Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Drinking With The Publicist

Some wine writers speak about publicists the same way they speak of a bottle of wine with cork taint.  Necessary evil, goes with the territory.  Not me, though.  As a wine writer, I have found publicists to be invaluable sources of information in my endeavor.  Sure, they all want to pitch something.  But it's always wine.  How bad is that?

I recently met with a publicist with whom I have communicated for several years, although never face-to-face.  Sam Dependahl, left, of Jarvis Communications, has been in my inbox more than my family has.  We even coexisted in the same city - Culver City - in my radio days.  He has provided me with a lot of fodder for this digital realm, and his invitation to lunch for a long overdue meeting was welcome.

Lunching with a publicist is great - small talk lasts about two minutes, and the rest of the time is all about wine.  That's how I like it, and I think that's how Sam likes it, too.  Oh, did I mention he walked into Cooks County with a box of wine under his arm?  That's another nice thing about lunching with publicists.  Sam brought a box, but we settled on tasting two wines that seemed perfect for the blazing hot Los Angeles afternoon, a rosé and a Moscato.

Cascinetta Vietti Moscato d'Asti 2011

Cascinetta Vietti is from Langa, in Italy's Piemonte region.  The 100% Moscato d'Asti grapes are harvested from estate vineyards in Castiglione Tinella, and the wine is fermented in stainless steel - where it stays until bottling.  The alcohol level is stopped at a super-low 5.5% by reducing the temperature.  Yeast is added for a secondary fermentation to take place in the bottle.

A very aromatic bouquet of flowers and fruit makes this frizzante wine a delight to sniff.  On the palate it's sweet and lush with fine bubbles hanging around awhile.  The acidity is nothing short of sparkling - it begs to be paired with food, but makes a great sipper on a hot day.  The wine was perfect with the awesome fries Cooks County serves.

Crossbarn Sonoma County Pinot Noir Rosé 2012

Crossbarn Winery, in Sonoma County, bears the name of legendary wine man Paul Hobbs, although the winemaker is Molly Bohlman.  Crossbarn is Hobbs' line of everyday wines: Sonoma Coast Chardonnay, Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon and Russian River Valley Pinot Noir.  It is an appellation-specific line, while his higher line is vineyard-specific.  By the way, the winery's name comes from a structure on his family's New York farm, the "cross barn."

The rosé is made from Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir.  It is fermented 80% in steel tanks, 20% in neutral oak.
It's an extremely light pink wine with a slightly funky aroma, which I love in a rosé.  Beautiful strawberry and raspberry fruit also adorn the bouquet, with more of the same coming on the palate.  It's perfectly dry, with great acidity and freshness, and notes of grapefruit and cantaloupe appear on the finish.  It was a great match with both the BLT and the grilled salmon sandwich.

It was interesting to me that when Sam and I talked about these two wines we didn't talk very much about aromas or flavors.  We focused on the acidity, the freshness they both bring to the table.  That's what I look for in a white wine or a rosé - a refreshing acidity that makes good wine pair so well with a variety of foods.

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Monday, July 29, 2013

Messina Hof Merlot Private Reserve Double Barrel 2011

If you missed the Now And Zin article on Messina Hof Winery and their Riesling, see it here.

As the story is told on their website, Paul and Merrill Bonarrigo studied winemaking in Bordeaux for a while.  They patterned this release after the wines they tasted during their afternoon "research sessions" at wineries in St. Emilion.

Aged for 18 months- first in French oak, then American - the Messina Hof Merlot Private Reserve Double Barrel 2011 retails for $22 and carries a 13% abv number.  It's a 75% Merlot and 25% Cabernet Sauvignon blend from grapes grown in their Fredricksburg and Lubbock vineyards.

Rich, deep color leads to a nose of cherries and pretty oak spice.  The oak shows on the palate, too.  It abets some very nice fruit flavors - red currant and cherry, mainly.  There's a touch of graphite showing through, thanks to the Cab.  While the use of wood isn't exactly sparing, it is not overdone, either.  A nice, even hand was used in this wine's oak treatment.

This Bordeaux blend surprises me in that I expected a Texas wine - especially one with the phrase "double barrel" in its name - to be a little bit rowdy, and a little boisterous, and a little rambunctious.  This is not the case.  This wine is no high plains rancher - it's extremely smooth and elegant.  Maybe it's really from Dallas.

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Friday, July 26, 2013

Wine Country Texas: Messina Hof Riesling

Messina Hof Winery & Resort came into being in 1977, truly in the pioneer days of modern Texas winemaking.  Paul and Merrill Bonarrigo's family trees both figure into the company's name.  Bonarrigo traces his roots back seven generations, to Messina, Sicily, while his wife's folks are from Hof, Germany.
The Messina Hof Riesling Father and Son Cuvée 2011 is a blend of Riesling and Moscato.  The wine contains a low 11.5% alcohol and retails for an even lower number, $11.  The wine's name, Father and Son Cuvée, signifies that it was the first wine produced by Paul VI and Paul VII as a team.  You don't see a succession like that very often outside of the Vatican.
Pale gold in the glass, this Texas High Plains Riesling shows notes of apricots, pears and peaches on the nose, with a spray of honeysuckle on the side.  The bouquet is liberally graced with an earthy, petrol aroma.  Earth carries through on the palate, but it has to compete harder with the fruit flavors.  The petrol hits the taste buds, with peach and pear flavors holding their own.  The acidity is decent enough to handle salads or light fish while not getting in the way of a great sipping wine.  This should be a welcome addition to any time spent on a Texas back porch this summer.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Wine Country Texas: Pedernales Cellars Tempranillo

Pedernales Cellars - pronounced "pur-deh-NAH-less" in Texan - makes Spanish and Rhône-style wines in Stonewall, Texas, using grapes grown in the Hill Country and High Plains AVAs.  Larry and Jeanine Kuhlken were true wine pioneers in Texas when they planted their first vineyard in the early 1990s.  Their son, David, is the winemaker for the family business.

The grapes for the Pedernales Texas High Plains Tempranillo 2010 are grown in the Reddy and Bingham vineyards in the Texas High Plains AVA.  The wine sells for $40.

On their website, they describe the winemaking process.  “Upon arrival at the winery, the grapes... underwent a thorough hand-sorting.  Following destemming and crush we choose to inoculate with a classic Rioja yeast strain.  Fermentation took place primarily in open small batch fermenters.  Throughout fermentation, the wine was stirred and managed by hand.  Pressing was done in small batches using a basket press applying only gentle pressure.  The wine was then aged for 15 months in predominantly American oak barrels with medium toast from choice coopers including Canton, Mistral, and A&K.  In accordance with our philosophy of minimal intervention, our 2010 Tempranillo saw very gentle handling using gravity flow wherever possible and underwent only minimal fining and filtering before bottling in the fall of 2012. The final wine is 100% Texas and 100% Tempranillo.”

The vintage was a favorable one for them.  “2010 was a year of good balance and ideal conditions for growing grapes here in the state.  In both the High Plains and the Hill Country a wet and cool winter was followed by a moderate spring and warm summer."

This Texas Tempranillo is inky black and really reminiscent of Rioja.  Blackberries and cherries dominate the nose and palate.  It's a big and bold wine, with massive fruit and great tannins.  There's no urgent need to give the wine time in a decanter, unless you like.  It is ripe and expressive when poured.  This is a great example of a burgeoning wine region finding out quickly what it should be doing.  The ripe fruit and tantalizing acidity show that the "T" in Texas stands for Tempranillo.

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Monday, July 22, 2013

Wine Country Texas: Eden Hill Vineyards

Eden Hill Vineyards is located in Celina, Texas, a half hour north of Dallas - heck, that's almost Oklahoma.  Their estate grapes are grown on two acres of north Texas land - planted in 2008 - but there's more.  Eden Hill is also a farm, sprouting fruits, vegetables and herbs.

They try to be as green as the North Texas State University football jerseys.  Their website states, "We do not use pesticides in the garden, and we try to be good stewards of the land by practicing sustainable farming methods.  Our winery is run on 100% rainwater that is collected at our farm.  Water is a precious resource in Texas."

Grape varieties grown at Eden Hill include Tempranillo, Cynthiana, Blanc du Bois, and Orange Muscat.
The Eden Hill Vineyards Albariño-Viognier 2012 has collected a couple of medals so far, and the label sports art by Wendy Dooldeniya.  She may have had an inside track, since her brother is winemaker Chris Hornbaker.  The grapes come from Smith Estate Vineyard in Fort Worth.

A 50/50 blend of Albariño and Viognier, this wine has a reasonable 13.9% abv number and is aged for four months in stainless steel - not a stick of oak.

Eden Hill's Albariño-Viognier has a pale yellow-green tint in the glass.  A bouquet of pineapple, apricot, mango, apples and peaches is colored with the spicy aromas.  Flavors of peaches and herbs - I couldn't resist - also show a little spice.  A racy acidity really rips it up, and the wine finishes on a zing of citrus.

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Friday, July 19, 2013

The Rhone Rangers L.A. Wine Event 2013

California is well populated with wine grapes of other regions - varieties from all over the world seem to wind up in California soil.  Supporters exist for wayward Italian, Spanish and Portuguese grapes and, of course, the French varieties are certainly represented well.  They are the backbone of the California wine industry.

The Rhone Rangers get more specific.  They are a non-profit group waving, blowing the horn and attracting attention to American Rhône varietal wines.  As they describe, “American Rhône-style wines are made from the same grapes that have flourished for centuries in France’s Rhône River Valley, and their growing popularity in the United States speaks to their versatility with food, wide range of rich flavors, and to the skills of American winemakers.  Twenty-two traditional grape varieties may be grown [in the Rhône].  Twelve of these grapes are planted in the United States, including the best-known, Syrah and Viognier, the up and coming Mourvèdre, Grenache, Roussanne and Marsanne, and the truly obscure (but delicious) Counoise, Cinsaut, Grenache Blanc and Picpoul.  Plus Petite Sirah, whose parentage places it clearly in the Rhône.”

The annual get-togethers of the disciples of these grapes are always fun.  How could a group of people identifying themselves as "Rhone Rangers" not be good company?  The tasting is great, too, with plenty of samples to try - the 22 grapes of the Rhône Valley are the stars of the show, in varietal and blended form.

When it comes to vitis vinifera, Cabs, Merlot, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay all have their place with me.  But when I sit around and think about my favorite wine grapes - please tell me I’m not alone in this behavior - the Rhône varieties always end up highly ranked.

The Rhone Rangers L.A. stop on June 23, 2013 was held downtown in the repurposed Vibiana cathedral.  Here are a few of the wines I tried and liked at this event.

Andrew Murray Vineyards
Andrew Murray (left) is always mentioned on the short list of Santa Barbara County winemakers to watch.  Taste his wines and find out why.  Big floral notes grace his 2012 Viognier ($25).  The red blend "Experance" 2011 ($25) is a familiar Rhône mix of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre which shows a funky touch.  Two Syrahs rocked the table, the outstanding, meaty 2011 Watch Hill Vineyard ($30) and the lovely, dark 2010 Terra Bella Vineyard ($36).  The 2011 Mourvèdre is a lighter expression of the grape, but still pretty bold.

Bonny Doon Vineyard
Randall Grahm's mother, Ruthie (right), stood in for her winemaker son.  I overheard a great quote from her: "...and I never made another suggestion to him again."  I don't know what she was talking about, but the quote really seemed funny to me even out of context.  The warm afternoon was highlighted by Grahm's amazing whites.  The 2011 "Le Cigare Blanc" ($28) is smoky and fruity with great acidity while the 2010 "Le Cigare Blanc" Reserve ($50) has great savory tones with a beautiful finish.  Grahm's reds are favorites of mine, too, and his 2009 Bien Nacido Syrah ($40) sings.

Clavo Cellars
Neil Roberts makes wine in Templeton, in the heart of the Paso Robles AVA.  His 2011 Viognier ($18) offers more fruit than flowers and the 2011 Grenache Blanc ($20) pits wonderful fruit against magnificent salinity.  His 2009 Syrah ($25) is gorgeous.

Cornerstone Cellars
The Napa Valley winery is becoming as well-known for their everyday line, Stepping Stone, as for their top-shelf Cabs.  The 2012 Corallina Rosé of Syrah has beautiful acidity and great fruit expression.

Derby Wine Estates
The Paso producer poured a white blend, the 2010 "Fifteen 10," ($24) that shows Roussanne, Marsanne, Grenache Blanc and Picpoul Blanc in a floral and savory setting.  The 2009 "Fifteen 10 Red" ($28) adds Counoise to the GSM blend for a bright and tart pleasure.  Derby's 2009 Petite Sirah ($26) is dark and deep with lip-smacking grip.

Donelan Wines
From Santa Rosa, Donelan's 2010 red blend "Cuvée Moriah" ($40) is heavy on the Grenache and surprisingly light and breezy.  A great, funky nose defines their 2010 Syrah from Walker Vine Hill Vineyard ($45) with lots of blue fruit following on the palate.

J. Lohr Vineyards and Wines
They poured mainly their Gesture line of Paso Robles wines.  Flowers and peaches on the 2012 Viognier ($25) while the 2012 Rosé of Grenache ($18) is a dry strawberry delight.  The 2012 white blend ($25) combines Roussanne, Viognier and Grenache Blanc with great lime and almond notes.  Brilliant cherry flavor lights up their 2011 Syrah ($30) and the 2011 Petite Sirah has licorice, dark fruit and great acidity.

Kale Wines
Kale Anderson (left) poured a brilliant 2012 rosé ($22) made from Sonoma County Syrah and a straight up 2009 Syrah ($40) from Alder Springs Vineyard in Mendocino County.  There's a 10% splash of Viognier in it and it is lush with a great herbal edge.

Using fruit from several vineyards in Paso's Westside, the 2008 Syrah ($28) gives eucalyptus notes while their two red blends, "Osiris" ($32) and "Morpheus" ($36) are bright Grenache-based wines.

Larner Vineyard and Winery
Estate fruit from Santa Barbara County's Santa Ynez Valley make up the Michael Larner (right) offerings.  The 2011 Viognier ($28) has a delightful savory aspect and their 2009 Grenache ($40) is pure cherry.  Larner's 2009 Reserve Syrah ($65) utilizes stem inclusion - fermenting the grapes stems and all - for an herbal tone and greater tannic structure.

Mira Winery
This Napa producer recently experimented with aging bottled wine under the sea.  They were so intrigued by the results, they have plans to age more wine - pre-bottling - beneath the waves in September.  Gustavo Gonzales poured his 2009 Hyde Vineyard Syrah ($48) full of dark fruit, slight funk and racy acidity.

Mitchella Vineyard and Winery
This Paso outfit ages their 2012 Grenache Blanc ($24) half in steel and half in neutral oak.  Great freshness and a beautiful finish are remarkable.  Their 2012 Viognier ($22) has a nutty edge and the 2010 "Shameless" red blend ($28) is a GSM with the Grenache and Mourvèdre cofermented.

Pomar Junction Vineyard and Winery
Winemaker Jim Shumate (left) told me he doesn't like to over oak his wines, and his easy touch shows.  His 2010 Viognier ($20) has a floral nose leading to a savory palate.  A trace of funk dots the nose on the 2010 Syrah ($34) and the 2010 "Fiesta Red" ($34) makes a bright and spicy blend of Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel and Merlot.  Shumate offered dessert at his table, in the form of his gorgeous 2010 Reserve Late Harvest Viognier ($68).  How late was the botrytis-kissed harvest?  During the first week of December, at 39 brix.  He says he's seen grapes harvested even later, at 50 brix.

Stolpman Vineyards
Tom Stolpman's (right) 2012 Viognier ($22) has a lovely, savory side and his 2011 "Golden Point" ($19) combines Rhône, Burgundy and Bordeaux grapes, spinning Roussanne, Viognier, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc to an almost buttery extreme.  Both are excellent, and it's hard to believe the latter wine costs less than a twenty.

Two Shepherds
William Allen traveled a far piece from his home base of Santa Rosa for the Santa Ynez Valley grapes that went into his 2012 Saarloos Vineyard Grenache Blanc ($25).  He sees it as his flagship wine, and with good reason.  Plenty of fruit with a savory edge should please a lot of people.  Allen's 2011 white blend ($26) from the Russian River Valley has Roussanne, Marsanne, Viognier and Grenache Blanc mixing it up with salinity that absolutely stuns.  Perhaps most outstanding is the Two Shepherds 2011 Grenache ($35) of Saralee's Vineyard in the Russian River Valley.  He calls this cool-climate wine "the lighter side of Grenache."  Beautiful cherry flavor and great acidity constitute a home run.

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Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Wine Country Texas: Brennan Vineyards

Brennan Vineyards is located between the Central Texas Hill Country and the high plains of West Texas, the two most acclaimed winegrowing regions in the Lone Star State.  The town of Comanche is home to the winery, on Texas Highway 16, southwest of Fort Worth.  The Brennan tasting room is situated in the historic McCrary House, one of the oldest remaining homesteads in Texas.  It’s an official landmark and is so designated by the Texas Historical Commission.

Their two main vineyards produce a diverse selection of grape varieties: Cabernet and Syrah in Comanche Vineyard and Viognier and Nero d'Avola on the Newburg vines.

Brennan’s Lily 2011 is a white blend of 53% Roussanne, 25% Viognier and 22% Grenache.  That’s Grenache, not Grenache Blanc.  More on that in a bit.  The grapes come from the Bingham and  Reddy Vineyards in Texas’ High Plains AVA.  Alcohol is a very restrained 13.2% and the bottle retails for a similarly restrained $17.50.  I received a sample for the purpose of this article.  619 cases were produced.  The unoaked white has won gold and silver medals in a handful of wine competitions.

Winemaker Todd Webster puts his signature on the bottle and he also advises on the label that we all "Enjoy With Care."

Webster also commented by email on the Grenache issue.  “We planned on using it in our red Rhone blend,” he says, “but the color was so weak we decided to press it right away and use it in our white Rhone. It worked out great.”

Talk about unusual vineyard practices.  Webster continues, “We contemplated harvesting [the Grenache] twice this year.  Early for the white Rhone and late for the red Rhone.  But a freeze on May 4th took that possibility away.  No 2013 Grenache grapes.”

Color is something that is often lacking in a white wine, but not this one.  It's a beautiful yellow-gold in the glass.  The nose reveals honey, apricots, flowers and spice.  That spiciness - and the rich color - led me to expect some oak treatment, but Webster says there is none.  Also, since the wine is over half Roussanne, I expected a more savory or nutty aspect to the palate.  It's there, but it sits in the row behind the gorgeous apricot fruit flavor and a floral note.  Lemon peel and green apples come in late and stay for the finish, which is lengthy.  The acidity won't rip your teeth out, but there is certainly plenty of freshness there.  I'd like Lily with lobster.

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Monday, July 15, 2013

Peachy Canyon Incredible Red Zinfandel 2010

Peachy Canyon Winery, in the Westside of Paso Robles, produces a host of wonderful Zinfandels.  Former schoolteachers Doug and Nancy Beckett started the winery in 1988.  You could learn a thing or two about Zin in their Old School House Tasting Room, where staying after school is quite desirable.

The second generation is now getting into the act - Josh Beckett has been the Peachy Canyon winemaker since 2003.

I tried the Peachy Canyon Incredible Red Zinfandel at Spiedini, in the J.R. Marriott Hotel in the Las Vegas suburb of Summerlin.  It’s a favorite restaurant for my wife and I when we visit.  The big sin in Sin City would be missing an opportunity to dine here.  A 100% Zinfandel wine at 14.9% abv, this one isn’t shy.  The wine was offered by the glass, and if I remember correctly it cost about $12.  I’ve seen it by the bottle for less than that at Trader Joe’s over the past few years.

This Zin is medium dark in color with a pretty purple around the rim.  Brilliant aromas of blueberry dance with notes of black pepper and sage.  The palate is just as fruit-forward, with big blueberry and black cherry flavors residing on base of savory black olive.  It was great with the prosciutto wrapped pork tenderloins.

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Friday, July 12, 2013

Eco-Friendly Artisan Wine Racks

I was recently alerted to a San Diego-based company that produces and markets handmade, eco-friendly wine racks and wine gift boxes, among other items.  Brian Behncke is the founder of ThinkEco2, and works for Briven Construction during the day.  He’s an artisan woodworker by night.

His items have a rustic, rough-hewn look that I’m partial to, and maybe you will be, too.  He states on his website, “We reclaim, reprocess, and repurpose wood that was on its way to the landfill.”  His green wine and garden products are made from 100% recycled wood.  In addition to wine racks and boxes, he also makes patio tables, wedding trays, planters and coasters.

You can find Behncke’s full line of products at

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Thursday, July 11, 2013

Blood Of The Vines: The Nutty Professor

Blood Of The Vines: The Nutty Professor

Wine goes to the movies with 

Good and evil are depicted to some degree in almost every movie.  I tend to view any character drinking wine as “good,” which leads to some confusion when screening “Rosemary’s Baby.”

In “The Nutty Professor,” Jerry Lewis portrays both good and evil in his dual role as the goofy chemistry prof and his suave, slick alter-ego.  Lewis has stated that the characters represent both sides of the good/evil coin, a coin I received in change at Whole Foods the other day.  President Lincoln is heads, while tails shows Honest Abe mooning us through the columns of the Lincoln Memorial.

Observers have speculated that Lewis patterned Buddy Love after his former partner Dean Martin, but the Clown Prince of France says that was not the case.  He has expressed regret for not making the Love character more overtly evil.  It seems most of the fan mail went to B. Love, not J. Kelp.

While perusing the notion of Jerry Lewis as Jekyll and Hyde, the question arises: What kinds of wine would Julius Kelp and Buddy Love drink?  At least it arises for me, a few more times a day than I’d like to admit.

Kelp - the hapless nerd - probably knows either too little or too much about wine, just like in real life.  Most folks who know just enough about wine seem boring to those at the low end of the spectrum and dimwitted to the other side.

Love - the cool hipster - would probably drink Champagne from a little-known artisan grower, if he drank wine at all.  In the film, Love orders a drink like this: “two shots of vodka, a little rum, some bitters, a smidgen of vinegar, a shot of vermouth, a shot of gin, a little brandy, a lemon peel, orange peel, cherry, some more scotch.”  Paraphrasing the bartender, you can either drink it or take it home and rub it on your chest.

Lewis has brought “The Nutty Professor” to the stage, off-Broadway.  How far off?  Try Tennessee.  It’s the last stage musical completed by Marvin Hamlisch before his death in August 2012 and there are hopes it will make it to The Big Apple.

A natural wine pairing for “The Nutty Professor” is Hugh Hamilton’s Jekyll and Hyde Shiraz Viognier.  The McLaren Vale producer says the wine is co-fermented, both disparate grapes picked and fermented together rather than being blended after separate fermentation.  This is how they prevent unwanted hair growth after consumption.  (You didn’t believe that last part, did you?)

More nutty choices:

Jekel Vineyards - This Monterey County producer has Riesling for the hipster in you, Merlot for that other side.

Hyde Vineyards - In Napa Valley’s Carneros section, this vineyard provides grapes to a number of stellar winemakers.  They don’t have cherries, orange peel, vermouth or scotch.

Jerry Lewis’ Pinot Noir - Sold by an animal shelter in Wisconsin, if this Chilean Pinot has any connection with Jerry Lewis beyond his name on the label, it’s well hidden.

Jekyll and Hyde Coffee and Wine Bar - So which is which?  Before the triple espresso, and after?

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Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Italian Sparkling Wine - Ferrari

A wine from the northern part of Italy - especially the Trentino-Alto Adige region - holds a special place in my heart, and on my palate.  Magnificent minerality and delightful acidity seem to abound there, if the wines I’ve tried from that area are any indication.  The Alpine locale and the Austrian and German influence seem to express themselves explicitly in the wine.

A publicist sent me a trio of sparkling wines from the Trento D.O.C., which is an appellation for sparkling wines made in Trentino.  These wines are from Ferrari Metodo Classico, which has nothing to do with the Italian sports car.  It was a Ferrari named Giulio who brought Chardonnay grapes to this region in 1900.  He learned his winemaking chops in Champagne and decided that Italy should be doing that, too.  Now, the vineyards and winery are owned and operated by the Lunelli family.

The restrictions placed upon Trento producers are actually more confining than those in Champagne.  The Champagne method is used in producing the Trento sparklers, but there are also rules and regulations on the growing, cultivation and harvesting of the grapes themselves.

Ferrari Rosé NV

The Ferrari Rosé NV is made of 60% Pinot Nero, or Pinot Noir, and 40% Chardonnay.  The vineyards from which these grapes are grown in the hillsides around Trentino range from 985 to 1,970 feet in elevation.
They’ve been making this wine since the first vintage in 1969.  It’s aged for at least two years before release and has an alcohol content of only 12.5% abv.  The wine retails for $37.

This sparkler looks amazing in the glass - the salmon hue is rich and eye-catching.  One smell is all it took to win me over.  The funky, yeasty notes wrap around the playful strawberry aromas with an herbal undercurrent carrying the show along.  There's toasty bread on the palate, too, dressing up the cherry and strawberry flavors.  Fine bubbles and a stirring acidity finish this festive wine nicely.

Ferrari Perlé 2006

This Vintage Blanc de Blancs - 100% Chardonnay sparkler - sits at 12.5% abv and is made from grapes grown at elevations of up to 2,300 feet.  Its history dates back to 1971, when the first vintage was released.  It's aged for five years and the retail price is $35.

It's a beautiful yellow-gold in the glass, with medium bubbles which leave a slight trace around the rim. The toastiness that often graces the nose of a bubbly comes across as an earthy scent much like, oddly enough, Chardonnay I've had from Massachusetts.  I guess that must be the influence of the cool weather on the Chardonnay grape.  Tons of stone and tropical fruit reside underneath the minerality.  The palate shows earthiness, too - laden with minerals and driven by acidity.

Ferrari Brut NV

The third bottle is Ferrari Brut NV, also a 100% Chardonnay wine.  This wine has been around since the company was founded - its first vintage was released in 1902.  The present-day brut retails for $25.  It's aged for at least two years and contains 12.5% abv.

Pale in the glass, the bouquet of this wine shows some gentle toast and more out-and-out fruit - citrus and mango.  It's a pleasing nose with just a hint of earthiness.  The taste is a little more earthy, and it's laced with lemon-lime and that racy acidity.  The bubbles aren't too festive, so if that's important to you, it could be a drawback.  For me, the experience is just fine with a slight frizzante.

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Monday, July 8, 2013

Infographic: A Toast To Wine

For those of us who love infographics and wine, not necessarily in that order, here's an infographic on America's love of wine, looking at the consumption of vino in the U.S. and its rise in popularity in recent years.

Wine Infographic
Produced by SpareFoot. Copyright 2013.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Stepping Stone By Cornerstone Rocks!

The title of this piece may look like an over-the-top fanboy's reaction, but it's actually just the name borne by the line of everyday wines from Napa's Cornerstone Cellars.  The fact that I am a bit of a fanboy is completely irrelevant.

The Stepping Stone Rocks! wines - both an affordable $18 - bring high quality and low price together like they were made to be that way.  An everyday wine is good only if you actually want to drink it every day, and these wines certainly cover that base.

The grapes utilized by winemaker Jeff Keene are from California's North Coast AVA, an enormous expanse which includes Napa, Sonoma, Mendocino and Lake counties, and parts of Marin and Solano counties.

Cornerstone's decision to keep the blend percentages a "secret" is part marketing ploy and part winemaker prerogative.  Their web content says "we want everyone savoring the results vintage to vintage, not the statistics."

Cornerstone partner Craig Camp says, "My love of interesting blends goes back to the now famous Vintage Tunia by Silvio Jermann in Italy's Fruili, which I was among the first American importers of back in the early 1980's.  During the same period I was introduced to the many blended southern French wines by Christopher Cannan.  No one debated too much the exact blends of these wines they way people do now.  They were just enjoyed for what they were - delicious."

So the angle is, they juggle the numbers every year to be playful and fun, which is pretty much how the blends turn out and pretty much what a lot of us look for in a wine that's priced so it can be enjoyed every night.  More likely, they find it cost effective to change the makeup each vintage based on the grapes' availability.  If that brings a bottle of good wine to us for less than a twenty, it's alright with me.
The redesigned packaging for Rocks! is unpretentious and simple, and the move to bottle them under a screwcap was made with picnics in mind.

2011 Stepping Stone by Cornerstone North Coast Red Rocks!

Zinfandel, Merlot and Grenache mix it up in a lively manner, with alcohol at 14.1% abv.  Five months aging in stainless steel tanks gives the wine a brightness and freshness that is noteworthy.  Very dark in color, the nose invitingly displays the brambly Zin, the smokey Merlot and the fruity Grenache.  The palate is dark and fruit forward with a great acidity that is mouth watering and food friendly.  Blueberry, blackberry and oak spice mingle in the flavor profile.  Twist this one open for a backyard barbecue and everybody will be happy, even if you burn the steaks.

2012 Stepping Stone by Cornerstone North Coast White Rocks! 

The grapes are Chardonnay and Muscat Canelli, and the latter one sure does make its presence known.  The lightly green-tinted wine shows a lot of sweetness on the nose.  Aromas of sweet flowers and sweet honey burst forth with a trace of minerals underneath.  The roles are reversed on the palate, with the sweetness playing second fiddle.  In the mouth, the White Rocks! has a zippy acidity and a ton of citrus zing - the sweet notes are there, just not as pronounced as the smell would lead me to believe.  This wine is ready for shellfish or salad - or both - and can stand on its own as a refreshing sipper.  The alcohol content sits at 14.1% abv, just like its red sibling.

These two Rocks! entries are both fun, playful, everyday wines that I'm ready for any day.

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Thursday, July 4, 2013

Blood Of The Vines: Innerspace

Wine goes to the movies with 

by Randy Fuller

It only takes about 20 minutes for a glass of wine to enter your bloodstream and head for the small intestine, pancreas and liver.  It's the liver's company in that sentence that keeps it off my dinner table.

Getting alcohol out of your system takes quite a bit longer.  It's been trying to get out of my system for years and it's losing the battle.

In his 1987 film, "Innerspace," director and TFH head guru Joe Dante does that "into-and-out-of-the-bloodstream" odyssey in 120 minutes.  Navy flyboy Dennis Quaid is shrunk and injected into dweeby Martin Short, embarking him on a voyage that's no less fantastic and quite a bit funnier than this movie's 1966 inspiration.

Quaid's character starts the movie at a party, sloppy drunk, then plays around with a robot that can't pour a drink.  Better the clumsy robot had been working the party instead of the bartender.  Short's wimp opens in a doctor's office, soon to find out that it's not hypochondria if there really is something inside you.

"Innerspace" is the only flick I have ever seen in which a chase scene is interrupted for the bad guy to reload his arm.  Speaking of which, our heroic test pilot has to reload on Southern Comfort while surfing the red corpuscles.  He could have been arrested for driving while inoculated.

It is a spy movie, but the drinking in "Innerspace" lacks the urbane class of James Bond's "shaken, not stirred."  When the characters drink, it's more like "shaking and slurred."

The Oscar-winning special effects were done pre-CGI, and are still so impressive that for much of the inside-the-body sequences I had the irresistible urge to cough up something.  Meg Ryan, as the love interest, is as fresh and perky as a Sauvignon Blanc, while tiny Kevin McCarthy is as cute as a bottle of airline wine.  Let’s pair a wine with "Innerspace" that's as blood-red as the scenery.

Treasure Hunter Black Submarine wine - 3Finger Wine produces this Knight's Valley Cabernet.  I can't help but wonder if they had versions one and two, in which they kept adding fingers.  It's hard to imagine giving one finger to a Napa Cab.  Unless you're from Sonoma.

A few other bytes on the microchip:

Test Pilot wine - Cooper-Garrod Vineyards of Saratoga, California, has a trio of red blends they call their Test Pilot line.  Winemaker George Cooper was a pilot in WWII.  The rest of the Coopers and the Garrods only fly in aircraft equipped with flight attendants.  Are the Test Pilot wines top-shelf or Top Gun?  It'll cost $39 each to find out.

Wine Miniatures - For a movie about a miniature guy in a miniature submarine, how a miniature bottle of wine? offers sampler cases of little 50ml bottles, even tinier than those little wine bottles sold on airplanes.

Bilge Wine (Submarine Style) - This stuff sounds an awful lot like prison wine, and I won't be checking that box, either, on my wine club order form.

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Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Tasting Santa Barbara County: Zaca Mesa Winery and Vineyards

Zaca Mesa Winery and Vineyards was one of the early entries in the Santa Barbara County wine country.  Founded in 1973, next year will mark the 40th anniversary of the first vintage.

This flight costs $10 in their tasting room, just inside from the oversized chess board on their lawn.

Estate Viognier 2010
Floral notes dominate the nose, while a nutty flavor edges the tropical fruit on the palate.  It's aged for three months in new French oak.  $16

Estate Chardonnay 2010
Fermented 60% in steels and 40% in oak, this wine spends ten months aging in barrels.  Pineapple, mango and vanilla spice are in abundance.  $16

Estate Roussanne 2009
Served unchilled, this glorious white shows tropical fruit and almonds with a near-perfect salinity carrying it along.  $25  (The '08 has a more floral aspect to it.)

Estate Z-Cuvée 2009
Grenache, Mourvèdre and Syrah blend for a nose full of cherry and blueberry with a little oak influence.  $20

Estate Z-Three 2008
Syrah takes the wheel in this blend, with Mourvèdre and Grenache supporting.  Dark berry flavors marry with fine tannins.  $42

Estate Syrah 2009
Cassis, chocolate and pepper - black and white - make a complex nose.  A very nice tannic structure carries the dark berries, smoked meat and spices.  $25

Mourvèdre 2010
100% Mourvèdre, the blackberry and raspberry flavors are light and bright.  It finishes tart.

Eight-Barrel Syrah 2010
The fruit is very bright here, too, with the added thrill of mocha and chocolate.

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Monday, July 1, 2013

French Wine: Vin de Pays

Viognier pairs well with Indian food, so I ordered the Domaine Pennautier Viognier, Vin de Pays, France 2011, to go with aloo gobi.

The Pennautier château has reportedly been in the Lorgeril family since the time of Louis XIII, 1620 to be exact.  Nicolas and Miren de Lorgeril are the tenth generation to make wine there.  The estate is in the northern part of the Languedoc region, near the town of Carcassonne in the south of France.

Vin de pays means "country wine.”  These wines occupy a spot in the French wine classification system just above the table wine, but below the AOC level.  The classification allows vignerons to classify wines that were made using grape varieties other than those required by the AOC rules.  It keeps a winemaker from having his wine relegated to vins de table status.  There are six Vins de Pays regions in France, the largest being Vin de Pays d'Oc, which is in the Languedoc-Roussillon region.  Pennautier Viognier is grown and made.

The wine cost $8 by the glass at Santa Monica’s Pradeep on Montana, convenient to the Aero Theater.  It has an alcohol content of 13% abv.  The blurb on the menu promised a fragrant nose, which did not materialize for me.  It was served very cold and in a small, narrow glass - there just wasn't much there.  Plus, it is an Indian restaurant.  Conditions would have to be optimal for a wine's bouquet to overcome the atmosphere of spices.

On the palate, the Domaine Pennautier is lush and fresh with a touch of herbal notes mixing with the flavor of peach.  It's a good wine, and it paired nicely with the aloo gobi and its wonderful array of spices.

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