Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Aromatic White Wines Of The Finger Lakes: Gewürztraminer

There are not many American wine regions that make me jealous that I don't live there, but New York's Finger Lakes region does.  I would love to be close enough to those long lakes gouged out by glaciers to visit every weekend - or every day, for that matter.  I live in Southern California, so I have no complaints - the Santa Barbara County wine country is my spiritual home.  Even so, I sometimes think I would trade my "sunny and 78" for scraping snow off my windshield - if the Finger Lakes were held in the balance.

The cool climate of this area means the wines generally have an acidity level that is best described in superlatives.  The fruit is sometimes overshadowed by the minerals, but that's OK with me.  the wines of the Finger Lakes are overall superior products, even though they are made just south of Lake Ontario.  If you are shopping around for great wines to place on the Thanksgiving table, the Finger Lakes region is a good place to start.

Billed as "North AmerIca's premier cool-climate winegrowing region," the winemakers of the Finger Lakes produce wines which are fresh, crisp, refreshing, relatively low in alcohol and given to having minerality to burn.

I was invited to join the Finger Lakes Wine Alliance Virtual Tasting series when aromatic white wines were the subject of the day.  White wines - particularly Rieslings - are the area's forte, and this selection featured a half dozen wines that showed off some of the other white grape varieties that succeed wildly in the Finger Lakes.  The wines were provided to me for promotional purposes.  You can check out the Twitter feed of comments that transpired during the event here.  Watch the event as it appeared on USTREAM here.

We will cover the three Gewürztraminers today, and in a later post, the Gruner Veltliner, Pinot Gris and Chardonnay.

Villa Bellangelo Finger Lakes Gewürztraminer 2012

Gentle warm breezes off Seneca Lake lengthen the growing season at Villa Bellangelo in Dundee, NY.  Winemaker Ian Barry is in his 17th vintage with the winery.  He says he got the 2012 Gewürztraminer a little riper than he did in the previous year.  This wine is all stainless steel, but they plan to produce Gewürztraminer  the same way they make Riesling beginning in 2013, with neutral oak barrels and stirring on the lees.

The 2012 Bellangelo Gewürztraminer is sourced from nearby Gibson Vineyard (91%) and Morris Vineyard (9%). 325 cases were made.  Alcohol is low at 12.9% and residual sugar nearly nonexistent, at only 1%.  It hits the "medium dry" mark on the sweetness scale and is bottled under a natural cork.

The wine shows a nice yellow-gold tint and gives a beautiful nose of flowers, pears and apricots.  On the palate, tangerines are laced with pear juice by persistent mineral notes.  The really fruity flavor has the citrus is in the forefront.  Nice acidity begs for food and a beautiful finish of citrus is marked with minerals.  One taster in the virtual event picked up an oily character, so it's fairly full in the mouth.

Barry suggests pairing it with green curry, spinach Alfredo pizza and, of course, your Thanksgiving feast.

Keuka Springs Vineyards Finger Lakes Gewürztraminer 2012

August Diemel makes the wine for Keuka Springs Vineyards, located in Penn Yan, NY, on the east side of Keuka Lake.  Their ten acres of grapes are home for nine white wine varieties.  Diemel thinks Riesling is the lead actor in the Finger Lakes, but cites Gewürztraminer as the big supporting player.  He says his Gewürztraminer is more like Chardonnay than Riesling, with Riesling's aromatics and the textural qualities of Chardonnay."

He had to harvest early to maintain the acidity in balance with the sugar.  "Our cool climate helps Gewürztraminer maintain its aromatics."  The grapes he used are not estate fruit, and as a Keuka Lake proponent, he refused to comment on the source.

The Keuka Springs Gewürztraminer is sweet, with 8% residual sugar and a moderate 13% abv.  It is bottled under a natural cork with a retail price of $22.  Diemel's suggested pairings for the Keuka Springs Gewürztraminer are grilled shrimp, asparagus or Thai food.  He also likes it as an aperitif.

The nose on the Keuka Springs Gewürztraminer is highly aromatic, showing dried apricots, honey and a whole floral arrangement.  The sweet palate is loaded with white nectarines,pears and a touch of tropical fruit.  Acidity is pretty good, even though the mouthfeel overall is nice and creamy.

Knapp Winery and Vineyard Finger Lakes Dry Gewürztraminer 2012

Sunset Hill Vineyard, where the Knapp Gewürztraminer is grown, is on the west side of Cayuga Lake in Romulus, NY.  It opened for business in 1984 and 32 of their 46 estate acres of grapevines are white wine grapes.  They also manage another vineyard to the north with another 14 acres of white wine grapes.  Winemaker Steve DiFrancesco has 33 harvests to his name, and he works closely with vineyard manager Chris King.

The Knapp Gewürztraminer is just off dry on the sweetness scale typically used to identify the relative sweetness of Rieslings, but it is just as worthwhile in this case.  An alcohol content of 12.5% makes it easy to drink, and the 2.2 residual sugar adds a nice festive touch.  56 cases were produced and it retails for $15.  It comes bottled under a synthetic cork.

With light straw coloring and a beautiful floral and lime nose, the wine shows flavors of pears, sweet satsuma and a little bit of spice.  It's very fruity with a nice and dry mouthfeel.  Good, crisp acidity makes it very fresh.  The finish is memorable, full of citrus and minerality.

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Monday, October 28, 2013

Rebel Wine: Bonny Doon Vineyards Contra 2011

2011 is the third vintage of Contra, an "old-vine field blend" of primarily Carignane, Mourvèdre and Zinfandel.  Bonny Doon's Randall Grahm writes that the grapes come from "the sandy, head-trained, dry-farmed vineyards of Oakley and Antioch in the Sacramento Delta of Contra Costa County."  This vintage is, as Grahm says, "a happy medium between the mineral-driven '09 and the riper '10."

The wine's name suggests not only the county in which the grapes were grown, but the Nicaraguan opposition forces funded by the US government.  I don't think Bonny Doon is being subsidized by the feds, but now that I'm thinking of it, Grahm's Twitter communication seemed to drop off after the guvmint shutdown.  For all I know, Carignane, Mourvèdre and Zinfandel could be code names for three old rebels still hiding out in the fields.  The couch-in-the-vineyard imagery on the wine's label suggests that one could get comfortable amongst those gnarly old vines, or at least in the presence of their fruit.

Grahm calls Contra one of the "straightforward and frank wines of yester- and future-year."  When I came across that nugget on the label it didn't sound the least bit unusual, possibly because of the spaceship hovering near the words.  I don't know what the future holds, but I sure get a sense of the past in this wine.

Contra is, specifically, 56% Carignane, 28% Mourvèdre, 9% Grenache, 6% Syrah and 1% Zinfandel.  Grahm calls it a "contrarian blend of old-fangled grape varieties from mostly older vineyards."  The varietal makeup certainly harkens back to California's gold rush era and the field blends of that day.  Although field blends are referenced here, it's not a true field blend, since the grapes were vinified separately.  2,256 cases were made, and it retails for an affordable $16.  Alcohol sits at a very respectable 13.5% abv.

Inky purple, Contra displays a dark and brooding nose full of currant, anise and all the dark fruit that's lying around.  It's wonderfully pungent and even a tad funky - I guess that's how they roll in the Contra Costa.  Sipping it shows a distinct mineral note running right through the middle of the blackberry, cassis and black licorice flavors.  Acidity is great, tannins are round and the wine goes down very smoothly with notes of cinnamon and allspice.  The finish is extraordinary - and extraordinarily long.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Stepping Stone By Cornerstone Napa Valley Cabernet Franc 2010

Napa-based Cornerstone Cellars has a very good line of wines with "everyday" price points, the kind that allow the average wine lover to enjoy it whenever, not just on top-shelf special occasions.  The Stepping Stone line is produced each vintage from grapes grown in different vineyards - the better to keep the price affordable.  While the $35 retail isn't exactly destined for the bargain bin, the quality of the wine is definitely what you might call a bargain, or, more accurately, a value.  The 2010 Cabernet Franc joins their Cabernet Sauvignon at the top of the Stepping Stone price list.

Cornerstone partner Craig Camp writes, "Franc-ly speaking cabernet franc is a pain in the butt.  Hard to grow and tough to ripen just right.  Underripe gives you veggie stew and too ripe gives you concentrate of Welch's.  So why are we spending so much time on cabernet franc?"  He answers, "The truth of the matter is when you get cabernet franc just right it is nothing short of incredible. It is worth the effort."

Camp explains that Cabernet Franc grapes ripen late, and they like cooler sites which allow for lengthy ripening.  If the site is too hot, the sugar is too high; too cool and it's not sweet enough.  These Cabernet Franc grapes were harvested in early-to-mid October 2010.

In this effort, winemaker Jeff Keene works with fruit from Napa Valley's cooler southern AVA's like Carneros, Oak Knoll and Coombsville as well as cooler micro-climates in Oakville and St. Helena.
The wine is composed of 92% Cabernet Franc from Talcott Vineyard in St. Helena and Truchard Vineyard in Carneros along with 8% Merlot from Stewart Ranch Vineyard in Carneros.  Camp says the Merlot is used for "lift," a "brightness in aromatics and flavors."  It spent 18 months in French oak, half of which is new.  Alcohol kicks in at 14.6% abv.

The Stepping Stone Cabernet Franc has a deep, rich ruby tint and a dark nose of plummy fruit with an herbal, forest floor component and hint of black olives.  The fruit is just short of ripe, with a greenness that is simply delicious.  Great acidity and nice, firm tannins frame the succulent flavors in an experience I expect at much more than this wine's sticker price.

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Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Cimarone Gran Premio 2009

The warm east end of Santa Barbara County's Santa Ynez Valley - the Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara AVA - is recognized as a great place for growing Bordeaux grape varieties.  Cimarone Wines has a patch of an Italian variety there, of which they are fairly proud.

Cimarone's Gran Premio is made from 100% estate-grown Sangiovese grapes, a blend of two clones from Three Creek Vineyard in Happy Canyon.  I wrote here about the 2008 Gran Premio.

Like the '08, the 2009 vintage is vinified in barrique open top wood fermenters.  It hits 14.5% abv in alcohol and retails for $30.  195 cases were produced, each bottle numbered.  The '09 strikes me as much more fruit-driven than the previous vintage.  Cimarone advises that some age will definitely do good things to this wine.

Gran Premio is named to invoke the wild raciness of Italian Formula One drivers.  Doug Margerum was the winemaker, although Andrew Murray has stepped into that role at Cimarone.

Aromas of fresh plums and cherries jump from the glass carrying a little alcohol and a bit of tar.  Some tobacco and spice creep in, too, but it's really more about the fruit.  Speaking of, the palate is fruit forward.  That means ripe fruit forward.  It's a bushel basket of blackberry, plum, strawberry and cherry all mixed together.  A hint of smoky, tarry clove leads the charge of the spice brigade.

It may not be very Italian, but it's not meant to be.  The Cimarone Sangiovese grapes, like the Bordeaux varieties grown in Happy Canyon, wear their California hearts on their rolled-up Chambray sleeves.  Pair it with a Bolognese pasta if you like, but it will go just as well with steaks, chix and chops - as the sign on the steakhouse door used to say.

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Monday, October 21, 2013

Bonny Doon Muscat Vin de Glacière 2005

Besides being one of the all-around champion Rhone Rangers, Bonny Doon Vineyards’ president-for-life Randall Grahm dabbles in other grapes, too.  If Old McDonald had a vineyard, it would feature a Bordeaux here, a Spanish variety there, here a Rhone, there a Rhone, etc.  It would even feature some nice California Muscat.

I ran across this one, at large for several years among my belongings.  The Bonny Doon Muscat Vin de Glacière 2005 actually sports 98% Muscat Canelli, with a dash each of Muscat Giallo and Viognier.  The dessert wine only hits 11.5% abv, but the residual sugar is stratospheric at 17.2%.

Ice wine is typically produced, where nature allows, by harvesting frozen grapes and pressing them.  Frozen sugar melts faster than plain, ol’ ice, so you get those high RS levels needed for a dessert wine.

This VdG is produced from post-harvest grapes, but California wine makers need some help in the freezing department, as Grahm explains.  “Because we live in temperate California, we have to cheat a little when it comes to making ‘ice wine.’  …In as much as coastal California winters do not offer [a frozen] climate, we inter the grapes in a Castroville commercial freezer for a month of deep freeze.”  After that, the long pressing process begins, leading to a long fermentation.  Grahm says the fermentation for this wine went on for seven weeks before he felt the alcohol and sugar were in balance.

The wine looks almost like bourbon - just a tad lighter in color and intensity; copper rather than brown.  The nose is raisiny, with a good whiff of alcohol despite the low content.  A very good acidity exists on the palate, with flavors of apricot and apple meeting the loveliness of sugar.  Some orange peel and a caramel note are a true delight.  Fairly viscous, the wine leaves a trail along the sides of the glass.  A little brown sugar on the finish wraps up this holiday gift nicely.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Santa Barbara Wine Country: Dierberg And Star Lane Vineyards

Santa Barbara County offers so many great areas for exploring wine, but I am drawn over and over to Highway 246 west of Buellton.  My most recent stop at the Dierberg/Star Lane tasting room revealed some outdoor tables which indicate they are expecting plenty of visitors.  That's not surprising, considering the quality of the wines they make.

Dierberg is in the Sta. Rita Hills AVA, while the Star Lane vineyards are in Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara, in the eastern part of the Santa Ynez Valley.  They pour both at the tasting room.  is it worth a visit?  The last time I was here, there was a gentleman tasting with me who was in Los Angeles for a seminar.  He bailed on his final meetings to drive up for a swig and buy a few cases.  The tasting cost $10

Star Lane Sauvignon Blanc Happy Canyon 2011  $22
Estate grown grapes, a grassy nose with tropical fruit and oranges.  Fresh, vibrant palate with tropical fruit and a great acidity level, belied by the very mellow mouthfeel.  Fermented 100% in steel, on the lees.  Excellent.

Dierberg Chardonnay Santa Maria Valley  $32
Estate grownfruit, oak fermented - 1/3 Hungarian, 2/3 French, 1/3 new - on the lees.  The nose shows smoky pears, while palate deals with similar fruit in a creamy context.

Dierberg Drum Canyon Pinot Noir, Santa Rita Hills 2010  $44
Estate grown and locked away for 16 months in new French oak.  The nose of red fruit and smoky coffee notes lead to a nice, light palate of spice and raspberry - not too tart, not too sweet.  Not an over-the-top California Pinot - the alcohol is a restrained 13% abv.  Excellent.

Dierberg Pinot Noir Santa Maria Valley 2009  $44
My server called this estate grown wine the "James Bond of Pinot - elegant and complicated."  The nose displays spicy dark fruit, while raspberry and strawberry appear on the palate. Great acidity.  A little more alcohol, but still light on its feet and dancing.

Star Lane Cabernet Sauvignon Happy Canyon 2008  $44
Estate grown, 18 months in oak, four years bottle aged.  Really interesting nose of spicy tobacco and incense.   Easy drinking Cab, with lots of spices and a great finish.

Star Lane Estate, Happy Canyon 2007  $44
All six of the varieties they produce in Happy Canyon are used in this wine.  54% Cabernet Sauvignon, 29% Cabernet Franc, 7% Merlot, 7% Syrah, 2% Petit Verdot and 1% Malbec.  The nose is full of big red fruit, with huge fruit and floral perfume on the palate.  Great acidity.

Star Lane Astral 2006  $80
A extra poured by my server, this top-shelf wine is made from 52% Cabernet Sauvignon, 29% Cabernet Franc and 19% Petit Verdot.  It has the nose of a dessert wine, showing dried grapes. Nice spices and beautiful fruit on the palate. Very smooth.

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Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Craft Beer From Milwaukee: Lakefront ESB Ale

Man does not live by wine alone - just ask a winemaker.  They'll tell you how important beer is.  Today, a bit about a craft beer from a town known more for its big breweries, Milwaukee, Wisconsin.  Lakefront Brewery proudly declares that their suds are "Brewed in Milwaukee for people who like beer."

A recent visit to Real Food Daily in Los Angeles put us in the belly of the organic beast.  Denise introduced me to the place years ago with the caveat, "Great food, just stay away from the bread products."  She is a person who knows her bread, so I took her word for it.  Everything else we have had there has been great - organic, healthy, vegetarian and tasty - even if seitan sounds more like something that wouldn't play with the Sunday School crowd.  Try the lentil pâté - it's to die for.

In keeping with the healthy surroundings, I scanned the organic wine list first, but was drawn to an organic beer, the Lakefront ESB Ale.  It cost $6 in a 12-ounce mug.

Lakefront bills this brew as "the country's oldest certified organic beer," made with organic malted barley and organic bravo hops.  It's a British-style ale - extra special bitter - and hits 5.8% abv on the alcohol meter.The beer pours up with a beautiful copper color and a light frothy head.  The nose is mainly citrus, owing to the hops, while the palate shows a great nutty character and has the bitter finish its initials promise.  Unlike organic bread, this organic beer fit the food perfectly and would serve very well on a shady porch after mowing the lawn or gardening.

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Monday, October 14, 2013

Bonny Doon Vineyard Querry Cider 2011

The Tasting Panel magazine says Heineken is betting on a revival of cider, with their Strongbow brand.  Bonny Doon Vineyards' Randall Grahm is apparently doing the same, with his Querry cider.

Querry is 58% Bartlett and Seckel pears, 33% apples (Pink Pearl, Macintosh, Pippin and crab apples) and 9% pineapple quince, along with some other unnamed quince.  Throw in some malic acid and sulfur dioxide and the Bonny Doon “tell-all ingredients” label is complete.This 2011 vintage clocks in with a beer-like alcohol content of 6.9% abv and retails for $14.  1,924 cases were made.

Grahm says he queried himself, “What might a blend of pear, apple and quince taste like naturally fermented (with indigenous yeast) ?”  Querry is the culmination of his quest to answer that question.  He thinks it's the “pungent, heady, dusky perfume of pear and earthy apple” that makes this quaff, but I like the quince in it.

Bone dry, the cider is naturally fermented with a second fermentation, as in sparkling wines.  It looks like apple juice with bubbles.  They dissipate quickly, leaving a huge nose of the aforementioned fruit.  For its small percentage, the quince makes a big play.

The palate is marked by a huge level of acidity.  Pears and apples show strongly in a beverage that drinks like a beer mixed with a fruity sparkling wine.  It is completely refreshing, and I wish I'd had some when I was mowing the lawn.  I wish I had a lawn, too, but let’s not quarrel.  Querry is festive, for sure.  If you like your sparklers on the fruity side, this would be a great choice.  Pair it with a cheese plate, serve it over the holidays, but don’t keep your guests in a quandary - display the bottle as a conversation starter.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Troublemaker Non-Vintage Red

Some winemakers see trouble when they produce a non-vintage wine.  Vintage, after all, is a prime factor to which wine lovers look when determining the quality of a wine.  Perhaps more important in wines from French regions than in those from California's warmer locales, the vintage has become blurred in Hope Family Wines' Troublemaker red blend produced in Paso Robles.

The winery's website calls Troublemaker "a blend crafted from multiple varietals and vintages. The majority of wine comes from 2011 vintage, with a remaining portion coming from 2010.  By using a multi-vintage approach, winemaker Austin Hope allows the wine to show uncanny complexity in its youth, yet rich and fruit-forward characteristics that make it ready upon release."

The blend is 50% Syrah, 20% Grenache, 10% Mourvèdre, 10% Zinfandel and 10 % Petite Sirah, from California's expansive Central Coast appellation.  The wine kicks 14.5% on the alcohol meter and retails for $20.  I was provided a sample from a publicist.

The grapes involved bring forth the attributes for which they are known.  Troublemaker is a very dark-colored wine, with an extremely fragrant nose of black currant, blueberry, vanilla spice and cinnamon.  There is quite a show of Syrah, Zinfandel, Mourvèdre and Petite Syrah.  On the palate, a rich and ripe fruit display shows dark fruit in the form of plums and blackberries. Spicy with the nice acidity one would expect in a Grenache, and with firm tannins, the wine is smooth enough to provide enjoyment as a sipper while maintaining good structure to allow for pairing with some meaty dishes.

If you are looking for a nice, affordable red to put on the holiday table, this Troublemaker won't cause any trouble in that setting.

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Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Bonny Doon Syrah, Edna Valley, Jespersen Vineyard 2010

As the "original Rhône Ranger" in California, one might expect Bonny Doon Vineyards' Randall Grahm to present a Syrah that is something more than acceptable.  With his Jespersen Vineyard release, he keeps his streak of extraordinary Syrahs intact.

Jespersen Vineyard is a fairly new vineyard located close to the coast in the Edna Valley region of San Luis Obispo County.  Edna Valley is one of my favorite mineral-laden wine regions in California, and I know Grahm appreciates minerality in wine, wherever it comes from.

On the label, Grahm waxes jazzy poetic about the "coolth" of Jespersen Vineyard and of Edna Valley as a whole.  He likes the cool climate grapes there and the depth of the wines made from them.  He feels his 2010 Jespersen Vineyard Syrah shows the brilliance of cool climate grapes.

483 cases were made with a per-bottle price tag of $40, although the wine was produced primarily for the Bonny Doon wine club, DEWN.  Alcohol comes in as moderate at 12.7% abv.

The color of this Syrah is deep and dark.  The nose beckons from across the table - vast blueberry, blackberry and plum with an aroma at once minty and tarry draped over the fruit basket.  Big, dark fruit dominates the palate with a eucalyptus note often found in cool-climate Syrah.  The wine shows remarkable acidity, another touchstone for Grahm's wines.

Pair this one with anything meaty, beefy or gamy and you should be pleased.  Sip it and ruminate on it, and you will find pleasure in that, too.

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Monday, October 7, 2013

Wine Country Pennsylvania: Lakeview Cellars

For a state with as much winemaking heritage as you will find in Pennsylvania, they lag far behind most states in embracing laws favorable to wine consumers.  Things appear to be shifting there, but the movement is slow.  

While tasting wine from all parts of the US for the Now And Zin Wine Country series, I have had the opportunity to sample Pennsylvania wine several times.  Some has been good, while some has been merely tolerable.  The samples from Lakeview Cellars definitely fall into the "good" category.

Lakeview Cellars is a boutique Pennsylvania winery located just south of I-90 in the town of Northeast, PA, which is actually in northwest PA.  The directional aspect of the town's name describes its situation within Erie County.  The winery offers visitors some great views of Lake Erie and a pond shaped like a wine bottle - in addition to their wines, of course.  Owner and winemaker Sam Best sent two bottles of his very popular Shipwreck Series, a red and a white, for me to sample.

2011 Shipwreck Red

This Lake Erie red blend uses five grape varieties: Baco Noir, Cabernet Franc, Chambourcin, Cabernet Sauvignon and Noiret.  Cabernets Franc and Sauvignon you know.  The other three grapes are hybrids found mainly in the American northeast.  Baco Noir is a cross of the French vitis vinifera grape Folle Blanche and an unknown variety of vitis riparia indigenous to North America.  Chambourcin and Noiret are also hybrid grapes.

Best says, "The wine is finished with 1% residual sugar, and exhibits nice fruit forward and finishes with some oak tones."  Sure enough, it's a dry wine at 12.4% abv, fermented and aged in Pennsylvania white oak.  It sells for $17, when they have some to sell.  This vintage ran out in September this year, nine months after its release.

Medium-dark ruby in the glass, the nose is complex, with black plum and blackberry, a little cinnamon and allspice, cigar tobacco and even a bit of leather.  The sip reveals a beautiful, peppery raspberry delight.  It's a little bit Pinot, a little bit rock'n'roll.  The Baco Noir and Chambourcin grapes seem to shine the brightest.

Shipwreck White

Best says he aimed for crisp and semi sweet with the Shipwreck White.  He hit the mark well.  Notes of melon and citrus come through an earthy nose, while similar fruit adorns the palate.  It strikes me as having just a hint of sweetness, a little odd for a wine with 3.5% residual sugar.  Best explains, "We blended this wine to have a nice balance of fruits and acid and finish with a honeydew melon taste.  The wine was finished with 3.5% residual sugar, but because of the acid, it doesn’t come across as sweet."  

This blend of Riesling, Vignoles, Cayuga and Vidal retails for $14 and barely tips the alcohol meter at 12% abv.

The earthiness on the noise is amazing.  The way the minerals, sugar and acidity merge is equally stunning.  It goes great with almonds and a cheese plate, but it makes a great sipper, too.

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Friday, October 4, 2013

Santa Barbara Wine Country: Babcock Winery And Vineyards

One of the nice things about having an L.A. screenwriter as a friend is the fact that they can often drop whatever they happen to not be doing and run off to wine country for the day.  Denise and I picked up Guido and we hit the freeway for Santa Barbara County.

We had hit Los Olivos hard the last couple of visits, so we opted for a change of pace in the Sta. Rita Hills.  At Babcock Winery, we had the Royale Tasting Flight for ten bucks.

Bryan Babcock makes wine from the grapes grown on the property his father bought in the 1970s.  It was just supposed to be a hobby, but the younger Babcock left his path of higher education to make it a career.
He is not only still making wine, he’s changing the way it’s made.  Babcock has come up with a new way of trellising his vines which has lowered his farming costs.  He also has developed a clone of Pinot Noir.  You can read about both of those developments in Santa Barbara’s Independent.

The Babcock tasting room is part wine bar, part accessory shop.  The big barn door and concrete floor give the feel of a garage.  Tables and merchandise are scattered along the way to the back, where the bar is located.

Identity Crisis Syrah 2011  $12

This interesting blend of 85% Santa Ynez Valley Syrah from Estelle Vineyard, 14.5% Cabernet Sauvignon from the same place and a smidge of Pinot Gris from the Sta. Rita Hills estate.  It’s an unusual blend for a white wine - rather a rosé or blush, actually - white Syrah? - but much more complex than those terms might indicate.  The nose shows herbal strawberry while the palate has a great acidity level and mineral profile.  The wine goes through full malolactic fermentation, which gives it such a creamy feel that I asked about the oak treatment.  There is none, though - 100% steel.  There’s no maceration at all, either, which accounts for the hint of color.

Chardonnay Santa Barbara County 2011  $25

This easy-drinking, easy-priced Chardonnay is labeled as SBC, although the grapes come from two vineyards in SBC - Babcock estate and Radian - and one in the Santa Lucia Highlands in Monterey County.  The wine is 100% stainless steel.  Again, however, I was tricked.  I felt sure I got some oak on the nose and a touch on the palate.  All the butter and vanilla that join the pears and apples make it hard to believe there’s no oak.  Again, we have full malolactic fermentation to thank.  The wine has a great weight.

Sauvignon Blanc 2012  $25

This wine is made of 100% homegrown estate grapes.  There is a touch of grassiness, but it’s the lime zest and pear that steal the show.  The palate is clean and full of citrus, with an easy acidity.  No oak here, and no malolactic fermentation, either.  Babcock says he picked the grapes very ripe to avoid herbaceousness - which accounts for the alcohol level of 14.8% abv.  The wine is very fresh and has an old world feel to it.

Red Table Wine  $9

This surprisingly good bargain wine is a non-vintage blend of “eight or nine varieties,” according to my server.  There’s a very nice funk to the nose, with a mouthful of cherry and red currant.  Really nice acidity, too.

Pinot Noir Santa Barbara County 2011  $25

It is Pinot Noir for which the Sta. Rita Hills are known, and this Pinot is all SRH - 67% from The Yard and 33% estate fruit.  The wine sees 16 months in neutral French oak, with an oak “tea bag” used during fermentation.  A nice floral nose leads to ripe berries and cherries on the palate.

Cabernet Sauvignon Classic Rock 2010  $16

The rock referenced in the name isn’t music.  The moniker is inspired by the brilliantly colored stones found in the vineyards of the Santa Ynez Valley.  From that region’s Estelle Vineyard come the grapes for this 100% Cabernet Sauvignon.  The nose is really funky, almost oddly so, and bright red fruit mingles with an oaky note on the palate.

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Wednesday, October 2, 2013

White Wine - Because There Is Always A Warm Beach Somewhere

Recently we wrote about some South African wines, and now - before the Northern Hemisphere sun grows too faint to warm us, let's try the beach house Sauvignon Blanc.  It is actually a blend of 85% Sauvignon Blanc and 15% Semillon grapes from South Africa's Western Cape, clocking in at 12% abv and retailing for $10.

Made by Douglas Green, one of South Africa's largest independent wine producers, the beach house has a presence in 80 countries and is imported in the US by Pacific Highway Wines and Spirits.  It is labeled as "perfect for sitting out in the sun, on the porch or even better... on the beach."  Even if the season in your hemisphere does not cooperate, it's perfectly fine to enjoy this wine indoors.

Pale straw yellow in the glass, the wine's nose is full of bright citrus and minerals.  There is hardly a blade of grass to be found.  On the palate, grapefruit, Mandarin orange and lime peel dominate in a fruity and easy-to-drink setting that also includes a fairly strident acidity.  There is just a hint of that South African terroir - it is really a refreshing and fruit-forward wine.

Pair it with grilled calamari - the more charred the better, salads and Feta cheese.  It's even good with sausage and peppers.

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