I’ve been dying to taste Smith-Madrone wines since I don’t know how long. I’ve only heard fantastic things about the estate and their wines. And after interviewing Stu Smith, founder, manager, and enologist for Smith-Madrone Winery, for a recent article, highlighting his thoughts on Napa’s recent Measure C ballot, I was even more eager and curious what this downright passionate proprietor is creating with these lovingly tended-for vineyards. So what better way to start than with the varietal Napa is known for?
I was so excited to try this Cabernet Sauvignon from Stony Hill. Even more so than the Chardonnay — but don’t ask me why. I guess there’s some pretense when you see the words “Napa” and “Cabernet” on the bottle. It can turn some people off because it may automatically connote “big, bold, chewy” -type vocabulary. But not so here, and this predominantly has to do with seasoned winemaker’s, Mike Chelini’s, winemaking techniques. According to the winery, Chelini is constantly monitoring the vineyards throughout the season, harvesting by chemical balance rather than by flavor alone. Testing the grapes for the perfect amount of pH versus acidity, means grapes with just enough acid to encourage ageability in the resulting wines. So what Chelini produces are both red and white wines that can age for years to come or be enjoyed straight out of the bottle. And with this Stony Hill Vineyard 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon — you can honestly go either way.
Imagery Estate Winery was a new one for me. It’s the “sister” winery to the well-known Benziger Family Winery — but I’m going to go ahead and call it the “daughter” winery because, as I understand it, it’s Joe’s daughter Jamie who’s at the helm of the Imagery winemaking. What the two craft together is California wine with a twist: traditional varietals with “something unexpected, something out of the ordinary, something very Imagery.” So who’s ready for a little Cab-adventure?
When we think of Greek wine, we often think “Old World.” We can’t help it — the phrase “the drink of the gods” directly points to the mythos of this culture. But Georgos Zanganas had a different thought. When he came to Sonoma he immediately fell in love with its bucolic beauty — who could blame him? What he didn’t love, however, was the obvious lack of Greek wine varietals available to him. So he asked himself, why not combine his history and culture with his new California life. And so it is that Georgos Wine was created — old world grapes blended with new world grapes; old world winemaking tradition combined with new world techniques; old ideas revitalized and re-defined to meet the modern wine drinking world.
About the Wine: The name ITHAKA is named after an ancient Greek island, said to have once ruled by Odysseus, the legendary Greek king of ITHAKA (and a hero of Homer’s epic poem the Odyssey). The name is a nod to the noble grape of Sonoma — Cabernet Sauvignon — with which the wine is made.
The Georgós Wine 2014 ITHAKA is made from a combination of 15% Agiorgitiko grapes — sourced from and produced in Greece — and 85% Cabernet Sauvignon grapes sourced from Sonoma County . All grapes are hand-picked, hand-sorted, and gently pressed. While the Agiorgitiko was picked and produced in Greece, the final blend was created in Sonoma, California. The wine aged in combination French (55%), Hungarian (20%), and American (25%) oak barrels (35% new).
Flavor Profile: Open the bottle of the Georgós Wine 2014 ITHAKA and breathe in the aromas of plump blueberries — skins and all — along with a very light background of a kind of gamey umami. On the pour this Greek wine is very sanguine: a rich, ruby-red on the pour. It settles into the glass quite dark, with an impenetrable maroon center that fades out toward a dusty rouge, which fades out even further to a rose petal pink at the ultimate perimeter.
Initial aromas are actually quite floral from the glass, reminiscent of roses still hanging on the bush. You can still smell that bit of gamey umaminess along with the dust of dried tree bark — any berries as well as acidity linger quite delicately in the back. So swirl and awaken the raspberries, cranberries, vanilla essence, blood orange zest and hints of nutmeg.
The palate is quite soft with plush, cotton-like tannins. The acidity is present but maintains a calm and level presence from start to finish. Dominant flavors are of eucalyptus tree bark, raspberries, cranberries, raw cacao, hint of anise, dessert-like spices, and a finish reminiscent of candied cinnamon.
What was most pleasantly surprising to me was how well rounded, balanced, and light this Cabernet Sauvignon-based wine was.
Food Pairing: I paired the Georgós Wine 2014 Penelope’s Spell with a herb-crusted lamb rack, golden beetroot and goats cheese salad, and a green pea purée. The earthy sweetness of the beetroot brought out a bit of the earthy, somewhat soily elements that were hidden behind some of the fruit notes in the wine, yet simultaneously highlighted the brightness of the cranberry notes. The lamb, with its thready texture and innate juiciness, brought forward some of that hidden umami initially sensed on the nose, as well as brought forward some darker fruit flavors (like plum and currants) not originally defined on the palate when sipping the wine on its own.
More Info: I received the Georgós Wine 2014 Penelope’s Spell as a sample for review. (Cheers Alexa!) Retail: Currently Unavailable. For more in formation about Georgós Wine and to purchase available wines directly, please visit the Georgós Wine website.
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I’ve come to love anything Grgich Hills produces: from their bodacious Zinfandel to their textural Chardonnay; their light and lively Fumé Blanc, and even their seemingly ‘crazy’ rosé. But nothing says “Napa love” like a glass of their Cabernet Sauvignon. I was first introduced to this wine almost one year ago, and was taken aback by how simultaneously rugged and voluptuous their 2013 vintage was — all the while maintaining a certain lightness from start to finish. While the 2014 seems to kick it up a notch, Grgich Hills reputation for friendly Cabernet, expressive of its Napa estate fruit, is absolutely in tact.