Showing posts with label Brut. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Brut. Show all posts

Wednesday, October 6, 2021

Windsor Vineyards Gets Personal With Their Wine

Many wineries find it resourceful to create an additional revenue stream by making personalized labels for the wine they sell.  Sonoma County's Windsor Vineyards does this, and they sent me a bottle of bubbly to show me what it looks like.

The wine is Windsor's Platinum Series Brut Rosé North Coast sparkling wine.  It is made through the Méthode Champenoise of secondary fermentation in the bottle, just like in Champagne.  This one has the name of my wine website plastered on the front of the bottle.

For Windsor, it would seem to be more about the private labeling than it is about the wine.  However, Windsor - founded by wine legend Rodney Strong in 1959 - has been winning awards for their wines for decades.  They are now owned by Vintage Wine Estates.

The personalized labels actually started way back in the day, with Strong.  He started putting personalized labels on the wine - Mr. and Mrs., Happy Birthday, the law firm of Dewey, Cheatham and Howe - and the tradition continues today.

The Windsor Platinum Series Brut Rosé North Coast sparkler was aged in the bottle, on the spent yeast cells, for 19 months.  The non-vintage wine has a full mouthfeel, while presenting a vibrant freshness.  Alcohol is 12.5% abv and the wine retails for $32 with the Windsor label on the bottle.  It costs extra for a personalized label.  They start at $12 with a minimum order of two bottles.

This Sonoma County bubbly is a beautiful copper-salmon color in the glass with a nose of sweet red fruit and toast.  The palate is as dry as a bone and loaded with a racy acidity.  Strawberries, cherries, lemons, tangerines and a truckload of minerals fill out the flavor profile.  Lemon chimes in on the finish.

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Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Value Bubbles From The Loire Valley

You've heard the phrase Champagne taste for the price of a beer?  What that refers to is a good quality French sparkling wine at a lower-than-Champagne cost.  When sparkling wine is made in the Champagne region, it's called Champagne.  Made elsewhere in France, it's called crèment, and it is where you find bubbly value.

The non-vintage Bouvet Rosé Excellence is a sparkling wine from Bouvet-Ladubay, a Loire Valley producer.  The wine is made completely from Cabernet Franc grapes, keeps alcohol reasonable at 12.5% abv and sells for around $17.  Fermented in steel, this wine gets its second fermentation by the traditional method, in the bottle.  It is imported in the U.S. by the reliable Kobrand Wines.

This salmon-pink Loire crèment is a bottle of pure pleasure.  It has a great fruity nose, with a bit of toast in it.  The palate offers a fabulous swath of cherries, strawberries and a hint of raspberries.  The fruit is all on the ripe side, and the acidity is nothing short of a razor line.  Great sipping, great pairing with just about anything.

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Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Put A Party In Your Glass

JaM Cellars stands for John and Michele, second-generation vintners who happen to run this Napa Valley wine biz.

JaM says you can "put a party in your glass any day of the week" with their bubbly, as long as the day ends in "y." This Chardonnay brut carries alcohol at 12.5% abv and retails for $25. Cellared and bottled in Healdsburg in Sonoma County.

This California sparkler has a rich, golden color and medium-sized bubbles that are fun while they last, and they stay around a good length of time. The nose shows a lot of the toasty note that is advertised in the name, with Meyer lemon and peach on the side. The mouthfeel is full and creamy, while also displaying great freshness. A lemony apple flavor certainly refreshes, while the fruit - and toast - last into a lengthy finish.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

A Face For Anderson Valley: Domaine Anderson

Great wine is something you may incorporate into your life on a daily basis, but how often do you have caviar? I put the two together and found that - in this case - it was the wine that was really special.

A group of Los Angeles food and wine writers recently took a publicist’s invitation to attend a wine dinner at Petrossian West Hollywood, an exclusive restaurant featuring caviar and French cuisine. The caviar was great by the way, as were the dishes paired with the wines. But it was the wine which attracted me. The dinner was held to feature the four wines of Domaine Anderson, a new winery in Anderson Valley with some heavyweight parentage.

The Domaine

Domaine Anderson is the realization of a vision.  The Rouzaud family of Louis Roederer, had their eyes on a special parcel of land in Anderson Valley for a number of years. In 2009, the stars aligned for the purchase to be made and vines to be planted. The first vintages of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir came in 2012, and the wines - two each, Chardonnay and Pinot - were released last year.

What captured the fancy of the Rouzaud family was the terroir of this particular 50-acre Anderson Valley plot. The vineyards - and the production - are mostly dedicated to Pinot Noir, but there is some Chardonnay made as well. Where grows Pinot Noir, Chardonnay usually grows, too. It was felt that Anderson Valley lacks a “face,” so Domaine Anderson took the name for their label, hoping to provide a better focus on the Mendocino County region.

Domaine Anderson Wine Club Manager Jennie Dallery (below) offered that head winemaker Jerry Murray is “a Pinot Noir fan who came to winemaking, not a winemaker who came to Pinot Noir.”  He oversees production of two estate wines - Pinot Noir and Chardonnay - as well as a single vineyard bottling of each grape. The estate wines are blends made from several parcels of their estate vineyards.

Here are the wines featured at the dinner, as well as a brief note about the food created in Petrossian’s kitchen for pairing purposes.

The Brut

The evening opened with a sparkling wine, the Roederer Estate Brut NV. It’s a toasty and yeasty bubbly, which went wonderfully with the first course of Transmontanus caviar, cold buckwheat noodles, Santa Barbara sea urchin, quail egg, scallion and yuzu.

The Chardonnay

The Domaine Anderson Estate Chardonnay 2012 also hit that dish well, although the attention of the diners was somewhat distracted by the wine’s amazing nose, one of the best sniffs of Chardonnay I have ever had. Lemon smoke dominates the aromas, and dazzles the sense. On the palate, Meyer lemon is in the forefront, leading a creamy mouthfeel that still has plenty of acidity. The wine underwent partial malolactic fermentation, so the zing I look for in a white wine is not blunted by the soft mouthfeel.

This was an explosive wine. As elegant as the Walraven Vineyard bottling would prove to be, this one is just as boisterous. Not in that big, flabby buttery way that Chardonnay is expected to behave in Cali, but in a way that is surprising, innovative, fun. If you gave up on Chardonnay years ago, this is one that will bring you back to the fold. It really is the Chardonnay for people who don't think they like Chardonnay.

Next up, the Domaine Anderson Walraven Vineyard Chardonnay 2012, does get full malolactic treatment. The nose is light and ethereal - almost a disappointment after the show put on by the estate Chardonnay. There is a very nice acidity on this one, with barely a hint of oak. The lemon finish is crisp and refreshing. This single-vineyard wine paired nicely with the second course - Kanpachi carpaccio, featuring uni, caviar, lemon, sweet chili avocado mousse and brioche. The wine played the part of support for this tasty and spicy dish.

Walraven Vineyard is on the east side, looking over the valley below from an altitude of 500 feet.  The wine spent 11 months in French oak, 25 to 35% of which was new, with gentle stirring of the wine during the aging process. The result is a wine hardly marked by oak at all. The malolactic fermentation makes it more creamy while the oak adds just a bit of weight. The touch is absolutely perfect.

The Pinot Noir

The Domaine Anderson Estate Pinot Noir 2012 came out just after the raw artichoke salad with Italian black winter truffle, pine nuts, arugula and lemon. This wine hit the truffle right, but the Walraven Chardonnay was better suited to it.

The estate Pinot was dark, meaty and savory on the nose with a great backbone. Dark berries and coffee notes made the palate beg for food, but the dish with which it was paired was a little too spicy for the tannins - lamb merguez potato gnocchi, butternut squash, parmesan, sage, brown butter and red pepper flakes. I’m glad I saved some for dessert.

The other single-vineyard wine came with the fifth course, Aspen Ridge short rib on parsnip mash with pear and horseradish. The Domaine Anderson Dach Vineyard Pinot Noir 2012 provided more fruit that the estate wine, with smoky black raspberry and cherry aromas hit with a spot of black tea. The palate is a little smoother and a little brighter than the estate Pinot, and it fit extremely well with the rib.


Dessert brought a nice surprise - a 1999 Roederer Estate Anderson Valley L’Ermitage. The nose runs quickly from toast to yeast to caramel to apricots. The palate offers great, toasty fruit. The blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir is a library wine, available only to wine club members. Four percent of the cuvée experiences oak. It was probably not the best choice to pair with the Valrhona chocolate mousse with caramel pearls and gold leaf, but I did have a sip or two of the Pinots still available, and they were terrific with the high-class Ho-Ho.

The Domaine Anderson wines aren’t cheap, but they don’t break the bank, either. The Walraven Vineyard Chardonnay 2012 sells for $55, while the Estate Chardonnay 2012 is $37.50. Both wines age for 11 months in oak. The Domaine Anderson Dach Vineyard Pinot Noir sells for $65, while the Estate Pinot gets $45. Both wines are aged for 16 months.

Thanks go out to Domaine Anderson Wine Club Manager Jennie Dallery, who was present to talk about the valley and the wines, giving her expertise and knowledge to a subject that is obviously close to her heart.

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Wednesday, December 31, 2014

New York Bubbles: Sparkling Wines From The Finger Lakes

Fresh off kudos as wine region of the year, New York continues to impress from the various wine regions of the Empire State.  The Finger Lakes area has probably achieved the most notice, due in large part to the work being done with Riesling grapes there.  They do more than Riesling, though, as a virtual wine tasting event showed recently.  I participated in the Twitter tasting of Finger Lakes sparkling wines, in which three different bottles showed the diversity of the region's bubbles.

To see the conversation thread and comments from the participants and winemakers, you can view that here.

@JamieGall1930 got the conversation going by asking, "Who doesn't love a little bit of bubbly especially around the holidays?"  @thewinegetter agreed, "True, popping sparklers is always great. I was tempted to saber one or two, but it's too cold outside."  Somebody always has to get out the sword!

Glenora Wine Cellars 2005 Brut Méthode Champenoise  $30

Glenora winemaker Steve DiFrancesco and vineyard manager Chris King combine as co-workers to create the impressive line of wines from the Seneca Lake winery.  The grapes - 52% Chardonnay and 48% Pinot Noir - were grown during the warm 2005 vintage.  A moderate residual sugar of 1.2% makes for a clean, crisp balance and creaminess while the 12% abv should be a level that's easy to handle for anyone.  The wine got a long aging period, so the semi-dry bubbly shows some great toasty flavors.  This wine makes up only 171 cases of the 45,000 cases produced.

On Twitter, @amybcleary admitted, "I enjoyed all 3, but admit that this was the first bottle emptied."  Since we were only a few minutes into the event, she clarified, “Note: I'm at work, so had to pre-drink earlier this week. I'm not that fast a drinker."  That’s what I tell everyone, too, Amy!  @thewinegetter had a favorable review, "Seriously impressed with the 2005 @Glenorawine! Nice tart apple, some raisin aromas, and tobacco."

I find the toastiness a little subdued at first, but the earth and fruit are stunning.  After a few sips, the toasty, yeasty nature comes on a bit more.  The mark of the aging is the creamy quality of this wine.  My wife couldn't get over it - she calls it buttery - raving about the mouthfeel and the finish while pretending to cajole another glass from me.  I'm always happy to share.

The bubbles pour up festive - small and tall - before dissipating into the rich, golden liquid quickly.  The buttery, tangy Crucolo cheese is a perfect fit with this bubbly, and almost as nice with Castlevetrano olives.

Dr Konstantin Frank Chateau Frank Célèbre  $21

The sparkling winemaker at Dr. Frank is Eric Bauman, and his cause célèbre is Riesling - fitting, since he's at the place that pioneered Riesling in New York state.  It was a radical departure in the 1950s, when North American varieties were considered the only type that could be grown in the cold climate of New York.  Fortunately, Dr. Frank didn't pay attention to the naysayers and started a wine revolution.

The comments were favorable on social media.  @50StatesOfWine effused, "Love that @DrFrankWine is making a sparkling Riesling!"  @thewinegetter tweeted, "Really nice Riesling Cremant from @DrFrankWine. Residual sugar a hit with my friends. I love the liquorice aromas.  Reminds me of German Sekt."

Located on the Keuka Lake Wine trail, the winery takes grapes for this bubbly not only from the Keuka estate, but also from their estate vineyard on Seneca Lake.  The 100% Riesling is made in the cremant style, méthode champenoise.  This means it's made exactly the same way Champagne is made.  Whole-cluster pressing results in what I call a nice greenness, while the 11% abv number makes for a very drinkable wine.  The 3% residual sugar means it is definitely on the sweet side of the street.

The pale sparkler sure whips up a froth when poured.  Medium-sized bubbles come up like a skyrocket before settling down after a bit.  The yeasty aroma is plain from a distance, and the wine's nose is all Riesling.  There is even a hint of petrol amidst the earthy fragrance of pears.  On the palate, Riesling is apparent again.  Great, sweet fruit is touched with a hint of earth and sourdough bread, and the finish really takes its time.  Zippy acidity practically begs for food to be paired with it, while the sweetness says, "Make it spicy!"

Lakewood Vineyards Blanc de Noir  $30

Winemaker Christopher Stamp is the grandson of the farm's founders.  He has 25 vintages as a winemaker under his belt.  David Stamp - another grandson - oversees the grape growing in the family's 80 acres of vineyards on the west side of Seneca Lake.  Alcohol is restrained - as usual in the Finger Lakes - at 12% abv.  210 cases were produced, and the wine retails for $30.  It's 100% Pinot Noir."

Those gathered on the Twitter stream were impressed.  @50StatesOfWine asked, "First sparkler a Catawba, then a Chardonnay, now a Pinot Noir - what will @LakewoodWines do next?!"  @LocalVinacular commented, "the first 2  sparkling wines we'd have for sipping wines, but we like the @LakewoodWines Blanc de Noir to pair with food."

The golden hue is beautiful and inviting.  There is earth and yeast on the nose, with the earthy side carrying more weight.  Scents of apple, pear and a bit of apricot lay underneath the textural design.  On the palate, the flavor of crisp green apples really shines, while the earth notes take a step back to let the fruit do its job.  They do not shrink away entirely, however, so there is enough of the good Seneca Lake soil in the mix to provide a great counterpoint.  The acidity is sterling and the wine feels quite full in the mouth.  Paired with Crucolo cheese from northern Italy, nice; with our fruit and nut bread from La Brea Bakery, perfect.

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Friday, March 30, 2012

Wines For The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame Induction

rock and roll wineThe Rock And Roll Hall of Fame will induct new members on April 14, 2012 in Cleveland, Ohio.  It's the 27th annual induction ceremony, the 27th time rock fans get to yell "It's about time!" or "Where's KISS?"  With all that shouting, we're going to need something to soothe our nerves.

With that in mind, let's take a look at the 2012 inductees and pair a wine with each.  Our pals over at the excellent rock music blog 30 Days Out have had this post up for a while now, with some tasty pics and music attached.

Performer category:

Beastie Boys
If you're singing along with “(You Gotta) Fight For Your Right (To Party!)” it's a good bet you're doing jello shots or drinking beer from a glass with quarters at the bottom.  The Beastie Boys' blend of funky rock, rap and hip hop need not be reserved for the lesser beverages.  In fact, Beastie Mike D has dabbled a bit at wine criticism.  Not surprisingly, he likes wine with a bit of funk.  Root around a bit in the Côtes du Rhône aisle and pop for a Châteauneuf-du-Pape.  You should be able to find a wine that brings enough funk to get a party started without fisticuffs.
Donovan's music is poetry, a delicate flower at one turn, a handful of psychedelics at the next.  His lyrics abound with references to wine, including a lovefest for the "maroon-coloured wine from the vineyards of Charlemagne."  Sounds like a Burgundy is about to be opened.  Bonneau du Martray should do nicely,  from the Corton-Charlemagne Grand Cru.  You may want to select a white wine, as Charlemagne's wife is said to have preferred her royal hubby not mess his beard with the red stuff.  You are probably a much neater drinker than Charlemagne, though.

Guns N' Roses
In the mid-1980s, when Guns N' Roses exploded from L.A. with a balls-out Sunset Strip strut and an Appetite For Destruction, they redecorated a rock and roll landscape that had become rather tired and listless.  G 'N' R offered up a brashness which made other acts seem like they were mailing it in.  You may be tempted to go with a beer for them - a cheap one, in a bottle you can hurl at something - but California has a wine worthy of the Guns N' Roses brand of excess in old vine Zinfandel.  Both winemaker Joel Peterson and his Ravenswood Lodi Old Vine Zinfandel are brash enough for rock and roll.

Laura Nyro
If any one of these inductees screamed for a wine pairing, it would have to be Laura Nyro.  It was, after all, she who suggested we go "down by the grapevine, drink my daddy's wine."  She also suggested "there'll be lots of time and wine,"  but, sadly, her time ran out.  Lift a toast to her with Schramsberg's 2008 Brut Rosé.  It's complex and dry and will fit with anything you bring to a Stoned Soul Picnic.

Red Hot Chili Peppers
BloodSugarSexMagik would be a good name for a wine, if the Red Hot Chili Peppers hadn't already claimed it as their own.  Their funky guitar rock and throbbing sexuality certainly puts one in the mood for a glass of something nice to pair with their spicy gastronominal moniker.  Chili peppers call for something a little on the sweet side, like a nice Spätlese Riesling.  Dr. Loosen' Mosel-Saar-Ruwer efforts in that vein should provide enough ripe fruit sweetness to offset the power of the pepper.

The Small Faces/Faces
This dual-identity entry is remembered more for their hard-rocking, hard-living '70s style than their mod '60s diminutive version.  Rough and rowdy, never afraid to let the rough edges show, The Faces have Tannat written all over them.  Choose a varietal selection from Madiran for that swagger, or pick one blended with Cabernet Sauvignon to dress up the palate like a skinny tie on a sharkskin suit.

Early Influence

Freddie King
The electric blues master known as the Texas Cannonball, Freddie King left his fingerprints all over rock and roll.  He was a huge influence on anybody who ever picked up a guitar and intended to do some damage with it.  So affected by his entire persona, Grand Funk shouted him out in one of their big hits.  Mr. King deserves a vintage Port, full-bodied and luscious, with a whiff of smoke to reference the dance halls and pool rooms of Texas, where the blues is still the king.

Ahmet Ertegun (non performer) Award

The Ahmet Ertegun Award goes to the late Don Kirshner, a songwriter and song seller who played a big part in shaping the pop music side of rock and pioneered the maturation of televised rock concerts.  For good or for bad, he was the creative fire in the hole for The Monkees and The Archies.  Kirshner's wine should be a commercial success - natch - and should carry its years well.  Mouton Cadet is a best-seller from Bordeaux, so you can expect good things from it with age.  It's easy on the pocketbook, too.  A bottle of the current vintage will probably set you back less than a Monkees Greatest Hits CD.

The Award For Musical Excellence

You might not recognize his name, but Cosimo Matassa's New Orleans recording studio was the place from which many great rock hits of the '50s burst forth.  Matassa eschewed gimmicks and audio manipulation, preferring to let the music speak for itself.  The winemaking hasn't changed much at Lopez de Heredia since the 1800s - they didn't like gimmicks and manipulation then, and they still don't.  Their 1991 Viña Tondonia Tinto Gran Reserva is pure Rioja elegance.

As a scientist, Tom Dowd worked on the Manhattan Project that gave us the atom bomb.  As a recording engineer, he worked at the Atlantic Records console and gave us Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, Eric Clapton and the Allman Brothers.  Both sides of his career packed a whallop.  Would a fruit bomb be out of place here?  How about a warm-climate Syrah with plenty of depth under all that fruit?  Andrew Murray's 2008 McGinley Vinyard Syrah comes from the hot microclimate of Santa Barbara County's Happy Canyon - and it is the bomb.

British recording engineer and producer Glyn Johns helped nuance storm out of the speakers with acts as diverse as Led Zeppelin, The Eagles, Joan Armatrading and The Who.  He could coax a heartfelt ballad out of the recording session as well as bring the thunder and lightning right through those gold-plated wires.  Merlot here, with a silky, mellow side playing counterpoint to the rock and roll smoke and leather notes.

This article ran originally on the excellent music site 30 Days Out.

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Thursday, November 24, 2011


The Massachusetts wine industry is a relative newcomer to the national wine scene - the state's first winery of the modern era opened in 1971.  

Massachusetts boasts only about 30 wineries, but they are making a name for themselves.  Several folks who know a lot more about Massachusetts wine than I do have told me it's high time that wine from the Bay State got its due.

The grapes you'll find growing in Massachusetts are likely to be Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Riesling, Gewurztraminer, Pinot Blanc or Pinot Gris.  They are also growing some American hybrids like Vidal Blanc and Cayuga.  Wine made from fruit other than grapes is also in the picture, and mead - wine made from honey - figures in to the winescape.

Wine Country has already visited Massachusetts - Cape Cod Winery - which gave us a chance to try a wine made from hybrid grapes.  This time, we taste some more traditional winemaking grapes.

Westport Rivers is a small, family-owned farm in Westport, Massachusetts which has been growing grapes and making wine for 25 years.  Over that time they have racked up a lot of gold medals and good press, but they are most proud of the fact that their wine has been served in the White House under two administrations.

Their website sings the praises of their "dark, rich, New England loam on well drained gravel."  The cool New England weather is tempered by the Gulf Stream, which warms the South Coast of Massachusetts.  Westport Rivers is situated in the Southeastern 
New England AVA, where most of the Massachusetts wineries are located.  They are also a member of the Coastal Wine Trail of Southeastern New England.

The folks at Westport Rivers also sing the praises of their wines.  They point out that their wines are literally tailor-made to go with the seafood and cheeses of their region.  Westport Rivers was kind enough to provide six of their wines for the Now And Zin 
Wine Country series.

Westport Rivers Pinot GrisWestport Rivers Pinot Gris 2009 - After harvest they let the grapes sit in the press for a few hours before pressing, to give the wine some color and aromatics from the skins.  It works!  The wine has a great golden tint and the nose is bouquet of flowers - a big bouquet.  There's also a touch of minerality in the aromas which comes across more like a gentle earthiness.  The palate plays peaches against melons with a lovely herbal quality rising along with some acidity to keep things food friendly. 

Westport Rivers Pinot NoirWestport Rivers Pinot Noir 2010 - At 13.2% abv, this is much more old world than new.  Medium ruby in color, the nose on this Pinot Noir shows muted raspberry and a strong herbal aroma that smacks of greenness. It's nothing like a whiff of high octane Cali Pinot, that's for sure. The palate shows that same herbal edge, reminiscent of Cabernet Franc, and it weighs in nearly equally with the red plum and sour cherry flavors. The minerality is strong, the acidity lip smacking. It's herbaceousness and acidity show that the winemakers were thinking of the state's seafood bounty when they crafted this one.  It's a light, even delicate, framework for a wine that's more about feel than flavor. 

Westport Rivers ChardonnayWestport Rivers Chardonnay 2009 - 100% estate-grown Chardonnay, this wine is 80% aged in French oak, sur-lie.  Letting wine rest on the dead yeast during fermentation imparts a richer, fuller feeling.  That does not come at the expense of acidity, though - there’s plenty of acid to tingle the taste buds.  Big tropical aromas and spices dominate the nose, while the palate also gets the palm-tree treatment - there are traces of pineapple, guava, banana and even a little coconut in the flavor profile. There's also a trace of lemon peel and even a ginger-like quality that flirts on the palate.  That earthy minerality shows up here, too, as it did in in Pinot Gris.  It's quite a complex little Chardonnay, and - once again - not very California.  A 12.2% abv number makes for a very drinkable wine.

Westport Rivers BrutWestport Brut RJR 2006 - A traditional method sparkler comprised of 65% Pinot Noir grapes and 35% Chardonnay, the Brut has a light golden hue.  The frothy head dissipates quickly.  Its nose reminds me of earthy peaches, very ripe.  I swear I smell mayhaw jelly.  On the palate there's a distinct banana flavor and a toastiness with that earthy quality.  A light mouthfeel and a lingering sense of banana candy give me plenty to ponder while sipping. This is a singular sparkler in my tasting experience.  It's fascinating.  By the way, RJR stands for Robert James Russell, Westport Rivers' winemaker. 

Westport Rivers Blanc de BlancsBlanc de Blancs Ultra Brut 2000- This yellow-gold sparkler offers one of the most pungent noses I've ever experienced in a sparkling wine. The tropical aromas I found in the Chardonnay are here, along with a heaping helping of toasty earthiness. The Blanc de Blancs is made from 100% Chardonnay grapes and is aged over seven years before finishing.  The palate is rich and citrusy, with plenty of bubbles and a bracing acidity.  There's a very intense nutty quality i find fascinating  It does wonders for a handful of peanuts!  The winery recommends you pair it with oysters, and that would seem to be an even better choice. 

Westport Rivers GraceGrace Chardonnay NV - This is their aperitif Chardonnay, one of those gold medal winners they like to brag about. Westport Rivers blends their eau de vie of Chardonnay with fresh pressed Chardonnay juice, then they age it in French oak.  Repeat for seven 
vintages and you've got Grace.  It has an alcohol content of 17.5% abv, so you'll want to go easy on it before operating heavy machinery. This wine looks terrific in the glass.  It's a rich shade tending towards amber, almost like bourbon.  Gorgeous aromas of caramel and honey just about knock me off my feet. The palate is awash with flavors of lemon peel drenched in dark honey.  After regaining consciousness, I realize what great acidity this wine has - feel free to bring on the fattiest cheese and pâté for it.

The one thing that keeps appearing in the wines of Westport Rivers is the amazing terroir, the sense of earth that permeates each of the wines I tried.  It marks each wine as a distinctive representative of Wine Country Massachusetts.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011


Vampire Vineyards Tasting Room

According to the Tom Petty song, "Free Fallin'," the vampires in the San Fernando Valley "move west down Ventura Boulevard."  I don't know where they go from there, but if any vampires venture into Beverly Hills, I know a place where they can taste some wine.

The Vampire Lounge and Tasting Room isn't just a hangout for those with extended canine teeth.  It's the retail embodiment of Vampire Vineyards, a winemaking outfit which draws grapes from Paso Robles, Santa Maria, Napa Valley and France's Loire Valley.

The business started in 1988 with the release of an Algerian Syrah, bottled in France.  The first 500 bottles went to rock star Alice Cooper, and the rest is a history that's afraid of the daylight.  The company's travels have gone through Italy and Transylvania itself.  Now, the winemaking effort is based in Creston, California - a little bit southeast of Paso Robles.

Michael Machat is the founder and CEO of the company, and he plays a big part in the corporate backstory featured on the website.  The Vampire Vineyards sommelier, Igor Fedenkov - really, it's on his business card - poured me through a sampling of the wines.

Dracula Syrah, Chateau du VampireThe Dracula Pinot Noir 2007 is made from Santa Maria grapes - picked before sunrise, of course.  The wine spent 18 months in French oak.  It has a big, rich nose and big, rich flavors to match.  Cherry and raspberry notes dominate in properly dark fashion.

Chateau du Vampire Midnight Rendevous 2007 is a blend of Paso Robles Syrah, Grenache, Counoise and Mouvedre.  There are bright cherry flavors in abundance and some great chocolate notes.

Trueblood Napa Valley Syrah 2004 is inky-dark enough to please any vampire who likes his wine smokey and spicy.

It's no surprise that red wines dominate the list, but Vampire Vineyards does offer a modest selection of whites - notably the Chateau du Vampire Roussanne of Paso Robles heritage - along with a White Zinfandel and the Je T'Aime Brut Rosé.  Even vampires like to do a little light sipping now and then.

All sorts of vampire-related wine gadgets are offered in the tasting room, as well as apparel, glassware, chocolate coffins and a vampire energy drink - perfect for those times when the sun's rays threaten to bring the night to an end.

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Thursday, June 16, 2011


Wines of South Coast Winery

One of Temecula’s showcase wineries - South Coast Winery - held their second live-streamed Group Therapy session of 2011 on May 25th.  Interested parties watched the live video stream and tweeted with one another - and the world - about the wines they were tasting.

The event is designed to coincide with their wine club shipments, so you can expect another Group Therapy session sometime in August.  Tasters were able to order ahead of time the package of wines being featured so they could taste and tweet along with everyone else.  Now And Zin was provided with complimentary samples for review.

With one event like this already under their belts, the group at South Coast Winery seemed pretty relaxed in their comfy chairs in front of a cozy fireplace.  South Coast Owner Jim Carter and winemakers Jon McPherson and Javier Flores held the fireside chat in a living room setting with the logs burning behind them.  Carter used the homey setting to announce that the South Coast wines will soon be distributed nationally.

The participants on the viewing end had a nice time, too.  In addition to those tasting in person, there were wine lovers chatting on the winery’s website and on Twitter about the four wines in the tasting group.  I caught several comments indicating pleasant surprise at the quality of the wines as well as at least one complaining of overly ripe fruit.  That’s a matter for debate; while the flavors were admittedly big, I didn’t feel it was something unexpected from grapes grown in Southern California.

Here are the wines which were tasted in the most recent Group Therapy session:

the tasting tableSouth Coast Winery Sauvignon Blanc Musqué Clone 2009 
Temecula Valley Carter Estate Vineyard
This extremely aromatic wine is made entirely of the Musqué clone of Sauvignon Blanc.  That’s a cross between Sauvignon Blanc and Muscat.  This clone allows the florality of Muscat to soften the acute grassiness of Sauvignon Blanc.  The Carter Estate Vineyard, from which the grapes come, is now seven years old.  The wine has an amazingly low alcohol level of 12.2% abv.

Light in color and beautifully aromatic, the wine has generous notes of fresh cut grass and a driveway after a brief rain.  The mouthfeel comes on strong, too.  There’s a striking acidity, with flavors of lemon peel and minerals.

South Coast Winery Brut 2007 
Temecula Valley Sparkling Wine
70% Chardonnay and 30% Pinot Noir, this sparkler shows off its main grape.  Most of the fermentation was in stainless steel, while only 12% of the blend was fermented in new French oak.  Closed cuve secondary fermentation with 11 months on the lees finished this methode champenoise offering.  The alcohol level is 13% abv.

Despite the limited exposure to oak, there's a very aromatic nose with huge yeasty notes.  Flavors of apples and citrus dominate the palate, and there is quite a bit of acidity.  It's a very fizzy wine, but when the bubbles die down it takes on the feel of a dry still wine with a touch of yeastiness.  Several tasters were pining for some sushi to pair with it.

South Coast Winery Tempranillo Rosé 2010 
Temecula Valley Carter Estate Vineyard
This Temecula Tempranillo is a beautiful light magenta color.  The nose is, once again, aromatic.  Strawberries are met with a touch of funk, while herbal berry aromas also come into play.  The wine offers a zippy acidity, and the strawberry and cherry flavors are enormous!

South Coast Winery Syrah 2005 
Temecula Valley Rolling Hills Estate Vineyard
This Syrah was fermented in stainless steel and aged 14 months in French/American hybrid barrels.  The 14.3% abv alcohol level makes itself known on the nose, which is all spices, vanilla and clove layering over the blackberry and cassis fruit.  Definitely not a cool climate Syrah, there's a ton of very ripe and juicy aromas with lots of spice and a touch of tar.
The palate shows intense fruit with big spice flavors as well.  There's a lot of influence from the oak at first and it runs a bit hot, so let it sit a while or decant before serving.  The wine shows a great meatiness after it opens up a bit.  Three days after opening the nose is incredible.  Tar, leather, meat and sage all play with an admirable complexity.

Follow Randy Fuller on Twitter.

Thursday, March 24, 2011


Biltmore Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2008 North Carolina

The North Carolina Winegrowers Association had only about 20 members in North Carolina in 1994.  Today their membership numbers about 350, so the growth in winemaking in North Carolina has been fairly explosive.

Winemaking actually goes back to the early days in North Carolina's history, according to the NCWGA, but it wasn't until the 1970s that Muscadine growers formed an organization and got serious about it.  A decade later, interest in European wine grapes - vinifera - really brought North Carolina's winemaking efforts to the forefront.

Biltmore Estate Winery is one of the big names in North Carolina wine.  Most wine estates have grapes figuring prominently.  At Biltmore Estates - due to its size, splendor and history - wine takes a plush backseat to the mansion itself, a structure built by George Washington Vanderbilt II.

Located in the Mountain Region, in the western part of the state, Biltmore grows a number of different vinifera varieties and produces about 75,000 cases of wine each year.  Head winemaker Bernard Delille oversees the winemaking operation, which is housed in what was once the estate's dairy.  He was schooled in Lyon, France and did his internship in the Bordeaux region - pretty good credentials.  He's been with Biltmore since 1986.  Winemaker Sharon Fenchak, a Pennsylvanian, joined their ranks in 1999.

Biltmore joined the Now And Zin Wine Country series when they sent three of their wines for me to sample.

Biltmore Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2008 North Carolina

Biltmore does make a Cabernet Sauvignon using grapes from California's Alexander Valley.  This Cab uses 89% homegrown North Carolina grapes and 11% California fruit.  The wine is composed of 96% Cabernet Sauvignon, 2% Cabernet Franc, 1% Syrah and 1% Malbec.  The alcohol content is a moderate 13.9% abv.

The juice of the grapes is fermented in stainless steel, on the skins, and then transferred to French and American oak barrels, where it ages for 14 months. It retails for $19.

The color of the wine is quite dark fruit on the nose along with an herbal note.  The flavors are dark, too, with plum and blackberry riding on very pronounced tannins.  It's dry, and seems to become drier after sitting awhile.  An earthy minerality is the kicker on a very pleasant drink, which will perform well with any kind of meat you are serving.

Biltmore Reserve Chardonnay 2009 North CarolinaBiltmore Reserve Chardonnay 2009 North Carolina

North Carolina fruit is 83% of the Chardonnay's makeup, while California grapes account for 17%.  Chardonnay grapes comprise 97% of the wine, with a 3% smattering of Viognier.  The alcohol is restrained, at 13.7% abv, and the retail price is $15.

The Biltmore Chardonnay is barrel fermented in French and American oak, with about half the wine undergoing malolactic fermentation.  This process is what creates a creamy texture from the more acidic malic acid.  The wine is aged for 6-8 months before bottling.

Its golden-green hue is pretty, and some fine bubbles formed on the sides of the glass.  There is a lot of oak showing on the nose, reminiscent of the big California Chardonnays.  There are some tropical notes, as well as a citrus scent.  On the palate, the fruit shows better than I thought it would, with pears and mangoes taking the lead.  The big, buttery play is there, for sure, but so is a surprising citrus zing.  I didn’t expect such a zippy acidity, and it's a pleasure to find.

Biltmore Estate Château Reserve Blanc de BlancsBiltmore Estate Château Reserve Blanc de Blancs 2008 North Carolina Méthode Champenoise Brut

This sparkling wine is 100% Chardonnay, with 88% of the grapes grown in North Carolina, 12% in California.  At 12.4% abv, it's quite drinkable and it sells for $35.

Fermented in stainless steel, the wine undergoes secondary fermentation in the bottle and ages 12-16 months before disgorging.  It's a lovely golden straw sparkler with a yeasty nose showing nutty aromas.  Orange and pineapple flavors on the palate are topped by a touch of yeast and a bit of toasty almond on the finish.  The bubbles are festive and plentiful, leaving a frothy beard on the glass.

The Biltmore Estate wines can be found in stores throughout the southern and eastern U.S., or from their online store.

Sunday, August 1, 2010


Taittinger Champagne

People always say we should drink Champagne everyday.  “Why wait for a celebratory moment to come around?” they say.  “That glorious pop! should be business as usual!”

Maybe the problem is, we're just not celebrating enough.  I am reminded of the old joke in which the notorious drunk tells someone he only drinks on special occasions, then takes a swig.  “What's the occasion?” asks the foil.  “Tuesday,” the drunk replies.  But why not make a few more occasions “Champagne special?”

I received news recently after an insurance adjuster examined my car.  He told me the damage wasn't extensive enough to justify making the car a total loss.  The first sound heard was me saying, “Yesssss!”  The second was a cork popping out of a split of Taittinger Brut.  Let the celebration begin.

You probably know that Champagne is from France - from Champagne, France.  That's why it's called Champagne.  Other bubbly wines from other places are called other things.  Sparkling wine, Prosecco, Cava and spumante are all perfectly wonderful bubblies.  For some, though, only  Champagne will do.

The Taittinger Brut La Francaise in a non-vintage wine made from 40% Chardonnay and 60% Pinot Noir grapes.  The fruit comes from around 30 different vineyards.

It's quite dry, as you would expect from the word “brut” in the name.  Pale in the glass, the wine appears as a soft straw color with a layer of pure white bubbles on top.  The bubbles are very fine and quite long-lasting.

Aromas of earth, minerals and toasted bread come forth.  The taste is no-nonsense crisp, with green apples and citrus zest most apparent to me.  It's a full, pleasurable drink that feels good in my mouth.  If it's possible for a Champagne to have too many bubbles, this may come close to that mark.  It's flavor and texture is rich and the finish is long.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Schramsberg Blanc de Blancs Sparkling Wine 2005

Great celebrations cry out for something bubbly. My wife and I celebrated a wedding anniversary recently and decided to crack open a Calistoga sparkler that had gone unused last holiday season. It was a wine we had bought for $28, if memory serves.

The Bottle: A traditional Champagne-style bottle houses this sparkling wine. The label describes the wine as 100% Chardonnay and 13% abv. It's a Brut style sparkler produced in the traditional Methode Champenoise manner of secondary fermentation in the bottle. There is some barrel fermentation employed.

The Nose
: This Blanc de Blancs pours up a very pale gold with a tall white layer of foam on top. The nutty nose shows lots of minerals and a bit of a funky side, probably a by-product of the wood.

The Taste: There's a strong sense of lime zest on the palate along with some tropical notes. It's a dry taste that frankly left me rather cold at first. I found that it grew on me, though, after a couple of of glasses. I don't normally have sparkling wine with food - I'm one of the few not that attracted to sparkling wine in the first place - but this time I had it with English farmhouse cheddar on a wheat cracker. It was really quite nice.