By Rick Riozza

And just like that!—we’re already into the month of February.  This is when all wine columnists, wine folk, foodies, and culinary groupies gather to put in their two cents, or, two hundred dollars, on the “best” wine to match for the loving day/week of St. Valentine’s Day

But no one’s complaining here!  It all sounds fun & tasty.  How fortunate we are during these pandemic times to take the special time to be grateful—and loving.  So many loves—so many wines.  For the next couple of weeks, we will be complying with the lovely trend of highlighting some of the “best” wines to share with loved ones.

To begin with, let’s start with one of the tastiest wines that I’ve never written on.  It’s such a lovely wine, I guess I’ve kept that one to myself; but now is the time to share with the world:  2018 Etude Pinot Noir Grace Benoist Ranch, Carneros, Estate Grown ($40).  Ahh!—you go.  Yes—you’re familiar with it.  Either you enjoy the wine already, or, you’ve seen the beautiful sleek bottle and label, with the name Etude written in script.


For all the Pinot Noir lovers out there, surely you adore the great tasting fruit that comes from the area of Carneros, north of the San Pablo Bay, that uniquely embodies both the Napa and Sonoma wine regions.  The soils at Grace Benoist Ranch are variations of soils influenced by volcanic origin. Combining these well-drained, rocky upland soils with the extreme western location closer to the Pacific Ocean make this site an ideal place to grow Burgundian varieties.

In the micro-climate of the Carneros, the 2018 vintage was a near perfect season beginning with abundant February rains followed by drying sun and weather that allowed for even flowering and bud break. The slightly later start was followed by consistently ideal weather, with harvest for Pinot Noir occurring in late August and early September.  This provided a heavier fruit-set with great flavor intensity and complexity.

With a great vintage as this, No one will be taking a snobby position when they claim that the Etude Carneros Pinot is one of the tastiest wines around.

I concur with the winemaker’s notes: “A vibrant ruby red, garnet color, with aromas of lifted red berries, black cherry and fresh strawberry, alongside earth and spice notes of cedar, pink peppercorn and crushed tea leaf.  It finishes with brown baking spice notes of nutmeg, cinnamon and clove, characteristics often found in Grace Benoist Ranch Pinot Noirs: always rich, round and silky with bright acidity and long, fine-grained tannins.”   Ahh!—the allure of love and Pinot Noir.

The next red wine for Valentines is one of our favorite red blends of which I’ve written on plenty of times these past ten years.  This adoring vintage is the 2018 Beaulieu Vineyard Tapestry Reserved Red Wine, Napa Valley ($65).

The term “tapestry” can be use figuratively in reference to an intricate or complex combination of things. Of course, this definition seems a text-book description of the BV 2018 Reserve Tapestry, the Bordeaux-blend handcrafted from the finest grapes of the vintage from BV’s premier estates in Rutherford, Stag Leaps District, St. Helena and Calistoga—it shouts of a lot of love between the sites!

Showing the artistry of blending five Bordeaux-heritage grape varieties, this wine is elegant and complex. Cabernet Sauvignon imparts a generous core of bramble berry fruits, with hints of anise, while the Merlot brings vibrant, riper notes of plum and dark cherry.  Merlot softens the tannins with notes of black currant and plum on the palate. Malbec contributes fresh wild raspberry notes, while the Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot complete the blend with darker berry fruits and savory spices alongside delicate floral and woodsy nuances of violet, cedar, forest floor and wild sage.

What’s not to love about this red blend!  A Valentine’s dinner would treasure & cherish this lovely wine.  Cheers!—already!

Okay—we’ve done a Pinot, a Red Blend, how about a Cab.  Since St. Valentine’s Day comes only once a year, this is generally a time when we treat ourselves and our loved ones to a really nice bottle of wine.

With that thought in mind, let’s talk about Stags’ Leap Winery’s 2018 The Leap, Cabernet Sauvignon, Estate Grown, Stags Leap District, Napa Valley ($115).  I know that’s quite a mouthful (actually, a mouthful of The Leap would equate to liquid passion!), but let’s simply refer to it as “The Leap

Many of you readers may remember our piece titled, “Taking a Stags” Leap at Spencers”, where we met with Stags’ Leap’s winemaker Christophe Paubert at Spencer’s Restaurant in Palm Springs.  There we ate, drank, and chatted with Monsieur Paubert on his portfolio of treasured wines.  Speaking of his viticulture philosophy, “What I like, is our wines have power—but power without elegance is no use. We have such a unique area when it comes to land, sun, air currents, and temperature—so let the terroir speak for itself.” (Paubert was born and raised in Bordeaux and was the Cellar Master for the famed Château d’Yquem.)

As we reported recently, the 2018 vintage for Napa Valley Cabernet Sauv is one of the best in California wine history.  And The Leap is one of the top luxury brands from the winery. Thus, the report is in: “Our 2018 The Leap Cabernet Sauvignon exemplifies the distinctive personality of our estate vineyard and this extraordinary vintage, offering dark, alluring, layered intensity with notes of black berry fruit alongside a rich, mouth-enveloping texture.

“This wine is classic Stags Leap District Cabernet, offering aromas and flavors of blackcurrant, cassis, dark raspberry and black cherry alongside delicate notes of cedar, allspice, graphite and espresso, backed up by more savory notes of olive tapenade and chaparral herbs. There is depth, finesse and elegance, interweaving power, grace and structure, full of velvety rich tannins and a long, lingering fresh finish.”  It’s a Valentines keeper for the ages!  Cheers!