Greetings and Salutations!  Lots of catching up to do with my fellow wine sleuths from the events of the last couple of months!  A world class wine festival in Napa Valley hosted by the Howell Mountain growers in June, a brief tour of Sonoma and Russian River later that month, and a return to a great Paris wine bar for a French wine tasting in July.  So much to talk about and so little time to do so!  There is no time like the present, so let’s jump in with both feet.


The 21st annual Taste of Howell Mountain festival was again hosted by the Howell Mountain Vintners and Growers Association in June on the live oak shaded grounds of venerable Charles Krug winery in St. Helena.  My lovely significant other of 31 years and I have been fortunate to previously attend this event, and it is hard for my simple mind to conceive of a more remarkable wine tasting event.   This year’s Taste of Howell Mountain featured 44 (count ’em!) vintners who proudly displayed their wares in the face of some fierce competition in a convenient horseshoe of tables under the Krug oak trees.  As always, there was a great local blues band entertaining the attendees, and some remarkable fare (including pulled pork BBQ from a slow roasted pig which must have weighed at least 400 pounds-not that I am still dreaming about it, mind you) to fight off the inevitable palate fatigue that follows one’s best efforts to sample some of Howell Mountain’s finest Cabernet Sauvignons and Cab blends.  The weather was Chamber of Commerce beautiful, with the temperature in the mid-80’s and nary a threatening cloud allowed to come within view.  In short, the day didn’t suck.


Although there were multiple highlights from the Howell Mountain event, as always several wines begged for attention even among very stiff competition.  In no particular order, our selfless and humble crew noted the following standouts: Howell at the Moon 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon, Duckhorn Howell Mountain 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon, Dunn 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon (as always, Randy Dunn was his gruff but still charming self and brought out a vintage several years more aged than anyone else present), Spence 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon, CADE Howell Mountain 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon and Hall 2012 Howell Mountain Cab Sav.  Despite the finest heroic efforts of your Wine Bargain Sleuth, I was unable to sample all the great wines present; however, I believe it is fair that our merry group of 4 was able to consume and taste, ahem, a respectable and representative sample.   If you are looking for a great way to sample several great Howell Mountain Big Reds back to back to back, there is simply no better way to do so than attending the Taste of Howell Mountain festival in June of every year.   Here is a handy link to the event:


Next up was a verture over to Sonoma to meet dear college friends invited us to share their hilltop Sonoma vacation home for the week as a base, and so your Wine Bargain Sleuth shifted his wine country focus from Napa Valley’s magnificent Big Reds to Sonoma Valley’s and Russian River’s Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays on the other side of the Mayacamas mountains.  Our travels took us from the north and east portion of Sonoma Valley in and near the picturesque Healdsburg to the western edge of up and coming Petaluma to the rich soil and rolling hills surrounding the Russian River to the charm of old Sonoma and the classic town square tasting rooms.  If you are of the view that the explosive growth and new investment has spoiled some or all of the charm of Napa Valley lately, then the answer may well be the next valley to the west.  Tasting highlights included the seductive Zinfandels of Healdburg’s new winery, Spicy Vines, the magnificent Chardonnays of Kistler (see this month’s Worth a Splurge Wine below), the classic Pinots of Patz & Hall;, the surprisingly refreshing but elegant Viognier of Adobe Road Winery and the consistently high quality Pinot Noirs of Walt (the 2013 Sierra Mar was remarkable).  The charm and friendliness of Sonoma Valley was in contrast to the slickness and commercialization of Napa Valley.  I believe that the diversity and remarkable sub-climates and different soils of Sonoma Valley make it a must see for wine sleuths!


Last but certainly not least, a rare family trip with the entire Musgrove nuclear crew took us to some amazing cities, ending with Paris.  After several days of enjoyable activities with our children, your humble Sleuth and his spouse were able to carve out a few hours to return to O Chateau, a lovely wine ship and tasting bar not far from the Louvre museum on the Right Bank of Paris.  There, in addition to putting away the cares of the day and making our children content, we were able to sample a flight of three each of my Bordeaux Big Reds and her Burgundy Pinot Noir wines.   What a treat for both of us.  However, at the end of the happy hour, the unanimous verdict was that the finest of the 6 world-class French wines we sampled was the Nuits-Saint-Georges 1er Cru Gerard Mugneret 2013 Burgundy.  This magnificent Pinot demanded a full pour for each of us.   Without a doubt, this complex red from Burgundy demanded a place in line of some of the very finest I have ever sampled.   What a great way to end our return trip to the City of Lights!  Ahh.


And now, with no further ado, below you will find this Chapter’s Value Wines and the Worth a Splurge Wine for your viewing pleasure.


Value Wine No. 1:  Cameron Hughes Lot 457 Meritage Napa Valley 2013

As temperatures creep up to the dreaded 100’s in the Great Southwest, one might think that now is not an opportune time to look for a new house Big Red.   On the contrary, my fellow wine sleuths, when others zig we like to zag, and your humble Wine Bargain Sleuth has a real treat for you in this month’s Value Wine No. 1: the Cameron Hughes Lot 457 Meritage Napa Valley 2013.   We have reviewed and highlighted other Cameron Hughes wines previously, as the clever wine negociant’s philosophy and ours tend to align. However, the CH Lot 457 Meritage is a cut above even the typical high quality of Cameron Hughes offerings.  The Lot 457 Meritage is a lovely, inky color in your glass, resembling a classic French Right Bank Bordeaux blend both in look and in initial nose.  This cuvee is blended from Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec and Petit Verdot, four out of the five classic Bordeaux varietals.  The fruit is sourced primarily from the rich soil of the southern portion valley floor of Napa Valley; as always, Cameron Hughes is contractually prohibited from disclosing the specifics of their sources.  You can be certain, however, this is no flabby volume produced Merlot blend.  An initial nose of blackberry and a hint of blueberry, violets and cocoa are rendered even more complex by an earthy quality.  I would immediately pair this lovely Big Red with a choice or prime filet mignon, a pork tenderloin or even some rich cheeses and fruits.  In short, it is versatile enough to be your new house Big Red, with a remarkably low suggested retail price of $18!   The true personification of a value wine, this bad boy will stand up to competing Napa Valley wines costing 3 or 4 times that price.  The experts?   How does a 93 rating from the likes of Steve Heimoff of Wine Enthusiast strike you?  Mr. Heimoff commented that CH Lot 457 “…Shows its pedigree in the finesse of the tannins and crisp acidity. Very good now, and should hold for six years. A steal at less than twenty bucks.”  Want more confirmation?   How about a double gold from the prestigious San Francisco Chronicle wine competition?  Stock up on this one before it’s gone, sleuths!  Widely available at your wine retailer or find the wine at  Cheers!


Value Wine No. 2:  Louis Bouillot Blanc de Blancs NV

Quiz for the day:  When is sparkling wine from France not considered Champagne? I’m sure that many of you sleuths know the answer to today’s pop quiz, which of course is when the sparkling wine in question is sourced from a region other than Champagne!  A great example of the non-Champagne sparkler is the Louis Bouillot Blanc de Blancs NV, a Cremant from the region of Burgundy, France.  As its name implies, the Louis Bouillot Blanc de Blancs NV is made entirely of Chardonnay grapes from the world-famous Burgundy region.  After all, you have to get Chardonnay grapes from somewhere, so it might as well be northern Burgundy near the region of Chablis!   This crisp sparkler has a strong hint of grapefruit and a light profile of toastiness for complexity, making it an excellent cocktail hour wine or a terrific pairing with brie or similar creamy cheeses due to its refreshing acidity.  Fans of blanc de blancs from Champagne may have a very difficult time telling this Cremant from the pricier and more renowned Champagne sparkler in a taste test.   And after all, who doesn’t like bubbles?   At the suggested retail price of $18 per .750 liter bottle, even wine sleuths on a tight budget don’t mind splurging a little for their dinner guests who love sparkling wine!  The Louis Bouillet Blanc de Blancs NV provides a tremendous bang for your buck, and its quality is clearly demonstrated not only by the source of the Burgundy Chardonnay grapes but also by the respectable 88 rating granted to it by Wine Enthusiast magazine!


Worth a Splurge Wine:  Kistler McCrea Vineyard Chardonnay 2013

For those of you who may have picked up the subtle hint that a glass of Chardonnay may not always be the first choice of your humble Wine Bargain Sleuth, feel free to award yourself bonus points.   However, today the Sleuth may have just tasted the wine that was the tipping point on the magnificence of that classic white grape.  Color me white, as in white wines made by Kistler and its proprietor Steve Kistler. Although I recently had the privilege to sample four Chards, including one cuvee and 3 single vineyard Chardonnays, without question the one that rang all the bells of my senses was the world-class Kistler McCrea Vineyard Chardonnay 2013. The 2013 Kistler McCrea beauty, blended from  a Sonoma Mountain source, was truly reminiscent of a Burgundy Grand Cru, managing to be elegant, balanced, complex and absolutely thrilling all in one sip.   With tones of muted lemon, fresh apples and a hint of creaminess, as well as the minerality that gives this Kistler beauty the complexity and a thrilling, lengthy finish, this Chard would pair impressively with boiled crab, roasted turkey or a zesty green salad.   Still very young, the Kistler McCrea Vineyard Chardonnay is still very approachable today, particularly when paired with fresh goat cheese.  The winery recommends cellaring this beauty for 4-8 years–that is, if you can resist popping that cork.   No promises on this end.  Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate bestowed a strong 94 on this white, which impressive mark was matched by Vinous.  If you are in the market for a splurge, then search for this world-class white for your cellar. Cheers!


Wine Thought of the Day:   Not Your Father’s Wine Quotes.


“Too much of anything is bad, but too much Champagne is just right.”

– Mark Twain


“Great wine requires a mad man to grow the vine, a wise man to watch over it, a lucid poet to make it, and a lover to drink it.”

– Salvador Dali

“I don’t like whiny and cheesy people, but I do like wine and cheese people!”


Until next month– Cheers!

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