2008 Carlisle Zinfandel Dry Creek Valley

2010 Loring Wine Company Pinot Noir Russian River Valley

2006 Shafer Relentless




2008 Carlisle Zinfandel Dry Creek Valley – $27.50

If you are on the Carlisle mailing list, congratulations, you are on one of the best lists out there.  If you are not on their mailing list, I highly recommend you upgrade your circle of friends to include someone on the list that shares their good stuff.


Now that Carlisle has their own winery and won’t be using outside crush facilities, I look forward to even greater things coming from them in the upcoming years.


The grapes for the wine came predominantly from Teldeschi Ranch (planted in 1885) and Mounts Ranch (planted in 1952).  An 11% mix of petite sirah and carignane completed the palate, adding just the right amount of tannin and acidity.  This was aged in French oak, 23% new and bottled unfined and unfiltered.  A total of 292 cases were produced.


The wine has 15.2% alcohol and is sealed with a natural cork.


Winery history

We are a small Sonoma County winery specializing in the production of old-vine, vineyard designated zinfandels and red Rhone varieties (syrah, grenache, mourvèdre, and petite sirah).  While we like our wines to be bold, rich, and intensely flavored, each reflecting a sense of place, its origins in the vineyard, we also strive to create wines of balance, complexity, and perhaps most importantly, pleasure.


Rich.  Lusty.  Hedonistic.  These are some of the descriptors we often hear applied to our wines.  However, we also hear the words elegant, balanced, complex.  Yes, through hard work in the vineyard and winery, we believe you can have it all, the best of both worlds.  Our approach to winemaking is simple, yet difficult.  We prefer to intervene in nature’s process as little as possible but we will leave no stone unturned in our quest to maximize the quality of each wine we produce.


My Tasting Note

The wine is a deep purple color.  The outstanding nose has black cherry, licorice, brambly berries, wood smoke, black pepper, and dried flowers.  This has a fairly full body, moderate tannins and good acidity.  On the palate the fruit leans more toward cherry with some berries in the back ground with pepper and a smoky element.  The finish has nice length and adds a floral note.  This is in a nice place and should hold for a couple years.  This is very nice.  (92 pts)

2008 Carlisle Zinfandel Dry Creek Valley

2008 Carlisle Zinfandel Dry Creek Valley



2010 Loring Wine Company Pinot Noir Russian River Valley – $25.00

In my opinion, the Loring appellation wines are some of the best bargains out there when it comes to quality California Pinot Noir.  The Loring appellation wines are, at least to me, dialed down a notch compared to their single vineyard siblings.  This and the lower prices, around $25 make them a nice way to kick up a week night dinner several notches without breaking the bank.


This has 14.8% alcohol and is closed via a Stelvin+ screw cap.  There were a total of 300 cases produced.


Winery history

My name is Brian Loring and my obsession is Pinot Noir.  OK, I’m also pretty crazy about Champagne, but that’s another story.  While in college, I worked at a wine shop in Hollywood (Victor’s), where one of the owners was a Burgundy fanatic.  So, my very first experiences with Pinot Noir were from producers like Domaine Dujac, Henri Jayer, and DRC.  Needless to say, I found subsequent tasting safaris into the domestic Pinot Noir jungle less than satisfying.  It wasn’t until I literally stumbled into Calera (I tripped over a case of their wine in the store room) that I found a California Pinot Noir that I could love.  But it would be quite a while before I found someone else that lived up to the standard that Josh Jensen had established.  I eventually came to understand and enjoy Pinots from Williams Selyem, Chalone, and Sanford, but I really got excited about California Pinot Noir when I met Norm Beko from Cottonwood Canyon at an Orange County Wine Society tasting.


For more information, to buy wine, or to join the mailing list, visit their website.


My Tasting Note

The wine is a medium to dark ruby red color. The rich and inviting nose has black raspberries, Asian spices, cola, black cherry, wild flowers, white pepper, and a touch of earthy underbrush. This has a medium body, moderate, ripe tannins, and good acidity. On the palate the wine has rich, velvety fruit and spice up front with some subtle earthiness and white pepper coming in late. The finish is fairly long and full of spicy. earthy fruit. May not be the most complex Pinot out there, but it is delicious and a steal at the mailing list price of $25.  (91 pts)

2010 Loring Wine Company Pinot Noir Russian River Valley

2010 Loring Wine Company Pinot Noir Russian River Valley



2006 Shafer Relentless – $42.74

This has been a personal favorite for several years.  The higher price and limited availability around here cut into my purchases.  When the local store secured a nice stash of the wine and put it on sale at a killer price, I had to stock up.  This vintage is a blend of 84% Syrah and 16% Petite Sirah.


This has 14.9% alcohol and is sealed with a natural cork.


Winery history

Shafer Vineyards traces its beginnings to 1972 when John Shafer left a 23-year career in the publishing industry and, with his family, moved to the Napa Valley to pursue a second career in wine.  After purchasing a 210-acre estate in Napa Valley’s Stags Leap District, the Shafer family faced the arduous task of replanting the existing vineyards, which dated to the 1920s, and terracing the steep and rocky hillsides, eventually expanding vineyard acreage to its current 50 acres.


Evolving from grape growers to vintners, the Shafers crushed their first Cabernet grapes in 1978 and began construction on their winery a year later.


The first Shafer Cabernet became a benchmark, winning the acclaimed San Francisco Vintners Club taste-off upon release and, over a decade later taking first place in an international blind tasting held in Germany, where it outranked such wines as Chateau Margaux, Chateau Latour and Chateau Palmer.


Doug Shafer became winemaker in 1983 after graduating from the University of California at Davis with a degree in enology and viticulture.  A year later Elias Fernandez joined the winery as assistant winemaker.  Together Doug and Elias have worked closely to forge the Shafer style of quality, consistency and elegance.


New vineyards have been added over the years, with acreage acquired in the Oak Knoll, Stags Leap and Carneros districts, bringing the total Shafer vineyard acreage to over 200 acres.  Winery facilities have been expanded and extensive caves carved into the hillside for aging wine.


In 1994, Elias was appointed winemaker, and Doug took over the reins as president when John became chairman of the board.


From a modest beginning of 1,000 cases in 1978, the winery has grown steadily until reaching its present size of 32,000 cases of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Chardonnay, and Syrah.  Today Shafer wines are available in major markets nationwide and in many foreign markets.


My Tasting Note

The wine is a deep, dark, inky purple color.  The exotic and enticing nose has blackberries, fresh ground dark roasted coffee beans, dark chocolate, melted licorice, black pepper, smoke, black cherries, tar, and violets.  This is full bodied with solid, ripe tannins and good acidity.  On the palate there are layers of fruit and savory elements that thoroughly coat your mouth.  The finish is fairly long and again is loaded with flavor.  Not a lot of subtlety here, just massive amounts of flavor, that are held in check by the outstanding tannic backbone and acidity.  (93 pts)

2006 Shafer Relentless

2006 Shafer Relentless



Napa Valley Film Festival

Are you interested in attending the Napa Valley Film Festival?  The festival runs from November 13 through 17.


Oh, almost forgot, how does attending the event for free sound?  To celebrate being a sponsor of the event, Benchmark Wine Group is giving away a very nice package to one lucky person.  Enter by October 31st for your chance to win.


The Napa-based company is offering one lucky winner two Festival Passes to the Napa Valley Film Festival (NVFF), worth a $500 value; two private invitations to the Benchmark Opening Night VIP kick-off party; and exclusive access to the sneak preview screening of ‘August: Osage County’, starring Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts.


Benchmark Wine Group will be hosting an exclusive Opening Night VIP kick-off party on Wednesday, November 13 and a winemaker tasting with Todd Alexander of Bryant and Bettina on Friday, November 15.  NVFF Patrons and special guests will be invited to join Benchmark Wine Group at the Michael Holmes Gallery at Riverfront, 606 Main Street, from 8 pm to 10 pm Wednesday to launch the week’s festivities.  Every guest Wednesday will be entered into a raffle for a chance to buy a bottle of 2001 Château Haut-Brion for $1; taste magnums of 1983 Pétrus, 1966 Château Margaux, and 2003 Diamond Creek; and enjoy food catered by Morimoto Napa.


For more information, click here.


To view the official rules and to enter, click here.


A video about the event from my bud, Amy Payne, is available by clicking here.




Connect with me

You can follow me on Twitter for more wine info, potential food pairings, and an occasional recipe or two.  Be warned, I’m also a sports fan and there are occasional Pittsburgh Penguins, Steelers, and Pirates tweets.  I attended the University of South Carolina, so during football season, there will also be some Gamecock posts.


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This is original to CliffsWinePicks.com.  Copyright 2013 Cliff’s Wine Picks.

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Here is a link to a YouTube video of me getting “coal” from Santa for being named the “Nicest Person in Social Media” in 2012.






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Notes – I use the “official” Cellar Tracker name for the wines.  I use Cellar Tracker to help manage and organize my cellar.  I highly recommend checking it out at www.cellartracker.com.  Loading you existing cellar is a lot less intimidating than it would first appear.  There is a good chance 99% of your wine is already in the system, so you generally only need to enter part of the wine’s name and the system will find it for you.



Prices noted are the prices I paid at the time of purchase.  I don’t shop around to find the best prices, but my local store is usually VERY competitive.  I generally get case discounts, and since I work there part time, I get a 5% discount.  Wines purchased direct from a winery do not include any shipping charges.  None of the prices include the sales tax.



All wines that were sent to me free of charge to sample will be noted and I will show suggested prices when available.