Shamrock Selections is a monthly subscription service that brings you the best wines from around the world. Each month’s selection is carefully chosen by sommelier Keegan Sparks and his team. He keeps a keen eye out for wines that are unique, rare, and new to our market. Shamrock Selections is ideal for enthusiasts and explorers who delight in finding hidden gems and trying new, exclusive vintages. Each month, you can join us on a journey of sampling and learning about some of the greatest wines in the world. Each selection of wine comes with detailed tasting notes and food pairing suggestions from our team.
As much as I love to wax poetic about the beauty and artistry of wine, there are days like today in which I’m reminded that wine, at its core, is an industry in which hundreds of thousands of people the world over are employed. Today, even as I write this, fires are raging over the mountains that frame Napa and Sonoma valleys. The fires are still largely uncontained, but early reports show that several wineries were destroyed along with several hundred acres of prized vineyards. This is, of course, to say nothing of the 11 deaths that have already occurred and the thousands that have been left homeless.
Earlier today, at a large industry wine tasting hosted by one of our distributors, the mood was somber as we realized that the property whose wines we were drinking was among those that were destroyed.
So, in lieu of grand overtures about art and humanity when you drink this month’s wines, I instead ask that you remember that at every point along these bottles path to your home, they were touched by human hearts and hands and that today those hearts are hurting.
Marietta Cellars Armé Cabernet Sauvignon
When you have this bottle in your hands, I want you to try something. See if you can find the wine’s vintage. The trick, of course, is that there isn’t one. This wine, like most sparkling wines, is what we call a “non-vintage wine” or “NV.”
What does that mean? Well, it can mean a few different things, but in this case, it means that the grapes that were used were picked from different vineyards in different years. The wine is majority Cabernet Sauvignon, with Merlot, Petit Verdot, and Malbec to round out the blend. And each of those grapes was picked in different years, made into their own wines and then blended before bottling. Research tells me that the Malbec and some portions of the Cabernet and Petit Verdot were harvested in 2011, while the Merlot was picked in 2012, and the rest of the Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot was harvested in 2013. While each grape and vintage made a fine wine, blended as a whole, they really begin to shine.
The winery was founded in 1978 by California native Chris Bilbro who handed over the business to his son Scott several years ago. The winery is named after Chris’ aunt Marietta. Their goal has always been to make approachable wine that didn’t carry any of pretension that other, more exclusive bottlings had. For several years, Scott focused his winemaking efforts on non-vintage wines, exploring the best possible blends of Cabernet, Zinfandel, Syrah, and other grapes.
The Armé, named after Marietta’s husband, is Bordeaux in style, with dominating red fruits and savory spice notes. When I first tried this wine, it was freshly opened and quite tight. I know I say this every month, but this wine will greatly benefit from decanting. When trying this wine a second time, three days after opening, it had blossomed into a rich and broad wine. It gave me the feeling of standing on a high cliff and seeing the landscape stretch out below me: it’s a bottling that, when allowed to open, showcases a vastness of flavor.
Pair it with any sort of meat stew, but most importantly, give this wine time. Open it a day or so before you plan to drink it. Not doing so is like going to the Grand Canyon with your eyes closed. Yes, you’re still technically there, but you’re not experiencing it the way you should.
2013 Green and Red Winery Tip Top Vineyard Zinfandel
When I took my first trip to Napa Valley in the early spring of 2015, I had a list of large, well known producers that I wanted to visit. I also wanted to get away from the famous wineries and visit some smaller producers as well. This led me to Green and Red. Many of you may have tried their Syrah before, but their Zinfandel, made from a small vineyard at over 1,700” elevation, is their flagship wine.
Driving to the winery, I was sure I’d get lost. Located deep in the mountains to the east of the valley, cell service was miles away, and I was doing as I had been told: driving until I was to turn right onto a dirt road. When I found my turn, I thought I had missed something – yes, there was a road, but it was a dirt road that went almost straight up a cliff face. I wasn’t sure my little rented Prius could handle it, but knowing there was great wine to be had, I put the car in gear and slowly crept up the mountainside. A few agonizing minutes later, the road leveled out into a small homestead, with a house, barn, and pond, all surrounded by vineyards.
There I met Jay Heminway, who’s owned the property since 1970 and planted the first vines in 1972. After a quick tour of his winery and aging cave, we loaded into his truck to visit the Tip Top vineyard. After a drive up another impossibly steep gravel road, we came out of the forest onto a mountaintop that had been shorn of trees and planted with gently curving arcs of vines.
With 11 acres of Zinfandel in the vineyard, the wine he produces is burly and strong, a far cry from the flabby Zinfandels that ruin the grape for most drinkers. Jay’s wine is pointed in focus, with exacting notes of stony earth, cooked plums, and cocoa nibs.
You can pair Zinfandel with almost anything, but personally, it’s my favorite thing to drink with pizza, especially Hawaiian pizza (sorry if you’re one of those people who think pineapple on a pizza is sinful!)
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