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Looking for a Great Merlot???

I love finding wines that taste like they’re SUPPOSED to taste!  So many Merlots from California just don’t taste like Merlot.  The 2011 Neyers Conn Valley Merlot, however, does!

Last week I was fortunate enough to attend a tasting at Tim’s Wine Market in Orlando where Barbara and Bruce Neyers, the owners of Neyers Vineyards in Napa, presented some of their wines.

They do a great Chardonnay, some great Cabs and one of the best Zinfandels I’ve had in a very long time.  My favorite of the night, however, was probably the Merlot.

Made with Merlot grapes from their own certified organic vineyards surrounding their home, the Neyers and their talented winemaker Tadeo Borchardt have produced a wonderful Merlot.

The ruby colored wine has aromas of cherry, black raspberry and some chocolate shavings.  The palate is beautifully balanced with layers of the raspberry, cherry, along with some plum and licorice.  Blended with 15% Cabernet Sauvignon, this wine has a lovely velvety finish and is more reminiscent of a Pomerol than a California Merlot. 

At 13.8% alcohol, this isn’t one of those huge Napa Merlots that have forgotten what they are meant to be.  It’s a lovely wine that I could drink every night of the week.  Coming in at about $30, this wine is definitely worth its price.

To learn more about Neyers Vineyards, or to purchase some of their wines, go to there website here:

I had a really fun wine the other night that probably isn’t well known to a lot of wine lovers.  The winery that produces it, however, probably is!

Carter Cellars’ first vintage was in 1998, but Mark Carter’s wine journey began much earlier than that.  Carter House, a small bed and breakfast when it was built in the mid 1980’s in Eureka, CA, became so popular that he and his wife needed to expand the lodging and open a restaurant.    Their now well-loved Restaurant 301 was created, and Mr. Carter began compiling a wine list that today is absolutely amazing and is consistently a Wine Spectator Grand Award winner.    Along the way he met many successful winemakers and became especially friendly with legendary winemaker Nils Venge.   Now known as the “King of Cab”, Venge was Groth’s winemaker whose 1985 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve was awarded the first perfect score of 100 points by Robert Parker for a California wine!

Together the two men formed a partnership, sourcing fruit from some of the best vineyards in Napa and beginning Carter Cellars.  It didn’t take long for Carter Cellars to get rave reviews of their own, including a 100 point score from Parker for their 2002 Beckstoffer To Kalon Cab! 

Knowing that not all wine lovers can afford some of their wines, Carter wanted to offer a wine that is sourced from outstanding fruit and great vineyards, but can also be affordable to more wine lovers.  Named after Carter’s “good luck table” at Restaurant 301, Table 5 was born!  Years earlier it was at Carter House’s table 5 that he met Fred Schrader (of Schrader Cellars), who agreed to source the aspiring winery owner grapes from Schrader’s premier vineyard in Napa, which enabled Carter Cellars to make their first wine.

The 2010 Table 5 Napa Red is a Right Bank Bordeaux blend of Merlot (Carter’s favorite varietal) and Cabernet Sauvignon.  Smooth and easy drinking, this wine has lush dark fruits including blackberry and black current.  It’s not the most complex wine in their portfolio, but it is well balanced with some vanilla, baking spices and very smooth tannins.  It is a food friendly wine and went very well with the pizza I had that night.

I also love the label.  Mark Carter’s son Joseph designed the playfully appealing front and back labels, which are very eye-catching and would be difficult to not grab off of the shelf at your local wine retailer!

In the $40 range, I would buy this wine again and I definitely want to check out some more of Carter Cellar’s offerings.



Macauley Vineyard Winery

Originally established by Ann Macauley Watson in the early 1980s, Macauley Vineyard Winery went through a short hiatus after her death in 1994.  Always knowing deep down that the winery business was for him, her son, Mac Watson, spent some time at Rudd Oakville Estate and decided to re-establish the Macauley label in 2000.  Along with his wife, Amy Baxter Watson, and his childhood friend Kirk Venge, son of legendary Napa Valley winemaker Nils Venge and now full owner of his family’s Venge Vineyards, Watson is producing some fabulous wines.

A couple of nights ago my husband and I cracked open a 2007 Macauley Cabernet Sauvignon.  We decanted it for about an hour before pouring our first glass.  Oh wow, what a lovely Napa Cab.

The ’07 is 100% Cabernet Sauvignon and is sourced from three renowned Napa Valley vineyards, Star (in the Rutherford AVA), Stagecoach (from the Atlas Peak AVA), and Beckstoffer To Kalon.

On the nose are dark fruits and black licorice.  On the palate are dark cherry, cassis, and some chocolate.  This wine has very nice structure and is beautifully balanced, a sure sign of a winner.  Oh … have I mentioned the finish????  Oh my.  The finish is full of sweet, velvety tannins and goes on and on and on.

If you run across any Macauley wines on a restaurant wine list or in a wine store, don’t be afraid to buy!  I know that I’ll definitely be seeking out more Macauley wines.

Mac Watson, along with “a little help from his friends”, is honoring his mother’s memory in a very lovely way.

Tasting at Failla

Failla has got it going on!!!!!  Not only do their wines rock, but they have an adorable tasting room in which to try them!

I was in Napa a couple of weeks ago, tasting my way around the valley.  I’ve heard a lot about Failla’s wines (they’ve had top 100 wines in several recent years), but have never paid them a visit.  I did just that on February 7th!

The tasting room is located in a charming yellow house.  One enters into a library type room which leads into a parlor and quaint sitting room, complete with a wood-burning stove.  Two comfy chairs and a sofa invited us to sit, with wine glasses placed on a coffee table between!  Who wouldn’t want to delve into their lovely wines???

Our tasting room attendant first brought us the 2011 Hudson Vineyard Chardonnay from Napa.  Wow, did I love this wine!!!  On the nose is passion fruit galore!  This is a rich Chardonnay with lots of lush tropical fruit, but it’s beautifully balanced with bright acidity.   I’m kicking myself for not buying a case of this!

Next up was the 2012 Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir.  This is an outstanding wine for a great value!  On the nose is plum and some herbs, perhaps oregano or sage.  There is also a hint of watermelon!  Loaded with cherry and a lovely old-world style earthiness, this wine rocks for $34.  Finding a well-made Pinot at this price is a definite treat!  In fact, I cracked open a bottle of this and am drinking a glass while I write this blog

The 2012 Keefer Ranch Vineyard Pinot Noir from Russian River was the third wine we tried.  Very different from the Sonoma Coast, this wine has some cherry cola and root beer on the nose, along with violet.   Blackberry explodes on the palate, with some earthy mushrooms.  This wine is another winner!

The 2012 Savoy Vineyard Pinot Noir from Anderson Valley was the last wine we tasted.   This is a bigger Pinot, with lots of dark fruit and vanilla, along with some spiciness.  This is their inaugural vintage of wine sourced from the Savoy Vineyard

Failla is a joint effort, owned by Anne-Marie Failla and her husband Ehren Jordan, who is also the winemaker.  Jordan’s resume is impressive indeed, having worked for Bruce Neyers at Neyers Vineyards, Helen Turley and her husband Jon Wetlaufer at Marcassin and Larry Turley at Turley Wine cellars.  The San Francisco Chronicle named Jordan the Winemaker of the Year in 2008!

Being a Francophile since my youth, I’m very fond of Jordan’s winemaking.  His Chardonnay and most of his Pinot Noir wines are done in a Burgundian style, and he also makes some lovely wines in the Northern Rhone style

If you haven’t tried Failla’s wines, do yourself a favor and seek them out.  They are truly outstanding.  The next time you get to Napa, be sure to call them to set up a tasting appointment.  You won’t be disappointed!

The Carneros Inn and Adastra Wines

I’ve just returned home from my most recent adventure in Napa and Sonoma!  I always have some very memorable tastings, and this trip started with one.

My husband and I stayed in one of the cottages at The Carneros Inn.  We’re long time fans of Plumpjack’s wines and have always wanted to stay at their lovely hotel.  For my birthday celebration we did just that!  The indoor fireplaces and outdoor fire pits do not disappoint! 

Upon arriving at the resort we were seated at their registration desk and offered a glass of Merlot or some hot apple cider.  Duh!  Guess which one we chose????   Assuming that they’d be pouring one of their Plumpjack wines, we were surprised when they began telling us about the Adastra Merlot they were serving.  We loved it!  They offered to check with the winery to see if they had an available time for us to visit them for a taste.  We were in luck and did just that!

Surgeon Chris Thorpe and his Internist wife Naomi Thorpe founded Adastra.   Started as a cattle ranch in 1984, they began planting vines in 1989.  Their son-in-law Edwin Richards joined the team in 1995 as general manager.  They began selling all of their Pinot Noir grapes to Etude in 1997, but began withholding a small amount to make some estate wine beginning in 2002.  They also began farming organically in 2002, becoming certified organic (no easy task) in 2005.  They currently have 20 acres of vines, of which they sell about half of their grapes to other wineries.  Adastra produces about 1500 cases annually.

We arrived at the winery on a cold rainy day.  Dr. Thorpe showed us around, beginning in the barn where we learned some interesting history of the ranch.  We also learned the origin of their name.  Adastra comes from a phrase and sentiment that was loved by Naomi Thorpe’s father.  The quote, “Per aspera, ad astra”, means “Through striving, to the stars”.   It’s certainly appropriate for this winery, which has obviously been a lot of hard work, and produces some lovely wines.

There are other astronomy connections with this winery, including the name of their winemaker. Pam Starr has been Adastra’s consulting winemaker since 1997.  Formally with Spottswoode, Starr also has her own highly respected label, Crocker & Starr.

Thorpe led us from the barn and into his warm, homey kitchen.  We sat at his kitchen table, which sits under stained glass windows and overlooks the gardens, and tasted some wine!

We started with their 2011 N’Oak Chardonnay, which obviously saw no oak.  Still creamy due to lees stirring, this wine has citrus on the nose, and vibrant golden delicious apple on the palate.

Their 2011 Adastra Chardonnay saw 100% French oak, 70% of which was new.  This Chardonnay is made up of 5 different clones and has a lovely lemon curd palate and a long finish.  We bought a couple of bottles of this wine.

Another favorite of mine was the 2011 Adastra Pinot Noir.  Made from 5 clones, including Joseph Swan, Dijon 115, Dijon 777, Pommard and DRC, this wine is lovely with cranberry and forest floor on the palate.

The 2006 Pinot Adastra Proximus Pinot Noir is made from the Pommard, Dijon 777 and Dijon 115 clones.  This is a bigger Pinot with lots of fruit and spice.  My husband really liked this wine.

The wine that we were served at The Carneros Inn was next up to taste!  The 2010 Adastra Merlot had a long hang time, which produced a big, juicy wine.  This Merlot is very easy drinking and has lots of plum and dark cherry on the palate.

Their 2009 Adastra Proximus Merlot spent 2 years in mostly new French oak.  Also loaded with plum and dark fruit, this wine has nice complexity and is well balanced.

The final wine we tried was the 2011 Ed’s Red.  Adastra’s second label, this wine is Edwin Richards’ baby.  It’s a robust wine with lots of cherry and plum, along with a bit of licorice and spice.  The 2011 vintage is a blend of 52% Merlot, 24% Zinfandel, 14% Barbera, 9% Petite Sirah and 1% Syrah.  This wine is widely distributed and can be found in places such as Total Wine.  At $18 retail, it’s a great everyday wine that goes well with many different foods.

To read more about Adastra, check on prices, or to schedule an appointment, here’s their website:

To check out The Carneros Inn:

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