Monday, October 20, 2014

Finger Lakes Riesling: Sheldrake Point

Few wine regions know how to get a Twitter conversation going like New York's Finger Lakes AVA.  The Finger Lakes Wine Alliance recently took to social media to celebrate the launch of the 2013 vintage of Finger Lakes Rieslings.  The group claims as their own the title of, "North America's premier cool-climate wine growing region."  It's probable that only other North American wine growing regions would offer an argument.  Even so, it would just be sour grapes.

The Finger Lakes region is south of Lake Ontario, in central New York.  The glacier-sculpted lakes, great microclimates and talented winemakers make a wide variety of vitis vinifera wines, but the FLX is best known for its Rieslings.

I always like to point out that the International Riesling Foundation has developed a scale, the IRF "Riesling Taste Profile," to help consumers determine which of the many different styles of Riesling is in the bottle.  It is a methodology that Syrah producers would be wise to employ.  You will find the Riesling Taste Profile on most bottles of Riesling produced in the Finger Lakes.  I thought it was on all FLX bottlings, but through Twitter, @50StatesOfWine and @SandyWasserman pointed out to me that their bottles did not feature the scale.

Sheldrake Point 2013 Dry Riesling

Sheldrake Point Vineyards has been producing wine for over 15 years using grapes grown on their 44-acre vineyard on Cayuga Lake.  The site benefits from low elevation and a lakeside location.  Cayuga Lake is 600 feet deep and never freezes.  The warm and cool waters circulate to provide a tempering influence on the microclimate.  This makes the vineyard about 10 degrees warmer in the winter and slightly cooler in summer than other locations.

Every winery likes a good back story, and this one is blessed with a good one.  It was an abandoned dairy farm when discovered and pressed into a much nobler service, delivering much more interesting beverages.

Winemaker Dave Breeden and vineyard manager  Dave Weimann are the milkmen here, delivering a Riesling that tips the Ries-O-Meter to "dry."  It has only 0.7% residual sugar and hits a low 11.4% abv, so it's a pretty lean machine.  1,292 cases were produced.

The '13 Sheldrake Point Dry Riesling  has a pale greenish tint in the glass and gives a fruity nose.  A little peach, a little apricot, a little pineapple, and the aromas are pleasing.  Taking a sip, the mouthfeel is lush.  The flavors of peach and apple are laced with a gorgeous tinge of lemon zest and earth.  Acidity comes in on the mid-palate and stays for the long finish.  Minerals shoot through it all and give a crisp and refreshing experience.

Pairing suggestions came from @WineHarlots, "Enjoying @SheldrakePoint Dry Riesling. The bright citrus notes make me long to pair it with ceviche," and @ArtPredator thought it was, "a perfect match for Indian summer sunset picnic. Pairs well with ocean air!"  @WineCompass liked the "soft peach and lemon aroma, leads to citrus cream, minerals, and nice acids."  I liked the tropical notes, and I was not alone.  @dallaswinechick and @GrapeBelt tweeted, "Those tropical notes are rising as the wine warms and opens a bit."

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Friday, October 17, 2014

Holiday Wines 2014: A Great Dessert Wine From Santa Barbara County

A series on wines for the holidays

While winemaker at Zaca Mesa, Benjamin Silver started fooling around with small lots of Zinfandel, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Franc, and Nebbiolo.  It was this experimentation that laid the foundation for what would become his own label, Silver Wines.  After exiting Zaca Mesa, he started the work toward that goal and also became winemaker at White Hawk Vineyard.

Benjamin Silver Wines allows him to continue feeding his fascination of extremely small bottlings.  He produces Pinot Noir, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Viognier, Mourvedre, Syrah, Nebbiolo and Sangiovese - all grown in Santa Barbara County.

Oh, and there's this tallish, slender bottle of dessert wine that will top off your turkey tremendously.  Silver calls it, "the beast I call Fifty Cask."  He continues, "It is an animal, it’s own entity, and it morphed itself into a delicious tawny-styled dessert wine that should last and last and last."

In 2006, through a series of unfortunate events, Silver found himself with a cancelled vintage, 144 barrels of wine and no place to store them.  Two wineries did find enough space to accommodate them, and they stayed in their separate locations for a year.

The extended period of discontent ended when a fellow winemaker offered to take in his barrels and put them in a single large tank.  Silver says, "We sweetened it a little, and we bumped the alcohol a little.  There it still sits marinating in its own juices, and marrying its unique distinct personality into a smooth experienced operator.  No trace of the pain and anguish.  Only getting better with age."

Silver says, "Fifty barrels were selected over the course of time for this blend. The majority is 2002 through 2005 Cabernet Franc, Sangiovese and Cabernet Sauvignon.  There is a pinch of Syrah and Mourvedre in it as well."  Alcohol is rich, at 17.8%, and residual sugar hits 8%.

Fifty Cask Tawny Red Blend is a very dark ruby color, tinged with amber.  In the right light, it appears almost brown.  Raisins, burnt caramel and alcohol dominate the nose, with rich oak tones cascading forth.  The mouthfeel is full and tingly with tannins.  Dark fruit plays a part, but the star of the show, obviously, is the decade of oak.  Vanilla, brown sugar, clove, cinnamon, orange peel and nutmeg make cameo appearances, one after another.

At the risk of exposing myself as habit-driven, I could literally have this wine everyday.  All. The. Time.

The Silver Fifty Cask is one of a kind, produced only one time in a batch of about 2,500 cases.  The wine retails for $30 in the 500 ml bottle.  The various wines aged for an average of ten years.  Silver says it is good paired with a stinky cheese, a sweet dessert, or all by itself.

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Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Lodi Cinsault: Michael David Winery

Cinsault, the oh-so-blendable grape, got a moment in the spotlight during a Lodi Wines BrandLive virtual tasting event recently, and it made the most of its time in the spotlight.

The subjects of the soirée were four wines produced from grapes grown in Lodi’s Bechthold Vineyard.  Bechthold is Lodi’s oldest vineyard - planted in 1886 - and the Cinsault vines there are ancient, head-trained monsters - the kind winemakers respond to in the same way a starving man eyes a steak dinner.  Their reactions are basic, monosyllabic and guttural.  “Need! Want!”

Lodi Wine notes that old vines "tend to produce more intense wines because older vines naturally set lower crops."  The lower a vineyard's yield, the more concentrated are the aromas and flavors from those grapes.  "Bechthold’s old vines… continue to thrive while regulating their own fruit production, without a lot of human intervention:  the hallmark of 'old vine' viticulture."

Turley Cellars' Tegan Passalacqua claims, "Bechthold Vineyard defies what a lot of people think of Lodi wines.  It makes a red wine that is not heavy, not high in alcohol, but rather, light and refreshing.  It reminds me of crus Beaujolais in some ways – it has structure, but also high drinkability, and its aromatics are intoxicating, extremely perfumed."

Michael David Winery Ancient Vine Cinsault 2013

Michael and David Phillips have dirt in their blood.  Their family has farmed Lodi since the 1850s, raising grapes for a hundred years.  The brothers oversee the efforts of a family business that has pushed into the sixth generation.  Winemakers Adam Mettler and Derek Devries work with grapes from 650 acres of vineyards.  Vineyard Manager Emiliano Castanon supervises the growing of all those grapes.

The Michael David Ancient Vine Cinsault hits a Lodi-like alcohol level of 14.5% abv, a full percentage point higher than in the 2012 vintage.  Low tannin levels make it smooth, fantastic acidity makes it food friendly.  It's the only vineyard-designated wine in the Michael David line, and it retails for $25.

This very dark wine sports a nose of wild, dark berries and oak spice resulting from twelve months aging in neutral French oak.  On the palate, rich berry and savory notes hit it off just fine together.  The finish lingers, with raspberry and an herbal element remaining long after the sip.  Give this wine time to breathe, and it is as smooth as silk.

On Twitter, @JamesTheWineGuy commented that this wine shows "an amalgam of red flowers, spice, lavender, game & cherry, while @norcalwine gave "Kudos to Michael David for using the 4+ year old French oak. A great choice for the Cinsault."  @dvinewinetime tweeted that "The @MDWinery 2013 Cinsault is inky purple; crisp cranberry & full roundness. Excellent!"
@sperkovich liked the "summer strawberry nose, little cherry, nice mouthfeel, wee bit o spice," and @norcalwine noted that "There's a touch of chocolate in the Michael David too. Tasty wine. Pair with a med-rare burger."  More tasting notes from @martindredmond: "aromatic with hazelnut, kirsch, strawberry, dried rose and spice aromas."

The hour-long BrandLive Twitter-based event from late September threw the Lodi spotlight on Bechthold Vineyard, where the Cinsault grapes are grown for the following wines:

2013 Michael David Winery Ancient Vine Cinsault ($25)
2013 Turley Wine Cellars Cinsault ($17)
2012 Estate Crush Cinsault ($26)
2011 Onesta Cinsault ($29)

@MsPullThatCork noted the stats: "1 vineyard, 3 vintages, 4 winemakers. Gr8 look @ Bechthold Vineyard Cinsault," while @PullThatCork also commented favorably, "Really interesting Cinsault tasting tonight. Glad I could participate. Thanks!"  @dvinewinetime tweeted that, "As a whole, Bechthold Vineyard in Lodi brings us some of the best Cinsault. MUST try."  @norcalwine commented on the "truly lovely set of wines," and @JamesTheWineGuy felt there is "a future for Cinsault; some people are seeking light-medium bodied red wines."  @martindredmond was reminded of, "Pinot Noir or Cru Beaujolais in terms of aroma flavor profile," and @ReverseWineSnob said, "If I had known how good these were I would have saved a couple bottles for Thanksgiving! Hope I can buy more!"  As is customary in these Twitter events, @WineHarlots got in a nice parting shot: "Come for the wines, stay for the Lodi hospitality."

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Monday, October 13, 2014

The Malbec Surprise

She is ordering a glass of wine?  Red wine?  My wife likes a little vino now and then, but hardly ever has a glass when we go to out dinner unless we are at an Italian restaurant where she can get her Vermentino on.  She loves to get her Vermentino on.

Feeling a little pressure lately to watch her health, she decided to go with a red wine, that healthful elixir shot full of the resveratrol that will surely keep us healthy - maybe even grant us eternal life, if we consume in moderation.

A Malbec, she orders.  An Argentine Malbec.  It's from Bodega Catena Zapata, and it is from the Vista Flores appellation in Tunuyán, of the Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina.  Based on the altitude of the Vista Flores area - around 3,100 to 3,200 feet - it would seem that the grapes were taken from the Catena family's La Pirámide vineyard.  However, they do like to blend different microclimates - from the different elevations of their various vineyards in the Andes mountains.

The Catena Vista Flores Malbec shows a beautiful ruby color and offers a lovely nose full of cherry and plum aromas. In the mouth, it's full of nice, peppery, red fruit with juicy acidity and firm tannins.  The 13.5% alcohol level is moderate and the wine is nicely balanced.

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Friday, October 10, 2014

Holiday Wines 2014: Riverbench

A series on wines for the holidays

October means it is not too early to start thinking about holiday wines.  I think about them all year long.  As the months pass, I make little lists of the wines I want on my holiday table, with my holiday feast.  I know I'm not alone in that little obsession.  I hope I'm not, anyway.

I have asked some wine folks to help me do a little less obsessing this holiday season by outlining which of their wines they feel are special.  The requests went out right about the time harvest was getting underway - great timing! - so I really appreciate the effort the responses required.

image courtesy

Laura Booras is General Manager of Riverbench Vineyard and Winery in Santa Maria, CA.  The former tarheel moved from North Carolina to California wine country in 2004.  It was no surprise - her family has ties in the business end of wine.

Laura is a bit of an expert on pairing wine with food, so we should all pay attention to her suggestions and benefit from them.  She recommends the following Riverbench wines for your holiday feasting and entertaining:

2011 Cork Jumper Blanc de Blanc Demi Sec sparkling wine ($38)
Laura says, "Don't be fooled: this wine is anything but super sweet.  The touch of residual sugar brings out a whole different flavor profile of lime and brioche.  It's perfect for an aperitif (think blue cheese quiches) or creamy desserts (panna cotta, cheesecake, pumpkin pie)."

2011 Cork Jumper Blanc de Blancs sparkling wine ($38)
"This sparkler is celebratory and delicious - our classic and traditional take on sparkling wine, boasting pretty flavors of lemon curd, yeasty brioche, apple and pear, so it's a nice addition to the holiday table.  I pair it with cheese plates, salads, also quiche and other yummy bites."

2013 Rosé of Pinot Noir ($22)
"Light and fresh, this wine pairs mouthwateringly well with almost any food.  It's a classic with turkey (especially our brined turkey recipe).  Rosé and turkey is one of my favorite things."

2011 Mesa Pinot Noir ($48)
"I call this my Thanksgiving wine because of its stronger clove and spice aromas and flavors. Elegant, smooth red fruit flavors coat the tongue, and the finish of earth and mushrooms adds a sophisticated tone.  It’s just lovely with stuffing and gravy, and if a little lingers for dessert, that’s ok, too."

Laura Booras
General Manager
Riverbench Vineyard and Winery

Vineyard, Tasting Room, and Mailing Address:
6020 Foxen Canyon Road
Santa Maria, California 93454

Visit us at our new location in Santa Barbara’s “Funk Zone:”
137 Anacapa Street, Suite C
Santa Barbara, CA 93101

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Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Whole Foods Market: NZ Oyster Bay Chardonnay

Whole Foods Market has another social media get-together planned to spotlight their New Zealand wines.  The Twitter tasting event is set for Thursday October 9, 2014 from 7:00 to 8:00 p.m. CT.

To participate in the virtual tasting event, get the wines at a Whole Foods Market near you, take them home, log onto Twitter and stay ready with the hashtag: #WFMwine.  Using the hashtag in your tweets will channel your comments into the stream with everyone else's.  To follow along, set up a search for #WFMwine and save it.  It's very easy to keep in the flow that way.

Here are the wines which are set to be the topic of the October 9th Twitter tasting:
Sophora Sparkling Cuvée
Kim Crawford Pinot Gris
Grove Mill Pinot Noir

A previous event featured these wines:

Wairau River Sauvignon Blanc
Oyster Bay Chardonnay
Villa Maria The Red Blend

All the wines are available in the wine department at Whole Foods Market.  Get yours, get set and get ready to tweet about what's in your glass.

Oyster Bay's stated winemaking philosophy is to produce "elegant and assertive wines with glorious fruit flavours."  A noble objective, sure, and one on which they deliver.  The real calling card of their wines, however, is their monumental minerality.  Their Sauvignon Blanc is well known and loved, and found on restaurant wine lists everywhere.  It is laden with enough minerals to form a quarry.  The mineral-driven fruit of their Chardonnay takes the same path.

The Chardonnay grapes used to make this wine grow in the Marlborough region, on the northeastern tip of New Zealand's South Island - in vineyards located in the Wairau Valley and the Awatere Valley.  The Whole Foods wine department calls this a "sleek, well- balanced white" with a "whisper of oak."   Both French oak barrels and steel tanks were used for fermentation, with an additional six months of aging in oak.  No malolactic fermentation was employed, so it is as crisp as can be.  Alcohol is restrained, at 13.5% abv and it retails for $14 at Whole Foods.

This New Zealand Chardonnay shows off a pale green tint, with a slight frizzante - bubbles cling to the sides of the glass.  The nose screams minerals, along with citrus and apple aromas. On the palate, a strong citrus flavor and mineral tartness marries perfectly with the bracing acidity.

The Wine Guys at WFM say to pair it with Gruyère cheese, fish or squash with caramelized onions or onion soup.  I say, that sounds great - but try it with some hummus and pistachios for a great snack.

The Whole Foods Wine Guys - @WFMWine - opened the comments on this wine with "Oyster Bay Chard. Love this wine, drank many a bottle visiting a few years back. We Americans love Oyster Bay winery."  @AIRNZUSA tweeted, "We're definitely picking up the lemon aroma in this one!"  @davidnzwineusa admitted, "drink this wine often at home. Classy balanced and a gr8t value to boot."  @vespaspeed1 noted, "tastes like summer and good for any occasion."  @WFMSantaFe had an interesting question from a customer: "Do you have half bottles of the Oyster Bay? If I had a whole bottle I'd drink it all!"  Get the whole bottle and be proud of your restraint.

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Monday, October 6, 2014

An IPA For The People, Especially When The People Eat Seafood

We have several favorite restaurants, the wife and I, and one of them is Connie and Ted’s, the awesome seafood place on Santa Monica Boulevard.  They do lobsters, clams and oysters for those who are religious in their pursuit of such items.

She likes the lobster rolls, usually.  I had the smoked mahi mahi on this visit and will not rest until I have it again.  Pictured are the Stuffies, incredible little breaded balls of smoky Portuguese sausage and garlic.  You can get a great calamari or octopus salad there, too.

I had the Eagle Rock Populist IPA with my meal.  It’s made for seafood, with aromas of citrus - lemon rind - and hops, of course.  It is not crazy hoppy, although in my book crazy hoppy is quite alright with me.  This West Coast India Pale Ale from Southern California has a 7% abv number.

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Friday, October 3, 2014

Holiday Wines 2014: Wes Hagen

It's October now, which means the Halloween decorations have been in the seasonal display racks at your local merchant since the glow wore off of "Back To School."  I'll take that as a cue that it is not too early to start thinking about holiday wines.  I think about them all year long.  As the months pass, I make little lists of the wines I want on my holiday table, with my holiday feast.  I know I'm not alone in that little obsession.

The Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays traditionally involve lots of family, so whatever wines you choose to highlight will be special, owing to the simple fact that they were along for the ride.  It's nice to put a little thought into it, though.  I have asked some wine folks to help me do a little less thinking this holiday season by outlining which of their wines they feel are special.  The requests went out right about the time harvest was getting underway - great timing! - so I really appreciate the effort the responses required.

The very first response I received was from a Santa Barbara County winemaker who has become indispensable to his industry.  When he's not making some of the best Pinot Noir in the Sta. Rita Hills, he's busy drafting the papers to make a new American Viticultural Area happen, or working to prevent an existing AVA from being expanded.  Wes Hagen, of Clos Pepe Vineyards, has some very specific ideas about a holiday feast and the wines that go with it.  I'll let him explain:

"I think a West Coast Christmas should start with a few dozen Morro Bay oysters and a bottle or three of chilled Axis Mundi Mourvedre Rose!  Another great match is Dungeness Crab with garlic butter.  This is a bone dry rosé with low alcohol, which will help your traveling guests get home safely."

"Ham or turkey matches beautifully with a 2011 Clos Pepe Estate Pinot Noir, which just won a Gold Medal at the Los Angeles International Wine Competition.  Pinot noir has bright acidity that can cut through gravy or a glaze, and the bright fruit will refresh the palate and charm the soul."

"Thinking of something a bit richer, like lamb or ribeyes on the grill?  It’s not Santa Barbara, but the Olin Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon is our sister brand and we can’t get enough of this balanced, sumptuous offering.  And the price is hard to beat!  Big red meats love the tannin structure of Cab."

"And don’t forget to make the Spirits Bright with our 100% pinot noir grappa!  Great to drizzle in coffee, on top of some apple sorbet, or straight up sipping!"

Wes Hagen, Vineyard Manager/Winemaker

Learn Wine: Clos Pepe Vineyards and Estate Wines:
Buy wine:  email Wes after setting up an account to get best pricing

Vineyard:  4777 East Highway 246, Lompoc, CA 93436
Office:  (805) 735-2196     Cell: (805) 886-0325  FAX: (805) 736-5907
National Sales Manager: Andrew Turner 310-486-2080,
Twitter:  @weshagen, @clospepe, @staritahills
Facebook:  Wes.Hagen

Tasting Room:  Taste of Sta. Rita Hills (Thursday-Sunday)
1505 East Chestnut (Back of the Wine Ghetto), Lompoc, CA (805) 735-8774

“Every wine deserves an hour at table, delicious food and two people in love.  Wine cannot be fully understood unless all three of these conditions are met."  --WD Hagen

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Whole Foods Shows Off New Zealand Wines: Wairau River

Whole Foods Market is celebrating wines from New Zealand this fall, and they are taking to social media to alert the wine-loving public.  There is a virtual tasting event set - one occurred in mid-September - for Thursday October 9, 2014 from 7:00 to 8:00 p.m. CT.

To participate in a virtual tasting event, get the wines at a Whole Foods Market near you, take them home, log onto Twitter and stay ready with the hashtag: #WFMwine.  Using the hashtag in your tweets will channel your comments into the stream with everyone else's.  We always have so much fun that way!  To follow along, set up a search for #WFMwine and save it.  It's very easy to keep in the flow that way.

One of the wines featured in the September event was the Wairau River Sauvignon Blanc 2013.

Wairau River Family Estate Wines is one of the largest independent wine producers in Marlborough, on New Zealand's South Island.  It has been a family operation since Phil and Chris Rose got the kegs rolling in 1978.  The Rose family has enough members to start a small town, and Sauvignon Blanc is their flagship wine.  They also produce Pinot Gris, Riesling, Gewürztraminer, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.

The grapes for this Sauvignon Blanc grew on some of the oldest vines on the Wairau River estate, planted in 1983.  The alcohol is a very moderate 13% abv and it retails at Whole Foods for  $17.  The winemaker notes that it does not have to be consumed immediately - it will cellar well for two to three years.

This is real New World Sauvignon Blanc, with a grassy, grapefruity overlay on the nose that allows aromas of pineapple and lemon-lime to come forward.  In a word, sensational.  The sip does not disappoint, as the palate shows extremely bright acidity and a fresh-as-a-daisy mouthfeel.  Clean and crisp all the way to the finish, flavors of green apples and grapefruits get a tropical twist.  As it happens so often with this variety, a bit of springtime escapes when you unscrew the cap.

Whole Foods advises pairing this with seafood enchiladas - which sounds really good - and fennel salad.  On the label, the winery suggests that it is "best savored with high-jinks and convivial company."  Any type of seafood will swim up the Wairau River for this Sauvignon Blanc.

On Twitter, @WholeFoods kicked things off with an invitation to "follow our wine experts @WFMWine... They'll be sharing all sorts of knowledge!"  @WFMWine - the chain’s wine guys - had a little fun with the notion that New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc smells… well, different. "You guys like this wine? not 2 much cat pee, sometimes overwhelms the nose.this one doesn't at all.u guys smell much pee?"

Once the tasting got started, @craigabarrett opened the discussion of the Wairau River Sauvignon Blanc with, "Effervescent nose. Strong green apple jolly rancher notes. Medium + body," and we were off to the races.  Many Whole Foods stores across the country were participating by pouring for shoppers. @WFM_Louisiana noted, "Broad St. guests are describing the Wairau River Sauvignon Blanc as "tart" and "heart warming."  @kuqofywukuqo answered a Tweeted question: "What do you think of the Wairau River? We love it!"  @MomsToolbox tweeted, "Wow! Love the grapefruit & green apple in this zesty Wairau River Sauvignon Blanc!"

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Monday, September 29, 2014

Brewer-Clifton Chardonnay Sta. Rita Hills 2011

The 2011 Brewer-Clifton Sta. Rita Hills Chardonnay was only $10 by the glass at Westside Tavern, downstairs from the Landmark Theater in the big mall on Pico.  It's $40 per bottle retail, and the winery website shows that it is sold out.

On the nose, citrus, floral, pear and peach aromas put on a show, while the palate has all that lovely fruit plus a slight touch of oak.  The smoky vanilla flavor is fantastic.  There is also a savory aspect which reminds me a little bit of an Italian wine.  The acidity is bright and fresh, and the wine finishes very cleanly and briskly.

That savory touch is described by Brewer-Clifton this way: "a saline quality that promotes an age worthy structure, the uniqueness of a wine region bordered on two of its four sides by the Pacific Ocean is clear."  And, it is true that Santa Barbara County is two sides to the sea, so a maritime influence should be expected.

Three vineyards in the Sta. Rita Hills contributed grapes to this wine, 3-D, Sweeney Canyon and Gnesa.  The winery says their goal was to put forth "a comprehensive expression of the appellation," which it seems has been accomplished.

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Friday, September 26, 2014

Wine Event: Rhone Rangers Los Angeles 2014

Early September held a great treat for Los Angeles lovers of the Rhône style of wine.  The Rhône Rangers convened for their annual SoCal event at Vibiana in downtown L.A.  The repurposed church is a great place to hold an event for those who worship the grape varieties of the Rhône Valley.  A more irreverent reverence you will not likely find, church or no church.

For the unordained, the Rhône Rangers are an organization formed solely to celebrate the grapes of Rhône, especially as realized in California terroir.  Bring on Syrah, bring on Grenache, bring on Viognier, yeah verily, bring on Roussanne - and plenty of it.  Our prayers have been answered.

Cornerstone Cellars’ managing partner Craig Camp (right) poured a single vineyard Syrah rosé, the 2013 Corallina by Stepping Stone.  It's one of my favorite California pinks.  The Napa Valley vineyard from which these grapes come is west of the Oak Knoll district, almost in Carneros.  The aromas and flavors, while fruity, are more complex than those generally found in pink wines.  This is one Syrah rosé in which the Syrah really shows up for work. It's deeply-colored and richly textured.  It looks pink, but it drinks red.

Camp had been in Maine the previous week on a sales trip.  He noted that "the sales of whites and rosés just fall flat there after Labor Day,” which is a shame, considering how much lobster there is to be consumed there.  Camp says his Corallina rosé does hit it off with lobster, but it will really go great with the Thanksgiving turkey, so there is no need to retire it until spring.

The Stepping Stone 2012 Syrah comes from a vineyard “right at the top” of Atlas Peak in Napa.  It’s beefy and rich with a brilliant acidity.

The Crux Russian River Valley GSM rosé was the next stop.  Terribly warm day out, so plenty of great rosés were more than welcome.  In this one, Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre blend to make a bright and vibrant wine.  Very nice acidity marks this fruity but dry pink wine.  The Crux Viognier has a five percent splash of Sauvignon Blanc.  Floral and fruity, this was another real refresher.

When I told Zaca Mesa’s Dane Campbell of an upcoming Now And Zin series on holiday wines, he said, "Rhone wines go great with Thanksgiving."  The Zaca Mesa Roussanne fits that bill, with a great nutty flavor and bright acidity.  The Zaca Mesa Viognier throws pear and peach flavors into the acidity and comes up with a lovely, savory finish.

Tercero WinesLarry Schaffer (left) always seems to be going for the title of “Hardest-Working Wine Man in the Santa Ynez Valley.”  At every event - and he’s at them all - Schaffer is always pouring.  One more taste for one more potential customer.  It's why my pictures of him always feature one blurry arm.  He pours his reds from huge flasks, which is always an attention-getter.

The Tercero Mourvèdre rosé is “foot-stomped, with only an hour of skin contact,” he says. Great fruit is on display here, with only a slight funkiness.  It’s the funky part that makes this another of my favorite rosés.  Tercero's Grenache Blanc has a bold savory note and great acidity.  The Tercero Roussanne shows complex aromas and flavors, led by almonds and apricots.

Paso Robles producer Summerwood Winery makes a Grenache Blanc which is fermented half in concrete and half in neutral oak.  It's great nose has bushel baskets of peaches and a fabulous savory component on the palate.  The grapes were grown at an elevation of 1,800 feet, and the cool nights makes for wonderful acidity.  It's a really beautiful wine.

Pomar Junction's Rosé of Syrah has a very deep color, quite like a Spanish Rosado.  It is loaded with fruit and flavor.  The Pomar Junction blend of Roussanne, Grenache Blanc and Viognier is a natural choice for the holiday table.  It has great body, yet it's fresh and crisp.  The spicy palate is a treat.

The Kenneth Volk table is the one to which the genuine grape nerds always gravitate. Volk was not present at this event, but his assistant filled in ably, chatting with the tasters about vineyards and clones and proper ph levels.  The Volk Grenache has a very nice, light color.  It looks like it may be trying to slip by as a rosé. Fantastic acidity will make this a hit at the dinner table. An unbelievably savory note gives way to a bright cherry flavor in one of the most dramatic start-to-finish changes I have experienced.  Of the few wines time allowed me to taste, this was my favorite.

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Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Finger Lakes Rieslings To Be Celebrated

The group in charge of marketing New York’s Finger Lakes wine region - the Finger Lakes Wine Alliance - will host a virtual tasting event on Twitter this month.  The event - not that they need an excuse, they’ll talk about wine at the drop of a corkscrew - is the launch of the 2013 vintage of Finger Lakes Rieslings. The #FLXRiesling Hour is coming up on Saturday September 27, 2014, from 7:00 to 9:00 p.m. ET.

Wine writers are receiving samples and will hop online to tweet up the '13 Rieslings with Finger Lakes winemakers and fans. You can also check in through the Ustream video channel. All of September, by the way, is dedicated to the Finger Lakes Riesling Launch.

To take part, just get a Finger Lakes Riesling or two and jump in with your tasting notes. Even if you don't have a bottle handy, it's a fun way to connect with other Riesling fans. During the event, use the hashtag #FLXWineVT or direct comments to the FLWA at @FLXWine.

The FLWA bills the Finger Lakes as North America's premier cool-climate winegrowing region.  Located in the east-central part of New York, south of Lake Ontario, the Finger Lakes AVA is recognized - by most who offer their opinion - as the best source for Rieslings in America.  The slate soil and microclimates near the three main Finger Lakes make for the good growing of Riesling grapes.
Finger Lakes winemakers say that young Finger Lakes Rieslings show lots of fruit, while more complex notes appear over time.  They also noted that wines from cooler vintages age better than those of warm vintages.
Minerals and citrus are the hallmark notes of Finger Lakes Riesling wines, which can range from very dry to very sweet.  How do you know which are which?  Sometimes, the label will explain the sweetness level in the wine’s name.  There is some help for the consumer, though, when that doesn’t happen.
The International Riesling Foundation has created a "Riesling Taste Profile," which appears on the label of all Finger Lakes Rieslings.  It’s a drawing of a meter, showing the sweetness level of the wine.  It is a concept which might well be adopted by makers of Syrah wines, since that grape shows quite differently from cool and warm climate designations.  It’s a great way to help consumers know what to expect in the bottle.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Behind-The-Scenes Grape Gets Spotlight

If you have more than a casual relationship with wines made from the Cinsault grape, you may already be a grape geek.  On the other purple-stained hand, you may enjoy Cinsault all the time without even knowing it.  It is a grape often blended with other, more famous grapes.  Cinsault will never win a wine Oscar for best grape, but it'll clean up in the taste editor category.  It's a role player in many rosé wines of Provence, it's in the mix of beaucoup Languedoc-Roussillon blends and it even stands alone in Lodi, California.

You can shake hands with some of the best Cinsault in California this week through social media.  The Wines of Lodi will host another in a series of virtual tasting events, held on video stream as well as Twitter.  The topic will be the stunningly complex, ancient-vine Cinsault wines from the famous Bechthold Vineyard.  The hour-long BrandLive event will occur Wednesday September 24th, at 5pm p.m. PT, 8 p.m. ET.

Bechthold Vineyard was planted in 1886 by Joseph Spenker and the 25-acre plot is not only the oldest producing vineyard in Lodi, but also one of the world's oldest Cinsault plantings.  Bechthold is the vineyard where the Cinsault grapes are grown for the following wines, which will be the subjects of the tasting.  I am told they will be tasted in this order during the event:

1. 2013 Michael David Winery Ancient Vine Cinsault ($25)

2. 2013 Turley Wine Cellars Cinsault ($17)

3. 2012 Estate Crush Cinsault ($26)

4. 2011 Onesta Cinsault ($29)

The hosts of the #LodiLive event will be Camron King, the Executive Director of the Lodi Winegrape Commission, Kevin Phillips, the VP of Operations for Phillips Farms and Michael David Winery, and Adam Mettler, General Manager and head Winemaker at Michael David Winery.

When the time arrives, go online - like you won't already be there - and sign into your Twitter account.  Pull up the livestream a little before show time and get ready to pour, swirl and sip.

Once you click on the link, you’ll see a box on the right hand side that says "Questions from the Audience."  Fill in your name and location and type your Comment or Question - the hosts will be able to view what you say immediately.  The Twitter on/off button is below the comment field.  You are encouraged to Tweet your comments.  You just need to log into your Twitter account on a separate tab or window. If you do not want a comment or question to show up on your Twitter feed, click the button to “off” or just hit submit and comment vs. tweet.

To insure that everyone's comments are in a specific stream, use the hash tag #LodiLive and Twitter handle @Lodi_Wine during the tasting.

Virtual tasting events are a lot of fun to do, and the BrandLive events with the folks from Lodi always get some very active participation.  You'll learn a lot about Lodi, a lot about Bechthold Vineyard and a lot about Cinsault.

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Friday, September 19, 2014

Rattle Them Oak Bones With Boneshaker Zinfandel

Boneshaker Zinfandel - the name is taken from the feel of the ride on a wrought iron bicycle - promises no smoothness, no elegance, no finesse.  Basically, it promises to whack you in the head with an oak barrel stave as you ride by, drunk, on your wrought iron bicycle.  If a bicycle shakes my bones, that's one thing.  It's another entirely when a wine does it.  If the ride on a wine is that rough, I'll leave it for the college crowd - I graduated from that class magna cum gahdahm laude, as David Bromberg sang.

An unusual blend, the 2012 Boneshaker is made from Lodi grapes, 88% Zinfandel and and 12% Cabernet Sauvignon.  It retails for $19.

The two things that make the Boneshaker ride so memorable are alcohol and oak.  15% alcohol content is a little more than I usually like in a wine unless it's a Port, and in that case I want a little more.  Boneshaker also spends over a year in French oak barrels, 70% of which are new.  A barrel made of new oak leaves its mark on a wine much more forcefully than does a barrel that has been used before.  The back label encourages us to "Feel It," so here goes.

This deep ruby wine sports a great nose.  Stick your nose into the glass and you get enough black pepper to prompt a sneeze.  Very dark fruit - blackberry, black cherry, plum - is mated with some fairly forceful oak effect that shoves a toasty barrel stave right into your face.  Not that that's a bad thing, if that's what you like.  The palate goes down the same tree-lined path, with big sweet fruit, big sweet oak and big sweet tannins.  Big is the operative word here, and that may actually fall short as a descriptor.

If I say Boneshaker Zinfandel is oaky to a fault, you could say, "Great!" if you like your Zinfandel to sprout acorns.  Of course, you might also say, "Too much oak is a fault!"  To which fans of the wine could respond, "Not if it's on purpose!" or some such witticism.  Hopefully a discourse of this nature won't degrade into a war of "Is too!" and "I know you are but what am I!" and "Mom, he's hitting me with the barrel stave again!"

Despite my predisposition against a wine this oaky, I can't help but admit it was fun to drink.  I think of it as the wine equivalent of eating candy instead carrots - a guilty pleasure.

The nice folks at Hahn Family Wines say Boneshaker is great when paired with a roast porchetta sandwich or Texas style chuck chili, although both of those dishes may be hard to handle while riding a wrought iron bicycle.

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Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Whole Foods Market: Wines Of New Zealand

Whole Foods Market is celebrating wines from New Zealand this fall, and they are taking to social media to alert the wine-loving public.  There are two virtual tasting events set - one on Thursday September 18 and the other on Thursday October 9, 2014.  Both tasting events are scheduled to run from 7:00 to 8:00 p.m. CT.

To participate in a virtual tasting event, get the wines at a Whole Foods Market near you, take them home, log onto Twitter and stay ready with the hashtag: #WFMwine.  Using the hashtag in your tweets will channel your comments into the stream with everyone else's.  We always have so much fun that way!  To follow along, set up a search for #WFMwine and save it.  It's very easy to keep in the flow that way.

You can also win a trip to New Zealand in the Whole Foods wine department.  Look here for details on the contest. You have until the end of September to enter for that prize.

Here are the wines which are set to be the topic of both Twitter tastings:

Thursday September 18, 7:00 - 8:00 p.m. CT:

Wairau River Sauvignon Blanc
Oyster Bay Chardonnay
Villa Maria The Red Blend

Thursday October 9, 7:00 - 8:00 p.m. CT:        
Sophora Sparkling Cuvée
Kim Crawford Pinot Gris
Grove Mill Pinot Noir

Get your wines, get set and get ready to tweet about what's in your glass.

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Monday, September 15, 2014

Riverbench Mesa Pinot Noir 2011

Riverbench Vineyard was established in 1973, and for decades it supplied great Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes to Santa Barbara County wineries.  In 2004 the winery was born, as the new owners decided to start their own label.  The vineyard is SIP certified, Sustainable In Practice.

2011 was a difficult growing season in the Santa Maria Valley, cooler than usual.  Crop yields were down about 30%, so the normally small batches produced at Riverbench got even smaller. Only 395 cases of the '11 Mesa Pinot were made.

The wine is all Pinot Noir - the Martini clone, if you're scoring at home.  The vines are among the oldest at Riverbench, from a four-acre block called "The Mesa."  Alcohol is pretty restrained, at only 13.7% abv.  This makes for a more elegant wine than is sometimes found in California Pinot.  The retail price is $48.  It is splurge-worthy, and gift-worthy, too.

Clarissa Nagy (pictured) became the Riverbench winemaker after Chuck Ortman retired in 2011.  She is perfect in this role, as she is quite a fan of Santa Maria Valley grapes.

The Mesa Pinot is a very dark wine, especially for Pinot Noir.  The Santa Maria Pinots I have sampled always seem to come on a little darker and a little heavier than other Pinots, especially those from Burgundy.  Acidity is usually quite good in Santa Maria Valley wines, too.

The nose gets down to business right away, and it stays busy.  What are your favorite Pinot smells?  They are here, in abundance.  Blasts of cola, black tea, black cherry and raspberry arise, all clamoring to be smelled first.  The palate offers a similar bounty, with the aroma package copied and pasted into the flavor profile.  Spices add to the taste bud workout, with nutmeg and cinnamon playing a big role.  A great minty note ties the tastes together with a bow on top, delivering them to a holiday table near you.

Great acidity means it's food-friendly, and the flavors are at least as festive as homemade cranberry sauce.  I would love it with roast or rack of lamb.

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Friday, September 12, 2014

Still Blazing Hot In L.A.: Italian Rosato Helps Out

A warm September Saturday evening, al fresco at Fabrocini’s Beverly Glen, one last rosé before the memory of summer slips away.  Aaah.

Wait a minute, who am I kidding?  It’s early September in Los Angeles.  The really hot weather hasn’t even gotten here yet.  October’s Santa Ana winds and brushfire hell still awaits.  Screw it.  I’ll have the rosé anyway.

Acquagiusta Rosato 2012 is made completely from Alicante grapes, harvested in the Levante Vineyard on the La Badiola estate right in the center of the Acquagiusta Farm in Maremma.  Alicante is also known as Garnacha Tintorea in Spain.  The farm is a 19th-century land management project initiated by the Grand Duke of Tuscany.  With a title like that, one might be expected to do a lot, but could also probably get away with doing very little.  I like to think this particular Grand Duke was a beehive of grand activity.  He was at least smart enough to name the farm after the underground spring located beneath his property.

The grapes of Levante Vineyard are described on the website as vigorous, rigorous and salubrious - descriptive in the peculiar way only a digitally translated text can be.  Alicante grapes are red through and through - not just in the skins - and this rosé is the result of an attempt to make a white wine with them.  They are gently and quickly pressed to minimize color extraction.

The effort to minimize the color leaves the wine a pale salmon tint.  The color may be minimized, but the smells are not.  Big strawberry and melon fruit aromas come forward, along with some of the green stems on which they grew.  There is a beautiful and refreshing acidity which joins the great fruit flavor - light and a bit tart, with a touch of watermelon candy.  The wine feels quite full in the mouth, owing to the vigorous, rigorous, salubrious nature of the Alicante grape.

It goes well with my penne and mushroom marinara.  So well, I’ll keep it mind for that late summer L.A. weather yet to come.

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Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Argentine Cabernet Value From Rutini

There have been some news accounts lately that the current inflation problem in Argentina may cause the great South American values from that country to dry up, while a British importer of Argentine wine says "the market is finally catching up with reality."

The importer is quoted in as saying that he feels Argentine wine producers should survive relatively unscathed, but the potential for difficulties in other areas persist.  “Strike action and domestic unrest are a very real possibility and logistics in Argentina are a constant headache," he notes.

All that will be determined in time, but there are still great values from Argentina.

The Rutini Trumpeter Cabernet Sauvignon is 100% Cab.  The wine underwent 100% malolactic fermentation, while aging occurred over nine months in French oak barrels - half of which were new and half of which were neutral.  The retail price is only $11 per bottle.

Inky dark, the wine gives a nose which places vanilla notes up against currant and red berries.  The palate shows toasty oak spices draped across the bright fruit and acidity.  Tannins are smooth, but not silky, and a hint of eucalyptus drifts by on the finish.  A delightful sense of minerals is present from the beginning to the end.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Smog City Hoptonic India Pale Ale

When you have an India Pale Ale, do you wonder where it got its name?  There is never anything pale about an IPA’s appearance.  Sit one next to a Budweiser, and it is obvious which of the two has the yellowy tint which prompted Firesign Theater to produce the fake ad for Bear Whiz Beer.  “It’s in the water!”

What is in the water with India Pale Ale is hops.  Plenty of hops.  Hops are flowers which are used in brewing to add a bitter offset to the sweetness of malt.  They also help in preserving beer.  I have always heard that the first India Pale Ale was made because spoilage was a problem on the long ocean voyage from England to India.  It appears that’s not actually correct, if I am to believe Wikipedia.  That source says the highly hopped beer became a favorite in India because of the taste and was given the name due to that popularity.

Wikipedia also offers a listing of the kinds of hops used in American craft IPAs today: “...distinctively American hops, such as Cascade, Centennial, Citra, Columbus, Chinook, Simcoe, Amarillo, Tomahawk, Warrior, and Nugget.”  Hop nerds must be the beer world’s equivalent to the wine world’s grape nerds, especially those grape nerds who actually know - and talk openly about - what clone they are drinking.  It might be fun to ask a bartender, "Is this Cascade or Chinook I'm tasting?"  Of course, the bartender might then decide that it's fun to not wait on you anymore.

Smog City Brewing Company was named, no doubt, after the most iconic element of life in Los Angeles - bad air.  They are located in Torrance, in the South Bay area of Southern California, even though I have never noticed too much smog down that way.  We keep our excess smog in the San Gabriel Valley.  It sits well against the mountains there.

Smog City’s head brewmaster Jonathan Porter - great beer name, right? - presides over the brews, collects awards and works with chefs in L.A. to pair his beers with great food.

Smog City’s Hoptonic IPA goes for $7 a glass at Westside Tavern on Pico.  It was hot that day, and a good IPA is one of my favorite warm-weather refreshers, so I drank it pretty quickly.  I did take time to note the aromas and flavors of citrus and a floral hops element that I love in this style of beer.

Smog City elaborates on Hoptonic a little more, citing “the exceptional flavor and aroma of west coast hops with notes of orange, citrus peel, tropical fruit, guava and floral honey. The lightly toasted caramel malt balances the resinous hop flavors and firm, yet balanced bitterness that make this beer a full bodied hop lovers' paradise.”  I'll try to drink it slower next time.

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Friday, September 5, 2014

Twin Syrahs From Different Barrels

A tale of two Syrahs, one of which - the Zaca Mesa Syrah 2010 - I gushed about in a previous post.  Now I turn to the Zaca Mesa 2010 Mesa Reserve Syrah. 

This 100% Syrah is made from Santa Ynez Valley grapes, estate grown in Zaca Mesa Vineyard's Mesa Block, planted in 2004.  Two different clones of Syrah were used - 174 and 383, if you are an inveterate grape nerd.  I would love to be knowledgeable enough to be able to say with a straight face, "I'd like a little more of the 174 and a little less of the 383," but I usually feel fortunate to be able say with conviction that it's either a red or white wine.

I can say that I would like a little more terroir and a little less oak, though.  This baby spent 17 months in French oak, 62% of which was new.  The other ZM 2010 Syrah spent almost as much time -16 months - in French oak, but the new oak was limited to 19% in that one.  It goes to show that a little matters a lot.

2010 being a cool vintage in the SYV, there is a good bit of spice and acidity.  Despite that, the wine is fruity enough to masquerade as a warm-climate Syrah.  It hits only 13.7% abv on the alcohol meter, 878 cases were produced and it retails for $48 per bottle.

The dark wine has aroma to burn.  Blackberry fruit plays large, while a hefty whiff of alcohol gets out right behind it.  Fans of the funk will love a tar note that grows each night the bottle is open.  As for flavors, what you smell is what you get.  Big, blackberry fruit dominates the palate, but a savory sensation does creep in a bit over time.  Every one of those 17 months in oak is present here, so be prepared for plenty of wood.  The tannins provide plenty to chew on, while the acidity is juicy.  Grab a steak and throw it near fire for a few minutes.  You are now prepared to pair.