Monday, January 31, 2011

WINE AND BEER AT LUCKY DEVILS


The Jug

Meeting friends for a beer is a time honored tradition.  The beverage isn't really important, it's the company and the conversation that count.  However, if all you're talking about is how lousy the beer - or wine - is, it sort of defeats the purpose of the get-together.

There was no such discourse at Lucky Devils in Hollywood.  The beverages spoke for themselves.  A great beer list, a wine list in which brevity left little choice and some tasty snacks combined for a nice little Saturday soiree.

After the usual Hollywood Boulevard hassles - two-dollar an hour parking at the meter, men looking semi-dangerous doing some sidewalk preaching about something or other, LAPD staring intently into the place for an undisclosed reason - we managed to settle into our kitchen-style chairs and let the festivities begin.

Even though it was intended to be a beer gathering, one of the few wines offered caught my eye because it was from the Sonoma County town of Geyserville, a place I visited a while back.  I was impressed with the wines I found there, so I chose a red table wine from Mercury Geyserville called The Jug.  It was an easy-going $7.50 by the glass, but a bit pricey at $19.50 in the 500ml jug.  It appears to be a Bordeaux-style blend from Alexander Valley vineyards.

The Jug is very dark in the glass, inky in fact.  A fruity nose also displays an earthy darkness and some spice.  It really tastes great, with cassis and black cherry flavors accented by spice and smoke.  The finish is a little weak with a sour cherry aftertaste.

Hornin' Nettie Madge Black IPAOthers in the group opted for brewski.  The Hornin' Nettie Madge Black IPA from Anderson Valley Brewing Company is stout-dark with a licorice nose and a tan head that hangs around a while.  The taste reminds me of dates and almonds.  The Craftsman IPA is a more standard-issue India Pale Ale, with characteristics much like Sierra Nevada's Pale Ale.  A golden color and lots of hops will make plenty of summer afternoons more tolerable.








Sunday, January 30, 2011

MEASURING THE TANNIN FINGERPRINT IN WINE


Wine News

Wine scientists at the University of California at Davis have developed a way of identifying which grape varietal a wine is made from by looking at the “fingerprint” of the wine’s tannin.

In an article in Wine Spectator, Dr. Eric Anslyn says the process involves an array of chemicals with which the wine’s tannic structure reacts.   “It really relates to the DNA coding of the wine,” says Dr. Anslyn.

Another UC-Davis scientific bigwig says that identifying a grape’s DNA is easy - well, by scientific standards - but until now, no way existed of getting to the DNA level of a finished wine.

The discovery of this process was actually a happy byproduct of scientists looking for something else.  The researchers were actually trying to study the way mammals taste and smell to develop new ways of diagnosing disease.  They chose tannins in wine as the focal point because they are complex and because wine is popular.

The scientists have yet to try the method on blended wines or aged wines, but they expect to do so in the future.  Also, the error rate has not been determined, but even in its preliminary state, there are indications that this process could be a leap forward in medicine as well as wine.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

WINE COUNTRY: GEORGIA


Wine Country: Georgia

The West Coast of the United States gets most of the attention for domestic wine production, but wine is made in all 50 states.  The “Wine Country” series is my effort to taste wine from all the states.  The recent series on Norton wines got me started, with fine efforts from Missouri and Virginia - so fine, we may revisit those states along the way.  This isn’t an alphabetical journey, nor is it ordered geographically. 

Today, we kick off the official “Wine Country” trail where the Norton series ended - in the state of Georgia.

I sampled a Norton wine from Tiger Mountain Vineyards, in Tiger, Georgia.  You can see the article on their Norton wine for more on the vineyard.

Tiger, Georgia is a tiny burg of just over 300 people.  The town sits at about 2,000 feet above sea level at the foot of Tiger Mountain, a 2,856-ft peak in the Blue Ridge Mountains.  Tiger is in Rabun County which has a slogan - "Where Spring Spends The Summer" - indicating a place where the average temperature in January is about 49F and just under 80F in August - very pleasant.  An annual rainfall of over 70 inches no doubt helps the flora along.

One of the treats I’m looking forward to in this series is the opportunity to sample grape varieties which are not readily available to me in California.  The Norton grape is a prime example.  Tiger Mountain also throws a little winemaker love on the Petit Manseng grape.

Tiger Mountain Petit MansengPetit Manseng 2008 

The white Petit Manseng grape originated in southwestern France.  It is said the wine of this grape was used to baptize Henry IV.  This particular Tiger Mountain wine was entered into the San Francisco World Spirits Competition, where it took a silver medal.  Tiger Mountain’s Petit Manseng has won 11 awards, 5 of them gold.  It sells for $35 from the winery.

Sitting in the glass with a rich, golden color, the smell of this Georgia white wine’s bouquet immediately put me in mind of Chardonnay, then Viognier, then Albariño.  The aromas lean toward green apples, with a nudge toward some tropical fruit which is never fully realized.  There is also the scent of vanilla spice and a trace of nutmeg!  On the palate, a vegetal flavor comes forward first, with spiced apples following; a hint of pepper lingers on the finish.  It’s a full-bodied white wine, with a lively mouthfeel.  The 13.5% alcohol level is moderate and the nearly bracing acidity makes this a wine that pairs well with food.  I had it with a holiday feast of sweet, brown sugar ham, bourbon pecan mashed sweet potatoes and chestnuts on the side.  The Petit Manseng paired well with everything on the plate, especially the ham and the chestnuts.

The next scheduled stop on the Wine Country express is Alabama.  We’ll try some Muscadine from the Deep South.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

TERRE DE TRINCI SANGIOVESE UMBRIA 2008 AT VIVOLI


Terre de Trinci Sangiovese Umbria

Vivoli is one of those restaurants we don’t favor too much, even though the food is good.  There are two reasons we slight them, and it’s not really intentional.

First, the restaurant is in a Sunset Boulevard strip mall with another restaurant we like a lot.  Vivoli sometimes loses out at the last second, as we pass the door to the other place and decide to go there instead.

Second, we tend to measure all Italian restaurants against the yardstick of our favorite, Il Buco.  When compared to Il Buco, everybody loses out.

As I mentioned, though, the food at Vivoli is good.  They also have a nice wine list.  It’s not very extensive, but there are a few good selections of Italian wines at decent prices.  The cheese and tomato sauce pizza was simple and rustic, done with a very thin crust which was a little burned around the edge.  We ask for it that way.  I chose a Sangiovese from Umbria to accompany it.

Terre de’ Trinci concentrates on Sagrantino wines, but they do a few others in addition.  The Sangiovese is one of them.  It’s $8 per glass at Vivoli.

Medium red in hue, this 100% Sangiovese goes purple around the edge of the glass.  The nose is earthy with black cherry notes dominating and an almost minty overlay.  The palate is smooth enough - it’s a very drinkable wine - and the medium mouthfeel carries flavors of currant and cherry.

I would have liked the finish to be a bit longer, but the pairing with the pizza was good enough to keep me from thinking about that too much.

Monday, January 24, 2011

MADDALENA MERLOT 2006 AT THE FARMERS MARKET BAR


Maddalena Merlot

I had a little time to burn while waiting for a movie to begin at The Grove in Los Angeles, so I ambled over to the adjacent Farmers Market to have a glass of wine at the bar.  I could have gone to any of several enocentric restaurants at The Grove for a glass of vino, but the bar at the Farmers Market always attracts me.

I don’t even know its name - if it actually has a name.  There’s no mistaking it, though.  It’s the bar in the middle of the Farmers Market - not quite outdoors but not quite in - where accents from all over the world always seem to be enthralled in debate over a televised soccer match.  There always seems to be a soccer match on when I visit this bar, no matter what time it is.

The bar is actually more of a beer drinker’s haven, with plenty of good brews on tap and decent pitcher prices.  Get your food from any of the countless eateries in the Farmers Market and settle in at a table near the bar for a good time any time.

The wine scene at the Farmers Market bar is a little more limited, but it does offer some interesting choices on a rotating basis that change with great frequency.  It’s either that, or I just don’t get there as often as I think I do.

The ‘06 Maddalena Merlot is produced by the Los Angeles winemaking Riboli family.  They produce wine at their downtown San Antonio Winery using grapes from some of California’s best winegrowing regions.  This Merlot hails from the Paso Robles AVA in San Luis Obispo County, the Spring Creek, Cass and Batdorf vineyards.  The different vineyard lots are produced separately and aged in American oak.  The wine has a robust 14.5% alcohol content

The nose features blueberry with smoke on it.  Other dark fruit meanders through the sniff, too.  On the palate, a vegetal angle seems a little out of place.  The dark fruit I taste has a smokiness through it as well, to the detriment of the fruit.  The tannins are soft, which is rather unusual in red wines served in this bar.  Rather than coming off as simplistic, though, the wine tastes rustic.  It’s a good table wine and a pleasurable quaff.  Maddalena Merlot is poured at the Farmers Market bar at just $7 per glass - as long as it is still on the chalkboard.

WINE TRENDS


Wine Trends

American spending on wine was greater than ever in 2010, according to an article in Wine Spectator.  The U.S. wine industry posted its 17th straight annual gain, with an increase in sales of 0.9%.  The numbers come from a report in The U.S. Wine Market: Impact Databank Review and Forecast, 2010 Edition.  The report shows that Americans spent over $40 million on wine last year.

The magazine cites the report as showing that large producers had the most to gain, increasing their sales by almost twice the overall number.  WS figures this means that wine drinkers were looking for more value in last year’s bad economy.

According to the report, Franzia led the way as the nation’s largest case producer, while E & J Gallo nailed down the top spot as the country’s largest marketer overall.  Gallo was also one of the fastest-growing brands, along with Barefoot Cellars and Sutter Home.

WS also reports that good upward moves were made by Ménage à Trois and Cupcake Vineyards.  The fastest-growing sparkling-wine brand was the Italian Verdi.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

AMERICA’S WINE HISTORY


Wine News

There’s a new wine column which appears to be well worth seeking out.  Eater.com has started a new feature called Vintage America: A Brief History of Wine in America.  It’s a weekly column penned by Talia Baiocchi.  She will explore winemaking across the breadth of the nation.

In the introductory column, Baiocchi remarks on the path wine took from Bordeaux to Thunderbird, and the hard climb to respectability the American winemaking effort has endured.  She writes of how the American wine industry has grown by embracing those who were put off by wine snobbery, of how the domestic wine industry “offered a way in to those who had once felt marginalized by a culture of wine that was not their own.”

Touching on the more accessible jargon used for describing wines and the “democracy” of the 100-point scale for rating wine, Baiocchi outlines the rapid rise of the American wine culture since the 1970s and promises to reach back further into America’s winemaking history.  She also promises to delve into wine from states other than the big four producers of California, Oregon, Washington and New York.

That is of particular interest to me, since I recently began an effort to taste wine from all fifty states.  You can follow my “Wine Country” series on the Now And Zin Wine Blog, and follow Talia Baiocchi’s column on Eater.com.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

AUSTRALIAN WINE DINNER AND TASTING, LOS ANGELES


Set for tasting

The Australian wine industry has seen more than its share of troubles recently.  Wildfires, floods and overproduction have been aggravating at best, tragic at worst.  Thursday January 20, 2011 at Twist Restaurant in the Renaissance Hotel in Hollywood, it was "no worries, mate" at least for a few hours.

A dinner showcasing fine Australian wine and cuisine was hosted by Chris De Cure, the Australian Consul-General in Los Angeles on behalf of the G'Day USA Australia Week Committee.

The purpose of the event was to feature some of the culinary facets of the land down under which often take a backseat in an American media happy to portray Australia as all koala bears, shrimp on the barbie and supermarket-level wines.  This event showed just how much Australia has to offer in fine wine and dining.

Mr. De Cure had many good things to say about Australian food and wine, and was so affable that when he slipped up and referred to Champagne, he quickly covered by stating that, "Australian sparkling wine is better than Champagne."  He offered that comment as a humorous aside, but it's not hard to believe that it was heartfelt.  Australia could not ask for a better proponent than the Consul-General.

The wines of the evening were, of course, all Australian.  The food, too, was flown in especially for this event.

Dinner was prepared by two of Australia's best chefs, Mark Best and Peter Gilmore.  Gilmore'sQuay Restaurant is a Sydney showcase, while Best's Marque Restaurant takes a quieter profile in the Sydney suburb of Surry Hills.  The dishes served by these two men were exquisite, and the wines paired with them matched almost perfectly.

I had the good fortune to be seated next to Best's wife, Valerie, who compared and contrasted both restaurants while acting as a one-woman public relations team for her husband.  She explained that Quay is an opulent restaurant where diners face outward to a beautiful view, while Marque is more reserved and inward-facing.  She said many people refer to Marque as "Melbournian" in atmosphere.

The description of the two restaurants fit the cuisine presented by each chef.  Best's compact, Asian-influenced dishes contrasted with Gilmore's more sumptuous European-styled fare.  The two chefs alternated menu items and gave diners a taste of the best of both worlds.  There was no problem with too many chefs in the kitchen - I was told the collaboration was easy, as the pair are friends and hold each other in high esteem.

They aren't the only celebrities looking to upgrade Australia's image in the eyes of the American public.  Australian television personality Jamie Durie - host of HGTV's The Outdoor Room - is working with YouDontKnowOz.com on a campaign to educate Americans on all things Australian in hopes of debunking stereotypes.  Wine education is the focus of the campaign, with wineries like Wolf Blass, Rosemount, Lindemans, Greg Norman Estates and Penfolds working together to capitalize on Australia's wine tourism cachet.

The wines showcased during the dinner event - during a mixer/tasting beforehand and with the dinner itself - showcased Australia's ample winemaking talent.  The country has been producing wines since the 1820s, and boasts a number of well respected wine regions.

Tablemate Gavin Speight of Old Bridge Cellars was there promoting several of the wines on the dinner menu.  He broke out a small map of Australia's wine regions to show me some of the wineries of South Australia, New South Wales, Victoria and Tasmania.  Great wine also is produced in Western Australia.  When I asked how much time I should allow for an Australian wine vacation, he told me to "imagine that you are in Los Angeles and Napa Valley is in New York - that's how far it is from Sydney to Perth.  Coupla weeks ought to do it."

Although Perth native Speight has been in the States for ten years, he says, "I haven't lost my accent.  I want people to see Australia's diversity and terroir, and know that they haven't lost their accent, either."

The Menu, and The Wines
CanapésPrepared by Chefs Mark Best and Peter GilmoreBeetroot & Foie Gras MacaroonsTomato & Parmesan MarshmallowTuna Sashimi, Shiso and LimeTart of fresh Goat's Curd, Pickled Beetroot, Radish, Olive Crumbs, Chard, Pine Infused Balsamicpaired with
DB Family Selection Sparkling Brut
Emeri De Bortoli Pink MoscatoClover Hill Vintage Brut 2004

First Course
Prepared by Chef Peter Gilmore
Smoked Eel and Eggwhite Pearl, Sashimi Kingfish, Pickled Kohlrabi, Horseradish Cream, Octopus Tapioca
paired with
d'Arenberg The Last Ditch Viognier 2008
Second CoursePrepared by Chef Mark BestPetuna Ocean Trout with Lemon & Dill Jelly, Burnt Vanilla
paired with
Kilikanoon Mort's Block Riesling 2009
Third CoursePrepared by Chef Peter GilmorePoached Lobster, Lobster Custard, Lobster Consommé
paired with
Giant Steps Sexton Vineyard Chardonnay 2008
Fourth CoursePrepared by Chef Mark BestRoast St Helens Oyster with Mustard & Abalone
paired with
De Bortoli Yarra Valley Estate Grown Pinot Noir 2008
Fifth CoursePrepared by Mark BestAll Natural Free Range Roast Lamb with Licorice, Eggplant & Burnt Leek
paired with
Penfolds Bin 407 2006
Sixth CoursePrepared by Chef Peter GilmorePoached Fillet of Angus Beef with Truffle Infused Potato Puree, Baby Spinach,
Bitter Chocolate Black Pudding Crumbs
paired with
Yarra Yering Dry Red No. 1 2005
DessertPrepared by Chef Mark BestSauternes Custard
paired with
De Bortoli Noble One 2007

STARS OF SANTA BARBARA 2011


Stars of Santa Barbara

California’s Santa Barbara County is loaded with vineyards, wineries, winemakers and wine lovers.  The winemakers and wine lovers turned out in big numbers for Learn About Wine’s Stars Of Santa Barbara event January 19, 2011 at the Peninsula Hotel in Beverly Hills.

Last year, Stars Of Santa Barbara proved to be one of my favorite tasting events of the year.  This year’s event held to Ian Blackburn’s usual high standards and attracted about 40 wineries from the SBC - from Alma Rosa to Zotovich - pouring over 100 different wines.

With limited time, there was no way for me to stop at all the tables on my list, and my apologies go to those to whom I did not get a chance to speak.  I attended the trade tasting session in the afternoon.

My Five Favorites
Alma Rosa El Jabali Vineyard Chardonnay 2007 - Santa Barbara winemaking legend Richard Sanford poured this masterpiece and said, "Our other Chardonnay is more like Chablis.  This one's like Meursault.  It's our reaction to big, over-the-top Chardonnays."  He allowed only 17% malolactic fermentation, so the fruit is the highlight.  The finish is looooooooooooong.

Curtis Winery Heritage 2007 - Grenache, Mourvèdre, Syrah and Cinsault blend with lavender-meets-cherry on the nose and palate; huge flavor and lip-smacking acidity.

Epiphany Cellars Hampton Vineyard Syrah 2007 - All Syrah and very dark, in every way.  Great minerals and acidity in this anti-fruit-bomb done in old world style.

Foxen Vineyard Pinot Noir 2009 - Just released, this wine is a brilliant purple in the glass with a lovely floral nose and a green herbal aspect on the palate which is quite intriguing.

Tantara Winery Bien Nacido Vineyard Pinot Noir 2008 - Dark with an extremely smokey flavor profile.  Delicious.

Details
Richard Sanford, Alma RosaAlma Rosa winemaker Richard Sanford showed his pride in each of the wines he poured.  His '09 Pinot Gris shows a delicate floral nose and lots of minerals with a bright acidity.  The '07 Santa Rita Hills Pinot Noir is all about plums with a floral nose and an earthy palate while the '07 La Encantada Vineyard shows the darker side of Pinot.  The El Jabali and La Encantada vineyards are organically certified by the California Certified Organic Farmers.

Buttonwood Farm Winery had winemaker Karen Steinwachsbehind the table.  Her 2010 Sauvignon Blanc, called Zingy, is appropriately named.  Its big, grassy nose leads to a tropical grapefruit taste, which leads to a long finish.  By comparison, the'09 Sauvignon Blanc has 12% Semillon grapes blended into it.  Barrel aging softens the steel-fermented wine and gives it some creamy, vanilla notes.  The '07 Merlot is 100% Merlot and has a dark and smokey texture.  Buttonwood's '07 Cabernet Francthrows a blanket of spices over the dark fruit, a result of a couple of years in French oak.  It finishes very dry.  The '07 Cabernet Sauvignon actually has 40% Cabernet Franc in it.  It's deliciously creamy with vanilla notes on the fruit.  I didn't pay too much attention to retail prices of the wines I tasted, but I'm told this one goes for $14, which makes it a steal.

Julia Cargasacchi poured the Point Concepción 2009 Chardonnay, which has a bright acidity and tropical flavors as its calling card.  The '09 Pinot Grigio is full of minerals on the nose and floral fruit on tha palate.  The Cargasacchi '05 Cuvée comes across dark and earthy, reminding me of bricks, while their '07 Pinot Noir also shows very dark traits. 

Ernst Storm, Curtis WineryThe Curtis Winery table was hosted by Ernst Storm, Assistant Winemaker at Curtis.  He poured the Rock Hollow Sauvignon Blanc Santa Barbara County 2009.  Rock Hollow is the Curtis second label for Bordeaux varietals.  This crisp white has one-third neutral oak and is made from a majority of estate fruit. It shows tropical guava on the nose and an abundance of rocky minerals on the palate.  Storm says, "It tastes like a Santa Ynez Valley wine."  The Curtis Heritage Blanc, Santa Barbara County 2009 is Viognier, Roussanne and Marsanne.  Apples and salinity dominate.  Their'07 Grenache has a splash of Syrah in it.  It's lean and full of red fruit.  Storm notified me that Curtis is trimming its offerings: only one major Syrah is in future production plans.

Dragonette's winemaker Brandon Sparks-Gillis poured his 2009 Sauvignon Blanc, with fruit from Happy Canyon and Refugio Ranch.  The Refugio Ranch Vineyard is outside the AVA, else it would have been designated a Happy Canyon wine.  Fermented in half steel and half neutral oak, there's a mild nose and a crisp acidity.  The '09 Sauvignon Blanc that is all Happy Canyon is all neutral oak, too.  It has a very interesting nose and fabulous acidity.  The '09 Pinot Noir, Santa Rita Hills, offers a very spicy nose and great fruit flavor.  The'08 Syrah is a three vineyard blend of fruit from Paso Robles and Santa Maria.  There's great minerality in this old world-styled effort.

At the Epiphany Cellars table, Hector Osuna extolled the virtues of this Fess Parker brand.
Epiphany's '09 Grenache Blanc sports a salty, mineral nose and has great acid underlying the floral, tropical, rock garden flavors.  The Grenache Blanc hails from the Camp Four Vineyard.
The 2007 Gypsy - a blend of Grenache, Counoise, Cinsault, Mourvèdre and Syrah - gives an earthy slant to the flowers on the nose.  Revelation, also a 2007 vintage, mixes Syrah, Grenache and Petite Sirah.  It's dark and jammy with a nice grip.  22 months in oak.

Foxen Vineyard was represented by co-owner Dick Doré and Jenny Williamson-Doré.  Their crisp, clean '09 Chardonnay is sourced from Bien Nacido Vineyard.  Foxen's '07 CabernetSauvignon, Santa Ynez Valley, has a nose like a Pinot and firm tannins.  There's a very old-world feel on both their Pinot Noir and their Cab.

Loring Wine Company's Kimberly Loring had four '09 Pinot Noirs to pour.  Rosella's Vineyard has a pretty nose with a bright cherry flavor.  Gary's Vineyard shows a darker version of those attributes.  Cargasacchi Vineyard is light and delicate, while Clos Pepe Vineyard adds rocks to the nose and plums to flavor profile.  All four were shown to have 90+ scores from Wine Spectator magazine.

Matt Dugan at the Palmina station poured some wines made from Italian grape varieties which probably didn't show up anywhere else in the room.  Palmina's 2009 Arneis is minerals, minerals, minerals.  The '09 Tocai Friulano throws in a tropical angle and a tart finish.  Great acidity.  The Palmina '09 Dolcetto reminds me of cherry sweet tarts.  Their '06 Nebbiolo, from the Rancho Sisquoc and Stolpman vineyards, shows very nice acidity, a bright and explosive fruit presence and a loooong finish.

Sweeny Canyon's Chris Marks poured for me.  He's known as the vineyard manager for Sweeny Canyon.  To hear him tell it, "My wife is the winemaker.  I just drive the tractor."  He also has some stories to go along with the wine.  Sageflower Chardonnay is listed as non-vintage, but it's actually a 2001 unoaked chardonnay.  Marks says the wine was relabeled when it didn't move.  Now it sells better, maybe because of some intriguing effects of the bottle aging it has received.  Sweeny Canyon's '06 Chardonnay is mellow with 15 months in oak.  Their 2008 Chardonnay is big and creamy.  Three Pinot Noirs - '06, '07 and '08 - are quite nice, with the '08 being the creamiest of the trio.

Tantara Winery's Melissa Vandegrift poured Tantara's Chablis-like '08 Chardonnay. The 2008 Pinot Noir, Solomon Hills, shows delicious black cherry, while the '08 Dierberg Pinot offers plums and a great acidity.

William James Cellars had winemaker Robin Bogue on hand with her '06 Syrah showing off a nose of candy and a very dark taste and lean structure.  The '07 Grenache has earthy cherry notes and the 2005 PortScandalous, is sourced from Lodi with Portuguese varieties Souzao and Tinta Cao blended.  It smells of anise and has tons of dark flavor.  All their wines are very dry.

From Zaca MesaCeleste Bernard shared an '08 Chardonnay which is lean and spare like a Grenache Blanc, a fresh and floral '09 Viognier, an '07 Roussanne which may be the most palate-cleansing wine I've ever had and the '07 Z Cuvée.  The Z is a blend of Grenache, Mourvedre and Syrah from the Santa Rita Hills, and it is bold and dark.

Ryan Zotovich and Brit Tanquary, Zotovich CellarsThe Zotovich station was staffed by winemaker Ryan Zotovichand his future wife Brit Tanquary.  The wedding is in July, and - I'm sorry - I neglected to get the registry information.  I interrupted their pre-nuptial bliss, but they were happy to pour the '07 Pinot Noir - all dark and earthy - and the '08 Santa Rita Hills Syrah - bold, fruity and strong on tannins.  Both of them spoke lovingly of making wine in what is known as the Lompoc Wine Ghetto.  They both agreed there's a camaraderie among the winemakers there that is comforting.







Thursday, January 20, 2011

THORNTON CUVEE DE FRONTIGNAN, TEMECULA SPARKLER


Thornton Cuvee de Frontignan

While all my wine world pals seemed to be filling the Twitter timeline to the “fail whale” point about which Champagne’s cork they’d be popping on New Year’s Eve, I was chilling a bottle of California sparkling wine.  From Temecula.

Two summers ago, Denise and I visited Thornton Winery and picked up a bottle of their Cuvée de Frontignan.  We both loved the taste, and it was at a sale price well below $20.  We thought we’d ring in 2010 with it, but a rush of bubbly over that holiday season pushed it into the crowd, and there it waited patiently for the year to pass.

This Temecula sparkler is made from Muscat grapes in the Méthode Champenoise.  It reminds me of Asti Spumante - all the celebratory bubbles of Champagne, just lighter and fruitier.  It has an alcohol content of 12.5% abv, so we could enjoy several flutes without becoming tipsy.

We had secured some of our favorite snacks from Whole Foods Market - Denise calls them Lovely Little Things - and the Cuvée paired quite well with the wide variety of crackers, cheese, olives, grains and rice-based salads. 

The Cuvée de Frontignan has medium-fine bubbles that form a sparkling white froth about a half-inch thick.  The nose is full of fruit growing up against a wall of minerals.  It’s yeasty and spicy on the palate, with fruity flavors tasting so very fresh.  The creamy mouthfeel leads to peaches which linger on the finish.

The bottle lasted three days for us, and on the second day it took on a much earthier and more substantial tone without sacrificing too many bubbles.

Don Reha, Thornton’s winemaker at the time this Cuvée was bottled, has moved on to  R.Merlo Estate Vineyards.  He had been with Thornton since 2003.  David Vergari is now Thornton’s winemaker.  He interned at Napa’s Sonoma-Cutrer and the Hess Collection after studying Enology and Viticulture at UC Davis.  Working abroad for a bit, Vergari now returns home to California, although somewhat south of his native Sonoma County.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

THE PARING WHITE 2008


The Paring White 2008

A recent dinner at the Capital Grille, in the Beverly Center in Los Angeles, provided me with my first look at the restaurant operating from the space the old Hard Rock Cafe once occupied.  More than once during the evening I heard the comment, "Boy, it sure doesn't look like the Hard Rock, does it?"  No, it doesn't.  This place features a lot of "steakhouse browns" and dark red leather upholstery in the booths.  It also features some outstanding food and a very nice wine list.  Master Sommelier George Miliotes has done a nice job.

There were some issues at the maitre d' stand resulting in a rather long wait, but we were offered something to drink during the delay.  Once we were seated, the service was stellar.

I like to see plenty of local options on a wine list, and there were a few here.  I went with a wine I had only sampled at a tasting event a couple of years ago.  The Paring White comes from the folks who brought you the Napa cult brand Screaming Eagle.  The Santa Ynez winery Jonata is their Central Coast high-end producer, and The Paring is a second label featuring wines which are much more moderately priced.  The white blend sells for $13 by the glass at The Capital Grille.

Winemaker Matt Dees oversees both labels.  Dees has a degree in soil science from the University of Vermont, so it's no surprise to find that he feels great wines are made in the vineyard.

Dees honed his winemaking chops in Napa Valley and New Zealand, and his specialty is wine made from Bordeaux grape varieties.  The Paring's estate vineyard is in Ballard Canyon, in the Santa Ynez Valley.

The Paring White 2008 is a blend of 55% Sauvignon Blanc, 28% Sémillon and 17% Viognier.  The 2007 vintage had only Sauvignon Blanc and Sémillon in its makeup, and the addition of Viognier makes a difference.  The wine is made utilizing equal parts new French oak, neutral French oak and stainless steel, and is bottled unfined.  375 cases were produced.

Our server advised that it was a good choice to pair with my lobster bisque - which is incredible - and she was right.  She told me many of her customers find it's a bit like Conundrum, also offered by the glass, but not as sweet.

The Paring's nose shows only a slight touch of the Sauvignon Blanc's grassiness and a good whiff of the Viognier's floral aspect.  I also smelled fresh pears and nectarines.  Tropical flavors come first on the palate with a lovely herbal/floral quality.  It has a pale green tint in the glass and feels medium-to-full in the mouth.  There's a great acidity - razor sharp - which makes it pair very well with the bisque and also with Denise's salmon, a bite or two of which I sneaked from her plate.  Pear juice on the finish leaves a beautiful memory of the wine's taste.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

CELEBRITY WINE


Celebrity Wine

Fame and fortune seem to be attracted to the wine business.  Celebrities - especially rich ones - are well-suited to winemaking.  First of all it takes a fortune to run a winery  Secondly, all that fame comes in handy when promoting a product.  Here are some celebs from different areas of fame who have ventured into the wine world.

Sports

Golfers seem to be very much attracted to the wine industry.  Greg Norman has long been involved as a Napa Valley winemaker with his Greg Norman Estates.  Jack Nicklaus has teamed with Terlato for his own Nicklaus label, while Arnold Palmer partnered with Napa Valley’s Luna Vineyards for his line.  Fred Couples recently formed a partnership with winemaker Mitch Cosentino for his Couples & Co. brand.  Nick Faldo fronts wine made in Australia while Ernie Els and John Dalyboth have labels for wines made from South African grapes.  Annika Sorenstam works with Wente Vineyards to produce Annika Vineyards wines and Christie Kerr has partnered with Napa Valley’s Pride Mountain Vineyards for Curvature.

Auto racing legend Mario Andretti founded a winery with the former CEO of K-Mart, Joe Antonini.  Frank Arciero, who was involved in auto racing as an owner, founded and owns the Arciero Family Vineyards in Paso Robles, California.  Jeff Gordon shares the driver’s seat with Napa’s August Briggs Winery for his Jeff Gordon Wines label.  NASCAR owner Kevin Buckler also owns the Sonoma County Adobe Road Winery, while fellow NASCAR owner Richard Childressowns the North Carlina-based Childress Vineyards.

Athletes like skater Peggy Fleming, hockey great Wayne Gretzky and former baseball hall-of-famer Tom Seaver are all in the wine business to one degree or another.

Actors

Plenty of actors have been bitten by the winemaking bug.  Dan Akroyd has paired with Diamond Estates to produce a line of Canadian wines, from southern Ontario and the Niagara Peninsula. Gerard Depardieu bought Chateau de Tigne in the Loire Valley in 1989.  Lorraine Bracco has her Bracco Wines based in Italy.  The late Raymond Burr bought a Sonoma County winery in Dry Creek Valley, which is now run by his partner.  Desperate Housewives star Kyle MacLachlanworks with a Walla Walla, Washington winery to produce a red blend he calls Pursued By Bear.  The late Fess Parker would occasionally hold court in his Santa Ynez Valley hotel, leading singalongs while his guests enjoyed his wines, produced just up the road.

Singers

Madonna has a line of wines, thanks to her father!  Ciccone Vineyards, owned by one Sylvio Ciccone, celebrates the superstar in vino.  Dave Matthews owns a Virginia winery, Blenheim Vineyard, Rapper Lil Jon has a line of wine, although he has claimed to know not very much about wine, except that he likes the taste.  Olivia Newton-John founded her Australian label Koala Blue in 1983.  British star Cliff Richard owns a winery in Portugal.  

Tommy Smothers
 has a Sonoma County vineyard.  The other half of the act is Tommy’s brother,Dick.  He’s into auto racing, so maybe someday he’ll join Tommy amongst the vines.

Rockers

Jonathan Cain, of Journey fame, partnered with winemakers Dennis De La Montanya and Daryl Groom for the delaCain label.   Mick Fleetwood hooked up with Langtry Estate for his Private Cellar label.  Vince Neil has a vineyard and winery named after himself.

Politician Nancy Pelosi owns two vineyards, but doesn’t make wine.  She sells the grapes to other winemakers.

Wine critic Robert Parker owns a vineyard and winery in Oregon’s Willamette Valley, Beaux Freres.  To avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest, he abstains from rating any wines from Oregon.

Monday, January 17, 2011

WINE COUNTRY: WINE BY THE STATE


Wine Country

After having the good fortune recently to taste a few Norton wines from Missouri, Virginia and Georgia - and with the knowledge that there are wineries in each of the United States - I have decided to embark on an effort to taste wine from all 50 states, and report my findings on the Now And Zin Wine Blog.

A brief Google search showed me that others have attempted this endeavor and some are currently involved in it.  I thought it sounded like fun, so I've decided to give it a shot and see what I can learn.

My expectations are not set too high.  This is not due to a fear that the wines from other states - I live in California - will fail to live up to my hopes.  I already know there are good wines coming from some unexpected places.  My fears center on the practical side.  Will I be able to have wine from every state shipped to me?  I'm not an expert on state-by-state alcohol shipping laws, but I'm guessing there will be some trouble along the way.

I have a wide open mindset for the experiences which lie ahead and will no doubt enjoy the wines of different regions as they are enjoyed by those to whom they are readily available.

From the research I have done, I expect that in some states - Alaska and Hawaii pop into mind - I may try wine made from fruit other than grapes.  I'm open to that.

These Wine Country experiences will appear in this space on an irregular basis as I am able to procure the product.  I'll shoot for one state per week.  I hope you'll keep reading!

Sunday, January 16, 2011

NORTON WINE COUNTRY: GEORGIA


Norton Wine From Georgia

When Georgia is mentioned in wine circles these days, it is more than likely a reference to the Eastern European country, not the state in the southeastern U.S.  The seat of the Old South, though, does produce wine.  The home of Savannah and Hot ‘Lanta has a small town by the name of Tiger, Georgia, where you’ll find Tiger Mountain Vineyards.

Tiger Mountain Vineyards NortonThis is the final article in my brief study of wine made from the all-American Norton grape, so it’s no surprise to find that variety growing at Tiger Mountain.  They also have Petit Manseng, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Tannat. Viognier and Touriga Nacional planted.  You have to love these guys for their brazen devotion to heritage grapes alone!

Dr. John Ezzard and his wife Martha planted grapes in 1995 on the farm where he was born.  The good doctor says 2,000 feet of altitude, mineral rich soil and well drained slopes make for great terroir.  With all that as a starting point, the step to good wine is a short one.

The Ezzards watched and learned about grape-growing from Virginia's Horton Vineyards.  Tiger Mountain’s winery manager Jabe Hilson assists in the winemaking process.  The Tiger Mountain Norton varietal wine sells for $17.  A sample was sent to me for the purpose of this article.

Tiger Mountain Norton 2005

Subtitled “Georgia Red Wine,” Tiger Mountain Vineyards’ Norton registers the lowest alcohol content of the Nortons in this series - only 11.5% abv.

It is very dark in the glass, almost black, and difficult to see through at the edges.  The core allows no light through.  A cassis aroma dominates the nose, abetted by a fair whiff of licorice.  The jamminess is undeniable, but a faint scent of tar comes through on its coattails.

The palate is surprising, given the fruity nature of the nose.  There’s a big bell pepper play made by this wine, with a white pepper spiciness underlying.  The fruit seems constricted in comparison, but a mix of blackberry and cranberry come through on the substantial finish.  That fruit is somewhat tart - not something I am accustomed to tasting in wine, but something I got used to quickly.  People who love to drink fruit bombs might turn their noses up at this wine, at least at first.  A trace of baker’s chocolate strains to come through late in the game.

The tannins are soft but the wine is nice and dry.  The acidity level is good in this well-balanced effort, and it paired very well with a sweet, maple-glazed ham.  It would probably be a good choice with sweet barbecue sauce, too.  The sweetness of the glaze helped offset the tartness in the wine and balance out the meal.  Semi-sweet chocolate is a nice match, too.

PINOT DAYS GRAND TASTING EVENT 2011


Inside Barker Hangar for Pinot Days

An airplane hangar full of great Pinot Noir is a hard thing for a wine lover to ignore.  The huge Quonset hut that is Barker Hangar at Santa Monica Airport held plenty of the wine world’s magic elixir on Saturday January 15, 2011.  That’s when the second annual Pinot Days event came to Southern California.

Several large airplanes could have been rolled inside the man-made cavern.  Instead, close to a hundred wineries were there for Pinot Days, pouring 300 or so different Pinot Noir wines.  The entries were mainly from the California wine regions known for the variety - the Russian River Valley and several AVAs in  Santa Barbara County were well represented in the large space.  There were a little less than a handful from Oregon, I saw one table from Washington and a winery from Tasmania ventured into the northern hemisphere for the day.

During the week, there were a couple of winemaker meet-and-greet situations which I could not attend, but were reportedly smashing successes.  So was the Grand Tasting event.  If you did not make it to Pinot Days for this second annual soiree, you really should keep an eye out for the 2012 event.  It's well worth the time and reasonable expense to see that you are there for it.

Two hours was not enough time for me to taste all the wines in the hangar, but I did get to sample quite a few I thought were truly exceptional.

Fess Parker Winery poured four wines which captivated me - they always do.  Their 2009 Parker Station has a funky nose and is drinking smooth and easy.  The acidity is very good, and selling for under $15 makes it the value of the day.  Parker’s 2008 Santa Barbara County shows black cherry and minerals on the nose with a dark floral taste.  The 2007 Ashley’s Vineyard rocks a little spearmint note and the 2008 Santa Rita Hills Clone 115 offers a peppery nose and subdued minerals on the palate.  Its bottle was also sporting a little coonskin cap on the tasting table.  Any of the four Fess Parker wines poured could qualify as my favorite Pinot of the day.

La Fenêtre's Joshua KlapperLa Fenêtre’s Joshua Klapper talked about picking fruit in the same way a gambler talks about the time his team beat the spread on the last play of the game.  Klapper was absolutely riveting as he spoke of determining when grapes were ready to be picked.  “Throw all that scientific junk away.  Look at them!  Listen to them!  The grapes’ll tell you when they’re ready!”  His tone softened somewhat when he recounted how - with the pickers working on getting his grapes into trucks - he saw other winemakers roll the dice and leave their fruit on the vine another day.  The weather that day would prove to be hot enough to ruin a substantial amount of that fruit.  Those winemakers did not listen to their grapes.  La Fenêtre’s 2008 Sierra Madre has a wonderfully smokey, floral nose and a dark, brooding presence in the mouth.

Kenneth Volk’s table featured the 2007 Santa Maria Cuvée.  Seven vineyards contribute to its smoke-filled cherry nose, luscious mouthfeel and great acidity.

Gainey Vineyard’s winemaker Jeff LeBard brought the light side and the dark side  over from Santa Ynez.  His 2008 Light Label shows the bright, red fruit while the Dark Label - well, it’s dark.  It also has an interesting cinnamon and nutmeg flavor profile.  Keep it in mind for the holiday season.  Also keep in mind that production was extremely limited on both these Pinot Noirs.

Clos Pepe's Wes HagenWes Hagen, the winemaker at Clos Pepe Vineyards, was drawing a crowd again this year.  His way with a story and easy manner with strangers turn him into a people-magnet at wine events.  He vacated the table for a while, and enough of his adoring throng dissipated so that I could have a few pours with his second-in-command.  The Clos Pepe vertical tasting of the last four vintages of Pinor Noir showed the ‘08 and ‘09 to be bright, fresh and well scrubbed, while their older brothers were very interesting indeed.  The 2007 Clos Pepe is fantastic, with an edge that is almost like citrus.  The ‘06 vintage has a minty aspect to fall in love with.

Cargasacchi was situated on Clos Pepe’s immediate left, and they had a pretty good sized group as well.  These two seemed to be the busiest tables in the hangar during the trade tasting.

Santa Rosa’s Martinelli Winery offered their 2008 Moonshine Ranch.  The fruit comes from a densely planted vineyard near the Russian River Valley which was named for an old still, dating back to Prohibition.  This Pinot has a huge, earthy bouquet, mineral-laden dark fruit on the palate and a very lively acidity.

Thomas Fogarty’s winemaker made it down from the Santa Cruz Mountains to show off three of his Pinots - Santa Cruz Mountain, Windy Hill and Rapley Trail, all ‘08 - and they were pretty, floral and delicate.  Nathan Kandler told me that his Pinots are aged for a year-and-a-half in barrels and another year in bottles, so these are almost new releases.  I commented favorably on them, but I had to tell him how much I loved Fogarty’s unoaked Chardonnay, too.

Pacific Coast Vineyards - Todd and Tammy Schaefer - served up a couple of bright and fruity Pinots sourced from Babcock Vineyards in the Santa Rita Hills.  They both regaled me with stories of millionaire winemaking in Malibu, of which I hope to hear more when I see them in February at the Beverly Hills Wine Festival.

Talley Vineyards poured three ‘08s that were full of dark and dusty Arroyo Grande earth.

Tantara’s 2008 Solomon Hills Santa Maria Valley showed great minerality and very good acid.

Ancient Oaks Cellars was represented by Ken & Melissa Moholt-Siebert.  Their family has farmed the estate for quite some time, only recently delving into winemaking.  Their ‘08 Russian River Valley includes some grapes from neighboring small vineyards as well as their own, while they also have a Pinot which is made exclusively from estate-grown grapes.

Frogmore Creek - from Australia’s island state of Tasmania - produces a Pinot under the banner of Forty-Two Degrees South as well as their Frogmore Creek estate wine.  The former sports a great nose and a cola flavor profile while the latter has a bold bouquet and dark flavors.  Both have a good, long finish.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

MICHAEL-DAVID 6TH SENSE SYRAH LODI 2007 AT TART


6th Sense Syrah

"I need a cocktail."  That's a common expression for many who are departing a tough day at the ol' salt mines, but one that's not heard too often from my wife.  So we stopped at Tart as we made our way through the thick evening traffic on Fairfax.  She was not as taken with the caramel apple-tini as she thought she would be.  Maybe that's an indication that one should avoid cocktails which sound more like something on the board at Starbuck's.

My wine was a different matter.  I was very happy with the 6th Sense Lodi Syrah from Michael-David Winery.  It's $10 by the glass at Tart.  The Lodi winery is noted for their Zinfandel, 7 Deadly Zins, and they also do a fine job with Rhone Varieties.

Dark purple in color, the nose has tons of blackberry with a smattering of black pepper and traces of cinnamon and clove.  The taste is very earthy.  Dark fruit is blanketed in minerality, which gives a smokey texture to the dark plums and currants on the palate.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

WINE AND FOOD PAIRING: HAMBURGER


Wine and Food Pairing: Hamburger

If you’re about to dig into a big ol’ hamburger and would like to pair a wine with it, think about what’s there besides the burger!

If you like a burger with bacon, try ZinfandelSyrah or Tempranillo. All three are fruity red wines with either a spiciness or tartness which will pair well with the pork element.

For a burger adorned with ketchup, you can go jammy and spicy with Syrah, full and earthy with Cabernet Franc or fruity and spicy with Zinfandel.

If your burger is dressed with with Mustard or Relish, you might find Merlot's smokiness a good match. Cabernet Sauvignon might pair well, but it might be overkill, too.  A Beaujolais Cru orBeaujolais Villages will bring some light berry flavors along with the spice.

Burgers with onions and mushrooms call for Chianti or another Sangiovese-based wine.  Those Italian reds will bring cherries and peppers to the table.  Tempranillo's tart edge will hit the mushroom notes just right.

Your cheeseburger will find paradise with a Cabernet Sauvignon or Pinot Noir.  Both fit the profile for beef and cheese, but Beaujolais will score again with this meal in a wrapper.

Plain ol’ hamburger likes Merlot's fruity earth notes, while the black cherry flavors of a niceBarbera will also liven up the naked burger.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

WINE THEMED AFTER CHILEAN MINERS


Chilean Winers

A British Design firm, Unreal, gave its clients a rather unusual gift during the Christmas season.  According to the website FastCoDesign.com, the firm labeled a designer line of wine as "Chilean Winers."  The reference point, of course, is the group of Chilean miners who were trapped underground for 69 days in late 2010.

You might remember that while they were trapped, the 33 miners sent a request to those at ground level for some wine to help make their internment more tolerable.  That request was denied.

One bottle for each trapped miner - 33 in all - were produced by Unreal, and they were named and numbered after the miners in the order in which they were rescued.  The bottle came packed in a tube representing the Fenix 2 rescue capsule, underneath a bit of gravel the recipient has to dig through in order to get to the wine.

The design firm - noted for their unusual and sometimes irreverent marketing ploys - claims the wine's packaging was conceived as a tribute, but others say it was merely a tasteless scheme that cashed in on the miners' suffering.

Image courtesy of Unreal

Monday, January 10, 2011

THE SPARKLE IN SPARKLING WINE


The Sparkle In Sparkling Wine

What puts the sparkle in sparkling wine?  The short answer: carbon dioxide gas.  But a half dozen French scientists and all the Pommery champagne they could sample offer a few sidebars to this fact.  This information comes from a story in the Montreal Gazette .

This research - did they know they'd get a gig like this when they signed up for science? - shows that the main thing that makes those bubbles disappear is the act of pouring the wine into the glass.

Pouring sparkling wine into the glass so that it hits the bottom of the glass actually promotes the dissipation of bubbles.  If you want the nose tickles to last a while, the guys in the lab coats say you should pour it gently down the side of the glass.  That results in twice the bubbles of splashier methods.

The study also found that using a tall, narrow flute instead of a wide champagne glass will help preserve the bubbles longer.

Finally, the scientists advise us to serve the sparklers cold - there's something about density and surface tension which is enhanced when the wine is refrigerated.

Keep these items in mind when breaking out the bubbly and you'll be ready for the champagne lifestyle.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

NORTON WINE COUNTRY: VIRGINIA


Norton Wine From Virginia - Rappahannock Cellars

Some folks probably questioned the sanity of Rappahannock Cellars’ owner John Delmare when he uprooted his family from California's Santa Cruz Mountains to the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia.  Huntly, Virginia was not exactly showing a big blip on the winemaking radar screen in 1998.  He and his family have never looked back, though.  His 20 acres of vineyard land - Glenway Vineyard - bear Chardonnay, Cabernet Franc, Viognier, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Malbec, Norton, and others.  Delmare calls his style "old world" and notes that "Virginia fruit style is very similar to Bordeaux."  Like most great vintners, he believes "great wines are made in the vineyard.  Vintage-to-vintage variation is a struggle in Virginia, but it also tends to define the personality of Virginia wine."  Winemaker Jason Burrus and vineyard manager Tom Kelly receive due props from Delmare for the inestimable contribution they make to Rappahannock’s wine.

These wines were provided as samples by Rappahannock Cellars for the purpose of this article.

Rappahannock Norton WineNorton Virginia 2008
This blend of 75% Norton and 25% Cabernet Sauvignon has an alcohol level of 13.9% and  retails for $21.

The nose of this wine very much reminds me of Cabernet Franc.  Its very bright and fruity aromas stand as a counterpoint to the dark, brambly Norton wines of Missouri.  This blend really brings the fruit strongly.  The taste is fruitier than the Missouri Nortons, but that earthy tartness I found so intriguing is here in abundance, too.  The Cab, believe it or not, is almost buried beneath the qualities of the Norton.  There’s plenty of that mouthwatering acidity, which plays directly from the luscious blackberry-meets-raspberry flavor profile.  As the wine opens and breathes, good things happen.  On the third - and final - night the bottle was open, the wine stood in the glass for three hours before I touched it.  To say it was magnificent is an understatement.  The flavors turned positively primeval.  The darkness and intensity of the blackberry left me aghast.  Paired with Santa Maria tri-tip, it was exquisite.  No wonder it is the best seller in the cellar.

Rappahannock Cellars Dessert Norton WineRappahannock Cellars Virginia Red Dessert Wine 2007
This Port-style wine comes in at just under 18% in alcohol content, but really doesn’t feel boozy at all.  It’s produced in what the label calls “traditional European method” at 8% residual sugar.  Not an overly sweet wine, it strikes me as off-sweet.  And as with the Missouri “Port”, there’s no need to reserve this for dessert.  It will pair well with a variety of meat dishes, especially if you like to eat meat which is somewhat unadorned with a sauce - like a steak right off the grill.  It retails for $39.

The richness and density of the nose throws me for a loop.  Simply citing a thick blackberry aroma wafting past the alcohol seems so insufficient.  The fruit is so dark and earthy it almost masquerades as something else.  It’s definitely a pure and concentrated bouquet.  The palate is as aromatic as the nose, tasting floral - but not at all delicate.  Blackberries and black plums are jammy and thick, with what has by now become familiar to me in the Norton grape: that extreme streak of minerality which makes the taste so interesting.

See previous posts on Norton wines.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

LE BINE VALPOLICELLA CLASSICO SUPERIORE RIPASSO 2008 AT VIA ALLORO


Le Bine Valpolicella

The Drago family operates a number of fine Italian restaurants in Los Angeles - so many it's difficult to get around to all of them. Via Alloro in Beverly Hills had been on my list for some time, and a Saturday afternoon "park-and-dine" experience afforded me the perfect opportunity to have lunch there.

"Park-and-dine" is a method Denise and I resort to occasionally that helps us deal with the frustration of trying to find a parking space near a restaurant where we'd like to dine.  Due to the fact that so many Los Angeles parking meters are taken over by valets these days - and we don't do the valet thing - we will simply find a place to park, then look for a restaurant near the parking space.  As backward as that is, we have actually found many good restaurants through the "park-and-dine" method.

We parked in Beverly Hills on the way to another restaurant, and passed Via Alloro on the way there.  I suggested we cut the walk short and find a table.

Via Alloro is a Tanino Drago establishment.  Good Italian food - as expected - comes simple and rustic, just the way we like it.  I ordered the Le Bine Valpolicella Ripasso by Giuseppe Campagnola on recommendation of our server, and I liked it.

Dark in color with a lighter purple ring at the edge, the wine shows dark leathery cherry and raspberry aromas, while the taste is full bodied and mellow.  Soft tannins make it a great sip and nice acidity make a good choice for food.  It went very well with my risotto with sausage and broccoli despite the "greenness" of the dish.  The wine is $12 by the glass.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

NORTON WINE COUNTRY: MISSOURI


Norton Wine from Stone Hill Winery, MO

It’s fitting to begin this short series of tasting notes for wine made from the Norton grape with a few wines from a Missouri winery.  Norton is the state grape of Missouri, and it was a Missouri Norton which found international acclaim at a wine show in Vienna, Austria in 1873.  At that event it was named “the best red wine of all nations.”  Read more about the Norton grape in my earlier post on the Now And Zin Wine Blog.

The main location for Stone Hill Winery is in Hermann, Missouri, while two other locations operate in New Florence and Branson.  Stone Hill was founded in 1847 and is listed on the National Historic Register.  The main building for the Hermann winery - built in 1869 - was restored to its original stature by Jim and Betty Held in 1965.  Since then, they have been joined by three of their children.  The kids each have degrees in the sciences of winemaking and grape growing.

In addition to Norton wines, Stone Hill also has a raft of wines made from heritage grapes like Vidal Blanc, Chardonel, Vignoles, Chambourcin, and Traminette.  The winemaking team - David Johnson, Shaun Turnbull and Tavis Harris - produce award-winning wines.  The fruit of their labor has garnered over 3,500 awards in the past 20 years.

These wines were provided as samples by Stone Hill Winery for the purpose of this article.


Stone Hill Winery NortonStone Hill Winery Norton 2006
This estate-bottled Hermann wine is 100% Norton made from grapes grown in the Cross J and Kemperberg Vineyards.  The wine has an alcohol level of only 13.8% and is aged twelve months in French, Hungarian and American oak barrels.

This is the first of the three Stone Hill wines I sampled.  The nose is very dark and earthy.  Denise smelled it and said, “it smells like history.”  I love that comment, but I’ll just say it smells “old world.”  Dense blackberry aromas are blanketed with a layering of clove and maybe some nutmeg.  It’s a very interesting nose, and a very different one for anyone who drinks mostly California wine.  A huge herbal quality is present and becomes stronger as the wine opens.  The taste has some grapiness to it, but the blackberry comes through very strongly.  A cola angle surfaces at the finish - which seems to last forever, by the way.  There is a tartness to the wine that makes me think of plums skins, but in a good way.  A great acidity is present in the Stone Hill Norton.

On the second night the bottle was open, the tannins were much softer and the tartness was not as pronounced.  However, on the third night, the tartness seemed to return.

Stone Hill Winery Cross J Vineyard NortonCross J Vineyard Norton 2006
The grapes for this estate wine are harvested from the vineyard which overlooks Jim and Betty Held’s home, up on a hilltop overlooking the Missouri River.  This 100% single-vineyard varietal sees twelve months aging in French and European oak.  The alcohol level is very moderate at 13.3%, and the wine retails for $25.

This is the second of the Stone Hill trio I tasted.  Again, the old-world aromas of blackberry and spice leap up past the heat, which is considerable upon opening.   The wine is once more very dark, inky and black in appearance.  It has a fine tannic structure with a cherry-meets-raspberry flavor profile, along with that tartness, too.  After time to breathe, the wine opens up and its flavors become darker and more brambly on the second and third nights the bottle is open.  This single vineyard effort had an aroma and taste reminiscent of Syrah - a little fruitier than the first wine.  The acidity is fantastic.

Stone Hill Winery Norton PortStone Hill Winery Missouri Port 2007
The winery says "short fermentation, brandy fortification and barrel aging" are the high points of this one.  Stone Hill produced their first vintage of Port-style wine in 1990, and the line has garnered high ratings and rave reviews from national publications.  The alcohol level is jacked up to a port-like 18.4% and it retails for $22 in a 500 ml bottle.

This finale of the three samples from Stone Hill looks very dark at the core with purple edges.  Once again, aromas of spices, remind me of Syrah, with that big blackberry nose muscling in.  It’s rich and dark on the palate with a very strong sensibility of Portuguese grapes.  This time around, the spiciness is tasted as well as smelled.  The wine’s sweetness is counterbalanced by its acidity, which seems to be the calling card of the Norton grape.  This Port-style wine is great for dessert, but I could also wash down a steak or pork chop with it.

Soon I’ll relate my experiences with some Virginia Norton wines on the Now And Zin Wine Blog.

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