Category Archives: Syrah

Giving Back – La Cuadrilla!

What is now known as The La Cuadrilla program at Stolpman Vineyards began as a way for the vineyard manager to better train his crew. The idea was to dedicate a two-acre block, or cuadra, that the vineyard crew had to then cultivate, from pruning to harvest, without supervision. This training block was called the La Cuadrilla, in Spanish meaning the people of the block. To challenge the crew even further, this two-acre training block would be set up in another part of the vineyard the next vintage. Eventually the vineyard manager confided to owner Tom Stolpman the success of this training system. It was Tom who came up with the idea of making wine from that training block and giving those bottles to the crew as a way to enjoy the fruits of their labor. By 2009, the program expanded to include fruit from other parts of the vineyard so that La Cuadrilla could be sold commercially. Profits from the sale of La Cuadrilla are divided among the vineyard crew in the form of a year-end bonus. This is a creative way for all to benefit by incentivizing learning and taking steps to achieve sustainable employment. Bravo to Stolpman Vineyards!

Of course, in order for this program to really work well, the wine has to be good – this can’t be just a gimmick. The 2015 La Cuadrilla is a lively blend of Syrah with small additions of Grenache, some of it old vine, and Sangiovese. The wine is vinified in concrete tanks and then aged in neutral barrel. La Cuadrilla has a lot of brightness and tart red fruit. It isn’t heavy or over-ripe, but is dominated by red fruit flavors and a pleasant, earthy note. Because of its fresh palate feel, it’s a great choice for warm-weather food pairings like smoky barbecued meats.


Stolpman Vineyards is located in the heart of Santa Barbara’s Ballard Canyon AVA. Ballard Canyon is Santa Barbara’s newest AVA and sits between the Santa Rita Hills and Happy Canyon. Ballard Canyon benefits from warm days during the growing season and is protected from wind by the surrounding hills. Temperatures drop significantly at night. Some soils, like at Stolpman, have limestone deposits.


I won’t only be celebrating our nation’s birthday this weekend. I will also be celebrating my mother’s birthday and my own. Mother and daughter will be throwing a joint birthday party! My brother, bless his heart, suggested putting only one candle on each of our birthday desserts. I agreed, adding that we wouldn’t want to ignite a raging inferno. My birthday year was not a particularly good vintage for wine throughout most of world. No worries here because the party calls for youthful wines, so La Cuadrilla will make an appearance on the table. It should be another great family meal up at the dacha out on the deck beneath the Redwoods. Happy Happy, Everyone! – Anya Balistreri

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Filed under Anya Balistreri, Barbecue Wine, Grenache, Santa Barbara County, Syrah

Bedrock’s Standout Syrah

I had a lovely chat this week with a customer who had just relocated to SF from overseas. Among the many wine-related topics we discussed was the price of entry for interesting, high quality, non-mass produced California wine. I threw out the number $25, saying you could find really exceptional wines starting at this price point, but added you have to do your research to find them. I then threw out a few names of producers that offer such wines, starting off my list was Bedrock.

To illustrate my point, I pointed to Bedrock’s 2015 North Coast Syrah. The North Coast Syrah is primarily made from three vineyards: Hudson, Alder Springs and Weill a Way. Hudson Ranch is located in Carneros, Alder Springs is in Mendocino, and Weill a Way is in the Sonoma Valley. The barrels of Syrah from these vineyards that did not end up in the vineyard-designated bottlings were blended together, along with some co-fermented Viognier, into the North Coast Syrah. Bear in mind, Bedrock makes three Syrahs from the Weill a Way Vineyard (highly allocated) that in 2013 received 100 points for two of them and the other 99 points from Robert Parker, Jr. Now I am not suggesting that the North Coast Syrah is any way like the Weill a Way Syrahs, but it is the same fruit. Boom!

Hudson Vineyard

For the North Coast Syrah, winemaker Morgan Twain-Peterson likes to vinify using native yeasts and some whole-cluster pressed fruit. The wine is raised in 100% French oak, but none of it is new. In his liner notes for this wine, Morgan writes “I am always channeling my favorite producers of St. Joseph and Crozes-Hermitage. I want a wine that is perfumed, spicy, peppery and delicious, something long on flavor and low on pretense.” In a review by Antonio Galloni, he put it simply like this, “A huge, richly textured wine, the 2015 North Coast Syrah offers unreal quality for the money.

Alder Springs

Our limited, or in the parlance of the day, curated domestic wine section always has several offerings from Bedrock. I will gladly accept any allocation from this winery, as I’ve followed and admired them from their inception. The quality is there, the price is fair and Bedrock’s emphasis on vineyard sites aligns with my own interest in providing TWH customers the best wine values. Check out our entire Bedrock inventory here.

The number of school days left before summer break begins are down to single digits. My little family, which includes my husband (a teacher) and my daughter (a middle-schooler) is counting down the days. I am so looking forward to sleeping in past 7:30! My natural sleep cycle does not jive with early wake-up times. But most of all, I am looking forward to welcoming spontaneity to rule the day and schedules to take a back seat. And in that space, I expect to be enjoying a glass or two of 2015 North Coast Syrah. No more pencils, no more books… – Anya Balistreri

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Filed under Anya Balistreri, Barbecue Wine, Carneros, Mendocino, Sonoma County, Syrah

2013 Cotes-du-Rhone La Boissiere, Domaine Boudinaud


Whoa! How did it get to be February already??!! Seriously, the period after the holidays may be somewhat quiet for some, but around here it was hoppin’. I mentioned the parade of folks from Bordeaux passing through our doors the past couple of weeks; the UGC tasting of the newly bottled 2014’s was a week ago Friday. The wines are showing as well, if not better, than I anticipated after having tasted them as barrel samples. I’ve got more to say about them, but tonight’s exercise is more about what I like to call ye olde reliable, Côtes-du-Rhône rouge. Specifically, the 2013 CdR La Boissière from Domaine Boudinaud.

It’s funny. My memory is chock full of useless information. I don’t know why I remember some things (seriously, yesterday was my best friend’s from 3rd grade birthday), and not other, more important things. Like when and where and why did I taste my first Côtes-du-Rhône? It almost feels to me like it just always was a given. If I wanted a nice glass or two of delicious red wine without much expense, there is always Côtes-du-Rhône. When a new customer walks in to our shop and informs me that they like wine, yet aren’t very familiar with French wine, I tend to start here. With Côtes-du-Rhône, it’s tough to go wrong.

We have been working with Thierry and Véronique Boudinaud for well over a decade, and we just love their wines. For the 2013 la Boissière, Thierry blended 55% Grenache with 30% Syrah, 10% Mourvèdre, and 5% Cinsault. The nuance of each variety’s aromatic profile is noticeable and the blend is quite harmonious. And what’s great about this wine in particular is that you can drink it on its own, with a burger, with steak, with a pork chop, barbecue chicken, and so forth. It is that versatile. Given its price point, it’s a super wine for a very fair price. I do remember how much we liked the 2012, and how my colleagues and I squirreled away bottles for ourselves when our stock began to vanish. When it finally dried up, the countdown began for the new vintage. Now that it’s here, our entire staff is enjoying it. One bottle at a time. And though $13.49 is already an extraordinary deal for a wine of this quality, the case price of $11.47 per bottle is what we call a no-brainer.

Wow. I’m at a loss for what to do for dinner this evening. As Anya mentioned last week, our staff had our annual holiday dinner gathering a fortnight ago, and last Saturday, I was lucky enough to join a supplier and representatives from three Bordeaux chateaux at The Battery for an incredible dinner. It was there that I tasted my very first grade A-5 Wagyu beef. I will not be forgetting about that anytime soon. I have a feeling that tonight’s dinner plans will be less extravagant and more about comfort food. What wine will I be bringing home to sip with my comfort food? Ye olde reliable, of course! – Peter Zavialoff

Please feel free to email me with any questions or comments about Côtes-du-Rhône, 2014 Bordeaux, or English Football: peter@wineSF.com

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Filed under Cotes du Rhone, Grenache, Mourvedre, Peter Zavialoff, Syrah

Remembering 2012 With A Fine Gigondas


It sure has been an interesting week. On one hand, it’s the middle of August. Most of France is on holiday and I’ve always been under the impression that these waning summer days before school begins again are the official “dog days.” This perception needs updating. While having lunch at a restaurant the other day (still in search of the best French Dip in the North Bay), I overheard two people talking about school starting. As in this week! What??!! It’s August 14th! Anya confirmed this today as her daughter is less than a week from her first day. Seriously, where does the time go? It’s a good thing we have wine in our lives. Meant for pleasure rather than scrutiny; each bottle is a living thing made from a combination of elements including soil, grape variety, winemaker, and vintage. In the wine biz, we sometimes get caught up in only thinking about a wine region’s quality during a given year, but it also leaves us an opportunity to reminisce. This week, I am reminiscing with 2012 Tour de l’Isle Gigondas.


To start, I must confess that I am a longtime fan of Gigondas. Back in the day, each night after my band finished practicing at Lennon Studios South of Market, we would pack it up and head over to Ruby’s Restaurant on 3rd Street where a friend worked as chef de cuisine. He always took good care of us, and would usually join us at the table after his shift. They had a reasonably priced Gigondas on the list, and it was our go-to dinner wine for years. It was probably around the 5th or 6th time we ordered it, that Mr. Ruby himself took a seat at our booth and inquired exactly how a group of 20-something rockers came to order Gigondas. “Michael (the chef) told me that you’re really into food and wine, but what makes this wine so special that you keep ordering it?” Ruby asked.
“It’s a food wine,” I replied. “There are all sorts of fancy wines out there, many of them are made to impress critics, and that provides no service for the diner. This Gigondas is balanced and elegant. It was made to enjoy with dinner. And you can’t beat the price.”
This seemed to put him at ease, and he agreed wholeheartedly. As we continued our patronage, Ruby would often sit with us for dinner and conversation. He would offer us tastes of the many other wines that he had on his list, but we would always drink the Gigondas with our dinner. Nobody complained. Ever.


When the first Tour de l’Isle wines arrived at TWH, I was excited to see that they made Gigondas, and was not going to waste any time waiting to taste it. I did, and that’s why I’m typing. At the helm of the Tour de l’Isle label is Robert Rocchi. Robert has been involved with the wines of the southern Rhône Valley for over 35 years! Rocchi works with a select handful of growers in the area and assists and advises them on how to produce the finest wine from their holdings. As Anya likes to say, “He’s not afraid to make wine that tastes good.” The 2012 Gigondas is comprised of 70% Grenache, 18% Mourvèdre, and 12% Syrah, all aged in large foudre. The Mourvèdre gives it some gamey backbone, the Syrah some smokiness, but this is an Old World Grenache lover’s dream. It displays aromas of red and black fruit, spice and herbs, some forest floor earthiness, and a hint of iron. The palate is focused and layered, the elegant fruit persists long after the finish. No, he’s not afraid to make wine that tastes good.


2012. Sure, I have opinions on vintage quality, particularly in Bordeaux, but also the southern Rhône Valley. But seeing this particular year on the label got me reminiscing about the year itself. Looking back, it was a pretty good one. For me, it was the year of the live show. I went to more concerts than I had in any other year, and by the time it ended, it was me back on stage after taking a few years off from performing live. It was a magical year for European Football as the club I support won club football’s grandest prize in dramatic fashion. A local baseball team did very well also! The trip to Bordeaux was a successful one, especially considering it was in 2012 when I was able to taste Château Coutet’s dry white, Opalie for the very first time. Shortly thereafter, the 2010 vintage of the wine was released to the world and The Wine House San Francisco was the world’s first wine merchant to offer it! So yeah, great year.

Well, it is mid-August. That’s a fact. I suppose just like any other time of the year, it means different things to different folks. Thousands of kids in the North Bay will be back in school this week, but the French will remain on holiday. My perception of the dog days will continue, as will my quest for the best French Dip. When I find it, it may be a good idea to have a bottle of 2012 Tour de l’Isle Gigondas handy. After all, it’s a great food wine!Peter Zavialoff

Please feel free to contact me with any questions or comments about summer’s dog days, French Dip sandwiches, Gigondas, or Bordeaux: peter@wineSF.com

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Filed under Barbecue Wine, Gigondas, Grenache, Mourvedre, Peter Zavialoff, Syrah

2014 Cotes de Provence – Domaine des Aspras Les Trois Freres


Wow; how did it get to be July already??!! Having just endured most of what it takes to work through a Bordeaux En Primeurs campaign from the importer/retailer side, it’s easy to lose track of time. Just a reminder, we have plenty of 2015 Bordeaux futures available, please see our website or feel free to contact us should you have any questions about Bordeaux futures. Apart from that, with the long holiday weekend upon us, there’s plenty to do. Several customers have asked about my plans for the long weekend. I’m sticking around; as simple as that! Since I got back from Bordeaux, I’ve been crazy busy … oh yeah, somewhere in the middle of all that I moved too. This will be the first year in a long time that I won’t have the annual 4th of July parade pass my driveway, but I’m planning to catch a glimpse of it while hiking high above it! My plan for the 4th is to eat well, exercise, enjoy the company of some good friends, and share some nice wine. Some grilled steaks and boy-oh-boy, have I found the wine!


I was tasting through some samples the other day when I pulled the cork on a fairly new acquisition: the 2014 Domaine des Aspras Les Trois Frères Côtes de Provence. Domaine des Aspras? Oh yeah, they’re another new grower that David found while attending a tasting in Chicago many months ago. He liked the wines. They shipped some samples to us. We liked the wines. We bought the wines, and now they’re here!

The story is a soulful one. Driven from Germany in the 1930’s, Gottfried and Lisa Latz sought refuge in Congo until its independence suddenly sent them back to Europe in the early 1960’s, and to Domaine des Aspras. With no winemaking experience for either of them, Gottfried and Lisa’s passion, patience, and perserverence guided the way. In 1995, Gottfried and Lisa’s son, Michael, an agricultural engineer, began managing the property. Nowadays, Michael runs the property with his wife, Anne, and their three sons, Raphael, Sébastien, and Alexandre.


The property consists of 25 hectares of vines grown in clay-limestone soils. Surrounded by limestone hills, the region has enjoyed a reputation for producing excellent wine that goes back to the 13th century. The property gets its name from the Latin, asper-apera, or rough and rocky. The village of Correns sits in the middle of Provence, and since 1996, has been the first French vinous village in which all the farmers have chosen to farm organically. Their Les Trois Frères Rouge is a Syrah based blend with 10% Cabernet Sauvignon. Les Trois Frères means the three brothers and is named for Raphael, Sébastien, and Alexandre. The three of them represent the third generation of Latz’s running Domaine Aspras, and they adhere to the family philosophy of caring for their land and making the best wines possible from their holdings in the Côtes de Provence.

The 2014 Les Trois Frères is an aromatic beauty. The first whiff reminded my of a Minervois we used to carry. Their wines were Syrah dominated blends and I used to love the savory aromas of forest floor and tobacco. This has a hint of that forest floor for sure, but the tangy red fruit pops out and there is a hint of orange bitters on the nose. There is oak influence both in the bouquet and on the palate, though it dissipates over time. The palate is medium bodied and very lively. I salivate thinking of the food that would go with this wine. The finish is fresh and balanced and that pleasant little pinch of bitterness (much like Diane Puymorin’s wines) caps it all off. This wine speaks of a place. It has a certain rusticity which I chalk up to terroir. The tannins are present, yet they’re fine and integrated. This is a great food wine, I’m going to need more than one bottle for the long weekend!

Yes, long weekend. It’s going to be great. I’m looking forward to some R & R. Whatever it is that you do, from all of us here at TWH, we wish you a safe, happy, and healthy Independence Day Weekend!Peter Zavialoff

Please feel free to contact me with any questions or comments about long weekends, Côtes de Provence wines, 2015 Bordeaux Futures, or European Football: peter@wineSF.com

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Filed under Barbecue Wine, Cotes de Provence, Peter Zavialoff, Provence, Syrah

Smoky Rhone Goodness – 2011 Domaine Fondreche Ventoux Fayard


Whew! Who knew? Put some Burgundy on sale, and things get hopping! Or as one customer who came in today said, “Burgundy sales are the only way mere mortals can buy and enjoy the stuff.” True, true. When we introduced this little surprise sale, we did mention that it was more than just Burgundy, and many of you found some other goodies by clicking around our website. On the heels of my recent blurb about affordable reds, I just kicked the proverbial rock and uncovered another beauty, and IT’S ON SALE for $9.95 per bottle: the 2011 Domaine Fondrèche Fayard!



On the heels indeed, of my recent write-up and Anya’s recent post about the 2013 Ventoux Rouge. I hesitated for a moment to put fingers to keyboard about this wine thinking it too similar to these two recent posts, but no, it’s a different wine; for sure. This baby has been getting some nice beauty rest and is in a fine place to treat our taste buds this summer! When I first approached the bottle to pour myself a taste, I brought some expectations. As Anya mentioned about the 2013, it needed air. We have always enjoyed Sébastien Vincenti’s wines over the years, but we know that his wines tend to be in need of oxygen when they’re young. That’s just how he rolls; we decant the wines, and they’re great. I remember tasting the 2011 Fayard when it was young. It was dense and jammy; the fruit was in the forefront and it was a challenge to perceive the overall framework of the wine because of it. Time has been kind to this wine. With those expectations in the back of my mind, I looked; I swirled. I reached for the light switch as I wanted to closely examine the color – it had changed. It’s not bricking or anything, but it has grown deeper in the maroon department and away from the magenta/purple hue it shined in its youth. A positive sign of a little age. I sniffed. Whoa. Tar, earth, there’s fruit, but it’s more mature, less jammy and more in line with the complex notes that one perceives now that it’s not so fruit forward. On the palate, it has a medium bodied mouth feel. It’s bright, the acidity is very much alive, and the fruit is smoky leading me to check the percentage of Syrah in the blend: 30%. It’s half Grenache, 30% Syrah, and the rest equal parts Carignan and Mourvèdre. Did I mention it was 10 bucks? If I sat down in a nice restaurant and they poured me a glass of this wine for 10 bucks I would be doing backflips, not to mention I would return again and again for more. I know that I grabbed a case of that 2010 Tradicional to keep my new apartment stocked with an underpriced delicious red, but I’ve got to have a case of this too! If you like southern Rhône Valley reds with smoky, Syrah character and a little bit of bottle bouquet, don’t walk, run to this one.


As I mentioned in the opening paragraph, we had a busy week. In the timing department, along with the sale, the week was marked by the release of the 2015 prices for some of Bordeaux’s marquis names. David has been staying up in the middle of the night as these prices are released, making sure that our allocations are confirmed. I’ve been trying my best to get all of these purchases into our system and website, and you will soon see more offers for 2015 Bordeaux futures. This week promises to be chock full of even more releases as the campaign is soon to reach its pinnacle. So please keep an eye out for that. In the meantime, this latest little sale of ours continues, and hits like the 2011 Fondrèche Ventoux Fayard keep coming. Talk about pleasant surprises!Peter Zavialoff

Please feel free to email me with any questions or comments about 2015 Bordeaux futures, our sale, the 2011 Fayard, or the state of English Football: peter@wineSF.com

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Filed under Barbecue Wine, Cotes du Ventoux, Grenache, Peter Zavialoff, Rhone Valley, Syrah, Ventoux


2012 Crozes-Hermitage Cuvée Louis Belle
Domaine Belle

Here we are on the precipice of Memorial Day Weekend! Chances are, the likelihood of any of us being around a barbecue grill is greatly increased this weekend as statistics show that approximately 60% of US households barbecue over this period. Bring it on! We just love grilling. I just received a phone call from my longtime barbecue maven friend telling me about a brisket that has been on the grill since this morning. Hmmm, what was it that Oscar Wilde said about temptation? It actually seems rather appropriate, now that I think about it, because it was 10 years ago this weekend that I was invited over in similar circumstances. I wasn’t yet well versed with our entire inventory back then, so when I consulted pairing wizard and TWH alum Ben about what to bring, he strongly advised that I grab some northern Rhône Syrah and all would be fine. How right he was! I made a reference to this wonderful revelation in a post last year, and will never forget it. Smoky barbecued something or other? Northern Rhône Syrah. Simple. Genius.

We’ve been well versed with the wines from Domaine Belle since the 1990’s. For years their wines have graced our bins, and we happily represented the brand for their former importer. A few years ago, we became the importer! You’ve probably heard us go on about Belle’s Les Pierrelles cuvée before. It’s a great wine for a great price. The Cuvée Louis Belle is a fancier, more serious offering. It sees some time in French oak barrel, 15% of it new, which frames the vibrant yet smoky purple fruit delightfully. This wine means business. We can say with a degree of conviction that finding a Syrah of this quality for less than $30 is an immense challenge, if it’s even possible at all! Again, as we mentioned in an email last week, it is our responsibility to provide our customers with the best wines for the best prices, because what matters most to us is your pleasure.

You can certainly take our word for it, that this Crozes-Hermitage out-drinks it’s price point by a mile, but here’s The Wine Advocate’s Rhône expert, Jeb Dunnuck’s take, “Even better than the Les Pierrelles, the 2012 Crozes Hermitage Cuvee Louis Belle (aged 18 months in 15% new French oak) has full-bodied, concentrated aromas and flavors of black raspberry, crème de cassis, toasted spice and sweet oak. Fabulously rich, structured and balanced, with building, sweet tannin, it will have a decade of longevity. 92 points.

This family owned Crozes Hermitage-based estate seems to fly under the radar, yet they’re a terrific source of beautiful reds and whites from the north.”


Whatever you may be doing, we wish you a happy and safe long weekend. May these precursory days to summer treat you well, and may you continue to taste great wines when the occasions to do so present themselves. – Peter Zavialoff

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Filed under Barbecue Wine, Crozes-Hermitage, Northern Rhone, Peter Zavialoff, Rhone Valley, Syrah