My Introduction to the C. Donatiello Winery

Posted on by Arianna Armstrong in Jess' Wine Tasting Notes | 1 Comment

c-donatiello-bottlesLast month I was kindly invited to a pre-release luncheon for C. Donatiello Winery at the lovely Chaya Brasserie in Beverly Hills. Rarely one to turn down free wine or free food, I gladly accepted the invitation and waited for the big day.

Since I'm hyper-punctual (thanks, Mom!) I was the first one of the guests to arrive and I had an opportunity to spend some time with proprietor Christopher Donatiello. One of the things I love about the wine business is the willingness of the owners and winemakers to talk about their wines and themselves (even before they're knocking 'em back). Like a piece of art whose meaning is deepened by the artist's story and message, the more you know about the people making the wine and where the wine comes from, the more you get from the experience of drinking it. Getting to know the story of the birth of the C. Donatiello Winery helped me experience the wines as if I secretly knew the wines' hopes and dreams, in addition to what they were in the glass that day.

The focus for this winery was to be on single-lot wines made in a traditional “hands-off” style. I can't always taste the way a wine is made, but I typically notice a “naked” wine where minimal winemaking has been applied and the fruit is allowed to speak for itself. I enjoyed this aspect of the C. Donatiello wines we tried.

Chris was also interested in making great Pinot Noir (who isn't?). He wanted his Pinot to express a lighter style, and be more elegant than much of the super-cherry fruit-forward Pinot Noir we get from California.

I happen to be a big fan of Russian River Valley wines and typically when I purchase them I do so as a treat because they tend toward the over $30 mark and there's too much good wine out there priced well below $30 to have the expensive stuff on a regular basis. If you're looking to buy any of these wines, here's a good place to start for C. Donatiello Winery, and here for Healdsburg Ranches.

The Chardonnays

The first wine poured for us was the 2007 Russian River Valley Chardonnay (release price $24 per bottle). I always feel bad for the first wine that gets poured because my palate and nose are hyper-sensitive to alcohol until I've had a few sips. I suppose that's why they started us with their “lesser” Chardonnay (not single-vineyard). This wine contains fruit sourced from two vineyards: Orsi Vineyard and Maddie's Vineyard. Maddie's estate-grown contribution made all the difference in this wine.

What they said:

Nose: Lemon curd and apricot, with a bit of clove and just a hint of wet wool. Don't be surprised if you also detect an ever so faint whiff of vanilla cookies.

Palate: Layers of spiced apple, honey, and nutmeg reveal seamlessly on a tight frame to give way to the long, luscious chamomile-tinged finish.

What Jess says:

After trying all of the wines, this was the one I came back to and wanted more of. I was particularly impressed with the balance of this Chardonnay, a feat indeed since so many Chardonnays lean oaky or buttery or alcoholic or fruity… this just expressed itself as fine fruit made in a fine style. I find the $24 release price to be a good value, especially if you can find it a retailer for less.

Side note: I smelled honey on the nose. I often can't tell the difference between honey and apricot on the nose (or on the palate) until it's pointed out. I was able to detect the spice (though it was super mild) and I detected “herbal” where they say the “chamomile” ought to be. But then again, my descriptions tend toward the general rather than the specific.

Next up was the 2007 Chardonnay, Orsi Vineyard (release price $30 per bottle). This single-vineyard wine, in my opinion, didn't enjoy the balance of the Russian River Valley Chardonnay. It was brighter and fruitier (popular characteristics in Chardonnay, just not my preference).

What they said:

Nose: Aromas of baking spices, pannetone and toasted pineapple, exquisitely accented by a faint hint of lemon.

Palate: Decadently lush with flavors of caramel candied apple, key lime, lemon, and grapefruit. A round, full mouth feel develops effortlessly into a medium to long finish.

What Jess says:

I have no idea what pannetone tastes/smells like. And toasted pineapple isn't exactly familiar to me either (though I smelled what I referred to as “tweaky pineapple.” But I sure did smell and taste that lemon! I found this wine to be enjoyable and unique, but since fruity isn't my favorite, I didn't find $30 to be an attractive price.

healdsburg-ranches

Later on, we tried some of the wines from different labels that are part of the Hambrecht Wine Group. A value highlight for me was the 2009 Healdsburg Ranches Russian River Valley Chardonnay (release price $14.99 per bottle).

What they said:

Nose: Stone fruit, honey dew melon, apricot, golden delicious apple

Palate: Apricot, toffee, nutmeg, white peach, nectarine

What Jess says:

This was a great Chardonnay in this price range. I would happily sip on this on warm summer days or nights, accompanied by some form of food since the acid tended to build up a little in my mouth as I drank it. I detected a brightness and some non-specific form of “fruit” on the nose. Well-balanced for a $15 Chardonnay (only a little acidic), I detected notes of apricot, citrus, pear, and little hint of malolactic fermentation that didn't annoy me as buttery (considering this wine's fermentation was 100% malolactic, that's saying something).

The Pinot Noirs

I'm not one who goes gaga over Pinot Noirs, but when I do, they tend to originate from the Russian River Valley (and sometimes elsewhere in Sonoma County). So please take all of the following comments with the perspective that I'm not really a Pinot Noir afficionado… I think it's because Pinot Noir is one of the most difficult wines to produce and so very few wineries have truly figured it out.

First up in the Pinot department was the 2007 Russian River Valley Pinot Noir (release price $38 per bottle).

What they said:

Nose: A vibrant burst of Morello cherry, Santa Rosa plum, cranberry and muddle raspberries, braced by notes of grey pepper and mocha.

Palate: Luscious and fruity, with perfectly-balanced flavors of cherry, strawberry, and cola. The brightness of the fruit is elegantly framed by structured tannins.

What Jess says:

I found the nose to be bright, bold with cherry (though again, I don't know what a Morello cherry smells/tastes like) and a bit peppery. To me the palate was musty and structured up front but I found wateriness in the mid-palate right where the party is supposed to start. This Pinot had an earthy quality that really didn't resonate with me. Maybe it was my brussel sprouts that ruined it? (Though that Pasta Primavera dish they served was out of this world.)

Also served was the 2008 Pinot Noir, Floodgate Vineyard, Block 15 (release price $48 per bottle). When a label starts getting THAT specific I have an expectation that this wine is going to be very unique and special. I didn't have that experience. I have to wonder how much the record-breaking weather affected this particular vintage and would be interested to try a bottle from a year when the weather conditions were within normal range.

What they said:

Nose: The floral essence of rose petal meets the earthy aroma of forest floor, with jammy notes of cranberry and blackberry.

Palate: Opposite of showy, with reserved flavors of cherry and wet stone balanced subtly and beautifully by a tactile, full mouthfeel.

What Jess says:

The nose was mellower than the previous Pinot Noir (that's a good thing for me… sometimes when a wine has a strong nose it, by contrast, falls apart on the palate). I definitely was aware of “forest floor.” The palate expressed deep layers of flavor, was very balanced, felt restrained, and was supported by light, supple tannins. This was a very well-made wine, but at $48 and with my preferences, I'd probably spend my money elsewhere (like a Suacci-Carciere Pinot Noir also from the Russian River Valley).

Side note: C. Donatiello Winery takes the time to point out that this Pinot Noir contains grapes from Dijon Clones 667 and 777. Until I started studying plants, this seemed like a rather pedantic thing to talk about (especially since the rest of the plant-growing community refers to “clones” as cultivars and varieties).  But since I study wine and plants with the same level of voracity, I thought I'd see who else is using these clones… if you like any of these wines, you might very well enjoy this Pinot Noir:

Clone: 667

  • Melville (not sure which vineyards have this clone)
  • Cambria Clone 667
  • Alma Rosa (La Encantada Vineyard)
  • Foley (Santa Rita Hills)
  • La Rochelle (Sleepy Hollow Vineyard)

Clone: 777

  • Melville (not sure which vineyards have this clone)
  • Aston Estate
  • Brewer-Clifton
  • Windsor Oaks Vineyards
  • Lafond Winery & Vineyards

One last Pinot Noir was served that day, the 2009 Healdsburg Ranches Russian River Valley Pinot Noir (release price $18.99 per bottle).

What they said:

Nose: Aromas of plum, cranberry, cherry, golden raspberry, and spices

Palate: Flavors of strawberry, bing cherry, spice, baked rhubarb

What Jess says:

Oy. I don't agree with those tasting notes. I tasted toasty chocolate, not a lot of cherry expected from a Pinot Noir at all, and a touch of spice. Slightly acidic. Good Pinot under $13 is the holy grail of the value wine drinker. Good Pinot under $25 per bottle is rare enough that one should be impressed by such a feat. For me, this one falls under the general description of “nice Pinot Noir under $25.” For the same price I'd take the Clos du Bois Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir over this one though.

They also poured for us two wines from the Bradford Mountain label. The 2006 Grist Vineyard Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel and Syrah (release price $33 for each). I didn't find either of these wines to be exciting for their varietal, or for Dry Creek Valley. I'd skip 'em altogether if you find 'em at the store.

The Winery

Typically when I do an elaborate tasting review such as this one, it's because I've visited the winery on a tasting trip. That's not the case but there are few special things about this winery that makes me hope I get there before too long.

The Aroma / Sensory Garden

Sensory & Aroma Garden at C. Donatiello Winery

Sensory & Aroma Garden at C. Donatiello Winery

C. Donatiello Winery has on premises an elaborate aroma garden where each plant has been chosen to reflect the wines they're making. There is a 60-species rose garden, a perennial garden in the English style, and herbs are planted between the two. Sounds AWESOME.

New Wine & Cheese Pairing program launching June 5, 2010

We are introducing a new wine and cheese pairing program. Over the course of the remainder of the year, the winery will focus on three local Sonoma County creameries, pairing four select cheeses with a flight of four carefully selected single-vineyard estate Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs.  Each cheese plate is adorned with locally produced accoutrements and fresh cuttings from the winery’s organic Aroma Garden to further enhance the tasting experience. Reservations are required, so please allow us 24-hour notice.

Food & Wine Classic in Aspen June 18-20, 2010

Food & Wine magazine’s signature event brings together the world’s foremost authorities on food and wine. Chris has the distinct honor of participating in a panel discussion this year.  Food & Wine Magazine’s Wine Editor Ray Isle has invited him to speak on “The Power of Points.”  He will also be in attendance with the Russian River Valley Winegrowers Association, so if you’re attending, be sure to stop by his booth in the tasting tent.

“Live from the Middle Reach” Summer Music Series, July 4 -October 3, 2010

The series will lead with the popular local Sonoma County group the Hellhounds, who have been a staple in kicking off the concert series on 4th of July weekend since its inception.  A total of 13 bands will be featured throughout the summer and early fall, including returning favorites and fresh new acts. The full list of music acts can be found on the Events page of their website.

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Lone Madrone Winery – Paso Robles Wine Tasting

Posted on by Arianna Armstrong in Wine Tasting Trips | 3 Comments
lone-madrone-logo

Their name comes from a lone Madrone tree in a vineyard under which workers eat their lunches.

I consider living in California to be one of life's great pleasures (I know not everyone agrees) so I spend a great deal of time driving around and enjoying any parts I can get to whenever I can get to them. I was visiting my Dad near Monterey last week and planned to take Hwy 101 all the way back to LA… which means driving through Paso Robles!! I, being the lover of wine and California wine country that I am, just HAD to stop in for a tasting. Planning ahead, I asked my Twitter followers for a suggestion and the ever-so-helpful Twitterer for Alta Colina suggested I try Lone Madrone, quite close to Hwy 101 and therefore convenient for this tasting side-trip. It was a fabulous recommendation.

When I go out to a tasting room, I'm looking for the following things to make my experience even better than just the wine…

  1. Easy access to the tasting room from the parking area (it's often hot out there)
  2. Friendly and prompt greeting by the staff
  3. Nice decorations and/or stuff for sale (good to look at between tastes, especially if the room is crowded)
  4. A very long bar area for tastings (nothing worse than a cramped tasting)
  5. Knowledgable and still-friendly staff even after the tasting has begun (rarely is this criteria not met in the Paso area)
  6. GOOD WINE!
  7. More than 5 wines to taste. I don't like it when the tasting room experience is micro-managed. Wineries: I've come a great distance to sample your wares, please give me a large sampling so I can accurately judge whether or not I want to create a relationship with you  (as a consumer OR as a blogger).
  8. Quick checkout, whether I'm only paying for my tasting or I'm buying several bottles
  9. A nice outdoor area where I feel welcome to wander around and enjoy wine country while I sober up
Lone Madrone, Paso Robles, CA

Lone Madrone, Paso Robles, CA

windmill-welcome

The charm begins with a windmill

Lone Madrone delivered on all of these expectations! It's a charming winery run by a brother-sister team who are focused on sourcing grapes from earth-friendly growers. The winemaker:

“Neil Collins has been making the wines and tending to the vineyard operations for Tablas Creek Vineyards since 1998. The wines he produces for Tablas Creek are among the best Rhone varietals produced in California, and he brings this same passion and quest for excellence to his own Lone Madrone wines. Neil honed his craft in the cellars and vineyards of two prestigious California Central Coast operations, Wild Horse Winery and Adelaida Cellars, where he served as a winemaker for five years.”

The wines were consistently surprising (in a good way) and unique. It opened my taste buds to some varietals I'd never tried before, or had only had as part of a blend where the wines lost the character of the grapes that comprised them. The little birdie at Alta Colina told me they make some interesting red blends, and she was right!

wisteria-welcome-2

A Wisteria Welcome

vineyard

Beautiful adjacent hillside vineyard

Lone Madrone was offering a generous tasting list last Tuesday, so I spent plenty of time enjoying a great variety of wines. Here's what I tasted and what I thought (and bought).

2007 Lone Madrone La Mezcla, $25 per bottle

What they say: A Spanish influenced blend of Garnaca Blanca (Grenache Blanc) and Albarino, La Mezcla rings bright in the nose with aromas of pear, green apple, lime and straw with a hint of stone fruit. In the mouth, the blend tastes brilliantly balanced with crisp acidity and a rich mid-palate that finishes with a little Grenache Blanc tannin. Try it with oysters, clams, ceviche, or just by itself on a hot day! Grape source: Dawson Creek Vineyard, El Pomar, Templeton.

What Jess said: Clean, smooth mouthfeel with unique flavors from the different grapes. A little green fruit in the mid-palate, and a bit of applesauce. A lightly acidic finish (probably the aforementioned tannin). I found it to be a great alternative to Sauvignon Blanc which can get boring after a while. I bought a bottle of this and am looking forward to cracking it!

tasting-room

Inside the charming tasting room

2007 Lone Madrone Points West White, $32 per bottle

What they say: This golden hued wine shows a luscious bouquet of honeydew melon, sweet pear, anda  tinge of anise spice. Rich viscosity drives the palate which finishes long, and with a pleasant minerality. Try it with a variety of seafood, spicy cuisine, and even certain chocolates! This white Rhone blend features Roussane picked from three West-side Paso Robles vineyards.

What Jess said: Very unique white wine. Seems like a full-bodied white, but with no oak or butter that I'm used to from Chardonnays. There's a lovely honey taste throughout… so unique and palate-pleasing. A little bit of apple in the finish for me.  If I weren't limiting my purchases for space reasons, I would have bought a couple bottles of this one. It would make a great alternative to Chardonnay.

2007 Lone Madrone Picpoul Blanc, $32 per bottle

What they say (in Haiku no less!): lemon drop, wet stone / sweet apple, a hint of pear / rich, viscous palate. Glenrose Vineyard Fruit.

What Jess said: Bright nose, like a mild Sauvignon Blanc. Dry mid-palate and long dry finish.

2003 Il Toyon Nebbiolo, $25 per bottle

What they say: The 2003 Nebbiolo might be just the perfect wine for your next Mediterranean meal! Its enticing nose of strawberry, ruby red grapefruit, cassis, and menthol is laced with hints of cranberry, white pepper and pomegranate. Firm tannins give this earthy wine authority on the palate, and at the table as well, next to a hearty lasagna or moussaka. Salute! Grapes sourced from a winery up on Peachy Canyon Rd.

What Jess said: I'm not a fan of Nebbiolo… so take my lack of descriptiveness as a reflection of not relating to the wine. Dry and earthy with a strong taste of cherry. A light-to-medium-bodied red.

2006 Lone Madrone Barfandel, $45 per bottle

What they say: Never mind the name, it's the nose you'll want to first contemplate; a dark, smoky briar-fruit haven for your olfactory! The vibrant aromas of blackberry and boysenbeery accompanied by a smidge of tar pave the road for the full-bodied palate of this Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, and Barbera blend. Edifying tannins complimented with ideal acidity delight the mouth and finish with a pleasant, almost nostalgic, vestige of oak.

What Jess said: Smell of soil or dirt and fruit on the nose. I tend to be sensitive to smells that remind me of soil and the ocean, especially in wines from the Paso Robles area. The wine was acidic on the mid-palate, tannic at the back of the mouth, and had a fairly short finish for a big red.

2004 Lone Madrone Cabernet Sauvignon, $42.50 per bottle

What they say: Big, rich, structured, this wine shows a dark ruby purple hue in the glass. Lots of black cherry, blackberry, and cassis with notes of tobacco and vanilla. This wine has a pleasant oak influence which blends beautifully with the massive dark fruit and leads to an everlasting finish. Fruit from Chelle Mountain Vineyard.

What Jess said: “Stings” my nose with dark fruit. It doesn't taste like a Cab to me (one of my favorite varietals), though it hints at it. What it DOES taste like to me is a wine that comes from the Paso Robles area (the terroir is distinctive). My other notes include cherry and dry. I like my Cabs with a little cherry in them and I definitely like them dry, but something here didn't work for me.

2006 Lone Madrone Baily Ranch Zinfandel, $40 per bottle

What they say: Gold Medal, 2009 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition. Vibrant red fruit thrice over, and with conviction! Candied red apple, ollalieberry and cherry aromas, with notes of pepper and nutmeg, lead to a full, juicy red fruit palate supported by youthful tannins. Days of flavor slowly fade to a receding tide of crushed red fruit specked with red apple peel and pomegranate. Produced with fruit from the beautiful, certified organic and dry-farmed vineyard of David Bailey.

What Jess said: WOW. That's what I said. The most beautiful color, an entertaining Syrah-like nose, and the Zinfandel was restrained (SO unusual for Paso Robles Zins) but present. A LOVELY wine that I willingly spent the $40 on. We're saving it to christen our next vacation!

Also check out the reviews for the winery on Yelp

roosters

Awesome rooster sculptures out front

Growing tired of a great wine club

Posted on by Arianna Armstrong in Wine Club Reviews | Comments Off on Growing tired of a great wine club

For about a year now, I've been a happy member of Fiddlehead Winery's Frequent Fiddle wine club. I joined the club after visiting 20 or so wineries and tasting rooms in the Santa Ynez Valley area… a favorite spot of mine.

After a full day of tasting at some great wineries, and some not-so-great wineries, we landed in the wine-ghetto of Lompoc, CA to find out if Fiddlehead was as good as its reputation. It was. And having tasted a lot of wine in the area, this was the first winery that had a wine club I wanted to join (and my husband Mitch agreed!).

Truth be told, I'm still a happy member, except that when my newest shipment arrived, it was no longer an exciting adventure. I'd already tried (and drank three bottles each of) both the Goosebury (Goosie) Sauvignon Blanc from Santa Rita Hills and the Oldsville Reserve Pinot Noir from Willamette Valley (pronounced Will-amm-it, dammit). I like both of these wines very much, and feel they're a good value, but there are hundreds (maybe thousands?) of wineries in California alone and I have more wine adventures to partake of!

So now I'm going to figure out which wine club to join next, and if you'll let me, I'll take you along on the adventure. Hopefully you'll be inspired to find the perfect wine club (and wines) for yourself!

If you want to try Fiddlehead, you can find places to buy it online.