Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Querceto Chianti Classico Riserva 2006

No matter how you slice the mozzarella, Italian food demands Italian wine.  Italian food deserves Italian wine.  There’s no better find than an Italian restaurant where they know how to cook authentic, rustic Italian cuisine and have a good wine list to go with it.

Querceto Chianti Classico Riserva is a good, solid, everyday Italian wine I see for under $20 online, so it's not a one-percenter.  Tuscan Sangiovese, made for food.  Here’s just a quick note about it.

Medium red in the glass, the nose is rustic enough - and aromatic, too.  Earthy plums dominate the aromas.  I find plums on the palate as well, and that wonderful minerality comes through as strongly as the mushroom risotto.  It’s very dry, with toothy tannins to boot, but it still felt quite smooth going down.  As well as it paired with the rice dish, I’d have it with meatballs in a minute - sausage in a second.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Summer Wine: Costaripa RosaMara Chiaretto Lombardia 2011

Rosé is always thought of as a particularly good summertime wine, and it certainly is.  I hate to think, though, of all the people who wait from Labor Day until Memorial Day to drink it.  There’s no better choice than a nice, dry rosé to pair with turkey on Thanksgiving - or with turkey sandwiches the day after.  Keep that in mind.

Since we Northern Hemisphereans are enjoying summer right about now, how about a nice pink wine today?

The Costaripa RosaMara Chiaretto is from Italy’s Lombardy region in the northern part of the country, near Lake Garda.  It’s a lovely rosato that shows a rich pink color in the glass.  That alone is worth the price of admission, $18 per bottle at a wine store in Los Angeles, $12 by the glass where I had it.

Four great Italian grapes make up the blend: 60% Gropello, 30% Marezemino, and 5% each of Sangiovese and Barbera.  The wine sees some French oak aging and derives a wonderfully full mouthfeel from it.  I pick up a field of strawberries and an herbal play on the nose, with the palate showing very nice acidity.  It’s fruity and dry, which is what rosé should be.  There’s an element which seems part floral and part herbal in the flavor profile.  The smell of basil from a nearby pizza really seemed to be made especially for it.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Summer Wine: Corallina Rose Stepping Stone By Cornerstone

Every summer I encounter some really wonderful wines for warm weather.  This year I’m sharing them in a series spotlighting the wines of summer.  Look for them as we taste our way through the dog days.

Napa Valley’s Cornerstone Cellars is better known for their Cabernet than their rosé, but their Stepping Stone line of mid-priced wines designed for “everyday consumption” features a truly memorable rosé.  The Corallina will surprise those folks who don’t think a pink wine brings much to the table.

The wine is a rosé of Syrah, and it’s made specifically as a rosé, not in the saignée method, in which the pink juice is a by-product of a red wine.  The grapes come from Boyd Vineyard in Napa’s Oak Knoll district.  It’s a vineyard dedicated to the growing of grapes specifically for the Corallina rosé. The wine carries a 14.1% alcohol level and is bottled under a cork.

Winemaker Jeff Keene says they pick the grapes early, at a lower sugar level, like they would for a white wine.  Then come the whole-cluster press - three hours skin contact gives the wine the brilliant color.  Stainless steel fermentation is followed by a racking to used French oak barrels.  There, the wine sits on the lees for five months.  Here is Keene’s video on the wine.

Cornerstone Managing Partner Craig Camp supplied me with a sample of the 2011 Corallina, and he says,  "With the 2007 vintage Cornerstone Cellars embarked in a new direction with acidity and balance being our cornerstones, not simple brute power.  Obviously the white wines and, of course, this rosé make it to the market far more quickly than our red wines so in a very real sense these wines give you a preview of the future of all our wines.”  Corallina retails for $20.

The wine shows a rich and deep pink hue in the clear bottle.  I get watermelon and strawberry on the nose, but not just the fruit - stems and all.  That herbal element comes from the whole cluster press.  In the mouth it’s dry and zippy - cranberry and apple burst forth on a river of acidity.  A peppery touch of Syrah shows through, and the wine has more weight than you would expect to find in a rosé.  Cranberry lasts on the finish for a good, long while.  The Corallina is complex and delightful.

Will it pair with salads?  Sure, but winemaker Keene is right.  He advises you break it out when you grill.  It will go great with your summer BBQ plans.

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Thursday, July 26, 2012

Blood Of The Vines: From Russia With Love

Wine Goes To The Movies 

British secret agent James Bond gave the world its most famous drink order: “A martini - shaken, not stirred.”  Even if you don’t like martinis, it sounds great in Sean Connery’s dulcet tones.  If Bond had been a Russian, he might have asked for “Wodka - leave the bottle.”  But then he would have been working the wrong side of the Cold War street, would have worn a fur hat - and we would have rooted against him.

An American James Bond may have ordered a martini as well, but probably would have asked for it “dirty.”

James Bond hailing from Spain or Italy would certainly have gone for bubbles, but the order might have been badly dubbed.  Cava, por favor.  Prosecco, si prega di.

A French spy?  Champagne, of course.  He's licensed to chill.  Bollinger has been 007's bubble of choice for years, but Dom Perignon was the thing early in the franchise.  1953, s'il vous plait. He finds the '55 Dom useful in hand-to-hand combat - in Dr. No, Bond is ready to clobber the bad doctor with that vintage until a moment of civility overtakes him.

If Bond had been Canadian, he may have tried to pry state secrets from the enemy with a friendly game of Beer Hunter.  Remember James, only one can of the sixer gets shaken.

Germany's answer to the secret agent would no doubt have ordered Riesling - with the help of M's Riesling label decoder ring.

A Japanese Bond would have... been Charlie Chan.  Waiter, sake for number one son.

It doesn't really matter what the drink is, though, as long as 007 can share it with a Bond Girl.  Daniela Bianchi, in "From Russia With Love," fits the role just fine.

TFH guru Brian Trenchard-Smith points out in his commentary that “From Russia With Love” was not only one of John F. Kennedy’s favorite books, it was the last movie he ever saw.  Kennedy screened the James Bond followup to “Dr. No” the night before he left for Dallas.

For this Bond film, we will go for a Cold War favorite - well, a cellar-temperature war favorite.  Russian wine is not easy to come by, but it’s out there.

Grapes have been cultivated for centuries in Russia, but the advent of the modern era of Russian wine was a 19th century Crimean sparkling wine factory.  Much like the US had its Prohibition to stop the growth of a burgeoning wine industry, so Russia had the revolution of 1917.  That’s when the French left the country and took their winemaking know-how with them.  Russia now has only half the vineyard land it had during the 1980s, largely because of former Soviet head-of-state Mikhail Gorbachev’s campaign to stamp out alcoholism.  One might argue that vodka is more to blame for the country's alcoholism problem, and their current leader agrees.

Abrau-Durso is Russia's oldest Champagne house - why do they call it Champagne? - and the Rusky sparkler can be found online for anywhere from $10 to $50 a bottle.  Shaken, Mr. bond?  "Nyet."

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Bastille Day In Beverly Hills

If you’re going to celebrate Bastille Day with wine, I suppose it had better be French.  It was quite by chance that I happened to be sitting with a Roussanne before me on the French holiday.  I was in Beverly Hills, and it was a Paso Robles Roussanne, but it still had its roots in the Rhone Valley.  I mentally waved a little tricolour while I sipped.

The Roussanne in question is from Vampire Vineyards.  Their Roussanne provided a nice break from a rather hot afternoon in Beverly Hills.  The Vampire Vineyards tasting room is on Little Santa Monica Boulevard, right across from the Peninsula Hotel.

The nose has notes of tangerine, almond and oak spice.  The oak makes quite a prominent play in this wine.  On the palate, tangerines, peel and all, dominate the flavors.  Some blues on the sound system provided an American twist to the moment.

Later, also quite by chance, I found myself in the bar at the Peninsula.  I figured as long as I was killing time, I might as well have a more internationally suitable wine for the day.

I settled back into the plush couch with a Pascal Jolivet 2010 Sancerre, from the Loire Valley.  Soils of clay, limestone and flint result in a mineral-driven nose of rocks, apples and pears.  The palate is vibrant and fresh. Fruit in the form of golden apples and lemon rind are plain enough, but the minerality is in the driver's seat. The wine is vinified in stainless steel, but picks up complexity during the four to six weeks it sits on its lees.  Sinatra and cool jazz waft from the ceiling while I enjoy my own private Bastille Day.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Summer Wine: Bonny Doon Le Cigare Blanc 2010

When I ran into Bonny Doon Vineyard’s founder and President For Life, Randall Grahm, at the Los Angeles Rhone Rangers tasting event, he seemed baffled at the popularity of his Le Cigare Blanc.  Grahm told me he never thought he’d see a “wellspring of interest in white Rhone grape varieties,” hypothesizing that it may have been connected with the Mayan calendar and the end of the world.  If that’s the case, drink up.  There’s not much time left to enjoy it.

The grapes for this wine - 55% Roussanne and 45% Grenache Blanc - come from Beeswax Vineyard, a biodynamically-farmed plot in the Arroyo Seco AVA in Monterey County.  The Bonny Doon website describes, “Surrounded on three sides by wilderness and shielded from the cool Pacific Coast winds by the Santa Lucia Mountains, Beeswax Vineyard grows complex, concentrated and mineral intensive grapes, produced from deeply rooted vines."

It’s called, on the label, “white wine of the earth,” and the minerality found in it bears that out.  At a breezy 12.7% abv, this wine refreshes, and won’t leave you feeling woozy on the porch.

For the uninitiated, the name is taken from Bonny Doon’s flagship wine, Le Cigare Volant.  It’s a reference to a cigar-shaped flying saucer reportedly seen at one time over the vineyards of Chateauneuf-du-Pape.  The local government feared these aliens would damage the sacred crop, so a decree was issued banning the spaceships.  It must have worked, as I don’t think the Rhone Valley has been bothered by UFOs since then.  As a remembrance, Le Cigare Blanc comes bottled under a screw cap bearing the likeness of an alien.

The wine shows a nice color - a light golden hue - in the glass.  I smell apricots, tropical fruit, citrus and cantaloupe, with a soft vanilla note from the French oak wafting in and out.  On the palate, pears and apricots are joined by a melon rind minerality.  There’s the suggestion of an almond -butter-and-quince sandwich in there, too, with a savory note on the finish, which lingers long and well.

The acidity is fantastic, and makes me want a pork chop, or a nice soft cheese.  In my brief chat with Grahm, he explained the popularity of Le Cigare Blanc by saying, “white Rhone grapes, especially Roussanne, are fabulous food wines.”  We already knew that, and - presumably - so do the aliens.

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Friday, July 20, 2012

Wine Country: West Virginia

West Virginia has fewer than two dozen wineries.  The number eleven kept turning up in my research, but the West Virginia Department of Agriculture lists 19.  They don’t list much more than that about wine or grape growing, though.  The state does, however, boast three American Viticultural Areas.  The Mountain State has a piece of the Kanawha River Valley, Ohio River Valley and Shenandoah Valley AVAs.  

A lot of French hybrids are grown in West Virginia, due to the cold winters, but Riesling is said to be a mainstay in the northeastern part of the state.  In the Potomac Highlands, the shale soil is compared with that of Germany's Mosel Valley.  With about 47,000 gallons of wine produced in 2009, West Virginia comes in ahead of only Oklahoma, Maine and Montana in wine production.

A big thank you goes to my friend - and West Virginia native - Jim Thornton, and his wife Sue, who were kind enough to make it their mission to find these two wines for me on a trip back to Jim’s home state. Without them, there may not have been a West Virginia page for the Wine Country series.

Daniel Vineyards is in Crab Orchard, West Virginia, in the southwestern corner of the state.  The winery and vineyard is located at over 2,500 feet above sea level, so cold-hardy grapes are a must.  Owner and winemaker, Dr. C. Richard Daniel, has experimented with over 114 different grape varieties since his initial plantings in 1990.  Presently he grows 14 varieties:

     Cornell University Hybrids (Cayuga, Chardonel, Traminette)
     French-American Hybrids (Seyval, St. Vincent, Vidal, and Vignoles)
     Native American (Norton)
     Swenson Hybrids (Brianna, Esprit, and Sabrevois)
     University of Minnesota Hybrids (Frontenac, La Crescent, and Marquette)

The doctor says his blackberry and Port-style wines are his best sellers.
Daniel Vineyards West Virginia Red Table Wine 2008
The wine is brick red color and medium dark in the glass.  Light passes through it easily, and it has the look of a delicate Pinot Noir.  The nose is very intense blackberry, lots of earthy minerality. I would guess that this wine is made from Frontenac grapes, but I don't know for sure.

The palate is loaded with true blackberry flavor as well, the kind one gets from eating actual blackberries. There is a fruity sweetness, but an earthy taste is quite prevalent.  Fennel also shows.  The wine is quite dry and has a strong tannic structure.

Acidity is also high, which leads me to believe it will pair well with food.  I'd imagine this to be a great match with sausage, pork or pepperoni roll.  As a matter of fact, I might make the latter my first choice.  Anything type of peppery or spicy meat would likely pair well.

Kirkwood Winery is in Summersville, West Virginia, owned and operated by Rodney Facemire.  Kirkwood is Nicholas County’s first winery, and Facemire makes wine from fruits and vegetables.  There is also a mini-distillery on the premises, the Isaiah Morgan Distillery.

Kirkwood Winery Royal Blush NV
This pink wine actually looks more orange, or salmon, in the glass. It's gorgeous to look at, with an alcohol content of 11% abv.  On the nose, there's a "foxy" character that is often noticed in wines made from North American grapes.  Kirkwood does make a wine from Concord grapes, but I'm told the makeup of the Royal Blush is all Katoba grapes. I have never heard of that one, and I wonder if it might be a synonym for Catawba. The foxy aroma is so overpowering, I can't determine any fruit aromas at all.
On the palate, things change.  There is a very intense flavor of orange peel, and a vegetal/herbal angle I can't quite figure out.  While the nose did not make me want a sip, the taste of the wine is actually very interesting.  Orange candy on the finish takes away the memory of the nose.  

As a "mountain wine" from Appalachia, it has a certain cachet.  I would imagine if one is accustomed to drinking this, it's quite enjoyable.  As for me, if there's a white Zinfandel nearby, I'll take that instead.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Blood Of The Vines: The Killing

Wine Goes to the Movies

Who doesn't like to grab a bottle of wine and take in a day at the track?  Well, I've never done it.  When I lose my shirt gambling on sports, I prefer to do my drinking afterward.  I drown my bad luck with free house wine in the casino while nursing a video poker machine - the second most boring waste of time known to man.  The first, of course, is keno.

I suppose seeing your money disappear in person, rather than on one of a dozen closed circuit screens from various racetracks, has a certain allure.  But in “The Killing,” the Stanley Kubrick classic starring Sterling Hayden, everybody's money disappears when a clown-masked robber rips off the gate.  Okay, so now the whole grandstand wishes they had brought a bottle, instead of just those who put Aunt Martha's farm on the horse that couldn’t get around the first turn.

Horse racing, like winemaking, is one of those things rich people get into when they find they just can't spend their money fast enough in other, more conventional pursuits.  Kentucky may have the thoroughbreds, but California has the wine.

The late Jess Jackson blended the two.  He was not only a California wine legend - owner of Kendall-Jackson and changer of the way wine was made and marketed - he was also a mover and shaker in the thoroughbred horse industry.  So, for “The Killing,” we'll go with his hallmark - K-J Vintner's Reserve Chardonnay.  They make a zillion cases a year and it's always lauded as a reliably good wine from vintage to vintage.  Twelve dollars out of the gate at the supermarket can get you a wine that will feel right at home down the stretch.

Comin' on the rail:

RustRidge Winery Racehorse Red - From the Chiles Valley in the northeastern part of Napa, this wine feels good coming' down the backstretch, and better running through the inside.

Wild Horse Winery and Vineyards - They run wild and free in Paso Robles, with a line called “Unbridled” to prove it.

Darkhorse Wines - A great candidate for an after-race unwind.

Iron Horse Winery - "The drink of optimists," they call their wine.  Well, if you're at the racetrack, that must be you.

The obligatory wine novelty - Am I drawn to this sort of thing because I routinely bet on 20-1 long shots running in the mud?

Santa Ynez Horse and Winery Tour - This actually sounds like fun.  Just make sure your horse uses the spit bucket at the tastings.  See novelty above.

Beaulieu Vineyards Beauzeaux Red Blend - “Come on, clown, sing us a chorus from "Pagliacci!”

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Friday, July 13, 2012

Whole Foods Wine: Summer Twitter Tasting #2

Part two of the Whole Foods Summer Wine Twitter tasting event came on July 12, 2012, right when we needed a little something to keep us cool.  In my part of the world, it was not only warm outside, but unusually humid, too.  An opportunity to taste a few nice chillers was welcome.  For an overview of the event, and the wines, check out the earlier article on Whole Foods’ Top Ten Wines for Summer here.  The notes on Twitter Tasting #1 are here.

This time around, we once again have two white wines and a red.  There is once again a good international feel to them as well.  These summer wines hail from Greece, Australia and Spain.

People tweeted their thoughts on these wines from New England, Columbus, Southern California,  New Jersey, Vancouver, BC and Maui, to name just a few locales.  The participants tweeted about each wine in turn, and many lodged a vote for their favorite near the end of the hour.  As is customary, many Whole Foods Markets from across the U.S. were hosting in-store tastings at the time.  All the tweeting occurred in the hashtag #WFMwine.

One of my favorite tweets came from the global wine team at Whole Foods, @WFMWineGuys: “Peloponnese locals bash their octopi on the rocks to tenderize it, then grill & pair it with this snappy sipper.”  They were referring to the first wine in the lineup, which is said to pair spectacularly with calamari, bashed or otherwise.

Kyklos Moschofilero 2011

This white wine is made by Voyatzis, a winery located in the north-central part of Greece, fairly close to Albania and Macedonia and not all that far from Bulgaria. It is fashioned from 100% Moschofilero grapes, aromatic and spicy with generally good acidity.  On the label, this wine is called a “New Generation Moschofilero,” but since this is my first experience with the grape, it’s possible I don’t know what I’m missing.  The alcohol content is very reasonable - 11% abv - so it shouldn’t weigh us down too much. 

The wine gives a pale color in the glass, with a nose that’s made for a summer day.  Tropical fruit and spicy aromas float over a floral base.  In the mouth, the acidity is immediately noticeable.  Flavors of orange peel, cantaloupe and honeydew come forward, and the acidity lasts right through the finish.  There’s a great sense of minerality here, too.  Whole Foods suggests pairing with seafood - Calamari Pasta specifically - or a Mahón cheese.

Yalumba Christobel’s Eden Valley Riesling 2011

Yalumba Winery was founded in Angaston, South Australia in by Samuel Smith in 1849.  Yes, beer lovers, THAT Samuel Smith.  He apparently tired of brewing and went to Australia to make wine.  Its name is taken from Christobel Hill Smith, who was the hostess at the winery for 50 years.  In her memory, the bird-and-flower label is placed with love.  The wine is a low, low 10.5% abv, so it’s even lighter that the Greek entry. 

The acidity is also a little less thrilling than in the Moschofilero, but it’s still nice.  Pale in the glass, this Riesling gives the greek wine a run for its money in the aromatics department.  The nose is bursting with stone fruit, lemon peel and pineapple notes.  I don’t find an awful lot of minerality, but there is a trace of rocks underneath all that fruit.  The wine is off dry, with a nice touch of sweetness on the palate.  I love it when Rieslings employ a “sweetness meter” on the back label, and this one points to “medium sweet.”

Whole Foods recommends a pairing with apple pie and cheddar cheese, which doesn’t sound bad at all.  They also say Sesame-Peanut Noodles  would be good with it, or Cypress Grove Humboldt Fog cheese.

Pallas Tempranillo  2011

From the sandy, rocky soil of La Mancha comes this Jorge Ordoñez selection.  If you're not well-versed in Spanish wine, find one imported by Ordoñez and you'll find a good one.  La Mancha occupies a large portion of Spain’s central plateau.  Any place with windmills, Manchego cheese and Tempranillo gets a star next to it my travel planner. 

This deep red wine smells of plums and cherries and a bit of rosemary.  The palate is fleshy and ripe with dark fruit, and a dusty, rustic characteristic was the buzz of the Twitter tasting.  Whole Foods says pair this with barbecue, shish kabobs, and Spanish chorizo.  They cite  Spanish chickpeas and chorizo as a good choice. The cheese pairing they recommend is Solé Gran Queso.

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Thursday, July 12, 2012

Trailers From Hell Kickstarter Campaign

My pals at Trailers From Hell have a fundraising effort underway through Kickstarter.  If you like movies of the classic era - if you like the Blood Of The Vines wine and movie pairings - if you like Hollywood swag for being so generous - check out the kickstarter video here.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Victoria Wine Gums

There's a shopping mall in Los Angeles called The Grove, which is next to the Farmers Market.  The two competing malls do not validate parking for the other's stores, and the several restaurants caught in no man's land between the two don't validate for either.  Rather than pay close to ten dollars for parking just to have a meal, I drop in to the Cost Plus World Market and buy something less expensive.  They validate, and I have something to show for the money spent - even if it is just a cheap bottle of wine or some candy for the movies.

The Grove made it into the news recently for an unfortunate occurrence which happened just an hour after we left.  The seven-story leap taken by a troubled individual left onlookers shaken and disturbed afterward.  In an attack of gallows humor, we wondered if maybe he had just seen "Rock of Ages" before deciding to end it all.

Anyway, on that visit to The Grove, my wife pointed out a candy purchase I had to try.  Wine Gums, made by Victoria, are just little gummy candies that contain no alcohol.  Curiously, they also contain no aromas or flavors of any kind of wine I've enjoyed.  I'm not a gummy candy fan to start with, and these confections did nothing to win me over.

They are very aromatic, but they smell more like scented candles than wine.  The flavors are your standard Jolly Rancher fruit, but maybe a little more intense - not that it's a good thing.  There are a bounty of colors in the bag, but none of them match wine in any way.

The big attraction - for me - was finding that maker Glisten Confectionery is located in Blackburn, Lancashire.  That's where the Beatles found 4,000 holes - and had to count them all - in the song from Sgt. Pepper.  Had they been outfitted with a collection of these candies, they could have deposited them in each of the holes and nobody would have missed them.

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Friday, July 6, 2012

Twitter Tasting The Finger Lakes - Red Tail Ridge Winery

Several weeks ago, a small gathering of wine writers got together on Twitter.  That’s not too unusual, considering the amount of time many of us spend there anyway.  This was, however, a special virtual event designed to celebrate the wines of New York’s Finger Lakes region, specifically the wines of Mike Schnelle and Nancy Irelan.  The husband/wife team are the winegrower and winemaker, respectively, of Red Tail Ridge Winery on Seneca Lake.

The idea was, we would each receive a shipment of wines to taste and tweet about through the magic of social media.  Some of us found that the delivery service had trouble getting the wines to us in time, but I already had a bit of experience with the Red Tail Ridge wines.  I had met Irelan at a wine tasting event in Los Angeles earlier in the year.

Red Tail Ridge, I discovered while tweeting, is the first LEED Gold certified green winery in New York state.  The steps they have taken to leave a smaller footprint has reduced the winery’s energy consumption by over 50 percent.

There were plenty participants in the Twitter tasting making comments about the orange peel they were enjoying on the RTR Dry Riesling, the pairability of the Semi-Dry Riesling and the spicy, leathery notes on the Pinot Noir.  I found the wines of Red Tail Ridge to be outstanding, and a very good indication that the Finger Lakes region is bringing a lot more than Riesling to the table.  Here are my notes on the wines kindly provided by Red Tail Ridge.

Pinot Noir Finger Lakes 2010
This estate-grown Pinot was hailed by the Twitter tasting group for its fruit and earthiness as well as its notes of leather and spice.  It is very light in color - quite a pretty violet hue - and you can see right through it in the glass.  Aromas of raspberry and cherry are framed in a beautiful earthiness.  The palate shows great fruit, with only a hint of tartness - but that mineral-laden earth shows up here, too.  That’s a real grabber for me.  I also like a wine with good acidity, which is present in this Pinot as well.  The tannins are not terribly assertive, and that’s how I like them in a Pinot.  The minerals last into the finish with a bit of citrus in the background.

Blaufränkisch Finger Lakes 2009 ($23)
It’s unusual to run across Blaufränkisch and Dornfelder grapes outside of Europe.  That’s no doubt why Red Tail Ridge makes these two wines under the Obscure Red Varietal Series banner.  The Blaufränkisch comes in a Cabernet-style bottle, while the Dornfelder is packaged in a Pinot Noir-style bottle.

The Blaufränkisch grape is quite popular in Central and Eastern Europe, but it certainly qualifies as an obscure grape in the United States.  This wine is 12% abv, and is aged in older American oak barrels.  The nose smells mainly of spiced cherries - quite aromatic, with an herbal note and a floral aspect, as well as a trace of earth and minerals.  It’s really a beautiful bouquet.  On the palate, spices are at play with cherries.  There’s a racy acidity and a forceful tannic structure giving this wine great backbone.  The medium mouthfeel and the acidity work together to make it a refreshing sip.

Dornfelder Finger Lakes ($20)
This non-vintage novelty is a blend of the winery’s 2009 and 2010 vintages.  The wine is estate grown, aged in older French oak barrels and carries a 12% abv number.  The Dornfelder grape is quite popular in Germany.  It was created in 1955 by grape breeder August Herold, but it was not made available for cultivation and use in German wine until 1979.  The vines on the Red Tail Ridge property were planted in 2007.

Aromas of cherries and blackberries mix with a green floral component, but the nose is not as spicy or aromatic as the Blaufränkisch.  Wonderful fruit shows on the palate, mainly black cherry and plum.  The acidity is nice and refreshing while the tannins are perky, but neither element is as pronounced as in the Blaufränkisch.

Semi-Dry Riesling Finger Lakes 2010 ($16)
The semi-dry is estate grown, from RTR Vineyard.  The wine is fermented in stainless steel with no malolactic fermentation and carries an alcohol content of 12% abv.  It's pale in the glass, with a nice, aromatic nose showing tons of peaches and tropical fruit.  There is also the slightest aroma of petrol.  It is full in the mouth, despite the lack of oak and malolactic.  The sweetness is there, but a tart fruit flavor follows it up and a limeade acidity carries through on the finish.  I get a hint of petrol on the finish, too.  It makes me want some Thai food, or a spicy Italian sausage to pair with it.

Dry Riesling Finger Lakes 2010 ($19)
This Riesling is also fermented in stainless steel with no malolactic fermentation.  The alcohol content is also a low 12% abv.  On the nose, this pale wine shows a bit more minerality than the semi-dry.  A beautiful slate aroma paves the way for the peaches and nectarines, with a nutty hint following.  The palate on this dry Riesling shows plenty of citrus and zesty flavors along with a wet rock minerality.  The acidity is brisk and it imparts a refreshing quality to the sip.  I'd love it with some crab, or even just mixed greens.

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Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Gary Farrell Sauvignon Blanc, Sonoma County, Redwood Ranch 2010

A good wine for the warm summer months has to be light, can't be weighted down with oak and should provide some nice acidity to make it a refreshing quaff.  All three bills are filled with the Gary Farrell Sauvignon Blanc from Redwood Ranch Vineyard.  As a post script, we always hope for a bit of complexity as well, and this wine provides that, too.

The Gary Farrell winery is in the Russian River Valley - home to moody grapes like Pinot Noir, notably.  The winery reaches out to nearby Alexander Valley for these grapes.  Jim and Gayle Reed's Redwood Ranch Vineyard is located in the southern reaches of that AVA.  The vines from which this fruit comes are panted in sandy loam soil and normally enjoy a nice hot summer.  2010, however, was a cool vintage in the Alexander Valley, so expect an aromatic wine.  The winery believes this to be age-worthy in their Burgundian style.

The wine has an alcohol level of 14.1% - not exactly Burgundian, and not exactly what one might expect from the supposedly less ripe fruit of a cool vintage.  This may go to show what passes for "cool" in the Alexander Valley.  It's a full varietal wine, 100% Sauvignon Blanc, and retails for $25.  I received a sample for review.

This wine gives a medium-pale straw color in the glass. The nose is rich with fruit - peaches, pears, apricots, cantaloupe - with a slight hint of oak spice.  There are no grassy aromas to speak of, which would make one think "old-world," if it weren't for the alcohol level.  In the mouth, it's medium-full bodied, but still on the lighter side.

The palate shows apricot and nectarine, fresh and ripe. There is an intriguing earthiness, too.  This is a fairly complex white wine that's bursting with fruit.  The acidity is pretty good in the mouth, but it really shows itself well on the finish.  The tech sheet only cops to "a short time in oak," and I'd say that sounds about right.  The oak is barely noticeable, and the light spices resulting from it are welcome.  I'd pair this wine with seafood and a caprese salad in a heartbeat.

The folks at Gary Farrell make a lot of noise about their Burgundian style, and this wine bears that out.  It's not really a "new world" Sauvignon Blanc, even though the ripeness - from a cool, damp vintage - is outstanding and the earthy quality really strikes a good chord for me.  I love Sauvignon Blanc, and this one is a favorite of mine already.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Got Dirt? Terroir At Laetitia Vineyards

If you have ever driven along Highway 101 in California’s Central Coast wine country, you may have wondered about all those Pinot Noir vineyards you see along the road in southern San Luis Obispo county.  They belong to Laetitia Estate Vineyard and Winery.

Press releases don’t usually make for very good reading, but this one had my attention all the way through.  It’s a great explainer about how - even on one estate - the terroir can vary greatly.  That gives a winemaker a lot of tools to work with when blending wines.  My thanks to the nice folks at Parker Sanpei for passing this along to me.

Terroir Matters

The growing conditions at Laetitia Estate Vineyard & Winery make 
all the difference to Pinot Noir

(Arroyo Grande, CA) -- With over 600 acres of rolling hills under vines, an encyclopedic variety of soils, and a view of the Pacific Ocean, Laetitia Estate Vineyard & Winery possesses the sort of terroir that many Pinot Noir producers dream about.

In 1982, the hills that run alongside Highway 101 attracted French viticulturists to explore the possibility of planting vines for sparkling wine. Their suspicions were confirmed: the climate, topography and soils would be ideal for plantings of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and a small portion of Pinot Blanc. The vineyard was established and the Maison Deutz winery was born. 

But it wasn’t until several years later, when the property was sold and renamed Laetitia Estate Vineyard & Winery, that the true potential for varietal Pinot Noir would be discovered. Today, the vineyard is planted to 57 blocks of Pinot Noir, each of them bearing a completely different personality than the next, due to clonal selection, position, soil makeup and microclimate. 

“We are right on the edge of where Pinot Noir can be grown,” said Vice President of Vineyard Operations, Lino Bozzano. “We get warm winters which result in early bud-break. Our springs and summers are very cool, giving us ‘cool sunshine,’ which exposes each grape cluster to heavy sunlight for intense color and skin tannins. And our falls are warm with classic Indian Summer conditions that allow us to fully ripen the fruit.  It’s the long growing season – February to October – that ‘slow ripen’ the berries for that classic Laetitia style.”

On the winemaking end of the spectrum, Winemaker Eric Hickey adds that the diversity across the property creates a huge “spice rack” that is particularly helpful when he blends the wines. “What chef doesn’t like to have a lot of spices to choose from?” he asks.

This diversity is especially apparent in Laetitia’s three vineyard-designate Pinot Noir wines: La Colline, Les Galets, and La Coupelle.

La Colline , “The Hill,” is the vineyard that greets visitors to the winery at its entrance just off Hwy 101 northbound.  Planted to highly reflective Chamise shaly loam which sends heat back into the leaf canopy, La Colline’s hillside has a nearly perpendicular aspect to the sun during the growing season. These conditions conspire to make La Colline Pinot Noir one of the jammiest from vintage to vintage, typically with ripe cherry flavors and a complexity that hints back to the older age of the vines. 

Les Galets, “The Stones,” is aptly named for its position on a volcanic hill abundant with Diablo clay soil. “This is one of our rockiest sites,” said Bozzano. “Planted at seven-hundred feet with direct influence from onshore ocean winds and low-fertility soils, the vines have to work extremely hard to produce anything. The result is small, intense clusters, which make for a full-bodied, powerful Pinot.”

La Coupelle, ‘The Cup,” is the newest single-vineyard Pinot Noir offered at Laetitia. Planted on sun-absorbing heavy clay soils and protected from ocean winds, La Coupelle is one of the estate’s warmest sites for Pinot Noir.  As a result, wines show more dark fruit notes, earth, cola, and powerful tannins.

In terms of the clonal selections’ influence on each single-vineyard Pinot Noir, Hickey explained, “We have always noted that these three locations are areas where the site’s influence dominates both the clone’s influence and any vintage influence.  In other words, site is everything to these wines.”

So much so, in fact, that Hickey and Bozzano can pick a Laetitia Pinot out of a crowd. “I was recently at a blind tasting with fifty other Pinot Noirs,” said Bozzano, “and I was able to pick out the Laetitia.  It’s the fruit profile and the texture of the wine that tips me off – bright acidity and a focused palate.”

“For me, it’s that mysterious spice note entwined in the fruit profile,” said Hickey.  “I like to call it the ‘Laetitia spice.’”

Since 1982, the Laetitia Estate Vineyard & Winery has produced elegant wines that champion the exceptional character and diversity of the Arroyo Grande Valley AVA.  Originally founded by an established French Champagne house, the Laetitia estate carries on in the long-standing traditions of Burgundy and Champagne with a focus on small-lot Pinot Noir and sparkling wines.