Tag Archives: Donelan Wines

Instagram: A wine geek’s dream

Ever since I got my iPhone 4S, I’ve been Instagraming like a fiend. One of my favorite subjects, besides myself of course (jk!), is wine. To a wine lover, there are very few things as photogenic as a seductive wine bottle. I figure I’d share a few of my favorites and hopefully you find as much joy out of them as I do! Find me on Instagram (@SENELWORLDWIDE).

I have a habit of saving the bottles of some of the “greats” that I’ve tasted through the years. Oddly, they make for an appealing picture!

Barossa Bold: Amazingly Aeromatic

Collateral Damage: Remnants of a Southern NH restaurant tour with Donelan Wine’s owner Joe Donelan.

Champagne with a View: 5th Anniversary Dinner at the charming Wellington Room (Portsmouth, NH)

In the Shadow of Greatness: ’01 Opus One


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Senel Wine’s Top Syrahs/Blends

“Syrah is for when your palate grows up.”

That statement does sound a bit snobbish; however during a long run the other day, I found a certain amount of wisdom in it.

Early in my red wine appreciation, like many wine lovers, I was definitely all about the boisterous Cabernet Sauvignon and oaky Zinfandels, with maybe a meaty Merlot thrown in for good measure. However at some point my palate began to pick up on the nuances and layers that allowed me to appreciate the elegant boldness of Syrah and Rhone Blends.

My Syrah-epiphany took place at Bedford Village Inn (Bedford, NH) when my wife and I had the good fortune to enjoy one of the single greatest bottles of wine I’ve ever had, a 2005 Guigal ‘Ex Voto’ Hermitage. From that sublime moment on, my palate no longer simply appreciated Syrah, it began to lust for it. I wanted to recapture that majestic, sensual moment.

Since then Bacchus has smiled upon me as I’ve had some truly breathtaking experiences with my favorite grape; however on only one other occasion has a wine given me goose bumps. Here’s my list of Syrahs/Rhone Blends that have put up a valiant effort and are all terrific examples of what this complex grape can produce. 

The 2006 Émigré, with it’s aluring aromas of leather, cocoa and violet, put up a strong showing and came in at #7.

Top 10 Recent Syrahs

  1. 2005 Penfolds Grange – 100 pts
  2. 2005 Guigal, Ex Voto – 98 pts
  3. 2009 Donelan, Obsidian Vibneyard – 97 pts
  4. 2007 Clos des Papes – 97 pts
  5. 2005 Penfolds, St.Henri – 97 pts
  6. 2006 Pax, Richards Family Vineyard – 96 pts
  7. 2006 Émigré – 95 pts
  8. 2007 Pride – 95 pts
  9. 2009 Chateau de Saint Cosme – 95 pts
  10. 2006 Penfolds, St.Henri – 95 pts

Top 5 Vintage Syrahs

  1. 1996 Penfolds, Grange – 98 pts
  2. 1997 Penfolds, Grange – 96 pts
  3. 1998 Domaine du Pegau, Reservee – 95 pts
  4. 1999 Penfolds, St.Henri – 95 pts
  5. 1998 Chateau de Beaucastel – 95 pts

Have your say…What’s your favorite Syrah experience?

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Sonoma 2010: A challenging vintage that put winemaking philosophy to the test

With the quality wines of the 2010 vintage slowly being released, I thought it would be worthwhile to uncover how one of California’s most talented winemakers, Tyler Thomas of Donelan Wines, handled this difficult growing season.

Tyler Thomas at Kobler Vineyard

In a couple sentences, describe your winemaking philosophy.

Find great fruit, great people, and only do what is necessary. Find the point at which all things are balanced for each ferment, each wine, and only select the best of what results from this process. 

Considering most wineries are now beginning to release their 2010 vintage, how would you describe the 2010 growing season and harvest in Sonoma?

2010 was undoubtedly difficult because late flowering caused late harvest maturity. Because of this we lost a lot of crop to a devastating heat spike in late August, as well as early rains which increased mold pressure. However, for our Pinot Noir and Chardonnay this was not problematic and with our passion for selecting only the best, we discovered the great fruit and great wine of the vintage even if there was less of it. The wines are full of fruit, but more elegantly structured than something like the more austere 2009 vintage. 

What were the major adjustments you had to make in 2010 to ensure you maintained your ability to produce wines up to your standards?

Thankfully, our abiding philosophy of ample vineyard time, selection and quality over everything else set us up quite well to handle 2010. Even in great vintages we segregate vineyard sections, barrels, etc. based on quality variation and then select the best of the best to meet the goals for whatever wine it is we are making. As a result, 2010 instigated a higher degree of selection, a bit more vineyard time to ensure we were on top of what was occurring as harvest approached, and removing certain lots; but not really any major adjustments to the actual process. We thought of 2010 (and 2011 for that matter) as more European in its sensibility and we tried to select for, and build, the wines consistent with that idea.

 Would you consider your efforts a success and how so?

Yes! Someone who recently tasted many of the 2010s noted that they seemed Californian, but with a high degree of European sensibility. I couldn’t agree more and would consider that a success. With all the blending trials we conducted, I feel very confident that what went to bottle was not only the best we could offer relative to the vintage as a whole, but a very fine wine in its own right irrespective of the vintage. The greatest producers are known for their wines in the toughest of vintages, I hope we can consider our wines in that category.

Finally, which was your favorite wine of 2009 and 2010 and why?

This is really tough because I am a mood drinker: I drink wines I am in the mood for based on context and food. I am very proud of all the wines we make, really I am! 

However, since you are forcing me, I would have to say…

  • 2009 White – Venus
  • 2009 Red – Kobler Family Vineyard Syrah
  • 2010 White – Nancie Chardonnay
  • 2010 Red – a close call between the Two Brothers Pinot and Cuvee Christine Syrah!

Now for the wines…

Click on the image to sign-up for Donelan’s mailing list for exclusive access to their newest releases.

About 2 months ago I had the distinct privilege of escorting Joe Donelan, owner of Donelan Wines, around to some of Southern NH’s premier restaurants to show many of their current releases. Throughout the course of the day, I had the opportunity to experience their evolution. Here are some of my musings…both from the restaurant tour and a Donelan wine dinner I hosted in January with some friends.

2009 “Venus”, Roussanne/Viognier, Sonoma County (’09 Sold Out/’10 $45)

Popping aromatics and playful acidity. Aromas of wild honey, citrus, and wildflowers with hints of wet stone lead to an enticing palate of crisp Asian pear, juicy citrus, melon and lavender with a pleasant medium-bodied quality that’s a delight to find in a white wine. Senel Wine – 94 pts (Senel Wine’s Top 10 Wines of 2011: #9)

2010 “Nancie”, Chardonnay, Sonoma Coast($45) – Barrel Sample

From the onset I thought I was in Beaune, in particular Pernand-Vergelesses. The minerality of this wine paints the picture and is complemented with a fruit salad of Granny Smith apple, lychee and citrus. The use of neutral oak provided body; however was largely passive and the finish was crisp and lasting. Senel Wine – 90 pts

2010 “Two Brothers”, Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast($55) – Barrel Sample

Beautifully soft and expressive feminine qualities similar to Chambolle Musigny with a side of masculine Pommard strength. As a barrel sample is started out tight; however bright red fruit, earth tones, leather and Asian spice emerged after it had a chance to fill its lungs. Intriguing complexity of layers and a very long and memorable finish. Senel Wine – 93 pts

2009 Cuvée Christine, North Coast($45)

This wine is a variable picnic that you can drink all day. A fragrant walk through a lavender field while sniffing a handful of dark, ripe berries. Followed by flavors of blackberry jam, lightly peppered grilled meat and a light streak of oak and herb. Will only benefit further with 3-5 years of aging. Senel Wine – 92 pts 

2009 Obsidian Vineyard, Syrah, Knight’s Valley ($90)

At first sip, all that can be said is…damn, what an exciting wine. This is an intense, terrior-driven, amazingly well-structured Syrah! The aromas abound with deep dark fruit with aromas of stone, bacon, wildflowers. The flavors were equally impressive minerality for an intense wine, with layered fresh blackberries and blue fruit, dark chocolate, and a savory, smoky/burnt undertone, with muscular tannins. Enjoyed on three separate occasions with consistent notes. It will only benefit further from 5-10 years of age, if you can refrain from opening now! Senel Wine – 97 pts

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Single Vineyard vs. Cuvees: A Wine by Any Other Name

By Tyler Thomas

Frequently I am asked the question “which is better, blends or single vineyards wines?”  The way we couch things in the industry, it seems sometimes that one or the other should be better.  Large production wines with broad area designations (like Sonoma County) are typically lower priced blends, with single vineyard typically designating wines of lower yield and greater consistency, thus a higher price.  Although this is the common belief, is it accurate to imply that a blend has an inherent deficiency over a single vineyard wine?  To put it plainly: no.

This is largely fueled by one major fact, price. Many wineries from the U.S., along with certain other areas of the world, showcase their single vineyard wines as their “top-of-the-line” brands. Because of this, there are very few single vineyard wines at the “low end” in terms of price. This would naturally imply their inherent superiority but it doesn’t mean that they are the only representation at the “high end” of the quality scale. 

The fact remains that blends frequently make high-priced and high quality wines, with one only having to look at the most famous wines region in the world to prove this point.  As in the case of Bordeaux, which produces red wines that are typically a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec, and Petite Verdot, one may even say that the best wines in the world are blends.  And it doesn’t stop in Bordeaux, as some of the best wines from the Southern Rhone region of Chateauneuf-du-Pape are rarely single variety or single vineyard wines.  Thus, cuvees (blends) and single vineyard wines both have a place and both can be terrific.

Daily, I work with Rhone varieties like Syrah, Grenache, and Mourvedre and cuvees allow me to utilize several vineyards to achieve a wine style that is within the diverse spectrum of Syrah flavor, or to create blends that hearken back to one of our inspirations: Chateauneuf-du-Pape. The goal of any cuvee is to utilize all the parts, all the colors, to paint a picture or present an offering that is greater than any of the individual parts.  Additionally, blends allow one to buffer vintage variation (the differences in quality, due to any number of reasons, from year to year) taking what one vineyard may need and providing it through wine from another site.

A single vineyard wine should not only be of interest solely because it is from a single vineyard.  They must stand alone as complete wines that have a unique, intriguing aroma profile, a full and balanced mid-palate, and complexity. However we also expect single vineyards to provide unique, even singular characters or markers that seem largely attributable to the fact that the grapes were grown in this or that location. In other words, we can only make this Syrah from this vineyard, not that vineyard, and vice versa.  One of the vineyard’s I’m privileged to work with produces one of the most unique Syrahs I’ve tasted in California. It’s a complete wine worth sharing not only for its overall quality, but also for its Je ne sais quoi and blending it away would be a shame.

In the end, any wine made should achieve the goal of the winemaker: to please the consumer.  At the high end, producers are looking for “complete” wines: ones that offer complex aromas, perceived depth and weight on the palate, a long pleasing finish, and tremendous balance.  Whether this is achieved through a single vineyard or cuvee is often independent (or should be!) of the fact that the #1 goal is quality quality quality!  And if someone pledges this as their goal, then whether they go about it by blending or single vineyards should be nearly irrelevant.

Tyler Thomas is the winemaker at Donelan Family Wines.  Prior to Donelan, he was the assistant winemaker at Hyde de Villaine Wines of Napa, California for four years.  Prior to that, Tyler gained experience at both domestic and international wineries, including stops in Germany and New Zealand. Tyler has a B.S. and M.S. in Botany from Colorado State University and a M.S. in Viticulture and Enology from the University of California Davis.

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German Lessons

By Tyler Thomas

Making great wine vintage after vintage is a result of two places: the vineyard and the mind.  While inimitable wine presumes inimitable fruit, the role played by the mind, and juggling variables involved from vineyard to glass are less easily delineated.  That experience is important to winemaking is obvious and there is no intent to diminish the large amount of physical labor and time sacrifice, but what is it about experience that provides a winemaker with an expanded tool bag?  How is it that we learn to make better wine?  How is wine made in the mind?

I’ve read once “don’t learn the tricks of the trade, learn the trade.”  Knowing how to clean a barrel doesn’t necessarily make me a better winemaker, but knowing the language of winemaking (another way of saying the science and art) and understanding how people handle different challenges might.  Deciphering how another individual thinks about wine, what is their philosophical approach to making a wine, to balance, to quality; understanding these elements from one person or culture can be integrated into handling the fruit from your own region, climate, and vineyards.

This is exactly what I have taken away from each experience in the industry and particularly overseas opportunities.  One such experience arose thanks to some wonderful guidance and good fortune while in graduate school at the Universityof California, Davis.  I was able to take leave from HdV Wines in Napaand be a “visiting scholar” in the leading Viticulture and Enology institute in Germany.  While the trip did not involve producing wine per se, the interaction with growers and winemakers over the course of 3 months in six regions (Rheingau, Pfalz, Mosel, Champagne, Burgundy, and Alsace) was paramount to developing my own take on wine production.  My scholarly research was an esoteric investigation in vine water relations, but understanding each region’s approach and thoughts about not only how they make their wine but also how they think about tasting their own wine left the most important mark on my development as a winemaker. 

These experiences evolved my mental approach to wine production.  Concepts like balance, importance of extraction, emphasis on mouth feel over flavor, and perhaps most importantly: how wine was esteemed in each culture. 

An example: what is meant by tension?  Is it important?  It seems European producers (the aforementioned regions in particular) are very keen to have “tension” in their wines.  What I learned is that tension is largely acidity, but more than simply some level that can be measured.  It may be better to suggest that acid provides tension when it is a strong wire upon which everything is hung.  Acid without substance is tart and acidic; acid with substance is tense, supple, and even plush; and substance without acid is soft, at times loose, and fat.  Wines can be found in each of these categories.

There was no specific technique that emphasized or deemphasized tension, but its central role in what was considered high quality wine drove decision making in the vineyard and during extraction.  In other words, understanding what was meant by tension, and then tasting with winemakers who aptly described tension, allowed me to develop a sense for how I could integrate that intoCaliforniafruit independent of site and varietal.  It was one more aspect of the trade whose understanding mentally aided me to produce terrific wine.

In each of my stops I’ve tried to get into the head of the vigneron, to understand and anticipate what their rationale might be.  Now that I make those decisions myself, the central role of philosophy and how we think about wine is obvious.  Great fruit is a necessity, but one must also take concepts and execute them to help transform that wonderful fruit into inimitable wine.

Tyler Thomas is the winemaker at Donelan Family Wines.  Prior to Donelan, he was the assistant winemaker at Hyde de Villaine Wines of Napa, California for four years.  Prior to that, Tyler gained experience at both domestic and international wineries, including stops in Germany and New Zealand. Tyler has a B.S. and M.S. in Botany from Colorado State University and a M.S. in Viticulture and Enology from the University of California Davis.

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Sonoma & Syrah

By Tyler Thomas

As the principle grape we employ in our vinous endeavor and the vehicle to my wine interest you may dismiss my passion for Syrah as mere pandering.  However if you are willing to explore the depths of Syrah and embrace its diversity, you too might find yourself captivated by its beauty and versatility.  While Syrah’s Achilles heel might be its palatable diversity, this is also its strength and no county shows this so well as Sonoma County.

By palatable I mean that in both cool and warm sites, with both savory (read less ripe) and unctuous fruit (read riper) Syrah can appeal.  It is able to maintain integral characteristics of the variety in both scenarios.  While Pinot noir is often upheld as the ultimate variety for expression of a particular place (and for good reason), I think a case can be made for Syrah as well.

Sonoma County offers a wonderland to explore Syrah’s diversity with a bounty of north-south running ridges bisected with a few east-west conduits for cool air.  This combination of high elevation, narrow valleys, and daily ebb and flow of cool coastal air creates many pockets of subtle temperature variation, sometimes in places least expected.  For example, Bennett Valley southeast of Santa Rosa in the central part of Sonoma County would often be thought to be warmer than say – the Russian River Valley to the west – due to its farther distance from the cool ocean breezes.  However its topography with a narrow gap allowing some cool air to approach from the sea along with high elevation mountains on 3 sides draining cool air into the valley ends up producing quite a cold area for grape growing.

In addition to many small pockets of temperature difference, the soil types and water holding capacity within Sonoma County is very diverse.  Syrah seems to significantly respond – more so than certain varieties – to changes in water availability.  This is because it controls water loss differently than other varieties, even varieties with similar origin like Grenache.  Therefore if given ample water, Syrah grows like a weed.  Reduce that water and witness dramatic differences in growth and the nature of the fruit. This indicates the importance of site selection for the variety and given the diversity in Sonoma County soil clearly becomes another actor that will create wines highly dependent on the site in which they were grown.

So with this diversity of climate and soil within Sonoma County viticultural areas between Russian River, Green Valley, Bennett Valley, Chalk Hill, and SonomaValley…the list goes on; there is opportunity to experience very different, but very good wines.  We revel in that diversity as we use it to generate diverse components for producing several tasty Syrah blends, but also showing off 4 different single vineyard wines that all represent excellent, if unique, versions of Syrah’s palatable diversity in cool to cool-ish sites.  While some find the different tastes confusing, I recommend seeing it as an opportunity to learn about the sub-regions of Sonoma County and how climate and soil even in small regions can impact the taste of wine. Sonoma is a veritable viticultural playground for producing wines of great individual character, enjoy!   

Tyler Thomas is the winemaker at Donelan Family Wines.  Prior to Donelan, he was the assistant winemaker at Hyde de Villaine Wines of Napa, California for four years.  Prior to that, Tyler gained experience at both domestic and international wineries, including stops in Germany and New Zealand. Tyler has a B.S. and M.S. in Botany from Colorado State University and a M.S. in Viticulture and Enology from the University of California Davis.

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Senel Wine’s Top 10 of 2011 (the Full List)

Thank you all for following me through another bountiful year of wine experiences. I hope 2011 has treated you well, regardless of how “into” wine you are. Remember, it’s just wine. You don’t just jump into knowing everything or having a trained palate, but wanting to develop it is essential to appreciating the artestry of the winemakers involved.

When push comes to shove, every educated wine lover started out as an uneducated beer drinker, they just decided they wanted to class it up a bit. Let your knowledge develop over time, attend wine tastings, read the occasional book about wine or a book that covers a unique period in wine’s history (for me, it all started with “Wine & War”), or put on a dinner with a couple wines that you’ve enjoyed and want to share with your friends. Regardless, enjoy the ride, because in the end, life is about the experiences. And if there’s one thing that wine is good at, it’s providing experiences (and a good buzz)! 

Now for your pleasure, here are the wines that I’ve selected for this years list. I hope you have the opportunity to enjoy a couple of them, if so, let me know what you thought of them.

Top 10 of 2011

  1. 2007 Montes, Purple Angel
  2. 2008 Schild Estate
  3. 2009 Chateau de Saint-Cosme, Côte-Rôtie
  4. 2008 Januik
  5. 2006 Frescobaldi, Lamaione
  6. 2009 Tenuta San Guido, Le Difese
  7. 2009 Emmerich Knoll, Rosé
  8. 2006 Penfolds, St.Henri
  9. 2009 Donelan, Venus
  10. 2009 Maison Nicolas Perrin, Crozes-Hermitage 



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Senel Wine’s Top 10 Wine of 2011: #9

2009 Donelan, Venus, Sonoma County (California) $45

Ranking point total 3.5 (1.25/1.25/1)

Following-up on the success of the selection of their Cuvee Christine in last year’s Top 10, they’ve rightly earned their spot yet again. This time, they are simply showing off with a lovely Rhone Blanc. Their line-up of Rhone varietals is, in my opinion, second-to-none in California and rivals the greatness of the royalty found in the Rhone itself!

The ’09 Venus is no exception to the trend of amazing wines coming out of this winery. A blend of 90% Roussanne and 10% Viognier, this wine has popping aromatics and playful acidity. Aromas of wild honey, citrus, and wildflowers with hints of wet stone lead to an enticing palate of crisp Asian pear, juicy citrus, melon and lavender with a pleasant medium-bodied quality that’s a delight to find in a white wine. Winemaker Tyler Thomas has done a beautiful job with this, as always.

Senel Wine – 94 pts

For more on how the Top 10 was selected, read Senel Wine’s Top 10 of 2011. Cheers!

To purchase a bottle of this wine, click on the image of the bottle above, or visit the winery website for more details.


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Autumn Pairing: Pork Chops and Cabbage w/ Savory Apple Cider Gravy & ’09 Donelan Venus

Now that we’ve had two stunning dishes paired with two exemplary wines, it’s time for the pièce de résistance, my recipe! Ok, so we were supposed to have a third guest recipe; however it seems as if they’ve backed out. The key to life is rolling with the punches and I’d never let you guys down.

A few weeks back I made this dish and considering we’re basking in the glory of autumn (or in the case of New England, winter), I wanted to make a dish that exemplified the season, while providing an awesome pairing with my favorite white blend, Roussanne/Viognier.

The wine selected for this pairing is from one of my favorite winery, Donelan. Their line-up of Rhone varietals is, in my opinion, second-to-none in California and rivals the greatness of the royalty found in the Rhone itself! The 2009 Donelan Venus is no exception to this trend, with popping aromatics and playful acidity. Aromas of wild honey, citrus, and wildflowers with hints of wet stone lead to an enticing palate of crisp Asian pear, juicy citrus, melon and lavender with a pleasant medium-bodied quality that’s a delight to find in a white wine. Winemaker Tyler Thomas has done a beautiful job with this wine and I grade it out at 94 points, and would like to note that this is a white that almost any red lover would embrace.  

The greatness of this pairing is that it brings into focus everything that’s great about autumn. The colors, the ingredients, the crispness, it’s all there and works harmoniously together. This wine will also pair seamlessly, as well as lift-up,  traditional Thanksgiving fare.

Pork Chops and Cabbage w/ Savory Apple Cider Gravy (Serves 4)

The pièce de résistance!


  • 4 pork chops, cut ¾ inch thick
  • ½ medium head of cabbage, shredded (3 cups)
  • 1 large carrot, halved lengthwise and coarsely chopped
  • 1 medium onion, cut into medium-thin wedges (3/4 cup)
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 ½ cups apple cider
  • 1 ½ tablespoons cider vinegar
  • 3 teaspoons prepared horseradish
  • 1 medium red apple (preferably Courtland), cored and sliced (1 cup)
  • ½ tablespoons cornstarch
  • 1 tablespoon of flour
  • 2 beef bouillon cubes
  • ½ teaspoon black pepper, coarsely ground


  1. Trim fat from meat. Spray an unheated, large skillet with non-stick spray or coat with butter. In the skillet brown chops over medium heat about 4 minutes on each side.
  2. Add cabbage, carrot, onion, 1 cup of the apple cider, vinegar, garlic and horseradish. Bring to boil and then reduce heat to simmer. Cover and simmer mixture for 7 to 8 minutes or until cabbage is crisp-tender. Add the apple; cook for 2 minutes more.
  3. Promptly transfer the pork chops and vegetables to a platter, reserving the liquid in the skillet; keep platter warm.
  4. For gravy, stir together the remaining half cup of apple cider, bouillon cubes, and pepper. Blend with liquid in skillet, then begin whisking in cornstarch and flour. cook and whisk until thickened. Cook for 2 additional minutes. Strain through colander into serving vessel (to catch any chunks of cornstarch or flour) and then serve with the pork chops and the vegetables.
  5. Enjoy!

I hope you enjoy this dish, I know my family did. Let us know what you think AND be sure to check out Donelan Wines, they’re 100% worth my hype!


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Wines I’m diggin’ now

The last few Wines I’m diggin’ now installments have been themed, so I thought I’d get back to simply recommending some awesome wines that I know you’ll enjoy. Well…you’ll enjoy if you like wine that is. As of late I’ve been heavy on the New World, hell for most of this year I’ve been a New World man; however fear not, after attending quite a few tastings and buying more Old World’s lately you’ll see more coming soon.

So without further adieu, it’s time for some wine!

2009 Orin Swift, The Prisoner, Red Blend, Napa $35

Orin Swift Cellars has quickly become one of Napa’s hottest wineries. Their edgy and beautiful labels catch the eye, the names of their wines (i.e. The Prisoner, Abstract and Papillon) make you think, and their wines capture your soul. The character, which is deep and brooding, kind of like an intense dream, is what has drawn scores of wine lovers to join the Dave Phinney fan club.

The ’09 Prisoner is a mammoth wine. A blend of primarily Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah, it has load upon loads of black fruit which simply punches your taste buds. Light herbal and spice undertones follow and are then joined by well-integrated oak, nice acid and gamey tannins. Basically, it’s gluttony in a glass.

Senel Wine – 91 pts

2006 Flora Springs, Flora’s Legacy, Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa $110 ($39 on Wine.com)

Winemaker’s note: By now the story is well known, nearly 26 years ago, our mother and grandmother Flora Komes was suffering from a blood disorder. True to form, she chose not to follow her doctor’s wishes. Reading numerous reports on the benefits of red wine, Flora began a strict regiment of one glass of her very own Flora Springs Merlot each evening. We don’t claim to be working miracles here at Flora Springs, but Flora has adhered to her glass a day dose. November 7th Flora will be celebrating her 100th birthday!

What a fun and uplifting story from a terrific, yet underappreciated, Napa winery. I had this wine this past weekend while out to dinner at Juniper’s at the Wildflower Inn (Vermont). All four of us at the dinner table were momentarily speechless, rendered mute by the quality and grace of this wine. Oddly enough, I looked up reviews and they were rather muted for a wine of this quality (91 on Cellar Tracker). All I can say is the style is not typical Napa, so maybe that threw some folks.

The ’06 Flora’s Legacy is jaw dropping juice. Aromas of bright ripe raspberries, blackberries and currants are joined by leather and eventually graphite and herbal undertones. The balance between the alcohol, tannin and acid is easy to overlook because the flavor profile is so alluring; however the underlying character of this wine is more of a Pauillac/Napa hybrid than straight Napa. Tremendous!

Senel Wine – 94 pts

2010 Donelan, Rosé, Sonoma County $25

I’m going to be upfront, I love Tyler Thomas’ wines. The man’s alchemic touch is up there with the best winemakers in California. Typically I’m raving about his reds (the ’08 Cuvee Christine was #3 in the Senel Wine Top 10 of 2010); however this time he’s created quite possibly the easiest drinking, interesting and deceptive rosé that I’ve had.

The ’10 Rosé is made from Syrah and possesses all of the typically lovely qualities a rose should (i.e. watermelon, strawberry, lush acid, etc) however it’s the presence of rose petals, hints of citrus and white chocolate that put me over the top about this wine. To top it off, it’s exquisitely balanced, so much so that I couldn’t tell that it was 14.5% alcohol, until I stood up that is. The integration of a cornucopia of flavors, supple mouthfeel, deceptive alcohol and refreshing brightness makes this easily my favorite rosé.

Senel Wine – 93

2009 Gemtree, Tadpole, Chardonnay/Viognier, McLaren Vale (Australia)

This is a producer I first came across while putting together the original wine list for Juniper’s at the Wildflower Inn. I think underrated and underknown is a fair description for winemaker Mike Brown and the gang at Gemtree Vineyards. From top to bottom, they have a line-up that’s very impressive and pulls out the best of what McLaren Vale has to offer the wine world. Besides the Tadpole, look for their “Uncut” Shiraz and “Phantom” Petite Verdot, both are wines that will make you look past the screw cap and take notice.

Chardonnay mixed with viognier is certainly an Australian thing. This ’09 Tadpole is blended very nicely to create a wonderful sipper that pairs perfectly with fried foods, meatier seafood and poultry. The partial oak age is present; however Mike Brown’s restraint is appreciated. Flavors and aromas of citrus, light caramel and tree fruit meld together elegantly to provide a lush taste experience.  The harmony of the flavors is carried into the balance between acid, oak and alcohol, which offer structure to an overall solid wine.

Senel Wine – 90

Have you had any of these wines? If so, let us know what you thought in the Comments section.


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