their own skin, beautiful without makeup. And they go down that way, undemanding and easy to enjoy but with plenty of depth if you pay attention.

Here are our reviews:
2013 Melville Chardonnay Estate Vineyard Sta. Rita Hills

2013 Melville Pinot Noir Estate Vineyard Sta. Rita Hills

2013 Melville Syrah Estate Vineyard Sta. Rita Hills

2014 Melville Pinot Noir Block M Sta. Rita Hills

2014 Melville Pinot Noir Terraces Sta. Rita Hills

Saturday, June 18, 2016


Catherine Fallis MS on the Father of Prosecco
Glass of Bubbly Issue 12
May June 2016
by Catherine Fallis
Antonio Carpenè is often referred to as the father of Prosecco, founding Carpenè Malvolti, the first modern winery in the Veneto and the winery that created the style and character that is Prosecco today. He also founded the Istituto Conegliano, now the largest technical winemaking school in the world, and a leader in oenology and viticulture in Italy.

Over the succeeding generations the Carpenè family continues to lead the way for the wines of Italy, founding the Italian Institute of Sparkling Wine with eight other leading companies, moving forward with legislative protection for wine regions and production methods, playing a key role in Federvini, the national wine association, and today chairing the Technical High School Institute for New Technology to improve education and the use of High Tech in the world of Italian Food and Wine.
Representing the fifth generation of her family, today Rosanna Carpenè serves as President of the company and continues to move it forward. Carpenè Malvolti wines are available in more than fifty countries and include Prosecco Superiore (see my review below), Classic Method Sparkling Rose and Brut, Brandy and Grappa.

nv Carpene Malvoti 1868 Extra Dry Prosecco Superiore Conegliano Valdobbaidene DOCG Veneto Italy PG 90 pts
11%, 750 ml, $20 Lightly effervescent and subtly sweet with notes of lemon bar, apple cider, and almond pine nut cookie.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016


Somm Journal April May 2016
Cahors has a soft, supple style all its own.
Planet Grape  The SOMM Journal April/May 2016

Malbec is a rock star in our industry. That is if it is from Argentina. There, the transformation from shy, sensitive, earthy and awkward to rich, ripe, super clean and beautifully balanced was so spectacular the wine drinking world took immediate notice. It didn’t hurt that at go time the US dollar’s strength provided a two for the price of one valuation.

Malbec, one of the five varieties used in red Bordeaux, is thought to have originated in South West France, though in Cahors the local name is Auxerrois, suggesting origins in Northern Burgundy. The grape is sensitive to frost, downy mildew, and rot, and has therefore come to reach its pinnacle of varietal expression in warm, sunny Mendoza. I love Mendozan Malbecs because they offer clean, rich, ripe fruit when I’m craving that, and plentiful natural acidity. But some of them are as lavishly oaked as California wines and I find that an obstacle when looking to showcase delicious and especially delicate cuisine. So these days I look to Cahors, especially in light of the trend towards clean wines, made softer and more supple with the addition of well-ripened Merlot - Cahors is required by law to have a minimum of only 70% Malbec so that gives some wiggle room.
Here are my top picks after an extensive regional tasting:

2011 Chateau Eugenie Cuvee Reservee de l’Aieul Cahors AOP South West France  14.5%, $20

This soft, billowy and tart Malbec blended with 10% Tannat has warm, inviting notes of raspberry, morello cherry, fig, date, spearmint, pink rose, espresso bean, cinnamon toast and cedar. Beautifully balanced. Imported by Wine Company, St. Paul MINN

2012 Chateau Bovila Les Quatres Eglisses Cahors AOP South West France  13%, $15

Delicate, pretty, pithy and light, Pinot Noir-like in weight, but with darker fruit along with notes of dark chocolate, mole, seared pork, duck skin, and Angostura Bitters. Imported by Opici Wines, Glen Rock NJ

2011 Chateau Haut-Monplaisir Prestige Cahors AOC South West France  14.5%, $25

Fruity and supple Malbec with notes of cherry cobbler, kirsch, dark chocolate, clove, Sumatran coffee, vanilla bean, and red rose, and tart on the finish. Imported by Vintage 59 Imports, Washington DC

2014 Chateau de Gaudou Cahors AOC South West France  13%, $17

Engaging, spicy and tart Malbec with notes of cherry, plum, leather, chocolate pudding, cigar box and coffee bean. Imported by Grape Expectations, Richmond, CA

2009 Chateau de Chambert Cahors AOP South West France 92 14.5%, $18

Ripe but firm and tart Malbec with notes of cranberry, strawberry. cherry, licorice, fennel, balsam, pine, scrub, white pepper and cardamom. Imported by Touton Selections, NYC

Check out more of our Cahors reviews here:

Wednesday, June 8, 2016


Martinelli FamilySM
The Martinelli family has been growing grapes in the Russian River Valley since the 1800's, when Giuseppe Martinelli and Luisa Vellutini eloped and moved from Tuscany to Sonoma County. In the 1970s third-generation vintners Lee Martinelli Sr. and Carolyn Martinelli assumed leadership and began developing vineyards on family properties throughout Sonoma County.

In 1992 they brought on renowned Winemaker Helen Turley and went on to establish new standards for world-class farming and winemaking within the Russian River Valley. Today Lee Sr. and Carolyn are joined by their four children, who will shape the winery’s future. Lee Jr. and George Martinelli share with their father the role of managing the vineyards. Julianna and Regina Martinelli head up the winery’s hospitality, marketing, communications and sales outreach. Winemaking is directed by Bryan Kvamme, a protégé of Helen Turley, who has been working at Martinelli since 1997. Martinelli Winery & Vineyards  specializes in single-vineyard lots of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Zinfandel and Syrah from 450 acres of estate vineyards in the Russian River Valley and Sonoma Coast.

Recently I joined a group of journalists and sommeliers from across the country to visit with the Martinelli's both on their rugged and remote Jackass Hill vineyard at the western end of Russian River Valley not far from the coast, and at their easily-accessible tasting room on River Road. The 2.5 acre hillside, which is a vertiginous 60 degree slope, was planted in the 1890's to Zinfandel and Muscat. Jackass Hill, the steepest non-terraced vineyard in Sonoma, was given its name by the Martinelli's, "as only a jackass would farm a hill that steep."

Martinelli Harvest
Across the board, the wines were on the powerful end of the spectrum, with the lowest alcohol level at 14.5 for a Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir and the highest at 17.5 for the  Jackass Hill Zinfandel, yet the wines were able to express a sense of place and time. Sisters Julianna and Regina regaled us with stories of family traditions including "Breakfast Chardonnay" where they sit in the creek eating bacon and eggs and drinking Chardonnay.

Visit Martinelli Winery & Vineyards here:
Martinelli Winery & Vineyards
3360 River Road, Windsor, CA 95492 707-525-0570,
Facebook: Martinelli Winery         Twitter: @martinelliwines      Instagram: martinelliwinery

Read our expert reviews of Martinelli wines here: