As the Northeast prepares to get pummeled by freezing weekend weather, the WE staff scramble to hunt for big reds to get through it. Here’s what we found.
BY WINE ENTHUSIAST
These bottles are ready for the weekend weather / Illustration by Julia Lea
This isn’t the piece we were supposed to be running on Wine Enthusiast today, but we also weren’t prepared for warmer-than-usual autumn temperatures in our little corner of New York to suddenly plummet to below freezing overnight.
So on this Friday afternoon at #WEHQ, we find ourselves running around foraging like squirrels stockpiling nuts before a storm, hunting for extra bottles to bring home for the weekend. Editors’ and tasters’ chairs are left vacant due to the unexpected commotion, as wine racks, shelves, cardboard boxes and dark corners of our office are scoured for the biggest, heaviest reds to curl up with for the next 72 hours.
Here are 10 of our recommended finds when it comes to big, bold reds across all price points. After all, if you’re going to be stuck indoors hiding from the cold all weekend, it’s best to have a friend to keep you warm.
Recommended Reds to Stay Warm
El Enemigo 2014 Gran Enemigo Chacayes Single Vineyard Cabernet Franc (Mendoza); $120, 94 points.
El Enemigo winemaker/owner Ale Vigil is the master of Cab Franc in Mendoza, and this wine tops the charts. After some heat on the nose blows off, chili powder, leather, black-olive and black-fruit aromas settle in. This feels grabby and intense, while roasted, spicy black-plum and blackberry flavors are initially aggressive on the finish before turning more exotic and complex. Drink through 2026; contains 15% Malbec. Editors’ Choice. —Michael Schachner
Far Niente 2014 Estate Bottled Cabernet Sauvignon (Oakville); $160, 94 points.
Sourced largely from the Martin Stelling Vineyard, this is a supple, soft wine, with refined tannins. A zippy nose of rose and spice scents paves the way for more powerful leather saddle, cedar and black tea elements. Its fruit is wild and brambly, recalling blackberry and dark cherry with enviable succulence. Editors’ Choice. —Virginie Boone
Sottimano 2014 Cottà (Barbaresco); $55, 93 points.
This wine’s iris, perfumed berry, truffle and baking spice aromas emerge in the glass as it opens, along with a whiff of crushed herb. The structured, elegant palate shows ripe Marasca cherry, vanilla and mocha flavors alongside fine-grained tannins and bright acidity. Drink 2019–2029. —Kerin O’Keefe
Cowhorn 2013 Reserve Syrah (Applegate Valley); $75, 92 points.
Black as coal, with a heavy, smoky, meaty nose, this is one of a growing number of excellent biodynamic Syrahs from Oregon. It marries tangy acids to chewy red and blue fruits, with streaks of coffee liqueur and caramel latté. Half was whole-cluster fermented, and it all spent time in 50% new French oak. —Paul Gregutt
Columbia Crest 2015 Grand Estates Syrah (Columbia Valley (WA)); $12, 91 points.
The aromas in this wine pop, with notes of dried herb, plum, vanilla and smoked meat. It brings a compelling sense of texture, coating the palate from end to end with exquisitely balanced fruit and savory flavors. It’s a knockout at this price. Best Buy. —Sean Sullivan
Four Vines 2014 Old Vine Zinfandel (Lodi); $13, 91 points.
This beautiful wine has aromas as ripe as dried figs, flavors as deep as blackberries falling off the vine, and a welcoming, broad texture that begs for another sip. While full bodied, it’s easy to relax into. Best Buy. —Jim Gordon
Garage Wine Co. 2014 Lot #61 San Juan de Pirque Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon (Maipo Valley); $39, 91 points.
Blackberry and raspberry aromas are spicy but mostly focus on good fruit character. This wine is evenly balanced, with firm tannins and bright acidity. Spicy, chocolaty flavors of black fruits finish with a not-too-forceful dash of brown sugar. Drink through 2024. —M.S.
Chateau Ste. Michelle 2015 Indian Wells Merlot (Columbia Valley); $18, 90 points.
Barrel aromas are at the fore, with notes of vanilla, cocoa and milk chocolate out in front of blackberry and black cherry. The palate also mixes fruit and barrel, showing pleasing depth of flavors and intensity along with a silky texture. —S.S.
Mendel 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon (Mendoza); $25, 90 points.
Ripe aromas of cassis, prune and brandied black cherry indicate the concentration on this Cabernet. A palate that doesn’t hold back is jammy but a bit heavy. Ripe berry, toast and charred flavors take on a chocolaty note on the finish. This wine is all about full extraction and big fruit. Drink through 2022. —M.S.
And finally, if you really don’t want to have to brave the outside weather all the weekend, it’s never a bad idea to opt for the box.
Vin Vault NV Cabernet Sauvignon (California); $20/3 L, 88 points.
This may be the most serious California boxed wine on the market, showing great flavor concentration and an appetizing texture that’s laced with fine-grained tannins. It has a deep red-black color, blackberry and dark chocolate aromas and a lip-smacking finish. Best Buy. —J.G.
Published on November 10, 2017
TOPICS: Red Wine
In late August, Barbara and Bill Steele watered the grapevines of their award-winning vineyard, providing them with a much-needed soaking on a 90-degree day. With the Chetco Bar wildfire burning 60 miles away, a smoky haze hovered over their fields and much of Southern Oregon’s Applegate Valley.
Yet inside the new tasting room at Cowhorn Vineyard & Garden, the Steeles’ Demeter-certified Biodynamic® vineyard, guests breathed easy as they sipped on wine and nibbled on house-brined asparagus and Biodynamic® cherry chutney.
Completed in the spring of 2016, the bright and welcoming tasting room is not only free of harmful smoke and other outdoor air pollutants; it’s free of common indoor air pollutants as well. It’s the first tasting room in the world to have received the rigorous Materials Petal in a third-party certification process called the Living Building Challenge, which verifies that the building is free of toxic and bio-accumulative substances pervasive in most building materials. Invisible to the human eye and often odorless, these chemicals are not nearly as obvious as the smoke caused by the nearby wildfire. Yet, they can be just as harmful to our health.
“A building with healthy indoor air quality has a huge impact on the well-being of the occupants – especially for people who suffer from asthma, allergies or other respiratory problems,” says Erica Dunn, Director of Design at Green Hammer and the architect of the tasting room at Cowhorn Vineyard & Garden.
“It was important to us that the tasting room, like our wine, be a reflection of our values,” says Barbara Steele. “We are proud that we can tell our customers that this building is not harmful to their health. We don’t need to tell them, though. They can feel the difference.”
Helping people make healthy decisions
The EPA estimates that people spend up to 90 percent of their time indoors, where on a normal day the air quality is worse than it is outside. In most buildings, the concentrations of some pollutants are often two to five times higher than typical outdoor concentrations due to airborne pollutants coming from the building’s materials and other indoor sources.
For Dunn, ensuring healthy indoor air quality in the buildings she designs is as important as the quality of light or the flow of space – it’s a critical component to making a successful building. Until recently, trying to rid buildings of toxic chemicals was daunting, bordering on impossible, Dunn says. That’s because, except for a small percentage of known harmful chemicals regulated by the EPA, there is no requirement that manufacturers of building products disclose the ingredients in their products. “If you’re allergic to a certain ingredient such as peanuts, food labels can save your life,” Dunn says. “That’s not the case with most manufactured products.”
When selecting building materials for the tasting room at Cowhorn Vineyard & Garden, Green Hammer could not simply look up a type of flooring in a catalogue and find out what ingredients it contained. For each and every building material, ranging from 2x4s to doorknobs to drywall, Green Hammer had to contact the manufacturer to request this information. It was often not readily available.
But the tide is slowly shifting, thanks to pressure from companies like Cowhorn Vineyard & Garden and much larger players like Google that view healthy indoor air quality as a key to success. In 2014, with 70 offices in 40 countries, Google was seeking an easier way to find information about the materials it was considering for its office buildings. So it invested in Portico, a database of building products started by the Healthy Buildings Network. One can look up a product by manufacturer, product category, and whether or not it meets Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) and Living Building Challenge standards. While the tool is still in a pilot phase, it could dramatically shift the market by driving demand for products that are safer for human health.
“We all have a right to know what’s in our buildings,” Dunn says. “Businesses like Cowhorn are paving the way, making it easier for others to make smarter decisions about how they design and build. Green Hammer is excited to support them in this goal because it’s aligned with our values, too.”
Barbara Steele grew up in Marin County, moving to the Terra Linda/Marinwood area when she was 5 years old.
“I went to Oak View, Miller Creek and then to Terra Linda High School,” says Steele, 55.
It was a normal Bay Area career arc; she obtained an undergraduate degree from the University of California at Berkeley and an MBA from the University of Colorado. Back in the Bay Area, she worked at various Marin small businesses as a controller and chief financal officer, meeting and marrying her husband, Bill. In 1990, they bought their first home in Novato.
The rest would have been a normal Marin County story except that the couple took to visiting family in Oregon for vacations. An interest in farming took root, and a casual interest in homeopathy led to a more serious interest in biodynamics. A conversation about the intersection of the two ideas on a return from just such a trip led the couple to make a major life change.
Cowhorn Vineyard & Garden was founded by the Steeles in 2003. She had been helping some organic farms with financial analysis for about a year and became interested in shifting her career to an agriculture-related field.
“We were enthralled by the focus on improving the land, making it richer at the end of the year than the beginning, and by the principles of promoting health for the entire estate,” she says.
They bought a dilapidated farm in Jacksonville, in Southern Oregon, quit their jobs and moved north.
“We were able to find a single piece of property that allowed us to build a model of an economically sustainable and scalable farm,” she says. “We started growing produce in 2004 — corn, melons and potatoes — and in 2005 we planted our first vineyard. We now have 25 acres of vineyards, 2 acres of asparagus, and 1 acre of assorted bee habitat, herbs and other produce.”
Often called extra-organic or something to that effect, biodynamics follows the beliefs of Rudolf Steiner, who also pioneered the Waldorf School method, by emphasizing observation, analysis and creativity in improving the vitality of an organism. Which, in this case, was the Steeles’ farm. Enlisting experts in biodynamics and grape growing, the couple planted 11 acres of grapes, including syrah, grenache, viognier, marsanne and roussanne.
“We grow Rhone varieties because that is what our soil and climate can support. Our vineyard sits on old river bed soil in a cold valley of the Applegate,” she says. “Our soils and climate are very similar to the Rhone regions. We selected these varieties because the terroir of our site would best support full expression of flavors from our estate-grown fruit.”
Simply put, their goal is to become the preeminent fine wine grower and perennial polyculture farm in the New World. “This essentially means that we will not monocrop,” Steele says. “And that we believe our farm will demonstrate that many different crops, from wine grapes to asparagus to fruit trees, can be grown sustainably from a soil perspective as well as an economic perspective.”
The biodynamic method is different from the organic method as it does not rely on manufactured products for its growing system. “BD relies on the ancient relationships between plants, climate, soil, microbes and all critters large and small to work together to create good tilth,” Steele says. “By supporting fully functioning soil, we create immunity for our plants from disease and pests, and we support full expression of flavors from the fruit.”
Cowhorn produces two white Rhone blends, a red Rhone blend, a grenache, a syrah and a reserve syrah. They also produce a viognier and reserve viognier, ranging in price from a modest $28 all the way up to $75, with most hovering around $40.
“We are a certified organic grower and winery,” Steele says. “We have documentation for every grape we have grown and every wine we have ever made that it met the OG standards.” Cowhorn’s certifier is Stellar Certification Services. But Cowhorn does not label their wines as organic, they are labeled as biodynamic, with the Demeter certification stamp on every bottle.
“I think that showing respect for our bodies, our minds, our planet and our fellow travelers on Earth defines us,” Steele says. “People who love Cowhorn love fine wines and care about their choices. When you make a choice to support Cowhorn, you are choosing something that supports good health, good tilth and good community.”
As for Marin’s impact on her professional life, Steele says it was critical. “Working in small business in Marin for 15 years was the most amazing experience. I had the opportunity to work for talented business owners who shared their experience and methods with me. I really cannot list all the stories of things my employers did for me. But I will tell you that I started Cowhorn because of the education and compassion I was shown by my employers in San Rafael.”
Cowhorn wines can be found at stores and restaurants throughout Marin. More information about the winery can be found at cowhornwine.com.
Jeff Burkhart is the author of “Twenty Years Behind Bars: The Spirited Adventures of a Real Bartender” and an award-winning bartender at a local restaurant. Follow him at jeffburkhart.net and contact him at email@example.com.
“It’s the biodynamic equivalent of construction,” Bill Steele, co-owner of the winery, said.
The tasting room at Cowhorn wasted only 5% of its materials in construction, provides enough solar power to be self-sustaining and leaves as minimal a carbon footprint as possible. Steele says he and his wife aim for that minimal footprint.
“That became the basis for our choosing biodynamic farming and the building was just an extension,” Steele said.
Steele says the building is “alive” in a sense. Instead of many typical materials, the tasting room was built out of local cedar, cork and core-10 steel that, instead of rusting, patinas instead to provide another protective layer when it rains along with a reddish-orange color.
From first signing the documents to take the challenge through construction, it’s taken three years to complete the building. Three weeks ago, the building earned that Living Building Challenge honor.
“Now we’ve got a tasting room that really stands out,” Steele said. “It is the first tasting room in the world to be certified Living Building Challenge and it’s something we take a lot of pride in.”
Steele takes even more pride in one other aspect of the tasting room.
“My wife and I are very proud that it was done in southern Oregon,” Steele said. “First of it’s kind. It wasn’t done in Washington, it wasn’t done in California. We had a tremendous group of anywhere from 50 to 75 subcontractors in the area that came together to build this building.”
Even from an outsider’s perspective, the building strikes the customer as one of a kind.
“It just looks different, it feels different, it’s got a cleanliness to it almost from an air quality perspective,” Steele said.
For our original coverage on Cowhorn Vineyard and Garden, click here.
To learn more about the Living Building Challenge, click here.
As of last week, there are only 64 buildings in the world Living Building Challenge certified – four of those are in Oregon.
Cowhorn builds first tasting room to LBC standards
Address 1665 Eastside Rd., Jacksonville
Hours Thurs.–Sun., 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.
By Maureen Flanagan Battistella
Cowhorn Vineyard & Garden’s new tasting room is a visual manifestation of Bill and Barbara Steele’s personal commitment to sustainability. Seated at the edge of the vineyard, near a rushing stream and under a bluff, the Cowhorn tasting room is an organic reflection of the landscape. Its muted colors harmonize with the setting and the building’s clean, simple lines don’t compete with the lush beauty of its surroundings deep in the Applegate Valley and along its river.
Completed in June 2016, Cowhorn’s is the first tasting room in the world built to Living Building Challenge (LBC) standards from the International Living Future Institute.
The Steeles’ farm and vineyard are Demeter-certified Biodynamic, so they are no strangers to rigorous standards, transparency and accountability. When they were ready to build a real tasting room, not just a space squeezed into the barn, Bill and Barbara buckled down to identify a building and design company able to execute their vision and reflect their Biodynamic philosophy. The Steeles found Green Hammer, a Portland design-build firm passionate about building green, and integrated progressive sustainable standards into their work, the Living Building Challenge among them.
“We want to create buildings that have no impact [on the land] or buildings that actually give back,” said Alex Boetzel, Green Hammer chief operation officer.
The company’s practice for any build is to work through an owner’s sustainability expectations in conversation and design to determine which standard is most appropriate for that build. It was the Living Building Challenge that made sense to the Steeles and best suited their ambitious vision.
“Biodynamic farmers have an aspirational goal to create a closed system, so we are challenged to minimize the outside inputs we bring onto the property,” Bill said. “The Living Building Challenge is to architecture and design what Biodynamics is to farming.”
The Living Building Challenge standard is based on 20 imperatives organized into seven performance “petals” or areas: place, water, energy, health/happiness, materials, equity and beauty. Every directive within a petal must be met.
“If you are so inclined, you can accept anywhere from one to seven challenges,” Bill explained. “Barb and I, in our wisdom, chose all seven.”
Green Hammer realized the materials petal was the most challenging LBC standard to satisfy.
“The core of the materials requirement is that there are 20 compounds that cannot be included in any material component that finds its way into the project,” Boetzel explained, specifically mentioning polyvinyl chloride, or PVC, found in many commonly used products such as hoses, valves and pipes. “Typically, manufacturers aren’t inclined to share information about material components, so there’s a lot of time that goes into product research and follow-up with material suppliers, vendors and subcontractors to be sure they’re willing to cooperate.”
Occasionally, the supplier isn’t even aware of where they’ve sourced their materials, like gravel or water, or which additives have been used. Subcontractors had to be trained to use only materials specifically selected for the project and understand that a bolt or adhesive couldn’t be casually introduced to the worksite because all materials must be vetted.
The LBC standards relate not only to construction, but also to operation and the mandates must be documented and metered for 12 months before certification is granted. For example, the water and energy petals demand the building, renovation or landscape and infrastructure be net positive; the building must collect and treat all water on site and produce more energy than it uses.
Both the Steeles and Green Hammer agree the Cowhorn tasting room will achieve full Living Building Challenge certification. “It will be a year of audits and inspections,” Bill said, but by the end of the year, Cowhorn’s may be the 41st building in the world that will be fully certified, the first tasting room fully certified and the first commercial building in Oregon fully certified.
Cowhorn’s new tasting room is not only sustainable, it is stunning. The building is a beautiful assembly of recycled steel, cork walls that soften sound and insulates, rock culled from the fields and crushed for foundation and roads, and recycled glass. The rock, steel and cork surfaces are visually appealing and also a tactile delight, the contrast of textures evident to the eye and the hand. The white glass backing the bar reflects the vineyard, surrounding hills and forests, inviting the outside indoors.
The Steeles know first hand both agriculture and winemaking entail much work and a mix of science and art. The new Cowhorn tasting room fuses the science of sustainability and the art of design to represent their wine philosophy, their core beliefs.