Showing posts with label Port. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Port. Show all posts

Monday, April 20, 2020

Warre's Fine White Porto

The Symington family calls their Warre's label "the original British Port House."  Pulling grapes from several superb quintas - Cavadinha, Retiro, Telhada - winemaker Charles Symington's family has been at it for five generations.  The company itself was founded in the 1600s.  They recently declared 2017 as a vintage Port year, just like 2016.  It was the first such back-to-back declaration in the 130+ years the Symingtons have been in charge.

I was supplied with a sample of Warre's Fine White Porto, and it should be on your radar.  Where I live, in Southern California, it's never really "Port weather," so I drink Port whenever I like - for instance, during self-isolation due to COVID-19.  This wine is a fantastic example of why Port is such a damn pleasure to drink.

Warre's Fine White Porto

Warre's Fine White is produced from traditional white grape varieties grown in the Douro Valley - Arinto, Códega, Malvasia Fina, Rabigato and Viosinho.  The winery explains that fermentation takes place "off the skins," which they say makes for a more delicate wine.  Aging took place at lodges in Vila Nova de Gaia in a combination of oak casks and stainless steel tanks.  The white also hits 19% abv and sells for about $15.

This white Port carries a golden tint and gorgeous nose of sweet caramel and stone fruit.  The palate is sweet and fruity with almond notes and a ton of acidity.  It makes a great aperitif or dessert, and will be a fine base for a cocktail.  It even pairs well with potato dishes, cheese and guacamole.


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Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Port For The Holidays - Or Anytime, Really

Port wine is a favorite wintertime drink for folks who live in colder climes.  As the holidays approach, the following is another fine possibility for your fireside sipping. 

In Los Angeles, we are still waiting for winter, a winter which may not come until February, if at all.  I'm not complaining, although many people do miss the seasons of their home states.  Those people have forgotten what it was like to shovel their car from under a mountain of snow on Easter morning. 

I drink Port no matter the outside temperature, as often as possible.  It's like Champagne.  Why wait?  Also, I have it on the best authority that if you want to leave a beverage for Santa near the Christmas tree, save the milk for your porridge.  He wants Port.

The arrangement of six grapes shown on the label of Graham's Six Grapes Reserve Porto refer to the company's symbol which marks the best lots, the ones that could end up as vintage Port.  The grapes came from the same five vineyards used for vintage Port, including the flagship Malvedos.  The Six Grapes brand is made from the remainder of the lots which did not go into the VP.

Six Grapes is youthful and fruity, and pairs well with chocolate or blue cheese.  Alcohol is "portly" at 19.5% abv and the retail price is $24.

This Port's nose carries plenty of big red and black fruit, with the characteristic notes of brown sugar, caramel and earth.  The palate is fruit forward with a zingy acidity and firm structure.  The is nothing like a Port, and Graham's Six Grapes is a great reminder of that.


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Monday, August 26, 2019

Warre's Ports, Ruby And White

The Symington family calls their Warre's label "the original British Port House."  Pulling grapes from several superb quintas - Cavadinha, Retiro, Telhada - winemaker Charles Symington's family has been at it for five generations.  The company itself was founded in the 1600s.  They recently declared 2017 as a vintage Port year, just like 2016.  It was the first such back-to-back declaration in the 130+ years the Symingtons have been in charge.

I was supplied with samples of several Warre's Ports, and they should be on your radar, especially with "Port weather" expected to arrive - at some point.  Where I live, in Southern California, it's never really "Port weather," so I drink it whenever I like.  These wines are fantastic examples of why Port is such a damn pleasure to drink.

Warre's Heritage Ruby Porto

Aged for an average of three years in used oak barrels before being blended, filtered and bottled, Warre's Heritage Ruby Porto is a beautiful Portuguese wine at a great price.  It carries 19% alcohol and sells for around $15.

This beautiful Port shows a nose of ripe, red fruit, syrup and smoke.  The palate is young and playful, boasting currant and berries with a viscous mouthfeel and a tannic structure that begs a great piece of cheese.

Warre's Fine White Porto

Warre's Fine White is produced from traditional white grape varieties grown in the Douro Valley - Arinto, Códega, Malvasia Fina, Rabigato and Viosinho.  The winery explains that fermentation takes place "off the skins," which they say makes for a more delicate wine.  Aging took place at lodges in Vila Nova de Gaia in a combination of oak casks and stainless steel tanks.  The white also hits 19% abv and sells for about $15.

This white Port carries a golden tint and gorgeous nose of sweet caramel and stone fruit.  The palate is sweet and fruity with almond notes and a ton of acidity.  It makes a great aperitif or dessert, and will be a fine base for a cocktail.  It even pairs well with potato dishes, cheese and guacamole.

Warre’s Warrior

The oldest mark of Port in the world, Warre's Warrior has shipped continuously since the 1750's, with the name branded on the casks.

It is made from grapes grown in quintas in the Pinhão and Rio Torto valleys.  The finest barrels are set aside by winemaker Peter Symington for aging in the lodges at Vila Nova de Gaia.

Alcohol in Warrior is a touch higher than in their Ruby, at 20% abv. It sells for  $46.

This Port wine is inky indigo in the glass.  Its nose conveys dark, ripe fruit with an overlay of leather and tobacco.  The palate is rich and dark with a firm tannic structure and a pleasantly long finish.




Otima 10-Year-Old Tawny Port

Warre's Otima 10 Year-Old-Tawny balances youthful fruit with a decade in seasoned wood.   All that time in oak turns the ruby hue to a brownish color and makes the palate more delicate.  Warre's also makes an Otima 20-year Port.  Otima 10 hits 20% abv and retails for $32.

The nose on this tawny Port is so full of raisins and hot caramel it can mean nothing except dessert.  The palate reaffirms that feeling, with a sweet taste which brings a little savory along for the ride.  There's enough acidity to make pairing possible, maybe with a slice of pumpkin or pecan pie.




Monday, March 12, 2018

A Good Night For Port

"It’s a good night for Port," my wife said.  The brutal Southern California winter had its teeth in us, with the overnight low expected to drop UNDER 60 DEGREES.  God help us, we have Port and will hopefully wake up tomorrow.  "Port weather" really doesn't happen in Los Angeles, so you have to jump in there when you get the slightest chance.

Charles Dickens let Ebeneezer Scrooge's nephew Fred describe Port to Bob Cratchit: "It's wine, Bob.  A cheery, warming, goodly wine.  A wine that'll race through your veins with little torches.  It's port, Bob.  The fifth essence of the Christmas spirit."

Quinta de la Rosa has been in the Bergqvist family since 1906, but they were Port shippers well before that.  The vineyards cover 55 hectares of the slopes above the Douro River, and winemaker Jorge Moreira works with grapes that have been foot trodden.

Of the many different styles of Port, ruby is the cheapest and most plentiful.  After fermentation, it is stored in concrete or stainless steel tanks, and usually blended from different years to match the house style.  Ruby is between two and five years old.  The folks at La Rosa say their Ports "tend to be slightly drier than the norm and are made from A class grapes."

The de la Rosa Ruby Reserve Lote No. 601 is dark ruby in color and smells of currant, laden with savory notes of leather and smoke.  It's a complex nose for what it considered the least complex Port.  Savory touches flourish on the palate, too.  However, the fruit flavors are bold and forward, while the acidity rips and the tannins exert their will, with little torches. 


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Wednesday, July 12, 2017

"Surprise Me"

A good wine dealer is a great thing to have. I can simply tell Roberto at Wine Expo in Santa Monica how I feel and he always seems to have "this interesting little wine over here" that perfectly complements my mood. This time I just told him to surprise me, and he did.

Krohn Port Rosé is a style of wine I'd never had before, didn't even know it existed. It's called "pink Port" and contains Portuguese grapes like Tinta Roriz, Touriga Nacional and Touriga Franca. Fernando Carneiro makes this non-vintage wine. Roberto told me it is often drunk chilled or enjoyed in a long drink with tonic water, ice and lemon. Alcohol is port-like at 20% abv. He was selling it for about $18 a bottle.
The Krohn Port Rosé has a dark raspberry color with some browning.  The nose is much like port, but not so sweet. The earth note is very pronounced, and there is a slight medicinal edge. On the palate, I'm again reminded of full-color port, but with a lighter feel on the mouth. It's not quite so thick or syrupy, but is sweet and refreshing.


Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Wine Movie: "A Year In Port"

When I see a picture of a vineyard in France, Italy, or Spain I may not recognize it as such. A vineyard in Portugal, or anything in Portugal for that matter, is unmistakably Portuguese. David Kennard's movie, "A Year in Port" brings that point home solidly. The camera work captures the innate beauty of Portugal perfectly in some scenes, while displaying its lovely capriciousness in others.

Following "A Year in Burgundy" and "A Year in Champagne," this film makes a wonderful trilogy of wine movies. It presents the feeling of Port wine as well as the tradition of it.

While opening on the activity in the coastal city of Porto, where Port wine is blended and marketed, the film quickly moves into the valley of the River Douro, where Port wine is grown. That starts about a hundred miles away and goes all the way to Spain. There, we get to see how young winegrowers are trying to carve out a place for themselves by growing, and making, table wines instead of Port.

The movie shows that the way Port is made is so expensive that young winemakers can't hope to get a foot in the door. The blends involve barrels that are as much as a hundred years old. These upstarts are putting their future into table wines. This makes a way for them to get into business, but it also means lower prices for the growers in a region where it is very expensive to grow and harvest grapes.

Is the future of the Douro Valley in Port, or is it in table wines? The Port producers are certainly trying to hold onto their traditions - and market share - while debating whether table wines are the wave of the future. It's an "old world" versus "new world" battle unfolding within the same small wine region.

The movie is definitely worth a view for anyone who has an interest in Port, or for anyone who has an interest in how tradition adapts itself to the future.

:A Year in Port"is also available as a trilogy with the other two companion films. iTunes is offering the trio for a special price of $14.99, which I assume will go away at some point. Find it here.


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Friday, December 11, 2015

Chef Duff Goldman Makes Port Style Wine Purr

"Chef Duff Goldman?" My wife asked, all like, you know, incredulous. She suddenly was keenly interested in my PR invitation, a thing that usually fails to raise an eyebrow around here. Usually the PR folks are just offering wine events, but this one had food, too. This one was interesting. "Oh, you have to go! He’s great! He’s over on Melrose! He’s from Baltimore! Julie looooves him!"

Goldman - the pastry chef and televised Ace of Cakes - was destined for a food career. As a kid, he lived in the tiny Cape Cod town of Sandwich. He graduated from Sandwich High School, which is nothing like the Culinary Institute. He claims his early career as a graffiti artist was derailed when he was caught doing it. He turned to welding and learned how to work with metal. That’s where he got the chops to craft his own wood and metal logo sculpture for the wine he is currently promoting. But food would call him back. After finagling a job at a top Baltimore restaurant making cornbread and biscuits, he was hooked.


The Wine

Goldman's new offering is called Steel Kitten, and it comes from the chef's collaboration with Club W Wine. It’s a Port style dessert wine. Syrah grapes were late-harvested in Santa Barbara County’s Alisos Canyon, near Los Alamos. Dark ruby red, the wine sports a big cherry nose, kinda buzzy with alcohol. The expansive, fruity palate shows cherry and red currant, with lots of alcohol but no big bite. It really feels nice in the mouth and goes down without a burn. The tannic structure is firm.

Goldman advises you pair Steel Kitten with "anything gamey" - pork loin in a port reduction for instance. During the PR event, he demonstrated how to create a pear tart using pears poached in Steel Kitten. The recipe is available on the Club W website, as is the wine.


Another Wine

Just a mention: I opened the evening with a sparkling Chenin Blanc - I know, who is saying “no” to that? The wine is called, "Oh Snap!" and it is done in the Prosecco style. In fact, this 2014 bubbly could easily take the place of Prosecco at your next brunch. Oh Snap! is made from grapes grown in California’s Clarksburg region. It sells for $16 through Club W.

Oh Snap! not only gets your attention with a label that looks like millennial bait, it delivers with a fascinating sensation for the nose and tongue. Pretty, fruity aromas of apples and pears are like candy wrapped in a savory salinity. The wine is brimming full of minerals. On the palate, things are sweet and juicy with amazing apple, pear and peach flavors cruising into a toasty, slightly yeasty finish. The bubbles dissipate rather quickly, but the taste is festive enough so you really don’t miss them. If you like your bubbles sweet, this is one you should try.



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Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Dessert Wine Undergoes Drastic Change In Five Years

A business trip to Sonoma County about five years ago resulted in a side trip to Calistoga, and a stop at the Bennett Lane Winery tasting room.  An impressive sample list was capped off with the Bennett Lane Dessert Wine, which I liked so much I bought a bottle to take home.  We just opened it recently, and discovered the wine had undergone quite a change.

The Bennett Lane website bills their dessert wine as a “traditional port style wine, made with Cabernet Sauvignon, Estate Carignane and all of the classic Portuguese varietals.”  While I remember it tasting very Port-like at the time of my visit in 2009, it now more closely resembles a dry sherry.  My notes on the wine I tasted in the Bennett Lane tasting room say, “Beautiful, rich flavors abound. Figs, cherries and some spicy notes put me in mind of Christmas.”  It still does, only in a different way.  The promised fruit has become more of a coffee/caramel/raisin show.

Bennett Lane Dessert Wine carries the subtitle of "After Feasting Wine," and that is still a perfect time for its consumption.  At 7.41% residual sugar, it is sweet enough - but not too sweet.  At 18.5% abv, it has the kind of kick that caps off a fine meal in style.  At $60 for a 375ml bottle, it qualifies as a real splurge.  Hopefully it won’t turn into a $30 sherry while it waits its turn under the corkscrew.

What once was a rich red drink is now showing deep browning in the glass.  The opaque wine smells of raisins and alcohol.  The palate is luscious - raisin notes are draped heavily in burnt caramel.  The alcohol does show prominently, but it comes off more like a drink that is much stronger than wine.  There is quite a bit of grape residue in the bottom of the bottle.  Pairing this wine with the standard spread of pies at holiday time is a natural even in its decline, maybe even more so than when it was in its youth.


Friday, June 21, 2013

2011 Vintage Port Declaration

History

Port wine - produced in Portugal's Douro Valley - is typically a blend of several vintages of wine.  When exceptional vintages are identified, a vintage port is declared.  Winemakers usually make this determination about two years after the vintage.  Vintage port makes up only about two percent of total port production, so the wines are rather rare and usually rather expensive.

You may have seen wines made in America bearing the name "port," and that's because the US does not recognize port as a protected style.  The European Union does, however, so any European wines made in the style of port may not carry the name unless they come from the Douro Valley.

The Douro is the world's oldest official wine region, having attained that status in 1756.  It predates Bordeaux as a recognized appellation by nearly a hundred years.

Port wine is made by adding a grape spirit to the wine during fermentation.  That stops the fermentation and provides a good deal of residual sugar along with a higher alcohol content than is usually seen in wine.  Port generally registers about 20 percent alcohol.

There are over a hundred grapes permitted in the making of port, but it usually boils down to five grapes: Tinta Barroca, Tinta Cão, Tinta Roriz - known across the border in Spain as Tempranillo, Touriga Francesa, and Touriga Nacional.

The Event

One of three stops across America for the five major port houses, the Los Angeles event showcasing the 2011 vintage ports was held at the Beverly Hills Hotel in early June 2013.  The hotel is a pretty swanky joint, known for its Polo Lounge - as in, "I'll take my calls at the Polo Lounge."  Although it's not such a necessity since the advent of cellular technology, it must have been quite a bit of social bling to have a waiter bring the phone to your table there, back in the day.  Now, you're just another cellular idiot ruining everyone's restaurant experience.

We gathered in the hotel's Sunset Room to feast on the recently declared - and widely hailed - 2011 vintage ports.  As an added attraction, there were vertical tastings of the other declared vintages of the past decade.  Represented were The Fladgate Partnership - Taylor Fladgate, Fonseca and Croft - Quinta do Noval and Quinta da Romaneira.  Quinta, I learned, is the Portuguese word for "estate."

The 2011 Vintage Ports

The elegant booklet provided at the tasting contained a paragraph on what makes the 2011 vintage so special that it was declared.  "The 2011 harvest was preceded by a cold, wet winter, providing ground water reserves which allowed a balanced ripening of the grapes during the hot, dry summer."  The description goes on to call 2011 a "textbook viticultural year."

Croft 2011 - Five thousand cases of this wine were produced, which is down from eight thousand cases produced of the Croft 2009 Vintage Port.  Croft is known for its opulent ports, and this one follows suit, with beautiful, ripe fruit and a satiny texture.

Fonseca 2011 - The big, bold nose is quite complex.  There is massive fruit here, tinged with a savory aspect.  The black currant flavor is colored with notes of chocolate and anise.  It's wine has great tannic structure.

Quinta do Noval 2011 - Dark aromas mix with floral notes, giving a delicate feel to a powerful wine.  It's a great wine to ruminate on, if one is so disposed.

Quinta do Noval Nacional 2011 - The Touriga Nacional grapes used in the making of this rare wine - only 125 cases were made - grow on Portuguese rootstock.  Ungrafted and never affected by phylloxera, the vines are considered national treasures.  2011 is this vineyard's first declaration since 2003.  The wine has extremely dark color and an explosive nose full of dark fruit.  The tannins really reach out and grab me.

Quinta da Romaneira 2011 - This wine shows a brambly edge on the nose and dark fruit on the palate is so concentrated it can be called bright.  It feels very fresh in the mouth.

Taylor Fladgate 2011 - Here is another very dark wine - dark in color, aroma and taste.  The winemaker calls it "textbook Taylor Fladgate."  It's an elegant quaff which finishes warm and vibrant.

Taylor Fladgate Vargellas Vinha Velha 2011 - A big and very focused wine, there is a surplus of dark fruit in the forefront and a nice, mellow finish.  It is exceptional.

Other Vintages

At the Croft table I was told that not everyone declared in 2009.  The Fladgate Partnership felt it was notable, though, and the Croft 2009 shows why.  Pungent herbal notes, leather and cedar mark the nose, while the tannins provide great structure.  The 2007 vintage has a great nose and a delicious blueberry finish, while 2003 shows a savory side to the currant flavor.

The Fonseca 2009 is almost black and displays huge fruit on the nose and palate.  A eucalyptus note shows through in the 2007 while 2003 delivers minty cherry flavors.

Taylor Fladgate's 2009 is drinking extremely well now.  It's big and powerful, with cherries and blackberries notable.  In their 2007 vintage, forest floor underlies the black currant.  Wonderful fruit defines the 2003 as well.  The Taylor Fladgate Vargellas Vinha Velha 2004 is a showboat of black cherry, cassis and chocolate, with a particularly strong finish.

Quinta do Noval 2008 shows lots of spice in its bold, savory fruit.  Their 2007 gives lovely aromas and bright, fresh fruit flavors.  The 2004 vintage really has the spicy notes coming forward.  The Quinta do Noval 2003 also shows the spice, while giving a really nice, soft feel to the fruit.  Their Nacional 2003 has big fruit and even bigger minerals.

Quinta da Romaneira 2008 has a deep floral nose and a dark, sweet show of fruit.  Winemaker Christian Seely told me he is "an eccentric declarer," explaining why only his two houses declared in 2008.  Their 2007 is loaded with expressive dark fruit aromas and flavors tinted with a savory edge.  Great finish.  The 2004 vintage is mineral-laden and delicious.


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Monday, May 13, 2013

Wine Country Texas - Piney Woods Country Winery And Vineyard


A recent visit to my family in Texas gave me the opportunity to try some wine made in my home state.  Had I visited the Hill Country in Central Texas or the High Plains in the north, the pickings would have been more luxurious, but I was in Southeast Texas, where humidity is made and exported to the rest of the world.   That's not a good climate for vinifera wine grapes, but it's perfect for Muscadine grapes.  Muscadine and fruit wines are what they do at the Piney Woods Country Winery and Vineyard.

Alfred Flies (pronounced like "fleece") has been making his wines in Orange, Texas for 27 years.  He retired and got into the wine business, which may not have seemed like much of a retirement to him.  He recently had a stroke, but he is said to be recovering well at 90 years old.  Our pourer, Jennifer Wood, told me Flies doesn’t make it into the tasting room often, and his son-in-law handles much of the heavy lifting for him now.
Red and white Muscadine grapes grow in his vineyard in back of the tasting room, and for the fruit wines he uses only Texas fruit sourced from various parts of the Lone Star State.

Flies, according to the winery's website, "has been honored four times for his contributions to the Texas wine industry, by the Texas Wine and Grape Growers Association and has received over 70 wine competition medals. Most recently one gold, two silver and two bronze medals from the Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo International Competition. Including 6 belt buckles, representing 3 International Best of Class awards and 3 Texas Best of Class awards."

Jennifer Wood
Wood, observing from several trips to Texas wine events, says that Muscadine wines are catching on with millennials, at least in the South.  Millennials are thought to be more adventurous wine consumers, more apt to try new things than their older counterparts.  Judging by what I've heard from wine drinkers in California, an adventurous spirit is necessary for fruit wine and, especially, Muscadine.

Muscadine and fruit wines are nearly always relegated to the back seat of the wine car, if not the trunk.  They are not exactly my cup of, well... wine, so it was nice to taste a few that were worthy of consideration.
Here is what the tasting lineup looked like on the day I sampled them.

Heart of Texas Noble - One of two dry wines the Piney Woods Country Winery produces - the rest are on the sweet side.  This red Noble Muscadine wine has a savory, sour nose and a savory taste with a bitter note.  Oak aged, it has been selected as a wine of the month by the Houston Post.


Texas Moon Magnolia - A semi-dry, white Magnolia Muscadine, this one has a nutty flavor which I am told goes well with turkey.  They say it's a favorite at Thanksgiving.  Flies won the award of Top Texas Wine in 2009 at the Houston International Wine Competition.  In true Lone Star style, the prize was a hand-tooled, silver-trimmed saddle.  Has has also won an armload of belt buckles and a boxful of more traditional medals.

Noble Muscadine Rosé - Semi sweet and refreshing.  I didn't have it with food, but I have found in the past that well-made Muscadine wines are greatly improved in a food pairing.

Pecan Mocca - Made from white Muscadine grown in Flies' vineyard, this is a pretty incredible effort.  With a nose of ground coffee that jumps from the glass, this intense wine tastes like coffee and caramel, with a bit of tiramisu on the finish.  Flavored, and one of their three best sellers.

Peach - This fruit wine is sweet and made with northeast Texas peaches, but it smells like Muscadine.  the palate is tart and very peachy.

Baked Peach - Another peach of a fruit wine, this one is actually baked at 90 degrees for 90 days - Flies' effort at simulating Madeira.  Spicy cobbler on the nose and palate.

Blackberry - The most straightforward of the bunch, it's tart and fruity.  Not too complex, but very tasty.

Sweetheart Magnolia - White Muscadine again, with a sweet and fruity pear-like palate.

Ports of Texas - A Port-style wine made from red Muscadine and fortified with brandy.   Oak aged with a hint of chocolate.  Only 14% abv.

Texas Sweet-Tooth Cherry Chocolate - If you like your sweet wine completely unbridled, this is for you. It's so sweet it will make your teeth hurt.  Chocolate is infused in this dessert wine which tastes like a cherry tootsie roll pop.  The nose is straight out of Russell Stover.  Billed by the winery as a "compete dessert," hat's how it strikes me.

Light Ruby Port - Not as sweet as Port usually is, but it does hit 16% abv.  The savory note works in its favor.  Aged in oak and brandy-fortified, it gives a hint of whiskey.

Amber Port - Vermouth-like and getting closer to Port-style alcohol at 18% abv, I like the citrus streak.
Texas Tawny Port - This is a fairly amazing Muscadine effort at 19% abv, blended with brandy.  Spending six to eight months in oak, the wine actually looks older.  A ring of brown shows at the edge of the glass.  The oak and higher alcohol really masks the Muscadine flavor. Caramel and brown sugar flavors are a real treat.  (Texas has tightened the restrictions on the use of "Port," I'm told, so the labeling will have to be changed this year.)

Orange Wine - A natch for a winery in a town named Orange, it's actually made from Texas Satsumas.  A tart edge and finish and nectar-like.  Surprisingly, there is not a great citrus play here.


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Monday, December 31, 2012

V. Sattui Vintage Port 1998


The wine tastes great, but I have a bit of a bone to pick with V. Sattui Winery over the name of this one.  Port wine comes from Portugal, much as Champagne and Burgundy come from those French regions and nowhere else.  Nobody likes it when a California winery pastes "Champagne" on their label, and similar liberties with "Port" should also be avoided.  With that mini-rant out of the way, the wine - whatever it is named - is fantastic.

This is a Port-style wine, with a neutral grape spirit added at partial fermentation.  The wine is then aged in small French oak barrels for three years before bottling.  Three Portuguese grape varieties are used in this blend: Tinta Cão, Souzão and Touriga Nacional.  The retail price is $46.

The nose is heavily laced with alcohol upon pouring, not unusual for a fortified wine.  The fruitiness comes through as blackberry and currant, but any nuance is obliterated by the spirit.  The alcohol is much easier to take on the palate, and the fruit plays forward here, too.  The flavor immediately reminds me of cassis.  This port tastes very fresh and fruity for a 14-year-old wine. The color is ruby red to the edges.  There's barely a hint of raisins when first opened, but those notes do come forth after decanting.

Sweet and bold, this 1998 Port-style wine matches beautifully with dark chocolate and pairs well with Gorgonzola cheese, too.


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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
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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Tuesday, January 10, 2012

WINE COUNTRY NEW JERSEY: VALENZANO WINERY

New Jersey's wine industry is the seventh largest in America, producing over 1.7 million gallons of wine in 2009.  According to the Press of Atlantic City, New Jersey's wine industry has exploded over the past ten years, with four times as many wineries opening their doors over the past decade.

Wine making in New Jersey dates back to the 18th century, although the Garden State's first commercial winery - Renault - didn't open until 1864.  In 1981, state laws limiting the number of wineries were changed.  Now New Jersey boasts over 40 wineries.

January 2012 should see a legislative vote on direct shipping in and out of the state, which would be a boon for New Jersey winemakers.  Here's a Wine Spectator article on that legislation. 

Valenzano Winery is a family-operated vineyard located in Shamong, New Jersey, in the New Jersey Pinelands less than an hour east of Philadelphia.  They produce wine from  grapes grown in Southern New Jersey.  The winery was licensed in 1996, taking the winemaking 
hobby of Tony Valenzano, Sr. to the commercial level.  The Valenzanos now have three locations, and they aim to produce 30,000 gallons of wine - quite a growth from the 500 gallons produced in their inaugural year.  

From the Valenzano website: "We produce both Merlot and Chardonnay, along with a selection of vitis-labrusca varietals and hybrids that are unique and specific to the southern New Jersey microclimate.  For the past decade, we’ve also been working with dozens of different varietals in accordance with our soil, climate and growing season.  ...Cynthiana, also known as ‘Norton,’ the only North American varietal which can produce a big, bold, old-world style table wine, has garnered us the coveted Governor’s Cup two years in a row -- a first in the Governor’s Cup competition!"  Valenzano also produces a signature red wine from Chamboucin and wines made with Cabernet Franc, Vidal Blanc, and Cabernet Sauvignon.

Their vineyards are mainly in the Shamong area, but they also source grapes from vines at a number of other small farms in New Jersey.

Valenzano Winery states that they aim to produce wines not to please critics, but to please wine drinkers.  They make a big claim: "We would match any of our wines against any wines produced in California or Europe in the same price range."  The Valenzano wines range in price from eight to 17 dollars.

Valenzano Winery was kind enough to provide me with four of their wines to sample, and they were quite impressive overall.

Valenzano Merlot 2008Valenzano Merlot, Outer Coastal Plain, 2008
This Merlot is touted as a "West-coast style," although it has only a 12.5% abv number.  It sells for $15.  Medium dark in color, light goes through it easily.  The nose is very rich and loaded with fruit.   Blackberry, plums and cassis stand out.  There is a good deal of American
oak spice also prominently displayed.  On the palate, smoke, licorice and cinnamon show strongly.  Flavors of strawberry and blackberry with the aforementioned smoke are joined by a hint of an herbal note.  This green quality is in the background behind the fruit and spice the first night the bottle was open.  The herbaceous quality took over on second night and stood as an equal to fruit on the third.  It reminds me of Cabernet Franc quite a bit. 

Valenzano Merlot 2010Valenzano Merlot, Outer Coastal Plain, 2010
This more recent vintage of Merlot again shows a terrific nose full of fruit.  The wine is extremely dark, black almost.
Very aromatic black cherry, mocha and chocolate dominate. There is a vegetal angle which is quite dark - not green, but like black olives. The palate is rich and dark, too, with currant, blackberry, black pepper and black olives in a setting of strong tannins and fantastic acidity. The lengthy finish is much appreciated.

Valenzano Cabernet/MerlotValenzano Cabernet/Merlot, Outer Coastal Plain, 2010 
The bottle shows the 2008 vintage stricken in magic marker, with 2010 written in its place. The label also shows a blend of 40% Cabernet Franc, 40% Merlot and 20% Cabernet Sauvignon, but Anthony Valenzano tells me the '10 has 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Merlot and 20% Cabernet Franc. 

On the nose, this very dark-hued wine displays an incredible array of dark fruit and baking spices.  There is also a green element, as if the grapes were whole-cluster pressed.  The Cab Franc makes its way to the front of the olfactory show without trouble, while Merlot and 
Cabernet Sauvignon assist. 

Very clean and appealing on the palate, the Valenzano Cab/Merlot is vibrant and fresh. There's no mistaking the flavor of the Cabernet Franc, or the lip-smacking acidity. The Merlot's spice makes a play, as does the minerality of the Cabernet Sauvignon.  There is a sour cherry flavor that lingers beautifully into the finish. Tasting this wine on an 80 degree Los Angeles day made the illusion of spring more vivid.  I envision this wine will also be great when chilled a bit and served outdoors at summer picnics. 

The wine is great for sipping - medium bodied and easy to drink - but has the necessary qualities to make food pairing easy.  It grew darker in flavor over the course of several days open.  After enjoying it for a while, it hit me that I was drinking a $10 bottle of wine. It's quite a value at that price.

Valenzano Jersey DevilJersey Devil Port 
This Port-style wine is made with Cynthiana grapes - known as Norton in some places - and is fortified with brandy and oak-aged for three years.  It carries a whopping 19.5% abv and sells for $16.

I smell greenness behind the dark fruit.  I also smell a lot of that brandy, which is actually a 93% oak-stored grain alcohol.  I have loved Norton on the occasions I've tried it, and find the grape somewhat masked by the other factors involved here.  This a wine that should find favor with people who like to sip hard liquor.  That is what comes through the strongest. 

The Port-style was not much to my liking, but the Merlot based wines were outstanding.  In fact, the Cabernet/Merlot is one of the best wines I've had in the past year or so.  The Valenzano website shows a number of wines - made with both grapes and other types of fruit - which look quite interesting.  Apple cider, cranberry and blueberry wine catch my eye, as do wines made from grapes like Chambourcin, Cynthiana, Vidal Blanc and a Cabernet Franc blush!  

Valenzano is winery that definitely has some interesting ideas about wine and is worth a look.



Thursday, December 2, 2010

PORT WINE


Porto

The onset of cold weather makes many wine lovers turn their attention to Port wine.  You may know Port only as something to "take the chill off," so here's a little bit of information about Port wines.

Port is a sweet wine, with an alcohol content higher than most table wines, higher even than many dessert wines.  Port is commonly used as a dessert companion or dessert itself.  It pairs quite well with cheese, especially blue cheese.

The only place Port, or Porto, can be made is in the Douro Valley in northern Portugal, much like Champagne can only come from Champagne, France.  There are many areas around the world which produce Port-style wines, though.

Port is produced by fortifying wine with neutral grape spirits.  It's often said that Port is fortified with brandy.  That is often a mistaken notion.  The fortification creates a higher residual sugar and alcohol level.  Port wine generally has an alcohol level of 18% to 20%.

There are five grape varieties which are widely used in the making of red Port wine - Touriga Nacional, Touriga Francesca, Tinta Barroca, Tinta Cão and Tinta Roriz, which is also known as Tempranillo.  That's the only non-indigenous grape used in making Port.

White Port is made from white grapes - Donzelinho Branco, Esgana-Cão, Folgasão, Gouveio, Malvasia Fina, Rabigato and Viosinho.  Grapes used in making Port are regulated by the Instituto dos Vinhos do Douro e Porto.  Port wine made in other areas may be made from many different grape varieties.

Tawny Ports are Ports which have been aged in wood barrels for ten, 20, 30 or even 40 years.  Popular brands of Tawny Port include Dow's, Graham's and Taylor's, which are seen on many restaurant menus.

Roxo Port Cellars of Paso Robles, California makes nothing but Port-style wines.  They utilize Bordeaux and Italian grape varieties as well as traditional Portuguese varieties.

Ficklin Vineyards in Madera, California makes a Tinta Port, a Tawny Port, a white Port and vintage Ports.  Their Port-style wines have won numerous awards and generate tons of good press.

The Beaulieu Vineyard Maestro Collection Port 2006 employs traditional and non-traditional varieties: Touriga Nacional, Charbono, Tempranillo and Petite Sirah.

From California's Santa Ynez Valley, Bridlewood offers a Syrah Port 2006.  Listen to these descriptive words from the the winemaker: "heady aromatics of blackberry, cassis and licorice…notes of strong dark chocolate with hints of pecan, tangerine peel and earth…luscious licorice finish."

Paso Robles' EOSZinfandel Port 2006 sounds like it was made with the holidays in mind:"...aromas of molasses, roasted walnuts and maple syrup fill the nose....nutty characters glide across the palate with essence of plums andespresso...spiciness, cedar, and cinnamon linger on the ... extendedfinish."

Friday, March 26, 2010

Kalyra Black Muscat 2005

There are certain places in the wine world to which I seem drawn back over and over.  The Santa Ynez Valley is one of those places.  Its rolling terrain, sprawling vineyards and bounteous farm land beckon me each time good fortune takes me there.  Denise and I have stopped so many times at fruit stands there for unbelievably delicious strawberries and blueberries.  We've even stopped at a winery or two.  Insert smiling emoticon here.

Kalyra Winery is one of those places in the Santa Ynez Valley from which I can't seem to stay away.  They offer a full line of wines, but I am very partial to their dessert wines. Kalyra's 375ml bottle is adorned by label art which I think of as Australian Surfer Hieroglyphics. The surf motif is in full effect at their winery tasting room in the Santa Ynez Valley as well as at their more recently opened tasting room on Santa Barbara's Urban Wine Trail.

The Kalyra Black Muscat looks rather like a rosé when in the glass. The nose is aromatic and rich. There are notes of licorice candy and candied fruit flavors in there too. The wine tastes somewhat like a port, maybe a young one. It's a very nice and sweet berry flavor that makes a fine dessert on its own, or drizzled over ice cream. It could accompany an aged cheese fairly well, too. It's not as strong as a "real" port, but at 15% abv, it's not weak, either.


Winemaker:  Mike Brown
Variety:  Muscat
Appellation:  California > Central Coast > Santa Ynez Valley
Vintage:  2005 
Alcohol Level:  15%
Price: $15
Acquisition disclaimer:  Purchased by the author at the winery

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Dessert Wines of Monterey County

The holidays always call for special wines.  You can bring out all the heavy-hitting Cabernets, big Bordeaux blends and dry-as-a-bone Rieslings you want.  The wines that create the biggest stir and the ones that make the biggest impression on your guests are dessert wines.  Sweet and delectable, dessert wines fit in with the holiday mood almost as well as cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie.  As a matter of fact, they fit right in with the cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie.  The Monterey County Vintners & Growers Association supplied me with a small treasure chest of these sweet delights and asked me to pass along my impressions.  The following wines were provided to me at no cost for the purpose of review.  All of them are in 375ml bottles - except the Potbelly Port, which is in a 500ml bottle - and the prices were provided by the MCVGA.
 

J Lohr Vineyards Late-Harvest White Riesling ($25) -  The 2006 vintage was the first White Riesling crop since 1995 for J Lohr's Bay Mist vineyard in the Arroyo Seco region of Monterey County.  It's a 100% varietal wine with 12.3% abv and a luscious 10.3% residual sugar.  Don't write this one off by sniffing "sweetie" and moving along.  The sugar belies a wonderful acidity that makes this wine great for pairing with desserts.  You may like it with an apple tart and vanilla bean ice cream.  You may also like it all by itself.  There's a nose of honeyed fruit and, on the palate, that wonderful "bitter with the sweet" sensation one hopes for in a Riesling.  A beautiful, rich golden color looks great in the glass, too.
 

Joyce Vineyards Pudding Wine 2007 ($28) - The Johannesburg Riesling grapes for this wine came from the Franscioni Vineyard.  Luscious to look at - it's a deep, rich golden color - the aromas and the flavor remind me of a very fine sherry.  It should go very nicely with a pumpkin or pecan pie.  If your sweet tooth isn't shouting for attention, you may find that it makes a fine dessert on its own.  12.5% abv may be a tad high for some, in a dessert wine, but you could minimize the effect of the alcohol by doing as the Monterey wine people recommend - have a pear poached in Pudding Wine.
 

Paraiso, Souzao Port, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County NV ($25) - Listed as a "tasting room only" wine on their website, this 18.5% abv port-style wine is made from the Souzao grape, which is a Portuguese varietal but now becoming more common in California.  The Paraiso Estate features only about three acres of Souzao, but they managed nearly 600 cases of production.  The wine is aged in French and American oak for two years before bottling.  Quite viscous and very full in the mouth, it's got a rich nose full of candy cherry aromas and an explosive taste that reminds me of raisins and chocolate-covered cherries at the same time. It's a bit rough and over-the-top, so don't expect too much subtlety.  Serve this with chocolate and score big with sweet-toothed guests. 
 

Graff Family Vineyards, Chalone, July Muscat 2007 ($16) - Billed as a sweet table wine, this is made from grapes grown in the Chalone appellation.  It's 100% July Muscat, quite a rare grape variety developed in the '50s at UC Davis.  Its 10% residual sugar and 11.3% abv level gives a soft and aromatic wine with strong floral notes.  It's an amazing accompaniment to an apricot or pear tart.
 

Ventana Vineyards Orange Muscat 2008 ($18) -  Tropical fruit and vanilla greet the nose, while the flavors of peaches dominate on the palate.  The alcohol level is 15% - quite a bit higher than most Muscats - and residual sugar is 7.2%.  You can serve this chilled as an apertif, or alongside a biscotti.
 

Mer Soleil LATE Late-Harvest Viognier 2004 ($36) - Botrytis-influenced Viognier gives a warm, golden color in the glass and the aromas are as sweet as honey.  The taste is sweet, too, but with a good level of acidity that sports a nice hint of orange peel.  Expect a lush and long finish.  Pair this with Foie Gras or with warm blue cheese-stuffed Mission Figs for a delightful dessert.
 

Pessagno Late-Harvest Sauvignon Blanc 2006 ($25) -  Fully Botrytised grapes from the Arroyo Seco appellation clock in at 13.8% abv and 18.4% residual sugar and spent five months in wood, making this a dessert wine lover's dessert wine.  This Sauterne-style wine is dessert all by itself, but you can drizzle it over fruit or let it make a Creme Brulee memorable.
 

Kendall-Jackson Late-Harvest Chardonnay 2006 ($25) - Floral and cinnamon aromas lead to candied fruit flavors in this lush drink.  The winemaker calls it "the nectar of the gods."  He may be biased, but he does know what he's talking about.  This sweet Chard really dresses up a plate of butter cookies.
 

Mission Trail, Potbelly Port ($36) - Maybe the unflattering name arises from the fact that this wine is jammed full of grapes.  There are six Portuguese grapes here - Touriga Nacional, Tinto Cao, Tinta Roriz, Souzao, Tinta Madeira and Tempranillo.  Brandy was added halfway through the fermentation.  The result is a Port that is jammy and rich, with flavors of chocolate-covered cherries, black pepper, anise, tobacco and clove.  Top off your feast with this portly port and a chocolate bread pudding for a dessert as memorable as the holiday.