Tag Archives: Napa

Popping the Zork on Pepperwood Grove

16 Feb

Pepperwood Grove Pinot Noir 2010.Chilean grapes, vinted & bottled by Pepperwood Grove Winery, Napa. 13% ABV. List $10/bottle, $9 direct from winery, seen locally as low as $7/bottle.

Always on the lookout for a good value, I saw a shelf talker that mentioned this wine was a Wine Enthusiast Best Buy and Wine Spectator Best Value. OK, at this price, that’s enough to give it a try. I got home and realized they used a zork for bottle closure, and I wanted to taste Pepperwood Grove’s wine, even if only for the use of the Zork and their trademark “Groovy Green Bottle”. On the back of the bottle, they have two sliding scale markings, placing this closer to “Dry” than “Sweet”, and medium bodied, to help customers decide if this wine might be to their liking. That was a third thing I liked, and I haven’t even tasted the stuff in the bottle. Someone is a savvy winemaker. But here we go, unwrap and pull the zork:

Color: violet body with light edging. Nose: ripe plum, cut flowers and toasted almond. In the mouth, cherry and plum, a touch of spice. Modest fruit meets modest acidity and  tannins, medium finish. I’d serve this for an afternoon party in a second, it’s easy going down, gentle enough for everyone but enough body to please the cab lovers, carefully built and sleekly packaged. At this price, what’s not to love? No wonder it has the accolades. Smart winemaking that will garner a big chunk of marketplace.

Don’t take my word for it. Crack the zork and try it yourself.  Whoa, I just saw that they sell this by the BOX! While I haven’t tried boxed wine before, I guess I will now. Keep an eye out for my box wine review…



à votre santé!

Hoopes, Hoopla and Liparita: No Quiet Tuesday Night

19 Jun

For some unknown reason, my introduction to several great modern-day American winemakers have all been either coincidences or pure accident. My Buddhist friends might explain this more as karma, but in the end, it matters little. “It was simply meant to be.”

I sat down on a quiet Tuesday night with winemaker Jason Fisher to talk about wine and taste his work. Jason was running on fumes, yet still jovial after a day dashing around the concrete jungle instead of plying his trade amongst his beloved vines, tools, and truck. An observer might think we were two old buddies meeting to discuss business and family- and would be halfway right- but we’d never met previously. Next time, we surely will be old friends with more great stories to tell.

Jason is the artisan winemaker, and one-third of the Hoopes, Hoopla, and Liparita wine team, along with Spencer Hoopes (proprietor and namesake), and John Healy who handles sales. This trio manages to churn out seven thousand cases of wine between the two labels annually, and unless we East Coast wine junkies start working for it, most of those cases may stay in California, where the bulk currently goes.

You might think that spending an evening drinking wine with a biochemist is a dull, systematically boring idea- unless like me, your grandfather was a chemist and your sister was a forensic biochemist. Jason’s biochemist/oenologist background was amazing to me, and offered an opportunity to discuss the exact process and choices he considers on a daily basis when making his product. I think every wine lover/drinker would relish an opportunity to spend time with the person who makes the choices in crafting a boutique, ultra-premium wine. I certainly did!

But far beyond Jason’s intellect, oenological prowess, and advanced degrees is a passionate winemaker and lover of quality. And even if you don’t care for details and chemistry, you will still be wowed by his charisma and impressed by his obvious love of his work- creating delicious wines. Speaking of which I will now bring up the topic you’ve all been waiting for: WHAT WE TASTED!

Hoopla Wines Chardonnay, 2011; 13.5%ABV, List $18.99

It took me a day to characterize what I love about this: it’s the un-chardonnay, since it never touches the oak that so many other winemakers use to mask problems. Hoopla exemplifies everything that is good naturally in chardonnay: It tastes as though you plucked the grapes right off the sun-washed vine. Citrus, grapefruit and honeysuckle dominate while notes of flint, gravel, and granite speak of the Yountville terroir. You realize as the wine expands and changes in the mouth, that it ferments and ages in stainless, never seeing wood- keeping the true characteristics of the grape intact, showcasing the terroir, grape, fruit selection, its time on the lees, and time spent in steel before bottling. It’s all out in the open, and it shows wonderfully. At under $20/bottle, it is no wonder the Californians won’t let this out of their sight!


Hoopla Wines ‘Mutt’ 2010 Red Blend; 14.3%ABV, List $29.99

Mutt is a blend that includes 80% cabernet, 10% old vine petite syrah, and 10% merlot. It has a deliciously musty nose, and on the mouth hits you with big spicy mulberry, boysenberry, and pepper with cedar on the lengthy finish. Not too big for its britches, this is a wine you can enjoy with your friends in the backyard, at a black tie dinner, or as a lovely gift idea. Flexible, capable, and athletic come to mind when thinking about this wine. And the label is great, I hope to meet this dog (Dante) one day, and his owner, Spencer Hoopes.


Hoopes Vineyard Oakville Cabernet Sauvignon 2009; 14.9%ABV, List $65.99

A ‘classic’ cabernet with a nose similar to the Mutt (delicious mustiness, reminder of wonderful old world reds). Old World melds with Classic Napa. Big, black fruit bursts in your mouth initially with clove, graphite, earth, loam and tight tannins following. This wants to be opened and see air, so decant or open hours before drinking. A delightful wine, fits well in the competition of Napa “establishment” reds like at a lower price range and to me, this is a killer value as it drinks like a $150/bottle. Very good now, I expect it will mature beautifully.


Liparita  Oakville Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, 14.9%ABV, List $61.99

This cab tastes of all red fruit: red plum, bing cherry, raspberry are forward with wildflowers on the nose and notes of spice, oak, shale, gravel, and vanilla on the back palate, good tannins throughout the long finish. A delicious Napa that immediately compares to Plumpjack, Conundrum, Stags Leap, and Highland Estates. Lush and sophisticated, it was only a small surprise to me when Jason proudly stated these grapes are the Old Wente Bordeaux 337 clone, aged 33 months in all French oak.


Liparita Yountville “V-Block” Cabernet Sauvignon 2009,  14.7%ABV,  List $61.99

This may be the Screaming Eagle for the rest of us, as it accomplishes the massive quality with first red, then black, then blue fruits in succession, the intense structure throughout the midpalate with a huge finish, yet the soft and feminine aspects are very present, most notably with the very gentle tannins.  I so very much wanted to bring a bottle of this back home and deconstruct it in small sips, as I was perplexed by the number of sensations I experienced on the tongue, midpalate, backpalate, and finish. Again, this is a wine that is an excellent value and would be appreciated dearly by the new world wine lovers.

Lip Young

My only problem with Jason Fisher’s wines? I wanted more. Really, drinking these made me want a mixed case to drink over a couple of weeks so I could try several pairings and carefully note changes over time with air. But like many great things in life, a long night passed too quickly and left me with a nostalgic feeling and desire to find these wines again, and share them with friends. This, my friends, is a good thing.

The best news? Beyond letting you know that another little-known group of high-value wines deserves your attention and patronage, I get the honor of sharing with you the information on where you might access these bottles locally. In the metro NY area, you can find Hoopes, Hoopla, and Liparita wines in end-sale establishments like Astor Wines,  Colonial, Main Street Cellars, Premier Wine & Spirits, Ridge Fine Wines, Vinomania, and Wine Library, as well as fine dining establishments like the 21 Club and London Lenny’s.

At the beginning of this too-long post, I mentioned that my introduction to several great modern-day American winemakers have all been either coincidences or pure accident. One day when I’m telling people about sitting down and meeting Jason Fisher for a night of one-on-one wine discussion, I expect people will respond as if I told them I was hanging out with Baron Eric de Rothschild downtown on a quiet Tuesday night. For now and then, it’s just karma on a not-so-quiet-Tuesday-night. Evidently, it’s really good karma. Because Jason expressed that knows that quality matters more than price, more than image. If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing right. If it’s all about making good wine to start with, you’re going to end up with some really good options. And these options happen to be really wonderful in your glass.

à votre santé!

Napa Takes on European Styling

15 Apr

Bennett Family Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2006, Napa Valley. Sample from Wine Chateau, $20/bottle.

Color is purple with ruby edging. A luxurious nose of black cassis berry with menthol, loam, musk and oak– I immediately thought of bottles aged over a decade with serious lineage and hefty price tags.

In the mouth, a hot mixture  (14.5% alcohol) of cassis, blackberry, and musk overtake the taste buds, with a hint of vanilla and wood in the long finish. What I felt to be a feminine wine shows power with balanced acidity and soft tannins, puckering up the mouth for the next bite or sip. What a pleasure to taste a Napa wine with just enough age to allow the structure to develop!

Bennett wine purple

On my first tasting I refused to write anything as I enjoyed the wine, perhaps too much- which is an endorsement in itself. On my second tasting, I forced myself to stop, appreciate and note the herbal and mocha notes in the wine, though I enjoyed the qualities of the European-styled blending and aging more than the complexity of flavors. This wine drinks well at room temperature, but may be ideal when served slightly chilled to reduce the slight heat from the alcohol content, though the finish tapers slightly as a result.

This wine drinks favorably to wines that are double its price without being as costly or as old. To me, this is a home run for the American wine drinker who looks for a bottle that can be a lovely gift bottle at $20 or a great bottle to serve for dinner with special guests without breaking the bank. Here, you have the best of old word charm from new world farming at a very nice price. Pick up a couple of bottles- one to taste, and one to share or give away- you’ll be glad you did.

You can check out The Bennett Family’s site or buy their Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve direct from Wine Chateau.

Bennett granite

Raising a Toast With Odin’s Nectar

8 Sep

I bought two bottles of Modus Operandi’s 2009 Valhalla before it was gone. Only a single barrel was made (25 cases) and those fellow fans who love winemaker Jason Moore’s creations have figured out that if you want his wine, you have to grab it when you can. I have learned the hard way, you will too by having to wait for his next creation.

Valhalla starts off big: sealed in black wax with an oversize bottle, it pours deep purple into the decanter. Focusing closely in the glass, I see black in the center of the glass edging towards purple and finally bleeding into red on the edges as I examine the color. As I swirl I note a higher alcohol content than some of the other Modus wines but very similar to the Napa standard- and this one comes in at 14.5%.

The nose offers red cassis, strong black plum, menthol, asphalt/gravel, and a hint of oak. (I had a powerful floral element but the room I’m in is dominated by a huge bouquet of flowers so I’m not going to include the floral element in deference to that outside influence.) Allow me to say simply, the wine smells great. In the mouth, it’s pronounced and powerful- not as balanced as some of Jason’s other creations, but a force to contend with: massive black fruit with bold acidity and strong tannins reel in my lips and cheeks as it swirls in my maw. I take some air and am surprised how much this comes back as tart- “What a perfect complement for red meat!” I ponder, this is a wine that screams rib eye medium rare with a baked potato and creamed spinach. Were it sold by the thousands, you’d see it in the cue with Stag’s Leap, Silver Oak, Opus One. But this is a rare and personal wine, so it will be enjoyed much more privately, and oh so well if paired correctly. I regret getting only a couple of bottles, and now I have to choose the time, place, and company when I will open the next one.

I took a moment and in the mirror saw my tongue was completely black/purple from my tastes, and with a big smile I refill my glass. It takes effort to think in detail about the qualities of this wine; like driving a stunning race car, the experience overpower your senses and you just want to drink in the moment, literally and enjoy. This is a hard glass to put down, yet another of Moore’s genius oenophilic concotions too good to contemplate as you savor the last drop and the finish lingers so long in your mouth with the tart aftertaste of an epic wine that serves the namesake well. Afterwards, the empty glass reminds you of the good things life brings you that sometimes are cut short or made in very limited supply. A bittersweet moment? It is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.

à votre santé!

or in this case, Skål!

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