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Alpha Omega, Napa Valley (California) Cabernet Sauvignon 2017 ($106)
 Robin Baggett got into the wine business with Tolosa Winery in southern California’s Edna Valley AVA.  Considered the state’s coolest AVA, Bagget and his team are producing impressive Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.  Apparently, one winery was not enough, because in 2006 he and his wife, Michelle, moved to Napa Valley to create Alpha Omega.  The winery is in the heart of Napa on the Rutherford Bench and has access to premier vineyard sites throughout the valley.  Their aim is to combine Old World vineyard practices with New World technology to produce terroir-driven wines.  Henrik Poulsen from Denmark and Jean Hoefliger from Switzerland were part of the original winemaking team.  Today, Poulsen is winemaker and Hoefliger is consulting winemaker along with Michel Rolland from France.  The 2017 Cabernet Sauvignon is 94 percent with three percent Cabernet Franc, 2 percent Merlot and one percent Petit Verdot.  It was mostly fermented in barrel with six percent in stainless steel.  Aged for 22 months in French oak, 75 percent new and the remainder one-year-old.  The blackberry, black currant, plum fruit is ripe and generous with savory notes of graphite, baking spices and dried herbs wrapped in a solid foundation of balancing acidity and firm tannins that will allow it to live many more years.       
94 Rebecca Murphy


Posted by Michael Franz on May 1, 2020 at 2:22 PM

Best Idea in Recent Memory: Roberto Conterno's Sensory Wine Glass, with a Major Charitable Contribution Included

I’ve tasted with hundreds of different glasses over the course of 25+ years as a wine reviewer, so a new glass needs to be truly remarkable to stand out in a crowd of that size.  Glasses are really the only tool of any consequence in my business, as anything can serve as a spittoon, just as corks can be removed using a shoe or a tree trunk—as you can learn on YouTube from people who clearly have too much time on their hands!

In brief, I really care about wine glasses, and buy them all the time…use them all the time…break them all the time…and replace them constantly with new and different ones.  Having heard some buzz among my colleagues about a glass designed by Roberto Conterno (of the extraordinary Giacomo Conterno winery in Barolo, along with his engineer son, Gabrielle), I bought one for a test drive.

The verdict?  This glass is just fabulous for tasting Pinot Noir, Nebbiolo-based wines from Piedmont, and Syrah-based wines from the northern Rhône.  Better even than the somewhat similar Burgundy glass from Zalto, which I formerly thought could never be surpassed.

The Conterno Sensory Glass may also prove to be a star with other types of wines as I branch out, but it is so strong with Pinot, Nebbiolo and cool-climate Syrah that I had already resolved to write about it…when two other factors arose to spur me to do so right now.

First, when I went back to buy more of the glasses from The Rare Wine Company in California, I learned that they had dropped the price from $90 to $75, and then offered to donate $25 of the lowered price to more than a dozen recently established local organizations—your choice—that are keeping restaurant workers employed to prepare meals for nurses and doctors in hospitals across the USA.

Let that sink in for a second, and then you’ll understand why I entitled this posting, “Best Idea in Recent Memory….”

Second, the idea is even better at this particular moment for those of us living under stay-at-home orders.  We can’t have dinner parties, so we don’t need to buy glasses in large numbers.  We aren’t cleaning up after dinner parties, so our breakage rate is way down.  We limit our trips to wine shops to minimize the odds of contamination, so we’re drinking some of the best wines we’ve laid down in years past.  Cracking into wines we’ve been treasuring is a great way to lift our spirits.  And those wines deserve to blossom in a great glass, making this a five-fold reason to pony up for a few of these marvelous vessels to enjoy at home with your fellow house-hostages.

Of course, I’m aware that $75 is a lot of money for a wine glass by almost anyone’s standards, so if that price is simply too steep for you, just write to me (at michael@franzwine.com) for recommendations of some more affordable glasses that might still upgrade what you’re drinking from during this quarantine period.

But if you can afford to try a few of these, you’ll hit three birds with your expenditure by A) learning how much a great glass can enhance the wines you love; B) helping employ sidelined restaurant workers, and C) getting meals to front-line health care heroes.  If you can afford to buy a dozen glasses, The Rare Wine Company will throw in free shipping while also donating $300 to the cause of your choosing. 

This idea has caught on so effectively that the glasses are currently on backorder, but I called the company this week, and they’ll have more glasses in next month.  You can view the offer, learn more about the glass, place an order, and choose a charitable organization by simply clicking on the link below or pasting it into your URL line:


If you have trouble with those options, just keyword search the RWC site, type “Conterno” in the search window, and scroll down to the bottom entry…and you’ll be a click away from learning about the glass and the many charities to which the donations can be targeted. 

When your glasses arrive next month, clink them (gently!) to toast our friends in restaurants and our benefactors in hospitals.

Dr. Michael
This Issue's Reviews
Quarantine Chronicles: Dreaming Remote, Enjoying Local
Rich Cook

I don't know about you, but I'm starting to get a little stir crazy. Doing nothing but working from home, taking occasional trips out for food, the rare trips to the office and the complete reimagining of other jobs has me dreaming of what I'll do once restrictions are lifted. Mrs. Wine Critic and I were scheduled to be in Great Britain two weeks ago, taking in the new sparkling wine region southeast of London (and the new staging of Les Miserables at the Sondheim) but it was not to be, and I suspect it won't be for some time to come. Since the easing of restrictions will likely go out in small doses and keep travel fairly local, let's pay an introductory visit to some of my favorite local producers here in San Diego County - California's original wine region - and see a renaissance in progress. Maybe I'll entice you to travel this direction when the world opens up again....
Pandemic Cooking: A Passion for Mushrooms, with Wines to Match
Marguerite Thomas

At this particular moment in history, when many of us are looking for foods that are nutritious, versatile, have a relatively long shelf life, are easy to prepare and don't take up much room on the fridge, friendly fungi can play more than just an attractive supporting role in our menus. I've long loved mushrooms for their fine flavors and textures and for the many different varieties available. As an added bonus, one thing I've learned in the past few weeks is that when mushrooms play a bigger role in the meal they can pair beautifully with wine.
Wine With
WINE WITH…Tom Yum Rice

The inspiration for this dish began when a friendly neighbor left a gift baggie filled with homegrown Thai red chili peppers on my doorstep. Thai chili peppers may be small, about an inch or two in length, but they can deliver a giant punch of heat as they boast 50,000 to 100,000 Scoville Heat Units (SHU), making them 60-40 times hotter than the average jalapeño. I am not much of a daredevil when it comes to fiery peppers myself--scorched tongue and flaming taste buds aren't my idea of a good time, plus there's no doubt that too much heat can effectively overwhelm the subtleties inherent in most wines. But I do appreciate the gentle buzz that moderately hot peppers can deliver to the palate, akin, perhaps, to the way one values the tug of tannins in a good red wine from Bordeaux, or the relatively high acidity delivered by certain whites such as Muscadet. And since my interpretation of Thai Tom Yum was designed specifically to be paired with wine, I did give the peppers I minced a brief bath in vodka, which I've heard can leech out some of the heat. If you're bolder than I, feel free to skip this step.
On My Table
Snapshot of Two Vintages in Saint Émilion
Mary Ewing-Mulligan

To a geeky wine lover, comparing the same wines from two different vintages is some of the most fun that can be had during a coronavirus lockdown. Ideally, the wines will reveal differences that go beyond their difference in age and development. Ideally, you will be able to taste the mark of the specific vintage in each wine. Perhaps with the precise intention of intriguing bored, shut-in Americans, Château Lassègue has released its current 2016 grand vin alongside a library selection, the 2012. Father and son vignerons, Pierre and Nicholas Seillan, intend the dual release to enable wine lovers 'to discover the character of a newer release…while at the same time enjoying a library release in its prime drinking window.' I tasted the two wines side by side and did in fact find the 2012 in its prime drinking window - a window that for me extends a few years into the future although the wine is perfectly ready now. The 2016 likewise is very drinkable now - the wine's rich style makes it delicious upon release - but it has a long and promising future appropriate for a young Bordeaux from a fine vintage.