Wines, Wineries, and Dining for the New Year

DeLoach, Moshin, Oakville Ranch, and Brassica


Introduction: It is time to start planning your California wine country trip if you intend to travel to California during the 2012 season. Many wineries that you will want to see will start filling their appointment slots a few months in advance of your arrival, so we recommend early reservations to confirm visits to the places you desire. We will try to help you along in your selection process with profiles of a number of wineries over the next month or two.


DeLoach Vineyards: We have been recommending DeLoach as a must visit for a number of years now, and somehow the superb wines continue to improve. There has to be a line beyond which they cannot get any better, but we don’t know where that is or when it might be reached.

At our last tasting, which was not blind, we highly graded each wine and began to wonder whether we were influenced by our previous love of the wines, respect and friendship with the owners and managers, and/or our enjoyment of the property. We well know that all these things affect perception. So even though we do not place much stock in number scores, we took a look at what the major magazines had said, figuring that a few wines would have received fair scores, a few good, and a few very good (thus, we would have actually learned nothing). Amazingly, 11 wines (most of the portfolio) had received scores of between 90 – 95 points from respected publications. So we are certainly not alone in giving high kudos to DeLoach.

We do have our favorites, however, and drink them whenever the opportunity arises. For Chardonnay we are partial to those from the 2009 Durell Vineyard ($50), and the 2009 O.F.S. ($32). For Pinot Noirs we gravitate to the 2008 Green Valley ($45), 2008 Swicegood ($45), and 2008 Maboroshi ($45). And for Zin we think the 2008 Forgotten Vines ($36) rivals California’s best, though with that said, the 2008 Nova ($32) is almost as good. 707-526-9111


Moshin Vineyards: Off the beaten path for sure, a visit to Sonoma County’s Moshin is a welcome throwback to the times of simpler tasting rooms and smaller family operated wineries.  The first person we saw was taking out the trash, and he turned out to be the owner, Rick Moshin, who, with his wife Amber, pretty much run the whole shooting match. 

We first sampled a superb 2010 Morris Ranch Sonoma Coast Pinot Gris ($21), which is mostly sold to the wine club only (a good reason to join). We then talked about varying styles of Sauvignon Blanc as we sipped the outstanding 2009 Dry Creek Valley Larrick Vineyard ($22) with its perfectly rounded finish. From there we moved on to Chardonnays, and will highly recommend the 2008 Russian River Valley ($28) and the 2008 Bacigalupi ($38). If you know what fabulous wines come from the latter vineyard, and what many other wineries charge for Bacigalupi Chard, you will easily recognize the good deal to be found at Moshin.

Then came a number of the winery’s outstanding Pinot Noirs (who could have fathomed they made so many different bottles at this lovely, but small, facility?). Using the fruit from some of the state’s most noted vineyards, the winery’s specialty in producing this varietal shines. We appreciated the opportunity to recognize distinct differences between 6 or 7 different Pinots (most of them vineyard designates). We also appreciated the price points, which ran anywhere from $26 to $65 per bottle – something for everyone for certain. Our favorites were the 2007 Moshin Estate ($65), the 2008 Morris Ranch ($44), and the 2008 Halo’s Hill ($45). Besides the varietals we mentioned above, Moshin offers Merlot, Petite Syrah, a Late Harvest, and Zinfandel. Tastings are daily from 11:00 a.m. - 4:30 p.m., and tours are available by appointment. 707-433-5499


Oakville Ranch: You never know what is at the top of any mountain range in wine country, and so if you can arrange a tour (or two or three) at the right place(s), you are in for some gorgeous scenery and an opportunity to learn some viticulture as well. Oakville Ranch is one of those “right” places, not only for the views, but for the wine. Sitting on a sloping plateau that rises to 1400 feet on the east side of Napa, the rocky volcanic soils slowly release nutrients to the vines that already have to struggle to force their roots to water. These factors lead to wines that are highly concentrated in flavor.

We recently toured the estate with affable and interesting vineyard manager Phil Coturri, and then dined with GM Paula Kornell and winemaker Anne Vawter, both women of brains and beauty. We tasted through the entire portfolio, and choosing which wine to recommend is easy – all of them. Each in its own way is a serious example of how good wine can be (and at a reasonable prices, too).

The 2007 Napa Valley Chardonnay ($45) makes you remember how good a balanced big Chardonnay can be, even (perhaps we should say especially) when most of it ages in new oak. Unfortunately the 2008 Napa Cabernet Sauvignon is sold out, but year in and year out this wine features concentrated black fruits co-existing with spices from layer to layer. So keep an eye out for 2009. Our favorite varietal might be Cabernet Franc, and so we are in love with the 2007 Robert’s Blend ($92), which has 90% Cab Franc and boasts flavors of black cherries and blueberries supported by bold tannins. And while we are not always lucky enough to prefer the least expensive product of whatever kind, here the 2009 Field Blend ($32), a combination of Zinfandel and Petite Sirah, hits our palates in precisely the right manner. 707-944-9665


Brassica Mediterranean Kitchen and Winebar: There is nothing that famed chef Cindy Pawlcyn cannot do when it comes to culinary ventures. Her newest restaurant, Brassica (which is Latin for a family of plants known as mustards that grow in both Napa and the Mediterranean), is already a hit among locals and will no doubt be one of the “go to places” once the season begins in May.

The cuisine at Brassica, inspired by the flavors of Southern Europe, Northern Africa, and the Middle East, is like nothing else in wine country. Traditional dishes (though each with an additional unknown oomph that great chefs all seem able to add) such as humus, baba ghanoush, fried stuffed olives, and stuffed grape leaves, are joined on the menu by what will soon be signature dishes such as coriander & thyme braised rabbit; Tunisian halibut; crispy whole sardines; and leek & pancetta risotto with fried egg. All delicious. But a true destination dish is the succulent Moroccan lamb shank, which easily qualifies as the best we have ever had.

What about wine? Well, Brassica offers the most extensive by-the-glass wine list in the Valley with a focus on small producers as well as an eclectic assortment of local wines on tap that have been produced just for Cindy. Look for the “Brassica 12” on the wine list or menu, as this section showcases a dozen small production Napa winemakers that do not have their own tasting rooms. The opportunity to order small tasting pours allows for wonderful experimentation. Brassica has it all. 707-963-0700