Flavor Notes by Robert Rich: Food, Wine, Restaurants & Recipes



Return to Wine Notes Index:

Wine Notes:

Santa Cruz Mountain and South Bay (California) Wineries:


David Bruce

1996 Petite Syrah, Santa Cruz Mountains (tasted 10/03)
Opaque dark color, black cherry nose... hmm, then something subtly wrong. Nose opens into oceanic smells, with underlying layer of engine grease. On the palate, a hint of TCA, in a wine that otherwise had some quirks. Even imagining it without cork problems, I thought I remembered liking this wine better once.

1999 Petite Syrah, Central Coast (tasted 2/04)
Nose of black olives and bright cherries, blueberry, violets, petroleum, grass, sweet and tobacco oak character. Edgy and bright. Tannic and somewhat thin palate, with red cherries, tin, and a trace of herbaceous bitterness. Continues David Bruce's tradition of unique varietal expression and complexity, in a slightly austere style.

2001 Pinot Noir (Sonoma County) (tasted 2/04)
A classic California Pinot, possibly among the best wines by David Bruce, certainly quite affordable for the quality. Nose of spicy brambly cherries, bright acidity, coffee, soapy perfumes of roses, violets (and orange blossoms?) with cinnamon toast, taffy and winter spices from the balanced oak treatment. Smooth and bright palate, oily mouth feel, rich and soft with cola and orange juice overtones, slightly bitter finish ameliorated by the oak. Not immense nor surprising, but an excellent food wine.




As of 2004, I am only starting to become acquainted with this local winery. My first impression conveys a very rich fruit profile with good Santa Cruz Mountain structure. They seem to charge low proces for the high quality of their wine. I recently heard a rumor that the owners are trying to sell the property. If that's true, then I hope the winemaker George Troquato stays on, because he is doing an excellent job.

2001 Mercury Rising ($15, tasted 5/04)
A "Meritage" Bordeaux-style blend. Blueberries and rust, the profile of a good cool weather Cabernet that has achieved full ripeness. Complex aromas of black liquorice, chocolate, cassis, pfefferneuse (anise spice cookies), dry grass, with a blackberry fruit profile, showing strong tannins and clear acidity. Meaty, with lingering ferric overtones, but with a sweet vanilla oak finish. This wine shows surprising complexity at this price, a very good value.



Fellom Ranch Vineyards
17075 Montebello Road
Cupertino, CA 95014
(408) 741-0206

Brief tasting notes during an open house in April of 2004, showing new releases. These tight mountain wines can become quite beautiful after five or more years in repose, but their fruit remains a bit austere. I tasted Fellom's 1996 Zinfandel in 2004, and it had become quite lovely.

1998 Zinfandel Port, Saratoga Vineyard ($15/375 ml) (tasted 4/04)
Pure zin character of strawberry/raspberry fruit and black pepper, with notes of bitter chocolate, with its tight acidity and lingering tannins masking some of the sweetness of unfermented sugars.

1999 Cabernet Sauvignon ($20) (tasted 4/04)
A very bright acidic expression of cool weather grapes. Acidic red cherry fruit, with metallic tight drying tannins. Five years might help it find its voice.

2000 Zinfandel Saratoga Vineyard ($15) (tasted 4/04)
Tight red raspberry, white pepper. Slightly thin.

2000 Cabernet Sauvignon ($30) (tasted 4/04)
Intense grassy nose with dark red fruit and taffy oak, graphite and ocean. Light and cleansing in the mouth, high acid with characteristic Montebello tangy cherry fruit character.

2001 Zinfandel Saratoga Vineyard ($18) (tasted 4/04)
Thicker more generous fruit than the 2000, with salty overtones in the nose, coffee, ocean breeze, dust and rust. Gripping on the palate, with very strong tannins. Should become a much deeper wine with age.




Thomas Fogarty Winery
19501 Skyline Blvd., Woodside, CA 94062
Tasted December 2002

2000 Chardonnay Santa Cruz Mountain ($23)
Austere woody nose, hints of butter, bright acidity. Despite 100% MLF the flavors are still very crisp and lemony (lemon custard).

2000 Chardonnay Monterey Ventana Vineyard ($20)
Softer nose, more buttery, less aciditiy, pineapple. Somewhat tannic finish. 1200 cases produced.

1999 Pinot Noir Santa Cruz Mountains ($23)
Spicy nose of black pepper, cloves. Large at front palate, herbaceous finish with green leafy components, with long lingering chewey tannins.

1999 Pinot Noir Estate Reserve ($45)
Big earthy smells, liquorice, pepper. Also big mouth feel, with high acidity and high tannin. Black pepper and hints of green pepper lingering.

*1998 Merlot Santa Cruz Mountain ($30)
Nose with salty calcium (limestone minerals), light green pepper, black pepper. Fruit like slightly unripe blackberries, brambly. Brightly acidic, high tannin, very saturated. Tastes Bordeaux-like, ageworthy, not a typical California Merlot.

1999 Cabernet Santa Cruz Mountains ($45)
(With 10% merlot, 14.5% alc.) Mineral limestone nose, ripe cherries. Huge, soft but bright, with high acidity and velvety lingering tannins. Lean and austere on the palate, but simultaneaously very big and balanced. On the finish, the brambly qualities of the merlot lingers with the tannins.

*2000 Barbera Fiddletown ($27)
Feisty. Nose with cigars, dark and white chocolate, spicy cinnamon and clove (oak profile), a touch herbaceous and grassy. Very ripe in the mouth, lingering tannin and vanillins (American oak.)

*2000 Syrah Martella Hammer Label ($24)
Huge perfume nose of violets (some Cabernet Franc added), rose petals, chocolate, cinamon, vanilla, allspice. Sumptuous fruit palate, huge soft lingering tannins finish with a blend of caramel tones. Beautiful. 14.6% alc.

*2001 Gewurztraminer Monterey ($15)
Sensual aromatic perfumes, simultaneously crisp and bright with green apples, but darkened by allspice, clove, cinamon spices. Hints of nutmeg on the palate, caramalized flavors of brown sugar, butter and cooked pineapple, but not at all cloyingly sweet like some California Gewurz, with .5% residual sugar. (Very slow 10 week fermentation with Lalvin 71D yeast.) I would pair this with goat cheese.




Page Mill Winery
13686 Page Mill Rd., Palo Alto, CA

2002 Sauvignon Blanc, French Camp Vineyard Paso Robles (Tasted 11/03) ($15)
Crisp bitterness, with almost woody, peppery grapefruit qualities,
palate cleansing.

*2001 Chardonnay French Camp Vineyard (San Luis Obispo) (Tasted 12/02)
Nose with minerals, soft light honey tones, smells of soft (older) oak and sur-lie aging. Palate of ripe lemons, kumquats, very complex elusive citrus and floral fruit flavors. Bright acidity. 13.4% alc.

2001 Chardonnay Garbett Vineyard (Tasted 12/02) ($22)
Vineyard is neighbor to the winery, Santa Clara appelation. Nose of buttered toast with lemon custard. Palate cleansing acidity. Fruit intermeshed with woody support, lingering floral tones but soapy (perfumey). No MLF means fruit stands out forward. Minute grapefruit on finish.

*2001 Chardonnay Stuhlmuller Vineyard, Alexander Valley (Tasted 12/02) ($24)
More malolactic smells than other Page Mill chards, baked apples, pineapple, buttery. Sumptuous round ripe fruit on the palate, lingering buttery finish, glycerol. Not overoaked, very balanced. (Over one year bottle aging after 10 months on 25% new oak)

2001 Chardonnay, Bien Nacido Vineyard Santa Maria (Tasted 11/03) ($18)
Big and crisp, still a bit tight, lemon pepper and honey. Clean.

2001 Chardonnay, Campi Vineyard Santa Cruz Mountains (Tasted 11/03) ($22)
Very buttery but not cloying, soft and viscous with a nutty palate (hazlenuts?)

2002 Pinot Blanc, Bien Nacido Vineyard Santa Maria (Tasted 11/03) ($9)
A bit sweaty, soft buttery malolactic qualities but not oaky, round
and oily on the palate with some bitter citrus crispness

2000 Pinot Noir Bien Nacido Vineyard Santa Maria (Tasted 12/02)
Very fruity nose, unripe cherries, bright raspberry, high acidity. Relatively low oak profile. Mid-palate herbaceous, brambly, a bit smokey. Oily tannins, a tiny bit of terpine echoes in the nose after finish. 13.6% alc.

2001 Pinot Noir, Bien Nacido Vineyard Santa Maria (Tasted 11/03) ($27)
Bright red cherry fruit , with acidic candied peppercorns and
light front palate, softening into an oily Pinot cherry liquorice finish.

2000 Merlot, Kennedy Vineyard Santa Cruz Mountains (Tasted 11/03) ($16)
Cedar, pepper, bramble stems and bright tannins implied in the nose,
with a slightly thin stemmy tannic palate.

*2000 Merlot Napa Valley (Tasted 12/02) ($19)
Nose of ripe fruit and chocolate, sweet cinamon, caramel taffy (some new oak vanillins, blend of American and French?). Palate very ripe, portlike, chocolatey, lingering soft tannin, slightly minty finish, possibly touch of coriander. (Tasted 11/03) Riper than the Kennedy, with more cherry and chocolate, more oily tannin, berry jam and a hint of green pepper.14.2%

*2001 Zinfandel, Balyeat Vineyard Napa Valley (Tasted 11/03) ($16)
Light strawberry/raspberry red fruit, deep structured tannins, finish
with dark semi-sweet chocolate. In the lighter, spicy acidic zin style.

2001 Cabernet Sauvignon, Luchessi Vnyd., Santa Cruz Mtns (Tasted 11/03) ($20)
Cedar and stemmy brambles, clean bright cherry and cedar/graphite in mouth,
spicy light oak finish.

N/V Port Se Découvrir (Tasted 12/02)
561 bottles made, 19.5% alc., 4% residual sugar. Nose has hints of terpine (new Oregon oak.) Bright flavors, not too sweet. Black pepper, spices, chocolate, black currants, lingering tannin. Refreshing, cleansing and light.

*1996 Lewis Port (Tasted 11/03) ($20)
Mostly Cabernet grapes, with nutty raisiny smells and sweet chocolatey
grapeseed mid-palate. The interesting Cabernet characteristics come in the
finish, which linger into complex cedar wood and cinnamon spice. A very
good, deep and complex sweet wine.





Picchetti Winery
Montebello Rd., Cupertino, CA 95014

Downhill from Ridge at the bottom of Montebello Road, Picchetti has been a winery for at least 100 years, but fell out of use until the late 1990's, when a nearby vineyard owner bought the property to make wine from her own grapes. Most of the wines still come from grapes purchased elsewhere, though. All vintages before 2003 had a different winemaker from the current one, Jeff Ritchie, who started in 2003, although Jeff finished a few of the wines that I have noted here from earlier vintages. The earlier style is rough and a bit messy. Jeff had a challenging vintage in 2003, with grapes that ripened unevenly after variable hot/cold weather, but from early indications he managed to round out these variations and has started to come up with increasingly better vintages for Picchetti.

2000 Chardonnay Leslie's Estate (tasted 9/03)
Restrained light toasty nose, not overly malolactic (buttery) some acidity, not as much minerality as elsewhere up Montebello Road, some lingering sweetness. Very clean and light on the palate. Light residual honey tones with some bitterness, medium body, good glycerin, high acidity. This tastes like a very good wine for food.

2001 Zinfandel Bellicetti Vineyard Saratoga (tasted 9/03)
Light ruby color, very big spicey nose of raspberries and soapy lavender. Bitter jammy mouth feel, high tannin, white pepper, high acidity. A rustic gnarly mountain wine. (15.3%)

1999 Cabernet Sauvignon Santa Cruz (tasted 9/03)
An austere tannic and stemmy wine. Nose of green pepper tannins, palate with traces of acetaldehyde. Very tight and quirky. Needs a few years to soften but I don't know if it will become worth the wait.

2000 Pinot Noir Gary's Vineyard (tasted 9/03)
Nose of extremely earthy pinot character, grassy and a bit skunky (brett?) Light cherry fruit, but not like a typical California pinot, much more rustic. Big and intense on the mouth, almost overpowering. French oak toastiness in the finish.

1999 Merlot Alexander Valley (tasted 9/03)
I think this wine is very good, but it has entered a quiet phase in the bottle, and could open up in a year or two. Earthy cassis fruit profile, light and centered, not too oakey. Not layered, very straightforward. Lingering light tannin, slightly "Bordeaux-like" but without the minerality. All about the fruit.

*1999 Cabernet Alexander Valley (tasted 9/03)
Deep opaque color, huge fruit nose. High acidity, still slightly bottle shocked (6 months.) Again, a hint of aceteldehyde. Big tannin (green olives oiliness) drying the tongue. Plummy, a bit brambly but not a flaw. Lightly oaked, very different from the Sonoma style from where these grapes came.

*2001 Sangiovese (tasted 9/03)
What a surprise! A wine aged on completely neutral extracted oak to give full expression to this light and grapey grape. It works. Light tannins. A winemakers wine, showing the true character of the grape. Drink now.





Ridge Vineyards
17100 Montebello Rd., Cupertino, CA 95014

*1964 Montebello Cabernet (tasted 2002)
The fruit is still alive this wine. It must have been absolutely massive when bottled. The nose has mineral limestone components, darkly toasted oak, and fragrances of California summer plants, especially bay laurel (menthol) and wild sage. Long dark tannins from both oak and grapes, pipe tobacco, wood. Barely a trace of oxidation nor acetaldehyde, very saturated dark oxblood color.

1987 Petite Syrah York Creek ($40 at winery) (tasted 2002)
This would have been better about 5 years ago, but still one of the most unusual and memorable flavors I have had in a wine. Nose reminds me of low tide, salty calcium, crushed clam shells, brambles and red-vines liquorice. Still very strong tannins, oily mouth-feel like dried plum fruit leather.

*1994 Petite Syrah York Creek (tasted 2003)
Nose at first restrained until given some time to open. Subtle tones of sweet cherry, chocolate and American oak profile, blackberries, fennel greens. Palate has a centered clean focus, well collected by age, big acidity, big ripe fruit and surprisingly restrained tannins considering it's Petite Syrah. The tannins do slowly build up in the mouth after time, balanced by tart raspberry and cherry fruits, showing a velvety finish. Perfect at this age, it could still have gone several years longer without flaws.

*1989 Zinfandel Park Muscatine (vineyard blend, w/petite syrah)
(tasted twice in 2002, ATP bottling purchased at winery in 2001 for $24)
A hugely tannic wine, still with big spicy fruit (blueberry and strawberry), but it tastes like the fruit was always hovering under the tannin. Very ripe, more chocolatey than typical zin strawberry, dusty cocoa. Woody oak profile hovers around the edges, toasty with bits of "fireplace" minerals. Spicy on the palate, high acids still present after 13 years, almost waxy in the mouth. A challenging, austere, complex explosion of flavors.

1995 Zinfandel Jimsomare (tasted 9/03)
This and the 1997 Jimsomare were tasted at the same time, and show a good lesson in vintage and age effects. This vineyard is notoriously acidic, showing the most austere profile of the Montebello Road hillside, downhill from Ridge. Jimsomare is not an easy wine, and the harsh acidity helps it age but also keeps it lean. '95 shows smells of ocean (the calciferous limestone notes that I often get from older Ridge wines) with hints of fireplace minerals (heavily toasted oak.) The flavors also have a "toasted" quality, somewhat nutty, with very low fruit.

1997 Zinfandel Jimsomare (tasted 9/03)
A year noted for its huge fruit, and indeed this vintage shows a cleaner fruit profile than the '95. Light raspberry nose with heavy toasted oak, brambly acidity and mouthwatering brightness. This makes me hungry, but it's so austere I can't think of any food that it wouldn't overpower with acidity.

*2000 Zinfandel York Creek Late Picked ($27.50)
(Tasted in July 2002, notes from memory.)
Still young, nose full of ripe dark fruit, white pepper spice, vanilla taffy (American oak), sweet overtones hint at berries. Palate is very large, centered and spicy.

2000 Zinfandel Late Picked Nervo
(Tasted March 2003)
Still young, with breadlike yeast smells and taffy/caramel from American oak. Opens up into very ripe strawberries, cocoa butter, straw and rusty minerality. Thick and buttery in the mouth, oily and bready. Almost portlike with a hint of oxidation, strawberries and a metallic coating in the mouth like wellwater minerals or red meat, a hint salty. Very big and complex.

*2000 Zinfandel Geyserville ($30)
(Tasted in July 2002, notes from memory.)
Ripe big classic zin. Extremely balanced between dark ripe berry fruit, high acids, big tannins, hints of earthy chocolate, spice, brambles, soft sweet American oak structure. Better in a few years, probably good for 5-10 years.

*2001 Montebello (barrel sample tasted 12/02)
Just blended for final release, but still needing about a year on new American oak. Extremely saturated dark color, extracted and almost opaque. Nose of dark cherry, cassis, cranberry, vanilla and toast from unincorporated oak. Palate is full of tannin and strong acidity. Little points of flavor protrude out from the sides of a round fruit center. A muscular wine. Postscript: this proved to be a stunning year for Ridge Montebello, and this was the first Montebello to top 14% alcohol, a sign of the ripeness of the fruit. I wish I had bought futures.

2001 Carignane Buchignani Sonoma County ($22 ATP, tasted 4/03)
The first of the many ATP shipments that didn't impress me at first taste. Early flavors showed very simple cherry fruit, subtle deep port-like oxidation, a hint of cocoa and vanilla taffy (American oak) but little else. However, as it opened over an hour or two, it developed some lovely Cote Rotie-like characteristics of mulched grasses ("hayloft") and rich dark cherries. I think this needs to sit for about two years, to further develop those fragrances. However, the structure of the wine doesn't match the other Ridge wines. (Note, I have since learned that Carignane might be an ancient clone of Mourvedre, and indeed the profile has some similarity.) (14.2% alc.)

*2001 Three Valleys ($18 list, tasted 9/03)
(50% zin, 15% petite syrah, 15% carignane, 11% mataro, 9% grenache) This used to be called Coast Range, Ridge's low-end second wine. Coast Range has always been a good value wine for under $20, among the best. As more wineries use the "coastal" description to separate their cheap wines from their good ones, Ridge decided to steer away from that term and describe this by grape source. 2001 proves to be a good year to separate from the low-end, because Three Valleys is beautiful. This is not a low-end wine. Ready to drink, it showcases the fruit and the winemaker's talent above the vineyard or the type of acid/tannin structure that helps a wine age. Huge dark fruit nose, hint of volitile acidity, oceanic smells, blueberry and chocolate, coconut (from mourvedre?), zinfandel profiles with black cherries. Thick mouth-feel, high acidity, relatively low tannin, long lingering fruit character, probably good for another five years.

*2001 Chardonnay Santa Cruz Mountains ($30, tasted 9/03)
Exactly the typical Ridge chardonnay profile, only a bit smoother. Nose of creamy popcorn, yet not cloying. Crisp acidity and limestone minerality steer this away from the sweet oaky California Chard flavors. Palate shows ripe lemon citrus and butter. Soft and bright all at once.

2001 Geyserville ($30, tasted 9/03)
(74% zin, 18% carignane, 8% petite syrah.) I tasted this and the following two wines only days after they were bottled, so I was trying to interpret flavors through bottle shock and youthfulness. Ridge wines tend to develop great complexity over time, so these are just initial short interpretations. The Geyserville was the most complex but least ready of the three. Its flavors would not resolve, and it tasted uncentered. This might, however, become the best of the three 2001 Ridge zins. It just needs time. Nose shows American oak caramels, a bit syrupy, disjointed. Big mouthfeel with lots of tannin. Uncertain.

2001 Zinfandel Pagani Ranch ($28, tasted 9/03)
(88% zin, 8% alicante bouschet, 4% petite syrah.) Slightly grassy, tobacco nose. More austere than Geyserville, lean, with cedar and "pencil" on the palate. Very Bordeaux-like, odd for a zinfandel but I like the tea-like character.

*2001 York Creek Late Picked ($28, tasted 9/03)
(78% zin, 20% petite syrah, 2% carignane.) York Late Picked usually offers the biggest "fruit bomb" of Ridge's major Zinfandel releases (not as fruity as the Dusi, though.) This year it shows inky saturated smells, deep and dark, with more acidity and tannin than the 2000 vintage. Tingling acidity on the tongue, hint of rose petals, tarry. The finish is quite fast, though, and shows hints of fireplace ash. Give it more time to integrate, and it will stay big for a long time.





Testarossa Vineyards
300-A College Ave. Los Gatos, CA 95030
Tasted December 2002

1995 Chardonnay Michaud Vineyard (sold out)
Very soft nose of Christmas spices, nutmeg, pineapple. Combination of malolactic bubblegum and wood remind me of a pack of baseball cards. The fruit is slightly faded but delicate and smooth. Long buttery finish with lingering soft pineapple.

*2000 Chardonnay Michaud Vineyard ($36)
Light mineral limestone nose, pears, apples. Toast, butter, vanilla, subtle floral lime-citrus acidity at the back of the palate, lingering hints of cinamon and pineapple. Retasted one day after opening (re-corked, refridgerated), nose is more caramel apple, more spicey and complex. Palate very similar but acids have softened, not as floral but more ripe tasting.

*2001 Pinot Noir Palazzio ($32)
Warm cinamon spice nose, dark cherry fruit. Palate brighter than the nose, higher acidity and tannins than expected from the smells. As it opens, the nose developes hints of lichi (or mango?) tropical fruits.

*2000 Pinot Noir Pisoni Vineyard (?)
Nose with hints of decomposed granite, deep earthy spiciness, chocolate, brambly crushed leaves (whole cluster fermentation). Mid-palate of cherries, truffles, very round. Cinnamon candy finish of toasted French oak.

 Return to Wine Notes Index: