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WRO Wine Blog

December 29, 2006

WRO Opinions Diverse on 2006 Accolades

If you've taken the time to read our staff selections for wines and producers of the year, you may have noted great minds seldom think alike. At least not here at Wine Review Online, where our well traveled staff is literally all over the map on this subject.

I think Editor Michael Franz must have rolled his eyes when he saw Michael Apstein's picks: A vigneron from the Beaujolais region as top producer and a $10 petite super Tuscan as top wine. Franz and Apstein have had many a good-natured but spirited debate over the merits of Beaujolais, and I can see Apstein has not been dissuaded from his belief that some Beaujolais does indeed belong in the company of the wine elites (a position on which we both agree).

Gerald Boyd expressed his admiration for the Sherry producers of Jerez, a dedicated bunch trying valiantly to preserve traditions and a wine style that is no longer much in vogue.

And our resident Master of Wine, Mary Ewing-Mulligan (who can deconstruct a wine with the best of them in her bi-weekly On My Table column) pays tribute to the great Pinot Noir producer of Carneros, Saintsbury, and Cerretto's brilliant 2001 Bricco Rocche Barolo.

Our columnists also singled out wines and producers from Greece and Alsace, Washington and California, Champagne, Australia, Alto Adige, Montsant and Chile.

It is a diverse and interesting collection and our correspondents do a fascinating job of explaining and defending their selections. I can see the logic behind every pick. They're all deserving winners in my book.

As for myself, I clung close to home, going with a producer and wine that are both from California's Napa Valley. What this exercise demonstrates is the great depth of winemaking skill and the thread of passionate and ambitious enthusiasm for quality that is driving the wine world we live in these days.

Even in Beaujolais, of all places!

Posted by Robert Whitley at 11:54 AM

December 27, 2006

Got bubbles? You've Come to the Right Place . . .

It is often said that Champagne is the ultimate beverage for a special occasion. Some of us would say the sound of a popping Champagne cork is a special occasion unto itself. Whatever your position on the subject, there is no getting around the fact that New Year's Eve is upon us and the bubbles will be flowing as we ring in 2007.

With that in mind we've posted nearly two dozen reviews of Champagnes we like, California saprkling wines, Cava and such on this issue's Reviews page. Hopefully you will find something that meets your needs as you shop for your holiday party or a gift for your host.

You also might want to peruse Ed McCarthy's "Dummies" guide to sparkling wines for the holidays. Ed wrote the book "Champagne for Dummies" and his insights and suggestions are without peer in wine journalism.

And here's a suggestion from me. If you find a bubbly that captures your fancy, buy a little extra and enjoy it into the new year, after things have quieted down. You might find the sound of the popping cork brings back fond memories, and makes for a special occasion all its own.


Posted by Robert Whitley at 10:04 AM

December 20, 2006

Avoid the Malls, Stuff a Bottle of Wine In Those Stockings!

Shopping for the holidays inevitably leads me to the doorstep of my favorite wine merchant, whether the goal is stocking my own wine closet or stuffing the stocking of a loved one. This is more often than not an expensive shopping spree, for it's the time of year I have my eye on the best bubblies as well as a few choice dessert wines.

And if money were no object and I had in mind an absolutely wonderful white wine for a friend, I would most likely spring for the $80 or so and snag a bottle of the 2004 premier cru white Burgundy Marquis de Laguiche from Joseph Drouhin. Great wine from a great vintage, a premier cru with just as much potential as any grand cru you could think of.

So maybe I don't like this person to the tune of 80 bucks? No problem. Either the 2004 Domaine Drouhin Oregon 'Arthur' Chardonnay ($40) or the 2004 Bouchaine Chardonnay ($20) will do just fine.

Should I decide a bottle of red is in order, I've recently tasted the two finest Cabernet Sauvignons from the Napa Valley that I've had this year. My first choice would be the 2003 Spottswoode Cabernet Sauvignon ($115), but the 2003 Duckhorn 'Patzimaro Vineyard' Cabernet ($95) is in the same league. I give both a rating of 97 points.

My budget red-wine buddies will either get the 2004 Parallel Cabernet Sauvignon ($48) or the 2003 Pikes SMG Assemblage ($20) from South Australia. By the way, SMG stands for Shiraz, Mourvedre and Grenache and it's an incredibly yummy combination and a downright steal at the price.

Come to think of it, I should try to keep some cash in reserve for the bubbly. My favorite Champagnes these days are the 1995 Charles Heidsieck 'Blanc des Millenaires' ($100) and the Laurent-Perrier non-vintage Brut Rose Champagne ($60). The rose sparkler from J Wine Company is a superlative alternative to the Laurent-Perrier, however, and at $32 comes mighty close in quality to the great one from France.

Others I'd love if I can catch a deal are the 1998 Dom Perignon ($140 suggested retail, but the Costcos in California often sell it for less than $100 a bottle around the holidays); Pommery non-vintage Brut Champagne ($40); and the 1999 J Schram ($90) from the Napa Valley.

For a party I'll be all over the Folonari Prosecco, Brio, which I can find for less than $9 and everyone loves it. It's light and easy to drink, lower in alcohol than most other wines and it opens with the flick of a bottle opener.

Ah, but I've also got a sweet tooth. I'm not sure why I serve more dessert wines over the holidays than at any other time of the year, but I do. It's the perfect end to a festive dinner. I'm quite fond of the 2002 Dolce ($80), which is California's answer to Chateau d'Yquem. I know the Dolce gang hates to hear that, but it's so true.

Now, if I could only lay my hands on a powerful Graham's Vintage Port ($100), or the more delicate yet superb Smith-Woodhouse Vintage Port ($45), maybe I could skip the malls altogether!

Posted by Robert Whitley at 11:52 AM

December 19, 2006

No-Brainer Slam-Dunk Crowd-Pleasing Dessert!!!

And it's easy. At least that's what John Larchet tells me. Larchet imports a number of exquisite wines from small producers in Australia, under The Australian Premium Wine Collection umbrella, and a few of them happen to be what the Aussies like to call "stickies," aka dessert wines.

Now, sometimes dessert wines are meant to stand alone as a sort of liquid dessert, and sometimes they are meant to be paired with the real thing. As we were tasting a few Aussie "stickies" the other day Larchet shared a simple dessert recipe that I believe even I could master, for it requires nothing more than great ingredients. No cooking involved! Some assembly required.

"This is a no-brainer," he told me. "You need a really good baguette, sliced thin. Then you need some very good fresh ricotta cheese. And the best apricot preserves you can find.

"Spread the cheese on the baguette, add a dollop of apricot preserve and in five minutes you have a whole platter of crowd-pleasing dessert -- without any cooking!"

Of course, this dessert would have matched up beautifully with any of the three "stickies" we were tasting -- an Elderton Botrytis Semillon (Larchet calls this his creme brulee wine), the Joseph 'La Magia' Botrytis, and the Mount Horrocks 'Cordon Cut' Riesling -- which was Larchet's point.

And I'm into this slam-dunk crowd-pleasing thing, so I think I may have to give it a try over the holidays!

Posted by Robert Whitley at 4:22 PM

December 18, 2006

Name Game Takes Step In the Right Direction

I'm sure most of our readers are too young to remember a time when it was rare to find a bottle of wine labeled Chardonnay. The California wine industry only really discovered Chardonnay sometime in the past 50 years. In 1965, when Jack and Jamie Davies purchased the old Schramsberg winery on Diamond Mountain, near Calistoga in the northern Napa Valley, they had to scramble to find enough Chardonnay for their first few vintages of sparkling wine.

At the time, varietal designations for California wine were not the norm. The majority of white and red wines produced domestically were labeled either ""Chablis"" or ""Burgundy."" Mostly they were field blends. The whites typically included a good splash of Riesling (more widely planted than Chardonnay by a country mile) and the reds often had generous percentages of Zinfandel and Petite Sirah.

Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, the white and red grape varieties used in Chablis and red Burgundy, respectively? Hardly.

The French were understandably miffed at California vintners for usurping historical place names to describe wines that in no way resembled those produced in the genuine place of origin. Gallo's Hearty Burgundy might have been a fine drink, but it wasn't made from Pinot Noir and it certainly wasn't Burgundy, or anything like Burgundy.

This has been a gripe of European wine producers for some time, but now there's a law on the books that forbids U.S. producers from using historical place names such as Chablis, Chianti, Bordeaux, Champagne, Port and the like. This overdue legislation has been a long time in coming, though it falls short in one important respect. U.S. wineries that have been using European place names on their labels may continue to do so. The law only prevents ""new"" violations.

Still, it's progress. And I suppose some things will never change. I know with absolute certainty, for example, that if I serve friends an Iron Horse or Mumm Napa or Gloria Ferrer sparkling wine over the holidays, someone, maybe even everyone, is going to thank me for breaking out the ""Champagne.""

I'm sorry, but I don't think there's any law that covers that!

Posted by Robert Whitley at 11:06 AM

December 16, 2006


You'll often hear that the first rule of food-and-wine pairing is that there should be no rules. Drink what you want. Hogwash!

Don't believe me? Fine, wash down that birthday cake with a full-bodied Petite Sirah. You love Petite Sirah, right? What better way to tame those tannins than with a hefty mouthful of sugary frosting. Yuck!

Admit it, you need some help. Just like me. I can handle the basics and have a long memory for magical pairings that I've encountered through the years. But I'm challenged sometimes -- even stumped occasionally -- when faced with a matchup that is beyond my experience.

My fall-back position when hosting a dinner party has always been "let's try this, it may not work but it should be interesting." This only proves I can BS with the best of them. I mean, why guess? Go to Amazon and buy the world's greatest book on the subject -- WHAT to DRINK with WHAT you EAT -- by authors Andrew Dornenburg and Karen Page.

You'll especially love this book if you're a foodie as well as a wino, for Dornenburg and Page spent a great deal of time with and devote considerable space to the thoughts of such culinary luminaries as Patrick O'Connell of Inn at Little Washington and Daniel Boulud of Daniel, chefs who have very specific and useful ideas about food-and-wine pairings.

Of course, if you'd rather forgo the book, you can do what I sometimes do -- at least in a good wine savvy restaurant. After perusing the wine list to see what I want to drink, I show the sommelier my picks and ask for suggestions on the best menu items to order with my wine!

Posted by Robert Whitley at 11:47 AM

December 14, 2006

Brilliant Vineyards Drive Duckhorn Cabs

I am quite certain that Duckhorn's Mark Beringer is an exceptional winemaker. The proof, as is often said, is in the bottle. Vintage after vintage. Yet I am just as certain that Beringer never made wines quite this good during his stint at Raymond.

Not that I mean to slam Raymond. Raymond is another fine Napa Valley producer, well regarded for its top-of-the-line Cabernets and Cabernet-based blends. But if Raymond is a Mercedes, Duckhorn is a Lamborghini. It has another gear.

Wait a minute, you might say, this is not a good comparison. Duckhorn is a Merlot house! This is true. The majority of Duckhorn's production is dedicated to Merlot. Indeed, it was the Napa Valley Merlot that generated the stampede to Merlot in the 1980s.

Fair enough. But don't you have to wonder about a man who can make great Merlot? Truly great Merlot. Merlot that is succulent and inviting without sacrificing structure. Merlot you can lay down in the cellar for a decade and know that it will get better!

Wouldn't such a man likely ace the exam if you gave him sensational Cabernet Sauvignon grapes to work with? Wouldn't you just love to see that? To taste those wines?

Well, I have. Walked through all four Duckhorn Cabernets with Beringer while visiting the Napa Valley last week. Three vineyard designates and the Estate Cab. Rector Creek, in the southern end of the valley near Yountville. Monitor Ledge, near Three Palms Vineyard in the warmer northern half of the valley. Patzimaro, over on the western side of the valley, near Spottswoode in St. Helena.

These are three of the finest Cabernets I've ever tasted from the Napa Valley, particularly in one sitting, and from the same (2003) vintage. The fourth, the '03 Estate Cabernet that is a blend of the three single-vineyard Cabs, was every bit as good. I plan to review all four next week, but I am still scratching my head over the stunning evolution of Mark Beringer, the winemaker.

Gotta be those vineyards. Mark, you're good -- and you know how much a University of Maryland hoops fan hates to say that to a Dukie -- but those vineyards . . . whoa!

Posted by Robert Whitley at 9:39 AM

December 11, 2006

Star Napa Winemaker Relishes 'Humble' Project

ST. HELENA, CA. -- He's a busy guy, winemaker Philippe Melka. He's on the fast track now, a dozen years after landing in the Napa Valley a virtual unknown. Bryant Family, Dalla Valle and Lail . . . these are just a few of his clients from the list of who's who in Napa wine.

Food & Wine magazine named him Winemaker of the Year when it came out with its annual American Wine Awards in October, no small irony considering Melka is Bordeaux born and bred. But the soft-spoken Frenchman has earned the accolades, which no one should doubt. And now he can pick and choose, taking the projects he finds appealing and shunning those he doesn't.

So I was intrigued when I discovered Melka was making a new Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon from a start-up winery called Parallel. The Parallel Cab's debut vintage was 2003. I tasted it for the first time on a visit to San Francisco last year, when I was told of the Melka connection. Loved it, but I held my breath, expecting a formidable price tag.

I was slightly surprised to learn it was a reasonable $44. Not cheap, but nothing close to what I expected. A hundred bucks or more for a debut release from a Napa Valley producer with a rock-star winemaker would hardly have been shocking. This piqued my curiosity.

I caught up with Melka last week in the cellars of a custom-crush facility over on Spring Mountain, where the Parallel wines are made. I knew by that time that Parallel was owned by eight partners from Park City, Utah. Four couples, ski buddies who had known each other for years, decided one day to purchase land in the Napa Valley and make wine. This is a familiar story line in wine country, but with a twist. The Parallel partners weren't on an ego trip, weren't looking to build a mansion, nor a monument to themselves.

Just wanted to make good wine and have a Napa hangout for cozy weekend escapes. They hooked up with Melka in 2002 and he helped them find a property up on Howell Mountain, about seven miles off the Silverado Trail.

"I wasn't so busy in 2002 as I am today," he told me, basking in the moment as he tasted barrel samples of newly minted wines from the '06 harvest. "But I also really liked the idea for this project. It is very humble in some ways. The partners wanted to make an above-average Napa Valley wine, but with an average Napa Valley price.

"If they had told me 'We want you to make the best wine in the world, money is no object,' I wouldn't have been interested. What they wanted to do was make the best wine we could make from the grape sources we have. A wine all of the partners could enjoy and a wine that would be easy to sell. It is a wonderful concept."

Of course, Philippe Melka being Philippe Melka, there is nothing average about the Parallel Cabernet. The first two vintages -- sourced from mountain vineyards on the eastern side of the Napa Valley -- are stunning wines (find the WRO reviews using the Wine Search function in the Wine Review Archives). They were made in limited quantity -- the 2004 vintage is 900-plus cases -- and could easily fetch a heftier price.

I suspect that will be coming soon, after the estate vineyards come online, but for now Parallel Cabernet Sauvignon is perhaps the steal of the decade in Napa Valley Cab, and an unpretentious story to boot.

Photos: Top, Philippe Melka tastes a barrel sample from Parallel's 2006 vintage; bottom, a view of Parallel's hillside vineyards off the Silverado Trail in the Napa Valley.

Posted by Robert Whitley at 10:18 AM

December 10, 2006

Wine Glut Inspires Many New Labels at Bargain Prices . . .

Reader Jim Sprague writes:

Recently at a BevMo (Beverages & More) Saturday wine tasting, I was to taste four Chardonnays they were featuring. I was very surprised at them bringing out a $10 red that was on sale at $7.99. The wine was in a bottle bag, so we had to guess what it was. To my surprise, it turned out to be a pleasant blend of Mourvedre and Syrah called Red Truck! This was a round, (full-bodied) red with enough depth that I would call it a very nice red for the price. I thought you should know.

Indeed, I believe Jim (and BevMo) is on to something. The price of California bulk wine is very low right now (even for Napa Valley appellation bulk wine it's only about $2.50 a gallon for ready-to-bottle Cabernet, Merlot and Chardonnay) and that's created a boom market for the negociant trade. A negociant is simply someone who purchases bulk wine and bottles it under a fictitious label.

These wines are generally aimed at the $10-and-under market.

"There is really some very nice wine out there at these prices," Thrace Bromberger, co-proprietor of Napa's Gustavo Thrace Winery and owner of a small wine shop in the city of Napa, told me last week.

Wines of this ilk are typically fruit-forward and appealing, albeit usually simple, offering plump, juicy flavors for easy and early consumption. Enjoy them while they last, for wine gluts that produce this sort of value tend to be cyclical.

Posted by Robert Whitley at 1:50 PM

A Napa Vintage Mae West Would Love . . .

Upon further review, I'm even more enamored of the big 2003 reds from the Napa Valley than I realized. Come to think of it, the 2003 Flora Springs Trilogy (a Cabernet-based red Bordeaux blend) was the Best of Show Red Wine at the Critics Challenge International Wine Competition last spring. It's merely the finest Trilogy in years (in a close call, for the 2002 Trilogy was mighty fine, too).

What's more, it narrowly edged the 2003 Flora Springs Cabernet Sauvignon for top honors among reds at the '06 Challenge. Not a bad one-two punch from Flora Springs considering some in the wine journalism profession have declared Napa Valley's '03 vintage somewhat lacking.

And lest you forget, all of the judges with a say in the outcome of the Critics Challenge are experienced and admired on a global scale. And many are regular contributors to WRO. Of course, they judged these wines long before they discovered they're not supposed to like them. Had they only known . . .

Now, as I consider which wine will get my personal nod for Wine of the Year, I can only say I tasted a few of the contenders last week during a quick spin through the Napa Valley. Duckhorn Vineyards has at least two, and then there's the superb Spottswoode Estate Cabernet.

Throw in the Phelps Insignia, the Robert Mondavi Reserve Cabernet, the BV 'Georges de Latour' (clearly the best in years in the opinion of Mary Ewing-Mulligan and myself), Caymus Special Selection, Franciscan 'Magnificat,' Hess 'Mountain Cuvee,' the Kuleto Syrah, the Terra Valentine Weurtle Vineyard Cab, et al, and a fair-minded person inclined to cast a vote for a Napa Valley red has plenty of options.

These are all 90-point plus Napa Valley wines that have recently been reviewed by the crew here at WRO. There are many more 90-point-plus wines from the same vintage in our archives.

Oh, there's one more thing. The aforementioned wines are all products of the 2003 vintage. To misquote Mae West, when the Napa Valley has a good vintage, it's really good -- but when it's "bad" it's sometimes better!

Posted by Robert Whitley at 10:35 AM

December 8, 2006

Napa Valley's Benchmark Sauvignon Blanc . . .

ST. HELENA, CA. -- Ordinarily a stop at Spottswoode would be all about the Cabernet Sauvignon. Cab is the money grape of the Napa Valley and Spottswoode's is as good as it gets. But Spottswoode is hardly a one-trick pony. The winery's Sauvignon Blanc is probably the valley's benchmark wine in that category.

It has all of the earmarks of a classy white Bordeaux, which is what it was meant to be when the winemaker Tony Soter bottled the first one back in the early 1980s. A Sauvignon that behaves and tastes like a white Bordeaux would neither be confused with a trendy New World Sauvignon -- such as a pungent, grapefruit-driven example from New Zealand -- nor one of those orange/nectarine citrus-dominated versions from France's Loire Valley

The Napa Valley produces good Sauvignons that fit those profiles, such as Miner Family and Sterling, but for my money the finest Napa Valley Sauvignons are based on the Bordeaux model, delivering floral and stone fruit scents on the nose and fuller, mouth-watering layers of fruit on the palate, with a touch of vanilla spice.

Spottswoode achieves this by sourcing grapes from around the valley -- obtaining tropical fruit aromas and oily textures from vineyards further north, tart citrus aromas and crisp acidity from cooler vineyards in the south, and those alluring stone-fruit aromas and softness on the palate from the Sauvignon Musque clone, which make up a significant portion of the blend -- to complement grapes harvested from the estate vineyard.

The exceptional texture and mouthfeel of this wine is crafted in part by the use of stainless steel barrels -- rather than large stainless steel vats -- for a greater ratio of lees to wine. The lees contact is enhanced by stirring. Spottswoode has been using this technique for about 15 years. And some of the wine goes into traditional wooden barrels as well.

This style of Sauvignon is an excellent match with sweeter shellfish, such as scallops and lobster, and seafood served with creamy sauces. It also holds its own with chicken, pork and cream-based soups. Spottswoode's current release is the 2005 vintage ($30).

Top photo: Winemaker Jennifer Williams showing off Spottswoode's steel Sauvignon Blanc barrels.

Posted by Robert Whitley at 12:22 PM

Spottswoode Cab, the Pichon-Lalande of Napa Valley

ST. HELENA, CA. -- Spottswoode winemaker Jennifer Williams posed an interesting question during my visit earlier this week. We were discussing the 40-acre estate vineyard, which has produced many of the Napa Valley's most memorable Cabernet Sauvignons over the past quarter-century, including a few vintages at neighboring Duckhorn Vineyards before the Novak family made the leap from grape growers to full-blown vignerons in the early 1980s.

They did so at the urging of Dan Duckhorn and others, who convinced the family matriarch, Mary Novak, that her beautiful vineyard at the foot of Spring Mountain in St. Helena was indeed something special.

The vineyard has proven worthy of that assessment, for the high-class Spottswoode Cabernets have been remarkably consistent through a raft of different winemakers, including the brilliant Tony Soter, whose deft hand ushered in the age of Spottswoode Cabs as a Napa icon.

Soter was followed by Pam Starr, then there was Rosemary Cakebread and now Jennifer Williams. And I've probably missed one or two others from years past. So Williams asked me what I thought the signature of the vineyard -- the one thing that had been consistent throughout the winemaking and viticultural changes -- might be.

Not prepared for the question, I mumbled something about texture, and the conversation moved on. But I've had time to think it over and am inclined to stick with my original instinct. I don't have my old tasting notes from the early Spottswoode years, but I do remember noting that a Spottswoode Cab was always supple and beguiling, yet with an underlying depth and power that indicated a promising evolution and long life.

These were ultra-smooth Cabernets, with extraordinary finesse and elegance. Little has changed since that first vintage in 1982. The impressive 2003 Spottswoode Cabernet Sauvignon, which I will review next week, is a work of art. Spottswoode was, and remains to this day, the Pichon-Lalande of the Napa Valley.

Posted by Robert Whitley at 8:09 AM

December 5, 2006

Style Points for Elegance, Balance and Consistency

ST. HELENA, CA. -- Whatever else Cathy Corison may me, she is consistent. That much was evident on Monday as a small group of wine journalists gathered to taste a vertical of eight vintages of Corison Cabernet Sauvignon, from 1989 through 1996.

Though she has spent more than three decades making wine in the Napa Valley, Corison's style is more European than California, showing remarkable restraint when power and muscle and the inevitable accolades from all the right places could be obtained so easily.

"I want my wines to walk the line between what appear to be opposites, power and elegance," she said. "I love that line."

This is a style she employed with great success over a decade as winemaker at Chappellet, where she worked with moutain fruit and had to learn to manage aggressive tannins to instill balance and elegance in her wines.

She is a devotee of the Rutherford Bench, however, and established very early that benchland vineyards -- the most well known being Morisoli -- would be the souce of grapes for the Corison Cabernets.

Before she built her own winery in St. Helena just a few years ago, Corison lived a vagabond existence as a vintner, making her wines at a number of different facilities in the Valley, beginning with her first vintage in 1987, which she made at Chappellet. But her fruit sources remained consistent throughout.

There is a similarity in the vintages '89 through '96 that is easy to spot. First, all of the wines, even the '89 from a rain-drenched harvest, were in excellent condition. All were well balanced. None were above 14 percent alcohol. None were sweet or exhibited overripe aromas. All were aromatic and packed with bright red fruit aromas and lively acidity.

"I've been maybe a little stubborn to stick to the style I love," she said. "I've been through three (fads) now where riper was better, but the pendulum always swings back.

"A day doesn't go by that someone doesn't thank me for making wine that's not rocket fuel."

Someone suggested that perhaps Corison might be thinking about someday making wine elsewhere, perhaps even in Bordeaux, but she quickly put that idea to rest.

"Here in the Napa Valley we're all about Cabernet Sauvignon, and I believe we make Cabernet Sauvignon that is as good or better as any in the world," she said.

I contemplated the eight vintages of Corison Cabernet Sauvignon in front of me and found it difficult to argue the point. One word came to mind. Bravo.

Well done, Corison.


Posted by Robert Whitley at 7:49 AM

December 4, 2006

Wine Country Travel: Pawlcyn's 'Go Fish' a New Find

ST. HELENA, CA. -- I rolled into St. Helena sometime close to 9 p.m. Sunday night and knew finding a restaurant open at that hour would be touch and go. The Napa Valley rolls up the streets early on Sunday and Monday nights, so the culinary options in this land of plenty can be sorely limited without some inside knowledge.

I wondered if Cindy's Back Street would still be open and my hotel was kind enough to call. Cindy's, a popular locals spot (visitors are welcome, too!) operated by celebrated chef Cindy Pawlcyn (of Mustard's Grill and Fog City Diner fame) is a favorite of mine, but it was about to close.

They suggested, however, that I try the new Pawlcyn restaurant, Go Fish, which had opened in September in the space formerly occupied by Pinot Blanc. It has slightly later hours than Cindy's Back Street. You can definitely lead this hoss to water, and I may even take a sip while I'm there.

What a find! Go Fish is a stylish new entry on the Napa Valley culinary scene, offering fresh fish done three ways (poached, sauteed or wood grilled) and with a choice of sauces on the side (I had my wood grilled Rhode Island striped bass with a sauce of kalamata olives and spanish peppers).

There's also an extensive sushi and raw seafood bar menu.

As impressed as I was by the cuisine (Prince Edward Island mussels in a coconut curry sauce got everything off on the right foot) I still found the selection of wines by the glass and half-bottle (so important when dining solo) a stunning complement to the look and feel of the restaurant.

The wine list is small but truly international in scope and spot on for the type of cuisine. And I got there under the deadline, albeit barely.


Locals are generally enthusiastic about Go Fish, but there were complaints about service in the first couple of weeks after it opened, and it is said some of those glitches persist on a busy weekend night. I received outstanding service however, even as a walk-in just before closing.

Posted by Robert Whitley at 2:22 AM

December 2, 2006

WRO Archives, Your Very Own Wine Library

You may have noticed that many recent blog items have suddenly disappeared. Well, actually, they haven't. They've been archived. That means they've been stored in another place to make room for new material.

You can find the "missing" blogs by clicking on More WRO Wine Blog (below) and then clicking on November after you've reached the main WRO Blog page. Each subsequent month's blog material will be filed away in the archives in the same manner, categorized by month.

The WRO archives are a superb resource and you should feel free to use them (some newspapers and websites charge a fee for access to their archives; we don't) whether it's to look up a wine review or peruse the many columns and featured articles that have been filed away but remain timeless.

The review archives are clearly marked Review Archives. Archived reviews are categorized by country. But you should know that if you do a wine search (you can search by wine, producer, grape variety, price, reviewer and there is a new function called "keyword search" that will even cull out vineyard-designated wines and wines by specific importers) the search will scan the entire archive of thousands of reviews.

To access our archive of articles, click on Wine Articles in the bar at the top of this page. Articles are categorized by Column, Featured Article, Wine With and On My Table.

It's all there. And it's free!


Posted by Robert Whitley at 12:00 PM

December 1, 2006

November to Remember: 1.4 Million Hits, 77,768 Visitors!

Christmas came a month early here at Wine Review Online. We've just finished our best month ever, recording 1,457,002 hits from 77,768 visitors. That's a growth spurt of 40 percent over the previous month, which also was a record.

We take this as a sign we must be doing something right. It also reaffirms our core philosophy that top-notch writing talent and a treasure trove of expertise will attract readers. As you can see from the accompanying charts (hits above, visitors below), traffic has grown steadily over the past six months.

Our goal was never to be the wine site with the most bells and whistles. What we try to do every week is entertain and enlighten, employing many of the most knowledgeable and respected wine journalists in the business.

We've noticed readers beating a path to the reviews page each week, making it WRO's most popular page. That tells us you, the reader, are seeking sound buying advice and understand our reviewers have a vast amount of tasting experience, and with that comes tremendous credibility.

We appreciate your continued support and your loyalty. We know the WRO link has been forwarded many times since we posted our first issue 16 months ago. It's obvious from the numbers.

For all of us here at Wine Review Online, I would like to extend a heartfelt THANK YOU!


Posted by Robert Whitley at 10:06 AM