Category Archives: Power Punch

State of the Harvest 9-27-10

   We’re about 5 weeks into our harvest here at Asti Winery in Alexander Valley however we’re just really getting into the thick of things this week.  Perhaps some of you read my blog post a few months ago, June to be exact, “Meandering thoughts on the vineyards this season” (  At the very end of this blog post I took a stab at figuring out how the season would progress.  Well it turns out that one end of my prediction seems to be coming true.  Everything seems to be ripening at one time.  This week is the first week we’ve really been staring at a wall of fruit coming our way.  Up to this point we’ve been harvesting mostly Central Valley fruit and while that constitutes a good bit of volume, it does not make up the most complex parts of the harvest. 

Now with those complexities upon us in the form of barrel fermented Chardonnays, Pinot Noirs produced in open top fermentors, and a myriad of Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot produced with different fermentation temperatures, yeasts, and skin contact times.  For me, this is the really fun part of harvest but this year we will be fighting for tank space as well.  From chatting with my other wine industry friends this seems to be a common theme throughout Napa and Sonoma Counties.  The hot weather we’re seeing now is serving as both a boon and a bane as the sugars are beginning to spike in many varieties.  Russian River Chardonnay is very close to picking, likely this weekend or early next week.  This is normally one of the last Chardonnay vineyards to pick however this year it’s one of the earlier ones. 

Botrytis has reared its ugly head once again with the bit of moisture we picked up last week but most growers seem to be controlling it well through treatments and canopy management.  Acids overall are high and yields are down.  So far we’ve seen anywhere from 15-30% below average tonnage.  We’re just starting to get into the more northern counties of Lake and Mendocino with some Zinfandel and Sauvignon Blanc showing up in the near future.  Overall it’s been a smooth harvest so far however I feel a change in the tides this week.  We’re about to be up to our eyeballs in grapes. I think the next three weeks are going to fly by and we’ll all put our heads up at the end and think “Is it really the end of October already?”

On the tasting note side I’ve been very pleased to be drinking some really nice wines lately.  For a friend’s wedding this past weekend we shared a vintage 2000 Perrier Jouet Belle Epoque which was lovely.  It was very toasty with hints of floral notes and light citrus (Light and Bubbly).  The other tasting highlight of the past two weeks has been a 1994 Penfold’s St. Henri Cabernet-Shiraz blend (Power Punch with Spicy and Smoky notes).  I was amazed at the color that still persisted in this wine.  It still had tints of purple on the rim and the fruit was mostly still primary and fresh notes of black cherries, blackberries, and spices.  It had only just begun to show more tertiary bottle aged notes of mission figs.  This one had a lot of life left in it.

A Reserve Tasting and Answering the Old Sulfite Question…

These past few weeks seem like they are anything but calm.  They’ve been packed with pre-harvest meetings and get togethers with friends that I’m not likely to see until harvest is over.  One of the highlights was a tasting class I taught down at Cellar 360 in San Francisco.  We had a great turn out and tasted through some fantastic wines.

Cellar No. 8 Sonoma County Chardonnay (Black Label)

Buttery Beauty

See post here for tasting notes.

Souverain 1997 Stulmuller Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve, Elegant and Floral

Souverain 2006 Stulmuller Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve, Power Punch

Both of these wines were holding up very well.  The 05 was much more forward fresh fruit of raspberry and boysenberry while the ’97 as would be expected was more dried cherries and currants with silky soft tannins.

Souverain 2001 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve, Power Punch

Souverain 2006 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve, Power Punch

These wines were both powerful with chalky ripe tannins and intense blackberry notes.  The 2001 showed a bit of dried sage on the nose while the 05 was almost all blackberries and spice.

Souverain 1997 Winemaker’s Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve, Spicy and Smokey

Souverain 2006 Winemaker’s Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve, Power Punch

The older vintage of this wine is so wonderful right now.  It has velvety soft tannins, spicy notes, and lush fruits with charming hints of chocolate and coffee.  The ’05 was much more intense with dark chocolate tannins, blue and black berries, fresh oregano, and baking spices.

It just goes to show what a little patience can do when aging a wine.

The discussions of the night ranged from how to tell how long a wine would age to the old stand-by “Why does wine give me headaches? Is it the sulfites?”

So…Why does wine give you headaches? Is it the sulfites???

First ask yourself do you generally get headaches more with red or white wines?

If you answered red then the answer to the sulfite question is No!  Sulfites are typically higher in white wines so if you answered whites you may have a low level sulfite reaction.  High level sulfite reactions are very similar to reactions to bee-stings with a wide range of unpleasant symptoms so you absolutely would know if this is the problem.  Only about .5% of the entire population actually has a sulfite reaction so this is unlikely to be the culprit.

So the question then becomes why do red wines give you headaches???  This is because of the Malo-lactic (ML) fermentation that most red wines and some whites (mainly Chardonnay) goes through to develop softer mouthfeel and the buttery character in Chardonnay that is so popular.  The bacteria that complete the fermentation give off biogenic amines, a type of histamine, which your body reacts to similar to hay fever or other allergies.  Most of the time, the results are mild and go away quite quickly.  If it becomes problematic but you still want to enjoy wines, seek out wines that have not gone through ML.  This would be most whites and early released red wines like Beaujolais Nouveau.

Quick Harvest Update…

Well it looks like grapes will begin arriving in about 2 weeks to Asti.  The cool weather has been very aggravating and has delayed the fruit quite a bit.  I’ve seen trees beginning their fall color change as well as geese beginning to flock for their annual migration, all signs of an early winter.  That is very bad.  The only saving grace we may have would come from an Indian summer.  Let’s hope it warms up soon.

Cellar No. 8 Brand Tasting

Last Friday I had the pleasure of meeting the Cellar No. 8 marketing team and tasting through the current releases along with brand winemaker, Paul Rydquist.  After a great lunch at Catelli’s in Geyserville (awesome heirloom tomato salad!) we settled down to business which included the tastings.

For those who have not been to Asti Winery, home of Cellar No. 8 and Souverain, in the Alexander Valley, I’ll explain a bit about the brand. Asti Winery was originally called Italian Swiss Colony and was founded in 1881 by a group of Italian and Swiss immigrants.  Over the years, they became most famous for a wine called Tipo Chianti, an Italian style blend of red varieties which they grew on the property here.  Asti is home to the world’s first tasting room and the world’s largest underground tank (or at least it was in the early 1900s).  After Prohibition the winery took off again and played host to around 250,000 visitors per year (2nd only to Disneyland in CA) during the 50s and 60s.  This popularity prompted the architects of Highway 101 to give the winery its own exit called Asti which is still our main entrance today and is marked by a historical marker. Stop in if you happen to be traveling in CA on 101!  Anyway with all that history the people of Asti Winery decided that it needed a brand and the company couldn’t agree more so Cellar No. 8 was born, inspired by one of our older cellar buildings here on site called No. 8.

Cellar No. 8 has two labels; the white label which is nationally distributed and the black label which is only sold through the tasting room and a small number of off-site stores.  We went through the entire gambit on Friday; both black and white labels, and below are my notes and personalities of the wine.

Cellar No. 8 California Pinot Gris 2009 (White Label)

Stone and Chalk with a hint of Zesty and Fruity

A pale lemon colored core accented by a nose filled with lemons and white flowers brought together by undertones of wet chalk.  Off-dry with moderately high acid and medium alcohol, the palate flavors mirror the aromas on the nose with candied Meyer lemons, jasmine, and wet slate.  Crisp, refreshing, and to the point this is an easy drinker.

Cellar No. 8 California Chardonnay 2009 (White Label)

Buttery Beauty

Medium gold core with lemon highlights.  Moderate aromas of caramel, brown spices, and melted butter with hints of green apple fill the nose while the palate is off-dry with moderately high acid and medium plus alcohol.  The flavors in the mouth move more towards tropical fruits supported by spice and light toast with a moderately long finish.

Cellar No. 8 Sauvignon Blanc 2009 (Black Label)

Zesty and Fruity with a bit of Fresh and Grassy

Pale lemon green core with aromas of Passion Fruit, Pink grapefruit, and guava this wine is much less grassy than some other Sauv Blancs from New World origins.  Dry with high acid and moderate alcohol the flavors on the palate show bits of lime zest, grapefruit, guava, and a long finish.  One of my favorite summer wines!

Cellar No. 8 Sonoma County Chardonnay 2008 (Black Label)

Buttery Beauty all the way

A moderately deep gold core sets the tone for this wine which is echoed in the intense nose displaying cloves, toast, butter, and ripe pineapple notes.  The palate is dry with moderately high acid and alcohol, low oak tannins and a long finish with flavors of baking spices, butter, and toast.  The new oak influence is lovely and intense.

Cellar No. 8 Syrah Rose 2008 (Black Label)

Zesty and Fruity

The color is a beautiful shade of deep rose with aromas on the nose of cherries, strawberries, and hints of lemon.  A dry palate with moderately high acid and alcohol complete with a bit of structure from low tannin levels make this wine a great choice for summer dining when you need something besides a white wine.  The berry flavors continue in the mouth to a moderately long and refreshing finish.

Cellar No. 8 California Pinot Noir 2008 (White Label)

Zesty and Fruity

The medium ruby core and lovely cherry and strawberry nose make this Pinot easy to approach.  The palate is dry with moderate acid and medium-low soft tannins.  The lighter style and fruity palate is complemented by a hint of spice on the moderate finish.

Cellar No. 8 California Merlot 2008 (White Label)

Power Punch with a Zesty and Fruity side

A deep ruby core and a nose screaming of bing cherry with a hint of dried herbs starts this wine off on the right foot.  Dry with moderate acid and moderately high alcohol, it also has flavors of red cherries, cola, cloves, toast, and dried thyme on the finish

Cellar No. 8 California Zinfandel 2008 (White Label)

Elegant and Floral

Aromas of black mission figs, black cherries, and vanilla fill the nose of this deep ruby colored wine.  The palate is dry with medium acid and moderately high alcohol with intense characters of brown baking spices, vanilla, cherries, and figs with pomegranates and a moderately long finish.

Cellar No. 8 California Cabernet Sauvignon 2008 (White Label)

Power Punch

This wine started it all and still keeps going with a deep ruby core and moderately intense aromas of blackberries, black cherries, spices, and toast.  The palate is dry with moderately high acid and alcohol supported by moderately high, ripe tannins.  Flavors in the mouth move towards dark fruits, cloves, and oak toast with a long finish.

Cellar No. 8 Dry Creek Zinfandel 2007 (Black Label)

Power Punch

This deeply colored wine shows off aromas of Black cherry, cinnamon, spices, vanilla, and red rose.  A dry palate with moderately high acid and high alcohol is supported by moderately high, ripe tannins and flavors of bramble fruits, black cloves, and toasted spices.  A long smooth finish hinting at strawberries caps the wine off.

Cellar No. 8 Andrea’s Blend 2006 (Black Label)

Power Punch

Named for the man that started Asti Winery, Andrea’s Blend, is the new take on the old favorite red blend that started the colony.  A deep ruby core and aromas of blackberries, cloves, and toast highlight the nose.  The palate is dry with moderate acid and high alcohol with flavors of figs, spices, and wild blackberries with a long finish. Smooth, ripe tannins make it a wine to pair with red meats and robust cheeses.

Cellar No. 8 Petit Sirah 2006 (Black Label)

Power Punch

This is, hands down, my favorite Petit Sirah to date (and I’d say that even if I didn’t work at the winery that made it)!  The opaque ruby color is marked by intense blackberry aromas reminiscent of blackberry pie.  The dry palate has moderate acid but high alcohol and high strong tannins.  The theme of blackberries continues on to the palate mingling with French oak toast and hints of brown spices on the moderately long finish.  Enjoy at your own risk!! J

Feel free to stop by anytime to try any of these wines and in the interest of full disclosure (if you haven’t picked it up already) these are tasting notes for wines produced at the winery at which I work.