Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Summer Wine: Callaway Sauvignon Blanc 2010

Temecula’s Callaway Vineyards and Winery has not been a favorite of mine, so it wasn't exactly a thrill when Russell, our waiter, offered Callaway as the Sauvignon Blanc selection.  Several years ago I tasted through Callaway’s whites and rosés and found them tasteless, flabby and lacking acidity.  With a meatless Mediterranean meal ahead of me and the late afternoon warmth still breezing into Cayenne Cafe, I figured “At least it will be cool.”

It was.  White wine is always served too cold in restaurants.  I’ve almost given it up as a crusade; the restaurants aren’t listening.

But the Callaway Special Selection Sauvignon Blanc 2010 is a pretty good wine for a warm afternoon, especially with some nice tabbouleh, falafel, hummus, grape leaves, spinach pie, olives and vegetable couscous on the table.  The wine pairs very well with the whole smorgasbord, if you'll pardon the international metaphor-mixing.

There’s just a slight tint in the glass, and the nose shows apples, citrus and a hint of vanilla.  It’s full in the mouth, with flavors of lime and pear dominant.  The acidity seemed a little light upon sipping, but it came in where it was needed - on the finish.  A nice spread of minerality leaves the palate clean and refreshed.  Winemaker Craig Larson has done a nice job with this crisp white.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Summer Wine: Pali Charm Acres Chardonnay 2010

Here’s another brief set of notes about a wine I think you might want to pick up this summer.

Pali Wine Company is located in Lompoc, but they source grapes from different California growing regions.  Pali specializes in Pinot Noir, but they do some Chardonnay as well.  This one hails from the Sonoma Coast region.  The founders of Pali are from Pacific Palisades, and they name their wines after neighborhoods in their hometown.

Aaron Walker is the winemaker, working with consulting winemaker Kenneth Juhasz.  The Pali website states, “Walker and Juhasz are terroir specialists who strive to bring out the distinct characteristics of each of the sites we source for our fruit.”

The nose on the Charm Acres Chardonnay displays oak spices, toasted vanilla, green apple and a floral element.  It’s a great package of aromas.  The golden wine sits full in the mouth, and offers flavors of lime peel and pear juice with a hint of lemon chess pie.  It sports a nice level of acidity, especially considering its overall creaminess.  There is a long-lasting finish which lets the oak flavors play.

Try it with a salad on the patio - or some mixed greens on the veranda.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Wine From The South Of France: Gerard Bertrand

The U.S. director for Gerard Bertrand wines spoke with me by telephone from the south of France last week.  He’s the man responsible for marketing the Bertrand line in the U.S., and he says his job is getting easier.

Why are Americans drinking more wine from the south of France now?  Fine says it’s about the quality.  “Americans want a wine that over-delivers.  They are adventurous enough so that they don’t really care where the wine comes from, as long as it delivers great value for the money spent.  That’s what we do in the south of France.”

Fine points out that “Most of the Bertrand wines cost between 12 and 20 dollars per bottle, but we also produce smaller production wines and appellation wines that run up to $75.”

Fine says the south of France is the only region in the word that makes such a wide variety of wines, although I think a case could be made for a number of locations - including California.  He says “the variety of terroir in the south of France allows us to produce a great variety of wine types.  According to Fine, Bertrand believes that you must grow the best grapes possible to make the best wine possible, a tenet which Fine echoes.

I know Fine is an advanced sommelier, but I asked about his past as a magician.  “That is true,” he chuckled.  “Now I try to make wine disappear.  The magic actually plays into what we do, because we want the wine experience to be fun and enjoyable, like it should be.  There's a big difference between tasting wine and drinking wine.  We make wine that's fruit-forward and food-friendly.

I had received samples of a few of the Bertrand wines before the interview, and the wines certainly showed the varied terroirs in the south of France to which Fine referred.

Grand Terroirs Tautavel, Cotes du Roussillon Village 2008
The village of Tautavel is located in the south of France, between the Pyrenees Mountains and the Mediterranean Sea.  The area features calcareous red clay and limestone boulders.  The wine is composed of 50% Grenache, 35% Syrah and 15%Carignan grapes.  After being de-stemmed, the grapes go into vats for as long as two weeks before pressing.  The different varieties are vinified separately, aged 10 months in barrels and then in bottles.  I get a perfumed nose with strong notes of clove and roses.  The floral aspect is quite intense.  You will want to decant this, as it is rippingly hot upon pouring.  After time, it smooths out beautifully.  I taste blackberries, licorice and a whole lot of tar - quite complex.  The finish is like a mouthful of berries with nice chewy tannins, brilliant acidity and the minerals, the earth, which lasts long after the sip is gone.

Corbières 2009
Corbières is the largest appellation in the south of France, with over 32,000 acres  of grapevines planted.  This is the sort of area that Fine spoke about, with variable terroir and microclimates within its boundaries.  Terraces of pebbles, sandstone and marl are found in the north, with limestone and schist in the higher elevations to the south.  The Bertrand Corbières is made in much the same way as the Tautavel, but it spends only eight months in barrels.  The grapes are 40% Syrah, 40% Grenache and 20% Mourvèdre.  It’s a dark looking wine, and it tastes quite complex.  A masculine nose of leather, tobacco and blackberries meet blueberries and firm tannins of the palate.  It’s an elegant, well made wine.  The alcohol level is a very European 13.3% abv.

Saint Chinian 2009
Saint-Chinian is in Languedoc and features schist-based soil.  The vines have been on those sandstone slopes since the middle ages.  Syrah and Mourvèdre blend for this one.  There is a three-week maceration period followed by eight months in barrels.  The nose brings forth aromas of currant and blackberry with some herbs in play.  Big tannins explode with powerful dark fruit on the palate.  Minerals fade slowly on the finish, while black tea lingers.

Minervois 2008
This area is located in a huge amphitheater on the side of Black Mountain.  The lower ground is chalky, with sandstone and granite becoming the rule higher up the slope.  The wine is a 50/50 blend of Syrah and Carignan, and carries a 14.3% alcohol number.  The nose is dark, with coffee grounds and plums.  The palate shows currant and blackberry flavors, with very soft tannins, great minerality and acidity to spare.

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Friday, June 22, 2012

Paso Robles Wine Travel Planner

A new web-based tool simplifies traveling through Paso Robles wine country.  The Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance has launched their new Trip Planner - on their website - which lets wine enthusiasts create customized itineraries.  The Trip Planner allows you to search over 160 Wine Alliance member wineries and map out a wine tasting experience based on amenities, varieties, and the region’s wineries.  The tool also incorporates the area’s hospitality assets - restaurants, accommodations, and tour companies.  

Jennifer Porter is the Executive Director of Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance.  She says, “There is no other wine region or entity that provides such a complete planning tool with the same customization and sharing capabilities that the Paso Robles Trip Planner offers.”

You can search for amenities such as certifiable sustainable, tours, pet friendliness or picnic areas, and cross reference capabilities allow you to refine your search according to the type of wine you like.  Adding locations to an itinerary can be done from any page on the website that lists wineries or hospitality businesses, with a single click of the mouse.  Once an itinerary is built, you can fine-tune by click-and-drag and add specific addresses for beginning and ending points.  Once the itinerary is complete, share it through social media, print it, email it or bookmark it.

To utilize the new Paso Robles Trip Planner, visit the Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance website and click on the Plan Your Visit – My Itinerary button which sits to the right of the screen.  This will send you to a landing page which provides simple directions to begin creating an itinerary in three clicks.

I planned a trip for myself using the Trip Planner tool. Here's how it looks.

This Trip Planner was made possible through support from the California Department of Food and Agriculture’s Specialty Crop Block Grant Program.  The Alliance contracted with Clever Concepts, Kraftwerk Design, Mike Bobbitt and Associates, and Moosepoint Technologies to create the design and functionality of the Trip Planner.

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Thursday, June 21, 2012

Blood Of The Vines: Bedazzled

Wine Goes to the Movies 

Bedazzle: 1. To dazzle completely so as to make blind.  2. To cleverly outwit

Enough wine can make you blind drunk, and you may, in that circumstance, find yourself cleverly outwitted.  "Dude, where's my car" is a question I have received over the phone on at least a couple of mornings after.

“Bedazzled” shows how easily we mortals can be taken in by someone who promises to give us what we want.  Peter Cook and Dudley Moore - the Moët et Chandon of British comedy - make this film bubble over with their unique comic sparkle.

Peter Cook wears the devil's red socks - not wine red, unfortunately, but brimstone red - while Dudley Moore is the devil's workshop. He just wants to do well with the ladies, and he trusts a guy in a cape to get him there.  Raquel Welch is - what else - Lust.  Any movie featuring this much of Raquel Welch gets extras on my 100 point scale.  The seven deadly sins are looking pretty good from this angle.

Organized religion has tagged drinking as a sin, although it’s not on the list of seven.  Drinking too much may be considered gluttony, and then you’re in trouble.  Proud of your low blue flame?  That’s a no-no.  Envious of your neighbor’s 1995 Château Margaux?  Nix.  Mean drunk?  Wrath is bad, too.  You can get into trouble with any endeavor.  Keep yourself in between the extremes and you should be alright.

Don’t confuse “Bedazzled” with the remake starring Brendan Fraser.  It's nothing of the sort.  TFH guru Josh Olsen says the 1967 original is one of the three films that define a '60s that never was.  Without “Bedazzled,” “The President's Analyst” and “Beyond the Valley of the Dolls,” says Olsen, “you have no Austin Powers."  I'm still trying to figure out if that's a good or bad thing.  A any rate, his advice to see the "Lennon and McCartney of British comedy" in action should be taken.  Laughter is not one of the seven deadlies.

Bedazzling Wines:

7 Deadly Zins is a Lodi Zinfandel blend that’s spicy, sexy and full-bodied - definitely worth one of your seven wishes.

Casillero del Diablo Reserva Privada - A blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah from “the Devil’s cellar.”

Juliette's Dazzle Rosé - A pink wine made from Pinot Grigio!

Kiss The Devil Wine - Wine made from chili peppers.  No way it’s that hot?  Yes, way.

Deviled ham - Ham, hot sauce and cayenne pepper all rolled into a tin can that sits on a shelf for five years before you buy it.  How do I not have some of that in front of me right now?

Bedazzled Wine Glasses - Maybe I'll get some of these for the next wine party I throw in my RV.

Bedazzled Wine Bottle Wraps - OMG.  It’s the work of the devil.

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Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Rutini Wines Trumpeter Chardonnay 2010

A gift of wine is always a good thing, right?  I was given a bottle by a very well-meaning individual who knows almost nothing about wine.  In fairness, it was a gift to her and she knows I like wine, so it was an “if you don’t want this, I’ll just throw it away” situation.  I figured I’d could write about it.  Maybe it would be good - I like Chardonnay from Argentina.

Rutini is headquartered in Maipú, a city in Mendoza.  Trumpeter is 100% Chardonnay from Tupungato in the Uco Valley.  The grapes grow at an altitude of 3,300 feet and are watered by melting snow in the Andes, which makes up for the rain shade created by the mountains.  The fruit is harvested by hand, and the wine is 30% barrel-fermented, with 30% malolactic fermentation for a bit of a fuller mouth.  The oak is only used for seven months, but half of it is new French oak.  The oak’s presence makes it seem like it spent longer in the barrel.  Trumpeter carries an alcohol level of 13.5% and sells for under $10 per bottle.

There’s a good deal of oak on the nose - not what I was hoping for, but not a surprise given the golden hue.  A wet straw component follows the oak.  It tastes of oak, too, with washed out tropical fruit and white peaches in the background.  The full mouthfeel and nice acidity is negated by the lackluster fruit, leaving a wine that’s fairly dull and wooden.  It does pair well with salad, olives and cheese, even though those are rather minimal tests of a white wine.

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Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Two Vermentinos

Wine made from the Vermentino grape is one of the more refreshing experiences in life.  Often a Vermentino wine will come from the Italian island of Sardegna - or Sardinia - but the grape is also cultivated elsewhere, like in France, California and Virginia.  Vermentino has been found through its DNA to be identical to the Pigato grape in Liguria and the Favoria in Piedmont.  

There are few true Italian grape varieties planted on Sardegna, and Vermentino is one of the few.  The grape varieties found on the island tend to be those with more of a tie to France or Spain - Carignan, Cabernet Sauvignon, Malvasia and Bobal are plentiful, as is Cannonau, a Grenache clone.

A new restaurant in Los Angeles - Gusto, on 3rd near the Beverly Center - specializes in homestyle Italian with wines to match.  Chef Victor Casanova says the place is designed as a "cool neighborhood joint with an informal vibe and intoxicating aromas," and he has succeeded in those efforts.

Gusto has a nice wine list, too.  It’s tidy and well-stocked with good Italian choices.  I had the Villa Solais Vermentino, from Sardegna, with my meal.  The golden color is lovely and the nose - rather than being all about the aromas of the ocean, also shows traces of wood and an herbal note that is intriguing.  The wine has a great acidity - great with food - but it also feels somewhat full and creamy in the mouth.  It’s $8 by the glass.

We had appetizers of tomatoes stuffed with burrata and fried squash blossoms stuffed with cheese, followed by the roasted chicken and a side of rosemary potatoes.  The freshness of the food is simply amazing - Gusto instantly became our favorite Italian food in Los Angeles.

The Vermentino, unfortunately, did not hit the mark for Denise with the tomatoes - a little too much acidity in that mouthful - but it was excellent with squash, the chicken and the potatoes.

Some Vermentino was poured in Las Vegas, too, at the Terra Rosso restaurant at Red Rock Resort.  The Guado al Tasso Bolgheri Vermentino is part of the Antinori wine group.  It comes from the Guado al Tasso estate on the Tuscan coast .  The wine is vinified in stainless steel tanks.

The pale straw color tips me off to the fact that it might be a stainless steel wine, since wood usually imparts more of a golden shade in a white wine.  Smelling the wine offers that wonderful “oceanesque” salinity, but there’s also a nice presence of apricots here.  The acidity level is wonderful, and it feels vibrant in my mouth.

It would have been a better match with seafood, but it did alright with the late-night snack of arancini bolognese - fried, mozzarella-stuffed risotto.

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Monday, June 18, 2012

Green Sauvignon

When I try a wine at a restaurant, I usually jot down a few notes so I won’t forget any details later when I’m writing about it.  Sometimes the information given on a wine list is so sketchy it’s difficult to track down the wine online to find out more.  Sometimes I just don’t take very good notes.

I had a wine at Terroni a while back which was identified only as Green Sauvignon.  I could only find a Douglas Green Winery in South Africa and a Patricia Green in the Willamette Valley, and I don’t think either of those Sauvignon Blancs is the one I had.  The South African winery makes a Sauvignon Blanc/Sémillon blend, which would seem more like it, based on what I experienced.

The Green Sauvignon was served too cold - whites are always too cold in restaurants - but the nose did give hints of vanilla over considerable minerality.  A sweetness showed after warming a bit.  In the mouth, it was just off-dry, with minerals and melons in the flavor profile.  The acidity was good, but not overwhelming.

This Sauvignon Blanc wasn’t such a great match with the honey-vinaigrette salad dressing, or with the blue cheese, really.  It fit in nicely with the salami plate, though.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Trader Joe’s Wine Tasting

The new Trader Joe’s at 3rd and Fairfax in Los Angeles - right across from the Farmers Market - is now pouring wine tastings.  It's something I never see at the Trader Joe's stores I frequent.  They even have a little tasting bar in the back of the store.  I was told they will pour all day.  That’s the good news.

The bad news: it’s not really a very good tasting experience.  Kudos to them for the idea, but it isn’t really a good substitute for a trip to wine country.  The tastes are served in those little white paper cups in which they serve all their samples - about the size of the ones used to serve pills at the hospital.  There’s not a lot of swirling going on, and good luck getting your nose in there.

There’s no spit bucket, either - not that you have to worry too much about getting tipsy on that thimbleful of wine.  The crew member pouring for me offered a waste basket - half full of used paper napkins - in which I could expel the sip.  I did appreciate the thought, though.

Lastly, the wines being poured - there were two on the menu the day I popped in - aren’t exactly off the top shelf.  Five or six bucks can buy a decent wine at Trader Joe’s, but it has never changed my life.

Even if you don’t like the wines, you probably needed some peanuts or cheese or vanilla almond milk anyway.  There’s also the Mendocino Farms restaurant in that new shopping center, so the trip won’t be a total loss.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Blood Of The Vines: The Last Waltz

Wine Goes to the Movies with 

“This article should be read (a)loud”

It probably won’t be long before there will be sommeliers at rock concerts, if there aren’t already.  I don’t go to many concerts, so there may well be someone behind the concession stands these days curating the rock and roll wines - someone to help guide you to just the right crappy Chardonnay to hold in the hand that doesn’t have your Bic lighter in it.  Or the iPhone Bic lighter app, anyway.

TFH guru Allan Arkush tells the story about how he worked at the Fillmore East in his college days at NYU.  He made it possible for one of his professors - one Martin Scorsese - to see The Band at the Fillmore.  The rest, as they say, is rock and roll cinema history.

The Last Waltz” isn’t just a concert movie, of course. Martin Scorsese would need more up his sleeve than that. It’s a document, a testimony, a farewell.  It completes a circle that started at the Fillmore, watching perhaps the greatest American rock band, with free tickets, in 1970.  It's no Freixenet commercial, but it's close enough for rock and roll.

The 1976 concert at Winterland was staged as a big sendoff to The Band, who were breaking up, with Robbie Robertson’s departure.  Robertson’s value as a songwriter I won’t question, but I understand that it was not uncommon for his microphone to be turned off during performances.  If only they could have managed that for Neil Diamond.

Robertson’s curious fascination with Neil Diamond surfaced in 1976, and Diamond appeared at The Last Waltz concert.  Levon Helm, for one, was critical of Diamond’s presence on the stage.  I have read that Helm and Bob Dylan had an amusing backstage conversation as Diamond was finishing his song.  Diamond was apparently the butt of a Dylan joke in which he explained to Helm that in order to properly follow Diamond, he’d have to fall asleep onstage.  I'd have given a magnum of anything Coppola makes to have been privy to that.

Much has been made of the cocaine booger on Neil Young’s nose.  It got bigger each time the story was told.  It has since been removed from the film, but now, instead of looking for the booger, people look for where the booger used to be.

Check the credits the next time you watch “The Last Waltz.”  Aside from Scorsese directing, you have cinematographers who worked on films like “Raging Bull”, “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” “Five Easy Pieces” and “Easy Rider” working the cameras.  The production designer who worked on “The Sound of Music” and “West Side Story” did the lighting.  The San Francisco Opera contributed the set from “La traviata.”  There may have been more high-level talent behind the cameras than there was in front of them.

Oh, yeah.  There were a few famous guest musicians present, too.  As your sommelier for this concert, my wine selections for “The Last Waltz” are done like a setlist, according to those who took part in the show.

Check out the trailer - and the commentary by Arkush - then do as he recommends.  Pop the DVD in the machine and turn it up.  And try not to look too hard at Neil Young’s nostrils.

The Wine setlist for “The Last Waltz”

The Band - “Hard-workin’ wines to rock your tastebuds,” proclaims House Band Wine's mission statement.  Napa, Sonoma and Mendocino wines often do that.

Ronnie Hawkins - Hidden away in California’s Suisun Valley, Winterhawk Winery does a Late Harvest Zinfandel that sings sweeter than Hawkins.

Dr. John and Bobby Charles - Uncork some Blanc du Bois and some Norton from Pontchartrain Vineyards for these two sons of Louisiana.

Paul Butterfield - Sometimes a big, buttery Chardonnay gives me the blues.  Sometimes it’s just what I needed.  Newton Vineyard does it like that.

Muddy Waters and Eric Clapton - Muddy Water Winery in New Zealand’s Waipara Valley used to make a wine called Mojo.  Now they make one called Slowhand.

Neil Young and Joni Mitchell - Canada’s Harvest Winery should fit nicely for these north-of-the-border legends.

Neil Diamond - In honor of Dylan’s comment, let’s choose something from Sleepy Creek Vineyards.

Van Morrison - Bunratty Castle is the site of the first vineyards in Ireland.  The Celts have always been crazy about their mead.

Bob Dylan - So Dylan’s Wine Cellar is named for the owner’s kid, but he may well have been named after Bob.  Stop in the next time you’re in Peekskill, NY.

Ringo Starr - Ringo’s playing a winery this summer.  Enjoy a Chateau Ste. Michelle Riesling.

Ronnie Wood - From the Wines That Rock series, 40 Licks Merlot.

The Staple Singers - They hit it big with Stax records, so dip into Memphis with a Blush from Old Millington WInery.

Emmylou Harris - Vin de pays means “country wine” in French, so why not grab a nice back porch blend of Viognier, Sauvignon Blanc and Muscat d’Alexandrie from Château Saint-Cosme.

Lawrence Ferlinghetti - Not a wine for this poet, who performed Loud Prayer at the conclusion of The Band’s farewell concert, but a book.  We should all go out like that.  Have some Bukowski.

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Friday, June 8, 2012

Rhone Rangers Los Angeles 2012

"From out of the west with the speed of light and a hearty ‘hi-yo Cinsault’..."

There was no clatter of hooves beating upon the dusty pavement of downtown Los Angeles, no fiery steed, no faithful Indian companion.  There were SUVs revving at the traffic light, parking lot attendants and a pretty good Indian restaurant around the corner.

The Rhone Rangers did, however, ride into Los Angeles to pour their wines on June 2, 2012 at Vibiana, a former cathedral in downtown Los Angeles which has been converted into an event venue.  It’s a sunny and open space with beautiful architectural lines.

In case you are uninitiated, there is an organization of winemakers who are wild about the grapes of the Rhone Valley.  These Rhone Rangers - mostly of the U.S. West Coast - meet every so often to pay tribute to those French grapes.  It’s a tasting event like no other, where the expression of the Rhone grape varieties in other terroir is explored.

Leading Rhone Ranger Randall Grahm, of Bonny Doon Vineyards, referred to the event space, Vibiana, as a “decommissioned church” in a tweet before the event began.  It still shows up on Google Maps as “Cathedral of St. Vibiana.”  Like many of us, Mr. Grahm worships at the altar of the vine.

Grahm’s Bonny Doon VIneyards was present, with Grahm himself behind the table.  I had never run into him at a Southern California tasting event before, so it was a real treat to get a face-to-face meet with the witty, erudite, social-media-addicted, original Rhone Ranger of the California wine world.  Since he is noted for his minute-by-minute presence on Twitter, I wasn’t too surprised to catch him in what looks like mid-tweet.  I apologize that I didn't think to get another, more suitable, image in the crush of people around the Bonny Doon table.  I did get the chance to speak with him, briefly, while tasting.  His comments will be featured in an upcoming podcast on the Now And Zin Wine Report.

The Bonny Doon wines are represented by the iconic Le Cigare Volant, described by Grahm as “A blend of grenache, syrah, and mourvèdre with just a soupçon of cinsault.”   I sampled a different kind of red, the Clos de Gilroy, a Grenache/Syrah/Cinsault blend taken from various Monterey County vineyards.  It’s a fresh and vibrant red that’s perfect for summer use.  Speaking of warm weather, the 2010 Le Cigare Blanc, Beeswax Vineyard, is an exciting white blend in which Grahm tips his beret to Châteauneuf-du-Pape.  Roussanne and Grenache Blanc mix it up with gorgeous expressions of fruit, minerals and acidity.  Bonny Doon‘s 2011 Vin Gris de Cigare rosé shows light cherry and strawberry flavors and aromas in a nice, dry framework.

Winemaker’s daughter Maggie Tillman poured the fruit of her father’s labor.  Bob Tillman is the grower and winemaker for the Paso Robles family outfit of Alta Colina.  Big, attention-getting wines are the rule here, like their 2010 Estate Marsanne.  It spends 18 months in oak and is not a bit shy about it.  This one would be a great choice for the holidays, with its bounty of flavor.  Their refreshing 2011 Grenache Blanc is the first varietal release they’ve done with that grape.  Big bold reds - Grenache, Mourvedre, GSM - round out the menu.

Acquiesce Vineyards, near Lodi, brought some of the more beautiful bottlings I found at the event.  Their wines are packaged in imported French bottles.  Owner and winemaker Susan Tipton says Acquiesce is Lodi’s only all-white wine winery.  There are some interesting facets to their wines.  The herbaceousness and salinity of the Grenache Blanc, the nuttiness of the Roussanne and the memory of snap peas in the Belle Blanc blend of those two grapes are delightful.  The rosé is made from Grenache, and produced like a white wine, not from a juice bleed-off.

Cornerstone Cellars of Napa Valley has a rosé that was a big hit on this warm afternoon.  Their 2011 Stepping Stone Corallina comes from their millennially-priced line. Green elements indicate the whole cluster press that was used and this pinkie is also not of the saignée method.  In fact the fruit comes from their dedicated Syrah vineyard intended only for use in the rosé

Ridge Vineyards has been doing great things with grapes since before Apple put the “i” in Cupertino.  They are probably best known for their extensive line of Zinfandels, but for this show they stayed true to the Rhone varieties.  Tart Carignan, brooding Petite Sirah and spicy Syrah all bear the mark of Rhone specialist John Olney, who took charge of the Lytton Springs winery in 1999.

Rhone specialists Curtis Winery of Santa Barbara County brought cool-climate Syrah and Grenache which display a tartness I like a lot. Their Heritage Blanc, a 60/40 mix of Viognier and Roussanne, has a lovely floral aspect and a nice acidity.

Every winery seemed to have a great, floral, aromatic Viognier on hand.  Clayhouse Wines, Adelaida Cellars and Ecluse Wines - all of Paso Robles - are standouts.  Ecluse does theirs in ⅓ steel, ⅔ oak for a full and creamy treat.

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Thursday, June 7, 2012

Blood Of The Vines: Lord Love A Duck

Wine Goes To The Movies 
with Now And Zin Wine and Trailers From Hell

If you are in the mood for an unhinged parody of the beach-blanket-teen-flesh movies of the early to mid-’60s - and when are you not in the mood for that? -  “Lord Love A Duck” is where you should go.  Duck pairs wonderfully with wine and the movie gives flight to the “groovy” part of the sixties.  I expect Peter Sellers to walk into the scene at any moment.  The script can only manage to flirt with alcohol, but going on a murderous rampage with a bulldozer suggests there may have been something stronger in play.

Tuesday Weld and Lola Albright play the bikini-beach gal roles to the hilt.  Sweaters?  Sure you get sweaters!  How about a dozen?  Try them on - please!  Roddy McDowall is a cross between Moondoggie and Bonehead, only dangerous.  The music in the beach party scenes is just about the most redundantly cheesy song ever written - one of those “Here’s what showbiz thinks is hip” moments.  Mercifully, this time, it’s tongue-in-cheek.  The dance performed to that music is perhaps the best parody of the act of sex I’ve ever seen.

While you are viewing “Lord Love A Duck,” try not to crawl too deeply into the fascination with the title - it has probably won an award for awfulness.  McDowall’s character calls himself by the name of an extinct duck, in case you were wondering.  Swirl that ducky wine and relish the satire before you.  If that pairing doesn’t get you twelve sweaters, hold the relish.

Duckhorn Vineyards makes a nice Petit Verdot - among a number of other nice Bordeaux varieties that would pair nicely with duck.  They also have a duck on the label, and you have to love that.  They also have the Paraduxx line, when one duck isn’t enough.

Duck!  There’s more!

Cold Duck - One writer calls it “a cross between grape Fanta, Cranberry Juice Cocktail, and one of those ‘Champagnes’ you need to swallow with Advil in order to circumvent the inevitable headache.”  Cheers!

Duck And Wine Festival - Duck, North Carolina is the place for this one.  You’ll have to wait for April - that’s apparently when wine season opens in the Carolinas.

The Inevitable Duck Wine Bottle Holder - This one shows the duck comically appearing to glug the bottle.

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Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Resalte Ribera Del Duero Crianza 2005

Considering how much I love the wines of Spain - and that it was an Iberian tasting event that got me into wine in the first place - I don’t feel that I have Spanish wines often enough.  It’s not for lack of loving them, it’s just that I do a lot of specific tasting that always seems to take me to some other wine corner of the world.

A sample from Bodegas Resalte came to me recently via the nice folks at TGIC Importers in Southern California, who kindly made it available to me.  It's the Resalte Ribera del Duero Crianza 2005.

Resalte has only been in existence since 2000 in the village of Peñafiel in the Ribera del Duero region, a mere babe in the woods in a place where wine has been around since Bacchus was an apprentice.  They must have learned quickly - their ‘05 Crianza made Wine Spectator’s Top 100 Wines of 2010 list.  It came in at number 26, which made it the top Spanish wine on the chart.

It is, of course, a 100% Tempranillo wine.  It spends 15 months in oak barrels, 80% of which are French and 20% American.  The alcohol content is a whopping 15% abv.  It would seem to have been crafted specifically for the American palate.

The wine’s bouquet is extremely rich, with big dark fruit and lot's of tar.  The palate is equally dark and rich.  The tarriness that drapes over the plums and cassis flavors is just exquisite.  Fine tannins, just a little bit toothy, will make this one a good choice to serve with steak.  It’s also good with the black beans and rice in casamiento.  The BBQ tofu was a little lame for it.  I'm embarrassed that I even tried that, but I’ll write it off to experimentation.  This is a great wine, full and inviting, and deserving of a nice cut of meat.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Whole Foods Wine: Summer Twitter Tasting #1

The folks at Whole Foods Market have a popular series of Twitter Tasting events designed to show off the wines offered in their chain of groceries.  The Whole Foods wine buyers and some local stores take part, but mostly the gatherings consist of a bunch of social media addicts who love wine - good people like you and me.

Their Twitter Tastings about their line of Spanish wines were quite enjoyable, and just last week the same venue was used to expose Whole Foods’ wines of summer.  They have a top ten list of summer favorites, and three of the wines were the topic of the May 31, 2012 event.  Another trio will be sipped and discussed on July 12, 2012 from 7:00 - 8:00 p.m. CT.  If you want to take part, pick up the wines and log on at that time.  Use the hashtag #WFMwine.  We’ll be waiting for you.

There was a lot of very satisfied tweeting about the three wines tasted for the most recent event.  A lot of tweeters found all three to be of high quality at a reasonable price.

Mionetto Prosecco is made from organically-grown Glera grapes, which were known as Prosecco until a few years ago.  The name of the grape was changed to help protect the name of the Prosecco D.O.C.  The sparkling wine has only an 11% alcohol content and less than 1% residual sugar.  The winery advises serving it refrigerator-cold, which is a lot colder than I like to serve wine.  They recommend Mionetto Prosecco as a base for Bellinis and other sparkling wine cocktails.

I found the nose a little hard to reach - that happens to me a lot with very cold wine - but minerals and lemon lime did come through for me.  On the palate, the toasty aspect of the fruit was more pronounced than I had anticipated.  It wasn’t as sweet as I had thought it might be, either.  Apples and citrus are in front, with a gentle earthiness riding over the sweetness of the fruit.  Minerals abound amid a wonderful acidity.  The medium finish really holds that minerality.  On Twitter, @WineHarlots liked it a lot.  I know that @WineHarlots tend to love that which sparkles, they also have a discerning palate I can trust.

Pratsch Grüner Veltliner 2011 is another organic wine.  The Pratsch winery is in Austria, northeast of Vienna.  This wine also presents an easy-drinking abv number of 12%.  On the Austrian scale of wine quality it is Qualitätswein.  The Austrian and German quality scale is as challenging a topic as the Italian D.O.C. system, so I won’t pretend to be an authority on it.  As I understand, Qualitätswein means the grapes used in the wine were harvested somewhat overripe.  This could result in a late-harvest type of sweetness, but in this case it does not.

The Pratsch Gruner is very pale and has a nose of lemons and wet rocks.  On the palate it’s very smooth - almost too smooth.  I would like to have a little more acidity, but the smells and flavors are great.  Green apples and minerals are most notable, and the minerals are all over the finish.  Chill this wine for a summer sipper.

On Twitter, @SomeGrapes, @DeniseFraser, @joewinetraveler and others commented on how nice they found the acidity, directly contradicting my impression.  @WineFoodTravel pointed out there’s a hint of cucumber, which I had not noticed until it was pointed out.

Tormaresca Neprica 2010 is a wine from Italy’s I.G.T. Puglia region.  The grapes used are alluded to in the wine’s name:  NEgroamaro, PRImitivo and CAbernet Sauvignon.  The red blend is vinified and aged completely in stainless steel, with full malolactic fermentation.  I always love tasting a red wine produced without oak - the aromas and flavors are always so fresh and enticing.  In this wine, malolactic fermentation imparts a full-mouthed creaminess.

It’s medium-dark in the glass and has an amazing nose - big, huge black cherry, raspberry and currant notes are all wrapped in an earthy hint of allspice.  The palate is lean and fruity, showing very dark raspberry and cherry flavors, but so clean.  The nice acidity level and elegant tannins work together to make a mouth-watering quaff that is a joy to drink.  And in case you think summer wines have to be white or pink, this shows otherwise.  Neprica takes a chill quite well.

On Twitter, @sf_valerie thought the Tormaresca Neprica was like an Orin Swift Chianti, while @melanie0 was happy to find a chillable red for the hot weather ahead.

We hope to see your Twitter handle in the timeline in July!

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Friday, June 1, 2012

Wine Country: Indiana - Turtle Run Winery

Winemaking in Indiana dates back to the 18th century, although it has only recently become a going concern.  According to the Indiana Wine Grape Council, there were only nine wineries in the Hoosier State in 1989.  Today, there are 60.  There is one American Viticultural Area in the state, the Ohio River Valley AVA. The IWGC states that Traminette is the signature grape of the state

Turtle Run Winery is in Corydon, Indiana, less than a half-hour west of Louisville, Kentucky.  If you can’t imagine a turtle running, try wrapping your head around the notion that Indiana just may have some of the best terroir in the country.

Turtle Run’s owner Jim Pfeiffer tells me his property is situated on one of the  best limestone deposits in the world.  That limestone is prized by builders and winemakers alike.  Wherever you find grapes growing in limestone-based soil, you are likely to find some outstanding mineral characteristics in the wines made from them.  “Our grapes generously provide us with incredible depth and complexity,” Pfeiffer says.

Pfeiffer also breaks down American oak to specific regions, saying that “Minnesota oak has different characteristics than oak from Ohio, Tennessee or Kentucky.”  Pfeiffer helped form the Indiana Uplands WIne Trail.

Pfeiffer proudly notes that his Turtle Run Traminette turned up on a list of best wines under $20 available in Indiana, a list compiled by wine writer Howard Hewitt.  “There were a few American wines on the list,” says Pfeiffer, “and only one outside of the West Coast.  Our Traminette was ranked as the number five wine overall.”  Pfeiffer is sure that only the lack of national distribution keeps his limestone-rich terroir from being widely recognized, and he may be right.  All four wines we sampled for this article were produced from grapes grown in the Pfeiffer Vineyard, in the Ohio River Valley AVA in Indiana.  The samples were graciously provided by Turtle Run Winery.

Traminette 2011 (blue bottle) is produced in the traditional style, 13.1% abv and 1% residual sugar.  The wine is a light golden color in the glass, with a slight effervescence upon opening which was not present on the second night it was open.  Nice aromas leap from the glass, fruity with a nice slab of minerals on the side.  The mouthfeel is medium-full and dry with very nice acidity, ripping acidity, in fact, when unchilled.  Orange peel, melon rind and lemon-lime flavors combine with that acidity to create a very zesty, zippy wine.  This is quite an impressive effort. Traminette, by the way, is a cross of Gewürztraminer and a French American hybrid.

Traminette 2011 (green bottle) is barrel-fermented, as opposed to the stainless steel treatment given the blue bottle version.  At 13.1% abv, the wine is just as enjoyable, though.  A beautiful, rich, golden color appears very pretty in the glass.  Aromas of earthy honeysuckle, apricot and tropical fruit mix with mellow vanilla notes.  There’s a slight effervescence with this Traminette, too, upon opening.  This dissipates over time and disappears completely when ice cold, so don’t give it more than a bit of a chill.  The ripping acidity also diminishes when too cold.  The oak notes support the intense pineapple and guava flavors, and a big spiciness makes a play on the palate, as well.

Vignoles 2011 appears with a lovely golden hue in the glass, just like the barrel-fermented Traminette, but it is steel-fermented.  An earthy, honey-laden apricot aroma dominates the nose, but isn’t too blustery.  The grapes for this vintage were touched by Noble Rot - Botrytis cinerea - and as a result, imparted a lovely sweet edge to this dry effort.  It’s not a dessert wine by any stretch of the imagination, but it does have just enough natural sweetness from the Botrytis to be a pure delight.  As Pfeiffer says, “one unique section of our vineyard allows for us to develop Noble Rot on a regular basis.“  How lucky he is!  The acidity is there, too, so this wine is loaded with good things.

Chambourcin 2010 carries a 13.9% alcohol number, and appears of medium density and color in the glass.  The growing season for the Turtle Run Chambourcin grapes was marked by hot weather and drought, and both elements work in favor of rich, concentrated aromas and flavors in grapes.  The nose is more fruity than spicy, and more spicy than earthy.  Aromas of black cherry and black pepper come forth in a West Coast kind of way - rather unusual for a grape one is more likely to find in the Midwest or East.  This French-American hybrid hits the palate with dark fruit, clove, a touch of leather and cocoa and a really nice level of acidity.

Terroir in Indiana?  These four outstanding wines make a good case for it.

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