Showing posts sorted by relevance for query Vintage port. Sort by date Show all posts
Showing posts sorted by relevance for query Vintage port. Sort by date Show all posts

Monday, March 4, 2019

Dow's Port

Before the Port season slips away, here's a 2012 Vintage Port you should try.  Of course, it's always Port season for some, but the style does fit better with cooler - colder - weather and more robust meals.

Houston Porter writes on Petaluma360 that Port is just one in the family of fortified wines, which includes Madeira, Marsala, sherry and vermouth.  True Port wine comes from Portugal, although many wineries use the term to market their own bottlings.  Technically, Porter writes, to be called port the grapes must be grown, crushed, fermented and initially aged in Portugal's Douro Valley, the world’s "oldest demarcated wine region."

Port wine blossomed in the 1700s when England was at war with France and sought to replace the French wine they couldn't get anymore.  Many Port houses still have English names, like Dow.  The reds are made from grapes with names like Touriga Franca, Tinta Roriz, Tinta Barroca and Touriga Nacional.

Port requires at least two years aging.  Ruby Ports are aged mostly in bottles, while the tawny style is aged in barrels.  Ruby generally shows more fruit flavor as a result, and tawny is a more savory wine.

Dow 2012 Late Bottled Vintage Port

Late Bottled Vintage Port is made from a single vintage of Ruby Port and gets up to six years in the barrel before being bottled and released.  Dow's says they only produce Late Bottled Vintage Port from the best of years, passing over lesser vintages.

Dow's 2012 LBV comes from the Quinta do Bomfim and Quinta da Senhora da Ribeira vineyards.  The Symington family winemakers have tended those plots for five generations. I'm told that 2012 was a very dry year in the Douro Valley, but cooler-than-average summer temperatures helped offset the drought.  The alcohol hits a typical 19% abv level and the wine retails for $24.

I won't beat poetically around the bush.  This vintage Port (2012) is nothing short of astounding.  It's got the savory nose one expects on a tawny, but bigger, blacker, more brutish.  A heavy whiff of smoke never goes away, and the earthy aromatics stay right behind.  The palate lets the fruit shine through, sweet and sultry, with an amazing level of acidity and oh-so-firm tannins.  It's a great sip, but I'm saving the last glass to have with a steak.

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Friday, June 21, 2013

2011 Vintage Port Declaration


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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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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Thursday, December 2, 2010



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."

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.

Friday, October 27, 2023

Blood Of The Vines - Elementary My Dear Watson

Pairing‌ ‌wine‌ ‌with‌ ‌movies!‌  ‌See‌ ‌the‌ ‌trailers‌ ‌and‌ ‌hear‌ ‌the‌ ‌fascinating‌ ‌commentary‌ ‌for‌ ‌these‌ ‌movies‌ ‌and‌ ‌many‌ ‌more‌ ‌at‌ ‌Trailers‌ ‌From‌ ‌Hell.‌ This week, we will pair wines with three different versions of the great fictional detective Sherlock Holmes. 

Sherlock Holmes pairs with wine very well. He was documented by his creator, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, as being quite fond of Burgundies. With meals, he liked reds from Beaune and whites from Montrachet and Meursault. After dinner favorites were Tokay dessert wine from Hungary and Port, especially vintage Port. He was also quite fond of smoking and injecting cocaine, but we will leave those addictions for another day. Today it is about the wine.

The 1971 film, They Might Be Giants, has George C. Scott as a man who believes himself to be the fictional detective. It is a Walter Mitty story, on steroids. Joanne Woodward is a psychiatrist who plays along with the gag. Is he Holmes or is he not? To quote Blake Edwards, "Is Batman a transvestite?" To paraphrase Don Quixote, he might be. 

In honor of those who tilt at Spanish windmills, let us pair Giants with a Tempranillo from La Mancha. Abadia Mercier has Tempranillo blended with Merlot and Syrah and priced for a song. If you're tipping five bucks per song, it is priced for two songs.

In The Hound of the Baskervilles, the 1959 version from (please don't hurt 'em) Hammer, Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee star as Holmes and one of the Baskervilles, respectively. Holmes is enlisted to investigate a curse, only to find that someone is cursing the investigation. You gotta love Marmaduke-in-a-mask as the titular hound. 

Holmes liked a Port now and again, which is no surprise in a nation where the weather is often conducive to drinking Port. Don't wait for Port weather in Southern California. Just have it whenever you have Holmes on the home screen. Dow's 2012 Late Bottled Vintage Porto will do just fine.

1975's The Adventure of Sherlock Holmes' Smarter Brother was written and directed by the late, great Gene Wilder, who also starred as the smarter sibling. It is an amusing concept, Holmes having a jealous brother. Critics of the day figured as much, but felt it was probably funnier to think about than to watch. 

Actually, Holmes did have a brother, and Sherlock always credited him with being the smarter one. They were very supportive of each other - not a drop of jealousy between them. 

The actors cast as Holmes and Watson in Smarter Brother had experience playing those roles on other screens, both small and large. And what farce would be complete without Marty Feldman and Dom DeLuise? Madeline Kahn as chanteuse Jenny Hill shows how cutthroat the opera biz can be. 

The Chateau Pommard Bourgogne Chardonnay would no doubt please a discriminating Holmes. Peaches and minerals are all over this wine, which was aged for two years in oak. It sells for about $30, not that Holmes ever worried about money. 

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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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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, November 26, 2021

Blood Of The Vines - Post Apocalypse Follies

Pairing‌‌‌ ‌‌‌wine‌‌‌ ‌‌‌with‌‌‌ ‌‌‌movies!‌‌‌  ‌‌‌See‌‌‌ ‌‌‌the‌‌‌ ‌‌‌trailers‌‌‌ ‌‌‌and‌‌‌ ‌‌‌hear‌‌‌ ‌‌‌the‌‌‌ ‌‌‌fascinating‌‌‌ ‌‌‌commentary‌‌‌ ‌‌‌for‌‌‌ ‌‌‌these‌‌‌ ‌‌‌‌‌movies‌,‌‌ ‌‌‌and‌‌‌ ‌‌‌many‌‌‌ ‌‌‌more‌,‌‌ ‌‌‌at‌‌‌ ‌‌‌Trailers‌‌‌ ‌‌‌From‌‌‌ ‌‌‌Hell.‌‌‌  This week, we examine what our landscape might look like had something in the past gone terribly wrong.

The backstory behind 1998's Six-String Samurai is a Russian nuclear victory over the U.S. in 1957.  There aren't many places left that can support life, but one of them is a place called Lost Vegas.  Wouldn't it figure that post-apocalypse life in America would be centered in the remnants of Sin City?  The whirlwind story focuses on Buddy (Holly?) as he travels across the desert to try and become the new King of Rock and Roll, after the death of King Elvis.  

Like a topping on a dessert, the soundtrack is performed by the Red Elvises, a sort of Russian rockabilly outfit you may have seen in one small Los Angeles club or another back in the mid-'90s.  

Buddy's mission sees him hindered by car trouble, cannibals, a vicious bowling team and a rival guitarist named Death in a seemingly endless series of setbacks.  It's the bowling team that scares me the most.  For reasons I do not recall, I spent time in bowling alleys decades ago in southeast Texas - in the lanes, in the bars and even back where the pins were reset - and I remember the ladies league play during afternoon hours being particularly dicey times.

Anyway, no spoiler alert here - you’ll have to watch Six-String Samurai yourself to find out who claims the King's thorny crown.  

The wine pairing for Six-String Samurai could easily be the Austrian Rockabilly Riesling, but they probably haven't gotten their container ship back, so procuring it may be a problem.  Let's look at Canada's Nostalgia Wines and their Rockabilly Red - they also have Boogie Woogie White and Pink Cadillac, if you find yourself so taken by the marketing effort.  Rockabilly Red cannot possibly be worth the $27 it costs, but hey, it has a nice label.

1979's Mad Max began what was to become a popular and critically acclaimed franchise.  The movie spawned sequels, video games and comic books - er, graphic novels.  The setting is Australia, devastated by war and crippled by shortages of life's staples.  During the pandemic, some likely recalled this film as they stared at empty supermarket shelves, devoid of toilet paper, bottled water and good, moderately priced Champagne.

The story is a gritty one, detailing a former cop's life as he wanders the Outback after avenging his family's murder by a biker gang.  Mel Gibson used his role in this film (and two sequels) to springboard to stardom.

If it's Mad Max, you'll want a fortified wine, preferably one from Australia.  Harkham Wine sells a Mad Max vintage Port from Hunter Valley.  Of course, everyone knows that you don't call it Port unless it was made in Portugal - this is a Port-style wine.  The wine is not kosher, but neither is cultural appropriation.

The Road Warrior is the name given to Mad Max 2 in the U.S.  The setting stayed in the Outback, but the Western template showed our hero helping a community fight off the roving bands of bad guys.  If your nickname is Mad Max, it's a foregone conclusion that you are either a helpful road warrior or a person shouting at unseen entities on the street corner.  Sometimes both.

Since we were thinking of Port, let's have the genuine article.  Warre's Warrior Port has been in continuous production for some 270-odd years.  It is British by way of Portugal, it tastes really good, and the empty bottle could come in handy if any roving bands of bad guys show up at your viewing party.

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Tuesday, May 17, 2011


Stars Of Paso Robles

When Paso Robles shows up to pour wine, count me in.  The Stars Of Paso Robles event - staged by Southern California's premier wine event outfit, Ian Blackburn's Learn About Wine - featured one great taste after another.  I attended the Beverly Hills trade event at McCormick & Schmick's on the afternoon of May 13, 2011.  Friday the 13th was never so good.

A roomful of Paso Robles wines meant a roomful of big aromas, big flavors, great acidity and meaty minerals to taste.  It also meant a roomful of high alcohol, but that's how it goes in Paso.  Every vintage seems to be described as a "spike year."

As I made my way from table to table, it was amazing how many superlative wines were poured.  There were plenty of great reds on hand, but in Paso they know how to do whites, too.  Every table offered at least two wines which were worthy of mention.  I narrowed it down to just those I marked with stars, in the interest of keeping this post from getting out of hand.

Here are my favorites from the Stars Of Paso Robles event:

Adelaida Cellars showed their 2009 Pavanne, a blend of Roussanne, Grenache Blanc and Viognier with great acidity, green apples and minerals.

Alta Colina's Maggie Tillman poured her family's efforts.  The reds showed big tannins as a rule, and they rocked.  I was most taken with the 2009 12 O'Clock High, a white blend of estate-grown Viognier, Roussanne, Marsanne and Grenache Blanc.  Stone fruit and tropical notes are met with honey and minerals and a racy acidity that plays big on the finish.

Bianchi Winery showed a Zinfandel which is lightly tinted and highly expressive on the nose with big black tea aromas and a nice brambly taste.  It has an alcohol level of 15.4%, but it doesn't drink like it.

Flying Nymph boxCass Vineyard and Winery had a table full of great wines to pour, but partner Ted Plemons was fixated on the big box of Flying Nymph Syrah/Mourvèdre/Grenache which he says is becoming very popular with bars and restaurants due to the high profit margin it offers.  That's an 18-liter box inside the display cabinet he had made for it.  The fruity wine is tasty, but I liked everything else on the table better.

The Cinquain Cellars table was highlighted by the '07 Syrah which won a gold medal at the San Francisco International Wine Competition a couple of years ago.  Coffee and Coke on the nose with spicy dark fruit on the palate bowled me over.

Dubost Ranch winemaker and vineyard manager Zachary Raines had an astounding '07 Zinfandel from the Cushman Vineyard.  40-year-old vines are dry-farmed and tobacco shows up on the nose right through to the amazing port-like finish.  When I raised an eyebrow at the 17.2% alcohol number, I was told with a shrug, "It was a hot year."  It's still a hot year.

Hammersky Vineyards had some interesting offerings, notably the Cab/Merlot blend with firm tannins and smooth mouthfeel.  Table spokesman Brandon described it as the wine "for filet mignon, not T-bone."  Their 100% Merlot was a big blast of fruit and smoke.

Joel Peterson of Hope Family Wines poured both his Austin Hope line as well as the Treana label.  The Austin Hope Grenache - tons of minerality - and Treana White blend of Marsanne and Viognier - huge tropical - were both excellent.  I was really drawn to the new Westside Red Troublemaker, a multi-year vintage with a dark, funky nose and palate and gigantic minerals - all for $20.

JK Wine Company winemaker Justin Kahler poured his '09 Katin Viognier.  The grapes are from Paso Robles' Templeton Gap and the 100% varietal wine shows tremendous aromas of honeysuckle and a tempting, flinty salinity from the minerals Paso is famous for.

Niner Wine Estates poured one of my favorites at the event - their 2008 Sangiovese.  It's a brand new release with an extremely lush nose featuring flowers, cherries and smoke.  The palate shows sour cherry and a fabulous minerality.  There's 5% Barbera in the mix.

Roxo Port Cellars is one of my favorite tables at events featuring Paso Robles wines.  The chocolatey Cabernet Franc Port and the candy-like Cab/Syrah Port both are astounding, but theTraditional blend of Portuguese varieties moved me.  Souzau leads the way instead of Touriga Nacional in the '07 vintage.

Villa Creek Cellars poured their '08 Mas de Maha, a blend of Tempranillo, Grenache, Mourvèdre and Carignan.  This wine puts the Paso spin on the Spanish grape, with red fruit on the nose and lots of minerals on the palate.  There's a nice herbal profile from the whole-cluster fermentation employed.

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.

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.


Wednesday, January 5, 2011


Norton Wine from Stone Hill Winery, MO

It’s fitting to begin this short series of tasting notes for wine made from the Norton grape with a few wines from a Missouri winery.  Norton is the state grape of Missouri, and it was a Missouri Norton which found international acclaim at a wine show in Vienna, Austria in 1873.  At that event it was named “the best red wine of all nations.”  Read more about the Norton grape in my earlier post on the Now And Zin Wine Blog.

The main location for Stone Hill Winery is in Hermann, Missouri, while two other locations operate in New Florence and Branson.  Stone Hill was founded in 1847 and is listed on the National Historic Register.  The main building for the Hermann winery - built in 1869 - was restored to its original stature by Jim and Betty Held in 1965.  Since then, they have been joined by three of their children.  The kids each have degrees in the sciences of winemaking and grape growing.

In addition to Norton wines, Stone Hill also has a raft of wines made from heritage grapes like Vidal Blanc, Chardonel, Vignoles, Chambourcin, and Traminette.  The winemaking team - David Johnson, Shaun Turnbull and Tavis Harris - produce award-winning wines.  The fruit of their labor has garnered over 3,500 awards in the past 20 years.

These wines were provided as samples by Stone Hill Winery for the purpose of this article.

Stone Hill Winery NortonStone Hill Winery Norton 2006
This estate-bottled Hermann wine is 100% Norton made from grapes grown in the Cross J and Kemperberg Vineyards.  The wine has an alcohol level of only 13.8% and is aged twelve months in French, Hungarian and American oak barrels.

This is the first of the three Stone Hill wines I sampled.  The nose is very dark and earthy.  Denise smelled it and said, “it smells like history.”  I love that comment, but I’ll just say it smells “old world.”  Dense blackberry aromas are blanketed with a layering of clove and maybe some nutmeg.  It’s a very interesting nose, and a very different one for anyone who drinks mostly California wine.  A huge herbal quality is present and becomes stronger as the wine opens.  The taste has some grapiness to it, but the blackberry comes through very strongly.  A cola angle surfaces at the finish - which seems to last forever, by the way.  There is a tartness to the wine that makes me think of plums skins, but in a good way.  A great acidity is present in the Stone Hill Norton.

On the second night the bottle was open, the tannins were much softer and the tartness was not as pronounced.  However, on the third night, the tartness seemed to return.

Stone Hill Winery Cross J Vineyard NortonCross J Vineyard Norton 2006
The grapes for this estate wine are harvested from the vineyard which overlooks Jim and Betty Held’s home, up on a hilltop overlooking the Missouri River.  This 100% single-vineyard varietal sees twelve months aging in French and European oak.  The alcohol level is very moderate at 13.3%, and the wine retails for $25.

This is the second of the Stone Hill trio I tasted.  Again, the old-world aromas of blackberry and spice leap up past the heat, which is considerable upon opening.   The wine is once more very dark, inky and black in appearance.  It has a fine tannic structure with a cherry-meets-raspberry flavor profile, along with that tartness, too.  After time to breathe, the wine opens up and its flavors become darker and more brambly on the second and third nights the bottle is open.  This single vineyard effort had an aroma and taste reminiscent of Syrah - a little fruitier than the first wine.  The acidity is fantastic.

Stone Hill Winery Norton PortStone Hill Winery Missouri Port 2007
The winery says "short fermentation, brandy fortification and barrel aging" are the high points of this one.  Stone Hill produced their first vintage of Port-style wine in 1990, and the line has garnered high ratings and rave reviews from national publications.  The alcohol level is jacked up to a port-like 18.4% and it retails for $22 in a 500 ml bottle.

This finale of the three samples from Stone Hill looks very dark at the core with purple edges.  Once again, aromas of spices, remind me of Syrah, with that big blackberry nose muscling in.  It’s rich and dark on the palate with a very strong sensibility of Portuguese grapes.  This time around, the spiciness is tasted as well as smelled.  The wine’s sweetness is counterbalanced by its acidity, which seems to be the calling card of the Norton grape.  This Port-style wine is great for dessert, but I could also wash down a steak or pork chop with it.

Soon I’ll relate my experiences with some Virginia Norton wines on the Now And Zin Wine Blog.

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Friday, July 16, 2010


The Stars of Paso Robles

The Stars of Paso Robles trade tasting was Wednesday at The Peninsula Hotel in Beverly Hills.  Over 30 wineries of the Paso Robles AVA were represented at this event, staged by Ian Blackburn's Learn About Wine.  Blackburn is a pro at staging wine tasting events, and he likes to go for the grand flourish.  That suits Paso Robles well, as the wines from that neck of the California woods - er, vineyards - are deserving of some fancy notice.

I didn't get around to all the tables - why does that always happen to me? - but I got around enough to find a number of really fantastic wines, which I will list here.

Anglim Winery 

Showing a penchant for the grapes of the Rhone, Anglim poured their 2006 Cameo, a white blend with 50% Marsanne, 25% Roussanne and 25% Viognier.  It's flowery and floral.  I especially like the '07 Roussanne, a 100% varietal wine, where nuttiness abounds on the nose and palate.  The 2007 Viognier takes its fruit from Santa Barbara County's Bien Nacido Vineyard.  It is rich in aromas and flavors, with a floral nose and tastes of melon and peach.  Their reds are equally impressive.  The '06 Grenache is all Paso Robles fruit, with a little Syrah and Counoise in the mix.  It shows peppery raspberry flavors.  Their 2005 Best Barrel Blendis a Paso Robles mix of 45% Mourvèdre, 45% Syrah and 10% Grenache.  Earth, spice and dark fruit dominate.  It's a very dark wine, but oh-so-smooth.  Anglim's Zinfandel offering, the 2007 St. Peter of Alcantara, is 100% single-vineyard Paso Robles Zin.  It's vibrant and spicy with a big cherry taste.

August Ridge 

Off Highway 41E in Creston, California, August Ridge brought some interesting Cal-Italia wines to the show.  The 2008 Arneis features fruit from Pebble Ridge Vineyard in a blend with 10% Sauvignon Blanc.  It's aromatic with apples and shows grapefruit and tropical notes on the palate.  Their '07 Sangiovese is an estate wine with 9% Cabernet Sauvignon.  Smokey cherry aromas lead to lots of red fruit on the palate, with leather on the finish.  The 2007 Nebbiolo offers brambly cherry with a spicy, black pepper finish and some fairly big tannins.  Jovial 2006, their Super Tuscan-style blend, contains 69% Sangiovese, 18% Cabernet Sauvignon and 13% Merlot.  Smokey plum flavors with a nice tobacco profile come forward.

Caliza Winery 
The Rhone Valley serves as big inspiration for this Paso Robles producer.  The 2008 Kissin' Cousins is a white blend of 47% Viognier, 30% Grenache Blanc and 23% Roussanne.  A floral nose gives way to a tart beginning and a lot of influence from the Grenache Blanc and Roussanne.  There's good acidity here with a long, nutty finish.  The 2006 Azimuth consists of 51% Syrah, 19% Grenache, 14% Mourvèdre and 8% each of Tannat and Alicante Bouschet.  The latter two grapes are new for this vintage.  A big blackberry taste is abetted by coffee and firm tannins, with a really nice finish.  The '06 Companion is a blend of 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Syrah, 10% Mourvèdre and 10% Tannat.  They call it "opulent and sexy," and I can't argue either one of those points.  It's a full-bodied, meaty wine.  Caliza's 2007 Syrah is 100% Paso Syrah and it tastes it, with a smokey flavor laced with black pepper.

Cerro Prieto 
The Bordeaux Rhone Blend 2007, from Larry and Teresa Stanton's estate vineyard is 85% Cabernet Sauvignon and 15% Syrah. The vineyard's limestone quality comes forth with a wonderful minerality.  Larry Stanton not only tends the vineyard, but also writes about the process in Larry's Blog .

Derby Wine Estates
I tasted the two whites which Derby brought to the table.  Their 2006 Chardonnay features Edna Valley grapes with tropical flavors overlaying a bit of oak, and that special minerality for which Edna Valley is known.  Fifteen 10 is a VRM blend, Viognier, Roussanne and Marsanne in equal parts.  The fruit is from Paso Robles, the Derby Vineyard.  While it seems a bit light in acidity, it certainly makes up for that in flavor and is extremely drinkable.

Eberle Winery 
Gary Eberle co-founded the Paso Robles appellation in 1980, so it's fitting that he is invited to any Paso Party.  Eberle's '09 Viognier is produced a third in steel, a third in neutral oak and a third in French oak.  It has a big, floral nose and a lush mouthfeel.  The '09 Chardonnay is produced the same way and sports green apples on the palate.  The 2007 Zinfandel gets American oak and shows spicy berries on the nose and palate.  The '06 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon comes from 32-year-old vines and spends 18 months in French oak.  It is complex and very smooth.

The winery is west of Highway 101 and north of Highway 46W.  Their featured wine is the 2008 Prelude, a Rhone-style blend of 37% Viognier, 35% Roussanne, 18% Grenache Blanc and 10% Marsanne.  This is a great wine for sipping, with a lovely nose and a taste that's fruity, floral and nutty at once.

Four Vines Winery
I tried the Four Vines Biker Zinfandel, 2008. and found it to be one of the highlights of the day for me. It's an incredibly smooth and delicious Zin.

J & J Cellars
A small, family owned outfit in San Miguel, the group has grown grapes and citrus for 100 years.  I was struck by the lightness and freshness of their 2006 Vintage Flight Cabernet Sauvignon.  It reminds me a bit of an Italian red.  Barrel-aged for two years in French, American and Hungarian oak. this may be the "summer red wine" of the show.  Their 2008 Tempranillo is spicy - you may think Syrah, but it's not.  The 2007 Juliet Fiero Zinfandel is brash and spicy - a little too much for my taste.  Their '07 Petite Sirah seems lighter than I would expect from a PS, but it still has guts.  By the way, all the J & J Cellars wines I tasted are available for under $20.  Bargains.

Lone Madrone
I was particularly looking forward to sampling Lone Madrone's white blend, La Mezcla again.  Alas, they could not send a representative to this show.  One wine was available, however - the 2007 blend called The Will.  Sweet on the nose and dry on the palate, this mixture of 41% Grenache, 40% Petite Sirah and 19% Zinfandel is everything you would expect a blend like this to be.

Their '07 Cabernet Sauvignon is dry and fruity with pencil lead on the palate.  The '07 Nevarez Vineyard Syrah is almost dessert-wine sweet and rich with spices.  I can't help but feel that many Christmas parties will be brightened up by this wine.  And many barbecues, too.  The '08 Roussanne has a great nutty nose and guava on the palate.

Ranchita Canyon 
The 2007 Pinot Noir contains Monterey County grapes.  It's pale purple, a bit faint on the nose but smooth as silk.  The nose on their old-vine Zinfandel (planted in 1970) is what purple smells like.  A tiny bit of Petite Sirah is included, and it's brambly and smooth.  Fusion - their '05 Grenache/Petite Sirah blend - is a dark wine they refer to as "the beauty and the beast."  Ranchita has a 2005 Cabernet Franc that is deep and heavy, very smooth with an intensely grapey nose.

Rotta Winery
One of the few dessert wines at the show is from Rotta.  Their non-vintage Black Monukka features grapes which are in barrels, out in the sun, for two years.  The burnt-caramel and raisin flavor is sherry-esque, if there is such a thing.

Roxo Port Cellars
This Paso producer produces primarily Port.  Nothing but Port, in fact.  One of the more interesting stops among the tables, Roxo has quite a variety of delicious Port wines which are all fortified with neutral grape spirits to allow the fruit to put on the show.  The Paso Melange is made with Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir.  The Ruby Tradicional is a combination of five Portuguese varietals, all grown in Paso Robles.  Roxo's Negrette is big and bold and begs for chocolate.  They also have a Barbera Port and the Magia Preta, made from a half-and-half blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah.  Truly a niche producer, Roxo fills the niche quite nicely.

Terry Hoage Vineyards
The Pick, an '07 Grenache/Syrah/Mourvèdre blend shows lively cherry accents.  The 46 - just Grenache and Syrah in this 50/50 blend - has spicy raspberry flavors.

Treana /Hope Family Wines

The 2007 Treana is 70% Cabernet Sauvignon and 30% Syrah.  It's luscious and full of berries and tobacco notes.  The white Treana - 55% Marsanne and 45% Viognier - has flowers to spare on the nose and an enticing grapefruit core.  The Austin Hope Syrah 2008 is all Syrah all the time, estate grown with very fine tannins and a silky, even velvety texture.  It's one of my favorites of the show.

Venteux Vineyards
Venteux's Fleur Blanc is a Viognier/Roussanne/Marsanne blend in which the Viognier does not take over.  There's a lovely floral nose, but a nutty guava flavor that's irresistible.  Their 2007 blend of Petite Sirah, Mouvèdre and Syrah shows the dark side of cherry.  Tache La Verre, I'm told, means "stain the glass," and that's what this big, beautiful '07 Syrah does.  Santa Barbara County fruit with a big nose and lots of tannins.  The 2007 Estate Petite Sirah is deep, dark and delicious with a long finish.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Wines For The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame Induction

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

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

Performer category:

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

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

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

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

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

Early Influence

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

Ahmet Ertegun (non performer) Award

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

The Award For Musical Excellence

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

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

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

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

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Friday, January 15, 2021

Blood Of The Vines - Blastploitation

Pairing‌ ‌wine‌ ‌with‌ ‌movies!‌  ‌See‌ ‌the‌ ‌trailers‌ ‌and‌ ‌hear‌ ‌the‌ ‌fascinating‌ ‌commentary‌ ‌for‌ ‌these‌ ‌movies‌, ‌and‌ ‌many‌ ‌more‌, ‌at‌ ‌Trailers‌ ‌From‌ ‌Hell.‌  ‌Here are a trio of films which explore the difficulty of being black in America, and pose responses to that difficulty in varying scenarios.

Blast! is the 1976 retitling of the 1972 blaxploitation film, The Final Comedown.  Seeing the confrontation between black radicals and the popo may put you in mind of today’s headlines.  However, in the movie both sides are shooting, not just one.  Billy Dee Williams stars in it, and additional footage of him was shot for the re-release.

How about a wine made by a black winemaker?  Theodora Lee owns and operates Theopolis Vineyards in Anderson Valley, Mendocino County.  Ms. Lee makes a dandy Pinot Noir, but try one of her several Petite Sirah wines, right around $40.

Melvin Van Peebles pretty much started the blaxploitation genre singlehandedly with 1971's Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song.  It seems he worked himself too hard, doing the acting, directing, editing, scoring and producing all by himself.  He must have fallen asleep at the typewriter to wind up with all those extra letters in the title.

He wore out his knuckles knocking on doors while looking to gather up the financing for the film.  The checkbooks of white Hollywood wouldn’t open for what was intended to be the first Black Panther film.  Bill Cosby ponied up the cash, back when it was still okay to take money from Bill Cosby.  Sweet Sweetback was born of black America, and made for black America.

When choosing a wine to go with Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song, we should follow the "opposites" rule of wine pairing.  It's a salty movie, so look to a sweet wine.  A vintage Port will match up nicely with the story that's anything but sweet.  Graham's or Taylor's both make excellent Port wines.

Spike Lee, in 2018's BlacKkKlansman, told the real-life story of a black Colorado cop who infiltrated the Ku Klux Klan.  Ron Stallworth was the only person of color on the force, and he posed as white on the phone to fool every Klan member from the bottom to the top.

Underscoring the precarious relationship between blacks and the police, he gets beaten by cops even though he is one of them.  It's hard out there for a black cop who buddies up to Grand Wizard David Duke.  Not so hard, though, that he doesn’t eliminate a few klansmen and take down a racist cop in the process.  Too bad Duke was still standing after the smoke cleared.

There was a beer being sold by a Swedish company as a satire against racism.  The white sheet packaging was not seen as funny by a lot of people, so Yellow Belly Beer has been pulled from shelves.  So, the wine pairing.  The Klan would doubtless want only a white wine at their event, so let’s paint it black and try one that's really dark.  

Syrah is often blessed with the deepest, darkest color of any red wine.  Washington state's Alexandria Nicole Cellars has a Jet Black Syrah which will do nicely for BlacKkKlansman.


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Saturday, November 21, 2009

Holiday Wines

Holiday WinesAsk twenty people which wine to serve with Thanksgiving dinner, and you'll probably get about a hundred different answers.  Some swear by the Dynamic Duo, Riesling and Gewurztraminer.  Some say you can't go wrong with Pinot Noir.  Others are touting their bubbles, Merlots and Zins, oh my!  Personally, I have about a hundred different opinions myself.

The right wine can really make a holiday meal come alive.  Personal preference plays a big part in choosing what to drink for the holidays.  My first rule of wine pairing is, "There are no rules."  As you do the rest of the year, you should drink what you like and like what you drink.  If you would feel more confident in your holiday entertaining with some guidelines to follow, allow me to steer you in some good directions.

Wines for ThanksgivingFor starters, a big feast like a Thanksgiving or Christmas spread features so many different types of food and diverse taste elements, it is nearly impossible to choose just one wine to go with everything on the table.  You can match a Pinot Noir with the turkey, but what about the sweet potatoes with marshmallow topping?  The Riesling that goes so nicely with your holiday ham may be a bit overwhelmed by a standing rib roast.

If you really want all the food paired perfectly, you can turn your holiday meal into a tasting session - an interesting idea, admittedly not for everyone.  A dry white wine may serve reasonably well if there's no heavy beef on the table.  A good sparkling wine is cited by a number of wine pairing experts as the best way to go if you only want one wine on the table.  A dry sparkler can fit in well with nearly everything, even beef.  And how festive, anyway!  And even a nice dry rose should be tucked away somewhere, if only to serve as a great accompaniment to the inevitable turkey or ham sandwich the next day.

Here is a short list of wines I think would serve anyone well over the holidays.  You can use the varietal as a starting point and pick your favorites from there, or you can choose from my selections.  I am taking the liberty of keeping the price level of my suggestions mostly in the $20-and-under range.  Feel free to splurge on a $100 Cabernet to go with that Christmas roast if your wallet can take it.  If the holidays have your budget stretched thin, look here for some very nice wines that will add a little extra cheer to the season in affordable fashion.  I'm suggesting primarily California wines here, but feel free to make an international affair of it.  Champagne, after all, is the king of sparkling wines; nobody does Riesling like the Germans; and if you took the Zinfandel from the menu and replaced it with a nice Primitivo or Barbera, who really could argue the decision?

Champagne BottleIncluded on this list are a variety of wines that fall into one or more of the following categories which I feel address the holiday spirit:

  • Rich flavors

  • Full-bodied

  • Pairs well with roast, turkey or ham

  • Dessert wines

  • Bubbles

Chardonnay - It's the holidays.  Let's skip the pristine, austere beauty of the stainless steel Chardonnays.  Lay in a supply of rich, buttery Chards with seasonal flavors bursting forth from them.  Try -

Wente Vineyards Riva Ranch Chardonnay 2008 ($19) -  Described as having "aromas and flavors of honey, graham cracker, cinnamon and light floral notes," it is blended with small amounts of Pinot Blanc and Gewurztraminer.

Cambria "Katherine's Vineyard" Santa Maria Valley Chardonnay 2006 ($19) -  Cambria says the nose is "deeply aromatic with apples, peaches, lime blossoms and vanilla," while the palate is "intense and powerful, yet surprisingly elegant and nuanced."

Cakebread Chardonnay Reserve, Carneros, Napa Valley 2006 ($55) - This is a splurge.  It's a rich and luscious Chardonnay that spent 15 months in French oak to bring holiday aromas like spiced apple.  It's a big, creamy wine with peach, apple and melon on the palate, along with toasty oak notes.

Holiday FeastRiesling - This is one of the more versatile white wines, owing in part to the fact that there are different styles of Riesling that taste very different from one another.  You can run the gamut from sweet to quite dry with Riesling.  All are food-friendly wines with a relatively low alcohol level.  Rieslings pair well with cheese, ham, seafood, vegetables, spicy food and even fruit plates.  Riesling purists prefer German.  Washington state and New York's Finger Lakes region also make good ones.  Try -

Trefethen Estate Napa Dry Riesling 2008 ($22) - This one is on the dry end of the spectrum.  Trefethen says the 2008 vintage has more tropical notes than usual, with aromas of "delicate jasmine flower, coupled with pineapple, guava, tarragon, and lemongrass."  The palate shows "cantaloupe, lemon, fennel, and especially white peaches playing off each other in delightful balance. A little bit of slate minerality rounds out the finish."

For a slightly sweeter take on the grape, Fess Parker's Santa Barbara County Riesling 2008 ($14) offers crsip acidity in an off-dry setting.

Wine BottlePinot Noir - Despite its reputation for being a finicky wine to make, Pinot Noir is a fairly affable wine on the holiday spread.  Pairing well with cheese and crackers - try Brie, Swiss or a nice Chevre - Pinot Noir also gets comfy with stuffed mushrooms, ham, turkey and duck.  Often featuring a cinnamon or clove flavor profile, Pinot Noir can be a hit with foods of a similar makeup.  Try -

Bogle Pinot Noir Russian River Valley 2006 ($13) - Wine Spectator calls it "pure and complex, with ripe, vivid wild berry, raspberry and blackberry fruit...ending with a dillish oak edge."  Sounds tailor made for the Thanksgiving table.

Edna Valley Vineyards Paragon Pinot Noir ($22) - Their description makes me salivate: "Hints of rose petal, caramel and forest floor weave through the jammy fruit core. The mid-palate is pleasant and smooth with fine tannins. Subtle cola and perfume nuances alight the finish for lingering enjoyment of this pretty red wine. Enjoy with gamey flavors such as duck, venison or wild mushroom pasta."

Syrah - The dark fruit and peppery spiciness are a match made for smoked meats.  Big, fruity Syrahs will pair well with roast, ham or smoked turkey.  Try -

Stolpman Vineyards Estate Santa Ynez Syrah 2006 ($27) - International Wine Cellar says: "...perfumed bouquet of dark berries, Christmas spices, violet and and dark berry flavors stain the palate...long, juicy finish."

Mandolin Syrah Central Coast 2007 ($14) - Dark fruit and layers of spice and rich vanilla hit the holiday notes.  They run in tandem with a dense molasses, leather and plum profile.  Firm tannins make it ideal for for a roast or steaks.

Wine BottleZinfandel - Black cherry and blackberry often dominate the flavor profile of Zin to the point of jamminess.  It's can be a big wine that calls for big food.  Find a Zin with lighter profiles and bright fruit flavors to be more flexible in pairing it with lighter fare.  Try -

Cline Ancient Vines California Zinfandel 2007 ($18) - Cline says this one has "flavors of dark berries, coffee and chocolate with great vanilla oak character and a long lingering finish."  Some say it has a sweet, port-like side.  It also has the tannins to handle steaks, roast - or that barbecued turkey you've always wanted to serve.

Bogle "The Phantom" Red Blend 2006 ($15) - This is actually even parts Zin and Petite Sirah with a splash of Mourvedre.  It's luscious, with anise and figs on the nose and clove and vanilla peeking around the fruit on the palate.

Cabernet Sauvignon - Cabs find themselves at home before, during and after dinner.  Pair the big reds with blue cheese on the appetizer plate, heavy beef or smoked meats on the dinner table and even dark chocolate desserts.  Try -

Rutherford Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 ($18) - They describe their Cab as having "lush fruit aromas of raspberry and Bing cherry, hints of cedar box, bright mint and spicy cinnamon."  It's a full-bodied wine with silky tannins. Serve with blue cheese, marinated steaks or dark chocolate after dinner.

Francis Coppola Diamond Series Claret 2007 ($14) - Not a true Cab, it's a Bordeaux-style blend of Cabernet, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Malbec.  Aromas of plum, anise, dark chocolate and sweet spices will make it a hit for the holidays. Rich flavors of blackberry, currant and strawberry are festive and exciting, just like the season.

Trefethen HaLo 2004 ($175) - With bay leaf on the nose and clove and nutmeg in the flavor profile, this wine had me thinking of Christmas at first sniff.  I think this would pair fabulously with turkey - but at $175 a bottle, this may be better as one of the gifts under the tree.

Merlot - Complex and accessible at once, Merlot got such a bad rap pinned on it in the film Sideways that sales actually fell.  Hopefully, saner heads will prevail during the holiday season.  Different Merlots offer different pairing opportunities, so depending on whether the wine is full- or medium-bodied you can match with everything from roast to salmon.  A fictional character's ranting is no way to make decision on what wine to drink.  Try -

Silverado Napa Merlot 2004 ($25) - A medium-bodied wine that's abetted by 11% Cabernet Sauvignon, there's a nutty spiciness that duels with a sweet cherry flavor to produce a complex and enjoyable drink.

Robert Mondavi Napa Merlot 2006 ($17) - Wine Spectator says this Merlot "offers an appealing blend of structure and plushness, with currant and espresso aromas and black cherry and anise flavors."

Dessert Wines - Depending on your tolerance for sweets, dessert wines can complement an after dinner treat or stand alone and be the treat.  Late harvest varietals, muscat, Port and sherry all make for a delicious way to finish a feast.  The French do a particularly fine job with wines from Sauternais and Banyuls.  Try -

Bridlewood Syrah Port 2006 ($20) -  If the words "Syrah Port" don't do it for you, listen to these descriptive words from the the winemaker: "heady aromatics of blackberry, cassis and licorice...dark jammy fruit framed with spicy oak and vanilla accents...notes of strong dark chocolate with hints of pecan, tangerine peel and earth...soft chewy tannins and a sweet vanilla oak backdrop...luscious licorice finish."  Now, if my football teams don't win on Thanksgiving, I'll hardly care.

Mer Soleil Late 2004 ($34) - The Viognier grapes came down with a case of Botrytis, and that's good news all around.  This dessert wine is the result, a rich shade of gold with honey, apricot nectar and orange zest in the flavor profile.

Sparkling Wines - Champagne can get expensive, and for some it's that or nothing.  There are, however, plenty of good sparkling wines from places other than France.  A nice Italian Prosecco, a Spanich Cava or a California sparkler can make a festive showing, too.  Sparkling styles range from Extra Brut (the dryest), Brut, Extra Sec, Sec, Demi-Sec and Doux (the sweetest.)  Try -

Roederer Estate Anderson Valley Brut ($19) - The American arm of Louis Roederer produces this great-tasting, affordable sparkler with notes of cinnamon, creme brulee and baked apple.  They also make a pink bubbly with a touch of Pinot Noir for color.

Schramsberg Blanc de Blancs Sparkling Wine 2006 - This producer made America's first sparkling wine, back in 1965.  It's thought by many to be America's best sparkler, coming as close to real Champagne as it gets in the States.  An apple cobbler note on the palate should sit well with autumn celebrations.

Rhone-style white blends - These wines typically match up well with autumnal foods like squash, apples and chestnuts.  Look for blends involving Grenache Blanc, Roussanne or Marsanne.  Try -

Lone Madrone La Mezcla 2008 ($17) - An interesting Paso Robles blend of Grenache Blanc and Albarino!  Not only will it fit, it's a conversation starter.

Big House White 2008 ($8) - This white blend features Malvasia Bianca, Muscat Canelli, Viognier and Roussanne.  Aromas of lemon meringue and wintermint grace the nose, while the palate enjoys tropical fruit and toast.  A wildly popular wine, it was listed atop Wine Enthusiast's "Top 100 Best Buys of 2009."

Rhone-style red blends - Look to Rhone-style reds for full-bodied, spicy wines that usually dip a bit more into the earthy, dark side of the flavor line.  They make an excellent partner to roast beef.  Try -

Tablas Creek "Cotes de Tablas" Red 2003 ($20) - Cherry liqueur, white pepper, leather and sage highlight this blend of Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre and Counoise.

Bonny Doon Le Cigare Volant 2005 ($32) - From the Bonny Doon website: "Aromas of spiced meat, kirsch, mushrooms, a soupçon of truffle and dark chocolate make for a richly perfumed red wine." This blend is mainly Grenache, Mourvedre and Syrah, with some Carignane and Cinsault in the mix.

Suggested holiday meal:

  • Before the meal - Sparkling wine will set a celebratory mood.

  • With your cheese plate - Chardonnay or a bubbly with Brie; Riesling or dessert wine with blue cheese; Cab, Merlot or Zinfandel with cheddar; Riesling or a Rhone-style white with Swiss; Pinot Noir or Port with cream cheese.

  • For roast turkey breast - Viognier or Chardonnay are good.  Dark meat likes a Pinot Noir.

  • With the baked ham - Pinot Noir or Riesling.  A Beaujolais Nouveaux will work, and it is the season for it.

  • Beef roast or steaks - Call for Cabernet Sauvignon.

  • Goose or game - Pinot Noir.  A rich Chardonnay, Zinfandel or Merlot could fit, too.

  • Cornbread stuffing - Pinot Noir.  If it's made with sausage, break out a Syrah or Rhone-style Red.

  • Pumpkin & Pecan Pie - An aged cream sherry or tawny Port will bring out the brown spices in the pie; a white dessert wine like a late harvest Riesling, Viognier or Chardonnay will also provide a lip-smacking accompaniment to the holiday pie.