If My Stock Picks Were As Good As My Wine Picks…

Au Bon Climat - top 101 WineriesI just received a PR release about “The 101 Best Wineries in America” from The Daily Meal.  Of the nation’s 8,000+ U.S. wine producers, the top 101 were selected by surveys from American wine and food professionals (methodology details can be found below).  So I was pleased to see the list contained NINETEEN of the wineries I’ve introduced to my club members!  

If I had as much skill in selecting stocks I could retire and tour the vineyards of the world year-round.  Hell, I could own a couple dozen.  “Call me Mr. Foley”.  Until then, I’ll spend my day copying the top 10 wineries (below), followed by the publisher’s notes and methodology.  

Note, of the 101 top wineries, 24 do not meet my wine club’s criteria for price or production criteria.

The Top 10 Wineries in America (highlights = wineries introduced to my wine club members)

1. Ridge Vineyards — Cupertino, CaliforniaTop 101 Wineries - Copain
2. Au Bon Climat Winery — Santa Maria, California
3. Calera Wine Company — Mt. Harlan, California
4. Littorai Wines — Sebastopol, California
5. Woodward Canyon Winery — Lowden, Washington
6. Dunn Vineyards — Angwin, California
7. Heitz Cellars — St. Helena, California
8. Matthiasson Winery — Napa Valley, California
9. Sandhi Wines — Santa Barbara, CA
10. Copain Wine Cellars — Healdsburg, CA 

In addition to these three top-ten wineries, my wine club members have enjoyed discovering wines selected from 16 of the remaining award winners (listed alphabetically):

Andrew Murray Vineyards — Los Olivos, CaliforniaTop 101 Wineries - Andrew Murray
Arnot-Roberts — Healdsburg, California
Beckmen Vineyards — Los Olivos, California
Bonny Doon Vineyard — Santa Cruz, California
Caparone Winery — Paso Robles, California
Corison Winery — St. Helena, California
Foxen — Santa Maria, California
Gruet Winery — Albuquerque, New Mexico
Hanzell Vineyards — Sonoma, California
Hirsch Vineyards — Cazadero, California
Mount Eden Vineyards — Saratoga, California
Peay Vineyards — Cloverdale, CaliforniaTop 101 Wineries - Tablas Creek
Qupé — Los Olivos, California
Saxum Vineyards — Paso Robles, California
Tablas CreekCreek Vineyard — Paso Robles, California
Wind Gap Wines — Sebastopol, California 

To see the full story and list of all 101 wineries from “The Daily Meal”, click here.

For more information on my wine clubs click here and discover your next favorite!

While California remains indisputably the wine capital of the country, the number and variety of truly beautiful wines being made in America has grown exponentially in recent years: wine is now produced in all 50 states. This list is largely a reflection of that, and celebrates those wineries that are simply doing it best (many of which are quite unexpected!).


The wineries on our list were nominated by experts in the field: the wonderful sommeliers, wine writers, chefs, and restaurateurs who were kind enough to gift us with their opinions about wineries around the country. After their initial nominations, these experts returned to vote on the wines based on the three values we deemed most important: wine quality, consistency, and value. Poring over the voters’ results allowed us to shape the final list of wineries you see here.

We’ve thoroughly plumbed the rich and diverse depths of the American wine landscape, and we are proud of the following list — and of course, grateful to the experts who aided us in determining which American wineries stood out to them.” – Jess Novak, drink editor, The Daily Meal

Guest Post – Review of “Small Vines, 2011 Pinot Noir, RRV” ($55)

Small Vines Pinot at Dave the Wine MerchantA heady wine with savory aromatics of lavender, wild mushroom, cola and damp earth. Initially, this is a tightly wound Pinot that suggests it is still young, but with time, this is opening up to reveal what this wine maker was trying to produce.

For me, it opens up with dense black cherries on the tongue, but are balanced out nicely by a subtle acidity on the aftertaste. This is a Burgundian styled wine that was not overly earthified (my word). I am very pleased with the crispiness of this small lot production too. When I take a deep whiff, there is a pleasing detection of Asian spices.

The complexity of this wine is also really interesting knowing it comes from the RRV. Based on what I generally know of wines from this low lying region of Sonoma County, I would have expected more opulence with bright raspberry and cranberry notes, but I am finding exotic silky layers of warm fennel and sage.

A beautiful wine that after two hours of oxygen is completely stunning. I would love to try this in another 7-10 years to see how this vintage evolves with bottle age because this is a wine worthy of collecting.

Guest Post by Seth Pariser, New York  (a Pinot Selections club member since 2007)

Top Wines – Wine Club Members Speak Out

Favorites from this week's wine club member tasting

This week we had a good turn out for our SF tasting, though we missed some of our regular attendees.  None of those in attendance were from our Pinot Selections club, and as a result I think the appreciation of this noble grape may have slipped a bit from past tastings.  That said, the affordable Banshee ($25) held its own.

We tasted through all 11 of the wines selected for my various wine clubs, and attendees had an opportunity to place an order that night and save 10%.  Here were the favorites:

  • Trinitas, 2008 Meritage, Oak Knoll AVA $55. A blend of four of the five classic Bordeaux varietals (all but Petite Verdot), led by Cabernet.  Trinitas Cellars just celebrated the grand opening of their new hospitality facility, which features a tasting room bored into the hillside where guests taste in a cave-like environment complete with a babbling brook (and free of bats, I presume, though I was sadly unable to attend the opening soiree to see for myself!)

  • Trinitas, 2009 Mysterium (Red Blend), $25.  A complex amalgam of five red grapes, led by Zinfandel and Carignane, this is fruity and spicy and full of yum, for those that enjoy wines that feature more fruit than earth.  Very California.  Very flirtatious.  Just nosed into second place by a bottle or two.

  • Diatom, 2011 Chardonnay “Hamon”, $42.  This is a big wine, from Winemaker Greg Brewer of Brewer-Clifton fame.  At 16.3% alcohol, it’s a white wine that’s definitely packin’ some heat, particularly on the finish.  But the wine is also big and complex and interesting enough to show more balance than I’ve ever seen in a wine over 15%.
  • Domaine Fontanel, 2010 Cotes Catalanes (Grenache/Syrah 70/30), $16.  This wine was voted the best value of the lot, for its relatively modest price tag and its less-than-modest demeanor, which is just an overly-wrought way of saying this is a lot of wine for the money.  From the Languedoc region in Southern France, you can almost smell the lavendar and dried sage brush and herbs next to the fruit and spice.  Nice stuff.

I thank all the Bay Area members and customer who could attend.  We’ll postpone this summer’s club shipment until after the heat has passed, but we’ll still be holding a summer tasting event – sign up on our email list or join Dave the Wine Merchant on Facebook to learn  the details.  Hint – it will feature six (at least) great summer wines from different parts of the word, allowing you to understand typical styles and determine your favorite.  A fun evening is assured, even if we have to pretend it’s a hot summer day in foggy San Francisco.



Community Wine Review – Regale Winery, 2008 Pinot Noir, O’Neel Vyrd, Russian River Valley

Regale, 2008 Pinot Noir, O'Neel Vyrd. Russian River Valley

Now THIS is a Pinot Noir!  Kudos to this winemaker.  It is nice to know that one can still be surprised after having tried hundreds of different examples of this varietal.   This vintage is something truly extra special in the glass.  

Straight out of the gate and a couple of brisk swirls in my Riedel stem of this racy vintage and I am gushing.   Immediately, a perfume of wild funghi, strawberries, sour cherries and even a slight nose of camphor jump into my sinuses and fill my head with delight.   No time needed to open up for this horse.  

My head begins to buzz and I ‘regale’ as the first sips bring on flavors so brilliant and ethereal.  A subtle detection of eucalyptus peeks through the bright fruit flavors.  The wine is big for a pinot because of the earth like notes but not overly acidic as some Burgundy’s can be.  Very polished but not silky.   No this wine is a cross somewhere between where the smooth attributes from the Russian River Valley align with the herbal, salty-misty air of the Pacific-Sonoma coastline, but a slight touch of the Santa Maria Valley is added in there somewhere… I think that is where I pick up the notes of strawberry and mushrooms from. 

Paired with a dish of fusilli pasta mixed with roasted eggplant, roasted sun dried tomatoes in olive oil and italian herbs, sliced black olives, sauteed zucchini, sweet onion & baby portobella mushrooms, pureed tomato sauce and fresh parmesan grated cheese, the dish tastes better and harmoniously bring out the wild pinot tastes.  

The biggest compliment of all is that I damn near finished the entire bottle myself over a couple of hours and I can still type straight.  

 Why have I never heard of this winery before and when can I buy more?!  Well done Dave.  Thank you.

 Seth P. (freelance blogger for Dave the Wine Merchant) Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry

[Note:  Seth Pariser is a member of the “Pinot Selections” wine club, and submitted this review independently.  Among other things, Seth consults with wine collectors in the Northeast to help them build or maximize the value of their cellars.  To contact him, just leave a request in the comment section.  Oh, and more of this wine is available here.  Dave]

Top 100 wineries of 2011 – Nice Kudos!

I am pleased to be the curator of a small, rotating portfolio of boutique wine producers.  And I find the work satisfying with or without any outside source confirming the wisdom of my selections.  Though given my ‘druthers, confirmation is always nice.

So I was pleased to see seven of my recently selected wineries were also among Wine & Spirits Magazine’s “Top 100 Wineries of 2011”.  

Kudos to you all!

  • Adelsheim
  • Anthill Farms
  • Beckmen
  • Calera
  • Elvio Cogno
  • Peay
  • Qupé
Another half dozen of this year’s honorees appear on my list of likely wines for future selections.  But were I to list them here, without putting money on the barrel head to bet on their success with my customers, well then I’d be no better than an armchair wine pontificator.  And Lord knows we have enough of those already. 
Dave “the Wine Merchant” Chambers

O’Connor Vineyard, 2008 Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley

One of the best parts of my job is the joy that I help make possible when my carefully selected wines become the center-piece of a most enjoyable party.  But the sad thing is, I rarely know when such things occur, taking on faith that they do so.  Unless, of course an out-of-state wine club member (let’s call her “Liesl”) is visited by her CA sister (let’s call her “Cindy”) and a bottle of my recently shipped “O’Connor Vineyard” Pinot Noir converge in the same living room for a rollicking good time…  See what you think, but it seems to me as if they might be enjoying the delights of this hand-crafted wine.

Yes, I too wondered why the lime-green glass I.D. tag was necessary when it appears as if there were just the two of them and maybe a photographer, especially since the glass was clearly from the Andrew Murray Vineyard, one of the Central Coast stalwarts that helped launch our efforts some 6 years ago!  So I say “Good on ya!” to Liesl and Cindy, or whatever your names are.

Dave “the Wine Merchant” Chambers

Elke, 2007 Donnelley Creek Pinot: …is being coy and toying with me and I think she’s enjoying it!

Great looking bottle. The label reigned me in…

First pour: I like the cloudy, almost opaque ruby color. It reminds me of a 1970 Burgundy I enjoyed last Summer at a pals 40th birthday dinner. Right away, you know this wine has not gone through any filtration process and will probably be loaded with some interesting flavor. This is exciting… Give a few swirls in the glass and I get a nose that gives an intense aroma of mushrooms, cherries & earth. I also feel the 14.2% go deep into my sinuses as the heat packs a punch!

Okay, first sip, here we go…

Profile: initially this juice is wound pretty tight.  She doesn’t want to reveal her inner beauty just yet. She’s being coy and toying with me and I think she is enjoying it. I would be curious to hear how Miles would rate this one so far. There is some bright underlying fruit waiting to be exposed but I could either wait, or break out the Vinturi.

5 minutes later and I break out the Vinturi and she is suddenly loosening her womanly grip and undoing 1 or 2 buttons on her blouse and giving me a little wink. The fruit is softening and revealing some baked cherry pie with good baking spices mixed with a fine dose of acidity.

I let it sit for 5-10 minutes and the sediments have gone down back to the bottom of the glass. Give a few swirls and now this is beginning to evolve and reveal its sexy profile a little better. What I love about this Pinot is this is a true Anderson Valley/Central Coast of Cali Pinot Noir. While the Willamette Valley Pinots of today are the latest rage and yes they are good, this is what Oregon wines won’t ever be according to me…big fruit forward bombs driven with hints of Burgundy land. I find the NorthEast wines still somewhat to be a little tinny and thin and though there are some exceptions, they require a patient Pinot enthusiast to extract what is not so obvious. The rewards with Elke Vineyards are more immediate, decisive and just delicious. In some familiar wise words, “the flavors are haunting and brilliant and thrilling and subtle”. On a side note, why more Pinots are not unfined and unfiltered is a shame and a mystery to me.

3 hours later… This wine is really nice. Still having all of the above attributes but the cheeks have turned flush and now it is sexy time!

Well done Dave. I’ve enjoyed this drink, as well as writing it up!

Seth Pariser
New York

Learn More / Purchase

[This guest post comes from Seth Pariser, a wine club member, who writes about the Elke Vineyards, 2007 Donnelley Creek Pinot Noir]

Customer review – J. Wilkes Wines, 2003 Pinot Noir, Bien Nacido Vineyard

This famed wine vineyard in the country has once again flexed its muscles in showing why this special cultivated land with its geographic proximity to the Pacific and ideal climate with its cool foggy nights and sun kissed days blesses these vines.

Jeff Wilkes has taken these grapes and brought them back to his Santa Maria Valley wine making home and gotten a tremendous profile from this vintage.

Immediately, I get a nose full of the Central Coast with notes of bright, semi-sour and acidic raspberry-rhubarb compote with good concentration, balance and minerality.  From its bottle age, there is a cloudiness that is only achieved through patience of time.  Possessing a deep ruby color, this wine holds up strong with a long finish on the back palette that does not disipate for many seconds.

Rating Il Podore's 2002 Teroldego

Teroldego200_2This wine was selected for our June, 2007 shipment, sent to subscribers of our wine sampling program known as "Jack’s Selections".  Each member or previous buyer has been invited to share their opinions for the benefit of other members, prospective members and prospective buyers. 

(A Note from Dave Chambers)  My apologies!  My first attempt at inserting these polls directly into this blog posting were a bust!  But I’ve worked with the folks at Vizu.com and come up with a way for past buyers to rate the wines (the default tab) and for non-buyers to see the results without rating it (Click the "Poll Results" tab).  PASSWORD = SIDEWAYS


Swclogogs3x3_10_2 Cheers!
Dave Chambers, Wine Merchant

Rating Pietra Santa's 2005 Pinot Grigio

Ps_pgrigio_lrg This wine was selected for our June, 2007 shipment that was sent to subscribers of our "Maya’s Selections" wine sampling program.  Each member has been invited to share their opinions for the benefit of other members, prospective members and prospective buyers.

(A Note from Dave Chambers)  My apologies!  My first attempt at inserting these polls directly into this blog posting were a bust!  But I’ve worked with the folks at Vizu.com and come up with a way for past buyers to rate the wines (the default tab) and for non-buyers to see the results without rating it (Click the "Poll Results" tab).  PASSWORD = SIDEWAYS


Swclogogs3x3_10_2 Cheers!
Dave Chambers, Wine Merchant