Showing posts with label Sonoma Coast. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Sonoma Coast. Show all posts

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Badass Pinot Noir

MacPhail Wines is a Cloverdale collaboration between fifth-generation Hess Family members Tim and Sabrina Persson and winemaker Matt Courtney, who says he likes his oak to stay in the background.  They all reportedly feel that wine is art with a splash of science.  They make wines of the Sonoma Coast and Anderson Valley.

The Flyer is 100% Pinot Noir grown in the Sangiacomo Lakeville Vineyards in the Petaluma Gap.  Lots of fog means additional hang time for the grapes, which means riper fruit.  The grapes are hand-harvested and sorted, destemmed.  For the 2016 vintage they used Pinot Noir clones 777 and 23, both fermented in same tank, with full native fermentation.  The wine is aged 11 months in French oak, 30% of which is new. 

The wagon on the label reportedly represents "timeless design and exceptional quality."  Oh, and Tim and Sabrina signed the back label.  The wine hits 14.5% abv and retails for $50.

Be warned, this wine does not smell like Pinot Noir.  It's big, it's bold, it's frightfully funky.  Only medium ruby in color, the nose is full of forest floor, smoke and tar.  The palate is all dark fruit, bathed in a savory soak, sprayed with violets and punched with acidity and healthy pack of tannins.  Oak adds to the experience, but doesn't overpower.  You won't have to be careful with pairings, as this Pinot will match up with the beefiest beef dishes.


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Friday, June 2, 2017

Pink Wine From Sonoma Coast

Sonoma-Cutrer is located in the cool Sonoma Coast appellation, and it's been there since 1973. Mick Schroeter is the third head winemaker to serve at Sonoma-Cutrer, and this rosé is his Winemaker’s Release.

The Pinot Noir grapes from the estate Owsley Ranch were whole cluster pressed for this 2016, the first Rosé produced by the winery. The grapes were grown with pink wine in mind. They grow in sandy loam, blanketed by the cool fog from the Bloomfield Gap. Alcohol sits just a shade under 13% and the wine retails for $25.

This rosé is more red than pink. Its color is brilliant and rich and flits between orange and flame red. The nose is all earthy strawberries, and the acidity is as fresh as spring. Flavors are fruity - strawberry and cherry - with a streak of the green stems thrown in. It is a completely enjoyable rosé of Pinot Noir.


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Friday, May 19, 2017

Sonoma Coast Pinot Gris

In the 1970s, an Italian immigrant in California's Bay Area taught his grandson how to make wine. Fred Cline took the information and ran with it, starting a winery and eventually moving the operation to Sonoma County's Carneros Valley.

Cline Cellars now has sustainably-grown ancient Zinfandel and Rhône varieties in Oakley, more Rhône grapes in Carneros and Pinot Noir in the Petaluma Gap.  Winemaker Charlie Tsegeletos produces wines that, according to Cline, "express the unique qualities of California fruit, and their specific sense of place."

Baseball fans may want to know that Cline partners with Wines by Design on a San Francisco Giants Pinot Gris. It's sourced from the winery's Sonoma Coast estate vineyard, and they say it’s a "hit."

The Cline Estate Pinot Gris is also sourced from the Petaluma Gap vineyards and is fermented and aged in stainless steel.  It hits 14% abv and sells for $15.

This California Pinot Gris is lightly tinted with a yellow-green hue. It smells of apples, peaches and apricots with some lemon zest adding to a complex nose. An earthy aroma underlies all else and provides a base from which the other aromas work. The acidity is fairly bracing, and will welcome seafood. Flavors of apple, lemon, and tangerine come forward with stone fruit on the finish.


Monday, December 14, 2015

Mother And Daughter Work Together On Chardonnay, Pinot Noir

Tasting a wine while in the company of one whose livelihood depends on the impressions left by said wine is not always fun. Sometimes you swirl extra long, swish it around for awhile, searching for something nice to say. Sometimes it’s hard to do.

This time it was easy. Trombetta Family Wines CEO Rickey Trombetta Stancliff (on left) was dragged over my way by a publicist friend to pour wines that were made by her daughter, Erica Stancliff. The pressure was really on. If I don't like them, I insult not only her, but her daughter as well. Swirl, swirl, swirl. Swish, swish, swish.

To be honest, Rickey didn't seem like someone in the middle of a PR tour prior to the Pinot Days Los Angeles event.  She was quite at ease. She broke out the tools of the trade - a map of her growing area and the comfy spiel about its virtues, but not before sitting back in our outdoor setting and commenting, "What a lovely day it is!" I got the feeling she was confident her wines would be well received, that she had fielded all the compliments before. To her credit, she made me feel like my opinions sounded fresh to her ears, even though I knew they did not. Her daughter’s creations in Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are completely praiseworthy.

Rickey - and Erica - have a great history in wine. They both worked with California wine guru Paul Hobbs, the result of a chance meeting and friendship that followed. It was Hobbs, in fact, who offered a taste of Merlot to a ten-year-old Erica, who wrinkled up her nose at the idea of tasting wine. She then proceeded to describe that wine as a super taster would, using descriptors like leather, tobacco and pepper. Her palate was revealed, and Hobbs put in a waiver claim on her right there.

Sure enough, Erica followed her nose - and palate - to an oenology education. The rest is in the bottle.

Vineyard 

Grapes for the Trombetta Chardonnay and one Pinot Noir come from Gap's Crown Vineyard, a 100-acre parcel in the Petaluma Gap region, which will hopefully receive recognition as an AVA by summertime 2016. Easy sailing is predicted in the area that boasts more growers than wineries. The Petaluma Gap bridges the gap between the Pacific Ocean and the bay,allowing for a wind tunnel effect blow through, making it a very cool climate area. Smaller, more concentrated berries and great acidity are the results of that cool breeze. The region is contained mostly in Sonoma County, but it dips south into Marin County a bit.

Chardonnay

Trombetta Chardonnay, Gap’s Crown Vineyard 2014 is Erica’s first attempt at Chardonnay. I wish all my first times had been like this. A great growing season in the cool Petaluma Gap region gave some August fog, common on the Sonoma Coast, which helped make for optimal ripening.
Rickey said, "Erica wanted to make a Chardonnay in which the old world meets the new
world." The wine puts me in mind of both worlds. Two barrels saw new French oak, while six were aged neutrally. The wine hits 14.2% abv and runs $50 at retail. 200 cases were produced.

The wine has a rich, golden hue and shows an absolutely gorgeous oak effect, just enough to put me in mind of classic California Chardonnay. There is tropical fruit, lemon chess pie and caramel in the whiff as well. The palate is where the old world comes into play. The acidity is right on the money, and only a slight touch of vanilla comforts the apples, pineapple and citrus flavors. The wine is very well balanced and shows great weight, the result of malolactic fermentation which occurred in the barrels and aging on the lees - the spent yeast cells. Eight months of aging in French oak was just right. About a third of that oak was new, the rest neutral.

Pinot Noir

The grapes for Trombetta's Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast 2013 hail from Peterson Vineyard, a few miles west of Gap’s Crown. Again, there is very little production from this cool climate vineyard, which means tiny berries and concentrated aromas and flavors. This wine also comes in at 14.2% abv with 272 cases made, selling at $45.

The wine shows a lovely, deep ruby color, and an elegant nose of cranberry, violets, pomegranate and black tea. A savory streak of spices runs through this graceful Pinot. On the palate, there are flavors of cranberry, raspberry and pepper spice, and the acidity is great. Forest floor notes add complexity and depth to this sophisticated wine.

For the Trombetta Gap’s Crown Pinot Noir 2013, they went back to Gap’s Crown Vineyard, harvesting grapes grown at an elevation of about 800 feet, the highest point in the parcel. Eight months in oak - 25% new - barely leaves a mark to take away from its charms. Alcohol is still at 14.2% abv, while the retail price is $65.

More color than in the Sonoma Coast offering shows immediately, a deeper and darker shade than the other bottling. The nose is a little more savory, too, with more tea notes but still offering a basket full of bright fruit. The palate shows darker, but it does not go near what we might call "bold." It is deeper and richer, again with food-friendly acidity to die for.


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Friday, August 7, 2015

Chardonnay Gives Creaminess, Acidity Equal Billing

Chardonnay is, if memory serves, the most popular white wine grape in the U.S. Despite that rank, Chardonnay is sometimes held in low regard by more snobbish wine folk, who disdain it for its popularity. It is similar to my own failing feelings for a particular musical artist who has hit the big time - it was much more fun backing him before everyone knew about him.

I'm not a Chardonnay hater, even though I will usually opt for something a little racier, a little more daring, a little ... less Chardonnay. Even so, California Chardonnay has become a lot more interesting over the last half decade or so.

No longer typified by flabby, overoaked wines, the Chardonnay segment of wine styles has become nearly as fragmented as that of Riesling. Oak has become less dominant, acidity has become a focal point and it's hard to find a California winery which doesn't produce at least one completely unoaked Chardonnay.

The many different types of Chardonnay - steely, oaky, fresh, full - may call for a scale on the label, a la Riesling, to show the consumer what to expect inside the bottle. Until then, ask your wine merchant what sort of Chardonnay it is that you are buying. Have him or her guide you to the style that suits you.

The CrossBarn Chardonnay 2014 Sonoma Coast, Sonoma County wine comes from select vineyards of the cool Sonoma Coast appellation. The grapes are pressed in whole clusters, stems and all, adding a freshness and vibrancy to the wine. Only 10% of the juice feels any oak - the rest is aged five months in steel tanks. The wine is, however, left in contact with the spent yeast cells during aging - with weekly stirring to keep the lees suspended. This imparts a creamy richness without so much reliance on oak. The wine also underwent full malolactic fermentation, which also adds to the creamy texture.

The '14 CrossBarn Chardonnay looks golden in the glass and smells nice and ripe. Peaches, pineapples and lemons burst forth like so much fruit basket. The palate shines as brightly, with wonderful fruit led by apples and lemons. The creamy quality resulting from the production techniques stands opposite an eye-popping acidity. Pair this with salads, soups and seafood anytime, but it can handle a pork chop or roasted chicken just as effortlessly.


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Monday, July 13, 2015

Summer Wine: Paul Hobbs Gets Pink With CrossBarn Rosé

Paul Hobbs' love of farm life, inspired by a childhood spent on his 150-year-old family farm in upstate New York, is the impetus behind the name of this label. The "cross barn" holds dear memories for him, and he keeps it alive in this line of CrossBarn wines.

Hobbs has been Winemaker of the Year, more than once, and has a hand not only in California wine but in Argentina as well. An article in Forbes called him the Steve Jobs of wine, for his attention to detail in turning grapes into something a lot more interesting.

Winemaker Greg Urmini certainly had to feel Hobbs' breath over his shoulder as he led his winemaking team through the 2014 vintage. This beautiful CrossBarn Rosé was crafted with Pinot Noir grapes harvested from the Sonoma Coast appellation. There was no malolactic fermentation, so the wine retains as much crisp freshness as possible. Four months aging took place with the spent yeast cells still in the juice, allowing for a full softness in the mouthfeel. Nearly all the wine was fermented in steel tanks, with only five percent in neutral oak. Alcohol is quite restrained at 12.5%, and the wine retails for only $18 per bottle.

The winery's website likens the rosé's color to Himalayan salt, but I find it a much richer hue. Bright salmon pink, the wine shows a summery nose of cherries, strawberries and a little orange peel. Great minerality joins the fresh, red fruit. Zippy acidity refreshes, and makes me want a Cobb salad. Of course I always want a Cobb salad. I'd take a nice chicken taco salad with it, too. A little hint of raspberry on the finish lends a tart side to an otherwise very ripe and fruity wine.


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Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Cool Pinot Noir Blows In From Sonoma's Petaluma Gap

Bottlenotes launched a new live tasting event series on Twitter in October.  The first tasting event was hosted by noted wine writer Karen MacNeil and focused on 2012 Sonoma Pinot Noir wines.  I was provided with Pfendler Vineyards 2012 Pinot Noir and invited to participate.

Pfendler Vineyards was founded by Kimberly Pfendler (left) in 2007 with the goal of producing world-class Pinot Noir and Chardonnay from her family’s mountain property in the Petaluma Gap region of the Sonoma Coast AVA.  Representatives of windy Petaluma Gap are currently trying to get the grape rolling for an appeal to establish AVA status for the subregion within the enormous Sonoma Coast AVA.

Pfendler’s late husband Peter planted the family’s first vineyard in 1992 - he opted for Bordeaux varieties at that time.  Although the grapes struggled to ripen, he was inspired by the Petaluma Gap’s potential, and over the next 15 years, he experimented in planting various Pinot Noir and Chardonnay clones  As it turns out, they thrived in the cool-climate, maritime-influenced area.

Kimberly Pfendler is as sold on the Petaluma Gap’s potential as her husband was.  “There is no other area in California I can think of that offers such great new potential for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay as the Petaluma Gap,” she says.  “The region is like a wind tunnel, with the mountains funneling in cool Pacific breezes and ocean fog.  Our vineyards extend from the mountain top to its base, allowing a tremendous variety of sun and foggy climates.”

Sonoma Pinot Noir guru Greg Bjornstad (right) is Pfendler’s winemaker.  “I’ve always been a fan of Greg’s wines,” Pfendler adds, “and I am most impressed by his talent for making wines that express a sense of place.”  Bjornstad takes a hands-on approach in the four estate vineyards and adopts a minimalistic approach in the winery.

This 100% Pinot Noir utilizes destemmed grapes of the Joseph Swan, Calera and Pommard clones.  It is aged eleven months in French oak, half of which was new.  For eight months the juice sits sur lie - in contact with the spent yeast used during fermentation.  This gives the wine more weight, a bigger mouthfeel.  It carries an alcohol level of 14.4% abv.  Only 350 cases were made and the wine retails for $45.

Fairly darkly tinted, this Pinot looks like it means business, and it does.  Aromas of black cherry and coffee grounds dominate the nose and continue building on the dark theme.  The flavor is dark, too, with black raspberry, black tea and black cherry providing plenty of power.  Speaking of power, the business end of the tannins are not shy.  It's pretty enough for pork, brawny enough for beef.



Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Savory White Wine Of France, California And Oregon

Serendipity is a beautiful thing.  I stumbled upon one wine event on the way to another that was being held in the same hotel at the same time.  The event featured wines represented by the Estates Group, a division of Southern California wine distributor Young's Market Company.  Here are some quick notes on some very fine - mostly savory - wines.

Dominique Lafon Wines

Dominique Lafon is considered a pioneer in Burgundy and one of France's finest winemakers.  He oversees his own properties and is the consulting winemaker for America's Evening Land Vineyards as well.  Lafon took over his family’s estate in 1987 and raised a few eyebrows as he moved away from traditional farming methods involving chemicals.  He improved the quality of the fruit and proved his critics were wrong when they said his wines would never amount to anything.  His bottlings - particularly the premier cru wines - command a hefty price.  My thanks to the hosts for allowing me to step in and sample.

Bourgogne Blanc 2010
Smoky nose with tropical fruit.  Savory grapefruit edge on the palate, but not tart.  Gentle acidity.

Bourgogne Blanc 2011
Light nose, savory flavors of melon, cantaloupe.  Gentle acidity.

Meursault 2011
Lightly smoky nose , savory pear on the palate.

Meursault Les Narvaux 2011
Smoke, pear juice aromas, savory flavors of pear and white peach.

Puligny Montrachet, Premier Crus Champ Gain 2011
Nice, savory melon and pear.

Volnay Villages 2011
Delicate nose of strawberry and roses.  Bright cherry and strawberry on the palate.

Beaune Epenottes Premier Cru 2011
Beautiful acidity.  Nose of dusty strawberry, palate showing beautiful cherries and roses.

Volnay Les Lurets 2011
Lovely, delicate nose, bright fruit palate.


Evening Land Vineyards

Always seeking great vineyard sites, Evening Land started with Occidental Vineyard in Sonoma Coast, moved north to Seven Springs Vineyard in Oregon's Willamette Valley, then to Burgundy.Producing wines in California, Oregon and Burgundy presents some logistical hoop-jumping as well as some neccessary duplication of efforts.  Winemakers Isabel Meunièr and Cristophe Vial oversee the Evening Land wines in America and France, respectively.  Dominique Lafon consults.  The company’s Central Coast California offerings will be going by the wayside as their American arm shifts its focus to the Sonoma Coast.

Au Château de Bligny Pouilly-Fuissé 2011  $28
Malolactic fermentation, 35% of the wine spent eight months in french oak, the remainder rested in a tank.  Tropical fruit on the nose, with a mouthful of minerals, tangerine peel and lemon. Brilliant acidity

Chardonnay Eola-Amity Hills, Seven Springs Vineyard 2011  $65
Whole cluster pressed, and the herbal element comes through.  Aged eleven months in oak, another five months in steel tanks.  The Eola-Amity Hills AVA is located within Oregon's Willamette Valley.  Smoky oak on the nose, savory fruit on the palate.

Chardonnay, Edna Valley 2011  $25
Single vineyard, two miles from the Pacific Ocean at 900-foot elevation.  Barrel fermentation in French oak, whole cluster pressed.  Smoky minerals with a savory, tart palate.

Au Château de Bligny Bourgogne Rouge 2011  $25
Least expensive of the Evening Land French wines.  Half is aged in French oak for ten months, the rest in stainless steel.  Aromas of roses, light cherry flavors.

Pinot Noir, Eola-Amity Hills 2011  $50
Aged 16 months in French Oak.  Funky nose, cherry and strawberry on the palate.

Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast, Occidental Vineyard 2011  $120
A real terroir wine.  12-14 months in French oak, a miniscule amount made.  Smoky funk dots the nose, while the palate shows delicate flavors of  cherry and plum.



Friday, August 31, 2012

Five Great California Wine Country Road Trips

This is the sort of thing that makes me wish I had a lot more time on my hands.  September is California Wine Month, and Wine Institute - hard-working champion of the California Wine industry - has come up with five great wine country tours that will introduce you to California wine by roadtrip.

Each tour is a five-day trip that covers different California wine regions, from emerging treasures like the Sierra Foothills and Temecula to the well-known grape-stomping grounds like Napa, Sonoma and Paso Robles.  When combining wine tasting and cars, always remember to spit, and have a designated driver.  Look at the video, then start booking hotels.




The following trip ideas come from Wine Institute's Department of Tasting California Wine.  Fire up the GPS and let's get moving.

1) NORTH COAST
There’s nothing like a drive on California’s scenic North Coast to show you not only the Pacific Ocean’s dramatic beauty but also how profoundly it affects the region’s climate.  That coastal influence gives us San Francisco’s famous fog, towering redwood trees, and a perfect home for cool-climate grapes like Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and others.  This scenic five-day round trip from San Francisco takes you wine tasting, shopping, dining, kayaking and more.  Visit Sausalito, Muir Woods national park, quaint Mendocino and Sonoma County’s diverse wine regions.

Day One:
Start with an invigorating walk along San Francisco’s lively Fisherman’s Wharf, taking in the shops and eye-popping views of the Golden Gate Bridge, Marin Headlands, Alcatraz, and if you’re lucky, a show-stopping patch of mysterious fog.  Then put the top down and head north on Highway 101 to the artsy village of Sausalito just across the bay.  Treat yourself to a seafood lunch paired with a glass of California wine before continuing north to see some of California’s famous redwood trees at Muir Woods, a national park about 30 minutes away.  Stroll among the giants, and when your neck gives out from too much looking up, get back in the car and drive an hour north to Santa Rosa in Sonoma County.  In addition to historic Railroad Square with restaurants, shops and a California Welcome Center to help you plan your journey, Santa Rosa is a great place to spend the night, offering centralized access to various great wine regions and wine towns in Sonoma County.

Day Two:
From Santa Rosa, there are a lot of great options for how to spend the day.  In the morning, stroll Santa Rosa’s Railroad Square, and if you’re a Peanuts comic strip fan, check out the Charles M. Schulz Museum and Research Center before heading out for lunch and wine tasting in the pastoral and picturesque Russian River Valley.  If you like to greet the morning with exercise, go to Bodega Bay (where Hitchcock filmed The Birds) for a morning kayak ride, then head to the quaint town of Occidental, Freestone, Graton or Sebastopol for lunch before tasting the cool-climate Pinot Noirs of the Sonoma Coast in the surrounding areas.  If your version of the great outdoors is to shop and dine alfresco, visit the fun wine country town squares of Sonoma to the southeast or Healdsburg to the north for lunch and shopping.  If you head to Sonoma, explore the various wineries of Sonoma Valley, also known as Valley of the Moon. If you go to Healdsburg, check out the nearby wine regions where you’ll find Alexander Valley’s rich Cabernet Sauvignons and Dry Creek Valley’s signature Zinfandels.  Overnight in Santa Rosa.

Day Three:
In the morning, take 101 North, exiting at Highway 128 at Cloverdale.  Soon you will be in Mendocino County’s wine region, a great place to stop for brunch and wine tasting.  Once in the postcard-perfect, seaside village of Mendocino, most of which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, there are many options for entertainment. You can explore the charming shops and eateries, buying your loved ones a treat at the Mendocino Chocolate Company.  You can spend the afternoon exploring via scenic Highway 1, checking out historic lighthouses, such as Point Cabrillo Light Station, which features an inn or take a picnic lunch to enjoy on the grounds of the Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens.  Try hiking coastal or wooded trails such as the Van Damme Pygmy Forest Trail (in the winter months you can enjoy whale watching).  Stay overnight in a romantic B&B.

Day Four:
Head up the coast in the morning on Highway 1, passing Fort Bragg, home to the redwoods Skunk Train, and continue until you get to 101 North.  Soon you will see the awe-inspiring Avenue of the Giants, a world-famous drive through more than 51,000 acres of redwood groves. There are many quirky attractions in the area, including places you can drive through a redwood, but don’t miss Rockefeller Forest’s “Champion Redwood” at 370 feet tall.  If you have an extra day, travel north to Redwood National and State Parks for hiking and an overnight stay.  Stop for lunch as you go south on 101 in the early afternoon towards historic Ukiah, where you can check into a charming B&B and explore the area’s wineries.  If you don’t mind a slightly longer drive, before Ukiah take Highway 20 south to stay in scenic Clear Lake, the largest natural freshwater lake entirely in California and a great home base to check out wineries in the Lake County wine region, known for its delicious Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Sauvignon wines.

Day Five:
Spend the morning enjoying a stroll or hike in Ukiah or Clear Lake, before making your way south towards San Francisco.  Make sure to stop in the Los Carneros wine region, which straddles both Napa and Sonoma counties.  Los Carneros, which means sheep in Spanish, is aptly named for the sheep dotting the rolling hills.  These natural weed controllers are the perfect reminder that more than 70 percent of California’s acreage participates in California’s Sustainable Winegrowing Program, the largest of its kind in the world.  As you head back to San Francisco on 101 South, you can choose among several enticing small towns in Marin County. Nestled below majestic Mt. Tamalpais, Mill Valley’s Lytton Square is reminiscent of a European village, complete with cafes, and fashionable boutiques.  With celebrity musician residents like Bonnie Raitt, Bob Weir and Sammy Hagar, it’s no surprise that Mill Valley is home to the famous Sweetwater, one of the top roots music clubs in the nation, well-known for its famous guest musicians who occasionally “drop in” for an evening to improvise.  The historic railroad town of Tiburon is reminiscent of a New England fishing village.  Its chic Main Street – filled with trendy shops, art galleries, high-end waterfront restaurants and popular casual cafes -- is known as "Ark Row" because of the 1890s recreational houseboat lifestyle enjoyed in Belvedere Cove by sea captains, Bohemian artists, and summer residents from San Francisco.  San Rafael, the oldest, largest and most culturally diverse city in Marin, boasts one-of-a kind shops, ethnic eateries and lovely Victorian buildings. Here you can also cruise down Fourth Street in San Rafael, where part of “American Graffiti” was filmed.

2) SAN FRANCISCO BAY AREA

This five-day round-trip itinerary is a foodie’s paradise, with stops from San Francisco’s Chinatown and Little Italy to Berkeley, the legendary birthplace of California cuisine.  It also takes you from mountains to the sea: you’ll take in the thrilling scenery and wines of the Santa Cruz Mountains, Livermore Valley and Half Moon Bay.

Day One:
Take advantage of San Francisco’s food and wine culture.  In the late morning, try one of the city’s walking foodie tours, such as North Beach/Little Italy, Chinatown or the Mission District (Latin Quarter).  Head to Jackson Square and sample some California wines at the various wine bars.  Follow up with antique shopping in this lively neighborhood, or general shopping in Union Square.  Take a spooky night tour of Alcatraz, paired with wining and dining on Fisherman’s Wharf or nearby North Beach. Overnight in San Francisco.

Day Two:
Spend the morning at a San Francisco museum or two, then put your day in gear and head east over the Bay Bridge to charming university town Berkeley.  Take a guided or self-guided walking tour of the city’s famous Gourmet Ghetto, sampling the neighborhood’s culinary offerings.  If you’re not too full, don’t miss Chez Panisse, the landmark eatery owned by Alice Waters, pioneer of California’s locavore movement and California cuisine.  For those who love wine bike tours, skip Berkeley and head straight to Oakland, where you can do a guided or self-guided biking tour of various urban wineries, including lunch.  For dinner head back to San Francisco, leave the car at the hotel and walk to any number of eateries, where you can enjoy great California wine paired with regional cuisine.  Overnight in San Francisco.

Day Three:
After a leisurely breakfast of San Francisco’s famous sourdough pancakes, drive southeast to beautiful Livermore Valley, one of California’s oldest wine regions.  Enjoy lunch in charming and historic downtown Livermore, filled with quaint shops, eateries and galleries.  Enjoy wine tasting downtown at one of the tasting rooms or wine bars, or check out one of the local renowned wineries, some of which date back to the 1880s!  In the late afternoon, drive 40 minutes southwest to San Jose for fun and dinner on Santana Row, a Mediterranean-style shopping and entertainment district filled with chic boutiques, trendy eateries, hotels, wine bars and lounges. Overnight in San Jose.

Day Four:
In the morning visit a museum or gallery in the charming, tree-lined streets of downtown San Jose, all within a quick stroll of each other.  Or go for chills and thrills at the spooky Winchester Mystery House, featured on many haunted and mystery television shows.  At lunchtime, stop by the beautiful wine country town of Los Gatos for a bite and a short stroll.  Then go wine tasting in the Santa Cruz Mountains, one of California’s first designated wine regions and an area rich with wooded peaks and small vineyards tucked into quiet hillsides.  Noted by “Food and Wine” as a region to watch for Pinot Noir, the region boasts smaller wineries known for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay on the west side, and Cabernet, Merlot and Zinfandel on the east.  Dinner and overnight in Santa Cruz.

Day Five:
If you like to start the morning with an adrenaline rush, head to Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, California’s oldest amusement park.  Or if you’re more in the mood for hiking, head north on Highway 1 for a coastal trek at Año Nuevo State Park, where you can catch a rare glimpse of elephant seals.  Travel north on Highway 1 to the inviting Half Moon Bay, a crescent-shaped bay filled with surfers and fishermen.  Watch the surfers and enjoy lunch, wine tasting and shopping on Main Street.  Return to San Francisco for the night.

3) NAPA VALLEY TO THE HIGH SIERRAS

This adventurous round-trip itinerary starts in Napa Valley, any wine lover’s dream destination, where exquisite Cabernet Sauvignons await alongside pampering hot springs and bike tours.  Then it heads for the hills, exploring Gold Country and the Sierra Foothills for gondola rides, panoramic views and off-the-beaten-path wineries before winding back down to earth in Lodi, home to some of California’s oldest Zinfandel vines, as well as the Madera Wine Trail.

Day One:
Travel about an hour northeast of San Francisco to delightful downtown Napa.  Stroll the shops and tasting rooms, then enjoy a gourmet snack paired with local wines at the Oxbow Public Market.  Head up Highway 29 and get an eyeful of scenic Napa Valley, stopping at renowned wineries for tasting and fun facts about Napa’s 16 smaller appellations.  Take a break in charming wine country towns, filled with great restaurants, artisan food and gift shops, tasting rooms and wineries, such as Yountville and St. Helena.  Next, head north to Calistoga, where you can enjoy strolling the shops of Lincoln Avenue or take a guided biking tour of local wineries.  Or if you’d prefer some pampering, take advantage of one of several hot springs resorts, where you can relax in a natural hot spring or enjoy a rejuvenating massage or mud bath.  Dinner and overnight in Calistoga.

Day Two:
It’s worth the early morning rise to check out a hot air balloon ride over Napa Valley, which culminates with a brunch paired with local wines.  Next, explore the Bothe-Napa Valley State Park, or spend the afternoon heading south on Napa’s other main artery, the Silverado Trail—once the only road to Calistoga’s silver mines and patrolled by bandits Black Bart and Buck English—to check out more wineries or any of the cool wine country towns you missed on Day One.  As late afternoon approaches, head northeast about 90 minutes to Sacramento, taking scenic Highway 128 past Lake Berryessa over to hook up with Interstate 80.  Explore historic Old Town and enjoy a trendy eatery and nightclub/comedy club downtown.

Day Three:
Spend the morning at a museum, such as Crocker Art Museum, one of the leading art museums in the state, the California State Railroad Museum in Old Town, or the Discovery Museum Science & Space Center.  Head 50 minutes northeast to the hidden gem Sierra Foothills wine region, known for Zinfandel, Barbera, Syrah, Viognier and incredible scenery.  A great place to stop first at the Gold Rush town of Placerville for lunch, shopping and winery tasting rooms. (If you’re visiting in late spring when the snowpack melts, grab a sandwich at a deli and go whitewater rafting nearby.)  To explore more winery activities, you can’t go wrong with El Dorado County wineries or other Sierra Foothill regions such as Amador County, Calaveras County, Nevada County and Placer County.  Spend the evening an hour northeast in beautiful South Lake Tahoe, filled with great restaurants, glittering casinos and shows.  Overnight in South Lake Tahoe.

Day Four:
In the morning, ride the Heavenly Ski Resort Gondola for panoramic views of Lake Tahoe.  Spend the morning hiking, or if you’d rather get on the road straight away, head southwest 90 minutes on Highway 88 for lunch in the fun Gold Rush Town of Jackson.  Shop or savor a tasting room in town, or check out a winery or two in Calaveras County, which offers 21 tasting rooms in historic gold rush towns bordered by giant sequoia trees—and was made famous by Mark Twain’s story, “The Jumping Frog of Calaveras County.”  If wine tasting in town is enough for you, and you want to live a bit of history, try panning for gold in Pine Grove.  Head about 45 minutes southwest to Lodi, home to some of the oldest Zinfandel vines in California.  Stop in the Lodi Wine & Visitor Center, which has an expansive tasting bar featuring a wide selection of regional wines, educational demonstration vineyard on grape growing and a gift shop featuring handcrafted products and Lodi giftware.  If you’re out of time, make a plan to go there in the morning.  Overnight at a local B&B.

Day Five:
Armed with information from the Lodi Wine & Visitor Center, explore the Lodi wine region’s wineries, enjoying lunch and shopping in picturesque downtown.  Another way to explore the region is the Lodi Wine & River Tours, where you glide down the beautiful Mokelumne River while sipping local wines and looking for birds and other river creatures.  If you have time to venture further two hours south to check out the dessert wines of Madera, gateway to Yosemite National Park, the Madera Wine Trail is a great wine adventure.  Spend the evening in San Francisco.

4) CENTRAL COAST – HIGHWAY 1

Nothing says California more than driving a convertible with the top down up Highway 1.  With the ocean in view, wind in your hair and wine on your mind, this trip takes you from Santa Barbara’s “Sideways” movie territory to the cool-climate wines of San Luis Obispo and red-wine mecca Paso Robles, then swings back to the ocean and beautiful Monterey before ending in San Francisco.  Besides wining and dining, there’s a zip line, hiking, Hearst Castle, Big Sur, Cannery Row and the Monterey Bay Aquarium to interest you!

Day One:
From Los Angeles, head north on California’s iconic Highway 1 about two hours to Santa Barbara County, whose wine regions were featured prominently in the hit film “Sideways.”  Visit Old Mission Santa Barbara, one of the state’s most famous spots on California’s Historic Mission Trail.  Stop for lunch and shopping on beautiful State Street in downtown Santa Barbara.  Make sure to sample regional wines at one of the street’s many tasting rooms. Dinner and overnight in Santa Barbara.

Day Two:
In the morning, head north to the unique historic Danish town of Solvang.  Enjoy breakfast and coffee at a Danish bakery or café, followed by shopping for souvenirs and admiring the Old World architecture.  Do a self-guided Sideways Tour of Santa Barbara’s wine regions, including a stop for lunch at the Hitching Post, famous for Santa Maria-style barbecue and featured in the film.  After the tour, head north on Highway 1 for a seafood dinner in downtown Pismo Beach.  Overnight in Pismo Beach.

Day Three:
Today, you have a choice to make: stay near the coast or head inland?  To keep it coastal, spend the morning in downtown San Luis Obispo, featuring museums, Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa, the world-famous bubblegum alley and many shops.  Enjoy lunch in one of the renowned restaurants before exploring various San Luis Obispo wineries including those in Edna Valley.  Your other great way to spend the day is to head to downtown Paso Robles for shopping and dining, followed by winery hopping in the Paso Robles wine region, known for day/night temperature swings that create bold red wines.  If you’re seeking a more adventurous way to explore wine country, go zip lining over the historic Santa Margarita Ranch or hiking on a coastal trail.  Enjoy dinner and overnight in the charming seaside town of Cambria.

Day Four:
In the morning, stroll the shops in Cambria and head 15 minutes north to San Simeon. Sneak a rare peek at elephant seals before heading to the world-famous Hearst Castle, the former home of newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst.  You can see his wine cellars on the Kitchen & Cottages tour, and taste his descendants’ wines nearby at Hearst Ranch Winery.  Head an hour north on Highway 1 to Big Sur, the most famous stretch of the road, featuring dramatic oceanfront cliffs.  Enjoy lunch at one of Big Sur’s scenic eateries, followed by a short hike among the woods and beaches of Andrew Molera State Park.  If you don’t feel like hiking, take a short drive north to historic Cannery Row in Monterey, made famous in the John Steinbeck novel. Stop by the Taste of Monterey, the Official Regional Wine Visitors’ Center, where you can learn more about Monterey Bay’s unique “Blue Grand Canyon” and how it creates a unique cooling effect on the vineyards.  Sample cool-climate wines from throughout the Monterey County wine region and plan your explorations for the following day.  Dinner at Monterey’s Cannery Row or nearby Fisherman’s Wharf areas.  Overnight in Monterey.

Day Five:
Enjoy the morning at the world-renowned Monterey Bay Aquarium, followed by lunch in the elegantly charming Carmel-by-the-Sea, filled with great galleries and eateries.  Spend a couple of hours exploring nearby wineries before heading two hours north to end your day in San Francisco.

5) SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA ADVENTURE:
HOLLYWOOD AND GRAPEVINE

For a wine lover, there’s more to Southern California than blue skies, surf and sunshine—it’s full of surprising wine regions, where winemaking has been taking place since the late 1700s.  On this five-day round trip, you’ll hit hot spots like Malibu and Palm Springs while also exploring wineries in Temecula, Cucamonga and even San Diego and Malibu.

Day One:
Start the morning with a guilty pleasure.  Head to Grauman's Chinese Theater on the Hollywood Boulevard strip, and see how your hands and feet measure up to the autographed imprints of Hollywood legends.  There you can sign up for Starline Tour’s latest two-hour tour of the celebrity homes and hangouts, the TMZ Tour.  This hilarious tour, created by TMZ producers, shares insider information and the guides are on the lookout to film celebrities in action.  Following the tour, grab some lunch and visit the intimate, high-elevation wineries in Malibu and other neighborhoods of Greater Los Angeles.  Dine and play at the Santa Monica Pier and Third Street Promenade in the late afternoon and evening. Overnight in Los Angeles.

Day Two:
Drive two hours south to playful San Diego, where there are many ways to enjoy fun in the sun.  Start in magnificent Balboa Park, the nation’s largest urban cultural park, boasting 15 major museums, several performing arts venues, lovely gardens and many other cultural and recreational attractions, including the San Diego Zoo.  Options for the afternoon include Mission San Diego de Alcala, home to the oldest grapes in California, or visiting some of the San Diego area’s 50 wineries, known for Merlot and Chardonnay.  End the night with dinner and nightlife in the historic Gaslamp Quarter downtown. Overnight in San Diego.

Day Three:
There are several “must see” attractions to explore in the morning.  In addition to the zoo, Sea World and Legoland are sure bets.  In the afternoon, head off the beaten path (about an hour northeast) to the fast-growing Temecula wine region, which has been growing grapes since the late 1700s.  Tempered by coastal fog, this warm region is best known for its Italian and Rhône varietals—and its annual Balloon and Wine Festival.  Enjoy dinner and overnight in charming and historic downtown Temecula.

Day Four:
A popular pursuit is an early morning hot air balloon ride or biplane ride over Temecula Valley, which gives you a great view of the local wine country and ends with a champagne brunch.  If you’d rather sleep in, spend time exploring the shops of downtown Temecula.  In the afternoon, don’t miss the amazing bargains at Desert Hills Premium Outlets on the way to Palm Springs.  Enjoy the impressive collection of Art Deco architecture in downtown Palm Springs, as well as great restaurants for dinner.  If you’re feeling lucky, head to one of the many casinos, or fun evening shows like the campy Palm Springs Follies, a Broadway-caliber celebration of the music, dance, and comedy of Mid-Century America with a delightful cast old enough to have lived it.  Overnight in Palm Springs.

Day Five:
If you’re feeling adventurous, take a morning desert jeep tour, with stops at oases, ghost towns and the San Andreas Fault.  If you’re feeling more laid-back, travel to the eerily beautiful Joshua Tree National Park, made famous by the top-selling U2 album.  You can drive through the park at your own pace, but don’t miss the ranger-led tour of Keyes Ranch inside, which lets you get a hands-on glimpse of the tough pioneer lifestyle in this land shaped by strong winds, unpredictable torrents of rain, and climatic extremes.  On the way back towards Los Angeles, check out a winery or two in the Cucamonga Valley, which preserves the past with historic ranches and vineyards and is known for Port-style wines and old-vine Zinfandel.

For more ideas on these and other great California wine country road trips, including California wines, wine regions and winery activities—from tastings to tours, picnics, concerts, bocce ball and more—go to Wine Institute’s lifestyle and travel website.


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Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Summer Wine: Pali Charm Acres Chardonnay 2010


Here’s another brief set of notes about a wine I think you might want to pick up this summer.

Pali Wine Company is located in Lompoc, but they source grapes from different California growing regions.  Pali specializes in Pinot Noir, but they do some Chardonnay as well.  This one hails from the Sonoma Coast region.  The founders of Pali are from Pacific Palisades, and they name their wines after neighborhoods in their hometown.

Aaron Walker is the winemaker, working with consulting winemaker Kenneth Juhasz.  The Pali website states, “Walker and Juhasz are terroir specialists who strive to bring out the distinct characteristics of each of the sites we source for our fruit.”

The nose on the Charm Acres Chardonnay displays oak spices, toasted vanilla, green apple and a floral element.  It’s a great package of aromas.  The golden wine sits full in the mouth, and offers flavors of lime peel and pear juice with a hint of lemon chess pie.  It sports a nice level of acidity, especially considering its overall creaminess.  There is a long-lasting finish which lets the oak flavors play.

Try it with a salad on the patio - or some mixed greens on the veranda.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Wine Tasting Event: Sonoma In The City, Los Angeles


Sonoma County is a fairly long drive from Los Angeles, so we SoCal wine lovers really appreciate that so many Sonoma producers took a road trip to L.A. - and brought their wine with them.


Sonoma In The City hit Los Angeles for a grand tasting event on April 24, 2012 at The London Hotel in West Hollywood. Jordan Winery threw a little 40th anniversary soiree the night before up on the London’s rooftop, one of those swingin’ little Hollywood gatherings with stars aplenty.  The next day, the banquet room bulged with winemakers from Sonoma - Coast, County and Valley.  Dry Creek Valley was represented; so were Alexander Valley and the Russian River Valley.


The Dry Creek Valley AVA poured some great Sonoma County Zins.  The ‘09 Ridge Lytton Springs Zinfandel mixes in some Petite Sirah and Carignane for a smokey nose and bright cherry palate with plenty of refreshing acidity.  Fritz Underground Winery brought their ‘09 Zinfandel, which lays a spicy herbal lace over the tart cherry.  Gustafson Family Vineyards stole the table with their ‘08 Zinfandel/Syrah/Petite Sirah blend.  It shows a touch of barnyard on the nose, an earthy palate and great acidity.


Alexander Valley Vineyards held up their end of the Zin bargain with their Sin Zin, showing an earthy cherry nose with raspberry on the palate and the finish.


Kenny Kahn, (right) owner/winegrower/co-winemaker at Blue Rock Vineyard in Alexander Valley, was anxious to show off the fruit of his labor - and with good reason.  His ‘07 Cabernet Sauvignon has a splash of Cabernet Franc and Merlot, and really makes with the chocolate.  The ‘09 Baby Blue blends Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Syrah and Merlot into a wine that is earthy, tart and rich, and extremely easy to drink.  The unreleased Best Barrel has gentle tannins in a Cabernet Sauvignon/Petit Verdot blend.  Blue Rock’s terroir-driven wines were among my favorites of the afternoon.


DeLoach Vineyards’ ‘09 Van der Kamp Vineyard Pinot Noir Sonoma Mountain is 100% Pinot, sporting a nose very much like a Cab, complete with graphite.  It’s a very full bodied wine.  Their 2010 Zinfandel Russian River Valley is a delight, showing eucalyptus and a tingly acidity.


The Landmark Vineyards table sported two Chardonnays and two Pinot Noirs.  The ‘10 Overlook Chardonnay has a huge expression of lightly oaked, tropical fruit.  Its big sister, the ‘10 Lorenzo Chardonnay, Russian River Valley has a hard time beating it.  They claim it’s very age-worthy.  It should be - its $55 price tag is $30 more than the Overlook.  Landmark’s  ‘09 Grand Detour Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast, is a five-vineyard blend, mostly from the Petaluma Gap, offering a very good level of acidity.  There’s a bit more oak in the ‘09 Kanzler Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast - quite dark with a lengthy finish.


Inman Family Wines was represented by the grapegrower, winemaker, salesperson, accountant,  operations manager and forklift driver - all in one woman.  Kathleen Inman (left) has produced two lovely Pinot Noirs from Russian River Valley grapes - the earthy ‘08 OGV Estate and the aromatic ‘08 Thorn Ridge Ranch.  Her 2010 OGV Estate Pinot Gris is gorgeous, with a nice peach flavor and a tart finish.  OGV, by the way, stands for Inman’s organically-farmed Olivet Grange Vineyard.


Martinelli Winery’s ‘07 Chardonnay, Three Sisters Vineyard, Sonoma Coast, is a $60 Chardonnay that sure smells and tastes like one.  A very earthy nose and extremely good acidity.  Earth also speaks loudly in Martinelli’s ‘09 Pinot Noir, Three Sisters Vineyard, Sonoma Coast.  The ‘09 Pinot Noir Bondi Home Ranch, Green Valley of Russian River Valley, is lush and dark, with a nice level of acidity.


Robert Young Estate Winery was the first to plant Cabernet Sauvignon in Alexander Valley, way back in 1958.  Their ‘07 Scion Cabernet Sauvignon has a nice tartness laid over the fruit expression that suggests Alexander Valley is well suited to Cab.


John Murray, at the Lasseter Family Winery table, got my attention by mentioning the 1919 field blend Zinfandel vineyard on their property.  Then he wowed me with a $24 rosé - the ‘10 Enjoe Sonoma Valley.  Syrah, Mourvédre and Grenache form a nice, dry wine with strawberry and watermelon aromas and flavors making me yearn for summer.  The Lasseter ‘08 Paysage Sonoma Valley is a red blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauv ignon, Malbec and Cabernet Franc.  There’s great grip here, along with a smokey nose and some tangy blackberry.


Stone Edge Farm Vineyard is organically farmed in Sonoma Valley.  Their ‘07 Cabernet Sauvignon blends 81% Cab with the remainder Merlot.  Nice fruit and pencil point grace the nose.  The ‘08 Surround Cabernet Sauvignon has 6% Merlot and 1% Cabernet Franc in the mix, with blueberry and black cherry flavors.


Stonestreet Wines uses Alexander Valley fruit from their Alexander Mountain estate.  The ‘09 Bear Point Chardonnay is oaky and rich, rich, rich.  The ‘07 Monument Cabernet Sauvignon is very dark and rich as well.  The ‘09 Broken Road Chardonnay - say it with me - is big and rich.  Rather oaky, but a very nice effort in that style.




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Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Tasting Notes: Red Car Wines


It's been about ten days since I went to the tasting of Red Car Wines at the Wine House in West Los Angeles. I suppose I've been a little bit busy, but I want to post my thoughts on these very nice wines before the memory becomes any more distant.

Carrol Kemp and Richard Crowell, co-owners of Red Car, were pouring their wines for a rather sizable number of tasters. Kemp, by the way, is owner/winemaker. The winery is located in Santa Maria, while they do business out of Culver City. Five wines were featured. From what I picked up by eavesdropping on tasters, it appeared the wines received a mostly favorable review.

Trolley Pinot Noir 2007 - Deep purple with a lavender nose; black pepper and leather come through very nicely. Good acidity and a full mouthfeel.

The Aphorist Pinot Noir 2007 - A fruitier nose than the first wine; very mellow taste full of berries and earth. Sonoma Coast grapes.

Heaven & Earth Pinot Noir 2007 - Sonoma Coast fruit again. The nose seemed very obscured to me. The palate featured soft leather and violets.

Tomorrowland Syrah 2007 - Sourced from Sonoma County, this one had a pleasantly odd nose; really earthy and musky flavors and aromas.

The Fight Syrah 2006 - Central Coast grapes; inky color and a blasting fruit sensation on the nose. The flavors are dark and a bit acidic, but it works very well. Coffee and leather, dark flavors.