Friday, November 21, 2014

Holiday Wines 2014: Bonny Doon Vineyards

Randall Grahm's Bonny Doon Vineyard has been providing holiday-worthy wines for more years than I have been drinking them - at least more years than I have been obsessed with them.

Grahm - the eloquent Rhône Ranger - has his own obsessions with which to grapple.  A pioneering spirit if there ever was one, he is currently obsessed with growing grapevines from seeds, rather than from cuttings.  His experimentation in that arena is rather new, so there's nothing to report.  Yet.

Being late in the year, he has been keeping himself busy lately with the rigors of harvest and the business of bottling his latest releases.  It is those we put forth as suggestions for your holiday table - or your holiday chair, if you prefer.  The man's wines are not only a cinch to pair well with food, but they also go down real well in sipping and thinking mode.

From his recent email, all descriptions by Grahm:

"Harvest 2014 came and went like a freight train through California, and apart from apocalyptic intimations of drought-related devastation/ruination, it was a very good, relatively abundant, if not preternaturally early vintage.

2013 Le Cigare Blanc, "Beeswax Vineyard"  $28
(55% Roussanne, 26% Grenache Blanc, 19% Picpoul)  We've made a very slight label change with this vintage.  An echo of the mineral character that we were able to express in the wonderful '11, but perhaps a tad richer on the palate. 1,965 cases produced.

2012 Syrah, "Le Pousseur"  $26
(48% Alamo Creek, 18% Bien Nacido, 18% Spanish  Springs, 16% Ventana)  From a number of cool climate sites, a fair amount of whole  clusters included, this is a savory Syrah of great restraint.  2,126 cases produced.

2013 Clos de Gilroy  $20
(75% Grenache, 17% Syrah, 8% Mourvèdre)  Grenache from the impeccable Alta Loma vineyard in the Arroyo Seco (a relatively cool site in every sense),  a rather textbook Grenache, with a lovely mineral aspect.  3,400 cases produced.

2013 A Proper Claret  $16
(46% Cabernet Sauvignon, 17% Merlot, 15% Tannat, 13.5% Petit Verdot, 7.7% Syrah, .8% Petite Sirah)  Nothing of course "proper" about this wine; it is the febrile imagining of what a restrained, elegant Cabernet-based wine might taste like in the New World.  15,920 cases produced.

2010 Le Cigare Volant  $45
(28% Syrah, 22% Grenache, 17% Cinsault, 17% Mourvèdre, 16% Carignane)  Continuing in our series of "Burgundian" vintages of Cigare with old-vine Cinsault playing a very important role in keeping the Syrah in check.  Yes, Carignane ain't a proper grape for faux-Châteauneuf.  We knew that, (but it does provide the wine a nice steely exoskeleton).  1,344 cases produced.

2010 Le Cigare Volant Réserve, "En bonbonne"  $79
This wine began life as precisely the same wine as the "normale," but was subject to élevage in glass, which has imparted a most unusual textural element and a great degree of savoriness. (Yeast lees are very rich in glutamate.)  547 cases produced.

2012 Contra  $18
(56% Carignane, 17% Syrah, 15% Grenache, 11% Mourvèdre, 1%  Cinsault)  Some (former) colleagues and wholesalers were not so keen about the old  "couch label" and persuaded me to change it to something a bit slicker and more  commercial (perhaps too kool for skool?).  We added a bit of cool climate syrah and grenache to the very old vine Carignane and Mourvèdre.4,720 cases produced.

2012 Grenache, "Cuvée R"  $48
This is a "special" selection of Grenache grown at what was formerly our "Ca' del Solo" Vineyard in Soledad, and is available exclusively to our DEWN Club members.  It seems to produce an extremely complex and concentrated Grenache.  (We're planting it at our new vineyard in San Juan Bautista and it looks incredibly promising).  593 cases produced.

2011 Syrah, "Bien Nacido Vyd., Block X"  $50
The ultra-consistent older Block X, planted with the "Estrella River" clone of Syrah (I suspect without any foundational evidence that it may actually be "Serine"), produces an extremely peppery, bacon-fat version of Syrah, far more consistently than modern clones.  463 cases produced.

2013 The Heart Has its Rieslings  $16
(52% San Benito County, 48% Monterey County)  From the Wirz Vineyard in San Benito and the Ventana Vineyard in the Arroyo Seco, this is a Kabinett style with 3% residual sugar.  2,912 cases produced.

2013 Vinferno  $24/375 ml.
(100% Grenache Blanc)  Not air-dried, frozen or botrytised, this is just very late harvested Grenache Blanc, but has appropriately enough, taken on a certain honeyed/beeswax character.  987 cases produced.

2011 Sparkling Syrah  $36
(Méthode traditionelle)  It's lately been an aspiration of mine to explore the wine styles that are most challenging to me.  I've always adored the idea of Sparkling Syrah (or Shiraz), but even James Halliday couldn't find one that I could abide.  Maybe it's maturation on my part or just a sudden shift in consciousness, but this is one I adore.  Only one small caveat: The wine is very, very fizzy, so please open with caution.  378 cases produced."

Randall Grahm
Bonny Doon Vineyard
Tasting Room: 450 Highway 1, Davenport, CA 95041

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Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Cimarone Gran Premio Sangiovese 2012

courtesy NileGuide
Guido and Tina invited us to a Hindu vespers service, and we went with them.  The sanctuary  (left) is probably the quietest place in Los Angeles, and I was quietly happy to chalk up another event on the list of things I've done while living in L.A. which probably would not have occurred had I been elsewhere.  The list includes chainsaw juggling, performance art featuring stories told by trombones, an eight-hour stage play and a man playing piano upside down while drinking beer.  And that's just the stuff I planned to attend.

There are countless unplanned events - seeing crazy radio head guy outside of rock’n’roll Denny’s, watching parking lot standoffs, buying earthquake T-shirts sold on street corners hours after the temblor, driving home during a martial law curfew, and seeing a possum chased by a professional baseball player in the middle of a game.  These are the sort of events that make people shake their heads and say, "Only in L.A."

Back at the sanctuary during the quiet meditation time, Guido leaned over to me and whispered, "Christopher Isherwood said the nuns here all look like axe murderers."  My wife leaned over from the other side and whispered, "Don't fart."  Years of radio experience allowed me to keep a straight face through all the heckling.  That nun did look a little severe, though.

Afterward, at their place, we had homemade lentil soup and cracked open Cimarone's 2012 Gran Premio Sangiovese.  It was served Italian style, in large shot glasses - which is very cool and continental but not good for swirling and sniffing.  We did our best anyway.

The estate grown grapes are from Three Creek Vineyard in the Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara AVA.  Winemaker Andrew Murray created a lush and ripe wine that hits 14.5% abv on the alcohol meter.  Neutral French oak barrels were used for the aging process, which took place over 16 months.  Only 98 cases of this CalItalia wine were made.

Gran Premio's nose is dominated by black cherry and rich oak spice.  Even in the limited swirling space the aromas couldn't help but escape.  Flavor-wise, the fruit is a little more cherry than black cherry, while the effect of the oak is pronounced but not overplayed.  Clove notes grace the ripe, ripe, ripe fruit and spices add a nice angle that will be greatly appreciated during the holidays.

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Monday, November 17, 2014

Wine And Food: Los Angeles Indian Restaurant Gets It Right

We have all dined in at least one restaurant - many more, I'm sure - in which the wine list left much to be desired.  A flimsy little sheet of paper bearing the names of a few wines you passed up at Ralph's on your way to dinner is nothing for a wine lover to get excited about.  And isn't it a shame that so often, that's what a wine list is?

Owners can blame it on the distributor, blame it on the customers, blame it on the economy or blame it on the Stones.  The thing is, if you run a restaurant where adults are expected to dine - and you want to be taken seriously - you'd better bring something to the table besides the bill.

Given this blustery preamble, it may surprise you to learn that I will eventually get around to writing about a good experience here.  A Los Angeles Indian restaurant that Denise and I frequented - for its dependable food and convenient location - changed hands.  For several reasons, we thought this was probably a good thing.  

The wine list there was something I rarely bothered to scan.  It was completely unimaginative, appearing to be the result of the distributor's desire to push some cheap wine that was in large supply.  The restaurateur did not drink wine and had no feeling for wine or the way it complements food.

Under new ownership, as Cardamom, things are quite different.  British chef Manju Choudhury is responsible for the changes in the kitchen and the place has taken on the stylish look of a modern London restaurant.  The food has definitely stepped a notch or two, from "dependable" to inventive and delectable Indian-inspired cuisine.  The wine has made an even greater leap forward under the guidance of Stewart Prato of Southern Wine and Spirits.

What was, at the previous incarnation, a completely uninspired and misdirected wine list has been transformed in one that displays wines chosen specifically to compliment the spicy dishes.  Fresh, clean whites and reds that are not too heavy on oak are perfect choices for this type of food.  To nitpick, the  wine list is a little French-heavy.  Four of the five whites, the rosé and two of the three sparkling wines offered by-the-glass are from France.  (The lone non-Franco white is an Italian Pinot Grigio from Alto Adige.)  France accounts for four of the five reds, too, with Beaujolais making a welcome appearance alongside Burgundy, Bordeaux and the Rhône.  There is also an Argentine Malbec by the glass.

Breaking one of the cardinal rules of restaurant dining, Denise and I decided to go there on the first night they were open under the new regime - for our anniversary.  Expected missteps did not materialize, so we felt that Cardamom had earned a spot on our short list of favorites.

An amazing chutney tray is served with the papadum openers and the naan is more like Indian pizza than bread.  I like that thick, doughy naan, but Denise prefers the lighter, easily-tearable style.  The tandoori prawns were some of the best-tasting shrimp either of us had ever had, while the chef's curry is delicious - and very spicy.  

I chose the 2012 Marc Bredif Loire Vouvray to go with these dishes.  It was perfect with the shrimp, but a little too acidic for the curry - acidity and heat do not mesh well for my palate.  According to their website, the winery was “established in 1893 under the original name of Château les Roches.  In 1919 Marc Bredif took over from his uncle and renamed the property to mark the change of ownership."

The wine has a greenish tint in the glass.  Unfortunately, as is the case in many restaurants, it was improperly chilled.  The wine was ice cold and, as such, the aromas were difficult to sniff out.  The nose eventually offered minerals and flowers.  Denise claimed to get an aroma of cheese, Edam or Jarlsberg.

The wine's great acidity makes it a wonderful food wine, but just sipping it isn't too bad either. Minerals and citrus notes make for a refreshing mouthfeel.  It's a little too acidic for the spice of the chef's special curry but is perfect with the tandoori prawns.  

We mentioned on our way out of the restaurant that it was our anniversary.  The manager insisted that we sit down again and have a glass of bubbly to celebrate.  It was Barton & Guestier sparkling wine.  The Vin Mousseux de Qualité is made entirely from Chardonnay grapes which undergo a second fermentation in vats and three months of aging in vats while resting on the lees - the spent yeast cells - for added complexity and weight.  The wine offers fine bubbles, a fruity nose and peach on the palate.  

Before a week had passed we were back at a Cardamom again, this time with an occasion no more special than Thursday night.  The Sancerre fit the crab cutlet and the Shahee Jhinga lobster in cream sauce to a tee.

The Michel Girault La Siliciese Sancerre 2012 features a fresh lime nose that refreshes, and aromas of flowers that add a pretty side.  The palate shows a round mouthfeel, while citrus and herbs have a mingle on top of some really great acidity.  The long, green finish brings those herbs back into play. 

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Friday, November 14, 2014

Holiday Wines 2014: Joshua Klapper

A series on wines for the holidays.

A sommelier who became a winemaker, Joshua Klapper, is one of those vintners you will see a lot if you attend wine tasting events in Southern Californa.  He pours his La Fenêtre and À Coté wines with the fervor of a revivalist.  Most of the time, he is preaching to the choir.  That does not cause him to call off the sermon, though.  His name has become widely known since he joined the Santa Barbara County wine scene almost a decade ago.

Klapper's focus at La Fenêtre is making food-friendly wines.  He respects the Old World techniques and embraces the terroir of California's Central Coast. His wines are source fruit from some of the most famous vineyards around and he lets those grapes do most of the talking.

Klapper made a splash with his Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, and has now turned his talents to the Riesling grape as well.  He suggests a red and a white - always looking for balance - to make your holiday meal even more memorable.
2013 Dr Klapper Riesling, Santa Barbara County $22.50

"Nothing says holidays like Riesling. It is the best wine for thanksgiving as the acidity and touch of residual sugar make it pair well with everything on the table from turkey and stuffing, to mashed potatoes, to candied yams and cranberry sauce. Literally the perfect holiday wine."

"Pale straw color, with a hint of ‘spritz’ from the cold fermentation, the nose is bright with notes of lychee, white flowers, white pepper, and orange blossom. On the palate the entry has a hint of sweetness with vibrant acidity. The palate includes green apple Jolly Rancher, honey suckle, dried stone fruits (apricot and peach), and a touch of viscosity. The acidity makes the extremely long finish hint of fresh lemon, lime, and orange zest. Drink now-2016 (or cellar for a very long time cause old Riesling ROCKS!)"

2011 La Fenetre Pinot Noir, Presqu'ile Vineyard   $45

"Ditto for Pinot Noir, literally perfect with holiday fare.  Turkey, ham, fall root vegetables and mushrooms all pair extremely well with this wine.

"Planted in the late 1990’s (when the vineyard was called Addamo) the section our fruit comes from is one of the most perfectly manicured blocks of Pinot Noir I have ever seen. All clone 777, this part of Santa Maria, called the Solomon Hills, has been long recognized as a perfect terroir for dense, powerful, yet distinctly elegant fruit, which is the hallmark of the region.  Again for 2011 we did part of the fermentation whole cluster, which is a big component of this wine.

"Deep red, this wine has quite a bit of power.  The nose hints of cherry cola, cinnamon, and baking spices and the whole cluster adds a spicy, earthy element not unlike the smell of soil and red flowers after a warm spring rain.  I know it sounds crazy, but hey… this is what I do!  The palate is full, with a good amount of grip and fine tannin to balance the lushness of the Dijon Clone 777.  The long finish evokes cloves, a touch of vanilla bean, and almonds.  Drink 2014-2025+."


Joshua Klapper
La Fenêtre Wines
2705 Aviation Way #100
Santa Maria, CA 93455
Phone: 310-977-5615 • Fax: 888-834-1686

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Holiday Wines: Whole Foods Market

Another holiday season is upon us, and the fine folks at Whole Foods Markets have another selection of wines that are perfect for the holidays. Not only are they holiday-ready, but they are on the shelves at wine-equipped Whole Foods stores.  As usual, they are priced so you can splurge a little on the turkey, or the ham, or the standing rib roast, or whatever you have in mind to highlight your holiday feast.

Ashley Hawkins, a representative of Whole Foods Markets, says this year's WFM holiday picks, "showcase a wide variety of wines from a perfect-for-turkey-and-ham silky Sonoma County Pinot Noir to a French Chardonnay-Viognier with a round, fruity softness that pairs well with yams and cranberry."

The wines will be tasted in a pair of virtual tasting events set for Twitter on the dates you see below, along with the wines to be tweeted up during the respective tastings.  I'll be writing about the wines separately, but you can get an idea of what to expect with the descriptions from Whole Foods, shown below, along with their favorite food pairing for each.  “*” denotes a wine which is available only at Whole Foods Markets.

Pick up a bottle or two and join the social media crowd for both of these Twitter tastings.  Follow along in the hashtag #WFMWine to get the full effect of the fun that can be found while tasting and tweeting.

Thursday November 13, 2014, 7-8 CT
Pizzolato Organic Pinot Grigio

"Stone fruit aromas give way to an enticing minerality and vibrant acidity in this organically grown Italian white.
Pairings: Oro del Tiempe Piave Vecchio, delicate seafood, shellfish, lemon vinaigrette, citrus fruit salad"

* Sea Pines Russian River Chardonnay

"Subtle aromas belie big flavors of green apple, lemon and vanilla bean. A pleasant richness hints at the use of just the right amount of oak for a lovely balance.
Pairings: Cypress Grove Midnight Moon, poached turbot, Cornish hens, chowders, lobster bisque, cream sauces."

* Bodegas Belgrano Malbec

"With aromas of warm spices and stewed blueberry flavors that mingle with woodsy hints of smoke, this textbook Argentine malbec has a roundness that makes for an easy drinking classic.
Pairings: Hennings Cranberry Orange."

* Leyenda del Castillo Rioja

"Mineral, earthy aromas are found in this deep garnet Spanish red. With bright, sunny fruit flavors like ripe cherries, this Rioja has a lingering, well-balanced finish.
Pairings: Mitica Mahon, grilled meats, pork chops, eggplant marinara, charred steaks."

Thursday December 4, 2014, 7-8 CT
* Globerati Sauvignon Blanc

"From the Central Valley of Chile, this bright, fresh white has aromas of lemon and grapefruit with a hint of honeysuckle, and mineral notes are balanced with a green apple acidity.
Pairings: Mitica Campo de Montalban, Manhattan clam chowder, shrimp cocktail, mussels, sliced pears."

* Bubo Cabernet Sauvignon

"Surprisingly fruity, pleasant and approachable with a touch of green pepper aroma, this red has flavors of blackberries and ripe plums that accentuate the juiciness of this easy drinking wine.
Pairings: Ford Farms Seaside Cheddar, cranberry turkey sandwiches, veggie lasagna, cassoulet, beef enchiladas."

* Charles and Charles CL Merlot Red Blend

"There is an attractive baked biscuit aroma in this inky, hearty red. Black and blue fruits come forward and then recede into a rich, elegant, full-bodied finish.
Pairings: Cabot Clothbound Cheddar, steak and Guinness pie, twice baked potatoes, buttery pastry crusts."

* H&G Priorat

"Earthy, herbaceous aromas in this brick red wine lead to a refined minerality and complex dark fruit flavors. The terroir of Priorat, Spain proudly shows in the glass.
Pairings: Guilloteau Fromager d’Affinois, barbecue, hearty veggie stews, Brunswick stew, grilled ribeye."

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Cool Pinot Noir Blows In From Sonoma's Petaluma Gap

Bottlenotes launched a new live tasting event series on Twitter in October.  The first tasting event was hosted by noted wine writer Karen MacNeil and focused on 2012 Sonoma Pinot Noir wines.  I was provided with Pfendler Vineyards 2012 Pinot Noir and invited to participate.

Pfendler Vineyards was founded by Kimberly Pfendler (left) in 2007 with the goal of producing world-class Pinot Noir and Chardonnay from her family’s mountain property in the Petaluma Gap region of the Sonoma Coast AVA.  Representatives of windy Petaluma Gap are currently trying to get the grape rolling for an appeal to establish AVA status for the subregion within the enormous Sonoma Coast AVA.

Pfendler’s late husband Peter planted the family’s first vineyard in 1992 - he opted for Bordeaux varieties at that time.  Although the grapes struggled to ripen, he was inspired by the Petaluma Gap’s potential, and over the next 15 years, he experimented in planting various Pinot Noir and Chardonnay clones  As it turns out, they thrived in the cool-climate, maritime-influenced area.

Kimberly Pfendler is as sold on the Petaluma Gap’s potential as her husband was.  “There is no other area in California I can think of that offers such great new potential for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay as the Petaluma Gap,” she says.  “The region is like a wind tunnel, with the mountains funneling in cool Pacific breezes and ocean fog.  Our vineyards extend from the mountain top to its base, allowing a tremendous variety of sun and foggy climates.”

Sonoma Pinot Noir guru Greg Bjornstad (right) is Pfendler’s winemaker.  “I’ve always been a fan of Greg’s wines,” Pfendler adds, “and I am most impressed by his talent for making wines that express a sense of place.”  Bjornstad takes a hands-on approach in the four estate vineyards and adopts a minimalistic approach in the winery.

This 100% Pinot Noir utilizes destemmed grapes of the Joseph Swan, Calera and Pommard clones.  It is aged eleven months in French oak, half of which was new.  For eight months the juice sits sur lie - in contact with the spent yeast used during fermentation.  This gives the wine more weight, a bigger mouthfeel.  It carries an alcohol level of 14.4% abv.  Only 350 cases were made and the wine retails for $45.

Fairly darkly tinted, this Pinot looks like it means business, and it does.  Aromas of black cherry and coffee grounds dominate the nose and continue building on the dark theme.  The flavor is dark, too, with black raspberry, black tea and black cherry providing plenty of power.  Speaking of power, the business end of the tannins are not shy.  It's pretty enough for pork, brawny enough for beef.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Finger Lakes Riesling: Boundary Breaks Dry #239

The Finger Lakes Wine Alliance recently celebrated 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."  

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.

Bruce and David Murray purchased their farm in 2007 and two years later planted grapevines where none had grown before.  The Boundary Breaks estate sits in the area along the eastern shore of Seneca Lake, an area known as the Banana Belt, due to the milder weather resulting from the depth of the lake and the prevailing winds.  Under the name of Boundary Breaks, the Murray's produce only Riesling grapes and wines.

Winemaker Peter Bell - from Fox Run, and Dr Frank's before that - works with vineyard manager Kees Stapel - who came from Sheldrake Point - to make five styles of Riesling, from dry to late harvest.

The 2013 Boundary Breaks Dry Riesling #239 utilizes the Geisenheim #239 clone of the Riesling grape, estate-grown on the east side of Seneca Lake and picked first in the season for higher acidity.  It has been collecting accolades since the first vintage was released last year.  Steel fermentation is the norm in the Finger Lakes.  This wine shows "dry" on the IRF scale, with a scant 0.9% residual sugar and a low alcohol level of only 11.9%.

The wine is pale in the glass, with just a hint of green.  Its nose is bursting with fruit and earth.  Apricots and peaches are heavily influenced by the sense of wet rocks and the fragrance of the soil.  Flavors hold the line in the same way, with apricot, quince and peach acting as a serving platter for those earthy mineral notes.

On the Twitter stream, during a virtual tasting event, @ArtPredator was looking to put this Riesling with some food: “notes of stone fruit pair well with cranberry pecan chicken salad pita n beach breaks” while @WineHarlots tweeted, “Boundary issues? You'll be laying down the law to get your share of @BndryBrx Riesling.”  You won't need a surveyor to find the flavor inside the bottle, either.

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Friday, November 7, 2014

Holiday Wines At Whole Foods Market: Sophora Sparkling Cuvée

Whole Foods Market used social media recently to help celebrate wines from New Zealand, the chain’s fall spotlight in the wine department.  In a pair of virtual tasting events held on Twitter, tasters were invited to chime in with their impressions on the wines using the hashtag #WFMwine.  Here is what some of the participants thought about the Sophora Sparkling Cuvée:

@nzwineusa expressed a thought that resonated with many: “always a fan of going back for more bubbles.”  In fact, @MattMcGinnis tweeted, “Yeasty and full of ripe pear. We had to pour a second glass. Yum.”  For @WineHarlots, a favorite pairing came to mind:  “I love fish & chips with sparkling wine.”  The tasters taking part at @WFMFlorida thought “the Sophora Sparkling Wine is stealing the show tonight,” while @cloulew advised us all to “Stock up for the holidays. The bottle is beautiful.”

@wowaustin claimed, “The Sophora was def a fave here, even w/o sabering.”  This came in response to @DeniseClarkeTX’s boast of sabering the bottle open using a kitchen utensil.  Sabering, by the way, is a wine-related party trick which you can check out here.  You may want a handful of disclaimers to go along with the video - “Don’t try this at home,” “sabered by a professional using an actual sword” or “your mileage may vary.”

I shared my Sophora with friends Guido and Tina, who had invited us over for dinner.  They seemed to enjoy the festive bubbly, although they did not gush forth with tasting notes for me.  Not being wine-obsessed, like me, they had somewhat reserved reactions.  Tina liked the flavor, Guido liked the sweetness level.  I liked the fact that it gave a great start to a lovely evening of food, drink and conversation.

Sophora’s golden tint and big bubbles are certainly festive enough, and the fruity nose of pear, citrus and bread was a hit with all.  That big, yeasty, bready sensation continues to dazzle on the palate.  The creamy mouthfeel makes it seem very rich.  It's a blend of Chardonnay (52%) and Pinot Noir (48%) so its resemblance to Champagne is a fairly close one.  Since the holidays are just about to come barreling down the tracks at us, you may want to keep this one in mind for seasonal entertaining.  At $15, you can start a few parties of your own without too big a bite from your wallet.

Whole Foods’ wine department - they call them the Wine Guys - recommends pairings this sparkler with Rogue Creamery Oregon Blue cheese, French toast, bacon-wrapped figs, hazelnut shortbread, eggs Benedict and Baked Cranberry-Walnut French Toast.  It makes a heck of a mimosa, too.

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Wednesday, November 5, 2014

FEL Pinot Gris From Anderson Valley

A great white wine is a fantastic find.  The right mix of fruit and savory needs to be balanced with a level of acidity that makes the wine fresh and ready to pair with food.  The FEL Pinot Gris 2013 from Anderson Valley hits that bullseye.  Jarvis Communications provided this wine for the purpose of review.

Lede Family Wines is the umbrella under which three wine brands sit.  Cliff Lede Vineyards and Poetry, located in the Stags Leap District of Napa Valley, and FEL Wines, of Anderson Valley.  This property came about when Lede bought Breggo Cellars five years ago.  Just this year he changed the name to FEL as a tribute to his mother, Florence Elsie Lede.  It was mom’s home winemaking hobby that piqued Lede’s interest of wine in his youth.

Winemaker Ryan Hodgins sourced low-yield fruit from three vineyards for this Pinot Gris - Wiley Vineyard near the town of Navarro, and Filigreen and Donnelly Creek Vineyards, both located near the town of Boonville in Anderson Valley.

The grapes were whole cluster pressed into a steel tank for 24 hours, which lends herbal notes to the flavor profile. The wine combines lots that were fermented in a 900-gallon French oak oval, smaller, neutral French oak barrels, and stainless steel tanks.  Alcohol reaches up to 14.2% abv and it is bottled under a screw cap.

The golden tint is beautiful, while the wonderful savory note and acidity prompt my lunch companion to ask, “Do they serve oysters here?”   The acidity absolutely rips, and even when chilled the wine is as dry as a bone.  Beautiful pear, peach and nectarine flavors have a spicy edge which makes this an excellent food wine. It sure did set well with my green salad and jambon beurre sandwich.

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Monday, November 3, 2014

Drink Pink: A (Very) Late Summer Rosé

Hopefully, by this point, we SoCal residents have survived another annual heatwave known as October - or Rocktober, if you are still getting your music from the radio.  As we ease into the season we laughingly refer to as “autumn,” I was reminded via social media that it’s time to start drinking pumpkin spice lattes and pretending that 65 degrees calls for a sweater.

One warm October evening found us stopping in at Le Petit Bistro on La Brea.  Minnesota was facing a weekend of snow, but we still had - as Randy Newman sings - “the Santa Ana winds blowin’ hot from the north.”  The heat of the day had passed, and the balmy dusk put me in mind of a rosé.  I had a decent one.

It was a réserve Saint-Esprit, a lovely pink little Côtes de Provence wine, the kind that offers nothing too extraordinary except its nose of summer strawberries, watermelons and slight herbs.  The palate is light and breezy and full of cherry and strawberry flavors.  A nice bright acidity carried the food well.  The pasta with shrimp, snow peas and capers in a light cognac sauce paired nicely.

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Friday, October 31, 2014

Holiday Wine 2014: Cornerstone Cellars

A series on wines for the holidays.

At a recent wine event in Los Angeles, Cornerstone Cellars’ managing partner Craig Camp spoke to me, as eloquently as always, about his Cornerstone wines and the great vineyard sites from which they harvest grapes.  He also mentioned something near and dear to my heart.  Rosé wine.

He agrees that pink wine need not be a summer-only event.  In fact, he stated specifically how great his Corallina rosé is with Thanksgiving turkey.  To that I can only add, it is even better with those leftover turkey sandwiches on Black Friday.  That one, plus a few more holiday essential wines from Cornerstone follow.

2013 Corallina by Stepping Stone  $25
This is 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 is deeply-colored and richly textured.  It looks pink, but it drinks red.

We always need a nice white wine for holiday entertaining, and why not Sauvignon Blanc?  Cornerstone's Sauv Blanc is rich and vivacious, two things we would all like to be.  It's great with turkey, too, or as an aperitif.

Not to brag on the excellent growing conditions in the Napa Valley, but Camp reports, "In Bordeaux they add Sémillon to add richness, but in the Napa Valley we can achieve that depth with the Sauvignon Blanc variety alone, letting the pure essence of this noble variety shine."

A holiday beef dish needs a Cab, and why not go all out for the holiday feast?  Cornerstone made their name with Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, and here we have two reasons why.

Camp really bristles if you mention that the cool 2011 vintage was a problematic one.  He's quite content with a more Bordeauxesque growing season.  "The problems climate presents to winegrowers in Napa," he says, "are those of over-ripeness, sugars that mature ahead of flavors and lack of acidity. In truth, the hot vintages are the problem vintages in Napa, not the cooler ones.

"At Cornerstone Cellars," he continues, "we are very pleased with our 2011 wines and love their balance and freshness and length.  Our Cabernet has that bit of an herbal edge that makes the variety so compelling and so amazing with food.  A liberal dollop of Merlot, which ripens earlier than Cabernet, adds richness and a velvety mouthfeel to our 2011 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon White Label."

Camp: "The vineyards of the Howell Mountain AVA are well above the fog line meaning many extra hours of sunshine, which paid off big time in the cooler 2011 vintage.  In fact, I believe the wines from this AVA really benefited from the milder weather, which helped restrain the aggressive mountain tannins. What you'll find in our 2011 Cornerstone Cellars Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon, White Label is a classical Cabernet structure with firm, but perfectly ripe integrated tannins.  In my opinion it is a wine that should be ready to drink in five to seven years, but with proper storage can develop for decades."  Offer as a gift for the patient, with dinner for those of us who cannot wait.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Whole Foods Market: NZ Grove Mill Pinot Noir

Whole Foods Market makes it easy to be an adventurous wine lover.  They make it pretty affordable, too.  The popular grocery chain is shining the autumn spotlight on the wines of New Zealand, which offer a lot more than just Sauvignon Blanc.

Two tasting events on social media have featured New Zealand Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir and even a sparkling wine.  You can access the Twitter conversation by searching the hashtag #WFMWine.

Grove Mill Pinot Noir 2012

The Grove Mill Winery 2012 Pinot Noir is very manly.  It's the Chuck Norris of Pinot Noir.  It could have been called Chuck Noirris.  If you stick out your pinkie while drinking it, that finger will be dislocated.  I've heard that when Chuck Norris makes wine, the grapes crush themselves.  I can't vouch for that, but I won't argue the point, either.  Chuck Norris doesn't get drunk from wine, the wine gets drunk from him.

Located in the Wairau Valley of the Marlborough region, at the top of New Zealand's South Island, Grove Mill is sustainable and ecologically committed.  They even have a wetland area next to their vineyard, which is home to the Southern Bell Frog.  Their masculine Pinot Noir hits only 13% abv and sells for a reasonable $20 at Whole Foods.

This Pinot is dark ruby red and has aromas to match.  Dark raspberry is layered with sage, clove and forest floor.  On the palate, black cherry cola meets a tart handful of raspberries over a cup of black coffee.  Herb and spice linger on the finish, rounding out a spectacle that is ready for the holiday table.

On Twitter, @WFMWine commented on the $20 price point: "We think Grove Mill is quite a wine for the $."  I agree.  @WineHarlots tweeted that it was "a little heavy on the oak, pairing with a grilled lamb chop might balance it."  @JamesTheWineGuy tasted it differently: "gorgeous nose! Rich yet balanced; a beautiful wine - low ABV 13%."

Whole Foods recommends pairing the Grove Mill Pinot with charcuterie, goat cheese, pork loin or roasted chicken.  They have a recipe for that chicken on their website.  I'll take mine with turkey, both white meat and dark.  Pass the cranberry sauce, please.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Finger Lakes Riesling: Heron Hill Winery

Few wine regions know how to get a Twitter conversation going like New York's Finger Lakes AVA.  The Finger Lakes Wine Alliance recently celebrated the launch of the 2013 vintage of Finger Lakes Rieslings through a social media gathering.  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.

On Twitter, it was a Riesling love fest.  @GrapeBelt tweeted, "Time to spread the Good News: #FLXRiesling is a major player, here to stay!"  @ilove2drinkwine not only likes the wine, but the lower alcohol content of Rieslings: "One great thing about #FLXRiesling? Had about 8 glasses by the time I was done last night -- #NoHangoverForMe."  You can view the entire Twitter conversation as it happened here.

Heron Hill Winery 2013 Classic Dry Riesling

Noted wine expert Janis Robinson wrote recently that "Riesling can transmit terroir more sensitively than any white wine grape I know, making it truly the counterpart of the Pinot Noir that is so often grown alongside it."  However, she fears its powerful nature and schizophrenic sugar content are keeping bottles dusty in your local wine emporium.  She does note that Riesling has become "the signature grape variety of the Finger Lakes." 

Heron Hill Winery overlooks lovely Keuka Lake, as it has for over 35 years.  Their 17,000-case production makes them a fairly large player in the Finger Lakes wine scene.  The winery facility is built into the side of the hill, so gravity feeds the juice through the winemaking process instead of pumping.  

Winemaker Bernard Cannac was born and raised in Languedoc, so it is fitting that he is up to his elbows in grapes.  He oversees the production of the estate wines from Keuka Lake as well the Ingle family's other estate, on the west side of Canandaigua Lake.  Wouldn't you love to be able to say, "My other estate?"  Sustainable farming and harvesting by hand are all in a day's work for Cannac and crew.

The '13 Heron Hill Classic Dry Riesling is made from four different lots of grapes - 13% Keuka Lake estate, 68% Seneca Lake, 16% Cayuga Lake, 3% Skaneateles Lake.  I asked for help from a local on the pronunciation of that last lake, and I was told it's "Skinny-Atlas."  I'm glad I asked for help.
The lots are fermented separately, then blended together.  Alcohol is 12% abv and residual sugar is a low 0.23%.

The Heron Hill looks pretty - tinted golden yellow - and smells even prettier.  Peaches and lemon aromas are bolstered by minerals and an herbal note.  The flavor side of the ledger sheet tallies plenty of green apple, citrus and a slight hint of apricot.  There's a citrus/savory finish which lasts for days.  The folks at Heron Hill say to pair it with something that has bite to it, like spicy Thai food, Asiago cheese or horseradish.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Holiday Wines 2014: Dan Fredman

A series on wines for the holidays

If you don't know his name, it's because he works tirelessly behind the scenes to promote wine.  Dan Fredman is a public relations expert based in Malibu and specializing in, as his logline proclaims, "Marketing to the thirsty."


Dan has worked in various facets of the wine industry for decades and was named Hospice du Rhône's "Person of the Year" in 2007.  He helps wine folks get their stories out in an efficient and compelling way.  He thinks of himself as an advocate of wine, and presents his clients' stories that way.  Plus, he's been busy expanding his palate at just about every Southern California wine event.

Here are Dan's suggestions on how to make your holiday table perfect:

"For Thanksgiving suggestions, I’d go with the Consilience Viognier. The lushness of the Viognier helps it bridge the gap between turkey (white and dark meat) and the things like stuffing and sweet potatoes that are usually difficult to pair with food.  It’s pretty broadly available around the country, usually selling for less than its $24 suggested retail price."

"The Tre Anelli Albariño works well with diverse foods too, although where the Viognier is rich and pretty full on the palate and sort of melds with the food, the Albariño is lighter-bodied and serves as sort of a frame for the food, much like the way a painting’s frame enhances the artwork."

"The Grenache Blanc from Martian Ranch & Vineyards splits the difference, offering complexity in a lighter-bodied wine that’s still rich enough to hold its own with the diverse dishes that comprise a T-day meal."

"Martian’s 'Local Group" Grenache Noir is also an ideal T-day wine, offering some spice and rich texture to make the meal pass by (and through) a little more smoothly."

"Taking things further afield of SB County, I’d recommend:

"Trombetta Family Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir.  This steps it up in the elegance category, being a rich, complex (yet elegant) wine from Sebastopol in the Sonoma Coast AVA.  The Petaluma Gap just grows some great grapes, and this wine (from a mother/daughter winemaker team) really delivers for holiday meals, regardless of which holiday."

"Uvaggio Vermentino and Barbera. Both are just ridiculously enjoyable (ie: drinkable) wines that work beautifully with holiday food. They may not have the cachet of some of the über-expensive wines that are usually trotted out for such meals, but they just work really well. And they are widely available and sell for under $20.  What could be better than that?"

"Well, I’ve got another (don’t I always?) to recommend:

When people think of Oregon, they usually think “Pinot Noir” and nothing else.  Well, Brooks makes excellent Pinot but their passion lies in Riesling.  Yup, they often have nine different Rieslings in their lineup, all reasonably priced and with the International Riesling Foundations scale on the back of each one letting you know how sweet it is (or isn’t).  The Brooks Willamette Valley Riesling is a great starting point - bone dry, great with turkey or as an aperitif to get the evening started out properly."

Dan Fredman
PR & Marketing to the thirsty...
Twitter: @dfredman