On the Road with the Grape Guy

On the Road with the Grape Guy is a on-going feature that follows me from event to event ... I post my thoughts, feelings and reviews of what happened and what I tasted ... basically it is here that I review the events I attend and the things that thrilled me.

Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars Dinner

05 Apr 2023


Winemaker SLWC(November 2022) … This historic winery brought its winemaker, Marcus Notaro, and five of their wines along for dinner at Epoch restaurant in Toronto. An intimate November affair in front of a roaring fire in a quiet room, where the noise of the world was shut out by the doors of the side-room that staged the event.

We started with a barely room temperature, Hands of Time Chardonnay and moved to a slightly cooler and more approachable, if not very Californian and "graceful" Chardonnay, called “Karia”. Then we were blessed with three reds, two current vintage Cabernets, and then a back vintage of one of the same wines.

My tasting notes are below, but first a little about Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars. It's  estate vineyard is 100 acres, growing 96% Cabernet Sauvignon and only 4% Cabernet Franc – so obviously this winery in Napa knows where it's bread is buttered. The other two vineyards are a 50-acre plot in Calistoga and a 70-acre plot in Napa - here again, the vineyards are planted to Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc - although numbers weren't given. Their whites come from a 40-acre plot that's planted to Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. The winery was established in 1970. There was to be a celebration of their 50th anniversary, but something happened in 2020 to stop all that ... I will not mention it here.

Quote of the Night ...
Winemaker Marcus Notaro, while discussing the price of wine, versus whether or not they are worth their price: "The wines damn well better deliver.”
The good news is … they did.

The Wines ...

Hands of Time Chard2020 Hands of Time Chardonnay
Everyone talked about the fruit here and how the neutral oak for 8 months helped shepherd the wine along. This is de-classified Karia fruit (their top end Chardonnay); but in truth, the warmth of the wine did little to make it shine: nectarine and peach joined hints of spice – to make it drinkable and tasty. But this wine definitely needed a little more chill to make it really sing.  (*** 1/2+)

2019 Karia, Napa Valley Chardonnay Karia Chard
The chill here was perfect and brought out so many of this white's cool temperature loving characteristics. “Karia” is Greek for graceful and that's just what this wine was: super-pleasant from beginning to end. Rich, smoky, oaky, but with a fruit core, that doles out salinity and good acidity; vanilla and some butterscotch also join the show. The wine is made in what Marcus called “a less intervention style”. Only 9 months in barrel, 34% new, all French, with 8% going into stainless steel to retain a modicum of freshness. There's also 0.5% Muscat Canelli that sneaks in - just enough to give it a floral aspect.  (****+)

Hands of Time Red2019 Hands of Time, Napa Valley Red Blend
Not really a field blend, as only Cabernet Sauvignon and Franc are grown, but the Hands sees 85% Cabernet Sauvignon meet with 15% Merlot (purchased fruit) ... The interesting part is that this wine pays tribute to the winemakers that have gone through the winery over the past years. And while considered a "second wine"; there are years that this wine is in more limited supply than one of their flagship bearer’s: Artemis. Smoky-dark fruit and blueberry skin on the finish, while the palate is fruit-forward and very tasty. Silky tannins help shape this wine into a real winter.  (****)

2019 Artemis, Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon Artemis 2018
Marcus (winemaker) describes 2019 as a "challenging, but good. Vintage" overall. The wine has a drop (.5%) of Cabernet Franc and the blend spends 15 months in oak, 42%, new French and 6% new American, all the rest is in older French. The fruit is pure and robust: plum, black cherry, blackberry with notes of chocolate, white smoke and silky tannins. Through the evening, the wine opened and became even more silky and ultimately gorgeous for both sipping and sniffing – the grilled beef fillet was not let down by the wine, nor vice versa. Purity of fruit and complexity makes this wine and the cellaring potential sits at about 15 plus years.  (**** 1/2+)

Our last wine of the evening was the 2014 Artemis, which was smooth, silky and luxurious across the tongue ... Marcus described that vintage as "elegant" - but despite the elegance, there did seem to be a consensus around the table that the 2019 stole the show - it's challenges brought about a more complete, complex and ultimately delicious wine.


Brunello Day in Toronto

03 Apr 2023


(November 2022) ... A few years ago I was doing this tasting in Montalcino, then Brunello broke with the rest of their Tuscan counterparts and decided to have their own event(s) – two as it turns out: one to showcase the Rosso wines and the other looks at their top tier wines, Brunello and Riserva.

Then someone came up with the next big idea: have these tastings simultaneously in the four biggest markets for Italian wines, thus Brunello Day was invented with tasting in Toronto, New York, London as well as back home in Montalcino – and all on the same day.

Over 100 wines were poured, in a very similar fashion to how they do it in  Montalcino, with sommelier service and a list of wines to choose from.

The vintage in question was the 2018 – which has found some detractors in the wine world – but I have to admit, some of these wines showed a real elegance and plenty of fruit – not one usually says after a sub-par vintage. In fact, some of the fruit found in the 2018 rose above some that I found in much stronger vintages of the past.

I used my usual Good / Better / Best approach, which I use for young and unfinished wines at Anteprimas – and I must say that with eight-plus wines receiving “best” accolades in this report, it might just be one of the most enjoyable tasting of Brunello I have ever been to. So watch the 2018 Brunellos, they will surprise – and here are the ones I found most pleasing (some also have notes)

The Wines …

(The Riservas)
Col D'Orcia 2015 Brunello di Montalcino - Poggio al VentoBest

Banfi 2017 Brunello di Montalcino - Poggio alle Mura RiservaBest

Sesti 2017 Brunello di Montalcino – Phenomena
More of that red fruit, cherry bomb and red jolly rancher; elegant and suppleBest

Capanna 2017 Brunello di Montalcino Riserva
There’s a little VA getting in the way here - woodsy, smoky, earthy notes dominate; fruit is sidling up to the barn door ready to appearBetter

Capineto 2017 Brunello di Montalcino RiservaBetter
Pinino 2017    Brunello di Montalcino RiservaBetter
Caparzo 2017 Brunello di Montalcino RiservaGood
Tenuta Corte Pavone 2017 Brunello di Montalcino - Poggio Molino al Vento VineyardGood

Banfi 2018 Brunello di Montalcino – Marrucheto Banfi Brunello
So much fruit and elegance, just a stupendous drop (video I have) – lovely concentration and just a lot going onBest

Fattoria dei Barbi 2018 Brunello di Montalcino - Del Fiore Vineyard
Just pure elegance in the glassBest

Pian delle Vigne 2018 Brunello di Montalcino
Nice fruit-forward nature, smoky but lively, with all the red currants, cranberry, and acidity making for a delicious dropBest

San Polo 2018 Brunello di Montalcino – Podernovi
Yum - graceful, elegant and smooth - lots of dark fruit and smoke; lush and lovelyBest

Sesti 2018 Brunello di Montalcino
Red fruit kicks things off and does not let go: red currants, sour cherry, strawberry pith and raspberryBest

Tassi 2018 Brunello di Montalcino - Colombaiolo Vineyard
Lots of rich red fruit - tasty and easy - there is a seam of oak and acidity that balances the wine; it has a yum factor that can’t be deniedBest

Tassi 2018 Brunello di Montalcino – Franoi
Touch more linear than the above, but still full-fruited and full-bodied, lots of deliciousness with all that lovely red fruitBest

Val di Suga 2018 Brunello di Montalcino Val di Suga
Pretty cherry blossom and other floral componenets, subtle smoke and mocha, good tannin structure, well-balanced; so pretty and elegantBest

Altesino 2018 Brunello di Montalcino    
Smooth and supple - red berry fruit galore, red licorice, good acid punch on the finish … Better

Banfi 2018 Brunello di Montalcino - Poggio alle Mura
Lots and lots of red fruit plus red licorice and balancing acidityBetter

Carpineto 2018 Brunello di Montalcino
A real elegant style of black fruit, mocha, cherry, blackberry, cassis and cedarBetter

Col D'orciaCol D'Orcia 2018 Brunello di Montalcino
Nice earthy component with smoked-cherry, blackberry, cassis, forest floor and even some distinct pine notesBetter

Collemattoni 2018 Brunello di Montalcino
Plush and lush, pretty with violets and other floral notes plus dark fruit and spiceBetter

Corte dei Venti 2018 Brunello di Montalcino
Pleasant and elegant - very pure with fruit and spice notes throughoutBetter

Fattoria dei Barbi 2018 Brunello di Montalcino
So lovely; red cherry and other bright fruits all baring up with good concentrationBetter

La Fortuna 2018 Brunello di Montalcino La Fortuna
Light, but with a juicy core that shows off a little black fruit, all with big acidityBetter

Pinino 2018 Brunello di Montalcino    
Lively, jazzy but with a restraint on the acidity - juicy and elegant - drink nowBetter

Poggio AnticoPoggio Antico 2018 Brunello di Montalcino    
Nice and elegant: cherry, strawberry, blackberry, cassis - hints of cedar and a touch of balsamicBetter

Talenti 2018 Brunello di Montalcino    
Mocha, coffee, maple-wood-bark all can be found on the nose; good acidity with notes of sour cherry on the finishBetter

Tenuta Corte Pavone 2018 Brunello di Montalcino - Campo MarzioBetter

Tenuta Fanti 2018 Brunello di Montalcino
Good concentration with darker berry fruit and mocha plushnessBetter

Tenuta Poggio Il Castellare 2018 Brunello di Montalcino    
Licorice and mint, blackberry, smoke and black cherryBetter

Ucceliera 2018 Brunello di Montalcino
Some VA character on the nose, but there is no doubt that this is Brunello through and through - acid / tannin / harsh / but it will come aroundBetter

Val di Suga 2018 Brunello di Montalcino - Del Lago Vineyard
Another good wine from Val di Suga: lots of sour cherry, mocha, licorice and earthy characterBetter

Val di Suga 2018 Brunello di Montalcino - Poggio al Granchio    
Smooth and round, silky tannins, with a dark fruit coreBetter

Altesino 2018 Brunello di Montalcino - Montosoli Vineyard … Good
Banfi 2018 Brunello di Montalcino - Castello Banfi … Good
Capanna 2018 Brunello di Montalcino … Good Caparzo
Caparzo 2018 Brunello di Montalcino … Good
Caparzo 2018 Brunello di Montalcino - La Casa Vineyard … Good
Fattoi 2018 Brunello di Montalcino … Good
La Fiorita 2018 Brunello di Montalcino - Fiore di No … Good
Poggio di Sotto 2018 Brunello di Montalcino … Good
Ruffino 2018 Brunello di Montalcino … Good
San Polo 2018 Brunello di Montalcino – Vignavecchia … Good
Talenti 2018 Brunello di Montalcino - Piero … Good
Tassi 2018 Brunello di Montalcino … Good
Tenuta Corte Pavone 2018 Brunello di Montalcino … Good
Tenuta Corte Pavone 2018 Brunello di Montalcino - Fiore del Vento … Good


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